As we hurtled down Interstate 10 near Tucson, Arizona, we had little idea what lay ahead and what adventure we would experience over our long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Suddenly, Bill, our trip leader, signaled his intent and swerved to the shoulder of the road. With CB radio silent, he jumped from his early-'80s Bronco and hesitantly approached the rest of us as we emerged from our vehicles.
In a quiet voice he confessed leaving his vehicle registration and insurance papers at home, an hour and a half behind us. He knew they lay on his kitchen counter, resting as they would for the duration of our trip. Despite his pretrip reminders to us not to forget our papers, he was confident he could enter and travel through our Mexican destinations without problem. We pressed on toward the border and crossed without incident.
Bill and his wife Nora were in their early 60s at the time and were obsessively adventurous souls. We often wheeled across Southwestern trails with them. Nora, an avid knitter, was always sewing up something on trips, and we could always tell how hard the wheeling was because the tougher it got, the faster she would knit. For this long weekend some 15 years past, Bill had suggested our group of four couples travel south to enjoy the isolation and pristine beach wheeling that could be found along the Gulf of California.
The balance of the group included Stan and Reva in an '85 Ford F-150, Matt and Doreen in a modified '82 Toyota truck, and this writer and his wife in an '85 Toyota Xtracab. Our tight-knit group was large enough for safety and security yet nimble enough to coordinate our trip easily.
Once we entered Mexico, we pulled up to the Mexican immigration office and wandered inside to complete our paperwork. The atmosphere was lax and the service languid. Nobody in this office was at risk of moving too fast or suffering from overwork. With a little effort on our part, we figured out the paperwork we needed and began writing.
With our applications complete, we placed them one by one in the wire basket sitting on the desk of what seemed to be the ranking official. When Bill put his paperwork in the pile, he clipped an envelope with a $5 bill inside to the back. Those in our group with all proper papers clipped a single $1 bill to the back. The officer behind the ancient wooden desk would rifle through the papers, and if he was satisfied with what he saw, give it the rubber stamp and pass it back to the traveler curtly, his hand discreetly sliding the cash into his pocket.
When he got to Bill's documents and looked in the envelope, his faced contorted and he grunted something about incomplete documents. Bill casually retrieved the envelope and stepped outside to add another $5 to the envelope. Once he placed his paperwork back in the basket, the official expedited his request and "all papers" were found to be in order. The only other hitch occurred when we found everyone had his or her visas except for Matt and Doreen. We found Matt hadn't clipped a $1 bill to his application. Once he did this, his visa was immediately expedited as well. We were on our way again.
We traveled decayed pieces of highway south, passing small towns and dilapidated houses. A small taco stand was emitting a tasty scent and the food looked appetizing. We dug into carne asada tacos and washed them down with cold sodas as we took in this lonely stretch of desert highway. We worried a bit about the sanitation practices of our cook, but luckily our digestive systems handled the tasty meal just fine.
Our goal for the trip was to explore the area around Bahia Kino. This small fishing village lay several hundred miles south of the border. Bill knew of a secluded beach site that would offer us grand camping for our Thanksgiving weekend.