Tag Archives: Baja

Honesty and Integrity

Honesty and Integrity

I’ve always said that there is no such thing as situational integrity; you either have integrity or you don’t…period. In just over a week, I’ve been touched by three examples of extraordinary honesty that left me feeling really good about people and humanity in general.

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Ron’s brother David recently rode up the Baja and then drove a car down from San Diego for us. Ron had given him two one hundred dollar bills to cover expenses. When he got to Cabo, he took the car to a local car wash for detailing. When David came back for the car, the young Mexican man he left the car with held out the money and said it must have fallen from David’s pocket as it was found between the seats. Amazing! I hope David gave this fellow a big tip for his honesty.

The next situation was in the little town that I grew up in. I had just returned from traveling outside the country and had stopped in to the registry office to pick up the 2017 registration sticker for my car. As always, the service was excellent: professional, courteous and thorough. I obtained my sticker after paying by credit card and was on my way.

My Mom and I had a few more stops to make in town and I went to pay for something, only to realize that the money I had taken out from the bank the day before (10 brand new $20 bills – ironically $200, just like David’s situation) was NOT in my wallet. I retraced my steps and immediately called the registry office to see, if by some small chance, it had fallen out there. When I identified the amount of money, the person who answered the phone said that Heather was in possession of the cash and to come by to pick it up. Of course I did so immediately, but I shook my head all day and couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to come into contact with such honest people who exhibited the greatest integrity. They exemplify what doing business in a small town should be all about and I’m very grateful to them.

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The third and final example was with an insurance broker in Calgary. My business partner and I took out life insurance back in 1995 to provide protection for one another in the event that something should happen to either one of us. She left the business in 1998 and I maintained a term life insurance policy ever since. My ten year term insurance recently came up for renewal and I was contacted by an associate of the firm I had dealt with since first taking out the policy. As I had been traveling out of the country, he asked that I come in to discuss my options with him in person as soon as I was back. Last night, we reviewed my financial affairs and, with total honesty and candor, Will told me that in all good conscience he would not recommend that I continue buying life insurance – I no longer needed it. He could have easily sold me more insurance, and I am grateful for the money he is saving me on an expense item I no longer require.

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I found all three of these people to be rare role models as they exhibited honesty and integrity that, unfortunately, is rare in this day and age. Their actions inspire me and give me the greatest feeling about the goodness of some people.

Remembering Jerry

Two and one half years ago when we were driving south on the Baja to Cabo, we came upon a terrible accident about an hour north of Guerrero Negro. Our first warning of what was ahead was the flashing of hazard lights on two semi-trailer trucks that were fully blocking the road. They were protecting an older model SUV that had obviously rolled but was back sitting upright on its wheels.

There were three other passenger vehicles stopped and pulled off in the field beside the highway: two Mexican and one American from Arizona. We got out to see if we could help and the couple from Arizona, Joe and Andrea, were doing what they could to assist. Joe had a very large chocolate Labrador dog in his care, rescued from the accident, and Andrea, a retired emergency nurse, was attending to the elderly gentleman trapped in the car.

Andrea had dressed Jerry’s head wound and was trying to assess the extent of his injuries, but was having a difficult time understanding him. Turns out that Jerry had emigrated from Czechoslovakia as a young man to western Canada to carve and create a new life. His accent was still very strong, despite the fact he was ninety years-old and had lived in Canada most of his life. The shock of the accident had him speaking in his native language, so it was no wonder that Andrea was having difficulty understanding him.

We were far from medical help, but the Mexican people who had stopped committed to calling an ambulance as soon as they had service on their cell phones. We were completely out of range and in the middle of nowhere.

Andrea asked if I could try to communicate with Jerry, who was from my home province of Alberta. Jerry wanted us to move the steering wheel and help him sit up, but we were afraid to move him in case there was spinal damage. All we could do was make him more comfortable until an ambulance arrived, so I held his hands and tried to get some information from him so that we could contact loved ones back home. Gradually, Jerry started to speak broken Spanish combined with English, so we were able to get his son’s information.

It took a few hours, but the ambulance finally arrived and we were able to communicate that Jerry needed to be moved carefully and that they use a back board to move him. The four of us followed the ambulance into Guerrero Negro to ensure that he received proper care and to try to communicate what we new about Jerry.

Once we had contacted Jerry’s son in Calgary, Alberta and were comfortable that Jerry was receiving proper care, our next order of business was to check into a hotel and give Caesar, Jerry’s ten year-old Lab, a long overdue bath. Ron called him “basic cable” – not neutered, never disciplined and not very bright – no extra channels, in other words. He was a sweet old boy, however, and did his best to be good – he just didn’t know any better when he wasn’t. Take, for example, when we took him for a walk to the hospital to see old Jerry. Minding our own business and walking by some stores on the main street of Guerrero Negro, Ron turned his head for just a moment and Caesar proceeded to pee all over the stack of cowboy boots they had on display. Needless to say, the store owner wanted us to pay for all of the boots and boxes Caesar had “watered”, but we pretended not to understand him and quickly fled down the street.

Hail Caesar!

Hail Caesar!

The hospital, company-owned by Mitsubishi, wanted us to take Jerry home the next day. We refused as we were concerned about something happening to Jerry in transit. We strongly encouraged Jerry’s son to come down to take care of his Dad or, at the very least, make arrangements to have an ambulance take Jerry to San José del Cabo. We loaded up Caesar and with concern and heavy hearts, we were back on the road to Cabo. We had done all we could do.

A very kind woman, who happened to be in the hospital and overheard that they were kicking Jerry out, offered to take him in to her home to convalesce. Just when it appeared Jerry was getting stronger, he collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack. We were so sad to learn of his passing.

Jerry’s property manager and friend, Mariana, found Caesar a new home in San José del Cabo. We understand that he ran away a few months later and was never located. The old boys were inseparable and perhaps Caesar left in search of his friend, Jerry. We hope he found him – perhaps there’s another road trip in their future together.

Malarrimo in Guerrero Negro

Whenever we drive the Baja, we plan on overnighting in a town called Guerrero Negro. We strive to get there, not because it’s a great destination, but because of where it’s situated on the Baja and because of the food that is served in the restaurant at the Malarrimo Hotel. In business since 1974, they have funky rooms with very basic amenities; clean and functional, but the restaurant serves a few dishes that are worth going out of your way for. The waiters have been there forever and seem to be getting slower, heavier and more complacent with every visit, but the food is really delicious. Thankfully their cook hasn’t lost interest and consistently produces memorable meals.

Abalone is very rarely found on menus anywhere and is difficult and dangerous to dive for. We were lucky last night that they were serving fresh catch, so Ron opted for that dish (as he always does when it’s available). My usual go to is a delicious Seafood Soup that is made with a flavourful broth and loaded with fresh fish, scallops, lobster, shrimp, octopus, and clams, and served with a broiled slice of garlic bread, perfect for dunking in the broth. Enjoyed with a glass of northern Baja red wine, this is the perfect meal to wind up a long and arduous day of driving (we left Cabo at 9:30 in the morning and, aside from gas and pee stops, arrived in Guerrero Negro at 8:30 last night).

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Guerrero Negro is a company town – the main industry is the salt plant and business owned by the Mitsubishi corporation of Japan. The other industry here is eco-tourism based around the whale migration. Like Santa Rosalia, my least-favourite town on the Baja drive, Guerrero Negro has lots of employment but seems to lack the soul and personality found in other places.

In the restaurant, we asked to see a wine list to see which northern Baja wines they were carrying. Unable to comprehend their poorly prepared listing, we ended up ordering a 2011 Santo Tomás Cabernet Sauvignon, based on the recommendation of the Australian couple we were visiting with, Lindal and Gerry, who were just finishing their meal and the last drops of wine from the bottle they had ordered. We poured them a glass from our bottle and shared some wonderful stories of the Baja, Australia, California, wine and tennis. Ah, the camaraderie of travellers – a grand and glorious thing.

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On The Road To Land’s End – Again!

Every year, Ron and I head up to the BNP Paribas Open Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells, California (www.bnpparibasopen.com).  As always, we watched some fabulous tennis and had an opportunity to catch up with many special and long-time friends (Bonnie and Don, Pete and Tony, Judy, Peter, Bob and Roxy, Bob and Winnie and so many more).

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We drive to and from the tournament every year, which is approximately 1300 miles each way.  We’re on the road home as I write this and I’m remembering how much fun we had with my Mom on this same trip to Cabo last November.

My Mom has always loved every aspect of travel and makes every experience a great adventure.  It’s such a delight to be on the road with someone who takes everything in and enjoys every aspect.  She has a child-like sense of wonder and curiosity – it’s a true gift at any age and especially for someone now in her 80’s.

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We planned our trip down in November, just as we’ve done on this trip, to get to Mulegé to spend Saturday night at the Hotel Serinidad, a fly-in hotel that has been a Baja classic for decades (www.hotelserenidad.com).  Every Saturday night features the Serinidad’s famous pig roast, which lures people with small planes to fly in from the States or other parts of Mexico and for people like us who are driving, to plan our overnight stop for this weekly event.

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The staff at the Serinidad know how to do a pig roast well, and it has become a real highlight on our many trips up and down the Peninsula.  Mom LOVED it, and she enjoyed every aspect of this legendary and iconic hotel.  There are some great memories and stories at this hotel, with pictures on the walls from famous guests of years gone by like John “Duke” Wayne, June Allyson and Dick Powell.  We’ll stay overnight and get an early start to ensure that we arrive home in Cabo tomorrow night.

We wish Mom was with us again on this trip and we’ll be thinking of her tonight.  Hopefully she’ll be with us again for this amazing trip next November!

Cataviña and Cabañas Linda (NOT!)

Back in November, our little convoy of two vehicles (Ron in the lead and Mom and I following behind) left Ensenada in the cool of morning.  The air conditioning was working in the Lincoln now, so Mom and I knew we would be comfortable as the day progressed and the heat of the desert intensified.

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Driving the Baja can be extremely treacherous as shoulders don’t exist and the road is extremely narrow.  Highway 1 is the only highway that connects the US to the southern tip of the Baja, so there is a lot of tractor/trailer traffic combined with passenger vehicles.  Defensive driving is absolutely required as you take the winding roads and twist and climb through the mountains.  We travel using walkie talkies, and there have been many situations when Ron has told me it is clear to pass when any sane person wouldn’t even consider it!  Mom was a great sport and never showed any nervousness or concern – bless her for her faith and confidence in both of us.  The many white crosses and memorials along the way are vivid reminders of the inherent danger this highway presents its travellers.

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The beauty of this desert landscape is awe-inspiring.  The variety of cacti and scenery will surprise anyone visiting this apparent “last frontier” for the first time and I am amazed and thrilled every time we have the opportunity to see it.  There are so few people to have actually driven the Baja, and my precious Mom is now among them.  It is an incredible experience and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with her.

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One of the contests that Ron and  I play when we drive the Baja is “Who Can Spot The First Boojum”.  This is what  CaboBob.com says about the boojum (otherwise known as cirio):

“The boojum looks like nothing else.  It is often described as a giant carrot growing upside-down, with its root sticking up to fifty feet in the air.  It has a trunk and leaves, but o branches until it’s at least a hundred years old, when the trunk divides into two of more whip-like tops.  A fifty year-old specimen might be a foot thick at its base, and less than five feet tall.  It’s one of the slowest growing plants in the world, at a rate of a foot every ten years, which means a mature fifty-footer may be more than 500 years old. 

This photograph by Eliot Porter, entitled Cirio Near Las Tres Virgenes Volcano, Baja California (1966) is from the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After plentiful rainfall, the boojum “candle” sprouts a flame of yellow blossoms at its tip, and its trunk is covered with small green leaves.  When water is absent, it sheds all its leaves to preserve moisture within the trunk.  The boojum is abundant in this two hundred mile strip of desert, but the only other place it grows is a small patch at the same latitude across the Sea of Cortez, in the State of Sonora.”

Ron sees people and families when he looks at boojums and I see dancers.  They are rare and special and no two specimens look alike.  Mom enjoyed them immensely as well as the elephant trees, the cardón (the largest cactus in the world that can grow to over sixty feet tall – often mistaken for its northern cousin, the saguaro), and the hundreds (literally hundreds!) of other cactus varieties found throughout the Baja.

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Mom and Alberto beneath a massive cardón.

We’d had a long day driving and it was starting to threaten sunset.  We’d planned on getting to Cataviña by nightfall as the last thing you want to do is drive the Baja at night.  We caught a glimpse in the twilight of the Boulder Field of Cataviña, sorry that we’d missed them in the last light of afternoon but excited to know that we would instead see it in the early morning light the next day.

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There is a charming hotel, the Desert Inn, just off the highway that we’d planned on checking into.  It is an identical twin to a hotel in San Ignacio to the south and both form part of a group of six hotels from Ensenada to Loreto that were formerly called La Pinta.  We should have called ahead – the Desert Inn was fully booked as the Baja 1000 was well underway.  Lots of racers, chase and support teams and had taken up all of the rooms.   We quickly got back into our cars and raced back up the road to secure a room in the only other motel in this little town called Cabañas Linda (not the kind of place that you want as a namesake, believe me!).

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The word “linda” in Spanish means beautiful and, believe me, this motel was FAR from that description!  Other than driving on to Guerrero Negro, we really had no other choice unless we wanted to sleep in our cars.  Since that wasn’t an option, we secured the last two rooms available.

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The rooms were princess pink – from floor to ceiling – PINK!  We were laughing with some racers that were staying in a room next to our two rooms – a double bed and bunk beds that were top to bottom princess pink.  Hilarious!  Doors that wouldn’t lock, furniture that was picked up, we’re sure, at roadside flea markets, bedding that you definitely wanted to keep your clothes on to lay upon, and bathrooms fixtures that you stood well away from!

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Mom was a great sport about it all – in fact, far better than her daughter.  It was her first truly authentic Mexican experience outside of the tourist destinations that my parents traveled to over the years.  She said it reminded her of a story that my Dad told of staying somewhere once where he listened to the sound of beetles falling from the ceiling all night.  Sometimes you’re tired enough that you can sleep anywhere – literally!

At eleven o’clock, the motel turned out the generator that ran the lights and power and I worried that Mom would have trouble finding the bathroom when she got up in the night.  I thought knocking on her door to tell her what happened would scare her even more, so trusted that she would be careful and find her way safely.  Lesson learned: always have a small flashlight in your travel bag!

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The motel knew what they were doing as no one would stay there past day break and they had ample time to turn the rooms over.  They had a café on site that only served instant coffee, so everyone staying at the motel headed south to the Desert Inn for our cup of java instead.   We drove a short distance north again to take in the Boulder Field in the morning light.  Boulders as big as large buildings and cacti growing out of nothing but rock – absolutely amazing!

Cataviña Boulder Field

Cataviña Boulder Field