Monday, February 27, 2006


Carnaval! If there are 13,000 residents of Loreto then everyone of them lined the streets over the weekend for the parade. It seemed like much more because as the parade passed people would rush ahead to gain a spot further up the path. Robert volunteered to drive a pick-up pulling a float through town. When I wasn't photographing I rode part of the way with him sitting in amazement at what we'd gotten ourselves into. No permit, no back-ground check, just pull a float full of children we don't know and hope they hang on tight. The parade followed a path through the main arteries of town and took nearly an hour and a half to complete. We were towards the front following a live band in a wagon bed,

and a horse and buggy behind them. Most of the floats represented schools, dance groups, and a few businesses. Of course, there were the princesses and the parade Queen. "Que bonita!"

People on the floats threw candy and hollowed-out eggs filled with confetti to the crowd. Every now and then the parade would stop as a dance group performed a number. Allison's float decorated in the Hawaiian theme rolled behind us. Her job was to wave to the crowd. If her dream is to become a princess then she gained a lot of experience in the public appearance department. She complained mightily about the "ugly muumuu" she had to wear; it was not fitting with the glamourous image she'd prefer to portray. Gotta start out small, we told her.

The whole affair was charming. Once again I marvel at the ease of which we slip into the lives of these Loretanos. It is such an accepting and tolerant community. There's room and a place for everyone even the stray dogs that trot between the crowd, the floats, and the feet of the policia. Mexicans love children, so Allison is our key to every door. We are accepted and trusted as parents first. But not to be deceived, Mexican parents check you out before trusting you with their children. I remember early on asking a classmate of Allison's if she'd like to come play at our house and she responded with a dutiful, "No, I must stay only with my family." Since then, the family has grown trustful of us and the two are now playing regularly. Parents here like to formerly meet both of the other parents. So, for all the seeming carelessness in supervision, the freedom to roam, the riding without seatbelts, riding in the back of pick-ups, there is a level of caution.

I was so glad we were here to see and participate in the Carnaval. Robert and I grinned in disbelief at our where our life has taken us--to pulling a float on a dusty road in the middle of Loreto, Baja California Sur, a place one year ago we'd never heard of.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hola and Aloha from Loreto!

The propane that supplies the heat to the back bathrooms is depleted so I had to use the outdoor shower in the courtyard. I may never shower indoors again! Great water pressure, warm air temperature, beautiful view of the Sierras de la Gigantas over the wooden shower door--what a way to start the day.

We invited Allison's classmate and neighbor over for the day. I have gotten to know her mother better and the older sister is now tutoring Allison in Spanish. They are good people to know. I am hoping Allison will pick up Spanish playing with G., plus make a closer friend now that she's lost her "best friends," the sisters from Colorado. From the squealing going on through the house I think the two are on their way to being fast friends. I keep trying to speak Spanish to G. but it's apparent she knows much more English than I first suspected. I suggested peanut butter and jelly for lunch and I think she said, "right on!" No, only kidding. I hear her speaking English with Allison and I think, "No, make Allison learn your language!" It's our duty to learn her language, to make her comfortable, but I think it is frustrating to her to hear me butcher the Spanish. I motion to their plates and ask, "Esta bien?" to which a mildly frustrated G. replies, "WHAT?" as in what exactly is supposed to be okay?, the sandwich, the drinks, the apples...what?

Never the matter, I am elated to have a little friend over for Allison. It feels like a typical summer Sunday at home: Robert at golf, me at home supervising little people while I wander from one little domestic task to the other. Later this afternoon we go to the Carnaval, the annual "Mardi Gras" of Mexico. Allison is actually participating by riding on a float in the parade with her dance class. The float is decorated as an Hawaiian island complete with palms and a paper mache volcano. The little girls wear purple muumuus and flower headresses while the bigger girls walk behind, hula-ing in grass skirts. Tonight will be the second day of parading. Yesterday was such a feast for the senses it will take a separate journal entry to describe the experience. I was a bit overwhelmed with what I took in. More on that later.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

my heroes have always been women

Allison and I said goodbye to her two "best friends" today. They were flying home following their parents' break-up. Their father would stay on in Loreto with his work while the rest of them returned to Colorado. Their adventure here had come to a sorry end; Loreto had proved the breaking point for a fractured union. I really adored those two little girls for their open hearts and the comfort they gave Allison with their friendship. And for the cheer they brought me in days spent at our house swimming, baking brownies, riding the scooter through the orchard squishing fallen oranges. I am sorry to see them go.

We had a farewell lunch today which included two aunts come to the aid of their dispirited sister at a restaurant on the Malecon. We sat at a large table overlooking the ocean and ate empenadas and enchiladas served by the French owner who always wears a dainty scarf around his neck. I gave the girls and their little brother gifts to remember us by. The younger sister gave me a packet of handwritten goodbye notes to deliver to her school friends.

After lunch the children walked with the two aunts along the shoreline for a last look at the ocean. When the rest of us joined them I saw that the mood had turned somber. The joking and laughter at the table had turned to tears and confusion at the waterfront. The reality of the departure was settling in. For a brief moment I wished for the unrealistic: Wasn't now the last possible chance for rescue? Couldn't their father appear and plead them to stay, sweep the mother up, offer love and forgiveness? Put it all right? Save his family? But that was not to happen. Instead, women had come to aid and comfort and shepherd home this broken family.

I watched these little girls weep for so much lost so early. I'll always carry the picture of the older girl buried in the embrace of her aunt on that bench on the Malecon. In some ways she leaves her childhood right there on the shore of the Sea of Cortez. I may never see her again, she's not mine to take care of, but a little piece of my heart goes with her. She may never remember me, the witness to her sad crossing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Driving Miss Betsy crazy

We wake up, take Allison to school, walk two miles to the hotel, visit the worksite, chat with whomever crosses our path, return home for a nap before picking Allison up at one o'clock. Life's tough! I admit to being just a little bored at times, Allison, too, but Robert, he luuuuvs it! I tagged along yesterday to the nearby boat launch where he cast his line a few times and came up with a nasty "needlefish." I lounged in a portable folding chaise alternating between watching him and the gaggle, flock, squadron, of brown pelicans crowding the broken-off end of the pier. Something, a huge storm, I can only imagine, broke the center section off the pier so that now only the birds enjoy the farthest end, the best spot. Occasionally, one will take flight making a low run over the water in search of fish. They fly so low their wingtips appear to touch the surface of the ocean. I felt a twinge of envy watching that, just as I did a few days ago when I watched a raven catching the wind over our house. He would hover almost motionless in the airstream, making nearly imperceptible adjustments to stay level. It looked like purely recreational flying to me and it looked like fun.

Allison and I have our own little means of entertainment, one of which is to torment our little dog, Betsy Mayflower, with a game of escape we invented. It's our little revenge for the countless times she's slipped through the gate as we were preparing to leave. Off she'd go as we'd plead and chase her to put her back so we could depart. She took great delight in the chase rushing and dodging us until one of us finally caught her or tricked her into hopping into the car. Then we'd toss her back behind the gate. So now as we are leaving, Allison and I slip through the utility room door as Betsy watches, then we run like the dickens to the gate knowing in seconds that Betsy will double around to the dining room door and haul after us. We squeal in laughter as we get the gate closed just as she makes her way around the courtyard and scrambles through the car-port. It's so mean, but so fun. She's so clever though. I'm sure she'll find a way to outsmart us with a new move.

Yeah, things are a bit slow.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Robert's back

Robert is back for another shot at Baja living. Tests show no further blockage in his heart, though he'll need to return in about six weeks for another checkup. In the meantime, I have been distracted from writing.

The most interesting thing we've done is go whale-watching on the Pacific coast. We paid to have a "captain" take us out in a panga boat in a portion of the Magdelena Bay where hundreds of mother whales are preparing their growing calves for the trip back up north. The mothers and babies swim side by side sometimes coming right up to the boat. It's very exhilarating to see them up close. I imagine we'll go on many other whale sighting trips.

We were visited by our new aquaintances from Oregon again. They are making their way back up the Baja and stayed a couple of nights with us. It was nice to hear Gary's guitar again. Last night I drifted to sleep to the Greatful Dead in the next room.

This weekend Loreto Bay held a sales event. I'm told 18 million dollars in homes were sold, (that's 30-something houses) so that is evidence that the development is still gathering momentum. Our house is probably more than half-way finished. This week we saw the windows installed. Next comes the tile flooring, cabinetry. It is supposed to be completed before May. We plan to stay for the closing then start heading back home.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Have you seen my goats?

Took a walk at dusk with Allison down the boulevard near our house. For the two miles to the end where the hotel sits are only a sprinkling of houses so barely any traffic. As usual, the neighborhood dogs, Larry and Darryl (Curly found a home in Canada) trotted along with us. Although the sidewalks are badly deteriorating the median is painstakingly landscaped and manicured. Every day I see a Fonatur crew tending to it, often hand-watering. It could be any suburban boulevard in America with it's pricey streetlamps. But the similarity ends at night when the domesticated farm animals wander in. Cows, goats, horses. On the way back tonight we encountered a small herd of cattle in the median. I never get over the oddity of that sight, It takes me several seconds to understand what I am seeing is cows.

Larry, being the bolder of the two dogs rushed up on them. I stood back waiting for the inevitable charge from one of the mother cows. Interestingly, Darryl (the dog we are all sure was beaten by a previous owner and also run over by a car) tried to tackle Larry and prevent her from trouble. Darryl, who's seen the darker side of life, was trying desperately to shephard the oblivious Larry to the side of reason. Of course, Larry is the more playful, likable dog. Darryl, the timid, careful one. When we walk Larry runs ahead exploring every little nook and bush. Darryl, though he won't allow himself to be petted, and stops in his tracks when we turn around to him, rarely leaves us, chaperoning us the whole way. For that reason I like Darryl.

The two of them made me think about the nature of pairings. Friends, buddies, couples, pair up for reasons not always apparent on the surface, but there's always at play a symbiotic underpinning. One provides what the other can not. So they stick together and hopefully prolong their survival. Let's just hope Larry's lack of caution is met with an abundance of luck.

So we are almost home, turning on our street when a new white compact car pulls alongside. The driver reaches over to manually roll down the window. Have you seen some goats running through here, he inquires. He's missing his goats. His goats have escaped in the night and are running through the paved and manicured neighborhood. It's a strange place.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Shoe shopping

Woke up with absolutely nothing to do. Today being Saturday the day was wide open. But Allison and I could agree on nothing to do. Collect shells on the beach? No. Ride the scooter? We settled on some arts and crafts making paper mice. When I bored of that I pushed to go to town. She can paint ceramics, something she's asked to do for weeks. So we found the ceramic lady's shop and I sat disengaged while Allie went to work painting a reindeer. I spied some shoe catalogs on the table and started thumbing through them when the ceramic lady intimated that she could order whatever I fancied. What the heck, they looked attractive enough so I ordered a pair of slides. No money now, just pay when they come in un semana. And the reindeer needing to be glazed? Oh, just pick it up later, yes Monday's fine, pay then, she informed as she was shutting down for the siesta hours.

So now I know where to get shoes. It occured to me that with enough time I will eventually uncover the auxiliary nature of every shop in town and one day I will no longer be helpless. I will break the code and know as the natives that in Loreto, dissimilar things are found together. I'll know to go to the butcher if I need butter, or the used book store for fresh-popped popcorn, the ceramic lady's shop for shoes.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Patron saint of the car wash

This little creation sat above me as I waited for my car to be washed today.

I like to think of it as a benevolent car wash guardian.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I watched this morning as the school director gave another talk to the children assembled in the courtyard. The school dress code offenders were first sent away, then the rest took part in the shouting of the school creed. Her talk had to do with the proper way to greet someone. Not a long drawn-out flat, "Buenos Dias, Madre" No that's not respectful. It's to be delivered crisp and precise: "Buenos Dias, Madre." punto! She made the children repeat over and over until she was satisfied.

I find myself delighted that respect is being taught. I was sitting there is awe of this little fireball of a woman tell those kids they way it's supposed to be. It was amusing and amazing to watch the command she has over these children. Believe me, no child looked oppressed or sullen under her charge. It helps too that the student body is small, maybe under 200. She sees every little face so there's no snickering or mischief. Besides her natural charisma, her authority is supported under the umbrella of Catholicism. You behave because God said to and he entrusted these nuns to help you do it. End of story. Punto!

After years in American public schools this attitude I find appealing. In the context of schooling I think the method works well. Granted, there's plenty to argue about if you want to. But for now, I'm content to let the nuns have a crack at guiding my daughter. Maybe I'm just tired of theorizing about the correct way to raise children. What I see at this dusty village school is pure simplicity of order. An old-fashioned way of guiding children in the ways of living peacefully within society while giving them a sense of purpose and duty. So stand up straight when you say Buenos Dias.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

To the tip of the peninsula and beyond

Allison and I hit the road over the weekend. We drove nearly 7 hours down the Baja ending up in Cabo San Lucas. The highlight of the drive was just past Todos Santos where the Pacific Ocean comes into view. The highway runs parallel to it for miles. On one particular craggy bluff we noticed parked cars and people gathered. Curious, we stopped and discovered everyone was watching whales. We too climbed the hill and right away spotted whale after whale by the their blows, or rather by the water that is sprayed when they come up to exhale. We caught a few glimpses of their backs or flukes (tails), but not enough to be satisified. What we have to do is get on a boat or a kayak and get closer to them which is what everybody does. They come back with stories of how they petted the whales. We will do that soon.

Cabo San Lucas was a welcome diversion to sleepy Loreto. We had a great time strolling and shopping. We wanted to see a movie but "King Kong" was in spanish so we passed. We did spend most of one afternoon at Costco and true to everyone's word it was exactly like those at home. Practically everyone shopping there was American so it felt even more like home. I admit to feeling pretty joyful about it. We even had a slice of pizza from the concession stand sitting at picnic tables in the sunshine.

I'd be happy to return to Cabo with Robert just so he could see the boats in the marina. And the golf courses. The good time Allison and I had outweighed the discomforts of the long ride. Driving the Transpeninsular Highway requires an alert mind. Besides the narrow two-lane there is constant truck traffic to contend with. It's not for sissies. Plus, traveling with a 6 year old and a dog....

It was funny to hear Allison ask when we'd be home. "our Loreto home" she would clarify. She's getting the hang of it. This morning, after the usual protest about having to go to school, I dropped her off and tried to get back into some kind of routine again. I took Betsy on a walk and Jagger, our neighbor's superficially vicious German Shepard, actually trotted up to greet us. That's the same dog that nearly bit our heads off the first time we crossed paths. I guess we've passed a benchmark.

Friday, February 03, 2006

That old story

Today I was trying to explain to Allison why it seemed her friend was being inattentive to her. Allison thought the little girl didn't like her anymore. I suspected it was something else since I know the girl's parents have just told her they are splitting up. So I filled Allison in on the story to help her understand.

The story is that the father has fallen in love with another woman. Incredulous, Allison wanted to know how such a thing could happen. How did this woman tempt him away? "Did she give him an apple?" she asked. I could only smile wryly.

The three dollar doctor visit

Robert had a final test today to look for any blockage in this heart. None was found so he's in good shape and should return to us soon. He says he wants to be with his girls for Valentine's Day. Allison and I are anxious for his return; it hasn't been as much fun without him. I've spent most of my time lost in thought about whether to stay or go home. We always think of Robert as indestructible, always healthy and never ill and always lucky.

Yesterday Allison fell ill with a chest cold that made her cry when she coughed. Today I decided to take her to the Centro de Salud to see a doctor. There I had my first experience with a third world health facility. After struggling to understand the receptionist I determined she was asking for the patient's name and 30 pesos (that's about 3 dollars.) She typed out a receipt on an old manual typewriter and handed me a torn piece of paper with the number 8 scribbled on it. The rest of the ritual I understood---sit and wait to be called.

We sat in the waiting area with the other sick patients. Women with children, a mother nursing a baby, elderly people. That part was familiar enough, but it was the facility itself that absorbed my attention. It was of course, deteriorated and a little dirty. At one point I asked for the bathroom and upon opening the door found the toilet had flooded the floor. An assistant led us to another bathroom outside the back of the hospital, There was no soap or paper towels. Outside the door was a cardboard box filled with used syringes. A dusty, disgarded hospital bed sat beside two dirty mops under a tree. A clothesline full of hospital sheets waved in the breeze. Stray dogs wandered about.

I'm not even sure it was a doctor who examined Allison. She was dressed in street clothes and wore her black hair long and loose. She had a gold-plated front tooth and a lot of jewelry. She spoke no english so our communication was difficult, but she was patient with me and tender with Allison. She checked her throat, her ears, her heart with the standard implements and then weighed her. No infection, but she issued a prescription for Amoxicillin and cough syrup.

I thought about that hospital all day. By U.S. standards it was inferior. Having lived with such high standards all my life it's difficult to accept less. I mean, aren't hospitals supposed to be clean? In situations like this I kind of want to go back to being just a vacationer hanging out at the pool rather than the resident guest I am. I try hard to suspend my judgements and just watch and learn, and understand.

It occurs to me that having a child here has put me closer to the pulse of the town. I am in the same stream as the others with children. Seeing them off to school, buuying the things they need; the notebooks, the clothes, the medicines. I have to communicate with the pharmacist about administering Allison's medicine, and the storekeeper about what size socks a 6 year old wears. I see things a tourist would not. I see myself as a guest in their community and they are kindly making room for me, so I feel badly when I complain about what they lack, or what they overlook.

Poverty does not equal dispair. And what looks like poverty to me is just a lower standard of living. People here live in relative comfort. There's no begging on the streets. It's a family oriented town. People whistle at each other across the street, they hug and kiss, and smile. They just have a crappy hospital, so let's hope for good health. Salud.