Who Knew I Would Be a Fan of Paying Bribes?

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the intricacies of paying bribes. It definitely happens in some industries to obtain permits and political favors but there’s usually some sort of quid pro quo rather than cash directly changing hands. In the US, citizens are extorted via citations for violations of obscure and often contradictory codes which somehow try to convince us the state can be a victim. The system is much more straightforward in Mexico.

Getting mail and packages delivered in Baja can be an adventure. From my first day in-country, I was told to never, EVER use the Mexican Postal Service for any reason because things just disappear. We’ve had 100% success with DHL delivering to our house. They honk at the gate and we’re off to the races. I ordered a mango slicer from China via Amazon Mexico and the end carrier they used was a local company called Estafeta. I’m guessing they don’t deliver because they called and let me know my package was ready for pickup. We live in a small town so it was barely an inconvenience. There are also local companies who transport letters and packages from the US to Baja so if you have a seller who won’t ship internationally, it’s no big deal. You just use their US address and they charge a fee based on the invoice amount. Easy peasy.

So we ordered an item from Amazon US and the Chinese seller offered shipping to Mexico. Yayzies! I tracked the package from Shenzhen all the way to La Paz and that’s where it stopped. Wouldn’t you know, the end carrier was the Mexican Postal Service. I sent the seller a link to initiate an investigation to locate the package since it had been there since May 14 and I seriously doubt they took any action. The bf was discussing the situation with our mechanic who just happens to live next door to a mailman. Our mechanic passed along the tracking info to his neighbor, who immediately located the package and agreed to bring it to town for the low, low price of 450 pesos (approximately $19.52 US). I have no idea if that’s what the mailman had to pay to release the package or if that was his service fee. I also don’t care.

There is a similar process for resolving traffic citations, expired vehicle registrations, etc. Rather than going to the police station and dealing with a lengthy hassle, you can generally just settle up with the officer on the spot and then go on your merry way. I appreciate the opportunity to expedite the process. My time is valuable and the rules are generally very limited. For example, dirt bikes do not need to be registered and are street legal. Yesterday, I saw a family of three riding a four-wheeler past the Pemex station. They were not recreating; this is a legit form of transportation. I do enjoy living in a place with limited rules and restrictions. The plumbing is garbage but the freedom is fire.

It’s sort of fun learning there truly is a workaround for everything. You just have to ask a local how to make it happen and have some cash on hand.

We’re All Human and Humans Have Needs

I once drove from Lamar, Colorado to Dodge City, Kansas on nothing but dirt roads without a map just to prove it could be done. Look, I come from a crazy family and I come by it honestly. Keeping in mind that where I come from a country mile is a legit honest-to-God mile, it really was a very small feat. If the road I was on ended in a pasture, I’d just turn in the correct direction and catch the next one. Easy peasy.

Baja isn’t like that. My navigational senses are laid out in a carefully surveyed grid pattern and no such concept exists in Mexico. The Pacific Ocean is to blame for a lot of it. The hills and mountains aren’t exactly innocent. And then there’s the poverty, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to proper road engineering and all of the accoutrements one might expect in the first world.

I promise I have a point and it is this: One must always know the back way to get anywhere. You never know when you’ll need to be inconspicuous on the way home from a bar or to avoid being arrested for exercising during a global pandemic.

The beaches in Baja California Sur have been closed for what seems like a decade and I’m just about over it. I have been social distancing since March (of 1978) and really have been trying to follow the orders laid out by the Mexican government to flatten the curve. I’ve been doing this while my neighbors continue partying and carrying on like it’s January of 2020..the halcyon days.

My main act of civil disobedience is regular exercise. This is not on the list of essential activities permitting one to leave one’s domicile and it seems like a gross oversight until you actually stop to think about it. People who are going hungry aren’t exactly thinking about going for a hike or mountain bike ride, ya know? I totally get why they left it off the list. I also know I’m not endangering anyone by walking around the hills of my neighborhood so alone I can’t see, let alone hear another single, solitary soul. I meet lots of dogs but that’s another story for another day.

I can see the ocean just fine from my house so staying away from the beach has been easy enough, I suppose. It just really got to me on Saturday, though. I walked the back way through the hills and crossed the main road at a spot that is quick and a bit remote. Like, I didn’t want to attract attention but I was wearing a hot pink outfit. In hindsight, this seems like poor planning. I walked to (not on) the beach and took a few photos to remind myself it’s still there. I did see a family on the beach with an umbrella and a pickup parked near them but otherwise it was deserted.

I’m still learning all of the hills and where roads connect so I miscalculated a bit on my way home and had to get on the main road for about a quarter-mile. I was walking along in my hot pink outfit and wouldn’t you know, here come TWO humvees full of desert BDUs and rifles making full eye contact. It was apparently not a priority for them to hassle a gringa walking alone in the sunshine so they went on their merry way…probably to remove that family from the beach. Nevertheless, I was relieved to disappear into the mismash of washed out roads and short-cut walking trails through washes and impromptu garbage dumps.

While by no means a career criminal, I have done some sneaking around doing things in my time. Unauthorized riding of horses. Unauthorized driving of cars. Unauthorized entry of structures. And now…unauthorized…exercise. This is a very strange time to be alive.

Passive-aggressively Doing Laundry

This is the funniest thing I’ve ever been accused of in my nearly 45 years on this planet and I received permission to write about it. Living and working from home with your significant other can create unique challenges.

So I was working on the new website and I was waiting for content. I’ve written a ton about my anxiety and for funzies I also have a touch of OCD. These two conditions create an interesting work dynamic and I’ve been told on a few occasions that I’m essentially vibrating with anxiety. Like it’s literally rolling right off me and can be felt by innocent bystanders.

Basically what happens is when I’m ready to work, I mean I’m ready to get it done right fucking now. I’ve had too many experiences with fleeting motivation. I’ve learned the hard way when I feel motivated, I have to take full advantage before the feeling passes. Once it’s gone, good fucking luck getting it back.

But that anxiety over failing to do my best work is largely what makes me good at my job. Unfortunately, that anxiety also prevents me from being a good girlfriend. So when I’m about to lose my shit over being stuck in neutral, I have to get up and do something else for a minute. I’ll be right back and ready to continue.

You say passive-aggressive; I say efficient. At least your laundry is done. Now how about passive-aggressively cooking me some dinner?

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.

Trash in Mexico

Sometimes the smallest victories are the most fulfilling. Today, I am overjoyed with my successful navigation of the garbage collection process in my neighborhood. I don’t even know who I am right now.

I have lived on my own since I was 17 years old. When I was in college, I moved every six months and had it down to a science. What I’m saying is I know how to handle things. There’s a list of providers in every location and you just start contacting them to establish services. Easy! Everyone knows this.

Unfortunately, that is not how things work in my little slice of Baja. I asked my US-based landlord for information about obtaining services (such as trash collection) and he completely ignored my inquiry. Okay. I asked a local and was told some neighborhoods have trash collection and some don’t. I was instructed to watch my neighbors and see if they put trash out by the street. If not, there’s a weekly trash collection site about a mile away that I can use for a suggested donation of 50 pesos. That seemed simple enough.

My hearing is borderline superhuman. Two Fridays ago, I woke up at around 7 am and heard what I absolutely knew was a garbage truck somewhere in the neighborhood. Sure enough, the truck came by at precisely 7:25 (too quickly for me to carry my bags through the gate) and I found myself standing on the porch taking photos of it. I thought I needed to contact the company and set up an account. Stupid American.

I spent that morning furiously Googling all things garbage-related in the area. I learned that garbage is collected by the municipality of La Paz (sort of like a county) and is included in the property taxes so I don’t need to do anything but leave my black bags by the road for pickup each Friday morning. Perfect! I set my alarm for 7 am each Friday, thinking that would give me plenty of time to move the bags outside the gate in time for collection. The alarm is a redundancy; those goddamned roosters down the way will never let me sleep so late.

Last Friday, I was ready! The boyfriend and I started moving bags out to the road and he opened the outdoor trash can to remove the final bag.

Let me talk to you for a moment about maggots. I am not a medical examiner. I have no need to have any knowledge whatsoever of the breeding habits of flies. Mexico apparently thinks otherwise. I’m not sure what kind of flies dominate the Tropic of Cancer but these are not normal flies. There is some strain of a highly evolved, freaskishly prolific fly that can lay an infinite quantity of eggs on any surface. This is a scientific fact.

What we witnessed when he opened that lid was the stuff of horror movies. There were maggots crawling everywhere. I mean *everywhere* and what was seen can never be unseen. I am so incredibly thankful he was still there to handle that issue because we were on the way to the airport and I seriously could not deal with that on my own.

In the short time we spent grossing out over maggots and loading my Jeep, the wild pack of dogs from across the street had torn into a couple of the bags we left by the road. Are you fucking kidding me right now? I needed to get him to Cabo to catch his flight. So there was trash strewn about along the road and we had to leave. The bags went back inside the gate for me to address later. I have no idea what time the truck finally showed up but it was well after 9 am. This will be relevant in a minute.

I could have taken the trash bags to the collection point the next day but I had to stay home and wait for the internet installation. So yes, those nasty-ass trash bags sat another week right inside the gate. Honestly, my anxiety over this situation has been a little intense and I am so proud of my doggos for completely ignoring them.

I kind of want to murder the neighborhood roosters but they saved my ass this morning. They were screaming at one another and when I looked at my phone, I saw it was only 6:30 so I tried to go back to sleep. My alarm was still set for 7:00 so it would be fine. Hahahaha….no. I heard the garbage truck and bolted out of bed. Ladies: Have you ever noticed how long it takes to put on a bra when you’re in a hurry? I ran to the gate and barely got the bags to the road by the time the guys arrived to collect them…at 6:55.

While I was victorious this morning, I am extremely concerned that I need to camp outside my gate like a Black Friday shopper just to accomplish what should be a very routine task. What time will the truck arrive? I have to place the bags in the proper location while avoiding the pack of wild trash-eating dogs. Should we place bets? Should I create a flow chart? How much alcohol should I consume today? I keep seeing the dad in A Christmas Story, whose turkey was eaten by the neighbor dogs when they got into the house. This is going to be a thing, isn’t it?!?

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.”

Trapped in a Box

If only the headline were a metaphor.

I may have mentioned the only things I’m taking to Mexico are shoes, clothes, purses, skin care products, and dogs. That doesn’t seem like much but I have quite the stockpile and I drive a Jeep rather than a Suburban. I decided to buy a cargo box for the roof to carry the lighter items so the puppers have more room to stretch out during our trek down to Baja. The box I chose is cavernous and one of the reviews actually showed a grown-ass man fully inside of it for scale.

As is often the case, assembly was a bit tricky. The hinges for this box are at the front so marrying the top and bottom was awkward, given that this thing is 57 inches long. I’m only 61 inches long, ya know? I was able to maneuver the pieces so the hinges lined up but there was a clip that needed to go into a hole right there at the very front to keep the hinges from separating. So that meant I had to climb inside the black plastic box, hold the back of the box up so I could see what I was doing, and also attach this clip with my very sweaty fingers…and a 61-inch wingspan.

Unfortunately, my t-shirt got caught on the lock at the back of the box and I was stuck. I’m not severely claustrophobic but being physically trapped in a black plastic box was a bit alarming. The lock caught my shirt near my left shoulder so I had very little mobility and nearly dislocated my shoulder getting unstuck. I also hyper-extended my dumb thumb. As I was struggling with all of this I was just thinking to myself, “Suffocated in a plastic cargo box…what a fucking way to go.”

Anyway, the goddamned thing is together and ready to mount to the roof rack. I’m just waiting for my surfboard to deliver and I’ll be all set.

I will get through this. *insert ALL of the eyerolls here*

Countdown to an Aneurysm

My calendar is killing me right now. I am not a fan of dealing with things or people and that is literally all I am doing for the next three weeks. Who knew moving to a foreign country could be so involved?

I recently received a federal grand jury summons for December. Hate to break it to you folks but I’m not going to be around for that. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

Analysis paralysis is setting in hardcore. Big decisions are easy; the small ones not so much. I trashed all of my yearbooks and various items I’ve been dragging around with me for the past two decades. I definitely did not need to keep the stuffed koala bear my grandmother brought to the hospital when I was born. Or the stuffed shark headband I wore to a Jimmy Buffett concert circa 2003.

Anxiety and OCD. Rigid punctuality. Routine. Proper prior planning. Checklists. Chest pains. Nausea. Insomnia.

At this point, anyone who adds to my stress level is going overboard. I am not entertaining any nonsensical bullshit. I just have to get through this and if you’re not part of the solution, I can’t even with you.

Here’s one thing I do know: A month from today, I will run with my dogs on the beach. I will cultivate some motherfucking Zen if it’s the last thing I do.

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