Stranded in Loreto, Baja California
© 2003 Max Lent
The Chubasco nearly killed us. We were supposed to be
in Cape Region of Baja California, Mexico collecting lizards. We were
supposed to have driven down the West coast of Mexico to Mazatlan and taken
the ferry to LaPaz. We were supposed to be finished with our
assignment and back in Los Angeles bragging about our success.
Instead, we drove the length of Baja California on one of the worst dirt
roads in the world. Because of a rubber strike we attempted to make
the trip using cheap two-ply tires supplied with our university issue truck.
One day, south of Mulege, we had two flats minutes apart. That meant
that we could fix one, but couldn't drive on. We were stranded.
One of our team of three stayed with our truck while two of
us attempted to walk south to the next town, Loreto with our flat tire.
We knew that there were no tires to be had in Mulege so Loreto was our only
choice. Being stranded in a desert during the summer on a road not
well traveled was an adventure. Having to push a flat tire a dozen or
miles south to the next town in temperatures around a hundred degrees was
dangerous. What happened next pushed our experience into the range of
While we were pushing our tire across the desert we were
aware of distance and how little we covered over time. We came upon
a tiny poverty stricken ranch called a ranchito. The ranchito was
situated at a road junction. Our choices were limited. The
ranchito choice won. Huge cumulonimbus clouds forming to the south
also suggested that we ought to stay put. Either we continued on and
risked dehydration and starvation or we stayed at the ranchito with the hope
that a truck would come by and give us a lift to Loreto to the south.
Approaching the ranchito time speeded up and distance came
to an end. The excitement of finding habitation took our minds off how
far we had come and how far we had to go. We were at a destination.
After meeting our hosts and explaining, mostly with hand gestures and the
dozen or so Spanish words we knew, our condition, time started to slow
again. Everyone at the ranchito went back to their everyday tasks of
survival. Our novelty wore off in about an hour and we weren't
interesting anymore except to the little children.
There was nothing for us to do, but sit and wait. To
get out of the way we sauntered to the edge of the bare dirt yard and sat.
Time slowed again. Because we were doing nothing time seemed to go
painfully slow. Our next event would be night. If we were lucky,
we might even get something to eat. We were hungry, but didn't have
the courage to ask for food from a family that had barely enough to eat as
it was. We had been offered water and we drank it. As we sat
still, time slowed and we became intensely aware of our austere
surroundings. Only the flies were busy. The buzzed us and tried
to land on our skin, in our ears, and up our noses. They got between
our eyes and our sunglasses. If we opened our mouths they flew in
causing us to cough and choke. The challenge for the remainder of the
day was to shoo off the flies. A solution came to mind. I took
off my T-shirt and put it over my head leaving only a portion of my face
visible. I then put my blue denim work shirt back on. With the
tail of the T-shirt tucked into my work shirt and my sleeves rolled down, I
exposed very little skin to the flies. The full coverage was hot, but
there was satisfaction in knowing that now the flies were frustrated.
When the family sat down to dinner they sent a couple of
children out to invite us to join them. We tried to resist and put up
a fuss, but our hunger and their persistence won. We sat at the end of
a bench table and ate rice and beans. The food was primitively
prepared and not very good, but it was food and we felt lucky to have it.
The storm clouds we saw to the south were part of a massive
Chubasco or hurricane heading straight at us.. Heavy rains, water
filled streams, and hurricane force winds kept us stranded at the ranchito
for several days. Without the hospitality of the family who invited us
to stay in their chicken coup and fed us, we would have died.
We were isolated from our world. No one at the
ranchito spoke English. The tiny transistor radio that hung from a
post supporting the thatch roof played ranchero music most of the day.
We tried to listen carefully to hear weather reports, but understood
nothing. Mexican radio stations use some kind of echo generator for
all of their spoken word announcements. Announcers sound like they are
speaking from a huge cave. The speaker of the little radio was so poor
that even if we could understand what the announcers were saying, we would
not have heard them clear enough to make out what they were saying.
The radio's batteries would wear down causing stations to drift in and out.
The storm blew on and an army truck heading south toward
Loreto stopped at the ranchito and gave us permission to hitch a ride with
them. Had we attempted to roll our flat tire to Loreto we would have
died because it was much further than we had guessed. We would have
run out of food and the heat would have eventually killed us.
In Loreto, we got our tire fixed and headed back north to
our truck. What we saw when we arrived frightened us. The truck
had been jacked up waiting for its missing wheel when we last saw it.
Now it was at least 20 feet from where it was. It had been blown off
its jack and to its new location by winds of the hurricane. Our
collegue was nowhere to be found. There was no note, nothing. We
worried whether he had died in the hurricane. We wondered if he had
died trying to walk north to Mulege. If he had made it to Mulege we
were going to be upset with him for abandoning our truck and all of our
With the repaired tire on the truck we drove north looking
for our colleague. We drove slowly looking for any trace of him,
hoping that we would not see a bloated body lying along side the road baking
in the sun. Out of nowhere another truck came upon us from the north.
Our colleague was waving wildly to us to stop. The story we heard was
that when the weather started turning bad he hitched a ride into Mulege.
He thought that we had been killed because he knew that two people crossing
the desert on foot in such a storm could not have survived. His story
somehow made it back to Los Angles and the two of us who had walked south
were reported dead. Being reported dead is an interesting experience.
It's like an out of body experience where all those in your world know
something that you don't. It's not altogether unpleasant, it's just a
We weren't dead and we managed to drive south to the seaside
town of Loreto. Loreto experienced extensive damage from the Chubasco
and as a result there was no telephone, telegraph, or radio communication to
the rest of the world. In a way it didn't matter, because, like
elsewhere in Mexico, there was a religious holiday being celebrated.
What all of that meant to us was that we couldn't tell anyone that we were
alive or that we were nearly out of money.
We couldn't afford lodging so we rented space in a concrete
building that was under construction. We had a roof over our heads,
but not much else. Our food supplies and our money were nearly
exhausted and we had to save enough money to telephone or wire home for more
money. It was time for desperate measures.
I hate to fish and I realize saying so will probably keep
this story from ever being published in a men's or sports magazine.
However, if fishing meant eating I would do it. In our emergency gear
box we had a little fishing kit. It was a kit designed for
backpackers. It could easily fit in a pocket because it had no fishing
pole. There was an assortment of hooks, a bobber, a lead sinker, and
some crude line wrapped around a little wooden frame shaped like
#. With that I set out looking for dinner.
I had noticed on several walks around town that in the late
afternoon men and boys would show up at the pier to fish. Most only
stayed for a few minutes and no more than half an hour before they caught
their dinner. If they could do it, I could do it, I presumed.
Evenings, just as the sun is setting, almost anywhere on the
shores of the Sea of Cortez are beautiful. The air is warm, the water
clear, and the small of salt water is in the air. On the pier, about a
dozen men and boys in ragged clothes were fishing. Some of the men had
fishing poles. The boys were just using line and hooks.
I begged some bait from a man and put it on a hook and
lowered my line into the water below the pier. Following the
instructions with the fishing kit, I had a sinker at the end of my line, a
baited hook, and a bobber float to keep the baited hook from sinking to the
bottom. I was doing everything right. Nothing happened. I
jiggled the line and nothing happened. I moved from one side of the
pier to the other and still nothing happened. I felt like a failure.
I was also more than a little hungry.
A young boy of ten or so years of age came up to me and
started making fun of the way I was fishing. I didn't know enough
Spanish to understand how severe his critique was, but the words very and
stupid came through my mental translator several times. The boy tried
to tell me what to do, but I was also stupid when it came to following his,
obvious to him, instructions. He gave up trying to instruct me by
talking to me and grabbed the fishing line from my hands. With great
agility, he wound the line back onto the # shaped holder and asked to see
what else was in my fishing kit. He was delighted to find a treble
hook like the one pictured here. He took the sinker, the hook, and the
bobber off my line and replaced it with the treble hook. What he did
next amazed me.
He lowered the line with the treble hook on the end into the
water near one of the pier pilings and suddenly yanked upward on the line.
This process was repeated five or six times until he snagged something.
What he snagged was a fish about half a foot in length. I thought that
the fish looked a little small for dinner, but several of them would work
fine. I was about to thank the boy for the fish and take back my line.
The boy had other plans. He shoed me away and pointed at the the fish
and the hook to direct me to pay attention. He removed the treble hook
from the fish and removed the hook from the line. He then picked out
another large hook from my kit and attached it to the end of the line. The
hook was inserted through the tail of the fish forward of the tail fin.
I was pushed back and out of the way of the boy who started twirling the
hooked fish over his head before releasing the line in a direction away from
the pier. When the hooked fish hit the water it swam away from the
line pulling on its tail toward deeper water. Within less than a
minute the line went taut and started zipping through boy's hands.
Something had eaten the hooked fish and was rushing away from the pier.
My heart started pumping fast with the excitement. Everyone else on
the pier was so busy pulling in their own fish that they didn't take notice
of our drama. The line was pulling hard and the boy had to step back a
couple of times to prevent being pulled over the edge of the railless pier.
Slowly the boy pulled the line in and brought a two foot long fish onto the
pier. He picked up a rock and hit the fish on the head to kill it and
then looked up at me and smiled. He knew that I was impressed.
The boy gesticulated to me that it was now my turn and gave
me the hook and line with an expression that said it is easy and you must
now do it. I followed the boy's instructions and caught several fish
of about the same size or larger. Killing the fish was difficult to
stomach, but our stomachs were what this was all about.
We took our string of fish to a nearby restaurant and
offered them to the owner in exchange for their cooking one for us along
with some rice and beans. The fish was excellent. The rice and
beans made an excellent accompaniment. After dinner, we walked back
down to the pier and contemplated how lucky we were to be where we were and
how much we missed home. It's strange how both emotions can sometimes
be present at the same time.
After several days of waiting out downed power lines, a
Mexican holiday, closed offices, and bad telephone connections, we finally
made contact with my girlfriend, Tina, in Los Angeles. She wired us
some money and we were soon back on the road heading toward the Cape Region
to fulfill our lizard collecting mission.
What happened next? Well, that's another story...
Would you like to read it? Write to the author Max Lent.