Reporting for jury duty can be difficult when you live in another country. Not reporting, though, can mean being fined $1,500 and/or being put behind bars.
I am pretty sure officials in El Dorado County, my place of residence in California, would not track me down in Baja California Sur, but I know they could. Not showing up for jury duty didn’t seem like something I would be extradited for. But if it were, it would first mean being held in a Mexican jail before being shipped north. None of this sounded like something I wanted to experience – even for a story.
I had scrambled to get out of jury duty in April 2018 when I first visited Todos Santos. The problem then was I didn’t send in proof that I was going to be out of the country so the court denied my request. Knowing someone on the inside helped resolve that problem. I was able to send my flight itinerary and that person took care of the rest.
I leaned on that person again last month when I got the latest jury summons.
While I don’t get my mail in Todos Santos unless someone comes to visit, the Postal Service sends me an email when I have mail coming to my post office box. Sometimes a picture of the envelope is included. This is how I knew to alert my friend Rosemary to pull the jury summons from the pile. She is collecting my mail in South Lake Tahoe while I’m in Mexico.
My connection in the court system advised me to write a letter to the court stating that I am living out of the country indefinitely and to provide proof of that fact. The internet bill is all I have in my name here. A copy of my passport stamp might work as proof. That, though, only says when I entered a country. It doesn’t indicate that I’m still there.
My sister Jann took my letter to the court back to California, printed off a copy of the internet bill, and included with all of that was the jury summons Rosemary sent her. This all got sent in one envelope to the El Dorado County court on Dec. 23. I haven’t heard anything from the court. I don’t know if I will. I guess when I fly back to the U.S. later this month and I’m detained because there is a warrant out for my arrest I’ll know my letter and documentation weren’t enough.
While water should be treated like a precious resource no matter where one lives, it is even more imperative when the supply is scarce.
Even though Todos Santos borders the Pacific Ocean, it is a desert community. Rain and storm runoff from the Sierra de la Laguna mountains fill the aquifer that supplies the town with its water. The city averages about 6 inches of rain a year, the mountains much more.
Water from the washing machine flows to trees at Casa Luna in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The town has a population of about 6,000, with building seeming to go on at every corner. A rumor last was that water permits had been suspended in the Todos Santos region.
Water is a limited resource and the infrastructure in this Third World country can’t keep up with the demands of expats wanting to develop here. The Gringo Gazette recently reported Los Cabos Mayor Armida Castro saying, “I will not issue any more construction permits if we can’t guarantee water supply to the population.”
My sister and brother-in-law’s nearly 14-year-old house in Todos Santos takes some of the gray water from inside and automatically delivers it to plants outside. One side of the kitchen sink, the showers, bath tub, and washing machine all drain to the outdoors.
The plants and trees have all survived with what at times is sudsy water. The amount of water is dependent on the number of people in the house. At this particular location it is not the most efficient system because plants are not getting water consistently because this is a second home with short-term renters.
The only drawback I have found is my dog AJ being attracted to the water that drains from the kitchen sink. I understand the food smells could be enticing, but the soap can’t be good for her, especially when she already has kidney issues.
Still, it’s an innovative and unique set up that could be implemented in other parts of the world.
Lights and sirens in my rearview mirror. It was only a matter of time. That’s what happens when you have a lead foot.
This time was a little different. It was the federales pulling me over. Everything I have been told and read is to not pay any officer. Make them give you a ticket is the mantra. Take video if things are going sideways. Write down their name; they are supposed to wear a name badge. Paying a fine to the officers is engaging in corruption. That money goes in their pocket, not to the government. There is no record of the transaction ever happening when you pay at the scene.
Guilty. I’m guilty of speeding. I’m guilty of paying the non-existent ticket, so essentially paying a bribe. I’m guilty of contributing to corruption in the Mexican government.
Oddly, I’m not feeling guilty, and now understand why people do this. It’s easier. It’s that simple.
Police in all branches of Mexico’s government are known to take cash for driving infractions and never reporting the money. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This was the week before Christmas on the north side of La Paz as I was headed to Punta Chivato. The officers said the speed limit was 80 kilometers an hour, about 50 miles per hour. I was going 70 mph, about 112 kph. The highest speed limit I saw on this eight-hour drive was 110 kph. I was always speeding.
I cooperated with the officers when they asked to see my driver’s license. I acted surprised that I was going so fast. The officer reached in the Jeep, pointing to the speedometer. He told me the azul numbers are the ones to pay attention to. I smiled as though this was the first time I had noticed there were kilometer markings.
He still had my license. These guys are well armed. His buddy sat in their vehicle. No other vehicles went by. It’s rather desolate here. My Wrangler will lose most chases. My Spanish skills don’t allow me to argue much. My speeding was real. A lot was going through my head.
When roads are wide-open and straight it is easy to want to speed. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The officer wanted to know where I was going, where I lived, when I would be coming back. I lied about the return date, thinking that if it were more than the actual three days, then they would want to deal with things immediately. I have been told officers will take your license as collateral for you to show up in court. For this infraction, it would mean going to La Paz. I didn’t know what would happen if I were to be pulled over again and not have my license.
He asked for 4,000 pesos, about $212. I laughed. I didn’t have that much cash on me for this short trip. I offered 1,000 pesos. He was OK with that. Then he reminded me about the speed I should be going. Maybe that 53 or so dollars helped him have a merrier Christmas. It was certainly the cheapest speeding ticket I have ever had.
After all, I was pulled over in Lake Tahoe last summer on the third day I was back in town. I went to court hoping the officer would not show up. He did. I lost. That cost me more than $400, plus an added fee because I paid by credit card at the courthouse, then another $60 for online traffic court to keep the ticket off my record.
Christmas is a big deal in Mexico, what with it being mostly a Catholic country. However, this is not the only day during the holiday season when gifts are given.
Three Kings Day, or Día de Los Reyes, on Jan. 6 is the actual culmination of the season here. This is when the three wise men purportedly gave their gifts to Jesus. Melchior was traveling from Europe, Balthasar from Africa, and Caspar from the Middle East.
It is more common for children in Mexico to receive gifts on this day from the kings instead of on Dec. 25 from Santa. Children will even write letters to the three wise men.
Traditional foods are served on Jan. 6, including a sweat bread called rosca de reyes. A tiny baby Jesus figurine is baked inside of it. This is done as a symbolic gesture to reflect on when baby Jesus had to be hidden from King Herod’s troops. The person who receives the slice with the figurine then has to host a party Feb. 2 on Día de la Candelaria, Day of the Candles.
Mexico is not the country with this cultural and religious celebration. It’s popular throughout Latin America, and variations of the holiday can be found in Europe.
When I called to see why the serviceman didn’t show up the previous day I was told he had and that the refrigerator was fixed. Not only that, my claim was closed.
I was home all day. No call, no repairman, and still dealing with a refrigerator that wanted to be reincarnated as a sauna. Many colorful adjectives wanted to spew from my mouth, but I swallowed them – choking the whole time.
If this were some old, crappy refrigerator, putting it out front with a sign saying “libre” might have been the answer. But this was a fridge under warranty. My sister bought it in March to replace the crappy one the real estate agents said showed so poorly. (That investment hasn’t worked out in her favor.)
It had taken a while to get a phone number for Samsung in Mexico. I started the process by finding the owner’s manual online in English, then going through the basic troubleshooting advice. After that didn’t work, I clicked on the link from Samsung’s website for an online chat. I thought it odd it cost $1, but maybe it was some Mexico thing. They had me do a little more and wait longer. Temp went from 65 degrees to 55. Not good enough.
Bruno figures out what is causing the refrigerator to malfunction. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I found a number to call. The woman on the other end got all of the info about the fridge, but should have started by asking where I was. She gave me a different 800 number for Mexico. Nope, that got me back to the U.S. Finally, I was given a number for Samsung in the country where the refrigerator is.
Living without the big fridge isn’t the end of the world for me. I have a dorm-size one upstairs that I use when I have Airbnb guests. I put it into use to preserve what little food I had. The freezer downstairs was working fine, so that was helpful.
The concern as each day went by is that I had paid guests coming. I didn’t want a repair dude coming while they were here – at least not for a non-emergency. I could give them my fridge and then live out of a tiny cooler. A friend offered fridge space if I needed it. The clock was ticking.
Samsung service in Mexico is so horrible that I will be hard pressed to buy anything of theirs no matter where I live. The number in Cabo San Lucas I was given didn’t work. Promises of when they would come were all broken. By the time I was done with the people via the 800 number, I had been given three service order numbers, with the final repair date the day after the guests arrived. I didn’t trust them. Oh, and I was going to have to pay 700 pesos (remember, fridge is under warranty) just for them to drive to the house. Apparently, they needed gas money.
I needed a plan B. Tim came to the rescue with a name and number for a local guy. Bruno arrived at 9am the day the guests were checking in. I sat with my back to him most of the time because it was disconcerting to see the appliance in so many pieces on the counter. He found the problem – the motor was frozen. The temp needs to be higher here because of the climate. Interesting, because on one of the calls with Samsung they wanted me to try setting it at the manufacturer suggested temp. (As if I hadn’t tried that already.)
Bruno was here less than two hours. Cost – 800 pesos, a little more than $40. When he left the fridge was 80-something degrees. Within hours it was chilled to 42 degrees and freezer to 2 degrees; what Bruno set them to. He made me promise not to change it. While I hope nothing more goes wrong, Bruno was awesome. And my four guests had a full size fridge for their food.
I had been sent an email with the last service number. I replied to it after Bruno was here to say I would not need them to come out that Saturday. Good thing I did plan B, because Samsung guys didn’t call until late morning Tuesday. They finally figured out they were not needed or wanted.
Oh, and that online chat service – not Samsung, but a third party that billed my credit card nearly $50 for my monthly membership. That has been rectified. Thanks Samsung for leading me down that rabbit hole. Samsung – your service sucks.
A gentle rustling woke me up the other night. I heard it again, this time conscious enough to know it wasn’t a dream, wasn’t the dog and whatever it was had not been invited.
I flung myself over AJ, then turned on the light. Next to her, within striking distance was one of the ugliest creatures I have seen. About 6 inches long, a brown-rusty color, it was wiggling parallel to my dog’s body toward her head. A pair of antennae was going back and forth like it was looking at me or smelling me, then doing the same to its potential prey as it slithered down the bed.
This centipede resembles the one AJ and I unknowingly were sharing our bed with. (Image: Warut Siriwut)
It wasn’t going to be good if AJ woke up and figured out what was next to her. While bigger in weight by 35 pounds compared to this creature, at 16 her agility isn’t what it once was. Plus, she’s a dog. She probably would have thought it was a play thing.
I grabbed what was closest to me, a cup. I would capture this intruder. Well, not exactly. The bed was wet with water and the centipede dropped to the floor, slinking under the bed.
I wasn’t about to search for it under there. What if it had relatives? Even if I shined a flashlight on it, was I supposed to chase it all night? What if I lost the battle? I had an 8 o’clock tennis match the next day – in a tournament, so I couldn’t be laid up with a centipede bite. The bite wouldn’t kill me, but it would be mighty painful. Not sure what it would do to the dog, especially with her weighing a fraction of what I do.
Downstairs I went with AJ’s bed, my pillow and phone.
I was a bit of a basket case once I realized to have heard the centipede, to be woken up by this animal, that it had to have been right next to my ear. Maybe it had been in my hair. I’m so glad I never felt it.
I immediately sent an email to the neighbors, and copied my sister who owns the house. “AJ and I are sleeping downstairs right now. I heard something in my bed, jumped out, turned on the light and there was this at least a 6 inch what I think was a centipede. It looked both hairy and spiky. It was so close to AJ that I didn’t want her to see it or for it to get her. I tried covering it with a glass but only managed to knock it onto the floor. It went under the bed and disappeared. I’m wondering how much I should be worried. Should I hunt for it Saturday?”
Yes, I would need to look for it, came the response. Andy came over after tennis to help me take apart the king size bed. We took each layer of bedding off – no sign of my sleepmate. Off came the box springs. Not under there; not tucked away in the Jeep windows that are stored under the bed. We searched a couple other places. No sign of it.
Andy, who lives next door, relays how a couple months ago he was reaching for a shirt in his closet and saw what sounds like the same centipede. He threw his shirt – with the multilegged thing – over the railing toward my house. I harassed him, telling him he could kill it next time or at least hurl it in another direction.
According to a paper written by Jeff Schalau with the University of Arizona, “Desert centipedes eat most anything that is small and soft bodied, which includes insects, frogs, small lizards and snakes, and rodents. Because they eat many common pests, centipedes are considered beneficial when outdoors.” So, I probably should try to relocate it if I capture it.
Schalau also said, “Centipedes are very fast and can slip through very small openings under doors, windows, and cracks.” Plenty of opportunities to get into my house in Todos Santos. “They are not harmful to food, clothes, furniture, or other items within homes, although their presence can be unnerving.” All good things to note; and I can attest to the unnerving part.
The next night I slept upstairs with a light on. I convinced myself that with it being a nocturnal animal, it would not come out with the light on. Finally, I needed darkness and off the light went about 3am; I had another match on Sunday and needed to get some sleep. A couple days later there is tiny scat on my pillow. Damn. It looked like gecko poop, but I had never seen it on my pillow before. I flashed on the conversation with a friend earlier in the week about the snake poop under her bed. I decided I had to look up centipede poop. Phew, they don’t leave evidence behind. I’m going with it’s gecko poop. Even with clean sheets, I’m still peeling back the layers of bedding and shaking out my pillows before I crawl into bed; then cross my fingers nothing crawls in alongside me.
A military officer south of Guerro Negro looks for drugs in the Jeep. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Mexican drug cartels seem to make the headlines on almost a weekly basis. While marijuana is the only drug I’ve seen in Todos Santos, I’m sure there are stronger substances being used. (Pot is illegal here.)
It’s mostly the mainland where the cartel is fighting with rival gangs, where the danger is. Even so, drug deals can go bad anywhere, and Baja isn’t immune to such encounters. People can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A little common sense, though, can go a long way to being safe – just like in any small town or big city throughout the world.
One way Mexico tries to combat drug trafficking is with military checkpoints along the highways. What confounds me is why in Baja they don’t regularly employ K-9s. Dogs can sniff out a variety of contraband. This would be a more efficient use of resources as well as a way to catch more bad guys, and get more drugs off the street.
A guard stands watch at a checkpoint in Baja California Sur. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
No one has used a mirror to check the underneath of the Jeep; drug smugglers have been known to tuck their stash under their vehicle. Maybe I don’t look like I warrant that kind of scrutiny.
Sometimes I wonder if these checkpoints just give people jobs. If so, that seems to be working.
In the three times I’ve driven the peninsula, I’ve been stopped once each direction to get out of the vehicle – though never at the same location. When I’ve had a passenger, they stand at one end or side of the vehicle, I’m at the other. This is to keep an eye on things, to make sure things stay on the up and up – nothing planted, nothing stolen. AJ, my dog, must come out – which is understandable. Twice they’ve looked through my backpack, always they open the glove compartment, and usually the center console.
Online forums have stories of troubling encounters between gringos and officers at these checkpoints; people being harassed, asked for money, having to unload their vehicle. Taking video is recommended when things go sideways. This is better than still pictures because it captures voices and the action. Paying any sort of bribe is not recommended. Keeping cash in multiple locations is a good idea, with very little in your wallet, purse or whatever your main vessel is for pesos and dollars.
Two officers watch while, two work the Jeep. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Usually, I’m waved through. Sometimes they ask where I’m coming from and going to, and if I’m on vacation. I answer and usually that’s the end of it. They don’t look me in the eye, but instead are eyeing the contents of the Jeep. Are they profiling me and my belongings? If so, I’m fine with looking like I’m not a dope dealer – or user for that matter.
At one stop last month an officer asked in Spanish about AJ’s gender. I didn’t understand the question. He pointed to himself, saying hombre and pointed to me saying mujer. I said mujer. I’ve never thought of AJ as a woman before.
In October there were three checkpoints in Alta Baja and three in Baja California Sur. (Each is an independent state, like California and Nevada are individual states in the U.S.) Checkpoints can come and go, with others more permanent. All are staffed with men (I’ve never seen a woman) armed with automatic rifles, dressed in fatigues, looking serious.
One vehicle at a time is allowed into the inspection area. I try to smile, act calm and nonchalant, but those guns can be intimidating. I have nothing to fear unless one of them were to plant something illegal on the Jeep. I don’t do drugs (except alcohol), won’t be someone’s mule, and no weapons other than pepper spray are in the Jeep.
Armed with flashlights, we were determined to find the intruders.
The incessant screech of the alarm would have made it hard to hear anyone rustling in the brush or running away. Wearing flip flops, I wasn’t going to be running fast toward or away from anyone I encountered.
This is what happens when a neighbor’s house alarm goes off and you know they aren’t home. You go investigate. You don’t wait for the cops to arrive.
Many alarm systems have it so a series of neighbors are called to alert them; this way someone is likely to check in on the house in question. Days later an alarm went off at another neighbor’s. This time we left the oversight to those on the call list.
This is what it means to be a good neighbor, a vecina or vecino. There are formal neighborhood watch programs here, and sites to keep track of what is going on, email lists to be part of to know about any crime or other police calls, like horses in the middle of the road.
I have two neighbors in Todos Santos who I rely on for so many things. Safety is one of them. They know when I’m gone, if someone should be at the house, and one has a key if need be.
I called Connie when the alarm started going off at the other neighbors’. She said she was on her way, was going to drive there. I said I would meet her out front. In the meantime, another neighbor came out, said she had called the police. Armed with her air horn and my flashlight/weapon, we went up the driveway of the house in question. (Instead of using an air horn for bears as would be the norm in Tahoe, in Todos Santos we use them for intruders to get them to run off and to call attention to ourselves for help.)
Nothing looked amiss from the front. Peering in we could see the dog. There wasn’t much to steal as these neighbors were about to move.
Connie arrived with a similar long, heavy duty flashlight that could do some serious damage if someone were to be whacked with it. Anita left us to secure the premises. We walked around the exterior. No windows were open or broken.
Then two officers arrived. I told them my friend spoke better Spanish; so Connie shared information with them. It was a little disconcerting that one of the officers asked to borrow my flashlight because he didn’t have one. A flashlight seems like a basic tool in the world of law enforcement; guess not in Todos Santos.
The officers didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Maybe it was a gecko that triggered the alarm. After all, we all share our dwellings with those little creatures.