Friday, March 30, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Leaving El Mangre – The Second Time

This time we left by our own power. But it was still very tough going. Glen and Robin spoke of an “old road” that was impassable but would be a much shorter distance to the main road. We came to the fork in the road and I chose the one less traveled. It made a difference albeit one with a tradeoff; it ended up being much shorter but almost twice as difficult to maneuver. The road winded up and around heap of loose rocks and then pitched deeply down and around with similarly terribly wobbly under footing. We realized why it was no longer used and just how it had come to be known as “impassable” but we were pretty excited when we caught sight of trucks rushing by in the distance. Then two mules that had been grazing in the middle of the “road” we were on heard me coming and startled, I slowed to a trot. They began to trot, I tried to pass on the left. They moved left. I tried to pass on the right. They moved right. This went on for about five minutes as they both carefully kept an eye on me as well as kept pace. Finally they tired of the game and bound off the road to the left. I passed right.

Carraterra, or a paved road, is a welcome site after two days of close calls and calls on dirt roads. We turned south once again and made for Loreto, stopping for lunch at McLulu’s Taco Stand and then were on our way. We decided that we were going to make it to La Paz even if we had to ride a bit at night but first we wanted to make a quick stop in Escondido. Escondido was, and is, a very well protected harbor surrounded by islands which block almost any prevailing winds. It’s also a horrible concrete marina development which is being continuously ‘upgraded’ by the Mexican government for some seriously ungodly reasons. It also happens to be the site of where our sailboat was towed back to and suffered the attacks of yet another Chubasco twenty years ago.

We had only recently been towed to Escondido and were still sorting things out on the boat a few days later when a Chubasco was somehow able to affect this tiny harbor and within the 600 yards of water it had to work with had thrown a four foot chop and 60mph winds smashing into our boat. The boat in turn smashed repeatedly against the pure concrete seawall we were tied up to with only measly fenders to defend us (they didn’t). Thus some more damage to the boat and a lesson relearned.

We were walking around the marina and looking at where the boat had been; we both remembered the dock perfectly well but had us really surprised were the surrounding mountains; they came rocking down right to the bay and towered above like majestic ripples in a giant curtain. We both admitted to never having noticed any mountains and recalling that the place was flat and desolate was all. I guess kids never really look up and take in the grandeur of an area they just see the things right in front of them and hope that they’re something to play with or some candy to eat. We were glad to have come back just to finally appreciate this area that we had pretty much only bad memories associated with it.

Google Earth Escondido Baja California Mexico Mountain View 3D

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These photos sadly don’t do the mountains justice but it’s all I’ve got.

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Then a pirate in the form of a young girl by the name of Debby and her father (not a pirate) Mike and his friend Glen (also not a pirate but an experienced captain nonetheless) pulled up in a truck and we all got to talking. Inevitably about the good ol’days when Escondido was a laid back place with modest ambitions and good people. Glen had been coming to Escondido since 1972 and had seen even more change than us since he actually had a palapa that he lived much of the year in. It became later and later and the sun began to pass behind the same mountains that we had just been admiring and we started to falter in the original plan to ride the four hours to La Paz in the dark. Glen suggested that we check out the beach around the southern side of Escondido that went by the name of Rattlesnake Beach for camping. He of course assured us that rattlesnakes don’t come out when it’s cold and since its winter… ah, but winter isn’t really all that cold in Baja.

But it is cold enough to necessitate a sleeping bag. Something I didn’t have anymore. We set up camp and watched an amazing sunset riff off of the cliffs while we tried to figure out what to do about dinner. We both rode back to the one restaurant on my bike and were about to sit outdoors when Debby the Pirate came out and invited us to join them for dinner. We obliged. Debby and her father had just flown in that afternoon and were both botanists that owned a native tree nursery in Orange County while Glen sold sundries to Whole Foods but was embarking on a new scheme of raising grass fed organic beef. They also enjoyed Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion just as much as we did (mom always used to go out to the station wagon with her hot tea to listen with us when we lived in the cabin in Oregon) and were competitive joke tellers. Joshua and I declined eating dinner and instead stuck to liquid (we thought it’d be cheaper but it wasn’t) and once they were finished with dinner everyone took turns telling stories. Then we went back to Glen’s mobile home for more jokes and more drinks and also to borrow a sleeping bag for a night that was getting down to fifty degrees.

Debby had been a bus driver in college that decided she’d like to do her route in pirate garb (although regulations stipulated that she couldn’t actually wear the eye patch over her eye) and tell pirate jokes to the coeds. Her jokes were relatively tame in nature, “What does a pirate drive? A Carrrgh,” but the authorities that be cracked down and hard on this free radical pirate bus driver and it was only with a massive student backing that she was reinstated and allowed to continue her pirate antics.

We told the popular but still good pirate joke that goes; A pirate walks into a bar with the helm to his ship sticking out of his pants. The barkeep asks, ‘Why do you have a wheel down your pants?’ and the pirate says, “Yaargh, it’s drivin’ me nuts.’

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It got late so we drove our nuts back to the campsite for some comfy Rattlesnake Beach sleep. The next morning we returned the borrowed sleeping bag and enjoyed probably the best coffee we’ll experience on this trip; freshly roasted (the night before) Costa Rican coffee that was piping hot and ready to set us buzzing to down to La Paz. We thanked the pirate and her scurvies and beat it out of there before they could board our bikes.

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Notice the red star t-shirt that I’ve been continuously wearing…

The Chubasco

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We were still in the beginning of our travels when we heading up the Sea of Cortez for some harbor hopping. Another sailboat had joined us since they also had a couple of kids that were badly in need of playmates. The two families would find a pleasant cove and anchor for the night and then explore the area the next morning; we would jump in the dinghies and row to shore, we’d check out the surf and do some boogie boarding, then we’d go spear fishing in the afternoon for some dinner. Then we’d sail to the next harbor to see what awaited us.

After a few weeks of this we came to a crowded bay by the name of El Mangre (the Mangroves) above Loreto. It was a crowded anchorage with something like twelve boats anchored in the northern protected part of the bay so, as was our custom, we anchored far away from the other boats so as not to annoy them with the yelling and boisterousness of all us kids. This was the summer of 1987 and it proved to be one of the hottest we’d ever experience. It was so hot that after trying to sleep belowdecks we all stripped to nothing and moved to the deck in order to let the breeze – little that there was – cool us down enough to allow us to sleep. It was one of the calmest nights, when we were rowing back from shore one of us even mentioned how tranquil the night was as the sliver of moon reflected off the water twice as bright as the actual thing. One after the other we drifted to sleep.

At around three in the morning we awoke to winds around 20 knots sending white-capped waves into the hull. Then gusts up to forty knots. Then sixty. And then eighty mile per hour winds were creating seven foot waves within ten minutes. It was what we were later to learn was a summer Chubasco, common to the area and much like a white squall but without the rain but also without any warning. As we began the task of buttoning down all of the hatches which were straining in the breeze the anchor bridle (a secondary system to secure the anchor line) snapped sending the rest of the anchor chain spinning out of its hold and into the surf. We began to be driven towards shore. Dad raced to the cockpit and started the 50 horsepower engine put it in forward and faced the boat into the wind and waves. But the seven foot swells were stronger than the fifty horses and the boat was losing ground.

The end of the anchor chain was securely fixed to the hull but this was only after 300 feet of chain. It sprang taut but we were already aground. With the force of the waves and what little use was left of the anchor the boat broached upon its side and lay with its left side (port side) bare to the waves. My brothers and my mom and I went below to close the port holes (three on each side of the hull) but it was too late. I couldn’t get mine closed and the others weren’t much use when they were closed. We were taking on a lot of water. Dad was still trying to use the engine to get us off of the beach when it sunk below the thrashing water and died.

Now we were really at the mercy of the storm. The cabin of the boat was filling faster than the bilge pump could get rid of the water before it was plugged by the pulp of what was left of our collection of books. Diesel fuel had leaked somehow and was spreading out over the water and all over us. All of our things floated by us and threatened to knock us unconscious as the waves kept crashing against the hull and throwing us around like one of those unpleasant carnival rides. My mom told my brother and me, the two youngest, to go on deck and grab two cushions out of the cockpit and jump overboard to try and make it ashore.

As we clambered out of the campanionway hatch we saw the top of our dad’s head disappear over the side of the boat where the waves were coming from. We ran to the cockpit and peered over the side as we grabbed some cushions to see dad with a huge anchor around his neck and a line coiled around his right shoulder. Using the weight of the anchor he was trudging along the bottom of the bay away from the boat. We could see him take a giant breath during the trough of the wave and holding it as the crest crashed into him, then he’d walk a little bit more before repeating this. Our mom yelled something and we took the cushions and jumped overboard and surfed our way to the beach.

We waited for hours until the storm began to subside and the sun began to shine as sundry possessions of ours began to pile on the beach around us. The sailboat was beached about a hundred yards offshore and looked a bit like an awkward whale that had been stabbed by a giant mast and seemed a bit stunned by what had just happened. We kept on waiting. Now the sun was really shinning. And it was hotter than the day before. And we were still naked.

“Send in some shorts,” each of us took turns yelling until we were hoarse.

But they never seemed to be able to hear us or if they did they didn’t acknowledge our dire need. We could see our oldest brother on deck being handed stuff that he would promptly throw overboard and which would eventually make it to us. We made ourselves useful by picking the stuff out of the surfline and putting them in a pile but we never lost track of our real need, “Send in some shorts!”

They never did.

It turned out that when we saw our dad doing what we considered insane (and in retrospect rightly so) was an attempt to pull the stern of the boat off with a second anchor that he was trotting out to set. Then he tried to use the winch and tug on this second anchor to no avail. Meanwhile mother and our other brother were trying to save anything they could and throwing anything dangerous (i.e. big or flammable) overboard. During this process my mother was in the aft cabin (“the master suite” as we liked to call it) and a bottle of industrial strength glue called epoxy ruptured and coated most of her body. To make matters worse her feather pillows had all broken and were floating throughout the boat. We were picking feathers off of her skin for the next month.

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Three of the boats that had anchored in the protected part of the anchorage (they then told us why) were able to tow the boat off after four hours of trying. That night our parents came ashore to asses what we had collected and they were able to salvage a handful of things but the rest had been infused with diesel and epoxy or otherwise destroyed. We all slowly made a giant pile and stared as flames lit up the beach. Needless to say, we slept on deck that night.

The next day we all set to cleaning the boat (ten hours of cleaning and it wasn’t done) while dad tried to fix the engine. It was beyond being fixed. I remember it was a very quiet day that was only pierced sporadically by a few juicily chosen curses by dad and some extremely explicit ones by mom. At around sunset a bunch of dinghy’s filled with people from the anchorage descended upon our stricken boat. They had pots of food, piles of clothes and blankets, fresh water, and the most sincere sympathy I’ve ever witnessed. We all went below and ate and were grateful for what was left which I guess was either us or that the hull was still intact. We had no electricity so a kerosene lamp lit the cabin along with some donated candles. It got quiet and someone presented our parents with a Mexican metal jewelry holder that had been coiffed entirely in vivid pesos; deep purples, clear blues, cactus greens, and fiery reds. All our money had been pulped along with the books so we were actually broke until this magnificent gift. To this day I get emotional just thinking about how caring and charitable everyone was that night.

The next day one of the bigger boats towed us back to Escondido so that we could fix the engine. After a month of waiting for parts we were able to finally motor to La Paz where we decided to live ashore for a while.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Onward to Loreto, San Juanico, and Playa Mangre

February28th through March 2nd

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Loreto proved to be a bit of a letdown. After Santa Rosalía it was to be expected but the entire city left something wanting. We left SR early in the morning and were awed by the beautiful coves of Bahia Concepción which the road dropped into after some short mountain passes. The only thing that spoiled the view was the neatly arranged RVs which bordered every beach and only parted their flanks around palapa bars. Josh charged ahead and I took it easy and decided not to pass RVs on blind corners of mountain passes. At one sharp corner I felt something fly up my right sleeve and only had a moment to wonder what it was before it stung me. Then I realized it was a wasp. Then it stung me again. I tried to look for a place to pull over but there was no shoulder and all the curves were blind ones so I’d just get hit if I stopped so I continued up the road as the wasp stung me again. I started to get a bit angry and frantic before I found a spot to pull over, rip off my jacket and start pounding the sleeve. I looked down at my arm and it was bleeding in several places. After a bit I cleared out the sleeve and looked up to see Josh bearing down on me at full speed; seems he waited for me at the top of the pass and when I hadn’t shown up he thought I had gone off of one of the cliffs and died. He’d been looking over the sides for signs of wreckage. Although I’m sure he was glad to see me he didn’t show it other than through utter anger that I had scared him half to death. We roared off both somewhat shaken by each of our experiences.

During this angry acceleration/abrupt braking during the wasp biting somehow my sleeping bag tied down on the back of the bike fell off which was the beginning of some cold, cold nights.

Loreto had been a dustbowl of a town with only one paved road when we first came here twenty years ago but now has somehow convinced cruise ships to stop here and disgorge their passengers for walks down the long Malecón so they can take various pictures from different perspectives of their cruise ship in the bay. Joshua and I road along it for a bit and then settled into a restaurant to contact the parents and find out where we had anchored along this coastline when we were hit by a serious Chubasco. It took longer than we thought and had drunk a bit more than we should have so we found a cheap motel and walked around Loreto. The town has been taken over by Americans; most of the restaurants and the signs are in English, the bars only play American music, and the prices are also American. We bought two drinks at one place which turned out costing us the same amount as our room for the night. Ask how much before you have a drink in Loreto. We decided to turn in before our wallets were emptied.

The next day it turned out that we had overshot the bay we were looking for and that it was thirty minutes to the north of Loreto. We hopped on the bikes and headed up for just a day trip; we had been told that there would be a sign for San Juanico at around kilometer marker 48. There wasn’t. We stopped for directions again and were told that we had overshot it by a bit and we turned around again and finally spotted what looked to be a road leading east to the coast. Another washboard dirt and sand road that was supposedly 16 km to the coast. We dove in. I put my bike down again. I decided to wait and have Josh scout out ahead since the road kept branching off and we had no clue which direction we should have been going.

I sat down slightly exhausted and realized that we were once again out in the desert with absolutely no food and no water without any foreseeable way to rectify the situation. Josh screamed back after a while and breathlessly told me about his run in with a bull that charged him and the deep quicksand that he made it through. Luckily he ran into a rancho and he gave us directions albeit quite vague we soon realized. We rode on after we switched bikes because I wasn’t going to be able to keep mine upright (but I could barely keep the KLR 650 upright in some places and was amazed when Josh only put my bike down once). I was ahead when we came up to a bend and saw the remnants of a fire in the middle of the road and luckily stopped. A camper was parked in the middle of the road with no way around and a friendly Canadian came out to greet us.


Turns out that Glen and his wife Robin had been stranded overnight on the road leading up to a different beach - not the one we were looking for – and that a couple kilometers back was a fork in the road that led to San Juanico. They funny thing was the reason why they were “stranded;” a water truck was blocking the only road up a hill that led to Playa Le Mangre, their beach. They had run into the driver hiking out to find a mechanic and said he’d return as soon as he could but it was likely that it wouldn’t be for a day or two. They had decided to wait. I decided to wait with them. Josh took the KLR and made his way to San Juanico where he shot this video. He wasn’t entirely convinced that San Juanico was the right bay where the boat had been driven ashore.


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Before Josh returned a Toyota pickup truck with two men drove up and one turned out to be the driver who explained what had happened; he had been driving the 5,000 gallon water truck up the mountain and had almost reached the top when the engine died. This wouldn’t have been so bad but the air-brakes were dependent upon the engine being running. He started gaining speed as the truck bounced backwards over boulders in the road. His heart was beating so fast he said he thought he was going to die as he spun the wheel trying to dig in the front tires and finally after five hundred feet of blindly driving just to stay alive (there was a considerable drop off to the left) he wedged the back of the truck into the cliff face bringing it to a stop. It stayed there overnight leaking water out the back and creating a little muddy stream all the way down the rest of the road.

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After the mechanic and driver had been around for a while Glen headed up to check on them. We all have heard of the Mexican mantra of Manana when something needs to be done but when Glen walked up the hill he found them in the cab of the truck; one was taking a big bong rip while the other was reading a porno magazine. Apparently the mechanic could fix things better when he was high and horny.

They finally did get the water truck fixed and backed it down to let us through. By this time Joshua had returned and assured me that there was no way my bike was going to make it down the road he’d just been on so I suggested we head over the hill with Glen and Robin. We made it to this gorgeous beach with one other person camping and a nice protected cove with three sheltering sailboats and came to the realization that it was this bay that the boat was ravaged by the Chubasco(See Next Post).

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Our boat the Edward D. Rowan that washed ashore here in a Chubasco.


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We parked the bikes like watchdogs to the entrance of the beach and chatted with Glen and Robin (we told the story about being run aground here and ending up stranded on the beach naked as boys of six and eight years old while they told us about how they live in total wilderness up British Colombia every other week and just make enough money to get by). Glen’s a lawyer and Robin is a therapist that sold what they call their “stupid house,” a giant dream home they built when they were young and into the business of making money and driving fast cars, and decided to live more simply instead after a transformative wilderness vacation in which they decided that they’d had enough of the material world. They also gleaned that we had neither food nor water and were generous enough to provide both before a couple of French tourists by the name of Jean and Jean-Christopher showed up with overflowing coolers of fancy French food that they couldn’t get rid of fast enough. We obliged them.

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Camper Chris, Ian, Robin and Glen relaxing on astro-turf and drinking green tea.
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Our French Savoir.

Now you may or may not recall that I have lost my sleeping bag recently and am now looking ahead to a very cold night. It turns out that Jean has started a new company guiding French tour camping groups and was actually booked for this week but it had been too windy for his patrons so he and his friend decided they might as well go camping in order not to waste all the supplies and perhaps do some scouting for subsequent trips. You guessed it. They had four extra sleeping bags.

We ate goat cheese and grapes while we warmed up around the bonfire and told stories in between Kit Kat breaks.

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Some stranded gringo fishermen who were actually awaiting a taxi that miraculously arrived.

A Spanish Countess had a giant home built here so the next day we decided to hike up and find out what was truly behind the myth of the eccentric Countess. Turns out there is no myth. She’s Spanish and she’s a Countess. Although she wasn’t there she was expected soon and all the staff were busy fixing the place up (which included pumping salt water up to the infinity pool) so we had a little chat with the caretaker who filled us in on the batty old lady (she had recently turned 76 and was still coming to stay at her villa via the terrible road we had just taken) and the fact that they were awaiting delivery of water which was two days late…

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The Spanish Countess’ Villa with Infiniti Pool and its view below.

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The Stick Bug that Josh woke to with a girlish scream.

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A Monument Tree that passing boaters have left inscribed with their boats’ names.

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A More Serious Carving; We looked for one of our boat to no avail.

More to come…

Chubasco and the Boat

Monday, March 5, 2007

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Saturday, March 3, 2007

What the French Can’t Do With a Little Rocky Outcropping in Baja

Santa Rosalia February 23-27th, 2007

We’ve recently spent two days ‘resting’ in Santa Rosalia after leaving Bahia Asuncion and enjoying a rather scenic jaunt across Baja to the Sea of Cortez. The paved road and long straightaway stretches were much appreciated after the dirt ‘roads,’ deep sand, and gravel detours that we slowly traversed from Bahia Tortugas and Bahia Asuncion on the Pacific coast. Once we got close to the eastern coast we came down from a plateau by winding around treacherous switchbacks which had the broken guardrails and flower decked monuments to prove it. We took it slowly down and were treated to a wonderful panorama of white-capped seas crashing against the basalt boulders and sheer cliffs of Santa Rosalia.

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We motored amiably about town for a bit as Josh looked for someplace to get a real cup of coffee so we traversed the one-way streets until we found a place and relaxed in the final rays of the day. I happened to have read a bit about this particular ‘city’ which was set up as a company town in the late 1800s by the Rothschild family as a copper smelting foundry for transshipment back to the old world. They had imported timber from Oregon and Arizona to build in a French Victorian style and segregated the town on either side of a small valley; Mesa Francia to the north and Mesa Mexicana to the south. They had also purchased a pre-planned church by none other than Monsieur Eiffel that stands near the plaza of the town and happened to be having a quinceria (fifteenth birthday celebration) that night. We talked of crashing the reception afterwards but felt that it might be age-inappropriate.

We found a nice little hosteleria near the plaza named Blanco y Negro that was inexpensive and had some much needed hot water to cleanse our dust infused bodies.

We immediately liked the town due to its comforts and the amount of street-life so we walked about for a while getting the lay of the town; the plaza is separated from Eiffel’s church by a big indoor gymnasium which was seemingly continuously holding volleyball championships, the ferry terminal at the end of the valley is the height of modernity complete with experimental architecture, and apparently the dead have the best view from the cemetery that rims the cliffs to the south.

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Eiffel’s Readybuilt church and the ornate plaza gazebo.

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At some point during photographing all of this I lost my camera but thought I knew exactly where I left it but the place was cerrado for siesta so we went to the police station to see if we could find the owner’s telephone number to give him a call and just let him know we left it in there (before the first person that came in when it opens happened to pocket it). Losing the camera was worth it since the police battalion was numerous and friendly not to mention how funny the commandante was. We struck up a conversation with the cops and they told us about the fire truck (donated by a Manhattan fire department that no doubt got to come down and ‘train’ them on it), frisked me for fun, and looked all over town for the owner to no avail. We got to talking with one of the cops for a while and talk turned to his father and we asked where he was living and he replied, “El es un minero.” (He’s a miner now.) Then he pointed to the cemetery.

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They didn’t take kindly to our suggestion to arrest the French girls and bring them to us.

While we were negotiating this whole ordeal two of the only girls in the town our age walked by speaking a bit of French. We were smitten. And we never saw them again.

We ended up staying three days since we were a bit late getting ready to leave the second day. So the next morning I decided to check out the World Famous El Boleo Panateria, the bakery set up by the Rothschild’s front company El Boleo to make their precious baguettes. It’s more of a dulceria now but they still have mini-baguettes that were still warm (I’m a late riser) and a bit sweet. I brought some back to Josh and we walked about with the mini-baguettes looking for a bit of chorizo to sweeten the deal. We didn’t find any but Josh had gone for a run that morning through the cemetery on top of the hill which featured a giant cross in the center and was inscribed with Tu Eres La Pan de Vida (You are the Bread of Life). So at least we were imbibing pan and living the life.

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La Pan de Vida and Being woken up by a hot tortilla on the face.
Josh Waking Me Up With a Fresh Tortilla

If you think the photos are a bit grainy that’s because they were taken with the N93 cellphone after I lost my camera.

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