Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

Borders, borders everywhere

23 May 2011

Last I wrote, I was in Granada, Nicaragua. The following day, I drove to Las Peñitas to stay for a day with Chris Dray and Yami Torrens. Yukoners will remember Chris as the former Director of the Arts Centre as well as the founder of the Guild way back when. Anyway, Chris wanted to do this real estate development close to the Pacific beach in Nicaragua, but the bottom fell out of the market with the 2009 depression. He is now farming, raising cattle while Yami is going to veterinary school.

View of the Pacific from Chris & Yami's place

Ah Honduras! A place to avoid if at all possible until the country gets its shit together: the highest murder rate in the world, one of the highest crime rates, an illegitimate government elected after a coup, and the most crooked police force I have ever encountered. Actually our first trip was sort of OK, although we did have issues with a tramite (border helper) who wanted us to get involved in all kinds of shady deals and would not leave us alone in Copán, and police who tried unsuccessfully to shake us down. This time, though I was shaken down twice by the police (the cops extorted $75 from me). I bitched about Panamanians being dishonest, but Hondurans will just steal from you. At least Panamanians try to use their wiles and not just intimidation.

Actually, the first tramite who helped across from Nicaragua to Honduras, Gustavo, seemed like a good guy; I even tipped him $10 more than the $10 he originally asked for. At least he got me into an air conditioned office while the Honduran customs officer took her time to take her finger out of her arse to fill out a simple form. She was actually quite pleasant, but spent a lot more time chatting with Gustavo and others and talking on her cell phone than working. Gustavo told me his dream was to go to Canada; he even lived in Minnesota for awhile because it was the closer. He tried getting in, but Canadian immigration wouldn’t, although they did not report him to the US “Migra“. He did eventually get deported from the US.

Before hiring Gustavo, I went through the Nicaraguan exit processes on my own. First wait in line for half an hour until the Nicaraguan customs officer deigned to look at my temporary vehicle importation permit, stamp if a few times and told me to go to immigration. At least I got to chat with a couple of truck drivers. They told me they usually have to wait about 12 hours to get through Costa Rican Customs. But once in Nicaragua, they can easily get into the other Central American countries (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala) who sort of have a common customs and immigration process. However, as a foreigner, I do have to get a separate importation permit in each country for the pick-up and I also get my passport stamped by immigration. You get a total of 90 days for all four countries, so by the time I got to Guatemala, I only had 84 days left.

Line-up of trucks waiting to get into Nicaragua at Costa Rica border

At immigration, everyone was waiting at one window while the other one was open, until someone asked if we could go to it. I let the guy who had been in front of me go ahead before me at the second window even though he got there after me. I told him that I was from Canada where queues are sacred. He laughed saying that was not exactly the case in Nicaragua and we had a good chat.

The next border was from Honduras to el Salvador. I won’t say anything about my tramite because I would not want him to get in trouble. First the cop–whose name is , according to my tramite — extorted $40.00 from me because I did not have a “title” for the truck, even though I told him how come they let me in the country. He threatened to do a thorough inspection on my vehicle, which would have probably taken hours. My tramite suggested I bribe him $50.00, and then $40.00. So the cop let me go.

At the border, I let the tramite take my passport and go make copies. He told me he needed $15.00 and I gave him a $20 bill. I think it was a mistake not to go with him, but anyway, he gave me back my change. He later asked me for another $15 to pay for something or other. Anyway, go with your tramite when you are crossing the border, you will feel more comfortable that he is not ripping you off.

Then we needed to go to immigration, pay $12.00 for fumigation which did not happen. I don’t mind the fumigation at the borders: it is there to protect their agricultural industries on which these countries depend so much. We do that in Canada when you leave Newfoundland, which has a potato wart disease not present in the potato growing regions of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Anyway, we got to the border where there was a Honduran tourism department survey. They asked me how much I spent. I said: “$100.00. No, make that $175 including $75 in tips to the police.” The policeman next to the survey taker just smiled. Arsehole!!

Off to El Salvador, where the procedure was the usual: immigration to get my tourist stamp and then to Customs to get the vehicle importation permit. So I had to go down the hill, waiting outside in the heat where a customs officer finally deigned to look at my vehicle. He got quite friendly after I started talking to him and showed him the truck. He gave me a 60 days importation permit and we had a good chat. However, there was a mistake in the permit: he forgot to put the expiry date so he had to get his boss to approve him printing out another form. One last check on the border and I am on my way to San Salvador to the hotel I had reserved. I hand the tramite the $20.00 and he tells me he needs another $12.00 for the fumigation, which he says he had told me about earlier. I vaguely remembered him mentioning that and did not want to argue, so I gave it to him. Just inside El Salvador, I stop at a store to buy something to drink. A guy calls out to me and says my tramite had promised that I would give him a tip. I told him he did not. he insisted he did, so I told him that the tramite had lied to him and basically told him to fuck off.

The next day to Guatemala, I didn’t think I really needed a tramite, but I got one anyway. Procedure was quite simple in leaving El Salvador: Immigration for the passport stamp and Customs to hand in my importation permit. I do get a tramite, but this time I stick with him. The procedure is also OK in Guatemala: First immigration where they give me 84 days (of the original 90s I got in Nicaragua). Then to the SAT office—Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria, i.e. Department of Revenue or Finance. First hand in all the vehicle permits, then they give me a bill (160 Quetzales or about $20.00) for the vehicle permit, which is for 90 days. The amount surprises my tramite as it is usually less. On the other hand, according to what I have read on the web, the amount seems to be at the whim of the customs office. Not that htere is any corruption involved as everything is receipted and has to go through three hand. The across to the bank office where I pay it, then take the receipt across to yet another window where they hand me a sticker for my windshield.

I then drive to Antigua where I stay at the hotel Entre Volcanes and also give a call to Philip Wilson who kindly hosted my truck in his organic coffee farm last year. It’s nice to be among friends again. I also buy a piece of cloth to be used for our bedstead in Whitehorse. The next day off to Huehuetenango not far from the Mexican border. I am really dreading the border again, especially since I suspect we did not hand in or vehicle importation permit when we left Mexico for Belize in January 2010. Anyway, I know I don’t need a tramite at this border: the Mexicans frown upon it.

At the Guatemalan immigration, one of the agents asks me how to say “I am going to Mexico” in French. It turns out he has relatives in Montreal and has visited the city (where I was born & grew up, for those who don’t know). We had a little chat about Montreal. Then to the SAT office where I ask advice about what to do with my permit. I can chose to either hand it in, in which I cannot go back to Guatemala with the vehicle for another 90 days, or I can suspend it and go back anytime before it expires. There is no penalty or anything if I just let it expire without going back. No problem, so I suspend the permit just in case they do not let me into Mexico.

First Mexico immigration, fill out the card and get my 6-month tourist visa. Then to the Banjercito office to get a temporary vehicle importation permit. I tell the agent about having entered Mexico in December 2009 and leaving the following January. He looks at my truck registration which says that the vehicle capacity is 3,900 kilograms. He tells me that his records show I did not hand in my permit. I have a vague memory of talking with to a guy with a white t-shirt at the Belize border about it. Anyway, he tells me the real problem is the weight of the vehicle; the limit is no more than 3.5 tonnes.

He asks me what kind of vehicle; I tell him a normal pick-up with a camper. He looks at the truck and says that it is a small vehicle. He asks me if it could be in pounds rather than kilos, I do answer honestly that we have been using kilos for 30 years in Canada. He tells me he has to call his boss to see if he can give me a permit. I wait for about an hour in the heat; go get the required photocopies made. Finally, I go back in and he is on the phone. He smiles at me, takes my credit card ($30.00 or so) and gives me the permit and the sticker for the windshield. I suspect the wait was actually a slap on the wrist for not turning in my previous importation permit. I then go to the customs officer and ask him if he wants to see my truck. He takes a cursory look in and tells me everything is fine.

I have to say that I did not run into corrupt customs officers nor did I have to pay any bribes or tips to speed things up. The process was slow and bureaucratic and inefficient, but not corrupt, unlike the Panamanian customs in the middle of the country or the Honduran extortionist cops. The only time they checked my luggage was when I was leaving Panama, and they would only take a cursory look inside the camper.

Then into México, Chiapas State to be precise. Although Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, it is obviously so much more prosperous than Guatemala. That night in San Cristobál de las Casa where I finally find the San Nicholas RV Park after asking for directions and driving around the really narrow streets of the historic centre. Mexico has great roads, but you don’t want to be driving an extended-cab-long-box pick-up with a camper in the older parts of most towns, no more than you would want to do it in Vieux Québec, Old Montreal or the older parts of Boston or Philly. Unlike Central America, there are lots of real pick-ups in Mexico and few rice-burners, probably fewer than in Canada. But then gas is still less that $1.00 a litre for super. The next day a long drive to Córdoba in Veracruz state and yesterday yet another longer drive to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. Tomorrow to Melaque, park the truck at Pam and Bernie Phillips lot and fly out to Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon.

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Borders, Granada and future plans

14 May 2011

Main square and cathedral in Granada

I am now in Granada, Nicaragua. I remember why Marilyn and I ended up staying here eight days instead of the two I had originally planned. It is a beautiful colonial town, with just the right amount of tourist amenities like good hotels and good restaurants and has not yet been overwhelmed by gringos and assorted lowlifes.

Pool inside the Patio del Malinche Hotel

I am staying at the Patio del Malinche Hotel and practicing my Catalan with the owners. I also had yet another great steak at El Zaguan restaurant. Hey, I am staying in the top-rated hotel and eating at the top-rated restaurant according to TripAdvisor. The only downside to Granada is the young girls working as prostitutes in the main square. I was accosted three times when I crossed the square to go to the bank machine on Friday night. Sad!

I crossed two borders in the last three days and was again harassed by the Panamanian customs in Divisa, where I was deported from last time. OK, let’s start the narrative.

After my mud-splattered jaunt to the end of the road, I went back to Panama City for two nights, staying at Pequeño Paraíso B&B with Richard and Anita (TripAdvisor review, but I believe they should be in Panama City listings). I had to fix my winch, and Richard helped me as he is a bit of an electrical whiz. He does run a company installing electric wire fencing (which is not used for cattle in Panama but to shock and awe potential house thieves.)

I had two superb meals on Monday and Tuesday nights. I went to Marina Marina one night and back to Maito for yet another absolutely incredible meal.

Crossing the Centenario bridge in May 2010.

I left Wednesday morning for David in Northern Panama, thinking of going into Costa Rica on Thursday. I got lost on the way, but finally found the new Centenario bridge over the Canal which is now partially open after getting washed out in the floods last December.

Mostly uneventful drive except for the customs guards in Divisa, a nowhere crossroads dorp in the middle of Panama. Last time we passed through there they put us through the wringer, extracted $416 from us and escorted us out of the country.

This time, I did not see any road block, but as I passed by, I heard a shout which I ignored. A few minutes later, a vehicle with flashing lights pulls me over. A guy comes out of the vehicle and I give him a puzzled look. He comes to the window and says “aduana” and says I did not stop when he signalled me. I told him I did not see him, and asked him where he was. He told me, rather vaguely, that he was on the right but that I obviously was concentrating on driving. This is bullshit; there was no one there, they were on the other side of the road, where I heard the shout from. He told me he had to give me a ticket for not stopping, in an obvious attempt to extract a bribe. I told home: “Fine, I’ll pay the ticket, but I did not see you.”

I handed the truck papers, fearing that he would give me a hard time because it said that I would depart from the port of Colón rather than the land border at Paso Canoas. Then his partner shows up, who just happens to be the agent who escorted us out of the country in January. The first guy tells the other that my truck papers are in order. Handshakes and fake smiles all around. F…ing arseholes. Then the first guy says I seem like a good person, so he will let me go. Then he has the effrontery to ask me fro something for a “cafecito“, a little coffee. I answered with a flat “No!” twice. I felt like telling him: “Go get your cafecito from your boss who ripped me off $400 last time.”

I got to David at 4:00PM or so in a diluvial tropical rainstorm and stayed at the Best Western again, not a bad hotel (newly renovated and clean and pretty cheap at $50.00. Supper at the hotel restaurant, a long call to Marilyn to use up the rest of my money on the Panamanian cell phone.

Left David at 8:00AM for the Costa Rica border. The formalities of getting out of Panama were a pain as per usual: get a photocopy, get one stamp here, then get the immigration, the the customs guy wanted to inspect my luggage—this is when I was leaving Panama—and my truck. Like why do they need to check my luggage?? Finally tells me it’s OK, and then tells me to wait again. Then I get the stamp and am finally on my way. Then to the Costa Rican side, where somebody tells me I need to get the truck fumigated. So I get it fumigated, go to the customs window to get my temporary vehicle importation permit reactivated. As I wrote earlier, I have two days left of the original 90 days. They tell me I have to go into the office.

So I hand my papers to the Tica customs agent there who checks things out on her computer. It turns out that the computer in San José says that my permit was surrendered, not suspended. So they need to call San José to get permission to reactivate my permit. I wait, getting more and more impatiently, for some bureaucrat in San José to take his finger out of his arse and deal with my case.

I walk around the customs area, and get a charge card for my cell phone as I have now put the Costa Rican chip back in it. I had to put more money in as they said my balance had expired. I have a hard time putting in additional money in as they changed the number you call. Anyway, I add $10.00 worth of time and I find out I now have a $26 balance on my cell phone. So I now have a couple of hours calling time with Marilyn.

After three hours, the Customs agent tells me my papers are OK. I am all smiles and we go to my vehicle with the agricultural inspection agent who needs to inspect my vehicle and see the proof of fumigation. I had been chatting with the guy for a couple of hours about agriculture and his work and animal diseases.

It is now almost noon as Costa Rica is one hour behind (after?? I can never get this straight) Panama. So I hightail it to Liberia, which is seven hours away. Along the way, I stop for ceviche at Ceviche Remy, owned by a Canadian. The ceviche was OK. The I stop in Uvita at a restaurant to check my email.

I get to Liberia after dark, which is not good. I tried following a big truck for quite a while after sundown, but the interior of my windshield is dirty and I get blinded every time a car crosses me. I stop and try to clean the windshield to no avail. So I slowly make my way to Liberia where I stay once again at El Punto Hotel. I had a magnificent meal at Ozaki Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant.

The next morning I leave rather late after a couple of hours chat with Mariana, the owner of El Punto who is also an architect. We talked mainly about construction in our respective countries. She is familiar with US construction methods as she studied architecture in Texas, I believe. $600.00 square metre to build a simple concrete and block house in Costa Rica compared to $2,000.00 in the Yukon for our standard wood frame construction.

I get to the border just before noon, where this guy tries to help me. He tells me to go to customs. I tell him I don’t need anybody to help me out of Costa Rica, but I will need someone to get me through Nicaraguan customs. He tells me I need a photocopy, I say no. of course he is right. Anyway he introduces me to his buddy Fabel (sp.?) who proves to be a godsend. Anyway , I give him 5,000 Colones and exchange some dollars for Nicaraguan Córdobas.

I agree on $20.00 for Fabel. I hate it when they say give me what you want, or give me a tip. Tell me how much you want from your service up front and I will give you a tip if you give me great service. And they are necessary at some border; actually at most borders in Central America.

So to get into Nicaragua, the steps Fabel guided me through were:

  1. Fumigation
  2. Go to Migración (immigration) and pay $US12.00 for my tourist visa.
  3. Then go to a tourist office for a stamp for $5.00
  4. Then get the insurance for the vehicle $12.00
  5. Then grab a customs agent to check my vehicle
  6. Then Fabel runs to a policeman just before he goes to lunch so he can sign piece of paper (we would had to wait for another hour otherwise)
  7. Then to another Aduana window, free this time, to get my temporary vehicle importation permit. Except we had to wait for half an hour while the officials had lunch and read their paper.
  8. Then another 15 minute wait at the window next door to get the police to check my papers.
  9. Then at the gate pay $1.00 to one guy, get another to check some of paperwork, and hand over s slip of paper saying that I went through the process to a third.
  10. Get out of the gate on the highway and pay Fabel his well earned $20.00 and a $5.00 tip.

But before the gate, I went & got a Nicaraguan cell phone chip. Fabel and this other guy had had a spirited discussion about whether Claro or Movistar provided the best service. I commented it was rather like sports fans: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (i.e. Leafs vs Habs in a Canadian context). They laughed, but being both Barça fans, they each claimed that their favoured cell phone provider was like Barcelona ad the other was Madrid. Nicaraguans are also baseball fans, but I could not think of an equivalent baseball rivalry.

I also made a decision about what to do. I am going to Mexico and leaving the pickup truck there. It’s no problem getting a six month permit in Mexico and there are no penalties for leaving a Canadian vehicle there longer. I just need to find a place where, preferably in Oaxaca state, but anywhere in Mexico is fine. So, gentle reader, I would appreciate any suggestions or connections you might have in Mexico that could house my truck until this winter.

Getting to Morelia, Part I

7 December 2009

Monday, 7 December, Morelia, Michoacan

I am writing this having a cerveza under the porticos in the main plaza in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan. The truck is the shop (I should say taller) again suffering from a broken U-joint (cruceta or cardán) on the driveshaft (arbol). But before you GM haters say anything, it turns out the same thing happens to new boy sheep trucks. If you see my page on Facebook, you will see that Lil told me that Simon had the same problem with his new Dodge Ram.

I could pick worse places to break down, like halfway up the pass between the South Canol and Seagull Creek, where I went moose hunting this year. Morelia is a delightful colonial city with a very beautiful historic centre. I could easily spend more time here.

I still have 1,300 kilometres to go to get to Sophie’s apartment near Playa del Carmen. Marilyn arrived there last night (Sunday). She told me she is in paradise: beautiful apartment, beaches, swimming pools, dolphins frolicking with people, perfect weather and hardly anyone there. Sophie is definitely getting the good bed next time she comes to Whitehorse!

Continuing with the narrative of how I got to Morelia, we go back to last Wednesday

3 December, Guaymas to Culiacan, Sinaloa, day 2 in Mexico

As I drove south, the landscape became more agricultural and less desert like. In Ciudad Obregon there were many silos and flour mills and some vegetable oil mills. Eventually the desert gave way to flat country, large fields with much stuff growing that will most likely end up on our grocery shelves this winter. Definitely not campesino agriculture; clearly the industrial kind requiring large investments in machinery and irrigation.  I was then in Sinaloa

For lunch—this will surprise many of you—I had half a charcoal roasted chicken, the pollo asado sobre carbón, a specialty of Sinaloa, and—get this—salsa with cilantro. All with a squeeze of lime on it, of course, since this is México and limón goes on everything. The chicken was excellent, as was the salsa. I am either getting over my dislike of foul, I meant fowl, or Mexican chicken is that good. The smell of roasting chicken is all over the place, and I actually find it wonderful.

It is true that travel changes one; I have disliked chicken since I walked into Zinmann’s  Jewish-Italian poultry store with my mother at the Jean-Talon market in Montreal many years ago. I gagged and had a hard time not vomiting from the foul fowl smell. So telling me that something tasted like chicken was not a good way of getting me to try something. The only chicken I could stand were the chicken sandwiches at McDonald’s, which tasted nothing like chicken, and boiled chicken breast smeared with tons of salsa verde made with anchovies, capers and parsley.

There were also some small holdings with a few cows or goats. Getting further south, I saw a number of cowboys herding cattle. Therioux points out that much of the cowboy culture and lingo comes from Mexico, even the word lingo. The other things Mexican cowboys gave include lassos, corrals, rodeos and the big, wide-brimmed hat. Well, they are still there in Mexico at least in Sonora and Sinaloa.

Arriving in Culiacán, I had a hard time finding a hotel, the first one did not have room, the one they sent me looked a little seedy, and the third also did not have a room. Finally I landed at the Hotel … which had recently opened. I have to add that I lost my way a few times, the f… GPS mislead me and led me into a number of dead ends and sent me the wrong way in some one-way streets. Luckily, Mexican drivers are quite tolerant of stupid gringos.

I have to add that Culiacán gave me a definite European impression, much more than anywhere else I have been in Mexico so far. On the other hand, I found out it is the drug capital of Mexico and I guess it was not surprising it was patrolled by federales and soldiers in pickup trucks wearing the requisite flak jackets, helmets, machine guns and passe-montagne to hide the face.

Supper was another overcooked hunk of beef at a restaurant suggested by the hotel clerk, who was also going there for some take-out. The steak was actually quite good and tender despite not being bleeding red the way I prefer it. Mexican restaurant menus all have a warning about the health dangers of eating undercooked meat. Give me a break!!

Through the desert on a truck with no name …

2 December 2009

1 December Palm springs CA to Green Valley AZ.

Got up at 8:00 although I had wanted to get up earlier to do my laundry. I must be more tired than I think, or it was the LA traffic that did me in. Had breakfast at the hotel, did the laundry and left Indio around 11:00AM.

I-10 in the desertDesert scenery all the way except around Blythe CA where there is some agriculture. I saw my first saguaro cactus just after I crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. I took a lot of pictures of saguaros. Here is this icon of the western desert, seen in innumerable cowboy flicks and cartoons.

The second one was taken from far. I thought og getting closer, but then I thought; “Hmmm, desert, rattlers, scorpions, maybe not a good idea”. Grizzlies I can deal with, you see sign, you hear them and generally can see them coming, but those small poisonous critters, I don’t know.

ratty 1st saguaro

ratty 1st saguaro

classic saguaro

classic saguaro

No lunch stop: I survived on fruits and nuts left over from yesterday. I took the highway 95 bypass to Gila Bend on I-8 to avoid the rush hour traffic around Phoenix (Is there a rush hour in Phoenix? I don’t know but did not want to repeat the LA & SF experiences.) Turned off on I-19 towards Nogales around Tucson.

On I-19, I did a double take as I saw a road sign in kilometers, but the speed limits are still in mph.

I arrived in Green Valley around 7:30 PST, went for supper at an American restaurant (pot roast with corn and mashed potatoes, washed down with a Sam Adams) and checked in to the hotel where I had an interesting conversation with the desk person.

Driving in the States

I didn’t realize how thoroughly metrified (metricated?) I had become until this trip. I had to convert distances back into kilometers and speed into kph. Same for temperatures. Overall, it seems that Americans are slow drivers, generally respecting speed limits (always with some exceptions), unlike Canadians who tend to drive 10-15kph above the limit. They are also polite; I never got honked at once, except as a thank you after I let someone pass in the curvy Highway of the Redwoods. However, the rush hour driving around LA was just as crazy as Montreal, with some people trying to create an additional lane. In Montreal, it doesn’t bother me as I usually know where I’m going, but I did miss an exit around Riverside. Also, Americans do not see that the left lane is for passing and the right for driving: they will take any lane to pass you.

I have to say that the sanest expressway drivers are—believe it or not—in Italy where they drive at crazy speeds (speed limit is 130kph (80mph), so the minimum speed is 140kph (87mph) except for the trucks who drive at 100-110). But they stay in their lane, signal that they are about to pass by flashing their high beams, signal when they change lanes (suicidal motorcyclists excepted). The calmest heavy traffic driving I ever did in an urban area was around Rome, where everyone was driving at 130-140!

Mañana México!

California is the place I oughta be, loaded up the truck and drove to …

1 December 2009

Fort Bragg. OK, not as sexy as Beverly Hills. California! Where it seems so many things in our western culture get their start: Hollywood and stars and celebrities, Disney and Mickey and Yogi, surfing, expressways/freeways/motorways and the automobile culture, blondes in convertibles and hot tubs, fast food and McDonald’s, Haight-Ashbury and hippies and massive recreational drug use, Berkeley and the peace movement, fern bars and sushi and fusion cuisine, varietal wines (the point that now even the venerable burgundies are putting “Pinot Noir” on their labels, as if they could be anything else), JPL sending us into space and Silicon Valley into cyberspace, etc.

27 November, Highway of the Redwoods to Fort Bragg

Got up fairly early & drove down the curvy and twisty Highway of the Redwoods to Crescent City on California’s coast, not without occasionally stopping to admire the big trees.

I stopped at a Home Depot to buy a crescent wrench for the propane tank and took a look at the lumber. I was appalled: “construction quality” doug fir full of loose knots, waney edges, rot pockets. I won’t speak of the unspeakable “Whitewood”. That stuff should have gone into the chipper to make ass-wipe or termite puke board, not construction lumber.

I had a bad smoked salmon omelette in Crescent City and continued along the curvy and twisty coast road.

View from Crescent City dock

Vista from Crescent City dock

I managed to piss off quite a few Californicators in their sports cars with my slow driving. Par for the course, revenge for these Californian old farts in their bus-sized RVs who are always slowing us down on the Alaska Highway and who don’t bother to pull over. Maybe we need signs like they have in California telling slow traffic to pull over at pull-outs to let others pass.

I got to Fort Bragg around 4:00 PM. Lymond Hardy took me to the College of the Redwoods http://www.crfinefurniture.com/ woodworking school where I met a number of his fellow students as well as Brian the man responsible for their amazing stash of wood. For those not familiar with wooddorking, the woodworking school at the College of the Redwoods is probably the best school in North America and notoriously difficult to get into, so it is quite an accomplishment for Lymond to just getting accepted. The school was made famous by its founder and inspiration – http://jameskrenov.com/ James Krenov – who died recently. While I am not a particular fan of his designs – they look spindly and unbalanced – I recognize Krenov’s incredible workmanship.

Lymond and Brian

Lymond and David Welter

Lymond is making a blanket chest for his first project: coopered sides and top, held together with dovetails. Its mass and solid look make it decidedly un-krenovian and respects Lymond’s style: he is into mass.

Lymond's chest

Lymond's chest

Both of us were to tired to cook that night, so after drinking the bottle of bad lambrusco and some even worse Sangiovese (which will get turned into vinegar, shouldn’t take long), we went to a French restaurant where we had the mushroom tasting menu and crab cakes. It was OK, not bad, maybe even pretty good but we were nevertheless disappointed.

28 November, Saturday, Fort Bragg & Mendocino
Finally, sunny t-shirt weather! Well over 10 degrees Celsius! I am in California!!

After a lazy morning, we drove to south to Mendocino where we bought a bottle of California sparkly to celebrate Louise’s (Lymond’s mother’s) birthday. They were having a party back in Whitehorse. We also visited a furniture gallery full of furniture made by graduates and teachers at the college of the Redwoods. Nothing really grabbed me except for an Ash chair made by a woodworker who is to teach next semester. We also went into a place that has massive wood slabs, mainly of local reclaimed wood (redwood and cypress),  some of it old growth.Luigi with curly redwood slab

We had lunch outside in the sun where I actually started sweating even though a guy next to us had a fur hat and quilted jacket and most people wore jackets. We Yukoners are tough!

We then went to a winery right on the coast: http://www.pacificstarwinery.com/ Pacific Star. Lymond had previously met the owner, Sally Ottoson, and talked about me and how I was disappointed in the quality of the grapes I was getting and the wines I have been making in the past few years. She said she wanted to meet me and might help in finding grapes.Pacific Star winery

Anyway, there were a lot of people when we got there and Markus, her partner who used to be a chiropractor, was hard-pressed to keep up.

Pinot noir on the shore

Pinot noir on the shore

We did try a number of wines and she does use a couple of grapes I have never heard of: Roussanne—a white from the Rhône—and Charbono—a red from Savoie but also used in the Val d’Aoste. The wine is also aged in barrels which are left outside, to be exposed to the sea air. And it is aged in barrels for a long time, like up to 8-9 years. This is pretty impressive, I would be very fearful of barrels going bad in that time.

The wines I really liked were a white Viognier-Roussanne, the Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. I have to note that Lymond is a bit of a Zin addict: he started drinking wine when he was about 10 or 11 when I fed him my Zinfandel cut with ginger ale. So he has been more than partial to Zins ever since.

As there were still a lot of people, we got a bottle of 2002 Pinot Noir and went to drink it by the sea. I also had a piece of cheese I had bought in Seattle: a cheddar with the consistency of Port Salut. So we cut off the mould and had that with the wine. I also lent a sweater to Lymond as the wind made us decide to give up on our northern tough guy act. The Pinot noir was quite disappointing when we first tasted it, but it greatly, massively improved with time, so that by the end of the bottle, it was excellent. It needed time to air out. I finally got to talk to Sally after almost everyone had left, and jokingly complained that she should have opened the Pinot Noir a couple of hours before we got there. She got us to try a Charbono-Barbera, which was excellent. I then remembered I had some Vidal ice-wine in the camper, so I went to get a couple of 200ml botlles. We tried one and it was disappointing, not as good as I had hoped. I think I’ll have to let Lymond in our wine cellar at Christmas time and bring Sally back a really good bottle of ice wine.

For those not in the “know”, ice wine is quite appropriately a Canadian specialty made with grapes frozen on the vine. The grapes have to be harvested when it’s at least -10 or -12 Celsius and immediately pressed at low temperatures to extract the freeze-concentrated juice. It was originally a German thing, called eiswein, made in special years when it got cold enough. But in Canada, we can do it consistently as it always gets cold enough.

After that we went home where Lymond cooked up an excellent meal: abalone wrapped in prosciutto, battered lightly and deep fried. Superb! I also had some raw abalone, equally excellent. But it does require a serious beating. Lymond had invited two friends, Doug a colleague at the College of the Redwoods and Jennifer, his girlfriend.

29 November, Fort Bragg to the Central Valley.

I took it easy in the morning, updated the blog and had a few cups of coffee. Tim, Lymond’s roommate, came back from visiting his family in Marin and we went out for a coffee.

Lymond and Tim

Lymond and Tim

I got ready to leave and needed to get some stuff in the back of the camper. A total mess! One of the hatches had opened and a bottle of olive oil had spilled all over. Yuck!!! I had to go buy a mop with Lymond and cleaned up the camper. The floor is now cleaner than it’s ever been since Marilyn last went at it. Lymond made lunch of home-canned albacore on toast. Excellent as usual, his room-mates sure do appreciate his cooking. He gave me a can of albacore and I gave him a pound of Yukon Midnight Sun coffee and a can of my sauerkraut, which he had never tried.

Finally got going around 1:30. Drove through southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma county on highway 99. The countryside reminded me very much of Italy, with low hill, vineyards and the narrow autostrada, except that the cars were going at 140kph. Not surprising that Italian immigrants found the place so congenial. The pictures I took through the windshield don’t do it justice.

Got stuck in traffic around San Francisco. I really wanted to spend time there, but I do have to get to Cancun to meet Marilyn and time is getting short. Continued south, stopped for a subway sandwich and then went into a Best Western Motel Apricot, where I crashed out after quick call to Marilyn.

30 November, San Joaquin valley and LA traffic.

Had breakfast at the Apricot restaurant, French toast smothered in apricot syrup with canned apricots on the side. Went down the San Joaquin valley, which reminded me very much of central Spain: the dry almost desert flat plain with the Sierra Nevada in the background. Saw a number of signs on empty fields saying “Congress created this dust bowl”. Apparently, there is a shortage of water due to some smelt in San Francisco Bay or the delta of the San Joaquin/Sacramento Rivers. The one farmer I talked to was slightly incoherent ranting about environmentalists. While we can blame politicians for any number of things, I don’t think dustbowls are one of them. They are usually caused by farmers planting inadequately drought resistant and inappropriate crops.San Joaquin valley view from hotel

One thing I found interesting in the San Joaquin was the intensity of plantings: fruit trees 10 feet apart, intensively panted vegetables all obviously dependent on massive irrigation, next to fields of sagebrush and other desert vegetation. What clinched it for me was seeing pear cactus growing at the end of an orchard. When I drove through Spain many years ago, the fruit tree and vine plantings were much further apart and adapted to the amount of water available.
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Anyway, I bought some fresh fruit at one roadside fruit stand (persimmons and grapes) where I got to speak Spanish, and mandarin oranges, almonds and pistachios at another. The fruit and nuts were my lunch. I was surprised to see a skiff of snow at the Tejon pass, near LA, which went up to 1,400 metres according to my GPS.

I got stuck in traffic twice around Los Angeles, and probably wasted a total of four hours. I got there around noon and did not get out of Riverside until 5:30. I then stopped at the Best Western Date Tree Hotel in Indio, just past Palm Springs, in the desert, where I am writing this.