Note: If you’d like, you can leave comments in the section just after this short story
I promise I do read them all and answer as many as possible
Most, perhaps many of us have lived enough life and so are mature enough to have enjoyed several firsts in our lives. Some firsts might be more important than others, while some can be placed into the “I wish I could forget that ever happened” category. But then there are those that bring back certain feelings of joy, well being, or simply are so positive that you want to revisit those emotions, those memories from time to time.
The latter is the case when I think back to my first visit to our little village of San Felipe.
The year was 1963 and I was a mere thirteen year old boy trying to find my way in life. My father and I never had much of a personal relationship which was quite common back in those days. An outward show of love or affection for your son was many times to be taken as a weakness. Thankfully, not all, but far too many families lived with such silly and destructive morale. Unfortunately, my relationship with my dad fell into that category.
One day, unbeknownst to my father I overheard him and an older friend of his talking about going fishing. They had no idea young ears might be taking all this in but in fact I was hanging on every word just knowing that I would be asked to go along. A week or so passed and nothing was mentioned to me directly about the subject, however, from time to time I’d catch certain pieces of conversations that excited me.
One day I asked my mom if she knew anything about the planned trip and how much fun it sounded. She said that yes, dad and his friend Gordon were planning a fishing trip. Before I knew it the words “do you think I could go too?” came tumbling out of my mouth. Oh she said “I don’t know. I think it’s just a guy thing.” She of course had no way of knowing, but those few words crushed me! My mind yelled out “I’m a guy…aren’t I? What’s wrong with me?” But in the end I just shrugged it off as another disappointment foisted on a young boy begging for a relationship with his dad. Now looking back, the reality of that time seems rather dramatic.
But I can still feel the cloud of disappointment that enshrouded my being for a week or so until one day my dad uttered the most welcoming words he could have ever said to me, “Hey Darryl, Gordon knows of a place he likes to fish. We’re going to go next week for about ten days. Do you want to come with us?” Not until my wife said “yes” to me when asked if she would like to get married had I experienced the feeling of such overwhelming joy and excitement!
I couldn’t get the “HECK YES” out fast enough! “Where are we going?” I asked him. I still remember my dad simply shrugging and saying “it’s someplace called San Felipe in Mexico. Don’t even ask because I don’t know where it is but Gordon says it’s a special place.” Not wanting to rock the boat (no pun intended) I didn’t ask anymore questions. All I knew was that I was going to go someplace with my dad for more than just a few hours and he was going to be all mine for ten whole days. That seemed to be enough.
It was February so it was rather chilly and being February meant that I would have to have my mom write a note for the school excusing me during that time. Taking the note to school I remember feeling so excited when my teacher read the note that had been in a sealed envelope. Then knowingly he looked at me and said “looks like you’re going to have a good time!” I still don’t know what the note said, but I really didn’t care! Only one final hurdle to overcome! Don’t do anything stupid that would give anyone a reason to takeaway my special time with my dad.
I was successful and so the day came to load all our guy and fishing stuff into Gordon’s new 1963 GMC four wheel drive pickup. It was a four speed on the floor so, I, being in the middle of the front seat, (the only seat) would be in charge of shifting gears whenever Gordon depressed the clutch. We became a good team at this maneuver. Gordon really took me under his wing and we became very good buddies. Being an older man of forty (lol) I think perhaps he knew more about me than I knew about myself.
Finally all loaded up and on our way we crossed from the U.S. border into Mexico at San Luis. So many new things to see, to smell and to experience! This young man almost had a sensory overload as we slowly drove through the customs gate and then into this whole new world. Taco stands with delicious smelling meats were everywhere. Signs reading tamales, burritos and delicious looking food I’d never heard of before were for sale on every corner.
The sounds of a live band playing Mexican folk music on the corner filled the entire atmosphere around us. My dad asked “you going right or left here Gordon?” Gordon laughed and said that going left would take us to the redlight district. They both laughed but I had no idea what this redlight district was all about but I obviously wanted to find out. And in time it became very clear to me what it was. Trust me when I say I would have never guessed! But I digress…
After many miles traveling through farmland we intersected a junction near Mexicali marked with a small sign reading “San Felipe”. The road south from Mexicali was nothing like it is today, for it took us almost all day to arrive in San Felipe. There were some stretches where Gordon chose to drive off the pavement opting for a smoother off road experience. But arrive we did.
Thankfully, Gordon was somewhat familiar with San Felipe and knew where to go to find a good beach to fish and to setup our camp. Back then there were no hotels that I can recall seeing, just several places that sold beer and soda. As for me I kept looking for a “redlight” someplace in order to solve the redlight district caper. What we now know as the Malecon was just a semi packed sand trail well above the high water mark of the Sea of Cortez.
I can still remember smelling that salty ocean air and listening to the seagulls while watching the pelicans overhead doing their best acrobatic acts. All this being performed for our pleasure…or so I was convinced. Being from the Yuma area these were smells and sounds not regularly found in our part of the world.
Oh my gosh…pinch me! Is this really happening? Could it be that I am here with my dad and a new buddy sharing guy stuff and now they’re talking about going fishing tomorrow? Does it get any better than this? That’s just about the time Gordon says “well let’s get the wood out of the truck and start us a good campfire.” Well there it is. It just got better! I’d always heard about this whole camp on the beach and have a bonfire thing but never really considered I would ever see it much less be a part of it!
The fire is now going strong and we’re stuffed full of some of the best barbecued chicken I have ever enjoyed. It was crusty and beyond burned on the outside and kind of bloody on the inside but it was still the best! I’m sure it had something to do with, well, everything going on around me!
The next day we’re up early to a very cool February morning. I’m drinking my hot chocolate while the guys are drinking their manly cowboy coffee. I’m sure I got the better deal here! Gordon had gotten up earlier and started the fire and so the smell of that wood burning, the cool, salty, morning air while listening to the constant soft chant of the waves made for a mental picture I would hold close my entire life.
About that time a Mexican man came walking by offering to take us out fishing in his Panga. I had no idea what a Panga might be but Gordon seemed to know enough Spanish and Juan our soon to be fishing guide struck up a deal. I remember my dad was hesitant but Gordon being experienced at this talked him into paying half the rental cost.
In just a few minutes we were walking through the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez to get on this thing called a Panga. My dad would sit in front, I would be in the middle while Gordon and Juan would be toward the back of the boat.
A few pulls on the rope, some colorful Spanish language, a little smoke, a quick backfire and that old rusty engine came to life. It purred like a kitten. Well, okay. It sounded more like a feral cat with its tail stuck in the door. But off we went with the front of the boat lifting slightly giving the illusion that we were going much faster than I’m sure we were.
We headed straight east toward the island, that big white rock that seemed to be three hundred miles out to sea, but in reality is approximately only twenty four miles or so. But you know, when you’re kid everything seems bigger and sometimes more vibrant and special. Oh I can still smell that salty air and feel the mist from the sea as we glided over what seemed to be an unending blue dream.
Just then the magic happened as the sun made its first appearance over the ocean of glassy calm brilliance. My dad was seated just a couple feet in front of me so when Juan turned the boat slightly to the left my dad having turned his head just so, put his profile between me and the sun. It was an instant that lasted forever, even until today. This was a perfect moment on a perfect day when several perfect lines intersected right there on that boat on the Sea of Cortez. Even then I recognized I should take in as much as possible in order to make it a part of my forever memory; part of my soul. Even at that young age I knew this experience, this feeling had to be a gift from God.
That vision has never left my memory, for even today when I visit the now paved street with all the activity the Malecon has to offer I sometimes walk down on the sandy beach and reflect back on those few days, that special gift, that changed my life forever.
Looking back I now know and understand that my mother was the catalyst that with very carefully chosen words brought this young boy together with his father for albeit a brief time that has in fact lasted my lifetime.
It would be many years later while looking for a place to explore and perhaps someday retire that I would reacquaint myself and find that San Felipe was of course on my short list of places to visit and learn more about.
I never thought this would be a place where I might find myself watching our beautiful sunrises, and so, reliving that special time over and over again.
Something called my name to visit this place, our special place so many years ago. Happenstance you might say. Perhaps you would be correct. But whatever it might be I’ll take it. For this is still my happy place. Yes, it’s still my wonderful memory laden and still memory making place. Come on down and make some memories of your own. Maybe bring a friend; maybe even your son and help them make their own memories to share someday with their kids!
For it can be yours, as it is indeed ours: Our Special Little Village by the Sea.
Photo by Dario de Baja
Dario de Baja
Dario de Baja
Dario de Baja