Saturday, January 23, 2010


What an amazing day! Our friend, next-door neighbor and landlady, Russett, is friends with a Mexican woman named Olivia who lives near Todos Santos, a town on the Pacific coast of the peninsula you read about two weeks ago if you’ve been following this blog. Years ago Olivia lived for several months in the U.S., so she speaks pretty good English. She’s been active in her community here in Baja, involved in work, politics and community development, and she’s now retired. Olivia has been friends for two decades with some women living on ranchos in the community of Horconcitas 17 miles up a rough dirt road into the mountains of the Sierras de Lagunas east of Todos Santos. Olivia arranges a small trip a few times a year for people like us to go to Horconcitas and meet these women, share a meal in their home, buy some of their wares, and experience, very briefly, what life is like even today in very rural Mexico. Today we took this trip!

At 7:15 a.m. seven of us left Los Barriles in Russett’s car and our truck to make the trip to Todos Santos. We were a group of 5 women and 2 men, all Canadian or U.S. gringos except Sylvia, a Costa Rican woman who lives here in Los Barriles. We stopped at the bakery in El Triunfo for coffee, then continued on to Todos Santos, a 2-hour drive away. We picked up Olivia, our “guide” for the day, then went to a local grocery store to purchase about $70 worth of food and basic household goods (soap, toilet paper, etc) to contribute to the women in whose homes we were to visit. We spent the next hour driving up a rough dirt road to the community of Horconcitas.

At 11:30 we arrived at the home of Amelia and Kayla. Their home is ringed by gorgeous vistas of the surrounding mountains, is lush with plants, trees and flowers, and is extremely basic by modern standards. Amelia and Kayla are a mother and daughter, ages 73 and mid-50s. One of Kayla’s sons lives just down the hill, a daughter lives near Todos Santos and works in the construction industry, and a 9-year-old grandson works as a fisherman(boy) in the town of El Pescadero near Todos Santos. Amelia and Kayla have lived alone in their home since Amelia’s husband died 6 years ago. Amelia was born and raised in this home, as was Kayla. Amelia’s grandfather first established the home 133 years ago and lived there all his life, dying 23 years ago at the age of 110. There are 2 stand-alone bedrooms with full-size walls built of concrete block, palapa-style roofs, and windows with shutters but no glass. The rest of the house is open with posts, palapa-style roofs and half-height or no walls. The only power source is a solar panel, slightly smaller than the one we have on our RV. It powers a couple of lights and a mixer/blender. We were told the government supplied them with the solar panel and that it has the capacity to power a TV, but they don’t own one. The photos will tell the rest of the story about the house and yard.

On arrival we were all introduced, then taken to the “studio” to examine the pottery Amelia and Kayla have made. While “rough” by some measures, the pottery is lovely, functional, and everyone purchased several pieces (Cathryn bought 4 for a total of 250 pesos, or about $22). Next we were shepherded into the kitchen and dining area where several among the group began chopping chiles, garlic and onions. Amelia built a fire in the open “oven”, and the cooking began. Smoke wafted around the room, someone set the table, and most of the group began cooking tortillas over another section of the fire. Amelia was the only one who managed to make her tortillas properly thin and round – the rest of us turned out oblong or odd-shaped tortillas that were too thick or too thin. But we laughed a lot and had fun! After the chiles, garlic and onion were sufficiently cooked, we added Machaca we had purchased at the store in Todos Santos. Machaca is beef that has been cooked with spices, dried, pounded, and shredded, then packaged in plastic bags sold typically by the half kilo in its’ dried form. It is commonly used in northern Mexico, and apparently Baja, but not in most other parts of the country. It’s re-hydrated during the cooking process by adding it to the vegetables that have been sautéed in oil. We also cooked re-fried beans on the fire.

Shortly all 10 of us sat down to lunch with freshly made tortillas, the machaca and veggie mix, beans, and coffee or damiana tea. It was delicious!!! Well, actually Bob thought the coffee was awful. It was made by heating water over the fire with lots and lots of sugar added, then poured through a cotton sleeve over the coffee. Way too sweet! Throughout our meal, we asked questions, they told stories, and Olivia translated as needed. What a delightful time! Kayla wouldn’t let us do the dishes, so we retired to the living room to plow through bags of clothes several of the women in our group purchased at a garage sale in Los Barriles last weekend. Amelia and Kayla selected the items they thought they could use, and the remainder were re-bagged for distribution to 2 other households on our drive back down out of the mountains.

We were struck by the friendliness, open and sharing attitude, self-sufficiency and strength of these two women. They live an extraordinarily simple life by modern standards. They have a cistern fed by a stream for their water. They cook over open fire. They have an outhouse and modern, if simple, beds with sheets and blankets, furnishings and dishes, pots and pans. They have goats and cows. They make cheese once each year and roast their own coffee beans.

The day provided an extraordinary glimpse into the life of women who are not “just like us” in terms of how they live, but somehow managed to seem “just like us” in a remarkable number of ways. We joked around (including risqué references to fabric coffee cones that look like large condoms), laughed and hugged. Altogether it felt like a day of “connection” that is hard to come by when you’re just a tourist.

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