Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Received An RV Present

While waiting for the water to come back and  the palapa floor finished, I received a very nice and long awaited rv present.  Since we bought the rv, I've always had one issue.  My side of the bed doesn't have a night stand.  In other words, I have no place to put my glasses, mug of coffee, ear plugs and cell phone.  Believe it or not, I stuff a lot of things into the side light next to the bed.  They've never worked although when I had the new headlights put in the VW, I asked the electrician if he could fix them.

So, in the dark light of all the things going on here and in San Antonio, there is a spark of bright light.  This was handmade and the workmanship is incredible.  Very light and should I bring in the slideout and forget it is there, it will scoot it's way until I hear it and take it out of the way.

Fits beautifully!  I'm blessed to have someone who thinks so much of me to have this done.  Now that most of my earnings are being converted into dollars for the repairs on the house in SAT, we won't be going there this weekend.  Since it is a three-day weekend, we may take off for Montemorelos and enjoy the cool weather for a couple of days and I can try out my new nightstand!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Boondocking Skills Are Handy At Home Too!

Mural in the Leon/Bajio International Airport in Leon.  The airport is currently under expansion.

Got home from Leon yesterday afternoon only to find out that we had no water.  I tried everything possible but the pump wouldn't come on.  They are extending the floor in the new palapa and tiling also.  I thought maybe they had cut an underground cable.  The pump man came today and pulled up 180ft of pipe.  He took the pump in for evaluation and possible repair.  We replaced that pump 14 years ago with one that was more efficient.

We are using buckets of water out of the pool for flushing and bathing.  I figure it's chlorinated and we are limiting our cooking to reduce water use.   We had to get a couple of garrafones of water for cooking and drinking.   Pool water doesn't taste so good :)  We're peeing outside and as far as water, apart from bucketing, we have about 45,000 liters before the pool is empty.

Good friend and colleague Lou Pineda, who happens to be from Guadalcazar, SLP, giving orientation to newcomers.  When she started this a few years ago, she only had ten teachers in attendance.  Now it has swelled to 150.  

Teresita is from Monterrey and always finds a venue to speak at.  Very talented and comes from our state university.

The convention was great.  Over 3000 teachers packed into the Poliforum Convention Center in Leon.  It was fun meeting up with publishers, coworkers, fellow teachers, speakers and student teachers.   

Poliforum Convention Center in Leon.

We attended two to three workshops or presentations everyday along with a plenary.  It was very informative and you just never stop learning.  I guess I beat the curve with my work on Mindfulness and Social and Emotional Learning, talks I have given at two conventions over the last year.  It's all the rage now in teaching.  I don't know how to sell myself, I've never been a good salesman.

Our hotel was right across the street and it included very ample breakfast buffet included in the price.  We skipped lunches and opted for nice dinner out.  We found a winner!  If you are ever in Leon and want an elegant dinner out with wonderful service, excellent ambiance, Agaves is the place.  It is two blocks from the convention center at the Stadium Hotel.   They have two rooms.  The first, when you enter, is open and set up like a bar/restaurant.  The back room is something else.   Judge for yourself.

Now this is how you serve mexcal!

Three of us had ample drinks (2X1) all night, appetizers, main dishes and expresso for 1400 pesos or about $25 U.S. per person.   We were there for three hours and never went without something in our hand be it a fork or a drink of some kind.

Most of the passengers coming and going on our flights were teachers.  Juan sat next to a friend from Saltillo who teaches at the university.  Believe it or not, four years ago she weighed 300 pounds.  She has stuck with it.  Gorgeous.  

Our flights were on Aeromexico.  I'm loving my android.  You can download your boarding pass to your phone saving you checkin and you walk right to the gate.  Both of our flights saw us at the airport just 20 to 30 minutes before takeoff.  In other words, we walked right onto the plane from our car or taxi.  I did the same thing this last trip to CDMX and Ecuador.  International flight to South America from Mexico City only need an hour check in time.

The house in San Antonio is officially up for sale and on the MLS system.  We have a very interested buyer who wants to raise the price and have us cover the closing costs.  She is waiting to see the house after all the details are done.  Let's hope!  We may have to go again this weekend but it is a three-day holiday so it won't be so bad.  At least the house is clean and painted.  I had to laugh when I spoke with the realtor this afternoon.  She said she replaced all the light bulbs with incandescent as they show better.  If anyone has ever stayed at our house they know we practically live in the dark :)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Rest of The Story

I've been so busy I haven't had time to post.  Well, not really.  It just isn't anything exciting or related to rving.  Here goes!

My return trip from Ecuador was long.  We finished our school visits around 1 p.m. on Friday and headed out for lunch.   You saw the pic of the traditional encebollado.   That was a delicious dish and when I go back I am sure to devour more.

Heading to the airport was easy.  It's within arms reach of everywhere in the city.  My flight wasn't leaving until 6:30 p.m. so I had time to take a nap.  Immigration was easy.  It took a couple of minutes in line.  I am now using my android for boarding passes so I was able to go straight to the gate.   I found what I thought was the perfect place and it truly was.  I used my backpack as my pillow and put my earplugs in.  It wasn't 15 minutes later that a parent brought three screaming kids, 4 to 8, and let them run around me for half an hour.  He thought it was funny but didn't.

The flight was on time and quite comfortable.  This aircraft didn't have individual screens but they put on an inflight movie.  Dinner was Ecuadorian consisting of empanadas, salad and fried banana with cookies and coffee for dessert.  Bar was open and we all sat back with a cocktail of choice and finished the movie.  On our descent into Panama City a small aircraft decided to take our airspace and the plane literally took off like a rocket heading straight up into space.  It was smooth but we knew something was up and the pilot later explained as we made the go around.

Arriving in Panama, it was off one aircraft and the walk down through the duty free mall to the other end of the airport.   I literally walked right onto the plane.   The flight to CDMX saw me sleeping off and on.  I arrived in CDMX at 1:45 a.m. and was scolded by Mexican immigration.  I always use the foreigner side of immigration as I am a resident but still a U.S. citizen.  He asked why I waited so long when I could have used the Mexican citizen lane.  He smiled and said it was my right and I should take advantage of it.  He was happy to see I have lived here so long and happy to be here.

I headed for the hotel in my Uber.  10 minute trip and I hit the pillow hard.   Three hours sleep and up and off to the airport again.  Caught the 8:30 to Monterrey and was in the house by 10:45.  

This last weekend was a holiday weekend.  I headed to San Antonio and lined up the painters and the people cleaning all the debris from the backyard.  Mostly junk and lots of tree branches that the ex-tenant said was always being taken care of.  I had to take care of the electricity and water, run errands, look for materials and the list went on.  There was no time for visits or shopping.  Like last time I took the air mattress with me and set up my bedroom in the house.  The house smells like cigarette smoke and leaves anything you take in the house smelling the same.  The painting and carpet cleaning will take care of that.   I never liked central air conditioning.   The snakes are out.  Investors pouncing on it thinking it needs to be a quick sale.  We are holding out.  As I told the agent, "once we start repairs and painting, the price goes up".  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ex-Pats In Mexico and Money

I just want to make it clear that when I talk about ex-pats, the comments are not about people who rv in Mexico or spend six months a year here.  An ex-pat has temporary or permanent residency. 

I read quite a few forums and blogs about ex-pats who live in Mexico.  One thing that always seems to come up is money. 

How do I get money transferred to Mexico?  
How can I pay my bills?  
Why do I get charged so much at the ATM for withdrawals?

The best way is to stop thinking like an American or a Canadian.   Why are you taking large sums of money out of an ATM to pay rent, groceries, gas, etc?   If you are a temporary/permanent resident you can have a Mexican bank account.   With a Mexican debit card you can do all of the above and it beats withdrawing money from an ATM two or three times a month which is expensive and not very savvy in terms of safety.

Also, with a Mexican bank account, you can also apply for a Mexican credit card.  Interest rates are extremely high, up to 35%.  However, in case your foreign card is declined and you are out to dinner, you can do charge the bill to your Mexican card and then pay before the month is over without interest.  Simple.

With a Mexican debit card you can pay at any supermarket, retail outlet, gas station, and the list goes on.  I've never had an issue with debit cards and fraud.  Credit cards, just once and it wasn't in Mexico as you may recall last month.  

My online bank account allows me to pay everything from home, utilities, groceries, cable tv, newspaper and grocery delivery, car, home and health insurance, even your school tuition. No need to take out cash or use gasoline to run around paying bills.  There is no commission charges in doing so either.  You can even set up monthly direct pay from your Mexican account for all of the above.

So, if you think that you can only pay by cash from your foreign bank account, think again.  Your social security checks can be deposited directly into a Mexican bank account as well.  Make life simple and forget all the myths and horror stories. You'll find that Mexico could even be one step more advanced than its neighbors to the north.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ecuador - A Dollarized Land

I haven't had the chance to post all week.  The publisher in Ecuador kept me busy all week.   I spoke at eight schools, each for an hour and a half, taking into account wait times, moving around the city, breakfasts and lunches with school administrators and strategy meetings over dinner with coworkers.  Oh, and I forgot, my conference with 150 attendees. 

Let's see where I left off.  I spent my first night at the Holiday Inn at the airport.  Very nice accommodations not to mention the wonderful Ecuadorian breakfast buffet.  I enjoy South American food as it includes rice for all three meals.  Nothing tastier than a mix of rice, vermicelli and local spices topped with two fried eggs and served with a wonderful dried chorizo sausage with a similar taste to a good salami.   The food here is very local and incredibly tasty.

School visits everyday were mostly religious schools.  The publisher I work for, with corporate in Spain, specializes in Spanish, English and religious texts.  The majority of my coworkers worked for a publisher that was booted out of the country because of anti-monopoly laws.   The level of teacher varies just like it does anywhere.  In some school districts in Texas not all teachers have a four-year degree but there are no other options in the area.  Some have master degrees and some only speak English as a native speaker and the school encourages them to take certification courses and then study a degree.

In 2000, the economy was in shambles.  The sucre, the national currency, was 20,000 sucre to the dollar.   The country made the decision to dollarize and now, there is no Ecuadorian currency except for a few coins that are used for parking meters, buses and the like.  All the U.S. coins and paper money is used in Ecuador.   All sucre above 25 cent coins is prohibited and really doesn't exist anymore.  People are paid in dollars, buy houses, food, clothing, cars and entertainment in dollars.  There's nothing confusing about being a tourist there when it comes to money.

The downside is that the cost of living is a bit higher.  Teacher salaries range from $350 to $1200 a month.  Very similar to Mexico so now you know what we earn and why our trips to the U.S. and Canada have an OUCH! attached to them.   The area of Guayquil looks pretty much like any Mexican city but with a coastal flair.  The wide and fast flowing River Guayas runs through the city.  Along the banks and in the sector of Samborodon live the rich and upper crust.  It's actually a city in itself and has wide avenues lined with upper scale shopping malls, restaurants, gated neighborhoods with houses ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.  Ecuador has a thriving economy and one that is similar to Mexico, up and coming.  The middle class is growing and there are quite a few Americans and Canadians who are now ex-pats living there.

I did a run through a supermarket and found that liqour, eggs, and meat pretty much cost as much in the U.S.  Eggs were $2.79 per dozen versus $1.20 or less on sale in Mexico.  Vodka runs from $8 a for a 750 ml bottle and up to the "no limit".  Stores are filled with Ecuadorian products, produce and appliances that are national products.  You see signs everywhere urging you to buy Ecuadorian.  

Regular unleaded is $1.48 a gallon.

Traffic is interesting.  There are no lines painted on the streets so there are, well, no lanes.  People just move around and make changes, turns and stops when necessary.  In the week of running around, and we covered a lot of territory, I never saw an accident.  With a population of 3.5 million the city runs smoothly.   It's a bit crazy the first day but you soon get a hang of it and find that water flows downhill and things just seem to work.  I have to say, when I arrived home this morning and drove through Monterrey, we live in a very modern and civilized country and people really follow the rules.  I have noticed this throughout most of the Americas, North America seems to follow rules, not that it makes things any better because Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have a myriad of issues.

This is a small sidewalk cafe that serves cebollado.  The owner, a young guy, is a Mormon and spent time in Utah.  He speaks excellent English and does a lot of volunteer work on his own to help the poor.  Very nice kid.  

People even eat cebollado for breakfast.  It's addictive and a very healthy, low calorie, low fat meal.

Food.  Incredible!  Nothing spicey or hot although they do use one particular chile but it's not common.  Ecuadorian cuisine is made from local South American produce from the tropics.   I had several tasty dishes and the two most flavorful and common are cebollado and bollo o bolon.  They are made from masa verde or green bananas that are not sweet.  They are made similar to tamales and wrapped in banana leaf.  They have fish or chicken in the midddle are the size of your fist.  They are delicious, I mean, you can't stop eating it.  Then, the cebollado is a soup made from ground yuca root and fish mixed with potatoes making it a creaming soup with the fish in chunks (albocore tuna).  I couldn't put my spoon down.  It is served with platano macho chips, so they are salted and crispy.  

My team in Ecuador.

A great group of teachers and we did a lot of group activities and shared ideas on teaching strategies.

My conference was one of the best planned.  My coworkers did an excellent job of sending out invitation, hand delivered to schools, making the arrangements for the ballroom I had and had a wonderful lunch for the teachers.   Teachers came as far as 400 kms to participate in my CLIC presentation.  It was a blast, they learned, laughed and took a lot of pictures.   

I've been invited back for two to four weeks over the next six months.  

The trip home comes tomorrow.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trip To Guayaquil Ecuador

I have to apologize for not posting sooner but I'm on the run with work.  Monday evening I flew to Mexico City and arrived around 9 p.m.  I messaged for an Uber and he was there in a few minutes but airport traffic delayed my ride over 10 minutes although I could see him across the airport rotunda.

We had an interesting chat on the way to the hotel which was only a few minutes away.  He told me his experience shaking through the earthquake last month.  I related my stories of my friends whose apartments suffered minor and major damage.   CDMX as we now call it, is on the quick mend.  Funny though, tonight I saw on CNN (yep that fake news station) that people in Houston are still on standby getting their homes repaired from severe flood damage.  How could that be?  I don't see much about that or Florida in the news.

Checked in and walked down the street to Sanborn's where I had a delicious plate of enchiladas suisas.  Now, let correct that.  Sanborn's is the original for enchiladas suisas (swiss enchiladas).  That said, they were very good but they now have very stiff competition from their competitor VIPs.  If you've never been to either one, you are missing out.  The cleanest, tastiest food you can buy from a chain restaurant which I can't even say compares to a Denny's or Jim's.  It's the food, the ambiance, the culture.  Should you go to Sanborn's for an experience, make the Casa de Los Azulejos, which is just outside the zocalo or main plaza in CDMX.  It dates back to the 1500s and has quite a history.  You can check it on Wikipedia.  Tacos on the street aren't the only thing that makes Mexican food famous.

My hotel, City Express, was on my complaint list earlier this year.  They are a super discount chain but one that was just not good enough to spend the night.  It was like staying in a hostel.   Well, things have changed and they have now created three different levels of their hotels and this one is brand new and meets or exceeds my expectations.  Imagine jets flying at a height of 10 stories and I'm on the forth floor of the hotel.  Never heard a sound all night or early morning not to mention the in-room amenities.

Slept in and checked out at 11:30 for my 2:00 p.m. flight.  Uber picked me up and we headed for the terminal just 3 kms away.  Uber charge was $4 U.S.  Checked out with immigration, headed to my gate and headed off to Panama.  The airport in Panama is called, Hub of the Americas.  It is one, long, and super extended duty-free shopping mall.  Once on board a great lunch with a very good red wine followed by an in-flight movie.  Arrived in Panama with 15 minutes to catch my connection.  I walked fast but didn't run.  Heck, if I miss it what could happen?  

The flight to Guayaquil was an hour and forty minutes with a very good hot snack and of course free drinks.  We arrived on time and my coworker was there to meet me and whisk me off to my room at the Holiday Inn for an excellent night's sleep.  

More tomorrow.  I have pictures but don't have a cable to download them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Problem With Ex-Pats

As you all know, I'm a Mexophile.  It's in my blood and I will do just about anything to defend this great place that all of you live or rv in or certainly would love too.  But, there always seems to be some issues that people can't seem to overcome.

1)  Mexico is not the U.S. or Canada
2)  We have country specific issues
3)  We have a much newer and stronger electric grid than other American countries
4)  Poverty levels in numbers are the same in Mexico as in the U.S. (not per capita)
5)  We are not a country of immigrants
6)  We respect, for the most part, our large number of Native Americans and their languages
7)  We lack rv parks (It's really not a Mexican thing and it's a niche market that is slowly dying)
8)  We're not a bilingual country,  unlike the U.S. and Canada, so learning the language is a must
9)  We're a society that isn't big on suing people, aesthetics, or maintenance
10) Most U.S./Canadian immigrants come here because Mexico is cheap  (forget the fresh produce thing)

I am listing these things because I belong to a Facebook group called Ex-pats in Mexico.  It's truly a picture perfect example of ex-pats in the country.  They piss and moan about everything and never take the good parts of Mexico into account.  They have little knowledge of tax laws, employment and benefits and the how and why Mexicans live the way they do.  It's understandable.  How can you read, investigate or watch anything in Mexico if you don't understand the language, work here, study here or have family here.  I'm convinced it is the make it or break it for those who would really like to embrace the Mexican culture.

OTOH, few ex-pats in Mexico really look for or desire the true Mexican experience.  They want to live in an American compound, hang out in an rv park where they will rarely find a Mexican, they want to buy American/Canadian products (I truly believe that cheddar cheese is a religious sacrificial offering), they require English speaking handymen, housekeepers, storekeepers, and every other service that exists to speak English.  Sorry folks, it's not going to happen.  It's not the culture.  

I bring this up because I am leaving that group.  No matter what factual information, charts, webpages (which they can't read anyway) that I provide, they base their experience on a very small slice of Mexico.  For example, rvers that spend the winter in some small beach town (I can't stand the word village), where the services are limited, people live in palapas and collect crabs on the beach selling them to people in the rv park.  Few of these same people have ever visited Appalachia or the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, well you get the idea.  That's not to say that all Mexicans who live in rural or small beach communities fit into that category. 

Now that I've said this, please do not take this as a wide brush that paints all ex-pats with the same color.  In fact, we recently met someone in SMA who has fallen in love with Mexico and is here for many, many reasons.  Many of you who read this are also Mexophiles and love the country as much as I do  (like my long lost friends Sandy and Dennis). 

As a side note, I have found a secret friend.  His name is Danny.  He is a preschooler and has autism.  He is a truly wonderful person and brightens my day.  He sees me and says in English, "happy".   That makes me happy.