An Altogether Different Sensory Experience

I was sitting on our patio overlooking the ocean catching up on the news with a cup of coffee this morning and noticed a seagull tooling around overhead. This is part of my daily routine. The owls are just ending their shifts. All of the neighborhood dogs are barking at people walking to work. Roosters have been doing their thing since about 3:00 and will be at it most of the day. My neighbor’s singing is regularly drowned out by squeaky suspensions due to the Baja dust and washed-out roads. Hearing the difference between a two-stroke and four-stroke dirt bike on the main road followed by what was obviously a four-wheeler. Because Baja. All of this suddenly made me wonder when I last heard the sound of an airplane or helicopter. It must have been the last time we were in Cabo.

When I lived in Wichita in the mid-1990s, telephone conversations were constantly interrupted by jets taking off at McConnell AFB. My ex-husband had to live within so many minutes of the flight line so there was no escaping it. I remember walking through the parking lot at the Towne East mall and it felt like an earthquake when a B-1B was using burners to get off the ground. It seemed to set off every car alarm within a five-mile radius.

People who live near Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson have the nerve to complain about the relatively mild sounds of A-10 traffic while living in pre and post-war housing built for service members. Wait until the F-35s come to town. Have a defibrillator handy because they will stop your heart. My house in the suburbs was adjacent to the drug and people smuggling superhighway so it was all Blackhawks all the time. Those neighbors were largely military and law enforcement, young enough to be oblivious to how obnoxious a loud engine is in the middle of the night. I often contemplated the various uses for piano wire. I also considered leaving notes on teenagers’ cars letting them know YouTube has videos to solve the trunk rattle caused by their substandard subwoofer configurations. I feel like we had higher bass standards back when N2deep released Back to the Hotel in 1992. I’m more of a Too Short fan but now I’m really showing my age.

Rural Kansas has the sounds (and smells) of farming and ranching. Grain elevators unloading trucks during harvest. Crop dusters spraying fields. Trains blocking the highway next to Cargill for half an hour attaching cars with wheels screeching unmercifully. Dogs howling along with tornado sirens being tested every Wednesday at noon. The Boise foothills vibrate with rattlesnakes in the spring. I can still hear the way my heels clicked on the lobby floor of the Boise Cascade headquarters building. And the owl trapped in my barn frantically trying to escape through an open stall door.

I’ve always been intensely sensitive to sounds and my general environment, to the consternation of everyone around me. People generally think I’m making it up but hyperacusis is an actual thing. Mindful meditation is easy for me because I naturally notice individual sounds and textures wherever I happen to be. Sensory overload is a serious and recurring problem which often results in panic attacks. Crowded cities prevent me from separating and categorizing everything I’m experiencing. It happens too quickly and too constantly for my brain to process it all. Every day is like trying to have a conversation in a crowded bar with a live band. I wish I could be less observant. I apparently missed my calling as a first-rate sonar operator.

The porch is my favorite spot at our house. A nearly constant ocean breeze flows through the arches to create a perfect palm frond sound barrier between my ears and the outside world. The neighbor’s music also helps. But then the psychotic hound rakes her bear claws across the screen door demanding to be let inside. Meditation time is over.

Ooooh…we have water again (and other expectations which must be managed)

A typical home in Mexico tends to have a tinaco on the roof and possibly a ground-level cistern because water delivery is tricky. Rather than go into a boring explanation, you can learn all about it here if you are so inclined. I have written previously about my frustrations in learning how to get laundry done when there is no water but it hadn’t been an issue for a few months. The lockdown gave me nearly first-world water pressure on laundry days and I was borderline giddy with excitement, aside from the whole people dying thing.

Once businesses reopened, I returned to my routine of starting laundry at about 7:30 am so I could do two loads before the pressure dropped. Keep in mind, the stackable washer/dryer is on the covered porch and is connected to the outside water spigot so the temperature of the laundry is the temperature of the water. It drains into the yard via an exceptionally attractive PVC pipe. Anway, I noticed the pressure dropping lower than normal a couple days ago and assumed there was a problem with one of the water mains so an outage was inevitable. I was right.

Yesterday, people in various neighborhoods were discussing their water situations online and there were scattered outages but we were still dripping along. When I turned on the irrigation to water the trees this morning, there was nothing. No big deal…we have the tinaco so we can still bathe and I can carry buckets from the kitchen sink to the washer in a pinch. If it drags on for too long, we can have a truck deliver water. I checked again at around noon and literally said out loud to no one, not even the dogs, “Ooooh…the water is back on.” I use terminal prepositions when talking to myself.

So this is my life now. I literally push my dogs out of the way to slay aggressive scorpions on the kitchen floor. I vacuum gecko shit from the window sills. I listen for the garbage truck every Friday morning and rush to meet it. I complain when the price of a 30-kg propane tank increases by 70 pesos (approx US $3). I can almost sing along to my neighbor’s favorite songs. And I get excited when the water outage is limited to a few short hours. Now I just need to accept that my Jeep will never run right again. This is Baja.

Waiting for Ramón

I have a very special relationship with a man named Ramón and I don’t even know his last name. We’ve been corresponding on a monthly basis since last November. Our conversations are 99% one-sided but the outcome is what matters.

It turns out only about 6% of homes in México have natural gas and most of them are in the southeast region of the country. As of 2017, Baja California Sur had no demand. The electrical grid is the polar opposite of reliable so that means if you don’t have solar or a generator, you’re using propane to cook and heat water.

It is my understanding that some homes do have those huge permanent propane tanks like you see in rural areas of the US that are filled by the big tanker trucks. This is not the case at our house. We have this setup, which I am told by the bf is on par with the situation in Iraq:

I have learned a 30-kg tank lasts almost exactly 30 days without being extra careful about usage and that costs 605 pesos, which is about $25 US using today’s exchange rate. That’s outrageously expensive compared to my monthly natural gas bill in Arizona…and this is ONLY for the kitchen stove and water heater.

I am not trying to pay $25 a month for cooking and showering so you know my cheap ass bought a $15 hot plate. Electricity is crazy cheap here so we try to cook with the hot plate as much as possible and use it to heat the house when it’s chilly outside.

So anyway, I learned about Ramón from a local Facebook group and people just contact him on WhatsApp to get their tank deliveries. He has only replied to my request via the app once. Normally, he just shows up and honks at the gate. This means once I make the request, I have to stay home and wait…sometimes for 30 minutes…sometimes for days.

Imagine washing your hair out of a plastic bucket that has been sitting on the patio warming in the sun. It didn’t take long to realize we needed a second tank to use as a backup while we wait for Ramón.

Don’t think for a minute I’m bashing him because he’s super professional and obviously very busy. In fact, Ramón brought me a propane tank in his personal truck on New Year’s Day with his wife looking displeased in the passenger seat. I was absolutely gobsmacked and extremely grateful.

The last time I saw him, he seemed to be in a good mood so I tried to practice my Spanish a bit. Too much…got it. We’re not on that level. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared so much about what a stranger thinks of me. I don’t want to piss him off because I need that gas!

Businesses are still operating in BCS but people are definitely trying to limit contact with one another. I imagine the propane delivery guys are overwhelmed by the demand as everyone prepares to be home for the near future. I sent my first request early on Tuesday and then a follow-up first thing this morning. Sherman needs to go to the vet for a Rabies booster before the vet has to close. He should be here any moment. Until then, I’ll be waiting for Ramón.

Gather ‘Round the Hot Plate

I may have previously mentioned our house in Mexico has no heat. You might think due to our town being situated on the Tropic of Cancer that this is no big deal. You would be what I like to call wrong.

Seven years of desert dwelling in southern Arizona has made me severely cold intolerant. Anything under 70 degrees is uncomfortable. After growing up in Kansas and being assaulted by constant hurricane-force winds, prolonged exposure to anything more than a  gentle breeze makes me a little stabby. Right now, I’m dealing with both…in a house without heat.

Gas is expensive in Mexico; propane, gasoline, whatever…it’s outrageous. Electricity, however, is dirt cheap. So you would think an easy solution would be to buy a space heater and stop bellyaching. In a house with US wiring, you would be correct. Unfortunately, I live in a house with wiring so piss-poor a hair dryer precipitated a visit from an electrician. There is no way this house could support a space heater. We could turn on the stove but again, propane is outrageous.

My solution was to order an electric hot plate from Amazon Mexico. Delivery took a few weeks since DHL temporarily misplaced the box somewhere near La Paz but I guess once the workers decided it wasn’t worth stealing, it finally made its way to us. This little burner puts out some serious heat but obviously cannot be left unattended. Our morning routine is to turn on the hot plate and stand around it until the sun is positioned to warm the kitchen. The house is basically a concrete bunker so there is no warming the whole house until the weather changes.

This morning, we have virtually no water pressure from the municipal line so I’m carrying buckets of water from the kitchen (via the reserve tank) to do laundry on the porch. Between the carrying of the water and the trips up and down the stairs from the roof deck clothes lines, I’m both working out and warming up with a spectacular ocean view. Cup half full, people. CUP. HALF. FULL.

Design Flaws

I would rather this not be a late Festivus airing of grievances but the reality of Mexico is that there are some design flaws. It was obvious going in to this living situation that I would need to lower my expectations. Unfortunately, I’m accustomed to things working and my mother has always told people my idea of roughing it is staying at a five-year-old Holiday Inn.

If you’re sensitive about the environment, definitely do not move here. The landfill has been on fire more often than not and I don’t even want to consider what all we’ve been exposed to since October. This isn’t just some chemicals combusting either; There are unknown individuals who have been spotted setting these fires which are poisoning everyone. There’s a group of gringos trying to get recycling to become a thing. I wish them luck because the locals just dump their trash along the road. Raw sewage regularly flows in the one road that gets people in and out of town. There’s a group trying to help with that as well because it’s also flowing into a wetlands area by the beach. The washing machine is set up to drain into the yard so I think about that every time I do laundry. We can gentrify a lot of places but I’m not sure this is one of them.

We were having problems with the kitchen sink not draining at all. I’ve been very careful about what goes down the drain since we’re on septic and there’s no garbage disposal. There was no reason for a clogged drain. It turned out the brand-new plumbing to the kitchen sink was constructed in a manner which denied the existence of gravity. Yay, physics!

Thank goodness this house is concrete because the wiring is super sketchy. We had to have the bathroom light switch replaced due to reasons I do not fully understand. I assume it was also poorly designed and was overloaded plus condensation was running down the tiles into it, etc. Who knows. It made a bunch of pops, smoked a lot, and stopped working. There’s an outlet in the kitchen that puts out a burnt plastic odor when used. It barely rated a handyman shoulder shrug. We try not to use it.

Central air conditioning isn’t a thing in Baja. Some homes have mini-splits in a room or two and we’re fortunate to have one in our living room. We got here in October, though, and it hasn’t been hot enough to use it. It has been fucking cold, however. This house has no heat so I was looking at the unit to see if it has a heater. The remote control has a setting for heat so I decided to see what that was all about. I couldn’t get the fan to turn on at all on the coldest or hottest settings. It turns out the unit was installed incorrectly so the fan didn’t work. The guy told me if geckos get into the unit, they can fry the board. I asked him if there is any way to keep geckos out of things and he just shrugged his shoulders. I showed him the remote has an indicator for heat. The manual shows heat. But the unit doesn’t have heat. The guy said they just use the same remote and manual for all models. I’m not sure how one is supposed to know it doesn’t have heat. I guess that was how. If you’re wondering why we don’t just use a space heater, see the paragraph above about wiring.

Fortunately, it doesn’t rain much here. We have had a couple tropical storms and I have learned the windows are very poorly constructed. There was water streaming in around the windows and down the walls during the last rain storm to the point where I was running out of dry towels to soak it up. I threw some wet towels in the dryer but the heating element died long before our arrival and this was an exercise in futility.

I’m writing this while freezing my ass off in a cold house. Yes, we’re back to the heat issue. I could turn on the stove to heat the kitchen but we’re out of propane. Again. A 30-kilo tank apparently only lasts a month and God forbid anyone would use a large permanent tank around here. I sent the gas guy a message on WhatsApp yesterday but it was Sunday and he didn’t respond. But that doesn’t mean anything. He never responds. He just shows up randomly and honks until you open the gate. So I wait.

As I wait for the telltale honk, I will leave you with some possible tourism slogans for Baja:

Mexico: Nothing works.

Mexico: Be prepared to wait.

Mexico: Fuck you, gringos.

Afraid to Ask What’s Next

Here’s a recap of my Mexico drama thus far: Weeks without wifi. Weeks without trash pickup. Locked out of the house and rescued by the internet guy who knew a guy. Days without running water. Honestly, I have to carry buckets of water from the kitchen to the washer even when the water is “on” because the pressure in the line that feeds it is virtually nonexistent. So that’s my arm workout. Anyway, most of this has taken place when the boyfriend is gone so it’s been my shit to deal with…alone in a foreign country.

Then Tropical Storm Raymond happened. Fortunately, the storm wasn’t as bad here as it was in Cabo. It rained for a few days and was pretty fucking miserable being cooped up in the house with the dogs but at least we didn’t lose power and I didn’t need to leave the house for anything. Our house is on a pretty steep hill so I didn’t have to worry about flooding. If I had needed to get to the mercado, however, I probably would have done it on foot because the road was a full-blown muddy river. I made sure my LED lantern batteries were fully charged and was happy I didn’t need them.

Yesterday morning, I was participating in an all-day online Payroll and Human Resources symposium. Gotta get those continuing education credits! Everything was going just fine until the power went off at about 10:30 am. It seemed strange for this to happen on a perfectly still and sunny day but okay.

After a couple hours, I started to worry about whether the bill had been paid because it sounded like my neighbors had power. I was told when I first moved here that the bills are left taped to the gate every two months and if they aren’t paid on time, there is no mercy. They just cut your shit right off. I have received a water bill but nothing for electricity so I contacted the landlord to make sure that wasn’t the problem. So I was running my phone battery down with *maybe* 2G cell data trying to communicate with someone who wasn’t picking up what I was throwing down. Finally, he was able to confirm it had been paid in early October so that wasn’t the problem.

We have solar chargers for electronics but they need to be in the sun for a while before they are ready to start doing their jobs. I can relate. Unfortunately, I ran out of daylight before that happened. I took a drive to charge my phone and possibly avoid a psychotic break but it was essentially a failure on both counts. I let the boyfriend (who is still traveling) know I was conserving my battery and switched to airplane mode. Between my Kindle and the LED lantern, my night was set.

Imagine how thrilled I was to wake up this morning and learn the power was still off. At that point, I began worrying about the food in the fridge and freezer even though I had been careful to only access them when absolutely necessary. We stocked up before the boyfriend left on his trip and that included duck he plans to cook for Thanksgiving. I really didn’t want to deal with replacing a bunch of spoiled food. The solar chargers went up on the roof deck right at sunrise and finally began putting in some work.

There was leftover coffee from yesterday so at least I had something stale to reheat. I was reminded how much fun it is to light a gas stove with a short match. That’s something I hadn’t done in more than 30 years. I wasn’t about to try the oven but I did grab some perishables out of the fridge to minimize the waste. Cooking really isn’t my thing but being high maintenance isn’t always an option.

A guy in an orange vest came by at about 12:30 pm and worked some magic near the electric meter. After 26 hours, I can only assume the food is fine. Every device was promptly connected to its charger. The (now) on-demand webinar has resumed. I am back to my regular level of isolation and I’m afraid to ask what’s next.

Let There be Internet!

I’ll be the first to admit I have been spoiled by the first world and all of its “problems.” I’ll also tell you I haven’t been this frustrated with internet access since constantly hearing “GOODBYE!” in 1995.

The house we rented in Mexico did not come with internet. At first blush, it didn’t seem like that much of an issue. How hard could it be to order service? Oh honey…let me just tell you.

Telmex is the main ISP in our area. I was told to check their website and see if they service our address. I mean, that sounds easy enough but the Telmex website asks for the neighborhood before giving one an opportunity to enter an address. Our US-based landlord didn’t even have the correct neighborhood listed on the lease so we had some sleuthing to do. My first-world brain still wonders why the ISP doesn’t *know* which addresses belong in each neighborhood of their service area but this is not, in fact, the first world.

With all relevant information obtained, we were able to request installation and received confirmation that a technician would arrive on Monday, October 28. They confirmed the appointment multiple times via telephone but alas, no installation occurred on October 28.

I accidentally made contact with Telmex via Twitter on October 30 and that went about as well as one would expect. They rescheduled for November 2 and no-showed again. The excuse they used when contacted via telephone was that they couldn’t find our house. It’s not like I have a screen shot from Google Maps showing our house in relation to a very well-known landmark a couple blocks away that I could have sent them via DM on Twitter or literally any other platform. That would be crazy.

They rescheduled again for November 7 and no-showed again. With that third strike, they were out. I spent THREE WHOLE DAYS watching for these fools. So I contacted some guy on WhatsApp and he was at our house installing blazing fast internet the very next day.

I had been relying on *maybe* 2G mobile data for weeks. There were people doing work at out house the first week and I couldn’t just leave my dogs there all day while I sat in a coffee shop with my laptop. I didn’t realize just how much I depend on reliable internet access to get through the day. I still remember when AOL was too much trouble because connecting to a free line in Wichita took 30 minutes or longer. I honestly couldn’t understand the appeal.

Fast-forward a couple decades and I’m a full-blown addict. Once my devices were connected to that sweet Wi-Fi, it was like dopamine was being injected directly into my veins. I probably streamed video for a solid seven hours. It was pure binge-watching bliss. I can’t watch everything from Mexico but I can watch a lot.

The lesson in all of this is there is always a workaround. Smile, nod and say, “That’ll be fine.”

Showers with Spiders

I generally have nothing against spiders. Unless we’re talking about the dangerous varieties, I am fine with gently relocating them outdoors where they belong so they can get on with their lives. Anyone who has done this, however, knows it can be a time consuming endeavor. It apparently isn’t their nature to be cooperative.

The first spider I saw in my master bathroom this morning was up high on the wall above the shower. I don’t wake up early enough to deal with these types of things before work so I decided it would just have to stay there for three reasons:

  1. It wasn’t moving.
  2. I’m a borderline midget.
  3. I wasn’t messing with a step stool before coffee.

I saw the second spider at eye-level on a different wall while brushing teeth. I considered letting it go but it was behaving erratically so I killed and flushed it. I couldn’t risk the two of them channeling their inner coyotes and circling me for the kill. It was self-defense.

I decided to be brave and just keep an eye on the shower spider because I really did have to get ready for work. Once I entered the shower, he tried to go to the ceiling but was dangling from one leg like he was playing Die Hard and not very well, I might add. He returned to the wall and kept losing his step. I wondered if he was injured and our inevitable confrontation would be a mercy killing.

I barely took my eyes off him and then he disappeared before my very eyes. I checked my hair but felt nothing unusual and thought he ended up on the ledge at the top of the shower surround. I finally saw him on the shelf by my hair mask. He then moved to the shower wall and began moving toward me.

At this point, I was washing my hair and ended up with shampoo in my eye because I couldn’t very well stop watching the little bastard. He backtracked and then fell onto the floor of the shower. I quickly rinsed off and decided I would dry off, grab some toilet paper, and end this little dance. Unfortunately, I pulled the towel bar off the wall and it came crashing onto the floor of my shower. So then I had a spider and a towel bar keeping me company. He seemed too stunned to move.

Shower spider’s life was then ended without further incident. There are a few key takeaways here but the important thing is bug spray exists and is currently being stored in my garage. Jesus Christ…if my house had stairs, I would be dead by now.

I didn’t move to Arizona for this BS!

This is Day 2 of the Southern Arizona Snowpocalypse. Send help. Chocolate. Whiskey. Anything.

Seriously, though…we’re not dealing with this well. I woke up to snow yesterday morning and was slightly amused because I don’t think my sweet Sherman had ever seen snow before. I bought my current house nearly five years ago and this is the first time I can recall seeing snow stick to the ground here. I have artificial turf in my backyard so there wasn’t any mud and the dogs didn’t seem to even be interested in it. The problem is it’s been cold as fuck.

For scale: Anything under 80 degrees is chilly and anything under 65 degrees is cold. 100 degrees in the shade ain’t shit.

I literally opened the sliding door just long enough to take a photo and then got right back under the electric blanket. That’s pretty much where I stayed all of New Year’s Day with my dogs rotating their naps on my lap.

Sherman wasn’t sure what to do with it so he took a nap on my lap instead.

What made the cold (and snow) worse was the lack of sunshine. I normally have a view of the Santa Rita mountains from my house but they disappeared for an entire day. Everything was gray but I was slightly encouraged by how quickly it melted. Oops…I looked out the window before bed and it was freaking snowing again.

This morning, Ft. Huachuca shut down due to ice and snow. We seriously cannot deal with it. There are accidents all over the roads because Arizona is the place where the worst drivers in the world congregate. Arizona drivers lose their shit on a good day. They certainly do not comprehend the scraping of the windows or the “lights on for safety” routine.

We have another hard freeze warning for tonight. In southern Arizona, that means you better cover your drip system pipes and leave a faucet dripping in the house overnight. They don’t winterize shit out here. If you’ve only lived in places with sane building codes and practices, you have no idea how bonkers it is. In the summer, I can’t shower after 11:00 am because the water coming out of the *cold* faucet is hot enough to boil the skin right off my body. They put the pipes in the attic, y’all. The ATTIC. No wonder pipes freeze even when it’s above 20 degrees. In Kansas, I didn’t worry about protecting the plumbing until temps were in the negatives.

So basically, the entire southern half of the state is depressed as hell. We need our sun back and we need it now. Temps are supposed to be back in the 70s next week and until that happens, Old Man Winter can fuck right off. The only thing keeping me going is the knowledge I’ll be back in the open-toed stilettos come February. Thank God for small miracles.

Why does a childless woman need a Diaper Genie?

You may think women sitting around complaining in the office are wasting time. You would be wrong. Everyone knows summers in Arizona can be brutal. Most people know HOAs are a scourge to homeowners across the country. Add (wo)man’s best friend to the beige stucco box subdivision mix and you have a big, smelly mess.

That’s right; this is post is about poop. If you’re the least bit squeamish, I suggest you leave now.

Many HOAs disallow outdoor storage of the wheeled trash carts, meaning we have to store them in our garages. That’s fine until the temperature reaches about 80, which covers the majority of the year. So once we clean up after our dogs in the backyard, that trash cart gets RIPE. Thoughts and prayers for anyone who must enter my garage.

I just happened to ask a coworker how she deals with the stench of the dog poop in her garage and she said she uses her daughter’s old diaper pail. *record skipped* Say what now? Parents of human children probably think this is an obvious solution. I, however, am not a parent of human children.

It turns out there are diaper pails specifically made for pets. I read a ton of reviews (so you don’t have to) and was completely unimpressed. They all seemed to be made for tiny pets rather than the vile and disgusting creatures in my home. I only have weekly trash service so a larger capacity contraption was required. I settled on the Diaper Genie Complete because it’s large and it has a foot pedal. Based on the reviews I read, I ordered Target brand refill bags and then basically forgot about it. I must have been drunk shopping again.

When my Target order landed on my doorstep, I was super confused about why the box was so big for such a small grocery order.

Sherman dutifully performed a cursory security check.

Oh yeah…drunk online shopping.

It even has a cute little charcoal filter!
Bottom of the poop sausage casing

Lessons learned:

  1. That circumference of the opening is SMALL, y’all. If you have two large dogs and double bag your poop before it goes in the pail, you need to pick it up every day.
  2. You can’t just hit the foot pedal and drop the bag inside. You have to *work it*. Like, with your hands. Also, this is why I always double bag.
  3. This pail will hold a week’s worth of my dogs’ poop without any problems. If I still had Rottweilers, I might need a second pail but my two are 65 lbs and 85 lbs and it’s fine.
  4. You don’t have to insert a new bag every time you empty the pail. Apparently, you just cut the bag after you tie it at the top of the poop sausage and then make another tie to begin the next poop sausage casing.
  5. I’m a dumbass (see #4).

I haven’t noticed an odor coming from the pail. I still have some residual stench when I open the trash cart and will continue with the Lysol regimen. Was it worth it? Possibly. Ask me again in June.

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