Why I Love Warm Days & Cold Oceans
On a day like today, when the SF fog has retreated, the air is still and the sun is strong, the Bay lies calm. Looking out on the day, the only thought that keeps distracting me away from this article is the longing to be in the ocean. No matter that this is the Pacific and the waters resemble stinging, frozen margaritas rather than the soothing warmth of a strong whiskey. This will be a short day that ends with me pedaling to the Cove and meandering into the water.
I know where this comes from; this need to get into the ocean, regardless of its temperature. In Episode 11, I describe the direct and continual link, Life Link, that pulses within the women in our Peruvian family. The draw to water is undeniable. The need to frolic in its energy and vastness. It’s our life source, our ‘on’ switch that fuels our soul and we respect its calling by putting everything aside and venturing to the water.
Summer Living in Mollendo
The first woman that I know who had this link is my grandmother, an Indigenous & Hispanic woman from Peru, who raised my mother and two sisters on her own after the sudden death of my grandfather at 33 years old. Maria Luisa was a feisty woman, all of 4’-11”, who fearlessly brought her little girls along with her as she lived her life large. Without remarrying or moving in with family or friends, she raised her girls with custom tailored fashion for Spring and Fall used on Parisian magazines.
Her sisters didn’t understand, or support, the choices she made for her family so I’m guessing there was a previous Life Link that handed down this DNA. Even so, Maria Luisa’s sisters managed to join in on the fun that she created. Funny how that happens. People ridiculing you for what you want to do then asking if they can come when you have it all figure out.
Every summer, my abuelita would gather her little girls, starting at 4, 6 & 8 years old, and all the belongings they would need to live on the beach for the summer. They would make the journey from their inland city, along the treacherous winding roads that led to the coast. The beaches of Mollendo are vast, both in depth and the length along the oceanfront. Huge wild waves of the open Pacific Ocean thunder one at a time, demanding attention individually. It reminds me of the beaches in Southern California without the pretense, just wilderness.
In 1934, there were no hotels or Airbnb’s to casually plan a beachside trip. Instead, Maria Luisa packed cast iron pans, milk cans for water, bamboo rods and cloth to build a structure, mattresses and blankets; everything that Nature would not provide them on the shore. They would stay for 3 months, frolicking in the huge ocean waves, drying out only long enough to eat, then diving back in the water. The cast iron skillets never had time to cool down between meals of fresh bread and eggs, Sopa ala Criolla and Arroz con frijoles.
Yura – Where Natural Springs Lure You In
Within this summerfest, the next generation of ocean creatures was secured, my mother. Her love of the water must have brought my grandmother immense joy and validation in having a bestie that needed no convincing to spontaneously go swimming. My mother would dive through the waves of the wild Pacific, threatening to take her out with each resurfacing. She would scramble along the shore, catching Fiddler crabs to tie a string around their one predominant claw in hopes of domesticating it for the Summer.
Her love of frigid water thrived even away from the beach. Back in their city of Arequipa, the white jewel glistening on a high, verdant desert plain, three volcanoes stand vigilant, their glacier caps melting into the Rio Chili that flows through the city. The fresh glacier water was used for typical daily living but, to my mother, the water had only one purpose: to fill the unheated, freshwater pool.
Every Sunday, my mama would rise early to catch the bus to Yura for 6am Mass. It was an hour long trip each way but the voyage had a specific purpose beyond religion. Yura is a town fed with natural springs, both hot and cold. One resort had a large pool that would be filled every morning from the natural springs; no chemicals, no heat. By the time Mass was over, the pool would be filled and my mother would rush to jump into the glacial waters, her slender figure offering no protection from the cold.
I’d like to believe that she made the effort to go to Mass in gratitude of her blessing, the natural waters that fueled her being. Gratitude for loving to be immersed in water and the blessing of having it so near her home, yet far from the scrutiny of her sisters at least once a week. Still, it may have been an ulterior motive, a small fib that she told her mother. “I’m going to Mass in Yura, mamacita. I’ll go early out of devotion and return to help you by the time my sisters wake up this afternoon.”
She took me there when I was young and knew these stories well. The Catholic church was made of stone block, including the floor. The pews were hewn from wood and the kneelers had no padding. The intensity of her devotion was palpable, both to her faith and her swimming, both feeding her soul, fueling her courage. The summers at the beaches of Mollendo had tempered her soul, secured a lifetime of self-love and confidence to follow it’s guidance.
California – The Next Best Place After Peru
By the time she landed in California, after years of being moved from one inland town to the next, she knew she would live nowhere else. From her humble beginnings in her new home, she would manage to save enough over the course of 12 years to buy her place on another beach, destined to spend summers and holidays with or without children. She had evolved beyond the bamboo poles and cloth structures but would frolic in the waves as though she were 6 years old again.
Here she would start the cycle over again and craft the next water creature: me. And so, it goes on: the yearning to be in water regardless of weather or temperature, manmade or wild, floating on top or deeply submerged. The water DNA is prominent and it only passes down through the women in our family. Perhaps it’s affirmation of the people’s goddesses that come from the water and to whom they pay homage for the gift of life. Water is truly a gift.