For the majority of my life I considered the Hawaiian Islands as paradise. You’re welcomed by pungent island air that nearly knocks you off your feet. Even the cars kick up the smell of leis as they rush down streets that are named with exotic Hawaiian words. My opinion of paradise was to be changed soon and I would dream about a much different landscape, one that was rugged and harsh where Hawaii was lush and seeping with sweetness.
On a family trip eight years ago, I couldn’t feel my legs; I had been smashed into a back seat of our truck for the last three days, only unfolding at the end of the day when we stopped to camp. My knees and I peered out the small truck window at the never ending shuffle of bush, cactus, bush, bush, cactus. Ahead I knew that Highway 1 stretched straight for hundreds of miles only curving when the road engineers had avoided the large flat top mesas. Behind me Highway 101 snaggled its way all the way back up California, progressively seeking colder and colder weather. It was winter vacation and my parents, along with a caravan of my aunts and uncles, were slowly making our way to the lower end of Baja to an unknown site on the beach called Punta Chivato. You could only make it if you had a sturdy enough car to make it over the 10 miles of a heinous washboard road, so bumpy that the contents of our camper were completely rearranged every time we dared to traverse it.
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When we finally made it to Punta Chivato, I unfolded knees one last time and opened the truck door only to be welcomed by buffeting winds that gusted up to 45 miles an hour. With only half an hour of exploring our beach camp on the Gulf of California, our faces became pink from being scoured by the sand that the wind picked up and pelted at us. The nature of the gulf was to only have waves a hands-width high; instead, it mercilessly beat the shore with six to eight foot waves. On the shore of the unswimmable water, we walked without leaving footprints in the sand, with every step we walked over a multicolored collage of shells that the heavy waves had thrown up onto the beach.
Later, I stared up at the fake wood of our camper, complete with fake knots and swirls. It was Christmas night and I was perfectly content with the few travel-worn presents that I had opened earlier in the day. This was unexpected because I had always been a materialist girl, counting love in the sum of gorgeously wrapped presents under the tree. But that morning as my family sat together under a bowl of pale blue sky next to a lapping pale blue bay in Baja, and I was content without expensive presents.
Three weeks later when I had decided that I really had found paradise I also realized why. It was about finding the diamond in the rough. The harshness of Baja magnified every treasure that I found. Christmas was incredible special, not because of the presents but because the pure beauty of the place, and with out the wind there would never have been shell-paved beaches. Even now when my legs are twice as long as they were, and it would be twice as uncomfortable in the truck seat, I would fold myself in half again if only I could make it back to that windswept paradise.
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