The view west from the homestead

The view west from the homestead

Sweet Chance

Sweet Chance

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oaxaca, Mexico

January 27th, 2008

My new watch explains a lot. It has a pink faux leather strap and a sparkly mauve face. It only has numbers at 12, 3, 6, and 9, so you don’t need to get too up tight about specifics. The entire watch face swivels and turns around with the back out: Santa Maria surrounded with faux diamonds. It makes me want to weep. I figured we better get a Santa Maria in our midst down here. I can swivel my watch around at crucial times like looking for a place to live or being inspected at a military check point.

Perhaps the fact that Cassidy turns into a teenager in just a few hours (4:07am ) explains the rest. WOW! How do kids get to be so old when you’re living right next to them? I don’t know what happened, but now he’s faster, stronger, has size 9 feet, and wants to talk about politics. At least he’s not taller than me…..yet.

We’ve landed in Oaxaca and are staying at a Pasada near the main Plaza… is great. We have our own little 2 room space and then share a common courtyard and covered, tiled outdoor kitchen area with the other tenants. At this point that is a man from Tucson who spent the last 40 years in Alaska, another man who lives here half the year from Peace River, Alberta, and a woman who we never see. The place is owned by the language school we are going to and everyone here is taking some semblance of classes there.

Oaxaca is one of my favorite places in Mexico with a wonderful Zocolo which is filled at this time of year with thousands of poinsettas in all of the plots around the tall shade trees. There are outdoor concerts many nights each week- classical, marimba, mariachi- as well as wandering troubadors throughout the main plaza. There is a huge Indian Market with all manner of things-foods, handicrafts, clothing and many smaller markets with different emphasis on specialty items. The town is full of ancient churches, some being built as early as the 1500s, before the pilgrims landed to the north, and many beautiful plazas/parks where one can sit and take in the sites. We have already walked more in 3 days here than we walked the previous month and are taking buses when we get a little tired (or cranky). We worked out a deal with the trailer park where we spent the first night and can park our car and trailer there for the month for $60. It’s not too far from us if we need something though we packed the car full once already with all of our books food, clothing, bedding and other assorted stuff. Our rooms are very homey!! Birding in the veranda is great with hummingbirds, Vermillion flycatchers, tropical kingbirds, yellow grosbeaks, many types of warblers, doves, orchard orioles and some unidentified birds filling the trees and bushes. We are contemplating putting out a feeder and watering dish for them to see what we can attract to the yard. We have Wifi at the school so will try and get some pictures in soon of our new home.

Hasta luego,


We left Ciudad Victoria after 2 nights there in the Victoria RV Park. It was good to have the down time and the kids had the run of the enclosed RV park for exploring the grounds, playing with a local stray cat, and bird watching. We wandered downtown for Internet and found a fine Hotel with a busload of an American Tour group there enjoying dinner with a hired Mariachi band so we sat down and surfed while sipping on limonadas and cold beers while the band played and then wandered out to a restaurante we could afford.

We got an early start for us, 9:45 am, and left for the coast. Daddio thought we could make it to north of Nautla in 7 hours though the map told us that it was 10 hours away but we decided to see where we were at 5pm and go from there. We made great time for 2 hours before coming to a stop at the back of a 2 mile long traffic jam waiting for a road crew to scrape off the remains of 2 semis who had collided and then disintegrated in the road. It was quite a mess but we finally moved on after an hour delay- much better than the fate of the truck drivers we were sure- and continued on toward Tampico. Chris thought we were still “ahead of schedule” until we crawled around Tampico on the “bypass route” which seemed mainly to have been bypassed by any highway crew for several years with truly outstanding potholes which needed to be skirted- going slow into them was not an option- and equally impressive “topes” and ever present “reductores de velocidad”. Some of the deeper potholes had their own “pothole attendants” who stood with a shovel in one hand and a tip can in the other though it didn’t appear that they had actually filled any of these obstacles up- maybe it was an assumption that if you paid them today, the trip home may be easier as they fill up the holes in the road. As we had no intention of returning on this road, we declined. The Tampico bypass added another hour to the trip and then we hit the military checkpoint south of Tampico where the tent trailer raised suspicions and Chris and Teslin cranked it up for the soldiers to go through while others questioned Anny about where we were going, ect. When we finally pulled out of there 30 minutes later, we started down the slippery slope of trying to reach one’s predetermined destination in Mexico in spite of unexpected delays- never a good idea!

We hit Tuxpan as the sun was setting and decided the smart thing to do was stop at a hotel in Poza Rica for the night. Chris called ahead and talked to a hotel guy who told us to just take the road in to town and look for them on the left. Unfortunately, the “road to town” exit hid itself from our view and we found ourselves hurtling down the road with what seemed like 1000 overtired truckers who needed to pass at least 40 vehicles that night in order to consider themselves worthy. We joined in the fray- Chris’ machismo still had a pulse and, ay caramba, we were passing double long semis up hills and around corners on 2 lane roads with the best of them. We alternated between going 15mph and 70mph for the next 2 hours, finally arriving at our RV Campamiento on the beach north of Nautla at 8:30pm- only 11 hours on the road!!! We went to the closest restaurant to the RV site and though it appeared empty and dark, Anny found a couple “snogging” in the kitchen with the lights out and they said they would call the cook and owner in and make us dinner. Several beers and tequilas later and a good meal, we called it a day. We spent the next day and a half being the only occupants at the hotel/RV site which had a 3 acre compound with palapas, swimming pools, and beach. We finally left on Thursday, 1/24, and drove to Tehuacan for a night before continuing on towards Oaxaca where we arrived on Friday afternoon.

Our driving in Mexico has been a learning experience for all. Mexicans have adapted to limited 4 lane expressways by converting any 2 lane road with a paved shoulder to an autopista. How this is done is that the entire paved surface becomes free game for driving and one must pay attention to all oncoming or passing traffic for those who are about to “smerge”, a term which Carl Franz discusses in “The People’s Guide to Mexico”. How this happens is that when a car comes up behind you, you are to move over to the shoulder (usually half a car in width) as much as possible so that they can pass you straddling the centerline. Oncoming traffic also needs to move over to their shoulder for this to work without a head-on collision so headlights are used to notify them to move. If 2 vehicles decide to pass simultaneously from different directions, the one who flashes their headlights first has the theoretical right of way. A game of “pollo” ensues if neither gives in, the braver driver taking the middle lane. With these rules of the road firmly in place, there exist no stretches of road with paved shoulders where one cannot pass. We passed and were passed by double long semis on corners, by buses going up hills and everywhere else the opportunity presented itself. Conflicts rarely arose and we found this a great way to keep traffic from backing up in curvy, hilly areas. A wonderful adaptation in short and one of which we approve wholeheartedly! The driver just can’t be distracted as one must pay equal attention to those in front and behind for the signal to smerge. Pulling the trailer made this maneuver a little trickier as not all shoulders were in great shape but all in all, it worked.


Monday, January 21, 2008


Por fin! We are finally here! We are in Victoria Trailer Park in Ciudad Victoria. It’s really a lovely haven in the midst of a smallish city, complete with grass, trees, interesting occupants who speak a mixture of German, French, and English, and a very nice little kitty for the kids to play with. The best treasure, by far, has been the woman who runs (and owns) the place, Rosie. Nuestra maestra. Rosie is a Mexican woman who is very social and walks from site to site talking with everyone and collecting the day’s rent as there is no office. She and her husband have RV’d around the US quite a bit and both speak English fluently. She has been a teacher and a lawyer and now seems to have settled on the work of renting her lovely property to vagabonds of the Northlands. When she got to us, we were just starting to set Poppi up (we have affectionately named our pop-up Big Poppi). She had a timeless air about her and shared how they used to have a similar rig in their early days (we get this quite often, mostly from older guffers who are now pulling tyrantasauruses). Then she was quietly watching the kids hustle around with their work with a big smile on her face. I figured she must want some money, so changed the subject and asked her how much it was to stay here. She shrugged off my question and said “Let me watch the children, we can talk about that later”. I took a deep breath and realized I was still going light years faster than the culture I was now in and settled down to helping. Rosie stayed and watched the whole process, saying “Andale! Andale!” to the kids whenever they didn’t respond to a request from us for more help. Rosie did eventually get her money. It was much later and after many conversations.

We discovered upon setting up that we had no electricity, heat, or power in Poppi. This being our very first night in Mexico, we were a bit discouraged. Enter Rosie……she was by now at another site laughing and carrying on with them. I told her we had a problem with our rig and she was very worried. She hustled over and Chris explained our dilemma in Spanish. Half way through Rosie said, “Aye! God Bless, that is all! You have your health! God Bless! I thought something was wrong with you! Just lights and heat! You can run cords in and turn them on, but your health! God Bless!” She told us how a man had had a heart attack one night and how his wife had begged Rosie to get him an airplane to a hospital in the US. Rosie that in Mexico, no matter how much money you have, this doesn’t happen. The traveler continued to insist and told Rosie she could buy her whole campground and house with all the money she had. In the end, an ambulance was called; the man lived, and was flown to the US the following day. Rosie told us she would get an electrician in the morning and not to worry. This was a relief to Chris who was reminded of how everything seems to find a way to get fixed while in Mexico, whether it is cars, air conditioners, or pop-ups. He calls this the art of Mexican improvisational repair, since people don’t buy new things, they repair what they have.

There are differences in the camping scene we noticed right away. Of the 15 some odd rigs here, all are smaller. Many people are driving vans, and others pulling smaller sized trailers (I haven’t seen any 5th wheels here). No tents or other pop-ups, but I’m sure they are out there. The campers seem a bit younger than the snow birds we have shared RV sites with in the Southern US. They include many Canadians and Europeans who don’t seem to share the opinion of Americans that Mexico is unsafe for camping.


We are realizing that we have grown quite accustomed to a very high level of “security and protection” living in the USA- law enforcement and licensing agencies protecting us from bandits, bad drivers, contaminated water, tainted food, people of loose morals, deviants, corrupt businesses, and all of the other “boogie men” who might complicate our lives. All of this comes at a price of course- one is the trepidation of living/travelling outside of the “security sphere” in foreign places such as –you got it---South of the Border in Mexico. Who is going to protect us from the “boogie men” down here???? The challenge in front of us is to get over the fear of the unknown, to adapt to a place that has a very different sense of what “security” means, and arrive at the place where we can enjoy and live in the moment- as Carl Franz says, “wherever you go, there you are”. We’ve made our pleas to all of the gods and Saints of travelers to cover our bases and will now depend on blind luck, the hospitality of the Mexican people and our own ability to adapt to changing surroundings to keep us safe in our journey. !Vayamonos con Dios!!!

The Preparation Blues

We arrived in Southeast Texas after 3 days of driving from Tucson, taking secondary roads south out of Van Horn, Texas and taking our time driving via Marfa, Alpine, Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Carrizo Springs enjoying the sites at a slower pace than I-10 would allow us. We saw Javelina, bountiful numbers of birds of prey, Antelope, Deer, Armadillo, and smaller birds along the way and great countryside. We then found ourselves stuck in a Super 8 motel room for 3 nights while a cold front came through complete with winds and showers before finally camping out our last night at the Americana Birding RV site. We used this down time to make our final arrangements- Mexican car insurance, changing money, porta-potty, and books for the kids, and stuff we just knew we needed! The final morning, Jan. 20th, the RV site had a power surge which blew out the entire park’s electrical system and seemed to have fried something in our wiring system. OOPS! Anyway, after taking everything apart here in Ciudad Victoria and reconnecting it, it seems we have everything back except for lights and furnace. We’ll tinker a little more with the batteries and cables and then move on down the road seeing if it cures itself. Anny thought a little Echinacea in the battery couldn’t hurt and I’ve lit some candles at the trailer altar- we’ll also keep our fingers crossed. We’ve got it covered!

The Crossing

We closed down the pop-up the last morning not knowing we had suffered any damage during the power outage in the morning (the power was still out when we left). We did a final walk through a small Bosque of trees to see some birds and get a little exercise, then stopped at a Casa de Cambio before the border crossing to change some money. Then over the bridge above what is left of the Rio Grande after thousands of miles of USA siphoning and despoiling efforts to the Aduana of Mexico. Here we were assisted in our efforts to adjust to our new time and life paradigm by the helpful employees of Mexican Immigration. Gracias a Dios, we were the only people there so things went smoothly! First we got our pasaportes stamped- only 15 minutes. Then we needed copies made of our car Title and licenses by the official copier at the Aduana- this took a little longer due to mechanical difficulties. It appears the copier was low on ink and then lunch happened so this took about 30 minutes to complete. Then on to the Banco/Paperwork oficina where we made a deposito to ensure we would not sell our car or trailer in Mexico and get our official paperwork. We had almost completed this part when the person realized that Anny was the owner of the Toyota and thus we could not pass go, could not move on but must go directly to the copier position again to make more copies. We trundled over to that window only to find that that person had left- “no se, regresa pronto” was all anyone could tell us. After another 15 minutes I went outside to find him and noticed him chatting with folks at another building. Watching him, I realized that Buddha had placed him in our path early in our journey through this land to help us reset our sense of time. It was not a painless transition but at least we understood that there was a grand purpose for this seemingly endless waiting that would help us much in the months to follow. He finally returned and within 5 minutes had completed the necessary copying. Now back to station #3 where the Senorita put the final touches to our document before giving it to us. We were only there for 3 hours but we learned enough about ourselves and our need to slow down to last a lifetime.