Short-listed for the 2021 PureTravel Writing Award, Sharon Penwell tells us of the problems finding out of season accommodation in rural Mexico:
“Cuantos!?” hollered the cheery gap-toothed head-scarved Senora at the buzzing food stand next to the bus station. “Dos!” I yelled back, rubbing my belly. I certainly was hungry after stepping off the bus from San Carlos where I had been whale-watching. Two tacos would be welcomed and typically delicious.
The smell of bubbling corn tortillas on the fiery skillet dancing with sounds of sizzled melting cheese being drizzled with jalapeno salsa sauce produced a heady gastronomic perfume which would be washed down my dry throat with the chilled local beer.
I hadn’t reserved a room for this evening. Being January mid-week, it was predominately out of season in tepid Baja California Sur, and there was always plenty of last minute budget choices. I was en route to San Ignacio to kayak on the river and decided to stop over in Loreto one night. I had not heard of it before so this would be another new place to visit.
After my revitalising stop, I hauled on my backpack and trekked downtown to find a room at the low-priced hostals. From one place to the next I asked the price, but each time, I was told “Completo.” Full. For a small town of 20,000 in winter, this was strange. After the sixth attempt my happiness was dripping into despair.
Despair, myself and my backpack trudged across the main road. I slouched past an estate agent’s just as a woman came out through the shiny door, locking it behind her. She was a bespectacled lustrously raven-haired lady, mid-40’s, slim, elegant. Catching her eye, I murmured “Hola” and asked why all rooms were full.
She told me, in English, that today begins the 28th Annual Convention on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation… that Loreto is home to five out of seven of the world’s marine turtles. “This week Loreto turns into Turtle Town!” she exclaimed. I couldn’t have cared less at that point.
“So, no rooms” she added. “I must go, I have closed office.”
“I need a room tonight” I blubbered. Her eyes scoured me; trustingly she took pity on me. Ushering me into the office, she disappeared into the cleaning closet, emerging with a mattress, then a pillow and blanket. “You sleep here tonight” she announced, pointing at the office floor. My utter surprise and relief was evident : I thanked her profusely.
She didn’t want payment but I insisted she accept something. With my $5 offering, she’d buy pastries juice and coffee to leave in the staff kitchen for me. I was to leave before office opening at 8.30am. She wished me a good night and left.
I slept badly, not used to ever having overnighted in a Mexican office during a Turtle Convention but I was safe, comfortable and rested. I dozily wandered the town next day, ingested the joyous atmosphere, witnessed caring humans in turtle costumes…. and yes, bought the T-shirt!
I still wear it, 14 years later. A memory to the kindness of Maria and Turtle Town.