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The Plan

January 6, 2012 - from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico:
     Writing this year's plan will be somewhat easier than in years' past, since I am currently sitting in shorts and tee-shirt, enjoying temperatures in the mid-70´s in the destination country. You might say I procrastinated a little before writing the plan. I have known since last winter that I wanted to return to the perfect temperatures of winter in the Baja, but I was too busy shivering to get the plan down on paper (or on electronics). Though I made a little run to Santa Barbara, CA, last January, I remained in country because of health concerns for my mother. We lost my mom in May at 97 years of age, but by staying home I got to spend a lot of time with her that I will always cherish. The cold weather and snow and ice storms that I dodged and endured last winter left me hungry for warm winter weather again. Before I knew it, the time had come to depart and I landed in the Los Cabos airport yesterday afternoon. It was 11 degrees when I left home two days ago and the pilot announced a very welcome 82-degree greeting when the wheels touched down in the Baja. By arriving here, I have already accomplished the first part of this year's plan.
     This morning, after enjoying a hearty breakfast of "juevos rancheros" with flour tortillas, I confirmed the departure times of the bus to La Paz, this year´s ultimate destination. I also placed a deposit on a small fishing boat (panga) for a four-hour fishing trip tomorrow (Saturday) morning. I negotiated the price down from $200 to $150 by settling for the four hour trip. That is plenty long enough for me on the high seas and, if the fish I saw being unloaded this morning on the dock are any indication, four hours will be long enough to haul in plenty of deep sea creatures. I watched a panga captain unload two, five-foot long hammerhead sharks, a yellowtail (tuna-like) that must have been 30 pounds or more, several, small red snappers, and a whitefish. Three years ago when I last fished here, I had the best fishing day of my life, catching a large dorado, two difficult-to-catch rooster fish, and several small grouper. I would love to hook into a 30 pound yellowtail in the morning, since they are one of my favorite sushi items.
     On the following day, Sunday, I will take the 10:00 a.m. bus to La Paz, a trip that will take 3.5 hours. Once there, I will take a hotel room for a couple of nights while I look for a two-bedroom apartment. Why two bedrooms, you ask? Because the day before I left home, Schim called (collect, of course) and informed me that he was coming to visit again this winter. Those of you who have been reading my blogs through the years know that I met Schim in Spain while we were teaching English to Spanish business executives a few adventures ago and ever since he has hung onto my leg like a baby learning to walk. He promises to visit for a long weekend and he stays and stays and stays. He accompanied me on a trip through Central America to Costa Rica with a 10-day return trip ticket in his hands; twenty-six days later, he let go of my leg long enough to board a plane home. Lord only knows how long he will stay this year. We'll have a barrel of laughs, though, that I promise. I will report it all here, once we are released from the Mexican jail.
     The other part of the plan will have my wife join me for a couple of weeks in late February, accompanied in current plans by a couple who are long-time friends. She will be coming even if our friends change their minds about making the trip to such a dangerous location. The hotel in which I got a room last night is the same one I stayed in for quite a while during my last trip to San Jose del Cabo. Rates have increased at the Yucca Inn, though I negotiated the rate down to $31.50/night. There are three rooms in the hotel and the other two customers paid a couple of dollars more than I each night. The little bit of Spanish I know helps in the negotiation process, as well as having the temerity to negotiate in the first place. Yucca (the owner's nickname, as well as the name of his English bull dog) continues to work on the place and it has fresh coats of paint and a new fountain in the courtyard.  He remembered me and I congratulated him on the condition of the place. He calls his work on the place, "poco a poco" (little by little) and it's true. The place has improved since my last visit.
     Back to the danger part: One of the other room residents last night was Mike, his wife, and college-age daughter from central California. They are old hippies and Mike has a long beard, long hair, and the old hippy laid-back attitude. He and his wife drove their Ford Ranger with a small, pick-up camper on the bed of the truck and camped their way on the beaches all along the length of the Baja. Their daughter flew down yesterday to join them and I guess they celebrated by overnighting in our hotel. Mike is a self-employed, general contractor who had enough of the work-a-day stress, so he and his wife decided to to live out their dream of camping the Baja this winter. They are living on $1,000/month. Yucca tells me he drives to San Diego a couple of times a year and sleeps in his car along the highway. Doesn't sound so dangerous any more, does it? Yucca maintains that the media has it all blown out of proportion and I must say that I feel safer here than I do at home. The people are friendly and warm, the food is good, the margaritas are great, and the weather can't be beaten. Wait, I didn't have a margarita last night. Well, that's tonight's plan. I'll work hard to accomplish it.
     My wife gave me an iPad 2 for Christmas, so I can answer email anywhere I can find WiFi and figure out how to gain access, which takes some doing. This morning, I entered a small college in town and got a couple of coeds sitting at an outside table before class started to show me how to get online. Tomorrow, I will see if I can remember the process. Keeping up with technology is a challenge. Typing is too slow on the iPad, so I will continue to search out Internet Cafes, like this one, to do my updates. Stay tuned for the fishing results and the rest of this year´s adventure. Adios.

January 7, 2012 - from San Jose del Cabo, Mexico:
     I shouldn't have expected to repeat the last fishing trip I experienced here, when I caught so many species of fish and crowds gathered to see us unload the boat. I also should have limited my goals for the day when the crew turned out to still be cutting their baby teeth. Alan, the captain, was 18-years old, Alexi, his brother, was only 16. They were all the crew I had on the 22 foot panga, owned by their father who was on his larger panga, hosting a bigger spender. The new 70 horsepower, four stroke, Honda engine performed like a champion, one major improvement over my last fishing trip here, when the motor only operated half the time and we almost washed ashore. But, we only caught two fish. True, I had another one beside the boat when its teeth cut the 40 pound test line, but I can't count that one.
     We left promptly at 7:00 a.m. after my early morning bus ride (about 80 cents vs. a $10 cab fare) brought me close enough to walk the remaining few blocks to the docks. I grabbed a quick breakfast from a local selling meat pies and coffee from a cooler at the marina and they were a fitting breakfast. Anthony Bourdain would have been proud. I met my stellar crew, paid the remaining amount of the $145 dollar charter fee and another $20 or so for the one day fishing license, prepared in advance for me. We headed out to sea and no more than a quarter mile beyond the jetty a whale surfaced to greet us. I saw its entire back and tail, but couldn't identify the species. The boys, who spoke nary a word of English, told me what it was in Spanish, but that did little good. They headed a mile or two off shore where a gaggle of boats were fishing away. Turns out, they were fishing for bait mackeral, for which I had also paid 200 pesos before beginning the voyage. The boys brought the panga next to a couple of boats and purchased $25 worth of the little critters. I took some photos of the bait fishermen.
     We rode along the beach for 40 minutes or so with the engine wide open and stopped in open water about 3/4 mile offshore. Alexi had rigged two rods on the way and we settled in for some serious fishing. We talked about fishing and baseball for about an hour when a fish hit the left rod and Alexi hooked it. He quickly handed me the rod and I horsed the thing, it was heavy, for 10 minutes or so when the line abruptly snapped. No sooner had the line popped, then the other rod started to hum and bend. The crew later told me that the same fish hit both lines in sequence. Amazing. I got this fish very close to the boat, close enough to clearly see a hammerhead shark I would estimate at six feet in length. The fish was close enough so that Alexi began to bring in the leader hand over hand when the line snapped again. The boys said the shark's teeth had cut both lines. Oh, well, that's why it's called fishing and not catching.
     The boys were in radio contact with their father who already had three dorado (think mahi mahi) on board. We fished another 40 minutes or so when Alexi heard the left reel click again, then quit. He saw a small dorado hit the bait and realized that it couldn't take such a large mackeral, so he yelled to his brother to put a smaller one on a third rod. Alexi maneuvered the smaller bait close to the dorado and, bingo, he had it hooked. Quickly handing me the rod, I fought the little critter through six or eight major aerial acrobatic jumps which sometimes reached four or five feet above the water. It was a fun fight and I boated the dorado after a 10 minute fight. I had promised Yucca at the hotel that I would bring him some fish and I could now keep my promise. The fish may have weighed five or eight pounds, but there would be plenty of filet for Yucca to enjoy. One down and only one more fish story to tell.
     We fished another 40 minutes or so, talking baseball all the while, when the line clicked and Alexi jumped into action. Are you ready???? We had hooked a marlin! I said MARLIN!! Again thrusting the rod into my hands, I battled the big creature for 15 minutes or so with Alexi yelling instructions about when to rock back and when to crank when I started to run out of gas. When Alexi asked if I needed help, I said "Si," and he took over. When he tired, I took the rod again, because Alan kept steering the boat to keep it clear of the line. The boys were excited. I learned that they had caught marlin before, but always with their father. This was to be their first solo marlin. We relieved each other, the two of us, another time or two, and the monster got closer to the boat after several surface thrashings, but never a real jump. I took several pictures of the fish close to the boat, because I didn't want to lose the memories if we couldn't get the giant on board.
     Finally, after about 40 minutes of battling, the big fellow started to weaken and allowed Alexi to steer it alongside. Alan quickly grabbed a large blue towel and threw it over the fish's sword, yelling that they are "muy peligroso" (very dangerous). He grabbed the towel-covered sword and lifted the monster's head out of the water and Alexi started to beat its head with the huge club that all salt water fisherman carry on board. He beat it so hard that he broke the club in half, but resumed beating with the stub until the great beast succumbed. Then, while I wisely snapped photos of the entire process, they hoisted the animal on board. I know, you don't believe the story, but it is all true and I have pictures to prove it. I will attempt to send them later today, but I will have to master the process on my iPad. I have been told that the procedure should be simple. We'll see.
     Again this year, the tourists and locals on the dock gathered in awe at our catch. I took a couple of pictures of my crew and had a local snap one of the three of us while the fish, estimated between 80 and 100 pounds hung on the dock. It is not the largest marlin ever taken, but in a small panga with only 40 pound test line, it was quite an accomplishment. I tipped the boys well. It is an experience we will all remember.
     I put both dorado filets and a small chunk of marlin in Yucca's refrigerator. Hopefully, I will take a piece of dorado to a restaurant tonight to have them prepare it for my supper. Yucca can enjoy the rest. The remainder of the marlin will either go to feed local families or be sold at one of the local restaurants. It was another fantastic fishing adventure, but as I previously said: I only caught two fish.
     Incidentally, to be fair, I would have to say that I fought the marlin for about 40% of the time and Alexi about 60%. I paid the bills, however, so I claim the catch. This news will have my second son drooling in envy, since he has caught all of the major sport fish in the sea with the exception of the marlin. Looks like the old timer beat him to it.
     Tomorrow, it is on to La Paz. Stay tuned. Hasta luego.

January 10, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Leaving San Jose del Cabo by bus afforded me two routing options. Previously I was unaware of the second option.  I took the only one of which I was aware:  through Cabo San Lucas and Todos Santos (think Hotel California of Eagles' fame) to reach La Paz.  This time out, I was asked whether I wanted to go through Los Barriles, which was a half-hour shorter than the route I had taken before.  Wanting to see more of the country, as well as save the half-hour, I took the Los Barriles route.  I should have checked a map prior to making the selection.  The quick route wound through the mountains and yielded a harrowing ride around S-turns unprotected by guardrails.  Not only that, the driver was either something of a cowboy or was hell-bent on finding a bano in La Paz, because there were turns where the bus was leaning precipitously on two wheels.  Sitting four rows behind the driver on the aisle afforded me too much of a view of the road, but thank God for the Kindle which I read intently to eliminate the developing anxiety.  Suffice it to say, I won't take that route again.
     Getting off of the bus and emerging from the terminal, across the street from the Malecon (beach promenade), made the trip, though not the excitement, worthwhile.  La Paz is located on a beautiful bay with gorgeous views of the Sea of Cortez.  It was great to be back where I had wintered three years before.  I ambled down the Malecon, heading for the Plaza Real, the inexpensive hotel only a stone's throw from the bay, where I had stayed previously.  On the way, with hunger building after the three and a half-hour ride, I stopped at a street vendor's stand and bought a delicious burrito that I ate standing beside my suitcase and backpack.  It was spectacular!!!  Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmer would have been proud of me.
     I secured a room for $35/night, but was a tad disappointed to see that no improvements or maintenance had been done since I left three years ago.  My bathroom has no hot water in the sink, only a few streams of water escaping the shower head, and a few loose tiles on the bedroom floor.  Not to mention the 3:00 - 4:00 a.m. noise from the nearby bars that awaken even a sound sleeper like yours truly.
     After one night in that room, I promptly began my search for an apartment the next morning.  Rainbow Hawk (Google him), who has lived here for 53 years, and who currently resides in a VW bus that somebody gave him, had a suggestion or two.  I checked several apartments including the really frugal one recommended by Rainbow, and finally located a beauty.  A beautiful view of the bay with sailboats bobbing at anchor, two bedrooms, one bath, and an adjacent terrace, I was captivated.  I expressed an interest immediately.  Unfortunately, an American in another apartment told me that the landlady had promised that he could move into the place when the current tenant leaves on January 31.  The maid, who was showing me the apartment shook her head "no" out of his sight and motioned that I should have the place.  Making certain to cement that relationship, I gave the maid a small gratuity so that she could lobby on my behalf with the landlady.  I told the neighbor that his deal was between him and the landlady, but that I was prepared to make a deposit immediately.  Sure enough, this morning when I returned to the building, the landlady had decided in my favor.  I will have a new apartment, with room for Schim and later, my wife, at the bargain price of $546/month.  I'm feeling pretty good about that transaction right now.
     I am also considering a move to a more expensive hotel, a luxury residence across the street from the Malecon with gorgeous views of the bay of its own.  I worked out a deal for $53/night if I pay the rest of the month in advance (always negotiate!), which is pretty good for a hotel that normally rents for $125/night.
     I have been enjoying the Mexican food, but the weather has been disarmingly chilly.  It only reached 68 degrees yesterday with a stiff North wind.  I needed a sweater and a windbreaker to sit in the sun with my Kindle.  I realize that it is a tad colder in Pennsylvania and that I will get little sympathy, but that is the general purpose of this trip - to seek warmth.  It is much warmer today with no wind; no windbreaker or sweater required.  I am writing in shorts and a golf shirt.  Ahh, this is more like it.  Hasta pronto!

January 12, 2002 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     When I travel each winter, the first thing that strikes me is the change of weather. Some years when I step off the plane, I walk into the middle of summer; other times that first step leaves me in the winter, albeit a milder one like in Spain, Portugal, or Italy. This year, I am struck by how springlike conditions are on the Baja. The locals are complaining about the cold temperatures, but I have jumped right into spring, my favorite time of the year. The mornings and evenings are a little brisk and a light jacket or sweatshirt (wish I had packed one) is in order. By 10:00 a.m., however, shorts and short sleeves are perfectly suitable attire. Last evening, as I sat outside at what turned out to be a rather expensive Italian restaurant, a sweater was necessary, but by the end of the meal (9:30) I wished that I had also brought my windbreaker. I could feel the chill settling on my shoulders.
     The meal was good enough, but what made the evening was the young fellow (73) who rode up on a motorcycle and sat at the table next to mine. In less than five minutes, he asked to join me and we dined together and compared notes on our travels. John, whose business card lists him as an adventure rider, had ridden here from Oregon despite all the dire warnings of his friends and family about the dangers from the violence of the drug cartels in Mexico. Actually, he didn't ride directly here; first, he completed the four corners tour before heading south. The four corners tour of which he spoke are the four corners of the US of A. He left his Sprague River home, rode to the northernmost corner of Washington state, then headed east through Canada and the US until he reached the extreme northern part of Maine. Next, it was a brief run south until he reached our southernmost point in Key West. Finally, he headed to California, reaching the California border with Mexico. He had completed the four corner tour on his Yamaha 650 cycle and he did it alone, since all his friends thought him crazy.
     John is a retired sergeant from the sheriff's department in Bend, Oregon. He lost his wife a few years back after a battle with cancer and decided that he wasn't going to sit around in the snow of the Sprague River and vegetate; he would ride. And ride he has, despite two broken backs from household falls, he has persisted. He didn't quit in southern California; after completing his personal, four corners tour, he headed south down the Baja. There, after conversing on the Internet with a friend now living in China, John agreed to evaluate a sailboat that his friend had located on line. The boat had been sold, but John located another great buy, though it needed much work, and bought a 57-foot ketch for his friend. Upon reporting his purchase to his friend, he learned that the friend wasn't really interested in that boat, so John now owns a ketch in which he is sleeping and making repairs while it sits in drydock. He and his wife lived on a boat in past years in Oregon and he has sailed much of the west coast, so he is comfortable with sailing the ketch back to Oregon when it is ready, but who knows how he will get the Yamaha on board.
     One of the advantages of traveling alone is that it forces one to reach out to other travelers. Last night was just such a case. Of course, reaching out has also yielded friends like Schim and Lorenzo in year's past, so one must be exceedingly careful about the person to whom you reach out. The evening flew by and I was reminded of my two winters riding Leonardo, my scooter, through much of Europe. Actually, I felt pretty good that I could walk back to my hotel, rather than jumping on a two-wheeler to ride home, especially after the two glasses of cabernet.
     I have relocated to another hotel, one with hot water in the sink, a comfortable, king-sized bed, no loose tiles on the floor, and, most importantly, a reading light over the bed. I have done the calculation about lodging costs and, despite the increased expense of this hotel through the end of the month, my lodging costs will average $26.85/night for the entire trip. That is pretty much within budget.
     Yesterday, after moving, I headed to the small market up the hill and enjoyed a lunch of Menudo - tripe soup. Lorenzo had introduced me to the soup three years ago, and I have come to enjoy the peasant meal of stomach lining in a red sauce. It is served with a communal plate of chopped onions, cilantro, limes, and jalapenos, permitting you to doctor the soup to your taste. It was delicious and probably only cost a dollar. The lunch made up for the more expensive Italian cuisine I enjoyed in the evening.
     Today, I will take a few photos, so that I can share the beauty of this place with you. Hasta luego!

January 16, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
I intended to update today, but that would require a trip to the Internet center a block away. It seems that shortly after breakfast my archenemy in these travels, Montezuma, made a surprise attack. It must have been the salad that I ate last night in the little hole in the wall restaurant I found again last evening. I never had that problem other years in that restaurant, however.
     Or, perhaps it was the ceviche for lunch. Whatever. It will require three days of fasting to defeat Montezuma's forces and, in the meantime, I will stay very close to my room, which means that this is all the updating I can do today. Oops, I think I hear Montezuma's bugle again. Adios.

January 17, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     For a while there yesterday it was touch and go, but I now think I will survive. I was hit with the typical tourista or Montezuma's revenge that lays low so many inexperienced travelers and it is no fun being sick alone in a foreign country. Fever, chills, and the constant dash to the bano are all part of the malady, but the advice I received many years ago from a former Peace Corps pharmacist, now the owner of a small hotel in Costa Rica, is to starve the micro-organisms by not eating for three days, rather than dealing with all the side effects of the drugs taken to combat the attack. It has worked for me in the past and appears to be working today. The side effect of starvation, however, is weakness that will only get more pronounced as I head through the next 46 hours. It is great for getting back on my weight loss program, however.
     I am now convinced, after the fever departed permitting more rational thought, that I made a mistake that I should never have made. I had lunch two days ago (ceviche) and ordered an iced tea to accompany the meal, expecting the Arizona tea that I had observed another gringo drinking from a can the evening before. The waiter gave me options of tea and I selected the green tea, the same procedure that occurred with the other gringo, but the drink came out, after too long a time had passed, in a glass with ice and a straw. I now think that the extra time was required to make the tea from tap water, which is supposed to be good here in La Paz, but I have always refrained from drinking any beverage that I haven't seen opened from a sealed container. I let my guard down and paid for it the following day. It will not happen again.
     I met a young mother the night before who was enjoying dessert at the next table with her 12-year-old son during the dinner hour. As with John, the adventure rider, we joined forces while I ate my chicken mole and they finished their two slices of pie. She attempts to speak English with her son, Daniel, at every opportunity, so my presence gave them both a chance to practice. At the close of the meal, she invited me to have breakfast the following morning with them, so that I could taste something new (a birria sauce) at the restaurant where she dines regularly. I met them in the plaza across from the cathedral and, to my surprise, she drove us, not to a restaurant, but to a carreta (a taco stand). Many locals stood gathered around the stand, since there was no place to sit, and ordered tacos that Lorenia insisted were the best in town. She also warned me about how spicy the one container of sauce would be, but there were several, including one that was mostly chopped cilantro. The taco was delicious, full of carne asado (roast beef) and you could order it with cabbage (I did), before personally placing the sauces of choice on the contents. She told me to taste before putting much on, so I put some of the cilantro sauce on one end and just a little of the birria hot sauce on the other. The cilantro was great, but the birria was dynamite, meaning that it exploded in my mouth melting much dental work and blistering my tongue. It was a great experience. I can't wait for Schim to get here in two weeks, so that I can share the experience with him; I'll recommend plenty of birria. Lorenia had two tacos, Daniel and I had one each, and they both had a coke. I didn't drink, but picked up the tab that was all of $5.15. Frugal Schim will just love the place.
     After breakfast, Lorenia drove us to the top of a nearby mountain for a great view of the city and the bay where I snapped photos that I will soon share. She also drove us to a beautiful, nearby beach recently developed by the government. I enjoyed the two-hour meal and tour. It is always great to speak to local folks who are proud of their city.
     Today, surprised to be ambulant, I strolled a block to the laundry and read emails on the fifth-floor terraza in the shade. The laundry will be washed and folded by 4:00 p.m. today and I will enjoy having a full wardrobe once more. The next couple of days will be long ones, since there will be no meals to break up the passing of time. Most of my days revolve around slow dining and people watching, but I don't want to hang around restaurants where the smell of food will tempt me to return to eating too soon. I have started too early in other bouts of tourista, only to find out the micro-organisms revive and I have to start the whole fasting regime again. Must be strong; must be strong. Stay tuned.

January 21, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     When I travel, I secret a few big bills (dollars) on my person in case of emergency, like a robbery which claims my credit cards, an ATM that doesn't work, etc., etc. My frugal buddy from Florida, Schim, whom you will meet at the end of January if you haven't been reading in prior years, has been emailing me his plans for the upcoming visit. Honestly, it is like traveling with a child. His excitement about the trip is palpable. I'll have to witness it when he arrives, but having to experience his excitement from a distance is a thing to behold. Schim, who traveled with me through Central America and later Argentina, sends me lists of things he is bringing, constantly seeking my approval. He has been with me when my secret large cache of bills needed to be tapped and he wants to be prepared. He inquired if he thought he should bring a few rolls of nickels in case of emergency. This guy is more than frugal, but I humor him. Anyway, during the trip to Argentina, Schim admired my webpage, but protested that I wasn't reporting an accurate or full story. He insisted on reporting a version of his own. We got my daughter, my webmaster, to agree to post Schim's version of events. True, I had to help him with many words, especially those with more than one syllable, but there were a few troubled souls out there, mostly his relatives, who found his updates charming. My webmaster has agreed to supply the editing, spelling corrections, syntax changes, etc. to create a readable document for him again this year. So, when he arrives on the last day of this month for a two-week visit, he will once again be reporting his distorted version of our exploits.

     Montezuma is withdrawing, but putting up a rear-guard retreat employing weapons of mass destruction, including poisonous gases that have neighboring rooms empty after other tenants demanded room changes. Montezuma is nothing if not persistent. Actually, recovery is steady and I am almost back to a full diet once more, though I refuse the ever-present servings of frijoles that come with each meal, including breakfast.
     I have been walking briskly each morning along the beautiful Malecon (beach promenade), joining many other locals and visitors working on cardiovascular fitness. This morning's effort exceeded 40 minutes and is beginning to bear fruit. The long walk doesn't seem to take as much effort, the breathing is reduced, and the weight is falling off. Montezuma has assisted in this effort, but the exercise is the key.  By the time Schim arrives, he will find a new man, one he doesn't recognize, awaiting his arrival outside the bus station.
     Evenings have been spent, post Montezuma, in different restaurants and last night was no exception. The Toscano Restaurant was recommended to me by a long time resident of Cabo San Lucas who visits here regularly. Toscano is the meeting place, it turns out, for many English-speaking ex-patriots. It was very welcoming, only a block from my hotel, and complete with thatched roof, active pool table, and bar without an available stool. Not my kind of place, since I enjoy the interaction with the Mexican culture, but the Italian food was pretty good and the Anglos very friendly. After dinner, I joined Rainbow and Bob, the sailor from Ventura, CA, for a nightcap at our usual meeting spot. Rainbow only drinks coffee, but I enjoyed a final glass of wine before turning in. I expect to have a lazy weekend and have decided to enjoy the photos of snow currently falling in my hometown. Stay warm. Hasta pronto.

January 24, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     "You'll have friends all over the world," is what I tell prospective Rotarians when I describe the benefits of joining the oldest service organization in the world. My talking point was verified once more while I was sitting in the lobby of my hotel, diligently checking for the emails that nobody is sending from back home. I don't blame them; they're cold and I am basking in the Mexican sunshine, enjoying morning walks and evening al fresco dining. They are bitter people!
     Anyway, while sitting in the lobby, I overheard a woman mentioning the "R" word: Rotary. After inquiring as to what Rotary was and listening to her enthusiastic description, I confessed to being a fellow Rotarian. I quickly became an adjunct member of the Redondo Beach Rotary Club from California. Their club was here on an international project, providing supplies and support for a poor Mexican school on the outskirts of La Paz. The school, they told me, had no electricity and only one working toilet. Their mission is a worthy cause. Before the conversation ended, they had invited me to dine with them and local Rotary Club members at a local restaurant. I quickly accepted the invitation. At dinner, where a wonderful time was had by all, I met the local Rotary president, a newly retired college professor, and another member of their club, an ex-pat who is chairing the school project for the local club. They issued an invitation for my club in Pennsylvania to join efforts with them and Redondo Beach to provide support and supplies for the local school. I promised to discuss it with the president of my club. I was then invited to attend the local Rotary Club's regular meeting on Monday night after the Redondo Beach Club departed for home. I promised to give it ample consideration, never wanting to commit to anything while in my relaxed, winter-hiatus, mental state.
     I attended the La Paz Rotary Club meeting last evening and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Again, I was accepted like a local at the meeting. There were 11 of us in attendance and the president asked everybody to introduce themselves to the gringo. Every member rose in place around the rectangular table and did as the president asked. While it was all in Spanish, I understood a large portion of their remarks and comprehended an equal amount of the dialogue during the rest of the meeting, especially since they showed slides of the Redondo Beach Club's visit to the school. It was a fantastic way to spend the evening!  Perhaps my club will decide to get involved in this project, since we are a new club that has never had an international project. This is the fourth Rotary meeting I have attended that was conducted in a foreign language, having attended previous meetings in Venice, Italy, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Panama City, Panama. Each meeting was unique, but all loyally followed the Rotary commitment to helping others and contributing to world peace. Rotarians are warm, friendly people who welcome strangers with open arms. I continue to enjoy the friendships of Rotarians worldwide. Hasta luego.

January 26, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     There are many things to which one must adjust when living, even for three months, in a foreign land. When traveling East or West, the first adjustment I need to make is the change in time. I am on Rocky Mountain time, two hours earlier than EST, while on the Baja. For some that is not a major adjustment. For yours truly, who takes several weeks to adjust to daylight savings time, the time change requires weeks of adjustment. The good news is that I am over that hurdle and finished awakening at 4:30 a.m. ready for the day to begin. I am also finished heading for my hotel room at ridiculously early times prepared to crawl under the covers. A typical time for locals to dine here in La Paz is 8:30.  I first made it to 8:30 while dining with the Redondo Beach Rotary Club and then dined at 8:30 while attending the La Paz Rotary Club's meeting. A small, but important accomplishment in adapting to my new environment.
     An equally earth shattering change is one of attitude. I notice the difference almost immediately after disembarking from the plane in most foreign countries and notice the change again when I return. The attitude here has been described as a "manana" mental state, meaning that frenetic behavior is not necessary to accomplish the next goal of the day. Whatever it is can be done "manana." Yucca described it to me one day, as he put up the "no vacancy" sign at his hotel in San Jose del Cabo, despite the fact that I was the only resident and that there were two additional rooms he could have rented. As he climbed into his hammock, literally, he told me that he had learned long ago that whether he rents those rooms or not that night will not affect his life and make him any richer. He also pointed out that, "I don't feel like working that hard today." The incident happened on a Sunday when his only employee had the day off. Yucca would have had to clean the rooms and register guests, but it was all too much for that day. Manana!
     I notice it in the pace of my stride, the thoughts flitting through my brain, and the less-than-critical nature of the housekeeping chores in my room as I go about the routine of the day. The laundry can be taken tomorrow, the shoes lined up when I next feel like bending over that far. No need to check my watch to make certain that my exercise walk has started by 8:30 a.m. or that I head out to find a restaurant by noon sharp. Everything will happen in good time. Ah, I'm finally in what Yucca calls, "the groove," or what others have called the "manana state of mind." Excuse me while I put my feet up on the glass coffee table on the terrace and close my eyes for a second.
     Unfortunately, the groove will be broken when my frenetic visitor from Orlando, the Schimster, exits the bus in a few days. Then, I will have to observe his frenetic behavior and await his slide into the manana state of mind. Hasta pronto.

January 30, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     With more sea creatures than the National Aquarium in Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, the "sopa de mariscos" hardly qualified to be called a soup, except for the thin pool of translucent, red broth that covered the menagerie when first served. Two dozen or more tiny, barnacle-like clams were most prevalent, but so, too, were chocolate clams, shrimp (only one whose head was still attached, but whose eyes often met mine as I dined), squid, octopus, oysters, sea snails (I had to ask what the delicious, flat, purplish-colored pieces of meat were) and creatures I couldn't identify filled the bowl under the delicious seafood broth. My favorite restaurant in La Paz, Bismarkcito - across the street from the Malecon, served the bowl of the best seafood soup I have ever eaten. Not a fan of red sauce and seafood, since I think red sauce dominates the flavors of the sea, this soup was mild, filling, because of the animals therein, and enough for lunch on Saturday. Actually, I would never have ordered the concoction, except that a dozen locals sitting at a nearby table all started their meal with a bowl of the elixir. It tasted just like the sea on which I was gazing while I dined.
     Sunday, was a completely different dining experience: I enjoyed a pig roast at "The Shack Restaurant," aptly named by Texan Travis, and his Mexican wife, Rosa, who own and work the place. The place was filled with gringos, many of them "old salts" who came off their boats in the harbor for the all-you-can-eat feast which cost $11.00 and included cole slaw and macaroni salad, both self-served at the buffet line from the galvanized tubs in which they were made. I imagine I will have little trouble with rusting pipes the rest of the winter.
     One aging old salt, Doug, invited me to sit with him and two buddies and quickly engaged me in conversation. Doug was obviously blind in one eye, the eye almost closed and empty, but he wore no patch. The patch would have been appropriate, however, since the small hoop earring and the full, gray beard smacked of the Barbary pirates. When he smiled, there weren't many teeth left in his 70-year-old head, but his stories of sailing to Panama, the east coast of the Sea of Cortez, and to Costa Rica made the meal exceedingly enjoyable. Dave, also 70, was another sailor at our table and he regaled us with tales of his motorcycle ride home to Oregon from Fort Meade, Maryland, when he was discharged from the Army in 1962. He passed through Bucks County and Lancaster County and still remembered the barns with hex signs painted on them.
     The fourth diner at the table, Bo, looked as Anglo as I did but was a native of La Paz. His family owns several boats, including a 95-foot-long tall ship that they are almost finished refurbishing. They plan to sail the tall ship to Panama and charter it out for trips through the Panama Canal, to Columbia, or wherever his clients want to go. The delicious roast pork was almost secondary. The conversations were exciting.
     Tomorrow will bring the arrival of my buddy, Schim, if he can find his way onto the bus from the airport, and things should get even more interesting for a couple of weeks. We will, no doubt, begin eating in the alleys and back streets of La Paz (simply because it's cheaper) and the meals will be nothing like the ones I described today. I will wait for the big guy, eager to listen to the Spanish he will butcher and to watch his insatiable consumption of tortillas. I will continue to update, but Schim will write his own description of our adventures in Schim's View. Stay tuned.

February 2, 2012 - from La Paz,
Baja Sur, Mexico:
     As I should have expected, he stumbled off the bus, failed to follow my instructions about exiting through the bus terminal where I was waiting, and meandered across the street to the Malecon looking like a lost puppy. A very big and very old, lost puppy, true, but it was Schim alright, eager to have arrived in La Paz, but looking forlorn and showing consternation because I wasn't where he was looking; I was where I said I would be. He finally spotted me as I gamely attempted to record his arrival on the pixels of my camera; his face glowed and his dentures gleamed in the tropical sun as he realized he did not have to face La Paz alone. He tried to embrace me, but I backed away, knowing full well that we will battle the ugly glances of locals who assume that two males walking together are gay; please, I have better taste than that!
     We walked the half-mile to the new apartment to which I had moved only three hours prior and the Schimster made himself at home, though whining constantly about his bedroom not having a southern exposure and being forced to sleep in twin beds, rather than a king. Hey, first come, first served and I will be here a couple of months; he two weeks (one would hope).
     The last Mexican meal I shared with Schim was where the waiter placed a small bowl of salsa on the table before bringing the complimentary nachos. Schim, thinking the bowl a complimentary soup appetizer, grabbed his spoon and started eating the salsa. Mortified, I called the waiter over, explained the dilemma, had him wipe the remaining salsa from Schim's lips and replace the condiment. Our first Mexican repast in several years found Schim considerably more guarded about the bowls placed in front of us. He ordered a Mexican combination platter and I had fish in a cilantro cream sauce. He drank most of the bottle of inexpensive wine we ordered and we had a delightful time catching up with each others' lives.
     Yesterday, we trooped around La Paz, buying groceries and finding a liquor store to provision our larder with cocktail hour beverages. There will be plenty of wine and beer to share with neighbors at sunset on the terrace overlooking the bay. The first evening we enjoyed the sunset and the hospitality of neighbors who gave Schim a beer and a glass of wine for me. We had a great time making the acquaintance of a couple from San Diego whose daughter lives here with her Mexican husband and newborn.
     Late yesterday afternoon, Tony of Tony's Wine Bar fame where I often sit with Rainbow Hawk and Tom, the sailor from Ventura, invited me to accompany him again to the local golf course to "hit a few balls." If you recall, I think I reported that I fell asleep while reading the last time Tony invited me and I missed the ferry. Yep, that's right, to get to this course you need to take a small, complimentary, ferry across the bay to the course and golf course community that sits on the peninsula across the bay. I went, joined Tony and Mauricio on the ferry and hacked, literally, a few balls on the range before finding my groove. It had been three months since I last picked up a golf club. Tony, whose tiny pizza shop is called a wine bar in his newspaper advertisements because he now sells two kinds of wine (white and red), keeps a sign posted near his al fresco tables that encourage people to play the "Paraiso del Mar" golf course. Apparently, he gets free golfing privileges in exchange, because none of us paid anything to play. And play we did. After hitting golf balls for 15 minutes, I adjourned to the putting green with a putter and a wedge, out of Tony's bag, while Mauricio and Tony continued to beat on balls on the range. Shortly, though, the two bags of clubs were placed on a golf cart and the three of us headed to the course on one cart. Mauricio, a young, tall, handsome, warm, and friendly guy originally, like Tony, from Mexico City, was standing on the back of the cart while Tony drove and I rode shotgun. We played five or six holes and I was pleased to have acquitted myself quite well, even birdieing the final hole in the dark by making a 30-foot putt when I couldn't even see the hole. And my friends back home don't think I can putt!
     I arrived home a little after seven to find the Schimster, who chose not to make the ferry ride, sitting outside awaiting my arrival. We quickly threw on long-sleeved shirts and headed to Tony's Wine Bar and Pizza Emporium for dinner. It has been a hectic day the first day of our time together, but I think we can tolerate one another for a couple weeks. We'll see. Stay tuned. Hasta luego.

February 6, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Rosetta Stone is probably the most popular and the most expensive language acquisition tool used today, but there are others. Schim uses a new method, his own language transfer technique, best described as volume modulation. He asks strangers, including nine-year-old Gaston at breakfast on Friday, in a loud voice, "Do you speak English?" Without waiting for a response, he continues to communicate his English thoughts aloud. Recognizing confusion on the faces of his targets, or a rapid verbal, "No comprendo," Schim utilizes his technique by communicating more loudly. By the third repetition, with the target making every effort to run panicked into the street, Schim complains to me that "I thought these people studied English in school?" Schim does know a few words of Spanish, cerveza hits me first, but he tends to add letters to the few words he remembers. Pocito, which means "very little," ends up as "poNquita," which means nothing to which any Mexican has responded, other than with a puzzled expression. His discourse with Gaston, who speaks two sentences of English learned in his third grade classroom, was exceedingly entertaining over breakfast that day. Of course, I have been entertained by the Schimster many times in the past.
     I was invited to play in a golf tournament on Saturday, by Tony, of Tony's Wine Bar and Pizza Emporium, and Schim encouraged me to go, insisting that he could entertain himself until 2:00 p.m. I will announce it here, since Schim has already made comment about it, that after three months of not picking up a club, I fired a spectacular 111 (yes, that is one hundred and eleven), which was spectacular solely in that I lost only five balls to the surrounding desert and didn't get injured. I played with Tony and the head professional at the course, both of whom were eager to watch the seven-handicap gringo play. The greens were large and very undulating, which automatically added about 10 strokes to my game with my aversion to the putting wand, and there were many holes where the direction of the hole was in doubt as I stood over my shot. But, all in all, I played like a bum, like a guy who would shoot 111. I was slightly embarrassed, but hit enough good shots (maybe three or four), that I demonstrated that at one time I knew how to play the game. The other 10 guys in the tournament were all friendly Mexicans who invited me to return for more humiliation on future Saturdays, since their small tournament is a regular weekend event. They were great guys and we sat around making tacos, included with the $70 entry fee, complaining about our grips, the wind, the condition of the course, and about the 22-handicapper who shot 85 and took the bulk of the prize money (from the 100 pesos we all threw into the pot - $7.50). Despite the score, I had a great time, loosened some rusty joints and muscles and Schim survived the five hours on his own. Actually, not on his own, he headed back to the restaurant owned by nine-year-old Gaston's parents, where he could at least communicate with Gaston in the two sentences Gaston understands.
     Sunday morning brought a day trip adventure by public bus to the nearby beach towns of Pichilingue and Tecolote, where the beautiful, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez were whipped into a solid chop by the steady breezes. Before arriving in Tecolote, we required an hour-and-a-half delay at the ferry to Mazatlan, where I had embarked on another trip in years past. While moving at a pretty decent speed on the two-lane highway, the bus struck a loose, sizable rock which bounced under the bus hitting the floor right under my foot and severing the brake line on its path under the chassis. The driver halted our trip a short distance later in a jerking stop at the ferry terminal, where two other riders were disembarking. He took off his white, dress shirt, crawled under the bus in his tee-shirt, and emerged with brake fluid coating his hands. He called the terminal and a mechanic was dispatched to repair our vehicle. Though we had eaten breakfast only moments before departing on our 30-minute journey, Schim and I headed to the roadside stands across the street that were complete with the cheap, white, plastic chairs that Schim believes makes great atmosphere in the restaurants he selects when it is his turn to choose evening dining establishments. There, we watched the proprietor and his wife prepare a fresh ceviche from the coolers surrounding their makeshift kitchen and enjoyed the raw scallops, shrimp, clams, and mussels cooked only by the lime juice in which they steeped for a few minutes. It was an exceedingly fresh, tasty, and inexpensive repast. We enjoyed our visit with the workers, including drivers of the many 18-wheelers parked nearby, who apparently dined there with some regularity. When the mechanic arrived, the driver who brought him took us the rest of the way to Tecolote in his panel truck - just another rich, Mexican experience.
     Before entering the van, however, came the highlight of the entire trip. We met a beautiful Mexican family from Zacatecas, heading home across the Sea of Cortez after an unsuccessful hunt for work for the father. Their pretty, 15-year-old daughter, who was born in Kansas City, went to American schools for nine years, and spoke excellent English, told us of the family's plight as we headed for the rest rooms in the ferry building where they were sitting together. A son, about 10 years of age, was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, but spoke no English. The father, a handsome, bronze-skinned, 35-year-old had relatives in La Paz and had undertaken the expensive journey (more than $100) in the hope that he could improve his family's life. The 15-year-old told us that they had stayed in a "paper house" (probably cardboard) while living with their relatives, but that there was no work for her dad in the area. We were even more captivated when we talked about the complete safety of La Paz and the daughter informed us that her father had been "stolen" (she meant robbed) in St. Louis. MO, on the way back to Mexico. What a heart-wrenching story!! Who would rob such a poor family? So moved were we by their plight that Schim (yes, Schim!) beat me to the punch by first reaching into his wallet (a move I had never seen before) and giving the father a 100 peso note. I followed suit and also gave smaller amounts to each of the children. By the time we were finished talking with them, they had never asked us for a penny, we had donated $22.00 to the family. The mother told us in Spanish that it was a godsend. We were extremely moved by our experience with this beautiful, young family.

February 8, 2012 – from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     We were headed to Todos Santos (called La Tostito by Schim, who is trying; really he is) today, but were awakened around 4:00 a.m. with a huge lightning bolt and an explosive crash of thunder. By the time we rolled out of the sacks, showered and prepared to take the 9:30 a.m. bus to the home of Hotel California, only an hour's ride away, it was raining steadily. The Baja is desert and that means that it gets fewer than 10 inches of rain each year. Today, we got almost half of their annual rainfall by noon. With no storm sewers or drain systems, the water pooled and ran through the streets, sometimes a foot deep, on its way to the sea.
     Quickly altering our plans, we decided to head to the closest restaurant for breakfast, instead of the bus station, to discuss our options. Coffee was delivered quickly, Schim drinks his black and I with cream. The restaurant was dark, with rain increasing in intensity and no sun to provide light to read the menu. I rose, taking the menu to the doorway to gather more light, while Schim stayed at the table. When I returned to the table with my decision made, I asked Schim how the coffee was and he informed me it was delicious. I drank pretty deeply and gagged, my throat on fire. It seems Schim had added considerable hot sauce to my fresh cup of cafe con leche. So immature, so junior high-like, but the enemy had been engaged and this adversary has quite a few weapons of its own. Late in the meal, after we decided to ride a local bus to the giant Walmart Store closer to the edge of town, Schim needed to make a stop at the restaurant's bano before departing. Fortunately for me, he left behind a quarter cup of coffee which I seasoned liberally with more than a tablespoon of the green, fire sauce. I was afraid he might not sip the mixture when he returned, but I was rewarded with a nice swallow by the Schimster and a shocked, blanch-faced look that had tears running down his cheeks. When you choose the battlefield, you need to protect your flanks! He took it well, but the paybacks have not ended. He'll think twice before engaging again.
     We rode the small colectivo (bus) through the flooded streets of much of the city and arrived at the Walmart, where I buy nothing at home, so I wouldn't be starting here. Schim wasn't buying, either, he was critiquing the merchandising. He claims I am critical of the pronunciation of his five-word Spanish vocabulary, but I am laudatory compared to his displeasure with Walmart merchandising techniques. After Schim used the bano again (I must find younger travel partners), we boarded another bus for the return to center city (centro). Cost for the bus ride was about 50 cents. A few stops in the market and some shops to avoid the rain and the intersections full of rushing water and we returned to the apartment to "enjoy" the lunch of sandwiches picked up at the nearby 7-11-type convenience store. The maid, Alicia, had finished cleaning our apartment, changing our bed clothes (it has been a week) and the place sparkled ($14.75).
     I mentioned previously that on Friday I had gotten a Mexican haircut and was pretty pleased with the result, although the barber had to endure Schim's constant English comments about adding color, which he understood not at all. I have gotten some horrible haircuts in years past, Sevilla, Spain, Mexico City, and Dubrovnik, Croatia come to mind as significant past butcherings, but this haircut wasn't bad. With the warm temperatures of the Baja, the shorter haircut made things much more comfortable.
     Whether it was the comfort or the $3.50 price of the trim that attracted Schim, I'll never know, but the next day he started shopping for a barber. Looking for a female barber, for whatever reason, a mistake (choosing a barber by gender) I had made in Dubrovnik, Schim got a nice haircut, though his significant other thought it too short on one of his many daily Skype video visits with her. I helped the lovely hair stylist (Schim could never call her a barber) with constructive remarks in Spanish about how short I thought the sides and back should be and recommended a flat top (called flap top here) when she began to cut the top. She smiled often, appreciating constructive comments she could understand, and had cut many gringo heads in the past, but I have a feeling she was pleased to see us depart the shop, especially after Schim's meager tip (propina).
     We look to take the bus to Todos Santos on the next sunny day and enjoy today's overcast skies reading in our sparkling apartment. Hasta luego.

February 10, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:     
     Yesterday brought a day trip to Todos Santos on the Pacific side of the Baja, an hour-and-a-half bus ride away. It was my second trip to the town, called by many the Santa Fe (New Mexico) of Mexico, since the small village hosts many artists, galleries, craftsmen, shops, boutique hotels, and the Hotel California whose management apparently encourages the erroneous myth that the Eagles wrote their famous song about the establishment. It is a quaint and charming desert village with nearby access to the Pacific Ocean, though the ocean is not visible from the center of town.
     It was obviously Schim's first visit to the village, since this is his first trip to the Baja, and like many of the scenic and historic places we have visited together, Schim completed his march through the village in record time. I shouldn't have been surprised, since he jogged through the world-famous Anthropological Museum in Mexico City in less than an hour, despite the displays of the finest examples of Aztec and Mayan culture on display from all over this country. He also tells me that, with his significant other, he ran through the Prado Museum in Madrid in less than an hour. I'll bet she was thrilled! Schim is hardly a cultural animal, more interested in store merchandising, politics of the Elks organization, stock market results, and bingo games on his laptop, but I mistakenly thought that Todos Santos, with several cobblestone streets and some of packed desert sand that make refurbished neighborhoods look like western movie sets of years gone by, might be of interest to him. Again, I was wrong.
     After a delicious lunch in a delightful boutique hotel called La Santana, we stopped for a drink at beautiful Hotel California and caught an early bus back to La Paz. We were home by 4:00 p.m., six hours after we left the Malecon bus terminal. People spend entire vacations in Todos Santos, impressed by its charm, its weather, and its art culture. Even I spent three or four days on my last visit. I was in awe of the town's progress on the renewal of their village during my three-year absence. Schim finished his visit in 45 minutes and was eager to return to the apartment to resume the bingo game on his computer.
     For dinner last evening, I agreed to return to Schim's favorite restaurant, La Tortuga, where six-dollar, fish dinners and the decor accentuated with plastic chairs and tables appeal to him. Fortunately, the chef/housewife, who cooks the fish in her kitchen, went to church and, though the doors were open and her nephew and husband were sitting with drinks at the white tables decorated with clay, turtle centerpieces, Schim's favorite local dining establishment was closed for the evening. The Mexican manana style of living even extends to restaurant hours. We ate in a more expensive restaurant and the meal was good, but not particularly noteworthy, except for the flan dessert (egg custard) flambeed with Kahlua.
     Today, I have been pricing rental cars that I will need when my wife and two friends visit next week. Next week, also, Schim returns home. I will try not to celebrate his departure, but I am having difficulty responding to his queries about when we will be leaving for Thailand next year. I have told him that he can depart anytime and when he does, I will be heading to Europe. Stay tuned. Hasta pronto.

February 13, 2012 – from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     We walked across the street from the Malecon and, 75-yards off shore, a pod of dolphins fed, rolling out of the water and attracting twenty or more pelicans and seagulls to the pieces of bait-fish that were chopped during their feeding process. The natural beauty contrasted with the forty-five-minute bus ride we had just completed (about 40 cents) on a randomly-selected, local bus that departed from the market where we had strolled after breakfast. The bus left the paved highway and circled through an extremely poor neighborhood, with tiny, concrete-block houses, cardboard shacks, lean-to's made out of tarps and sticks, but with most having a water-purification unit and a satellite dish proudly standing on the roof. The streets and yards were packed desert sand, and dust scattered in the bus's wake as we passed through the narrow streets, too respectful to shoot many photos of the blatant poverty. The people who left or entered the bus were friendly, surprisingly clean, and overtly happy. Many of the women carried an infant or young child in their arms. It was a sobering experience and one that kept Schim and me commenting long after disembarking about our personal standards of living. We live in such relative wealth and splendor.
     Tomorrow, I have contracted for a rental car to return Schim to San Jose del Cabo, where he will depart in two days. On the same day, with surgical precision, my wife and friends will arrive at the same airport only hours earlier. We will have time to share dinner together, where Schim will, no doubt, regale them with stories of my warm hospitality and kindness. It is an enjoyable experience for me to be able to share part of my travel adventure with others. Far too many times I spend the entire winter alone. Despite all the comments to the contrary, he is a travel companion fully capable of turning a two-week visit into what seems like an eternity. I think we have both enjoyed the time together. Though I tremble when he inquires about when we are departing for Thailand, Viet Nam, or Alaska, the time together has flown rapidly by. I will bid him a fond farewell at the airport. God, I hope he doesn't crumble into tears like he did the last time when he left me in Chile.
     My wife and the couple who are accompanying her will get to enjoy Carnival in La Paz in what promises to be an exciting, though noisy cultural event. I will be sure to keep you updated on our experiences. Hasta luego!

February 17, 2012 – from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Schim is gone, home safely in Orlando and, apparently, with visions of sugar plums dancing in his head. On his last update, he even said some kind things about me. Imagine that! I had to sit down at the computer while reading his words, so euphoric was I. We did have a great time together and the adventure concluded with some additional excitement requiring a few words here:
     I bargained until I got the best price ($31.50/day) for a rental car from Fox Rentals, located conveniently on the Malecon, along with six competitors that lined the street like ducks in a row. Comparison shopping was easy, but the old saying that "bad service lasts long after the thrill of low price" was certainly appropriate in this case. Schim and I showed up when we said we wanted the car (at 7:00 a.m.) only to find the office closed. No problem, it's Mexico, we had breakfast nearby while waiting and finally picked up the car at around 8:10, completely understanding of the fact that they had to "change a tire" causing the delay. We had allowed plenty of time to get Schim three hours through the desert to the Yucca Inn in San Jose del Cabo, have me check-in at the Tropicana Inn, and get me to the airport in time to pick up my wife and the couple accompanying her to the Baja.
     But, "the best laid plans of mice and men oft-times go awry." We had filled the car up with gas on the way out of town, since we were given a small Chevy with only 1/8 tank of fuel and headed out the desert highway through a congested part of town. We had finally maneuvered without a wrong turn and passed the last of the red lights controlling the heavy morning traffic when a pickup truck pulled beside us, motioning that our rear tire was noticeably wobbling. At least that is what the hand gesture indicated to us. We pulled into another government-owned gas station (Pemex) and asked an attendant to check our tires. He thought there was insufficient tread on the left rear and advised us to go to a nearby LLantera, a used tire dealer. He was unable to help and recommended another a mile or two back toward La Paz. That dealer, a pickup truck alongside the road with a pile of tires neatly stacked behind, had no equipment to change a tire. He was merely selling the motley-looking assortment of used rubber he had so carefully stacked along the road. We headed across the street where another LLantera had a hydraulic jack and a larger inventory. He quickly felt the left rear tire, declared it unfit, and replaced it with a used tire that didn't look much better to me. The old tire had tread on only the outside half, so he and we deduced that the wobble was caused by the bad tread. Wrong! We pulled out, headed up the road for about three miles when another vehicle, this time a small tourist van, gave us the identical "wobble" signal, and stopped to inform us that it was the right rear wheel that was wobbling.
     Handling the emergency as expediently as possible, we returned to our LLantera friend who removed the tire and declared it unsafe, too, since he thought it had a flat spot. The man had the right equipment, was remarkably quick in changing tires, and put a used Michelin on our right rear. Fortunately, before lowering the jack, he spun the wheel and the wobble was still instantly noticeable. We had a bent rim which was the root cause of the problem. We pulled the spare from the trunk and it had absolutely no tread, so we had the mechanic put the Michelin on the spare wheel and return the bent wheel to the trunk. The LLantera mechanic spoke no English, so the entire process took a little longer than these words might indicate.
     We were back on the road and headed for a three hour ride through the mountainous deserts on three bad tires and a spare with a bent rim. Why three? I have failed to mention that the right front tire had a noticeable bubble on the sidewall, but both LLantera mechanics thought that it was not a dangerous situation. With our own cars at home, we would never have trusted our lives to a tire with a sidewall bubble, but we were now running late, so we headed through the desert with our fingers crossed. This stuff is just to ridiculous to make up and Schim will verify the story, but we passed through the twists and S-turns of the desert mountains and accomplished our goals without further problem or delay. I made it to the airport and only waited ten minutes for the exhausted travelers to exit customs and immigration. The warm weather and this long-time traveler made for a heartfelt Bienvenidos to Mexico, while Schim prowled the streets of San Jose del Cabo.
     We dined together with Schim meeting my friends for the first time and regaling my wife with horror stories of my behavior, but the meal went very well. Schim departed very, very early the next morning and his kind words on the webpage later mended fences for me with my wife who was pointing out the errors of my ways in berating the wonderful Floridian.
     The next two days would bring some new experiences in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, but those reports will have to wait for another day. Stay tuned. Adios.

February 21, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Two fantastic boat rides were the highlight of the past weekend spent with my wife and our friends who accompanied her to the Baja. The first of the rides was a tour of the beaches and rock formations off the coast of Cabo San Lucas and the tour of that offshore area was sensational, if marred by the scores of small boats taking the same tour, and the three, immense cruise ships anchored a short distance away. Our captain/tour guide also informed us that the local rumor had another large, private vessel anchored close by as belonging to Tiger Woods, but who can believe the local gossip?
     One of the reasons I avoid Cabo is the number of tourists and the shills seeking their dollars. Our short trip to Cabo provided ample evidence of the presence of those negative features, but the views of the arch carved by the sea, Lovers Beach, Divorcee's Beach, and the main beach of Cabo created many Kodak moments during the forty-minute, twelve dollar tour. I will share those pictures with you in a day or two. A glimpse or two of sea lions working the harbor also generated a little excitement, but the water was churning with fishing boats, tour boats, sail boats, and vessels of every kind. The restaurants lining the marina were full of the thousands of tourists that walked down the gangplanks of the cruise ships and the shills were having a field day filling their tourist quotas. It was a hectic day in Cabo, but definitely one worth the trip and the hassles.
     The second boat ride was a four-hour affair that left from Tecolote, the beach that Schim and I had visited the week before. This time, however, our group of four took advantage of the tour of the nearby island of Espiritu Santo and was rewarded with a gorgeous day, spectacular views of the colorful desert with buttes, mesas, and cliffs, the sparkling turquoise waters of the surrounding Sea of Cortez, and an unbelievable display of sea creatures in the area. We first saw a pod of 50 or more porpoises and the captain navigated the small craft among them, so that we were no more than ten yards away as they regularly broke water in their search for food that must be very plentiful in that place. The four of us and two boys, aged seven and ten, whom the captain carried on board through the surf at the last minute, enjoyed the spectacle for a long period of time. The captain then maneuvered the boat to a clear, turquoise cove of shallow water where a large desert plant was full of nesting Frigate birds, the males puffing a red balloon-type neck sack to attract females that, apparently, selected males with the most attractive red pouch for mating purposes. There were hundreds of Frigates on the plant, going through the mating dance and it was a colorful display, providing many photo opportunities.
     A twenty-minute boat ride around the island then took us to and through another sea-carved archway, something that couldn't be accomplished in the rough waters off Cabo's coast, but was easily done on Espiritu Santo providing even more dazzling photographic proof of our journey. We then headed to a group of rocks containing the 550-individual, sea lion colony that entertained us with their swimming dexterity, their loud calls to one another, and their contorted, basking bodies hanging every which way from their rock perches. It was another close-in experience, with sea lions of all sizes diving around our boat and near the only other boat in the area which had divers in the water swimming with the creatures. It was a colorfully-interactive experience.
     Next was a scheduled shore lunch, in a cove where a white-sand beach had attracted two or three other small tour boats. The water got a little deep (hip-high) on the wade in for the captain, so our erstwhile sailors, cognizant of the 30-minute ride home in the car that faced them after the adventure, chose to keep their clothes dry and eat on the table the captain set up in the calf-deep water where the boat was anchored. While our adventurers marveled at the sea life around them in the clear water (tiny snails, clams, etc.), the captain organized lunch on a plastic table he had set up in the sea. Lunch was delicious: cooked marlin salad and fish ceviche, both eaten on taco shells and accompanied by a choice of beer, water, or soda. It was a scrumptious meal, eaten while in such breathtakingly-beautiful, natural surroundings. The trip cost $40, a figure that will have Schim gasping, but one which every participant would say was worth every penny.
     The weekend took us from San Jose del Cabo, through Cabo San Lucas, onward to the colorful, artsy village of Todo Santos (where Schim breezed through in a matter of minutes). There, we enjoyed lunch, strolled the shops and galleries, and had a drink in Hotel California. The town was enjoyed by all and we regretted that we had to leave to complete the drive to La Paz, where reservations awaited our friends. My wife and I took residence in my apartment while our friends, Bill and Sandy, checked in to La Perla Hotel, in the heart of Carnivale on the main street across from the Malecon where the Carnivale parade would pass a few days later. The Carnivale experience requires a few more words than are likely to be read here after such a lengthy dissertation about our boat rides, so I will save that description for a later time. Much is happening in the Baja, so stay tuned. Hasta luego.

February 24, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Carnivale in La Paz is like the biggest town fair you ever attended. The Malecon (beach promenade) street is lined with food stands for more than a mile, serving every Mexican dish you never heard of, games of chance, rides for kids, three or four stages where free concerts were performed - often simultaneously, tents selling sombreros of all kinds, craftsmen selling jewelry you won't ever wear, the largest cotton candy cone you ever saw, and too many other capitalistic ventures to mention. The main street is closed from 6:00 p.m. until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and the music is loud enough to rattle windows a block away. The main stage produced ballet dancers of all ages, Mexican singing stars, comedians, and brightly, but scantily clad Brazilian dancers. Crowds were extremely large at these performances, especially for the Brazilian ladies. A good time was had by all except those, like Bill and Sandy, who were lodged in hotel rooms facing the main street. Actually, Bill and Sandy held up pretty well during Carnivale and had the best seats in town for watching the Carnivale parade that was the highlight of the event. For whatever reason, the parade was held on three consecutive nights, going in alternate directions which made sense in that it reduced the need to transport the floats back the parade route. The ocean's riches, Mexican history, Mexican music, clowns, television reality show stars (think "Jersey Shore" - here the show is "Bad Girls"), and scantily-clad Brazilian dancers (who knew?) were the main themes of the floats. Dancers, singers, and other enthusiasts followed the floats celebrating noisily. It was a spectacle to behold. The Carnivale in La Paz was the third such event I have attended in my travels. Nothing is more spectacular than the Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, but I enjoyed most the more intimate and, if possible, more enthusiastic float performers in Cadiz, Spain, who were never more than a few feet from the audiences that lined the tiny streets.

     I was frightened for the first time during this trip when the four of us finished dinner at a good, local, Italian restaurant facing the Malecon and attempted to return to Bill and Sandy's hotel. With yours truly leading the way wearing sandals on my feet, we headed into the crowd of revelers that became a mob as we approached the stage where the Brazilian babes had the audience in a lather. The crowd crushed against us, often stomping on my toes, as we and hundreds of others attempted to pass by. Had one of us fallen, a tragedy could have occurred. Had the crowd panicked with a fire or an explosion, hundreds would have been trampled to death. I had my wife hold my pants pocket and kept plowing through as revelers attempted to pass the other way, some spilling beer on us as they assertively pushed through. Too many beers and too much macho-ism caused a frightening scene. Bill brought up the rear of the procession and I almost called for him to join me in the front, though probably impossible with all the bodies, so we could form a heavy wedge to get the women safely through. As I approached a side street, I made an aggressive lurch to the side, through fans twenty or thirty deep and finally got a little room near a group of policemen who were oblivious to the dangers, but not to the women on the stage as they remained riveted on the performance, even moving with the music. My adrenalin was really pumping by the time we got to safety. We celebrated with a drink in their hotel restaurant.

     Bill and Sandy are safely home, having taken the three-hour bus through the desert to the Los Cabos airport, the reverse route that Schim had taken not long before. They seemed to enjoy the Mexican culture and the weather and their visit was a blessing to this lonely traveler. My wife will leave via the same bus route tomorrow morning, heading back into the frozen tundra, this year a little less frozen than in years past. I will miss her company. We have had a great time together and she is a little more relaxed, a little more tan, and a little more appreciative of her husband's travel agendas. After she returns, I will do what I can to generate interesting updates. I do plan another fishing trip. Who knows, another marlin might be waiting. Hasta luego.

February 27, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     "Donde esta su amigo," asked the young woman selling rustic, hand-made, local jewelry along the Malecon, inquiring about Schim's whereabouts. On Sunday, the following morning, the waitress at "La Fonda," a local restaurant where Schim put hot sauce in my coffee, asked if I needed a table for two, thinking Schim was lurking somewhere close-by. Then, a waiter in that same restaurant, obviously more perceptive than most, inquired about the location of my "amigo loco."  It would appear that I have a reputation to repair, since too many of the natives continue to associate the two of us. There is a lesson for young folks here, one my father failed in his attempt to teach me long ago, that you are often judged by the company of friends that you keep. In this case, that is a frightening thought.
     My wife and friends are safely back in the frozen north and I spent the past two days huddled in my apartment sobbing. Well, maybe not. I did finish a novel and spend serious time in my apartment yesterday, but courageously ventured out alone long enough to field the questions about my "amigo loco." I also enjoyed a steamed whole "pargo" fish at my favorite seafood restaurant, where the service was so slow it exceeded a Mexican hour and fell off my favorite's list. The battle with the fish skeleton may have also signaled the last whole fish that I order here. Sunday night, I headed for the gringo-owned restaurant, called "The Shack," for the bi-weekly pig roast that attracts English speakers from far and wide.
     Then, suddenly, things took a turn for the worse. As I stepped from crossing the street to the curb on the far side, I barely noticed the small, brown and white, street dog with his head partially buried in a trash bag, scrounging for food. I must have slightly kicked the bag mid-stride when, suddenly, the dog snarled, ran around the bag, and bit my ankle. The bite wasn't bad, just one place where the skin seemed broken but, after sitting for an hour at the pig roast, I noticed that there were two places where small droplets of blood oozed forth. The guy sitting with me, Tom the California sailor, suggested putting honey on the wound since he said that nothing can grow in honey, but the bar had none. Noticing the lime (here called limons) on the lip of my vodka tonic, I squeezed the juice on both entry points, causing them to burn slightly. Probably a good thing, thought I. We finished the pork feast and returned to the area where Rainbow holds forth and I inquired of him about the incidence of rabies in La Paz. Rainbow said there was none and that he had been bitten pretty badly by a dog one time and had no problem. I was somewhat relieved, but still a little concerned about the possibility of rabies in this area. I returned home to do some research on the internet.
     Wikipedia pointed out that if you are bitten by an animal in Mexico, assume that it is carrying rabies. Whoa!! The anxiety quickly returned. I decided to contact my landlady, who speaks English quite well and lives two floors below me, to seek her opinion on the matter. She looked at the small wound and agreed with Dr. Rainbow, but said that this wasn't the time of year for rabies. Now, I am not a medical expert, but I was unaware that rabies had a season and became immediately suspicious about her diagnosis. You only get one chance with rabies. Three days after the bite of a rabid animal, you are dead unless treated with the required antibodies. I opted for the hospital to get an expert opinion. The landlady called a taxi for me.
     She sent me to the private hospital where the service was amazingly prompt. I was in an examining room with a doctor within three minutes. The doctor spoke limited English for which he was apologetic, but we communicated very well with my limited Spanish and a few animal sounds and gestures. He examined the wound, cleaned it with anti-septic, gave me a thumbs up when I told him I treated the wound an hour after the bite with limon, then had me sit up to explain his diagnosis. In his twenty years of practice in the Baja, he has never seen a case of rabies. As I once told my brother, however, if I die of rabies the doctor can say he only has seen one death from rabies in twenty years of practice. The problem with that is that I would be that death. He explained that my bite only broke the outer layer of skin and he didn't believe it was serious enough to cause rabies, anyway, but I am supposed to watch the wound for a change of color (to red) or pus forming at the wound. If that happens, he gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him immediately. He also wrote a script in case of infection, but didn't think I needed to get it filled until there are signs of infection. Well, doc, if there are signs of infection, I want the rabies vaccinations. He said that I have three days to observe the wounds. He reiterated, "Trust me on this (in clear English), you won't have a problem." I am currently trusting him, but I will watch the wound like a hawk and any sign of color change or pus and I will want to be airlifted out of here, unless the vaccine is immediately available.
     The hospital was a clean, modern facility that engendered trust. The doctor seemed very professional and used medical terminology in both languages that somewhat soothed my anxiety. I must say that I am still a little anxious about the bite. Oh, the hospital bill was $25 and the cab $10. Try getting medical attention for those rates in our country. If I update in three days, I guess we'll discover the accuracy of his diagnosis. Hasta luego (I hope!)

February 29, 2012 – from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Eager to charm his way back into my good graces and to express concern over my recovery after the dog bite, Schim sent me this email: "If you die, can I have your iPad2?" The man is amazingly inept and inconsiderate. His words, tender as they may have been, did not win favor with me, even though the dog bite appears to be healing normally and there have been no setbacks on the wounds which were little more than a scratch. Enough about Schim, although he continues attempts to plan another trip together, a fate I will avoid no matter the cost. Worse is his daily Skype telephone call which is difficult to escape when one is writing on the computer and then, no thanks to modern technology, I have to look at him, too.
     One of the shortcomings in my method of packing my oldest clothes and leaving them behind when I depart each year is that occasionally I misjudge the life of a garment. That was the case this year in one of the two, identical pairs of khaki trousers (chinos) that I packed for the trip, the only two trousers I brought with me in my ongoing effort to pack lighter. The crotch seam of the chinos met their match one day as I bent to tighten my sandals, forcing me into the dreaded one-pair-of-pants dilemma. The dilemma, made worse by the extremely light, washed-stone color of the garments that show all the dirt, I needed to find a seamstress to create a six-week patch that would hold until mid-April. That became my major task for the day this past Saturday (the workload here is almost unbearable) and I found two such establishments, the first closed for a few days because of a medical condition by the owner. The second establishment had a husband and wife team hard at work repairing clothing and they welcomed the chino challenge. Monday morning, I appeared as scheduled and reacquired the pantalones, complete with a sturdy patch right where I needed it. It cost $3.50 (50 pesos), but was well worth it, since I am now back to my original two-pants inventory. I should make it just fine until mid-April when the temperatures warm in the north-land. To complete the clothing rejuvenation, I also took my laundry to the cleaners and, two hours later, had a fresh, though hardly new, wardrobe from which to select - a good feeling. One looks for small victories when surviving in a foreign land.
     Today, I will head back across the bay by ferry to the golf course where I am now a member until mid-April. Tony, of famous Tony's Wine Bar, has invited me to play with him and his friend again this afternoon. My years of experience seem to resonate for Tony who is looking to improve his game. My first lesson, over dinner at his aforementioned establishment, was to give up drinking beer while playing the game. The last time we played, with my friend, Bill, Tony over-indulged and by the back nine hit some terrible tee shots, a couple of which never left the tee-box. First, stop the drinking, then concentrate on the golf. My professional advice: "Tony, get rid of the beer. Drink after the round, not during it." That's pretty good advice for you, too. Oh, and stay tuned. Hasta pronto.

March 2, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Buffalo chicken wings, a hamburger, and barbecued pork spare ribs. Yep, they comprised my lunch and dinner on Wednesday, a real American day of feasting. Waiting for the tiny ferry to carry me to the golf course, I had time for a quick lunch at Chipaltino's Wings, a restaurant close-by the marina that overlooks the harbor. The wings were as good as any I have had in the States and I knocked off a dozen in plenty of time to catch the ferry.
     Tony, famous Tony's Wine Bar impresario, and I played about 15 holes of golf before quitting at 6:00 in order to have the cart back when Marco, the pro, asked us to finish so he could catch the ferry in time for some special event he needed to attend in La Paz. Both of us played better golf than we had, especially on the last few holes, go figure, right when we had to quit for the day. We will return soon to see if we continue to improve.
     After the golf, Tony asked what I was doing for dinner and we ended up at El Bandito's, a popular hamburger and spare rib grill which I had never visited before, though I had heard plenty of great reviews about its menu and quality of food. Turns out the place is owned by a young American, born and raised in San Jose, California, who moved down here to start a restaurant business. WHAT?? Reverse immigration!! Has the Mexican government heard about this?? They'll need to build a border fence like the conservatives in America are constructing on our southern border. The industrious, young owner, who was cooking on one of the grills, said he got tired of all the traffic congestion and the frenetic way of life in San Jose and headed south to find his fortune. He began by converting the front half of a 50's Chevy into a trailer with a grill under the Chevy's hood. That trailer is still the centerpiece of his restaurant with the Chevy's grill doing the yeoman's work with the burgers and ribs. Bandito himself worked on an adjacent smaller grill, cooking the buns and putting the finishing touches on the sandwiches to ensure quality control. He must offer a dozen different burgers, including one with an over-easy egg on top. He started selling his products off his trailer on a street corner, but had so much success he opened his popular restaurant in 2005. So successful was he that he invited his mother to emigrate from San Jose, too, and she helps by being his purchasing agent. We talked with her for a short while, everybody knows Tony of course, and she didn't have even the slightest Spanish accent. It was great to meet another successful American entrepreneur.
     Clamato juice. Who knew?? It is difficult to find tomato juice in grocery stores or in a bar for a Bloody Mary. Instead, in the Baja, grocery shelves are full of Clamato juice and bars make Bloody Mary's with the much thinner juice whose recipe appears to be half clam broth. I crave some thick tomato juice and will conduct a wider search for the red liquid this weekend - another major chore for my to-do list, actually the only thing on the list this weekend. It is also very easy to find hot sauce (salsa picante) in restaurants, some have as many as 10 bottles of manufactured stuff on the table and still serve a couple small dishes with a homemade, blistering concoction inside, but trying to find catsup is another story. Catsup, here a little sweeter recipe than at home when you can find it, is rarely available for breakfast, but El Bandito had some for burgers, which went a long way to making the burger taste like home. I have gone and made myself hungry here at 8:00 a.m., so it is time to shower, shave, and venture out for breakfast, with or without the catsup. Hasta luego.

March 6, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     The eyes have it! That isn't a typo after a vote count using Roberts Rules of Order. The eyes to which I refer are my own two, blue (hazel?) visual receptors that have apparently won the hearts of ladies all over Mexico. Thousands of sweet, innocent, young things have fallen under their spell; at the very minimum, the count goes into the hundreds. Well, at least three of them have commented about them directly to me, telling me how much they love my "ojos," while throwing themselves at my feet. Actually, the last of these, a lovely, brown-skinned, 27-year-old waitress on Monday morning, would have caused structural damage to the restaurant floor had she literally thrown herself at my feet. She was very sweet, but had apparently eaten far too many tortillas in her short life. The bottom line, though, is that in a land where almost everybody has beautiful brown eyes, having blue eyes is a positive thing in a male-catches-female kind of way. I'm betting a single, young, blue-eyed male would fare very well in the bars and nightclubs in Cabo San Lucas or here in La Paz. Would that this old-timer could stay up late enough to see if old men with blue eyes have the same effect after dark. It seems to work with breakfast waitresses; that much, I'll say.
     Mission accomplished; I found tomato juice this weekend at the local supermarket. No wonder I hadn't spotted it before, shelf after shelf of Clamato juice in bottles lined one corner of the store and at the far corner of one shelf sat two rows of tomato juice in boxes. Boxes!! Like the unrefrigerated milk sold in boxes in Europe, these boxes of tomato juice seemed somehow less desirable. Not only did it seem it, it tasted less desirable, too. No wonder they all love Clamato juice! Their tomato juice is awful! Thinner, darker (less red), more bitter, and barely tolerable, I bought two boxes of the stuff. It is a slow-go, drinking the almost-red liquid. I'll switch back to Clamato if I finish these boxes before I return to the land of sunshine and sweet, red, tomato juice.
     I spent an enjoyable weekend solving the world's problems with the group of old reprobates that gather near Rainbow Hawk's Volkswagon van (his home) at a nearby Crepes restaurant and drinking coffee or beer (wine for me). Gringos, though all but yours truly have taken up permanent residence in La Paz, the Canadians return to Canada as required to maintain their "supplement," like our social security, that guarantees a minimum monthly stipend for all retirees with full medical benefits, but they have moved here to enjoy the slower lifestyle and warmer weather with which La Paz is blessed. Problems of the world: immigration, war and peace, universal medical care, income taxes, politics, have all been argued and almost resolved by this group of well-read seniors. Most are still reading and learning. Four of us, including Famous Tony, of Tony's Wine and Pizza Bar, are planning a trip tomorrow to view the gray whales in a bay on the Pacific coast northwest of here. After a four hour drive, a small boat will take us among the whales, close enough to touch the critters and their offspring. We will stay overnight in a small hotel and return the following day, having rented a car for two days to make the trip more enjoyable. As long as the gray giants don't decide to flip their tail and crush us to smithereens, I will recount the tale of the whale in my next update. Stay tuned. Hasta luego.

March 8, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     The tale I have to tell is not a whale tale at all. While packing my backpack yesterday morning for the overnight trip to see the gray whales, I had an epiphany. What was I about to do? Having given several presentations to community groups on travel safety, I was about to break one of the cardinal rules I share with folks: The danger comes when you get too comfortable with your apparently safe surroundings and let your guard down. I was headed to see the gray whales with a Mexican (Tony) whom I had known for only two months and two other potential targets for banditos, Bob, a Californian, and Fred, a Canadian. Tony, whom I like very much and with whom I have played golf several times, was raised in Mexico City and worked for 10 years in Cabo San Lucas. The thought flitted through my mind that one way for a local, especially one with experience in the notorious scam centers of Mexico City and Cabo, to target gringos with money would be to befriend them on the golf course, then get them alone on a desert road, headed for wherever. Not that Tony would do the dirty work himself, I know this is a bit paranoid, but one phone call on his cell could alert the banditos to pull us over, take the money, and valuables, and head into the sunset. In some cases banditos have been known to leave their victims with bullet holes that I had no desire to acquire. Tony (or another unscrupulous local) would probably get roughed up and "robbed" in the process to cover his tracks, but get his share of the loot later. I had a "gut" feeling that I was unnecessarily exposing myself on this four-hour trip to see whales that I really wasn't all that interested in viewing, anyway.
     I met the other three adventurers yesterday morning, informed them that I was not going to accompany them, but told them that I would share the cost of the trip as I had promised. Fred and Bob would probably not have made the trip if they had had to split the expenses only two ways and I didn't want to be the cause of a complete cancellation after everybody had awakened early for an 8:00 a.m. departure. Tony was just going along for the ride and we had agreed to pay his expenses. The other thought that nagged at me was, "What is in this for Tony?" He had seen the whales before and this was no big deal for him. He was going to drive four hours each way, spend a night away from his business, and put up with three old men; Tony is 45 years of age. What is in it for Tony? At the golf course and in a couple of restaurants, Tony had observed me retrieving funds from the "secret" wallet that I carry under my pants which contains my passport, credit cards, and the bulk of my money. I only carry a day's worth of money in my pocket, but Tony knew about my "stash." Collaboration with banditos kept popping into my mind and I went with my "gut feeling." I stayed home. When Fred and Bob return today, I will relate their experiences for you. Here's hoping it was only excessive caution on my part and they'll return safely, having had a great time. Hasta pronto.

March 12, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Everyone returned safely from the whale excursion, so my paranoid worst fear went unrealized. They never got close enough to touch the whales, never saw one breach, but closely viewed many adults and calves in Scammon's Lagoon off the Pacific Ocean four hours north of here. I still maintain that following my gut instinct was the correct thing to do and I paid my share of the rental car expense to minimize the effect of my decision on the other explorers. I followed one of my cardinal rules to not put myself into an uncomfortable position about which I had doubts.
     So, two days later, Tony, Bob, and I took off at 2:00 p.m. for a day trip to Todos Santos, where Tony wanted to sample food that he might use to open a new restaurant in La Paz. Tony drove and Bob and I split the cost of fuel. A friend of Tony's from Cabo San Lucas has owned "La Casita," a tapas and wine bar for the past two years and he was thrilled that Tony (and his two gringo friends) wanted to sample his menu. The food was exquisite and included spare ribs, tuna tartar, scallop and shrimp pasta, grilled sea scallops with garlic, and a mixed plate of desserts. We brought along two bottles of wine and the owner shared them with us, then insisted we sample a wonderful Malbec of which he was fond. A great time with many laughs was had by all and we returned home through the desert in time for me to crawl between the sheets by 8:00 p.m. Wine seems to knock me out these days.
     The dog bite is completely healed, but the miniscule threat of rabies has caused anxiety I have not experienced in many years. Something about the fatal nature of the disease with its horrific final symptoms had me extremely anxious for the past couple of weeks and probably contributed to my paranoid concern about the whale trip. Finally, yesterday, after reading the Mayo Clinic description which found it very rare for rabies to be caused by dog or cat bites and the US Center for Disease Control's inclusion of Mexico on a list of countries where the incidence of rabies is small, I have gotten some peace of mind.
     I took the ferry to the golf course on Sunday and hit balls on the practice range until by back told me that I had had enough. Then, I did the same chipping and putting on the putting green, preparing myself for a match Tony has arranged for Tuesday afternoon. Apparently, we will also be playing in a two-man scramble tournament on Saturday, so I continue to hone my long-rusted golf game. The game is starting to return and I will need it to be in decent shape when I get home, since most of my opponents have been playing daily during the very mild winter. One of my golfing buddies recorded his first hole-in-one in Florida a week ago, so the competition will be keen once I am back on the home course. Current plans have me returning two weeks early, so I should touch down in the US of A by the end of March. Hasta pronto.

March 16, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     This winter's adventure is winding down, since I have decided to return home early due to this year's unseasonably-warm, March weather in the mid-Atlantic region. I have canceled my hotel reservations at Yuca's little hotel in San Jose del Cabo, where I planned to spend a week or so on the way back and purchased a bus ticket directly from La Paz to the Los Cabos Aeropuerto. This means that I will have to endure that three-hour-long, tortuously-winding run through the desert mountains in the little, seven-passenger executive coach that departs hourly for that destination, but by changing my flight, I will fly directly from Los Cabos to Newark, NJ, arriving in only five hours flying time. My previous ticket required landing in Houston, making for a longer return voyage.
     I have been hitting golf balls on the driving range and playing occasional rounds of golf at the course, Paraiso del Mar, across the bay. Tomorrow, I will play in a tournament with Tony, of Tony's Famous Wine and Pizza Bar, but our expectations are not high. On a recent ferry trip back from the course, Tony and I ran into a lovely lady, Margaret, from near Toronto in Canada and she informed us that her sons and her husband were planning on entering the tournament, too. As usual, Tony distributed his business cards to everyone on board the ferry and last night while dining at his establishment, I ran into the competition. Margaret, her husband, and three of her four sons were dining at the next table to mine at Tony's. Tony's business acumen is pretty amazing, but her second and third sons, who plan to enter the two-man scramble as a team, were big boys. Her eldest son is home, in college in Canada, but son number two, about 17-years-of-age, was about six foot, three inches tall and his brother, the 16-year-old was already a six-footer. When I asked their handicaps, they responded simultaneously, "Two or three." For the non-golfers among my readers, let me just say that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are probably no longer two or three handicappers. These kids are good! Turns out that her husband, Dave, and their 12-year-old son will probably also enter the tournament. I feel confident that Tony and I can handle them, but it will take a miracle for us to compete with the two-handicappers, although the greens on that golf course can be pretty intimidating. One thing is for certain: we will have a great time.
     I made another visit to a doctor's office a day or two ago, having awakened with an earache for the second night running. I walked to a clinic next to a pharmacy where I asked to see the doctor. "Consultorio?" the white-clad, young lady inquired. I said, "Yes," that I did want to consult with the doctor. I was immediately ushered into the doctor's office where he checked my blood pressure (borderline high), and used his scope to check my ears. While there, I also discussed my continuing concern about rabies after the dog bite and he confirmed the other doctor's diagnosis, "We don't have that here, unless you were bitten by a coyote up in the mountains." He was a young, warm physician who asked for payment himself after my check-up, so I paid him the $2.94 fee in cash. The bill was 40 pesos, $2.94 and I was seen with absolutely no waiting time involved! Is there something wrong with our system or what? Because he also recommended, as he said he does to many retirees, that I begin each day with a beer or two or some red wine, I tipped him another 50 pesos and told him to have a beer on me. Since that visit, I have begun each day with a shot of brandy in my coffee, something for which I have criticized others in previous winter observations.
     Nightly sessions among the male, senior-citizen set continues on the busy little street off the Malecon, where we discuss world affairs, societal concerns, and observe the many beautiful, young, female creatures that stroll by each evening. It is a difficult chore, but all seem eager to engage in the practice. I am there for the deep, philosophical discussions that ensue and shed light on the problems of the world, along with a glass or two of red wine, and only when the reaction from the old-timers creates a unanimous clamor do I turn in my stool to see what the fuss is all about. Most often the old-timers are correct, some of the Mexican young ladies are breathtakingly gorgeous. Hasta luego.

March 20, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     Sunday, Tony never showed up for the golf tournament, but I joined Marco, the club manager, to enter the event. We shot 75 in the two-man scramble, three over par. We simply had too many bogies on the course's tough greens to offset the five birdies we made. The Canadian boys, Chris, 17, and John, 15, had a bad day, too, mainly because the tournament was played from the white tees and they were accustomed to playing from the much longer, championship markers. Oh, they still shot 65 and won the event, beating Marco and me by a full 10 shots. Their dad, Dave, and youngest son, Pete, aged 11, shot a one under, 71, to tie for second. I had lunch with them after the event and came to learn even more about what a great family they were - not bad golfers, either. The handsome, young, Canadian golfers, Chris, John, and Pete, can be viewed by searching YouTube for their mythical character, Bob Nevada. Their trick shots are worth a look and the quality of their game quickly evident.
     Sunday evening, I attended the yacht club's corned beef and cabbage dinner at their St. Patrick's day celebration. First, nobody pickled the beef, so it was boiled, not corned, beef and the cabbage was woefully undercooked, but that was the menu with which we celebrated the holiday. The band played 50's songs, yacht owners danced old dances, some entertainingly inept on the crowded dance floor and the wine was cheap and tasty. The company was fantastic! The other two compatriots with whom I decided to attend the event and I sat at a table with three Australians, a young couple and a another Aussie, who was in his fifties. We had a wonderful time, first just trying to understand what they were saying. After we got past the "blokes," "mates," and "barbies," we had a delightful time, laughing at the differences in English accents, misconceptions about Australia, and about the young bloke's sweater onto which I spilled three-quarters of a glass of my red wine. The table was one that was pushed together with a tablecloth hiding the joint which had separated, and, as I sat my fresh glass of wine on the crack, it spilled immediately onto the Aussie's green sweater (which now has one maroon sleeve). He took it extremely well and if you don't enjoy an evening spent with Aussies, there is something wrong with you.
     Yesterday, Tom, the sailor formerly from Ventura, CA, joined me for breakfast and we hung out all day. He showered in my shower, since his small boat has no running water and we strolled the downtown area window shopping for much of the day. While walking, we spotted the beast that bit me, contentedly lying in the sun and snoozing. Later, we saw the same dog wagging his tail enthusiastically and jumping up to greet a seedy-looking character who must feed him regularly. In both instances, the dog looked very healthy, easing the rabies concern that lingers in the recesses of my mind.
     I hope to send my last few pictures in the next day or two as my trip winds down and I prepare for my return home where the weather will, most certainly, take a turn for the worse on my arrival. Stay tuned for the final, few updates. Luego!

March 21, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     A delightful time was had Tuesday evening by all in attendance at the "Buen Viaje" (Bon Voyage) party held on the apartment terrace for the Italian couple who are returning to Rome after a winter spent soaking up the sun of the Baja while living in my apartment building. They were people who enjoyed the sun, both were brown as burnt toast, but who never made a point of conversing much with yours truly. At the "Buen Viaje," however, Julio (our first introduction) seemed much warmer and reveled in the attention paid the guests of honor. After a couple of wines, he even serenaded the early arrivals with his version of "O Sole Mio." He had passed me on the street several times before this and wouldn't even make eye contact for a greeting, but he was lubed that night and even accepted my assistance with lighting the charcoal on the grill. Perhaps, he was shy without the wine or really didn't recognize somebody who lived in the same small building for the past two months. His wife was much friendlier and spoke Spanish fluently, albeit with an Italian accent - a delightful sound. They had hired a "mariachi band" to help celebrate a daughter's birthday when she visited them a few weeks back and he had danced in the street with his daughter while the band played. He must have had a little wine during that party as well.
     The menu included burritos made from the "arrachara" (skirt steak) grilled to a perfect temperature on the well-constructed, charcoal fire, wasabi chicken attentively prepared by Beto, the San Francisco architect who lives in the apartment next to mine, a salad prepared by the Moroccan/American couple whose native language is French, and numerous bottles of wine, including one that I carried lovingly to the affair, since I have not prepared any food the entire winter. It was the final bottle of wine remaining from the stores that Schim and I purchased ages ago for the apartment. The Moroccan husband, a rather surly fellow who had only grunted when I greeted him previously on the apartment's common stairwell. He and his wife were born in Morocco, lived previously in France, and now reside in Oregon. They have come to La Paz for more than 20 years and are shopping for a home in this peaceful setting. Their twin children, boy and girl about 13 years-of-age, also attended the event, along with their dog, Cocoa, a very shy, brown lab mix.
     Beto had insisted that I invite Tony (Tony's Wine and Pizza Bar) to the affair, so I walked to the restaurant and retrieved him. Tony, the Moroccan, and I engaged in a delightful, English-Spanish conversation for much of the evening, made more enjoyable by the Moroccan's (who can remember names?) French accent to his fluent Spanish and English. The party was a cornucopia of cultures and backgrounds and my language skills made me feel inadequate, though I was complimented several times on my Spanish. The wine reduced inhibitions and after our landlady led a Spanish sing-a-long by accompanying it with a well-played guitar, a version of spin-the-bottle was enjoyed by all. Though I remained puckered the entire time, remembering the game I played as a youth, it became unnecessary since when the bottle pointed at you, you had to perform some silly activity directed by the person indicated by the bottom of the bottle. The landlady's sister is a beautiful, divorced, woman of thirty or thirty-five years, so my puckering may have been wishful thinking, but it was enthusiastic. Unfortunately, only the bottom of the bottle pointed my way and through puckered lips I asked the "winner" to hop around the bottle on one leg. I am the ultimate party animal!
     Last evening, I ate once more at Tony's and engaged in an intriguing conversation with Sr. Ignacio Garcia Sancho, a mechanical engineer from Mexico City who was sitting at the adjacent table. Sr. Sancho owns a condominium in town, one in Zihuatenejo, and another someplace along a beautiful river in Mexico. He and his wife, who is now traveling in South Africa with three friends, are moving to a new home in Mexico City in a few weeks and his wife is thrilled and energized by the move. Ignacio, 71, still owns a walk-in-cooler manufacturing plant in Mexico and formerly owned a company of the same kind in Los Angeles and another in Venezuela. He is leaving next week on a prolonged motorcycle ride with five compatriots to Death Valley in the USA. The man is a very fit, elder statesman, who has lived in Sweden and traveled throughout the world. He highly recommended that I visit China and Scandinavia, especially Norway. I might just have to fit those onto my bucket list. He cautioned against visiting India, saying he never wanted to return. I thought it important to mention Ignacio here because I was so impressed with the man and to emphasize contributions made by many Mexicans. Not all are characterized by the stereotypical migrant farm laborer whom Americans oft-times associate with this country. I have met many wonderful Mexican people like Ignacio, Tony, Marco, the golf course manager, Kety, my landlady (and her sister, beautiful Paulina), and Yuca of the Yuca Inn. They have made my winter an amazing experience.

March 26, 2012 - from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico:
     There were days when I never thought this day would arrive: the day of the final 2012 update. Those dark days when my mind was convinced that the minor dog bite would cause rabies, despite the assurances of two doctors who had never seen a case in the Baja. Or on some of those chilly evenings when I had insufficient clothing, having forgotten the chill breezes that the desert brings after dark and I shivered in just my windbreaker. Even now, there are evenings when the north wind blows that the jacket is required, but it doesn't get as cold as those evenings of January and February before I purchased a sweatshirt to fend off the weather. I would still describe the weather here as perfect, even through the chilly winter nights. Daytime temperatures always reached the 70's before plunging to the lower 50's in the evening. There may have been one or two nights when the low temperatures dipped into the 40's, always to recover by the next mid-day. When I think of the winter storms of ice and snow, temperatures regularly in the 20's, and the howling winds of the typical winter in Pennsylvania, the weather here is perfect. Even now, when temps reach the 80's, there is no humidity. If you enjoy spring and hot, dry summers, this could be the place for you. Plenty of Americans have found it so.

     In two days, I depart at 8:00 a.m. on a three-hour bus ride through the desert to the San Jose del Cabo airport, to be followed by a direct, five-hour flight to Newark where my son will await my arrival. Each year about this time after visiting foreign countries, especially those of the third world, I remember how much I will immediately recognize the luxury in which we live. That alone is worth the trip, to value what you have. What are the things I look forward to upon my return? These things come to mind:

 1. Seeing my wife, children, grandchildren, and family after three months of absence.
 2. My Tempur-Pedic® mattress.
 3. My lounge chair - there are no comfortable chairs in this apartment.
 4. My friends, though I will sorely miss the close golfing buddy I lost on Sunday.
 5. The mobility of having a car at my immediate disposal.
 6. An American breakfast with eggs that have no salsa smeared on top, no frijoles on the side, and homefries.
 7. Sidewalks with no steps or unsightly ramps.
 8. Stop signs where drivers stop. Here it must only be a suggestion.
 9. The Phillies on television. Here, I have watched the Super Bowl on TV and haven't turned it on since.
10. Great neighbors, to whom I can turn for conversation, problem-solving, or to share a drink.
11. The elevator to my apartment. Here, I walk up three flights of stairs to get home.
12. Brushing my teeth with tap water. Three months of brushing while using bottled water is enough for me. Little things we never think about make our existence luxurious.

    There are plenty of things I will miss about Mexico, especially the charmed city of La Paz. These seem to describe it pretty well:

  1. The warmest, kindest, friendliest people this side of Ireland. Family oriented, hospitable, industrious, handsome, and happy, the Mexican people are a delight. I wish them the best in defeating the drug violence that has parts of their country in its grip, though I saw none of it this winter in this city that prides itself on being the safest city in North America.
  2. The unbelievably courteous treatment of pedestrians. In La Paz (though not in Cabo or San Jose), cars stop, sometimes midway through intersections, to allow pedestrians to cross. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in the world. Approach a crosswalk or start to cross in the middle of the street and all cars stop to allow you to cross. What a great feeling.
  3. Breakfasts with fresh fruit and juice, accompanied by juevos rancheros, eggs with salsa lathered on the top, accompanied by the ever present frijoles.
  4. Personal safety. I felt safer here, where handguns are banned, than in my own hometown. A coincidence? I think not. I could literally walk anywhere in this city of more than 200,000, day or night, and feel safe.
  5. The Malecon. The promenade along the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez where families and individuals walked, bicycled, skated, and strolled to enjoy the splendors of the sea and the harbor that hosted scores of sailboats daily.

  6. The delicious, fresh seafood. Clams, fish, shrimp, oysters, mussels, fresh from the sea only
hours before, cooked (or not) as you like them. Delicious. I had an octopus cocktail last night, followed by a dish composed of shrimp, clams, oysters, octopus, and other sea critters all steamed in aluminum foil and topped with a few mild peppers and melted cheese. Fresh and scrumptious!!
  7. The children. Brown skin, white teeth, smiles a mile wide, and more energy than their parents can handle. Apparently, they haven't been warned about talking to strangers, so we were able to enjoy one another and they were simply delightful.
  8. The variety of restaurants. Since I didn't cook in my apartment, I enjoyed a wide variety of restaurants: French, traditional Mexican, a hamburger and rib joint, an Uruguayan steak house, Italian, Chinese, Sushi, Spanish (from Sitges, Spain), the Menudo at the community market, and corner taco and burrito stands that produced delicious meals. The food has been excellent.
  9. The weather. It will get hot and humid in Pennsylvania. It will only get very hot here with little or no humidity and there is always a breeze off the sea. The winter weather is as I have described earlier. This is a perfect winter climate and my local friends tell me the summers are tolerable, because you can always jump into the sea. I think I could take this climate year round.
10. My Mexican friends who wave and greet me daily as I walk by their store or their restaurant or hotel and who genuinely like me, a gringo. In three months, one becomes a member of the community. I will miss this community.

     Thank you for accompanying me on my journey. I appreciate those who contacted me with questions, concern about the dog bite, and the companionship that an email brings. I hope that you enjoyed sharing, however vicariously, this year's trip. Here's hoping I am given another winter to enjoy a similar adventure. Adios!

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