Archive | February, 2011

What are we going to do today?

23 Feb

When people find out what we do every Winter, they exclaim, “Wow, that sounds wonderful!” Then you can see them start to think about what they would do to occupy themselves day in and day out for 5 to 6 months. Eventually they come to the conclusion that it must get pretty boring here after a while. Well nothing could be further from the truth. When we get asked what we do all day, our standard answer is, “I don’t know, but it takes all day to do it!”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Our days are filled with activity! We do yoga 3 mornings a week and after that anything could happen. Maybe we’ll go hiking up any 1 of the 3 huge canyons in the Gigante Mountains behind us. Perhaps I’ll climb the hill beside us, cleaning up the trail and checking to see that the rock steps are still in good repair, while Richard goes to collect firewood or do some work on the road coming into Rattlesnake Beach.

A small portion of Wow Canyon

We might decide to go into Loreto and pick up a few things we can’t get at the local store and to have lunch. Perhaps a Torta or maybe a Mesquite grilled chicken, Mmmmmm!
If the winds are cooperating, kayaking might be a good bet. Watch a few whales and dolphins, try for a fish for dinner or just find and explore a new beach with nary a soul in sight.

In search of solitude

No one knows what they are, but they sure did taste good!

Visiting with other campers on the beach is a great way to spend the day, learning about each other, discussing philosophy, or current events, or simply shooting the breeze. Sometimes we have pot luck suppers with many of us gathered together to celebrate the full moon, a birthday, the arrival of family for a visit, the departure of friends, or for no particular reason at all except a fire is always nice when you share it with someone.

Nothing like a good fire to share with friends

Or maybe we’ll just hang about lazing away the day in the Grummy or lying in the hammock, reading, relaxing, watching the birds and trying to identify who it is that comes to our water bath or sings so beautifully in the bushes beside us.

He thinks this is his exclusive drinking fountain

This fellow comes by every couple of days to check out our campsite

Sometimes we just sit and watch the beach and ocean, kayak groups getting ready to leave for the week, sail boats coming or leaving Puerto Escondido, dolphins, seals, schools of fish being chased by cormorants or unseen advisories below, friends launching their boats, pelicans and boobies diving, even whales going by on their mysterious journeys. We sit with coffee in hand and simply enjoy the passage of the day and the constantly changing beauty all around us.

The view from my hammock, looking up through the Mesquite branches

Sometimes beauty can be found in a patch of sand!

We have so many things to occupy our time, our biggest problem is deciding which one of them we’ll do today!

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Everything has a point!

16 Feb

Southern Baja is a long peninsula with the Gigante Mountains running down the middle of it like a backbone. Rattlesnake Beach where we are is on the eastern side of the Gigantes, on a large Alluvial Plain, right at the foot of the mountains. The summer months here are the wet season and rain comes from the western side of the peninsula, over the Gigantes and down through the vast canyons, gullies and out the arroyos. Every year the rains add to the gradual erosion of the mountains and brings fresh sand down out of the hills, to replace that which the Grande Norte blows away.

The Alluvial floodplain we live on

All of Baja is desert, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t life here. There is an amazing variety of it, but everything must struggle mightily to survive on the generally small amount of water that the rainy season brings. A scant 6 to 8 inches a year may be all that falls over an entire year, though sometimes it can come in one massive hurricane event. Hurricanes are rare this far up the peninsula, but there have been 2 in the last 4 years, the last one 2 years ago. Since then there has been drought conditions with little or no rain falling at all. Consequently every plant must develop a survival mechanism, to take advantage of good rain years and  survive low ones.
They all have various ways to absorb and store water and to protect themselves from those that would steal it.  Almost all cactus are built like accordions and can expand hugely storing water for years. They also have spines to protect themselves and keep their water loss to a bare minimum, but so do almost all the bushes, shrubs and trees here. The Mesquite tree we have that provides us with shade also covers our campsite with nasty, thorny branches. Take a close look at the photo below of the Palo Verde bush, you’ll notice that every stem and branch ends in a very sharp point. It doesn’t have it’s leaves right at the moment, but they also end in daggers.

Palo Verde Dipuga

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here in a few photos is the natural world around us. These are just a few of the many varieties of cactus that grow on the flood plain behind our beach and on Still Point Island on the north end of Danzante. I could include many more shots of all of the various other types of plants that carry deadly weapons around us, but I figured these few would suffice to give you a basic idea as to how careful one must be when going for a short walk in the wilds of Baja!

Chain Link Cholla

Sour Pitaya

Pipe Organ Cactus

Old Man Cactus

At high tide the land bridge disappears, and Still Point assumes it’s name!

Still Point Island

A typical island landscape.

When you wander the islands, you must pay a great deal of attention to where you put your feet. The cactus can be very small and they blend in and hide very well!

Fish Hook Cactus, blending in!

A baby Barrel cactus, hiding from the sun and wind

Strawberry Cactus

It seems scary I know, but you  get used to it, just like everything else in life. Sometimes it seems as if you’re dancing as you move along any path, zigging and zagging to avoid those plants that reach out for you. After a few bloody arms, legs or feet you learn how to avoid the obvious, look for the hidden and wear thick soled shoes!

You always have to pay the Piper!

8 Feb

We come here every winter obviously because it’s warmer than anywhere in British Columbia. The sun shines virtually every day, the temperature sits at a balmy 22c, on average, and if it clouds up and rains, well maybe 20 rain drops will fall from the sky. Ok, once every winter we do get a downpour and it can last an hour or so, but for the most part the weather is pretty awesome. It might not be the tropics, but it’s pretty close and it’s good enough for the folks I hang with.

There is however, a price that must be paid for this…..El Grande Norte, The Big North. This is a wind that blows pretty much every winter, down from the north. It can start anywhere after the end of November and blows on and off until April.

You can go from this......

...to this, in less than 1 hour!

Some years it’s like living with a raging gale that just never seems to let up, and then you get a year like this one, were the winds have for the most part, been fairly gentle. All this winter we’ve had winds that have averaged between 5 and 15 knots, with lots of days with little or no wind at all. At least until last Tuesday! The Grande Norte came for a visit last week and hasn’t really left, he’s just taking a momentary rest.

The view for 5 days. Cold and very windy!

February is the month when the winds are at their worst and this is the time most of the Kayak companies have the bulk of their trips out to the islands. Imagine paying $1200.00 to come to Baja for a week of kayaking beautiful Carman Island only to be trapped on a beach by winds exceeding 50 knots (That’s 57 miles per hour or 92 kilometres per hour for those of you who are not nautically minded), not even knowing if you’ll be able to get back in time to fly home! We’re talking 8 and 9 foot waves here folks, and most of the folks who come for these paid excursions have absolutely no kayaking experience!. Not only that but it can come up so fast that it’s easy to be fooled and over the years some folks have died, either because they didn’t realize how fast the weather was deteriorating, or because they figured they had to take the chance to get back for their flight home.

Now I must interject here and tell you that the Guided Kayak adventures have NEVER lost anyone, so you’re safe with them, but it can still be a miserable trip, hunkered down in your tent for days on end, unable to even go hiking because the wind is so strong it can knock you off your feet and do damage to exposed eyes and skin. To add insult to injury, the sky generally remains clear and beautiful during these major wind events!
Some 7 years ago, 3 Canadians, one of whom was a Kayak instructor, were caught because they assumed they knew what they were doing and had a flight to catch. They left Carmen Island in the middle of one of the worst storms seen in years, and they ended up tossed out of their kayaks. The water here is definitely warmer than at home but you can still die from Hypothermia in 18c water, it just takes longer and that’s what happened to the Instructor. The other 2 managed to get back into their kayaks and were eventually found alive, but the instructor stayed under her kayak trying to keep out of the weather. She had a VHF radio with her and called and pleaded, but no one could get a boat out to her and there is no Coast Guard here. She eventually succumbed to Hypothermia and died. Those who had listened, were so shaken by the experience that they got together and created the Puerto Escondido Hidden Harbour Yacht Club Radio Net.

It broadcasts every morning at 8:15 AM and it is specifically designed for emergencies of any sort and to make sure that all who use the water know what the weather is going to be for at least 3 days in advance. The Kayak companies, sailors, anglers and those of us who just kayak for fun make sure we all listen every morning and organize our trips around that information. Since it’s inception, no one has been lost, injured or died. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Standing out in this can cause severe sand burn, if you can stand at all!

Now, back to last week.
We were warned it was coming and come it did! It blew for 5 full days.

Sometimes it sounded like the moaning and shrieking of an insane person, other times like the intake of a jet engine! The worst 2 days were so nasty and cold that we never ventured outside except to take the pictures you see here and for Richard to help the Fisherman next to us. His boat had broken it’s lines and was pounding ashore, so they tied it to our Suzuki and pulled it up the beach, out of the water.

A useless effort to stop the boat from pounding on the shore!

Aren't Suzuki's wonderful vehicles?

 

Carmen and Danzante disappearing!

You’ll notice that Carmen, and Danzante disappeared, except that wasn’t fog or clouds covering them, it was sand and dust in the air. Grummy rocked, shook and swayed in the wind, and even though every window and vent was shut tight, we still had to sweep and dust constantly as microscopic particles pushed their way through the very walls it seemed. Generally, when the wind is too high for water activities, the folks around here will head into town or venture out behind the beach for walks in the desert. Not this time! No one budged from their warm hidey holes until Friday when the worst was past, human, animal, bird or bat! Not a one was seen until the wind dipped below 25 knots(46 kph), then gradually life came back to the beach.
By the time the bulk of the storm had passed, our beach had completely changed. All of our lovely sand had been totally blown off the beach and was now up the road behind us. The rocks Richard had so carefully removed from our Kayak landing zone were now back, and there were twice as many than we started with. At one point, just below the locomotive sound of the wind, you could here the rumbling of rocks rolling under the waves. Broken branches from Mequite and palm trees littered the ground, and anything left outside needed to be rescued or dug out. The folks in the harbour are still trying to find and/or return all the lost articles blown off their boats. The locals say that this last blow was one of the coldest and windiest ones ever.
We not finished either. We’ve had a bit of a respite, with Sunday and Monday calm enough to get out and clean up, even to sit outside and enjoy the warmth of the sun, but it’s coming back! Tomorrow it’s supposed to start again and blow for another 4 or 5 days. Then after that, who knows? It could continue for weeks, gradually fade away or simply just stop and go back to the weather we’ve enjoyed up till now. There’s always a price to pay for everything, and for us El Grande Norte is the price we pay for the warmth, serenity and beauty we get to enjoy down here on the Baja.

You just never know when the piper will come calling.

Thanks for giving us the good life, Barb.

1 Feb

This is not my usual posting, but it is important to me! All those who have lost a loved one will understand.

Tomorrow would have been my sister’s 61st birthday. She died in 2005 and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. She was not only my older sister but my best friend as well.

My sister, Barbara

Things didn’t start out well. When she was 5 and the apple of everyones eye,  my Mother came home from the hospital with me and asked if she wanted to see me. Her answer was a resounding NO! The battle was on, with my poor eldest sister, Anne, not really sure how to deal with us. We spent the first 18 years of my life, literally trying to kill one another. We came damn close a couple of times, but we’d both learned to duck fast! Then my parents retired, sold the family home and moved to an island. We ended up moving in with one another in a house with 2 other girls and it became us against the world. We soon became each others best friend!

 
Have you ever known someone so well that you could argue a point vociferously and yet know when to draw the line? We did! Our husbands (both named Richard) would watch in horror as our conversation would get louder and louder. They were sure we were going to come to blows and brace themselves to tear us apart only to watch in amazement as we would suddenly stop arguing and start laughing.

 
We solved all the problems of the world between us but we couldn’t solve Pancreatic Cancer. From diagnosis to death Barb had a year and for the last 6 months I stayed by her side looking after her as her husband had predeceased her by 4 years and they had no children of their own. It was a sad and ugly time for both of us…and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything on earth. I had time to return to her all the love she and her husband had lavished on me and my children. I cared for her as if she was my child and I was able to say goodbye, though it was the very last thing I wanted to do.

 
Barbara and her husband Richard, took our daughters every summer for at least a couple of weeks. They spent so much time with them that they referred to them as Mom and Dad #2, and depending on which city they were visiting, thought nothing of asking them for the same type of help they would have asked us for.  Both were so heartbroken when the two of them died as neither lived to see the girls marry or have children of their own and I know that still saddens them. Our youngest even have a vase inscribed with Barbara and Richard’s names, sitting at the table with the guest book at her wedding, so that in some sense, they could both be in attendance.

My daughters, with their Uncle Richard

Richard and I had planned on retiring at 55 in 2010. Barbara’s death made it possible for us to retire in 2006. I have always believed that when one door closes, another opens and Barb opened one for us with her passing.

 
She left both myself and my oldest sister an inheritance. It wasn’t really large, but it was enough for Richard and I to get free and clear of all our debt. Added to the sale of our home and belongings and invested wisely it was enough to let us retire and see us through until Richards pension came  in at 55.

 
So, thanks to the death of my sister, Richard and I got to hit the road earlier than expected, where we could live the lifestyle that we currently enjoy. Yet nothing would make me happier than to have Barb back again. That way she she could come to Baja to explore and enjoy it with us! I would have happily worked those 5 years more, if only I could have her here on the beach with me now, enjoying a Scotch and telling me how beautiful it all is, as I’m sure she would have loved it.

 
So here’s to my sister Barbara, I can’t tell you how much I miss you girl. I really wish you were here, but because you’re not, all I can say is thank you for being such a great, big sister and looking out for me even after the end.

 
I will raise a glass of Scotch for you tomorrow and wish you Salainte Mahud, where ever you are!