Friday, November 10, 2006

Down in the salt mines

Today we had our final bus tour of the trip, a 90-minute excursion to the salt works. Having lived in the San Francisco bay area for 20 years, salt evaporators are nothing new to us, but the tour was interesting nonetheless. For one thing, the salt evaporation and harvesting operation here is on a much grander scale -- I am told the largest such operation in the world. We also got to drive right out onto the dried salt flats and watch as scrapers (essentially slightly modified road graders) dug up the salt and raked it into furrows and giant conveyor loaders scooped it up and filled immense three-hopper transporters with 360 tons of salt in less than 15 minutes.

I found out today that our final stop will be in Colonia Vicente Guerrero, not San Vicente as I speculated yesterday. The good news is that the colonia is at least near the coast -- I am told there is a beach within a mile of the campground. The bad news is it will be even further from Tecate on our way out.

I am disappointed that we will not spend any time in Ensenada. The wagonmasters pointed out that we were welcome to stay beyond the end of the caravan, but we need to be getting up to the bay area, and, besides, our experience going through inspections and checkpoints on our own now leads us to want to process out of the country with the whole group, as we suspect there will be fewer issues that way.

Which reminds me that I neglected, yesterday, to report our experience with the military checkpoint near San Ignacio. You may recall we proceeded from Santa Rosalia to Guerrero Negro apart from and a good bit behind the caravan, due to our visit with Tioga and George. That meant going through the military checkpoint alone. Not that this is generally a problem, just that we were usually simply waved through when in caravan. So naturally we were boarded for inspection, which is not unusual. What was unusual, though, was that one of the two barely-old-enough-to-shave soldiers took an interest in my laptop computer. To the extent that he powered it up, then wanted me to enter my login password. I'm still not certain what it was he was looking for -- he launched several desktop icons, and called up the properties for my hard drive. I can only guess that drug dealers or weapons smugglers tend to have icons on their desktops named "List of Mexican AK-47 buyers" or some such.

I'm pretty sure that the only thing that deflected further scrutiny was my desktop background:

They had already seen the two cats, of course, and this image, I think, pretty clearly identified the computer as being for personal use (and belonging to crazy-cat-guy). I helpfully identified the two cats by pointing to the image and speaking their names in Spanish: Jorgé y Angel. Now here's the weird part: the two soldiers were, you guessed it, Jorgé and Angel. Jorgé, who was not the guy intently interested in the computer, was greatly amused. Angel, on the other hand, did not lose focus on the screen for even an instant. Eventually, he satisfied himself about who-knows-what, and shut the computer down, leaving the coach and sending us on our way. I have to say I had a tense few moments, as I have heard tales of items being "confiscated" at checkpoints, and my whole life is in this computer. In hindsight, I am sorry we could not capture a photo of Jorgé and Angel looking at George and Angel (photos are strictly forbidden at military installations), which was actually quite amusing.

Next time, we will not have the laptops out and lying around at inspection points. They didn't bother looking in any drawers (although the refrigerator received intense scrutiny).

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