A Rural Doctor and…..YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT

18 Blog Art

May 10, 2017

Imagine……… The only sounds you hear from the towering mountainsides are the high-pitched squeaking and the flapping of featherless wings of the nesting, newborn pelicans.  Just imagine

As I sat watching the red and gold brilliance of the sunrise, sipping my morning coffee, the local panga captains readied their sturdy boats, hopefully anticipating wandering adventurers looking to discover the secrets of the Sea of Cortez.  Seagulls flew above us, screeching their morning commands to each other. Tiny waves, sneaking in from an otherwise flat sea, lapped almost noiselessly to the shore.  Tony and Charro slept peacefully, as I decided this would be a wonderful day for kayak ride. Oh, what a beautiful morning it was, lending its own promise of a glorious day.

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Even the most beautiful promise can be broken.  Oh, it all started out fine.  Tony and Charro woke up and joined me to enjoy the early morning.  The captains continued to wait for their customers, fixing lines and tuning their engines.  We readied our kayak, put Charro back to bed and set off in the placid waters, leisurely paddling behind the row of pangas, chatting with the captains.

Suddenly, an upside down, rebar anchor appeared under the surface of the water. I called to Tony to “watch out”.  Its sharp points were aimed right at the bottom of our inflatable kayak.  “Oh, no,” I cried, as Tony lunged backwards, in a twist of his waist that I could actually hear. He pushed off the dangerous anchor and, in the nick of time, we were saved…….or so we thought.  Two o’clock that afternoon would prove us wrong.  He could not stand up, remaining bent over at the waist…in relentless pain.

                               The Innocents                              The Trouble-maker

Is anyone ever prepared for a medical crisis?  The bigger question is…is anyone ever prepared for a medical crisis on a fairly primitive beach, fifteen miles from a town, no idea where a doctor might be found and no idea how to communicate with a Spanish-speaking doctor, should he even exist.  I might add that I have no experience driving a 1982 Volkswagen van up and down treacherous hills and through waist-deep pot-holes to get to him?

On the other hand, I think, how hard can this be?  I raised three children, held down jobs, was nice to my mother and managed to never get put in jail.  I can probably handle this situation.  After all, I’ve driven a standard transmission car and know how to use a clutch and how bad can the hills and giant pot-holes be?  Someone here must know where there is a doctor.  Yup, I decide, I can do this.  I can do it all.  It would help if I knew where Tony kept the key to the van.

Two of our local friends, Baja John and Captain Chicho gave me instructions to the only doctor in Muleje.

 “Go back up the highway and right before you come to the first tope (speed-bump) before town, you’ll see a little blue sign that says ‘Pescadera’ (fish-market) on the side of the road, make a right, go up hill to top, start downhill, pull into red house on other side, doctor live there.  He will give Tony shot in his butt, he be better in no time,” they assured me.

Ok.  I can do this.  I pack up the van and off we go, but Tony insists on driving.  As long as he is sitting down, he tells me, he can drive. 

We find the sign and then the road.  It is solid dirt and washboard.  We slowly reach the top of the steep hill.  A large, happy looking man, sitting in his front-porch rocking chair, shading himself under a big Mexican hat and clutching a beer, calls out to us, pointing at the next house, “Doctor,” he says, grinning.

We started down the hill and the very next house is the red one.  We are on a 180 degree slant and the nose of the van is pointed straight down, aimed at a little house on the other side of the road.  There is a car in the doctor’s small driveway and Tony can’t pull the van in.  We start to slide down the dirt road and he catches us with the clutch.  Managing to turn around in the next house’s driveway, we, with screeching wheels in the dirt, manage to get back up to the top of the hill. 

Walking down to the house, I see no doctor’s sign and no visible entrance to the red house. Around the side of the house I find a sun porch with a screen door.  The car in the driveway is occupied by a man playing with a baby.  Dogs are sleeping everywhere and the man on the porch, in the house above us, is waving to me and still rocking and grinning.  Tony waits at the top of the hill as I enter the screen door.  The dogs are pit-bulls.

To the right of the door, a lady sits waiting and smiles at me.  Another pit-bull is asleep under a chair, looking at me with one eye.  In the middle of the room, a woman, the doctor and a small child are sitting at a table eating cereal and cookies.  The woman looks at me and says, “Un momento, por favor, nos comida”.  One moment please, we are eating.  I want to laugh, but I dare not….the dog is now watching me with both eyes open. 

I decide to take a different approach and return to the car in the driveway.  Speaking in very inadequate Spanish, I do my best to make the man understand that he has to move his car so that Tony can pull into the driveway, because he cannot walk without being bent over at the waist. 

Finally, with some sign language, demonstrations, pointing and repetition, he understands what I need and moves his car all the way out onto the narrow dirt road, grinning broadly at me and offering to help me get Tony into the house.  I respectfully decline his help, because I can do it all and I wave Tony in.  The guy on the porch is still waving to me and grinning and now the outside dogs are all awake and a yapping Chihuahua has joined them.

Inside, the lady in the chair and the doctor have disappeared.  It will soon be our turn, but in the meantime, the little girl decides to show us every stuffed toy she owns, tell us all their names and accepts a lollipop from me.  The dogs have gone back to sleep.  There are no visible signs that this is a doctor’s office.  The doctor’s wife…the little girl’s grand-mother…tries to have a conversation with us and somehow, with the help of God, we are able to do so.  It eased our tension with this crisis.

The doctor comes out, introduces himself and happily assists Tony through their kitchen and into his office. The little girl follows us right in and he shoos her out, much to her disappointment.  She has one more stuffed animal to show us. 

Sure enough, after a nice, thorough little exam, the doctor brings out a box containing a needle and medicine and promptly pumps it right into Tony’s butt.  He tells us that he has seriously pulled a muscle and will give us some pills and he will be fine.  Right about here, the unthinkable happens.

Now, I should interject here and state that I am not a shy or timid woman.  I am not queasy and I am somewhat adventurous. I love the medical field and would have loved to be a nurse.  I have always been a caretaker. I am not afraid to get a needle.

The doctor said in Spanish that I would have to give Tony a needle every day for three days.  Oddly enough, I understood every word he said.  I felt my face start to tingle, my knees go weak, bile rise in my throat and fear pierce my heart like a Knight’s sword.  I sat down. I have done a lot of things in my life, but this was not going to happen.  I would not learn to give a needle on my precious husband’s butt. Inside my head, I heard screams, but my ears heard my voice whimpering, “No, no, I cannot do this.  You don’t understand.”

The next few minutes seemed like a nightmare.  Tony stared at me.  The doctor held a needle up in the air, explaining how to fill it and then showed me on Tony’s butt where the needle should be inserted. I heard myself again whimpering, “No, no, I cannot do this. You don’t understand.”  He explained that this is the way of the Mexican people and it is easy.  I continued to whimper, “I am American.”  He showed me again.

A plan jumped into my head.  “Tomorrow morning, we are coming back and you will give Tony the next needle and then I am driving him back to Ensenada to our doctor.”  Nothing from this point on would change my mind.  I can drive that Volkswagen.  I can get him home.

 “I will be here at 9:00 am for the needle.”

 “No” he replied, “I still sleep at 9.”

“Then I will be here at 10 am and you will give him the needle.” 

He agreed, telling me to knock loudly, that he might still be asleep and, hence, it happened. 

I found the key. I packed up our belongings. No pot-holes consumed the van. No cows, mules or wayward goats got run over. I learned to buy gas in Mexico and put it in the VW. We maneuvered around all the hairpin turns on the edges of mountain cliffs, artfully avoiding on-coming tractor trailers. The Baja Buggy took us the whole way with no incidence.

It took one and a half days to get home, record time for us, but we were there, ready to have the next needle on time, need be.

And so it goes for an unexpected medical crisis in a foreign country, which inevitably will have different customs.  Our doctor changed the medicine, which did not include any shots administered by me, and all turned out well.  The doctor in Muleje was great and kind and doing things the way he did them.  Thank God he was there for us. I will always be grateful to him for his help and the peace of mind he gave to us that we would be alright.

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US                            &                          The Baja Buggy

 

 

The Lollipop Kids

Imagine…..Discovering that a smile is a universal language

A purchase of 340 lollipops at the local Smart & Final costs us $9.99.  It is always the happiest purchase I make because, for a mere $10.00, I get 340 smiles.  Young, old and even the sternest looking soldiers love my lollipops.

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Jupiter’s Song

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Imagine…..Never looking back, only forward…and then finding your own inner peace

Sipping our wine on the beach in Requeson, we watched as Jupiter rose slowly from behind a small, offshore island mountaintop in the Sea of Cortez on the rugged coast of Baja, Mexico. It created its own moon-path right to the edge of our beach campsite. Orion hung brilliantly above us and the sounds of jumping night fish broke the otherwise silent landscape.

Requeson…a tiny beach in a tiny cove, just fifteen miles south of the village of Muleje,  but a world away from civilization and a pure, innocent step down into the beauty of uncompromised nature.

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It’s February, and the days are a comfortable temperature, the water is still a little too cool for our liking and the nights are chilly enough to require pajamas and a good blanket…..a perfect time of year to be in the Baja.

Our days are filled with bike-riding and exploring the encompassing desert, kayaking over marine life-filled aquatic forests and planning our next dinner cooked on an open fire in the sand. Our most difficult choice of the day is which wine will we have with our local, fresh caught fish?

We keep watching as Jupiter moves higher into the sky and the moon and Orion move father to the west. With every increment of movement by the Earth, Jupiter’s moon-path diminishes, until finally there is none.

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Rising through the mist of the silent, starlit night, an a capella voice drifts gently across the warm breezes. It tells the tale of an unrequited love between an unfaithful hombre and the only woman he would ever love. She leaves, never to return. The beautiful, mournful voice ceases and the melodic notes of a harmonica slip in, enhancing the feeling of loneliness in the breaking of this man’s heart. The mournful pleadings of the singer return and seem to beg for help from the planets above. His song drifts away into the night. Stillness prevails once more, but only for a second. Quiet, seemingly understanding clapping is heard, ultimately building itself into a crescendo of love and appreciation. Under the moonlit sky, the man slowly walks out onto the beach and takes a long, low bow….his moon-created shadow reaching far into the souls of his listeners.

Our day is finished. The Cabernet proved to be a good one and a fitting end to a fitting day!

Every Good Vanagon Needs a Team

Imagine…..Traveling with no time-frame

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Someone needs to cheer on the Team…Tony picked her!

Traditionally…. women, pure-bred dogs and expensive cars are considered high-maintenance.  We can now add a new entity to that list….VW Vanagons.  Ours now has a private staff to see to her needs.

CEO – Chief Executive Officer

Tony2    Tony Huizing

Tony is the chief man behind the plan.  He oversees and co-ordinates all decisions and operations regarding the Baja Buggy.  Part of his expertise includes listening for funny sounds, analyzing them and finally deciding, at what point, to call Marco, his Director of Buggy Operations.

Director of Buggy Operations

IMG_1801 Marco

Marco is the brains behind the mechanical needs of the Baja Buggy. He listens carefully to the reported funny noises and then decides whether the problem is serious enough to warrant his personal attention or he decides to send it to one of his hand-chosen specialists.   We feel that we are “in good hands” with Marco.

Interior Designer

IMG_1811Manny

  Guillermo

Manny and his talented assistant, Guillermo, are responsible for the interior beauty of the van. Both deal nicely with my insane obsessiveness with detail.

Electrical Engineer

IMG_1808  Luis

Luis sees to all of the  electrical problems that pop up from being thirty-four years old.  He is a sharp-minded professional and can easily diagnose a problem of any scope.  We have certainly challenged him on occasion.

Metal Specialist

IMG_1823  Hector

Hector, with his genius-like ability of handling a solder-gun,  is in charge of all metal problems that occur.  He welds pieces together and saves us buckets of money repairing parts, instead of replacing them.  He provides the added bonus of keeping us laughing with endless tales of life in Mexico.

Mechanical Engineer

IMG_1825  Victor

Victor takes care of all the moving, workable parts that keep the doors working, the buttons pushing in and out and any other odd things that decide to challenge us. His attitude is that if Volkswagen made, so can he.

Travel Problem Co-ordinator

IMG_0134Isidro Vera

Isidro, of ‘Just say Isidro sent you’ fame,  is a wonderful addition to the Baja Buggy’s staff.  He has a network of very competent Volkswagen engineers, mechanics, parts specialists and anyone else we might need while on the road in the Baja.  One e-mail to him connects you with someone amazing.  On top of that, he is a wonderful person!

And finally……..last but not least

CFO-Chief Financial Officer, Expert Navigator, Housekeeper, Cook & Bottlewasher, Nurse, Co-Ordinator of all Activities and Secondary funny noise verifier.

Margo3    Margo

Keeper of the checkbook – Need I say more?

Observations Made While Traveling the Baja in a VW Vanagon

Imagine……Shooting stars, the Milky Way and a blanket in the sand.

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Have enough time……. the adventure is endless and stunningly unpredictable.
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Every bend, every left or right turn…..or any stop for a cool drink…..can produce an unforgettable experience.
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Learn to dawdle.
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Go to bed one night and realize you forgot to check the time all day.
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Learn to randomly say “Pullover!” only because “that tree has the most beautiful red flowers I’ve ever seen”.
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Smile at people every time you see one.
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Pretend you are twenty years old again……long enough for you to believe it.
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As you travel through magestic mountain ranges, play music you love and sing out loud.

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Realize that some of the best times you have had were made when your day took its own course and you let it interfere with your own plan.
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Bring pipe-dreams to life.
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Ride your bike in the rain.
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Take a nap and stay up late to watch shooting stars
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Always keep a flashlight handy
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Be afraid, be very afraid. Use this one cautiously and with good reason. Running out of wine is a good reason. Running out of toilet paper is another good one.
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Love dancing…learn to do the “stingray shuffle”.
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If you find sand in your sheets, be thankful.
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Flys and mosquitos can be mightier than the sword.
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If you really have to go home, consider yourself blessed if that home is a boat in a beautiful marina!

Varmints, Varmints Everywhere and Not a Bite to Eat

Imagine…….Feeling like teenagers again!

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We now routinely fall asleep to coyotes’s howling in the distance. We track their prowling footsteps in the early morning sand and watch as they wander the desert floor behind the desolate beaches during the days.

An errant scorpion jetted across Tony’s hand as he opened the battery box.

We have mastered the genocide of at least ten thousand, hateful, black flies. The stats of the Yankee’s best pinch-hitter would pale by comparison to Tony’s accuracy with a flyswatter.

I am the modern version of Annie Oakley, choosing a deadly can of mosquito spray instead of her famous six-shooter. My aim is as good as any world record holder and, I am proud to say, I have not poisoned any one of the three of us, yet.

We have spent a Kings ransom on bug repellent products and built screens for every window and door on the Baja Buggy.

Dogs have chased us down desert roads, barking and biting at our heels, as we rode our bikes.

Tony had a minor run-in with an angry sting-ray.

Nothing has presented the challenge of Nacho the Cheeseman.

To the best of our recollection, we picked up our little hitch-hiker some time after arriving in La Ventana. Actually, it was soon after our encounter with the scorpion that we started to notice his tell-tale signs.

At first it was only some dust balls dragged out from under the refrigerator. We blamed it on the scorpion, spent hours researching them, found out that they could have up to twenty-five babies at a time and immediately panicked and tore apart the battery box we saw him run into. No sign of him or a nest! What next?

A couple of cold beers for Tony and a few rum and cokes for me and we decided to deal with it tomorrow.

Tomorrow came sooner than we expected and brought with it mouse turds on the kitchen counter. Ugh! Disgusting, but this seemed to us to be a simple problem. We’ve been catching mice all our lives and the last one was right here in the van. A quick trip to the store to buy a couple of traps and our problem would be solved. Tony happily left for the store, as I reminded him to get more beer, too. He smiled and waved good-bye. The nightmare had begun.

He bought two traps and set them with nice little hunks of my cheese…..the one that goes with my wine. I persevered and didn’t complain. He looked smugly at his decorated traps and went to bed, confident in his ability to conquer the mouse. I guess it’s a man thing.

He awoke with a start at dawn’s light, troubled by the fact that he had not heard the snapping trap. “Good God! The cheese is gone! The little SOB got the cheese out of both traps without setting them off,” were his good morning words to me. Stunned, he sat staring at his traps. I could tell he considered this a personal attack on his manhood. I was right. My chess-playing husband carefully constructed a strategy to outsmart this devilish creature. Different ideas for loading bait, different baits and various other options were discussed and decided before bedtime.

The following morning, and the following one and the following one, brought the same results. Cheese failed. Peanut butter failed. Tomato failed. Avocado failed. New traps were bought because it must be their fault. He accused the mouse of laughing at him. He bought poison and made poison-laced peanut butter on Ritz crackers. He bought sticky sheets and placed them in every cabinet.

Without fail, he was rewarded every morning with new mouse turds, more wood shavings, half eaten poison crackers, unsprung traps…devoid of their bait and what he swore were sounds of laughter coming from the cabinets. The sticky sheets collected a fly.

This mouse had now become legendary. Men all over the campsite were discussing The Battle of Tony and Nacho the Cheeseman. I hid my cheese.

Tonight he discovered Charro’s food.  It’s official…..everyone is now upset.

By the time we arrived in Las Barilles, it was decided that we needed more troops and a local exterminator was called in.

He armed us with infallible poison, stickier sticky sheets and he sprayed every nook and cranny of the van with the “strongest insect spray known to mankind in the world” just in case the scorpion was still hanging out. He guaranteed his products and told us a long list of varmints he had caught with them.

We felt confident and paid him in pesos. We took Charro to the pool and we all had a nice, long afternoon in the blazing, hot sun, so as not to kill ourselves breathing in the poison-filled air of the van.

He was right. Nacho seemed to be crazy about the poison squares. Every night he dined on a new one, carefully avoiding the “new and improved” sticky sheets. His turds seem to be getting bigger and we were sure he had gained weight.

We are now into our sixth week of Tony’s quest to eliminate Nacho the Cheeseman from our life. He has built a “better mousetrap” and he is arming it with his three traps, a diving board and pop-corn. The fact remains that Nacho is in his sixth week of survival.

image  The Construction

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We are three days from home, Nacho has come a long way, Tony has developed new bars for frustration and I think our little mastermind, our little super mouse will find a new home in Ensenada and this battle will be chalked up to a draw.

Footnote – Ding – Dong, The witch is dead!  So are her two babies and that’s how we know she is Nacha the Cheese Lady and not a Nacho.  Tony wins!

Footnote…Footnote – Fourth baby showed up today…..new exterminator…new traps….new sticky boards….so far, more expensive to maintain than Charro…..I think she is gloating!

Footnote….Footnote….Footnote… Tony and the exterminator think they have won.. No new signs this morning…stay tuned.

I Am a Star, A Superstar!

Imagine Being Me…. The Baja Buggy!”

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Two thousand, four hundred and ninety-two miles…..hot desert highways…..ridiculously steep mountains…….winding two-lane, wash-board roads not wide enough for one car…….hard-pack, sand roads littered with soft-sand pits……endless miles of rutty, rocky, pitted dirt roads, into and over mountaintops. I did it all, yes I did!

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My rewards…..peaceful, beautiful nights on sandy beaches…….an eclipse rising above mountaintops……breathtaking, scenic views beyond anyone’s imagination…….long leisurely rides on smooth, paved highways……. the notes of Verdi and Tchaikovsky echoing through majestic canyons……..warm rains washing the dust from my body. I did it all, yes I did!

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Baja California trip, BCS, BCN, Mx. 2015

Ouicksand? What?

Imagine……Warm sand between your toes and ice in your drink!

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San Felipe likes to think of itself as a small drinking town with a little fishing problem.”

Longfellow’s epic poem began, “On the shores of Gitche Gumee.” My tale begins, “On the shores of San Felipe.”

A casual, short drive up the coast of the Sea of Cortez led us to a charming little campo named Pete’s Camp. A campo in Mexico is a small village of homes and this one entices you with its long stretch of unadorned beachfront. We had visited here a couple of times in the past, but never stayed more than an hour or two.  Our visit last year revealed pretty palapas right on the sand and we immediately began anticipating our return with the Baja Buggy to enjoy the beautiful setting below the campo.

image We easily picked our favorite palapa. The only serious criteria seemed to be finding one with enough hard-pack sand as to not allow the Buggy to sink. Little did we know the irony in this thought.

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Almost immediately after turning off the engine, we noticed that the tide was out and just happened to be the most stunning tidal drop we had ever seen. The water’s edge seemed to be about a half mile out and we decided to forgo setting up camp and trek out across the sea’s floor. Charro decided to follow us, unusual behavior for her…she hates the water and the sound of the waves….but her tail was up, so we let her follow.

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My first exclamation at exploring the sandy bottom of the sea was that there were no shells to be found. Well, forgive the pun, but the tides turned. Within minutes, we had handfuls of black and brown ones that we had never seen before. We were delighted. We kept going further out, intrigued with the hunt for more shells. A kiter flew above us, seagulls and shorebirds circled overhead and the warm water washed over our feet. Charro frolicked a little bit behind us, actually getting wet. A perfect place to be, at a perfect time of the day.

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We stopped for a moment to look at what appeared to be a very large ATV on the tides edge, a hundred or so yards to our right. Tony thought it might belong to the kiter and expressed concern that it might be stuck.

I bravely got a little ahead of Tony, just filled with joy at the beauty of this water phenomena. As I bent down to pick up a shell, my feet suddenly started to sink into slime. I kept going down, sinking deeper, when I felt Tony grab my arm. Sheer panic propelled me upward, my feet came loose and we all managed to get across the mud flats to safety.

As we again stood on hard sand, catching our breath, Tony declared we were going back and searched for a mud-free route.

I chose what seemed to be a mud-free route to the ocean’s edge. “After all,” I reasoned, “we had come this far. Why not finish the journey? Besides, there were probably even more beautiful shells at the water’s edge.” Who could possibly argue with my logic?

He reluctantly agreed and Charro plodded along, this time tail down, as we took off into the warm, shallow water again.

It wasn’t long before Tony and I sunk down at the same time into even stronger sucking sands. Raw fear overcame both of us. Tony freed himself first, I was struggling, but managed to scream for him to get Charro. He had already reached behind him and had her in his hand, as he grabbed me and set me free. Up and on the move again, we made it a second time, like we had wings on our feet.

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After a minutes rest, we carefully scouted out a route back to shore and,ever so cautiously, walked it.

We noticed that we were very close to what we thought was the stuck ATV. It actually turned out to be a pick-up truck, abandoned by it’s owner who had gotten it stuck in the mud. The beast had unmercifully sucked the truck into a non-rescuable depth and destroyed it. It had been brand new and efforts to get it out of the sucking sea-bottom with cranes had been useless. It did not have the distinctiveness of being the entities first victim.

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How lucky can two people and a dog be?

Coco’s Corner…….It sure ain’t chocolate!

 Imagine……..Desert sunsets dressed in purple, red and gold….as coyotes sing their evening song!

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The second full moon of this trip hung low in the night sky, darkening previous nights star-filled skies. Coyotes forlorned cries, answered by the softened cry of a distant female, filled the unexpected crisp air of a sudden fall season. It had thankfully replaced the humidity-sodden closeness of the past summer nights.

Tractor trailers, rumbling downhill across the twenty-two mile stretch of unpaved, rock strewn, desert road, sporadically broke the night’s silence, as they hit their spark arrestors, slowing their descent from the mountainous road, to avoid flattening Coco’s Corner.

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As sleep eluded me……and Tony dozed quietly beside me…..Coco…as he had done for the last twenty-five years…..snored softly in the plywood bed he had built discreetly in a corner behind his desert bar.

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After starting his journey in Ensenada and passing through Chipala, the man walked onto this property on December 27, 1990, arriving at 4:30 in the afternoon. If asked, he will look up at his clock, think a minute and tell you the exact number of years, months, hours and minutes he has lived in his chosen world.

According to his own words, “He had ten pesos in his pocket and the shoes on his feet when he declared this land his own.” He paid nothing for his small piece of barren desert that only had a donkey trail leading to it from some far away place. Despite seven robberies and the Government trying to throw him out after his first five years, he has remained the proprietor of Coco’s Corner to this very day.

Over the years he designed his decor to suit his lifestyle and his own personal tastes. His four-walled, muti-material residence and business are the center point of his property. Fences, comprised of empty beer cans, tree stumps and branches, greet you as you come over the hill. A tree trunk adorning an old electric typewriter and a fax machine grace entrance to the dirt floor, three-walled patio. From the patio ceiling hang hundreds of pairs of guests underwear, all signed and dated. License plates, doll heads, religious necklaces and a thousand other trinkets fill every tiny crevice of the walls and ceiling. Old campers and two outhouses, gaily painted, crisscross the surrounding property. A circle of artfully placed toilets showcasing the cab of a tractor complete the picture.

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He has done it alone. He has done it to spite the loss of both legs, one to an accident and one to diabetes. He has never had any neighbors but, he has countless friends and visitors from around the world, people who never forget him and never see him need for anything.

Coco runs a simple business. He sells beer. You are expected to help yourself from his non-freezing freezer, behind his counter. Should it be your first visit and you are not aware of this practice, he hands you your first one and informs you of the proper procurement of the second one. No tab is run. None are needed. When you leave he asks you what you had and tallies what you owe, without paper or pencil.

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As we wiled away the afternoon with a cold beer at Coco’s one community table, two young construction workers from the road project pulled onto the property. Quiet words were passed between the men and Coco. The men helped themselves to a beer and joined us at the table. Coco appeared carrying a very large knife, idled by us, playfully jabbing Tony’s ankle with the tip of the knife…..laughing at the concerned look on Tony’s face…..and assured us all that he would return shortly. He fired up his uniquely-modified ATV and disappeared into the desert, only to return twenty minutes later with a large hunk of cactus.

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Without any words, we all sat at the table, our toes dug into the sand with anticipation, sipping our beers and watched as he artfully carved the heart out of the cactus piece. A brief inspection, a look of satisfaction and an authoritative command to the young man to go and fill the milk jug with water, broke the silence at the table.

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He turned his rugged, weather-beaten face to me and said, “Garambullo, five-point cactus, not six point, five point, you understand, Lady? Boy hurts when he pees. You put heart in water, wait twenty-four hours, drink whole gallon, no more hurt when you pee. You understand? You have sick stomach, I cut you piece of my Mesquite tree, boil it in water, make you better. Make cancer better, too.”

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Five point       Six point

I assured him I did. What I understood best was that I had just met the Mexican curandero, or village healer, that I had written about in my book many years before. My character is no longer fictitious to me. He is a real person in an outrageous place called Coco’s corner.

The two young men paid for their beers and left Coco’s happily smiling, clutching their gallon jug.

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Coco tells you that for the price of one beer, you can camp for free. He proudly announces that he has never charged anyone to stay the night. Before he goes to bed, he arrives unexpectedly on his ATV and visits you to say good-night. He offers you one of his little campers ‘because they are more comfortable than what you have’ and he asks if you need power.

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He lets you know that he is going to run his generator for one hour because he watches ‘a half movie a night’and then he motors the fifty feet home and parks his ATV where his customers will sit in the morning. Exactly one hour later, the generator is silent and all lights are out. All is well and tomorrow is another day.

In the morning he offers you coffee and then, pointing to the corner in his makeshift kitchen, he commands, “Come back here!” As you obediently follow him, he whips his wheelchair around and shows you to his stove, upon which a teakettle is boiling water. He then moves toward a grocery-filled table and routes out the instant coffee, pushes himself away and tells you to make it yourself. It is obvious that he has done all of this before.

Once you settle at the table with your cup, he hands you a giant book. He has drawn a small picture of your vehicle on the next available line “and he hands you a pen. He insists that you write your information in the entire space he has allotted to you. Nothing less than full is acceptable. He has a completed book for each year he has been in business.

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Our little VW picture is really cute and our name, address and business card almost filled the whole space. He would not take his pen back until I filled the two remaining empty lines, declaring that I was nothing but trouble. He demanded to speak to Tony, waving his hand in disgust towards me.

As the sun rose in the early morning sky, Coco’s guests for the day started to arrive. Before 8:00 a.m., probably fifteen people had stopped by……international bicyclists, motorcyclists…who just dropped down from San Felipe to say hello….truck drivers, travelers trying the infamous road for the first time and a variety of other ‘just folks’.

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Tony missed most of the gaiety because Coco needed a new little light installed next to his bed and he thought Tony ‘was just the man to do it!’ Coco made this clear by demanding “YOU! Ca Mere, I need you,”while pointing at Tony to follow him.

His real name is Jorge Enrique Coral Sandes. He is 78 years old. He is a man of his own means. He is a man who threw another man off of his property who claimed to be the rightful owner. He is man who invited the authorities to be called because he had been on the land five years, paid his taxes to the Governor…of whom he had a picture of with his arm around him….and then introduced him to his middle finger. He is a man whose wife and two children walked away from him at age twenty-one and he never saw them again. He is a man who said good-bye to both of his legs. He is a man who sells a cold beer, for a fair price, to weary travelers who travel the desolate desert highway and then throws in a free campsite. He is a man amongst coyotes and a bunch of other things, but most of all, amongst his countless array of world-wide friends.

A Goldmine, a Pastry Shop and Buried Pianos

Imagine…Being realistic is the most common road to mediocrity

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As we crossed the footbridge, we were enveloped by a serene sense of history. Before us stood a towering smokestack, reaching high into the sky. It dominated everything amidst the mid-eighteen hundred ruins of what was once a prosperous smelter for gold and silver.

Bridge, Smokestack

         Ruins

The hot dry air carried a slight breeze and filled our nostrils with the scent of dusty old. A lone, ancient-looking cow wandered through the crumbled ruins. The ensuing quietness allowed us to hear his footsteps and the whisper of the gentle breeze.

Closing my eyes, I could sense and hear the 10,000 residents and immigrants seeking their fortune in this small pueblo. It was easy to imagine the hustling, bustling activity of miners, merchants, working girls and anyone else adventurous enough to embrace the lifestyle of a burgeoning mining town. Built on the rugged desert floor, the earth’s treasures could not have relinquished themselves easily.

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We stood in El Triunfo, one of the most historic villages in southern Baja and one of the most overlooked by tourists. To spite its second claim to fame…although not very publicized or widely known…..of being one of first villages in the region to have electricity and telephone services, it is also famous for yet another less known legend. It’s piano history.

Yes, that’s right, piano history. During its mining days, this little place became a cultural center, entertaining such celebrities as Francisco Mendoza, pianist and teacher. He and the magnitude of money consuming the village, inspired the residents to have the best available pianos and art shipped to El Triunfo from all over Europe.

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910, as the insurgents made headway towards the town, the locals buried their prized possessions, including their European art and sculptures, money, family heirlooms and, yes, their pianos, in hand- dug tunnels across their properties.

After the marauders ravaged the town, the men dug up their belongings and rebuilt their homes. Many men and their families just left.

As you approach El Triunfo, the first thing you will see is the local church on the extreme north end of town. Continuing along, a small sign on the right side of the road will tell you to make a right and visit the El Triunfo Café. Make the right and go up one tiny little block. Enjoy a wonderful meal here or just a great cup of coffee and a piece of the best pastry in Mexico. The mine sits right behind this little Café. Take a leisurely stroll amongst its ruins.

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If you are lucky, as you come again, one block from the mine and the café, back to two-lane Mexico 1, you will hear the beautiful sound of a piano concerto, lovingly filling the air as you come upon the El Triunfo Piano Museum.

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When we were there, a wonderful man, Nicholas Carrillo entertained us with his profound ability to caress piano keys. He was a famous, native-born concert pianist, who returned to his town after touring the world. He opened this little museum….it was a former mining office….and he painstakingly preserved eighty-seven of the pianos and many other artifacts from the tunnels. He gladly led you to his private piano room and sat down at his Steinway to serenade you, filling the still air and the quiet streets with the telling sounds of history.

Nicholas, Piano

He has sense passed on, but his piano and his history live on in his pride and joy, his museum.

The town is currently being gently and respectfully being restored by a rather wealthy American woman just because ‘she loves El Triunfo and its people’. We certainly understand her love. The town’s magic creeps into your soul and stays with you wherever you travel.