When Broadway went dark, the lights came on at Teatro Pescadero.
Dillon Porter calls it “theater in the intimate, but at a safe distance.”
When he left New York City in March it had nothing to do with escaping. It was a planned trip to Baja California Sur to spend time with his parents and celebrate his birthday. Now he has no date to return to the United States.
The 37-year-old is the director and builder of Teatro Pescadero. The first production—Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”—opened in early November and will go into at least the first part of January. He and Mehry Eslaminia are the two actors. As the music director, she created original songs for the production.
“We wanted to add music. She has an incredible voice, and she is a much better guitar player than myself,” Porter said. “I think music is very close to poetry, which lends itself to dance. I like to bring some pedestrian movement into every show I make.”
They met on his last night in New York, stayed in touch, and then decided to collaborate on this project. It’s quite a change for Eslaminia as well. Rehearsals had just started for “1776”—what was to be her Broadway debut.
Porter is used to directing large productions with more than 20 people, multiple costume changes, and an audience of more than 1,000 people. Those days are gone for everyone. Though they will return, for now he is content to bring people live performances on a smaller scale.
“When careers get put on hold it’s a large opportunity for the world to slow down and figure out what is important,” Porter said.
He writes, sings, acts, directs, is a filmmaker, a teacher, and an art lover. “If I am going to spend time memorizing all these words, they better be worth it,” he said, adding that the words he recites must have meaning to him.
While New York is his permanent address, Baja is in his blood. He went to kindergarten in San Jose del Cabo, and has spent at least three weeks a year in Baja every year. His parents, who hail from Oregon, have had property in the Pescadero-San Pedrito area for years. Last year they divvied up part of the property to their two children. It is on this land that Porter has created the theater.
He built the dome out of palo de arco. Bitter melon has been woven into the wood to make it look a bit like a bird’s nest. The theater in 24 feet in diameter and about 460 square feet, so it easily accommodates social distancing with an audience of six to 10. In “normal” times it could fit 30 people. For this performance, it’s possible multiple groups will be in the theater; all spaced apart from the other groups. This is with everyone’s consent.
Porter is in rehearsals with friends on a musical centered on Bob Dylan. It will be staged outdoors, with people sitting on hay bales. Eight years ago he did a performance about Walt Whitman in the nearby mountains that people have asked him to resurrect.
With the proceeds from this first show he hopes to build more domes on the property of different sizes to allow for others to be able express their artistic selves. Porter envisions (post-COVID) partnering with a university to host a festival of some sort. He’s a huge fan of Burning Man, the annual creative-artistic-cultural gathering in the Nevada desert. He wants it to feel like that without the electronic music; to have a focus on permaculture, zero waste, where writing workshops, poetry slams, and art installations take place, along with other creative forces coming together.
- For tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the date you would like to attend and the number of people in your group.
- Cost: 500 pesos per person.
- Performances are from 7:45-9 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday.
- Masks are optional.
“Don’t drink the tap water” has been the mantra in Mexico for years. Water filtration companies have a much different message. They want people in private homes, at restaurants and hotels to be able turn the faucet on and imbibe without regret.
Barbara Manfrediz has been operating Water Ways Baja in Todos Santos for nearly a decade. In that time, she has installed more than 300 filtration systems in Todos Santos, La Paz, Los Cabos and La Ventana.
“I call them cartridges because they do so much more than filter out contaminants,” Manfrediz said of her product. “Each cartridge is in a specific order and does a different job.”
While the transplant from the United States worked in the legal profession prior to moving to Baja Sur, her education is in science. What led Manfrediz to the world of water was realizing she was enjoying all the wonderful local food, but the water was an issue. She made it her mission to fix the problem. She worked for another company prior to going out on her own.
Before opening Water Ways Baja, she did research, which led her to Charles F. “Chubb” Michaud. He is a world-renowned authority on water quality. He is her mentor and No. 1 consultant.
“I found out the only ethical way to treat water was to test it first,” Manfrediz said. This meant collecting water from all the public sources she would be working with. “We tested for over 100 contaminants. Based on the water tests we have specified technology to take care of that water.”
While she follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, sometimes she is even more strict. In La Ventana, on the East Cape, the water has high concentrations of arsenic. Manfrediz uses a complex system to ensure what comes out of the tap has no measurable amount of arsenic. The EPA allows some.
“I believe the reason our water tastes so good is because of the minerals. In the U.S. they remove the minerals,” Manfrediz said.
She admits her business model would not work in the United States because she refuses to conform to a one-size fits all approach. Each customer of Water Ways Baja has a specifically designed system based on their town and where they are on that city’s water line.
It’s a small operation with Manfrediz, her husband as marketing guru (a new website was just launched), a plumber, technician, and officer manager. Customer service, she said, is one of their strong points.
Water purification systems start at $500 and go into the thousands of dollars depending on the size of the property. Maintenance is required once a year, with inspection of the cartridges by the company. It can cost about $150 a year for replacement cartridges for an average home in Todos Santos.
What the customer gets is the knowledge that they can drink from every tap connected to the system. No need to schlep into town to fill a 5-gallon jug. No need to worry about cooking with “good” or “bad” water. It’s all good. Plus, the lime scale build-up in the shower is much less with this “good” water. For restaurants it means not having to serve bottled water and for hotel guests to be able to turn on the tap without worry.
For those needing to refill a personal water bottle, A Granel in Todos Santos and Mini Super Munchies in Pescadero have stations set up by Water Ways Baja.
The company donated the water system to the Palapa Learning Center in Todos Santos, which includes free maintenance forever.
Water Ways Baja is a member of the Water Quality Association, the International Water Association, and the American Water Works Association. With technology evolving and water itself always changing, Manfrediz said it’s important to stay at the forefront to know how best to serve current and future customers.
A mound of cardboard nearly falls over the 6-foot fence. It stretches about 75 feet into the recycling center and is several feet wide. It’s been sitting there for about three months.
Punto Verde recycling center on the southern edge of Todos Santos had been a dream of Alex Miro’s for years. In 2014, he secured the land and that summer the fundraising began to get necessary supplies to make the enter functional.
Today the center takes aluminum, tin, paper/cardboard, plastic, clear glass and some electronics. That means all wine bottles end up in the landfill, along with most beer bottles. Not all plastic is accepted, though tennis ball containers are OK.
The material is sorted into what looks like extremely oversized white tote bags. Eventually they will be hauled an hour away to La Paz.
According to the nonprofit’s website, “On average, Punto Verde makes about $100 per month from the sale of recyclables. Though, the trips to La Paz generally cost more than this. Punto Verde continues to follow its mission to reduce the environmental negative impact by providing an integral waste management.”
The pandemic has been brutal to the recycling industry. Many who bought recycled material stopped doing so and then the prices kept falling. Now the goods are piling up at collection centers here and elsewhere. With the demand for oil plummeting, it has meant the cost to make new plastic is cheaper today than to use recycled plastic. Fossil fuels are necessary for the creation of most plastics.
In Mexico, of the more than 100,000 tons of trash generated every day only 10 percent is recycled, according to the Mexico Daily News. In Todos Santos, people make a donation to the center for taking their reusable garbage. The amount is up to the individual, but should be calculated on the size of the load. A 50 peso donation is common; which is about $2.50.
Punto Verde has a Go Fund Me campaign going on to keep it in business. The goal is to be self-sustaining.
In the time the recycling center has been open, this is what been kept out of the landfill:
- 7 tons of paper and cardboard
- 2 tons of plastic
- 620 tons of motherboards, processors, etc.
- 9 tons of different kind of metal.
- Hours: Thursday and Friday from 9am-2pm.
- Directions: Head south out of Todos Santos. Turn left on Huerto. Turn into the Romex parking lot, drive through and the center is to the left.
- Email: email@example.com.
I nearly gagged. I definitely coughed. And kept coughing even after the unwanted object was removed from my mouth.
This was a new take on being tested for COVID-19. When the medical person said “open wide” I’m sure my eyes got big. There was no doubt what he said; it was in English. This procedure was new to me.
Having had four COVID tests in the United States, this was my first in Mexico. Not only was one nostril swabbed in Todos Santos, so was my throat. Neither is a pleasant sensation, but neither is painful either.
Another big difference was having to pay for the one south of the border. It cost 4,800 pesos, or $240.77. This was at St. Jude’s, a private medical center. I’m lucky, I have the means to pay this. Most people in Mexico don’t. Remember, the minimum wage here is about $6 a day; not an hour, a day.
Reportedly tests are free through Mexico’s public health system. Those in Todos Santos must go to La Paz for a test. The gas to get there can be a financial burden; and that’s assuming they have transportation. Medical care might mean going to Los Cabos. Another potential hardship.
All of the COVID tests I had in South Lake Tahoe were free, picked up by the state of California or my health insurance. The first one I got was mostly out of curiosity—about the test, whether I had it, not because of any symptoms or risky behavior. The second was after I had worked as a tennis coach for a week where none of the kids had to wear a mask and not all of the adults were perfect about it. The third was mandated by the medical facility where I got my colonoscopy. The last one was after the election because I had worked it for two days, indoors, seeing a lot of strangers.
The worst of those four was the one by Barton Health because I was sitting down. I think if they had people stand next to their vehicle it would be a better experience. It’s about the angle of getting that swab way into the nasal cavity.
As for Mexico, well, the cases keep going up, just like in the United States and so many other countries.
Oh, all of my tests have been negative. I’m going to keep wearing my masks (I have several), using hand sanitizer (I keep a bottle in the Jeep), staying several feet away from most everybody, and trying to only be around people who are doing the same thing.
My mechanic sent me a picture of the old engine and new one. I didn’t know which was which. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be able to tell. Maybe the point was he telling me visually that the new one had arrived and the old one was out.
That is an example of how little I know about vehicles and how I chose to do business in Mexico. I still know very little even after dealing with a broken down Jeep for more than a week. My lessons were in patience and trust.
I pulled into Mulegé on Nov. 11 with the intent of leaving the next morning for Todos Santos, my final destination. It would be about an eight-hour drive. I was so, so close and yet what seemed like a world away.
All packed up, I was ready to leave that Thursday. The Jeep said not so fast. A loud clunking sound had me turn the key off in quick order. I found the landlord of the house I was renting. Not good, he said. He had one of his young Mexican workers take a listen and look under the hood. No bueno.
Cliff, the guy renting to me, knew of two good mechanics. One came out with another guy. Nothing they could do; electrical issues were their specialty. He recommended another guy, but he could not come out until Saturday.
Clearly, I was not leaving town for at least a couple days. With the days short and as a believer in not driving at night in Mexico, I needed to stay more nights. AJ and I moved to a larger house which was up a flight of stairs. At 17, I carried her up them multiple times a day; we spent time walking along the river, and slowly we got to know the neighbors. With time to kill, I walked into town and decided to check out the local brewery. Good decision for multiple reasons.
The owner and I started talking. I shared my reason for being in town. He said one of his worker’s husband’s was a mechanic. I gave her my info and hubby was able to come out the next day. By then the car barely made any noise. It was like a whimper, a last breath. Unbeknownst to me, that is essentially what I was hearing.
Salvador made a quick diagnosis that it must be the head gasket. I don’t know if he and the guy who was with him cared when I was telling them about the clunking noise. When I told Cliff what Salvador said, he shook his head and said he thought it was something bigger, even more serious.
What to do?
I unpacked the Jeep, which was nearly full to the roof, along with the rack on the back that had more stuff as well as my bike secured to the top of it. Cliff provided me ample space in his bodega that his workers used. When I finished my job Salvador came back to haul the Jeepy away.
No tow truck like in the United States. A tow strap was secured to the underbelly of the Jeep and to the back of the tow vehicle. Salvador was in the Jeep to be able to brake and turn. It was better to only watch her go a couple hundred feet and not up the dirt hill in the housing complex, or along the highway to get to the shop.
I had no receipt for the vehicle. No proof he had it. I didn’t even know where Salvador’s shop was located.
I opened a bottle of wine that night; there was an advantage to unloading the Jeep—access to my booze. I paced myself. I needed to be able to function and make sound decisions.
Salvador was sure it was the head gasket and fuel pump. He could get the former in Santa Rosalia, the neighboring town, but would have to wait for the latter to be delivered. It was supposed to arrive that Monday. It didn’t, but I was not informed until late in the day. It had been a federal holiday, thus the reason for not arriving. I had paid him 3,600 pesos ($176.42) for parts. It’s customary in Mexico to pay for parts before the work is done.
Since I was on foot in a small town I eventually found my Jeep without actually looking for her. She’s been so good to me. It will be 19 years in February that I bought her. In that time, I have put nearly 200,000 miles on her. This was our third trip to Baja. We have been all over California and Nevada, and parts of Oregon. She’s a great vehicle in snow as well as the perfect wheels for the beach/desert. She’s even wonderful in cities, especially for parallel parking.
Salvador, a thirtysomething-year-old with a wife and 11-year-old son, has spent most of his life in Mulegé. He started working on cars as a kid. He’s done a few other jobs, but has always come back to this for his profession. He’s earnest, proud and diligent. His smile was almost able to melt away my worries.
My patience, though, was wearing thin. I wanted to be optimistic. I wanted to have confidence in him even though Cliff, my landlord, had never heard of Salvador and had doubts. Brian, the brewery owner, said to have faith, that Salvador knew what he was doing.
One morning, Cliff drove me over to the work site. The Jeep started, but it wasn’t going to go far. I could not tell that by listening, but the guys knew it. I had to trust it wasn’t a good sound. We left the Jeep and I told Salvador to keep trying.
Now it was a week since Salvador first saw the Jeep. He was telling me I needed a new engine. I said go for it. This meant the head gasket I paid for was a waste of money. I don’t know about the oil pump, maybe that could still be used. Remember, I’m mechanically challenged.
The engine was going to be 15,000 pesos, or about $742. I knew this was outrageously cheap compared to what I would pay in the States. What I didn’t know was if this engine from a vehicle that was in a crash had been tested in any way to know how good it was. I still don’t know. And I don’t know how many miles are on it. I just know the Jeep purrs like it hasn’t in a very long time.
When Salvador had everything apart he discovered I also needed a new clutch. Not surprising considering the original one was in it. That was another nearly $200.
Not only are parts incredibly cheap, but labor is ridiculously little in Mexico, too. Salvador wanted 7,000 pesos, or about $350—total. I gave him an extra $100. He had spent so many hours on the Jeep; even working a Sunday, which is not the norm. But he also knew he misdiagnosed the problem and that I had spent money on parts that weren’t necessary. I’d like to think we were both fair with each other.
Another problem was the bank in Mulegé only allows foreigners to take out 7,000 pesos twice a month. I didn’t have enough to pay him and still have a stash on hand in case something happened along the last leg of the trip. (A credit card was out of the question because his business was too small for that to be an option. But he had told me I would be able to pay by credit card. He thought I could transfer money to a friend’s credit card.) Cliff, the rental owner, ended up paying Salvador in a combination of dollars and pesos; the latter he had borrowed from a friend. I paid Cliff in dollars by transferring money via PayPal.
Before making the final payment Salvador had asked for 4,000 pesos. I’m not sure if he was hedging his bet in case this didn’t all work out. Maybe he needed money to pay his bills. I don’t know what other work he had in addition to the Jeep. Again, even though he said I could pay by credit card, that was not the case. I ended up sending Brian, the brewery owner, $200 by Venmo. He transferred it to his employee’s account, the wife of Salvador. Salvador would have to deal with her to get his money.
Salvador promised if something happened the next day when I was driving that he would come to my rescue.
That Monday I found myself on the side of the road. I could tell it was the battery this time. (Something I had replaced two years ago when I first got to Todos Santos.) Luckily, the owner of the place I stopped at gave me the WiFi code, so I could get a hold of my mecánico. This is what I had feared—being in the middle in nowhere (which much of Baja is) with no way to contact someone. I am glad I turned around when I did in an attempt to limp back into Mulegé.I barely glided into Buenaventura, which is not too far south of Mulegé. The lovely beach was perfect for chilling as I waited for Salvador and his half-brother Daniel.
Problem easily resolved—the connector for the alternator was not securely in place.
Salvador called me along the way to see how I was doing. I was on the outskirts of La Paz at that point. Once I arrived in Todos Santos he was one of the first people I messaged. His honesty and integrity, and eventual ability to solve the problem would have me go back to him if need be.
I’d like to say the rest of the drive was a breeze, but it was stressful in other ways that involved driving off the road to avoid hitting a vehicle without brake lights, being chased down by a carload of four Mexicans blaming me for them being rear-ended, and the national guard getting involved.
Then there was the start of the trip in Tahoe that involved a flat tire. Dude said he found a nail in a tire that wasn’t flat but could not find the problem with the bad tire. It took a Mexican in San Quintín to easily figure it out. Cost was $3; I gave him $5.
I finally arrived at my winter home on Nov. 23, two weeks after starting out from South Lake Tahoe, California. My friends Jill and Robert were waiting for me with wine and dinner.
The trip was so worth it.
While the U.S. continues to have a policy in place through at least Nov. 21 that prevents Mexicans from crossing the southern border for non-essential reasons, Mexico allows U.S. residents in without asking any questions about COVID-19.
Nov. 10 was the third time I drove across the border with the intent of spending the winter in Todos Santos. This time was the easiest. It all had to with getting my FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) online. Those who fly to Mexico get the same document only there is no additional cost; the airline has collected the fee and passed it onto the Mexican government.
This is essentially a tourism fee. It costs 575 pesos, which at the time came out to $27.09 on my credit card. It allows people to be in the country for up to 180 days.
While I had possession of the document I still needed to get it stamped at the border. No one else was in the Tecate office, so I was in and out in a matter of minutes.
It never took long before, but having the paperwork done and knowing how the process worked made it a breeze this time. Before when I did all the paperwork in person it meant paying at in one place and getting the FMM in another.
Some people don’t bother to get an FMM when traveling by land, even though it’s the law. Cops and guards at military checkpoints can ask to see it. I have it in my possession while driving down the peninsula, but I don’t at other times. I also don’t have my passport while driving except on the initial drive and when headed back to the U.S. So, I’m not really sure what would happen if someone asked for it and I didn’t have it on me.
With everything being computerized, the Mexican government knows who has extended their stay illegally. Whether officials could find those people is another question. If they care is yet another question. Fines are possible for an expired or lost FMM.
The document is supposed to be surrendered when driving back across the border as well as when flying.
While it’s possible to come and go, and come and go to keep extending the six-month stay, Mexico could also deny an FFM. After all, it would likely appear the person was actually living in the country without proper documentation. The computer knows when a person has entered the country and where, as well as when they left and how they did so.
Illegal immigration is an issue on this side of the border, too.
For those wanting to actually live in the country legally for more than six months at a time there is a lot more paperwork and time involved to get that documentation.
The disparity between the haves and have nots is easy to see in Baja Sur—just look at the vehicles people drive, the houses they live in. This pandemic, though, has only widened that divide, pushed those on the edge over the economic cliff, and shown that the government does not have the resources to save her people.
Thanks to a slew of nonprofits throughout the Todos Santos-Pescadero area people in need have food on their table. The demand became apparent the first week of April as commerce came to a screeching halt when the Mexican government put in protocols because of COVID-19. The economic crisis has not let up even as things have started to open and tourists are beginning to return.
“We are hearing more people are going back to work, but we are not seeing the need slide,” said Laurel D’Angelo, who is on the board of ACTS (Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos) and involved with other nonprofits. “We are in slow season so we are not seeing the numbers decrease. If anything, we are seeing the need increase because more people are catching wind of the despensa program.”
Despensa, while it means pantry in English, is better known as a bag of basic food staples. It’s a pantry of a different kind; one that is extremely limited. Even though there is no mandate as to what a despensa must have, most include corn flour (masa) to make tortillas, milk, eggs, beans, lentils, rice, cooking oil, pasta, canned tuna, canned vegetables, oatmeal, and fresh produce when available. Most bags can last a family of four for two weeks.
Several groups in the area have despensa programs. Requirements to receive help vary, and with some organizations giving without questions being asked. Names of those who need assistance come via community leaders, neighborhood captains, the Padrino Children’s Foundation, the centro de salud in Todos Santos and Pescadero, and churches. Just like in other countries, those who never thought they would need this type of help are asking for it. The general minimum wage in Mexico is 123.22 pesos, or about $6.50 U.S. That’s per day. This is one reason why there were already programs in place to help people make ends meet. But those nonprofits did not have the resources to take care of everyone who is now suffering in the wake of COVID-19’s ensuing economic collapse.
“As an organization, we knew we needed to start raising funds for local food banks. The need was so great we ended up taking the lead on the Food Security Program. We order despensas, store them in a local bodega, and deliver door-to-door to those not served by the ACBCS program,” D’Angelo said. “ACTS currently has funds to support our area through the end of October. We plan to continue the program as long as there is a need, and if we have funds. Our goal is to ensure no one in our area goes to bed hungry during this time.”
Alianza Comunitaria de Baja California Sur, or ACBCS, is an umbrella agency working with more than 80 other groups. For the six-week period from July through mid-August, ACBCS provided 7,429 despensas.
“The Community Alliance began in March of this year and will continue to provide support while current funds last. Funding has come from philanthropic sources including foundations, individual and business contributions,” McKenzie Campbell, spokeswoman for ACBCS, said. “In terms of the Todos Santos-Pescadero region, ACBCS has provided support throughout the municipality of Todos Santos including the surrounding ranches.”
In Todos Santos families receive a despensa about every three weeks from ACBCS. The goal of the agency is that no one goes to bed hungry. The average cost of a despensa is about 500 pesos, or about $23 U.S.; with the value of the bag more to the recipient because so many items are bought in bulk or at discount, not at retail prices.
ACBCS volunteers created an app that tracks who is getting what, the number of people in a family, number of kids under 12, those older than 65. Information is private, but could be used in future emergencies, like a hurricane. A family receives a card with a bar code that is swiped, so there is a record of who received what. This can also cut down on fraud.
“The power of this organization is what enabled us to ensure our community was fed. They had the purchasing power to source all of the items in the despensas. They connected us with the Mexican marines, national guard, and army who provided storage bodegas, trucks for transporting, and muscle to help deliver,” D’Angelo explained. “We started by signing up families by going door-to-door in the hardest hit neighborhoods of Todos Santos and Pescadero, plus connecting with ranches and farmworker camps. ACTS also provided emergency despensas for families in urgent need, and enrolled new families into the ACBCS program, an average of 250 despensas every two weeks.”
Platos Con Amor, aka Community Dining Room, provides full meals to families. It started with people in Todos Santos and has since expanded to Pescadero.
“It began with my concern about the ravages that the COVID contingency would cause in the most vulnerable population of our town,” said Elisabeth Chavez, who has a catering business in Todos Santos. She talked with friends about her idea in early April and by April 27 was serving families. Chavez and Denisse Gonzalez run the hot meal program with the help of volunteers.
There was a time when 150 meals a day were delivered every day. That was scaled back to 30 meals Monday-Friday to keep it sustainable. The plan is to double that number in September. Platos Con Amor focuses on seniors, disabled and children. The goal is to have this community kitchen be a permanent fixture, and a resource for future emergencies. Money to keep it going has been from the expat community as well as ACTS. Chavez said the group is working on future fundraisers to ensure it can keep going indefinitely.
The names of people in need came from the mayor’s office, with that office also helping with food distribution. A kitchen has been installed in the municipal DIF building that will allow the services to continue.
A group of expats and locals Mexicans formed the Pescadero Food Bank three years ago and has been serving about 50 families a month. That number swelled to 200 families when the pandemic hit.
“We are an independent organization that does all its own fundraising, shopping, packing, and distribution. We do not receive any funds from any other group. We are now an official nonprofit in the U.S.,” explained Marla Lynch Edwards, vice president of the group. “We are committed to serving the vulnerable families of Pescadero for now and after the pandemic is over.”
Other groups helping stem the food insecurity emergency include Madre Teresa of Pescadero, the Aaron Cota Foundation, the Catholic Church, and individuals like Jess Flood and Serena Saltzman. Most of the groups have policies in place to keep everyone safe—masks, sanitation, distancing, and training in some cases.
“There are so many families who would never have asked for help. These are middle class families that are not used to asking for help,” D’Angelo said. “All of a sudden they can’t provide and they are shocked. There was not a way to save for this much time without work. They are ripping through their savings if they have any.
“A lot of people were poor before COVID and they know how to be poor, but they are so grateful for the extra bag of support. A lot of Mexicans have stepped up to donate time or money.”
While the busy season is just around the corner, no one knows what that will bring. Tourists? More COVID cases? Fewer donations? Greater need?
“The virus is contagious, but generosity is contagious too,” D’Angelo said.
For more information or to donate:
While street dogs can often be found roaming many towns in Mexico, five breeds are credited with being native to the country—Chamuco, Xoloitzcuintli, Chinese Crested, Calupoh, and Chihuahua.
Chihuahuas are small (most can fit in a purse or backpack), but they come with a big personality. They are the smallest breed of dog in the world. Ironically, they hail from the largest of Mexico’s 32 states—Chihuahua—which is 95,540 square miles or 247,460 square kilometers.
It’s not uncommon for them to act like they are a much bigger dog. While Chihuahuas are known to be extremely loyal, they don’t always play well with small children. They also aren’t a great breed to leave outdoors because birds of prey and coyotes have been known to scoop them up.
Artifacts have been unearthed in Mexico, including an Aztec rattle with a carving of a Chihuahua head on one end. A monastery not far from Mexico City also had carvings of this dog breed.
“The Aztecs conquered the Toltecs in the 12th century. Historians credit the Aztecs with refining the Techichi into a smaller, lighter dog. By the time Spanish conquistadors toppled Aztec civilization in the 1500s, the Techichi was so integral to Aztec culture it was considered one of Montezuma’s fabled treasures, once presumed lost forever after the conquest of Cortez,” according to the American Kennel Club. “But the hardy little dogs lived on in remote villages and, in the mid-1800s, when Americans began to take an interest in the breed, they found many specimens in the state of Chihuahua. So it was that this survivor of two lost civilizations gained worldwide fame as the Chihuahua. The first AKC-registered Chihuahua, a little guy named Beppie, was recorded in 1908.”
While the Chihuahuas’ roots run deep in Mexico, they are the most popular breed of dog in Germany.
Often when people think of buying in bulk it means something from a big box store with a ton of plastic wrapping. Just the opposite is true when shopping at A Granel in Todos Santos.
A granel is Spanish for in bulk. The goal is to eliminate all the packaging and keep as much waste from the local dump as possible. In the first 10 weeks of being open owner Kimberley Gutierrez refilled more than 1,000 containers. That’s 1,000 plastic or glass jars that didn’t become garbage. That number is just for liquid goods; it doesn’t count the number of containers she has filled with dry goods from A Granel. She keeps track daily with a chalkboard that customers can see. This reinforces how they are contributing to keeping waste out of the landfill.
Instead of buying a product in a container, customers bring in their own vessel like a used a used yogurt container to have it filled with something from A Granel. People can also buy a reusable container at the shop. Gutierrez is quick to say that not everything needs a pretty label like one finds at a traditional grocery store. A homemade label with tape and ink to identify the contents works just fine. And no reason the same jar can’t be used for years.
A Granel takes things a step further with bins and dispensers being repurposed, whether it’s recycled wood and pallets or the 5 gallon buckets for product.
“A Granel is providing an amazing service for those of us looking to de-plastify, stay healthy, source hard-to-find ingredients like tahini, or all three,” Todos Santos homeowner Anne Patterson said. “Her inventory keeps growing; which now ranges from household to body care and even to the gourmet like olive oil from the Valle de Guadalupe.”
A slew of bins and jugs fill the small store. Some are for dry goods like flour, some contain cleaning products, others are full of hard to find items. Ninety percent of the products are from Mexico. Olive oil from the Valle de Guadalupe is the best seller, along with peanut butter and tahini. After that, cleaning products and vinegar are popular.
“The most challenging task was and continues to be sourcing products I can get in Mexico. I get most everything from the mainland,” Gutierrez said.
The goal is for customers to be gringos and local Mexicans. The prices are so most everyone can afford them.
“When I saw the first Todos Santonian filling up dish soap and laundry soap it was my best day. Those are the people I was really trying to target,” Gutierrez said.
She and her husband have lived full time in Todos Santos since 2017. She is from Canada, while he is from Mexico. They had a place in Cabo since 2012, but knew three years ago it was time to move to Baja full time with their then 2-year-old.
Gutierrez opened the doors to A Granel on Feb. 28 before anyone in Baja knew what COVID-19 was. That has not been a problem. Clientele has steadily been increasing; even to the point to where she has needed to hire someone to help in the store. Inventory changes weekly, with new products being added based on customer demand. If she gets a handful of requests for the same thing, Gutierrez will add it.
“It’s been an adventure. Who knew I would be opening the store smack dab in the middle of a pandemic?” Gutierrez said. Despite the timing, she had remained open by making a few adjustments. “I don’t allow entrance to the shop. I now have the cash desk at the door. It fits perfectly, like it was the place it should go. We do all the refills ourselves. They hand us containers or drop it off. No one is touching anything. It works out better for cleanliness and safety for us and the consumer.”
In between each customer any bin she or her co-worker touched is sanitized. They are constantly washing their hands as well.
Gutierrez hopes demand will continue so she could have two more stores in the area by this time next year.
A rhythmic melody filled the room; soothing, as though it were intended to lull a listener to sleep.
The intent of Comfort Singers of Todos Santos is to bring calmness to the person who is being sung to, as well as to caregivers and anyone else who may be there. It’s a loose knit group of women (men are welcome) who want to provide solace to those in need.
“The important thing to note is we are not a performing group. Our aim is to sing, to bring comfort,” Tracy Durland explained. “Building a safe culture of kindness and concern for one another in the choir and for those we serve is our fundamental motivation.”
The group is taking its lead from Threshold Choir, whose mission is “singing for those at the thresholds of life.” Often that threshold is the end of life or at least being in hospice care. Threshold Choir is an international nonprofit with more than 150 chapters. It started in the San Francisco Bay Area of California in 2000.
While the Todos Santos women have a desire to create a Threshold chapter, it takes a minimum of six people. They are looking for members. The transient community and limited full-timers, along with a small group of “customers” may thwart that intent. That doesn’t matter, though, because those involved are happy and eager to help how they can. That is why the singers are looking to be part of Comfort Care, a program started by ACTS (Asociación de Colonos de Todos Santos) in 2017. Comfort Care assists people in the greater Todos Santos area with health and end of life issues.
“We figured when Comfort Care is offered, this could be offered,” Durland said of the singers.
Phyllis Brzozowska, who is one of the Todos Santos singers, has been involved with a Threshold chapter in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade.
“It is one of the most meaningful things I do in my life,” Brzozowska said. “I think about and sing the songs to myself. They are very affirming of life and supportive. To me they can apply in almost any situation.”
The Portland chapter gives a broader definition to threshold than just end of life. Nursing homes, Alzheimer’s care centers, hospitals, weddings, and memorial services are places chapter members have sung. They also sing for the nurses and caregivers, even new moms, because they all also need comfort and support.
“I always feel like I get more than I give because it’s such a beautiful experience to be part of,” Brzozowska said. “There is something about each situation that is different. I would say in general it feels like a privilege to be part of such a sacred time with other people.”
The songs are simple, even repetitive. The belief is that the less complex the music, the more relaxing it is. Most are harmonies, which the Todos Santos women are working on as they learn the lyrics. The goal is to have this be a bilingual choir. Many songs provided by Threshold Choir have been translated into Spanish. No instruments are used – just vocal chords.
“Finding our way to evolve as a useful community asset goes hand in hand with learning the songs and becoming a group of harmonious singers,” Durland said.
For more information about Comfort Singers of Todos Santos, contact Tracy Durland at 612.154.4729.