We had been broken down at the bottom of the arroyo for only a day before tempers flared. Each one of us took a turn at accusing the other of stealing the ‘good’ beers from out of the ice chest. My girlfriend at the time worked for Budweiser and had supplied us with several cases of Michelob. I’m not sure who it was now but one of us spotted an grizzled old leprechaun of a man running off and disappearing up the arroyo in the dusk of impending night. We made a plan to find out if it was real or a ghost first thing in the morning.
After a hearty breakfast of Quaker Oats we outfitted ourselves with hiking boots and canteens; off we went to explore the arroyo and find out if it was our liquored imaginations or realty that was sneaking around our camp. A couple hours later we discovered a 55 gallon drum with burning yucca cactus under it. The barrel was full of water and stinking starfish. Farther along we found visqueen plastic following the contour of the tilted sandstone layered rock and on the other side were someones belongings. Whomever it was had a oil lantern, various paperback books (Mexican novellas of romance, drooling hombres and busty muchachas), an old tattered sleeping bag and a bucket of water.
!Que estats haciendo! There was our leprechaun from the night before. He introduced himself as Pedro when he was sure we meant no harm. He apologized for stealing our beer but explained that American cervesas were very hard to resist.
Rocks served as stools and we sat around and practiced our Spanish while trying to find out what this guy was about. He must have been around sixty years old; he looked ninety – a lifetime under the hot Baja sun.
Pedro lived under a plastic covered rock up on the north wall of the arroyo. He explained his life consisted of collecting starfish at low tide and boiling them and drying them. He would store them until a gringo would arrive to purchase what he had collected. This happened once or twice a year. Pedro would earn .75 per starfish. A multi-legged genetic freak would fetch a couple bucks! All in all he made enough to buy food, oil for his lamp so he could read at night, and new Mexican paperback books. He loved those books.
We were not the first gringos Pedro hung out with. He would regularly approach ‘surfers’ (cause they were muy simpatico) and see if they had any pot they could give him. While he grew his own up the arroyo where there were natural springs to water the plants he knew it was good to have a backup.