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Stories by Mike Humfreville

La Bocana, Mr. Gomez and Jack Smith    ( Posted November 5, 2002 )

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 friends' house.

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:

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 as well.

"Beside all that," I asked, "who engineered Calvin Lambourne?"

Copyright 2002-2006 Mike Humfreville

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