And this just in: It’s a new school year in Pescadero. Here’s the neighbors in their spiffy new uniforms. Burt and I miss them so much. It’s not the same without our gang of minions. We’ve been mostly working and playing some music. The last two weekends we camped out with musician friends and got some hiking and fishing in with the tunes.
My mind is moving towards Mexico. I’m wondering what type of things to bring back for the kids. I’ll have to hit the back to school sales here and collect some fun supplies. Anything pink will be popular.
I contracted Burt’s tenacious virus a few days before our departure and this traveling while congested has been very tiring. We broke another trailer leaf spring and I could not muster any enthusiasm for the repair. I just sat around. Here are a couple of pictures I took only because Burt begged me. Walks of more than 20 yards induce wracking dry coughs. Yesterday I asked Burt if I had pneumonia. He reminded me that a week ago when he was in its grip he asked me if he had mono. Today I wondered if it would ever end but Burt’s looking pretty good so I’m going to count on surviving.
Today we landed in Burt’s dad’s front yard. Jack is looking more stooped and frail than he was a year ago. He used to stand as tall as Burt and now he’s a full 4″ lower. He’s 89 and almost a half now so we guess he’s entitled to some slouching. Jack says he’s done with chopping wood and uses a space heater instead of his fire place. The deafness is deeper and even But is yelling to be heard. I just smile. The smoke detector is beeping for a new battery but I can ignore it. Burt will change it soon. The teeth situation is another pile of annoyances. Other than all that aging BS Jack seems pretty darn good. His memory and cognitive faculties are in order.
While Burt and jack went grocery shopping I whipped out a batch of jalapeño cheese rolls. My one burst of movement for the day. We’re going to have some soup for dinner. Pardon me while I go lie down. I just shouted JALAPEÑO CHEESE three times to Jack and induced a coughing jag.
It’s been non-stop action around here until this morning. All was going well for my cousin and her hubby on their first vacation to Baja. Hikes, food, music, sightseeing, whale sharks, whales. And then a sneaky organism found its way into Burt’s digestive tract. Super-host Burt was struck down by a microbe. I’ve never heard him in such agony. I’ll spare you the details. Today we are sleeping it off. Tennis and Bridge canceled.
Cara and Bobby arrived on Tuesday. Since then they saw a packed Gypsy Carpenter show, gone to yoga, hiked, boated and snorkeled with the whale sharks, and eaten a lot of fine food. The weather has been the usual 78 and sunny. Cara’s blog link is on the left. You can see her pictures and read her impressions there soon. I’m happy she and the big guy are here and having a great time. Until today.
When Cara and Bobby arranged their trip they asked if they could see whale sharks. Cara said it was on her ‘bucket list’. My previous experience with the whale sharks was less than interesting. It was a small, loud boat with loud companions. There weren’t many whale sharks and I only spent a quick moment in the water. After seeing actual whales I was underwhelmed by the vacant stare of the plankton eating mega-fish. And I was seasick. But since I love my Cara-pooh I tried to be upbeat and I made arrangements to see the world’s largest fish. I am glad I did. This second trip was far more interesting and exciting than the first visit to the Bay of La Paz.
Neza and Zorro were our guides. We met up with them at 9:00 AM in front of the Burger King on the Malecon in La Paz. It took some firm evasive maneuvers to actually find Neza. We had a date with Neza but several other boat guides tried to poach us as we walked the twenty yards from our car to our meeting place. These other guides all said there was no guy named Neza. Neza? Neza who? Then Neza showed up and they were all like, “ohhhh, Neza. Yeah, we know him.” All’s fair in love and the eco-tourism industry. Despite having an appointment with Neza we didn’t actually have a slot to visit the whale sharks. There was some explaining about the restrictions on the number of boats and swimmers. Neza offered to take us on a longer tour and we could explore more areas (for more money of course). We said, nah, we’re good. We just want to see the whale sharks. I had no problem with this idea but I hate motor boats and all day in an open boat is sun and salt blasted and tiring. No biggy, we’d just go out and wait our turn.
It’s a form of kidnapping. A pleasant kidnapping where you wind up loving your kidnapper. Stockholm syndrome. The guides don’t want to loose a client when they don’t actually have a slot for their visit so they get you on the boat and have you in the bank so to speak while they wait for a slot to open. Since we had to wait over an hour for a space for our tour we just wandered around and looked at things. I think if you didn’t speak Spanish you might not even notice the guide negotiating over the radio to try and get in. It would be easy to think everything was moving along as planned. A pod of dolphins swam by so we followed them from a respectful distance. We saw a few magnificent frigates and brown pelicans. We enjoyed a lecture on all the names of the whale shark from around the world. Whale shark is a really extreme misnomer. This fish is neither whale nor shark. It’s its own thing. It needs a new name. Ginormo. Mr. Mouth. Godfisha. I learned that the fish are all in a database and can be identified by their unique spot patterns. The same technology on a smart phone that identifies constellations of stars can identify the whale sharks in photos.
After about two hours of wandering we finally were cleared to enter the whale shark area. It was a hoot. We immediately found some fishes and jumped in and swam with them. Quite literally. They swim and feed and you swim along side. It’s a terrific workout. Kicking like mad and breathing through a small tube while a 25′ fish with a mouth as large as a refrigerator cruises along. We were able to follow several and really see them in action. They were much more entertaining this time around. Cara has her own personal story that I’ll let you read from her blog. I’ll just say Zorro earned a large tip for his superb work.
In summary, I highly recommend visiting the whale sharks with Neza and Zorro. They kept us entertained and safe and we saw what we wanted to see.
When there’s blood in the first ten minutes you know you’re on an adventure. Vince is a kid that is kind and solitary. He’s got a ton of energy and he’s curious. He can also be a handful. Like many young boys and most men he doesn’t listen well and he takes action without thought of the consequences. Yesterday he joined our cast of thousands for a trip to the beach. In teh first 4 minutes he was causing a minor disruption. We were still withing sight of his house so I could say, “Vince, decide now if you want to go home or stay with us.” That settled him down nicely. No fear. Just a decision and it was his decision. He knew what I needed. In a car with 7 kids and no seatbelts there is no room for distraction.
Burt had decided it was time for a beach trip because it was Christmas break and we had an extra car. Also, the water is over heated and the weather is stunning. No joke on the water. Locals are starting to worry. The water is almost 10 degrees warmer than usual for this time of year. Hurricanes love warm water.
When we arrived at the beach I announced two rules. No littering and no going in the water until the adults arrived. We all walked together at a stately pace. Last year only a few of the kids could swim. This year they all claimed to have the ability. I thought to myself, “This won’t be so bad. Twelve kids and four adults. We can manage.” Mayhem was on that sweet thoughts heels. Within seconds of entering the tepid water with inconsequential waves there was blood. Blood, when it’s gushing down a young person’s face is quite a visceral shock. I feared an accidental elbow to the nose or a tooth for the tooth fairy but it was just a routine bloody nose. I hadn’t thought about bloody noses since I was a kid. They seemed like a regular occurrence on the playground. I never had one. It kind of looked fun. I think I wanted to have one and enjoy the attention.
Vince the Bloody, was an expert. He held his head back and we walked back to my towel. He asked for a tissues to clean his face. He calmly cleaned up and then just lay there quietly. He told me it was a fairly common experience for him and I need not worry. I sat there for a moment and he sent me off to supervise the 11 swimmers. The epitome of manly maturity.
Meanwhile the kids were like atoms in Brownian motion. They expanded to fill the space. The just kept buzzing and bouncing further and further apart. The huge beach was flat and nearly empty and the waves were so small there was no fear effect to contain them. Usually they are afraid of the water and they cling to us. Yesterday they were swimming and diving and running around liek teh proverbial maniacs. I must have counted to 12 six-hundred times. Every time I counted twelve kids I started over and counted again. Even Burt yelled at me once to try and get them closer together. Tom and Vikki were also standing guard and I could see Vikki counting, too. It’s hard to relax and count kids.
Vince was quickly back in action. Sand activities got some of the mob out of the water. My still impressive cartwheel skills were in high demand. Soon we were doing yoga and back bends. These kids have zero cartwheeling experience. There is no grass here. None of them have lawns. I tried to explain the mechanics. I nearly became a bloody mess myself as feet flew towards my face. After six or so personal demonstrations I told them I had to stop. I am getting smarter. I’m only a little sore today.
Trips to the beach require snacks. We grouped up and sat in the sand eating tamales, fruit, and chips. The kids surprised me when they almost universally judged the tamales to be too spicy. For a group that takes chili on their watermelon they were kind of wimpy about some peppers in there pork. As they say, more tamales for me.
Our journaling prompt for today was to draw a picture of ourselves when we felt invisible as a child. I did that but it’s not very inspiring. I felt invisible much of the time. Yesterday I was so visible and in such high demand that I teased the kids I was going to change my name so they couldn’t yell it.
I’m always thinking like my Girl Scout leader Marilyn Nardoza. What can I do to show these kids a little bit more of the world? Mrs. Nardoza (she’s alive and well and following along on Facebook) took us camping, put on plays, crafted us from here to Mars and back, lead cake baking contests, drug us to area historical sights. She always had a team of mothers to help. My mom was one. You’ve already previously heard previously how I won the cake contest one year after my mom baked my cake when I screwed up the first one. I wonder if mom ever confessed.
One year we did some enormous walk-a-thon thing. The Battle of Monmouth was the theme. My memories are fuzzy but I’m sure we raised money for every mile we walked. I think Mrs. Nardoza added a kind of scavenger hunt activity challenge to keep it interesting. The scouts had to find certain things by following clues. We were obsessed with colonial America. That ‘we’ means society at large to a 12 year old. School, scouts, news media, even our home were all colonial style. It was the age of the bicentennial and it seemed as though everything that didn’t happen in Boston happened in New Jersey. So we walked some lengthy distance collecting leaves and measuring flagpoles in a clump of pre-adolescence wearing our sashes and passing by battlefields and Washington-slept-here homes. My most distinct memory is measuring the flagpole. Someone had provided the basic math and we needed a 5′ volunteer to stand at the base and the rest of the group would back off and see how many time the 5′ kid ‘fit’ in the length of the flagpole. I was exactly 5′ at the time. I felt very special in my starring role as human yard stick.
Yesterday we took on our kids to a 5K race through a neighboring town. This idea to take the kids to run a 5k must have been rooted in the deep sub-conscious of girl scout walk-a-thons. Or maybe it was the former ultra-marathoner in me. As soon as I hatched the plan I started to doubt myself. This kids loose in town scenario is way scarier than kids loose at the beach. Also, I wondered could the kids even cover a 5k? Would they want to? I presented the idea and it was met with frowns and silence. Seeing them like that made me think it was going to be a bust but I said, think about it. A few days went by. I asked, “Who wants to go run the race?” All hands went up. Apparently upon thinking about it they realized it was a ride to the big town and maybe food would be involved.
At 7:15 AM yesterday we picked up 10 kids (9 girls and the stoic Guillermo) and one mother, Vikki. Vikki is always ready to go. She is our guardian angel. So 13 of us piled into two cars and we motored over to Todos Santos in the cloudy dawn light. We had a 3 1/3 kids to adult ratio working to our advantage. We parked a block away from the race start. Remembering my Girl Scout bag of organizational skills I gathered everyone around and gave them a rule and a quiz: No throwing trash. Where is the car? What is my name? What color is my shirt?
Our kids are litterbugs. That 70s era anti-littering campaign that I grew up under is only just now reaching our community. We are constantly reinforcing the No Tire Basura rule. Change of habit happens slowly. Reassured that they knew where the car was and who they were traveling with we headed into the Todos Santos plaza to register for the race. Burt negotiated a group discount of about 30%. This race was a fund raiser for the local organization the Palapa Society. We were happy to contribute nearly $100. Next ensued some brief mayhem as I filled out entry forms with names and ages. The kids dictated and I wrote. A few of the oldest did it themselves. I did Burt’s. Then we pinned race numbers onto everyone’s front. The race number has a metallic bar code that tracks everyone over the course and records their finishing time. This is serious business.
For the next hour we took photos and warmed-up. After we had already done an excellent warm-up some random dude, Orlando, gave us an impromptu warm up of his own. My stranger danger alarms went off like crazy so I just watched. I am a natural paranoiac. Finally it was time to line up. The kids all got into the scrum of it with Vikki and Burt. I knew I was going to walk and also was carrying a bag of hold my-sweater, my-water, my-camera, my-hat, my-phone for the kids I took a spot in the back. And we were off.
It felt a little sad and lonely in the back by myself. After all the business of hatching the plan and getting everybody to town I was suddenly on the dusty streets of Todos Santos walking in silence. But it was also nice knowing they were all up ahead. Somewhere. So I walked in peace. Then an ambulance flew past and I was no longer calm. I was what you might call freaked out. Of course my mind went to all the worst places. It was an ugly time. I started telling myself this: Everything is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is fine. I chatted with some other walkers. I walked as fast as I could. About halfway into it all and a half hour after the start I spotted Burt with three stragglers. I told myself, “Ok, three are alive.” I caught up to them and Burt told me he had seen all of our group intact and moving since the ambulance had passed. For the next half hour we cajoled and sang our three kids towards town. As we passed a water station the staff encouraged us to just throw our cups in the dirt when we finished drinking. We were walking through a mat of discarded cups. Despite this, my three girls all ran over to a garbage can and threw their cups away. Hope rises.
Our group of stragglers was really only one slacker and two groupies. The younger kids had fallen into the abyss of the older kid. They were whining but walking so we just kept moving. The eldest told me it was her first and last race. I told her to never say never (nunca digas nunca). My smartaleck use of Spanish drew a smile. As town drew near we all dug deep and got to the finish line in style. The slacker ran in. I did a cartwheel as my waiting team cheered. Burt crossed hand in hand with the only child to truly be struggling. She was beaming. Burt was ecstatic. It was his first road race, too.
Everybody finished healthy and happy enough. We watched the award ceremony. There were some very fast runners. Afterwards we took everyone out to fish tacos. Burt and I collapsed for an hour and then headed out to play Bridge.
Today is Christmas Day. Merry Christmas to you all. Burt and I did the two party thing last night despite me having the itchy throat start of a cold. Today it’s official. I am sick. I wonder how many people I infected? There were 40 or more at the first gig and another 20 at the second. We flung our saliva around by kissing and singing. I feel a little guilty but there were expectations upon us to play music and show our faces. I assuaged my guilt by telling myself this is the cold all these people had when we arrived and I am just catching up.
Before I succumbed we were keeping up with most of our social demands. I taught two English classes. We played tennis, bridge, and music. We birded a new spot and got two new lifers, a western snipe and a sora. Pretty cool birds. My cousin Kelly came by to visit with her husband Felipe and their son Tommy. Tommy has Angelman’s syndrome. Angelman’s is a genetic disease. Tommy is non-verbal and has intellectual disabilities. He’s also an energetic, curious kid with a lot of love in his heart. We had a great visit. He loved my hair. Kelly’s parents own a time-share home in Cabo so we may be seeing them again.
Today Burt and I planned to stay low key and recover from the last week’s crush of humanity. This hostile viral takeover of my corpus is sending the message loud and clear. I think we’ll drive over to that lovely bird spot and I’ll set up a chair and watch. Just last night a neighbor invited us to join her family for a mid-day meal but I think I’ll cancel. I’m done spreading germs. It’s sad too. Invitations into Mexican homes are a sign of great respect and on a holiday like this it’s a shame to miss out. Priscila wanted to sing for her mother. I don’t want to give her 90ish year old mother my cold. Ugh.
The first week in Mexico is a tug of war between getting settled and reestablishing social connections. Our yard was weeded by our neighbors Vikki and German before our arrival. Having that chore done in anticipation of landing is a tremendous improvement over past years of wallowing around in thigh high stickers and thorns. But once we get here there’s a lot more to do. The water system and electricity need to be reconnected. Our hot water heater is a glassed in box with a few score feet of black tubing. That system needs to be rebuilt and the pump reinstalled. Our water tank must be refilled. The electricity comes from our solar panels on the trailer. Thant gets reconnected. Then there’s some bugs. Usually our bathroom and rumpus room have some insect squatters. This year there were some termites in the bed frame. Add rebuilding the bed to the list of chores. The usual roaches and spiders and six months of dust were cleared out with a broom. The trailer itself also requires a seasonal purge after the summer of constant motion and the 1,000 mile drive down the dusty peninsula. The rugs, bedding, and towels from trailer and bodega all go to the laundry. Then the furniture needs to be moved out of storage and into the yard. It’s kind of an ordeal but not to terrible an ordeal.
Meanwhile it’s Christmas week. People from all our social circles want to see us and I’m just not a party girl. Despite appearances Burt is not much of a party guy either. Many years we arrive in Baja after Christmas and are able to avoid the manic crush of seasonal events. This year we’ve landed at Christmas and our week of adapting is overlaid with a flood of invitations for holiday parties and the return of routine activities like Bridge, tennis, Spanish class, yoga, and the kid’s group. Add in the Audubon Christmas bird count, too. Oh, and my mom’s brother and his family are in town. Seven rarely seen family members are in Cabo for nearly a week. They are penciled in for lunch tomorrow. Phew. I just want to sit down and have a cup of tea and read a book. Instead I’m pondering how to construct sentences in the subjunctive (past, present, and future) and thinking up a lesson plan for the kids and wondering what to bring to that pot luck. I can hardly find time to walk and practice the fiddle.
Today is the morning of day 6 since our arrival. The home front was officially under control yesterday afternoon. The rumpus room was restored to order just as the kids arrived. One kid, La Frixia, arrived 2 hours early but that’s another story. I set Frixia to coloring in the Jaguar reserve coloring book while I packaged up 12 sets of Christmas presents. Class was a smoothly chaotic session of the words of questions, Christmas vocabulary, and notes to Santa. We only had seven students. The tweeners didn’t show up. Not a surprise. They are always welcome but every year as soon as they hit 12 or 13 the kids start doing other things. And it’s Christmas vacation. Santa was asked for a doll, games, clothes, a trip to Sinaloa, and a trip to Europe. Vikki, the mom, wants Europe. I wish I could take her.
Burt and I and the mascotas arrived at our place in Mexico a couple of nights ago. Hurricane Irma left the place the greenest we’ve seen it. There was no noticeable damage to our property. A friend’s place rolled away in a flooded arroyo. A massive personal disaster. That got me thinking of how the end of the world as we know it is always thought of as a cataclysm happening to all of us at once. Reality is someone, somewhere is experiencing the end of the world as they know it every day. It’s happening all the time. Many of my older friends are struggling with health problems. Every season we return to find someone, or more likely, several someone elses have died since we were last here. Living our life this way, between worlds, is kind of like a strobe effect. What time normally buffers into a gradual accretion of events like sedimentation behind a dam turns into a cataclysmic tsunami of news. Restaurants closed, beaches built upon, friends gone forever.
Despite the seasonal inventory of who’s here, who might return, and who’ll never return we’re happy to be home. The gang of girls is scheduled for their first class on Tuesday. They are shining stars in our wandering lifestyle. Back to work and play. Our English teacher is no longer available so I am going to plow on ahead. Lesson plans anyone?
As I sit here at the El Centro Walmart parking lot as I have for the last three years I am filled with gratitude and relief to find us ready to cross into Mexico for another winter. The year has been hectic and the last week was filled with non-stop activity. A flat tire, broken furnace, Mimi transfer, and pre-Mexico provisioning has consumed our minds and bodies. Burt and I exited the Northern Jaguar Project reserve to find it 26F in Portal. That means it’s time to head south without delay.
All the details of crossing are the same every year but the means of accomplishing our tasks vary. Vehicle insurance – check, health insurance – check (Thanks, Obama), clothes for Vikki – check, visas – check, special foods (chocolate, parmesan cheese)- check. This year we purchased our insurance and visas early due to the NJP reserve excursion. We’ve also learned to do this without joining the Baja traveler’s group that demands a pretty surcharge for the supposed convenience of them getting us our visa. We do self-service at the border. Saves us a trip to San Diego or chasing mail. It’s very easy. If you’re thinking of coming down by car let me know and I’ll tell you how to do it.
I have a nice pile of clothes from my neighbors that were donated by a variety of friends. Thanks, Pat, Jack, Jack’s wife, Eskild, Susan, and Peg. Today I supplemented these hand-me-downs with a spree at the dollar store and Target. Last spring we had a benefit concert and the proceeds of that go to my girls. With the money I bought hair ties, nail polish, socks, tees, tights, markers, and note pads for 14. The Target cashier got a little misty when she heard why I was buying such a volume of children’s clothes in a wide variety of sizes. I am so grateful to my dad and our fans for generously helping us make these gifts.
After all our preparatory work was done we found ourselves with time to spare in a not so attractive town. We did a short bird walk in a city park. The new eBird phone app uses GPS to map and time each bird sighting. I wanted to play with it before we got to Mexico. That worked so add another check to the list of to-dos. On the technology front I also managed to add WhatsApp? to my iPhone. This is a texting app favored by all our Latin American friends from Mexico to Ecuador. I finally got on board and started texting our buddies in their preferred manner. Another check on the to-do list.
The bird walk was quick so then we headed over to the bowling alley. Normally when were siting about in a towny area we’d go to the movies but nothing showing appealed to us and the bowling alley was shiny and new. Burt and I last bowled in Helena, Montana in 2007 when my parents came to visit. It was a cool and rainy day. Bowling seemed like a good idea. It was fun for a few minutes but mom couldn’t really remember how to hold the ball. She was in the midst of her Alzheimer’s. Mom was still active but the activity had to be something she was hardwired for. Bowling wasn’t high on the list of her hobbies. Golfing was okay. So we bailed after one set of ten frames.
Today Burt and I showed signs of untapped bowling talent. Our first ten frames were a disaster. The score was 90 to 38. The next set saw such dramatic improvements you’d think we had been trying to lure in some marks the first round. That was 238 to 141. We quit mid-way through the third round because my wrist was too tired. I started dropping the ball instead of rolling it. Burt thought we could go pro by next week if we applied ourselves. I figure I’d have a psychological breakdown and should get out now.
Now we are snuggled in the gNash and ready to drive. Mimi is already back into her old routines of begging food and walking on me all night long.
Yesterday was warm and sunny and the whole fam-dam-ily took a road trip up to the remote ranchos in the mountains to look for pottery. Dad and friend in one car and Burt, Jen, and Robin in another. I bounced back and forth. I’m not sure dad enjoyed himself. He seemed a little subdued. It might have been an upset stomach or just the really rough roads through very remote desert.
Our first stop was to see Ramona. At 70 Ramona doesn’t produce much these days but her pieces are more whimsical than other local artists. There are pigs, cows, turtles, chickens and other local species transformed into jars and bowls and serving vessels. She explained to us that she was hoping for a new oven because her current one was too big for her to fill these days. She wanted to be able to fire smaller loads. Ramona uses pitaya cactus wood as her main fuel. It doesn’t take much time to form a simple cup but the finishing takes a lot of rubbing with a smooth stone over many days. She does a little bit every day until the piece is smooth and dried just right for firing. If she does too much work one day the piece will dry too quickly and crack. Ramona learned how to do this from her great-grandmother.
Next we went to the locally famous guy’s house but he wasn’t home. Marcos makes bigger and more finely crafted casseroles and bowls. You can drop a substantial amount of pesos at his house. I figured it was our lucky day to not be tempted. Our last visit was to our friends at the end of the road. We don’t even know their names but they call us friend and we’ve been many times. The main man in the photo below has never smiled for us. Until now. The ladies were all unpacking a bunch of cups and bowls for us to look over and I wondered why the man of the house wasn’t showing us his wares. This guy embodies strong, silent type. I knew he wove lariats and riatas and horse accoutrements. Last year I bought a key chain from him. The hand of the car I call it. So this year I gathered my gumption and asked him, “And where is your work?” I got a flicker of a smile for remembering. He quickly tried to conceal it and he headed off to get his stuff for me. This year I bought a bull’s head made of pig teeth. He makes this stuff to sell down in Cabo San Lucas.
The women asked how our walk (recall the death march to Titi Mountain?) went earlier in the spring. I told them how far we made it and that we were looking for birds. I always say we are scientists studying birds because it’s easier to understand. This brought a piece or unsolicited news. The older woman and the youngest kids had seen a new bird in the area. A blue bird with a crest. I showed a picture of the very common California Scrub Jay and they said, “Noooo, not that one. That one doesn’t have a crest.” I searched for jays on my phone app and found a mainland bird, the Stellar’s Jay, dark blue with a prominent crest. I showed them this picture and they said, “Yes, that one has been here for a couple of years. It’s new here.” Hmmmmm. We could be real scientists after all on the brink of a new discovery. I have no doubt they know what they see. These people are living straight off the land. They pay attention. Burt and I hope to head back up in a few weeks and see for ourselves.