Archive | March, 2011

PARTY ANIMALS

30 Mar

As I sit here trying to think of something to write about, it occurs to me that Richard and I have become “Party Animals”. We’ve been to more parties here, over the winter, than we probably attended during the past 10 years at home.

 
Folks have parties at the drop of a hat here, Birthdays, Full Moons, Blue Moons, relatives coming down to visit, friends leaving the beach and heading further down the peninsula, friends heading home, caught a big fish or lots of fish, Christmas, New Year, Valentines day, St. Patricks Day. Sometimes the parties are just because; because they got a new Paella pan and proper grill( the Paella was good, but needed some Dry Spanish Chorizo in my opinion), because it seemed like a good time to use up a bunch of seafood to make room in their fridge or freezer for more, or simply just because.

The Paella, and damn, it was good!

Now I have to qualify just what is meant by a “Party” down here. First be aware that the average age in this area is 65-70, so that kind of precludes raucous, rip snorting, foot stomping, pounding rock and roll, hell raisers! Mostly any music heard at parties down here is provided by someone with a guitar, (which always make me think of John Belushi in Animal House, and don’t I wish I could do the same!) and voice. Generally, neither of these would invite a recording contract from even the most desperate record label, though it can at times lead to some hilarity! Picture a large group of rather old folks singing Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, badly off key, led by a guitar player that only knows one chord, the wrong one, a tambourine and a harmonica. The only thing worse would be an accordion!

 
Most of these affairs are sedate, and follow a general pattern. Arrive at the requested time, usually between 4 and 5 PM, bringing something to share, since these gatherings are always “Pot Luck”.  One must also remember to bring a chair, a plate or bowl, cutlery and something to drink. The invitees will sit in some semblance of a circle, usually around a fire pit, that may or may not be lit yet. Drink and talk for up to 45 minutes than proceed to eat and continue talking.

As usual, sitting around stuffing our faces!

If it’s a Full Moon party then chances are the fire will already be lit and hot dogs will be cooking. Hot Dogs down here are all made from Turkey (ewww, yuk!) so folks have taken to bringing down with them packages of Beef Smokies and Bratwursts, which are cause for other parties where these treasures are shared amongst only the very best of friends.

 
When the Full Moon has been greeted and or all the guests are sated, the crowd will gather around the fire and proceed to discuss all the latest gossip heard regarding the inexplicable behaviour of various Mexican Ministries and Agencies, plus snippets of whatever is going on in the world at large. There is a large information gap here as Internet is available only to those who have their own satellite set ups or who seek out WiFi at the local marina, hotel or restaurant. A couple of campers have Sirius Radios, so more info is available now than in previous years. These learned folks share what information they have with those who wish to hear. Trust me, not everyone here wants to know anything about the outside world, that’s why they’re living in this little back water spot.

Sitting around the fire, digesting, gossiping, and having fun Rattlesnake Beach style.

There is a term used widely down here…… Baja Midnight. To all of you uninitiated, that’s about 8 PM, and that’s about what time almost all the parties break up. All it takes is for one person to start packing up to leave, when suddenly it becomes a mass exodus. For those of the more elderly persuasion it’s perfect, a party that lasts no more than 3 or 4 hours, with no clean up except the few dishes that you yourself contributed to the pot luck. All the so-called garbage, paper plates and napkins will have been tossed into the fire pit and  the fire can safely be allowed to burn down unattended, and happily in bed by 9 PM! Well at least for most, Richard and I have a tendency to get back to Grummy, have a decaf coffee and watch a movie. Since we’re considered to be youngsters here it’s understood that we’ll stay up late, (around 10) and get up late (about 7-7:30) tsk, tsk!

 
We were at a party last night, to say goodbye to a couple of longtimers who left this morning to start the long journey home. By the middle of April, there will be only 4 groups of us left, so there will be one more party. We will burn our last pieces of wood, cook our last shared dish and say our goodbyes for another season.

 
Come Easter, there will no room to move on this beach as it’s a Mexican Baja tradition to head to the beach, eat massive amounts of seafood and party for 2 weeks, and when I say party I mean loud music, dancing, drinking, feasting, staying up all night and doing their very best to live it up and have a good time!

 
Perhaps next year, we’ll host a party that’ll include loud rock music, and some dancing. If we can find some folks under the age of 60 we might even be able to keep it going until really late… maybe even 10 PM. Now, doesn’t that sound like a party?

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TASTY BEEF VEGETABLE AND BARLEY SOUP

23 Mar

I know, I know! Didn’t I just finish telling you it was hot down there?
Well, yes it is, but sometimes hot food actually makes you feel cooler. I mean come on, we’re talking about a country where people eat Jalapeno, Serrano or Habenero Chilies with almost every meal.  Besides after eating seafood almost constantly for the last month, (Yeah, yeah, poor us) the idea of having some rich, meaty, thick beef soup just sounded to good to pass up!

Now, doesn't that look good?

1 lb. Beef bones, preferably with lots of meat and marrow.

6 cups of water.

 

Beef bones down here can be anything from pieces of rib to legs cut into rounds, and are very cheap, the pound I bought cost $1.25. (Just to give you an idea as to the difference in costs down here, except for the barley, and Montreal Steak Spice which I brought with me from Canada, this whole meal cost less than $3.00)

 

I guess you could call the beef cattle down here, “Free Range, Organic” as the cows roam loose in the desert until it’s round up time, surviving as fortune dictates. The beef is very low in fat, a bit tough if you over cook it and probably the most “Beef” tasting meat I’ve ever had.

 

Now since most of you won’t be able to get hold of beef bones that have as much flavour as the ones down here, some enhancement might be needed. The best product I’ve found for this is called “Better Than Bouillon”, by Superior Touch. It’s available in chicken, beef and vegetable and you only need a couple of teaspoons to give your soups or stews a really full, rich flavour.

Best bouillon I've ever found!

Hopefully, you’ll be able to find really tasty bones and won’t need to add anything else. You know, it also never hurts to cultivate a good relationship with your local butcher!

In a large, heavy pot or Dutch Oven, bring the bones and water to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and continue to cook until the meat starts to fall off the bones, 2 to 3 hours. Keep the lid on.Remove from heat, strain meat and bones out of stock. Pull meat off bones, return to pot. If there is marrow, remove from the bones and return to pot as well. Discard the bones and any gristle.

 
Add to stock:

1 carrot cut into rounds

1 potato cut into cubes

3 stocks of celery heart, including leaves, chopped

1 small onion, slivered

1 1/2 tablespoons Montreal Steak Spice

1 chayote, cubed

1/4 cup pearl barley

4-6 more cups water.

A Chayote is a type of small squash and should be available in the Vegetable section of any large grocery store. If you can’t find one don’t worry, a small zucchini can be substituted. These small squash add a delicate flavour to soups and stews as well as acting as a thickener. The chayote can also be eaten raw in salads

A Chayote and some of the other ingredients.

Add everything but the barley to your pot, put the lid on, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and let it cook for another couple of hours. If the soup starts to get too thick add more water. Add salt only if you think it needs some. 45 minutes before serving, add barley.

Serve with bread.If you’re really looking to impress someone, look up the Hearty Garlic and Herb Beer Bread recipe on Guilty Kitchen.com, it goes very well indeed with this soup!

Divertirse!

UNDER THE SEA…

15 Mar

Spring has arrived finally. Oh, there’s no real massive change. The sun  rises a few minutes earlier and set a bit later. Being this far south there isn’t much difference in the amount of daylight between Winter and Summer but it now comes up much further north than before and it now passes almost overhead. The days are much warmer, as are the nights. Care must be taken now not to get sunburnt, even with a dark tan.

 
The water has also started to warm up some. With the hot days, it becomes much more inviting to go for a dip in the afternoons. Last week, we headed out in the Kayak; by the time we reached the western side of Danzante, being hot and sweaty, we pulled into a beautiful rocky bay, unloaded the underwater camera, shorty wetsuits, and masks and snorkels.
These are just a few of the things we saw and captured through our lenses.

One of many King Angelfish

Crowned Urchin snuggled in a hole in the rock.

Bradley's Sea Star

Orange Cup Coral

Giant Spiral Polychaete Tube Worm

Giant Damselfish

Yellowtail fry in the millions!

Every time we slip below the waves, we just never know what we’re going to see. As the water keeps warming up we’ll continue to be amazed at the vast diversity of life below the surface of the great Sea of Cortez.

AREN’T YOU AFRAID?

9 Mar

In February of 2006, my eldest daughter and I decided to go to Playa del Carmen and stay at a 4 star hotel for 2 weeks. While we were there, a couple were murdered in their room. From that moment on we have constantly been asked the same question about going to Mexico, “Aren’t you afraid?” The answer is NO!

Punta Arena Beach, just south of La Paz

We are constantly amazed at the coverage any crime involving foreigners that occurs in Mexico, is given in the American and Canadian press. The way the news is slanted makes it seems as if these things never happen anywhere but in Mexico and that no sane person would ever voluntarily go there.

 
Mexico has an economic problem. It’s a third world country, where the average monthly wage, before the recession was $130.00 US. Now, chances are many are either not working, or if they are, they are probably being paid much less, if at all. Many Mexicans we have talked to this winter have told us they haven’t received a wage in months, but are afraid to quit. If they do, they may not be able to find another job, but if they stick with what they have, they may eventually get some of the money owed them.

A piece of black coral left behind by the tide.

When physical violence happens here, it generally occurs in large border towns as these are Drug distribution centres. Drugs are moved to them and then across the border into the US because Americans are the drug cartels biggest customers.  Don’t kid yourself about making the border leakproof. There are always ways to get people and products across any border and the harder it becomes, the more valuable the product when you DO get it across and money is what it’s all about! The violence happens either when gangs fight over turf, or try to protect their empires from those who would bring them down. They kill each other, those they believe threaten them and anyone who gets caught in the cross fire.

 

When the US and Canadian press get hold of these stories they write them as if no one is ever murdered in their countries, there are no gangs, no drugs and all is sweetness and light there. All you have to do is read the Los Angeles Times or the Vancouver Sun to know that’s a huge crock of BS. I’m not sure why the news is slanted the way it is at home, but to us it sure seems as if it’s simply to scare people and it works beautifully. People are afraid to come to Mexico.

 
The only place any major problems have occurred in Baja is in Tijuana, just across the California border. Sure, there’s been the occasional violent crime committed in Cabo san Lucas and La Paz, but certainly, considering the number of tourists that visit those cities every year, it’s nowhere near the number that happens in say, Las Vegas, or Niagara Falls, but you’d never know that from the news reports would you?

 
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is crime here, even on our lovely beach. Last year an old rug and 2 broken lawn chairs went missing and this year just before we arrived, an old 10HP boat motor was stolen. Last month during the full moon, an attempt was made, 2 nights in a row, by the same men, to steal a 90HP boat motor, but was foiled by the vigilance and sleeplessness of one of the campers. Last night an unattended and unlocked boat trailer was pinched. These are crimes of desperation as the recession has hit very hard here and unlike the rest of North American the economy is not rebounding, there’s little work and the tourist industry is in the tank, both because of the economic slowdown and, of course, fear.

 
When these very poor locals see the things that many of the campers bring down with them, they assume we are wealthy and won’t miss a few odds and ends or can easily afford to replace those items that go missing. The local police don’t help matters since many of those responsible for the crimes are related to some of the constabulary. Down here family is everything, and the policemen are very unlikely to arrest and prosecute a relative. Plus many Anglos here, especially Americans, seem to forget that this is a foreign country, with different laws and legal system. There isn’t the vast network of police and security available to protect the individuals and their property like there is in Canada and the US, so we all have to take responsibility for our own protection.

 
Some of the Anglos here exasperate the problem by flaunting their obvious wealth, living in fancy, expensive homes, in villages where the locals live in 2 or 3 room shacks, with little or nothing in the way of what we call necessities. Down here a refrigerator is a luxury! These people always seem to have an amazing assortment of cars, trucks, Quads, boats and other toys laid out and displayed for all to see. They live down here because it’s cheap and with a  relatively small income from the US or Canada, can live pretty high on the hog. When their belongings go missing, they go berserk, loudly disparage any and all things Mexican. Though when asked if they would show strangers all the money in their wallets or leave all their belongings unlocked and on display in their home country, the answer is usually a much more subdued, “Well, no. I thought it was safe here!” No different here than it is at home folks!

 
I should also add that the local Mexicans are not responsible for everything that goes missing. There are certainly a few light fingered Anglos in the crowd and many have no qualms about purchasing obviously stolen items for cheap.

 
So, when we get asked the question by all those who believe the newspaper headlines, we tell them that we feel no more afraid to travel to Baja than we would travelling in our own country. If we stay out of problem areas, like the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, or Tijuana, the chances of anything bad happening to us, are slim. If we don’t go around flaunting what little wealth we have, which we  wouldn’t do at home, let alone while travelling, we won’t draw any unwanted attention.  Truth be told, one look at ol’ Grummy and no one would ever assume we had anything worth stealing.

A small island off Agua Verde a beautiful beach just south of us.

This is an absolutely beautiful area full of gorgeous views, awe inspiring vistas and warm and friendly people. Sure there’s a few bad apples in the bunch, but with a little common sense, you can be as safe and comfortable here as you are in your own home.

 
If the headlines make you afraid to travel, then don’t!  The less folks on the road, the more room there is for those of us who want to know where it goes.

The wind, she’s a blowing.

2 Mar

The Grande Norte came back this week. We’ve  been enjoying warmer weather and watching the sun rise higher in the sky everyday, but just like at home, just when you think Spring has arrived, a late season storm puts paid to that for while. So it is down here. The wind is supposed to blow all week. It’s not going to be high winds, but it makes kayaking and hanging around on the beach just too cold and uncomfortable, so we have to find something else to keep ourselves occupied. It’s time to go hiking!
There are 3 canyons nearby that we can choose from, Luigi, Wow and Tabour. All are basically the beginnings of the large arroyos that dot the landscape around here. Places where the waters that fall on the Gigante Mountains are gathered and funnelled to the Sea. They are also completely different from one another.
Now, I can’t speak about Luigi Canyon as we’ve never been up it. It is on private land, fenced off and the gentleman who has the key can be capricious, if you can find him.
Tabour is the closest and easiest to access. It’s just a little ways further up the road from the water well that we all use for our drinking water, about half a Kilometre from the highway. It consists of boulders; some small as baseballs, some so massive you can’t conceive of any power strong enough to move them. In Tabour, you do a lot of scrambling up, over and around the rocks, and unless you know the secret of the Rabbit Hole, you only get to experience 1/3 of the climb and miss the fabulous views of Danzante available further up the canyon.

Over, under or through the boulders of Tabour

Entrance to the Rabbit Hole.

The view from the top of Tabour Canyon

This hike starts the minute you park your vehicle and it generally takes us about 5 hours, but that includes a couple of rest stops to admire the scenery, take a few photos or do a little yoga, (Yes, even here we’ve been known to do a few asanas) plus one long lunch break.
As I said earlier, these canyons are funnels for water but just as the hikes are different so is the water you find. All the canyons have pools and all of the water is very cold, (though that doesn’t stop the hardy from swimming in them) but in Tabour you don’t usually get your feet wet as all the pools and rivulets can be skirted. This year the water is very low as Baja Sur is in a long drought. From the picture below, you can see where the water level usually is. Tabour comes eventually to an end. Those who are rock climbers can go further, but those of us who don’t do class 5 climbs call it quits here.

See how low the water is?

As far as you can go in Tabour.

Wow Canyon is about 10 Kilometres down the highway from Rattlesnake beach and is reached by turning down a bone rattling dirt road, that eventually just peters out after about 5 Kilometres. You park, start walking and just continue to walk, there are no massive boulders to overcome here, as the canyon bottom is flat and easily walked, but there are large pools of water that must be waded or swum through. This hike you get wet and I don’t like doing it until this time of year. The sun is much higher in the sky and actually shines directly down in the canyon in some areas. Any other time of year that we’re here, it’s in the shade. It doesn’t make the water any warmer but it sure dries you up a lot faster.

The first fording in Wow.

Wow Canyon always lives up to it’s name. None of us know what the Mexican name is for it, but it’s called Wow, because just about every corner you turn, someone in the group will usually exclaim “WOW”!

Just one of the magnificent views in Wow

This last trip we startled 2 California Bighorn Sheep from their drinking. This is a very rare sight and we were really lucky to have got a couple of shots of them. We also spied a Ringtailed cat that scampered quickly away.

Like Tabour, Wow comes to and end by a pool and again, those who are experts can go on if they like, but we eat our lunch, then head back, admiring the views that we missed on our way in as we head out.  A trip through Wow generally takes 8 hours and still, no one every really wants to leave this magical place.

As you can see, unless you're a rock climber, this is the end in Wow.

Wherever there's water in the canyons, the sound of frogs can be heard.

Just one of many massive Figs growing in Wow Canyon

This pool we swim in Wow, just for fun. It's very deep and at this time of the year it's the warmest.

Both of these canyons are filled with an abundance of animal and plant life supported by the constant availability of water. Even in drought years, there is water here. Some pools may go dry and streams flow under the rocks instead of above ground, but there is always water. Canyon Wrens sing their beautiful songs, frogs of many different colours and sizes croak to one another, flowers bloom in mass profusion, Fig Trees grow to enormous size, Ring Tailed Cats, Coyotes, Bobcats, Sheep, and other wildlife come to drink and every once in a while the silence is broken by a few humans seeking a little exercise and looking for something to do while the wind blows.

The end of a wonderful day!