Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unexpected Encounters

Dr. Bob Haining discusses the fit with patient Manuel Mijares while Brad Farrow CPO looks on.

Traveling up and down Baja’s peninsula is as natural for me as commuting to work on crowded freeways every day is to many Southern Californians. I have spent so much time on Mex 1 over the years that I feel like it is an old friend that needs to be visited often.

It’s always a delight to experience the unexpected encounters with friendly locals eager to share their stories with me as well as with fellow Baja travelers…some seasoned and others wide eyed with wonder as they discover Baja for the first time.
Fuel stops are always an adventure as they offer an opportunity to exchange up-to-date information about road conditions with folks coming from the direction I am headed. They provide a ‘heads-up’ on potholes, road construction, and accidents. Other stuff, too--- taco stands not to miss, the old lady selling tamales in the middle of the highway at the other end of town or a PanaderĂ­a (bakery) with boleos to die for only a few villages farther down the road.

Sure, the reported car-jackings and ugly encounters along Mex 1 in Baja Norte (the frontera zone) cannot be ignored, and I am way more cautious than I once was. I always breathe a sigh of relief as I leave the frontera zone into what I consider “authentic” Baja, San Quintin heading south.

When I was in Mulege recently, I stayed at Cuesta Real RV Park. Paul Boe recognized me in the park and introduced himself and a couple of his buddies, Brad Farrow, CPO and Frank Rodriguez. Paul, a fifteen-year member of Vagabundos del Mar Boat and Travel Club ( ) has been traveling in Baja for many years on missions of mercy to fabricate artificial limbs and orthopedic braces for the less fortunate people in Baja.

They were bubbling with enthusiasm as they related the details of their trip.
First they had stopped in Ensenada to deliver an electric wheelchair to a patient, Coco, of Coco's Corner fame, and they met with some patients at a local rehab house.
In La Paz, they fabricated and delivered seventeen lower limb prostheses (both above and below the knee) and a dozen lower limb braces (mostly to children) at the La Balandra Rotarian Clinic ( ). There they work with Dr. Alejandro Aguirre, a physical medicine and rehab specialist who happens to be a Rotarian and the "prime mover" in the establishment. He has worked hard to ensure the continued success of this clinic.

When I saw them in Loreto, they had stopped to deliver a resting hand splint for a head trauma patient. The morning I saw them they were delivering a shoe build-up for a little girl in Santa Rosalia who suffered a gunshot injury. After which, they were delivering a walker to an amputee in Guerrero Negro and a wheelchair to a little girl in Bay of Los Angeles. Their final stop was in Ensenada to deliver a below-knee prosthesis they had made at the Rotarians clinic in La Paz.
On the same trip I stayed in La Bocana on the west coast of Baja, twelve miles north of Punta Abreojos. Juanchys Aguliar and his brother, Joaquin, had prepared a huge dinner of shrimp and abalone for a few of their La Bocana friends, and when he extended an invitation for me to join them, I eagerly accepted.

Senor Munro, a relative newcomer to La Bocana, related his experiences of Rocky Point on the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez. His brother, Guillermo, has co-authored a book about the early days of Rocky Point with many old photos that Senor Munro would point to and one by one he would relate another story of the transition of the village from old to new.

They flipped through the pages of a Ray Cannon’s book, “Sea of Cortez” that I had brought along ---and their stories continued as they spotted photos that reminded them of another Baja story that needed to be told. And so it went, late into the night.

Where else could you experience the opportunity to hear stories of good people: Gringos who are making a difference for many grateful patients in a faraway place? Locals who have lived through the changes and development of old Baja and who are willing to share an evening of good food, a glass of wine, colorful stories, ideas and even a few jokes?

This is a part of Baja that many miss but if you are lucky enough to find it, it’s priceless.

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