After the rains, after the cleanup and the repairs, after the bulldozers push rocks and dirt into breaks in the roadways, after everyone sighs and takes a breath, after Hurricane Kay moves off of the Baja Peninsula – the greening begins.
Almost overnight, or at least it seems as so. The crackle-bone-dry desert landscape of a 5-year drought springs into life. Grasses push up from the crispy earth. Cireos naked spines flesh out in coverlets of tiny leaves. Barrel and other cactus burst forth in flower. Arroyos raging waters diminish to a trickle, and up-canyon, narrow rocky slots carry mountain waters through granite channels laid bare by the earlier rushing waters. Yellow and orange butterflies flutter on light breezes. Dragon flies chase the oh-so-not-loved mosquitos born in standing water. Range cattle, horses and loose goats chomp on grasses sprouted on the edge of the road. The world alive again. The brown desert carpeted in green.
Figures they’d name the late season hurricane after my mother, Kay. Although to be honest, my mother was nothing like a hurricane. More like an ebb and flow tropical storm, most of the time delightful, oftentimes windy and unpredictable. Always Mom, gone too soon for me, and now, as the storm edges up the Baja peninsula and bends the palms toward the ground, her memories churn inside my head like the uprooted branches flowing down the arroyo.
It wasn’t easy being her daughter. She was vivacious, charming, a sparkling light in whatever room she occupied. She inhaled the air in a room in the same way, decades ago, she inhaled the swirling grey smoke of a Pall Mall cigarette, or the condensation laden glass of her icy evening scotch. She was Girl Scout President, PTA President, Community Chest President. She was always in front of the train. Dressed impeccably. Coral colored lipstick smudge-free. A full-mouthed smile, even though she hated a front crooked eye-tooth that looked like a ragged cat.
I could never quite measure up, and yet she was my greatest cheerleader. In the belongings she left behind, a folder of clippings, all my newspaper columns for ten years. She was always there, even in the middle of my life when her drinking shadowed the woman I loved and make our relationship so damned difficult. Our own stormy decades.
Hurricane Kay, not quite her alter-ego, is only 12 hours old. Much much to come, with the bulk of the winds due to hit Loreto sometime around 3am tomorrow, the 8th.
Last weekend, the cone predictions (area of effect) lined straight up the middle of the Baja. by the end of the weekend, the trajectory had moved westward, and by yesterday, even more so. The predicted landfall of lower Baja shifted, and now only the tip of Guerrero Negro is in the sights of the spinning ball of wind and rain. A wet storm, rain has fallen in Loreto since yesterday. Light and then downpour, back to light and downpour. And we are only at the beginning of the storm.
Yesterday I drove from the Pacific west coast back to the east coast and the Sea of Cortez. A number of reasons, but shelter and power were the primaries. The drive was rather harrowing, with moments when the water pouring from the sky was so heavy it required lowering speeds to 15mph, or simply stopping. The road between San Juanico and Insurgentes has been under renovation/reconstruction, and the day before, a large swath was as yet unpaved. I was extremely grateful that the workers had pushed forward and laid the asphalt on the last stretch. Otherwise, the deep mud on both sides would likely have found my truck up to the axles. The photo below shows Highway One between Insurgentes and Loreto with river-like lakes on both sides. An idea for you, of the amount of water falling.
Mom didn’t much like inclement weather, which another area in which we were quite different, odd on it’s own, since we shared a birthday 22 years apart. She was a sunshine and blue sky kind of gal. While I am quite happy in sunny beach weather, I get a thrill out of storms. As long as there is no loss of life or widespread damage, when the heavens let loose and the winds whip up the sea, it’s as if some wild child has been unleashed. An aliveness that is tamped down when weather is too calm or normal.
Anyway, this storm, this storm called Kay, has me racing from childhood, to young adulthood, to motherhood (her grandmother-hood) and into her senior years, now chased by my own.
My mother was always optimistic, and that trait I did inherit. She suffered her own dark days and losses, as have I. But always, her words still ring in my head. “It’s going to work out fine,” she said. Even when it’s tough to see through a storm to the potential rainbow on the other side, I hear her. “Everything will be alright.”
I am a storm watcher/lover .. but this one, Odile, may be hard to love. While I’ve been stateside for the duration, my heart and energies have been focused on Baja – the long skinny peninsula that is my second home.
Odile – as you can see from the graphic – drove straight up the spine of Baja and has been called ‘the most powerful hurricane to ever hit Baja’. Her track was unusual – the bulk of her interaction with land was on top of land, not at sea. She maintained hurricane status for the bulk of her journey. The desert cannot absorb rain when it comes too hard and too fast, and rushes down canyons and flashes out arroyos to the sea. And then there was the wind …
Power is out. Phones are down. The early photographs of Cabo show horrible damages – and to a city that has a very substantial infrastructure and in new construction, modern building codes. The rest of the Baja – maybe not so.
It’s horrible not knowing what happened to my neighbors and the town. One video shot from the top of the Mission Hotel shows waves breaking on to of the malecon. I can only imagine that the streetfront businesses had minor to major flooding.
A brief cell phone call late yesterday afternoon from my next door neighbor – how it got through I have no idea – said that her house was totally flooded from the horizontal rain – that she’d gone through all the towels – wrung them out – and the water was still coming in. Her fans had been ripped off – and then she had to go. No power to recharge her one lifeline to the outside world.
Loreto was hard hit – that’s obvious from the storm track and early reports before power was cut. But Loreto, too, has a decent infrastructure – and some of the most resilient people I have ever known. All of Baja for that matter. Shovels, mops, bulldozers will be hard at work before the rain drizzles have stopped.
The most pressing issue will be the roads and flash flooding that Odile has likely caused. Mex One is the lifeblood of the peninsula and trucking of supplies has the one route north and south. Unlike the states, when the roads was out, everyone that is able jumps into help. Tractors tow semi-trucks through washing and mud-laden arroyos. Boulders get moved off the road. New paths are created around obstacles. There is no shutting down the highway for months while surveyors decide what to do and budgets have to be settled and contracts awarded. Nope. Just get on with getting on and move people and goods. Detailed repairs will happen later.
This morning, all prayers to those who lost homes, autos – whatever Odile threw at them. And hopes that hands together, a speedy recovery can be made.
And then .. there is the next storm. Really? Polo? Please please head west …….
One of the aspects of highway travel in Baja is the constant flow of road work. It seems that just as soon as the crews finish one section of Highway One, they tear up another. Often, what they tear up seems as good as what they replace it with – other times, the unbearable potholes and melted asphalt are graciously replaced with new graded road beds and fresh topping.
In the states, to complete road projects it seems always necessary to close routes entirely, or funnel traffic into diversions. Baja road crews just chew up the old stuff, bulldoze it over, and shift travel to a dirt bed while they work on repaving sections. The results can be miles and miles of dirt roads where just a week or so before there had been pavement. Ie, make sure you have a spare tire and are adept at changing a flat!
2-Lane Mex One
Miles of Dirt – Mex One
2-Lane Mex One
2-Lane Mex One
Road & Pier Construction – Santa Rosalia
Bulldozers at Work
New Dirt Highway
Trucker – Mex One
On Mex One, this in not an option (or any of the ‘major’ Baja highways). For most of the 1500 miles of roadway, there is just the snaking two-lane road that heads from Tijuana in the north to San Jose del Cabo in the south.
If necessary, a dirt road is bulldozed parallel to the road being repaired. This is often boulder filled, or worst, soft sand which leaves drivers wishing for 4-wheel drive and praying that they don’t need it.
Roads don’t close in Baja due to floods or rockfalls. Maybe temporarily, but the creative population always manages a work-around. Three years ago when torrential rains wiped out 6 major bridges overnight the traffic was stopped for 24 hours. But after, ingenious bulldozers began to drag heavy tractor trailers and anyone else brave enough to cross rushing flood waters from what was left of pavement on either side of the arroyo.
Rock fall? Give locals an hour and they will have either pushed the offending boulder out of the way, or cleared enough of the associated debris to allow passage.
Only in Mexico could the transport of a huge tank that utilizes the entire width of Mex 1 – the solitary two-lane highway that spans the peninsula – take place in the full light of day. No matter that traffic backs up for hours over the spiny mountain climb through the central deserts of Baja. No. Just a couple of guys riding on the very back (no seat belts or other security measures) waving traffic to ‘back off.’
At special spots on ridges with a small pullout, the caravan (three huge trucks all tied together – imagine a Burlington-Santa Fe train – pulling this enormous tank) would simply stop. Rather than the rigs pulling over, the dudes on the back jump down and begin to direct north and south bound traffic around the road covering vehicles.
In between the stops, the traffic sooooo slow (around 8 MPH) let travelers kind of hang out, chat while ‘parked’ in the middle of the road.
In the States, it would require mountainous piles of permits, special hours of travel, police escorts with sirens and flashing lights, a special traffic co-ordinator, and specified rest stops.
It’s scenes like this that really bring travel Mexico to my heart. All that’s required is patience and a good sense of humor – along with a dollap of curiosity.
The tank? Probably bound for Santa Rosalia and the newly re-established copper mines.