He got home late in the afternoon on Tuesday, turned the ignition key to "Ign" and sat for a moment, wondering about the future and listening to the end of the song playing on the radio.
She met him just inside the door, brought him up to the moment on the days events on the home front. He talked about work then settled in, checked his e-mail.
"Anything happening on the Internet?" He asked. She was IMing on-line with a friend.
"Just some small talk and a couple good posts on Amigos, stuff about the Escallera Nautica." She said, typing. "You remember that this weekend is Memorial Day?"
"Let's do something."
They left early on Friday, cleared the border to Mexico at Tijuana and drove down the toll road toward Ensenada. The road wound atop tall cliffs that fell directly to the sea. The late afternoon sun was bright, the sky clear and blue. Waves smashed at the bases of the cliffs and spume feathered the volcanic rocks there. Far below their elevation they watched seabirds working the airwaves and an occasional panga, netting or hooking fish for their future. Along the highway they were cautioned by signs warning of earthquake slippages in the roadway and wondered for the nth time how long it would be before they'd drive into nothingness, off a road that had fallen hundreds of feet into the ocean below.
They passed through the city, past the port, the pier, along the waterfront. Horse-drawn carriages trotted tourists through town in fading twilight. They passed small homespun taco stands, more formal cafes and restaurants, the family-operated markets and shops, major hotels, tourists everywhere. He braked for a sorry mongrel, a female, teats well-suckled and sagging, ribs protruding, giving life by giving of herself.
"Ah, Spring." He said. They laughed empathetically and continued. He reached for her hand in the seat beside him, shifting with his left across the console. Lights emerged, twinkling as night wound shadowy tentacles through town. They continued, remembering and sharing the many memories they'd built together of this city, town back then, before the California side of the border had swelled and when they had lived to the south and been warmed there; when the boys were young and freshness had flowed through their relationship, a bubbling brook refreshing and rejuvenating everything in its path. They left their country-western station from the north and inherited Mexican romance radio with a sobbing, throbbing beat. Sounds in 3/4 time.
The dusty busyness of Baja surrounded them along the roadsides as they exited town and continued south. A breeze caused waves in the fields of tall grasses on both sides of the road. Naked earth and trash littered the gaps between asphalt and pasture. Men and children on bikes peddled there. Overpacked busses, luggage stacked behind and atop, akimbo, belched blackened gasses into the air. Trucks roared, lurching as they geared up. Loose chickens scattered across open fields and worked the edges of the road, pecking seeds stirred by the passing commotion.
"It's sad that we Gringos see only the dirt and unattended space." He said. "We mostly live in cities and expect everything to be cement and homes, lawns and steel buildings and businesses and pavement. That's not the way it is." He paused, thinking. "Open dirt is acceptable here, expected, desired; litter is not an imperfection, the norm is irregular and no problem. Here there's so much open space and unfinishedness. It's great. I feel relieved and free of a need for perfection." They continued toward the south end of the bay.
Friends had a summer home hanging on the hillsides there, in a rural development, one in an eclectic setting of houses overlooking the bay, had offered to let them stay for their visit. They unlocked and unpacked, opened a Dos Equis each, checked the house out and made things operational. They discussed their objectives. At the top of their list was recovery from the past few months of turmoil at work and home.
"What'll we do now, pal?" She asks, poking him in the ribs. It was 7 in the evening.
"Let's drive out to La Bufadora," He said, "I haven't been out there for 20 years." And so they did.
It was late enough that the shops and food vendors had closed but interesting anyway as there was so much change since he'd been there. Before it had been a quiet and modest tourist attraction, a few vendors, almost no shops. Now, though closed and covered with iron bars and expanded metal doors, the shops lined both sides of the road for a quarter mile before the blowhole. There was not a person in sight and they drove the length of shops, parked near the end and walked throughout the momentary ghost town. She slipped her arm through his. They walked through the deserted streets, discussing plans for the few days they had alone and together with no outside interruptions. This was certainly one road to possible recovery he reflected as they ambled alone amongst the empty shops, arm in arm.
They left deserted Bufadora, stopped for dinner at a small restaurant and were the only customers dining there; scallops, vegetables, rice and two small bottles of water. They talked quietly, wishing there were wines on the menu, paid and headed back to their hillside home.
Together and for only a few moments before the chill settled they sat on the patio overlooking the extended bay and the lights of the city in the distance. The rural highway, a quarter-mile down slope, echoed the sounds of humanity, the rush of small and individual civilizations, almost colonies of ants, busy with their unending tasks, but having no impact on the couple sitting side by side, together above the din of evening. Youngsters including men in the campground below were lighting fireworks, shooting rockets into the air and boomers into the sand, causing muffled explosions, a peaceful war along the shores of the bay.
The coolness soon chased them inside. They sat together on a couch in front of a Mexican brick fireplace, no fire needed, reading and talking for a time, radio turning out more Mexican romance, and then decided to watch a movie. There were no signals broadcast to this remote point, but an ample supply of movies had been captured on tape; they selected one and started it, he poured her a small glass of Hornitos, her favorite, himself a glass of vino blanco. They closed the evening warmly with the movie and backrubs for each, a tradition of long standing.
The bed was a standard double in size, a little smaller than was their custom. He was a restless and light sleeper and worried. "There are two beds, if we won't be comfortable." She said "Not happening here." He said, and they spread unzipped sleeping bags as both foundation and covering and went to sleep almost instantly.
During the night the size of the bed caused them more than the accustomed contact and he found waking up with her hand in his, ankles intertwined, pleasant events, it was so long since they'd shared that degree of intimacy. They were facing each other when their eyes opened. "Look at this fine mess you've made." She said, referring to the sleeping bags spread atop the bed.
"It wasn't me, you bum, its' you that messed it up."
"Look!" she said, you've got it all twisted." She set the covers straight. They laughed and lay looking out windows at a clear, fresh day.
She lay abed for a time. He dressed, made coffee, threw open the double doors and sat outside on the patio. The morning breeze was cool but the sun reflected off the saltillo tiles and was warming. He took in the scene below their borrowed home: a shock and then scatterings of palms covered the distance with brilliant greens glistening from the nights' moisture off the azure of the bay. A small patch of bamboo splashed upward in the distance. The configured down-slope of the hills coupled with the palms and the sea reminded him of Gran Canaria, off the north-west coast of Africa, where the two of them had passed time together a quarter-century before.
From the patio the collection below offered a wide swatch of earth and structure and stone. Red tiled and felt-covered roofs, white flags flying in the north wind, an attic ventilator rotating irregularly, stucco-covered and wooden or cinderblock walls, red and brown earth; introduced gravel and the crisp sound of slow-moving tires thereon, vibrant patches of pink, red and orange bougainvillea and geranium cascading downward over walls of dark lava, a yellow-breasted finch flitting against the wind and taking refuge in the nearest palm next to where he was seated; sparrows snapping up nuts he had placed at a distance on the wall of the grounds; Mockingbirds, everpresent; crow with beakful of baby sparrow chased in a life-to-death moment by new parents; the bristle of fronds from the adjacent palm; the Mexican "finish" of undoneness, brown road climbing steeply up the green hillside of the point in the distance westward, the guttural lug of the water truck making rounds, the raw and unevenness of exposed earth, red and tan with ivy and iceplant forming a tangential and irregular border, fences formed from the long-dead bones of Cardon; shells and small cacti together in a planter.
The wars continued, unending wars - bombs exploding in the distance, fireworks on the beach below. He overlooked it all in safety. In the evening and early morning when the fighting was most intense, possibly fueled by cerveza and tequila even at an early hour, it was startling, almost a localized war that was building but supported only by rockets that soared upward into the sky to explode and reverberate off the nearby mountains, falling downward in irregular patterns, heavy draperies across the green-laden landscape.
She poured coffee and pulled a chair beside him. They shared the moment, she reading and he taking in the grandeur of the scene before them.
"Let's go back to Bufadora today," she said. "I want to show you some things."
In due time they headed there, by day this time, but only after a shared breakfast of machaca and eggs con verdura from a local restaurant.
By the time they arrived at Bufadora it was nearing noon. He was amazed at the number of pedestrians and automobile traffic, so different from the night before. Thousands of men, women and children, Mexican and American, filled the single narrow street they had driven unimpeded the night before, leading to the blowhole. Cars were everywhere and myriad flag-waving attendants were soliciting everyone to choose this lot or that and press pesos into their palms for parking. Traffic cops blew whistles and stopped the progress of automobiles along the street, directing them to the lots. They parked and paid and walked toward the shops.
The steel store doors of the hundreds of shops, so closed the night before were now removed and unseen. Salespeople waved and hailed them to view the wares of each tiny tienda and buy their goods. An occasional automobile made an attempt at threading through the throng of humanity, dogs, bikes, motorcycles. So rich was the explosion of colors the mind was boggled. The essence of foodstuffs wafted along the way, fresh tamales, corn, beer, plastic cups filled with multicolored fresh fruit, tacos.
They walked the length of the bazaar down and back inspecting shops that carried the goods they wanted, enameled plates. They found them, engaged the owner, a woman in her 40's, told her they were buyers and wanted best prices and then set about picking plates from the many positioned on the walls of her small shop, squashed amidst others. She cut them a good discount based on quantity and they agreed. He fetched the truck and wound slowly toward the shop amidst myriad pedestrians while she paid the matron, who told them she'd been involved at Bufadora for over twenty years, starting with a simple taco stand. Delia was her name and it was nice to see that success was available here. She had older twin girls and a younger daughter, still in school she told them.
"She's not interested in boys' yet." She said.
Together they loaded truck with pottery, bid adieu to Delia, and inched back toward home amidst mobs of pedestrians.
They were done buying their dishes by two that afternoon, drove into and walked Lopez Mateos in Ensenada, had a late lunch and were back at home for the night before five. There was no need for dining out that evening, they'd shared a late lunch in town. They watched the sun set and then picked another movie and clustered on the couch with just the two of them in way too long and a romantic movie was playing on the screen in front of them and filling their minds and hearts.
The movie over, drying eyes and discussing the plans for tomorrow. "Erendira?" he proposed. They had already discussed what might be an interesting day trip off the highway to the south.
"Sure." She said.
Then it was off to bed.
In the midst of the dark night she felt the frame of the bed shaking against the headboard, she's awake and not knowing why. She's not aware what's happening. She listens, tries to comprehend.
He's crying, asleep, it seems.
"Honey," she calls to him, shakes him. "Are you alright?"
"MMMMmmm?" He mumbles. "What?" he asks. He sits up, sobbing, feeling his body shake and wretch under the stress. He looks at the clock: it's four in the morning. "I saw a child, abandoned." He tells her. Tears are streaming down his cheeks into, out of beard, falling on chest and sleeping bag. He was confused yet had no explanation, only a slight recollection of his inability to help a defenseless situation in an unsolvable dilemma. She sat up, held him as he tried to sort thoughts, make sense out of unknowns.
"Don't know." He said after a time. "Don't know."
They sat for a time with her holding him, comforting him in his confusion, wondering the significance of the dream, probably never to be understood.
Morning was another day and his dream in background now and Erendira up front and they left with the midmorning sun shining warmly, with high clouds. They drove south and stopped at a favorite hotel and restaurant at Santo Tomas for breakfast. The campground across the narrow road was crawling with dirt bikers and dune buggies, folks gearing up, perhaps for the Baja 500 the coming weekend. Spirits were high. They paid and continued to the turnoff.
As they left the junction of the highway and the Erendira road, a major tractor-trailer had overturned, minutes before, was laying on its side hanging over a ravine and thousands of cases of canned drinks were scattered across the landscape. He pulled over and asked if they could help. No one was injured, there was nothing to be done, and they continued toward the beach.
The road to Erendira leaves the highway paved and arrives as dirt about ten miles later, at the village, having passed through an agricultural community with electricity and many riverbed wells and pumps. They followed the yellow markers of recently installed underground telephone conduit, imagining how happy the villagers were with the recent addition of infrastructure. The road followed a narrow canyon lined with sycamores, desert shrubs, yucca and century. As they approached the coast they noticed a few unusual pine trees, nestled along the cliffs near the road, not common in this area, they thought.
"We should check out these camps as another potential for M's BBBB get-togethers." He said.
They swung south at the village to check out Malibu Beach. Nice, not spectacular, but it gave them an opportunity to shut off the engine and stand on the bluff overlooking the breakers of the Pacific in a place they had never been, might never be again, and remember they were alone and that the clock was ticking, bells about to ring announcing the dawn of another workday and life or death.
"I love you." He said, offering, giving a kiss.
"Love you too." She took his hand.
The road from Erendira north was populated with campgrounds, many single- and multiple-family sites, some supported and others not, snuggled along low dunes and bluffs that hugged the shore and providing easy access to the sandy beaches interspersing the rocky shoreline. The road was clear and intended for two-wheel drive with a few high-center moments, passable either way. They passed camps large enough to be listed on the map: Puerto San Isidro, El Distiladera, Punta Cabra, others unmentioned, Half-Moon Bay, Las Playitas, Tampico, then a spare fish camp at La Calavera.
Shortly they turned inland and the return leg to the highway, still miles distant, the road climbing, winding through steep hillside passes and threading down into the inland valleys that connected eventually with the paved highway 1.
It was a nice day, warm, and their windows were down, A/C on low and no reception on the radio to speak of. They were alone and happy to be and the dirt road continued and they were content together. He was thinking that when they were alone together it was less stressful than more competitive social scenes. Why? Not a clue, but he was WAY outgoing, she more conservative.
They bounced over decomposed granite through a small valley of gently rolling hills and, rounding a turn, encountered the tiny Ejido of Nativo del Valle, a collection of a few simple houses and families well into the outback, some 15 miles from the road. A man was standing near the road, looked at them as they passed, motionless. They stopped the truck and asked in Spanish if he needed a ride. He did. He was carrying a large metal pot with lid and his jacket. It was Sunday.
He climbed into the back seat and sat the pot on the seat beside him. They asked where he was headed and he explained he was going to Maneadero to visit his wife and children. He was carrying fresh mussels in his pot for their Sunday dinner. Under question, he said that he'd lived in the Ejido for the last fifteen years. They were known in that area for growing hops or barley, for beer. Apparently he visited his family every Sunday then returned home that night, a distance of some 25 miles one-way, much of which was by dirt road.
At Santo Tomas they stopped and bought two sodas and a beer and continued north. It was late in the day and shadows were forming and the sunlight easing and the marine layer building along the coast. Colors were returning to the landscape. The three of them continued from Santo Tomas along the pavement, seeming smooth after miles of dirt, north into Maneadero. Their friend with the muscles in his pot indicated where they could drop him. They asked if he didn't want a ride up the road to his home and family. They were hoping for greater insight into understanding Mexico and lifestyles there, but he was content to be left at the side of the road. Perhaps he was humiliated at his accoutrements? They hoped that was not the case because he had, in many ways, what they had been searching for a substantial part of their lives. He climbed out of the back seat, thanked them and was off with no further apparent thought, home for the Sunday meal.
They returned to the casa. It was late afternoon and they were leaving the next morning, going back to the border and work and a whole other existence the rules of which did not apply on the southern side of the great divide.
They sat in the failing sunshine for a last time on the patio, radio working in the living room, enjoying the scene below. The Mexican part of the weekend had left the day before, Sunday, as it was not a holiday for them. Few Americans remained. The wars on the beach had ended. The shops and restaurants were either closed or empty. Tranquility reigned. She read, he jotted notes on a single sheet of paper he had taken from a closet.
As the evening was on them, he asked if they wanted to eat something. They ended up driving once again to Bufadora where they ate at Celia's, overlooking the craggy coastline of the southern side of the point and the many homes there. They were almost alone surrounded with a group of families too young to have children the age of theirs. Babies tottered between tables, offering happy distractions to conversations. Food was acceptable, the service friendly but inattentive and untrained.
"American expectations," he said, referring to the waiter, "who cares?" But they were aware, nevertheless.
They ordered a single plate of Camorones Mojo de Ajo. The entrée was preceded by a simple salad with a unique cilantro dressing and creative lentil soup and was served with sautéed vegetables smothered in Mexican Cheese and Spanish rice. On exit, the town was empty once again. Ashes to ashes, he thought. Time here is almost over.
They drove the miles back to the home without talking. They were thinking about the trip, their future and how to regain a degree of happiness they perhaps had let slip somewhat from its former state.
They had lived such a varied and passionate lifestyle for so many years, had traveled the parts of the world they cared to, lived there, loved there, borne children there. They had accomplished what they wanted together and individually. Maybe, now, it was time for a change.
During their dining evenings she had consistently produced a paper, 8.5x11 in size. On the first night it was blank. She laid it on the table between them. "What will we do for our house in Baja?" She asked.
He was surprised and just looked at her for a moment. He pulled the mechanical pencil from the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt and drew a beach and shoreline, then a single line that represented the leading, seaward edge of their home.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"Positioning the house." He said.
"Just draw the arrangement of rooms."
"Can't do that without knowing the direction of the prevailing winds and the position of the sun." He said.
She smiled gently at him, laughed. He looked up at her, questioning. They realized they had such unique attitudes toward issues, even after so many years together, that they approached many things from different angles. They laughed and he continued to orient their imagined home on a beach at Bahia de Los Angeles, just so, early sun and appropriate ventilation, and they were off into a planning process that entertained them for so many segments of their trip.
And then it was time to head back to another home. They closed the facilities they had opened just days before and cleaned house, packed. And they were off, north for the frontier, always north it seemed, and the unknowns that lay lurking there, possible impediments to their personal progress. It was always a steep climb, going north, with the wind in their faces and pressing shirts against chests and breasts and directing them south toward their shared loves, the remote beaches and sands and stones of their peaceful peninsula.
In their truck, and for the final time on this landed voyage across so many moments of reality and imagination, he griped her hand, slipped his fingers amidst hers. They realized the importance of the small vacation they had just shared and the implications thereof.
"How is it we get so uptight? He asked.
"Don't know," she demurred, knowing.
"Could we live forever in Baja? He asked. "I don't think so. Not forever, we'd want to go home from time to time. But across seasons? Yes. Several months here and there, in simple homes." He said. "I can see us regaining what we once had by spending time here with just us and those who choose to join in."
And down now wound the day, into evening and then night. Those two were working into the contentment and a lifestyle that would be modified to remove the issues that had led them astray with aspirations of complete fulfillment and expectations of absolute successes. They were now down to the realities of the moment. They knew that the issue was to capture for a point in time that which they really wanted, to sacrifice, in part at least, their early dreams of grand mansions and mighty lifestyles. They knew now that they were actually closer to each other amongst the simplicities of Baja.
They had been away for just a few days but that was all it had taken to begin repair of the relationship that had been so impacted by the stress of their daily life in another world. They knew they could be happy with the lesser demands of Baja, a simple house on a quiet beach, food caught daily at little cost, lack of electricity or telephone, a serious reduction from the stress of northern work and social lives. For certain there would still be problems, heavy weather, from time to time. But they knew from prior experiences that these would pull them together rather than drive them apart.
"Isn't it funny that we had to leave home to find home?" He asked.
They both recognized that love was an ingredient of the warm
wind that blew from the north. Together they continued into a
shared unknown, but just for a short while