La Santa Cecilia vocalist Marisol Hernandez dazzles the crowd in January 2019 at Hotel California in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Music has the power to be a unifying force. It can bring people together around a common cause with lyrics that can be persuasive and provocative. Emotions can run the gamut no matter the genre.
Peter Buck, former R.E.M. guitarist, in 2012 launched the inaugural Todos Santos Music Festival. (Buck had bought a house in Todos Santos in 2008.) The goal was to bring his music industry friends as well as Mexican bands here for a few days, entertain thousands, and make a few dollars for nonprofits in town, most notably for the Palapa Society, an education organization. After Hurricane Odile swept through the area in 2014 concert proceeds that year helped residents rebuild.
All seemed to be going well until 2016. The last day of the festival coincided with people marching in the street to protest the Tres Santos project and rally for the fishermen.
Buck got on stage in the public square during the free concert and said, “What’s gone on in this town for the past two years is a fucking crime. This town is not owned by crooked politicians, sleazy developers or Cabo silver merchants. This is your town. Every one of you people has a say in this town. So everybody wake up! This is your town, take it over!” For some who were there, Buck’s tirade was personal, mean and uncalled for. It went beyond the politics of the day.
Peter Buck, right, and Joseph Arthur at the Todos Santos Inn in January 2019. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
In Mexico it is illegal for foreigners to be involved in local politics; Buck was persona non grata.
With Buck essentially being run out of the country, there was no music festival in 2017. In 2018 it was revived with the name Tropic of Cancer. Even though Buck and Joseph Arthur performed in 2019 just before the actual festival started, he is not affiliated with the current festival.
On Reddit on June 12, 2019, Buck wrote, “I’d like to state for the record that I don’t know Joe Firstman well, and that his Tropic of Cancer festival has nothing to do with me. The Todos Santos Music Festival was run and owned by myself and Chloe Buck. All money earned from ticket sales, t-shirts, auctions, etc, was given to the Palapa Society, a wonderful school educating local children. I did not turn the festival over to Joe Firstman and the implication that this festival has anything to do with me or our festival is incorrect. I hope people are not confused, which is why I am making this statement.”
No longer is there a big, free concert in the town’s plaza. Estimates are more than 4,000 people would attend it. Most concerts are at Hotel California in the middle of Todos Santos, with smaller venues hosting lesser known acts. Hotel California revamped its courtyard for the 2015 event, doubling that area. Lighting and sound equipment were upgraded as well.
This year’s Tropic of Cancer Concert Series is Jan. 15-19. The headliner for 2020 is Holy Spirits. More information is online.
Journalist Jason Motlagh speaks Dec. 27, 2019, in Todos Santos about immigration. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What could be worse than confronting the drug cartel, paying to be their mule and knowing that could get you killed, walking across the desert without enough water, and entering a country illegally? Going home. That could be worse than everything else.
People are fleeing Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, making their way to Mexico and hoping to end their journey in the United States. Life is so bad in their home country, death seems inevitable. Cartels make it impossible to live, extorting money to the point there is little left to pay for even the basics. To survive they leave.
Only death will end the migrants’ dreams. Since the 1990s, it is estimated that at least 9,000 people have died crossing the Sonoran Desert between Mexico and the United States. The desolate landscape likely has cut short many more lives; whose bones are now part of the desert and likely never to be recovered.
“Committed to reaching the U.S. at any cost – and fearful of the increasingly hostile U.S. authorities at the border – migrants who have given up on the asylum process are detouring into this remote, scarcely policed stretch of desert gambling their lives on a journey through hellfire,” writes Jason Motlagh in the October 2019 issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
Motlagh on Dec. 27 launched the fifth season of the Todos Santos speaker series. He shared the hourlong documentary “Deserted: Death and Dreams in the U.S. Borderlands” that he narrated and produced.
“It’s a very dark time for not only migrants, but Good Samaritans,” Motlagh told the crowd gathered at Teatro Marquez de Leon in Todos Santos.
The film and magazine article point out the risks the migrants take, as well as those trying to help them. People leave water in the desert. Others search for remains in hopes of bringing closure to families.
Immigration should not be that complex of an issue. People want a better life. As it was pointed out at the presentation, the United States’ intervention in Central American governments helped create the immigration crisis of today.
Motlagh, a journalist who has lived in Todos Santos for two years, is using his skills to shine a light on immigration issues. In December 2018, he spoke in Todos Santos about his experience in the Darién Gap and struggles of emigrants there.
Other events in the speaker series will be Jan. 10, Jan. 24, Feb. 14 and Feb. 21. El Tecolote Bookstore has details and sells tickets. Most cost 200 pesos.
“A community in which all children achieve their full potential for health and well-being.”
Since its inception in early 2016, the nonprofit Padrino Children’s Foundation based in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, has been committed to this vision. The need continues to grow, which also means the group needs more pesos.
Dec. 10 was the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year, ExploreSabor at el Mirador by Guaycura. Chef Luis Armando Mukul from Gastro Bar in San Jose del Cabo created a delightful four-course meal, which was complemented with plenty of wine.
Alejandra Peña Salguero, the primary physician associated with Padrino, that night talked about a handful of the youngsters who have been assisted by the foundation. (Peña works with six others on the Padrino clinical team, along with medical professionals throughout the region.) To see pictures of the children, to know their stories made it all so real. One 6-year-old was on the social services waiting list for six months. The professionals at Padrino weren’t going to wait for other groups to step in and began care right away, helping this child with immediate needs. A 16-year-old was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. After 11 months of treatment through Padrino the child was symptom-free. More success stories are on the group’s website.
The foundation was formed by Nancy Naigle and Nancy Serfass “to provide access to professional medical care for children in need and promote wellness for children in the community of Todos Santos and the surrounding region.”
Jim Cardillo, chairman of the board, said that the need for the foundation’s services is increasing and that the forecast is for it to continue in this direction. The sold-out event of more than 100 people learned that in 2017 165 children were served, that grew to 191 in 2018 and 545 in 2019. As of the night of the event Padrino was actively helping 150 children. They need doctor appointments, to be seen by specialists, prescriptions, therapy, lab tests and more.
According to the foundation’s website, “Since January 2017, we have provided 10,668 medical interventions to 707 local children.”
Interventions provided include:
5,470 – children with special needs
3,272 – financial aid for medical services
709 – teen outreach
695 – health clinics
429 – mental and social health
93 – family nutritional counseling.
The top five services are:
Special stimulation therapy
It’s not all a free ride; families are asked to contribute. One had to sell a vehicle to help with bills. While the treatments cost significantly less in Mexico than the United States, the income here is even less. The minimum wage in Mexico is just more than $5 a day – not an hour, a day. Padrino’s current fiscal year budget is $200,000. Donations are accepted year-round, with other events throughout the year.
Scanning the beach, it looks pristine for miles. Looking down, that’s another story.
While the beaches of Todos Santos are not full of litter, there is something to be picked up along each walk. This could probably be said of any sandy oasis in the world. People leave things behind – sometimes deliberately, other times unknowingly. Debris gets washed ashore during a storm or with the normal ebb and flow of tides, while other particles are brought to the beach during rain events from higher land points.
Styrofoam protrudes from the sand in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Wind covers and uncovers items, so walking the same stretch each day can reveal something new. AJ and I walk a similar section on a regular basis, but it would be near impossible to walk the exact path because the beach is so wide and long.
It used to be when I had an unused poop bag after walking, I would bring it the next time. Now I use it for trash.
I have Jill to thank for this. AJ and I regularly walk with her and canines Ruby and Pepper. She has been picking up trash for a handful of years; starting after a neighbor she used to walk with was doing so. Jill and I share a bag, thus cutting down on the number of plastic bags when we walk together.
Styrofoam is Jill’s biggest pet-peeve. She has a knack for spotting tiny pieces of this non-biodegradable material. I confuse them for shells. Some of it is from cups, other is the tiny beaded Styrofoam used in insulation. Recently she found a syringe on the beach. My most interesting item was a pair of rusty pliers next to a barbed wire fence; guessing someone left them behind after the job was done. Mostly pieces of plastic, bottle tops and cigarette butts fill our bags, along with the occasional beer can.
While we are using plastic bags, that isn’t completely terrible. This last summer Baja California Sur outlawed single-use plastic bags at stores. Produce bags are still available. Those often become my dog poop/beach litter bags. I also have biodegradable poop bags I brought from the United States. Jill is even better, bringing bags that rarely see a second use like what dried beans come in. This is where I need a lot of improvement – to reuse my quinoa, trail mix and chip bags. Those bags are also being used to clean up after AJ in the yard. I used to toss them in the garbage without giving them a second life.
Jill isn’t the only walker I know who picks up other people’s garbage. My mom has been doing this for as long as I can remember. She does so when walking her neighborhood, picking up what she can carry. I, too, have picked up trash on any street I’ve lived on.
It proves garbage is an issue everywhere; not just on a beach. “Leave no trace” is a mantra for hikers, as is “carry out what you pack in.” These sentiments should be applied in all circumstances when it comes to trash. One day it would be great if nothing ended up in anyone’s bag because the world was that clean. But statistics make that seem like a fantasy.
According to National Geographic, “There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”
Human trash is an environmental nightmare – for the land, ocean and animals consuming our crap. It’s bad enough for wildlife to eat human food, even worse to ingest our trash. Think of all the toxins getting into the soil/sand, waterways, animals’ bodies. Plenty of humans are then eating those contaminated animals. The ecosystem can’t survive if we keep trashing it.
Thanks and giving – two words that together should mean more than turkey.
While I have not eaten turkey for years, Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I’ve never gone hungry – all those wonderful sides, and then dessert. It is a feast whenever I’ve been with a group. Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite smells. It puts a smile on my face, all those aromas blending into one delicious memory.
Thanksgiving 2018 at neighbors in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
But it’s so much more than the food. Thanksgiving is an opportunity to take stock of what you are thankful for and to give to others. Giving can be in the form of sharing food, sharing friendship, sharing memories – giving thanks for the people who are part of your life in small and large ways. Neither the thanks nor the giving have to be in person. Both can be done afar.
For the past several years I have participated in a Friendsgiving instead of the usual family ensemble. While in Lake Tahoe, it had to do with weather, work and my Airbnb rental. In Todos Santos, it’s all about location – 1,500 miles from family. Sharla and Jay continue to open their Tahoe home to a group of friends. While I miss that time, I have found something similar south of the border.
Last year was special with my mom and oldest niece in Todos Santos. We went next door where an elegant table for more than 20 was set. It was cathartic for my mom, who only a couple weeks earlier had lost her Paradise home in the Camp Fire. These people, many whom I had not met and the rest who I barely knew, took us all in. I will forever be grateful.
It’s back to Connie and Andy’s that I go this year, though with a bit of sadness without mom in tow. She’ll be with one of my sisters, so I know it will be special for her. That celebration will also be a bit of a Friendsgiving at Pam’s.
I have plenty to be thankful for this year. Thank you all for being a part of my life and making it that much richer.
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.
Pledging allegiance to a flag seems so absurd. And yet I do it when the occasion arises.
I’ve thought about sitting, but was afraid people would think I was making a political statement that had more to do with who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than it being the fact that I don’t see the point in pledging allegiance to the flag.
Questioning the need to pledge allegiance to a flag. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This past summer I attended a few service club meetings as a guest speaker to talk about my Tahoe hiking book. Reciting the pledge of allegiance is a normal way to open these meetings. I did what I’ve done for a few years, and that is to be silent during the “under god” part because of my religious beliefs. The god part wasn’t even in the original pledge; that was added in 1954 at the direction of President Dwight Eisenhower.
The pledge originated in September 1892 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day. That’s a bit ironic considering so many places are getting rid of Columbus Day and instituting Indigenous People’s Day. It was first published in a magazine for schools to promote nationalism to youths. It was in 1942 that the federal government recognized the salute.
Not reciting the pledge, kneeling during the national anthem, a fist in the air – everyone has their own reason for their actions. It doesn’t make them any less patriotic than those who participate in a more conforming manner. It might make them more patriotic because they are taking a stand, so to speak, for their beliefs.
That is one of the beautiful things about the United States of America – we get to protest, we can burn the flag, we can disagree with politicians and the power structure, we aren’t going to be thrown in jail for our opinions.
To me pledging allegiance to the flag is tantamount to pledging allegiance to the government. I can’t do that – no matter the party. (I don’t belong to any political party.) I love the United States. I’m not about to give up my citizenship. I am still against pledging allegiance to a flag.
With this being Veterans Day, I’m sure some will see this missive as blasphemy. But the truth is this is when the flag should be revered; flown with pride for those who have served in our armed forces.
Our flag, as probably all are, is a symbol of many things. It is time for me to stop going through the motions and be true to my beliefs. I would gladly pledge allegiance to the Constitution, just not the flag. The two represent very different things to me. After all, when politicians take an oath of office it is to protect the U.S. Constitution — not the flag — and to uphold laws at lower levels of government. (I don’t understand swearing on a Bible, nor would I ever. Why not place one’s hand on a copy of the Constitution?)
If it’s so important to open a meeting with a pledge, let it be to the Constitution. Now that’s a movement I could get behind. Or better yet, completely abandon this silly, useless ritual of pledging to anything at the beginning of all meetings.
Cleo Reed sifts through the remains of her home in December 2018. (Image: Jann Reed)
It took 17 days to fully contain what became the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history. This was the Camp Fire that started Nov. 8, 2018. It decimated most of Paradise and forever changed the lives of tens of thousands of people.
My mother was one of those people. The home she was living in in Paradise was reduced to ash. She escaped with her life (more than 80 people died), her dog and a few mementos.
Paradise at the time had a population of about 27,000 people. The fire wiped out 14,000 residences.
Save-Mart grocery story survived the fire. It was freshened up and still has a Paradise Strong poster in the window. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
With the fires burning elsewhere in California this fall, along with the one-year anniversary of the Camp Fire just days away, it is an emotional time for so many.
I can’t begin to understand what it was like for my mom driving during the day with the sky so dark it was more like night. That’s not to say we haven’t talked, that I haven’t visited her. It’s just that with something like this one would have to walk in those moccasins, as she would say, to truly understand. It’s an understanding she wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Nearly a year after the fire plenty of properties are still a mess. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Mom had been evacuated from Paradise in years past, only to return. She, like so many others, assumed they would return again to an unscathed home.
Not this time.
She says she had time to grab more things. But did she really? Would the roads have been worse? Might something have happened?
Several charred vehicles remain on the side of roads nearly a year later. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
To say what people lose in a fire is just things is true. But they are that person’s things. And some things can’t be replaced. Shopping isn’t fun anymore for her. It’s having to replace yet something else she lost. It’s as simple as being with her a month ago and she didn’t have an ice cream scoop. We got her one. It’s as complex as things of my deceased dad’s being gone forever.
The performing arts center across the street from my mom’s residence survived intact. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Several ceramic and metal items were salvageable from my mom’s place. While it’s something, it’s not much. She has a couple “fire” pieces in her new kitchen. They are up high, almost out of sight. Yet, depending on how one looks at them, they are also prominent in the kitchen. It all depends on one’s perspective.
Fortunately, I have a sister in Chico and one in Redding – both who have been there to help with the minutia, both who I continue to thank for doing so much for our mom. Mom immediately stayed at my sister’s in Chico. Then when it was confirmed her place burned, it was time to think where to go next. She went to Redding, to a senior facility. At 85 she realized she was too young in mind and physical ability to be there, along with some other reasons. Now she is in Chico – close to her friends from Paradise, in a town where she has more connections.
Cleo Reed looks over some of the items recovered after the fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When I was visiting her in October we went to Paradise. This was my first time since the fire. I had seen plenty of pictures in the news and from family. I was prepared for the worst, but what I saw was resilience. That is the word that came to mind. It seems so appropriate that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company created a beer called Resilience as a way to make money for Paradise fire relief. Resilience is what I saw in the businesses that have reopened, in the people who are moving back, the new construction.
All the patients and staff made it out of the hospital, but the future of the facility is unknown. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This isn’t to say the town is back. It’s not. The water isn’t drinkable because many of the pipes were plastic and those toxins then got into the aquifer, tainting the wells. Other infrastructure needs are a concern. The hospital looks intact, but is cordoned off with a chain link fence. Its future still undetermined.
While there is still so much to be done to make Paradise whole again, the people are also in need of becoming whole again. Time will help. So will talking. So will understanding that a tragedy like this is not something someone just gets over. It will forever be with them; it has forever changed them. Their resilience, though, is something to admire and learn from.