Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Honesty Is Still The Best Policy
Last night I was admiring the new lights that were installed in the living room and it got me thinking about what I paid for the lights and the dimmer switch. On close inspection of the invoice, I realized that one lamp cost 128 pesos and the other 32. How could that be if they were the same. At first I thought, wow, did I get a bargain. But then I realized that "honesty is the best policy". Today I returned to Home Depot to explain my situation. They agreed that there was a problem and called for someone from the lighting department. Upon closer investigation, they charged me for one white and one black fixture. The black fixtures are now discontinued and are being sold for 32 pesos. Weird. They said there was no issue for them. So now I am trying to figure out how I could use some more of these around the house. Hey, at less than 3 dollars with the bulb included you just can't go wrong.

Funfinder Mods
Someone recently asked me if I had made any mods to the Shadow Cruiser Funfinder. Well I have and I have some pictures to show you. First off, I don't care much for dinettes. The focus of the rv for me is a comfortable work/living area. After the first year of thinking I wanted to leave the rv as original as possible, I took out the dinette. We were planning on a long trip to Las Vegas via Phoenix where we visited friends. I remembered how much I liked the barrel chairs that were in the Trailmanor. Low-profile, swivel, and just the right size for people under 5'7". I got on the Trailmanorowners page and found a guy selling two chairs. I phoned him up and believe it or not, he lived in the Phoenix area. We made a deal. He had sold his TM and bought a motorhome. For some reason he still had the chairs. He was leaving on vacation and left the chairs on his back patio. We swung by, picked up the chairs and dropped a check under the door. Done deal.
Pretty neat, huh! Well the best part, which shows that I can do some handy things when I really want to, is the carpet-covered wheel well. I had the LP detector and an outlet that needed to be relocated. So I took out the wheel well and cut new places for both the LP and the outlet. I purchased track to hide and protect the cabling.Another addition to the Funfinder was a gauge for the LP tank. I had a great one on the Trailmanor and it was fairly accurate. I happened into Costco one day and they had a gauge for under 200 pesos. What the heck! It works okay, isn't the most accurate but it is a reminder for me to check the tank. I can't help but see it when I hook and unhook or adjust the level height.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Shoe Shine and A Lamp

This morning I had a class cancellation. I like those. It gives me the time to do other things like running errands. Today I stayed longer at the gym and put together my list of "things to do" (pendientes). First on my list was a stop by the Home Depot. I needed to buy two light fixtures for the living room. While I was there, I saw a guy pulling into the parking lot with a leaf blower in the bed of his truck. I stopped him and asked if he did yard work. He gave me his card and we had a short conversation. I am looking for someone to do the yard work at home one day a week so I can do other things. So this afternoon Disiderio is coming to my house. He says he has a weird name and when I said that I do to (at least here in Mexico), I told him my name was Christopher. He said he has a brother named Christopher too. He is bringing him along. The good luck that I have, Christopher is an electrician and is going to install the lights, the dimmer switch, and fix a bad outlet I have. I'll post pics of these guys working later in the afternoon.
I also was on the lookout for a shoe shine. I found a guy setting up his stand in front of the supermarket. We talked a bit about what was up in the news and I asked him if he would mind me taking his picture. He was very happy to do so.You've just gotta love this country. My shoe shine cost 15 pesos, about $1.40 u.s. Hey, he has a job, makes a living and I don't have to shine my shoes. We are both happy. Off to the bank in my little town. I had to deposit a check and get some information on a home improvement loan. Sorry, but I couldn't take pictures in the bank but here is one of the main drag.
Well, with the best of intentions, I forgot to get a picture of the electrician working. He came with the whole family so that they could get out of the city. The kids loved running around in the yard and his wife enjoyed the peace and quiet. So here is a pic of the spot that he installed (2) in the living room, he also installed a dimmer switch and fixed a bad outlet.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Short Week
This is a short work week as we have a five day weekend coming up. I explain them as they arrive and give you an idea of what people around here do on a long weekend.

I stopped by Costco and Walmart this morning on my way home. I needed to pick up a couple of birthday cards and look for some new jeans. I hate buying clothes and worse than that, I hate trying things on. My tastes are simple and I am not a fashion type of guy. Some people say I'm cheap, I say I am practicle.

You can see by the photo that Monterrey looks pretty much like any other big city. Mexico loves big box stores. Do you know why? Big box stores charge the IVA (value added tax) and pay regularly to the government. You call him Uncle Sam or Uncle Sugar. Her we call her "Lolita". Because most street markets, pulgas, tiangis or stalls and flea markets are formal businesses and not registered, no tax is paid. So can you believe we have 4 Walmarts, 2 Costco, 1 City Club and now 20 HEB supermarkets.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Los Cavazos/ Blog Plan

First off, today is Sunday and it is my day to eat out. With my exercise and diet plan, I try to limit myself to just one day a week to eat whatever I want. So here in Los Cavazos which used to be an ranch and now a neighborhood in our municipality of Santiago, we have a stretch of the highway famous for selling handy crafts (artesanias) and breakfast and lunch buffets. Prices range from 25 pesos to 60 pesos. My neighbor owns La Esquina which is the best lunch buffet in terms of quality, variety and ambiance.Today I am having breakfast at Primo Lalo. Breakfast is all you can eat. Barbacoa, queso en salsa, empalmes, chicharron, fried potatoes, salchicha en salsa, beans, rice, eggs any way you like; omelet, fried, scrambled, scrambled with ham, chorrizo, bacon, potatoe, hot cakes, pan dulce, fresh fruit, yoghurt, and so on.
Along this stretch of the highway, Regiomontanos (citizens of Monterrey) come on weekends to visit the lake and to buy things to decorate their homes, furniture, paintings, lamps, accessories. There is always a crowd in the afternoons unless the Rayados or Tigres are playing soccer. In this last picture, I live over here before the mountain.
Blog Plan

What I want to do with this blog to provide information that readers will find useful when visiting Mexico. Either rving or traveling by air/car there are lots of requirements and rules that are important to know about. But, I need input from readers. Take advantage of the email and comments sections. I am open to any ideas.

In addition, I want to take advantage of the AdSense. With some of these funds I want to promote "Escuela del Mes" (School of the Month). Let me know your thoughts and comments on this.

I will be posting a new survey. "Are you interested in; a) rving in Mexico b) living in Mexico c) living and rving in Mexico.

Be back soon. Have a great Sunday and be happy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Copper Canyon - El Divisadero, Chih. to San Rafael, Chih.

We're pretty relaxed people and when we are on the road we don't have much of a plan. If we see a place we like we just plunk down and hang out for as long as we want. The lookout at El Divisadero was such a great place and hard to leave. The days we spent there are still great memories. Everyday was a different view, the sun cast different shadows and the sunsets were incredible. The people came and went while we were there and never gave us a second glance. Sure, a couple people wanted to know where we were from and what we were doing there. I always want to tell people we work in a circus because in most parts of Mexico where there aren't a lot of rvers, that is what Mexicans associate caravans and rvs with.

San Rafael is a short drive down the highway from El Divisadero. In fact, it is the end of the highway. The highway ends right here:
The beauty of boondocking in Mexico is, you just need to ask. As you can see in the picture, this store is up off the road and has a parking area. We parked on the road and went in to talk to the owner. She said she had no problem with us staying there overnight and we could stay longer if we wanted. Of course, in exchange we purchased groceries and snacks that we would take on the train. We disconnected the truck from the trailer and took up the least amount of room as possible. We have the cat with us so we put out food, water, lights (LEDs draw .01 amps) and some music. We didn't have to worry though. The Tarahumara buy some of their goods from this store so the kids would hang out and play with the cat through the window.We boarded the train for El Fuerte and a ride of a lifetime. The Chepe (Chihuahua-Pacifico) used to carry rvs on a caravan tour. That tour no longer exists and we aren't sure if it was banned by the railroad for safety reasons or something else. If anybody knows, leave a comment.
The train offers first and second class. We took second class and as teachers on summer vacation we were given a 50% discount. We road second class and there was never a dull moment. Either it was fantastic mountain views, or the interesting stops made along the way.

We arrived late in El Fuerte and took a taxi into town. We paid 120 pesos which we thought was a bit expensive but it was a long way to town. We checked out a couple of hotels and chose La Herradura. This hotel is two blocks off the main plaza, has newly remodeled rooms and great air conditioning.We showered up, fixed a drink for happy hour and to celebrate our arrival in El Fuerte. After, we hit the street looking for the plaza and a great restaurant. As we walked the plaza asking for information, a man approached me and asked me if he could help. He spoke in English and told me he had lived in the states for awhile and returned to start his family. This is so typical of Mexicans, they will go out of their way to be friendly and show the good side of their country. It ceases to amaze me after all these years. No wonder I love living here. Well, we did find a great place to eat based on this guys recommendation. A quick story about our hotel. We went to bed around 11p.m. There are only 20 rooms in the hotel to begin with and ours was closest to the lobby. We heard a loud screaming coming from the lobby and it seemed as though it would never end. Finally, we went out to the lobby to ask the two guys sitting there if they could tone it down. The young kid said, "I can't, this guy is deaf and he can't hear a word I'm saying". ;). They took their rocking chairs outside to continue their conversation. The next morning we had a couple of hours before the train left for our return to San Rafael. We had a quick breakfast and took some photos of the town.

Back on the train, I took awhile to read and enjoy the scenery. We were really up in the mountains and you find people living on small ranches along the route. Some places I guess are so remote that the kids come out to wave at the train as it passes by. Simple life and so desirable and beautiful. We work so hard so that in the end we can live simply. Here, it is just a way of life.

I'm going to wrap up our great Copper Canyon trip here. We headed home on the same route and were strapped for time. We drove as much as we could stopping for nap time and pressing on the next day. It was a great trip, and I highly recommend it to anyone whether you RV or not. We met a nice couple from Nova Scotia who had flown down to Chihuahua just to take the train. They loved the trip and stopped several times on their route for days at a time. They said they would love to come back and stay longer. For me it's the same way. I love to be out exploring and I like to have my little house with me. Finding out of the way places where you find the unexpected. Peace and quiet and a respite from the reality in which we live.

Tomorrow I'll be posting my plan for the blog and also another survey question. Stayed tuned and until tomorrow, be happy and enjoy life.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Copper Canyon - Divisadero, Chih.
Greatest Boondocking In The Canyon

El Divisadero is located 50 Kms from Creel and is one of the most important train stations on the Chepe route. It has some of the best views of the canyons with well-built and modern walkouts over the canyon. Some even have glass floors so that you can see the canyon down below. It is said that the panoramic view extends up to 160 Kms. and you can see the Copper Canyon as well as Tararecua and Urique. There is the famous hotel which you saw in the picture yesterday morning with views overlooking the edge of the canyon.
From your hotel room you can see Tarahumara living in their cabins in the canyon and in the caves along the canyon edge. I strongly suggest that you have your binoculars with you so you can appreciate all the views.

The train tracks are not far from the canyon. From the parking area you cross the street and walk up a set of steps. Along these steps are vendors selling trinkets, goods made by the Tarahumara, souvenirs of Creel, Divisadero and Chihuahua.
At the top of the stairs along the railroad tracks is a Mexican-food eaters delight. The food was so good that we stopped back by after our canyon train tour.

From Divisadero hotel and rail station, you take the parking lot road up the hill and you'll see this sign.This road is actually a dirt landing strip. You follow the sign to the "mirador" and you will arrive at a new lookout with a couple of parking spots.
During the day, there are a few women there selling their wares along with their kids. They are quiet though and there is no music or noise. Not many people come to this lookout. There is room for a Class B, small TT and TV, or you can park on the road in the woods along the way. This is a very safe area. I mentioned yesterday that you don't see many Tarahumara men or teenage boys working in the open. It is said that after 14 years of age, they stay at home with the fathers while the women and kids work. At this lookout a Tarahumara would bring his wife and her wares in his truck about 8 a.m. He would then sit on a rock high up on the other side of where we were and keep an eye on things during the day. At night, he would return and pick her up.This boondocking site is easy to find, easy to get to, safe and most of all away from the crowds. It is quiet during the day and even more so at night. One night we were able to hear drums coming from a celebration being held by the Tarahumara. The sunsets and sunrises are incredible. We stayed two days here before moving on to San Rafael where we boondocked one night, dropped the rig and hopped on the train for a ride of a lifetime through the Copper Canyon arriving in El Fuerte to spend the night.

Drop me an email or leave a comment. My goal is to provide interesting places to boondock in Mexico that are easily accessible and in addition, provide information on living and working in Mexico too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Copper Canyon - Creel Tours, Days 2 & 3
We went back to the tour booth located in the town square in Creel the next morning. On our way we ran into this guy(the picture is a bit blurred). There are two groups of Tarahumara. One that lives on the rim of the canyon and make their living by farming and tourism. The other, like the guy in the picture, live down deep in the canyon, don't speak Spanish, and wear the traditional dress. Those that live around the tourist areas, especially men, wear modern dress:
We chose to tour the cave dwellings where the Tarahumara actually live. After touring the caves, we came realize that what we were being shown is an actual dwelling, but is probably not inhabited 365 days a year. As you look around the canyon, best with binoculars, you can see that there are many who still live in the caves. One great place to see this is from Divisidero on the opposite side of the canyon looking towards the hotel. You can see the cave homes underneath(look closely, off in the distance you can see the hotel).The first tour we took was to Cusárare. The tour guide has his own vehicle. Most are 10 year old suburbans. We drove through a Tarahumara ranch where young girls were tending the sheep. We had to pay a toll to pass through their land and arrived at the church. We passed ancient burial grounds and toured the church. It has undergone major restoration. An interesting point about the Tarahumara is that the government, missionaries, churches and private organizations have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the area over the last 60 years. As with the indigenous people of the U.S., you can't change a culture. To date, it appears that the government programs attempt to retain the culture, yet provide basic needs and education. The education system includes bilingual teachers. Nearby is the Museo Loyola which houses over 30 rare and authentic 17th century paintings.

The guides have their own take on what goes on around the Copper Canyon. I guess you need to take it all with a grain of salt and sift through the information for yourself along with observations. As we were passing through the ranch and we saw young girls tending the animals we wondered where the boys and men were. As the days past, we realized that you only see women and children selling souvenirs. We went on to the "cascadas" or waterfalls. The weather was dry and it was April so there wasn't much water falling but it was still a great ride and conversation. We arrived at the waterfalls and there were quite a few tours. Most people went down the canyon to the bottom of the falls and took photos.Right, a picture of me in front of the waterfall :) Off we go to Divisidero and the greatest boondocking spot of all time. Level, quiet, and complete solitude as we sleep over the edge of the canyon.

Today I have to have some a/c work done on the car and I want to spend the night in Allende to see if I can resolve the 12V problem I am having. I'll try and post some pics as I go throughout the day. Have fun, enjoy life!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Copper Canyon - Creel, Chih.

It was great pulling into Creel. As I said yesterday, the scenery between Tonachí was incredible. The rv park, Hotel Villa Mexicana runs around $25 a night and has full hookups. We asked for a primitive rate and they let us stay for $10 a night. The place is really nice.
It is an ex-KOA. There are rooms, the standard KOA cabins, great showers and restrooms, pull-through rv spots and a restaurant/bar. Also, if you decide to take the train from Creel through the canyon, you can store your rig for $5 per day.
After we set up we headed straight for el centro. It is a ten minute walk from the rv park. Lots of tourist activity and we were on the look out for tourist information. At the main plaza is a tour guide center. Inside they list their rates for the different tours. We spoke with a couple different guides to get the scoop on what was the best to see.
Lots of shops line the streets and the train runs right off the main drag. We saw many tour buses with mostly Mexican tourists. Apart from all the shops that sell souvenirs, the restaurants, hostels and hotels,their is a church in the plaza that was founded by Father Luis Verplanken, a Jesuit priest from Guadalajara, who opened the Clinica Santa Teresita in 1965 next to the train tracks. It now houses the Mission Store, where Tarahumara handicrafts are sold, to help support the clinic. Great souvenirs at a very reasonable prices and for a good cause.
We stayed in Creel for two nights and three days. I'll show you some of the tours we took and talk about the cost.

Copper Canyon - Tonachí, Chih. to Creel, Chih.

You've heard the expression, "waking up with the chickens". Well, the next morning we did, literally!

The chickens were in a pen not far from the trailer so we didn't have much trouble getting up and on the road, although we were excited to get to Creel and see the canyon. This part of the trip was great driving, the scenery fantastic especially if you like driving in pine forests.

We pulled into Creel and as we passed the lake we discovered our first contact with the Tarahumara.

Everyone was friendly and eager to sell us something. As you'll see this week, the Tarahumara make most of their money selling things they either make or buy for resale. Just like the Virgin of Guadalupe and Mickey Mouse, many things are now made in China and sold here as souvenirs. I'll show you later how to pick some great buys that you can guarantee are made by the Tarahumara.
We'll pull into the campground at Creel tomorrow. We decided to stay there for two nights to get our feet wet. We paid for primitive instead of water and electric.
Please drop me an email and let me know if you find this info useful. Feel free to ask questions about boondocking or living in Mexico in the comments sections and I will be glad to answer it.
Did You Know You Can Use Credit Cards at Pemex Gas Stations?

Over 2500 Pemex stations accept credit cards. Each station has its own policy as it is a franchise and privately owned and operated under the rules of Petroleos Mexicanos. It is easy and I have been paying all my gas purchases, even while on the road, with debit or credit cards. Some stations only accept Visa and MasterCard while others in addition accept American Express and debit cards.

When you find a station, check to see if the sign says that they accept credit cards. If so, pull in and ask "do you have a line to charge?". If you don't see a sign showing the credit cards like the one here in the photo, ask where the nearest station is that accepts credit cards. They will tell you.

After the attendant pumps the gas, he will swipe your card through the reader shown below:

A print out will follow for you to sign and he will give you a copy of the credit card charge. At this time ask him for a ticket. The ticket appears below and it will show all the pertinent information; company, date, time, location, liters, price per liter and total purchase. This is your ticket of proof should you ever have a problem. I know that some people have had the swapping 50 for 500 situation. It has never happened to me or to almost anyone who purchases gas in Mexico. The credit card gives you the proof you need. You can always ask for a ticket with our without credit card purchase.