Sunday, February 28, 2010


Wow – it’s March already! Summer can’t be TOO far behind, can it? We hear it’s been the warmest winter on record back home, people are out mowing their lawns (thank you again Matt for mowing ours), and the crocuses, daffodils and even tulips are already in bloom.

Here in Baja we note it’s actually a bit cooler because we recently moved north 300 miles. This morning as we drank our coffee outside, wearing jackets and slippers, it was only 54 degrees, a good 5 degrees cooler than we ever saw in Los Barriles. It still hits the mid-to-high 70s every day, though, so we’re happy. This afternoon we have a date to go sailing with Carl.

The Omnipresent Moon


Tonight is the full moon. We noted on Playa Juncalito today the more extreme low and high tides that come with the full moon. We note tonight that our shadows, way past dark, are long. And we note at 8pm that the full moon over the hills of Puerto Escondido with moon beams on the water looks much like it does in the spring, summer or fall over Vashon Island on a clear night in Olalla.


We’re Flakes?

After announcing that Bob was never leaving Ligui, guess what!? The next day we packed up and moved to Playa Juncalito 10 miles up the beach. We decided that potential (and that’s all it is) to get an internet signal from the nearby village, maybe some sailing if Carl was there, and the fact there would be more rigs thus providing an added measure of security when we drive away from ours for day trips, was a good trade off. While we loved our site at Ligui, and its view and privacy, it was at the far end of the beach and not visually connected to nearby rigs. While not technically violating our “3 + 1” (rigs) security rule here in Mexico, it flirted with a violation.

We were having coffee on the beach in our pj’s while we discussed the plan to move, and listened to the Net at the same time. The Net is an 8:00 am daily structured conversation transmitted over the VHS marine radio sponsored by the Hidden Port Yacht Club (of which we’re members). Some items included in the daily agenda: emergency needs or notices, weather, tides, arrivals and departures, swaps and trades, and rides and crews needed. Usually there isn’t anything under “emergencies”, but Saturday there was. It was a report on the enormous earthquake in Chile and the ensuing expectation there could be a tsunami of some size as a result. It was announced that Easter Islands had already been hit and Hawaii was “clearing places along the shoreline”. The Net report said there was the potential for a 3-foot wave in the Sea of Cortez, which would “stand up” to a greater height if it hit shore, between 10:00 am and noon. Since our campsite was perhaps two feet above the high tide line, we decided it might be a good time to get hooked up and ready to go in the event we observed the tell-tale sign of the water receding. So that’s what we did. It turns out there wasn’t anything very noticeable in the way of a wave, but it gave people something to talk about on the Net. We didn’t observe any of our fellow campers moving, but we did note that a few found yesterday morning a good time to run errands in town.

We arrived at Playa Juncalito about 1:00 and got set up in a spot near where we were last February. We said a quick hello to a couple folks we knew on the beach with promises that we’d get together “soon”, then piled into the truck and headed to town. We’d previously received an email from friends Cindy and Tom saying there was a “big party” at Del Borracho, the restaurant owned by Tom’s brother in nearby Loreto.


This annual event is held to welcome a group of 100+ Harley Davidson owners on a “run” up from Cabo. Now, if any of you have come across a scholarly article explaining what happens to some men of a “certain age” causing them to become someone we suspect they were not, when they were younger, we’d love to hear about it. It turned to be an outdoor party with three bands, a big barbecue sponsored by the restaurant, plus a couple Mexican stands selling tacos and Mexican hot dogs, along with beers for 10 pesos (80 cents) attended by several hundred folks, both gringos and Mexicans. While “big parties attended by people he doesn’t know” isn’t really Bob’s thing, and “bands playing music at very high volume” isn’t Cathryn’s, we did stay for a couple hours and enjoyed the people-watching and chatting with a few folks we know.


We were back on the beach by 5:30 and enjoyed a quiet night “at home”.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mision San Javier

This morning we took off northbound on Mex 1 from Paya Ligui (leaving the Fox behond at our campsite) and turned off just shy of Loreto, about 18 miles later, to head up into the mountains. We'd heard on the weather report that it would be very windy today, so thought a day in the mountains was called for. Our destination was San Javier Mission, one of the early mission's built in the early 1700s.  We'd been told to expect a 20+ mile rough drive on a dirt road, and were pleased to find it was paved halfway up recently.

The "town" of San Javier is quite small, but neat and tidy, with cobblestone paved roads, white-washed buildings, a gorgeous Mission church, and surrounded by date palm groves, olive trees (including the 300-year-old spectacular olive tree shown below) and lots of water because of the springs flowing from the mountains. We wandered around the town, spoke to a couple of folks, took lots of photos, and headed back down the mountain.  After a quick stop at the grocery store in Loreto we're now at the "internet cafe" at Puerto Escondido where we joined the yacht club last Fall.  It's a beautiful spot and nice to be back. We remain happy and well.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our New Home

Or Bob, at least threatens that he is never leaving Playa Ligui! Late this morning we moved from last night’s camp spot at the “telephone booth” to another spot about 100 feet away. The new site is also only 80 feet from the water with a great view, and has enough vegetation to provide visual privacy, and if the weather forecast for Friday is correct, some wind protection. The old spot didn’t have these last two features and had the disadvantage of being right under the “telephone booth”. The telephone booth is a location about 50 feet up an adjacent slope that is just high enough to have a direct line of sight to the town of Loreto, and according to one camper we talked to, has 5 bars of cell signal, versus 1 bar on the beach. This improved cell service has people, both Mexicans living nearby as well as campers here on Playa Ligui, coming from near and far all day and late into the evening to make their calls! Not a big deal, but when the new spot opened up later this morning, we jumped on it.

PlaIMG_1356 ya Ligui has it all. A great beach, privacy, a nice running route and still close to Puerto Escondo (10 kilometers up the road) for internet access, water and laundry, and Loreto (25 kilometers) which has groceries and all the urban amenities we need. If you fellow travels we’ve met on the road stop by, we’re at the extreme south end of the beach, and as of this writing, there’s lots of space to park nearby.

Here is a picture of the beach and the Sea of Cortez from our bedroom window.


We haven’t made up our mind about moving up the road 10 kilometers to Playa Juncalito where we’d planned to stay. This place is great, but Playa Juncalito has some great people we met during earlier visits. We may see if we can still connect with them as non-resident visitors. Obviously we’ve proved that our plan at any moment is subject to change.

We spent most of today as a “beach day”. After going for a run on which we were joined by the woman from an adjacent campsite, we lazed around reading books and went beach-walking, in addition to our move from one campsite to the other. We saw half a dozen small pods of dolphins pass near the shore, watched a young couple snorkeling for clams just off the beach, and chatted briefly with a few folks who wandered through. The moon is almost full, so we sat outside until after 8:00 pm. It was warm, and the moon was so bright we could see our shadows. Life is good!


We Were Wrong


We said our Plans rarely last much past the second day. Would you believe 6 hours? We ended the day at Playa Ligui on the Sea of Cortez, about 10 miles south of Playa Juncalito, where we previously planned to arrive Friday! Total miles traveled for the day: 314, more than we ever want to cover in one day in Baja. What happened? Well, we got to Lopez Mateos on Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific side about 2:00 p.m., an hour or so later than expected because of an event that occurred in Ciudad Constitucion we’ll tell you about later.

Lopez Mateos was just like the Church’s camp book said: boondocking on the Embarcadero (jetty) where the pangas leave for whale-watching trips. We’ve learned over time that the Churches bend over backward to be non-judgmental in describing locations. I guess they recognize that what works for some doesn’t for others, so they give “just the facts” and let you make your own judgment. In this case our judgment was: unappealing and unattractive. We walked around for half an hour and decided we’d keep going, so we did.

We’ve talked about staying at Playa Ligui on previous trips through this stretch of road, but never quite got there. We decided that by leaving Lopez Mateos, we were ahead of schedule on our planned itinerary, so we’d check it out. Turns out it’s quite nice! The camp spots are quite dispersed so it’s probably 100 feet or more to the next closest camper, and we’re right on the beach. It’s windy tonight, so we may find we prefer to move to a site further back in the trees tomorrow if it remains windy.

We’ve settled in to our campsite, had a margarita by ourselves while watching the sunset, moon rise and wave break on the beach, and just finished a bowl of soup for dinner. The long drive today will probably result in our calling it an early night.

Note to Self: New Tires Before Alaska

IMG_1321 When we pulled into a Pemex station this afternoon for fuel in Cuidad Constitution, the men at the station immediately started pointing to the passenger side of the 5th wheel with a look of alarm on their faces. It turns out the forward tire on the trailer was extremely flat. Closer examination showed it was another sidewall failure, rather than a puncture. Bob has read that when new trailers are delivered, their tires are usually not that great. Well, it looks like a sidewall failure after only 5,000 miles supports that statement.


We were lucky there was a llantera (tire repair shop, only dealing in repairs and used tires) next to the gas station, and they were able to take off the flat tire and replace it with the spare in about 10 minutes, and charged us a whopping 20 pesos (about $1.50). Ciudad Constitution is a town of about 35,000 so it’s large enough to have at least two stores which sell new tires. The second one had the right size, although it wasn’t quite the right weight rating, but beggars can’t be choosers, and it’s about 600 miles before we get to the next town of equal or larger size. So we had them put the new tire on the spare rack and were on our way. Total time from when we pulled into the gas station to the time we left the second store with our new tire was exactly one 1 hour. Seems like that problem worked out very well.IMG_1324

We’re planning to drive the Al-Can Highway to Anchorage in May-June after we get home from Baja. We’d already decided on new tires for the truck after a sidewall failure in La Ribera a month ago, but now it looks like we’ll need 8 new tires instead of 4! Guess we’ll have to do some research.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Last Night in Los Barriles


Our friend/neighbor/landlady Russett invited us to dinner at her casita for our last meal before departure. She made a delicious dinner and had a guest she wanted us to meet. Laurel, a 26-year-old woman from Ashland, OR arrived in Los Barriles today on her bike! This was her last stop, after biking from San Diego, before boarding a plane tomorrow to return home. Russett had never met Laurel before, but got connected to her by email through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. Laurel and a girlfriend of hers had been planning the trip together for 10 months, and on the third day of the trip, just before they were to cross the border into Mexico, the friend backed out, citing feelings of discomfort about safety issues. Laurel was dismayed, naturally, but being a stalwart type, spent a week staying in a friend’s apartment in San Diego, placed an ad on Craigslist saying she was looking for a bicycle traveling companion, and shortly found a man about her age who agreed to make the trip with her. So they spent 3+ weeks riding down Mex 1 from Tijuana to La Paz together, and had a wonderful time! The man got on a ferry in La Paz to go to Mazatlan and continue his journey into South America. It was an interesting evening hearing about Laurels’ adventures. After we finished doing dishes, Russett left her casita to Laurel for the night (she has only one bed in her studio-size house) and came back to our house with her dog Sweetie to spend the night in our second bedroom. An enjoyable evening for our last night in Los Barriles. We’re sad to be saying goodbye to Russett!

We’re On The Road Again!

Our 6 weeks in East Cape is over, and we’re on the road again. We had a wonderful time exploring the southern cape of Baja but are ready to find more new places and revisit some of our favorite spots on the peninsula. We have a general plan for the next month heading back to the border, and a more detailed plan for the first two weeks. But we know from experience the plans don’t usually stay fixed much past the second day, when a little more time looking at the map or a conversation with another traveler means a new plan is made. We do know we won’t have internet as often or as easily available as it has been for the last few weeks, so we’ll go back to using our SPOT device (see sidebar for an explanation of what this is and how it works), so you can keep track of us if you’re interested.

The Plan

Map picture

We’ll leave Los Barriles Wednesday morning and make a long push up to Lopez Mateos on Bahia Magdalena (“Mag Bay” for short) on the Pacific coast. Mag Bay is one of three well-know whale watching destinations during the winter breeding season here in Baja, and we plan to spend at least one day going out on a panga to see some whales. On Friday we expect to head back across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez side to return to one of our favorite places, Playa Juncalito. We plan to stay there a week, then move on to Loreto in time to participate in the Sunday market the following weekend. After Loreto, we’ll continue north up the coast about 80 miles to Bahia Concepcion. We haven’t decided where we’ll stay there, but expect to spend another week on the beach. From that point the plan gets a little fuzzy, but then it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Captured! Ponytail Doug

Ponytail Doug, our resident Baja Sur IT guy, came yesterday afternoon to give Bob one last tutorial on how to program our Access Points (more on this in a minute) while we’re on the road. This time we only spent about 25% of the time on IT stuff and 75% of the time on Doug’s interesting history – or at least the publishable parts. We learned that in addition to his time operating an ISP company, he also spent time building plastic tubs for washing microchips, building motorized bicycles, building and flying racing airplanes, and building hydrogen fuel cells for cars. You’d be tempted to think these were some tall tales, if he didn’t accompany his narrative with a series of website visits which referenced his work and products. Made us think: you mean we spent all that time doing the SAME thing for 30 years while he was doing all this?! We also finally caught him on camera! Here’s Doug!


Who, by the way, turns 50 today AND became a great-grandfather 2 days ago!

So, what’s an “access point”? Well, to tell you the truth we don’t know, but we have two of them! One is hooked to our antenna, which we have a name for. Can you guess?


The first access point is used to conduct a survey of locally available wireless signals that the antenna, which is supposed to have a one-half mile or more reach, is picking up. The hope would be that at least one signal would be unsecured and usable for internet access. Alternatively, if none of the signals is unsecured then hopefully we can get access to the password, in places like RV parks where there is a signal. We often find the Wi-fi signals at RV parks only serve part of the area; the hope is the larger antennae will improve the signal strength and allow us to sit in our RV and use the internet whether we’re on a beach or in an RV park. Unfortunately this process is not as simple as it is with your laptop. Instead it entails multiple steps in obscure places on your computer, buried deep in various tabs, typing in long complex numbers like and then changing that number to For those who know Bob, you know that he is a generalist by nature, and all this detail work is not his forte. But we both suffer from IAD (internet addiction disorder), so he is trying to focus.


If the configuration of Access Point 1 works, you then connect it via ethernet cord to Access Point 2, which converts the signal to wi-fi so we can both use our laptops in the 5th wheel at the same time. As you know from reading our blog, we’ve spent lots of time (and we’re not going to talk about the amount of money) acquiring good internet service. We think this is going to work for this trip, but we sure wish we could come across an affordable and reliable method of accessing the internet that works in both the U.S. and in Mexico. It’s the latter that makes it hard, but Mexico is such a wonderful place that the hassle is a small price to pay.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Bob’s career background leads him to look at the way things are constructed. Why else would someone spend time thinking about sidewalks?

In the larger Mexican towns and cities, sidewalks are almost always provided. But it appears that it is up to each property owner fronting a sidewalk to decide how wide it is, how far above the grade of the road it is, and if and where curb cuts are included. This results in walking along and finding a two-foot drop between one section of side walk and the next, or having driveway ramps that feel like you’re traversing a steep hillside. And while concrete seems to be the standard construction material, the degree and kind of finish seems to be a creative one, not a standardized decision. Here are a couple of photos of some of the sidewalks we’ve run across.

It all makes walking a bit of an adventure. We constantly find ourselves trying to maintain an upright position as we walk along looking at the sights. We wonder if this is one of the reasons the pace of life in Mexican towns is a bit slower than up north – it’s got to be, or you’ll trip and break your neck!

I Have Round Corners

While this could be a post about Bob’s shape after seven weeks of Artemisa’s morning deliveries of tamales, empanadas, burritos and enchiladas, it’s not. It’s about Microsoft Live Writer.

For those of you who have your own blog, let us recommend you take a look at Microsoft’s Live Writer software. Bob just found it and think it’s the best thing since Google Blogger. You can use it with any blog software, and it posts directly to your blog, but it is SO much easier. Just one of the little things it can do is post pictures with round corners – now is that cool or what?


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Small Town Famous: Live Music is Best

Liverpool had the Beatles, SoCal had the Beach Boys and Los Barriles has Alex and Miguel, aka Depue/de Hoyos. Last night we went to a local fundraiser for a nascent local recycling program. The feature act was a duo that plays regularly here in town.

Alex is a self-described fiddle player (a violin, really), who seems to have a bit of a case of restless leg, head and shoulders, and Miguel plays the guitar. Alex is the inspired one, given to wild and sometimes amusing flourishes; Miguel is the master mechanic, and both are very good and justly famous in their context. It truly goes to prove that live music is best. If you’d like to listen to some of their music, go to .

The concert took place at East Cape RV Park, around the swimming pool, under the stars and palm trees. We think it was probably the biggest event of the year for Los Barriles, with an estimated 250-300 people in attendance. During the show a group of “mature” women provided some dancing back-up for about 10 minutes . . . before they got too tired. Another dancer performed a Mexican dance in the background, and Miguel clearly wore her out too. During the intermission a group of Mexican girls from La Paz performed a series of Hawaiian dances. They were quite good, although it was rather incongruent with our surroundings, and they each needed to lose about 25 pounds before they’d become a threat to the women you see at luaus in Hawaii. It was altogether a fun evening of “small town famous” activities. We bought a bottle of wine and sat in our camp chairs under the stars wearing shorts and short sleeves watching all the action until almost 10:00 pm. A truly late night for us.

A Call for Help!

OK, don’t get excited folks, this isn’t a life or death issue – or maybe it is -- it does concern food! We noted that Valerie commented on our post about Mexican cooking, saying she and Lance would volunteer to help eat tamales if Cathryn makes them at home. That got us thinking: where do we get a couple of the ingredients we know we can’t find at Albertson’s in Gig Harbor? Bob did a little internet surfing, looking for Mexican groceries in the Seattle area, and didn’t come up with much. There seems to be a combined grocery/restaurant near Starbucks at the Market, another combo like this on Smith Street in Kent, and some vague references to the South Park and White Center areas. Oh, and several, of course, if you’re willing to drive to Yakima!

Does anyone know where you can get chiles guajillo (the dried red ones that are about 4-6” long), and hojas tamales or corn husk leaves? These are a couple of the specialized ingredients for tamales. The rest we can improvise – especially hoping to come up with a healthier alternative to the lard used here in Mexico. Wonder how canola or olive oil would do? We’d also like to find Machaca, and good, authentic chorizo, and real enchilada sauces. Anybody who supplies us with a good source gets invited to dinner in Olalla for tamales!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mysteries re Driving in Mexico

Last winter we spent 6 weeks driving the Baja Peninsula, and so far we’ve spent 12 weeks here this winter. It was only very recently we came to understand one of the mysteries of driving in Baja. Fairly frequently the vehicle in front of us, going our same direction, would slow down and turn on its 4-way flashers. A couple minutes later, they’d turn off the flashers and pick up their speed. More commonly, we’d notice an oncoming vehicle flashing its headlights at us, or driving with its 4-way flashers on, and always wondered why. One day recently we saw this happen more frequently than usual and FINALLY correlated it to something else going on simultaneously: the presence of cows immediately adjacent to or on the highway! We’ve mentioned before the lanes on the Mex 1 highway are narrow (9’) and have no shoulders, and cattle free-graze throughout the Baja. So it’s common to come around a curve in the roadway to find a single cow, or a dozen, grazing right next to the lane of traffic, and then see one or more simply step into the highway. We hear many cattle, and cars, die every year due to collisions between the two. So now we know, and when we see oncoming cars flashing their headlights or 4-way flashers, we’ll slow down in the future and watch for cattle!

You may recall we had two days of heavy rain earlier this month. One of those days we had a drive to the airport planned to pick up Lynn and David. As we left our house in the morning it was raining hard, so Russett warned us to be attentive as we come around curves in the highway, as we may come upon a Mexican car and driver going 10 mph, and of course we’d want to avoid a rear-ending accident. Since Mexicans don’t normally drive so slowly on the highway, we inquired as to the reason for this behavior. It turns out the Baja sunshine and heat combine to destroy windshield wiper blades quite rapidly. And because many years only see two days of rain all year long, poorer Mexicans don’t consider an investment in new wiper blades every few months to be necessary. So, when the rare rain does come, they drive down the roads and highway without windshield wiper blades, necessitating very slow speeds when it’s raining hard, as they can’t see out their windshield!

Finally, the mystery regarding why Mexicans mark road obstacles the way they do – that one we still haven’t figured out! Check out this photo depicting the marking of a utility access hole in  the center of a nearby road – ha!

Last trip to San Antonio

We finally made it back to the Centro de Cultura in San Antonio to pick up Cathryn’s pottery. MaryZonia fired them in the kiln earlier this week. We arrived to find Xochitl, the older sister, at the Center rather than MaryZonia, and she was interested in some more computer help from Bob. Having anticipated that possibility, Bob brought his laptop, along with a contribution of 100 blank CDs so they can make copies of things in their work. Bob and Xochitl spent a couple hours hunched over their laptops with Bob demonstrating various things she was interested in learning. He also made a copy of a reportedly fabulous DVD called “Corazon Vaquero” (Heart of the Cowboy”) that is supposed to be a documentary about the life of cowboys who live on the Ranchos in Baja and still do everything “the old way”. We haven’t watched it yet, but have been told by several people that it will astonish us.

Xochitl delivered to Cathryn her fired pottery along with a “report card” from MaryZonia which Bob photographed and will post. For those of you who read Spanish, you’ll see why Cathryn has a big smile on her face in the photo with Xochitl! Just as our kids use lots of short-hand when text messaging, Mexicans apparently use the letter “K” to replace the word “que” (pronounced the same way) when writing informally, as you’ll see in the handwritten note from MaryZonia.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Mexican Teacher

If you’ve been following our blog, you read recently about Artemisa, a woman who comes around in her car 4-5 days each week to our house, selling burritos, tamales, empanadas, chiles rellenos or gorditos – delicious Mexican food, hot out of her oven. Bob developed a particular fondness for Artemisa’s tamales, so suggested Cathryn should learn how to make them. Sure enough, Cathryn was intrigued by the idea, so asked Artemisa if she’d be willing to teach her. Artemisa provided a grocery list of ingredients (some of which were complete mysteries to us), and we bought them yesterday with the assistance of a couple employees at the local grocery.

Today was Tamale Lesson Day. Artemisa arrived at 3:00 on foot, as her car broke down yesterday, unbeknownst to us. She walked the 3 kilometers to get here! Artemisa proceeded to demonstrate the entire process of making tamales, and when our kitchen failed to produce all the necessary kitchen-ware (no blender!) we sent Bob next door to Russett’s house to borrow hers. Right in the middle of making tamales, two gringos showed up unexpectedly to look at our house, which is currently for sale. We apologized for the condition of the house, both the kitchen which was undergoing tamale making, as well as the rest of the house which is undergoing sorting and packing for our planned departure on Wednesday. Artemisa and Cathryn communicated using Cathryn’s less-than-fully-adequate Spanish, with her referring to the fabulous Spanish-English dictionary Ryan gave her two Christmases ago as needed. It took 2 ½ hours to make the tamales (22 in the end), but Bob was thrilled as they were more delicious than the ones we normally buy from Artemisa, as they were more generously filled with chicken and vegetables. Artemisa explained the difference between “casa tamales” (those made for eating at home) and those that are made for sale, the former of which are more “gordo” (fat) with meat and veggies. On a normal day, Artemisa, with some help from her 12 and 14-year-old daughters, makes 240 tamales to sell out of her car, driving house-to-house and blowing her car horn to let clients know she’s arrived. Cathryn thought the process and afternoon were great fun and looks forward to searching for the proper ingredients back home so she can try making tamales on her own.

After cleaning up and eating a few tamales, Cathryn drove Artemisa back to her home. On the way, Artemisa paid us an enormous compliment/honor by inviting us to attend her daughter’s Quinceanera next December if we’re back in Baja. This is a coming-of-age ceremony that is common in Mexican culture, very formal and not unlike a wedding in terms of importance, formality and expense. Cathryn felt a bit teary over the honor of the invitation and wishes she thought it were likely we could attend – which we don’t. Unfortunately we’re unlikely to keep in touch with Artemisa as she doesn’t have email, and other methods are unlikely to be used. Our current thinking is we’ll go to mainland Mexico next winter instead of Baja, but as always, “Vamos a Ver” (or “we’ll see!”)

Baja’s Tallest Palm Trees

Groves of Date Palm trees are fairly common here in Baja wherever there is surface water such as a lagoon or river. Well, the palms in this photo of downtown Los Barriles are clearly among the tallest in Baja. OK, on closer examination (click on the photo to enlarge it) you’ll see that this is actually an attempt to disguise cell towers. We’ve see cell towers disguised as fir trees, flag poles, church steeples, and yes, even palm trees in the States, but didn’t expect this sort of “luxury” to be incorporated here, where only about half the streets are paved.

So a more general question: do these disquises make you feel better about cell towers? Personally we’d rather some talented industrial designer came up with a cell tower design that was functional and attractive. Engineers do it for bridges, why not cell towers?

Happy 20th Birthday to Kate Hutson!!!

 Kate is Cathryn’s niece, sister Anne’s daughter, the youngest of the 9 Rice grandchildren and the last to leave her teen years behind. She’s a sophomore at Texas A&M University. We hope you have a wonderful day, Kate! How does it make you feel, Dad and Mom, to have 9 grandchildren all of whom have entered their third (or fourth) decade of life??? The birthday girl is the one on the right, and her other Texas Rice-grandchild girl cousin, Stephanie Shaffer is on the left, photo taken at cousin Jeff’s wedding last summer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bob Had Breakfast With the Girls

We mentioned previously that Russett’s friends from Boise, Idaho, her Book Group from the years she lived there, are in town for 10 days. This morning they invited us to join them for breakfast at Verdugo’s, a restaurant on the beach where everything on the menu is $5.00 – includes your coffee and juice. So, accompanied by 7 women, off Bob went for breakfast! The food was good, view was spectacular, and the company, of course, was lots of fun! Russett’s friends are a lively, funny, adventurous bunch.

Life is Different Here

There are quite a few things, some minor, some major, which are different about home life in Mexico. Now that we’ve spent 6 weeks in a Mexican house, rather than in our RV, we’ve learned a few things we thought we’d share.

While this is probably not true in mountain regions, houses here in the lowlands don’t have heat. No furnace, no base-board heaters, no wall heaters. It’s just not needed. Or at least that’s mostly true. We had 3 days a couple weeks ago that were cloudy and cool, and we found the house a little too chilly for our comfort in the mornings, so we brought our tiny space heater in from the RV and ran it for about half an hour. Houses here also don’t have smoke alarms. Again, they’re just not needed. The house we’re in, like most houses in the vicinity, is built entirely of concrete – walls, floors, ceilings, kitchen and bathroom counters, all are made of concrete. Only the doors and windows aren’t concrete, and they’re not wood either. So nothing in our Mexican house could burn except for bedding and clothing. So no smoke alarms.

Like all deserts, water is at a premium here in Baja. One of the ways municipal water systems manage supply is by rationing water somewhat. Here in Los Barriles, the water is turned off to half the City for about 6-8 hours every other day. The other half of the City has its’ water turned off on alternate days. This has posed no problems for us. The way it’s handled is that every house is built with something called a “tanaka” or a “pila”. A tanaka is a black plastic water tank – somewhere between 200 – 500 gallon size – installed on the roof during construction of the house. It remains full at all times by virtue of a pump that automatically re-fills it as water is used. So on days when the City water is off, residents draw their water, powered by gravity, from the tanaka so they can shower, flush toilets and wash dishes. A “pila” is essentially the same thing, but is installed underground and is much larger in capacity. The pila for our house holds 3,000 gallons, and again, has a pump that keeps it automatically re-filled whenever we take a shower, run the laundry, or whatever. We have yet to notice the days on which the water is turned off except in one respect: outside faucets can’t be connected to the tanaka or pila, so people can’t wash their car or water their yard or wet down the roadway in front of their house (to keep the dust down) on those days.

Though we’re told summers here are extremely hot -- long periods where the temp passes 100 degrees every day -- most houses owned by Mexicans are not air-conditioned, and most houses owned by gringos only have air-conditioning units mounted in the bedrooms so they can sleep comfortably. Whenever possible, people have trees near the house to keep it shaded and cool, and the concrete structure holds the cool night air better than homes built of other materials. Ceiling fans are very common. Our next-door neighbor and friend Russett, who has lived here year-round for the past 2 years, tells us that July and August are made up of “three-shower days” – shower when you get up in the morning, shower before lunch, and shower before dinner. And even then, you sweat all day. I think we’ll stick to coming here in the winter!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We Got Wet

We’re on our “Los Barriles Count-down”, having decided we’ll hit the road northbound sometime next week, so we came up with a list of things to do before we leave. Some items on the list are chores, some are fun. Today’s activity was a trip to the Santiago Hot Springs, one of the fun items. The hot springs are in the same general vicinity as the waterfall, but a few miles further south. The drive is 45 minutes and took us through the town of Santiago, then up to the village of San Jorge, which seemed more a concentration of a dozen small ranchos than a village. But the village did have a paved area with a small, nicely painted stage, a common feature of “town squares” ranging from cities like La Paz to villages like San Jorge.

The hot springs were about 2 miles outside San Jorge. The well-graded dirt road ended at a parking area in a small rancho where we were met by Braulio who collected 50 pesos (about $4) from each of us, then lead us ¼ mile down a path to the hot springs themselves. We had the place entirely to ourselves for the couple of hours we stayed. We understand there are actually several pools and that Braulio takes people to different spots so you don’t generally have to share space. The water was 37 degrees (99 F), and immediately adjacent to the hot pool was a cold stream to dip into occasionally, so the conditions were perfect, along with an air temperature of 78. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon and well worth the time and money.

Any ornithologists among our readers?

When Lynn and David were here to visit they gave us a very nice gift – a National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, which includes Mexico. They’re birding enthusiasts, and are able to readily identify most birds we spot on our hikes and walks together. We enjoy seeing birds but don’t know as much about them as we’d like. Today we saw an exquisite bird, photographed it, and then had to spend an inordinate amount of time identifying it because we had no idea where to start in the book. We ultimately decided it was a Hooded Oriole, which is only found in southern Baja during breeding season. Do you agree with our identification Lynn and David?

Secondly, we were in our truck last week with 2 other people, and a Roadrunner ran across the highway in front of us. One of the women in the truck said "Oh!  I didn't know Roadrunners were real birds -- I thought they were just characters in that silly cartoon!"  So, in case anyone else share's her belief, we snagged a photo of a Roadrunner yesterday and will let you see that too.

Finally, we've forgotten what this third bird is called, Lynn and David -- we saw it when you were here. Can you remind us?  Enough about birds for today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Different Sort Of "Adventure"

While in Baja we’ve met many gringos who have all their routine medical and dental work done in Mexico rather than the U.S. or Canada. Most of them do this because of the significant cost savings, but also proclaim the quality of care they receive is quite high. You’ve undoubtedly read stories in the news in recent years regarding people who fly to Mexico, India, China – wherever – to get medical work done at significant savings. We finally decided to stick our toes into these waters, so today we both had appointments with a Mexican dentist for a routine exam and cleaning. We arrived at the dental clinic at 2:00 to find it closed. Fortunately we’d brought our books, anticipating having to wait while each other was having our appointments. Twenty minutes later the gringo woman who was at the reception desk when we made our appointments appeared. She asked if we’d gotten her email last Friday (we did not) telling us the dentist would not be here today after all, as he’d flown to Mazatlan to propose to his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. She proceeded to explain that she’s a dental hygienist with over 30 years experience, so could clean our teeth and give us a partial exam in the dentist’s absence. We decided to go with that. So Mary cleaned our teeth, a completely pain-free experience, essentially the same as back home, and told us about the establishment of the dental clinic here only last October. They charge 600 pesos (about $50) for an adult cleaning and exam, and with the profits from this, they’re able to provide free dental care to all the children in Los Barriles. We thought this sounded like a great deal for all parties involved and were very happy to participate! And just like at home, we walked away with new toothbrushes, dental floss and toothpaste


Everyone who knows us is aware that we don’t spend much time at all yelling at each other, but during our Baja travels we’ve agreed that yelling “Tope!” is an authorized behavior. What’s a “tope”, you ask (pronounced “toe-pay”)? Well ,think of the Mother-of-All (do you remember when that was the world’s most overused phrase?) speed bumps. The Mexicans seem to love their topes, in towns, in the middle of nowhere, on the highway, on dirt roads even. San Bartolo, a small town nearby which we drive through regularly, has 8 of them in less than one kilometer. There are 12 of them between our house and Mex 1 via the through-town route, and each one is teeth rattling, and worse when we’re hauling the trailer. There are many “mosts” associated with topes. Most topes have warning signs 150 to 300 meters in advance, most are painted yellow, most are in the vicinity of schools, most are in towns, etc But . . . . for every “most”, there are lots of exceptions, so calling out “Tope!” is an authorized activity that is “mostly” successful in helping us slow down and avoid rattling our brains out by flying over them going 80 kilometers per hour.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Logistics of Life

This will not be a post about how we get water for the RV, refill our propane tanks or take showers. It won’t even be about life in Mexico. Cathryn got an email from her friend Gary Kenyon, who is considering doing some RV-ing now that he’s retired, inquiring how we handle things while we’re away from home so long: mail, house maintenance, etc. Here’s Cathryn’s answer to Gary.

Cathryn’s sister Susan and her husband Bob (we Rice girls have a tradition of marrying Bobs) flew up from Texas to visit our parents in Gig Harbor. They’re staying at our house in Olalla for a few days. Yesterday Cathryn received emails from Susan and Bob, with photos attached, describing a 60-foot log, and 3 other smaller logs, which had become jammed between our rock bulkhead and our beach stairs. Unfortunately when something like this happens the wave action, tides and occasional storm surge during the winter bash the logs about and eventually combine to destroy the stairs, which are made of wood.

We quickly sent off an email to Bob’s sister Lynn and her husband David (who were just in Baja visiting us last week) asking if they could take a look and make arrangements with a contractor to have the logs removed. David, being the King-of-Do-It-Yourselfers, instead grabbed his fishing waders and chainsaw and headed to our house first thing in the morning. No one has written a detailed version of how things transpired from there, but best we can tell from the photos they did send, David, with Bob’s assistance, waded into the 48 degree Puget Sound waters with chainsaw in hand and dispensed with the logs. Voila . . . problem solved! We feel guilty that we were sitting on the rooftop deck having margaritas with friends while our relatives were at home in the rain taking care of our home for us. Thank you David, Lynn, Bob and Susan!!!!!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cocktail Hour Deja Vous

As we mentioned in a recent post, yesterday we ran into Jill and Doug, a Canadian couple we were introduced to last winter when we were camping here in Los Barriles. Like us, they’re back again, camping at Playa Norte across the road from our house on the beach in the RV Park where we stayed last year. They’re traveling with friends Peter and Jane, also from Penticton, B.C., Canada. The 4 of them arrived for cocktail hour tonight, and we all sat on our rooftop deck enjoying margaritas and appetizers for a couple of hours, catching up on news in our lives and travels. We are missing Jan and Jim, the couple who introduced us to each other last year and are not here this year, but had a wonderful time talking, comparing notes on travels, discussing possible travels to mainland Mexico next year, making jokes etc. Both are lively, interesting couples, and we enjoyed their visit. We discussed the possibility of getting together again later in the week.

More ArT

The Asociacion de Artes del Mar de Cortes (Association of the Arts of the Sea of Cortez) held their annual Tour of Art Studios in Los Barriles today. For 50 pesos (about $4) we got a map directing us to 11 art studios scattered around the vicinity. We were disappointed to learn that, without exception, all of the artists were female gringos aged 60-70. We expected that to be a part of the demographic of artists, but hoped there would also be some Mexicans, some men, maybe even some young people in the mix. Apparently taking up jewelry making, painting and pottery-making is a popular activity among the gringo women who spend their winters here. Two of the artists seemed to us to have real talent, and the rest were hobbyists. Nonetheless we enjoyed the tour. The highlight was getting to tour some truly fascinating homes and gardens – maybe they should sponsor a Home and Garden Tour next year!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Carnival Strikes Los Barriles

Last year we spent Carnival (aka Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) weekend in La Paz, and among other events we went to the parade which had dozens of elaborate floats full of bands, lightly clad young women and lots and lots of children. It was a loud raucous affair that lasted well into the night. Today Los Barriles had its own version of a Carnival parade. It started about 4pm and lasted until 4:20. Most of the floats were decorated quads (ATVs) driven by “mature” gringos augmented by a few muscle cars driven by local Mexicanos as well as the local police and ambulance vehicles. It was a fun small-town affair sponsored by the local Rotary Club and served as a fund raiser for the Rotary Club’s local projects. Bob was a little disappointed by the lack of “lightly clad young females” but other than that it was an amusing way to spend an hour.

8 Carnival
Double click on the photo above  for more photos of last years carnival in La Paz

While at the Carnival parade, we ran into Doug and Jill, some Canadians we met on several occasions last winter, including hiking in Tripui Canyon. (See the photo album at the bottem of the blog) They were accompanied by their friends Peter and Jane. We chatted for awhile and agreed we’d get together tomorrow evening for happy hour.