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
"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.
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.