Tropical Storm Hector: Day 4

View to the point at 8:30am. There’s blue sky up there!

This is the fourth installment of a series of blogs describing my experience of events surrounding the first measurable rainfall we’ve had on the East Cape of Baja in four years.

Last night I fell asleep instantly and was haunted by dreams of unrequited desire after speed reading Chapter Six of 50 Shades of Grey. I woke up at some ungodly hour and upon opening my eyes, was relieved to see stars twinkling outside my window.

This morning there are big grey and white fluffy, not-at-all-foreboding clouds riddling the sky and the sun peaks out every several minutes giving me a sense that we may be over the hump.

I start the kettle for coffee, open all the windows to let the air circulate and check the status of my internet connection. Only two green lights peer back at me, “Damn!” I’d hoped to get the latest on road conditions. Next I check Zee’s leg for infection – so far so good – and I notice she is putting more weight on it, a very good sign. I still have to beg her to come outside with me to do her business though, which tells me she is still in some pain.

I begin the process of assessing the property for rain damage – there are two large and deep erosion channels, both of which threaten to undermine the integrity of expensive infrastructure (a stone wall and a walkway).  I put the caretaker Felipe to work filling the holes with large boulders and rocks, the only sure way to dissipate the destructive energy of running water.

A dark cloud passes overhead sending a fine mist down over us, but it is short lived and the clouds are slowly dissipating. I feel a surge in the humidity as the sun’s rays make passage and strike the moist ground. Cicadas buzz and a cactus wren calls with her harsh, metallic “char, char, char” call seemingly adding to the intensity of the tropical sun. I inhale the moist air, rich with the scent of wet detritus in the sandy soil, which, thanks to the sudden availability of moisture and the sun’s heat, have begun to break down. The air on my skin feels soft and my body drinks the moisture in. The sun feels good on my damp feet.

View to the point at 10:30am

By mid-morning the sea is beginning to clear further out and currents are creating patterns of clean azure blue and green sediment-laden water. I watch on and off throughout the morning as the water circulates and moves creating different swirls of green on blue. I find it fascinating how dynamic the system is.

The internet comes back on long enough for a series of messages related to road conditions to be exchanged between me, my neighbors and people in town. It is possible to get to town with 4-wheel drive, but it is a long, slow process. The drive from here to town that normally takes 50 minutes now takes close to three hours. I still won’t be going anywhere soon. Why risk breaking an axle or getting stuck? And the only vehicle I have with four-wheel drive is an ATV. Thankfully it looks like Zee won’t be needing any veterinary attention.

Blue, green, yellowy beige, white…the sea was a feast of colors.

By late afternoon the clouds have cleared except for a tiny line of white fluffy cumulus sitting along the eastern horizon. The threat of more rain, worse roads and more mopping has finally passed.

Clear skies overhead and a mountain of garbage underfoot: In amongst all that brown driftwood and detritus is a maddening amount of garbage.

This evening I try to take the dogs for a walk on the beach. They are unaccustomed to the rain and have mostly remained indoors for the past three days. In the end due to injuries and perhaps a hangover from the rain only Dakini and Peanut join me. The beach is transformed. It’s been scoured by the storm surge and great swaths removed by the rivers of runoff  leaving a steep shelf of sand scored by large crevasses. Furthermore, it is riddled with the flotsam and jetsam of nature and man – wood, leaves, coconuts, pieces of cactus, pieces of partially decomposed organic matter are mixed in with all manner of plastic – plastic bottles, bottle tops, plastic electrical conduit pipes, plumbing pipe, flip flops, running shoes, children’s toys, candy wrappers, potato chip bags, grocery bags – you name it. I shake my head when find a discarded oil filter.  And there is glass – glass jars, glass bottles, broken glass. These all represent a threat to man and animal alike and need to be collected. Birds and fish alike mistake colorful pieces of plastic for food and after consuming them often die from intestinal blockages.

We certainly have our work cut out for us.

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Tropical Storm Hector: Day 3

Upon Rising: Last night I tossed and turned thinking about Zee and whether I’ll be able to get her to town today. My bedtime reading of 50 Shades of Grey also put me to pondering about erotica and how it is prime time for this genre. After imagining and mind-writing some erotica of my own, I finally fell asleep.

This morning I arose thinking the storm would have passed, but that low pressure system is apparently sitting right on top of us and refuses to budge. I check eebmike.com and sure enough, there is the large blob obscuring the tip of the peninsula. I consider my options and decide I’m not flying anywhere tomorrow. I can’t leave the house and Zee in their current condition. They’d both end up with infections (mold in the house’s case).

Midday: I’m losing the battle for territory against the rain. The area of dry floors is shrinking faster than I can mop. The rain is coming down so hard that I can’t clearly see the point, a mere mile away. It’s forcing its way under the doors, seeping like an evil menace into my shelter and making it increasingly like the outdoors. Contributing to this feeling are the leaks that have begun to pop up, here, there and, while not everywhere, they are becoming common enough that moving about the main floor requires a dance around scattered buckets. My feet are now perpetually wet.

After mopping just inside the second story door non-stop for a good 15 minutes, I filled a bucket ¾ full and still the water kept coming. I repeated this process over and over until I mentally cried “Uncle!” acquiesced and went downstairs to the garage.  I pulled a chair as close to the door opening as I could without getting wet (my feet don’t count any more) and sat there watching the rain come down in buckets (I have a greater appreciation now of the origins of that expression). I looked at the sky and wondered if perhaps the rain was going to back off.  Almost immediately, as though she read my mind, Mother Nature responded by cranking it up a notch. The rain began to fall so hard it was impossible to tell where one huge drop ended and another began.

And that was it. Something in me shifted and I started to laugh in spite of everything and realized that the rain was going to come down as long as there was rain to fall and all the mopping in the world wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I laughed out loud. I laughed hard and the more I laughed, the better I felt. As my body relaxed in response to the laughter, it occurred to me how serious I tend to be and how I need to lighten up in general. Then I laughed harder at how, if they could hear me my neighbors would certainly think I was losing my mind to all this rain. The diagnosis would be mopping-induced hysteria the treatment of which would also help me deal with the effects of reading 50 Shades of Grey. But alas, the pounding of the rain and surf kept the men in white coats at bay.

The battle I refuse to lose is the one against infection in Zee’s leg. Today I remembered that there are hair clippers under the sink in one of the bathrooms. Sure enough, they work and I shaved the hair from around each of the wounds in an attempt to keep them cleaner. I note that the lower half of her leg is swollen and decide anti-inflammatory medicine is in order. I give her one of Doobie’s Prednisone tablets, on hand to treat her auto-immune disease, in the hopes that the swelling will back off. She’s a trooper – letting me shave her, put hydrogen peroxide on all her wounds and holding her bladder longer than usual because it took a while for the rain to subside enough so she would to hobble out and do her business. Thankfully she pulled a double header.

Mid-afternoon: The increased rainfull has made the arroyo run hard and the sea is slowly turning from its usual azure blue to the color of milk chocolate. The sediment and debris-laden water slowly oozes out into the sea and gradually makes its way North. The arroyo has not run for six years. There’s a lot of animal and human waste in that brown water. I won’t be surfing any time soon.

The “Server Not Found” message is increasingly present on my Firefox screen. Unlike yesterday, today it seems my connection with the outside world has been suspended. It’s raining too much with too few breaks in between to reestablish a connection. Oh well, there’s plenty of other things to do around here – mopping, baking, reading, writing. Actually, I think my priorities have finally shifted – as of now it’s writing, reading, baking, mopping.

A sound on the other side of the house pulls me out of the office and I discover a section of the ceiling gave way due to the pressure of the water building up behind it. Great. So I returned to my mopping after writing 1500 words and now it’s 3:30 and I feel like I have been mopping for three days straight. I’ve mopped more in these three days than I typically undertake all year.

5:00pm: The rain is finally letting up. I’ve been waiting for a break in the weather so I can drive my ATV a mile down the road to see if my neighbors’ internet is working. I need to cancel my airline ticket to California. There’s no way I can leave tomorrow. I’d also like to see if there are any reports on road conditions and whether there’s any hope of getting to town any time soon. Again, Zee’s leg is pressing on my mind.

The drive to Villa del Faro is over a road that has been transformed. There are big and little washouts, rocks tumbled and exposed and at the base of the hill upon which my house sits, I must ford a small, but rapidly running river. I look to the east and see a huge swath of beach has been blown out to sea by this river that clearly ran big and fast at the height of the rain today. There is one deep gash in the road that has narrowed it to a width possibly too small for a truck to pass. If this one mile stretch of road contains an obstacle of this sort, the 20 miles to town must be a nightmare of washouts and certainly isn’t passable.

At my destination Mary, a soft-spoken, thin blond, greets me. She is sporting a long gash and several stitches on her head. “Oh my God Mary, what happened to you?!” Her sweet smile is tinged with regret as she explains how two nights ago, as the storm began the wind grabbed a shutter out of her hands as she tried to close it against the rain. I notice that the sharp line of the cut lines up perfectly with the side part of her hair.

The first thing Mary asks me is if I’ve heard anything about the roads. I tell her what little I know and why I’m there. That’s when she tells me that the pharmacy screwed up and only gave her enough antibiotics for one day. She’s naturally concerned about her cut getting infected. I tell her the good thing about a head wound is it can’t be very deep, making the chance of infection significantly lower. She kindly invites me to dinner saying, “It’s only spaghetti. We need to get to town for groceries.” Seems I’m not the only one this storm took by surprise.

Online, there are a series of emails related to the weather and road conditions between neighbors living South of us in places with names like Playa Tortuga and Zacatitos. We learn that the Los Cabos municipality is evacuating people who live in two large arroyos where shanty towns have sprung up over the last six, drier-than-normal years. Several years ago many people died when the Santa Rosa arroyo flooded during a storm. It’s clear from the emails that we are not going anywhere. The large arroyos separating us from town are all running and the police are not allowing anyone to cross. Mary’s face falls when I relate the news.

Over dinner I learn that my friends are dealing with a different kind of problem caused by the rain. Their beautiful pool is filling with frogs. Really noisy frogs that are keeping them up at night. Juan, their pool guy, is removing them as fast as he can, but they keep coming back. And they bring their friends. There’s more. Nell relates that the frogs are copulating. So not only are there frogs in the pool, but it is slowly filling with eggs. Juan is concerned that if they don’t get those eggs out of there fast, they’ll turn into tadpoles faster than you can say, “fucking fucking frogs.” We share a good laugh at the bizarre situation and discuss the marvel of how frogs manage to survive a four year drought.

Evening: When I return home the internet is back on. I look at the clock – 8:00pm and still no more rain. Do I dare think this might be the end of it? I mop up what I hope will be the last of the puddles in the house and am pleasantly surprised to discover things have already begun to dry out in the three hours I’ve been gone. But before I can call it a day, the storm deals me a final blow when I strain my left hand wringing out the mop. Like I said, these hands are not used to this kind of hard work. The mopping completed, I pour myself an ice cold shot of Don Julio tequila (it’s medicinal!) and sit down at the computer. I reach over and turn on the fan, let my flip flops drop from my feet and hold them to the drying air.

Oh crap, I think I might be getting trench foot.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 2

The Vinorama Arroyo began to run on Aug 15th.

August 15, Day 2 of rain compliments of Tropical Storm Hector

Last night the wind picked up tremendously, same hour as last night, 2am, but this time the whole house shook and the windows were flexing and groaning in a way that made me uneasy. No naked patio forays this night. Instead I said a little prayer and tried to go back to sleep. No dice…too much wind, too much noise. It was probably close to 5am by the time I fell back to sleep. At 7am I was groggy, but awake, and discovered it’s still raining with little indication of letting up! I get up, excited to see if it rained enough for water to penetrate the crust that’s been baked solid over the last four years. But first I check the bucket out in the driveway to see how much rain fell – just short of one inch. It’s a good start.

Downstairs I inspect the rooms and discover that some rain has managed to come in under a few doors. I retrieve the mop and return to the North bedroom when suddenly something scuttles behind the door. I let out a small cry as I instinctively jump back. It must be a mouse, so I call Peanut, but expert mouser. She ignores me and so I take a closer look. It turns out to be a sand crab! He’s holding his pincers high in defence and has shoved his large, for a sand crab, body between the doorstop and the door, using the stop as armor I suppose. Apparently I wasn’t the only one unsettled by the storm’s surge last night. I get a bucket and after several attempts to coral him into it, I’ve got him. Back to the beach with him.

Do you suppose he’s going to EAT that cockroach?

I decide to take a drive down to the arroyo and see if it’s flowing. Zee and Lobo follow me down the driveway, so at the gate I tell Zee, “Stay home Zee.” She’s such a sweet and obedient dog, unlike Dakini and Lobo, she never follows me – even when she could still see. At the arroyo, the water is running slowly in a narrow rivulet, making large pools here and there, turning the fine dirt of the arroyo into sticky mud. I drive out to the beach and marvel at the colors of the waves – sandy brown, aquamarine and then deep marine blue closer to the horizon. The sky is light grey closest to me, but there is a dark, grey-blue cloud bank marching towards us from the Northeast and I can just make out the sheets of rain at its leading edge.

That’s my house on the hill off in the distance.

It’s best to get going if I don’t want to get caught in the downpour and turn to see Dakini and Lobo, followed by a caramel colored male Pitbull I’ve never seen, crossing a large pool of water in the middle of the arroyo. Silly dogs, I think.

On my way home I stop to say a quick hello to my neighbor’s Cris and Dave. On my way up the hill to their house, I notice a heavy-set Mexican man with unkempt curly hair in a white t-shirt carrying a heavy chain in his hand with a white and brindle female pitbull. I nod in his direction and figure that the other pitbull is his and he’s going to retrieve him (the chain being his version of a leash).

Cris greets me as I pull into their driveway and before we finish our greetings, David yells something unintelligible from inside the house. We look at each other curiously and then David comes charging out the door and gasps, “There’s a dog fight on the road down in front of the house!” I picture Lobo or Dakini in a pitbull’s vice-grip jaws, jump back on my ATV and tear down the hill to see what’s happened, my heart in my throat.

Curly already has the two pits behind the now closed gate of the property he looks after. There is a third short white dog, not mine, limping and holding his right front paw up, blood trickling from a small wound on the back of it. I ask the caretaker what happened and who attacked who. He points up the road and tells me there is another dog that was attacked. I take off down the road and turning the corner, see Zee zig-zagging into the bushes on the side of the road. She is clearly confused and limping, holding her rear left leg up. I choke on the emotion that tries to bubble to the surface and drive over to her. I give her a quick once over and see that she has several puncture wounds on her leg, but the rest of her appears to be intact. Relief floods through me, but is quickly overtaken by anger, anger that I could be looking at an uglier situation, anger that this is not the first time this has happened. Only two days earlier, Lobo lost a chunk of ear to one of these dogs.  I realize that this is going to be an ongoing issue and decide I’ll have to talk to the owners about letting these vicious animals run loose in our neighborhood. Ugh, village politics, I think.

I put Zee on the ATV and drive her slowly home, one arm around her to keep her from jumping or falling off, one on the throttle. Rather than drive in first the whole way home, I shift into second using the big toe of my left foot – thank goodness for flip flops. At home I do a more thorough review of Zee’s wounds – several are deep punctures, the kind that like to get infected – and douse them in rubbing alcohol, making her cry and bark in pain. I detest causing her pain, but it’s imperative that we get these wounds clean. Who knows if we’ll be able to get to a vet tomorrow? And I’m leaving on Friday. I must prevent infection from setting in. I give her an antibiotic that I have stored in the fridge for just such an emergency. Thankfully, Lobo’s injuries at this point appear to be healing nicely with minimal inflammation.

As I finish with Zee that front finally arrives and the rain finally starts coming down hard. It’s such a unique event that I am filled with gratitude and sense that the whole desert is giving thanks as the large drops fall faster and faster until I can barely see to the other end of the property. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Finalmente bastante lluvia!!

It rains on and off for the rest of the afternoon and I alternate between mopping and trying to write a review of a local hotel, but I can’t concentrate on it (probably because I am bored by such things). Instead I decide to research the book 50 Shades of Grey to figure out what all the fuss is about. At this point, all I know is that it is erotica that focuses on a guy that’s into S&M and three of the men in my life are reading it! I thought it was chick lit. Apparently, I was wrong and because it’s captured their interest and the imagination of the entire planet, I figure it’s time I stop resisting the flood. I read what I can online and become frustrated because they have conveniently removed all of the juicy bits.

As night descends, I have to take Zee by the collar to get her to go outside to pee. She’s not putting any weight on her leg and it’s quite inflamed. The worry and anger rises in my chest again. I check the bucket before heading to bed and find we’ve received 3.5 inches of rain throughout the day. That’s more than we’ve had in the last four years. !Que milagro! Puddles of water have reformed inside two of the doors, so I mop before heading upstairs to bed, Zee tagging along as best she can, blind and on three legs.

Check in tomorrow for Day 3 of rain from Tropical Storm Hector.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 1

Image

The end of Day 1.

August 14, 2012: Tropical Storm Hector draws a low pressure system over the tip of the Baja Peninsula.

I can’t seem to concentrate. There could be all sorts of reasons for that – I live a pretty interesting and stimulating life – but I’m guessing few of you would guess that the reason for my inability to sit still and get some writing done (until now) is that it’s raining out.

I feel the way I felt when I was a little girl and we had the first snow day of the season – school was cancelled and all I wanted to do was either sit by the window and watch the snow fall and swirl or, better yet, get outside and feel the sharpness of the wind on my cheeks, the cold wetness of the snowflakes as they melted on my face and the crunch of the fluffy new snow under my boots.

Here in Baja, I keep looking outside to see if it’s still raining, check the level of water in the bucket I’ve put out on the driveway to act as a pseudo rain gauge and look South to see if the arroyo (riverbed) has begun to run yet. I check to see how saturated the ground is and rejoice as it turns spongy with moisture after so many years of it being so hard baked by the sun that a pick ax is required to dig a hole.

The rain is being brought to us thanks to Tropical Storm Hector, who spins approximately 500 miles Southwest of the tip of the peninsula. As typically happens, last night at 2am a front came tearing through, blowing suddenly and strongly through the open window so that the metallic sculpture hanging over my head began to swing back and forth. I got up and it took it down, lest it fall, as it has once before. I rallied when I imagined the sharp pain it could induce when its rusted jagged edge sliced through my forehead. The hanging – a winged heart – now lies on the dusty floor in the closet. Back in bed, I turned off the now redundant fan and fitfully tried to go back to sleep. That’s when the rain began. Again I jumped out of bed and closed the windows, ran downstairs to do the same. Returning upstairs, I went out onto the patio adjoining my room, opened my arms and felt the rain drops on my naked body. It wasn’t a lot of rain, but after four years of drought, it felt like manna from heaven. I fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting saltillo tile, followed by it gushing from downspouts onto the pine poles of the ramada outside my window.

This morning the rain is light and intermittent, so between the various weather status checks, I manage to get some work done, send emails to my absent neighbors to tell them it’s finally rained and start a loaf of bread. Like snow, the rain makes me want to bake filling, hearty food. Throughout the day I flit about from one task to the next. Ultimately I decide I need to put all the patio furniture up at the casita inside in preparation for my departure four days hence. Plus, who knows? Maybe tonight it will rain and blow hard enough to get the patio truly wet. The starving cows and I hope so.

Check back here tomorrow for Day 2 of Tropical Storm Hector

Book Review – Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation

By Paul Holmes
Published by Pintail Publishers, 192 pages
Topic Relative Score (Surf History, Surfboard Design): 5 out of 5 stars

When I arrived on the East Cape in 2002, following my dream to learn to surf, I was virtually clueless about surf culture and surfing history. I knew even less about the evolution of surfboard design. Growing up in Ontario, Canada meant that, unlike a California kid, I wasn’t exposed to anything related to surf, unless flip flops count. I knew who Guy Lafleur and Rocket Richard were, not the seminal figures in the history of surfing. 

So when I met my neighbor Bing Copeland, I had no idea that I was meeting such a man, one who exerted a huge influence on surfing and surfboard manufacturing and design. When he generously offered to take me surfing because my surf buddy refused to go out in conditions that were anything short of perfect, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was making the drive down the coast and sharing the waves with a surfing legend.

Ten years later, I read Holmes’s book in amazement and received the education I so thoroughly lacked. Thanks Bing! 

Bing Copeland mid-1960s Waimea Bay. Photo by John Bass.

The first thing you’ll notice about Paul Holmes’s book “Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation” is the quality of its production. It comes packaged in a groovy reusable cardboard case that will protect it against sun damage and carelessly spilled coffee. Inside you’ll find a beautiful hardcover book in coffee-table format (9.5″ by 12.25″) that contains 192 pages of text and high-quality, historic and contemporary photographs, printed in their original black and white or full color format.

Holmes did a great job of chronicling the various aspects of Bing’s personal life, professional life and his role in the evolution of surfing and surfboard design with a narrative style that is easy to read and flows from one topic to the next and back again. But the book is more than a history lesson, it also contains a treasure trove of archival materials including handwritten pages out of order books and every Bing advertisement ever published, all meticulously preserved by Bing himself. Anecdotes by the guys working on the factory floor sprinkled throughout give the reader an insider’s view of what it might have been like to work for Bing and with the sometimes oddball cast of characters drawn to the surfboard shaping industry.

Bing was an innovative designer of surfboards, but he was also a natural graphic designer and marketer, making the middle third, where ads and archival materials are displayed, perhaps my favorite part of the book. The ads are a reflection of Bing himself, as Holmes puts it “creative, funny, informative and graphically compelling.”

Shapers will undoubtedly be stoked to find a complete review of all Bing Surfboards models and the contributions they made to surfboard design evolution, as well as three pages dedicated specifically to improvements in fin design. Beautiful detailed shots of over 60 classic Bing surfboards are provided along with each board’s serial number, dimensions and significant elements of design and construction.

Whether you’ve ever owned a Bing surfboard or not, if you are a surfer and especially if you are a shaper, you owe it to yourself to add this book to your quiver of surf literature.

Do you own a Bing? If so, tell us about it, or even better post a photo of you riding it here. And what about my Bing board? Well, my financial circumstances since moving to Baja (always broke) mean that I haven’t had the wherewithal to buy a Bing. In 2004, in his classic understated way, Bing handed me a single-fin longboard he was no longer riding and said, “Just make sure it gets ridden.” The fin alone on that board is worth a pretty penny. Up until that time, I’d focused on working towards riding shorter boards, so that board introduced me to the “other” side of surfing, one that is unquestionably more soulful. Riding that longboard on days when the smaller conditions would have normally kept me out of the water induced in me a greater playfulness and definitely improved my surfing. I’ve since begged and borrowed (never stolen) several other longboards, but the dream remains to one day own a performance Bing longboard and at least one of his shorter boards – the retro Karma single-fin or perhaps the fishy Dharma. And to that end, I must get back to work!

Bing in Baja on the board he ultimately gave me. Photo by Gary Swanson