Vagabond Tales: Fear And Loathing In San Felipe

The strip clubs in San Felipe, Mexico, aren’t open on Tuesdays.

For most travelers to Baja, this isn’t overly concerning. After all, with all of the surfing, fishing, diving and fish taco eating that can easily consumer your entire day, the fact that strip clubs are closed for one day of the week shouldn’t be a point of concern.

If, however, you’ve descended upon San Felipe after three days of camping in the desert with a reclusive, one-legged hermit (a story for a different time), and it happens to be a bachelor party, the fact that it’s a Tuesday suddenly becomes an issue.

This, however, is not a tale about strip clubs or hermits. It’s a tale about safety, and how the road to bad decisions can be a very gradual slope.

As I’ve mentioned before in the “2013 International Adventure Guide to Baja” and articles such as “I Traveled to Mexico and Came Back Alive“, the only way you’re going to get in trouble as a visitor to Baja is if you do something stupid like engage in drug deals in a back alley of a border town with unsavory characters in the middle of the night.

This isn’t a Mexico thing, mind you; this is an everywhere thing. Whether you’re in Mexico or Chicago, back alleys at 2 a.m. are potential staging areas for the next morning’s headlines. When you hear a report that two tourists were stabbed or robbed, and then find out that it was in a back alley of a border town at 2 a.m., a small part of you thinks they had it coming.

Just like no one plans on an accident, however, you don’t always plan on ending up in a back alley of a border town-sometimes it just happens. While you would never jump from Point A (land of good decisions) directly to Point D (land of horrendous decisions), sometimes the smaller jumps from A to B and B to C put you in striking range of Point D, the slippery slope of how you got there blurred by the casual descent.

Throw in a Mexican army general and a moonlighting prostitute, and you’ve created a mezcal-flavored cocktail for disaster.With regards to the San Felipe situation, one thing you should never do in a border town is publicly complain. (For the record, San Felipe is not officially classified as a border town. It’s actually two and half hours south of the border on the Sea of Cortez, but as a popular weekend destination it can come with its share of tourist town perils).

The problem with complaining in a budget international tourist town is there is a buck to be made in “solving the problem”. If you’re piecing the breadcrumbs together, when someone offers to “solve the problem” of a closed strip club it can only lead to bad places.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly how we met Emilio.

Casually seated on a motorcycle whose best miles were clearly behind it, Emilio told us he could help with our apparent dilemma.

“You need girls?” he asked, the words rolling off his mustachioed upper lip with the class of a human trafficker.

Despite the fact that half of our troupe soberly recoiled at the offer, two of our them, presumably spurred on by breakfast beers which are a staple of Mexican bachelor parties, decided to run with the offer to see how it would play out.

After a cryptic conversation which contained far too much dirty laughter, it was determined we would meet Emilio at 8 p.m. that evening at a bar that tourists don’t normally frequent. He asked for a deposit. We declined. Shockingly, he never showed.

Having been stood up by Emilio, I slid some crumpled pesos across a bar of even worse shape and ordered a round of Tecate’s for the table. In the dingy atmosphere of the poorly-lit cantina there was an aura of two parts disappointment and three parts relief. We never had any real plans about what we would actually do with Emilio and whoever walked through the door with him, and his failure to appear at the agreed upon destination was probably for the best.

The problem, however, is that seven American men in a seedy local establishment can draw a fair bit of attention. In our case, that attention happened to manifest itself in the form of a 250 lb. Mexican army general named Miguel who was in town on leave before returning back to active service. Or so he said.

Miguel joined our table, and by the time the sticky plastic square on legs could fit no more empty cans, shot glasses, or broken dreams, three things had become hazily apparent: Miguel “had our back”, he was taking us to another bar, and he’d made a call about some “girls”.

Following Miguel into the dark recesses of San Felipe, three wrong turns and numerous back alleyways led to a place no visitor should ever go. This place had no music. This place had no windows. This place was not the place to be. Ever. Luckily, we were cruising with a Mexican army general, so we would be fine. Right?

Settling uncomfortably into the den of sorrows, matters only became compounded when a shy and husky twenty-something female entered the den and sat at our table. This was curious, of course, because no one knew this woman, nor did she seem to have any plans of engaging in conversation.

Apparently the only one who knew what was happening was Miguel, and he couldn’t have been more pleased at the situation he had arranged.

It was then that we realized that there in that cartel-controlled (not a fact), disease-infested (potentially a fact), parlor of illicit underworld, a Mexican army general had made some phone calls and actually ordered us a prostitute (unfortunately, fact).

This, it should go without saying, is not where you want to find yourself.

With the next round of beers also came the terms: There was a motel across the street. The room would be $20. The remaining price was to be negotiable upon services. After an awkward and tequila-induced back and forth of potential costs, it was collectively determined that we had to get the hell out of Dodge.

One by one we made our escape, the fear of letting down Miguel blending with the fear of being shanked with a rusty fork the moment we stepped outside. The last we saw of our female companion she was sitting at a bus stop with a forlorn sense of failure. She had left when she realized the night was going nowhere, and my heart goes out to that girl at the bus stop wherever she might be today.

Thankfully, all seven of us would wake up in the tent-less, sandy campground we had opted to call home for the night. In an evening that could have gone any number of disastrous directions, the only direction we wanted to go was home.

Five hours and two taco shops later, we would cross the border into San Diego definitively worse for the wear but happy we weren’t a headline.

Besides, we had other problems to worry about now, like how to pay for the $8,000 in damages we had caused to the rental cars.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

[Photo Credits: Kyle Ellison]