The Art of Pueblo Living
Morning starts slowly and so quietly in Mulege. The first sign of the new day is sunlight splashing patterns on old adobe walls creating deep shadows on weathered doors not yet open. A rooster crows. A woman steps outside to sweep. Sweeping, a lost art, is alive here. No high pitched whine of a leaf blower disturbs the awakening day in this small pueblo on the Gulf of California.
The one gas station with a single pump opens early. So far no cars are in need of a fill up. Down the street, Polo, the shade-tree mechanic, slides the heavy wire gate open. He limps to the car with its hood up and starts digging into the engine. There are several grocery stories, a shop like a Mini Walmart and one hardware store; you might not find all the things that you want, but you will find all the things you need. A grocer, Senior Yee, has a long history in Mulege dating back to the Chinese immigration when labor was needed for the growing Baja California peninsula. Casa Yee has an odd assortment of things and most people use it as a place to fill small propane tanks and hang out in the shade as the morning begins to warm.
In a small village people are often more than they appear to be. Salvadore drives a taxi. He is also the most knowledgeable source for a cave painting tour, including the plant medicine that has been passed down from the Cochimi Indians' prehistory. I catch Francisco Lopez Ramirez sitting out front of Yee's. Francisco, a fisherman his whole life, was born and raised in Mulege. As a child his father taught him how to fish and his father's learned from his grandfather. Francisco traces his ancestors all the way back to the Yaki Indians who lived in harmony with the Cochimi of southern Baja. He remembers a time when the gulf was abundant with fish. It is not so today. A pescador's life is not an easy one, yet it has not diminished Franciso's brilliant smile and playful nature.
The town is waking up. A camper with Canadian plates is leaving, loaded down with bicycles and kayaks. They have spent several month on the playas south of town, along with many others from Oregon and Washington. These Snowbirds escaped the northern winter and have enjoyed the sunshine and warmth of this latitude, changing the town's population for a time. Morning traffic is mostly on foot, a few cars are headed to the primary school to drop off the children. There are no stop lights, all movement is allowed to flow naturally. The white van of the local Rotary Club moves through the intersection and I've heard that a dermatologist from the U.S will be in town for three days at the clinic. The treatment is by donations and according to the ability to pay. Adolfo, a shop keep and blanket vendor, hollers as he drives by, a big grin on his face; I wave. We have a history from years ago when he dated my sister. The feeling of family transmits across the years.
I step into Las Casitas' lovely outdoor patio, wave to Nelli in the kitchen and take a table. There is Wifi and I begin to jot down the pieces of this story; a collage of morning images. Sparrows flit through the trees overhead and an occasional yellow blossom falls on the blue tablecloth. A brush stroke of cool green shade, vibrant colors and mossy fountain makes time disappear. Filled with a delicious breakfast, I step into the street again. The warm smell of masa baking drifts from the tortillaria next door. I see the bomberos wiping down the fire trucks, donated by the Fresno Fire Department of California. An old black dog lays in a patch of sunshine. He is one of the lucky ones, since PAW was created by a group of Americans many years ago. Now, unwanted and forgotten dogs find health and adoption. A reduced street dog population is a gift to the community.
Midday the town takes shelter from the sky's glowing heat. It is siesta time. The shadows stretch out across the street, we are lucky to have a cool afternoon breeze blowing in from the gulf. Lupe is pulling out the hotdog cart. It is as charming as it gets. The tables with red and white checkers tablecloths are set up on the sidewalk; the Mexican hot dog is just the greatest. The sky turns dark blue and chips of stars begin to break through. Strings of white lights adorn trees and storefronts. A curious phenomenon begins, the youth of the village take to the streets. What a amazing thing it is to know that the children are safe after dark. They sit in clusters on park benches with their cell phones and plugged into Ipods, but many are actually talking to each other. The beach is just a few minutes away, some of us will go out to watch the moon rise over the gulf. A beautiful way to end the day with the black water shimmering in iridescent silver light.
The larger cities of Baja California have so much to offer the traveler: art, music, beautiful hotels and gourmet food and wine. In the small village one learns to live in an artful way with seemingly much less. Art, defined as the conscious arrangement of sounds, colors and forms creating beauty, can certainly be applied to how we live our lives.