Fear and Kiting in Los Cabos

DSCN0401Parental Advisory: Dear Mom and Dad, please don’t read this. I know how you feel about me kiting and this isn’t going to help. Love, Dawn

I don’t kitesurf in the summer heat. I consciously decided that kiting is a fall and winter sport for me because it’s hell getting the gear rigged on the hot sand. I’ve come close to heat stroke a couple of times. But on my first foray out this autumn, I came close having a stroke for a very different reason.

It’s always difficult to motivate to go out the first time after my summer break; I know from experience that half my equipment is going to fail because it’s been sitting around for months in the summer heat. The glue that they use to seal the valves in particular is degraded by high temps so when you try to blow the kite up, one or more valves go “pop!” and you’re S.O.L unless you know how to do repairs, which apparently I don’t. I tried to replace a valve last year, followed the instructions carefully, watched YouTube videos on how to do it, but failed terribly. I can’t even tell you where I went wrong.

My neighbor Walker, who’s a kiter, was here this week and convinced me it was time to get the kites out. The wind was blowing a good 25 to 30 miles an hour, the water was crystal clear, and it seemed as good a time as any to get out there. And I was glad to have some company for the first foray in many months.

Walker is an enthusiastic kiter. He’s been doing it since the sport was in its infancy and went through the hell of using kites that didn’t have all the built-in safety features that those of us starting up much later benefit from. He’s got some great tales of harrowing near-death experiences that I’m glad I got to miss out on. His enthusiasm means he was down on the beach at the first sign of whitecaps. I dragged my feet, experiencing the resistance borne of the knowledge that it was probably going to be a bit of a nightmare figuring out which of my well-used kites was flight worthy. Sure enough, after I got down there and helped Walker launch his brand new 7M Sling Shot, I tried three different kites, including one of Walkers that he’d offered up, and none of them were operable. Walker had forgotten to bring the bar (essentially the “steering wheel”) down for his 6M that I was hoping to use and before launching he suggested I jerry-rig it with my own bar. I knew this was a bad idea and did it anyway. The kite is different than any of mine and sure enough, when I launched it, it immediately dove to the beach and crashed, flew back up and dove, over and over again as the lines twisted on themselves. Frustrating!! Not to mention not so good for the kite. Before I could get it under control, it nose dived into a sundried porcupine fish, which penetrated the heavy nylon of the leading edge, but thankfully not the bladder and a foot long hole tore through the canopy. That kite was out of commission until it could be repaired.

Meanwhile, as I struggled to get the next kite (any kite!) rigged, Walker was out there flying back and forth across the water, intermittently crashing the kite into the water’s hard surface and then struggling to relaunch because he was under-powered. It was apparent from the tangled mess of the lines on the bar I was trying to rig that I didn’t deal with that issue before putting them away for the season. My bad. Untangling lines requires the patience of Job and after trying to get two other setups rigged, mine was waning. Walker came in while I was deep in the tangles.

When I explained what the hold up was, he offered me his brand new kite. Although he’d been underpowered, we reasoned it would be perfect for me because I weigh considerably less than he does. After a half-hearted protest that the kite was new! I thanked him profusely and got out there.  Employing what patience remained, I timed it right to get out through the heavy shorebreak without mishap and was up and whizzing out to sea trying to remember the subtleties of the sport.

Fifteen minutes into my session, I’d just tacked, heading back out to sea, when I leaned back and took a look down to marvel at the crystal clarity of the water backed by the white sand bottom and contrasting black and mottled brown rocks. The water was so clear it looked like it was only a few feet deep. I’d begun to turn my attention back to the surface and the kite, when I sailed over the outline of something that resembled a shark.

BigMouthWait…WHAT?!

At first I didn’t believe my eyes, and started looking around at the white caps, hoping one would resemble a shark and I could laugh at my paranoia, but that was denial at work. I considered further what I’d seen: it’s shape was distinct–a wide body, tapering to a long tail with an upright caudal fin that only one type of fish in the sea possesses, light grey on top and white underneath at the tips of its fins and a as I passed overhead, it flicked that tail once to impel itself forward, an unmistakable motion. As the reality that I had indeed seen a shark, a rather large shark, slowly sank in, I felt the vice grip of anxiety rise and take hold of my chest. I began debating what to do. I was still on a course that took me out to sea, to deeper darker waters, but away from where I’d seen the shark. I needed to give him time to continue on his way North. Unfortunately, my mind then had him pulling a U-turn and coming to see what that “thing” was that flew overhead. I wondered Are sharks curious? The darkness of the deeper water was frightening because of all that it could conceal. I decided it was time to tack and head back to shore, but with all that anxious thinking I was distracted and blew my turn. I sank into that deep, dark blue water up to my neck, and anxiety turned to panic.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” I said as much at myself as to myself. Get up and get going! I silently commanded.

And so I did, saying a little “Thank you God,” as I got up to speed without the kite crashing and exploding on impact (not an uncommon occurrence where I am concerned). I was headed to shore.

This is where the way my brain works frightens me a little; on my way back to shore, it occurred to me that I’d only been out kiting a short time and I began rationalizing that the shark was long gone. He’d obviously just been cruising, there was no evidence of him being in hunter mode. When the time came, I did not go to shore, I turned that kite and me strapped to my board and headed back out to sea. True or not, I’d convinced myself I was safe above water and blocked out the possibility of kite failure, major wipe outs, the wind dying, and several other instances where I’d be back in the water up to my neck only minutes after seeing what I estimated to be an eight-foot shark.

It’s amazing what the human mind is capable of blocking out when it wants to ignore the facts. I’d almost forgotten all about that shark, when on my next tack, I lost control of the kite and it shot right to left, yanking me out of my board straps and flinging me a good ten feet downwind, before crashing into the water with a resounding WHUMP! Suddenly, I remembered Mr. Shark. Pushing the question of where my board was aside, I concentrated all my attention on the kite and after a few nail-biting failed attempts got it relaunched. I looked back hoping to see my board bobbing on the surface nearby. It was nowhere to be seen. Shit! Where is it? I could feel the anxiety putting its stranglehold on me again. Desperation wrapping its suffocating arms about me, I began to body drag upwind in search of my board. I recalled thankfully that it has red footstraps, unlike the two boards I’d previously lost in scenarios similar to this one – white, I’d concluded, is a STUPID color for a kiteboard; they just disappear among the white caps. The recollection of losing those two boards at sea taunted me now. Would I find the board or have to body drag all the way back in? Please God, no. A couple of drags of about 30 feet, first one way and then the other and I could see the board bobbing in the wind chop. I relaxed a tiny bit. Quickly, I regained the board, slipped my feet into the straps, and power-stroked myself up and out of the water. I could breathe again.

A few more tacks and I wiped out again, this time though I didn’t crash the kite and remained close enough to the board that it was visible. I decided I’d tempted fate enough and it was time to go in. I couldn’t relax out there except when within easy reach of the beach. But there was a big swell in the water that day, so every time I got close to the beach, a huge wall of water would loom up behind me threatening to send me into shore ass over tea-kettle like a big piece of flotsam wrapped up in my lines. I imagined myself riding those waves and pulling out gracefully by launching myself like a bird, as I’d seen advanced riders do on Maui. As I approached the shore, I got my opportunity as a wave began to grow behind me. I rode it partway in before pulling the kite up to stop my forward momentum and skidding to a remarkably graceful halt before I crashed on the sand. Using the kite’s pull, I exited the water in a series of small hops. The sand never felt so solid, so secure under my feet.

Walker was no longer on the beach, so I did a controlled crash to land the kite. When I ran over to deflate it, what I saw made my breath catch in my throat. The plug for main intake valve was open, probably popping under the pressure of one of Walker’s more dramatic crashes. The only thing keeping the kite from deflating was the stopper, a little plastic ball that plugs the hole under back pressure. I was reminded of one of the earliest lessons we were taught by the instructor at Action Sports Maui: Always rig your own kite and if you don’t for some reason, double check the rigging before launch. I’d been in such a rush to get out there, I’d forgotten an essential lesson. I was lucky the kite hadn’t deflated when I crashed it way out at sea.

The next day when I related this experience to my buddy Meisy, he laughed and pointed out that when I body drag using the kite to move upwind to retrieve my board, I essentially turn myself into big fishing lure. Thanks Meisy, the image of a shark clamping down on me like a baited line will haunt me every time I lose my board from this day forward.

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 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.