Mexicans proudly celebrate independence from Spain

Once war was declared, it took 11 years for Mexico to gain its independence from Spain.

The start of the revolution – Sept. 16 – is the day Mexico celebrates as its Independence Day. It was that day in 1810 that Miguel Hidalgo led the revolt, with a verbal declaration that launched the fighting. He and his followers wanted the Spaniards to no longer rule their country and for native Mexicans to have equality. Hildago did not live long enough to see his dream realized. He was murdered in 1811.

The Spanish had conquered Mexico in the 1500s, renaming it New Spain. For 300 years, the native people were slaves and second class citizens with lesser rights.

Changes in the hierarchy in Spain in 1820 helped lead to Mexicans taking back their country. The Treaty of Córdoba was signed in 1821. The first presidential election was two years later.

Today, Sept. 16 is a national holiday, with many towns hosting celebrations.

The green in the Mexican flag is said to represent the Mexican independence, the white religion, and red the blending of independence and religion.

It is tradition that on the eve of Independence Day the current president of Mexico does some sort of re-enact of the words that Hildago said when he rallied his believers. Hildago’s exact words have been lost, so it’s not a reading of his actual words, but instead his sentiment is carried forward. The irony is that it was the Spanish who brought Catholicism to Mexico. It is one of the many lasting remnants of Spanish rule.

Sometimes I forget what my name is

It’s rather embarrassing when I forget my name. It’s not that I entirely forget it. I sometimes hesitate. It’s like a long pause before I remember what to say.

Such are the hazards of going to a Spanish-speaking country and your name means what. Kae sounds like que.

When I was in South America in the 1990s I was asked in Spanish what my name is. I said Kae. They heard, Que? It was like an episode of Who’s on First. They asked, I answered – several times. Then I finally figured out what was going on and responded Kathryn. They must have thought I was pretty stupid to not know my name.

This episode led me to the decision to start off with going by Kathryn when I went to live in Mexico a year ago. I wanted one name for everyone to use no matter their primary language. This was fine, all was going well. People did ask if I go by anything shorter, like Kathy or Kate, and I explained the issue with being called Kae. We laughed. Kathryn it is.

I told friends back in Tahoe about this and they started calling me Que in emails. It got to where I was signing my name Que to certain people.

I’m Kathryn in Mexico and Kae in the United States. The trouble comes when the two overlap. When friends and family visited me in Todos Santos I would remind them to refer to me as Kathryn because most people didn’t now the Kae/que story and would have no idea who Kae was. The confusion has followed me north. I have a friend from Todos Santos who lives in Reno. She calls me Kathryn. When we were putting our name in at a restaurant I paused not knowing what name to use; she spoke up. I felt silly.

This whole author thing has been a bit confusing too as to whether I should be Kathryn or Kae. It’s Kathryn on the book, so I want people to remember that. When it comes to emailing people I’ve gone back and forth with Kae and Kathryn. I realize I’m the one confusing the situation. I’m starting to introduce myself as Kathryn at events. That’s what will be on future books. I was slow to realize my name is a business – or I want it to be.

It’s not that I haven’t used Kathryn before. It’s usually been in a professional setting – as a byline as a journalist, and now as an author. As a journalist I would always know if someone didn’t really know me because they would call me Kathryn instead of Kae.

This isn’t the first time I’ve changed my name, so to speak. When I was little I could not pronounce Kathryn and started calling myself KK. It stuck. I was known as KK all through high school; with some people still calling me that. The first day of school was horrible when the teacher would say Kathryn Reed. People always laughed. Kids are cruel. I wasn’t a Kathryn then unless I was in trouble at home. I explained to the teacher that I go by KK – double K, no periods.

As college approached, it seemed like KK needed to stay with childhood. That’s how Kae came to be. Lose a K and spell it in an nontraditional way. It worked.

All of this makes me think I should just go by Reed and lose all the first name confusion.


South Dakota making bank off ex-Pats in Mexico  

Driving around Baja California, Mexico, it would seem like most of the visitors are from South Dakota based on license plates.

Don’t be fooled; those aren’t visitors. People with South Dakota plates are most likely permanent residents of Mexico, aka ex-pats. They have probably never set foot in South Dakota.

South Dakota license plates are common in Baja California. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

South Dakota doesn’t care where a person lives for a vehicle to be registered with the state. It doesn’t have regular smog checks like California does, which is part of that state’s registration process. This is a huge reason why so many from the Golden State have the Dakota plate.

The California DMV website lists 34 counties requiring smog inspections every other year. Another six, including El Dorado and Placer, require smog certificates within certain ZIP codes. The 96150 code, which includes South Lake Tahoe, requires it when the vehicle changes owners. The remaining 18 California counties, including Alpine and Amador, don’t require a smog test — ever.

This is how I have been able to keep my California car registration up-to-date and have the vehicle in Mexico – I don’t need a smog check.

Another reason South Dakota plates work for so many is people can keep their home state driver’s license. Many states require the license and registration to match.

My friend Joyce who lives full time in Cabo San Lucas, said, “South Dakota does not require insurance in order to receive license plates. Therefore, we get insurance in Mexico, but carry U.S. plates. And remember, U.S. insurance is no good in Mexico.”

I carry Mexico and California insurance so I am covered driving back and forth.

It’s not just Baja folks doing this South Dakota plate thing; that just happens to be what I’m familiar with. More than 58,000 vehicles are registered in South Dakota to people who don’t live there, according to the state’s Department of Revenue and Regulation. There is not a breakdown on where those people are residing. Analysis by the Rapid City Journal estimates the state is bringing in about $7 million a year from these out-of-state registrants.

Government adds more protections for workers in Mexico

While the minimum wage in Mexico is about $5 a day (not per hour), employees have a tremendous amount of protection.

Of course, the person needs to know her rights and exercise them. When she does, she tends to prevail.

Workers in Mexico continue to have more rights provided by the government. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The document between employer and employee ending the work relationship is called a finiquito. It translates to mean settlement.

Nowadays a finiquito is needed to show at closing when selling a home. This proves that a gardener, housekeeper and the like have been paid what they are owed by the seller of the property.

This final payment takes into consideration vacation, sick and vacation time that most likely was never paid during the time of employment. Most of these domestic workers receive an hourly cash payment without a contract ever being signed.

When someone has worked for years, that final dollar amount can be substantial. And for some gringos (since they are usually the ones doing the hiring), that “bill” can come as a surprise.

A finiquito can even be demanded by a family member of a worker who died, even if the death wasn’t on the job.

According to iclg.com, “Only when the employer rescinds the employment due to the cause of termination stated by the (Mexican Federal Labor Law), it is not obligated to pay the severance. Otherwise, if the employer terminates the labor relationship without reasons for termination, the severance payment will have to be paid. Severance consists of the payment of three months’ integrated salary, plus 20 days of integrated salary per year of service (integrated service is calculated by adding to the salary all benefits and payments earned by the employee), as well as seniority premium.”

Termination for cause is up to the employer to prove.

In May, Mexico’s Congress created more stringent rules to protect domestic workers.

“Hiring a domestic employee will hold the same legal obligations as if you owned a business. The employer will now be required to formalize the employment with a contract, and offer the same rights as any employee in Mexico including a salary based on at least minimum wage, be registered for social security and healthcare, receive holiday bonuses, days off and maternity leave,” according to the MexLaw law firm’s website.

This change has some people in Mexico opting to hire people who work for a company. This way there will never be a finiquito between homeowner and worker because it is up to the business to pay the worker any and all benefits.

It takes some work to keep gravel looking pretty

AJ gives her approval to the gravel at her Todos Santos home. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I understand a manicured lawn. But gravel? Really?

Yep, it’s a thing. It’s not just a Mexico thing. It’s a thing wherever someone has gravel. It just so happens Mexico is the first place I’ve had gravel.

Most driveways and parking areas in Todos Santos are gravel. It goes right to the front steps at my sister’s place. More forms a walkway to the steps at the downstairs porch. It then stretches to where the back yard starts.

It is amazing how raking really does make the whole front look better.

Initially I would swear to myself when I raked. The rake is so frigging heavy it does double duty as my weightlifting for the day.

Then I learned there were rakes just for gravel. This is what my sister has. A normal garden rake that one uses for pine needles or on a lawn is going to be destroyed by gravel. A gravel rake has thick metal for its teeth. They don’t bend.

Until moving to Todos Santos I had never thought about raking gravel. Walking and driving on it spreads the rocks to places in an uneven manner. Drag a suitcase across it, well, that leaves an unwanted pattern. Rain really ruins the look of the yard, um, gravel. When it rains here it’s almost always a deluge that carries the rock downhill.

After it rains the weeds pop up, too. No fabric or plastic was laid down for weed prevention. Not sure that is ever done here.

I also use the shovel to carry some of the rock to higher ground. It’s a process.

Bare areas in the gravel now bother me. It’s an eyesore like a brown spot in grass.

I also now find something therapeutic about this gravel raking. I don’t swear anymore. I even take pride in my well-manicured gravel.

Concrete floors demand shoes at all times

Barefoot or socks, that’s been my usual preference for walking around the house. That was until there was only concrete beneath me.

I haven’t been in a house yet in Todos Santos that doesn’t have concrete floors. It’s just how they build them. People have area rugs, but they don’t cover everything. Plus, the outside is usually concrete, too – not wood or a synthetic that is common in the United States.

Thin flip flops, front, are OK for the beach and short walks; the thicker ones are like house slippers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My feet were screaming at me almost immediately. Naively I thought I would get used to the surface. I also knew better than to go barefoot, especially with a self-diagnosed case of plantar fasciitis. Neither heel was happy. Playing tennis exacerbated the pain. Massage, BioFreeze, ice, hot water – they all helped. Still, it was so bad at times that I couldn’t walk correctly – especially when I first got out of bed. The feet still need tending to, but it’s nothing like when I first moved to Todos Santos.

“The lack of shock absorbency in concrete flooring affects feet first, causing the soles and heels to ache. Feet take the brunt of the hard impact, as the muscles in the feet absorb the impact to protect the legs, back and rest of the body. Muscles can become sore, and over time, bones may even weaken as a result, leading to susceptibility to fracture,” according to Healthfully.com.

I was slow to admit I needed to have shoes on whenever I walked. I learned to keep flip flops by the bed as though they were slippers.

I moved to Todos Santos with thicker flip flops than I had ever had. I thought they were pretty cushy. It didn’t take long to realize they weren’t going to be enough. That’s when I asked my sister, Pam, about the ones she had that I had tried last summer. At the time I thought they were too thick. I ordered a pair of those Oofos and had Penny bring them last October. I’m rarely not in them. They are slipper, sandal, beachwear, eveningwear — at least in Baja.

Mexico is hardly alone in having hard surfaces to walk on. Slate isn’t going to be any more forgiving. Wood and linoleum are softer. Almost every place I lived in the United States had carpet. I didn’t know I was spoiled until I got to Mexico. Or maybe I’m just wimpy.

Danger lurks when driving at night in Mexico

“Don’t drive at night.” It would be hard to find someone who would argue differently when it comes to Mexico.

The danger isn’t what you think. It’s not bad guys or even getting stuck in the middle of nowhere – though those can be real concerns just as they are anywhere.

Goats in Mexico don’t care if vehicles are whizzing by. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What drivers have a hard time avoiding is animals. Sure, there are deer and other wildlife on U.S. roadways that can severely damage a vehicle or worse, but they seem to almost be in designated areas. The threat in the U.S. isn’t for a 1,000-mile stretch like it is in Baja. Cows are the biggest problem in Baja. Goats, too, are a hindrance. A year ago friends struck a horse in Baja California Sur. It wasn’t even dark.

Driving to Cabo San Lucas from Todos Santos earlier this year I had to abruptly go from 65 mph to zero. Goats. A whole tribe was crossing the road, stopping traffic in both directions.

When I drove back to the U.S. this summer it was goats that had me stopping in the middle of the highway. I slowed down for the cows that sauntered along the edge of the road. I wanted to be ready in case they thought there was something more interesting on the other side of the road.

A big difference between hitting wildlife and livestock is that someone owns the latter. That animal suddenly has a value. It’s going to take insurance companies, maybe lawyers, to figure out who is at fault. The driver for hitting the animal? The owner for letting it roam? Another reason to keep my Mexico car insurance up-to-date.

Having experienced animals on the road in the daylight in Mexico and knowing it meant a quick stop, it’s easy to imagine how at night it could have ended in a collision. I’m going to keep driving when the sun is up and avoid nighttime travel.

Cabo glass factory produces functional art

The Glass Factory showroom dazzles with an array of products. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Artistry is found in so much of the merchandise available for purchase in Mexico. I want to drink from it.

I was hoping to find wine glasses at The Glass Factory in Cabo San Lucas so I could bring them with me to California this summer. Part of the logic was if/when I return permanently, the glasses would have made it without being packed in a full Jeep. I’m sure I’m better off without having spent money on something that was just going to end up in storage. Plus, if I end up in Baja more long term, it would mean driving them back across the border.

Giving new meaning to fish head. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even though I didn’t find anything to buy for the kitchen last month, I’m planning to go back. (I did buy a pair of fun glass earrings shaped like flip flops.) It’s possible to have custom-made glasses, but that’s not what I want. I’ll know what I want when I see it. Artisans hand blow an array of glass products six days a week. I was there with friend Joyce, who lives in Cabo, on a Sunday when the blowing wasn’t taking place.

Pitchers come in a variety of colors. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

That didn’t matter. The showroom is incredible.

The creativity in design and color is magical. It’s so much more than glasses (think water, wine, martini, margarita, and more) of all sizes and varieties. Large bowls, vases and pitchers were stunning. If only I had a kitchen, let alone a whole house of my own, to display and use these wonders. So much of what was available looked like art even though everything seemed to have a functional component.

When Sebastian Romo opened the business in 1990 it was Baja’s only hand-blown glass factory. The website says, “Today the foundry employs over 30 artisans who produce close to 500 one-of-a-kind pieces daily. Using recycled, lead-free glass, the maestros create custom orders for hotels, restaurants and retail shops as well as original pieces for groups and individual buyers.”

Determined to speak Spanish in complete sentences

Lizeth goes over verb conjugations at Hablando Mexicano. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

At some point I would like to delete Google Translate from my phone and to have it not be a permanent open window on my computer. It is a crutch I need to ditch.

While my Spanish has improved in the last year, it’s still pathetic. It’s completely my fault. I’ve been lazy. However, I am hoping to return to Baja California Sur with a better understanding of the language.

Just before I made the trek back to California I took a weeklong immersion class. It was two hours a day for five days, followed by a cooking class. Ivonne, who opened the school Hablando Mexicano in Todos Santo five years ago, is extremely patient, as are her instructors. Most days I was with Lizeth and Alejandra. Even though Lizeth doesn’t speak English and Alejandra knows very little, I learned a ton.

Hablando Mexicano offers a variety of Spanish language classes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I was forced to pay attention with them speaking Spanish. Fortunately, they did so slowly. One of my problems is understanding what is being said because people speak so fast. Ivonne suggested I watch TV with the actors speaking Spanish and subtitles in Spanish to be hearing and seeing the language at the same time; explaining that I will pick up words and before long know the whole sentence. It’s still on the to-do list.

My annunciation of the language is atrocious. That is why listening to more of it would help me with speaking it. I think my friend Rhoda is awesome with the language and plan to pick her brain to help me. I’m hoping this will build confidence to want to try to converse with people in Baja without the aid of Google Translate.

Ivonne teaches the tricks to cook the perfect chile relleno. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I have flashcards to help expand my vocabulary and understand verb conjugations. Plus, there are the handouts from class. I opted not to buy the book for my short time at the school. Part of this was being cheap, part was knowing I have books at my place in Todos Santos that are collecting dust.

I can see returning to Hablando Mexicano for more classes – either private or group. I “won” the week of classes at Gastrovino, a food and wine event in Todos Santos in the spring. That was great fun, with the silent auction benefiting the wonderful Padrino Children’s Foundation. The generosity of businesses like Hablando Mexicano are what make fundraisers successful.

If I don’t learn the language, it won’t be the fault of Hablando Mexicano.

Gas station workers count on tips for washing windows

Attendants at gas stations in Mexico expect a tip for washing windows. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tipping at a gas station in Mexico is one of those things that now seems normal.

Tips are for services beyond filling up the gas tank. This includes washing windows, checking fluids and putting air in the tires. Like most tips, it’s not mandatory, but expected. I tip 20 pesos, about $1, for window washing.

I don’t have much conversation with the men, though there are a few women, who work at the stations. I know to say lleno con magna – essentially, fill it up with regular. I owe that Spanish lesson to one of the guys at the station on the way to La Paz. I miss the days of a full service gas station. That’s one of the nice things about driving in Oregon, you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas. It’s been self-serve for so long in California and Nevada that it was hard to get used to staying seated in Mexico.

There was one station in Las Barriles on the East Cape that had the cashier in a little building that would be common in the United States and where drivers pumped their own gas. That, though, is the only time I have found a non-full service station. I don’t know what would happen if I started to pump my gas where there are attendants. In fact, each island has an attendant. They even wave people to their area when it’s occupied with a vehicle. I’m sure they are doing so because of the potential tip.

In Spanish I can also say if I’m paying by credit card or with cash. Gas is measured in liters here. Price-wise it’s a little more than $4 a gallon.

Most of the stations are Pemex, which is state owned. However, a law that was passed a few years ago allows outside companies to operate in Mexico. Near the California border Arco and Chevron have stations. Other brands have popped up in Baja Californnia Sur. For now, I’m sticking with Pemex or something I’m familiar with. This is despite what I’ve heard about scams going on at Pemex with the wrong change being given or too much charged on the credit card.

One thing to pay attention to in Mexico is that the numbers on the tank start at zero. Most attendants make sure you see this before they start pumping. It doesn’t mean the weights/measures are calibrated correctly. Even if I spoke fluent Spanish I’m not sure how I would win an argument with an attendant if the gauge said one thing when I know a half tank should cost something else. Hoping that issue never arises.

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