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horseback riding and pack trips in baja california, Mexico

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El Viaje

A Journal of 12 al 19 de nov. de 2006

Ernie, Charline, y Scott McDonald, Nadia Beaulieu, Trudi Angell, Chema Arce, Loreto Arce

Nov. 12th - A 4 hour drive north from Loreto to San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Sunset on volcanic peaks above the sea - winding through a moonlit palm oasis, and arriving at quaint colonial plaza - children laughing and running, taco stands sizzling, vendors dishing out corn cups and champurrados. Meeting Juanita at the back gate parking lot, and being shown her wonderful treasures and cozy guest rooms. Dinner on the plaza, tasting the town - Charline says the champurrado is like drinking hot, silky chocolate mousse. Ernie and Charline fall in love with the place.

Nov. 13th - Squeeze back into the truck for a 2 hour steady climb on a broken dirt track to the high mountain village of San Francisco de la Sierra ; jumping off point to world renowned mural rock art. Chema meets us at the check-in office and crams into the truck with us - mules are up at Palo Rayo.

Park in the middle of a stand of huts and rooms of cement block - yellows and blues. Flowers in the older yards. Mules and burros, chickens, pigs and dogs, turkeys and guinea hens share the livable clearing with the ranch folk. All around is desert scrub and peaks. Two guides, Chema and Loreto, big smiles, sparkly eyes - down to business, packing and sorting, saddling and loading. Friends and relatives mill around - 12 year old Diana, with Downs syndrome in the middle of it all , very outgoing and loved.

Mounted, on the trail, 5 pack burros lead the way - we start to sing. First ridge and views to the sea - There's a lot of country out there. Perfect little mesa camp, mules set loose to feed, coffee pot on the campfire and tamales on the comal. Chema has a request - can we share stories?.... who? where? work?... wind is cold, friendship is warm.

Nov. 14th - Ernie and Charline and son, Scott; Nadia and Trudi; Chema and Loreto - we're quickly a team and discover our clowns. Burro bells, steep trails, slippery slick-rock down to a spring - winding narrow canyon, we ride above it, look down on tall palms. Giant deer shadows on the wall. Down to the stream with boulder pools - we jingle around the bend to palm-thatch casas hopping up the cliff side. Garden camp with clear little stream. Oranges, limes, dates, shade. Rest around the campfire hub. Make a plan - so smooth - close cave on the hill, vibrant art on overhang - on our backs in awe - art flows up to animal shadows.

Evening busyness, camp chores, settle in but not down, 7 cowboy hats now, high clear harmonies chime with the stream. Firelight and songs of love, deerskin fringe swaying and strumming, stars and tears in our eyes.

Nov. 15th - Birds at dawn, goat bells, milking corrals, morning ranch sounds a wake up call. Mules gathered, we day-ride to caves. Lush desert trail, forests, gardens in the dry river-bed. Cactus towers, purple flowers - Flor de Campo everywhere. Ride for a while then scramble up to a gallery. Picnic in the cliff shade. Chema (the trickster coyote) teaches us while we laugh. Loreto lives the mountains here - his home , his ranch, his family, we're now a part. Our cowboys ran 4 miles before breakfast to catch 2 wily mules.

Cave art spurs solemnity - pensive, playful, spiritual. We spur mules up the canyon.

Ranch mother, Indian soul, high sing-song chatter and fresh mint tea. Tiny Maribel is 3 and scrambles up the hill like the goats. Sweet family of Loreto, welcoming.

Up a stone stairway, rock-hewn, orange flowers and adobe walls. Leather-working cousins in a palm thatch porch. So neat and clean - artisans, art, and home. Saddles and chaps, polainas and belts. Pungent with fresh-tanned desert scent. Bright flowered kitchen table. Sisters at the hornilla with hot, baking tortillas - we take some "home" to camp.

New blood in the Arce clan, Nadia gets adopted. Prima, pariente, hermana - this could go a long way. Then Kiwi steals the show - a 2 pound pup with shark's teeth - sits up with back so straight and radar ears. Gentle prodding brings gentle young cowboy to the firelight - high, pure tone joins Chema's 12 string lead. Women on the cliffside porches hear sweet echos below.

Nov. 16th - Canyon ranch behind, switchbacks ahead. Top of the pass old stone fence and mesquite log gate. "Passports please", twinkles the gatekeeper - new country ahead. Heart of Baja. Guadalupe mountains south, San Juans north - we left our hearts in the San Franciscos.

Mesa riding, wide views, goat bell music. Plenty of goats, fat goats, we buy one at mid-day ranch, and watch the art of a carnicero. Fresh meat packed in a flour sack, on to Mesa los Gajos. Rocky camp? No - over there! Paradise camp. A fairy-ring of cirios dancing around a boulder knoll - ancient hunting camp, meat for dinner.

Cowboy wisdom - string flesh high between the cirios - gather pumice stone, build hot fire - toss stones in coals – viola - clean grilling surface. Roast kidney, liver, and heart - add lime and salt of course. Dessert .... tortillas and ribs.

Pastel sunset, full, starry sky, and .. what?... car lights in the distant mountain range? The Baja 1000 ! We have the best seats in the house. Cuesta Blanca is 50 km north - no noise, only the drone of a chaser plane. We cheer them on.

Nov. 17th - Oops, animals are gone. They wander far at night on the mesa tops. More cowboy wisdom needed - second-guess a burro. Glad to be born a camp-cook.

Forty eight hooves back in line - scree trail slides down a draw and tumbles into Santa Teresa canyon. Hop a creek and settle in to a wide sand flat. Tall palma ceniza, pools and streams, flycatchers swoop on waterbugs. River music and frogs. Rock art afternoon, and baths. Another cowboy trick, roast meat on forked branches over the coals. High canyon walls echo the night.

Nov. 18th - Slow and easy morning climb. Cave of the Arrows. Shamans eternally speak. Canyon wrens eternally sing. Soak up the sun and the spirit - so smooth, this special trip. Team breaks camp and we huff the burros out of camp. Well-traveled trail scribes the canyon side. A rugged tourist track brings thousands to view the art... they all leave changed.

Last camp, Santa Teresa ranch, gardens and fire-ring at the mesquite. Visitors share our lunch and share a hike to a high cave site. Chema starts goat stew, I settle camp. Group strides back beaming - great views, ah, cave too, and a highlight for Ernesto, 79 and strong as a mule. Can it get any better? Goat in mole sauce, coal-baked cake, songs around a campfire, and stars for ambiance. We sleep contented sleep.
Nov. 19th - Garden bird-song - morning glow - mmm, don't want to leave. We take our time and decide to head up on foot to the brinco - let the cowboys leisurely wrangle. Up the scramble, first ancon, burro "ants" below, still packing. Beautiful day, perfect for hike, we wind and wind, and sing and sing, up and out. Cowboys and bells reach us at the mesa top.
We saunter saddling back to the truck. Diana runs out to meet, friends so sweet, coffee and tea are offered around - pesos pass hands. Much more than that, strong handshakes and hugs... bonding friendships. We laugh - this trip - once in a lifetime ? - in fact we've just begun.

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