Lake Cuyamaca

Lake Cuyamaca


The areas marked with white lines are now under water.

Pura Vida


Keel-billed Toucan

In English, pura vida means “pure life.” But in Costa Rica, it’s come to mean much more than that. The phrase means everything from “hello” to “excellent.” It’s the statement that symbolizes Costa Ricans’ love of their country and pride in what nature has given them.

Recently, Laurel and I visited Costa Rica for the first time, and we came to enjoy and respect what the Ticos, as they call themselves, have. The country ranks percentage-wise first in the world in protected land mass, with more than 25% of it designated as national parks or preserves. Since we’re avid birders, we were excited about the fact that, even though it’s only about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire, it’s home to more than 900 bird species and a wide variety of animals. In less than a week, we spotted nearly 90 life birds, thanks to our very able guides. (For bird lovers, I’m posting a separate blog that describes in detail what we saw.)


National Theatre in San Jose

We stayed in a comfortable condo complex in San Jose, the largest city in Costa Rica. It’s about the same size as San Diego, but a word of caution here. If you’re enticed to visit Costa Rica, don’t rent a car and drive. The traffic is insane—narrow highways full of large trucks and crowded conditions everywhere around the city. Traffic lanes are marked, but treated merely as suggestions. In addition, street names just grew with the city. Avenida 3 is not necessarily next to Avenida 4. It takes an experienced taxi driver or guide to take you where you want to go.

That said, San Jose is an intriguing city full of parks and some excellent museums. We visited the Pre-Columbian Gold and Jade Museums, and they were both filled with wonderful art and provided an introduction to the history and culture of Costa Rica and its many indigenous peoples, several of whom still live in their old ways in various areas of the country.

Vic and Deimer

Deimer and me

Our primary guide, Deimer Espinosa, comes from a family that’s descended from the Charotegas people of Guanacaste, the region on the Pacific that now hosts several excellent beach resorts. He owns a company that has been influential in developing recycling methods for the country (you see recycle bins everywhere). He also leads a school that trains future guides, knowledgeable in the country’s flora and fauna. And he led us to a series of national parks and venues brimming with lush rainforests, crocodile rivers and tropical volcano craters. Everywhere we went, the spectacular countryside was fascinating and beautiful.

Tuesday was Valentine’s Day, and for a change of pace we decided to splurge and treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Rated #1 out of 524 restaurants in San Jose is a French restaurant named La Terrasse, so we made reservations (highly recommended, since the restaurant is in the owners’ home, and there are only six or seven tables). Here’s the address, in typical Tico fashion: Avenida 9, calle 15, 45 metros al Norte de Café Mundo, 25 metros al sur del hotel la Amistad, Barrio Otoya San José, describing that it’s 45 meters north of Café Mundo and 25 meters south of Hotel la Amistad, landmarks for the lost. Our cab driver knew the general location and, after a couple of wrong turns, found the home south of city center. We knocked on the door, and our host opened it and welcomed us in.

patricia richer

Patricia Richer

The chef of La Terrasse is Patricia Richer, and her husband, Gerald, is the waiter, wine steward and genial host. Together, they served us one of the best meals we have ever had. And in such lovely, intimate surroundings. Here’s the menu:

Vegetales orgánicos de Joseph Dugast, La BioFinca de Don Pepe.

“Para el placer de un cena romantica.”

Coctel Glamour

Crema de esparragos, aguacate
Cardamomo & coco

Mini brocheta de camarón con especias.

Mini Tarteleta de hongos y queso camembert
Pisto de berros.

Soupe d'asperges et avocat Saint ValentinPechuga de pato, especias
Emulsión de Martini blanco y naranja
Gratinado de papas al aceite de trufas.

Fondante de caramelo espéculos & nueces caramelizadas
Croquante de chocolate.
Trufas de chocolate blanco & praliné.

And here’s a photo to give you an idea of what their “small home” looks like:

San Valentin (Custom)We highly recommend that if you ever spend an evening in San Jose, spend it at La Terrasse.

On the wild side of Costa Rica, we spent a late afternoon cruising the Tarcoles River, which empties into the Pacific. In two hours, traveling up and down the river with our knowledgeable pilot, we spotted 42 different birds, 29 of them life birds! We also saw several crocodiles, some of them hauled out on the river’s grassy banks. One of them had to be at least twelve feet long. We asked the guide why some of them lie with their mouths opened wide, and he told us that’s how the crocs cool themselves. We finished at the mouth of the river in time to see the sun set out on the Pacific. Click on Jungle Crocodile Safari to read more about the boat ride.

On the way to the river, we stopped for lunch at Restaurante Bar & Grill Los Toneles and had some excellent sandwiches, actually washed down by a Costa Rican craft beer. The craft beer explosion has hit Costa Rica, too, and it was quite good. Like a lot of countries, there is one beer that everyone drinks. In Costa Rica, that beer is Imperial. It even comes in draft at some places and is not bad, but it’s not a craft beer.

P3On the day we spent in the city perusing the museums, we walked up Avenida Central and discovered that it turns into a pedestrian mall for blocks in the city center. Bustling and busy, with shops from farmacias to book stores, live bands and women selling their produce spread on blankets, it was a delightful find. On one corner, we even found a craft brew tavern. Called Pub P3, it’s on piso tres, the third floor, and it’s a sophisticated little club that looks out through open windows at the sights below. Flocks of Crimson-fronted Parakeets flew up the street while we sampled their excellent IPA.

We wanted to get a better look at Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and spent a day on Calypso Cruise’s terrific catamaran, the Manta Raya. It took us out on a calm sea through several islands off the coast and eventually to Isla Tortuga (Turtle Island, although we didn’t see any turtles). We spent five hours ashore on a beautiful sandy beach and had a terrific beach lunch. Laurel got in some snorkeling, and she saw a few fish but  said the water was warm and a little murky.


Lucia Quesada

On the last two days, we were joined by a lovely young guide named Lucia Quesada. She has recently finished her three years of education as a naturalist/guide, and she was a fountain of knowledge, not only for birds, but also the culture and history of the country. Her family comes from the Huetares people, on the southern part of the Caribbean side. She and Laurel became a dynamic duo, spotting birds everywhere and then finding them in the bird guide.

We visited the Poas Volcano, another national park, and had a great look at the still hot caldera, then avoided all the crowds when our Deimer and Lucia took us back on a trail where we only saw two or three people. On the way to the volcano, we stopped at a terrific restaurant, Freddo Fresas. It’s in the heart of strawberry country and has a wonderful selection of pastries and desserts featuring the gorgeous berries. Freddo owns land across the street from the restaurant and has turned it into a garden filled with feeders. Hummingbirds everywhere!

Saturday was our last day before returning to San Diego. We started by hunting for the legendary Quetzal, which has a national park named after it. We didn’t find it, but we saw plenty of other birds. Finally, we visited the La Paz Waterfall Park, which has a series of three waterfalls in lush jungle. At the top is a major tourist attraction which features a zoo and a large aviary. Lots of birds in the aviary, but we didn’t add any to our list. We still finished the week with 127 different birds, 89 of them new to us.

crested guanOne bird we saw in the aviary was a Crested Guan, about the size of a small turkey. We stopped near it to watch it perch on a railing. It seemed quite tame and was attracted to Laurel’s scope mounted on its tripod. Finally, the bird jumped down and began rubbing the legs of the tripod with its beak. Definitely, he must be a bird who appreciates long legs. Quite a laugh for all of us.

CR waterfallsA word of caution: If you want to climb down to see the waterfalls, be prepared for what seemed to be about 300 stairs. Fortunately, you only have to climb back a quarter of the way, where a shuttle bus is waiting. A strenuous climb, but worth it.

It was our first trip to Costa Rica, but it won’t be our last. The Ticos’ idea of “pura vida” is addicting.

The "pura vida" in Costa Rica

Pura vida in Costa Rica

Time Travelin’ Guy

Last night, Laurel and I experienced an event that, while not life-changing, certainly improved our lives, because we saw and heard the phenomenal music of Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxson.

blind boyPaxson was born in Watts to a family whose roots went back to Evangeline County, Louisiana. He grew up listening to his grandparents singing old country blues songs and began to play the fiddle at twelve, following that with the banjo two years later. He began to go blind as a teenager and lost most of his sight by the age of sixteen. He has added piano, harmonica, Cajun accordion, ukulele, guitar, and the bones to his musical arsenal, and is amazingly proficient at them all.

banjo geniusOn top of that, he talks through the entire show, telling stories and giving bits of information about the music he’s playing. For instance, he sat down at the piano and played a blues with the lyrics, “My baby left me on the 219, but she came back to me on the 217.” After finishing, he explained that back in the day, the 219 was the train from New Orleans to Los Angeles, and the 217 was the returning train.

At the end of his show, he told us he had one more number to do, but because of his blindness, it was too much work for him to leave the stage and come back for an encore, so we’d best give him the applause for an encore before he did his last song. And the audience went nuts.

at the pianoHe’s now 28 and is compared to major players like Taj Mahal and Keb Mo, but we’ve never heard anyone who seems to channel the music of the 1800s, the 1920s or the 1930s like this man. We’ve decided that he must be a time traveler from back then, but we’re fortunate to be hearing him now. Take a listen.

Mole In The Ground

I Ain’t Got Nobody


New Discoveries in Baja

This Thanksgiving, we thought we’d trade in the tired turkey for some lobster, so we spent the weekend with Laurel’s Aunt Lydia and cousins Amanda and Mindy in Ensenada.

We drove down on Thanksgiving Day and arrived at La Fonda about two o’clock. Last year, its owner, Dmytri, bragged to us that they served the best lobster in Baja, so we decided to take him up on it. One of the combos appealed to me, so I ordered shrimp stuffed with lobster for $12.95, and it was delicious. But Laurel ordered the whole shebang—the best lobster plate for only 26 bucks.

Thanksgiving at La Fonda and the view of the beach

Thanksgiving at La Fonda and the view of the beach

When her plate arrived, her eyes widened. It was heaped high with three lobsters! Not the too big lobsters that are often tough, but three perfectly cooked medio lobsters. She shared one with me, and it was as good as any I’ve ever eaten.

Hotel Posada Don Fernando

Hotel Posada Don Fernando

We drove into Ensenada and checked into the Hotel Posada Don Fernando, right near downtown. At only $69 a night, it was a bargain. A small hotel, nicely maintained and quiet, and just a few blocks from all the action of the city.

On Friday morning, we discovered a tented sidewalk café with great eggs benedict and French pastries. It was the outdoor room of El Rey Sol, a classy French/Mexican restaurant that’s been there since 1947. The next day, we went back for a second breakfast, this time in their splendid dining room that felt like a holiday was underway, complete with black-tied waiters, a large Christmas tree and a pianist playing listenable classics. This is a place we’ll return to whenever we’re in the city.

Wendlandt Brewery and the flower vendor out front

Wendlandt Brewery and the flower vendor out front

We’d heard that the craft beer phenomenon in San Diego is starting to move south, and Laurel found two breweries in Ensenada on Yelp. The first was Wendlandt Cerveceria, right on the main boulevard next door to Starbucks. A really classy, up-to-date kind of place with several of its own brews on tap and forty or so other brands in bottles. With some very tasty food, as well.

While looking for the brewery, we discovered the entrance to Ensenada’s new marina park, with plenty of malecon to stroll and lots of shops and eating establishments. It’s brightly lighted in the evening and safe for strollers.

Enjoying Aguamala and the view from the bar

Enjoying Aguamala and the view from the bar

On the next night, we drove a small distance north from town and tried Aguamala Cerveza Artisanal. Some more tasty brews on tap, plus the most stunning view you’ll ever see from a barstool. We couldn’t stop eating their cacahuates (peanuts), made with whole garlic cloves and chiles, and their hamburger was extra good. Talking with Arturo, one of the owners, we asked what their IPA’s name, Astillero, meant. He told us it means “shipyard,” and they named the beer that, because they were renting space for the brewery from a shipyard at the time.


Craft beers from Tijuana and Mexicali

Craft beers from Tijuana and Mexicali

We’ve always enjoyed going down to Baja, and now that we’re only a half hour from the border, we’ll be going down more often. But we’ll get ourselves a Sentri Pass, which makes coming back into the U.S. much quicker. This time we waited more than three hours at the border! The Sentri Pass will make the whole trip a plus.

Kauai: A Growler, Slap Koozies, and a Laughing Thrush

On October 13, 2013, we returned to the mainland after living on the big island of Hawaii. Last week, nearly three years to the day later we spent a wonderful week on Kauai, our second favorite island, which we hadn’t visited in eight years. It hasn’t changed much, which is a very good thing. Today it has a Costco and three breweries instead of one, both improvements in our eyes.

Hanalei Valley

Hanalei Valley

October is the beginning of the rainy season on Kauai, and we spent the week ducking out of the downpours that blew across the island, most lasting only five or ten minutes. You have to remember, however, that Kauai is called the Garden Isle for good reason. In its center is Mt. Waialeale, one of the rainiest spots in the world, with an average 452 inches of rain a year. Its name means “overflowing water.” It’s an apt name, and the result of it is one of the greenest places you’ll ever see. In the Arctic, the Inuit have many words for ice and snow. On Kauai, you’ll be hard pressed to come up with the names of all the greens you look at.

Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach

Notwithstanding the rain, we enjoyed a lot of pure, delightful sunny weather, where the skies were an unbelievable deep blue, and the breeze blew to temper the heat to an enjoyable level. Plus, the soft, warm air holds you like a lovely blanket, smelling of growing things. All in all, not a bad place to spend some time relaxing from the hustle and stress of home, taking things in, as they say, in “Hawaii time.” If you can’t tell that we love Hawaii, you haven’t been paying attention.

Melodious Laughing Thrush

Melodious Laughing Thrush

Being bird nuts, we spent time on muddy trails and soft powder sand looking for some of the island’s birds, and in a week saw about a third of what Kauai has to offer, including a part of the title, a Melodious Laughing Thrush, a life bird for us. What a wonderful name for a small, robin-like bird that sang to us for a quarter hour in a beautiful piece of tropical forest. If you’re looking for it, it was on the Wailua Ridge Trail. The Wailua River is one of the only navigable rivers in Hawaii, and, farther down, an easy drive from Kapaa, it becomes the gorgeous twin spouts of Opaekaa Falls.

We stopped for happy hour at the nearest brewery to our hotel, Kauai Beer Company in Lihue. They had good food and better beer, the IPA, named a modest Kauai IPA, was quite hoppy, and we bought one of their growlers and took two pints home to our hotel.

Monk Seals

Monk Seals

The next day, we drove down to Poipu Beach, and Laurel snorkeled while I read more of James Lee Burke’s Sunset Limited, a violent and classy mystery set in Louisiana. While we were there, we were lucky enough to see two monk seals hauled out on the sand. Happily, the lifeguards had put a protective barrier around them to keep fascinated visitors away. Hawaiian Monk Seals are extremely endangered, with only about 1100 of them left. One suggestion if you ever spend time on Poipu Beach: when you’re ready for lunch, walk across the street to Brenneke’s Beach House. Terrific food and the best Mai Tai we had while we were on the island.


Salt Ponds Near Barking Sands

Salt Ponds Near Barking Sands

We drove west to ‘Ele’ele and sampled the second brewery on the island, Kauai Island Brewery and Grill, quite another place to put on your bucket list. Terrific beer like their Captain Cook IPA. Past ‘Ele’ele, the climate changes. You’re approaching the dry side of the island. About half way up the west side, there’s a salt pond preserve. Plenty of shore birds on these ponds, which were created and stocked with fish by the original Hawaiians.

I had read about Stevenson’s Library in the Hyatt Grand Kauai on the east corner of Poipu, and we stopped by there one evening. Named for Robert Lewis Stevenson, it’s a classic bar paneled with dark wood and, of course, featuring bookcases filled with books. Their menu is sushi and pupus, the island name for small dishes. And their bartenders make some high quality, creative cocktails. The one I ordered featured cucumber vodka and sake and was a terrific, dry alternative to the too many fruity drinks offered today. Laurel tried a Hawaiian Mule, made from Bourbon, ginger liqueur, lime and mint. She declared it excellent, and we have learned to make it at home.

On Wednesday, we went up island and spent the morning taking a three-hour tour of Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park. In 1982, Joyce and Ed Doty retired to Kauai from northern California and decided to finish their backyard, which was a bare and dry plot. Now 320 acres, the garden is a sheer work of love. Planting acres of teak and other hardwood trees as it grew, the trees attracted moisture that had never been there before. Dotted through the extensive gardens are more than 120 life-sized bronze statues, many of them based on their children and grandchildren.

Na 'Aina Kai Botanical Garden and Sculpture Park

Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Garden and Sculpture Park

Julie, our guide, has volunteered at Na ‘Aina Kai for eight years now. On the side, she manages the Laysan Albatross that use a part of the garden as a nesting site. Living on Kauai for 36 years, she is a fountain of knowledge on the plants, birds, Hawaiian history and the changing environment of the island. This is a tour not to be missed.



Our last night was a wonderful splurge. We had dinner at Gaylord’s, on a plantation between Kapaa and Lihue. It’s an open-air restaurant that looks out on a broad, green lawn. On one side is a small performing arts platform, and the musician who played for us a combination of Hawaiian and popular music certainly added to the ambience. Gaylord’s has an excellent menu and an extensive wine list. The food, the service, and the atmosphere all blend to create a truly memorable evening, worthy of an anniversary, or even a wedding, many of which take place here. It was a night to remember on an island we will never forget.

We’ll definitely Return to Paradise as often as we can.


Aloha and Mahalo.


koozie-customBy the way, slap koozies are stiff rubberized wrappers that curl around your favorite glass when you slap them on. They’re worth getting, because they fit on just about any glass.


Seamless in Seattle


During mid-July, Laurel and I flew up to Seattle for our annual visit with my daughters, Jenny and Emily, and my grandchildren.

I have to tell you about something I discovered before we left. I had booked our airfare and was looking for a rental car. The prices for six days were all coming in at $600 to $700, which we didn’t want to pay. I searched Expedia and told it low to high prices, and I found a car at National Car Rental for about $340 and grabbed it. When my confirmation came, I noticed that the pickup point was in downtown Seattle, not the airport, so I called National and explained that we were arriving by air. The agent did his alterations on our reservation and said, “That’ll be $660.”

“I asked what happened to our quoted $340 price, and he told me the airport location had more demand, thus the higher price. I told him to move the arrival back to downtown. I decided to compare airport and city hotel prices and found a Days Inn in the city for fifty dollars less than its equal at the airport. Then I went to look for transportation from the airport to downtown. A light rail train has recently opened in Seattle, and it leaves the airport every six minutes for downtown and the University of Washington. The fare is three bucks, and, since I’m a senior, it only cost me a dollar.

We’re thinking that this kind of cost disparity may be found in any city, so from now on when we travel, we’ll look for the differences. We saved nearly four hundred dollars in Seattle.

Mt-Rainier-in-the-Pacific-northwestOn the day we left San Diego, the forecast for Seattle was 77 degrees and sunny. All the big mountains were out as we flew north, first the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood in Oregon, then Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens in Washington, finished by Mt. Rainier, majestic with its three peaks still deep in snow. As we began our descent, the flight attendant came on air and said, “Welcome to sunny Seattle.”

We picked up our downtown car and drove up to Capitol Hill to one of our favorite Seattle restaurants, the 13 Coins, one of the country’s classiest 24-hour diners. We began our quest for Seattle seafood with Seattle Scrambles, smoked salmon, eggs and onions, and a new beer to us, Elysian’s Spacedust IPA, which turned into a favorite. It was so good that after lunch we drove the twelve or so blocks to the brewery and tried a couple of their other brews. They recently celebrated their 20th anniversary and were purchased by Anheuser Busch. Hopefully, the larger company won’t mess with Elysian’s brewing techniques.

seattle_park_volunteer_artA couple of miles north on Capitol Hill is Volunteer Park, with its great view of the city and the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A fascinating textile show is going on right now—the impact of indigo around the world and throughout the ages. From third century China to Levi’s jeans, indigo has been a major influence to the textile world.

We spent the evening with my daughter, Emily, searching for Seattle seafood. She directed us to a place on the north shore of Lake Union, purported to serve great oysters, but it was closed for a private party. Next, Ponti’s Seafood Grill, which has served wonderful food next to the Fremont Bridge for years, proved to be permanently closed and is now an Elk’s lodge. However, just up the street is The Nickerson Street Saloon, and their craft brews and excellent fish and chips solved our dilemma.

zamboanga 1Friday arrived sunny and bright, and we met our friends Joe and Julia at Salty’s on Alki, which has a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline from its deck. While we were eating, Julia pointed up into the sky, and we saw our first Bald Eagle of the trip. Eagles are plentiful in Puget Sound country.

Joe and Julia own a couple of retail shops called Zamboanga. They import beautiful clothing they have made in Bali, and there are a lot of folk art imports, as well. After lunch, we stopped at their West Seattle store, and Laurel went crazy with her Visa card.

caribou at northwest trekOn Saturday, my older daughter, Jenny, and my grandson, Nathan, picked us up, and we drove south to Northwest Trek, the Pacific Northwest’s answer to San Diego’s Safari Park. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Rainier, this large piece of land was a gift from a family who wanted to create a tribute to the natural surroundings and inhabitants of the country, and the tram takes you past herds of buffalo, groups of moose, elk, white- and black-tailed deer, caribou, mountain goats and mountain sheep. Following the tram ride, we caught lunch, then walked through the areas where wolves, cougar, bobcats, river otters and the like fill out the wild population.

at Drunky's (Custom)By the time we got back to Seattle, it was dinner time, so we picked up Emily. She had just discovered a new barbecue place called Drunky’s Two Shoe BBQ, a cool spot with chainsaw chandeliers and plenty of good draft beers, plus a large open smoker. After dinner, the waitress came outside with us and took a group picture. After all, in Seattle in July, it stays light until nine-thirty or so.

Sunday, July 17th. It’s our seventh anniversary, and we plan to spend it doing things we enjoy most. Looking for birds and listening to jazz. It’s not an atypical day for Seattle in July—bright overcast with a chance of scattered showers. Originally, we thought we might head up Snoqualmie Pass part of the way, but farther inland the forecast is an 80% chance of rain. So we stay in the city and drive over to the Arboretum south of the University of Washington. Being July, there isn’t much action other than a flock of always hungry Mallards who come swimming our way when we stop at the edge of the lake. However, one of the thrills of birding is the unexpected that happens so often. Walking back to the car, Laurel spots a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a life-bird for her. It flies off before I can get back to share it with her, but now she has it added to her list.

Just south of the Arboretum is Madison Park, a ritzy little neighborhood where I lived back in the mid-eighties. It hasn’t changed much, although I’m disappointed to see that Madison Park Books is gone, another casualty of ebooks. We have lunch at The Attic, a bar and grill where I used to play darts, and it’s still the same except for the number of taps, a result of the craft beer explosion. Going into The Attic, we have to dodge a few raindrops, but it isn’t much.

Back at the motel, we take a small rest and change for the evening, then drive downtown. The Mayflower Park Hotel has a classy little bar called Oliver’s. In recent years, we’ve started a tradition of going there for a Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. It’s rye bourbon with bitters and absinthe, and it’s pretty tasty. One drink each, and we walk the block north to Jazz Alley, Seattle’s top jazz club. Tonight, not necessarily in honor of our anniversary, Sergio Mendes is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Brazil ’66. It’s a terrific show, a good way to end our special day.

Monday behaves itself, and we drive a few blocks south on Aurora to Beth’s Café, one of the oldest and best diners in the city. Their country fried steak, eggs and biscuits are to die for. A few minutes south of Beth’s is downtown Seattle and SAM (the Seattle Art Museum). They have a fascinating show about to end on August 28; it’s an exhibit of printmakers: Durer, Goya, Picasso, Hogarth and Rembrandt. R. Crumb, of “Keep On Truckin’” fame has done pages and pages of drawings with text, the entire Book of Genesis. Up the street and across from the Pike Place Market we find a new brewery—the Old Stove Brewery. The place is crowded with tourists, and they have quite a few brews worth trying.

At the foot of Queen Anne Hill lies Seattle Center, with its Pacific Science Center, opera house and Space Needle. But we were looking for something across the street—namely Taylor Shellfish Farms Queen Anne Oyster Bar. When we lived in Kona on the Big Island we learned about the Natural Energy Lab, an area on the coast where deep salt and fresh water occurs, and they raise Maine lobster, Japanese abalone, seahorses, octopus, and so forth.

taylor shellfishTaylor Shellfish grows the tiny larva for its oysters there, then raises them in many parts of the world. This place offered the best oysters we have ever eaten. Their geoduck plates were also delicious. An example of their attitude about what they’re doing occurred when two women came in, sat next to us at the bar and asked for two glasses of house red. The server said, “I’m sorry, but we serve shellfish here. There’s no red wine on the menu.” The exasperated women left.

For dessert, we drove to the top of Queen Anne Hill and found Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. Laurel ordered Earl Grey ice cream, and I had salted caramel. They were both wonderful.

We flew back to San Diego the next morning, after another smoked salmon scramble, this time at Anthony’s at the airport. I’m not really interested in moving back to Seattle, but I sure like to visit.



The Rain Excerpt


rain cover (Custom)It was June, and in Hong Kong, that means one thing: Rain. Today was no exception. It wasn’t a hard rain. Rather, a big rain, with the sky full of fat, lazy drops that seemed to fall in their own sweet time, secure in the knowledge that when they hit you, you would get wet.

Kwong cursed the month and fumbled the lobby door open, juggling his cane and an umbrella that had water coursing off of it and down the leg of his tweed slacks. The air-conditioned interior of the building’s lobby was a welcome relief. He looked for a spot to shake the water from his umbrella, and, seeing none, grumbled and closed it, still moisture-laden.

He crossed to the elevator and pushed the up button, then heard the ring of a car behind him. He twirled and crossed toward the closing doors, jamming his wet umbrella between them.

At least the damned thing is good for that, he thought, pushing the button for the sixth floor. On six, he went down the hall to 615 and opened the door that read, “Henry Chee, M.D.” Inside, Mrs. Yim, Chee’s receptionist, was missing. In her place, a young woman, barely more than a teenager, asked if she could help him.

“I have an appointment.”

“And you are?”

“Lawrence Kwong. Dr. Chee is expecting me.”

“I’ll just let him know that you’re here, Mr. Kwong.” She picked up the phone and whispered into the receiver, then said, “You can go in now, Mr. Kwong.”

Kwong crossed to the adjoining office door and went in, closing it behind him.

“Morning, Chee. Where’s Mrs. Yim?”

“I’m afraid I’ve lost her. She’s moved to Tienzhen, to be close to her grandson. And her daughter, of course. Why are you in such a foul mood, Kwong?

“It’s the damned rain. And your new girl treated me like I was here to rob the place.”

Chee grinned, “That’s Daisy. I’m afraid her bedside manner needs a little work. But she’s doing an admirable job with my billing. Even getting some of my ornery patients to pay their past due bills. I’ll talk to her and explain to her that if we did have a robber, you’d actually cart him off to jail.”

Finally Kwong smiled and said, “It’s good to see you, Henry. I understand my annual labs are in. Will I live another year?”

“I don’t know how you do it, Lawrence. You’re sixty-plus years old. You weigh 308 pounds. I know you drink too much. And you don’t exercise enough. But you’re as healthy as an old bear. What’s your secret?”

“You know, Henry, I just talked to a man who summed it up very well. His name is Ling, and he works the member parking at Happy Valley. Do you know him?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t been to the races in years.”

“You should try it sometime. Consider it a prescription for the doctor. At any rate, Ling turns eighty-two later this year. He chalks his good health up to a whisky every evening before dinner. I imagine that I must follow his lead, with possibly a small amount more on days that require celebrating.”

Chee smiled, “And what kind of day might that be, Lawrence?”

“Why, today, for example. I might celebrate the fact that it’s Tuesday.”

“You’re a dog, Kwong,” said Chee, “At least, try to get a little more exercise.”

“Now that you mention it, I have recently started taking the Star Ferry across on decent days and walking the mile up Nathan Road to my office. Does that count?”

“That’s good for a start. Oh, by the by, a friend said he saw Sarah Hunter back here in Hong Kong. I know you were heartbroken when she got married to the other man.”

“A strange story, Chee. Matson Tai, my assistant, and I went to San Francisco on holiday last winter. Hunter had just been murdered. And Matson and I solved the case. Sarah and I are back together, so to speak, although only from time to time. Nearly forty years later, she can’t leave her life, and I could never quit the police or move from Hong Kong. But we’re very happy, when we’re together. In fact, she was just here last month. That must be when your friend, as you say, saw her.”

“Must have been. Well, when you see her next, give her my regards.”

“I shall, Henry. And thanks for the clean bill of health. I must say, it takes some of the sting of this nasty rain away. I might just go out and dance in a puddle.”

“Well, best of luck, Lawrence.”

Kwong let himself out of Chee’s office and stopped at the receptionist’s desk.

“Dr. Chee tells me you’re doing excellent work for him, Daisy. I’m Police Inspector Lawrence Kwong, and I’m an old friend of the doctor’s. Keep up the good work.”

Back down in the lobby, Kwong looked out through the windows and saw that it was raining harder than ever. The gutter was overflowing onto the sidewalk, and, even though he was three short blocks from headquarters, he knew that he didn’t need the exercise today. He took out his phone and called Matson.

“Matson, it’s Lawrence. I’ve just finished at the doctor’s office. I’d much rather have you pick me up with the car than risk being carried away with Noah and the flood. There’s a good chap. I’ll be in the lobby watching for you.”

It was just a matter of minutes before Matson pulled up in the big blue Chrysler 300. Kwong pulled the entry door open and crossed the sidewalk, now turning into a shallow river. He juggled with the umbrella, his cane and the door, slipped and came down hard on the curb. He howled in pain, and Matson jumped out of the driver’s side and raced around the idling car, soaked instantly in the deluge. He bent down, and Kwong looked up at him, scowling.

“Damn! Now I’ve done it. It’s not good, my man.”

Matson gently slid his fingers over Kwong’s right leg, “You’re right, Lawrence. Don’t move. It’s a bad break.”

He hurried back around the car, got in and picked up the radio, “Sergeant Hsieh, it’s Matson. Kwong is down. No, no gunshots. He slipped in the rain and fell. He needs an ambulance. Now. We’re on Kimberley Road, a block east of Nathan. Right. We’re in the Chrysler.”

Matson put the phone back in its holder and looked across at Kwong, who was lying just outside the car, “Sorry, old chum. Just keep the umbrella over you. Help’s on its way.”

Kwong smiled wryly at Matson, “And Chee just gave me a clean bill of health. God, but I hate the rain.”

When the ambulance arrived, Matson got out of the car and told the lead paramedic what had happened, and they went to Kwong’s side on the sidewalk.

“Sorry about this, Inspector. I’m Jeremy, and I just need to do a little preliminary check on your leg. How are you feeling?”

Kwong shook his head and answered, “I’ve felt better. My leg hurts like hell, and I’m bloody well not happy about lying here in the mud.”

Jeremy felt up and down the leg, then said, “To be safe, sir, try not to move your leg. We’re going to get you on a gurney and take you to hospital where you can be treated.”

He got up and went back to the ambulance, then returned with the gurney and his second. “This here is Adam, Inspector. I’m afraid we’re going to have to damage your slacks. Pardon me, sir,” he said, taking a pair of shears and cutting Kwong’s tweed pant leg nearly to the hip.

Matson took the umbrella from Kwong and stood nearby, trying to keep the downpour from hitting him.

While Adam pulled Kwong’s arm out of the jacket sleeve and took his blood pressure, Jeremy said, “Sorry, sir, but we needed to see how the leg is looking, but I’m happy to tell you there’s no blood. From the feel of it, it’s a serious fracture of the femur. I can feel that the broken ends have shifted, but the bone hasn’t broken the skin.”

“As little as it is, I suppose any good news is to be appreciated,” said Kwong.

They positioned the gurney next to Kwong, and Jeremy said, “I’m afraid that we’ll need your help, Inspector. Adam and I will have some trouble lifting you on our own, so if you could be so good as to roll yourself over toward the gurney, and we’ll assist you. Try to keep your leg fairly straight.”

“Do you need my help?” Matson asked.

“You’re doing just fine, sir, keeping the rain off the inspector here.”

Kwong turned to his side and winced at the pain, and the two men grunted and managed to get him on the gurney, then lifted it to its upright position. They rolled Kwong to the rear of the ambulance and slid him in.

“We’re taking the inspector to Ruttonjee Hospital. I understand that it’s clear across in Wan Chai, but it’s the closest fully-equipped hospital,” said Jeremy. “Will you be following on?”

“Absolutely,” answered Matson. “I’ll find him there.” He turned to Kwong and said, “Don’t worry, Lawrence. I’ll be there when you need me.”

“Good man, Matson. Call headquarters and fill them in.”

“Will do,” said Matson, snapping his fingers.


shenzhen flooding (Custom)As the ambulance turned south on Carnarvon, Kwong pulled his phone from the pocket in what was left of his slacks and punched in a number.

“Hello, Daisy, this is Chief Inspector Kwong. Yes, I enjoyed meeting you, also. Is the doctor in? Henry, it’s Kwong. I’m afraid I have something of some import to report to you. As I was leaving your building, I slipped and fell on the wet sidewalk. No, I’m not suing you. Nor the building. I just wanted you to know that we’ll be seeing more of each other in the coming weeks than either of us would like. I’ve broken my leg, a rather bad break, to hear my paramedics’ story. Yes, I’m in the ambulance now. They’re taking me to Ruttonjee. Yes. The lead paramedic is named Jeremy. Here, I’ll put him on for you.”

He reached forward and said, “Jeremy, I have my physician on the line. Would you be a good chap and tell him what’s going on? Here, he’s on my cell.”

He lay back and looked at the ceiling of the ambulance, cursing the rain and the pain and his own carelessness.


Matson lost the ambulance in a matter of a few blocks. They had their siren on and were easing through red lights. He could have started his siren, but his getting to the hospital wasn’t urgent. He decided to simply drive incognito and get there when the traffic let him.

The heavy rain began to subside a bit, and he cut the wipers to a timed sweep. He radioed Sergeant Hsieh and told him that he was following the ambulance to hospital. He’d call in with more information on the inspector when he had it.

He pulled into the hospital’s parking garage, parked the Chrysler at the front end of the handicapped row, got out and put the blinker on the roof. The parking attendant waved to him and said, “Don’t worry, officer, we’ll keep an eye on it for you.”

“Thanks,” he answered, and went into the emergency room entrance.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the admitting nurse, “Inspector Kwong has arrived, but he’s already in surgery. My guess is that you won’t be able to see him for at least an hour and a half. Maybe two. Check back with me then.”

Matson looked at his watch. It was a quarter after one, and he realized that he hadn’t had anything all day but coffee. He took the blinker off the roof and climbed into the car, waving at the attendant and shouting, “I’ll be back later.”

He drove up to Under Bridge Spicy Crab, just north of Hennessy. The rain was letting up, and he went into the restaurant without his umbrella. He ordered salt and pepper chicken wings with a Tsing Tao. While he was enjoying the beer and waiting for his lunch, he called Laura.

“Hi, Matson, what’s going on? You never call me in the middle of the day.”

“Don’t take this wrong, but I’m killing time at lunch. Lawrence had an accident, and he’s in hospital.”

“Oh, dear! I hope it isn’t serious.”

“He slipped on a flooded sidewalk and broke his leg. He’s in surgery right now. I’m waiting until I can see him and find out more information.”

“Well, give him my love. Are you still coming this evening?”

“A little rain won’t keep me from seeing you.”

“You’re sweet. You’ll be here at six?”

“Absolutely. Do you need anything from the store?”

“No, I think we’re all set. Mother’s excited that you’re coming.”

“I always enjoy seeing your parents, too.”


The chicken wings and the rice were plenty, and Matson looked at his watch. He still had time before he needed to be back. He ordered another Tsing Tao and relaxed amid the sweet and spicy smells of the restaurant.

When he returned to the emergency room, the nurse told him that Kwong was still in emergency, but now in a room where Matson could see him. He took the plastic bag that had a bouquet of irises poking out of it and headed back to room 3A.

At 3A, he opened the door and found Kwong on the bed in a hospital gown. His right leg was encased in a contraption built of plastic and cloth that reached from his hip to his ankle.

“Lawrence, it looks like that’s going to slow you down some.”

“Bah!” answered Kwong. “They put three pins in the bone, and they’re telling me that I’ll be in a wheelchair for eight weeks, if I’m lucky.”

“Why a wheelchair? Why not crutches?”

“Some folk could get by on crutches, but they say, because of my weight, I’ll heal faster in a chair with the leg up. By the by, the flowers are sweet, but you know they’re not necessary.”

“They’re just a cover, Lawrence. I know what’s necessary. There’s also a bottle of Balvenie and two glasses in the bag.”

Kwong smiled, “It’s not by accident that you’re my assistant, Matson. Good work.”


Stockholm Sweetnin’

I felt knocked down when I learned that Wendy had gone to Sweden. We had been dating for six months; then, suddenly, she disappeared. No one seemed to know where she was. I called Phoebe, her best friend, who was ready to file a missing persons report. She had last seen Wendy on Sunday night, when they had dinner at The Roost.

Sunday. That was the last time I saw her, I told Phoebe. We had gone to the Huntington to see the French portrait show, and coming back, she complained of a headache. So I had just driven her home and dropped her off. She had been wearing a velvety sweater that felt good when I held her and kissed her goodbye.

Her parents didn’t know anything either. Tuesday was usually her day to join them for bridge, but she hadn’t even called to cancel. They were getting very worried, as well.

cellphone-financing (Custom)At six o’clock on Wednesday morning, my cell phone sounded off. It was Wendy.

“Where are you? Everyone’s worried about you,” I said.

“I’m in Stockholm. I was in the mood for snow and decided this would be a nice place to find it.”

“In Stockholm? Wendy, that sounds crazy. What’s gotten into you?”

“Nothing, really. I just had a notion, and it occurred to me that I never do anything strange. So I thought to myself, what would be a lovely, strange thing to do? I flew over Sunday night on a redeye. It’s wonderful here. The people are so gracious and thoughtful. I think I might like to move here.”

“Well, before you do, you should call your mother. She’s worried sick. And Phoebe’s about ready to send the police out looking for you.”

“Of course, I’ll call them both. But not until I take a little walk before it gets dark. It gets dark very early here, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Stockholm is somewhere up north, like Alaska. Which is why they’re both so green. And dark in the winter.”

violets (Custom)“Well, the sun is bright during the short days. At least it has been since Monday. I was out this morning scouting around for a place to eat lunch, and a little old lady was selling bunches of violets. I bought a bunch from her. I put them in a glass here in the hotel room. They smell of springtime.”

“You realize that it’s December, don’t you, Wendy? It won’t be spring up there for five long months.”

“Why don’t you come join me for a visit, Nat? You can bring some spring feelings with you, and it would be fun to go to the symphony together. They’re doing a series of Mahler, and Esa Pekka will be guest conducting.”

“Sounds inviting, but I’ll have to think it over. I have two cases that I’m working on that I can’t just drop.”

“Oh, but you can, Nat. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Turn them over to one of the other partners. And come to Sweden,” she said. “All of a sudden I miss you.”

“Well, I don’t know. What night is Esa Pekka conducting?”

“Not ‘til Saturday. Oh, you will come! I’ll get the tickets!”

Strange. Suddenly inviting. I was starting to catch the aura of her excitement.

“Wendy, I thought I knew you, but this is a whole, new side of you. I’m beginning to like it. Call me back after your walk and after calling Phoebe and your mom. I’ll put something together.”

“Oh, goody! Come fly to me, darling! We’ll have such fun.”

“Okay, sweetheart. Call me later.”

“Later, honey. Kisses.”

My cell phone read Call Ended, and I wondered what I was getting myself in for.

I went to the computer and checked on available flights from LAX to Stockholm. Alaska Airlines had a partnership with SAS, and I had enough frequent flyer miles. The roundtrip flight would only cost me $60 in taxes and airport charges. Not bad, I thought.

At nine o’clock, I called the office and asked if Peter Temple was in yet. He owed me a favor, and this seemed like a good time to cash it in. He didn’t arrive until ten o’clock but called me right back and agreed to fill in for me.

“What’s the emergency, exactly, Nat?”

“The emergency, as you call it, Pete, is my girlfriend,” I answered, a little embarrassed. “She’s gone to Stockholm, and she misses me.”

“Wow! And you’re flying over to keep her company? This must be serious.”

“I didn’t realize that it was until this morning, but I guess maybe it is. Thanks, Pete. You’re a prince.”


Something sour in the air greeted me as I deplaned at Stockholm’s International Airport.

“What is it that stinks so?” I asked the air hostess.

“Our apologies, sir, but it seems some kind of pipe has burst. I am sorry if it offends you on your arrival in Stockholm. It will be rectified immediately.”

nathan woolrich (Custom)I passed into the terminal through the jetway, and fortunately, the odor didn’t follow me. Instead, I saw Wendy holding a sign that said “Nathan Woolrich” in bright red letters. I dropped my carry-on and threw my arms around her. We kissed for a long time, until she pulled away and smiled.

“So I had to travel half way around the world to get you to fall in love with me.”

“Lucky for you I’m rich with frequent flyer miles,” I said, giving her another short kiss. You know what they say. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“But I was only gone for two and a half days.”

“It seemed like two and a half years, when I realized you were gone.”

Inside the cab, Wendy told the driver to take us to Strollingsbad Place.

“It’s very close to the hotel. There’s something I want to show you there. And I’ll help you roll your suitcase.” She stroked my arm. “I’m so happy to see you, Nat. I was hoping you’d have a goofy streak, too. And here you are.”

The cab pulled over, and Wendy gave the driver some money. I hadn’t had time yet to get any kroner. She took the suitcase and left me with my laptop and briefcase.

“Follow me, honey,” she said, crossing the street when the light turned green.

“To the ends of the earth,” I grinned, “almost.”

We headed down a block of nineteenth century brick store fronts. Midway in the block a sign jutting out from the wall read “Swensen’s Rare Books.” I followed her through the door, and she asked the clerk if we could leave my bags near the front. The store was the most magical book store I had ever seen. Dark wood shelves filled to the brim and stretching to the high ceiling.

mark-twain-the-innocents-abroadAfter half an hour browsing through all of Swensen’s treasures, I spotted something that made me light up—it was a first edition of Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. It was in very good condition, and it wasn’t overpriced. I opened it up, and on the copyright page was a handwritten note to someone named Wilhelmina. It was signed M.

“You knew this was here, didn’t you?” I said, grinning at Wendy.

She merely shrugged and smiled, “You never know what you might find if you only look,” and she took my face in her hands and kissed me.


In Love with Baja

In mid-March, Laurel and I flew down to Loreto in Baja California. The timing was important, because our main destination was San Ignacio Lagoon, about halfway down Baja on the Pacific side. It’s known as the Lagoon of the Friendlies, I’ve heard, because no commercial whalers went there to kill gray whales. Twenty years ago, I went there and had the inspiring experience of petting whale calves who were pushed up to the boat by their mothers. The calves are nearly old enough to make the long trip north to the grays’ breeding grounds in Alaska, and the females, believe it or not, want them to socialize with humans before they leave.

We were both excited about this trip. I was looking to rekindle my love of this region of Baja after an absence of twenty years, and Laurel, who has visited southern Baja—La Paz, Cabo and Todos Santos—many times, had never seen Baja’s midsection.

The Sea of Cortez

The Sea of Cortez

Loreto is on the Sea of Cortez side of the peninsula, but only about four hours from the lagoon, with handy daily flights on Alaska Airlines. It and Mulege, about ninety minutes north, are little undiscovered jewels of real Mexican towns. Loreto has about 15,000 people, including all the northerners, down from Ohio and Alberta and Washington for the winter. Mulege is even smaller, at about 6,000, and boasts a real, full-time river and a beautiful valley filled with date palms. It’s truly a palm oasis in the desert.

At the Mediterraneo

At the Mediterraneo

Speaking of Oasis, we spent two nights at the Hotel Oasis in Loreto. It’s right on the malecon, with a beautiful view of the islands off the coast. A very comfortable room, plus an excellent restaurant, with a breakfast crepe stuffed with shrimp I won’t forget. On the first night in Loreto, we tried Mediterraneo, also on the malecon. Terrific margaritas with a view, and local sea bass in avocado sauce you have to taste to believe. Carol Boyd, the owner, took this shot of us looking pretty happy. One day for lunch, we discovered Almejas Concho, serving local chocolatas clams, named for their completely Hershey’s color. Steamed or baked, you won’t regret ordering them.

On the third day, we drove up Highway 1 to Mulege. By the way, Highway 1 opened in 1973, and it’s a well-maintained two-lane highway that can take you from the U.S. border to Cabo San Lucas at the southern tip. It’s wider and smoother than I remembered, and it travels through 900 miles of stunning scenery.

Out near the mouth of Rio Mulege is a hotel, the Hotel Serenidad. It opened in 1961, years before the highway brought travelers down this way. It’s conveniently next to Mulege’s dirt airstrip and provided access to visitors like June Allyson, Dick Powell and John Wayne. In fact, there are four photos in the lobby addressed to Don and Nancy Johnson, the Serenidad’s owners, and autographed by “Duke.” For years, Don was the American Consul for Baja Sur California, and he and Nancy were tireless supporters of everything Baja. The hotel is still full of old Mexico charm, has an excellent restaurant and is a bargain to boot.

Eiffel Church in Santa Rosalia

Eiffel Church in Santa Rosalia

After spending the afternoon checking out the birds on the river and enjoying dinner at the hotel, we got up the next morning and headed north to the originally French town of Santa Rosalia. Copper was discovered here, and the old smelter and its ruins are very visible in this non-Mexican town of white shiplap and red metal roofs. The town boasts a metal church, said to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel, and is the northern end of Highway 1 on the Sea of Cortez.

Remains of the March 3rd fire

Remains of the March 3rd fire

We turned inland here and climbed through the mountains across to the Pacific until we reached San Ignacio, the lovely gateway to the whale lagoon. Sadly, on March 3rd, just two weeks before we arrived, a fire burned nearly half of the beautiful palm forest you see as you enter the town. It’s not known yet how many of the trees will survive or even the cause of the fire.

Mission San Ignacio

Mission San Ignacio

On a happier note, the town center, the zocalo, is still shaded by massive fig trees, and across the street sits Mission San Ignacio. It has been restored to its original stone and wood, and further restoration is going on. In fact, all of the missions we saw on this trip have been restored. Fortunately, the Mexican government understands the value of its history and environment. All of the whales in its lagoons are protected, and there are many other natural preserves up and down Baja, including the islands and water off the coast of Loreto.

We visited the mission, then took a walk around the center of town and got into the car for the drive to the lagoon. On my first visit there, it was thirty miles of bad road that took two hours to drive. Today, all but the last five miles are paved, and we arrived at Pachico’s Ecotour camp in forty-five minutes, just in time for happy hour.

Laguna San Ignacio

Laguna San Ignacio

Henry, a student working at Pachico’s before he starts his freshman year of college, showed us to our cabin, one of eight, simple and clean, with extraordinarily comfortable beds. Outside, there are compost toilets and a shower with hot and cold running water. The main building houses the dining/community room with a bar at one end. A side room holds life jackets and equipment for the boats that will take us to the whales in the morning. Jorge was our bartender, and he makes a mean margarita. Be careful!

The evening breeze had died down the next morning, and we boarded our three boats: Eight visitors, a guide, and a captain running the outboard motor in each. The captain performs a very complicated job, since he must maneuver the panga in and around the whales without frightening them but keeping right next to them.

Very large tail just a few feet away

Very large tail just a few feet away

As I mentioned before, the whale lagoons are very strictly protected by the government. Only in one area of San Ignacio is approaching the whales allowed, and no more than fifteen licensed boats may enter. After ten minutes of cruising we reached the patrol boat. Our captain waved to the federales on board, and they waved him in. As we moved slowly into the assigned waters, we saw gray whales, cows and calves, swimming and spouting everywhere. Not all of the whales are what we call Friendlies, and many of them simply swam past us. By this time in the season, the males and the females without calves have moved out of the lagoon and wait to guard the mothers and their young on the long trip north. Even with all the protection from the adults, a good half of the young never reach Alaska, either being killed by orcas or sharks, or dying from other dangers in the Pacific. And, by this time, what we call “baby whales” are about fifteen feet long.

A female came to the surface not far from us and spouted. Her calf rolled over her and dove toward our boat, then bobbed up next to our starboard gunwale, tossing a little spray on the folks on that side of the boat. We all started laughing and whistling and petting the massive head. It rubbed against the boat, then backed down under the water. In a few seconds, it was back, slipping along, and eager hands rubbed it. After about ten minutes of receiving our sounds and our pets, it slid back down, and we saw it surface near its mother.

Our neighboring Pachico boat

Our neighboring Pachico boat

Our neighbor boats were also being visited by very social youngsters. To everyone’s cheers, one of their passengers leaned out and kissed a calf on the head. And, now, of course, petting wasn’t enough. You had to become a member of the “kissed a whale club.” A short time later, the same calf came back to our boat, this time on the port side, and I got to remind myself of what a gray whale feels like, which is actually quite a pleasant feeling.

It's quite a thrill to touch a whale

It’s quite a thrill to touch a whale

After stopping at a nearby beach, where we were treated to lunch, we went back out for another ninety minutes, which flew by. Henry, who had welcomed us when we had arrived the afternoon before, was the guide for our boat, and he knew a lot about gray whales. One thing he mentioned that was a surprise to me was that gray whales are not one of the whales whose songs bring magic from the ocean. The gray voice is too low for the human ear, so we never hear them. This afternoon, though, we got a calf who was very friendly. He had learned how to communicate with humans: He blew bubbles. The sound of this calf bubbling was so delightful that he became our instant favorite. I think three from our boat managed to give him a kiss.

By the time we got back to camp it was after four, and Laurel and I still had the drive back to Mulege, hopefully before dark. The open range has plenty of black cattle and the volcanic hills manage to put rocks exactly where you don’t want them, so you’re well advised to drive only in daylight.

Playa Requeson

Playa Requeson

We spent another evening at the Serenidad, then drove down to Loreto on Wednesday. South of Mulege the road follows along the shore of Bahia Concepcion, off and on for its length of forty miles. Along the bay, there are several of the best beaches on the Sea of Cortez, and we stopped each way at Playa Requeson, near the southern end of the bay. Beautiful white sand, blue water, and lots of birds. My single life bird of the trip we spotted here, a Sage Thrasher.

Back at the Oasis for two more nights, one of which we returned to the Mediterraneo for more Baja seafood. On Thursday, we managed to get two seats with Loreto Coastal Expeditions, a glass-bottom boat trip, five hours circling Isla Danzante and looking down at a myriad of fish. The day is also filled with lunch and plenty of beer or rum and Coke. Liz, the naturalist aboard was happy to have Laurel and her keen eyes for help with spotting birds. Two of them were life birds for Laurel—Blue-footed Booby and American Oystercatcher, old friends to me, but she had never visited this part of Baja before. The booby is found only here and in the Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed Booby, Glass-bottom Boat, American Oystercatcher

Blue-footed Booby, Glass-bottom Boat, American Oystercatcher

We flew back to LA on Friday and encountered the only hideous part of the trip—U. S. Customs at LAX. But even that wasn’t enough to spoil a completely memorable vacation.


P.S. If you’re as nuts about birds as we are, click here Baja Trip Birds to see the entire list of 91 birds we saw during the week.

Kudos to Kroger

A couple of weeks ago, I poured myself some shredded wheat, put down the box, and looked at it, something I rarely do. Back in the day, all us kids pored over our cereal boxes, reading every word about ingredients, corn, wheat and riboflavin. (What on earth is riboflavin?)

But mainly, we were reading the special offers on the backs of the boxes, clipping coupons for Red Ryder B-B Guns and secret code books that only we could translate. I think a lot of us learned to read box covers and comic strips, even more than Dick and Jane.

s arrow cards 2My favorite was the original Nabisco Shredded Wheat, the big biscuits, made before they decided to invent Frosted Mini-Wheats. For a couple of years, the gray cardboard separators inside the box came printed with green ink. The cards were Indian and nature facts that advertised the radio show, Straight Arrow, which I also loved listening to.

Kroger AdventuresAt any rate, I looked at the cereal box and was pleased to read the headline, “Your Next Adventure.” Here were plenty of things for kids to do other than play with their electronic gadgets. The library, museums, nature hikes, the zoo, a street fair. Since I call my website “The Art of Adventure,”
I was happy that Kroger was showing kids lots of adventures close to home. A few days later, on New Year’s Day, the concept was reinforced at the Rose Parade, which celebrated the centennial of the National Parks with the theme, “Find Your Adventure.”

It’s beginning to sound like 2016 will be the year of adventure. So here’s to Kroger and the National Parks. In March, Laurel and I will be heading down to Laguna San Ignacio in Baja to pet gray whales. I’ll tell you about it when we get back.


Click here to read the true story about Yamashita's Treasure, the inspiration of the book.

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Vic Warren is an award winning Art Director, credited with creating the "Eskimo portrait" as the aircraft tail logo for Alaska Airlines. If you need help in designing your book cover, check out these designs.

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