It’s impossible to tell the time of day in Todos Santos by when roosters crow. The squawking seems to only be at night in this Baja town. All night.
Roosters have a pecking order, with the dominant male sounding off first, and then the others chiming in afterward. It’s a symphony of sorts at times in the neighborhood.
They are probably sleeping through the day because they were cackling all night. If only I had that luxury.
In other parts of the world a rooster’s distinct call is usually about two hours or less before daylight. This is normal. Earlier this decade scientists at Nagoya University in Japan conducted a study to learn more about the habits of crowing roosters. They discovered the animal has an internal clock to tell when the break of day is. The light in the sky isn’t relevant.
Besides signaling the start of a new day, roosters get vocal when danger is nearby. He is alerting the hens a predator is about.
This area is home to coyote, gray fox, raccoon and bobcat. All of these animals are nocturnal, which could be the reason roosters are doing their job throughout the night. A hen isn’t going to be able to win a fight with any of those creatures.
When I lived in Sonoma County in California my neighbors built a chicken coop, rooster et al. My window was nearby. Working nights meant I wanted to sleep and not know when daybreak was. The fortunate thing there is we lived on quarter-acre lots so it was easy for them to move the coop to accommodate my hours.
While it’s nice to have an alarm clock, it’s also nice to be able to turn it off. Not so with roosters throughout the hood.
Tea from three Mexican plants can bring stomach relief. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Long before big pharma came into existence people used the land to cure what ailed them. They still are. I tried it earlier this month.
The main ingredient in my homebrewed tea was a handful of leaves from the nicle plant. Having never heard of the plant didn’t alarm me. I was tired of an ongoing intestinal issue that started with a night in the bathroom, and then kept zapping my energy, and left me with a wonky appetite.
I’m blaming my friend Marilyn for passing her stomach virus along to me via contaminated tennis balls. (Nothing scientific about that diagnosis.) She chose big pharma to cure her. I started with whining and sleep (no relief), then tried papaya seeds per my a friend’s recommendation (that worked in the moment, but wasn’t long lasting), then went to 7-Up (always settles my stomach, but then I could tell I had had too much, which caused more stomach discomfort), then Jill started plucking things from her property. It was time to go all in.
She got the recipe from her housekeeper, Laura. Jill had also heard about nicle being a medicinal plant from other local women.
“Laura gave us a cutting that she rooted so that we would have the plant. It is actually a large bush that evidently has a lovely flower,” Jill said.
According to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, the nicle plant is good for diarrhea and stomach ache, kidney ache, fever and constipation. The plant is listed under the section: Traditional Medicine of Baja California Sur.
The journal says, “We have now registered 252 local names of traditional medicinal resources in this area. One hundred twenty medicinal plants have been collected. From these 120 species, 80 have been botanically identified and 49 are reported here.”
The Center for Biological Diversity in a paper titled “Medicinal Plants At Risk” states, “In the United States, of the top 150 prescription drugs, at least 118 are based on natural sources.” The problem is a tiny percentage of tropical plants have been screened to know their medicinal applications, and those that have risk being overharvested.
Jill supplied the necessary leaves, while I stopped at the market on my way home to get an avocado and cinnamon stick. I’m not sure if the cinnamon is there for medicinal purposes or flavor, since it alone has health benefits. The tea tasted great. However, I am grateful for the warning that the liquid medicine would be a magenta color.
I was also warned I could feel flush, even start to sweat and that drinking it could make me feel a little high. I got warm, but nothing alarming. Then I felt a little off and extremely tired. I was in bed at 8pm and asleep moments later. The best part is the relief was almost instantaneous.
The problem is that I got cocky thinking I could immediately eat regular again. Wrong. My body let me know the bug wasn’t gone. Another night of feeling like I was prepping for a colonoscopy. While I ended up on antibiotics to kill the germs, at least I was in Mexico. No doctor’s visit required. I just walked into the pharmacy to get what I needed. It also helps to have a sister who is a nurse practitioner to tell me how much to take and how often.
State crews if February do a better job fixing Topete Road in Todos Santos compared to the usual repair. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Water, garbage, sewage and roads. They are the infrastructure fabric that binds most communities. When they aren’t working, they are what can unravel a town.
The growth in the Todos Santos-Pescadero areas is straining what was built for a smaller population. On Feb. 22 the nonprofit Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos, aka ACTS, hosted a 2.5 hour meeting with infrastructure the only topic.
Jamie Stephens spoke about water, Susan Mittelstadt about sewage and landfill concerns, Walt Schultz tackled roads, Alex Miro recycling, and Bryan Jauregui plastics. Each gave an overview of their topic. Then the more than 100 people who gathered split into groups to discuss one of the above topics before reconvening to share thoughts with everyone.
Vickie Butler, ACTS vice president, said, “If we don’t start now, it will get worse. The intention after this meeting is there will be positive movement.”
Unlike a lot of municipalities in the United States where people who build have to pay developer fees, Todos Santos doesn’t have anything like that. Those developer fees are intended to pay for impacts to the environment, for roads, fire stations, schools and more. While Todos Santos is its own city, the funding comes from La Paz, the state capital of Baja California Sur. At the meeting it was stated that more funding from La Paz is not likely to be forthcoming, so solutions need to come from the citizenry – locals and expats.
It was stated how many of the problems are the result of more non-Mexicans moving to the area and the influx of tourists. They are putting a strain on the fragile infrastructure.
Taxes don’t cover the needs and government corruption then siphons some of those precious dollars.
Todos Santos residents pay for their individual roads to be fixed. It lasts until the next rain. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Inequities exist between who pays what based on some people being on meters. The town ran out of meters around 2006 so no more have been installed.
Some people get water every day and others weekly. Those living farther away from downtown Todos Santos have less frequent deliveries.
Various levels of government don’t appear to be communicating with one another.
It was suggested a citizen water committee be formed that would voice concerns to people who could do something.
A 2012 study said Todos Santos would have enough water to last through 2022.
A new study by Conagua, the national water authority, was suggested in order to learn what the water forecast is going forward, especially with the growth taking place.
New water contracts are only being issued to properties with existing infrastructure on the land.
Pools are supposed to be filled with water trucks, but people use city water.
Baja Water Systems is working with restaurants to get filtration systems in so fewer plastic water bottles need to be used.
Several “treacherous” landfill fires occurred in 2019 at the Todos Santos-Pescadero dump. They are a public health threat.
Fundraising has allowed for a tractor to be leased to help with the fires and move material around to prevent spontaneous combustion.
About 80 percent of the matter is organic waste, with most of that being garden debris.
People want the area to become zero waste, with an organization formed to achieve that goal.
Recycling needs to be encouraged.
It is running down the streets in Pescadero.
Septic trucks are reportedly dumping waste in the desert and not taking it to the treatment plant.
In Todos Santos sewage is running into La Poza lagoon.
Reports are the private treatment plant in Todos Santos is at capacity.
Since the meeting, ACTS reports, “The Ejido of Pescadero has given authorization to lease a piece of land for 30 years to the government to build a new sewage treatment plant with federal funding.”
The lack of drainage is the main problem on local roads. Water then builds up and ruins the asphalt.
When adding dirt to a road, a ditch should be added for drainage. There was no talk of what happens when more water goes to the properties downhill.
People want a guide created on how to properly use dirt and create ditches.
Punto Verde on the south end of Todos Santos only takes what they know they can recycle: aluminum, tin, paper/cardboard, plastic, clear glass and some electronics. It should all be clean. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-2pm. A small fee is charged to collect the recyclables.
No gas for the truck. That was the answer I was given by the mayor’s office for why the streetlight was not going to get fixed.
I didn’t know how to argue with that statement. I didn’t know if I should offer to pay for the gas. I didn’t know if it was a line of BS. Being in Mexico, I figured it was probably the truth. Early on I had been told how the volunteer firefighters often need gas money for the truck, so why not a public works truck as well?
The electric company has the truck, but is not responsible for replacing streetlight bulbs in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
One of the first things I noticed when I got back to Todos Santos last fall was the light across the street was out. The darkness was immediately evident, and it was not my old friend. That light had illuminated my gate and the gravel parking area. It is so dark without it.
While I’m often a proponent of dark streets – less light pollution, better to see the night sky – there is a safety element to them. When I have Airbnb guests I don’t have access to the downstairs outdoor lights so the whole yard is dark. I leave outside lights on upstairs, but they don’t illuminate much of my walk from the Jeep to my living quarters.
Neighbors said go to the delegado’s office to let them know the light was out. That’s who said no gas.
Then one day I saw guys replacing the light so I ran out to tell them how the one at the end of the street was out too.
They weren’t there to replace the light. They were from the electric company; there to hook up power for the house across the street that is under construction. Funny thing is they took the light bulb out and left it on my gate.
The 8-inch long bulb is not available in Todos Santos stores. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I thought about taking it to “city hall” but knew explaining how I came to have the bulb might prove more problematic even though it was innocent enough. Instead, I took it to two stores in town hoping to buy a replacement bulb. My thought was if I could pay for the bulb, maybe the city could use that savings to put gas in the truck. The store clerks shook their heads, as if this type of phallic looking contraption should not be in my hands.
It sat on my desk as some odd ornament until I threw it out. It went in the trash last week the day the bulb was replaced. I was giddy and exuberant in my thanks to the guys. They fixed the one at the end of the street, too. It was worth the three-month wait.
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.