Well, Coco's Corner is something. It used to be (and we were expecting) 200 km of dirt roads to get there from San Filipe, but now they are building a "super-highway" which translates to under-funded sinking bridges and 2 narrow lanes of graded pavement. Today the remaining unfinished portions are 30 miles of rocks, sand, and dirt along the Baja 1,000 Route to get to Coco's. Soon the daily caravan of about 100 semi trucks that drive the remaining miles of dirt-rock-mountain roads at 5mph with one or two flat tires will be replaced with hundreds more cutting hours from their La Paz-Mexicali route.
Coco first saw his "corner" tucked in cruxes of the Sonoran desert mountains in 1959. He must have been about 15 years old. He spent his life working in tourism and cattle inspection in Ensenada, saving money to buy his corner and build a plywood house there. His very dreams he pursued, and have come to be.
Now it is Coco's Corner in the cruxes of Sonoran desert mountains, and it is a haven for travelers. The cases of Pacifico are stacked high and selling these for a reasonable price (about $1.50 usd) is Coco's retirement income. If you buy some of the liquid shares of Coco's retirement and he likes you well enough he'll offer you a broken-down camper shell that you can sleep in for free. The sunset and a safe place in the desert - empty if you have a limited imagination, but so full if you really look - are priceless.
A singular man in a singular corner of the world. Coco has no legs beyond his knees, but that's ok with him because he "walks" around as much as he needs to, drives the 4x4 and the truck, and the world arrives at his doorstep every day. Utah and France stopped by when we were there.
When you have made friends with Coco, you know. He offers you all of the Bologna and cheese in his fridge, gives you tortillas, and puts you to work moving heavy coils of wire for his new beer can sign, drowns you in instant coffee, and offers you a ride on the back of his 'motorcycle' (the 4x4).
Along the Baja 1000 Coco is a legend. For over a decade Coco's Corner has served as a dedicated checkpoint along the race course and the pit crews, drivers, support teams, and fellow race enthusiasts set up camp for repairs, reconnoitering, and cold beers as the trophy trucks, Class 1 cars, and amateurs come tearing through the sweeping left hand turn right before the entrance to Coco's.
When we arrived at Coco's in early October the race was still a month away but the SCORE International prep-teams were already out in the desert posting directional signs for right and wrong ways. Our drive in to Coco's was directed by the red SCORE signs over the old highway alongside the half-finished super-highway.
As the sun went down on our night at Coco's we stood on top of a rock pile overlooking the Corner and watched him drive his 4x4 through his property tearing down the SCORE signs marking turns and checkpoints, an act I had once attributed to disgruntled locals trying to confuse the racers. I thought of the home-made boobytraps that influenced the Paris-Dakar rally to abandon Africa after one too many roads were altered and damaged vehicles stripped of parts in remote desert stretches.
Later when I asked Coco why he was taking down the race signs he began a long story in broken english about how the new race organizers had not paid him money for the right to use his property as a check point.
He described racer after racer making the sweeping left turn at 100mph and digging a rut so deep it would require a backhoe to fill in. The money needed to be paid before he would let his property be turned into a race course, even after more than a decade of history with the race.
New organizers, a lack of communication, fiercely independent landowners, the Baja desert, perhaps it was all a misunderstanding a month before the race was to begin, but Coco was not a man to roll over for anyone, even for the race that he loves.
In the old Baja, where distances are measured by landmarks not mile markers, the Baja that Coco's Corner still inhabits, cash was still king. While I don't believe that Coco would ever sabotage a race or refuse to help a racer in need, the Desert Bear could still hold his own against a Titan in the racing world.
We are fortunate to have spent time with Coco talking and hearing about his life, his stories, and what it's like in the world of Coco. He is truly a legend of this world, and we were blessed to have received his true hospitality on our way to a delightful pile of puppies, the ferry to Mazatlan, and the mainland of Mexico.