Georgette the Water Bearer

So after heatstroke, what should appear on the horizon, but a tropical storm – dubbed Tropical Storm Georgette by the good people at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. She blew up right off the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, so there was not much time between “All is Clear” and “Oh Shit! Watch out below!” (and yes, I believe “shit” should be capitalized in this case). We didn’t even have time to put the hurricane panels back up. 
The wind began Monday night, while I was still recovering from heatstroke. Trying to put up large pieces of plywood in a stiff wind is never a good idea. Trying to carry them up a ladder onto an unstable awning while recovering from heatstroke is just dumb. So we didn’t.

Tuesday the wind kicked up a notch and there were huge white caps on the sea and big messy waves crashing on the shore. These were not ridable waves, for any of you going down the “Rad man! Let’s go surfing!” path. They were a mess because of the 30-mile per hour winds creating them. The clouds offered welcome relief from the sun’s penetrating rays. Then the rain began, slowly, but persistently, in a nice shower that gradually washed the accumulated dirt from the surrounding desert making the green of the leaves jump out from the blackening background.

At first the rain also cleaned the windows of their coating of salt and dirt that we had yet to wash off, but as the storm progressed and the wind picked up they were dirtied again by more salt and dirt and bits of vegetation swept up from the garden. Soon we could barely see through the crud the storm had seen fit to throw at us.

There is something very special about rain in the desert. It produces a fragrance unlike any I’ve detected elsewhere. It’s sweet and strong, unexpectedly so, like the desert is releasing of a year’s worth of aromas, aromas previously trapped under the sun-baked crust of the earth. With the rain the hardness is softened, scents escaping into the soft, moist air. It never occurred to me that decomposition could smell so good.

Georgette took the west coast route up the peninsula and then veered east above La Paz to join the Sea of Cortez where she began to lose strength. Thanks to the inch and a half of rain she delivered, the desert is alive now with flowers and seedlings that form a carpet of green over the sandy earth.


Baja Califaction

The day after arriving in Mexico, we busied ourselves reorganizing and cleaning two months’ accumulated dirt, dust and a frightening number of dead cockroaches from inside the house. Never before have I lived somewhere where the window screens need to be cleaned so often. They become encrusted with dust and salt from the ocean-scented air. And that’s when they are stored inside the closed house! The tracks of sliding doors fill with silt and salt and all manner of tiny creature remains.

We sweat like a cold coke on a hot day and would have similarly left circular puddles on the floor if we’d stood still long enough. (Note, you can never drink enough water in the desert in summertime.) I glanced at the temperature gauge – it indicated it was already 94 degrees Fahrenheit at 10:00am.

Pressing things done, I suggested we take a run down to Nine Palms surf break. Winds were calm and the surf appeared to be 4-6 feet in front of our house. I had already checked and the surf was supposed drop and the wind pick up in the coming days, so if I was going to get any surfing in, it was now or not for several days.

We loaded the ATV with boards, ice water, snacks for the man and plied ourselves with 60 SPF sunscreen.

I felt the skin on my face heating up as we made our way South, too slow to induce the kind of cooling breeze that I craved. The sun was strong and it’s reflection off the road’s light-colored sand penetrated my sunglasses and barraged my eyes. The air was stifling and my breathing became labored as I tried to suck the seemingly limited oxygen from it. It occurred to me that the air was too hot to provide any cooling effect and as we progressed it felt as though we were under a broiler. We were in El Inferno! Dawn’s Hell.

It is only 4.5 miles to the surf break. As I got off the bike, my head swam and I felt my pulse thumping in my ears. “Oh oh,” I thought and quickly took a seat under the shade of a palm-thatched umbrella.

“Hand me the water please,” I said without looking up, hand extended, while I concentrated on getting my head to stop swimming. I took a gulp of ice-cold water. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of what I was hoping was nothing, so I sat quietly and examined the surf.  It was mushy and not as big as I expected. Waist to shoulder high. No need to rush.

I began to feel a bit better as the coolness of the water in my stomach began to bring down my core temperature. I figured once I got in the water it would cool me down even more. So, feeling composed, I slowly began to get ready to go out.

The small waves meant a mellow paddle out, but I felt the effects of weeks of not surfing – muscles that didn’t respond with the vigor or strength I was accustomed to.

It’s a long paddle out to the take off point at Nine Palms. By the time I got out there, I was surprised that I was out of breath. “Wow, I knew I was out of shape, but I didn’t think it was this bad.” My face felt hot the way it does any time I exert a lot of effort (I was called Lobster Face in grade school), so I didn’t think anything of it. I splashed myself with water, but, man it was warm, hardly refreshing at all.

A few waves into the session, my face started to throb again and I realized that the problem wasn’t that I was out of shape. I was still overheated and experiencing the effects of heatstroke!

As I felt my breathing become labored again, I knew it was time to get out. I got lucky and caught the next wave all the way to the beach. I slowly pulled my now exhausted body out of the water with what seemed a ludicrous amount of effort.

I spent another half hour under the umbrella sipping ice water and then we headed for home where I ended up spending the rest of the day recuperating lying in bed under a ceiling fan set to max. I still felt a little weak the following day.

This is why people typically move a lot slower in the tropics. This is Baja in the summertime.


Home Sweat Home

Back in Baja and the first thing I notice is the smells. First, there was the acrid body odor that accosted my nostrils as soon as I got in the car with Gregorio, the guy from the place where we store our car. Then there was the powerful, almost unbearable odor of rotting animal flesh emanating from the car’s AC vents. 
I knew better – you have to put rat poison under the hood if you’re gonna leave a car sitting for long.
We were lucky all the little bastard did was die and stink up the car. Rats and mice around here are notorious for destroying the wiring in cars left sitting for more than a few days at a time by unsuspecting owners.
What is it with rats and wiring? Why do they feel the need to gnaw on plastic insulation?
Our house in Mexico is powered by solar. So we have an inverter and a controller that are part of the overall system. A heavy-duty wire connects them, delivering the energy capturedto the batteries where it’s stored. Shortly after installing an independent system for the guest house, a particularly large rat decided to munch on this wire. The result? A rather rank and rent rat accompanied by a temporarily disabled solar system.
At the end of the hour and a half long drive along a rutted and windy dirt road to our home, we entered the house. After being closed tight for weeks, the air was stifling, seemingly devoid of oxygen. I felt  like I’d just walked into a house-sized oven. The house plants were bent and wilted. Tiny baby geckos lay dried like beef, or should I say, reptilian jerky. The sweat began to pour off of us as soon as we entered. It was uncomfortably hot and I, for one, slowed down.  It wasn’t a conscious act, but done out of some kind of instinct for self-preservation. I checked the temperature gauge in my little office and discovered it was 97 degrees F with 86% humidity. It was 6pm.
With little more than an hour left of daylight, we hurried to take the hurricane panels off all the windows and sliding doors so we could air the house out –  we hoped in time for bed.
Some time after 8pm, we finally stopped to eat under a ceiling fan that dried the accumulated sweat from our bodies leaving behind a layer of salt. Then we began preparations for bed. A shower to wash away the accumulated dirt and salt, the stench that is the reality of desert life. I couldn’t help but notice as I used the commode that the seat felt strangely like it possessed its own internalized source of heat – like I imagine the thrones in swanky hotels in cold weather climates might have. In Canada, we’d be the envy of the whole neighborhood. Here, not so much.
We lay in bed, ceiling fan on max, and I tried to ignore that same solar heat emanating from within the mattress.  As I tossed and turned, exposing heated flesh to the cooling breeze of the fan, my body’s memory brought me to consider how wonderful this same heat would feel were it snow instead of sand outside and this a cold Canadian winter’s night.

So, do you prefer this font? or do you prefer the Arial font I normally use? Feel free to chime in with any and all constructive input.

More on FONTS.

The Journey

Last night, the Iniciativa Mexico competition between the five finalists of the Environmental category was held on live television. I watched the TV Azteca coverage via the internet. Technology is amazing! Allowing me to watch a Mexican television program via the transmission of millions of 0s and 1s (bits and bytes of information moving at incredible speeds over thousands of miles). It is mind blowing to consider how far we have come technologically in the last 100 years.
Mario Castro did a great job as the representative for Amigos para la Conservacion de Cabo Pulmo. He was up against some very stiff competition. Voting was done by telephone, instant message and online and the project receiving the greatest number of votes from all over Mexico and abroad was declared the victor. “Agua para Siempre” Water for Always was the winner. ACCP came in third, receiving 14% of the votes. It was predictable that in a popular vote, Agua para Siempre would win because the availability of clean drinking water and water for every day purposes is still a serious issue throughout Mexico. It is something that affects millions of lives daily, so it speaks to a very broad audience. The protection of a fragile reef system is something less immediate, less important to people who don’t have clean water to drink or bathe in.
Although ACCP did not win by popular vote, there is still the chance that they will be chosen by the technical counsel to continue on to the finals. In each category, the technical counsel reserves the right to choose a project that they feel is worthy of further consideration. I remain optimistic that ACCP will be given another chance in the Iniciativa Mexico competition because the reef that they work so hard to protect is internationally recognized as a treasure and is important as a nursery for commercially important species of fish. Regardless of what happens, ACCP can be proud to have made it to the semi-finals, one of 25 groups chosen out of 47,049 entries. They have also succeeding in bringing much needed attention to their work and to Cabo Pulmo National Park. If you took the time to vote last night, thank you.
Today preparations are being made to leave Maui tomorrow. We will fly to San Bruno, California, just south of San Francisco, the same place where last Thursday there was a huge natural gas explosion, killing at least four people (many are still unaccounted for) and destroying 37 homes. In the blink of an eye, many lives were changed forever, reminding us to live each day as though it is our last. We never know when our time here will be over, when we will utter those last words to a love one, see them for the last time.
On Saturday we will fly on to Mexico, to the heat of the desert, to the tranquil blue waters of the Sea of Cortez, to live life to the fullest.

Watering the Garden

It’s your chance to make a difference.

No, I’m not going to ask you for money. All you have to do is make a tiny effort that could make a huge difference to many people and a very special place on this planet of ours.

Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico is a picturesque, isolated little village on the east coast of the Baja Peninsula, just an hour’s drive from the Los Cabos International Airport.

Cabo Pulmo

In the crystal clear aquamarine waters off the coast, the largest, most pristine coral reef in the Sea of Cortez is home to immense schools of fish, over 40 species of coral, and innumerable invertebrates. Humpback Whales, whale sharks, blue whales, dolphins and porpoises migrate through the area regularly. Four species of sea turtle eat and reproduce in her waters and lay their eggs on her sandy beaches.

Fish block out the sun over Cabo Pulmo Reef

In 2005, UNESCO recognized the ecological importance of this unique habitat and designated it a World Heritage Site.

In 2002, I moved to Cabo Pulmo to promote conservation of the reef. After a few false starts and several months after moving to Cabo Pulmo, I met Mario Castro, the owner of one of the three dive shops operating in the village. I convinced him to accompany me to a conservation workshop organized by WildCoast that was designed to educate fishermen and tourism operators about sea turtle conservation. After one of the presentations, Mario approached me, eyes wide and said “Dawn, we have to do something!  I had no idea so many animals are in danger of extinction. We have to teach the children about this!”

Together Mario and I organized meetings in Cabo Pulmo hoping others would share our vision of turning Cabo Pulmo into an example of grassroots conservation. Eventually our efforts paid off, and along with local fishermen, dive guides, housewives, ex pats and many children, Amigos para la Conservacion de Cabo Pulmo (Friends for the Conservation of Cabo Pulmo) was born.

Female sea turtle laying her eggs on Cabo Pulmo beach

Our first projects focused on sea turtle conservation. We began nest protection throughout the park and the first SCUBA-based in-water monitoring project in the northern hemisphere. In 2005, our goal of a reef monitoring project lead by local divers was realized. Today the group has 27 card-carrying members and many more volunteers and supporters from around the world. But our efforts are often hampered by a lack of funds. Group members are constantly supporting efforts with their own limited resources.

Now we are fighting hard to stop the construction of a mega-resort development  along the northern limits of the park. If allowed to proceed as planned, Cabo Cortes will be a city larger than any currently on the peninsula. We need only look at toursm developments like Cancun to understand that the potential for runoff from this development to harm or kill the Cabo Pulmo coral reef system is huge. So far, ACCP along with other groups have been successful in getting the environmental permits for the project revoked. But it’s only a matter of time before the political machine pushes approval through again.

But there is hope. Recently, ACCP was chosen as one of only 25 finalists from among 47049 proposals submitted to a national competition Iniciativa Mexico. We are thrilled to have made the finals! And hope that it will bring international attention to the plight of the Cabo Pulmo reef in the face of Cabo Cortes.

Iniciativa Mexico is a national project that seeks to rescue Mexico “the dynamic and enterprising” and recognize and celebrate the initiative of people who through their efforts are working for the Mexico we all want. IM is a call to action.

This Sunday Sep 12th at 9:30 PM Mountain Time on the television channels Televisa and TV Azteca, Mario will represent ACCP in a televised interview that is the next step in the selection process for Iniciativa Mexico. During this time you can vote for ACCP by simply making a phone call. Please water the seed of this initiative with your vote. UNESCO believes that Cabo Pulmo National Park deserves international protection. Do you?

You can watch the interview live on Sunday night by clicking one of the links below.


Watch on Televisa or TV Azteca

The Seed of You

Lately, I’ve become increasingly aware of an ongoing mental struggle I’ve been experiencing. It’s something many of us struggle with, something I’ve written of here before – Discipline, Organization, Productivity with the goal of producing something of broad, if not universal, value. Discipline and organization are clearly the parts needed to produce the whole of productivity. They are not however things I am well-known for (yet). I am in awe of anyone who is capable of them and is producing something that touches people, enhances their lives in some way – whether by feeding their bodies or their souls.

Yesterday, the Universe sent me a troop of messengers with answers to my dilemma. These messengers wore bloggers’ and poets’ clothing. They had much to say about how to live with heart, fulfill our purpose in life and limit our time surfing the net, reading blog posts, getting pulled down the rabbit hole of endless information consumption. The internet has much to offer, but in the course of offering us answers to almost any and every question, it can also be a huge black hole that can pull us away from our quest to produce something meaningful every day.

The answers suggested ways, both complicated and simple, to streamline my web browsing and have made me acutely aware (where I was formerly only, sorta, kinda, in a denial kind of way, aware) of how much time I waste each day reading “stuff” on the internet which does not further my goal of becoming a published author. They also hinted at how to lead a life of purpose and meaning…something a bit more intangible, but for which we can also exercise discipline and organization.

To wit,

What to Remember When Waking

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

~ David Whyte ~


Book Review: Saltwater Buddha versus Kook

I just finished reading Jaimal Yogis’ book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea, for a second time. I read it in one sitting, stopping only to have lunch.
I don’t normally make a habit of reading a book twice, not even really good books (one notable exception is Watership Down, which I read no less than three times before the age of 13). So why this book?
The main reason I read it again was to make a comparison – I wanted to compare it to the book Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller, which I finished yesterday. On the face of it they are very similar books and yet, they are very different. And I wanted to jog my memory about the first book in hopes of determining what made one better than the other.
Both books are memoirs and both are about surfing from the perspective of someone who, at the beginning of the book, is learning to surf. Both books include descriptions of many of the basic aspects of learning to surf and the difficulties one encounters doing so. That is where the similarities end.Saltwater Buddha is well-written and concise. It is shorter by about 30%, but it felt like I learned more about the author’s journey from those pages than in the longer book. In Kook, Peter Heller’s writing is rambling, often repetitive and at times frustratingly verbose. One might say that Heller is the more experienced writer and Kook a more literary narrative, but I think that’s just a bunch of pompous hooey. The simplicity, or one might say “Zen” nature of Jaimal Yogis’s writing is what makes it such a pleasure to read. It’s adherence to the “less is more” paradigm makes his book stand out and above Heller’s.I am not alone in my opinion that Saltwater Buddha is good. One need only go to to see that 73 people share this point of view. I think that the main reason for this is that Jaimal’s writing is straight-forward and unadorned. It flows, keeps moving and before you know it the ride is over. It’s as though he is right there telling you his story. He doesn’t get caught up with the sound of his own voice. He stays on point, writes from his heart.

Peter Heller’s writing, by contrast, is full of flowery descriptions and uncommonly used three syllable words. It’s often rambling and repetitive leaving this reader frustrated and wondering where he was taking me. His ego seems to have driven the process so he tries too hard and the result is often jarring and awkward. That goes for his writing, but imagine the same might be true of his surfing.

Here are a couple of examples of how differently the two author’s treat the same experience: They both are particularly overwhelmed by their egos at one point and get irate at another surfer for getting in their way. They both get angry and yell at the offending beginner. However, Jaimal catches himself and makes the effort to apologize for his thoughtless, ego-centric reaction. He vows not to let it happen again. No apology is issued by Mr. Heller and I got the sense that he continued to believe he was in the right. A second illustration of the differing perspectives expressed by the authors is made clear when early on in Kook, Heller declares that the Aloha Spirit, an integral part of surfing since its inception, is pretty much dead. Had Heller read Saltwater Buddha, like any good writer doing his research, he might have had to reevaluate this opinion. Or he could have just been more observant and checked his own testosterone-addled perspective on the beach. I’m sure he would have witnessed the admittedly endangered, but still kicking Aloha Spirit among the boards and rashguards out there somewhere.

In summary, the writing by these two authors seems to be a clear reflection of their personalities and lives: Jaimal is a soul-surfing Zen practitioner and Peter a egotist who would benefit from learning to meditate. Both books offer an entertaining description of the trials of learning to surf, but Saltwater Buddha does it with grace, humility and depth.

If not for you

If not for you, babe, I couldn’t find the door
Couldn’t even see the floor
I’d be sad and blue if not for you.

If not for you, baby, I’d lay awake all night
Wait for the morning light
To shine in through
But it will not be new if not for you.

If not for you, my sky would fall, rain would gather too
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
I’d be lost if not for you
And you know it’s true.

If not for you, my sky would fall, rain would gather too
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
Oh what would I do if not for you ?

If not for you, winter would have no spring
I couldn’t hear the robins sing
I just wouldn’t have a clue
Anyway it wouldn’t ring true if not for you
If not for you, if not for you. 

Bob Dylan