Aug 19, 2008

Angels are Everywhere

Even after a couple weeks without a cell phone at hand and internet access as your daily bread, the buzziness of modern living still lingers in the conditioned mind that is ruled by time. Always trying to race the clock, 'cause there is "never enough time". It's so very easy to slip out of the present; to be somewhere and be thinking of somewhere else. Where's the next wave, who are the next people to meet...there's always more to do. It could always be different, it could always be better. The mind is never satisfied, it will always want more. But beneath the endless stories we create in our minds remains the forever the stillness of the present. Perfect just as it is. But by entering into the torments of the storm we may learn to appreciate and recognize the gifts of the sunshine and that of rain.

So we learn.

As we raced from Scorps to our next destination we realised a vehicle the size of ours should not travel much faster than a slow run on the washboarded, rocky roads. There is too much that can disintegrate- like the vent cap over our bed. It fell to pieces and then on the ground, shattering the plastic. How would we keep the rain off our bed? And a storm was approaching…

We pulled into Ciudad Insurgentes straight to a Segundaria (Thrift Store), which had a truck parked in front with a cab over camper that looked like it had its cap replaced. It was then we met our Angel of the Day, Jaime.

Jaime seemed like he could fix anything, and he proceeded to do so. We spent about three hours cutting metal and reinforcing the cap. He did all of this, and then when I asked how much I owed him, he replied; “You don’t have to pay me, I do this for a hobby.”

Amazed, I forced a sleeping bag full of clothes on him to pay him somehow. This and an eight pack of beer seemed to be more than enough. I learned that Jaime was not preoccupied with earning money, he seemed to have faith that he and his family would be fine.

Our next stop was Ciudad Constitucion. It is one of the larger cities in Baja, sprawling for miles. It seemed to be pretty well off again, lots of nice cars and the people were not desperate. Large industrial farms surround the city, the desert turned into productive land with the addition of water and fertilizer. Cactus is razed and crops like alfalfa, corn, and sorghum are planted in their place, mostly for cattle and chicken feed to supply the millions of tacos served every day.

We needed some supplies, but getting them proved to be easier said than done. We made some copies of the “Introduccion a la Permacultura, which detained us long enough to get caught by a huge storm.

The rain came down in buckets, just after finding a dry place to park our rig at a body shop owned by a man named Genaro. The streets immediately became flooded, washing away months of debris, like plastic bottles and used motor oil! I took a much-needed shower in the rain, avoiding placing my feet in the water that soon became almost knee deep in the street.

street surfin', ready to ride anything

Genaro’s son didn’t seem to care about the water quality though, and soon had one of our boards out in the street, riding the wake of cars passing by. Aubrey entertained the kids with stickers and games, while we repaired the cap.

The storm lasted for a couple of hours, and must have dumped a foot of rain. It came as quick as it went, and we headed out of town at sunset under clear skies, through the flooded streets of Ciudad Constitucion. Again, Genaro did not ask for any money, but I paid him anyways. He seemed to be more fulfilled by the act of helping and connecting than getting paid.

Punta Conejo is a true left hand point, one of the only ones in Baja. Pulling up you get a great view of the setup. Long lines peel into a huge bay. A few shack of fishermen are a little ways up, out of the continual wind that carries with it salty sea spray from the swells crashing on the cobblestones.

Rabbit Point

The fishermen go for oysters, said to be the best in all of Baja. Piles of shells are everywhere, and they really are the biggest oysters I have ever seen. We pulled up amid the piles and hit the water. An overhead swell was rapidly becoming more crumbly with the onshore wind.

There is a rancho that has a well and showers for campers. They charged us four dollars per person per day to camp, and a man who may have been a woman once came by to pick up the fee. The campground could use dry toilets to accompany the luxury of showers.

We left the next day, as the wind was strong and the swell was dropping. The fishermen seemed to keep to themselves, and we didn’t have much interaction with them. They launched their pongas from the shore with a Land Rover. Seems that vehicles are a high priority for people here.

We made our way to La Paz to deliver a suitcase from my employee Martin to his family. He is in the states to earn enough money to buy a second business. The family runs the first one, a small abarrotes, or convenience store. His mother Marta lives there with the other children, ranging in age from 25 (Martin) to 8.

La Familia Martin

The Pacific side of Baja is quite a bit cooler this time of year. Also, fresh water flows out of the ground and creates an oasis of palms and fruit trees. The lure of water in the desert is great, be it sweet or salty, and we flocked to it like bees to honey.

Desert becomes farmland, and then food forest as you approach Todos Santos. Huge acreages are plow farmed to annual crops like tomatoes and zucchini that are sold worldwide. Organics are growing, and Del Cabo is supplying Trader Joes with year-round summer crops from here.

Ten minutes south of Todos in Pescadero, ancient mango trees line the roads. We soon found “Mango Alley” and proceeded fill our bellies and bags with perfectly ripe ground-score! The locals were also all parked up, shaking the trees to get the ripe ones to fall. The trees were pumping, tapped into the groundwater and surviving fine without any care, save eating the fruit.

Licking our sticky fingers, we found a beach with a set up that looked promising. Turned out, Los Cerritos would deliver some of the better surf of our trip so far. A large headland blocks the consistent north-west wind and creates a rip current along the inside of the point. The current makes an easy paddle out and some nice sand bars.

another sweet one for Aubs

A small crew of locals live on the beach there, next to the new restaurant in palm shacks associated with the Diablo Blanco surf shop. We surfed and met the crew, great kids and great surfers. A man came up and asked me about my shoulder, he could tell it got tight sometime. He soon had both Aubrey and I on his table, working out the kinks of driving and surfing. Rough life!

da boyz of Los Cerritos: Rofino, Juan, y Carlos

The massuese’s name was Mario, and we soon learned that his brother had a small Permaculture site nearby. We stopped to visit Mario’s friend who sells organic fruit of all varieties; mango, papaya, guanabana, banana, lychee, limon, and more. We got to talking while shopping and he said he was convinced that organic was major, so I gave him a copy of Introduccion al la Permacultura. I hope to come back and see his farm some day.

Mario took us to Rancho Pilar, stewarded by his brother Cuco and his wife, Pilar. Cuco is a potter and makes handmade Mexican sandals, huaraches, out of recycled car tires and webbing. Pilar is also a potter and makes jewelry out of beach pebbles. Besides being artisans, they are turning a salty and dry piece of desert into an edible oasis.

Raised vegetable beds and a palm nursery surround their kitchen and workshop. Neem trees and fan palms create shade amongst natives like mesquite, pitahaya, and cardon cactus. They have lots of water, and are expanding operations with the goal of being self-sufficient. I passed on some seeds of vegetables and trees and a copy of Introduccion a la Permacultura. We did a quick design for their nursery, envisioning many fruit trees there soon.

sharing seeds with Pilar

They are starting a hostel, and are building a cob house out of the native earth for the dormitory. Campsites are carved out of the bush, with trails winding through the scrub connecting them. They also support WWOOFing, or Willing Workers On Organic Farms, and we talked about projects for them.

We had made plans to meet up with Aubrey’s friend, Jessica, who lives in San Jose del Cabo, so we hit the road for a sunset surf. We pulled into Cabo San Lucas and our jaws dropped! We had no idea the size of the city. As Jessica’s fiancé Fernando put it, Los Cabos is the Heart of Mexico.

Fernando was born in San Jose del Cabo. If Cabo San Lucas is the Heart, then San Jose del Cabo is the Blood. A huge fresh water estuary defines the eastern edge of San Jose, the source of all the water for the thousands of hotels, condos, department stores, restaurants, and its 500,000 inhabitants. The sewage treatment plant is right along side the shore.

It is always amazes me to see water so abundant in the desert. On one side will be cactus and rocks, on the other palms and rushes. It is such a miracle! It also amazes me to see how and for what the water is used for, and how the source is treated. Management plans seem to be- suck it out as fast as you can and use it for whatever you want. There is an irrigated strip of grass on some parts of the road medians in Los Cabos. A few sod farms have sprung up, using overhead sprinklers in the mid day heat to irrigate.

All toilets are flush, by law. A composting toilet was built in Pescadero, and the users were fined $6,000 pesos ($600 USD) for not paying a water bill. Revenue from utilities is important for the Mexican Government, making alternative technologies potentially difficult to be permitted. Permaculture will need to fly below the radar, a tactic its practitioners are apt to do anyways.

el estero de Los Cabos

The task at hand in Los Cabos is daunting. It is basically an American suburb without many of the restrictions for development and investment. Home Depot, Costco, OfficeMax, and other multi-national department stores moved in the last decade. The desert and its extremely fragile ecosystem is being graded for more luxury hotels, leaving scars when the money to build runs out and the rains wash away the topsoil that took thousands of years to build, filling the arroyos.

Plastic is the new native species. Bags blow in the wind like leaves of the dinosaur tree, and bottles line the shore like beached jellyfish. It seems that everything purchased at many of the stores is either made of plastic or is packaged in plastic. If you didn’t get your fix, they will bag it for you. Plastic or plastico?

It is hard to imagine how life as usual can continue for much longer in Los Cabos. Still, the bulldozers continue to run, anticipating more disposable income in the form of tourist dollars to recoup the investors’ money. A million tourists, all comfortable in their air conditioned rooms with ocean view and room service.

The amount of electricity needed to run a million air conditioners boggles the mind, and the doors are kept open, cold air blasting you and spilling out into the desert. Some of the largest stores I have ever seen can be found in Cabo, all of them kept at a comfortable 65 degrees while the asphalt in the parking lot could fry an egg.

It seems like the government wants businesses to use electricity. After all, the more use, the more revenue. Most energy companies are state-run, gas at PeMex, propane at GasPasa. Furthermore, many seem to like the conveniences afforded by consumerism, and would not give them up unless they had to. Sustainability may only happen in the event of a catastrophe, when people have no other choice.

We did meet locals who were concerned about the situation. We went to a party, and talked to Luis, who had been chosen by N.O.L.S. to be the local representative on a kayak journey in the sea of Cortez. This had impacted him greatly, living simply and learning the native flora and fauna. He has started a local non-profit to promote environmental awareness and re-forest the land with native trees. I gave Fernando a copy of Intruduccion a la Permacultura for him to read and share with Luis.

On our way to repair our water camera in town we were struck by a car as we were parked on the side of the road. We were in the cab of the truck getting ready to leave, when we looked up to see a car sliding sideways towards us on the sandy road. He had tried to pass a truck and bumped his backside on it merging back into his lane, sending him into a spin.

It all happened so slow that I first thought that I could prevent the car from hitting us by thinking it. It still hit us, crumpling the bumper of the Dodge and pretty much totaling the guy’s little Nissan zipper. At first I thought he was going to drive away, as he started his car up immediately and started moving it out of the way. Turned out, he had insurance and the claims adjuster came out and we got an estimate for $690 USD for the repairs. This is almost exactly the cost of the ferry to the mainland. We left on this note, ready to escape the madness of “Cabo San Locos” for some coastal solitude.

We felt Los Cabos has fulfilled man’s tragic flaw to a tee- that of counting all of the eggs before they hatch. This is so evident as you travel to the East Cape, up into the sea of Cortez from Los Cabos. Mansions line the coast, completely dependent on water being trucked in from the estuary.

This time of year, 90% of them are empty, which makes the situation feel very eerie. It feels as if their eggs didn’t hatch, and all of the effort to build in a way so out of tune with the natural surroundings has come to a halt. It seemed like a premonition of what’s to come.

We drove through the upper class ghost towns on our way to Shipwrecks, a right-hand reef/point combo spot. We pulled up early in the morning to chest to head high wind swell. The water was crystal clear, as the sand is composed of heavy chunks of shells and decomposed granite soils and doesn’t obscure the clarity.

We surfed a couple of times, getting some fun waves and trying out the video camera. Jessica and Fernando came out to surf, and we all celebrated the full moon with fish tacos and ceviche. A crew from Los Cabos came out for the full moon as well, and DJ Magic spun stylee trance beats on the turntables while we hula-hooped in the moonlight.
The East Cape is possibly the most scenic in all of Baja. Huge thunderheads cluster over the Sierra, delivering life-giving rain to the mountain peaks that slowly makes its way down to the coast. The turquoise sea shimmers in the sunlight, the white sand bottom highlighting the color of the water.

Local homesteads appear here and there, their humble yet functional casitas clustered in areas where there is water, in stark contrast to the Malibu-style monstrosities of the ricos (rich). Slim cows meek survival by munching the new green growth from the first rains. The people all smiled and waved as we passed, huddling in the shade of their porches.

Further along the East Cape, the sea becomes still and clear. Cabo Pulmo has one of the best living coral reefs in all of Baja. We snorkeled with the rainbow hues if the reef fish. We watched as angel fish, parrot fish, puffers, and a myriad of wrasses flowed in and out of the reef with the waves.

The Eaast Cape is close to La Paz, and appears that it is following suit the example set in Los Cabos. Almost the whole way, barbed-wire fences line the road, with huge Propiedad Privada (Private Property) signs every 100 feet, explaining that the land is now owned by such and such investment firm. 24 hr security patrols the perimeter, making sure nobody steal the cactus. The land is no longer accessible to the public, and it is only a matter of time and money before hotels line the coast like in Los Cabos.

After leaving the coast, the road ended up having the best scenery so far. You climb into a steep mountain valley, which was planted to mangos many generations ago. The trees cover both slopes of the cañon, surviving off of the rain that falls here at this time of year. Water seeps out of the cliffs and down through the steep valley of huge granite boulders. We drove higher into a cool rain storm, washing off the dust of the dirt roads.

After missing our chance to buy our ferry tickets for the day, we made our way to Playa Tecolote (Owl Beach). The water was the same amazing azure blue as the East Cape. We quickly donned our snorkeling gear, and made our way around the point to the south. We swam with a huge school of fish, and marveled at the myriad reef fishes, including a moray eel.

Returning to the beach, we noticed the amount of trash there was. People had come and left everything they brought. It was a real buzz-kill to see this filth, so we did a little clean up of the area close to the point. Some locals saw us, and Aubrey remarked to them how much of a shame it was to see so much trash in such a beautiful place. They smiled as if they had no idea what we were talking about.

Trash cans line the beach, some of them filled to the brim, trash spilling out and blowing into the sea. Other bins were empty with bags of trash lying on the ground immediately below them, and more trash all around. I wonder how often the trash collection is.

Perhaps the people are used to it, and therefore either don’t care or don’t notice. Maybe if they step on a broken beer bottle they will notice. What’s shocking, is that trash collection is free in Mexico. There is no charge to take it to the dump. Problem is, the dump is just an empty field with more trash than normal. There is no lining or fences to keep the trash from spilling out into the surrounding landscape. Trash is a huge issue in Mexico.

A fortune could be made starting recycling in Mexico and other countries in Central America. Plastic, aluminum, glass; all of it! The only thing needed is education: teach the youth to do it for their future and their children’s future. I think it can be done.


Unknown said...

Nice ya'all. Keep on trekken. Off to Quail Springs for the Permaculture Convergence. Stoked. Guner

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, and your pics! I recently visited Todos Santos, and was very fortunate to meet Cuco; he and his wife Pilar made my daughter and I a pair of those cool recycled sandals. I love the area, and share your concern for its future. Ironically, the tourist trade brought my family to Cabo in the first place, but next time we visit, we hope to spend more time out of the tourist zone and among the locals. Godspeed in your journeys!

~ Chris Willis

jpickell said...

Love the blog and the pics, including of Pilar. Where's Cuco? He's a crack-up. I also had some of the super sandles made out of recycled tires. Well worth the $$ in experience. Hopefully Todos never becomes Cabo. Come down and visit sometime!