Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Running...Baja Style

The family and I recently headed down to the East Cape of Baja, Mexico for a little bit of much needed sun during the long winter in Oregon.  I picked the East Cape because it wasn’t highly developed, was somewhat easy to access from the West coast, and has a good offering of fly-fishing opportunities for my husband.   Running always seems like a second thought for these short winter get aways.    I always figure that I can find somewhere to run for an hour or two – even if it’s just up and down the beach.

In planning this trip, I used Google maps to look at the terrain.  I picked a somewhat secluded simple fly-fishing lodge about 45 minutes north of the Los Cabos San Jose airport for our five day stay.  On the map I could see the main “highway” leading north from Los Cabos, a short dirt road leading east to the lodge on the beach and then to the west, a series of what looked like jeep tracks leading up into a mountain range.  Looked good on the map…

After landing at the Los Cabos airport, we drove northeast toward the East Cape.  After about ten minutes of driving, the clutter of the tourist area of Los Cabos faded away.  Then it’s just desert and a simple two-lane highway.  Every fifteen minutes or so we would pass a single house or restaurant along the highway.  From the car I spotted packs of dogs off to the side of the highway.  Note to self, many stray dogs around the area.  Then I noticed the cattle, usually unattended, on the side roads.  Second note to self, grazing cattle wandering in hills.   Already on my check list of things to watch out for were rattlesnakes and drug dealers.  The former are easy to jump over, you just have to keep your eyes open.  The latter, not so easy to identify.


A few years ago on a family trip to Sayulita, which is on the west side of the mainland of Mexico, I had found what I thought was a fabulous stash of trails north of town.  No signs, just a little double track off a hidden beach that went up into the coastal hills.  I had run there three days in a row, and could not believe my luck at finding this beautiful gem – no people and great views.  Well, my illusion of safety quickly came to an end when on day three, I was the furthest point out and preparing to turn around to head back home.  On the only cross road, I saw a jeep coming toward me.  The hair on the back of my neck immediately came up, but I just continued to run, waiving hello at the same time.  The jeep screeched to a halt and a man started yelling at me in Spanish.  Since my Spanish is limited to greetings and ordering food, I had no idea what he was saying, but he was obviously fired up.  Wanted to disarm his anger, I just said “hola” and tried to indicate I was just there to jog.  When he realized I was a naive tourist, he said in broken English “You are on Drug Lords Property.  They will shoot you if they see you.”    Great, only five miles of Drug Lord trail in between home and me. I indicated to him that I would get out of there and never come back. Talk about seeing an area with new eyes.

 So, Day 1 running on the East Cape, I had my checklist of things to watch out for – primarily one’s with two legs.  I asked at the lodge if it was safe to run in the area.  A pause, a bit longer than I would have liked, but then “Yes, no problems “ was the reply.   I received directions to an overlook, which involved crossing through private property, so I decided to just explore on my own.  I crossed the highway that we drove in on, and headed west on a sandy double track that I had seen on Google maps.    All was going well and I was amazed at how this series of double track might be a great place to run if I could adjust to the sandy footing and the steep climbs.  As I was headed back after a short check out jaunt, I heard a loud grunt and something as fast as lightening went running in the brush on my right side.  It was low to the ground, black and moving faster than any animal that I had ever seen.  So I jumped around to face what I was sure was an ambush from behind.  A second animal about two feet high, probably 40 pounds and moving like a bullet, shot past behind me.  What the hell? 


Knowing most wild animals will not attack unless either cornered or the chase instinct is invoked, I stopped and listened.  Then I walked very slowly for about half a mile.  Figuring whatever it was that I spooked was gone, I did a slow jog back to the lodge.   

“Javalina” is what my animal expert husband deduced.  “They don’t attack people do they?” I asked.    The reality is that they don’t unless cornered.    That was day 1.  The remaining days I encountered angry cows blocking my route home on one memorable run, hundreds of vultures eating something very dead right off the trail on another, and a stray dog, who I decided to not bother, on yet another. 

Regarding the cows…  don’t laugh; of course I have a couple of running and angry cow stories in my running history.  I’ve been charged by an angry heifer once because my dog was taunting it’s calf, and then the dog ran to me for cover.  Cows can match Usain Bolt off the line.  Zigzagging really does work.     I’ve also been stranded on top of a tractor by an angry bull.  He wasn’t going to let me get by, so I had to head for the highest ground around, which was a tractor.   Yes, I was on private property, thus my aversion to cross fenced lines any more.

Anyway, I’ve determined family trips to Mexico and running aren’t for me any more.    I refuse to go to highly tourist areas, but is seems like the fringe is too fringy for me.  I’d rather get my heart rate up by running, not anxiety.