Another post in a series of the experiences from Baja written by John Thawley. Published by permission from John Thawley, Jr.

Other posts about Baja by John Thawley: Broken Tie Rod End—No Problem

A Bike in the Bank

A biker friend of mine entered the 1971 Baja 500. He was running well until he blew a tire and found out he’d lost his tool bag. Knowing the race was over, he limped the bike into Santa Ynez where he made some friends with a couple of well dressed, well mannered young Mexicans who had flown down from Ensenada to watch the race. Not only did they offer to fly him back to Ensenada but to hire a trucker to transport the bike back to their business in Ensenada and store it for him until he could return and pick it up. Seems the young men ran a bank there. The biker agreed to all this generosity and made the flight without incident. What a story.

A week or so later, the biker returned to Ensenada to retrieve his ride. An oil dripping, filthy dirty race bike was hemorrhaging on the carpet of the bank lobby. The young Mexicans were glad to see the biker—but really hated to see the bike go. The customers liked it. The biker offered to pay for the shipping and “storage” of the bank. The Mexicans refused—just didn’t want to see the bike leave.



Day of the Dead

Many impoverished Mexicans are very superstitious/religious. An important part of their culture is the Day of the Dead. There is really nothing to compare it to in the world apart from Mexico. The Spanish wording for the event is El Dia de los Muertos. The celebration occurs on the 1st and 2nd day of November. Families and friends gather in graveyards and homes to honor those who have passed on. Traditions include honoring the deceased with skull shaped sugar confections, and favorite food and drink. Some wear elaborate costumes. Private alters are constructed at graves and in homes Basically, the belief is that communicating with the deceased is eased through this celebration. As the celebration wears on the food and drink—including tequila and cocoa leaves are in evidence.

Concurrent with El Dia de los Muertos in 1967 was the Inaugural Mexican 1000—the first organized off-road race on the North American continent. I was one of 67 contestants poised to drive, ride, run, or crawl from Tijuana to La Paz. Few—if any—of us had ever heard of the Day of the Dead—and if we had, we wouldn’t have cared. One of the entrants was a fun loving plumber from the Long Beach, California area. Victor Abrueze was a fun loving guy that entered a Bill Stroppe prepared Ford Bronco. This was a state of the art off-road go-fast package—complete with open exhaust, and a race-prepped 302 cubic inch engine. Victor and his co-driver were prepared to do battle for 900 plus miles of wide open, remote Mexican desert wearing tuxedos!

Somewhere deep in the black, foggy, dusty night the fire breathing, bellowing Bronco with El Diablo and his assistant came upon a mud and tin shack housing a terrified Mexican family. The devils and their mighty steed were lost and in English and a lot of arm waving wanted directions to La Paz. Most likely the poor Mexicans had never been to La Paz. Did they assume their long departed kin were paying a visit? No doubt the Day of the Dead took on new and enhanced significance for one family.



Dead Tired and No Dope

On one very long trip to Baja, I had the companionship of wife and son in a Baja Bug. We went south from Ensenada to Chapala east to the Sea of Cortez, north to San Felipe and then on to Tecate to cross the border. There was another Bug on the trip. A Bajaista piloto, his savvy girl friend, and her young son. There were worrisome problems with my Bug. We camped and ate on the beach south of San Felipe—solved some more mechanical “whammys” the next day and arrived at the Tecate immigration checkpoint at two in the morning. I was in the lead—two Bugs—dirty, dinged—filled with gear, tools, women, children—all dead tired. The immigration officer leaned down and asked where we’d been. I told him. He then asked if we had any dope on board. The answer was “No.” His reply was: “Hey meester, you want to buy some?” As he patted the roof, I heard him say, “Get some rest and have a safe trip.” I understand Baja has changed.


Please don’t republish without permission.

1 Comment
  1. These stories are fantastic! Thanks for sharing/publishing. Looking forward to the next installment. [and maybe resurrecting the idea of putting a book together?]

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