Dia de Muertos is an important cultural celebration in many parts of Latin America but especially in Mexico but in Baja it hasn’t been a major event. Baja does not have the typical depth of culture one imagines when thinking of Mexico. The peninsula is distant from the mainland and different people lived here at the time of the Spanish invasion than on the mainland. The culture here reflects a long history of stoic ranchers heavily influenced by Catholic missions who in turn were heavily influenced by the Moorish occupation of Spain. Some ranching techniques, community values, and artisan crafts can be tied back to skills the Moors brought to Spain. But things in Baja are changing. More mainlanders are moving here and as they settle they bring their cultural traditions with them. I also think the beauty and emotion behind the celebration appeals to people of many walks of life and so Day of the Dead is simply growing in popularity based on its merits. The holiday has been included on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. I am glad it is becoming more popular in our part of Mexico.
Dia de Muertos celebrates death as a part of life by welcoming deceased loved ones for a visit home and sharing their memories. The ofrenda is built with photos, favorite food and drink, special belongings to welcome the dead home. By building the altar, selecting the food, the baseball mitt or hair clip, we focus, we remember, we feel and we do it as a community. It is a happy time. A celebration of reunion. There are parades and public art events. People dress as catrinas (skull faces) and try death on for a day. It’s all very moving and gorgeous. In Todos Santos this year there was a local show featuring live music and dancers, special talks about the traditions, and a blowout concert event featuring “Mexico’s Frank Sinatra.” The last event also featured blowout prices.
We went big on Halloween. Halloween is our neighbor April’s favorite holiday. When we told her this summer we’d be back in late October she asked me to shop for Halloween costumes for the kids. She also advised me they had all grown substantially in the four months since we left Pescadero. Good thing she did because the kids barely squeezed into outfits I thought would easily be big enough. Childhood obesity in rates in Mexico are second only to the US. Baja Caifornia Sur has the highest obesity rates in the country. Meanwhile, we took the gang trick or treating. The irony was not lost on us. At least they walked.
Halloween has mixed reception in Mexico because it competes/overlaps with Day of the Dead festivities. Of course the origins of both are similar, christian mythology incorporated indigenous pre-exisiting traditions into their All Saints celebrations. In Europe we got Halloween. Today’s Halloween is a lighthearted, superficially spooky affair focused on door to door candy. In Mexcio the amalgamation resulted in Dia de Muertos and today it is still a complex multi-day festival honoring deceased loved ones and welcoming them home for a visit. I will not attempt a meaningful explanation. There are many ways of celebrating publicly and privately. More in the next post. Back to Halloween here. Halloween in Baja California Sur seems to have been welcomed as a compatible but separate event. You can do both.
Our neighborhood gang gathered at April’s and got to work dressing and face painting. Lots of scary faces. Skulls, spiders, wounds…Glorious gore. After the several hours of this we headed to town for a Trick or Trunk event April had organized. It started slow because we started too early. We milled about with decorated children and cars and big bowls of candy for about 45 minutes. As dark settled around us the goblins of Todos Santos started coming out. Suddenly we were out of candy and it was time to flee as more and more kids started coming by our parked cars. Not to selves: Next year start later and bring more candy. Next we took our 11 kids and 5 adults on a walk through downtown and we hit up restaurants and stores. Many were prepared for the trick or treaters. After that we headed to La Casa de la Abuela. The haunted house!!!! La abuela was a little late getting her place ready so we sang La llorona and sorted out who was ready to go in and who was not ready to go in. Finally at 7:20 Grandma invited us in for a tour but first our group was reorganized by them (a keen psychological trick that separated kids from their favorite companions and heightened their fear). Grandma was in control.
We were group one and I was the front person. We were advised nobody would touch us. Two 8 year old girls and two ten year old boys followed me. Rafa had the back of the line. The girls were terrorized. I was, too, because for the life of me I couldn’t see where to go and the rookie staff wasn’t sure how to guide without touching. Finally a desperate hand grabbed me (shocked, I screamed) and led me through the maze. The exit door we found ourselves stuck. The door was locked. Intentionally or unintentionally? Who knows? So I tried to go back. Goblins said no. Door still locked. We circled a table round and round. Funny, it was the table where I take Spanish class. I new hell had manifested in place of Spanish classes. I was trapped with 4 screaming kids in a room with no exit. I beat on the door. Rafa beat on the door. The room ghoul beat on the door. The door beat back. It did not open. I broke the rules and took some flash free photos. Other groups were backed up behind us. A new ghoul arrived and unlocked the door and we burst free into a slightly less oppressive night.
Immediately all the kids swore they were not scared. I did not disabuse them of this idea while they beat their chests and mocked the abuela but I have proof and I present it below. Boo to you!
A week ago we pulled up to our Baja property. Every year when we pull in there’s a bit of post-Odile PTSD combined with the happiness of being home. All summer we wonder if our plants are getting enough water. We wonder if the rains washed something away. We wonder how the neighborhood kids spent their time. We arrived this year to an abundance of growth on most of our plants, new and old, and only two fatalities. A pair of Palo de Arco plants didn’t make it but they are also the easiest to replace and the fastest growing. Their nearest sisters will quickly overtake their vacant spots. The six Palo Blanco trees we put in were only 4″ tall five months ago and all of them survived. One has at least ten times more vegetation than when we left. It was a remarkably successful growing season. Our gardener, Vikki, and Mother Nature did a superb job applying water and weeding. VIkki was rewarded with her usual pay, a pile of used clothes to sell or share, and a few new solar gadget to use when the power goes out. Baja’s power grid is failing and they experienced a number of blackouts this summer. Our new home will be solar.
The kids all look good too. After a 2 hour crisis where I could not find the new clothes I had promised them we are all back in good standing. I jest. Despite the lost clothes they were thrilled to see us. When the new clothes were found they were thrilled to see the new clothes. New tights and tees and socks and underwear all around. It kills me to see how happy they are to get socks and underwear. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I like new panties and fun socks too.
It’s hot but like my granny said, “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity.” But she never said ain’t. Grandmas was correct. It’s sweaty. Thanks to my year of hot flashes I’m not too perturbed. In fact, I can hardly tell if I’m having hot flashes now. I’m just always sticky and a bit uncomfortable everywhere I go. It may sound terrible but there is an upside. I’m mostly sleeping through my night sweats. Burt and I have a theory that I’m always in a pool of seat so I don’t notice a new surge. In spite of the sweat Burt has our power and water running. We’ve been to La Paz to start the process to extend our visas. We’ve played Bridge. I’ve been to yoga. Mexican life is resuming as normal.
The dogs are all well and the yard has lightened our care taking load. Chava is proving himself to be completely without fear or sense in the ocean. He swims into the break and just takes waves on the noggin. The other day he was caught inside and Burt had to go to him and spin him around back towards shore. I think Chava would’ve kept trying to get outside the breakers until he sank. He’s going to wear a bright yellow life jack from now on so we can see him. Surfing lessons are coming soon.
Happy Halloween. Photos of all the kids in the costumes I brought them will be up soon. Also, it’s Dia de Muertos time. Remember your lost loved ones. They are here visiting this week.
I though I had some show pictures but I can’t find them. You can see some fun videos on our Gypsy Carpenter’s Facebook page. It’s public. Sue made us two gorgeous rugs. Chava vomited on one the first night. Sue said, Yay! Rugs ar emade for using.
Wow. Every year there’s more of my friends at Portal Irish Music Week and I wonder why I only get to see most of them only once a year. I wish it was more often. Thanks everyone for showing up. I’m filled with gratitude. Next year is the tenth anniversary so I’m going to save the speechifying for then. Today I’m really grateful we’ve made it this far.
Our concertina and fiddle instructor Colin Lindsay hung around for a few extra days and we bagged two peaks and played a show. The summer at elevation paid off when I succeeded in submitting Silver Peak. The hike covered 3000′ in elevation gain over four miles. I was none too sure I could manage it but I did. Slow and steady. The next day we played a show and then the next day we hiked another 8 or so miles at near 10,000′. Friday last we left the Chiricahuas and headed to Palm Desert to see Burt’s Aunt Carol and Uncle George.
Uncle George is in a memory care facility. It’s a real home outfitted for 6 or 7 residents. We were pleased to see him in a nice place with caring staff. The Gypsy Carpenters whipped them into a frenzy with These Boots Are Made For Walking and the Hokey Pokey. Burt and I swapped crying back and forth. If one of us was falling apart the other held it together. I was the first to fall apart because it all felt so eerily similar to seeing my mom at the end of her life. It was less than three years ago when she died. I wasn’t prepared to see my mom in all the residents faces.
Now we are in La Jolla. We’ll finish chores tomorrow and cross into Mexico on Wednesday.
Five of us, two humans and three dogs, fled Montana ahead of a record breaking blizzard 10 days ago. Montana got a lot of snow, we hit a lot of places. Portal Irish Music Week attendees gather on Wednesday night. It’s Monday night and as much as we’d like to see people in Portal and catch up before camp we’re hanging out in the high country. There’s no fence at our campsite and Portal temperatures have been a little too high to use the truck as a kennel so we’ve spent the week on public lands where people are few and the weather is balmy. The weather is predicted to cool off by Saturday so that will make canine management slightly easier but with fifty people and my dad and his girlfriend all descending on Portal at the same time the dogs are going to be a pain in the tookus no matter how you look at it.
Here’s where we’ve been: Camas National Wildlife Refuge, Curlew National Wildlife Refuge, the Golden Spike National Historic Site, the Hawk Watch Site in the Goshutes, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Zion National Park, the Pariah River BLM area, Wupatki National Cultural Area, Sunset Crater, Meteor Crater National Landmark, and San Francisco Hot Springs.
Curlew NWR isn’t worth a visit but the road it’s on is worth driving. Cathedral Gorge State Park is a lovely site with a few fun and easy trails, plus hot water. Pahranagat NWR is worth a visit and a few days, especially if you have a canoe and some time. Boating season is restricted so check ahead. Zion we just drove through. That was really a fun thing. More below. Wupatki was hot so I stayed with the dogs. Felonies are best avoided unless you are a siting president. If you’re president I guess you can do whatever the fuck you want. Leave your dog in a hot car Mr. Trump and we’ll see how long you last. Oh, you don’t have a dog. Oops, I lost my train of thought. Sunset Crater is a forested area with interesting volcanic formations but you can’t walk the crater. Meh. Meteor Crater is mind blowing because it stands as a monument to one guy’s scientific discovery. More below.
So Zion. Zion National Park is a postage stamp sized park compared to Yellowstone. It straddles two sides of a highway. To gain access to the heart of the park you must park (English, so fun) and take a shuttle. There was no parking in the park on that day but the drive through is gape worthy. Our gNash trailer is a mere 2″oversized for a highway tunnel on the route through the park but for $15 the National Park Service Stops traffic and lets you drive the tunnel down the middle of the road. Not wanting to be a nuisance we wondered if we should just drive around but we’d burn way more than $15 in fuel to skip the tight tunnel. Here’s the simple system to prevent head-ons in the tunnel. An oversized vehicle (us) arrives at a kiosk at one end of the tunnel. The attendent calls ahead to the other side and says, “Stop the traffic” or “wide load” or “road hog”. The attendant on the other end gives a white baton to the last car through from his direction and halts traffic. The baton holder travels the tunnel and as they exit they give the baton to the attendant on our side. The road hog is given the all clear to enter the tunnel. With lights on they straddle the yellow line for a mile and a half. There are view windows along the route. This was fun and worth every cent.
Meteor Crater National Monument has been on my do list since circa 1986 when we passed by on a western US rock climbing trip. I’ve always been intrigued by photos of the enormous blast crater. The meteor conveniently struck on I-40 just east of Flagstaff. Well, it was before I-40 but what a nice coincidence. I’ve probably driven in the vicinity 20 times. I think it’s either been too expensive or inconvenient on previous outings. The monument is privately owned so it’s not eligible for a free pass under our Senior Access Permit but I made Burt take me. A few years back we visited a meteor crater in Texas and it was such a let down I just had to see this one. If you’re passing through I say 5 stars. This site was discovered a long time back but interestingly at the time scientists believed it was just another volcanic crater. One guy, A. Foote, in 1891 said it was a meteor crater. Nobody believed him, but he was correct. Then another guy, Daniel Barringer, came to the same conclusion. He was so confident he bought the site. Still nobody believed him. All that volcanic stuff was obfuscating the situation. It wasn’t until 1960 that the scientific community caught up. Finally. Red meat anyone? The area has been protected and marketed by the Barringer family for several generations. They have built a fun and interesting interpretation center. It was too hot to leave the dogs for long so I didn’t get to play with as many of the toys as I wanted but I was satisfied with our visit. Thumbs up. Read more HERE or HERE. And they have a dog kennel for hot days. Our dogs would have filled the place if we’d opted to use it.
There’s evidence in these photos that we did enjoy a day, or moment, of lovely weather at the Camas National Wildlife Refuge. Camas was established in 1937 to provide resting and feeding habitat during spring and fall migrations. The refuge is located right next to I-15 and I am embarrassed to admit I’d never stopped in 30 years of passing it by. Burt and I finally pulled in last spring and now it’s on the do not pass without stopping list. It’s up there with our favorite pizza and ice cream joints now. So easy, so lovely, so many birds. Oddly, there are never any official humans there. There’s an office, some maintenance shops, and houses but we haven’t met a person responsible for protecting or interpreting the area.
We spotted some trumpeter swans and I snuck through the grasses to get a bit closer. I wanted a shot of the swan’s visible, green, numbered tag. I knew people out there are monitoring the tagged birds. I sent the photos in to the Trumpeter Swan Society and received word that they were excited to have the documentation. I learned that R32 is a male that has been seen at Camas before. These birds summer in the arctic and winter in the south. R32 likely was just recently arrived in Idaho. I also learned that he hasn’t had much luck procreating. They were happy to hear and see evidence of a companion. These enormous birds migrate in family groups.
Tundra swans were nearly obliterated at the turn of the last century. There were only 69 known individuals in 1935. Feathers and whatnot. Now they are one of the great conservation success stories. They have rebounded to over 35,000 individuals but threats remain. These gorgeous birds, like so many, are losing vast tracts of important range to climate change. They are being flooded out. Just like humans.
We’ve fled Montana. A massive snow storm was coming our way and it was time to leave. That was Friday. Today is the first mostly sunny day we’ve seen. Trailer life is so mush nicer when it’s dry outside. But what’s a little discomfort when we’ve had so much more drama. The last two weeks: Three bears, front wheel bearings went out, the clutch linkage went out, Chava projectile vomited the wasabi peas he stole in the cab during a rain storm while moving, it rained and snowed so much that the inside walls were dripping, the Heat Buddy stopped working, we got stuck in the mud, and a trailer tire blew out.
On the upside Burt made mac and cheese, the bears didn’t eat me, all repairs were easily made if expensive, my spider egg hatched, and we had a nice turn around Camas National Wildlife Refuge. So here we are.
Yesterday we pulled up a sketchy road towards the Hawk Watch trailhead. This was after the vomiting, two truck repairs, and wet Olive scowls. Actual humans had told us it would be easy to pull our trailer in and camp. They suggested the Hawk Watch volunteers would love us if we brought chocolate and adult beverages. We had such happy thoughts of seeing eagles and hawks getting tagged and released. We stocked up on adult beverages and chocolate. The actual humans might not have been aware that a spring had hatched on the road and that there was a new steep, slick detour to avoid the morass. We arrived at the bottleneck and faced a risky attempt at trying the steep detour or a quarter mile back-up on a muddy but flat double track road. We parked and ate mac and cheese. There was vigorous but not heated discussion of our options. To get to sleep we deluded ourselves with the hope of roads drying or freezing enough to allow our passage. Of course, neither happened. In fact it all seemed wetter and more hopeless in the morning. This morning.
Burt made biscuits. We slathered them in butter and Todd’s homemade marmalade. I love Todd’s marmalade. I think we were carbo loading so we had the strength to face the agonizing reversal. While I was snoozing Burt had come to grips with the 1/4 mile backup. It wasn’t so bad once he got started. A little swiggly wiggly back and forth and he kept the trailer in the path. It took about 20 minutes. I walked along outside and minded my business. The day was looking up even if we did have to miss the birds.
Burt pulled off the highway just north of Ely, Nevada so we could eat lunch. He exited the vehicle looked at the trailer and said, “Holy Fuck.” We might be a bit to free with the F-bombs around here but Burt’s ashen face told me something really bad was about to become known to me. My thoughts immediately went to we clipped a cyclist and didn’t notice. Burt says I’m watching too many zombie shows. The situation was much less terrible but very scary. We’d blown out a tire on the trailer. Who knows when? The rim was shot and the tire shredded. How had we not wrecked? Could we change it? Well, yes we could. I Googled how to change a dualie tire. Drive up on a platform instead of a jack. So Burt got to building a series of platforms and we inched our way higher and higher. Then our knights in shining armor arrived. A tow truck guy out of Cedar City and his four year old son rolled up and offered to help. They had one of those super jacks.
Burt and our nameless superhero had the old tire off and the spare on in less that 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Chapman(?) and I laughed at Burt’s butt crack and examined our surroundings. Chapman wasn’t big on enunciation so I’m not confident I got his name correct. He offered me a piece of gum and was stunned when I declined. I told him he’d enjoy it more than me. Then he said (in earshot of his dad) don’t tell my dad. I’m not certain what I wasn’t supposed to tell his dad. That he had gum? That I didn’t like gum? I showed him our dogs, a dead deer leg, and a painted rock. He had to pee. I promised not to look. The job was done just like that and they refused payment. We motored into Ely and bought a new tire. While Burt waited on the tire I walked the dogs and found a domestic rabbit on the loose. A small, well groomed terrier was barking at the black and white floppy bunny. Back at the tire shop a heavily tattooed older woman was yelling loudly that the tire guys though she was a dumb bitch. Tire guys couldn’t find a leak in her tire. Somehow this was them trying to scam her. I didn’t like this scene since the two females were yelling about the men thinking they were stupid bitches and I was afraid I’d be asked to take sides. I decided to go back to the bunny and try to find the bunny’s home. I went back and snapped a picture. I walked around looking for a hutch in a yard or a sad lost bunny sign. No luck but the dissatisfied customers had left when I returned.
We are safe and dry and fed and warm. All is well. Burt was a super human today. XOXO Burt.
Burt went off on his annual backpack in Yellowstone with his lifelong buddy and I stayed home with the canine troop this weekend. It was a wet and cold time for all parties. The gNash furnace died last year and so now we use a Mr. Heater Buddy, a portable propane heater. Buddy is not a very reliable friend. He gives off an hour of heat and then the super sensitive oxygen monitor cuts off the burn. Day one was in the low thirties and I had only an hour of heat at bedtime and an hour in the morning. I stayed warm with dog sleeping companions and a steady stream of cooking.
Day two Sue and I met up for an afternoon hike during a gap in the rain. We had a glorious walk across the plateau west of Daley Lake. That evening me and the dogs piled into bed together again and kept our spirits up with rumors of a break in the rain the next day.
Today the reprieve showed up around 11:00 AM. I ate some egg salad and gathered everyone up for a hike. Before Burt left I joked I was going to stay warm boiling one egg at a time, all day long. It was almost that bad but it was tea, spaghetti, toast…and eggs. The day’s hike was also suggested by Burt before he left. He thought I should follow the trail off Jardine Road down to the confluence of Bear Creek and the Yellowstone River. His idea was that the trail passes through wide open country and I should be able to see any bears from a long distance. The down side is it is a hike into a hole. A deep hole.
With afib I try to avoid hikes into holes. The advantage to an uphill start is if I run into trouble I can always turn around and head down. If I have an afib attack and the only way home is up, I could be in a bit of trouble. Funny thing about how the world is laid out but most hikes start up hill. At least in the places we hang. So I weighed bears and holes and decided to take my chance with the hole. A also decided to give super-Elvis a chance to show the world he’s still tough. It all worked out great. No weird heart beats and Elvis made it up down without incident. We did 1500′ in 4.5 miles in about 2.5 hours. And more wonderful weather. I’m feeling hopeful that I can make it up to the Goshutes bird viewing area. That’s 2000′ in 2 miles up to 10,000′. It will be tough. Here’s the stuff we saw.
Burt is back safe and sound. They stayed warm and dry on their three day camp.