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.