The Road to Todos Santos

In my last post on our journey in the life of Cuco’s sandals, my daughter, Johna, and I were on the road to Todos Santos. We had misread the map (which incidentally did not tell us it was not to scale) and what we had naively expected to be a 20 minute ride on a divided highway was stretching closer to an hour on a winding two-lane road along the desert Pacific coast of the Baja peninsula and around the foothills of the Sierra de la Leguna mountain range. Although Baja’s highway 19  had been newly paved in the mid 1980s between Cabo san Lucas and La Paz, I was unnerved from the moment we passed just to the right of the bottom side of a rolled-over semi early in the trip.  No matter how hard the tailgaters pushed, I was taking the posted speed limit signs seriously, punctuated regularly as they were with signs warning me of yet another upcoming Curva Peligrosa (Dangerous Curve). I would have pulled over and let them all pass, if only there had been any safe place to pull over; the road had no shoulder! Instead, when we got a clear stretch of straight-away, I would slow and scoot as far right as I dared to allow them all to zip on by.

My jangled nerves were exacerbated by the fact that we were increasingly nearing a quarter tank of gas without a station (or much anything for that matter) anywhere in sight.  We had set out with a half tank and our friend Kirk’s casual assurance that we should be just fine for our little day excursion to the Todos Santos artist community. Now I was kicking myself for not taking time to fill up in Cabo San Lucas, where gas was as readily available as back home in Michigan. Never assume that where you are headed is going to have the same amenities as where you have been! At one quarter tank, not knowing what was ahead of us, I would have no choice but to somehow try and find a way to safely turn around and head back to Cabo. In the meantime, cattle crossing signs started popping up regularly. Cattle? In this desert? Where? It was only later that I learned that there are working ranchos hidden along the entire stretch of highway 19 with free range herds, and it is reputed to be one of the most dangerous stretches of road in all North America for vehicle/livestock collisions.

Baja Highway 19 to Todos Santos from Cabo San Lucas

Baja Highway 19 to Todos Santos from Cabo San Lucas

But then we finally turned a curve and were treated with a view of the Pacific, then began to see intermittent signs of life. Scattered residences appeared along the coast to our left, from ramshackle former palapas or cinder block shacks to elaborate residences of various shapes, sizes, or colors. Mind you, the coast was a mile or more from the road we were traveling, and how one would actually get to one of these Pacific waterfront beaches or abodes was not readily apparent. Once in a while there would pop up a gate in some various state of disrepair marking a dirt road heading off into the desert toward the Pacific coast. In our gas-rationed mindset we weren’t exactly in the mood to go exploring!

And then signs of life began to appear along the highway. A roadside blanket weaver. An intriguing sign beckoned, “Art & Beer.” A crossroads leading to the town of Pescadero. And then, blessedly, a modern Pemex gas station appeared before us. Thank goodness I had brought along some pesos as they did not accept credit cards of any kind and of course there was no ATM in sight!

A modern oasis: Todos Santos (Pescadero) Pemex

A modern oasis: Todos Santos (Pescadero) Pemex

 With a full gas tank and assurance that we were on the right track, we were much happier reentering highway 19 for the last few miles of our trip. And suddenly we veered off the highway down a dusty road that led into the heart of the designated Peublo Magico (magic town) of Todos Santos. We pulled to the curb across from a bank (with ATM! Civilization!) and parked the rental car. There we were, at last.

Now what? If this was an artist community, where were all the artists? Where was the magic?

Turns out the real magic of Todos Santos isn’t obvious at first glance; it takes a bit of seeking and prodding. Come explore with me in my next post.

September 13, 2009 at 9:59 pm 1 comment

Driving “lessons”

I like to think of myself as somewhat adventurous, and open to trying new things. I’ve actually rappelled across a canyon in Costa Rica and I take risks every day in my business life. However, on a trip to Scotland in 2001, I learned – quite unexpectedly and quite to my dismay – that my brain is apparently irrevocably hard wired for driving on the right side of the road, seated at the left side of the car. What I had expected to be an easy transition turned out to be a terrifying failure from the moment I tried to pull out of the rental car parking lot. There was apparently no convincing my head that the other lane was a perfectly safe and acceptable place to drive in the lovely land I was visiting. Every nerve and impulse screamed, “Danger! Danger!” How long would it have taken to literally change my mind? I may never know. I failed to get past the first block before realizing that I was a menace to myself and others and turning the keys over to a reluctant Robert.

On a more recent trip out west, we learned the hard way that the shortest distance between two points on a map may start out looking like a brilliant time saver, but quickly degrade into a harrowing crawl up and down a narrow, unpaved switchback mountain road, sans guard rails. Again, don’t underestimate the brain shock that type of unplanned adventure can inflict on a Michigan flat-lander. Other than dodging potholes, Michigan driving is comparatively uneventful. I’m not too proud to confess; I have become wimp when it comes to driving out of my home state.

Now, whenever possible, I leave the driving to locals who know the area and who have mastered the local terrain. Public transport is not only a green and thrifty option, but offers a safe and relaxing alternative to taking the wheel into your own hands. All of this is a roundabout way of explaining why neither of us had any intention whatsoever of driving in Baja. Vast stretches of desolate desert, surrounding a long line of mountains inhabited by banditos waiting to prey on naïve gringo tourists. Well, okay, to be fair, to my knowledge we never came anywhere near a bandito. But how would we know?

However, when our friend Kirk arrived from Austin, he didn’t give driving a second thought. After all, one year he piloted a behemoth motor home across the contiguous 48 states, and up through Canada to Alaska. We promptly rented a car and we set off to explore the two nearby cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo.

Kirk, our trusty chauffeur

Kirk, our trusty chauffeur

I should point out that the road up and down the Tourist Zone between those two cities is a beautiful divided highway that puts our Michigan roads to shame. It’s no wonder that I was lulled into a false sense of foreign driving security. The day the men decided to go deep sea fishing, I was enlisted to get up early to drive them to the marina in Cabo San Lucas so that Johna and I could have the car free to ourselves for a mother/daughter road trip. A casual look at the tourist map seemed to put the route to the artist community of Todos Santos down around the bottom of the Baja peninsula and then back up along the Pacific Coast, what appeared to me to be about a 20 minute drive or so. After our treks up and down the modern highway along the tourist zone, and a successful drop-off of the men in the city (where I only got lost for, oh, about 15 minutes or so, and only had to pull over three times) I was naively prepared for an easy and uneventful road trip with my daughter.

I was quickly reminded that one should not rely on past driving experience to set future driving expectations.

July 18, 2009 at 12:17 am 1 comment

Cuco’s Sandals – End of Life Tires are born again

the_sandals_sm

Here, again, are my “new” Mexican sandals. They were made to fit me by hand by a lively southern Baja resident by the name of Cuco Moyron and his lovely wife, Pilar. I’ll introduce you to Cuco and Pilar in later posts, but for now I’d like to tell you what I think makes these sandals so special.

The soles of these sandals used to be auto tires. Check out the picture. If you look closely at the sandal that is bottom-side up, you can (just) make out the tread. See the way the sandal wants to curl up? It’s almost as if it remembers its former life.

Here in the US, around 80% of End of Life Tires (ELTs) are now recycled into useful products such as building materials, mats for livestock or sports, truck bed mats, or commercial flooring. Ongoing efforts are making progress toward ensuring that virtually all used tires in the US are recycled rather than discarded.

However, not all countries are doing a good job recycling ELTs. An excellent visual and informative  2008 reportby the World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates that over 4 billion ELTs are currently in landfills and stockpiles worldwide. These discarded tires provide a breeding ground for disease carrying mosquitoes and rodents, and create a fire and environmental hazard risk.

So I’m proud that Cuco’s sandals not only make a practical and creative souvenir for me, but also made a tiny dent in solving the problem of what to do with ELTs in Baja, where they would otherwise scar the stark desert beauty of the area.

In my next post, we’ll take a road trip to Todos Santos, where Johna and I first encountered Cuco Moyon and his recycled sandals.

June 28, 2009 at 4:43 pm 2 comments

A tale of two sandals

So how exactly did these custom hand made sandals …

cfw_johna_cuko_sandals

… make their way from here, near Todos Santos, BCS, Mexico …

map_bcs_mx

… to my feet …

cfw_dogpark_cucosandals_sm

… here in Kruse Park Dog Beach in Muskegon, Michigan?

map_muskegon

In the next few posts, I’ll show you exactly how that happened. Stay tuned!

June 21, 2009 at 1:17 am 1 comment

What a lucky dog!

I’m back home from Mexico, and reminded how very lucky my three spoiled weenie dogs are! As the Cabo economy is supported by tourism, Cabo dogs are by and large better cared for than those in some of the other Mexican cities I’ve visited. But spaying and neutering do not appear to be widely practiced, and I still did see a few dogs with open sores and one with a fresh bite wound on his leg.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not passing judgment on Mexican dog owners. For the most part, the people I met love their dogs (although they might not dote on them quite as much as I do.) They provide them food and shelter and try to meet their basic needs. It just always reminds me that many in other countries have neither the same high standards for pet care nor the expendable income that many of us enjoy here in the States – expendable defined as having anything left over after meeting basic living needs.

I did come across a few dogs that seemed to have lovely lives, including one impish fellow who spent his time down on the beach chasing in and out of the waves; I think he might have been fishing! I shot quite a few pics of him while we enjoyed our breakfast at The Office restaurant. I also shot quite a few pics of the dogs at the Wild Canyon Ekopark where Johna rappelled on zip lines stretched across a desert canyon. An expat couple even made my evening when they walked their red smooth dachshund, Lola, down on the beach at our resort one evening. Lola got quite a belly rub, and like my Honey, jumped up and barked at me for more each time I tried to stop!

As for Mexican cats, I sense they fare much worse than the canines. I actually saw a drawing of a cat on a pest control truck along with one of a cockroach and scorpion. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t suppose the exterminator is running a feline rescue center.

June 16, 2009 at 10:37 pm Leave a comment

Star Trek Movie: Creative Genius

True confession:  I’ve been a Star Trek geek since there’s been a Star Trek – which is just about forever, really. But I honestly have to say I was skeptical about the latest Star Trek movie. Movie prequels have a jaded history in general, and the trailers made this new venture seem more like a Van Damme action thriller than the thoughtful morality play that has always drawn me to the Trek franchise. But I have to give director J. J. Abrams and the cast credit. It took more than a little chutzpah to take on such an iconic and beloved pop culture fable, and they pulled it off in every sense.

Key to the success of the film is the way everything about it, from the script through the cast and sets, manages to somehow magically stay true to the flavor of the original story and characters, while at the same time applying state of the art effects and updated situations and dialogue. For example, we see the roots of young Kirk’s womanizing nature, which in this film somehow comes off as humorous and almost endearing. How did they manage that? When I watch the original Trek series through today’s eyes, I see Kirk as archetypical of the male chauvenist pig of the era.

The movie locations are a feast to the eyes – a welcome advancement from the cheesy sets and props of the original series. I found this wonderful wired.com post detailing some of the creative location choices. Why fly a crew to Iceland when you can fill the LA Dodger Stadium parking lot with biodegradable paper “snow” and create a blizzard in 80 degree weather using 8 wind machines! Before you read the article, try and guess where they filmed the engine room cooling pipes Scotty transports into or the planet Vulcan.

June 4, 2009 at 9:38 pm Leave a comment

Kanzius Cancer Treatment Work Continues

In an early postI introduced you all to John Kanzius, a man who I believe defined Practical Creativity. Kanzius applied his working knowledge of radio waves to design a radically different cancer treatment that he initially tested using hot dogs in his home garage. Oh, and did I mention that the only medical background Kanzius had was from what he learned on his own and from his doctors while in conventional treatment for leukemia?

Since that post, Kanzius received a patent for his treatment idea. I was so very saddened to learn that he succumbed to complications of leukemia in early February, just weeks prior to the patent approval.

Fortunately, work on the Kanzius treatment continues under Steven Curley M.D. and Paul Cherukuri, Ph.D. via a research group at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The doctors and their colleagues deserve kudos for opening their minds to exploration of the ideas of a lay person. Their open curiosity appears to have paid off; the progress report on their research web site is promising:

We have also tested the carbon nanoparticles in malignant tumors growing in the liver of rabbits. Our initial experiments have shown that the presence of the carbon nanotubes followed by treatment with the RF field device led to complete destruction of the tumors. Importantly, there was no damage to any other structures or organs in the animals. A particularly fascinating component of this work is that this RF field generator can theoretically be used to treat cancers in any site of the body. It may also be possible to treat not only solid cancers like colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, brain cancer, pancreas cancer, and liver cancer, but also lymphomas and leukemias. It is rare that a cancer treatment approach can have such broad, sweeping application possibilities.

For regular updates or to donate to assist with this research, visit the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation web site.

May 31, 2009 at 10:44 pm 2 comments

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