Wednesday, October 09, 2013

On the odor of Ajo

We went shopping a couple of days ago for a handful of things we forgot to buy on the way down. One of them was minced garlic, an almost daily staple for us. Yes, I know we can mince our own garlic, but the pre-cut stuff is a lot easier for me as I am afflicted with some sort of weird skin condition that retains the smell of garlic, shallots and onions for days after I handle them. And yes, I know about those stainless steel bars that supposedly absorb all the garlic smell from your fingers via magic. I have one and it barely works and in any event it's home hanging on a nail under a drive out skein of garlic cloves.

We went to the place where one might expect to find it, the spaghetti sauce aisle, and it wasn't there. Not dissuaded, this is the store after all where the matches are stocked with the candy, my second thought was with the vegetables and lo and behold there it was. Not packaged in nice glass bottles with leak proof lids, but rather in a can like green beans. But it was what it was and so I bought it and brought it home and used it to cook up some of the 9 pounds of fish we got suckered into buying from Alejandro.

Now of course the problem was how to keep it contained for its short life in the refrigerator, given that it lacked a lid. To address this obvious lack of planning on the part of the Herdez Food Corporation, I wrapped it up in the nice long piece of plastic wrap making sure that it was double and triple folded over the bottom. Nothing was getting out of there! Except for the pungent aroma of garlic that pervaded everything in the fridge the next morning.

So I put the wrapped can in a zip lock baggie and figured that would be plenty. That night I was brought up short again so MLW added a second bag to the first and the plastic wrap. The next morning the fridge stunk even more.

Last night we decided that we were running out of nights to cook so we threw it away. There wasn't much left anyway, and there was no chance that I wanted that smell in my otherwise pristine cooler for the whole drive home. So out it went. 

In the middle of the night I was awakened to that familiar smell, pervading our condo, no doubt abetted by the blower on the air conditioner that was unfortunately just above the garbage can. I lay there trying to decide just how bad it was and whether it really warranted getting dressed and walking all the way to the trash house knowing full well I would be contending with Raccoons for access. I decided it could wait and returned to a fitful sleep, rising this morning at the earliest hour yet and making my first priority the disposal of what seemed to be turning into a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Our little home returned to normal almost immediately. Lesson learned, bring a jar of the stuff from home next time. We got talking about how to say "The garlic smells" in Spanish and that took me to the dictionary I use on my iPhone.

First I had to get past the verb form "to smell something." This dictionary is kind of funny because it's designed for native speakers of both English and Spanish - it has examples in each. Like so many times before I clicked on the little "speaker" icon and got a wordy sentence in English - "To perceive sensations with the olfactory system." Not exactly what I wanted, I was more after the action of giving off a smell. "Oler" was clearly not correct so I dug a bit more and found my way to "olor" or, "Any property detected by the olfactory system." Now we're talking nouns and we're getting synonyms like "aroma" and "fragancia." But that's still not quite right although I suppose I could just say "The smell of the garlic was strong" and be done with it.

A bit more digging and it became obvious that what I was trying to say was a combination of both - "Oler" is not only to use your nose but to emit a smell as well. So it's something like "Oler" an "olor." And that epiphany brought me to the best example ever, using both words, in both English and Spanish -

"Amo el olor de napalmo en la manaña. Huele como a victoria."

 Some application developer somewhere has a real sense of humor, quoting Robert Duval's oft-cited line from Apocalypse Now, about his love of napalm and its smell of victory. I'll admit it had me laughing out loud.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A couple of tiny reminders from home

We always have a housesitter when we travel, so it's a case of "no news is good news" when it comes to knowing what's happening on the homefront. However, while we're almost a thousand miles south, we encounter lots of little New Mexico-isms on a regular basis. First there are the license plates of the guests at our vacation spot. Then there are the Kokopellis that grace much of the tourist-wares for sale in town. And then a boat or two in the marina with a New Mexico placename on the back and even the catamaran here on the beach that hails from Santa Fe. We're far from home but never far away.

Some reminders are less pleasing that others. Like the Mother of All Goatheads we found in the lawn two nights ago. We had just that day been opining that Goatheads didn't seem to grow down here, surprising considering the sheer volume of those awful green ground clinging vine producing abominations we have at home. But in truth we had never seen a single one, that is until MLW stepped off the seawall and straight into a mat of them. Barefoot. I'll admit I was shocked, but I quickly channeled that shock into anger and determination. Falling to my knees I dug every last little vestige of the beast out of the Bermuda Grass until none was left. My hands were numbs with sticker punctures, and many seeds escaped, but the plant was gone and in the trash and defeated in its nefarious task of reproduction. How it got here is unknown, but a guess would be one stupid burr traveled down in someone's boot or on their dog and kicked off the colonization of this pristine environment. And I'm glad I did my part to stem it.

The other little hint of home was less direct. Our shower has a tile bottom so we went out and bought a rubber mat. I dropped it in place and forgot about it until the next time I went into the bathroom and smelled that most ghastly yet common of smells - Skunk. We lived on a Skunk highway at home and barely a night goes by that one of us doesn't have to get up in the middle of the night and close the door because one of those little black and white monsters has let go nearby. A few nights before leaving, I encountered one under the bird feeder when I went out to reload the animal cam. In other words they are pretty common. So it was with great surprise that I found myself in the midst of Skunk stink in the middle of the afternoon in Mexico. Not that there aren't Skunks here too - I saw one sizing up the swimming pool only two nights ago - but afternoon is a weird time. I stood there sniffing and sniffing and just when I was beginning to hyperventilate, it dawned on me - the new bath mat smelled like a Skunk. So now, each day I am reminded of what I have to look forward to in a mere 5 days.

You can leave home, but home never really leaves you.


Monday, October 07, 2013

La Palapa Griega

I knew we were in for an experience when I saw the waiters peeking around the corner of the building as we walked up the sidewalk to the door. It was on the early side, so being the first guests of the evening was not wholly unexpected but there was something about their sense of surprise that worried me. But since we're always shopping for an experience, we forged ahead and chose a table on the edge of the restaurant, overlooking the sea. One of the waiters brought a floor fan over and set it on a table so we'd have a breeze. He took our margarita order and went off for menus.

The view was wonderful, a crescent moon setting over Tetakawi, the water in the cove slowly turning to inky black. MLW told me the story of how she'd found the big Abalone shell she still has, under the cliff off to my left. The waiter returned with our drinks, in plastic birthday party glasses. We found this a bit odd considering one can buy those giant margarita boats at just about any store. Oh well, at least they were cold.

The choices on the menu were interesting - all the traditional Mexican seafood fare plus a smattering of Greek choices. Many interesting things to choose from, I was challenged with making a decision. A second waiter came to take our order, a younger guy, late teens or early twenties. MLW ordered her regular, pescado al mojo de ajo. The waiter looked confused and said, "No, we don't have that." I pointed to it on the menu and he made a face and left, returning a few seconds later with the straight answer - it wasn't that they didn't have the fish the way she wanted it, it was that they didn't have any fish fillets. Whole fish, yes. Fillets, no, and no one was offering to turn a whole fish into a fillet. We asked for more time, considering if perhaps we'd be best served to just have the drinks and find dinner elsewhere. But, intrepid souls that we are we decided to tough it out. I called the waiter back over and MLW ordered scallops in butter and garlic, "callos" on the menu, another new word for us. She asked about vegetables and he said "yes, with green beans." 

Now I'd also been counting on some sort of fish fillet so I had to make a different choice going with the spicy calamari. Mexican meals usually come with a side of some kind of vegetable and rice, but I have had more than one instance where I ended up with nothing more than a big plate of meat so I asked, thinking I wanted something more than squid parts. "No" was the answer so I changed my order to one of the other "callo" dishes and the waiter made a face. He said that the calamari was really good. I said that I wanted some vegetables and he stood there in stoic silence for a full 30 seconds, making me wonder if Spanish was truly his first language. Finally he offered to add on some vegetables and rice and I said "veggies only" and all was once again good. He went off and placed the order.

The place was starting to fill up, a big table of Americans came in and sat down to our right. They got the good waiter, the one who had a sense of humor and spoke Spanish fluently. Another couple came in, Mexican woman and American man. She immediately got on her cell phone and he lit a cigar which prompted me to get up and move the fan in order to redirect his stinky smoke out to sea instead of across our table. 

The food showed up, delivered by a third water. Mine was a fancy pile of breaded octopus parts, MLW's was a collection of little gray-brown disks that looked like sliced Kielbasa sausage that had been pan fried. You know, held in shape by the sausage skin and puckered up in the center. Kind of like the little hot dog slices my Mom used to add to my Chef Boy-Ar-Di Spaghett-Os. I tasted one and it had the flavor of fish but the consistency of fried pork. Further confounding our analysis was the fact that there seemed to be two kinds of disks, one more meat like and one more fish like. Her rice and vegetables were more readily identifiable. 

My dinner was okay, sort of Latin version of sweet and sour squid that I might consider at the Chinese restaurant near our house, assuming that I would want such a thing or that we would actually eat there. The breading didn't really stick to the fish but the fish was tasty enough.My vegetables were also identifiable and edible. It was a fun dinner of inside jokes and laughs and funny faces and curses for our friends Carole and Doug who recommended the place. Perhaps we'd expected too much, that a seafood restaurant within casting distance of the ocean would have the ingredients necessary to make any of the dishes that comprised 75% of their menu. Maybe we should have gone Greek?
In any event, we finished up, I asked for Flan was told no and ended up with Baklava. I mean what could be better than Baklava on the seaside in Mexico.

We paid, left a reasonable tip and got up to leave La Palapa Griega, pausing only to admire the painting of the Parthenon on the far wall as we went out the door. 

A little research later informed us that "callos" is Spanish for callouses or tripe, neither of which explains the contents of her dinner. As of now, we don't what she ate but whatever it was it was not enough to make us want to go back for more. Our Culinary Tour of San Carlos continues, with another place checked off. Permanently.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A couple of small world stories and a discussion about glasses.

Every year we try to come in early October, and every year we swear we're never coming back in early October. Well, I don't know if that's literally true but it sure seems that way. The water is hot which allows us swim every day, the only time of the year when this is possible outside of summer, and no one comes here in the summer. The problem is early October is close to Columbus Day and school holidays so the place fills up with vacationers. This shouldn't come as a surprise since this is a vacation spot but given how we like to spend our time away, the people and the noise can be quite jarring. We do persevere and enjoy ourselves in spite of it. And really, the people are mostly okay except for those with dogs. As the place fills up the courtyards ring with the sounds of abandoned animals, their sad howls echoing off the stuccoed block walls. 

Turns out there's a gal next door with a dog that barks plaintively whenever she leaves it alone. We didn't much like that the first dozen or so times so yesterday when she asked if the dog was barking, we said "yes" and she was aghast. MLW and she got into a friendly conversation once they got past the apologies and it turned out that Penny (her name) lives up the road from us in Santa Fe. What's more, she knew our little berg of Corrales and when asked about her history there it further turned out that she used to live on our street. Small World Story Number One.

Last night we went out to dinner, ending up at Blackie's, a joint in town. We've been patrons of the place since it was built, maybe 10 years ago. It's quiet and dark and romantic and they used to have a charming nonagenarian who guarded the parked cars and an octogenarian who played jazz standards on a plunky piano. The food was good, the service steady and it always made for a nice night out. MLW would order pescado al mojo de ajo (her standard) and I'd get one of the clever things from the menu. We'd have a big boat of a margarita and between courses they doubled down on that with a frosty Bailey's. I'd open the car door for MLW when we left, we'd have a nice kiss in the parking lot and write the evening down as another good memory.

On our last trip we went in and disappointingly, it had pretty much gone to hell. The "genarians" were absent, probably gone to the camposanto, the service was terrible, the food passable and no one brought us our Bailey's. It was the end of the love affair, and we left swearing never to darken their door again. But last night our plan for dinner at a new place - La Palapa Griega - was scotched by a Mexican wedding. It was tempting to crash it, the disco music was pounding, but manners got the better of us and so we left. Driving back towards town, we decided to give Blackie's one last chance. We parked and went in.

Same place, same atmosphere. But things had improved, the service was instantly attentive and the drinks came quickly. The food showed up after a reasonable interval, MLW taking a risk and having grilled fish with Artichoke sauce while I lined up for calamari with piñons and tomatoes. Both were excellent. And after ordering coffee and Flan our Bailey's showed up. The universe had regained its balance. I was in such a good mood that I complimented the waiter on his reading glasses - thick white hipster frames on a chain around his neck - and that in turn spawned a great conversation about whether "lentes" or "ante ojos" was the correct term for glasses. Turns out while they mean different things (sunglasses vs. vision glasses) around here they are interchangeable. When he asked me how my dinner was, I responded "estuvo muy bueno." Using "estuvo," the past tense of "is" made me so proud I could have pinched myself. We left a good tip and went out but sadly some jackass tourist had parked his Ford Econoline Conversion Camper Van so close to our passenger side that I couldn't open the door for MLW and complete the experience with a kiss. Next time.

Heading back I stopped on the frontage road to take my Photo of the Day, the long suddenly working streetlights along Manlio Beltrones Boulevard. San Carlos' main drag. I got the shot, we went home and I posted it to my Tumblr. Just for grins - it was a nice picture - I posted it to a Fuji camera forum I visit on Facebook. Twenty seconds hadn't elapsed before one of the members responded, "OMG, that's my home town." Small World Story Number Two. We chit chatted for a bit, I shared a few more photos (he currently lives in Chicago!) and we made plans to try and connect should we ever be here at the same time in the future.

It is a small world, and technology seems to make it smaller. What a great thing to be so far from home and have two intimate connections with two complete strangers in the same day. Travel does this for you, time and time again and it's just one more reason why being out and about is a great thing. The road goes on.

Friday, October 04, 2013

The Sea, The Seafood, The Food

Last year I had the extreme misfortune of getting stung by a Stingray. The Eastern Pacific Round Stingray (Urolophus halleri) is common in the shallow waters of the Gulf and in the Pacific off of Baja from April through November. 2012 was apparently a banner year for them, I got it once, MLW got it twice and some little girl swimming close to us got it too. I knew that because of the way she howled as she limped out of the ocean. While it hurt a lot, a real lot, the pain went away within an hour and the whole episode became nothing more than an interesting tale to relate to friends back home. Particularly friends who think that sharks are waiting there to eat them.

But here we are a year later, and for the past month or so the site of the one-time wound has been bugging me. Not hurting per se, but just a feeling that something isn't right. Like there is something embedded in the inside of the arch on my right foot. Kind of a "presence." At first I attributed it to Yoga, figuring I was working those taut little muscles by trying to balance on one foot with my hands at Heart Center. But then I got used to doing that and the feeling didn't go away.

It got worse as we headed south, stronger but still not painful until our arrival here when my foot seemed to want to migrate back to the sea. I'd doze off for a nap and find my right leg off the bed, foot pointing at the ocean, toes trying to gain purchase on the tile floor. It took two hands and all my strength to stop what seemed to be an inexorable migration back to the spawning grounds. Only when I donned my bathing suit and jumped in the water, did the craving end. My foot, now a part of the littoral ecosystem, had found its way home like an Eel returning to the Finger Lakes from its birthplace in the Sargasso Sea.

These days I concentrate very intently on not pissing off any of the Stingrays that might be around. I can probably manage one foot with an unbreakable bond to salt water but two might be tough to govern so I spend my time doing the "Stingray Shuffle," bobbing up and down constantly on my tip toes giving fair warning to any little beast buried in the sand. It was in this preventative state that the Mean Fish started its attack. 

MLW noticed it first, reporting that something had bumped her leg. We'd drifted a few yards south of our Stingray-free zone and I thought perhaps we'd innocently entered some fish's territory. We moved back and that's when it started going after me - a hit on my left leg, a hit on the right. Not bites, but very strong pokes with what must have been its bony fish nose. Then two on the back and one on my left arm. The final shot to my shoulder was enough for me - swim time was over. I fled the sea and huddled under my towel on the seawall fantasizing about getting a net, catching the Mean Fish and throwing him on the sand. I'd stand there poking him with a stick while he gasped for breath asking him how he liked it. I'd return him to the ocean when he agreed to leave we humans alone. And not one minute sooner. 

We've known Alejandro for years. He's been our chief provisioner for all the time I've been coming down here and he and his dad served MLW and her family in for the time before that. In his salad days, Alejandro would show up in his truck with shrimp and vegetables. Over the years he expanded his offerings to include tamales and orange juice. In the early days, we'd bring enough food to get us through to the first day when we'd find him in the parking lot and then we'd restock our larder. Back then we rarely ate out due some combination of frugality and my fear of interacting with local restaurants. While those limitations are now gone, we still buy fish from him whenever has it. He no longer brings vegetables due to stiff price competition (Americans are cheap) with two new supermercados and we don't buy shrimp because we cannot support the destruction of the Gulf. He also downscaled his truck, now relying on condo guests to ferry him and his coolers back into town.

He showed up during our first cocktail on the seawall at sunset. He had fish he said, Dorado and Snapper so we went off to have a look. My dealings with Alejandro have always been a bit tense for me, he's a mathematical genius who can do currency conversions so fast that I have no idea if I'm getting ripped off or not. Of course it's never a big deal in terms of amounts, but I do like to have an idea of how much stuff I'm buying (volume) and how much it's costing (price per volume) and how my dollars are converting to pesos (cambio.) 

What he had looked pretty good so I said we'll take a bag of each. The asking price was 110 pesos per bag. He started talking about the exchange rate and said he'd give me 13 on the dollar, a full peso more than the toll booth in Nogales was offering. He tore open a bag and made MLW smell it for freshness.Then he took 2 more bags out and said he'd give me a special price if I bought all four - 410 was the quote and he wanted dollars. It must be a pain to go all the way home with a cooler full of frozen fish pieces so I said fine.

I had a handful of 5 dollar bills and 20 peso notes. I tried to multiply times 13 to work it all out but came up short. He put the money in discrete piles and said "This pile is 130, this pile $10" in order to make it clear for me. I finally realized I was 50 pesos short no matter how we separated the bills so leaving MLW there as collateral, I went back to the condo to grab a twenty not only to fill the gap but to make the math simpler. 

When I got back he and MLW were discussing he poor building practices in Acapulco that had resulted in widespread destruction during that double hurricane they had last week. In my absence, the "good price" had changed from 410 to 440, perhaps to cover the cost of the plastic bag he'd given MLW to facilitate the carrying of 10 pounds of fish back to our freezer. I asked about that and we decided to settle on 430 which meant the exchange of a 20 peso note for a 10 peso coin, more complex math that left me even more addled. In the end we got a bunch of fish for $30. 

When we were here last February we found a new Italian restaurant. Unfortunately it was closed so we made a plan to try it on this trip. It was open last night so we went. The owner met us out front and made a big deal about how giant our Suburban is, feigning being crushed between it and the wall in front of his dining area. We chose an inside table on the promise of air conditioning, sat down and ordered wine.

The owner told us that he was from San Diego and that his wife was from San Carlos and that they'd made a plan that when she completed culinary school they'd move back down here and open a place. Four years later, here they are. 

I ordered a Malbec for MLW and a Chardonnay for me - the only couple in the world in which she drinks red and he drinks white. I tried to make that joke with the waiter but it got lost in translation. They brought bread, sort of an empty calzone, and I sliced my finger open on the broken edge of the olive oil cruet. We decided to warn them about this imminent danger lest some litigious patron make a far bigger deal out of it than I intended to make. The sight of all that blood on my napkin prompted them to bring me a band-aid that I accepted gracefully. We had a nice chat with the owner about his business and how he had gained enough Mexican patrons to get him through the slow months of summer. We talked about eating late in Spain and Italy and about how Tapas would fail here because everyone thinks that "small plates" are Tacos. In short, it seemed like he was making it work with food that's not common regionally and significantly different than the common fare. And not relying solely on vacationers to make it work.

Dinner came - Osso Bucco for me and Chicken Piccata for MLW - and it was delicious. As good as anything Italian I've eating in the US. We gilded the lily with a Pannacotta served on a compote of raspberries and blueberries. A really nice dinner, we paid (in pesos to remove the question of exchange rate) and promised to come back.


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Ah, Mexico

October is beach time. Just about every year for the past 20 we've packed up the car for the long haul down south. Two days, roughly 11 hours and 762 miles. But it's always worth it if only to bob in the ocean and watch for those interesting little tidbits that make getting out on the road interesting.

Day One from Albuquerque to Tucson usually doesn't offer too much to get excited about. On this trip it was mostly about giant grasshoppers sitting idly on the pavement waiting to be run over. I suppose they might be better known as "locusts" as in Biblical plague locusts because they are really large, probably two or more times bigger than the cousins that eat my Zinnias. They sit there daring the traffic to run them over and I will admit that I try to avoid them as much as I can for no reason other than I hate uselessly killing things. I wonder how many meet their end under my wheels? 

Not so lucky and harder to dodge are the migrating butterflies. Thousands of little yellow and white ones that simply end up dead on my windshield and radiator. You could see them by the hordes flitting across the road on their way to whatever plant they favor and you could see the unlucky ones obscuring my vision as the sun began to fall below my visor. A big field of glowing bug innards making it harder and harder to see. It really became bad when we turned right at Deming and headed straight into the sun. Early into Arizona we picked up two state troopers cruising the the passing lane, a half car length apart, chatting on their cell phones. At precisely the speed limit. I fell in behind them and drove merrily along for a good ways, passing everyone too scared to chance a speeding ticket. At Benson, one exited and I went on with the other. Climbing the big hill out of the San Pedro valley I was glad to have a pilot car because I was nearly blind from the bug bodies. I drove by the only things I could see, the back of his SUV and the center line, and hoped that nothing untoward was going to happen because my reaction time would have been inadequate. We suffered along like that until the sun finally dipped below the mountains west of Tucson.

We started the Day Two with our grocery stop in Green Valley, my favorite Safeway in the world because of its dedicated gold cart parking. It's a funny place to shop, being a big retirement community everyone is very old and very slow and the employees are doubly considerate and happy. A glimpse into our futures I imagine. We left hundred or so dollars lighter with 4 iced coffees and food to last for a few days. 

There was no obvious sign of the government shutdown in Nogales at the border crossing, we were slowed down by four agents looking in cars. For some reason they were not very stern and almost friendly this time, unlike just about every crossing we've made in the past. No mad dog stares, no waving of automatic weapons and no warnings that it's illegal to import chicken pieces. We just crossed came around the bend and aimed towards the road to Hermosillo, nicely timing our exit behind a semi that obligingly crushed an orange traffic cone that was partially blocking my egress.

The drive into Mexico is both timeless and irritatingly always in flux. Rules change, toll booths move, stoppages evolve. We got through the first toll booth with no hassle, a decent cambio for the dollars I paid with and a cheery toll collector. We started our visit to the immigration office with a persistent guy in the parking lot who really wanted to deglaze my headlight covers so that I could see better. Dispensing with him we went inside and handed over our passports to a gal who was clearly a trainee. She initiated an international incident protocol when she found last February's visa still present in mine. This required a visit from the desk supervisor who lectured me on the requirement to return the visa each time we leave the country, something I've never been told. He didn't care to hear that. Apparently they're trying to put an end to the scam we've been running - lying about how long we're going to stay. We learned this a few visits ago - greater than 7 days means you pay (which I don't mind) at the bank which requires standing in line for who knows how long (which I do mind) behind other Americans asking all kinds of stupid questions (which I really, really mind.) So we always say "7 days," which is free, and go our merry way knowing that we'll just plead stupidity if we ever get caught. Now though, the specter of having to return it raises all kinds of problems like having to pay when it's discovered that we overstayed. Not to mention having to cut across traffic to find away back into the immigration office. We politely absorbed the lecture (including "This is the only time I will do this for you.") and went on. We'll see what happens next time we try to cross having not returned it. In the past we never followed the rules about turning in car permits because the whole system was based on carbon paper. Now they have computers which makes me long for the good old days of sitting in the office and watching the agent print the form by hand, an unlit cigarette hanging from his lip, the fan turning slowly overhead and flies beating the last of their lives against the window screens, the whole time waiting for, no craving the moment when he would decisively drag his seal across the ink pad and stamp the form with authority.

Now I'm thinking I'll just get indignant and claim that I did indeed return it. What's the worst that could happen?

The rest of the haul was little different than the drive through New Mexico - more locusts, less butterflies, ever increasing temperature, a new light on the Hermosillo bypass, signs worth translating and a lot of road work. Something they did to the new pavement in spots formed a weird harmonic with the Suburban, causing it to rhythmically bounce down the road. Not pleasant nor interesting, it was one of those things that felt good when it stopped.

Arriving early for a change, my unpacking was blocked  by some dumb American, from New Mexico no less, who parked his goofy camper-bus in the traffic circle in a way that not only prevented me from going around but forced me to drag our stuff up and across the lawn instead of wheeling it up the ramp. I'll admit I considered vandalizing the inside of his wide-open vehicle in some unsanitary way but my morals got the better of me. I worked grumbling instead.

The one thing we talk about, the thing that drives us on the closer we get, is our first dinner. Tradition holds that it's at Rosa's Cantina and that it's carne machaca, that wonderful Sonoran concoction of shredded beef, onions, peppers, potatoes and grease, served with a big pile of steaming tortillas. It's the number one thing that makes that 762 mile drive worth every boring minute. Sometimes if we're stuffed from eating our gourmet car-lunch, we'll have tortilla soup instead. The best in San Carlos and maybe the best anywhere. Either of those with a cold Negro Modelo makes even enduring a lecture from an officious immigration guy tolerable. So we tore into town marveling at the hundreds of Lesser Nighthawks dining al fresco on insects by the (suddenly working again) street lamps and looked down the road for the first glimpse of the neon out in front of our favorite place.

I knew we were in trouble the moment we passed our second favorite restaurant. The road up ahead was dark and that beacon to culinary bliss was unlit. As we drove by reality sunk in - Rosa's was closed. I made a u-turn when the opportunity was presented and went back down the frontage road pulling to a stop in front. A cheerful banner announced the situation - "Open on October 12th," in other words, the day we arrive back home. We glumly circled the block and went back to our second choice, and enjoyed a nice dinner of giant margaritas, fish grilled in garlic and in my case a fillet stuffed with crab and shrimp and covered in "Chihuahua Cheese." Quite good, but not carne machaca

 Our typical first day task after a walk and a swim involves heading into town to buy the things that have been stolen from the condo or those that we forgot. Today's main targets were a shower cap for MLW and a tub to wash dishes in. And kitchen matches because for some reason the auto lighter on the stove has died in the interim. The shower cap is always fun because it's one of those things that don't translate really well. One version, gorro de baño can be confused with a swimming cap. Another way of saying it gorro de la ducha doesn't sound really nice. We usually go with the former and have the latter held in reserve if our first choice doesn't work. But today it did, even spawning an opportunity to have a little Spanish lesson in the proper way to say it. 

The dish washing tub is another story altogether. Like China, it's not a common product due to local dish washing practices. When I was over there I had to improvise because the Chinese simply do not use a tub to soak or wash dishes. They block the sink and use this oddball dish drying rack that slides into the kitchen cabinets. Apparently their trans-Pacific cousins the Mexicans don't use them either because while plastic drying racks are available, the normally associated tub is not. Last time we ended up with a repurposed storage bin that for some unknown reason disappeared since our visit in February. Perhaps we sparked an epiphany and one of the maids said "What a great way to wash dishes" because our perfect solution was replaced with what seemed to be the ice cube tray from someone's cooler. We searched high and low but couldn't find what we wanted, almost settling for an insect gut green wheeled toy storage bin decorated with the characters from Toy Story. I couldn't bring myself to spend $10 on it so I insisted we check down the road at the other supermarket.

At this point I will admit that we were shopping at Walmart de Mexico. Only under the most exigent circumstances do we patronize them at home, but their store here is such an improvement over the other choices that we parked our aversion in the lot out front and started shopping there a couple of trips ago. Where else can one find a jar of pesto in Guaymas? Besides, given the recent revelations of their extensive use of bribery as a business tool, they seem worthy of our disdain as we ply their aisles, shopping under moral superiority while trying to help the local economy. Today though they let us down. 

Our last item on the list - matches - proved more challenging. I asked a couple of women working in the kitchen aisle almost reverting to Chinexican with a conflation that came out "Fosphoros zai na li" before catching myself. I finally got my brain in order and spoke only in Spanish. She thought about it and told me that they were on the other side of the store with the dry goods, which made decent inventory sense. So off we went hopeful yet with that nagging feeling that we'd been had by that old 3rd World ruse of just telling the foreigner something in order to get rid of them. Sure enough, our instincts were right and the matches were nowhere to be found. Not even with the Virgin de Guadalupe votive candles. We milled around for a few minutes before deciding to chuck it in when a young man went by pushing a dolly and dragging a broom. I decided to try once more, this time acing the question. He thought for a moment and nodded and sped off towards the food aisles. In a miracle of dutiful working and parallel processing, he continued to sweep the floor in front of us as he hurried me along. I was cross processing, trying to guess where we'd end up in and I'll admit I was surprised when we took a sharp right into the candy section. There they were, on the bottom shelf just below the Hershey's Kisses. But of course. 

The old standby supermercado, Leys, has improved no doubt due to the competition with Walmart. It was cleaner, it was brighter and the announcements were no longer in some dialect of Spanish that was totally indecipherable. In short, the new Leys made me think that they might be worthy of a second chance. We found a perfect dish washing tub in the laundry section (again, of course), a big bottle of Bacardi Anejo on sale, cheese flavored Ruffles potato chips and a nice green broom to replace the crappy one in our condo. It was a good detour made better by the old guy in the parking lot who directed my backing up with arm flourishes worthy of someone parking jet at an international airport.