Saturday, December 24, 2011

Noche Buena at Punta Chivato

by Scott

If there's one dish that Baja is famous for, it's fish tacos. Our first day south of the border, we stopped for roadside fish tacos in San Quintin. Since then, we've been rolling our own, and I've gotten a little bit cocky about it. Unlike New Zealand, my fishing here has been very successful. I tell Heather to just let me know when she wants fish tacos for dinner. I've never failed to deliver. Usually in less than 30 minutes. I'm like the  Dominos of fish tacos. One time, it took one cast. Last night, the fish tacos would have been free.

We were at Punta Chivato on the Sea or Cortez. I spent several hours snorkeling with a spear -- not a spear gun -- that George from Abreojos gave me. I managed to get a scorpion fish. That was my intended target, but I was disappointed when I got it out of the water. It was much smaller than I thought. I hadn't accounted for the magnification under water. Everything looks bigger! Lesson learned. Sorry fish. He did swim away, so I hope he lived. I gave up spear fishing, deciding to wait until evening to get the rod and reel out.

Heading out for a snorkel at Punta Chivato
Later that afternoon, as we were returning from a run, we started collecting firewood near the lighthouse. As we were doing so, a massive feeding frenzy started just off shore. There were fish flying all over the place. We watched until the boil got close enough that we could see the large fish creating the frenzy. I sprinted the quarter mile back to the truck with an armful of firewood. Then, I sprinted the quarter mile back to the point with my fishing pole. My lungs were burning as I made my first cast. The lure had barely hit the water when it was savagely attacked. Seeing the long slender body, I was hoping it was sierra. Unfortunately, it was a 2-foot-long barracuda. We've eaten barracuda once, and I don't have fond memories, so I threw it back. Another cast. Another barracuda. After catching and releasing half a dozen of them, I realized that the sun was getting low. If I was going to catch anything other than barracuda, I needed to go down to my snorkeling spot.

This time, I am walking. I see Heather coming towards me. Every few steps, she stops, bends down, picks something up, and throws it in the water. What is she doing? Skipping stones? No. She tells me I just missed a crazy event. Thousands of mullet have beached themselves. She calls them mullet. Neither of us know what they really are. Sardines? Shad? Who knows. They do have an upturned nose, so for this story, we're going to call them mullet. Some are wounded, some are not, but they're all exhausted. Heather is picking up the those that show a will to live and throws them back. Some swim away, others return to the beach, preferring a slow death in the sand versus being eaten alive.

While Heather is feeding the barracuda, I walk down to the snorkeling spot, passing thousands of soon-to-be-dead mullet. When I reach the reef, it takes only two casts before I hook a fish. I can tell it's not a barracuda. It fights hard and dives deep. Then, everything stops. He's rocked me. This is a term I've just learned. Some fish will lodge themselves in the rocks rather than fight in the open water. That's how I lost my first lure in Abreojos. I tried a few tricks that George had suggested: plucking the line like a guitar string, letting the line go slack. Neither worked. A couple times, the fish took off with the slack line, but quickly rocked himself again. Now, my line is wrapped up at multiple points on the reef.

The sun has already set, and light is fading. I'm willing to lose the fish, but I don't want to lose my lure. I wedge my pole in the rocks, loosen the drag, and start running for the truck. On the way, I see a big tumbleweed. That'll be great for getting the fire started. I pick it up and keep running. Heather sees me coming. That's not a fish. Where's his fishing pole? What is he carrying? Breathing hard, I tell her to go make sure I don't lose the rod and reel. She doesn't ask questions, not even why I'm carrying a tumbleweed.

As Heather runs down the beach in her flip-flops, I get out the inflatable paddleboard and start pumping furiously. The wind is too strong to paddle directly to the reef, so I run down the beach carrying the 10-foot, 30-pound paddleboard. When I finally paddle out to the reef, Heather is standing there with the pole. And a beer. Where did that come from? When I grab the line and try to track it back to the fish, the line ends up wrapped around me. Eventually, I free the line from the rocks, though not from my neck. The fish is still on the line. It's a spotted bass, and he's even more tired than I am.

A more relaxing time before we took the boards in the water
Dangling the fish from the lure in one hand, while paddling with the other hand, I tell Heather she's not going to believe this. In addition to the silver spoon, there's also a mullet in it's mouth! The mullet is still alive, so I throw it back. Heather takes the paddleboard, while I walk back with the fish. And the beer. Halfway down the beach, I look down at my catch. Heather's not going to believe this. He's coughed up a second mullet -- tail first!

It is dark. I have to fillet the fish by headlamp while Heather prepares the fixin's. We eat fresh fish tacos with a cold beer, Tecate's limited edition winter bock, Noche Buena (good night). We laugh as we tell each other our versions of this fish story. Both of us agree -- that was a lot of work for one meal. Was it worth it? Yeah, it was worth it. Noche Buena indeed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Breakfast Date in San Ignacio

San Ignacio is a surreal date palm oasis in the middle of the Baja desert.  Most travelers drive right past San Ignacio on their way to the southern part of Baja.  The popular attraction of San Ignacio is the mission church in the town square. What seems to get missed by most visitors is the lagoon that has been formed by damned springs that are next to the town.  In 2003, we blasted through this area on our way south.  We quickly drove into the town square to have a look at the mission. Afterwards, as we were driving out of town, we took a picture of the water oasis - from. our. vehicle!

Since then, San Ignacio has been on our radar, especially after discovering our fondness for dates.  While we were in Australia, we became enamored with Medjool dates (usually imported from Iran).  They were $25/kg so we never bought them, but Scott's employer provided them every Friday (until they didn't).  San Ignacio has dates dropping all over the place -- our tires are covered with them!  We bought 1 kg (2.2 lbs) of dates for $3.  This morning we had date pancakes while we relaxed under the shade of the date palms.  They don't taste exactly like Medjool dates, but I'm not complaining.

Dates drying in town.  Scott enjoying date pancakes with the morning mist over San Ignacio "river/lake"
Our first day in town, we went for a hike onto the mesa overlooking town. When we came back down, we found ourselves in someone's backyard.  We navigated to one of the back-streets and headed in the general direction of the town square, where we were parked.  As we were walking, a little boy biked around us, and we exchanged holas.  After he biked past us, he circled back around.  On his second pass, he yelled "son gringos (you're gringos!)".  "Si (yes)"!  A few minutes later we walked past a man who said, "adonde (where are you going)!?". As in, "why are you white people anywhere but the town square?".  I guess our gringo-ness was definitely out of place.

We camped at Don Chon RV Park for $5/night (70 pesos).  At first, it seemed like a pretty sketchy place. It has no amenities, except for a pit toilet. Frankly, I would rather dig my own hole.  However,  we were pleased to spend 2 days parked right next to this fresh water oasis with amazing scenery.

We SUPed to the source of the San Ignacio "river/lake" -- it was a warm water spring!
While Scott was fishing the first night, he caught a tilapia.  The campground owner came to collect her money and told us the only fish in the lagoon were tilapia and carp.  Scott stopped fishing.  He says that tilapia are generally too small to justify killing/filleting.  Someone is becoming quite the picky fisherman!
"Don Chon RV Park" aka "RV Riverside Park" 
Even though we stayed only a couple of days, I felt sad when we left.  If we didn't feel such a pull to the ocean, I could spend a lot of time in San Ignacio.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Myth of Mexico

by Scott

We're currently in the small fishing village (and surf/windsurf mecca) of Punta Abreojos. It's quite different than other Baja towns of it's size. There's a noticeable lack of litter, paved roads, really nice commercial and personal pickup trucks, and the locals aren't interested in pandering to the gringo tourists. It's great!

Serious money in these trucks in Abreojos
The secret is a very successful fishing co-op. It employs a couple hundred people who catch lobster and collect abalone, both of which are shipped to China. We hear that they make $35-50k per year  -- great for Mexico.

A lot of people think of Mexico as a 3rd world country. It's not. Mexico is by no means rich, especially Baja, but many countries we will be visiting will be far poorer. Here's a partial list of per capita GDP's from the IMF (2010).

I've included the countries we're planning to visit, as well as some places we recently visited, and a few others that we have no plans to visit, but are just plain China. For all the talk about China becoming the world's largest economy and dominating the globe, blah, blah, blah, it's important to recognize that China is still a very poor country, about the same as El Salvador. Mexico, on the other hand, is nearly twice as rich as China!


6 United States 47,123
9  Australia 39,692
11  Canada 39,033
32  New Zealand 27,460
55  Chile 14,982
61  Mexico 14,266
67  Panama 12,397
69  Venezuela 11,889
71  Brazil 11,289
75  Costa Rica 10,732
83  Colombia 9,445
85  Peru 9,281
90  Ecuador 7,951
91  Belize 7,894
93  China 7,518
94  El Salvador 7,442
114  Paraguay 4,915
115  Guatemala 4,871
118  Bolivia 4,584
121  Honduras 4,404
125  Iraq 3,599
131  Nicaragua 2,969
170  Afghanistan 998

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Abreojos... Open Your Eyes

Nine days ago we decided to head to the Pacific side of Baja for Punta Abreojos.  We arrived in the evening and slowly found a camping spot right outside of town.  We managed to park right at the famous surfing point dubbed "Burgers" where we were able to surf for a few days.  I can't believe we've been in the area 9 days already!

Moonrise at Punta Abreojos with the sunset reflecting in our box
We've been in some dolphin-y areas but Abreojos is out of this world.  The dolphins are everywhere.  They are close to shore, slowly bobbing along, and a bit off shore, jumping, playing, and fishing. Along with the dolphins are seals, sea lions, pelicans and more osprey than we've ever seen. This can only mean one thing -- the fish are PLENTIFUL. Scott confirmed this by catching kelp bass, sierra, and corvina.  Fish tacos galore.

While we were camped at "Burgers", a gringo couple (George and Deborah) drove by, gawked at our truck, and stopped to chat.   We talked long enough that they learned that we wanted our toy box painted white (it gets very hot in the sun).  It turns out that they were having some body work done to one of their vehicles, so that evening, George arrived with Francisco to check out our box and give us a price on painting it.  The next day, we drove to George and Deborah's house and had the box painted by Francisco for $60.

It's white now!
The box-painting day was Scott's 41st birthday (12/12). Deborah prepared an amazing birthday dinner -- clam chowder, halibut casserole, and Mississippi mud pie.  It just so happened that they received the most rain they'd seen in 8 years, so we ended up parked at their house for 2 days while the box dried.  Scott became good friends with Gypsy, their 2-year-old Boston terrier, who pulled out an endless supply of toys.  George and Deborah were extremely generous while we squatted at their house.  They made our stay in Abreojos quite memorable (along with the surfing and sea life).  I hope that we can pay it forward.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Life of Oscar

By Scott

We received sad news this morning that our cat, Oscar, died. He had been losing weight over the summer, and we were worried about him. Soon after we left this summer, Heather's mom took him to the vet, who suspected cancer.

Oscar was never really "our" cat. He used to be our neighbor's cat when we lived in Vancouver. Then, he became our cat. When we left for Australia, he became Heather's parent's cat. But really, Oscar was never anyone's cat. We were all his people.

When I met Heather, I wasn't much of a cat person. Despite her allergies, she has always adored cats, and thanks to Oscie, I now do too. He was not shy. Soon after moving into our house in Vancouver,  he waltzed into the garage and demanded attention from Heather, who was more than happy to accommodate. This is how he behaved with everyone. He didn't care whether you were a cat lover or not. If you had two good hands and a warm lap, he'd consider you a worthwhile project. Once, I threw down a pair of work gloves while working in the yard. He ran over to them like it was a dream come true -- his own pair of hands.

For the first year, we never fed Oscar. He was not motivated by food at all. He would run across the street to greet us when we returned from a bike ride, or come around to the back door in the evening and meow until we let him in. Eventually, we started having sleepovers. Our house came equipped with doggy doors. We soon unlocked them, and Oscie quickly learned to come and go as he pleased. Once, he even managed to drag a live pigeon, that was nearly as big as he was, through two of those doggy doors before I intervened. The pigeon lived. Oscie was not pleased.

It soon became apparent to our neighbors that Oscar was spending all of his time at our house, yet they were still feeding him. They asked if we wanted to make it official, and we said yes. He continued to come and go as he pleased, coming in to wake us up in the morning for a drink of water. He was never picky about food, but he insisted on drinking water straight from the faucet. I'd stumble out of bed, turn the faucet to a trickle, then go back to bed. When he was finished, he'd curl up in my arm and take a nap until I got up. Then he'd sleep on the bed for another couple hours.

When we decided to move to Australia, we knew we couldn't take Oscar with us. It would have been a brutal plane trip, a couple thousand dollars, and a month-long quarantine. We offered our neighbors the chance to take him back, but they were happy to let Heather fly back with him to her parents' house in Michigan. Oscar wasn't happy about flying, but he loved roaming and hunting in his new domain, sleeping on Gary's head, and earning the name King Oscar from Vickie. We were so grateful that they took him in. Not only was it comforting to know he had a loving home, but we also got to see him when we visited the states.

It's sad that Oscar's gone, but he lived a good life, lived it on his own terms, put smiles on a lot of faces, and died quickly and peacefully. We should all be so fortunate. We'll miss you little buddy.

This was the last time we saw Oscie.  He made us so happy.  He watched us drive away that day.