The Gypsy Carpenters finally broke out of their ho hum routine and took an excursion. Dreams of jetting to the mainland crumbled in a cloud of overcommitment and fuzzy logic. I never could figure out when to go with all our tennis dates and musical engagements and visitors and menopausal inertia. Finally we just decided to drive over to the other side of the world’s third longest peninsula and see what was happening. Cabo Pulmo is about three hours from here and is a world renowned dive and snorkeling location. You can swim to the coral reef from shore. Magi and Cathie had gone over last week and reported of meeting an 84 year old proprietess still managing a restaurant and cabanas. Nancy is her name. Then we found out another friend knew Nancy and we figure we better get on over and see this Nancy character while we still could. So with the lure of meeting an icon of Baja and the hopes of snorkeling we headed around the mountains to the Golfo de California on Sunday afternoon. Cabo Pulmo is a Mexican National Marine Park. It is the oldest of only three corral reefs in North America and the farthest north.
I don’t know why the following text is mashed together and a different font. I’ve tried to fix it ten times. Sorry.
I was ready to snorkel. Too bad the wind wasn’t going to let us. Cabo Pulmo’s season is in summer when calm seas allow for visibility of 100 or more feet. This week high winds raked the sea into a turbulent chop that muddied the waters. There was no point in going out for a look around. Burt and I lazed about reading and eating in the decrepit glory of Nancy’s cabañas.. Nancy’s place is long past its glory years. While Nancy seems hale and vibrant her vision is suspect. Poor eyesight explains some of the less than ideal esthetic issues of her wabi-sabi habitations. Our cabaña had been unoccupied for a month or more (according to Nancy) and showed the signs of a return to nature. Palapa roofs and torn screens are open doors to insects and rodents and birds (yes, we had one). While our room might have been cleaned just after the last human occupants left it was apparent other organisms had made themselves at home in the interim. Not that this really bothers us. The place was cheap, private and close to the beach. Our own gNash has been invaded by ants and mice and mosquitos. The ants are finally gone. They were lured out by the hummingbird feeders. Nancy has a diverse and extensive exchange library and we picked up a few things to read, too. If you’re looking for cheap, convenient and unconventional Nancy’s is the place to go as long as you aren’t afraid of nature and her inhabitants.
After two nights it was time to head home. We had a heavy agenda for the return trip. Fossil hunting, church finding, pizza eating and cactus sanctuary visiting. First up was prowling for fossils near where the Tropic of Cancer crosses Mexican Highway 1. Burt got into it. I kicked about with my own lack of clear eyesight and walked the dogs. Progressive lenses just don’t cut it when you are peering at the ground looking for tiny anomalies. Burt found a couple of tiny hard to discern shells. I found an actual snail. Next up was the church in San Antonio. Rumors had it that the church was pretty. We found it but it was closed. From the exterior it resembled a bunker with 10′ thick concrete buttresses on the front. If the Soviet’s would have allowed churches to be built they would have looked like this. The insides will have to wait for another time. Next was pizza at the Caffé El Triunfo. This restaurant was our goal a few weeks ago during the El Triunfo Art Festival. There was a three hour wait that day. Today we slid right in and got a serrano ham and arugula pie. We parked the car in the shade and bought a few souvenirs from the adjacent merchant to ensure it’s safety. We usually don’t worry but our dogs and instruments were inside with the windows down so we were more cautious. I got an old cow bell (more cowbell, anyone?) and Burt bought a 5′ whale rib.
Finally it was time to visit the Cactus Sanctuary. This place has been on my list for three years. The name makes me think of refugee cactii fleeing political persecution but that’s just silly. It was closed. We drove the the adjacent town and wondered what to do. By virtue of making or presence known the problem was solved. Untethered gringos wandering the town were reported to the powers that be. As we drove away we were hailed by a man waving a key. He announced he was opening the park for us. We gave him a ride and he gave us a tour. He explained the epiphyte (air plant) cactus growing off the Mesquite trees and pointed to a crop growing out of the palapa roof. The ranger/guide also demonstrated how the Hairbrush Cardon cactus got its name. He showed us how to use its fruit as a comb. When he tried to get me to do it I told him my hair was like a nest and I didn’t want a spiny cactus fruit stuck in it. He understood. Burt and Olvis and I took a self guided walk around the place and enjoyed seeing the super large and crowded cactii. Elvis filed a complaint that the sand path was too hot for him. He did this by convulsing and whinning and gyrating. Olive said it didn’t bother her. To appease he-of-the-hot-paws we hustled from shady spot to shady spot. It reminded me of when we would whine on an excursion as kids and Mom would offer to let us wait in the car. That usually shut us up.
Well, of course it was, silly. I hatched a great plan to have our Valentine’s Day date out in the desert where we could see the sunset over the ocean and the moonrise over the mountains. I hoped to taken some pictures of the mountains lit by the setting sun as the moon peeked out. Alas, the moon was about 15 minutes late to the show. I should have come out the day before. And I should have remembered the little adapter that attached the camera to the tripod. The lovely pink haze was dioxin laden smoke from the dump burning. Pretty isn’t it? All my moon pictures came out over or underexposed but the mountains had already gone to sleep so it didn’t matter. It was a fun date anyway.
Afterwards we returned home to the gNash and dined on homemade ravioli’s out of the freezer. It was a pretty good day. Later this week the 11th Annual Festival de Cine starts and I might be short on time or energy to blog. The volunteer coordinator is planning on using our overly reliable butts to do anything that needs doing. Today I had to let her know that Burt is a man of action and not an accountant just so she wouldn’t expect him to do any heavy money changing. Rules combined with money gives Burt hives. Today is chore day. Off to water and pick up dog poop. Life in paradise.
Here’s what I posted on Facebook last night: Found a Peanut is starting to look like a viable escape from On Top of my Spaghetti….And those Three Little Birds are too damn stupid to see the reality of life if you ask me. Three hours of music classes are taking its toll. Teachers deserve more pay.
I guess I was a little worn out from eight 20 minute classes. I’m a Little Teapot and the Hokey Pokey’d right out. This teaching stuff is hard work. The hardest part for me isn’t standing there looking silly trying to speak in Spanish. It’s not hard making funny noises and dancing like a dork. What is hard is keeping track of where I am in the ‘curriculum.’ We have 3 classes to get to in one hour. That leaves us a theoretical twenty minutes to teach. With moving from room to room and getting attention and forming a circle….Maybe we have fifteen minutes a class. I start every group out the same way. We go through a variety a patently ridiculous breathing and vocalization exercises designed to get their brains and bodies engaged and to make them do silly stuff to overcome inhibitions. I do this 8 times in three hours. I think it sets the stage for my disorientation. Did I do the left elbow or the right foot or the hip in the 7th version of the Hokey Pokey? Was it last week or last class that I discussed the inner meaning of a Bad Moon Risin’? How do you explain moss (see On Top of Spaghetti lyrics) to a group of desert dwellers? Did I just ask a group of rolly eyed, slouchy adolescents if they liked a song? Never ask a group of teenagers if they like ANYTHING. Teenagers do not admit to adults that they like anything. The dangers of traversing from 6 year old to teenaged students in such a short span of time.
Yesterday I did one cool thing that worked very well with all the age groups. Tom Moran had joined in on mandolin and I asked Tom to play us short riffs that we could sing back to him. This kind of exercise develops listening skills and reinforces the concept that you need to listen to learn. Tom chose the back and forth call and response opening sequence of dueling banjos. What a brilliant selection. It was easy for me and it was unusual for the kids. Imagine a group of Mexican kids lilting out the theme song of that 70s classic movie Deliverance. Now imagine it eight times. Anybody got a canoe?
Yesterday was the day after the great Whale Shark adventure. People love their motorboats and going fast and I am not one of them. Loud noise causes me physical pain. I spent yesterday in near hibernation. After a four hour tour, where we probably only motored for two hours, every muscle in my body ached. I feel like such a wuss. Is it the subtle but constant exertion to maintain equilibrium in a small boat? It feels more like a noise hangover. Whenever the motor was going I went into reptilian mode and had slits for eyes. My companions chatted away and looked serene. I wished there was some quiet way to get around. There is a new flying thing at our beach that uses a parasail and a 2 stroke propeller mounted behind the flyer. It looks kind of fun but it is so noisy from 100 yards I can’t even bare the idea of it, even in earmuffs. Oh well. I am just a wuss.
Today I was ripped off at our local grocer and I couldn’t decide what to do. The cashier shorted me ten pesos betting I wouldn’t know the difference between sesenta (60) and seitenta (70) (they are hard to distinguish in rapid colloquial Spanish. She took my ochenta (80) pesos and pocketed the extra ten of my change. I noticed but hesitated and wondered did I hear her right? I did so I paused and gave her a knowing look. I looked at the bagger. The bagger looked embarrassed. I waited. I dramatically fingered my change. Nothing was forthcoming but I think they knew that I knew. I decided not to make a scene. Maybe it was an honest mistake. When I got home I checked my receipt and realized it was a calculated rip-off. The cashier had entered that I had only given her 70 pesos. This was not an oversight. I gave her paper money (4 twenty peso bills) and you can’t make 70 pesos without using coin money. Covering her butt with the boss man and making me look like the liar if I said something. Next time I will play the stupid gringa and count my change out while everybody watches. Knowing she’s not honest is worth the 80 cents I lost.
When I think of dinosaurs walking amongst us now I think of crocodiles, alligators and cockroaches. These creatures were around way back then and they are still amongst us now. But, to me anyway, they are kind of small compared to our concept of dinosaurs as they ruled the world. Yesterday I met my first whale shark. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea. They pretty much qualify as a huge dinosaur living now. There’s all kinds of weird facts about them that you can find on wikipedia. What I retained is that the species is about 60 million years old, they live in warm waters all over the world, they filter feed and nobody has ever seen them mate or give birth. Many parts of the reproductive process remains hidden to humans. We do know that when they give birth they use oviviparity. Oviviparity is complicated. I took it to mean they have fertilized eggs that they hold inside and once in a while the eggs hatch (inside) and a live baby whale shark is born. It is thought the female whale shark can hold several hundred fertilized eggs at one time and give birth to a live off-spring (one at a time?) when conditions are right.
Burt and I had been hoping to swim with our local population of whale sharks for a year or so. I didn’t even know these things existed until last year. How embarrassing. The biggest fish in the sea and I had no idea. Last year we learned a group of about twenty-five of these fish swim into the bay at La Paz every winter to feed. Tours are available for a wide array of budgets. Thanks to our friend Bobbi, we took a very reasonably priced tour. Five of us plus a driver/guide piled into a 20′ boat with an outboard motor and headed out late in the morning to try and find a whale shark. We brought our own food, water and snorkeling gear. Ten minutes after leaving shore we found the boats that had already found the closest whales. Conditions were murky. One whale was surrounded by 8 wetsuit, mask and fin clad swimmers. The whale swam and people pursued. It was weird to watch from above. Our driver, Paco, maneuvered or much smaller craft around to another fish and the boys slipped in. Here was the moment I dreaded: Would I go in or watch from above?
I really wanted to swim but so many normal people had told me how surprisingly scary it was to get in the water with a fish (a filter feeder but still, It’s mouth is 4′ wide) twice to four times their size. I am not a normal person when it comes to this type of activity. There are three main obstacles. First, I am afraid of open water. I prefer streams and rivers. Big lakes and the oceans scare me. Second, I am claustrophobic. Putting on a mask and snorkel makes my heart pound and chest ache. Third I have a deep, abiding fear of large creatures swimming up from the deep. Thank Jaws and stories of the Loch Ness Monster. So there I was. I focused on cleaning my mask, adjusting the precarious lenses, fitting my fins on. Paco pointed and said, “sit there.” I dangled my flippered feet over the edge of the boat. Cool water lapped my legs and I pondered my forgotten wetsuit at home. The boys came in. Paco said, “GO!” And I slid in without a thought. I couldn’t see anything but green murk. I looked over my shoulder to a chorus of well wishers pointing the way and encouraging me. I swam blindly to where they pointed telling myself, “You won’t see it until it’s really close. Stay calm.” This was my mantra as I replayed the memory loop of snorkeling in a river and screaming bloody murder when I came face to face with a 24″ brown trout. Here I was swimming blindly towards a 24′ fish with a mouth bigger than the entire brown trout that had scared me. And then there she was. I had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid crashing. She glided right by as I hung suspended on the surface. She was two feet away. I could have touched her but didn’t. It’s not good for their skin. She was so big, my glasses so old and the water so murky I could only see the bits that were right in front of me. Her mottled skin was beautiful, She had a yellow tag with a number that some seaweed was growing on. Her tail fin came right at me and I was glad I remembered it would be vertical like a ship’s mast because she is a fish not a whale and I got out of the way just in time. And that was that. It was the most peaceful underwater experience I have ever had. Maybe it was from being in the presence of a species that had been on this earth for so long or maybe it was from the whale shark’s utter ambivalence to us. Like Burt told me about a swarm of bees, you can tell if their intention is good or bad if you stay calm and present. Maybe this shark was happy. I got out of the water entirely satisfied with my 3 minutes.
After everybody got a swim we headed out to sea a colony of California Sea Lions and then we had a picnic lunch at Playa Balandra. On the way we watched a humpback whale surface to breath as it swam across the bay. Whales are much bigger than whale sharks but whales aren’t fishes.
Stay tuned. Soon we should have an interesting post about our excursion to see whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez. I am semi-excited. Last year I was all riled up to do this and we missed out. We waited too long and the whale sharks swum off to wherever they go. This year I’ve collected some data from people that have gone in with the sharks and my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered. There are two reasons. First is the report that the whale shark is a fish and when it sees you it is as devoid of expression as a gold fish in a fish tank. Unlike whales and dolphins and other sea mammals the whale shark is vacant and small brained. There is no rush of inter-species communication. The second reason is the ballsiest (yes, that’s the right term) woman I know admitted to feeling scared when she got in the water with these behemoths. They are just so large and even though they are vegetarians their mouths are more than ample to appear to be able to eat you. You know they can’t eat you but it feels like they can and this gives a person the willies.
So tomorrow we’ll drive over to La Paz and get in a boat and take a four hour cruise around the Bahia de California. We’ll fish and visit some pretty beaches and, hopefully, swim with the giant, small brained, cold blooded fishes.
The other day I was sitting in the car waiting while Burt was checking out a local hotel to see if it was suitable for a music camp. It was a spur of the moment idea of his and I was too sore from riding and too preoccupied about our imminent appointment with the Bridge to English program to get out and look around. I often find myself sitting in the car or truck while Burt does things. I call it the living room. Usually I’m playing security with the windows wide open so the dogs don’t escape or our belongings don’t grow legs. Sometimes I’m lazy. To pass the time I’ll take pictures. Here’s a funny sequence I got the other day. I had my phone propped on the window ledge and I was composing shots of this bougainvillaea draped wall when this dude ran past just as I pushed the button. I never saw him coming. I kind of like the shot. The sun on his backpack. where is he running all bundled up? The sky through the frame of his sunglasses. The right angle of his arm. The shot without him looks so empty. I’ll never know who this guy was.
Saturday morning is my day to sleep in. Burt leaves for tennis and I can do whatever I want. I read, I write, I practice. The big thing I do is I wash the dishes. It’s the only day of the week I am around without Burt. There’s no room for two to chore in this trailer. Burt gets to everything while I watch. Saturday he’s gone and I put my bug girl pants on and wash dishes. Then I go outside and do what really is a vile chore. I take a 3 gallon bucket and stick it under the gNask drain and bucket by bucket remove the previous week’s grey water and water our cactus garden. Grey water from the shower waters our figs trees two or three times a week. It’s nice and fresh and has some sand and soap. It smells good. Grey water from the trailer is fetid, foul, anaerobic rot. Bits of food, clumps of congealed grease, ants (from washing the hummingbird feeders) float out on top of a noxiously aromatic grey hued liquid. Flies swarm when I open the valve. Where are these flies are the other 6.5 days of the week? We do not have an overabundance of houseflies up here in the desert. They come and go. Allow the perfume of rotting food to waft from your environs and soon every puddle of grey water is covered with a blanket of flies. Where are they waiting? Do they have a schedule? It’s Saturday, I heard the lady on the hill empties her tank every Saturday, let’s go….On the upside the puddles rapidly sink into the ground and the food stuffs, while of sufficient amounts to disgust, are actually tiny motes that dry out and disappear. The flies leave within ten minutes of completing the chore. The smell dissipates soon after. The grey water is dispatched, the cacti are watered and the environment is one tiny bit conserved. It takes about twenty minutes to get 3-6 buckets of water out of the tank and distributed around the yard. Our aloe vera are busting moves all around. Some have baby plants sprouting from under their maternal arms and others are shooting up tall spikes of flowers. The cholla have doubled in size and have pretty buds on their tips.
The Gypsy Carpenters visited the Bridge to English program at the Palapa Society again yesterday. We’ve developed a syllabus of some simple tunes where we can help with English and singing development. Over the course of three hours we visited 8 classes. The kids are grouped by age and English skills. For each class Burt plays along while I warm the kids up with a seemingly random but actually deviously effective series of vocalizations meant to reduce inhibitions and get them breathing, working their vocal chords and lips, tongues and teeth. There’s a lot you can do with sing songy vowel sounds and lip flapping raspberries. I even threw in a few forceful NOs (there’s the devious bit). From there we did the Hokey Pokey. Doing the math it came out to 24 Hokey Pokeys over 3 hours. One slow, one faster, one with the kids naming body parts. The kids never failed to ask me to put my right hip in, put my right hip out, out my right hip in and shake it all about. I guess you’re ever too young to appreciate a good shake of the old money maker. From there it was onto whatever songs we had chosen for the particular age group. The littlest got I’m a Little Teapot. All ages got On Top of Spaghetti. The oldest and middle kids sang Three Little Birds and Bad Moon a Rising‘. It was quite a pace and I worked hard to keep moving and get in and out of each class in 20 minutes so we wouldn’t cause scheduling problems. Despite the packed agenda I never knew twenty minutes could be so long. When you’re on the 15th run through of the first verse of I’m a Little Teapot (with dance moves) time slows down. We came home utterly spent and pondered the miracle that there are people that can do this all day, every day for most of their lives. I am happy to do this once a week. The other six days I need my rest.
Baja midnight comes somewhere between 7 and 8 each night depending on who you ask. Burt and I are on the early side. You could even call us homebodies despite the fact that we don’t have a house. Our trailer beckons and we like to be snuggled up for a DVD around 7. I have some theories about the cause of this in the general population but the cause in our specific lives is no house equals no rooms to sit about in. That and 7:30 AM yoga. Darkness comes early and brings with it chill air. We naturally head indoors and under the covers. Just as we are falling asleep the local populace wakes up. This is what earplugs were made for.
This week something got into our friends and we found ourselves out to dinner three nights in a row. It was fun but now we are pooped. Last night’s gathering was with our former bass player Todd Silas’s sister-in-law Raechel. Ms. R brought hats for the festivities. She is a classy broad. Our dinner party had a former Hollywood starlet and 5 men, 4 women. Burt was the only straight guy. We ate too much and left too early. In between we abused the iPhone to answer trivial or trivia questions and post selfies of our spectacular hattedness on Facebook. What? You say there was a football game on? It was the 48th Superbowl? It sounds like we didn’t miss anything.
Today I met with our Palapa Society contact, Serena, and we worked out a song list for the three age groups. We’re going to start with these and see what happens:
Let My Love Open the Door (the Who)
Stand By Me (Umm….)
Bad Moon Rising (Creedance Clearwater Revival)
Three Little Birds (Bob Marley)
On Top of My Spaghetti (is there anyone willing to claim this?)
Let It Be (the Beatles)
Bye Bye Love (Buddy Holly)
You are my Sunshine
This Old Man
We’ll start plowing through the curriculum this Thursday at 3:15. Our goal is a choral extravaganza before Spring Break.
Dull it isn’t. Morning, dawn, sunup, whatever. It’s not my time to shine. I am lucky the resident man-servant can sling hash and get me a cup of tea so I can make my 7:30 yoga class. Today I had to ask him to speak in a softer tone of voice so my head wouldn’t crack open and expel its ugly thoughts. Some days I have to ask him not to speak at all. I was cranky because Mimi capered on my head from 4:30 to 5:30. The 6:10 alarm roused me from the profundity of early morning deep cycle sleep. Thanks, Mimi. Despite the cranky lethargy Burt was able to convince me the sunrise was worth viewing. Usually I give him the, “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” response from under my pillow. It was dazzling but my witnessing it doesn’t fill me with warm vibes and an eagerness to face the day. Is there something wrong with me or is it just a symptom of owliness?