She watched me with one brown eye and one blue eye. She showed no signs of moving from her hillside vantage point. I had not noticed her arrival as I had been focused on getting the campsite set up and struggling with the tent which had been so much easier to erect when I was twenty years younger. “Well, hi there. Who are you?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. Her gaze was steady, almost wolf-like. “You are free to visit anytime you like. I would enjoy the company.”
I was traveling sola and had picked Rancho El Coyote for a solitary summer solstice in the northern mountains of Baja California. The highest peaks of San Pedro Martir rise to 10,000 feet. I was always looking for a story as I traveled to unknown places. I had visited Rancho Meling, a neighboring rancho owned by the same family, and had written about my experience of the night sky, which can only happen when there is no ambient light. I could see why many telescope arrays are positioned on the summit.
I had written, “Quite honestly, when I looked up it was with total wonderment at such beauty. It was not a flat sky with twinkle lights, but instead it was an endless depth of blue-black space with living globes of pulsing light. I was not a separate witness to something out there. I experienced being part of the universal sky.” Well, it blew me away, obviously, and I wanted more.
I was looking forward to taking advantage of what El Coyote had to offer and to feel safe when camping alone. As I finished the final touches on the campsite, my four-legged visitor left after checking me out. Under shade trees, I shared the open spaces with no one. But this was a working cattle ranch and I certainly wasn't alone. I settled into a captain’s chair and picked up my journal to record what was present. “The air feels alive, the sun is shimmering life, tree leaves are alight with gold from within. The afternoon is clear and radiant with a profound sense of this beauty. I like a quote from Ibn Battuta who wrote about traveling. I added "Baja" to make it personal: "Baja...it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." This is exactly what happened to me.
Startled by the sounds of pounding hooves on hard packed ground, I looked off to the right as horses at full gallop stirred the dust into great clouds. It was a perfect expression of animal; powerful and free. Putting the journal away, I started a small fire with the split kindling furnished by the ranch. In a few minutes a burger sizzled in the frying pan and sent out a delicious aroma. A shadow moved silently in from the trees, the camp dog was there eyeing me again. “Oh, good you returned," I said. She simply gazed at me. “So, you think you’re going to share my dinner?” But of course, she did. I offered her little scraps. Her manners weren't all that good, and I put out water. She guzzled it as if she hadn't had a drink in days. I wondered how well she was taken care of. Another movement caught my eye, as darkness began to settle in. Ophelia, the cook for the rancho, stopped by to make sure everything was ok. We spoke in Spanish and I learned that my new friend was named Mona. "Mona, you have a beautiful name.” She just looked at me with that steady gaze in blue and brown. Ophelia went on down the trail, across an old wooden bridge, and disappeared into the dark. I added more kindling to brighten up the fire and noticed Mona was licking her hind leg. I would look at it closer in the light of day.
Leaning over the fire, I fed it small twigs and the flames reached out to consume them. Traveling alone allows for many different kinds of experiences. There is more time to be present with your surroundings and your own thoughts. We can miss so much if we are in conversation with others, and most definitely if we travel with our phones turned on. I was not disappointed by the night sky here. Silently, I sat enthralled once again, feeling very small under the canopy of the incredible star field. I picked up my drum and beat my own rhythm, heard by no one, save Mona. When I looked around for her, she had slipped silently away. I doused the fire and crawled into my tent. The down sleeping bag welcomed me. I lay listening to the crickets sing and thinking about writing this story. In the middle of the night Mr. Coyote quietly crept into camp, attracted by the left-over dinner smells. Mona let the intruder know she was the guardian of this camper. “Move on!” She barked. I slept comfortable knowing I was being watched over.
The next morning Mona boldly walked in as I ate breakfast. With coffee in hand, I opened my journal. “The sun splashes into the deep green shade. The first breeze begins the windmill turning. Mona is sleeping in the cool grass. When I first came to Baja, I didn’t have a clue where my decision would lead me. It has been an organic process of falling under the spell of this rugged and beautiful country. And quite by surprise, as Iban wrote, Baja turned me into a storyteller.” I began to collect all my impressions to flesh out a story that would inspire people to venture onto the roads less traveled. This journey into the San Pedro Martir beckons all true travelers to spend a night under the stars and to meet new friends along the way.
First light the next morning: warmth spills over the mountains; I packed up early to avoid the heat. Mona was nowhere to be seen. I did not want to offend my host, but I had to know if Mona was being cared for. I stop to pay my respects and asked where she was. Ophelia called out and Mona walked stiff jointed to us. I reached out to pet her and she rolled onto her back for a belly rub. Ophelia looked down on Mona with affection and told the story of this Aussie herding dog; that now she was an old girl of 17. Ophelia said Mona was the best herder on the ranch when she was young. She loved the chase. Now, she can rest and has medications for her painful joints. I was a little ashamed for having doubted her care. Mona and I shared a few moments of affection. I was deeply touched. Mona was my teacher that day. She taught me when one nears the end of a life well lived, there is a sweet sadness in the final letting go of what once was.
Martina's email: mteomaya(at)gmail.com