~ 2009 ~

Key West, then Mexico by Bus

Journal Entries By Date:
20 22 24 26 29

February 8 18 20 23 25 28

March 3 4 6 9 11 12 13 16 18 20 23 25 27 30

      I leave on a road trip to Key West, Florida on Wednesday, January 14th. I will travel alone in my 2004 Volvo, accompanied only by my golf clubs and fishing rod. I expect to meander down the back roads and byways of the south (never on an interstate), reaching Key West in however long it takes to meander. I will visit my old friend, Schim, in Orlando on the way south. Schim, long-time readers might remember, contributed to a previous blog from Argentina and Chile. I will also play a round or two of golf along the way which could delay the arrival in Key West. I will probably also stop briefly to visit a nephew who lives in Miami. The duration of the trip will be around three weeks, because I want to return home to see my grandchildren who will be visiting from Switzerland during their mid-winter school holiday.
     In stage 2 of this year's travel odyssey, I will fly to
Harlingen, Texas, on February 17 to begin a bus adventure through Mexico. I selected Harlingen only because Southwest Airlines had a great one way fare and it is a short bus trip from there to Brownsville. I realize that a few drug skirmishes have made the border area a mite risky, so I will check the danger meter at Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoras, Mexico, before buying a bus ticket. First class Mexican buses are a delightful way to travel, provided they are not hijacked - not unheard of, but an infrequent occurrence.  I am looking forward to a first stop in Vera Cruz, along the Caribbean. I stopped for an overnight in this city on my way north from Costa Rica one year and was favorably impressed. I will only travel during daytime hours because I dislike being on the road when I can't see the beauty of the land through which I am traveling. It is also a lot safer during the daylight hours since most bandito operations occur after dusk and farm animals that frequently cross the road rarely wear reflectors. I hope to stop in Puebla, Mexico City, Zihuatenejo, Puerta Vallarta, and Mazatlan where I plan to catch the 16 hour ferry across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz on Baja California. From there, I will get home as best I can. I expect to return at the end of March or the beginning of April.
     I will attempt to write a blog again this year, but fully anticipate that the updates will be less frequent than in years past.  This will probably come as a relief to most of my readers.  I do not carry a laptop and there are fewer internet centers in the USA.  It is too time consuming to search for internet access in public libraries along the way.  In Mexico, most of my time will be spent navigating the transportation system and finding hotels.  On stops of several days, at the cities I mentioned previously, it will probably be more convenient to update the blog.



January 17, 2009 – from Orlando, Florida
     Brrrrr! This is one cold spell that cannot be out run, although Sadie (my S80 bears the name given her by the manufacturer) and I tried valiantly.  We left Lewes, DE, with thick frost on the windows and headed south early Thursday morning. With the outside temperature displayed on a gauge on the dashboard, it was an easy decision to forego the meandering, so I pointed Sadie south and kept driving. We spent more than 10 hours together, not even stopping for lunch, except for a bag of beef jerky and a Yoohoo, and reached Myrtle Beach, SC, at 6:00 p.m.
They were wailing about the cold on Myrtle Beach TV with temps expected to drop into the low twenties overnight. Sadie and I shook off the early morning 24 degree chill and headed south once more. During the day, the temps rose to the upper 40's, still not warm enough for me, so we persisted for nine hours until we reached St. Augustine, FL. Surprise, when I went for dinner the subject was the heavy frost warning overnight and the horrendously low temps. It was 29 degrees by morning.
     Sadie shivered a bit when I started her, but we headed south to Schim's friend's house in suburban Orlando where the high temperature was scheduled to reach the mid 60's today and may barely have reached freezing overnight. This is more like it.
I will never take route 17 South again. I tired of the changing speed limits, stop signs, and traffic signals, although there was more to see than on route 95. I drove through Ridgeland, Georgia, 10 miles under the 35 mph speed limit - my way of thumbing my nose at the town's police department which had unfairly ticketed me the last time I passed this way. I still didn't breathe too easily until I was five or ten miles south of town. They should be ashamed of themselves. The changing speed limits, here 50, there 35, oops it's now 25, then 40 or 45 mph made for a tiring journey. The interstates are starting to look more attractive.
     Schim and MJ took me to their local Elks Club for lunch and we relived old times together.  I will spend a couple of days here before heading south to even warmer climes.  It is wonderful not to have to worry about the freezing weather, although it is frigid in the eyes of the locals.  I am in touch with a golfing buddy of mine who winters here in Orlando and we are considering going to a 50's sock hop with them this evening.  There is a multitude of ways to stay active in Florida.  I will stay in touch where possible.

January 20, 2008 – From Miami, Florida
     After enjoying a few days of 70+ degree weather, both in Orlando and here in Miami, the cold temps have found me again in south Florida. Seems like tonight will fall into the mid-40 degree zone here in Miami, the coldest weather they have experienced in the last six years. But, give me a break, I heard a wind chill warning for south Florida today: from 11:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m., the weather folks are warning that the wind chill may be from 35 to 40 degrees. I'm terrified! After hearing and experiencing the single digit numbers up north, though, I guess I can handle a dangerous wind chill like the forecast threatens.
     I stayed two days with Schim and his significant other, MJ, in Orlando and she is a marvelous hostess, displaying fantastic southern hospitality - though MJ is originally from Wisconsin. Schim was his usual self, counting his pennies, but making a fantastic breakfast for me each day. MJ was sorry to see me go, but Schim couldn't wait to get me out the door. I always enjoy seeing MJ and it was even good to see Schim again to relive previous trips to Spain, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Chile.
     I then traveled south down the center of the state on route 27, brushing closely by Lake Okeechobee which surprised me by the high levees which contain the water, but detract from the view of the lake. Actually, I never saw water as I passed by miles of levees. I arrived in Miami, right smack in the wrong section of town because I remembered a race track near the house of my nephew. Turns out I headed for Hialeah in a bad section of the city and my nephew's abode is not far from Gulfstream Park. I got into town by 4:00 p.m., but it was 6:30 until I met my nephew at his house. I didn't have his cell phone number, so I attempted to find it simply by the address. It appears that not many people know where my nephew lives, which may be good for him. The temperatures have been in the low 70's during the day, but have fallen quickly tonight. Perhaps, the meteorologists will be right with their forecast and the cold breezes will have found me again.
     Just in case, I will head further south tomorrow morning when the high temperatures are supposed to remain in the upper 50's. It has to be warmer in Key West, where my friend has informed me he has a room in which I can lay my head for a few days. I'll let you know how the warm air feels.

January 22, 2009 – From Key West, FL
     No matter how many times I make the trip (yesterday was the fifth for me), I marvel at the drive through the keys. Blue skies, turquoise water, pelicans skimming the waves, and boats everywhere. Yesterday, because of the wind and the chill in the air, the boats were all on trailers or in marinas. It mattered not, the drive was gorgeous and the chill didn't reach me inside Sadie. It was 42 when I left Miami at 10:00 a.m., but by the time I reached Key West at 3:00 p.m. the thermometer read 59 degrees. The locals were freezing. "The coldest weather in several years," they mumbled through their blue lips. With all the beautiful scenery and temperatures at home in the teens and twenties, it didn't seem all that bad to me. I endured.

I stayed last night with the friend of a friend, but it turned out that my host, Tim, and I had been in the Jaycees together many years ago. We had a great time reliving old times. He has lived here for 23 years and is an independent contractor who is married to the longtime manager of the famous Sloppy Joe's nightclub. Reta and Tim invited us to a wake held at Sloppy Joe's for a longtime resident of Key West who was Reta's mentor at the famous pub. Many local characters attended and at least a dozen Ernest Hemingway look-a-likes were in the crowd, since Sloppy Joe's hosts the annual look-a-like contest every year. Drinks were free and the people-watching was world class. My friend and I had a great time and Tim met us later for the best sushi dinner I have ever enjoyed. There is nothing like seeing a place with a local.
     For those who think that I am mooching my way through Florida, fear not. I have been making it a point of buying dinner once or twice for each of my hosts. Most hotels in Key West would have been cheaper than last night's sushi check.
     Today's high temperature will be about 61 degrees, but better things are on the way.  Tomorrow is forecast to be in the low 70's, so I may just hang around a while.  My friend and I would like to do a little fishing and Tim is a local expert, having owned a marina which he sold a couple of years back.  I'll be sure to let you know how they are biting.  Stay warm.

January 24, 2009 - From Key West, FL
     I have rarely done laundry in a public laundromat; actually, I have rarely done laundry, except for the occasional sink full of socks and unmentionables while on the road. I know that I have never done laundry in a laundromat while chickens and roosters strutted cockily through the aisles. That is what I did this morning, however. I finished the process in under an hour while consuming a cubano mixto sandwich (mixed meat) and a Cuban coffee for breakfast.
     The roosters are famous Key West inhabitants, offspring of Cuban cockfighters of the past. These were three beautiful birds with golden head feathers and red combs, proudly controlling the three less-beautiful hens that accompanied their partners everywhere.
Last night was a fantastic treat! I had dinner and stayed the night (well, at least until 9:00 p.m when the music ended) at B.O.'s Fish Market. The market is a shack that is open only on Fridays and Saturdays and a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Barry Cuda, a boogie-woogie piano player extraordinaire, led his trio with trumpet and drums through delightful blues and honky-tonk numbers. Barry surfs his piano on wheels down the street every Friday and wows the crowds with his sometimes bawdy ballads. A limited menu of seafood is available, along with beer or wine. I had a great time with a group of locals and tourists with whom I shared a table. My friends moved along to another bar early in the evening, but I stayed on enthralled with the music. One of the most famous honky-tonk piano players in the world, Bob Seeley, dropped in on Barry and treated every body with three fantastic numbers. At one time there were six hands playing piano to the thrill of the crowd.
Today is warm and sunny and I walked the length of Duvall Street in shorts and tee-shirt, basking in the sun and observing the antics of the cruise passengers that two ships disgorged onto the island. I can't sense that economic times are tough from the numbers of tourists and the money being spent. There must be a recession somewhere else. Actually, the real estate market in Key West has been badly hit. Many properties display "for sale" signs and nothing is moving, according to Tim who is trying to sell a big property of his own.
I need to catch a few more rays. Stay warm!

January 26, 2009
– From Miami, FL
     The return trip through the
Florida Keys was just as exciting as the southward journey. I made the drive Sunday morning, stopping at the Islamorada Fish Co. for lunch while looking over the blue waters of the Gulf and listening to a two-piece band play Jimmy Buffet music on the small beach next to the deck. I am back in Miami with my nephew and his wife, who picked up an illness in my absence. As cold as it was when I left Miami, it is no wonder she picked up a bug.
     This morning, I walked the winding, South Beach promenade beside the wide, white-sand beach lapped by white-crested, turquoise waves for a couple of miles, then back famous Ocean Drive to where Sadie was parked in the public library lot ($1.25/hr.). There was no problem with boredom while walking. I saw many topless sunbathers, but disappointingly they were all male - sorry guys, no topless women during my stroll. There was still plenty to observe: the beautiful art deco hotels in every hue of pastel paint, people walking dogs of all breeds, the scantily-attired exercisers and beachgoers, the beautiful people (jet-setters, no doubt) dining al fresco along Ocean Drive, and the fancy cars cruising the loop with drivers trying desperately to attract attention. It was a thoroughly enjoyable hour of exercise, although warm at 77 degrees in the spectacular sunshine. This is why I come south in the winter time.
     I had a late lunch of sushi and Japanese noodle soup in tiny "Tokyo Box" Restaurant on
Biscayne Boulevard. It was delicious. I then headed to the golf course that abuts my nephew's development and hit some golf balls on the driving range. My back was stiff from my earlier endeavor at the same exercise in Key West, but I need to get ready for an upcoming match in Orlando. I also putted on the putting green and got into a putting contest with another man practicing the same part of his game. He was another retired educational administrator, now able to play golf at his leisure, courtesy of his small pension (he retired at 51) and a little help from his two sons, both of whom play in the NFL. He is in Florida to attend the Super Bowl and we had a great conversation while he took all of four cents from me while gambling on the putting green. I paid him in cash.
     A couple more nights here and I'll head back toward
Orlando to play a golf match at a Disney course with a friend from back home. I might even look up Schim again to see if he misses me.  Ciao!

January 29, 2009 - From Orlando, FL
     Talk about coincidences: several years ago when I last visited my nephew (on my way to Brazil), the Philadelphia 76ers were in town playing the Miami Heat. My nephew, a huge Philadelphia sports team fan, was interested and, though I have little interest in the NBA, we went to the game. I enjoyed the experience. This time, the Philadelphia Flyers were playing the Florida Panthers in an NHL hockey game. My nephew and I both were ice hockey goalies a few years back (OK, more than a few for me), so we went to what turned out to be a very exciting game. Two trips to Miami and two professional sporting events with Philadelphia teams, now that is a coincidence
     The next morning, with my nephew and his wife both at work, I packed my bags and headed west through Alligator Alley (route 41 for those following on a map) and enjoyed a beautiful ride through the Everglades. Many fishermen were plying the stream along the road and I knew the water had to be full of fish, since thousands of waterfowl were also fishing the stream. Egrets, heron, and many other unidentified birds were wading and working for their lunch as I cruised by at 55 to 60 mph. The traffic was very light and I made as quick a trip, and far more scenic, to Naples as I could have made on Interstate 75.
     I had lunch at the city dock in Naples and stood ten minutes in the parking lot facing the sun, enjoying the 82 degree temperature, knowing that folks back home were enduring another ice and snow storm. I then cruised the beautiful downtown area, marveling at the gorgeous architecture and the pedestrian traffic.
     I intended to spend the night in Naples, but then had the notion that I could still make it to Clearwater, spring training home of my beloved Phillies, and see the site where spring training would begin in a week or so. This was not to be, however. My cell phone rang and there was Schim wanting to know when I would be arriving at his house. I was not going to drive that far, but when he whined that he was preparing dinner and had a glass of red wine waiting for me, I told him that I would give it a shot. The poor guy is very lonely and being a sympathetic friend, I pressed onward. I took route 75 north, then Route 4 east and made great time until I reached Orlando. There a nine mile traffic jam slowed my progress and by the time I reached Shim's, he was outside pacing back and forth across the street. It was sad to see. I must admit that he prepared a great dinner of rigatoni and mussels in vodka sauce, so the drive was worth it. This morning he seems quite cheered by my presence. I always stand ready to help a friend. Today, we will tour the town of Mount Dora and the downtown Orlando area. I think Schim wants me to talk him into making the second part of my winter odyssey to Mexico, but that means I would have him around for weeks on end. What sacrifices I make.

February 8, 2009 – From Pennsylvania

     I have been remiss in updating the web page, leaving my readers hanging. Thousands must believe that I am still in Orlando visiting Schim. Suffice it to say that I left Schim in the dust, venturing to a couple of places he recommended despite the fact that he hasn't visited them. Before I departed, I played golf at the Palm Course at Disney with a friend from home who spends most of the winter in Florida. That was a great experience, though I played like I hadn't touched a club in five months, which is true. Actually, shooting 93 on a new course on a breezy day with wet fairways wasn't all that bad.
     I left Orlando (Schim was weepy at my departure) and headed to Tarpon Springs in search of a Greek meal. Tarpon Springs is where the Greek sponge divers settled and there are many fine Greek restaurants lining the waterway. A late dinner overlooking the water gave me time to reflect on the wonderful hospitality shown by my friends in Florida. Schim and his significant other, MJ, were fantastic, providing room and sharing meals and drinks. My nephew and his wife in Miami were very welcoming and I got to know them even better during my five day stay (two down and three on the way back). Reta and Tim were exceptionally hospitable during my two days with them in Key West. I especially enjoyed the meal prepared by Tim and two other male house guests from my hometown - an antipasto salad, fantastic, homemade guacamole, and grouper teriyaki with delicious herbed rice. I even enjoyed washing the dishes to contribute to the feast.
I left Tarpon Springs after only one night and headed north on the Gulf Coast to Cedar Key, where Schim heard there was a touch of old Florida. I had been disappointed with the development in Florida, concrete, blacktop, and traffic everywhere, so Schim suggested Cedar Key. I loved it! Cedar Key is basically a fishing village with bait shops, crab shacks, a small marina, a beautiful, concrete, fishing pier, a couple of restaurants, one small grocery store, and a couple of very small hotels. I took a room in an RV campground which had eight, beautifully appointed small rooms which were immaculately clean.
     I found one local establishment, generously called a sports bar, open on Sunday and watched half of the Super Bowl there. This was not a non-smoking establishment, so at half-time I retired to my room and watched the Steelers finish off the Cardinals. I might have stayed another day, because the sun was warm on the fishing pier where I watched fisherman catching sheephead - beautiful, heavy, silver fish with bold black stripes. Some were probably as large as five pounds and the anglers told me they were delicious. When I awoke the following morning, however, it was raining and I decided not to sit in my room reading during an all day rain. I got breakfast at the local's favorite breakfast spot and was able to order sheephead with my eggs and grits. The fishermen were right, the fish was delicious, although I would have preferred them grilled rather than fried.

     I drove to Gainsville, through the University of Florida to see the home of the Florida Gators and watched students traveling to classes while attempting to stay dry in the steady rain. I pointed Sadie north on Interstate 75 (I had experienced enough two-lane roads) and didn't stop, except for an occasional roadside rest break, until I reached Macon, GA. An overnight there at a Motel 6 and I headed for Atlanta to see Stone Mountain, GA, a tourist attraction I had never seen. I can officially report that that is what it was - a stone mountain. A huge chunk of granite, rising surprisingly and almost devoid of trees from the relatively flat surrounding countryside. I paid the $8.00 admission fee to drive close enough to see the relatively unimpressive confederate generals on horseback carved into the mountain.

     Sadie and I turned our attention to exiting GA, passing through South and North Carolina, and getting to interstate 81, heading northeast. We pushed on until almost dusk, when at the top of Fancy Gap in the Appalachians, a snow shower caused almost white-out conditions. In ten miles, the snow stopped completely, but on the top of the next mountain it started again and, with temperatures below freezing, started accumulating on the highway. I tried to reach Roanoke, VA, in the hopes that I wouldn't face drifting snow in the morning, but I tired at about 7:00 p.m. after following a salt truck for an hour and called it a night in Salem, VA. An evening meal, a heavy night's sleep for an exhausted body, and I headed home the following morning, arriving around 3:00 p.m.

     It was an interesting trip, although the frigid temps on my arrival home made me wonder about my sanity in driving north two days ahead of schedule. I also learned that my son and grandchildren have postponed their trip home from Europe due to the trying economic conditions his company is facing. They will return during their Easter break instead. Seems I could have gone on one of my extended winter adventures after all, instead of the two shorter trips I planned.
     I will remain home for another nine days, then head to Mexico. After much urging and dire warnings by family and friends, I have done serious research on the dangers of traveling through Mexico. Currently, the drug violence is pretty unpredictable, so I have decided to restructure my trip. I am now planning to fly to Houston, then on to San Jose del Cabo on the Baja. After a few days in San Jose, where I will make time to visit famous Cabo San Lucas and soak up some sun, I will take a bus to La Paz where I will spend a few weeks. I could change my mind and remain in San Jose longer if I find inexpensive lodging and the town is as interesting as I expect. I promise to update more regularly in Mexico where internet cafes are much more accessible.....

February 18, 2009 - From San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
     Hola!!  Now this is more like it!! The temperature must be 80 degrees and a little humid, but with a gorgeous breeze that made the long flight worth the trip. This small town, little sister to the more famous Cabo San Lucas thirty or so miles to the west, still retains the flavor of old Mexico while having a tourist population still a little too large for me. I plan on visiting Cabo San Lucas for the first time tomorrow morning and I am expecting high rise hotels, tourist traps everywhere, and way too much glitz for me.
     I arrived right on time in the Los Cabos airport last night at 8:05 p.m., expecting to land in the last rays of daylight, but it was pitch black when the wheels of the small jet (sixty passenger capacity) gently kissed the runway after a two hour and fifty minute flight from Houston. A fifteen minute, ten dollar, taxi ride to downtown San Jose del Cabo and I was deposited by the cabbie at a hotel that several people, including the cabbie, told me was inexpensive, clean, and nice. It was probably all of those things, but it was also closed for renovations. So there I stood in the pitch black, with no reservations, no taxi, looking for an inexpensive hotel. I tried three different ones in my meandering around the town’s central plaza, but all appeared to rent rooms by the hour to ladies working the area and were too seedy for my tastes. I stopped a couple of gringo ladies (a husband was on the other side of the street) and inquired about their hotel. They were staying in a "Boutique Hotel" (their terminology) called Tropicana which was just around the corner. I know the term "boutique hotel" meant expensive, but as 10:00 p.m. was rapidly approaching, I opted to pay the extra dinero and took a boutique room in the boutique hotel. It cost me $119, but I figured I would wait until daylight to find a less expensive place to lay my head. Since there is a two hour time difference from home, my body was feeling a trifle weary after a full day’s travels and 18 hours without sleep, except for the hour long, Xanax-induced nap on the first leg of my journey.
     I awoke bright and early after a great night’s sleep, had a great shower, and consumed the boutique continental breakfast that came with the room. A plate with five different sliced tropical fruits, a glass of orange juice, toast, and unlimited coffee made for a great start to the day. I hailed a cab parked in front of the hotel and told him my dilemma, needing a cheaper place to lay my head. He took me to six or eight different hotels, including two near the beach and marina fifteen minutes away. I selected the Yuca Inn which is very basic, but close to the central plaza, where I negotiated a price of about $165 for seven night’s stay. A boutique hotel it ain’t, but the price is right, the people are friendly, and the shower has hot water all the time. What a deal!
     As usual, I am finding the pace problematic. It takes a while to slow down to the turtle’s pace in these tropical locales, but I am up to the task. I was thinking about heading to Cabo San Lucas today, but came to my senses in time to put it off until mañana. I plan to spend a week reducing my stress level and slowing things down here in San Jose del Cabo, before heading north. The current plan will take me to Todos Santos on the Pacific Coast, halfway to La Paz, one of my favorite places in Mexico. Todos Santos is the home of the original Hotel California and is reputed to make the best margaritas in the world. I feel a responsibility to my readers to sample a few of those and report my findings.  Adios!

February 20, 2009
– From San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
     I opened my eyes in bed, facing the huge window pointed southwest toward the ocean 10 minutes away. I must have been facing the other way yesterday morning when I awoke or I awakened a little later, because I didn’t see the gorgeous morning sky.  This morning, the clearest pale blue sky that I have ever seen, painted liberally with almost transparent, pink clouds, started my day with a beauty even artists can’t replicate. It was awesome. I must remember to return to watch the sunset from the same vantage point today.
     Each day is an adventure wherever you awaken and yesterday didn’t disappoint on the Baja. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in a cafeteria bordering the square, joined by a retired, park ranger from California who is staying in the room next to mine during a three-day getaway. He validates my contention that there are a few other hardy, frugal sleepers who choose to spend their money on more important matters than bedrooms with bath. He differs from me in his choice of diet, however, preferring nuts, berries, fruit, tofu, un-fried Japanese cuisine, and never, ever processed foods, especially sugar. He starts his day early with yoga exercises and walks a few miles after every intake of food. I met him while he was sunning bare-chested beside the empty, leaking pool in our courtyard and I certainly envied his slim figure. Though he was close to my age, his physique reminded me of mine when I was discharged from the U.S. Army some 50 years ago. As a matter of fact, he weighs now what I did then and we are about the same height. His conversation level was about as exciting as his food choices, however, and I bid him adieu to head for the internet center, then Cabo San Lucas. Perhaps he returned to his room to chant his mantra. I didn’t see him the rest of the day and he will be departing for California before I return to the hotel from this internet center today.
noon yesterday, after checking my emails, I caught a school bus look-a-like at the town square and took it about a mile and a half up the hill to Highway 1, where I waited for another bus headed for Cabo San Lucas. It is amazing how patient you become while sitting under a bus shade waiting for the next bus. You have to shed typical American impatience and it is helpful to adopt the demeanor of the locals waiting beside you. I did that pretty well.
     I entered a standing-room-only bus, mostly full of locals heading to work, but with a generous sprinkling of tourists on board. I stood most of the 45 minute ride, but as people were dropped off at resorts along the way, some seats opened and I moved to the very last seat on the bus, but actually sat in the center between the two seats on either side of the rear platform. There was no cushion on my seat, actually it wasn’t a seat, but it felt good after standing so long. Shortly after sitting, the bus made another stop and a large, young Mexican man, weighing at least 300 pounds, and carrying a large duffel bag moved to the rear in preparation for exiting at the next stop. Suddenly, with the bus at highway speed, the man appeared to fall down with his head almost hitting my knee. He appeared to fall strangely and I finally noticed that he had fallen through an access panel in the floor onto the bus' rear-end with the universal joint spinning rapidly around his feet. I saw the universal spinning as three of us pulled him out of the floor while he pushed with his arms. He had a series of parallel grease marks on his jeans, stained by the spinning universal joint, but miraculously escaped any injury.
I think the young man’s weight helped cause him to fall through the plate, but I think it was his girth that kept him from plunging completely through the hole. The bus was old, had no floor covering left on the floors, but I had failed to look down as I took my seat earlier. I might have suffered the same fate and not been as lucky. The man sitting next to me, a native Mexican now a US citizen living with his wife in San Francisco, told me he heard of a child falling through an access panel and being beheaded. It was a trifle unnerving, but all part of the Mexican experience where safety does not always come first. I’ll be stepping around the trap doors on buses from now on and recommend that you do the same.
     Cabo San Lucas was just as I had envisioned, although condensed in a smaller area than expected. McDonald’s, the Hard Rock Cafe, Señor Frog, and a host of familiar chains dotted the main street around the marina area. I strolled the marina and settled on a table at La Galeria, where I had lunch of ceviche, saltines, and lemonade at the inflated price of ten dollars. I enjoyed the people watching and further enjoyed a stroll down one side of the giant marina full of boats of every kind. The side I strolled was lined with local craftsmen selling their wares and I was even given a coupon by a lovely lady who said her studio had the loveliest massage therapists in town. I took the coupon but passed on the massage.
     I found the "Giggling Marlin" the most creative bar/restaurant name;
it had a huge, artificial, grinning marlin  protruding from the front of the establishment, the smile full of monstrous, humanoid teeth. When I forward a few pictures, I think you will find it creative, as well. "Cabo Wabo" was probably my second favorite and with names like that I think you get the feel for Cabo San Lucas. This is a party town!!! Wahoo!! If they ever stop serving cerveza and tequila, this town will close down, but in the meantime, I’ll bet the wild nightlife is something to behold. I was on the bus heading home by 3:30 p.m., pretty confident that I had selected the more preferable Cabo (cape) in which to spend a week. It is comforting to know that, if I ever get the urge to party and can stay awake that long, the festivities are only 45 minutes away.
     Dinner was spent at a classy boutique hotel bar across the street from my Yuca Inn ($23/night). I thought it would be a bargain, since they served a complimentary tapa with each, carefully-measured drink. I had three, small, carefully-measured glasses of wine and three tapas and the bill was $30 (dollars). Oops, I’ll have to rethink that approach to dinner tonight. I had great conversations at the beautiful bar, however, with people from
Minnesota (go figure, they headed to the warmth of the Baja), New York City, and Arizona. It was the Arizonian who told me that he and his wife are staying in a room at the hotel that included a full-sized hot tub and he only paid $300/night. He maintained that the suite would have cost thousands in Phoenix. I doubt that I will find out. I’ll try to keep you posted on today’s adventures.  Hasta luego!

February 23, 2009 - From San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
     What a day Saturday was for me here on the Baja! It was without doubt one of the best days that I have ever had traveling. Stupendous!!  Why so, you ask?? It began Friday afternoon when I decided to spend the $6.00 and take a cab to the local marina. I wanted to see what fish were being caught so that I could convince my brother or other fisherman friends to "come on down!" There were big fish being offloaded everywhere from the pangas (small fishing boats 22 - 26 ft. long). There were many big dorado (mahi mahi) and huge yellow fin tuna. What a catch!
     As I walked down the dock, a guy approaching me greeted me like we were old friends. It turns out it was the guy from
New Jersey who sat across the aisle from me on the plane from Houston. He wanted to know if I had fished yet and I said no. He said, "I’m going tomorrow, why don’t you come with me?" At $220/boat plus tips, I wouldn’t have paid the tariff myself, but to split the costs?  I jumped right in and said, "Yeah, I'll go!" He said, "Be here tomorrow morning between 6:30 and 6:45." I told him I would make it, then headed back to my humble abode and climbed into the sack early.
     I showed up at 6:15 a.m. on the gorgeous new docks, built for the fishermen who owned the beach rights by the developer who is building a golf course, a marina, and pricey housing nearby. I was ready to go. It was an exciting, busy place at dawn with fishermen, captains, mates, gulls, mergansers, loons, egrets, and many, almost-tame pelicans completing the busy, early morning picture. The guy from Jersey never showed, though, and by 8:00 Carlos, the 21 year-old captain scheduled to guide us, was wrapping things up to go home. The fishing broker asked if I wanted to go alone and that they would only charge me $150. "Let’s go," said I. How often am I going to get a chance to fish famous Los Cabos?
We started out running wide-open along the shore, about 200 yards beyond the breaking waves, in the 26 foot super panga which had an old, 90-horse Mercury moving us right along. Then, about two miles from the mouth of the inlet we had exited, but still only a few hundred yards off-shore, an alarm went off on the motor and in a couple of minutes the motor quit. Carlos changed batteries (the backup was hidden under one of the seats), but neither turned the motor over enough to get it started. So, we fished. Nothing biting for an hour or so, then a boat happened by and tried to help us. Nothing doing, but they had a cell phone and loaned it to us so that Carlos could call the boat owner’s wife (the owner himself was captaining another of his seven pangas). "No problema," the wife would come to get us, but like the guy from New Jersey, she never showed, either. We had no phone, no radio, and, as I was to find out a few minutes later, no rope, no paddles, nor much of anything for emergencies, but the other boat sped off, ostensibly to catch the big tuna that were running the day before. Welcome to Mexico! I suggested taking the engine cover off, which Carlos did. The starter seemed to be smoking, so Carlos hit it a few times with the shark (and dorado and loon) beater - a hefty wooden club. Finally, as he wiggled the battery cables and I turned the engine over, the motor started. We ran a total of about three miles along the coast until Carlos liked the water. It all looked gorgeous to me and birds were feeding everywhere.
We battled the birds for our bait (live sardinas that cost me $20 on the dock) for quite a while. The gulls would take the bait as it floated away from the boat (no sinkers on the line) and, if the bait went below the gulls' diving capabilities, the loons would dive and take the bait off. I hooked my first strike and Carlos soon caught the second. Mine had a wingspan of about five feet (a pelican) and Carlos’s gull was smaller, but meaner when we got him along side the boat. Carlos finally belted a loon really hard in the middle of the back with the shark beater and that seemed to discourage the critters. All of a sudden, Carlos hooked a dorado and handed me the rod. It took me about 20 minutes to land the 20 - 30 pound, purple and yellow fluorescently-gorgeous creature. Carlos said, "You have your dinner!" I was thrilled.
     We fished far too closely for me with our sputtering motor around a pile of rocks with sizeable waves crashing over them, but we picked up six or seven groupers weighing one or two pounds while the engine idled smoothly. I also caught a fish Carlos described as a "woman," but I never learned what it was called in English. He said it was delicious, though, and threw it under the forward seat. I also caught a small pompano which Carlos said was his favorite eating fish - a great fighter, too, for its size and I would have released it, but Carlos threw it in the cooler (no ice, but I guess it was cooler in there). I was in seventh heaven, enjoying all of the action until Carlos decided to move back closer to the shore away from those dangerous rocks to try to pick up a few sierra (which turned out to be spanish mackerel). Before we got to the intended fishing grounds, the motor quit again - big time! We were going to wash ashore; it seemed inevitable. For a while it appeared that we would crash into another pile of rocks that was being bashed by breakers, so Carlos and I paddled like crazy. I used the bailing-bucket/urinal/plastic, half- bottle to paddle and Carlos paddled like crazy with the five gallon bait bucket normally used to dump sea water on the live bait swimming on the forward floor of the boat. We barely got by the rocks, but the motor still wouldn’t start. I started preparing for the beaching.

     I took out my under-pants wallet and tied it inside my floating fishing hat, purchased last year to fight off the South African sun. I put my wallet, camera, and cash in the top pocket of the backpack I brought along to hold my shirt and jacket after the morning chill wore off. I was hoping to at least keep the top of the backpack dry by abandoning ship in water shallow enough to protect the valuables. I was ready to go over the side. Carlos stripped off his shirt and jeans, leaving him in a pair of gym shorts and as ready as I was to abandon ship. There was a real danger of the boat rolling over in the pounding surf. A huge swell, not quite breaking at the top, lifted us up and we floated sideways over it - whew. We started paddling like crazy to turn the boat bow-first to ride the next wave when all of a sudden another boat headed for us after being waved down by the few strollers walking the long, beautiful beach. I would seriously estimate that we were no more than three to five minutes from washing ashore when we were rescued. Heaven only knows whether we would have gone in bow first or flipped over when a breaker hit us broadside, because we were having little effect turning the boat with our paddling. I figured we were going to roll.

     Of course, the first boat there also had no ropes and no paddles to lend us, but they did come along side, hold our starboard side, and back us away from the dangerous breakers. Then, another boat from our marina approached, had a rope, and started to slowly tow us toward port. Carlos baited a hook for me while we were being towed and said, "Let’s fish."  We were being towed at perfect trolling speed and two or three minutes later, there it was - a strike on my rod. I hooked a rooster fish while being towed ashore! I am not creative enough to make this stuff up. I hooked, then caught, after another 20-minute fight, a rooster fish (a special, full-of-fight, hard-to-catch trophy) while we were being towed. Amazing, amazing, amazing!! The tow boat dropped our rope and started fishing, too, as did another boat in our area and both of them hooked a rooster fish, although only one of them boated it. Mine was considerably bigger, however.
After the rooster fish episode, the boat from our marina gave us a spare battery (our original and the backup were apparently both dead) and the motor started, but sputtered the rest of the way back. I would estimate that we were without power half of the time we were fishing. But, get this - we had the biggest dorado and the biggest rooster fish caught that day. We also caught more fish than most other boats with more fishermen aboard. Everybody was checking our catch, tourists were taking pictures, and I acted the part of a proud, yet humble fisherman. I was just pleased to have reached the marina safely. Only two, relatively small, yellow-fin tuna were caught all day, any fewer than the day prior. I tipped Carlos $25 and the guy who cleaned my fish $10, so my trip cost $205, counting the sardinas. Worth every penny and, wait, I have pictures to prove every word of this - the catch, the towing, the nearby beach, etc. I almost didn’t believe the event as it was unfolding myself, so I snapped photos at every break in the action.
     I’m not sure my heart can take any more excitement like this: the guy falling through the bus floor, the almost beaching of the boat, and the dorado and rooster fish. Whoa, baby!!

     I returned to the Yuca Inn with two bags of filets (I gave most of the grouper and pompano away), but what can I do with all of this fish? I asked Yuca (the hotel manager’s nickname) who would cook it for me and he pointed upstairs to a palapa-covered (thatched roof) restaurant I had walked underneath each evening when I left for dinner. Believe it or not, the Parisian-trained chef was thrilled to grill it for me for lunch and provided a salad and garlic mashed potatoes to go with it.  When I asked for the check, the only thing on the bill was for a coke and a bottle of water. I gave them $10 dollars for their efforts, which they attempted to decline, but I insisted. Of course, I left the rest of the mahi-mahi (dorado) with them and there was a profit to be made, but what generosity and warmth they showed me.

     Before I knew it, a group of young (in their 20's and 30's) people started gathering in the tiny restaurant. These youngsters were handsome folks, a few Americans, but mostly Mexicans, and 3/4 of them were girls (beautiful all). It seems they heard I was there, still unshaven, but showered after the fishing, and they gathered to meet and greet me. Right, that is the first stretching-of-truth in today's update. They were actually gathering for an African dance class next door, which was complete with drums. After befriending them (I love beautiful things), I went and watched the dance for about five minutes, but my heart was having trouble with the excitement of it all and I left and headed to the internet center. Everybody - chef, waiter, pretty girls and handsome guys - invited me to come back that night to have a few (very inexpensive) drinks with them. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. They mentioned that it was a community that gathered there and they took me in. The evening group had many fewer young ladies, although all had eyes for me, of course. We were joined by two young Italian men who were accompanied by a beautiful, blonde, Croatian, young lady.  The Italians were off-road racers and race organizers and were checking out the Baja before heading for
Guatemala. The three Europeans were not enamored of Los Cabos, especially Cabo San Lucas and its tourist glitz. They preferred the isolation of the desert and the off-road, but it made for a great evening of conversation.

     I wonder if it was the one day growth of beard that attracted all the ladies?   Hasta luego!

February 25, 2009 – From San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
     It has come to this after little more than a week on the Baja: a couple of hours reading and returning emails at the internet center, reading cheap, though very marketable, used, coverless, detective novels three or four hours a day, and dawdling over meals practicing my atrophied Spanish language skills on poor, but friendly wait staff. There is not a lot of excitement on the Baja as I know it. Of course, were I to spend a little cash and rent a mode of transportation: car, four-wheeler, scooter, or bicycle, I would improve my options. But, that is not the point of this winter's adventure. Especially in these economic conditions, it is important to reduce spending and still enjoy the change in culture. While it is a trifle boring, I am suffering through the boredom in daytime temperatures of 80 degrees that begin with morning lows in the 70's, while the home folks celebrate the 50-degree, high temperature forecast for this weekend.

     I had another birthday yesterday, spent as described above with no celebration, but the numbers are getting such that little fanfare is warranted. Perhaps, I should check Mexican plastic surgeons for facelifts and liposuction, but somehow I take pride in every wrinkle and the now-shrinking love-handles. Ah, yes, with the conservation of wealth comes the natural restriction of caloric intake. If only I could increase the exercise regimen, the inches would certainly fade away more rapidly. Alas, I am still suffering from a metatarsal problem on one foot, so walking exercise is only possible every other day. If only I had the temerity, on the off-days I would head in my bathing suit for the pool in the hotel where I stayed during my first night in town, but I am not angling for spending time in a Mexican jail for theft of services. They are working on the pool in my tiny hotel, but even when it is finished, I would need to swim 1,000 laps to get a workout. At least I will be able to escape the afternoon heat by lolling in the deep end, rather than reading those cheap novels under the ceiling fan in my room.

     I probably should describe my room a little better. It is of decent size with all of the class and qualities of most
Pennsylvania deer camps, but with three tropical beach prints, a single and a double bed, and mirrors in the bedroom and bath. The floor is of polished concrete poured in at least three different batches and starting to crumble slightly in a couple of lightly traveled locations. There is a small refrigerator, great for keeping bottled water, tomato - celery juice for morning vitamin swallowing, and a diet coke for emergency thirst-quenching. The orange juice I had been ordering with breakfast seemed expensive, so when I saw the tomato juice at the corner grocery store, I bought it to cut my breakfast expenses. Gosh, I'm starting to sound like Schim, but it's the economy, right?
     The bathroom is not the smallest that I have endured (nothing could be smaller than in
Dubrovnik last winter) during my winter travels, but it isn't far behind. It has tiled walls and flooring, but only a small ledge separates the floor of the shower from the floor of the bathroom, permitting water to spray over and under the shower curtain during my morning ablutions, wetting most of the bathroom floor thereafter. Timing is of the essence in morning processes. I have had hot water for showers, except for two days, including the day I returned from the fishing trip. My hot water was restored after I mentioned the cold showers to Yuca who quickly turned up the thermostat on the small water heater outside my room. I shower quickly and early, knowing that the small heater heats water for all three rooms in my tiny building. There are some amenities, like the ceiling fan and the blue, cracked, cushioned, toilet seat, but those amenities are negated by the sign over the toilet paper dispenser that reminds guests to drop ALL used paper in the trash can next to the hopper. I have endured the same in many third world countries, including Costa Rica and Greece, where sewage systems apparently can't handle toilet tissue. It seems much worse than it is, however, so you just go with the flow, so to speak, and fold completely and carefully to reduce noxious fumes from lingering all day.

     That pretty well describes my humble abode where I have signed on for five more days, awaiting any visitors from the
. If none show up by Monday, I will depart by bus for Todos Santos where the Eagles made Hotel California an icon.  Adios. Stay warm!

February 28, 2009 - From San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
     Who knew that Sammy Hagar, a musician formerly with the rock group Van Halen, started the Cabo Wabo nightclub?? And furthermore, who cared? All I vaguely knew about Van Halen was that a guy with that last name and the first name Eddie had married a gorgeous, young Hollywood starlet (Valerie Bertinelli). I didn't associate that band with the Cabo Wabo Cantina in San Lucas and I had never heard of a tequila by the same name, also started by front-man Hagar whose name was completely unfamiliar. My eldest son and my daughter both recognized the significance of the name, however, and called it to my attention. It is amazing how travel broadens one's knowledge base! My daughter requested a Cabo Wabo tee-shirt, so I headed back on the buses for another ride into Cabo San Lucas yesterday. I carefully stepped over the floor access panels when the bus was rolling and experienced no dangerous events during the trip there and back, although my bus-mates and I were serenaded by a talented musician and singer who was seemingly doing God's work. He played a guitar and the harmonica that was on a brace around his neck and sang at least one song that sounded like a Christian song. He also sang La Bamba and a couple other songs quite well and I was surprised at how many of my rather poor bus-mates joined me in contributing to his cause, whatever it was.
     I had another ceviche for lunch in the marina in Cabo San Lucas and was again put-off by the shills outside every establishment trying to lure customers inside, whether for lunch, a margarita, to look at silver jewelry, or whatever. I was right in my first impression of San Lucas; it was way too glitzy and touristy for me. I did see a new drink advertised on the wall of one bar, however. It was called a Mamarita, so called because it was the "mother of all margaritas." It was a 40-ounce beverage featuring mucha tequila. I took a photo of the Mamarita sign and, now realizing its significance, also snapped a few photos at the Cabo Wabo Cantina. I will send them along in the next batch of pictures.

     Last evening, I visited the little overhead restaurant at my hotel and the chef and bartender wanted to know where I had been. I must not have stopped in the night before and they noticed. I met a wonderful young couple from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada last night and we had a delightful conversation. She is a nurse and he a mortgage broker and they travel to Los Cabos pretty regularly with their three, young children. They were alone last night, so we had time to chat. Dave and Bobbi Jo were drinking a Michelada, a drink of which I had never heard. It is one-third lemon and tomato juice, salt, pepper, soy sauce, Tabasco, and two-thirds beer. I tasted Dave's drink and the combination effectively killed the taste of beer which I abhor. Dave also mentioned that in Alberta many people drink a Clam Eye as their beverage of choice. That's half Clamato juice, half beer, which would probably also kill the taste of beer for me.
     Rafy, the handsome, young, Mexican bartender, let me taste a tamarind, vodka martini he had mixed for others and it tasted pretty good, so I had a couple of those while we were talking. It didn't surprise me that folks from Alberta would escape their winters whenever possible, but I have never visited that part of Canada, so I need to get that on my calendar soon. If Dave and Bobbie Jo are any indication, the people are amazingly friendly.  Adios!


March 3, 2009 – From Todos Santos, Mexico

     The bus ride to Todos Santos took an hour and a half as expected, but the level of comfort in the bus was not up to typical first class bus standards in
Mexico. There was a movie, a Japanese chick flick about geishas dubbed in Spanish, but most of the window curtains were drawn making sightseeing very difficult. My assigned seat - I was chastised by the very authoritarian driver for sitting in a different seat - would not stay in the full, upright position, so I spent the trip almost horizontal. I would get occasional peeks at the Sonoran Desert through which we passed, as well as a fleeting glimpse of the very blue Pacific Ocean, but the ride was not as comfortable or as beautiful as I had envisioned. There is another bus line that runs from La Paz to San Jose del Cabo and I was impressed with their equipment as I passed their depot each day while walking to the internet center in San Jose. They do not stop in Todos Santos, however, so I couldn't take that bus company on the trip here. I will most definitely take that bus line (Peninsula) on the trip back from La Paz to San Jose.
     Hotel California is a beautiful place. I took several pictures of the hotel which I will send with the next batch of photos, but they wanted $119/night for a single. When I reacted negatively to the price, the owner, a Canadian woman who was working the front desk, said, "If you are looking for something a little cheaper, the hotel across the street has rooms for 400 pesos." Now, that is being responsive to a client's needs! She invited me to dine later at her hotel and I ran with her suggestion. The hotel across the street, situated above and around a laundry, had a room much nicer than that in which I stayed in San Jose, so I took the room for only 350 pesos, around $25 at current exchange rates. The Canadian must have quoted me the double rate.
     Reception at the hotel was in the laundry and while I was there I priced having my laundry done. I won't find any more convenient laundry service, that's for certain. I dropped off my laundry bag, which was becoming increasingly full, and they promised that I would have it back in the morning. The price was a little more than $5.00, but if I would let them do the darks with the whites, I could have gotten it done for less than $3.00. I decided to splurge and have the darks done separately - big spender.
Wow, a firm bed, an air conditioner on a timer, fully tiled floors throughout, and four-channel TV reception, albeit all in Spanish. This is luxurious. I had lunch at the Hotel California, pretty full at 3:00 p.m. with tourists from many lands. I heard Italian and French spoken and people nearby spoke with a British accent. This hotel is an international icon; the Eagles really put it on the map. The food was good, too, but I ate a little heavy for lunch with shrimp and scallop tagliatelle in a Baja California chardonnay, dill sauce. It was very good, but the special board neglected to mention that they would add heavy cream to the sauce, too. I forced myself to eat the rich dish, despite my diet, but I made a commitment to myself to forego dinner. I am dedicated to this new, self-designed diet which basically reduces the volume of food I consume. After lunch, I found a nearby internet center and checked email. It was getting really hot and my tee shirt sticky, so I decided to take an afternoon nap in the air conditioning of my room.
     When I returned to the Hotel California for dinner a little after 7:00 p.m., the place was very dark, but I wanted to try one of the famous margaritas, so I entered. Only candles were lit in the place and I thought it strange, only to find out that they had a major electrical problem on which were frantically working. The margarita was, absolutely, the worst margarita that I have had in Mexico. It was too strong and too tart and I was glad that I ordered it with rocks. I waited for the rocks to weaken the drink, which was not consumable without some global warming to dilute it, and I needed something to munch on while the melting process was taking place. So much for my dietary discipline, I ordered an appetizer - a small, half-avocado with scallops and octopus - to help make the drink palatable, although I'm certain the snack added a few calories. I left the Hotel bar around 8:30 and headed back to my room, with full electricity, hot water, television, etc. The poor folks who paid $119/night may not have had hot water this morning. Sometimes, one just has to have a little luck.
     After breakfast this morning at an almost-American, coffee shop around the corner from my hotel, I wandered the beautiful, old, little town of Todos Santos. The architecture is different than most towns that I have seen in the Baja, with old, brick structures that give the place a colonial air. A man from La Paz, who was sitting at the next table at breakfast, told me that Todos Santos has much better restaurants than La Paz; it even has an Italian restaurant rated the best restaurant in all of Mexico. I had decided that this town was too small to warrant an additional night, but hearing about the Santa Fe Restaurant has, quite naturally, changed my mind. I will dine there tonight and give you an evaluation manana.  Hasta luego!

March 4, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
      I should have learned by now not to brag about having good luck. Nothing will change your luck quicker than talking about how good things have been breaking for you and that certainly was the case with me in Todos Santos yesterday. I know that you were expecting an evaluation of the best restaurant in all of Mexico, Santa Fe, but that was not to be. I booked another night at the clean little ¨motel¨ across the street from Hotel California, then decided to find the Santa Fe Restaurant, so that I wouldn't have to struggle finding it at dinner time. It was easy to find, but so was the sign on the door that said, "Closed Martes," and sure enough, it was Tuesday. Not wanting to admit that my life is centered around food, I decided to eat in the consensus, second-best restaurant, "Los Adobes," and not stay over another night to try the Santa Fe. "Los Adobes" was beautiful, with the most beautiful desert garden I think that I have ever seen, and the ceviche (raw fish cooked in lime juice) was delicious, but I wasn't really hungry so I ate nothing else.
     I have another confession: I am tired of margaritas! I was never a big fan of the drink, but the bad one at the Hotel California did the trick. I am usually a red wine drinker, but in the winter time I indulge in an occasional Crown Royal and water. I did see Crown Royal bottles in San Jose, but only succumbed one time. It just doesn’t feel right drinking Crown Royal when the temperature is 90 degrees. If I don't drink either of those drinks, I am pretty much an “umbrella drink” aficionado and last night I drank two, yes two, piña coladas, although they were served with a straw, so there was no umbrella. It was a great relief to not force a margarita.
     That is not all the bad luck, however. I had a great bus ride to La Paz, where I had driven before on a previous venture down the Baja, where I planned to find the small hotel in which I had stayed on my last visit to town. Bus seats were free choice, not assigned, for the 75-minute ride and I jumped in the front seat across from the driver to watch the Sonoran Desert pass by. There was an American movie with Spanish subtitles playing on the TV overhead as I entered, but I was interested in the view. The seat locked upright, this bus was air-conditioned, and the ride went very smoothly. I even took a few photos of the desert, especially of the Spanish language road signs urging the use of seat belts, cautioning against throwing trash, and keeping the left lane (most of the ride was on a four-lane highway) for passing only. When driving in foreign countries, it is important to learn what the road signs say. I'll share some of those photos with you when I find a place to copy a disc for me. I seem to enjoy trying to decipher the message.
     I found the Malecon (seaside promenade) easily from the bus terminal and headed in the right direction toward my hotel. I wasn't at all confident that it was the right direction while I walked, however, but finally, after about 15-minutes of hiking with my backpack and pulling my suitcase, there it was - the street I remembered from before. The hotel was right where I remembered it, but quaint, it ain’t! The last time I stayed there I remembered how quaint and inexpensive the place was, with a TV in the common area and basic rooms in hallways deep in the bowels of the hotel, surrounding the inner courtyard. At $27/night, the place was still inexpensive, but nothing has been done in maintenance since I was here last and the place was barely tolerable five years ago. The desk clerk showed me a room for under $20, but I wouldn't have stayed there on a bet, what with mildew or mold much in evidence on one of the walls. The room he showed me for $27 had been renovated, which made it more expensive. Renovated??? Three walls have been painted with a gloss paint and there is some mildew on the other wall, probably explaining why they didn't paint it, and it is so dingy even I can't stay there for any length of time and that is saying something. I took the "renovated" room, however, so that I had a place to keep my bags while I looked for other quarters. After stopping in three hotels, I found a place closer to the heart of the Malecon's tourist area, only a half-block from the beach, but it was more expensive. The room has two beds, a single and double, a balcony, and some decent lighting, all for $30/night. OK, things did not happen exactly as planned, but I will spend tonight in the dingy room and move tomorrow to the new digs. The past 24-hours weren't my most fortunate, but all things have worked out and La Paz is as beautiful as I remembered. I am now at the beach. I can stroll the Malecon for more than a mile, gaze upon the turquoise water, and watch the sailboats dance upon the waves. I will call this home for at least 10 days. Hasta luego!

March 6, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     Mold everywhere!! While I made it through the night in the dingy room I had rented to secure my backpack and suitcase while I searched for better quarters, I wouldn't want to sleep there again. The sheets were so thin and threadbare that I felt itchy all night, thinking how close my body was to those who had slept there before me. The morning shower was no better! I looked up as the morning light that came in the small ventilation window helped to brighten the dark bathroom, enabling me to see a cloud of black, ugly, growing mold on the ceiling above the shower. This was really gross. The water was hot, the pressure and flow of water great, but the huge, growing cloud of black mold prevented me from feeling clean, even after the shower. I couldn't get out of that place soon enough.
     My new room is much cleaner with no mold evident, well, only the tiniest of dark specks on the ceiling of the shower, a place I will now check before renting any room anywhere. My room is on the fourth floor in a building with no elevator, so there is a built-in exercise program at work while I stay here. The sheets on the bed are wonderfully full and clean, there is a TV set with four Spanish channels, and life is good. It would be better if I had some kind of reading light to help while I am reading, but I brought a small, book, reading light that will get me through to slumber land most nights.
     Huitlacoche. I said huitlacoche. No, the proper response is not “Gesundheit!” For those of you who watch the travel channel, you will recognize huitlacoche as the black mold that grows on corn here in Mexico, considered a delicacy by top chefs. I had risotto last night with octopus and huitlacoche, the first time I had seen the unusual ingredient on a menu. I thought that the octopus dominated the dish, so I can't really tell you exactly what huitlacoche tastes like, but it made the dish black, almost like my favorite foreign dish - squid or octopus in its ink. I'll continue to scan menus looking for another taste of the stuff, so I can more accurately describe its taste. Hang in there with me - mold is everywhere.
     By the way, before I forget, if you are planning a trip to Todos Santos, I do not recommend staying in the Hotel California. I'm certain it is nice, but after exploring the town, I recommend The Todos Santos Inn with rooms starting at $165 and suites somewhat higher. I didn't stay there, because my lengthy stays prohibit expenditures that grand, but if you check their website, www.todossantosinn.com, you will see pictures of the small hotel, six rooms, I think, which should convince you of the beauty of the place.
     I have two items on today's agenda - finding a bookstore and traveling by bus to a famous beach 15 miles outside the city. I feel no pressure to accomplish both of those tasks, but they are my goals for today. This can be such a stressful existence.  Hasta luego!

March 9, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     Tecolote, a famous beach nine kilometers outside of La Paz, was my destination on Saturday. I quickly gave up the attempt to accomplish two goals in one day on Friday. This is Mexico, for crying out loud. I finally found a bookstore after three different attempts to do so on Friday, but exhausted after walking several miles, I took the rest of the day off; that is Mexican style living. Saturday, I boarded a bus at the terminal only two blocks from my hotel, paid my 20 pesos ($1.50), sat back, relaxed, and watched the beautiful desert scenery with occasional glimpses of the delicate turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez roll by. The route took me first along the Malecon (beach promenade) which turned out to be more than three miles long, then through desert hills, winding along the coast until we passed the ferry terminal where I boarded the baja ferry a few years back for the 16 hour trip to Mazatlan. It all looked familiar.
     It took about 45 minutes to reach Tecolote, the last stop on the route. The water was stunningly beautiful and the beach two to three miles long. Un-commercialized except for two, small, palm-covered restaurants and an equally-coiffed tour center, the beach was primitive and breathtakingly gorgeous. The sun was hot, but there was a nice breeze that enticed me to remove my shirt to give my torso a few rays for the first time since I entered
Mexico. Twenty minutes on each side and I was done. I know about the intensity of tropical rays and I did not want to scald myself. I had a small lunch of salad, grilled octopus, guacamole, and tortillas, then strolled the beach, selecting three rocks to add to the collection I began on the Indian Ocean last winter. I also succumbed to the vendors walking among the few tourists and peddling jewelry and hand-carved wood. My purchases will make a delightful gift to somebody next Christmas; beware.
     Tecolote's tour center offers a tempting, five-hour snorkeling trip to the island a few miles off the coast. The $35 trip includes all the equipment for snorkeling, a shore lunch, and hopefully a ride back to the beach. After my problems with the fishing motor on my previous water experience, I have grown a tad cynical, I guess. I will try to tan my body a little more, and then head back to Tecolote to do some snorkeling. People have told me that the snorkeling is world class.
     Three hours later, I returned on the next bus back to town and prepared for my evening dining experience. I walked about six blocks for dinner, alone on unlit streets with which I was unfamiliar, recognizing the danger that lurked every step of the way. I was frightened much of the trip, aware that each step could result in a catastrophe. Oh, I wasn't concerned about mugging, being held up, or kidnapped off the street; I was worried about the unlit, uneven sidewalks, and random curbing. The real threat was in breaking or spraining an ankle. There are steps in the middle of sidewalks, missing concrete sections, curb drop-offs that are as much as two feet high, and pot-holes everywhere. Obviously, there are no building codes or zoning laws in
Mexico; that is the real danger. The trip was worth it, however, as I enjoyed my first Mexican steak at Bufalo, the consensus best restaurant in town. The walk home after two glasses of wine was just as routine.
     I have two new friends in town: Hugo and Rainbow. They don't know one another, but are local characters that make each day a little more interesting. Hugo owns a fishing boat (he says) and wants to take me fishing. He also explained that he had a good trip last time out, catching three large yellowtails, several groupers, including one very large one, and a couple of red snapper. I negotiated with Hugo about the price and am down to about $135. I think if I wait a day or two longer, however, I can get a better price. Hugo invited me to lunch yesterday, which I thought nice until I realized that I was picking up the check. What a con artist. He spent 25 years in
San Diego, working on a charter fishing boat, so his English is pretty good.
     My other new friend is Rainbow Hawk, a fixture in
Mexico for the past fifty years. He was a singer, having sung with Joan Baez, Janis Joplin (whom he reveres), and the Neville Brothers. Rainbow is part Seneca Indian and he spends his days behind his laptop, organizing a worldwide celebration marking the end of an era on the Mayan calendar. Rainbow is of the flower-child era, still working hard to achieve world peace. He is bright, writes well, and is a delight to engage in conversation.
     Over the weekend, I found a Farmacia that burned a disc for me, putting my photos in a format that I can forward. I will do so after I finish this update and include photos of Hugo and Rainbow. Look for them in a couple of days after my webmaster edits, resizes, and whatever else she does to create the slideshows. Stay tuned. Hasta luego!

March 11, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico

     Believe it or not, it rained yesterday morning. Only for a few minutes and just a drizzle, it was just enough to wet the street. This was the first rain I have seen in the Baja since my arrival in mid-February. The sun came back out shortly after the sprinkle, so I guess the rain is over for another long spell in the desert. After the rain, I sat with Hugo in the sunshine on a Malecon bench and took off my shirt for a couple minutes. His friend, Pablo, age 72, also sat on the bench and we had a nice chat, mostly about pretty girls. I noticed that Pablo had a shattered lens in his glasses and asked why he didn't have them repaired. He said that they want 300 pesos ($20) to put a new lens in and he didn't have the money. Having worn glasses all my life, until January when cataract surgery corrected my vision, I really identified with what Pablo has to tolerate every day with a shattered lens. I told him that I would go with him after lunch and buy him a lens. It was only $20 and I would get to see the immediate effect of my donation, unlike many other donations one makes these days. It made me feel good to offer, which wasn't really a surprise. I can't fix the world, but maybe I can help a few folks along the way.
     After lunch, Pablo and I headed toward the center of La Paz, into an area I hadn't visited before. It was a very interesting, though painstakingly slow walk. Pablo has trouble with his legs and knees, so we strolled six or eight blocks to a little optical shop with no sidewalk, where Pablo said he had a friend who owned the place. It was a dark, tiny shop, but the man seemed to have all the equipment and expertise to get the job done. He took two pairs of glasses that Pablo owned and cut a left and right lens from them to fit a new frame, which he determined to be what Pablo really needed. He even treated the lenses, which darkened in the sunlight, so that they were both the same color. I have never seen that done before. Pablo looked great and could see clearly again. The labor for cutting the lenses, tinting them, fitting them into the new frames, and the new frames themselves cost me $20. Try to get new frames for $20 in the USA.
     On the way back to the Malecon, Pablo took me to a market where we strolled the aisles looking at the fresh meats, poultry, fish, fruits, and vegetables. I will return there today to take a few photos, especially of the pigs heads so proudly displayed in the meat cases.
     I had lunch at Carlos and Charlie's, my first visit to this establishment made famous in Cancun, and met a couple of school teachers, Sue and Mike, on vacation from Tacoma, Washington. They taught four years in Nigeria and have visited extensively in Africa, so we compared observations about African affairs. We had a short, but enjoyable conversation, since they were headed back to San Jose and wanted to make it through the desert before dark. I encouraged them to take the short trip to Tecolote before they left and they headed that way. Here's hoping I didn't lead them astray and they made it back before nightfall.
     Last night, I had dinner in a delightful restaurant and talked with Nancy, a former teacher and court reporter from Tucson, Arizona, who was sitting alone at the next table. She is the advance guard of her family, having made a long bus ride to observe whales along the Baja coast before her brother and his family arrive tomorrow. But this very petite, retired lady was traveling by herself in Mexico. She had walked 10 or 12 blocks after dark to the restaurant where we dined, which took a little courage on her first visit to La Paz.
     La Paz and the southern Baja are remarkably safe. Rainbow, a long time resident, told me that the newspaper recently had a front page story about some youngsters who were arrested after they stole 14 concrete blocks. There is so little crime in La Paz that a crime of that nature made the front page. That said, I still take my usual precautions while traveling alone. Incidentally, had I not been alone I would probably not have talked to Mike, Sue, or Nancy. One of the positive things about traveling alone is that you reach out to make contact with other travelers and local folks. I must go to see what interesting people I will meet today.  Adios!

March 12, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico


Tune in tomorrow for the results.

March 13, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     Officially we weren't shut out on the fishing trip, if one wants to count the 30 eight-inch-long mackerel that we pulled onboard. Once, I reeled in a mackerel on each of the seven shad-dart type lures (no bait) attached to the line on our single rod. Surprise, almost nothing was as Hugo said it would be on the trip he offered me at the much discounted rate of $65. He told me that I would accompany a German couple who were going snorkeling and that while they were snorkeling he and I would get away for three hours of fishing.
     Hugo owns no boat! He knows somebody with a boat, though, and when Hugo can get a commitment to charter said boat, the boat shows up and, no doubt, Hugo gets a commission. Hugo did not accompany us on the trip, merely waving adios from the beach as we departed at
10:15 a.m. I should have known by the time of departure that few fish would be caught, since fishermen left at 6:30 a.m. in San Jose. We apparently left at that time because the German woman sleeps late, according to her husband. They were delightful boat mates, but they were interested in a boat ride, nothing more. They arrived with long-sleeved, white shirts, apparently to protect against the harsh rays of the sun and, obviously, had no interest in snorkeling or fishing. They were into the new adventure, however, and I learned that Alexander was a best-selling novelist in Germany, looking to purchase a home here because his next seven-book series will be based in La Paz. I asked him what he wrote about and he answered, "Sex and Crime, that's what the market wants." There went any idea about a best-selling, travel adventure that I had in mind, unless I am willing to create some fictional sex experiences in the foreign lands where I have traveled.
     The trip was worth every penny of the $65. We rode along the shore about 45 minutes, looking for a place where Alexander might shoot a film (he has written two screen plays and shot two feature films), and entered a bay called Maralanda, which has a unique rock, shaped like a mushroom. I got a photo. As we left the bay, we saw and were surrounded by a huge number of dolphins, many swimming directly under our 26 foot panga (boat). There may have been as many as 100 dolphins in the pod and we were all delighted with the up-close experience and photos we took of these intelligent creatures.
     Later, on the way home after only about 40 minutes of unsuccessful attempts to catch sardinas for bait on the shad-dart lures, we spotted several sea lions surfacing near our boat. Jaime, the young captain, stopped the boat and dropped the line with the seven shad-dart lures. He hooked four mackerel, only good for marlin bait and not for eating. He then handed me the rod and told me to fish. I hooked seven mackerel on the first attempt, then six more on each of the next two tries. I then dropped the line, hooked some more, and handed the rod to Alexander. He had never caught a fish in his life and in his first attempt reeled in five small mackerel. He seemed genuinely thrilled. I asked Jaime to do the same for
Petra, Alexander's wife, and she reeled in six more. They weren't really keepers, but the couple had such a good time catching the fish, seeing the dolphin, and the feeding sea lions that it made my trip. I wasn't disappointed in the least with the absence of game fish. Like Alexander said, "I wasn't expecting much, but this was a great day!"  Hasta luego!

March 16, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     For those of you who think me crazy for my winters of traveling the world alone during the past eleven years, let me introduce you to Crazy Larry. Larry, a former Safeway check-out clerk, retired at age 52 four years ago, after 36 years with the company. Once married for six months at a young age, Larry is a confirmed bachelor, living in northern California in the coastal range of mountains. His beloved, small, mountain home, completely debt-free after years of frugality is full of his collections of foreign coins and baseball hats, but is drenched in rain, fog, and occasionally snow during the late fall and winter months. So, Larry travels! Boy, does he travel. For six months during each of the last four years, Larry is on the road much like yours truly, but for twice as long. Larry maintains that he lives just barely above poverty level at home, but manages to save enough money to travel frugally during the winter. His favorite mode of transportation through South and Central America, where his dollar buys more, is by bus. He has traveled in Peru, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and almost all of Central America, but he has spent this winter traveling exclusively in Mexico. He loves the place as much as I do.
     I met Larry at the computer center and ran into him again when he was talking to Rainbow, our mutual friend. Larry has rented an apartment in
La Paz and is paying $20/day for lodging. Because he has kitchen facilities, he eats most of his meals at home, but is a social animal and enjoys conversations over happy hour drinks. Larry knows every restaurant/bar in town that has two-for-one Happy Hours and he makes the circuit nightly, consuming generous quantities of local cerveza. I have accompanied him for the past three nights and both of us were able to extend our waking hours because of the companionship. I can't keep up with the beverage intake, and I don't try, but we parted company at 11:00 p.m. on Friday and broke my personal record by staying up until 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, watching the locals dance and enjoy themselves. Larry selected one bar that had at least 50 motorcycles parked in front. The music was loud enough that my sternum was throbbing rhythmically with the thump of the sub-woofers and the bar was packed with leather-clad members of a local motorcycle club. If problems broke out, we were seated between two groups of motorcyclists, so I convinced Larry to quickly consume his two-for-one Dos Equus and we exited the place. Later, Rainbow told us that the local motorcycle club is harmless and several policemen ride with the group. My ears and sternum were most appreciative of the quick departure from that unbelievably-noisy club and we moved on to another nightclub, this one full of dancing locals. Larry was asked to remove his baseball hat at the door, so we thought that this was really a classy place, especially since it was located in the expensive hotel around the corner from my economy quarters. We were surprised to see at least six male dancers on the floor wearing cowboy hats. Apparently, cowboy hats are acceptable attire, but Larry's wearing of a baseball hat was a faux pas. Larry and I were coerced into dancing by one eager, mujere begging for a dance partner because the fast, live, Latin music kept her from sitting still. She originally asked me to dance, but I convinced her that Larry loved to dance and would be delighted to "cut a rug" with her. Larry speaks as much Spanish as I do, but the loud music effectively rendered him deaf to my comments about him and he reluctantly ended up on the crowded dance floor, mouthing obscenities at me as he danced. He is as enthusiastic about dancing as I am. Later, I succumbed and danced one dance with the same lady. My dance with Norma, that 50 year-old bundle of dance energy, seemed to last forever, but finally ended at 1:00 a.m. The excitement sent me packing for the safety and quiet of my hotel room. As I left, Larry showed no indication of the drowsiness which had taken over my every thought, so I danced solo across the dance floor, out the nightclub, and around the corner to my hotel. I was beat!
     Larry reported the next day that he got home at
2:00 a.m. after having danced a couple more times with Norma, unable to fend off her enthusiasm. Sunday, I helped Rainbow celebrate his 64th birthday by buying him breakfast. He is completely dependent on the largesse of others, but seems completely happy with his existence. Feliz Cumpleaños, Rainbow.  Hasta luego!

March 18, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     Menudo! Larry accompanied me to the market on Monday. He was shopping for groceries, since he cooks most of his own meals in his apartment, and I was there to take some photos. I hope to send the next batch of photos sometime today, so they should appear tomorrow if all goes well.
     Menudo is a delicious soup made of tripe (beef stomach lining) and hominy in a light tomato broth. Larry put me on to this soup at one of the small kitchens set up beside the market. They serve white menudo and red menudo, but Larry likes the red, although he has never tried the white. We ordered the soup, then added chopped, fresh cilantro, chopped onions, chili peppers, and salsa on our own from the condiment tray placed on our table. The soup, a hearty entire meal with the accompanying tortillas, was $2.00. Larry has been eating menudo often during his six-month trek around
Mexico and, if that bowl was any indication, I will start doing the same. I wonder if I can buy beef tripe at the market at home to try to replicate that delicious concoction?
La Paz is a sailing destination. There are several marinas located in and around La Paz and many sailors from the west coast, from both the USA and Canada, make the trip down the Baja and around the corner into the Sea of Cortez to La Paz. I have had several interesting conversations with sailors who have made the trip. The most significant was the sailor who has made a solo circumnavigation of the globe. He is having the bottom of his sailboat painted here in La Paz before heading on another adventure, across the Pacific to the Marquesa Islands of French Polynesia. He is looking for a crew member to share the night watch responsibilities. When I intimated that that was the kind of thing in which I might be interested some day, he informed me that with him onboard there was already enough testosterone. He is looking for a female crew member and thinks he has located a Mexican lass who might be interested. He informed me about a website, www.findacrew.com, where captains and potential crew members make contact. I wasn't planning on continuing these adventures, but sailing around the Caribbean Islands or to the Brazilian or Argentinean coasts could tempt me next winter.  Hasta luego!

March 20, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     I always say that traveling alone makes you reach out to locals and other travelers, but sometimes, the other travelers just reach out to you. That is what happened yesterday when I went to lunch at the great, local, seafood place I discovered across the street from the Malecon and the beach. I took an outside table, ordered a drink, and ordered from the extensive menu after struggling with the many options. For what I thought would be an interesting appetizer, I settled on steamed, chocolate clams, although the waiter urged me to eat them "pura" (raw). Having experienced the wonderful cramps and trips to the baño that often accompany raw seafood in third world countries, I told him that, "no, I want them cooked." The descriptive name comes from the brown, chocolate-like, color of the clam's shell. The three that I was served were large, wrapped in aluminum foil, and stuffed with chopped clam, tomato, onion, a little bacon, and cilantro. They were scrumptious! They were also all that I would have needed for lunch, but no, I had also ordered a fish filet stuffed with shrimp. The stuffing included several small shrimp and chopped lettuce, purple cabbage, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and melted cheese. It was even better than the chocolate clams, but was a huge portion. I forced the entire meal, but felt bad later from the volume of food and didn't eat again the rest of the day. I will definitely try to replicate that meal at home, however.
     The traveler who reached out to me, Lloyd from
San Francisco, came to my table right before the clams and asked if he could sit, even though there were other empty tables. Of course, I said yes, and that may have been the last word I uttered. Lloyd, a retired realtor, wanted to talk. He is almost 84 years old, has been divorced twice, and has traveled extensively. After his second divorce, he and a buddy traveled to Europe where he bought a Mercedes and they toured the continent in the company of two German frauleins they had met on the flight. He was not at all crushed by the divorce, happy to be rid of someone he "absolutely hated." Lloyd has given apartment buildings to each of his two daughters, but retained one that brings him $22,000/month, "enough to live on," he said. I imagine that many of us might be able to scrape by on a monthly income like that.
     Lloyd had driven down to
Tijuana in his new Toyota station wagon. The beautiful, white wagon had a model name, which I don't remember offhand. In Tijuana, he met his longtime Mexican friend who had gone north by bus to shop in the dangerous, border city and to drive Lloyd to La Paz, where he owns what I'm certain is a gorgeous condominium. Lloyd has been coming to La Paz
for 13 years. As I looked at his car on our way out of the restaurant, Lloyd informed me that he had just broken up with his Mexican girlfriend who was (ready?) 33 years-old. I'll bet that she was just devastated, losing the love of her life, only fifty years her senior. Ah, I meet the most interesting people when I travel.  Adios!

March 23, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     Sunday, I marched in a parade! In La Paz there are many parades, three over the last few days, one with all the new emergency equipment, including fire engines, that the government has recently provided - reason enough for a parade with new sirens blaring. As I finished my emails in the coffee shop, where a cup of coffee (iced, for me in this heat) gets you free, unlimited time on the computer as long as nobody is waiting to use it, I heard loud music outside as a speaker truck went by, leading the parade. I went to watch the show and a large crowd, at least three or four blocks long, were marching to "Alto Tuberculosis en la Baja." I wasn't aware that tuberculosis was a problem here, but plenty of people, many of them children, marched to fight the disease. I finished my coffee, and then started walking on the sidewalk while the marchers walked and waved. I waved back, and then a woman in the parade waved, inviting me to join the march. Why not? I fell in beside her and the crowd, mostly women and children, oohed, and aahed, teasing her about her new gringo friend. She was talking to me, as was the woman next to her, but I wasn't sure what they were saying. I think it had something to do with being tall, white, and handsome, but that may have been wishful thinking. The woman was about 50 years of age, but looked 70 and had a mouthful of nasty teeth that orthodontists back home dream about, although a couple of gold crowns shone brightly in her smile. I put my arm around her and the crowd went crazy, more whistles and teasing remarks. Her adjacent friend encouraged me to loop my arm and the woman slid her arm through mine - more teasing and whistling. We were all having a great time. I only marched a block and a half, but the parade stopped a few times during that time and I got to wave and tease further. I left them with a wave and they cheered my participation. Carpe diem.
     I spent the weekend accompanying Crazy Larry on bar crawls through parts of
La Paz
, even dining in a great steakhouse at Larry's behest on Saturday night. Despite his frugality, he gets a yearning for a good steak on occasion. We shared a bottle of wine, the first time I had seen him consume anything but Pacifico or Dos Equus, the two best Mexican beers according to Larry, a guy who should know. Sunday night found us at one of Larry's regular haunts where the Happy Hour beers are two for the price of one and where live music makes the evening sitting outside by the sea delightful. Part way through the evening, listening to the band that was absolutely awful - a garage band freed from its confines and performing publicly for what appeared to be the first time, Larry decided that the guitarist's guitar wasn't tuned properly. Larry doesn't read music, but has a lot of fun with instruments that he also collects in his eclectically decorated house, so he decided to tune the guitar, saying to me, "I can tune any guitar in five minutes." As he returned from the restroom on a beer disbursement sojourn, Larry stopped beside the band and talked to the guitarist/lead singer. Unbelievably, the guitarist handed Larry his electric guitar and Larry sat to "tune" it. Twenty minutes later, with the other two band members looking to me for help, Larry was still bent over attempting to tune the guitar. I was mortified and the rest of the customers getting very anxious. I yelled at him, attempting to dissuade him from continuing, but Larry persisted. Finally, after I had hurriedly paid my bill and taken a seat on a bench at the Malecon, so I wouldn't be identified with this gringo, Larry had completed his task and handed the guitar back. The music could continue.
     The first thing the guitarist did when he got the guitar back was to retune it, but he gave up and picked up his back-up guitar. A couple of songs later, he picked up Larry's guitar, retuned it again, and started to play, apparently satisfied that he had gotten it back in playing condition. With this band, the tuning was unimportant, they were that bad, but I was sufficiently embarrassed that the gringos had stopped the music that I waved goodbye to Larry and the waitress and ambled the three blocks home. I haven't seen Larry today, but I can hardly wait to hear his version of the scene that I witnessed. I don't call him Crazy Larry for nothing.  Hasta luego!

March 25, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     Jorge, who was busing tables at the Bismark seafood restaurant the other night while I dined, had a story that is all too common among working Mexican folks. His parents emigrated to the Seattle area when Jorge was five years-old. Jorge attended school in Seattle and, if his mastery of the English language is any indication, was a pretty good student. He was working diligently as a carpet installer, which is hard work, when one day his company was "raided" by the folks at Immigration Control. Jorge had no papers, although the rest of his family did, and he was deported to Mexico, where he had little contact since his early childhood years. Jorge is a handsome, young man with an engaging smile, and he is trying to make the best of a bad situation, with his family (father, mother, and siblings) far away. He had just landed the part-time job at the seafood restaurant and I watched him working hard during my meal. His family was originally from Guadalajara and that is where he landed, but there is little work in Guadalajara so he came to the Baja. There seems to be a migration of mainland folks to the Baja where tourism has provided the most recent job opportunities. I feel bad for Jorge and have heard similar stories several times prior to this. I know that we need to control our borders and limit immigration, but we must find a fairer way to do that and to keep hard-working, law-abiding, families together. Surely, our politicians can come up with something, but maybe I'm too optimistic.
     I am in the final week of this year's adventure and making plans to have my laundry done one last time before packing for the flight home. The process involves throwing or giving away old clothes (Crazy Larry is already the recipient of two of my favorite, but shrinking Hawaiian shirts). I need to pack souvenirs and supplies one final time before next Tuesday's departure on Continental Air to
Houston. On Saturday, I will check out from the hotel in La Paz (the Hotel Plaza Real) that has been my home for the past four weeks or so and head back to San Jose del Cabo. I plan to bus through the desert to Los Barrilles, which has a great reputation among locals as a beautiful, beach town on the Sea of Cortez, then on to San Jose. I do not plan to overnight in Los Barrilles; I'm just taking the long way to San Jose to see a different part of the lower Baja.  I imagine that I will update two more times before signing off for the year. Stay tuned for the final chapters.  Hasta luego!

March 27, 2009 - From La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
     As we speak, my laundry is being done for the final time before heading home. That means that this afternoon will be spent packing my suitcase for the trip, keeping travel clothes accessible while allowing for a couple of days in San Jose del Cabo. It is not an easy exercise and requires some pretty sophisticated planning. Since I have absolutely nothing else to do the rest of the day, I am probably up to the task.
     Yesterday, I had even fewer responsibilities, so I got into a couple of wonderful philosophical/political discussions with Rainbow Hawk and Fred, a Canadian phone company retiree who has lived in
La Paz for 16 years. Fred lost his 38 foot sailboat in a hurricane last November and also lost his desire to sail again. Fred is pretty fluent in Spanish and works diligently to get even better, maintaining a word list to commit to memory - very impressive. Fred is an avid reader of Latin American periodicals, watches BBC news, listens to shortwave radio broadcasts of Canadian news, and is really up on current events. Rainbow spends his days reading news on the internet from indymedia.org  -  independent, relatively unverifiable reports from around the world. Both Rainbow, the hippy who has seldom worked in his life, and Fred think very highly of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and defied me to name one bad thing about either of them. Fidel has apparently just been given South Africa’s highest honor. I mentioned Chavez’ tendency to want a lifetime presidency in Venezuela, his rude, undiplomatic attack on President Bush in the United Nations, and his recent diatribe against President Obama. They, of course, defended him and claimed to like a guy who "tells it like it is." Perhaps, it is good these guys are expatriates. They did make quite a few good points about Chavez’ work on education in Venezuela and infrastructure improvements that help the everyday life of the poor in his country. They claim that the United States media is controlled by the government and that the CIA is more terroristic than most of the terrorists we are fighting. They contend that without the embargo imposed by the USA, Cuba would be successful, too. These expats are not communists, but believe the US government is misleading the American people about what is happening in Latin America. The Bush/Cheney administration has done our world-wide reputation no good with their approval of torture and the long term imprisonment of prisoners at Guantanamo. It was an interesting afternoon despite the fact that I am not as conversant about international affairs as I once was. I knew enough, however, to keep them stimulated and to make the conversation invigorating, sometimes even a little hostile. I’m sure they will be back for more today.
     Last night, Crazy Larry and I went to dinner and stopped in a relatively new restaurant, not the one we intended. We selected the place solely because of Fabiana, the beautiful, 22 year old waitress who greeted us as we passed. We were the only customers in the place, so we got Fabiana’s undivided attention. We were both enthralled with the young lady. It was a fusion restaurant and our dinners were excellent. They had no bar, so the chef ran to the grocery store and bought a bottle of wine for me and a Dos Equus cerveza for Larry. The price was just what it would have cost at the store, so the drinks were very reasonable, the bottle even cheaper than two glasses of wine I had consumed the night before. I drank my couple of glasses of wine and carried the remainder back to the restaurant beside my hotel where we sit daily for our discussions. They brought me a glass for my wine, even though the restaurant sells wine, and made no fuss at all about me carrying in my own beverage. I only drank half a glass and gave the rest to the waiter who was most appreciative. We have become very good friends with the wait staff at the restaurant and are constantly teasing one another in Spanglish, a combination of both languages. It is the kind of relationship that one only develops when one stays in a location for a long time. The relationship both Larry and I enjoy with the staff at this restaurant is not one that can be developed in a week.
     Apparently remembering my trip to Rio de Janeiro, a reader has written me wondering why so many of my photos are men, going so far as to accuse me of a tilt in my sexual preferences - tongue in cheek, I hope. Such is not the case, but I don’t really tally the gender of my photo subjects. Today, however, I will send the last of my photos from the Baja. Suffice it to say, there will be no question about my sexual preference after these photos. I spent last evening taking photos of every willing female, including the lovely Fabiana.  Hasta luego!

March 30, 2009 - From San Jose del Cabo, Baja Sur, Mexico
     The Tropic of Cancer. That was the answer to many a geography question I posed on tests for my students quite a few years ago and yesterday my bus crossed that imaginary line of latitude in the mountains of the great Sonoran Desert on the Baja south of La Paz. It was a scenic and restful three-hour trip from
La Paz through the beautiful, seaside village of Los Barrilles to San Jose del Cabo. At first, I wasn't sure about the driver, who had a bothersome facial tic that had me concerned about his driving ability and, on occasion, whether he was awake or not. However, he drove very safely and the cracked windshield didn't seem to bother him. Since I sat in the front seat directly across from him and since my portion of windshield was cracked even worse, I'm certain that my photos will have a diagonal, northwest to southeast line distorting the images.
     For much of the way the two-lane road wasn't bad, but when the road sign warned "carretera sinuoso" (winding road), it was an accurate description of the road ahead. We crossed relatively high mountains, although there were many higher ones nearby, on the switchback ribbon of highway with numerous signs warning of "curva peligrosa" (dangerous curve).  But, the driver handled the curves safely and, despite the fact that I am a nervous rider in such situations, I only leaned into turns on a couple of occasions. I can't imagine living in the desert with so much brown and so little other color, except for the pockets of greenery in the valleys where there is enough water to sustain palm trees and other green vegetation, but the desert has its own beauty. Great saguaro cactuses dotted the dry landscape and dry creek beds that carry off the occasional showers were much in evidence. It was an interesting ride. Roadwork was being done for about five miles just north of San Jose and we exited the highway, which had a three-foot drop-off for the last couple of kilometers, and rode a desert hardpan, two-lane path for that distance and I was surprised at the smoothness of the ride and how little dust was kicked up. Perhaps, they sprinkled the dry roadbed to prevent dust clouds.
     If you are looking for an isolated beach vacation, try Los Barriles (I have seen it spelled with both one "L" and two). About two hours south of La Paz, the small community thrives on its beautiful beach and fishing economy. There are, literally, miles of almost-uninhabited, beautiful, white-sand beaches to explore and the water looks invitingly blue and turquoise, at least at 50 miles per hour from the bus window. Because it is located on the Sea of Cortez, the water should be much warmer than the waters of the Pacific in Los Cabos which tourists have told me is too cold to endure for long.
     The Yuca Inn was full, so my friend, Yuca, had obtained a room for me at Señor Mañana, a small hotel two doors away that Yuca sold off a few years back. The bigger hotel was too much work for him. Yuca informed me one Sunday that he had to get up off his hammock two times that day, a far too busy day. He lies in his hammock behind the small registration desk adjacent to his bedroom, watching television, and only arises when duty calls or Lola, his British bulldog, needs a walk. Yuca is down to three rooms rented on a daily basis and three rented monthly to locals and all were full last night. That is work enough for Yuca and, surprisingly, I understand. I leave for home tomorrow and haven't negotiated a price for the room in which I slept last night, but these things take time. I'm certain that Señor Mañana's rooms will be under $30/night, which means that in the six weeks that I have been here, I have only paid more than $32 for one night's lodging - my first night on the Baja when I arrived after dark.
     It has been a very successful and restful trip! I have enjoyed great weather, one day of sensational fishing experiences, another boat ride with German author Alexander Ziebell and his wife, Petra, and great days and evenings in La Paz with Crazy Larry, Rainbow Hawk, and Fred, whose last name I never learned. I would vacation here again, as many people do annually, but there is so much of the world to see.
     I will be traveling with my family to Spain and Portugal in May, but will provide no play-by-play blog to describe my experience, so that I can fully enjoy my time with children and grandchildren. So, since this is my last update for the year, I should provide my typical reflections on my yearly adventure. Here is what I found significant about the southern Baja:

    1. The place may be as safe an international travel destination as one can find, especially in San Jose del Cabo and La Paz. Like Key West, there is no place for criminals to run. One highway into and out of town probably discourages crime, but the southern Baja is a very, very safe destination.

    2. The people of the southern Baja are amazingly friendly!!! There is always a sincere "Buenos dias" or "Buenas tardes" to greet each passerby and they will go overboard to help you when lost or when attempting to read a menu. The Mexicans may be as friendly as the Irish people and that is saying something!!

    3. The fishing off the Pacific coast is fabulous, although there are some seasons where it is better than others. Marlin, tuna, dorado, mackerel, grouper, and other game fish abound. It is as good a fishing location as I have seen in my trips around the world.

    4. The drinking water is much safer than in years past. I did not get traveler's diarrhea, to which I am particularly susceptible, during the entire six weeks of my stay. I would still recommend brushing one's teeth (as I did the entire time) and drinking water only from a bottle of purified water, but the water purification processes have been vastly improved in restaurants and even by street vendors. I occasionally ask a street vendor if the lettuce has been washed in "agua purificada," but the answer has always been "yes" and I have not been adversely affected by an inaccurate response. I believe that the government has done a great job in educating the public about the importance of purified water for tourists. Almost all restaurants and most homes have a black, reverse osmosis, water purification tank on the roof.

    5. Taste the sauces (salsas) before applying liberally to your food. There have only been a few times when the top of my head has exploded and my eyes watered from the "salsa picante," but it is always better to taste the sauce first. The green sauces seem milder than the red and all seem to have been less spicy than in years past. Maybe, it was a bad year for growing spicy chiles.

    6. There are many beautiful young ladies in Mexico, perhaps some of the most attractive in the world. Admittedly, some of the men are handsome, too, but Larry and I weren't at all interested in checking out the men. And check we did, as we sat in the El Callejon Restaurant on the busy plaza/alleyway off the Malecon in La Paz. Each of us would call attention to the other when we spotted a beautiful young lady. I know, female readers, it is disgusting, but I believe in honest reporting here and that is the ugly truth. We loved watching the girls! Mexico is inhabited by people who are descendents of the Mayans, people whose bloodline comes from Africa - especially along the Caribbean, and people descended from the very white Spanish conquistadors who invaded many years ago. The result is a delicious mix of folks that Larry, Rainbow, Fred, and I enjoyed on a daily basis in La Paz. You didn't think for a minute that we only talked philosophy and politics all day every day, did you? 

     What, you might ask, have I missed most about home? Or, what will I enjoy most when I return mañana? Here is a partial list:

    1. Of course, I miss my wife and family. It is getting increasingly difficult to depart for six weeks or twelve, depending on the trip. This year's trip was made much more bearable by (it is difficult to admit this) the company of Larry, Rainbow, and Fred during the time when I might most have gotten a little homesick.

    2. I look forward to sewer systems that accept and can treat toilet paper. Six weeks is long enough to wipe, fold, and discard soiled tissue in the assigned trash receptacle next to the commode.

    3. A decent bed. In the inexpensive hotels in which I stay, beds are not of the finest quality, some mattresses (like the one last night) I am certain are stuffed with horsehair or some other such prickly substance and none have inner-spring mattresses. I can hardly wait to crawl into my king-sized bed with the pillow-topped mattress at home.

    4. Mobility. I look forward to having wheels again. Although I didn't really miss the car in
La Paz very often, I would have seen far more of the southern Baja had I possessed the mobility one's own car provides.

    5. American food. I never, repeat NEVER, eat fast food at home, but I do miss the variety of food available at home. Mexican food is very good, but I have had enough tacos, burritos, huevos rancheros, and tortillas to last a long while. I doubt that I will visit a Mexican restaurant in the foreseeable future.

     I hope that you have enjoyed traveling vicariously with me on this sojourn to
Key West
, then down the Baja. I appreciate the occasional emails, your persistence in looking for my updates and photos, and your enthusiasm for my efforts to report my experiences. I also need to thank my daughter for providing the technical expertise as my webmaster. I need only write the stuff and email it to her - she handles the rest. Thanks, Ab!  I'll keep all of you informed if I decide to venture forth again next winter.  Adios, amigos!!

>>  Interactive Google Map for 2009's Travels  <<

Powered by counter.bloke.com

Website Designed By: