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The year of the Mouse? Mosquito? Whatever…

31 Oct

The road beckoned in late September as the first hints of the coming winter, started to reveal themselves. We wished our son-in-law a Happy Birthday, kissed our daughter and grandkids goodbye, and headed for the ferry to Washington State and the road heading south.

With Rosy, our Dodge van, full to the rafters with a new fridge for Grummy, a telescope for me and many other odds and sods it was going to be a fast trip and it was. Travelling Highway 101 down the west coast till just south of San Francisco, where we swung over to I-5 we made it to our usual spot on Rattlesnake Beach in 5 ½ days.

The weather breaks

The weather was a bit rainy the first day, but after that, the sun came out and it was a beautiful trip down. If you ever get the chance, drive the 101. The scenery, from mid-Washington State to just before San Francisco, California is awesome. We’ve found over the years that the traffic is easy to deal with, as long as it’s not high summer and there are many places to stop for a walk, picnic, hike, play tourist, shop for unique gifts or just to admire the view and take a few pictures. The problems start just before you hit San Francisco, where the population density increases so drastically that we find it’s just not worth the hassle. That’s not to say that the coast road in California isn’t worth the trip, it is! The sights are great but the best part of the trip is really the dramatic views off the coast of Oregon with it’s many islands, sandy beaches, lagoons and massive erratic’s!

The rugged coast of Oregon

The rugged coast of Oregon

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

Once we arrived in Baja, it was obvious that we’d come just a little too soon. The daily temperatures averaged 95 to 100F with 85% humidity. Now, I can hear all of you saying “Oh, poor you”, in a sarcastic voice, but think about that for a minute. There’s no air conditioning in our rig, no breeze to evaporate sweat and with the humidity that high, it’s like sitting in a sauna all day and night. Sweat just poured off of us as if we were standing under a steady shower and we needed to carry paper towels with us at all times to keep it out of our eyes. Even the ocean didn’t provide any respite since it’s temperature was in the high 80’s. You couldn’t even tell you had walked into it for the first couple of weeks we were here. Nudity or as close as you could come was the dress of the day.

A Mexican Horse trailer

You can tell you’ve crossed the border when you start to see things like this.

The bugs weren’t bad, a few mosquitoes, no-see-ums and fly’s, left overs from the last tropical storm that had gone by over the summer, when it had rained for 3 days straight. The government had actually sprayed due to Dengue Fever showing it’s ugly head. Other than that, it was very green and lush, looking much as it had when we left in March last year. The beach this year was actually sandy, with a lot of wood from the storms, but nothing as bad as it had been after Hurricane Paul had gone by last October.

Underneath all that wood was a beautiful sandy beach.

Underneath all that wood was a beautiful sandy beach.

2 weeks ago Tropical Storm Octave went right over us. It didn’t do much to the beach, but it did rain 6 inches in less than 24 hours and of course, once again Highway Mex1, was severely damaged in way more places than last time. See, with the Gigantes Mountain range right behind us the rain builds up there, then comes thundering down, building up speed as if heads for the Sea of Cortez. If you remember your science classes, water will always find it’s own level and even though there are many established arroyos, all it takes is a new rock or tree blocking even a partial bit of the old course, to make the water veer and start a new one. Water forced it’s way over, under and through places that had never had water before. Every time it rains for more than a couple of hours here, it’s a new lesson in hydrology with just how powerful and destructive water can be.

Here’s a little something to think about too, the desert surrounding us is so saturated, that wild, Shaggy Mane mushrooms are growing on the road into our beach. Now that’s not something you see in the Sonoran Desert much, I’m thinking!

A week after that, we had a 6.8 earthquake, centered just 65 miles due east of Loreto. Nothing unusual in that since the Sea of Cortez is actually a continuation of the San Andreas Fault. The experience for us was interesting, as we just happened to be in town that day and neither of us had ever experienced the shaking of one before, but a conversation with a kayak guide who had been out on Carmen Island made us realize how dangerous it actually was. The land around here is made up of, basically, volcanic rock, liberally laced with compressed ash. With all the rain widening any gaps, once the earth shook, rock came loose and fell. The guide said he’d gone up a hill to make a cell call, then headed back down to his guests, reaching them, just as the quake let loose. The place he’d been standing fell and he said that it was raining rocks the size of our Grumman. If he’d been on the top of the hill when the quake struck, he’d have died. Nothing like a little perspective!

And now, 2 weeks after the rain, we can’t go outside anymore. The mosquitos are so bad that even wearing 30% DEET doesn’t repel them and Dengue Fever has reared its ugly head again. Used to be, that even when the bugs were bad, it was only in the early morning or close to sunset, but not anymore, now it’s all day and night. It’s almost funny watching people do the bug dance, until you have to go outside yourself, and then it’s a misery. Even being right down at the water doesn’t keep them away!

Then there are the mice and rats. Since last years rain brought grass to the desert and this years has kept it growing, that means there are a lot of seeds to eat and in the desert if there’s an abundance of food, there will soon be an abundance of things to eat it, hence the rodents. There are millions of them and they are everywhere. We weren’t here 2 days when a rat took up residence in the engine compartment of Grummy. Thank god they can’t get inside. Richard built the van with absolutely no access to the outside using his Dad’s experience as a guide. Dodge however, wasn’t so lucky and it took us 2 weeks to get rid of the mice that had taken up residence in Rosy and the same amount of time to figure out how they were getting in. Both had not only set up housekeeping but had built nests and started raising a brood. Good thing neither of us are softies, since the idea of traps and poison didn’t even phase us. I don’t know about you, but cute as they might be, I’m not in the slightest bit interested in sharing my living space with them. Oh, and did I mention the Gopher snakes that eat rodents? Seems there’s been a population explosion amongst them too!

Yeah, I know. Bitch, bitch, bitch!

Well, I guess that saying about the snake in Paradise is really true, or maybe it’s the one about having to always pay the piper, who knows, but down here nothing ever comes easy. Ah, well, there’s certainly never a dull moment down on Rattlesnake Beach!

TTFN!

Heading to the 25th parallel

13 Oct

Hidy Ho Campers! Here we are on beautiful Rattlesnake Beach in Southern Baja, once more, ready for another winter in the sun.

Daytime temperature is 33c and nights cool down to a balmy 22c. The water is holding steady at 28c. Yeah, I know that’s rubbing it in but hey, this IS a blog about travelling and I’d certainly be remiss if I didn’t tell my viewing audience what to expect if they decide to come for a visit or want to live vicariously through me, right?

Now, the last little missive I posted told you I have a peeve I want to rant about, so I might as well get it off my chest right away. I started to notice as we slowly made our way down roads less travelled that everything had a name; roads, bridges, overpasses, parks, beaches, trails, underpasses, byways, freeways, you name it. (hahaha, sorry)

Lake Crescent, northern Washington, on Hwy 101

What got me going was that almost everything was named after, in most cases, “Some Politician”.  Now, I tried looking up some of these names and for the most part Google just went “Huh?” What is it about your average politician that they just have to have some edifice named after them, especially since within 20 years, no one is going to remember who the hell they were, except maybe their closest friends, (Is that possible?) and relatives.

I’ll give you an example, in the town we lived in, there was a lovely park in the downtown core, on the foreshore and it was called simply, Foreshore Park. Kind of says it all doesn’t it? Certainly tells you where and what. A couple of years after a Mayor who had served for 3 terms died, his wife and political cronies who still made up the city council decided it would be a great idea to rename the park after him. So in their finite wisdom, the local politicians changed the name to the “Robert V. Ostler Park”. Pretty much everyone still refers to it as Foreshore Park and even my kids who grew up there have only a vague recollection as to who Robert V. Ostler was. Give it another 10-15 years and only those who stroll through City hall and see his name on the list of mayors will have any clue.

The first beach we came to in Washington State, Ruby Beach

Don’t get me wrong, I see no problem naming things after “famous” politicians, you know, the ones you learn about in school or read about in history books, but the local ones? Give me a break! These, as far as I’m concerned are just a bunch of arrogant, self-centered egotists who see a way of giving themselves a form of immortality and the really crazy thing is, WE GO ALONG WITH IT!

Okaaaaay…..enough about that.

Back to our story…

We were enjoying our last visit with our youngest daughter and her family, playing with our Grandkids, sampling the fruits of their garden and being overwhelmed with her gustatory expertise when the rain started. Sure it was only a little and the sun did come back out every day, but the temperature was going down and this year there was nothing holding us back. Richard was starting to get antsy but I kept delaying leaving as a Mexican Visa is only good for 180 days and the last thing I wanted was to be coming home in March. Richard however, held out a carrot. I have a last surviving aunt in Ontario so he suggested that we could work our way along the southern US and then up into Ontario before we headed home. Damn, that was a good carrot!

One of many, free, secluded spots we always find on our travels

Cape Ferrolo, Ore. The last time we saw the sun. If you have the time and the weather permits by all means travel the 101. The views are to die for.

Once again we took the Coho Ferry across to Port Angeles, but this time we turned right instead of left and took the 101 Hwy down the Pacific Coast. The weather was good and we moseyed down the road instead of thundered. The scenery was gorgeous and we had high hopes for a slow, picturesque journey, hopping from secluded forest campsites, to beautiful beaches, all the way down the Washington, Oregon coasts, with a side trip to McMinnville in northern Oregon.

The best shot I could get. Big isn't it?

McMinnville is a small town but it contains one of the biggest airplanes ever built, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. This is the crowning glory of The Evergreen Air and Space Museum there and though we had known about this place for sometime, our route and/or schedule had never let us stop and visit. This time we did and we spent the day wandering around, while outside the weather was summer like…and that was the last time we saw the sun, until we crossed the Mexican border.

Not bad eh? Okay it's a picture of a picture, but if you like space stuff, this is a good place to start!

I’ve only included one picture of the Spruce Goose because it’s impossible to get a correct perspective of this baby, but suffice it to say that there are over 100 planes of all sizes nestled under her wings. If you’ve ever been up close and personal with the Martin Mars, you’ll have some idea, but even these don’t come close to the Goose. If you get the chance, enjoy looking at historic airplanes or are interested in the history of the space race from both the American and Russian perspective, go, it’s worth the visit. McMinnville is on Highway 18, just south of Portland and be prepared to spend the day!

Well, folks that’s enough for now. You know where we are and the winter is just beginning, so stand by for the continuing adventures of Travels with Grummy!

TTFN

Blast from the Past

23 Sep

Here we sit on Vancouver Island, doing our final visits with family and friends and gathering up the last little bits of things for our trip back to the Baja. Van Insurance needs to be purchased so we can legally drive in the US and cross back into Canada next spring, as well as Driver Insurance so we can legally drive in Mexico since our Canadian insurance is invalid there. Yeah, I know, don’t ask me to explain!

There are foodstuffs to be purchased as well, since a lot of the things I like to cook require ingredients that I have been unable to find in Baja. I’ve also been gathering up toilet paper and stashing it anywhere I can find room for it. I can hear you now, “Toilet Paper? What, you can’t get toilet paper in Mexico?” Well, sure we can, but have you ever used Mexican toilet paper? If you have, then you’ll  understand.

We left Penticton last week, where the temperature was still hovering around 30 C, or for those still caught in the Imperial time warp, around 90 F. The day we left, the clouds started to gather and by the time we got to the island it was 15 C (60F). It’s very odd for the seasons to change due to geography but anyone who has ever spent large amounts of time here understands the influence ocean waters have on a land mass when the furthest you can get from it is less than 30 miles. Since the Island is, at it’s largest, only 62 miles wide, most of the time the beachfront is only a few miles away. As well, the waters here are cold and thanks to that influence, the daytime air temperature, even at the height of Summer rarely gets above 25 C, (80 F).  IT IS NOT THE HEIGHT OF SUMMER RIGHT NOW! That’s not to say that it’s cold or anything but a really nice day here right now is lucky if it’s pushing 20 C, (70 F) and that’s only if there’s no clouds or wind, and around here that doesn’t happen often. I won’t even go into night time temps. And now the rain has set in.

OH MY GOD! The leaves are falling off the trees!

Jeez, you know Fall used to be one of my favourite seasons, but outside all the pretty colours I could definitely do without it now days. Just can’t stand the cold anymore and as far as I’m concerned, if the temperature sinks below 21 C or 72 F, it’s bloody cold!

This makes it a bit of a quandary for me, I want to visit with everyone and enjoy my time with them, but the falling temperatures make me want to head south. This year, the urge to just leave…head south…find the sun and the warmth, has infected us more than ever, especially since there is no overriding reason to stay, but….

Being on the Island is the only way I get to spend  time with my youngest daughter, her husband and their  2 small children. This is a busy household,  Liz works as an independent journalist, Food Blogger, recipe developer and Web Site designer from home, her husband is the Vice President of a small computer firm who works both at the office as well as at home and the kids are 3 1/2 years and 15 months old, respectively.  In other words this place is semi-controlled chaos. It’s fun but it sure can be draining and I wouldn’t  miss it for the world, but….it’s getting colder and wetter. Yeah, Fall has arrived on the Island and with it always comes rain, so we are moving quickly now to get our respective shits together, as it were, and hit the road by the end of the month. In the meantime, in our copious free time, when we’re not out visiting with friends or relatives, or babysitting for the kids, or looking for those last minute items, we have to find ways to occupy ourselves.

A week ago my sister asked if I’d like to go see Trooper. Now this was fortuitous as I’ve been communicating recently, with a fairly large group of folks I grew up with and went to school with, 40 years ago in Vancouver. There has been lots of comments about music and bands we listened to when we were kids and the concerts we all attended. The name Trooper, came up more than a few times, so of course I said sure, after all, how many times does one get to relive their youth? (For those who don’t know, Trooper, is a Vancouver band, a BC ikon and a Canadian Musical legend. Their bio says they got started in 1975, though there was an earlier incarnation known as Applejack, and an even earlier one, called Winter’s Green, I’ve known them since way back then. The lead singer and founding member, Ramon McGuire, went to school with my middle sister and the other co-founder Brian Smith, is the cousin of a close friend, who died a couple of years ago. The boys started off life as a school dance band, but they were very good and it didn’t take long for someone to notice. Randy Bachman, of  The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, signed them to his record label, “Legend”, and the rest, as they say in the business, is history.)

Ra, wearing words to live by.

One of their big hits is called, We’re here for a good time, (not a long time).” I have strived all my life to live up to that ideal. As far as I’m concerned, you only get one go-round in this life, so you’d bloody well better make it a good one!

Off we went, and we had a great time!  The last time I saw them in concert, they played the Coliseum in Vancouver, where I and a few thousand other stoned Vancouverites, watched them as the smell of marijuana wafted thick through the air. It was just a tiny bit different last night, as the Charlie White Theatre holds only 310 people, all in assigned seating. So the show was much more intimate, the performers had a chance to interact closely with the audience, and drinks and dancing were actually allowed. The only thing missing was the smell of pot, until about half way through the 2 hour performance, when for just a few moments, a few tendrils of aroma could be sensed in the air.

Ah, the remembrance of youth!

We even ended in the appropriate manner. The boys played their biggest North American hit, “Raise a little hell!” with the audience out of their seats and dancing anywhere there was room;  we’re talking a room full of 50 and 60 somethings, with a few 20 and 30 somethings thrown in for a little spice!

Brian, raising a little hell of his own!

This is also one of my guiding principles in life, as I believe everyone should raise a little hell now and then, as it’s good for the soul!!

So, okay folks, all together now, let’s get out there and….RAISE A LITTLE HELL!

EXODUS

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!

The circle of life

20 Oct

Have you ever watched a very young child in Autumn? The look of sheer wonder in their eyes as they watch the leaves, that to them have always been green, suddenly start to turn red, and yellow and actually fall off of the trees. Or to see a brightly coloured fish where none were seen before. I know I don’t remember what I thought the first time I saw those things. Cohen is only 33 months old so really can’t tell us what he thinks, but it sure is obvious that he’s fascinated. Isla being only 4 months old can’t tell us anything, but even she was looking all around her with curiosity.
As you’ve probably guessed, Richard and I accompanied our daughter and her two children to Goldstream Park the other day to watch the salmon run, one of my all time favourite pastimes, besides fishing for them!

The river in all it's fall finery!

Coastal BC is home to 5 of the 6 Pacific salmon and Goldstream River is the natal river of 3 of them, the Coho, Chinook and Chum, with the chum numbers vastly overshadowing the other 2 by a factor of 20. On an average year over 30,000 chum return to this river to spawn and die.
I know you’re thinking 6 Pacific salmon? There’s only 5! Well, you’re almost right. There really are 6, but one is not found on this side of the Pacific Ocean. It is born and returns to die in the waters off of Russia and Japan and is called the Cherry Salmon( Oncorhynchus masou). See, there, you learned something new today!
Now, before I go any further in this story, I have to shake up a few widely held beliefs. Chum are known by many names, Chum,  Dog salmon, or Keta as they’re called  in commercial sales and most anglers will tell you they’re just ugly boots that aren’t worth catching. I’m here to tell you different.
Chum salmon or Oncorhynchus Keta are fabulous fighting salmon when caught in salt water. They actually combine the fighting abilities of both Coho and Chinook, they average around 15 pounds, though they can reach up to 25 and will give even an experienced angler a run for their money. Returning to our coastal waters in mid-September  through till mid-December, they taste great fresh and make fabulous smoked salmon! When caught in the salt, Chum have a silver bright body, with a metallic  blue green back. They can be damned hard to distinguish from Coho without examining their gills or caudal fin scale patterns.

The bad rap comes from their appearance when they start to head for their natal rivers. As the males reach sexual maturity they develop large canine fangs, hence the name Dog salmon. They also grow purple and orange stripes which makes them not the prettiest fish in the river, that honour is held by the Sockeye. Those teeth are not just for show either, in the river they use them to fight with one another for access to the females and to hold territory. If you don’t believe me ask someone who works in any hatchery, they’ll probably just pull up their pants to show you the scars put there by an aggressive male Chum. See I told you I was a retired Salmon fishing guide!

Chum males ready to spawn.

Now back to our original programming!
I’m afraid it was just a little too early to see the chum since they are the last salmon to return to the rivers and the others have long since returned, spawned and died, but the weather was warm and sunny and the park trees put on a fabulous show for us.
The weekend before, the Park had been jam-packed so our daughter thought there might be a few fish to show her son who was too young last year to have cared. No such luck, but that didn’t mean our trip was in vain.


The Big Leaf Maple Tree leaves were turning multiple shades of red and orange, and covered the footpath. They are as big or bigger than your head and have sturdy stalks so of course they must have been put there for small hands to carry. There were also rocks to throw into the stream (and no fish to bother) and a Nature house with a great Owl display. Now Cohen has been here before, but what child do you know who doesn’t revel in playing with something interesting over and over again, plus he had his Grandpa with him. That meant that he had someone new to show all the buttons to and how they worked to make owl calls, of course never realizing that his Grandfather has seen them before.

I wonder what they're talking about?

The two of them walked hand in hand, looking at giant fallen Cedars with holes big enough to stand up in, and discovered that the old side stream tunnel under the highway makes for great echos. We looked at slugs travelling on the path, and large spider webs shining in the dappled sunlight while our daughter carried the baby in a sling and took photographs.(Liz has a well known food blog, guiltykitchen.com and is an excellent photographer, plus she had a new camera to play with!)

I think all of us enjoyed the outing and all for different reasons. For me, I revel in the outdoors in all is mutability though I have to admit that as I age, the cold and wet winters here are becoming unbearable. Besides that though, I look forward to showing all my grandkids the exceptional beauty that surrounds all of us, if only we’d look. I want to be able to let them see what wonders abound in nature and help them to enjoy it. To teach them not to be afraid of, but to embrace the experience. I did this with my own daughters, who are as capable of surviving in the wilds as Richard and I. They also have a great respect for and enjoyment of the outdoors.


All of those thoughts came to me as I watched Cohen pick up a yellowing maple leaf, throw a pebble in to the stream and try to pick up a slug, all the while chattering continuously to Richard, in words barely understandable about everything he saw.
I turned and looked at my daughter and I saw myself 30 years ago, starting to take my own children out into the world. I also saw gratitude that we taught her something she loves and the ability to pass that love on to her own children.
Life really is a circle isn’t it?