Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Skiing Today At Crystal Mountain

Great fun was had by all. Can you  belive in less then two weeks we will be back in Mexico!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Yesterday morning we completed our packing and closed up the Arctic Fox RV for six weeks. We went with Jim and Phebe to one of our favorite Los Barriles restaurants for lunch, El Viejo, an open-air, family-run Mexican restaurant right on the main street in town. Following a delicious meal and discussion with Jim and Phebe of plans for our return in January, Jim and Phebe dropped us at the airport at San Jose del Cabo. An uneventful flight home followed, including quick passage through Customs and Immigration, and arrival at our home already warmed by Cathryn’s parents’ trip earlier in the day to crank up the heat, a refrigerator stocked enough to allow us to have meals today without benefit of a trip to the grocery store, and a coffee table piled high with mail and boxes of items Bob had ordered online while in Mexico, courtesy of a drop-off from Lynn and David who kindly collected our forwarded mail while we were gone.

While we’re very eager to see all of our family and many of our friends, we must admit that leaving warm (82 degrees) sunny Baja, Mexico and waking up this morning to rain, gray skies and 48 degrees was a bit daunting. Lynn tells us nearby Bremerton registered TEN inches of rain in one day earlier this week, so we know everything is soggy, and the forecast for the forseeable future is more of the same. Ah well . . . we have loads of fun plans during the six weeks we’ll be home for the holidays and are truly happy to be here (or at least Cathryn is – Bob threatens to jump on an airplane back to Baja next Friday after Thanksgiving dinner, and return December 19 for Christmas plans!) We’ll take up blog-writing again in the first week of January when we arrive back in Baja. We hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our experience

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Waterfall and swimming pools

Russett came to the house about 10:00 this morning, and the five of us loaded into Jim and Phebe’s Subaru to head up into the hills. We drove 5 miles up a nearby arroyo, a dry river bed which only has water in it during rare periods of extreme rain or hurricanes. (cut and paste this link into your browser  to see an aerial photo of where we went.,-109.7903&ll=23.67488,-109.7903&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1    Eventually, the arroyo had wide, shallow stream rivulets running through it, and at Russett’s instructions,Jim kept driving on through the sand and water. Eventually we entered a shallow canyon lined with granite and gorgeous rock walls with astonishing numbers of cactus, trees and flowering bushes sprouting from the rocks. Jim parked the car and we headed upstream on foot.

The water remained shallow – never more than knee-deep – and we worked our way over rocks, through the stream and gradually uphill for perhaps a quarter of a mile. It was really gorgeous and many photos were taken. After taking a rest in the shade to cool off and have some conversation, we picked our way back through the canyon to the car, drove down the arroyo about a mile and parked again. Wandering up yet another small canyon, we found ourselves a quarter mile later at a lovely 75-foot waterfall with a large pool at its base. It wasn’t long before Phebe plunged into the pool to cool off, and Russett and Cathryn quickly followed. The water was cold for 2-3 minutes, but quickly felt refreshing. Russett was correct that we’d love this place, and we certainly will return when we’re here again after New Years, hopefully bringing any guests who visit us, including Lynn (Bob’s sister) and David. If you'd like to seem more pictures, click on the picture titled Los Barilies Waterfall and Swiming Pool. 

Los Barriles Waterfall and Swimming Pool

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fishing Round 2

Monday morning Jim, Bob and Cathryn piled into the Subaru to head to Punta Pescadero again while Phebe went on a walk with Russett. Bob exited the car about 4 miles short of our destination and took off in his running shoes. Jim had done some work on our spinning rod while we were in La Paz last week adding some features to make the clipping on of lures easier. He also added an 18-inch leader with a fly at the end, in addition to the lure to give it weight for casting. As happened last weekend, Jim caught a number of fish one-after-the-other and released each . Cathryn hooked 3 fish in the first 15 minutes, but only one made it all the way to shore. All 3 were Ladyfish, a slim, silver fish which is fairly acrobatic and jumps into the air while trying to fight the line. Pretty! By the time Bob arrived, it was just late enough in the morning that the fish had ceased biting, so we headed back to the house for showers. We have enjoyed our little efforts at fishing here, so expect we’ll keep trying when we get back home.

Fun Weekend: Los Barriles

Jim and Phebe greeted us warmly at the home they’re renting this winter in Los Barriles and opened the yard gate so we could park the Arctic Fox inside the fence for the 6 weeks we’re back in Seattle for the holidays. We had a lovely reunion catching up on each other’s news on their roof-top deck. They invited Russett, the next-door neighbor and landlady with whom they’ve become good friends, to join us for dinner, and she arrived with flowers and chocolate cake. Phebe prepared a fabulous meal of shrimp curry, rice and salad, and Jim made delicious margaritas. Following dinner, everyone ushered Cathryn back to the roof-top deck, put a blindfold on her eyes and a walking stick in her hands, with instructions to take swats at a piñata Bob had purchased back in La Paz and hung from the palapa in honor of her birthday. What a hoot! We ate Russett’s delicious chocolate cake and candy from the piñata and talked “late” into the night – past 9:00. Cathryn had a perfectly lovely birthday and felt very generously feted by friends and Bob.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fun Weekend: La Ventana

Saturday morning we drove to La Ventana, a small fishing village an hour south of La Paz with 1,000 year-round Mexican residents. The population swells to about 2,500 in winter months when the wind blows, and Canadians and Americans come to wind-surf and kite-sail. The bay is gorgeous with aquamarine water, mountains covered densely with cardon cactus and other green desert vegetation to the west across the road, and a large island a few miles off-shore offering interesting vistas. We were charmed by the place.

While back in La Paz, Mady was a student at the school with us. She’s a French woman married to a British man, and they live in Hood River, Oregon half the year and in La Ventana half the year. They invited us to park our RV in their yard and spend the night. We did and had a wonderful time. They built their home 5 years ago after spending previous winters camping on the beach in an RV and falling in love with the area. Larry is a serious kite-sailor (and scuba diver, mountain biker, etc) and Mady plays piano, bikes, teaches a yoga and pilates class 3 times each week, and they have an active social life with many friends in town. Larry designed their gorgeous home with many artistic and architectural touches, and it has a drop-dead-gorgeous view of both the bay and the mountains. Mady and Larry scheduled a dinner party including 3 other part-time La Ventana residents we’d previously met on the beach at Playa Juncalito a few weeks back. Potluck dinner on the upstairs terrace and lively conversation followed, and as usual, “Baja Midnight” had everyone heading for bed by 8:30.

Sunday morning Larry and Mady led us on an hour-long walk through the hills and trails toward the mountains behind their home, followed by breakfast at their favorite local hang-out -- which cost all of 200 pesos or about $16 for all 4 of us, for a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet with fresh fruit, eggs, pancakes, fresh-squeezed papaya juice, coffee, etc. Mady and Larry are friendly, generous, entertaining

Reprise: La Paz

Last February we spent a week in La Paz over two visits. We loved running on the Malecon, and we spent a fun evening at the Carnaval parade and celebration, but overall came away with a pretty negative perception of the place for two reasons: Bob lost his wallet there, leading to a couple weeks of hassles with Mexican and Washington bureaucrats (which of course had nothing to do with La Paz); and secondly Cathryn got stopped and extorted by a couple of traffic cops, an experience which left a really bad taste in her mouth.

Having now spent two full weeks in La Paz while attending school, we’ve had the chance to reappraise our feelings about the city. This time we came away enormously positive feelings. First, the city is an authentic middle-class, cosmopolitan Mexican city of about 250,000 residents. We walked through El Centro (the downtown area) and saw hundreds of little shops that had nothing to do with tourists or gringos and everything to do with meeting the needs of the local population. We went to restaurants where everyone (except us) was Mexican, and we were able to have tamales and empenadas for less than a dollar from sidewalk carts. We felt completely safe there, and people were polite and helpful. Overall a great place we’d be happy to have the opportunity to visit again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


We’re very pleased to have completed our two weeks of Spanish classes yesterday. The school does a nice job of reinforcing students’ hard work and accomplishment by conducting a Graduation Ceremony. There were 6 of us who completed our studies yesterday, and at a ceremony in the salon we were each given a Certificate of Achievement and asked to make a brief speech (in Spanish, of course). As usual, a cake and coffee were served, but in this instance they went one step further and added candles to the cake in honor of Cathryn’s birthday (which is actually this Sunday), and the entire staff sang a Spanish birthday song to her, followed by the traditional Happy Birthday song in English. Very thoughtful!

Cathryn is pleased that she can now speak in the past and future tenses, though her speech in those tenses remains halting. Bob feels good about the two weeks in the sense that it provided a good base on which to further build his ability to speak. The biggest challenge for both of us was the large volume of information in a very limited amount of time. Learning the language requires a lot of memorization, and with sometimes hundreds of new words coming at us daily, plus grammar and conjugation of verbs, there simply wasn’t time to absorb it all. But we have our school materials, notes and flashcards and are committed to practicing while we’re home during the holidays as well as when we return to Baja in January. Both Mackenzie and Adrienne have offered to speak Spanish with Cathryn while we’re home (Mackenzie is fairly fluent having lived in Costa Rica with a non-English speaking family for 4 months; Adrienne because Spanish is one of her two majors at University of Colorado). Vamos a ver.

This morning we pull up stakes in La Paz and head to La Ventana, a small fishing village on the beach about an hour down the road. We’ll stay only one night, then head to Los Barriles to visit Jim and Phebe for a few days before flying back to Seattle on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A NEW New Background Color

Bob recently changed the background color to our blog and asked for comments. Three people commented that it improved the readability of the blog, but Mackenzie said the new color was wierd. Adrienne didn't like the new color and said the old one provided better background for the photos, which is what she looks at more critically (in the positive sense of the word) than most. Valerie offered a link to a site with a wider range of blog formats for us to look at. We'll have to wait until we get home and have more time on the internet to do that research.  In the mean time, Bob has changed the color again and tried to strike a balance between readability and setting off the photos. Thanks to those who provided comments and please know the current color is "a work in progress".

A Visit To a New Friend

We’ve completed our second to the last day at Spanish language school, and the Finish Line is within sight with only one day remaining. While each class remains a challenge, and we’re very tired when we get home, we see real progress, feel these two weeks have been of tremendous value, and we’re glad we enrolled. We continue to feel the instructional materials are excellent, the quality of instructors is very high, and the school offers a good return on the cost. More on the school experience when the week comes to an end.

Back home we have a good friend, Andrea Tull, who has a close friend we’ve never met, Katy, whose mother, Mary Lou, lives in La Paz 8 months each year. When Andrea learned we were coming to La Paz she suggested we make contact with Mary Lou. Last night we met her.

Mary Lou and her husband Neil first came to La Paz 40 years ago on vacation. 15 years later after retiring from 40 years in engineering work at Boeing, they began driving down the Baja in an RV for extended visits, and in the mid-80s bought property in the city of La Paz. Over the ensuing years they established an exquisite garden that looks like a tropical arboretum with olive and grapefruit trees, a couple dozen species of cactuses, flowering vines, and many plants unfamiliar to us, plus hordes of birds. The lushness is astonishing! They built a lovely one-bedroom home with high ceilings and tile floors, a small swimming pool, and outdoor living space under the palapa to sit and enjoy the garden, play bridge and enjoy meals, coffee or cocktail hour. Mary Lou’s daughter and son-in-law subsequently built a two-bedroom guest house on the property, and they purchased the adjacent lot to extend their garden space. Mary Lou’s husband died a decade or so ago, and she continues to spend 8 months each year here, and the summer months in Washington near her 4 adult children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We spent an hour at her home this evening, then went to Campestre Restaurant & Grill for a delicious traditional Mexican dinner. Mary Lou answered our many questions about her life in La Paz, and we were quite impressed with her adventurous spirit and the very enviable life she has carved out. Her grown kids come to visit each winter. We never cease to be amazed and impressed with the many ways in which people have created rare and wonderful lives outside the United States. We hope to see Mary Lou again in March when we head northbound and return through La Paz.

Monday, November 9, 2009

We Changed Our Background

We expect you might have noticed that we changed the color of the background on our blog from white to black at the beginning of our trip, and from black to green today.  Cathryn said she thought the black background was less readable then the white. Bob thought the white background was boring. So how about you? If you have an opinion let us know by posting a comment or sending us an email.

The Weekend is Over!

We were up early and back to school this morning. As part of the educational process at Se Habla...La Paz they rotate the instructors each week, so today Bob began with Marta (no photo yet) and Cathryn has Merit again in the morning, same as last week, and Alexa (Bob's instructor last week), in the afternoons. Based on today's sessions, we agree the change is beneficial in terms of exposing us to different teaching styles and accents. Alexa, for example, is from Mexico City, where they say d's with a "dth" sound and v's like a "b".

After school today we went to a small shop where they have looms and do weaving in the backroom. They sell their products plus other woven products from different areas in Mexico. The workshop was fascinating, and some of the rugs were very nice. Bob bought Cathryn a small throw rug for her birthday next Sunday. She's happy with her gift!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

They Won’t Take Big Bills??? Learn From our Mistake

Twice last week we tried to use our two 1000-peso bills (each worth about $75), once at a gas station and again at Wal-Mart, and both times they refused to take them. At Wal-Mart we had actually spent more than that, so we thought they should take it. All we could figure was that perhaps they had a policy prohibiting taking bigger bills, like some stores do in the U.S. We figured we’d eventually go to a bank and get them changed. Later, we were talking to the woman who runs the RV Park in La Paz where we’re staying, and she was surprised we’d had this problem and asked to see the bill.

We were embarrassed to find we’d not looked at the bills sufficiently closely. It turns out we were trying to pass off a 1000 Costa Rican Colones, which is worth a whopping $1.75! It seems that when we got our pesos from the Gig Harbor Bank of American branch before we left home, they gave us these two Colones bills(instead of pesos) as part of the package. We’re a little grumpy about this now, but expect to be majorly grumpy if and when they refuse to make it right when we talk with them on our return home. Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but we expect they’ll say: “We don’t know that we gave you those bills, maybe you’ve mixed them up”; in other words, “you’re lying to us”. So next time you’re traveling out of the country and order some foreign currency in advance, here is one more thing to think about as they’re counting our all that strange-looking money for you!

Aviators (Or corruption Mexico style)

High unemployment and low pay have led to the development of a number of “work-around” systems to increase income. One of these systems involves people who have come to be known as “aviadoras” or aviators. These people are family members and friends of people who work for the federal government. They are put on the federal payroll but have no actual job or responsibilities. They only show up to work on the 15th and 30th of each month, which is payday, but otherwise don’t do any work.

Weekend in Los Barriles

Friday afternoon we left La Paz after school and drove to Los Barriles, about 80 miles to the southeast. We spent a week here last year and really enjoyed it. This year our friends Jim and Phebe are renting a house here October through mid-January, and we will take over renting this same house in mid-January and February. Phebe is currently in Massachusetts on some family business, so Jim is “bach-ing it”.

We spent Friday night sitting on the roof-top deck watching the sunset and sharing our respective experiences since arriving in Mexico. Saturday morning we rose early and drove north along the beach about 9 miles to Punta Pescadaro where we fished from the beach for an hour so. Jim caught and released five fish using a casting rod and flies, while Cathryn and Bob, using lures and a spinning rod, didn’t catch anything except a couple of rocks, but had great fun doing so! After fishing we went to a nearby hotel on the beach for breakfast, following which we all swam in the Sea of Cortez, took a dip in the pool and a spent a couple hours under the palapa reading our books.

Following afternoon siestas necessitated by our early rising, Saturday evening Jim prepared a delicious dinner with chorizo sausage, rice and salad. We were joined by Jim’s next-door neighbor and local landlord, Russett, who brought extremely sweet, fresh pineapple and watermelon for dessert. We spent an enjoyable 4 hours exchanging stories and learning more from Russett about life in southern Baja. We’ll return to La Paz this afternoon to prepare to resume to school. After being retired for a couple of years, we have now  rediscovered the concept of “the weekend”. We’ve enjoyed visiting with Jim and seeing the Los Barriles area again.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

More on Se Habla...La Paz

Now that we’re slightly rested up from the weekend, we can write more about our Se Habla . . . La Paz school experience. We re-posted a couple of pictures from our collage yesterday to show each of our classes. We’re extremely impressed with the school and its’ quality of instruction. The number of instructors varies week to week depending on the number of students enrolled. This past week there were 4 instructors: Merit (who is also the Director of Education), Marta, Alexa and Orlando. Cathryn’s class was taught by Merit two hours each day. She’s an incredible professor who exhibited a warm, friendly personality, great sense of humor, exceptional patience, outstanding English fluency, and teaching methods that were exactly what her students needed. She holds two University degrees (education and accounting), is married to the principal of a Telesecundario school, and has an adorable 4-year-old son. She and her family joined Juli, the school’s Director, and the 6 of us students at a restaurant for dinner Thursday night in La Paz. Orlando, Cathryn’s other professor, also has a friendly personality, great sense of humor and moved our class along at an appropriate pace for our skill level. He’s a young man who was educated in both Mexico and the U.S., plays soccer, and has lots of friends and a cute girlfriend. He taught us a lot of “street slang” in addition to the more formal aspects of the Spanish language. Bob’s instructor, Alexa, is from Mexico City and speaks with a slightly different accent than the Baja-born instructors. She did a great job of bringing Bob along in an encouraging way and was very patient with his ability say the same word incorrectly multiple times.

The last hour of class on Friday, Cathryn, Megan and Bill were exhausted and had over-full brains, so Merit obliged us by spending the hour telling stories and answering questions regarding how certain things work in Mexico. We’ll tell you some of these “how things work” stories in future posts.

Friday, November 6, 2009


We’ve completed our first week of Spanish language school – thank goodness! It’s been an astonishingly difficult experience after so many years away from school, but we feel like we’re finally “getting it”, so think it’s been worthwhile. Nonetheless, we’re glad the week is over. See the photos of our classes, along with our professors and classmates.

This afternoon we left La Paz and drove, without the RV which we left behind in La Paz, to Los Barriles. Our friends Jim and Phebe Richards are renting a house in Los Barriles for 3 months, only 2 hours south of La Paz. Phebe has gone to New England for a week with her family, so we’ve come to keep company with Jim in Los Barriles, a town which we enjoyed immensely last winter. Tonight we sat on the roof-top deck and had a sunset drink along with Russett, the landlord who lives next door, a lively and interesting woman who hails from Boise, Idaho but now lives here full-time. Jim prepared a delicious curry dinner, and we’ve spent the last 5 hours catching up on news since we last saw Jim and Phebe in Olalla. Life remains good, and we are happy and healthy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back to School

Today, Wednesday, is our third day of school and we’re beginning to get the hang of the routine. Today is the first day Bob felt his Espanol isn't a completely hopeless task. His pronunciation is still not good, but he’s beginning to get it. They started him out with vowels, and then he has to say them in a word which is where he begins to pick up the rest of the alphabet. He still has to look at each word on paper or on the board and then carefully pronounce each vowel. It’s slow, but he’s now getting it right about 60% of the time. His goal for the two weeks is to learn enough with an instructor that from then on he can learn on his own at a more relaxed pace. This stuff still feels like it's coming at him with a fire hose. (Footnote: Cathryn thinks Bob is doing much better than Bob thinks. His initial expectations of progress are/were unrealistic, and he is unduly pessimistic about his ability to do this. Cathryn thinks it’s amazing what he can do/say already after only 6 hours of instruction!)

Cathryn is also finding Spanish school rather exhausting! We know Adrienne will have no sympathy for this sentiment – Ryan and Mackenzie either, for that matter, though it’s “history” for them, unlike for Adrienne who says “Welcome to my world!” On the other hand, Cathryn’s extremely pleased with how readily she’s picking up the material only because it’s not completely new, even if she last studied it 35 years ago. It’s a bit like riding a bicycle, in that once learned, it comes back more readily than when it was first new. Her class will finish working in the Past Tense at the end of this week, the move on to Future tense and Past Participle. Of the 3 students in her class, one is only here this week, then he returns home. The other student is Megan, a 32-year-old woman who is completing her Pharmacy degree in Albuquerque and wants to learn Spanish to communicate with the very large Spanish-speaking population back home. She and Cathryn are extremely well-matched in their speaking level and learning pace and are enjoying each other a lot. Megan went with us to the markets this afternoon (see paragraph below on this).

Today, after school we went off with Cathryn’s classmate, Megan, to fill up our propane tank (for the first time this trip) and then went to two small public markets in downtown La Paz. One of the markets focused on clothes, the other on food. Much of the clothing in these markets is new, but very dated. We’d guess they started out in a retail store in the U.S., then went into a discount store, again in the U.S. and then may have gone through the same cycle in Mexico before ending up in the market. The food market was about half vegetables, which looked excellent, and the other half meat and fish. The meat and fish was mostly not refrigerated and frankly not very appealing. It was 3pm by the time we got there, so maybe it looked better early in the day. We stopped by the CCC, a major grocery store, on the way home and bought the food needed – under rather better hygienic conditions.

Now we have to do our homework, cook dinner, and then we’ll be ready to enjoy a glass of wine and time with our books.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Roll-Back in Time

Sheesh, we feel like rusty old cars. Or at least our brains do! Yesterday was our first day of Spanish language school in La Paz. Neither of us has attended a formal educational program in the last 25 years, Spanish is brand-new for Bob, and Cathryn last studied it 35 years ago in high school. We arose before 6am, ate breakfast and made our lunches before leaving the RV at 7:40 to drive through town to “Se Habla . . . La Paz”. The experience conjured up images of kindergartners climbing the yellow school bus stairs, as did Adrienne’s wise-crack email about “have a good first day at school!” Bob will be in a 2-hour private class taught by Alexa, as he’s the only beginning student currently attending. Cathryn is in a 4-hour class with 2 other students who speak at her same level, taught by Merita and Orlando for 2 hours respectively. Bob’s instruction began with the alphabet, how to pronounce vowels, numbers, months of the year and a vocabulary list. Cathryn’s began with a vocabulary list and conjugating regular verbs in the past tense – a good thing, because all 3 of us students speak only in present tense currently. At the end of the day, we agreed: this is hard!!! The teachers are all Mexicans who speak varying degrees of English, which is irrelevant because the instruction is entirely in Spanish anyway. Bob seems unclear on how much progress he might make; Cathryn thinks an enormous amount of previous knowledge is returning quickly, and the benefit will be huge in terms of her comfort communicating. The school facility is a lovely 4-story home/building containing half a dozen small classrooms, a kitchen, dining room, salon, library and numerous beautifully landscaped and furnished outdoor terraces, one with a swimming pool. The owner’s home is on the upper floors. Wi-fi is available throughout the building.

We’d been told some school days would be extended to include a cultural presentation or event. Yesterday was a big and fascinating one! November 1 and 2 constitute “Dia de los Muertos”, or Day of the Dead, celebrated by Catholics, the predominant religion in Mexico. The first day focuses on children who have died, and the second on adults. We were given a 40-minute presentation on the meaning of Dia de los Muertos and the culture practices surrounding its observation. In short, they believe the spirits of dead relatives and friends return each year at this time and can communicate with the living. They build altars to enable the process. Following the presentation, a school van took us to a local cemetery to see how families have decorated their loved ones’ graves and tombs with flowers and altars, and some hold celebrations of the person’s return with music, food and a “party” of sorts. The return of the person’s spirit is a joyful event, not sad, so the air is celebratory.

Last night we drove to el Teatro de la Ciudad (City Theater) to attend the 10th Anniversary of the Celebration of Dia de los Muertos, a region-wide outdoor event in which groups compete well in advance to be selected to erect an altar for display. There were about 25 very elaborate altars constructed one next to another, and we spent an hour looking, taking photos, and occasionally talking to someone. In addition, there were vendors selling food, toys and trinkets with families roaming the grounds. There was a large stage with a sound and lighting system and groups performing dances, music, and plays every 20 minutes or so.

Several dozen elaborately dressed, beautiful young women in long dresses, fancy hats and with skeleton-like make-up on their faces and arms roamed the grounds posing for photos. We were told later in the evening they would each be presented on stage and judges would select the best costume. It was a happy, fun event with a festive air and we found it fascinating. Hopefully Bob’s photos can convey some of the sense of it all. We feel very fortunate that with no forethought or planning on our part, we’ve managed to arrive in La Paz twice now at the time of a major cultural event: Carnaval when we were here last March, and now Dia de los Muertos!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Generalizations and Stereotypes

(Bob writing here) When we were in Loreto last week, we saw a newspaper article pinned to the wall at a gringo-owned restaurant that I’ve been thinking about on and off ever since then. The general theme of the article was that the local Mexicans, and Mexican business people specifically, were not providing quality customer care to the “precious tourists” (read: North Americans), and that this was a problem that ought to be addressed. Now the local gringo weeklies down here, of which there are quite a few, don’t exactly rival the NY Times for editorial content, and the writing style would fit well with most high school newspapers, so maybe I should let this self-centric screed go without letting it bother me, or giving it much weight.

But the article did raise some issues that the writer thought might contribute to the tension between the local population and the very strong, almost overwhelming presence of US and Canadian residents in parts of Mexico. Among them were: the dramatic wealth differential and treatment that Mexicans receive in the U.S., which apparently is widely reported down here and viewed as being the result of racism. There was no mention that perhaps some of the behaviors and attitudes displayed by these North Americans in Mexico might contribute to the problem. The article went on too long, and was quite defensive in tone, but I’ve been thinking on and off since reading it about what the Mexicans’ attitudes toward us really are.

Overall, our experience with individual Mexicans we’ve met has been quite positive. Much of it is superficial, as it is in any environment in which you’re a tourist and the individual you’re dealing with has no expectation they’ll ever see you again. When I’m out running, I usually wave at folks driving by. This isn’t truly being friendly on my part; mainly it’s a defense mechanism. I hope if I wave and make eye contact, maybe they won’t run me off the narrow road. I often get a wave back, but it seems mostly perfunctory, without any real warmth. One place I’ve particularly noticed we haven’t received pleasant responses has been in stores. The people checking us out have been almost universally unwilling to converse more than the bare basics, even though Cathryn tries to engage them with her Spanish. Today as we were checking out at a store, the young woman bagging our items put the first couple of items in a bag, then proceeded to put the remaining dozen or so in the cart without bags. Cathryn asked if they could please be placed in bags, and was told they were out of bags. This was true, at that checkstand. But not 3 feet away at the next checkstand there was a pile of hundreds of bags. When I reached over and grabbed several and started to bag our things myself, the girl just stood there and watched. Eventually another woman came over and helped me out, but what exactly was happening here? We were the only gringos in line, and only people whose items weren’t being bagged, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was because of this that we received this treatment. (We imagine our black, latino and asian friends saying “So what? This kind of thing happens to me not infrequently in Seattle”).

It’s too early to make generalizations, but I’m troubled by the potential that a gulf exists that it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to bridge. When we were in Tanzania last year, a local man whom we got to know fairly well eventually told us that most Tanzanians assumed we were racist “because all white Americans are”, and therefore defensively expressed anger toward Americans. Again, nothing we could really change. I’ll probably never be able to answer this issue satisfactorily, which makes me sad. I guess we will just try not to behave in way that contributes to the gulf.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

 We got up at dawn, which is easy when you go to bed at Baja Midnight, had our coffee in our outdoor chairs and began packing up. We left Playa Juncalito at 8:30 after saying our goodbyes to Tom and Cindy.

 Our drive took us 1300 feet above sea level in the first 30 miles through Las Gigantas Mountains, the same mountain range you see in the photo of our RV on this blog’s masthead. The rest of the trip was 180 miles of the flattest and straightest roadway, thus the easiest driving, anywhere in Baja. It was largely flat desert and agricultural land. We arrived in La Paz at 2pm and are now settled in at Campestre Maranatha on the west edge of town. This facility was established in 1950 by the missionary father of the current owner. There are dormitories and meeting halls for church groups (several are here now for the weekend) as well as spaces for RV parking. We’ll have full hook-ups for the next two weeks, including laundry facilities, so things are easy.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Our Last Day at Juncalito

We woke to clouds for the first time, so sunrise this morning was not as spectacular as usual. The wind was blowing about 10 knots and waves were crashing on the beach, but our new campsite was quite protected so we were still able to sit outside for coffee. We took a long beach walk in the morning, continuing our new mission: cleaning the world’s beaches of garbage (we adopted this goal a few years ago when we were visiting Costa Rica and now always take a shopping bag with us as we walk the beaches and collect “treasures”). The afternoon was spent sitting in our Lafuma chairs reading, with an occasional period of eye resting. About 4pm we were joined by Tom and Cindy from next door, as well as Rick, a new arrival from Redmond, Oregon, for our last happy hour on Playa Juncalito!

We broke up about 6:30 for dinner and then read for the rest of the evening. Cathryn has now mastered Baja Midnight, and fell asleep at 7:45.

Just Another Day at the Beach

We almost decided not to post anything today because, as the title says, it's "just another day at the beach", but since we're at the internet cafe, why not?  We attended a nice dinner party at Don and Brenda's house in Juncalito Village last night, along with Bill and Tey. Delicious homemade chicken enchiladas, slaw, rice and beans, eaten in the outside screened patio area at their house.  As usual, the evening ended early, at 8:30, and we returned our to our campsite where we managed to stay awake to the late hour of almost 10:00!

Today we're reading books, lounging, took a walk on the beach in the morning, and will get together with Tom and Cindy, from the next campsite over, for a last visit tonight.  Tomorrow morning we break camp and drive 5-6 hours to La Paz, where we'll settle into an RV campground and begin spanish language classes on Monday.  We're unlikely to post tomorrow other than to add a SPOT message updating our location after we've arrived in La Paz.  We've had a lovely week on the beach, are very happy to have been here again, and are also ready to move on.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Weather Shifts

We woke this morning to cloudy skies and light wind, cool enough that Cathryn put on capris and a short-sleeved t-shirt instead of shorts and a tank top for the first time. Listening to the 8:00am “net” on our marine radio, we learned it’ll be windy (18 to 26 knots, with seas to 6 feet) for the next couple of days. Since it won’t be pleasant for walking and sitting on the beach, or for any water activities, we’ll head into Loreto for some shopping, filling up on gas, and trying a restaurant for lunch which has come recommended by a number of folks we’ve met. We remain happy and well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Juncalito: The “Big Move

Check out the “Where We Are” gadget on the right side of this page and see if you can tell the difference in location between where we were on Wednesday compared to Thursday.

OK, for those of you who find the technology stuff kind of boring, here’s the scoop. Every afternoon on the Sea of Cortez the wind picks up for several hours. It’s just a normal part of being here. But today the wind blew stronger than usual, and it picked up the sand off the beach so powerfully that it hurt when the sand hit us. The weather forecast for the next two days calls for higher winds from the north, and our location (see the masthead picture above) is just too exposed. So this afternoon we moved about 100 feet north on the beach and parked the 5th wheel behind some trees and oriented so the trailer will block most of the wind. We’ve discovered that hitching and unhitching a 5th wheel is easier than we thought, so the whole effort only took ½ an hour, thus we were able to squeeze it into our “busy” schedule. We’ll hope it does the trick.

Today we finalized our membership in the Puerto Escondido (Hidden Port) Yacht Club. We arrived at the Yacht Club at 10am and were met by Brenda, wife of the Commodore. She took our money ($90), issued our membership cards, and gave us our HPYC burgee and t-shirts. We met a couple other yacht club members who were hanging around and went on our way. We'll add a photo of the Yacht Club soon.

This evening we had our first “Baja Cocktail Hour” with other travelers. Tom and Cindy, the folks camped next door at our new spot, came over at 4:00, and it turned into a 3-hour gabfest. Tom and Cindy have been married 4 years (they’re about our same age) and have developed a life that involves being here on the beach 8-9 months per year in their 24-foot trailer, then spending summers in the western U.S. camping and visiting family and friends. Tom’s brother Mike owns the local restaurant Del Borracho in Loreto which we wrote about a few days ago, and they’ve spent a number of winters down here, so they have some special connections to the area. He’s a carpenter, and she’s an accountant, and they both still work occasionally when the right opportunity comes along. They each have some health problems that limit the amount and type of work they do, and result in their not having a huge amount of money, but it clearly doesn’t limit their enjoyment of life at all. We had a great visit, and we’re sure we’ll spend time with them again during this visit, and hopefully on the way back north in March. They’re friendly, good, knowledgeable, generous people.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yellow Circles

No, this isn’t about yellow snow. Bob mentioned to Cathryn a week ago that he had a “surprise” in one of the bins in the bed of the pickup truck. Out it came today: an 8-foot long, bright yellow inflatable two-person kayak! Much to Cathryn’s delight as she really enjoys kayaking, after inflating it, we headed out from the beach to give it a try. We paddled and paddled, and spent most of our time spinning like a top (reminiscent of a brief event this past August when we were on a 60-foot trawler in heavy fog in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and made an unintended 360 degree maneuver except this time it wasn't just Bob at the helm), . We tried all sorts of techniques to navigate in a straight line, but all of them resulted in our going around in circles. Finally we gave up, and Cathryn, who was in the back, used her paddle as a skeg or rudder, and Bob did all the paddling. It worked ok, and we covered some ground, but we think there will be a yellow inflatable kayak listed on Craigslist when we get back home. The day was sunny, the Sea of Cortez flat, and the temperature 90 degrees (having started the morning at only 59). We didn’t get far, but it was a nice way to while away the afternoon and stay cool. After returning to shore, Cathryn went for a brief swim.

Rhetorical question: Why are attorneys so often also musicians?

Late this afternoon two vehicles pulled up and parked in the spot immediately adjacent to ours, and Ted, Joan and Dan alighted, along with Ted and Joan’s 2 dogs. We quickly ascertained they’re only here one night, on their fast-track way from Canada (they left 4 days ago) to La Ventana, a wind-surfing and kite-sailing community not far south of La Paz. We learned a bit about them, including the fact that Dan is a small-town attorney with 4 almost-grown kids. He and his wife own a house they built in La Ventana. Pretty soon Ted and Joan took off for a walk with their dogs down the beach, and Dan asked if we’d object if he played his guitar and sang. We told him we were fine with it if he’d play close-by enough that we could listen, always interested in a live music exhibition! So Dan set up his chair close to our outdoor mat and began to play, some familiar tunes, others not. We enjoyed it, and he seemed to too. We have other attorney friends who engage in creative outlets, and our son Ryan is also an attorney who composes a lot of music, paints sometimes and writes occasionally. What’s with that connection between attorneys and their side-bar creative undertakings???

Monday, October 26, 2009

Joining the Hidden Port Yacht Club

What an amusing an interesting morning! Yesterday when we met Bill and Tey, they told us about the Puerto Escondido Yacht Club which operates out of the marina 3 miles down the road where we go for internet every day or two.

 For $20/year you can get a laminated membership card. For $90 you get a HPYC (Hidden Port Yacht Club) burgee to fly on your boat, two t-shirts with the yacht club name and insignia, and two memberships with laminated membership cards. This membership, of course, gives you reciprocal privileges to most all yacht clubs in the U.S., which is the main reason we joined. However, the yacht club is also a non-profit organization which, among other activities, pays for scholarships for many children from ranchos in the vicinity to attend the Internado (boarding) school nearby, provides sailing lessons for free to any local kids, and other things. The kids attend school during the week, then return to their homes every weekend to work on the family rancho. The Yacht Club holds a LoretoFest event at the end of every April and raises money to continue their local works. Last year they raised $14,000, which goes a long way down here! See the photo which includes Dan Beck, the yacht club commodore, Tey, the Vice-Commodore, Cathryn, and Brenda Beck, Dan’s wife. We sat on the porch at their home for two hours getting acquainted, filling out the paperwork for membership (which only took 5 minutes) and discussing the local community. Dan tells us our membership will be announced on the morning marine radio broadcast tomorrow – ha! We’ve been invited to their home for dinner Thursday night, and Brenda plans to make chicken enchiladas for the occasion. Tey will bring dessert, and I’m to provide an appetizer.

Early this afternoon while we were sitting outside our RV reading, a nice pickup truck drove up with signage saying “Municipalidad de Loreto” on the side, and 3 men piled out. Using Cathryn’s limited Spanish and their limited English, we came to understand they wanted to collect $15/night for our stay on the beach. Knowing this was an outlandish rate for a place with no amenities, Cathryn said that was “too expensive” and that we’d leave if we had to pay that much. They then asked how long we intended to stay (one week, we responded), and said they’d let us stay a full week for the 3-day rate of $45. We paid. They gave us a completely official looking receipt with stamps and signatures and went on their way. Cathryn then wandered over to the next campsite where Manuel, on hearing our story, rolled his eyes (he works for the federal government) and said the City of Loreto has no jurisdiction whatsoever, as it’s a public beach owned by the federal government. He lamented “Oh, I’m in the wrong business!” Other nearby campers had also paid these same guys, and apparently it’s an ongoing dispute between the Feds and the City and the campers. We still feel it’s a good deal ($6/night) and they do provide garbage pickup and pit toilets (which we don’t have to use this year!) We just hope the money goes to some municipal use rather than to line the pockets of these fellows. If so, we don’t mind at all.

The Family Beach Hippie is Happy!

Yesterday morning we went to the tianguis (open air market) in Loreto and stocked up on vegetables. Considering it’s a temporary market, set up and taken down each Sunday, it’s astonishing how big it is, and the variety of wares available in addition to food: clothing, tools, bikes, furniture, some electronics. Shortly after, we pulled up camp in Loreto and drove 15 miles down the highway to settle in at Playa Juncalito. It’s as beautiful as we recall from last year: the spectacular La Gigantas mountains rising sharply behind, immediately on the other side of the highway, the Sea of Cortez with islands beyond in the foreground – a really lovely setting, perhaps our favorite in many ways. There are 3 other groups camped here: Tom and Cindy who are long-term campers and will be here for many months, and two groups in tents who seem to be temporary, including one couple with 4 children under the age of 10.

Bob’s blood pressure continues to plummet, he has become more talkative, and smiles more frequently. He’s happy and in his element camping on a beach! Cathryn was even successful in luring him into the Sea of Cortez for half an hour yesterday afternoon. The air temp was 85, the water must have been about 80, and there was a light breeze. It felt marvelous and cooled us down nicely. In the afternoon we went for a walk down the beach to the nearby “village” of Juncalito, made up of about 20-25 homes – mostly combinations of built structures with older RVs included in the mix. We met Bill and Tey, who called out to us as we walked by, and their friend Steve who lives next door. It turns out Bill and Tey are friends of Jupiter, with whom we had dinner the night before, and they saw him at the Loreto market yesterday, so he told them to expect us to move into the area. Tey called out “Bob! Are you Bob?” and next thing we know, we’re in their home, being handed a glass of wine, taken on a tour of the upstairs open-air bedroom, then the 3rd story “star gazing deck”. Tey is originally from Belize, and Bill and Steve are gringos. Very nice, friendly people who invited us to come back for another visit, use their kayaks and let them know if we needed any help. We’ll take them up on it.

Last year when here, we learned the entire local community has established the habit of turning on their marine radios at 8am daily and covering all kinds of community news. This seems to be an outgrowth of the large boating community that resides, either temporarily or longer term, in the marina at nearby Puerto Escondido. Bob brought our marine radio this year and we listened in for the first time this morning. There’s an official moderator, everyone checks in by name, and the moderator goes from person to person covering arrivals and departures, weather and tides, announcements, lost and found, items for trade or sale, help or rides needed, and a dozen other topics. It was interesting and seems like a nice way to establish a somewhat cohesive community. They even announced a Halloween party scheduled for Saturday.

One of the features we’re enjoying about our new RV, the Arctic Fox, is the solar panel we had installed at the time we purchased it. It’s a 100-watt panel mounted on the roof. Whenever we’re camped without hook-ups, the solar panel keeps our batteries fully charged. Last year we had to be conservative in our use of lights or other electrical devices in the Chalet. This year we’re able to use lights with little thought to conservation, Bob plays music on his iPod while plugged in, and we re-charge our computer daily and camera and other batteries as needed. We feel like we’re living in the lap of luxury! And our refrigerator is sufficiently large (it runs on propane) that we’re even able to keep a jug of water in it, so always have cold water to drink, thus reducing our consumption of beer, the other cold drink available.