The Slow Making of a Dream: El Campo Elias Calles, Part One


I've been putting off telling this story even thought it's the story I most want to tell. It's a difficult story to tell because it's complicated, and we're still in the middle of it. And also because it occurred (with many breaks in between) over several years, and I documented it thoroughly (not knowing what I'd do with all the images.) I just spent an hour looking through 2,283 images (photos & videos) that I have taken so far of our land, and the surrounding area of Elias Clales.


I have another more recent impetus to tell this story because an artist friend, Tia Factor, who makes uniquely gorgeous paintings, is doing a project where she asks people to describe a place that they have been to, and often return to in their imagination. The place represents comfort in the person’s imagination, so the person returns to it over and over in his/her mind. Then, after doing some image research, Tia makes a painting of the place based on the person’s description. I had wanted to participate in this project, but I hadn’t been able to think of a place that I had returned to over and over in my mind. But then I realized I did. Elias Calles is that place, even though I live here now. For so many years it was an imagined place, imagined and experienced from so many different perspectives, a place that contained hopes and dreams, and then loss of those same hopes and dreams. And even though we still continue to live here, there is so much about it that is still in our imaginations. All of our plans yet to be realized. This is what I wrote as my description to Tia (plus a few more words) for her painting:


Elias Calles is a hard place to describe because it is not like anywhere else I have ever been. I don't really have a point of reference. I had first heard of it from Lucas about five years ago. He told me he found a piece of land he wanted to buy in Mexico with some money he inherited from his grandmother. We thought of it as an investment. A few years later, we decided that we wanted to build a house on our land, move to Mexico, get married, and have a baby. This was all before I had even seen our land. I had been to Baja only once in 2004, after we had left New York City and before we were to move to San Francisco. It was a different part of Baja, and I had had a difficult time. (Another story for another time). I am not sure exactly what made me want to do something so uncertain, other than I was done with the particular chapter of our life, and we both wanted the experience of living in a different country and having a child. It was an intuitive decision based on what felt right. The plan was that Lucas (who had been going down to Baja often for many years) was going to build us a rudimentary house out of earth bags the year before we moved. He got started that year, but he was never able to finish. We were going to live in our house, try to have a baby when we got there, and then build ourselves a life. Things went a little differently then we had planned. I was a few days aware of being pregnant as we drove the 1,500 miles to Southern Baja from Northern California in our fully packed 1985 Toyota Landcruiser with our dog, Ping. During our journey, the World economy collapsed, two of our tires exploded, (we were saved within five minutes of our first tire exploding by Los Angeles Verdes--a Government road side assistance group that drives up and down the highway helping people with car trouble) and the frame of our car cracked as we literally pulled into our destination.


The first time I saw Elias Calles was in early December, 2008, a few days after we moved to Mexico. When I first saw it, I have to say I was disappointed. It looked like a scary, poisonous forest from a Disney movie. All plants had large points sticking out of them, everything was brown, and dry. There was nothing cleared on the land.—it was a dense low forest of shrubbery and cactus. I could not see the beauty--at first. I just didn't get it. Lucas was going to build us a campsite (because the house wasn’t ready and we didn’t really have the money to build). We started clearing the land with the help of our French friends Charlotte and Jeremy, who had made a little campsite on their piece of land nearby. Charlotte saw how uncertain I was, and tried to reassure me by saying that you created your little spaces out of the land and it starts to become yours. Fortunately for us, our friends allowed us to stay in their house in a nearby town, for our first month here, which was my most nauseous month, while Lucas built our campsite.

Lucas began to build our campsite--we cleared two 12 by 12 areas with the help of our French friends and Lucas’ sister (who is co-owner of the land). He made a temporary floor out of adoquin (red colored cement hexagons). We put our sleeping tent on one. And the other became our kitchen. To create shade for the sleeping tent, Lucas created a tensile structure, using large pine poles and a tarp. To create a space for the kitchen, we put up a four post canvas tent and screen walls. We filled the kitchen with a small folding table covered with bright Mexican oil cloth, for eating, a wooden freestanding counter for cooking, a high intensity 2 burner metal camping stove, a vintage 1920's sink resting on two tables (this sink is now in our kitchen), with a drain that went into a bucket. We also had our water tank on top of our broken landcruiser (it could no longer be driven after we arrived.) which Lucas filled by climbing up a ladder, and pouring water jugs into it. The water pressure was great, due to the high flow, gravity water pressure system. Our water drained out into a bucket below the sink which we dumped on the trees around the campsite. We also had sleeping tent that was large enough to stand in, and fit a closet and queen size mattress. This was deluxe camping.

Our campsite developed over the months we were there. Lucas hooked up a solar panel, and we had enough electricity to charge our laptops and have LED Christmas lights on at night. Our kitchen was fully functional and we were able to create delicious meals. We had our families and friends come to visit us in our little desert oasis--some who had never camped before in their lives and fell in love with the experience.


To be continued in next post...