travelog 22

Rancho San Isidro

First Contacts

During our last visit to Baja California over Easter 1999 we escaped the Mexican crowds on the beautiful beaches of Bahía Concepción. Our destination was the mountains near Mulegé, the Sierra de Guadalupe. At most of the ranchos along our way we had to open cattle gates to proceed. This was always a good opportunity to chat a little bit with the rancheros.

There was no cattle gate at the Rancho San Isidro but one of the occupants, Loreto (don't confuse this name with the coastal city of the same name), must have heard our droning vehicle for quiet some time in advance. He was standing in the middle of the road waving his arms like crazy, as we came around the corner.

Soon we realized that Loreto had exchange deals in mind. First he tried it with Martin and asked if we had an axe with us. Unsuspecting, Martin opened our drawer with all the tools and showed Loreto the axe. The latter proved its edge with the air of an expert and offered Martin his little axe for exchange. When all the persuasion failed - Martin was deaf to that sort of "good deals" - he tried his luck with me. He said that Martin probably misunderstood him and might think he wanted to have the axe for free, but it was totally different as he just wanted to exchange his super-axe for our nice German product. Now I had to assure him that Martin understood him very well. Certainly I had to explain to him again that our axe would fit perfectly into our drawer and that we would need it on our future travels, but we promised him faithfully that we would bring him a new axe on our next visit. When Loreto started asking about other tools and knives, we already had learned a lot and said that we would carry nothing like that with us. After having bought a fresh goat cheese (queso fresco, similar to a real Mozzarella or Swiss Formaggini), we left the rancho for new adventures.

2. Another visit

Half a year later, in December 1999, we visited the mountains in the vicinity of the Rancho San Isidro again (see our travel notes on the hike to the Cumbre de San Pedro). Somewhere deep down in the heart of the unimog was the axe waiting for Loreto. He was again standing in the middle of the road and was waving to us. Obviously he was delighted to see our Unimog, the camioncito (diminutive form of big truck). This time they invited us to stay overnight. José Isidro Lopez Castro and his son Loreto showed us around their property of some little houses and airy rooms without walls. Here on the rancho lives a little goat herd of many young animals waiting for the butcher. They sell the meat for tacos to Monterrey (México). They didn't produce cheese at this time because there was no rain for the last 9 months. The animals don't find anything to eat and don't produce enough milk for cheese. An old and decrepit dog took a nap in the warm sun. A black and white cat roamed around our legs in search of some shares of kindness and affection. A colorful rooster was missing his hens which never lived on the rancho or long ago landed in the cooking pot. A little bit further away four mules were standing in a small corral.

Some orange trees were growing behind the open "living room". On a rope two cute, unfortunately already dead, black and white mottled woodpeckers were dangling from a branch. Loreto shoots them with his small-bore rifle because the birds peck holes into their oranges. Finally we ended up in the smoke-blackened, dark kitchen. "Mi casa es su casa" the hosts added as they invited us for a coffee. Entering we said a friendly "con su permiso (= with your permission) that's always answered with "adelante, adelante" (= come on in!). The water was quickly heated on a old-fashioned gas stove. The glass with Nescafé and sugar was already on the table. Again we had to get used to Loretos Spanish: A mule kicked him on the head when he was 28, after that he was dumb for 2 months. Now he's talking again non-stop but he always swallows some syllables or letters. For those close to him this seems to be no problem at all, but we had a hard time because Spanish is not our mother tongue. There was one very important subject for him: "good people are closer to God and bad ones closer to the devil". He was discussing this matter in long monologs which were particularly hard to follow. Another problem was his abrupt changes of the subject, obviously the result of the furious mule. Only his repeated reactions to our stories about things that were problematic for us was no problem to understand: "que báaaaarbaro" (= how barbarous)! The day we understood Loretos' Spanish completely we knew that we really speak Spanish fluently.

The surprise was great when we produced the axe as if by magic. In the meantime Loreto bought himself an axe because he did not believe in us "gringos" to return again. As we see his ability to make good deals we are sure that he will quickly flog or exchange the poorer one to a neighbour. Of course he started all the questions for more "goods" and exchange material: do we have cartridge... (it's strictly forbidden in Mexico to possess weapons or cartridges without permit. If the federales catch you with a weapon or if they only find a cartridge they send you directly to jail. Sitting in a Mexican jail is probably not particularly funny). How much money jeans are worth... Do we have flash lights in stock... Do we have by any chance a pocket knife with us... (we exchanged a real "Swiss Army" knife for some rattlesnake rattles and Indian arrow heads) Did we see deer tracks in the sand... (hunting without permit is illegal). Loreto liked our shoes very much - he walked around with home-made sandals. José Isidro told us roguishly that recently some Americans asked for the directions and for this little information gave them some t-shirts and jeans. Next to two saddles on a beam were other American "souvenirs": two inflatable boats with big holes - no wonder that the nice tourist didn't take the boats home. José Isidro and Loreto wanted to keep the boats because they could probably repair them and then, some distant day, they would go to the sea and enjoy the beach. Could, would, should - probably, one day, eventually... Mañana - gracias a Dios!

In the afternoon sun we walked with Loreto to a small cave above the valley where Indians must have lived and worked in former times. At the base of the hill there was a big rock with a perfectly preserved petroglyph of a deer. Climbing up through debris fields we found broken metates (= a dish to grind grains into flour) with rocks that sit perfectly in your hand and were also used for the grinding process. At the smoke-blackened cave we dug a little in the sandy soil without any luck. On the way back, Loreto showed us a miracle tree that cures practically everything, it's called Lomboy (Jatropha cinerea). You have to cut a branch with your knife and immediately a blood coloured liquid sheds from the cut surface. This juice is good against warts, helps stanching blood, heals hurting wounds and abrasions, and should help with regular application also agains psoriasis.

In the evening we were sitting again in the kitchen. A gas light was flickering and Loreto offered us "menudo". All at once all our imagination of the simple and pure life on a rancho was destroyed! Out of a cupboard he got a case of about 20 instant lunch containers, made in USA. Noodle dishes on which you pour boiling water and they are ready to eat in 2 minutes. We declined with thanks and offered our supplies which were more indigenous and Mexican: avocado, tomatoes, onions, tortillas and of course beer. Now Loreto conjured up an asadero (= 1 day old goat cheese) which he bought at the neighbours rancho. He heated the tortillas and we enjoyed them filled with avocado and tomatoe slices, onion rings and goat cheese. Together with a cold beer and a little bit of lime juice. Delicious! Like paradise compared to the instant lunch! After dinner, Loreto fired up a small camp fire on the kitchen floor and we had some warmth and more light. He played us Mexican songs on his guitar. When the fire was out and it was too dark, it was also time to go to bed.

In the middle of the night the rooster pleased us with his cock-crows. He chose his accomodation for the night here of all places, in the tree at the side of PocoLoco and he apparently had never heard about the six-a-clock wake up time for roosters. After a cup of coffee we went again to the cave, this time alone. Equipped with a small shovel and the geologist's hammer we started digging up the sandy soil in the cave. In the beginning we were rewarded with a gaudy green granpa of a scorpion (about 5 inches long with his claws wide open) which had found a nice place for the winter. He let us kindly take some pictures and than disappeared quickly into the next sand hole. Soon we discovered another smaller specimen of the same genus. Then finally we held the first arrowhead in our hands. After several hours the sun was burning too hot but we found some more arrowhead fragments.

Back at the rancho we were again invited for coffee. Loreto entrusted us with his wish and said we should bring single sisters or cousins with us when we visit them next time. He would guide them around in the area and show them "everything". We never asked what he meant exactly with that "everything". His second wish was a black baseball cap, bought in the USA. Of course we will visit them again even if we already dread the mere thought of the bad road and especially the badly tilted hairpin switchback. Naturally we will bring something with us that we can exchange only because trading with Loreto is a lot of fun. Only his wish with the single sisters and cousins will be a little bit hard to grant...

January 2000

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen