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Chubasco en Baja

One of the Great Cities of the World (San Francisco)

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Chubasco en Baja

Fall ’99

Cactus.jpg
© 1999 Lloyd Kahn
3rd night on the beach
Hot September
East coast
Southern tip of Baja

I’ve been getting up at dawn. Surf has been pretty good. I go out at sunrise and sunset. The middle of the day is what’s hard about this time of year. The beginning of each day starts with the sun coming up over the blue waters of the cape, then making its path down through the white cove that my tent faces.

At home I’m doing well if I get up at 7, but down here the first glimmer of light has me climbing out of the tent and brewing a cup of fresh coffee while watching the horizon’s center turn orange and the color spill down the water. Each dawn on this spot my thoughts are clear, my energy high. It’s the first day of the rest of my life. (Really!)

The end of the day is also exquisite, a reward for making it through the white-hot hours of noon to four. Around five it gets a little cooler, and I take a papaya and knife and spoon and limes down to a rock in the water and cut papaya and squeeze lime juice and eat it as warm waves wash around my feet. I stretch and do a little yoga.

There’s a line in American Beauty where the videotaping kid says, after showing an extraordinary shot of a leaf blowing in the breeze, “You know, sometimes I see something so beautiful going on in the world, I just can’t take it. It’s more than I can handle and I think I’ll fall apart.” Or something to that effect.

This is how I feel every so often in Baja. On the beach, in a green-water-filled arroyo, out in the desert alone at night. The natural world around me is just so beautiful, I can hardly take it.

And it’s all right there. The plants. The ocean. The stars, the sunrise, the schools of fish to swim with, the frigate birds wheeling overhead.

These days I seem to be spending a lot of time outdoors.

Lloyd's Camp
© 1999  Lloyd Kahn
Baja Cabaña

Each trip I head for this point on the beach. I have to drive about a mile on the sand to get there, and it projects out around a cove to the east and a long stretch of white sand beach to the west. There’s usually a breeze. I’m almost always totally alone. There are waves to ride, fish to catch (at least other guys do!), beaches to walk and run, warm water for swimming. I am in love with this place.

I study the stars in Baja. It’s so warm you can sit or lie on the sand and look at the sky. It feels good to get oriented to the stars. Each trip I get reacquainted with the heavens, as well as compass directions, so that pretty soon I can tell the time of night by where Scorpius appears, or whether Pleaides and Taurus are up.

Sunday night clouds start to form on the southeast horizon. I’ve been chased off of Baja beaches by storms often enough that I take down my sunshade and pack it up. Go to sleep with my head sticking out of the tent under the sky. About 3 AM raindrops start hitting my face. A chubasco (tropical storm) is on its way. I strap on a head-flashlight and fold up the tent as well as chairs and tables and get everything packed, ready to roll.

By 4 AM its totally black out and I take a low-slung beach chair down and sit on the edge of the beach where it starts sloping down to the water. A warm breeze is blowing, then gusts of warm wind, and soon the lightning starts.

This is a lightning storm like I’ve never seen before. Lightning hits at the left on the horizon and lights up a section of blackness like bright day. Then more veins of lightning hit across the sky so there’s a network, with vertical spikes and horizontal branches all appearing in the sky together at the same time. It’s wide-screen viewing, with peals of thunder reverberating, awesome and breathtaking. Praise the universe!

Pretty soon that stops and I look out into the blackness, hoping to hold on until sunrise and not get chased away in the dark. It takes a long time for dawn when you’re waiting for it. Finally the first light appears, not to the east, but overhead, then the whole sky lightens and it starts to rain. As the sun comes up I take a run along the beach barefoot with no clothes in the warm rain, then come back and 4-wheel it out to the main road for avventuras futuras. I feel lucky to be alive.

Posada el Mañana

Yuca
© 1999 Lloyd Kahn
August saw the return of the popular hostelro Yuca to his Posada El Mañana hotel in San José del Cabo. In the hotel office the vibes are good. It’s homey and quirky. On the walls, a piece of Huichol fabric, a sombrero, pic of a traveling bike rider staying there in the early ’90s. The Mañana’s got soul again. Give Yuca a call to reserve a room ($30-40) at 011-52-114-20462. (Surfers love the place.)

I go over to the hotel in the middle of the chubasco the next day. Wind is whipping palm trees, everybody’s watching the palapa roofs to see if they’ll go airborne, and here is Yuca in goggles swimming around in the pool, his buddies are all jumping in, they’re playing. Yuca climbs out, dripping, palm fronds flying through the air over us, he says, “This is me, right?”

* * *

Bruce, a 50-year-old ex-steelworker from San Francisco, has moved to Baja, become Bruno, and married a very beautiful rancher’s daughter. I go to visit them in the oasis town La Purisima (which Chílon says “is like the old Baja”). Bruno and Arcelia have just bought an old adobe building that used to be a cantina, and are about to start fixing it up. In the meantime they’re living with Arcelia’s family, and her father is there, who I’ve wanted to meet. He runs a ranch with 500 goats; they make high quality goat cheese, and it’s shipped to the mainland twice a month.

He sits at the table, a brown, weathered 60-year old with not a trace of fat on his body, and beautiful hands from a lifetime of doing real things. He says they took him out of school at age 6 to work on the ranch. At 17 he drove cows across the mountains to Santa Rosalia. These rancheros and rancheras are unique people, living in harmony with the desert, producing fine food, resourceful and self-sufficient. They have a wisdom and dignity from a life carefully tuned into the natural forces. One of my next trips I plan to go to the ranch.

Guia
The Guide
© 1999  Lloyd Kahn

I head out into the desert to San Francisco de Borja, former site of a huge Baja mission, with abundant water (and hot springs) and an amazing church built of hand-hewn pink stone from the nearby mountains. I get there on a hot Sunday, no other visitors there, a kid comes up and attaches himself to me right away, he’s one of 5 kids who live there with their parents — ranchers and caretakers. He appoints himself my guia (guide) and he shows me up the arroyo, where water comes gushing out of the desert, and there are crops and olive trees. We go a little farther up and I jump into a hot springs hole. He’s interested in my camera, so I tell him I’ll bring him a camera on my next trip (which I will).

His dad tells me he is a descendant of the native Cochimí tribe, and that in the heyday of the mission, there were 3000 Cochimí there. I’m standing in their open air living room, a cool breeze blowing. El ranchero has a round face, a strong and stocky body, his teeth are white and he has dancing eyes. I like this guy. He goes to town every 2 weeks, raises most of their food. He makes olive oil. Pretty self sufficient, living off the desert, a happy man.

Out in the middle of the harsh Baja desert, there’s magic where there’s water.
Ian MacLeod’s Cliff House
Zalate, wild fig tree, en la costa © 1999 Lloyd Kahn