Cabo '98

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Howie and Zelda on the briny for a day of not catching fish
Peter Kohlsaat
Wednesday, April 15, 1998

SAN JOSE DEL CABO, MEXICO -- Semana Santos has passed and the town of San Jose del Cabo is back to its normal self. For the past couple days it has been a ghost town. It is somewhat of a local custom for residents to get out of town around Easter weekend. They take it serious. Prime beachfront camping sites are sometimes claimed a week ahead of time; early revelers setting up shade apparatuses and manning them with a revolving cast of sitters until the big weekend. During that three-day stretch is not an empty stretch of beach between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. My favorite camping spot near Cabo Pulmo can comfortably accommodate five or six groups. During Semana Santos upwards of 200 people are packed in the tiny beach area, transforming it into a wreathing, beer-drinking mass of humanity, each sector demarcated by the music emanating from a car radio/stereo whose volume is dialed up to distorted levels—The Doors from a Datsun pickup with 200-watts per channel and a subwoofer on the tailgate holding court. (Let’s not even envision the sanitary arrangements.) My friend, Marco, stopped me on the street the other day and asked when we were all going camping next. (The standing deal is: I buy the gas and provide the transport and they—The Boys--buy everything else, including the beer. It is an offer I try to take advantage of as often as possible.) He was suggesting Semana Santos weekend. I told him, not a chance, that it was too crowded. He told me that is the point: it would be party, party, party. It is not what I’m looking for when I camp, I told him.

Unlike Fiesta San Jose, (which just recently concluded) when it is best to get outta town, Semana Santos is best spent—by the author, anyway—in town. So Howie and I went fishing. It was not exactly IN town, but five minutes away, from my common launch site, Playa Pallmilla.

The moon was a day past full and still visible as the eastern horizon began to turn salmon. The wind was slight and the swells were almost non-existent. We fished for five hours and got nada. Not even a strike. It might be the bright nights, someone suggested.

Spring is moving on to summer and it is beginning to get hot. By eight that morning the sun was already a force. The gentle breeze ceased, the ocean turned slick. About ten o’clock we went for a little swim. Outside of Howie hooking the bottom, that was all the action we had.

But it is always nice to get Howie out fishing. He spins great fishing stories about when he was a spry lad growing up on Long Island--fishing for bluefish with hand lines from a rowboat; fishing for stripers in the reeds at 3:30 in the morning; going out with his uncle, with his friends; going clamming; spending summers in Vermont on Lake Champlain, where they would row across the lake and drink in New York where the drinking age was 18.

Howie is a little older than me, and has been around. I told him the other day he was looking a lot like a skinny Don Ameche. A spreading grin squeezed his eyes tight, and said that was a first. He is about six foot three and goes, at the most, 170 pounds. He has curly blond, thinning hair, a big honker of a nose, big hands with long artistic fingers, and contemplative pale blue eyes.

Howie has a physics degree from Yale but never put it to use. He moved to New York City to play music. He has played CBGB’s. "Shit yeah, I played all those clubs, man," he tells me in his regular bebop vernacular. He lived the Life. And he’s got tales. Somehow, in all his meanderings he got waylaid in Mexico, where in 1983, he met his wife-to-be, Norma, who was singing in a club. Together, they’ve played all over Mexico. For the last four or five years they have been living and playing in San Jose and their salsa-style jazz is much in demand. Howie plays the piano, alto and tenor sax, and does the arrangements, and Norma sings and plays hand percussion instruments. They always seem to be able to find a conga player to round out a trio. This year they have Julian, a Cuban, who can do it all.

Howie and I went fishing on his first day off in weeks. We talked about music, books, wandering, woman, and all the things two guys talk about in a little 14-foot boat on the high seas. We smoked a couple cigars and drank a couple Pacifico ballenas. A couple whales surfaced near us while we were out not catching fish. One was 50 meters from the boat, making great breathing noises and spouting spray as it rolled atop the water, prompting gleeful barks from Zelda. The other whale, the bigger of the two, kept its distance at, maybe, 150 meters, but paralleled us for 15 or 20 minutes, staying under water for long periods, giving us the great big beautiful tail standing straight up out of the water as it dove for the depths.

So, we came back with no fish in the fish sack, but this is San Jose, and even on Easter Sunday there is fish to be had. At a private house we scored some fresh marlin. Forty pesos a kilo/$2.25US/pound. Marlin steaks on the grill, teriyaki marinade over local mesquite charcoal, Howie’s famous chili potatoes, some ice-cold Dos Equis, a couple of tequilas…damn! again, it was another fine day of fishing in San Jose del Cabo.

Zelda’s diary

No Zelda's diary this week.

Peter's diary

PALO ESCOPETA, BAJA MEXICO--The other day, Julian came to see me. He had shaved his head. Gone was his wild, unruly, unkempt reddish-blonde mane that more or less epitomized him. Julian is a big man. His head is really big. His head even looks big on him. It is not a handsome head. Whereas his appearance had always evoked a certain amount of fear, he has now added the element of psychosis.

Julian told me he had just discovered a whale skeleton out in the desert. He wanted to know how to publish his discovery, having heard from someone that there is big money in publishing archeological discoveries. A PhD, I told him, was probably something that he would need to attract the Smithsonian. Undeterred, he still thought there was money to be made. In any case, he offered to bring me out to the site.

I love tramping around the Baja with Julian, and not just because he can carry everything. Out in the wilderness, he is in his element. He is familiar with the surrounding arroyos and knows where all the hot springs are. He has discovered Indian petroglyphs tucked back in the mountain hinterlands. He knows the best hunting grounds for prehistoric shark teeth, giant fossilized clams and coral, and Indian artifacts. He will spend all day with a screwdriver, poking around the hillsides. So when his offer came along I was eager to join him.

There were four of us—me, Julian, a Canadian woman friend of his whose acquaintance he recently came upon, (Julian, you see, is a bit of a womanizer), and Paco, who upon learning that we couldn't go fishing, opted for a trek through the desert. We drove out of town on a well-traveled, heavily-washboarded dirt road for a little over a half hour. I was somewhat familiar with the area having hunted for sharks’ teeth in the same arroyo a couple years ago. I remembered it as being packed with fossilized marine life. I pulled the van off the road and we clamored into the brush, after Julilan and his long strides.

After a half-hour of switchbacks down the arroyo’s steep and crumbly slope, we were at the arroyo’s sandy floor where we walked some more. All along the way the sedimentary nature of the land was evident, as past ocean floors could be seen in the steep canyon walls. Prehistoric coral reefs were displayed as areas of solid black against the prevalent light chalky stone. Half way up a minor tributary arroyo Julian stood proudly atop his discovery. It was a bone-white arching fossil, four feet long, lying mostly in rock, which he and a friend found protruding from the earth. Even with a cursory inspection, it was obvious that to excavate this would be a serious undertaking. Images of archeological digs cordoned off into tiny squares came to mind; hired labor with dental picks and air bulbs hunched in the unforgiving sun. Was it a whale bone? Looked like it could be.

We spent the rest of the morning poking around and sifting through the zillions of fossils. On the opposite side of the arroyo I found a fossilized bone. I called over Julian, who confirmed it. Sorting around it, we found other bone fragments. The main piece was some sort of hipbone as characterized by the intact ball joint. Julian noted the location, intending to return to it later.

While slowly working our way back to the van, I found a shark's tooth. I am always surprised when I find one. For such an ornate and sought after relic, they are just lying around the desert in plain sight. The impressive shark’s tooth that Julian wears around his neck is an inch long and an inch at its base, and he, too, found it just lying atop the ground.

We returned to town mid-afternoon, in the mid-day heat. I suggested to Julian that we go for a quick swim in the ocean and we agreed to meet in an hour. Next time I saw him was in the plaza. It was seven o’clock.

"Where were you, man?" I asked him. "I knocked on your door. You don’t live there anymore?"

"Hey, man, I had to move. I couldn’t afford the rent. I’m living across the street at the whore house," he told me, grinning, his big head shining. "Hey, I’m meeting these two women over at the Tropicana, man. Come join us for beers. They’re killer chicks, man." Julian, fully charged by a four-hour siesta…yeah, I got time for a beer.

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