Sayonara San Francisco

Bye bye

So that’s it – Sayonara San Francisco. This morning I set off into the setting sun- yeah I know.
4 months of being Unemployed But Comfortably Off has been a privilege and I want to say thank you to San Francisco for the courtesy, for the lack of pretension, the “have a good one!”s, the Golden Gate Park, the beach, the bay,  the bridge, the coffee shops, Lucky’s supermarket, the USF gym, the Panhandle, the Wiggle, the concerts in the park, best food in the world-well around here, cops who say,”Sorry about that.” when they catch you, the street art, the choice of beers, the choice of bars, happy hours, Irving Street, respect for cyclists, bike shops with tire pumps outside, wireless everywhere, Wells Fargo Bank, the IRS people, the glow, the Queen Annes, the history, the corner stores, the acceptance of race, gender, sexual proclivity, the Giants, the amazing Irish Music, the “you go first, brother.” the De Young, the fly fishing pools, the Golden Gate Bridge, 280, the make your own muesli, Craig’s List, breakfast, great coffee, 1670 Fell, you get what I mean.

Bye Bye Big Red

Thank you James, Martha,Ryan,Big Red, Petra, Roxie, Bebo, Julia, Ron, Dave, John, Sam, Melinda,Mary, Bob, Humuhumu, Brad, the Range Rover, Nancy, Gloria, Aaron, Chip, Peter, Jonathan, Terry, Rene, the kids next door, Leslie, Jack, Chiaki and everyone else.

As another adopted Californian said, ” I’ ll be back.”

Chairs finished the day I left

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Less is more is my current eating mantra and so at the South Sea Seafood Restaurant I order two large Dim Sum instead of the rice/noodle splurge thing. The restaurant is markedly different from the standard Irving, which features low-key, protestant decor. South Sea Seafood Restaurant is lavish. It’s walls are furbished in scarlet and gold. The staff wear traditional Chinese outfits. The chairs are inlaid with almond blossom design.

In the court of the crimson king

I order:

Fried Oysters with Egg Yolk $5.00

Baby Octupus with Seaweed $5.00

Jasmine tea $1.00

Poor baby octupi. What do you call an octopus with six tentacles? A sextapus.

The octopus dish is, to my surprise, cold. Cold seaweed and cold baby octopi may not sound too appetizing but I love it. Clean crisp flavours, great texture, and green, red color clash. There are also  little beans lurking in the seaweed.

Hot Oysters

I weaken and order another dish of BBQ pork in Black bean sauce.$2.00 Hot, garlicky and slimy.

More joy

South Sea Seafood Restaurant is a step above the norm. Delicious food, very attentive service, classy decor and the best jasmine tea. Do not pass by.

Alliteration: South Sea Seafood Sofa would be better

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Wells Fargo Wagon

O-ho, you Wells Fargo Wagon keep a-comin' O-ho, you Wells Fargo Wagon, keep a-comin'. O-ho you Wells Fargo Wagon, Don't you dare make a stop Until you stop for me!

As I prepare to leave, I feel I have to thank the good folks of Wells Fargo Bank. I use the branch on Haight and going there is always a pleasure. Previously banks have always irritated me.  I give them my money and they treat me as if they are doing me a favor. When I went to my French bank I had to harumph and “excusez moi”  before anyone would acknowledge my existence. Wells Fargo are different, they are so delighted that I have given them my money that they treat me as their best friend. ” Hey Mr Calder, how are you doing today? Do you want a coffee? No, what about a tea? We’ve got green, jasmine, black, chai. Where’s your bike? Outside?! Hey man, bring it in, just put it in the bike rack.” Yep, Wells Fargo banks have interior bike racks for their clients.

Cosy Big Red likes going to the bank

The staff are efficient, competent yet  very easy-going. One is always ‘on point’ meaning they stand by the entrance and greet each customer asking what they need. You feel good, they want you to get what you want.

Wanna Coffee?

I had a lot of complex bank stuff to do when in San Francisco and the people at Wells Fargo made it fun. Many thanks.

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Sticky Fingers

What better place to eat than a restaurant called “Yummy Yummy?”  Well actually the San Tung which is next door but we couldn’t get in. Anyway we ate extremely well. The very merry waiter  insists, “We are THE crab place! You must eat salt and pepper crab.”

OK then.

Charming companion Samantha is not hungry so just orders imperial rolls. She shows me how to eat them. Previously I had just picked them up and pushed them lengthways between my pursed lips  with sucking noise and chomped. But now I know that you wrap them in lettuce leaf, lay in a bit of mint and then proceed to eating. Much better like that.

That's a wrap

The crab comes looking a bit angry. Well it has been boiled alive, chopped up then wok-fried with onions, garlic, scallions, I guess salt and pepper and mysterious secret sauce – quite enough to put you in a foul mood.

I could have been a contender

This brings us to sticky fingers: you have to eat crab with your fingers, which get covered in delicious sauce and ooze. I have know people who became very exercised when someone put their fingers in the mouth and sucked off the sauce. I agree that excess slurping and popping noises are distasteful, nevertheless I hold that sauce from fingers is one of the great tastes. There is something primeval about it.

The crab is fantastic.

Yummy,yummy,yummy I've got love in my tummy

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The World’s Best Christmas Cake

Martha’s mother makes hundreds of individual Christmas cakes as gifts for friends. She kindly gave us one. I then  packed it for my Mexico trip and drove it 3000 miles. I only remember it when I get back to San Francisco. I do not know if it was the trip that made it so outstandingly delicious or if all the cakes are just as good – the latter I assume.

Deck the hall with boughs of holly

The cake is moist, crammed with fruit and nuts. The top is covered with good things and glazed. However it is the flavour that makes it outstanding. I am not a fan of sweet things but the cake, though undeniably sweet, has a enough brandy to remove all stickiness-in-the-mouth-sensation. Thank you Mrs Sobrepena!

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The Mission Bells Told Me

Time to go home. Roll Range Rover over the wide, wide desert.

El Elegante Crater. Just on the border

Big sky

I stop late at night in some town in Arizona, look out of the window and there is London Bridge! I used to sing “London Bridge is Falling Down”  at Kindergarten and there it is in the middle of the desert. It is looking pretty solid.

Not what you expect. Falling down?

I am hungry and next to the Motel there is a KFC. ” Sir, we ‘re just closing so if it’s OK we’ll throw in some extra chicken.” I am still eating it.

Back in USA

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Stars and Kalashnikovs

Go here

This is the kind of hotel I like. It is run by Jorge who is
the son of the Don Andres that the place is named after. He is a
sculptor, and likes to sing Neil Young songs. It is total open
house, full of bric a brac and bits of sculpture. Life revolves
around a salon on the first floor with windows facing out on the
square where there is always is coffee with tequila and elegant old
gentlemen who turn up each day.

Jorge and elegant old man

Then out to the square and buy
breakfast or lunch or whatever from stalls. I always eat a shrimp
coctel and a beaker of fresh pineapple juice.

Good for you

New Years Eve is spent singing and drinking brandy until it it is time to go outside
to watch guys in tuxedos and white cowboy hats blast handguns and
Kalashnikovs into the starry, starry,night. Ah Mexico.

South of the border


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So then aim of this trip was to do birding in Mexico. I have seen bits and pieces on the road and at the seaside, notably Frigate Birds and Blue Footed Boobies, but everything changed today.
I came to Alamo as it has a reputation good birding. I contact the McKays who are local experts and they kindly direct me to an arroyo outside Alduana a village nearby.
It is frenzied- new species are everywhere. By the time I have walked 100 yards up the riverbed, I have seen 15 new species. Birds but not just any birds I mean like amazing birds. I look up and about a dozen Black Throated Magpie-Jays float over! They are huge, at least 3 feet long. Hummingbirds buzz me constantly. Yes, the Elegant Trogon, male and female, is there too. Woodpeckers hammer out a samba and dozens of smaller stuff keep me mesmerized all day.
Hooray! I love birdwatching. You are outside, you go for a long walk, in this case in amazing scenery, you are hyper alert and your brain buzzes with logic and analysis.Er the birds are pretty as well. Great way to spend the last day of the year.
Technology has changed birding. I now have a camera with a zoom lens. Rather than look through binoculars, seize image in head and fumble around in a field guide, I now take a photo and in the comfort of somewhere identify the bird from full size IPad screen. Now to hit the wild streets of Alamos on New Years Eve!
Wordpress seems pretty flaky on the IPad at the moment so I do not know if these photos will work.
Black Chinned Humming Bird
Black-throated Magpie Jay. – big
Streak-backed Oriole
Mrs Elegant Trogon
Painted Redstart

Streak Backed Oriole

Painted Redstart


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Black Vulture

How often do you miss things because you are not looking properly? Turkey Vultures are everywhere in the US and Mexico so when I see a vulture I just go, huh, Turkey Vulture. You get used to things and often miss exceptions. Like yesterday a group of vultures were ripping at a dead dog – charming Mexican cameo – and I take some photos. Only after do I think, wasn’t there something odd about those birds? Sure enough they were all Black Vultures, a species I have never seen before. Yippee!
Just goes to show how much you can miss by assuming that what you normally see,do, hear, is reality.
Black Vulture – may not mean much to you.

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Troubles come not as single spies but in battalions

This is a fish, of which I caught many before things started to go discordant. The first indicator was that my faithful ITouch went catatonic. Nothing I could do would make it speak to me. In addition it seemed to be using it’s energy to heat up. Weird but clearly an omen lest my parents taught me augury in vain.
I leave Bahia de Kino and head South towards next destination – Alamos. After about 5 hours of driving down dead straight highway through nondescript country I stop in the outskirts of a pretty major town Cuidad Obregon to get a coffee. I notice an ATM machine in the corner of the store and on the premise that it it is always good to have cash, use it. Weird, it refuses my card, oh well I try my French card – refuses that too. Let’s try the Wells Fargo card again. I cannot find it. But you only had it a minute ago you protest. Well, yes but I cannot find it. I go through my wallet 6 times. All my other cards are there but no debit card. I go through every pocket, crawl around on the floor but it is not to be found. I then read the receipt that the ATM spat out and see that the last four digits of the card I used are not those of the debit card but those of my Wells Fargo credit card. That explains why I could not get cash but poses two further questions. Why did I try to use my credit card in an ATM, something I do not think I have ever done before? More important question – where is my ATM card? Without this card I can not get any money and I do not have sufficient cash to even buy enough gas to get me back to the USA. I empty my bags, empty the car, wrack my brains to have a revelation as to whereabouts of the precious plastic. Nada.
I am in trouble.
Following much thought and different possible strategies I work out a plan. I saw a Holiday Inn on the way in and perhaps someone there speaks Ingles. We could track down the hotel where I stayed last night and hope that I left the card in the room. All hotels in Mexico miraculously have fantastic wireless. I can find the hotel’s web site and phone.
Luiscarlos Sanchez Ramirez is behind reception at the Holiday Inn He speaks a little English but he has a big heart. Of course I can use the Internet. Here is the code. But my wonderful IPad has gone catatonic. I was using it to listen to a novel just five minutes ago but now it has given up all signs of life. I turn it on many times, nada. I get the recharge cable and plug it in, nada. What does this mean? Why now after months of faultless service ?
By this time Luiscarlos has quietly found the number, has phoned and,wow, the card is not there. OK, I will have to turn back and try to blackguard my way back to the border,- remember I have little cash and Mexican gas stations are cash only. Once in the USA I can use my credit card for everything. However first I must cancel the card. I have a Wells Fargo emergency number and Luiscarlos phones.
Suddenly everything changes, I am speaking to crazily helpful Wells Fargo guy. “No problem Neil, your card is cancelled and you will receive a new one in the mail in 3 days. Would you like us to send you some cash so you can enjoy the rest of your vacation?”
Say what?
” We can send money right now to a Western Union office near you and er yes there is one about 4 blocks away from your current location.”
Say what?
” Go to 802 Ave No Reelection, great name – Ed, give this number and show ID. They will give you the cash.” This is a simplified version of the transaction but with much help from Luiscarlos, to whom I will raise a glass at each festive gathering, I set off into the churning mass of downtown Cuidad Obregon. There is no Western Union office at that address but there is one close by at the back of a furniture store – no joke.
I try to explain in my pitiful Spanish and get nowhere. ” Do I want to buy a sofa?”
Suddenly a young woman of about 17, who speaks perfect English, pops up and guides me through the procedures. At the last moment she says, ” Just give me your passport. I need to make a copy.”
I give her my passport and she zooms out of the store. I have just given my passport to someone whom I have only known for 3 minutes, whose name I do not know, and she has disappeared onto a street of a million people. Oh dear. My energy level is very low.
I should not have doubted for she skips in all smiles with the copy and 5 mins later I am on the road again with my pockets stuffed with cash. I will probably leave it somewhere.
Looking back on this adventure, every single person involved went out of their way to be as helpful as possible. Viva human nature!


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