The First Few Days in San Carlos

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October 6th 2009
Published: October 6th 2009
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Where I'm AtWhere I'm AtWhere I'm At

Sorry about the size of the photos. This blog site shrinks them WAY down. I'll try to find a way around that. I tell people to find the pointy elbow half way down Baja, then go due east until they hit the W Coast of Mexico on the Sea of Cortez. That's where you'll find Guaymas (search for Guaymas in the online maps) and San Carlos.
10/04/2009 09:40 PM

The last several days have been devoted to finding a place to stay and helping Ruben and Julia with projects at their house. We're making progress on both fronts.

So far, as far as accommodations go, I've seen everything from an 800 square foot apartment that is newly remodeled and clean to a 400 square foot house that suffered water damage in the storm and hasn't been ventilated since. I'll leave the odor I encountered on entering the latter to your imagination. Prices have ranged from $500 per month to $80 per month. The nicest unit I saw was $350 per month, so I'll talk to the owner and see if I can trade some work for rent. I'm shooting for $100 per month. The $65 per month trailer I was told about before I came has had neither water nor power since the storm, and the owner doesn't seem to be in a hurry to change that, so it's out of the running.

Enough with the boring stuff. The first evening I was here, we had a beautiful sunset like I haven't seen for a long time. I ran to get my camera only
San Carlos and GuaymasSan Carlos and GuaymasSan Carlos and Guaymas

How the two towns are situated on the Sea of Cortez and some points of interest I've mentioned, including the Stinky House. Because they are on a kind of bay, the coast there runs east and west.
to find that the memory card was full, thanks to all the video I shot of my nephew's 9-month-old son in S. California just before I left. By the time I could have unloaded those shots the sunset would have been over, so I just stayed and enjoyed it. Roses, golds, pinks bouncing off of tall billowy clouds. It was a nice welcome.

Since then the sky has been grey to black and the last two days we've had rain. Tropical depression Olaf had everyone concerned, but the rain was the worst that it did to us here. This morning it was raining hard, by 10:00 AM it had stopped, by noon the sun was trying to make a break in the cover, and by 3:00 PM the sky was blue, the sun was bright, and we had 90 temperatures with a nice breeze. The clouds are moving back in this evening, forming about 50% cover, and make quite a sight as they drift by in the moonlight.

On Friday, Julia drove me around to look for places to stay. We checked several areas in both San Carlos and nearby Guaymas. Guaymas is a city of about 100,000
All the Cool PlacesAll the Cool PlacesAll the Cool Places

My place, Ruben & Julia's, and some of the other spots I wrote about, including where I did my Inaugural San Carlos Dive.
residents, with plenty of retail and commercial businesses located there. The next large town is Hermosillo, about 75 miles due north. Guaymas is much like any other city with urban and suburban areas. The smelly house I mentioned above was in a low-income housing development just southwest of the urban center. Guaymas is a good place to shop, but I'd rather find somewhere to stay in San Carlos.

San Carlos has catered to American tourist and Canadian Snowbirds for some time, as evidenced by the large, Gringo-friendly restaurants such as Charley's Rock on the waterfront and places like the Captain's Club in Snowbird Plaza. San Carlos sports three dive shops. That's one dive shop for every 1,500 residents. There are also three gas stations. That's like having a dive shop attached to every Shell, Chevron, Texaco, BP (are they still called that?) and Arco station in your home town. Atsa lotta diving-a!

Julia took me to Gary's dive shop to ask some questions about the area. Now you'll get a little insight into my priorities. I asked Gary, an American who has been in San Carlos since 1978, where the good shore dives in the area are. Gary
Post-storm Water UtilityPost-storm Water UtilityPost-storm Water Utility

It's taking the city forever to get the roads re-graded and the water lines hooked back up. Meanwhile, this is how Ruben gets the family's non-potable water for washing, showers, etc. That's a tinaco on the trailer.
operates boats that take people out for fishing, open water SCUBA diving, and diving in shore areas that are only accessible by boat. My thought was to find out where the good shore (no boat required) diving spots are, and then find a place to live close by to one of them. Priorities, you know. Gary noted several good spots on either side of a spit on the west side of town and around Mount Tetakawi, a regional landmark. On the hill just above one of these spots is Gringo Pete's apartments, rented by the day, week, or month.

Julia took me to Gringo Pete's and we were greeted by Pete himself, a thirtyish American who moved to San Carlos with his mother eighteen years ago. He is in the process of remodeling his suites. We talked for quite a while. Everybody here seems happy to talk once they get the impression that you are friendly. The business people are especially interested if they think that you might have money to spend. After explaining that his suites are probably twice as big as I need and that I don't have a lot of money, he said that he could
Ruben on the TowerRuben on the TowerRuben on the Tower

He mans the valve, and I hold onto the hose at the tinaco below. It takes less than 5 minutes to fill 300 gallons.
let me have one for $350 per month. It's a newly remodeled 800 SF unit with nicely tiled floors, a large bathroom with tiled floor, walls, and large shower, full kitchenette, and a large living/sleeping area. A room like it in a 3-star hotel in the States would probably get $100 - $200 USD per night depending on the area. Pete's daily price is $35 - $45 USD.

Julia and Ruben have been just wonderful about helping me out, taking time out of their days to drive me around and interpret for me. Not exactly the most exciting pastime: listening to me shoot the breeze with landlords and interpreting my endless questions with those who speak only Spanish. I realized after I was done talking to Gringo Pete that Julia had disappeared. I found her on the sidewalk in front of San Carlos Vacations in the building next door, looking at the postings for rentals taped to the storefront window and talking to Maru, one of the agents there. I walked up, said hello, and found that Maru speaks great English. The next thing I knew, we were seated in her office talking about what I'm looking for. After
The Propane BrothersThe Propane BrothersThe Propane Brothers

No piped natural gas in the area, so everyone has propane tanks. These guys drive up, disconnect your tank, take it down to the truck and fill it, then hook it back up again for you.
meeting Ada, the young woman who owns the business, and Israel, another one of the agents, a flurry of activity followed on the part of all three as they discussed possibilities and made phone calls. Twenty minutes later I was with Ada and Maru in Maru's Jeep heading out to look at a couple of nice rentals that were too large and too expensive for my needs: all of $500 per month for units within a block of the beach!

Maru was very sweet. When I mentioned renting a car, she offered her services to drive me around as much as I'd like in exchange for covering only her gas costs. On Sunday, she spent a half day with me looking for places, the last of which was the stinky place in the low income housing. She kept telling me that I won't find anything in San Carlos for less than $350 - $400 per month. Of course, she'd like me to take her word for it and make a decision sooner rather than later, hopefully coming out of the deal with a commission. I kept telling her that I'm the kind of guy that likes to find those things out for himself, that I'm stubborn that way. She would just roll her eyes, sigh, and get moving on her next attempt to find something, anything that might satisfy this gringo loco.

Our first appointment on Sunday was a no show. Maru managed to contact the lady and arrange to meet her a couple of hours later. In the meantime, Maru had some shopping to do at the local mall. We arrived there to find the parking lot jammed full and took a few loops around it to find an open space. I told her that it was like Costco. She raised her eyebrows and told me that this was nothing like Costco. She went off to buy some blouses, clearly preferring that I did not accompany her. I pretended to be crestfallen and she got the joke, so we parted for the next hour and a half. I spent my time going through the Lalay department/grocery store, very much like a Fred Meyer. I "shopped" and jotted down the prices for the products I will need on a regular basis. If anyone is interested in seeing the list, please let me know. I won't take room here for the list. At first, I was surprised at the produce and meat prices. They were lower than those in the States for comparable items, but not by much. Then it dawned on me that I was dealing with prices per kilo at 2.2 lbs per kilo. Now that's more like it! Rib eye steak for about $4.35 USD per pound, melons for $0.26 USD per pound and avacados for $0.75 per pound. I can get behind that, haha!

I get the impression that business in San Carlos has been hard lately, especially since the storm. Twice since yesterday I've been approached on the street by young men trying to sell their day's catch of shrimp out of their pickup trucks. There is no welfare in Mexico: everybody works if they want to eat. As we walked along the marina, the restaurant owners were standing outside their entrances and invited us to come in and dine. Everybody seems to be looking forward to the influx of Americans and Canadians that normally occurs in October. I wonder whether this year might turn out to be a disappointment. If it does, I suspect that the rental prices will probably drop significantly.

Something that impresses me over and over again is the general emotional tone of the people I see and meet here, especially given the circumstances. Even after factoring in that appearances are deceiving, that there are cultural differences, and the fact that my endorphin levels are unusually high, (hey! I admit my head's swimming with the adventure of it all, haha!) I still can't get over the sense of genuine contentedness that I get from the people I meet here, especially the ones living in "poverty" by American standards. Now that I am seeing it for myself, I rather think that the notorious "mañana mentality" isn't a matter of lackadaisical attitudes or laziness, but the result of a very different set of priorities. The people here seem to be much more relationally oriented than we are in the States. If the wall stands, good: it will protect me and my family and friends. If the wall falls down, well, OK: I'll rebuild it with the help of my family and friends. I used to think that the "poverty" in places like this was the result, at least in part, of ignorance and apathy. After getting acquainted with some of the people who are living in "poverty," I find myself thinking, "poverty relative to what?" Relative to financial and material affluence or relative to comfort and opportunities for certain kinds of diversion and entertainment? Sure. Relative to concerns that all of us would agree, at least in principle if not in practice, are much more important than what financial and material affluence affords—time with family, friendly relationships with neighbors, absence of stress, and—yes, believe it or not—safety, I'm realizing that they aren't as poor as they appear to be to American eyes. It could be that I'm falling prey to a modern version of the rosy but mistaken notion of the "noble savage," but I don't think so. I'll write more about this soon.


7th October 2009

Thank you sweet Millard for sharing the details of your experiences. I am thankful you are there and safe and look forward to learning more of your label "noble savage". with love~ Maria
14th October 2009

Millard sounds like a great adventure you are having. Thanks for the updates and keep them coming. Say hello to Ruben and Julie. Paul
20th October 2009

Buen Viaje!
Hi Millard, It's great fun reading your blog entries. They bring back poignant memories of many happy times spent south of the border. You have a fun narrative style, makes me think wistfully of the relaxed days we had cruising the Sea of Cortez, having the time to reflect and write for hours at a stretch without feeling the pressure of other "stuff to do". In looking up your blog I just "Googled" you instead of searching back through all my emails for the URL. It's astonishing how fast I found you . . no more than a couple seconds! Little to report from up here at Lat. 47. We took the ferry to our place on Lopez Is this w/e (as the R magneto on my little plane is still acting up). It was very stormy, rain thundering down and we arrived to find the power out at our little cabin. No matter, I lit a fire in the wood stove and as it warmed up Nancy and I each stretched out on the old "conversation pit" in the living room to read, nap and enjoy the sounds of rain on the roof and the crackle of a warm fire. (The power came back on about 4 hours later). Looking forward to more reports from San Carlos and am anxious to see a photo of the next gorgeous sunset!! Robert
9th December 2009

you're not too far off on your sociological observations on the difference in priorities. i go to SC almost monthly and have become friends with some of the pangero families living at the esterito, and i see the same thing....they have very little money and live in slapped-together shacks that are sub-tarpaper, more flotsam-n-jetsam, but probably don't see themselves as "poor", and have a hell of a lot better time at life than many of my professional friends back in the US. and they eat fresh seafood 3 meals a day....... so no, i don;'t think you're falling into the NS trap.

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