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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Careening Down the Baja Camino

With apologies for the delay in posting, I will attempt to summarize the last week or so. Try to stay with me here because it’s been quite a whirlwind.

On Friday the 11th, we drove out of La Misión heading south for our final destination of Todos Santos. Our Airbnb hostess said the first day would be the worst, with narrow winding roads, no shoulders, sometimes no center line and often steep inclines. She was right about all that but not correct that the first day was the worst. For us the second day from El Rosario to Guerrero Negro was absolutely horrid! With potholes the size of washtubs (I kid you not) for miles, crumbling asphalt edges and speeding big rigs taking their half on the center line, I felt like I was on a slalom run as I swerved, braked and gritted my teeth to keep us on the road without throwing the truck’s alignment out of whack or careening off a cliff.

But the incredible vistas and other-worldly scenery in some parts of the drive were truly memorable. Near the tiny village of Catavina were miles of gigantic boulder fields, enormous piles of smooth rocks, scoured by eons of wind-driven sand. Other areas had acres of cacti or flat landscape as far as one could see. After crossing mountain ranges with harrowing curves and no guardrails, the road often opened onto vast open desert, fabulous views or peaceful green valleys. When we finally reached the east coast, we were blown away by the beauty and tranquility of the azure blue Sea of Cortez. It is just as splendid as we had always heard.

Being anxious to get to each night’s destination after a tiring six-hour day of driving, we didn’t stop to take photos. My thanks to Cabo Bob for many of these shots. Although we still encountered potholes along the way, keeping me on my toes, the third day was much easier. But after three days of such intense concentration, we decided to take a day of rest for moi, the driver, in Loreto, a really lovely town on the Sea of Cortez. We treated ourselves to a “fancy-pants” hotel, the Oasis, but were disappointed in the WiFi in our room. The restaurant, however, and the beach access did not disappoint. Our final run from La Paz to Todos Santos was a piece of cake compared with what had come before.
Yours Truly and Joan at Bella Venezia

Our stop in La Paz turned into a bonanza of valuable and interesting new contacts. Through Facebook I had learned that an old friend of mine, Joan Irvine, was going to be in the La Paz area at the same time as us. She was spending a week at Bella Venezia, a new health spa in the small town of El Centenario. Her host was Charles (Chuck) Chase White, LLD, an attorney and a specialist in breast health. His neighbor Larry, an accomplished artist in many media, had donated a whale sculpture to the marine mammal museum in La Paz, the Museo de Ballena y Ciencias del Mar. The museum director Francisco was expected to come out for a small party at the spa following the installation at the museum. When everyone arrived it was a totally delightful group! Francisco was so knowledgeable about the marine life in the Sea of Cortez, we were captivated by his discourse. Larry and his Mexican wife and their young son were equally entertaining and another couple, Jerry and Celine were charming as well. Celine
Jerry, Celine, Larry, Joan, Larry's wife Graciela,
Layne, Yours Truly and Francisco
Photo by Chuck White
described her childhood in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa where her father was a diamond hunter, giving us shudders at the hair-raising adventures she had as a youth in the bush with snakes and lions and other wild things.

Larry has lived for decades in Baja and as a result has strong connections all through the area. As he talked about our destination of Todos Santos it came out that he knows the mayor of the town as well as the fire chief of the small volunteer fire department here. It seems the crew of only 17 men is greatly in need of more equipment and medical supplies, as they receive no government funding. Since our son Damian is a San Francisco firefighter, we began to consider whether the SFFD might donate some of the needed materials and made plans to stay in touch.

Indeed the next day, after we had been in our home less than 24 hours, I had a call from Larry and an invitation to have lunch with the fire chief, known by his nickname Chava, along with Jerry and Celine. We met at the famous Hotel California and drove to Chava’s work place, a large wood-working shop, with lumber everywhere and sawdust covering the floors, where he builds beautiful rustic furniture. When there is a fire or other emergency, Chava leaves his income-producing work to take up his firefighting duties.

From there we headed for lunch at La Esquina, a wonderful organic restaurant with open-air seating and great food. Over lunch I talked with Chava about how I might help solicit donations of the kinds of supplies his crew needs: ambulances, truck parts including windshields, neck braces, heart monitors and equipment for water rescues. If your fire department has anything to donate, please let me know. Chava has established an association here so that donations can be brought in without having to pay customs. I’m still learning the details but it’s very exciting to already be involved in the local community.
Winston on his new patio
Sunset view from our patio 
Backyard and pool, ocean view

As you can see I’m still posting in Fabulista de Costa Rica but soon I’ll transfer these posts to a new blog, Fabulista de Baja Sur, now under construction.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Chilly Today, Hot Tamale!

Well, we’re bored now. It’s been raining and too windy and cold to take those morning walks on the beach. We tried going out yesterday during a break in the showers but were quickly driven back indoors by the chill and the stiff ocean breeze. Poor Winston is stir crazy, cooped up in the apartment here with only the occasional potty break outside.

Yes, we were too cold in February when we came down on our reconnoiter trip to Rosarito but we took that as a late winter storm affecting the otherwise balmy weather touted by Baja promos. But here we are in mid-May and it’s still inclement. So we’ll be heading south by the end of this week, cutting short our planned six week stay here. Live and learn.

We have managed a few interesting outings. Last week we headed up to the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja’s famed wine country, where we had learned a twice-weekly organic market could be found. Set up quite simply on tables in the yard of the woman farmer, it was a bounty of good food.  We were impressed! At the time we still expected to stay here awhile so we stocked up on organic lettuce, arugula (imagine!), gorgeous tomatoes, red onion, a beautiful local cheese, hand-made tortillas, yummy strawberry jam, a big loaf of bread and some free-range meat. Quite a haul. There was much more we wanted but fortunately resisted. Now, of course, I’m madly cooking to try and use it up before we hit the road.

The wine country itself left us a little unimpressed as it seemed to be acres of vineyards, many of them poorly tended with weeds growing between the plants, all connected by dusty rough dirt roads. One oddity was that many of the vineyards did not run a training wire between the plants as they do in the U.S. but rather just allowed the grape plants to grow as bushes. I suppose it works fine for them as we did buy a bottle of local wine yesterday that was quite tasty.

Our other fun outing came through an invite from our Airbnb hostess Molly to join her and friends for some live music down the road at the La Mision Hotel. By then we were reconsidering our plan to stay here awhile and almost turned her down but we did eventually agree to go. Boy, were we glad we did! 

Not only was the food very good – I enjoyed a Filet of Sole with Cilantro Cream sauce… Delicious! – but the music proved to be fantastic. Alex DePue and Miguel DeHoyos were just awesome. Alex has a whimsical style but puts on a virtuoso performance on his violin, adding occasional playful bounces with his bow while flamboyantly tossing his lengthy hair and Miguel demonstrating incredible guitar strumming alongside. Together they were just amazing. One special moment was when Miguel introduced his father who was sitting just behind us, saying this was the man who had taught him to play guitar. He certainly did a great job of it. Sadly, I had to leave after only one set because of neck pain. I miss my chiropractor! I’ll insert one of the short videos I made but check them out on YouTube sometime for a musical treat.

We did meet some interesting people during the evening, suggesting that there is a lively expat community here. Apparently our hostess Molly is something of an informal mayor, having lived here some 18 years. She seemed to know everyone. But once again the composition of the audience felt segregated to us, being composed mostly of Gringos with the Mexicans working to serve dinners.

Another problem with this area is its distance from basic services. We have to drive some 20 miles north into Rosarito to find a bank where we can get cash from an ATM without worrying that the machine might eat our card, which did happen once to Layne in Costa Rica. At least at a bank one can go inside and ask them to retrieve the card.

Waiting at the border
With a hasty trip on Sunday across the border and back into Mexico to get our Visitor Permit, known as an FMM, we are now legal to be here for the next six months. It's just as well we don't care for this area; the wait at the border even at 7:45 on a Sunday morning was over an hour. From Baja Sur, we'll be able to fly in and out from Cabo San Lucas. 

So on Friday we’ll start the long drive south, a harrowing prospect after we get beyond Ensenada. Apparently the road is narrow and must be shared with big rigs taking up the road with no shoulder to speak of and often just a cliff! We plan to only drive in the daytime, go slow and be extra careful. Wish us luck! This may be when we appreciate FrankinFord!

Copyright 2017 Kat Sunlove

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Kat's Fabulista Blog RETURNS!

Greetings, readers, old and new!

It still seems amazing to me but we did it. We sorted, packed, stored, gave away, sold or tossed most of our household goods, sold our home of twenty years, bought a truck and headed for Baja. And here we are!

We’re starting our Mexican trek in La Misión, a small community a few kilometers south of Rosarito, near the U.S. – Mexican border at San Ysidro. On our exploratory trip down in February with our good friend Patricia, we looked at a couple of houses here and rather liked the area. It features a protected estuary that gathers its waters from nearby mountains and disgorges them into the ocean at Playa La Misión, a splendid flat beach a mile or so in length. The estuary offers a green area of trees and low foliage, intersected by hiking and riding trails, which we are yet to explore.

You may recall that when we left Costa Rica in 2014, it was to move in with my 94-year-old mom in West Texas to help her with daily chores. She was still quite active so we fully expected to live there a few years. Sadly, she became ill in June and passed away in October of that year. After handling her estate and selling her house, we decided to return to our home in California in early 2015. Our plan was to live there for the two years needed to avoid capital gains taxes when we sold.

Earlier this year as I was giving away some things on Craigslist, a man came by and as we chatted about our plans, he said, “You know, I’m a broker and I think I have a buyer for you.” Indeed, he did! Within a few weeks, a lovely young couple had signed a contract and we shifted into high gear to get out by the end of April. Whew!

Winston relaxes in the Studio
After such a hectic few months, we decided to interrupt the long drive from Northern California to our ultimate destination at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula by stopping here in La Misión for a few weeks. We thought there was even a chance we would want to settle here. But alas, this doesn’t feel like our “place in the sun.” Our Airbnb large studio apartment is nice enough and delightfully close to the beach, but this community is much too segregated for our taste.
Kat at her station

Layne does Kitchen Duty
Old readers will recall how our lives in Costa Rica were totally integrated, with good friends from both the Tico and Gringo communities. Here, in contrast, not only are the Gringos rather separated geographically as well as socially from the Mexicans, but even the “beach people,” where we are, are hostile to the “hill people” just on the other side of the freeways. It seems the ongoing feud relates to payment of HOA fees set 30 years ago when North Americans first settled here. It seems the hill people think the beach people don’t pay their fair share and vice versa.

The heavy truck and auto traffic on those highways, by the way – the old road and the faster new toll road – produce a lot of road noise in this beach neighborhood. No way would I want to live here for the long term. But for now it meets our needs for a relatively warm climate, a beautiful beach to walk along and a period of rest and recuperation after our frenzied spring.

Pickup trucks don't float!
This place has already provided some excitement, however. Yesterday when we went out for our customary morning walk on the beach, down the way we noticed a police car and several people all looking at a pickup truck that was obviously stuck in the sand at the edge of the surf, with the incoming tide gradually moving up the sides of the vehicle. Nearby sat a jet ski on the beach. We watched as they deliberated on a possible rescue.

Soon another vehicle, a 4-wheel drive SUV, arrived on the scene. It backed up near the pickup, hooked on with a tow chain and tried to yank the vehicle out of its predicament. No go. 
What to do??

In fact, the SUV almost got stuck as well and the police truck had to tow it back up onto solid sand. And still, the tide continued its inexorable reach up the shoreline. As we returned to our apartment, we wondered how things would turn out so later in the day I checked and the pickup was gone. Apparently someone with a winch and a long chain must have arrived in time to save the day. 

Unfortunately, the lens on my camera was dirty so the photos are marred but as you can see, Winston clearly loves the freedom he enjoys on the playa!

Copyright 2017 P.K. Sunlove

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Fabulista Farewell

Four days ago was an anniversary of sorts for Layne and me. February 9th marked four years since we set out for Costa Rica and a new life as expats. And it's been four very exciting and fun years as my blog archives reveal. Our good friends here number in the dozens as do the parties and holidays we've enjoyed together. My work as a travel writer and blogger, and for a while as a Retirement columnist and freelancer for The Costa Rica News, has allowed us to see more than our fair share of this beautiful country. For his part as a retiree, Layne completed his excellent novel, Moral Turpitude, and it is now available in Kindle format on where it's receiving 5 star reviews. For an exciting fun read, check it out. I'm very proud of him and am urging him on to the second book in the series.

My mom in younger years as an
1880's schoolmarm at For Concho
Yet the one thing you can count on in life is Change. And change we must, as we begin to close down our life here in Pura Vida-land and head for West Texas to live with my elderly mom. She lives alone but she still has a job at the Visitor's Center one day a week and volunteers at the hospital and Fort Concho, driving herself around town as needed. Still, she's had us fooled for a long time, I think, with her busy life and independent ways. After a six-week visit with her last fall, we began to see how everyday things are hard for her and that she could definitely use our help. So about a month from now, we'll pack up our last bags and bundle up our beloved dog Winston and take off for San Angelo. But to paraphrase an old song, "Don't Cry for Us, Costa Rica." Our love affair with this small country won't end with our departure; we will undoubtedly return for visits with friends. But this blog will end, unfortunately, and I expect this will be my final post.

Out the airport waiting room window
But let's not part, dear readers, before a report on one of my latest adventures. I recently returned to Texas for a two-week visit with my mom, where the weather was beyond nuts! Sunny and almost hot one day and then a drop overnight to 17 degrees! How the heck do you dress for such a climate? We're going to miss "el clima mejor del mundo," that's for sure! And to top it off, the day I was to depart for Costa Rica, it was colder than Antarctica and started snowing. Yes, SNOW. Little tiny dry flakes that were just beginning to fill in the dark spots in the yard when it was time to leave for the airport.
As we drove along the thoroughfare leading to the airfield, the snow blew across the road in curtains of powder, little whirlwinds of white, skidding and drifting along the side of the road. I was beginning to get nervous thinking of Mother having to drive back home in such a storm.

But my indomitable mother assured me she would be fine, so I off loaded my bags and bid her a tearful adieu. I made it through security and had just sat down in the gate area, when an agent came through saying our flight had been cancelled. Indeed, ALL flights that day were cancelled because Dallas-Forth Worth airport was shut down by the storm. They re-booked me for the following day and I called my mom with the news. Needless to say, she was overjoyed and undaunted at having to drive back to pick up me and my bags.

I finally made it home just fine and as you can see, was soon enjoying a glass of wine with my sweetheart and my adorable doggie. Which one was happier to see me would be hard to say!

So with mixed emotions, I bid farewell to all my wonderful readers; at last count, you've logged more than 66,000 page views originating from countries around the world. I hope I have brought some good cheer into your life and shared some good times with you. It is my fondest wish that by writing of my experiences here in beautiful Costa Rica, your worldview has been expanded and enriched.

Hasta luego, amigos! May you always be blessed with Pura Vida!! And now for a little look back....