Apr 27, 2010

Sunday, April 25 - The season are upside down.

We’re back in Canada, but maybe it’s too soon. The snow is gone, but jeez, its cold. The low tonight is going to be 2C (35F), with the high tomorrow of 9C (48F).
Spending the last six months on the Caribbean, and then now coming north it is hard to grasp that this is spring. Our internal seasonal clocks are skewed by leaving the warm weather and heading into the cool. We often find ourselves thinking and saying, “Now this fall...” when if fact it is spring.
We will be putting away our fans and for a few weeks at least, will be running heaters. If it is anything like last year, I think we came north too soon.

Saturday, April 23 - Minnie Driver rules!

Rain, and then torrential rain pelted us as we started out this morning. Today we needed to get out of Nashville, drive through Louisville, Cincinnati and Dayton before reaching our night stop.
In good weather, it takes all my concentration to keep up with the traffic, read the signs with their on-raps and off-ramps “This Lane Must Exit”, “This Lane Ends in 500 feet”, as well as construction lane closures and other surprises. That's where Minnie is so great. Set our destination, and she tell us, “In 1 kilometer / mile, keep left...” “In 1.2 miles turn right”, etc.
Okay, the name came from Susan’s brother Don, who named their GPS, Minnie Driver - so perfect we adopted it.
We’ve had a GPS since we started full-timing 4 years ago, and it has been a trusted servant ever since. (We tried to give the condescending schoolteacher woman’s voice a few other names, “Cecily”, and “Agnes” but they never fitted as well as Minnie.)
Today she was a star. Got us here safe and sound.

Friday, April 23 - Long Days

Arrived in Nashville after two very long days on the freeways. Nearly 1100 miles in two days. We usually try to avoid the freeways, as they are mile after mile of just blacktop. We usually look for routes that take us down the “red roads”. These are the highways that are two-lane and go through the towns and the farming communities. This trip was just haulin’ -- I would join  the caravans of transport trucks, and when I could, set the cruise control for 69 MPH. My little Chevy D’Max/Allison pulled our rolling home right along. Good truck!

Monday April 19 - Medical Alert:

On the trip, Susan developed a big blotch in her right eye. As we got to the US border, it seemed to get worse and it became quite a worry. So at our usual stop in San Benito, Texas, the first thing is to find an eye doctor.
A couple of calls brought us an appointment for 8 am the following morning. The ophthalmologist diagnosed a retinal tear. This would involve surgery by an retinal specialist. We then were sent to another office of the same medical to consult with the surgeon. He confirmed the diagnosis, and proscribed surgery. That's the bad news. The better news is that this ailment has a 2 week window from the onset. We called back to Susan’s eye doctor in Guelph Ontario, where she had her cataracts done last summer. We sent copies of the diagnosis, and now have an appointment with a retinal specialist in London, Ont. for Tuesday morning.
Hence, we are scooting back to Canada this trip, rather than taking our usual leisurely sight-seeing pace.
After just two more days in the RGV, for a little rest, a little shopping and an oil change, we hit the road.

Sunday April 18th - On the road again.

Another popular subject of discussion in Mexico, is the choice of which roads to take. As in what ore the road conditions, the towns and topes you encounter on each route, the distances, and the tolls. Mexico has (generally) a fine toll road system. These are four-lane not-so-free-ways. Depending on where you enter and which routes you take, it can equal or surpass the cost of fuel. Most people think that is a fair price to pay for the better, quicker roads. The “libres” on the other hand, go through the towns and smaller cities, where there are bottlenecks of traffic as well as the dreaded topes (speed bumps). With heavy rvs it is necessary to cross these topes carefully. I thought we had hit the limit on the way down when through one small town we had to cross 24 topes. But this trip, through another small town, I counted over 40!
There are other advantages to travel the side roads. At these topes, there are often vendors of food and drink. One morning, I bought two bottles of fresh squeezed pineapple juice, a bottle of coconut milk, a torta de pollo (bbq chicken on a bun), and a bag of cookies. All with barely losing momentum.
These side roads are also much more scenic, and slow going.
In all, we traveled four longish days to get up to the US. We usually take more time, stopping on the way for a night or two, but traveling together kept us on a schedule.

Friday, April 16 - Traveling Companions

A couple of weeks ago we got talking with another couple who were planning on driving north about this time and so we decided to drive together. Joe & Marilyn have been up and down this road many times, and will be good company. They are also full-timers, spending their winters in Paamul and their summers doing a circuit of the US visiting kids and grand-kids.

The background to this is that there have been a few stories going around on the e-mail grapevine, and RV discussion forums about potential dangers on the roads up north near the border. The US news has been covering the “escalation” in the violence between competing factions of the Mexican drug trade. According to reports, many of the gangs have been fighting it out, and a few innocent people have been caught in the crossfire. The snowbirds who spend their winters in the grapefruit belt, the US border region, from Texas to Arizona, hear a lot about it on the news. The battle reports reach us too, and so all us travelers are particularly cautious.
I am one of the less worried ones, I think, and I try to keep it all in perspective. There are hundreds, possibly thousands of Canadians and Americans RVers like ourselves, as well as those who drive their vehicles down to spend the winters in their palapas and condos all through Mexico. I read a report that there are an 120 thousand North American (gringo) visitors in Mexico at any one time.
Without going into details and interpretations, it is often reported that the dangers are increasing. I think a lot of it is pulp journalism, and this country as a whole is no worse than almost anywhere else.

Our last night in Paamul, we were invited to a farewell dinner with our neighbors. A lovely meal, and we were joined by two other couples, who like our hosts are Americans, have built new palapas, and are planning to live here mostly full time. As the conversation went to the safety issue, it was the first time I have ever heard the emphatic phrase (and at a dinner table) “I sure wish I had my guns!”. I was speechless. It is reported that most American RVers travel with firearms in their vehicles. It is completely prohibited to carry any guns or ammo into Mexico. Of course, this prohibition is the same for Canada. So it is a cultural shock for me to hear it first hand.

Somewhat related, I noticed that there were many, I thought more than usual, friendly waves from the people on the streets of the towns, and along the road as we passed through on this trip. Most every traveler will attest that Mexicans are remarkably friendly and joyful. With our heightened anxiety this trip, it was particularly nice to see warmth and acceptance.

Thursday, Apr. 15 - Living large, living small

We are finally packing up our winter home and going to head north. As we have grown into our palapa, it is turning out to quite an ordeal or sorting and repacking for the trailer life.
The palapa, including the loft, is about 1200 sq. feet. As it has a full kitchen, fridge, stove and all the new cupboards, as well as a baño (bathroom), and a bodega, (storage room) with a washer and dryer, we have gotten quite used to all the space. I am also going to miss the comfy outdoor living room couch and chairs, where I sit every morning to read my e-mails, and on-line newspapers. This is also a great place to read or just sit and look out on the back garden, jungle, birds and critters.
Now our daily life has to be condensed into about 280 sq feet. So I have pulled out all our storage crates and re-selected that which we absolutely need. The same editing for the trailer closets and cupboards. This is a real example of the axiom “your stuff always expands to fill the available space”, except now in reverse, as we need to contract. Not so easy.
After our unusually cool winter, we have been enjoying warmer spring weather. So much so, we have not been in any hurry to leave. Susan has said a few times that she would like to see what it is like to spend the summer here as well!

Apr 10, 2010

Snowbirds exodus

Just watched two more rigs head out this morning, and that now leaves only a few rv’s here in the park that will be soon migrating north. 
After a unusually cool winter, Susan and I are enjoying balmy warm days. As I write this at 7:30 am, it is already 80F with a slight breeze. Perfect temp for me. Susan has already gone down to the beach for a snorkel.
I have been very lazy, doing very little work (mañana, eh?) After a too busy winter I’m reading a couple of good books and playing guitar. And somehow, we are still gathering just enough players to get a few games of volleyball every afternoon.
It is time for us to start sorting and packing, as we are planning to head our within a week. Susan said again yesterday, that she wishes we could stay longer. Me too. Of course we also want to get back north to see the kids and grand kid. Oh, life is full of tough decisions.

Paamul survey

Just ‘cause I’m curious about these things, I did an informal survey of our park. Paamul is unique and special (that’s what we all say) in that it is quite large for an rv park in Mexico. There are currently 185 full service spaces, plus room for another dozen tenters or overnighters. In addition, the park is adding about two dozen more new spaces at the north end on the bluff overlooking the water.
Out of the 185, I counted 51 open full service spaces for transient rental. Several of these are booked year after year by repeat visitors for the winter months only. That makes 134 spots that are occupied on a permanent basis by people who have built palapas (like us). In my survey I noticed “For Sale” signs on 28 palapas. Few of these are empty, as the owners continue to come down, but are eventually planning to move on. Of the open spots there are two new palapas starting construction, which will leave 49. 
In the new north end section, I understand several have already been reserved for palapas but there should be some additional open spaces for seasonal rental.
The photo here shows a section of North Jungle Street, where we and others build in the last 2 or 3 years.

Apr 3, 2010

Spring critters

We are regularly surprised and fascinated by the beautiful critters that come by to visit. Most are friendly, benign and quiet. There is a flock of birds that come by every morning and can get quite demanding. Our neighbor Bob, with whom we share our back yard was very regular in putting out food on and about a big rock we set out there. Bob bought some cat food kibble that was favoured by iguanas. Now that Bob and Dot have gone back home, the pickings have become a little slimmer. We try to keep it up but we’ll be gone in a couple of weeks so it is time to start the weaning.