Punta Cabras has been a second home to me since puberty. It’s a small, semi-circular shaped point about 13 km north of Ejido Erendira. It faces dead West, picks up every swell that will hit this part of the North Pacific and is one of the few places in the world I can truly call home.
I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager to surf and gawk at all the anti-social wildlife that lurks in this magic chasm between wild desert and open ocean some 35 miles from the nearest pavement. I’ve seen panteras and weird nocturnal cat-like critters creeping amongst the agave and copalquÌn. I’ve seen packs of wild horses rumored to be the genetic descendents of the horses let free when a gang of unruly Paipai and Kumiai Indians burned down the Dominican Mission at San Miguel in 1840. I’ve seen bottlenose dolphin funeral ceremonies where a group of healthy dolphins serenaded a dying elder for more than three hours before collectively heaving its then lifeless body onto the rocky North point. I’ve seen stingrays and Grey Whales, California sea lions and Mexican wolves, sand sharks and grebes, golden eagles and enough sea jellies to forever quelch any doubt I had about the existence of aliens.
I also developed several close friendships with the local fishermen, lobster divers and a very special vaquero named Juan Luis who offered me 40 goats if I could only convince a fiery forest activist pal ‘o mine to be his wife. Me and a polite but unruly gang of men in cowboy hats have spent dozens of hours around mesquite fires smoking mota and drinking tequilita (a particularly noxious version of tequila made by mixing grain alcohol with an equal quantity of water) while talking about politics, love and bad corridos.
There was a magic to Punta Cabras that resonated deeply in my melodramatic, Earth First! propagated soul. Millions of acres of untouched desert swarmed around for 300∫ with no freeways, no tract homes, no Coscos or Wal Marts, no fat Christian dickfaces in SUVs, no academics, no televisions. Nothing but the sea, the stars and a seemingly invincible army of century plants and datillo rising in arms from every direction.
It was one of the last places on the Eastern Pacific coastline where you could be free. There were no roads, no cops, no private property, no hindrances whatsoever to you and a gang of kids spending months getting lost on endless dirt tracks through the desert and getting found on postcard worthy deserted beaches.
Although Mexico has always filled the role of compassionate ex-lover in my life, offering me refuge from trouble and an irrefutable body of evidence proving the existence of Magic, Fate and Destiny, Baja more than any other region, has typified that humyn experience of recognizing that in our absence, everything we love will change under the frantic hands of time and progress.
This morning, as I sit just outside the North pointbreak staring Westward like some over masculinized snapshot of manifest destiny, the overall picture looks about the same as it always did. A few porpoises rise and fall in their diurnal frolicking. A particularly chatty elegant tern gossips at my bald head before ambushing some particularly unlucky silverside who happened to be swimming at the wrong place at the wrong time. But then, as I spin to catch another head high wave peeling off the point, I notice the changes one by one. The water, once green with kelp and plankton, is now a soupy brown color with an oily sheen across it. The once deserted beach now has three dumpy mobile homes parked on its unstable cliffs. Juan Luis and his pals have long since vanished back to Sonora. The armed rebellion of agave and datillo is nowhere to be seen having been annihilated by the Ejido as they tilled up the desert with D 9 cats and 48” rippers so an imported army of campesinos from Oaxaca and Chiapas could plant artichokes. Just to the south of the pueblo, a migrant labor camp sits like some John Steinbeck flashback with children’s clothing drying on the razor wire fences while stern faced adults nurse their aching backs with caguamas of Tecate talking about the days when they can return to places that end in “tenango.” The poverty of what has happened to the land and that which is happening in the daily lives of these migrant laborers seem co-miserators in a much larger, much sadder historical drama.
Part of my heart bleeds sadness at the changes that have forever soiled one of the most magical places I’ve ever been, but there are only so many battered landscapes, so many brutalized people you can experience before your tears dry and stoic knowledge of the wretched humyn condition becomes that much more solid. Besides, like everything else that happens in the developing world be it here in Ejido Erendira or a place like Glendale, Oregon or Randle, Washington, the changes are neither accidental nor all bad.
For example, when the Ejido decided to bulldoze the living fuck out of a few thousand acres of the last remaining coastal desert anywhere on the continent, they did it not to wreck ecocidal misery on the land, but to try and bring their community up into the 21st century with little things like electricity, schools and healthcare. As much as people like me romanticize small, non-electrified villages in the Global South, the story is much different for people who live there without facilities most of us think of as basic humyn rights.
The same thing goes for the changes I see all up and down the coast. Every time I pass through the valley of San QuintÌn, the scope of the super agricultural megamachine expands. Where there was once a pair of mid-sized farming operations, now there are literally dozens of massive factory farms where literally half of America’s non-organic tomatoes are raised under hundreds of 25 acre greenhouses by the careful hands of migrant labor from the indigenous highlands of Southern Mexico. DDT and other banned ëcides are sprayed from the air and a nasty Orwellian agricultural vibe hovers in the air like the topsoil blown skyward by a passing worker bus.
And these changes are anything but limited to agriculture. All up and down the coast, the Mexican government, following its own internal schizophrenia, has taken it upon itself to develop a massive tourist infrastructure called the Escalera Nautica based on the construction of 28 yacht harbors in all but a handful of the most ecologically valuable places on the coast. If you’ve never spent much time poking around Mexican politics, the government there is trapped in an odd paradigm, crucified with one arm nailed to obsolete Leninist model of state sponsored development (complete with Soviet style acronyms) while the other is nailed up to good old fashioned shortsighted capitalism. A few days driving around the countryside and you can see the remnants of other failed government works. Dry irrigation ditches. Five abandoned PEMEX stations within a 2km area. Once fancy tourist hotels slumping into the Coliman desert.
The problem is for Baja is that things are moving too quickly with too little feedback from reality. The Mexican government has published figures saying that 500,000 American and Canadian boats will use the Escalera Nautica harbors each year as they voyage from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas. Of course, anyone who knows the sailing and boating scenes would note that this figure is close to 1000 times off base, as fewer than 700 boats make that trek every year, most of which are self-contained units with no interest in stopping in some run down fishing village with too small a harbor and no real tourist draw. But the Mexican government, seeking to replicate the coastal annihilation it created with places like Acapulco, is going headfirst into these projects. Sure, the government’s heart is in the right place. It wants to make Baja into Southern California. It wants to take run down, third world fishing villages and turn them into Orange County, complete with good schools, clean facilities and giant shopping malls. But whether or not the government wants to see it, the future is more or less predestined.
It doesn’t take long for one to realize that 10 years from now, these harbors will stand abandoned and filled with sand (you can’t stop littoral drifts!). A few windowless offices with bad heavy metal graffiti will oversee the collection of rusty equipment slumping into the sea. And an otherwise pristine coastline, the most intact of its kind anywhere but perhaps Namibia, will be forever altered by shortsighted humyn behavior.
This is what hurts so bad about what is happening to one of the most amazing places on Earth. Unlike LA and San Diego and Orange-fucking-County, I know the “before" picture in this situation. I wasn’t there to see LA County go from desert to orange groves to suburbs to the largest megalopolis on Earth. I wasn’t there to see the growing pains of a newly birthed culture. I wasn’t there for the slaughter of the LA river or the dispossession of Chicano farmers. I wasn’t there for the immense amount of wealth and corruption that brought us places like Coronado and Marina del Rey. I wasn’t there as the sky around LA turned from blue to grey to brown. But with Baja, I saw (and loved) it for what it was before things started happening.
However, for all the swirling clouds of impending doom, there are good things happening. An odd coalition has formed between ecologically minded American surfers and local ejidos to form eco-tourism blocks by which natural areas can be protected. A recently planned salt plant at Laguna San Ignacio (inside Punta Abreojos, another wonderful place) was shut down by such a coalition that, with good thinking, good listening and some hard work, has managed to meet the economic needs of the local community while simultaneously preserving some of the last acres of wild coastline on earth.
This kind of organizing, far from the lies of ideology, gives me great hope that so long as we keep our heads and our hearts in the right place, we can keep the remaining natural treasures we have from becoming newer models of Punta Cabras, Acapulco and fucking Beaverton.