Across the Peninsula

Up early and out just after dawn. We were ready long before dawn, but I’m hesitant to drive the twisty narrow roads here when it is still dark. 
We left under gray skies, waving goodbye to the whales. It cleared as we crossed the desert. 
First the land was sandy and nearly barren. Soon, though, it was lush with an amazing variety of desert plants. Then it flipped back to barren, then lush again. 
Within an hour, we came to one of the many military checkpoints throughout the Baja. A very, very young man asked in confusing English to search our car. We got out carrying our purses and let him search. Meanwhile, I carried on a lively conversation with another soldier about las ballenas. He seemed quite pleased that we had come so far to enjoy ourselves in his country. Not for the first time, we wondered if these men who lived right here would ever take the time (and money) to go see the whales. 
About two hours from Guerrero Negro, we got to San Ignacio, the date capital of California Baja Sur. Driving into the town, we took a road lined with date fields. It felt so intensely tropical and lush, right in the middle of severe desert.
Sweet, sweet little town, with a small plaza and a gorgeous old church built in the late 1600s. We had a light brunch at a little stand on the plaza. We then wandered a bit, listening to birds sing the town awake, and spent some time in the garden beside the church.
An hour later we were pulling into Santa Rosalia. Never, never have I seen such an ugly entrance to a city. Not even Gary, Indiana, can top this. 
From stark desert, we descended, watching the Sea of Cortez in the distance. A beautiful start. But then . . . trash blowing wildly, and the town dump on fire and sending the gagging smell of burning plastic everywhere. Remains of burned out buildings and decaying industrial remains. 
We pulled over to take a little walk to the water, but the burning plastic stench was overwhelming. 
Thankfully, when we went into the town, it was much more charming. Sta. Rosalia was founded by the French, so it doesn’t look like most towns in Mexico. No adobe or block and stucco. These were frame buildings, many
with  second story balconies overhanging the sidewalks, and many, as in New  Orleans, had wrought iron railings. And the church was not the typical Spanish style, but tall with an almost curved roof. It was designed by the famous Eiffel (of the tower). I’ve never seen anything quite like it. 
Out of town, past more trash and mess and into the desert. Next stop: Mulege (picture an accent on the second ‘e’ so it’s pronounced moo la HAY).
I’d been looking forward so much to Mulege. The photos I’d seen, the stories I’d heard. Tropical, almost, and serene. 
We arrived to find the campgrounds we were interested in had been hit by three hurricanes. Riverside camping was no more. Damaged buildings abounded. Overall, nothing was very inviting. Though the town seemed sweet and was asking for exploration, we decided to move on.
We stopped at a few absolutely stunning places on Bahia de Concepcion, but ultimately decided to continue to Loreto for the night and have a shorter day’s drive the next day, to south of La Paz.
Loreto. WOW! We loved it. Beautiful church from 1697. A beautiful malecon, views across deep blue sea to the island mountains. We found a place to stay for a good price and headed to McLulu’s for dinner.
Lulu was fabulous. I liked her immediately. She started her fish taco restaurant in 1984 after her husband died. She had five children, one just over a year old. She said she got her tubes tied, just in case, because she felt it was better to make tacos than make babies.
Lulu’s tacos are legendary – and only $50P for three. But I just had to ask her why it was called McLulu’s, and here’s the story.
Some gringos loved her tacos, and each time they came for dinner she would excitedly tell them how many she’d sold – 100, 175, then one day 300. They told her that McDonald’s always posted how many they had sold and jokingly called her McLulu. The name stuck, and twenty-eight years later, McLulu’s is an institution.

Day of the Whales

Día de las Ballenas.
Up early and out across the salt flats before the sun was up.
Books and former visitors to Ojo de Liebre had said we could just camp on the beach. They’d also said we could negotiate with the panga operators to take us out to see the whales.
All that has changed. There are palapas set back from the lagoon, all numbered, and campers choose one and stay there. Tents are acceptable, but the only campers we saw had truck campers or mini motorhomes. The wind was more than I would have wanted to deal with in a tent, so we stayed in town at a motel that was more than the guidebook said it would be.
No more meeting the panga operators and arranging a tour, either. There is now a welcome center and ticket office. Tours cost $500P or US $40. There is also a small restaurant, a gift shop, and one more room that I couldn’t quite figure out. We had looked at it the day before, on our short visit.
Loud music came from the room. A man who appeared to be the manager said it was the band. He opened the door for us and flipped on a light. There was terribly loud music and a big screen TV on which the words to the song appeared, sort of a sing along, I suppose. We were invited to enter the band room, but it was viscously loud and we declined.
We arrived this morning at the lagoon before eight, having been told tours left at eight, or nine, or maybe eight-thirty. Mind you, it was the man who appeared to manage the  little welcome center who told us the three different times. We opted to arrive early rather than miss the boat, literally.
We had driven out under gray skies that threatened rain. The salt flats took on a more lunar landscape in the dim light. We arrived just in time to chat with a few other tourists (a gringo from Mexico and a Mexican who lived in the US). Then it was time to buy our tickets and make a last minute trip to the best outdoor toilet I’ve ever been in – it was on the second floor and had a tall window across the whole front that looked out at the lagoon. We then donned our life vests and boarded. 
Our little boat had only six passengers. Leopoldo started the motor, and we were off. In just a few minutes we were in deep lagoon and could see whales in the distance. Closer, closer. Gray whales were all around us!
At first I tried to take photos but realized I was looking at this majesty through a viewfinder rather than watching them live. I put the camera away.
Leopoldo moved us close in to a whale a number of times, but each time the whale moved away. Although for over sixteen years it’s been a dream of mine to touch a whale, I realized that to be this close was perfect. If I didn’t  touch one, I was still content.
Then we drifted closer to a mama and baby. Mama cut between us and baby, nudging him away from us. But she stuck around. 
At first she glided through the water, showing us only her back and the “knuckles” on it. Gray whales have nine to thirteen knuckles on their backs rather than a dorsal fin.
This gray circled the boat and she dove under it. Three or four times she went under the boat and bumped us. Let us know who was really in charge. At 60,000 or more pounds, she likely viewed us as a toy. She drifted aside us and blew water on us all. Then she approached the side.
Cinda and I were on the other end of the boat, the bow, but when the whale moved in Cinda almost ran to the stern. There she was, hanging over the side, petting this thirty-ton mammal that had the power to flip our boat if she so chose.
Then I went to the stern. Mama stayed and let me stroke her back. Slowly, slowly. Up and down her back. Around the barnacles that clung to her and past one of her knuckles.
I was dumbfounded. Her back felt like silk, smooth and soft. I had expected a hide,  hard and leathery, firm. Not at all. It almost felt as though I could poke my finger right through her skin.
She let me stroke her repeatedly, then slowly sank below the water’s surface.
She returned to the boat several times, giving everyone aboard a chance to feel whale silk. Even Leopoldo, who grinned as much as the rest of us, pet her.
Leopoldo kept us out overtime. He looked apologetic when his CB came to life and he was called back. He wanted us to stay and fall in love with these whales as deeply as he loved them. But we returned, each of us with huge smiles. 
Hours later, I am smiling still.

South from San Quintín

We left Eddy’s just after seven, taking the washboard road past all the panga rentals. Pangas are small boats, and the area around this small bay was full of men waiting to take fishermen out for a day of frustration. 
We gassed up in El Rosario forty miles later (after actually gassing up in San Quintín). We only got ripped off for maybe $100P. El Rosario is notorious for its cost of gas.
Then away from the coast and into the mountains. Soon we were in a magical land of boojum and cardon, a tall cactus that seems to be related to the saguaro. We stopped and walked among these and many others: barrel cactus, hedgehog, and several varieties of nopal and cholla. 
A  little further down the road we found ourselves in a rock-covered moonscape. Rocks on top of rocks on top of rocks with boojum sprinkled among them. There was one hillside covered in rock, and it was so steep I wondered how the rocks clung to its side. I expected an avalanche at any moment.
Hills, valleys, and more moonscape. Her Majesty was good. She consistently told us we were on Callatera 1 in Baja California. Then, just twenty miles or so north of Guerrero Negro, she went on strike. She couldn’t find a signal. Good thing we weren’t lost.
We came to the military checkpoint between Baja and Baja Sur, and as advised, we begged off from the “required” spraydown against bugs. We claimed asthma as the Moon Handbook to Baja suggested. The man smirked a bit and called over to the others, “Asthma!” I’m guessing a lot of people develop asthma when at this checkpoint.
Once in Guerrero Negro, we searched in vain for one of the two cheap motels Moon had suggested. We couldn’t even find the turnoff. We had thought to camp at the lagoon but several advised against it since we were two females who would be in a tent. We ended up in the San Ignacio Motel, two nights for $700P and there was wireless internet available in the office.
Off to the lagoon! Five miles south on the highway, then onto a dirt/sand road for another eighteen or so miles. We made good time because the road was in quite good shape. We’d been warned that it could be very washboarded and slow, but it was packed hard and fairly smooth.
Through sparse desert and then suddenly we were in salt fields! Salted roads, lagoons full of salt, and salty foam blowing across the road. It was astounding. One pond was pinkish in color, and though I took a few pictures, the photos couldn’t capture that color.
Sadly, when we got to Ojo de Liebre, there were no whales close in. I saw a few quite far out – saw the water shoot up and a dark back break the surface. As Cinda pointed out, should the rapture happen this night (and should we be taken, which is unlikely) at least I have seen a whale.
We got back to our room, and tired of spending money, decided to eat some instant macaroni and cheese (just add water!). Well, in small print, it said, “and microwave for two minutes.” We settled for some instant soup (just add water!). Thankfully, it truly needed no microwaving. I just set up the little propane cooker and soon water was boiling and we had dinner. Of sorts. A bottle of wine can turn even instant soup into dinner.

Into the Baja

We left San Diego early, after a quick walk through the neighborhood that afforded views into the Pacific. 
Unlike the crossing at Naco, there were no customs agents on the US side checking our credentials and asking absurd questions.
For over a year now, US Customs has had a presence at the Naco crossing. Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Do you have more than $10,000?
Now, if I had more than $10,000, would I tell them? If I were headed to buy drugs, would I admit it? The questioning is frustrating, and if one dares to challenge the absurdity, it’s a quick trip to secondary, where three to five agents look through the car and one or two others point their guns and toss out menacing looks. They claim this is done at all border crossings,
Not true. In recent months I’ve crossed at Nogales and El Paso without any questioning, and now I’ve crossed into Tijuana with nary an agent in sight. so why do we have to subject ourselves to ridiculous questions and secondary inspections in Naco, merely to LEAVE the US? And then, of course, we have to go through it all again when when we re-enter the US.
In any event, we crossed with absolutely no incident into Tijuana. With Cinda carefully reading the instructions, and with Her Majesty in the “off” position, we immediately missed the first turn. 
Actually, we didn’t miss it! I thought I had missed a turn, but the angels were hovering right above us, and the “miss” was the right thing to do. We we on the road south to Ensenada! 
I had read that the drive was scenic, but it was more than that. We both oohed and ahhed all the way down. Glistening green cliffs dropped into the surf. Waves slid onto the shore and smacked into rocky outcroppings. Sadly, not a whale nor dolphin in sight.
We stopped in La Misión to have a light breakfast and wait to meet a friend. 
We arrived earlier than expected and had to wait, but it was worth the wait. Our wait-spot was the restaurant of Hotel La Fonda, with expansive sea views and a small chiminea cranking out the only heat. Each comfy chair held a blanket to wrap up in.
Our friend arrived. we were headed south wile he was headed up to San Diego (he lives in La Misión) to buy a sailboat. We heard about it and dreams for the future.
South, south to Ensenada. Big city! Then we came around a curve and THERE was Ensenada!  Very bigh city!  And, of course, there was a detour and we got rerouted through town. 
South, south. Steep brilliant green mountains to the west folded down into a narrow valley. Steep desert mountains to the east. Cattle and horses grazed in the valley, and fields of hay or grapes came right to the road. There were even rows of olive trees, and little roadside stands had fresh squeezed olive oil for sale. 
We then climbed out of this lush valley into a desert valley. More road work meant we had to drive off the road onto marginal dirt rutted tracks. The little RV in front of us rocked and rolled so much we briefly feared it would tip over. But we all made it.
San Quentin! A wide spot in the road. A bustle of small stores, a big store selling tractors, a few Pemex stations, and a string of fish taco stands. We drove on through to the hotel several folks had recommended, but it was full. We had planned to camp, but the evening sky was full of rain, the wind was up, and it didn’t seem like a good time to wrestle the camp gear out.
We ended up in a cheap motel – on the bay! It’s called Don Eddy’s($400P), and though it had been specifically not recommended, we found it adequate.  We even had a tiny room off the bedroom that gave a bay view. Dinner looking out over the calm waters. 
The whole drive, from slightly north of downtown San Diego to San Quentin, was about eight hours, including more than ninety minutes hanging out in La Misión. 
The night was chilly, and in the morning, dew covered the car.

San Diego Dawn

San Diego Dawn
Pale rosy-pink. Then it went to gray. Then soft blue clouds appeared in the deep sky. It changes minute by minute, almost moment by moment, and I’m fortunate enough to have a front row seat.
We are in the home of Cinda’s cousin and cousin’s husband. It was a welcome stop after lots of driving that included one wrong turn, several stretch breaks, a cheap and lousy lunch, and serious harassment from my new GPS system which I have unceremoniously named “Her Majesty.”
Her Majesty, although loaded with the Cousin’s San Diego address, was most insistent that we head south somewhere around El Centro. Common sense overrode her demand, but her chronic nagging forced me to turn her off.
As we approached San Diego, Cinda programmed the beast once again, and, possibly because she’d been banned and shut down after her last outburst, she guided us quite perfectly to Cousin’s. She barely winced when I overshot the house by a quarter block in order to make a u-turn and park in front of the house.
Has she learned her lesson? Will she get us across the border into and out of Tijuana? Stay tuned. Thankfully, we are armed with step by step instructions from someone who has crossed numerous times. I believe Her Majesty shall remain in the “off” mode.
But back to dawn. I am delighted to see that it is clear overhead while the clouds hug the eastern mountain range. I think we’ll make it onto the Mexican tollway without the downpour that greeted us at the San Diego city limits yesterday.
Yes, pleasant sunny drive until we hit the mountains, where the temperature dropped 20 degrees and the low hanging clouds spit on us occasionally. The spitting stopped, but I swear the rain began just as we hit the city limits. During rush hour. With a passive-aggressive GPS at the helm. So today I’d like some clear sky, thanks.
When we got here last night, we we greeted with glasses of lovely wine. We chatted and watched the ever-changing sky, through the patio doors, out over the San Diego Bay. We are set high on a hill, and although there are some obstructions (damn those others who choose to build out here!), I can see water less than a mile away.
Wine, a dinner of lamb that fell apart when touched by fork, and a pile of fresh green beans. It was a Moroccan dish called lamb tagine, and it was served in a ceramic bowl with a tall, tall top called tagine.  A French pie, clafouti, topped with fresh berries. All home-made. Fun conversation. The stark realization that I had left my coffee-making equipment at home! The loan of a French press.
So here I am at dawn. Hesitant to leave this lovely place, anxious to get down the road.
And down the road we shall get, right after a little walk, because a friend in La Misión, just north of Ensenada, will be waiting for us mid morning.

Another Wonderful Day

Sitting on the plaza, sun to my back. Morning air was just beginning to get warm. The day started chilly, as usual, but by ten it was absolutely perfect sitting outside listening to clusters of conversation and children laughing. From across the plaza came pan pipe music. Could any morning be better?

Cinda and I have walked almost every road in Alamos. Many have concrete pavers, but the cobblestone ones are killer. I’ve done them and even climbed through rocky washes. We’ve seen more of the town than most locals.

a beautiful doorway to . . . what?

Days have drifted into a beautiful pattern. Coffee, light breakfast, lots of walking. Stop for coffee and/or lunch. Walk. Listen to street music or watch street events or head to the cathedral for a concert. Walk. Dinner or snacks followed by street music or simply returning to the house we’re staying in.

Today was different, though, because we went on a tour of mansions.

The houses were huge. Massive. One had 7,000 square feet of house and another 3,000 feet under roof outdoors. The outdoor living room was approximately 42 feet by 28 feet. Each room had a fireplace, the only heat. Pool. Views.

One house had a staff of seven to keep the place functioning. I figured that the others needed a minimum of four but likely had more.

My favorite bathroom was quite large. A wall split the room into two parts. Each side had a closet about ten feet long. Against the common wall were back-to-back toilets and large showers with views out onto a private patio. The broad counters and backsplashes of the sinks were tiled, as were the curved, walk-in showers. In addition, one side held a lady’s soaking tub, tiled, again with views into the patio.

The house with the fabulous bath had four other full baths and one half bath that I saw. And an outdoor shower by the pool. Who knows? I suppose there could have been more. No photos allowed, so I can’t pass them on.

The kitchens in each of the four houses were large enough to accommodate a staff of three or four to prepare a meal for thirty. The dining rooms had formal seating for ten to twelve, and of course the huge patio spaces could be set up to accommodate dinner for the aforementioned thirty.

One home had a large entry topped by a dome with a brick ceiling. The patio had all the appropriate arches draped in bougainvillea with views of the mountains beyond. It was stunning.

I loved this tour. I have never been in such homes, seen such furnishings. But as much as I loved it, I have to say one thing: some people have entirely too much money.

Am I jealous? Envious? No. There is no way I want to have all of that. I don’t want to be responsible for maintaining such a size nor employing a staff of seven. I wondered, too, what the staff salaries were. Wages for such work in Mexico is often about $15 a day. I certainly couldn’t ask someone to work in luxury like I saw and then offer such wages. And on the other side, what would it feel like to work in such a place and then go home with wages so minimal?

Now, I don’t know if that’s the case for these households and these workers. These workers may receive a very fair wage. But that whole idea of the poor working to care for the very rich and their belongings is abhorrent to me.

When we left the last house, just like the help, we walked back into town. Cinda and others headed to the cathedral for music while I went to the tourism area for a painting class. When the instructor finally arrived (late) and pulled out the paints and easels, I realized it was a class for children. I asked if I could join, but he had limited supplies and wanted the kids to have access to what they wanted, which I understood.

Barred from painting, I dashed back across the street and slid into a seat near Cinda just a little while before the program began. Violin and piano. Yum.

More walking, beer and guacamole, more walking, a cup of elote. Elote in a cup is corn off the cob with butter, cheese, and lime. Then we wandered the market area a bit and walked home.

Could I live here? You bet. In a heartbeat (except for summer!). Lots of good people, lots of good food, lots of wonderful places to walk. One woman told me about someone who came to town and complained that there was no theater, there was no gym, and there was no whatever else she wanted. They suggested she move to Tucson.

I am quite accustomed to no gym and no theater. The only gym necessary is the out-of-doors, and there’s plenty of that. Theater? Who needs it with birds galore including a variety of hummers and falcons, the trogon, and the jay magpie. We saw the magpies daily around 7 AM except for the last morning. Cinda figured they didn’t like to say goodbyes.

Alamos: Day Two

Cinda and I were up again before dawn and outside with the roosters. Today we headed west. We passed by the home of the Urrea family. Tomas was the father of Teresita, a famous healer and known now in the US because of books written about her by Luis Urrea (Hummingbird’s Daughter and Teresita). A modest home. I had hoped for some kind of plaque, but there was none.

Our morning walks have yielded many surprises. One is that here, roses bloom in January. This is in addition to the bougainvillea and the jamaica, or hibiscus. We wandered until we found ourselves back at the sweet cafe we’d been to yesterday, where we sat, had breakfast, and lounged for hours talking with friends. Then, more walking.

The heat was on. I can see why people leave in summer. The houses with their thick walls are cool, but the January sun baked us us we wandered town.

In early afternoon, a musical treat. Baroque music inside the main church on the plaza, the Templo de la Purisma Concepcion. Violins, viola, cello, keyboard. The music soared up into the dome, slid down, and reverberated off the walls and arches.

But then the soprano began. I can’t stand sopranos, especially classical or operatic. But I have to say this young woman’s voice was clear and rich. Even I could listen. I slid to the back of the church, and eventually out the door. But while I was inside, for more than half the concert, I actually enjoyed it. The music, even the voice, so perfectly fit the cathedral. For a moment I could almost believe I was in Alamos in the 1700s.

While friends stayed in the church for the last twenty minutes or so of baroque, I stayed outside and listened to street music. This was followed by a walk. It was supposed to be a short one, but the twisty roads conspired against us and we turned down many a wrong street on our way to El Pedregal. Pedregal means rocky terrain, and it certainly was. Not so much at El Pedregal itself, but on the way there. After numerous wrong roads and about an hour of wandering, we made it.

What a place! Twenty or so acres of countryside, trails, and views. The whole property has five little casitas, a main house, and a straw bale building now used for yoga and massage. We had a lovely tour and then followed the correct road back to town, getting there in about fifteen minutes.

We hit downtown just as the kids’ program was getting underway with the same festive characters playing music and dancing on stilts. Like the adults with the burro and wine, there would be music and festivities followed by a walk through town, musicians in the lead and about half a block of children trailing along behind. The party/parade went on for over ninety minutes.

The parade begins!

Dinner of papas – baked potato topped with cheese and grilled beef and salsa and guacamole and . . . and whatever else you want. A margarita on the patio overlooking the plaza. Musicians, young folks twirling batons of fire, and more. An excellent ending to the second day.

First Day in Alamos


It’s been on my “go-to” list for more than thirty years, and what do you know, I finally made it. And during the annual music festival, no less!

My friend Cinda and I arrived late Tuesday and though she went to an evening performance, I just settled in.

Then in the morning, we were both up early, dined on bean burritos, and headed out the door just after dawn. Distant roosters and one burro called up the sun. Policemen, and women, clustered around small fires in an attempt to keep the chill away.

Cobblestone streets, sun glancing off the church tower, bougainvillea spilling over fourteen-foot adobe walls. Houses of tan, buff, and screaming pink. We peeked around corners, into shattered windows of empty buildings, and through fences. Every sight was a potential photograph. I felt memories of Antigua, Guatemala, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. All three places are old colonial cities. Houses share side walls. There are no front yards. Beautiful doorway abound.

The oldest houses have wide double doors, large enough for carriages and horse-drawn wagons to enter. In some of the wide doors there are smaller entry doors. Doors within doors, leading to courtyards of fountains, flowers, and benches under ancient trees. All the old (or restored) doors are wood, often carved, while newer ones are wrought iron. It seems no two are the same.

Near the end of our long walk, we passed by a little orange juice stand. For fifteen pesos, a little over a dollar, I god a good sized glass of freshly squeezed juice.

Calle de la Paz

We got back to the house we were staying in, sat down to relax, and found it was time to head to a cafe to meet friends for coffee. And of course the cafe was across town.

Delicious coffee, muffins, baguette. Good conversation. Beautiful setting.  Teresita’s is a fairly new cafe with outdoor seating clustered around a small pond and water spilling over a rock wall. Then it was time to walk to a different area of town, wander some shops, and learn about birding walks. By this time, the streets we filled with residents, visitors, and musicians. Tubas and accordions. Drums and flutes. Guitars and trumpets. Mexican hippies in dreadlocks. Music spilling across the plaza and down alleyways. We wormed our way back to the house.

After a rest, it was time to hit the streets again and head to a cafe for dinner. We left for the house after dinner but were immediately sidetracked by the beginning of a small parade heading toward a crowd of young children. Time for the kids’ program.

Musicians in costumes were led by three people on stilts and a young man on a unicycle. Juggling, singing, and dancing. One of the people on stilts actually skipped across the road, and remember, it’s a cobblestone road! The musicians wandered on down the road after a bit, trailed by a crowd of children and parents. We headed back to the house for a rest.

I again skipped the evening concert but headed out a little after nine for some of the evening festivities. Four men were gathered around a little donkey who had been nicely groomed with trimmed hair except for little furry tufts around his knees. He carried two crates. Originally, years ago, I suppose he would have carried handwoven baskets, but this night he carried plastic storage boxes. Each box held several gallons of wine.

The street near the Palacio where the evening concert was being held was swarming with people. Most were musicians, men. They were dressed in black, with short pants gathered just below the knee and tall white socks. They all wore either a cape or jacket, the backs of which were decorated with ribbons of all colors, some with writing on them. I believe the ribbons represent music festivals, competitions, and other performances along with ribbons for prizes won at different events.

When the doors of the concert hall finally opened, the street burst into song. The musicians started and soon the crowd joined in. The men with the donkey began passing out little cups of wine.

After a few numbers, the musicians wandered down the street followed by the donkey, the wine, and a crowd of revelers.

I followed a short while then cut over to another street to watch a program called Tango en Mexico. A good tenor and a couple dancing a variety of tangos. Wow!! They could glide and she could kick! I was envious.

Back home around 11:00. Now, those who know me well must be amazed. I’m the one who hates crowds and settles in early, refusing to leave the house after dark. And there I was, swarming with the masses, following musicians and a little donkey, and staying out hours past my bedtime.

It was delightful.

Kino: A Different Trip

We left, not at dawn, but at 8:30, while Doug was gazing at the sea.
We drove not through the mountains of Sonora, a foot deep in snow, but through Nogales. From clear skies to gray, then to drizzle and on into moderate rain. Doug’s eyes remained glued to the sea.
We crossed the border in the rain, moved into the wrong lane, and had a lengthy drive through the fringes of Nogales, avoiding potholes the size of small ponds, past rivulets spilling down the mountains.
Doug’s eyes stayed firm.
What we didn’t yet know, and what others were beginning to learn, was that Doug was dead.
He wasn’t in good health when he and his wife left the north country for the seaside Mexican village. But Doug wanted one more winter there, on the beach, their rig parked in the space behind our trailer.
On the morning we rose early to finish packing for our trip south, Doug got up, stepped outside to watch the dawn, sat down, and died.
The officials were called. The coroner pronounced him dead an hour or so after his wife discovered him, and the mortuary, thirty-five miles away, got there hours later. Doug’s last look at the sea was over five hours long.
Meanwhile, we sloshed our way south, got stuck in traffic jams, were held up by inspection points, and moved in and out of at least six different rains, some only a minute long and one over two hours long.
In that early morning, another RV park resident found her dog wasn’t going to make it through surgery and she had to have him put down. She fled her trailer in tears, ran to her friend, Doug’s wife, and well, you know what she found there.
Not a good morning in Kino.
We arrived late afternoon after over eight hours on the road – it’s usually a six hour trip. We arrived tired and hungry. I’d been looking forward to seeing Doug: he’d been kind and helpful to me, had watched our trailer vigilantly when we weren’t there. But when we arrived tired and hungry, there was a note on the door from another neighbor, warped by the day’s rain, blue ink ribbons streaking the page. Doug was dead.
The rest of the week, fortunately, was better. For all of us. Every day, though, something went wrong. Some little plan was skewed, one small scheme went awry.
Mornings colder than they should be this time of year, one so cold it took me hours to get warm. Sunshine that drew me outside combined with winds that drove me indoors. The chile relleno place, closed. The grilled chicken place, ditto. Twice. The backup chicken place, out of chicken.
The gas station that pumped more than the car needed, by at least a gallon.
The dead sea turtle on the beach.

This trip was the other side of Kino. To be sure, there were some grand reunions with people I hadn’t seen since last winter and there were fun times with others that I see regularly. Met new friends. Attended a craft fair. gave some gifts, donated to the local food pantry.
But the other side, the side of loss, of plans scrambled, of things gone wrong, this side was here too. Doug is gone. His wife will leave with his ashes and not return.

Parties in Kino

It was one of those Kino things.
The police Secretario, head of the western part of the state of Sonora, lives here at Islandia. Word came to me one day that I was invited to a party that night: Señor Secretario and his wife were celebrating forty years of marriage with shrimp and crab cakes, and Islandia was invited.
I tried in vain to find an anniversary card for them and ended up going to the event empty handed, but at least I was fashionably (and appropriately, in Mexico) late. The party was just beginning.
Grilled shrimp and grilled crab cakes. Barbacoa. Potatoes. A salad of papaya and jicama. Toasted bread, the Mexican kind, made of white flour and too much sugar. And Indio beer.
Just as we all dived into our food, Xavier arrived: musica romantica! He began with a standard love song, serenading la señora with a song that had a refrain about still being in love with my beautiful wife after all these years.
He strolled the area, strumming his guitar and singing of love, love love. There was even a song I’d heard before, about love, but set to the refrain of “Them Old Cotton Fields Back Home.” Great singing, but the party in the street provided some competition, with its oompa beat and accordion riffs.
Soon the honored couple was out on the dance floor (the grass). She snuggled close to him for a slow dance, her cell phone pressed to one ear. They were quickly joined by the French couple that lives in the park. Eventually almost everyone was dancing to a Mexican vision of “Hang on Sloopy” and more.
The Frenchman, probably about seventy, treated the crowd to some serious ass shaking and even a brief pole dance. Why is it a ma that age can pull this off but a woman of the same age can’t?
In the midst of all this, the cake arrived. “Felicidades!” it announced. Delicious, the frosting made with real cream, and the whole thing topped with strawberries.
I stayed a bit longer and then left with hugs and air kisses around. I was reminded by the Secretario that his house is my house, and he wished me safe travels tomorrow (I was headed north), assuring me he awaited my return in a few weeks.
This is the Mexico I love. Friendly, polite, generous. If I come here often enough and become known through the park, I will throw a party of my own. In my nine nights here, this was the third party I’ve been invited to. The first was hosted by a couple who threw a batch of flounder and shrimp on the grill. The second was held by the French couple who made pizzas from scratch and baked them in their wonderful little outdoor horno, or wood-fired oven. And then, the anniversary party.
If I stay here, I fear I’ll gain twenty pounds.