The Border “Wall,” Pelicans, Realities and more

 

If you’re living almost anywhere on the planet, you’ve likely heard about Trump’s border wall.  I hope there are still some places that have escaped news of this grand and glorious project.  My hope is slim, but since I live so near the border now, I snapped a couple of pix recently to give you a firsthand look at how it is at the Tijuana/San Ysidro crossing.

This crossing, by the way, is said to be the busiest in the world.  When you have to wait anywhere from one to three hours just to get to the U.S. side, you’ll believe that claim.

With all the news out of the White House about upgrading the “wall” and making it more “aesthetically attractive,” you can imagine from this photo what that might mean.  This was taken where you leave Mexico and roll onto U.S. territory.

Those slightly tipsy lightweight poles are intended to hold up the loosely placed rolls of razor wire.  Good job!  As we were waiting and looking at the wire and the cars and the line, Michael noticed something in the razor wire and started laughing.

Perhaps Trump’s new deal with Mexico will include a demand that itinerant clothes hangers be removed from U.S. razor wire.  Or else.  With him, anything’s possible.

I looked out early this morning to see a long and steady line of pelicans over the water.  I grabbed the binoculars for a close-up and started counting.  Several had already gone by, but I counted 68 birds, pairs and a few singles headed north.

Pelicans are amazing creatures, and we see them all the time in smaller flights.  We watch, too, for the splash when one dives for dinner.  And once in a while, one of them shows up on our beach where it sits quietly for hours before taking off again.  My guess is that it’s nursing a headache from one of those spectacular head-first dives.  Pelicans don’t drink margaritas, do they?

 

Summer is just around the corner on the calendar, but nasturtiums bloom almost any time of the year in Rosarito.  These are part of the landscaping of our favorite place, El Nido, and grow in beautiful profusion tucked in with the old wooden half-barrels and other antiques the owner has gathered.  We artists sometimes struggle to get our colors right, but Nature never misses.

Down here we walk.  A lot.  Oh, sure, we have the cars and drive to farther destinations like the new Calimax supermarket out on the libre carreterra, but our go-to transportation is our pies (not the edible kind) which are enclosed in our zapatos.  And there are zapatos everywhere – in regular shoe shops and in all the small local markets. Every shape and color.

And speaking of color, the street murals make the walks a pleasure.  This hummingbird – about 8′ x 6′ graces one of the buildings just off our main drag, Benito Juarez.  That little “non-hummingbird”  at the bottom left is an electrical box.  Everything’s fair game for the muralists, and bright paint can cover a lot of construction problems.

Sadly, there are other problems that need more than a coat of paint.  As I write each time about our pleasures here, I’ve been leaving out the realities and it’s time to remedy that.  The color brochures for the beach communities of Mexico like this one show one side of things and if you’re an occasional tourist, that may be all you’ll see.

You may not see the abandoned buildings, the humble “make do” shacks in neighborhoods “behind the scenes” with electrical wires strung catch as catch can, roofs that needed repairs long before now,  half-finished construction and so much more.

The Mexican minimum wage went up in January, and for most workers is now a little over $5 a day.  You read that right.  $5 a day.  Think about that next time you buy anything Hecho in Mexico.  Or grown and picked in Mexico.

While the lower prices here are a bargain for the ex-pats who take full advantage of them, many locals barely earn enough to keep things going.  They have nothing extra for home repairs or the amenities that come easily for the ex-pats.  Many ex-pats volunteer with nonprofits here to help provide, particularly where children are concerned.

Despite the low incomes, here’s what you don’t see – at least in Rosarito.  Homeless people begging, sometimes aggressively as they do in so many cities.  You see even the least of the people here working at one thing or another, sometimes for pennies.  People with little means don’t beg – they sell you things, small things to be sure, in exchange for a few pesos.  And these people include the elderly, the lame, the challenged in so many other ways.  And they smile.

Living in a different country is a reality check.

After a conversation recently with an American man who has made a life in Mexico for the past 30 years or so, he sent me a “dialogue” between a Mexican and a gringo who is mouthing all the Fox news kind of information about Mexico.  The Mexican takes time to inform the gringo about the history of Mexico, the art, the athletes, the inventors and scientists, the gourmet food and more, much more than news about drugs and crime which are the subject of nearly all the stories Americans and others in the world hear daily.

The Mexican closes the conversation with these words:

“Please realize that Mexico is a lot more than what the less worldly people and fear-mongering media know or choose to propagate.

“There are over 100 million good honest Mexicans and their families who love their country, climate and culture, who even without knowing you will open the door to our homes and that if you care to visit, you will love to get to know.” 

The wonderful Mexican friends we’re making are living proof of what he says.  He ends this with these ironic words, especially to someone like me who once lived in Manhattan:  “Sort of like New York maybe?”

In closing, we’ve all heard the old saw about red skies and fisherman – red sky in the morning, red sky at night, etc.  But the other evening I saw this lovely scene develop at twilight and wondered if there was a poem for a pink sky.  Sky turning pink, more time to think.  Or  Pink sky at seven, looks just like heaven.  Okay, I’ll stop now and let you come up with something better.

Michael and I are learning more and more about our new country even as we miss friends and family in the old.

Life and the world are big, so wherever you go, whatever you do, viajar bien, nuestros amigos!

Michael and Molly

 

 

 

 

Molly Becomes a Mexican, Michael Makes the Margaritas, and Other Tales from Rosarito

Time flies on pelican wings when you’re having fun.  Can’t believe the last post was in January, but the intervening weeks have been filled with both fun and not so much fun – aka, colds/flu.

Still, as anyone more or less retired will tell you, you find a lot of things to occupy the days and before you know it, another month rolls around and then another.  And on the plus side I walked the bureaucratic process with my terrific immigration specialist and got my one-year resident card. I’m now a Mexican, and Michael has mastered the true Mexican Margarita!  We’re set…Viva Mexico, baby!

Lest you think, however, that we’ve been lolling on a quiet white sand beach in a warm winter sun, let me throw some shade on that image.  For one thing, we had all the bad winter storms that hit the rest of the Pacific coast and other places.  No snow and a good thing, too, since I got rid of all my L.L. Bean gear before leaving the northwest.  But everything else – high winds, lots of rain and just generally stay-indoors-weather with intermittent sunshine.  My shorts are still on the shelf waiting for more days in the 70s.

Besides the weather, our idea of “quiet” beach went right out the window when March arrived and we realized our condo is within amplifying distance of the hottest spot in Rosarito Beach – Papas & Beer, party headquarters extraordinaire!  For those who don’t speak the language, “papas” are not old fathers, but potatoes.  Beer and French fries, along with nonstop Margaritas, noise, wet t-shirts and everything else that goes with beach parties.

Spring Break hit us hard the entire month of March with waves of students from the U.S. and Mexico along with hip-hop, DJs, and more cranking up by about 11:00 every morning and running nonstop until about 3:00 a.m. the next morning.  On weekend nights the party included strobe lights shooting over the ocean and into the wide wide skies.  So much for looking at the stars.

The beach regularly fills almost completely on weekends, too, with celebrants and families under colorful umbrellas, sometimes packing their own amplifiers for a different kind of music.  Then there are the local mariachi or brass and drum bands that add to the fun.  They really are fun.  I love their sound. Tubas are popular and are something like the carpet in The Big Lebowski – they just kind of pull the scene together.

We love where we are and the condo itself, but we’ve been keeping our eyes open for a possible shift a little farther from Party Central next year.  I can’t say we weren’t warned because we were.  We just weren’t quite prepared for life in a nonstop carnival setting for the better part of the year.

In other news, we had a chance to meet with the owner of our favorite place, El Nido, which I’ve written a little about here.  Guadalupe Perez is a legend around these parts and a wonderful source of history – his own and the history of Rosarito Beach.  He offered us a tour of his beautiful ranch just outside the city and we spent part of a day there enjoying the vineyard, the peacocks, the sheep, the flowers, the herb garden, the stone chapels, and much more.  The tour ended back at El Nido with fresh margaritas all around.


“This farm is alive!”                                      Michael and Lupe order the drinks

I had intended to simply interview Lupe and write more about the restaurant which is a wonderland, but it turns out that he is not just a man with a story, but with several stories. I’m interested now in the “several” of his life, so I’m saving the writing here for now as I figure out how I want to approach this.  I wasn’t planning to be a full-fledged writer again, but some projects are too alluring to resist.

I’m thinking now about the in-depth approach Tracy Kidder takes with his subjects.  Lupe, as he’s known among friends, is a unique guy and a subject worthy of that attention.

Before I go, let me tell you about our new home entertainment – rompecabezas!  Here’s a sample:

Yes. the fine old way to pass time – jigsaw puzzles.  We found the first one at a local swap meet, brand new, never been opened, and spent 20 pesos ($1.00) for our find.  It was so much fun, we scouted for more and now have a collection, some of which we’ve saved after they’re finished.  I’ve long been a jigsaw puzzle fan, but Michael was kind of new to it.  For a problem solver like he is, it was a natural fit.  And it’s a lovely, quiet, companionable way to while away a few hours.

We send greetings to new and old friends after celebrating both our birthdays, our one-year anniversary, and the joie de vivre of this new life. Moving to another country full time is never perfect but it’s beyond interesting, filled with the small challenges of learning many new ways.  When it feels a little overwhelming, a visit to our neighborhood Tamale Inn makes us forget about the latest mystery (why didn’t we get the light bill, for example, and why does our farmacia have carrot cake but not Aleve?).

David and Nina at Tamale Inn are always happy to see us and they make the best tamales, enchiladas and – oh man – tacos! we’ve found. (We sometimes have them for breakfast!) Who needs Cheers where everybody knows your name, when we have places in Rosarito where we’re welcomed so warmly – “Hey, Miguel and Molly!”

For now, amigos y amigas, we say adios and wish you a happy and blessed spring season and Easter.  Stay open for the next surprise in your own life.  It could be the best one ever!!

Michael and Molly

 

 

A Week in the Life: Art, Exercise, Food and Sunsets

Hallelujah! The great storm is over (spread your wings and fly!)  Back in a different lifetime, I lived in Massachusetts and Maine where this old song is a favorite.  I’ve been singing it here because we did in fact have a great storm with high winds, high tides and joking wishes for a cozy fireplace.

The storm and the wishes have passed and life is back to normal with “fair winds and calm seas,” margaritas, sunshine, quiet walks, and the sunsets.  With a clear view to the far horizon, we do see some beauties.  This recent “golden sunset” gave us more than the usual pause.

Michael is the best walker around and has been out discovering new parts of this growing city several times a week.   The mix of urban and rural is without many boundaries as he discovered recently when he hiked through a densely settled section of the city and a short distance beyond to one of the hillsides we see from the condo.

Pix below show one of his artistic shots through a fence to the cuota, the whiz bang toll highway that runs down Baja and in a different shot, the proverbial chicken about to cross the road.   Urban and rural.

                     

Last time I promised a little view of the art center/library very near our place.  For an artist who believes that color is an animal that wags its own tail, Mexico is a paradise of beautiful “animals.”  Colors are in the DNA of the region and for me this speaks volumes.

IMAC is our version of Lincoln Center – the Municipal Culture Institute a block from the beach and home to all kinds of activities, festivals, arts and crafts, dances – the world of cultural and artistic expression.  A recent showing of the Loving Vincent film is balanced by young dancers (and old), art shows, the local library, and the small park where you see the kids, the parents, the abuelas y abuelos sitting on the benches enjoying the sun and a conversation.

This abuela’s favorite bench is the butterfly creation!

The building walls are decorated with lots of art including the lovely undersea series, part of it here.

The picture of the boys is a demonstration of our open air gym equipment.  It’s simple, accessible, free and it works.  Counterbalancing with your own weight is as good as a workout at Gold’s Gym.

Friends often ask me about the food here.  We’re on a hunt for the best and have a few favorites. We’ve also had a few disappointments, but the search goes on.  Of course, there’s some excellent Mexican food, but even better are the dishes Michael cooks, including his late mom’s pork chili specialty.

When we hanker for burgers and fries, we head up to Guerrero St. and Hamburguesa Joy.   For a special evening out, El Gaucho is the place with melt-in-your-mouth Argentinian steaks and sangria.  For breakfast – Mexican or American – it’s El Nido, which happens to be our margarita place as well (but not for breakfast).

El Nido (the nest) deserves a post of its own, so I’ll save more about this restaurant/museum/garden spot until another time.

Until then, adios amigos y amigas!  Vaya con dios…

 

A Castle Not In Spain, But Almost Next Door

Mexico is often a romantic destination for couples looking to get married someplace special.  And for those couples, a wedding can happen in a chapel, a church, a daisy-filled field, on a beach, a boat or – well, how about in a legendary castle.

“A castle!” I hear you cry.  “How romantic is that!”

But hold on just one minute while I tell you a little more.  Yes, it’s a castle. Kind of. Yes, it overlooks the ocean.  There’s even a small scale replica of the Coliseum on the grounds. Yes, there’s a definite air of romance about it.  And yes, it was built for a legendary owner – namely Al Capone.

If you’re too young to know who Al Capone was, I direct you to Wikipedia (you can find that yourself) where you’ll learn among other things that the gangster to outdo all gangsters had a real presence on Baja California, less than 30 miles from our door.  No kidding.

But like many things in the world, there’s a true story and there are legends, and who knows where one stops and the other starts.  One piece seems to resonate throughout – the three things Capone required of any property he owned and occupied:
–bullet-proof walls (lava stone works great)
–a clear view of the road leading to and from the place (this is now Highway 1 to Ensenada)
–an Italian touch (hence the “Coliseum”)

We had a wonderful private tour with the current owner of The Castle, David Perez Elfman, who told us good stories about both Capone and the place itself.  Once destined to be a nightclub – post-Capone – The Castle is now home to many events in the neighborhood, mostly weddings.  Elfman has added to the stonework and furnishings but retains the photos of his beautiful mother (once mistaken for a movie star – it’s a good story) and James Dean (part of another great story).

Between The Castle and the equally legendary Rosarito Beach Hotel (once a refuge for the Hollywood crowd), the area is a mix of local culture and the glamorous mid-20th century lives of the rich and famous/notorious.

Other discoveries this past week or so include finding a couple of Rosarito’s small treasures, those tiny shops that look like they couldn’t hold another thing and finding the other things we’re looking for.  One is an “office center” along the lines of an internet café/office supply store and the other is a tiny hardware store filled with all the best things a hardware store carries.  Having alternatives to Home Depot, Walmart and Office Depot is great.  Support your local business!

Next time I’ll write about the neighborhood art center/public library where the murals are gorgeous and the air is fine.

‘Til then, adios amigos and amigas…

 

 

Christmas Old and New, Los Perros, Beauty and Blessings – Not Bad for Our First Month Here

It’s Christmas week, that time between Christmas and New Year’s when I so often have “called” the end of the year.  This year, however, there’s plenty to do down here – exploring, finding the stores we need and the restaurants we want, learning that a Google map does not necessarily reflect any current landscape and also learning that whatever current maps we find are mostly those that feature drinks, food, or spring break hot spots (which include both of the above).

Living down here, I’m reminded of an old bit of wisdom from my consulting days – The Three Laws of Information:

The information you have is not what you want.
The information want is not what you need.
The information you need is not available.
and for me
If the information you need is available, it will be only in Spanish.

But one activity we never tire of is watching  –  watching the ocean, watching the people and horses and occasional camels on the beach, watching the sunsets and moon rises and constellations that we missed while living in the city, and – in Mexico – watching los perros, the dogs.

I read about the dogs before coming down and have not been disappointed.  They run in little packs, little dogs mostly in those little packs.  I always think of “The Lady and the Tramp” and can imagine their conversations and songs as they wander the streets happy to see other and gentle on the mind.  They’re well-behaved when waiting outside any restaurant (because down here they do wait outside), they occasionally tag along on a walk, and bigger guard dogs bark without cease although some of them are not as bright as others.

We passed a place yesterday with two large snarling black dogs right out of a horror movie behind the fence.  When we came out of the shop, an open air fruiteria, they were quiet and the biggest dog was apparently on siesta break. He didn’t notice us at all until Michael called out, “Hey, we’re over here,” whereupon Rommel or Raoul or whatever his name was lunged into ferocious action.   Even the dogs have a kind of easy come, easy go attitude, which is refreshing after the hurly burly of the city.

Speaking of watching, in the last week we’ve seen a wide range of weather including beautiful sunsets and the stunning full moon.  These were both taken from our balcony.

We’ve also seen a variety of ocean-going critters including, in addition to our beloved pelicans in bigger and bigger flights, dolphins and a quartet of orcas playing just off-shore.  The gray whales will soon be headed north after calving time in San Ignacio Lagoon.

Our Christmas was great, our first one together and we got sentimental enough to find a tree and decorate it and wrap the packages complete with ribbons and bows.  We tried watching “White Christmas,” an old family tradition for me, and it was fine except that I realized with Michael’s hilarious narration that it was even hokier than I remembered.  Sometimes a person just has to move on!  I did fast forward to watch the old soldiers follow Dean Jagger, the “old man” with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye leading the song.  Of course, I shed my usual tears and Michael understood.

We’re almost at the end of 2018 and ready to head into 2019 not quite fully-fledged in Mexico but more fledged every day.  Mexico turns out to be something like Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery on the old Prairie Home Companion.  If Ralph didn’t have what you wanted, you probably didn’t need it.  Back to the Three Laws of Information.

Things don’t work the same way (ask me about having the power shut off in the middle of a shower because the bill – somebody else’s – had not been paid).  “Familiar” food does not taste the same but there are really good other things to eat.  Sizes are different – I now wear a size 26 shoe.  But as more than one advisor counseled, “If you want life exactly like you live it in the States, stay home.”

We didn’t want to stay home and we are falling more in love with Mexico all the time.  At the moment, Michael is building my art table with things from Home Depot – our Mexican Home Depot.  We want to be where we are.

We hope your holidays have been great and that 2019 will surprise you in the best possible ways.  If you’re not in the mood to make resolutions for the new year (and who is in today’s craziness?) there’s one take-away from “White Christmas” that’s not hokey at all…Irving Berlin was right on the money:

“If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep,
and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”  We’re counting ours.

And you’ll more than likely dream sweet dreams without care, or at least dreams in another language with a lot of friendly smiles.

Until next year, hasta la vista, amigos and amigas!

 

 

 

I Speak Only a Little Spanish so Please Talk Slowly

As promised, our new connection to the rest of the world, The Pelican Diaries, is up and running.  We hope to keep you informed about our Mexican adventure with something more interesting than a Christmas newsletter and something less tedious than Fox News.  The proof will be in the reading.

On November 30, we fastened our seatbelts and drove across the border at Tijuana with the car full of personal belongings.  In truth, we had very little as these things go, but a CRV fills up pretty quickly.  We’d rented a fully- and beautifully-furnished condo, so what we had were a couple of suitcases, a few boxes and miscellaneous other items chosen either for comfort (favorite books, art, pillows) or usefulness (tools, computer, art supplies).

In the weeks before the move, we took the advice of those who’d gone before us – sell and buy new! Great advice and we recommend it.

A grueling but educational several hours at the local Swap Meet on an unseasonably hot day, ads on Craigslist, donations, giving things to family, friends and neighbors, and just plain trips to the dumpster had accomplished most of the task.  Still we left behind a car and a small storage unit full of the leftovers.  We’ll deal with them another time.

The crossing was not without incident, but I’m not going to elaborate on that because we never know who might be reading and nobody wants to send bail money from the U.S.  To be clear, we did nothing illegal but there was some confusion and the young border agent apparently didn’t know any more than we did.

Despite that, I want to note how friendly and helpful both the locals (who are entertained by my wild pantomimes as I try to find things in the stores) and the ex-pats who offer advice in the hallway of our building or at the “post office” (more on this later) are.  Occasionally someone in the aisle of one of the already noted stores comes to the rescue, although no amount of gesturing and combination of corazon and caliente could help me when I tried to find Pepcid at one of the dozens of farmacias.

Yo hablo Español un poquito so the pantomimes are still necessary and will be for a while yet. Worse, I keep wanting to confuse the Spanish with my rusty but still serviceable French.  I was always good at charades, and it will all get better.

Fortunately for us both Michael is fluent in Spanish and has rescued me from more than one minor mix-up although he was not nearby when I purchased a small box of envelopes at Office Depot (yep, it’s here) which turned out to be not letter envelopes but a box of manila pay envelopes.  Maybe for lay-aways.  Maybe not.  Christmas cards?

We’ve only just begun, so for now, I’ll leave you with a note about the many wonderful and sometimes mysterious places and images we encounter every day.  The one below is outside a large hotel/restaurant complex called Festival Plaza on our main street, Blvd. Benito Juarez.  It has some kind of history but so far we haven’t been able to learn much about it.  I always think this fellow looks like an ad for a once-thriving but now a little tarnished Cirque de Soleil or in this case circo del agua.  See, I’m learning every day!

swimmer

That’s it for this post.  Hasta la vista, mis amigos y amigas!  Be back soon…