Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Sunday we took a drive out to see Peña de Bernal which is "said" to be one of the worlds tallest monoliths. More on that later. The drive seemed to take forever, the highways were fantastic and the pueblo de Bernal is something I have never seen. Similar to Salamanca and Queretaro, it has a unique flare and is very warm to tourists. The place was swarming with activity when we arrived and began our climb up the monolith.
Les was the one who suggested we all go out for the climb and I was a bit hesitant. He had mentioned that in his research it was about a 3 hour climb up and down. Sounded like to much for me but being a good sport Juan coaxed me into it.
Three cars went out and three of us climbed the monolith. I have to say, you really don't climb to the top of the rock but to a summit on one side. To get to the top you can see climbers with ropes, spikes and hammers working their way up the side. You can also see markers of those that have fallen off in an attempt to reach the top.
The altitude in general is high enough that your lungs really get a good workout. We started the climb along with a rash of other people mostly families and with gusto. As we continued our way up we were fortunate enough to have to wait to let people pass. That gave us an opportunity to catch our breath. The views of the town as well as the far off distances are amazing. I wish I had known about this place before, we would have come when it wasn't so crowded.
As we got to the top, we took a break before heading down and talked with other climbers and joking about how out of shape we are. There was a little weiner dog named Jagger who didn't seem to have any problems at all. It must of been the fact that he has four feet instead of two and he is low to the ground.
Having only had a small breakfast early in the morning we started to build up an appetite. The closer we got the more I could smell good things. Near the parking area there were swarms of tourists and lots of snack food. We opted to wait and find a nice restaurant. We got into town and Les took off to buy some scarves for his girlfriend and we headed to the nearest restaurant, El Mezquite. More food than I needed but remembering my childhood, I had to clean up my plate or send it off to India.
After lunch we all met up and started our journey back to SMA. Got home and everyone was waiting for us to go out for dinner to our favorite place, El Pegazo. More on that later. Too many photos to post.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Friday we walked around town. First stop on Christmas Day was a small breakfast. We weren't feeling very lucky, everywhere we went they were closed. Only a few lonely souls walking to work and others not sure of their destination. Then it happened. As we walked past a doorway to a small house we could smell fried corn tortillas and we knew it was for us. The small sign above said, La Tonita. There in the entryway were three women. One was working over a wood fired comal, another shredded chicken for the enchiladas and tacos and another sat nearby enjoying this fine fare. It was simple food meant for simple people and that is exactly what we were looking for. Three crispy tacos filled with fresh cooked beans, smothered in a fried mixture of lettuce, onion, potatoes and carrots and topped with a mean green salsa capable of curing anything that had taken place the night before.
After that we walked over to the main plaza just in time to hear the Christmas Day bells ringing. We made a twenty second video which I attempted to email to our families but it turned out to be too heavy of a file. A small crowd was had gathered in the plaza recounting the events of the previous day. In Mexico, Noche Buena is the big Christmas celebration unlike Christmas Day in the U.S. I took the time to have a ten peso shoe shine and off we went looking for two great restaurants that we wanted to scope out for the coming week; La Buganbilia y El Pegaso.
Later in the day we went to the movies to see "Avatar". Typical American movie, lots of noise, action and special effects. The only thing I got out of the movie was when one of the marines said, "first we make them our enemy and then we have a reason to kill them". A lot of corn for the price of a ticket. But we went and it was a fun outing.
Later that night Croft and Norma put out a big spread and we all got together for a potluck. We all had too much to eat and drink and the next day we were all pretty quiet. I got a haircut for 30 pesos and a hot breakfast with coffee included for 35 pesos. You can't beat that. We also started back to the gym and there are many here is SMA.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Our potluck at the rv park in town was a big success. Yes Jonna, you should consider firing up the Lazy Daze and taking a winter trip. Lots of people showed up, I don't have an official count but there must have been 35 to 40 people, mostly rvers. We had turkey, chicken, Juan's excellent green beans with bacon and potatoes, a wonderful focaccia bread, a very tasty rasberry cobbler made by a guy who works in Kings Canyon (I'm terrible with names, shame on me). We talked about everything from rving to politics and culture. Some of the rvers are heading to South America. One couple plans a 3 year trip leaving on Sunday for Argentina. Can you imagine what that will be like! A dream come true. Others may head to Australia to rv the outback.
Here's a picture of (left to right) Terry, Les, Journey of a Lifetime blogger, Claudia from the Netherlands and another neighbor from La Siesta.
Here's Juan with Mike and Terry Church, Rolling Homes Press having a chat and a glass of wine.
Being the rv nut that I am I had to find all the owners and ask for a tour. These lovely ladies from Quebec have a Class B van that they custom designed. Very practical and roomy. They are lots of fun and what I am learning is that I may have to start taking French lessons.
Croft's wife Norma Croft's Mexico Blog sharing a good time with me. Today, Norma is getting us all together for a potluck at their place.
A Merry Christmas to Wandering Willy who is somewhere outside Mexico City!
Finally, Merry Christmas to everyone, friends, family, and all the rvers who are in Mexico!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
We left the house right on schedule at 7:30. As you can see the gypsy was one happy camper. We drove through Monterrey taking the truck route. Very simple coming from our house south of Monterrey on Hwy 85. Head north on 85, take Revolución as you near Constitución you will see the big red Holiday Inn. The exit on the right before crossing the bridge says, "Morones Prieto". Take it right and as you enter Morones Prieto take the first or second turn around and head north. That takes you all the way to the Autopista Saltillo which is a real chulada.
The good thing about the new autopista Saltillo is that if you are coming from Laredo or Reynosa you just stay on Hwy 40 and as you exit the ring of Monterrey you have the option of "libre" or "cuota". Excellent highway, no curves and as smooth as silk. Another big advantage is that it takes you to the Hwy 57 exit and if not directly to Monclova bypassing Saltillo. Another job well done.
We drove all day stopping for gas and a quick bite to eat. The roads were packed with holiday travelers coming from the U.S. and northern Mexico. All the toll booths were filled with employees directing traffic, giving out directions to confused travelers like ourselves.
We passed the exit for Dolores Hidalgo and continued south on Hwy 57 taking the Celaya exit. This takes you directly to SMA and just a couple kms from La Siesta RV Park. As we pulled into the park, just in time I might add, happy hour was taking place over at Croft and Norma's place. A crowd of about eight people all with their wine glasses held high. We got settled and had quite an evening. Today we head over to the other park in town for a potluck where Les and Mike and Terry Church are staying.
Monday, December 21, 2009
I didn't arrive home from Mexicali until 9:30 Saturday night. Relaxing but long was the day. I was fortunate enough to stay at a nice hotel, the Crown Plaza, which has a fantastic gym and very comfortable rooms. I was able to sleep in, work out, have breakfast and then surf the net before leaving for the airport at 12:30.
Sunday I spent most of the day hanging around taking short naps. Later Sunday evening we went to a memorial mass for Juan's dad who passed away five years ago.
Today was rush, rush, rush. I had to turn in my invoices to the publisher so I might get paid the second week of January. I cleaned the house, worked outside in the trailer, and had some help raking the leaves. All the painting I had planned to do got done. So I am a happy camper. I also drove to Allende to check on our place there before leaving town.
Tomorrow we might take off before noon for San Miguel de Allende, if not first thing bright and early on Wednesday. I can't wait to see everyone who is there and meet those I haven't met in person but on the internet.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
I found this article on the Associated Press. There is a conscience and it is in the air in Mexico.
Tijuana's drug war focuses on policeBehind every crime is a corrupt cop.
That's Public Safety Chief Julian Leyzaola's mantra as he storms Tijuana with its most aggressive police reform to date, a mix of counterterrorism and community policing. If it works, it could be a model for other hotspots and a huge breakthrough in a drug war in Mexico that has taken more than 14,000 lives in the last three years.
But the job is as monumental as turning around Al Capone's Chicago. Cops in this border city and many others nationwide now serve as the eyes and ears of drug lords. And those who fight the cartels often end up dead.
The Associated Press followed Leyzaola for eight months as he rallied troops, consoled officers' widows and appealed to jaded residents for support. The AP joined commanders and officers on patrol, at target practice and in training classes, tracking firsthand Leyzaola's intended reforms.
Leyzaola, 49, joined Tijuana police in 2007, after 25 years in the army and stints running Baja California's state prisons and police. A year ago, he became head of the largest police force in Baja, where 90 percent of officers surveyed last year failed federal security checks.
"Listen well," the retired military officer says with his trademark certitude. "No delinquent can survive without help from the authorities. If you do not clean up the police, you will never get rid of drug trafficking."
The march to recapture the city starts in early 2009 and expands to a new district every three months. The plan is to end in 2011 in the east, the city's most violent section, where Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental wages a vicious campaign to take over's drug trade.
Leyzaola draws his strategy from many sources, including French counterterrorism operations in Algeria in the 1950s and Colombia's war against its cartels in the '90s. He has $7 million in federal funding this year.
The plan for each district: Make a slew of arrests. Then replace beat cops with officers who pass intensive background checks and put in former military officers as commanders. They patrol small areas in new pickup trucks and are responsible for whatever happens in their area.
First up is downtown Tijuana.
Felipe Gandara, 37, is one of 400 Tijuana officers who passed the new training and background checks for downtown. In March, he begins by introducing himself at every bank, foreign-exchange business and restaurant.
"It's important to lose your anonymity," Leyzaola says. "I believe police abused their positions because no one knew who they were."
Gandara likes Leyzaola's approach.
"It was a complete change, a lot more responsibility," Gandara says. "Every crime is your responsibility."
Victor de la Cruz, the former Air Force officer appointed to oversee the launch, estimates a 40 percent increase in people reporting crimes in little more than a month.
The same month, Leyzaola's bodyguard of 18 months, Ricardo Omar Medina, is among 130 officers caught in an anti-corruption spree.
Medina receives a call late one March night to report to Leyzaola at 8 a.m. for a new radio. When he arrives, his boss demands his vest, badge and other equipment.
"I've lost trust in you," Leyzaola tells him.
About 250 were fired or pressured to resign. When Leyzaola suspects cops are dirty, he puts them on patrol in the palm trees outside police headquarters — a job that humiliates most into quitting.
According to court documents, one of the officers arrested in March said he got $500 a month from El Teo's gang to keep streets clear of cops during murders and kidnappings. If he refused, his family would be killed. Another officer said he was paid $300 to $500 each time he released criminals at El Teo's command.
Leyzaola likes confronting them personally — in his office, at their stations, even on patrol. He sometimes drives them himself to the army barracks, where they are held.
Families of the officers come forward immediately with allegations of torture — electrocuted genitals, near-suffocation, severe beatings Leyzaola says he is not responsible for what happened to officers in army custody.
The threats start on April 24, broadcast over Tijuana's old police radios that drug traffickers routinely commandeer: If Leyzaola doesn't resign, cops will die.
Three days later, Officer Luis Izquierdo, Gandara's former partner and mentor, is on the night shift, patrolling the San Diego border with three other cops. He walks into a convenience store just as a caravan of black SUVs drives by. Men get out of the vehicles and pump Izquierdo and three others with more than 200 bullets.
The police scanners hum with a "narcocorrido," or a drug ballad. Three more officers go down in synchronized attacks across the city.
Gandara picks up the radio traffic and calls his wife.
"Luis is dead," he says.
She calls Izquierdo's wife to break the news: Seven officers killed in 45 minutes.
It is the department's deadliest day.
The next day, Leyzaola stops the community policing, less than two months into the program. His officers are too exposed. They turn to patrolling large areas in convoys of as many as six trucks.
The department's 2,000 officers get two-week courses on securing crime scenes, surveilling suspects and other basic policing techniques.
The tip comes in early June: Drug trafficker Filiberto Parra Ramos — wanted for killing two federal agents and for his role in one of Tijuana's deadliest shootouts — is spotted in. The army already is out looking.
Leyzaola joins the massive search for him.
After a false alarm, Parra is cornered at a shopping center near the airport. Leyzaola personally makes the arrest — nabbing one of El Teo's top assassins without firing a single shot.
The hits ramp up in July.
The body of Officer Geronimo Calderon, pumped with bullets, is left with a note: "If you don't resign, Leisaola (sic), I'm going to kill 5 x week."
That night, a Tijuana cop survives an assassination attempt as he stands unarmed outside a grocery store. An officer dies in drive-by shooting the next day while guarding a Mexican Red Cross center, and a third is killed five days later in an ambush.
By September, funerals are part of Leyzaola's routine.
Leyzaola is also quietly campaigning to keep his job after his boss, Mayor Jorge Ramos, is forced out by term limits in December 2010.
"We're really only in our first year," he says. "In two years, Tijuana will see a real difference."
After the September killings, Leyzaola moves his campaign to Playas de Tijuana three months earlier than scheduled.
The district gets new radios and 58 new Ford F250s. They had 14 patrol vehicles before.
All over the city, cops are scared. They routinely patrol with their rifles drawn.
Officer Mario Pena, who worked the district where Izquierdo died, stops wearing his uniform to work and alternates his routes home. He quits meeting officers for coffee on the job, stops socializing with them on weekends for fear they will be recognized and gunned down.
But he says the killings are a sign that Leyzaola is succeeding.
"We are finishing off the mafia," he says.
El Teo has other plans.
By the end of September, the Mexican army gets another tip: U.S. authorities say a weapons purchase north of the border indicates a plot is afoot to kill Leyzaola.
The intelligence leads soldiers in October to a Tijuana shoe shop, where they arrest Edgar Zuniga, one of El Teo's men. Zuniga leads them to a ranch on the eastern outskirts, where the assassins' vehicles are being painted in camouflage to trick Leyzaola as they approach.
The plan calls for 12 men to approach Leyzaola in a fake military convoy as one takes him out with a .50-caliber rifle. The execution would be videotaped, set to a narcocorrido and posted on the Internet.
Soldiers surprise the planners Oct. 31 in a shootout at the ranch, arresting 13 suspects. They seize more than 3,400 bullets, plus the camouflaged vehicles.
The foiled hit had been personally ordered by El Teo for Nov. 1.
In Leyzaola's first year as public safety director, 32 officers died, more than in the previous five years total. Dozens went to jail and the department shrunk from about 2,200 to 2,000 — forcing him to extend patrol shifts from eight to 12 hours.
His community policing plan is still on hold.
But Leyzaola already is looking to next year, planning to hire 150 new officers, send 50 at a time to train with the bulletproof vests, each backed by a manufacturer's $50 million guarantee. He hopes to restart community policing early in 2010.and issue new
He avoids speculating on what would have happened if the plot had gone through. Leyzaola is a man who only moves forward.
"God protects me," he says.
Friday, December 18, 2009
We finished early today and I had a chance to drive through wine country here in Ensenada. We visited three but only one was open for tours. The drive from Ensenada is very relaxing and as you climb the hills you start to see the vineyards. Some are well-known labels and others not. I didn't taste any wines as I had to travel from Ensenada to Mexicali where I am right now to catch my flight tomorrow afternoon to get back to Monterrey. I just arrived to the Crown Plaza so will have a bite to eat and then watch some television.
The exit from the main highway in Ensenada to Wine Country
El Parral Hotel and Winery
Bibayoff was on our tour but it was a smaller vineyard and their prices were very high. Their tasting was only five dollars which included four wines but I wasn't impressed. Good wine doesn't have to be expensive unless they have extremely high production costs.
My second favorite wine after La Cetto is California red wine, comes in a simple tetra one liter presentation is sells for 25 pesos. Great table wine. I have never been to France, but Juan has and he says their daily table wine is cheap and very very good.
After our short tour, we returned to Ensenada and I bought my ticket to head to Mexicali. The trip to Mexicali is long as it goes over the mountains and there is also a 10 to 15 km stretch that is under construction. This part is between Ensenada and Tecate. No highway, they removed all the pavement. There is lots of activity but I guess I don't understand why they didn't do it in parts. It took us more than 45 minutes. Not too bad, but drive slow.
The scenery was fantastic.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Ensenada is a great place to visit for a couple days before heading south. There are rv parks everywhere, a Walmart to spend the night as well as a Costco. City buses cost 6 pesos. Last night I took the bus over to the MacroPlaza mall to walk around and have dinner. Buses in Ensenada are actually used car rental shuttle buses that are in tip top shape. There is no cord or bell to let the driver know where you want to get off. Since it isn't a big bus, you just speak up and say "baja" or indicate where up ahead you want off.
Most people know that the food in Baja is great. Fish tacos, shrimp dishes and ice cold beer. Tomorrow I am inviting the program supervisor out for lunch and we are having seafood. I'll make sure I get a shot of what we eat.
Animal Cruelty - Thousands of exotic animals found overcrowded
On a sad note, if you haven't seen it on the news, 30,000 exotic animals, reptiles and birds were found in a warehouse in Arlington, Tx. Many of them dead or in very bad shape. Yes, that is the number up to now and they are counting, 30,000. The company had employees working there and there is now an arrest warrant for the owner.
We just had Friend fixed yesterday. I found her in April, almost dead. Revived her and got her home. The vet said I needed to wait before he could fix her as she needed to gain weight. Well she did when she escaped from the quinta and got pregnant. The pups all have good homes now and she won't be having any more babes.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I wasn't able to find another gym other than the one I went to last July here in Ensenada. So this morning I went running along the beach. Cold and a bit windy, I work a jacket, sweats and gloves. Not a soul in sight until I was on my way back to the hotel. Rush hour traffic, as much as you can call it that in Ensenada.
Today is session two of the "diplomado" I am teaching. The view that stands in front of me is a huge distraction.
We are using the facilities of a private university, CETYS. Wonderful facilities and they have three campus' here in Baja Norte.
We are in the library which is filled with books. Later this week I am listing the universities that are here in Ensenada along with their cost. There are around ten public and private.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
As I got off the plane I headed for the baggage claim. We went through a military check in the airport and after we were finished a big surprise! All 150 passengers from two flights were escorted out of the airport, lined up, with our bags in front of us, and they passed the K-nine unit through, then formed another line and they checked all our bags again. Oh the times we live in. Well, you know, we asked for it. We've dug this pit and now we have to find some way out of it. BTW, I won't discuss this particular problem on my blog (please).
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I drove into town yesterday to pick up some things for my trip. Tomorrow I'll be flying to Mexicali to meet a co-worker and then on to Ensenada for the week. I will be teaching a course to 75 teachers before the holiday vacation.
As I was leaving CostCo, a guy walked by and turned around and looked at me several times. Usually it is a teacher who has taken a course with me, been in a seminar, or an ex-student from one of the companies in Monterrey.
I started to ask him if I he knew me when he said, "excuse me, do you have a blog about camping and living in Mexico?". That's weird. We chatted for a bit to only find out that he used to own a small restaurant right around the corner from my house on the lake. It is a small world.
Now that I am traveling to Ensenada, I will have to do double time when I return next weekend. We are hitting the road no matter what and San Miguel de Allende here we come.
I don't know what happened to sunny Mexico. The weather in Baja California and specifically Ensenada will be between 65 daytime and 42 in the evenings and even some rainy days. I am packing some warm clothes to go running along the beach in the mornings. You may remember I was in Ensenada in July of this year. Here is are links to that week with some great photos:
Ensenada July 2, 2009 Ensenada July 3, 2009
One of the things that I have had a hard time finding in Mexico is a product to feed our septic tank. I usually buy a box or two of Reckitt Benckiser Rid X. This works really well for us. Our septic tank is a combination tank/filter system. I have seen a liquid product before here in Monterrey but can no longer find it. If anyone who lives here knows about it, please drop me a line.
I need to start packing for tomorrow. It will be a long day. I will be posting along my trip this week if anyone is interested in visiting Ensenada, Mexicali or Tijuana.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Now we wait for the . . . . . . rest of the story!
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Over on the forum there is a debate over food prices in Mexico. My personal opinion, after returning from a weekend in San Antonio, prices are much cheaper here. Many people say that the price of tortilla is now 12 pesos per kilo or more. That is the official price allowed by law in tortillerias. However, like any good shopper, you need to get out of your neighborhood and go the market or the supermarket on the Dia del Mercado. This is usually on Tuesday in Mexico. All the good produce is on display, leader prices are all over the store to attract customers. In all supermarket chains the price leaders are corn tortillas which are now 5.82 pesos per kilo, along with rice, beans, eggs, chile, tomatoe and onion.
You can also check prices on line via Profeco (Mexico's Better Business Bureau). Below is the link. Click on the major city nearest you and start shopping. You will find all the prices by product and by store, the most expensive and the cheapest. This link in the Profeco page is called, ¿Quien Es Quien? (Who's Who?). http://profeco.gob.mx/precios/menu_qq1.asp
Also, if you live in a major city or close by, you can do your grocery shopping on line. Soriana has an online shopping site where you can elect all your shopping needs from fresh meats, produce, drinks and cleaning supplies. I have found that their Soriana brand or generic does not appear in the lists. You have two options; delivery or you pick up the order later. Here is their site and you can also check prices on line: www1.soriana.com Click on Tienda Virtual Soriana.
I did some quick shopping this morning at HEB, they too have on line shopping. HEB stores are located in the Monterrey Metro area, Reynosa, Leon, Tampico, San Luis Potosi, Matamoros, Saltillo, and now in Piedras Negras. http://www.hebmexico.com/hebmx/default.aspxid=ailsYCIyBhaHp6oEtXiOlA%3d%3d
This is what I found on sale at HEB; bananas .22 lb., zuchinni squash .49 lb., white onions .38 lb., golden apples .58 lb., chicken thighs .35 lb., Hill Country Fare Ham (HEB brand) 2.49 lb, fresh shrimp 2.99 lb.
If you are buying off a truck that passes through the rv park, be leary of quality and most of all price because the owner usually buys at a supermarket on sale and hikes up the prices. Very common practice. People from around here buy at CostCo in bulk and then resell the products at a higher markup in their small neighborhood stores.
BTW, OXXO convenience stores now prices their products that you would buy in a supermarket competitively with those of HEB and Soriana.