April 22, 2010

California, California, the hills send out the cry, we're out to do or die. . .

Once again we are on the move. Tomorrow we will start out early for our drive to Ensenada and then on to the States for my Mother’s 102nd birthday in May. She is still sharp as a tack.

My Mother last month holding her newest grandchild, Paloma.

After that we go to Esperando’s son’s graduation from California Institute of the Arts. (Established in 1961 by Walt and Roy Disney, it started as Disney's dream of an interdisciplinary "Caltech of the Arts" and provides a collaborative environment for arts disciplines including music, art, contemporary dance, experimental film, video art, animation, theater, puppetry and creative writing). After 4 years with his nose to the grindstone, Youngest Son will be awarded a degree in film animation. Hot Damn! I wonder if he will remember how to sleep long hours again, since he has been splitting his time between studies and work?

But that is not the end of the odyssey. Once all the pomp and circumstance has died down we will drive on to Northern California where Esperando will be working so he will not have to travel back and forth so much while I remain a nearby camp follower and get to see him more often. We will spend the next 3 to 4 months up in the Bay Area: time enough spend some quality time with our families and friends and take in a cooking class, puppy training classes, and Pilates classes too. I always think of the Bay Area as my home since I graduated from high school and spent the next 30 years there before moving away to start this life of a vagabond.

Baby mangoes waiting for the hot summer to come so they can grow big and ripen. Yum!

However happy I am for a temporary move back to ‘Upper California,’ this will be the third summer of mangos ripening on the guesthouse trees that I will miss. They are still only about an inch long. Last year I saw one almost ripe mango when we were here for a week, but when I came back several weeks later it was gone. I will be sad to leave all of our pets (little Lupita gets to go with us) and our new planted garden. It is such a small start on greenness for us now in this new house. We have planted several hibiscus trees, a couple of bougainvilleas, a bird of paradise, some Siberian iris, wandering jew, rosemary, oregano, mint, thyme, a serrano pepper bush, 3 olive trees, a mango tree and my two roses that I brought down here from Estados Unidos almost two years ago and that have been struggling along in pots until now. I hope our plants survive our absence. Hopefully Francisco will keep them alive, but he only is here three days in a row and when the hot summer comes it may devastate everything without more frequent watering. Last week I gave my friend Don Diego’s mother over to the care of two little Jacaranda tree sprouts that I have been nurturing for the past few months. They were about 3 inches high each. She assured me that they would get excellent care and she has a green thumb, so if they don’t make it with her I won’t know why.

Esperando worries that no one will fill his hummingbird feeders properly, that the sugar water will ferment from lack of a proper bottle scrub and our little feathered friends will have to go back to getting their food from more natural sources and forget about us. The orioles, too, love our feeders and spend a good part of the day squabbling at each other because one of them wants to feed and the other won’t get out of its way.

Beautiful oriole at the bird feeder.

I won’t be here for the hot muggy summer, but I want to be and it is already hotting up. I took the extra blanket off the bed last time I made it up. It is hard having these homes in multiple locations, feeling guilty for each one you have abandoned, knowing that they are not getting all the care you would give them if you could stay put day in and out. I don’t see how people enjoy having multiple homes if they don’t need to do so. This morning New Cook started crying when I gave her instructions on caring for the pets. She said,"I don't want you to go, I'll really miss you." Bless those dear souls that take care of everything we leave behind everywhere.

April 20, 2010

Our Wedding Anniversary

Esperando was out of town in Washington, D.C. on our wedding anniversary. Bummer! And that was the day I thought I had discovered that I had—worms! The thought that my body might be infested with an alien life form was almost more than I could handle. It made my skin crawl. I told Esperando on the phone that I didn't want to live here anymore. I made a doctor’s appointment for 11:30 am and sat in his office waiting until 1:00 pm for him to arrive. I stifled the urge to cry.

Street food vendors are always suspect

One of the hazards of living south of the border, or anywhere where the food or water can be suspect, is parasites. To avoid this problem, one is encouraged to soak any raw vegetables in a microbial water solution, don’t eat street food, drink only purified water, wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating, etc. Which of these I failed to do properly is hard to say, except that I did eat sushi made from yellowtail that was freshly caught here in the Sea of Cortez by The Cowboy several months ago. At the time it was delicious, but afterwards I read you could get roundworms from ocean fish and you wouldn’t be able to see them in their flesh.    

Ascaris--it said that an adult female may measure 35 centimeters
 in length and lays up to 200,000 eggs per day.
The doctor finally arrived, ushered me into his office and asked what was wrong. “I think I have gusanos,” I said. “No, here we call them ascaris,” he said. That he seemed inclined to agree with my diagnosis and confirm my worse fears was devastating. After checking me over he said that my intestines were inflamed and that I needed to follow a bland diet he gave me: lean meat, eggs, no pork (but ham was ok), white bread, plain pasta, clear fruit juices, no sodas, fruit purees and cooked vegetables, none of it with any salt, pepper or any kind of seasoning at all. Ghack! Then I was to take a poop sample each day to the laboratory for testing, because I might have more than one kind of worm. Double ghack! He told me to come back on Monday at 11:30 am and we would figure out what I needed to do next.

Stargazer Lily carries a heavy perfume but are poisonous
to humans and cats if ingested. Who woulda thunk it?

I drug myself home. When I walked in the door there was a big bouquet of pink roses and Stargazer lilies sitting on the dining table. Those were in my wedding bouquet. The room smelled wonderful from the lilies. But I was so stunned that all I could do was wallowed in self pity. I looked up ascaris on the internet and found out it comes with living in unsanitary conditions and having poor hygiene. That made me feel like I was the scum of the earth.  Then I saw a photo of a young African boy with worms coming out of his nose and mouth. That made me gag. I decided after reading over the symptoms that I had had worms for a really long time, like maybe ever since we moved down here. (Did I mention I have hypocondria in my genes?)

For the next several days I dutifully followed the diet and took my samples to the laboratory. The diet was extremely dull and I didn't even lose any weight, but in the next few days I began to feel better. Then yesterday, Monday, I went to the lab with my last specimen and told them I had a doctor’s appointment at 11:30, since they normally don’t have results until 1 pm. I didn’t know how they would handle that. They said, come back at 11:00 and we will have your results to take to the doctor. Sure enough at appointed hour I showed up and they folded up a little piece of white paper and stuck it in an envelope for me to take to the doctor. Unlike the U.S. I was to carry the report to the doctor, and unlike the U.S. the envelope was not sealed. When I got outside the clinic I opened the envelope. It said:

1– negativo
2– giardia lamblia
3– giardia lamblia

Giardia lamblia-If the organism is split and stained, it
has a very characteristic pattern that resembles a
familiar "smiley face" symbol. Is that a peculiar or what?

Aha! I did have a parasite, but it was not worms! It wasn’t a serious parasite. I’ve had it twice before when I was out of the country. It made me feel sick then too. It comes from bad water. We don’t have bad water in the guesthouse, nor in Casa Abeja as we have filters to treat the water in those places and we drink bottled water. Our ice is also made from bottled water. I must have gotten it sometime somewhere when we went out to eat. Maybe ice cubes—who knows? At 11:30 am I trotted over to the doctor’s office. This time the office was crowded with patients. Bad sign, now I would be waiting forever. The receptionist said, “What are you doing here?” “Well the doctor told me to come on Monday at 11:30.” “I don’t have you down,” she said, “He never told me. You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

Today I went back. The waiting room was even more crowded. It appeared all these people had been waiting a long time as one woman got up and left and told the receptionist she would call to make an appointment. The doctor arrived and the whole group raced into his office. The receptionist called out to them, "no wait the Señora here has an appointment." Ah, all these people were waiting without an appointment but me. It didn’t much seem to matter because they went in and I was left out in the cold. After about 20 minutes they all came out (it seems it was one large family) and I finally got to see the doctor. He said you have a protozoa, not worms. He gave me a precription and said I would have to be retested in 15 days. He told me it was a hard parasite to get rid. Great, but I’d still rather have that than worms.

I hestitated to write this blog about such an indelicate subject, but Esperando said I should. He said this is part of life down here and you should tell people. If you don’t live here and just visit as a tourist you are far less likely to contract these weird things. It’s the daily grind that gets you.

April 19, 2010

Mariano's Ranchito in San Luciano

Esperando told me on Saturday, “Francisco wants to take us to see his father’s ranch tomorrow, to see where the soil for our flower beds came from.” I was right in the middle of something that seemed important on Sunday when Francisco showed up to take us over there. I was annoyed that I had to stop doing whatever it was that seemed so important and go on another jaunt on some cobbly road.

Francisco is one of our employee’s at the guesthouse who is alternately a vigilante and a gardener, and a helper here for us at Casa Abeja. Before that he was Esperando’s main dude in helping him rebuild Casa Abeja. He cares for our garden. He is a kind man.

The road we took was another one of those bumpy tumbled rock affairs that Hurricane Jimena left behind in all the arroyos. She did a number to his ranchito, wiping out a lot of stuff and reorganizing the entrance to his place—there isn’t one now. We reached a high point and Francisco said we would have to walk from there as the road was gone. Not much of a walk though he said. To me it looked miles away and since I didn’t expect to walk, I had on reasonable shoes but not ones that were good for walking, sort of a flat mule-type shoe. By the time we got the ranchito I had stopped to empty the sand out of my shoes several times.

"See, it's not far, just a little walk," said Francisco.

Mariano at his ranchito

Francisco’s father is named Mariano and he is 84 years old. His ranchito is located in San Luciano, just down arroyo under the big bridge south of Santa Rosalia. You can’t really see it from the highway as it is tucked under some high cliffs. He has a big orchard full of fig, mango, and citrus trees. He grows chard, chiles, onions, cilantro and all kinds of plants. He has pots full of different cactuses, and a pen with geese, a duck and four peacocks. His ranchito is watered from 60-foot well that was hand dug and blasted by him, Francisco and another brother. When I asked Francisco how his father knew where to find water, he said he just knows these things and he used a water diviner. He has owned the ranchito for 20 years, before that he was a miner in the old mine in Santa Rosalia. But he came here from Todos Santos near Cabo.

We had a nice tour. It was quite a spread with large lovely trees that kept it cool. We probably spent an hour wandering around looking at stuff. There was a big swimming pool, but I don’t know that it was ever swam in, it was full of leaves and debris. Still it looked refreshing. There were several rusted antique cars, one from 1929 that the two men referred to as ‘the Pancho Villa’s car’ for its age, and a newer 50s truck that had seen better days.

Fig trees bearing fruit

We came home with a handful of green chiles picked by Francisco, which neither of us could identify on the internet. All I found out was that Mexico grows over 100 varieties of chile peppers. Esperando made a killer salsa from them, they had a hot bite to it which diminished rapidly. New Cook called them Bolitos, Francisco said they were kind of a Serrano, but they are a mystery chile to us.

Esperando’s Killer Salsa Recipe

Mystery chile, maybe a Bolito, about the size of a quarter.

4 Bolito chiles (substitute 2 Serranos)
1 medium tomato
½ white onion
4 cloves garlic
1 meaty roasted Anaheim chile roasted, peeled, veins and seeds removed
½ c water
Salt to taste

Boil all together in water until soft. Puree in blender.

Did I learn my lesson about being ready to go on unanticipated drives across the country? I hope so.

With regular watering it grows rusty.

April 18, 2010

Sick cat

Yesterday morning when we woke up Winnie was drooling and trying to throw up. I was sure he had ingested some kind of poison but I didn’t see what it could be since he isn’t allowed outside. Then we thought maybe he’d eaten a spider or been bitten by a scorpion, although we saw no evidence of either anywhere. We talked over taking him to the vet, but didn’t see what the vet here would be able to do, it’s not like the States where vets have lots equipment or can analyze blood. The old vet has retired and his son, Manuel, has inherited the business. He has made quite a few changes, putting in a mini boutique of dog apparel and accessories, adding fish for purchase, and generally beefing up the medicines and special foods available. Last week I went to see if we could get arthritis medicine for the dog there, we have only been getting it in Mexico City when Esperando goes on business. The vet was in Tijuana when I went, they called him and he said he could get it for me, but sometimes these things don’t happen. We weren’t really sure if he had a veterinary license or not.

Esperando got on a lengthy conference call and I watched Winnie. He kept drooling and trying to throw up. I finally decided he might have something caught in his throat and went over and opened his mouth. His tongue was bent funny in the middle; I stuck my finger down his throat and encountered a sharp object protruding from his tongue. So that was it, he had a huge splinter stuck in his tongue, which was swelling and causing him to drool. We would have to wait for several hours until the vet opens, now that we could see it was something the vet could treat.

Waiting to feel better

In the meantime Winnie went into the guest bedroom and curled up on the bed to sleep. By 10 we had buttoned him up in his cat carrier and were beating down the vet’s door. Since I knew the vet had been in Tijuana and it struck me that maybe he had not returned yet. He came out of a room, and when he saw us he said, “I have your medicine.” “Oh,” I said, “great. We have a sick cat here, too.”

He ushered us into the clinic room and said, “What is wrong?” “He has a palito (a little stick) stuck in his tongue,” said I. “Show me,” he said. We pried Winnie’s mouth open and he said, “Oh will have to put him to sleep.” “Yes,” we said. By now Winnie was getting impatient, his mood was not great anyway because of his problem and he starting growling and sounding annoyed. The vet slammed some drugs in his behind and said, “This works very fast. He will be asleep in two minutes.” And so he was.

The girl came in to assist the vet in keeping Winnie’s mouth open with a pair of scissor handles. The vet picked over his tools and found a forceps and some tweezers. They tried to pull his tongue forward and then decided the problem was on the back side and twisted his tongue over, rapidly extracting a threaded needle. Both of our eyes bugged out and our jaws dropped open. Poor kitty had his tongue impaled on a needle this whole time. If I hadn’t decided to poke my finger down his throat, we might not have taken him to the vet and he probably wouldn’t have recovered.

A needle and thread just like this were the culprit

The drug he gave Winnie was supposed to last for 30 minutes, but the clock kept on ticking. “Talk to him,” he said. Here began a long conversation of, “Winnie wake up, don’t you want some cat crunchies; look Winnie there are some cute parakeets outside the window in a cage for you to admire; Winnie what’s going on in there inside your brain,” and etc. An hour later the vet said, “Sometime cats don’t recover from the anesthesia and die. I only gave him a minimum dose.” We watched his chest rising and falling slowly, he was under deep. Finally after an eternity some other people needed the clinic room so the vet moved us to a little room on the side. He carried in a crate in which he covered with a towel and moved the supine cat to it. “You need to stimulate him,” he said showing that we should start petting him and turning him over periodically from side to side.

Is this what a dead cat looks like?

While we waited in that tiny room, a sort of afterthought place harboring a chair, the crate on which our cat was laid, a cardboard box full of miscellaneous supplies and two badly rusted portable IV support stands, we noticed a diploma on the wall awarding our vet, Manuel Cota, a degree as Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from The Autonomous University of Baja California, the big school of northern Baja. So much for our doubts about his qualifications. We waited at the vet’s for 4 hours and finally our cat began to return to life. The vet said we couldn’t take him home until he could hold his head up or he might drown. Finally he was ready to go home. He was badly affected by the anesthesia still 4 hours later. The front part of him wanted to walk but his back legs wouldn’t work. He kept flopping around on the floor. It was pathetic. I finally decided to put him in the large dog crate as he would jump up on the bed and fall into a heap if he jumped off. It looked pretty dangerous. And so we passed the night with periodic caterwauling and rattling of the crate door. Eventually he gave up and was quiet.

This morning when I let him out of the crate he was doing much better but was still somewhat wobbly. This afternoon he is still not quite himself. The vet said some cats are very sensitive to anesthetics and we should tell any other vet of the experience if he needs to be put under again.

The day before the incident was normal

What dismay I felt knowing it was my needle and thread that had done this to him. I had put it up on a shelf when I was through sewing thinking at the time that I should keep it away from the cat. And still he found it. Next time I won’t be so lazy about putting it away. Maybe Winnie has used up the first of his nine lives. Its nice to know we have a decent vet now in Santa Rosalia.

April 12, 2010

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

Me: “Hola Carmen, I see you looking in through the screen door like you want in the house. You have done this several times now in the last few days.”

Carmen: “No, no, I wut nefer wan’ to come back into ze casa. Besides zez casa ees nosing I know anysing about. I nefer live in it, I am jus’ very curious. I am luking for Winnie. Where iz he?”

Me: “My guess—he was up too late last night. He and Frida are sleeping on our bed. He must have yelled his brains out and needs to recover. I see you now sitting on the porch taking a bath acting like you think you own this house.”

Winnie recovering from a night of caterwauling

Carmen: “It iz a fin house and ze porch, she ees nice and quiet. You put out some water in a yellow bowl which I think ees fine. Et ees where I like to drin’. Et ees hard to find water here on the ground, ju’ know.”

Me: “I see you sleep here, too, at night. Your fur is all over the patio chairs that I re-covered.”

Carmen:  “Oh yas, I like to slep on the chairs, mi and mi mama. We curl up togetzer. They nice and soft, jes perfect. Rally, we like to slep in your yard too.”

Mrs. Moustache and Carmen resting

Me: It is starting to get hot now, you will probably prefer your own separate chairs or you will be too hot .”

Carmen: “You may thin so, but et still ez cool at night. Where ees ze funny leetle dog?”

Lupita interrupted from her nap by a shutterbug
Me: “Oh you probably can’t see her. She is here on the couch next to me curled up in the blanket sleeping.”

Carmen: “She always chase me in ze yard eef she see me. She is funny. The beeg dog too, although I touch noses wiz him ze udder day when I was een ze chair sleepin’. I remember him from ze udder house. He ees not bad.”

Me: “What are you going to do today?”

Carmen: “I dunno. I thin’ I might lak chase some birds, or take a cruise through the neighborhood. Later I lak to take a catnap, maybe wiz mi mama. Mi mama she tell me ef ze dogs chase her, she jump up on ze truck tire. Ze leetle can’ jump so high. I weel come back later, I wan’ to talk to Winnie.”

Carmen looking regal and feeling like there are one too many people with cameras in the world.

April 7, 2010

Sweet Dreams

Here is a multiple choice problem. It is the story of a foolish woman who wakes up every morning with a very sore back. It is hard to explain why this woman is so foolish. Every night she lies down with a small black-and-tan Chihuahua puppy tucked up under her arm underneath the covers. Then on top of the covers she has two cats that curl up against her. One settles in the hollow formed by her legs, and the other usually sleeps on top of a leg. The cats weigh at least 12 pounds each. She and her husband touch fingers across the pillows and lean over to kiss, crushing the little dog as they do so, then they lie recumbent wating for sleep.

She is usually comfortable for the first 15 minutes, but then her muscles start to tense and quiver so she shifts a little bit, bending the other leg and straightening the one that was bent before. This happens 2 or 3 times and then she probably falls asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night she becomes very hot, because the small dog is like a never-cooling hot water bottle and builds up a radiance in the hollow of her arm. She says to herself, like a mantra, “happiness is a warm puppy,” and wonders if Charles Schultz ever knew the true meaning of his words. They have much more depth to them when the warm puppy is lying next to your body.

The cats feel like dead weights. She cannot move her legs without disturbing them and she wishes they would go sleep elsewhere. However one of them is prone to peeing on the sofa when treated disagreeably and might go do so if she pushes it away. She drifts back to sleep several hours later, generally just before dawn.

In the morning when she wakes up, she wonders if she will be able to get out of bed or whether her back has finally broken. Some days it is worse than others, and she tries to remember what it was like long ago when no one slept on top of her. Although her back didn't hurt then, she realizes that there has hardly ever been a time when some animal wasn’t sleeping beside her. She sighs and wishes she knew what to do.

Do you think her problem is due to:

1. advancing age
2. couch potato lifestyle
3. needing a different bed
4. too many animals
5. not enough calcium in her diet
6. Charles Schultz demise
7. all of the above

April 6, 2010

How I spent my Easter Vacation

Esperando and I just got back from a 4-day fling to celebrate Semana Santa. This holiday is to Mexicans here in Baja what the 4th of July is like for USA folk: a holiday with beaches and partying, it's a true spring break. The Mexicans crowd the beaches to camp and just before they arrive all the remaining gringo snowbirds in trailers flee. We crammed in as much as we could in four days. First we drove to Playa Santa Inez to see how our favorite beach fared. It was still mostly empty. Where our truck was parked a lot of big ugly beetles had aggregated to feed and mate. They were scary looking even though they showed no interest in us. I never could find them on the internet.

These ugly beetles were about an inch long with red heads.

We continued on to La Serenidad Hotel in Mulege because we wanted to eat dinner again at Ray’s Place; it is always so welcoming and magical. After another swell dinner we drove back to our hotel. It was vastly under occupied with about five big Mexican families and just us. The children were relatively well behaved and it was very quiet at night. We were pleasantly surprised as we expected loud partying late into the wee hours.

The whole scene changed when we drove into Loreto for a 3-day stay at the Inn at Loreto Bay. Although the hotel wasn’t full, one entire wing of at least 100 rooms was occupied. We were probably one of about two other gringos couples staying there. We went into town that evening to eat at Mediterraneo. The town was alive. All the locals that weren’t tailgating on the main drag were cruising in their vehicles, mostly with beer. Our waiters watched all the action from the second floor balcony.

Back at the hotel we quickly discovered that our room was badly situated. It was under a Jacuzzi and a passel of children who ran it at warp drive and dragged the patio furniture around making loud scraping noises on the ceiling continuously. Outside the teenagers were cruising around in the golf carts and playing bumper cars with them. The grownups were in full party mode by the pool. It was very noisy. When the noise finally died down at 1 pm and peace reigned, I thought they would sleep until noon and we will be able to get some rest.

I don’t know what possessed the restaurant staff to start playing loud rap music the next morning at 6 am; it was totally uncalled for. Of course it got just us gringos out of bed as teenagers, children and party animals can sleep through any kind of noise. Esperando went to the front desk to organize a golf cart to move the scuba gear from the parking lot to the beach for a dive, but was told they were only available for golfers. We commented on the children we had seen driving them the previous day and were told that would not happen again. They would be happy, they said, to drive the scuba equipment to the beach for us. The murky water from the high wind the previous day put Esperando and Flaming Mike off the dive until the next morning. In the meantime a large aggressive looking black dog I will call Devil Dog raced around the beach going from palapa to palapa. When he approached our palapa, Dash acted like he wanted to tear his throat out.

This little boy in oversized shoes wandered into a group of people and took their towels away. No one stopped him.

We were able to change rooms to something more quiet. That night we went out to eat in town at the restaurant 1695 (so named for the arrival of the first missionaries to Loreto). Their food is excellent. We hadn’t intended to spend so long at dinner, but we were having such a good time that we shut the restaurant down. When we entered our new room at Inn at Loreto Bay, we discovered one of the dogs had torn a gaping hole in the sheer drape. Now that we were on the ground floor they could see everything through the sliding glass doors. Our guess was another dog or person got them excited. Surprisingly it was extremely quiet all night, we hadn’t realized that so many of the party goers would be leaving during the day.

Is this the beginning of curtain demolition?

The next morning Esperando took the dogs out and Devil Dog showed up again. It turned out yesterday’s doggie disagreement meant nothing now because all the dogs liked one another. When we took our morning walk Devil Dog reappeared and Dash ran off with him. Another large dog joined them and little Lupita started jumping on my legs to be lifted to get away from them. After that the big dogs began to rough house and she got bowled over a few times, then tried to bite one on the nose repeatedly but with no effect. I finally took pity on her and started to carry her. Devil Dog and Dash were inseparable. But when they started mounting each other trying to establish who was dominant, we decided Devil Dog needed to go elsewhere and Esperando drove him off by throwing rocks. Now Lupita was horrified by even small dogs that approached us on the beach.

Devil Dog - coming and going, just plain trouble

By the time we got back to the palapas it was time for the dive. Esperando and Flaming Mike struggled into their dive suits like a couple of seals trying to put on their skins. Then they waded off into the calm water and disappeared. When they finally surfaced an hour later neither of them thought was the dive too exciting. Because the time had changed to daylight savings that day (we are still on the old U.S. daylight savings time here), it was now time to check out. We went to our room and gathered up all our belongings to hit the highway home. The dogs were completely worn out from their beach frolics and slept all the way home. The torn curtain added another $30 to the bill, but it was worth it.

April 5, 2010

Typical Baja--everything is out of the ordinary

Lots of cactus.

Crazy gringo riding heavily loaded bicycle on a highway with no shoulder and blind curves.

Trucker about to pass bicyclist.

Cockfights on to celebrate holidays including Valentines.

Beautiful sunsets.

Quaint gardens.

Interesting garden ornaments.

Unexpected butterfly migrations.

Too many pelicans on a boat.

Improbable people.

Derelict cars.