Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
Boys prefer red. I guess. I hate to generalize but there they are wearing red. Maybe it’s their parents? This week I gave away note pads as prizes for each kid that sang the Hello song solo. Everyone of them did it and did it well. Wheels on the Bus was revealed as a massive group effort of lipsyncing. All kids got the open and shut and round and round and back and forth but that was it. The connecting phrases evaporated into thin air if I didn’t lead the song. Five Little Monkeys had some gaps at this phrase: One fell off and hit his head. I’ve been demonstrating the hit head so many times I have a stiff neck so I was surprised to hear a lot of mumbling when the group sang it without me. More repetition. Less action on the head.
On the up side these phrases are solid:
1. Hello, how are you?
2. I am fine, thank you.
3. I like…insert a favorite color or food.
4. I am…insert age.
This is because Alejandra is working them hard and we review it in singing class. I can take credit for up, down, in and out, round and round, and do the Hokey Pokey.
Big news here: Mi papá va a visitarnos. My father is going to visit us. Holy cow. Talk about feeding the blog. What a font of material he will be as he gets his first taste of Baja. Burt and I are already considering the list of chores we have ahead of us to make our home presentable. Complete demolition is not possible in the time frame before he gets here. Dad will arrive the last week of March.
Today the Gypsy Carpenters played a private party. It was a great job and we made a few bucks. The party also gave us a low key way to kick off some dust. The whales were dancing just off shore at Elias Calles while the sun went down and the tunes flowed. We ate too much, too. On the way home we did some drive by birding at Rancho Pilar. There was a flock of lesser goldfinches flitting from bush to bush. Jackpot.
Burt pulled out the map and said, “There’s gotta be an easier place to hike in the mountains.” Well we got lost but found what he was looking for anyway. Burt’s original goal was the end of the road about 8 miles south of where we landed but we can’t complain. Rancho Santo Domingo is at the end of a different road and on a trail head into the Sierra de la Laguna. Chito is the current occupant and resident guide. He sent us on our way and we did a short exploratory walk. His dog, I called it bones, followed us. Bones’s love for Olive was unrequited. I guess she prefers men with more meat on their frame. Up the hill from the very old and well shaded ranch house we found a mature orchard with ripe toronjas (grapefruits) and flowering mango trees. The trail followed the arroyo up into the mountains. Birds were sparse because of the heat but this water hole was fantastic.
We turned back early. I am still tired from Sunday’s expedition and we had a music date with Tom. We can visit this place again when we have more time and energy. On our way back down Burt spotted the Cape Robin! I missed it but I can trust Burt knows a robin when he sees one.
The Gypsy Carpenters are dusting off love gone good and love gone bad songs for your listening pleasure. If you happen to be in Baja California Sur you can come on out and hear us play on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, in Todos Santos from 6 to 7:30. That’s next Tuesday.
Today we sat down and worked on our set list and swept away some cobwebs. If you have any requests send them in now. All ideas considered.
Thanks, Harlow Pinson for the great promo shots. Too bad we never look good at the same time.
Burt’s finally had enough of our annual slog on the skirts of Titi Mountain. I think. We’ve made an annual trek up there every year for the last four year. This year I cried. Between losing the way, the heat, hunger, and the darn beta-blockers I had my work cut out for me. I knew I would be miserable on an uphill hike through the thorn forest and I tried to take it like a big person but the first 40 minutes were really discouraging. I almost quit.
The start of this marathon is a very poor ranch deep in the desert at the edge of an arroyo. In the past the house has been vacant but this year the owners were there with their three skeletal dogs. The burro that rubbed his head on our car all night long last year was not seen. The owners speak a version of Baja Spanish that I find impenetrable. We exchanged pleasantries where every other word was Mande? or Como? What? Hi? What? How are you? Say that again? Great? You? What? Painful. Then the man says, “You play violin.” I heard that. We played music once here 4 years ago and everyone within 10 square miles remembers. Does this make us famous. In a word, yes. At the time it seemed like we were torturing them. Maybe we were. Today he seemed to remember it fondly. He asked if I had brought my violin and seemed disappointed when I said no. Maybe he was just being polite.
This route is located in a spot our friends the deer hunters showed us four years ago. Angel and Ramon agreed to let us tag along while they hunted. That day we covered twice as much ground in the same amount of time. We were faster then but we also had a guide dragging us over and under and through vegetation. On our own we wallow a bit trying to figure out where to go. The area is very wild but also heavily grazed by cattle. There are microtrails everywhere created by cows stomping their way to every green shoot or puddle of water. Cows make trails that are too short for the average gringo. Tree limbs, vines and cactus hang about at the four foot level. Constantly we find ourselves trying to decide if we should climb over a log, pass under that nasty vine, or through the chest high weeds. All this obstacle course like maneuvering while headed uphill. It’s not an enjoyable walk; it is more like an expedition. About an hour in there is a native palm oasis. Things get more enjoyable there.
The thing that keeps us going, besides the annual grudge match, is that we hope to find some of Baja’s endemic birds that live at the higher elevations. Today we had our eyes and ears peeled for the cape robin, the Baird’s junco, and the isolated population of acorn woodpeckers. All of these birds are subspecies of birds found elsewhere but the ones here in Baja have been left isolated by the ocean and the desert. They don’t migrate. They all look slightly different from tehir more mobile colleagues.
At 2:30 and after 4 hours of trudging with ample and lengthy breaks we turned for home. My phone said we’d walked 3 miles. I believe it was closer to 2 but it felt more like 5. So three is a nice compromise. At the turnaround point we had not seen any of our birds. We did find a nice persimmon tree on the edge of the palm oasis and it was full of butter butts (yellow rumped warblers) and orange crowned warblers. The fruit tree is a relic of the sugar processing days. At the ridge there was a sugar cane processing plant. Local people hiked 6 miles every day to work it back in the late 1800s. The workers planted fruit trees on their route. On our way back down, just before the persimmons, Burt spotted a woodpecker. I got my binoculars on it just as it flew and I was 90% certain it was our clown faced acorn woodpecker. Then Burt spotted another one and this next one held still and we both confirmed it was the bird we were looking for. Yippee. All tears were worth it.
In the photo above Olive is trying to decide what to do. Elvis had rolled in poop at a previous stop and needed to be spun in the Pacific-rinse-omatic for a while to get clean. Normally Olive would relish a run on the beach. I’m not sure if she knew Elvis was in for some disciplinary swimming or she was worn out from the walk. Perhaps she didn’t want to take the chances that she would be required to clean up, too. Maybe she just wanted to hang out with me while I waited. I was too pooped to walk more myself. Two weeks after her poisoning Olive seems her normal self but with less endurance.
New follower Kevin suggested a recounting of how we wound up wintering in Pescadero. I sent him deep into the archives for a full accounting but I can summarize here. The long and short of it is it is too expensive and cold to winter comfortably in the United States as full time RVers. We can afford to work part-time and live near the beach in Mexico. This spot is the least populated but not primitive location on the Baja with good surf. You can easily drive from the U.S. People are filling the place in rapidly since the road was widened from Cabo San Lucas but we’re still happy here. The food scene is fantastic. The scenery breath taking. Burt had been to El Pescadero in the early 80s. He and his family have always visited Mexico and being a surfer he was naturally drawn to this spot. Meanwhile a woman he knew from Helena, Montana, Janet, had settled here.
Seven years ago we hit the road and had no idea if we would last a week or a year or forever. We still don’t know how long we’ll go living nomadically but it suits us. The first winter we spent in the US and suffered snow in Pensacola and 40 degress and raining in Key West for $100 a night. Not comfortable economically or climatologically. The next winter we decided to visit Janet and see how we liked Mexico. It was a fit. The funniest part of the arrival story is how as we were pulling into town Burt turns to me and say, “I forgot what a shit hole this place is.” I replied I’d been paying attention since we left the US 1200 miles back and the place was just as I expected. Yeah, there’s garbage and bad roads and no cell service or wi-fi but it’s pretty and interesting. Six years later there’s a lot less garbage, phone work great, and we’re still pretty happy here.
No promises. We’re taking it one day at a time here. I wanted to convey to you something from yesterday’s music/English class. I took a video. The video can be seen on Facebook. It’s public so any one can watch it. You do not have to join Facebook to watch it.
I remember boys from my childhood as terrorizing. So powerful and uninhibited. They were constantly pulverizing things (me, included). My brother had a never ending supply of hitting, kicking, running, jumping, climbing. This movement was occasionally directed at inappropriate targets. Frogs, furniture, sister, little brother. Occasionally might be too nice a word. My husband has a bit of the Bam Bam in him, too. He’s pretty constructively aimed at nails, tennis balls, waves, food. I keep him busy. He keeps himself busy.
The four of us that teach at the music/english class were commenting on the stark difference between our two sections. The classes were unintentionally split by gender. Boys had started sooner and had a head start. All my neighborhood girls got to start fresh at their own level when I brought them over. The boys were studying about three months before the girls. It just happened. The profound difference between teaching the girls group and the boys group is messing with my head. I’m all for gender equality and mixing it up and not stereotyping based on traditional gender roles, but as Burt says, “These boys need a job.” They cannot hold still. But hold still is an understatement. They are very dynamic molecules throwing off electrons of energy everywhere they go. Static electricity needing to discharge. They are a danger to themselves and me.
Yesterday I had the brilliant idea of reining them in with a dance contest on video while singing in English. The dancing allows energy to dissipate. The video corrals them into a limited space and fluffs their egos. They each get a star turn. As the dance progressed one boy found a boulder attached to a string and dragged it through the dancers. Back and forth he went with a twenty pound rock on a piece of twine through the boy’s feet. One boy was barefoot. No matter. They all kept dancing. After growing up with my brother I think this is normal. Suddenly, while I’m directing singers and star turns, I shout out, “no more rock!” My inner mother finally noticed the string has become a tripping hazard. I keep filming. The rock dragger starts pulling on the other end of the string. The dancers weave in and out as I am calling them to dance solo one by one. Then I see the string is attached to a cinder block above their heads. The rock dragger is now nearly pulling a cinder block off a wall over all their heads. The guitar continues. You can see my hand waving in fear in front of the camera. No no no no is heard in the background. I am still filming. With a last desperate shout of, “Peligro!” the camera goes black. I nearly have a heart attack. The boys pause for a moment. They survey the situation. They agree that the situation was dangerous. In a breath they start back with some new mass chaos as if it never happened.
Meanwhile the girls class goes something like this: What shall we do today? Ok, that’s a nice idea, let’s do that. We all calmly and politely sing a song. We take turns. Nobody hits anyone. No screaming, no dancing unless I cajole them. It’s sweet. They are all so earnest and really want to do well. Sometimes I have to get Burt to pay attention. He is the main disrupter.
How can I bring some of each type of energy from one to the other? Should I? Go check out my Facebook page and see Carlos’s dance moves.
Woweeee, we made it. Day 31 of the 31 day Art Journaling/Blogging Challenge by Zoë Dearborn. Wow. Just wow. Years past this would have been very difficult due to data limitations. I feel compelled to thank Verizon for including roaming in Mexico in my data package. Thanks to you, dear readers, for following along. Several of you have mentioned you’ll miss the daily posts. I can’t thank you enough. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue the streak. Help me out by sending in your questions and ideas if you have something you want to know. It can be about the natural world or my inner life or anything else. All ideas considered.
Today’s subject is commitment. This month has found us neck deep in commitments. I like it this way. We’ve got each other and the Olvis and Mimi. We’ve got tennis and music and Spanish. The neighborhood kids. We count on them and they are counting on us. As I search for something to say to sum up the writing and thinking and feeling of this month I come up with that aphorism of a few days ago, “Just show up.” My commitment is to continue showing up. Here on the interwebz, at my classes, for the kids, on the fretboard of life. And I commit to putting out oranges for the birds. I hate chores but I’ll commit to slicing open and putting out oranges even though it makes my hands feel sticky and I’m scared of the knife. It’s a really big knife. The rewards are worth the discomfort and risk. It’s an analogy for writing and life.
This practice has shown me how much I enjoy thinking and writing. It’s renewed my interest in what I can learn by taking the time and working deeply even for just a short time a day. As I tell all beginning music students that ask our advice, “The secret is ten minutes a day, every day. An hour once a week will not get the job done.” Thank you, Zoë for prodding and feeding back and inspiring.