The Gypsy Carpenters are heading north in about a week. Our time in Mexico is swiftly wrapping up. I am not ready to return to the US. Last year my Trumpitis sent me to the hospital. I’m hoping I’m immune but only exposure will tell. Meanwhile we are making the most of our time here. We’ve taken the kids out on several outdoor expeditions during the last two weeks.
Twelve of us visited arroyo San Jacinto and walked a mile to the waterfall. Before we arrived Burt and I wondered if the kids would appreciate a creek walk to a small waterfall. Did they know what to do? They sure schooled us in how to have fun. They stripped off their shoes and ran in the creek and hopped on boulders and wallowed in the shallow water. Burt had to show them how to get into the waterfall but once he coaxed them in there was no stopping them. All ten of them went nuts. It reminded me we knew how to play when we were young and barefoot, too. What a gift for us to remember what it was like to run light and quick over rock and sand.
I recently have been exploring a tract of brushy land just below our pueblo’s rudimentary sewage treatment facility. Birds love flies and this overgrown thicket that receives the treated wastewater is full of them every morning after yoga. I haven’t yet remembered my binoculars so these expeditions are naked eye sightings. Even in my expired prescription lenses I routinely spot more than 15 species of birds in just a few minutes.
Today I wandered deeper into the thicket than usual. Burt’s out of town for the morning so my time was my own. I followed some trails and tried to figure out if there was any standing water. Last week there was a massive leak of raw sewage and I was also looking to see how far that toxic muck had reached. As I drew deeper into the thorny shrubbery I thought, ‘if I hurt myself I hope somebody knows to contact ebird and find out where I am.’ My eBird app tracks where I walk (if I ask it) and allows scientist to see more clearly where observers are finding birds.
The blue line in this photo is my ebird track from this morning. Today is Friday the 13th. The red star is where I turned around and found a man with a machete and pit bull following me. I’m not sure who was most frightened, the man or the dog. No, it was me. I had no idea they were there. Jason was in the Baja and eBird was not going to help. But then I saw the man had a strong family resemblance to a friend and decided I wasn’t going to be dismembered and left in the dried up sewage discharge lagoon after all. Jason wears a mask and this guy was clearly German’s brother. I bid him a good morning and got out of his way. He was there harvesting sticks of some sort. He probably made the trail I was following.
With Semana Santa still going strong the kids are out of school and bored just like when we were young. Semana Santa is a two week long school holiday that spans the week before and the week after Easter. Burt and I decided to take advantage of our roaming hooligans freedom and show then the area. We crammed 11 of the kids into the Exploder and took them to a secret pocket beach. Cramming 11 kids in a car without seat belts is also reminiscent of when we were young. It’s troubling. I lost a lot of sleep the night before this adventure thinking about the five minutes of highway driving, the 100′ cliffs we would walk along, and the rough Pacific ocean they would play in. I put that all out of my mind and we headed out.
Our outing was to an exposed cliff side hike up and over the rocky coast and down into a small sandy cove with milder than normal currents. Bobby Mc from down the beach drove down in her quad and met us with boogie boards and life jackets. This hidden spot is not widely known and requires either the mile long walk we chose or a two mile sand walk. Beach walking is hard. If you have a quad you can take it. Sometimes there’s a sea cave at this cove and sometimes there isn’t. It just depends on where Mother Nature has put the sand.
As usual, the kids were well behaved. Before we left I gave them some ground rules. No running on top, no pushing, follow Burt, etc. They complied. I was in the rear when the bulk of them reached to first view point. I could feel the collective shock and awe from 50 yards back. The kids were stunned by the cliff top views. I’m pretty sure none of them had been at such an exposed spot over the ocean.
Down in the sand I found the entrance to the cave. Frixicia crawled in and after about a body length of worming her way under she could stand up. She sent out the bat call and it was a melee. Five kids piled into the nearly buried cave. They took turns crawling in and out. The claustrophobes and I stayed outside. Burt watched the other kids playing at the water’s edge. Eventually my curiosity beat down my anxiety and I crawled in alone. I was fine until the kids tried to join me and blocked the entrance. I ordered them away and made as hasty an exit as I could on my belly. I’m still finding sand in my crevices.
Tomorrow is our annual singing event at the Festival del Chile y La Fresa. The kids are not singing beautifully but they are enthusiastic.
I baked two loaves of jalapeño cheese bread this week. One lasted long enough to make it to Ladies Bridge yesterday. That’s two weeks in a row where I made food instead of purchasing something. It’s a record for me. Despite this admirable streak of DIY cookery I maintain a healthy disdain for all things domestic. Burt’s role as chief feeder is no threatened.
Despite the domestic exhaustion I managed a spontaneous outing with five of the kids. We took a hike to the arroyo called Agua Para Los Cochis. The water for the pigs arroyo is up and over a ridge just south of Pescadero. Several notable things happened on the hike. The kids were quite alarmed we were driving on rough roads and hiking without Burt. They seemed to be under the impression that this was a man’s job. That gave me a giggle. Burt was resting from his first match in the three day Aprils Fools Tennis Tournament. I played good wife and spectated. The match was enjoyable but not much exercise so I scheduled the walk with the kids. Let’s have a huzzah for an inadvertent blow to gender roles.
Elvis and Olive accompanied us on the walk, too. Now for you or me dogs on a hike is normal. In Mexico most dogs never leave the yard. Many spend their lives chained to a tree and act as biological security alarms. The kids were stunned into silence when the dogs came with us. They know our dogs but were quite alarmed to find them in the car. Despite months of exposure they remain unconvinced that Elvis doesn’t plan to eat them. Of course, I never even considered this a cultural exchange moment until it was underway. By the end of our two hour hike the kids were keeping their eyes on the pooches and calling to them. They all wanted to whistle like me. I have a good sharp dog calling whistle. I tried to teach them how to do it but it was a failure. On the car ride back the kids were willing to share their seat with Elvis. Elvis, though silent, clearly adores the children. Olive hates them.
Then there was the hiking itself which was exactly like hiking with seven year-olds anywhere. Feet hurt, teeth came loose, someone fell, there was water and mud to complain about…There was: how far is it? Have we reached the top? and I ran out of waters. And then there were the rocks. I mean to tell you I never knew rocks could be so interesting. Before the hike started I handed out ball caps to protect the kids from the sun. The ball caps became rock bags as soon as we arrived. Half an hour in I was being begged to take the rocks. What luck that I did not have a bag or a pocket to spare. I suggested placing the rocks in a pile for later. The kids slavishly carried 10 pounds of rocks around until their arms gave out. Then they would drop the pile and start over again. Every arm load ended with them begging me to help carry the rocks. I held firm. There are rocks near the car, I said. There are rocks in the road, I said. There are rocks at home, I said.
When we were on our last march uphill and headed to the car, Janexi yelled from far behind, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.” She was carrying 8 rocks. I yelled, “Drop the rocks, kid.” She dropped the rocks and caught up. Happily no tears were shed. I held her hand the last stretch. After 4 miles and two hours of walking we landed safely back at the car. The kids demanded the promised rocks at the car. I found out I was a liar. The rocks sucked where we parked the car. I did what I could to dig up a few to salve the betrayed rock hounds but I felt like a bad girl for promising rocks where there were none.
We’re planning another walk this week. I will not have a bag. If I had had a bag I would have had 60 pounds of rocks to carry and then the commotion of sorting out who’s rock was who’s.
Burt proceeded to win all his tennis matches. Today, after his last match, we headed north into the countryside. The desert is full of birds in the uninhabited areas. Migration is in full force. Large flocks of sparrows would get up and fly away whenever we stopped. Burt and I reached a new wetland called Boca Carrizal. There we found some snowy plovers, a willet, and a great blue heron. On the way we saw thirty more species of birds. It was a good day.
People are down on Facebook these days. I get it. They used our data and let people manipulate us. It’s bad. It’s also pretty easy to control things and limit who sees what. I have everything public but I also restrict who and what posts in my feed. No meme generators. No extreme partisan groups. I block or delete racists, sexists, hateful people. I use Facebook to find my people. It works pretty well. Last week I met a group of young birders just learning the feathers of our winged friends in Cabo San Lucas. College kids studying eco-tourism or ornithology were just a few clicks away and Facebook hooked us up. This week we went out twice together. I hope for many more trips.
Our first gathering was an urban park in downtown Cabo. I found the announcement of the trip on my Facebook feed. It was just an easy 40 minute drive from our house. Burt and I arrived and we met the students and tehir professor. We split up and practiced a scientific census of birds in a restricted area during a limited time. Everyone seemed pleased that a pair of gringos showed up to help. Afterwards we went out for beers and ceviche. Over beer we made plans for a more intensive trip. We pay for gas and food and the profe would take us out.
This Sunday, the professor, Emer Garcia, took us to one of his favorite Baja California Sur bird spots. Over the course of a few miles and a few hours we found forty species of birds, three of them lifers for us and several more were new for Baja. It was a big day. But more importantly we made like-minded friends that care about this place. Emer’s student Joaquin was great fun and will be a wonderful guide for anyone interested in the area. Juan, a local land owner was also easy to pass the time with and curious to learn about what we were doing. I’m optimistic we can help bring more people here and protect our environment. Stay tuned.
Yesterday Burt and I saw a new dentist and a new dermatologist. We needed regular checkups. Even though we are insured in the US it is cheaper and easier to schedule these things here in Mexico. On the downside teeth cleaning is not as rigorous or vigorous. If you read teeth cleaning research you might conclude it’s all overblown anyway. There are some scientists that say teeth cleaning (at least the frequency) is unproven as a preventative to gum disease. After poking around and spending about 15 minutes polishing my teeth the new dentist announce two of my crowns needed to be replaced. No x-rays, no inquiry about the history of these two crowns. I politely asked if I could wait until next season. We’re running low on time and cash and I wanted time to ask my dentist in the US if he thought it was time to replace them, too. At first the dentist was willing to wait. These crowns are 25 years old and have been a literal and figurative sore spot for most of those years. I work very diligently to keep the area free of food. My dentist (and several I’ve seen along the way) always took a wait and see approach. Many of the dentists and hygienists have commented that it’s the finest crown they’ve ever seen. Great crown in a bad situation. We got a quarter of a century with the wait and see attitude. I wanted time to consult and see if there were changes that dictated removal. I tried to make it clear that I didn’t doubt the dentist. We were speaking easily in English and Spanish. Sadly the dentist took umbrage. She became more rigid and tried to scare me when I reiterated that I would come back next season for her to take another look. I smiled, shrugged, and left.
Now I have to see another dentist. I’m going to make an appointment in the US with the clinic that installed this masterpiece of dentition. Maybe it is time. Maybe the dentist saw some scary changes. Too bad she felt the need to try and coerce me with fear rather than explain and listen. This could have happened anywhere.
Burt and I both loved the dermatologist. She took a lit magnifying glass to every dark spot on my skin. It was a long process. She declared them all fine for now. Then she suggested a minor tune up of my face. For $5 a piece she removed three funny skin changes on my face (clogged glands). Afterwards she declared Burt has perfect skin despite his utter failure to apply sunscreen. This could only happen in Mexico. We’ll be seeing her next year.
In between the dentist and the dermatologist we visited Baja California Sur’s second most prolific bird spot: The La Paz sewage treatment lagoons. Burt and I have a running joke about all the shit holes he takes me to visit. Usually they are fun places but ugly. I finally beat him at his own game. I took him to an actual shit hole. We saw many amazing birds including four new species. If we’d had time to sit we’d have seen even more. There were scads little birds flitting in the green bushes that we couldn’t quite get an eyeball on. We’ll be back here, too.
Sunday morning walk with our neighborhood acrophobic was nearly cut short. Burt and I had forgotten our friend was afraid of high, cliffy spaces and nearly ruined his day. Burt and he turned around for a safe beach walk and I went up the hill with Olive. The TuVus came to say hello to us. Olive reeks of fetid mud so maybe they wanted to make sure we weren’t dead.I’m still a few checklists away from 15 with photos so I grabbed these shots for the eBird competition.
I think the birds are starting to talk to me. Yesterday a roadrunner met me in the exact same spot he met me last week. Yesterady, as I walked along the edge of a dry playa I pish pish pished to see who was in scrub. Pishing causes some birds to move about and lets you see where they are. A roadrunner leapt up and landed on a solitary cardon cactus and sang to me. There was a roardrunner on this very same cactus a week ago. I’d never heard a roadrunner speak before yesterday. Immediately I knew why the roadrunner is in the cuckoo family. We made a date for next Saturday.
I am continuing on with my attempts to win high end binoculars from eBird.org by entering their monthly birding challenges. In the name of citizen science eBird has a challenge every month and also for the. This year’s contest requires at least one complete bird list for every day of the year. I don’t have to bird every day but I have to submit at least 365 lists during the year. I am at well over 100 and it’s only March so that shouldn’t be a problem. There’s also a drawing for binoculars for people that complete every monthly challenge of the year. And there’s a pair of binoculars given away every month for the monthly contest. Last month’s contest was easy shmeezy. The contest was designed to get people birding and reporting to eBird so I had to share at least 15 checklists. Burt was my main companion and recipient of the shared checklists. Even with both of us completing the challenge we still did not win.
This month’s contest is a real pain. I have to submit at least 15 checklists with media attached. That means I have to include photos or sound recordings of the actual birds on that day’s list. Not all the birds but at least one from the list. No historic photos allowed. That day, that list. Since I usually bird by phone using the eBird app I considered just submitting a bunch of terrible phone shots of birds in shrubs and palm trees. You have to rate your photos so I would just rate them all poor. But then I started thinking it would be my kind of luck to win the drawing with a bunch of shoddy photos. How embarrassing would that be? Fuzzy photos of feathery blobs from too far away. I couldn’t do it. Instead I’m birding from bed. It’s a lot easier than heading out with phone, binoculars, and camera with telephoto lens.
Our feeding station is just outside our window. I can sit in bed and make a list and take some photos without breaking a sweat or dropping my tools. If I win I’m still going to be embarrassed but at least my pictures are pretty good quality. Today a turkey vulture (feeling sorry for me) flew by in the little triangle of sky I can see. The bird on bird action has been hot and heavy these last few days. Longer light and warmer weather have cued up the hormones of desire and the doves are jumping each other. They are so quick I can’t get a picture.That’s kind of embarrassing for them and me.
Yesterday I tried to buy bird food but our local tienda only had chicken scratch. It’s not very popular with the birds. They spend a lot of time kicking it out of the feeders looking for their favorite morsels. I could be in trouble.
Today is the International Day of the Woman. In Mexico it’s a real day. I’d never heard of the day of the woman before coming here but I like it. A big shout out to all you women trying to make the world a better place.
Yesterday Burt and I took a handful of our kids and Vikki to see a locally made documentary called Patrimonio. All the world over the love of money is destroying culture and the environment. The gap between the haves and have nots is widening. This story is as old as history. Sometimes the Davids of the world fight back. Sometimes they win. I’ll be first in line to say it’s not always easy to tell who is on the good side. Here in Baja California Sur there is a fight between a fisherman’s cooperative and real estate developers. Some claim nobody is good in this story. I’ll grant it’s complicated but I believe it’s obvious what is good and what is evil.
This story has a cast of characters that includes the governor of Colorado, CSU, yoga teachers, artists (and that’s the bad guys) and a lawyer, fishermen, local residents. The Tres Santos development was conceived as a holistic, natural down to earth, farm to table kinda woowoo goodness place to live. The company hired a bunch of hippies to sell their green washing life of harmony BS and then proceeded to bribe, bulldoze and intimidate their way across the beach. They stole water from the municipality and held sales meetings in NJ to convince people they were building a nirvana in the desert. For a year our so I vowed to not have an opinion. This isn’t my land. Mexicans should decide for themselves what to protect and what to develop. Then the Tres Santos people started selling this idea of living in touch with nature while destroying one of the few tracts of mangroves on this side of the southern peninsula. They destroyed the fishermen’s launching area and plowed up one of the few homes of Belding’s Yellowthroat, an endangered bird. I started developing an opinion. Tres Santos had plenty of space to build in an environmentally sensitive manner. They chose not to in direct violation of Mexican law and prudence.
The fishermen and their lawyer tried to negotiate. They hired a lawyer. When requests for meetings and negotiations were ignored they blockaded the road to the site. This was a peaceful blockade. Other supporters started working social media. There were parades. There were protests at government offices. It was all met with stonewalling or intimidation. People were threatened with arrest. Others were beaten. Still the fishermen and their community supporters resisted. Meanwhile it was all being filmed. In real time the fight was documented. I started developing more opinions.
Last year in a desperate act of intimidation the resistance’s lawyer and a client were arrested under false pretenses. They were held without bail for over three months. This did not play out well for Tres Santos. I think they made a gross miscalculation. My opinions about whether or not this company had anyone’s best interests at heart were long since gone but now I knew they would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.
It’s all in this movie called Patrimonio. The older kids from our English class were mesmerized watching their neighbors stand up to armed federales and incompetent government officials. Afterwards they asked me to introduce them to the star of the film, John Moreno. I don’t know Mr. Moreno but on their behalf I asked him to come meet my kids and he was happy to do it. At dinner afterward the kids quoted Mr. Moreno: The law is my sword and my rights are my shield. I am so pleased I took them to see this film. I hope someday you can see it too. Someday one of these kids might remember that line when they need to stand up and fight.
Last week 17 kids showed up to our neighborhood kid collective. SEVENTEEN. For the love if Pete, what are we supposed to do with 17 kids aged 3 to 16? Coincidentally this was the same day my Spanish teacher and friend Ivonne came out to help. She brought books and crayons and experience. Ivonne quickly split the group into two groups by age. I had the oldest kids. We read Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss. Another coincidence was we had just been working on the phrase I am… when Sam, I am showed up. So we did it in a boat and with a goat and we ate Green Eggs and Ham. Another tidbit of weirdness, Green Eggs and Ham was the first book I recall given to me as a gift. My kindergarten teacher gave it to me as a going away present the day we moved.
That night I had a bit of a panic attack. We don’t have enough chairs. I don’t know how to teach English. There are too many kids eager for something to do. I calmed down. Then yesterday only seven kids showed up. And those seven came at two different times. Getting these kids here on time is a real challenge. Nobody is sending them. They just wander up when they realize it’s Tuesday afternoon. So one group was 45 minutes early and another group was 10 minutes late. They didn’t even over lap. I was still in the shower when the first group arrived. Burt played some songs while I dried and dressed. We played Concentration with a deck of cards after a few minutes of I ams….
This weekend we played our usual Bridge and birded saturday. On Sunday we were docents on the annual Palapa Society Historic Home Tour. Burt and I spent the morning hosting visitors into a home on the tour. We had a few facts but mostly it was a lot of I don’t knows. Our assigned house wasn’t even a home. It currently serves as a partially restored place for special events. It’s for sale. The home property originally occupied an entire city block but that was all subdivided a long time ago. When, you ask? Nobody knows. Nobody even knows when the house was originally built by Don Dominguez, sugar baron. Records are scarce. Todos Santos was a Spanish mission town. The missions were abandoned after the Mexican War for Independence. Records disappeared with them. Then there was a resurgence of people in the area with the sugar business in the late 1800s. Then came the Revolution and records went to pieces again. Then the sugar industry collapsed when the aquifer dried up. Todos Santos was a ghost town again. Records were lost. Again. It looks like we haven’t learned from the first water crisis. Todos Santos is having its fourth big boom and there’s still not much water. I wonder if farmers or big developers will prevail or if it will all blow away one more time.