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    Baja California

    I had great big talks with mama and pops before heading down to Mexico, coming to no real conclusion other than if you gotta go, go, be safe, be good, take care of yourself, I love you. In parting we better realize one another; it’s the absence of someone you truly care about that makes reuniting such a wonderful, wonderful thing.

    1035709471Cruising across the border into Tijuana was admittedly nerve-racking. Having been warned countless times of bandits, gang violence and corrupt police we were a little on edge, but still in good spirits. Fully awake. Ready for anything. Swelling with excitement, full up of joy, all things in front of us, the being here, the new, the foreign landscapes, cultures, peoples, things to come. We set out in the morning time.

    Heading off for Mexico on a bike, I had heard a lot of negative things from a lot of people very close to me. Like,

    “They’re gonna kill ya for your bike.”

    “Baja California is worse than Communist Russia.”

    “This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”

    Instead I focused on Townes Van Zandt’s description of the place. “Mexico ain’t bad Lord, the people there’ll treat ya kind.”***

    Then rolling into Mexico, walking through the border, no one even checked our bags or passports. We strolled past men with AK47s, past mamas nibbling sweetly on babies’ noses, electric piano Spanish street pop musicians, taco vendors, and a long line of people trying to enter the USA. The wait must be half a day.


    Border towns are often rough. And once we hop on the road I feel like I’m in no mans land. The road is rugged with potholes, there’s no shoulders, and fast drivers grumble through bad traffic. Slowly slowly we climb our way out of Tijuana, up a big hill, stopping only for (the best) street tacos (ever), and finally reach the peak. We race down the other side, rocks shooting out from under our tires, slip-sliding, yelling out arrrriba! Ay yi yi! dust trails from the debris on the road getting all up in my eyes, hauling ass, seeing all of Tijuana, foggy in the Mexican haze, cluttered shacks on desert hillsides with ragged homemade signs tied to ropes—it feels wild here. It feels like anything could happen and I feel free down to the depths of my soul. And without a cell phone too. Excited to eat Mexican food only, for senoritas, and for learning a brand new human language like children.

    (December 17th - lil morning moment in desert cafe) KIND PEOPLE

    Talking slow, long gaps in conversation, petting the restaurant cat with its slit tiger eyes in the morning sun, I ask Juan, the cook, que haces cuando no hay personas aqui? What do you do when there’s nobody here? “…Miro a las montanas,” I look at the mountains, he said.

    Patiently interacting. I don’t speak Spanish well yet. The cat runs over to Juan, hops onto the picnic table, Juan pets him. We sit there drinking instant coffee in silence. It’s these people—patient, slow, kind—that make me want to learn Spanish. “Es muy tranquilo.” I said. “Si.”
    (December 16th – lil evening moment in middle of nowhere)

    I got caught up in the desert in a
    diarrhea sunset.

    Wiped my ass with the roots of some kind of yucca
    and a soft looking rock.
    Saw an eyeball in the rock so
    I had to stop.

    Then the sun just kept on gettin yellower
    and yellower.

    The winter wind was blowing hard.
    A bush with little white cotton ball flowers was waving.

    1035709314 1035707957 1035707742

    As a whole. the food in Mexico was wonderful, though sometimes you had no idea what kind of meat you were eating. We’d end up trying tongue (lengua), sheep’s cheek, and chicken extras just to see how they would go down, slimy and fatty and all, to mostly positive review, though sometimes there’d be that chunky, chewy piece that just wasn’t quite right. 3/4ths of the team ended up getting E- coli at one time or another.


    Photos by Riley Engemoen
    Shot on: 135 Color Infrared 35mm

    ***After looking up Townes Van Zandt’s lyrics on the internet I learned the correct words of the song are in fact “New Mexico ain’t bad Lord, the people there’ll treat ya kind.” Oh well. Solace is solace.  


    1. Leanne

      wow just wow. as poignant as ever and those images… are out of this world. keep on keeping on!

    2. Pops

      Hey Bud,
      Excellent piece. Go, be safe, be good, take care of yourself, and come home.I love you.

    3. Brandon Blackwelder

      Hey Riley,

      I am Porscha’s uncle B. I think your adventure is a wonderful thing! You are obviously the special person P talks about. Heard about tit from your mom after seeing her at Trade Days last weekend. I want to hear the unpublished details one day. Take care and GBU

    4. Mama

      Just read this again…..every time I read it, I read it a little differently. I am so incredibly proud of you and your beautiful spirit/soul. I love you

    5. mytiauna h

      hello from the other side

    6. daisy

      i think that this story was really good about how they traveled and stuff and their experience

    7. Kelsey!

      So great. Just found you guys because of BackPacker Steve’s video. Can’t wait to read and watch more, and… plan an adventure of my own☺️ Love your souls already!!

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