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Posted January 15, 1997, HUERFANITO, BAJA CALIFORNIA NORTE--Amazing as it seemed, Tony and Ed, who have been coming to the Baja for eight years, had never had a fish taco. So I cooked them up a few. Nothing fancy—strips of exceedingly fresh triggerfish, dipped in egg, breaded with crushed soda crackers, deep-fried, rolled up in heated flour tortillas spread with perfectly ripe avocado, seasoned with a hot sauce of choice. That, with a rice/carrots/pepper side dish, we celebrated Tony’s birthday. Tony was 52. Ed, ten years his junior.

tony_zelda_and_ed.jpg (17542 bytes)Eight years ago, Tony bought this simple cabin on the beach, two miles south of Puertecitos on the Sea of Cortez. It is a little red, windowless, one-room structure with a screened-in porch. The porch is cluttered with a cluttered table, boxes, tools, knickknacks, a couple broken chairs, books, magazines, maps, a cot, blankets, eight years of accumulated stuff. Ed sleeps on the porch, being driven, he claims, by Tony’s snoring. Tony claims, because of Ed’s snoring, he belongs on the porch. Decade-old salt pines surround the house, exuding a salty goo, swaying in the almost constant wind; its long, soft needles gently brushing against the screens, roof, and sides. Inside the darkened cabin is a gas-fueled refrigerator and four-burner stove, a couple electric light bulbs attached to the ceiling and the wall, a fluorescent light, a kerosene lamp, a small TV, a VCR, a bed (consisting of a collection of cushions), a sofa, a table with four card table chairs, pots, pans, various cooking necessities, a five-gallon plastic water jug, shelves of food, a few boxes on the floor containing magazines, clothes, and whatnot. The cabin is surprisingly neat. Tony and Ed are big believers in paper plates and cups and plastic forks and spoons. A finicky gasoline generator supplies electricity, for the evening meal and after-dinner video. They are gracious hosts.
Tony bought the little house from a work acquaintance, who bought it from Leonard—a former next door neighbor, who bought it from one of the members of the Nacho family, who many years before, built the house. It was the first house on the beach, the beach now called, "Nachos Landing" or "Campo Nacho." The house next to it, now the last structure on the beach, (or the first, depending on your approach,) was once a cantina, run by a member of the familia Nacho . The road running down the length of the beach was then the preferred route from Cabo San Lucas north to the border. The cantina serviced the traffic. In its day it was rumored to have been quite the rowdy highway roadhouse. Now a newly improved dirt road bellies around the beach, isolating to an even greater extent, the little community which calls itself, Huerfanito, taken from the dominant mountaintop rising from the water a half-mile from shore, El Huerfanito (the little orphan.)

leonard.jpg (16941 bytes)The Huerfanito neighborhood, with no phones or electricity, consists of about a dozen houses stretched out along the sandy beach, anchored to the north by the old cantina and at the southern end, by a modern yellow two-story home owned by a Mexican candy magnate from Ensenada. The cantina stands vacant with a small trailer parked behind it on a concrete slab. Tony tells the story: One evening the former owner, all gassed up with a shotgun, began to blast away into the night sky. The news of the event eventually reached the authorities. Sometime later a military truck pulled up, men spilled out, confronted the man, and confiscated the gun. The next day, the neighbor packed up and left. He never returned. On the other side of Tony’s cabin, sharing a common driveway entrance, is a neat white cement-block house, with a small wind generator spinning wildly. It is owned by Art. He bought it from Leonard, who moved to the other end of the beach; to the "better part of town." He proclaims that if he could move back, he would in a minute. Seems he has one of "those next door neighbors." Thirty years ago Leonard was en route to Bahía Los Angeles driving the old road when his axle broke. "Oh, God, it was something," he says sporting a crooked grin. "I never made it to where I was going. I just stayed here." It seems to be a common explanation for why people are where they are in the Baja. He bought the only house on the beach. Leonard is ex-Army. When he three-wheels down the beach and saunters over to Tony’s for coffee they share stories of the military. Tony was in the navy, as was Ed. Leonard has diabetes. Once a month he travels to San Felipe to have his blood tested. The blood is sent to a military hospital in the US and he is sent the results. He talks of his "pretty little female Captain doctor." He is on his second pacemaker. He says, of his age, "Well, let’s say I’ll never see 75 again." Ed told me of a time, when Leonard, in his younger days, stole a bunch of dynamite from the Mexican army who was building the road. He used it to blow up the outhouse of a neighbor man with whom he had a score to settle. There is a photo of it—the outhouse in midair, Ed tells me. He also used the dynamite to build his own roads up in the mountains. Obviously the Mexican military wasn’t as fearsome back then. Leonard comes down to Huerfanito for four months every winter. Claims February to be his favorite month. He walks with a cane and is accompanied by his yellow Mexican dog, Clinton—named for "our illustrious President." Leonard is married to a sprightly woman who shares his love for the Baja. She is a, a fisherwoman, who loves to brave the surf for corvina as they migrate up the beach. Leonard says he no longer can fish. He and Art are good friends and retired work mates from back in California. Art left for home the day I arrived. He owed Tony a case of beer. Leonard, using his key, searched the house for the beer. None was found. Ed, Tony, and Leonard, sitting around the kitchen table discussing this, agreed Art had about six cases about a week ago. They also agreed it could indeed be gone.

urhere.gif (11257 bytes)Next to Art’s is Captain Bill’s place. It is a very sturdy home constructed of local rock and cement. They tell me he is always building stuff. They also tell me Captain Bill is a strange man. They didn’t elaborate. They did tell me of his last girlfriend. She was much younger than he was. General consensus was she was after his money, since, "It was a well-known fact that he had a thing he pumped up…" and, besides, his health was bad. She was going to wait him out. Turned out she inherited some money and no one ever saw her again. Next to Captain Bill’s was Ron and his wife’s place. Ron is a retired contractor. They were in the process of building a house. It was small, with lots of windows. In fact, it was referred to as "the house with the windows." This was the first time they were spending more than a couple weeks in Huerfanito. They could often be seen early mornings fishing the surf.

There’s an airstrip between the main dirt road and the buildings. Among the residents are a number of pilots. Currently only one flies. Jeff, who owns the house directly in back of Tony’s is a "Good Samaritan"—he regularly flies doctors into remote areas and patients to clinics. Pete, who lives down the beach near Leonard, used to be a Good Samaritan. One time the Mexican military dug trenches across all the little rural airfields in the Baja, in an effort to stem the drug trade. A while later they returned and filled in the trenches. Ed told me of a Mexican officer who at one time used one of the Islas Encantadas as his personal cocaine depository, flying a military helicopter to and from the island, loading and sending ships to the U.S. He was eventually caught.

Despite the brutal winter winds and the suffocating summer sun,

Huerfanito is a small piece of real estate where people come to escape. The Baja is good for that.

Peter’s diary
This morning finished off the filleted sierra mackerel, fried in garlic butter with rice and veggies. Smoking Popes on the stereo and an ice-cold breakfast Modelo. Packing up to move on down the road. Hopefully find a place to launch the kayak where I won’t be blown to Guaymas.

Stopped ten minutes later at a group of buildings on the beach searching for ice, beer, a few supplies. Nothing. Started talking with this old guy, Leonard. He’s been coming here 30 years. Asked about the area. He suggested I talk with the guys next door. They have detailed maps. Eddie and Tony. Ended up staying with them for a couple days. They were great hosts. Since I was almost out of food they fed me. And gave me beer. I cooked them up fish tacos and some rice one night, pretty much finished off my food.

We did some fishing but most of all just shot the shit. Both these guys loved to explore the mountains, one of my favorite things to do. One day, Ed and I took off with the three-wheelers, (Tony graciously offered to stay behind) up into the Miramar Arroyo. Just getting on off-the-road vehicles is a gas. We drove up into the hills until we couldn’t go any farther and then we hiked. After a mile of so there began to appear water. Then there was flowing water. A waterfall. Nice fresh-water pools. If it had been hotter, I would have jumped in. We walked a couple hours. Along the way was evidence of past gold mining. At the end, we climbed up this little mountain. The view was fine. We took a different way down where I found a bucket with a handle. I had been looking for one. It was a great day. We had a smorgasbord of canned herring, kippers, clams, crackers, sausage, cheese, beer, a little Wild Turkey. Smoked an after-dinner Swisher Sweet. Retired to my van to read while they watched The Milagro Beanfield War on the VR. All in all the time I spent with them in Huerfanito was very enjoyable. We spent our time in lively conversation and animated discussion. They were gracious and generous hosts to this supply-less vagabond.

Zelda’s diary
It was great being around other humans eating. Peter never feeds me while he’s eating. But other people do. I’ve got this getting-humans-to-feed-me thing down.

I casually lie down not too far away from them with my head resting on my paws. I let them know that I’m here just in case they want to give me some food. I’m not asking for food, but I’m here, just in case. Every now and then I give them the look. I’ve got these big brown eyes and when I look up with them, you can tell humans dig it. Some humans give me food all the time, some don’t at all. Either way, after dinner, I know there will be food. Whatever is left over. These guys love to feed me.

I’m just hanging out. Peter comes and goes. I stay here. No big deal. Peter always comes back. The other day he and this other human left for a long time. I just hung out with this other human. He lay around. He went to sleep. He went outside. I followed. We walked around. He fed me some food. Peter and this other human came home. It was getting dark. They ate some food. I ate some of their food. It was a great day.

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