Where on Earth?! Tenacatita

Across the narrow, dusty street directly opposite the bungalow with the funky driftwood gate that opened to the beach was a modest sized neighborhood tortilla factory.  It was a typical village street with giant potholes neatly bordered by an outline of pavement that indicated a street of commerce, and tucked into a solid wall of two story plastered adobe buildings that ran unabated for an entire block was the “Tortilleria”.   This was a common business layout in this land, as shops and apartments were separated by solid inside walls.

Another casual evening was winding down from the pleasant beach side sunset and lengthy meal on the bungalow’s patio, and as darkness amplified the sounds of the lapping surf and the clinking of ice in glasses, an unusual roar of wind punctuated by sharp, alarming voices broke through the calm.

As I rushed through our quaint adobe to the street side, an uncanny glow in the night sky became apparent, and with a wave of apprehension I came directly upon the “tortilleria” that was venting red hot blasts of fire. With all its windows and main doors open to the street, it was easy to see the livid and roaring flames shooting up through the floors, billowing smoke from the top floor windows and roof openings.

I rushed over looking for anyone inside the inferno and at the same time asked a wide eyed young woman who was standing in the street,  “Hay personas en etsa edificio?”  She shook her head, no one was trapped inside.  In the chaos of the moment, it seemed that the fire could easily spread throughout the entire block and the threat  of explosions hung in the air.

I hurried back to the bungalow, grabbed the garden hose to do whatever I could, only to find that the tap released zero water flow. Typical, and not a surprise in this part of the world. At that point, my wife prodded me that it was time to move the rental car that happened to be parked on the other side of the street within twenty feet of the tortilleria’s main entrance.  Ducking the hot wall of fire and imagining how the paint on the car’s front end could be blistering off, I jumped in and backed it well down the street.

Crowds began to gather around the spectacle, with no sign of police or fire personnel, and fire trucks seemed to be absent from the small town.  Eventually, a police pick-up with crew members riding in the open bed cruised up and down through the people gathered on the street in a gesture of crowd control.  The fire, which was potentially contained by the cement, tile and adobe of the structure, was evidently left to burn itself out.

*                         *                            *                          *                        *

Well behind the shoreline, a narrow back road of partial pavement constantly fought for its integrity against the tentacles of the jungle and the shifting beach sands in its attempt to connect this small town to an even smaller village at the far end of Tenacatita  Bay.  After traversing this tangled road past various inland lagoons guarded by 15 foot crocodiles, we came upon a frugal open air cantina beside a small creek.

The cantina was quiet in the siesta time of the afternoon, and the only activity came from the chickens scratching and cackling along the steep creek banks.  Although perilously close, they were apparently oblivious to the nearby croc half submerged and unmoving much like a drift log. Having spotted the hidden croc, it was tempting to watch what might unfold, but siesta time was not limited to humans.

Over a small foot bridge and over the crocodile was access to the sea. And thus began a sobering trek, as across the bridge and over the wide expanse of ensuing sand, at the ocean’s edge, stood a craggy, malformed rock pocked with small caves and crevices.

The size of a small house , the monolithic crag was set apart from a broken cliff line that extended on out into the ocean.  Forming a barrier where the four miles of beach sand ended, this juncture ricocheted normally predictable waves into chaotic rip currents.

A serious vein of graffiti on the rock conveyed images such as skull and cross bones, and a short distance down the empty beach, a worn and weather beaten sign on a post stuck in the sand verified the ominous story;  “Peligrosa”, dangerous waters, no swimming.

Below the solo rock’s random spires, it seemed that every available crevice and cave had been turned into small shrines.  Images of Jesus and saints along with photos of the unfortunates were mixed in with the flowers, candles and incense sticks.  Numerous altars were neatly arranged, some with the candles burning, adding to the mystery of who was maintaining this site, and whose loved ones were taken by the sea.

On a lighter note, the road meandered on to the furthest extremity of the bay and its last isolated village. Where the smooth clay of the main village street ended, a steep, heavily rutted track led up a bluff, and without knowing that the sea was on the other side, I would have hesitated continuing on, but sure enough, after climbing over the top of the rough hillock and down the ruts of the other side, a sandy bench dotted with palms and pines opened up before us.

It would be hard to imagine a more idyllic site, as a crescent beach of about 150 yards bordered an aqua blue-green sea dotted with numerous sea mounts that were linked by coral reefs, forming a tantalizing undersea garden.  The clincher for this majestic site; over a high sand berm opposite this tranquil beach was another shoreline that faced the full force of the Pacific Ocean. Large, aggressive waves sucked sand away from the sloping shoreline and crashed against the rugged cliffs framing this beach at each end.  The two opposite sides of this rocky peninsula were picture perfect polarities, peaceful and bellicose, quiet and noisy, yin and yang, all in a magnificent juncture of earth and ocean.

Myrtlewood Sea Turtle,  ©Terry Woodall

The coral reef lived up to my expectations, as I snorkeled into an exotic array of moorish idols, rare angel fish, and dozens of bright specimens darting among the colorful gardens of coral.  Floating twenty feet above underwater canyons, I watched as a ten foot long eel with long needle teeth in gaping jaws slithered about in his hunting routine, and I was content to observe from well above his domain.  Eagle rays passed through this reef on the hunt, and brain coral along with many other varieties of coral were commonplace.

Low tide is usually the spoiler when snorkeling rough coral passages, and after exploring the reef for a few hours, the tide slowly receded, leaving shallows difficult to navigate.  However, the alternative was not so bad, as we retreated to a shady picnic spot under the pines and drank in the intoxicating atmosphere and the aqua blue sea that spread out before us.

Common to this part of the world, © Terry Woodall

This was a rough, out of the way corner of the world, with only a scattering of beach goers and campers lucky enough to find their way here through the small village over the hill.  I spotted a long abandoned custom palapa built atop the main bluff with a sentinel’s overview of the scene, and as I imagined New Age, hippie era dwellers and their grip on paradise past, the calm was broken by the clamor of a distant engine.

What was this?  A full size delivery truck was grinding and straining up and over the rough dirt track, bouncing into view and barely fitting between the small clusters of trees. As it came careening to a stop at the sand’s edge, the truck’s container section came into focus spelling out “Cerveza Pacifico” and the utopian scene was complete—it was a beer truck!

Campers and beach goers came scrambling out from every sun baked corner of the area, padding up to the “all your dreams will come true” mirage as if it were an ice cream wagon on a hot city street.  And as if the ice cream chimes were melodically ringing, they came from beach towels on the sand and aroused from siestas tucked away in campers.  Lining up in shorts and sandals, they wheeled and dealed as the driver unloaded his wares, and some marched away with entire cases of the precious liquid.

Well, I will admit I got in line.   After all, the welcome mat was out; welcome to paradise.

Where on Earth?!   Tenacatita, Mexico

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