Orchestra Rehearsal! Ensayo de Orquesta!

With the kind permission of Maestro Armando Torres-Chibrás and Luis Peláez García, I shot fotos at the rehearsal of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Baja California Sur on Friday, 25 September. The SCON “Sala de Conciertos” at the Escuela Estatal de Música de Baja California Sur is a gorgeous concert hall with beautiful wooden panels, but the light was challenging for photography. This was not lighting for a concert, but just the house lights for practice. Using ISO 400 and a lens that is wide-open at f/5.6, I toggled back and forth between shutter speeds of 1/15 and 1/8 second. I used my favorite crutch, the monopod! The slow shutter speeds allowed the capture of some sense of movement, though — so it all worked out perfectly! The musicians were all very kind, not self-conscious, and they allowed me to take many pictures as they rehearsed for an upcoming concert. I send huge thanks to Maestro Armando, Don Luis, and all the musicians!

Con el permiso muy amable del Maestro @Armando Torres-Chibrás y Luis Peláez García, disparé fotos en el ensayo de la Orquesta Filarmónica de Baja California Sur el viernes 25 de septiembre. La Sala de Conciertos SCON es un magnífico auditorio con hermosos paneles de madera rica, pero la luz era un gran reto para la fotografía.  Esto no fue iluminación para un concierto, pero sólo las luces de la casa para la práctica. Con ISO 400 y una lente que está completamente abierta a f/5.6, pueden alternar hacia adelante y hacia atrás entre velocidades de obturación de 1/15 y 1/8 segundo. Utilicé mi muleta favorito, monopie! Las velocidades de obturación lentas permitieron la captura de algún sentido de movimiento, aunque–así que todo funcionó perfectamente!  Los músicos eran todos muy amable, no consciente de sí mismos, y me permitieron tomar muchas fotos como que ensayaron para un próximo concierto. Te mando enormes gracias al Maestro Armando, Don Luis y todos los músicos!


“Botete” (say “bo-TET-ay”)

I had some great fun Thursday, 13 August — I joined a crew of about 35 fishermen and divers, organized by Noroeste Sustentable (“NOS”), who are moving “callos de hacha” from a marina channel that is scheduled to be re-dredged shortly, part of the group’s larger mission of restoring and preserving the estuary at the backwater end of La Paz Bay.  These scallops had been widespread, but years of careless pollution in a rapidly-growing city has drastically reduced their numbers.  They are transplanting 60,000 of these shellfish — one-at-a-time, by hand, by divers using “hookah pumps” (no air tanks, just an air hose run by a small motor and compressor on the boat).  They gently detach them, bring them up in baskets, motor across the bay, then “replant” them.  Some lo-rez fotos of the process can be found here…https://www.dropbox.com/sh/v6frwixo8n90pm0/AADP6ww8TDA7AXctH6zqw9Oja?dl=0
The fishermen are an amazing group.  “Going down to the sea in a boat” is a dangerous calling, but it can be beautiful way of life.  By necessity, these men are respectful of nature’s rules and are generally conservationists.  During a short lull after the first batch of callos came aboard on Thursday, the captain of the panga I was in found one of the callos to be broken badly enough that it would not be expected to survive transplanting.  He dug it out of its shell, cut it up, and baited a hook.  (The hook was at the end of a length of line that was simply wrapped around a flat board about six inches long.)  He tossed it in the water and started pulling out fish, getting 4 or 5 in the span of about 15 minutes.Ceviche184aS
He showed me one that I thought I recognized as a pufferfish — an ugly thing with crazy big and eerily human-like teeth.Botete190aS
These fish have the ability to puff themselves up as a defense mechanism against being eaten by bigger fish.  They’re covered in little spines, too.  Mi capitán had pulled in two of them.
At a later lull, the guy dipped a whetstone into the water and started sharpening his knife.
He cleaned all the fish he had brought in, and pulled out some baggies of minced onion, tomato, garlic, and peppers, and about two dozen limes.  I could see we were gonna have ceviche!
He started mixing the veggies and the diced fish all together in a large plastic bottle that had had its top cut off.  I have no idea what was in it originally, but in this way of life, nothing that can be reused is thrown away.  Lime after lime was sliced in two, the pips dutifully flicked into the bay, and one of the hands squeezed the juice into the mix.
After it had all been stirred together and allowed some time to steep, out came the classic “Saladitas” crackers and our favorite hot sauce, Salsa Huichol.  I was invited to join them and enjoyed several crackers topped with this can’t-get-any-fresher ceviche.  The gallon or so of ceviche disappeared in about 15 minutes.
My Spanish is still pretty terrible, so there had not been a lot of conversation during the day, but once we got ashore, I made a point of thanking my hosts in the best phrases I could manage, and especially to thank the capitán for sharing the ceviche.  He was gracious, but repeatedly corrected my wording, emphasizing “botete” every time I said “ceviche.”
So the next day I decided to look it up.  “Botete” is the pufferfish, and it has a special reputation in Japanese sushi culture, where it is known as “fugu.”  From Wikipedia:
Pufferfish are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog.

Fugu can be lethally poisonous due to its tetrodotoxin; therefore, it must be carefully prepared to remove toxic parts and to avoid contaminating the meat.[1]  The restaurant preparation of fugu is strictly controlled by law in Japan and several other countries, and only chefs who have qualified after three or more years of rigorous training are allowed to prepare the fish.[1][2] Domestic preparation occasionally leads to accidental death.[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugu

It was delicious.  In hindsight, I figure if I trust my life to this guy manning the outboard motor, I can trust him to not kill us all with pufferfish tetrodotoxin ceviche!

Mexico City!

In a rough neighborhood on the far south side of Mexico City, a concrete colossus sprawls amid the foothills that ring the metropolis. Like the nearby volcanoes, it is usually dormant, cold and quiet, but echoes from past eruptions reverberate down the dusty streets and through the far-off valleys.

“The Colossus of Santa Ursula” is Estadio Azteca. The soccer matches of the 1968 Olympics were played here. The finals of the World Cup have been played here — twice. Pele has played here. Diego Maradona scored the fabled “Hand of God” goal here. Paul McCartney and U2 have played here, and Michael Jackson packed the house five nights running. Julio Cesar Chavez has boxed here for a crowd of more than 130,000 fans.

Saturday afternoon, 6 Oct 2012, archrivals Club America and Chivas Guadalajara took the pitch for a hundred and five thousand screaming partisans. Two of those fans were wide-eyed gringos from Austin, Texas. Our minds were completely blown. (Click on the foto to enlarge it; foto by Cindy, iPhone 4S using iOS6 Panorama function!)

This was part of a whirlwind weekend, our first time to venture outside of the airport in Mexico City. It is a FABULOUS place, although it has its challenges. It is 7300 feet above sea level, so any staircase will leave you winded. It is the 2d or 3d largest city in the world. Many of its 21 million inhabitants are very poor, and a few of them think that tourists are fair prey. We had no difficulties, but you should be as cautious as you would be in any big city.

Here are a few pictures from Estadio Azteca, the Archeological Museum, and the Templo Mayor — a working archeological dig just off the main square.

The Beautiful, Treacherous Baja Road

There is only one main highway through Baja: Mexico’s Highway 1.  Improved side roads are rare; most often, gravel paths stretch long miles to reach the small poblados in the hills.  Only the very short stretch of Highway 1 between Insurgentes and Constitución is four lanes (and no, they are not divided), and precious little of the road has been improved beyond its original 19′ width.

Baja Road Trip: Construction Zone from Chispa on Vimeo.

That’s nineteen feet for BOTH lanes.  Have you measured the width of a tractor-trailer rig lately?  (Standard 53′ trailers are 102″ wide; that’s 8 1/2 feet!)  Oncoming truck traffic forces one to tiptoe along the right-hand side of the lane, knowing that there is no shoulder, but usually a drop off the roadbed of several inches — or several feet!

Baja Road Trip: Narrow Highway, Big Trucks from Chispa on Vimeo.

The length of the peninsula is decorated with small shrines commemorating lives lost; each is a sad reminder that a small mistake can easily be fatal, as emergency services can take hours to arrive. Cattle graze, oblivious to the traffic, near or on the road (another reason why one does not travel after dark),

Baja Road Trip: Watch for Cows from Chispa on Vimeo.

and there is virtually no radar speed enforcement — mostly because there is no place to “pull over!”  The posted speed limit — usually 80 km/hour (48 mph) — is universally ignored, especially on the straighter sections that run across the plateau, as one must make good time there to offset the slow going through the mountain ascents and descents near either coast.

Baja Road Trip: Big Country, Narrow Roads from Chispa on Vimeo.


Still, it is a wondrous trail blazed through some wicked wilderness.

Baja Road Trip: Bicyclists! from Chispa on Vimeo.

Two of the most fascinating areas are the Valley of the Cirios and the Cataviña Boulder Field.  The cirio (also called “boojum” in English) is a tree, adapted to the desert as if drawn by Dr. Seuss.  And the boulders through the Cataviña region can be the size of houses.

Valle de Guadalupe — Mexico’s Wine Region!

Tucked into a mediterranean microclimate along sixty miles of Mexico Highway 3 between Tecate and Ensenada is a wine-making region that is growing in productivity and recognition.  There are two large scale operations — Santo Tomas and L.A. Cetto — and dozens more small producers, several of whom embrace sustainability and organic practices.  Along with the vines, they grow olive trees and produce some wonderful olive oil.  We brought home a variety of both products!

On the Streets of La Paz

La Paz is an amazing city to just wander around in.  We have never felt the least bit at risk or threatened.  The general feeling is very much “live and let live.”  Simple beauties abound — all you have to do is look around!

We especially enjoy the weekly Loteria game in the zocalo…

The Museum of Anthropology is great to tour.  Out front, there is a large art installation.


Just north of La Paz — a cheap bus ride or a half-hour drive — is an undeveloped bay called Balandra.  There is a parking lot, a couple port-a-potties, a trash can, and a short line of palapas.  When the tide is in, you can wade across in chest-high water.  When it’s out, there’s a large expanse of wet sand to explore.