Part XVII: So Close I Can Taste It!
Tuesday, November 13th, 2018
My day starts early with the sky red on the horizon and the North Star brighter than I’ve ever seen. I am covered with fine sand that found its way into my ears, eyes, nose, and on everything in my tent and inside of my sleeping bag. Although it’s not blowing hard, the wind is strong enough I don’t want to deal with the stove, mainly to avoid early-morning frustration. I mix Nescafé with cold water and head to a nearby restaurant at dawn to recharge my phone. It’s an open-floor place, but everything is closed, the power shut off. So I just sit there, staring at the ocean and wait for the world to wake up.
The sun comes up, and with it, the wind returns. By the time I finish breakfast, I am worried about my tent, unattended and without my body weight. I hurry over to the bluff and am relieved it’s still there. By now, there is more than an inch of sand in it. I pack everything up in gusting winds as best I can and head to town in search of a motel. There is one, but it doesn’t look inviting. I return to the beach restaurant, and they have a tiny room for rent, not even big enough to fit my bike into. It is a luxury nevertheless. I take a nap. I read. I study maps. I am looking for inspiration to finish the trip but can’t quite find it. I will get back on the road tomorrow, and I hope the journey finds me again. And I hope I find the journey I’ve started. I feel like a horse that wants to get to the barn as quickly as possible.
I also catch up with the rest of the world by watching CNN news. California is on fire! Lives lost, properties destroyed, everything gone, and there is the devastation of such grand proportions! It’s heartbreaking, and the president of our great nation can’t even muster compassion for the people whose lives have been destroyed? The country is nervous, the world is worried, and in half an hour of watching news, my heart is heavy with sadness. We are on the brink of something great, more significant than humanity has known. We don’t know it yet, and it will not come all at once and suddenly. We are in a period of transformation toward something new and different. It is inevitable. Our civilization as we know it has peaked. And it’s not the first time around. The world is out of balance. To seek balance is the law of nature and nature is putting as back in our place.
Maybe this break wasn’t such a good idea after all! At least watching the news wasn’t! The table next to me fills up with a bunch of local school kids who came to celebrate their teacher’s birthday. It immediately changes my somber mood. Songs, laughter, and kids drinking way too many sodas make me look at life on the bright side again.
My tiny room was right next to the restaurant. A group of local guys is playing cards, and they are talking and laughing very loudly. I keep trying to ignore the noise. My ears are stuffed with earplugs, but I just can’t sleep. I look at my phone, and it is one in the morning. That’s it! I get out of bed and head to the bathroom which is outside next to the restaurant. I slam the doors of my room angrily. I think the guys finally get the message. By the time I return from the bathroom, the car doors are slamming, and they drive off. I am tossing and turning all night, checking the time that seemed to stop. I want the night to end, but I don’t want the morning to arrive either. Morning means departure, and I am not ready for it. I start examining the maps at 6 a.m., and I am filled with dread. I grab a cup of coffee and walk to the bluff. It’s early morning, but surfers are out already. It is immediately clear to me:
“I am staying another day to have a proper rest,” I say aloud to myself.
Yesterday was windy and cold and miserable. And just like that, by the art of surrender, everything is clear again. I know exactly where, when, and how I’ll go.
I go for a refreshing swim in the waves, although I give myself a nice cut on the thigh on a razor-sharp coral. Water must be around 70 degrees. Watching the surfers makes me happy. Some guys and girls look effortless dancing on the waves riding their boards; some are beginners, and then there are fathers with their little boys. There is even a father with a son and a dog on the same board. A crusty old guy surfs with a goat! At lunch, I hang out with a young family from Canada. They have two adorable little boys and a third baby on the way. They’ve been camping down here and surfing for a month and a half. They are both sponsored skier athletes, so we have a lot in common to talk about.
I am so glad I decided to stay another day. My mother says that everything is for a reason. To complete an already great day, our neighbors from Tahoe, Tom and Carol Carter, show up at dusk. They have been traveling down here for the last three weeks. They have been in touch via text with Jim back home, and somehow the timing worked perfectly. We could not have planned to meet even if we wanted to ahead of time. It was a miracle in itself. Now, had I left in the morning as intended, we would have missed each other by less than a day! We have a great dinner together, with Steve and Rick who were my neighbors on the bluff and I feel I am now truly reenergized and ready to finish my trip.
Sierras Gigantas, Missiones, here I come!
I’ve been noticing the pattern of my perceptions I have when I first arrive at an unfamiliar place. At first, I am guarded against a new and strange place. As my inner microcosm starts to relate to macrocosm around me, little by little, it starts to build a relationship. I left San Juanico yesterday, and after 36 miles on a mix of dirt, rock- and ankle-deep soft sand on a remote and lonely road with the temperature hovering around a 100 degrees, I descend to the valley of La Purísima and cross the river. The river in the desert looks odd, out of place, unfamiliar yet it is a welcome site. A blue crane and a huge osprey noisily fly off, startled by my arrival. The moving water is clear, cool and inviting unlike others I’ve passed which are murky, bug infested and always polluted by cow poop.
I ride the remainder of the distance to town on pavement. After a short climb through a narrow canyon with steep walls which are dotted with white goats, a beautiful date palm oasis leaning against the canyon walls and topped by a sombrero-looking volcano opens up before me. I ride through town, and its streets are lined by many empty, dilapidated buildings with broken windows that once served a variety of businesses. I pass small farm homes, a playground, a plaza, a Mission and even a hotel which was all boarded up. On the other end of town, there is a store, and it is buzzing with people and activity. Trucks are lined up all around, vaqueros with their white cowboy hats, women with kids holding on to their sides and many have little ones in their laps. There is a hot dog, torta (hot sandwich), and taco stand in front of the store. Of course, I am quite an attraction with my bike when I pull up. The bike is surrounded by several local guys admiring it, and that makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am starving, and I need a cold beer. I should have taken a photo of the crowd, but I was a bit overwhelmed by it, and I kept a close eye on my bike. I feel like I would insult people if I locked the bike in front of everyone. I sit at the one and only table with the vaqueros and I learn that this kind of activity happens only twice a month, on the fifteenth and at the end of the month when ranchers come to village from the surrounding ranches to sell their goat cheese, which is then distributed to cities in Baja and the mainland. It is a cheese renowned for its quality. They buy food and other necessities and mingle for a bit. The store is the central gathering location. By now, my relationship to the place has already deepened. It has a human pulse. A place without people is a dead place. Humans are not solitary animals. We need interaction. We are codependent, social animals.
I ride back to the campground, which I passed at the beginning of the town. The way I perceive the village on my ride back now, after a delicious torta, a cold beer, and interaction with local people, has already changed as I’ve adapted to this new environment. I see and feel like I’m in a different dimension. I see and smell and hear in color. Human nature seeks familiarity and comfort and some constancy. I have been battling the new, the uncertain, the lonesome state for almost two months now. Discovering new places, meeting new people, speaking in a new language is an incredible experience. It requires constant adaptations and readjustments from what is expected and what is real. It requires ingenuity and resourcefulness. It is incredibly rewarding, yet exhausting, as you have to constantly be on guard. It is physically and extraordinarily difficult, and it often takes a toll on your mental state from which you have to then fight your way back to rebalance yourself. I need rest from it all and am ready to come home; I’m ready to be in a familiar and secure environment surrounded by people I know and love.
When I return to the campground and meet Lilian, the owner of the property, I end up splurging and rent a room in a cabaña for $25. I hadn’t had a hot shower since I left from San Ignacio several days ago. My body melts as hot water caresses my tired muscles. I meet Lilian’s husband Alberto as well, and they are both delightful people. Their place is beautiful, and they are building more cabañas, which are rustic and very tastefully done, as is the campground by the river. Their son is an architect. In the morning I get a tour of the wine cave and lush gardens in which vines that arrived with the first Spanish missionaries are thriving.
I take my time leaving, but not before I promise I will return for the wine festival on December 8th. The property has been in Lilian’s family for four generations, and the wine is produced in the traditional way of the Spanish padres. Cowhide is suspended between palm posts, and grapes are pressed by walking on them and then grape juices drip through a small hole on the bottom. I would love to see the process.
I ride the dirt road along the river out of town toward San Isidro, another palm oasis. The road then climbs in and out of many drainages. I pass several goat ranches along the way. Time stopped here a long time ago. Homes are built mainly with materials found in and around the area. Goats roam freely, and they are adorable. I want a goat! I don’t know what I’d do with it, but I want one. They do make great pets. I wonder what our golden retriever Monty would think of that?
On a high plateau, the air is saturated with the sweet smell of blooming yellow flowers that carpet the ground which received rains a few weeks ago. I close my eyes and listen to the symphony of millions of bees gathering pollen and honey. Citrus- and white-colored butterflies dart from one tiny flower to another. Nature is hard at work and in perfect harmony.
When I arrived at San Juanico a couple of days back, I hit the wall. I studied maps to find the shortest, quickest, straightest way to La Ventana Bay. I seriously contemplated skipping The Mission part of the ride. I knew there would be a lot of climbing involved and very limited supply spots along the route. During my much needed two-day break, I recovered and learned more about the area; it gave me the courage and energy to continue. And I am so glad I did.
A steep descent finally drops me to San Jose De Comondú. A lush palm oasis lies below me, and the town is bigger than I anticipated. I hope there is a place to camp and get a bite to eat. I’ll figure something out as I always do. The dirt road turns into cobblestone, and I pass an older couple. They are nicely dressed and heading to town. It is Friday night, there is likely something is happening. I greet them as I pass and they greet me back. I am already past them when a man yells after me in Spanish, “Where are you from? Germany?”
I stop and answer, “No, I am actually originally from Slovenia.”
And that gets the conversation going.
“A French couple passed through three days ago.”
“Oh really, I keep hearing about them.”
I ask them if there is a place to sleep and eat in town. Surely, they would know. They look at each other, and the lady says, “Well, why don’t you just come and stay at our house!?”
I can’t believe this! Is this really happening to me? Am I really this blessed to have all these guardian angels coming into my life? We all turn around and walk back to their home. They are retired and live in La Paz. They show me where to park the bike, they point me to a room with three beds and tell me to pick one. I feel like Goldilocks. They feed me a delicious vegetable soup and a quesadilla made with local goat cheese, beans, and dates for dessert. Then Rosalva points me to a bathroom with a shower. Omar turned on the hot water as soon as I arrived. After I shower, we walk out to the central plaza. They are here in anticipation of a big wine festival for the weekend. We listen to live music for an hour or so, and we are pretty much the only people on the plaza. It’s fun for a while, but I am tired. Luckily they are as well. We head back to the house, have some tea brewed from fresh citrus leaves, and I retire to my cozy and safe bed to a much-deserved rest.
I am so close to La Ventana, I can taste it!