Sorry Folks…Baja is Closed

I mean, it’s kind of closed anyway. There’s a lot to unpack and my Spanish is still pretty terrible so I’m relying heavily on Google Translate when I read the news. There’s definitely no shortage of rumors and uninformed opinions. The main local Facebook group is a five-alarm dumpster fire.

The debate about whether or not the beaches were closed raged on for several days. Let’s not worry about whether or not we’ll have food and running water over the next month or so. Noooo…by all means argue about the fucking beaches, which are closed.

The Mexican government has a tiered plan based on certain infection thresholds and they’ve been increasing restrictions accordingly. The US media has a lot to say about how AMLO has handled the pandemic and I really don’t have an opinion either way. Just like in the US, it’s much more important how the governors handle their business.

Speaking of which, the governor of BCS tweeted a plea the other day for tourists to stop coming to Cabo. That seems weird, right? Like, can’t the governor close the airport? He ordered all nonessential businesses to close (including hotels) effective Monday, April 6 but can’t he close the airport to incoming passenger flights? As of right now, I’m still finding several daily flights from LA to Cabo after April 6.

So yeah, April 6 is the date everything shuts down for real here. Rumor has it alcohol sales will be cut off that day as well. I understand the rationale but I also know alcohol withdrawals can be deadly so that seems somewhat counterproductive. The emergency order is supposed to last until April 30 and I can’t imagine everyone stocked up to make it until May. I’m hearing that people are supposed to exercise at home for the duration, which ought to go splendidly as well.

Citizens set up a roadblock outside San Javier yesterday and people were cheering their efforts online. I completely understand the sentiment but am also keenly aware how quickly vigilante justice can go off the rails. Some people are saying they can get from here to La Paz and others say it can’t be done. My concern would be that I could get out of town but then couldn’t get back home so it isn’t worth the risk. Cabo apparently gets very dangerous during hurricane emergencies so I imagine this next month will be no exception.

I’ve been awake since 6:45 am waiting for the garbage truck. There was an issue earlier this week in La Paz with the sanitation workers’ union that finally got resolved but it isn’t clear when we should expect to see them. I’ve been stalking my neighbors to see if/when they put out their trash and listening intently for the sound of the truck. I have the gate key in my pocket and I’m ready to run out there any time. It’s an imperfect system but it’s the only one I’ve got.

I worry about the people who are still not taking COVID-19 seriously. It doesn’t matter how you view politics or the economy. We can sort out violations of civil liberties but to do so requires us to be alive. That should be each individual’s priority. Stay healthy and look after those who cannot look after themselves.

Riding out the Storm in Mexico

It’s very strange to feel so disconnected from my home country. After less than six months, I feel like I’ve been in Mexico forever. Many American and Canadian expats have returned home but we decided to stay here indefinitely. I feel extremely fortunate to be riding this out here rather than in the US and it’s a weird thing to try to explain so I’ll skip it for now.

Baja has been somewhat late in joining the pandemic but the beaches are now closed and people are being strongly encouraged to stay home. So far, we’re seeing a major reduction in traffic and people on the streets but people don’t seem to be panicking at all. The grocery stores are fully stocked. In addition to the roosters and ranchero music, I can still hear power tools being used on job sites. People who need to feed their families will continue working as long as they are physically able and no amount of social media infographics will deter them. The Mexican government is promising stimulus pesos but that doesn’t help people whose employers have already closed and need food now.

There seems to be a belief here that COVID-19 only affects the upper class. I assume that’s because the virus was initially spread from China by travelers. Mexican elites brought it to the mainland after visiting Vail and interacting with Italians who were there for a ski competition. The first two cases in Cabo were brought by tourists. I’ve seen some anti-American comments on the local Facebook groups by those who believe we brought the virus to the community but so far, no torches and pitchforks.

Some people on social media are calling for roadblocks to keep people from Cabo and La Paz (where there are confirmed cases) out of town but the genie is already out of the bottle. Military checkpoints will definitely be set up on the highway in the event of social unrest but there is no stopping the virus; it just lives on surfaces too long to be contained.

Right now, everything feels fine here. Flowers need to be watered and the dogs want to play. It’s beautiful outside and I may do my yoga on the porch so I can look at the ocean. It may be the calm before the storm but right now nothing is preventing me from enjoying my day.

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.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not even going to joke about COVID-19. Everyone knows someone whose immune system is compromised for whatever reason and any virus can be lethal to them.

So far, Baja California Sur hasn’t really seen much activity. There was at least one cruise ship with infected passengers that stopped in Cabo but the last time I checked, there haven’t been any confirmed cases. I’ve seen some rumors online about a positive test in La Paz but nothing confirmed.

My immune system is ridiculously strong so I don’t worry about how sick I will become if I am exposed. However, I am incredibly sensitive to those who aren’t so fortunate. Staying home is my standard operating mode so the concept of social isolation doesn’t phase me. I worry about those who actually enjoy the company of other people. Two weeks in isolation is enough to drive a normal person mad.

I guess if you’re one of those people and have never worked from home, here are a few things that may help:

Stick to a routine. Unless you’re too ill, maintain your normal sleep schedule. Plan your days the same as you would at work. You still need to do laundry and dishes. Pets still need to be fed. Even completing tiny tasks like painting your toenails will make you feel like you accomplished something. Try not to binge watch television all day. Get some exercise…and it doesn’t have to be anything major. Even if you’re stuck in an apartment and can’t go outside, you can do a couple easy yoga poses or light stretching. If watching or reading the news is making you anxious, leave it alone for a few hours. If the sun is shining, open the damned curtains already.

Tomorrow I’ll be cleaning floors, changing bedding, and bathing dogs. That’s enough to occupy my time on a dirt road in Mexico. I’ll worry about the global economy shit show another day.

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.

What happens when your dog gets sick in Mexico?

There have been some pleasant surprises over the past couple months in Mexico. No, the propane has not been delivered so I’m sitting in a cold house unable to warm up with a hot shower. It rained so I can’t even count on the sun to warm up a bucket of water. But…BUT…my sweet Sherman has been treated by an extraordinary veterinary specialist.

About a year ago, Sherman’s right cornea was scratched. I’m not sure how it happened but I’m blaming his psychotic sister. Both dogs are on Banfield wellness plans so Sherman had been seen by a few different vets and was prescribed a few different ointments and an oral antibiotic. The scratch healed but the redness and cloudiness in his eye failed to improve.

Once we got to Mexico, it quickly worsened. He and I both have severe allergies so I wasn’t sure if that was compounding his problem. I had to change his food since Canidae isn’t sold in Mexico and couldn’t rule out a food allergy. The change in climate was pretty significant and my eyes were certainly suffering. Maybe he was experiencing the same?

Veterinary options in our town are limited and I wasn’t sure how to even go about having him seen. Apparently, you walk in and ask. The vet took one look at Sherman’s eye and said he couldn’t help. He didn’t have the equipment needed to test his eye so he gave me the phone number of a veterinary ophthalmologist in Cabo.

I was concerned about calling this specialist with my crappy Spanish so I looked him up online and found the Facebook page for his practice. He had Messenger enabled so I sent him an appointment request copied from Google Translate and he replied within minutes. We scheduled an appointment for the same afternoon and he asked me to send him a message via WhatsApp so he could give me directions to his office. That confused me for a moment but he literally replied with coordinates because the place isn’t the easiest to find.

This guy is amazing. He tested Sherman’s eye and immediately diagnosed him with glaucoma. He explained the treatment process and warned me that it involves a lot of trial and error. He prescribed a prednisone drop for the redness and betaxolol to reduce the pressure. We were told to have Sherman rechecked after a week on the drops. He charged about US$30 for the appointment and testing. My Arizona vet charges more than that for a regular office visit. Specialists charge more than double that amount.

When we returned for the recheck, Sherman’s eye pressure had been reduced but not enough so we added travaprost to his regimen. I should add that Costco carries the prednisone but not the other two so we ordered them from a pharmacy in our town which caters to the gringo population. I am quite certain we are not getting the best price but they are reliable and I can communicate with them reasonably well. It takes three days for the orders to arrive and I can absolutely live with that.

The vet wanted to see Sherman again after we tried the new drops and I was dreading another drive to Cabo but he said he would be in our town for church the following Sunday and could see him there…at no charge. So I met this guy at the local mission and he walked up with his magic wand to test the pressure again. It still hasn’t been reduced to a normal level but he thinks it may take a little time on the new drops so we’ll see him again next week.

Americans are generally suspicious of medical professionals who practice in other countries, even though many of them were educated in the US. When I lived in Arizona, I learned all about medical tourism in Nogales and heard great things from my friends and coworkers. My Arizona vets didn’t mention glaucoma to me at all and did not test for it. They didn’t refer him to a specialist. It took coming to Mexico for my dog to receive proper treatment from an experienced professional we all like and trust. Go figure.

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.

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?!?

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