By Gene Kira, July 8, 2002, as published in Western Outdoor News:
Driving through downtown Mexicali, the Toyota's super-accurate dashboard thermometer peaked at 114 degrees.
And on the San Felipe beach, about 125 miles later, it was an even, all-around 90 degrees: air temperature, sea temperature, and hotel pool temperature. San Felipe's "temps" were a beach-perfect 90 degrees, anyway you sliced it.
But last week, I was thinking of another kind of "temps"--as in Marcel Proust's glacial, seven-volume masterpiece novel, A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, or as it's generally known in English, "Remembrance of Things Past." Or, a bit more literally, "The Search for Lost Time (Temps)."
As a nostalgic ritual, one of the first things I always try to do in San Felipe is drive up the lighthouse hill at the north end of town, and visit the site of the old ice plant. (There's a photo of it on page 40 of The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez.) This is where we used to fill our giant coolers with block ice for anywhere from about 15 cents to maybe a dollar each, depending on the phase of the moon I guess, and we'd go fishing in a panga for corvina and croaker, or we'd begin the lonely drive south past Puertecitos on the Gonzaga Bay road.
The old ice plant was a long, low building, blue-and-white, partly covered in sheet metal, and they sold you four-foot-long barras from a loading dock that ran along its front. I'm not sure if it ever had any official hours or not, but it always seemed to be open when you needed it, and the ice was good.
The plant was built sometime in the late 1940s, and it had a long chute running down off the cliff that projected way out over the water. At high tide, the shrimp boats would come close to the cliff, and shaved ice, diesel fuel, and gasoline would be sent down to them.
As San Felipe grew, the old ice plant was replaced by a modern one downtown, and the original building stood abandoned, until it was finally demolished.
But on nearly every trip to San Felipe, I still drove up the hill, and I would seek out the old foundations and stand there, trying to visualize "Things Past"--the first wave of Guaymas totuaba fishermen who came north to found the town in the 1930s; the first shrimp boat fleets from Guaymas and Mazatlan; and Ray Cannon's first trip to Baja California, which happened at this very spot in 1947.
But no more.
On this last trip to San Felipe, I found every trace of my Baja mnemonic totem gone, bulldozed off the hill to make way for the soon-to-be opened "Boom-Boom" discotheque. Not only that, but a long, high pedestrian bridge now links the "old ice plant hill" with the town's malecon, passing right over the small tidal inlet where boats needing work of all kinds have been floated in on the tides since time immemorial.
I walked across the bridge, kicked at the clean, freshly-broken rock where the ice plant had once stood, and felt a real surge of sadness. Newcomers to San Felipe will never know what it looked like, or how cool those blocks of ice felt in the summer sun--with the entire, shimmering Sea of Cortez stretching south for 700 miles from that hill.
It was Saturday, and I knew that if I hurried to the marina there was a good chance of seeing all four of San Felipe's panga motherships tied up to the pier together.
Yes, there they were: the sway-backed Capt. Villegas with 9 pangas, the double-ended Erik with 8 pangas, and the smaller, wooden twin sisters, Jose Andres and Celia Angelina, with 6 pangas each. The predecessors of these venerable, converted work boats took San Felipe sport anglers fishing on the Sea of Cortez in the days when the ice plant was still new. Today, the tradition continues, almost unchanged, with these 4 boats, on trips to the fabled Midriff archipelago. With San Felipe growing bigger and bigger, and the old ice plant gone forever, these boats live on as reminders of Baja's historic "Temps Perdu."
(Related San Felipe articles and reports may be found at Mexfish.com's main San Felipe information page. See weekly fishing news, photos, and reports from the major sportfishing vacation areas of Mexico including the San Felipe area in "Mexico Fishing News.")