Burrowing Owl

Santo Domingo hike
Santo Domingo hike. Salty and Elvis.

We went for a late afternoon walk in the hills with our Montana buddies Aldo and Bequia yesterday. Huge discovery of two burrowing owls on the road as we drove home. The owls were very patient and allowed us all a good look through the binoculars while Burt shined a flashlight. Burrowing owls live underground and prefer to stay close to the ground. They have long legs for walking. Here in baja this species is easy to identify because the other owls are either much bigger or much smaller or have long ears. The squatty head is also a clue to who it is. I played the iBird call but didn’t receive a response. I guess they weren’t fooled.

Burt heads into the mountains on a guided hike Wednesday AM. I’ll be holding down the fort around here alone. I just landed a paying gig as a backup singer so I’ll also be doing that while he’s gone. Side work is a good thing.

IMG_6485
Burrowing owl outside its burrow. Those long legs are for walking.
Bequia on the hike.
Bequia on the hike. That skinny dog at her feet lives on the rancho. He could use some more food but he’s in good health.
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Exploratory Drive

It was so inviting even I went in.
It was so inviting even I went in.

Burt pulled out the map and said, “There’s gotta be an easier place to hike in the mountains.” Well we got lost but found what he was looking for anyway. Burt’s original goal was the end of the road about 8 miles south of where we landed but we can’t complain. Rancho Santo Domingo is at the end of a different road and on a trail head into the Sierra de la Laguna. Chito is the current occupant and resident guide. He sent us on our way and we did a short exploratory walk. His dog, I called it bones, followed us. Bones’s love for Olive was unrequited. I guess she prefers men with more meat on their frame. Up the hill from the very old and well shaded ranch house we found a mature orchard with ripe toronjas (grapefruits) and flowering mango trees. The trail followed the arroyo up into the mountains. Birds were sparse because of the heat but this water hole was fantastic.

We turned back early. I am still tired from Sunday’s expedition and we had a music date with Tom.  We can visit this place again when we have more time and energy. On our way back down Burt spotted the Cape Robin! I missed it but I can trust Burt knows a robin when he sees one.

Burt's butt in a fine swimming hole.
Burt’s butt in a fine swimming hole.
Chito y Beto: soul mates?
Chito y Beto: soul mates?
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Chorro Hot Springs

Blue Man and his beer can tree.
Blue Man and his beer can tree.

Sometimes you wish you remembered the origin of an idea so you had someone to blame. Burt and I and Al and Rachele hatched an idea to hike someday. That idea morphed into a non-hikey excursion when corporeal issues precluded strenuous hiking. Someone, it might have been me, thought let’s go see the hot springs on the other side. We can take a drive, see something new and have a fun day.
Hey, and this was my idea, let’s bring the dogs. Dogs love spending 7 hours cooped in a car doing nothing almost as much as we do.

Yesterday the plan was put into action. We drove south to Al and Rachele’s at Elias Calles. Perusal of maps revealed it was a shorter drive around to the other side from Cabo. Five humans packed into an SUV with two dogs in the hatch. Remind me I am too old for three across in a backseat for any drive greater than a mile. Burt forgot his map. Al only had one of the cartoon like tourist maps. Oh well, we’ll ask for directions when we get closer.

Olive rode the first 2 1/2 hours with her paws up on the back seat whimpering and panting on Rachele’s sister’s neck. What was worse: the whimpering and panting or me ‘disciplining’ Olive to get her to back off? Patty was tolerant. Olive was tenacious. I gave up trying to stop her. Clear of the convolutions of Cabo we headed north up towards Milaflores and San Antonio. Now this crayon map was not much help. We headed into Miraflores, as lovely a small town as you can find in Baja, and went in the general direction Burt thought we should go. A collective stop was called when we saw an official outside the Sierra de La Laguna Biosphere Preserve offices. This guy was named Silvestre (WILD in Spanish). Burt and he exchanged sentences out of earshot while the four of us watched. We headed down a road that Burt thought was recommended. It rutted out into a rancho yard. I guess Silvestre doesn’t know his way around. Or maybe it was another incident of a preposition being lost in translation. Maybe he said If you go that way you’ll have trouble NOT it is not trouble to go that way. We’ll never know. We turned around. We met a ranchero with an equally packed truck cab and he gave all of us directions. Mutli-layered directions. Choices. Collectively we opted for what consensus concluded was, “Go back to the highway, go to Santiago, 12 km to the left.” There was debate about the alternate route and a schoolhouse landmark. Consensus was we stick to the highway. No more dirt. Olive and Elvis breath too hard on dirt roads and the ladies cheek to jowl in the backseat did not like riding the corrugated gravel.

In Santiago we sought out an update to the previous advice. This man on the street alarmed us when he responded, “the hot springs were very, very far away.” His face was contorted in dismay. Like 12 km he sadly informed us. All of 8 miles. We had driven 2 1/2 hours. He was speaking English and we were speaking Spanish so maybe he mixed up his near and far. We’ll never know. We dug deep to find the endurance to cover the remaining 8 miles. Past the zoo. The well known zoo of Baja. Nobody I know has gone in. We are all much too scared of what we might see in a zoo. So, past the zoo, through the arroyo, and past some tidy houses to a guarded gate. Twenty pesos a person n we were in. Now to soak and recover from the arduous drive.

The east cape of Baja is much warmer than our side of the peninsula. I felt my leaden muscles move from stiff to limp. A bald sun beat down on a tight, hot canyon. The pools of El Chorro (the stream) are algae and fish filled and small. They are also tepid. It was hot so tepid wasn’t much of a problem but it made me wonder, when is a tepid hot spring enjoyable? Too cold out and you can’t get in. Too hot out and you don’t want to get in. Green and small and unappetizing were the problems. Road weary and hungry we crouched under a thorny bush and enjoyed our lunch. Canadians of the great plains can be quiet people. There wasn’t much to say about our underwhelming feelings at reaching the hot springs. No false praise to be found amongst this lot of don’t say anything if you can’t say something nice at all people. Myself included in that remark. Eye rolling and nose scrunching was about all that needed to be said. Even Burt didn’t have much to be jolly about.

Fortified with victuals we ambled about to see if we were wrong in our first impressions. Maybe we were too hungry to see the secret beauties of the soaking pools. A German woman was in the one person pool behind the dam. She exclaimed that the fish were exfoliating her skin. There was only room for her and the fish so we continued on. Upstream Burt spotted a precarious boulder with a blue and orange Virgin of Guadalupe on the face of it. She cast her protective gaze down upon the canyon and it’s fetid, tepid water. I was thankful that she was worth seeing. The dogs found the shallowly buried poop of humans. That makes for healthy neck drooling on the ride back. I’d seen enough it was time to go.

Rumors of lovely swimming holes further up the canyon will have to remain rumors. We left. I picked up a bottle of local honey on the way out. Al took us back by an alternate route and everyone but Al switched seats so we could wear out different parts of our anatomy on the drive home. Burt sat on the middle hump. We thumb wrestled. He won. Numbed by disappointment and car time we didn’t stop in El Triunfo or anywhere else. The dogs slept.

All in all it wasn’t as bad as I make it out to be here. I realized it was just too far for 5 people and 2 dogs. A camp out might have made it more enjoyable. Time to go up canyon in the early morning would have been fun. I hope Al and Rachele still like us after we shared a lame adventure with them.

Virgin of Guadalupe way up on a rock above Chorro Hot Springs.
Virgin of Guadalupe way up on a rock above Chorro Hot Springs.
The ring of rocks at the lower edge of the photo is the soaking pool.
The ring of rocks at the lower edge of the photo is the soaking pool. There’s room for one and fish.
Elvis, master drooler.
Elvis, master drooler.
Tiny but pretty pool of hot water.
Tiny but pretty pool of hot water.
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Was it a Full Moon Where You Are?

Sierra de la Laguna at sunset. Picacho.
Sierra de la Laguna at sunset. Picacho.

Well, of course it was, silly. I hatched a great plan to have our Valentine’s Day date out in the desert where we could see the sunset over the ocean and the moonrise over the mountains. I hoped to taken some pictures of the mountains lit by the setting sun as the moon peeked out. Alas, the moon was about 15 minutes late to the show. I should have come out the day before. And I should have remembered the little adapter that attached the camera to the tripod. The lovely pink haze was dioxin laden smoke from the dump burning. Pretty isn’t it? All my moon pictures came out over or underexposed but the mountains had already gone to sleep so it didn’t matter.  It was a fun date anyway.

Afterwards we returned home to the gNash and dined on homemade ravioli’s out of the freezer. It was a pretty good day. Later this week the 11th Annual Festival de Cine starts and I might be short on time or energy to blog. The volunteer coordinator is planning on using our overly reliable butts to do anything that needs doing. Today I had to let her know that Burt is a man of action and not an accountant just so she wouldn’t expect him to do any heavy money changing. Rules combined with money gives Burt hives. Today is chore day. Off to water and pick up dog poop. Life in paradise.

Desaturated desert and Sierra de la Laguna.
Desaturated desert and Sierra de la Laguna.
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Gaudy, Vibrant, Splashy, Flashy

Break of Day
Break of Day

Dull it isn’t. Morning, dawn, sunup, whatever. It’s not my time to shine. I am lucky the resident man-servant can sling hash and get me a cup of tea so I can make my 7:30 yoga class. Today I had to ask him to speak in a softer tone of voice so my head wouldn’t crack open and expel its ugly thoughts. Some days I have to ask him not to speak at all. I was cranky because Mimi capered on my head from 4:30 to 5:30. The 6:10 alarm roused me from the profundity of early morning deep cycle sleep. Thanks, Mimi. Despite the cranky lethargy Burt was able to convince me the sunrise was worth viewing. Usually I give him the, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” response from under my pillow. It was dazzling but my witnessing it doesn’t fill me with warm vibes and an eagerness to face the day. Is there something wrong with me or is it just a symptom of owliness?

First blush
First blush
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More Pictures – Sierra de la Laguna

Gratuitous Olive Shot for the Olive lovers. This is cliff is between Elias Calles and Rancho Nuevo.
Gratuitous Olive Shot (GOS) for the Olive lovers. This is cliff is between Elias Calles and Rancho Nuevo.

My resting heart rate remains elevated after two days of rest. I think I might have over exerted myself. Today I hung out with my friend Rima and we prepared for a mini-gig next week. Rima owns Bistro Mágico in Todos Santos and is a great singer. It’s just us two gals. Her singing and me strumming. Four songs. Blink and it will be over. I’m working hard to get ready. I can usually laze around while Burt does the work of keeping a song going but not this time. I was hired to be a side man and my friend Todd said my job is to, come prepared with a smile on your face. I can do that. If you’re curious about our sound you can hear us Saturday mid-afternoon at the Bistro.

We’re still hoping to head to the mainland of Mexico for a cultural extravaganza but have had no takers on our offer of our trailer and two dogs for a week of free accommodations. As Burt likes to joke, “The dogs are ruining our lives.” It’s a dog’s world.

The pico of El Picacho in the SIerra de la Laguna.
The pico of El Picacho in the Sierra de la Laguna.
The blue arrow points to me on El Picacho.
The blue arrow points to me on El Picacho.
Moonrise over la laguna in the Sierra de la Laguna.
Moonrise over la laguna in the Sierra de la Laguna.
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Some more pictures of the Sierra de la Laguna

Marching column of ants. We couldn't find where they were going.
Marching column of ants. We couldn’t find where they were going.

For all I know those ants are previously undiscovered by science. Yesterday was spent prone while writing. My calves feel as though I ran a marathon. Otherwise I am resting well. Tonight we have our usual Saturday night gig at Wind and C’s place in Los Cardones. Hope to see some of you there.

The 'bestias' traveled in this truck.
The ‘bestias’ traveled in this truck.
Carve a tree while u catch your breath.
Carve a tree while u catch your breath.
Selfie
Selfie
Mule without name
Mule without name
Burt
Burt
Abejas or bees on catkins.
Abejas or bees on catkins.
Yellow-eyed junco
Yellow-eyed junco
Almost home.
Almost home.
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Sierra de la Laguna – Picacho and out

Near the top there are cacti and oak and pine and the Pacific.
Near the top there are cacti and oak and pine and the Pacific.

After our third morning of granola and powdered milk we bid Esteban our now regular see you soon and headed off on foot to bag Picacho. Esteban assured us he would catch up on his mule and guide us to the top. Elvis was looking puny but we kept him leashed to avoid another cochi chase. Olive danced about showing signs of her youthful terrier toughness. Three days in and she was the only one without obvious signs of physical distress. This brought to mind something I had pondered as we climbed up from the car through ankle deep dust and rock twisting ankles. When are we making ourselves stronger and when are we wearing ourselves out? Let’s face it, at this age I mean wearing ourselves out permanently. I’m always wondering some version of this. If I practice mandolin too much I get tendonitis. If I don’t practice I sound bad. If I run I get stronger lungs and a more efficient heart. I might also get Achilles tendonitis or a torn meniscus. On the way up I felt pretty good. Huffing and puffing and a wee bit of arrhythmia but no leg soreness or shoulder/neck pain.  After the 5 hours scrambling in the creek bed I was feeling more like I might want to be careful with the delicate tissues supporting my knees, ankles and shoulders. Injuries lead to inactivity and somewhere in there the vicious cycle starts ending in the “wow, she’s let herself go.” When in fact there was no letting go about it. It was a fight the whole way.  One day you just can’t go anymore. With all this in mind I was pleased to be struck by a killing disease meant for the young: Summit Fever. My inner rat had awakened after years of politely snoozing. A broken sesamoid, some terrible wrists, perimenopausal weight gain and a desire to make music in old age had all conspired to lull my inner rock climber to sleep.

Summit fever is when you are compelled to reach the top of whatever it is you are climbing. Your inner rat is the thing gnawing at you. Your rat makes you take chances, ignore pain, climbing partners and common sense. I made it to 48 because my rat is more of a bunny. She’s a gentle rat, timid, even. Little did I know that my rat was nurturing a deep need to get to the top of this mountain looming over my life for four winters. I was worn out from the previous two days. I had not slept well due to Elvis’s binge and purge pig enjoyment plan. I got within site of the crest of El Picacho and I was ready to do whatever it took to get there. Funnily the prominent nose of the mountain that looms out over us is not the highest point. The high part is an easy hour amble from camp. Sitting at the high part enjoying the view a body could turn home and say, “I climbed Picacho.” This body was not satisfied. Burt and the dogs were very content. My nostrils flared and my eyes rolled as I turned my back to them and plowed ahead. Inside I was grateful Burt was protecting our dogs from my insanity but I was afraid my gratitude would turn to guilt so I moved on without much of a good-bye. Esteban was right behind me. I told him I had a fever for Picacho and is eyes popped out of his head. Too late I realized it was probably vulgar but oh, well.

To get to the pico you must drop off the plateau of the high point and descend a steep face of rock, dirt and cacti to a lower saddle. This saddle is obvious in all photos of El Picacho. I crossed the saddle and found myself route finding through dense boulders and pokey agave up another steep face of cliffy boulders. What was possessing me? I didn’t stop to ask Esteban where to go. I wanted to be in charge of my destiny. As I blazed away up boulder and crevice and around lance like agave leaves I took no notice of where my guide was. I had two moments where my heart grew faint but I put the pieces together and solved the bouldery little bits and with my heart beating 180 I popped out on the precipice of El Picacho. Esteban popped up just in front of me looking like he walked the whole way. Rather unlike me to take a bull by the horns and manhandle my way over a mountain but I’m pretty pleased. Burt told me he watched as Esteban departed ways with me about half way up. I like a guide that leaves a client to her destiny. You’ll never get that in the US.

Up top was a small shrine to a young man that loved to spend time up there. Esteban and I read the poem is father left and looked at the t-shirt commemorating his life. We admired the view. Esteban showed me the location of a proposed cyanide heap leach mine. We discussed the crazy people that wanted to paraglide off the cliff. He told me some climbers had died up there. We sat in wonder. I left my way and he left his. My rat went back to sleep, fed for a good long time I hope.

I am so grateful Burt took care of the dogs and let me go do something I had not felt up to for nearly 10 years. The next day we hiked out. The dogs sprinted to spots of shade as we trudged through the thick choking dust. It was hot coming down. In the car at noon and home by 1:30. Today I have not left the bed but to pee and eat. I did write all this. The dogs are dead tired. Burt has managed to get the laundry to and from the laundress and play a few tunes on the guitar. It was worth every ache and pain I have today. They are all temporary but the success is permanent.

Selfie of the Gypsy Carpenters.
Selfie of the Gypsy Carpenters. The view is reflected in our gafas del sol.
Agave
Agave
The pico of Picacho looking towards theBahia de California or Sea of Cortez.
The pico of Picacho looking towards the Bahia de California or Sea of Cortez. La Paz is hidden in the haze.

 

We started way down there.
We started way down there.
Panorama from the poit of Picacho.
Panorama from the point of Picacho.
Ummm. He's everybody's favorite cochi.
Ummm. He’s everybody’s favorite cochi.
Happy to be in the car where the miles pass easily.
Happy to be in the car where the miles pass easily.
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Day 2 – La Cascada

In places the trail has eroded to 8' below ground level.
In places the trail has eroded to 8′ below ground level.

Our second day in the Sierra de la Laguna dawned cold. I’d been in our tent for 13 hours and I still didn’t want to leave my down bag. Our tent was in the shade. Burt was out there somewhere laughing with Esteban, drinking coffee and soaking up sunshine. Time to get dressed and see what the day will bring.

Our camp area had a roofed outdoor kitchen, an outhouse with a wonky door I couldn’t properly close and two bedrooms. There wasn’t a bench, chair, couch, or stool to sit on. Some wobbly rounds of tree trunk made for terrible seating so I opted for the edge of the buildings slab. The lack of seating is my only complaint about the accommodations. Even the outhouse door didn’t bother me. But sitting in a crouch just above the dirt gets old. I’d rather lie in my tent than get a butt ache on a 6′ high slab reading.

Food on this trip was you feed you and I’ll feed me. I tried to convince Esteban that he could feed us but he wouldn’t so Burt opted for easy backpacking fare. Granola, cheese, tortillas, beans, spaghetti. It was boring but quick and easy. Esteban ate in his quarters so we wouldn’t drool over his Mexican mountain fare. He also ate at typical Mexican hours. Late breakfast, never saw lunch and late dinner. We were mostly gone when he was eating. I think the cultural differences are greater in scheduling than the actual food.

Esteban asked what we wanted to do on day two. Our choices were to explore the area to La Cascada (the waterfall) or climb Picacho. Picacho looms over the area like a ship’s prow breaking through sea waves. It juts straight up from the valley floor. The name Picacho means peak. That’s not very interesting in English. The Spanish name is more fun: El Picacho. After much discussion where we said nothing but,” sounds good, okay, we’ll follow you, uh huh, yes, okay….” it was decided that we would go see the waterfall. Our time for departure was malleable, too. We’ll leave soon. We’ll leave when my friends get here, we’ll leave now. We left abruptly, friends never seen, and Esteban mounted his mule and led us across the valley to the start of the drainage of the waterfall. At the creek’s head he said, “Have fun. I’ll see you later.” and turned his mule and rode away. He wanted us to enjoy the water in private. He suggested we swim and bathe. My kind of guide. No hand holding. No lurking. No babysitting. We had no idea how far we had to scramble to get to the waterfall but we decided to see what we would see. There was no way to get lost but a body could get hurt. This was a boulder choked gnarly stream bed.

Water is where the action is. Birds, frogs, and insects abounded. Spring was here. Catkins on the willows buzzed with bees. Frogs croaked until they heard us. We climbed and hiked up and around and through massive rocky detritus. Once in a while I’d spot a small ripple and ask Burt if he thought it was La Cascada. It never was. The pools made lovely reflection photos. I got bored with the closed in creek and hiked up to the rim to get a view. Maybe I could see the Sea of Cortez or the waterfall from up high. All I saw was another rim blocking my view. Burt came up and we had lunch while a group of young Mexican men passed by below. We shimmied back down over slippery oak leaves and tried to get to the waterfall. We found ice. We wondered if we were too tired to make it. The previous day’s journey had sapped us. Should we have sex? Frogs croaked, bees, buzzed, yellow-eyed juncos visited. We heard distant frolicking. La Cascada was in earshot. One more steep hands and feet slog up and over a mucky cliff and we would be there. Even Elvis needed help getting through. I was glad I had left my skirt at home. Burt and I reached the lip and looked over. That was close enough for us. It was 2:00 and we’d been out for 3 1/2 hours. It was uphill home but we likely wouldn’t dawdle. The boys left and we took advantage of the solitude. Then we headed back. It was a strenuous 1 1/2 hours up through rocky stones and slippery creek crossings. Esteban was waiting at the start. He almost looked like he was thinking about worrying about us. When we told him we had made it to La Cascada he was happy and maybe a bit surprised. It’s tough persevering through boulders when you don’t know how far you have to go. We might not have made it if we hadn’t heard the boys having fun. It was their laughter that carried us over the last messy climb.

Rocky cliffs reflected in water.
Rocky cliffs reflected in water.
IMG_8780
The dogs contemplate their next move.

So we made it back to camp. Esteban went for a siesta. We read. Burt made us an early dinner. Pasta bows, tomato puree, powdered milk, butter, onions and parmesan cheese. It was really good. Everything is good when you are cold, tired and hungry but this was good. As we cleaned up a man walked up with Esteban’s mule, a dead pig on Camila’s back. I woke Esteban. Cochi, cochi, chochi. This means pig here and means a lady’s personal bits elsewhere so be careful where you sling your Spanish. This pig was promptly skinned and butchered by Alejandro while Esteban stoked the fire and got pans and more fire wood. It was party time. As soon as all the work was done three more guys walked in with the two dogs that had done the killing. These 35 pound mutts were scrawny and submissive but they knew how to kill a hog. The deal is (are you listening Elvis?) you have to get it by the neck and hang on until it bleeds out. Our hog hunting dreams had just come true. People we were with had gotten a hog and were having a party. Time passed. The moon came up. It got dark. It got cold. There was no place to sit. I was a woman. I went to bed. So did Burt. These guys had a peaceful quiet party with lots of chortling. They had hiked the long way in and had a successful pig hunt. We fell asleep long before it was over.

While we slept Elvis sneaked out of the tent (HOW?) and joined the festivities. We were awoken to the gentle gnawing of a happy dog just outside our tent. We both presumed it to be one of the successful hunters not our dog (HOW?). Gristle and bristle and bone were lovingly chewed for a very long time. We fell asleep. Burt woke up and discovered Elvis was not in the tent. He called for Elvis and Elvis slunk in. Then the night’s party really began. Raw pig offal puked in a tent is the worst bodily excrement smell I have yet endured. I played dead. Burt persevered through 3 vomits of pig guts in the vacant slot between his head and the tent wall. He despaired of having enough spare clothing to clean the messes up. By our calculation Elvis had nabbed over 10 pound of leftovers. We quaked in our bags hoping he had only scored garbage and not an actual leg or rib cage.

In the morning Elvis could barely move. Burt got up and faced the music. No harm, no foul. Elvis was stealing parts deemed unfit for humans. Tails, toes, hide. The vomitus was laden with brushy bristles, shards of bone and pink goo. As I waited for the day to warm Elvis vomited for me. I gave up my bandana. I got up and dragged Elvis outside with me. He demanded breakfast. I gave him 10 kibbles. He promptly threw up two more times for a total of 6 witnessed events. We wondered if Elvis would survive his love of pig but we had a big day ahead of us and his indiscretion was not going to get in our way.

Tree reflected in an algal pool
Tree reflected in an algal pool
More reflections. This happens when you have to look down all day.
More reflections. This happens when you have to look down all day.
A button cactus I found on my side excursion.
A button cactus I found on my side excursion.
Bugs do it.
Bugs do it.
A wild hog no more. She wasn't very big but was guessed to be 4 or 5 years old.
A wild hog no more. She wasn’t very big but was guessed to be 4 or 5 years old.
Alejandro wields his locally made knife.
Alejandro wields his locally made knife.
Moon rise over pig roast
Moon rise over pig roast
Coffee to keep the guys going.
Coffee to keep the guys going.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Wild Hog in the Woods

Picacho in the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains
Picacho in the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains

The 7,000′ peaks of the Sierra de la Laguna are the backdrop of our lives in Baja. Watching the skies color in the morning sometime reminds me of that old multi-colored Patagonia fashion logo. Much of the steepest country in the mountain range is a biosphere preserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Southern Baja was once an island and many of its flora and fauna are found only here. So you might be wondering what took us so long to get up into the high country. I can’t really account for that. Last year we had enjoyed a physically and spiritually crushing day long outing that could have put us off the idea forever but this year arrived with us fit and ready to go high. Esteban, our guide and mule wrangler, was contacted a date was set and off we went.

Loose Spanish skills cause the biggest problems when giving and receiving directions.  Our laxity of understanding and propensity to believe we have understood found us at 6 AM Monday morning on the side of a dark highway wondering where Esteban might be. There was no yellow truck with mules. Burt and I and Olive and Elvis were sitting in our Exploder just 1 km past the new bypass’s junction with the old highway on the far side of Todos Santos. This is a blank spot on the unstable cell network of Baja. We both pondered that we saw a large truck about 5 miles back with its flashers flashing. It was too dark to see mules or the color. Maybe he was late. Maybe that was his truck. Maybe he was late. We had a few dropped calls where Esteban could be heard and we could here him but no possibility of explanation existed. This was a rocky start. Day light is burning. How long will he wait for us? Following our gut instinct, after all we both had seen the truck with its flashers, we headed back towards town. The cell phone rang and much harried Spanish followed. I slowly asked, “Estas en la nueva seccion de la careterra?” Sí. “We’ll see you in 10 minutes.” And so we did. It was Esteban sitting on the side of the road. He was 1 km past the junction of the bypass and the old highway on our side of town. We had gone to the same location at the opposite end of the bypass. His truck was white and his shirt was yellow. How embarrassing. I was looking for a camioneta amarilla and he was wearing a camiseta amarilla. Oi. We were only twenty minutes late.

Camila, drudgery is her life
Camila, drudgery is her life

Esteban is a retired back country fire fighter. He worked in the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains for 32 years. Now he runs the occasional guided trip for tourists. We’d gotten his name through word of mouth a couple of years ago. Esteban does not speak English and his Spanish is very Bajaian. Locals here can speak a murky version of the language. It’s like somebody from East Texas trying to understand somebody from Scotland. I think he is not a chatty man either. The typical rancher/ranger type all over the world is slow to speak. We followed him up a washboarded road for 40 minutes in the gathering light. Twenty foot cacti silently watched as we rattled by. At 7:30 our car was parked and our gear was left with Tomas, Esteban’s driver, for loading on the mules. Camila would carry our gear and un-named mule would carry Esteban. Esteban walked me about 100 yards up the trail and said follow the signs, see you later and turned back. Here we were. Walking. Up. Our destination was some unquantified distance of a lot away. It was very high and pretty far. Maps, books, websites and Esteban’s elevations all vary. We can safely presume we had 5,000′ to climb in about 6 or 7 miles. Those are the short values. We didn’t see Esteban for 4 hours.

I went into ultramarathoner mind set. Just keep moving your feet and you will get there. The trail is dessicated and floury. We are climbing a pile of loose sand with some rocks and roots to hold it together. I am glad to be in my cool Utilikilt, After an hour I stopped for 10 minutes. After another 59 minutes I stopped for 10 minutes. After a shorter while Burt and I stopped for 1/2 an hour. We got carried away discussing marital issues. No sign of Esteban. The dogs were happy. We saw a 4 point (8 in Mexico, they count both sides, we count one) deer buck, muscular and thickly furred. Somewhere around 11:00 a ranger on horseback blocked our way. We didn’t have the right permits. What permits? I explained our guide was behind us and that he should leave us to climb and go talk to him. He must have our permits. No can do said the ranger. We were in a Mexican stand-off. He stood there and stared. I sat under a scrubby bush to wait him out. Burt crawled in with me. The dogs were happy. We wondered how much day light we would burn sitting waiting for Esteban. I turned into a reptile. I had nothing to do but rest. Esteban showed up in about twenty minutes. He and the ranger had a mild exchange where I caught, “I know your boss.” The ranger practically dashed off. I guess we did have the right permits. Burt and I started back up, this time with mules on our heels. We arrived shortly at La Ventana a spot where you can see both the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez. Only a couple of more hours to go. The vegetation slowly shifted as we climbed. Soon after La Ventana Burt spotted the first pine tree. I knew he would. I never notice things like that. I’m too busy listening to my heart pound and lungs wheeze.

The Virgen de la Guadalupe
The Virgen de la Guadalupe

Just before we arrived at the ‘Laguna’ Elvis and Olive got onto some cochi or hogs. Esteban had teased us that our dogs might bring us dinner. We have heard about these pigs in the sierra for years and did not take him seriously. All I wanted to do was get off my feet and here I was holding the mules while Burt and Esteban ran after the dogs running after the cochi. The forest was thick and sticker filled. I saw nothing. Noises came and went. Little piggies say wee wee wee while running all the way home. The soundtrack to deliverance looped into the nursery rhyme. Dogs baying (I think it was baying, I’d never heard Elvis sound like that) and pigs squealing and the mules looking deadly bored. Burt and Esteban both saw Olive racing after a pig her own size looking as happy as a dog can look. Olive must have got a fright because she broke off the chase long before Elvis. It got quiet. Burt called for Elvis. Elvis. Elvis. Elvis. I whistled. Esteban was looking for a pig. A long time went by. Maybe those yelps were yelps of distress. Maybe the Bobo got into something more than he could handle. Then Elvis suddenly appeared. With his tongue a foot long and his feet barely clearing the ground he sauntered out of the underbrush. Only the Bobo knows what happened and he’s not talking.

We arrived at camp in ‘buen tiempo” according to Esteban at 2:00. Our camp was in the fabled lake bad that gives the Sierra de la Laguna their name. In these mountains there once was a massive lake. Sometime in the 1870’s it drained by natural causes. The mountains still house massive quantities of water but it is all underground now. The lake bed is now a large, flatish meadow sprawling across a plateau near the very top of the peaks. We were only a short distance away from the the highest peak in the area, Picacho. Esteban offered us some bunks in the fire fighters cabañas but Burt wisely opted to use our tent. I was tired and weariness makes me more ambivalent than usual. I just wanted to lie down. As soon as our tent was up I went to bed and read my book. Burt fed me at 5:30 and we were asleep with the dark at 6.

The trail and the pacific. We started a few feet above the Pacific.
The trail and the pacific. We started a few feet above the Pacific.
Camila and no-name and Esteban at the Cabaña for fire fighters.
Camila and no-name and Esteban at the Cabaña for fire fighters.
The cook stove. Madrona burns hot with less smoke.
The cook stove. Madrona burns hot with less smoke.
Our nest.
Our nest.
I'm not at liberty to disclose what happened to that cochi.
I’m not at liberty to disclose what happened to that cochi.

 

 

 

 

 

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