In the photo above Olive is trying to decide what to do. Elvis had rolled in poop at a previous stop and needed to be spun in the Pacific-rinse-omatic for a while to get clean. Normally Olive would relish a run on the beach. I’m not sure if she knew Elvis was in for some disciplinary swimming or she was worn out from the walk. Perhaps she didn’t want to take the chances that she would be required to clean up, too. Maybe she just wanted to hang out with me while I waited. I was too pooped to walk more myself. Two weeks after her poisoning Olive seems her normal self but with less endurance.
New follower Kevin suggested a recounting of how we wound up wintering in Pescadero. I sent him deep into the archives for a full accounting but I can summarize here. The long and short of it is it is too expensive and cold to winter comfortably in the United States as full time RVers. We can afford to work part-time and live near the beach in Mexico. This spot is the least populated but not primitive location on the Baja with good surf. You can easily drive from the U.S. People are filling the place in rapidly since the road was widened from Cabo San Lucas but we’re still happy here. The food scene is fantastic. The scenery breath taking. Burt had been to El Pescadero in the early 80s. He and his family have always visited Mexico and being a surfer he was naturally drawn to this spot. Meanwhile a woman he knew from Helena, Montana, Janet, had settled here.
Seven years ago we hit the road and had no idea if we would last a week or a year or forever. We still don’t know how long we’ll go living nomadically but it suits us. The first winter we spent in the US and suffered snow in Pensacola and 40 degress and raining in Key West for $100 a night. Not comfortable economically or climatologically. The next winter we decided to visit Janet and see how we liked Mexico. It was a fit. The funniest part of the arrival story is how as we were pulling into town Burt turns to me and say, “I forgot what a shit hole this place is.” I replied I’d been paying attention since we left the US 1200 miles back and the place was just as I expected. Yeah, there’s garbage and bad roads and no cell service or wi-fi but it’s pretty and interesting. Six years later there’s a lot less garbage, phone work great, and we’re still pretty happy here.
I was scheduled to play tennis with Lurker Al today but I cancelled. Yesterday I woke up with a very stiff neck. I went to my tennis lesson because I thought it would loosen up with activity. After a miserable night last night I am worse today and have to conclude tennis did not help. No tennis today.
The night before last was when the stiff neck developed. There’s this thing I sometimes get where I suddenly develop an intense stabbing pain between my ribs and the sternum. Not a heart attack but a connective tissue thing. I can feel it very localized in the joint. It started up when I would overdo it rock climbing decades ago. The weird thing is the pain only comes at rest, usually after too much upper body activity. It also only happens to me on very rare occasions but when it does it is fully disabling for a few minutes. It sounds to me (based on internet research) it’s costochondritis. Recently there’s been an uptick in yoga, music, and tennis activity. So two nights ago I was trying to turn over in my sleep and got trapped in the covers. As I struggled to free myself I was stuck by a breath robbing pain in my sternum. I was stuck. My whole body froze as I tried to stay calm and let the spasm pass. I could only take shallow breaths. It resembles a calf cramp of the ribs. My neck must have been propping me in my mid-turn position. A few minutes passed, the pain subsided and I rolled over and went to sleep. I had fierce dreams of war and bomber planes and aliens. The next morning the stiff neck.
So today no yoga, no tennis, ice packs and aspirin. I still have the kids at 4:00. Tomorrow we planned for an epic mountain hike. I might not be up for the drive. Head bobbing for two hours on mountainous, washboard roads will not help. If we do make it, it’s likely the blog continuity will be broken.
Yesterday we went to our neighbor Priscila’s and reviewed some Mexican folk standards and worked on a new tune called La Flor de Capomo. Give it a listen. I’m currently using this brain worm as our 6 AM alarm every morning. It should make it into our repertoire soon. During our visit we learned Priscila’s family had just purchased three new goats and Prissy was making fresh cheese. She gave us a plate of requesón and crackers to enjoy. We took home some queso fresco, too. Yummy. Nothing better than your neighbor having too much homemade cheese.
I had two writing assignments today. The journal project asked us to photodocument our day and write about the mundane and special. My Spanish teacher wanted a discussion of my time outside of Mexico in the past tense. I woke up crabby. Mimi glared. Ants crawled. I had writing to do. Before eating I did my Spanish homework. I made a passable job of describing how we took a job near my family and my mom’s death. Cranky me. I wonder why?
Next I turned my attention to the ants. I’m spraying them with white vinegar and soap. They disappear for a while and then the next generation shows up. How many must I kill before they are satisfied with the hummingbird feeders? Must they come inside, too? Irritable me. Burt fed me. We went to the beach. Elvis and Olive gamboled. I started to perk up. We came home. I killed more ants. I (delusional) thought I made some head way. I ate lunch. I panicked over a potluck dish for tomorrow’s Bridge game. I developed an idea for a salad.
I went to Spanish class. I love our 1991 Ford Exploder. Before I left the neighborhood I stopped at Rafa and April’s and April helped me decide which clothes to give to which kids. I had bought a bunch of girl’s clothes in the states of various sizes but I had no idea what would fit whom. On the way to Spanish I passed Federal Police stopping oncoming traffic. There’s been some mild agitation in the area over skyrocketing fuel prices. The police seemed to want to remind people they are here. The blockade was gone by the time I returned home.
At Spanish I read my essay. I didn’t make too many gross errors. Writing in Spanish is very hard for me. Writing requires grammar and spelling. Sentence structure matters. Conversations are much more forgiving. Communication can happen despite faulty pronunciation or disagreement between nouns and verbs. You can see the corrections below. I love my Spanish teacher Yvonne and my fellow student Alexina. They are both decades younger than me. Alexina is also a civil engineer. What are the chances?
After class I stopped for groceries. Agricole has a diverse selection of locally grown and made organic products. I spent $10. Then I went to Fidel’s highway fruit stand. I spent 0.25 cents. I was equally happy with both places. I arrived home to find Burt tuning up my mother’s guitar. This guitar had spent 7 years hanging outside as a yard ornament and after minor repairs was playable again. Weird. That’s a tough guitar. I killed some more ants.
Next Burt and I practiced. It was rocky for me. I couldn’t quite get the bow under control. Burt and I are contemplating where to play music this winter. We have ideas. The Gypsy Carpenters may have a pizzeria revival. After practicing I collapsed for an hour or two. I got an email from friends that were planning to visit saying they had cancelled their trip. The civil unrest north of here has closed gas stations and parts of the highway. We are sad but also glad not to have to worry about our friends on the road. I called my dad. He said to stop bothering him.
This evening we went back to my Spanish school for a Rosca de Reyes party. Today is when the wise men finally made it to Jerusalem bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. In Mexico it’s a nice holiday. They have a wreath like cake. Inside the cake is a baby. If you get the piece of cake with the baby you have to host a tamale party in February. Nobody at the party found the baby. There were only three pieces of cake uneaten when we left. Speculation was that the cake was defective. There were at least 20 relieved people that did not have to host a party in February. Burt and I played music and got some of the other students to sing. We inspired one woman to ask for guitar lessons. We’re meeting up next week to learn some Mexican folk songs and teach guitar. That is the biggest news of the day. Possibly the week.
On the way home we stopped at Luciano’s Pizza. Luciano’s is what was known as Napoli 6 years ago. We started gigging in Mexico at Napoli and met many of our friend’s while playing there. Napoli sort of fell apart, then moved and got there act together in a new inconvenient for us location. Now this place is at the old spot and using the same pizza oven. Tonight’s pizza was great. We are in negotiations to start all over again where it all started. Stay tuned. We’ll let you know if we’re going to do a show there.
That’s it. Time for bed. Birding at 6 AM tomorrow.
I did learn all their names but like a mother with many kids I didn’t always apply them to the correct kid. Yesterday was our last class of this season in Mexico. we are packing and making arrangements to vacate the premises. My guy is going to watch the property and occasionally water. Tools and toys moved out of the truck and trailer in January are moving back into the truck and trailer in June. It was a completely different season than previous stays. The surf was down. We weren’t inspired to perform. We did learn to play bridge and birded the heck out of the neighboring areas. And we got involved in the lives of our neighborhood kids. Next year I hope we add more music and more surfing.
I am already thinking about six months from now because I still have lots of ideas. My desire to teach music has blossomed into teaching other things. Arty things, exercise things, English things. I’m thinking along the lines of start small. Help a couple of kids but help them deeply. Take them places, show them things.
As part of our packing we assessed and purged a bunch of clothes and bedding. Stuff left behind by Jen and Robin and other visitors went into 4 big bags. I had some dresses I no longer wore, too. The bags were in our car when we picked up the kids and they spotted it. Some of these kids come from very, very stressed economic situations. They live in shacks. They don’t have reliable vehicles. Their clothes don’t fit. They are surrounded by wealthy gringos. Extreme poverty has given these particular kids eagle eyes. They saw the bags of clothes in the car and just straight up asked if they could have them. I had planned to find a way to give them to them without making them uncomfortable. I need not have worried. We went through them together so I could help split them between the two main families and each individual girl. Everybody was happy. Blankets and towels and hand bags and dresses and shoes. Yippee.
One of these families has a granny that is 102 years old. April and I joke that we are afraid to even look at her because our glance could turn her to dust. Granny used to sit on the street and catch the rays every day two years ago. I thought she had died because I had not seen her this winter. I guess she was hibernating. Recently she’s been out. I’m hoping she got one of the new blankets.
This could be the last post for a while. I presume we’ll have intermittent access until we reach the states. xoxoxo
Spring has sprung. My mom used to say that. Flowers are blooming. Lizards are doing pushups. Baby birds are cheeping in our palapa column. Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend (Jen and Robin) are here catching rays and waves. I thought I had something to write about but I’m tapped out for the moment. Ideas welcome. Let us know if you have any questions.
It was standing room only at the Pescadero music class yesterday. There are no chairs unless we bring them so it’s always standing room only. We actually have no room or bathroom, either. Despite our lack of facilities we have a great time. The wall makes it easy for me to trap the kids. Eleven chamacos showed up to stretch their vocal chords yesterday. They range in age from 3 to 13. Mostly girls. My rough Spanish and general hugeness (physical and metaphysical) seems to keep them all slightly intimidated and that’s a good thing.
To give you an example of what we’re up against culturally here are the kids names:
There are no typos. How am I supposed to remember these names? I have them in my phone and I study them every day but it’s like learning latin names for plants. It will not stick. I can’t remember people’s names when they are names I’m familiar with. I might not win this particular battle. Meanwhile Burt and I are somewhat famous. Our names are on posters around town advertising the kid’s music classes. One kid called me by name from across the way yesterday. It’s shocking to hear my own name yelled out. The caller was Elvier, student numero uno. He was the first kid to show up at the very first class. I can remember him because he’s one of the rare boys and I remember Elvis-notElvis-Elvier.
Every class I try to sneak in little lessons on self esteem and working together. My motto is if you can’t use your voice you can’t succeed. So we make funny noises and dance around and get loud and not so musical. Confidence, cooperation…Fun. The Hokey Pokey is what it is all about.
I’ve been philosophizing on Aloe Vera with Burt. Aloe is not a native plant in the Americas. This shocking news was brought to us by the plant expert we listened to a few weeks ago, Jon Rebman. Shocking because aloe is growing wild and looking lovely all over the Baja. Aloe was imported from Africa into China and Europe a long time ago. Those pesky Europeans then took tomatoes from the Americas and left some aloe here. Both Burt and I are are sensitized to the damage done to the environment by what are called noxious weeds. So called noxious weeds cause actual harm to the environment by displacing native plants and usually having no beneficial properties, i.e. nothing wants to eat them. Noxious weeds have an actual U.S. Government definition and there is a list of noxious weeds for each state. Southerners are familiar with their classic noxious weed kudzu. Kudzu was brought in from Japan. It now covers anything that doesn’t move in the southeastern US. Watch The Walking Dead TV show and you see it everywhere. It’s even been a plot device. Nothing eats kudzu. It grows like kudzu and causes immense amounts of property damage and makes a geat hiding place for zombies.
But then there’s a concept of escaped cultivars. Escaped cultivars are free ranging stands of garden plants. Plants that made it out into the wild on the wind. Some noxious weeds are escaped cultivars. I am not sure all escaped cultivars are noxious weeds. Aloe is a prime example. In the U.S., at least, aloe is not on the Federal noxious weed list. It is on the noxious weed list for Australia. Poor Australia, everything seems to run amok there. Rabbit, aloe…Meanwhile here in Baja their are vast stands of aloe growing wild not to mention that it is a staple plant in every xeriscaped garden. Aloe is lovely, blooms for a lengthy time, requires scanty water, and attracts gorgeous birds. A wide variety of hummingbirds and two species of Orioles regularly dine on aloe’s abundant nectar. The bees love it, too.
So here we are surrounded by a lush aloe garden on our spot in Mexico. Many birds and insects visit our aloe providing us great pleasure. We cannot unknow the new information. Our attempts to cultivate a bit of a natural spot have failed. Argh the agony of taking the good and the bad. But we will continue on. The aloe-cat is out of the bag. It might not be native but it is not wholly noxious. Other species thrive on it. Meanwhile we are renewing our focus to bring in native plants and nurture the ones that show up naturally.
Below is a picture of rush milkweed. I love this leafless, prehistoric plant. It has a complicated flower structure that requires the assistance of a specific insect for successful pollination, the tarantula hawk. The pollen packets are lifted from the flower as the tarantula hawk sips nectar. As the hawk travels from plant to plant the pollen is distributed and genetic information is shared. These pollen packets cannot make it from plant to plant on the wind. They need the spiny legs of the tarantula hawk. Talk about co-dependent. Then the tarantula hawk has it’s own odd problems of procreation. The tarantula hawk must find a tarantula spider, paralyze it, and lay its eggs on the spider to successfully reproduce. You’ve read it here before but it’s too cool not to repeat. The paralyzed (and alive) tarantula is eaten piece by piece by the tarantula hawk hatchlings. The least vital organs first so that the spider remains alive until the bitter end. I always hope the paralytic drug used by the tarantula hawk has some kind of sedative or hallucinogenic effect, too.
The Gypsy Carpenters are booked to play a house party this week and we’re trying to get tidified. I have a real, professional haircut scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Burt met the buzzers last night. His top of the head hair is now so short we had to pluck his ear hairs. It’s a sad day when ear hairs are longer and thicker than head hairs. I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating. The loss of near vision as we grow older is a gift of nature. Grooming becomes more difficult but we also can’t see much of the damage done as time progresses. Today my friend Myra asked if I had any grey hair. Ha. Bad lighting in the yoga studio and my naturally low-contrasting light brown have prevented her from seeing I am sporting an abundance of canas (gray hair in Spanish). I’m sure even Burt can’t see it unless he dons his readers.
This week we also had our vehicles groomed. For $100 pesos (about $6 US) the car gets vacuumed, washed, and wiped out. While the vehicles get their long overdue spa treatments we eat ceviche and fish tacos and watch. It’s one of the many wonderful things in our life right now. Typically we tip these guys 40% because our vehicles are disgusting. Elvis drool accumulates in the arm rests then layers of Elvis hair and road dust and sawdust form a ceramic layer of gross. So gross I avert my eyes.
Last night we went birding. Again. I’m trying to get to 15 new spots this month. If I do I’ll be enrolled in ebird.org’s contest to win a new pair of binoculars. Our trip last night was to the defunct marble mine just outside of town. We saw a few things but our hopes to call in another owl were unsatisfied. On the other hand, we did call in a common poorwill with the iBirdPro app on my phone. Dogs barked in the distance as the phone sang out with the poorwill’s piercing and lamenting voice. We immediately heard a call back. The sad sound provides a satisfying soundtrack to walk in an abandoned mine with eerie cacti shadows at twilight. The common poorwill is a member of the nightjar family and is the only bird known to hibernate in winter. Hear it HERE.
If you happen to like birding you should check out eBird.org. This is a fine example of citizen science. Bird researchers from all over the world can tap into the data of regular birders and determine all kinds of things about the lives of birds, climate change, disease, habitat loss, etc. Since there aren’t many contributors in Baja, I’ve decided to do what I can to increase the data points. Burt is a big help.
On last night’s excursion we also positively identified the Dog Poop Bush. With seed pods that resemble logs of canine excrement this shrubby tree or treeish bush is aptly named. It does not smell bad. The seeds can be roasted and ground and added to coffee or chocolate. Sounds in-tree-ging. We may have to collect some more wild edibles. Dog Poop Tree chocolate bars, anyone?
Finally, finally, finally. You’d think we were trying to get to the moon for how many times we’ve tried to get to San Vicente to see the pottery. After 5 years and and least 5 misses we succeeded in finding San Vicente and the pottery. Burt and I and the Olvis canine team made a day of it. We decided to do a birding adventure. That way if we missed the pottery again we’d still accomplish something. Team Clay Bird left the Pescadero area at 10:30. The odometer was checked and the time noted on our bird list. First stop, the Pescadero presa. The presa is a small earthen dam just below our house. There’s a large puddle of water behind it. At the start of our tour we found coots, gadwells, ruddy ducks and assorted songbirds, most notably the friendly blue-gray gnatcathcher. We also detected a faint stench of decay.
Back on the highway we saw the usual flotilla of Turkey Vultures. I presume they were trying to pinpoint the stanch at the dam. we stopped at a couple of shady spots and added the cara cara above and some kestrels and more gnatcatchers. The cara cara was grooming. These dramatically plumed birds of prey appreciate carrion. I assume they must have to adhere to strict grooming protocols to keep tidy. Some say the signature cara cara toupee is the bird version of Donald Trump’s coif. I’m not so sure about the resemblance to the Donald but I do like the looks of the cara cara.
After two and a half hours we made it to San Vicente. The road had recently been graded so the going was fairly smooth. San Vicente is way up high in the Sierra de la Laguna. From up there we could see the fog layer far out over the Pacific Ocean. Our years of wandering have paid off and we finally recognize catcus cues and important road forks. Signage is faded and hard to find. The map is just wrong. Now saying we arrived in San Vicente might lead a reader to believe we found a town. We found a horse, a mini-church (seating for 20), a school, and one home. That home had a potter with pottery. Rumors of ostriches remain unsubstantiated.
Ramona, the potter, works in her home. Currently she says it’s too cold to work (its over 80 degrees). When it warms up and if God is willing (her words) she will start back at it. Ramona appears to be approaching retirement. I picked out a bowl and Burt bought a coffee cup. I wouldn’t be surprised if arthritis is slowing her down. From Ramona’s place we continued a short way towards the back road we had looked for a couple for weeks ago. Ramona’s husband Marcos told us the road no longer goes through to San Jacinto. Getting lost two week ago spared us hours in the dark on a road that would have eventually dead-ended. At an arroyo about a half mile past Ramona’s we turned around.
Our return route took us to Candelaria. The road to Candelaria is smooth and two laned dirt. It was a freaky Baja superhighway. No traffic. Below us were palm oases and a lush arroyo. We stopped and counted some more birds. I saw an unidentifiable sandpiper. Darn shorebirds. What PITAs. Eventually we found Candelaria. Imagine or surprise to find paved roads and street lights and fresh paint and a tidy community. There was a real church, school, government buildings…There was more pavement and sidewalks than in our own town yet this town was in the middle of nowhere. Home of a bigwig politician? A cartel strong hold? With no answers Burt and I tried to find our way off the pavement and back onto the dirt for our adventure home. This was harder than it sounds. The pavement had a way of degrading all the dirt roads into town. Nothing looked like a viable road except the main route we used to come into town. Trial and error found us heading downhill towards the Pacific. In a few miles we entered the El Migriño arroyo. This arroyo is famous for offroading and dune buggy adventures. We also no now there are no roads where dune buggies and quads play. We had a ten mile deep sand tour in the Exploder. Frequent comments were: Does it look better over there? No. Yes, yes, no, go, go, go…don’t STOP…Over there over there…no here…no….Oh F*#K…It just doesn’t matter. It’s all bad. It was all bad but it was also all good enough. Burt surfed the Exploder through washboard covered sand dunes and we made it out. The key was to maintain speed but not drive so fast that you wrecked. One time I heard the engine bouncing on a separate cycle than the chassis of the vehicle. I think it might have detached from the frame. Olive and Elvis are in therapy.
Seven hours and seventy one miles resulted in 21 bird species found and the purchase of a bowl and coffee cup. Afterwards we found out that the ostriches and the ‘famous’ potter lived just a little further beyond where we turned around. Add that to things we didn’t need to know. Some people might say we still failed to find the pottery of San Vicente. I’m perfectly satisfied and also willing to go back for another trip. Mostly so I can add ostriches to our bird list.
Ensconced in Portal for 8 months both Burt and I managed to avoid catching any colds. This despite some memorably afflicted friends in our immediate environs. Come to Mexico and get sick. It happens every year. I think it is the super duper increase in human contacts. We go from seeing 2 to 5 people in a day to making contacts with hundreds. It’s like we are in kiddie daycare for adults.
First likely bed of germs: The tennis court. Tennis is a non-contact sport but think about that fuzzy ball going back and forth and from hand to hand. I like to pretend we are knocking the germs off or they are desiccating rapidly. Doubtful. Meanwhile sweat gets in your eyes. You serve the ball, receive the return, hit it wide, wipe the sweat out of your eyes. Zap. Vector for a virus.
Then there’s Spanish class. Close proximity here. Somebody coughs or sneezes and that’s it. You inhale and you’re done for. Vector.
How about Bridge? OMG. The cards, the close proximity, the swapping tables. Burt and I are taking Bridge lessons. So far it seems very interesting. After years of Pinochle and Cribbage and Briscola our abilities to assess hands and win tricks are there. Now if we can figure out all the arcane bidding communications. Burt’s mom gave us a lesson once. She played until she died. Burt’s dad Jack gave up the game. He says there is always one dickhead (He might have used a nicer word.) ruining the game. We already saw some of that. We’ve been reading up and watched two games this week. Sunday we have our first hands-on lesson. More vectors.
Add a smattering of music for children, visits with the neighbors kid (children are born vectors), going out to eat, sharing yoga mats…
Here’s the real sad news. I’m the vector now. I’ve done all this stuff not knowing I was infected. I have shaken all the bridge people’s hands. I played round robin tennis (there were 8 people on the court), I used a public yoga mat, I dipped in the communal dip at a birthday party. Worse, I used the spoon. In Mexico there is a spoon in the salsa. Supposedly it’s more polite. Everyone touches the spoon. I think it’s a greater health hazard.
My virus has achieved it’s primary mission: to spread and propagate. Burt has a sore throat. He’s out playing tennis. There’s other people to infect.