Beach Balls and Banjercitae
(A Whirlwind Getaway)
October 16-17, 2004
It is time to surrender our vehicle permit, which is only good for six months. No matter; the hardships of the city over the months since our last visit have left us in heavy need of a rejuvenative pilgrimage to a lonely playa. In the absence of time for a real vacation we throw our equipment into our vehicle and depart on Saturday morning for a whirlwind 35-hour round-trip to Salinas.
Once across the border we stop to fill one of our two gas cans at a new Circle K, at the intersection of Mexican highways 2 and 8, on the north side of Sonoyta. We don't miss the irony of the experience. The Circle K, aside from being staffed by Mexican Nationals, is an exact duplicate of any number of the convenience markets in Phoenix and other southwestern U.S. cities -- right down to the most popular American beer and cigarette brands -- which were being bought up in quantity by a heavy concentration of young and savvy Mexican patrons. So much for international product and marketing diversity.
There is another glitch for us, however -- in the calculation of change from the American dollars we offer to pesos and centavos. The exchange rate on this day is 10.50 Pesos per dollar; and although pesos break down into exactly the same change denominations as do dollars, none of these cashiers understand how to calculate the change portion of the conversion -- a task that any self-respecting seven year old chicle vendor can perform along the border. They aren't inclined to trust such an important calculation to a gringo, but a patron ultimately comes to the rescue, thus allowing us to leave. The incident confirms recent observations, however; we have noticed some young cashiers in Phoenix who also appear to have trouble making change when the cash register fails -- even when no monetary conversion is involved.
We head South to Puerto Peņasco, then Southeast to Colonia Coahuila and Salinas, turning at the blue gate for the six mile jog to the Outer Dune. In contrast with our last visit the landscape is very dry, much of the greenest flora now in golden contrast to the ever-green succulents of the area.
While letting down our tire pressure at Take-Me-To-Your-Leader corner we note the continued deterioration of the barbed-wire fence that runs from here to the playa. Typical of remote areas along the Sonoran seacoast, fence posts have been disappearing from long stretches of the fence. Soon, the wire will begin vanishing as well. The rural people of Sonora are by-and-large economically depressed, and scavenging is an important part of their survival strategy.
We arrive on the beach at 5:00 pm, set up essential amenities, and settle into a banquet of chicken fajitas lovingly prepared by my soul mate while I indulge in the pleasures of a gorgeous sunset.
Tonight is very close to New Moon and there is no moonlight, so we make a game of who can spot the first meteor . . . and then the next, and the next. It is a game I always loose, and tonight is no exception. I attribute my soul mate's prowess to skilled use of her peripheral vision, a survival talent she developed as a child in the racist Mid-South of the fifties. As the evening progresses our activity is dampened by a healthy dew and the starlight is damped by a light cover of high clouds, a rare occurrence on the Sea of Cortez. With the mitigation of the normally magnificent starlight we retreat to our tent for the night and doze off to the purr of a firm but gentle wind accompanied by the hiss of the approaching surf.
Around 1:30 AM we are awakened by the crash of our two-gallon water jug hitting the floor. Our Roll-A-Table, the most stable piece of gear in our possession as well as the most stable camping table we have ever owned, has gone over -- inside the tent, yet. As we scramble to right table and jug, the tent begins billowing around us, preparing to take off through the dunes like a giant beach ball. Having experienced the beach-ball effect at infrequent intervals in the past, we are fully aware of the urgency of the situation. We scramble to put on sufficient clothing to go outside -- an exercise of little use on a remote playa -- while cots and chairs, bags, and everything else in our bedroom compact around us into a package shrink-wrapped in tent floor. Indeed, our body weight is the only thing between stationary inertia and a ten-foot ball rolling off through the dunes.
Abandoning the notion of clothing we grasp the tent walls where we can, and standing in one spot, work our way hand over hand to the zipper of the doorway and down its length to the zipper slide. Zipping it open sufficiently to wriggle through, I step into the night in my birthday suit, hanging onto the edges of the doorway as best I can while my soul mate remains inside playing anchor. She then follows, flashlight in hand, while I take my turn hanging desperately onto flapping fabric with both hands, the floor of the tent billowing to waist and even eye level with contents dancing like frog-legs on a hot griddle.
It is as dark outside as in, impossible to see anything without the flashlight and difficult to restrain the tent even with both hands. Resetting the stakes proves particularly difficult. My soul mate manages to control the tent but is unable to handle the flashlight as well. For a while I hold it in my mouth, and wielding shovel and hammer, draw each tent loop to the stake and bury it as deeply as possible in the sand -- but by the time I finish setting each stake the previous one has already been pulled free again. A change of strategy is clearly required; the tent must be brought under full control. First, I grope the interior while my soul mate continues her resistance effort against the wind. I unscrew table legs, collapse folding chairs, and spread the contents of the tent evenly across the floor, retrieving the water jug to the outside. Supporting poles long down, we throw ourselves on the tent, drawing the billowing beach ball under our bodies until we've expelled enough air to reduce the wind resistance and permit the remains to begin settling back to earth under its own weight. We then shovel enough sand on it to assure its continued cooperation and set about the task of resetting the tent stakes.
The sand is, even for the Sonoran playa, unusually dry. Normally we would scrape away the surface and pound each stake deeply into the moist sand below until it disappears well beneath the surface, but on this occasion we find no moisture at any exposable depth and find it necessary to pour a couple of quarts of water on each stake to secure it. Once that is done we scrape the ten inches or so of surface sand back into place above the stake and move on to the next one. This particular cabin tent requires twelve stakes, and the whole operation takes well over an hour. Juggling the flashlight while re-erecting the tent and re-staking anchor ropes in the wind continues to be a challenge, but in the end we are successful. The work has been exhausting; we re-enter the tent and collapse into our sleeping bags at about 3:30 am. It has taken us two hours to reclaim our bedroom, and we sleep soundly until morning.
We awaken at 8:30 AM and emerge from our tent into bright sunshine feeling surprisingly rested. It is an unexpectedly warm morning, free of excess wind.
"Look at the tide line," my soul mate exclaims.
The surf, now a great distance from us, has approached to within 30 inches of our tent since 3:30 this morning. It is the closest we have inadvertently allowed the surf to come to our tent on the northern gulf in many years. After reviewing our tide calendar we remain a little surprised, but have to chock it up to the wind we experienced overnight.
My soul mate fixes a grand breakfast of eggs (yokes removed), corn beef hash, and toast. After breakfast we take a stroll to water's edge and scavenge the beach for interesting shells for our youngest daughter, scoop up some sand for our Living Playa project1, and commence packing up our equipment for a 1:30 PM departure. On our way out we stop to inflate our tires at the corner of Take-Me-To-Your-Leader and Boundary Fence Drive.
By the time we reach Nayarit it is time to commit our spare five gallons of gasoline to our vehicle's nearly empty tank. Our gauge has been acting up for a few weeks, and it is getting close to time to get it fixed. Before we resume our trip we set our oldest can and worn spout on the edge of the road where they will quickly be found and picked up. We brought the can along expressly for this purpose. Of late, we have detected a seepage in the lower seam that is not bad enough to wet the surface the can rests on but contributes a minor smell to the interior of our vehicle, where we must carry it. Someone with a pickup or other open vehicle will be able to use it for years to come, and to many rural Sonorans it will be a find of substantial value.
It is a hazy afternoon with visibility of only about two miles. With over an hour's a wait we don't reach the border until 6:30 pm. The Banjercito is closed. We don't get it; the Banjercito has been a 24-7 operation for many years. We note the surprising new hours displayed on the door -- of 8:00 AM to noon and closed Saturday and Sunday; or was it Sunday and Monday?
Now what? It is imperative that we return our expiring vehicle permit within the next few days. We walk around the corner to the bank (the real Banjercito), where we are told our only alternative is the Aduanal check station on the Caborca highway. It is a forty mile round trip, over an hour's driving time. But the hour is getting late and my soul mate must be ready for work at 7:00 am. Reluctantly, we turn across the border and head toward home. I will have to return during the week to avoid the substantial penalty that will otherwise result2.
We fill up with gas at Gringo Pass -- a monument at $2.299/gal to the Iraq war -- then wait another 20-25 minutes at the temporary immigration checkpoint just outside of Organ Pipe National Monument. We note that gasoline has dropped to $2.259 at the Why Chevron, but is lower, $2.159, at Why Not. It is 8:45 PM by the time we stop for supper at McDonalds in Gila Bend, and we pull into or driveway after bedtime.
As we doze off in our own bed, I resolve to return the vehicle permit on the following Wednesday.
October 16-17, 2004
1The Cortez Chronicles' Living Playa project is a knickknack or counter arrangement designed for use in the home or as a hands-on teaching aid to stimulate interest in the seashore and the smaller animals that live in the ocean and the inter-tidal zone. It is composed of sun and surf-polished shells and shell fragments commonly found high on the beach, and is therefore environmentally friendly -- no living animals are killed or disturbed. It is the Cortez Chronicles' hope that dissemination of these materials will stimulate an interest in the plight of modern oceans and the need for all individuals to practice conservation in thought and in every activity when visiting the beach. The simple act of turning over a rock in a tide pool can kill hundreds of tiny creatures at once, and carried out by multiple visitors over a few years time can sentence entire coastlines to devastation and permanent death. Reference: 09/15/2004 - Teaching Aid.
2Rather than a monetary penalty, we could be refused a new vehicle permit for at least a year, according to what we were told a few years ago -- a prospect that would dismay us much more than the 320 mile round trip we face to return the permit by the deadline.
Copyright (c) 2004-2011
Larry K. Fox
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