Saturday, July 31, 2010


In the course of transferring files over to my new computer (my old HP notebook crashed and burned–ay caray!), I came upon the folder of photos I'd taken in the aftermath of Hurricane John–a direct hit on our little Baja beach community of Cabo Pulmo, four years before. The memories came flooding back, as though it was yesterday. The morning after, I'd written an email to friends and loved ones, which I copy below. Interestingly, even the weblink the to storm track has survived! Thought I'd share this little recuerdo from ol' Baja...

Dear friends and family,

I thought that sitting out a hurricane would be fun. It was not. As far as I can tell, the eye of the storm passed directly over Cabo Pulmo ( This was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall here, with winds around 150 mph. As of this morning, the storm has passed and it’s raining intermittently. Nobody was injured. Everyone has suffered property damage. (I was here solo as Diane was in Marin dealing with our house up there.)

I spent most of Thursday making preparations, then most of yesterday (Friday) waiting for something to happen. By late afternoon it started getting very windy, but I felt I had taken all the reasonable precautions. When the rain went horizontal, water began dribbling down the patio walls. I went around placing kitchen towels, eventually breaking out the bath towels too. Little did I know!

The wind was blowing hard from the NNE, so the main patio was a refuge of sorts. I moved the patio furniture inside and closed the flop-up kitchen windows. I left the half-wagon wheels open, thinking to relieve the pressure differential inside the house. Our semi-enclosed bedroom was fine, other than a bit of water drooling down the walls. I was enjoying the storm at this point, and decided to fix myself a drink. I squeezed a pomegranate from our tree into a cocktail shaker, added lots of crushed ice and a jigger of vodka, and gave it a shake. Delicious! I settled into the bentwood rocker on the patio, and starting recording the experience in my notebook. The wind increased a couple notches and the air became thick with mist (even though I was on the lee side). So I dragged the rocker into our bedroom area and prepared to retreat into the house. I noticed that the window behind our bed had sucked open from the back-eddy of wind coming around the corner of the house. After futilely trying to fix it shut (there’s no latch), I gave up, bundled up our bedding, and brought it into the living room. I also noticed that the bi-fold French windows were jiggling on their latches. I was going to brave one last run to the garage to get some clamps to secure it better, but got distracted (which I was later to regret!).

I took a seat on the sofa, started getting concerned. Then I heard a metallic clatter and saw the BBQ lid bounce along the patio. I reached out the door and grabbed it. Then I heard a loud scraping sound as the bent-wood chair and set of iron-base nesting tables clattered across the patio. I had overturned them and wedged them into the corner of the tiled concrete BBQ base, but the wind had wrested them loose. So I grabbed them and dragged them inside, too.

The half-wagon wheel window over the kitchen sink slamming shut really got my attention! The skylight lid over the kitchen started bumping and rattling like a snare drum. Then it stopped (as I was to later learn, it went flying!). All the windows in the house were shaking and rattling on their latches and hinges, like a possessed demon-house out of a grade B horror flick. At one point I was pushing against the north door thinking to reinforce it, realizing that all that’s keeping it shut is the knob lock and the strike plate in the jamb! I was honestly terrified.

I retreated to the Bat Cave, our 3’x 5’ concrete corner closet with steel door. We designed it into the house to provide secure storage in our absence and to serve as a safe place in a hurricane. I’m sure glad it was there! I noticed the storm lightening a bit. The window clatter lessened. I emerged from the Bat Cave to see the entire floor under an inch of water. I looked around to assess damage and tentatively went out onto the patio. I noticed a solar panel dangling over the roof edge, and saw others in the yard. Juan Angel (our mariachi sculpture) had been knocked over and decapitated.

Gradually, it went utterly calm. As I was to later learn, this calm was the eye of the storm passing directly overhead. I went up onto our roof patio and took in a scene of total devastation. The Castro water tank was gone, toppled from its 50’ high tower. There were huge waves breaking left off the Cabo Pulmo point. I got cable cutters and cut loose the solar panels. I thought to jury-rig a temporary shutter over the skylight, but I noticed the wind picking up again so I thought better of it. I went back downstairs and grabbed the squeegee, pushing the water out of the house. Was I ever naïve!

The wind began to build steadily again, this time from the SSW. Before long it was blowing just as hard as before, only from the opposite direction. Muddy water was blowing in under the door. I watched water streaking horizontally across our ceiling! I beat a retreat to the Bat Cave with some dinner (cold leftover brown rice with a bit of chicken, washed down with some Clamato juice sitting conveniently sitting there on the shelf). I felt safe and secure inside the Bat Cave. As the wind slacked off I exited the bat cave, put my wet bedding on the sofa, and prepared to pass the night. I slept OK, all things considered!

I ventured out at dawn to a scene of total devastation. The front car gate is completely wrecked. The bedroom bi-fold French windows are gone, blown off their hinges. The bedroom room divider went flying and the armoire had blown over, caught at a crazy angle by the rocking chair jammed into the bedposts. The paddle fans are toast. All the palapa roofs suffered some damage. The red walk-in gate is hanging there, immoveable on bent hinges. The BBQ cabinet doors are gone, as are the doors of the cleaning supplies closet. There is muddy water all over the house. On the new house project, our brand-new-two-week-old garage door got blown in, with water everywhere.

Worst of all, the yard is devastated. Virtually every tree was either up-rooted or had its crown shredded. Giant cardon cacti were snapped off at half mast. It is truly a heart-rending sight. Everyone in town suffered similar damage to greater or lesser extent. No one was injured. Lots of broken windows and lost solar panels. Trees blown over or shredded. Now begins the slow process of cleaning up and drying out. I had to cancel my planned trip to San Jose today, where I was going to meet with prospective buyers of our home ( We were going to work out the details of a purchase agreement. Not sure where we stand after this…

All the best from Baja,

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Death of a Dune Buggy

Originally drafted in February 2007, posted here with an epilogue...

        My dune buggy died today. Cause of death: self immolation. Coming as it did at a time of personal transition (selling our home in Southern Baja, contemplating a new life further south in Central America, and with development threatening our hallowed East Cape surf breaks), the demise of my buggy marked, for me at least, the end of an era.

        Ironically, at the time of its death the buggy never looked or ran better. It had just come back from the mechanic for assorted spa treatments, and upon its return I devoted the better part of a week to stripping, prepping, priming and painting it a sparkly metal-flake teal; plus brand-new seat covers, surfboard tie-downs, plexi-glass windshield, floor mats, and more. Pieces of used windshield were zip-tied over the frame as side armor, and a whole used windshield hinged down in front like an engine hood, with a cut-out for Rudy (my god dog) who sat between passenger’s feet. Rudy loved going surfing more than anything in the world (he napped in the shade of the buggy while we paddled out).
        I’ve been a Baja rat for years—mostly mid-winter windsurf junkets after I’d shipped the last of my Holiday Season orders—but I didn’t learn to surf waves until moving there, after selling my outdoor gear manufacturing business in '96. My new home was the remote East Cape village of Cabo Pulmo—best known for its tropical coral reef, exceptional diving and fishing, and for the raw “nortes” that blow through every winter, transforming the waters over the reef into a whacky wavy playground for windsurfers. Come spring the winds died down, and some of my neighbors strapped boards onto buggies and headed South around the curve of the coast in search of waves. 
        One of these neighbors was surf legend Bing Copeland. At the time, I didn’t know he was a legend—I just knew him as the kindly gent with the silver-fox hair, beautiful collection of surfboards, and funny little green dune buggy. I got invited along and learned to surf in warm uncrowded waves among senior surfers of many decades experience who offered advice and encouragement. “These are the good old days,” Bing would comment as we drove home from my early surf excursions. Giddy with glide, I was hooked. At the tender age of 45, I became a surfer-for-life. I got a board. I needed a buggy.
     It came to me by a circuitous route. Freshly-obsessed, my radar was tuned to all things surf. I spotted a buggy in the parking lot at Sam’s Automotive in San Jose del Cabo and impulsively asked its owner if he wanted to sell. “Naw,” came the reply, “but I can help you put one together.” We agreed to meet a week later. After a trip to a mechanic’s yard, paint store, and tapiceria (upholsterer), I forked over a few hundred dollars as a down payment to my new friend, knowing little more about him than his name (Steve) and cell phone number. Weeks went by with nothing but excuses. Then he just disappeared. I inquired at the real estate office where he claimed to work, and they gave me the phone number of a tire and wheel shop in San Diego. When I finally tracked Steve down, he explained that he had found God, and He had told him to move back to the States to help raise his daughter. Steve admitted to having blown off my buggy project, but to make up for it, I could have his old one (if I paid off his Mexican mechanic, who was holding it in hock). The Lord works in mysterious ways.
        Straightaway, my new buggy earned the name “Flicka” for its rather obnoxious habit of flinging fresh cow flop into the air, spraying boards and passengers alike. A windshield helped a lot (the first of many improvements), and I learned to weave and dodge around fresh piles of doogie. I also learned to issue a little disclaimer to new passengers just in case; “If you get hosed, don’t take it personal, shit happens.”
        In addition to being a symbol of my new status as a surfer (at the time I had no idea what a kook I really was), the buggy was my passage into the world of motorsport. I’d never indulged the motor-thrill phase of male adolescence. An ardent environmentalist, I chose “purer” sports like backpacking and climbing, eschewing motorcycles and that ilk. Suddenly, I found myself in possession of a great big fire-breathing toy—an open-frame, four-seater sandrail with a high-performance VW engine and big fat sand tires. I had no idea how much fun I’d been missing! Getting to the beach was almost as exciting as riding waves. I drove the buggy too fast (apologies to my passengers during those early seasons), frequently winding up with cracks in the frame or other mechanical calamities.
        One of the most unforgettable incidents was driving home from the shop that very first day. As I readied to leave my mechanic pointed out the lack of a license plate. “No problema,” as he squatted beside an old refrigerator that served as a tool and parts cabinet, pulling out a long-expired California plate. (I later learned the trick of scanning and making color copies of the current year sticker and affixing it onto the license plate with double-stick tape; make a bunch, because they fade after a few weeks.) That first drive home was fun, if uneventful, until I turned into my driveway using the cutting brake, a lever that locks up one rear wheel and sets the buggy into a skidding turn. I executed the maneuver OK, but hadn't noticed the white van sitting in the shade of the tamarisk tree a few dozen meters away. A fat policeman got out, walked up, pointed to the skid mark, and told me, “Es grande problema” (mind you, the nearest pavement is 10km away).
        “How big a problema?” I asked, discretely positioning myself between the fat cop and my license plate. He pulled out a photocopy of the fine schedule and settled on one costing 300 Pesos.
        “No problema,” I told him, pulling out 300P.
        “No,” he said, “You have to come to the police station.”
        “No,” I replied, pushing the money at him, hoping to avoid further scrutiny of my license plate.
        Frowning as he took the money, he said, “Venga conmigo,” and I followed him to the police van. There was a rapid-fire exchange of Spanish between my fat cop and his two compadres who’d been snoozing in the van. “If you don’t come to the police station, we can’t give you a receipt,” they explained.
        “No problema, I don’t need a receipt.”
        More machinegun Spanish. “If we don’t give you a receipt, there’s a descuento,” whereupon they handed me back 100P. (I swear this really happened.)
        Another time driving home from the mechanic (again!) with my friend Kent, we stopped on our way out of town to pick up libation for our upcoming New Year’s Eve fiesta (my especialidad de la casa was margarita served out of a 5-gallon water dispensers; “con sal o sin sal?”). We stashed the cases of tequila in the overhead gear basket and headed out of San Jose del Cabo at dusk on a rough dirt track that cut to the coast. Suddenly, we were attacked by a Ninja warrior cow—black as the night, it dove off the bank as we motored by, forcing us to brake and swerve, narrowly missing us as it cleared the front wheels. Nearing home, we pulled over for a pit stop, and it started raining—cheap tequila! The boxes had overturned and the contents mostly broken, but our rapid forward momentum had sheltered us from the cloudburst. Fortunately, we still had a few days before the party to make another town run to replenish supplies.
        Once, on returning from a fun morning session at Distiladera, Brian reached up for his board, and it was gone! The shock cord hold-down-a-ma-jobbie had let loose at the cleat, and we never even noticed! We raced back to the break, scanning the road, waving down oncoming vehicles. Nothing. We returned home slowly, inspecting gullies and washouts; noting a remarkable quantity of old car parts, but no board (adding insult to injury, a rear wheel bearing had blown during our hurried return, and it screamed at us the whole time). We put the word out on the Baja telegraph: Lost: One 9’-0” Bing, clear finish, in grey board sock. Any local surfer would have known to return a Bing to Cabo Pulmo. But it never showed up. Someone—an AVA probably—had scored. (Rental vehicles in Baja have license plates with the prefix “AVA”, marking them as tourists; definitely not locals. Recently they’ve added AVBs to the fleet, but they’re still all AVAs to us; as in, “The surf was decent today, but there were lots of AVAs out.”)
        One of the most bizarre incidents occurred one solo morning. I was cruising along when something on the right caught my eye—something that looked like my front wheel! Glancing ahead, I saw the naked stub axel suspended off the ground, dipping and rising as though on an invisible tire. I braked and the wheel raced ahead! I eventually caught up as it spiraled to a stop in the middle of the road. I threw it into the buggy and backtracked by foot looking for bearings and stuff. I actually found most of the parts and returned to the buggy, only to find that the left rear tire had gone completely flat! I limped home on the flat-and-phantom diagonal tire pattern. (The physics of the freaky phantom wheel is easily explained: The sandrail design puts most of the vehicle weight—engine, transaxle, gas tank—aft behind the rear suspension. The fat rear tires do all the work of propulsion and braking, while the dinky little front wheels just spin; you can actually lift the front of the rig off the ground without much effort. If there’d been a heavy-weight in the passenger seat when the wheel abandoned ship, the outcome would’ve been a bit harsher!)
        There were plenty other incidents of barely limping home or ditching the buggy and hitching home to fetch truck and towbar. But after a time, Flicka and I settled into an easy equilibrium. The motor-thrill novelty wore off, and I drove with a lighter foot. Frame cracks and falling-off wheels became a thing of the past. My buggy was just the way I got to the beach, so I could do the thing I loved best. Even as I was prepping and painting the buggy this past week, I was filled with nostalgia. I was moving on, but Flicka needed and deserved this makeover, so I just did it. Ironically, it was the makeover that led to his demise: Among the “spa treatments” I’d ordered the previous week was a shut-off valve at the gas tank. With the tank situated above the engine, changing a gas filter inevitably meant spurting gasoline. “Couldn’t find a valve”, quipped mechanic Mike Quade when I picked up the buggy, “just pinch the hose shut with a Vise-Grips; that’s what we do.” So when I drained the tank to remove it for the paint job, Vise-Grips did the trick.
        Ready at last, Rudy (my god dog), Kent (Rudy’s real dad) and I headed out for an early morning surf. Paint was sparkly, upholstery fresh and comfy, new windshield crystal clear, engine running strong, boards securely snugged with new tie-downs; Flicka was having a proud day. Rudy yelped with excitement—his first buggy ride in weeks—as he jumped between Kent’s feet and poked his head out his hole, ears flapping in the breeze as we pulled out. 
        Just past Boca de Salado I asked Kent, “Do you smell gas?” “Naw,” he replied, “Just some of the new paint burning off.” Then the engine stuttered and stalled. We got out, only to witness a small fire erupt where gas dripped from the ruptured hose onto the hot engine—the Vise-Grips had damaged it! I threw my gallon jug of rinse water onto the flames, but they were unimpressed. The blaze grew stronger as the gas hose disintegrated, fed by the full tank of gas draining onto the hot engine. “Let’s get the boards off,” I said as the flames grew. The lovely metal-flake teal fumed and crinkled as flames crept up into the gear basket. An exploding can of Fix Flat shocked me into the realization that this was the end of the buggy! All the plastic stuff started to burn—beach chairs and umbrellas, jumper cable insulation and tow rope, surf rack pads and tie-downs, tires and upholstery, windshield and anti-cow-flop armor—producing thick billows of acrid black smoke, punctuated by loud "pops" as shock absorbers blew, the draining gas tank egging it all on, as we looked on in fascinated horror. Eventually the reinforced rubber gooseneck of the gas tank burned away, and it blew spectacularly, scorching the surrounding vegetation. All that was left was a smoldering black hulk, two guys, two boards, and a bewildered little dog sitting by the side of the road.
        In shock I hitched home to get my truck and a heavy chain, this time to drag the buggy off to what I assumed would be its final resting place. For years there’d been a rusted-out VW bus by the side of the road near Boca de Tule, not far from where the buggy had burned. A few years before, the derelict bus became an objet d'art when, overnight, someone had spray-painted it assorted shades of aqua and graffiti-scrawled on the side panel “Nasal Passage” (punk surf-speak for a tube ride). I thought Nasal would be a perfect companion for Flicka, sort of like old-folks-home cronies. I envisioned stopping by once in a while on the way back from surfing to tie on plastic flowers, in true Mexican fashion. But that was not to be. A few days after the buggy burned to a crisp, it disappeared. Somebody must’ve seen the salvage value and snatched it. Oh well! End of an era for me, but just maybe the beginning for someone else…

        Epilogue—Rise of the Phoenix:  We had recently sold our Baja home when Flicka burned; the deal clincher had been a buggy trip to a mysto secret surf spot. Scott, the buyer (and a surfer), was as bummed by the loss as much as I was. Then, several weeks after the sad affair, the toasted hulk was spotted on the junk pile of one of the ranchos on our beach route. Despite being burned, the frame, engine, and transaxle were probably still serviceable. I asked Scott if he might be interested in rebuilding the beast. Yes! The rancher was obliging, even hoisting the hulk into the air with his backhoe while I maneuvered the bed of my pickup underneath. The cost estimate and timeframe for the rebuild were off by orders of magnitude—not only did the transaxle need rebuilding, but the engine failed shortly after the first round of work was done—with nearly a year lapsing from when I first suggested the rebuild. By the time the buggy was back in business, Scott was pursuing business interests in Chile, leaving the buggy dry-docked in his new garage.
        I was back in Baja this past fall and emailed Scott in Chile, asking whether I might take the buggy for a spin, you know, for old time’s sake. And so it was, nearly three years later, that Rudy, Kent and I found ourselves on our way to the beach, completing the journey that had ended in flames. The buggy had been fully restored, and then stowed. We made it to the beach and back; played in smallish surf while Rudy enjoyed his customary nap in the shade of the buggy. But the ride felt unfamiliar—it had been painted candy-apple red (!), had no muffler (loud!), nor windshield, floor mats, or other of the fine-tuned accoutrements accumulated over years of use.  There really is no going back!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love a Parade?

San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is a place that loves to party. Seemingly spontaneous cultural performances in public places, skyrockets going off at all hours, police patrolling cobblestone streets in uniforms evoking the days of General Santana and the Alamo; such are everyday occurrences in this anachronistic Spanish colonial town, which in 2008 earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that, when the date of the town’s patron saint, the Arcangel San Miguel, rolls around on the calendar, SMA pulls out all the stops. What follows is a small sampling…

Walking across town to play tennis early Saturday morning, I had to thread my way through vendors setting up their stalls—pecans piled high on wobbly tables, alongside sweets, baked goods, and cheap plastic trinkets. By the time I made my way back a couple hours later, the fireworks workers (fireworkers?) were busy constructing steel frame castillos (towers), tying on rockets, and threading fuses. According to the local events calendar, activities and processions had been underway since 3AM (sorry, no firsthand reports on that), though skyrocketeers and the local league of amateur ballistics enthusiasts had been heralding the upcoming events for days..
We walked toward the centro late afternoon alongside a steady stream of other partygoers, streets crowded with creeping cars hoping to get lucky with a parking spot. As we neared the Jardin (central plaza) people plotzed onto sidewalks, waiting for the parade. We pressed on, drawn by drumming, until we intersected the action. Leading the charge were Mojigangas, giant paper mache dolls that played on themes ranging from bawdy to comical to diabolical; swinging, swaying, dancing. Following was an endless procession of dance troupes comprising folks of all ages, representing local neighborhoods and area communities, decked out in impressively finished costumes, colorfully reflecting an astonishing diversity of themes; accompanied by incessant drumming amplified by the narrow confines of the stone architecture. Each group had a theme: diverse indigenous tribes; conquistadors; remembrance of political injustice; cowboys and Indians; friars; viceroys; Aztec warriors decked with ankle rattles and amazing feather headdresses; beauty queens perched atop Chevy convertibles; demons patrolling from side to side scaring the bejezus out of little kids; and other acts which could only be described as full-on flights of fancy by small-town creatives with a flair for the ridiculous. (“What do you think of this fluorescent lime-green fabric? I got it cheap!” “It’ll go great with this bucket of pink paint I found behind the hardware store.” “Cool!” “I need more feathers!” “Are the beards on these masks too pointy?” “No, make them pointier!”)

Hours later, the parade thinned to a few face-painted stragglers, and the crowd shifted toward the open courtyard in front of the Parroquia (SMA’s iconic, baroquely intricate, sandstone cathedral landmark) to witness the voladores (human flyers)... 
(For more pics and a couple video clips of the dancers, go to

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Los Voladores (The Flyers)

The parade had thinned to a few face-painted stragglers, and the crowd shifted toward the open courtyard in front of the Parroquia. A steel column fitted with rungs had been erected center-plaza, towering a dozen stories above the crowd, with a crow’s nest affair perched on top. Four intrepid souls in traditional dress scaled the tower, each dragging a rope skyward. As these brave fellows wound their ropes onto a spindle drum, a fifth followed them to the top, toting drum and flute. All the while, Aztec warriors in feathered headdress and ankle rattles danced around the base of the column, accompanied by the incessant drumming. Attention was drawn skyward as the climbers fell backwards off their perches, ropes tied around their waists. The voladores swung wider and wider as the spindle paid out, gradually spiraling headfirst into the berattled Aztec warriors below, to the hysterical tones of the flautist who perched and posed atop the tower.
But even more theatrical moments awaited: next on our SMA Daze agenda was El Torero (bullfight). 
(For more pix of the flyers, plus a short video clip, go to

El Torero--Bullfight

We’d seen the placards around town for a couple weeks; having never before witnessed the spectacle, we decided to give it a go. The arena was a circular affair with concentric stepped concrete benches. All seats had a comparable view of the action, yet the high-status front row seats cost nearly double that of general admission, just two rows behind (which, at $25 each, struck us as pricey enough). Vendors made the rounds with cervezas and sodas and such delicacies as plastic tube-bags of potato chips soaked in lime juice and drenched with hot sauce. A brass orchestra at one end of the stands played all the Mexican folk favorites. As the matadors took to the ring in their colorful skintight costumes, the band struck up the iconic strains of the Corrida; the dolled-up machos fanning their purple capes and fawning to the admiring crowd.
A fellow marched around the ring with a blackboard inscribed with the breeding ranch, name, and weight of the first contestant, who promptly charged through the torile (bull chute) and into the ring. The assistant matadors had a go at taunting the toro, leaping to the safety of the barricades that dotted the perimeter, to the increasing frustration of the bull. A couple of lance-bearing fat guys rode in on blindfolded, mattress-corseted horses, and proceeded to prick the bull in his shoulder haunches, clearly pissing him off..
Then the star of the night, Ignacio Garibas, strode into the ring, all asparkle in his gold-sequined traje de luces, to cheers, whistles, and adoring cries, “Nacho! Nacho!” And so the fight was on. Nacho worked the bull admirably, eliciting “Olés!” from the crowd for his more dramatic passes. At one point the bull clearly nicked him, causing Nacho to retreat for a breather and a glass of water (and a few Advil?), while the junior matadors took turns annoying the bull. Nacho regained his composure and resumed center stage, stepping aside at one point as a couple of picadors stole into the ring, each baring a pair of colorfully plumed barbed pickets, which they deftly stuck into the bulls shoulder haunches, further enraging him. Nacho skillfully played the bull with more approaches, taunts, and flourishes; to more Olés from the crowd. Then it was time to trade purple cape for red cape and sword. More passes and posturing, including the iconic pose with arched back and sword dangling dramatically down the spine, just like in the posters. Finally, Nacho made his move, and in a single thrust, the bull went down. The roaring crowd took to their feet as one. A huge bouquet of roses appeared in Nacho’s arm. Ears were sawed off and Nacho hoisted them aloft with a flourish, parading around the ring. As he passed, hats and scarves were hurled his way (dutifully retrieved by junior matadors who reverently followed Nacho around the ring, tossing hats and such back from whence they came).
.The dead bull was hauled off on a horse-drawn litter and a janitorial crew swept onto the field with rakes to tidy things up, kind of like the between-sets scene on the clay courts of the French Open. Then the dude with the blackboard strode about with particulars on the next contestant. The gates of the torile were flung open, and… nothing. It took 10 minutes of coaxing, junior matadors waving capes and disappearing into the chute, before our reluctant toro finally sauntered out. Instead of being drawn to the flourishing capes, he noticeably shied away. They promptly called in the gordos on the padded horses, who mercilessly pricked his haunches, causing much bleeding but eliciting little display of emotion. Likewise the picadors and their plumed barbs; poor bull seemed more hurt and confused than enraged. Nacho strode onto the scene in his sparkly get-up, and did his best to elicit a few lunges from the toro, to a few half-hearted “Olés” from the crowd. Wisely, he called for the red cape and sword early on, thinking it best to put an end to this embarrassment. But the bull had other ideas, wandering away after being stabbed, sword falling out. Three times. Finally, with a fresh (presumably sharper) sword, the bull went down and the episode was over. No flowers. No ears.
There were five more bulls on the night’s docket. But we’d seen the good and the bad, and it was ugly enough. Besides, fresh entertainments awaited back at the Jardin...
(For more pics of the bullfight, and a video clip, go to


Fresh entertainments awaited back at the Jardin. So we took our leave from the bullfights. As we rounded the corner for a full view of the plaza, the first of the fireworks towers was ignited. We threaded our way through the crowd for a closer look, pinwheels sparking to life with glowing images of dolphins and angels. A rotating marquee sparkle-spelled “Bendicenos Sn Miguel” (bless us St. Mike) again and again as it spun around; smoke so thick, you could barely make out the words. 
Pinwheels and rockets fired and waned as the main fuse gradually worked its way to the top spinner, which sprayed sparks everywhere. Suddenly, it flared into warp drive, came unhinged from its pivot, and spun into space, to the cheers of the crowd. A second, even more dramatic castillo de cuetes (fireworks tower) was touched off. When that had played out, more traditional Disney-style fireworks filled the skies. No cordon of safety here! People wiped their eyes and brushed cinders out of their hair as the last flares faded and the crowd dispersed into the smoky haze, dimly illuminated by streetlamps. 
For more pics of night sparkles, go to