BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR…

6 Nov

I’m sure you’ve heard the old expression in the title of this blog and you all know the next part, “ because you just might get it”. Well, I have to say that I’m never going to tempt fate again and having been involved in the fishing industry most of my life I really should have known better.

Our campsite on October 3rd

Let me back up a bit here. Before we arrived in Baja we knew that this year the rainy season had lived up to its name in spades. We were still astonished though at how green everything was and how many bugs there were. We had hit the beach a day or two after a heavy rain and the temperature, humidity and bug life was pretty overwhelming.

What the campsite looked like on the morning of the 14th

Rattlesnake Beach came as a very pleasant surprise however, because over the course of the summer it had become a true, sandy beach, from one end to the other. We’d been told that the nature of the beach changed fairly regularly and were thrilled that for the first time since we started to camp here, we’d get to enjoy a tropical, sandy paradise, and we did! We were having difficulty getting our kayak out of storage in Loreto as the caretaker was away, but with the water temperature at around 90F we spent a lot of time in it simply because it was a great way to escape from the heat, humidity, (which was in the 70 to 80 percent range) and the bugs. We swam and snorkeled at every opportunity.

This is what it looked like just before Paul hit

In a normal year here, the hurricane season is considered to be over by the beginning of October and we had a few conversations with those who live here year round about what it’s like to experience one. It was during one of these chats that I made the fatal error. I said that I’d experienced massive storms and hurricane force winds at sea and every year very large gales whipped the shores of eastern Vancouver Island where we lived. I’d even been in Vancouver when the tail end of Hurricane Frieda slashed through in 1962, but at the age of 7, didn’t really remember all that much about it, and then I said, “Wouldn’t it be neat to be here and experience one?”

The next thing we knew, the weather reports were tracking a storm in the southern Pacific that was gathering force and heading for the Baja. Eventually it grew big enough that they gave it a name, “Paul”, and it became apparent that it was going to hit the peninsula, though no one was sure exactly where it would make land fall.

Same spot right after Paul passed

We had arrived on Rattlesnake Beach on October the 3rd and gradually, over the next 2 weeks, the temperature and humidity level declined slightly and even the bugs seemed to be leveling off, but come October the 14th it started to rain. The weather gurus explained that Paul wasn’t going to hit us directly but would make landfall further north, That didn’t mean that we weren’t going to be affected by it, just that we wouldn’t experience the full force of it.

This is a spot on our road into the beach called Five Corners. This was on October 3rd. It’s the same spot in the photo below.

This gives you a pretty good idea as to what our road into the beach looked like, and this was only Monday morning before Paul hit.

As I said, on Sunday, the 14th in the morning, the rain started and continued to fall until the afternoon of the 15th. Now I realize that if you live anywhere on Vancouver Island or the lower mainland, at this point you’re shrugging your shoulders and saying, “So what? Sometimes it rains here for weeks on end!” and normally I would agree with you, but during that 36 hours it rained 10.29 INCHES of rain and that was what fell here on the beach, that doesn’t include all that fell on the Gigantes, the mountain range that sits just behind us.

 

It rained so much on Sunday alone, that one look outside Monday morning told us we were all going to be in trouble. Our campsite had a lake in it, the road behind us was flooded and the old arroyo beside us was starting to run. We had already discovered a couple of leaks in Grummy, including one of our skylights, two other small ones that had bowls under them, nothing we couldn’t deal with but we were worried about some of the older campers.

This was our lovely sandy beach north of us just before Paul hit.

It’s hard to explain just what it was like actually. The temperature was in the low 90’s and the humidity level was at 95 percent, everything just felt wet. We even turned the heater on for a couple of hours trying to dry things out a bit but it was too hot to keep it running.

And this is the same beach after Paul, nice eh?

We put on minimal rain gear and headed out for a walk. Come on, we’re from the Wet Coast and a little rain wasn’t going to stop us, besides there was hardly any wind blowing and we wanted to make sure the rest of the folks here were doing OK. We walked from our campsite to the arroyo to the south of us, which was flowing pretty good, and everywhere we went was flooded. The roads weren’t roads anymore they were rivers! Richard carried a hoe and we tried to dig trenches to funnel water where it would do the least amount of damage. Everyone was doing all right, though most had some small leaks, mostly they were all hunkered down waiting Paul out. It rained so hard during the day and was so warm that both Richard and I had showers outside. Hey, why waste it right?

Paul didn’t hit us with a lot of wind, only about 30 to 40 miles an hour, mostly because the vast expenditure of water and wind was thrown at the mountain range at our backs. Thanks to a nasty convergence that was still to come, we were to eventually experience some fairly nasty repercussions!

Over the years I’ve written about the canyons that we hike on a regular basis in the Gigantes, but these are canyons in name only, what they really are, are vast water collection systems designed to funnel it and pour it out in the arroyos that fan out from the base of them, like the one at the end of our beach. When you sit out on the water and look back at the beach, it’s obvious that this entire area is a vast flood plain created by the erosion spewed out of the Gigantes over eons. Most of the time these arroyos are dry and are used as roads to get from place to place where real roads don’t exist, but not on October 14th. Just after noon on Monday, the arroyo to the south of us filled to capacity and broke through a sand dam that had built up over the last 10 years, spewing everything in it and everything that had come down from the Gigantes, out into the sea. The one beside our campsite just kept getting bigger as more water and debris flowed down it.

Around 3 PM the rain stopped and the clouds parted, but it wasn’t over yet. The wind that we did get, combined with the storm surge, high tide and the huge amount of water pouring off the Gigantes into the arroyos came to a head. I don’t know how deep the water coming out of the big arroyo south of us was but the amount of debris it was carrying was tremendous and as the sun started to come out, that debris started to spread. The waves pounded the shore throwing up mountains of woody debris and continued all through the night. The water had so much force that it ended up scouring rocks off the bottom and tossing it up on top of the debris burying it under tons of rocks and gravel.

On Tuesday morning our beautiful sandy beach had vanished and in its place was a horrific mess of deadwood, torn up trees, cactus, weeds and vines, in many places buried almost completely under the rocks and sand.

We had to remove as much out from under the rocks as we could because we realized the smell from the rotting vegetation would be overwhelming if we didn’t. There was no sense waiting for the local municipality or the government to help. We were a pretty low priority as they needed to deal with the damage done to the local area which included destroyed water mains, downed power lines, washed out roads and the approaches on a few of the nearby bridges. The highway, Mex #1 which is the one and only main artery on the peninsula, was closed amazingly, for only one day as they rushed to fill in gaping holes and missing pavement and make the road as safe as possible in as short a time as they could. We were very impressed at how fast the work was completed, especially since the water didn’t stop flowing in some places for a couple more days.

The road into Rattlesnake was severely damaged and though those of us with 4-wheel drive could get in and out, we knew there were a few more campers due to arrive soon. It was a very uncomfortable, bumpy ride that might have proven dangerous for motorhomes and trailers, so we all chipped in and hired a local from the nearby village of Juncalito, who owns a loader, to come in and fix it.

We have only just finished cleaning up our beach and the boat launching area beside us. For days the only way we could get rid of anything was to burn it and for a week, day and night, the fires burned. Everything was done by hand using rakes and shovels.  Considering the size of some of the debris, without a chainsaw, some spots had to be left for the elements and time to deal with.

The continuing trouble for us has to do with the well that we draw water from. The pipes that carry the water and the power lines that run the pumps both crossed the arroyo that drains to the south of us and both were ripped away by the massive runoff out of the Gigantes. This arroyo starts in Tabour Canyon, which I’ve written about before, so Richard and I decided to go up and have a look and what we saw stunned us! The drainage canal that had been built to funnel the water down into this arroyo and away from Puerto Escondido had been about 12 feet deep, only now it’s level with the ground, filled with rocks and gravel. The canyon itself bears no resemblance to anything we remember. The ground that we had walked on before was buried anywhere from 10 to 15 feet below us and from the damage to plants and trees, what little was left, meant that the water level ranged from 25 to 35 feet high as it crashed down off the Gigantes. There is almost no vegetation in the canyon anymore, all of the palm trees are gone and massive rocks bigger than houses, not to mention smaller ones have been tumbled around like toys.

One of the campers has been coming here for 30 years and has a 50-year-old book that explains how the canyon came by its name. The pictures in it show the canyon as we all knew it and this is the first time that anything this dramatic has changed in Tabour. She calls it a Millennium Storm and considering all the damage done by it I think she’s right. At least we can all be thankful that there was no loss of life!

We’re still waiting for the well to be repaired, though water isn’t really a problem since we can buy purified water in Loreto for virtually pennies. It just requires a carrying system. The really big problem has to do with the huge areas of sitting water that has created a plague of mosquitoes, fly’s and no-see-ums, so bad that you can’t go outside for even a few seconds unless you’re covered from head to toe, including your clothes, in at least a 20 percent solution of DEET, preferably 30, and even then it doesn’t keep them all away. There’s been talk of spraying since Yellow and Dengue Fever are carried by some of the varieties of mosquitoes here, but this is a Third World country and it might happen or it might just be rumour, we’ll just have to wait and see. Thank God, I bought no-see-um netting to fix our screens with; it has definitely proven it’s worth this year!

In the meantime our kayak has finally made it to our campsite and we find ourselves, all of us on the beach, for the first time ever, preying for wind! At least out on the water there are hardly any bugs so most of us are spending as much time out there as we can. This is the reason why I’ve been communicating so little lately. It’s no fun sitting under a Palapa roof trying to send off a couple of e-mails while the mosquitoes are descending on you in hordes and the only places we have access to the internet are all outdoors.

You try typing with one hand and waving the other one in the air continuously trying to keep the bugs at bay!

Though now that we’ve got the air conditioning going in the car and can sit right outside the Internet café, I’ll be talking with you a little more!

Did I even tell you how the Sea of Cortez is a continuation of the San Andreas Fault? Good thing I didn’t tempt fate by mention anything about wanting to experience an earthquake eh?

TTFN!

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4 Responses to “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR…”

  1. Michelle November 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Holy cow, my problems seem puny in comparison, sure glad you are all ok !!! Hope the rest of your tour is a little kinder to you!
    I will be fine as soon as I find a head Dr.LOL

    Love to you both
    xoxo

  2. Anne November 12, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    Glad you are all ok. I am doing fine, a change of mind and heart go a long way to healing.

  3. Kevin Blake November 12, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Wow- please, do NOT wish to experience an earthquake! Hey, I’m just north of you a few hundred miles in LA and we do not need anyone (with your current luck) encouraging any earthquakes! Hope the winds picks up and takes all your small buggy “friends” for a nice long ride…far, far away.
    Wishfully,
    Kevin

    • Alexis Thuillier November 28, 2012 at 11:00 am #

      Not a problem Kevin,and thanks for the kind wishes. It’s looking like they’re going to be with us for some time to come since the grand North wind seems to not want to make an appearance this year. Hopefully soon!

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