Nov 27, 2010

Patio’s progress...

The palapa set-up would all be done by now, but with our neighbors and building buddies Bob & Dot, we launched into installation of a patio across the back of our two palapas. We had built a dirt (calica) ledge there from the beginning and now it was time to finish it off. In our can-do spirit, Bob and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work. First the existing surface needed to be shoveled, raked, and dragged with a long board to bring it into a level contour. Then we drove my Chevy to the gravel pit down the road, and brought back two loads of pulvo (fine sand-like gravel.) This had to be trucked by wheelbarrow around from the front to the back and dumped, with more raking, leveling and packing.

The patio bricks were bought from an outlet in town, and delivery was scheduled for 2 days hence. We chose a rectangular shape (20 cm x 40 cm x 5 cm thick) By our measurement, we needed about 60 M2 to run right across. This added up to close to 10,000 lbs of bricks, more than my truck would like to carry. Even when the three pallets were delivered, we still had to wheelbarrow them 10 at a time around the back. As I knew we were going to be doing this project, I had watched a few programs about this on the DIY channel and it seemed simple enough.

This, unfortunately was not the case as the bricks were a rustic quality and they varied in thickness one to another, and each so one needed careful bedding. This was only accomplished by lots of crawling on our knees and back breaking bending over with a trowel as though we were archeologists examining an ancient ruin. On the second day we were able to bring in a local worker for a few hours and it went quicker with the three of us. Rafael had said he would be available to work the Sunday and Monday, but he was a no-show. I had totally exhausted myself and came down with a cold so I wasn’t much good for a few days. Still, with an hour here and a couple of hours there, we have the bulk of the patio installed.

We still have some of the finicky edges and a few loose bricks to reset, then add the final coat of beach sand to fill the little cracks, but it is looking great.

Fall Awakening...

As another example of the seasons being upside down, we have been rousing our winter home from its summer hibernation (?).
Most of the unpacking happened in the first days, and almost everything was in good order. Being so far away in Canada all summer, we could only imagine what was gong on in our absence. In fact we had some intruders -- mice had gotten in through a vent that I failed to screen off, and chewed up a few things. Nothing serious.
Many of the mechanicals -- water and electrical systems do not do well in this salt air and humid environment. Hot water tanks rarely last 4 or 5 years, just rusting away. Almost every palapa here has its own water pressure systems. These are common through much of Mexico, where low or unreliable water supply is banked in these cisterns (tanacas) on the roofs and then gravity-fed or pumped through the homes. Our tenaca sits in our upper part of the palapa on top of our bano. It is filled by the park’s low pressure cenote water and the metal parts - pumps and valves can build up with salts in the cenote water and seize up. We have been lucky with this so far. Our little pump keeps on pumping. Other metal parts, door knobs, sinks, and taps, etc, all deteriorate quickly. Once again, we oil what we think of to oil. Some people here regularly coat their appliances with car wax. Lights, lamps and electical cord all oxidize if not protected. The small window air conditioner that we had running all summer to keep the storage in the bodega dry and cool is still working, but the radiator grill has deteriorated quite a bit.
I was especially delighted that our (new last winter) kitchen cabinets and drawers opened and closed perfectly. Delighted because of my concern that the humidity could have affected the wood or worse, rusted the hinges and drawer slides. I am hoping that our careful construction and painting, as well as a thorough oiling did the trick, and will continue.
Summer weather had a harsh effect on the upper balcony and railings and they were in need of fresh varnish in less than two years.
Meanwhile the jungle that we originally carved back to create our garden, had re-encroached, and we had several loads of growth to extricate to bring it back into shape. Then the gardeners-in-chief, Susan and Dot, determined that new and different plants were needed (like bringing coals to Newcastle) and so several new palms, flowering shrubs and a whole bunch of little cactuses have been added. The garden will always be a work in progress, which is great because plants grow so willingly in this warm and humid climate.

Nov 12, 2010

La Vida Loca, continues...

A couple of weeks ago, we once again drove across the Mexican frontier to make our way to our winter home. Virtually without exception, everyone I have mentioned this trip to, our friends in Canada, and people we meet along the way, has suggested we were crazy. “Everybody” knows that Mexico is an out-of-control lawless anarchy. So I’d like to offer some of my thoughts.

Why are we living The Crazy Life?
Mexico and the “drug war” have been running rampant in the news lately. I’m sure it was on every TV network and newspaper a couple of months ago when the Canadian Gov’t recently issued a Travel Warning for driving into Mexico. I read the actual bulletin but it was very general so I wrote to the Canadian Gov’t for clarification and data supporting their declaration. I received an brief confirmation but it was completely lacking in any detail. I also read the (longer) US Gov’t Travel Warning issued prior to the Canadian one, and it seems that one was a digest version of the other. By the way, there is also a official travel warning for traveling in Europe.

Ten years ago, we attended a seminar in North Vancouver, presented by Bill & Dorothy Bell, titled “RVing in Mexico”. They showed pictures and talked about the beautiful country and its friendly people. At the end, I asked the question, “What about the banditos?” Their reply was that after many years of traveling all over Mexico, they had never had a problem and nor had anyone else they had met had a problem. Instead they talked about the great friendliness and willingness to help that is the Mexican culture. So even back then, I was thinking about “banditos”. Where I got the idea, old movies movies, tv shows, I don’t know.
Now a decade later, after we have driven all around Mexico, and have experienced unmatched hospitality, we still feel of the scare.
I think it all adds up to a kind of “urban myth” or in this case “national myth”-- a “story” that is passed around, over and over, until it takes on the currency of truth. Over and over, as we are told how dangerous it is, it becomes emotionally wearing.

I am not disputing the existence of “the drug war” which has been going on in Mexico, especially in the northern border states. We hear about shootouts in the streets, attacks on homes and police stations. The vast majority of the war is intertribal, between rival gangs for control of lucrative trade routes. It is about big money, big competition, big risks, in that big lucrative subculture. It is very much like the violence and lawlessness of the US prohibition/ bootlegging years.
I firmly believe, as do many serious thinkers on the subject, that if we could get our heads around decriminalization and regulation, this would take the big money out of the equation, much of the war would fizzle.

How has this war touched us tourists? As we clearly have a vested interest, I have been following this closely. By my count, there has been but one incident of car jacking involving rv’ers, about a year ago, when two rigs were stolen. No one was hurt, the rigs were recovered a couple of days later, but the trauma was, of course, very real. Do carjackings happen elsewhere. Of course. Myth or reality, it has been widely reported in the southern US sunbelt states. Last year there was an elderly couple traveling in their RV in BC (Canada) that were abducted, disappeared, and are presumed dead.

Each year there are more than 22 million tourists visiting Mexico. The all-inclusive resorts along the coasts are popular for their all you can eat and drink excess. The Cancun college break is famous and some of those kids are on missions to get a little drunk and disorderly. I discount them, but somehow trouble which can happen under these circumstances, or willful acts of stupidity make the news.
I needn’t go into a long debate here, except to say that I have read thoroughly on the matter. I believe that a couple of isolated incidences are given a disproportional emphasis, compared to similar crimes involving strangers (tourists) in Canada or the US.

However, this growth of paranoia has had a great effect on RV tourism. From many reports, the numbers of RV’s from Canada and the US are decreasing. Even the group caravans are diminished.
Still in this past week, three more rigs arrived here in Paamul, bringing our numbers to about 15 with more on the way. Each of us safely traveled the 3000 kms from Texas to the Caribbean coast. Each of these last three traveled on their own with no escorts or convoy.

It was particularly delightful to see Peter & Patsy, from near Pentiction, BC. We first met them many years ago when we spent time in Lo de Marcos on Mexico’s west coast. Peter and Patsy are both in their 80’s and once again drove their Type C RV, towing their ancient VW Rabbit.

Bill and Dorothy Bell, longtime residents of our old city of North Vancouver, BC, now live full time in Mexico. They are committed to promoting RV travel in Mexico and have a web site that is loaded with reference material, including charting all of the working RV parks. In their recent trip around Mexico, they produced a bulletin titled, “Traveling safe in Mexico” It is quite a comprehensive guide and adds another knowledgeable perspective.
I’ll post the link here (I’m not sure it will be clickable inside this blog):
Their web site is “On the Road In” listed in the Blogs I follow on the right column of this page and they have link to this bulletin on their cover page.

Thanks everyone for reading my “ideas locas”.

Nov 7, 2010

The long and winding, and bumpy road...

This fall, we were in communication with fellow Paamullians, Joe & Marilyn (we traveled up to the US with them last spring), who were leaving their motor home back in Texas, and bringing down a truck and trailer. When we got to their place in Hondo Texas, and saw the old Ford truck, Joe admitted that it that had been in storage for seven years and wasn’t running too well. “From time to time, it just stops, but then it goes again...” So we started out with Joe in the lead, in case of “just stopping”, then us (fingers crossed), then Marilyn following with their mini van.

We had a lot of kilometers ahead, and even though Mexican roads are getting better all the time, breakdowns are not uncommon. Mostly it is trailers like ours, which were not built for the many rough miles we have taken it. For the record, this is the fifth trip we have made with this Cardinal from Canada to Mexico, we have now made only one complete round trip (north last spring and south this fall) without any incident. Over the years we have had to replace two broken springs, and several tires. We also discovered cracks in the frame and both sides and had them re-enforced with welding in additional plates of steel.
After the second broken spring, we added an extra leaf to each spring, and then installed a Trail-Aire system for added suspension and another air bag on the hitch. As full-timers, we travel pretty heavily loaded, but it now seems to be rolling along quite well. Even so, I feel every crack in the pavement and wonder if something will break again. And it is not just Mexican roads, with their famous topes (speed bumps) and pot holes that frighten me. Memorable (in the negative sense) Canadian highways include a long stretch of #1 from Swift Current, Sask, to near Regina and some brutal stretches around Montreal. Even the big freeways in the US can rattle your teeth, with mile after mile of those breaks between the concrete sections.
Actually we did have one freakish incident this trip. We were traveling on a busy freeway coming through Kentucky, when just ahead of us I saw some “sticks” bouncing around ahead of us. My immediate thought was that they were probably some tree prunings, and with no way to avoid them we headed on through. Then “bang”, a sound as loud as a gunshot, shook the truck, and I guessed that they were more than sticks. We rolled to a stop, amidst several other cars that had pulled over and checked out the vehicles. What I can guess was pieces of heavy steel cable had escaped on to the hiway, and one of them bounced off our bumper, under a front tire and whacked up on the passenger door. It left quite a dent, but fortunately, their was no apparent damage to tires or running gear under the truck and trailer. Like the fickle finger of fate just knocked me on my knoggin.
So Joe’s truck: First day out, I heard over our walkie talkie, “Its stalling, no... there it goes again..” and from then on, other than generously leaving a trail of black smoke got us all the way.

Crossing the border, etc.--
As everyone has heard, there a the “drug war” going on along the Northern border states. Some, like us, are traveling in small groups for that reason. I personally think it is vastly overblown, as to the danger to tourist travelers. However, as our timings concurred, and we enjoy the company of Joe & Marilyn, we chose to travel with them.
The drive down was smooth as ever. In fact, we all thought that the police, both, the local and federales, as well as the army security stops, were exceptionally friendly this trip. We were speculating, that the word had gone out that tourists are to be treated well.
Our only blip was a "security check" by some local cops about 1/2 hour from the border. They saw us with our walkie talkies and our cameras, and had an animated discussion between them. As always, we were patient and cooperative, and after a few minutes, one fellow returned to my window giving me a (face saving) scolding for our “infraction” which I didn’t understand, but could have been about a real or imaginary yield sign, sent us on our way. Some might say, “old Mexican habits...”

Strawberries and cream --
Along Hwy. 57, just before the turnoff to Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel, there is a section where there are about 30 or 40 “Fresas con Crema” stands. A very refreshing and tasty stop along the way.