750words March 23 2015 ~ Sol y Mar = Sun and Sea

A few days ago I talked a neighbor into going over to the place where I’ll be living in about five weeks. The address is Sol y Mar #3001.

Sol y Mar = Sun and Sea. It’s all that.

The current tenant, floppy curls windblown every once in a while to dance over his eyes, was friendly enough as he answered questions and pushed gray-streaked ringlets away from his line of vision.

I asked about the path to the playa below the house. “You think a woman my age can handle it?”

A middle-aged surfer, he said, “Do this,” and lowered himself to squat, arms extended.

I was down in a heartbeat, arms extended.

“Yeah. You can handle it,” he said, turning toward the arched door separating his place and the neighbors on the south. Lucky for me—his quick turn away from my squatted response to his directive—because some serious wobbles took place as I stood to follow him through the gate. Rather than offering a hand, my neighbor smirked as I wobbled, then seemed a little surprised I made it up without using my hands to push off the flagstone.

“How’s surfing here?” I asked. I’d already mentioned kids and grandkids who surfed.

“For long boarders, it’s a little piece of heaven. K38 is probably better for short boards, guys who really know their stuff.”

Then we were through the gate, passing between the neighbor’s back patio area and the edge of the bluff above the ocean, stopping at a low fence built from wrought iron window-guard scraps and broken plywood. Maybe a bit over two feet tall, and lower on the bluff edge end—the fence was haphazard at best.

“There are two ways to cross. Some of us step over here—were the fence is low,” he said, standing at the edge of the bluff. He demonstrated. On that end the fence was only fourteen or fifteen inches high; between where he stood and a free-fall of a hundred feet or more (probably more) to the playa below—there wasn’t much room for error. A wobble, coupled with a toe tripped up by the fencing, would not be a good thing.

Maybe he noticed the tilt of my head, the doubtful squint of an examining eye, or the smile I wore—one of those smiles that said, “Not a bluebird’s chance in hell.” Whatever the cause, he moved away from the edge toward the opposite end of the fence and said, “Or, you can pull this open here, and wedge through.”

“Here” was nine or twelve feet away from the fence’s low end (and the precipice). “Here” pieces of ironwork and plywood leaned against a post and could be heaved away, allowing sideways (if not frontal) passage. We sidestepped through, walked on barren ground, and approached an outdoor “living” area replete with two easy chairs scavenged from the side of the road or left near a dumpster for anyone who might find them of continued value. Random surfers frequent this spot; one said “Hi, folks” from the open side doors of his van as we passed. He looked as if he’d been napping, sleeping bag hanging loose from the van’s cargo area to kiss the ground. I pictured him kicked back in one of the easy chairs, feet planted on an overturned bucket used as an ottoman, wood blazing in the makeshift fire pit, gazing toward the horizon, watching the sets come in from this high bluff at the edge of the sea.

From there, we stepped sideways down a slopping trail to steeper terrain with shallow steps cut into the earth, curved right and came to a drop where three steps had been chiseled from the shale, dropped to our fannies to reach footing on the highest cut-in step, and continued to the sandy bottom with the next two steps.

The tenant, already several yards ahead, said something along the lines of, “Little piece of heaven,” and I said something like, “Big piece of heaven if you ask me.” Looking north or south, I found nothing but beauty. Beautiful boulders, shimmering water, stretches of clean sand without a single footprint other than those left by the birds.

Cinnamon colored long-legged birds with long needle-like beaks high-stepped through low-tide shallows, seagulls soared air currents overhead, anemones lined the faces of tide pools, and sand-stone formations offered nature-sculpted places to sit and take it all in.

“From here,” the tenant said, “at low tide you can walk as far north as Las Gaviotas or south as far as Puerto Nuevo.”

I looked at my neighbor. “Las Gaviotas? That means I can walk to Rancho Santini by cutting up from the beach there. If low tide’s early enough, I can still walk to Jo’s for morning coffee!” He gave me the smile, the one that says, “Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen.”

I’m thinkin’ it will. I’m thinkin’ “Fooled you when I stood up without using my hands. That walk’s gonna happen.” All I have to do is get past those easy chairs up on the bluff before I sit myself down and put my feet up to take it all in …

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Rooms of Light

We walked after dark.  Above, against the night sky of central Rosarito, streetlamps shone with bright spheres of illumination, cast circular rooms of light over the asphalt, rooms our shadows moved through, pooling for a step, then stretching behind us.  It comes to me these are like phases of living—what we approach, what we leave behind.  Those cowboys and Indians of childhood, the parenting games where we learned the ropes as our children grew into adults, are still learning, fed by new generations, next first steps, new rooms of yellow-cast light, the cycles of growth and dimming.

Two blocks.  Three.  Yaqui Taco is closed.  Four blocks, five.  El Gerente is also dark.  No perrones con todo tonight.  We turned west toward the main boulevard.  Now the light of storefronts sent our shadows to walk side-by-side with us; my German friend sometimes forgot he was not in Europe, the Americas underfoot.  Not in Germany with friends, father, brother, or sister.  A vendor with a cardboard box full of beaded bracelets balanced on her head smiled.  A tooth rimmed with gold picked up the glow of streetlights.  Gracias, no.  No, gracias.

A block south, Pueblo Plaza.  Cactus in rooftop planters.  Claws clicking against terra cotta, the thin cats of day prowling night’s roof tiles.  Courtyard wooden tables held candles under wine bottles with the bottoms cut out.  Calm flames phosphorescent through the green-tinted glass.  Bark of Mio, Yasumin’s ginger-colored lhasa apso with his little red-banded topknot of hair.  A ripple of hugs, kissed cheeks.  Yes, Yasumin’s sushi restaurant still served.  We ordered California rolls, ceviche rolls, bamboo saki, asked Yasumin the Japanese for Salud, toasted with Kampai!

That was last night.  When the rooms of light we moved through became one room.  Where asking for mas wasabi was as natural as my friend sharing stories in German I could not comprehend.  When all languages seemed equal and laughter brought understanding without comprehension of separate words.  Light was suffused, tinged like the air is at harvest time.  Motes of meaning floating in tiny, unseen arcs and spirals, places and phases, familiar as family, and yet not quite the same.  Shadows forming new shapes to pool, pause, diminish as we move.

The Joints I’ve Come to Love

On and off the main drag through Rosarito Beach, you can wander into joints.  They’re open air places to eat with plastic tables and tile counters, limones and radishes tumbled in bowls, fresh salsas you dip with small plastic spoons, usually a Melmac plate, a Fanta naranja to drink from the bottle like the old days, the fifties, back home.  Back home, California, is all cans and plastic these days.  Give me the glass bottle and a twelve or sixteen peso taco any day of the week.  The crew who throws together tacos de camarones o tacos de pescados at Mariscos los Cabos could do it blindfolded, but don’t.  The tacos are out-of-this-world good, on a side street the second block down from Waldo’s—the store with the big green and yellow sign with most things under the sun for a buck or so.

All my favorite joints are like that.  It’s the smiles, the enthusiasm of the tacqueros, those guys slamming tender and succulent beef or chicken or fish or shrimp into those warmed shells, the trimmings when requested con todo that seal the deal for me.  Tacos de Poblano, amazing, if small, stellar tacos.  At Splash, down the road a stretch, just before Medio Camimo and Chef Johnny’s Half-Way House, there’s the same “joint” atmosphere despite efforts to chi-chi it up with a fine big bar addition and reupholstered chairs inside.  Thankfully, the food’s just as over-the-top good, the Negra Modelo on tap comes just as cold, the beer mugs just as frosty, the waves splash the lava rocks beyond the exterior sea-wall window at high tide just as in earlier days, blissfully ignorant of renovations.

And on the way there (Splash, or Johnny’s Half-Way House—my recommendation is hit one for lunch, the other for dinner, going south or coming north along the free road—both have the ocean breaking practically across your dinner plate), you’ll pass the best birrea joint I’ve found to date.  Beef soup like, well, like better than Alice’s grandmother used to make.  I never tasted Alice’s grandmother’s soup, but I know Alice and her ways of savoring the best, and if she’s putting this joint’s birrea above what she loved made by the hands of a woman she adored – well, it’s got to be pretty good.  Personally, I’d never had anything even approaching its rich beefy flavor.  Cuñados is the name of the joint; it’s on the west side of the Avenido de Artesans (Benito Juarez when in centro Rosarito Beach), and there’s either an El or a Los before the Spanish for brothers-in-law.  Red plastic chairs, limones, radishes, diced onions, cilantro—heaped and tumbling from bowls.  And the Fanta naranja in bottles.  It’s bliss.  I’m telling you—pure and extreme delight.

Short Walks, Rosarito Beach

Perhaps a mile or two miles isn’t so short to an uncle who parks in a handicapped slot and gasps the few steps to the doors of wherever he’s going; and maybe short is an overstatement to power-walkers who move three times the distance in a fraction of the time—but short walks fits the distances we travel for no reason beyond moving away from our sinks, stoves and laptops and into the traffic of sidewalk cracks and languages not our own.

Short: a word that relies on time and distance, in some ways on youth, or the lack of same.  Walk: to proceed, by steps.  Short walks for us are to pass a storefront and dawdle in conversation with an owner, a guard, a manicurist, a paper-flower maker, a tacquero—are to feel as if we belong.  Steadily, down the boulevard, buenos dias, buenos tardes, buenos noches exchanges season our day, afternoon, evening.

To walk out and about is more than exercising legs or even arms, if we swing them.  On Benito Juarez, the eye is exercised—watching for sidewalk cracks and open holes to utility connections, seeing steam rise from cooking pots in the joints along the way, avoiding ice cream vendors with their pushcarts, their bells.  On a sidestreet, a churro vendor.  On a corner, the dulceria festooned with so many piñatas and tables of sweets, barrels of mole, jars of miel—which is to say our mouths are exercised, too, with continual swallowing so as not to openly drool.

When our short walks take us a few blocks west, when our feet sink into the soft and shifting white sand, when the surf breaks against and over our conversations—we still have the feast of tracks left by sandpipers crisscrossing the tide-washed shores, the long narrow line of los pelicanos leaving their dash marks across the horizon, and our appetites for more.

Lynn Doiron, Rosarito Beach, Baja California norte, Mexico; resident since September 2008.