Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

You know I’m unsure how I want to say what’s on my mind when I resort to quoting Jimmy Buffet. Sadly, this isn’t the first time on my blog, either.

I do have lots of impressions floating in my head that I want to get out on paper, mostly about being back on the road after nearly a year of boondocking, but also about being near the Mexican border, about being around horses, and—just throw in whatever topic you think I might randomly come up with—it’s probably in this entry.

Border Patrol

Let me get the negative over with. Since we camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and I saw the wall for the first time, I’ve been waking up to what it’s like to live on the border here, the vibe of living in a military zone. I know that’s insensitive to say, what with Ukrainians (and others around the world) literally hiding and fighting for their lives, but some people here are hiding and running and struggling for their lives.

At Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, border patrol helicopters hovered over our trailer for such prolonged periods that we joked we should get a scan code painted on the roof so that when the agents take a photo, our passports would pop up on their phones and we’d be cleared.

We were out nearly alone on that long, dirt road in the refuge, yet you wouldn’t dare walk Banjo in the middle of it because the (you guessed it) guys in the border patrol trucks would speed down it like bats out of hell, not giving you enough time to step aside. Several times a day. And when you saw them parked at intersections, you wondered if they had prisoners locked in the hotbox behind the cab, like a rogue animal control agent with one, long-hated stray dog locked in the back.

Above, at Tijuana River Valley, Tracy and Banjo are on a mesa right above where we’re camped. It’s a lovely park, with signs about the ecosystem along long hikes. Today, on this hike I had to step into the brush twice to avoid getting hit by the (you guessed it) border patrol agents, driving ATVs on the hiking paths and the beach. They are in full body armor—with multiple weapons strapped on and helmets and goggles and gloves and headphones—that entirely cover their bodies, so they look like they could be aliens. Pun intended.

Here’s a view of Tijuana from my walk today. I got a little nervous walking by myself so close to the border so I turned turned back. It was the (you guessed it) border patrol agents I was not excited to run into.

On our way here, we saw a sign at an immigration checkpoint that listed arrest numbers, but I was busy wondering if we’d be searched and didn’t read if the stats were for that checkpoint this year or for all other checkpoints. But someone’s making a case for all this money being spent and all the patrolling. Literally, as I type this at 10:40 at night, helicopters are flying in a grid pattern over the campground and beach.


Here’s something positive (or at least weirder, in a less-offensive way). There’s a ranch right outside the park here that runs horseback trail rides through the campground and along the trail to the beach, then on the beach, and back again.

Plus our campground has a equine parking area, so people pull in with their own horse trailers and ride on the beach themselves.

I have been absotively (my new favorite word) freaked out by the horseback riding here.

Now, go ahead and make fun of me for being such an East-coast, English-style, riding prude. But, dude, I’ve seen people who obviously have never ridden in t-shirts and flip flops on horses that were acting out, a guy with a toddler in his lap without a helmet (you know I went apeshit over that one), and folks pushing their horses closer and closer to the roaring surf, to have them rear up and back up the beach, then push them back into the surf. All while unsuspecting trailride groups approach.

So here’s the make-fun-of-me part. I’ve been passed by, like, a hundred horses on the path to the beach and on the beach, and I haven’t seen a single person hit the sand.

I’ve seen a couple on the beach with their dog (there are NO DOGS signs everywhere), and the dog was circling the horses and nipping at their fetlocks, and the horses were spooking and kicking out. Over and over. But, then, the couple turned away from the beach and walked calmly back down the path. I’ve seen two guys wearing black cowboy hats come barreling down the path to the beach on huge horses, almost plowing over the trail-riding newbies, but somehow no one ran into anyone and none of the trail horses was spooked.

I’ve been laughed at by a trail leader when I stepped aside and dismounted my bike (“Honey, no bike is going to scare this horse”) and I’ve been politely told twice by another trail leader to just move ahead (as in, “stop walking so slowly in the ditch and damnit get in front of us so we don’t have to keep an eye on you”).

I’ve watched an elaborate rearrangement on the beach of a set of trail riders and their horses by the trail hands, and I was thinking, “This must be how they have to carefully turn the line about face to head back,” only to witness them instead arranging the horses and riders to pose for photos. It was a funny scene though: horses would be placed next to each other (I’m guessing some riders were families) only for one to wander off by the time the trail hand with the camera stepped back to take the photo. One horse grabbed a hunk of kelp and was munching on it and flipping it around as the rider sat atop helplessly, until the trail hand with the camera had to stop, just as she’d gotten a group posed, to grab that kelp and throw it down the beach. The lead hired hand was standing on the ground, holding his horse and the photographer’s, and those two horses were doing their damndest to bite and kick each other, but the hand kept fussing at them and smacking them with his reins like it was all in a day’s work. The whole scene was more comic than herding cats. But all the photos got taken, all the horses got turned around, and I met that group later on the path as they ambled their way back to the paddocks.

All in all, it’s been a lesson in how relaxed people are here, putting strangers on their horses, with no helmets and plenty of random factors coming from all directions: border patrol on ATVs; people riding their own horses in extreme maneuvers; middle-aged women lurking off their bikes on the trails, gawking.

I rode horses my whole childhood, competing in hunter/jumper shows and joining in an occasional fox hunt, and I would never go on one of these trail rides. I am old and careful, or people here know what they’re doing, or accidents happen and I simply didn’t see one. Whatever, it’s been a wild entertainment for me.


My oh my are we getting a reminder of what it’s like to camp alongside Weekend Warriors. The family beside us with the dad who drops the F bomb on his daughter loudly and frequently as he tries to teach her humility and gratitude while out camping. The guy blaring mariachi music across the campground featuring a lead tuba (really?). The mother and daughter with disabilities who yell abusively and then drive a wheelchair over to politely offer us two bags of frozen fish they accidentally bought that day. The mystery of the ambulance parked by a tent down the way for an hour.

But also the couple who just pulled in beside us. Recently retired from Montana, they offered me a seat when I introduced myself, and they chatted amiably about Montana and retiring and just starting out on the road. I’m actually looking forward to talking with again before they leave.

So, to risk Ultimate Cheesiness, I’ll go with Jimmy Buffet.

These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes,

Nothing remains quite the same.

With all of our running and all of our cunning,

If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.

Well, not insane. And I’m not laughing at all of it. I am appreciating all the changes.

2 thoughts to “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes”

    1. Not Gonzo journalism per se, but I never went to J school and am making this up as I go along. Glad to hear it’s being read.