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In search of solitude in a raging world . . .

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Salinas Peninsula

A Pre-Easter Rejuvenation

March 21-23, 1997

 

We manage a quick weekend getaway for just the two of us one week before Easter break. With my parents being sick we weren't able to get packed up early as planned. My super-wife having Fridays off, has packed the Jeep, run weekend and family errands, bought me a hat, and completed several household tasks and errands for my parents. We leave town about 7:30 PM after a couple of in-town stops and reach the border by 10:00 PM, noting that the speed limit for the stretch between Why and Lukeville has been increased to 65 MPH. We have fielded horribly aggressive drivers on the freeway and south to Gila Bend, but the irritation is somewhat mitigated by our sighting of a coyote along the same stretch.

The vehicle permit is still good from our Thanksgiving trip, so we pick up new visas, stop for Modelo at the Corona ajencia across from Vasquez Liquors in Sonoita, and find the Tacate ajencia next door closed when we go to buy rum. We note that prices are at least 25% lower at these ajencias than at Vasquez Liquors, and the Corona ajencia even packed the already cold Modelo six packs on ice at no extra charge. While I'm inside, the hombre who solicits a windshield wash also propositions my soul mate in the process. He is direct but extremely polite. It is the Mexican way, a form of compliment. Responding in kind, she shyly turns him down, providing the anticipated smile and blush. He finishes the windshield with much vigor and professionalism. We head on toward Rocky Point and ultimately Salinas.

My mate has done a remarkable job packing, but I manage to leave behind my goodies bag at the last minute, containing camera, tide calendar, small flashlights, trip recorder and tapes, and miscellaneous small batteries. Oh, well.

We spot the turnoff to the Gillespie Crossing road about 100 yards north of kilometer-post 32, which has finally been replaced since the recent road improvement.

Arriving in Rocky Point at about 11:30 PM, we stop to top off our gas tank and fill the can at the triangular Pemex station in mid-town, then head on south and east toward Salinas. We spot another coyote in the wild woolies along that stretch of road.

Although this is not our first time returning to Salinas since the old days (in my first life), it is an attempt at documenting the noticeable encroachments of civilization. Before leaving the pavement at Colonia Coahuila, we note how many lights are now scattered over the nighttime landscape to the east. We may even be able to see the settlement from here, which now surrounds our haunt of old, the "Y" many miles toward Caborca on the highway fork. The adobe house previously occupied by Don Francisco, his daughter, son-in-law, and new baby grand-daughter of the early days is still occupied, we note; however, other homes at Colonia Coahuila, all adobe, are in shambles and appear to have been so for many years1.

We reach the playa at around 12:45 am. It is high tide and the moon is nearly full. We note that substantial work is in progress on the road north, up the peninsula past the fishing camp, the cabaņas, and for the first time continuing further north. We follow it a mile or so, parallel to the beach and just behind the first row of dunes, but take to the playa where the road is over-blown by deep sand. We suspect it may go all the way to the substantial settlement on the east side of the peninsula, and may soon be of significant value in making travel to and from crabbing operations at the tip of the peninsula less strenuous. But for now, the road is too soft for anything but a sand buggy.

Upon reaching the playa, we find four wheel drive and low range necessary, but make it a couple of miles further before letting the tire pressure down to 20 pounds. We note as we continue northward that the engine heat is completely out of line, probably due to tire pressure not being low enough; we are working the engine way too hard2. A number of dead porpoise carcasses scatter the beach, all of which are new since our Thanksgiving visit four months earlier. Distracted, we miss our favorite campsite, turn around, and eventually find a similar spot half a mile or so further south.

We disembark from our vehicle. The weather is quite nice, but a bit cooler than we had somehow expected. We set up the tent without mishap, place our chairs well toward the surf, and vegetate in the darkness until about 3:00 AM, soaking up all available solitude in silence.

 
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Saturday

We awake about 9:00 AM, roll over, and go back to sleep until 11:00. It feels wonderful to be here. The key to this satisfaction, my soul mate points out, is a temperature that allows daytime sleeping (it is pretty close to perfect in the tent after zipping down all of our windows). She recalls Puerto Lobos, visited about three years ago with our Oklahoma friends (her first trip to the Mexican playa), while preparing a classic breakfast of eggs with cheese, peppers and hash. It was in the heat of summer and was miserable sleeping after 7:00 AM3.

Tides are relatively high, but it is still somewhat cooler than expected. Although there is plenty of warmth during the day, this is still long pants weather with any breeze, and multi layer clothing is required after dark.

Surprisingly, several pickups heaped high with crabs and crabbers pass below us on the beach during much of the day, particularly mid-afternoon; but they disappear with dusk. The wind kicks up about 1:00 PM, but gradually slacks off between 2:00 and 4:00 PM. The cool of the morning sand gives way to perfect warmth under bare feet as the afternoon progresses. On this afternoon we see a single lizard skittering across the sand, watch the surf and talk, walk the beach and talk, make love, snooze, and talk. It is a slow-motion beautiful day, and we're very much in love and very happy to be rid of the gringos ripping up the atmosphere in the free zone and north of the border for a whole weekend. Soul Mates - Salinas, 1997

Pelicans and gulls come and go during the afternoon. We enjoy the occasional kamikaze dive performed by both, and the upturned beak as the pelican opens his throat and slides his catch easily down his gullet -- whole, sea water and all. A lone coyote calls a few lonely yips during the late afternoon. At about 6:00 PM my soul mate whips up a wicked T-bone steak with cowboy beans and the leftover stuffed jalapenos from a Friday night fast-food stop. What a meal!

Sitting quietly on our beach well into the evening, we eyeball the Hale-Bopp comet in the western evening sky and enjoy the surf until about 11:00 PM. The comet disappears and reappears in the cloudless sky several times, then abruptly vanishes for good at about 10:00 PM, still 20 degrees off the horizon. The moon is completely full tonight, and the landscape is so bright that you can see everything, even Bird Island4, some 20 miles away, for most of the night.

What at first appears to be a pretty severe wind kicks up about 2:00 AM. My soul mate awakens. Concerned for the well being of the sunshade, she steps out into the daylight of this moon to looks things over. The shade is standing rigidly, but the tent is flopping violently. This, our modern Winnebago tent, seems to be holding up fine, though, and she concludes that it will survive. After a couple of hours the wind once again subsides, until there is nothing left except the crashing of the distant5 surf.

 
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Sunday

Now fully acclimated to the playa, we awaken slowly at 7:00 AM. The tent is warm and the rain cover is flapping madly -- it has lost one fiberglass rod. My soul mate is first out and inspects the rod. It is uninjured except for evidence of heavy wear by rubbing -- it has lost the smooth surface in several places, and remarkably over 1/32" of material thickness.

I set the water to heating on the stove, with which she prepares instant cereal and coffee. The sand is cold to the touch of bare feet, but the shade is warm enough with sweats. The tide is full out again, but the surf is still very loud despite a lack of wind. Fishing boats pass infrequently on the water, and the beach traffic of crabbers is ever-present. We always wave, and if I am not visible, they hoot as they go by -- Mexican men seem to be in love with soul mate, attracted inexorably to her dark skin.

Two heavily loaded ATV's6 pass by on the lower beach headed north. Both drivers wave at us. This is only the second time that we have ever seen an ATV at Salinas, and both times they've been driven by responsible adults for transportation purposes rather than recreation. We are grateful they aren't being used in the manner that is usual for gringos in the free zone or the United States. A small fishing boat passes, pestered by hundreds of gulls and other birds, apparently attracted by the fisherman's booty. This is not an uncommon sight; just a month ago we watched two boats at Sandy Beach near Cholla Bay, where the birds appeared to be pestering the fisherman so badly that he continually threw fish overboard to distract them.

We finish our third cup of coffee. My soul mate goes down to check out a brown object left standing vertically in the moist sand of the tidal flat. It turns out to be a cylindrical part of a machine, rusted beyond recognition. She returns with a couple of fabled one-hole rocks, one about half an inch across competing for smallest ever, the other a flat quarter-inch thick 3" x 4" rock consisting of a compressed mud layer and possibly a fossil layer. This latter specimen will be mailed without comment to our friends who now live in Oklahoma, far from their lifetime haunts.

As the tide moves at its highest rate, numerous porpoises again pass by surprisingly close to shore, feeding on the schools of sardines hidden beneath the surface. Yesterday they were northbound; today southbound. Again today the beach is littered with jellyfish. These are a species we haven't seen before, about 4" to 5" inches in diameter, curved on top, and relatively flat on the underside. Their bodies are perfectly clear, like glass, to an inch or deeper below the surface. Some can be seen all the way through except for organs, which are delineated by transparent rusty brown pigment just sufficient to define the line between dissimilar tissues. Tentacles, if any, have already been lost in the deterioration process.

A large truck passes by below us pulling a twenty-foot trailer, both stacked high with milk carton style plastic crates used for hauling crabs. Judging from the amount of traffic and size of vehicles, we believe the crabbing business on the tip of the peninsula to be expanding.

Porpoises are now in a feeding frenzy just beyond the first breakers. They are so close you can see them moving about even under water. We walk down to waters edge to watch, pick up a plastic bag that has floated in, and return to our vantage point en la sombra. A truckload of standing trabajadors drives by on the packed moist strip left by the last high tide. One of the men shouts a greeting as they return our waves. A tightly packed flock of unidentified low-flying birds passes about half a mile off shore. They are so close to the water that they appear to be sliding on the surface of the water.

Noon, and time to pack for home.

We leave the camp sight at 1:30 PM, inflate tires at the base of the first dune, still in view of the beach, and leave at 2:30. The ATV couple is parked at the top of the dune at the entrance to the playa. We note that they seem to have both a pickup with camper and a pickup with trailer, as well as the two ATV's. As we pass the first house on the way out, we meet a picturesque hombre with a burro pulling a cart of what looks like fresh palm frawns. This is photograph material, but we don't have our camera. *Sigh*

Back on the highway, we observe a previously un-noted modern gravel road heading inland about 10 miles south of Gillespie's crossing, still five miles south of the Aduana check point. Someday we must find out where it goes. As we approach Espinosa's estuary, we also note dozens of buildings on what used to be a bare dune. Very obviously, quality falls to the marching army of time.

We stop for tacos de pollo in Rocky Point and meet a fellow from Jerome, Arizona who is planning on kayaking while watching the lunar eclipse (we hadn't previously known about the Lunar eclipse). There isn't much traffic backup at border - only about ten to twenty cars with one lane closed off at the US customs. We congratulate ourselves on the traffic we have avoided by coming a week before the Easter break. The highway to Ajo and on to Gila Bend is fraught with crazy college students and young women waving beer bottles out of windows. We're always grateful that we can avoid such riffraff by obtaining vehicle and immigration permits.

The remainder of the trip home is uneventful except for a stop at Gila Bend to replace the left headlight with one we had brought along, and another for gasoline.

We see what we think is the lunar eclipse as the moon rises during daylight hours. It reaches about five degrees off the horizon as a quarter moon that is flat on the bottom, then becomes complete as it continues to rise from there. The whole thing takes less than five minutes, but is a bit of a mystery because there are no clouds visible in the clear blue sky. We see the real eclipse a couple of hours later as we are entering Phoenix on the freeway in unusually hectic traffic.

Arriving home at about 8:45 PM we check on my parents, who are both fine and feeling much better.

 
March 21-23, 1997
 

 
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1Back in my first life we had a wiener dog named Poncho, a salchicha en Espaņol. In the early 70's before we contained him with a short leash when riding in the open vehicle, a 1963 International Scout with a rag top, he was in the habit of leaping to the ground each time the vehicle stopped. On one excursion across the eight mile stretch from Colonia Coahuila to the Salinas inner dune we stopped to pick up a couple of caballeros who were walking the dusty road. It was Sunday, and they were headed to the playa for a day of relaxation. Unaware that Poncho had jumped out of the vehicle, we picked up our passengers and proceeded to the beach, not discovering for some time that he was missing. The subsequent search for Poncho, sustained over a period of weeks, discovery of his whereabouts, the negotiation for his return, and how the experience changed him are a story of human, canine, and international discovery and understanding. Ref: Finding Pancho, circa 1972. Article not yet posted.

2We learn a few months later that we have been running all year without our electrical cooling fan due to an inferior repair job performed by our local dealership. How the vehicle performed as well as it did is a testament to the design of the 1992 Jeep Cherokee.

3Not to mention the constant movement of sand within a foot of the ground, which covered footprints and hampered walking.

4Bird Island is a gringo name for the Pelican Islands.

5Distant, because it is low tide.

6An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is a small three or four wheeled motor vehicle about the length of a bicycle. The low pressure balloon tires are designed to float on sand or uneven ground. An ATV is straddled like a tricycle and typically features a two-cycle engine, multi-speed transmission, handlebars, and room for a small payload in the rear. Top speed is between 25 and 40 MPH.
 

 
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