Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Visa Update - Birthday Weekend


A group went to the lake for Juan's birthday.  We didn't stay long as you can see by the pictures below.  The last three months have been like Semana Santa here.  It is good for tourism, businesses are opening all along the highway and people are coming in droves.  

Traffic was so bad that we didn't want to wait in the kilometer long double-laned lines to get to the lake.  Instead we parked at the gym across the highway and walked down.  First thing we say was this guy gliding around the lake.

As we got closer and began walking down the street in front of the lake you could see the crowds.  I would say that 60% of the people with a beer or drink in their hands were under 18 and the majority of the girls were around 16.   Lots of full body tattoos, motorcyclists of all ages including retirees groups.  The noise was not my cup of tea although I am accustomed to it.  As some of you know me well, in large noisy groups I can be a real lump on a log.  I prefer quiet and less people.   I haven't been to a concert since I was sixteen and that is fine with me.

This is where we had a great seafood dinner.  Fresh shrimp brought daily from the coast around Tampico.   They have been selling out at night because of the crowds.

Boats lining up to take people out on the lake for a ride.

With this small shot you can imagine how large the crowds were.  It was hot outside and the alcohol was flowing.  They have liquor stores along the avenue and the highway that sell cold drinks, beer and alcohol.

As for the visa, it has been submitted and we have about 22 days to wait for a response to see if it is accepted or not.    A long wait but we are keeping our fingers crossed.   As I told you the other day, we have already come up with a back up plan just in case.   

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Head Up - Important Travel Tip

Based on events over the last week which include the theft of a Canadian toad, I am offering again one of the most important travel tips in Mexico.
Mexico is still a paper based society and we ask for lots of documents and copies.  This is good for travelers in any country and not just rvers.
Make copies of all your travel documents:
  • passports
  • visas
  • driver's license
  • vehicle registration
  • pictures of your vehicles
  • pictures of your license plates
  • vehicle titles
  • copies of keys
  • important phone numbers; your local DMV, accountant, etc.
Scan them, burn a copy on CD, USB stick, and then email yourself the documents.   Send one of the CDs to a friend or family member.   No one every knows what can happen.  Imagine a fire in your rv (god forbid), theft, car accident, etc.
Know before you go. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Canada Is Confusing


We still don't get it but we move ahead.  Juan took the day off from work just to do his on line application.   It's pretty much bullshit but nothing against all our great Canadian friends and I am sure anyone from any other country has the same about entering Mexico and the U.S.

I still don't understand the Canadian website.  It says, "Visitors and Temporary Residents".  What is the difference?  Juan's application is only available for Temporary Resident.   No difference to me.

I can't find anything on the Canadian website about insurance requirements or permits for the rv.  We are a special case, no doubt.  I guess I need to make a call.  They have never answered my emails and it has been over two weeks.  

I know this is worth it, but in the back of my head I have this fear of getting to the border and being turned away.   Juan says it doesn't matter.  We'll go as far as we can and if they turn us away we'll travel across the U.S.  

Just venting my frustrations.  Kevin said he sees no reason why we would have issues.  Think about it.  Two seniors, both males, one American, one Mexican, the American is a Mexican resident, one vehicle is in the American's name and the other in the Mexican's name (Mexico only allows one name per vehicle no matter what marital status one has).   You tell me!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Full Steam Ahead


Like all human beings, we sometimes have doubts.   We are going ahead with the visa application and will submit it this week.  I have also changed my tune and for some minor revelations, have decided it is "full steam ahead" on our trip.  I have checked the gas prices a dozen times in Canada and we will wait and see if we dip in and out of the country and how much we can actually save.   "Suck it up" is the only way to describe it.

As for things at home, we are installing a camera system to keep an eye on things and other than that, what happens - happens.  I don't have control over the weather anymore than I do what takes place while we are gone.  I love my cats but I have to move on and they will be well-taken care of anyway.

I have ordered the LEDs for the rv and a new trim piece for the SUV.  We want it to look good as we are going down the road.  We have a slight and intermittent gas leak in one of the valve stems on the stove top.  It is a real problem to find replacement parts so worst case is we will put a shut off valve on the stove line and turn it off and on as needed.  Not a show stopper by any means.

I told you we are headed to San Antonio so we can try out our solar there.  We are going to stay down the street from our house at a Walmart and drag the trailer around town as we do our chores.  Hopefully we will pick up a new mattress for the trip too so we can sleep comfortably. 

I wish I were more handy and new more about electricity.   We really need to install an inverter that will bring all the outlets live.   

Other than that, the weather here has taken a change for the better and we are enjoying 33C plus temps during the day.  At 7:30 p.m. it is still hovering around 25C.   The grass seed we planted has all of a sudden come to life and the grass is already 1/2 tall and growing as I watch it.  No bull!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Great Sunny Weekend - Solar Is Really Working


I didn't realize how easy it was to grill salmon.  It was pretty thick so after I thought it was ready I zapped it for a minute just to make sure.  It was flaky and juicy.  A bit expensive but very fresh and for a special occasion.

The solar panel is going to town and it keeps the batteries charged at 12.6V on average.   I'm ready to start working on our list to get repairs done.  We may go to San Antonio this next week to do some work on the rental there and also talk to a realtor.   The Rv Store is right around the corner and their prices and work are pretty good.  I think though I can tackle the Fantastic Fan replacement.  It seems pretty straight forward, there is already a vent fan there so it would be to take one out and put one in.  What say you?  Caulking is the part that I think counts the most.

We spent Friday night here at home with our dinner and watching a movie.   Yesterday the temps got up to 35C so we had to get out of the house.   We did some basic chores like pressure wash the palapa.   You know finding a good worker is hard no matter what country you live in.   Well, I made a deal with my neighbor's caretaker.   He has two kids and for some strange reason they are not taking English classes in their school, the program should be offered but it's not.  So I told them, I will tutor your daughter who is in high school once a week and give her free materials.  One condition pending; you bring me a trusted worker that do the construction work and maintenance that is needed.   Deal.

We had a nice breakfast yesterday and then drove into Santiago.  We visited all the restaurants in the plaza.  There was only one open last year.  Now there are seven and the weekends are booming even in the cold weather.  Tourism is back and people are happy again.  

Two articles in today's Sunday paper here in Monterrey, one good one bad.  Good, "Anticipating Building Boom on the National Highway", that's where we live.  Bad, on the front page of El Norte; "Visas for Mexicans Traveling to Canada Drop 45%".  We may not make it to Canada.  We are even considering flying and renting to see if that will get us the visa.  

More later and have a great Sunday!  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Solar Working Again


First off, a big hug to all my friends on this special day.  Happy Valentine's Day!

I got the charge controller hooked up.   It has a lot more buttons and functions than the other one and the instructions are in English.   The other was in Chinese and I was really struggling with my Chinese classes just to read the instructions.   Good thing is, now I can quit those classes.   I couldn't find anyone around here to practice with.

Yesterday, the batteries were full ( I had them disconnected while there was no charger).   The panel showed 3 amps coming in the afternoon.  The trees block a bit of the sun during parts of the day so I may have to move it to the other side of the driveway.   

One of the options I have yet to figure out is the time settings.  It somehow allows for you to set the time the panels turn on or off, or better said, let power go to the batteries.   At sometime in the late afternoon it stops allowing power to come in.   The instructions are about as good as the translator who did them but at least I can understand the functions.   I will keep fine tuning the system but it is good to know we are back in the power business.

Tonight I am fixing a special dinner.   Salmon on the grill and a good bottle of wine.   Today we celebrate 30 years.  Yikes.  Who would have ever thought.   

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Got The New Charge Controller

The weather has been so bad the last few weeks that going into Monterrey has been out of the question.  It took Juan an hour and a half to get downtown today.   People just are good in foggy and rainy weather.

I made it a point today to get the charge controller.  I waited until 10 a.m. to leave.  So I went to the gym first, came home had a quick breakfast and read my email and off I went.   It took me over an hour to get across the city.   I called on the way for a second time just to make sure the technician was going to be there when I arrived.  Two very nice guys who are trying to make a business out of solar energy but are subsidizing their business with the rent, sell and repair of karaoke machines that look like giant Iphones.   I admire their hard work and now they are looking to buy a place to set up their new shop and are looking to import large quantities of panels.

There you have it.  Tomorrow I'll have it hooked up and maybe the sun will peak out.  Tonight I print out the list of maintenance items that need to be done on the SUV.  I am ordering LEDs this week so I can pick them up at the end of the month in McAllen.  I still need to purchase a water filter for the kitchen sink.  That way we can use on board water without any issues not only on the trip but also here in Mexico.   We use the tank most of the time anyway and we don't have any issues.  
I need to get crackin' on my wish list for our trip and get the rv road ready!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Visa In The Works


We finally weeded our way through the Canadian immigration website.  Oh brother, what a mess and no disrespect to any Canadians.   It asks for a lot of information.  One thing is Juan will have to prove he has enough money to spend two to three months in Canada.   We still don't know how to prove this, if it is cash on hand, a bank account statement, or what.  

We also need three letters of recommendation.  One from the East, Central and West coast.  You already know who you are and you will be receiving an email soon.  No obligation because it asks for a lot of information from the person making the recommendation and several forms of identification.   (This is really starting to sound like a witch hunt against Mexicans).  The cost of the application is 858 pesos, non-refundable.  Let's hope we fill it out right the first time and that it is accepted.

The reason I asked about food was that we aren't bringing stuff we think we won't be able to get at home, but more about things we can bring to help reduce the cost of our trip.  Everyone knows that food products are cheap in Mexico, higher in the U.S., and very expensive in Canada.

One good thing we did learn is that with a one-time entry visa, it really means you can cross back and forth into the U.S. several times during the six month period.

We got our online banking situation squared away and we will begin testing it to make sure we can make credit card payments, wire transfers, and bill pay without any issue.

Friday, February 7, 2014

More On Food We Can Take


Oh, government!   Just like the song.   I have been checking the Canadian government website and they have two lists; one from the U.S. and one from "other" countries.   Very confusing and a lot of information to weed through.

One thing is that there are things you can bring but then it says "up to 20 kgs".  That's a lot of cheese for example.  As for milk, we get milk cheap here in Mexico in tetra box.  But the list says we can't bring it.  That is a bummer for us.

So here is what we want to bring from the U.S. I guess because things are expensive in Canada and some things are cheaper in the U.S. than Mexico.

  • coffee
  • cheese (they say butter is better in Canada and what we have tried from Norma, it is better butter)
  • milk in tetrapak
  • eggs
  • canned beans
  • tostadas
  • salsas (although we make our own too, but can we get chili peppers in Canada? ) (may be a silly ?)
  •  toiletries (shave cream, deodorant, hair spray, gel, toothpaste)
  • cleaning supplies
  • mole
  • dried chili peppers
The booze part, well, we may just have to boycott like Kevin and Ruth.  Vodka is vodka, so I wonder what the cheapest vodka in Canada is and what it costs?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Should We Take?


Still not sure about what we are allowed to take into Canada.  Based on your experiences, what would you recommend in terms of food items?

The weather is cold and I am afraid we're going to have some sleet.  It is now near freezing and it will be another cold night.  

Wish we were on the road now.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Hate Hotels


Not really but I prefer staying in the rv over someone else's bed.  I made it to Corpus Monday afternoon and did stay in a very nice hotel that had a full open bar from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and a pretty decent hot breakfast.   I didn't pay the tab though the company booked the reservation.

I came back to McAllen yesterday after the course which by the way was one of my better ones.  A public school that is pretty much rural Corpus and the kids were awesome.   From the minute I walked into the building everyone smiled, greeted me and I felt at home.   The norm for Texas public high schools are kids in slippers and shorts, tatoos, piercing and the manners of an oil rig worker.    

However, my way back to the valley was met by surprise.   Again, I am a target of local and state police.   As I was coming down Hwy 77 I passed two black-unmarked SUVs and the officers wer talking to each other.   There was plenty of traffic to patrol so I didn't think much of it.   As the script goes, they waited until I got about a mile down the road and then they came up behind me but not following close.   Then, one of them floored it, was bumper to bumper when he hit the lights.  I pulled over and it lasted for about 20 minutes.   I showed all my documents, I was frisked, but only after he had moved me out of the way of the camera.   I mean really, I'm an older man now, not some kid and I was not driving the SUV, a little white VW with Mexican plates.   In the end, he said he stopped me for a lane change without using a signal.  Hmm, funny, I didn't even change lanes.   This happens everytime I leave the valley and head north.  Imagine what happens to Mexicans.   Awful!

I got to Harlingen and started looking for a hotel.  It was late and I needed to send in the checks, reports and registrations at a FedX office and it wasn't going to happen.   This hotel is on me so I did some shopping.  I had attempted to connect to the internet at a McDonald's after my police harassment but the signal stank so I moved on.   There are some real dump for under $75.   One of my last stops was a Holiday Inn but they only had a smoking room for $149 so I thought fine, I'll sleep in my car.

I headed towards McAllen and passing through Mercedes I spotted a La Quinta and exited.  Of course, the exit passes the hotel, poor planning on their part and I could see the parking lot was pretty empty.  And there it was, the famous Mercedes Outlets and next to it a chain that caters to Mexicans here in the valley.  I pulled in and the girl was very nice.  I always ask to see my room first because you just never know.   Perfect king bed, huge flat screen, handicap room which is much larger with a sitting area, microwave and a minibar.   She quoted me $65 plus tax and I thought, okay.   I was pretty pooped and it was closing in on 7 p.m.  I was talking to her about the Mexican holiday weekend we just had and we chatted for a few minutes.   Then she said it was too bad I hadn't booked on line because they were offering a 30% discount during the week to get the month going.  I asked her if I could use my laptop and she agreed.   I ended up with a nice room (no carpet but good Mexican tile), high ceilings and all the things I needed to have a good sleep.  All new furniture, mattress and wonder Holiday Inn style bedding. 

A little shopping this morning and then heading home.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Shoe Is On The Other Pie

And I don't mean "pie" like apple pie.  Pie in Spanish is "foot".   I sent Kevin an email regarding boondocking spots in Canada.  He has tons on his blog.  
I have to say though that now I know what it must be like for some rvers coming to Mexico for the first time?  Yikes!  I am truly lost. 
I guess the first thing is to make a route and then start looking for places to stop along the way.   There are tons of boondocking spots listed on the FreeCampSites.com in Canada.   Amazing.  Kevin said they didn't pay for but a few places along the way across the country.  So much to digest.
Well, I made it to Corpus Christi.   The bridge wait was one hour and forty minutes.   As I said yesterday, today is Constitution Day and everyone came to the border to do some shopping.  The border agent was super nice to me and I kept my answers to a minimum.  I'm practicing for Canada.  There is a new article that surfaced that says they will change immigration rules for Mexican tourists going to Canada. 

Eliminación de la visa de mexicanos que viajan a Canadá podría concretarse

The article is in Spanish but they are thinking of reducing or eliminating some of the requirements for Mexicans.  The Ambassador will be visiting Mexico in February.  This may be good news for us. 
I'm sitting here at the hotel in Corpus Christi at happy hour.  Free drinks and not just beer and wine.  It is about 9C outside right now and is supposed to drop to 3C.  There are only four guys at the bar hitting up on the barmaid.  I'm going to meet Juan on line at 7 p.m. for what they now call "Face Time". I learned that from David and Cam.  That's when we connect on Facebook for free video chat which really works better than Skype. 
I will head back to McAllen tomorrow afternoon after I finish the course.  I need to stop by a FedX office first to drop off my reports and all the envelopes with checks inside!  Then I will spend the night in McAllen so I can pick up some things for the rv.   Maybe all this is really coming together.  I have  bad feelings about leaving the cats.  At least LB, 13 yrs old, I'm afraid he won't make it until we come home.  He is very dependent upon us for attention.  I guess I can get over it.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Too Much Growth!

Today started out to be a pretty lazy morning.  I did some prep work for my trip tomorrow to Corpus Christi, washed some clothes, and Juan made a really good huevos rancheros breakfast. 
We had a family mass to go to in the afternoon but first thing was to wash the cars.   I don't do that much anymore, I have gotten pretty lazy.   Our road is not conducive to a clean cars but it has been sunny and hot the last two days giving me no reason not to do it.  Plus, when you travel it's nice to be in a clean car.
Heading out for the mass  we drove all the way through Monterrey to the north side of town.  We were so far that we could see the exit to the highway leading to Saltillo.   On our way though, we discovered how fast and how much the city is growing.  Condominium towers shooting up as high was 40 stories, shopping malls and now the fastest growing trend is a gated community.   In the pics below you can see just a few of the many we passed in a short two kilometer stretch.  These neighborhoods run from 1,000,000 pesos to 3,000,000 pesos and we're not talking an exclusive part of town.  One major advantage is that builders are being forced to provide decent infrastructure in terms of good streets, parkways, green areas, LED and solar street lighting.  Take a look:

At mass, we were surprised to see an American priest.  Padre Scott speaks perfect Spanish and has a beautiful accent.  The church has three levels inside and must have had over 600 people in attendance.  They have mass every hour on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.   The place was packed and the singing group or choir was excellent.  He baptized 15 babies during the mass.    He read the list of family names we were there to honor.
After, we went to a niece's house for tostadas with beans, cheese and salsa along with a plate of asado de Puerco and rice.   Fantastic afternoon and good to get everyone together. 
Now for a cocktail and off to bed.  Tomorrow is a long day.  I figure if I leave here at 7 a.m. I will be at the bridge by 10:30, an hour to cross because tomorrow is a Mexican holiday (Constitution Day, Feb 5th celebrated tomorrow), go to the office for materials and then 2.5 hours to Corpus Christi.  Yikes.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Too Much To Do!


I have a trip Monday to Corpus Christi and I hope to be coming back Tuesday night.  The only thing I need to buy is some Dicor to do the Fantastic Fan install.   I'm ready for Tuesday but not ready for our trip to Canada.   We did get the VW ready for Corpus so that is out of the way. 

I talked to the mechanic who said he may be able to schedule a trip to the house to check out the brakes and wheel bearings.   I have that as a priority on my list.  I still haven't picked up the charge controller.   It's an hour and a half drive and if I'm late because of traffic sometimes the guy is on a service call.  They are doing some solar installs in homes around Monterrey.   We now have bi-directional home meters so some of the larger, what we call residences, are now supplementing their power needs with solar.  I sent him an email and made arrangements for Wednesday or Thursday.

The next list is the SUV.   A laundry list of things to do but I won't post it here out of embarrassment for all the deferred maintenance. Yikes!  Yep, mañana syndrome affected me years ago.   The house has some details and there are some things going on but those are on the back burner.  

Tomorrow we have a mass to go to for Juan's parents who have now been gone for many years.  The whole family is coming and we are having a lunch after.   We're taking tostadas with beans, cheese, salsas, and the others are bringing asado de puerco, rice and all the trimmings.   

I attempted to increase our on line banking service.   I went to the branch where we opened our accounts some 25 years ago.   The guy was nice enough but he left out some details.  So now I have this device that looks like a USB but isn't, that has a code on a small screen that changes every 30 seconds, they call it a token.   I can't log on for the life of me and will have to go back for another round.  This is important because we want to make sure we are able to make transfers between U.S. and Mexican accounts, pay bills on line, etc.   I don't pay the utilities on line because I don't receive a tax deductible invoice.   During our trip it won't matter.   Lolita may come knocking on the door next year wondering why I didn't report income for the summer months.   

I've got wet feet now and Juan is very excited about the trip.  We are working on his travel visa for Canada.   That's kind of a mess too.   You have to register on line and the questions are very vague.   For example; Do you work?  Yes or No.   What about retirement?  

Then I have the issue of the SUV and the trailer.   Mexico only allows one name per title.  We have the SUV in his name and the trailer in mine.   I'm wondering if that is an issue.   You can't just pick up the phone and call someone.  I sent an email but no answer yet.   

Stay tuned.