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Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Christmas In Mexico Felize Navidad!

On December 23 we awoke in the deserted Merida campground, and headed east. We drove like endurance race car drivers, determined to reach Playa Del Carmen by Christmas. We were in reach... a relatively easy drive, we hoped. Turns out it was. We arrived in Playa early afternoon and headed straight to Paamul RV Park, just south of the city. We parked, set up, and had our toes in the ocean within an hour. We made it! 10 days of travel, spaced over nearly a month. Thousands of KM's and more fill ups than I wanted to remember, but we completed a journey that most do in hours, contained in a big steel tube! That deserved a mojito!

We stayed in Paamul through Christmas and the new year. We had a quiet Christmas dinner of beer but chicken, and Skyped home to share in the festivities. We were reminded of the loneliest part of travelling. This being our first away from family, it was HARD! On New Years Eve, we ventured into downtown Playa and celebrated in the streets. This was a much more festive celebration! After midnight we chose to walk out of the downtown area, to find a cab, rather than compete with the crowds. Around each corner we found more pocket celebrations and friendly people. Our first real experience mingling in Mexico was anything but scary.

On January 1, it was time for my son, Daeyten to leave us again. This time he needed to head back to Canada for eye surgery. It never gets easy saying goodbye to a loved one, but this time he wasn't the 'little boy' I said goodbye to just over a year ago. And this time I knew he was returning.

A few days later, my wife Leanne started her yoga instructor's course in Tulum. It was an intense 4 week course which would qualify her as a yoga instructor... if she passed! She had some tough days, including a few where she was ready to give up due to her frozen shoulder. But she persevered, and aced her final exam. She has been a very successful group fitness instructor, and I knew she would be just as successful in yoga.

During this time, I spent my days keeping up with business affairs, researching investment opportunities in the area, and investigating the best places to place a beach chair. It was a tough assignment!

At the end of January, Daeyten returned, and Leanne completed here course. We were free to move on. However, both Leanne and Daeyten wanted to spend more time enjoying beautiful Xpu-ha, where we moved to in early January. We also had Leanne's niece, Jessica coming to visit for her reading week!!  Exactly what Leanne needed after a month intensive!! And Jess actually did read a little!

For those who haven't been, Xpu-Ha is a beautiful beach, 20 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen. A few resorts line the sand's edge, as well as a couple campgrounds, and glamping. For anyone who wants an 'off the beaten track' experience, find a place in Xpu-Ha!

In early March we left Xpu-Ha,heading south to Chetumal. We stayed there for a few days. Due to our long stay in Xpu-Ha, we made the difficult choice that this was as far south as our timing would allow. Belize and beyond would have to wait.  We headed back to Xpu-Ha for a week, left Daeyten with the dogs while Leanne and I took the ferry over to Cozumel to spend a couple days with our friends Andrew & Marion and Jim & Kim who were there for March Break.  Two days at an all-inclusive was a nice treat, and it was great to see some friendly faces from home!!

After that, we worked our way back up the coast, and then headed west toward Puerto Vallarta. Along the way, we stopped in Progresso, a sleepy little beach town north of Merida. We also stopped at our favourite little deserted campground in Merida, and ventured into the cities historic core.

After that, we stopped in a small local resort town called Cuidad Del Carmen. It was Easter weekend and we decided it was not a good time to be travelling. We made a famous first impression by missing our turn to the campground. When we got to the toll both heading off the island, we were informed the turn was behind us. After almost running over the helpful toll booth worker, as he tried to clear the way, we backed up, slowly. This brought the attention of the local Policia, and the circus began. At first I thought we were in for a night in estacion de Policia. With a wink, the attendant made it clear this officer was more bark than bite. In fact he walked our rv all the way back to our turn, and stopped the busy holiday traffic, for us to get back on track. When I served notice we owed him a drink, he patted his belly, advised he was on a diet, and sent us along.

This campground was situated directly along side the beach, where locals came to celebrate the religious holiday. For three days, we watched local families of various means, gather, celebrate and feast. It was amazing to see people of all ages enjoy time spent together, with little distractions of modern technology. At the end of the weekend we posted a sign, in Spanish, behind our RV, thanking all for allowing us to enjoy this special celebration. Some vendors showed their appreciation by offering us various food items they had for sale. They would accept no payment.

Heading westward, we headed toward Mexico City, but decided to take the new ring road around the city, rather then deal with the traffic nightmare. Somewhere near Tula, we detoured to stop at a Bolnero for the night. Little did we know that our destination was located a the top of a steep hill. After pushing the RV for about 8km it decided it had enough. I was notified in the way of a smoke show, and fluid deposited all over the road. Here we were, smack dab in the middle of remote Mexico, half way between the highway and our destination. First I panicked, then I screamed, then I panicked. Leanne and Daeyten waited patiently for me to work through my emotions, then we started to rationally consider our options. While we progressed two Mexicans stopped and offered help. They spoke little english. About as much English as we speak Spanish.  Some how we manged to determine they were maintenance guys for the power company we broke down in front of. We also determined the seal on the transmission gave way, and so they filled the transmission back up with the last of their fluid. When we tried to compensate them, the most they would take is a beer each. They gave us directions to a repair shop at the bottom of the hill, and sent us on our way.

Heading down the hill, we decided to nurse the transmission, by putting it in neutral. We realized the error in our ways about 5km's down the hill, when the brakes started smoking. Again we pulled over, and again we encountered more Mexicans offering us assistance. This gentleman waited for our brakes to cool down, and led us to the nearby repair shop. By now it was about 4:30 PM, and we feared repairs would have to wait. How long was the big question. I was imaging becoming the topic of new Urban legends! However, our mechanic had different ideas. He, and his crew went straight to work.

The shop was nothing more than a carport behind his home. In the front was a small parts, and supplies shop. We sat on what could only be described as his back porch, and chatted with his wife while she plucked a fresh chicken. As the clock ticked on, the sun began to set, and we wondered when they would declare it was time to quit, and where that would leave us in terms of sleeping arrangements. However, they kept working. By 7;30, they had the RV put back together. This is when I realised we hadn't discussed price. If we could pay via credit card, I was prepared to pay almost any bill, for they saved our skins! However cash was a precious commodity, given we had many tolls between us and the next bank machine.

When I was told they didn't accept credit cards, my spirits sank. When he gave me the bill... I danced! Three hours of work, three guys. Replaced the front brakes, and turned the rotors. Also repaired the transmission seal. 1200 Mexican pesos... the equivalent of $75US. Then they apologised for not offering us dinner, and asked us to stay. We politely declined, feeling we intruded enough. We settled for using their lane way, to park the rv for the night, and nestled in. In the morning, a knock on the door, and we were offered pickled pears, and another apology for not feeding us. We offered the most heart felt thank you we could muster!

From here we headed onward, relatively uneventfully to Puerto Vallarta, and onward to Sayulita. While Puerto Vallarta was much of what I would have expected, a tourist town, with nice beaches, and lots of history, I was genuinely surprised with Sayulita.

Sayulita is a small surf town. A combination of young surfers, trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, and retired hippies, and dot com modern day hippies, who decided not to grow up. The vibe is laid back, and the town matches it. We stayed at a lovely RV park right on the beach, rented a golf cart, and spent a few days getting to know the area. Unfortunately our most obvious discovery was it was not an affordable place for us to settle.

From Sayulita, we hustled up to Mazatlan to visit relatives, then back into the US, where we needed to make Las Vegas by May 4, for the Hardware Show, and another birthday in Vegas. We'll tell you about that, the trip home, and our next Adventure, in the next chapter.

Friday, 2 September 2016

On Ward, Up Ward and Watch Out You Don't Get Killed!

Early on December 1 we set on our way in our 28' motor home, trying to escape the cold before it enveloped us, froze us in. It was a frosty morning as we lashed down items, and packed the last few bags inside. We had no rigid plan other than to get to Corpus Christie within a week, where we would settle while I travelled on business. Beyond that, we wanted to be in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico for Christmas. We planned to stay there while Leanne took the yoga instructors course in Tulum.

Being on the road again felt great! Having nothing to do but watch the road pass under your tires, while you come closer to the unknown with each passing mile... Priceless. Unfortunately, reality of the now' kicked us in the snout, a little, when we stopped at a Wal-Mart parking lot in Ohio the first night. It seemed we were about 1000 miles too far north to enjoy the warmth we were dreaming of. However we did find a 1.5L bottle of rum in said Wal-Mart, that helped us keep warm.

On the second night we continued on to Memphis, and found a Bass Pro Shop parking lot, close to downtown, to call our home for the evening. We took the two Malamutes for a walk around the riverfront, and eventually found our way down to the clubs of Beale Street. It was still cool, but the sounds and smells of Beale St. helped us forget.

From there we continued onto Fort Worth Texas, for another stay in a Bass Pro Shops lot, before arriving into Corpus Christie on December 4. We stayed there for about two weeks, while I travelled on business. We equipped the RV with solar panels, and loaded it with spare parts, and maintenance items. We also bought a Metro PCS phone, given that they had an add on for use in Mexico. We also made some friends at Colonia Del Ray RV Park. Many of the residents there wished they had taken the time, when they were younger, to do what we were doing. Some just thought we were nuts!

On December 18, we were once again, packed up, loaded with supplies, and ready to face a new frontier... Mexico. Originally it was our plan to enter central, or Western Mexico, and travel down the west coast, before traversing across to Playa Del Carmen. After hearing of two Canadians who died while on vacation in early December, in Mexico, we got spooked. We checked the latest advisories, and decided to enter through Brownsville, and head straight to the Yucatan as quickly as possible.

The entrance into Mexico was not exactly graceful. We came across the border with little understanding of the procedure, or where to go. We got re-routed by a border guard with a big gun. We got danced around from wicket to wicket inside the customs office. We even had an elderly woman appear from seemingly no where, to issue us a warning "be careful here, it's very dangerous" as this stranger stroked Leanne's arm. But we survived, and piled back into our rv headed for our inspection. For this, the border guard came into the rv, pet the dogs, knocked on a wall, and released us into to the streets of Mexico!

Two minutes into Mexico, we came upon an intersection that offered about 8 different options on where to turn. Our first attempt... strike one! Two U-turns later, in a 28' rv, and we were back on track. We headed out of town, determined to put as many miles as possible between us and the border before nightfall. We made it all the way to Ciudad Victoria, where we settled into a Pemex Station parking lot for the night. Knowing Mexicans weren't used to big dogs, we strut around the area with both of our Malamutes, being sure to spread the word that we weren't afraid to 'let the big dogs out'! Soon we discovered we had nothing to fear, as the parking lot was frequented by several police cars, parking for hours at a time. We felt very secure, until we learnt that the police presence was because the station had been robbed the night before.

Next morning we were up early, and on our way. We travelled for as many as the daylight hours as possible, over the next couple of days. While the country side was scenic, we wanted to be sure we had ocean and beach to enjoy for the holidays. Night two we stopped in Heroica Vera Cruz, enjoying another Pemex station lot. We also dined at a wonderful family run restaurant, where the owners daughter tended to our wants, and  needs. She gave us a complimentary appetiser then also brought us complimentary ice cream, served in coconut shells, at the end of the meal. We went back to the rv stuffed, and sleepy. We slept soundly, until about midnight, which is when we discovered that we were parked across from a Mexican disco. We also discovered the discos operate well into the wee hours.

In spite of a restless night, we awoke early the next morning, intent on finding someone to look at the RV, and a starter issue. After bouncing around from one "expert" to another, we found someone who 'knew a guy'. We headed over to the local Autozone store, where we were to meet him, and discovered that if we needed a starter, it was a town over. Either a two day wait, or a drive slightly out of our way. Eventually 'our guy' came and checked things out, and sent us on our way, with the assurance all was fine. He also told us we owed nothing. We managed to get him to accept a small tip. While waiting, we also got to talking to another local, well versed in English. When we asked him "Is it dangerous here?" he offered this advice of Mexico: "If you go to the wrong place, alone, at night, you will get in trouble... just like in any major US city". Having slept in two inner city Pemex stations with no incident, we took this advice as a wake up to just enjoy the experience... WITH common sense.

We continued on to a wonderful Pemex Station (away from Discos) just outside Villa Hermosa the next evening, and an equally wonderful one just outside Campeche the evening after. This set us up for an early arrival into Merida on December 22, and within striking distance of Playa Del Carmen. When we planned our arrival into Merida, our guides ominously warned "do NOT take your rig into downtown Merida". Having watched a House Hunters International episode in Merida, this seemed obvious. Unfortunately, our GPS either didn't understand we were in an RV or didn't care as it routed us through streets fit for a motorcycle. Eventually we found our way to our first Mexican campground. Did I mention it was closed? Turns out the owners were attempting to sell out, and had closed the campground within the past year. Luckily they still answered the phone, and kept the place up, somewhat, and agreed to let us stay in the empty 10 acre plot of land. It had some running water, a few functioning receptacles, and a shower that encouraged us to use ours! But it was right next to a Liverpool. After getting an escort to the entrance from a local, and help from a police officer to 'break in' we found a spot, and agreed it was no worse than a Pemex... except that we still had to pay.

After cooking a nice steak, and having a relaxing beverage we waited for the owner to arrive and collect her fees. We settled in early, o avoid being overtaken by mosquitoes. Playa Del Carmen was up next, and the excitement was wearing us down!