Road ‘rules’ in Mexico make driving a group effort

It takes help from the front vehicle to pass on the highways in Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s amazing how even though each country has its own set of rules for the road, all one usually needs is a driver’s license—no test of any sort. The test, well, that can seem to come with each mile or kilometer marker.

With another trip along the 1,000-mile Baja peninsula behind me, I have a greater appreciation for some of the idiosyncrasies of driving in Mexico. There can still be plenty of head scratching in Mexico; mostly that comes with signage and lane markings. Still, I wish drivers in the U.S. would adopt a few of these “rules”.

Drivers in Mexico watch out for each other. Every time lights flashed at me from an oncoming vehicle it was a warning of some sort. It could have been traffic was stopped ahead, often it was animals on the pavement or side of the road—goats, cows, horses were the norm, sometimes a cop had someone pulled over. I always slowed down with that subtle flash of headlights, which was a good thing. I eventually got in the habit of flashing my lights as a warning.

People in orange vests sell food and beverages to travelers stopped by road construction. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It took a little time to get used to the left signal not meaning the vehicle would be turning left. When I got accustomed to that, I had to remember the left signal might actually mean the person was turning and not be cavalier about passing. The left signal is probably my favorite Mexico driving ritual. The vehicle in front uses this to indicate when it is safe to pass. So much of the highway system through Baja is one lane in each direction, with turnouts an extreme rarity. Passing lanes don’t exist, so this buddy system is imperative.

It’s not that one should blindly rely on another driver, but that left signal is an indication to floor it. (In the Jeep flooring it is necessary to pass, especially with a full load.) While there are plenty of no passing signs on the highway, people ignore them. It’s like they are decoration. The unwritten rule for passing in Mexico is do it when you want. I loved when truckers would signal because sitting up higher I presumed they had a bigger picture of what was ahead. This left signal alert was easy to learn to help drivers behind me.

When road construction required drivers to be stopped a while, enterprising individuals would come out with food and drinks. I never partook because on the long drives I always packed plenty of snacks, water and Coca-Cola Light. Such vendors would probably be illegal in the United States, or permits would be required, and lawsuits would ensue if someone got ill.

Mexico is more carefree, with a culture that seems to care about each other—even on the open road.

Residents worry about hazards of Todos Santos dump

The Todos Santos-Pescadero dump was not built to handle all the garbage created by gringos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“The systems worked until we showed up.”

That is the assessment of Susan Mittelstadt who for 20 years was an employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Montana. She was speaking about solid waste and in particular the landfill where trash from Todos Santos and Pescadero ends up. The “us” being gringos.

She said rural communities throughout the world, including in the United States, have similar issues with an influx of people overrunning infrastructure designed for a smaller population. Mittelstadt labeled it an “environmental justice issue,” noting how last year there were 8,000 landfill fires in the U.S.

She and others spoke earlier this year at the ACTS (Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos) meeting on infrastructure. This nonprofit, whose motto is “together we are strong”, wants to be the bridge between concerned residents, the government, private businesses and other groups that are identifying problems and working on solutions.

Vickie Butler, ACTS vice president, said, “We probably cannot depend on more money from La Paz.” That means solutions will have to come from the people.

While Roberto Tito Palacios, delegado for the region, was at the gathering that brought out more than 100 residents, he didn’t have much to say. Still, he supports the efforts by the gringo community to work with the government and locals to find solutions.

The landfill has been a growing concern of many people because of the fires that occur there. Natural combustion is the problem. Water won’t put them out; it takes dirt and moving the debris around. These fires are an environmental nightmare as the smoke drifts to the coast, settling over the communities of Pescadero and San Pedrito. People are breathing the toxic plume, it’s settling onto agricultural fields, and seeping into the groundwater.

The dump is on land owned by the Todos Santos Ejido, it is the government that operates it. The road leading to it is also government owned.

The Zero Waste Alliance was recently formed to bring together interested parties to work on short- and long-term goals to deal with solid waste management in the area. The Tractor Project is one of the success stories. Money has been raised to lease a tractor to work the dump, and pay someone to drive it. Since the tractor’s arrival, there have been no major fires, according to Caitlin Allen. She is part of the Alliance and a key player in the Tractor Project. Moving the waste helps prevent the waste from heating to the point it ignites.

It’s not a perfect solution, though. That worker and the firefighters who are called out to help extinguish the fires don’t have safety gear. They are inhaling the fumes and whatever else is percolating there. Money is needed to keep the tractor running – gas and maintenance, cash to pay the driver, and ideally funds to buy safety equipment. A Go Fund Me account has been set up by the alliance to raise money to keep the Tractor Project alive.

As the Alliance’s name states, zero waste is the group’s ultimate goal. This means nothing would ever end up in a landfill. Garbage would be recycled, reused or composted. The Environmental Ministry of Mexico in 2019 proposed a zero waste program for the entire country. It is being fought by the plastics industry.

“It’s important to get organics out of the waste stream,” Mittelstadt said. “Compostable plastic needs to stay out of the landfill like all plastic.”

Multiple people reported that 80 percent of what goes into the Todos Santos-Pescadero landfill is organic material. This is primarily landscape debris, not food waste. The Alliance’s first meeting about composting saw 30 people turn out. Allen said people in Pescadero are willing to donate 2 acres for community composting.

Martine Gonzalez, a gardener in Todos Santos who was not at the ACTS meeting, has organized eight of his clients to buy a mulcher at a cost of 3,000 pesos each. These residents use organic compounds on their respective properties, so the end product is organic as well. They, then, have access to that product for their gardens. The device is at one of his client’s homes. It’s a closed system to prevent pesticides from contaminating their product. It is an example of what can be done on a small-scale basis.

It is going to take education and the work of like-minded people to create the change needed to fund projects and improve the solid waste system that is being strained because it was not built to handle the number of expats who live in the Todos Santos-Pescadero area or the tourists who visit.

Baja shutting down because of coronavirus

Essential workers vs. it’s essential to work. How do you convince people not to work when there is no social safety net, when there is no savings account? Can construction crews be 6 feet apart and not share tools? Are agricultural workers being given instructions about how to distance themselves? Will gringos pay their workers even if they are told to stay home?

These are questions being asked everywhere as the coronavirus seeps into each corner of the world. Not every country is going to be able to come up with a $2.2 trillion plan to help its citizens. Mexico, like many others, is a Third World country without the resources of the United States.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says per capita Mexico has half as many hospital beds as the United States, and one-fourth the number of nurses. While Mexico was ground zero for the 2009 swine flu pandemic, it is not on the forefront of testing for the coronavirus.

As of March 29, Baja had 23 confirmed coronavirus cases. Baja is divided into two states. As of March 27, there were eight confirmed cases in Baja Sur – all in the Los Cabos area. They were either foreigners or someone who was in contact with a foreigner. This makes sense because cruise ships and planeloads of tourists kept coming even after other parts of the world were shutting down. As of March 30, all of Mexico had 993 cases, with opera legend Placido Domingo one of them. He is hospitalized in Acapulco.

A gas station worker in Mexico wears gloves and a mask while working near San Ignacio in March. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Baja Sur Gov. Carlos Mendoza Davis on March 27 addressed his constituents, saying, “The situation is already difficult and the days to come will be more difficult, which is why government and society must work together to maintain jobs and lessen the economic repercussions. It is important for everyone to remain home as much as possible, and to follow the recommendations of the sanitary authorities.”

It wasn’t until last week that the Mexican federal government told people to say home. Schools are closed. Beaches are off limits throughout Baja Sur. Still, some people are doing what they want like continuing to surf. The military is patrolling, having been to Cerritos, the popular swimming/surfing beach near Todos Santos. For these limited resources to be wasted on getting gringos to abide by laws in a country they are visitors in is sad and wasteful. Since I drove through La Paz on March 23 checkpoints have been set up for anyone entering the city. Randomly people are having their temperature checked.

My last full day in Todos Santos (March 22) a car started going around neighbors telling people in English and Spanish to shelter in place. This type of broadcast is a normal way for information to be disseminated in this town. Announcements in English, though, are extremely rare. ACTS (Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos) is the nonprofit helping fund the vehicle to make the announcements. It is also working to help provide for the local community.

“We are asking our members and supporters to consider a monetary donation to supply the food banks with essentials such as beans, rice, milk, eggs, etc. We want to make sure that anyone in need at least has enough to eat. While we still have money left to contribute to the food bank as well, we expect that the effects of this pandemic could go on for weeks if not months, and our current funds are not enough,” an email from ACTS dated March 29 said. Donations may be made online; note the donation is for the food bank.

Saint Judes Medical Center in Todos Santos is a private urgent care that gringos can afford to go to, but few Mexicans. They sent out a notice stating, “There will be a 200-peso charge per consultation until further notice, and until the coronavirus pandemic emergency gets controlled. The cost of masks, gloves, gowns, etc. has quadrupled.” (That’s about a $10 fee.)

The masses go to the Todos Santos Centro De Salud. The doctor in charge reported having almost no supplies for hygiene and protection for patients or staff.  The Padrino Children’s Foundation, which assists area youth with medical needs, is helping fill the gap. “There is currently a critical shortage at our Todos Santos Centro de Salud of very basic supplies to protect both patients and staff. Items needed include paper towels, soaps, Chloralex or chlorine bleach, antibacterial gel, and protective wear such as masks, gloves and gowns. If you have more than you need of these items, please take them to the office of Padrino Children’s Foundation in San Vicente from where we will safeguard and dispense them as needed.” To make a donation, go online and enter a note to designate the purpose.

Buses full of agriculture workers in Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I decided on a Friday that I would leave that next Monday (March 23) for South Lake Tahoe, California. While Todos Santos was home, it was temporary. I didn’t want to be a strain on a system that could become overburdened by non-residents. While I don’t trust the U.S. or Mexican governments for a variety of reasons, I still knew I would feel more comfortable in the United States. Plus, the U.S. State Department had issued a Level 4 travel advisory saying anyone who wasn’t permanently living abroad should return to the United States. I wanted to go while I could. While I was still in Baja restaurants were closing, others suddenly started offering delivery and to-go options. Events were being canceled. I stopped playing tennis, believing germs could be transmitted on that felt ball. We had already stopped shaking hands and high-fiving.

When I drove through the San Quentin area of northern Baja last week the workers were still seated in buses cramped together as they went to their jobs. This is a huge agricultural area, with so much of the produce being exported internationally and sent to other areas of Mexico. Workers were waiting to get their empty boxes to take to the field; lined up next to each other as though nothing in the world was different. No masks, no gloves, no social distancing.

Of all the gas stations I went to in Mexico in the three days of travel north only at the Pemex at the turn off for San Ignacio in Baja Sur did the attendant wear gloves and a face mask. I thought this smart for all the people he would be encountering, plus the exchange of cash/credit cards. The attendant at the agricultural inspection station in Guerrero Negro, the line between the two states of Baja, had full garb on for protection. The military guy next to him was in his regular uniform. Neither approached my vehicle, instead they waved me on and said safe travels. At the gas station just north of Guerrero Negro the attendant wanted me to pay in cash. I always pay for gas with credit card and intended to keep doing so. Plus, I didn’t have many pesos on me. He took my Visa. I totally understood, though, why he wanted cash. The peso to dollar value is plummeting, meaning the Mexicans are getting screwed. This is why I wasn’t surprised the hotel in San Quentin only took cash (I had been warned of this via email) even though the credit card device was out in the open. They also were using their own (pre-corona) exchange rate. Again, fine by me.

I was in Cabo San Lucas on March 20. Again, no social distancing. Along the marina some restaurant workers wore masks, while at the neighboring eatery no protection was obvious. Some tourists walked about, with boat tour operators hawking their services. At Costco the paper towel was gone, as was all but one package of toilet paper. Clorox wipes were being handed out as people walked in; some took them to wipe the cart, others passed on the offer. The food court was buzzing with people not social distancing. It was alarming watching a woman lean on the counter and into the window; not a great scene with her breathing into the food prep area even under normal circumstances.

At that time bars were supposed to be closed in the La Paz region, which included Todos Santos, but Los Cabos said they could stay open until 2am. That has since changed, according to directives from the governor.

The Baja Sur governor has said:

  • All health-related decisions will be made in the General Health Committee where all municipalities have representation.
  • If needed, the Secretary of Health will set up make-shift hospitals to treat pulmonary ailments outside of the established hospitals.
  • The crisis will be handled with remote medical assistance, meaning that those presenting flu-like symptoms must refrain from going to clinics. Instead, they need to call 227.26843 where cases will be evaluated by a physician and, if need be, medical personnel will make a house call to make a diagnosis and take samples for the COVID-19 test.
  • A social assistance program will be developed with the support of the municipal governments to cover the requirements for sustenance of those in greatest need.
  • Gyms, bars and casinos will close. Also, in order to avoid crowds, the access to public beaches will be restricted. No gatherings with more than 25 people will be allowed; and for this reason, religious organizations are asked to suspend their services. Restaurants are asked to observe the protocols regarding distance between tables and hygiene procedures for the food preparation and the establishments themselves. Also, the community is asked to favor take-out and delivery modalities when buying food.
  • The municipal transport directions will supervise that drivers and concession holders will sanitize their vehicles.
  • A concerted effort to provide water to all will be conducted; and the suspensions of water service, due to non-payment, will be lifted. It is important to point out that the community is asked to use water sparingly to avoid waste.

Wishing crowing roosters had an off button at night

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.

Array of choices to solve medical ailments in Mexico


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.

Jill collects nicle leaves. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tea Recipe

1 handful nicle leaves

½ handful quaba leaves

3 small mango leaves

1 avocado pit

1 cinnamon stick

2 cups water

Bring the above to a light boil and drink.

Collapsing infrastructure a concern in Todos Santos


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)

Meeting highlights:

Water

  • 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.

Landfill

  • 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.

Sewage

  • 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.”

Roads

  • 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.

Recycling

  • 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.
  • Glass blowing companies will take colored glass.

Living in the dark because city truck is out of gas

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.

It takes teamwork to get out of jury duty when living abroad

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.

Gray water becomes nourishment for plants in Todos Santos

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.

Paying cops cash when pulled over for speeding

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.

This speeding thing is getting expensive.

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