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About Martina Dobesh

Martina Dobesh, is a freelance journalist writing for Baja Times and Baja News. She is the editor of her own online publication The Baja Sun www.thebajasun.com. Other published works can be read on www.EzineArticles.com. Martina is passionate about conservation and honoring the original people of the Baja peninsula.

Have a Baja Moment! Adventures in Mulege

Have a Baja Moment! Adventures in Mulege

If it hadn’t been for my sister pushing me to come with her to Mexico and then offering free lodging in an exclusive Cabo hotel, I never would have made it to Mulege. We planned this road trip so we could take in the real Baja California and almost didn’t make it to Los Cabos because we couldn’t leave Mulege – make that, wouldn’t leave Mulege. We kept trying for a week before finishing our trip to lands end. Now, here we are back in the magic that wouldn’t let us go.

Adventures in Mulege

Alisabeth always pushed me into experiences I would have never had on my own. She got me aboard this Mexican shrimping trawler that was about to leave from Mulege for a night of fishing. I looked at her and she just grinned at me as the massive engine roared into life, and the ratcheting sounds of the heavy anchor chain warned us that we would soon be underway for the night; two gringas accompanied by a boat load of rough-looking marineros. She and I stood with Captain Chamula at the helm of El Joven. We gazed out on the beauty of the Gulf of California. How we had been invited aboard was still a mystery, but Alisabeth was relentless in getting me to say yes, saying it would be an experience of a lifetime. In this moment we were both feeling like we were on a National Geographic assignment, and the adventure was just beginning.

The water was glassy, and El Joven sliced through its stillness. The nightly routine began. The nets were dropped just outside the protected coastline a short time after dusk. Shrimp stayed hidden during the day and fed at night. The heavy nets disappeared below the surface. One small net called a “chango” or monkey, was used to check the catch before bringing up the two larger nets. When the count in the chango was ten or more the big nets would be hauled in.

Piloting in ‘S’ shaped patterns across the gulf, the cook called us to the galley for a light supper of sautéed onions, tomatoes, peppers and tender diced shrimp, all wrapped in a warm flour tortilla. The marineros, were respectful, but we could tell there were many questions in their eyes. Well into the night everyone took their places; two men on each side of the ship with the nets, while two men handled the winches. Groans issued from the cables being pulled taut under the weight. My first look at the bulbous nets clearing the gunwale threw me into major conflict. This was reality; this was the way shrimp got to the stores. Wrapped in neat packages, consumers never saw this devastation. At the same time a writhing mass of other living things were hauled in and dumped on deck: bottom fish, starfish, small shark, snail, shells, crab, and eels. There were whispers of an illegal sea turtle.

Adventures in Mulege

This was a very old form of work, men needed to feed their families, and the world wanted shrimp. Alisabeth and I felt a deep dichotomy; horrified to witness the destruction of the sea bottom. The deck crew went to work after securing the ropes and cables. With primitive wooden tools, they began to sort through the sea bottom carnage, separating the shrimp, and throwing them into large wicker baskets. The men tossed the edible fish to the side; these would become breakfast or dinner. The rest of the squirming mass became food for the sea birds.

This ritual of gathering would be done three times during the night. Sleep for the crew happened between the net pulls. We tried our best to fit into this sleep pattern. Near dawn, I slipped into the narrow passageway to the galley, trying to gather my sea legs under me, but had to use my hands pressed against the walls. The seas had definitely picked up. Everyone was still sleeping before the last net pull. On the ancient stove hot water was waiting. Using the cloth filter sown to a wire ring, I scooped dark grounds into it, poured the steaming water through and filled two cups. Slopping the coffee, I made wobbly progress to the helm. Chamula leaned back on the Captain’s chair, arms crossed. His bare feet rested on the spokes of the wheel, his knee bounced in time with the Mexican polka. With a grin, he reached for the coffee. Then without warning, he jumped up from the helm, and gave me the wheel. Shocked I exclaimed, “What?! What am I supposed to do?” Stay on course, west, he said. I called after him, “Please, don’t forget to come back.” I clutched the wheel and headed toward land.

Adventures in Mulege

He was busy waking the men with a gentle nudge, and didn’t find the need to reassure me. Everyone pulled on their yellow slickers and headed out on deck rubbing sleep from their eyes. I could hear the growl of the winches as they strained to pull in the nets; secretly I was thrilled being at the helm. The sky began to fill with circling birds. Their numbers increased to nearly swarm proportions. They knew the feast was certain. Finally I joined Alisabeth at the rear of the boat, to watch in utter astonishment as the mound of undesirable sea life was pushed overboard. In one swirling body the birds began to dive. With wild screeching, feathered bodies smashed into each other as they fought to get the wiggling banquet.

As the sky and the gulf waters turned blazing pink, Chamula dropped anchor. The decks were washed down, as well as the baskets of shrimp. The men pulled up short wooden stools and the cleaning of the shrimp began by ripping the heads from the bodies. Twist. Toss. Twist. Toss. The shrimp were sorted by size, and the heads went into a pile which would be given to the local fisherman for bait. Dropping anchor, the first pangas shoved off from shore headed in our direction.

After a breakfast of mouth-watering fresh fish, beans with plenty of lard, and strong coffee, we managed to crawl over the ship’s gunwale, and down into the bobbing panga without falling into the water. Back on the beach, the marineros begged us to stay. We promised our return. As we walked to the car Alisabeth asked, “An experience of a lifetime?” I sighed, still feeling the swaying decks of the Joven under my feet. “Yes, you were right. An experience of a lifetime.”

 

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula. We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurantshotelsvacation rentals and activities, as well as guides, maps, complete event calendars and great stories about incredible travel destinations, from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas.  We also provide free personal travel consulting, planning and booking services in Los Cabos, Todos Santos and La Paz, with prices that match or are below best advertised price. For more information, please call toll-free (US/CAN) 855-BAJA-411 or email us at info@baja.com.

 

 

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Pitaya: Legacy of a Lost Baja Culture

By Martina

Traveling south into Mulege, you don’t want to miss a very local fruit known as the Pitaya. Its history is as rich as the fruit, itself — luscious and vibrant as is the Pitaya, when it is sliced wide open.

Pitaya is the fruit of the cactus. Way before recorded history, it is said that the Cochimi Indians waited every season for this fruit from the Organ Pipe, Pitaya Dulce, to ripen sometime in May through July.

When the cactus flowered and the blossom dropped away, they knew the harvest season was near. The globular fruit with spines began to form. Finally, when the Pitaya was about the size of a tennis ball, the festival of the Pitaya would begin with a jubilant celebration. This fruit was in abundance, an anomaly in the otherwise arid and austere life of survival in the desert.

Desert areas around Mulege

The Jesuit missionaries were the first to record their experience of the Pitaya Festival. They noted that the Cochimi would gorge themselves on the wild harvest and the fermented juice. During the feasting, tribes traveled about, mixing with other Cochimi to reinforce their society. It was a rather dangerous time for the young women, as the young men would pursue them while gathering the fruit. Dancing with clothing was optional — and happy inebriation lead to matrimony.

The fruit of the cactus provided a highly valued but short-lived seasonal food resource. Additionally, the seeds were prized. Much to the dismay of the padres, the Indians did not remove the tiny seeds from the pulp; instead, after eating the Pitaya, seed and all, they would defecate at a particular spot, later gathering their own dried feces. The seeds were harvested, washed and ground into a meal, probably used in other foods . The padres called this “the second pitaya harvest” and were thoroughly repulsed.

Cochimi were the aboriginal inhabitants of the central part of Baja California from El Rosario to south of Mulege and the Bay of Conception. The first encounter of Cochimi and Europeans was with the Spanish explorers in the 16th Century; in the late 17th century, they came in contact with the Jesuit Missionaries. The Franciscans ultimately took control from the Jesuits, completing the mission establishments up into Alta California. By the early 20th century, the native population had declined significantly due to diseases carried to the region from the “new world,” and eventually the Cochimi language and culture became extinct.

Today, during July and August, you can find the Pitaya fruit sold along the road ways in some northern cities. La Paz in Baja Sur still honors this history with a Pitaya Festival every year in August. There are many different varieties of cactus that produce fruit. Some are referred to as Dragon Fruit and might have white pulp. This is not to be confused with the rich red fruit of the southern Baja region. To bite into the sweetness tasting like watermelon and strawberry, it is not hard to know why the Indians were so euphoric about its arrival, and stayed that way for months!

A Pitaya cocktail at Casa Blanca restaurant, Rosarito Beach Hotel

How to Make and Enjoy a Pitaya Smoothie:

INGREDIENTS
• 1/2 Pitaya (chilled)
• 1 frozen banana
• 1 tray of ice-cubes
• 1 cup of apple juice (or any fruit juice)
• 1 cup of plain yogurt
PREPARATION
Simply cut the Pitaya into halves and then scoop out all the fruit with a spoon.  Put into a blender, adding a cup of plain yogurt, the banana, ice-cubes and juice.  Blend and drink. (Adding Flor de Caña rum is optional…but only for some!)  You can also whip it up into a frosty Pitaya Daiquiri…its flavor will make you want to dance like the Cochimis did.

Baja is all about the senses.  What are you favorite foods and flavors in Baja?  Send us your photos!

Martina Dobesh is a long-time resident of Baja California. She edits her own on-line publication The Baja Sun, a journalist for The Baja Times and the Baja News and has many published works on EzineArticle.com

Baja.com is a comprehensive online source of first-hand travel information for the Baja California Peninsula, supported by a full-service tour operator staffed by Baja locals (our “Baja Travel Savants”). We offer Baja travelers expert advice about local restaurants, hotels and vacation rentals, as well as guides, maps and articles about events, sports and activities. We provide bilingual customer support, information and sales seven days a week, 365 days a year.

 

 

Pitaya Reference: Baja California Plant Field Guide by Norman C. Roberts

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