|January 4, 2016
Holy Toledo! Heavens to Betsy! Jumping Jehosophat! And, Holy Mackerel for the fishermen among you! Another year has passed, the calendar has turned, I still have a pulse, and it is time to escape the wintry winds and snows once again. It was frigid today in the mid-Atlantic and the icy winds on the walk to lunch drove me right back to the condo to begin packing for yet another three-month getaway. Yes, I'm headed out early in the morning, the day after tomorrow, on a flight to San Jose del Cabo where I will enjoy the 75 degree temperatures, fish a day or two, and revisit a few favorite restaurants before catching a bus for La Paz, in Baja Sur, Mexico.
There has been an uptick in the murder rate in the Baja as rival gangs fight and execute one another for control of the drug trade, but few gringos have been involved - a stray bullet or two may be flying, however. The murder rate in many US cities is probably higher than in the Baja, though, so I'm heading South to enjoy the climate, the people, the food, the margaritas, and the culture.
I have received hundreds (actually only three) requests to record my daily exploits on a blog as I have done in years past. So, I will again be writing a description of my daily exploits, however insignificant. There could always be dog bites, hospital visits, fishing adventures, dental work or a number of other misadventures to create some fodder, but I expect to spend the winter in La Paz without much in the way of excitement. Schim has claimed he will not revisit La Paz (he actually wanted me to go to Thailand, Columbia, or Ecuador), but he'll get bored by the beginning of February and start begging me to permit a visit. I didn't feel like an arduous adventure this year and opted for a winter of rest in the sun. Follow along if you want, but don't feel obligated. There will be no quiz. Feliz Ano Nuevo!!
7, 2016 - San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
I touched down yesterday afternoon five minutes ahead of schedule at 12:25 p.m. after two tolerable flights, first from Baltimore and then from Houston. The leg from Houston was pretty rough as we climbed to cruising altitude and when we descended into the Cabo airport, but I survived the ordeal with only the initial half-Xanax that got me on the plane in Baltimore. How refreshing to fly Southwestern where all employees seem genuinely glad to have you aboard and where you can buy a one-way ticket at half the price of a round-trip. They call their service "transfarency" and it was just that. A breakdown of the costs on the ticket displayed the ticket cost, the taxes, and the airport fees. I felt informed and fairly charged. What a difference to previous encounters with other carriers.
At the airport, I bought a ticket ($14) into town on a collective van crammed with tourists headed to Cabo San Lucas and resorts on the beach, most probably paying $250/day and some even more for all-inclusive stays. I was dropped first and I could hear the murmuring in the van as I entered the tiny, very eclectic Yuca Inn. But, it feels like home! Sitting in my room, now equipped with working WiFi, in the tiny, hand-fashioned Yuca Inn feels very comfortable and familiar. The owner, Yuca, whose British bull terrier by the same name still prowls the premises, remembered me and gave me the last available room in his quaint, freshly-painted establishment. No negotiation on room price was necessary, because Yuca apologized for increasing the rate since my last visit and the current exchange rate still yielded a 25 cent discount over my previous stay, now $31.25/night. I only mention the pricing for those who think they can't afford a three-month, winter excursion.
I was tired from my 3:45 a.m. wake-up for the 6:40 a.m. departure in Baltimore and the lack of sleep in the air, so I failed to stop at a bank before checking into the hotel, but that was no problem for Yuca. Mañana is soon enough for payment. Lunch at the neighboring restaurant also was eaten with a promise of payment, then I collapsed on my bed for what turned into a three-hour nap. Man, I was exhausted!
I headed for dinner and the task of acquiring money from an ATM in the familiar little city, but met with my first dilemma of the trip. My debit card would not work at the bank where I customarily make withdrawals and, after a dozen tries, I could feel my anxiety level rising. What to do if I can't get cash? Well, there is always the cache in my belt that I bring for such situations, but this hadn't reached that level of emergency yet. How about another bank? I asked two ladies on the street traveling with a five-year-old carrying a pizza box if there was another, nearby bank and they said "follow us." They took me for a five-block walk up some pretty-dark, side streets, then pointed to a brightly-lit building whose ATM accepted my card and the legal tender problem was resolved. It was comforting to say the least, but having the cache in my belt kept the panic mode from kicking in.
I dined alfresco in tee shirt and long-sleeved shirt (no jacket) in a lovely courtyard with a live guitarist singing beautiful Mexican ballads. Quite a difference from the 15-degree trip to the airport in the morning! Today, I paid Yuca for the room and the smiling, gold-toothed lady in the restaurant for yesterday's lunch and, after breakfast (spicy huevos rancheros) in the same small restaurant, feel ready to take on the world in shorts and a golf shirt.
I always seem to write too much on the first day or two of each trip, so I apologize for wasting your time. I promise brevity in future updates. Hasta luego!
January 9, 2016 - San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
Pancho, the captain of the super panga, gave it his best shot yesterday. Trolling, chumming with huge chunks of calamari that he cut from one of the giant slabs of cephalopod mollusk I had purchased from a boat floating around the beautiful marina while hawking its wares to fishermen heading to sea. We also used live "caballito," a big-eyed scad, baitfish, that I purchased at the mouth of the jetty on the way out to sea at sunrise. The caballito would have yielded a couple of pretty nice fillets had we chosen to eat them instead of using them to tempt dorado and wahoo, who shunned the offering we expectantly drifted for a couple of hours when we first started fishing. Then, Pancho got serious, switching to chumming calamari for the tuna he described as active this time of year. That was slow going, too, but the views of the sunrise, the beach, the desert mountains behind them, and the marine life all around us made it a thrilling adventure. We saw four whales, in Spanish- ballena, one surfacing only 50 yards from the boat and another breaching 200 yards from the boat with an earthquake-sounding thump that vibrated our vessel. We spotted two marlin (well, I only saw the second one), the first time I had ever seen the beautiful dorsal fin protruding from the sea while it searched for prey. We tried but were unable to get it to rise for our lures.
Finally while chumming, one of the heavy rod's clickers screamed and its pole bent almost double. We tangled with our first tuna. Pancho and I were the only humans on the boat (Pancho spoke no English) and he quickly handed the rod to me to do the heavy lifting. It took about 15 minutes to get the small, gorgeous creature to the side of the boat where Pancho expertly gaffed and hoisted it aboard. Probably a 20-25 pounder, it meant we weren't going to be shut out on the half-day for which I had contracted. It was my first-ever tuna and really a thrill. We caught seven fish on the day: two, beautifully-colored trigger fish that we returned to the water because Pancho declared them inedible, a grey trigger fish that we kept because of its value in ceviche, a favorite dish of mine, and four, I said FOUR, tuna, the last a 40-50 pounder that took 30 minutes to bring aboard. This old salt was exhausted! So exhausted was I that Pancho fought the biggest creature for the last 8-10 minutes while I lay gasping on the deck, begging for mercy and a return to shore. I have photos of the catch I will share after I complete this update. I have enjoyed two meals of the tuna fillets after giving a generous portion, probably five pounds, to Yuca at the hotel. We might have had 40 or more pounds of filets cleaned and bagged at the marina by the local filet experts, but I gave the remainder to Pancho who will, no doubt, add extra income by selling them to families and restauranteurs. Another great day on the water at Los Cabos!
This morning, fortified by a couple ibuprofen that Yuca prescribed for the sore muscles sure to follow yesterday's fishing excursion, I walked 2.5 miles up a steep hill to the bus station to purchase a ticket for tomorrow's trip to La Paz, my final destination for the winter. The ride will get me there a day before my apartment is ready and I will spend the night in one more hotel room, but I want to get the lay of the land before checking in. More from La Paz. Adios.
January 12, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
Unpacked at last! Unpacked at last! Thank God Almighty, I"m unpacked at last. It seems like it has been years that I have been living out of a tightly-packed suitcase, but it has only been six days. My wardrobe has been limited for the past week in fear that I couldn't repack my togs in the one suitcase and backpack that I carry. Man, that suitcase is heavy; I packed way too many clothes this year. You'd think that I would have learned by now. I'm getting to be a clothes horse like Schim; I have to stop hanging around that guy.
Sunday morning, right on schedule, Yuca pulled his old, small pickup truck to the bottom of the stairs (with homemade ramp) outside my room and together we loaded the two bags into the dirty bed of his truck. Saturday, Yuca had volunteered to take me to the bus station on his way to a massage. He saved me the cost of a taxi, since there was no way I intended to pull that heavy, poorly-wheeled suitcase up the steep hill for my departure.
Only five people (no chickens) boarded the large, almost-new, tourist bus that must have seated 50 people. Seats were assigned and, of course, I was assigned a window seat and poor, 53-year-old Elisa was relegated to the aisle seat next to mine. She spoke no English, but we eventually shared details about our lives and families. She was a gnarled, wrinkled, but friendly soul who looked more my age, a couple of decades older than she admitted. We endured the trip snuggling closely and laughing when she got cold. We passed the time that way between glances at the movie, in Spanish and starring Tom Hanks, about the captain whose ship was hijacked off the coast of Africa. At the stop in Todos Santos, an employee boarded the bus to check tickets and I introduced her as "mi esposa." She laughed and thanked me, since she is now single (she may have told me why, but spoke too rapidly for me). She has three children and was visiting a son and grandchild in San Jose del Cabo. She was on the first leg of her return home, a 15-hour ride. The bus was heading for Ensenada, a city where I had stayed overnight on my previous drives down the Baja and I inquired of the driver about how long until the bus arrived there. When he said 25 hours, I figure that I must have spent one or two other nights on the way south, although my mind is a little hazy on the details of that trip (tequila?). I can't imagine 25 hours on the bus.
I booked a room in the same, nice, beach-side hotel where I lived in my last visit here and spent the evening talking to Rainbow Hawk who hasn't changed one iota since then. The retired, radical liberal, hippie, artist/musician, pothead still refuses money from our "police-state" government and subsists on the largesse of others. I bought him a lemonade, his choice, and lunch the next day. He still has no problem spending my Social Security money that I am sent monthly by our "corrupt" government.
Late yesterday afternoon, I found the real estate office and met the manager who drove me to the apartment that I rented a couple of months ago through Airbnb.com. It looks just like the photos, but is located a little further from the central area than I hoped. It is probably no more than a kilometer from downtown and the daily hike will provide the exercise I need. I am very close to the marina which I often visited on previous trips for the restaurants and the ferry to the golf course. It will simply require getting accustomed to a different neighborhood. No problema. I just finished my first load of laundry, and it is great that I will not need to carry my clothes to the laundry and back when the pickings become slim. The Maytag washer and dryer is a luxury that I will enjoy. Time to make myself at home! Unpacked at last!! Hasta luego!
January 14, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
So much for the beautiful view from my apartment of the marina and harbor, workmen began digging ditches for sewer and water lines for a new building to be constructed on the property next to this one - the property directly in line with the view. Ah, well, the sun is out and the temperature is still 72 degrees. I can always walk the short block to the beach. The work is entertaining, though. They dug the ditches by hand, quite a job, and yesterday they dug and piled rocks and concrete scattered on the edges of the place. A front end loader is now hoisting those rocks onto an old, but serviceable dump truck for removal. With this much time on one's hands, almost everything passes as entertainment.
Lunch yesterday, I know you missed the descriptions of food, was at a local seafood restaurant a couple of blocks from home adjacent to the marina. Like many restaurants, it was a building of eclectic construction (and that's generous) with a palapa roof, an attached tarp-covered patio, and an additional bamboo-covered picnic area near a walled, tapas bar piled with rows of Tupperware containers full of condiments. There were many exciting dishes on the menu, described in detail in Spanish (what else?) with photos and I opted for a steamed, mixed dish of mariscos (seafood) that included shrimp, octopus, and sea snail. The description included pepinos (cucumbers) that I love, but which my body rejects, so I asked them to hold the cukes (or peps, I guess). The dish was delicious and came covered with thinly sliced red onions. I took a photo to make you hungry.
Dinner was in a much fancier establishment, one that I had visited with my wife and another couple for a Valentine's Day celebration three years ago. Then called El Corazon (the Heart), it was slightly remodeled and its name changed to something that begins with an S, if that helps. The meal was absolutely world class, and a lot more expensive than lunch at $38, including two glasses of wine. The salad was the best I have had in years with crumbled blue cheese, sliced squash, walnuts, and fresh, fancy greens. I could only eat half. The entree was red-wine-glazed, pork spare ribs that put barbecued ribs to shame. Sliced, baby potatoes and asparagus accompanied the meal, but I took no photos since I was too busy savoring the repast. I took two doggie boxes with me, because I could also only eat half the ribs and knew that Rainbow Hawk and his dog would probably appreciate something other than the free tacos on which they customarily survive.
On the long walk back to my apartment at about 10:00 p.m., I dropped off the doggie bag to Rainbow who was sitting with Rosa in his usual base outside an ice cream shop. He and Rosa devoured the meal without a "thank you," so it will be a while until I take the trouble of carrying doggie bags his way. Today, I am exhausted from all the construction I have witnessed next door, so I soon need a nap. Adios!
January 18, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
The weekend began with a Saturday morning beach party at the marina after a Friday night invitation from none other than the commodore of the yacht club, whom I met while dining at a nearby seafood restaurant that had what passed as live music. The commodore was a dancing fool and needed a seat near the dance floor to rest between numbers. I agreed to share my table with him and his partner and that eventually produced the invitation. It was a breakfast beach party and I eat breakfast, so I figured why not? The beach itself was minuscule, but large enough to house two bocce courts and a horseshoe pit that were raked regularly. Inside the covered dining area, where I had attended a Valentine's Day party a few years ago, darts and cards were being played by boat captains, their wives and/or husbands in what appeared to be a weekly tournament for each event. Very welcoming folks at the club and all were gringo or ex-pats as far as I could tell. I heard only English spoken.
Since there was plenty of room at my table, I was soon joined by Hal and Nancy, originally from the state of Washington, but now experienced mariners living the good life on their 55-foot ketch, complete with two lounge chairs and a 50-inch screen TV. They surely aren't roughing it and it did sound like the good life. I miss my lounge chair.
After that, there was laundry to do and, despite the pleas from Schim for more updates, a life to lead in the Baja. The man asks about whether his favorite (cheap) restaurant is still open, why I haven't described what I eat daily for breakfast, why I hadn't eaten menudo (to which I introduced him) at the market, and all about Rainbow. Seems to me that if the man is that interested in the Baja, he should have made the trip. Wait, I didn't mean that!! I have answered his questions in emails to fend off the big question, "May I come down?"
I am a little embarrassed by a rookie mistake I made in packing for the trip. A good rule of thumb expressed by travel experts is to pack your suitcase, then take half of it out and leave it home. Some even recommend repeating the process. I should have listened to them (and myself in recommendations to others), I packed jeans, two pairs of khakis ( I wore one on the flight), four pairs of bermudas, four tee-shirts, seven golf shirts, and three long-sleeved shirts ( I wore one down), three sweaters, a sweatshirt, a light windbreaker and my Gore-tex golf jacket. I was out of my mind!! I have a very convenient washer and dryer and could have gotten by with a pair of jeans, a pair or two of bermudas, and the tee-shirts. Ridiculous! I strained unnecessarily with the heavy suitcase. It reminds me of the way Schim always packs. I have definitely picked up bad habits from the big fellow from the Sunshine State.
Last night, I dined in the great restaurant where I ate the other night when I shared my doggie bag with Rainbow and met the owner who sat with me for a great conversation. Phil (Felipe here) is married to a Mexican woman and they have two, beautiful daughters. We learned that we both played in very competitive, fast-pitch, softball leagues in years past. I in what was called the Pa. Major Softball League, and Felipe on a touring team that often competed with Eddie Feigner, the King and His Court. Turns out, Felipe, as a slugging first baseman, has been enshrined in the U. S Softball Hall of Fame located in Oklahoma, where a native of our city was the American Softball Commissioner for many years. We talked softball for so long that he volunteered to drive me home to save a long walk.
This morning on the way home from breakfast, I bumped into Paul, who along with his brother-in-law, Stan, moved into the apartment next to mine yesterday. Stan, from Montana, has owned the apartment for many years, but hasn't been here for more than a year. Paul, from San Diego, is an avid fisherman and, since Stan will be busy getting his driver's license, tax paperwork, and other details ironed out for the next week, I was invited to accompany Paul on an early morning trip tomorrow. Paul makes fishing rods as a hobby, so he says he has plenty of equipment to loan me. I will meet him at 5:10 a.m. to make the one-hour run to the best fishing. Paul says they have been catching many marlin, so here we go again. I'll let you know how we make out. Luego!
January 20, 2016 – La Paz, Mexico
The fishing tally from yesterday (but who counts?), Harry-4, Paul-2. When fishing on a boat trolling on the high seas, it is just a matter of fortune whose lure or bait is struck by the prey, so it really is the entire boat who should get credit for the day's catch. Our captain, Ephraim, Paul, and yours truly were a team. My fish all happened to be three to five pound bonitas, used for bait by local shark fishermen. Paul, the San Diego fishing addict who is at it again today with his brother-in-law, Stan, reeled in a bonita of similar size, too. He also managed to successfully fight a striped marlin about seven feet long, from tip of bill to tail, weighing in an estimated 150 pounds, though it looked heavier than that to me. The great fish fought Paul valiantly for at least 45 minutes, but our team boated six fish in little more than half of what was described as a very slow day. Ephraim welcomed all species aboard with several blows to the head that set them quivering and onward to the great sea in the sky. Paul and I usually release all fish, but Ephraim must have seen meals for his family and additional profit from today's catch. When we asked how much he thought Paul's marlin weighed, Ephraim responded, "five tacos" and we all enjoyed a hearty laugh.
Paul and Stan invited me to join them for dinner and took me to a new restaurant, for me, that served great Mexican meals. They both ordered roast beef and I opted for delicious short ribs with mashed potatoes - comfort food which reminded me of home. On the return to the apartment, the guys invited me to join them for another day of fishing today, but I declined. Paul would fish every day, Stan has been busy completing government paperwork and is eager to get some lures in the water, but one day at sea a week is enough for this old salt. I will share some photos of yesterday's marine exploits when I complete this update.
In more mundane matters, I am washing the togs worn fishing, combined with my first attempt to launder my bed linens. Wish me well.
Schim has asked for photos of the apartment, photos of plates of food, and more frequent updates. I am terrified that more updates will pique his curiosity sufficiently for him to purchase an airline ticket. La Paz is not ready for him, yet. I'll need more time to brace them, but he may be right about others being curious about where I am living. Maybe, I'll give that a shot later today, if I can squeeze the time into my busy schedule. Hasta mañana.
January 22, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Fishing results from yesterday's excursion: one marlin about 100 pounds, one small, (enough filets for three of us) pargo (red snapper), one large yellowtail, now shrink-wrapped and frozen, and several near misses. No, I didn't change my mind and fish on two consecutive days; these are the results reported by Stan and Paul, my neighbors. The near misses included a giant pargo, at least 50 pounds and missed and lost with a swipe of the gaff by Ephraim, the captain. A very large wahoo, hooked and fought by Paul, that was also lost beside the boat with a sudden twist of the fish's toothy head which severed the line before the gaff could be introduced. Had they expected wahoo, they would have used wire leader. It sounds like they had a great time and I certainly enjoyed the shared pargo filets that a restaurant cooked for us, but I didn't miss a second, consecutive day on the high seas. I might go fishing again next week but, then again, it's about time to get the rust off my golf game. I might just opt for taking the ferry to the course across the bay for a little practice, instead.
Yesterday, I enjoyed a short taxi ride and a leisurely shopping trip at the local supermarket a mile or two away. Grocery shopping is always fun in foreign lands to look at the differences in stores, products, and marketing. This store, Mega, was on the second floor of a shopping mall and required an escalator ramp to reach the shopping and later to descend to the parking level. After buying a couple types of cheese, the challenge this trip was trying to find the crackers on which to eat the cheese in place of a dinner or lunch. I stopped a very nice lady, the people here are amazingly friendly and helpful, and tried to describe saltine crackers. Go ahead, you try it without words. She made several attempts to decipher my charades, but eventually failed. Ten minutes later, I stumbled across "galletas" on the shelf, later passed the lady in the aisle and showed her what my histrionics had been about. Ah, "cookies," she said in English with a huge smile, which was probably most of her English vocabulary. Turns out "galletas" means cookies or crackers, but I now have the makings for an hors d'oeuvre to go with the Mexican red wine that I also purchased.
Stan and Paul have been sharing a smooth, delicious Tequila with me some evenings and they explained that they have sampled them all and ended up restricting themselves to only the "Sauza" brand. The bottle has to have the black label and bottle cap, they insisted, so I bought a bottle ($13) for my friend's visit in March. As a good host, I certainly want to provide them with an authentic beverage when they arrive. With a hand of bananas, some sliced ham, a couple cokes, a bottle of mustard, another of guacamole, a half gallon of milk, a bag of corn chips, and the bottle of wine, my grocery bill was $40. The taxi home cost $3.00, including tip. It is amazing how simple, everyday chores can turn into an exciting adventure. I'm exhausted just recalling the effort. Not to worry; it is soon nap time. Hasta pronto.
January 25, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
I tagged along yesterday with Stan and Paul for a Sunday afternoon matinee of "The Revenant" with Leonardo DiCaprio in a multiplex theater with comfortable, adjustable seats in the most modern shopping mall in the city. With the senior discount of two pesos (11 cents), admission was an incredible $1.73. Though the lobby was pretty crowded, other movie-goers must have been watching "Star Wars," because there were only a couple other folks in our theater. Not a pleasant movie, although based on a true story, dialogue was difficult to hear despite the great surround-sound speakers in the theater. Mumbling actors, mouths full of tobacco or jerky, and sound engineers showing off their capabilities with their stereophonic hi-jinx was a distraction. The winter scenery of Yellowstone Park was spectacular and, after blood and guts aplenty, the good guy (Leonardo) won. The film was in English with Spanish subtitles which was not a problem. Afterward, a tour of the mall, whose Mexican Walmart facsimile sold everything from Italika motor scooters and four-wheelers to groceries, automotive supplies, tires, television sets, washers and dryers, wine, and tequila. In a quick stop I picked up a bottle of red and a bottle of white for any visitors.
Saturday was a blur, spent completing "Boys in the Boat," a good read recommended by my eldest son, and a Kindle search for another book to replace it. Most reading occurred on my sofa while waiting for laundry to finish, but I did spend a little time reading in the courtyard under the grape arbor watching an oriole and a hummingbird flit around the orange and key lime trees. Dinner that evening was at "El Rey Restaurante," a local place that sold no liquor. Not to worry, they had the best "malteados" (milkshakes) in town. Really, the vanilla shake I had with my chicken tacos was one of the best I have had in years. I may have to go back there again - oh, the price of the milkshake was $1.00.
This morning, I made my first venture across the bay to the Paraiso del Mar Golf Course. The trip required a free, short voyage on the boat shuttle and a golf cart ride to the club house. The pro, with whom I had played golf in other visits here, was off today, so I had nobody with whom to negotiate. I paid $10 to hit an unlimited number of balls and was given a mixed bag of rental clubs with which to get the deed done. I hit the ball rather well, but limited myself to 25 or 30 shots to ascertain if seldom-used muscles would withstand the new exercise after three months of rest. I'm happy to report that I have experienced no pain so far, but I have that bottle of "Suaza" tequila in reserve, should the pain become unbearable tonight. Hasta luego!
January 27, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
There is almost as much white in my bedroom as there must be back home with the blizzard of 2016. My problem needn't be shoveled, rather picked up, vacuumed, or blown away. The problem is feathers! My pillows are apparently stuffed with down, no, they are definitely stuffed with down. The feather tips protrude from the pillow cover on occasion, scratching and tickling at just the wrong time - at the moment when finally drifting off to never, never land. The feathers somehow also escape their containment and float to the floor, causing the white-out problem I just described. I haven't seen many geese or ducks here, so my guess is the pillows are stuffed with seagull down. Either that, or they are manufactured on the mainland and flown here (no pun intended). It is obviously not a major problem, although the whiteness seems to appear like magic whenever my eyes hit the floor. With the wonderful weather here, it is a hardship I think I can endure.
I have found a lounge chair: a leather, adjustable, lounge chair with a swiveling, glass-top table, a light, and a call button with waiter service for cocktails or popcorn. It is not in my living room (I wish), but located in another theater we (neighbors Stan and Paul) visited for a matinee yesterday. We waited 40 minutes for the show, the Whitey Bulger story, to begin, wondering why the movie was starting so late. We found out quickly when "The Revenant" began playing. We were in the wrong theater at the multiplex cinema, much closer to my apartment than the one we visited to see "The Revenant" yesterday. Somehow, they had printed our tickets wrong, sending us to the wrong theater, and we were able to get a refund. No problem; here, there is always mañana, so we plan to visit Whitey then, the day before Stan and Paul head home to California.
Stan actually lives on his ranch in Montana for at least half the year, but flees south to his home in northern California when chill winds begin to blow. Since 1992, he has owned the condo here in La Paz where he and Paul, his brother-in-law, escape periodically to fish the rich waters of the Sea of Cortez. Stan, a retired veterinarian, is a great storyteller, recounting numerous veterinary yarns and jokes while we share a sipping tequila in the early evening. One or two of those usually finds me in bed before 9:00 p.m., so please don't inquire about the night life. Next week after Stan and Paul depart, Carnival begins here and, if I skip the tequila, I might soon have more to report on the nightlife. Stay tuned. Luego.
January 29, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
I found 770 pesos ($42.42) today, just when I was running out of cash. No, it wasn't lying in the gutter; that would have been a great find, but I found this cash in my own leather wallet that hangs from my belt under my pants - a precaution I always take when traveling overseas. I was headed for a bank ATM machine to replenish my pesos when I passed a cambio (money exchange) office and remembered the 35 British Pounds that I noticed in my wallet the last time I withdrew pesos. The British currency was left over from a trip to Britain, September one year ago, and was simply occupying space in my wallet. Since I can't foresee any future trips to the British Isles, it was going to waste and not earning any interest. It was my money, but it was truly found when I cashed it in with a smile on my face. I still withdrew more pesos at the ATM and I should now have enough legal tender to get by for a couple weeks.
Stan and Paul should be safely back in San Diego by now, having flown from La Paz to Tijuana and having somebody pick them up to transport them home. I'm on my own again and the first day of solitude has gone rather well. It began last evening after their departure when I curled up with my Kindle and made a real dent in the spy novel I'm reading. Not wanting to put the book down, not even for a meal, I ate a couple ham and string cheese roll-ups (with Dijon mustard) in my apartment and washed them down with a glass of mango juice. In bed by 9:00 p.m., I was delightfully awakened (at 7:30 a.m.) with a Skype call from my granddaughter, a freshman in college. It was great to see (the iPad cameras are fantastic) and talk to her again. Actually, though still in bed, I was engaged in another Spanish lesson on the interesting "Duolingo" website when she called, so she saw her grandfather half-awake with bed head and a Spanish accent while we talked. Her call invigorated me and I jumped (OK, I rolled, joints creaking) out of bed and went on my first real exercise walk of the trip, past the cambio and the ATM. For those counting, my Garmin (fit) bracelet measured the walk at just over 7,000 steps - a great start to the day! I may have to start every day this way. No roll-ups for dinner tonight, though, I'm thinking a little octopus may be in order. Hasta luego!
February 1, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Housekeeping Monday: stripping beds, washing linens and whites, cookies and milk at home for breakfast, shower and shave (hooray - new blade celebration time), and then out to get my hair cut. I took a cab to locate the barber whose address I was uncertain about, and whom I never found. I wasn't sure which main street the ex-pat, Canadian, real-estate mogul told me the shop was on, so I took the cab to cruise the general area. Never found the place, but found a local, four-seat shop way outside the tourist zone where I was treated like a celebrity. It helped that I could joke a little in Spanish, but the owner, who took a lunch break when it was my turn on his chair, assigned me to the last chair in the shop where a middle-aged (20 years younger than this gringo) woman was finishing another guy. The owner rubbed his belly, apologizing, telling me he was hungry, but said the woman back there was the best. She was a little timid with this old gringo, but, using clippers, scissors, comb, and straight razor, I think she did a commendable job. While walking from the shop to lunch, I even took a post-haircut selfie to share when I complete this update. The taxi cost 60 pesos, the same price as the haircut, $3.29, and I tipped the woman $1.00 (20 pesos) which was appreciated so much that I realized that tipping was not a common practice.
I walked 2,500 steps back to the malecon (the tiled, boardwalk-like promenade along the sea) and had lunch of a cup of scrumptious seafood soup and an individual, thin-crusted, seafood pizza that was good. You won't get many superlatives about pizza from me, since It is not one of my favorite meals; I had to try a seafood pizza, though. I also drank two lemonades and they were fantastic! The little "limons," which look like limes to me, are freshly squeezed for each glass and they make the best lemonade on the planet in almost every restaurant here. I then walked 3,000 more steps (are these Fit gadgets ridiculous or what?) on the malecon and arrived home in time to put the laundry in the dryer.
The weekend was absolutely gorgeous with high temps both days in the middle 80's, but there were really no unusual activities to report, unless you consider the round across my bow fired by Montezuma. It was apparently only a one-time, warning shot fired Saturday night, but it got my attention. I'm almost certain it was the old-looking tuna sashimi that I ate when the restaurant where I was headed turned out to be closed for lunch. I skipped a couple meals, ate saltines for another, and Montezuma beat a hasty retreat. I need to be a little more careful in unfamiliar restaurants. Most of the weekend was spent reading intensively and I polished off two Vince Flynn spy novels quite rapidly. Good, quick reads.
It is now time to fold laundry, remake the bed, and take the afternoon siesta - 5,500 steps, after all. Hasta luego!
February 3, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Brrr, it's cold!!! Yesterday was a blustery, windy day, the coolest since I arrived back in January. Maybe, 71 degrees wouldn't be cold for you, but when the sun went down and with the wind gusting, the temperature must have plunged into the mid-50's. I bundled up in jeans, tee-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, and a very light, pullover windbreaker and made my way down the hill to Bandito's for dinner. Bandito's is owned by an American who came south to make his fortune and he has been very successful. He began selling burgers on a street corner from a grill he fashioned under the hood of his pickup truck. He has grown the business into a real restaurant, but the hamburgers, ribs, and tortillas are still grilled under the hood of the pickup that is the centerpiece of the outdoor eatery. It was so chilly that the waitress gave me a serape to put over my shoulders or across by lap and I accepted. After studying the menu and feeling the cool wind still whipping through the wooded restaurant, I decided to cut and run. I apologized, told the waitress that I would return on another night, and made for a restaurant with real walls at the edge of the marina near the water. I had a couple of the best margaritas of the trip, a small plate of chicken enchiladas with mild, green sauce and called it a night.
Fortunately, I had gotten in my exercise walk wearing shorts and tee-shirt in the morning when it was only a tad breezy because, as the day progressed, the wind kept increasing. I passed the 8,000 step goal the gadget sets for me for the second consecutive day and enjoyed the celebration vibration the equipment buzzed on my wrist. I must be getting in shape!
This morning, I located a new restaurant recommended by Stan and Paul, even though they mispronounced or I mis-heard the name of the place, Mermalera. I asked the cabbie to find Mermalada and we went on something of a wild goose chase, even though I had instructions from Stan on how to find the place. After the delicious mushroom and cheese omelette, I walked six or seven blocks in the warm sunshine, the wind has subsided, to the Telcel store and purchased a telephone to use while in Mexico. I know, I waited long enough, but Stan told me about a "gringo special" for the phone and limited minutes, which will be all I need for taxis, restaurants, and texts from my old buddy, Ron, when he and his wife arrive at the beginning of March. I paid $17.92 for the phone and 90 minutes of time. Quite the bargain, I would think. All of the morning's activities have pretty much exhausted me, so you'll excuse me if I close my eyes for just a minute. Hasta pronto!
February 5, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Round-trip to McFisher's Restaurant from my apartment is over three miles. Not a long haul, but there is a sudden, steep slope from the malecon to the restaurant itself and I made the trip three times in the last few days before breathlessly learning that the place was only open for breakfast and lunch. The seafood restaurant was recommended in several internet food blogs, but unmentioned in others that ranked restaurants in La Paz. Two cabbies I asked never heard of the place, although my pronunciation of McFisher's in Spanish could have been a little short of the mark.
I am expecting my wife and our good friends, Ron and Karen, on March 4th for a two-week visit, but Ron is infamous among our travel companions for selecting restaurants after thorough research only to find the places closed when we arrive. Ron has focused in on McFisher's and mentioned it several times in emails during my winter here. He is looking forward to visiting what turned out to be a very rustic, local seafood establishment. But, wouldn't you think he could have mentioned that the place is only open two meals a day? By the time he arrives in La Paz, he will have targeted eight or ten places we have to eat. Ergo, my advance research.
I weaved through the crowds gathered at the main stage constructed for Carnival as a beautiful singer (yes, I have photos) serenaded them in the first performance of the week-long event. There are four stages constructed on or along the malecon and each is equipped with huge speakers that can clearly be heard in my apartment that is at least half-a-mile away from the closest venue. I was headed, again, to McFisher's where I learned only the day before from a neighbor at dinnertime that it was open for only two meals. I finally got a seat in the place where all tables are step through picnic tables, a real challenge with knees made stiff from daily trips up that hill. They were out of the clams and scallops that I selected from the menu, so I ordered a "campechana," a shrimp-cocktail-type appetizer served in a huge glass (bowl). Composed of shrimp, octopus, sea snails, scallops, and clams, the concoction was in a thin, red sauce, with lemon juice and cilantro. It was mouth-wateringly delicious. Maybe, I should forgive Ron for being so focused on the place. I will definitely return, but I may consider a cab for one leg of the trip. I walked both ways yesterday.
Last night, I was back at Bandido's (now spelled correctly) where they remembered me and greeted me warmly. "How warmly," you ask? They covered my seat in one serape, pulled another over my lap, and, finally, draped one across my shoulders. No way this gringo was leaving for another restaurant last night. I had ribs and onion rings only because I must have nodded my head too slowly when he asked, "arroz, cebollas fritas?" I wanted rice, but ended up with the onion rings. All food was good, the under-the-hood grill worked perfectly, and the serapes made it a cozy evening. I walked home admiring the lights from the carny rides, Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, death spiral, etc., etc.
For me this winter, so far, has been a very early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise kind of vacation. Thinking it was because of my age and forgetting early morning wake-ups for fishing excursions, I deduced yesterday, as I crawled between the sheets at 8:00 p.m., that I may still be on Eastern Standard time. My body has always been slow to adjust to time zone changes, but a month is ridiculous. This morning, I awoke at 5:30 a.m. (7:30 EST) ready to take on the world, but vaguely remembering a noisy gun battle that took place outside my apartment building around 11:00 p.m last night. It was either a gun battle or the first day of Carnival also includes a late evening fireworks display. Since I saw no bodies, blood, or chalk-outlined body forms on my way to breakfast this morning, let's go with the fireworks. Hasta pronto!
February 8, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Carnaval weekend!! Ole! Party, Party! NOT! I did stay out late last night, Sunday, to watch the parade and crawled between the sheets at (gasp!) 10:00 p.m. Actually, the parade was a colorful and very noisy event, but it ended somewhere about 9:00 p.m. and I could have been in bed much earlier. As I exited the hotel, however, where I watched the parade from the fourth floor restaurant level, I walked about 20 steps and saw a TV set outside, hanging from the wall of a bar/restaurant and noticed that the third quarter of the super bowl was in progress. So, I stopped, had a beverage, and rooted the Broncos on to victory along with many other, interested Mexicans; at least, they had a quarterback who wouldn't dance in the end zone - my sole criterion for selecting the Broncos, since I am not much of a professional football fan any longer. It's the celebrations and lack of sportsmanship that has turned me off completely. What are we teaching our young athletes about sportsmanship, fair play, being a good loser, a better winner, etc., etc.??
This was the sixth Carnaval celebration I have enjoyed. One in Costa Rica, one three years ago here, the big kahuna in Rio de Janeiro; and two in Cadiz, Spain. My favorites were the two in Cadiz; the one in Rio was the most colorful and biggest man-made celebration I have seen, but the ones in Cadiz were, by far, the most enjoyable and would have been more so had I been able to understand the lyrics of the original humorous songs, ridiculing the politicians, the government, the church, and even athletic endeavors, like golfers. The Carnaval here has grown since I last saw it, now at least 50 floats participated. In La Paz, it is a family event with many children dancing in costumes, playing music, or dancing on the colorful floats. No naked or topless women, sorry guys, it was a tame, though celebratory, family event and one enjoyed by the entire community.
A short word about meals this weekend, because I had a couple of dandies. On Friday night, you can see the wait staff in my photo, I enjoyed arroz negro, black rice made that way from the ink sack of the squid that was chopped and cooked in the rice, making it one of my favorite dishes worldwide. Saturday night found me at the Uruguayan Grill, a restaurant founded by a native Uruguayan who cooked for Schim and me on our last visit. I was saddened to learn that the founder had passed away, at age 48, since my last visit. The new, young grill-master, calling himself a maestro, appears in another photo and cooked me one of the best steaks I have eaten in my life. He really was a maestro of the wood-fired grill on which he prepared the meat. With a half-bottle of Chilean wine, it was a feast for a king.
Today, Mario, the custodian of this condo property, is scheduled to clean my apartment. He was also scheduled to clean it on Friday at 3:00 p.m., but was a no-show. On Saturday he sheepishly informed me that there was too much Carnaval and that was the reason he missed his scheduled cleaning. A tad too much of the tequila, methinks. Hasta Luego!
* 02/08/16 - Photos Added - Album #2 (password: harrystravels) *
February 10, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Carnaval is over!! A little peace and quiet can now ensue and La Paz can once again become the tranquil place of which the locals are so proud and that we tourists enjoy so much. Yes, the place is tranquil despite all the horror stories we hear at home about the drug cartels and the killings associated with them. I wanted to drive down, but was unable to get a navigator to join me and my wife and family feared the danger with which they were certain the trip was fraught. Stan, who owns the condo across the walkway from me and who drives down with some regularity put it best when he said, "it's dangerous, all right, but only if you drive through Los Angeles." I walk the dark streets without fear at night, literally on the streets because of the horrendous condition of the sidewalks, and the folks I meet always greet me with a warm, "buenas tardes" or "buenas noches," depending on the time of day. I honestly feel safer here than in my own hometown and that, too, is very safe. These are wonderfully hospitable people and their town is aptly named.
Not much new or exciting to report, since I steered clear of the Carnaval celebrations and the throngs of people after attending the opening day parade. The long midway crammed wall to wall with people, carny rides, and food stands is just not my thing these days. It is probably my age, but I don't even enjoy the crowds at baseball or football games any longer.
The Schimster was in touch this morning by email, describing how he bundles up (in Orlando) with gloves, hat, and earmuffs to go on his exercise walks - quite a mental picture that makes! He made no mention of visiting, however, and I know the stock market is down, so my guess is he'll stay home this year. That means, of course, that my second bedroom is available if you have always wanted to see the baja. We would simply have to work out the dates. First come, first served. Luego!
February 12, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Today's high temperature is forecast to reach 85 degrees, the beginning of a warming spell that will break 90 degrees on Thursday for the first time this winter. Indeed, by next weekend the high is forecast to top off at 95 degrees. I do not say this to rub it in to the poor folks in the mid-Atlantic who are suffering through single digit temperatures, only to indicate that the temperatures in the Baja will soon be unbearable. Hopefully, this is just a February anomaly and the high temps will return to the low 80's until much later in the spring. It should still be shirtsleeve weather in the evenings when walking to and from dinner and that will make things tolerable. It will limit outdoor activities for a few days, not that I have that many, and my apartment has air-conditioners, so I should be just fine.
I enjoyed the best tuna steak of the trip last night, even better because of the preparation than the ones I caught myself, grilled with salt, pepper, and butter, accompanied by white rice and a vegetable medley that made for a great meal. The night before at my favorite seafood restaurant, Bismark-cito, I had a spotted cabrilla filet, grilled and topped with a light red salsa, onions, and mildly tangy peppers. That fish, too, was remarkably delicious - as well it should be. The fish or seafood consumed here is so fresh that you know the animal must have been swimming that morning and served the same evening. Absolutely fantastic. Even non-fish lovers, like my wife, will find these dishes worth exploring. Enough of the food, you say? What else would I speak of?
This weekend, I plan an exploratory trip to Pichilingue, where the ferry for Mazatlan departs, and Balandra, reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Mexico. I have been to both places before but, since I plan on taking my visitors (wife and first time Mexican visitors, Ron and Karen) there, I thought I should embark on a little advance reconnaissance to be certain that things haven't changed in three years. Other than that, this will probably be a weekend to keep a cold drink and a good novel handy to avoid the heat. Luego!
February 15, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
Who knew there was another Carnaval parade? Not I, although I certainly wondered why the rides weren't removed beginning on Wednesday of last week. Turns out they ran the rides for the rest of the week in preparation for the "Infantil Carnaval" (Childrens' Carnaval) held yesterday, Sunday, at the end of Carnaval week. I pretty much avoided the malecon and the congestion all week, which restricted my exercise and my choice of restaurants. I didn't want to dodge all the people and all the rides and stands to get to some of my favorite dining spots.
I did venture down yesterday after the much smaller parade to avoid the crush, so I was able to get a few photos of the many kids involved in the celebration. Cute as can be, their parents were justifiably proud of their little ones. I will share those photos today.
Saturday was a very long day: I caught the 10:00 o'clock bus from the station along the malecon to Tecolote, the farthest beach on this side of the peninsula. I have been to this beautiful spot several times before and just decided to see if there have been any changes since my last visit. The last hurricane, not the giant that battered the Eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez, but the one that lambasted San Jose before crossing the peninsula and damaging La Paz, removed much sand from Tecolote leaving large, worn rocks protruding from the beach sand. Not to fear, say the locals, eventually when the right storm hits, the sand will be redeposited on top of the exposed stones. Makes one wonder if all the dredging and pumping of sand is necessary on the Delmarva beaches at home. I ate more stuffed chocolate clams, spent two hours under a palapa, reading, and watching people relax on the beach while waiting for the next bus to arrive. A group of five young ladies, I call them the Girls Club, sat at the next table, pounding beer, chatting, laughing uproariously, and occasionally splashing in the turquoise water photographing one another. I got a couple photos of that to share today also.
Saturday night, I ate a caprese salad with goat cheese at Il Rustico, a nice Italian restaurant a few blocks from my apartment, and would have eaten more had I not engaged a newly arrived couple at the bar, the only seats left in the house, in conversation. From upstate New York and former business owners, they own a house in La Paz and visit often. The restaurant owner recognized them and warmly welcomed them back with hugs. The New Yorker is newly retired and we spent much time talking about retirement (he doesn't get it, yet) and Rotary Club. He has accepted consulting jobs with companies because of boredom and I recommended Rotary as a way to focus his retirement efforts on community service. He was very interested, to say the least. I also gave him a better response to those requesting his help with a corporate problem or business: "NO!" His wife seemed to genuinely appreciate my recommendation. He gave me his phone number and email address so that we might continue our discussions some day.
I departed before a main course and after the owner "conveniently" found a table for these regulars, heading for an "Arts Cafe" to listen to the music for future reference when my friends and wife arrive in a couple of weeks. Well, what a shock!! ELVIS LIVES!! Elvis has apparently aged remarkably well and acquired Spanish language fluency as he spoke in Spanish, yet sang his hits in his native tongue.
Still handsome and almost looking younger than when he supposedly passed to the great mansion in the sky, he was clad in a bright red, sequined jump suit with a wide, white belt. I get excited just thinking about the performance again. I got some photos with my phone camera, but my webmaster (daughter Abby) said that they are not clear enough to bother you with. I'll try to get her to post a couple of the best of the dark shots anyway. I lasted about twenty minutes into his performance and caught a cab home, crawling between the sheets after 10:00 p.m. An exhausting day for this caballero! That's right, I'm a caballero, again. Adios.
February 17, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
It's funny how small things can make such a big difference in one's existence. Yesterday, two small revelations changed my life in huge ways. First, I washed my bed clothes and while putting the pillow case back on the one pillow that has littered my bed, bedroom, and clothing with seagull feathers, I had an epiphany. "Wait," said I to myself who was listening intently, "there is another bed in the other bedroom and, perhaps, it has a foam pillow instead of down. Check it out!" Sure enough, the other room's pillow is a soft, foam headrest that will eliminate the feather shower that is now spreading over the entire apartment. It is much more comfortable, too, I notice, having spent two nights without quill pricks on my head and neck. A small change and a major improvement to my existence.
Then, I happened to ask my wife on our daily Skype phone call Monday afternoon if she uses fabric softener when washing my underwear at home. She responded in the affirmative and another of my major problems was brought to light. Yes, she uses fabric softener and I haven't been doing that here, resulting in an uncomfortable fabric that has caused me to walk with a peculiar gait. I have a very stiff, female friend whom I have often accused of starching her underwear and I now believe that really is the root of her problem. Talk about uncomfortable! I haven't been starching mine but, whether from the hardness/softness of the water or different laundry detergent, I have gotten the same result. A quick, inexpensive, taxi ride to the Mega grocery store yesterday produced the bottle of Downy that will bring a smile to my face the next time I launder and wear my delicates. Life will be so much better and I will walk comfortably once more. Hanging loose... Hasta pronto!
February 19, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
What a difference a day makes, especially when that day begins with one's unmentionables laundered and SOFTENED. I spent a large part of yesterday laundering and softening my underwear, ever mindful of my wife's admonition about "timing is everything" when inserting the measured Downy into the washing cycle. It made me a nervous wreck and I am not accustomed to such pressure while on my winter hiatus. The Downy must go in while there is water in the washer or the clothes will turn blue and require rewashing. Softened, blue undies would not cause me a problem, but I faithfully and regularly opened the top-loading lid to check for water. Finally, I made the big decision about rinse cycles and poured the viscous, blue fluid into the machine. The timing must have been OK, because the delicates have not changed color and the smile on my face displays the countenance of one wearing softened undies. Ahhhh...
I got in more than 8,000 steps yesterday (darned technology), but spent most the daylight hours reading in my living room since the high temperature of the day reached 92 degrees. I did not want to turn crisp while spending hours in the tropical sun, so I turned on the ceiling fans and chilled, occasionally watching the home construction process on the lot next door through my filthy windows. The building process here is pretty amazing with labor costs being the least expensive part of the project. These folks do almost everything by hand, including loading dump trucks with dirt. So impressed was I that I took a photo of the process which still amazes me, what with all the dust and heat involved. This morning, I took another photo of the site which I'll share today for your edification. The hand-built septic tank and footers are almost all in place, so the above-ground part of the project is about to go into full swing. It should be interesting.
I enjoyed dinner again last night at the Estancia Uruguay where the same, perfect cut of steak turned out to be significantly tougher than the last one. The camaraderie with Francisco, the grill maestro, was enjoyable, but on a hot evening the grill was throwing off too much heat. I should have selected a table instead of the bar where the proximity to the flame caused considerable sweating. Not able to finish the large chunk of Canadian (that's what the maestro said) beef, I had them box the final quarter of the cut, add a small salad, and then walked back the malecon where I made Rainbow Hawk's day by presenting him with the doggie box. He shared it with Rosa, of course, and complained about its toughness, but it might have been his only meal of the day. He loved the small salad. I said, "Buenas Noches," and continued home, finishing the final leg of my 8,000 steps.
This morning, I decided to take a few photos of flowers. This is the desert and I have only seen a few drops, literally, of rain over the past two months, so there aren't many native flowers other than when the cacti bloom. But in yards and courtyards, the locals nurture flowering plants that are not plentiful, but they are very colorful at this time of year even though it is their winter, too. I will share those photos today, also. A big part of my day is planning where I will dine each evening and I think today I lean toward Spanish (Spain) cuisine. Plans may change as the day progresses, but the current plan is to return to the Spanish restaurant I like so much - perhaps, tonight I'll go for a few tapas. Buen fin de semana!! Hasta lunes.
February 22, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Marlin shoulder sashimi, lobster thermidor, mixed seafood appetizer, and rich paella were the primary, memorable meals of the weekend past. This winter has not exactly been one of deprivation. Who knew a marlin had a shoulder? Not I! Bill, mouth, tail, fins, yes, but a shoulder? These winter getaways are full of educational experiences. The information about the sashimi came from Betto, a diminutive neighbor who I remembered as the resident in the apartment below mine in my last visit to La Paz, when he inquired about whether I was dining alone before he invited me to join him on Friday evening as I entered the Spanish restaurant. I didn't immediately remember from whence I knew him, but his tobacco enriched voice and his habit of using the F-bomb in every other sentence was very familiar. It only took a couple of minutes seated across from him before I focused the memory. A very interesting dinner companion, Betto is, without doubt, the most intelligent person he has ever met and he is more than willing to share his knowledge and experience on any subject with whomsoever he comes into contact. That is probably why he was dining alone.
After a thin, terrible, shared paella prepared in the pan exactly according to the detailed instructions given to the waiter by Betto, we adjourned to another restaurant he recommended (home of my delicious seafood fettuccine) for the marlin shoulder sashimi prepared and served, he said, exactly as he had taught them. The shoulder is first frozen, then partially thawed to slice, then presented completely thawed with ONLY two slices cut off and displayed next to the unsliced, major portion of the shoulder. I must say it was delicious. Marlin shoulder, go figure! Betto is a San Francisco architect, real estate tycoon - "$300,000 is nothing to me," an art connoisseur, an accomplished fisherman and boat (kept in another Mexican city) owner, and a year-round apartment tenant in the building where I rented previously for half of what this inexpensive abode costs me. His mother owns thousands of shares of Google, bought when it was first offered at what is now a ridiculously low price, and many other blue chip stocks. Amazing!! Actually, I am more than a little certain that Betto is too full of himself to be believed about almost anything except, perhaps, about marlin shoulder.
The remainder of the weekend was spent, without Betto, reading and dining in quieter surroundings and unaccompanied by F-bombs. I dined on both Saturday and Sunday evenings at Bismark, the parent restaurant of Bismark-cito, one of my favorite restaurants along the malecon. Bismark was located by taking a taxi to the place (I walked home afterward) that I never knew existed. An excellent lobster thermidor on Saturday, a rich paella preceded by a half-order seafood appetizer on Sunday and the close personal attention of the two waitresses, since I was the only customer in the place, made for an excellent evening.
I decided I would go grocery shopping before dinner on Sunday, since I wasn't sure how long Mega was open on the weekends, and I was out of drinks; think freshly squeezed orange juice, coca cola, milk, and Clamato juice. A taxi is required to get to Mega and the driver provided information sure to interest the dirty, old men who implore me to add spice to these updates. For the first time in any of my travels in taxis, the driver had an "amiga" that he felt I should meet. I explained that I wasn't interested in meeting his friend, but his continued sales pitch described what was, no doubt, the highest paid occupation in the baja. His "amiga" would spend an hour with me for only 1,500 pesos ($83.15). I do not know what brain surgeons, physicists, or CEOs make in Mexico, but I have every confidence that nobody matches the hourly rate of Raphael's "friend." Fortunately, that expenditure was not in my budget. Hasta pronto!
February 25, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
I'm a little late with this update, but a bout with my old archenemy, Montezuma, laid me low for the past two or three days. Most times, encounters with Montezuma, the travelers' nemesis, can be traced back to particular meals, drinks, carelessness with known, risky behaviors, etc. This time, I am at a loss to know what got old Monty riled up. I ate breakfast Monday in probably the cleanest, most hygienic place in which I have dined this winter. I went for three, chicken enchiladas in green salsa which tasted great. With the cafe con leche, it made for a nice, breakfast change of pace. Later that afternoon - I have been eating only breakfasts and dinners to assist with weight loss - I began experiencing some serious stomach cramps and pains. Monty, himself, didn't make an appearance until 1:30 in the morning, waking me from a deep sleep. I felt much better the next day, but continued fasting, an alternative defense for the nasty affliction. A three-day fast was prescribed to me many years ago by a pharmacist and former Peace Corps volunteer living in Costa Rica. He claimed that a fast of that length kills the bacteria causing the problem and that your body doesn't then have to overcome all the side effects of prescription drugs like Lomotil. It has worked well for me in year's past.
This year, however, I had a date for dinner with my neighbors, Walt and Linda from Colorado, and I cut short the fast before even 24 hours had passed. I had a great, grilled sea bass for dinner, a couple of glasses of red wine, and enjoyed the company on the walk home afterward. Montezuma's forces were revived by my behavior, apparently, because 3:30 in the morning brought a full-fledged counter attack by the little nasties who don't succumb to a 20-hour fast. I have not eaten in 32 hours now, having spent my birthday yesterday reading on the sofa with only an occasional drink of bottled, iced tea. Clear liquids are the only food intake permitted to conquer the beast, according to the pharmacist. I sense that I have Monty on the run (no pun intended) and that another 40 hours should bring a victorious end to the attack. In past battles of this nature, I get pretty tired and weak in the last day, so tomorrow should be the worst. Then, it will be gradually back to the foods of Mexico. Sorry for the medical report, but I thought you should know. Luego!
February 29, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
One of my friends and occasional readers tells me that she always waits every year for my medical emergency. If so, this is what she has been eagerly anticipating: Montezuma fought a great fight with two incursions into my rear echelon that inflicted great damage. I fought back with two fasts, hoping to starve the enemy into submission. The first fast lasted only eight to ten hours and was terminated solely because of a social commitment. When that short fast failed, I got serious and imposed a 65-hour fast on the opposition and that appeared to do the trick. Though he fought a good fight even in retreat and I felt miserable throughout the weekend, this morning is the best I have felt in a week and I think old Monty has lowered his flag and is in full retreat.
Saturday morning, however, but still feeling my archenemy's reduced presence, I awoke with a different kind of problem. Oh, my reader is going to love this, reading while sunning on a Florida beach. I could barely get out of bed with excruciating lower back pain that I now believe came from the hours spent on my back during the fast and my reluctance to be far away from the porcelain battlefield. Seriously, and those with lower back problems can identify, I couldn't find a comfortable position and, even with hot water beating on my back in the shower, couldn't wash below my knees. I could barely dry myself. After a few minutes of the agony, I knew I needed to seek relief. I called my wife and, though sympathetic, she couldn't help. I turned to the computer and went to Yelp, looking for a chiropractor or even a masseuse with Saturday hours.
Thank God, I found a Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Clinic open until 1:00 p.m. I tried for 45 minutes to call for an appointment, but was unable in that time to get my throwaway phone to work. I now see why these cheap things are called throwaway phones. It didn't help that the instructions on the tiny phone were in Spanish abbreviations, but I was helpless and desperate. I headed, iPad in hand (for the clinic's address) one block down the hill, one painful step at a time, to the malecon where taxis pass in great numbers. Apparently, that is not true on weekends, because I waited a full half-hour for a taxi to go by. I was in agony standing there, but getting into and out of the cab was an even more painful experience.
We found the clinic and I walked in without anything but the pain on my face and cash in my wallet. The doctor agreed to see me! I think he was a chiropractor or, maybe a physical therapist, but they called him doctor and he was a wonderfully kind and gentle human being who spoke a little more English than his staff who were definitely monolingual. He examined me gently, having me twist, turn, bend, tilt, stretch, and lift my legs one at a time, looking for the source of my distress. He had me remove my shirt, put on a white, spotlessly clean, freshly-laundered, hospital gown, and sit on the table. It took his help to get up there and to remove my sandals. He had his staff cover my lower back with a hot, moist compress, then give me electrical stimulation therapy for 15 minutes, another 15 minutes of ultra sound therapy and finally, a mini-massage with liniment of some kind on three distinct areas of my lower back. It felt so good I didn't want to leave, but it was time to depart. With assistance from the staff, I put the sandals back on and re-dressed after he explained that I would need to make another visit on Monday and inquired as to whether 9:00 a.m. was OK for me. My pain was reduced so much that I quickly agreed.
This morning I returned to the clinic and the treatment was extended to 20 minutes for each portion. When I got off the exam table (again covered with freshly laundered sheets), I put my own sandals on and walked out the door pain free. Thank you, doctor. Thank you, thank you. The cost of each visit was $16.59, not including the inexpensive cost of the taxi. Mexican medical care is pretty awesome. I hope this makes my reader happy, but I hope she stays out in the sun a little too long while reading the update. Hasta pronto!
March 3, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Much to do today: Packing, cleaning, tidying, chiropractic treatment on back, pick up Jeep Cherokee rental, schedule timing of three prescription medications for third separate bout of Montezuma, get blood tested for typhoid fever. Say what?? The doctor said yesterday that one cause of repeat diarrhea attacks could be typhoid fever, so it is best to get the blood tested to eliminate that possibility. I'm in!
Blood drawn at lab, results to be emailed to me mañana = $6.41. Jeep safely in secured parking of apartment - check. Laundry done, bed linens changed - check. Chiropractic treatment first thing this morning saved the day = $16.73. Lower back presents concern about whether I can physically handle three-hour drive to airport tomorrow. Will take my last three ibuprofen before departure. Custodian (Mario) cleaned apartment, even scrubbing ceiling fan blades (I know my wife) = $11.15, including generous tip. Backpack partially packed for long weekend away with wife and friends. Last minute packing planned for early morning - check. Electronics charged or charging - check. Empty trash - whoops, one more job to do!
Yesterday's doctor's visit was a story unto itself: The clinic on the corner, three buildings away, turned out to be an acupuncture/laser center and not really able to address Montezuma's reappearance. Julie, the young lady at the reception desk, informed me, however, that there was another doctor on the next corner, only a block away. Very gingerly, with the back affecting my command of my legs, I headed for the next corner only to find the practice was a rheumatologist and not open for 50 more minutes. My back couldn't handle a 50-minute standing wait, but not to fear. Julie had followed me in her SUV to be sure I got to the right place. When she learned the office was closed, get this, she asked me to get in her car and she would drive me to a doctor's office. Only in Mexico with its warm, wonderful people could this happen these days.
The doctor's office was 10-15 blocks away and Julie came in with me to translate. Having spent a couple years in England, her English was quite good; at 36 years of age, she is back in college studying psychology. We had a chance to talk while we waited our turn with the doctor. We entered the small doctor's office and I thought, perhaps, I was on "Candid Camera." The doctor was wearing designer jeans, no doubt designed by Sherwin Williams - tightest jeans on the worst body in the world for wearing such apparel. Her shoes were velvet, 5-inch, purple, spiked heels, and her brightly-colored blouse sported red and purple blossoms. It was her eye makeup, however, that captured the mood. She had the thickest, caked, almost-fluorescent purple eye lid (much more than liner or shadow) make-up I had ever seen. She, seriously, looked more like I would picture a working hooker to look than a physician. To say I was skeptical would have been putting it mildly.
She asked about my medications, weighed me, took my blood pressure (good), had me lie on the examination table and probed my abdomen with her hands. Actually, a pretty good exam. She delivered a lecture about what I could eat or drink, asked if I was allergic to any medication (no), and then threw the bomb about typhoid fever. She wrote three prescriptions for me which I have taken religiously so that I can fully recuperate and participate with my guests this weekend. Doctor's visit = an unbelievable $2.51.
It gets better. Julie drove me back to her office and asked if I would like her to get my medications filled. She had an appointment in her office but, if I returned at 6:30 (2 hours later), she would have my meds and a receipt. I did and she did. Montezuma may have finally met his match. Sick, back killing me, but what a great experience! Adios!
March 8, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Safely back in La Paz after a four-day trip to San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, and Todos Santos. Picked up my wife and friends at the Los Cabos Airport right on schedule. Either the seats in the rental Jeep Cherokee were therapeutic, the ibuprofen healed miraculously, or my prayers were answered, because I had no back pain on the entire 3.5 hour trip (I got lost near La Paz which cost me an extra hour). On the way, I picked up a young hitchhiker near Todos Santos and dropped him in Cabo San Lucas, his first visit to the town. Even with the lost hour and going out of my way for Francisco (photo coming), I made amazing time and shocked myself by walking pain free to the arrivals gate to wait for my smiling visitors; the heat and sunshine blew them away.
We spent two days in San Jose, visiting that charming, little city and San Lucas, including a boat tour which served us a bonus of seeing a couple of whales partially breeching only a hundred yards or so away. We were thrilled! On to Todos Santos with a rough ride the next morning on a sand road to a practically-empty, surfer beach, but a fantastic view of the gorgeous Pacific on another, beautiful, sunny day. Two nights in a great hotel, then back to La Paz this morning, driven on a rare, cloudy day interspersed with small scattered showers. It has been a great circuit so far with several fantastic restaurant and musical experiences along the way, including lunch here today where nobody could stop talking about the quality of their fresh-fish meals. One yellowtail steak with vegetables for Karen, a rare tuna steak and fruit salad for Joan, a large, campechana seafood cocktail for Ron, and a delectable, marinated marlin steak with fruit salad for me. The meal at McFisher's was unanimously acclaimed as the best meal of the trip and that is really saying something! With four beers, three cokes, and a Clamato juice, the meal was only $41.00. We all vowed to return for another visit to the local, rustic, seafood location. Hasta pronto.
March 11, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Like Schim, my wife does not always heed my travel admonitions. This time, she forgot about always brushing your teeth with bottled water and was using tap water for that purpose since she arrived. Either that carelessness or living in close proximity to yours truly caused her to become another victim of my archenemy, Montezuma. She is a little tougher than I and she battled through the affliction in just one day, sleeping through most of the day, but not missing that evening's restaurant selection.
Unfortunately, while on a trip to beautiful Tecolote Beach yesterday, we stopped at the lab where my blood was being analyzed for typhoid fever and learned that I tested positive for the contagious and, apparently, incurable bacteria attack. The doctor commiserated with me and told me that the seafood I have been eating may have been the culprit and that it was simply a matter of bad luck (malo suerte). He prescribed another course of the antibiotic Cipro, so I have 10 more days of treatment to help "manage" the disease. He also prescribed some drug to help my stomach tolerate the Cipro, so I'm back to counting pills again. Because of my wife's illness and similar symptoms, we decided to have her blood tested, too, and the lab results will be available at noon today. Here's hoping she doesn't have to go on a Cipro regimen, although she's feeling remarkably improved today.
Our friends, Ron and Karen, have been spared Montezuma's anger, although he has probably been evaluating their vulnerabilities. So far, they have proven impervious to his best efforts. We have had some great sightseeing and restaurant experiences; Ron and Karen both dipped their feet into the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez yesterday while Joan and I sat under a beach umbrella and enjoyed the view and an adult beverage. Despite Montezuma's (and the typhoid [salmonella] bacteria's) attempts to the contrary, we are having a great time in the Baja. Hasta pronto.
March 14, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
A great weekend was had by all, except that Montezuma paid a short visit to my wife. We had her blood tested because of the contagious nature of the bacteria with which I think I am afflicted and, delightfully, her results were negative. We have read differing accounts about the accuracy of the blood tests we have had, so I am taking the Cipro prescription and will visit my doctor at home to confirm the diagnosis (typhoid). Everybody is feeling much better and we are able to explore, travel, and dine at the great restaurants of our choice. Health-wise there is nothing holding us back from a great time and we are taking advantage.
Saturday, we were interested spectators of what was called the "Americas Cup Triathlon," which was held along the malecon and which had more than a thousand participants. We were not among them, but we enjoyed a great view of the spectacle as we sat near the starting and finish lines along the route, enjoying a delightful late lunch. $10,000 in prize money drew elite triathletes from Mexico, Chile, Japan, and heaven knows where else. It was a huge event which we greatly enjoyed. That evening we had a meal at an Argentinean-owned restaurant where Elvis paid a visit. His show was a real treat and during the second set he magically transformed himself into a Mexican peasant, singing local songs. We were all greatly entertained until after midnight, which for me is a feat in itself.
Sunday, after a fine breakfast in a restaurant discovered by Ron and Karen on one of their exercise walks, we headed into the desert on a day of exploration. We visited the old gold-mining towns of El Triunfo and San Antonio, stopping for lunch in El Triunfo where one of the Waltons of Walmart wealth has a beautiful, getaway home among the 50 or so that make up the village. The paved, back road we took to return to La Paz was extremely lightly traveled and we thrilled at the gray fox, the two roadrunners, and the goats and cattle that slowed our progress home. We enjoyed a thoroughly delightful day, capped by four orders of delicious barbecued spare ribs while seated outside listening (and singing) to 50's hits. Pretty hard to improve on that weekend! Hasta pronto!
March 16, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Isla Espiritu Santo held her secrets pretty closely to her vest at the beginning of our boat tour yesterday to visit her beautiful beaches and rock formations. But, eventually, she gave them up to us and provided a surprise or two to top things off. The tour from Tecolote Beach covered somewhere between 10 and 20 miles over smooth seas on the way out, but little marine life to quicken our pulses. When we finally reached the 200 strong colony of sea lions at the furthest point of the tour, a little boredom had set in, despite the turquoise, unbelievably-crystal-clear waters that surround the group of uninhabited islands. The sea lions provided plenty of entertainment, welcoming us with their honking chatter and thrilling the six brave souls among us who jumped in the water to snorkel with them. Only one flipper was lost in the exercise which was quickly terminated when the loco captain spotted a couple of whales feeding nearby. We headed out to track and spot the pair of whales several times as they surfaced nearby to blow and catch a breath of air. Sated from that excitement, we headed back for half of those on board to continue their swim among the noisy sea lions.
Then, it was off to a pristine beach for a seaside lunch of ceviche, smoked marlin, or a ham and cheese sandwich for the less adventurous diners among us. Wading in the crystal clear, turquoise water was like something out of a fairy tale and the school of small, striped fish that sought the shelter of our boat made it even more so. We dined, sunbathed, collected shells, and used the Mexican bano - the ocean or the bucket hidden between rocks and clearly labeled WC. Then, after an hour or so of tropical bliss, we headed back to Tecolote, only to have our journey interrupted by a group of feeding dolphins (porpoises) who surfaced often and swam directly underneath our boat on occasion, clearly visible in the clear water. Many beautiful photos of the passing dolphins were obtained, though I was saving my camera battery and snapped none. Perhaps, others will share the photos with me at a later date and I with you.
We were hot, sweaty, sandy and a little bruised from the seas which had turned a tad rougher for our return to Tecolote and beat us around a little. We were glad when the voyage home ended, though disembarking from the vessel was a tad harrowing as the choppy waves jostled the boat turning our exit into a physical adventure all its own. Safely ashore, we headed back to La Paz, a thirty-minute drive through desert and ocean scenery. The shower felt fantastic, except that Karen had only cold water when a water heater problem in their hotel created another adventure, one I was happy not to share.
Dinner was at a French Restaurant, Trocodero (one can't eat Mexican cuisine every night), where we met the owner of the Italian restaurant we had first tried to visit, only to learn it was closed on Tuesdays. We promised him that we would return the next night (tonight), but enjoyed the French-style, delicious duck tacos, a steak, and stuffed chicken breast. Tonight, we return to Il Rustico where I will dine on caprese salad and a little pasta. My visitors return Saturday morning and are already sadly planning their packing. They say their vacation has flown by. Hasta pronto.
March 21, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Plenty to report after last weekend with wife and friends: the bad news concerns the haircuts Ron and I got in the shop I frequented a couple of times before. Ron and I ventured to the shop early enough in the morning (about 9:30) so that the mujere who normally cuts my hair was not yet at work. I got the proprietor of the place, who has been cutting hair in the shop he started since 1971. I had observed his work in the past and was always disappointed that I got the last chair in the shop and the woman who did a pretty good job on my hair, because the owner's work always seemed superior. Wow, was I wrong! On a scale of 1-10, my haircut was a 0! I could have done a better job in a selfie cut with power hedge trimmers. I have seen Amish boys with better haircuts, depending on the size of the bowl their father selected for the job. I mean HORRENDOUS! The front was tolerable, but the back has had me walking backwards out of restaurants and other establishments after selecting tables that had me sitting against the wall. Though Ron also complained about his $3.00 cut, we all thought his hair looked pretty good. On the same scale, I would have given his cut a seven or eight. Oh well, it will grow back.
We had a delightful final weekend together with a last night in San Jose del Cabo and dinner in a courtyard with a romantic Spanish guitar-player, before I dropped them at the airport for their direct flight to Baltimore, which they completed in less than four hours - must have been record time. I was probably back in La Paz before they left Mexican air space. They arrived happily home in the mixed rain and snow after leaving the Baja's 87 degree weather. It will take them a few days to adjust to the time change (three hours) and the cold temps. I remain in the land of perpetual sunshine, suffering in the intense heat. Meal times are the loneliest, however. Hasta Luego.
March 22, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
Yesterday, I finished my update and opened an email that saddened me greatly. I learned of the passing of a close friend, golfing buddy, fellow foundation board member, Rotary Club member, and a genuinely good man. My friend, Bill, and his wife visited me here in La Paz only three short years ago, before his diagnosis with the leukemia that took him. He battled the disease valiantly, enduring several chemo-therapy treatments and a stem cell transplant, but the horrible disease had its way. Bill was a gentleman of the highest integrity, had a great sense of humor, was a loyal friend, honest, forthright, and compassionate. A loyal Penn State grad, we commiserated over every football loss. I will miss him terribly.
As I walked to dinner last night, I was presented with the clearest view of a full moon and the nearby planet, Venus, that I have ever seen. It may have been the clear desert air, but it spoke to me of Bill leaving his earthly constraints and traveling into a bigger hereafter. I will forever remember him that way as I gaze into the heavens.
March 24, 2016 - La Paz, Mexico
Time is flying and I have fewer than 20 days remaining on my winter hiatus. Since the weather has warmed at home, many of my golfing buddies have started to hone their game while others have wintered in Florida and have their game in mid-season form. I, on the other hand, have eschewed golf for the past five months, but now fear embarrassment when I return to the links at home. To combat the fear, I began crossing the bay this week in the ferry to head to the range at the course where I have played in years past. The pro, a wonderful man named Marco, remembered me from three years ago and it must have been my magnetic personality that he recalled, because he certainly couldn't have been impressed with my golf game. He said that he had just been looking through old tournaments and came across my name. I inquired as to whether the weekend tournaments still existed and Marco was quick to invite me to participate this Saturday. Certainly, the local participants have missed me since I never won anything and they made off with all of my entrance fees. The lunch afterward and the repartee of the group of mostly local players make the tournament worthwhile, so I have practiced twice and plan to make my first golfing appearance Saturday morning. The practices have gone well and I have plenty of built-in excuses with the five-month layoff and the mis-matched set of rental clubs that I will play, so I'll just have at it and let the shots fall where they may. In years past, I have played a couple rounds with Marco and we talked about playing the fabulous, Gary Player-designed, Costa Brava course up the coast sometime next week. Marco says that he hasn't played the course in a year, so he is eager to play it again. He can probably make a month's wages off me and I'll be happy to contribute if I can get enough strokes from him to give me a long-shot chance to compete.
The weather has been picture perfect! High temperatures in the mid-80's, evenings in the 60's, low humidity, and beautiful, sunny skies with light breezes. A guy could get used to this weather, that's for sure. The return of the rental car has once again increased my walking. Yesterday, I exceeded 9,000 steps and today am already approaching 3,000 and I still have to walk to dinner, but who's counting. I'm sure these FIT-type bracelets are good for something, probably reminding you of your shortcomings, but I will not be a slave to electronics and look forward to returning home to cast the bracelet aside. Hasta pronto!
March 26, 2017 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
Yes, I shot 77 in my first round of the year in the tournament held Saturday morning on the peninsula course across the bay from my apartment, but it was the last of the instructions given by the golf pro that provided the motivation to keep my head down and my shots straight. His last proclamation before sending the 50 or so golfers out on the course was, "And, be careful out there; the rattlesnakes are out!" Obviously meaning that the slithering critters are finished with their winter hibernation and apt to strike at any time. I hit one ball in a pond, although I struck it perfectly and, splash, it landed short in the agua, but otherwise I kept the ball from the desert wastelands that provide the real hazards on the course and the hunting grounds for the desert rattlers. Did I forget to mention that the tournament was the opening weekend tournament in the summer series at the course and that it was a unique, par three tournament? Every hole was a par three with tees set up no more than 175 yards from each green which made for a very interesting format that encouraged many golfers of lesser ability (including yours truly) to participate, although I only became aware of the format when someone noticed me hitting my driver on the range and mentioned that I wouldn't be needing that club today. I only lost by 16 shots to a golfer who had a hole-in-one on his very first tee shot of the day - definitely a sandbagging, touring pro on holiday preying on naive tourists.
Interestingly, to me at least, was the sighting of a roadrunner at close range. The colorful critter with its erect cock's comb and long, flicking tail, played one hole with us, even following us to the next tee eating insects and paying little attention to the golfers. I almost took my camera to the course, but decided that it would be too much trouble and missed several perfect close-ups. Bernardo, the local who shot 66 while playing with us, commented on the intelligence of the species. He said the roadrunner eats snakes, like the rattler I paranoiacally saw behind every desert plant, by darting quickly around the creature and pecking its head. Perhaps, I should have been more frightened of the roadrunner. Beep, Beep!! Hasta luego!
March 28, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
Easter Sunday brought another day of golf on the peninsula course. This time, it was my first full round on a long course with the most severe, undulating, very fast greens one could ever play. Using a mismatched set of rental clubs, used balls, a short putter - like I haven't used in years, and not recalling the layout (excuses, all), I rallied with a par on the last hole, a long par five, which has a large pond that guards the entrance to the green, for a respectable 99. I began the day with an admonition to myself that any score under 100 would be a successful round. I hit my target! Maybe, next time I should set the bar a little higher.
The round provided an amazing view of desert animal life and, fortunately, I had taken my camera. Some of the animals were too quick for me and I couldn't grab the camera fast enough, but I saw them clearly. A large, jack rabbit hopped into sight only a few feet off of a tee while I was yards away from the cart with no camera in hand. The four-foot-long, rat snake, appeared on the dust, cart path as I turned a corner where the other cart had stopped to point out the slithering, harmless (according to Barry who seemed like an expert) beast. It quickly slithered past my side of the cart before pouring over the railroad-tie, cart-path edge and into the desert where it disappeared from view in seconds. I must have seen 10 roadrunners, one of which had a lizard or a mouse in its bill as it scampered off the fairway into the desert shrubs, probably concerned with protecting its meal. An aerial display was put on over several lakes by acrobatic frigate birds who rapidly fluttered their wings and switched their tails to adjust their dives into the freshwater lakes for unsuspecting fish. A large flock of coots ran from the carts on one hole, only flying to land in the pond as the carts got very close. Other, long-billed birds provided similar entertainment, but I haven't taken the time to identify them. Perhaps, that could be my goal for the day. I didn't get enough nature photos to make a big splash (no pun intended), but I did include several that you might enjoy. And, there is always tomorrow when I will, once again, be sure to take the camera.
Easter week, Semana Santa here, is definitely a family affair in La Paz. Families, most with adorable children, crowded the malecon, presenting me with the task of avoiding the throngs by finding other places to dine. The older I become, the more I seem to dislike crowds. I remained in the area around my apartment, dining on Saturday at the relatively authentic Italian restaurant, Il Rustico, for prosciutto and melon and fettuccine with butter and parmesana (outstanding!). Sunday, I stayed near the marina and away from the madding crowds of the malecon by heading to Bandito's, for spare ribs grilled under the hood of a truck, accompanied by continuous 50's music that had my toes tapping while I licked my fingers, a common practice in that rib/hamburger, outdoor eatery - the place that supplies serapes when the temperatures drop. None necessary this weekend, although I did see a couple serapes provided for a six or eight-year-old youngster who took a chill.
Time to plan my day. Never mind, I think I'll take the day off. Hasta pronto!
* 03/29/16 - Photos Added - Album #5 (password: harrystravels) *
March 31, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
A couple of nights ago after finding several restaurants closed for an extended Easter holiday, I found my way back to the Uruguayan Grill where they call me by name (Harry Potter) upon my arrival. Of course, I now even have taxi drivers yelling "Harry Potter," as they pass me on the street. Anything for a little recognition and some actually think that's who I am - obviously now in late adulthood.
Anyway, after finishing my steak, I had a great experience with a couple of women who entered the restaurant, one at a time by twenty minutes. Betsy was the first to arrive and was somewhat overwhelmed since the staff spoke no English and she no Spanish. This made her very susceptible to my best moves which I quickly threw into high gear. She was waiting for Jaclyn, a co-worker who was off playing tennis. Turns out, both ladies were trained chefs, Betsy a Culinary Institute alum who had at one time visited York, PA, not far from my home. Both ladies, Jaclyn, a Panamanian national whose training we didn't discuss, were chefs on a "small," 250-foot yacht currently docked in one of the La Paz marinas. The small vessel has a crew of 16 and it is the job of these chefs to provide three meals a day to the crew and the owners, an 85-year-old man and his 68-year-old wife. The owners own a famous golf resort in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, extensive real estate in Hawaii, and a publishing empire of some sort. Betsy has worked on the ship for four years and I can't imagine the wealth necessary to pay a crew of 16 year-round to man the yacht. They sail the world and the ladies recounted the time they were docked in St. Tropez, France, and heard beautiful piano music, then a spectacular voice, only to learn that Andrea Bocelli was docked next to them and had begun to rehearse. They expressed disappointment that they never got to meet him. The couple who own the yacht are not always on board, as was the case that night, since they visit other yacht owners and also own a couple "small" homes, one described by Betsy as a 14,700 square foot mansion that is unbelievable in its elegance. A nice little place for two folks to call home, eh wot?
I bought the ladies a glass of wine and commissioned a small (3 person) strolling, mariachi band that happened to enter as I departed and the ladies prepared to dine. I had the mariachis sing my favorite old Mexican tune, "Maria Elena," for them as I headed out the door. I'm sure they were thrilled.
I made the first step for my return home last evening, purchasing my bus ticket (I happened to walk past the bus station) back to San Jose del Cabo, where I will spend one night at the Yucca Inn before flying homeward bound to Baltimore. Hasta pronto.
April 4, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
The suitcase lies open on Schim's bed, though he never used it, and it contains exactly one pair of khakis, the first item packed for the return trip home. More will go in today to prepare for Friday's bus trip to San Jose del Cabo. Though I miss home greatly, it will be difficult to leave my friends in La Paz, a couple of whom I shared in photos today. There is Johnny, his nickname on the construction site next door, and his deep desire to learn English, though I am not certain he is literate in Spanish. Each day we attempt a few new words - yesterday "here and there," today "up and down." He runs to me every morning as I head to breakfast and we review his recent words. He lives in a shed built on the site to provide security for the project. He is a delight!
And there is Julie, the gorgeous, generous, soon-to-be psychologist like her mother, who took me to a doctor when I was ill and later brought my prescriptions to me. Julie also drove my wife and me to a restaurant when she ran into us and learned we were walking there to meet our friends. What a sweetheart, one who possesses a great personality and sense of humor! She spent a couple of years in London, so her English was quite good. She made a lovely dinner and lunch companion when I treated her for being so compassionate with this sick gringo. Nah, not to worry, she's a cougar and likes younger men; she even thought my eldest son was too old for her. Drat!
The best news of the weekend, however, came from the "Lady Lola." Betsy and Jaclyn, Lola's chefs, invited me to dine with them on Thursday at Sorstis, my favorite restaurant in La Paz. That's great, of course, but they also invited me to tour the 250-foot Lady Lola some day this week. My own personal yacht, a 14 ft., 40-year-old, aluminum fishing vessel was traded in by my second son last year, so this is the first yacht I will tour since I lost my own. 250 feet!! Just imagine how much room there must be to store bait on that ship!! I'll try to sneak a couple photos of the live well for you while on board. Hasta pronto!
* 04/04/16 - Photos Added - Album #6 (password: harrystravels) *
April 6, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
ShowBoats International Magazine, published in Monaco, named the 250-foot, Lady Lola the "Most Beautiful Boat in the World" and she certainly gets my vote. My friends, Jaclyn and Betsy, chefs on the Lola gave me a tour of the vessel today; her elegance and luxury blew me away! A limited-edition Steinway grand piano graces the larger of the two salons, for crying out loud. A swimming pool and hot tub with water fall dazzle on one of her decks. The owners spend little time in the grand salon, preferring instead the smaller salon whose electrically controlled coffee tables (higher, Madame?) probably make them more comfortable. The garage/exercise room has essential exercise equipment, oh, and also two jet skis and a 28-foot runabout. The 16-person crew, young and international, come from the US, Canada, Ireland, Panama, New Zealand, Australia, England, and probably other exotic places I can no longer recall. Five stewardesses address the needs of the owners when aboard. One simply does laundry, washing and ironing, although probably not so simply, but with the finest of stainless steel washers and dryers. Others provide table and maid service when required, using the most modern equipment to provide the finest amenities possible - wine chiller, soft ice cream maker, ice machine for the cocktails? The ship travels to Europe, Panama, La Paz, and who knows where else? The owners customarily do not make the sea cruises, preferring instead to fly to distant locales in their PRIVATE JET. The crew transports the yacht. The owners don't have to pack for trips, however; their wardrobes stay on board in immaculate condition which eliminates that most dreaded part of travel. The master suite was more luxurious than any hotel in which I have ever stayed. Separate en suite bathrooms (his and hers, come on) on either side of the super, king-sized bed have all the conveniences of home, if your home is the Biltmore mansion. Perhaps, I could grow accustomed to this lifestyle.
The bridge is full of the latest electronic equipment and, without a wheel, is steered with a touch screen that looks like a CD or a computer mouse-type device. There is no question that I could never get the Lola out of her slip and into the open seas. Unless you have a captain's license this is one vessel you would probably not think about stealing. 24-hour security is provided by the crew just in case that possibility tempts you.
To board, I had to remove my shoes like the crew to protect the gorgeous, white, inlaid carpets and I worked up a real sweat climbing all the ladders (note the naval terminology) to change levels on the gorgeous ship. It was an experience of a lifetime and I am deeply indebted to Jaclyn and Betsy with whom I will dine tomorrow night on my last night in La Paz. They are currently insisting on buying my dinner, but methinks that is up for negotiation. It is Mexico, right?
The oddly shaped, though slightly longer, Venus, owned by Mrs. Steve Jobs was moored nearby and I got a couple photos of her. Hers is a uniquely designed boat with a blunt, mirrored bow and a huge, seemingly empty main deck. I'm certain it has its fine points and all the trappings of wealth on board, but for regal beauty I vote with the Lady Lola. I took far too many pictures which I will share today and, believe it or not, the chefs gave me a fantastic, colored, glossy brochure with far better photos of the yacht; the owner also owns a publishing empire of some kind. Ask me to see it. They also gave me a couple of elegant ship's napkins and a Lady Lola hat which I will cherish. Again, I can't thank Jaclyn and Betsy enough for the tour that was the highlight of this year's winter adventure. Hasta one more time!
* 04/06/16 - Photos Added - Album #7 (password: harrystravels) *
April 8, 2016 - La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
Pods of porpoises feeding and playing in the bay during my short commute on the ferry to the golf course and the huge jack rabbit that crossed directly in front of the golf cart delivering me to the pro shop last Tuesday are two of the things I will miss most about La Paz. But, the rich diversity of wildlife pales in comparison to the unbelievably warm, friendly, compassionate people who call this place home - it is they whom I will miss most. Where else would a waiter in a busy restaurant take off his apron when the taxi that was supposed to return for me was late and announce that he would drive me home? Where else would a woman like Julie take a sick old gringo in her car to a doctor's office, then make a trip to a pharmacy to get his meds and deliver them to him?
The Baja and especially La Paz is one of the safest, friendliest places I have visited in my travels. Though family and friends successfully cautioned me against it because of perceived danger, I talked to two people this week, a man and a woman, both seniors, who drove alone down the Baja and do it every year. If I live long enough to return to the Baja, I will most certainly drive.
The weather, a little breezy in January requiring a sweater or windbreaker in the evenings and early mornings, is almost always ideal. This year, there was a morning, light drizzle and mist the day I drove with wife and friends from Todos Santos to La Paz, but by the time we arrived the sun had returned and produced a lovely day. On one other occasion in my more than three month visit, there was a tiny shower that produced no more than a couple hundred drops of precipitation on my patio. There was no other bad weather! Actually, after I wrote this, on my very last night in La Paz, we enjoyed a delightful evening rain shower of a couple hours duration. During the entire winter, every day's high temperature reached at least into the 70's, although a few uncomfortably touched 90 in the late afternoon. Weather wise, La Paz is a perfect place to winter. I will miss the great, dry climate, but am pleased that I will avoid the roasting summer temperatures that even the locals dread.
The locals describe La Paz as "muy tranquilo," (very calm) and they are right; there is a peaceful, relaxed lifestyle in the city. Don't expect rapid food service; each dish is prepared only after you order it. So relax, have a drink, taste the ever-present, complimentary totopos (corn chips) and salsa (salsa), converse with one another or the friendly wait staff, and enjoy the slower lifestyle. There are many things I miss about home, but our frenetic lifestyle is not among them. I can feel the energy and stress building the minute I exit the plane on my return.
The frenetic energy was there when I landed in Baltimore, made even more frenzied by the cold wind and spring snow that had my wife and other drivers frazzled by the intemperate conditions. The whole scene made me want to re-board the plane and return to the warm, tranquil Mexican lifestyle I had left behind that morning. I will, however endure. I hope you enjoyed vicariously sharing my winter hiatus. Who knows if I'll be given another year to enjoy such an adventure? If I am, I'll see you back on these pages.