Saludos from Baja Sur,
Nancy and I left for Mexico just over three weeks ago; so this seems like a perfect time to catch everyone up on what the heck life is like for us south of the border.
First off, we spent our final few days in Sammamish squaring away my new personal car and health insurance (a fresh endeavor for me after 29 years of driving a company car and getting my insurance through work), and securing Mexican car/trailer and health insurance, and our 180-day FMM tourist visa. We also arranged with our apartment complex in Sammamish for mail pick-up, monthly toilet flushes, and such. And snagged some final eats at the Pine Lake Ale House and a couple of adios beers at Big Block Brewing.
We’d originally planned to leave on Monday, January 18, but delays due to the late arrival of the trailer kit, the MLK holiday, me forgetting to order new contact lenses, and a couple of delayed Amazon orders pushed our departure to noon on Friday the 22nd. The drive itself – about the same in distance as driving from Seattle to Indianapolis, Memphis, or Austin, TX – was smooth and uneventful. I bought my company fleet vehicle, a 2016 Toyota RAV4 with 64K well-maintained miles, and it hauled our new mini cargo trailer as though it wasn’t even there.
We used the Hilton Honors points I’ve accumulated for years to stay at Hampton Inns in Medford and Santa Clarita, just north of LA, then we shopped for a few last minute items in the OC before hanging out with Nancy’s sister Janet’s family and niece Kelsey and husband Alex in Carlsbad for a delicious dinner of grilled Tri-Tip from the Seaside Market in Cardiff-by-the-Sea (called Cardiff Crack) and other delectable goodies. (You’ll find the recipe online. Amazing.)
Afterwards, a 2-hour drive brought us to the border cities of Calexico on the U.S. side and Mexicali on the Mexico side – yeah, see how they did that? We spent the night at the Hampton on the U.S. side and got up early for our last Starbucks coffee & pumpkin loaf before hitting the border.
We timed our trip to cross the border on Monday morning when most of the traffic would be northbound into the U.S. Smart decision. We had no wait whatsoever and a friendly Mexican Customs agent examined our car and trailer, asked a few questions, verified that all of our belongings were household supplies for our new casa, and we ended up not paying any duty. Nice!!
Highway (Carreterra) 5 led us straight south, meeting the Sea of Cortez at San Felipe, where we gassed up before hitting the newer stretch of highway that edges along the gorgeous coastline and through freshly blasted hillside passes, still shedding rocks and sometimes microwave-sized boulders onto the road surface. The new asphalt was beautiful, but at times I felt I was navigating an asteroid field. And haboob-like winds picked up, blowing sand clouds across the countryside and roadway. For Nancy’s sake I pretended that I wasn’t concerned with visibility at all – with my heart lodged firmly in my throat.
And then the highway turned west and inland towards the Pacific coast, taking us through an eerie and endless landscape of boulders. Tens of thousands of them. Some small, some as big as houses. Earlier, our friend Tod had cryptically encouraged us to “enjoy the boulders”, but we didn’t know what he was talking about. Now we do.
Highway 5 met up with Highway 1, out of Tijuana and Ensenada, and we took that into Guerrero Negro, where we spent the night and enjoyed a tasty grilled fish dinner at the Malarrimo Motel & Restaurant. We gassed up there and left early, taking the shoulderless (Yikes!) highway back across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez and south along that coast to Loreto, where we spent the night and dined at the Loreto Bay Golf Resort. $77US for a king room with a view of the bay, and wicked good fish tacos.
We ATM’d cash, ate a quick breakfast baguette sandwich, and gassed up once more in Loreto, then travelled south for another 4 hour haul to La Paz, where we picked up a few Walmart items, then the final hour trek into Pescadero, grabbing bread, butter, and eggs at the Agricole mercado just up the road from our casa, and finally pulled into our driveway at 3:30pm, 5 days and 3 hours on the road. All in all, a pretty painless trip. We hadn’t known quite what to expect, but were quietly ecstatic that no worst case scenarios plagued our way.
Unloading the car and trailer took about 30 minutes, then began the multiple loads of laundry and some rough draft organizing, followed by guacamole and a couple of tequila-based cocktails at Hierbabuena, the organic garden and restaurant not quite walking distance from us. We brought home smoked fish pizza and enjoyed that with Coronas con limón, sitting on our newly transported-from-Seattle stools up on our top deck, listening to the ocean and the sounds of the early evening. Then crawled into bed on fresh sheets and slept in late.
Most morning’s since we’ll either walk or drive the mile to Baja Beans for hot or iced coffees and one of their muffins, scones, or carrot cake (el pastel de zanahoria). Turns out there’s lots of new construction going on along our little dirt road, including a new home development. Our town of El Pescadero’s been garnering a lot of attention lately as one of the better places to live in southern Baja (Baja Sur). Hence, the mega construction. (And more dust in the air than we’d like.) Qué será, será.
It took us two weeks to get fully unpacked, organized, and the whole casa cleaned to our satisfaction. Actually, Nancy’s satisfaction, but you already knew that. And that cleaning experience will be an ongoing exercise. It’s a joy to open both our east and west sliding doors to allow the ocean air to breeze through the house, but with that comes the microscopic dust that you can’t really see until the second or third day when you feel it underfoot and socks are shaded gray. The good news is that polished concrete floors mop up quick and easy and air-dry in 15 minutes.
Speaking of dirt and dust, a week or so after arriving we brought the RAV4 to the 1-guy manual car wash here in town and enjoyed breakfast bagels and iced coffees while Javiar labored for almost an hour unearthing my car from under 2,300 miles of road filth, washing, drying, and vacuuming until it glowed. And then tried to charge me only 200 pesos. $10 US. If ever someone deserved a healthy tip!!
I’ve got to say, this retirement thing is taking some getting used to. The COVID-19 lockdown, including my 13-week furlough, 6 months of home-based virtual work, and the realities of social distancing has certainly made it an easier transition, but there are still plenty of occasions when my brain fights against the peaceful nature of life free from the demands of an employer. I find myself idle at times with a nagging discomfort that someone’s out there waiting for a phone call or an email or an update. Then I shake myself back to reality and realize there’s no one there. It’s almost like relishing the weekend, but it’s the other five days of the week. It’s certainly different. There are mornings I’ll wake up and read my Kindle for an hour in bed, picking up mid-chapter where I left off the night before. And that’s on a Tuesday! I’ll butter some toast and grab a Topo Chico and venture up topside to sit for an hour listening to the sounds of the Baja Sur desert and the Pacific surf roar. Watching the distant humpback whale spouts and graciously observing the local laborers managing our community’s landscape or the half dozen cement and rebar workers building the new casas across the street. Or following the vast aerial paths of the ubiquitous black vultures circling the skies overhead. Or enjoying the sun on my shoulders, soaking in the calm.
And of course there’s always our own private beach. No, really. Well, at least it feels that way sometimes, since we’re usually the only ones there. They call it Playa San Pedrito and it’s a 2-minute drive or 8 minute walk from our casa. At the far north end you’ll find some good surf waves and the Pura Playa Beach Bar. At the far south end is a jumbled cape of rocks and tidepools that eventually links up with Los Cerritos, a popular tourist beach. But our own gorgeous white sand beach suffers, unfortunately (wink, wink), from a brutal undertow that makes it seriously dangerous to even dip your toe in the water. Hence, it’s the perfect beach for a couple of professional relaxers. Our new sun canopy works great, so I and my cancer-prone skin can slather up and stay in the shade, while Nancy in all her Italianness can catch a few rays, the both of us Kindling and watching the whales frolic.
We’re getting to know our new home, discovering new places. At least new to us. Learning the names of the people we know we’ll see again. Slowly mapping out the pattern of our life down here. Our Pueblo Pescadero community has expanded to 19 homes, but due to COVID only a handful are occupied at the moment, three other residents and a few long term renters enjoying the perks of telecommunication. So, no neighborhood Super Bowl parties or rooftop tequila soirees. Not that we’re seeking such anyway.
We’ve driven the 8 minutes to Todos Santos Brewing a few times and I’ve gotten to know the brewer there. The owners are Australian and to celebrate the recent Australia Day they brewed an awesomely delicious Session IPA with Vic Secret hops from Down Under. Surprisingly good for a session beer.
There’s a restaurant right here in Pescadero called Lucky 23, complete with a shamrock in their logo. We didn’t expect much with a name like that – in Mexico! – but came to find out the 23 denotes the grandfather’s original acreage upon which he built his family’s business and financial security. The chef turned out a couple of incredible specials, grilled mango shrimp and spinach-stuffed cabrilla (bass) in a light lemon cream sauce. And an amazing cookies ’n’ cream mousse with a sweet potato crisp for dessert. We’ll definitely be going back.
There’s a new food and arts plaza in nearby Todos Santos with several delectable eateries including a smoothie and acai bowl shack, a Buddha bowl-esque veggie place, the Holy Balls falafel shop, Estelle & Florent‘s French pâtisserie (we loved their quiche on a sunny Saturday morning), La Bonhomie with their Euro-cuisine specialties like pork rillettes, pâté de Campagne, and what some claim are the best hamburguesas in town, a cute little coffee kiosk, a couple of art venues, including local favorite Brian McGuffey, and an expansive outdoor space featuring drinks and eats from local fishmonger Pacifica. And a half block over is the Plaza Edina and young chef Francisco’s seafood joint called El Coromuel, where we ate some insanely delicious octopus and yellowtail tacos.
We’ve found a couple of places for super fresh fish of every variety. One pescaderia is simply a half dozen 50-quart coolers loaded with various fish fillets, scallops, clams, lobster, shrimp, and premade ceviches. And a couple doors down is a carne shop with all sorts of steaks and chops and sausages, most of which are brought in frozen. Building a gas grill into our front deck has proven a genius decision. 10 minutes to heat up, 15 minutes for the salt/pepper/evoo/lemon caught-that-morning fish fillets and a Caprese salad with organic basil and tomatoes from those fields over there yonder and queso oreado in lieu of mozzarella. It’s a life we’re enjoying to its fullest.
And of course there are those afternoons of sunset drinks at Pura Playa, a short drive away, and the 5 Tacos and a Beer experience, and our discovery of the favorite dessert down here, a buy-it-anywhere OMG-eliciting sliced strawberry-infused tapioca coconutty pudding concoction. Yeah, it is all that.
We’re still pretty sparse here in our casa habitat, sitting on stools and camp chairs, using our kitchen island or top deck bar for our tabletops, but that will soon be remedied with trips up to La Paz and down to Cabo for cheap, temporary furniture – couch, table, a couple of chairs – to get us through this spring. We’ll also get the scope of the furniture options here in the Baja, then reevaluate when we’re back in Seattle and decide if we want to bring the real deal items down with us in December or buy them here. We’re getting by just fine now with what we’ve got. And having a Costco and a Home Depot an hour away sure makes life a whole lot easier.
So, that’s where we stand at Day 20 in Bajaland. Now that we’ve been here for 3 weeks, both the charms and the rugged life realities of living in rural Mexico have made themselves clear. Our arterial highway is freshly paved asphalt, while the other roads we travel are rock-pocked and rutted dirt. If we keep the windows open we hear the pounding surf, smell the herbal desert vegetation, yet have to sweep and mop the dust up the next day. We still don’t speak the language, though we’re slowly working on that and have figured out a few work arounds, like handing my phone to the No hablo inglés landscaper driving by to give directions to the No hablo inglés Amazon delivery guy. (Yay, refrigerator water filters received!) Yet we love the quiet, and the calm and the pace of life. The heat of the sun and the breeze off the ocean enrich us every day. We continue to meet amazingly friendly people, who’ve accepted us as we are and help us as best they can. And we’re the opposite of bored. (Streaming Xfinity, Netflix, Prime, Apple TV, and Kindling selections from King County Library help with that.)
And we do hope that those we love and care about at least consider venturing your way down here to say Hola. Perhaps when this pandemic slinks back into its hole. As I’ve said before, a cervesa on the beach with friends or family is always a good thing. Give us a shout if you’re heading this way.
You can reach us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and our cellphone numbers still work here.
Sólo un pensamiento.