It has probably been here for at least 50 years, what are the chances it will fall today? I ask myself as I look up at the most questionable wharf I have ever seen. We were proud of ourselves for unfolding the port-a-bote (Grin) and leaving Sonrisa behind on anchor. But, as a friendly face smiled down at us with his arm gesturing a big swoop to indicate we should tie up to the death-trap wharf, we realized that leaving Sonrisa would be the least of our “comfort zone training” for today.
The man on the wharf took Grin’s bow line and tied it to a large cleat on the edge, about 35 feet off the water. Good thing Grin’s bowline is long. Looking at the “stairs” I am to disembark upon, I can scarcely believe that someone would think it a good idea. The stairs are really slats of rust, painted blue. The last five stairs have already given up the gusto and parted from their brethren, to dangle down into the water connected only by four aging ropes. You would think whoever tied those ropes would try to tie the stairs together in a more structural manner, but no, the remaining stairs were just dangling. There is a “handrail” made of a piece of pipe halfway up the stairs, but from the bottom you just have to climb “carefully”. At the top, there are rusty holes eaten away into the platform, covered then by plyboard here and there, also painted blue. I see that the “cleat” Grin is tied to is just beyond a large gap in the platform.
This must be what our updated Tetnus shots are for.
Our friendly greeter asks us if we need to buy diesel fuel, and we explain we might in another couple of days. He invites us into town and points to his sister Maria’s restaurant with nice food and wifi.
The wharf doesn’t get better from here. After the fuel platform, the wharf is built of mismatched wooden slats. Every now and then, a slat has a piece broken out of it, and you can see the three/four meters down to the water’s surface. There are no rails on either side, and as you walk along the boards, if you don’t step carefully over the areas where the boards are nailed down to beams below (a pattern that is ever changing), you can feel the boards flexing beneath your feet. If I survive the walk on this pier, we are having a good day.
When we reach the beach, we give each other a high-five for survival, and then we are greeted by another smiling face who again leads us to Maria’s. As we reach Maria’s, a teenage boy and a woman greet us on the patio. “My name is Maria, and this is my son, Victor.” She says smiling and shaking our hands. We introduce ourselves in return. There is already a gathering of four men inside, three gringos and one gentleman who owns another boat anchored in the bay, “Tranquillo”.
We sit on the patio with Maria’s cute little dog sleeping in the sunshine while the other men finish their meal. We sip a Coca Cola, and read the menu. We request fish tacos on flour tortillas. When the other cruisers leave, they greet us and ask if we are ready for the weather. We think so? It’s hard to know. We take our seats at the single table inside Maria’s establishment. We can see dust rolling across the desert in the distance, the wind is already kicking up. I shudder as a white full sized truck drives out onto the Wharf of Death, presumably to fill up with some diesel.
Maria rolls out fresh tortillas, fries the fish, and prepares an unusual salsa. We ask her what it is, and she explains that she fries thin, long red chilis in oil, then she adds “special” flour, and that is it. She calls it Pico de Pajaro (sp?) The flavor is spectacular, smoky, hot and complex. We add this to our fish tacos, along with tomatoes, cilantro, cabbage, lime and a chili mayonnaise sauce. On the side, she serves us the most flavorful refried beans I have ever had in my life. She turns on some salsa music. “Do you like salsa?” There is a momentary confusion regarding whether she meant the music or the food, but she meant the music. Between Andrew’s poor excuse for Spanish language study, Maria’s best efforts at English, and Victor’s fairly passable English, the four of us manage a lovely conversation. The wind continues to pick up as we finish our meal, and we start to get nervous about getting back to Sonrisa. We thank Maria and Victor, pay the bill, and leave hoping to see them again after the wind settles down.
My stomach is in my throat as we tiptoe carefully across the wharf. Our cheerful greeter passes us on our left, heading back to the beach. He is walking across the wharf without a care in the world, like it is a clean, flat, paved sidewalk in Lincoln, Nebraska. I imagine he and his friends giggling and pointing at the gringos walking on the wharf like it is a live electrical wire used as a tightrope. Andrew leans over the gaping rust hole between the platform and the cleat, untying Grin. “This is terrifying” he says, trying to get the rope to come loose amongst the tangle of other ropes on the same cleat. I go down the rusty slat stairs first, then grip the sides keeping the boat in place while Andrew makes his way down. It’s low tide now, so there is about a four foot drop from the last (in tact) stair to the surface of the water. I’m planning what I will do if the whole thing just crumples under our weight.
High fives for survival!
We motor out to Sonrisa and wrestle Grin back on deck. As we hoist Grin on the halyard, it flies up like a kite. It takes my entire body weight to keep it under control while Andrew turns the winch. We get it on deck and fold it up tight. We lash it down as if we are ready to go out to sea, just in case the anchorage goes to hell in a hand basket during the storm and we have to move. We go down below and contemplate whether there is anything else we can do to make our anchor plan more secure. We decide to put out a bit more chain, and then hunker down for the night.
We are watching the wind meter climb to 30 knots with gusts to 35. I tell myself we have weathered worse wind on anchor in Lake Mead, and that is true. But this is the first time I have weathered wind in the boat that is my home in one of the most remote places in Mexico. It’s distinctly different, and what do you know….I’m scared again. As the rain pelted Sonrisa’s cabin top, we are nervous, but we are warm and dry. I wonder if the same can be said for Maria and Victor. I puzzle over my own discomfort and fear.
When we told Maria and Victor that the forecast included rain, they were visibly apprehensive. Victor pointed at the ceiling and explained that a few years ago, there was a fire. Sure enough, you can see the char pattern in the wood, painted over with bright yellow paint. There is a blue tank and a white tank of water, presumably potable and non-potable. There was no running water, though. Maria scooped water from the tanks using a ladle. A Daewoo refrigerator growled in the corner and Maria offered free wifi to her guests, so there is some electricity. We cannot figure out from where it would come, though, as we could see just one gangly wire weaving through the center of Maria’s restaurant, to her next door neighbor, up and over a fence, and presumably onward.
Despite what little Maria and Victor have, they showed no outward signs of discomfort or fear. They gave us a warm and genuine welcome. I realize they probably wouldn’t tell me if they were miserable, but how long does it take in America for someone in the room to start complaining about something? Not long. I’m complaining now! I have heard no complaining here. Maria said all she wants is for more people to visit Bahia Tortuga, so she has more friends to talk to. I can imagine, with only 1000 people in the town you would run out of things to talk about.
Ensenada is just a short 90 minute drive from the US border, and when you cross this imaginary line somewhere in the desert everything changes. While I know there are rough patches in America, I have never been in a town that didn’t have running potable water, and safe, reliable electricity. I have never known people who, if they didn’t have the means to fix their home after a fire, would simply paint over the top of the charred remains with the happiest color of yellow paint they could find.
When we left for this trip, one of the reasons for going was to get out of my “comfort zone.” Well, I’m out. I am uncomfortable and I am afraid. The wilderness of land and sea is forcing me to cast off my delusions about safety. In America, the daily grind whitewashes away my fear, allowing me to forget at least most of the time that life is fragile. Living in Las Vegas, of course I complain when temperatures strike above 100F, but it is for the five minute traverse between my air conditioned car and my air conditioned office. My food supply isn’t threatened by hot weather, my water supply is not limited to a 55 gallon barrel of water trucked in each week. It puts me on edge now to observe how closely tied my happiness is to comforts like air conditioning, water from the tap, and a bed that does not constantly rock, pitch and roll. If our modern comforts were to die, my happiness would die with it. My vision of myself as a “hearty” individual has been shaken, and I question whether I can hack it.
Maybe after I get more used to these surroundings, I will become less on edge. My delusion of safety will return and I will feel more comfortable. In some ways, I hope so because I am working up a great ulcer worrying about everything. In other ways, heightened awareness is partially the point of this trip.