Sunday, March 9, 2014

Guest Blogger: Jinx Schwartz

Every other Sunday is our day for Guest Author Postings by mystery writers who base their stories in non-US settings.  We think it a great way of introducing our readership to new experiences and places.  We’re delighted to have with us today ninth-generation Texan Jinx Schwartz, whose Hetta Coffey novels set upon the Sea of Cortez are accused by some for the demise of the Mexican tourist industry, but lauded by others as inspiration for their buying a boat and sailing off down Mexico way. Jinx claims responsibility for neither, but admits to having an ex-pat’s penchant for finding humor in almost any situation, including a little foreign murder and mayhem.

Welcome, Jinx.  And thank you.

Psst! Wanna buy a yate?
… and cruise on down to Baja, Mexico?

Me and my hubby, Mad Dog (don't ask) did, over twenty years ago.

What was supposed to be a three-month honeymoon ended up much like the Minnow's three-hour tour for Gilligan and crew off from that old TV show. We were just never able to make it back after contracting a severe case of salsispuedes. There is no known cure for "leave if you can."

When we voyaged out under the Golden Gate Bridge and turned left, we fully intended to return to the rat race. Honest. But finding Cabo San Lucas gone all to hell since my last visit, we decided go on to La Paz at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula, and entered the magical world of the Sea of Cortez, or the Gulf of California for you Gringos.

This body of water, a thousand miles long and sometimes only seventy miles wide, is surrounded on three sides by Mexico. It is where the desert meets the sea, and I equate it with boating on the moon because of the xxx lunar-like landscape. Uninhabited volcanic islands with necklaces of pure white beach are a cruiser's dream.

Anchored miles from civilization, it is not unheard of to find a seal enjoying a nap in your dinghy, or a sea turtle nibbling goodies from your anchor chain. Schools of bat rays perform pirouettes and when you are underway, dolphins by the hundreds cavort in your boat's bow wave. Right off the city of La Paz, forty-foot huge whale sharks loll in the current, straining plankton into their huge mouths.

Who could leave such a place? Especially since the year after we arrived a once in a lifetime event awaited: a total eclipse of the sun lasting seven minutes in totality. We had to stay for that, right?

John Steinbeck wrote, in his Log From the Sea of Cortez: The Sea of Cortez is a dangerous body of water and is prone to sudden and violent storms. I just figured he was some kind of sissy, but he proved me so wrong.

Undaunted, we bought another boat, but since hurricanes are a bit of a problem here, at each parting we give our boat a love pat and hope to see her again when we return. And we always return. We give lip service to traveling thither and yon, but end up heading for the Sea of Cortez each winter.

So here I sit, on the new and improved (read: on top of the water) yate High Jinx, penning away at my Hetta Coffey series number six (no title as yet). Hetta Coffey is a sassy Texan with a snazzy yacht, and she's not afraid to use it! And, she's in the Sea of Cortez. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Followers of MURDER IS EVERYWHERE know how true this line is: Travel is brain fodder for a writer, and the longer we stay on foreign soil, the more ammo we stockpile for our fiction. Heck, half the time we don't even have to make it up.

Wherever ex-pats meet and swap lies, books are born. Just ask Hemingway. A daily, real life mini-series is there for the writing because, quite frankly, ex-patriots are a little bonkers. They already play by another set of rules, prompting their saner friends back home to shake their heads and ask things like, "Aren't you afraid to drive in Mexico?" (No, but Tucson terrifies me.)

So, we write about places we love and throw in enough of the dark side to make a good story, hoping not to scare the bejèsus out of Harry and Mary Wonderbread who just might be considering ten fun-filled days in Cancun. Or Mykonos. Or, that other country, Texas.

This winter we’re parked at a real dock in a real marina in La Paz.  Usually we anchor out farther north for the season, but decided to indulge ourselves in the lap of luxury for a change.

The town has the highest standard of living in Mexico, and the lowest crime rate, no thanks to us; we managed to get our car radio stolen over the summer. Then again, here petty theft hardly rates a mention. After all, if we really wanted that radio, we should have taken care to guard it instead of just leaving our van behind an eight-foot fence topped with concertina wire. Everyone knows that removing a cinderblock wall is so easy, what with the poor quality of the local cement.

We have not spent much time in La Paz since the early nineties, and I had forgotten what a great town it is. I also noticed differences. For one thing, on my daily walk I am greeted by Gringos and Mexicans doing the same; twenty years ago, the only Mexicans walking were poor folk doing so out of necessity. Now the walkers are decked out in fancy jogging outfits and Nikes. 

Although La Paz is not a tourist town like Puerto Vallarta, or the plumb-ruirnt Cabo San Lucas, sidewalk cafes abound, their tables filled with mostly locals. Everyone has a cell phone. And, my fellow authors will be happy to learn, I've actually spotted e-readers; Amazon has jumped the border and so far avoided the authorities.

By the way, many locals in La Paz are descendants of invading Spaniards, pearl-diving fortune hunters, multinational pirates, French miners, and probably an American sailor or two. Baja is fraught with unusual monikers too good not to share. Carlos Slim (who vies with Bill Gates for world's richest man) has a mega-yacht parked here in the marina. Abel Bercovitch runs a boat yard, and Saul Davis's grocery store in Mulege stocks Gringo goodies. And then there's…

Jose Fong's sidewalk inscription outside the Resturante Nuevo Pekin.

Short of getting deported for upsetting the tourist trade, we remain in the Baja, at times contemplating a permanent return to Gringoland, probably mañana, which doesn't mean tomorrow; mañana means "not today." N'est-ce pas?

Guest Blogger Jinx Schwartz—Sunday


  1. Thanks Jinx - as I look out the window at the never ending rain (horizontal rain!) reading your blog, I was thinking of Dean Martin and his far away places with strange sounding names. It looks so beautiful.

    1. Caro, thanks for your comment. We don't get much rain, but when we do, we actually like it. Well, not when it is followed by a hurricane:-)

  2. I love this, Jinx. And since the sky is actually blue in NYC today, I am not suffering from the usual green-with-envy, cranky attitude I take with Stan when he flashes pictures of great weather while shiver.

    1. Yabbut, you live in a very exciting city, and spring is just around the corner; magic time in NYC.

  3. Thanks, Jinx, for bringing back a lot of memories--all terrific--of wonderful times spent in Mexico, many along the same sea you know so well. And, yes, Dean Martin sang during some of them.:)

  4. And thank you, Jeff, for reminding me of my great times on Mykonos!

  5. JInx, I travel vicariously through people like you! You have a great sense of adventure. I'm the stay at home type, whose vacations consist of traveling to the next state to our summer cottage. Very tame, except for the part where I gamble at the casino on the reservation, and tend to lose!

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Those casinos! You wicked girl. Glad to be of service on the vicarious-travel thing. Those of us who have the wanderlust in our blood just can't help it!

  6. Great post! Always like hearing from you, Jinx. I'm very much a land-lover, so it gives me great pleasure to adventure with you. And all the great things you know about Mexico! (decided to spend a little time on FB today, and glad I did)