Archive | December, 2011

Merry Christmas from Mexico

21 Dec

It’s Christmas time. A time for family and friends, Christmas Trees, Mistletoe, Holly, snow and oh…wait a minute, wrong country!

 

It is true that some of the holiday traditions cross all borders. There are regulation, Douglas fir trees for sale at the Sunday Market, and if you thought Christmas trees were expensive at home, try the prices down here! These are heavily outnumbered though, by the plastic, artificial trees and wreaths. The only true touches of Mexico are the Poinsettias, for sale at the market or growing in yards and alleyways all over town, and the Piñata’s dangling from wires stretched across the main streets in Loreto.

 

No one wants to get caught under the Mistletoe in Baja. The member of the family that grows here is very parasitic, (yes, I know that all Mistletoe are parasitic) covering just about any and all trees and looks nothing like the European version. It certainly doesn’t spark the same feelings of love as it does at home. I’m pretty sure no one down here has ever seen a Holly bush, or snow for that matter, except maybe on TV, so that doesn’t even enter into the equation.

 

Doesn't actually inspire feelings of romance does it?

The family and friends part is pretty similar. For many of us on the beach, a few family members have arrived to spend the holidays and friends that aren’t here yet, will turn up early in January after they’ve spent the season with their loved ones. Lots of those who come to the Baja, wait until after the Christmas Holidays before they head south.

 

For me, this is a rather melancholy time. I loved Christmas at home, spending time with my daughters, decorating the house and tree, selecting and wrapping presents and the seasonal, traditional treats. I don’t get to do that anymore as we come down here long before the holidays and neither of our kids are at that financial stage where they can opt for a 2-week vacation in Mexico with us. So no tree, no decorations, no lights, no family, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a huge group of friends who get together to make sure Christmas is celebrated the Rattlesnake Beach way.

Winter is here and the dramatic sunsets reflect the change in the weather.

 

It starts with the Christmas Eve Bonfire, a large, welcoming fire to which everyone brings appetizers. We all sit around, keeping warm by the fire and eating all sorts of wonderful things, enjoying each others company and conversation. The fire burns very late into the night, and friends from all over, come and go as the evening progresses. The next day is all about Christmas Day dinner and is set up so that everyone who is attending makes some portion of the meal. In my case, this year it’s Dark Chocolate Truffles and a traditional English desert, Trifle.

 

Now, I don’t know about you, but food has always been a big component of the holidays for us, and with my background in fishing, there was always a large amount of my own smoked salmon available. Such is not the case anymore as I don’t guide and have limited access to salmon, but down here I’m up to my eyeballs in Yellowtail, a type of tuna. The folks on the beach have been catching these tasty fish for a few weeks now and the largesse in sharing has been so phenomenal, our little freezer is full. Not only has everyone been sharing raw fish but also they attempt to outdo one another with their smoked Yellowtail as many of them bring smokers with them from home. I don’t have a smoker, but I do have a recipe for Gravlax. This is a Swedish recipe for a type of Lox that doesn’t require brining or smoking but gives the fish a smoky flavour. I wasn’t sure it would work with Yellowtail, but since the density of the flesh is very similar and the smoked fish tastes very similar to salmon, I figured what the hell, I could certainly give it a shot. Nothing like being able to offer guests a little lox styled fish, cream cheese and crackers when they come calling.

 

The 4 main ingredients of Gravlax

If you’ve got access to salmon (any type except pink as it’s too thin) or a nice piece of tuna, give this recipe a try you won’t be disappointed. Just so you know, I didn’t have any Sake, so I substituted Tequila. The taste difference was negligible. Hope you enjoy this tasty treat and hoist a Rum and Eggnog for me will you? Feliz Navidad!

 

Ready for sharing.

 

 

Tea-Brined Salmon Gravlax (or Yellowtail)

 

3/4 cup Lapsang souchong tea leaves

1/2 cup boiling water

3 lb. salmon fillet with skin on

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup coarse sea salt

1 1/2 Tbsp fresh cracked peppercorns

2 Tbsp sake

 

1. Pour boiling water over tea, steep, cool to room temp.

2. Line a baking dish large enough to hold the fillet with plastic wrap.

3. Combine sugar, salt, and cracked pepper. Sprinkle 1/4 of mix in the dish.

4. Place salmon on mixture, skin side down.

5. Rub the wet tea leaves onto the top of the salmon.

6. Drizzle the sake evenly over the tea leaves.

7. Sprinkle the remaining salt and sugar mix onto the tea leaves.

8. Fold the plastic wrap over the fish and press with weight in a small pan/

9. Refrigerate for 48 hours, turning every 12 hours.

10. Remove from brine and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry.

11. Slice and serve with diced red onions or sour cream.

 

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Do you like dogs?

12 Dec

Do you like dogs? Do you want one? I know where you can get one for free. You can even get it checked over by a Vet and Spayed or Neutered at no cost to you!

 

All you have to do is come and visit us here in Baja.

A beautiful Baja sunset

 

Of course the cost of travelling to Baja might outweigh the cost advantages of a free pet but hey, a loving pet is priceless right?

 

I don’t own a dog and I haven’t since I was a kid. My childhood was scared with the tragic deaths or losses of dogs. My first dog was a beagle puppy my Father brought home for me 6 months before we sold everything we owned and left Hamilton, Ontario to move to Vancouver, BC.  We couldn’t take him with us, so our relationship was intense but short. I never saw him again, he got out of my aunts yard and was killed by a car a year after we left.

 

I have to tell you, losing your first love at four, leaves a scar!

 

The last dog in my life was a small miniature lab named Peppy. This one met a terrible end. He’d gotten hold of some chicken bones from somewhere, (not us), and they stuck deep in his throat. It wasn’t until we realized he wasn’t eating and had no energy that we recognized there was a problem. My parents were not capable of paying for the costs of surgery for a pet, so Peppy was euthanized. My whole family was devastated. We never owned a dog again.

 

Richards story is a little happier. His life was filled with dogs. The earliest photos of him as a little boy show him with a dog. His Mother bred Champion show and Obedience dogs and he delights in telling people that he can remember having 24 dogs around at one time and usually never less than 10. He even adopted a dog when he spent two years on a Kibbutz in Israel, to stop it from being euthanized.

 

When we got married, and then had children, we talked about getting a dog and though I’d had terrible experiences I was willing, Richard wasn’t. As he put it, he was “dogged out”. There had been more than enough dogs in his life and after discussing the pros and cons, we decided our lifestyle didn’t have any room in it for a dog, and that’s the way it’s stayed all these years.

 

Sita, short for Mamasita. She was an abandoned Mom with pups when adopted. Don't worry, the pups got a good home too!

When we started coming here, it became apparent that the attitude towards dogs is very different that it is in Canada and the U.S. At home, pets are often treated better than humans are, not so down here.

 

As far as the vast majority of Mexicans are concerned, dogs are plain and simply animals. Don’t misunderstand me, most dogs are loved and cared for by their owners and a few are even treated the same way Paris Hilton treats her Chihuahua, though that’s a rare happening. It is not unusual however, to see dogs, even much loved ones, suffering from Mange, bitches that have obviously had litter after litter, because it’s not macho to get her fixed and packs of scruffy, skinny dogs fending for themselves, because no one can afford to feed them anymore. Now I have to interject here that I have never seen nor heard of dog fights in Baja, lots of Cock fighting goes on, but no dog fights, so no worries on that account.

 

 

It’s actually difficult to describe the relationship between dog owners and dogs down here. Here’s an example, the Market that we go to every Sunday, to purchase farm fresh food has a couple of meat venders, and there are always at least half a dozen dogs in various sad states hanging around. Some of these dogs belong to the various vendors and some are strays that have learned that on Sundays free food can be had for an animal willing to wait for something to hit the ground. No one pays any attention to these animals nor do they seem concerned that some of them appear to be near starvation. There are never any fights amongst the dogs, since survival is more important than dominance, they don’t waste the energy.

 

The owners see no reason to keep their dogs by them all the time and when it’s time to pack up and leave, the dog with an owner will go home with them, and the others will just melt back into the background of the town.

 

 

The problems arise when money gets really tight, since as the most disposable member of the family, the dog is likely to be turned out to fend for itself or driven into the wilds and abandoned.

 

Every town we’ve visited has dogs running loose, often in packs. Some of these are dogs with homes, some are dogs that have been abandoned and others are feral. It’s easy to tell the difference, abandoned dogs wag their tails and will approach humans who call to them and offer them a kind word or a handout, feral dogs go out of their way to avoid humans as much as possible.

You can just make out Bushy and Sandy, the last surviving dogs of a litter of 5 that were rescued by a couple on the beach.

 

You have to understand that there is no SPCA here or any other organization geared to animal control or adoption. There isn’t enough money to look after the human population, let along excess to be used for animal welfare. People come first and since most are barely surviving, there is a long way to go before any thought can be turned to the benefit of anything else. I mean we’re talking about an area where most of the smaller villages have no electricity or running water. One of the Gringos has been trying to solicit donations for a family in Auga Verde, a small fishing village south of us, whose fourteen old son needs dialysis. They need solar panels, batteries and inverters, to keep their son alive, so paying out scarce dollars for a pet is out of the question.

 

Rattlesnake Beach seems to be a favourite place to abandon a dog, probably because the owner really doesn’t want to hurt the animal and they know that chances are good it will be adopted by either one of the campers or someone they know and will go on to a better life. At the moment there are six rescued dogs here that have found new owners and a much better life. Not to mention the feral bitch and her puppy that are being fed by at least two if not three of the ladies that are camping on the beach right now.

 

Sometimes it’s funny listening to the owners of these dogs as they will tell you that regardless as to how young the puppies were when they were adopted, they never lose their Mexican identities. Mexican dogs eat constantly if allowed and they eat anything and everything. It doesn’t matter if they are so full they can barely move, if someone offers them something, they will take it. I think that there must be some sort of starvation memory in these animals, similar to the ones that our parents generation seem to have if they lived through the Depression in the 30’s. I don’t know about you, but I know quite a few older adults who’s cupboards are absolutely full of packaged and canned goods, just in case the the world goes to hell and they can’t get any more food. I’m guessing that starvation teaches to eat when you can.

 

We have managed to find homes for the two dogs that were dropped off in our campsite over the last few years. It’s funny, all our fellow campers seem to assume that we are incomplete without a furry companion and have tried at various times to suggest that nothing could be more perfect than for a dog to magically appear at our doorstep, but Richard lets them all know that it’s just not going to happen. Not that we don’t love to visit with our friends dogs, Richard even sometimes carries treats in his pocket, but it’s like other peoples kids, fun to visit with but eventually they go home to their own family.

 

As for the free Veterinary I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a group called Animalandia, that comes to town on a fairly regular schedule that does rescues, surgeries, examinations and other necessary work on pets, free of charge. It is made up of a group of volunteers, very similar to Doctors without Borders, though obviously with a different patient focus. Thanks to these folks and the kindness of the people on this beach, as well as those who live in Ligui, Juncalito and Loreto, many dogs have been rescued, fixed, adopted and now live all over Canada and the United States. This is a much better fate than that which they would have faced with had they been left to fend for themselves down here.

 

So as I said at the beginning, are you by any chance in the market for a dog? I happen to know of a very fat, happy puppy that’s going to be looking for a new home soon…

 

 

 

THE WILDS OF BAJA

1 Dec

For those of you who have never been here, I’m sure that some of you assume that Baja is a settled area that probably resembles some of the places you go for a weekend campout.

 

The population density is actually small for the landmass. It’s clustered in very small to middling sized communities, isolated from each other and connected only by rough, dirt roads and the one arterial highway, Mexico 1. Everywhere else is desert, that looks to the uninitiated like empty wilderness, but that’s far from the truth.

 

This place is alive!

 

The first thing you learn when you come down here is to never put your hand where you can’t see it. There are scorpions here, and although they aren’t deadly, they can give you a nasty sting, so you never put your hand under things and you shake out your shoes in the morning, if you’ve left them outside over night.

 

A Tarantula we found at the base of a rock wall, It may not look it but it was alive.

Spiders in a variety of flavours also live here, from the Brown Recluse, which is a nasty bugger though rarely encountered, to a strange flat black one that can leave you with a nasty bite. It moves incredibly fast and has the added ability to slip under doors. It also lives under things, so again, watch where you put your hands!

 

There are Tarantulas here as well and unlike most of the rest of the arachnid family is fairly innocuous. Now this is saying something coming from me. I do not like spiders, but Tarantulas are so big and furry that for some reason my hindbrain doesn’t see them as dangerous and so my Fight or Flight response just doesn’t come into play.

 

This little lady was just looking for a place to lay her eggs

We see a variety of bugs in our campsite every year and most of them are harmless and interesting, if not downright beautiful to watch and look at. This Preying Mantis marched up our Mesquite tree and proceeded to lay eggs, which we then watched carefully. We were rewarded eventually with a full hatch of tiny miniature mantis. They dried off, puffed themselves up and left to make their own way in life, in less than 30 minutes.

 

Butterflies and moths are constant visitors and the oranges we put out for the birds are certainly an added incentive for them to hang around for a quick feed. This giant moth is only seen in full dark and is easily confused with the tiny bats that appear after sunset, when in flight. They are almost exactly the same size. These are not the only two creatures that are confused for one another. There is another moth that lives further north, around San Quintin, in Baja Norte, and its flight pattern and size makes it a dead ringer for a hummingbird. The only way we could tell the difference was to catch one and check it out.

 

If we hadn't shone a light on the orange at night, we never would have see this beautiful moth.

There are a great many types of snakes and lizards here as you can imagine, this being a desert after all. Even the various islands can boast of having endemic species found nowhere else in Baja, but here’s a kicker, there’s frogs here too.

 

Yeah, that’s right. Frogs.

 

No, they aren’t everywhere, if they were, they’d be toads and there are some of them too, Horned Toads, and a few other species, but I’m talking frogs. When you hike up into the canyons, there are standing pools of water, most likely fed from underground sources since they rarely dry up completely and drought conditions seem to have little affect on them. Frogs can be found around them. At first you are only aware of them from their singing, but eventually you see tiny movement and focus in on frogs moving about the rock walls that encompass the water pools. This is a Pacific Tree Frog and they are tiny, this one was about the size of a quarter, but we’ve found some that are no bigger than your fingernails. Notice just how well they blend into their surrounding!

 

Just one of 3 types we see in the canyons

I mentioned snakes didn’t I? Lots of snakes, almost all of them are completely harmless, though there are rattlesnakes and a few others with a nasty reputation. They rarely appear during the time we’re here because as far as they’re concerned, it’s winter and they hole up until it gets warm. A couple were sighted this year, as quite a few of us arrived earlier than normal and the rattlers hadn’t retreated to their dens, but they are gone now, not to be seen again until April. The rest of the serpents who frequent this area, usually only come out at night to lie on the warm dirt roads. As one book author states, if you want to see snakes down here, get yourself a good head lamp and go for walks at night on a nice dusty, dirt road. Occasionally, various snakes are spotted, but mostly all we see are their tracks, left as they move across the road during the night.

 

I would have included descriptions and photos, but first I would have had to stay up late at night to get shots of snakes and second considering just how many different varieties of Lizards live here we would have been talking about it for days!

 

Waiting patiently for a handout.

Birds are constant visitors and companions here in our campsite and provide an ever-changing view, from the Pelicans that work the waters just off the beach, to the Roadrunners that seem to have a specific feeding route, which we just happen to be on.

Just checking out the campsite

 

The Pelicans are pretty smart and never miss a chance to hang around anyone cleaning fish. They know that there’s going to be heads, guts and skeletons that are not wanted and these gentle birds have a physiology that allows them to digest anything that will fit into their throats. During certain times of the winter they are very well fed here and all you have to do is walk out to the waters edge holding something in your hands and they will appear almost as if by magic. The only sound they make is a very quiet hiss.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we put out oranges for the birds. They are cheap to buy, only 50 pesos for a 10-pound bag, and they provide a good food source. Not to mention continuously excellent photo opportunities, right outside our front windows. We place them in a bush beside us that is already frequented by many varieties of birds due to its constant supply of flowers, seeds and berries. There is a steady stream of Hummingbirds, Verdins, Orioles, Scrub Jays, Vireos, Mockingbirds, Woodpeckers, Sapsuckers, Cardinals, even the occasional Dove and Quail. We also get a few more rare visitors, such as Cactus Wrens, Pyrrhuloxias, Phoebes and these two.

 

Just taking a break

The Ash Throated Flycatcher has so many similar looking relatives that without the camera it’s virtually impossible to figure out which one you’re looking at. These birds aren’t here for the sweet juice or pulp of the orange. They’ve figured out that bees and other bugs come for that, so they just lay in wait in the branches of the bush, and pick them off at their leisure.

We got the impression, he was enjoying the orange.

 

This Chipmunk appeared for the first time yesterday morning. We usually only see these little fellows, running at top speed across the road in front of the car. It has become a running joke here that they seem to have developed a new Olympic sport of running across the road in front of any approaching vehicle. They never get hit since they move at Hyper speed and we are moving slowly due to the bumpy road conditions, but none of us can figure out why they seem impelled to dash across the road only when a vehicle is approaching. Our guess is that now that one has found this new and tasty food source, it won’t be long before others follow. Hmm, I think our orange bill is going to go up!

 

Isn't she just beautiful?

Last Sunday, as we headed to the car to go to the Market, who should be standing just a few feet from the van but this little lady. You know that expression, “A deer in the headlights”? That was almost the impression we got as we all sized one another up. We stared at each other for quite a few minutes before she decided we weren’t dangerous and slowly sauntered off into the bushes. Kit Foxes are numerous around here and though they can be Rabies carriers, they are beautiful creatures and we love to see them. They are not sighted frequently but we have seen one at least three times this year. Whether it’s the same one or not is virtually impossible to tell as they all have very similar markings and usually disappear faster than we can get a camera up. We were lucky with this one, as it appeared to be a young one that was just as interested in us as we were in her. Sometimes you really are in the right place at the right time.

 

Sound asleep!

And on that note, I’m going to leave you with this shot of a young California Sea Lion asleep. We were out kayaking on Tuesday and off in the distance we could see something on the surface of the water. As we got closer we realized it was a Sea Lion, sound asleep, so we decided to see just how close we could get. As you can see from the shot, we got to within 15 feet before he woke with a start and dove. We sat still and he eventually resurfaced just a few feet from where he went down. He came back up a couple of more times in the same place and I guess he figured we were harmless, so he went right back to sleep!

 

We just never know what we’re going to see next and so it pays to always have a camera available at a moments notice. We are surrounded by wildlife here and are very appreciative of being able to experience it on a daily basis. I haven’t mentioned the many fish eating birds, like the Ospreys or Frigates, Cormorants, Herons or Egrets that grace our shores, nor have I included those marine animals that abound in the water at our doorstep. The many land animals that we see or hear regularly are also too numerous to include in this short space. We’ll leave discussion of these inhabitants of Baja to another time, meanwhile I shall endeavor to have my camera with me at all times and take photos if I can!

 

I wonder what we’ll see tomorrow?