Thursday, September 30, 2010

Green, but Still Feeling Guilty

"Those who skim the surface of the earth’s crust in their needlessly huge fossil-fuel vehicles, tossing their foam coffee cups out the window, may never give such matters a second thought, focused as they are on getting to the mini-mart and saying to the clerk, “A six-pack of your finest spring water, my good fellow. And would you mind triple bagging it?” But for those who are concerned about green, life is fraught."

(note: it's multiple pages)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The best camera ...

... is the one you have with you.

I was walking to work yesterday and I couldn't resist taking pictures of the beautiful autumn colors. I wasn't planning on it so I didn't have my fancy DSLR. But I did have my aging Canon SD700 since I always keep it in the bottom of my backpack, just in case.

Needless to say, it took me longer than usual to get to work :-) Good thing I'm the boss!

2010-09-27 Autumn

If you like particular photos, please click on the Like button. (You have to get out of the slideshow to do this.) I have my own favorites, but I'm always curious which ones other people like.

PS. I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again - I can't imagine trading walking and biking to work for sitting in a car in traffic. Ugh.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Shelley and I took advantage of the nice weather to get out kayaking one last time on Sunday. We got Penny to drop us off at Poplar Bluffs and paddled back to the city. It took us a couple of hours.

It clouded up, but it was still a lovely day. The fall colors were glorious and flocks of Sandhill Cranes were flying overhead, identifiable by their distinctive calls and large size. Unfortunately, we only spotted two of them by the river and they flew away before we could get any decent pictures. (I saw Sandhill Cranes last year on a rare warm day in mid-October.)

2010-09-26 Kayaking

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I went out to fill the bird feeder (a never ending job!) and found a dead Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the ground below our picture window. Very sad. The black and white patterning on the wings was lovely, the belly a subtle yellow. The name has become a joke, but it's an attractive little woodpecker. (The photo is from Baja)

It's estimated that over 100 million birds are killed by windows every year. And my bird feeder is right out in front of our picture windows - nice for me to watch, not so good for bird collisions. We have vertical blinds which should help. I rarely find dead birds below the window, although I do hear them bang into them occasionally.

I saw some Mountain Bluebirds yesterday. They didn't sit still for long, but the brilliant blue stood out against the browns of autumn. Pretty little birds.

In Baja we saw lots of bright yellow Hooded Orioles and a few bright red Northern Cardinals (not that Baja is very "northern"). And less colorful but still nice were the White-winged Doves and Cactus Wrens. Most people aren't as thrilled by the Turkey Vultures, but they can sure soar! And, of course, we saw lots of pelicans, cormorants, herons, and gulls.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Unseen Sea

Great time lapse video. The Unseen Sea on Vimeo

Best watched HD, full-screen (and scaling off if you have a big monitor)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tips for Traveling by Bus and Train

After trips to Portland, San Francisco, and Baja Mexico, I'm starting to get the hang of traveling by bus and train. Here's what I've learned.

Train in Canada -
Train (and bus) in the USA -
Bus in Canada -
Bus in the USA -
Bus in Baja -

One problem with living in Saskatoon, is that you can only get into the USA by bus or train by going West to Vancouver or East to Toronto. From Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba you can drive across the border many places, and you can fly across the border to various places, but you can't go by bus or train. (As far as I know - if there are other options, please let me know.)

I took Via Rail from Saskatoon to Vancouver (and back) on my first trip to Portland in the spring. I prefer the train over bus, but the other two trips I ended up taking the bus. The bus only takes 24 hours and goes every day (at multiple times), whereas the train takes 36 hours and only goes three times a week. But it's definitely worth taking the train at least once.

For Greyhound it definitely pays to book ahead. The three week advance fare is almost half the full fare. And you can still change the date of travel if you need to. WARNING: If you think you may need to change the date of your ticket, do NOT choose the print ticket at home option. These tickets are not changeable. Choose the "Will Call" option where you pick up your ticket at the station. Just make sure the ticket counter is open at the time you're leaving. You may need to specifically point out it's a "Will Call" ticket or they can get confused.

You can catch Amtrak directly from Vancouver (BC). This is the easiest way to cross the border - you don't have to get your luggage or get off the train - an official gets on the train and checks your passport while it's moving. On the bus you have to get off, pick up your luggage, go through customs, and then get back on the bus.

The Amtrak train only leaves Vancouver once a day at  6:40 am. There are later Amtrak departures, but they use a bus from Vancouver to Seattle. Both ways work fine. I like the Amtrak buses a little better than Greyhound - they seem to stop less and not be so crowded (at least between Vancouver and Seattle).

Amtrak on the west coast is split up into several routes. The Amtrak Cascades goes from Vancouver to Portland. The Coast Starlight goes from Seattle to Los Angeles. The Pacific Surfliner goes from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. This means you may need to switch trains depending on where you're traveling from and to, but the routes overlap so you have some choices where to stop.

For Amtrak, I mostly bought tickets online. The one time I tried to buy a ticket at the station they told me the train was sold out, but when I double checked online I was able to buy a ticket. I was told the trains are busiest on Friday and Sunday.

When I could I would take my overnight stops where I had to change trains anyway. This eliminated waiting around in stations, and also potential missed connections if the train was late. Both Seattle and Portland are great places to stop overnight. I avoided stopping overnight in Los Angeles because the idea didn't seem very attractive, but I'm sure there's nice things there too.

Note: The train doesn't actually go through San Francisco. You have to get off at Emeryville and take another bus or train from there. Or you can stop in Oakland like I did and take the ferry across to San Francisco.

I ended up deciding on a couple of rules of thumb - don't go more than 24 hours without stopping, and try to arrive at your destination before dark, preferably early enough to have supper. Stopping overnight is definitely appreciated after a night on the bus or train, but it does mean adding extra time and the cost of hotels. But if you're short of time, traveling by bus or train is not the best option anyway. Cost-wise, you'd probably do better stopping in some of the smaller towns rather than the big cities.

You have a couple of options getting from San Diego to the Tijuana central bus station. You can take the trolley to the border, cross on foot, and then take a bus or taxi. Or, you can take Greyhound from San Diego to the Tijuana bus station. That's what I did and I'd say it's the easiest option. Crossing from the USA to Mexico I didn't even have to get off the bus or even show my passport. Coming back you have to get off the bus and go through US customs, but you bypass the huge line of people crossing on foot. The part I found confusing is that when you get out of customs the bus is nowhere to be seen - you have to walk a block to the bus station and catch a new bus.

The Tijuana bus station is quite civilized, although don't expect to see any Americans or Canadians around. In Mexico (and most places in Central and South America) there are multiple bus companies, not like in Canada and the USA where Greyhound pretty much has a monopoly on buses. So the bus station will have counters for multiple countries. You have to decide which one to go to to buy your ticket.

However, for Baja there only appears to be one choice - Aguila. Their web site is in Spanish but it's not too hard to navigate even if you don't know much Spanish. (Note: I had problems using it with Chrome or Safari, try Internet Explorer or Firefox.) Also, the prices are in pesos. You can book your ticket online ahead of time, which is what I did going south, but on my return trip I just bought tickets either the day before, or immediately before traveling. I never had a problem with the bus being full, but potentially you could. (Greyhound will put on extra buses if required, but I don't think Aguila would.) Make sure you have enough cash (Mexican or US) to buy your tickets, don't expect to pay with a debit or credit card. (But ATM's are fairly common so you as long as you've got your bank card it's not hard to get cash.) Also, consider carrying something like Gravol for motion sickness. I don't normally have trouble with this, but even I got queasy on some of the bumping swaying bus rides in Mexico.

On Via Rail or Amtrak trains, don't bother checking your bags, there is plenty of space either in the overhead racks or in the luggage space at the end of the cars. The only advantage to checking your bags would be if you had connections where you had to switch trains and you didn't want to have to deal with your luggage. But if you're going to travel by bus and train, I'd strongly recommend traveling with just a backpack, it makes life a whole lot easier. And it's often cheaper because you can walk from the bus or train station instead of having to take a taxi. One advantage to bus and train is that most of the stations are within walking distance of downtown as opposed to airports that are often miles away.

Even (especially) if it's the heat of summer, be prepared for cold trains and buses. The air conditioning often seems to have only one setting - full blast. You'll at least want a sweater, and if you're traveling overnight, I'd recommend carrying a blanket. I have an Eagle Creek fleece travel blanket that stuffs into its own pocket, and when it's not cold, it makes a good pillow.

Although the trains have snack bars and dining cars, and the buses make meal stops, I prefer to take some food with me so I don't end up eating junk food.

The Vancouver train station conveniently serves Via Rail, Amtrak, and Greyhound. Note: The Amtrak buses do not operate out of the Greyhound part of the station. They arrive and depart from the front of the station - look for a small sign. 

The Seattle train station doesn't have anything to eat but there are several places close by. For coffee, my favorite was Zeitgeist. If you have time, check out the aquarium - it's a good one.

The Portland train station is within walking distance of downtown, but if it's late or you're tired, it's within the free transit area - just walk around the corner and catch the MAX light rail to downtown (get used to the homeless people, there are lots of them). The Portland train station is also one of the few with free wifi. There's a snack bar in the station and a fancier restaurant attached to the station, but apart from that there's not much really close. For more coffee shops and restaurants (and the Patagonia store) head west from the train station on Hoyt to 10th to Jamison Square in the Pearl district. To get to or from downtown from the Jamison Square area you can take the Streetcar (but be aware that it's outside the free zone). If you have time in Portland, don't miss the huge Powell's bookstore. The zoo and Japanese gardens are also nice.

There's not much around the Oakland train station. The Jack London Square shopping area is a few blocks away but otherwise it's a somewhat seedy area.

San Diego's train station is close to downtown and the Greyhound station is just a few blocks away. If you've got time, the San Diego zoo is a good one.

Unfortunately, bus and train are not a lot cheaper than flying, especially if you get a cheap flight. (Flying, like many things in our oil based economy, is amazingly cheap, at least until the oil runs out.) But bus and train are more environmentally friendly, potentially if not actually. And because you have to actually experience the distance you're traveling, you're a lot less likely to flit across the continent for a meeting or to go shopping. And to me, experiencing the ground you're traveling over is one of the best parts of this kind of travel.

For more details on restaurants and coffee shops and places to stay, check out my previous blog posts from my trips.

The Process Is Dead "The best outcome anyone now expects from December’s climate summit in Mexico is that some delegates might stay awake during the meetings."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Zero History

Zero History is the latest great book by the Canadian science fiction author William Gibson.

I've been a fan of his books for a long time, all the way back to Neuromancer (1984) where he popularized the term "cyberspace".

His last three books, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and now Zero History have been set in the present, rather than the normal science fiction future. Zero History shares many of the same characters as Spook Country.

But Gibson is well know for saying "The future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed." The bits of the present that he focuses on in these books might as well be the future. He focuses on brand a lot, which is not something I think about a lot, but it's definitely a big part of our world.

If you're looking for an easy read that doesn't require much thought, this probably isn't the book for you. I often feel like I need to reread several times to have a chance of getting the full meaning. But if you're a Gibson fan you won't be disappointed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

San Luis Obispo

I have to say the San Luis Creek Lodge was a bit over the top for me. It looked good on the Internet. When I saw the fake Tudor and the suit of armor out front I started to wonder. Tassels on the shower curtains were bad enough, but tassels on the night light definitely seemed like overdoing it.

And do I really need a copper tub of firewood for the fake (gas) fireplace? It wouldn't have been so bad if there was any kind of conceptual integrity, but it just seemed to be a random assortment of embellishments. Reminds me of some software I know. To me, if you want to be elegant and classy you need to give at least some thought to simplicity and clean lines. Not that it has to be so Spartan that it's sterile.

They list it as a bed and breakfast, but it's really just a small hotel that happens to include breakfast. The name is also a bit misleading - the creek might be around somewhere but I never saw it.

Don't get me wrong, it was a nice place. The room was good. I'm sure some people would like all the doodads.

San Luis downtown is nice enough. The high end shops don't do much for me. And as far as I'm concerned, once the garden gnome stores and interior decorating shops move in it's all downhill from there. Not to mention shops like "EcoBambino" - supposedly environmentally friendly crap, I mean stuff, for kids.

I wandered through the Apple store. The only thing I hadn't seen were the new Shuffle and Nano. Interesting that they reverted to buttons on the Shuffle. The Nano is slick, almost like a piece of jewelry. No tassels on Apple products!

Past the shops, the mission and the walkway along the creek are very nice. That's where I'm sitting now. Very quiet and peaceful. A world away from Apple and Victorias Secret. (Do they put those side by side intentionally?) Of course, I'm typing this on my iPhone so it's not like I've left that world.

For lunch I went to Novo. I picked it because it had a wonderful outdoor patio overlooking the creek. The sun was shining, the creek was burbling, the food was good and I was sipping on a California Chardonnay. Sweet.

On To San Luis Obispo

The train was delayed leaving San Diego for San Luis Obispo but not too much. I settled in for the ride. The train wasn't too full and I had two seats to myself on the good (ocean) side of the train.

But before too long the train stopped at a station and they announced more delays. Apparently two teenagers had been killed by a train. Awful.

After waiting a while they asked everyone going beyond Los Angeles to get off the train - they were putting us on a bus. So much for my comfortable train ride. But when we got on the bus they told us they were just shuttling us past where the tracks were closed and then we'd get back on another train. That sounded better.

But when the bus got to where we were supposed to catch the next train, it had already left, even though theoretically they were holding it for us. So we continued on the bus to LA.

The interesting part (to me) was how they handled the problems. One of the conductors was telling people that obviously they couldn't plan for this kind of event. (This was just one guy, not an official statement.) While you may not be able to plan for specific events, you definitely can plan for types of events. A section of track being closed seems like a pretty obvious thing for Amtrak to have contingency plans for.

It's no wonder the cell phone system gets overloaded during disasters. Everyone on the bus had to call someone to tell them something was happening, even though they didn't know anything at that point. People were even borrowing phones to call and tell someone what they didn't know.

I got a little bit of an inside view of how things were being handled because an Amtrak employee was in the seat on front of me on the bus and I could eavesdrop on her cell phone conversations.

Lesson 1 - if you are going to depend on cell phones, then you need a backup. Or at least a spare battery - hers ran out and she had to borrow one and then didn't have her contacts.

It amazed me how there didn't seem to be any sort of contingency plan. They just seemed to be going by the seat of their pants. For example, they had no arrangement for getting buses and couldn't get enough to take everyone. Of course, maybe there is some elaborate plan - sitting on the shelf gathering dust at head office.

It made me think that we should be revisiting our disaster planning at Axon. Not to make specific plans, but to at least think about what kinds of things could happen and in general how we could handle them.

From LA they put us on a later train and things were back on track, other than arriving at 8:30 pm instead of 4:30. But it's a great trip along the coast. I saw deer and a fox and even some dolphins! And it was a beautiful colorful sunset.

I'd been happy that I'd be able to catch the Thursday evening farmers market in San Luis Obispo. As it was I just caught the tail end of the it. But I got something to eat from a vegetarian place and I chatted with the people at the turtle club booth :-) It's quite a big market and there were lots of people. It was nice to get a quick look at it.

I was surprised to see an Apple store since SLO isn't that big. But it probably serves a bigger area and it is a college town. I made use of the free wifi at Apple stores to send a quick email.

Now I just had to find the place where I was staying - a mile away, in the dark. Deja vu! But, unlike Mexico, there were street lights and shops and restaurants open. And the San Luis Creek Lodge turned out to be easy to find.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

San Diego

Back in "civilization" it seems the highlights are all food related. That seems a little decadent, but when you remove shopping from the city, and you don't have time for the zoo, what's left? Maybe I'll have to start visiting museums.

I did visit a Borders bookstore but left when they refused to give me a washroom token because I hadn't bought anything. I can see having that rule so you don't turn into a public washroom, but that kind of rule should be meant to be broken, not followed to the letter. Not that I'm a good customer, I almost never buy paper books any more, I just use bookstores to browse. For example, I saw the latest William Gibson was released so I turned around and bought it on my Kindle. Originally, I didn't think being able to buy books on my Kindle anywhere in the world was a big deal. But it's turned out to be a really nice feature. Although for me, wifi would be just as good as cellphone. In fact, some places I could get wifi where I couldn't get cellphone data. (like Cabo Pulmo)

Anyway, back to food (and drink). My first priority was a good latte. I checked Yelp (a useful app) on my iPhone and decided to try Coffee and Art. It turned out to be a tiny place with not much seating and I almost didn't stop. But I'm glad I did - the latte was great and the photographs (the art) were nice too.

My caffeine craving satisfied, food was next on the agenda. Since I was in the Gaslamp district I decided to try out Zanzibar, a place I'd seen on my last visit. And I like the name :-) I had a great vegetarian chili with cornbread and a nice salad.

I had planned on going for coffee again in the afternoon, but for some reason I didn't feel like more coffee. Maybe I need to rebuild the size of my coffee appetite. But hey, I'm on holidays, I can go for a glass of wine instead :-) I ended up back in the Gaslamp district at Chloe's for a glass of flavorful California Bordeaux-style Meritage.

I browsed Yelp looking for somewhere to go for supper. In the end I decided to go to an old favorite, Indigo, rather than trying somewhere new. It was good as always, although the portions are way too big for me. Usually you can count on smaller portions at more expensive restaurants but that doesn't seem to apply at Indigo. Shelley and I have got in the habit of sharing so we can sample more dishes, but that doesn't work when I'm on my own. Indigo serves a west coast fusion, blending Mexican Oaxaca spices with Pacific foods like salmon. I had their Good Things Growing, a vegetarian option with everything from tofu to squash to chili relleno.

For breakfast this morning I headed to my favorite Brickyard for a breakfast burrito and a latte. The sparrows were out in force. I can't help but smile when I see them hopping around so cheerfully. (anthropomorphizing, I know)

Then on to the train to continue my northward journey. To break up the trip a little I'm stopping in San Luis Obispo. It sounds like an interesting place.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Across the Border

I caught the bus to Tijuana yesterday afternoon. It was a newer bus and only half full. Overall a smooth trip.

Of course being cooped up inevitably leads to some annoyances. First, I had my head cheerfully pummeled by a small child in the seat behind me. I wondered why the mother wasn't exerting a little more control - when I turned around I found she was busy on her cell phone with the child standing on her lap. But she only looked about 15 years old so what can you expect. (Seems like lots of very young mothers here.) I escaped the child abuse by moving seats.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, two old ladies behind me obviously couldn't sleep and carried on a loud gossip session at 2 am. I didn't bother trying to move again since they were still playing loud movies (till about 3 am!). Despite the noise I managed to doze off and on most of the night.

I bought a ticket on the next Greyhound to San Diego. There were huge lineups at the border, both vehicles and pedestrians. The line of people walking across was about 8 blocks long! It took about an hour to make it through the line to the border (and that was in the bus lane). After that it was the quickest, easiest entry into the US I've experienced - no forms, no questions, just a quick scan of my passport. I didn't catch the subtle flick of the fingers waving me on and was standing waiting for questions and had to be told to move on. At which point I started to exit out the open door towards the bus. It seemed logical, but I was told if I went out that door I was going to "get hurt". Border guard humor I guess. So I followed directions and went out the other way. Which left me standing outside the building wondering how to find the bus, which was nowhere to be seen. Luckily I spotted a fellow passenger and he told me to walk a block that aways. Which I did, and found the bus station. But I'm not sure how you're supposed to know this - no signs or instructions anywhere that I could see. It always amazes me how much people assume you know what to do. (a lesson for software design!)

Back on the bus it was a short trip to San Diego. Back to the land of freeways and automobiles. Certainly you see more vehicles here than you see people in Baja. Emerging from the bus terminal I was back in America. I felt some empathy for the Mexicans who were now in a foreign land as I had been. It must seem as unfamiliar to some of them as Mexico is to me. (Not counting the Mexicans that spend much of their time on the US.)

I have to admit it's a little bit of a relief to be back on "familiar" ground. I have to remind myself that I can actually talk to people here, and they'll understand me. What a concept! (Not that I actually talk to people any more than strictly necessary, regardless of language!)

The Magical Sea of Cortez

I woke up refreshed at Cliff's B&B in Mulege. Cliff had left me freshly squeezed orange juice in the fridge and a nice baguette from the bakery in Santa Rosalia (and apricot jam - my favorite) I relaxed over a cup of coffee and caught up on the Internet. There was no one else staying there so it was quiet. And early morning is the best time, when it's only hot, not scorching.

I took Cliff up on his offer of the use of one of his kayaks. His place is right on the river which is wide and shallow here near its mouth. And it's bursting with life, not surprising when it's one of few sources of fresh water in the middle of a desert. Silvery fish were jumping like clockwork. Birds were everywhere - brown pelicans, great blue (and other) herons, white ibis, osprey, cormorants, shorebirds, gulls, and more.

It was only 9 am but the temperature had already risen to scorching. I soaked my hat in the water and splashed myself but it didn't seem to make much difference. Still, it was a joy to be out on the water. There was only the occasional motorboat to break the spell.

I paddled down to the mouth of the river and around the lighthouse. A bright blue jellyfish drifted by. As I got into the salt water I could see more fish in the clear water. I spotted a big King Angelfish beside a rock surrounded by schools of yellow striped Sergeant Majors with a few brilliant Blue Chromis mixed in. Then I noticed what looked like a fin sitting on the rocky bottom. I lowered my paddle towards it and a Scorpionfish shot away. They're so well camouflaged that sometimes all you can make out is a fin or an eye.

It was a fitting end to this visit to the Sea of Cortez, reinforcing it's magical fullness of life.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The road less traveled

When you take the road less traveled you can't expect it to be all smooth sailing!

The day started out well. I found a good coffee shop (Cafelix) for breakfast and a decent latte.

I realize it's the low season, but apart from the touristy galleries Todos Santos seemed somewhat forlorn - empty lots and falling down buildings. Hardly the pueblo magico they advertise. Not even many historical buildings from what I saw. And it's not on the water. It does have the ritzy looking Hotel California that claims to be the inspiration for the Eagles song.

From Todos Santos I was taking the bus to Mulege, north of Loreto. I'd already traveled this stretch so I figured it would be straightforward. The bus was a half hour late and for the first time it was an older bus. Half the seats were broken. I ended up in the very back where the air conditioning didn't reach and the sun was beating on the window. Of course, I'd been prepared to freeze so I had long pants on for the first time in weeks. Oh well, a little sweating never hurt anyone.

When we got to La Paz we went to a maintenance yard instead of the terminal. We sat there for a while and then they kicked us all off the bus. We stood around for a while longer, sweating some more, until another bus came, this time one of the usual new ones. We settled into the blasting air conditioning, but a few minutes later when we reached the bus terminal, they kicked us all off the bus again.

This kind of thing can be confusing enough at the best of times, but when you don't speak the language and can't ask what's going on it's even worse. You definitely have to learn to take things as they come.

I was a little concerned that because we were late I might have missed some connection. But I took the chance to use the washroom (always good to go when you can in this kind of travel) and stood around for a while to see what would happen. Before too long a bus pulled in and there was a garbled announcement that I think included towns on my route. I double checked with the bus driver as I got on (another good idea).

It turned out to be the original aging bus! At least this time it wasn't full and I was in the middle with a functional seat. Here, the aging A/C was a good thing because it wasn't freezing. The temperature was actually just right.

After that the trip went more smoothly until we arrived at Mulege. I wasn't sure I'd recognize it so I was watching for signs. I'd just seen a sign saying "Mulege" and we pulled into a truck stop. Some of the stops are brief so I grabbed my pack and started getting off. Two girls beside me stopped me and said "no" (at least that was the only part I understood). I thought they figured I was going further like everyone else so I said "Mulege?" and they shrugged. I got off and started looking for a taxi. But the truck stop was in the middle of nowhere - I couldn't even see where town was. I asked at the store about a taxi and they said no. Hmmm. They also said something about pueblo - town. I started to wonder if I this was the right stop. Luckily, the bus was still there - it was obviously the supper stop. I garbled some Spanglish with some of the other passengers and figured out that Mulege itself was another five minutes down the road. Thank goodness the bus hadn't left already. I waited for everyone to have supper and rode the bus to town. This time I actually recognized the town. (Shelley and I had visited a few years ago.)

But ... no taxis. Originally I had planned to walk the mile to the B&B I had booked. But it was now 9:30 and dark. I asked around about taxis and got sent here and there with no luck. 9:30 doesn't sound that late but with few street lights and all the shops and restaurants closed it was a little spooky. I decided to walk but I wasn't sure which way to head out of town. I asked a young guy who was just closing up the last shop. He wasn't sure but he thought he knew which way to go and said he'd give me a ride. Accepting a ride at night from a stranger in Mexico made me a little nervous but I had approached him and he was working at a shop.

We drove down the highway and turned into one place. It didn't quite match my directions but I couldn't explain that very well. We stopped at a house and they directed us 3 miles down the road. Again, that didn't match my directions, but off we went. Of course we didn't find it. By this time I think my driver was starting to regret ever offering me a ride!

I gave up and we headed back to town. I'd have to find somewhere different to stay. But then on the way back we spotted the sign we were looking for. We drove in but couldn't find the B&B. We spotted a lady in her yard and she spoke English and gave me directions which I totally failed to translate into Spanish. Thank goodness we then ran into a security guard who jumped in the back of the truck and guided us there. He even woke up the owner to confirm I was ok. By this point no one really believed this crazy gringo knew where he was going.

It was a huge relief to get there finally. It was a nice place and a nice room with air conditioning even. Still, after all the stress it took me a while to get to sleep.

This kind of thing is both the positive and the negative of this kind of travel. It's stressful at the time but it also exposes you to people and situations you'd never otherwise experience. It doesn't hurt to leave the comfort zone occasionally.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Casa Bentley

Leaving Shelley to catch her flight home I took the bus to Todos Santos to break up my journey and check out somewhere new.

I found Casa Bentley on the Internet and booked a room by email. Or I thought I did. When i arrived Bob, the owner, didn't recall the email conversation but luckily he had a room anyway.

Don't stay here if you want a sterile businesslike Holiday Inn style experience. Casa Bentley has been under construction for 25 years and was never intended as a hotel. But it's an amazing place, full of quirkiness. There are mango trees with hanging fruit, spiral staircases, lovely stone walls, multiple levels, waterfalls, a small but elegantly tiled pool, artwork and cactus and statues and flowering plants.

There's no air conditioning in my room (good thing Shelley's not with me!) but it's half underground and there are fans and thankfully it's cloudy today.

Everything is a little chaotic and cluttered but it's certainly a unique place. If you're in the area and up for an adventure, check it out.

Tomorrow I'm off to Mulege and from there an overnight bus back to Tijuana and the San Diego.

Baja 2010, San Jose del Cabo

[Shelley] Well, we had a rather adventurous morning! After breakfast we decided to walk to the marina. This seemed like a new feature on the map since we'd been to San Jose del Cabo a few years ago.

Baja 2010 #6

The road we were to follow turned out to be a 1 km stretch of raised highway (still partially under construction) over a rather barren area of land which probably floods during the rainy season.

At the other end is the sign for Puerto del Cabo and a huge sculpture depicting a person holding a fish over his head. (We'd read about this set of sculptures in the "Gringo Times" newspaper but didn't know the location they were talking about.)

Just past here we went into this fabulous park area via what felt like "the back way" as we didn't see any formal entrance. The park had a three hills with palapas that offered shade at the top of each and rows upon rows of stone and different kinds of cactus surrounding them. A pathway with stones laid out in the shape of a snake led to the top of each hill.

As we were hiding from the sun and heat under the first palapa and taking some photos we saw an official looking guy in uniform watering a small grassy area. He started walking toward us and our first thought was that the park was closed and he was going to kick us out. But he smiled and waved as he approached so I figured he was at least going to do it nicely. But he was very friendly and welcomed us openly. His English was slightly better than our Spanish so we had a somewhat mangled conversation as he gave us a tour, told us the names of the wide varieties of cactus and even toured us through one of the greenhouses. There was also a lovely circular labyrinth made out of different colors of bougainvillea.

He understood we wanted to get to the marina and offered us a ride via the beach on his ATV. Due to the sun and heat we took him up on the offer. As we sat on the back hanging on for dear life and went through some remote back trails lined with trees, I was thinking this would be a really great place to stop and rob us of our rather obvious cameras and wallets. But luckily his friendliness wasn't just a facade.

He dropped is off at the marina but unfortunately the restaurant didn't open til 11 so no cold drinks awaited.

Andrew gave him a good tip and we wandered on our own for a while. As we started to walk back and were about to start the trek back along the highway, he found us again and offered us another ride which was much appreciated. We had to make our way up onto the highway and crawling over the railing was a bit of a feat in a skirt (I was wearing the skirt, not Andrew in case anyone is wondering).

Anyway it was a very fun and unexpected morning. Now back to the yummy French Riviera bakery for lunch before catching my flight home and Andrew catching the bus to Todos Santos to start his journey home.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Baja 2010, Cabo Pulmo

Wow! We really lucked out. Hurricane Frank stopped the diving for a few days just before we got to Cabo Pulmo and now another tropical storm is due shortly but we got our last two dives in early this (Friday) morning.

Baja 2010 #5

We've stayed the past week at Cabo Pulmo Beach Resort which has a dive center right there. We are some of the few staying here. Most divers and snorkellers come out from the big resorts in Cabo San Lucas just for a single day.

Cabo Pulmo has the only live coral reef in Baja. It's about a 1.5 hour drive from Cabo, mostly paved but the last 10 km is a very rough washboard dirt road. There's not much here apart from the small resort and a few privately owned homes. Five very casual small restaurants serving Mexican food (and Mexican beer -- dos cervesas por favor!) and lots of seafood dishes. But it is small town Mexico - no avocado (so no guacamole!) one place, no lettuce (so no salad) at another place, and one little place that advertised the best seafood in town, with no seafood! (which didn't bother us, being vegetarian) But Nancy's had a great salad with avocado and mango, yum! Caballero's had good food. And La Palapa was a great spot for a cold beer overlooking the beach. There's also a tiny grocery store. The resort uses solar power and a generator (but only during the day).

Our thatched roof bungalow is very nice, one big room with bed, comfy couch, dining table and kitchen area, plus the bathroom. It has an air conditioner but it struggles to fight the heat. It's about 30c inside but that still feels cool compared to 40c outside. We keep the door to the bathroom closed to minimize the area we're cooling so it turns into a sauna. And no, it's not a dry heat - it's very humid. There's also a patio complete with table and hammock.

Getting out to the diving is certainly different than any other place we've been. The boat is right on the sandy beach and pushed into the water by a 4WD truck. And pulled out the same way with a tow rope.

The sheer volume of fish here has been amazing. Lots of big schools of fish such as big eye jack and bright yellow panamic porkfish. Saw lots of green moray eels, (some up to 6 ft long), huge groupers, bumphead parrotfish, balloon fish and several kinds of stingrays. Also saw a bright orange clarion angelfish, a balloon fish with it's spines all puffed out, and a tiger shark which everyone was quite excited about.

We were surprised how many divers and snorkelers were coming out from Cabo, since this is the slow season. Unlike Loreto, where most of the divers were fairly experienced, here there seemed to be a lot of beginners.

Overall, I think we like Loreto a little better, but it was definitely worth coming here to see the reef and the huge numbers of fish. And being so isolated, it's a very peaceful spot.