Journey to Kedarnath
Kumbh Mela 2010
A Walk in the Clouds
Into the Gnar
Close Encounters of the Hiker Kind
The Copper Plate Man
Tales of the Gnar
The plane buffeted as I banked to the left to follow the coastline. I was flying south at 2,000 feet, along the coast of the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula. My two friends, Mark and George, had put their lives in my hands, innocently trusting that, as a novice pilot with only 300 flying hours in my log book, I would land them safely in Mulege, Baja, Mexico. We had departed from a dark and chilly San Jose, California at 5 a.m. and had a smooth ride through southern California. In San Felipe, Mexico, we managed to clear Mexican customs without any problem. We were a couple of hundred miles down the Baja Peninsula, when we hit moderate turbulence and my four-seat Cessna Cardinal became a bucking bronco. “There’s no turning back now!” I joked. “Are you okay George?” George, who had confessed his fear of flying before we took off, was on his first long trip in a small plane. A long-time backpacking buddy, he and I had previously taken one short flight to Lake Tahoe in calm air for a weekend backpacking trip. This trip, however, was 1,000 miles over terrain that offered no place to land in case of an emergency. “Our only choices for landing now are the rocks or the ocean!” I yelled. George groaned and laughed at the same time. “Now you tell me!” He said as he cinched up his seatbelt.
I gave the controls to Mark, who was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat. “Think you can keep the plane straight and level while I check the map?” I said. “No problema”, Mark said. Mark had taken the controls on numerous occasions and I was confident that he was up to the task of keeping us from crashing. The turbulence we were experiencing was not serious, just a little exciting. I got out my map and studied it. “I’ve got an idea,” I said, “Why don’t we land in Punta San Francisquito?” “Where’s that?” George’s voice chimed in on my headset. “It’s a dirt strip, right next to the beach, about 150 miles from nowhere. You have to use a 4-wheel drive to get there on land, over very bad dirt roads. But it is a favorite hangout for pilots on their way down the Baja Coast. They have about ten palapas (open air grass huts) and a white sandy beach. They say the food there is supposed to be pretty good.” “I’m game,” Mark said. “Sounds great!” George agreed. “According to the map, we should be coming up on it in about 15 minutes,” I said. I took the controls back from Mark, gave him the map, and started a slow descent. “It should be just beyond the next point over there,” Mark said.
I ran through my prelanding checklist, silently repeating the words to myself, “Carb heat, cowl flaps, gas, under carriage, mix, prop, seatbelts.” We flew over the rugged outcropping of rocks that Mark had just pointed out, as the grass huts of Punta San Francisquito came into view. Below us, way out here in the middle of nowhere, was the shimmering greenish blue water of the Sea of Cortez, a mile-long, white sandy beach, and a handful of grass huts. “Bet it’s a long drive to the nearest Safeway!” Mark said. I took the plane out over the water, banked left and made my radio call. “ San Francisquito traffic, Cardinal 13733, left base, landing, San Francisquito.” As we came in for a landing, from two hundred feet, we could see three people sitting on the beach next to a palapa, watching us, obviously curious about their new visitors. I landed on the dirt and taxied over to a tie down near the beach. “Not bad for my first time landing on dirt!” I said. “Ugh” George groaned. “Now you tell me!”
As we got out of the plane, we were met by Hernardo, one of the owners of the palapa business at Punta San Francisquito. He took us to our palapa and explained that it would cost us $20 a day per person, including food. Our palapa, which had three bunks with clean linen, was right on the beach. Nothing but white sand, the sun and the Sea of Cortez. “Maybe we should just forget the rest of the trip and stay here!” Mark suggested.
Around 7 p.m., Hernardo called us for dinner. We walked over to the cooking hut where we met Chary, the cook and caretaker of Punta San Francisquito. Chary cooked a Mexican vegetarian meal for us and we learned first hand why San Francisquito has a reputation for the best food in Baja. Chary seemed to be mid-50ish, friendly, and very contented with life. I was intrigued by her way of life here in the middle of Baja, so when Chary walked by my hut the next day as I was sitting, reading and lounging, I started up a conversation with her. In the process I got her birthdate and asked her how she had come to live in such a remote place.
Whenever I travel, I make it a point to get the birth date, time and place of people I meet along the way. I like to hear their stories and often reflect on the events of their lives in the light of their horoscope. In the course of traveling, it is common for me to meet people who have led unique, exciting, successful, or simply interesting lives. What is less common, however, is to meet someone who has led an interesting life, and also found peace along the way. Such a person is Chary.
“I was born in Tijuana,” Chary said. “ I grew up there and when I was a teenager my family moved to San Diego. I got married, had kids, and worked for many years in the office of a trucking company. My life wasn’t really going very well though. Life in San Diego was too fast and pressured. Work was stressful. My marriage was not good. My husband and I were not getting along and I was getting pretty fed up with him. As it turned out, my boss was also the owner of this place, San Francisquito. The place had been run down and wasn’t being used. He suggested to me that I could come down here, fix it up, and if I liked it, I could run the place and be the cook. I didn’t know how I would like living so far away from everything, but I decided to give it a try. My son took me down here in his pickup. It was a very long drive over very bad, dusty roads. I remember that it was about 110 degrees and we had driven for about 12 hours. Just before we arrived here, we got totally lost and started driving around in circles in the desert. We were getting pretty desperate and knew that we had to find our way soon because our gas was almost finished. Then I saw someone walking in the distance. I called to him and he came and told us that he was a fisherman and that he lived and fished at Punta San Francisquito. He showed us the road, and we realized that we had spent more than an hour lost in the desert, yet we were actually less than a mile away from our San Francisquito. When we arrived, I took one look the water and the beach and said, ‘I’m home, I don’t need anything else.’ I have been here ever since. I have a small house at the end of the beach. My life is simple and relaxed. I have been much happier ever since I came here.”
It was interesting to consider Chary’s experiences in the light of her horoscope. She has a Sagittarius ascendant with Mercury placed in the fourth house in Pisces, indicating that she would live and work near the water. Her chart is a striking example of how karma expresses itself on a very clear schedule. During the period of Saturn, from 1974 to 1993, she was involved in work, stress and pressure while living in San Diego. All of these things were clearly signified by Saturn and were quite evident in her chart. Then, in August of 1993, Saturn’s period ended and Mercury’s seventeen year period began. Chary made her move to San Francisquito in September of 1993. The karmic pattern that promised a life living and working by the sea manifested exactly on schedule, at the beginning of the period of Mercury.
It is also interesting to look at the chain of events that leads a person to such a life-altering change. Previous to 1993 Chary had been struggling, straining and constantly putting burdens on herself. She was living a high-pressure life in San Diego, under the illusion that somehow she was limited and that she had to accept limitation, hard work and pressure in her life. She was getting more and more frustrated and had reached her breaking point. Finally, in 1993, she simply got fed up and gave up on her old, complicated way of life. Unconsciously, she adopted what Mahatma Gandhi called “simple living, high thinking”. Which means that by simplifying life and letting go of the many possessions and complications which cause worry and strain, the mind naturally goes to a more peaceful state. According to various Eastern philosophies, simple living is one of the major keys to being happy in life. Without realizing it, Chary had stumbled across one of the great keys to happiness. Out of frustration and despair, at her lowest point in her life, she picked up that key and used it. Miraculously, it opened a door to a happy, contented way of life and delivered her from suffering.
We spent the remainder of our trip sitting in the sun, reading and napping in Punta San Francisquito. After we took off from San Francisquito for our return to the US, I made one last circling pass, rocking our wings as we said goodbye to Chary and the simple life. Halfway back to the border, we encountered moderate turbulence again. This time, it was strong enough to make me a little nervous. As the plane bounced around, jarring and shaking us up and down, I tightened my seat belt and held the yoke tightly. “Is this normal?” George asked nervously from the back seat. “Just a little moderate turbulence,” I said. “Nothing to worry about.” What I didn’t tell George was that even though the turbulence was not technically “severe” I was feeling just a shade beyond my comfort zone. I had been in wind such as this before, but never for such a long time and not over terrain this harsh and remote. If we went down here it would be either in the Sea of Cortez or on the jagged rocks of the Baja Coast, so there was nothing to do but push on to the US border. After two hours of turbulence, my knuckles were white as I clenched the yoke. Every muscle in my body was tense as I pushed through and reacted to every buffet and bounce, trying to keep the plane level. At one point the small ladder, which I keep in the baggage compartment to check my fuel, flew up and cracked the back window of the plane. I cursed myself for not packing it more carefully, and while George applied some duct tape to the window and tried to stow the ladder, I continued to plough through the turbulent air. In the early afternoon, we finally crossed the US border, landing in a stiff wind at Calexico International Airport.
As I taxied to the US customs ramp I could feel the muscles in my body begin to relax. “Home safe and sound,” I said, trying to put George at ease about the bumpy ride. To myself I was thinking of Chary and her trip to San Francisquito. “I better check my chart,” I thought. “Maybe I just came out of a little Saturn period!” I took a deep breath, thanked God for bringing us home safely, and made a silent promise that I would live a simpler life!