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Sometimes the best things in life are free. Here's the new game: squat in abandoned buildings (preferably with a view).
Have you too been tempted to squat in a house? Let me know. And if not maybe some of my mistakes below will aid you on your next squatting adventure…
Here's what happened:
I had to decided not to go home for Christmas and to make sure I wasn't dying of FOMO during Christmas I had to have a lot of fun.
The Plan: to camp on the beach next to the ocean in a tent and sleeping bag with a campfire. The only problem was I didn't have a tent, sleeping bag or sleeping pad. I could either travel 2 hours back to Walmart or continue 2 hours towards the beach. I thought, considering my luck, I should go where I want to be and what I need will appear.
So I drove down a dirt road with the lukewarm support of a motorcyclist I had run into in a cafe
Actually, it wasn't so accidental...I saw his Africa Twin motorcycle sitting outside a ramshackle Cafe and figured nice bike+ramshackle cafe = must be an interesting person so I stopped and introduced myself. Oh yes, he had said, I took that road 2 years ago. It was challenging and there had been rains since so it might be worse now. Could I make it on my bike, I asked. He looked at my bike raised an eyebrow pulled his jaw to the side. My bike wasn’t the dirt machine his was. His bike had a caveman aesthetic. Mine more metrosexual vagabond.
“Well maybe” he said.
The dirt road was steep and I fell a few times. At sunset I came across an abandoned house on the top of a cliff. It said "Propiedad Privada" but I decided to snoop around. Wouldn’t you be curious too? How long had it been abandoned for? The fresh coat of paint (I didn't see any mud splatters from the rainy season) suggested someone had been there since August. But the weathered wood looked like it has been abandoned 10 years.
The inside of the house suggested that the previous residents had left in a hurry, sandpaper and bolts, fishing tackle and comforters strewn all about. Everything left in the middle of a project. Paint in the paint tray with a paint roller. I imagine the way Pompeii looked, people surprised by the sudden avalanche of lava freezing them forever in the midst of their daily routine.
There were animal droppings everywhere. At first I assumed mice but then I saw they are arranged in lines just under the beams so I suspect it was bats. Around back I found a pretty good-looking mattress there--double size. Well maybe this was the tent and the sleeping pad I have been asking for :-) With a little bit of elbow grease this abandoned house could look real nice.
I was missing something mission critical for the chilly nights--a sleeping bag. So I drove to the next town, stayed in the hostel and searched everywhere on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, talking to various shops for a sleeping bag. Nada. But as I was checking out of my hostel the guy next to me told the receptionist "hey, I was bit by a scorpion so I'm going home to get treatment. But I have an extra sleeping bag. You can have it for free. Maybe someone will want it."
I'll take it! I said, trying not to sound too eager.
with my new sleeping bag
So now I had a free tent, free sleeping pad and free sleeping bag. The only thing that would make it better would be free food….
I started spearfishing last month in Hawaii and bought a 3-prong polespear, collapsible so it fit inside my motorcycle. I hadn't used it in Baja yet. Googling for the best spots in Baja turned up nothing but fishing tours that cost $400. So I kept asking around. (Now I know there are so many good spots in Baja that's almost not worth listing them all.)
The jolly rotund chef at the taco stand said that he was a spearfisherman and knew a good place (!!) They say "never trust a skinny Chef" But should I trust a rotund spear fisherman? Well, at least the tacos lived up to that saying.
The beach, he said, was called Piedras Gordas. Fat Rocks. In front of Agave Hotel. I didn't have any other leads so I went with it.
At the hotel, I was little nervous about my things being stolen so I stashed one wallet and one ID under one bush and another one in an abandoned building.
The beach was unmistakable. The rocks looked fat. One protrusion of Fat Rocks looked like the kind of place I would want to be if I were a fish. I assembled my spear and jumped in lukewarm water.
The fish were everywhere! A particular kind of fish was swimming in schools with whisker fins trailing from it's mouth. I didn't know much about fish but I suspect did it was some kind of Goatfish. I wasn't sure if they were edible but I seemed to remember they were. Within 15 minutes and as many Dives I had caught two good size ones that would make a full meal.
I went back to my bike and initially had a moment of heartbreak. Where was it? Did someone steal it. But then I realized I'd stashed it behind a bush.
Back at "Propiedad Privada" as the sun was setting I started a fire from some of delaminated shelves in the house. Once the coals we're going I put the fish on the grill. (The grill I made out of the grate of a paint tray. I put it in the fire and all the paint burned off. I was left with he clean grill.) The fish fried up nicely. The skin stuck to the grill and I seasoned it with spices I keep in a travel-sized pill box. And a squeeze of lime.
What's this fish edible or deadly? I wasn't sure but I took a bite and it was good. It was really good actually. It tasted a bit like shrimp with a bit of the springiness of shrimp, too. (I later found out it is a yellow finned goatfish, very good for eating and mostly eats shrimp which gives it its flavor. I had also wondered whether pufferfish is edible. It was very slow moving and would be very easy to spear. But something that easy must have a catch right? The next day when I went to town I Googled it and found out they are poisonous enough for one puffer fish to kill 20 grown humans. They're a delicacy in Japan mostly because of the skill required by the chef to prepare them without poisoning the customers. It's a good thing I didn't eat the pufferfish.
The next day I went down to my own private beach. I jumped in the water and after a few failed spearing attempts I found a small Grotto full of fish. These were very easy to shoot. I caught a few and roasted them on a fire on the beach on the tip of my three prong spear. The scales were too hard to remove so I cooked them with the scales on. It turned out that after 1 minute of cooking, the scales came off easily. When as they were done the skin peeled off revealing the flesh underneath. Not as good as Goatfish and a bit more chewy. The meat on each one was little more than a chicken wing. good. And apparently not poisonous because I didn't get sick. Eventually I found out they are called Squirrelfish. Mostly night time hunters.
I went back to clean the house. Does anyone else have this problem? When I find a new place that's really dirty I compulsively clean it. This happens at many sublets I've moved into. I'll find a shower so scaled with lime I cannot see through the glass. Little bit of baking soda and vinegar cleans it like new and really impresses the housemates.
I cleaned up the house and burned the trash. I organized the tools in the house into crates.
I was a little bit worried about giving up my position when the fire got a lot bigger than I expected. Based on the tire tracks in the driveway there have been no people visiting the house since I've been here the first time scoping it out. But when would the next visitors come? I was nervous the first few days.
To relieve my anxiety about being found out I made up a story in my head: I would just say "I was told by the new owner, my cousin, Enrique Hernández María, to clean the place. You'll have to talk with him. In any case, would anyone really complain that I had cleaned their house for them?
I went spearfishing again that night but didn't catch anything. I ate beans and tortillas.
I lay on the mattress looking up at the stars, as bright as stars could be without any light pollution. On my new mattress by my new tent with my new sleeping bag. A gentle, natural ocean-sized noise machine just 100 feet from my bed. I felt so lucky and drifted off...
I was jolted awake by some noise. Then some rustling. I reached for my phone, turned on the flashlight (amazing how many features these things have!) and saw two eyes looking back at me. I wasn't sure if it was the coyote or what. Eventually it became bold and crept back and grabbed my tortillas. A raccoon. Damn raccoons stole my tortillas! Went to go find my slingshot and lay in wait for the next time I heard it.
When I did, I was ready. Two of them now. *nyeowwww* I aimed a shot at its side. It didn't make a noise but disappeared very fast. They didn't come back. I kept a slingshot next to my bed every night and put my food away inside a lockbox on my bike. Lesson learned.
I went fishing again for lunch. Then again for dinner. But no luck. I was reminded that "vegetarian" is an old Indian word meaning "bad Hunter." I ate beans and some potatoes that the raccoons hadn't stolen.
After a few days I decided it was time to leave. There was a woman I met at her art gallery opening and I was curious to find out more about her. And so I left, with a note on the table for the next visitors.
I didn't know if I would tell anyone about the house. Should it be my secret?
But I'm not that good at keeping secrets. At Todos Santos Hostel I overheard people saying they wanted to visit the area but weren't sure where to stay…
"I've got an idea for you…."
I showed them the pictures and as far as I know that's where they went—I don't have their contact information. I hope they and others get to enjoy this slice of paradise.
The best things in life are free if you let it happen. You don't need a lot of money to have free range fish and stay on a million-dollar lot. I don't believe in manifestation in the normal sense. But something interesting happens when I set my mind to something. The art of war says “opportunities multiply as they are seized.”
Welcome to the New Year! Seize those opportunities.
Psst! I'm looking for grant writers to join me. My business is going well and growing, knock on wood. If you're a writer with experience in developing countries and like taking a creative approach to assembling complex info from disparate sources you might love doing this work as much as I do. See the job application here. And please share with friends.
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