Kinda Sketchy Lookin’

In Portland, Oregon it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re in a bad neighborhood. You might have a hard time finding one these days but boarded up, graffiti covered buildings, rusty old cars up on jacks, trash, broken glass, and pot holes will be a dead giveaway.  A bad neighborhood stands out.

In Tijuana, it’s a little different.  Upscale, gated-communities with smooth streets, new cars in the driveways, and kids on bikes stand out.  You know you’re in one because you were invited and a guard with a gun checked you in at the gate.

The problem is there’s a whole city outside those gates where dilapidated buildings, broken glass, crappy old cars, and pot holes are the norm.  Even the trendy, beachfront area I live in looks like a war zone.

The other day we went to a friend’s 60th birthday party in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Mexicans in TJ give parties in a Salon rather than in their homes. It’s a lot like the practice in the United States of renting a church basement or Event Space at a Hotel for a wedding reception except it’s a lot more common. Instead of a McDonald’s or Starbucks on every corner there is a Salon de Eventos.

While parked in front of the derelict building Siri led us to instead of the Salon, one of us sees, above an equally crappy building on the next block, the sign, hand painted in uneven block letters, “Salon de Evento”. As if on cue for one of those Kids Say The Funniest Things shows, my friend’s kid says, “Hmmm, kinda sketchy looking.”

She isn’t wrong. But a general rule of thumb is if the person throwing the party is respectable you can assume the event location is ok. Maybe. Probably. Ojalá.

We park the car, hoping we can get the hell out of there before it gets dark. But since Mexican parties are notoriously open ended it might be a little tricky. The philosophy I’ve come to embrace here in TJ is “Life is dangerous. Proceed anyway.” With that in mind, we find the entrance, look back longingly at the car, and head up the stairs.

The stuffy, claustrophobic air of the stairway gives way to the delicious, smoky scent of carne asada. At the top of the stairs, we are greeted by the guest of honor, Paulina, dressed to the nines in a 50s-inspired party dress complete with diamond tiara. After the kissing of cheeks, she shows us to a table.

The room is huge with a disco ball casting rainbow colors across a white tiled floor. There’s a DJ setup in one corner spinning American Rock n’ Roll oldies, an overflowing gifts table, and a multi-tiered cake fashioned from cupcakes.

The birthday girl’s brother, dressed like Fonzie, brings a bottle of Gran Centenario Reposado and two shot glasses to our table followed by shrimp tacos, chips, guacamole, and salsa. An adorably dressed little girl approaches the table and wants to know if my friend’s daughter understands Spanish. She does. Shyness is forgotten and they run onto the dance floor.

Sixty years brings with it some rewards. Paulina has spent most of her working life cleaning other people’s houses; her family doesn’t have a lot of money. But, man, do they know how to celebrate a life.

Suddenly, the DJ stops and a troop of Mariachi come up the stairs playing Paulina’s favorite Juan Gabriel songs. Surrounded by friends and family, her daughter taking pictures, her handsome grandsons line up to take turns dancing with her. She cries.

We didn’t sneak out early, before we knew it the evening was over and people were kissing goodnight. The car was where we left it, and in one piece. Turns out the neighborhood wasn’t even a little bit sketchy.


La Playa en Invierno

Does the ocean take on the color of the sky? Blue one day because the sky is blue and grey the next because of the quality of the clouds? I think so.

Today the sky is like a slate of granite and the ocean is grey and fierce. The waves roll in hard, churning the sand against the rocks to geyser upwards in dark, cutting bursts.

Yesterday the sky was blue. The sand was warm. The soft waves gently cooling our bare feet.

So quickly a storm can come in and take you from warming your feet in the sand to stepping backwards against the harsh spray no longer sure how you will make it through the day into the next, and the next after that.

When In Rome: Amibas y Parásitos Intestinalis

I love America. Mexicans frequently resent us even while they benefit from their association with us. And while my patriotism isn’t blind – the US has its problems: school shootings, obesity, rampant consumerism – Mexican resentment gets irritating.

Mexicans are patriotic too. They love Mexico and I understand why. The people are warm, fun-loving, and family oriented. The food is delicious. The life-style is less frantic than in the US. People are happier. They enjoy a type of personal freedom that doesn’t exist in the US. The weather is fantastic. But Mexico has its problems too.

I could write about cartel violence but it’s not evident in daily life here. I could write about human trafficking. There’s a growing population of illegal Haitian refugees in TJ. Who, having been told they could cross into the US from Mexico, risk their lives to get here only to learn it isn’t true. I could write about a 6-day work week/12-hour work day, and average incomes of $3000 pesos (roughly $160.00 US Dollars) a week.

When I get irritated with arrogant Mexicans, I want to tally up all the crap that goes on in Mexico and throw it in their faces. But, let’s be honest, they could tally up all the crap that goes on in the US and throw it in my face and not be wrong. So what am I ranting about?

Well, let’s talk about intestinal parasites. Have you ever had them? I remember my mom saying they were common when she was a kid going from logging camp to logging camp with her parents in the 1930s. She overcooked everything and forbade us kids to eat anything raw lest we get worms. But as far as I can remember I never got them and never heard of anyone getting them. As an issue for the general public, intestinal parasites are a thing of the past in the US.

This is not true of Mexico. We have a young Mexican college student living with us. She was shocked to learn that Americans don’t take anti-parasitic medication. She informed us, in horrified tones, that we most certainly had worms and should be treating ourselves every 6 months with over the counter medication used by all normal, right thinking people.

I don’t know if we have worms. I haven’t seen any evidence of it but I took the medication to make Rose happy. When in Rome.

Some great things about the US – plumbing that works, widely adopted good sanitation practices, drinkable tap water. Nah-nah-nah-nah, nah-nah! America rocks!

Birria de Pollo

Gather your ingredients
1 whole chicken (or equivalent pieces)
1/2 carrot
1/2 celery stalk
1 small onion
1 fresh poblano chili
3 large cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
4 to 5 cups water
1/3 cup white vinegar

1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
4 or 5 Whole allspice
1 tablespoon cumin

1 cube caldo de pollo (Knorr)

Dried Chilis:
2 chili ancho
1 chili guajillo
2 chili arbol

Remove stems and seeds from 1/2 the dried chilies (if you want it spicy leave the seeds). Toast all dried chilies on a hot skillet until they blister (but don’t let them char). Soak them in the Caldo de Pollo for 10 – 15 minutes then puree well in a blender.


Peel and rough chop carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Remove stem and seeds from poblano chili and rough chop. Put all chopped vegy in bottom of a stock pot.


Place chicken in stock pot and cover with water. Add all the spices. Stir in chili puree. Simmer until chicken begins to fall off the bone (4 or 5 hours) stirring occasionally.



Remove chicken. Separate the meat from skin and bones and discard. Shred the meat.


Strain the broth and salt to taste. Add broth to chicken just enough to cover.


Serve with tortillas, chopped cilantro, onion, limes, in tacos. Also makes a good tortilla soup.


The Truth About Dolphin Spotting (delfines)

One of my favorite activities is dolphin spotting. To the untrained eye it resembles loafing but aficionados understand the difficulties, intricacies, and the pay off. It’s an activity best undertaken with a glass of wine, beer, or a margarita in hand, a pair of binoculars and some patience.

All you do is stand, sit, or recline by the beach and stare into the water. You can see why some people will think you’re just loafing. But what you’re really doing is scanning the waves until something catches your eye. It will most likely be the tiny tip of a dorsal fin gliding through the waves. There might be one; there might be ten. Dorsal fins will emerge, submerge, emerge, submerge one after the other in a musical rhythm. If you get lucky dolphins in a playful mood will jump into the body of an oncoming wave and, before the wave crashes into white froth, be captured for a brief second in a window of blue. If you’re even luckier, they will leap above the waves and into the clear blue Baja sky.

Dolphin spotting can be done alone or with friends and has been known to bring strangers together as passersby, stop, shade their eyes against the sun, point, and shout “delfines! delfines!”.

The truth is that spotting just the tip of a single dorsal fin in the ocean is more exciting than an entire afternoon of watching dolphins at sea world.

Take a look

Lessons Learned In Tijuana (Las lecciones aprendidas en Tijuana)

In Tijuana you’ll notice a unique relationship between cars and pedestrians. Whether it’s nearly hitting a guy as he darts across the Internacional or brushing up against a slow motion crowd as you inch your way through one of the ubiquitous neighborhood flea markets, when in Mexico you will encounter the Mexican Pedestrian.

Unlike the schizophrenic American Pedestrian, who waits angrily for the walk signal to turn green, then ventures timidly onto the asphalt, looking both ways, the Mexican Pedestrian exhibits a sort of entitled insouciance with a dash of willful defiance as if to say, “It’s your job to watch out for me because I am King of The Road”. Bottom line? You better pay attention to pedestrians because they are not paying attention to you.

I was driving in the Soler area of Tijuana the other day, looking for a particularly good Birria cart, circling the blocks, avoiding pot holes and motorcyclists, trying to figure out the best way to reach the place while avoiding the flea market. Then opps, crap, wrong turn and straight ahead, no  escape, it’s a tiny neighborhood street teaming with booths and people.

There’s no way to back out since the car behind me made the same mistake, as did the car ahead. We’re boxed in by pedestrians who are in no hurry. There’s lots of cursing and furrowed brows from the drivers while the pedestrians don’t spare a glance, even as tons of deadly metal  brush against their shirt sleeves.

I wait for the car ahead to realize he can’t back out or turn around. He makes some progress. I nose my car into the crowd, acutely aware that nothing but a layer of dust separates my moving car from toddlers and elderly women. Thirty minutes, and three blocks later, I’m free.

Lesson learned? To the Mexican Pedestrian, a car is just another person in the crowd and it’s every man for himself.

Lesson learned? Don’t go for Birria in the Soler on a Saturday. Stay in Playas and get the tacos.


So our intrepid adventurer – “Sailboat Guy” – has been stuck on the beach for 2 weeks now. To recap, while en route to Hawaii, he lost control of his sailboat when the motor died (yes, I guess sailboats do have motors), drifted into Baja, and was shipwrecked on playa de Tijuana complete with a dramatic rescue by local lifeguards. He’s American. He’s been living mostly off-grid for 15 years after personal circumstances drove him from some east coast corporate hustle. He has no money, no passport, no family. What ID he had was looted from the boat the first night be was here.

Early on he repaired the boat and has been waiting for the tide to come up, thinking that would be enough to launch and get back on track to Hawaii. But part of the boat had become lodged in the sand. Locals helped by trying to tow and dig it out with no luck. Then we had a storm that brought the tide in. The boat was thrown against the rock wall that separates the condo from the beach. It shook the whole building. There was a lot of screaming and yelling but no one was hurt.

I took him some food the morning after,  I’m glad to say he is salvaging what he can and abandoning the boat. I doubt he would have made it to Hawaii even before the most recent damage. His self-sufficiency is admirable but man what an awful way to live. I’m way too attached to pesky little things like clean cloths and indoor plumbing, not to mention food and water.