On top of the rock

On top of the rock
Our Cliff

Sunday, June 27, 2010


This morning we had our normal walk on the beach, with one exception. Maurice now walks with a bucket, in his swimming suit, weaving in and out of the surf catching his little bait/crab things. Today he caught about 10!

Right now, on our porch, he is sitting with Javelin, a man who owns a local blanket factory. They are drinking coffee and tying fish line. Javelin fishes here daily, since he arrived back from the main land, and is going to take Maurice. I love the cadence of his and Maurice’s speech. Gentle Spanish and nice laughter. Maurice is happy.

Retro is inside with me, sans cage. He is a good guy, except his likes to chew every little thing he can wrap his white pointy teeth around!! He has a raw hide stick right now. It is 11:30 and I can tell it will be a lazy day.

I have a favor to ask all of you. We are working on our web site and are trying to come up with meta tags to plant on our home page. These are the words that one would use in their search for a place like Arriba de la Roca. So if you were looking to discover a place like we have, what words would you choose in your search? The normal ones would be B&B or boutique hotel, which we will use. If you could help us come up with other ideas and e-mail them to me I would really appreciate it.

My e-mail is srbranzanti@gmail.com

Hope your having a great Sunday and the sun is also shining in your world...that is of course unless your name is J9!! She likes clouds and snow...so for you Jeannine, I hope you are under a shade tree figuring out how you can beat me in Scrabulous!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

That was a first!

Two great things happened to us today. I will start with my experience since it occurred first. Today was the day I got to canter across the surf on the beach below Arriba de la Roca. True to her word, Bobbi followed up with me and took me horseback riding. She and her partner Mike have two grown horses and a 5 month old foal. I rode Mike’s horse, Bubba, and the baby came along with Bobbie while she rode her horse Pearly.

I have not ridden for years but when I was younger I used to ride all the time at a place called, Randrup’s Ramunda; in Nekoosa, Wisconsin. My friends and I went there so often they would let us saddle the horses and take them out on our own. It was a blast.

This time Bobbi did the saddling and I mounted the horse - almost as easily as I used to when I was younger. Before our ride, I imagined myself flying across the sand, wind in my hair, the horse at a steady gate under my thighs. You see the last time this exciting sensation happened to me was in 1988.

My friend Mary and I were in Egypt. I had met a guy from Qatar, who was on vacation there, and he took us riding a couple of times. One night, in a hot pink dress, with HUGE shoulder pads - purchased just for the occasion - I rode across the Sahara desert at midnight. No I did not purchase the dress to go riding. I purchased the dress to go out for dinner, as Mary and I had not packed things to “dress up” in. So after dinner, Khalifa (that was his name) asked if I wanted to go smoke a hookah with his friends in the desert. Of course I said yes. For those of you who do not know, a hookah is a tall pipe, very common in the mid-east, with twisted tubes that the tobacco (yes, tobacco) travels through to enhance the flavor.

Next thing I know we are in a barn of sorts, at the base of the pyramids, smoking a hookah with a few locals. It turns out these were the same guys that we had rented the horses from on our previous daytime rides. Well one thing led to another and soon I am cantering across the desert, under a full moon in a hot pink dress that is hiked up around my hips, with my shoulder pads flapping in the wind. Now that is a memory that will stick with me forever!! I would guess Khalifa’s memory of it would be him and his friend chasing after me on their horses, screaming at me to stop. I did not know that the sands often shift on the desert floor and they were afraid the horse may fall into a hole. Their worries were not really for me, but the poor horse, I am sure!

So now I have a chance to relive this sensation...and I did!!...kind of. The difference was this time I felt anxious!! Bobbi, was as patient as can be, and told me I had just not “found my stride” yet. So we would walk the horses and talk and then take off for a good run and I would say...."whoooo” and pull back on the reins much sooner than I would have 20 years ago. My knees started hurting and my legs were shaking slightly. Maybe if I would have smoked a hookah first...

Anyway, I still LOVED IT!! Bubba was a great horse and I know we will go again. Next time she wants to take a lunch and go further. I may need a few more practice runs before I head up into the mountains for the 5 hour ride she has in mind. In the meantime I love my life!!! YEEHA!!! I am now a Mexican cowgirl!!!

Now for Maurice’s “first”. He has been watching and speaking with the local fisherman for a long time. He has been trying to perfect a technique they use to catch their bait. What they do is wade into the surf and just as it recedes they look for a specific movement in the sand that indicates there is a certain type of crab there. I saw one and it looks kind of like a multi-legged, white flea, which is about the size of your fingernail. If you are lucky enough to catch one you can put it on your pole as bait.

Yesterday Maurice was lucky enough to catch one. After he was soaking wet from the effort he put it on the end of his home made lure. He twisted metal, like the locals do, to create a hook of sorts and put this crab thing on the end. After 4 casts he caught a fish!! He was so excited. Retro and I went to see him on the beach but at that time he was still trying to catch a piece of bait. When he was walking back with the biggest grin on his face I knew he got lucky.

He cleaned and gutted the fish. We did not eat it then cause we went to Bobbi and Mike’s for dinner. So now the guy is wrapped in our refrigerator. I will grill him for Maurice tomorrow. He was so happy with his success!!

I did not get any pictures of me riding, but here is my dear husband with his first fish. He tells me it is 22 inches and about 64 pounds. Of course Retro is helping him. YEHAA!! Maurice is now a Mexican fisherman!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


My friend Tara gave me a great gift. She loaned me a book entitled, “The Book of Bright Ideas.” Although I think this is a book women would appreciate more then men, I am suggesting you pick it up. It is a quick read and a great story as told through the eyes of a nine year old girl, in the summer of 1961.

1961, whether you are old enough to remember, or were not even born yet, was the start of a decade that certainly was a transitional time for women, as well as the world. When you read the book you will understand women's roles back then. They were subservient to their husbands, at the same time were the backbone of their families. This particular story shows how through a series of events and adventures, many people’s lives, men and women, were changed during this summer in 1961.

The summer of 1961 was probably around the same time that my mother had an adventure of her own. My father had passed away and she was a very attractive widow in our small town of Wisconsin Rapids. I am sure she had many opportunities presented to her during this time. Opportunities to go out for dinner, or maybe even a movie. Opportunities to maybe even go out of town, which even back then only meant one thing!! Instead she chose to stay home with us and be the best mom!! While doing this job, like most women back then, she wore dresses that came to below the knee and were belted around her small waist. She wore high heals and cooked and cleaned and took care of all us kids, albeit it sometimes with a belt in her hand chasing us down the road.

One opportunity presented itself to her that she could not turn down. My cousin Violet, who was also pretty hot and looked like she was rich, was approached by a man to purchase a business in New York City. She told him that she did not have the money but her cousin Beverly did. So she and my mom cooked up this scheme (I say scheme since my mother did not have any money at all) and this man flew my mother to New York City to hopefully purchase his toy factory.

Now, keep in mind, when you read this book, “The Book of Bright Ideas”, that this was the time period my mother took off, with a strange guy, for an adventure. She was in her early 30’s and this to her was an opportunity that she could not turn down. An all expense paid trip to New York, being “wined and dined” while pretending she had the money to buy a business!!!!!

She tells the story of how when they took her to the factory, in her newly purchased suit, high heels and matching hat, everything was covered in dust and there were some “plants” there, pretending to be working. She said they must have thought she was very dumb!!! She played the game and went along with the charade. I mean, they flew her to New York after all!! In the typical naivety of the time she did not fear for her safety, although now she thinks of what could have happened to her....a beautiful young woman, raised on a farm. Innocent, yet so looking for story to tell. She sure got one!!!

Our family did not end up owning a toy factory. We did end up though with a mom, who once this adventure occurred, never stopped looking for the next fun thing to do and see. She still lives this way, almost 50 years later.

Some say I have a lot of her in me. Writing to you from my new home in the Baja, I think they are right. Thank you Mom.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tinker Toys

Most people have memories of playing with Tinker Toys as children. Many enjoyed this type of play...Maurice was one of these children. He enjoyed the act of building, creating, and figuring out what block fits where and how many can you stack on top of each other before they fall.

The last 4 months on Arriba de la Roca have been the ultimate in Tinker Toy play. This Wednesday, the 23rd of June, will mark the 16 week anniversary since our workers began building, creating and figuring out which blocks fit where. Maurice has been there every step of the way. He has maintained a record of what they have done, what we have done, and how this whole process has gotten to where it is today. As of now they are done with our construction, or as they refer to it in the Baja, The Obra Negra.

To accomplish this, the workers have used 15 metric tons of re-bar, along with 3.8 metric tons of steel. We watched them cut, drag, twist, turn and manipulate this material into unshakable forms used to create the basic structure of our dream.

We have had 9000 concrete blocks delivered, off loaded, then re-loaded and driven to the top by Senor Backhoe Retro, which were used in the construction of our walls.

The workers dragged 700 4x4x10 wooden beams up the cliff so they could support the wood panels on which to pour our cement ceilings. (The wood beams and panels are all removed when the cement dries) 500 cubic meters of sand, 123 cubic meters of stone, 88 tons or 1760 bags of cement, along with 220,000 liters or 220 tons of water were used in the creation of the cement needed to hold it all together.

To add the stone finishing and pathways we used another 70 square meters of piedra, which is stone facing.

On the list, meticulously kept by Maurice, we also purchased one broom.

All this took 13,800 man hours.

12 more weeks is the amount of time it will take to complete our dream. We will do all the finishing work, including the pool, terrace all the grounds, as well as landscape them. We still need to pick out, or have made:

Doors, windows, lights, an entire kitchen for inside the house, a kitchen for the outside of the house, appliances, bathroom fixtures for 6 different styled bathrooms, paint colors, wood finishes, a dining room set, as well as a sofa set for the main room, closets, flooring and tiles, sinks, toilets, faucets, mirrors, beds for each casita, linens for everyplace...high quality linens and towels which you can not find here...ceiling fans, sky lights, art work, patio furniture for 4 patios and furniture that will hold up in the sun and salt air for around the pool, cushions for 5 cement sofas scattered around the property, hammocks (pronounced HAM AUK) Mexican accent pieces and garden gnomes (O.K. not really, but wanted to see if you were paying attention. No garden gnomes) a web site with photographs and flash and Paypal...I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Maurice says he does not really care what I choose to add all the final elements. I have learned though this is true only until I bring an idea or paint color home...then he REALLY cares. It would be so much easier if he just said, “yes dear”.....and that would be ohhhhh so boring!!! I do now have one pillow in which we will do the entire Casita Pacifica around. That is a start. Now I am relieved………

Luckily I was the one who liked to set up my Barbie Dream Home when I was little. Actually it was a homemade Barbie Dream Home, made of glued together shoes boxes, paint and lots of glitter. It was prefect!!! Tinker Toys for Maurice, and a Barbie Dream Home for me...No wonder Maurice and I make a great pair.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Since we are on the top of a very high and steep cliff we could not get a cement truck on top so all the cement for our project has had to be mixed by hand. What we have is a round portable cement mixer that the workers have used to hand mix every bag of cement used to build our dream.

The process is so perfectly executed it is like watching the most fabulous dance team in competition.

First there are two men who fill large buckets with fine sand.
There is another man who fills the same size bucket with large, very loose rock. One man fills buckets with water and one man carries the 50 lb bags of cement to the mixer. One man runs the machine to create the cement and then dumps it into a wheel barrel.

So the dance begins....
As quickly as you can imagine human beings move the dance occurs. A load of heavy gravel is dumped into the mixer...then one bucket of sand, while the original “rock” dumper runs to get another bucket. . This is dumped in followed by another bucket of sand. There are three buckets of water added while the cement bag is being dumped into the mixture. The machine runs continually while all the dumping happens.

When the materials are turned into actual cement, which happens rather quickly, it is dumped into the wheel barrel. Then all this has to be put into other buckets to be passed to the people using the cement.

Yesterday they were laying the roof on our private area. This is the only two story building in our project. On the main floor is our bedroom. We then have a loft on top which will serve as Maurice’s “man cave.” He will have his office there, all his books, desk and if we have a TV it will also be there. The ceiling of this room, is obviously the roof. It is high. About 36 ft up. How do Mexican workers get cement up there to create our roof? They do it bucket by bucket, passing it from person to person, up a scaffold...Actually three scaffolds...on top of each other. This to me is the most beautiful part of the dance.
The noise, the laughter, the shouting, all creates such an excitement it is palatable. While these 16 workers are busy passing the cement up the scaffolds, the cement “makers” go back to filling their buckets for the next mixer full.

The movement is fluid and flawless. The strength and effort it takes to do this work is awe inspiring.

The roof/floor/ceiling is done. This is the last of the major construction to be completed on our project. Now we begin the finishing and the prep work for the terracing around the buildings. Tuesday we celebrate. The guys are making “Carne Asada” on a fire inside our main room. We will pay for the food and bring drinks and I am making brownies. When we told them we were celebrating on Tuesday they asked if they could cook the Carne Asada, their favorite.

Even when they had a chance to not have to work, and have their meal “catered” to them, they still chose to not sit by and do nothing. They will cook their own lunch to celebrate their accomplishments.

I think these men are amazing, and there is not a hard hat among them!!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010



I have to admit that not everything is “hunky dory” down here. Yes, the sun shines. Yes, we live on the ocean. Yes, we are building our dream surrounded, by people we really like. We appreciate our workers and what we are doing for us...but they are driving me crazy!!!!! I CAN NOT STAND IT!!!!!

Do you remember in North America about 30 or 40 years ago when they started doing the anti-litter campaigns? They were educating people not to litter and to take care of your garbage. You began seeing signs on the road and the government starting imposing fines for people who threw out their garbage, or cans, or bags. I mean this happened so long ago it seems like we have also known NOT to litter. The thought to me is crazy!! Who on earth would litter???

Toronto used to be one of the cleanest cities on earth. It is still very clean for a city of 4 million people, but it is not as “pure” as it was 15 years ago. What happens is that people move there from other countries where people have not been as educated as the rest of us. They come from countries where people still litter. Since they were never taught not to litter, they come to Toronto and do what they know. Throw stuff on the street. It is a shame...

Here in Mexico they have never taught their people what to do with their garbage. You travel the highways and roads and see garbage everywhere. It is very irritating. You will be following a truck and the driver will toss his wrapper out the window. Some areas are covered with thousand of pieces of crap, blown around and deposited against some poor guy’s fence.

On our job site, literally from day one, I have been asking our workers to take care of their garbage, which in Mexico is called basura. I will say, “No basura, por favor.” I will try to explain the wind blows papers around and if I find paper etc stuck on a rock and I have to look at it since no one can reach it to pick it up, I will be very sad. I will go up there almost everyday and say, “No basura, por favor.” We will bring up garbage bags for them to use. Maurice even bought a huge garbage can for up top, and as you know we take everything to the dump for them.

So why does it shock me when everyday I still find garbage up on top???

This is what they do. They sit inside one of the rooms, or somewhere outside and they eat. They may eat corn on the cob. They may eat chicken. They may eat boiled eggs, or tortillas wrapped in tin foil with plastic bags filled with salsa. It really does not matter what they eat, or what type of container brought the food to them, since when they are done, they stand and walk away. THEY STAND AND WALK AWAY. They do not pick up the egg shells, or the empty ears of corn, or the chicken bones, or the wrappers. NOTHING. THEY STAND UP AND WALK AWAY. One day, in one of the casitas I found orange rinds from about 50 oranges. It looked like someone peeled all these oranges and had a food fight with the peels. NOT HAPPY!!

Retro LOVES going up there, as you can imagine. He sniffs and chews endlessly. I go up sometimes and some of them quickly start to pick stuff up when they see me. Lately, they do not even bother doing that. Saturday Maurice and I went into the main room of our home. Now to be fair, these guys work so hard it is incredible. I guess at home when they are done eating, their wives, or mothers pick up after them. I am not their wife or their mother, so on Saturday, after walking up the road and finding blown Doritos wrappers, plastic pop bottles, food wrappers, not to mention every empty cement bag for the last week, all just laying around we walked into our main room. There was food everywhere, since lunch had ended about an hour before. I WENT NUTS!! No more, “No basura, por favor.” It was more like “WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH YOU PEOPLE…..!!!!! BASURA AQUI (as I am handing our garbage bags) FINITO CAMIDO BASURA AQUI, NOT AYEE AYEE AYEE. I MEAN IT!! NO MORE BASURA!! NONE! NIENTE! NADA!!! NO MORE BASURA. I was hyperventilating so bad I thought I would faint. They just stared at me with their mouths open. You see, I do not think they really understand the concept of NO BASURA!!!! A few of the workers did go around then and pick up everything they could find....that they considered garbage. They did not pick up the small pieces of Styrofoam, or scraps of paper, but at least they filled a few bags full of stuff.

Have I now taught them to pick up their garbage?? Of course not. Out of the 23 workers only about 5 saw and heard my rant. Has the news spread??? Probably, but it will not be the news of “NO MORE BASURA” It will be the news of the crazy women who does not want them to leave their food around for the dogs to eat...or some such crazy thing.

I can not change the mentality of the people here but I DO NOT WANT GARBAGE ON MY CLIFF!!! Por favor……

P.S. Yesterday, Tuesday,was the workers first day back since they work Tuesday through Saturday. When we got up there, Don Jose, the BIG boss, who did not see my rant, started picking up the garbage from lunch. Really there were just a couple of things left around. I did not say anything. Then one of the workers came up to me and told me his job was to pick up all the garbage everyday (he speaks very good English) and asked me to bring him more bags. I asked him why HE had to do this??? I said, "Why don't the guys pick up their own garbage!!! It is easy. Eat. Put the garbage in the can!!!" He said they were not trained that way, but he was. I told him that was not fair. He said it was O.K. He did not mind. Hmmmm.....let's see if this new cleanliness lasts...I sure hope so! It was nice not to see garbage blowing around, although Retro was pretty sad!!!

Friday, June 11, 2010


Today is my friend Susana’s birthday. When you are friends with Susana, June 11th is a national holiday. It is a date you hear about from June 12th, until the following June 11th. I have celebrated them with her for 17 years, until now. I guess this is another thing that I need to get accustomed to...missing celebrations for people I love.

Since I have been living here I have also realized I am missing the daily conversation that takes place among friends. You know, the things that you ultimately can never catch up on because you were not there to hear about them at the moment they happened. The quick, funny stories you so often share with friends when you have access to them every day. For Susana and me these happened often. She and I worked together for 17 years. We shared so many things during this time. We shared funny stories, ones we ran down the hall to tell each other, knowing no one would laugh as hard at them as we would together. Then there were the stories we knew we could only trust to one in other. There were many of those....

Susana was on mat leave twice during our time together. Two years in total that were the longest two years of my career.

Susana has taught me much in our time together. She taught me how to play Blackjack; one night just over the border into Quebec, oh so may years ago. She taught me how to laugh so hard that water came out my nose. She introduced Maurice and me to her home land of Portugal, as we spent two weeks driving from city to city. She also introduced us to Victoria BC for 4 glorious days one fall..back about 8 years ago. We have taken cooking lessons together. I have skied with her in the mountains of British Columbia and laid on many docks with her in Northern Ontario. She always had a way of talking through things with me when I was upset. She was there for me when I needed her. She taught me to shop and spend money...well O.K. I admit, I knew that before, but she would say she taught me to dress “Toronto” instead of Wisconsin! She taught me how to say hammock, liquor, dollar, and foyer....in “English” not Wisconsin...and the list goes on. You do not “grill out” you BBQ. You do not use “blush on” you use “blush”...I could write a whole blog on the things she makes fun of me for!!

Your lessons are with me daily and I want to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY my friend. I am with you in spirit. I am toasting you and I wish you much happiness and peace in your 43rd year! I love you.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I think we came up with names for the casitas. The one on the south is very private and has a great view of the Pacific Ocean. This is the one that has a cross type of opening on the wall. We are going to put glass blocks in this opening since it is the window in the shower. The shower will also be made of glass blocks. This room will be a king room. They put an arch as the entry to the patio while I was away. Not sure about it. I keep thinking we need to make it angular, since there are no arches anywhere, but maybe not. Anyway we may name this one Casita Pacifica because of the view.

When you are on the patio of the second casita you have a view of the south and north beaches, but the mountains stretch out in front of you. The mountain range throughout the Baja is called Sierra de la Laguna. We may name this Casita la Laguna. This room has a great round window that when you are laying in your queen bed you can look up the north coast, all the way up to Cerritos beach. We are making this room all flagstone, with a sunken bathtub, also made of flagstone.

The casita that is attached to our house we are kind of thinking will be for family so we are putting two queen beds in it. The locals call the place where we are building “La Boca” which means “mouth”. We thought to name this room Casita la Boca, since the view is up the north coast, all along “la boca”. We are making this casita have a red brick arch and design behind the beds to appear like we left some of the original wall, which would have been brick. The shower and bath is being patterned after a Moroccan bath I saw in a book.

When I was gone they blocked in the pool and hot tub. This week they will be cementing over the block. The pool wraps around two sides of the main room of the house and the hot tub is right outside our bedroom door.

The stone path which we will use to bring people and luggage up to the top is done and you will notice it in some of the pictures. It begins in our parking area and wraps around Casita la Laguna and ends by Casita la Boca. What do you think of the names????

Our bedroom is being built now. It is on the north side of the construction and will have a loft on top so Maurice can have his “man cave” as my sister Barbara named it. This will serve as his office and if we decide to have a TV it will be up there. Not sure if we will name this room or not. We will offer it for rent but only if someone takes the whole place for a week. 4 rooms total. Would be good for 10 people. Maurice and I would then move back into our bodega. At least that is the plan now but who knows.

Here are some pictures I took yesterday morning, before the sun cracked through the sky. I love these cool mornings, especially walking on the beach. Maybe I will take my camera tomorrow and capture Retro chasing the crabs on the beach. Sometimes he wins and sometimes the crabs do. It is a funny sight.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My first week back

I really do not think I could have had a lazier week. I have been back 5 full days and have done nothing. Yes, I cleaned the bodega. Yes, I washed the inside and the outside of the truck. Yes, we walked a couple of miles a day with Retro, sometimes both in the morning and at night. Yes, I did some watering. Yes, we went shopping one full day, buying groceries and some paint etc. Daily we went up to the construction site and made changes, adjustments or decisions. We also had them remove two walls my very first day back. I read two books. I went to do some banking. I cook, do dishes, changed our sheets and took our landry into town. We even made it to pizza night on Wednesday, and went out for dinner and drinks with friends on Saturday.

Reading that list above and it seems like the week was rather full. It wasn’t. Why did I feel everyday that I did absolutely nothing? I did not even do a posting on my blog. My excuse was that we were having internet problems, and still are, but in reality it took too much effort. I do not think I have ever felt so lazy....

We wake up in the morning. We have coffee, then take Retro for his morning walk up the beach. The mornings right now are cloudy, overcast and cool. They feel like we are on the coast of Oregon or Washington. Most mornings you can not even see the mountain range through the atmosphere. We are not sure if it is the time of year, or if this is abnormal. We wear jackets and the air is fresh and clean. A new group of yoga people arrived here on Saturday but before that we were the only people on the beach. Everyday. No matter what time of day. We were the only ones on the beach. We like that. Now there are about 12 people on our beach. Not happy about that!!

Around 10 or 11 it starts to clear up and the sun is once again bright and warm. Maurice has been building cabinets for the kitchen in our bodega. I do nothing. I wander around, read, putz, really laze around. After 5 weeks of running non-stop, which was my entire life before, I am now back here doing nothing.

Today I will go up and take some pictures to post. The progress is amazing. They tell us it will be done in September. There is a lot to do before then….on my part. Today I made a list of t things I want to accomplish this week. We already did our walk. Now I am taking Retro to the vet for some shots. He is now 34 pounds! He is really growing and is a wonderful dog. We are so happy with him!!! I think he is happy with us, too. After I am done with that I have to go to the bank and pay some bills. Then I will find an internet connection and post this to the blog. That is what is on my list for today. I will also make dinner. I am exhausted thinking about it!

Such the life in Mexico….I still have not stopped smiling…..