July 30, 2009

Getting down to the wire

We will be driving back down to Baja next week. Today was my last day of physical therapy, grins! Of course I have to continue doing the exercises on my own now. Knowing me I probably won’t push as hard and if I get off on the wrong track and don’t realize I am doing the exercise the wrong way, there will be no one to correct me. We have to pack all my bands, pulley and large styrofoam tube—makes me feel like I am taking the whole nursing home with me. I am looking forward to the day I can move my arm in all directions and it doesn’t lock up or hurt as to how far it wants to bend. In the meantime tonite, I am having a wine party with my Mother and my neighbors, all other single girls. This seems to be a block of mostly single woman, funny isn’t it? All the other blocks appear to be families. The neighbor on my left never married, the neighbor on my right is getting divorced, and the neighbor just past her has been divorced for several years and now has a steady boyfriend; then there’s me—a mining ‘widow”.

Next Wednesday is the day! It will be nice to rejoin Esperando, but sadly after we drive down and have a week’s vacation in southern Baja, he will be deserting me again to go to Northern California for two weeks. We are going to stay in Cabo Pulmo and Todos Santos, both places we have never been. I am really looking forward to our stay in Cabo Pulmo at Diane Varney's El Encanto de Cabo Pulmo ever since I first saw it on the internet. This past week I have been busy buying, buying, buying stuff to take that we can’t get in Santa Rosalia—premium dog food, impossible-to-find-in-Baja premium cat food, cat toys, bird feeders, vacuum sealer and bags, fish fryer, face cream, hair dye (they don’t have blonde colors that work very well on gringos where we are), curtain rods, custom made blinds, more dishes for the guesthouse, and a slow cooker.

I still have to pack up all my clothes. I confess I have been a bad girl having gone on quite a spending spree while in Denver. Two weeks after my surgery Esperando and I were in REI and I was already trying on shirts, even though it meant I had to remove my sling. And with my Mother here visiting, she isn’t any good influence; she keeps wanting to go back to Chico’s for one last look at the sales rack. I sequester her in the largest fitting room, then race around the store looking for her size and my size, race back try on my clothes and dress again for another tour around the store. She is much slower trying on clothes, so it gives me quite a bit of time to comb every rack and make sure we haven’t missed anything. We made a pretty good haul several days ago.

Yesterday the flicker came back to destroy our house some more. Both Esperando and I thought they would only be a problem during breeding season, which we are now past. For the last two days I have been hearing tapping noises that sounded like them. The first time the dog immediately got alarmed and when I went out in the backyard to see if that’s where they were, he started barking aggressively at me. He followed me all over the yard barking. I had to yell at him to get him to shut up and by then whoever was tapping had stopped. Yesterday when I heard it again I was on the phone. This time I went out the front door and looked up at the balcony. Sure enough, there was a flicker on the edge of the upstairs balcony beating his beak against Esperando’s repair job. When I yelled at him and waved my arms he just stayed there. I went back inside and raced up the stairs to our bedroom, opened the door to the balcony bringing the dog along, and there was the flicker perched on an outdoor lamp. He must have been a young bird because he didn’t know enough to be scared of me and stayed there until I approached within 4 feet, yelling 'shoo' and waving my arms. I could see where he had put beak dents in about seven places, but nothing serious yet. Perhaps because he is so young I have been able to scare him away permanently. This wrecking of our house is a really serious situation.

On an additional sour note before I go, the mammagram people called this morning and said I have to come back in for additional imaging. I will have to wait and fret all weekend until Monday to get re-imaged and find out everything is ok. Neither my mother nor my sister nor any female antecedents in our family has ever had breast cancer. I don't intend to be the first!

July 27, 2009

Turf wars

Today I went over and confronted my neighbor Erin about the two large piles of weeds her husband Guy left in the alley yesterday after he chopped them down. One pile was right where I have to make my turn to go into the garage. In fact yesterday as I was returning from running errands, Guy and Erin were standing in the alley watching me trying to make my turn with that same pile of weeds in my way. We have lived in our house for 5 years now and I have not spoken to these neighbors much, I don’t think we are on very friendly terms as Erin doesn’t speak to me when I go to the mailbox if she happens to be there even when I say hello. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I hoped they would have bagged their weeds and moved them.

This morning when I left to run my errands the same piles of weeds were still in place. All the way to the grocery store I practiced what I was going to go and say calmly to Erin, I figured Guy was probably at work. Then when I got home I decided to pick up the weeds and bag them myself and drag them over to their driveway. It is some kind of martyr thing that I think I inherited (and I didn’t think it would get done if I didn’t do it either). First as I bagged them, some of the weeds were really prickly on my bare hands which of course made me madder. Then after I picked all the weeds up, I had to sweep quite a bit of dirt back onto their flower beds; I am especially concerned about that because the dirt turns into mud when it rains and then I carry that in on my wheels to our garage. The whole time I am sweeping I am thinking how maybe this is not a good thing for my bad arm and back so of course I am getting madder yet.

As I write this I begin to understand my anger, but at the time I went to talk to my neighbor I was astounded how furious I had become. I walked around to the front of her house half a block away. When I got there some woman was leaving. After she left I introduced myself. Then I told her they had left their weeds in the alley yesterday and I had cleaned them up. I could barely choke the words out I was so mad, and I continued to struggle to spit words out; it was as if my whole mouth was clenched and I had to push each word out between my teeth.

“Oh you didn’t need to do that,” she said, “my husband was chopping weeds yesterday when he got called out of town.”
“Yes, I did need to, they were right where I turn into my garage. No street sweepers clean the alley, you know?” said I.
“Yes, I know. Well I’m sorry,” she said, “but he was called away on an emergency.”
“I’m sorry, but you really need to clean up after yourselves,” said I. “I know you both think I am the one who runs over your side yard plants too, but its not me.”
“Oh no,” she said, “we know it is the garbage truck, we have seen it.”
“It is really hard for me to express this to you, I am not a person that likes to confront people,” I said.
“Well he was called away on an emergency,” she repeated.

Should I have been more sympathetic? My mind wouldn’t go there, I am thinking ‘so is there some reason you couldn’t take your two 8 year old children and go clean it up yourself?’

“I’m sorry,” I said as she began to shut the door in my face.
Now I was really furious, nothing like someone shutting the door in your face to create further anger. I might have been more sympathetic to Guy’s emergency, except every time he has ‘de-weeded’ his part of the alley, he has left a pile of weeds which he never picks up. My other neighbor Sally has been shoveling his alley weeds back onto his flower bed several times. I didn’t think to say that to Erin, but I should have (the weeds have never been at my turn spot into the garage before.) I went back home and called my neighbor Sherry to vent, and when she didn’t answer I called my other neighbor Deborah. She sympathized with me as these neighbors Guy and Erin never pick up any loose plastic bags or other trash the garbage man lets escape from their cans into the alley by their house, but leave it blow around for the rest of us to pick up. Deborah thinks we should start throwing the stuff back over their fence into their yard. That’s never been my style, but maybe she is right.

July 22, 2009

Hard Times comes a'knockin' at the door

Courtyard at the defunct Hotel Los Arcos
We will have been in Baja for a year by next month. I have cheated part of that time by having stayed away in Denver for the last 3 months recovering from shoulder surgery. Its a sad state of affairs. Even before I left it was noticeable that the Baja economy was struggling with a triple whammy. Coupled with the H1N1 virus scare, gringo fear of drug violence, and the meltdown of the U.S. economy, the tourist business is extremely slow in Baja. In the last 4 months their economy has eroded.

To start with, our favorite hotel in La Paz, Hotel Los Arcos, has been shut down since last November from a labor strike and has been sitting all boarded up since then. What a waste! It is in such a great location right across from the Malecon, and served up the best breakfast in town in my opinion—as well as some superb Margaritas in the bar. Last time we stayed at the Club El Morro and the accommodations were pretty, but they sure didn’t know how to make an even decent Margarita; the remembrance of those evil super sugar-y Margaritas makes my tongue want to shrivel up and die. I don’t know what will happen to Los Arcos, but I hope they win their lawsuit and can open up again sometime.

In June, the bankrupt Inn at Loreto Bay shut its doors and is looking for new owners and a cash infusion. It was such a great destination resort, low key and restful--right in Loreto, a hop, skip and jump from the airport. Gone are the availability of pretty rooms; the nice beach and adjacent pool where grandchildren can frolic; the pleasant outdoor dining, and the gentle slow resort just right for wallowing in the sun. Did I mentioned the golf course and daily activities calendar are gone too? I hope someone purchases it and sets it back up in business again (but when will the tourists even return to Mexico is anyone’s guess). Coupled with the hotel, the new construction at the resort of handsome townhomes has gone down the tubes and the developers that took people’s money upfront haven’t even left them with a hole in the ground.

Moving north back up the Peninsula toward Santa Rosalia our next victim is the Bar/Restaurant at Playa Buenaventura owned by Mark and Olivia Burbey who own our favorite hamburger location pitstop on the drive back from Loreto to Santa Rosalia. Their cute little restaurant/bar sits plop in front of the beautiful Sea of Cortez and the view is unparalleled. They also rent out space to RV’s and have a few humble cottages for hire. Mark told us his business was doing poorly last February. At that time when he is normally booked with 60 people he was only expecting 6. They are open for business, but are suffering. Stop by and eat a great burger if you are in the area. Tell them the copper miners from Santa Rosalia sent you.

Finally in Santa Rosalia one of our few nicer restaurant options, Tuxpan, bit the dust in June as well. Last year it was the site of our company Christmas party. The landlord wanted to up the rent and the owners couldn’t afford to pay more. In the ultimate moment of moving out it is reputed that the landlord had a change of heart, but the owners couldn’t afford to move everything back again. Gone the beautiful view, decent food, and all that great parking for passing RVs. Perhaps in another couple of months the mine activity in Santa Rosalia will start to pick up and infuse the economy there with some badly needed impetus.

Sad times for Baja, living on the edge.

July 20, 2009

One of the fine views from the Top of the Mark

Had a Fab-u-lous Time in the San Francisco Bay Area. Firstly we ate in a lot of fun restaurants, and secondly I celebrated my birthday 3 times (not something one should be doing at my age!) On the first night we had a banquet for the project at Piatti in Danville (this is a great Italian chain, we have one in Denver, also.) The food was heavily drenched in garlic which is always a great beginning.

The next night Esperando and I celebrated my actual birthdate with my brother and his wife at another Italian restaurant, a bit more homey and local—Forli—in Alamo. My brother and I ate the Sole Meunierre. It was wonderful. When the wait staff discovered it was my birthday they also brought me an au gratis tiramisu, and then the owner brought four aperitif glasses and 10 Italian liqueurs to the table, inviting us to indulge ourselves from his larder. He didn’t know what a bunch of drinkers he was serving for we tasted everything, all in the spirit of good fun. The best part was when they sang “happy birthday, dear bella,” and brought a candelabra to the table in lieu of birthday candles.

Then on Friday we drove into San Francisco and took the youngest child along to North Beach, first having a bottle of champagne and snack at the Top of the Mark in the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, then moving on to North Beach to The Museum Bar, a historic Beatnik bar, just block east of Broadway on Columbus at 12 Adler Street. Esperando and I always go there if we can. Then we moved on back a couple of blocks into North Beach to eat at Mona Lisa, a vibrant eclectic Italian restaurant with an extensive menu. Esperando ate an entire bowl of roasted garlic (at least three heads of garlic) by himself. We had planned to continue on to the Buena Vista Café for a nightcap Irish coffee, but my clock started winding down, so we returned to the Mark Hopkins where we were staying, gave the daughter money for her cab back home, and expired on the bed. The next morning Esperando was seriously smelly from garlic.

When I booked the room at The Mark, some of the reviewers on Trip Advisor were not so happy with it. We had a fine time and felt we had real value for our money. We had a package both nights that included free breakfast, and a really great one it was: Eggs Benedict, dim sum, corn beef hash, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, excellent pastries, hot cereal, waffles, smoked salmon, etc. all for free. On Saturday the meal was in the Top of the Mark (excellent views), on Sunday it was superceded by the fancy brunch so the same great breakfast was served downstairs instead. The service couldn’t have been more pleasant, and what a joy each morning to look out our window at the views of the City on to Grace Cathedral and the Pacific Union Club.

We drove over to Marin County the next morning and spent sometime enjoying our grandchildren, then drove back to the City to ready ourselves for our next party—the private Esperando & La Dueña de la Casa affair. San Francisco is such a happening place, after a brief nap we had a few hours to kill so we walked through the ferry building to admire all the food stalls and further down the pier, the Mexican tall ship Cuauhtemoc which was to set sail the following morning. They were having quite a celebration on the pier with costumed Aztec dancers performing to a drum beat. Then back to the room to get ready for dinner. Initially we planned dinner at Fournou’s Ovens, just a block away from our hotel—I even made reservations earlier in the day! But when we got there it turned out they had been closed for two months!! So on we ventured to our next planned stop, The Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel. It was a lot of fun—great Polynesian food, rain showers in the room every 30 minutes, a live band and dancing.

The next day we had a great BBQ compleat with children, grandchildren, nieces and my brother and his wife at their home. The 100F weather made their pool a great cool retreat and my brother kindly provided some wonderful Rosenblum zinfandels—my favorite wine. This morning it was back on the airplane early to Denver where Sweet Pickle told me how much he had missed me.
View of a "polar bear' basking in the sun, one of the hardy swimmers that meet each week to face off the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay at Aquatic Park.

July 14, 2009

Today I am excited to start off on a week’s vacation to the San Francisco Bay Area and meet up with Esperando who will be working there for a couple of weeks. We are meeting up at the airport as we both arrive at about the same time. I still have to pack and do all my exercises, but I am being very lazy this morning sitting around in my nightgown. It will be nice to return to old stomping grounds, see my brother and his wife, kids, grandkids and a couple of old friends. Inspired by the Brainy Blonde’s honeymoon location, we also plan to spend a couple of nights celebrating my birthday in The City at the Mark Hopkins hotel where we have never stayed before. We hope to check out the Tonga Room across the street in the competitor Fairmont Hotel, a Polynesian theme bar/restaurant with rain showers off and on all night and at the Mark Hopkins, the Top of the Mark. You’d think after all the rain we have had this summer in Denver, I wouldn’t need to experience phony rain, but there you go. When I was growing up in San Francisco back in the 1960’s this was the ultimate high-brow location, I hope they are not too snotty! From reading recent reviews it sounds like the service has declined. Our room is quite affordable for a luxury hotel in San Francisco—and includes breakfast in the room.

A few days ago my sister, mother and I had lunch with my nephew who is in the hotel financing business and he told us the bad economy was really affecting the luxury hotel market and there were real deals to be had out there, so I guess this is an example of one of them. I am starting my travels out in style; for some reason the travel agent was able to put me in first class (including dinner!) on my trip out, but like Cinderella I return in economy. This is the first time I will not be going to physical therapy every day, it is sort of scary to get separated from my caretakers—it seems strange. Not too much longer and I will be on my way back to Mexico, so I guess this is a good dry run for that.

I am not sure how I will fit everything I need into my suitcase. I am not good at packing light as there is always one more thing I need to squeeze into my bag. Last week when I was mentally packing I realized I had not made any plans for anyone to take care of Sweet Pickle. Fortunately my pet sitter who is usually booked months in advance was free—what luck for Sweet Pickle, otherwise he would be doing kennel duty. He loves her, so he will have a good time being a spoiled dog.

July 11, 2009

La Barca de Guaymas

Esperando was ratting around Mexico City for meetings and decided to fly to Guaymas and spend the night coming home on the Ferry instead of flying. I received this missive from him this morning describing his trip by boat ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia yesterday.


Since many of you have expressed concern over my decision to take the ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia I would like to take a moment to tell you how it went. First of all I survived the ordeal and am here, save and sound, in Santa Rosalia. Secondly I would say the voyage is not much different than a typical ride in a cross country bus in Mexico, which I have done to La Paz and Tijuana a few times.

I took the AeroMexico flight from Mexico City which arrived in Hermosillo about 4:30 pm. I arrived at the Hermosillo airport and got a bus to Guaymas. There are at least two bus companies doing this and they leave from the airport. The bus left within 15 minutes and the ride to Guaymas was 1.5 hours with no intermediate stops. At the bus terminal in Guaymas I had to take a taxi to the Ferry terminal. No problem as there are many taxis at the bus terminal.

I arrived at the Ferry Terminal about an hour before the Ferry was to leave which was scheduled for 8pm. There is a two hour time difference between Mexico City and Guaymas. I had a first class ticket which had been prepaid so I got my boleta at the entrance to the ferry terminal and then proceeded to the waiting area. All the passengers and their luggage were inspected by the Armada (Navy) and their drug dogs before entering the Ferry. All the passengers entered at 8pm and they began boarding the freight which consisted of two large (18 wheeler) trucks, a long straight truck and a car. I think there might have been room for another car. It was amazing that they got all this onboard.

I was the only Gringo on the ship. Actually I had not seen another Gringo since I left Mexico City, including the plane flight to Hermosillo. I think all the turistas have been scared off with the Influenza Porcina. I went to my First Class Cabin which had been pre-arranged. It consisted of a double row of 14 seats in an air-conditioned area. I was the only person in this salon. When I got there the air conditioner had been turned off and it took a while to cool off the area once turned on again. I have to tell you it is really hot in Hermosillo. Probably just as hot and humid as Santa Rosalia but somehow since it is “over there” it seems much hotter.

There were staterooms “camarotes” available which hold about four people that allow you to stretch out in a private bed. Only one of them was occupied and they looked comfortable. They have air conditioning and are only 100 pesos more. I would try and reserve one of them next time and hope no one would want to stay with me.

At any rate the ferry finally left and the air conditioner took control of the salon and I had an eight hour trip not much different from a cross country bus ride or tourist class on an airplane. The motion of the ship and the minor noise of the engines was quite relaxing. There was a “Puente Capitan” or Capitan’s Bridge just outside of the First Class Salon and I went there various times during the night. Unfortunately it was either totally dark, no moon, or overcast so I couldn’t see the stars so the voyage was not as romantic (even though I was by myself) as I had hoped. We seemed to slow down for quite a while near Santa Rosalia as I think they can not enter in the dark. We entered the harbor and docked about 630 am. The Capitan is very skilled in docking this vessel without tugboats or modern gadgets such as side thrusters. I think this Ferry is from somewhere in Scandanivia judging from the labels on the electrical equipment and probably quite old. I have been told that it is a lake ferry, not ocean going which is why they will not go when it is windy in the winter.

We docked and the freight (trucks) were disembarked before they would let the passengers leave. Upon disembarkation we passengers were presented to the Armada for a luggage inspection then to an entirely new group of inspectors before we could enter the country. This was the most rigorous inspection I have encountered in Mexico and it seemed like the Cachanillas (residents of Santa Rosalia) do not want the Chilangos (Mainland Mexicans) entering their territory. I would say this was a good experience and I am likely to repeat it. I don’t recommend it for people who have big expectations. Like I say, if you have been on a cross country bus trip in Mexico this is not much different.”

The ferry schedule can be found here.

July 1, 2009

Old Man Coyote and the creatures of Westerly Creek

We have a manmade ‘natural’ park across the street from our house in Denver that meanders and wraps around the whole neighborhood for about 2 square miles. It has been planted with native trees and plants, and is really green this year because of all the rain we have had. Westerly Creek runs through the middle of it and there is a large pond to collect run-off water. This makes a great habitat for birds and wildlife. The pond and adjacent creek are home to ducks, herons, king fishers, flickers, meadow larks, nesting swallows, red wing blackbirds, and raccoons as well as craydads, fishes and frogs. The park is criss-crossed with paved and gravel trails and bridges crossing the stream and is a favorite haunt of human creatures such as bikers, skaters, runners, walkers and their dogs, and moms with baby carriages. Downstream some beavers have built a dam by prairie dogtown by gnawing down some of saplings that the City planted to make the park pretty.

The grass is really tall, about 3 feet high which encourages bunnies, prairie dogs and field mice. This year a couple of obnoxious blackbirds, probably with fledglings hidden in the grass, have taken up residence at the entrance across the street from us and are dive bombing anyone that walks by. One day they took great exception to Sweet Pickle and harassed him for about 75 feet before they flew back to their perch on a fir tree. Lately they seem to be most offended by runners—attacking all of them without exception. I see a few runners now wearing biking helmets as they jog by. Unfortunately now that the cherry tree in our front yard is bearing ripening fruit they have decided they own it too, and will fly into my yard to attack me if I go near it.

For the past four years we have heard coyotes howling off and on at night. Last year I saw one about 400 feet away in the tall grass sneaking around trying to hide from people and their dogs that were walking by on the trail. But this year they have moved in and we hear them howling in the daytime as well. Esperando went for a walk and one walked by about 5 feet from him. Some guy he talked to on the trail told him that people were feeding and petting it. Several weeks ago when I was walking Sweet Pickle in the park a coyote brazenly crossed our path not 10 feet away. Sweet Pickle was off leash when I suddenly realized the coyote was there (it seemed to appear from out of nowhere), they both pointedly ignored one another although I was freaked out that the coyote was so unafraid of us to come so near. Then last week after one of the strong storms passed through, I saw a dead baby coyote washed up on the stream bank. Yesterday the Division of Wildlife posted a Coyote Warning sign across the street from us.

Across the greater Denver metropolitan area, coyotes are becoming a big issue with headlines making the newspapers and magazines, such as: Coyotes Attack Colorado Woman and Her Lab from Field & Stream; In Colorado, coyote protectors clash with a hired gun reported from the LA Times; and Sharpshooters kill 5 coyotes in Broomfield from the Denver Post. It seems both the human and the coyote populations are increasing exponentially and co-habiting is not on. When will we learn that wild animals should be treated with respect and not treated as pets? When we teach them to not fear us by feeding them, we are not doing them any favor. They become embrazoned enough to attack children, pets and even adults. In the end they unfortunately pay for it with their the loss of lives. And in this particular instance we have not encroached on their territory, but have created a pleasing habitat that is an attractive draw to them.