Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Jun 08 2013 12:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: Ah, Baja -- guns, partial nudity taken in stride

By The Bakersfield Californian

We sat on the beach. I sat. My brother Derek, shaded by a half-ton Ford, lay, his head resting on a rolled-up towel.

The bum.

Two cars -- a green Jeep and a small white truck -- pulled off the dirt road behind us, raising plumes of Baja dust. The Jeep unloaded a plump young mother, her curly-haired daughter and a gray-haired woman carrying an infant.

A man of medium height with black hair emerged slowly from the small truck. He carried a gun. A pistol.

He wasn't in a hurry. He didn't have to be. He had a gun. We didn't.

The only people who should have been in a hurry were us. However, this being Baja, about 30 miles north of Cabo and a surf break called Fortunato, Derek continued to lie on his back in the warm white sand with his eyes closed, and I scoured the horizon looking for a set indicating that the waves had gone from small to less small.

"Do we have company?" Derek asked.

People pull onto the beach. That's Baja. Baja is like Pismo a long time ago, with a desert behind it.

"Just a guy carrying a gun," I said.

A gun, somebody else's, focuses your mind. It brings clarity. Especially when the gun appears on a white sand beach with a turquoise blue ocean.

Last week, four of us flew to Cabo and then drove to the East Cape, which is on the Sea of Cortez side, for a surf trip. Now I get Baja. Get why people IRS, as in "I Run South."

Expatriates include Canadians, there, I suppose, to dry their frozen souls.

"Is it a big gun?" Derek asked, still neither opening his eyes nor rolling over on his right side in order to see for himself.

"Is it a big gun?"

Guns are like bears. Even a small one is bigger than you want, especially when the bear is pawing your tent so you'll tell him where you hid the watermelon slices.

The expats (and the man carrying the pistol did not appear to be one), are a curious lot. Most have a story and some of the stories are true. When they tell you where they are from, how they made a living and why they moved south, you almost believe them.

Almost.

Who did they divorce, disappoint or disinherit? Baja has a Wild West quality to it, and I don't see the sheriff coming to town anytime soon to sort things out.

"Do you think we ought to leave?" Derek asked, motionless as a corpse with moving lips.

The man with the gun walked to the edge of the ocean, the waves no higher than his brown work boots. I wondered how far that gun could shoot. He was about 60 feet away, but, again, guns are like bears. Even when they are far away, they're still closer than you want them to be.

Baja is full of surprises. A couple days before, while driving on a rough, twisty dirty road looking for surf, we pulled into Nine Palms, one of the most famous of the surf breaks. A beautiful young woman in her 20s with honey-colored hair walked around the back of a dark, dusty truck with a camper shell on it.

She was topless. She looked at us and didn't flinch. We didn't flinch, but we didn't leave either.

Her boyfriend, a short muscular Hawaiian with his curly hair pulled back in a short pony tail, was close behind. Both arms were scarred from a motorcycle accident.

He was friendly but you don't leave that unattended.

"That" was a memory. The guy with the pistol almost drove Ms. Honey-Color from my mind.

"Derek, I have a question," I said.

"What?"

"Would somebody shoot you after they kissed a baby?" I asked.

The man with the gun had walked back to the car and as he passed the gray-haired woman carrying the baby, kissed the tot on the top of the head.

"I suppose if it was Tony Soprano, he might," said Derek, still prone.

I could understand why Derek was so relaxed. The moment you hit Mexico, you fall under its spell. Your bones turn to mush and your will disappears. The heat, pace and landscape -- both ocean and desert -- seem untameable.

"He put the gun back in the car," I said.

A few minutes later, we slid the boards and paddles into the truck bed and headed south.

Did we really see a gun? Who knows. In Baja. It's hard to sort out the believe from the make-believe.

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