Thursday, December 30, 2010

Galveston Island

We arrived here yesterday at 4p.m. after driving hours in a hard downpour through Houston. The new rv tows like a charm and we had no problems whatsoever. I was a bit apprehensive at first but after getting it out on the highway it was back to normal. I really don't notice much difference between the old travel trailer and the new one.

As we pulled into the park, Croft and Norma were waiting. We got the space right next to them and got set up in a jiffy. Everything is working great so far and the small bugs have been worked out. The bedroom slide was not extended completely in San Antonio. There just wasn't enough room to do that. Now, wow, we have a lot of space.

Last night we hung out next door and had a few drinks. Tonight we went for dinner at a great seafood restaurant called Shrimp and Stuff. Fun time had by all. We came back and sat outside for a drink but it is too cold and there is the ocean breeze. We called it an early night and we are in the bedroom surfing and watching tv.

Tomorrow night is the big party here at the rv park. I'm debating whether or not I should wear one of those funky cardboard hats, you know, the metallic blue or green ones?

My greetings go out to Kevin and Ruth, John and Angela, Bill and Mo, and Bill and Sharon. Thanks for visiting and becoming friends.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas Everybody!

I haven't been posting as we have no internet access the place we are staying. I am at the gym and they have given me access for today. All is well and we are getting ready for our trek to the Gulf coast to see Croft and Norma.

We have received lots of emails and greeting from rvers all over the U.S. and Mexico and many comments on the blog as well. So thanks to everyone for remembering us and I hope we meet up soon and get this awful problem in Mexico resolved so we can all feel good about rving here again.

I got a great message from James and Barbara, they were in our notorious Christmas group last year. It was good to hear from them as well as Les who has been having a great time in Mexico. I need to send a special hello to Croft and Norma, P.J. and Claudia, Mimi and Jonna and my friend the Pie Lady Bethie. She is a good gal and I only met her in person once but she really made an impression on me.

As I think of more I will post them, I hate leaving anyone out. My family never reads the blog so I send them raspberries for Christmas. I do have one loyal sister who reads it occasionally and to her I send a big hug.

So, Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Things Are Just Better In Mexico

Not having internet at home is a PIA here in the U.S. I have to go to a FedEx office and they charge an arm and a leg. Right now I am at 12 minutes and the charge is almost three dollars. Ridiculous. In Mexico you can check your email or use internet on just about every corner and the cost is five or ten pesos for half an hour or hour.

The unfriendliness of people is another thing. God forbid you make a comment to someone in the store about traffic, weather or prices of products and they look at you like you have invaded their space. BTW, never do like we do and rub a kid's head sitting in a grocery cart, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of prices, wow, the price of food here is outrageous. I may just lose some weight while I'm here. Key to a good budget is eat less.

More later in hopes we get the internet going at home. The rv is working beautifully, the cats shorted out the bedroom slide. They got underneath it and fiddled with something. I took it all apart and put it back together. Blew a fuse in the process. All working now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Love The Funfinder

Sorry but I am at a FedEx office. The rv park has no internet. I told my friend Sam that I can't rate his driveway with a five star until he gets internet :). I am looking for a two wire modem today. I need internet.
Got here just fine yesterday. The drive was fast but the border traffic stank. Took me over an hour. They wanted to ding me for telling them the SUV is mine when it is in Juan's name. Here in Mexico you can't have more than one name on the title or registration. I showed them the insurance with both names. They said they couldn't see the truck on their computer. It takes pictures of every crossing and attaches it to your passport number. I said we always cross at McAllen and haven't used the truck at the border for a couple of years because of the security problem. They let me pass.
I stopped counting the paisanos that passed me on the highway in Mexico. After 15 minutes I counted 50 and it was just non-stop after that. Too many people coming I don't care what the media says. Also, the ole King of Kino is at it again. He says Mexico tourism is down. Au contraire. Mexico tourism is up 17 to 20 % for the year. Americans aren't the only ones who travel to Canada. Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans flock to the Yucatan and other beach areas during the winter to escape the harshness of their winters. So how can I prove this? Check the immigration website. It shows all the tourist visas issued by month and year. It is so obvious. But, some people talk out of their rear ends. I prefer the facts. I may just take the time to do a write up and post it in hopes the King gets his feathers ruffled.
Back to the rv now. I need to get the LP gas tanks set up. Some things didn't get done as promised from the factory. Who cares. I am off the ground and sleepin on wheels.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I'm Ready To Roll

The suv is packed with all our trailer stuff. The cat carriers are loaded, cat box, and my music to occupy my time. I am headed out for San Antonio first thing in the morning. I am shooting to arrive in SAT around 2 p.m.

The rv is calling me and I will be sleeping in it tomorrow night. I also have the electric blanket.

My only concern is the prison break in Nuevo Laredo yesterday where 141 inmates were allowed to escape.

I will update tomorrow when I arrive. Juan will be up on Friday via bus. Finally, all things have come together.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our Christmas Posada 2010

This year I decided that I was tired of smokey, alcohol-filled family gatherings where the men went one way and the women the other usually taking care of the kids and doing all the cooking. Also, we have spent so much of this year working with the new programs in education and preaching the glories of civics and ethics. It was time to show it instead of just talk about it. Even though this is Mexico, it too is now all about cellphones, IPods, laptops, internet and worst of all, Facebook.

I took it upon myself to organize a family posada. The posada is reenacting Mary and Joseph's quest for shelter in Bethlehem. I started by making a list of all the family. Juan had to help me because when we had finished we realized his father and mother (QEPD) had created a family of 114 people. Boy, had I taken on too big of an event or what!

The idea was to keep it simple. I purchased everything to make cheese burgers, charro beans, potatoe chips and all the fixings. We rented a Santa suit for the kids and I proceeded to make 60 individual bags of candy. I ordered a sheet cake for 100 people and Juan created two raffles; one for the kids and one for the adults. We printed copies of the posada and picked up enough candles for the group.

Time for the big party and it all went off without a hitch. It took a bit to get things going as it was a Friday night and only one week before Christmas so traffic in this city recovering from the worst hurricane in 100 years was a mess. As people showed up they heard Christmas music instead of loud cumbias playing and overtaking the conversations. Kids dressed for the party began to play in the patio at Nelly and Norma's house. They have two townhouses together with a large front patio more than big enough for all of us.

Couples shared past experiences and the burgers were on the grill. As the clock ticked and the crowd began to grow it was time to put have the group out on the street and start the posada. Candles were lit, the two groups were formed and we began singing. As we asked for shelter for the night we were soon received and accepted to come through the gates. Cheers and clapping were heard, it was obvious the Christmas spirit had been found. I knew we were on the right track.

We had tables and chairs set up with bright red table clothes dressed with all the coutremont including the bowl of sliced jalepeños to top off those tasty burgers. Everyone dug in and began to eat and the conversations settled down. Just when we thought "what could be next" we heard a Ho Ho Ho at the gate and lo and behold there he was. Decked out in bright red and his white, flowing white beard. It was really him and the kids moved toward the gates in amazement. Santa did come just like I knew he would.

The kids went nuts as well as the adults. One by one they sat on Santa's lap as he asked them what they wanted for Christmas. The Christmas music sounded in the background and bags of dulces were given to each and everyone.

The gift for the adults was a baby Jesus to put in the nativity. Each of the women read a card that had a description of Christmas and only one card read at the end, "and here, I will stay with you".

It was a good time had by all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

When Traveling To Mexico With Your Pet

I took the cats to the vet today and asked about the new requirements for bringing pets to Mexico. I know this is a controversial issue as some people get stopped and others don't. In our case, crossing into the U.S. they have asked for our pet papers twice in 25 years. Returning to Mexico they have asked for them once.

So take the information directly from the government webpage which is translated (loosely) into English:


Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's Almost Time To . . . . .

Get that rv on the road. Yippie! Looks like I may take off on my own with the cats on Sunday so I can get the trailer ready, hooked up and taken for a test run. We will then stay in San Antonio for Christmas and then head down to meet up with Croft and Norma and whoever else will be around them. Depending on where we end up for New Year's we will meander our way back to the border and do the importation of the trailer.

We received good news today from the manufacturer. They had the list price on the invoice with the discount they gave us. We would have had to pay 0n that amount. I called the factory and they have decided that they can invoice us for the actual amount paid. Wow, that will make it even better for us. I still don't know if it will fit through the gates once we get it home but that will be dealt with then. It will only give me the excuse to sleep in the trailer at night.

We lost a fur friend this week. 15 years ago we were at our friend's house. Juan saw a small dachshund get hit by a car. He became Little Bit with a bad front foot who spent his life with a great family and overcame his severe limp. He carried that damaged leg around all those years and never complained. He brought all of us a lot of good times and he loved to sit on my lap. I begged to take him rving but he suffered from car sickness. The last time we were in San Antonio he was so feeble that his tail was crooked from arthritis and he couldn't get very far without falling over. Well, now he's with Gum, Timber, Gingi, Maggie, Scarlet and Chester chasing squirrels and sniffing and licking each other. I know they are waiting for us and we are anxious to meet up with them again.

On another topic, my good friend Carlos Slim has done it again. Since 1996 he has paid the bail for almost 84,000 prisoners who have committed petty crimes and are first time offenders. The bail is around 500 dollars per person and this year he is paying for 8000 people. If it weren't for someone paying the bail these people would spend years in prison or local jails. For me, it is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sorry, I'm Glad It's Them Instead of Me

Oh the humanity! I love snow. I love it so much I asked my brother in Cincinnati to go outside and take pictures. Now that I've seen it, I remember why I also hate it so much. The cold that runs through your bones, never being able to get your feet warm, that mushy slush that becomes what we used to call mashed potatoes and gravy and sticks to your car eating away at the paint and the metal. Oh did I mention how I made my school and spending money? Oh yes, shoveling snow. Pushing that shovel, and to keep my hands warm I would balance that shovel handle just above my groin and then, wang, I would hit a crack in the sidewalk. Ouch!

I am certain of why I live in Mexico. I am not found of extreme heat either but I will take that over what's in these photos any day.

Snowbirds rejoice and those that have chosen to live in Mexico get down and kiss the ground you are standing on.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Difference Between Day and Night

It was a bit discomforting when they asked me if I would be willing to work in Reynosa on Friday. I thought about it for a moment and then said I could do it but only if I took the bus. I jokingly asked them to send me a helmet and bullet proof vest. They laughed on the other end of the line in Mexico City as they have little to no idea of what I was talking about. It seems as if "parts" of the country are in siege and the rest of the republic is at peace and preparing for Christmas. One other misleading fact that I would like to clear up is that the drug war is not about the general population, it is between cartels themselves and the cartels and the military. What you have seen in places such as Mier where the city was temporarily left abandoned, was not because the cartels were after the local citizens, they were fighting each other (I won't mention cartel names here) and were using the town as a target range for their activities. Once well rooted, it seems it is hard to get them out. That brings out the new strategy of the military; to get there before they do. Also, the cartels are now coming up with some sofisticated equipment such as the pope mobile. You can search that one on line if you wish.

So here I am contemplating what I had agreed to do and decided things would be okay. A day passed and it got even better when I made the decision I would drive myself. Afterall, it is a toll highway, Christmas season and the fact that they have beefed up patrols. Thursday rolls around and my the publisher's rep from Monterrey rings me up and makes me an offer. "Why don't I take you, we can visit another university while we are there and then we can justify spending the night?". I was wondering why I would want to spend the night to just turn around and come back home when she said, "Then, we can go shopping in McAllen". Ah yes, being a Regiomontano we love to "McAllear" as we say. Go shopping in McAllen. "Alright, I'm game". I mean afterall, I am in the market for a new laptop or netbook as my laptop is now in two operable pieces.

The drive there was peaceful enough and we didn't even give it a thought. The subject of the drug war came up as it is now "pan del día". That conversation didn't last long either and before we knew it we were making our shopping lists and a list of stores we wanted to visit. Cars passed us at about 160 kph, and we tooled along at 120. We stopped for a potty break, a coffee and arrived in Reynosa before we knew it. The city is changing so much. The construction boom has hit the border and there is an infusion of monies for public works projects to improve the image of the city. New gated communities going up, commercial centers and so on. We stopped at Applebees (I would have preferred tacos on the street but the company needs a factura which they would never have) and we had a pretty commercial, lousy, plastic picture perfect meal.

On to the school and traffic is at its normal hum, oh the smell of diesel in border cities. They really know how to follow that American dream with all that old beat up shit the U.S. does everything in their power to unload on other countries. Yes, the U.S. mandates upgrading school buses every few years only so that they can be tossed across the border to be used for city buses in Reynosa. I guess that imaginary line in the sky keeps the belching diesel out of the skies of McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley.

As we pulled up to the university students were coming and going as this last week was make up exams. The place was the hub of hustle and bustle at an academic level. I met with a group of ten teachers and we started the presentation. I hope they adopt our new book it is a real winner. Competence based bringing back old-fashioned values, civics and ethics.

We dropped by another school to drop off some materials, greeted the coordinator who was too busy to talk as she was in a rush to deliver grades to the dean. Some very big campuses exist in Reynosa even though most of these people could study in McAllen they prefer to stay on their own turf.

The rest is history as we crossed into that never neverland of consumerism. Boy can Americans shop. How much crap can you buy? We went to ToysRUs, BabysRUs (that made me laugh as half the people have them without planning and then they make a store to comfort you by buying things to make the kid comfortable and happy), Walmart, not once but three times, Academy, Sports Something or Other, and on and on into ad nauseum. We crossed the border twice, once on Friday afternoon and then again on Saturday.

The gist of this story (and people say I talk to much) is that when we crossed into Reynosa Friday night, it was almost midnight. The bright lights of the border bridge and the aduana, the Mexican military checking vehicles only to pull into Reynosa to find it a ghost town. The difference from day to night was amazing. It was so spooky I tried to convince my friend to run the red lights instead of just sitting there. Cars kept their distance, there was definitely a sense of fear running between the drivers on the road. No pedestrians to be found. We traveled almost to the exit of Reynosa as we stayed in the new hotel zone. The hotels were booked with holiday shoppers but it was lights out when we arrived. Pitch dark. I guess we have surrendered in some way to the criminal element. Reynosa is a border town. The descriptive says it all, "border town". Reynosa, for fear of the cartels and their activities, have chased away the tradition of the weekend "rol" or cruising that has been done by teenagers from the RGV and Reynosa for decades. Taco stands were full of weekend drinkers filling their gut to absorb some of that wonderful Mexican tequila and the plazas were once full of families out to buy those sticky red candied apples where you only eat the candy part because you know the apple is rotten, cotton candy, balloons and just a lot of Mexican noise that had been enjoyed by all. However, rats only travel at night, and they have eaten through the fabric of this city doing what they do best; terrorism.

I have always believed the way to win the battle you must face them head on. By that I mean take to the streets at night and carry on with our daily activities and routines. Form neighborhood watch groups and have weekly "know your neighbor" get togethers. Fear nothing, stand up to them without aggression.

It now appears, at least in some parts of Mexico, we are following in the footsteps of the U.S. Don't get to know your neighbor, stay inside the house playing video games, bury your head in the sand and just hope that someday things will get better. Oh the humanity.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The 16 Most Dangerous Points On Mexican Highways

First, I apologize for not posting this sooner. It will be interesting to who has already driven these highways only to tell us they had a ball driving them and that the scenery is fantastic and I hope that is what we hear.

I found this list in the El Norte newspaper on Sunday, November 21, 2010. The Policia Federal has established 16 high-risk points for transporters as well as drivers in general.

Sinaloa Hwy 80
  • Los Mochis - Toll booth Cuatro Caminos
  • Culiacán - La Reforma
  • Los Mochis - Limites de Sonora
Queretero Hwy 70
  • Libramiento Noreste
  • San Gil - Palo Alto (San Juan del Rio)
Zacatecas Hwy 34
  • Rio Grande - Limites San Luis Potosí
Puebla Hwy 32
  • Amozoc - Quecholac
Tlaxcala Hwy 29
  • Huamantla - Cuapiaxtla
Veracruz Hwy 85
  • Villa Aldama - Xalapa
  • Nautla - Emilio Carranza
  • Coatzacoalcos - Limites Tabasco
Durango Hwy 24
  • Entronque La Presa - El Vergel
Guerrero Hwy 23
  • Chilpancingo - Puente Solidaridad
  • Las Salinas - Tecpan de Galeana
Hidalgo Hwy 13
  • Puente Julián Villagran - La Aduana (Ixmiquilpan)
Three other areas I'm not listing are in the D.F. metro area in Estado de Mexico, Morelia and the Big Tamal. The associated risk is set at roughly 30% although some of these areas have not had reported incidences which may mean there have been issues that have gone unreported.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Don't Know Why But . . .

Some people just really know how to push my buttons. I promised myself I wouldn't post on the Mexico forum on I did pretty good going a full year. Then, one thread really yanked my chain.

I guess I don't know why it is so hard for people to accept the truth about things. In this case it was about ULSD fuel. Of course, someone had to call it American fuel. Why does everything have to belong to the good ole U.S. of A? Well, ULSD doesn't belong to the U.S., it has been produced in Europe since 1992, a long time before the U.S. every decided to refine it and make it mandatory. Actually, the U.S. is way behind Europe and Asia in many things. And that's another thing that hacks me off. People like to refer to the U.S. as America. Ask people in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, and many other countries on the American continent if they are Americans. They will all answer yes.

So then, this guy has the balls to refute in a very sarcastic and cynical tone my conversation with an external Pemex consultant on my flight to Bogotá. The Ccnsultant confirmed what was true. Mexico sells ULSD at the stations on my list. He also verified that the person who sends me the list is a trustworthy source. I don't mind criticism or anyone who wants to challenge a claim, but the condescending tone is what burns my butt.

All I wanted to do is present the facts. One thing that is very hard to find on the Rv.Net is facts. Most people post information based on "a" personal experience and that becomes the norm or they just talk out of their rear ends.

I'm over it now and this will be the end of it. I'm not a hot head but I mean really. We have some fantastic sources, foreigners who live in Mexico fulltime and who have not just personal experience to share but facts that most people can't get riding around in an rv a couple of months a year. However, it is information that would be useful to rvers as they make their treks south.

That's another one that gets my goat, banking and credit/debit card use. What better source than people who live and bank in Mexico and use their credit/debit card for everything from gas to groceries and do all our banking online. Back a few years, the Comandante of Kino swore that ATMs were not available in Mexico. Sure, his Mexico, that little dirt devil of a town he hails as his Mexico. Now, years later he says ATMs are all over Mexico. I tried to tell people but they would have rather believed an rver who rarely ventures a couple of hundred kms south of the border versus someone who travels for their job in Mexico and couldnt survive without ATMs.

I'll never win the battle and their ignorance can't be changed as they have their minds made up that only in the U.S. could things work so great and be so wonderful. Makes you wonder why they come to Mexico and then want to talk it down the rest of the year.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Day In Cali

We took off from Bogota early Wednesday morning. The airport was packed, many flights had been delayed due to heavy rains. We werent late but we would have gotten there earlier had we known what was going on. We went around to the Avianca office and told them we were on the next flight to Cali and they took us right away assigning our seats and passes.

After all that they offered us each 200.000 pesos, about 100 dollars to take the next flight. We opted for that and I offered the pass to my coworker. I dont know when Ill be back to Colombia much less fly Avianca. The pass is transferable so it was a good thing. He is a nice guy and can visit his family in Cartegena and only have to pay the taxes. Avianca has updated their fleet and most are now Airbus 320s. All seats have monitors for television, music, headphones and USB connection. Pretty cool.

The trip from the Cali airport to town was a scenic trip. Lush, green and warm. The highways are wonderful six lane toll roads.

Cali is under construction and you can see the changes. Being tropical and concrete, it needs lots of maintenance to keep the humidity and the green at bay.

New metro stations taking place of the tradional buses with the guy hanging out the door luring riders.

Posh hotel zone and shopping.

Torre de Cali Hotel and Landmark

The hotel was standard and I was hoping for a better stay. It was a one nighter so I got over it. People are friendly and the city is a hub of activity. John posted a comment wanting to know about the food. I have put it off all week but the food is bland. Im not into jungle roots, bananas and the rest is mostly Italian food. I do like the coffee and varieties of breads. Good breads are hard to find in Mexico although we did find the gold mine in SMA. I could live nicely in Colombia on fresh fruit, breads and their deep rich coffees.

I had time to walk up to Colina de San Antonio which was not far from my hotel. There is a chapel on the hill, a wonderful park and lookout as well as a few vendors selling jewelry and an excellent shop across the street which sells Colombian artesanias. I bought some bracelets and a shawl for a friend. I didnt carry the camera. As I left the hotel the security grabbed me and warned me not to carry it. They said a cell phone camera was the only way to go. Robbery and theft are big in Colombia at least in major cities.

Constant checks by police, armed guards and dogs in just about every place we went. You get used to it and it becomes pan del dia.

Tomorrow about my long trip home and a magenta moment.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day Two In Bogotá

Well, one puzzle solved. I was going to report that I was getting sick. I have felt bloated and extremely tired since yesterday morning. I forgot that Bogotá sits at almost 9000ft. No wonder. I have been going to the gym and not feeling shortness of breath but this was really getting me down. I have been busy working visiting universities and giving presentations. It has been an experience.

Every 3 meters there is a little shop that sells fresh bread and coffee. Breads made from whole grains, buns, palitos de queso (bread sticks made with cheese), sweet cookies. This morning we had two coffees and two pieces of bread to go and it cost less than 1 dollar. Good prices.

The downside to these last two days is the weather. Warm and sunny until noon and then the cold comes down and it rains, I mean rains in sheets and floods the streets. So sightseeing is limited and tomorrow we fly to Cali where the weather is hot and sunny and the elevation at 32ooft. So I should feel better and be able to get out tomorrow considering I have only one presentation.

This is a view from my street and the view you see throughout the city. A lot like D.F.

One of the cool things about this city with 9 million residents is the well-designed steet grid. As you can see by the picture below, carreras run one way and calles another. Everything is numbered to make it easy to find. All the houses and building have a number no exception. Another goodie is that there are lots of motorcycles and everyone has a helmet, driver and passenger, this is strictly enforced.

I did a tour of the supermarket Exito. Three stories and they sell everything. I read a sign at the entrance that says on some items you can make payments, payments with post-dated checks. Hmmm interesting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

First Day In Bogotá

First impressions, so so. It is cold and rainy. We spent most of the day working. I had a group of teachers at a private university from 8 to 12 and a quick lunch and then off to a religious school well known in the Americas.

Beat after all that I came back to my room and took a nap. After I woke up I went for a walk in the neighborhood. It is an upscale area and all highrise apartments. Not much to see really. I don't even have a desire to eat out tonight. I'm waiting until tomorrow. I only have one appointment in the morning and then I am off with camera in hand as I head to the area antigua.

Sitting here writing and having an evening cocktail. More later.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On My Way To Bogotá - Updated

I haven't checked the weather yet in Bogotá but it has to be warmer than here at home. I got home yesterday afternoon, took a nap and did wash so I could repack. It was 2C this morning. I know it will warm up during the day but I am also glad to be on the road. The cats are real thrilled. Little Bit snubbed me yesterday but finally gave in and slept by my side last night. I felt guilty leaving him again this morning.

I'm at the airport in Mexico City waiting for my connection to Bogotá. I had a great flight so far. Because it is work in South America, I am flying first class. Very comfy and the food is great not to mention the drinks I will have this afternoon.

I arrive in Bogotá at 8 p.m. and will try to write more about my trip.

I just arrived to my hotel here in Bogotá. It's the only picture I was able to take and it is dark outside, so maybe tomorrow.

The trip was great, the guy next to me wasn't so great. Here I am in first class and this foreigner has to exercise the whole trip by hitting himself on the arms, legs, hands, etc. I got used to it after awhile. Watched the movie Mandela which was quite inspiring.

Upon arrival at the Bogotá airport, I was reminded very quickly how organized Mexico is. I haven't been here for about 10 years but the chaos is the same. I mean it is a beautiful place but getting through immigration was like herding cattle. It didn't take but 15 minutes, they have 25 booths all open and operating so they are able to move people quickly. After getting through that line I went outside and there was the woman with a sign with my name on it. She led me to the shuttle van for the hotel, I checked in and now I am on line.

I'm heading down to the bar for a toddy and then to bed. It is 10 p.m. here an hour ahead of Monterrey. My coworkers here in Bogotá left a message at the front desk that they are coming for me at 7:15. Arrrgghhh!. I need to remember that this is work.

Kevin and Ruth posted a comment below. Very true. When I was here 10 to 12 years ago I was scared sh--less based on what was in the news. My second day here I hit the beaches of Cartegena and toured Bogotá. Just like today in Mexico. Did I take precautions? Sure I did. Highway travel was limited to daylight hours and you watched what you did. At least you were supposed to. I guess I just don't care anymore. My life limit is unknown to me and I will suck the most out of the turnip that I can. There are lots of us. You would be surprised the number of Americans in the airport here tonight.

Travel on . . . . .

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hard Time Picturing History

All my life I have wondered what the past was really like. As a kid, we read a lot of books and many took me to places I thought I would have never been able to see and some of those places have become reality. However, being "there" and being "then" are two different things.

My three days in Dr. Arroyo had me do some heavy thinking. As I took my walks around the town in the early morning hours, I had a feel of what maybe some of that past history was like. You see, in some of rural Mexico, people still live some of their daily lives just as the world did 150 years ago. In fact, some of the teachers who participated in the course came from far away by bus from ranches where they still use kerosene lanterns, walk a couple of kilometers to make a phone call at a caseta or privately owned phone booth. They tell me stories of herding goats now after having lived in Indiana for 13 years. They're happy now, although they long for the "good" life, meaning fancy cars and conveniences. They seem torn between the "then" and the "now" of the world having had the best of both. When they ask for more hours and I tell them there is a school but no road, they say that's okay as they can ride a horse. Yes, we still have many one room schools with only five students from first grade to sixth grade. Funny isn't it but at the same time the past history that I wish I could have known. So it is still alive and still exists. Tangible yet distance.

As I took these walks, one thing was obvious to me. Although people live in a town with paved streets, electricity, satellite television and constant use of cell phones, many homes still use leña (wood) for heating and cooking in their homes. It is a pleasant yet pungent odor at times. There is something about the aroma of eggs cooked on a wood fire mixed with the crackling of fresh ground corn tortillas, and by that I mean yellow corn not processed Maseca. In the past they would have burned mesquite, now they burn any product that is made from cellulose emitting dangerous chemicals, glues and odors. I realized today on my way home, the jacket I was wearing was permeated with smoke as if I had been by a campfire all night. BTW, my hotel room had no heat but had one of those fuzzy Mexican blankets with the tiger's face on it. I always thought they were cheap having never used one. Very warm and toasty I might add.

So, I was kind of taken back a bit in time over the last three days. I have had the "on the ranch in the mountains of Mexico" experience before and it is one of lasting memories. "Christo", as they call me, "do you want something to eat?". The next thing I hear is the baying of a young goat as it is slaughtered just meters from the fire I am next to, to keep warm. It really is the way it was, at least in some ways.

There are remains in Dr. Arroyo of houses made from adobe. There is even new construction built around existing homes of adobe, and when I ask they say it is because they use the remains for the bedrooms, because they know the qualities of adobe and how it cools in the summer and warms in the winter.

At the Hotel Plaza, the owners gave me a quick tour of the photos dating back to the 1860s of their family. Can you imagine, you live in the same hotel your great-great-great-grandparents and beyond created? This particular hotel was awarded a stipend from the state with matching funds from the owner to maintain it as an historic site. I can't imagine seeing my family in photos that far back. Although I have a friend who traced his origins back to the 1600s in Ireland and then went to meet his ancestors.

But I've gotton off track with this. My point was going to be that I am glad we aren't wood cookers anymore. It must of gotten really bad with all the smoke and smell, not to mention the dust and horse manure. I like some of the conveniences we have and I was reminded of this when Kevin and Ruth were here this week with their motorhome now powered by solar panels and batteries. Maybe we have found the new past, where you can disconnect, not be a slave to the "owners" of modern convenience but reap the benefits.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dr. Arroyo - Peace and Tranquility

I left yesterday morning on the bus from Santiago to Dr. Arroyo. I hadn't taken the route from Linares to San Roberto since we returned from San Miguel de Allende earlier this year. That was before Hurricane Alex had left destruction in its path. I was surprised the minute we took the turn from Hwy 85 heading west from Linares. The road was still washed out in places although it had been temporarily repaired or spots that were under construction. Many of the curves that follow the river were down to one lane.

Kevin and Ruth were leaving a few hours after me and there was no way I could warn them about the condition of the road. In the end though, they arrived safely to Matehuala yesterday afternoon.

The bus ride was a trip as usual. It is all rural areas that we were passing through so farmers were getting on and off the bus with their bags of groceries, rolls of barbed wire, a bag of cement and just about anything else you could think of. I dozed off a couple of times as the ride overall was pretty smooth. It was the quick stops for the topes that the driver would make that woke me up.

We stopped about 11 a.m. in Ascension, a small town along the highway and a guy got on board and starting to yell, "enchiladas, enchiladas a 10 pesos". I thought, dare I. No, I decided it would not be a good thing to get sick when I have to work. Big mistake. No, I take that back. Huge mistake. He sold several foil wrapped packages and once we were on the road again people began peeling back the foil and the aroma that wafted through that bus was incredible. My big regret for November 2010. I am hoping at 9 a.m. Saturday morning when we pass through there again, he will be selling enchiladas. I'll be buying some.

The bus arrived pretty much on schedule, about 15 minutes late. I walked from the bus station to the town square and to my hotel, Hotel Plaza. Nice place, very nice people and a comfortable room for 350 pesos. This is the most luxurious hotel in town.

The course started at 1 p.m. so I walked the half a block from the hotel to the education department for the key to the building I would be working in. That building was around the corner about another half a block. I think you are getting an idea of how big Dr. Arroyo is. The teachers arrived on time and we had a good time getting acquainted. After the course I had a couple of drinks in the hotel cafeteria and a dinner of huevos rancheros. My room has full cable but the internet wifi doesn't reach the room all the time so I have to do my work in the cafeteria or at a ciber cafe where I am right now. Much faster and 4 pesos for 15 minutes.

This morning I got up and took some pictures before heading off for a walk all the way around town. It took me all of an hour and fifteen minutes. I mean, the streets really end on farm land. The pavement stops and there is barbed wire and cows. I mooed at a few and they turned their heads and looked at me like, "oh god, another tourist".

Monday, November 22, 2010

They're Coming In Droves

Kevin and Ruth's motorhome parked on our lot in Allende, N.L.

Well not exactly in droves but at least I got your attention! Yesterday, Kevin and Ruth arrived to our place in Allende. You can check their blog, Travel With Kevin and Ruth.

We went out for a late lunch or early dinner to celebrate Ruth's birthday which is coming up this next weekend. Ruth will be 26, she's a year older than I am. We met them in 2009 as they were heading out of Mexico. They are great people and have a wonderful dog named Whiskey.

Today we went into Monterrey where they purchased a Telcel USB for internet. I know very little about it, only what I have read from Croft's blog. We got back to their motorhome, Kevin opened the laptop and put in the usb. The internet started right up. I was amazed and so were they.

We also went to the waterfalls at Cola de Caballo. We attempted to drive further up the mountain but the road is still damaged from the two hurricanes that hit us this year.

Later in the afternoon, they moved out to our place at the club campestre where they will stay for a couple of nights before heading out for southern destinations. Tomorrow we will meet up for a few hours in the afternoon and I will have to leave them on their own as I will be traveling by bus to Doctor Arroyo early Wednesday morning returning on Saturday. Again, another teacher training course. Sunday, I head for Colombia, can't wait.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Perspective - Comparing Apples To Oranges

I have been reminded many times over the last few years that it is not wise to compare rving in Mexico to rving in the U.S. and much less comparing crime between the two countries. My question is, "How do you obtain perspective without comparing?".

I have to laugh a bit at the fear factor. The saying, "what you don't know can't hurt you" comes to mind. I just read that a couple stopped in Valle Hermoso on their way to La Pesca in the notorious state of Tamaulipas. This city is now number two following the abandoned city of Mier, Tamaulipas, in terms of violence, which is number one thanks to our criminal element that has destroyed the city and sent it citizens running for cover in another municipality.

Daily I think about the event that Les suffered last week. Not a happy memory but it seems he has now accepted it and moved on. I bring this up as we are about ready to import our new travel trailer. I love boondocking, I love the places we have been blessed to visit, relish and have wonderful memories of. I am sure we will change our travel arrangements but it just seems so hard to accept what has been going on.

I read the news daily in the U.S. from Laredo, Kansas City, San Antonio, Mcallen, and Houston. In reality, it doesn't seem much different than what we are experiencing here, except ours seems to be on steroids. I am still shocked to think that I drove around a U.S. city for more than two hours and never once saw a police car or policeman. I am referring to the city of Laredo. It seems that the violence and fear is spreading across the border and may be a good thing. A good thing? Maybe, just maybe the U.S. will begin to take action. It is slowly appearing in the news reported in The Monitor newspaper in McAllen. They now accept the fact that the cartels are well-established there and further into the U.S.

Talk of the reintroduction of morals and values in the classroom has taken over talk radio and television both here and the U.S. I don't think we have to cover our heads or put on black clothes and flog those that don't obey, but a little bit of common courtesy and respect goes a long way. Teachers as well as parents are responsible for what their children do or become, I don't care what anyone says. What you learn before the age of six lasts a lifetime. Being nice is still a good thing and I refuse to back off of that. The days of "being a gang member", or the "bad" look are all too short. I see us returning to a kinder and gentler world and it won't be soon enough.

I watched a video recently of a town taken over by the cartels and a war being fought between them. It just goes to show you what little education and common sense these people have. There was no organization, no leadership, each man for themselves, and in the end it was a debacle, no one was able to win. They pretty much ran around like chickens with their heads cut off. No wonder the Mexican military is winning.

Making a long story short, this battle has affected both sides. I don't need to post the numbers. In terms of rvers, there are tons of robberies, thefts, hijackings, and murders in national parks that it really doesn't matter what side you are rving on. Take precautions, be aware and chalk most of it up to, "at the right place at the right time".

So maybe apples and oranges have a lot in common, no pun intended.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Trailer Is Something Else

It was a busy weekend. First, I worked on Friday in Linares, so I had to get home first before taking off for Laredo. I had enough points to get a free night at Holiday Inn. I think that was the trick. You know if you stay at a Holiday Inn you are smarter the next day. Must be true and it still hasn't worn off.

It was a bit spooky, the highway was dark and there was little traffic. We thought we were the only ones driving at night heading for the border. Big surprise. We took the East loop around Nuevo Laredo. The downtown entrance looked eerily empty, no traffic, no police, nada. As we approached the bridge they waved us through but we needed permits. No where to park. Over 200 people in line and it lasted for hours. We asked if we could come back the next day early in the morning and they said there would be no problem. As we headed for the hotel, we saw a sign for the old bridge. We made a quick turn just in case the traffic was less. It was, apparently no one wanted to drive through downtown Nuevo Laredo. We got the permits in less than 10 minutes. One thing though, just like Nuevo Laredo, the streets of Laredo, Tx were empty too. I mean, here we were, driving the streets of Laredo at midnight. Not a policeman in sight. I drove around while waiting for Juan to get his permit, not a policeman, national guard, security guard in sight.

We slept in Laredo and headed out early for San Antonio. We arrived at 10 a.m. and an hour later here comes the new trailer. The driver backed it into the driveway and left us room to open the slides. It is really something. We had a ball with it over the weekend getting it set up, opening all the boxes, playing with the digital television, and reading all the manuals. A gas line problem which may be operator error is yet to be fixed but we will do that when we return in December for our Christmas trip.

This morning before heading out, we went to the Texas Department of Transportation or the Tax Office and they offered us a thirty day permit in December for 25 dollars so we avoid paying taxes before exporting it into Mexico. I also found insurance for a song and a dance. I was worried not having a U.S. driver's license but the guy said no problem. They may hassle me after six months but by then we will have canceled the insurance and purchased insurance here in Mexico.

I also received a package for Jonna in Merida. She had asked if we could bring a package from Canada she was waiting for and I will get that shipped to her tomorrow.

If you haven't read Les' blog Journey of a Lifetime, he was robbed at gunpoint his first night in Mexico. Les had the last word though so read his blog and get a smile of his account. Happy to report he suffered no injuries and is happily traveling around Mexico. Those dirty bastards, I hope they get their just desserts.

More later, I'm beat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Something Good Must Be Happening

You can see by the graph above, the Mexican stock market hit another all time high. The U.S. dollar continues to drop against the peso, unemployment is at 4.5% and growth is set at 5%. Still unexplainable based on the violence we are living in.

Rvers are coming down and all reports are business as usual. Here is an article that I found of great interest. It is in Spanish but if someone can find it in English it would be worth sharing.

Changes Sweep Tijuana

The article discusses the police chief's efforts that have created changes in the last three years bringing to Tijuana a trustworthy police force, less organized crime, and a return to tourism as well as business and financial growth.

I write this as I am hopeful based on those rvers who have made the trek. Early in the game I know, but it does look encouraging. As I have said before, what would anyone want with an SUV towing a trailer as a quick get-away car much less a 40ft motorhome that has little or no resale value in Mexico and so rare that it would easily be traced in a matter of days just like the rv-jacking in Ciudad Victoria in March of this year where they found the unit the next and the six bandits that stole it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Recovering From My Trip

We were able to get out and about in Guatemala City but didn't make it to Antigua. This event was sponsored by the embassy and they warned us on several occasions not to leave the hotel because it was dangerous. I thought to myself, "are you talking to me?". I live in what is now considered one of the most dangerous Mexican states. It was about an hour after I received the second warning that I waltzed outside for a breath of fresh air.

It is a big city and it looks a lot like Mexico City but on a much smaller scale. One nice thing is that it is very clean. The airport is enormous and very well organized. Guatemalans are extremely friendly and are willing to help.

We had lunch at the aquarium restaurant. It has a huge aquarium in the middle with more exotic fish than I have ever seen. It even has an enclosed tube that you can crawl up inside and look around.

I would have stayed a few extra days but I needed to get home and get things packed. We leave this Friday for San Antonio to await the delivery of our new rv on Saturday morning. I want to take two plastic tubs with our basics and linens.

On the trip home from Guatemala I had made a mistake thinking the flight left at noon. The night before I was checking my ticket and it said 7 a.m. Yikes! I woke up at 3 a.m. even though the alarm was set for 4. Everyone was telling me that I had to arrive at the airport 2 hours before the flight. The front desk said an hour would be fine, that if I took the six o'clock shuttle it would work out well. Since I was up and awake I decided to go early. The hotel was right. It is a 10 minute ride to the airport, no traffic, and I was checked in, paid my exit tax, and at the gate in less than 10 minutes. I took advantage of the time and did some duty free shopping, had coffee and checked my email.

The same coming and going on Continental airlines. Treated badly. The flight attendants just don't understand the meaning of courtesy. They bark at the passengers, bang on the seats until you raise the seat back, and in one case the flight attendant refused to speak Spanish to a customer who was being offered a cup of coffee, and finally gave in and spoke Spanish to her. What's that all about anyway?

Just one more reason I don't want to fly inside the U.S. If I have a choice next time, I will tell them not to route me through the U.S. I am thinking of sending a letter to the airline to state my dissatisfaction with their lousy service.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ask What Guatemala Is Like

The answer is, I don't have a clue. I have been in the hotel now for two days with over 1000 Guatemalan English teachers. An amazing group, their command of the language is unbelievable and their stories of their country make me want to run out of the hotel's front door and go see the sights.

Yesterday was the opening ceremony and the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Thomas McFarland was there to delivery the speech. A choir of some of the cutest primary age students sang for us and their voices were like angels. They really put on a show.

U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala

The teachers all have some type of degree or certification. You know I always see these questions on the forum about someone looking for a translator to get something done in Mexico or to be a tour guide, etc. and the answer is in any school in the country. You can find student teachers who are craving for the opportunity to practice their English with a native speaker.
Teachers at the opening ceramony.

Guatemala Choir

I told my hosts that under no circumstances should I spend one more day without some fresh air and asked that someone take me to Antigua during my free time today.

On a more exciting note, we sold our 40ft travel trailer yesterday and now that worry is off of my mind always thinking something is going to happen to it sitting out there all by itself. At least it going to a good home and the funds will pay for the new trailer and its transport to San Antonio.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Just Arrived In Guatemala

What a day! I was up at 2 a.m., had coffee, showered and headed out for the airport. I had to hunt down someone from immigration to check me out of Mexico, but to no avail. Finally, they radioed around and found someone. They don't get there until five a.m. and my flight left at 5:30.

Took Continental again, sorry but I just don't like the way U.S. airlines conduct business. More on that in a second. The flight to Houston was uneventful and the U.S. immigration was a breath of fresh air based on past experiences. First off, we were the first international flight in and there was no competition in the lines, only 35 of us. I whizzed right through without a hitch, in fact, the officer smiled at me and welcomed me back home ;).

I now think I know why there are so many obese people running around these days. The airport was full of them. It is a plot by aliens to fatten us up and then they will return to harvest us, maybe in 2012?

My experience from Houston to Guatemala was bittersweet. We had lunch service which was good but like always the flight attendants are real sourpusses. You couldn't rise a smile out of any one if you paid them. The sergeant at arms was a loud mouth who yelled at everyone, pushed carts around and made a general ass of himself. I am reporting him this week. It appears nowadays that the flight attendants have the upper hand and attempt to mistreat the public. Gone are the days of friendly service with a smile, offer you a blanket and a pillow. Please do not standup until you have cleared it with a flight attendant. Enough of that.

I arrived safe and sound to Guatemala and from what I saw from the plane, the landscape and the city are beautiful. The convention is here next to the airport so I didn't get to see much. Guatemalan immigration was a breeze and took all of 30 seconds; a scan of my passport and a look at my immigration forms and off I went. My co-workers were waiting for me outside and off we went to the hotel. I only have these two pictures to show but at least you know I am being well-taken care of.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Getting Things Ready

The picture above is the Monterrey - Laredo autopista going over Mamulique. It has always intrigued me or at least for the last 25 years. If you take the Columbia Hwy 1 you can access a small campground on the other side. But that's another story.

This week I was working again in Sabinas Hidalgo. It is about 90 miles north and I drove back and forth everyday. You think I would be tired after working and having to drive two hours or more to get home depending on traffic in Monterrey and the new "mega checkpoint" they have set up in front of the Monterrey Municipal Airport in Escobedo just north of the metro area.

I believe we have come to a decision to hire someone to bring the new rv from Indiana to Houston or San Antonio where it will wait for us until Christmas when we start our vacation and possibly the time in which we import it permanently into Mexico. I did the numbers and by the time I get new tires for the truck, gas, lodging, food and tolls, it just made more sense to have it delivered. In fact, it actually saves money. We have a holiday coming up on the 15th so we can make arrangements to pick it up in Houston around that time and spend a night or two out on the road before dropping it off in San Antonio. We are really excited and can't wait. I still have some details to workout such as choosing the company (although they have all made bids), temporary insurance, u.s. insurance while it is in San Antonio, etc. A lot for me to handle as we live here and doing this stuff long distance is not easy. Apart from that I feel like an ignoramus these days working with people in English. I just feel I lose the words or how to ask the questions and they answer me like I'm off or something.

My task tonight and tomorrow is to prepare for my trip on Monday to Guatemala. I wish I could stay longer but it is a work trip and there are things to get done here. We can always go back and I am hoping with our rv someday. I will be taking pictures and reporting from Guatemala City starting on Monday afternoon.

On Wednesday, I saw a caravan of five rvs heading south on hwy 85. So far so good on reports of people crossing the border and getting to their destinations. We heard from PJ and Claudia and I hope we can meet up with them if not rving at least for a couple of days.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fruitful Gatherings - Oremos Por Mexico

Yesterday we took a drive into town for a fantastically well-organized prayer meeting. It took place in front of the Governors Palace at the Macroplaza. 20,000 people from all faiths gathered to pray for peace in Mexico. I have to think that many from the Catholic faith did not participate as it was mostly evangelically driven and here in Mexico Catholics stick pretty much to themselves.

I was truly impressed. I am not too fond of organized religion but I do consider myself a very spiritual person. That is another blog post and one that I pretty much keep to myself unless we are having a discussion with other people. It is one of my favorite topics and I like to share my beliefs. They are quite a bit different.

What I liked was that there were lots of teenagers from all walks of life, or here in Mexico many different classes. I would rather see them with their hands raised believing in something that later in life they make other decisions about their belief system then to have them out doing drugs and getting involved in gangs. Once they are grown they do whatever they want but at least have a good running start at life.

There was lots of live music, government officials who spoke about morals and values and the need for more of "at home" education. Also, to remind us that we too are part of the problem as well as part of the solution to which I agree wholeheartedly.

We left our car at the multi-level parking at the convention center and took the boat on the riverwalk 3.7 kms meandering along the route watching families with their kids enjoying a Saturday afternoon. It was actually picture perfect. Going back to the car we took the boat again but with the most spectacular view of a full moon. The sky was clear, the stars were out and I really thought that I was a true idiot to not take the camera. Then next full moon is November 19th I believe and I want to return to take that boat ride at night and video tape the whole thing.

This weekend was work time. I had promised myself that last year was my last year to rake leaves. Well, the house hasnt sold yet and here I am. Well, the good thing is that if we dont sell the house soon at least we have a new rv to get out once and awhile.