I stopped at a turn off the Highway 1 where a dirt road went to the mountains in the distance. Looking behind there was nothing except one long black line in the desert. Maria had disappeared behind the horizon. Before leaving she had told me about a man with the name Coco who lived in an isolated place called Coco’s Corner.
No matter where I went I hit the wall of the wind.
The wind blew dust in my face as I began cycling. Passing cars kicked up clouds of dust, making me choke. Before I came to Baja California desert, everyone warned me about the prevailing wind from the north. I told them I had survived the infamous Patagonian winds. But now for the past two days, my soul had been crushed by the desert wind. No matter which way I went I hit the wall of wind.
The dirt road meandered through the rolling hills which were covered with brown shrubs and cactuses. After about two hours of cycling, I passed by the Coco’s Corner sign. As the road descended into the valley, a few manmade structures began to emerge from the sand in the warm afternoon light. A while later, I found myself at a gate where empty beer cans strung together into Coco’s Corner signage jingled in the rustling desert wind as if announcing my arrival.
A canopy of colourful panties and t-shirts suspended from the ceiling.
After crossing the gate, the first things I noticed at the Coco’s Corner were bras, panties, and bike chainrings displayed on the wall and a sign, “Please, use the side door!” I went and took a cautious look through a half-open door, scanning the room. A canopy of colourful panties and t-shirts suspended from the ceiling. The interior walls were decorated with more bras, photographs, currency notes, and other memorabilia. In the middle of the room, three people sat around a spool table, occupied with working on solar LED lights. I stepped into the room and said hello to them.
He held the panties to his nose and slowly inhaled the scent with closed eyes. “What a beautiful woman she was!”
A bald elderly man rolled his wheelchair towards me. He was missing lower legs and had leather pads strapped to the bottom ends of stumps.
“You come from south or north?” he asked me straight away in English.
“You see a woman on the bicycle yesterday?”
“Who?” I pretended as if I knew nothing about her.
He rolled the wheelchair up to his bed and slid his hand under the pillow. When he took his hand out, he had a grey underwear in it. He held the panties to his nose and slowly inhaled the scent with closed eyes. “What a beautiful woman she was!” he murmured and threw the panties on the table in front of me. “Poland Biker Maria, for Coco ♥” said the handwriting on the underwear in black ink, signed 19.01.2018, two days ago.
“Oh, yea, I know her!” I replied. The man had a smug on his face.
That was my introduction to Coco!
“You sleep there, in the cabin number 1,” pointing to a camping trailer at the far end of the campground.
“You want to sleep here?” Coco asked me.
“Yes, can I pitch my tent here?”
“It is very cold in the night. You sleep in the camper! It is for free. You only buy one beer,” he said in a bossy tone.
Coco asked me to follow him outside. At the corner of his dwelling, he stopped rolling the wheelchair and said, “I cannot go further. You sleep there, in the cabin number 1,” pointing to a camping trailer at the far end of the campground, “and you put the bicycle in the next cabin.”
There wasn’t much room inside the camper but it was still more spacious than my tent and a lot warmer too. I took my belongings inside and rolled out my air mattress on top of a dusty mattress on the bed. After that, I went back to see Coco.
“Puto is half man, half woman! A male prostitute!”
“Do you want to have a beer or a soda?” Coco asked me.
“I don’t drink alcohol!”
“You are puto!”
“What is puto?”
“Puto is half man, half woman! A male prostitute!”
His friends burst into laughter while I smiled sheepishly. Coco went to the kitchen and came back with a Coca-Cola for me. I don’t drink Coke either. The last time I drank Coke was probably a couple of years ago, but in a very short time spent at Coco’s Corner, I realised you don’t want to say no to Coco. He spoke in an imposing manner and would get very upset if you said no to him.
“Not everybody who comes here signs this book. I choose people”
While I was having soda, Coco slid a puffy register towards me and said, “you sign my book!” The book was a fascinating record of people who had stopped by at Coco’s Corner. There were 13 volumes of the book filled with comments and signatures by visitors. Each volume contained separate sections for cyclists, motorcyclists and campers. “Not everybody who comes here signs this book. I choose people,” Coco told me before handing me over the pen.
I flipped through the pages and recognised the names of many cyclists I had met in Baja. Coco strictly told me to write within the page margins. I duly signed the book with my name, origin, date of birth and a comment. He then took a long hard look at my text, made a sketchy drawing of a bicycle in the margin area and stashed the book in the closet. “One puto steal my book, that’s why I hide it. I have my other books in my home in Ensenada!” he stated.
“Take it,” he said in an authoritarian voice, “otherwise you are gonna freeze!”
The other two persons in the room were a couple from Mexicali. They were old friends of Coco. When I told them I didn’t have winter clothes for such cold weather, they donated me a black hard-shell jacket which was way oversized. As I was trying it out, Coco came with a military green fleece jacket in his hand. The fleece was even larger than the jacket. “Take it,” he said in an authoritarian voice, “otherwise you are gonna freeze!” There was no room for discussion, so I accepted their gifts with gratitude.
Coco’s Corner is a pitstop for hundreds of travellers every month who stop by to have a beer and chat with Coco. I asked him when he had founded this place.
“When I lose my legs I decide to live alone. I come here 28 years and 21 days ago,” he said pointing at the calendar.
“What happened to your legs?”
“Nothing!” he shrugged his shoulders and rolled away on his wheelchair. There are contradicting stories on the internet about his missing legs. Some people have mentioned that Coco lost his lower legs to diabetes while others quoted him as saying that a car accident in 1990 cost him both legs.
“I sleep with a shotgun next to my bed.”
“I make this house and invite people. I don’t charge them for camping, but sometimes they don’t show respect. They put stickers everywhere without my permission and vandalise my property. I had two Coco’s Corner signs on the road. One of them is stolen, and the other is mostly covered with stickers. I cannot leave this room for five minutes. People come here for a beer and steal. Someone steal my visitor book. Now I am very watchful. I have large windows to see what is happening outside. The glass on the windows is bulletproof. The police give it to me. I sleep with a shotgun next to my bed. I am alert all night.”
It is hard to discern Coco’s age. He told me he was 81 and had a liking for younger women, “Maria was 53. I told her she is too old for me.” It was shocking to hear that, and besides Maria was only 33. He surprised me even more by saying, “my cat is 28 years old!”
“He stole my truck and drove off while everyone else was partying. It broke my heart.”
“Every year, I throw a big birthday party in February attended by hundreds of people. On one such occasion, I have 800 guests here. We are having a wild party—alcohol, music, girls—when I hear someone just died in a car accident. We immediately go to check. I couldn’t believe when I saw it was my own red truck smashed in the accident. The driver was dead. He was a good friend of mine. He stole my truck and drove off while everyone else was partying. It broke my heart. I lost a good friend and my truck. We cancelled the birthday party. Now I celebrate my birthday in March, not in February.”
“Do you have a family?” I asked Coco.
“My wife and children die in a car accident 50 years ago. They were driving on a highway during the night. They suddenly see a cow on the road and try to avoid the crash but they lose control and die. I tell them before many times not to drive at night but nobody listen to me,” he told me.
This story is completely different from what another traveller has reported in her blog which quotes Coco, “Muerta (dead). I go on walk, she go to bed, she never wake up. Thirty-five year ago. No problema. I like to be alone.”
“Under the ceiling covered with panties, a large framed image of “Virgin de Guadalupe” rested in the corner.”
Coco was one of the first participants in the Baja 1000 motorcycle race. When he established Coco’s Corner it became an official stop on the race course. By looking at the number of memorabilia in his room and reading his guestbook, it was obvious that Coco is loved by many. In addition to personal undergarments, visitors had left currency notes from many different countries, photos, drawings and other souvenirs turning this place into a shrine. There was even a race winner trophy in his room. I asked him how he came up with the idea of decorating his room like this.
“When I build this house, I ask a female friend what to put on the walls. She takes her panties off and says to me, ‘put this!’ I like the idea, so I put her underwear on the wall. Look over there, you see the blue one, that was the first underwear. After that, it become a tradition and people start leaving their underwear, bras, and other things.”
Under the ceiling covered with panties, a large framed image of “Virgin de Guadalupe” rested in the corner. In the evening, Coco, wearing a blue hoodie, lit a candle in front of the Virgin Mary, a sign he was a true Mexican. Then he came to us and carried on sharing stories of his wild birthday parties which are too obscene to write here.
“I watch people when they are taking shower!”
“What this girl tell you about me?” Coco asked me, referring to Maria.
“She told me that you are an interesting guy!”
“I tell her. Go take shower. I have holes in the walls of the bathroom for this. I watch people when they are taking shower!”
While I was eating peanuts which he gave me, I coughed once or twice. Coco came to me. He had two pills in his hand and said, “eat them, you are cold!”
“No, I am okay,” I replied.
He pressed me to take them but this time I resisted. “Ok, don’t eat!” he swallowed the medication himself. Then he opened a compartment of his daily pill container and ate a bunch of pills with a glass of milk.
At Coco’s Corner, I met a couple of travellers. Among others were Michael and his wife from Oregon. They were here on an RV. They invited me into their impressive camper where we had a chat on the tea. Then, I went back to the cabin assigned to me by Coco. It was cold outside but I had a good sleep in the camper.
The morning sun peeked through the tiny windows of the camper. I stayed in the bed until late in the morning. Someone knocked at the door of the camper.
“Who is it?” I asked.
“Coco sent me to check if you are still alive!” the familiar voice behind the door said.
“Yes, you can tell him I am still alive!”
“Cornflakes are for dogs.”
After a few minutes of snoozing, I came out of the camper. It was a crisp morning. I saw Coco fixing windows. He was quite self-sufficient in performing most of his tasks. He could even walk on his stumps. It was impressive to see that he had built this building mainly from recycled materials. He noticed me preparing a breakfast and asked, “what you eat?”
“Cornflakes, do you want them?”
“Cornflakes are for dogs. I eat eggs!” he then rolled the wheelchair to the kitchen.
After finishing the breakfast, I sat down with Coco. We looked at my route map. He pointed out at some locations where I could camp. I signed a 1000 Rupee Pakistani note and left it as a souvenir thinking there would be no Pakistani note in his collection, but upon surveying the interior, I found a 100 Rupee Pakistani note under the ceiling. Before leaving, I thanked Coco for his hospitality and gave him some tip money.
The place has a surreal feel to it similar to as if you fell unconscious in the desert heat and later woke up in a bar.
Coco’s Corner is an oasis in the desert. The unique thing about this place is its remoteness in the vast expanse of Baja California. The place has a surreal feel to it similar to as if you fell unconscious in the desert heat and later woke up in a bar. It is full of character and its walls are filled with stories. Do make a stop at Coco’s Corner and leave your signature in the book to become part of the history. Just remember one thing. If you are a solo female traveller you may have to leave there your favourite panties too!