Coco’s Corner…….It sure ain’t chocolate!

 Imagine……..Desert sunsets dressed in purple, red and gold….as coyotes sing their evening song!


The second full moon of this trip hung low in the night sky, darkening previous nights star-filled skies. Coyotes forlorned cries, answered by the softened cry of a distant female, filled the unexpected crisp air of a sudden fall season. It had thankfully replaced the humidity-sodden closeness of the past summer nights.

Tractor trailers, rumbling downhill across the twenty-two mile stretch of unpaved, rock strewn, desert road, sporadically broke the night’s silence, as they hit their spark arrestors, slowing their descent from the mountainous road, to avoid flattening Coco’s Corner.



As sleep eluded me……and Tony dozed quietly beside me…..Coco…as he had done for the last twenty-five years…..snored softly in the plywood bed he had built discreetly in a corner behind his desert bar.


After starting his journey in Ensenada and passing through Chipala, the man walked onto this property on December 27, 1990, arriving at 4:30 in the afternoon. If asked, he will look up at his clock, think a minute and tell you the exact number of years, months, hours and minutes he has lived in his chosen world.

According to his own words, “He had ten pesos in his pocket and the shoes on his feet when he declared this land his own.” He paid nothing for his small piece of barren desert that only had a donkey trail leading to it from some far away place. Despite seven robberies and the Government trying to throw him out after his first five years, he has remained the proprietor of Coco’s Corner to this very day.

Over the years he designed his decor to suit his lifestyle and his own personal tastes. His four-walled, muti-material residence and business are the center point of his property. Fences, comprised of empty beer cans, tree stumps and branches, greet you as you come over the hill. A tree trunk adorning an old electric typewriter and a fax machine grace entrance to the dirt floor, three-walled patio. From the patio ceiling hang hundreds of pairs of guests underwear, all signed and dated. License plates, doll heads, religious necklaces and a thousand other trinkets fill every tiny crevice of the walls and ceiling. Old campers and two outhouses, gaily painted, crisscross the surrounding property. A circle of artfully placed toilets showcasing the cab of a tractor complete the picture.

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He has done it alone. He has done it to spite the loss of both legs, one to an accident and one to diabetes. He has never had any neighbors but, he has countless friends and visitors from around the world, people who never forget him and never see him need for anything.

Coco runs a simple business. He sells beer. You are expected to help yourself from his non-freezing freezer, behind his counter. Should it be your first visit and you are not aware of this practice, he hands you your first one and informs you of the proper procurement of the second one. No tab is run. None are needed. When you leave he asks you what you had and tallies what you owe, without paper or pencil.

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As we wiled away the afternoon with a cold beer at Coco’s one community table, two young construction workers from the road project pulled onto the property. Quiet words were passed between the men and Coco. The men helped themselves to a beer and joined us at the table. Coco appeared carrying a very large knife, idled by us, playfully jabbing Tony’s ankle with the tip of the knife…..laughing at the concerned look on Tony’s face…..and assured us all that he would return shortly. He fired up his uniquely-modified ATV and disappeared into the desert, only to return twenty minutes later with a large hunk of cactus.


Without any words, we all sat at the table, our toes dug into the sand with anticipation, sipping our beers and watched as he artfully carved the heart out of the cactus piece. A brief inspection, a look of satisfaction and an authoritative command to the young man to go and fill the milk jug with water, broke the silence at the table.


He turned his rugged, weather-beaten face to me and said, “Garambullo, five-point cactus, not six point, five point, you understand, Lady? Boy hurts when he pees. You put heart in water, wait twenty-four hours, drink whole gallon, no more hurt when you pee. You understand? You have sick stomach, I cut you piece of my Mesquite tree, boil it in water, make you better. Make cancer better, too.”


Five point       Six point

I assured him I did. What I understood best was that I had just met the Mexican curandero, or village healer, that I had written about in my book many years before. My character is no longer fictitious to me. He is a real person in an outrageous place called Coco’s corner.

The two young men paid for their beers and left Coco’s happily smiling, clutching their gallon jug.


Coco tells you that for the price of one beer, you can camp for free. He proudly announces that he has never charged anyone to stay the night. Before he goes to bed, he arrives unexpectedly on his ATV and visits you to say good-night. He offers you one of his little campers ‘because they are more comfortable than what you have’ and he asks if you need power.



He lets you know that he is going to run his generator for one hour because he watches ‘a half movie a night’and then he motors the fifty feet home and parks his ATV where his customers will sit in the morning. Exactly one hour later, the generator is silent and all lights are out. All is well and tomorrow is another day.

In the morning he offers you coffee and then, pointing to the corner in his makeshift kitchen, he commands, “Come back here!” As you obediently follow him, he whips his wheelchair around and shows you to his stove, upon which a teakettle is boiling water. He then moves toward a grocery-filled table and routes out the instant coffee, pushes himself away and tells you to make it yourself. It is obvious that he has done all of this before.

Once you settle at the table with your cup, he hands you a giant book. He has drawn a small picture of your vehicle on the next available line “and he hands you a pen. He insists that you write your information in the entire space he has allotted to you. Nothing less than full is acceptable. He has a completed book for each year he has been in business.


Our little VW picture is really cute and our name, address and business card almost filled the whole space. He would not take his pen back until I filled the two remaining empty lines, declaring that I was nothing but trouble. He demanded to speak to Tony, waving his hand in disgust towards me.

As the sun rose in the early morning sky, Coco’s guests for the day started to arrive. Before 8:00 a.m., probably fifteen people had stopped by……international bicyclists, motorcyclists…who just dropped down from San Felipe to say hello….truck drivers, travelers trying the infamous road for the first time and a variety of other ‘just folks’.





Tony missed most of the gaiety because Coco needed a new little light installed next to his bed and he thought Tony ‘was just the man to do it!’ Coco made this clear by demanding “YOU! Ca Mere, I need you,”while pointing at Tony to follow him.

His real name is Jorge Enrique Coral Sandes. He is 78 years old. He is a man of his own means. He is a man who threw another man off of his property who claimed to be the rightful owner. He is man who invited the authorities to be called because he had been on the land five years, paid his taxes to the Governor…of whom he had a picture of with his arm around him….and then introduced him to his middle finger. He is a man whose wife and two children walked away from him at age twenty-one and he never saw them again. He is a man who said good-bye to both of his legs. He is a man who sells a cold beer, for a fair price, to weary travelers who travel the desolate desert highway and then throws in a free campsite. He is a man amongst coyotes and a bunch of other things, but most of all, amongst his countless array of world-wide friends.


A Goldmine, a Pastry Shop and Buried Pianos

Imagine…Being realistic is the most common road to mediocrity

El Triunfo2
As we crossed the footbridge, we were enveloped by a serene sense of history. Before us stood a towering smokestack, reaching high into the sky. It dominated everything amidst the mid-eighteen hundred ruins of what was once a prosperous smelter for gold and silver.

Bridge, Smokestack


The hot dry air carried a slight breeze and filled our nostrils with the scent of dusty old. A lone, ancient-looking cow wandered through the crumbled ruins. The ensuing quietness allowed us to hear his footsteps and the whisper of the gentle breeze.

Closing my eyes, I could sense and hear the 10,000 residents and immigrants seeking their fortune in this small pueblo. It was easy to imagine the hustling, bustling activity of miners, merchants, working girls and anyone else adventurous enough to embrace the lifestyle of a burgeoning mining town. Built on the rugged desert floor, the earth’s treasures could not have relinquished themselves easily.


We stood in El Triunfo, one of the most historic villages in southern Baja and one of the most overlooked by tourists. To spite its second claim to fame…although not very publicized or widely known…..of being one of first villages in the region to have electricity and telephone services, it is also famous for yet another less known legend. It’s piano history.

Yes, that’s right, piano history. During its mining days, this little place became a cultural center, entertaining such celebrities as Francisco Mendoza, pianist and teacher. He and the magnitude of money consuming the village, inspired the residents to have the best available pianos and art shipped to El Triunfo from all over Europe.

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, as the insurgents made headway towards the town, the locals buried their prized possessions, including their European art and sculptures, money, family heirlooms and, yes, their pianos, in hand- dug tunnels across their properties.

After the marauders ravaged the town, the men dug up their belongings and rebuilt their homes. Many men and their families just left.

As you approach El Triunfo, the first thing you will see is the local church on the extreme north end of town. Continuing along, a small sign on the right side of the road will tell you to make a right and visit the El Triunfo Café. Make the right and go up one tiny little block. Enjoy a wonderful meal here or just a great cup of coffee and a piece of the best pastry in Mexico. The mine sits right behind this little Café. Take a leisurely stroll amongst its ruins.


If you are lucky, as you come again, one block from the mine and the café, back to two-lane Mexico 1, you will hear the beautiful sound of a piano concerto, lovingly filling the air as you come upon the El Triunfo Piano Museum.

Nicholas Carrillo

When we were there, a wonderful man, Nicholas Carrillo entertained us with his profound ability to caress piano keys. He was a famous, native-born concert pianist, who returned to his town after touring the world. He opened this little museum….it was a former mining office….and he painstakingly preserved eighty-seven of the pianos and many other artifacts from the tunnels. He gladly led you to his private piano room and sat down at his Steinway to serenade you, filling the still air and the quiet streets with the telling sounds of history.

Nicholas, Piano

He has sense passed on, but his piano and his history live on in his pride and joy, his museum.

The town is currently being gently and respectfully being restored by a rather wealthy American woman just because ‘she loves El Triunfo and its people’. We certainly understand her love. The town’s magic creeps into your soul and stays with you wherever you travel.

An Unexpected Visitor

Imagine – Learning the definition of “boon-docking”.


Arriving in Tecolote, we took great pleasure in knowing we had successfully fulfilled our desire to return here and, once again, experience the uniqueness and playful air of this wonderful mix of locals and boon-docking travelers.

We were welcomed immediately by Jesús, the self-appointed Director of Beach Operations. We had befriended this  happy, fun-loving fellow on our last trip to this beach community and promised him we would return.

We wiled away the days soaking in the sea, kayaking, fighting off intolerable flies and having an afternoon beer with Jesús. The Aussie kids we had met in Santispac showed up to wait for their ferry to Mazatlan and broke the solitude of the off-season beach. ​

Every morning started the same…we’d wake to the quiet stillness of the beach, disturbed only by the sound of a jumping school of fish or distant bird-calls.

As the sun’s light diminished the darkness of night,  ribbons of pinks, purples, yellows and oranges stacked up on the horizon. ​Silhouettes of local fisherman in their pongas, netting anchovies to sell as bait, appeared in the shadows. Pelicans and seagulls boldly surrounded them, hawking their catch. ​

It hadn’t been any different on the fourth day. We enjoyed coffee with the Aussie kids, we swam, we ate and we kayaked. The Aussies left for the day to finalize their plans and do some kayaking at Balandra, the beach on the other side of the mountain. All seemed well with the world. Even the flies had receded to someplace unknown. We headed to the beach bar for our afternoon beer. ​

As Jesús popped the tops on the beer, I commented on the magnificence of the day. ​

Not quite finishing the sentence, I noticed a sand-colored strip in the water, about a quarter mile down the beach. It seemed to be quickly taking on the appearance of a new sandbar. Odd, I thought. Tony confirmed my thoughts, as the colored seawater rapidly increased in width and length, reaching farther and farther out to sea. ​


On the horizon a very thin, black line started to creep upward into the brilliant blue sky. Short, fast waves appeared out of nowhere on the sea, seemingly racing to shore like scared rabbits. ​

As veteran sailors, we are not unfamiliar with the term “Chubasco.” These violent, fast moving squalls are common phenomena on the Sea of Cortez and we have known them to scare the wits out of the mightiest of sailors. ​

Before we could think the word “Chubasco” the horizon’s black line turned into huge, menacing clouds, spewing wild bolts of thunderous lightning across the sea. The clouds raised their ugly heads at the speed of light and raced towards us. Rain pummeled the shoreline so hard that the drops sent up swirling columns of sand a foot high. Waves rose and fell on the sea likethe heaving breasts of stampeding wild animals. Howling, ferocious winds spit stinging sand and water at everything that stood still. The cloud-blackened sky turned the day into night.


​As we stood mesmerized, the Chubasco continued its mighty quest. The infuriated monster raced across the mountain range behind us, leaving in its aftermath its powerful waves and the brilliant blue sky it had overpowered, proving to anyone watching that it could conquer all.

​In its wake, the shape of the earth had been changed forever. The sea had more sand. Its floor had more, or maybe less, hills and valleys. Its shoreline lay along the sea’s edge on a different line than it had twenty minutes ago. A river now sped down the beach from the mountains, carrying debris and mud from the storms attack. The river obliterated the road that had once served the beachgoers. The local palapa bars and restaurants would spend days shoveling the mounds of wet sand from their patios and open-air kitchens. ​


We wondered if the Baja Buggy still stood on four wheels. To our sheer joy and amazement, it did, even with the top up! Alone, she had survived her first storm. We believe God is on our side and we now believe the Chubasco legends. ​

We have also been left with a deeper understanding of the respect sailors have for the sea and the weather, of our commitment to never take its power for granted and to always expect the unexpected. We are also thankful that we experienced this on land and not at sea. “We bow to you, oh mighty force.”