I follow a handful of awesome lesbian travel bloggers on Instagram and the interwebs. Whatever the interwebs are. I think it’s super awesome that the ladies are out there spreading the word about traveling as females who love females. But sometimes I hesitate to share my own travel stories on this site, apart from the interviews I do for my podcast, because I’ve never traveled with a partner. In fact, I usually travel alone. This has often made me wonder if my non-podcast travels are lesbian enough. I've decided to stop wondering.
Hello, everybody. My name is La Shaguita. I’m a lesbian. I travel a lot, and I love it. So you know what? I’m going to start telling you more of my stories.
Maybe I’ll start from the beginning. That seems like a good place to begin.
Actually, let's just start when I was a 22 year old hitchhiker in a truck.
The drivers of the truck were both from Korea but by the time they picked me and my friend up we were all in Oregon. They kept Korean food in their mini-fridge because it’s infinitely better than standard American truck stop food. I would do the same thing; the only good food I've had by a highway was the mozzarella di bufala ball I ate at a truck stop in Italy.
The first time I hitchhiked I went to Baja California with a friend named Pompom (she likes anonymity so that's not her real name). This was in 2008. Luckily I had a diary at the time; unfortunately my diary entries mysteriously trail off before the trip actually finished. I'll share what I have with you, with the hope of someday reviving my memory where the pages go blank.
Day 1: Oakland to Los Angeles
In the Bay Area of California, there's a train called the BART. If you've seen the movie Fruitvale Station you've probably heard about it through your tears. We took the BART to the Oakland Coliseum, which is only about a twenty minute walk to the Oakland Truck Stop.
The first driver we approached seemed mad at us for trying to hitch a ride.
"Do you know how dangerous that is?" he growled.
Yes, we vaguely did, but idiocy has its perks.
It didn't take us long to find a better-vibed driver named Dre. Once we got in the truck it did cross my mind that we were doing something very stupid, but apparently my adrenaline overpowered the fear.
Dre was a former weed dealer who took up truck driving to stay out of trouble. He still smoked, including in the truck, but his dealing days were long gone. He had spent some time incarcerated and was happy to be out. He was pretty quiet but he did offer us some weed, which we politely declined. I might have gotten a little contact high, though - the ride was so chill that I feel relaxed even thinking about it.
On our way to LA, Dre stopped at a salt factory in Newark, California to fill up his truck. Outside of the factory there were large hills of salt. I wanted to get a tour but Dre said there was no way the manager would say yes. If I had been more of a "top" back then, and by "top" I mean assertive (for reference, listen to the “La Shaguita Becomes a Top” episode here), I would have asked for a tour anyway. Instead, I walked into the factory to use the bathroom. There were large machines and more salt mountains inside, and all the workers were wearing full-body hazard gear with face masks. I read later that salt workers are at risk of developing hypertension and other illnesses if they inhale too much salt or otherwise absorb it.
We drove all day and into the night. By the time we got to LA, it was 1 in the morning and the safest place for Dre to leave us was in a Best Buy parking lot, where an old friend of a friend kindly picked us up. If you travel cheaply, or freely, you know how luxurious a friend of a friend’s sofa can be.
One benefit of being young is having minimal shame. My lack of shame has scored me many a free bed, floor, hammock, truck bunk, and sofa to sleep on, with no sex involved. I’m very grateful to all the people who have entertained this lack of shame. Yet as I get older I realize I have a lot of reciprocation to take care of. Thank you for the ride, Dre. And thanks for the sofa that night, Carina. I have no idea how to get in touch with either of you anymore but I’ll repay you karmically by being nice to someone else.
Day 2: L.A. to Hotel las Gaviotas in Baja
Carina dropped us off at a Taco Bell in the morning. I’m embarrassed to admit that we ate there. But an occasional 99 cent bean burrito can be worth the splurge while traveling on a budget.
Actually, I ate two.
In between burritos we made a sign: SAN DIEGO/MEXICO. We found a corner and prepared to hitch a ride.
This was no truck stop; this was a city with one of the highest individual car ownership rates in the world. People laughed as they drove past us. They looked at us curiously. But no one was stopping. Maybe this is because we were in a no-stopping zone. We moved and caught a ride with a man from Mexico who was on his way back to a town called Playa Rosarito. On the way there we told him about our prior travels in Mexico. He told us that he had never picked anyone up from the street but that we seemed “nice and innocent” so he had decided to help us. What does "nice and innocent" mean, I wonder? Enter privilege: I have ghostly white skin, and Pompom is Asian. Dare I ask if that affected his view of us?
Turns out he was a real estate agent on the coast. He had lived in Virginia and California but decided he preferred Mexico due to its low cost of living. He brought us all the way to the Hotel las Gaviotas, which was along the highway in Playa Rosarito. When we got there the owner, a woman, was hesitant to let us stay. She asked if the driver would be staying with us. We laughed and assured her that wasn't the case, after which she admitted that she thought we were prostitutes and asked us if some of the people who passed by us on the street thought we were selling ourselves. That actually hadn't been the case. She ended up giving us a discount – the night would cost us $10 each.
Yet the night was still young. We needed some real Mexican food to wash the morning’s Taco Bell meal out of our mouths. Maybe I should have deleted that sentence. It sounds disgusting.
There were tamales right outside the hotel but we desperately wanted tacos or quesadillas. The hotel owner, la dueña, told us that the nearest restaurant was about five kilometers away. This led us yet again to stand on the side of the street with our thumbs up. I’m embarrassed to admit what happened next, but lesbi honest, I was even dumber back then than I am now. For the first time, someone we actually had reason to fear offered us a ride: the police. They told us they knew of a delicious restaurante where we could even get quesadillas con todo. In retrospect this seems reminiscent of a strange man in a van telling a young girl he has candy, but for some reason we got in the car anyway. They asked us what we were doing in town and we told them we were just traveling around.
“Why?” they asked, as though it were strange for two girls to be traveling alone asking for rides from strangers.
“We were bored in our home town,” we responded.
Five kilometers go by quickly in a car.
If you've never had Mexican food in Mexico, please go do so ASAP. You may have a transcendental experience. Since I didn't have a smart phone at the time of this trip, I actually didn't document every single experience. But here’s a random taco picture from my amazing amiga (not Pompom) Ash de la Montaña, who you can follow on Instagram @casacasillas.
By the time we finished our tacos and quesadillas, it was almost 11pm and there weren’t many cars passing by. The same police who had taken us there stopped for us again but since we had already discussed that it was a bad idea to accept rides from the police, Pompom told them we were waiting for some friends. This was so clearly a lie. Pompom has a theory that women are able to get away more easily than men with saying or doing dumb shit that seems suspicious, since it’s often assumed that women are dumb anyway. They told us to be careful, adding that some narcos, or drug traffickers, had killed two policemen the month before.
We ended up walking back to the hotel.
Have you ever had a walkgasm? I get those sometimes, especially when walking long distances. They are akin to foodgasms. This once led me to take a really cheesy picture in Switzerland in a hat that everyone says I should get rid of. I won’t provide that picture now.
But returning to Mexico - we walked. In the dark of night. And not to be dramatic or anything, but there were repeated sirens going off in the hills in the distance. There was also a multitude of stars in the sky. Along the road there was a Remax real estate sign with a picture of a luxury condo and a phrase along the lines of: “This is how to enjoy living.”
"No," I thought. "I'd rather enjoy living by walking under the stars, being in the middle of everything and nothing, experiencing unexpected random shit moment by moment and spending $10 on a basic hotel."
We slept soundly that night in the luxury of our cheapness.
Day 3: Hotel las Gaviotas to Eréndida
The next day for breakfast we ate almond butter with bread that had somehow survived nearly a month in its bag. We crossed the highway hoping to go farther south in a semi truck. Pompom had the idea of asking a truck driver where the best place would be to catch a ride back up the border a couple days later.
We waited and talked, waited and talked. A few cars stopped for us but for some reason we felt really intent on catching a ride with a trucker instead. When a pickup truck with four men in it stopped nearby it didn’t even occur to us to check in with them. It seemed their pickup had some mechanical issues and they spent some time on the side of the road trying to fix things up. But when they were finally finished, one of the men walked over to us and asked where we were going.
“We don’t know,” we responded. “Where are you going?”
“Really far away,” they said.
That sounded good to us. “¿Subimos?” we asked. Should we get in the pickup?
“Sí,” they said. “Get in the back.”
I don't know if getting in a pickup truck with a handful of unknown men who were going “very far away” is any more dangerous than getting in a semi truck with only one man and an established destination, but for some reason this particular stretch of the trip brought my exhilaration to a whole other level. I think this can be blamed on the chemical dopamine, which is also released during foodgasms, orgasms and walkgasms. I hope not to inspire anyone to get a dopamine rush by engaging in behaviors like the ones I'm describing here. I urge you to eat some tacos in México or some papas a la huancaína in Perú instead. Or just cuddle with a lover until you reach a peak of bliss.
We passed scattered hotels and then a tall white skyscraper that looked out of place in its sparse surroundings. When the driver veered off the main highway and started making his way up a deserted mountain road, it crossed my mind that we may actually be doomed. Kilometer after kilometer, there wasn’t another person in sight. But my dopamine had kicked in hard. In fact, I even felt like I had taken a thrill pill.
The wind was blowing so hard that my hair felt like it would blow off of my head. Pompom’s hair flew straight up, making her seem like a monster or a forest creature or a being from another planet. Luckily I couldn’t see myself. Pompom and I looked at each other and laughed.
The only picture I have from that part of the trip is this, due to a running joke between Pompom and I that we were being followed by a Penguin who flew through the sky.
It was cold when the mountains covered the sunlight. Slowly villages started emerging – small cement homes with aluminum roofs, plots of farmland with goats confined by makeshift fences. The paved highway became a gravelled mess with potholes and puddles. We passed a small village full of men who looked at us and laughed as we passed by. The urbanized coast of northern Baja, with its under-inhabited real estate, misplaced skyscraper, and asphalt highways, already seemed far away.
A child opened the back window of the pickup truck and said hello. We didn’t know there was a child in there. We gave him some chocolate.
About four hours down the road, we emerged from the Sierra and a beach came into view – this time without hotels on it. Thinking there would be no better place to get out, we started banging on the side of the truck and told the men we wanted to get down.
“¡Ya casi llegamos!” they said, pointing ahead of them at some cliffs beside the water. "We’re just going over there to fish.”
Fishermen. They were fishermen. The random men who could have been anybody had taken us to the most idyllic location imaginable, a sparsely inhabited coastal town in the middle of nowhere. Where would we have ended up if we had woken up a few hours earlier or later? What if their car hadn't run down that morning and they hadn't pulled over to the side of the road to fix it? What if they had driven away without talking to us? We hadn’t intended to ride with them anyway. What if we had rejected their offer? Chances are we would have never ended up in Eréndida.
We left our backpacks with the fishermen and caught a ride on a three wheeler to a nearby restaurant. Pompom barely fit on the back and nearly fell off several times when we went over potholes. The driver told us he worked at an abalone factory and said he’d give us a tour after lunch.
Abalones are weird. They always have to be sucking something. If you pick them up they suck your hand. When you put them back in the pool they paste themselves to the wall and suck it so hard that they don’t fall off. Our guide was excited to give us a full tour of the factory. He told us he wasn’t used to having guests.
When we got back to the fishing spot, the fishermen were gone and so were our backpacks. We walked around looking for the pickup to make sure they hadn’t parked it nearby. It was nowhere in sight. This meant we didn’t have our tent, our sleeping bag, or any of our clothes. I had even left my credit card in my bag. We decided not to worry about it since there was nothing we could do to change the situation. That being said, there were no hotels nearby and the idea of sleeping on a cold cliff with no blanket did not seem like a great one.
At least there was a bathroom.
About an hour later, the rumble of a car resounded in the distance. When they drove up to us we all looked at each other and laughed. They probably realized we had wondered if we'd ever see our bags again.
“We had to go fish farther out,” they said, “and we didn’t want anyone to steal your bags.”
For a moment we had questioned trusting these men, but they showed to us again that we could. Their net had broken while they were fishing so they had to go back to Tijuana. We said our goodbyes, taking a picture before they left. Just look at all that sweetness.
It was cold that night in our tent but outside there were more stars than I had ever seen in the sky, including one shooting star after the other. Since we only had one sleeping bag and we didn't both fit in it, we had a hard time falling asleep. Pompom had the idea that we should tell each other a story for each year of our lives: 22 for me and 39 for her. I was dramatic at the time so I told her the worst of every year. Thank goodness I’m 30 now - soon after my birthday I shed most of my melodrama at the same rate I used to shed pounds.
Day 4: Eréndida to Ensenada
In the morning it took us hours to catch a ride. This was understandable considering the number of cars there were on the road.
My last diary entry after the above moment was this:
Después de estar en la ensenada del paraíso (after being in the cove of paradise), nunca nos habríamos imaginado que poco tiempo después estaríamos en la ensenada del infierno (we would have never imagined that shortly thereafter we would be in the cove of hell). Pero dame unos momentos para explicar cómo llegamos a la tierra de los diablos (But give me a moment to explain how we arrived to the land of the devils).
Remember that melodrama I was referring to? Actually, though, what happened that night was not melodramatic at all.
Sadly I don't even remember who picked us up from paradise and dropped us off in the city of Ensenada that night. But I do remember checking into what we later realized was a brothel (it was the cheapest place we could find) and shivering for over an hour while there was a gun battle outside on the street. When we first heard the noises we thought they were fireworks, but it somehow became clear that they weren't. Luckily we were inside at the time. We took every piece of furniture in our room - a wooden dresser, a chair - and put it in front of the door as though that would have saved us if the gunmen (or women? but probably men) came inside. Pompom rarely gives in to human emotions so she held my hand casually while I literally shivered for over an hour. The next morning the streets were barricaded and military officers with large guns were standing guard. We never found out what happened. I can't remember why we didn't ask, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were in a rush to get out of town.
Day 5: A Blank Page
I wish I could remember how we got back to San Francisco. Maybe someday it will come back to me in a dream. It almost feels like what I did write down was a dream in itself, but the memories my notes evoke are so strangely and magically real.