Wednesday, April 1, 1998
PALMILLA, SJDC, MEXICO -- "So you went right out and bought a new fishing pole, yeah?" Anni asked incredulously. I had, I admitted. Earlier that morning, while launching Prez Ja from Playa Palmilla, I had sat on my nine-foot shore-casting rig, snapping off the top foot and a half (the top three eyelets). Even over the phone, Anni’s surprise at the ease at which I casually plopped down 400 pesos ($50) was evident. On the other hand, when I mentioned it to Paco, he said, "Of course."
The day started ominously. Right off the bat there was the broken pole. Soon thereafter I discovered that in the pre-dawn darkness I had grabbed the wrong tackle box—the tackle box with all the junk in it, all the crap that was deemed best left behind, the stuff I didn’t have the heart to trash. A quick inventory of the box’s content uncovered five very clumsy, sad-looking plastic lures. But we had some beer in the cooler, ham sandwiches, a few cigars, (of which, true to the day’s cruel beginning, I promptly dropped into the bottom of the boat, soaking it in water). But it was a fine day to be in a boat fishing. After three hours we actually managed to supply the fish sack with two fish—a nice sierra mackerel and a black skip jack.
What was once very utilitarian nine-foot shore casting rod was now a pathetic unaesthetic, stick with an attached reel. It hurt to look at it. I began to toss around ideas on how to replace it. Buying anything fishing-related locally was outrageously expensive. I thought about whom might be making the trip down from San Diego, but cringed when envisioning some novice selecting a fishing pole for me. First stop, in any case, was a talk with Ricardo at the Deportiva Piscis, my favorite store in all San Jose.
All my life I have been enamored with bait and tackle shops. The air seems rarefied by fish tales and optimism. It is the where the fishing brotherhood comes together. It is a clubhouse, a mostly male bastion, where members are greeted by their first names. It is a place where one can only aspire to having one’s own designated coffee cup hanging from a hook in the back room. The Deportiva Piscis is such a tackle shop. Richardo is its affable owner.
Twelve years ago Richardo left Tijuana for the tranquillity of San Jose del Cabo. In Tijuana he raised cattle where he still maintains 300 head on 150 acres. It is not hard to imagine him on a horse; a dapper vaquero. He is quick to start up a conversation and his enthusiasm spills forth. He’s the kind of guy who knows where the fish are being caught but is trusted not to divulge his customers’ favorite spots.
I have known Ricardo for four years. I always enjoy hanging around, being entertained by the banter between him and the local fishermen who stop in. With me he has always been generous with free leader line and usually throws in a free hook or a couple extra swivels with my purchase. Even though I am not the captain of a serious big-game fishing boat, he still treats me with the respect that comes with being a serious fisherman. (True, I am a captain of the Prez Ja).
Today I am in the Deportiva Piscis trying to track down a new shore-casting pole. It is a small shop, specializing in line and lures for marlin, whahoo, and dorado, and Richardo does not keep much of a pole inventory. If someone wants a rod or reel he usually instructs him to make the drive to Cabo San Lucas, but he knows exactly what I am looking for. He disappears down the hall into a back room and emerges holding a beautiful seven-foot stiff used yellow Fuji spin-casting rod. On a folded piece of masking tape is written—400 pesos. "Just yesterday," he tells me, "this was sitting against the wall behind the counter. I kept looking at it and wanting it for myself. So I finally put it away in the back room." But he offers it to me, because it is perfect. I give him a 150 peso deposit and tell him I’ll be back tomorrow with the balance. Just maybe the day didn’t start out so bad after all.
Wow. Went for a long walk the other day. It was great. Lots of great smells. Saw one of those non-cow animals with the black mask around the eyes. We have those same animals back at our other house. They come in through my private little dog door and eat my food. When I hear the door move, I’m out there! They can be nasty things. Got real sharp claws.
There was water everywhere and I even went walking in it. Right up to my head, where I couldn’t feel the ground. And there were cows!! Everywhere!! I could chase them all over the place. Man, sometimes those cows can get pretty ornery. Don’t like me barking at the little cows. But what can they do about it?! They’re just cows! Stupid, slow, cows! I tell ‘em how stupid they are and they just look at me with those big stupid eyes. "Get out of the way, you stupid cows!" I tell them. "Go back into the trees! We’re comin’ through!" On the way back I get to lead the way. I just smell where we went before and follow it back to the car. The one thing I know—all trails lead back to the car.
There are few people here in San Jose who share my zeal for the mountains. Lloyd Kahn is one of them. Lloyd goes way back, (in more ways than one). He was staying here at the Hotel Posada Señor Mañana long before I discovered it and he’s always got a good tale to tell when we kick back and talk. For years, via an annual arrangement made with the hotel’s initial owner, he rented a palapa on the hotel grounds. He would come down as often as his business obligations allowed, usually no more than three or four times a year for a week or so at a pop. He is the owner of Shelter Publications in Bolinas, California. The other day we decided to hike up Cañon San Pablo and camp overnight. Last year we had spent a couple hours hiking up the arroyo and wanted to go farther this time.
The cañon is a fabulous hike. One simply follows the arroyo floor upstream. Yep, there is water — fresh, crystal-clear, and cold. Hike for an hour in the eighty-plus temperature and go for a swim. With water available the entire route it advisable to carry some sort of water filtration device, which allows for totally unrationed water consumption. I carry an incredibly thoughtfully designed system made by Sweetwater.
At the rancho where we parked Lloyd’s truck the ranchero informed us that he could hike the whole length of the arroyo in six hours. Lloyd and I hiked for four, the rugged peak of Cerro Blanco (6000 feet) constantly above and in front of us. We camped at a nice spring-fed pool at about 2000 feet. The night was chilly. Zelda was quiet all night, no coyotes or mountain lions around, I guess. (She did, however, come face to face with a big fat raccoon during our hike). The hike back was completed in the cool of the morning and much faster. It was a great 24 hours.
It never ceases to amaze me, with the desert being so dominant, how much water there is up in the mountains. And how ignorant everyone is of this fact.
Outside of the hike, not much excitement from the hotel. Went fishing with Paco a couple times. Got shut out once, caught a couple the next. Attended a couple bar-b-cues. Ate lots of good food. Last night at a going away party for Roberto, I made black skip jack salad and grilled a whole sierra mackerel using the fish basket I made out of a discarded oven rack and piece of rebar. It was the best sierra I have ever had, next to ceviche, that is.
It was inevitable. I finally received a ticket. Up to now I have always been able to talk my way out of it, either by groveling or by simply refusing to pay the mordido (the little bite) at the scene. The usual routine: I am stopped for something. (The police are like wolves—traveling in packs they are most common found on the fringes, they hunt at night, and they prey on the weak. In San Jose they are most often encountered on the dirt roads that circle the town, away from public scrutiny. Just the sight of a lone cop car in my path gives me the willies). Two cops approach the car. They inform me of some sort of violation. They want to see my license. (If they are serious, they will want to see my registration. Sometimes they want to see it, just hoping I don’t have it). With the license in their hand, they ponderously circle the car, appearing to verify something. Infracción or violación is heard. They inform me that they area going to have to take my license. I usually plead--very pathetically. If that doesn’t work, I say, OK, do what you have to do. They continue to examine the license. They may re-circle the car. They reiterate that they are going to confiscate the license; I will have to go to the police station and pay a fine. I tell them, OK…whatever. At that point, when it is obvious that I am not going to slip them some money, they tell me to be on my way.
The day I got my ticket, I was on the dirt road that skirts the downtown. They were pointed the other way when I passed them. They turned around and followed. Usually, when a cop car is behind me—unlike in the US—I never use my turn signals, just in case they don’t work. (It would be highly unlikely that a Mexican cop would pull you over for not signaling a turn). Two cops, one in the customary blue uniform, the other in a white shirt—unusual and official-looking. They both spoke very good English, again, unusual. The infracción—no brake lights…and a cracked windshield. (because of the manic way the locals drive
I was glad to learn of the brake lights, the windshield thing was a joke—most of the official city vehicles have cracked windshields, and God knows what percentage of the total vehicles on the road have a crack in the windshield). But there was no funny business. The guy in the white shirt started writing out the ticket immediately. While he was writing I was telling the other cop how ridiculous the windshield infracción was. They took my license.
The San Jose police station is a rather new, terra cotta-colored building next to the estuary on the way to the beach, where I went the next day to retrieve my license. Its interior was more to my expectations: shabby, dusty, understaffed, with dour police personnel at antiquated typewriters, unsavory characters were hanging around. Somewhere in back must be the jail cells, again giving me the willies. That morning I was the lone Gringo in the "lobby" and just about to make my way to the front desk to begin the arduous task at hand, when a policeman with a white shirt, noticing the paper in my hand offered his assistance. He took the paper from me and brought it to someone back in a corner. She slid a paper in the typewriter, pecked out a short line of type, returned it to the officer, and he returned it to me. I was surprised to learn the ticket was for the windshield and not the brake lights. It was a hundred pesos ($12) but—and the cops at the scene never tell you this—if you pay the fine within two days, it is reduced by 50%. (If you pay it within four days, it is reduced 25%). The officer showed me to the payment window. There was no one behind it. We chatted. He expressed his sympathy for me, as a tourist, having received a ticket and I told him it could have been worse. He nodded knowingly. A woman slipped into the unlighted plywood pay booth. I told him I came to fish, and he smiled. The woman took my 50 pesos, stamped the paper a few times and slid it back through the hole in the glass, and returned to wherever she came from. I asked the officer if he liked to fish. Emphatically, he told me how very much liked to fish, "but who has the time?" he added. I shook his hand and thanked him for his assistance, and almost asked the guy to come fishing with me.