I fly over La Paz, the Baja's largest city. The Pacific ocean is clearly visible 30 miles farther west. I fly toward it. Below me, scattered parcels of land are cultivated, green and flat. The plane and I fairly skip along knowing the land below us is friendly and open.
We reach the Pacific shoreline. Banking left I head south towards Cabo San Lucas, the very tip of Baja California. Flying over broad, white beaches for fifty miles, I do not see a single person.
And then we are there. The rock arch that marks the end of the 800-mile-long peninsula is just ahead. I drop the plane down to 1,000 feet. A cruise ship lies at anchor in the bay. Motorboats pull skiers suspended under parachutes while sailboats cut white wakes heading out into open ocean. I wonder if the tourists below me are as surprised to see this old plane circling above them as I am to see this miniature Acapulco below me.
I circle the harbor twice and land at a small strip north of the city. There is nothing at the airport except a tiny adobe building. Above it swings a blown-out windsock. I think briefly about taking off and flying thirty miles to the new international airport that now serves the city, but decide to stay.
The building is empty, no furniture, not even a telephone. A dusty road leads into town through the desert. I start the four-mile walk. Soon a rancher stops and offers me a ride in his antique pick-up truck.
Four hours later, I am walking through the small town looking for a quiet place to have dinner. I am tired from the day's flying. I find a small cafe and sit down at one of the outside tables along the street.
I start to study the menu when a waiter comes over. Would I mind if two ladies join me? An unexpected question. Well, of course not. Maybe they would like to hear a few of my flying stories.
They are from Los Angeles, mid-thirties. They arrived yesterday and expect to stay three or four days. I get the impression they are on a flexible schedule. The tall one with short blond hair tells me that she lived in Mexico City as a singer for five years but today is back in the States and is a holistic masseuse. I am wondering what that is when her darker companion introduces herself.
"So, where's your wife?" she asks, seeing my wedding ring. The woman is a master of small talk.
Being too slow to respond with anything clever, I simply say, "Well, I'm down here by myself. I just flew down from Boston and my wife doesn't care much for flying and stayed home." I must sound like an idiot.
"You mean your wife's in Boston and you flew down here by yourself?" She's not doing much better. "Yes, that's right," I reply, beginning to consider the unexpected moral dilemma that seems to be developing.
Two Mexican men in their mid-twenties come up to the table. The blond seems to know one of them. They introduce themselves. During the day, they drive one of the motorboats that pulls parasailers around the bay. They buy the table a round of margaritas.
The small band begins the next number. One of the men takes the blond's arm and escorts her to the dance floor without bothering to ask her to dance. The other smiles at the darker girl and she is up and walking to the dance floor with him.
They say Cabo San Lucas is a great town if you are looking for action. But you have to move quickly.
Two days later, driving to the airport in a taxi, I worry about my plane. It was foolish to leave it at that isolated strip. Seeing the poverty driving out of town away from the resort areas, it seems almost inevitable that my solitary plane will have been robbed.
Approaching the plane, I see that indeed something is wrong. The door handle is broken off. Opening the plane's door, I see the broken handle has been carefully placed on the plane's floor. It apparently had fallen into the dirt when broken. The intruder must have picked it up and put it into the plane, perhaps assuming I could repair it.
Inside, the interior is much like I left it, except certain items are gone - my survival kit, four gallons of water, jacket, flashlight, tool kit, sleeping bag, calculator. My maps and log books are untouched. The intruder took only what would be useful; otherwise, the plane is intact.
I take off from the small airstrip. The compass swings to the northeast as I turn homeward thinking about the man who picked the broken handle out of the dirt for me to find.