Saturday, November 28, 2009

A house tour day and a beach day

We've been having fun here in San Carlos with Ches and Allison. Yesterday we went on a little open house tour of some of the houses for sale around the area.  Prices were in the 200 to 350 thousand US dollar range, actually quite a bit cheaper than comparable houses in Victoria.  Here's one we saw that had a sweet little patio with cooking facilities leading down to a garden right on the water.  The price was $325.We all agreed we could live here quite easily but none of us are really thinking of moving to Mexico permanently.

This one was quite a bargain: brand new, completely furnished and landscaped, in a gated community. The price?  $200,000--a steal actually.  Prices here have dropped quite a bit in the last year or so and there are definitely some deals to be had. But we were just looking for fun.

Today we're planning to go up the coast a bit to a long lovely stretch of sand curving around a bay, where the movie, Catch 22, was filmed back in the 1960s.  I can't show you a photo of the beach right now.  Perhaps tomorrow.  But I want you to see this little video of a pack of dogs having a great time at a beach, sent by my friend Linette.  I can't let my dogs see it though or they'd be completely jealous. But check it out:  dogs at the beach
Isn't that the funniest thing?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A day in San Carlos

This morning we awakened to clouds but by 9:30 the sun had come through and warmed things up.  The dogs were thrilled to realize just how close we are to the beach and they enjoyed a lovely swim in the warmish water chasing sticks. This is taken at the beach down at the end of the sandy road that runs behind our motel just as the sun was breaking through.

We took the bikes off the back of the van and biked down the road a ways to visit our friends, passing a group of cheerful pelicans on the way.  They seem to like to congregate on a rocky section of the beach, along with other birds including seagulls and egrets.

Ches and Allison are camped behind the Best Western Hotel in a little RV park.  They've been living in this van on and off for a couple of years now.  This is a pretty cute setup for them, complete with a tiled floor and shade.

It was nice to just bike around and visit and get ourselves organized after our days of driving.  We've decided to spend a couple more days here.   It's really a nice, laid-back place and the sunsets are just gorgeous.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A good day to drive to Mexico

It didn't start out that well when we locked ourselves out of the room when we took the dogs out for their morning walk, but that was soon fixed and then we headed to the Mariposa Gate to cross into Mexico.  It's a rather strange experience, very different from crossing from Canada to the US, as it's done in several stages.  First you go through a gate past uniformed men, then you drive a kilometer or so down a very official looking road...

to stop in a line up.  If you go through the "nothing to declare" gate you will pass a stoplight that turns red or green.  If you get the red, you have to stop and be searched, but if you get the green you just drive through.  We got the green this time.  Hooray!  That means the two cases of California wine down at the bottom of the boxes and suitcases weren't a problem.  (Probably they wouldn't have been anyway, but you never know.)  It also means we weren't asked to show papers for the dogs or answer any questions.

Then you drive another 10 miles to come to the place where you apply for your visitors visas and negotiate to temporarily import your vehicle into Mexico.  This was the third time for us so we knew what to expect. Even so it's confusing.  You get your visa by simply filling in the form and then have to go to the banjercito (little bank) to pay for it.  Then they send you back to get it stamped.  When you get that done you go to another place to import the vehicle.  This takes longer because after they input all your data you have to go to a different booth and pay to get copies made of all the documents.  Then you go back and pay for that.  And finally they give you the sticker for your car so you can pass through the final gate.

All of this took us about an hour and while we were there, who should we see but our Mexico travel buddies Ches and Allison who we met two years ago in Mexico and ran into again last year when we were here.  We'll be hanging out with them for the next couple of days.

We drove from Nogales Mexico to San Carlos in about five hours.  I spent most of the time trying to get some photos of the shrines by the side of the road, but without much success.  These little crosses and wreaths and shrines appear about every mile or two along the road.  They're very sweet (and sad, since they mark where someone was killed on the highway).  But there are no shoulders on this section of the road so it just wasn't possible to stop and take pictures.  I got this very elaborate shrine and will try to find some of the smaller ones as we travel along.

San Carlos is known as the place where the Sonoran Desert meets the Sea of Cortez.  Lots of Americans here, which means it's an easy introduction to Mexico.  This is our little motel with its pool, and the cost is $37 Canadian.  Not too shabby for the first night.

We'll be here for a couple of days before heading down to Mazatlan as we and the dogs both need a little rest from driving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Phoenix, Tubac and Nogales

We spent the morning in the bustling modern city of Phoenix, visiting the Heard Museum. This private museum shows artifacts from the collection of the Heard family, who explored the world and purchased an incredible number of indigenous crafts and relics from all over the world. It's housed in their lovely 1920s home. Here's the courtyard with its fountain.

And here are just some of the artifacts we saw.  Hats from Mexico, Canada, Africa, and the Arctic...

Then there was the collection of cradleboards from probably a dozen different tribal groups.  Here are just two:

The highlight for me was an exhibit depicting the harshness and horrors of the Indian Schools.  This is something we're very aware of in Canada, yet I've never seen anything like this exhibit, complete with written and spoken memories as well as haunting photographs.  There was one photograph of a graveyard with a heartbreaking number of stones, each carved with a name and the tribal affiliation.  Appache, Sioix, Cree, Blatcha, Alaskan, plus others.  All of these children from various parts of the country died at one particular school.

And there was this self-explanatory presentation:

It really moved me to read the words of this one-proud fellow and to the the changes in his appearance.

This afternoon we sped past Tucson and down Highway 19 that leads to Nogales and the border.  We stopped for lunch at Tubac, a very upscale spot about 15 miles north of the border, where there are lots of new built houses for retirees.  It's a charming spot to visit with art galleries and good restaurants.

A big thrill for me in Tubac was finally seeing a roadrunner.  Cute little fellow, isn't he?

Then it was on to Nogales and the border.  You can see the mountains of Mexico in the distance here.  Actually this is a little side road by Tubac.  The highway is a big four-lane freeway but this is more picturesque.

Tonight we're in a Motel 6 again getting ready for the border crossing.  We have our pesos, our passports, our Mexican insurance, and our car registration papers ready.  From experience we know that there's a fair bit of red tape to get through so we'll leave early in the morning and hope to beat the crowds.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Across the desert to Arizona

Today was a long day of driving across the desert through Palm Springs and Indio into Arizona.  This is an area of high winds and dust storms and we encountered one minor one.  The stripes you see across the roadway are not shadows, they're blowing sand.  You can see that one truck has pulled over.  We continued along and shortly the sand storm ended.

Once you get into Arizona there are a lot more snowbirds in their great big motor homes.  Many of them seem to just set up camp along the side of the road.  I guess to avoid RV park fees.  Personally I can't think of anything more dreary than living in an RV in a gravel lot beside an interstate.

No amount of good weather in the world would make up for that isolation.

Here's another group.  At least they've chosen to camp in an area where there are beautiful mountains to look at.

Tonight we're in yet another Motel 6, this time in Phoenix.  We find that Motel 6 is a great place to stay.  It's clean, it's cheap, it offers wireless and it's pet friendly.  They don't charge extra for the dogs, which many places do.  We're getting very accustomed to these rooms, with their iconic bedspreads.  By now the dogs just charge in and find their pillows on the floor.

They are very good travelers.  Better than we are I think; they don't ever bicker.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

San Luis Obispo and Los Olivos

These two places (San Luis Obispo and Los Olivos) captured our hearts today as we drove south to Highway 210.  San Luis Obispo is a sleepy little city of about 44,000 with a lovely historic downtown, sweet little houses,

and a climate that seems just about perfect.  It sits back a bit from the coast so it doesn't get fogged in but still keeps somewhat cool in summer.  The winter temperatures hover around the 60s, sometimes higher and it only rains in December and January.  Today when we were there it was 68 degrees with a balmy breeze.  SLO (as the locals call it) is also home to a good university and has a vibrant foodie and wine community.  What could be better?

Well maybe Los Olivos.  This is a little town approximately 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, up in the hills.  It's a wine growing area that specializes in pinot noirs and other reds, and it makes some very fine wines.  We know because we tasted a few at this tasting room.

We sat outside for lunch at the Side Street Cafe and I hate to have to tell you this, but it was hot.  And I'm talking about the ambient temperature, not the food.  The food was good, the wine was too, as you can see.  

This little town caters to rich people who drive up from Santa Barbara in cars like this one.

It's almost too precious, but we had a great time exploring it for a couple of hours.  Then we headed across the LA basin to San Bernadino.  We've avoided most of the freeway gridlock by traveling on Sunday afternoon.  I'd hate to try to do it during rush hour.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The serious side to California

We've been traveling through California for three and a half days and I've seen that there is an extremely serious approach to life here.  In Healdsburg where we went to the farmers' market this morning they are seriously eco-aware.  At one booth they sell shopping bags made out of plastic garbage. They take the plastic sacks that birdseed or animal feed comes in and create these cute and practical shopping bags.

And they make others by weaving together the plastic bags from grocery stores.  This girl is showing the different colours made by various bags from big food stores.  What an excellent idea.

Then there is the gorgeous produce, which comes at all times of the year.  This young woman seems very serious about her squashes.

And just look at these seriously colourful gourds and persimmons.

Once south of San Francisco we encountered Southern California's serious approach to playing.   Here are some surfers (of all ages) on a sunny Saturday morning contemplating the surf....

And this woman was skateboarding in her bare feet.

The beaches are for fun but they have some very serious rules as well.

We came through Santa Cruz and had lunch at at a seriously vegetarian restaurant called Saturn.  Check out the pink leather banquette seating and the out-of-this world lighting.  Underneath the table was a serious collage of political slogans against proposition 8.

And in this store that sells seriously high end clothing there's a sign that supports PETA, explaining that they do not sell anything with animal fur.

I tell you.  You have to be serious about a lot of things to live well in California.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pictures in my head

Another rainy day so we decided to stay here in Healdsburg and get a few errands done.  Laundry and windshield wipers and a bit of shopping.  This afternoon it cleared up and we headed out to do a bit more exploring of wineries.  We enjoy sipping $30 Chardonnays and Zinfandels... although we can't afford to actually buy many bottles at that price.  We discovered yet another beautiful valley filled with small family vineyards among gnarled oak trees and winding roads and picturesque barns.  I'd show you some photos except that I left the battery for my camera back at the motel room charging.  Of course this would happen on the day when everything was newly washed with rain and the late afternoon sun shining through dark skies.  A photographer's dream.  So the only pictures I have are the ones in my head. 

The above photo shows Harry sitting in the Boonville Cafe yesterday.  On the table is the book that is helping us make these wonderful wine route discoveries. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A multitude of landscapes

Yesterday morning we awoke to silence. The rain was over and the town of Grants Pass, Oregon was enveloped in fog.  Since then we’ve experienced two days of incredibly different—and beautiful—landscapes as we traveled over a mountain to the coast on highway 101 and then onward.

California 101 took us through the ethereal saltwater lagoons around Trinidad...

and then back into the hills and through the redwoods to Garberville, where we spent the night.

This morning there was more fog but as we drove over another mountain and down to the ocean again it dissipated...

and the day warmed up.  We spent the morning along the Mendocino coast looking at its amazing headlands and sea stacks.

This afternoon we took California 128 through Anderson Valley.  This is a peaceful backwater north of Santa Rosa that is winning attention with its Chardonnays.

The drive through this valley may be one the most beautiful I’ve ever taken.

We stopped for lunch in the little town of Booneville (that is it’s name; I kid you not)--and it was warm enough for these ladies to sit outside.

Tonight we’re in Healdsburg, another stop on the northern wine route, and tomorrow we’ll do a little exploring here.  It’s supposed to rain again tomorrow but the past two days have been just amazing.