30 May 2018
Las Playitas, Baja California Sur
If you’re curious about what a workshop at Taller de Terreno might be like, imagine this scenario:
Waking up your first morning in Baja, you open your eyes and turn your head to glimpse outside your B&B window bright cerulean blue, cloudless skies and an ocean-horizon line edged with palms + cactus. Somewhere a dog is barking, roosters are crowing and you feel the pulse of that Pacific pounding. Bienvenido a Todos Santos!
You’re due at La Esquina by 8:30, so why not head there early for some huevos rancheros, cafécita and fresh-squeezed jugo de naranja? Free WiFi means a great chance to post a few pics of the drive up from Cabo while having desayuno, and the rumor is that TDT asks you to “unplug” (the rumor is true!). Part of the TDT experience is, after all, to get back in touch with nature. There will be plenty of time to catch up with Instagram later, after a physical day of arranging bricks, making pots, exploring the desert and beaches, and of course, eating tacos and sampling a few local Mezcals!
La Esquina is already hopping by 7:30am. Mexicans, Gringos, Euros, they’re all here milling about with colorful terra-cotta mugs and cell phones in hand. Counter service offers you the chance to quietly observe an entertaining line-up of local characters chatting comfortably with one another at the often-shared round tables. You opt for the gluten-free pancakes (con blueberries, of course) and settle down to deal with a few emails. (Buh-bye email after today, mañana you’ve forgotten it exists.) At 8:30 the TDT jittany arrives and you pile on-board with your seven, kiln-building cohorts.
The 5-mile ride to Taller de Terreno is the perfect way to wean off that Internet. Who can look at the phone when the scenery steals the show like this? Ocean for miles, and only one long beach road to travel. You bounce along, the washboard road being impressively wide, yet unpaved. The only traffic you encounter along the way is a small but stubborn group of cows who refuse to give up their piece of the camino. The jittany nudges its way gently through, and the cows go back to their chewing on dusty green scrub.
Just before 9am, this desert rig on which you’ve been perched (you chose the flip-down back seats for the adventure of it) pulls in through a rammed earth and steel gated entrada and makes its way down the driveway. The view catches you off-guard: a dramatic landscape of ocean, desert and the show-stopping Sierra Laguna Mountain range. Here in perfect view is what the indigenous people have named The Sleeping Giant. It’s easy to see how he sleeps. This tropical desert scene is muy tranquil, the town of Todos Santos visible as a neat line of low buildings just on the other side of the vast dessert-arroyo, with not much else in between but a few farm houses.
The morning flies by you in a palette of beige, brown, and blue. Bricks, plans, tools, demonstrations…and all of this without a computer or your iPhone. You can hardly believe it’s lunchtime already, and if it weren’t for that tempting scent of simmering garlic, fish and poblano peppers coming from the cocina, you might have even forgotten your stomach! And having cruised past a few farms on the way in this morning, you realize that most of what you’re about to eat is actually grown — and caught — locally. Everyone stops to take a break and enjoy the ocean view for a while. Talk begins about what’s going on in town tonight. Someone’s heard about an open-mic night at a new little cantina with great outdoor tables. (Later in the week you realize that all the bars and restaurants have outside seating — what’s surprising is when they have an actual concrete ceiling overhead!)
After lunch the class gets back to work. The new kiln site is tucked within the terrain in such a way that, like the other buildings at TDT, it can’t be easily seen. TDT aspires to integrate its structures into the landscape so that they seem to grow there, rather than intrude upon the natural environment. Cast-concrete and compacted earth walls emerge from rocky dips and rises of the desert terrain. Rooftops are weather-proofed and landscaped with living desert gardens. The entire rancho is solar-powered with grey-water collection for agricultural use. A walk around the grounds is more like a hike, with 7 acres of densely packed cactus and thorny brush, torote trees, rabbits, rocks.
A little later on, you decide to venture off into the arroyo to hunt for bones, first memorizing your orientation in relation to the orange roofline of the only neighbor in sight. With the ocean, mountains, and that rooftop in your mind’s eye, you pick your way down the cow path into the mystery of the sandy dry-river bed. A cowbell is faintly ringing somewhere, coming closer or maybe only brought closer by the ocean breeze. When you rejoin the group at the kiln site, you take a turn at the brick saw and impress yourself with your steady hand — your focus is better than usual, you notice.