My fish out of water experience – stranded in the desert…

Baja California Mexico desert

Baja California Mexico desert

I keep forgetting to join in the expat monthly travel link-ups, but thanks to Kelly and Emma kindly reminding me that it’s “that time of the month” again, here is this month’s post. This time everyone’s talking about their Fish out of water experiences. You can check out plenty more posts on this over on Kelly, Emma and Rebecca’s blogs.

Today’s post is not food related. It is stupidity related.

It was 2008 and after nearly two years of doing long distance, Mr Man and I were finally reunited. I was moving back to the UK from New Zealand, he was about to start a new career and had a few months break. It was the perfect chance to do “the last big trip” before we saved for a deposit on a house and gained a few more commitments. We both vowed that we’d never stop exploring the world but this was likely the only time we’d have the luxury of 10 weeks to ourselves.

Mr Man and I in Bolivia, a few weeks after this incident.

Mr Man and I in Bolivia, a few weeks after this incident.

Sunset on our first day back together in San Francisco

Sunset on our first day back together in San Francisco

We met up in San Francisco and the plan was to go overland from there to Panama before flying into Bolivia and doing the rest overland to Buenos Aires. We were 10 days into our trip when this happened.

Despite a few rows over my appalling map reading and his tendency to test the local speed limits, we were having an absolute ball. We had loved California and had rented a tiny silver two-door hatchback in Tijuana, Mexico, who we named Jalisco. She was to be our chaperone around Baja Californa, a massive peninsula which is mostly desert with Dr Seuss like cacti and fishing villages. We had five days to drive from Tijuana down to La Paz then straight back up again. Taking turns on driving and navigating we were having a really good time, even doing the occasional couch surf.



Boojum trees

Boojum trees

It was while heading back up the middle of this peninsula that we were really pushing it for time. We were meant to stay with a man called Bill in Mulege and were expected to arrive around 8pm that evening. Bill was a man known to leave bad references if you were more than a few hours late but he was a nice guy and we’d met him on the way down. The roads were straight and there was generally only one road we were meant to take anyway. I was on navigating duty for a few hours but the Baja desert heat and our determination to save petrol money by not putting on the aircon made for the perfect nap conditions.

I woke up after I don’t know how long, realising I didn’t recognise any of the scenery that we were meant to have passed on the way down the peninsula. Mr Man had said there’d been a fork in the road so he took the straightest looking way. So we carried on, assuming we were on the right track.

Then that track literally turned into a track. Jalisco was going on all sorts of dog leg turns, which then turned into dirt/sand roads and we were passing signs that said beware of rattlesnakes and all sorts of other nasties. This was not a place to get lost or stuck. So I looked at the map and saw that we were actually on a short-cut to Mulege and it wouldn’t take us more than a few hours to get there. Jalisco was managing the track despite her small size so we continued on. We hadn’t seen another car or house for miles.

We then came to a turn in the road. Straight ahead was a massive sandpit but also a track around it. So we curved around the sandpit. It was as we were turning back onto the straight that we got stuck in sand. Calmly we tried our best to get her out of the sand but the more we tried, the more the car sunk in further. The sun was starting to set and inside we were both starting to panic. We decided to grab our rucksacks and walk to the nearest “house” (it was more like a shack) a few miles down the road.

It was getting darker and we were miffed as to what on earth we could do. Being in the desert, our mobiles had zero signal, it wasn’t even like we could contact Bill and ask him to pick us up or at least help out in some way.

Eventually a ute passed us. We yelled and yelled and this old couple and their son thankfully turned around to pick us up. On the way to where we were going we saw the most incredible sunset of our lives – bright purple sky with cacti lining it. To this day I wish I’d taken a picture but that was not the right moment to do so. In our very beginner Spanish we tried to explain what had happened. They took us back to their house, which was basically a wooden gazebo with three beds plus a lot of dogs and goats. These people were not friendly and there was no friendly connection to be found on either side. They clearly didn’t know what to do with us and were not prepared to tow us out. We spoke crap Spanish, they spoke no English (and why should they, we were the stupid tourists).

We were asking them to take us to the nearest village that we’d passed about an hour before we got stuck but they were refusing. Fearing the worst, I burst into tears. Eventually the youngest of them, a rough looking man in his forties, waved to us to get into his ute. We were on our way to the village pub an hour away. It was a very silent ride.

When we arrived at the village, the one English speaker in the place, a very drunk man named Alfonso, said that the guy who drove us there wanted US$150. That was without taking us back to tow the car out. We had $100 on us and weren’t prepared to part with more than $50. We spent several hours haggling over this. In hindsight we should have just given him what we had.

At 1am we were back at the car, the silent man in his forties towing Jalisco out with Alfonso translating, Mr Man charming both of them and me trying to hold it all together. Silent guy left us at his ranch, Alfonso keeping us all alert and awake while we carefully drove back to the village over a lot of rocks, boulders and dog leg turns in the road.

3am and we were crashing in Alfonso’s aunt’s spare room. Knowing we had 16 hours to drive to our next stop if we were to make our flight out of Tijuana two days later, we were up at 5am, taking turns of two hours each to drive then sleep. I was driving the first leg and saw that we were out of petrol. Desperate to make it out of this godforsaken desert and our own stupidity, I watched the dial with baited breath. Jalisco was huffing and puffing as we saw the petrol station, which thankfully took credit cards and we ate for the first time since lunch the day before. That packet of crisps and a coke felt like the best meal on earth.

When we eventually arrived in Mulege to apologise to Bill we were greeted with a somewhat angry response. We explained what happened and left on relatively ok terms – him agreeing that yes, we had no possible way of contacting him and accepting our apology. Then carried onwards and upwards, eventually arriving at a hotel for the night where we crashed and had the best sleep, and the best fish tacos of our lives.

And that my friends, was my fish out of water experience. Life is made by memories like this which at the time feel like the worst situation on earth but in hindsight make for a great story and discovering the depths of your own strength. It was there that I realised that Mr Man and I actually make for a pretty awesome team.

Now it’s time to go and check out everyone else’s awkward travel moments. Thanks for reading.

The beautiful Baja coast

The beautiful Baja coast


Filed under Life in general, Mr Man, Travel

18 responses to “My fish out of water experience – stranded in the desert…

  1. LondonKiwiEmma

    That’s an amazing, and by turn terrifying experience. What doesn’t kill you… eh!

    • yvonne

      My Husband and I were stranded in Loreto, Mexico desert over night. This was last year in September. We were driving from Cabo and our car radiator blew. I was very scared to sleep in our car throughout the night in the desert. We finally flagged down a car that pulled over to help us. Suprisingly, it was the mayor of Loreto! He called a friend of his to help us by taking our belongings and drive us to the bus station in Tijuana. Sadly, we had to leave our car in Mexico because the motor was shot. We signed the title over to the guy who took us to the bus station. It was an older Yukon SUV. I remember it being hot, a lot of mosquitos and I needed to use the bathroom at night in the desert! It was a nightmare. I know what you went through. I will never drive through Baja California desert again! When we finally got to San Diego, we found a motel. The very first thing I did was take a shower. I was so dirty, smelly and sweaty! That was an experience that I will never forget.

  2. aroundtheworldin80pairsofshoes

    Holy Moly! What a bloody adventure you had and yes you both make an awesome team. Go Team Cake!! xx

  3. Crikey. That’s not an awkward few moments … it’s a horrifying few days !

  4. Well this is something to share with the grandchildren. I would be petrified and would be there hyperventilating. I guess however that is the wonder of being young things that terrify as you get older don’t so much when you are younger. An almighty adventure Lucy x

  5. Oh my goodness! Still, like Lucy says, it’s definitely a story to tell!

  6. Wowsers. What an incredible story Kat! I cringed when you broke down – it could have been so much worse and I’m so glad it wasn’t.

  7. Wow – what a great story. Probably didn’t feel like it at the time, but like you say, makes a great story :)

  8. Best from fish-out-of-water to fish-in-tacos experience ever. Totally frightening though. Quite the read!

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