Saturday, January 3, 2009

A great beginning to the New Year!

Well, we're here, Living Loreto again, after a three week sojourn back in a very wintery Canada, where it was the first coast to coast white Christmas in THIRTY-SEVEN years! Needless to say, although we had a good visit with friends and family while we were there, it was with a real sense of relief that we returned to near-perfect weather, blue skies, and gentle breezes and with a renewed assurance as to why we choose to live here in the winter!

We attended a wonderful New Year's Eve party which christened the latest beach-front home to be completed. Our hostess and neighbour had brought a professional entertainer all the way from the Maritimes and with a generous buffet table of contributions from many of the other neighbours, the scene was set for a memorable end to the old year and an enthusiastic beginning to the new.

On the day after New Year's day we were pleasantly surprised with a call from one of our first friends in Loreto, who was phoning to invite us to come on a hike with her. Whatever other vague plans we had had for the day were swept aside by hurried preparations, packing a lunch, charging the camera, changing into hiking clothes and then we were off, heading for the hills.

Arroyos are the off-road trails of the Baja - dry river beds that provide a manageable path through the desert scrub. After parking off the highway we climbed down into the arroyo and headed toward the mountains. One of the mistaken images I used to have, was that deserts are vast expanses of sand and dunes, with nothing green or growing in sight. Our surroundings, while they're dry 10 months of the year, and technically could be called desert-like, are far from barren wastelands.

Although harder for the untutored eye to see, the life is not limited to flora, but there is also fauna, like our gecco friend here, who was actually about 8 or 9 inches long, but could have been half that size, or possibly even double it, depending on the photograph.

We also met several groups of well fed cattle, free ranging and foraging for themselves, apparently successfully, mainly due to the plentiful access to water.

Yes, there is water in this desert, lots of it, if you look in the right places. These arroyos are cleared annually by the torrential runoff that can result from the downpours in the Fall, but for most of the rest of the year there can be stretches of flowing stream separated by dry gravel bed. This appearing and disappearing water is a result of variations in the geology that cause the water to surface and then return underground but continue to flow.

Places where the water is more constant, can cause an oasis to develop, where huge towering palms grow wild and are only “groomed” by the wind. The other vegetation is also magnificent; rattan and other bamboo-family species and luxurantly flowering shrubs grow thick where water and soil combine to provide the necessary conditions to turn a desert into a garden.

As we travelled further up the arroyo we passed several Rancheros along the way. They may have been the owners of the cattle we had passed earlier, but they were definitely in the goat business as was evident from the pen and it's residents, who were roaming freely and noisily as we passed. It was amazing to realize that these self-sufficient settlements were apparently thriving in what was, to my eyes, such a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Eventually, we reached the goal of our journey, the caves, or cuevas, which was the headwater of the arroyo stream we had been travelling. Our friend hadn't mentioned this feature to us during our hike and so it was a wonderful bonus to see our destination appear around the corner ahead.

An apparently solid wall of rock, pierced by a winding slit, carved by unimaginable volumes of water

over eons of time

to produce a tranquil

magical passage with

pools of cool clear water

(unbelievably enough,

populated by minnows

and other waterlife, the

origin of which one can

only imagine!)

After a trail lunch of sandwiches, oranges and some Canadian dark chocloate left over from Christmas, we started our return trip down the arroyo. After the abundance of water and vegetation, the return to the stark desert cacti, and their own resident population, was another of the contrasts that make this desert such an hypnotic place to be. It also served as a reminder of what the vast majority of the land is like, except for a very few special places, one of which had been our priviledge to have just visited.

My message this week goes beyond the travelogue that I have just shared with you. It is also about how the whole trip came about. Unplanned, unanticipated and all the more wonderful and memorable because of it. In Canada, such a trip would have probably entailed more than a week of planning and preparation. Here, typical of how spontaneity can add zest to the way of life, a call from a friend leads to an adventure and an opportunity to get to know each other and our surroundings in a special way.

In fact, one of my resolutions this year is to explore some of the hidden secrets of
the Baja where we live, and learn more about what is beyond our neighbourhood and community.

So, how appropriate was it, that on the first day after the New Year, we were taken to a place unlike anything we have ever seen before, and to do so in the company of a friend, whom we got to know so much better over the afternoon we spent together. What a wonderful gift to begin the New Year with, and another dimension of Living Loreto - it`s good to be back home!