The quiet of the desert sharpens the senses. Splashes of color contrast against the sun bleached dirt. Hummingbirds frequent our flaming orange-red flowers, as do yellow-jackets. Weâ€™ve driven from Todos Santos to Cabo Pulmo, Baja, not a town, not quite a village â€“ more like an outpost in the only coral reef in North America, on the shimmering turquoise Sea of Cortez. Of the two available cabanas for rent, we choose the one with hammocks, a porch and a seaside breeze. With five of us in one room like overstuffed tamales, the porch becomes a handy second â€“ for reading, playing Boggle, escaping the heat of the air condition-less cabana.
Yes, I said air condition-less. This isnâ€™t Texas, pardner. The 20 or so cabana outpost doesnâ€™t have electricity – everything is solar or gas-powered. And itâ€™s this, combined with no â€œlegalâ€ property taxes, makes living off the grid attractive to eco-conscious property tax paying Californians. Thatâ€™s legal in quotes â€“ we get the impression thereâ€™s a form of outlaw law in Baja. With no actual property titles granted by law, we understand that youâ€™d have to pay â€œsomeoneâ€ to keep squatters from taking over your house while youâ€™re on vacation in the States. Having grown up visiting the gold mining ghost towns of Colorado as a girl, I wonder, is this what its like to live in the Wild, Wild West? We see no evidence of unlawful behavior by our California standards, other than the rolling stop at Stop signs â€“ granting anyone right-of-way via the slow roll through a car-filled intersection.
Time doesnâ€™t just slow down here, it appears to stop. The first night here I take a walk. I hear the sound of birds, the ocean and palm fronds moving to the rhythmic, warm breeze. But itâ€™s quiet that I hear â€“ stillness. On some level, nothing moves and yet I know everything changes. My eyes would deceive me, telling me it looked like this last year â€“ the same three restaurants, Los Caballeros, Nanceâ€™s, Cabo Pulmo CafÃ©, the same mountains, sea and sky. It has always been this way. I want to put my ear down to the desert mantle, hear its secrets, to know its longings. Because it has been here far longer than I, because I want to know itâ€™s story and because I know itâ€™s seen everything. Itâ€™s the wise and timeless desert, and standing under the dark moonlit sky I belong to it.
I see a group of horses appear from out of the skyline, probably 8 or 9 including a young foal. They are Mustangs, universal symbols of free-spiritedness, unbridled and pioneering. Thereâ€™s something primal about seeing these wild horses now, appearing from the desert, soon to disappear back into the desert. Do they truly belong to no one? They wander past me on the road, and into the yard of a small adobe looking for food. An older Spanish lady comes out and waves her arms, shooing them away. They oblige, returning to the road again to stop and contemplate their next move. The foal suckles the mother for milk and like looking for water in a cactus, she disappoints. They wander down the road and I am left wondering after them, will they be safe, will the baby find food, will they remain beautiful and free? Yes, the pioneer, the survivor of the dry, desert plain, these live inside me. I have known the hardship accompanying this kind of wild freedom. And I still find it beautiful.
The days here are easy to fill when the heat takes over. In a bigger city, the kids wouldâ€™ve cried boredom throughout. As it is, after day one, not a peep. Too tired to move, thereâ€™s nothing to do but read or organize board games. And go to the beach â€“ a spectacular restorative for contagious Baja lethargy. The initial step is motivating. Inertia, Iâ€™ve discovered, is best overcome through beginning with the simplest tasks: first, put on bathing suit. Next: sunscreen. Riding the momentum gained, gather supplies, towels, cold water, assemble snorkel gear and get in car, quickly. Hooray, forward motion achieved! Our favorite snorkel spot is called Secret Beach, reached by a rocky mile long hike along the edge of a steep cliff. Some of us are afraid of heights, but the little one fearlessly leads the way. Even though the Sea of Cortez is notoriously warm, when we jump in to the water, itâ€™s arctic. Like a refreshing glass of ice-cold tea. The reef is busy today, with Puffer, Moorish Idol, Cortez Angelfish a Sting Ray and lemon-yellow fish that reminds me of needle nose pliers â€“Reef Cornet. Swimming with the fish itâ€™s easy to forget everything but this, the water pulling you in and out with the tide, the amplified sound of the in and out breath through your mask, the delight and surprise of seeing something youâ€™ve never before seen. Sometimes you canâ€™t see anything at all, but your mask has clouded over. So you return to the surface, rinse it out and descend again, realizing that you what you disappointedly mistook for blurry nothingness was untrue -you were surrounded by fluorescent, electric beauty all along.