The next day, Wednesday the 23rd of January began promptly at midnight with a sudden and violent burst of wind shaking the boat and whining in the rigging. I crawled out of the bunk, slid back the hatch and stared out into the utterly starry night at the loom of the mountains. The wind was fresh from the Pacific, romping in over the peninsula, funneling down the arroyo and whipping the flat water into tiny spiky whitecaps, only a few hundred feet from the beach. We were quite secure there with no fetch at all but the wind whipped the boat back and forth on her anchor line like a kite with no tail and sleep was a sometime thing the rest of the night. I sat a long time in the hatchway watching the stars pivot ever so slowly around Polaris. I realized all my life I’ve known the big dipper well but never seen the little one at all though I have star charts that show where it should be. With the moon gone and no other light on the face of the earth I saw more stars than ever before and the little dipper was fine and bright at last. At length I crawled back in the bunk and slept (if fitfully) til the first hint of dawn crept in the cabin.
Lying against the cliffs just North of me was a panga with three men sitting on a huge pile of shiny white seine net watching the prospects. The wind still howled down the arroyo and out in the open a mile or so out you could see the backs of goodly whitecaps rolling away to the East. From where they sat waiting and the shape of the bay I suddenly wondered if I were sitting right in the middle of their fish shop, so I waved and hailed, asking if I were in the way. They couldn’t hear over the wind but saw me wave, so motored away from the cliff and came alongside. I asked if I should move so they could fish and they assured me I was fine where I lay, they were just sizing up the situation and deciding whether to set in this bay or the next or perhaps not at all, given the wind. We talked quite a long time and the skipper warned me that although I’d be fine from a NW wind where I was lying he worried that we would probably get a Norther the next day and I’d be in a dangerous place. I probed him a bit trying to find out where he got his forecast, but I think he had none, simply knew the place well and expected North wind for whatever good reason. Polaris was still dimly visible, perhaps ten or 15 degrees clear of the protecting point, with no sign of anything to break the wind from that direction for a very long ways.
We praised each other’s boats. They looked into my cabin and pronounced it very pretty. I admired their panga, white with blue interior and really a fine vessel, though heavy laden with the great mound of fish net. I didn’t ask, but if they filled the net with fish there would be no room in the boat for one or the other. Perhaps they set the net, corral their fish and somehow dip the fish from the net to carry them ashore. The boats, they said, cost about $20,000 pesos, or $2222 US, which I think makes them a fabulous value for what they can do. The motors, OMC, Mercury, Nissan and less often, Honda cost much more, about $7000 US.
After a good visit they motored away to the North and I didn’t meet them again. However, after breakfast I paddled ashore to the beach and the mangrove filled lagoon behind it. This was the first time I saw free standing water that might have been at least brackish on the trip, but there wasn’t much of it. The splash of dark green from the mangroves made the place pretty, not just grand from the mountains, and many other trees and shrubs grew in the bed of the arroyo. In fact, it’s the arroyo, along with the fish in the sea, that makes life here possible for people at all. Reaching far back into the mountains it gathers the runoff from many miles around and brings it to the sea here. Up the arroyo a short ways is a hand dug, stone lined well (“piso”) from which comes water good enough for cooking and washing though not sweet to the taste, it’s too brackish. For good sweet water they have to go up the coast five miles to Rancho Dolores on the site of the old Mission Dolores, where the water comes from the well sweet enough to drink and to use for irrigation.
On the beach in front of the house with the glimmer of light last night I met a gentleman, born and raised here in the house on the beach, and living there with his wife and son now. I saw them in the background but they never came to meet me. I learned that the arroyo runs full of water for one or two days a year when a chubasco blows through the mountains. It rarely rains more than that. There are 13 families living in the three little settlements, though one (the house I saw dark last night) is living elsewhere right now, in La Paz, but will soon return. He complains of the wind, it will make pulling his net very hard since he’ll have the weight of the boat in the wind to pull upwind as well as the load of fish and net to pull up out of the water. I point out that it’s more wind than I really need too. He sees my kayak trying to pull loose from its stone and fly away and digs out a home made rebar grapple for me to tie off to. I ask if I may walk up the canyon. . .”Certainly. . .” and if there are any dangers. He looks puzzled. I try to elaborate (remember my Spanish is awful) and ask about animals. “Oh, yes there are burros and coyotes, but not many of them and they are not dangerous.” We shake hands and smile and Mom and son peep out behind the fence and wave. Up the canyon a ways I come across a small cemetery clinging to the hillside above the water flow. There are not many graves and some of the stones and crosses are very ancient. Perhaps few people die here. The bottom of the arroyo is strange to the Northerner’s eye. You see all the patterns of a vigorous whitewater stream, waterfalls, boulders with eddies behind them, gravel bars, beaches of white sand, all dry and gleaming in the sunlight, and with flowers peeping from between the stones and all sorts of bushes and small trees growing up from the streambed. Here and there the wreckage of a tree pulled up and rolled down the arroyo lies tangled in the ones that have held on, but clearly it’s worth the risk for them. Here, not far below the hot surface is cool water for leaves and flowers. If the chubasco floods you out and washes you away, well, at least you were here and flowered and grew for a time. Walking to the beach down the opposite side of the arroyo I came to a house I hadn’t see from offshore, small, L-shaped, with a porch over the open area and nobody in sight. I stood and stared quietly for a few moments and spoke a “hello” softly. Nobody answered. I turned to leave. Suddenly came the sound of a light door closing and steps on the ground and “Ola senor. . .buenas dias, bienvenidos” and an older man smiled as he walked across the yard to meet me. On the porch suddenly his wife and a younger woman with a baby on her hip were busily sweeping and straightening chairs. With four chairs on the porch and the last bit of sweeping finished he asked if I would like to sit down in the shade. First were introductions. My name, “Ken” is hard to say in Spanish. My middle name, Tony, or better, Antonio, rolls much better from the tongue. I’ve forgotten all their names but one now. . .that was Viviena, one year old, the obviously well-loved grand daughter. We sat. Nobody spoke but we all smiled. I looked around the porch, the stuccoed surface lightly washed with blue and dark blue painted sea stars for decorations. I admired the house. It’s very pretty. “It looks almost new, did you just paint it?” “Oh, perhaps two years ago, no, maybe it was last year. . .and yes it is new, only seven years old.” Gramma pointed to the wreckage of a small adobe shed 40 feet away, half its roof missing, no windows or doors. “That was our house for 35 years. . .all our babies were born there. Now we have this house. It is better.” Indeed it was. The cool dark interior looked tidy and welcoming. A panga landed on the beach, just visible through the trees and a vigorous woman in red shorts jumped out with a white plastic bucket and carried it quickly up to the porch. We all stood up to smile and there was a torrent of unintelligible Spanish around my head. Full stop, my hosts introduced the stranger, there were more smiles and a quick goodbye and the woman tromped quickly up the arroyo out of sight. I looked in the bucket with gramma. She fingered the huge fresh shrimp heads it was filled with. . .sniffed them, smiled and sat back down. I had to ask. . .what do you do with the shrimp heads? “Soup” she said, but no more. I followed up. . .what do you put in a shrimp head soup? “Whatever you have” she said “but we don’t have much, some potatoes, maybe some other
vegetable, we have a problem with money right now.” “How’s that”, I asked? “We just don’t have any right now, none to buy vegetables with. . .the motor of the panga broke and we had to find money to fix it so right now we have a problem with money. But now the motor is fixed again so my husband and my son in law can go fishing again so then we will have money for other things maybe, but right now, no, there is none.” That simple. The boat and its motor have to come first. They are the source of food, fresh water, transport. . .without the panga there is no life for people on that beach. Grampa excused himself and went to the beach to launch the boat. I rose also, asked to take a photograph, said my goodbyes, especially to Viviena (who had never looked away from me the whole visit) and walked back to the canoe.