Mary Ann and I checked through the border at 5 or so in the afternoon
last Friday. Deb, Don and Brendan arrived by 6. We had plans to just
hang out for the weekend at the cabin of a friend, on Punta Banda. On
Saturday we gathered midmorning and decided on a short trip down to La
Bocana. That's the place Jack Smith popularized in the 1970?s book "God
and Mr. Gomez."
We five fit into and settled in POT II (Poor Old Trooper, a spin-off of
Poor Old Truck, our first battered and bumperless Nisan pickup) by ten
in the morning. We had to be back by 4 for a water delivery at our
We wound down the just-repaved asphalt toward Santo Thomas and stopped
before our adventure for eats at the restaurant there. Then we retraced
our steps to the turnoff for La Bocana, clearly signed and across the
riverbed north of town. It took us about half an hour to negotiate the
20-mile long, wide, graded and well-washboarded road. There are several
routes. The higher one hugs the low foothills along the northern side of
Santo Tomas canyon and is a little longer and windier. We took that one
into the valley.
In the draught we've been having on the west coast, there was no water
in the river. But the day was clear and warm for November, the sky blue
with no clouds and there were serious signs of an aquifer just beneath
the sands of the riverbed. Towering Oak and Sycamore grew alongside the
roadway and similarly in the dry watercourse, along with many bright-
and dark-green low-desert shrubs and cultivated crops.
Before long, signs of civilization were showing and then we arrived
beside a grove of low, dense trees, salt pines or some such, growing
along the edges of a widening in the riverbed, just at a point where the
flow reached the ocean.
The natural geological factors apparently forced the water, carried to
this point by the subterranean aquifer, back to the surface. A large
sand berm, created by the smashing waves of the great Pacific, separated
the fresh water from the ocean. The terminus of the riverbed collected
many acre-feet of water in the form of a large pond. Seabirds, land
birds, cattle and horses waded in the shallows, munching grasses and
sucking fluids, much appreciated in an otherwise dry environment.
Several families picnicked on blankets in the shade of the trees. Grass,
supported by the fresh water, covered the entire area with various
shades of green. It is a beautiful place.
We took in the scenery a while and then drove to a low rise, northwest,
where we could see several houses. This led us about 2 miles north.
Several gringo-style homes are scattered along the steep bluffs in this
region, with plenty of distance from each other, for adequate serenity.
We wound up at what seemed to be the end of the road, in Puerto Santo
Tomas, a collection of typical huts, warm and basic. An older man told
us where we were and asked if we were interested in renting a house. He
told us about their Internet web site. I was surprised. That was pretty
sophisticated stuff for this far into the outback. While writing this
piece, I loaded their site and, while it's not quite finished, it was
very informative. Here it is: http://www.puertosantotomas.com.
We wound slowly back to La Bocana, wondering which house had originally
belonged to Jack Smith, the author. We had all read the book and were
anxious to identify with what we could. Back at the ponds, we were about
to scout out the few houses south of the small lake when another vehicle
approached. I stopped and pulled aside the narrow roadbed to permit
passage. The SUV coming toward us contained only one person, a
middle-aged guy. He stopped in the road beside us. We just sort of
talked, the kind of thing you do only on a dirt road in remote places
where the demands of society aren't overwhelming and it's nice to share
a few moments together.
The man's name was Calvin Lambourne. He was from Idaho, where he spent
half his time, summers, assumedly. He spent the other half here in La
Bocana. During the course of our conversation he mentioned that God and
Mr. Gomez, Jacks book, had brought him here.
"That's why we're here too." We said, excited.
"Follow me," he says. So we did.
He started his truck and I turned around. We followed him for three
informative stops. The first was the home of Mr. Gomez, the hero of
Jack's book, where one of Gomez's sons lived. A nearby house was where
Gomez's otherr son, Sergio, now lived. Gomez has been dead for some
time, but his house was still there. Calvin passed on some local history
of the Gomez family.
We moved on to our second stop, which turned out to be Calvin's house.
He informed us that he is a botanist. His stint in life is to develop
and improve the mighty snap pea. He didn't know it, of course, but
that's Mary Ann's fav veggi. We're served them on a weekly basis. Calvin
fills us in on other tidbits of the local history.
Then we move on to tourstop three, the final one: the home Gomez and his
men built for Jack Smith. We discuss the details of construction,
well-covered in the book and supported by local knowledge. Calvin
informs us that one of Gomez's sons enjoyed the book; the other did not;
I sensed he might have been insulted. I could understand both views. I
felt like we were now part of the whole affair, in a way I would never
have if it hadn't been for one Calvin Lambourne, who develops snap peas.
Who'd have thought of such a complex intervention on a dusty backwater
Baja road? Life's full of surprises.
On the return leg to the highway, we drove the lower route. As much as
we could, that is. The dust was flying and the winds twisting, forming
currents that covered POT. The day was still fresh, even that late into
the afternoon. Our windows, rolled down to let us identify with the day,
a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance deal, our old truck carried
the five of us back to the pavement and northward to Punta Banda.
By mid-evening it was cool enough to require a small fire at our
friend's hearth. We gathered wood. Debra set the fire. Soon it was
aflame and building in a small way and throwing yellow-golden lightshows
off the red-orange Mexican brick by which we were protected against the
ravages of nature, nonexistent at that moment. We threw glances and
introspections off the lights and water below, also reflecting. We
traded moments of our shared day, realized how pleased we were to be
together away from the hubbub of Southern California.
"Well," one of us said, "that was quite a time. We met Jack Smith's
house and most of the remaining Gomez family."
"The little lake was lovely."
"Calvin Lambourn certainly is an interesting fellow," another commented.
"Can you imagine actually genetically building a snap pea?"
Somehow, I thought, just to myself, there's more to life than
engineering snap peas. Calvin Lambourne cared about those other things
"Beside all that," I asked, "who engineered Calvin Lambourne?"