Archive | April, 2011

Oh baby, it’s cold and wet here!

26 Apr

So here we are, back on Vancouver Island, which isn’t really home anymore, but we’re a lot closer than we were. The trip home took us 10 days, and once again, just like the proverbial horses headed to the barn, the closer to Canada we got the quicker we moved. I have to apologize for the lack of photos, since I just didn’t see anything interesting enough to take pictures of. This is the problem with taking the same route home more than once, everything becomes familiar and after a few more times, uninteresting.

We spent 2 lovely nights at our favourite Baja campsite, in San Quintin, though this time around it was anything but quiet. Since the weather was sunny, warm and sultry, and it was the start of the Easter holidays, the beach was filled everyday with picnicking and partying locals. Lots of good food, people and  music. Not to mention the beach itself being used as a freeway, plus a full scale clam fishery underway. It was fun, lively, entertaining and interesting. It’s such a neat place at any time and we know we’re always going to enjoy our stays. Plus you can’t beat the price $120 pesos a night. With the Canadian dollar doing so well these days that’s a grand total of  $10.00. Now I have to qualify a bit as they don’t have potable water for drinking available, but they do provide a sanitary dump  and have hot showers using brackish water. The view is great and depending on the  season, a variety of absolutely fresh seafood is available right out of the  Fishermen’s boats.

Now, I have a dirty secret…I looooove BEEF!!!! Most especially steak and roasts. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat just about any type of seafood until it’s coming out my ears and you’ll never hear me complain, but every once in a while I need to eat  a thick, rare, tender steak, which are damned hard to come by in Baja. The beef cows there are free range as I’ve mentioned before but they are also in survivor mode, so there’s no such thing as a fat cow. Beef is definitely available but it’s best cut up fine, shredded or stewed, and if you do get a steak you’d better have good teeth.

Is all this leading somewhere you ask? Well, yes it is. I’m not fond of chain restaurants, but a few years ago we discovered a place called The Golden Corral in a small southern California town named El Centro. It’s a steak and seafood buffet where for $8.00 each before 4PM or $13.00 after, I can indulge my need for BEEF! Richard really just indulges me, but I notice he’s no slouch in the number of plates he goes through. Richard is a firm follower of the SeeFood Diet, you know, see food, eat food!

Anyways, I make him go this way every time we leave Baja, just so I can indulge my need to sink my teeth into a nice piece of rare steak. It causes interesting travel plans since whichever route we use to get home always starts at El Centro. This time was pretty pedestrian, we drove around the west side of the Salton Sea, a route we hadn’t been on before, then just took secondary roads west until we hit the I5. For once, our mechanical problems were simple, a torn fan belt, and replacement of a couple of wheel lug bolts. Both times when need appeared so did salvation. The belt was replaced with an old one we had with us, then a Napa Auto Parts store on the side of the road sent us to a diesel parts shop just a couple of blocks from the Mojave Airport.

We got the belt and a chance to visit the historic airport where Burt Rutan built his SpaceShipOne which was the first civilian aircraft in space. He maintains his company Scaled Composites here which is considered the most creative company working in the aviation industry today.

The bolts were even easier. We stopped for coffee in a road side rest stop in Lake Shasta, when a gentleman walking by looking at the van noticed a bolt missing and informed us. About 20 miles down the road was a Les Schwab Tire store. They replaced 4 of them when it became apparent that the missing one wasn’t the only problem and we were on our way again in a couple of hours. So, for once no catastrophic mechanical failures and the trip home was pretty uneventful. It was even warm and sunny right up to until we boarded the Black Ball Ferry to come home.

We’re back on the island now and it’s raining and cold and the forecast is for more of the same until at least this weekend. We were gone for 5 months, the temperature during the day averaged 65F to 75F and during that entire time we probably had less than 20 cloudy days and 1 hour of rain.

People ask us why we go to Baja in the winter? Well, duh!



15 Apr

It’s that time again. Time to go home, hit the road, and vamoose. Time to say our goodbyes. Not just for us, but for a large majority of the Anglo population down here. Sure there are those who live here year round, but probably more than half of us, spend only the winter on the warm shores of Baja.

Just after Christmas, there's no room left on the beach!

On Rattlesnake beach, us and 2 other couples were the last holdouts but after Saturday, we’ll all be gone. Sunday is Palm Sunday, an important start to the Catholic Easter, or Semanos Santos as it’s known down here. It’s the start of a 2-week holiday where the locals gather up their families, from the youngest to the oldest and move to the beach. And I do mean move. They bring beds, couches, tables, chairs; almost everything they live with in their homes comes with them to the beach. It only rains here during the height of Summer, so there are no worries about their belongings being damaged by the elements. They will fill this beach and every other accessible beach on the Sea of Cortez till one can hardly move and they will eat seafood, play and party hard, then they too will all go home and the beach will be empty once more until September when the Anglos will start our annual, southerly migration.

April 13th, pick a spot, any spot!

The summers here, as I said, are the start of the rainy season where temperatures can soar up to 45C and the threat of hurricanes is always present. Not a time Richard or I care to be here. We’re not sure we could stand the heat and much as I think I’d like to experience a hurricane, I know realistically neither of us would enjoy it very much!

We have come to know and care for some of the locals a great deal and we will miss them very much. They know we will be back again next fall and we know we can keep in touch with them while we’re away. Besides it gives us lots to talk about when we finally get together again. We’ll say out final Adios this evening.

Tomorrow morning after spending today doing a few chores, picking up some last minute items, getting a bit of welding done, (can’t leave with at least some mechanical work being done on Grummy. It just wouldn’t be the same!) writing this blog and uploading it, we’ll be turning North.

We plan on taking 2 weeks to get home and hope to visit a couple of friends on the way. Now Internet is an iffy proposition on the road, especially when you don’t know the area intimately, so I may or may not be talking to you until we cross the border and pull into our daughters backyard.

Wish us a safe trip home and when I do finally get back on the web, I’ll be sure to let you know all about our travel adventures, good and bad. Though I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there won’t be any bad!


6 Apr

Have you ever noticed the occasional roadside shrine at home? You know, the simple cross erected on the side of the road at the sight where a loved one has died in a terrible accident. Sometimes they have a few mementos like a photo or a stuffed animal. Down here it’s an art form and they are everywhere.

Up until recently, the roads have been narrow, and poorly maintained, with steep cliffs, and sharp corners. Not to mention no lighting or guardrails, plus moving targets in the form of large farm animals wandering across the roads freely. The lines painted on the road seem to be a mere suggestion as to which side of the road one should stay on and passing on blind, uphills is common. The laws requiring seat belts to be worn does exist, but enforcement is non-existent and the push to educate against drinking and driving has only just recently begun.

When shrines become this big, they become roadside attractions and it's not unusual to see picnickers, and others taking advantage of the shade. Sometimes they will even light a votive candle in thanks.

When we first started driving down here, we were amazed at just how many shrines we saw, now we barely notice them, unless they are something special or it’s Day of the Dead. A shrine here can be as simple as a metal or cement cross or as elaborate as a cathedral. We have seen ones ranging from plain to extremely beautiful, from comical; designed to resemble the tractor of the semi the man was driving, to macabre; displaying pieces of the wrecked vehicle, to outright kitsch.

This is what I mean by macabre. It's not unusual to see pieces of the vehicle the individual was killed in displayed with the shrine.

A lot can be told from the shrines, such as wether or not the dead individual was survived by loving family and what their financial situation was and if it’s gotten better or worse. If survived by caring relatives the original marker will eventually be replaced by a more permanent one, sometimes a much more elaborate one. There will also be a fresh wreath placed on it during the celebration of the Day of the Dead and any other personal family celebrations. Sometimes it becomes obvious that the dead individual was either not very loved or the family has moved away or died out. The marker never receives any new wreaths and gradually rusts away,  falls over or is vandalized.

This shrine has been vandalized and may be abandoned

Now, I must digress a bit here and explain what Day of the Dead actually is. It is part remembrance, part celebration and part appeasement of the deceased family member, and is a completely Mexican festival. The celebration covers 2 days, and is accompanied by special cakes, sweets and candies, many of which are shaped like skulls. Children are honoured on November 1st using white flowers and candles, while adults are remembered on November 2nd. The surviving family members, clean and tidy up the cemetery plot, and the road side shrine if there is one. New, fresh wreaths are placed, along with maybe a fresh coat of paint. Then at Midnight, the family will go to the cemetery and bringing food will set up a place to eat, making sure there’s a place set at the table for the deceased. Then they will commune with and celebrate their lost family members in a happy and colourful celebration.

In some instances these shrines become bigger and bigger as time passes. They start to incorporate bigger buildings with gardens and benches and take up more ground beside the highways. The biggest ones we’ve seen can be entered like small churches. The most amazing thing about these shrines is their immovability. They are never touched by road work and even when the Government is building new stretches of road or straightening out curves, the road will be built around them.

Here you can see the original cross with the name plate, and the newer, growing shrine in front

You can see the new shrine growing in front of the old one and new flowers in place. This one is well looked after.

There is an amazing array of things that are placed in these shrines, pictures, photos, baby shoes, teddy bears, money, cans of beer and or pop, locks of hair, silk flowers, crucifixes, crosses, statues of Jesus and Mary, articles of clothing, letters of loss or love, cans of food, strands of garlic and of course votive candles. All either as a loving memento, a remembrance or as something the deceased used or loved in life or can use in the afterlife. Just because the vast majority are Catholic doesn’t mean that a little of the primitive religions that where here before the Spanish arrived, hasn’t crept in.

This shrine has a fair amount of stuff in it, but we've seen far bigger ones that have so much stuff in them that you can't differentiate any of it.

I said in my last blog that the Mexicans really know how to party, well, they really know how to grieve and at the same time celebrate life and death as well! Unlike our placid, boring cemeteries at home, designed for the ease of care  by the groundskeeper, here they are a riot of colour, size and shape. When I asked why, I was told, “We love colour and variety in life, why wouldn’t we want to be surrounded by it in death?”
That my friends is a very good question!