We are settling into La Paz, Mexico. We have made friends outside of the cruisers’ community, determined the best bicycle routes to the Centro and to the supermarkets, found salsa dancing venues and classes, taken numerous walks and dinghy rides at night along the shoreline, visited some government offices for boat paperwork, gotten our teeth cleaned, and even dealt with a medical issue. We continue to sail to the surrounding islands to explore them, snorkel and get away from the City. We continue to discover new foods, and explore the finer points of Tequila tasting. We are doing boat projects as time permits. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve (Noche Buena) at the home of our friend Olivia’s son, and we plan a fancy New Year’s Eve at a local resort, followed by a week or so out at the islands, weather permitting.
We took our second sailing trip out to Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida starting December 8 for a few days. It was our intention to sail further north to Isla San Francisco – there are so many islands to explore that you don’t want to spend all of your time at just one. But we had friends on Andante, Mabrueka and Friday who were also at the same anchorage, Ensenada Grande, so we found ourselves playing with them instead of moving on – group snorkeling out at the point, movie night, potlucks, etc. Rick and I did take a hike by ourselves on the day everyone else left, up the creekbed to the eastern shore of the island, overlooking the Sea of Cortez. The hike was rated as “medium” difficulty, but I figure that rating must be for a 16-year old. It was probably the hardest hike I will do for the rest of this lifetime! I would call it bouldering, since I was using all fours more than just my feet most of the time, climbing up and around and down boulders that made up a steep creekbed/drainage. It was a two mile hike and it took us more than two hours, one way! My hands were raw from holding on to boulders to climb up and down! Next time I go for a hike on one of these islands, I am bringing gloves.
As always, the nights at Ensenada Grande were spectacular. Here is yet another picture of a beautiful sunset!
And while we were anchored, Rick cast out a line a few times just in case, and sure enough, we caught a tasty little morsel of a tuna!
Through our inquiries about salsa dancing, we met Olivia Montaño Puppo, a lovely Mexican woman who makes a living helping Gringos ferret through the Mexican system. She speaks English fluently, having lived in the U.S. for several years. In fact, all her sons are bilingual and have dual citizenship, even though all but one have chosen to make Mexico their home because their hearts are here. Anyway, she showed us where there were salsa classes and salsa venues throughout the city, and met us several times for dancing, along with her gringo sailor boyfriend, Don. Olivia has taken us under her wing, and we are so grateful. She invited us over to her home for a grand Mexican dinner, and we reciprocated with a modest Thai dinner we cooked on our little boat. She is a wonderful cook, and gave me a bunch of ideas for Mexican dishes to learn how to cook.
One of the dancing places that Olivia introduced us to is called La Bartola. It is a restaurant located right on the Malecon in downtown La Paz, with a tile floor and one of those intricately woven, beautifully constructed palapa roofs. It is owned by a charming man, great chef and fabulous Cuban-style dancer from Veracruz named Obet. Of course, Obet endeared himself to me when he told me I danced with the rhythm he would expect only from someone who grew up dancing to Latin rhythms! Rick and I were getting to be regulars at the salsa and bachata classes held there on Friday nights, which were taught by another charming man and fabulous dancer, also bilingual, named Alfredo. So, Alfredo decided to have a cena (dinner) at La Bartola to thank his students for a wonderful year of dancing, and he invited us. We danced the night away. At that party, Obet announced he was going to hold a free cena for his regulars the following Saturday to celebrate his birthday, so we went to that too. We met Obet’s wife and their baby. During all of these events, Rick and I were the only consistent students besides Don whose first language was not Spanish, so there were plenty of opportunities to meet locals and practice our Spanish. We were getting to the point where other classmates would greet us when they entered and say goodbye to us when they left – we were becoming part of a community.
And then, out of the blue, Olivia called me on the Friday before Christmas to tell me that the night before, La Bartola had a fire. Rumor has it that someone had been seen on top of the palapa roof just before the fire started, so it may have been arson. We couldn’t believe it! Obet is such a kind and gentle man and has a young family, and it happened right before Christmas! Who would do this? It is still unclear. Fortunately, the kitchen did not suffer too much damage, I hear, but the roof structure is gone, and there are charred remains of the roof and wooden tables everywhere. We don’t know where we will dance now or how long it will be before Obet can recover from this disaster. We have let Obet know we are here to help.
In spite of La Bartola’s disaster, we managed to have a wonderful Christmas, again thanks to Olivia. We had the incredibly good fortune to be invited to the home of her son, Eric, a manager at the local Walmart, and his wife, Origamii and their four year-old daughter Luna, along with 30 or so relatives! It reminded Rick and I of the group Christmas dinners that our extended family would have at our niece Jen’s or our nephew Rich’s houses.
Well, a lot was similar to our family, but a lot of the rituals were different too. In addition to the turkey and pork roasts, there was also a gravy that had some tang to it – it tasted like maybe it had some tamarind in it. And while there was plenty of tequila and wine to go around, there were a couple of traditional, warm, non-alcoholic drinks, both somewhat sweet: there was Ponche, made from cooking fruits that were still in the drink that Origamii’s Mom brought, and then there was what I think was called Atole, made with cornmeal, that Origamii made. Olivia made an outstanding coffee-flavored flan, as well as a professional-looking layered cake that said ‘Feliz Navidad.’ There was a large pot cooking over the barbecue in the back yard that contained Menudo (stomach). It was intended to cook all night long and then be eaten at yet another fiesta (or continuation of the same) on Christmas Day. We passed, thank you very much. And then of course, there was the HOUR of the meal – around midnight! In the meantime, there was a piñata for the kids, and plenty of sitting around talking, mostly outside in a huge backyard so people could smoke cigarettes (ugh, yes, it is still prominent here amongst Mexicans). The guys had set up a large speaker system in the backyard so we had good music; they were also setting up a microphone – we think maybe it was for Peppe, who was alleged to be a good karaoke singer, although he hadn’t started singing yet by the time we left at 2:30 a.m.! After dinner, a large part of the family started playing Loteria, a card game with pictures that resembles Bingo, while Rick and I, and Olivia and Don, danced salsa.
My favorite part of the evening, however, was when Origamii’s mother insisted that everyone go around the room and say what they were thankful for. It was so inspiring that it brought me to tears. Everyone, to a person, came alive with eloquent soliloquies, interspersed with humor and jibes from their audience. It was touching and hysterical, all at the same time. Sometimes, someone would stand up and it would be five minutes of teasing them before they were even allowed to say anything! The order that they spoke was according to their stature in the family, starting with Eric and Origamii, the hosts, followed by the grandparents (grandmothers first). Mostly they thanked everyone else in the room, one by one, for all they had done for each other. You heard about the successes and the challenges each had during the year – new jobs, the damage to home and jobs from the hurricane, and gifts bestowed like new tile for Eric’s patio from a remodel that Peppe was doing. The recurring theme was that they are, one and all, moving forward and not letting things get them down, because they love each other and give each other strength. It was a kind of verbalized passion for life that so endears me to the Mexican culture, so different from the more reserved and conservative expressions of love that we find in mainstream U.S. culture. !Viva México¡ At the same time, it gave me an avenue for letting my heart feel the love I have for our children and Rick’s and my families, even if they weren’t with us.
Along with all these new tastes we are exploring, I have eaten Octopus (pulpo) at restaurants here several times and really enjoy it, so I tried to make it myself. I told the butcher at the grocery store that I would buy it if only I knew how to make it, so he proceeded to tell me how to cook it. Well, I might have lost something in the translation, because I think I didn’t cook it long enough and it was way too tough. I thought he said to boil it for 25 minutes, but I asked our local restaurant and they said an hour and a half! I will continue to try to make the perfect pulpo, although now I am afraid I have an uphill battle convincing Rick to even try it!
Another thing we have been experimenting with is honing our pallets for the best Tequila without spending a fortune. I always thought that the añejo (aged more than one year) tequila was supposed to be far superior to reposado (aged six months), which is far superior to blanco (or silver – aged not at all). It is certainly priced that way. Local sources say that it is appropriate to give only añejo as a gift, and that it is considered a sin to mix añejo with anything else – serve it chilled and straight in a shot glass or not at all. On the other hand, when making margaritas, never waste a good reposado or añejo on a drink where the exquisite nature of the better tequila is covered by the mix – instead, only use blanco/silver. We have also found that Contreau, or it’s cheaper Mexican equivalent, Controy, is far better than just lots of limónes and sugar in making a margarita. We also discovered that Tequila is kind of like champagne – it can only be called tequila if made in certain regions neighboring the town in Mexico called Tequila. All other beverages made from the same agave plant, even pure blue agave, must be called Mescal. On the other hand, traditional mescal has a much smokier flavor than do most tequilas.
What we were surprised to discover, then, was that when we bought a set of two bottles of Herradura Tequila, one bottle of reposado and one smaller bottle of silver, and blind taste-tested them, we both found the silver to be much smoother. Herradura silver is still quite expensive, albeit cheaper than Herradura reposado or añejo. We decided it was going to be our sipping tequila of choice, for now.
Finally, the last two topics I should cover are not particularly pleasant but both have good endings: a root canal and a toilet.
I had an emergency redo on a 40-year old root canal when I was about to leave San Diego, and it was still hurting five weeks later. Based on several expensive international phone calls to the San Diego oral surgeon, I tried three courses of antibiotics and one course of prednisone and it still hurt. So before flying up to San Diego, my last ditch effort was to see an oral surgeon in La Paz. She was wonderful. As it turned out, there was too much impact between that tooth and my uppers, causing the inflammation to be aggravated every time I closed my mouth. She shaved down the tooth a little, and Voila! the pain is gone. She also confirmed that there was no bone loss and no infection, just inflammation. And all this for about $30. No, that was not the co-pay; that was the entire cost!
Finally, the toilet. Ours was working fine, but Rick was concerned that sooner or later, our toilet would get stopped up if we let anything but liquid go through it. So, through the local cruisers’ trade net, we found a brand new macerating toilet – it chews up everything that goes into it, before it goes down the drain, so theoretically, it can’t get plugged. Inspite of Rick’s disdain for all things plumbing, he did a fine job of installing it with no leaks in just two short days. It is slightly higher than our last one, so I feel like I am sitting on a throne every time I use it. Ah, the joy we boaters find in small improvements to our little homes!