In Mexico gift giving doesn’t end on Christmas

In Mexico gift giving doesn’t end on Christmas

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.

Reliable local repairman outshines corporate yahoos

Reliable local repairman outshines corporate yahoos

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.

Sharing my bed Baja style

Sharing my bed Baja style

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.

Military checkpoints the norm when driving in Baja

Military checkpoints the norm when driving in Baja

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.

Neighbors often respond before officers in Todos Santos

Neighbors often respond before officers in Todos Santos

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.

Downgraded tropical storm delivers more anxiety than rain or wind

Downgraded tropical storm delivers more anxiety than rain or wind

Wicked waves lash the coast of Todos Santos on Nov. 17. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Don’t go into the mountains. Flash flood warnings. Hunker down. Secure outdoor furniture so it doesn’t become a projectile weapon.

All of these warnings came while I was 2½ hours away from my Baja home. I was in Cabo Pulmo, on the East Cape, playing in a tennis tournament. The blue sky not giving any hint of what lurked off the tip of Baja. The same sunny weather was at home in Todos Santos.

Before I left, I knew rain was in the forecast. Other than it being late in the season, I didn’t think much of it except that it could washout some matches. When it got a name, I knew it was serious. Raymond. Tropical Storm Raymond. Tropical storms have sustained winds of at least 39 mph. And he wasn’t the only one off the southern tip of Baja.

On Nov. 16, Weather.com said, “A late pair of simultaneous tropical cyclones have formed off the coast of Mexico as we enter the last two weeks of hurricane season. While having one or even two tropical cyclones active in November isn’t unheard of, it is rare to have two churning at the same this late in the year. In fact, it hasn’t happened in the satellite era before this week.”

Storm clouds over the Sierra de la Laguna mountains on Nov. 16. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Before I left in June for the U.S. I had hurricane-proofed the place according to my sister’s directions. Basically, everything that wasn’t bolted down outside found a home inside. Since being back all items returned to their useful places – outdoors.

I thought about what was outside, what could be damaged, what could cause damage. Plastic lounge chairs could be shredded. Other chairs could be launched through a window or glass doors.

Living in Lake Tahoe for years I knew storm drills. Clearly different than Baja storms, but similar. One rule of thumb for storms is getting home so you aren’t driving in the storm. I knew that would be the same no matter if it’s snow or rain falling from the sky. Being in a Jeep Wrangler without side or back windows meant I wanted to drive in dry conditions if possible. Plus, the short vehicle gets whipped around in wind, so the trip could be slow-going and more wet inside the longer I was in the elements. (Good thing Wranglers have drain holes on the floor board.)

The route home goes through mountains; where people were told not to venture. Potentially worse was the first 30 minutes on the lousy dirt road that already had deep standing water from storms long gone. Even my Jeep can get stuck in certain terrain.

Tournament officials were keeping an eye on things. After all, the peninsula is pretty narrow and a storm can bring torrential rain to both sides at once. On Nov. 14 the schedulers moved all of the Nov. 17 matches to the preceding two days. People were checking electronic devices for updates. Websites all said something a little different. I was getting reports from friends in Todos Santos. I didn’t want to drive in a tropical storm. The wind scared me more than the rain; that, and not having windows.

I decided on that Friday I would leave the next day instead of Sunday. Two other Todos Santos-ites made the same decision. We would leave when our respective matches ended Saturday. Ian and I caravanned – nice because my belongings could be dry in his trunk, while AJ the pampered pooch rode shotgun with me. Plus, if the roads got hellish, I had four-wheel drive to get us all out of potential muck.

Looking west the dark clouds in the mountains were ominous. I was in the lead on the paved road. Since the Jeep doesn’t have a ton of get-up-and-go, Ian didn’t want to leave me behind and deferred to me when to pass.

I was suddenly thankful for the new tires and windshield wipers I had bought in the States. While driving I wondered if once I got back if I should put in the plastic windows, put the top completely down or leave things as they are? The top and windows are also brand new. I didn’t want the top to look like the old one, ripped to pieces, rotting at a landfill. I wondered how much water was too much water for the interior.

Puddles form in the front of Casa Luna in Todos Santos on Nov. 17. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Once back on my side of Baja I filled up the gas tank and bought groceries. While the temperature would still be warm, I wanted comfort storm food I was used to. So I bought ingredients for soup and pasta to last me a few days. In Tahoe there can be a run on food at the grocery stores because people don’t know if they’ll be able to get out or if trucks will make it over the mountain passes. I don’t know what the supply chain is like here. A big worry was the lack of drinking water. Combined I had the equivalent of half a 5-gallon jug. AJ and I both drink the good water. At least the wine supply was more than ample; dying of thirst wouldn’t be a problem for me.

Todos Santos was dry upon my arrival as the sun was setting. It had been raining earlier. I opted to bring in the hammock, and all chairs on the second level. I stacked the lounge chairs and put them against a wall downstairs. The garbage can was tucked in near the water tanks. I left the Jeep top as is, hoping the winds wouldn’t be bad and knowing I could live with what rain came in.

It wasn’t until about 11pm that the winds picked up and the rain came. I slept with the main doors closed just in case it got really nasty out. It rained off and on much of the night, but had stopped by the time I awoke Sunday morning. By then Raymond had been downgraded to a tropical depression. It was eerily still outside. Grey, moody clouds covered the sky. The ocean, a mile away, did not look inviting even at that distance, though, that could have been imagination.

Nothing happened for a couple hours – much like the forecasters said would be the case. The forecast was for the brunt to hit later in the day Sunday. I opted to walk AJ on the beach; apparently now it was inviting in some weird way. I wanted to see the surf. Beautiful, wild, unpredictable. Others were there enjoying Mother Nature as well. We (me and AJ) knew to stay far enough back so a rogue wave wouldn’t snatch us away. We only got in three-quarters of a mile before the rain chased us to the Jeep. By that time the visibility toward Punto Lobos had diminished. Raymond was making his presence known.

For most of the afternoon and into the evening it rained. Hard at times, often a soft cadence. My dirt street for a time looked like a creek. Puddles formed in the yard. The wind, fortunately, was never an issue.

In the end, it was an ordinary rain storm. At least sitting at my desk it was. I need to venture out to see if there was damage in town, if roads are passable, if perhaps the fresh water lagoon filled up a bit for AJ.

My next door neighbor collects data for Weather Underground. He recorded 2 inches of rain on Sunday. According to World Weather Online, Todos Santos received 1.44 inches of precipitation on Sunday and 0.15 inches on Saturday. More is possible today. On average, the town gets about 6 inches of rain a year, with most of it coming in August and September.

Baja beach massage a blissful experience

Baja beach massage a blissful experience

Laura has strong hands and knows how to use her elbows. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At a cost of $20 for an hour massage, my expectations were not great. I knew there was the chance I could be in more pain when it ended.

I have had massages outside of the United States before with mostly a good outcome. In Whistler, British Columbia, there was the guy who turned my body into a pretzel during the Thai massage. I wanted to pack him up and take him home. There were a few different massages in China. The odd pounding when I was fully clothed, and the excellent foot massages that we all went back for the next night.

Getting a massage out of the country is not a risky endeavor; it can just be different. After all, I’ve had plenty of crappy massages in the U.S. Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to be able to communicate with the practitioner; as well as have a therapist with training.

At Cerritos Beach, just south of Todos Santos, is was Laura who turned my knotted up back and neck into smooth strands of muscle. I didn’t want her to stop. I want to go back. While it was a full body massage, she knew quickly where I held my tension and focused her time there.

Cecilia works on getting the kinks out of Sue’s neck. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sue had a similarly wonderful experience with Cecilia, who worked out her stress and brought release to those taut muscles.

I had fantasized about a beach massage for years. Only in my scenario I was the therapist. When I still had Lake Tahoe News there were so many days I wanted to chuck the computer out the window and run away to someplace warm. I saw myself giving massages on a beach (I’ve been a certified massage therapist since 1997) and writing smutty novels.

I’ve run away, so to speak, to that warm, beach locale. Not having the paperwork to legally work in Mexico, I’m opting to be the recipient of massages instead of giving them. My table is back in storage in Nevada. As for the writing, well, a hiking book about Tahoe doesn’t fall into the risqué category. Maybe I will branch out to other genres while I’m here.

Laura and Cecilia were deft at getting our respective swimsuits off in order to work on our back unencumbered. We both thought the therapists had excellent training and were as good as any we’ve had. Laura was also able to get most of the sand off of me so it didn’t turn into an exfoliating session.

A gentle breeze was blowing, and a canopy shaded each of us. While there isn’t true privacy, I never felt exposed. The massage area is set back from where most people are lounging, so the noise is minimal. All I remember hearing was the waves; no better music could have been playing. It was perfect; better than I had imagined not that long ago back at my desk in South Lake Tahoe.

(Note: Prices vary, with weekends more than $20. Cost will likely increase as tourist seasons gets into full swing. They take dollars and pesos.)

Cemeteries in Mexico more than a place to bury the dead

Cemeteries in Mexico more than a place to bury the dead

Flowers — not real — are at most gravesites in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Silence doesn’t mean a story isn’t being told. Walk. Observe. Read. Even listen.

A game covers the area where a child was buried. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Cemeteries are more than a place to bury the dead. They are the link to a town’s past.

There will always be the need for new places to bury the dead. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The cemetery in Todos Santos is a colorful display of tributes to those who have passed. While some might say it is a bit dilapidated, others will find the love.

Mexican cemeteries aren’t like most in the United States. The tributes are more grand – and that is not necessarily a sign of wealth. They are colorful, ornate in some cases. Some are like mini homes for these souls.

The cemetery in Todos Santos is colorful. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) approaches on Nov. 1, families will bring mementos, tokens, candles, even food for those have died.

Visiting a Mexican cemetery is worth doing no matter the time of year.

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