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A dream in Baja California Sur

Wendy Devlin

On a surf-pounded beach in Baja California Sur, I sat with my family of five, in a circle of campers around a crackling bonfire. The flickering flames cast each storyteller’s face in turn with a ruddy glow. The other four gringo couples, their children and a few single friends met that day at a rustic, eijido-run campground at Playa Los Cerritos. Just as strangers in a strange land so often do, we bonded with our new neighbors over that day and into the evening.

The next morning James Percy waved and called out from underneath the awning of his RV, “Hey! Why don’t you join us over near El Pescadero later this afternoon? Our old friends from California, Patrick and Angelica, need help planting their lettuce crop in their field.

I answered for Bill and the three kids, “Sure. Should we bring anything?”

James stirred his lanky, sun-baked body from his patio chair, reaching for a pen from his trailer table, “It’s about six miles from the campground to El Pescadero. Here’s a map to Patrick and Angelica’s house. We’ll meet there around noon, and show you the way to the field near the beach. Oh, yah. And bring some grub to add to the pot-luck around the camp-fire later.”

He scribbled on a scrap of paper and handed it to me. I stared at his map thinking, “This map seems simple enough. How hard can it be to find a gringo couple in a small Mexican village like El Pescadero? Especially ones planting lettuce on eijido land.”

“So, we’ll see you folks in a couple of hours!”

Following morning camp chores and a refreshing ocean swim, I packed up drinks and food for my family and we headed towards El Pescadero. The January sky radiated deep blue with little white innocent clouds, that seemed to whisper they hadn’t the faintest notion of what rain might be. James’s scrap of a map soon had us lost in the dusty farming village.

What to do now? Why, simply try to find a store and ask someone for the way to the lettuce field.

In the cool shade of an adobe tienda, two dark heads clustered over a cluttered counter and shook "no" to our questions.

Who to ask next? The village policia hovering at la plaza seemed the next best bet. Above his graying khaki uniform, his head puzzled over the map and then shook sideways.

Hmmm! Options were running out.

My intrepid husband, Bill, veteran of hundreds of Mexican miles, drove more muddy side streets seeking our next potential guide. Bronzed and sweating in the strengthening heat of the early afternoon, four farm laborers leaned casually against their shovels at the next perplexing crossroad. The wiry and most wizened man leaned forward us intently when Bill asked for information, “ ¿Patricio y Angélica? "Sí!”

I glanced at his countryman feet, fissured like ancient stones thrust into a pair of rotting garaches and mused, “Why not? He looks a local guy and he’s keen to help us.”

After quick introductions, Manuel Lozano scrambled into the back of the van beside our three children, Richard, Josh and Rose. He pointed a crooked finger to the south.

The great 1993 cross-country tour of El Pescadero had begun!

First, Manuel directed Bill to drive one tortuous, water-filled country lane after another. Purchased two years previously with snowy Canadian winter conditions in mind, the four-wheel drive of our Ford van got its first big workout. The van lurched and struggled along routes more gaping, watery pothole than road. Little Rose spoke out for the kid’s new thrill when she squealed, “Manuel got Daddy finally to go four-wheeling!”

The road now rapidly deteriorated into a smooth sand path contrasting sharply with the surrounding green of great clumps of spiky cactus. After fifteen minutes of running the cactus gauntlet we arrived at a crumbling casita clinging to a tangled tropical hillside. I ducked under the lush leaves of the banana tree which, grew like a long gable with its center vein for a ridgepole.

To the pecking chickens and sleeping spotted dog in front of la casita, I called out, “Anyone home?” Speckled chickens scattered, clucking indignantly, and the dog opened one eye as if to say,” Go away, can’t you see it’s siesta time, gringa.”

Manuel triumphed that he could locate the lettuce field anyway. The van staggered back towards the highway. Persuaded by the persistent sway and jolt of his Baja buggy Bill observed, “You know what I think Manuel is doing. He probably never drives a car on these roads! These roads might be the way he walks on foot!”

Did this explain the convoluted route through the rough countryside?

The advancing shadows of the afternoon gave the distant mountains the form of folds of a velvet rug, pinched and raised like a pyramid. A zipolite (vulture) wheeled and floated above like a black kite. An isolated whitewashed rancho appeared like a mirage in the desert.

Manuel’s gnarled hand motioned the air with excitement, “Aqui! Es mi rancho.”

His Spanish bubbled over our heads as I caught about every third word, translating it roughly as, “I think he’s telling us that he lives here alone now that his mother is dead. He wants us to meet his amiga, Suzanne. She lives in her little house on the beach. She works to protect the baby turtles’ return to the ocean.”

Pragmatically Bill asked, “But did he say anything about Patrick and Angelica’s field?”

I put the pointed question to Manuel as the van pulled in beside the rancho.

Manuel flung his hand in the direction of a twisted trail through the thorny desert scrub, hurling us, “Mañanaaa!” Then he slid open the van door, leapt to the ground and disappeared into his rancho.

British Bill’s glasses lifted above his nose, ”What the dickens do you think he’s up to now?”

“Wait and see.”

Five minutes later, Manuel emerged from his rancho’s door, clutching a small parcel.

Bill rubbed his hand over his forehead lifting his hair from perspiration’s hold, “Do you think Manuel is using us for a taxi service? I don’t think that we’ve come anywhere near that lettuce field in over a half hour of driving.”

“Who knows? But even if he is, what does it really matter? Let’s stick with Manuel and see what his plan is. Besides we’ve plenty of food and water and the kids are still happy. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that!”

The sound of crashing surf dogged our steps as the five of us followed Manuel down the trail and towards a driftwood and plastic tarp shack. Manuel bent down and knocked at the entrance, calling softly in melodious Spanish. An elderly gringa, impish in stature, emerged from the low doorway. Manuel kissed her on both cheeks and handed her the package. The woman beamed and hugged him tightly.

I whispered to Bill, “Now, there’s a cute couple!”

Suzanne Maxwell’s long grey tendrils bobbed about her wrinkled smiling face, “Bienviendo! Manuel tells me that you are amigos of Patricio and Angélica. Bueno! Then I will tell you how to find the lettuce field. It is not very far from here as the crow flies, that is. See those few tall palms in the distance to the north. First go back to the highway, travel past two more side roads on the left, then turn on the third side road. It will lead you to the field by the ocean.”

“Muchas gracias, amiga.”

Minutes later our van pulled up beside the freshly plowed field surrounded by a few swaying palm trees. Eight gringos planted lettuce along sinewy mounded rows of chocolate-colored soil.

Patricio waved, yelling, “Here are the new recruits! Come on down. We can really use your help. The lettuce is wilting fast in this heat.”

Our kids rushed to greet the other kids, their dogs and a horse tied to a palm tree. Patricio directed Bill and I to plant on the north side of the mound to give the tender seedlings a greater chance of surviving the transplanting shock. As I am a fruit and vegetable gardener in Canada, I queried Patricio closely, “How does an expatriate American come to be planting crops on eijido land? I thought that this was community land only for Mexicans to use.”

“My wife, kids and I used to drive to south Baja every winter from California for the past nine years. We’ve made some good friends in El Pescadero. We started asking ourselves why we were driving back every six months when we really wanted to live here. But…how to make a living? Our Mexican friends said that if no one was using this land, we could ask permission from the eijido members to farm it. Also I had some money to invest and hire local guys to work with me.”

“And there’s a local market for your produce?”

With tourism booming in the south Baja especially in our nearest town of Todos Santos, there’s recently been a market for fresh specialty lettuce and peppers. The local restaurants take all of the Italian varieties I can supply.

“So why are you using gringos to plant today?”

“Sunday is the only day of the week that my amigos get to spend with their families. But the lettuce transplants would be dead by Monday. I couldn’t afford to wait even if it means planting the whole field with only Angelica. After the lettuce gets planted, we can start on the peppers. You guys arriving to help are a God-send!”

Evening shadows deepened around the laughing, talking, and working gringos as the sun painted its final flourish of magnificent fire over the horizon. The gringo crew hauled its ten hot, dirty, tired bodies for a splash in the surf before supper. James’s roaring campfire crackled under hot water seething for coffee and cocoa later. But first, Patricio paid his “planting crew” with ice-cold cervezas from his cooler. Then the adults relaxed to drink and eat around the campfire. The children ate quickly and scampered off to play games in the twilight.

Under the endless twinkling of heaven’s lanterns, the campers waxed philosophical. We discussed the changing lifestyles in our modern world; the hectic lives of working parents, latchkey kids, gated communities, increasing crime and municipal ordinances, the media and its ongoing circuses and endless other modern folly.

The discussion triggered a memory and I blurted out, “I had a dream about a meeting like this last night. I don’t usually remember or tell anyone my dreams.

It was the future. Something like Baja 2020. I was sitting around a fire with a group of people like this. This modern lifestyle that we are discussing had become almost everyone in North America’s reality. Personal freedom to live one’s life on one’s own terms had virtually ended. Everything and everyone-conformist!”

James’s shock of blond hair flipped back as he snorted his displeasure, “Sounds kind of Orwellian to me.”

“Yes, it was like in Orwell's book. ‘Animal Farm’. But here’s the neat bit. A few individuals everywhere refused to come on “side” for such a sterile life. They felt passionately that cultural and natural diversity contributed to the very essence of the world. Quality of life and relationships submerge in an imitation Disney world, virtual or imitation reality substitutes for the creative side of life. Such a world creates cravings for a mass consumerism that fans the twin causes of suffering, ignorance and hatred.”

Angelica’s pale eyebrows arched above her green eyes, “So what happened to these non-conformers? Did they get rounded up and shot?”

“Oh, no! Social control was all expertly designed mind-control by this time. Endless therapies, sophisticated technologies and new religions joined a daily cornucopia of pharmaceutical drugs and fad diets.”

“This New World Order sounds kind of cool,” interrupted James. “Especially the part about drugs!”

“Well, my friend, it may sound cool to you now, but your personal freedom of choice disappeared too. This New World Order threw out the baby with the bath water!”

Reaching for his sixth beer, Patricio mumbled, “Your dream is kind of heavy. Do you always dream about such weird stuff?”

“Not that I remember. It just seemed kind of coincidental that tonight I am sitting around talking with people from all over North America. In the dream, people of passion and integrity looked and acted like everyone else. It was a matter of survival. They became gypsies in a RV mobile lifestyle like ours. They met secretly in the wilderness of Baja. Sort of like in the movie, ‘Waterworld’; only in the desert! Oh! There’s one more thing- a way to recognize each other- a secret sign.”

Ten heads swung in my direction. Beth stretched out her sturdy tanned hand towards me. “Show us.”

“It was kind of like this.” I curled the fingers of my right hand so that the index finger circled to meet the thumb. Then I extended my middle and ring finger and coiled my baby finger.

“See! My fingers resemble a snail. The hidden meaning is to “go slow”, savor each moment, don’t sacrifice the present for the future, don’t accept the imitation for the real and ideas like this.”

Contorting her fingers, Beth giggled, “This is really funny. I can’t believe I’m doing this!” People around the campfire imitated my gesture.

James yawned and drawled, “You know what, Wendy? This is the symbol of the Playboy Bunny.”

I burst out laughing; “You’ve got to be kidding me! Where did my unconscious drag that one up from!”

Now, the group clamored that I was some kind of prophet in the desert. A messiah! The delayed after-effect of all those cool cervezas! A sense of perspective was needed fast!

“Heh! It’s just a dream! Besides. Remember what happened to the last big Messiah?”

Moving slowly around the campfire I gave everyone a big abrazo goodnight.

For Related Sites:

  • Amigos de Baja's BajaNet Fishing & Information Resource - http://www.bajanet.com

    This site has lots of information and active message boards for general information, a road conditions board, a cooking board and a fishing board.

  • Great source of links for the Baja - http://www.bajalinks.com
  • Families on the Road -

    Friendly site supporting the RV lifestyle.

For Related books:

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A Review by David Eidell
And another Review by Alan Cogan

Ron Mader Cover Mexico: Adventures In Nature
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Published or Updated on: October 1, 1999 by Wendy Devlin © 1999
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