Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home From Chihuahua - Sick In Bed

First off, I want to shout out to Judy who posted a comment saying she is a new Funfinder owner and member of our Yahoo Funfinder Group. You'll love your Funfinder!

Made it home safe and sound last night from Chihuahua. The AeroMexico Connect flight was an Embraer 145. We hit quite a bit of turbulence and it just happened to start at the same time as the onboard snack service. We finally got a quick drink so I had my happy hour starter.

I have been fighting a cold all week, it seemed to just hang around without ever developing full blown. Well, now it's here and I my head feels like a swollen balloon. Good thing I am on vacation now until the end of January. Yes, I am on a two-month vacation.

First comes jury duty in San Antonio. I have opted not to take the Funfinder as my neighbor in San Antonio and best friend insisted I stay at their house. So I will give the Durango a real workout before our rv trip to Veracruz. I tested the mpg last week and came out much better than I thought, 19.73. That included some city driving. So I feel much better driving it although I have learned that fast starts are a real gas drinker and I have learned to drive it by the rmps not the mph.

One of the nice things about working with teachers is that they always give me gifts. Here is a pic of some the goodies I received while in Chihuahua.

I always try to interject my feelings about the environment via rving and camping. I used an example during the course about littering. I said that if you buy a product, you also buy the packaging. So if you buy a bag of chips you are the owner of the bag and you keep it with you until you find a place to put it. Sure enough, a teacher pulled out her bag of tricks and showed us her recycling project. Take a look.

Coin purse made of chip bags, and a handbag made of flip tops from aluminum cans.

Another purse made from potatoe chip bags.

This is the teacher who made the products. Every time I turned around, she had on another disguise. She was a real hoot. That's what makes a great English teacher.

If anyone is interesting in crossing the border around the 9th or 10th of December at the Columbia Bridge outside of Laredo, I will be heading back from San Antonio and would be glad to help you with your crossing and on to all points South. Just let me know via email and we can set something up. I know the people in Immigration and the rest of the permit process I can help with the Spanish. Being that I cross the opposite way, I know some but not alot of the process. At least I could be there for moral support and Spanish.

Save yourself some time and make three copies of everything. That will save you time. Remember, you can pay with credit card.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hidalgo de Parral - Chihuahua

Just returning from Parral to Chihuahua. It is Wednesday evening and the bus ride was fast. It was a new bus, first class, and we literally flew to Chihuahua. If I could have a motorhome like that bus I would be one happy rving dude. That thing floated in the air, the ride was smooth and I felt like I was sitting on my sofa at home.

I finished the course this afternoon around 2 p.m. The teachers took a practice TKT test and then the coordinator invited me to lunch at her house. We had fideo with beans, queso con rajas, and a delicious pastel de carne (meatloaf). Her husband opened a very good bottle of red wine and we had a grand time. Mexicans are such wonderful people, to open their home to me and feed me and offer me to stay there whenever I want. Really something.

Here are some pictures of the group. These teachers are not obligated to take this certification course. Although they know it will help them in the future, they come from all over the state. We had teachers from Jimenez, Parral, Goachocí, Tonachí, just to name a few. They ride on the bus for hours to be there. They are really a fun-spirited group and I am glad they made it to the course. Here they are taking a practice test.

Last night I had the opportunity to go downtown. A 20 peso taxi ride took me the main plaza. The downtown area of Parral is very posh with nice shops. If I had more time I would have bought a cappuchino and done some window shopping. It looks like a great town for retirees and rvers.

I would encourage rvers to take side trips whenever possible taking advantage of the modern and convenient bus system that exists in Mexico. No need to make a reservation, just walk into the bus terminal and find the carrier that has the best class service and departure time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Work Trip To Chihuahua

I'm a real busy beaver this last couple of weeks. This week I am working in Chihuahua City as well as Hidalgo del Parral which is 215 kms south. We have come through here on two trips. One was on the way to Las Vegas where we stopped here for gas and to head North to Chihuahua and on up to Douglas, AZ and the second time was our trip to Creel and the Copper Canyon. We went from Parral to Guachochí. Beautiful country.

However, this trip is via air and I have to say for someone who is under 5'7" and having spent most of my life looking up it is a pleasure to look down upon the Earth and see what it all looks like from afar.

I had most of Monday to get things ready for the trip. As usual it was a last minute change in plans. I was supposed to be working in Monterrey with new teachers for the English program in the state of Nuevo Leon.

I caught my flight at 5:15 pm. Things are so much easier today then they were 25 or 30 years ago. Now, I tell them what flight I want, what hotel, and in 15 minutes I receive my confirmation. I head to the airport and everything is ready. No waiting around, it is a quick click on the print key and I am off for the airplane. Plus, the beauty of national flights in Mexico is no two hour check in. Here I got to the airport 45 minutes before and still had time to get a bite to eat. Now that is service.

I took several pictures again from the air. I just love the mountain shots. So much of the Earth still seems pretty much inaccessible.

Once I arrived at the airport in Chihuahua, I caught a taxi for the Central de Autobuses or as they call it here Camionera. I bought my ticket and was off in less than 30 minutes. They did change buses twice before take off but before anyone had boarded.

On the bus we watched the movie Collateral Damage with the governor of California. I sipped on a vodka on the rocks that I had prepared before departure, listened to Astrud Gilberto and snacked on peanuts from the plane. It was a nice ride at night as you can reallly see the stars at night in the desert.

Arrrived in Parral around 9:45 pm and walked the two blocks from the bus station to the hotel. Very nice modern place considering this is only a town of about 150,000 people. There are no name brand stores or restaurants here. But, I did have a 400 gram ribeye for dinner/lunch and you won't believe the price. 90 pesos. With the current exchange rate that is steal and it included all the trimmings.

Tomorrow I will head back to Chihuahua to work there until Saturday afternoon. During my stay I am going to drive out to the RV park outside of town and take some pics. We stayed there once, very nice place with a pool but all alone. I passed it on my way to Parral but it was too dark to get a picture.

This should be my last week of work for this year so I can start preparing for our trip to the Emerald Coast in Veracruz. Yippie!!!!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

20 de Noviembre - Revolution Day

Today is the actual Día de la Revolución. So I went to a primary school to see the event as well as my friend Juan's official retirement.
It was quite an afternoon with singing, dancing and seeing lots of little ones do their best at recreating the Mexican Revolution.

There were lots of speeches, a great carne asada for the special guest, family and friends. I was thinking that I should have taken the pictures in black and white and we would have never known exactly what year the event was held in. One thing that is amazing about this culture is that they celebrate the most important dates in history with true vigor. They stick to tradition and even though they attempt to update it and bring it into the new millinium, some things just don't change.

Juan has been a folkloric dancer now for over 40 years and performed at the event. Recounting memories brought lots of tears all around and it was as if time flashed before us.
Juan's first assignment as a teacher was in a one-room school house high up in the Sierra. So high in fact, that after taking a three-hour bus ride, he had to walk or take a horse the rest of the way. I have been there and it is truly an amazing place with the most accomodating people in the world. On one specific trip, we arrived at 8000 feet and as we passed down the road the word spread quickly that "el maestro Juan Manuel" was coming. Keep in mind the houses are .5 kms apart. As we neared the end of the road there was a gathering of people all fighting to have "El Maestro" come to their house. Towards the end of the day, we were invited to eat freshly killed goat and "fritada" with homemade tortillas. Afterwards, they offered us their beds to take a nap before heading down the mountain. I will never forget that day, it seems as if it were yesterday. For all the bad we hear, I have a million good stories.

I guess it's true, our lives are but a spark in the universe. Get the most you can out of every day.

U.S. Consulate - Comexus Fulbright
Last night I was invited to the U.S. Consulate's house in Monterrey. It was a gathering to recognize those who have been Fulbright in the exchange program Comexus with the U.S. It was a real "to - do" in the sense that it was held in the consulate's house in El Rosario in La Del Valle, one of the most exclusive areas of Monterrey. Police were at the front gates to check ID with the lista de invitados.

We met quite a few of the consulate employees and I am happy to say they were very open, young minded folks who made themselves "disponibles" to the people there and made it clear they were there to serve. A real change in comparision to years past.

We had wine (actually quite a bit of wine) and some pretty good horse duvers. The conversation was great and there were people from all over the U.S. and Northern Mexico.
Some previous Fulbright's

Picture with the Consulate

Speaking with Jane, a Consulate employee (actually cracking jokes)

It was a good time had by all and not much accomplished other than that. We did meet some great people from the University in Saltillo and made some new friends from the U.S. government.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Telmex Services Change

I may have mentioned that Telmex is offering a new package at 389 pesos which includes the landline, high speed internet, wifi, 100 local calls, and 1oo minutes of national long distance.

We got the bill in the mail today and sure enough, with three cell phone calls on the bill and 66 minutes of national long distance, internet, and local calls, the total came to 403 pesos. Based on today's exchange rate that comes to about 32 dollars a month.

A real deal for Mexico. I'm happy, we reduced our monthly bill 20 dollars. In these uncertain times, that's worth a nice lunch out somewhere.

Dia De La Revolución! Picnic in Bustamante, N.L.

Yesteray was a national holiday celebrating the Mexican Revolution. Instead of staying home and hanging out around the house we decided to head North on Hwy 1 from Monterrey to Bustamante. You might remember we were there in July on our month-long tour of Nuevo Leon. Our friends Felipe and Lorena own and operate the Ancira Hotel and Restaurant.

When we arrived, we had a quick breakfast at the Ancira and then headed out to do some shopping to buy bread. Bustamante is famous for Pan de Bustamante, Semita, and their own version of Coyotas.

After, we met up with another couple Doroteo and his lovely wife Reyna who looks a lot like the singer Selena. We went for a walk and chatted before heading over to Felipe and Lorena's house for a carne asada. We had a great time laughing, telling stories, and remembering the time when I didn't speak any Spanish and never said much of anything. Now they say I won't shut up. I told them I am making up for all the time I couldn't communicate. Wow, I have been here a long time. Sure am glad I took the plunge.

Bustamante is an hour and a half drive on Hwy 1 South from the Columbia bridge. It is home to the park, Del Cañon where we stayed this year for four days. There are the grutas, or caves which are still closed for remodeling but slated to open in January. This is a great town to buy an old house (by old I mean over 150 yrs old), remodel it and use it as a Winter home. The town is peaceful, trouble and crime free and only an hour from Monterrey. There are a couple of old homes for sale with the traditional interior patio and water well.

We grilled some great sirloin that we bought locally at a great price of 65 pesos a kilo and it was some of the best meat we have ever grilled. Here take a look!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Di No A La Corrupcion - Say No To Corruption

Just a reminder for those crossing the border in the next few weeks. I was on my way home yesterday passing the Mormon temple on the outskirts of town. This is a well-known speed trap. It is also a great place to catch people who are moving materials, furniture, etc. that is not well-tied down, no red flag, to name a few, that sneak through town and hook up with the carretera nacional. I saw a woman in an SUV with plates from Illinois. Obviously a gringa explaining something to two motorcycle cops.
I took the first exit and whipped around in hopes I could backtrack and help her out if she needed it. Transit police are generally friendly guys and some just happen to be on the take under certain circumstances. Fortunately, when I got back to the spot they had left. I did a couple of "vueltas" just to make sure they didn't pull her over in the HEB or Soriana parking lots that were nearby. Should I have found them, I would have asked if I the girl spoke Spanish and if I could help in the translation explaining that I am a language teacher.
I brought this up several times about corrupt transit police. Don't drive through Mexico always looking over your shoulder but be prepared to confront anyone of the few dispicable guys who attempt to take money from your wallet. When I have been pulling the rig and they signal for me to pull over, I always stop and tell them "let's move to a more open public place". That is the first deterent for this situation.
Be friendly, say hello, but be sure and treat them with the unmost respect they deserve as they are in uniform and represent a local government. Have your papers ready and most of all a copy of what you are going to show them. Don't let them bully you. You cannot pay a policeman money no matter where you are. Offer to take the ticket. When they tell you that they cannot issue you a ticket, ask them to lead you to the station so that you can pay.
You can do as you wish, but my main point is there is don't fear these guys, they can do you no harm. If you are part of the forum and would like my cel number, you can PM me. This way, should you be in a tight spot and need help explaining something maybe I can help. Safe travels.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

So What's Going On Around Here . . . . . .

It has been pretty hectic around here the last week. I haven't posted much as I am waiting for the big trip in December to Veracruz. I also have a trip coming up the first week of December to San Antonio. I will be crossing at Columbia and will do a complete report with pictures including immigration and the Banjercito return booth to turn in your sticker or to temporarily stop the clock until you return.
Many people have sent me information from around the city as well as the country about the current trend in retail sales, consumer spending and the like. Considering the current global economic conditions there is no current effect here. Shopping is full steam ahead, malls are full on weekends, CostCo (I was there today), Walmarts, CityClubs, flea markets are packed. Good luck finding a parking spot. So what is this all about? A couple of things I think. 1) the peso has devalued a bit but remains steady. People are willing to spend what they have in savings in case the peso drops some more and prices go up. Pricing remains steady now with most stores offering 15% to 20% off. Also, many Mexicans are returning early from the U.S. with their stash and savings spending on building supplies, major appliances, and Christmas presents. Many of those returning are not planning on going back as work is not readily available with all the layoffs taking place in the North.
So when is the crash coming? Preliminary predictions are the end of January through March. Major companies have already begun some sort of reduction to make their Q4 numbers impact the whole of 2008 to make up for major losses in the last four months. Up to now, no company has closed, filed bankruptcy or had a major layoff. There are rumors in the mill that the government has bailed out a handful that could have had an impact on the overall economy. The CFE (electric company) has announced that there will be no increase in prices for 2009 and are working with special rates for large industrial consumers of electricity. The same is happening with natural gas.
Litter and a Brainfart
Sunday morning I woke up bright and early at 5 a.m. Not unusual for me but Saturday I worked on my feet from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. I was pretty used up when I had gotten home the that night went to bed early. I had my coffee, put on my running shoes and took off for the highway. You know where I live, about a kilometer from the house, is the highway and Los Cavazos where they sell all kinds of Mexican artesanias, food, and souvenirs. As I started out walking I thought, "why don't they put the trash in barrels instead of leaving the garbage bags on the curb as the dogs drag the bags away and leave a major mess". I started to get all worked up and then I realized that this is a cultural thing and something I learned many years ago to blow off as you know you can't change a culture and can only leave an example.
I took a waded up kleenex out of my pocket and with all my might threw it on the ground. "There", I said. I walked about three steps and turned around and picked it up. I felt terrible and know that it just isn't my culture to litter. I can only leave an example.
Rvers will find things good here this year in Mexico in terms of their pocketbooks. Sure, fuel has risen and will continue to. We've had it good for too long and now it is time to paythe piper. But in terms of the exchange rate I think it will be a real advantage. Have fun this Winter, I know I will take advantage of our trip to the Emerald Coast. If I lose work over the next months, I will most likely start boondocking a couple of times a month to keep me busy and keep down my overall cost of living.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!


It's finally here, the cold weather is sinking in, or at least as cold as it can get in Monterrey. This morning here on the ranch at 6 a.m. it is a cold 12 C. The chill is in the house and it is time to start firing up the chimney at night, enjoy the crackling of a warm fire and a glass of wine. I need to think about getting out the Christmas tree and hanging the ornaments.

The rv Christmas tree is brushed off and ready to go for its journey to Veracruz in December. Can't wait to hit the road. I am having the hitch installed this week on the Durango along with the brake controller. This is going to be one swell trip ringing in the beginning of unofficial retirement.
The next four weekends I am teaching a certification course for teachers called the TKT (Teacher Knowledge Test) which is written and given to teachers around the world by Cambridge University. There are three modules and four sessions per module. This should keep me busy although it is on Friday from 4 to 8 and on Saturday from 8 to 5. One group on Friday and two on Saturday. The SEP (education department) has really taken English seriously over the last few years and is doing everything they can to bring the teachers up to speed.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Grocery Prices

Tuesday I stopped by Walmart in Monterrey. There was a feeding frenzy going on and I was determined to find out what was happening. Turns out, Tuesday is Dia del Mercado, and Walmart was beating the sox off the competition. Here is what I found on sale:

limes 6.60 a kilo

oranges .90 a kilo (that's right, 90 centavos mexicanos)

potatoes 6.00 a kilo

That was the most I could get my eye on without getting trampled. But there is more. These are the lowest prices this week on basic food items. Tell me you won't save money spending the Winter here in Mexico. Remember though, buying at a local aborrotes (produce store), or at a corner market in a neighborhood, you will be paying through the nose for the convenience. Oh, and that includes OXXO and Super 7 convenience stores. One avocado can cost you 15 pesos but buying that same ovocado at the supermarket on a Tuesday will cost you:

avocado 17.00 a kilo

cabbage 3.00 a kilo

spinach 1.00 a kilo

canned refried beans 6.19

lettuce 14.90 (high because of heavy rains)

banana 6.00 a kilo (is that a bargain?, seems high to me)

Here in the North, Tuesday is the big day for produce and fruit. Check your local area where you will be staying to see if Tuesday is the day there. It is also the best day as they bring produce in on Monday and it is the freshest. Haggling and picking through the stuff with all the crowds adds to the excitement.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rving and Flying Mexico

I have been on the road for work again lately and it is surprising the number of discount carriers here in Mexico. One of the great things for rvers is that you can leave your rig in your Winter park for a couple of days and take off to points unknown.

VivaAerobus has some of the best discount fairs. A strange system but you can book on line and receive all your information via email. For example, flying from Monterrey to Leon, Guanajuato cost me less than 100 dollars round trip. Now with the exchange rate you can save even more. In VivaAerobus, you pay for your way. Base price, luggage, (one carry on no charge), boarding pass if you don't want to wait in line like Southwest Airlines, and the list goes on. Food is sold on board including refreshments. Monterrey Hub.

Aviacsa has the best discount "on-board" service and many of their destinations are around 50 dollars one way. They have special pricing if you purchase at a local Aviacsa office on Tuesdays.

Volaris is based out of Toluca. Flying to Toluca to get to Mexico City is easy. You step off the plane and onto buses that will take you to one of the three bus terminals in D.F. Less than an hour during peak traffic time. A great way to see Mexico City from the inside out. Once at the bus terminals, authorized taxis are lined up and at your service.

Avolar with its hub in Tijuana services some great southern locations that normally would cost an arm and a leg on AeroMexico and Mexicana. Tijuana, Guadalajara, Morelia, Uruapan, Cuernavaca, Tepic, Colima. Halloween specials are around 150 dollars round trip between Tijuana and Guadalajara.

The discount airline frenzy in Mexico is settling down. There were quite a few just three years ago and many couldn't beat the competition and dropped out. Many planned it that way to make a lot of money up front and then unload their equipment to other discounters that may even have been held by the same corporations.

I hope this helps and that rvers will get out of the rv parks and visit some of Mexico's greatest tourist locations including the Big Tamale.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hermosillo and Back

While in Hermosillo we had time to eat out quite a bit. If you talk to people in Chihuahua, they have the best beef. If you talk to people in Nuevo Leon, USDA is the best. Well, in Sonora, they too believe they have the best beef. We ate at the Sonora Steak Restaurant that is in front of the Holiday Inn. Apart from the ambiance, service, and cleanliness of the restaurant, the beef was delicious. I split a 200 gram ribeye with my co-worker Adrianna. It was the best.

During my stay in Hermosillo, the convention was held at the Araiza Hotel just down the block from the Holiday Inn. 280 teachers attended and it was sponsored by Pearson and MacMillan Publishers. Teachers came from all over the Northern part of Sonora as well as Hermosillo. On Thursday night, a distributor held a party outside with live music. Great snacks and cold beer were on the agenda along with dancing and lots of conversation in English.

I spent Friday night out to dinner with my friends Idolina and Monica. We ate at Mi Mariachi. The food was very good but the place looked rundown and dirty. I wouldn't recommend it. Saturday morning I took off bright and early at 7:30 for Monterrey. I couldn't resist taking some mountain shots on the plane.

Flying over Saltillo, Coahuila

Even with dense cloud cover, you know you are in Monterrey, Cerro de la Silla (Saddleback Mountain) really sticks out!

Sorry, But I Just Have To. . . .
Turn back now if you don't want to read anymore about politics. This will be my second post on politics, and my last, since I started the blog in April. 2 out of 200 isn't bad!
I have received more emails, comments, and posts about the elections than you could imagine. I was crucified on one Yahoo group for my comments. The writers of all of this have been friends, family, rvers, ranch owners, and everything in between. The most perturbing part of all that I have received is the way in which most people view the upcoming elections.
The most frequent comments have been, "I am a staunch "---------" and that is how I vote". You fill in the blank with the respective party. So what is the problem with this statement? It shows lack of consideration for what is really at stake. How will we choose a viable candidate to somehow put a recovery plan in place that will get the country back on track and somehow be able to reduce the overburdened debt that the last eight years has brought us?
Voting by party is ludicrous. You might as well just spin the roulette wheel, throw a dart at the dart board, or better yet, just flip a coin. There is no science in choosing someone by party. Over the history of the United States, Mexico, and all the other countries in the world, how many times have we overlooked a great potential leader because he wasn't the party we are affiliated with? Vote with your head, not your heart.
And please don't rely on the news. Fox News and Bill O'Rielly are to the far right. He said today that those who hate him don't watch his show. I hate him and everything he stands for. However, I never miss one day of his show. Why? I need to see and hear both sides. So before you right-wingers get all bent out of shape, now it is CNN's turn. CNN is to the opposite side of the fence, far-left. I can no longer put any credence in either of these networks. I can no longer trust the reliability of the news that they publish. I have now turned to other countries national news feeds, including the BBC, Bloomberg, and the list goes on.
One of the greatest errors that most voters believe is that what the candidates espouse is exactly what they will do when in office. If you know the system and how it works, we should be more concerned with our representatives and senators. Afterall, they will be the ones to make the decision and see that a bill will be voted on and passed or held hostage during the four-year term.
If you are an unbiased person, you know that most of what has been published by the McCain camp are out and out lies, negative campaigning against Obama, and more rhetoric about Joe the Plumber than what and who he really is. Obama has been linked to Al-Qaeda, Islam and national terrorism. To date, all of those things have been proven to be false. For an American to make those claims against a man who has never been divorced, never had an extra-marital affair, who is an outstanding citizen and a hero for minorities as well as the rest, is not very American. Are we afraid of an African-American in the White House? If he is elected, I fear for his life. We may be a first-world country but we are not immune from presidential assasinations or attempts as we have seen in our country's history.
I've heard about all I can take of the patriotism card. Lets get real here. Are we still living in the middle ages? Are we still the warriors of past milleniums? It appears to be so. We just can't get over this human division of territories. God never designated the U.S., Great Britian, India, Spain, Denmark and all the other past colonial dominators as their country being number one, or God's country. Do we really believe that God is that petty? Come on people. Patriotism is a label. Be patriotic and vote, don't fight. What happened to the one world concept? Somebody has to start it. What about "love thy neighbor as thyself? Or do we just love them if they love us? Step up to the plate, make the first move.
Just imagine if we had invested that 800 billion dollars to shore up the American continent. Afterall, aren't we all Americans? Education, jobs, independence from Middle East oil. Americans complain about two major internal problems but do the least to try and stop it. 1) illegal immigration 2) the drug trade and drug use. The American continent has one great advantage. The continent is very hard to attack. Sure, from inside it may be vulnerable, but that has always been something we had control over but never exercised.
Come Tuesday, forget about hatred, party loyalty, war and patriotism. Just get out and vote and vote with your head not your heart. Whatever we vote for, we will live with it for more than four years. Believe me. No, on second thought check it our for yourselves. How long will it take us to get back on track if we are fortunate enough that one of the two candidates has what it takes to get the job done.
Unfortunately, because money now determines the outcome of a presidential election, we now have narrowed it down to two mediocre candidates. So if God is really partial to the U.S. as many Americans think, I hope he is watching over us now. We have never needed his help more than at this moment.