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Not your average year!

19 Mar

Just finished celebrating my birthday (March 14th), the last year of my 50’s as my youngest so delicately put it. Sitting around the fire, eating BBQ ribs, scalloped potatoes and drinking tequila, talking about how much longer we all have before we have to head home once more.

The population of campers on the beach has halved over the past week, signaling the end of another season. For all of us, it’s a time of sadness as well as anticipation; sadness because some may not make it back to the beach next winter and anticipation as we all look forward to seeing friends and relatives back home!

This is what the waters have looked like up until today.

This is what the waters have looked like up until today.

As I sit here writing this (March 16th), I’m listening to the VHF radio, hearing chaos out in the Waiting Room and Inner harbour at Puerto Escondido, as boats break loose from their moorings, dinghies capsize and docks are torn to pieces. Today is the very first north wind, exceeding wind speeds of 55 knots! That’s higher than the wind from Hurricane Paul of 2012. It almost seems as if Mother Nature was saving up everything for this one blow!

..and this is what it looks like today!

..and this is what it looks like today!

Up until today our weather has been unseasonably calm, and warm. We’ve had mostly gentle breezes when we would have appreciated slightly higher ones, due to all the mosquito and no-see-um activity all season and we’ve had our little heater on for exactly 45 minutes the entire winter. While everyone at home suffered through some of the worst winter weather on record, we seem to have been sitting right on the very edge of the drought conditions hitting the southwestern United States.

This has been an odd season because normally the Grande Nortes start blowing in November/December and the temperatures begin to drop. It usually gets cold enough that most of us are wearing long pants, with a light jacket during the day because of lower temperatures and blowing sand. Nights and mornings are usually cold enough to have a heat source on for at least a little while.

This year, as I said no winds and average daytime temperatures never dropped below 70 F with averages in the low 80’s. Even the water temperatures have stayed high. High enough that even I’ve been out swimming recently and that’s never happened in the past, at least not for me! Once the water gets below 65, I just don’t want to go in, but this year, it had only just reached that when it started to rise again and it’s now fast approaching 80 again.

For those with years of experience on the water, they’re starting to be a bit concerned about the coming hurricane season since 80-degree water sustains them. They believe with the high temperatures this early in the year that it could lead to a very bad hurricane season with multiple storms. I guess we’ll see and we’ll be watching the weather closely before we venture down next fall.

Ladies fishing day

Just me and Jan out fishing and successfully I must say!

Other than strange weather and worrying about our families back in the extreme cold up north, it’s been pretty much an average year, lots of parties and get togethers, BBQ rib nights, bocce ball games, when we weren’t getting eaten alive by the bugs, fishing, kayaking and hiking. I even got to catch a couple of large Yellowtail on my single action reel which I’d been told was impossible plus we managed to have a couple of Ladies only fishing trips which were highly productive and the cause of much conversation around the fire!

Awesome fight with a 24lb Yellowtail on my single action reel and 10 foot rod!

Awesome fight with a 24lb Yellowtail on my single action reel and 10 foot rod!

The big difference this year was the season brought us kittens instead of puppies. We are usually the recipients of abandoned dogs and puppies on the beach, from the locals, since over the years the folks here have managed to find homes for almost every one. This year it was 9 kittens and 1 cat, most likely the mother of 8 of the kittens, maybe. I have to thank our friends and neighbours on the beach, Sy and Jan, who actually shouldered most of the burden of looking after this brood. We only had one at a time appear on our doorstep, while they had almost the entire group!

Sadly, out of the original 8 kittens, 2 had to be put down and 2 died, most likely from complications of Feline Leukemia, which is a major problem amongst the cat population down here. One of them, I’m sad to say, was a little Siamese cross female that we had decided to adopt and named Bella.

This was the lovely little girl that we originally adopted, before she started to show symptoms of illness.

This was the lovely little girl that we originally adopted, before she started to show symptoms of illness.

Happily, however the other 4 found homes and still remain healthy. For this we have Jan to thank as she did all the leg work and doggedly searched for people to adopt these lovely little girls! The adult cat was eventually live trapped, spayed and released, where she will hopefully manage to survive without producing any more unwanted kittens.

Unfortunately there is no place to take cats in Loreto. Animalandia, a volunteer organization, deals with dogs and has no facilities for cats beyond arranging for spaying and neutering.

Just when we thought we were done with all the animals, I went for a walk up to the little convenience store, and on the way found a very young, very cute, puppy. I may not be a dog lover but there was no way I could ignore this tiny little girl so I carried her to the store and then back to our campsite. As I was showing her to Richard he exclaimed in horror that she was covered in fleas and upon putting her down, it became obvious she really was! There were so many on her, you could see them seething through her fur and she was covered in bumps from bites. Surprisingly enough, not one got on me, nor did I receive a single bite!

Thankfully one of the campers had a flea spray medication that was suitable for young animals, and we soon had the little girl completely free of fleas. She was very appreciative, though I imagine, the previous bites itched like hell! The next morning we took her into Loreto and turned her over to the kind ladies from Animalandia, who figured she would be very easy to adopt out, since the size of her feet indicated she would probably grow quite large, had the colouring of a Rottweiler, and good guard dog instincts, all desirable traits.

Feeling good about ourselves, we headed for home knowing that thanks to our actions, this little dog would have a much happier life, rather than getting hit by a car, being eaten by coyotes or bobcats or dying from starvation or dehydration. We walked through the door of Grummy, only to have our neighbours knock on it moments later, with a small furry bundle wrapped in a silk shirt and the greetings of Happy Birthday!

On their walk early in the morning they came across another kitten, all by itself very near the highway, and they just couldn’t leave her to get killed by a car. Knowing that we had lost the kitten we’d adopted, and that we had talked about getting another kitten when we got back to Canada, they brought her to us. And so, Bella 2 came into our lives. (I would post a picture but WordPress seems to be having major problems uploading photos these days)

(The name was stuck in our heads and even when we tried calling her something else, “Bella” always seemed to come out. She responded to the name almost immediately, so we figured she was destined to be called it).

You know, we had both forgotten what it was like to have a kitten.  They’re crazy; fun, entertaining, cute and cuddly, but crazy and they wake up way too early. So now we have to figure out how to travel with a kitten and live with her in our Dodge van at home. So far she’s taken to the Grummy with no problem at all and doesn’t seem inclined to wander out of sight of us. We’ll see,  I guess it’ll be one step at a time. We’re really hoping it will work out for her, and us, but if not, we’ve already had a couple of folks at home volunteering to take her. So one way or another this little lady is going to have a great life.

Stay tuned; I may have to change the title of this blog to “Travels with Bella”!



13 Mar
Just another shitty day in Paradise

Just another shitty day in Paradise


Yeah, I know this post is late. That’s becoming an ongoing theme, isn’t it? Well, I am retired and I run on Baja time, which mostly entails, “Manana”. Why do something today, when there’s no rush and tomorrow is soon enough? Besides, the days all flow into one another and I’m always amazed at how quickly they pass. That’s the biggest reason why my posts are always late from here. I suddenly realize that I haven’t written for a while and when I check the calendar a month or more has gone by.


Truth be told, I didn’t really want to write this particular post because it’s the last one from the beach. Yep, it’s that time of year again, when those of us who have a life somewhere else, start to prepare for heading North.


The Rattlesnake Beach community started to break up last week with the first 2 campers leaving but the trickle is about to become a rush. By the 16th of March there will be only 5 of us regulars left here and Richard and I will be hitting the road by the 22nd at the latest.


Bougainvilla in full bloom! It's Spring in Baja

Bougainvilla in full bloom! It’s Spring in Baja

The big push comes from Semana Santos, or Saints Week, the week of celebration before Easter Sunday, when all the locals who can, move out to the beach and take over every square foot of available camping space. A few of the regulars have friends in the local communities who come every year and camp with them. They apparently enjoy the excitement of having a small city descend upon them for a week!


Richard and I feel that since we basically have the use of the beach for 6 months, the least we can do is get off it and let the locals enjoy it without having to share it with a bunch of Anglos. We also camp at the far north end of the beach where the launch ramp is and it gets incredibly busy and noisy during Semana Santos. After 6 months of peace and quiet the last thing we want to take away with us is the stress of absolute chaos, loud noise, music, Skidoos, Pangas, cars, trucks, kids, dogs and people and garbage everywhere!


So we’re already in prep mode, deciding what to take, what to leave, packing up stuff we aren’t using, unpacking it again when we realize we are still using it, trying not to purchase too much food so it will all be used up when we leave, rushing to the store when we realize we don’t have enough for dinner and saying goodbye daily to friends we won’t see for another 6 months. It evokes a kind of sadness; since we know that next year will not be an exact repeat of this year. Some folks will return, some won’t. There’s one thing in life we’ve all learned to accept and it’s that change is constant.


Stand up John playing around the fire

Stand up John playing around the fire

It’s not all sad because at the same time excitement is building about getting home and seeing our kids and their families again. There’s nothing to give you that kick in the butt to get moving like having one of your Grandkids ask when Grandma and Grandpa are going to be getting home. There is always some trepidation however, since we all know that the weather will not be the warm 85F that it is here.


We won’t be rushing home this year like we did last spring! Grummy will be put to bed properly and tucked in for a long summer sleep. Then we’ll meander our way home in Rosie taking our time and visiting ruins and parks in Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the ranch of friends we spend the winter with. We were supposed to go last year but, well, fate intervened. Plus, just because we leave here in March doesn’t mean we want to get home in March. We like to wait long enough for Spring to have have sprung. At least that’s the plan so far…


There’s something a little strange about watching the season’s go in reverse as we head home. We leave here and the trees and flowers are in full bloom. All through the southern U.S., everything is green and the trees are in leaf, then gradually as we continue north the leaves slip back into buds and the greenery declines until we reach home where the buds are just starting to show and the landscape has that look of anticipation, just waiting for the right moment to burst forth with the new spring.



In some ways we’re going to be swept out of our campsite this year as the winds which were mostly gentle for much of the winter have come back with a vengeance. For the last little while we’ve had tremendous blows, one that lasted 2 full weeks, with average wind speeds of more than 20 knots and gusts pushing 35.


I know that at home those wind speeds are not considered very big. Hell, I guided regularly in winds over 35, but with the geography here, winds of that speed push the water to deadly proportions. This is the height of the tourist season so there are Kayakers everywhere and due to heavy winds, we had an almost fatal accident just off Rattlesnake Beach 2 weeks ago. Everything worked out thanks to a very experienced Kayak guide from one of the local companies and a Pangero (a panga operator) who braved the heavy seas.


It pays to go with an experienced guide when pursuing a sport in areas that you are not familiar with. The group that got into trouble were experienced kayakers at home but not here, and local knowledge is worth its weight in gold. We’ve become friendly with all the local kayak guides and the companies they work for, and we’re impressed by the qualifications, experience and dedication these people show to their chosen profession. It’s the same where I guided, a professional fishing guide can keep you safe, show you the best fishing grounds and put you into the big fish, most of the time. It’s certainly worth spending the extra money; otherwise you’re taking chances in waters you know nothing about.


It’s been blowing now for the last 3 days, making the van rock and roll, scouring the last remaining sand from the beach. Tomorrow it’s supposed to drop down to a reasonable speed then down again to almost nonexistent, maybe we’ll get one last trip out in our kayak before we wrap her up and put her in her cradle, on top of Grummy.


Eventually the summer winds will come in from the opposite direction and hopefully blow all the sand back onto the beach so that by the time we all return, there will once again be a sandy beach.


There’s still a few social get-togethers coming up, my birthday and the last meeting of the Costillo de Puerco club, but in a few short days we’ll be on the road and slowly making our way home. Next time we talk it’ll be from Penticton, where I’m sure I’ll be complaining about the cold, but it sure will be nice to give my family big hugs and spend a few months visiting back and forth with them.


Hold on kids, here we come!


11 Feb

Howdy campers, how goes your winter?


My throw with Syarita handicap

My throw with Syarita handicap

Mine is going along just fine now that I’ve gotten rid of the little bug in my tummy and the nasties outside have disappeared, most of them, anyway. Right now it’s 75F outside with a slight cloud cover.


It’s been a very different year when it comes to the weather and how that has affected everything here. We had 3 weeks of what’s considered winter weather, where the nighttime temperatures dropped below 40F. Though that only happened to us a couple of mornings. We’ve had our little Dickenson propane heater on exactly once and probably closed all the windows for maybe 2 weeks max.


The Grande Norte has been pretty gentle with us this year with averages of 5 to 15 miles per hour on the days when it was blowing. Sure we’ve had a few days were the wind has reached 25 but not many and lots of days there’s been no wind at all! Again an unusual weather occurance!


With the weather being so warm, things that normally would go into some form of hibernation haven’t needed to, hence the rattlesnake in the photo below that was making it’s way across the road just behind our campsite yesterday afternoon. On a normal year these bad boys would disappear in November and only start reappearing in March when it warms up sufficiently.


A not so friendly visitor

A not so friendly visitor

We do see lots snake here but this year has been exceptional, with all sorts of different ones being seen all winter. That really cut down walking the trails for everyone. No sense in walking through grass that’s so high and thick you can’t see your feet, just in case somebody’s hiding there. You’d hate like hell to step on one of the few poisonous ones.


Most of the snakes here are harmless but there are several varieties of Rattlesnakes all over Baja. Not to mention all the spiders. I’ve seen more and bigger spiders this year than all the preceding years put together and there are some nasty buggers in that family down here!


Have I ever told you how much I hate spiders? Probably but it bears repeating!


Snakes, no problem. Spiders, big problem!


One of many gatherings this season!

One of many gatherings this season!

None of that has slowed down the social activities on the beach this year though, as a matter of fact it has intensified to the point where I figured I was cooking at home maybe twice a week. A couple of the campers came down with bigger rigs this year, which enabled them to have company for dinner inside which wasn’t possible before. So a lot of the time even if they weren’t the hosts and dinner was being provided by someone else, the actual get together was in the more spacious RV.


One of the smaller spreads . You should have seen Christmas!

One of the smaller spreads . You should have seen Christmas!

Considering how bad the bugs were, this was a godsend! Plus we all enjoy each other’s company, so it didn’t take much of an excuse for a beach dinner to come together easily or a trip to the nearby Tripui Restaurant for dinner. The restaurant will take your caught fish, prepare it anyway you want, add on rice and beans and charge a grand total of 65 pesos per person which works out to about 5 bucks. Pretty hard to beat that eh?


We’ve had 2 Thanksgivings, Pizza Night, Full Moon parties every month, multiple birthdays, (one of which was celebrated for an entire week), Christmas Eve, Christmas morning breakfast and Christmas dinner, Superbowl Sunday, Paella/ Valentines Day, which is next week, arrivals, departures, a good day fishing, or just for the hell of it and those were the get togethers that included everyone on the beach, old-timers and newbies as well. That didn’t include the various invites to dinner, or a quick potluck around a campfire that were and are constantly happening amongst the campers, or the Costillo de Puerco and Bocce Ball Club that Richard and I are full-fledged members of.


One of many meetings the club has had this winter.

One of many meetings the club has had this winter.

The Pork Rib club was started with just 5 members. Meetings consist of preparing and smoking a rack of ribs for every 2 people, preceded by a game of bowling, the course of which we make up as we go along. Everyone is handicapped by having to carry at all times and drink a “Syarita”, a fabulous drink invented by one of the originators of the club, Sy. The ingredients remain a closely guarded secret but I can tell you that the main ingredient, tequila, is poured into each drink for a count of 8 seconds. Try that at home!

The main reason for the club.

The main reason for the club.


Each member is responsible for hosting one round including the purchasing of the ribs, (at 65 pesos per kilo, what more could one ask?) the BBQ sauce and any pre-cooking preparations, though the smoking and consumption were always at Sy and Jan’s who had the largest venue capable of accommodating all of us. Over the winter the numbers have increased and decreased and the venue has now changed but until we all leave, every Friday, Saturday or Monday night (depending on everyone’s schedule) is set aside for the Costillo de Puerco Club meetings!

We will adjourn at the end of March but the next meeting will be called back into session in October 2013.


Richard's wind vane.

Richard’s wind vane.

We rarely get bored since there’s really so little time to ourselves but on the occasion when he has nothing to do Richard creates new and unusual things to give the folks on the beach something to giggle about. The photo below is his latest creation. It died and washed up on the beach where it dried hard as a rock. After he put it up on the post as a nominal wind vane, he waged a running war with one of the seagulls on the beach. When the wind blows, the fish wiggled and I guess instinct took over. The gull would scoop it off the post, and then drop it when it realized it couldn’t eat it. The funny part was watching the running battle between man and bird for a couple of days. After a while it seemed as if the seagull was just playing a game as it would wait for Richard to put the fish back on the post then turn his back to go into Grummy, then it would pounce, grab the fish, drop it immediately and fly just down the beach, watching his reaction. Eventually the bird gave up or maybe the wind just died down enough to stop the gyrations of the fish, either way, this has provided a lot of humour for us and everyone who sees it. Even the Parks Wardens thought it was pretty funny!


I’m writing this on Friday the 8th, and we’ve just said goodbye to our friends the Filthy Pigs, (Trust me, that’s a whole other story), who were visiting us from the Pacific side for the last 3 days, Sunday is another birthday celebration at Tripui, Monday is the weekly meeting of the Costillo de Puerco and Bocce Ball Club, and Valentines Day/Paella Potluck is on Thursday. Chances are good that something else will come up for Saturday, Tuesday or Wednesday. What can I say but, Woohoo!!





3 Jul


Painter’s Lodge, sitting at the mouth of the Campbell River.

Every year since 1992, Painter’s Lodge in Campbell River, B.C., has hosted a women’s only fishing derby. As a rookie guide on the dock, I didn’t get the chance to fish the first one, but I did guide the next 14. Since I was the only female guide on the dock, I was a favourite with the contestants, so much so that when I announced my retirement in 2006, the ladies were horrified.


At the award ceremonies that year, I was called up to the front of the room and stood there perplexed. None of the 3 sets of ladies I had guided over the tournament had caught a winner with me, so I couldn’t figure out why I was standing there. The next thing I knew, another senior guide came up to the front and announced that the ladies would not hear of me not being there and since I wasn’t going to guide anymore, I should come as a contestant! My seat was paid for courtesy of all the ladies attending that year. They had all chipped in and paid my way!


Since that day, I have attended all but one, and that only because I was dealing with torn muscles in both shoulders. (Don’t ask!) This year was no different.


Travelling Highway 97C

I now live in Penticton, and the journey is a fairly long one, so off we set, my daughter Alena and I, early in the morning of June 21st. The derby didn’t actually start officially, until 10 AM June 22nd, but since we had to drive to Vancouver, take a ferry across to Nanaimo, then drive the rest of the way to Campbell River, we figured getting there a day early was a good idea.


We drove north to access Highway 97C, more casually known as the Connector, bypassed Merritt to hit the Coquihalla Pass, then down the Trans Canada Highway through Hope and down the Fraser Valley into Vancouver.

Going across the Port Mann Bridge
There isn’t supposed to be water behind the front group of trees.


The Fraser was running extremely high and all week before we left, we had been watching the news hoping we wouldn’t be forced to cancel our plans because of mudslide or flooding. It doesn’t matter which route you take, to get from Penticton to Vancouver, requires you to eventually drive down all or part of the Fraser River Valley. Though there had been a few small slides and flooding in some very low-lying areas, we were lucky and the highway remained open.

One of many rocks and islets that dot the Straights of Georgia.


A sister ferry heading back to the mainland.

I know that sounds like a short trip but it takes 4 hours of steady driving to get to Vancouver, then another 45 minutes to get through to the North Shore and into Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry for Nanaimo. The ferry trip across, to me, is usually uneventful and rather boring because I’ve been travelling it since I was a little girl, but when I look at it with the eyes of a tourist, it makes me realize just how beautiful this area actually is. I know that sounds trite and it is, but there really isn’t anything else one could say without having to resort to a thesaurus. As the ferry pulled away from the dock, the background of highways, marinas, tall buildings and homes faded slowly away and was replaced by the multihued, verdant greens and disparate browns of the shorelines of the mainland, Vancouver Island and the various smaller islands and islets that the ferry passes on the way to it’s destination, the Port of Nanaimo. Upon arrival it was off north, heading for Campbell River, where we spent the night with some old friends.

Our welcome!


Since Campbell River was our home for 20 years, we took our time in the morning, picking up the odd necessity for our 3-night stay and our favourite types of boat food, arriving in good time, which gave me the chance to say hello to a few old friends, who still work at the lodge.


The other guests started arriving and eventually we were in full swing. First, there is the registration, licensing, and gift bag give out, then lunch, guide assignments, room assignments, unpacking and then dressing for the first fishing, which takes place from 4PM to 8PM.

The first night out, calm, and very wet!


The called for rain had finally arrived with a vengeance and it was going to be a very wet evening. Off we went, every boat out to win!


I have the unique experience of being the only contestant who has both guided the derby and been an entrant; so a little background would be in order.


The original derby had a maximum of 100 women, all 50 boats on our dock would be used for the derby and every Guide took this one more seriously than all the others, since this one carried a prize for the Guide who guided the biggest fish, a 3 day trip to the Queen Charlotte islands. It was the only time that women outnumbered men in the lodge and it used to scare the crap out of all of the boys. There would be frantic preparation on the dock and unusually, no information sharing was taking place amongst the Guides! Special lures were cleaned, hooks sharpened, rods and reels run through their paces and secret spots closely guarded.


Fishing partners, out for a good time, and a few fish!

Each boat was always trying it’s best to win, but even in the pouring rain, as uncomfortable as only sitting in rubber in a downpour can make you didn’t mean that there wasn’t fun! Every time a fish was hit all the other boats cheered them on and clapped when a fish was finally netted. Jokes were told from boat to boat and good natured jibes filled the air. Most of these women, including myself are friends, though many of us only get the chance to see each other at the derby and we look forward to it all year. Sure there is intense rivalry, but it’s all done with great good humour.

Alena’s first fish, a nice 12 pound Chinook.


At 8 we all arrived back on the dock, where the few fish taken that night were weighed in. Then it was off to dinner, a couple of drinks, door prizes, then to bed because 5AM came damned early. Yep, I said 5AM! If you wanted to eat before going fishing that is. The boats left the dock at 6 and the rain that had been pouring all night continued unabated until moments before we arrived on the fishing grounds. The rain might have stopped and the sun came out, but the wind came up and it got lumpy. More than a few ladies complained of feeling a wee bit queasy by the time we were done!


We fished until 10AM, with the possible winner arriving on the dock, a 34-pound Chinook. My daughter caught a nice 12 pound Chinook, not in the running for the top 3 prizes but certainly capable of taking one of 3 hidden weight prizes. The rest of the day was given over to whatever the guests wanted to do, at least until 4PM.


Every year the derby has a theme and since this was the 20th Annual derby the theme was, quite naturally, the Roaring 20’s. The wine and cheese takes place in the gardens at 4PM and costumes are expected. Every year, though there are no prizes, great effort and thought is put into the costumes. We drink a little wine, eat a few appetizers, take a lot of pictures and head in to the dining room for dinner, and then we party!

I came as Auntie Mame. Kind of fits doesn’t it?


There is always some sort of live entertainment, more door prizes, music, dancing and drinking. Sadly, there are few who have the fortitude to last very long, what with the late night before and the very early morning, but we try to soldier on as long as we can.


In the public parts of the lodge hang many photos of guests taken during the 20’s. These ladies came dressed as the women in one of the photos.

The final day started slowly as always, and in ones and twos, the ladies gradually appeared, to enjoy a lovely buffet breakfast, sitting on the balcony in the blazing sun. The weather was finally cooperating and at 11AM we all hit the water for one last chance to win it all! Back in by 3PM, it was apparent that a couple of big fish had come in, so there was a competition for 2nd and 3rd, but nothing came close to knocking the 34lber out of first!

Alena’s second fish


Alena again came home with a small 10 pound Chinook this time and I took in a respectable Ling Cod. It may not have been a valid entry but hey, they taste great and salmon is NOT my first choice in fish cuisine.


Richard, my friend and our intrepid guide for the last 4 hours of fishing on Sunday.

We had time for a shower and drink then down for dinner and the awards. At this meal it’s customary for the guides to attend if they wish and certainly the winning guide comes, to be wined and dined by the guest who took the top prize. Dinner is always steak and being the meat eater that I am, I enjoy this meal over all. Damn, but Painter’s cooks a mean steak!


The First Place trophy

After desert are the official prize presentations, with 1st prize being a choice between a paid trip back to the derby next year, or a trip to the Queen Charlottes. Then we wandered off to the pub for a riotous night of live entertainment, and a little more drinking and dancing.


Eventually the night came to an end and all of us headed to bed. The next morning, those who caught nothing the previous 3 days and were determined to give it one last shot were out on the water again at 6 AM, but Alena and I were just packing up and heading home, retracing our steps and planning the trip back next year.


The prize for 3rd place.

The Painter’s Lodge Ladies Derby is 3 days of nothing but women fishing, laughing, dancing, talking, singing and having a really good time, with no men allowed! If this sounds like a something you’d like to do then contact Oak Bay Marine Group and get on the list. You might want to hurry though; the ladies who were there this year are mostly all going back next year including Alena and me, baring unforeseen circumstances, that doesn’t leave many vacant spots!



Sensationalism at it’s worst?

19 Mar


Well it’s that time of year again when the neighbourhood starts to break up. Folks have to start heading home now for a variety of reasons, some for jobs, some for taxes, some for doctors appointments. The reasons are as varied as the folks who live here all winter long.


Of course, few leave without a send off of some sort or another and it’s always a damn good reason for having a potluck.


The last get together we had, the conversation rolled around to Sirius Radio and a news report that was heard on a Canadian station. The same folks then viewed a similar program on BCTV. (Yes, some of us have satellite TV down here). The stories were about how dangerous it is to travel in Mexico!


This prompted a great deal of hilarity around the campfire. None of us have EVER had any problems down here, except for the occasional, minor pilfering. No violence, no hold-ups, no kidnappings, no drugs, no guns, and there are people who have been coming to this area for over 30 years. Oh sure, we’ve all heard the stories about somebody’s friends cousins girlfriend, who was held up at a blockade on the highway by gun wielding drug runners who stole everything including their car. Try as we might though, none of us have ever been able to find a single person who has experienced this first hand and every year we hear the exact same story only the location changes.


Any excuse for a party. Eat drink and BS

As we sat around talking about this, all of us had stories to share of the exact opposite treatment. There was not one of us on the beach that didn’t have an anecdote, about some Mexican going way out of their way to be helpful. For example, we often stop on the side of the highway for coffee and more than once, we’ve had locals stop and ask if we were okay, and did we need mechanical help?


We stopped in a very small agricultural town a couple of years ago, far off the beaten track. We discovered they had beautiful gardens so we drove down every street admiring them. At one point an old farmer in his beat up old truck passed us. About half an hour later, when we’d pulled over to have a cup of coffee, the same truck pulled up in front of us, now with 3 people in it. One got out, came to our window and in halting English asked us if we were okay, were we lost. We explained how we had come to their lovely little town, and that we were just having a cup of coffee before heading off, but we thanked him for his enquiry. It seems that the old farmer was concerned that we were lost and so he drove around the town until he found someone who could speak English well enough to converse with us and make sure we were alright!



We added another little tidbit to the conversation. Recently my father-in-law who also lives near here in the winter needed to go to a bigger town for mechanical help and parts. So off he and Richard went with only an address in hand to Constitution about 100 kilometers away. Needless to say, they couldn’t find the place, so they pulled in to a Frenomex, (which is equivalent to a big chain brake shop at home). The manager spoke English and tried to explain where to go. Realizing that neither of them were familiar with Constitution, he got in his own car and drove them to where the mechanics shop was, then took them to the parts store and refused all offers of recompense.


The stories shared that night by more than 30 of us were very similar. All of us have had experiences where complete strangers have gone out of their way to be helpful to the Gringos.


We all think there must be some sort of media conspiracy to stop travellers from going to Mexico, especially since there’s hardly a week that goes by that the headlines aren’t blaring about some Canadian or American that’s been beaten, robbed or murdered in Mexico.


Okay, yes these things have happened, but they almost always happen in either border towns or big tourist areas, or to someone doing something they shouldn’t have been, or hanging with the wrong kind of people. That’s not to say that murder doesn’t happen in Mexico, it most certainly does, and some of it is pretty horrific, but mostly it’s Mexican on Mexican and is directly related to the drug trade, with the vast majority of it being rival gangs fighting for control, and sometimes innocent bystanders are the unintended victims.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I know enough not to go to border towns for my holidays. If there’s going to be violence, it’s going to be there, especially since border towns the world over are primary smuggling areas, and where there’s smuggling, there’s big money and where there’s big money, there’s violence.


I also don’t go to tourist meccas. Anyone with a criminal bent knows that there are going to be tourists with lots of money doing stupid things. Tourists seem to think that if there are many other tourists around, it’s a safe place, so they can get roaring drunk, buy drugs, get into fights and do all sorts of dumb things and nothing bad will happen to them.


Now, that said, the media play up every criminal act that happens in Mexico but when was the last time you heard about a tourist having problems in New Orleans? Bet you haven’t, yet many Americans, have told me if I go there to stay away from specific, well-known touristy areas. It seems the bad folk there know that drunken tourists in unfamiliar places make easy marks and being robbed or killed is a fairly common happenstance.


I grew up in Vancouver, and it’s a beautiful city, but I don’t travel in the Downtown East side at night there. I’m not interested in hanging around areas that are frequented by gangs either and since the worst gang problems mainly relating to the drug trade in Vancouver are mostly centered in the bucolic suburbs of Surrey, intelligence tells me to stay the hell away from there, especially at night.


Talk to Californians, those who live near Los Angeles and they’ll tell you it has a major gang problem and can be a deadly place to go for a walk if you wander into the wrong neighbourhoods, especially if you happen to be wearing the colours of a rival gang. Accidental death by drive-by shooting is a fairly regular occurrence.


I’m sure if I looked at statistics, I’d find that just about every tourist area the world over has a an ugly underbelly, yet only Mexico seems to be the country held out as an extremely dangerous place to go on holiday. I can’t tell you why; maybe it has to do with money, ideology, politics or any combination thereof.


Maybe your idea of a Mexican vacation is to hang around a large tourist area like Cabo San Lucas, for a week, hoping from crappy bar to crappy bar, drunk out of your mind, being loud and obnoxious and flashing a wad of cash. Or perhaps you’re looking for a little drug and hooker action in places like Tijuana or Mexicali. Chances are if either of these is your idea of a good time, it won’t matter where you are, trouble is going to find you, and it won’t be pretty.


What I do know is, if you come to the Baja to visit the little villages, hamlets, towns and beaches, see the sights, take a few photos and enjoy eating some of the local cuisine, you won’t need to worry about any of those things. Of course from the point of view of those of us in the know, the more people afraid to travel to Mexico, the less crowded the beaches will stay.

Hmm, maybe you should listen to those newscasts….



Want some salt with that?

3 Mar

One of the disadvantages of settling into our campsite on Rattlesnake Beach is we do way less travelling in Baja than we did originally.  One of the advantages has been making some very good friends of the folks who make up the beach community. Quite a few of them have fairly large motor boats and as I’ve mentioned before, due to Richard helping them out with launching and retrieving the boats, these wonderful people have kept us in fish all winter long. They have also taken us out on trips we wouldn’t normally have managed on our own, with our kayak, wonderful though it is.

Over the last couple of years we have been squired to out of the way areas where we’ve experienced abandoned buildings, sea caves, pristine white sand beaches and hot springs. These wonderful folks have taken us fishing on occasion, when we’ve opted to go, and put us into Dorado, Roosterfish, and Cabrilla, shown us the sites and acted as tour guides.

A view of Carmen and Danzante Islands

None of the places we’ve been taken to could we have reached in our kayak unless we wanted to overnight and if you know me, you know how I feel about camping, especially since it requires sleeping on the ground and these days, that just isn’t going to happen.

Our latest adventure was sponsored by our closest neighbours on the beach who asked if we’d ever been to the salt works in Salinas Bay on Carmen Island, a spot about 15 miles from us on the far eastern side of the island. We had only heard and read about it but not visited it, so a plan was formed to spend the day with them exploring this historic area.

This is part of the old village. These buildings were work spaces.

The view from our campsite encompasses both Danzante and Carmen Island. Danzante is the small island directly in front of us and Carmen is the large island north of and behind it. It is 18 miles long and on average about 2 miles wide, consisting of approximately 37,000 acres. From the northern end of the island, a narrow peninsula extends 4 miles to the southeast forming the northeastern end of Salinas Bay. The island is actually privately owned and has been since the 1800’s. Currently it is owned by the Salinas Pacifico Company, the last company to operate the Salt works. It’s considered part of the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, which was formed in 1996, and Salinas Pacifico Company works with them to keep it an ecological reserve.

The Private Island

A herd of 500 Big Horn Sheep are kept there and a hunt is operated every year as long as there are enough Class 4 rams (older than 8 years) that are excess to the health of the population. You too can come and stay at the resort that has been built beside the old salt works, and hunt one of these big animals as long as you can afford anywhere from $58,000.00 US and up depending on the size of animal you wish to shoot. For example a Ram that has an overall Boone & Crocket rating of 165 points will cost you $58,000, and one that rates over 174 will cost over $74,000 and so on. If there is no hunt scheduled you can still stay there and indulge your desires for big game fish at a commensurate cost. The resort is first class and quite beautiful and makes full use of the ruins that it sits beside. One can spend quite a lot of time wandering around the old buildings, salt ponds, and machinery graveyards, not to mention the bits and pieces that have been cleaned up, repaired, and preserved. The only real sad note in this is with the poor economy and the price of scrape metal, slowly but surely the old pieces of machinery are being broken up and hauled away, removing much of the history of the place.

This is just a small part of the machinery graveyard

The beach that fronts this place is probably one of the most beautiful we’ve seen on the Sea of Cortez. It used to be full of turtles, but over the centuries, the workers who harvested them as a greatly desired delicacy wiped them out and so far, no attempt has been made to reintroduce them.

How's that for a gorgeous beach?

When we arrived in the Bay we stopped at a wreck lying on its side. The prevailing wind comes from off the land and the bay as I said before is quite shallow so with storms and poor anchorages there are remnants of a number of freighters laying on the bottom, slowly disintegrating. Once we anchored, with a stern anchor and another off the bow running onto the beach we jumped into the crystal clear water and proceeded to the resort, looking for the caretakers. Once found, we obtained permission to land and explore, as there were no guests and no active hunts going on.

This is the road that was built to access the salt flats. There's a sign at it's start saying that it's 6 kilometres to the other side.

Off we went and as you can see from the photos, we had a great time looking at everything; we even walked the length of this gorgeous beach.

A small breakaway salt pond.

One of the things I’ve always strived to do when I see something interesting is find out more about it and once we were back at Rattlesnake I proceeded to do just that. So here’s a fairly condensed version of the history of Carmen Island and the salt works.

The original Spanish settlers in the area were Jesuit priests who arrived in the early 1600’s, they founded the original, formal salt works, an extremely small operation, thanks to information garnered from the local natives. The mine was worked sporadically and natives were exploited as workers, who could be worked to death as long as their immortal souls were saved. This was done simply by baptizing them and giving them Christian names. Since there was more work to be done on the mainland of Baja, building, expanding and maintaining Missions to the glory of God, not to mention political and religious machinations that replaced the Jesuits with the Franciscans, the mine was only occasionally worked with most of the salt exported to Spain.

Some of the original workers homes were made from available materials. This is lumps of coral, cemented together then plastered over.

Starting in the 1800’s the mine was operated continuously, though through a number of different owners, eventually being sold to a British firm for $86,000.00, which included the entire island. Each owner expanded the works, brought in new equipment and increased the tonnage exported. At one time it was the largest employer in the town of Loreto, with staff living on the island as well as being ferried back and forth by boat to the western side of the island and continuing the trip over the spine of the island by mule.

The view out the front window of one of the offices. Pretty nice isn't it?

Salt is graded according to its Baume rate and from what I can find, the salt coming from Carmen Island was considered some of the purest salt in the world. It is called an evaporite deposit (a natural salt or mineral deposit left after evaporation of a body of water) and began with a north trending Graben, (an elongated block of the earths crust lying between 2 faults and displaced downward relative to the blocks on either side) which formed a bay about 1 mile wide and 3 miles long. A broad, flat-topped reef then grew along the shoreline and eventually closed it off, isolating the saltwater lagoon, which evaporated. As salinity increased, calcium sulfate, halite and probably potassium magnesium salts were precipitated, leaving the lagoon filled with evaporite sediments. Over the centuries water trickled through the reef and continued to evaporate while the Graben continued to grow, eventually reaching a size of 2 miles wide, 4 miles long and about 2 miles deep.

These are pillars of salt formed when the salt slurry dripped through the conveyer belt system as it was moved along from the ponds to the dryers near the beach.

Mining continued apace until it became apparent that the companies couldn’t compete with other salt works. As I mentioned before, Salinas Bay is shallow, so the salt would be mined, then moved to the workings on the beach shore where it would be dried and bagged, then placed in Pangas or small boats, which would carry the loads out to the bigger freighters.  These in turn would transport the salt to either Baja mainland or the mainland of Mexico where it again would be unloaded and reloaded into either bigger freighters or trains and shipped again. Each time the salt was moved an additional expense was added to it, pricing itself out of the market. The last salt exported from Carmen Island was in 1983. It seems when they decided to close it, they simply walked away as a great deal of the day to day paper work is still there from invoicing sheets, expense tallies and even pay stubs.

The old loading dock, looking out into Salinas Bay

While we were there, I grabbed a large salt crystal and plan on taking it home to my daughter who writes a well know food blog, Guilty, I’m sure she’ll appreciate having some of the purest and rarest salt on the planet. Maybe I’ll get her to cook me something wonderful with a tiny bit of Carmen Island salt in it, after all this blog is supposed to be about travelling and eating well, on a budget, and well, the salt was free!


31 Jan

Okay, okay, settle down kiddies. Don’t everybody shout at once. I know this is a very unusual situation, so give me your attention and I’ll explain.


You’ll remember the post I wrote entitled, “Do you like dogs?” The day after I posted it, Richard and I were sitting in our seats eating our dinner, when we noticed 4 puppies playing in the surf. We both remembered hearing a vehicle that had come in sometime during the middle of the night. They were probably the owners of these little ones and believed if they dumped them here us beach folk would find homes for them like so many dogs before them.


Just hanging around

They were all different looking but obviously related; 2 were white with reddish colouration on their heads, one having the same coloured freckles all over, another was black and tan and the last one was chocolate brown and the only one with longish fur.


We have always kept a tub of fresh water outside the van, for any animals or birds that might be in need of water and we were hopeful these pups would smell it and come in for a drink, especially after we saw them lapping ocean water. However, they wouldn’t come near us, the van or the water and every attempt we made to get close to them ended in them running away. Obviously they had been traumatized to some extent and if they saw anyone they would immediately take off running.


There was a small get together a couple of days after the puppies arrived on the beach and we made sure everyone was made aware of them. We knew a couple of the folks on the beach would add them to their feeding rounds. These kind-hearted people purchase food and make sure that the strays, wild and abandoned dogs are fed and either try to get them into Animalandia, adopt them themselves or in some other way find them homes. I’ve been known to put out food once in a while myself, but the idea of adopting one of these grown animals had never crossed our minds.


Now, one of our neighbours on the beach, hadn’t been feeding any of the grown dogs on a regular basis, but could be seen once in a while laying pans of fish trimmings out for the fisherman’s dog. This couple couldn’t bring themselves to ignore the puppies, so they went out of their way to coax them in and make them believe people were safe and were the source of all good things, including food. It took a lot of work to gain their confidence but suffice it to say they were successful beyond their wildest dreams.


Small, pretty and smart

It wasn’t long before these 4 little girls, (it soon became apparent that all 4 were female, which is why they were probably dumped) became the darlings of the beach. They were well behaved, very smart and of course puppies. Let’s face it folks, mammal babies are designed to be cute and these 4 were no exception. Grown men with no interest in any of the wild dogs took to carrying treats in their pockets and everyone on the beach made a fuss of them.


The couple that was caring for these 4 puppies already had 3 dogs waiting for them at home and there was no way they could adopt any more. There seemed to be a concerted effort by a large percentage of the beach population to convince us to adopt one, but we held out. We explained that we lived in our RV full time and relied upon the sufferance of our children and their spouses to give us places to park when we got back to Canada, not to mention they both had dogs of their own. We didn’t feel that we could share what limited space we had with a pet, nor could we impose upon our kids to welcome another animal into the mix.


Everyone understood, but in the meantime, we were playing with these 4 lovely ladies, feeding them treats, watching them grow and were well aware of the problems being faced by our friends as they tried to do the best they could for these girls.


Posters were put up; announcements on the VHF radio net were made, everyone who gave the slightest hint of interest was approached, all to no avail, but hope was still held out as our friends daughter, and her boyfriend plus another couple were coming from Canada to visit for a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, plans were made to get the puppies to Animalandia, for spaying and possible adoption.


She seems to think she should be a lapdog too!

It seems it was love at first sight. Within the first week of the kids visiting, 3 of the puppies were spoken for. Our friends daughter would take one, her friend would take another and her Mother, on the strength of a photo, would take the third. That just left one, but since it was going into Animalandia we didn’t worry about it, until a piece of information came along that made us change our minds. It seems that Animalandia, like every other rescue operation operates on very limited funding, so if after spaying, the dog hasn’t been adopted within 3 months, they are tattooed and then released into the town in hopes they can survive on their own.


We thought long and hard about it, we had many conversations and I think we both said to ourselves that we didn’t want a dog but if the other one did well we could deal with it. Finally I said to Richard that I just couldn’t bear to see this lovely little dog abandoned once again on either our beach or in Loreto and maybe we could figure out how to make this work. I know he was hoping I’d say that because instantly she became our dog.


I was thinking maybe we’d call her Roja, which is Spanish for red, but he said no, when he had lived in Israel, one of his friends had an Irish Setter named Azeet and she had been poisoned. He swore at the time that if he ever had a dog he would name her Azeet, and so that became her name.


Just for all you Googlers out there, we hadn’t realized that Azeet was anything other than just a friend’s dog’s name. Apparently the Setter was named after “Azeet, the Paratrooper Dog” a series of books written for kids in Isreal, which, so we are told, was as famous there as Rin Tin Tin was here.


So there you have it, Azeet has joined our little family and though it’s taking a fair amount of adjustments on all our parts we all seem to be enjoying it. Living quarters just got a bit smaller, but the entertainment value has already made up for it, and if nothing else it means that we’ll be stopping a little more often on our travels. Woo hoo!


Just another stray needing a home.

Oh, and just so you know, dogs aren’t the only strays that end up on our beach. This little lady strolled into a small get together and proceeded to take over. The dogs sitting with us thought she’d make a great snack, and there was joking discussion of having a BBQ, but a couple of the ladies would have objected strongly so discussion turned to finding her a home. In the meantime, she made herself at home, drinking water put out for her and helping herself to the bird feed laying around, completely unfazed by the dogs. When we got up to go, she followed us back to our campsite and so became our problem. We had already adopted Azeet and weren’t in any position to adopt a goat so we decided to take her to the nearest goat rancher.

Richard managed to get her into the back of the Suzuki and the rancher, who was astounded that she was quite content standing in the back of the car was ever so happy to take her off our hands and put her in the pen with all the rest.


Just another day on Rattlesnake Beach!