The stucco is on, both interior and exterior. The floor is poured with expansion and contraction lines cut. The stairs to the roof are under construction. When they are finished the roof will be sealed and our albañiles will be done. Thursday, tomorrow, we’ll drive to La Paz and order the windows and buy some wood for our front door. Next up are the Gypsy Carpenters or, I should say, the Gypsy Carpenter. I’m semi-retired from that line of work. The elbows, wrists, and hands just can’t do that kind of labor for long. And this job is small. Burt won’t need much help. I’ll hold up some studs or cut a board if he needs me but mostly I’m just going to tell him what I want aesthetically. What do I want? Quién sabe? Hmmmm…There’s no rush. I’m leaning towards wabisabi industrial in lavender and gray with apple green accents.
Life is rebooting into our normal routines. The Todos Santos Bridge club added an open duplicate game on Friday afternoon. Burt and I are very happy. Playing once a week was no way to advance our understanding of the game and our partnership. It was too hard to remember anything in between Mondays. The kids are coming back around now that I walk down to their house and escort them past the very friendly dogs they think are dangerous. The migratory birds are leaving but we’re still birding.
I have two book recommendations for you. It’s rare I read a book with the damn phone addiction and music and bridge and birding and yoga but I’m trying to reinstill the habit. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and When Breath Becomes Air. Both are about death and they are both great to read and completely different. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes made me want to be an undertaker (again). It’s funny and informative about the death industry. If you don’t feel like reading it let me advise you to avoid embalming at all costs. You don’t want to know. When Breath Becomes Air is the sad and inspiring memoir of a young neurosurgeon as he dies of lung cancer. The takeaway was find what you want to be and be it. And that can change. Adapt. Live. Love. Serve.
Burt and I are back at our Mexican home base and all is well. The work on our house continued in our absence and we have nothing to complain about. The weather here is cool and moist. Actual rain fell two days ago and nighttime temperatures are in the 50s. Spring is upon us. La Primavera is typically damp and cool. Yay for spring.
There’s lots going on that I cannot discuss here. Pescadero politics, infrastructure, Bridge. Suffice it to say we are muddling through trying to help where we can. The kids have all but disappeared recently but have no fear we are rounding them up today for a big meeting to discuss our mission statement and goals. A lack of continuity (illness, travel, school) and kid level politics all contributed to the confusion. So today we’ll see what they want. The kids are in charge. We are going to regroup and move forward. Stay tuned.
Progress continues at a most satisfactory pace here in El Pescadero. Our team works with minimal oversight and zero drama. Every day Burt meets with them in the morning to discuss material needs. If something must be bought Burt goes and takes care of it while the guys get to building. Typical daily purchases are some combination of sand, gravel, block, cement, or water. There’s a limited amount of storage on our lot so materials come in only as they are needed.
Reinforced concrete beams have been poured to support the slab that is both ceiling and roof. It’s not just a roof, it’s a floor too. Our roof top will be accessible for viewing your enjoyment. Until someone builds on the lot south of us we have a clear view of the dancing humpback and gray whales. A few years ago Burt used to be able to see the surf break with binoculars but that view has since been obliterated by beach level condos. He uses the internet now to decide if he should go surfing. The roof, ceiling, floor…the slab will be insulated with blocks of styrofoam. I can’t quite envision how this is done. I’ll be sure to pay attention and let you know. Today temporary scaffolding is being installed to support the plywood forms for the concrete. The big slab pour should be very, very soon.
It’s official, we’re official. Burt and I have achieved temporary resident status in Mexico and not a day too soon. When I initiated our visa application process I didn’t realize that being in limbo between application and achieving residency would come with certain complications. One complication is you can’t leave the country without special permission. Another is the banks don’t like letting you do business. We’re running through pesos faster than Olive can eat a chocolate bar and having banking difficulties threatens our building project. Add to that Dad having debit card issues and using us as his money changer and suddenly we had a payroll to meet and no moolah to spare. The first transfers we made this year came with the surprise that we needed both a visa and a passport to make the transfer. In years past we only needed a passport. Two times they let us get away with showing the letter saying our visas were in process. Two weeks ago we finished the visa process but our laminated cards weren’t ready. We were issued a temporary visa, a piece of paper with our new ID number and photo. It says we are temporary resident of Mexico and has the Mexican equivalent of our social security number. Immigration said to use the piece of paper in the interim if any one wanted to see our visa. Burt took this to the bank expecting to get money. He got nothing but the news that it would not work. We needed our laminated card.
That sick feeling of being here with no access to money settled upon us. We have a team of 5 people expecting payday. We got debit card-less dad with no pesos asking for a loan. The cards were due to be done either today or by the end of next week. I had to put aside my fear of Spanish on the phone and call immigration to see if our cards were available. I hate this kind of thing. I was calling a day earlier than the earliest due date to be a pushy gringa asking for my card. It all went super smoothly. My card was ready. Sus tarjetas estan aquí. Muy bien.
Long story short: we drove to La Paz, got our card, drove home, got money, gave some to dad. Our workers will get paid on Saturday.
Our yard is full of construction materials and a staff of builders. We have finally plunged into the Mexican construction system. We’ve owned this lot for six years and ever since we bought it we’ve wrestled with the next big step. Build or permanently live in our gNash? If we build, how? Wood or concrete? Rammed earth? Prefab panels? It’s obvious we’d prefer wood since we could do it ourselves and we’d be in total control. The termites would prefer we build with wood, too. Or so most people think. We thought we’d solved the wood dilemma with an anti-termite treatment in our rumpus room. And we have. There’s no termites eating our treated rumpus room but someone wisely pointed out that if we wanted to be able to sell this place most people would be suspicious of wood. Termite bias is reasonable and most likely insurmountable in future buyers. Also, hurricanes. Concrete houses withstand hurricanes and we have hurricanes. With climate change we’re going to have more and stronger hurricanes.
So finally having decided to build meant we had reached the conclusion that we had to build with concrete block. Block is the local preference. There are many competent building crews to choose from here. Block is also less expensive than modular panels and rammed earth. Rammed earth is gorgeous but slow and very, very expensive. And it’s hard to remodel the interior. Concrete is easy to patch. Late last year we started getting estimates but really we wanted one crew, a team of guys whose work we’d seen and who we knew to be great workers. But that team had a boss and regular jobs working for their boss. We did not need the boss and we certainly didn’t want to pay the boss. Between Burt and I we can build a house in concrete and in Spanish. There was no need to pay money for the middle man. So we resigned ourselves to working with some other group but didn’t settle on anyone.
Over the summer we played with floor plans. Independently Burt and I realized an L shaped home would be best for our lot. The L would provide a secluded shady patio and allow us to cram in more floor space without crushing some nice cactii. When we arrived this year Burt noticed the guys we wanted were not particularly busy. So he asked them if they were available for some independent work. We got lucky. Things were slow and the dream team wanted to work for us and they got their boss to agree. The Magic 8 Ball revealed: All signs say YES. So we leapt on the chance to get our casita built by this team of quick and reliable builders. And here we are. The yard is a disaster. Rain fell into the mess yesterday so it’s an even worse situation than we could have imagined. But the workers persist. And the house is flying up while money flies out.
More later on construction techniques and the work culture.
This year’s Todos Santos Christmas Bird count was an unprecedented success for our area. I hope in future years we’ll be able to look back and see it as the start of a new day for citizen science in our part of the world. Twenty people from three countries speaking at least two languages got together and split up over 170 square miles of terrain to count as many birds as they could in one day. The first three years of counting only uncovered 74, 66, 44 species respectively. We got 51 species with my team alone on CBC day. Our combined CBC circle teams tagged at least 109 species together. (An increase of 47% on the best year and 147% on the worst.) We don’t have the final numbers yet because only half our teams have submitted their completed tally sheets. Among those species seen were prized endemics found only in Baja California Sur: the San Lucas Robin, Xantu’s hummingbird, the Gray thrasher, Cassin’s (San Lucas) Vireo, the Vioscosa’s Band-tailed pigeon, and the Acorn woodpecker. Some people may quibble over endemic status for some of these but our Baja pride dictates we support the local UABCS scientists working so hard on the status of these birds. There were a couple other subspecies seen, too, but I can’t recall which right now.
I am eternally grateful to all the hard working bird professionals that came out to support the community effort. Staff and students of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur gave up a day of their holidays to ensure our success. Burt and I are will continue to do what we can to help your programs succeed. Many thanks also to the expert guides and non-professionals who lent their eyes and ears. Your love of the birds is inspiring. And finally, to the newbies that were eager to learn and offered any support they had with driving, navigating, and feeding of teams. May you continue to learn and share all you have. Here’s who turned out: Emer Garcia, Gerardo Marrón, Victor Armando, Joaquin Corrales, Daniel Galindo, Andrea Quintaro, Kurt Radamaker, Cindy Radamaker, Bequia Martel, Damian Gonzáles, Pablo Gonzáles, Bobbi McElravey, Bill Levine, John Konovsky, Don Martin, Alejandra Yarely Barrios, Osiel A. Flores Rosas, Haidé Cruz, Burt Mittelstadt and me.
The week before the count Burt and I drove a lot of miles to make sure we knew the most productive areas and the best routes through the mountains. The results show our prep work proved worthwhile. Many people were surprised the mountain endemics were in our circle but we knew where to find them and those sweet birds showed up on the big day. What a relief. Thank you woodpeckers and robins.
My own personal day was spent slogging through my home turf of downtown Pescadero. But before that I had to get everyone else split into teams and out in the field. That night my fitbit said I slept 3 hours. Adrenaline was pumping as soon as my head hit the pillow. Thoughts kept popping up: Did I have enough maps, cars, snacks? Will they find the snipe at the dam? What about those Harris’s hawks? Do I need to bring sunscreen and bug juice? What if nobody helps me in Pescadero? When was the last time I saw a gray thrasher? What if nobody shows up? The alarm went off at 5 AM and I was in Todos Santos at our meeting point at 6:45. Burt arrived 15 minutes later in a spare vehicle. By 7:15 it was obvious we had enough experts and support to cover all the areas I had hoped to reach. I showed the teams my suggestions and we split up the people into teams of experts and support. There was a mild squirmish over the mountain areas. Our main coastal oases were so familiar to the best birders that they hoped for a day in the new terrain. Burt wound up in a car with 5 people, all of them with strong local skills and two of them at the expert level. That A team headed to the mountains. We had six teams. Three coastal oasis and town with agricuture and desert, and three in the desert to the edge of the mountains with some agriculture.
As for me, I had two amiable and kind helpers the first three hours but the slogging through sewage ponds and desert thorns under an unrelenting sun burned my guys out by lunch time. after a quick count at my feeder and some lunch I finished the lonely afternoon chasing sparrows and birds of prey in our agricultural fields. Around 3 PM Emer called in to say his team was done and back in Todos Santos. They had done the Santa Inez dam and its environs. We agreed to regroup and have a snack with the teams that were in from the field in Todos Santos. I did a rough run through of total species seen. Aside from the endemics we added 12 species that weren’t even expected to be seen in our count during the CBC. I’ve got my work cut out for me explaining all the new birds.
After the snack groups went home to Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, and La Paz. Kurt’s team was unaccounted for until 5 PM. They finally retired and headed to their hotel and Gerardo, Burt and I headed out to try and pick up some missing species and the night birds. Finally at 8 PM we showed Gerardo our guest bed and crashed. You might think the next day we would give it a rest but I had one of Baja’s best birders in my guest room and he was willing to bird my backyard and see what Pescadero had to offer so no, there was no rest for us. Burt and I took Gerardo to our local black water effluent and Gerardo got to work. He confirmed my find of the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat in our local cesspool, but where I was lucky to see one, he found six. This bird is a difficult ID. It is easy to wishfully call a common yellow throat a Belding’s so I was eager to confirm I wasn’t seeing things. I am very relieved. Gerardo is our local eBird reviewer and the only person ahead of me for number of checklists submitted to eBird in 2018. I tease him because if I was here full-time we’d have a real competition. And so we spent another day birding in the company of the amiable and productive Gerardo. We went to Elias Calles and La Poza, too. At 3:00 we parted because Burt and I had a tennis match with my dad and Sara Gay. After that I collapsed.
A special shout out to Jackie Lewis and Bonnie Bowen for encouraging me and Todos Santos EcoAdventures for passing the baton.
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.