Friday, March 30, 2007

That special something

There couldn't be a better place hang with friends than the roadside cook shack on the road to San Javier. What a Godsend Del Borrachos is to us frijoles and tortilla-weary norteamericanos. The food is home-cooked American style with specials every day like split-pea soup, or lasagna. There's a big screen television and pool tables and a huge bar with windows that look out over the ocean. It's fashioned like a frontier saloon with its wrap-around porch and post and beam construction and it's just as casual and friendly. Kids are welcome which is very nice for us mothers who like to meet once a week. The owners are so laid-back they allow our kids to bring their bicycles and scooters so to ride on the smooth concrete patio out back (probably the only existing smooth piece of concrete in Loreto.)

Mike (shown here in the photo), built the place with his wife (the cook.) Since codes and zoning are pretty loose in the Baja, he's been able to put together a unique place. Anything that catches his imagination is allowed to materialize which is what gives the site its magic. I'll be interested to revisit it a year from now to see what he's added. Besides the restaurant, he's building tiny cabins in the back for nightly rental. He's restoring a mechanical bull he found at a bull-fighting ring in Cabo. It's sits out back by his fishing boat. He installed a gray-water tank to nourish his landscaping. He's preparing to put up a giant pergola to shade the concrete patio that the kids ride their scooters on. They chase after a lizard or throw horseshoes, or pet his dog, Shady Lady. If they want a drink, they run in to get a coke from the cooler. And if they want to sit at the bar, that's okay too.
I sit with the Loreto moms and struggle with my Spanish. After a few hours I find myself mentally fatigued and tongue-tied. Who could understand the exertion it takes to think in two languages when you are such a novice? I hope one day it will all just come naturally, but when? I hear Sarah's little boy rattle off sentences in Spanish after less than one year here. Amazing.

I will miss times like these when everything comes together and I feel connected to something bigger than Loreto Bay, the grand village development. It will be the life we made on our own, outside of Loreto Bay, that I'll remember most. Hanging out with the Loreto moms on Thursdays at Santa Lucia on the Malecon, gathering at Sarah's or Roch's house for music and beer, guiding my daughter through the school gate every morning making sure she has her 10 pesos for a burrito and chicarrones while I stop to greet and kiss a dozen kids, moms, dads because you can't just get away with only a "hola" and "buenas dias" here in Loreto.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Nothing too interesting to report. The weather is perfect, but the construction around our house is wearing on me. Allison and I are ready to go home which we will do as soon as Robert returns from his quick trip back home. It will take awhile to get there since we are driving. Two days up the Baja then a couple more in San Diego to visit Sea World and the Zoo. Then the long trek across several states to get to our home.

My sister, Lorri, is here visiting. We try to keep her entertained. One day we went whale watching but ended up seeing more dolphins instead. Which is okay, because dolphins are awesome! They really are like big sea dogs, playful and curious. They like to ride on wake the front of the boat makes when it cuts through the water. We throw caution to the wind as we hang off the sides of the boat trying to see them just beneath the water's surface. Sighting whales is breath-taking, but encountering a school of fun-loving dolphins is the most fun. Of course, now Allie can say she's swam with dolphins thanks to our trip to Cabo Dolphins last week. She really surprised us with her fearlessness. She petted, kissed, and rode on the back and belly of a dolphin named, Ende. I have it all on videotape, though I had to hide my camera under a towel since photography and video recording were a no-no there.

After all that excitement things are especially slow and boring again. We generally spend time visiting the hotel pool and beach or playing tennis or just taking walks. I think we are ready to end this extra-long vacation and get back into the swim with everyone we left behind back home. We started this adventure in November 2005. That's a long time to be away from home. Although it's just Loreto, Mexico and not a world tour, it's been quite an adventure for us. It's as far and exotic as we could afford to serve up for ourselves. We've gotten a taste of living and managing in a foreign culture and I hope we see benefits from that in the future. I always tell myself that if nothing else besides a perfect Spanish dialect, Allison will have a profound appreciation for the things she has at home. When she enters 3rd grade in America this August, I imagine she could kiss the floor of the classroom. Hello, perfect little desks that don't tear up the back of your knees. Hello textbooks and reading stations and computer lab. Hello lunchroom and safe playground! She may be the happiest, most contented little girl in our home town.

I'm not sure what I will come away with. I haven't accomplished anything in particular (except maybe getting scuba diving certified.) I've approached everything with an open mind, letting whatever wants to come to me come. I've met incredibly interesting people and very simple people. And I've seen some wonderful sights. But what stands out most in my mind at this moment is this: I have never been so still. Never in my life have I operated at so slow a pace. I know I had the luxury to do so and that is a priviledge, but nevertheless, I have spent countless days lost in time, undirected, unfocused, unnoticed. There were many, many days I felt bored and under-utilitized, but I went along with that reality trying not to judge the value in it, trying not to put myself on a performance scale. I know I'm not accomplishing anything, but that's okay. It's only months in a lifetime. Who knows what purpose this time has--what it's preparing me for? And if the answer turns out to "nothing", that's okay too because it's been a heck of a peaceful time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Land's End

We drove to Cabo San Lucas and wasted half a day looking for a place to stay. We hadn't counted on the college kids on spring break taking all the affordable lodging. We tried further down the road to San Jose del Cabos where the lush resorts are and still had trouble. We weren't eager to pay over 400 dollars a night, so we headed back to the marina area in Cabo and settled in among the spring break crowd. I don't know what was worse, the music from the nearby bars or the consistent movement of young kids up and down the hall laughing and hollering by night, or the constant harassment from peddlers and tour promoters on the marina by day. But overall, the trip was fun.

The highlights were:
sunset cruise that took us around the arch at Land's End
Allison swimming with the dolphins at Cabo Dolphin
a Mexican folk dance performance near the beach
a quarter pounder with cheese at the local McDonalds

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Todos Santos

You mention Todos Santos and most people think, artists, surfers, Hotel California, but I came away with one prominent impression: Big Ocean. There is one big, bad ocean out there, nothing like our lake-like Sea of Cortez off Loreto.

Todos Santos is charming, it is true. It is different than Loreto in many ways. It is an oasis town built on an aquifer near the Pacific Ocean. The ground is so fertile it is stuffed full of palm trees and tropical plants and mini produce fields. It is hilly, so I can see why people compare it to Carmel-by-the-Sea in California. The air is cooler and it is less windy. And yes, the sky does seem to have a warm glow that artists claim Taos or Santa Fe share.

The Pacific makes it's presence known through sound: It is very loud. The surf break on this stretch of the Baja is extremely fierce. Surfers prefer the breaks to the north and south. They call the Todos Santos surf, "Killers" and deem it for experts only. The beach is not safe for swimming and there have been many drownings. A few days before our visit a man drowned saving a young boy when the lagoon he was playing in broke open into the ocean, a frequent occurrence. We did not know these stories when we checked into the wonderful, Posado La Poza , the small hotel behind the lagoon, but a stroll down the beach later put us in a respectful state. You don't want to mess around with a powerful force like that. Yet, what a sight it is. The sand is clean and light. The horizon is distant and unbroken. The glimmering sun on the water against the blue sky is enchanting. We darted and dodged the edges of the surf as it chased us, but we never got more than shin-deep.

La Poza is the perfect place for escape, it's secluded and tranquil. It consists of just a few bungalows oceanside. A Swiss couple owns and manages it expertly. I had the most amazing appetizer in their restaurant. Something with shrimp, oranges, and avocados. I noticed something black and furry at my feet. It was a cute little mutt that wandered in to find a comfy spot. No one seemed to mind. The grounds around the hotel are beautiful. Paths meander through a botanical garden of tropical and desert plants and statuary. The salt-water swimming pool and hot tub was ours alone; everyone else was out of sight. After sunset we sat at the edge of the hotel grounds and watched the stars in pitch darkness. I tried to tell what I knew of the constellation Orion and how he was banished to the skies for chasing women. I pointed out Pleiades and told about the seven sisters who, too, are frozen in the sky. This must have sounded like ghost stories to Allison who began to grow timid; more so, when we began pointing out different stars and planets and discussing how far away they are and what might live there, etc., etc., which leads the human mind to disturbing questions about creation, existence, the great unknown. I began to feel the unease that comes with recognizing just what little specks we are in a big universe. Meanwhile, the Pacific is roaring at us from just a stone's throw away, each break reminding me of a big lion paw stretching out to randomly snatch something up.

The next morning we explored the little town. We admired the hammered copper sinks in one shop near the mission. We peeked into the Hotel California; it looked pretty hip. We ate beef tacos at a little roadside stand. We met a realtor who showed us a lot overlooking the ocean and we wondered if we could live in a place like Todos Santos. All this took less than three hours. Then there was nothing else to do, which is probably the point of a place like Todos, and probably why it's not for us at this point in our lives, so we headed down to the highway towards Cabo San Lucas.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Things I like about Loreto

After our boat ride Saturday we stopped in my new favorite restaurant, Del Borrachos. We sat at the bar and ate beef and vegetable soup, a far better lunch than the ham sandwiches we'd packed for the boat ride. This restaurant not only boasts the best American-style cooking in the Baja, it is also just plain cute. It's fashioned to look like a frontier saloon with a long wooden porch and swing doors. At the bar are three saddles mounted as bar seats. The sombreros on the wall are named after the three characters in the comedy movie, "The Three Amigos." Mike, the owner with his wife, is a former sea captain, the world's best kind of bartender if it's stories you're after. We mostly wanted to know the how and why of his little restaurant. We learned that the moose antlers over the bar were a trade from a customer: Hamburgers for life, I think. Mike told us that their burgers are the lifeline of the business. Just last month they sold 1800 of one type, the one named after the character, El Guapo. I haven't tried one yet; I'm still working my way through the soups and sandwiches.

After that pleasant outing we headed to the Inn at Loreto Bay to let Allison swim with her friends. Carole's kids were with their dad on the beach shucking clams they'd dug up. I didn't stay long enough to eat one, though I would have. I needed to stroll down the beach to say hello to a group of Mexican friends who were celebrating a child's birthday.

Allison cut her toe in the hotel pool somehow. I tried to calm her and put pressure on the wound. A waiter went for help and when I looked up there was a large man with a Bombero logo on his shirt opening his medical bag. In fact there were four men and I wondered if they just happened to be nearby or were they in-house emergency assistance? The attention they gave to Allison's small boo-boo was sweet and reassuring. I had to smile as the big man struggled with his big fingers as he tried to slip the band-aid around Allie's tiny toe while the others looked on. I thought she'd be embarrassed by all this attention but she wore such an expression of satisfaction. I could see in her mind that Mexico had redeemed itself for all the past hurts she's suffered here: the cuts and scrapes from tripping over uneven concrete sidewalks and playgrounds, or stumbling into pointy cactus, or getting the back sides of your knees scraped against the second-hand, ragged metal school desks. Finally, somebody was looking out for the little people who are always getting banged up in the ill-formed environment that is Loreto.

But then I began to see more behind her expression. Earlier in the week we had attended an outdoor event celebrating International Women's Day. Sarah's girls performed with their dance group at the town plaza beside a backdrop of displays intended to educate against domestic abuse. There were some disturbing images of battered women and children. Allison took great notice in this, especially the photo of a young girl with a slap-mark bruise across her face. She talked about it quite a lot this week. To her, the idea of someone hurting a child may have been tempered by the fact that many people were fighting to protect girls like this. I could see that Allison has been processing her new discovery of the intentional harm that exists in the world against the weak and innocent. I could see her struggling to comprehend a system of bad against good and being thankful for the defenders. The defenders bring justice and little people seem to grasp onto that ideal so naturally. If there are villains then there must be heroes. I could see her thoughts so clearly when she allowed those men to come to her aid. Though her injury was tiny and accidental, the aid was large and protective, the way help should be. Big people are supposed to protect little people. Today she was protected and that made an impact on her, I believe.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saturday in the Sea of Cortez

Yesterday we went for a boat ride on the Sea of Cortez. We packed a picnic lunch and went out in a rented panga boat towards Coronado Island. We hoped to see whales and dolphins on the ride, but we only saw two huge blue whales. We chased them down to get a closer look, but unlike the gray mama whales and babies on the Pacific these gentle giants are less playful and curious. It seemed that when we got close to them they dove deep and away. But what an incredible sight they were. They had to be over 80 feet long. I tried to get some video footage but in my excitement I jiggled the camera so much that I missed the shot.

We circled around Coronado passing by the spot where the stinky sea lions hang out. The older ones lay sunning themselves on the rocks while a couple of young cubs frolicked in the water. Robert thought it would be fun to throw the little bait fish that our boat driver had stashed in his live-well to the sleeping sea lions. Probably not a nice thing to do since it set them to barking out in alarm (or anger)as they waddled away. The sea gulls dashed in to grab the fish and between their honking and the seals' barking and the overbearing stench we decided it was time to scoot on out of there; we'd caused enough disturbance.

Next we came up on the rock formation that resembles a giant cat head looking down on a defiant mouse. Coronado Island is a volcanic island so there is lot of jagged and eerily-formed rock on its edges.
This is a good spot for scuba diving which we did last year with Bruce from Dolphin Dive. It's a bit too cold for that now.
We didn't see any manta rays this time, nor was there the squid run we witnessed last year when hoards of squid washed themselves up on the white sandy beach stinking up the other side of the island. Maybe it's not the season yet. The beach this time was crowded with boats full of sightseers like us. We didn't stay long. There was an abundance of pesky bees that were determined to share our lunch with us. And somehow sand found its way into our ham sandwiches. So on to home we went satisfied that our first day on the water in the Sea of Cortez was pleasant and mild and we'd seen monster-big whales (something you never forget.)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Where's the breadman?

I haven't felt very inspired to write lately. The flu that Allie and I suffered from really knocked me off my feet. I spent several days in bed followed by several more just hiding out from the brutal winds. Finally, the weather has turned for the better and suddenly everything looks promising again.

San Lucas with a stop in This weekend we may take a road trip to Todos Santos to stay at the Hotel California. I really like the Pacific side south of Todos Santos. It has a similar feel to California with the large waves and great expanse of sea. Plus, the sun sets on the ocean which is a pretty sight. While we are in Cabo we hope to take a sunset cruise as well as visit the infamous Costco for supplies, though we don't need much since we plan to return home at the end of the month. I do need some good quality coffee since our supply recently ran out. Today I asked Robert to pick up some bread on his way home from dropping Allie off at school. He said there was not a loaf to be found anywhere in town. Seems like the Bimbo bread truck hadn't made it to Loreto lately. I'm thinking when in your life are you unable to find a loaf of white bread in your town? People just wouldn't believe it. My friend Sarah and I laugh about stuff like this because we know nobody else back home would believe it. So much we are used to at home is simply unavailable here or hard to find. So many things are rare and coveted. Today I was at Sarah's and saw a can of roasted almonds that Stuart must have brought on his last visit. I grabbed a handful like a thief because when will I see something so wonderful as that again? I scored a quart of half and half yesterday at Dali's and you'd have thought I'd won the lottery I was so thrilled. Now if I just had some Sumatra coffee blend to go with it.

My illness left me without an appetite for about a week. Now that I'm hungry again it's a bit of a challenge to find things that satisfy me. But yesterday I made a discovery that brightened me and my appetite considerably. It's a new establishment called Del Borrachos, which I think translates to of the drunks. I had blueberry pancakes with my friend, Carole. Then today Robert and I had lunch there: Split pea soup with a grilled chicken sandwich and cole slaw. It was the best thing I've tasted in months. I want to scream, Hallelujah! I think I can make it here another month.