Two Days in Turtle Bay
02 December 2013
November 29, 2013
The streets of Turtle Bay are dirt. The pier is old and in disrepair. The dock is wooden and lopsided with planks missing and others dangling precariously. Rusted out nails stick out here and there. The stairs leading from the floating dock to the pier are steep and misshapen; the first step is muddy and slippery, the second angles toward the pier, the third, toward the sea. Then there are is a wide gap where two steps are missing. You had better hold on.
The cannery factory has been closed for over 40 years and sits in quiet desperation on the beach, broken and in pieces, a memory of better times.
The big business here is fishing, of course. It is lobster season and the cooperative is busy with fisherman bringing in their catch. We are told they are sent by truck to Ensenada and then by plane to Japan. They are not allowed to sell individual lobsters off the boats, so our quest for a lobster turned out to be an all-day affair for Don.
Pangas zip by Cadenza in the wee hours of the morning and the evening hours of dusk. This is the fisherman's daily commute.
The town itself is a mixture of old and new, poor and middle class. There are run-down shacks and there are well-groomed homes. Some are drab like the dust that blows through the streets, and others are rich with color; blues and greens, oranges and yellows. Many have no running water.
What first appears to be wild dogs and feral cats wandering the streets turns out to be beloved pets. They're just allowed to roam freely and are a bit ratty from the dirt.
We walk up hills and around corners. We investigate the mercados (markets), find the local family medical clinic, the mechanic, a car-wash (such as it is), two churches and a shut down bank that has a Tecate sign on its window. (Maybe that's why the bank went under!) There is a building that houses an internet cafe with computers and dial-up modems for the villagers which has a line out the door; customers patiently waiting their turn. Mother's walk their children to school and cars start their engines, presumably taking their passengers to work. For others it is laundry day and they are hanging their clothes on the line.
Our first impression of Turtle Bay is somewhat stark and bleak and has me concerned for those who live here. But then we looked beyond the facade of the material and looked into the faces who live here. We found loving spirits with warm, generous hearts who live a life far from what I know.
THANKSGIVING DAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2013.
We intended to sleep in. But then Don pointed out that maybe we had slept in since we fell asleep at 6:30 last night and it was 6:30 in the morning. We had a leisurely breakfast, lowered the dinghy, and headed into town.
As we near the pier, we ask the man standing at the end of it for his permission to tie up. He says, "Si." and points to the east side of the dock.
We get off the dinghy and wobble up to the stairs. Don is first and discovers quickly that the steps are slippery. Jay goes next and before I know it, both of them are at the top while I stare warily at the distance between the floating dock and the first step, which is muddy and slanted.
"Guys!" Suddenly I am a helpless female. "You just gonna leave me?" I yell at them.
Jay comes back to help me but now I'm stubborn and I don't want any help. I want to do it myself. I hand him my backpack and make it across without falling.
The man at the top of the stairs is Enrique and he asks us if we need fuel. We do not. We ask him if he can find us some lobsters. He cannot. "Can you help us get water? Drinking water?" Jay asks. Enrique points to the beach where there is a green building with a thatched roof. "Antonio's." he says. There is also a place next door to Antonio's we can get water. And then he proceeds to tell us that if we want something to eat we should go to Maria's, just to the left of Antonio's on the edge of a hill, overlooking the beach. Just having had breakfast, we save that thought for later.
We meet some yatistas on the pier and they have just filled their jugs with drinking water. 15 pesos for five gallons, just over there at those green buildings, they say. But when we get there, it's deserted. Antonio's is locked up tight and the green house next to it shows no sign of life. Whoever was there a minute ago has disappeared. Oh well, we'll try again later.
Next we pass a young sailor, limping and moving slowly. He is on his way to one of the local bars that offers free wifi if you buy a beer. He doesn't look so good. We ask him if he's okay. He says yes, but yesterday he had one too many and was carrying a five-gallon jug of water down the pier steps. He fell through the hole where several steps were missing and broke his toe. He had two deep gashes on his legs, as well. Later, remembering his story, we chose to beach our dinghy and carry out our water that way.
We walk through town, just to explore, but also to scout out the best markets. There are several. Most of them are small and have a limited amount of items. One store has mostly bare shelves and an old man sitting behind the cash register. I'm not really excited by his collection of groceries, but something about him touches me and I can't leave without buying something. I purchase three fresh green chiles and a bottle of water. Jay notices that all the stores, no matter how small their inventory, have an abundance of cleaning supplies. We wonder at that.
Once we have seen enough choices, we decide on Abarrotes Anaid. This mercado had the most selection, a butcher in the back, and was the town gathering center as it was full of villagers, greeting one another and telling stories. This must be the best place, we think, and make note of its location. Tomorrow is our day for chores. Today is Thanksgiving and a day of rest.
Now we find our way to the church. On the way, Jay asks someone about a place to eat and they suggest Morroco's down the street. We pass by it and Jay wants to go in, but, for some unknown reason, I am insistent in my desire to go to Maria's. After teasing me about being the boss and getting my way, Jay and Don acquiesce.
The church was around the corner and up a hill with a beautiful view of the bay. I wanted to go inside but no luck. The priest had left town for a couple of days.
On to Maria's, which was just a few doors down from the church. We walked up the stairs to the outside patio and looked inside the door. It was just one room, nearly empty, but it had a kitchen to one end of it. One like you would find in any modest home.
"Hola!" I call out. I hear someone respond from afar.
While we wait, I notice a hand-written note taped to the outside of the door on the porch. Last December Maria had a fire and has had to start all over. She asks her patrons to be patient with her as it might take longer to make the meal. We look closer and see the remnants of the fire; charred areas along the roof and the corners.
"Oh! Buenas Tardes!" Maria crys, as she comes out to greet us, raising her hands to heaven. "Oh thank you. I need the work! How did you come here?"
"The man on the dock told us we should come to Maria's."
"Oh, my brother. That is my brother, Enrique." She smiles and tells us to sit down. She will make us a meal. We ask her for a cerveza.
"Please be patient. I am starting over." She speaks English. At least enough that we can understand most of what she tells us and she understands some of what we tell her. "I have no cerveza, but you can go over there," I think she points to Antonio's, "and get some and bring it back to drink here." We hesitate, not sure where she means, exactly. Antonio's still looks closed.
"My son can get it for you. Would you like my son to get it for you?" We say yes, give him some money, and he comes back with a six-pack of Tecate. Meanwhile, Maria asks us what we would like to eat. Does she have a specialty? She has fresh halibut and shrimp for tacos. Perfect, we say, and sit down to enjoy our beer and the incredible view of the bay.
Curious, I walk into Maria's kitchen while she begins to prepare our meal. Her son, Victor, is standing to her side, assisting. She points to several pages taped to the wall behind her counter. "This is my prayer."
"Yes." she said and began to explain. "This is my dream I want to make happen."
On the papers are drawings of a boat-shaped building. Actually, more than drawings. These are detailed plans that someone has put a lot of work into. "This one, the first floor, will be my restaurant. The second one (floor) will be a music school."
My ears perk up. Jay will want to hear this. I go outside and get Jay to come and join in on the conversation.
She had a little trouble explaining the third floor, but I think I understood correctly. There would be three rooms, or sections. These would be for the investors. They would be able to come there whenever they want. She has figured out it will cost about $300,000.
"I will put it right here. On my property. But I need the money." She says, laughing. "I pray I get my dream."
"Maria, do you play music?" Jay asks. She sings mostly, plays a little guitar and writes music too.
"But I lose my guitar and my compositions in the fire. I lose everything; my restaurant, my clothes, my home, my music, everything, in the fire.
Maria goes on to explain that she was in Ensenada for forty days taking care of her mother who was ill. "Since I was with my mother, I only pack three pants and three blouses. I don't think I need more. The day before the fire, I called my sister (she has five sisters and six brothers. Her mother had 15 children but three died as babies.) and asked her to go to my house and pick up my guitar and my compositions. I want her to send it to me. But she didn't go and then the fire." She shrugs her shoulders in acceptance.
"Do they know what happened? What started the fire?"
She shrugs her shoulders again. "I don't know. I think somebody don't like me." Personally, I don't think this is possible. To not like Maria.
"But now I must cook!" She says, changing the subject, and sends us out of her kitchen.
We enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving meal of fish & shrimp tacos, beans & fresh tortillas while watching the fisherman work their lobster pots off in the distance. Music drifted out from the kitchen. It was Maria and Victor in song while working. They both have beautiful voices.
I stood up to stretch and noticed another paper taped to the wall outside her door. This one is typed. It is Maria's testament to God. It tells us she almost died and having lived, and having God answer her prayers, she found the Lord. She gives thanks and states her hopes for the future. It seems Maria wears her heart on these walls.
"What time do you open tomorrow?" I ask Maria as she clears the table. She doesn't have a set time because there is little business, so it is whenever. More reason to come back for another meal. To give her more business. We make plans to come for brunch Friday morning at ten. She will make Huevos Mexicana and serve coffee.
Before leaving, we go back into the kitchen to ask Maria if she knows where we can get some lobsters. There is a man sitting in the corner by the counter. He must weigh 300 pounds and he has no neck. The folding chair he sits on all but disappears. He is very serious.
Maria answers no, but she looks over to the man in the corner and rattles off some Spanish. She introduces us, and when she does and he becomes part of the conversation, he lights up with a huge smile, also speaking rapidly in Spanish.
"This is my friend." She says, "I am feeding him lunch. He is captain of that panga." She says, pointing out the door to a boat tied to the pier. "Over there." I asked him if he knows where there are lobsters for sale and he says, there is none."
"But all the lobster traps." we protest.
"Maybe it is too early. They go to the cooperative anyway." I think there was much more to this conversation but this is what we got out of it. Besides, it wasn't looking good for that lobster dinner we were hoping for so we decided to let it go.
We visit with Maria and the Captain a little more and she tells us of a place, far away, out on the bluffs toward Punta Sargaso.
"It is beautiful. My favorite place. I would love to take you there. If I had a car, I would take you there." I get the feeling she would find a way if we were staying a little longer.
We bid them goodbye, "Hasta manana." and leave for Antonio's. Maybe now that it is 2pm, he will be open.
Antonio's was deserted except for two American surfers, Kevin and Tyler. The building had an odd shape to it, octagonal, I think. The roof was thatched and raised high in the shape of a cone. The room had several wooden tables and chairs and could probably seat thirty. It was in a bit of disarray. Like someone had a party the night before and passed out before cleaning up. The ashtrays were overflowing with cigarette butts. There were empty beer bottles and empty bags of chips lying on the tables.
"We're looking for Antonio. Is he here?" we ask.
"Oh yeah, he's here. Antonio's the man!" Kevin says emphatically, as he walks by with five beers in his hands.
I head for the backroom where Kevin just exited and Tyler quickly yells for Antonio. Does he not want me to go in there? Antonio pops out of the door just in time to keep me from entering. He wears jeans with a brown leather belt, but no shoes and no shirt.
"Excuse me. But I am cleaning. Sorry. I am cleaning." Antonio says as he starts picking up empty beer bottles.
No worries. We just came for a beer and some information. Antonio says he can get us alnost anything we want. We would just like to know how to get some drinking water. He offers three options. We can get five-gallon containers delivered to the beach by his brother; bring our own containers next door to where there is a water tank. (Which, by the way, is run by his father.) He promises the water is drinkable; or, we can get washable water from a hose. Maybe for a tip. Or maybe for free if we have no money. We decide to bring our own containers later and go outside to have our beer.
The two American surfers have joined a couple and two young Mexican locals and are sitting at a table outside. We sit at the table next to them. As it usually goes with cruisers, we begin sharing our stories.
It turns out our surfers are from Ventura Harbor. They left about a month ago with their friends Eric and Pamela (and their dog) on board Emma Belle, a Columbia 32. Eric and Pamela bought their boat about a year and a half ago and lived aboard while the four of them fixed it up to go cruising.
Kevin had done some racing on board Fusee. He knows Harry! He said Harry taught him to sail. What a small world.
"We're surfing down the coast." Tyler offered. "We have dreams of sailing around the world, but this is our shake-down cruise. So far, we love it! We just got back from surfing. Our friends, Eric and Pamela, speak fluent Spanish so they were able to hook up with these local guys and they took us to a really great beach, but getting there on the roads, that was kind of sketchy."
We finished our beer and headed back to Cadenza to get our water jugs.
"Don't forget." Antonio said as we were leaving. "I can get you almost anything." No doubt.
Later that night Jay said he would like to help Maria. He wanted to give her some money so she could buy herself a guitar the next time she goes to Ensenada. He asked me what I thought.
"I think it's a wonderful idea!"
We ended the day with that thought.
BLACK FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2013
I turn on the internet to check my mail. AOL news reads something like this: WALMART SHOPPERS RACE INTO STORES! REPORTS OF FIGHTING BETWEEN CUSTOMERS! It is a sad commentary on our culture.
There is no Black Friday in Turtle Bay. For us it is chore day. We need to take the trash out, go grocery shopping and get some more water. We will do this in two trips. First, we will take the trash, have brunch at Maria's and then go shopping. Later, we will take the water jugs to Antonio's and fill them, have a beer and try the internet.
We head to the pier again and lock the dinghy as we did the day before. Only this time there is a different man at the end of the dock. His name is Pedro. Come to think of it, he might not even be a man yet, he might still be in his teens. He is very tall and burly, has a baby face and one and a half arms. He speaks no English, but he is clear in that it will cost us for him to keep an eye on our dinghy. It is locked, but we have heard it is better to give them a little money to watch your dinghy then to not. This way you are sure to find it in tact when you get back. Besides, this is how they earn money to live. We give him the dollar he asks for. For one peso he takes the trash.
On to Maria's where she welcomes us warmly and tells us her friend, the captain, left for Isla Natividad and will be back tomorrow. "Maybe he will bring you some lobsters." I tell her we will be leaving tomorrow and both of us are disappointed.
Maria and Victor serve us another delicious meal. As we are finishing our coffee, Maria comes out on the porch with her breakfast and starts to sit at another table, but we ask her to join us.
"Oh, okay. Are you sure? Thank you. Are you sure?" She says as she sits down at our table.
"Of course." We answer.
We learn much more about Maria. She has two sons, Victor and Rojellio. Rojellio lives in San Jose del Cabo and works on boats. Victor (besides his love of singing) says he would like to study medicine.
When Maria was younger she wanted to travel. She traveled to Cabo and Ensenada and even Los Angeles. She wanted money and clothes and things. In 2004, she was in Ventura in a van with her family. She mentioned there was a driver so maybe this was a shuttle of some sort. The van caught on fire and she was yelling at her son to open the door. At the same time she was praying, "I don't know where you are God, but if you are there, please save me and my family. Please." Terrified, she was pleading with God to help her. They got out of the van just in time to turn around and see it explode.
Maria said this changed her life. She had wanted so many material things. She wanted to leave Turtle Bay and travel. She partied too much. Not anymore. "That Maria is gone. When I come home and see my home, I cry. This is where God wants me to be. This is my home. I love my home."
Somehow the subject got changed and we were talking about food again. Maria said she makes empanadas, too bad I wouldn't have a chance to taste her empanadas and I said, "I love empanadas!"
"Yes. Will you make them for me?" She agrees as she tells me how good they are; sweet bean empanadas and coffee, yum. I order a half dozen and we agree to come back at four to pick them up. This is good. More work for Maria and empanadas for me.
"Maria," I say, "We brought some gifts for the children." I hand her two back-packs filled with crayons & coloring books and little footballs. Together, Bobbi & Don and Jay and I gathered a few things for the children before we left the states, but weren't sure who to give it to. We decided Maria would be able to put it in the right hands. "Oh, thank you. I have many children to give to."
"Maria," Jay said, "We want to give you a gift too. We want to give you the money so you can buy yourself a new guitar."
"Really? Thank you. Really?" Her eyes are wide and she puts her hands over her mouth. Tears come from her eyes. "Oh thank you."
"But you must promise to buy a guitar with the money." Jay adds.
"Oh yes, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
Don wanted to pitch in too and so between the two of them they handed Maria $70. She couldn't believe her eyes. She was so happy.
"There is a guitar store on Lopez Mateo St. in Ensenada. You can find a good guitar there." Jay told her.
"Okay. Thank you." She looks at Victor and tells him what just happened. His eyes light up too and he says thank you so much.
There are many hugs and lots of smiles and as we walk down the stairs and away from the restaurant we hear Maria screaming with joy. I looked at Jay. "Thank you, honey. You just made my day."
We have shopped for our groceries and are walking on the pier back to the dinghy when Jay makes one last attempt for lobsters. He asks Pedro if he can get us some lobsters. Pedro lights up, "Si!" and points his finger, telling us to follow him.
We follow him several blocks to one of the offices of the cooperative where he asks a lady if they have any lobsters for sale. She gets on the phone to ask but is unsuccessful. Now he points his finger again and says to follow him. After several more blocks, Jay says, "No. I can't walk anymore." He had worn water shoes with no support. The roads are uneven and filled with rocks and by this time he was practically limping. We tell Don to go and we will wait by Antonio's. Poor Don. Pedro walked him miles before he came up with, "Come back at three and I will have three lobster tails."
Meanwhile, Jay and I are sitting at Antonio's (It is now around one and it still isn't open.) and we meet Antonio's father, Rogellio. He lives next door. He is the one who has the water tank. He also has three dogs and a cat who get very friendly with us. He doesn't speak much English but he does tell us he has lived here, right in this spot for 65 years. His front yard is the bay.
We ask for Antonio and Rogellio says he is out surfing with the Americans. He will be back later. We tell Rogellio we will be back later too, with our water containers.
It is later now and everyone is gathered at Antonio's. Everyone meaning the Emma Belle crowd and us. Don comes back, after walking many miles again, with a few lobster tails. They are frozen so we are wondering just where they came from. At this point, it doesn't matter. Pedro has a wide grin on his face and points to his chest. "Me. Pedro." And shakes his head yes and then points to the pier. I interpret that as if we need anything we go to Pedro. He will be on the pier. He can get us almost anything.
He joins us at our table. I can tell he longs for company as he babbles on in Spanish as if I understand. I wish I did. I want so to be able to communicate more clearly with the people of Mexico. I think I have much to learn from them.
Kevin and Tyler are telling us more of their story. What was two groups of strangers at two different tables yesterday has become one group of friends at one table sharing stories. This is what I love about cruising. We ask them how they met and they tell us they met when they were working as wildfire firefighters. (Go figure. You just never know what lurks behind a face.) They came from Washington and Colorado and fought wildfires in both those places as well as Alaska. One day they were ice-fishing in Colorado and said, "Ice-fishing in Colorado or surfing in California? Hmm..." Well, you know how that went. They quit their jobs and all moved to Ventura. Now here they are, sailing and surfing down the Baja coast, hoping to become professional surfers. They have a marketing manager in Texas and they send her videos and information as they go, hoping to get the word out, hoping to get sponsors. They are living their dream.
It is time to pick up our empanadas, so we say our goodbyes and head over to Maria's. She is in her kitchen with Victor and they are cooking Chicken and rice. "Would you like some?"
"No, thank you. We must go." Insisting that we must have some, she packs a container of chicken and rice and puts it in the bag with the empanadas. One of her sisters comes in and introduces herself. She can do our laundry if we like. "Thank you, but we must go." I say again. Children are running around and there is happiness in the air. I guess the word got out. More hugs and goodbyes. Maria asks, "When are you coming back?"
Jay looks at me and we shrug our shoulders. "We don't know, Maria. It may be years." We all leave with the bittersweet thought of having made a new friend only to leave her behind.
Jay and Don and I enjoyed meeting all the characters of Turtle Bay, but none touched us so much as Maria. She is an amazing spirit and I felt as at home with her as if I had known her all my life. The following is an excerpt from her testimony to God that was taped to her wall outside the door of her restaurant.
Maria's Hopes of God
1. Project museum and restaurant school for music and singing
2. hause for my brothers
3. homes for poor children and homeless
4. Mi book
5. viajar worldwide evangelizing with music by my husband.
If you know someone who wants to help in any donation to God's purpose is fulfilled do not hesitate to tell my longings, and the story of a woman who worked hard to be happy but only found peace and love when I get to meet her savior Jesus Christ. AMEN.