Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Baja, Mexico - 2018

Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California

The last time we visited Laguna San Ignacio was two years ago, when we drove with our friends Tom and Cathy. It took two full days of driving to get there. We experienced some wonderful desert sights and very much enjoyed the drive.

This year, however, on our return trip to see the whales in San Ignacio we went with our friends Jen and Darren. And instead of driving, we flew into Loreto on Alaska Airlines. Needless to say, it was a lot quicker.

We rented a car at Loreto airport and immediately started our drive north to Mulege, where we had planned a night's stay. The drive was mostly along the Sea of Cortez, often with beautiful views of bays.

Mulege, an otherwise sleepy Mexican village, had an impressive river running through it. The hotel we had reservations at (Las Casitas Historico) turned out to be very quaint place with excellent food.

Jen, Diane, Darren and I at dinner at Las Casitas.

The following day we drove to San Ignacio. It too has an impressive waterway entrance lined with palm trees and an oasis-like feel to it. The colonial town square is filled with huge trees and an old mission at the head of it. The surrounding restaurants, bars and stores are colorfully painted.

From the town of San Ignacio it's still another 45 minute (with a third of it being a dirt road) to Kuyima campground. This time, instead of bringing our own camping gear, we rented spacious tents with cots and sleeping bags. Bathrooms were a 50 yard walk from the tents.

We ventured out both days we were there on the panga boats to see the whales. Although the first day turned out to be the best, even just seeing these majestic animals up close is something special and unforgettable. 

Near the campground, osprays have nests. During this part of the year, most of them were busy feeding their young. We took hikes up and down the beach, finding areas filled with shells, some whale bones and discarded tires. Overall, though, the beaches were clean.

A beautiful sunrise at the camp.

On the way back to San Ignacio, we stopped to look at the salt deposits along the side of the lagoon.

After our stay in San Ignacio, we headed back to Loreto for a three-day stay. We immediately took a liking to the town. It is quaint, colonial and has a beautiful town square with the oldest mission on the coast.

With Darren just being a newly certified diver, we immediately set off for the dive shop to get fitted for an excursion the next day. Diane and Jen decided to go snorkeling.

After our dives, we had lunch on a white sandy beach. 

Although I wouldn't call the dives we made exceptional, they were pretty good. What did take me for a surprise was the water temperature - C-O-L-D. I had envisioned mid-70's, but was surprised to find mid-60's. Thus, 7mm wetsuits with all the extra gear was a must. I had hoped to see a whale shark. Although they're around, we were not that fortunate.

Inside harbor of Loreto.
The small hotel we stayed at in Loreto was called Casa Mangos. It was owned and run by Orlando, who happens to own one of the better restaurants in town too. And it was just down the street from us.

View of the grounds from our room.

A typical breakfast - not my usual bowl of oatmeal.

On one of our days in Loreto we visited the mission of San Francisco Javier. It's about an hour's drive into the mountains from Loreto. Built by the Jesuits and the local indian population in 1699, it is a beautiful mission with a nearby spring that was (and is still) used for farming.

One of the missionaries' first goals was to find ways to grow crops. Here, once they found water, they developed the wells and built dams and irrigation canals.

An ancient olive tree planted in the 18th century.

The Jesuits built dams and aqueducts for their farming needs. 
On our last day in Loreto, we ventured out to Loreto Bay Gold Resort, an exclusive (American-like) development with pools, a fancy golf course, a spa, restaurants and so forth. Although we pretty much agreed that it wasn't our type of vacation place, it seemed well built with an architecture and coloring that was unique. 

Afterward our visit to Loreto Bay, Jen suggested we go eat at the Clam Shack, a small restaurant on the water. Upon our arrival, I first insisted on a quick jacuzzi to relax before our meal.

The Vista Al Mar Clam Shack
In the late afternoon, we were back in Loreto and took a walk around town. We visited the Mission of Our Lady of Loreto. It was the first Jesuit mission established on the peninsula in 1697.

I noticed a posting of a concert to be held that night by an Italian guitarist, Peppino D'Agostino. He lives part-time in Italy and in Loreto, helping start an organization to teach young people learn to play the guitar. Tonight's concert was a way to help fund the organization.

A very humble man, Peppino is self-taught, has his own style of playing and writes most of the music he plays. I was fortunate to get a seat in the first pew of the mission. It turned out to be a wonderfully relaxed concert with superb acoustics. Peppino played about a dozen of his songs, such as "Blue Ocean", "Nine White Kites" and "Why Not". You can find him on YouTube if you're interested.

Our final dinner before flying home in the morning was at the Assadero Super Burro, a plain styled tacos and burritos restaurant. Delicious food that's cooked out in the open. It was a perfect end to a very fun and successful Baja trip.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Las Vegas 2018

Las Vegas - A Quick Visit

A few weeks ago we went to Las Vegas on a lark - Hilton Grand Vacations offered us a free three-night stay and in return we had to listen to a 90 minute presentation. We're knew the game well, so we took them up on the offer. It had been a few years since we visited the city that never sleeps.

We only had a few things planned for our visit: Red Rock Canyon, dinner at Mon Ami Gabi, watch the Bellagio fountains and perhaps an evening show. 

After picking up our rental car, we made our way to the Hilton and checked in. We got a very spacious one bedroom, living room and kitchen on the 30th floor with decent views of the city. Time to relax.

We'd never visited Red Rock Canyon before, in fact, we'd never heard of it. The canyon lies just a few miles west of the city. It's a climber's paradise, a great place for a hike and it offers phenomenal views of colorful rock formations.

We mainly did the park loop, stopping at several view points and taking short walks around each one.

It turns out that most of the good shows are dark on Mondays and Tuesdays. So we opted for some walks around the city and enjoying the hotel pool. Fortunately, Mon Ami Gabi was open for business.

We had a scrumptious dinner at Mon Ami Gabi (located inside Paris Hotel). The setting is like a French bistro. Good wine list.

At the Bellagio, we spotted the colorful work of the iconic glass-blowing artist, Dale Chihuly on the ceiling. The fountains were nice but not as spectacular as we remembered, when they were synchronized to an Andrea Bocelli song.

On Wednesday, it was time to head home. And, no, we didn't buy a timeshare.   

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Volunteering in South Africa

Volunteering for African Impact

For years, Diane has been wanting to work at an AIDS clinic in Africa.  Finally, last year she signed up to volunteer in the northeastern area of South Africa in St. Lucia. Diane’s three weeks of volunteering mostly consisted of making home visits to Zulu families. This is her account of the experience.

Although my expectation was to work in the clinic, I soon realized that the greater need was making home visits. I set out every day with Swele, my Zulu translator, visiting homebound patients. Also, I facilitated women's support groups, which I enjoyed very much. We covered topics that the women choose, such as stress, Hepatitis B and C, and getting good sleep.

I appreciated being able to see the home situations and environments to better understand the day-to-day barriers the Zulu face in obtaining health care (or water or food). I saw several patients a day, traveling to one of three villages, with very poor dirt roads, which they call “African massage”. The Zulu are so appreciative of any and all help. I visited a few families where only the "gogo" (grandma) lives with 4-9 grand- and great grandchildren. Her adult offspring and their spouses are frequently dead (most commonly from AIDS). These older women have multiple health problems and cannot travel to the clinic. With each visit, we bring a small bag of much needed, greatly appreciated food. For some, we also bring water from the government watering holes several kilometers away.

Below is a photo of 18 month-old twins. One of the boys has “floppy legs” - no lower extremity muscle tone. He does not use his legs. One twin is walking but this one (on the right) is barely crawling. The other children in the home are adorably helpful in carrying him around the yard as they play. However, we had to ask them to stop carrying him and encourage him to move his legs. The Physiotherapist has now seen him and will refer to Occupational Therapy, for more therapy, but we are seeing a little improvement already. In the photo I'm trying to get him interested in grabbing and playing with his toes. He watched his brother do it, but he is not interested - YET! By the way, the mother of these twins was HIV +. She received appropriate anti-viral medication to prevent HIV from infecting her sons. But as it happens all too often, she struggled with side effects, stopped the drugs and died just the week before I came. The boys will join his cousins living with Gogo.

The photo below is of a “gogo”. She lives with her daughter and this boy, who is her grandson. We were visiting the daughter who is in her 30's. She has HIV and tuberculosis. The tuberculosis (TB) she has traveled from her lungs into to her spine, crippling her. We were checking on her medication supply for the TB.

The three of them live in a home the size of your bedroom. The kitchen is an outdoor fire pit and the toilet is an outhouse. This gogo makes beaded jewelry to sell at the market for a little extra money. I bought bracelets from her for my nieces. Their clothes are mostly donated from the previous volunteers. I left many of my clothes behind as well.

After Zulu children finish high school, their only option is to get a job, if they are lucky. The university is far away and only the very, very brightest students get a scholarship to pay for tuition. But since they cannot afford the living expenses, they often still cannot attend. Educational and economic apartheid survives.

I visited a grandma who cares for these grandchildren (below). This grandma has metastatic cervical cancer that has spread to the intestines. Unfortunately, she too has HIV. She will not survive. But fortunately these children have at least one living parent.  (Yes, that is her home in the background.)

It was wonderful to put my previous (rusty) home health care experience back to work.

Below is Shwele, my translator. Shwele asked the woman at the banana store (the next photo down) if I could take a photo. She said yes, but at the last minute turned away from the camera. The Zulu (although mostly Christian) believe that taking a photo will steal your spirit.

My experience in St Lucia definitely was memorable. It supported everything I have read all these years about the HIV epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa (the good and sad). Although I fulfilled a life time dream, I am unconvinced I can check it off the list. I may need to go back. I’ll keep you posted.