A Travellerspoint blog

December 2014

Feliz Navidad!

We want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of our hearts

sunny 25 °C

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To our dear friends and family

This is a brief (for me) blog posting to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. We are so happy to have Danny, Alex and Alanna with us in Mexico for Christmas and New Years. Christmas Eve is the big holiday here - a family gathering of food and fireworks - December 25th is just another day. We made a feast tonight of guacamole, chicken, rice, roast potatoes, tortillas and veggies - enjoyed on our deck, while listening to the sounds of Sayulita.

A few hours ago, Santa Claus drove by, cushioned in the back of a light-bedecked truck - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" played from the loudspeaker. As fiestas go, Christmas Eve is quiet - all we can hear at 11:00 pm is the sound of children singing and the odd firecracker. We are thinking this may truly be "Silent Night", as we haven't heard a peep from the neighbourhood dogs.

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Tomorrow we will begin the day with a beach walk, and then back through the jungle into town. We'll make a few phone calls home, then spend the afternoon surfing, swimming and boogie boarding. It doesn't feel like Christmas, but it does feel very special.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Love Ginny and Stephen

Posted by millerburr 21:01 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico christmas Comments (16)

It Takes Three Days...

...to switch gears

sunny 27 °C

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Well it took just three days, but Stephen succumbed to the Mexican Cleanse. It also usually takes about three days to stop comparing Mexico to Canada and just start living here.
He’s coming around now, thanks to lots of sleep and the local cure – take an entire coconut, drill a hole, insert straw, and let the healing begin. Actually a kind lady at a fresh juice stand did this for me – all for about $2.00. We will be drinking fresh coconut juice now as a preventative – that, some local honey and local yogurt and it might make a difference. We need to be careful and let our Canadian systems catch up.

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So how do you get sick in Mexico? It’s confusing. We take precautions - drink lots of filtered water, brush our teeth with filtered water, and wash our fruits and vegetables carefully. The bugs are out there, and sooner or later, they get you. All part of the deal, I guess.

We drove to Bucerias yesterday to stock up on groceries and to find a lightbulb for our right rear turn indicator that burned out on the trip down. More adventures as we learned to navigate this stretch of road, where left turns are actually made from the far right of the road, and right turns have to be made from a side road running parallel to the main highway (or else you will be nearly T-boned). So now we know.

Driving in Mexico can be very entertaining, especially around towns and cities. The highway is not reserved for cars alone. We did not see cattle this time, but came across this horse on the way out and then followed these little horses in their precarious-looking pen on the way back. Vendors are everywhere, walking between two lanes of traffic that are moving at all speeds, with NO way of stopping even if we did want to buy piñatas and peanuts.

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The drive back to Sayulita is quite pretty, with curvy roads and lovely jungle canopies. Unfortunately, what is scenic to us presents driving challenges that simply INFLAME the Mexican drivers, as buses, trucks and cars rev up behind us, disappear in our rear-view mirror and ignoring roadside shrines and “Curva Peligrosa” signs, blast past us.

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Topes (pronounced toe-pay) are another hazard, as warned by this innocuous sign. They are, in fact, evil constructs of steel and concrete designed to slow traffic (?) and will take out your undercarriage or puncture a tire, if you hit them at full speed. There are countless impromptu roadside stands, offering everything from food to clothing to brass. Many of them are located right after a curve, so you run the risk of being rear-ended if you slow down to take a look.

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The dogs of Sayulita. Despite the best efforts of Sayulitanimals, an organization that spays and neuters at no charge, many of these strays are still proud. Strangely, there are few acts of aggression, as the dozens of dogs that roam the streets and beaches all seem to get along. They tug at your heartstrings though, even the pit bull around the corner from us, who is on a chain all day and BARKS, BARKS, BARKS,BARKS for 10-15 minutes at a time. I have had Seinfeldian fantasies about creeping over there and setting him free. The owners of Macondo (where we’re staying) have a wonderful dog, a wolf-husky mix found in the Alberta bush, named Coda. He is very sweet, but for some reason barks at any man wearing a ball cap, so the maintenance guys are a bit wary of him.

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Sayulita has changed a lot over the past six years we have been visiting. It has gotten quite spiffed-up and overrun with gringos (of which we are two), yet it is still a Mexican town. We were out on a long walk a couple of days ago, and noticed this sign, a “gringo command” posted on a high fence. The funny thing is that Mexicans do not walk their dogs, nor do they pick up after them. They let their dogs out and sooner or later, the dogs come back home. So this snippy and pointless directive falls on deaf ears.

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We went to the Friday market this morning, and Steve bought a pound of “wild” Mexican coffee – grown and sun-dried (as opposed to roasted) not far from here. Shopping in Sayulita is varied and interesting. There are the markets on Sunday with everything from Chinese electronics to handmade jewellery. The stores run from tourist traps to surf shops to very upscale shops with tiny dresses and imported leather bags.

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Stephen learning about "wild" coffee

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Friday market

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Marco the man and Franco the bird, at a produce store

Restaurants run the gamut as well – taco stands, American style steak houses, great seafood, great breakfast places and wonderful fresh juice stands. You can find wood-fired pizza, really great hamburgers and sushi (all good), and you can find delicious tacos with really fresh fish and shrimp and Argentinean beef.

Christmas has arrived in Sayulita. We watched the school kids coming home this afternoon – all excited as today marks the break until the New Year. Each of them walked down the street carrying wrapped boxes – very cute. The town is trimmed here and there – a Christmas tree has been erected in the main plaza, and some of the stores have decorations.

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Christmas tree in the main plaza

Talk to you again before the big day.

Posted by millerburr 19:06 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

Busted by the Federales

sunny 28 °C

Crossing the border into Mexico can feel like entering into the heart of darkness, if you believe half of what you read. Driving was Stephen’s idea, and I was nervous but not afraid to take it on.

When we approached the border at Nogales, it was just after 6:30 am, still dark, very cold and we were all alone. Literally – there were no other cars and nobody at the booth. We slowly drove through and obediently waited at the “Alto” sign for a few minutes until we noticed other cars and trucks driving by us, so we followed.

“Bienvenidos a Mexico” – not such a welcome sign, since we hadn’t been cleared through for tourist visas and car papers, and now we were feeling like illegal aliens. No worries – we were soon waved over for a trunk inspection and directions to drive a further 20 km. down the road. We sailed through all of the paperwork in about 15 minutes, and then launched out onto the infamous Mexican highways.

An hour or so later, we were relaxed and feeling like this would all work out. We stuck to the toll roads, which for the most part were divided, uncrowded and well-patrolled. The well-patrolled part didn’t work out so well for me on the second day –I was pulled over for speeding. The irony of this is delicious, as I a) am quite a cautious driver, b) was well aware of the need to stay clear of the police and c) had JUST been passed by a meteoric line of Mexican drivers when my infraction occurred. The fact that I was driving 130 in a 110 zone seemed beside the point, considering I was eating the dust of my fellow travelers.

“Oh heck,” I think I said, as the handsome young Federale approached the car. I had one very bad moment, envisioning everything from an exorbitant “fine” to jail time. “Buenos dias”, he said. After determining I did not speak Spanish, he asked me in English where I was from, and if I knew how fast I was going. I asked him to please not give me a ticket, and promised I would drive at the limit. He then said “Can-a-dah” to his partner, who shrugged. He looked back at my terrified face, gave me a smile, and waved me on. Unbelievable! Stephen thinks I got away with it because I reminded him of his grandmother.

So… our takeway from driving in Mexico? Roads are fine – good signage, and plenty of advance notice for exits. Speed limits are tricky – there is quite a range (all of them ignored) and driving on the right lane is advisable (to avoid the police). There is quite a range with drivers too – homicidal passes are still common, but so is courtesy and consideration. Defensive driving is a must in Mexico. I’ve learned a Mexican driving trick when wanting to pass on a two-way road. The car in front of you pulls over to straddle the shoulder, and when the coast is clear, you drive down the middle, right in between the two lanes of traffic. It works. The one road trick you really want to avoid is hitting a Mexican – no small feat when they are doing construction, riding their bikes, waving food at you and running across highways.

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Where our veggies come from in winter

Another feature of driving in Mexico are the posses of young Squeegee kids – lying in wait at gas stations, toll booths and intersections. They surround your car, one kid frantically washing your windshield, with another yelling for money. After our third windshield wash, we lost it, and began yelling “NO GRACIAS” like demented gringos. After we had a chance to talk it over, we realized the few pesos we might hand out to these very poor kids is just part of the cost of travelling here.

Toll roads are great if you need to make time– they bypass all the small towns, but they are also expensive - we spent over $100 just getting down here. We’ll do a mix on subsequent travel –unlikely we will do very many long drives again, and it is much more interesting to get off the freeways.

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Toll road to Tepic

The other rule we broke on the way down was never to drive at night. We would loved to have obeyed that one, but got caught after spending 2 hair-raising hours from Tepic on a switchback road to the coast, and then forgetting about the time zone change. Planning on arriving in Sayulita around 5:30 or 6:00, we rolled in at 8 pm, utterly exhausted. We had driven 4,685 km. in 6 days and 5 nights.

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Sun setting on the road 2 hours from Sayulita

We headed out for a quick beer and taco, and shared a table with a young Dutch man who had studied in Guadalajara 10 years ago, and was back for a holiday. We spent an hour talking about the joys and trials of travel. He had been all over the world, including Uganda, so our stories seemed tame by comparison.

Our car is parked for the duration, we are unpacked and settled into our lovely home for the next five weeks. We had a long stroll on the beach this morning – this afternoon we’ll head out for a swim. Nothing to do now but look forward to seeing the kids in less than a week.

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Surfer taking advantage of early winter waves

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Lifeguard drinking on the job (Sayulita's Baywatch)

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FANTASTIC Americano at Panino's - our first visit this year

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view from our rooftop living room

Posted by millerburr 17:27 Archived in Mexico Comments (11)

Rained out

storm 10 °C
View Mexico 2015 on millerburr's travel map.

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You’ve all been there – driving through torrential rains with headlights coming at you on the left and tail-lights in front of you, and reflections off the pavement and even with your windshield wipers going madly, you really can’t see a thing. Your safety lies with the guy in front of you, because if he doesn’t notice that the guy in front of him has slowed down, then you’re in trouble. So you just keep driving and watching for signs, because you know you have to change freeways in a few minutes, and that means crossing two lanes of heavy traffic in darkness and poor visibility. This was our first night on the road, after almost 3 hours crawling through Seattle and Tacoma at rush hour. This was the storm that ushered us into the U.S. and followed us all the way south to the border. That was Washington and Oregon.

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California? Fugettaboutit! They have had devastating rains with major, major damage, so it seems churlish to complain about our scary drives, but scary they were. Water creeping up to the shoulders of the highway – at one point we had to navigate through a foot of water on a portion of highway that luckily, was still open. Rest stations closed. Driving beside convoys of trucks for hours, and then slowing to a crawl to drive by accident scenes. Cop cars and tow trucks everywhere. Driving beside mile after mile of flooded fields – hard to know what damage has been done to next year’s crops. We’ve traveled though a bit of California before (down the coast to San Francisco and Carmel) , but would love to come back when the weather is better– what a diverse and beautiful state.
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On Day 3, we arrive in Indio, CA, which is just south (east?) of Palm Springs to see our friends Vikki and Roy. They are staying in a complex until the end of February, and as luck would have it, they had glorious hot weather before and after our visit but we arrived with rain and cold. No matter – we had a grand time, sitting on their covered deck and enjoying a home-cooked meal.
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We love the U.S. – every trip brings new adventures and observations. This one stood out for us: Abel’s Complete Cremation - $585.25. This was one of the highway signs that caught our eye and for so many reasons. I’ve always regarded the funeral business as being hushed and respectful. Who knew cremations are such a competitive business that billboard advertising might be justified? We pondered a few things about this sign – why the 25 cents? Why not round it off to the nearest dollar, or make it an even $600? And what is the meaning of “complete”? Surely they do not offer “partial” cremations? Are there other cremation billboards?

These are the road conversations we have – laughing over place names like “Sore Finger Road”, or police warnings like “Drive Hammered. Get Nailed.” We wondered if the town of “Sweet Home” is really all that sweet. We actually argued over how many streets exist in North America named “Old River Road”. I thought many dozens, Stephen thought perhaps two or three and there is no easy way to solve that argument. There is no way to solve many of the questions that arise as the miles whiz by. Stephen has come to refer to my many comments as the “imponderables.” Perhaps they are better left that way.

So…it is early evening on Saturday and we are off the road for the rest of the day – it feels good. We have driven over 3102 kilometers in 4 days, and are currently relaxing in the delightful Candlewood Suites in Nogales, Arizona – just 3 km. to the border. Our hotel last night was a bit of a dump, and this one is a treat – renovated, free laundry facilities, huge room, kitchenette – safe, secure and super clean.

The bogeyman has mostly disappeared. Nogales, AZ is not Nogales, MX, but still… crossing the border feels easier from this perspective, and we’re really looking forward to beginning our Mexican adventures.

talk to you in a few days!

Posted by millerburr 18:54 Archived in USA Comments (14)

Trip Planning - 1 week before departure

By now, most of you know we’re driving down to Mexico for a four-month trip. We're beginning our travels in Sayulita to spend Christmas with Danny, Alex and Alanna, and then heading as far south as we can.

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We've been going to Sayulita for a few years for brief vacations, and four years ago, we took four months off work to travel through Mexico by bus. This time, we will be driving and looking forward to all that entails - border crossings, roadblocks, potholes, highway washouts, possibly the odd handout to underpaid police officers. We're mainly very excited about having the chance to hit the backroads and get a closer look at this country that has gotten under our skin.

Our trip wraps up in early April with Easter in San Miguel de Allende, then a hop over to New Orleans to meet friends for the French Quarter Music Festival. We’ll be back home on one of the afternoon Gabriola ferries on April 19th, 2015.

This idea was conceived almost nine months ago, and now, with less than a week until our due date, we're feeling both excitement and apprehension.

We’ve read all the books (Lonely Planet, Carl Franz’ People’s Guide to Mexico, online forums, U.S. and Canadian travel alerts). We’ve checked off all the boxes (Mexican car insurance, travel health insurance, car and tire check-up, preliminary packing, household clean-up).

We have an itinerary (subject to change), and we have a smattering of Spanish (subject to improvement hopefully, with daily practice and lessons In Oaxaca). We have places to go and people to see, as they like to say. Best of all, we’re retired, and as this is our inaugural retirement trip, we want to set a pretty high bar.

We had originally planned to write weekly email updates with photo links, but our friends Sheila Swanson and James Hawkins, who are seasoned travelers and bloggers, convinced us otherwise. Have a look at their fantastic blog, Blissful Adventures.

“Leaving Ourselves Behind” is about our desire to be open to everything that is in front of us. We want to be reminded that our way is not the only way. We want to be reminded of the spirit behind this quote from Douglas Coupland – “Adventure without risk is Disneyland”.

We’re hoping for enough adventures along the way to be able to tell good stories, and enough misadventures to shake us up a bit.

Blog postings will go out twice a week, to serve as a journal for us, and provide some discipline and focus. We would like to dodge margaritaville, at least at first.

We have subscribed you to our blog (you may hit the “unsubscribe” button at any time!) and welcome your comments, questions and suggestions.

Hasta luego!

Ginny y Stephen
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Posted by millerburr 10:47 Comments (9)

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