Around the neighborhood

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The geology of The Baja is interesting.

If you go back in time – way back to even before I was born – The Baja was once connected to mainland Mexico.

A giant earthquake, way beyond the proportions of those that have scarred the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas, separated this little wisp of land from the continent, leaving a narrow fingerling that dangles into the Sea of Cortes.

It must have been a heck of a jolt, creating massive depths in Bahia California, enough so that there are more than 500 species of myriad shapes and sizes that inhabit this warm, calm water that once stretched upward to the Salton Sea in the southeast corner of California. The Sea of Cortes is home to everything from delectable shrimp and clams to gigantic humpback and gray whales, with a fair sampling of other creatures in between.

On land, we also have quite a variety.

There are, of course, birds of many shapes and sizes. The seagulls and pelicans patrol the beaches, diving into the water determinably to score a meal of bait fish chased into the shallows by larger fish while sparrows hunt and scratch for seeds in the desert, sharing the landscape with the predatory birds that clean up the carrion and the migrating doves that populate the agricultural areas through the fall and winter.

The other night, Cara and I went to the rooftop patio to watch the beautiful colors as the sun set behind us and moon rose over the water.

There was still enough evening light for us to see clearly across the sprawl and as Cara was engrossed in the vibrant colors over the water, I was looking down into the brush when I noticed movement among the ocotillos.

Jackrabbits.

Big, loppy jackrabbits with huge hindquarters and a kind of rocking sort of hop that seemed almost rhythmic as they moved from place to place, seeking shelter behind the sprigs of growth. I grabbed the camera to try to capture them, but they are pretty stealthy creatures. They don’t arrive at the size of these guys without having gained a few skills in avoiding detection.

Cara’s attention then focused on the ground. Her eyes, much keener than mine, soon spotted a coyote that was also on evening patrol, moving around about 150 yards from our place.

“That is definitely not a dog…it’s a coyote,” she said. Cara would know because she lived on the Colorado prairie between stints overseas with her family as her father pursued a career in the oil fields. Besides, she has this hawk-like vision that is way better than mine, enough so that she spotted a bat darting around in the sky the other night that was searching out flying insects.

I never did catch a glimpse of the coyote because nightfall comes quickly here and the moon was rising in a brilliant orange over the water, leaving its reflection on the calm surface, shimmering in the night.

I had asked Pam, the lady from the property management company, about what kind of critters we might encounter, particularly snakes, which I admire, but only from a distance.

“Most of them were driven out by the construction,” she said. “But there still might be a few here and there. I wouldn’t advise walking around a whole lot out by the ocotillos They like to wrap themselves around the base of them.”

She said there are scorpions roaming around, especially wherever there are a lot of bugs, and that she has only seen one tarantula, “but we leave them alone because they’re good and they don’t hurt anybody anyway.”

I don’t mind scorpions because they don’t move very fast and even I can outrun one if attacked. Tarantulas also amble along at a fairly slow gait. They would be the equivalent, in sports terms, of an MLB catcher with no wheels.

Snakes?

I have a firm policy about snakes: I won’t bother them as long as they don’t bother me.

The only critters, if you can call them that, we have seen in abundance are flies. We’re told that there are a lot of them at this time of the year and that soon, as the temperatures drop just a little bit, they will, for the most part, disappear.

When we lived in San Jose a few years back, it was common to see a wide variety of animals. In our Los Cabos travels we encountered a lot of free-range cattle along the highway and, sometimes, in town. It was also not uncommon to see burros, goats, horses, coyotes and other critters roaming free on the roadside.

We haven’t encountered any of those yet, but we have only been here a few days.

We are sure to see some interesting sites, though, because this part of The Baja is home to a huge onshore and offshore wildlife preserve.

Mexico has made a lot of progress in this sense, taking some very large environmental steps.

The government realized that there is tremendous value in protecting the giant sea turtles and made it highly illegal to trade the turtle eggs, which were, for years, a delicacy. The turtles themselves are also protected and a number of groups have formed to help them with their annual spawn. In fact, when we lived in San Jose, our daughter Mariah spent a week collecting sea turtle eggs along the coast, riding a four-wheeler some 40 miles along the beach each night in search of signs where the mother turtles had nested. She and other volunteers, would then collect the eggs, move them to penned-in hatcheries, and bury them in the sand, were they would hatch and the volunteers would release them into the sea.

There are species of fish that are threatened or endangered that are completely off limits to the local fishermen, and the bag-limit restrictions are heavily enforced. The skippers in the sportfishing fleet encourage catch-and-release for the marlin and swordfish that populate the warmer waters to protect their numbers.

It all helps to preserve this delicate balance of Mother Nature’s splendid creatures.

Oh, we can also report that we had other houseguests this morning.

While sitting on the patio and looking out at the water, I caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of my eye.

It was small, fast, and furry and in the vicinity of the steps leading to the rooftop.

By the time I got up to see what it was, the little creature was gone.

“Must have been a bird,” I told Cara.

But, a few moments later, she said, “Awww…a little chipmunk,” just in time for me to see it dash off, its fuzzy little tail dancing across the sand.

And, as I was finishing this piece, a curious little hummingbird swept in from around the corner, hovered about two feet from our heads and just sort of fluttered there, checking us out.

“I guess we better add a hummingbird feeder to our list of things to get, Cara said as the bird darted away.

I guess so.

But, before we do that, I think we need to find our rental agreement and make sure it allows for our new pets, or “mascotas” as they are known here.

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.”