Here are a couple of pictures from our hike to Puerto Viejo or Old Port. When this area produced commercial amounts of sugar cane the shipments left via rowboat at this port. Large shipping vessels anchored off shore. There are bits of old infrastructure to admire such as the stone quay and dry set rock fences and roads and even the remnants of a turtle cannery but I am always blinded by the dramatic landscape. Here the last vestiges of the mountains crash into the sea. Sea lions blubber about on the rocks below while verdin, black throated sparrow, and a cactus wren sing courtship songs. Sometimes the wind carries the sea lion’s grunts and groan all the way up to our perch. The cardon cactii stand watch like lighthouses on cliff edges. The palo verde, nipped by the harsh salt wind, grows close to the ground with octopus like tentacles.
Traditionally visitors approached this area from the north but a recent hotel development has caused confusion (putting it mildly) and animosity about access. Guards and scary looking dogs patrol the area now and a massive amount of vital mangrove habitat was destroyed, threatening the endangered Belding’s Yellowthroat. Best to steer clear even if the road is open. We decided to see what the walk was like from the south and found it to be easy and rather more pleasant because we could avoid all views of the unsightly hotel and its environmental destruction. Yes, our heads are firmly in the sand. From where we parked and walked there was very little evidence of the massive development all around. The area remains a very wild pocket, one of the last, between Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas. Scat all around and game trails onto sheer cliff faces indicated coyotes and/or bobcats make regular excursions into the deep canyons. I hope the area stays protected.
Recently I took my rings in to a guy to be resized. Abel works in an 8′ by 8′ space behind a rack of shoes in Todos Santos. I showed him my rings and asked if he could resize them. He wondered why since they appeared to fit fine and I explained that when I exercise my fingers swell and recently they were swelling so much the rings hurt my hands. I was worried he wouldn’t be able to resize them because one is white gold and the other is palladium but it was easy. Right then and there he put them on a thingy and beat them with a hammer. Beat, check, beat, check. Twenty minutes later they were cleaned polished and just a little but bigger. Thank you, Abel.
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.
With a little trepidation and much curiosity Burt and I joined Bridge friends to attend the Todos Santos Catholic Easter Service. Our buddies told us it was a very moving community event full of dancing, singing, and fireworks so we decided to give it a go. I’d heard of sunrise services but here we have sunset. Jesus is resurrected early in Mexico. All the better for the fireworks. It’s been a very long time since I attended Easter mass. I remember it all very solemn and sad. Jesus died…he suffered…Mary wept…Cut to Mexico.
The community gathered in the plaza outside the church. The church is too small for everyone and, well, you know, fireworks. We waited under the palm trees as the sun sank into the Pacific and the sky darkened. First up was the mini-bon fire right behind our seats. A large candle was lit and the folks nearest to the candle lit their individual candles and shared the flame person to person through the crowd of over 1000 people. I teared up. Nothing beats good ritual. Next a group of young people were confirmed into their faith right next to us. The padre was a man I met in yoga. The yoga friendly priest was in charge of the whole event. He made the sign of the cross on the teenager’s foreheads. Then their parents and god parents traced over the cross with their own fingers. I don’t remember this from when I was confirmed. My confirmation name was Vanessa. The flame was carried to the front of the plaza. The procession followed. I recalled my star turn as an altar girl when I took a wrong turn carrying the crucifix and headed down a side aisle on Easter Sunday. Embarrassing. Our kid last night got it right. That wrong turn might have signaled my destiny as one who could not do what is expected.
The service proceeded in Spanish. The first reading was Genesis. Here again I was surprised. Is this faulty memory? I always remembered it as the last supper, Judas, Mary Magdalene. Heavy stuff. The origin story in Spanish was a delight to hear. God liked what he saw and he rested…From there on the readings were all about the natural world and how it sustains us. This was some seriously subversive stuff compared to my memory. The resurrection as metaphor for humanity and our survival on this planet. This yoga doing priest had my attention. For a little while. The I started burning myself with dripping wax. Right when I despaired for my clothes and skin the priest told us we could snuff our candles. There were so many readings. I grew alarmed. When was the homily, when was the communion? Oremos (let us pray) indicated it was time to stand. We sat and stood, sat and stood. This I remembered. After about seven different reading with songs and prayers interspersed the action picked up. Attendants started handing out balloons from large garbage bags and the crowd grew restive. Some people had noodles and others globos. We twittered and waved. The father admonished us to settle down. Hold your balloons still, it’s not time to party. Yet. Another song. We hummed along. The group playing music reminded me of my mother’s stint in a 7 guitar Jesus band in the seventies. Aleluya! That’s how you spell it in Spanish. Another reading. Balloons held quietly.
I have to confess (it’s that time) I missed the big reveal. I was looking at my balloon when the crowd cheered. I looked up and the sheet shrouded Jesus was in full view and lit up and the sign next to him burned bright with a fiery Aleluya! Wave your balloons and sing, sing, sing. Fireworks blasted. People cheered. We danced in our spots. This went on for fifteen minutes. The mass was not over but remembering the early exit from childhood Burt and I headed home.
A little rant here. Sorry. I know I have it good. This is the second time this year I’ve had to make contact with our government from abroad. For the lowly placed people it’s against the law to communicate with a foreign power so the feds have special restrictions on calls coming in from out of country. My US cell phone can’t complete the call. My Mexican phone can’t complete the call. I’ve tried all the internet work arounds. Last month we used a friend’s US landline (don’t know how that works) to finish Burt’s application for Social Security benefits. This month I’ve been trying to file our tax extension and for the first time ever I am blocked out of the system. I have done this 5 years in a row with minimum effort. This year I’ve filled out forms with all our vitals and bank account info and four times. The application is accepted and then a day later I get an email saying it’s been rejected. I re-filled the form and no success. Now they tell me I need to call. My friends are gone until next week. We’re shaving it close. I have to accept that I might be a scofflaw and file our taxes late without an extension. At least I have proof of my efforts that I tried four times.
In other news, Til will be back in Mexico next Sunday. The dawning of a new chapter in all our lives. Dad is on the loose. Can you believe he wasn’t going to tell me? Easter is also the same day Burt’s daughter and her boyfriend arrive for a two week vacay. The rumpus room has been booked for them for months. Good thing dad has a friend he can stay with.
Last night I woke up feeling so awful I thought maybe it was the end. The kind of dread filled awful that fills a person when the blankets hurt to touch your skin, joints were burning, the body was hot and then cold. I thrashed and could not sleep. Burt and I had a big day planned and there I was with hands too painful to move and a gut that seemed paralyzed.
My Dad arrives this Tuesday. We picked today (Thursday) as our day to head to Cabo San Lucas and pick up comfort foods for him at Coscto. Potato chips, peanuts, chocolate, wine, parmesan cheese. Things that will help ease his transition into our rustic life in Pescadero Heights. To entice us to make the run Burt decided to load up our Sea King rowboat onto the truck and we’d float out on the San Jose estuary and do so killer birding before we went shopping. All night long I obsessed about our plans falling apart. I Decided I would go no matter how bad I felt. And that is what I did. I figured I could lie in the boat while boat rowed us around. I pondered the inevitability of my gut starting to move again and figured I might have to explode from one end or the other over the gunnels of the vessel. Burt could handle it.
We made it to the Laguna San Juan in record time thanks to the newish toll roads by-passing all of the Cabo hotels and urban areas. At 8:30 we pulled into the lagoon parking and re-read the signs that we just then remembered telling us no boats are allowed on the lagoon. Oops. Funny how we both remembered we knew this fact just as we were reading signs reminding us of the fact. So here I was on an adventure that now required self locomotion. I gathered my wits and slowly trudged about. We checked out the new birding platforms. Be forewarned the steps were designed to give a degree of excitement not typically found while bird watching. The predicted gut explosion came right after I exited the scary bird tower and just as 40 some school children headed our way. Lovely timing body. Thus relieved I suggested we drive to another spot and see what we could see. Time to get some distance between me and my scat.
At the new area just a 100′ away from the previous area (water in between) we got the best look yet at the endangered and endemic Belding’s Yellowthroat. I captured a picture for my eBird records. Soon it was time to address our shopping chores. I gathered my strength and resisted the wheel chair cart at Costco. No actual parmesan cheese was found so we bought the green canned cheese-stuff to tide us over. Dad can have the remaining imported Parmesan and Burt and I will eat the salty, white, sawdust. My legs gave out for Soriana’s and Home Depot. We made it home with an hour and a half to rest before music class. Five new species were added to our Mexico list.
So here are the possible causes of my -lips-hurt-so-much-I-can’t- talk disease: Too much pickleball yesterday? Sunburn? I even tried to convince Burt I must have an invisible sunburn because my skin hurts so intensely. Dengue fever? Food-born illness? I looked up Dengue Fever and I really hope I don’t have it. They call it bone break fever because of the debilitating body pain. Let’s all hope this is just a little food borne illness or too much pickleball.
Bad Hombre is getting used to us. As my friend Gretchen says,”You’ve become a neutral stimulant.” So far he won’t eat while we watch but he no longer falls over unconscious when we walk in the room. Progress. It’s become apparent that his wing is likely a permanent disability. This birdie will need a permanent home. Feeding him is a significant commitment. For optimal health he needs a variety of rodents, birds, and insects. We had a sharp tailed grouse in our freezer but were short on insects and rodents. Yesterday we threw a live cockroach in the kennel and left. Did the roach leave or was it eaten? We are in the uncomfortable position of not knowing.
Yesterday was Ladies Bridge. We meet Saturdays for lunch and cards. How did this happen to me? Bridge, ladies club? Well these women are smart and fun and not your run of the mill gals. Our host, Lorna, is also a bird fan. As I was describing my kestrel’s dietary preferences to Lorna and another early arriver, Lorna said, “I have a white winged dove in my freezer. You can have it.” Now that is kismet and further proof that Bridge ladies are my kind of ladies. This poor white winged dove had died on impact on Lorna’s window. Lorna was saving it to eat.
In other news, our first art class with Maestra Jolyn Wells Moran was this week. We gathered up the neighborhood kids and brought them to our yard. Most of them are 6-10 years old but there’s a 13 year old and a 4 year old, too. Germany (4) comes with her mom. Burt had set up saw horses and boards and Jolyn had made paint palettes from plastic plates. Jolyn knows her art. She is a prolific producer of lovely landscapes from around our area. She is also a retired therapist. We are very pleased she wanted to work with our kids. It was all her idea. I help translate and Jo has the materials and lesson plan. Our first class was well received and they all say they want to come up again.
During class I was stunned to learn that the kids didn’t know that blue, yellow, and red made all other colors in the universe. It also alarmed me that it was very hard for the girls to get over their inhibitions and take action. I had to take their hands and move the brush from paint to paint and start mixing for a few. I also had to start painting the forms for their favorite animal for most. It was a weird moment. Jo had asked them to paint their favorite animal in secondary colors. That means paint a dog or horse or snake in orange, green, or purple. The kids (all except the one boy) were absolutely paralyzed. First off they couldn’t decide on a favorite animal. Then they couldn’t figure out how to form it. Then they couldn’t figure out how to use such un-natural colors. I had to explain it’s an at exercise not meant to be reality. Finally I started with a duck shape for someone that wanted to paint a duck. Then everyone wanted a duck. The follow the crowd mentality took hold and all favorite animals were suddenly ducks. Nobody wanted to stand out. Except Vince. Vince painted monsters. And my one shining star. Janexi came to me with a picture she had painted all on her own. It was a purple brownish blob. I asked if it was a duck. No. It was a spider. Spiders are her favorite animal. My freaking hero Janexi. Bucking the crowd at 6 years old. All the other girls confirmed that Janexi really did like spiders. I told her I liked them, too, and promised her a spider hunt in the future.
The need for art (and science) education was very apparent.
Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
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.
Woweeee, we made it. Day 31 of the 31 day Art Journaling/Blogging Challenge by Zoë Dearborn. Wow. Just wow. Years past this would have been very difficult due to data limitations. I feel compelled to thank Verizon for including roaming in Mexico in my data package. Thanks to you, dear readers, for following along. Several of you have mentioned you’ll miss the daily posts. I can’t thank you enough. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue the streak. Help me out by sending in your questions and ideas if you have something you want to know. It can be about the natural world or my inner life or anything else. All ideas considered.
Today’s subject is commitment. This month has found us neck deep in commitments. I like it this way. We’ve got each other and the Olvis and Mimi. We’ve got tennis and music and Spanish. The neighborhood kids. We count on them and they are counting on us. As I search for something to say to sum up the writing and thinking and feeling of this month I come up with that aphorism of a few days ago, “Just show up.” My commitment is to continue showing up. Here on the interwebz, at my classes, for the kids, on the fretboard of life. And I commit to putting out oranges for the birds. I hate chores but I’ll commit to slicing open and putting out oranges even though it makes my hands feel sticky and I’m scared of the knife. It’s a really big knife. The rewards are worth the discomfort and risk. It’s an analogy for writing and life.
This practice has shown me how much I enjoy thinking and writing. It’s renewed my interest in what I can learn by taking the time and working deeply even for just a short time a day. As I tell all beginning music students that ask our advice, “The secret is ten minutes a day, every day. An hour once a week will not get the job done.” Thank you, Zoë for prodding and feeding back and inspiring.