The Caravan from Hell!
Sunday, January 31, 2010
The small problem I had with the Honda battery the other day reminded me to do some maintenance. This 89 Accord was my dad's car and he would be turning in his grave if he knew how badly I neglect it. He used to wash it twice a week and I wash it three or four times a year. He would never let a scratch or rock chip go unrepaired and now it has many of those. It has over 250,000 KM on it and is perfect for Mexico as another ding would never be noticed and we can park and drive it without fear of being mistaken for rich gringos.
I put new tires on it before we left Canada and since we tow it on the dolly, the rear tires get many more KMs on them than the front. I found a tire place (Llantara) today and had them rotated. Cost was $50 pesos or $4.50 CAN. Labour is badly undervalued in Mexico.
When the mechanico cleaned the battery posts the other day he showed me the engine oil was a little low so I went in search of a place to get it changed. I found a Pro 1 shop that was changing the oil in a taxi so I figured that was a pretty good recommendation and pulled in. I had my own oil (but no filter) if I needed it but the guy had everything on hand and supplied the filter and 20 - 50 oil. I bought an extra filter from him for next time and the bill came to $380 pesos ($34 CAN). This is quite a bit (for Mexico) but oil is very expensive here for some reason and multi-grade is hard to find. Everyone else seems to use straight 30 weight. As usual, there were no appointments needed and no line-ups. I waited for him to finish the cab in front of me and another guy pulled in out front while I was being worked on. No muss, no fuss no bait and switch and I was on my way. Another beautiful day in Mexico and the Honda is good for another 5000 KM. Yes dad, I will wash it.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Tonight is the largest full Moon of 2010. It is a perigee Moon and is 14% larger than other full Moons of the year. The planet beside it tonight is Mars which is also having a close encounter with Earth.
Nikon D200 using my Nikon 70 – 300 at 300 exposed using the “Moony 11 Rule”. There was a little haze tonight so even using my monopod, it is not as clear as it could be.
Last night as we were eating at our new favorite restaurant (that Kathe recommended last year) when we saw two women reading the menu at the door and looking unsure. Norma went out to tell them the fish tacos were excellent and they came in. We chatted and discovered they were from BC and one was a friend of Roger and Connie, our friends from Duncan. One of the women and Roger grew up together in Caycuse, a logging camp on Vancouver Island! It is indeed a small world.
We have been watching the Yucatan weather on the Internet and it is the same cloudy conditions and threatening thunderstorms all the way up the coast! We are comfortable here in Chetumal and there are still things to see. Norma went over and paid for another four nights to get us past the weekend and then we will make a run for Cancun. From there we will take the passenger ferry to Isla Mujeres and spend a couple of nights in a hotel.
So this is The New Plan. Subject to change but that is the best thing about it. We are not on a schedule! Life is good!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Last night President Obama stepped up to the plate and called on Congress to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, an immoral policy that forces American soldiers to lie about their sexual orientation and prevents LGBT people from serving openly in the US military. It is far past time to get rid of this shameful legislation and accept the fact that “All people are created equal…”. I applaud the President for this progressive action.
If you want a glimpse of the frustration and the de-humanizing experience of having a gay partner serving in the US military under the present rules, do yourself a favour and read this post in Pam’s House Blend Blog.
When we headed out for Sam’s Club and dinner yesterday the Honda would not start. We pushed it over to the front of the motorhome for a jump start and when I opened the hood, I saw a mass of green corrosion over the terminals. I don't know what caused it. The battery is a year and a half old and was clean when we left home in November. It may have something to do with the high humidity down here.
Downtown we stopped at a Taller Mechanico, showed him the problem and asked him to clean it up. He cleaned the terminals and battery and coated the terminals with grease before checking the starting. He then checked all fluid levels, topped up the brake fluid, gave me the rest of the can and wiped up. Total cost? $60 pesos or about $5.40 CAN. I love Mexico!
RV caravans seem to be the bane of my existence down here. When we went to pay for an additional night yesterday we were told there was no problem with staying but we would have to move as a caravan had booked all the waterfront sites. We could not complain too much as we had only booked the site for a week and that was over. We moved over to the fence and set up the Star Choice again.
As it turns out this caravan is the same one we had the problem with last year in Isla de Aguada when they forced the owner to kick us out of our prime site. The leader, a French Canadian woman with a bad attitude, threatened to take back her deposit and move on if he did not clear all the waterfront sites for her and her twenty RVs. The owner made us and two others an offer we could not refuse involving free nights and free meals in the restaurant.
Anyway, talking to a couple of members of this latest caravan only reinforces my opinion of them. Most of the people do not know where they are going and have very little idea of where they have been but are simply engaged in a boring game of “Follow the Leader”. They have paid thousands of dollars for an 85 days “tour” of Mexico. All they get for their money is overnight parking which may be in a playground with no hook-ups just as easily as in a regular RV park. They have no say in the schedule and simply shut up and follow the rig in front, usually at ridiculously slow speeds. I bet the Mexican truckers and bus drivers just love to get behind twenty RVs moving along at thirty KM under the speed limit! Oops, there is something going on. I have to leave!
Well there was just another incident! The caravan parked yesterday before they dumped. Today they evidently drew numbers to determine the order in which they would move to the dump site to dump. Another RV from Texas (Turtle-Toad from RV.net) was waiting to leave so he just drove over to the dump. This started a great argument between him and the caravan member who considered it to be his turn to dump. He was reminded that they were not the the only people in the park and as they were not leaving today there was no rush. There was a lot of arm waving and loud voices so I went over to see if Mike needed reinforcements but he had the caravan guy backed down by then. Don’t mess with Texas!
This all reminds me of the time I talked to another caravan member in Merida last year. I asked him what he thought of Mexico so far and he said, “All I have seen of Mexico is the back end of #6. I am #7”. I asked another member what highway they had come down on and he had no idea, he just follows the guy in front and listens to the walkie talkie. This is “seeing” Mexico? No thanks.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
No problem, we are ahead of schedule and another day in the new hamaca with my book will not hurt. Tonight we will head back to our new favorite restaurant for more $16 peso fish tacos, and maybe try a camerone cocktail with them.
I did not sleep well last night in any case as I developed a severe toothache! I have a huge gold bridge back there and had fears of needing a root canal on one of the anchor teeth. I overdosed on extra strength Tylenol and finally got to sleep and when I woke up - no toothache! It may have simply been nuralgia and that may be the end of it. If it was a physical problem with the tooth, I would not have expected it to leave on it's own. We have given up our high cost / low benefit dental plan in Canada so I hope whatever has to be done will show itself here in Mexico where a competent dentist can be found and I will not have to mortgage the house to pay him.
The bad news is the owner just came over to tell us our space, and all the waterfront spaces, is reserved for tonight by a caravan and we will have to move to the other side of the park. Once again we are being pushed around by a caravan! We will do it because we desperately need to dump anyway and the owner offered us a free night for our inconvenience. I just hope I can find the satellite signal again. It is much easier to lay around a watch TV when we actually have TV...
Well, three hours later and we have dumped, have a StarChoice signal and have a WIFI signal. We may have to stay another night to recover...
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
In any case, there is no WIFI there so it may be a couple of days before you hear from me. Keep watching as I will post when I can.
Tonight we went downtown for a final Chetumal meal of fish tacos. Delicious!
We found a hamaca (hammock) salesman on the street near the market. He had a few samples on a fridge dolly and his asking prices were reasonable, much better than the $85 USA asked in Majahual a few days ago. We wanted a larger one than he had displayed and in a darker colour. Claudia insisted I buy a more “masculine” colour. The Mayan salesman took us to his storage area where he had hundreds of hammocks stacked against the wall. We picked out a brown, synthetic fibre “matrimonial” size and asked the price. The salesman pulled out a calculator and entered $485 pesos. We countered with a ridiculously low $250 and we settled on $350. A very good deal for a good quality product at far less than half what they demanded for a smaller, inferior product the other day! Cruise ship passengers beware, you are not getting a fair price. The colour on this one even matches the brown on the motorhome. Life is Good!
I love dealing and bargaining with the Mayan People! They always have a big, infectious smile on their face and they never take offense at a low bid. They always get their bottom line price while making sure you walk away feeling you got the best possible deal. Everyone wins! I love the Mayan People!
Monday, January 25, 2010
PJ and Claudia were planning on leaving today but decided to wait one more day and go to the market with us. We did a little shopping and then found the seafood restaurant that Cathe recommended last year but we could not find then. This year we walked right past it and stopped in for some tacos pescados and seafood soup. Everyone bought something at the market except Claudia! Poor girl!
After we got home Whit and Jan dropped by for Happy Hour and we did some Tequila sampling! Here is the Chetumal Market.
New shirt for Croft (White Cowboy):
And PJ (Black Cowboy):
Watch Repair anyone?
We will get dressed and head down for a look this morning. There is a nice restaurant there where we will get some breakfast. I will have more later...
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Today we took a drive with our friends PJ and Claudia to the Costa Maya, the outer side of Chetumal Bay. The Costa Maya consists of two villages, Majahual is the location of the cruise ship dock and the other, Xcalac, is a laid back little fishing village. Majahual is trying to be like Cosumal and insists on USA dollars and merchants refuse to bargain down to a fair price. Their target consumer is from the cruise ships who think $85 USA is a good deal for a mediocre hammock. For them, maybe it is. For me, $500 pesos is as high as I will pay and they would not come down to my price. PJ got a shock when he was charged $1 USA to use the toilet. The normal charge is two or three pesos (18 – 27 cents).
Majahual received the full hit from Hurricane Dean in 2007. The hurricane made landfall and parked itself right over the tiny village and stayed for 72 hours. The village with it's population of 200 was completely destroyed but fortunately, without a single loss of life!
A little further down the coast in Xcalac we ran into Whit, our friend from California. He was parked on the beach across from a restaurant that allows free parking as long as you buy the odd meal from them. It is a beautiful spot. Whit’s wife, Jan, was helping Kathe (our friend who lives in Chetumal) at a spading / neutering clinic in town. This is a wonderful, humane program that has greatly cut down on the number of stray dogs and cats in Mexico. Because of a sudden panic attack and an urge to protect my testicles, we did not get to see Kathe and Jan but we will before we leave, as long as they promise to leave their elastic bands or whatever at home.
Sun, sea, sand, shade and Corona!
Croft with his feet in the Caribbean!
Claudia & PJ:
The last two photos are compliments of Claudia & PJ, Dutch Duo Wildlife Photography
This year it is like I am a new man! I can walk three or four times as long as I could last year and climb a pyramid in one go without wondering where my next breath is coming from even though I am still packing the same weight. Two factors that may be responsible are 1) the Cortisone shot I got in my long ago shattered ankle that has nearly eliminated the chronic pain that has been my constant companion for too many years, and 2) the fact that we just spent over a month in San Miguel De Allende and it's 6,400 foot altitude. The heavy walking we did in SMA has greatly increased my breathing efficiency.
Whatever it was, and probably it is a combination of the two, I am so much more energetic this year. I am no longer dreading my upcoming 65th birthday! Life is good!
Friday, January 22, 2010
The bar/restaurant at the Yax-Ha RV park was running short of coconut milk for fancy drinks. Right outside out motorhome is a coconut palm so out came the ladder and machete and the problem was solved!
Pick the right one!
This one is perfect!
Drain the milk:
About a hundred KM north of Chetumal are the Mayan ruins at Becan. It was a trading city on the main route across the base of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is unique because it had a moat, the first discovered in the Mayan Empire. It also has rounded corners on the buildings, also rare.
There is a wide spot in the road and a restaurant right at the turnoff to the ruins and, as we did last year, we stopped for dinner in the restaurant and spent the night in the parking lot. In the morning I walked the half a KM in to the ruins.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I just called Brooks and Linda and all is well with them. They have a big deck job to fill in time until they can get back to their huge fencing job that is on hold because of Victoria's rain. Their (and our) newish truck is getting a new transmission installed and the profits from the deck job will pay for it. All is well at the Bank of Dad!
I called my sister in Kitchener, Ontario and she is recovering very well from some surgery. She is sounding like her old self again after a long time and she is out walking again. Good as new! So we have only ourselves to worry about and we are great!
We are going to take a drive in the car to Xcalac on the Costa Maya with our Dutch friends tomorrow. It is about an hour and a half drive each way and has a very interesting writeup in the Lonely Planet guide. We will investigate camping possibilities there so if the weather does not improve in Cancun by next week we might move the motorhome over there to park on the open ocean.
In the meantime, today will be a laundry and swimming day. And maybe look for a hammock.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
There is no further to go In Mexico! We hit the wall here in Chetumal. The end of the road with the Rio Hondo on one side and the Caribbean on the other. We will head up the coast towards Cancun hoping the weather smartens up there but the truth of the matter is, everywhere we go now will be technically “heading home”. I hate it! I am a world traveler in a too small world. Our Quebecois friends Luc et Therese are checking out a ferry trip into Belize so we will see what they discover. That would delay the inevitable for a day or two…
We checked into the Yax-Ha RV Park yesterday afternoon. It is sunny and HOT here – 81 F right now at 11:00 AM. It is a beautiful RV park but it is hard to find level ground to park on and you have to do a bit of manoeuvring around palm trees to get parked. It is right on the water so there are rules about sewer systems so that means we have to use one of the two common dumps and there is also no water available at the sites but there is a tap on the side of the restaurant that we can reach by sharing a couple of hoses joined together.
There are also a few people here that we have to get acquainted with. Turtle-Toad from the RV.Net forums is here whom we have never met and Luc et Therese, our Quebecois friends from two years ago also appear to be here but neither is home right now. Our Dutch friends, Claudia and PJ are here and we Happy Hour’d with them last night.
Anyway, it is not all that bad here, as you can see from the photos of the park! Many folks claim this is the nicest RV park in Mexico and it is difficult to argue with them!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
There is really nothing I can say about Palenque. It reminds me of how insignificant I am in the overall scope of things and of how a thousand years is nothing more than a flash of light in time.
It is breathtaking and awe inspiring. It is complicated and simple. It is timeless. It is beautiful! If I were religious, I would call it a Religious Experience!
This guy came down to visit today. I have no idea what it is. Claudia and PJ think it is a sloth or at least something in the same family. It sat on a branch for a while eating new leaves and then turned around and left. I think it moves too fast for a sloth but what do I know?
EDIT: It is a Mexican Porcupine! Thanks Deanna and Rae! Our friend Claudia told us there would be someone out there who would know the answer!
Today at about three there was a commotion outside as all our neighbours went running over with binoculars and cameras. The Howling Monkeys were putting on a show at the top of the tree at the end of the swimming pool. It is not a common sight to have them this close! They are larger than I imagined, maybe four or five feet tall and have a very deep sound, almost like a dog growling, coughing and grunting. They are very loud and were communicating with another group off in the distance. I took many photos but the monkeys blended in with the tree in most cases. This will give you an idea. I used my 300mm lens at full extension and cropped the final results about 100%.
I drove into town to send the Blog and when I finished, it was raining! This is a rain forest so rain is to be expected but I do not want to walk around the ruins in the rain so I will try again tomorrow. Luckily I got a very good signal on the StarChoice so it will not be suffering from rain fade. There is skiing on right now, followed by figure skating and then Canucks Hockey! Life is very good!
This is the Maya Bell RV Park. It is pretty basic, 15 or 20 amp electric, very low water pressure and a sewer system that is quite plugged. If you let your holding tanks dump a few gallons at a time, it seems to handle it but if you pull the valve and walk away like I did, it will overflow and run under the RV!
It is a friendly park right in the middle of the jungle close to the ruins. It is uphill to the ruins so the way to do it is to take a Collectivo bus to the ruins entrance and then walk back from the exit which is closer to the park and is, of course, downhill.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
The temperature has been steadily increasing since we left SMA. Thursday night when we boondocked in the Pemex truck stop it was very warm (and very buggy) and we left the exhaust fan on all night to keep the air moving. Here in Palenque it is very humid and warm. My min/max thermometer recorded 98 outside at some point! It is presently 73 outside at 9:00 AM. The Howling Monkeys put on a show last night but were competing with the three man group in the restaurant.
Norma is going to watch her figure skating on StarChoice and I am going to take the collectivo (bus) to the ruins.
But first I will take a run into town to send the Blogs from the local Best Western hotel coffee shop. Stay tuned, it is difficult to connect to the Internet here and unfortunately, I missed Wandering Willy and his satellite connection by one day!
We checked into the Maya Bell RV Park at about four this afternoon and paid for three nights at a reasonable $170 pesos ($15 CAN) a night. It is exactly as I remember it from last year, a step back into the sixties! An international crowd with the majority being backpackers from around the world. The smell of pot permeates the air and the guitar music from the restaurant is a mix of Santo and Johnny and Cuban guitar.
We heard the Howling Monkeys off in the distance for a short time. I hope they return to lull me to sleep. Life is Good!
We made it again! There is a “No Trailers Through Town” rule in Villahermosa. That means if you are towing a trailer you must take the Perifericio or, the loop road around the city. The problem in Villahermosa is that the Perifericio is always under construction and in terrible shape! It is single lane gravel part of the way and ends up a little short of joining back onto the highway. It is not fun.
The common practice has been to ignore the rule and drive right through town on the cuota highway, hoping the traficos do not notice and that we make it through town unchallenged.
This is what we did again today. I gritted my teeth and blew past the “No Trailers” sign. No Federalies! No Traficos! We made it! I am a Mexican outlaw! Life is good!
We left Puebla at ten and found the Cuota highway out of town. As we entered the Estada deVeracruz we started passing roadside coffee sales as Verecruz is one of the main coffee growing areas of Mexico. We stopped at one and bought a kilo of local coffee for $100 pesos or $9 CAN. It smells good but we have yet to try it.
At around four we pulled into a Pemex with an all night restaurant and a Red Cup Coffee shop and asked if we could park overnight. As it is everywhere in Mexico it was “No problema”!
Norma immediately made friends with a group of boys who were trying to make a few pesos washing windshields in the parking lot. They spent a good half hour teaching her to count in Spanish and were soon joined by Brenda, the sister of two of the boys. They were very nice kids, dirty from the dusty parking lot but with perfect manners and recently worked on teeth. They are all now proud owners of pens emblazoned with the Canadian flag.
We might walk over to the restaurant for dinner and to see if they have WIFI (they did not). Here is Norma with her “Gang”.
And with Brenda:
Thursday, January 14, 2010
In pre-Columbian times, Cholula was a large city and the religious capital of highland Mexico. Construction on the Great Pyramid was undertaken in four stages beginning around the 2nd century BC. It was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl. It is the largest pyramid ever built and is also the largest monument of any kind on earth.
Excavation and reconstruction has begun on one lower side but work is hampered by the existence of a major Catholic Church that was built on the very top of the huge structure. It has been suggested that the pyramid was covered in dirt when the Church was built and that the builders thought they were building on a hill. The argument against this theory is that the geometric pattern of the pyramid structure are very evident even under the dirt cover. Plus this is not the only time the Catholic Church has built on top of and even out of the pilfered materials of others religious structures in Mexico. Tolerance of other Religions and all-inclusiveness is one thing the Catholic religion lacked!
Here is a model of the Great Pyramid complete with the Catholic Church which can be seen on a couple of the photos above. Only the ground structures to the right and the small structure in front have been excavated. Five miles of exploratory tunnels have been dug throughout the rest of the structure. The fear is that extensive excavation will undermine the Church. I know what I would do, but I am not in charge.