By Justin Porter Biel
I’m driving down a treacherous road filled with sand banks and large, chalky boulders. Swerving to avoid the rocks, I flip my sunglasses onto my head, peering out the open window. A steady stream of yellow dust kicks up from the tires, encompassing the car and blurring my vision. Squinting, I see more rocks, large and imposing, dropped onto the desert landscape, set within a sea of cacti. Beyond the valley floor, barren hills meet a cloud-speckled sky. I scan the road ahead looking for markers of human civilization. There’s nothing.
It feels like we’ve taken a wrong turn because this dirt road is unlike any highway I’ve ever seen. I proceed cautiously, peering around each corner, unsure of what we’ll find. My imagination runs rampant, envisioning all forms of potential danger – the road suddenly dropping off into a deep ravine, a Mad Max gang of hooligans hanging outside an apocalyptic dune buggy on the hunt for petrol, a group of broad-faced Neanderthals holding sharpened bones.
Sitting beside me in the passenger seat, my fiancé asks what I’m thinking. I tell her everything in rapid-fire sentence fragments. With each scenario, my voice gets louder, and the words come out faster. At the end I’m breathing hard, staring at her, awaiting a response.
“You’re crazy,” she says.
Disregarding the comment, I take another sip of my beer.
I drive down the road for another hour and experience a peaceful transition; my mind pulled into a meditative state by the land’s inescapable beauty. Becoming in tune with the surroundings, I see traces of life everywhere. Roadrunners dash about in the sands. Vultures with large black wings and wrinkled, pink heads sit on branches. A hare moves quickly across the open land. Hawks soar, flying in the current of the wind. A spikey-tailed lizard jumps from a rock and scurries into the surrounding brush. Even the sky takes on life, with clouds expanding and regrouping in an unpredictable dance of motion.
My fiancé and I share a glance of peace, yet angst is hiding under the surface. We could both use a break from the bumpy road. Our water supply is dwindling, and we’ve been sitting idly for one too many hours. We consider pulling off the road to rest, but that isn’t a satisfying option. We are thirsting for shade and cold drinks. Most of all, we need to know we’re going in the right direction.
Up ahead there’s a chain-link fence decorated with dozens of empty beer cans. The aluminium shards reflect brightly in the mid-day sun. There’s a large gate and behind it, a random structure made from wood, slats of metal and plastic sheeting. Driving closer, we see more of the property – partially standing campers in a lopsided row, huge rubber tires lying sideways, an artistic arrangement of toilets sitting idly in the sand, many broken down cars.
I roll to a stop in front of the main gate. Looking upwards, we make out the words.
Below, on a smaller sign, it reads.
Info Turistica. English spoken. Cold Beer. Café. Camping. Agua.
Dust is swirling across the property, rattling the empty cans and all desert wildlife has vanished. Here, Coco’s Corner is all that exists, a place in purposeful disarray.
“This could be the best…or worst idea ever,” I say.
I pull in front of the main structure, exit the vehicle, and walk towards the doorway. As I step inside my eyes adjust slowly. However, when the room comes into full view, my mouth drops open. There are hundreds of pairs of women’s underwear nailed to the ceiling, dangling inches from my head – all different colors, styles, and sizes, swaying like trophies in the desert wind. On every pair, there are sentimental notes, each made out to the mysterious proprietor named Coco.
A single question runs through my mind.
Who is this panty-pirate of the desert?
On cue, I get my answer.
A man is standing across the room. He is barrel-chested and shirtless, with tan skin and a baldhead. He’s wearing green cargo shorts, and below the knees, both legs are missing. He is standing on the stumps, which are protected by two worn kneepads.
“Bienvenidos,” he says. “Cerveza?”
For the next hour, we are guests in Coco’s home. We share Pacifico’s around a dining room table made from old, industrial cable wheel. He offers a tour of his house, showing us his bar, his kitchen, and his bedroom. He tells us how he built the property from scratch, most of it completely alone, and with the use of only one leg. Outside, we take pictures of his art installations – ingenious and beautiful – and these too are made entirely of recycled materials.
We are nothing more than travelers passing by, and yet Coco shares his home kindly and openly. Before we get back on the road, he asks us to sign his guestbook, telling us that this one is the sixth edition. We write down our names and the cities of our birth, feeling like we’ve just joined some secret club.
In his customary fashion, he requests a pair of my fiancé’s underwear in return. For Coco, we are more than happy to oblige.
Location of Story: Coco©s Corner is in Baja California on Highway 5, 110KM South of Puerticitos. There is FREE camping for anyone Coco likes, while beer, water, and coffee are for sale. All underwear donations are highly appreciated.