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.

Is the Pandemic Canceled or Nah?

Today is the day beaches and most non-essential businesses in Baja California Sur reopen with limited occupancy rules based on a color coded system. This strikes me as odd since the Ministry of Health has predicted COVID-19 cases will peak this week as well. I totally get the argument for opening up and restarting the economy. I don’t get why we were on lockdown for months, having to sneak around to get exercise, and now it’s totally safe to go about our business while taking precautions. Yes, I understand the “flatten the curve” mentality. It just rings hollow when I see different rules for different types of activities. Everyone wants to carve out their own little niche exemptions. It’s like the people taking private jets to raise awareness for climate change. What you need is a bit more self-awareness.

Anyway, a few months of quarantine have been enough to cause this natural born social distancer to seek the outside world, albeit in small doses. We went to a beach yesterday where there is a ton of fishing and it looked like a normal day. Kids were riding kneeboards in the ocean. People were sitting under umbrellas living their lives. There was no law enforcement presence of any kind at the beach or in town. There were also no Marines in the freshly painted barracks guard towers. A lot has changed in the past few weeks.

I keep reading that quarantine fatigue is a very serious problem and it contributed to the high Spanish Flu death toll. Honestly, I’m feeling it. I was hypervigilant until a couple weeks ago and I’m not exactly sure what changed. Maybe it has something to do with seeing all of the protests on the news. Even some epidemiologists are saying these demonstrations take priority over staying home. I think there are quite a few people who would argue saying goodbye to dying loved ones and attending funerals should have taken priority as well but here we are. It kind of feels like the pandemic has been canceled but we should remember the pandemic also gets a vote.

We were told new cases would dwindle over the summer but then we were told a lot of things. I lived in Arizona for seven years and I’m telling you June is the hottest, most unbearable month of the year. Arizona’s new case stats are going bananas right now. We don’t have to wait for winter for this thing to cycle through again. Look at what’s happening in Beijing; they’re contemplating another lockdown due to a sharp increase in confirmed cases. I honestly do not believe Americans will entertain another lockdown. We tend to frown upon the government picking winners and losers and that’s exactly what has been happening.

I think we’re all just very, very tired. Our brains are being overwhelmed with stimuli and it’s too much to process. I can’t remember another time in my life when we were so close to a presidential election and it barely registered. Like, I seriously keep forgetting it’s a thing. Maybe I’m in denial in the face of two terrible choices. I can’t keep track of all the violence which merits a reaction of outrage and maintain my social distancing vigilance and function like an adult. As if all of that weren’t enough, this morning I learned Mercury is about to go into retrograde. Now’s probably a good time to buckle up and assume the crash position. 2020 isn’t finished with us yet.

Fallout from “The Great Pitbull Attack of 2015”

Don’t worry…I won’t share any photos of the carnage. That isn’t what this is about.

Five years ago today, my Plott Hound and I were involved in an incident with a pitbull that went from sweet as sugar to batshit crazy in .02 seconds. Lulu ended up with a permanently ripped ear and I took a ride to the ER in an ambulance. Doctors don’t like to stitch dog bites due to the high risk of infection but some of the wounds were gaping to the point where they had no choice. I received 12 stitches, two of which were between my toes. It was not a good day.

I know a ton of people who are afraid of dogs. Mostly, it seems that comes from a childhood bite which traumatized them for life. I would say 99% of my scars are from dog bites over the course of my life. Perhaps I’m learning impaired but I have never developed that fear, which leads me to the current situation in Mexico.

Nearly everyone I have encountered in Baja is afraid of dogs, to the point where they won’t even come inside the gate when invited. Whenever we have people come by to do work at the house, we have to confine the dogs first. This is probably because there are tons of dogs running loose all over town and they aren’t exactly shy. When we take the dogs to the beach, we drive them because walking is stressful as hell with random hellhounds charging from every direction. When I’m out walking alone, it’s common for me to be asked if there are any dogs from whence I came.

As long as I leave my dogs at home, I am perfectly comfortable walking alone and interacting with the local canines. Sometimes, they come charging at me like I’ll be their first meal in days and stop only a few feet away. Sometimes, they’re thrilled to see me and I get the full slobber treatment. I never know what to expect so I employ the over-the-top baby talk method. Each and every dog I encounter is the BEST DOG EVER! I maintain my pace unless they’re begging for attention. They seem to like it.

Maybe I should be worried but I think the fact that I’m not is why I don’t have a problem. They know I’m not afraid of them and they know I’m not a threat. What happened on June 8, 2015 is irrelevant. I hope I’m not jinxing myself.

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.

The World is a Cruel Place

I sent the dogs out to do potties right before bed just like I do every night. As per the usual, Lulu came in right away and I had to call for Sherman. He came trotting onto the patio, dropped something onto the flagstones, and made his way to the door. It was about the size of an Indian almond pod so I wasn’t terribly concerned but when I got closer I saw it was a tiny, barely hatched bird that had no feathers or features.

Goddamnit Sherman

It wasn’t moving and it was also pitch black outside so I decided to leave it. There are all manner of interesting creatures that come out at night in Baja and I didn’t want to step on any of them while carrying this dead bird to the fence over which he would be flung. I figured a cat or owl would grab it during the night and the cycle of life would continue.

As soon as I fed the dogs their breakfast this morning, I let them out to take care of business. I remembered the gift Sherman had left on the patio so I went along to see if it was still there. It was there and it was alive.

Goddamnit Sherman

Now what? If I were still in Tucson, I would have called the wildlife place stored in my phone but this is a small Mexican town during a pandemic with Marines in the barracks guard towers.

I used a leaf to roll it onto a garden trowel and began looking for a place to leave it where the dogs wouldn’t find it. This sad little hairless bird was snuggling into the base of the trowel and I just about lost it. Sherman had brought it from the front of our half-acre compound so I wanted to leave it someplace close to the nest from which it must have fallen. There were no options which would protect it from the dogs.

Some of the palm trees in the backyard hadn’t been trimmed closely so I set the poor little bird up high on a shelf left by a long-dead frond and hoped for the best while knowing he was in for the worst. And now I feel like an asshole for just leaving him there, like he’s my responsibility.

Goddamnit Sherman

A Quarantined State of Mind

I guess it must be different for people who like people. Frankly, I worry about them. We’ve all seen the memes about introverts needing to check on the extroverts in our lives because they’re not okay. I’m an only child so isolation is just kind of normal for me.

My neighbors still aren’t taking the pandemic seriously. They’re acting like it’s Sunday after church every day. On Tuesday, there was a party a couple houses down that went on for more than 12 hours with people up on the roof deck drinking and listening to the Dangerous Minds soundtrack. The music was a welcome trip back to 1995 but the Airbnbs in town are supposed to be closed, people (extremely John Candy voice). Apparently, all levels of law enforcement went around town yesterday and closed businesses that hadn’t complied with the governor’s order. But then there was a group of random people wanting to meet in the town square to discuss setting up roadblocks to keep the virus out. You just can’t make this shit up.

There are still people in the local Facebook group blaming Americans for bringing the virus to Baja. It’s interesting to experience a group of locals wanting to deport gringos who have overstayed their visas. I find it amusing when I read my American friends’ posts about deporting immigrants. I guess it really is the same all over. Like, I wonder if they realize Mexicans want the Americans out. It’s extremely funny to me for some reason. Textbook definition of irony or the Alanis Morissette bastardization? It doesn’t matter.

I left the house one day last week to take my dog to the vet; I think it was Friday. That was plenty. There’s a lot going on at home: Trees to trim, dogs to bathe, coffee to grind, flowers to water, geckos to rescue, laundry, dishes, a sock drawer to organize….

Back to the psychology of isolation, though. I hadn’t been to the beach in a few weeks but admit feeling a sudden urge to go as soon as I heard they were closing. The feeling passed but I wonder if that’s only because I can still see the ocean every time I look outside. I can only imagine how it must feel to be stuck inside a studio apartment. Our house is on a fully fenced and gated half-acre so the dogs can run around like maniacs all day if they choose. I don’t have to worry about how to make sure their needs are met without getting arrested. I can also climb the stairs to the roof deck for cardio. You may think I’m crazy for living on a washed-out dirt road in Mexico but it’s an A+ location in a pandemic.

None of us will get out of this unscathed, though. What’s happening in New York right now will happen elsewhere soon…possibly where I am. If we survive it, we will all know someone who didn’t. We thought 9/11 was the defining moment of our lives but we were wrong. This is it and there is more to come.

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.

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