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“Here comes the Sun”

e were standing on the 4th tee of the stunning Cabo del Sol Golf Course, a personal Los Cabos favorite of mine, when it finally occurred to me that there were virtually no other golfers to be seen. There was the usual hum of leaf blowers and chain saws somewhere off in the distance. We’d passed a maintenance employee a hole or two back fiddling with a sprinkler head in the right-side rough and spied another dragging a large hose behind his sputtering cart on an adjacent fairway. But beyond that, we seemed to have this place all to ourselves, we were just a twosome to begin with.

Having a perfectly groomed Championship course all to oneself at discount prices that ripple through every vacation category (lodging, restaurants, and so on) is among the rarest—and finest—things in a golfer’s life. Kind of like having the Rolling Stones show up at your Bachelor party to play an impromptu set. The “low season” period between roughly late June and October, however, when tourist visits drop from roughly 90K per month to 55K, is when the sun becomes its most intolerable and downright inescapable. Now it’s more like the Stones showing up, minus Keith Richards, to fumble over unrehearsed new material at your wedding. You’ll forever have a story to tell, but people may feel a little uncomfortable.

Tomas, my playing partner--a local taxi driver I lucked upon at the airport at the end of his graveyard shift (a story unto itself)--sensed my wonder and took advantage of the opportunity. “Leave your club here but bring your water,” he said, before leading me probably 200 yards through a field of Bougainvilleas and assorted cacti to show us a spiky, bulbous collection of pink cactus buds that would eventually become larger and edible in the late summer months. I believe he said they were Pitahayas, a kind of “refreshing” fruit with fleshy and seedy insides not unlike the consistency of a kiwi.

Okay, it’s actually not nearly that bad. Pull out any travel or weather reference worth its salt and you’ll find monthly temperature averages in the area that aren’t particularly jaw-dropping. During Los Cabos’ hottest months of August and September, temperatures range from roughly a low of 75 to a high of 95. (The record high in Cabo San Lucas came in at 108 degrees Fahrenheit during a September.) Arizona can be just as hot, yet you’ll hear some describe Los Cabos during this time as similar to Dante’s hell. That’s because the thermometer only tells part of the story.

I can appreciate a botanical surprise as much as the next guy, but during our brief sojourn atop crushed shells, sand, and baked desert dirt, I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder back toward the tee every 15 seconds or so. It has become so thoroughly ingrained in me that a foursome must be right on our tail and that we might be holding them up, that the full effect of Tomas’s intended gift was almost entirely lost on me.

“The discomforts and dangers that arise as a result of the sun have to do with a wide variety of variables, not just temperature,” says Mark Wishner, whose U.S.-based non-profit The Sun Safe Tee Program (www.sunsafetee.org) teaches golfers about sun protection and skin cancer prevention. “UV rays, high temperatures and humidity, the clothing one wears, are all just a few of the many elements that contribute to heat-related discomfort or more serious problems.”

There was, in fact, nobody behind us, though. And by the 6th or 7th hole I started to remember—no, feel— why this majestic course felt like such a ghost town. It’s simple: Los Cabos during the low season can get just plain hot.

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A person’s recent sun exposure and skin type, the length of time they spend in a hot environment or directly under the sun’s beams (without proper periods of cooling off), are among the others. Wishner claims that, to varying degrees, the human body is not unlike a blacktop road or sidewalk when it comes to absorbing the sun’s rays. “Many people have had the experience of walking barefoot on extremely hot pavement or sand that has been absorbing the sun’s heat all day. Just think about what that heat can do, not just to the skin, but also inside a body. We have to consider the effects of heat on our brains, nervous system, and other organs,” he says, “and take appropriate steps to prevent problems from developing. (See Wishner’s tips for staying safe in the sun, starting on page 6). The notion of “all day” is what’s getting to me. I personally attribute the notoriety less to the temperature than to the glaring (literally) absence of shade. There’s just nowhere to go to get away from the heat and eventually a golfer finds him- or herself focusing more on the perfect angle to park the golf cart than on their game.

How Low Can They Go? There’s no getting around it. Golf during the Los Cabos low season can prove grueling during extended stretches where your only shade is beneath the upward stretching arms of a Saguaro cactus. But so long as you’re diligent about taking a few extra steps to ensure your safety and at least a modicum of comfort—as per Mark Wishner’s sidebar (Page 6) who cares how hot it is out there? With the money you’re saving on green fees at the courses below (and others), you can hire an executive attendant to wheel you around in your own personal ice bath.

Don’t Push It (or Pull It) With common sense and proper hydration, you might feel a little uncomfortable (just think of the Margaritas later), but you’re most likely to have a great day of some of the best golf on Earth. You might even have enough steam for 36 holes.

Cabo del Sol’s Ocean Course (peak morning rate: $355) chops off nearly 30 percent during the low season giving visitors a cool $100 savings ($255), and more than 20 percent off during the shoulder months of June and October ($280). It’s the most expensive on this list but worth every penny, not just for its challenging layout (par 72, 7,075 yards), but because its three finishing holes are some of the most beautiful in the world. An errant tee shot on the final par 3 17th can put you on the beach—literally. But provided the tide is right and your sand game is in shape, you can step on down to (and almost in) the Sea of Cortez to chip up for a genius sand save.

But if at any time during a round you feel woozy, nauseas or start seeing pink elephants, just stop. Drink water if you can and lie down anywhere there’s shade to be found (good luck…). Even better, just head back to the pro shop and take it easy for a while. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the third hole or the thirteenth; have a playing partner haul you back in. This is golf, not an endurance contest, we all have our bad days. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling strong and ready for some extra yardage, enjoy this benefit of heat: Your ball’s elasticity is supercharged and will travel farther in hotter climes. Surprisingly, hot and humid air has more “lift” for longer carry distances, but a dry heat such as that in Los Cabos will likely find more roll over twicebaked fairways.

The discounts at Cabo Real look at first like a typo. During the low season, green fees ($180) are nearly 36 percent lower than during the high season ($280). Drops so extreme might make one suspicious of the quality, but this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. par 72, 7,037-yard championship course is no picnic in the park. Its front nine is so gorgeous you might forget you’re there to golf. I happen to like this course’s logo, too: It’s fit for a king.

Keep those little things in mind, select your clubs accordingly, and drink plenty of water. You’ll have much more fun, not to mention better odds of logging a solid round if your game prep helps keep you from hitting the ground.

Club Campestre San Jose, a par 71, 7,051-yard Nicklaus course opened just in 2007, knocks just more than 27 percent off its peak fee of $220, bringing the total cost for low-season golfers down to $160. A par 71 measuring 7,051 yards, it’s no slouch either. I played it right as the owners were unlocking the doors for play, for a mere $55. Many of the greens were still covered with nearly an inch-thick blanket of sand, but for $50 and change it was worth taking an early tour.

Sean Kelly is a writer and editor living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also the director of content for Linked:Golfers, the largest golf networking group on LinkedIn. If you have a story to tell about golf in Los Cabos, you can contact him at landsend@authorsdesk. com.

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The Skins Game Golfers can spend more concentrated time outdoors in a single day than the average person does in an entire week, so their risks for problems associated with sun exposure, such as skin cancer and heat stroke, are generally greater too. If you’re a golfer who’s as conscious of the sun as you’re aware of your game, you’re much more likely to avoid the hazards. Whether you are a junior golfer, a recreational player, or a professional competitor, a few small actions can significantly reduce the risk of damage to your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. • Always use sunscreen—it’s the first line of defense against the sun’s penetrating rays. Choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and broad spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB waves. Apply it 20 to 30 minutes before going outside and be sure to cover your ears, lips, nose, and neck. • For best results, “Don’t burn… Re-apply at the turn®.” Many people believe sunscreen lasts all day, but most only last about two hours and then need a fresh application. • Become a fashion model. Sun-protective clothing is your best protection from the sun, since it includes an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating, a sort of an SPF rating for apparel. New, lightweight materials let you comfortably wear long sleeves even in warm weather. Iconic Sport’s Sun Sleeves, for example, carry a UPF 50+ rating. They not only protect your arms, they also have moisture-wicking properties that keep you cooler on the course. Long sleeves keep you cooler? Yes, some do! • Many skin cancers appear on the ears, so it’s important to wear a hat with a wide brim. Additionally, a good pair of UV coated sunglasses will help protect both your eyes and the skin surrounding them. • Don’t wait until you are thirsty to start drinking liquids. Be sure to stay well-hydrated by drinking water, sports drinks, or caffeine-free drinks. Avoid alcohol as it can accelerate dehydration. • See a dermatologist at least once a year, more often if you have been diagnosed with skin cancer or precancerous lesions.

El Dorado… Ah, how Hank Haney loves thee. The teaching pro with a penchant for self promotion owns a home here and speaks of the area as one of his absolute favorites. It’s not hard to see why. Even though it’s one of the older courses in the Los Cabos corridor, Jack Nicklaus again created a winner. The par 72, 7,050yard track weaves inland giving golfers a quick tour of the desert and bristly scrub, before meandering down to the coast, where a cool breeze provides some relief from the heat but adds an extra dimension to the game. Reduced fees during the low season ($210) provide their own brand of relief, sitting roughly 20 percent lower than those during the high times ($250).

The sun doesn’t have to be your enemy. Spending just a few minutes taking preventative steps to minimize the effects of the sun can add years to your life while taking years off your appearance.

In 2011, One & Only Palmilla stretches it’s “Non-Peak Season,” which discounts its morning green fees by just more than 27 percent ($160 down from $220), all the way out to mid-December. Palmilla’s claim to fame is being the first 18-hole course in the Los Cabos area, opened in 1992. Every time I work my way back to the peninsula I wind up here at one time or another. It’s a sort of tradition, recognized both personally and nationally as the place that started it all.

Mark Wishner is the founder of The Sun SafeTee Program (www.sunsafetee.org), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that teaches golfers about sun protection and skin cancer prevention. You can reach Mark directly at:

mwishner@sunsafetee.org.

Opened in 2007, Puerto Los Cabos is one of the youngest of the bunch and among the most distinct too. The course as it currently stands is a par 73, measuring a whopping 7,461 from the tips. It’s a designer hybrid, with nine holes coming from the crafty mind of Jack Nicklaus and another nine being the brainchild of Greg Norman. Ultimately Puerto Los Cabos will feature two distinct 18 hole Signature courses, one from each Nicklaus and Norman. For now it’s a great way to compare almost side-by-side the artistry of these legendary craftsmen. During the low season, Puerto Los Cabos’s $150 rate is 23 percent less than its tourist-filled counterpart. –SK

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Navigating Baja by Jim Tolbert

librosymapasdebaja@yahoo.com

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hether you are a first time visitor, a seasonal or full time resident, there are two essential items to navigating Baja, a good map and a good dictionary. We want to suggest to you one of each of these items, the “Baja California Almanac” and Lonely Planet’s “Mexican Spanish Phrasebook”. The latest edition (2009) of the bilingual “Baja California Almanac” contains the best and most detailed maps of Baja from the border at Tijuana to land’s end at Cabo San Lucas. This latest reincarnation of the “Baja California Almanac” (my first copy was purchased in 1986) is a 10.75” wide x 15.25” tall format. Featuring 22 full color topographic maps which detail the entire Baja peninsula with over 10,000 entries in the index, this map is a must for anyone wishing to get off the beaten path and explore Baja’s surfing, camping, fishing, and hiking spots. Also included are a mileage distance table and measures conversion chart. The index is divided into population areas such as cities, settlements and ranchos, as well a land formations, bodies of water, and water courses for easy reference. Each page has a column for notes such as adding GPS coordinates. I have been using the previous editions of this atlas for years and find it to be indispensable when driving the peninsula and exploring Baja’s hidden locales. Grab a copy of this atlas before leaving home! If you are looking for a small pocket dictionary, the Lonely Planet’s “Mexican Spanish Phrasebook” is the book to buy. The 260 page book (with a map of Mexico) contains a 3500 word Spanish/English dictionary, as well as color coded sections devoted to tools (pronunciation, time, numbers, etc), practical (shopping, banking, transportation, etc), social (art, romance, meeting people, etc), food (eating out, vegetarian and special meals), safe travel, and sustainable travel. Learn more than how to order a beer! Find out how tell the waiter you are allergic to peanuts and how to make sure you actually do have a date! This regularly updated and revised book is tailored to the Spanish language as spoken in Mexico and reflects current trends. This book works equally well for both Spanish and English speaking persons and is a perfect size for your pocket, car or backpack! -JT.

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During our doctoral field work, my wife Emily and I spent two years in San Ignacio Lagoon and Magdalena Bay, where fisherman would often drop me off to surf at remote islands, lagoon entrances, and points. So when my two sons, Israel (15) and Daniel (13), started surfing at the ages of 4 and 6, I quickly converted them to budding Baja rats. Every Christmas break, we find an empty point at the end of a desolate dirt road. There we surf flawless waves with friends and fisherman for company.

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So with the onset of summer vacation for the boys, I decided to introduce them to the rest of Wild Pacific Baja I know so well and spend so much time exploring. I also wanted them to meet longtime friends who dot the fish camps and enclaves of the Pacific Coast.

A couple of days later, we emerged out of the old moon dust road that leads to the Pacific fishing village of Santa Rosalillita and saw the sight every surfer lives for—perfect peeling point waves and not a surfer in sight.

The plan was to see old friends in Punta Abreojos and San Ignacio Lagoon, surf the Endless Summer perfection of Scorpion Bay, touch down in Magdalena Bay, and finally enjoy the more tropical waters of the East Cape. My wife, Emily, who has endured just about every Baja hardship imaginable (e.g. a month on an island with a rickety tent and no bathroom), volunteered to bypass the moon dust and fly to Cabo and join us on the East Cape.

n 1979, when I was 15, my father loaded up our 1964 6-volt olive green Volkswagen camper van with surfboards, gas cans, shovels, and an old bicycle and we headed down Baja’s Highway 1.

For the next few ways my best friend Tim Hannan and I surfed empty point wave while my dad cooked up lobster given to us by friendly fishermen. Christmas Day was spent surfing Kirra-like barrels at an inside point. It was heaven. Since then I’ve spent much of my life traversing the back roads of Pacific Baja in search of that Endless Summer moment of discovery and joy of perfect waves and helping fishermen conserve their pristine coastlines through my work with WiLDCOAST.

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With all the hoopla about security in Mexico, I wasn’t worried about Baja. Authorities have largely secured the Transpeninsular Highway. I knew that once the boys and I emerged into the Central Desert south of El Rosario, we would be in the territory of Old School Baja, where life is slow, friendships last forever, and a big abrazo is the common currency.

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Point Breaks and Sali Flats The points north of Guerrero Negro are not supposed to have surf in the summer. But when we caught our first glimpse of the Trestles-like point north of Guerrero Negro on our first stop of the trip, we knew we were in for a treat. The waves were 2-3’ and looped endlessly down the cobblestone banks. No one was around. The boys grabbed their boards, agreeing to switch off a custom 5’1” fish with a narrower and lighter shortboard. I paddled out on an old 5’6” fish. The waves were playful, the water was temperate, and it was a great first stop along the way. Our first overnight destination was Punta Abreojos, a Pacific fishing village just north of San Ignacio Lagoon, that is known for its world-class fishing, variety of point waves, and local residents who are among the most organized and fearless defenders of their coastline in Mexico. The local cooperative that sustains the town through it sustainable harvest of lobster and abalone tirelessly protects its coastal zone against poachers, initiated efforts to preserve sea turtles in Baja, and fought against efforts to industrialize the neighboring salt flats. With a moderate southern hemisphere swell projected to hit Punta Abreojos, I knew the boys were in for a treat. South swells light up the slabby reefs and shallow points of Abreojos.

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As we arrived in town, I asked directions to the house of my longtime friend Javier Villavicencio, a local fisherman, and winner of the 2003 Conde Naste Environmental Award for his efforts to protect the local coastline that is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. I find Javier’s house,at the edge of the mangrove estuary on the north side of town. Javier, who had just returned from fishing, greets us with a big abrazo. “Come on inside,” he said. “We just made ceviche.” Israel and Daniel dig into a giant bowl of fresh corvina ceviche while I hand over a boxful of Patagonia wetsuits to Javier to be used for the ocean festival and surfing contest the town holds each year. Over the next few days, the boys and I surf a variety of reef and point waves with Javier’s stepsons Sergio and Luis, along with a hardcore group of friendly and welcoming locals. One afternoon as the wind howls offshore, the boys score a few empty barrels at the reefs in town. “Dad,” said Daniel, as he emerges from the water, exhausted after a long session, “Is it always this good here?” The road to San Ignacio Lagoon winds through the cardon filled Vizcaino Desert southwest of the mission village of San Ignacio and then skirts the salitrales or salt flats of San Ignacio Lagoon. The lagoon, a gray whale birthing site in winter, is quiet in the summer and usually bypassed by the hordes of surfers who chase south swells into the famed points of Scorpion Bay or San Juanico 70 miles to the south.

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While stopping to see Rubi Moreno, a longtime friend and environmental activist who lives in San Ignacio, the boys take out a kayak to tour the gem of a freshwater lagoon that borders San Igancio. After a visit and breakfast with Rubi, we visit with Maria Luisa Camacho de Aguilar at the La Fridera Fish Camp in San Ignacio Lagoon. Emily and I spent a fall and gray whale season with Maria Luisa and her husband Antonio. Over coffee and freshly baked empanadas, I catch up on local news and ask driving conditions on the notoriously fickle saltflat and sand dune road south to San Juanico. “The last chubasco messed it up a bit,” said Octaviano’s, Maria Luisa’s son. “But just follow the sticks and bottles that stick out of the salitrales so you wont’ get lost.” There is probably no easier place to get lost than the fickle tracks that are often barely visible on the southern edges of San Igancio Lagoon. If you know your way, they can become Baja’s best highway. If you get lost or make the wrong turn into a mud pit, you will regret you ever tried them. Thankfully I am able to remember the twists and turns and tracks through the flats and am able to securely navigate a few sketchy areas near the fish camp of El Datil. After 50 miles I ascend the mesa that leads to Scorpion Bay. At the top of a bluff overlooking the lagoons and flats to the north, a shrine provides me with the opportunity to light a candle, leave a few pesos and thank the Virgen for our safe passage.

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Scorpion Bay, or “Malibu South” was once a remote outpost known to hardcore surfers. It is now a retirement village for Southern California expats and summer vacation destination for surfers who hope to score waves at what Surfer Magazine recently as one of the world’s best waves. The boys and I arrive at the cliffs above the four points that extend beyond the fishing village of San Juanico. The surf is smaller than at Punta Abreojos, but only a few surfers are out. So we grab our boards and spend a few hours surfing waist-high waves. Over the next couple of days we sample the lined up point waves of second and third point and enjoy friendly conversations with the handful of visiting and resident surfers. With a paved road that will soon connect San Juanico to Ciudad Constitucion to the south, I am glad the boys were able to experience the magic of Scorpion Bay before it truly becomes another overcrowded surfing suburb of Southern California.

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During the rest of our trip, the boys and I take a trip to see the mangroves and wildlife of Magdalena Bay, spotting a hammerhead shark and giant colonies of frigate birds, and then spend ten days with Emily enjoying the white sand beaches and waves of the East Cape. All in all it was a wonderful reminder that what makes Baja truly a world-class destination, is not the presence of upscale resorts or fancy beachside boutiques, but the warmth of its people and the beauty of its unspoilt landscape. That is the Baja I know and love, and the Baja I will always return to. -SD

Serge Dedina is the Executive Director of WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias, that this article was excerpted from. He has traveled the back roads of Baja since 1973.

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It’s a great thing not having a work schedule, no big responsibilities and no jailer checking on every move I make. That thought was flying around my mind when my friend “El Mano Fria” arrived to where I was, carrying a business proposal, “We can earn good bucks with this one” he told me, “Is it legal?” I asked, “I’m not sure yet” He replied. Apparently a couple of gringos arrived to the mechanical workshop where Gabino usually is, they were looking for a couple of Mexicans who could help them on a short trip to the sierra. Gabino, who was always available for any non conventional kind of work, raised his hand like a child at school proposing himself and a friend for this labor. Gabino “El Mano Fria” wasn’t very good with English, and knowing that I was a little bit better than him in this subject, he put me down to be the second Mexican that the two gringos were looking for. We met the gringos at a small bar downtown in San Jose del Cabo. Gabino introduced me as an expert in Baja California Sur history, almost a professor in this matter, besides that, as an excellent cook. I just smiled as I shook the hands of the two “gueros”. We sat at a corner where the music wasn’t too loud and asked for a round of beers. “A mi traeme un vampiro” I shouted to the waiter, changing my order. We spent a nice evening chatting and laughing. Bob and Chris were the names of the gringos, they asked us some questions about the best roads to reach the sierra and also they asked me a lot of questions related to cuisine. I answered in a very enthusiastic way, propelled by the new tips that Chris was giving me about outdoor cooking, also I think, because of the vampiros that I drank one after the other. When they drove me back to my place, I was very happy, but for only ten or twenty seconds before I fell asleep. I realized that I didn’t know what these two guys were hiring us for…

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We were supposed to meet them next Friday, they left a list of things and food that we should collect; they also left some money with me. It was Wednesday, so I spent the morning rolling in my bed away from the sunlight until the hunger forced me to prepare something for breakfast. I spent the afternoon in the hardware store, buying the things they asked us for. I decided not to buy the food until the next day, to get everything as fresh as possible. We met the gringos the next Friday, very early at a Zalate tree which is on the way out to Los Barriles. They started to check the list. We got everything, at the top of the list was the truck that Gabino brought. Bob stretched his hand to shook Gabino’s, so he put his cold beer aside and when Bob felt his still cold hand, he just said “El Mano Fria, right?” Gabino just smiled. Chris took a pvc pipe from his car and showed me a map, then from a leather briefcase he took some old papers and put everything in front of me and he started staring at me, like waiting for me to say something. I needed a few moments to clear my mind, thinking “what is this guy expecting me to discover?”, then I started to read the papers one by one. Maybe I wasn’t a history professor, but it was easy to understand the project of these guys.

Short story long, Chris and Bob had the map of a treasure. Or better said, of many treasures. The general idea was that the friars buried their possessions when they were forced to leave the Baja, the documents didn´t state the nature of these treasures. Maybe they were nothing, maybe some writings, maybe gold. But for sure, it was worth taking the adventure to find out. We got ready to leave, Gabino was a much younger person than I was, a good mechanic and owner of a 4x4 truck. I guess they consented on hiring me because of the story about my “knowledge” of ancient history. We left around seven thirty, Bob and Chris were leading us in a compact car and we drove for about an hour. Suddenly they left the road and parked out in the sand. “We are taking a hike with you from here” said Chris to Gabino, they climbed in the back and hit the truck to tell us they were ready. They marked a map for me to follow, taking the arroyo uphill. I had a Brunton compass in my hand, but I didn’t need it at all, at least at that moment. We only followed the arroyo for about three hours until there was no way to continue.

We left the truck with most of the supplies and start walking among the bushes and cactus. I felt that a week had passed when we reached a cliff and I felt disappointed when I looked down and still was able to see the In the 18th century, the truck from a distance Jesuit friars were in charthat didn’t appear to be ge of the missions in la very long. From there Baja, North and South, Chris asked for my comIn the 18th century, the Jesuit friars were in but suddenly they were pass and made some adcharge of the missions in la Baja. forced to abandon thejustments to the maps se missions, carrying nothing but the very clothes they he brought from the states. Luckily, they didn’t give me were wearing, “Tenían que salir con las ropas que lleanything very heavy to carry, only the cooking supplies varan puestas, sus breviarios, un libro de oraciones, and a machete. We decided to make a camp, Gabino chocolates y algún pequeño cambio”. They were conand Bob returned to bring some things back from the centrated at the port of La Paz, and sailed from there truck. Meanwhile Chris explained to me his plan or at to San Blas in a ship called “La Concepcion”. That fact is least, a part of it. dated on February 3 1768, marking the end of seventy years of evangelization, leaving fourteen missions in La We have to walk in circles; he explained to me his Antigua California, which is the now South and North thought was that with the hurry of the forced departuBaja California. re, the people who made those burials didn’t have the chance to make them very far away from the missions Chris had a set of documents and letters apparently or the towns. He elaborated some annotations from written by the same person, a friar maybe, but definithe maps and letters and he was pretty sure that he tely a person close to him. This person had been asked would be able to reach the track of these burials. to make a series of burials in several places, taking very detailed precautions and following intricate instructions. LAND’S END MAGAZINE No. 2

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By the time Bob and Gabino returned, we all got very hungry, so I started to prepare something good enough so the Americans would say, “It was worth it to bring this guy”. It was a little rainy (something weird for La Baja) so I made a tomato soup with shrimp and chili, and gave everyone five corn tortillas. I conquered. We spent the night there. Chris wasn’t sure yet of the route to take, so he spent most of the evening reading the maps and the letters. I helped him a little bit, translating some phrases that at that moment, I realized he had completely misunderstood. Fortunately, those phrases weren´t related to the burial localizations. I left Chris with the maps around one in the morning. The dawn arrived with rain; I was very suspicious about that. We had a quick breakfast and started to follow Chris. He showed up that morning with a different expression on his face. Maybe he didn’t sleep all night, but he looked fresh as a lettuce and very optimistic. He marked a route and we started walking. Before that, I took another look to the ocean on the horizon behind us, it was darker than usual. We walked half a day, there was a lot of humidity in the air. The gringos were about one hundred feet ahead of us, in my opinion they were walking too fast for someone who doesn´t know where they are heading to. They started to climb some rocks and I stopped to have a drink of water, I think even Gabino was a little desperate with my slow walking. I started looking around when something caught my attention. I saw a group of rocks placed one above the other. I got closer and took away the sand around them. With my hands, I tried to clean the one on the top, and then I used the water from my bottle to discover a carved sign: IHS

We wait for almost an hour under the rain, Gabino even took a nap while we were waiting. But I noticed that Chris and Bob started to get desperate, I think they were afraid that the rain would wash the tracks to the burial they had just found. Chris couldn’t take it any longer and he started walking in the rain, by this moment I realized that we were in the middle of a whirlwind, or like we say in Mexico, a “Tromba”. The amount of water falling from the sky was too much, I was worried I would get caught in a stream of water from the sierra. After doubting for a few moments, Bob decided to go after Chris, Gabino and I just watched them from the tent. We waited for about thirty minutes in complete silence, then Gabino looked at me and told me, “You know Pit, we left the truck right in the arroyo” After an hour Bob and Chris returned, Chris had a severe leg injury, it looked like a fracture. We were able to stop it from bleeding but we didn’t have anything else to treat him. We were forced to wait under the rain all that day and the whole night; when it finally stopped raining it was still very dark. The clouds were covering the sky completely, but we knew that we had to take that opportunity to descend and get some medical attention for Chris. We made an improvised stretcher with a piece of sailcloth and Gabino and Bob started to carry him downhill, I just took a backpack with my cooking supplies and a flashlight.

I started to shout for them to return, after two or three shouts Gabino answered me and I told him “Dile a esos cabrones que se regresen, que ya lo encontre”. I sat and my happiness was more related to that, than to my find. Chris was the first to arrive, I showed him the stone and he started to jump. “We are on the right track” he shouted. We made a new camp next to the rocks, but first we had to clean a little bit from bushes with thorns and small cacti. Gabino helped me with the fire, and I made something for dinner. We spent that evening around the fire, Chris was so happy that he even sang a couple of melodies. He was again the guy we met at the bar a couple of days ago. The next morning it was still dark when I started to check the things we had left to make some breakfast, I realized that Chris and Bob weren’t in their tents. I reached for Gabino, he was still asleep, and I returned to cooking breakfast, I was very hungry. When Chris and Bob returned, the table was served and I was already on my second taco. The two gringos looked at me exhaustedly, they weren’t speaking very much and I started to feel uncomfortable. Then Chris started to talk: “We found another one” he said. Then he took a leather bag from his backpack and some pieces of dusty metal. We are on the right track said Chris, this is the route where the friars made their burials. Then Chris started to babble a little bit, Bob interrupted him and got closer to me and Gabino. “We are going to share it with you.” I think they took this journey as an adventure, but now that they were finding something real, they got excited and also very nervous. “Ten percent of what we found is for you, the rest is ours” they said. Gabino looked at me for a moment and we nodded at each other. “Deal” I said, and heavy rain started to fall above us. We took cover in the tents but the rain was so heavy that I was afraid the small tents would collapse and fall onto our heads. LAND’S END MAGAZINE No. 2

We arrived to the first camp around six in the afternoon, it was completely vanished, and also from there we were able to see that Gabino’s truck had been dragged by the sand and water in the arroyo. A lot of water was still running to the ocean, and I started to feel a little anxious about our situation. The rain had stopped completely and we were able to reach the road. A couple of people on mules were there waiting for a way to pass, they told us that the road was broken a couple of miles from where we were. Also, from that point it was impossible to cross to Los Barriles, the water in the arroyo was too high, and for me it wasn’t worth it to take the risk. The two guys in the mules helped us with Chris; we took cover under a zalate tree and made a fire. We splinted Chris´s leg and started to look for something to eat. The guys with the mules had a bunch of excellent fish, they were red snapper of a considerable size, “They felt from the sky” they told us. I did know that sometimes with the whirl winds fish literally rain from the sky, but I never expected to satisfy my hunger with that kind of gift from heaven. I didn’t have many ingredients to prepare the food, but I was resolute to do the best I could with the little I had. I have to tell you, there is a second part to this history. Chris needed some time to recover from his injury, but after he discovered the value of his findings, he returned to Cabo, and looked for me again and my friend Gabino a.k.a. “El Mano Fria”. -PP

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Pescado Zarandeado

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. 10 cloves coarsely but well chopped garlic. 1 big white onion. 1 spoon of butter. 1 teaspoon of sugar 1 teaspoon of worcestershire sause. 1 teaspoon soy sauce. 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder, or substitute New Mexico chile powder. 1/4 teaspoon powdered chile de arból or substitute cayenne. Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt. 1/4 cup mayonnaise. Black pepper 6 - 8 ounce red snapper filets, or substitute another type of fish.

Directions

1. Make the chile-garlic rub. In the oil, cook the garlic and powdered black pepper over medium low heat until the garlic is soft, but not browned. (Cooking the garlic too long will make it rubbery and more difficult to grind into a paste). Lower the heat to very low, add the soy sauce, the two chile powders, and salt, and continue to cook for 1 - 2 minutes, but do not allow the powder to burn as it will be bitter. Remove the pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool for about 20 minutes. This will permit the powdered spices to fully hydrate. Grind the mixture to a paste in a molcajete or mortar and pestle. 2. Make the flavored mayonnaise and coat the fish. Mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of the paste with the mayonnaise and reserve it in the refrigerator. Spread a layer of the remaining paste on one side of each fish filet and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours. 3. Start your fire or preheat your grill. Light a fire in a charcoal or wood grill or preheat a gas grill. 4. Grill the fish. Just before grilling, remove and reserve 1 heaping tablespoon of the flavored mayonnaise and mix with the pepper to use as a garnish for the finished dish, and spread the rest of the mayonnaise over the seasoning mixture on one side of the fish. Grill the fish until well browned on the flesh side, then turn the skin side down and continue grilling until done. 5. Serve the fish. Place the fish on serving plates, top with a little of the reserved flavored mayonnaise and chives, and serve it with lime wedges, your favorite sauces, and hot corn tortillas. Enjoy!

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W

ell, you might have heard that Cabo San Lucas has the best sport fishing anywhere in the whole wide world. Of course one would imagine a perfect day of sport fishing by getting up at 5:30 a.m., prop your eyelids open and drag yourself down to the marina, then being welcomed on the fishing charter boat you may have spent $500 US for the day or ‘mucho dinero’ more than that. The best part about chartering a fishing boat is that the crew is ready to go, well trained in the skills of fishing from birth, the bait is already caught and sitting in the live bait cooler, the beer and sandwiches are ready for your lunch and of course the captain has charted a course of where you will be going for the day to catch that big black or blue marlin, an award winning sized blue fin tuna or even a grouper! (Grouper is the best eating fish ever) You have even thought far enough ahead and brought your own igloo cooler to take your fresh filets home,which will be sitting in first class on dry ice! Everyone back home will be feasting at your next BBQ on freshly caught fish from the Sea of Cortez. You will be a sport fishing superstar back home in Fargo. It has to be mentioned too that the ‘thrill seeking’ part of sport fishing has to be at the ‘top of the list’ of reasons for even spending the big money on a boat charter. Last on the ‘thrill seeking’ list is roasting in the hot sun for 8 hours, being violently thrown around a small boat deck while gripping tightly onto a large fishing reel with a 200 pound fish on the other end pulling your shoulders out of your sockets. Last but not least is breathing in the diesel fumes. Add all that up with a wicked hangover - well worth the money! There is another way to catch a fish. Two men, Kenny and Mike, were sitting on the beach, chairs leaning back at a slight angle soaking up the sun talking about their luck in finding such a paradise as this, with a warm ocean breeze and endless white sandy beach in Los Cabos. Not another person in sight in either direction along the pristine Corridor beach situated exactly center of the two towns, San Jose and Cabo San Lucas. Of course, there were a few sport fishing boats bobbing along adding to the already magnificent view. These two ‘locals’ were waiting for their fishing buddies to show up from Washington so they could get there much anticipated two days of fishing in. The boat charter had already been reserved and paid for. The Washington guys had never been to Cabo and had heard countless hours of bragging and boasting about how crazy fantastic the sport fishing was in Cabo San Lucas! They wanted to see for themselves so left the wives at home. (I already don’t like these guys) Kenny, a tall athlete from ‘the day’, superstar basketball player and world class surfer (he could hold his breath a long time) had discovered Cabo in about 1991 and because he had lived the real estate boom years in Aspen, Colorado, he predicted this little dusty fishing village would one day be the place for the rich and famous with land values jumping up into the millions. Mike too, had discovered this little Mexican paradise about the same time as Kenny and built a small home right on the beach‘all in’ for about $250,000. Oh, and besides his oceanfront home, he owned the whole acre behind him and thought maybe one day it would be worth something and he would develop it. Almost dozing off, sitting enjoying the sound of the waves and watching nothing much at all, Kenny sat bolt upright and shouted, ‘what the freaking hell is that?’ while pointing at something awkward looking floundering just off shore about 50 feet out. They both stand up and run to the shoreline. This being January it could have been a whale but it was too small for that, yet sill big enough to get their attention. Whale season is between November and April and boy oh boy do you see whale action during the season. Kenny, already in his board shorts, (no speedos for this guy) started making his way into the water when Mike yelled at him to be careful and not to get too close to ‘that thing’. Kenny, a New Yorker who doesn’t listen well at all (had three wives that all said so) continued on into the waves and dove under the incoming surf. He popped out and starting swimming the crawl to make it to this ‘what-ever-it-is’ that was out there, faster. He caught up to it quickly and yelled back, “Oh My God it is a Big Giant Grouper”.

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Yes, the amazingly large grouper was floundering around on top of the water and Kenny swam up beside him and was able to somehow thrust his left hand and arm right up his gill! The grouper was not having anyone assault him like this so immediately dove down, and down some more into the depths of the salty sea. Kenny was stuck inside his gill and unable to fight his way free from the grouper and was dragged deeper under the water. This fight was on and from the shoreline Mike was watching in horror and shock at the scene worried that Kenny might be drowning before his eyes. Just then, the taxi with the two Washington buddies showed up and saw Mike at the shoreline so dropped their suitcases off at the side of the beach house and walked to meet Mike at the shoreline. They each had a beer in hand and were already taken in by the beautiful ocean view. “Hey Mike how you doing?” they both said as they kicked off their shoes and let the water wash over their feet. Mike was sick, out of breath and gasped, “My friend is drowning! A giant fish just took him down under the water and it has been over two minutes now and I am sick he may never come back up. I think he is dead.” “Are you saying your friend was taken by a big fish? How many have you had Mike? ” Both buddies said in unison.

Kenny was fighting it the whole way into shore and rode the last wave onto the sand. Lying there, laughing and gasping for air and yelling, “I got him. I got him.”

The next moments were surreal as the three men stood and watched as Kenny jumped straight up out of the water and started swimming to shore struggling to hold onto the giant grouper with his left arm still jammed up the gill.

It took all three men to carry the one hundred pound grouper up onto the shore. Both Washington buddies said, “You said this place had great fishing but I had no idea you could catch one with your bare hands!” (True fish story). -DK

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In a world that seems every day smaller, exploration is becoming a luxury. Baja California, for instance, is a joyful reminder that some regions of Earth still keep wild surprises and beauties, but the constant presence of human activity in the form of cave paintings, rock carvings, and abandoned everyday objects, reminds us that our ancestors, and our contemporaries, have walked, seen –and transformed- much of what we think is untouched nature. It is true that there are still places untouched by man, fewer each day. The bottom of the oceans is one of these “final frontiers” of exploration. Another, maybe the only other, is the underground. Caves and caverns constitute a largely unknown and immense territory to which a few have been able to access; these fortunate ones are known technically as speleologists. Mexico is proudly known internationally as the “Speleological Himalaya”, both by the length and depth of its caves, and by the immense quantity of them, spread through most of Mexican territory. As a speleologist, I have been fortunate to stamp my footprint in humid clay never walked by anyone else. The strong character of these underground spaces makes me imagine man’s arrival to the Moon, or to another planet, me being a character of this fabulous story. Juxtlahuaca cave, situated one hour (45 kilometers) drive east of Chilpancingo, the capital city of the southern state of Guerrero, is even for experienced speleologists, a precious jewel, not an Everest of this figurative speleological Himalaya, but maybe one of those precious azure lakes in the center of a secluded valley. In the middle of the Sierra Madre del Sur, which crosses southern Mexico from West to East, many caves tunnel across the limestone basement of Guerrero: both explored and unexplored, huge or tiny, dry or filled with furious waters, this area´s caves are waiting for explorers to complete the maps of its underground treasures. For visiting the cave, you need to contact “El Chivo”, the head of a local family at Colotlipa, the nearest town, that for several decades have protected this beautiful cave making of this their form of life. He lives just half block from the central plaza of the town. There is no entrance fee but a tip is expected. The adventure starts when “El Chivo” or a member of his family takes you in the back of one of their pickups through the fields around Colotlipa to a dirt road that crosses dry tropical forests and passes next to the remains of the old hacienda of Juxtlahuaca, which gave name to the nearby cavern. The devotion “El Chivo” and his family have for the cave is as rare as meritorious, having saved Juxtlahuaca from the vandalism or neglect that have destroyed many other beauties all over Mexico. A peculiar gate, made by them of recycled rusted metal pieces welded together is a complement to the guardian’s job, just leaving enough space for the original inhabitants of the cave, several species of bats, to enter and exit trough it. Once passing the gate, as your eyes get used to the gradual darkness and the warmth of the gasoline lamp the guides carry, you start crossing the highest –and hottest- passages of the cave, properly known as “El Infierno” (“The Hell”) which because of its high temperature and location are the favorite of underground fauna: colonies of several bat species, with nursery areas where mothers can be seen milking their babies, accompanied by several inoffensive insect species – among them cockroaches- that thrive in the bats excrement, thriving in a world of scarce food resources.

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“Once passing the gate, as your eyes get used to the gradual darkness and the warmth of the gasoline lamp the guides carry, you start crossing the highest –and hottestpassages of the cave, properly known as El Infierno”

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If for some visitors the fauna of the cave may seem “aggressive”, all of its inhabitants are harmless to humans. A measurable demonstration of the care Juxtlahuaca is receiving from the local community is the abundance of animals inside of it. Many caves once full of life are now almost empty after years of careless visits, pollution or destruction. If you are scared, dear reader, with the vibrant life forms of the first galleries of the cave, please try hard to control yourself and continue. I am sure you will not regret it. Juxtlahuaca is a medium size cavern, mostly composed of horizontal galleries, some 4 to 5 km in total length, perfectly adapted by means of stairs and paths for tourists not familiar to speleology through many of its most beautiful passages. The lack of electrical lighting, left in project and never completed, gives the visit an additional charm as light from the gasoline lamps the guides carry, and eventually that of some visitors, are the only way of bringing to light this otherwise eternally and absolutely dark spaces. Underground water currents were, as in most caves, responsible for the sculpture of these galleries, some of them more than 20 meters high and 40 meters wide, penetrating and widening cracks and fissures between limestone layers day after day, with the patience of eternity. While some caves have furious water torrents, Juxtlahuaca has now tranquil ponds in the lower galleries, and multiple small to tiny water penetrations that keep sculpting its calcium carbonate formations, a kind of cave that is passing from an active to a fossil state according to specialists. The next galleries of the cave start showing a crescendo of beautiful natural mineral formations, that grow and mutate as water full of calcium minerals sediment and chemically react to leave small amounts of material that make this almost-impossible shapes grow several centimeters per century. Long sharp stalactites hang from the rock vaults and rounded and ribbed stalagmites rise from the floor after the call of a stalactite above them, that drips and deposits on them the excess of minerals and water they have not used for their own growth. From this mirror like relationship, one day, one century, the patient growth of a stalactite and a stalagmite, will result in their fusion in a column, that will keep growing in circumference, sometimes to amazing proportions.

LAND’S END MAGAZINE No. 2

Other beautiful formations appear in each corner of Juxtlahuaca, one after another, challenging our imagination, our memory and our understanding of nature. Some hang like wax dripping on a bottle, others like wet heavy blankets hanging from a rope. But more fantastically, defying gravity, are helictites, stalactites that branch and grow diagonally like the exposed roots of a tiny tree, or the exuberant drapery of “colgadas” (hangers) whose delicate majesty makes me think of a flag in the wind just petrified. But my favorite calcium carbonate formations are the gours, small to huge fountains composed of several to thousands of natural ponds located at different levels, with natural curved walls acting as dams, that overflow one into another and sometimes reveal inside their slow flowing waters spherical concretions called, of course, cavern pearls. But the fascination for these unique underground spaces is not new, as Juxtlahuaca shows their visitors. In the mid section of the cave, some 1200 meters from the entrance, archaeologists have discovered an ancient cemetery, dating from around 1000 b. C., attributed to Olmec people who migrated from the Gulf Coast and made today´s state of Guerrero one of their satellite strongholds. Bones are scattered through stalagmite groups, and in some cases are fossilized entirely, forming part of the rocks on which they were deposited, showing us how old they are, how many years have they rested in the cave. Mysterious red markings on the walls show us another cultural evidence of our ancestor’s visit to the cave. In my opinion as speleologist, this markings indicate the correct route for reaching, or exiting, some areas of the cave. One of the most impressing remains in the Olmec cemetery is a fossilized skull, still recognizable but entirely covered by popcorn-like cave coral formations, as the skull was submerged in crystal clean water loaded with minerals for many centuries. But the best is still to come, as we reach a gallery with a low ceiling were a beautiful and well preserved rock painting continues telling us about the importance this underground world had for prehispanic cultures. It is as surprisings as mysterious why the Olmecs came so far from the entrance to paint and bury their dead, maybe important personalities. What is known is that they revered Earth as a huge reptile, which through its many mouths, represented by caves, lead to an interior world of darkness were seeds and water were kept during the dry season of the year, and let out during the rainy season. A symbolic explanation of the actual function caves have in nature as filters and underground water reservoirs.

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“ In the next gallery, much bigger than the former, two other intriguing rock paintings appear, forming a duality, one in from of the other: a huge snake and a rampant jaguar”

“The warning is, of course, touching is forbidden, the purity and perfection of the crystal flowers is proportional to its fragility, as a snowflake melting in our hand”

This painting depicts a man dressed in jaguar skin, with a feathered helmet-like ornament on his head, and a rectangular cloth with stripped designs covering his chest. He has a rope held on his hand, apparently holding a prisoner, smaller in size and deteriorated, so its features can only be vaguely seen. The picture gives us a strange but powerful message that leaves in our minds more questions than answers, showing us rituals of unknown purpose that maybe took place just were we are standing, after 30 centuries, as if contemplating a blurry photograph of an extinct civilization. In the next gallery, much bigger than the former, two other intriguing rock paintings appear, forming a duality, one in from of the other: a huge snake and a rampant jaguar, both painted in red, totemic animals of the Olmecs and many of the later civilizations that lived in what today is Mexico. Though not as well preserved as the jaguar man painting, the huge size and presence of these two animals is still impressive. The snake, with a feather-like crest, may be an ancestor of the feathered serpent of later cultures, a dragon-like creature that represented the serpentine flow of rivers and the evanescence of clouds and thunders in the sky. The jaguar, on the other hand, was a night creature, and represented both the spirit of the mountains, and the night sky, as its skin’s dots were identified with stars. Still impressed by the presence of these two nature spirits guarding the cave, the guide leads us to an underground lake which refreshes our bodies. Though the walk has not been extenuating, the short rest is welcome. According to your behavior during the excursion, not only your physical condition, the guide will consider taking you further on to a secret chamber at the end of the lake. The entrance is very narrow short passage that may get a bit anxious more than one, but once passing it, the breathtaking beauty of what you will see, will compensate all the effort and penitence you may have suffered. Unique as far as I know in Mexico, and maybe one of very few places on Earth, entire walls of the narrow gallery are covered with urchin-like bouquets of sharp translucent white crystals, made of aragonite, one of the two crystaline forms of calcium carbonate of unbelievable purity. Like a snow covered chrysanthemum garden, the eye and mind find no explanation for so much beauty concentrated in such a small and remote place. The warning is, of course, touching is forbidden, the purity and perfection of the crystal flowers is proportional to its fragility, as a snowflake melting in our hand. It is time to return, the body is tired for the exercise and the mind is overwhelmed by the concentration of so much beauty. After a silent rest with all lights off, near the exit of the cave, our guide tells his final words about the respect this underground spaces deserve, together with all of its inhabitants, mineral formations and cultural vestiges. It is 7:00 pm, impossible to know in the complete darkness of the cave if it were not for someone’s watch. But bats do know what time is it, it is time to wake up and get out of the cave for feeding on insects or flower pollen. As we walk through the final passages to the exit, thousands of bats fly masterfully without touching us, guided by their acute senses, sure of the path every night takes them to the open world. To us, inhabitants of that open world, returning home is comfortable, but once after having contemplated the strange beauty of the underground world, returning to its depths is compulsory, sooner or later, let the darkness surround you again with its serenity. -RR

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LEM 02  

Land's End Magazine August -September

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