Monday, January 30, 2012
I have just tasted another era. Somewhere back in time, another culture. Favas and comotes (sweet potatoes) from the huerta. Savor the sun, the rich earth, the mountain spring water filtered through ancient rock.
I am eating the garden gifts of Ramon’s family from a Baja mountain oasis. Everyday staples for them. A cultural and even spiritual experience for me. Eating from my home garden is one of the things I most miss when I am here in Baja. In this simple meal I have been transported!
Ramon is one of our university interns at Sea Kayak Baja Mexico in Loreto on the Baja peninsula. His family has lived for generations in the La Purisima-Comandu area. Currently they make their home in San Isidro, which is part of the same aquifer and is about as small and quiet and self-sustaining as a mountain oasis can be.
San Isidro is a step back in time. Food is cultivated by hand in small fields punctuated by irrigation ditches and palm groves. Animal fodder is cut with a simple curved blade and tossed into their pens. Fields for squash are fertilized with animal manure. Other fields grow green cover crops to replenish the soil. Favas are a staple, nourishing both soil and people.
When I saw fields of favas, which everyone has, I thought these people must have a lot of time on their hands to peel all those overpackaged beans. Then Ramon’s mom fed us a bowl of young favas, cooked with the pods. Delicious! How silly I was for so long to peel them and chuck good pods in the compost.
San Isidro lives permaculture. San Isidro lived permaculture before it was a word. San Isidro lives community as well, just to survive. They rely on a dam and an aqueduct for their water. They rely on cooperation for where that water flows when, and to keep it flowing. They rely on each other for labor, for sharing machinery, for trading food such as homemade cheese.
There are no restaurants in town. There is one store.
How does a kayak guide from Washington state get a personal tour of San Isidro? It’s funny where kayaking can take a person.
The Mexican government is dividing up the community lands into private property, including the San Isidro area. Ramon’s parents want to leave him a good opportunity to make a living. He came to Loreto to study Alternative Tourism. Since that is his interest, the family hopes to choose a good location for a basecamp for visitors or students so that he can offer tours of his hometown and the surrounding area, which is rich in many ways. My business partner Ivette and I have been invited to advise them and to brainstorm together.
The whole 4 hours up from Loreto is a geologists heaven. Ivette is a marine geologist, and gives us some mini-lessons along the way. Even up here in the mountains, there are marine sediments complete with fossils. Volcanic fields and peaks surround the valley, crowned by the striking El Pilon.
History merges here, of the natives and the missionaries, whose supporting military force intermarried with the natives and birthed the ranching culture that continues, slowly fading, in the Baja outback today. Natives, missionaries, and ranchers all made use of San Isidro’s resources, and the present culture descends directly from them. There are some simple petroglyphs on the way to San Isidro.
The freshwater lagoons supply water for birds as well. Ramon and I take Ivette’s young girls out to explore in sit-on-top kayaks. The peak of El Pilon watches us there as well.
Beyond the history, the geology, and the activities, it is the community itself that is the real treasure. A huerta is a place of sustenance that includes tended fields like a garden or farm, and fruit trees like an orchard. Often animals are part of the cycle as well. The huerta culture holds great knowledge in its hands: The tanning of hides and making of leather items. The processing of cheese, the making of tortillas. The alchemy of taking cane plants and making cones of dark sugar that resemble El Pilon, the peak that watches everything. The climbing of palm trees to harvest fronds that become roofs. The mashing and weaving of carrizo, a bamboo-like plant, into panels that are used as walls. The animal husbandry that breeds such healthy goats as the ones we are camped next to. They have beautiful coats, perfectly symmetrical horns, sound feet, well-shaped udders, and 2-3 frolicking babies apiece.
In the course of a few days, I felt like we went from advisors to family. Ivette’s girls call Ramon’s parents their Mountain Grandparents. Who can say where it will lead. Whom it may inspire. How the experience may influence the course of the little oasis itself. But I do know that eating the produce of their labors and the land and the sun and the mountain water, I feel reconnected. To all of it. To something deeply grounding and profoundly human.