Neighbors often respond before officers in Todos Santos

Armed with flashlights, we were determined to find the intruders.

The incessant screech of the alarm would have made it hard to hear anyone rustling in the brush or running away. Wearing flip flops, I wasn’t going to be running fast toward or away from anyone I encountered.

This is what happens when a neighbor’s house alarm goes off and you know they aren’t home. You go investigate. You don’t wait for the cops to arrive.

Many alarm systems have it so a series of neighbors are called to alert them; this way someone is likely to check in on the house in question. Days later an alarm went off at another neighbor’s. This time we left the oversight to those on the call list.

This is what it means to be a good neighbor, a vecina or vecino. There are formal neighborhood watch programs here, and sites to keep track of what is going on, email lists to be part of to know about any crime or other police calls, like horses in the middle of the road.

I have two neighbors in Todos Santos who I rely on for so many things. Safety is one of them. They know when I’m gone, if someone should be at the house, and one has a key if need be.

I called Connie when the alarm started going off at the other neighbors’. She said she was on her way, was going to drive there. I said I would meet her out front. In the meantime, another neighbor came out, said she had called the police. Armed with her air horn and my flashlight/weapon, we went up the driveway of the house in question. (Instead of using an air horn for bears as would be the norm in Tahoe, in Todos Santos we use them for intruders to get them to run off and to call attention to ourselves for help.)

Nothing looked amiss from the front. Peering in we could see the dog. There wasn’t much to steal as these neighbors were about to move.

Connie arrived with a similar long, heavy duty flashlight that could do some serious damage if someone were to be whacked with it. Anita left us to secure the premises. We walked around the exterior. No windows were open or broken.

Then two officers arrived. I told them my friend spoke better Spanish; so Connie shared information with them. It was a little disconcerting that one of the officers asked to borrow my flashlight because he didn’t have one. A flashlight seems like a basic tool in the world of law enforcement; guess not in Todos Santos.

The officers didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Maybe it was a gecko that triggered the alarm. After all, we all share our dwellings with those little creatures.

Downgraded tropical storm delivers more anxiety than rain or wind

Wicked waves lash the coast of Todos Santos on Nov. 17. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Don’t go into the mountains. Flash flood warnings. Hunker down. Secure outdoor furniture so it doesn’t become a projectile weapon.

All of these warnings came while I was 2½ hours away from my Baja home. I was in Cabo Pulmo, on the East Cape, playing in a tennis tournament. The blue sky not giving any hint of what lurked off the tip of Baja. The same sunny weather was at home in Todos Santos.

Before I left, I knew rain was in the forecast. Other than it being late in the season, I didn’t think much of it except that it could washout some matches. When it got a name, I knew it was serious. Raymond. Tropical Storm Raymond. Tropical storms have sustained winds of at least 39 mph. And he wasn’t the only one off the southern tip of Baja.

On Nov. 16, Weather.com said, “A late pair of simultaneous tropical cyclones have formed off the coast of Mexico as we enter the last two weeks of hurricane season. While having one or even two tropical cyclones active in November isn’t unheard of, it is rare to have two churning at the same this late in the year. In fact, it hasn’t happened in the satellite era before this week.”

Storm clouds over the Sierra de la Laguna mountains on Nov. 16. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Before I left in June for the U.S. I had hurricane-proofed the place according to my sister’s directions. Basically, everything that wasn’t bolted down outside found a home inside. Since being back all items returned to their useful places – outdoors.

I thought about what was outside, what could be damaged, what could cause damage. Plastic lounge chairs could be shredded. Other chairs could be launched through a window or glass doors.

Living in Lake Tahoe for years I knew storm drills. Clearly different than Baja storms, but similar. One rule of thumb for storms is getting home so you aren’t driving in the storm. I knew that would be the same no matter if it’s snow or rain falling from the sky. Being in a Jeep Wrangler without side or back windows meant I wanted to drive in dry conditions if possible. Plus, the short vehicle gets whipped around in wind, so the trip could be slow-going and more wet inside the longer I was in the elements. (Good thing Wranglers have drain holes on the floor board.)

The route home goes through mountains; where people were told not to venture. Potentially worse was the first 30 minutes on the lousy dirt road that already had deep standing water from storms long gone. Even my Jeep can get stuck in certain terrain.

Tournament officials were keeping an eye on things. After all, the peninsula is pretty narrow and a storm can bring torrential rain to both sides at once. On Nov. 14 the schedulers moved all of the Nov. 17 matches to the preceding two days. People were checking electronic devices for updates. Websites all said something a little different. I was getting reports from friends in Todos Santos. I didn’t want to drive in a tropical storm. The wind scared me more than the rain; that, and not having windows.

I decided on that Friday I would leave the next day instead of Sunday. Two other Todos Santos-ites made the same decision. We would leave when our respective matches ended Saturday. Ian and I caravanned – nice because my belongings could be dry in his trunk, while AJ the pampered pooch rode shotgun with me. Plus, if the roads got hellish, I had four-wheel drive to get us all out of potential muck.

Looking west the dark clouds in the mountains were ominous. I was in the lead on the paved road. Since the Jeep doesn’t have a ton of get-up-and-go, Ian didn’t want to leave me behind and deferred to me when to pass.

I was suddenly thankful for the new tires and windshield wipers I had bought in the States. While driving I wondered if once I got back if I should put in the plastic windows, put the top completely down or leave things as they are? The top and windows are also brand new. I didn’t want the top to look like the old one, ripped to pieces, rotting at a landfill. I wondered how much water was too much water for the interior.

Puddles form in the front of Casa Luna in Todos Santos on Nov. 17. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Once back on my side of Baja I filled up the gas tank and bought groceries. While the temperature would still be warm, I wanted comfort storm food I was used to. So I bought ingredients for soup and pasta to last me a few days. In Tahoe there can be a run on food at the grocery stores because people don’t know if they’ll be able to get out or if trucks will make it over the mountain passes. I don’t know what the supply chain is like here. A big worry was the lack of drinking water. Combined I had the equivalent of half a 5-gallon jug. AJ and I both drink the good water. At least the wine supply was more than ample; dying of thirst wouldn’t be a problem for me.

Todos Santos was dry upon my arrival as the sun was setting. It had been raining earlier. I opted to bring in the hammock, and all chairs on the second level. I stacked the lounge chairs and put them against a wall downstairs. The garbage can was tucked in near the water tanks. I left the Jeep top as is, hoping the winds wouldn’t be bad and knowing I could live with what rain came in.

It wasn’t until about 11pm that the winds picked up and the rain came. I slept with the main doors closed just in case it got really nasty out. It rained off and on much of the night, but had stopped by the time I awoke Sunday morning. By then Raymond had been downgraded to a tropical depression. It was eerily still outside. Grey, moody clouds covered the sky. The ocean, a mile away, did not look inviting even at that distance, though, that could have been imagination.

Nothing happened for a couple hours – much like the forecasters said would be the case. The forecast was for the brunt to hit later in the day Sunday. I opted to walk AJ on the beach; apparently now it was inviting in some weird way. I wanted to see the surf. Beautiful, wild, unpredictable. Others were there enjoying Mother Nature as well. We (me and AJ) knew to stay far enough back so a rogue wave wouldn’t snatch us away. We only got in three-quarters of a mile before the rain chased us to the Jeep. By that time the visibility toward Punto Lobos had diminished. Raymond was making his presence known.

For most of the afternoon and into the evening it rained. Hard at times, often a soft cadence. My dirt street for a time looked like a creek. Puddles formed in the yard. The wind, fortunately, was never an issue.

In the end, it was an ordinary rain storm. At least sitting at my desk it was. I need to venture out to see if there was damage in town, if roads are passable, if perhaps the fresh water lagoon filled up a bit for AJ.

My next door neighbor collects data for Weather Underground. He recorded 2 inches of rain on Sunday. According to World Weather Online, Todos Santos received 1.44 inches of precipitation on Sunday and 0.15 inches on Saturday. More is possible today. On average, the town gets about 6 inches of rain a year, with most of it coming in August and September.

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

Termination for cause is up to the employer to prove.

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

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

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

It takes some work to keep gravel looking pretty

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

I understand a manicured lawn. But gravel? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concrete floors demand shoes at all times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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