Monday, March 9, 2015

A Trip to Beautiful La Paz, BCS, Mexico

Did you ever dream of visiting a faraway place and then when you finally get there you realize your fantasy does not match the local reality? Like the dirty swimming pool in the Florida resort, the stinky hotel in the Hamptons or the ugly side of beautiful San Diego. Well, I have been fantasizing about La Paz for years. An oasis of peace and harmony in a country where drug cartel violence is in the news every month. Could it really be true? Could it be as nice as it sounded.


Sunday, January 25th:

 Flying out of Chicago, they had to de-ice the wings of the plane. A few hours later those same wings were basking in the late afternoon sun at the San José Del Cabo airport. Outside the terminal, the friendly people at Eco Baja Tours made the bus to La Paz turn around and come back to get me. How cool is that? I was liking the vibe already.

The bus (really a cozy 8 passenger shuttle van) takes about 3-1/2 hours to get from Los Cabos to La Paz. They stop in the charming town of Todos Santos where you can stretch your legs and grab a snack (sólo cinco minutos). $500 pesos and a big tip for the U-turn.

I got to La Paz and stepped out of the bus terminal onto Paseo Alvaro Obregon. There it was, the famous Malecon—like a photograph that had suddenly come alive. I had been exploring all the streets using Google Earth "street view" for years. I imagined myself walking along the ocean, going up one street and down another, finding the mercados and the marinas. And now, all of a sudden it was real. The faint sounds of music and people talking and laughing together. A hint of Carne Asada wafting out of the Rancho Viejo fonda, mixed with the sweet and salty ocean air. 

So there it was; "The Peace", the inspiration of Steinbeck's "The Pearl", the ocean, the people—the beautiful people. Puerto de Ilusión.

It had started to drizzle that first evening, while a peace-parade made its way down the street. The banners read "North, South, East, West: One Peace." The crowd is old and young, singles, couples and families with children of all ages. The mood is one of community unity. A sense of  determination that nothing is going to spoil "The Peace". A belief that standing together as a solid community, aware of each other, they will not suffer the violence that has rocked some northern border cities. "La Paz is your house" reminds a nearby billboard.

My hotel, Perla, is only 2 blocks from the bus terminal. It is the latest incarnation of a hotel that was there from the beginning. When there was only a small El Centro and a few buildings near the water. To me it is beautiful. Not too fancy, not too shabby, and not too touristy (sin demasiado turístico).

The hotel room makes me smile—the stone in the bathroom is the same travertine I have been working with at home all year. I wonder if they got it at Home Depot like I did? Just like the  cantina attached to the hotel, there is no door from the street. Just an elegant staircase to the second floor reception area. Everywhere you look there are people cleaning, sweeping, polishing and wiping. They seem to have a great sense of pride in their work. Later, I would realize that the whole city is constantly cleaning and sweeping and painting.

The hotel room is simple and clean.
The bed is awesome, and the bathroom feels like home with travertine 6 x 6 and 1 x 1 tiles.
As part of his "Beautiful Baja" series from the "Mexico, One Plate At A Time" television program, chef Rick Bayless stopped in La Paz for dinner at Las Tres Vírgenes restaurant. Ever since then, I have been itching to see it in real life. It is about six blocks from the Malecon on Calle Madero. I go for the wood-grilled baby octopus. $10 US. Then a Caesar salad with gigantic local (as in super-fresh) shrimp.

I believe that the Tres Vírgenes building was an old Colonial-era home with the typical interior courtyard. What a perfect building to be reborn as the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen. I decide I need to come back again, but it is Sunday and they are closed on Mondays. I will have to wait two whole days. Luckily for me, there are MANY wonderful places to grab a bite.

On the way back to the hotel I take the quaint street called Constitucion. You can see from this photograph how the first few blocks of El Centro are at sea level, while the rest of the city is up on the hill. Late at night, alone on a dark alley-of-a -street in Mexico. I am not afraid. All around me are families with children of all ages, out for dinner or doing some late night shopping.
It's late in the evening, but back on the Malecon there is still a crowd at Fuente's ice cream shop.  I decide on a gelato made with mango and local raspberries. A flavor explosion. Walking next to the ocean as I enjoy this late night treat, I find it novel that the ocean walk (the Malecon) is still full of families with small children, teenagers and senior citizens, all walking and hanging out together.
While locals are wearing sweaters and light jackets, I sleep with the patio doors wide open. At 70°, the local temperature qualifies as summer for someone from Wisconsin.
I drift off, trying to decide whether I want to watch English television with Spanish subtitles or Spanish television with English subtitles.

Even though the air is cool (by local standards it is the coldest day of the year) I cannot resist the beautiful Perla pool any longer. It is a surprise to learn that it is not heated at all. I try to play it cool (¡tómatelo con calma! ) and pretend that I knew that all along, but it is FREEZING. Although, I would remind myself, it's still warm by Lake Michigan standards. Floating silently, staring up at the starry Baja sky, it is a magical moment. Could anything be more perfect? Well maybe a little less chlorine, guys. Wow.

Monday, January 26th

Monday I am up early and on the road to hook up with an expedition company that Heather recommended. They are West of the hotel, attached to one of the marinas. This trip is my first glimpse into the zoning differences here compared to back in the States. Any typical street in El Centro could have a high-end shoe store next to a rundown yard full of chickens, next to am expensive condo, next to a tiny fonda selling home-made breakfast treats. 

It had drizzled the night before and the Malecon was still wet when I started out. The "guys" from the hotel cantina invite me in for breakfast, but I am focused on exploring.
 The heavy air is rich with smells: the sea, the blooming flowers and somewhere someone is grilling food. Early morning La Paz feels like Miami or Orlando, with the addition of roosters. Roosters near and faraway in the distance. Some barely trying and some in full symphonic intensity.

El Cayuco is not open but it reminds you that the city is a wonderful place to get fresh gigantic seafood at hundreds of venues. Shrimp that taste better than any shrimp you have ever had before. The fact that so much stuff is "open air" still seems unusual. What do they do when it snows? Oh doesn't, ever.

The diving place Heather suggested is inside one of the three main marinas, just west of the downtown. They take my name and number but they will not go out to see the whale sharks until they have at least three people on the list. This is when I realize that this is the off-season in La Paz.

The marinas are beautiful, and full of expats who sailed down the California coast years ago and then never left.
Both of the people who rode with me in the airport shuttle were sailors. One, the long time ex-pat and the other came down on a random vacation, rented a sailboat for a week and fell in love with the city AND the boat. So they bought it.

The marinas are a mixture of boats from small to unbelievably large. Some with Spanish names and some in English. There is also a row of Pangas. Panga is the utility boat of choice in the local bay and even going out to the islands. They are an open boat about 20 feet long with a large deadrise to handle the waves. Many that you see driving around have a colorful sunshade on top. People use them for fishing, taking tourists out to see the whale sharks, para-sailing and just general getting around.

It's still pretty early in the morning when I get back to the hotel, but I can't help it—I need to stop at La Fuente's for a paleta. The fruit-filled popsicles are a staple throughout Mexico with each region having its own favorites. For this early in the day, I go for a light and refreshing Sandia (watermelon) paleta. So refreshing. After I got back home, paletas became one of the things I missed about La Paz. The list of flavors is endless. The classics are fresh fruit, the deluxe versions are cremas (cream) like coconut cream and Key Lime pie. The newer hybrid variations match the explosion of contemporary Mexican cuisine—flavors like cactus and jalapeño, avocado and mint, and many more.

 Along the Malecon are a series of beautiful sculptures, reflecting the city's connection to the sea: There is the mermaid, the humpback whale, the fisherman, the dolphin, the manta ray and others. La Paz also has a starring role in John Steinbeck's novel The pearl. Off shore, on Isla Espiritu Santos, there are still remnants of the old large-scale oyster bed operations.
I wandered for lunch and finally came across this charming fonda called Mariscos El Tio,
which translates as Uncle Seafood. Uncle Seafood has a nice selection of homemade tortas and tacos and I decide on their trio of Al Pastor tacos with a bottle of tamarindos pop.

One of the landmarks in El Centro is the cathedral. The official name is Misión Nuestra Señora del Pilar. It's classic colonial architecture and in fantastic condition. The grounds are immaculate as well. A hangout for senior men, meeting old friends, getting in a game of chess or checkers, catching up on the latest gossip, or just watching the world go by.

There are two large markets in el centro. One is on Nicolas Bravo and the other big on is on Francisco I Madero. They are both wonderful and full of life. You can find a hat or boots or a belt or a guitar. You can get a delicious meal, hand-made right infront of your eyes. There are spices and herbs and all sorts of clothes and housewares. Of course there are butchers and fish mongers. Fish so fresh it was caught that very morning and it's getting scaled and fileted that same day.
I am tempted by a beautiful's only about $70 US...but I manage to walk away.

It's still Monday, 1/26. Tomorrow is my trip to the famous Playa Balandra. It's about 12 miles up the coast. I am so excited. Excited enough to forget that the Tres Virgenes restaurant is closed on Mondays. I trek all the way over there, noting that, if I had a car, there are plenty of great spots near the restaurant, and then I walk all the way back.

Back at the hotel, I think I have quite an appetite so I order Queso Fundito AND a pizza, AND a beer. It was very good but I couldn't finish it. The staff at La Terraza are wonderful. Their menu is "Mexican Specialties and Gringo Favorites". Looking around, I see they do cater to an .....older crowd. Dean Martin on the PA and lots of grey hair. But the gentlemen who work there are super polite.

Good night La Paz. I am falling in love with you already and it's only been 2 days.

Tuesday 1/27/15

The "bus" to Balandra is another little airport sort of van. We stop at several spots along the way, picking up a few people at the resorts and a few at the ferry docks. The coolest thing about the beach is that, even though it is very popular with tourists and locals, there is NO development there. Just a guy with a truck selling snacks and drinks. I love it.

 So I slipped my cell phone into its waterproof bag and went snorkling. It turned out that the trick to getting clear images was to remove the silicone camera case so the bag could lie tight up against the lens.

I snorkled around for hours, following small fish... and shuffling through the sand to avoid stepping on stingrays.
 All the tourists who came to see the famous "Mushroom Rock" had the same reaction; they were surprised it was only about six feet high. It is an unusual formation, almost looking like rusty iron in places. All the rock there is a rough looking black and rust aggregate. Over time, the water has carved out great overhangs—the perfect places to relax out of the sun.
 The sandy bay is huge, and surprisingly, is less than 2 feet deep all the way across.
There are places in the middle where you can sunbath in 6 inches of warm salty water.

Later I got the scoop—the stingrays are only there in the spring and summer. In January I had nothing to worry about.

There are only a half dozen times to catch the return bus back to La Paz, so I kept checking my watch.

I met a family from Victoria B.C. of all places. They were there every winter, on their sailboat. Then, when it started getting too hot for them in the summer, they hopped in the motorcoach and drove north. They had visitors with them from B.C. and they were showing off the beach. How weird to meet folks from back home in Canada.
I also met a woman from Israel who was traveling alone, just like me. La Paz was just a short stop for her on her worldwide journey.

Playa Balandra is indeed a magical place. Simple and beautiful. Calming and exciting all at the same time.

Then back "home" to Perla in time to watch the sunset on La Paz bay. Did I make room for another paletta? Of course. Los Tamarindos. Yumm.

Tomorrow would be my time to swim with the giant whale sharks. The wind had started to blow and it was scheduled to be stronger tomorrow.

 I washed my shell collection and set it out on the balcony to dry. The beautiful brown and white striped pattern seems to be the trademark shell of the area.
They tell me that people come from far away to see the famous La Paz sunsets. I must say, they were pretty reliable. A beautiful one almost every night.

Don't worry, I didn't forget. I was Tuesday night, time for my second visit to Las Tres Virgenes.The most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen. When I was there on Sunday it was raining so the main courtyard was closed. This time it was a beautiful evening. I had 3 different apps and finished with their signature flan. I mean, you can't go to Mexico without having flan.

 Smoked Baja Yellowtail Tacos:
Served with a black pepper sauce made with crema.

 Rose Petal Quesadillas:
Manchego cheese, cilantro pesto, almonds and a strawberry sauce.

 Especial de la casa: Flan. Delicate and delicious...and I don't even like flan.

 Tuesday evening, January 27th.
Good night lovely La Paz.

The wind is getting stronger, just like the weather man predicted.

Wednesday morning January 28.

Today I am going out on a panga to swim with the whale sharks, and then later on to Los Islotes to snorkel with the sea lions.

In the Club Cantamar office I pick out a wet suit and fins (I have my own snorkel with me).  The other passengers are a man from Chicago and his petite Filipino wife. Along with them they have a newborn. A little girl probably no more than 3 months old and probably no more than 8 pounds. I am surprised to learn that not only is the wife coming along with us for the ride, but she is also going to bring the baby and hold it in her arms the entire time.

We hop in the panga and pull away from the beach. It is getting choppier and windier, as the TV weatherman predicted, but our guide is optimistic that it will calm down as the day goes on. Our young captain, Cookie,  heads to the area of the bay of LaPaz where the whale sharks hang out. Mr Chicago and I get ready to jump in. The plan is for the captain and our guide, Alex to spot a whale shark and calculate its course. Then they will drive the panga ahead of the whale shark, order us to jump, and we will be in the water as the whale shark catches up with us.  The captain orders us to jump and I am in the water, camera at the ready. The water is so murky that I cannot see the whale shark. I cannot even see Mr Chicago in the water near me. We do this three separate times, and each time I see nothing.

On the third jump I come back to the boat, frustrated. Cookie has the cowl off the outboard and he is pouring seawater on top of the motor. There is a plume of white smoke coming from somewhere inside. Now, normally I am comfortable on a boat, but bobbing around in a chop is a deal breaker for me. I get seasick and lose my Perla Taverna breakfast. And then again. And then again. And again. Mrs Chicago is also sick and as she blows chunks over the side of the boat she is dangling her newborn over the water.

Meanwhile, Mr Chicago has surfaced far from our boat, and he gestures with what we later learn are hello waves. Mrs Chicago panics. She tells us that he is not a good swimmer and that he is in distress. Will someone save her husband—he is drowning?

We are dead in the water. Mrs Chicago is freaking out. I am still woozie.

As it turns out, we are not the only panga to seek out this spot in the bay. Mr Chicago is actually closer to a different boat and he pulls himself onboard. Cookie and Alex wave to get the other boat’s attention. I am not really sure if they ever did understand our distress from a distance or if Mr Chicago had asked them to taxi him back to our boat (he would have had no compunction doing that). Nonetheless they did come over and agreed to take us all back to shore. So keep in mind that we now have about a good 2 ft chop. At regular intervals one boat is 4 feet above the other. This is the moment when we are transferring passengers from one boat to another. Because of the chop, we cannot let the boats touch, so Mrs Chicago is passing her baby across 2 feet of water into Mr Chicago’s wet arms. She is up and he is down. He is up and she is down. They pass in the middle but they are not fast enough to make the exchange. “I will do it for you” Alex announces. He holds out his hands to take the baby. I am now wondering if I will read about this tragedy when I get home. Or maybe it will be a Keith Morrison report about the Mexican honeymoon that went bad under suspicious circumstances. But Alex is a boater and he hops across into the other boat without a problem.  Mrs Chicago and I follow.

We leave poor Cookie with the disabled boat. He will wait for one of the other Cantamar pangas to come and get him. But first we will have to get back to the office and tell them to do that. There are no radios aboard.

When one goes out in a panga (or almost any chartered boat) it is commonplace to tip the captain and your guide. In this case we had two captains to tip, which I did. Mr Chicago just walked away.

Back at the office I am wondering what we are going to do about the 2nd part of the “combo”. Are we still going to Los Islotes?  The manager in the office tells me there now isn’t enough time. He has pulled my cash from his drawer and is ready to give it all back to me. They are surprised to learn I am not pissed off and that I understand stuff goes wrong on boats all the time. I still want to go to Los Islotes.

“OK, Brianna From Milwaukee. Come back tomorrow morning at 8:30.” he says with a smile. “We will go to the islands on the big boat.”

 It is another beautiful evening in La Paz. I wander the Malecón and stop at Rancho Viejas for their famous carne asada tacos. The aroma had been driving me crazy ever since I got to LaPaz.

While you are waiting for your entré they bring out a large tray of fixxins. A beautiful Talavera platter from the city of Puebla.

 You have the ubiquitous Mexican pickled onions, shredded cabbage, pickled Jalapeños, lime slices, a large bowl of fresh pico and a delightful salsa verde that must have had crema added to it.

I would have taken a picture of the tacos but I ate them all before I could think of it.

What a wonderful, exciting Wednesday it had been. I watched a few back-to-back episodes of Deadbeat with English subtitles and drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be even better. Snorkeling with the sea lions.

Thursday, January 29th

I am waiting on the beach in the early morning light, expecting a big panga to show up. Maybe it will one of those with the colorful bimini top. "No," explains the mager. "We will take the van out to get the big boat." Although this seems a little sketchy, I agree (because there are other passengers in the van). We drive out past Balandra, stopping at the resorts and the ferry terminal along the way to pick up more people. By the time we get out to Club Cantamar we have collected 8 people.

 The resort has both a multi-story hotel and luxurious stand-alone casitas. They also have a large marina. In USA-terms it is hard to tell if the place is still under construction or if it has fallen into disrepair. The marina is huge. Our driver has only a few words for us. "El barco está aquí, los baños están ahí." he says which means simply: The boat is here and the bathrooms are over there." What more did we need to know?

We leave the harbor on a NNW heading. Our captain El Morsa (The old walrus) gets the big
boat up on plane and we skim across the water at about 20 knots. Looking out at the rough water, I am SO glad we are not attempting this in a small panga. It looks like they typically have this boat set up as a dive boat. There are several storage racks for tanks and gear. There are only 8 of us but the boat could easily handle 20 people.

We are only a few minutes out when we are flanked by a pod of a dozen playful dolphins. They jump through our wake in unison, speed off in different directions, then reunite for their next jump. It is totally choreographed and totally surreal. It’s like a fake Disney moment, except it’s really happening.

It is only a few minutes before Isla Espiritu Santos comes into clear view on our starboard side. El Morsa slows down the boat and steers closer to the coastline. We can see the beautiful contrast between the aggregate rock formations and the placid turquoise lagoons with their slivers of cream-colored sand. One beach is the one that Rick Bayless visited with his Baja Adventure tour. Another has the permanent tents used by students.

We hug the coastline and pass several other bays and lagoons. The occasional cruising sailboat sits peacefully at anchor.

Past Espiritu Santos and past Isla Partida we arrive at the sea lion colony on Los Islotes. That is the small white dot above Partida on the map. We inch into the cove and I see there are at least 3 other boats here already. Cantamar has placed a permanent buoy in the cove so it only takes a few minutes to tie off while we all put on our flippers and masks. “How long can we stay?” Someone asks.

“You can stay as long as you like.” says our guide. “When all of you are ready to go home, we will go home.” That is the laid-back attitude I quickly came to love in La Paz. We had the whole day and there was no rush.

I had seen pictures of the cove so I knew exactly what it would look like, but I wasn’t prepared for the smell. It reeks of stinking fish. At first it is almost overwhelming, but then you get used to it. And the noise is constant. The sea lions bark at us and at each other, and also just for the heck of it. Our guide gives us the rundown—stay away from the rocks and don’t touch the sea lions. Later I learned that the big male bulls sit up on the rocks and it is the young females who jump into the water—not to greet you and be pals, but to check you out and keep an eye on you in case you decide to climb up on the rocks.

One by one we slip of the end of the boat into the water. It’s probably about 20 feet deep. Because of the ongoing weather it’s not totally clear, but it’s much better than the day before. The sea lions are really fast. They swim behind me, in front of me, disappearing and reappearing like ninjas. I scramble to take pictures but they are too fast. This would be the perfect time for a Go Pro. Up close they really have big teeth. It’s a good thing they don’t consider us food.

The water is cool but not cold. If you asked a local, they would say it’s very cold this time of year. I see a cool shell below, resting on one of the big rocks on the bottom, but when I try to dive down and get it my wetsuit keeps me on the surface. Yikes, I am too buoyant. That was unexpected.

I am in and out several times. Taking short breaks on the boat’s swim platform. The waterproof case I got for my smartphone is working well. It is keeping the phone dry. In the cool water the touchscreen function is spotty at best. I missed several great sea lion shots because the phone couldn’t feel my finger touching the shutter.
The situation was laughable, because I had planned out every detail of the day. But then when I am hanging in the water next to the sea lion colony in the sea of Cortez with my snorkel on, looking at a sea lion swimming right towards me, I cannot press the shutter. 

One by one we all migrate back to the boat and there are fixxins below deck to make sandwiches. It is amazing how hungry we all were after snorkeling around for an hour. Soon we are underway, and as I sit on the deck, reviewing my blurry images of sea lion tails, it occurs to me that this has been an amazing, incredible day. I have never done anything like this before. It is something I will remember forever.

This time we make a bee-line back to the mainland at full speed. Playa Balandra comes into view on our port side. I can see the little mushroom rock and the beautiful blue water. We slow down and the boat pulls into the bay. Surprise. We have time to stop at Balandra and do some kayaking. Yayyy!!

Because the bay is so shallow we have to drop anchor quite far out. The captain drops the 4 kayaks we have been carrying into the water. We take turns shuttling each other to the beach. A couple of people dive from the boat and swim to the shore.

This was a special treat for me. To get another chance to swim around Balandra with my snorkel and see the little fish darting about. I still had my water shoes on so I decided to go ashore and hike up one of the trails on the headland, just for a different point of view. No sooner did I get up to the top and the captain starting blowing the boat’s horn. We were all to come back to the boat right away someone shouted. When I ran down the hill and got closer to our guide he elaborated. “Come on, hurry, the captain has seen a whale.”

We all scrambled back on the boat and the captain headed west away from the land. We came to a full stop, all eyes on the water. We scanned the horizon, all cameras at the ready. Everyone silent. “There!” someone shouted as the whale briefly breached. Quickly we were underway again, hoping to get a closer look. We spent about an hour and saw the whale spout several more times. Then, it was decided, he had gone. With that we finally headed back to Cantamar marina and made our way back onto the van. On the way back to La Paz it seemed like the van was ready to give out several times, when we had to go up a hill. But we made it back to my beloved Malecon. As we all went our separate ways I made one last stop at the office to thank them once again. What an amazing adventure. What a great day.

That night, I walked East along the Malecon and had dinner at Calypso. They are famous for their shrimp and they did not disappoint. The restaurant is like two spaces with an open-air hallway in between them. Just like Tres Virgenes, they have interesting sauces. One is simple but delicious. It’s simply crema with hot sauce.

Back at the hotel it is my last night in La Paz. I look at my pictures over and over again. I can’t believe I am really here.

Friday January 30, 2015

Although the plane doesn’t leave until about 4 in the afternoon on Friday, the afternoon bus to Los Cabos is full so I have to take the 9 am bus.

I am up early. I pack up and leave all my remaining Mexican money in the room for the maid. It isn’t much, but it is all I have left in my account.  I wander the Malecon one last time and sit on a bench, looking out at the sea. I check in with the bus station every now and then to make sure things are still on schedule. It is that weird part of a vacation where you realize that you are sitting on a street in one place, feeling the sand between your toes and the sun on your face, but you know that later in the same day you will be back home in Wisconsin. Later that same day you will be snuggled in your bed at home. In some ways, like it never happened. You know that the following day you will go for groceries and maybe put some gas in the car. You will want to shout out to the strangers around you that you were swimming with seas lions.

It’s a 3 hour drive back to San Juan Del Cabo. My head is still swimming with my adventures. When we stop at Todos Santos for a break I search out el Banco and consider using their ATM. “Sólo diez minutos.” The driver reminds us. I run up the sandy street to the bank, but unlike the modern bank in La Paz it is the older “Grab-your-card” kind so I don’t risk it. The departure terminal at the airport is pretty straight forward. Gate 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 all in a row. The crowd is a real mix. All the eco tourists looking like hippies, the wealthy folk who came down to Cabo to go sportfishing and perhaps spend time on their yacht, and the last of the hold-out students who came down to Cabo to party over winter break.

After a short flight I am in Texas. US Customs doesn’t even ask me what’s in my backpack. There is a line but someone tells me I don’t need to wait in the line and I am ushered through. Back in the USA.

The Dallas airport is huge. It has the longest escalator I have ever seen. Like Philadelphia, there are dozens of cool restaurants and shops. I settle for Papasito’s Mexican Cantina. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Considering it was in an airport in Dallas, it really was quite good.

The airport is divided into sections that are connected by very fast “trains” which work on some elaborate system that manages to get everyone where they need to go. It’s quite amazing. 

The flight into Milwaukee glides in over the southern tip of lake Michigan in the darkness. There are the lights of Gary, the huge sprawl of Chicago, Kenosha, Racine and finally Milwaukee. Kim is at the airport to pick me up and take us back to our snuggly home. It’s about 10:30 or 11:30. The dogs are excited to see me. Kim is excited to see me. I am home. I am safe. I am loved. And I will never forget my days in La Paz.