Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Road To Matehuala

We got up at 6 a.m. and I started the coffee. Today was the day, finally it had come. Turned off the water and gas, set up the food and water for the cats, unplugged the coffee maker and off we went.

It was a bit hard driving through Monterrey as the road to the north heading to Saltillo is closed off because of the hurricane damage. We saw some dismal sights along the way out of town. Bridges with their mid-sections standing and the sides that were once anchored to land washed away. Water in the Rio Santa Catarina is still flowing pretty hard. A 9 year fell in day before yesterday. He had been playing ball nearby and wanted to wash his hands off. He slipped off the edge and the rushing water took him down stream almost eight kms. Sad story, his mother died of a heart attack just months ago now leaving the father with one son. The brother was in shock, cute kid, just wondering what he was going to do now after losing his mother and now his brother. I saw the news reports several times and each time it just ripped my heart out.

Anyway, we got to the autopista to Saltillo. Not wide open. Some parts were under repair and down to one lane heading north. The water came down the mountainside and washed it all away.

We passed just one checkpoint by the federal police under an overpass as you exit the autopista to the libre then again right before the toll booth as you entered Hwy 57 heading south. Finally, the open road. Lots of highway and beautiful mountains. As you leave Saltillo you start that winding climb over the mountains and you hit those pine trees. I knew then we were really on the road.

We stopped at the San Pedro parador to go to the bathroom and get a cup of coffee. I dislike paying to use a toilet especially when you are purchasing something. I use to argue the point but hey, I can always pull off the road and let it dangle. Of course if we had an rv we would stop and nap, make a quick coffee, pee and hit the road. We didn't buy any gas. We are driving the VW and it didn't need any air in the gas tank. It sucks up all the air it wants and never seems to move the tank fill needle very much. We started out with less than a full tank and arrived here at the hotel with a half a tank.

We stopped here in Matehuala and are staying at the famous rv stop Las Palmas Midway Hotel. We have a nice room with two twin beds, cable, internet and we brought our rv stuff; coffee maker, mugs, coffee filters, cocktail glasses and vodka. We paid 763 pesos tax included. We are going to the pool in a bit and then a peek at the rv park to see if by chance there is an rv tucked in back there. Drinks in hand we will walk the labyrinth that they have in the back, it covers several acres, is walled in and a very mysterious if not spooky walk at best.

After checking in we headed downtown. Wow, we have never gone into town except to cross the street to go to Walmart. Matehuala is on the move and growing. A new Soriana, lots of bridges and highway work going on. Very nice. We walked around a bit and the old appetite kicked in. We found a nice comida corrida for 50 pesos. A great chicken soup for starters, rice, beans and puerco asado served with a delicious salsa. Went back to the hotel and took a wonderful nap and here I am now.

Tomorrow we head out for San Miguel de Allende. I read some of the forum about hoteling and rving. Hotels are hotels. A different culture. Rving on the other hand, is "the" culture. BTW, if anyone is wondering, the highways are open and busy. Lots and I mean lots of Americans coming down to visit family for the summer vacations. Pickups loaded to the gills with things for family members. I wonder if I could get my brothers and sisters to do that for me. Hmmmm!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vacation Time?

I started my course that is being filmed live in a studio at the university and being transmitted to 24 campuses throughout Mexico. Wow, the technology is incredible. I'm able to work with five campuses via live interaction at any given time and the other 19 are watching, listening and calling in questions and comments. The blue screen used by television newscasters to report the weather is also used on a smaller scale. The camera is overhead looking down over the desk and I can put images and write on top of it. Too cool. The cameras are all remote controlled from the cabin on the other side of the glass.

With all the screens I can see myself, the studio group, four satellite groups and a split screen of my presentation with me in the corner of that screen. It is a lot of fun and as they said, "eres como un pez en el agua" (just like a fish in water). Maybe a new career?


Yesterday, I loaded up the lawnmower and took our part-time gardener with me to the 40ft travel trailer in Allende. He cut the grass while I worked with the exterminator and the carpet cleaner getting the place cleaned up and ready to spend a few days there. I really like it there and the trailer had pretty much been closed up and abandoned. It is in excellent shape, the roof in good condition. Mice had had a small party there. They won't be back for awhile, the exterminator did a good job. Now it is clean and fresh inside. I need to wash it outside but much better than it was. We purchased a new microwave to replace the one that had been stolen last year.

When the carpet cleaner finished he asked me to turn on the fan to speed up the drying process before brining in the slides. Too funny! Apparently, a mouse had chewed up the foam filter on the air intake that is in the ceiling. When I put on the fan, all that stuff came flying out of the air conditioning vents in the ceiling. They quickly vacuumed up the mess and everything was fine.

One problem that had been pending was the air conditioner. It would start to cool and then shut down. The a/c man came and found a bad capacitor. He replaced it and I let it run for three hours while I ran errands. When we got back and opened the front door, it was like a refrigerator. Ahhh, cool air. What a difference.

So we may stay there for a couple of nights before taking off for a well-deserved vacation. Two options, San Miguel de Allende or head to Texas to find an rv. Am I being too hopeful?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Will Regios Take To The Highways For Vacation?

A survey appears in today's issue of El Norte our local newspaper in Monterrey regarding vacation plans of Regiomontanos.

With the current situation, have you thought about traveling by highway?

61% say they will cancel or postpone their plans.

39% say they will continue their plans to travel by highway.

Of the 39%, here are their travel destinations:

  • McAllen 13%
  • Tampico 13%
  • Laredo 13%
  • South Padre Island 3%
  • San Antonio 3%
  • Other 57%
This is a big disappointment for the cities of Laredo, McAllen, San Antonio and Padre Island. These cities depend heavily on consumer shopping during the summer months especially the month of August as many people like to shop for school clothes, shoes, and school supplies as well as visit the tourist attractions. Regiomontanos (people from Monterrey) dump an estimated 3 to 4 billion dollars every year into the Texas economy. Again, that is just one small area of Mexico. Interestingly enough, a new verb has appeared over the last couple years to describe what we do when we go to the border, "mcallear", or to spend time in the RGV shopping and vacationing.

Truly ashame but that is the reality we are living in. We are heavily debating our purchase of an rv and if we do whether we should keep it in Texas until further notice.

Please be kind with posting comments, we all know what is going on and need no reminders of the situation. I thought this information is important based on the recent thread posted by Croft's Mexico where are friends Croft and Norma have posted their concerns about travel.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You Just Never Know

You just never know who you might run into. Today I had a meeting at the university. I'm doing a satellite transmission to 20 campuses next week. On the way into town I decided to stop and wash the SUV. However, rain clouds were forming and I thought it would be a waste of time. After all, who do I have to impress. Everyone knows I live on the ranch anyway.

So I had time to stop for lunch at Toks. I walked in and asked for a table for one. As I sat down to peruse the menu, I could see someone approaching me. I turned my head to see my good friend Mirtha from Parás, NL. She is a retired teacher and the town's cronista or historian.

We hugged, laughed and chatted for a bit. She is a wonderful woman who has always treated me as a good friend and I appreciate that. Here we are in a photo that doesn't show my best side.

I had lunch and went to my meeting at TEC in the CEDES building that overlooks the southside of the city. Nice view overlooking the campus and the background of Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Back Mountain).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Aruanda Gets A Minor Facelift

With the hurricane and the damage that was done to the quinta, we decided to modify the driveway. Before, and we knew it, water would run down the road to our house and flood through. Well, you saw the photos of the water sitting in the front yard and measured up to 30 cms.

So we put a sidewalk in front of the house and added a ramp that will keep water flow from happening. Today the painter came and painted the front wall. This week I am going to take down the lamps and the post box and give them a new color. Thinking about something terracotta color unless someone else has another idea.

I filed a claim yesterday with the insurance company. We noticed that the flooding in the front yard lifted up the foundation of the house a few centimeters. It has since slowly returned to its original level but left some cracks in the walls on one side of the house and lifted up a row of floor tiles on the back patio.

I spoke with my agent a short while ago as he encouraged me to file a claim. He is going to the office tomorrow. He said they have a special section established to handle Alex cases and will follow up to make sure the adjuster contacts me. Our coverage is not extensive. We have a small house and I think it could be rebuilt for 50,000 dollars. Yes, I know that is very conservative but the coverage takes on theft, fire, flooding, earthquake, broken windows and the like.

I have a two day job next week and we are thinking of taking a six day trip to San Miguel de Allende. We would drive half way to Matehuala and stay at Las Palmas (no rv in tow), and the next day to San Miguel. Any suggestions on hotels would be appreciated.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Power Plants In Mexico

This is taken from Power Magazine. Very interesting information.

Mexico relies on combined-cycle plants, primarily running on gas, to supply its base load. As Figure 1 shows, natural gas is the most prominent energy source. The Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) has invested considerable capital in converting its existing combined-cycle plants from running on fuel oil to running on natural gas.

1. Energy sources for Mexico’s electricity generation. Source: LVHS

This conversion to natural gas has encouraged investments in liquefied natural gas (LNG), resulting in the CFE becoming the largest shipper and consumer of LNG in Mexico.

To date there are three major LNG projects: in the cities of Ensenada, Altamira, and Manzanillo. The U.S. company Sempra Energy is operating a $975 million LNG receipt terminal that has the capacity to process up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The LNG is designed to supply the needs of Baja California, with the excess being sold to the international market. Regional Vice President, External Affairs of Sempra Mexico, Tania Ortiz Mena, argues that Sempra’s role has been crucial in the regasification of Baja California: "California Baja has gone from being a gas importer to a gas exporter. We believe our inward investment, of around $2,000,000,000 just in infrastructure plays a major role in this."

Mexico is home to a 1,365-MW nuclear plant, Laguna Verde, which is currently being upgraded to increase its capacity by 20% (Figure 2). Enrique González, president and general director of Schneider Electric Mexico, is an advocate of this source: "Every year the technology gets better. It has significant benefits over fossils fuels. I believe the country needs nuclear energy."

Unlike the U.S., Mexico neither has an abundance of coal reserves nor a large number of plants that run on coal. Coal therefore accounts for just 6% of all generation. Shigeru Watanabe, vice president of Hitachi Mexico, claims that the CFE intends to tender two 700-MW coal-fired plants in the future. He argues that after a long period of building combined-cycle plants there is a need for diversification in the type of power plants being built.

On the renewables front, large-scale hydro provides about 20% of all generation, but nonconventional renewables amount for a very small percentage — around 2.2%.

You can read more here at PowerMag

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Guess I Shouldn't Complain

I got an email from my good friend Michelle in Phoenix regarding electric bills. She set me straight. Her bill for June was almost $600. She also said she keeps the thermostat at 79F during the day and 81F at night. That is very conservative.

I went to the APS website for Arizona and was shocked to see their rates chart. Some residential plans have rates during peak hours of .50 per kwh. Outrageous.

We have the plan to install solar on our 40ft travel trailer when we finally sell the house and move further out into the country. We know many people who run air conditioning, albeit limited, on solar and battery power. I have said for the last ten years of retirement planning; one thing that will always increase throughout the rest of my life will be energy, both electric and gasoline. What will it be like in 20 more years. Get prepared.

We may go out there tomorrow if I can get the exterminator and carpet cleaner to do their work. The place is in good shape but we want to keep it up . Pictures to follow.

To all my readers and fellow bloggers, have a great weekend. You have all provided me with great reading over the last week.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Cost of Electricity

You may not have noticed but I posted a new poll in the upper right hand corner. I am curious as to what most people consume in terms of kwhs.

Here in Mexico for the most part, our electric bill is bi-monthly. Ask any Mexican what is the most expensive bill or most difficult bill they have to pay and they will all answer, the electric bill. It's a funny system. There is a pricing scheme based on the amount you consume every two months. 0-250 kwh is .62 pesos, the next 150 is .92 pesos and from 401 to 799 is 2.44. After that the screws are tightened and we pay 3.25 pesos per kwh. Once you hit the 800 mark, you remain with the 3.25 for six months no matter how low your consumption is. And, in that bill there is no increment, you pay 3.25 for all of the first 800 and thereafter.

There are three neighborhoods in the metro area that have monthly billing and are allowed the 800 kwhs per month at the incremental rates listed above. This was supposed to be a test period with these neighborhoods but it's now been over 15 years.

For the summer months, the rates listed above are subsidized. They don't get it. We don't need lower rates, we need monthly billing and eliminate the kwh limitations. Pay for what you use but don't screw me either.

So how do most Mexicans deal with this? 50% of the population steal either all their electricity or part of it. That means that they may have a contract, pay their bill but the power is only tracking the 110 use and the 220 for the air conditioners is stolen. Swing that cable up there and you're connected. Two people have been electrocuted this summer already connecting illegally to the grid.

Here at home I read the meter daily. We can only use 13 kwhs per day. Once we reach that we shut almost everything down. During the day I keep the house closed up, opening and closing based on movement of the sun. By 5 p.m. it becomes unbearable and we turn on the air conditioner but only in the bedroom. We set the thermostat at 26C and enjoy the cool air until 9 p.m. shutting it off. We open the windows at 10p.m. and go to bed with a fan. It sucks. I hate summer in Monterrey. Last summer was supposed to be the last, well, that didn't happen. So this one is it. No more.

You can see how screwed up the system is. How do you wean 50% of the population off of their free electricity? Some people believe it is their right and that the government owes it to them. Others think they are screwing the government and getting their just desserts. What they don't realize is that they are hurting themselves. Stealing electricity damages appliances, affects the overall stability of the grid, and causes brown outs during hot summer months when there are heavy overloads. Oh, and did I mention that it is illegal!

The electric company employees who were hired more than five years ago receive free electricity without limit. Imagine all the small businesses they have with refrigeration, etc. not to mention old antiquated air conditioners, regular light bulbs eating up the juice. Newer employees receive the first 385 kwh free and pay a very reduced fee after that.

You are your worst enemy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Laredo Highway Still Closed

This river destroyed all the houses along its path, took out part of the bridge and the road. If you click on the pic to enlarge it, you can see where the cement retaining walls in the back on the right were washed away.

This road has been blocked off by debris. The bulldozers have been working for five days. Still not open.

Mud being removed from houses on the sides of the river. Most of these people were squatters some 30 years ago. Now they are clamoring because they're not getting support.

Manholes bubbling with water, many manholes were just washed away.

Streets still running with water coming down from the hills.

These pictures were taken today. I never made it to Monterrey. So this is between my house and the edge of town. This picture shows the water still coming down from the mountains and filling the streets.

People in a small ejido about 10 kms south of the city at a small church that is dispensing food and clothing.

Los Cristales, another ejido where the water is still at the street level. I couldn't take a picture of the damage done to a private neighborhood. Be careful taking pictures this year. Everyone is paranoid over the problems with organized crime and to take pictures you must ask permission. I asked and was denied.

There are no open roads between Monterrey and Laredo. Where both the libre and cuota run parallel there is a giant lake. 12,000 trailers are stuck at the border and the economy of Tamaulipas is falling fast.

Yesterday I took a drive around and was shocked at what I saw. First off, there is a convoy of bulldozers traveling around the city. If you are in traffic and it slows down you can be assured that there is a bulldozer moving from one place to another.

Water is still bubbling out of manholes, rivers in the middle of Monterrey are still running out of control. I saw first hand houses filled with mud along the sides of rivers, people trying to salvage something from their lives.

So far, 750 tons of food and clothing have been collected here in Monterrey. The worst hit was the city of Anahuac which is along Hwy 1 from Monterrey to Columbia. There was no choice but to open the gates to the dam flooding the town completely to save Monterrey and other cities south and to the east.

Bodies continue to be found as the waters recede along with animals, cars, and furniture. This is truly a tragedy. I have seen nothing on U.S. news although we have received some help from the great state of Texas but I thought for sure the U.S. would lend a hand.

Remember that Mexico was the first to arrive after Hurricane Katrina with portable water filtration systems and mobile food kitchens. Mexico was also on the scene when the platform collapsed in the BP oil tragedy.

I will be posting pictures later on today. You have to see this, it is truly unbelievable.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bonnie Pays A Visit

I called home just a few minutes ago. The rains have started again, there are new mudslides in the same areas that have already been hit. Some friends of ours lost their street. Their house is intact but the cars are still buried in the garage. Until the street is cleared they cannot remove the cars and have them picked up by the insurance company.

Sand bags have been placed around the front of the house in hopes it will help keep the water at bay and keep it from entering the front gates.

I haven't been taking any pictures here in Oaxaca. I just don't feel good about it. I have been going out for dinner and believe it or not, I actually picked a winner. You see I have bad luck picking a restaurant. It's not for lack of practice. So this is one that Croft and Norma can count on. In fact, it is a gringo hangout which is something new for me. It is called La Olla here in the center of Oaxaca about three blocks from the main plaza.

Saturday I leave on a 4 p.m. flight and head directly from the airport in Monterrey to a fancy quinceñera which is supposed to be the party of the year. Let's hope the rains start to subside.

They have closed all the bridges in Laredo so there are no open crossings as we speak.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pictures of Hurricane Alex

Click on the link to see photos of the destruction left by Alex. Pictures 1 through 32.

Pictures of Hurricane Alex

Monday, July 5, 2010

Monterrey Local News

If anyone is interested in watching Monterrey local news to see some of the damage and the clean up efforts, you can see the streaming video here:

Telediario Monterrey

In the morning from 07:00 to 09:00 CDT

In the evenings from 19:00 to 21:00 CDT

Can You Believe It's Still Raining

I got up at 3 a.m. this morning to catch my cheap discounted flight on VivaAerobus. Rinky dink operation but you can't beat the prices. They treat you like little kids and I guess receive training on how to reprimand adults. Once you're on the plane though, the service is very good. The only thing about being on board the aircraft is the constant bombardment of advertising. You know, like the kind you see on the bus above the windows. We left on time though and arrived safely. The pilots still have peach fuzz across their upper lip, not an indicator that they aren't good pilots, just very young.

Anyway, when I got up at the before crack of dawn, I looked out the window and it started raining. I guess the key is not to look out the window. All the way to the airport I thought about the anguish those that were flooded out of their homes must feel every time they fell a drop of rain.

Speaking of water, 98% of the city has it now. They worked their butts off getting the mains repaired and temporary diesel generators running. As I said the other day, the school year came to an abrupt end and there won't be any more classes or graduation ceremonies for that fact unless they revive them at a later date.

There was some difficulty getting to the airport as engineers are still working to determine the stability of bridges, overpasses and streets. It appears that the newer projects held up to the storm showing their stellar construction and design.

I was feeling mighty low on the plane. I felt as if I had copped out on everybody by leaving my people behind. This trip had been planned months ago so I shouldnt feel bad. However, part of me says I should cancel all this greedy work and get my butt back home and dig in with all the rest.

Yesterday, we went into town to find an internet connection. It was like the third coming. Bulldozers at work moving mud and debris. That debris by the way was mostly peoples hard earned belongings that no longer have any value. However, on Avenida Las Torres, a street that divides to mountains where the rich live on one side and the not so fortunate live on the other, trucks loaded with barrels and containers filled with water were being taken to the not so fortunate and filling their containers and water bottles. Everyone is in on the effort.

When I get back next week will be the time to get involved and find some seniors who may need assistance.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Thanks To Everyone

Thanks to everyone who has contacted us or posted a message. The cleanup here at the house is underway, most of it superficial. We learned some lessons and we will take action to prevent this from happening again. I dont know why, but I have a funny feeling we are going to see another hurricane this season and we really cant afford to have it happen. The city may be under reconstruction for at least a year. Many major bridges were either destroyed or will have to be torn down creating major transportation problems. I just accepted a six week project with the education department which will require travel to Monterrey everyday. Fortunately, a good friend of ours who has a house for rent in town may let us stay there for the duration of my project.

One lesson Mexicans still havent learned is that insurance is invaluable and most of all cheap, costing less than 100 dollars per year for every 50,000 dollars of coverage. I was reminded of this just last week as our insurance agent called to renew our home policy.

Jonna thanks for your concern and comments.

Bill, say hi to Mo.

I will be leaving for Oaxaca Monday morning. Now a good thing, my flight leaves at 6:15 a.m. so I should miss part of the mess of an attempted return to work and school in the middle of complete chaos.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Update On Alex

We got some things cleaned up this morning but felt we had to head down to Allende to check on our property there. I was afraid our 40ft travel trailer had washed away.

Along the route, we passed our municipal seat of Santiago and the nearby town of El Cercado. What a mess. What is still roaring down the mountainsides and will continue to do so for at least another we. Our mountain ranges are from 12,000 ft to 7,000ft nearby.

We made it to Allende only to find that our property was barely touched although there is a dry river bed which runs within 25ft of our travel trailer. We checked inside, no water damage or leaks.

On the way back we stopped for "blunch" and had huevos rancheros with fried potatoes. While we were there we watched the devastation on the news. The death toll is now up to six and I can assure you they will find more within the rubble. We have been through this three times now.

The state of Nuevo Leon has already requested federal disaster relief. The president is arriving at 3 p.m. and will make the declaration. We should see funds from FONDEN(Mexicos version of FEMA) within two weeks.

One thing for sure, Mother Nature has the upper hand and we continue to not listen to her. We build on waterfronts, excavate the earth and rock, disobey the weather signs and think we can have the upper hand. When you live between giant mountain ranges, the water will look for its way out and has no mercy on pitiful human beings.

All these pictures were taken here near the house.

This is the river that flows through El Cercado.

Los Rodriguez is an ex-ejido and currently a neighorhood. This house sits right along the highway.

Bottom part of the slide below the house above.

Water receding in the front yard.

Allende, everything is in good order.

Market days were held here on Tuesday.

Nothing left.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It Won't Stop

I didn't sleep well last night. No heavy winds to speak of. Water keeps rushing into the quinta not only from the heavy rains but also from the street. It has no where else to go. Fortunately, the water seems to be keeping itself at bay. We really need sand bags at the gate to keep the water from the road out but our street is flooded about 300 meters from the house. We can't cross it to get out.

The Rio Santa Catarina which flows through the center of the metro area of Monterrey has crested. They moved the Circo NorteAmericano out last night. The airport is still open but the flights are empty as no one can get there. Most of the underpasses are flooded and all low-lying neighborhoods. They say this is as bad if not worse, in terms of water, as Hurricane Gilberto back in 89.

All we can do is sit and wait for the rains to slow down. The pool has reached its limit and soon will be filled with mud. When you live between mountain ranges and then cover it all with pavement and civilization, the water has to find its way out.

The winds are picking up now so another racha is coming. Like everything else, this too will pass.