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

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.

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, “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

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.”

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