Overland Odyssey: Travelling North America by Road

Part One: Baja Sur to Southern California

Will Franks 🌊
ILLUMINATION

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Heading South to North

Day One

Omar and I descend from the mountains in the truck into the lowlands of Baja California Sur. Into the heat. We run errands for a few hours (car battery, tyre swap, trash heap, food shop, medicine pickup) before heading to the beach. We swim in a dancing expanse of light blue and gold and weightless silver, before the whole scene fades into pinks and smoky greys and a calm kind warm night makes its presence known. As the beach empties of people we feast on roast chicken and tortillas and canned beers, talking dharma and life and awakening and perfection and plans. Laughing, we ascend the abandoned lifeguard’s perch, a wooden hut on high stilts and gaze out like kings across our glistening ocean kingdom. I am happy, really roaringly happy and earthy and light at the same time and in love with life and the sky and the earth and the green plants pulsing in my memory, still living imaginal my within me after seven weeks in the mountain desert forest sanctuary of Tsegyalgar West meditation centre. My sojourn in the eagle’s nest is over and I am back in the metal glass whitewash jungle. And yet I feel free. Everything is a floating reflection. I am a flower in the sky, and it’s raining so very very softly. We cruise back to town with a vast ambient wave of pulsing electronic music before romping through the streets of San José del Cabo observing the stumbling crowds of tourists with curiosity and finding delicious plates of food discarded on benches. After a street-circling saga to find the beach, Omar drops me off and we part ways until our next unscheduled meeting. I sleep on the beach, eating mangoes to hydrate because my water was all out. I meditate for an hour or two before curling up in my sleeping bag under the stars and snoozing clouds. I sleep brightly, a sleep filled with dreams and encounters and joy and lucidity. I am woken by the dawn and chirping birds. The pink orange song of the sunrise is beginning and the whole scene is vast, inconceivably vast, as if I am an ephemeral celestial image in the open expanse of mind, I am the shimmering luminosity of space itself, seeing itself in and through and as this miraculous dream, and I see the strolling silhouettes of the early morning walkers and I cry tears of compassion for they who do not know themselves dreamers, as dreamt, as lucidity itself without subject or object or ground, and yet it is perfect for how could we not eventually remember who we and what we are, it is all perfection and gratitude is glowing through my body and I sit and bask and practice and enjoy for several hours before making my merry way into town, slugging a cold horchata on my way to the highway for the first hitch of the season.

Day Two

A few hours later I’m in La Paz. Across the road from the bus station is the beach, so I spend the evening writing on my phone in a cafe and then walking up and down the front gawking at tourists gawking at me, the scraggy hungry backpacker with a guitar and bag of food, snacking on skipped delights (some greasy Chinese food, some chilaquiles) and meditating on a bed of crushed sandy seashells gazing into the open space and sky. Awareness open. Everything open! I spend a couple of hours in the bus station (free toilets, free phone charging) translating a text by Namkhai Norbu from Spanish into English and making notes of all the words I don’t know. Mostly body parts (always handy.) I sleep tucked under an overhang in the sea wall, rise with the sun and proceed to do Yantra Yoga amongst a motley crew of morning exercisers. Vigorous in-out breathing coupled with swift and precise movements to purify the prana, awaken the vajra body (and speech, and mind), pranayama to balance the internal energetics. A living transmission direct from the magnanimous Padmasambhava, through the legendary awakened translator Vairocana, all the way down to the present day. I feel good, bright, balanced, energised from within. I hang and swing and go upside down on some bars beside a beautiful young Mexican man who is clearly “batshit”, as we say back in England, utterly crazy talking to invisible people and even responding to them with surprise and sassy attitude. He looks directly at his biceps as he does pull-ups with intense focus. And then he vanishes leaving nothing but a pair of shorts on the ground. How incredible! I soon decide to get an early bus to the north of Baja, I simply don’t fancy hours on the side of road in the empty desert (this is Mexico’s least populated state), and in any case I’m not a hitchhiking purist. I’m a pragmatist and I also understand and even enjoy paying for comfort. Before long I’m on a very very long bus ride, the kind that forces your surrender into a timeless place and to amuse yourself without even thinking of how much time has passed. I listen to Fleet Foxes silently singing along the whole album of Helplessness Blues and practice the two part formula (switching between noticing selflessness and selfing) for long stretches with eyes open to the vast cactus-ruled expanses of the Baja peninsula which features majestic rocky canyons and mesas and valleys and sharp scrubby brush. High big birds circle and soar, colours appear as the sun fades into greyscale clouds. Some cacti must be four metres high, my favourites without any branches whatsoever, simply standing bolt upright as solemn green totems, great dry poles of plants baking in the sun for endless quiet decades. After a long outdoor immigration check (half the bus is from South America, Ecuador and Peru) I watch an OTT movie on the bus and eat and relax and wait for sleep to find me, rolling through another dark forgotten landscape.

Arrival in Ensenada

Day Three

In a café:

Yes! My love! My world! Universe as she comes to me! And as I come to her all is our dialog, our dance, our trance, our dream, our shared radiance, our shared vision of unspeakable beauty and here it is, earth the blazing blue morning of earth and the sea is alive with love and the air too and the soft faces of the distant hills flanking the shifting silken surface of the bay, and here inside looking out to the horizon I have come for eggs and salsa and tortillas and hash browns and coffee to fuel an opening odyssey of a day at the beach my last day in Mexico, and preparing beside me across half of the restaurant are women young and old set at bright-blue laid tables with cakes and breads and rosettes and on the wall: EL NIÑO. A boy! ¡Que un milagro! He is born! He is risen! He is with us, and we with him! And I almost cry with gratitude before eating, I stop with my hands together and eyes closed for a moment to just be in it, the magic of this life, a child arriving from beyond to live among us, the perfection and the mystery of it, as I see more and more that no matter what unfolds for me it is exactly what I need, like this breakfast which is by no means perfect, a little cold, a little bland, a little salty, salsa isn’t spicy, and like how all of that is perfect in all of this, simply because it is. It’s like every moment I have a choice, whether to let my mind distance me from the glory and the gift and the love behind it all, or not. It’s just like when your grandmother gives you a hand-knitted sweater and it’s a little off, a little funky, the sleeves are too short and the colours don’t suit you and you’re unsure whether you will ever wear it outside the house and yet, and yet, this newborn woolly baby of an object is alive with love and in the sparkle of your grandmother’s ancient glowing eyes in her own childish heart of generosity and innocence is that very perfection, the perfection beyond your mind’s flickering futile games of criticism and complaint, and when the inner light of love shines bright enough the dim fires of malice (and contempt for life) are subsumed in a burning uncontrollable explosion of gratitude and kindness that floods every moment with light like the light of nuclear fire in the void a fire that could only ever ignite under the fierce intensity and pressure of inward gravitational collapse, and just so the hard and inescapable feedback of material incarnation propels us to the explosive irradiation of creative ecstasy that is life and love and friendship as an embodied human embedded in the music of the immortal love of the infinite cosmos.

It no longer matters to me where I am or who I am with: it’s always an absolutely perfect opportunity to come back to love, to be kind, to create something and someone unprecedentedly new and unparalleled and inconceivably, as you are (un)bound to do in every moment of a living waking dream like this, like us, just one dream in a boundless vista of dreams all sustained by the open abundance of the meta-universe, dharmakaya, intrinsic empty awareness, the original fat laughing buddha freedom.

And everywhere I go I am with my brothers and sisters, I am with my parental creator spirits and their parents too and our ocean of ancestral family members (the big laughing uncles, the grumbling chucking aunts, the blind praying grandmothers, the noble chieftain grandfathers), and always and forever and everywhere I am with my family, a servant and son and friend and artist and lover, and some of us can speak and some of us cannot but all of us can sing and that is all that matters, that is all that matter is, these songs are the very essence of matter and materiality, the vibrational emanation of voidness into and unto itself such that form is disclosed, energy is strung and woven from the zero-point field into the fabric of elemental existence, pulsing and humming and whirring and zipping and snapping and purring at innumerable frequencies throughout immeasurable time and space, womb of wonder womb of grace, and love is fair across your face, and love is free in every place and the bright soft warm morning light and air dawns within us as we take new birth and step once more into an open winking question of a day, at home in the arms of angels, at sea on the laughter of God.

Later I kick back at the beach and spontaneously write a song called “Seahorse Daydream” leaning against the empty lifeguards house, a dreamy carefree acoustic dainty, playing the chords round and round until I hit the changes right where the melody shifts, waiting without concern for the next lines to come dripping on through out of the midday ether and onto the page, through my open funnel of a brain and singing sweetly out into the sea air, and before long I realise I’m singing to the sea and it was her great big lovely presence that pulled a song out of me, and I just wanted to show her how much I love and appreciate her especially since I know it will be a while until I see her beaming Pacific face again so here’s a tune for you Ma, you big beauty, and when I’m about done with a first sketch I feel hot and heavy so I strip down and change into bright yellow shorts and run into the ocean crashing into the waves and diving down under the big icy breaking slugs and exploding up again into the shining bright vastness and for some time I’m pretty wild, whooping and shouting and laughing, charged and activated as I have realised that going slightly crazy is one way to ride the ecstatic shock of cold water and to let the inner energy to move so that one can arrive in the calm phase of blissful dissolution into the expanse and ride the liquid lovemaking interface between sea and sky, with me their mad happy child lolling and lapping through the crystal waters until I decide to wade out and run up and down the beach before wrapping up and giving popcorn to the dudes who watched my bags and moving on. Further up the beach I find big rolling patches of little sprouting green succulent plants with pink flowers clumped on soft sand dunes and so I lie among them and fall asleep and wake in a daze to the whooshing waves and children laughing and birds calling and meditate for some time, phasing through open selfless awareness and contracted ideated selfing, allowing the latter to reveal itself as the former, slowly slowly, and when I’m wrapping up (actually I’m already wrapped up with a blue scarf around my face as a sun shield) I sense a presence nearby and look back to see a young sunburnt man with his back to the sea wall and he sees me and smiles and beckons and his eyes and teeth and silver beercan all glint in the sun at once and I sense an invitation from the universe so I pack up and walk over and meet José, ex-police, ex-pastry chef, itinerant farm worker, enjoying his afternoon off at the beach, his thick arms red with burns from aggro-industrial fertiliser, and we hit it off and talk and drink and share stories and before long he tells me there are three kinds of people in Mexico: buena, malo y muy malo… good, bad and very bad… and I might have known it but he’s lived in amongst it, stabbed three times in the ribs as a cop in Tijuana, a gig in which you either get out early or end up dead and so here he is with a sleeping bag and ten beers and and small wad of pesos, and some time later up rolls a crusty smiling old dude with a cowboy hat and one eye, a beatup old steel string acoustic guitar and tiny scruffy little dog, also another José, making the two of them tocayos, a word for which they quiz me for the English equivalent before we work out that there isn’t one – a word for two or more people with the same name – but they are pleased and brotherly in their bond and we enjoy the conversation, and José the elder enjoys using his drawling American English and hands me his guitar which is missing a string when I tell him I also play and I pull out some southern fingerpicking blues with dirty bends and it feels good, really good to make some steel strings wail (I carry a nylon), and when I mention I was planning to sleep on the beach José the elder says he too, later he will bring some lovely warm cobijas (blankets) because it’s cold and windy up here at night and we will have a merry old time, and his wife is going to meet him at sunset too, so with a few hours to go we make our way through the jovial jostling beach crowds (mainly gathered for a series of youth volleyball matches) with our two guitars and José the younger is holding José the elder’s little black retro CD-player boom box and together we serenade various beer-drinking little groups, old José wailing out classic Mexican ballads which unfailingly start people whooping and erupting in high pitch OW!s and singing along every word, and I jam along in a Latin mariachi style and before long we have a nice little cash flow coming in and we move on up to the promenade over the beach and keep at it giving a happy young Mexican man his favourite hits until the sun is getting orange and so we begin to walk together, old José strutting proud and tall in his cowboy hat and young José in a wild joy because the boombox is now cranking out Mexico’s finest salsa with blasting brass and golden layered vocals and fat joyous drum hits and I can’t believe the energy of that music and I experience and understand how total is the presence of the singers and musicians and I marvel at the artistry and commitment and it moves me it moves my brothers too and we are high, we are rolling riding high on the wave of life, grooving as an unstoppable trio down the wide sidewalk in a sexy Latin ecstasy, dancing silly and happy and carefree as we move spinning drunk on the magic of life as people stop to take pictures and cars honk and we are flying, really flying our way and we carry on this way until maybe half an hour later we get to a gas station and slow down to stop to recharge, José the elder immediately snapping up a behind-the-counter Chinese dinner and a six pack of beers and I get another Chinese fried chicken chowmein for the three of us with my pocketful of beach-busked earnings and together we sit on a bench outside and feast like kings and here I begin to appreciate something deep about José the elder like how he doesn’t automatically smile when I do, he looks right at me and sees me and it allows me to see through my own unconscious niceness to the striving living human being beneath or within, behind the act, just like him who isn’t acting or pretending and then we meet eye to eye for brief intense amazing flashes, actually his one eye is green and hazel just like mine and rare for a Mexican and he says he is so happy, happy for the music that came crashing through us and that he is excited to get his accordion and to keep going and ascend to the next level of beach bound musical gallantry, the roaming blue troubadours sin casa, but first we go for the blankets and ten minutes later we’re on the side of the main road in a dark rickety open wooden shack next to a small block of slumlike houses and at this point I get somewhat spooked and somewhat wise to the unusual situation I have planted myself in, a gringo in a notoriously dangerous region where the muy malo live and move and rob and abduct and sell organs on the black market and a rising frequency of “just what the am I doing here again?” enters at pretty much the same rate as I sober up and decide I want to go back the beach and relative safety as soon as possible, especially when José the younger makes his leave to return in thirty minutes (which is an almost meaningless statement on the streets of Mexico) and also as I retrospectively register the little anomalies of the previous hours, like how José the elder wordlessly and signlessly handed something to a dark serious weird looking man walking in the opposite direction to us on the beachfront and how the younger said vamos (let’s go) to the fat gangster-looking driver of the car leaving the little slum settlement and I just don’t know if I can trust them, my beach king brothers and yet I so want to and probably I can, for the depth and authenticity of their stories and laughter tells me that they are trustworthy, but now it’s just me and old José who no longer wants to sleep at the beach because of bothersome cops and anyway his woman is coming soon, he can feel it, and when he says that I realise that she is never ever going to come but that the fantasy keeps him going, and he is such a sad soft lovely honest man who just wants to stick together and make music and he makes a good case for it: three men sleeping out together are a solid unit and much harder to assault than a single sleeper, who is as he describes “easy cake” and sure I can’t disagree with that, no doubt about it, I even offer my understanding with the recognition that three men together are, on the contrary, “difficult cake” (which incidentally feels to me like a rather good album or at least song name, something in the Frank Zappa lineage), but anyway he can tell that I’m uneasy and want to go despite our brotherhood and so I do, I just tell him that I’m going to the gas station quickly but when I get there I keep walking back towards the beach and make a snap decision to head directly for the City Express Hotel sign I can see beaming a few blocks away, a sure way out of a sketchy scenario for I figure if there is even a slight chance of getting kidnapped or messed up here then I am going to pay to protect myself, and in any case at this point my survival engines are too revved up to make a good sleep outside possible and so on my final night in Mexico I crash into the clean glassy hotel but I can’t pay because there’s not enough money on my card but I do wrangle five minutes of internet out of them to catch the location of a much cheaper hotel nearby and half an hour I’m in the blasting shower of Las Palmas hotel singing and feeling extremely hot and almost sick from the sun and beer and fast walking and heavy greasy Chinese food and after freshening up in the pure clear water I take a walk outside to cool down and meet a fat bearded man called Eric riding his bike and his laughter is an earthing medicine that brings me back to carefree presence and I am so pleased to talk to him in fluid expressive Spanish without stopping to question or slow him down and his big open heart is open enough to get me sentimental about leaving the great grand people of Mexico, and when he also agrees that the beach is dangerous at night I start to feel very good about my decision and make my way to my deep soft white bed and sink in deep, deeper than any bed I’ve slept in for months and I just keep sinking down into the dreamworld and on down into the glistening darkness beneath and beyond and in the early hours I dream of a wooden doorway to an ominous black space and the doorway is closing, assisted by the spirit of Iboga the African grandfather plant who is sensed as being somehow “on my team”, and on waking I feel relieved and rested and ready, ready for the home stretch to freedom and the United States of America, and I spend some minutes standing praying in silence and drinking in the breaking palm tree sunlight before taking a morning walk to the nearest currency exchange to swap my very last £100 emergency cash for pesos for the four bus ride to Mexicali at the US border, and you can imagine the consternation of this here English gentleman when the man behind the counter has not even heard the glorious name of the Great British Pound Sterling (can you believe it, my dears), only dollars and pesos, hombre, and after two more exchanges with the same response I’m back out on the street figuring my options. With that plan out the window I am back to the drawing board and yet the whole thing start to feels to feel deliciously like a madly vast video game I have set up for myself, a hypercomplex puzzle that takes all my ingenuity to solve and break through to the next level, perfectly designed for my ongoing evolution and transformation, and it all starts to become very fun because I know it is completely possible to get to the USA today, it’s just a question of how, and when I get back to the hotel internet I realise with some luck that I have scurried away fifty long-forgotten pounds in a savings account and so I make a transfer and head to the bus station, catching on my walk the best fish and shrimp tostadas in the world (because Anthony Bourdain says so) for breakfast from an unassuming food stand I just happened to have the impulse to pass by and investigate, and so with my very last pesos well spent I make for the bus and roll on up out of the coastal desert and climb high into a mountainous land of vineyards and olive groves and verdant valleys strewn with sand-coloured boulders, and I sleep and practice and write and later awake to phenomenally vast desert plain far far beneath the mountain we are cruising down from, and for bend after bend we zigzag through the rockpile summits and towards the flat expanse beneath, before long pulling into the scruffy metal town of Mexicali. I take a one hour walk in the hot afternoon sun from the bus station to the border crossing saying my heart’s goodbyes to Mexico and preparing for a cultural gear shift, also for a potentially pressured interview with US border control (I’m scruffy and I pre-emptively expect suspicion from authorities), but after a straightforward five minute chat with a friendly female guard who seems to catch my innocent traveller’s excitement, I’m through and across to Calexico, California, home and away, home free in the USA, and here we are, and here I am, ready for tomorrow and the road East to Yuma Arizona with the hot desert wind in my face and the sun at my back… who knows what’s next? Who even cares?

I’m so happy to be here.

Catch you soon,

Will

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Love, W x

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Will Franks 🌊
ILLUMINATION

A Heartbroken Terrified Warrior Who Is So Happy To Be Here. Meditator. Researcher. Soulmaker.