Rambling Time

I need a vacation.

I’m guessing that comes as a surprise. I’m guessing it probably even sounds self-indulgent and more than a little decadent. I’m guessing the consensus out there in places like Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin and, dare I say, the entire country of Canada, is that those of us living in paradise are perpetually on vacation. So why the hell do I need to go on vacation?  Well, at the great risk of condemnation and ridicule, I’m here to challenge the notion that life in paradise is always paradisiacal.

In eastern Canada, around mid-March, near the end of a particularly cold and stormy winter, everyone starts itching for spring and can be heard to say with varying degrees of whininess depending on the speaker’s disposition, “It’s been a long Winter. How much longer do you think before the snow melts.” And then the snow melts and there is excited anticipation and we start thinking the warmer days of Spring are right around the corner. The crocuses on the South side of the house are the first to bloom, while the green tips of daffodils begin to rise up through the dark wet earth in fuzzy patches dotting the yard. Tulips are felt, unseen deep below the surface of flower beds, to be bursting forth from their bulbs. Then, almost without fail, there’s one more big snowstorm in the first week of April. It usually falls on or right before my sister’s birthday, April 6th. Overnight the yard is transformed back to a place enshrouded in white where everything looks dead and the snowplow can be heard noisily running up and down the streets removing the unwanted gift from Mother Nature. Suddenly it seems as though Spring will never arrive and everyone shuts themselves up in their houses where I imagine they sit wrapped in woolly sweaters, grimacing while they sip big glasses of scotch in an attempt to dull the sensation of cold air seeping under the doorjam and the pain of the never-ending wait for relief.

There’s a similar phenomenon occurring in the Tropics. Despite the groans and grunts of disapproval I foresee emanating from your mouths, I’ve got to say it: It’s been a long summer.

I’ve been waiting for weather that resembles autumn to arrive for several weeks now. But it seems that, like those early signs of Spring, the early signs I wrote of produced premature declarations of the imminence of cooler weather here in Baja. Normally, autumn arrives by mid-October, providing relief from the energy-sapping, spirit-desiccating heat. But we’re brushing up against November and each and every day the mercury continues to top 90 (thankfully down from the daily high of 95 only a few days ago). The air still feels dry and hot like a furnace as it blows past the moisture-deprived skin of my arms and I sit here sweating in my chair. I have a hot ass. It’s been hot since June, without respite. It makes sitting here while I type uncomfortable to the point of being unbearable at times. I have to get up and walk around and let air flow over my overheated posterior. It makes it necessary to lay a towel over my office chair so it doesn’t become sticky with sweat. Altogether now, it’s “Gross!!”

We’re going on five months of incredibly hot weather. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Sure, the nights are cooler, more or less, and sea temperatures are slowly falling so that my evening swim is actually refreshing, but the daytime highs are still uncomfortably high and the sun is still stinking strong. I’m tired of having to coat my entire body with sunscreen and of staring into the bright sun while I surf. I’m pretty sure I’m doing irreparable damage to my eyes.

So I’m done with the heat.

I’m done trying to convince myself that this is good for me – that all this sweating is ridding me of toxins or that this is better than the 65 degree weather in Central California.

I’m looking forward to the cold. I want to shiver and relish the thought of wearing long pants and a big heavy sweater while I look west towards the Pacific Ocean without the sun frying my retinas. I want to feel the chill air on my face, air so cold it makes my eyes water. I want to experience surfing in a full wetsuit for the first time in my life (not so much the crowds). I want to tuck into bed at night under thick downy comforters and rise to walk on chilled floors. I want to sip hot tea in the morning to warm myself gently from the inside out, instead of it making the sweat pour down my neck and face to gather in my cleavage, gradually soaking my sports bra. In the evenings I want to sip scotch on the rocks and feel the heat of the alcohol warm the cockles of my soul all the way down to my icy toes.

Clearly, while I do look forward to the change, it’s not that I like the thought of being cold so much as the remedies for it: grasping a mug of steamy hot chocolate with chilled hands, wrapping myself in feather-down comforters, cashmere sweaters, ridiculous looking woolen caps and brightly colored mittens, sipping good California red wine or scotch (take your pick) before a crackling fire in the hearth. Oh and did I mention snuggling? Snuggling is definitely the best thing about cold weather. Hey, a girl’s gotta dream.

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Baja Califaction

The day after arriving in Mexico, we busied ourselves reorganizing and cleaning two months’ accumulated dirt, dust and a frightening number of dead cockroaches from inside the house. Never before have I lived somewhere where the window screens need to be cleaned so often. They become encrusted with dust and salt from the ocean-scented air. And that’s when they are stored inside the closed house! The tracks of sliding doors fill with silt and salt and all manner of tiny creature remains.

We sweat like a cold coke on a hot day and would have similarly left circular puddles on the floor if we’d stood still long enough. (Note, you can never drink enough water in the desert in summertime.) I glanced at the temperature gauge – it indicated it was already 94 degrees Fahrenheit at 10:00am.

Pressing things done, I suggested we take a run down to Nine Palms surf break. Winds were calm and the surf appeared to be 4-6 feet in front of our house. I had already checked and the surf was supposed drop and the wind pick up in the coming days, so if I was going to get any surfing in, it was now or not for several days.

We loaded the ATV with boards, ice water, snacks for the man and plied ourselves with 60 SPF sunscreen.

I felt the skin on my face heating up as we made our way South, too slow to induce the kind of cooling breeze that I craved. The sun was strong and it’s reflection off the road’s light-colored sand penetrated my sunglasses and barraged my eyes. The air was stifling and my breathing became labored as I tried to suck the seemingly limited oxygen from it. It occurred to me that the air was too hot to provide any cooling effect and as we progressed it felt as though we were under a broiler. We were in El Inferno! Dawn’s Hell.

It is only 4.5 miles to the surf break. As I got off the bike, my head swam and I felt my pulse thumping in my ears. “Oh oh,” I thought and quickly took a seat under the shade of a palm-thatched umbrella.

“Hand me the water please,” I said without looking up, hand extended, while I concentrated on getting my head to stop swimming. I took a gulp of ice-cold water. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of what I was hoping was nothing, so I sat quietly and examined the surf.  It was mushy and not as big as I expected. Waist to shoulder high. No need to rush.

I began to feel a bit better as the coolness of the water in my stomach began to bring down my core temperature. I figured once I got in the water it would cool me down even more. So, feeling composed, I slowly began to get ready to go out.

The small waves meant a mellow paddle out, but I felt the effects of weeks of not surfing – muscles that didn’t respond with the vigor or strength I was accustomed to.

It’s a long paddle out to the take off point at Nine Palms. By the time I got out there, I was surprised that I was out of breath. “Wow, I knew I was out of shape, but I didn’t think it was this bad.” My face felt hot the way it does any time I exert a lot of effort (I was called Lobster Face in grade school), so I didn’t think anything of it. I splashed myself with water, but, man it was warm, hardly refreshing at all.

A few waves into the session, my face started to throb again and I realized that the problem wasn’t that I was out of shape. I was still overheated and experiencing the effects of heatstroke!

As I felt my breathing become labored again, I knew it was time to get out. I got lucky and caught the next wave all the way to the beach. I slowly pulled my now exhausted body out of the water with what seemed a ludicrous amount of effort.

I spent another half hour under the umbrella sipping ice water and then we headed for home where I ended up spending the rest of the day recuperating lying in bed under a ceiling fan set to max. I still felt a little weak the following day.

This is why people typically move a lot slower in the tropics. This is Baja in the summertime.

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Home Sweat Home

Back in Baja and the first thing I notice is the smells. First, there was the acrid body odor that accosted my nostrils as soon as I got in the car with Gregorio, the guy from the place where we store our car. Then there was the powerful, almost unbearable odor of rotting animal flesh emanating from the car’s AC vents. 
I knew better – you have to put rat poison under the hood if you’re gonna leave a car sitting for long.
We were lucky all the little bastard did was die and stink up the car. Rats and mice around here are notorious for destroying the wiring in cars left sitting for more than a few days at a time by unsuspecting owners.
What is it with rats and wiring? Why do they feel the need to gnaw on plastic insulation?
Our house in Mexico is powered by solar. So we have an inverter and a controller that are part of the overall system. A heavy-duty wire connects them, delivering the energy capturedto the batteries where it’s stored. Shortly after installing an independent system for the guest house, a particularly large rat decided to munch on this wire. The result? A rather rank and rent rat accompanied by a temporarily disabled solar system.
At the end of the hour and a half long drive along a rutted and windy dirt road to our home, we entered the house. After being closed tight for weeks, the air was stifling, seemingly devoid of oxygen. I felt  like I’d just walked into a house-sized oven. The house plants were bent and wilted. Tiny baby geckos lay dried like beef, or should I say, reptilian jerky. The sweat began to pour off of us as soon as we entered. It was uncomfortably hot and I, for one, slowed down.  It wasn’t a conscious act, but done out of some kind of instinct for self-preservation. I checked the temperature gauge in my little office and discovered it was 97 degrees F with 86% humidity. It was 6pm.
With little more than an hour left of daylight, we hurried to take the hurricane panels off all the windows and sliding doors so we could air the house out –  we hoped in time for bed.
Some time after 8pm, we finally stopped to eat under a ceiling fan that dried the accumulated sweat from our bodies leaving behind a layer of salt. Then we began preparations for bed. A shower to wash away the accumulated dirt and salt, the stench that is the reality of desert life. I couldn’t help but notice as I used the commode that the seat felt strangely like it possessed its own internalized source of heat – like I imagine the thrones in swanky hotels in cold weather climates might have. In Canada, we’d be the envy of the whole neighborhood. Here, not so much.
We lay in bed, ceiling fan on max, and I tried to ignore that same solar heat emanating from within the mattress.  As I tossed and turned, exposing heated flesh to the cooling breeze of the fan, my body’s memory brought me to consider how wonderful this same heat would feel were it snow instead of sand outside and this a cold Canadian winter’s night.
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Baby It’s Cold Inside

When I was a child, there were days when I would have to stay inside, holed up in the house with all the windows and double doors closed against the cold. On particularly nasty days, the temperature would fall to incredible lows of minus 40 degrees Celsius. The wind chill could make it even colder and warnings were issued that skin exposed to such temperatures would be frost bitten in mere minutes. Outside the wind howled its warning against entering its grip.

At times like this, when the door was opened by someone going out or coming in, the chorus rang throughout the house, “Close the door!!” and we all hunched our shoulders and tucked our feet in against the draft.

At night lying in my bed waiting for sleep to come, my eyes would follow the patterns on the frost-covered windows, lit up by the street lights below.The patterns were artful, sweeping, wing-shaped and glistening like crystal and diamonds. Sometimes I’d get up and touch them or lick the window and feel the icy chill on my tongue. My fingers melted the frost in patterns or words. Scraping with fingernails and a snowstorm was created, a miniature of the one raging outside.

Today again I am holed up in the house with all the windows and doors closed. And, were someone to open a door, I would definitely be hollering at them to “Close the door!” against the weather.

There is a difference between this day the days of my childhood I just described…today I am inside hiding from the insufferable heat, generator running, air conditioning on full blast.

The thermometer in my office read 95 deg F (35 deg C) with 78% humidity. At 1:30pm I decided it was time I get a couple of potted palms into the holes that were prepared for them several days ago, on the west side of the house. After an hour of careful work, taking breaks and drinking cold water, I’d just about had enough. The job was finished – the plants were in their holes and watered, a mess remained to be cleaned up – but I knew I needed to get out of the heat. In the bathroom getting ready to take a shower to cool off, I got a clear illustration of what “beet red” really means. My face was literally the color of beets. “Not good” I thought. Better hurry up and get in the shower. While in the shower, the need to throw up became very overpowering.

After this turn of events, it occurred to me that it would be a good day to run the air conditioning. But sadly, the generator, which in this solar home is required if you want to use the AC, has not been working. The neighbor, a knowledgeable mechanic, was supposed to come early in the day to look at it, but didn’t show up. Basta!

So instead, I lay down under the fan and tried to get my core temperature down. Another shower and then I rested fitfully under the fan.

Finally, the mechanic Victor arrived, and after less than 5 minutes had figured out the problem. In 10 minutes flat he had it repaired. The propane gas line was clogged. As he left he said “you need to run the generator for a while to clear the lines.” Well you don’t have to tell me twice.

And so I moved quickly, closing all the doors and windows, taking the covers off the air condensers and then turning on the AC units in the two downstairs bedrooms.

Here I sit writing away in 84 deg F (29 deg C) temperatures and 50% humidity. I’m wearing very little and the fan is blowing cool air at me. Heaven!

Oh wait, I think I might be getting a chill…

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