(Continued from Sonora-the Endurance Test)...With a fresh water pump installed in Carlito, I sped confidently out into the desert under the midday sun. It wasn’t too long before my enthusiasm literally dried up though. The temperature soared past 47 degrees Celsius and there was not a spot of shade to be found, just spindly cactuses and in the distance, sandblasted and treeless mountains that did NOT beckon. I silently rued the day when I had decided to disconnect the belt on my air conditioner rather than buy another.
Astoundingly, there was the odd construction crew working on the highway, faces swathed in old T-shirts. They took on an otherworldly appearance, especially when glimpsed through the shimmering, dust-filled air. My nostrils began to burn from breathing said air; an unfamiliar and very unnerving sensation. Reasoning that if they were fine out here working, then I would be fine out here driving, I stubbornly pushed on.
I had been drinking my generous supply of water greedily, and suddenly I remembered the battery powered spray fan that my friend and fellow artist Tracy Bonin had given me as a parting gift. It had seemed almost a joke at the time, but now I fumbled under the seat for it with earnest desperation. Although it felt a bit like throwing an ice cube at the fires of hell, it did provide a momentary feeling of relief on a small patch of my body before the scorching wind turned it to steam. I began spraying frantically, and in my foolhardy rush sprayed my forehead, causing dehydrated sweat to run into my eyes. Blinded, roaring and cursing, I swerved dangerously for a moment before recovering. Luckily, the road was quite empty and I can now surmise that I was alone in my idiotic decision to drive in that place, at that hour.
Although the spray fan kept me going for a while, my exhaustion began to take hold and I found myself desperately searching for a place to pull over. I held out for a few miles hoping for some miraculous lean-to or shade of any kind, but had no such luck. My brain began to envision morbidly funny scenarios of policemen standing beside Carlito with a dried up mummy inside, radioing the chief with something like, “Yeah boss, we haven’t checked the plate yet but we’re assuming it was some sort of gringo, no Mexican would be this dumb…nice car though. Pretty sweet find on that front!”…I could hear the sound of my own wheezy laughter. Even in times like this I get a kick out of myself, I suppose that counts for something!
I had reached my limit. Much like a hiker lost in a blizzard, I found myself thinking I’ll just take a little nap here, it’s ok. I just need a little nap…and found myself pulling off the road into a dusty approach. I threw the car into park and drifted off, ignoring the faraway alarm bells going off in my brain. If I had had the presence of mind to record a video at that moment, it most likely would have included a very short and pathetic will and testament.
I must have been out for a few minutes when the sound of a man’s voice penetrated the stillness. Was I dead? The devilish heat suggested that if so, I had committed some terrible yet forgettable sin in my life. Perhaps the Jews were right, and my ravenous love of bacon had doomed me for eternity. I opened my eyes and turned my head to see a little old man poking his head over a fence beside Carlito. “Are you alright?” he asked in Spanish and I heard myself saying, “Si, todo esta bien” in reply despite the voice in my head screaming YELL FOR HELP YOU IDIOT!
Jolted back to reality, I pulled myself out of the car and threw a towel over the T-tops. I explained to the man that I just needed a little nap and would be ok. He replied with a worried glance to just call him if I needed anything, and that he would be at the guard post close by. That’s when I noticed that I was parked at the entrance road to some sort of non-military operation, and found myself wondering who the hell would be guarding something out in the middle of this desert so far from anything. Strange indeed, and a bit unsettling. I thanked him and he returned to his post.
Using a floor mat, I secured the towel over the T-tops and crawled back into the car. I laid across the front seat and began soaking myself from head to toe with the spray fan, sucking back as much water as I could handle while a little song called Tracy Bonin Is My Hero played in my head. Bit by bit, I was able to drop my temperature back to safe levels and after about 40 minutes passed out again for around 15, repeating the procedure when I woke up. I waved gratefully at the strange man who had also perhaps saved my life and drove back onto the road, feeling simultaneously half-dead and very alive.
I made it to Hermosillo and by then there was a bit of shade behind a truck stop, where I was able to get a solid two hours of sleep. I had drank over 6 litres of water that day and hadn’t peed once. I filled up my gas tank and as I was pulling away from the Oxxo, I noticed a very skinny and grimy old man glancing furtively at me while carefully eating some sort of small snack. I got the feeling he was very hungry and stopped, fishing through my travel goodies until I found a package of oatmeal cookies. I held them up and asked if he wanted them. His face broke out into an unashamed smile and he ran over to the window, taking the cookies with a gentle weathered hand. We nodded, and flashed eachother the peace sign as I drove away. Tears filled my eyes and I drifted down the road towards Santa Ana and the heat-relieving sunset. Life is very precious indeed… (to be continued)