Spying on golfers; it’s par for the course

DSCN9644 DSCN9647

When it comes to golf, all I can say is I am a hell of a cart driver.

I’ll get you from tee to tee safely and quickly and make sure the beer stays cold. But, put a club in my hands and every man, woman, and child within 100 yards in front, on the sides, or in back of me had better put on their hard hats. Yes, I am that dangerous.

Besides that, the warranty on my back and knees has expired so about all I’m good for on a golf course is driving a cart and offering moral support, which I am also good at, by the way.

That’s why it is a little odd to find myself living on a golf course. The third hole, to be exact, of the La Ventana course here in San Felipe.

The pin is a little less than 50 yards from our back patio.

You can hear the little gas engines of the carts as they rumble up the fairway from the tee.

And, we are close enough to hear the two most common expletives uttered on a golf course. Let’s just say both have to do with bodily functions.

We relocated to another condo yesterday to this new one on the edge of the green.

My back and knees are still angry with me for toting binnies and bundles of our stuff and, in general, we’re a little foggy from how busy we have been.

There was our anniversary, which was cause for a trip down to the malecon for ceviche, tacos, and cervezas. That was followed by Cara’s Tequila Swim, where a number of celebrants gathered at the pool and had to jump in and swim across the pool — the water was really cold —  for a shot. There was a gathering for a friend’s birthday. There were a couple of nights at The Parrots Cracker bar and grill to hang out with pals and our dear friends, the owners, Robbie and Dawnette. And, there’s also the regular Tuesday night jam, with my buddy Mike and some other local musicians, also at The Parrots Cracker, not to mention prepping for the move, writing on my next book, and my weekly column for STGNews.

So, we have been busy.

That’s why it was nice to get up this morning, get a cup of coffee, and sit on the patio.

A lot of our stuff is still boxed up, but we’re not in any hurry to unpack. Our clothes are put away, our personal doo-dahs are in place, and we’re good to go.

We’re living on Baja time, which means you throw away your watch and get around to doing what you need to do whenever you get around to doing it.

That holds true to most of the culture of The Baja.

If the plumber says he’ll be there at 1 p.m., count on him arriving about 3 or so, or maybe the next morning.

If the sign on the door says a shop opens at 10 a.m., you may not find anybody behind the counter until 11 or so.

If you live your life by a Daytimer, the lifestyle could drive you over the wall until you become either acclimated or gently sedated, which is also an option.

For some of us, it’s just a sensible, convenient, humane way to go, which is why I probably spent far too much time sitting on the patio and watching the golfers this morning.

There was a foursome of older gentlemen whose long game was too short and whose short game was too long.

There were three younger guys who looked like they were better suited for a round of croquet.

There was a husband and wife out there knocking the ball around. She was out-driving him by at least 20-30 yards a shot and splitting the fairway.

There were also a couple of badass guys who were walking the course. One guy was even carrying his own bag instead of pushing it on a roller cart.

While these folks were sweating out in the warm sun, I was sipping my coffee as a cool breeze blew gently through our patio area.

The golfers seemed fairly oblivious. None of them saw me, or acknowledged me, as I sat there watching, which was OK because it made my people-watching more enjoyable to be the fly on the wall.

And, it was so quiet that I could clearly hear the expletives roll out as they knocked that little white ball around.

This weekend, there’s a big tournament here.

Apparently, the really serious golfers show up for that.

Naturally, it will be pretty cool to park out on the patio and watch as they tackle the third hole.

I’m thinking of inviting my friend Mike to come over for awhile.

Mike is the best guitarist on The Baja.

He comes from the East Coast, where he played in a number of bands in the Jersey and NYC clubs.

Over the years, he has accumulated a fair amount of equipment, including a big, powerful, screaming, 200-watt lead guitar amplifier. We are talking Jimi Hendrix volume here.

I’m thinking that we could add a little excitement to the tournament by simply plugging in our amps, and serenading the golfers as they prepare to putt.

I mean, wouldn’t it be rather interesting to see how a golfer would react if they heard the crashing, opening chords of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as they drew back on their putts?

Or, instead, I could fill up a couple of coolers with ice cold beer and sell them from the side of the fairway to thirsty golfers.

Either way, it could be an interesting weekend.

Burgers, buggies, and the blues

Jamming with my friend Mike Byrne at The Cracker.

Jamming with my friend Mike Byrne at The Cracker.

Los Vatos performed for the crowd. That's Tavo on drums, Rick on bass, and Mike on guitar.

Los Vatos performed for the crowd. That’s Tavo on drums, Rick on bass, and Mike on guitar.

Cara dancing with our friend Rosie.

Cara dancing with our friend Rosie

This bruiser is more than I could handle.

This bruiser is more than I could handle.

I'd like this one just for getting around. Many people use these for errands or just plain fun.

I’d like this one just for getting around. Many people use these for errands or just plain fun.

I don't know if I could even be a passenger in this one.

I don’t know if I could even be a passenger in this one.

These vehicles are built for rugged terrain.

These vehicles are built for rugged terrain.

Pure muscle.

Pure muscle.

I can't imagine driving one of these through the bouncing desert trails.

I can’t imagine driving one of these through the bouncing desert trails.

Like most everybody else my age, I first picked up a guitar back in the ‘60s, when we all had this romanticized thing about being troubadours singing songs of love lost, won, or on the edge.

I’ve had an on-again-off-again thing with the guitar ever since, more off than on, except for the last half-dozen years when I found some friends who also like to make a little friendly noise. My wife, Cara, is really to blame, you see, encouraging me to play more than less, whether in a group setting or alone at home, deep into the night.

There’s a certain thing about holding a guitar that is almost as warm and soothing as holding the one you love. Almost.

I met a guy in town who is the best guitarist on The Baja, a guy named Mike Byrne, who can play the soft and gentle acoustic stuff or get down and dirty with some gut-busting blues.

We met Mike and his family less than a month ago at a Christmas dinner put on by The Parrot’s Cracker, our home-away-from-home, a cool little cantina that Cara and I have attached ourselves to for a little socializing. It’s owned by Robbie and Dawnette, who make the place incredibly inviting and comfortable to newcomers to the area like us. It’s a good place to go to step away or recover from the keyboard, which weighs a little heavy sometimes while putting together my next book. Cara is real good at realizing when I need a break to recharge.

We went to see Mike perform one night and most of the crowd was outside, so he moved out to the patio sing to them. It was pretty informal and verycomfortabled. We got to talking and, eventually, started passing the guitar back and forth.

“We’re starting this acoustic jam thing on Tuesday night. Come out and play,” he said.

Deal.

Tuesday night rolled around and Mike brought along the drummer/percussionist from his band Vatos Locos, and a friend, Tom O’Neill, a pretty fair player and singer himself.

We played more than four hours, doing all the oldies and just having fun. It’s always more fun when there is no pressure. You do a paying gig, and there’s all sorts of stuff going on. I cannot imagine what it must be like up in the big leagues for the bands trying reach a certain level of acclaim or hold on to they’re fragile spot in the fickle public’s mind. A freeform jam? No pressure, no worries, just fun. Apparently the people who were there liked it because as we moved through town the following days, people said they heard that it was pretty cool and planned on coming out next Tuesday. That would be nice. It’s always great to play to a crowd and there is nothing like seeing them warm to the music.

I hadn’t played with other musicians since late October and felt a little rusty. It’s different, you know, when you sit down with some other players than when you are just sitting on the couch and strumming. Add some other voices, some percussion, and some tasty lead guitar, and it all comes together nicely. Plus, there was just this overwhelming cool feeling of playing music in a little Mexican cantina with the smell of the ocean in the air on a dark, moonlit night. It felt almost poetic in some aspect. Or, maybe clichéd, I don’t know. But, it was a blast.

We did a lot of the good old songs, from Poco to The Stones; Cat Stevens to Traffic; The Doors to The Beatles. We did Dylan, the Eagles, Willie Nelson, you name it. Some of it was a bit eclectic, most all it the stuff that touched our hearts many years ago.

It was wonderful.

Saturday, we wandered back over to The Cracker where they hosted an event they called Burgers and Buggies.

San Felipe is a big part of the racing scene here on The Baja. The offroaders race regularly between Ensenada and here over some incredibly rugged terrain. There are several classes of vehicles, some large, some small, but all mighty impressive. I know I am far too old to try to sit behind the wheel of one of these offroaders. My back would last maybe 30 miles, my knee probably even less after bouncing around the hard desert floor, shifting up and down through the gears, and fighting the steering wheel.

The Ensenada to San Felipe races are 250 miles and, depending on the class of vehicle, can take many hours to finish. The race machines are mean-looking chunks of tires, motor, and ultra-heavy suspension to keep the driver from losing his or her kidneys along the way. The inside of these things are sparse and hostile, particularly the smaller VW buggies they put together with massive roll cages, little uncomfortable seats, and a dashboard with just the basic gauges. This ain’t NASCAR, this ain’t Indy, this ain’t the Grand Prix circuit. This is a rugged man or woman and machine versus Nature. It’s no surprise that sometimes, Nature wins.

There were about a dozen of these vehicles on display at The Cracker Saturday.

Robbie was cooking burgers on the grill, Dawnette was serving up Jello shots, and Mike and his band were cranking tunes under a warm sun.

We were lucky because the temps had broken and, actually, hit the high 70s, about eight degrees warmer than usual for this time of year, and there was no wind.

There were hundreds of folks milling about, checking out the vehicles, listening to the music, enjoying a drink with friends. It was definitely the social event of the month.

The actual race is next week. We plan to go to the finish line and watch the drivers as they complete their runs.

We’ve got at least one of the race teams staying in the complex where we live and can hear them working on their vehicle, a pretty nasty-looking piece. It sounded like they were fine-tuning the motor earlier today.

We still don’t have regular TV service, tapping into this thing called USTVnow, which is a free service for expats who wish to keep in touch with the States. We watch it now and then when the Internet is hot enough to carry the bandwidth.

When it isn’t that’s alright, too.

See, we have other things to do.

Meteor showers, ceviche and Santa Claus

Santa Claus paid a visit to the Sea of Cortes over the weekend.

Santa Claus paid a visit to the Sea of Cortes over the weekend.

 

The sky was black and the wind was cold.

Cara brought a couple of blankets up to the rooftop and laid out the pads from a couple of lounge chairs.

Our viewing post for the weekend’s meteor shower was complete.

We laid there in the dark a few hours Saturday night before what would be the apex of the Geminid meteor shower waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Suddenly, the sky tore open and there were streaks of light across the sky.

Some were weak, little lights that fizzled like a failed firework. Others roared across the sky like an angry locomotive, huge, hurling balls of fire leaving a sparkling trail.

It was magnificent, a show put on, it seemed, only for us.

I’m not quite sure how long we actually watched the incredible display. It could have been a couple of hours, or maybe a couple of days. But, we were enthralled.

Then the moon started its slow rise out of the Sea of Cortes, spreading a boiling red-orange color over the darkness.

“Our timing was just right,” Cara said as we folded up the blankets and headed back down the stairway.

Yes, our timing was just right, and it was an incredible end to a great day that began early when we visited the swap meet and walked through the various booths. We picked up another clam rake for Cara, one with a three-pronged hook welded to the end of a golf club. The one we had manufactured out of some garden equipment we found at the hardware store was OK, but not as sturdy. Hopefully, when the temperature rises later this week, she’ll get to try it out. Of course, as a golfer, she had to find the exact, perfect iron with the exact, perfect bend to the hooks on the end.

It was a nice day and we hadn’t visited our gawking corner along the malecon in some time, so we headed for town and the Taco Factory, which sits on the beach.

We took a couple of seats on the deck of the restaurant and watched the passing stream of people, which ranged from the shop owners and restaurant workers to turistas, to Santa Claus.

Yes, Santa was in the house. Or, more appropriately, on the beach.

He was part of a group that had set up shop to collect toys for the area’s underprivileged kids.

There is not a lot of money here, except for the turistas and people who own second homes along the beach. The average worker earns about $100 a week, I am told, and some of the homes in the poorer sections of San Felipe are fairly ramshackle.

The people work hard here. We have seen them cleaning up and repairing the roadside with antiquated tools. We have seen them in the shops we frequent, some working seven days a week. There are a lot of family co-ops. One family we have met owns a grocery store, a vacation rental business, and a computer repair shop. They all take turns behind the counter at the market while still maintaining the other businesses. The father worked construction for many years in the United States. He brought his family to San Felipe to make his mark and has done fairly well it seems.

But, that is not the case with everybody, especially those in the service industries who are so dependent on U.S. dollars.

“If the United States coughs, we get pneumonia,” one of the local businessmen told me not long ago.

The effect is strong, hitting not only the shopkeepers, but the real estate market.

But, none of that stopped Santa, who we saw dancing and waving as Christmas songs blared in the background in Spanish.

It wasn’t quite Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, but the version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” had the old guy on his feet and dancing.

The Taco Factory has the best shrimp ceviche we’ve ever had and we enjoyed a serving of it as we watched the little ones visiting Santa.

There were some shops we hadn’t explored, so we walked the street behind the malecon. We stopped at a clothing store that had some pretty decent prices and wandered through a botanico, which is sort of an herbal alternative to Walgreens with shelves upon shelves of natural remedies that are worth exploring, I think.

On our way back, we stopped at a place called The Parrot’s Cracker, a comfortable cantina where we know the owners who are deep into the off-road racing world here.

They were all excited about Sunday’s race through the desert from Ensenada to San Felipe. Their vehicle was ready and so were they.

San Felipe is filed with sand rails and Volkswagen Baja Buggies. They are everywhere. There are also a lot of four-wheelers. Half of the vehicles aren’t registered, but that doesn’t seem to matter. The real off-road buggies and rails are pretty scary looking with unfriendly interiors, rugged roll cages, super heavy duty suspensions, and some mean looking tires. The seats are not well-padded and barely more than a frame to sit in. I can’t imagine bouncing 250 miles across the desert in one, let alone what it must be like for those brave souls who run the annual Baja 1,000 race down the length of the peninsula. Cara and I have driven that highway from Tijuana to Los Cabos and back and even on the highway, it is truly an adventure. The bumps, jumps, and dry washes are vicious, as are the critters that roam the desert. We have seen snarly coyotes and one rattler about six feet long on the highway. I don’t think I’d like to meet up with them on their own turf.

The day ended under the blanket of stars, some zigzagging across the sky, others in their permanent orbit. Orion was especially bright Saturday night, as was the Big Dipper.

It was spectacular.

This is a life we have chosen for ourselves.

It’s not for everybody, nor should it be.

But, it fits us, whether we are people-watching at the beach, strolling the shops, or digging for clams.

We find peace here, we find adventure, we find joy.

Doing the math

Fog lays in heavy on The Sea of Cortes.

Fog lays in heavy on The Sea of Cortes.

The cloud cover over the local mountains is dumping some pretty heavy rain.

The cloud cover over the local mountains is dumping some pretty heavy rain.

The clouds remain this morning, with even a little moisture falling from them.

The clouds remain this morning, with even a little moisture falling from them.

 

A rough of a possible label for our Baja Jerky.

A rough of a possible label for our Baja Jerky.

A rough of the label for Cara's Cara Mary Mix.

A rough of the label for Cara’s Cara Mary Mix.

 

Sometimes, Mother Nature just doesn’t want to cooperate.

Tuesday, she was downright stubborn, refusing to allow the sun to poke out from behind a thick layer of clouds that hung low and heavy over the Sea of Cortes.

It was gray.

Really gray.

I guess it was raining up in Los Angeles – a good thing considering how dry it has been in southern California – and the weather there has some kind of effect on the weather here. At least that’s what we’re told. I keep forgetting that even though we live in Mexico, technically, we are Californians as well. Life on The Baja is certainly different than up in Los Angeles, but, we are still an appendage of The Golden State.

Whatever the cause or influence, we’ve had some funky stuff going on weather-wise.

There was some heavy fog the other day giving us zero visibility. We couldn’t see the neighbors’ houses let alone the water. The wind and chill broke a bit because of the heavy humidity. Then a heavy cloud bank drifted overhead. We even had a little spritz of rain, which means all of the dust that had been blowing around kind of stuck to the van, turning it from white to brown.

Cara, invigorated by the buzz of her green tea yesterday morning at the market as we did our Internet stuff for our book pages (“plygs” and “It Rocked!”), scanned Facebook, and checked in with family, decided it was a good day to catch up on some household chores.

That meant throwing a few loads of laundry into the washing machine, then sweeping and mopping the tile floors.

Tile floors are really pretty, but they are also a pain.

Living in the desert/beach, they get dusty pretty quickly. There’s just no way to keep the grit out as it seeps through any little crack and crevice in the windows and doors. So, she went at it, zipping around the house like Tony Stewart at turn four of Daytona.

She likes to attack housework and doesn’t like any interference, which means at one point, she tossed me out to the patio so she could sweep-mop-tidy-arrange-re-arrange and, in general, make the place cleaner and more orderly.

“Honey, I love you, but time for you to get out,” she said, even though I was sitting harmlessly on the couch, buried in my laptop.

Remember the Tasmanian Devil from the old Saturday morning cartoons?

Yeah…it’s something like that. The best thing is to stay out of the flurry.

Now, usually, Cara’s cleaning ritual includes a liberal dose of Cher, cranked up to full blast on the iPod as she sweeps-mops-tidies-arranges-re-arranges and, in general, makes the place cleaner and more orderly, but yesterday, she whizzed through it all and before I knew it and plopped onto a patio chair.

“Done…much better!,” she said after stowing the broom, Dirt Devil, and Swiffer.

Meanwhile, I had been thinking about a couple of little projects we have talked about ever since we started planning our return to Mexico.

One of them is a thing we call Baja Jerky. It’s kind of like regular jerky, but with a south-of-the-border flavor using the chilies and other spices that make Mexican cuisine the treasure that it is. I also took up this little hobby of making jewelry – bracelets, necklaces, earrings – while we were in Utah. Cara also makes, bar none, the best Bloody Marys in the world. She worked for years developing a mix that is absolutely outstanding. If you ever had one, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, well, you are really missing out. We had always talked about someday figuring out a way to bottle it and sell it.

The last two weekends we went to a Saturday morning swap meet they have in the complex.

There was a guy making and selling churros, some people making tamales, a guy who makes specialty sausages, another who sells homemade breads. There are also vendors selling jewelry, art, clothing, and some who are trying to resell the stuff taking up space in their garages.

It seems the perfect place to test market some of our stuff.

So I played around with some labeling ideas.

But, then, we started looking at costs, marketing, sales and all that other stuff.

I really don’t have much of a brain for numbers, but I did my best.

The thing is, down here, you have to convert the value of the peso to that of U.S. dollars and as far as materials, well, instead of ounces and pounds, it’s all in kilos and liters. Right now, the exchange rate is 13.50 pesos to the dollar, which is good because it means U.S. dollars can purchase more. The rate fluctuates wildly, however, and each store posts the daily exchange rate for the gringos.

There are actually people who trade in currency, selling dollars for pesos when the peso is up around 13.50 and selling their pesos when it drops. We learned this when we lived in San Jose and saw the peso fluctuate from a high of 15.25 to a low of 9.90. My economic prowess is about on par with my math skills, still, we actually made about $500 U.S. one time when the peso went through a major cycle. It was actually a matter of being at the right place at the right time instead of shrewd planning. I mean, the Canadian dollar also went through a similar bounce at the same time. I remember because some friends of ours from Canada were talking about how it was time for them to hit the shops and buy what they wanted to bring home because the Canadian dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar and Mexican peso.

So, doing my best Alan Greenspan, I tried working the math for our projects.

“If Johnny had five jiggers of tomato juice, two jiggers of Clamato juice and three olives, how long would it take the train to get from Indianapolis to Chicago with a two-hour stop in Peoria?”

You get the picture.

Meanwhile, Cara just informed me it’s time to head to the market and get our Internet stuff done.

“That way I can get my green tea buzz going and do the dishes,” she said.

I guess that means more patio time for me.

Clamming…a new adventure

clam3

The beaches of San Felipe have these little gems hidden just below the surface.

The beaches of San Felipe have these little gems hidden just below the surface.

Clams. Fresh clams. They were good!

Clams. Fresh clams. They were good!

This gentlemen taught us a few things about finding clams on the beach.

This gentlemen taught us a few things about finding clams on the beach.

 

Celebrating a U.S. holiday in a foreign place is a bit odd.

There are a lot of gringos here, but the town wasn’t buzzing with the excitement that accompanies the run-up to a major holiday.

There were no huge circulars touting Black Friday deals and the markets weren’t swamped with people filling their shopping carts with all of the trappings of a huge Thanksgiving dinner.

While most Norte Americanos, as people from the U.S. are referred to here, were planning on heading over the river and through the woods to enjoy what was, for many, a four-day holiday, it was business as usual here in Mexico.

Still, as Thanksgiving rolled up on us, we were prepared.

We found a turkey at a fairly reasonable price, a nice, plump 13-pounder. Cara made arrangements with the folks at the local market to bring in frozen cranberries to make her mother’s wonderful side dish, and there was a pretty decent selection of homemade pies to choose from. The rest of the trimmings were plentiful, so no special orders were necessary.

We don’t have a TV hookup yet, which is fine, so instead of getting up early to watch the annual Macy’s parade and OD-ing on football, we slept in just a bit, then headed to the beach.

The temps had changed and we were expecting highs in the lower 80s, a perfect day to stroll along the beach at the La Ventana complex about a kilometer north of here. It is part of the complex we live in, which means our pass cards allow us entrance. Besides, we will be moving into this neighborhood of really nice condos in a month’s time, so we thought we would familiarize ourselves with the beach, which has a tidy row of palapas for shade and almost no people.

Serene and stretching as far as you could see in either direction, there were, perhaps, a handful of people roaming around the beach. It was low tide, which means the shallow breakers were a couple hundred yards out from the usual shoreline. Those who had decided to spend Thanksgiving morning on the beach were walking around in the ankle-deep little rivulets of water.

It didn’t take long until we realized they were there to gather clams.

We had heard that clamming is very popular here and that they were plentiful, but we hadn’t seen anybody actually out in the sands doing the hunter-gatherer thing.

But, there they were.

I walked up to a gentleman who had his own homemade clam rake – a trident spear attached to a length of PVC – who was digging around in the soft, damp sand.

“There are a couple of ways to do it,” he said. “You can walk around and look for a little dimple on the top of the sand and dig or you could kind of drag the rake until you hear a click when you hit one. You can also walk through the muddier sand and feel them under your feet.”

As we talked, I heard the “click” as he drug his rake along a piece of beach. He turned the sand and sure enough, there was a nice clam at his feet.

Now, Cara and I met a guy at the local swap meet last Saturday who was selling his own versions of clam rakes. He gets old, beaten-up golf clubs – the irons – and welds the three-pronged end to them. Just the right size. Unfortunately, just as we walked up to his booth, he sold his last two rakes, which he sells for 50 pesos each (about $3.50 U.S. dollars.)

The idea of gathering a few clams as an appetizer for Thanksgiving dinner was too good to pass up, so we started wandering around, looking for little dimples in the sand and feeling with our feet for hard lumps in the muddier sand.

It wasn’t long before I spotted a dimple in the sand. I bent over and clawed through about an inch of sand and came up with my first clam.

We had brought along a plastic bag with the intent of using it to store any nice seashells we might find. Little did we know we’d be collecting seashells with clam meat inside of them.

Cara walked through the puddles of water, squishing through the sand with her toes.

“Oh, I got one,” she said, pulling a nice one out of the sand.

About a half an hour later, we had three dozen clams in our bag. My back was getting angry from all the bending as I dug through the sand for clams. Sometimes, they were below the little dimples, sometimes they weren’t. It was much easier to walk through the muddier sand and feel them underfoot.

We brought them home and filled a pot with salty water to let them purge any remaining sand and grit.

About an hour before the turkey was ready for carving, Cara decided she had waited long enough.

“I want clams,” she said.

So we gave them a final rinse, dropped them into a pot of boiling water, and prepared a combination of butter, lemon juice, and garlic to dress them up a bit.

It wasn’t long before the steaming clams opened their shells.

They were ready.

And, so were we.

Oh, man, they were heavenly and a perfect appetizer.

Our backs were not terribly happy with us for all the bending and stooping, but our bellies were ecstatic. Fresh clams, are you kidding me?

I’ve also talked to a few other locals who tell me that over at the marina, you can fish off the rocks for some decent calico bass and corvina, which is often substituted for white sea bass. All you have to do is go to the fish market, pick up some squid, hook it and cast. We’ve already sampled some of the fresh bass, purchased from one of the local fish markets, and it was wonderful.

Since I’m not really into that whole “bigger fish” thing – it’s a lot of work to drag in a 60- or 70-pound tuna – I will be perfectly happy to go to the marina, catch a couple of kilos of fresh fish and stock up the freezer.

So, we’re planning on getting up early Saturday morning to get to the swap meet and purchase our clamming rakes, then head over to the beach about noon when the tide starts to go out. A nice plate of linguini and clams sounds awfully good.

As far as the fishing goes, we’re waiting for the winds to subside and the temps to remain in the 80s a bit before we cast a line upon the waters.

Bon appetit.

The character and characters of San Felipe

DSCN8372

 

A couple weeks into this new chapter in the adventure we call life, we have explored some of the character of our new home here in San Felipe and met a few characters along the way.

All I can say is this ain’t Cabo.

We made lifelong friends in San Jose del Cabo, people who are warm, real, genuine.

We also met quite a few folks who were 50 percent tense and 50 percent pretense.

One woman wanted the pool cleared so she could swim her laps alone. The president of the home owner’s association there ran his group like a Third World dictator. Then there were the others who, in no uncertain terms, liked to remind you of just how fat their wallets. These were usually the miserly types who wouldn’t share their beer at the pool or attend the get-togethers or birthday celebrations down by the pol because they might have to bring some food or a gift. You know the type.

And, of course, you could always spot the folks with more money than manners along the marina in Cabo San Lucas or in the restaurants along the coast. They were, without exception, the loudest, rudest, most obnoxious of the bunch, which is why we were happy to hang with our close cadre of friends and the locals who had befriended us.

Things are a lot different in San Felipe.

First of all, there are no world-class resorts to lure the rich and obnoxious.

You won’t run into any of the Kardashians here, won’t hear that Ryan Seacrest is in town scouting properties, or that some above-the-credits film guy has flown his favorite rock band to town to play at his private birthday party.

There was a lot of visible wealth in Los Cabos, as the turistas from the U.S. threw dollar bills at the locals in a contemptuous, condescending manner. It was embarrassing to hear some roaring drunk stagger down the marina, plod through the plaza, or cause some poor waiter grief, then see him heavily tipping the locals who he had just insulted.

We haven’t seen anything even remotely close to that here.

Instead, we’ve found a group of folks who are, well…folks.

There’s a nice pool setup at our current complex. One pool is a standard 25-meter length for those who like to swim laps Next to it is a smaller, recreational pool where they hold the daily pool volleyball game. There is also a fairly healthy hot tub nearby.

It’s where people who live in this complex, called El Dorado Ranch, gather.

There’s Dave, a tall, burly guy with a sailing ship tattooed across his ample chest. He was a merchant marine for 38 years. He has a big, bushy beard, shaved head, and sunglasses that seem permanently attached to his face. He and his wife, Nicole, who sold advertising for a Los Angeles metro newspaper, are poolside regulars.

Dave has a growly, gruff voice but honestly? He seems to be nothing more than a big old teddy bear. Nicole, with her sales background, has a lot in common with Cara.

Larry is a retired electrician who spent many years in and around Washington, D.C. He has a long, gray ponytail, plus the requisite cap and sunglasses, and is just as much at home participating in the volleyball game as he is reading “Pearls, Arms and Hashish,” written by Frenchman Henry De Monfried. It’s a book about being a pirate off the Somali coast in the 1920s and ‘30s. Larry has been in San Felipe for some time now. “The day after they elected George W. Bush I told everybody, ‘I’m done…out of here…see you later.’”

He does not look forward to his infrequent trips back across the border.

Ted and his wife, Barbara, just arrived fulltime from Denver. He recently retired after a lengthy career in education, first as a teacher, then as a counselor.

There is also an international impact.

Robert comes from the Champagne area of France. After living and working in the United States, he packed it in and headed south of the border.

Vee was born in England – her thick English accent remains – although she eventually moved to San Francisco where she lived before arriving in San Felipe.

I don’t know enough about them all to tell yet which ones are running from their past, which are running to their future and which are simply running, but they are an intellectually stimulating bunch.

The talk ranges from music to books to politics with a healthy mix of background and life experiences to pepper the conversation.

This is a well-read, liberal crowd…a very liberal crowd. In fact, I think I know now where all the hippies from my generation have gone to escape the anger and incivility of a nation that seems on the verge of being more divided than it was during the Civil War. They are here. In fact, the other day the pool area held the distinct pungent aroma of Colorado.

We wonder what happened to the changes we thought we saw coming during the ‘60s, the social reforms we tried to instigate, the promise we held dear, if only through our fleeting youth, that we could, indeed, make a difference and change the course of a nation that was dangerously teetering off track.

Change has come, alright, but not for the better, I fear as I look at the country I was born and raised in and see humanity and compassion flushed, only to be replaced by greed.

I have never felt more of an outsider in my homeland than I have the last dozen years or so and I come from a time when people like me were chased, maced, and beaten by cops who had a particular dislike for long hair, The Rolling Stones, and anybody who challenged their little one-dimensional brains.

I mean, the Bush-Cheney years were so Nixonian, followed by a genuine anger after we elected, then re-elected, our first black president.

I thought we were through with all of that, I thought we had found a growing degree of equality, but come to find that we have taken mega-steps backward in how we, as a nation, have come to treat people of color and those member of the LGBT community,

Yeah…I know why the group of ex-patriates we have run into so far are here.

I can’t say that I blame them.

Not one little bit.

I just hope this wind stops soon and the temps go back up so we can spend even more time by the pool.

Time to relax

Augie, our bartender at the Jolly Mon.

Augie, our bartender at the Jolly Mon.

There is a definite Canadian influence at the Jolly Mon.

There is a definite Canadian influence at the Jolly Mon.

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Cara uses the Internet at the Jolly Mon.

 

Even in Paradise, the sun doesn’t shine every day.

It was chilly Sunday with highs in the mid-60s. I know that doesn’t sound terribly brisk to those who have been through some really cold weather, but that represents a drop of about 20 degrees for us. Add to it some very heavy winds that whipped up dust and sandstorms and, well, let’s just say we were not in our usual uniforms of flipflops, tank tops, and shorts.

But, hey, it is the middle of November.

A mechanical problem with the van had restricted our travel. We thought we were losing our transmission. Turns out, it was only the speedometer sensor that was failing. As it did so, it made the transmission shift funny and put the whole van into what is called “limp-home mode.”

We were really nervous about it all and talking about it with Rob, one of our new friends.

“I’ve got the best mechanic on The Baja,” he said. “I’ll send you to him. They just replaced the transmission in my Escalade. It cost me $1,200.”

We went to see Rob at his office the next day where we met Charlie, a pleasant young man who was wearing a Baja 1,000 T-shirt.

“Take it to the shop and Jose will take care of you,” he said.

“What’s the name of the shop?” I asked.

“It doesn’t have a name,” Charlie said. “It’s the one a half-mile up from town.”

“Which side of the highway?” I asked.

“The left. There’s nothing on the right side,” Charlie patiently explained.

Now, you must understand that finding places in Mexico is extremely difficult at times.

There are many major streets that have no name and those that do don’t always have a street sign and most of the houses and businesses don’t have address numbers out front. We ran into this when we lived in San Jose del Cabo and I went searching one day for a computer supply store a friend had told us about.

“It’s a few doors down from my friend’s bakery, but across the street and up about a block. It has a blue door,” our friend Eve told me before I left. “There’s no sign or anything, but you can’t miss it.”

Well, I did.

I found the bakery and walked about six city blocks in every direction searching out the computer store with a blue door, only to find that there were lots of stores in that part of town with blue doors. I knocked on all of them and found a place where they made hand-rolled cigars, a place where they sold some pretty fancy clothes, a hat shop, a tequila shop, but no computer shop.

So, when Cara and I drove down Highway 5 to find the repair shop, she was a bit apprehensive.

But Charlie’s directions were solid.

It was exactly a half-mile town on the left side of the highway among some other old, disheveled buildings.

The repair shop is small. It is basically a hollowed-out cinder block structure with a free-standing carport where Jose and Charlie work their magic.

It was clear that the Snap-On tool salesman had never been there. There were no fancy tool boxes and the work bench was assembled from scraps of wood pieced together. There were no hydraulic lifts or power tools, just one pit area Jose and Charlie could climb down into and stand as they made repairs.

Jose quickly diagnosed the problem as a bad speedometer sensor and told me it would take three days to get the part from Mexicali. Since time, for the most part, is meaningless down here, that was fine. He said to come back Saturday at 10 a.m. when he’d have the part and be able to make the repair quickly.

I showed up Saturday at 9:45 and the gate was closed. Back in the lot, an older gentleman was sorting tools and doing some general cleanup.

“Jose is a little late, but he’ll be here soon,” the man said.

He wasn’t terribly communicative and a bit wary. He was short and slender, but had sinewy arms that gave him away as a man who has done some serious labor in his years. He had a small tattoo on his neck that had blurred with the years and fished in his pocket for a Marlboro.

“Just a few minutes…just a few minutes,” he said.

Everybody has a story and I tried to learn his.

“I’ve been here about eight years,” he explained, looking at me quizzically and, I am sure, wondering why I asked. “I came down from Mexicali.”

“Why?” I asked.

“The police. They are too hot up there,” he said, his eyes squinting. “They put you in jail. The police are not hot down here.”

As I waited, a gentleman with kind eyes and a big smile pulled his old van onto the lot. He was having trouble with it and wanted Jose to take a look.

We immediately struck up a conversation.

Hector told me he was a retired pharmacist who once owned five farmacias in San Felipe.

I told him I was really impressed with the prices of the meds I take for blood pressure and my AS and he explained that the drugs sold here are the same quality as in the United States.

“The manufacturing companies buy their chemicals from the same places as the manufacturers in the U.S., but the people who make the drugs in the U.S. earn about $1,000 a week. The people here make about $100 a week,” Hector said. “We also don’t have insurance companies that pay the big prices like up there, so the prices go way, way down. Just remember that whenever you can, buy the generic brands. The name brands are always more expensive. The generics are just as good, they just don’t have the brand name.”

Hector said now that he is retired, he does some light carpentry and woodwork on the side. He handed me a card and I promised that if I ran into somebody who needed work, I would put them together.

It turns out that Hector also likes to fish and does a lot of shore fishing.

“There is a U-shaped pier on the south end of town that you can walk out onto and fish. They get a lot of white bass and calico bass and corvina there. They are not really big..about like this,” Hector explained, holding his hands about a foot apart. “You can also fish from the sand and catch halibut.”

Bass? Halibut?

I’m in.

We discussed baits and methods and, pretty much, all you need to do is go to the local fish market, pick up some squid, put it on the hook and go from there. The rest is up to you.

“Call me sometime,” he said. “I like to fish and I like to have somebody to fish with.”

Deal.

About 10:45, Jose and his son Santos rolled up. Santos is about 12, but it was clear he was there to learn his father’s trade. He immediately hopped out of the small truck and started picking up debris scattered around the lot.

Jose came over, shook my hand again and showed me the replacement part.

“This will fix it,” he assured me.

The actual repair took about 15 or 20 minutes and when he climbed down to the pit to replace the part, he made sure that Santos was at his side, teaching his son how to make the repair.

Jose was interrupted a couple of times as customers and friends dropped by for a quick estimate or just to say hello.

But, soon enough, the repair was made and Jose took our van for a test drive.

He pulled back onto the lot and smiled.

“Perfecto,” he said.

I paid the bill, which came to $900. That’s pesos, which converts to $69.23 in U.S. dollars. An hour’s labor in the U.S. would have cost more than that.

We woke up Sunday morning to a gray sky, dulled by the whipping winds that stirred the sand and bent the palm trees.

It was chilly.

Still, we wanted to celebrate being mobile again, so we went for a little drive to check out the southern part of town, where there are some delightful beach houses and the waters drop off much deeper than the shallow shores along the malecon.

We stopped near the Pier, as Hector referred to the marina, and saw some of the locals fishing. The shrimping fleet docks there every night, so the water has some depth. We will have to head that way when it warms up a bit and the winds die down to see if we can catch dinner.

We cruised the malecon and saw a couple of families clamming on the beach.

The town was quiet, calm, nothing like the noisy crowd that filled the oceanfront to celebrate the shrimp festival our first night here.

We ended up at the Jolly Mon, a little place across the street from the complex where we live. The Jolly Mon is a bar/restaurant in a little shopping area that includes a couple of real estate offices, a farmacia, a little shop that sell pottery, T-shirts and bathing suits,  and a mercado where you can do some light grocery shopping without having to drive the seven kilometers to town.

All of those places offer WiFi. In fact, the little market has some tables set up in the entryway where you can log onto the Internet, get a bite to eat, and reestablish contact with the outside world.

The Jolly Mon had several football games on the big screens behind the bar. We bought a couple of squares in their weekly football pool for the Kansas City-Seattle game. We also wanted to see who would win the NASCAR Chase. But mostly, we just wanted to relax a bit.

To get here we travelled across four states, one time zone, one international border, and switched from daylight saving time to standard time. We had driven the final 150 miles of our trip with clenched jaws and white knuckles as we nursed the van from just north of Calexico to San Felipe. We sweated out the repair.

Now, it is finally time to relax.