December 30, 2008

A cave adventure

Lately it’s chilly and windy which means dust accumulating in the window wells and creeping in under the door jambs. Today it has warmed up quite a bit outside, but it is still quite cool in the house with these thick concrete walls. Esperando and crew are busy working on Casa Abeja.

Yesterday we had a nice break from remodeling. For the sake of a kind of romantic and earnest young Mexican man that is a landowner, I will call yesterday’s host of our adventure, Don Diego (Zorro’s counterpart). Well Don Diego had arranged a visit to his family’s ranch for us near Mulege yesterday, which meant a 40 minute ride through the desert across washboarded dirt roads. I still think when I jiggle that much I have to be losing weight. We went to see the cave paintings on his property that were made by people some 10,000 years ago. They must have been thinking in the same manner as those guys from Lascaux in France, as the paintings similarly showed men and animals, mostly deer or fish in ochre or white. For me the stunning piece was of little white handprints grouped together on the wall. But I am getting ahead of myself.

First there was the hike to get to the paintings. It was not far, but it was a little hilly up and down and in some places required climbing on larger boulders. How silly I felt not springing around like some spring lamb like I used to do, but creeping cautiously across the rocks. For this I somewhat blame my hiking boots as my feet are much less flexible in them. We came to a deep clear pond which was fed by spring—how amazing to see water like that in this land of desert. What a joy that pool would be on a hot summer day! Esperando and I both were reminded of Sitting Bull Falls in New Mexico. Alas the stream had to be crossed so we put on our water shoes and waded in water about 2 feet deep, and though we had rolled our jeans up to our knees, the water siphoned the rest of the way up our pant legs. Fortunately it was not icy water and it wasn’t too cold outside. So we walked on a little further and came to where we could view the paintings, in a high cave that was not significantly deep. Sadly much of what must have been there has fallen down over time, but it was still something to see those simple line paintings so alive with the knowledge of those animal’s shape and movement spoken in every turn of the line.

Afterwards we returned to Don Diego’s kitchen, a simple concrete block house still under construction. A simple but delightful meal of tortillas, machacha (shredded beef), and refried beans with some farmer’s cheese (similar to feta) was served to us. Then he gave us a tour of the ranch and we came home with an armful of cilantro, zucchini and radishes and lots of pleasant memories.

December 23, 2008

Santa Rosalia shops for Christmas

Here it is the 23rd of December, almost Christmas. Santa Rosalia is decorated to the hilt with lots of Christmas lights everywhere downtown including the main plaza and side- streets. Mechanical moving reindeer beckon from second stories as do lots of big outdoor inflatable Santa-type balloons including one of Santa flying an airplane. The store merchandise spills over onto tables edging the streets, as well as a guy selling fresh fish and shellfish out of the back of his pickup, a small stand with fresh strawberries (from where?) for sale, and tons of pedestrians crossing the streets as their whims dictate. There is even a sign advertising cockfighting on Christmas day--somehow that seems un-Christian. Traffic creeps along downtown’s 4 major east-west streets, and cross-hatched 14 or so north-south streets (that are only 4 or 5 blocks long). The east-west streets are one-way streets of alternating opposite directions. And the north-south streets follow the same pattern, except that there are two Calle 8’s a block apart both going the same one-way direction.

Just about every other store is women’s clothing or accessories with a few baby’s and men’s shops thrown in, about four major grocery stores (not very big), snow cone and frappe sellers, taco stands and a few stationary/sports combined stores (a rather puzzling combination). I drove downtown with Esperando today as we needed to go to the bank and the liquor store and parking is all but non-existent anywhere this close to Christmas. I drove around the block which actually ends up being about 10 blocks because of intervening one-way streets, then found a lucky parking place to pull into thinking to give him a bit of time to get in and out of the instant teller. What I hadn’t counted on was the continuous stream of traffic that wouldn’t let me back out onto the street for about 10 minutes. By the time I maneuvered back to where I could turn back up the street he was on, the policewoman directing traffic held me up another 5 minutes. So the poor man had been standing waiting for me much longer than I had intended.

Next stop was the liquor store, normally in a not too busy location. I found a parking spot in front of a nursery school which had let out for the day, just around the block. I spent 10 minutes wrestling the truck into a parallel park, called Esperando and said call me when you are ready. I am ready now he said. So I unparked and drove around the block to pick him up. Theoretically we are all stocked up and set for the holidays.

As tradition for us dictates, tomorrow night we will have guacamole and chips, posole, New Mexico style enchiladas, and tamales. I made a lucky find of beautiful dried red Anaheim type chiles, so we will enrich the good canned enchilada sauce they have here with that too. Christmas morning will start with a spinach and cheese strata. We are having a turkey and the all trimmings on Christmas. We will be sharing Christmas with Flaming Mike and his wife we are enroute to San Diego the next day. I hope we don’t all freeze to death opening gifts in the house, since we do not have heating. Who would be believe that I could be wrapped up in my warmest clothes because it is 62F inside and a balmy 74F outside in the sun. Praise God for the electric blanket that keeps me warm at night!

December 18, 2008

Home owners

It’s ours now—Casa Abeja—sadly the bees had to go, but it will still always be Casa Abeja in their memory. We own it lock, stock and barrel. Its either a great Mexican investment property or we’ve squandered our hard earned cash (its sort of like looking at the glass as half full or half empty). Anyway you look at it its not going to be one of those houses that is ready to just move right into.

Yesterday as we were walking around it a nicely dressed older Mexican lady came over and started taking pictures of it. Was she trying to document it, does she want to show how we aren’t going to keep with its heritage nature (which we are) so the government can sue us, is she taking photos for her friends or the previous owners? We didn’t think to ask her, but it seemed rather strange to us at the time, especially since she didn’t even speak to us and was doing this right in front of our faces. I would have to say she wasn’t especially friendly. We are really curious what that was all about.

The owners came up from La Paz to clean out the rest of their stuff and get their money. When we walked through the house yesterday we found the previous owner had forgotten to remove a lot of stuff including religious poster art, an old brass crucifix by the window, a cowboy hat, some men’s shirts, an Eskimo cooler in the kitchen and a child’s toy. They were surprised that anything was left as they thought they had emptied the house. I guess they weren’t very attached to any of this stuff or maybe just couldn’t see it for the shock of finally selling the house.
Esperando had it fumigated yesterday morning for creepy-crawlies and the fire department hosed out the beehive. The Lads removed the large dead tree that was growing right against the east wall. All this has happened in the space of 4 hours. Next on the agenda was the removal of the old water tank. Esperando and the Lads borrowed a forklift to pull the old concrete water tank off its tipsy stand. This morning was the big day. The forklift came hauling down the road with Esperando driving. Next was the sawing of attached piping and securing the tank with a rope. I was sure one of them would get crushed while the pipes were being sawed through. The nimble Gardener climbed up on the roof and over to the lift which had been raised level with the tank. Flaming Mike had tied a rope around the tank already, so the Gardener tied the knot onto the liftblade and we were in business!! This is only the beginning. Next will be hauling away a yard full of large trash such as an ancient refrigerator, the old water tank and stand, and other large metal debris and garden trash.

How will we keep our hands off bringing it to life? It’s his nature and mine to want to fix things up, but is now the right time with the economy so sour? It needs re-roofing, new exterior doors, entire rewiring, plumbing, bathroom and kitchen remodel, not to mention cleaning, polishing, stripping interior floor, drywalling interior walls, painting interior and exterior walls, and the list goes on.

December 17, 2008

Yet another cat

We adopted another new street kitten a few days ago. She is much younger than Frida was when we adopted her. One day Señor Mustache came walking into the yard with two pretty kittens. I thought it really odd that a male cat would escort kittens to the house, Penelope the white cat I assumed was the mother since she had been pregnant, even though she seemed rather standoffish. After several days of deliberation, Penelope’s continued hands-off approach to rearing children, and certain physical clues on the father’s side (such as missing male anatomy parts and a glimpse of nursing nipples) it was determined that Señor Mustache was actually Señora Mustache. Since Señora is a skittish feral, a hands-on approach to the subject was not advisable.

Both kittens were quite timid: there was a white one with some calico spots and a striped tail; and a fuzzy tortoiseshell with disheveled fur and a deformed corkscrew tail.

Esperando put out the cat crate so our subjects would be used to it before the door snapped shut on the wild life they had known, and we began putting food in the crate. After about two days of this the white kitten would race into the crate, the little tortoiseshell would hang back frightened, but eventually follow in along with mom. Esperando considered we should carry out the act on a Saturday, but I said no let’s wait for Sunday. As we came back up the hill from our Sunday walk we saw the little white kitty lying dead in the road—a car had run over her. Now if I had done as Esperando suggested on Saturday, the little white kitty might have stood a chance at a better life. Ah well, as the screw turns.

Sunday we caught Poppy (short for Little Poppet). Again as before Winnie came to the crate and calmed her down, but unlike before Winnie had not been watching her from the window for an extended period of time. Winnie followed all the same moves he did with Frida, went in her room, hung out, showed her where to eat, showed her the litter box, but did not seem committed to enjoying her company as he had to Frida’s. This morning I thought she might like the company of another cat so I brought Winnie in, was petting the kitten then put her down, she skittled over to Winnie showing some signs of courage other than just huddling in the sink which she has been doing every since we snatched her—and he hissed at her and raised his paw to bat her. He was going to leap on her and attack, but I intervened. It was terrible blow to my taming program. She zipped across the floor to go and cower in a corner. You tell me why a cat likes one cat and not another one?

December 14, 2008

Feathery friends

One of the natural treasures we have down here, in addition to an abundance of cactus and Mexican food, is hummingbirds. When we first got here we put up hummingbird feeders but no one ever came. (It is sort of like having a garden party but no guests arrive.) We have tons of hibiscus bushes in the yard which drew the hummingbirds like magnets so we would see them everyday, but not at our feeders.

The first hummingbirds that we saw daily during the hot season, Xanthus hummingbirds, did not seem remarkable to look at since they were not boldly colored and didn’t seem to be very personable. They are a native non-migratory species. Oh well, we said, maybe when the migrating hummingbirds come from up north we will have knowledgeable birds who understand these things. Maybe they will show these Xanthus dudes what it’s all about. One day I was standing next to a feeder when a Rubythroat showed up—we like to think it was the first one in town. The bird actually did a double take, like wait a minute I’ve been here every year and there was NEVER a feeder here, HOW amazing!! It zoomed right up to the feeder and looked at it, then moved back a foot and looked at it, then it zoomed back and started feeding. And that was the beginning of the famous Santa Rosalia turf wars.

More hummingbirds showed up and started contesting ownership of our two feeders which are about 15 feet apart. They would spiral up 50 feet in the air using their beaks against each other like Jeddi swords. This went on for a while, then one day a swarm of bees and a beautiful Streak-backed Oriole showed up to partake. The hummingbirds were overwhelmed by the bees as each feeder would have a mass of about 50 bees on it who could effectively keep them away. The bees would suck the feeder dry in one day. The oriole would sit on the feeder and parry bees off with its beak for about a minute, before it would also be driven off. But it was persistent and would come back right away.

Our most recent hummingbird guest is Costa’s hummingbird, and a beauty it is too. A tiny little guy with bright purple bib and brilliant green elsewhere. It turns out Costa’s hummingbird is limited to the Baja peninsula and a small area around Guaymas on the mainland. In the last few days the bees have suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, so we are back to two hummingbird sentinels guarding each feeder and driving enemy combatants away.

December 5, 2008

The tale of the stolen soldier

You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead— your next stop, it’s the location of the Stolen Soldier in the Twilight Zone— da, da, da da— da da da da.

Esperando and I took off at 10 am on a sunny day to go to Loreto and pickup visitors at the airport. We had a pleasant day for our 3-hour drive. A bit out of Mulege (about an hour into our trip) on the opposite side of the highway we approached a humvee full of soldiers, with a foot soldier in front of them who held a rifle and was scouring the bushes to the side of the road. The main dude flagged us down and said do you speak Spanish, did you see the soldier? Esperando thought he was referring to the one with the rifle and wondering why we didn’t pull over. We both said yes, there he is in front. No, no, said the officer, another soldier further ahead. Esperando said, oh have you lost one? No said the officer, one of our soldiers was stolen. Stolen? Yes, stolen accidentally. The soldiers were at the checkpoint (still an hour and 15 minutes further ahead of us, where you are alternatively waved through or they ask you to get out of the vehicle so they can inspect it) and this soldier was inside a trailer inspecting it when the trailer door accidentally got shut with him still inside. The trailer took off with him in it. They didn’t realize until later that he was missing. The officer looked quite sheepish. No we didn’t see any soldier, we said.

We got back on the highway and continued our drive. Periodically one or the other of us would burst into laughter. We considered all kinds of variations on the ending of this soldier’s adventures. We discussed what the gringos would think when they arrived at their destination and found a soldier was in their trailer, would they get all the way to the border—would they actually get to their home before they opened the trailer and discovered they had accidentally kidnapped someone from the Mexican army? How do you deal with that? Boy, I said, I wish we knew how this one ended, it’s just so amazing. I thought of the news article I read several weeks ago where some Mexican army soldiers got arrested in the U.S. by the border patrol when they accidentally got lost on the wrong side of the border while on patrol.

We traveled on for another 45 minutes, and there on our side of the highway was a young soldier in fatigues trying to hitch a ride. He looked about 16 years old. There he is! we cried. We pulled over to pick him up and asked, are you the lost soldier? Oh yes, he said! Your comrades are way up the road looking for you. We asked him what happened. Well it turns out the trailer was a big refrigerated semi full of chile peppers. He said it was really cold inside and he was sure he would freeze to death. He pounded on the sides of the truck but the driver couldn’t hear him over the highway noise. Finally the trucker encountered some problems and stopped the truck, and then our soldier started pounding on the floor of the truck. The man wondered why his chiles were making such a racquet and opened the trailer door to find our soldier inside. Now our soldier took out across the desert as a shortcut (and probably this is why his comrades missed seeing him) then came out to the highway and starting hitching. No one would give him a ride until we came along. It’s a good thing we did come along, as it was 30 minutes of hard driving to the checkpoint and would have been a veeeeeeeeery long walk. We dropped him off, much the joy of the other soldiers who had stayed to man the checkpoint. Boy I thought we’ve really earned some brownie points with this one—it should be like having a ‘get out of jail free’ card coming back when they recognize our vehicle and thank us for the favor and wave us on through from this time forward to evermore. Guess what? No one recognized us on the way back, it was all a new crew manning the checkpoint. Everyday—just a new adventure down here.

December 2, 2008

Ray's Place at La Hacienda

You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead— your next stop, its Ray’s Place in the Twilight Zone! Do do do do, do do do do—

Imagine you are living in Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur. Twice you have driven an hour away and then down five miles of winding dusty bouncy dirt roads out into the middle of nowhere in a pasture to go eat at Ray’s Place which is closed. It doesn’t look very prepossessing 50 feet away from the chained entrance that your car can’t cross over, you think you are looking at someone’s home with a kind of shabby restaurant on top. You know the owner is Cuban and you think they serve Cuban food, which would be a novelty in this land of milk and honey. You keep hearing rumors about how great it is.

You are invited by your host, Mr. Rolex, to meet him for dinner at Ray’s Place. You arrive 5 minutes early because you are stupid gringos and are always early to everything. But you are just in time for the sunset which is setting the rocky and cactus studded mountains around you on fire with its last glowing rays. Ray is standing at the top of the wooden stairs on the second story welcoming you in with a big Hollywood smile, “Welcome my friends to Ray’s Place, come in, come in.” Suddenly you are a very different place, it is all lit up with white Christmas lights—you are transported to the tropics in a really beautifully constructed cabana with a lovely second story view. You go sit at the bar and find out Mr. Rolex brought a bottle of very expensive Tequila up some time earlier in the day for your evening’s cocktails. So you sit at the bar sipping on this lovely stuff. Then Mr. Rolex shows up and sits and drinks with you while Rays suggests some appetizers of crab baked in scallop shells with Mornay sauce or would you rather have Oysters Rockefeller, and your ears just about fall off your head that anyone in this God forsaken corner of the world ever heard of Mornay sauce, let alone cooking an appetizer in scallop shells. After several shots of Tequila and the aforesaid appetizer you move over to your table for the main course.

Mr. Rolex has also brought a lovely bottle of a fine Mexican cabernet sauvignon that sets your soul to singing. You have not had such a good wine in so long. You savor every sip. Rays sets a chalkboard with the menu in front of you—lobster, steak, scallops, chicken, fish. When your meal is set in front of you, in my case lobster and steak with a beautiful selection of fresh assorted vegetables scattered artistically on the plate, you can’t believe you are experiencing such a magical evening. Then when you have finished eating, to top it all off, there you are presented with Brandy Alexanders which you never would have ordered, but which you are now addicted to—brandy and Kahlua blended with ice and cream and dusted with cocoa. This is now one of the best meals you have ever had in your entire life and you are sure you will probably die from a splitting headache in the morning, but it is so absolutely worth it. Now you are drinking yet more shots Tequila and are pretty certain that this will be your last supper, but no doubt you will die in your bed happy. Did we really ever eat there, was it real, or was it an imaginary feast? We hope to find out soon by trying to go back again.