Somewhere in a summer in the late '70's or early '80's a small group of us pulled into La Gringa for a weeklong campout. We had a small aluminum boat and a 15-horse outboard. Normally when we arrived at the berm between the lagoon and the small bay there were no other campers. This year was different.
We could see from as far away as the summit on the highway that there was some major activity underway at La Gringa, but we headed for the village for a meal and supplies before going out to the beach. We hit Las Hamacas for machaca tacos and a cold Corona or two, and then pressed on to Miguel's Dos Pinos market for block ice. Then we turned in a cloud of dust for La Gringa, wondering about the unusual activity we had noticed there.
The old green houses, the two refrigeration units and the decaying fish-processing plant were not in operation anymore and stood in sad abandonment, peelingpainted and warped thin plywooded sides of walls and roofs slapped against stud ribs in the stiff Baja east wind. The beach was packed almost to capacity with campers.
All along the berm, from the north side of the green huts almost to the mouth of the lagoon were campers, tent trailers, erected sunshades, tarps and parachutes suspended with poles for protection from the pounding sun. And People. Must have been 200 guys, wives and children running, fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, eating and drinking, and sleeping on cots in the shade. I had never seen La Gringa like this before.
We found an open stretch of beach just inside the lagoonmouth and positioned and set up our camp. Coleman stoves and lanterns on tables, ice chests on the shady sides of cars, pop-ups popped, vents and windows opened, portable potties positioned, sun screen applied to the children who were already splashing in the calm waters. We opened icy cervesas and settled in for vacation.
"Who ARE all these people?" we asked each other. No one had a clue. They must have all been in the same group as they seemed to all interact. They were mostly in small cab-over campers, backed toward the bayside and they were positioned with only a few feet between. There were so many boats that they had only feet between them all along that quarter-mile-long beach. There was much camaraderie, laughter, backslapping and general humor amongst the folks just down the beach. Soon several of the guys there wandered over to say hello. They were a gang of firemen from all over the west coast of the States. They came here for a week every summer. We opened cervesas and yakked for a time and then the guys headed back to camp.
"Come join us for potluck." one of them called back. "About 6."
We eased into the afternoon amidst the activities of the firemen and their families, we were invited to fish from a variety of boats by numerous crews headed into the calming gulf, out into the small La Gringa bay, across to Smith's, or early the next morning out to the big island. These guys were friendly.
After they had eaten that first night we watched as the guys rallied just before dusk along the shore on top of the small berm. A golf club appeared and a bucket of used golf balls. One by one the firemen clubbed and sliced one ball each into the sea. After each ball had fallen to the surface, much chiding and verbal slam-dunking passed between the fellows. This was obviously their tradition across many summers. They were determining who did the post-dinner dishes. The guy that drove his ball the least distance did the dishes. And there were a lot of dishes with their large group.
The festivities continued for a few days and then they packed up and pulled out. We felt like we were loosing old friends but wrote out and swapped addresses and telephone numbers before they were gone.
Shortly we were back to the normal tranquil sounds of La Gringa, water lapping on the shore, a slight breeze in the mornings and in the afternoons somewhat brisker. During the midday, after fishing the mornings, we hunted shade and the small gaps between beach and campers where the wind was compressed by the force of resistance and cooler and our small group collected there, on the shady side, sitting on the small stones and in aluminum folding chairs, alternating between quiet talk and our novels, Audubon field guides for beach creatures, birds and desert plantlife. We shifted ice chests out of the sun, ate, laughed and relaxed for a time, reflecting back over the few days with the firefolks. A friendly gregarious lot who spent their time taking care for the rest of us and came here to blow off steam. Good people.
When our time there was up we, too, decamped and headed out, north for the border. We stayed in touch with several of our new friends over the next years. It was pal Barsam who grew his friendship with one of the firemen, Dan Meritt from the Oceanside FD and we connected for a number of summers together there at La Gringa. When we're not so wound up with American trivia it's amazing what develops.