We made it

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Somewhere along the southern rim of the Salton Sea in the middle of the Southern California desert, our transmission started to slip a little.

Our trip from St. George, Utah to San Felipe, Baja California had not been going according to plan.

We arrived in Fontana, California on Tuesday, intending an overnight visit with my brother and his family before moving to our new home on The Baja.

There was a leak dripping from the rear end of our Chevy van that needed fixing, so we added another night’s stay to our itinerary as Nick, a local mechanic with an outstanding reputation as a skilled craftsman and decent businessman made the repair.

Then, there was a leak from the transmission area that required more repairs, which added yet another night’s stay.

The transmission shop thought they had it right, but as soon as we parked the van on my brother’s steep driveway the leak occurred again. So, we went back the next morning for more work.

Finally, Friday afternoon we were declared good to go, so we made our plans to leave early the next morning.

The trip was uneventful, driving through the lonely desert until we hit the Salton Sea where the transmission started acting a little funny.

We pushed on, finally limping into San Felipe Saturday afternoon.

We were back on The Baja, a place my wife Cara and I have come to love deeply and just in time to visit the malecon where the annual Shrimp Festival was under way.

We met up with Pam, the real estate agent who had arranged temporary housing for us in a beautiful little village called El Dorado Ranch. It’s a place where the desert meets the Sea of Cortes with gangly ocotillos and shrubs poking out of the sandy desert. We are about a mile from the Sea of Cortes, with an ocean view that shimmers in the morning sun.

We were spent.

The van problems and uncertainty that enveloped us had worn us down physically and emotionally. But, we were hungry…very hungry, so we gingerly made our way down Highway 5 to the downtown area and went searching for food.

The Shrimp Festival is an annual celebration of the origins of this little place on the upper end of The Baja, 195 kilometers from the Calexico-Mexicali border. There is an abundance of blue shrimp and squid just offshore, which became the basis of the little village’s economy many years ago. And, in Mexico, they like a good fiesta, so the malecon was jammed as we parked and made our way down a steep hill about a quarter-mile away to join the crowd.

There were carnival rides, vendors selling turista items and food, and a crowd of very happy people, standing in long lines to get a dish of the local fare. The shrimp were prepared in a variety of styles, from Cajun to Italian, to grilled.

The air was thick with rich Latin music and the squeals of the delighted children as they rode the tilt-a-whirl, jumped in a two-story bounce house, and spun on the Ferris wheel.

When we lived on The Baja before in San Jose del Cabo – about 20 miles northeast of Cabo San Lucas, there was a fair gringo population, made up primarily of people from Canada and the U.S. who primarily wintered there.

It seems there are a lot more ex-pats living in San Felipe. This time of year, of course, the snowbirds flock to this little oasis, swelling the population from 14,000 to about 20,000. I think most of them were at the shrimp festival.

We had forgotten how time moves slowly here on The Baja. The long lines at the food vendors barely moved, so we found a little place we had read about online called The Sweet Spot, which was about a half-filled when we were seated.

As we wolfed down the salsa and chips while waiting for our order, the place quickly filled. The bar was packed with football fans watching the UCLA-Washington football game. Elsewhere, visitors chatted, laughed, or, just like us, found comfort in heavily padded chairs that snuggled up nicely to the table.

We ordered some food – shrimp, of course, with Cara deciding on the grilled entrée while I opted for the scampi and pasta offering, with an appetizer of what they call Killer Klamz – and settled in.

We both took deep, heavy breaths and welcomed each other home with a lovely meal.

On our way back to the house, we stopped at the local market, picked up some necessities, and made our way back to the casa.

We were exhausted, but also exhilarated so we parked ourselves on the patio and watched the moon shimmer on the calm surface of the sea, toasting our arrival with a couple shots of Cien Ano tequila. I tuned my guitar and strummed lightly in the darkness.

There was an overwhelming sense of calm as we sat in the late-night silence, a sense of peace and comfort despite the nerve-wracking drive and travel fatigue that had set in.

Cara rose first this morning and puttered around the house, putting a few pictures in place and making it “home” as the rising sun glistened on the water.

We took our morning coffee up to the rooftop deck and watched as the pangas scooted out to sea with their hopeful fishermen.

As the sun began to warm, we returned to the patio.

We have limited Internet access at this point and will have to either move to the HOA office or pool area to connect online. We have no TV service here and are unlikely to hook up to one at this point because, well, it is the calm that we came to find.

Oh, yeah.

We had our first houseguest this morning.

As we sat on the patio, a little lizard scurried up onto a rock and bathed himself in the sun. He’s a friendly little guy who allowed us to walk up close and say hello.

I’m watching him now as he makes his way across the rocks, looking for just the right angle to soak up some sun. Every now and then he turns an eye to the patio where I am sitting and, in my strange sense of moment, it seems like he is saying, “Welcome home.”

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