Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some Birding Info

 Cassin's Kingbird

I received this in an email from my brother Bob who volunteers at the Corkscrew Swamp near Naples, Fl. where he and my SIL winter.

I was out in the Everglades Monday just north of Big Cypress.  We were there for the big backyard birdcount Audubon runs all across the US. We counted 53 species.  There where birds in the 100s of  thousands. This is an area which was the first effort at Everglades restoration south of sugar plantations.  It was started 10 years ago and consists of hugh ponds of many acres.  It is untilizing native plants to filter the water from the plantations of pesticides and fertilizers before the water flows into the Everglades.

One group of Roseate Spoonbills we counted was 120.  Another group of Black Necked Stilts was 130.  The leader said not to count the Coots and Moorhens as they would use 15000 and 12000 respectively since there were too many to count.  We had 10 of us from Corkscrew Swamp and a dozen cars from other groups doing the counts from the levies around the area.  One unusual bird that usually winters in Mexico and Central America was there called a Cassins Kingbird.  There were two pairs.  Other new birds for me were: Black Bellied Whistling Ducks,Fulvous Whistling Ducks and Purple Swamp Hen (an exotic).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Recycled Bread

For my friend Bill W :

A couple of weeks back I mentioned something about the recycled bread they are selling here at HEB.  They take the day old or older pan dulce, grind it up, mix it with spices and nuts and press it out into bricks and coat them with icing.

Here it is.

There it goes.

Tastes like a gingerbread with icing on top.  The icing makes all the difference.  If it has icing, I'll eat it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

This Must Be A Sick Joke

After the murder of a U.S. agent in Mexico the message is the following:

Federal, state and local authorities across the country, including the Rio Grande Valley, are sending an unequivocal message to Mexican drug cartel members in the U.S. and Latin America: If you kill a U.S. agent, there will be repercussions.

I guess that proves that there has not been any repercussions in the U.S. in terms of fighting the more than 40 billion dollars  a year in drugs that enter the country.  According to the video of the "first" take down in Houston, neighbors say that finally after two years of nightly gunfights in their neighborhood something is being done.  Now what does that message say?  Nobody is doing anything to fight the bad guys on the U.S. side.  

Who is paying who?  Who is turning a blind eye?  This really sucks. To think we have suffered so much here in Mexico and in the U.S. they are now saying the above.  Does that mean they will only take measures against the bad guys if another U.S. agent is killed on Mexican turf?   

Some ally, some neighbor, some friend.  

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Will We Ever Advance?

You wonder sometimes who is the enemy.   I waited again until 10 a.m. (wow, what great work hours), and then began calling.  I used a house phone, cell phone, another cell phone and he wouldn't pick up.  So I put all the furniture back into the bedroom, not in any order of any kind, and decided to get new estimates.  

I know how this is going to play out.  They probably got another job at more money, I can understand that, but don't leave me hanging on a string.  On Saturday, early in the morning, they will show up all gung ho and ready to go to work. Well, I will be prepared with my ammo too!  As I said, I haven't heard from them and I haven't left a message to cancel.  When they knock on the door after driving an hour or  more to our house, I will politely let them know we no longer need their services.  Most people here tolerate this crap, I don't.  
I'm not a happy camper but we will go forward with our remodeling project.  I have since come up with some ideas such as adding a small third bedroom on the living room side of the house, a glass enclosed patio area out by the pool, a landscaping redo.  Jonna, would you come up and help me with your green thumb?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some Things Just Work Differently

I spent most of this week getting the spare bedroom ready for the new ceiling and the plaster on the walls.  Every morning I set aside time to empty out the closets or move furniture.  The house looks a wreck as things are crammed into the living room.   It looks like a hoarders show to me.  Today was the day to start the work.  Let's see how the progress is going:

Hmmm . . .  Looks like nothing has happened.  Geez, I wonder why????  Well, 10 a.m. rolled around, no show.  10:30 rolled around, still no show.  A call at 11 reveals that they don't have a truck to bring the materials and are still waiting, and at 1 p.m. we decide to wait until tomorrow.  Oh, the tragedy.   The waiting game of Mexican albañiles(construction workers).  They start at the hour they choose and it is never at 8 a.m., they take a break at 10, lunch at 12, and finish at 4:45.   I'm in the wrong business.

On a lighter note, we have another neighborhood stray running around that I call Scruffy.   Scruffy appeared one day about three months ago.   A feisty little terrier of sorts that follows me or anyone else walking down the road.  Not a mean bone in her body.   She comes and goes when she pleases and no one seems to bother her, except for other dogs.   She hasn't had any litters yet and I doubt she was ever fixed.   I guess I need to take her in to get her done so she can grow up in peace.   

Just like Friend, she too was discarded, forgotten, tied up for months without any food but remarkable survived, was brought back to life and lives a carefree life here on the road.  She comes home with me sometimes after the gym and I feed her and play with her.  She lays down and sleeps for awhile and later I find she has gone again.  Same thing with Scruffy.

 Coming home and turning into the road, I see Scruffy, or should I say she sees me.  I honk the horn, roll down my window and call out her name.   She knows it's me and she makes a mad dash behind me.  I slow down though and let her catch up.  I've tried to get her in the car but we're not there yet.  I've been warned though, no more pets.

Monday, February 21, 2011

OMG - Gas Prices In The U.S.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I checked GasBuddy.Com    I check every month to get an idea of what we can expect  on our  three month summer vacation.  Gas prices in the U.S. are over 3.50 dollars per gallon.  Wow, here the average price based on the exchange rate is 2.75 dollars per gallon.  A huge difference.   Maybe I should go back to work fulltime.   This is ridiculous.   You would think people would be taking to the streets.   How does someone handle that on a fixed budget?   

We are meeting on Wednesday night for a birthday dinner and to discuss the budget and how we are going to cut corners if July 8 is our last day of work.   I have already decided to cut some corners by reducing our cable service, eliminating my private medical and using the social system which will cost me nothing.  Right now, I have to pay for all my preventive medical check ups and with the social system I pay nothing.  My cardiologist is also on the staff at the IMSS so I could have the same doctor but at no charge.  Our mailbox here in Mexico has gone up significantly and we receive mostly junk mail.   All of our bills are on line now so that would be another 300 dollars a year in savings.  That buys six tanks of gasoline or about 1300 miles worth of towing a year.  Quite a bit when you're not in a hurry.

On another note, I am a bit disappointed with ABC news.  They did a report about the number of people killed in Acapulco over the recent weeks including 12 taxi drivers.   They failed to put the numbers into context.   First off, they failed to mention that the majority if not all are directly related to the bad boys and the taxi drivers were spies hired by rival bad guys.  I'm purposely not using the "C" word in my post.  In Mexico, if the death is not a policeman or soldier, it is called persona civil.  A misnomer in English.  The persona civil is almost always  or always is a bad guy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Monthly Birthday Party - February

We started off this year with a monthly birthday party.  Easy way to celebrate everyone's birthdays and cuts down on mixed events on the same day.   Yesterday was also the "Clasico" soccer game between the two Monterrey rival teams; Rayados and Tigres.  We don't have carne asada, instead everyone brings a covered dish or beverages, plates, silverware, etc.

It was a lot of fun.  We watched the game which was a disappointment 0-0 (empatado).  The women worked frantically to get the tortillas going, heating up the food and serving the masses.  There were about 50 of us crammed into a front porch, a house of about 700 sq ft and overflowing into the street.  The little kids were playing soccer in the street so that freed up space.

This month Juan has his birthday, Wednesday the 23rd.  Don't know what is up yet for that day, I'm lousy at buying gifts (never can understand the purpose) but a nice dinner will probably be in order.  Help me Croft and Norma!!!

The only thing I don't like about these parties is the karaoke machine.   Everyone seems to have fun with it but it is so loud.  You would think after 26 years I would be used to loud noise.  Not!  The big disadvantage is that it takes away from conversation.   I didn't even know they were setting it up and we were in the middle of some good conversation when all of a sudden the noise began.  I guess I'm a real Debbie Downer, but most people can't sing anyway so it is almost embarrassing.

This week we start the remodel on the spare bedroom and hope it gets finished by Friday.  The rv needs a good bath, dinner on Wednesday and getting ready for a weekend outing.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Still Can't Believe It!

I wake up in the morning and take a look out the window and there it is.  We bought it in October, and finally it is here at home with all the legal paperwork and plates.  Amazing!  I look back over the last year and all the searching we did after selling Fufi I in March of 2010.  It was a sad day but all things must change and we have to move on.

I might sound a bit crazy but what rving gives me is the freedom to dream about all the places I would like to go and all the places that have become reality for us.  That poor ole Fufi I, we dragged that trailer over mountains, water, hills, swamps, mud, rocks, bumpy roads, and more.  Leave it up to your imagination.  I figure that we took that trailer over at least 30,000 miles if not more.

I just came back from watching the local news broadcast in the rv.  Man is it something.  I know I am a grown man, but I must have moved those slides in and out at least three or four times in the last two days.  

Les (MexicoKid) asked me when we would be going out on our first Mexico trip.  It couldn't come soon enough.  Next weekend we will take a short jaunt down the road to our club campestre, MonteSur.  It is an hour from the house and an escape from the traffic, noise and people.  They have palapas with electric so we won't be suffering.

This next week I will begin on the mods.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


What can I say other than the new rv is home and after months of wondering, anticipation and planning it is in the driveway.

If you are wondering how it went down, here is what happened in terms of permanent importation.  We arrived in Reynosa on Monday afternoon.  We had already chosen an importer or agencia aduanal.  They had received a copy of the title and invoice so they knew what they were dealing with.  We paid the fees and taxes by using the SPAY system, which is like Paypal in the U.S.  We went to a bank, made the transfer between accounts and returned for the receipt from the agency. 

We crossed the border with a date and time for the transfer of goods which was yesterday at 4 p.m. We were to meet the agent at the Pharr bridge with the trailer, they would ride with us through customs and complete the deal.  It didn't happen like that.   We were waiting at 4 p.m. yesterday and the clock was ticking.  A sick agency owner, a bad data entry clerk made it not happen.   We waited until 5.30 and agreed to wait until this morning.  We found an rv park, had a cocktail and watched our favorite novela El Triunfo del Amor.   

As a side note, while we waited yesterday, we had time in the afternoon to visit some really good friends that we met in Veracruz a couple of Christmas' ago.  Bill and Sharon met us at the Pharr Walmart and we had a ball.   We went over to their rv park and talked up a storm .  They are cool people that anyone would want to have as an rv neighbor.   Birders, eaters, and good conversationalists.

Yesterday was a bit of a disappointment.  We woke up this morning to find out the rv park we were spending the night at had a mulitple robbery with the police showing up and the robber escaping without the loot.

Off we went for the rendezvous, this time at 9 a.m.  After arriving, we purchased a coffee and decided to wait until they called us.   Sure enough, around 9.30 they showed up.  The agent got in the truck with us, walkie talkie in hand and off we went crossing the bridge.  Along the way he stayed in contact with the agent on the other side.  Once in line, a guy with a badge and an orange vest came up to the truck.  We got out, he took over.   We walked the rest of the way watching as the trailer advanced through different lines and crossings each time exchanging stamped official papers.  

Once through, he got out, we got in and off we went for the agency office in Reynosa to get our factura or invoice for tax purposes.  I chatted with the agent all the way and he told us about the way things are done and they have their system and sure, money exchanges hands but all this is invisible to the customer.  I told him the same happens on the other side of the border.   Well, we got the invoice and made our way to the Km 30 checkpoint.   We pulled into the lane for trucks and trailers.   It was closed off with orange cones but that led us to the office for the final stamp officially entering Mexico, a small caseta called "pedimentos".  They verified the paperwork in less than five minutes and we headed home.   

Easy as pie but nerve racking as hell.  Fufi II now sits in the driveway.  Tomorrow I get the plates and we can do anything we damn well please.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

In McAllen - Time to Import

We made it to McAllen today.  Got a late start as my cellphone was changed when I went to Chihuahua and I never bothered to reset the time.  No problems so far.  We met with the import agency, paid the bill, and an employee will come to the rv park to do the inspection tomorrow morning.  Then it is off to the border to get approved, stamped and head to the Km 21 for the final stamp for the pedimento.  Wish us luck.  I hope this trailer fits in the driveway!!! 

We are headed out for dinner to celebrate our new addition.   So many mods to make and things to do.  Yippie!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We Went To A Camping and Fishing Exhibition

I got home around 11 p.m. last night from Chihuahua.  Not a long trip but a lot of waiting yesterday in the airport.  I used my time reading on the internet.  Has anyone ever read Foreign Affairs magazine?  I saw one at the airport and it looked like my kind of reading, but at 179 pesos I said no thanks.  I looked on line and you can get 6 issues for around 44 dollars.

This morning, and this is for Jonna, I actually slept in until 8 o'clock.  That is late for me especially on weekends.  So we were watching the news and having coffee when a commercial flashed across the screen for the 2011 Camping, Hunting and Fishing Exhibition.  Let's go.  We had a great breakfast, got cleaned up and off we went.  

It wasn't a big affair but there were probably 50 exhibits in all.  Some good things, exciting things and a few disappointments.  There were several exhibits that offered camping gear, mountain climbing gear, fishing and hunting gear and some who were dedicated to fishing clubs as well as eco-tourism (tours that take you here in the mountains on day trips climbing, hiking, jumping into pools and waterfalls.  

The big disappointment was that there wasn't much involvement on part of the state tourism department.  We have several very nice state parks with camping, electric, water and public restrooms.  They had no representation.   I met Alejandro from Bak Pak.  They offer a magazine on backpacking in Nuevo Leon.  Check out their website.  We agreed to get together and talk about how we can promote rving and camping in the state.  We have some friends in common, who knew I would meet him.  Good thing we went to the event.  

Here are some pics from the show:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Traveling Through Chihuahua

I came up to Chihuahua City Thursday afternoon on a 6:30 flight.   I am working for two days here between Chihuahua and Hidalgo del Parral.    I am staying at a wonderful hotel, Casa Grande which is part of the Westin group.  Very spacious rooms and excellent service.  I got up early yesterday and went to the gym first thing.  Had the breakfast buffet but with a twist.  One of the items on the menu were ejotes con chorizo (green beans with chorizo), tasty and a good side dish to a couple of fresh cooked eggs.

I had to take the bus to Parral which is about three hours away.   My course started at 2 p.m. and I left the hotel around 8:30.  Better safe than sorry and a good thing.  There are three bus stations here in Chihuahua.  I was closer to the outskirts of town here in Cuauhtemoc where there are two smaller satellite stations.   The front desk told me which one to go to and the taxi dropped me off there.  I went in and they told me the buses for Parral don't stop there.  Back in a taxi and off to the other station.  Arriving there, I had just missed a bus and had to wait an hour and 15 minutes. 

The trip to Parral was a trip down memory lane.  We passed through there a few years ago on our big trip to Las Barrancas del Cobre (the Copper Canyon).  The bus passed the rv park outside Chihuahua in El Fresno which is behind a Pemex station.  You pay at the station and go through the gate.  A simple place but very good pads, concrete picnic tables and 30 amp service.  All the mountain scenery, and the golden grasses along the highland desert route.   It was almost sad to see wondering if and when we will ever get to come back with the rv.   

 Buses stop anywhere along the route to let people off.  This guy was going to his ranch.

 Selling excellent burritos made with oversized tortillas and filled with shredded beef and salsa.

Watching movies on the bus, albeit dubbed in Spanish.

I have spoken to many people since yesterday including taxi and travel bus drivers.  They all say that daytime driving throughout the canyon area present no problems.  I didn't get home until after 10:30 last night and it was a very warm and comfortable drive with good movies.

Today I have a group of 120 teachers which I prefer over smaller groups.  I work until 2 p.m. and then head to the airport.  I have a later flight at and am hoping to change it to get home early.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Holiday Weekend - Aniversario de la Constitución Mexicana

A long three day weekend for Mexicans.  Actually, here in the north kids are having a five day weekend as the cold kept them from going to school.  Funny, here in Monterrey most public schools have heat and air conditioning so there was really no reason for parents not to send their kids.  Afterall, instead of going to school they were up earlier than usual so they could go to the Parque Chipinque to see the snow and ice.

Yesterday we got up early, well I was up at 5 a.m., I didn't stay up to watch SNL.  I read my newsletter, had some coffee and then we headed out for breakfast.  What a huge disappointment.  Stick with what you know.   I had put a pot of beans on the crockpot Saturday night, they were ready in the morning.  No, let's go out for a change.  We went to Chili's on our way to look at a new subdivision on the northside of Monterrey.  Commercial food sucks, plain and simple.  We decided we like to cook at home and like our food better.

We drove forever and a day to get to Valle de Lincoln which is just minutes away from the periferico to Saltillo.  It is a huge development with hundreds of low-priced homes ranging from 200,000 to 250,000 pesos (16,000 to 20,000 U.S.).  Lots are very small and so are the houses.  Imagine fitting a three bedroom home into 600 sq ft?  Some of the construction or one story homes are pretty cool.  They are prefabricated concrete and heavily insulated.  Finally builders in Mexico are providing decent housing that can actually be comfortable.

We saw a cool one bedroom on a corner lot, 590 sq ft of contstrucion and 1400 sq ft lot.  Very nice for 20,000 dollars.  All the houses are prepped for the addition of a second story.  They have nice parks and guard entrances for all the neighborhoods.  The problem is the density.  The houses are cute, they have nice trim around the doors and windows outside, painted nice colors, not bright blue and green, with tile roof facades across the front.  Too many people in a small area and it will turn dumpy within the first year. 

We were interested in the apartments they offer.  They are 230,000 pesos apiece and there are four in a building each with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath.  Well designed and layed out.  They offered us the fourplex (the whole building) for 67,000 dollars.  We figure monthly rentals would produce 1200 dollars a month and would be of interest for those younger folks driving everyday from Saltillo to Monterrey.  Never hurts to check and keep our eyes open on what the real estate market is doing.

Here is what it looks like:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

And It Gets Worse

The weather has actually gotten worse.  It is still below zero this morning with the promise of warmer weather.  

We spent the evening at the funeral home.  Aunt Enedelia passed away yesterday, she was 91.  The funeral home we went to closes at 10 p.m., they used to stay open 24 hours.  Why the change you might ask?  Two robberies this last year where armed thieves came in and took everyone's cell phones, jewelry, purses and wallets.  This is a big change for us here.  We are used to spending the night at the funeral home, meeting relatives, eating, talking and sleeping on the sofas in the lobby.   Another tradition going by the wayside.  Not to say it is the rule at all Mexican funeral homes.

We go back today for the trip to the cemetary and then lunch afterwards.  I asked several people about the mass before the burial and the "whispers" revealed, "they aren't Catholic".  OMG 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Thermometer Keeps Dropping - Is This Really Mexico?

It's right at 29F here at the house.  I just got back from buying gas LP for the house.  The trucks are all empty and won't be filled until tonight for tomorrows routes.  I disconnected the tank for the heater and loaded into the car.   Sucker is heavy, it holds 90 liters.   
I got to the station and they filled it to the brim, I had them purge whatever was in there, mostly air and it cost 450 pesos or about 37 dollars.   That should last through the cold spell and beyond.  I have the heater with three radiants in the middle of the living room and a small fan behind it blowing the air towards the bedrooms.  I have the spare bedroom closed off.   It seems to be working well.

While I was getting the invoice for the gas, a woman came running in asking for service to her house.  Her command of Spanish was not very good and I offered to help her.  She said her electricity was out and her gas LP too.  So I translated for her and later asked her where she was from.  She lives in Santiago and is from Chicago.  She teaches in a private school out here on the highway.  I've never seen her.  She said it was a miracle that I walked in behind her.  Who knew.

The city is pretty much empty.  I stayed in Monterrey last night.  We had pizza and watched the movie "Grey Gardens", the story of Edith and Edie Beale, socialite recluses living in an old mansion.  They were related to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy.   I was fascinated by the film.  I had read about them before but spent the day watching the four segments of the original documentary on YouTube.   Drew Barrymore really studied for the part of Edie.   Makes you think about your future and when you need to make decisions that are best for you at the time and may not be what you want.  

Tonight will be the coldest night, temps around 21F here on the ranch.  Lots of people here without any way to heat their houses, although those here on the ranch have chimneys and can build a nice hot fire.  I'll keep warm with a vodka or two, watch a movie and let the cats keep my feet warm.

I have a pretty good life, we take a lot for granted. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Big Chill - La Locura


The thermometer is dropping but not as quickly as I had thought.  This morning it was a balmy 23C and now it is hovering around 17C.  I just checked the weather in San Antonio and it has already hit there.  It is expected to drop to 7C tonight and then tomorrow through Sunday lows in the -1C to -3C.   Those are temps. for Monterrey.  Here on the ranch it could be as low as -5C so I am taking the usual precautions.  I usually stay in Monterrey on Wednesdays, but I don't want to leave the house alone not to mention the cats.  

I went to Home Depot today to buy some more tile cement and grout  (Crest y boquilla).  When I pulled into the parking lot all I could see were bobbing tubes of insulation.  You would think we were going to spend months in an arctic freeze.   Funny to watch people though.  Same thing when I went to the supermarket, mass panic.

I have covered the few exposed pipes and will put all the faucets on drip mode tomorrow night.   I'll also fire up the minisplits and keep them on low to keep the house warm during sleeping hours and run the gas heaters during the day.  

While I was at the HEB, I used the excuse of cold weather to buy some pan dulce.   The last couple of weeks I have seen a new product in the bakery section.  It looks like long flat rectangular bars with icing on them.   The icing is what attracts me.   So I picked one up and put it on my tray.  Felt more like a brick and could be used as a facade material on a house.  While I was in line, the woman behind me asked me what it was.  I told  her I wasn't sure but I thought it was the same dough used for marranitos, those little gingerbread pigs.  When it was my turn at the counter, I asked the girl bagging bread what it was.   To my surprise she said it was "recycled" bread.   Yes, recycled.  Instead of selling off the stale bread to pig farmers, etc., they grind it all up, add spices, nuts and raisins and put it through a press and then add the icing.  The outcome is a very tasty gingery type bread that is really quite good.

I finally figure out how to download a video to YouTube and then to Blogger.  Don't know why I struggled in the past, it is very easy.  Here is a sample from a trip we took to the south and back up Hwy 85 from southern Hidalgo.   Turtle Toad mentioned Hwy 85 today on Rv.Net.  We took it from Queretaro to Ciudad Valles in SLP.  It is high altitude mountain driving with lots of curves and winding roads.   We loved it, it was a blast although at times we were a bit leary.  Here it is:

Hot Springs at Aquismon, San Luis Potosi (Pueblo Magico)

Now I need to learn how to dress up the video with titles, background, music, etc.  Always a learning curve.