I’m in the gNash and Burt is outside attempting a repair of the steps into the trailer. Two weeks into living life in a 22′ travel trailer we mangled the stairs when we forgot to put them up while moving from one campsite to another campsite. I happened to be riding in the trailer when rock met steps and it was so jarring I haven’t dared to ride in back again. Since that day 6 years ago the stairs have never been right. First up was a patch job in Northern California by the guy who welded our bumper back on. (Yeah, the bumper kind of fell of right away, too.) The stairs were stable but leaned a wee bit to the right.
Over the years the stairs have been rebolted, propped up with wood, and abandoned completely. Like dealing with black water they became a general lifestyle hazard that kept us on our toes, or faces when we weren’t paying attention. Elvis and I are the only ones to regularly face plant coming out of the trailer. Everyone else has mad moving steps skills. The other day one side of the stairs completely detached from the trailer while I was using them. I managed to stay upright when the final break occurred. It was like snow boarding. I just road the stairs to the ground. Still, I’m glad I have stout bones and a long history of learning to safely fall in Judo.
After 6 years Burt has decided something MUST be done. I (despite being the #1 victim) remain ambivalent. I think it must be harder to watch me fall on my head over and over again than it is for me to take the actual falls. I guess it’s love. So he’s out there doing something. Again. We’ve considered ordering new steps and having them welded into place but that would delay our departure to Mexico. I’d rather spend 6 more years minding my footing than delay our trip south.
You’d think we could have planned ahead and ordered stairs last spring. Oh well. Below are some things we did remember to get before blowing out of the US. New eye glasses, a new wetsuit, Dr. Who DVDs…
…Also some work pictures. Today we tiled. Only a couple days left to work. We can make it.
And it’s not so we can enjoy the madcap political season. We are working hard to finish up a big job. Mexico and a long break await us. But before we cross the border there are logistical issues: trailer repairs, supplies to accumulate, belongings to stash, relatives to visit…We are keeping on the sunny side. We hope to never see January in the US again but it’s okay to have this reminder that trailer life and winter are not a pleasant mix. The days are too short and the nights too cold for living in a 22′ can. Heating the place has tripled our consumption of propane and caused nasty bits of condensation to accumulate in remote corners. A few days ago we thought there was a leak in our closet because all our clothes were wet. Nope. It was the cold glass in a warm room effect. Cold exterior closet walls were meeting with our warm interior air and there was water everywhere. Further investigation reveled damp cabinetry everywhere. Yuck. The respiration of 5 creatures adds to the miasma.
So lesson learned. Trailer life is not pleasant in winter. We’re cramped and clammy. Sunny Mexico has never called so loud.
Towns of substantial size usually have a neighborhood where a preponderance of the neighbors go all out at Christmas. In Helena there was this 60s era subdivision in the valley that did the best work. It was always clogged with rubberneckers during the holidays. One year we rode a horse drawn wagon around and had a merry time with a pile of friends. There were tons of creches and Santas and Frosties to see. I was always struck by the 60s era architecture. It was similar to our NJ neighborhood. Modest sized split levels and ranches. There were probably 4 different styles of houses all expressing their uniqueness in Christmas lights.
A few days ago we had to go to Sierra Vista again for supplies. We decided to make a day of it. We had a huge German lunch at the German Cafe. Burt did Home Depot while I shopped at Best Buys and banked. Then we hit the matinee for the last part of the Hunger Games series. It was opening day for Star Wars so we even saw a few die hard fans re-enacting their favorite Star Wars characters waiting in line. Dinner at the Screaming Banshee in Bisbee. Burt had wings and I had a meatball sub. Big Grandma made meatball subs and this was as close as I’ve ever had. Then we did the Christmas light tour of Douglas, AZ. Douglas is a border town that used to be much bigger and much more affluent. The demise of the railroad and the mining industry has left Douglas as a place for the Border Patrol and Walmart. Agua Prieta lies across the border. Walmart is filled with Mexicans spending pesos in the US. And our Portal neighbors. A few weeks ago the Christmas lights in town caught our eyes as we sped down the highway to get home. This trip we swung in and did the old fashioned Christmas light cruise. It’s worth an evening stop if you happen to be in the area. There are high quality efforts and they are densely packed. Some houses are so close together the entire street looks like one continuous display. Holiday cheer abounds. I’ve decided this is one more thing to add to my list of ‘Why we are OK still in the USA for winter.’ The list of positives is quite long but DARK and COLD on the opposing side are very heavy.
I spent the weekend sickly. Not eating, not moving, kinda queasy and nothing else. I started to despair that something serious was going on and had a plan of action for professional care on Sunday night. Monday I woke up and knew I was on the other side. I wasn’t well but I was better. I ate. I walked around. Now that’s behind me. Now you know why there was radio silence.
Today, Wednesday, I went to Mexico with my dear friend and blog follower, Pat. Pat wanted to see a dentist in Mexico. She hadn’t been in a while. Agua Prieta has seen better days and its reputation has been tarnished by border trouble. Medical tourism has been greatly reduced in the last decade. The need for some new dental work at a reasonable price motivated Pat to reconsider going. When she mentioned it to me I volunteered to go as body guard and translator. I have been wanting to see AP and I miss Mexico. A new adventure beckoned.
We headed out this morning in Willis’s smooth riding pickup. Pat picked out a parking spot just north of the border and we headed out on foot towards the crossing. Walking in and out of Mexico is much faster than getting your car inspected. Also, if you drive in Mexico you need Mexican car insurance. The dentist was only about a mile from the border so it was easier to walk. At the border we found a neat stockpile of Walmart shopping carts. The Douglas Walmart was about a mile from the crossing. Mexicans cross the border everyday to spend billions annually in US border communities. To make travel easier, the Walmart in Douglas, AZ has a place to leave their shopping carts at the border before Mexican customers return home.
As always, crossing the border is not a gradual transition. One moment all is tidy and organized and in English. The next you are in a country of irregular sidewalks, dangling wires, and Spanish. There is no grey zone area to get yourself ready. We got a little misdirected in Mexico but found the Dentist’s office pretty quickly. Pat went in for her two new fillings and I read a magazine while a ginormous Mona Lisa kept watch. I found the supersized enigmatic one humorous because the original DaVinci portrait is about the size of a piece of writing paper. Maybe smaller. Afterwards the dentist drove us to a great seafood restaurant and we had fish tacos and hibiscus tea (jamaica). Seafood might seem a funny choice but the Sea of Cortez is not far away. Pat had never had either and she claimed to enjoy both. I was glad since I made the meal choices.
After lunch we hit some farmacias looking for Latisse for a friend. Total bust. The lack of tourism has impacted the pharmaceutical trade. Latisse enhances eyelash growth. Not much demand in Mexico, I guess. I picked up some Retin A for me and a friend. It was just $3 a tube. Super deal. Then we easily walked back to the border, showed our passports, and returned to the truck. Some more stateside chores and we were on our way home. I had a lovely time with Pat and I was pleased to see Mexico.
Burt wanted Almond Roca for his 60th birthday and so I made a batch. As usual I mentioned it on Facebook. My friend Priscila saw this picture and asked for the recipe in Spanish. Ack. Translating a recipe is an idiomatic and scientific task. How to say spread, stir, add, and toast? Candy making is dangerous, too.
I decided to give it a go as a generally good language exercise. Late last night, after a Gypsy Carpenter’s show and a lichen lecture, I wrote a translation and stupidly or shamelessly or bravely posted it to Facebook. I expected a lot of laughs from my bilingual friends. Here’s what happened. According to one friend it was so bad that she said to send her the recipe in English and she would translate it to Spanish. By the time I typed her the recipe in English my friend Prissy wrote to say that it was great and she understood everything. According to Prissy my Spanish was very good. And there it stands. It’s likely really bad and comical but understandable. It must read like it was written by an illiterate that knows how to cook.
Here are both for your reading or cooking pleasure:
2-12 ounce packages of chocolate chips
2 cups butter
1 pound ( or 2 1/4 cups) brown sugar
1 cup toasted and chopped almonds, divided
1. Grease a 14 x 18 cookie sheet. Sprinkle with 12 ounces of chocolate chips. Place I warm oven until chips melt. About 5 minutes. Spread chips over bottom of pan. Set aside.
2. In a large heavy sauce pan on medium high heat combine butter and sugar. Stir constantly until the temperature reaches 300-310 F or 149-154 C. Remove from heat and stir in 2/3 of the almonds. Pour into pan of chocolate and spread evenly.
3. Sprinkle remaining chips over the candy layer. Heat from the candy will melt the chips. Spread the chocolate evenly. Sprinkle with remaining almonds.
4. Cut into squares while warm or allow to cool completely and break into pieces.
Roca de Almendras
2 1/4 taza azucar moreno
2 taza de mantequilla
24 onzes de chipes de chocolate (2 bolsas)
1 taza de almendras tostadas y picado
1 sarten del galletas (12″ x 18″ mas o memos)
Necesitas un termómetro de dulces.
1. Espolvorea los chipes en el sarten de galletas. Applica aceite antes. Ponga el sarten en un horno calentito. Solamente hasta los chipes se empezar a fundirse. Con una cuchara unta el chocolate en todo el sarten como una capa de chocolate. Enfria al sarten.
2. En un sarten profundo y pesado ponga la mantequilla y el azucar. Sobre fuego de media (casi alta) intensidad se funde los dos juntos. Revolve constantemente hasta la pasta tiene la temperatura de 300-310 F. Quita del fuego. Añade 2/3 de los almendras. Inmediatemente applica la mezcla sobre el sarten de chocolate y unta.
3. Aplica el resto del chipes sobre el pasta. El calor del pasta va a detector el chocolate en pocos minutos. Con una cuchara unta el chocolate. Applica el resto del almendres. Enfria hasta todo es dura.
Our trip up Baja’s 1200 mile pennisula was completed in record time. For us, anyway. Normally we take three nights and this time we made it in two. The weather was perfect, the highway construction is minimal and the days are long. All of this added up to a mostly uneventful and easy trip. We had one snafu. While engrossed in a Stuff You Should Know podcast (Link HERE) we hit a tope too fast. A tope is a speed bump in Mexico. Rather than spend resources on traffic lights Mexico uses speed bumps to slow vehicles down in small towns. The topes of Mexico are legendary in size and number. This one was large and even though we were moving at a slow speed it was too fast. The aftermath inside the gNash rivaled any previous disaster. A nearly full bottle of olive oil departed its cabinet and made a small crater in our dining table. It did not break. A drawer came apart. Clothes hangers jumped off the rack. A canister of bread crumbs also flew from home and lost its lid but held its contents. Mimi’s drinking water splashed out. The igniter for the stove disengaged. But all of this was superficial stuff and just adds to the wabi-sabi nature of our well used trailer. The big problem was we bent an axle. Or so we think. One of the four trailer tires is wearing irregularly and at an alarming rate. The other three tires are fine. The price of being a wandering gypsy.
The podcasts of Stuff You Should Know are entertaining and informative. We may have been listening to the one about Gypsies (don’t call them that, it’s a racial slur, call them Roma), or the one about karate, or crowd sourcing, or x-rays….I don’t even remember. Burt thinks it was the one on animal domestication. Cats may not be domesticated. Rabbits are not. Sheep, cows, goats, camels and dogs are. Burt is not. I am. We listened to two days of 40 minute audio articles on all kinds of random subjects. Maybe that’s how we got here so fast. We will not be changing our name to the Roma Carpenters. My apologies to any Roma.
I have loyally and happily (mostly) attended Burt’s tournament tennis play for three years. I give pep talks and cheers. I analyze the opponents. I do a pretty good job of being wife and fan. This year’s tournament went pretty well for Burt but I lost my job as number one fan. This cutie pie on the left is Jasub, son of my Spanish teacher, and former music student of ours. One run of Go Burt, Go Burt, Go Burt! out of his five year old mouth and it was obvious I could not compete. Sadly despite the most vociferous cheering section Burt lost the game.
Tomorrow we hit the road. Sad to be going and happy that we are sad to be going is the mood around here. I’m glad we’re never feeling like it’s time to go. Mexico is our home and this year we made great progress towards a life of blended gringo and Mexican friends and activities. Plans are already brewing for next year’s projects.
The rumpus room and bodega are nearly sealed up. The gNash is cleaned and organized. This year we’ve hired some staff to keep watch on the place while we’re gone. It’s official, we have a gardener and family. For $50 a month he or his wife or father-in-law are going to water and check the property three time a month. That’s the plan anyway. You never know what will happen when the boss is away. Hurricanes and family disasters can ruin the most ambitious workers. I do know that our guy, German, is a nice young man with a nice family. We’ve helped them a lot and he and his wife, Vikki, are eager to help us if they can. Part of the plan is for them to weed and clear debris before our arrival next year to make settling in easier. I’m pretty optimistic we’ll be wondering why we hadn’t made arrangements like this in previous years.
We went to the beach. It was wet and sandy. The dogs chased clumps of sand and tennis balls. Burt swam. I took pictures. I’m not allowed in the water. I can blame menopause for more irritating things. Trust me you don’t want the details. Tomorrow I plan to go back in the water.
I had my last Spanish class today with Ivonne. We read a funny piece she had written about one of her first experiences in Baja. Just like English, Spanish is full of idoimatic expressions and these words and phrases vary depending on where you are. Ivonne grew up on the mainland of Mexico in Guanajuato. Choyeros (residents of southern Baja, so named because of the ever present cholla cactus) have a different way of speaking. And one might say they are a little more ‘red neck’ than citizens of the mainland. After this story you too might agree things are a little rough and tumble around here.
Over in Mexico (in Baja we call the mainland Mexico) you can buy a large bottle of beer. This large bottle of beer is about 2 1/2 regular beers. In Mexico they call it a caguama. A caguama is a sea turtle. In Baja they call the large bottle of beer a ballena or ‘whale.’ One fine day about six years ago Ivonne and her friends were picnicking on a remote beach in Baja when they realized they had forgotten the beer. Ivonne and a friend offered to drive off and find some beer. I think it might have been Ivonne who had forgotten to load the beer in the car. Six years ago roads around here were very rough and a five mile drive to the store could take an hour to get there and back but off they went.
After a short bit Ivonne saw two guys and a truck parked by the side of the road. They decided to stop and ask where they could by beer. After making the usual polite greetings Ivonne asked, “Where can I buy a caguama?” The guy looked funny and said, “A caguama?” “Sí, queremos dos o tres caguamas.” We want two or three turtles. The guy told her he’d call a friend and let her know. Ivonne thought it kind of weird that the guy didn’t know where to by beer, but okay. She watched the guy talk on his cell to a friend. The guy hung up and said I can get you two caguamas in about three hours. Now, Ivonne was wondering why would she wait three hours when she could drive to town and back in one. The guy was wondering why she thought she could get two turtles so quickly from some random guy on the side of the road. More words and no understanding. These turtles would come with their shells. Shells? What shells? Why do they have shells? Is that some Baja thing? They continued on in a “Who’s on first?” manner for a while. Eventually Ivonne asked how much the caguamas were going to cost. The answer shocked her. A caguama was $800 pesos or about $75 US. Now Ivonne realized something was really wrong and she asked him why she had to pay $800 pesos for a bottle of beer. The guy told her she asked for turtles and he was getting her turtles. “But we want beer!” Another phone call was made cancelling the turtle order and the men offered to sell Ivonne and her friend some beer they happened to have in a cooler. And Ivonne learned that a big bottle of beer was a whale and not a turtle.
Selling turtles is illegal in Mexico but apparently to little effect. According to our sources if you have the money you can dine on turtle soup any time you wish. I did not like learning this but the story was funny. It also is reassuring to remember that communication is difficult even when we think we are speaking the same language.
Happy Easter, everyone. The Easter bunny does not cross the border to deliver eggs and candy in Mexico. Easter here retains its strong ties to the traditions of Spain and the Roman Catholic Church. So there are bloody pageant plays in the streets and church services and family gatherings. But in Mexico it is also a time of massive family outings to the beach. Hordes of humanity flee their everyday life and pitch tents on beaches all over the country. Not much work gets done during Semana Santa.
In the Easter spirit I have posted a picture of the bird of peace. The common ground dove. This dove species makes daily excursions in our yard. The dogs ignore it entirely as it wanders around grazing on ants and seeds. The doves also ignore the dogs and amble quite closely to both Olive and Elvis. Meanwhile I cannot be in the yard at the same time as these birds. The doves do not tolerate humans. These pictures were taken from the gNash using a telephoto lens. So there’s peace on earth between doves and dogs but not between humans and doves. Smart doves.
The cactus flower shot was captured from ground level looking up at a 20′ high cardon. This was also with telephoto. That’s why there is a very shallow depth of field. These flowers attract bats and bugs and birds but the activity is hard to see because it’s far overhead. There is not actual flower in the picture here. There are buds about to open and flowers turning into the fruit. I’ve got my eyes peeled and my telephoto on and I hope to capture some blooms soon.