November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving in La Manzanilla - with Lora Loka

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - After days of spotty internet access (ok, and lots of beach time, swimming, surfing, cervezas and, and, and ...) the Admiral and I wandered into Palapa Joe's for lunch today and dragged the computer to make this quick posting.

We will be here again tonight for open mic night, performing three songs - four if the people are too loaded to count how many we have done, or to ask us to sit down. It won't be The Four Headlamps, but we will struggle through anyway.

Thanksgiving Day we went to Lora Loka's beachside restaurant on the main street of town, a favorite of Chief Engineer Scott Noble and Chief Counsel Jennifer Coleman-Noble when they are in town. Several places had T-Day dinners, including Willie here at Palapa Joe's, but we opted for Lora's when several amigos said they were heading there.

In addition to good food and company (thanks in large part to table mates Linda Mandala, her husband Yellow Bear, and our new amiga Colleen) Laura Loka offered up a traditional song at the end of the meal. The video of that extravaganza is below.

More blogs next week on our wild days in Puerto Vallarta, La Manzanilla and Arroyo Seco when we are back on the ground in the states.

November 15, 2008

Grey Goose II leaves space dock, passes first flight inspections

CAL-EXPO RV Park, Sacramento, Calif. USA - The Admiral and I took the Grey Goose Express II out of its storage yard Friday for a trip to Cal-Expo, probably about 10 miles considering the roundabout way we got here.

The trailer performed perfectly under flight conditions and was relatively easy to get level once we parked.

This little RV park - maybe not that little - is a gem, tucked right next to the state fairgrounds and a few blocks from movie theaters, and a Chili's restaurant (where we will likely dine tonight). We are definitely one of the smallest units here, with most of the RVers those 40+ foot jobs with four slide outs and generators big enough to light up Cleveland.

Immediately behind our parking space is the American River, with trees all turning fall colors.

American River, Paradise Beach
American River, right behind the RV park

Given that we will be underway for Mexico before Christmas, it seemed like a test run was in order for the Grey Goose. So far, the only thing not working up to specs is the propane side of the refrigerator (which runs when there is no electricity.). Oh, and the light in the fridge seems to be stuck on, adding heat in there.

RVing is a lot like operating a big cruising sailboat - there are all kinds of little tricks and twists that the more experienced can show you.

While I labored mightily to level the trailer with the jacks that are affixed under the trailer, a Good Samaritan came by with some blocks to stick under the wheels. The jacks, it seems, are good for minor leveling - not four or five inches!

By the way, has anyone ever heard of a Bad Samaritan? Think about it.

After hosting a dinner party for six last night in the trailer, we opted to take a second day and night here at Cal-Expo, enjoying the sunshine (temperatures close to 80 degrees) and a decided lack of wind. Winds of up to 40 mph had been forecast for Friday and Saturday.

I'm very glad they were wrong.

Admiral and Grey Goose II
Admiral catches some rays

Grey Goose II with slideout, out
Grey Goose Express II from the front - with slider out

November 13, 2008

Swimming with crocodiles might not be that smart an idea

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - As the Admiral and I prepare for our sojourn south when the semester ends, I have been getting in contact with folks who might want me to write stories for them this year, including my friend Alistair Bell of the international wire service, Reuters.

Reuters London newsroom
Reuters London newsroom

When I told him I was would be back and ready to report by Jan. 1, he didn't say anything British, like, 'how smashing.' But he say it will be great to have me back on "crocodile watch."

And, I suppose, I might write some things, too.

The standing joke between us last year was that I was to call him immediately if a croc snagged a tourist - more newsworthy for him, of course, if it was a wealthy Brit. But any tourist would do.

After a dog was taken by a large croc last spring from the beach - in a pretty dramatic witnessed episode - it became much less funny.

It would seem to be even more so now, as I have been reading about the boldness of the La Manzanilla crocodiles this fall - and how far the lagoon has extended to the beach area where children gather.

In the meantime, in Australia, there's a new tourist attraction: tourists climb in a clear acrylic cage and get lowered into the water with saltwater crocodiles. The ultimate thrill, some of the swimmers have said.

I can't quite imagine getting into a tank like that and letting one of those 2,000 pound behemoths get a shot at me - no matter how tough the tank is supposed to be.
  • Link to: What a Croc!

  • Swimming with saltwater crocs
    In the tank with a crocodile in Northern Australia

    Several years ago in Zihuatenejo, I was walking with three Australian fellows from Queensland who had sailed in. We were taking swings of beer from jumbo beer bottles when the trio suddenly bolted and ran back the way we came, running like the devil himself was after them.

    What made them run was a 10-foot crocodile, sitting motionless in a small lagoon near the shore, maybe 100 feet from where we were about to pass.

    I walked back to where they stopped (hard to run with a beer bottle in your hand) and tried to tell them that I thought was no real danger.

    They said 'forget it mate.'

    In Australia, they explained, saltwater crocs can - and do occasionally - run a man down and drag him back into the water, just like the unlikely named canine 'Lucky' last year in La Manzanilla.

    Ever since, I try to keep a nice buffer between me and even the relatively mellow La Manzanilla creatures.

    November 11, 2008

    Be careful what you wish for - a famous saying unheeded

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A hour or so ago, I put the finishing touches on my online application to join President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

    What in the holy %$&^*&#$*%()(_*#^!!!!!!!!!!

    Well, Saturday I read in the New York Times that Obama is searching for people to help implement the vision(s) articulated during his campaign. And in true Obama, 2008 form, the application is online at ''

    As a slight aside, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I also nominated myself for a Pulitzer Prize several times for stories I had published. Never got one, but I did get some nifty letters thanking me for my interest.

    Obama Green Button
    Barack O'bama button

    I filled out a transition team short form two days ago and tonight received (and filled out) the full application - which wanted to know a lot of details - and asked for a complete resume and references.

    I'm not sure I should have applied to become head of the Central Intelligence Agency, but it was one of the many options I picked, in case you get a reference call. Oh, and they might ask about the Federal Reserve, the State Department (in case they need some help in Mexico) or working in the West Wing giving sage advice.

    U.S. government application
    Online form, thanking me for my application

    Unfortunately, when I changed my voter registration just before the recent election, I went from being a Democrat to the Green Party. I thought the poor Greens needed a little cheering up and, well, it will be a couple of years before I vote again in an election with any kind of primary where party registration counts.

    I'm not sure the incoming administration will think too much of that party registration as they sift through the thousands and thousands of qualified applicants who have already applied - and the thousands and thousands more expected in the next 70 days or so.

    So in the meantime, I'm sticking with my original plan of spending the winter and spring in Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico, building a little, fishing some, playing the ukulele every day (with the Admiral playing her violin) and writing a lot.

    Oh, and also riding my new motorcycle from the village to one of the two surfing beaches.

    Wait a minute! What was I thinking when I sent that form in?

    November 9, 2008

    Photo of actors from 'Leave It to Beaver'

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A longtime friend sent me the photo below, with the title:

    I don't care how young you feel, this hurts

    Eddie Haskell, Beaver Cleaver, Wally Cleaver
    Eddie Haskell, Beaver Cleaver and Wally Cleaver
    (from the TV show, Leave It to Beaver)

    It reminded me how most people would say they feel 10-20 years younger than their real ages. When I hit the big 6-0 this year, it was, well, startling. I try not to dwell on it.

    The amigo who sent along this bit of joy on a Sunday morning is Tom Balmer, who I worked with at the Petaluma Argus-Courier in the mid-1970s. Tom was a photographer, I was a reporter and later editor.

    And we were young. Sooooo young...

    But that's for another blog post.

    November 7, 2008

    Seneca Lake winemaker, Dave Bagley dies of heart attack

    VALOIS, New York, USA - Cousin Ruth Bills passed along some incredibly sad news just moments ago. The owner-operator of Poplar Ridge Winery has died of a heart attack - at 57!

    It was only a few months ago that I was sitting on the deck of the winery, right next to Dave Bagley, sharing a bottle of his wine that he absolutely refused to let me pay for. I was a new friend, he said, and he hoped to see me - and the Admiral at his winery more.

    Dave Bagley
    Dave Bagley with his trademark smile

    This past summer the Admiral and I got in the habit of going to his winery Sunday afternoons for a glass or four of wine and to listen to Cousin Brett Beardslee belt out tunes. Dave's winery was almost within walking distance of our Seneca Lake house.

    And at the winery, Dave was a fixture on his own barstools, though sometimes he was likely to have a beer in front of him and not a glass of his excellent vino.

    I didn't know him well, but he was well-loved in the community and was planning on marrying his girlfriend soon when he was felled by the heart attack. He was on a trip to Buffalo, New York to pick up wine bottles.

    Rest in peace, Dave Bagley, and make sure the beer is cold and the wine appropriately chilled for when the rest of us catch up with you.

    Dave Bagley's obituary from the Elmira Star-Gazette

    VALOIS -- Dave Bagley, the owner and winemaker at the Poplar Ridge Vineyards and Winery on the east side of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County, died Thursday while picking up an order of bottles in Buffalo.

    Mr. Bagley, who was 57, used the slogan "Wine Without Bull" on his winery Web site. He said he did not like the "snobbery and pretentiousness that pervades the wine business."

    "Have you ever noticed that the more pretentious and snobbish a winery is, the more uncomfortable you feel," he wrote on the Web site. "I fail to understand how this can be conceived as a viable marketing concept. We at Poplar Ridge strive to produce wines that are pleasant and fun to drink. We believe in good wines at reasonable prices. Over the years I have made thousands of friends with this simple and fun approach to wine."

    Jodie Pulkinen, the tasting room manager for the last four years at Poplar Ridge, remembered Mr. Bagley Thursday as "bigger than life."

    "He helped other winemakers and wineries get started. He was generous to a fault," she said. "Friends and family members are all gathering at the winery and we are having a glass of Bagley Brut."

    Bagley Brut was Mr. Bagley's signature sparkling wine.

    Mr. Bagley was an accomplished woodworker. He and his brother, George, made a 30-foot-long bar in 1993 with redwood tanks they purchased from Taylor Wine Co.

    Wildlife also was another big part of Mr. Bagley's life. He contracted with local artist Norman Wells to create several wildlife designs for his wine bottles.

    Star-Gazette wine columnist Jeff Richards interviewed Mr. Bagley for one of his weekly wine columns in the fall of 2002.

    "Dave was quite a man," Richards said Thursday. "No pretense; what you saw is what you got. He loved the Finger Lakes and the customers who came through his door.

    "And he will always be remembered for making a darn good bottle of bubbly."

    Spanish in the morning means Mexico can't be that far off

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - In a dream last night, I was having a conversation with my amiga (and neighbor) Azucena in Arroyo Seco about where to plant some palm trees and whether her husband, my amigo Chon, could help.

    And we were doing it all in Spanish - a sure sign that my mind is drifting east and south, muy rapido.

    Chon and Chena
    Chon and Chena

    The weather in Sacramento is not helping me stay focused on Northern California zip codes, either.

    In the last week, the temperatures have plummeted, forcing me to, gasp, wear long pants instead of shorts. Last fall, I wore shorts right through until we headed out of the driveway. This year, the 45-degree mornings convinced me that I should be wearing something warmer.

    The other thing not helping is moving my Mexico photos from one computer to another. They are like old friends, and, of course, many of the photos are of friends.

    Think about being cold and looking at the photo below.

    How many days until the Admiral and I are in Mexico?

    Beach at Boca de Iguanas
    Beach at Boca de Iguana, north of La Manzanilla

    November 6, 2008

    Caught in the time 'funnel' on our way to Mexico

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - This time of the semester at the university, time speeds up and I tell my students that we have entered the funnel.

    All of the things that we began early in the fall are now swirling around - largely undone or half-done - and the amount of time left to accomplish things is dwindling muy rapido.

    Add to that our Mexico preparations and the funnel is spinning so fast I'm getting tossed around like a pilot breaking the sound barrier.

    Breaking the sound barrier
    Breaking the sound barrier

    OK, maybe not quite that much tossing. But the Admiral and I are struggling to pull together the things we want to pack for Mexico, getting requests from friends to bring their special items down, making sure we have all of our documents lined up, and making lists of things to do.

    Here's the top of today's list:

    Find, Sort and Arrange Mexico lists.

    In and among the chaos, however, there have been some bright notes in recent weeks (not the least of which are most of the U.S. election returns). We have sketched plans for the Arroyo Seco site (No. 3 on one list is to make them detailed enough to use for construction), gotten most of the medical appointments out of the way (No. 7, the eye doctor in on tap for today) and the dollar vs. peso seems to be back where it was last year, after falling precipitously.

    currency pix
    Exchange rate the morning of Nov. 6, 2008

    Earlier this fall, the exchange rate had dipped to 10 pesos per dollar, then a few weeks ago, soared to nearly 14 pesos per dollar.

    We like 14, for obvious reasons, but if settles back between 12-13 and stabilizes, that's just fine.

    A Mexican friend here in Sacramento - who sends most of her earnings back to her family in central Mexico - said she was earning (and sending) every dollar possible in recent weeks while the rate was high.

    The bad news, though, is that prices of staples in Mexico are on the rise. Sounds like U.S. supermarkets.

    November 3, 2008

    The plans for downtown Arroyo Seco lot starting to take shape

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A whirlwind weekend of weddings and social events resulted in two major accomplishments:

    First, our tiny house in downtown is spotless, as we had company Sunday and had to fight through the debris to find the hardwood floors and tabletops. (Notice how flat surfaces attract things?) The house is our only staging ground for all of the stuff we want to take to Mexico in December, plus all the normal clutter from life. (Where are my car keys?)

    But more important Sunday was looking over the sketches drawn by Admiral Fox this past week for our downtown lot in Arroyo Seco and getting input of our guests, Lynn and Suzanne & Randy and Karin. The four of them pored over the Admiral's pencil site plan and after about an hour, voila! We believe we now have at least a skeleton of plan which should make the Arroyo Seco lot a very functional, comfortable place to live.

    And visit, too, of course.

    Lynn and Suzanne & Randy and Karin bought a lot in Arroyo Seco in May, right after the Admiral and I departed for New York. So as neighbors (vecinos) they have a special interest in what we do, and us in their property development.

    While I don't want to reveal exactly all of what the plans show, let me throw out one idea that seems to be catching on for the proposed guest units: hanging beds.

    I can't make this stuff up.

    Ocean view near Arroyo Seco
    Ocean view from Arroyo Seco hillside

    November 1, 2008

    Lunch with former students brings back the memories

    SAN RAFAEL, Calif., USA - Catching up with former journalism students is always fun, more so when you can span two generations.

    Friday, the Admiral and I dined with Natalye Childress Smith, Josh Stabb and Bill Meagher - all students who suffered through my lectures and bad jokes over the years. Natalye and Josh are relative newbies, having just graduated and who are now working as writers for Crittenden Research in Novato, Calif. Bill works there, too - but as an editor.

    And while Josh and Natalye caught me at CSU, Sacramento in the last couple of years, Bill is a alum of Chico State where I taught back in the mid 1980s, before make the long academic trek down the valley to Sacramento where I have been since 1986.

    Four amigos
    A class reunion or a reunion of class?

    Bill was a student columnist for the campus newspaper, The Orion, and had (and still has) great news instincts. His columns about then Chico State President Robin Wilson got Wilson so angry that Wilson would call me late at night (because I was the faculty adviser) and rail about Bill's work.

    Wilson never said any of the columns contained information that was inaccurate, he was just totally pissed off that Bill had printed anything about him. And Bill broke many good (journalistically speaking) stories about Wilson, which kept my phone ringing.

    Seeing students succeed - as all three of them have, they have jobs after all - is one of the rewards of teaching. I suspect teachers at all levels get the same kick out of seeing their former students out there, practicing what was once largely a classroom exercise.

    The only sad part about such reunions is that they are usually way too short, as this one was.

    But I know the solution to that problem.