Friday, January 27, 2006

Walk with me

Making new friends has become my primary activity. It seems almost everyday I meet someone new and interesting and then spend the next few days getting to know them. Some are just travelers passing through. You can sit at Cafe Ole, an outdoor cafe off the historic district and be guaranteed to strike up a conversation. Soon you discover some thread of commonality and before you know it you are strolling along taking in the sights together, making plans to meet for dinner. Sometimes these aquaintances end up as impromptu houseguests. Twice this has happened. First, with a couple who were trailering down the Baja stopping wherever looked interesting. I thought they were two of the most interesting people I'd ever met. Vietnam Era hippies turned mainstream. They had children, and communes turned to a nice house and prosperous business manufacturing birdhouses in Oregon. He delighted us with his guitar/harmonica playing in the Bob Dylan style and his stories of adventure treks and monastery retreats: She, her days of professional dancing, her study of Zen Buddhism. They'd lived in a commune in New Mexico, a remote village in Mexico. He'd kayaked the Baja, worked ski patrol in Bavaria, traveled down the Amazon. When they left three days later I wondered if I'd imagined them.

Our second houseguests were a mother/daughter I met at the reception for the Turtle Conference. I was invited to attend the Group Tortuguero pre-conference party at the home of a local town benefactors. Until I walked through the front gate I had no idea such a grand home existed in Loreto. I'm certain it is the pages of some issue of Architectural Digest. It was absolutely stunning. Allison was only taken in by enormous aviary which housed five or six very talkative parrots who practically screamed, "hello, hi, hello, hello" (in English) on our approach and squawked in protest as we passed. I swear one said, "come back." The hosts never spoke to me and I still don't know their story. All I know is that the photo of them with George W. Bush next to the White House Christmas Card told me the were a bit connected.

Anyway the mother, Janet, I had met casually in a shop about two weeks earlier when they were visiting Loreto. We were both there with our husbands admiring some ceramics when we discovered we had shared origins in the midwest, and sons attending college in the same state. We learned they owned and operated a field station in Bahia de Los Angeles, a place where people study the natural environment, particularly, marine life. We parted never thinking we'd cross paths again. So when I saw Janet at the party and learned her plans for lodging included a sleeping bag and since I had this huge house...well. She, her daughter Meghann, and her dog Bailey, followed us home. We spent most of the next day together walking through town, stopping for ice cream, picking up two other travelers who joined us for awhile. Allison was intrigued by the daughter who knew everything about dolphins and whales and gave Allison encouragement about learning Spanish. Meghann spent a lot of time growing up in Baja and went on to become a marine biologist.

We all strolled toward the Malecon to look at the ocean, the six of us, taking up the width of the street, friends for only hours. At the waterfront Allison and her new confidant looked for sea urchins and starfish while the rest of us talked about the state of education back in America (two of them were educators.) We enjoyed such a nice encounter I was actually sorry to say goodbye. But these encounters are not uncommon. I could sit at Cafe Ole every morning and have friends by afternoon. Transient friends, most of them, people passing through. Inviting strangers home is something that I've never done before, but here everything is different. It may be the simple phenomenom of feeling concern for fellow Americans in Mexico. But I think it is more. The type of people we are attracted to are similar in this respect: they are explorers, curious people brave enough to pitch a tent in the desert or travel with only a backpack and a passport. Explorers are fun and have lots of great stories to tell. Explorers have big eyes for the world.

The morning that Janet and her daughter left I found a beautiful ceramic teapot on the dining table. It was from the shop where we first met, exchanged friendly words, and bid goodbye forever, we thought. This sounds silly but that kind little token makes me a bit weepy. You'd have to know me to know why. Or maybe not.

A few days ago I was walking the boulevard in my neighborhood when a large black desert dog began shadowing me. After awhile I thought it might be good to know his intentions so I stopped and turned, putting my hands out in a friendly gesture. Surprisingly, he approached me and offered his greetings with a sniff to my palms. He became my walking companion for the next few miles. Just like our neighborhood dogs, Larry, Curly, and Darryl he was happy to be my companion for the moment. I think its the same way for people here too. If you reach out you'll find a ready amigo willing to accompany you part of the way.

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