(November 2 – 3, 2017) Bahía de Tortugas is a fascinating town. The funny thing is, it’s probably not that much different from many other towns in Mexico. But, having only seen the “resort” Mexico, real Mexico is new to us.
Although it appears to be a fishing town, I expect the residents here make at least a quarter, if not half, of their annual income the two days each year that the Baja is in town. The beachfront is freshly painted, with signs welcoming the Baja at every business. The 4 small restaurants in town – which appear to be set up on a typical night to handle just one or two groups of guests – are overwhelmed with customers. The mismatched and paper plates suggested that the employees were asked to bring their own dishes to the restaurant for the Baja Days, because otherwise the restaurants would not be able to serve their guests. All day long, you can see pickup trucks unloading ice at their families’ restaurants. By the time we left the town, they’d run out of tequila. (Not joking.)
The men and boys were out and about in the anchorage running their pangas as water taxis. For $2 per person, they would run you from boat to town, or from town to boat. But don’t try to pay them in pesos – they only accept dollars. Probably the best advice we received before leaving California was to bring about 20 one-dollar bills per person to pay pangas and tips.
The morning after we arrived, we were quickly met by a boat offering to take our garbage. Again, I asked how much, because you never know whether the charges will be reasonable; and the prices tend to be less reasonable when you fail to negotiate in advance. These gentlemen were accepting tips for garbage. So, we gave them five bags of garbage, and a $5 bill. It later occurred to me they may not be legitimately disposing of the garbage, but when I saw them unloading boats of garbage onto pickup trucks down the beach, I felt better.
We headed to town early to explore. We walked around a bit, as it wasn’t quite lunch time, and I wanted to check out the church. We wandered along the town’s dirt roads in that direction, but there appeared to be some kind of service going on in there. I didn’t want to intrude, so in Spanish I asked some police officers loitering out front what kind of service was going on. Apparently “service” was the wrong word, because they didn’t understand what I was asking – there’s no service in the church today. So, I tried again: “Why are there people in the church? What’s happening?” It was a funeral mass, they explained. (Day of the Dead – I thought that was November 1, but apparently I was wrong, it was November 2.) So, we decided that it wasn’t a good time to check out the church, and we headed to lunch instead.
The restaurants weren’t the homestyle Mexican food we’d hoped for. At the beach restaurant – which I’m pretty sure is just someone’s patio most of the year – the margaritas and guacamole were fabulous, but the food itself lacking. It was clear that the meat was a bit stale, and the velveeta nachos left something to be desired. I asked our waitress if there was a school in town, and she looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course,” she replied in Spanish. So then I asked her why none of the kids were in school. Her daughter wasn’t yet school-aged, and she didn’t know. She came back a few minutes later and explained that apparently, classes get cancelled each year when the Baja is in town.
After lunch, we played on the beach until it was time for the annual Baja Ha Ha baseball game. At 3PM, we hiked among the plywood hovels most of the town residents lived in. A few homes had beautiful stucco and tile, and others had the luxury of paint and unbroken windows, but most homes were bare plywood with old sheets for windows, and even an occasional missing wall.
The plywood and missing walls made the baseball stadium seem completely out of place. It was a beautiful, freshly painted concrete grandstand structure, with a bright green astroturf field crossed with fresh chalk lines, and a brightly colored team logo in the outfield. At the concession stand, everything from candy bars to chips to beers was $1 each. We watched as the local kids and cruisers swarmed the field, with well over 20 fielders in place at any given time. Meanwhile, the batting line-up was over 30 people long, and thanks to some convenient technicalities, no one ever struck out or walked – every hit was at least a base hit. After a few hours, the local kid outfielders were apparently bored, and huddled together behind second base, throwing their gloves up in the air. At some point they must have started a push-up contest, but despite the distracted outfielders, the game went on. It was near the end when Morgan and Ashton finally decided to take a turn at-bat, and boy was Morgan thrilled with the experience. It was long, and hot, but some clever color commentary from one of the cruiser-announcers made it an entertaining afternoon.
The second day, we woke up and got ready for the beach party. We left early, about 11AM, to head to shore and try out one more restaurant. (And one more wifi hotspot, since the internet at the restaurant the first day didn’t actually work.) By 11:30, we sat down at Restaurante María with high hopes. The food was only slightly better than the first restaurant, and the margaritas weak. But, we enjoyed our lunch nonetheless. When Ellie ordered a soda, it took some time to arrive. When it finally did arrive, it was delivered out of a black plastic bag by the boy helping out in the restaurant that day. In other words, anytime anyone ordered a soda, he would be sent to the store to go buy it.
As we headed back to the beach from lunch, we were approached by four little girls in witch-like Halloween costumes, with black-and-white skeleton face paint. It seems that the arrival of the Baja here has slightly modified some of the local traditions. They celebrate parts of Día de los Muertos the second day of the Baja, at the beach party. The kids dress up, a la Halloween, and ask the cruisers for candy. (We are lame, and didn’t bring any to shore with us.) But, regardless of their costumes, they wear more traditional death-like face paint for Día de los Muertos. At the Baja Beach Party, I was approached by this cutie, dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast with deathly makeup, and asked for candy. (She knew that word in English quite well.) Due to our aforementioned lameness, I had to tell her I didn’t have any. So, she asked me for a photo. I took a photo of her with my phone, and she wanted to see it. I’m not sure she’d seen what she looked like in her costume and face paint, as she spent several seconds studying the photo before running off and asking other gringo party-goers for candy.
The ride from the town to the beach party location was the one time we forgot to negotiate in advance, and of corse we paid for it. All of our panga (water taxi) rides so far had been $6 U.S. But this time, we arrived at our destination at the beach party, and the driver asked for $14. I argued with him in Spanish for a minute, and we settled on $10 U.S. The constant negotiation can become draining, but hopefully we’ll remember to negotiate in advance in the future. On our panga ride back to the boat from the beach party, we reclaimed our $6-per-ride deal by negotiating in advance. Rich tipped that driver an extra $2, and he was quite pleased. I spoke briefly with his sons, who were in the boat and helping him land and disembark on the beaches. Two were 11-year-old twins (and the boy told me the word for twins, but of course I forgot), and a younger 8-year-old brother. They also asked for candy when we were dropped off at our boat, but all the candy we had was still locked in the boat, so again, I had nothing handy to give them. Maybe their dad will spend the tip money to buy them a little something. Like carrots or broccoli.
The Baja Beach Party, in the afternoon on the second day, was fun for both kids and adults. The beach was large and flat, so when the tide went out, there was 100 yards or more for the kids to run on before reaching the water. (It made watching the kids swim difficult, since the adults, sitting above the high water line, were so far from the kids.) Morgan brought her kite, and we tried flying it, but were having trouble. Another cruiser – apparently a kite aficionado – passed by with a different kite in his hand and explained that he had the same kite, and there’s a design flaw. The wings are too flat, so you need to tie a string between the wingtips on each side to pull them back, and reduce the area for the wind to catch. He tied the wings back for us, and it worked! Morgan got some great kite-flying in that day.
Ellie mostly dug in the mud. Somehow, every time Ellie starts digging in mud, she starts attracting slightly younger locals, and they all join in with her. Without any language in common at all, Ellie enjoyed a beach mud puddle with at least five local girls throughout the afternoon. I encouraged her to practice her Spanish by saying, “Hola,” and asking the girls their names, but she was too shy. Hopefully we’ll get there soon!