Wonders of Baja Weather

LA Bay Rainbow 8Mar2016

Rainbow over Bahia de Los Angeles thanks to crazy storm system. Photo credit: Octavio Pinto

It’s 5pm. I pause from writing this, reach up and cup the tip of my nose between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. It’s cold and my fingers warm it slightly before I return to the task before me.

I know I’ve been away a long time. I had some personal things going on, health and whatnot, and haven’t been writing much in general as a result and when I do write I’ve focused on getting my book written because I want to, no I need to get it done. It’s been too long coming. But that’s another story.

What’s got me writing today is the weather. It’s funny that I should write about the weather after being absent from this blog for so long. It’s a source of mild amusement that “How’s your weather?” is the question I can always count on my mother to ask during our increasingly brief telephone exchanges.

Well Mom, it’s been another cold day today. Yeah, not cold by eastern Canada standards, but darn cold for here in Baja. Cold and windy. Yesterday we had what I consider to be the strangest weather I’ve witnessed in my fourteen years living in Baja. At the end of a winter season during which temperatures remained well above normal, a system blasted the peninsula with a cold air that made temperatures plummet twenty degrees and brought with it all manner of precipitation. The only thing missing was the locusts.

I rose just before dawn and took a look outside. The waves were uncharacteristically large and feathered by strong offshore winds. I went outside to investigate more closely and greeted my neighbor as he stood watering some new fan palm trees near the wall separating our properties.

He asked me in a somewhat bewildered tone, “Is this what it’s like in summer? Are the waves often like this? What’s up with this wind?”

I looked around and wondered if the pending solar eclipse had anything to do with the strange weather. I’ve also been seriously “under the weather” of late thanks to one of Baja’s many “side-benefits” – a parasitic infection – that’s made surfing a challenge due to desperately low energy levels. It pained me to look at the waves and not be able to partake. To lessen the sting, I turned my back to sea and returned to the house to get some work done. (Unfortunately, under the influence of these parasites I’ve been living in a near perpetual brain fog. My productivity has suffered almost as much as my intestinal tract.)

By 8:30 the winds switched to the North, then East, then South and East again. I looked out the west-facing kitchen window to see ominous black clouds looming as they expanded to reach high into the sky. I didn’t quite believe my eyes. The sky had been clear blue only an hour earlier. I went outside to investigate and discovered the wine had turned downright chilly. It was right then that big COLD raindrops began to fall. I double-timed it up to the guest house to close the windows. On my return to the main house the rain drops fell quicker, inducing me to run or get wet enough to require a wardrobe change. The wind seemed to be coming from several directions all at the same time. It swirled and switched back and forth, came in wild gusts up to twenty-odd miles an hour. Once I had the windows in the main house closed, I returned to the garage where one of the doors is wide open during the day and watched as the pavers on the driveway got soaked and water began to drip from the downspouts. Yeah, it wasn’t a heavy rain by tropical storm standards, but it was rain in March in the Baja desert. Sit up and take notice kinda weather.

Back inside I noticed my feet were cold. What the heck? I normally have to wear Uggs here in the winter, but this year’s winter has been so warm I’ve only put them on a few times at night.

I scratched my head and did a few searches on Google about the current weather. Nada. Later I would learn that the winds turned offshore again around 1PM. Surf in San Jose was unreal.

“Like Hawaii” one friend said, “and barreling. But I had to put on my full wetsuit! I froze! I’m in Uggs, longjohns, and my ski jacket now.”

“Damn! I missed it again,” I lamented. “Frickin’ parasites!”

I called my friend Mario, the Huichol shaman, and he reported he’d had to run home early from the gallery where he sells indigenous art to deal with an emergency. The wind, gusting up to 45 miles an hour in Cabo San Lucas, had toppled the large Tamarind tree in his yard and landed on his bedroom, destroying the roof and two walls.

“Was anyone hurt?” I asked, picturing the kids and his sister-in-law Rosa scrambling to avoid the falling tree.

“No. Gracias a Dios.”

The solar eclipse occurred at 4:30 our time. We were not in the window to see it, but it was total and visible further west from Hawaii to Indonesia. I continued to wonder if it wasn’t the cause of the weird weather.

At sunset I walked the dogs on the beach like I do most nights and froze. I didn’t consider I might need a scarf and a beanie. And the sweater I had on was too thin. The sand stung, icy cold on my feet. I looked warily at the low hanging black and grey clouds recognizing them as typical of lightning producers. I’m not a big fan of lightning, having had it pass through my body when I became a ground for an Airstream trailer. I picked up my pace.

By the end of the walk large cold rain drops began to fall to land squarely on my head and shoulders, threatening to make me colder still. Back in the house I had to blast my feet with hot water to dispel the cold before I wrapped them in heavy wool socks and Uggs. Later, as I lay in bed I could see from behind my eyelids the intermittent flashing of lightning to the east.

Today I woke and didn’t want to get out of bed it was so cold in my bedroom. I snuggled in and felt a small lump next to me. The cat, ensconced under the duvet, did his best to ignore me as I pulled the covers up under my chin and looked out at a sea made tumultuous by the still raging wind.

Later, when the sun was up and the bedroom felt a little less frigid, I rose and searched for information on yesterday’s weather. On the Baja Facebook page I found photos of the desert floor just north of here in the village of El Centenario covered in hail. On the Weather Underground website it showed that in the wee hours of the morning, the mercury at the San Jose del Cabo airport had dropped to 48 degrees Farenheit (9 deg Celcius), ten degrees colder than the previous night’s low.

The greater surprise was when I found these photos on the Facebook group Talk Baja taken in El Centenario just North of here.

Hail2 El Cent 8Mar2016

Photos courtesy of Jay Curtis

Hail El Centenario 8Mar2016

Hail in Baja!

The only thing missing is the locusts.

Crazy Weather Update: I just saw on Facebook that it SNOWED in Guadalajara yesterday! According to @SkyAlertStorm the last time they saw snow there was in 1997.

 

 

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Windy Day in Paradise

Satellite imagery 24July2014

Satellite image of the storm’s intensity.

The weather in Baja is gorgeous about 95% of the time. There are more blue-sky days here on average than most places on Earth. We get our fair share of wind in the winter, which is why this is such a great wind and kite surfing locale, but those are nice constant winds of between 15 and 25 miles per hour. Summer winds whipped up by warm tropical disturbances are different – they are meaner, stronger, and can wreak serious havoc when they exceed the 60mph mark. They are typically preceded by skies heavy with grey clouds and sometimes thunder and lightning. Fortunately, thanks to modern weather predicting technologies, we usually know when they are coming and can prepare our homes by putting up window-protecting storm shutters, removing delicate window screens, and packing all the patio furniture and garden decorations away in garages and bodegas for safe keeping.

There is an energy of expectation and suspense that surrounds preparing for a storm. Perhaps that’s what I get off on, same as the adrenaline rush from surfing, that makes me embrace inclement weather. When I was a kid in Ontario, Canada and a big snowstorm blew up, I used to wrap myself in my father’s parka and walk through the streets of my small hometown buffeted by the wind. His coat reached mid-way down my calves and I had to wrap my arms around myself to pull it in and keep the frigid wind out. I think I felt more invincible in his coat than I would in my own snow gear, it was like he was there with me, his arms wrapped about me to fend off the weather. Icy snow flakes bit into the skin of my face and blew into the small space between my neck and the woolen scarf tightly cinched there. The sounds of the storm – the wind whipping along those otherwise quiet streets, through the trees so that their branches clicked and scratched out a dissonant beat, my boots crunching on the gathering snow drifts, the creak of icy power lines swaying overhead – accompanied me on my trek past small houses nestled into deep snow drifts. I relished the cold biting my nose, the sensation of ice crystals growing from the tips of my eyelashes, of cold air rushing into my mouth and down into my lungs. I’d walk the perimeter of our town in the dark of an early winter evening, the streetlights catching the flash of so many snowflakes flying about wildly in blasts of a northeast wind.

I approached rainy days in summer similarly – I would walk the streets of my town or the dirt round that defined the circumference of the lake where we had a cottage, getting soaked to the skin, shoes squishing, my socks falling from the added weight of the water they’d absorbed, gathering around my ankles. If it was windy, those rainy days almost made me feel as alive as a stormy winter night did. I embraced the power of the wind.

But…

Living at the tropical end of the Baja Peninsula could challenge the most ardent lover of wind not to forsake their love for calmer locales. The other day we had an unexpected chubasco (storm) come through in the early, soft lit hours of the morning. Aside from some thunder and lightning that woke me at 4:30am, the storm front hit with little warning at 6:40am. The sound of the wind wailing through window screens and the patter of large rain drops hitting the tiled patio outside my bedroom door roused me out of a sound, dream-filled sleep. In the time it took me to haul my still sleep-drenched body out of bed and wrap myself in a sarong, a howling gale had blown up out of nowhere. As I hurried down the stairs to gather patio furniture cushions, the wind grabbed my sarong, yanking it off with surprising force. I pulled it back around my chest in vain, the wind lashing out and ripping it off once again. I threw it on the dining table and ran naked about the house battening down the hatches.

The dogs, spooked by what were now 60 to 70 mile per hour winds, did their best to trip me up as I went from door to door to window, closing and latching them against the onslaught of wind and rain. The interior of the house looked like a wind tunnel experiment – papers and magazines were flying everywhere, window blinds flapped madly. Relief washed over me when Doobie, the senior member of the dog pack, padded up as quickly as her arthritic legs could carry her while I collected the cushions from the patio furniture. There was no time to get the patio furniture inside. I knew I had to pull the three sliders leading to the ocean-side patio closed NOW. But the largest one refused to latch – the force of the wind bent it so the two sides could not make contact. I left it and ran to close the windows upstairs.

When I returned to the living room, the wind had picked up another notch and ungodly sounds were coming from the unlatched door. It groaned and creaked in protest as I watched it bend and bow in response to the force of the wind. I pictured it exploding in a cloud of dagger-like shards and, in response, retreated to the garage, herding the dogs along with me. From the garage I heard a plaintiff meowing, a distress call from the bushes just outside the leeward side of the house. Responding to my encouragement Mochi the cat shot across the driveway and into the garage, managing somehow to escape getting soaked despite the huge rain drops that now pummeled the driveway. Even Mochi seemed to understand that the living room was a high risk zone and remained in the garage with the rest of us.

The wind slammed and shook the garage doors in a cacophony of metal on metal and the rain began to pour from the gutters in a torrent. Ungodly sounds were emanating from the house – moaning and groaning and howling her protests against the force of the wind.

I’m not sure how long we waited, but the wind soon weakened enough that I felt safe returning to the living room to try to close the slider once again. With a great deal of effort and several tries I managed to latch it, relief washing over me. A large puddle of water had gathered inside the three sliding glass doors – the rain forced through the tiny space between the doors and their tracks. As I mopped up the water, I felt the sting of wind-blown sand hitting my leg and discovered that the wind had also unseated one of the sliders and opened a quarter-inch space between the frame and the door. Amazing! Those doors are heavy!

Fortunately, the storm only lasted a couple of hours, but she managed to wreak some serious havoc all along the coast nevertheless. Here three screens were bent and torn off windows, several others tweaked out of shape, the screens stretched and pulled from their frames. The cover for the barbecue is MIA. It was weighed down with three heavy clay floor tiles, but the wind must have got under it, threw the tiles to one side and launched that heavy cover like it was a plastic grocery bag. It’s out there somewhere in the desert. My neighbors had palapas torn apart or knocked over, roof tiles ripped off, gates and unlatched doors pulled from their hinges. Coconuts and fronds turned to ballistics, felled from palms in a frightening volley. It’s amazing no one was hurt.

In the cleanup afterwards, we found sand everywhere. Sand blew into every crack and crevice, collected in large volumes all over the patios and as high as the second story. It blew so hard, it blasted the paint right off the metal gate to the beach.

In my twelve years living here at the southern tip of Baja, I’ve never before experienced a storm of this magnitude come up so quickly. So while I do love inclement weather, I prefer the kind that comes up slowly, with warning, and time to prepare. And the feelings I have towards hurricanes lie somewhere other than in the “love” spectrum. We’re in the thick of hurricane season now and with sea and air temperatures higher than we’ve experienced in several years, it bodes to be an active one with storms continuing to form well into October. I beseech Mother Nature, keep those Category 4 hurricanes well out to sea this year.

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.

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

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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

Is the Kid Really Dead?

Icy surfing in IcelandIt’s the day before Summer Solstice and it’s only 79 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I’m considering whether I need to put a sweater on because there’s a brisk breeze blowing in off the sea that is chilling me as it hits my bare shoulders. A week ago, I had to put a lightweight hooded sweater on over my t-shirt in the middle of the day and resorted to donning full length yoga pants because I was so cold. The mercury didn’t get much higher than 77 degrees that day. Normally at this time of year I’d be sweating in shorts and a tank top. Conclusion? This is possibly the coldest June in the history of Baja’s East Cape. However, before you accuse me of being melodramatic, and in the absence of any definitive long term historical proof, let me say instead that it is definitely the coldest June I’ve personally experienced in this region.

Admittedly, this is only my eleventh June in Baja. Eleven is neither a big number, nor is it small in the context of time passage. But it is more than a handful and a decade plus one. Never before in the month of June have I needed to put a sweater on in the middle of the day. Remove my t-shirt? Definitely. Change my sports bra because it’s soaking with sweat? You bet. Take a shower and lie down under a fan on high in the middle of the day because it’s 105 degrees outside? Several times. But put on more clothes at what is the hottest time of day? Never!

Air temperatures have been uncharacteristically low because they reflect sea water temperatures, which have been near frigid. Since the middle of May, they’ve fluctuated wildly between extremes. From 84 degrees Fahrenheit one day to 62 degrees the very next – that’s a whopping 22 degree drop.

The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit a surfer needs to wear. Wetsuit thicknesses are measured in millimeters (mm) and water temperatures of 62 degrees mean wearing a full-length wetsuit of at least 2mm thickness or going out for super short sessions in which your muscles tend to seize up. I don’t own a 2mm full suit.  My shorty suit wasn’t up to the job and on more than one occasion I got out of the water with blue lips and legs that were numb from the knees down. By the end of several sessions, I had to blow into my cupped hands between sets in an attempt to warm my frigid digit. It took all my willpower to put my hands back in the biting cold water and keep my arms paddling for the next wave. Back on land again it took almost an hour of sitting in the direct sun to warm up again. While I know that there are many a surfer who experiences this regularly and to an even greater extent, bear in mind that we’re talking about surfing in the normally tepid, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez.

I have furthermore never seen the sea turn green. Two weeks ago, I thought I’d been teleported and was surfing in South Central California when overnight the water changed from its characteristic turquoise and azure blues to a brilliant emerald green.  Apparently the colder water resulted from an upwelling event that brought nutrients from deep down in the sea to the surface causing a serious algal bloom. Then there were the jelly fish, or, as I like to call them, the Helly fish, feeding on all that phytoplankton. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ve never seen so many large gelatinous jelly fish in the water here. The water was amuck with them and more than once I managed to squeeze their fire-wielding tentacles between my leg and my surfboard to produce the kind of stinging you only wish upon your worst enemies. The resulting welts were impressive and the itching lasted for days.

It’s not just June weather that’s been strange. May was uncharacteristically cool and foggy too. From the middle of May onwards we’ve had the equivalent of what Californians call June Gloom in the East Cape – fog, wind, and shockingly cold water.

So what gives?

At first I thought it was because it’s a La Niña year. La Niña is a period during which sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean are lower than normal by 3-5 degrees Celsius (6-9 deg F). In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of these types of conditions. The name La Niña is Spanish for “the girl,” analogous to El Niño meaning “the boy,” the term used for periods when sea surface temperatures are abnormally high. The only trouble is that according to meteorologists the period of La Niña weather conditions that began last year ended in March. In other words, La Niña is dead.

So I’m still scratching my head. If this weather can’t be ascribed to La Niña (abnormally low sea surface temperatures) then what is causing these cool sea breezes the temperature of which seem so abnormally low?