This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Monday, February 27, 2012


Feb 27

“Why does it take a minute to say hello and forever to say goodbye?”  ~Author Unknown

I don’t like goodbyes.  For some reason they seem so final, almost like someone has died, and that makes me sad, and real men aren’t suppose to let their emotions show.  I do a pretty good job of doing that, hiding my emotions, as I have been doing all my life for one reason or another, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.  Someday, maybe.

At breakfast yesterday we said goodbye to the members of our group who were leaving that day.  Then last night those of us still here (about 13 of the 18 coaches) took over a local Pizza Hut, pulled a lot of tables together, stuffed ourselves on real American pizza (but drank Corona beer), retold stories, talked loudly, toasted, and laughed a lot.  It was our poor waitress’s first night back at work since having her wisdom teeth extracted a week ago and she had her hands full.  As we were paying our bills at the counter we were also trying to find those leaving today so we could say goodbye, hug, and/or shake hands.  I’m sure that the other customers and employees in the restaurant wondered what in the world was going on. 

Butch and Cathy gave out booklets containing photos of everyone along with snail mail and email addresses, and phone numbers.  I created a new Group in my Gmail contact list so that I can try and stay in touch.  You never know when or where you may cross paths.  The 18 rigs that were on the trip are from Arizona, Wisconsin, British Columbia, California, Florida, Washington, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Iowa, Alabama, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Texas.  I intend to put all of the addresses on a map in the event our future travels take us near any those addresses.

Several of the group will be posting our photos on sites such as Picasa and Smugmug for all the others to see and download if they wish.  I have several thousand photos, even after deleting over half of them, so still have a big job ahead in order to reduce the number to something easier to handle.  I have a hard time choosing between several different shots of the same thing.  

Butch came over this morning to update us on our car.  It is drivable but the new grill has not yet arrived.  The tow hitch on the front will not be repaired because the insurance company says it is an “after market part” and was not specified on the policy (even though the Mexico policy we purchased for the car was specifically intended for a car that would be towed behind a motorhome).  With or without the grill, the car should be placed on a flatbed truck Wednesday and delivered to Matamoros, MX, probably sometime this weekend.  We will drive the rental down to Brownsville (about 30 miles), park on the US side, walk across the border into Matamoros, and hire a cab to take us to the car.  If I can’t get the tow hitch quickly repaired I’ll have rent a tow dolly in order to tow the car back to Nacogdoches.  We still don't know how much of all this will be out of pocket.  Right now we wish we could just cut our losses and go home.

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”  ~Garrison Keillor

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"...and the last shall be first"

Harlingen, TX, USA
Feb 26

(I must warn you that this is a very long post)

Yesterday we crossed the Rio Grande at Mission, TX and, although we had fun in Mexico, were very glad to be back in the U.S. of A.  Almost seven weeks in Mexico make you realize what we have in the US.  However, many people really can’t appreciate what they have to be thankful for because they have never been outside of the USA. 

When we left the Paradero San Pedro Saturday at 7:00 AM it was cloudy and cold with low hanging clouds.  The heavy rain during the night had left a lot of puddles in the parking lot and on the highway.  The temperature dropped to 38 degrees and we encountered some heavy fog as we crossed over the mountains.  The fog had caused at least one accident on the southbound side of the four-lane.  An 18-wheeler had side swiped the concrete median dividing the highway, resulting in portions of the concrete wall were blocking the left lane on our (northbound) side.  Traffic slowed to a crawl.  There was a road crew, an ambulance, the police, and a couple of tow trucks taking care of the driver, truck, and debris. 

Much of the days drive was on the cuota (toll) roads, but even the libre (free) roads were pretty good.  Of course you still had to watch for the occasional potholes and portions of broken pavement.  We paid a total of $766 pesos ($64 US) in tolls just for the motorhome.  Everyone else paid more because they were either towing a car or were driving a car or truck and towing a trailer or fifth wheel.  The tolls were determined largely by the total number of axles.  Sticking to the toll roads in order to avoid (or decrease) the chance of being stopped again by banditos in the state of Tamaulipas was a little expensive and maybe a few more miles but the good road and lack of banditos made the tolls worth it.  Even though the route was longer it probably took no more time than if we had stuck to the original route.

My son commented by email that Butch and Cathy, our Wagon Masters, made a bad business decision by taking the toll roads.  He explained that the total tolls paid by the 18 RVs was a lot more than the $2,000 pesos paid by Butch to the banditos that had stopped us on our first day in Mexico!  Butch said he didn’t really care about that.  He repeated that he didn’t want another machine gun stuck in his face.  You can’t blame him for that!

At one point I saw a police car parked on the side of the road ahead.  It was facing the highway so that we were seeing the driver’s side of the car.  As we came closer we couldn’t help but laugh.  What we had seen and slowed down for was a life-sized, 2-dimensional replica of the side of a police car!  We saw another one of these fake “police cars” a little later in the day and paid it no attention.  Closer to the border we saw a third one and smiled.  Not going to fool us again!  However, hiding behind the third one was an actual police car that could not be seen until you passed it.   It’s like Sgt. Esterhaus used to say at the end of every roll call on The Hill Street Blues TV show, “Let’s be careful out there.”

We breezed through the usual military and federal police inspections without problem and stopped for lunch at a Pemex with a Circle Kay about 60 miles south of the border.  This was also a last chance to fill our fuel tanks at Mexican prices before crossing back into the US.  Many of us had the Circle Kay special for lunch.  $2.90 pesos (about $0.25 US) for two hotdogs!  After 7 weeks of nothing but Mexican food they were so good.

Only 25 miles south of the border we heard a message on the radio saying that Harvey and Barbara’s fifth wheel had a blown tire or lost a wheel and had pulled over onto the shoulder.  Richard and Helen and Tom and Kim, the Tail Gunners, stopped to assist and the Green Angels were turning around to go back to them.  As we went by them there was a lot of blue smoke that seemed to be coming from underneath their rig.  Before the Green Angels could get back to them the problem had been diagnosed and they were back on the road again.  The blue smoke turned out to be from the truck’s exhaust and was normal.  The truck is a relatively new diesel with the latest emission control, which includes the addition of a certain amount of “diesel exhaust fluid” (DEF) for every tank of fuel.  Apparently this is injected automatically when the computer says it’s time.  When this happens it blows a huge cloud of blue smoke from the exhaust pipe and the rig following Harvey and Barbara thought something terrible had happened.  Hence the radio message.

Harvey didn’t waste any time catching back up with us.  I was last in line and saw him coming up in my rear-view mirrors.  The next thing I knew he was blowing past me to get back up to the number two position.

Being last or near last in the caravan wasn’t necessarily a bad place to be.  It sometimes meant that by the time you were able to get into an RV park that the first ones in were already sitting out with a beer or headed to the pool.  But most of the time there was lot less pressure, not having to worry about your place in the caravan.  I could just drop back, drive a fairly consistent speed, and lessen the rubber band effect.

When we arrived at the Mexican border station we parked in a long line on the highway’s shoulder in front of the station.  Butch went in to find out where we should go to turn in our vehicle permits (holograms) and tourist visas.  What he learned was that everyone in our caravan, except for me, John, and Richard and Helen were already parked beyond the gate through which we should drive.  The three of us in the rear turned into the gate and lined up at the inspection station.  We were number three behind John’s and Richard and Helen’s rigs.  Carol Ann went inside and turned in our visas while I waited to return the vehicle permit (we were not inspected).  Most of the other 15 rigs had to un-hitch their toads, back their trailers, or go through a lot of trouble to turn around.  Carol Ann got back to the motorhome just as I finished up at the inspection point.  Because John, along with Richard and Helen, still had to go inside and turn in their visas after the inspection point, Carol Ann and I were the first of the group to leave the Mexican border station and cross the Rio Grande into the US of A.  For once being last paid off!  On the radio I heard Bob (of Bob and Bettie) quote a very apropos verse from the bible (Matthew), “But many that are first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

There were 4 or 5 crowded lanes inching their way up to the US inspection station.  Signs directed buses to the right most lane, which was a little wider and should be easier to navigate through the twisting maze of concrete curbs and metal posts at the station.  But before I was allowed to drive up to the booth an agent stepped out of the booth, picked up an orange traffic cone, and placed it right in the middle of the lane.  Instead of having me drive up to the cone, the agent walked the ten yards or so to the motorhome and asked me (through the driver’s window) how many people were in the motorhome.  I told him that there were only two of us and he took our passports, walked back to the booth, and then motioned me forward until I was at the booth. 

A female agent came over and joined the other agent in the booth were they appeared to be examining our passports, writing on a clipboard, talking on a phone or radio, and discussing with each other what they were going to do with us.  The female agent took our passports and walked over to a secondary inspection area.  I was then instructed to follow her and park where she indicated.  I had to cross 2 massive topes first, then make a very sharp right turn followed immediately by a sharp left in order to drive the rig straight between two large metal posts (which probably housed some kind of scanner) which were not much wider than the motorhome. It was impossible not to run all over the curbs.

Two other agents joined her and showed me where to park.  She then came up to my window and asked if I had anything to declare, to which I replied “No” (we did not have anything near the $800 US limit in goods purchased in Mexico).  Then she said, “Are you sure?” and rattled off in rapid succession, a list of items that must be declared.  I had heard that if you hesitated they would assume that you were trying to think of a lie to tell so I quickly blurted out “watermelon (I forgot that we had already put the watermelon in the garbage), we have a watermelon!”  I then added, “and some Tequila, a liter of Tequila!”  She turned and walked back to the next in the line of 5 or 6 RV’s that they now had lined up behind us. 

We sat there for at least 10 minutes before she returned and asked if we had any pets in the coach.  I told her that we had 2 cats, immediately thinking that I’m going to have to dig out their vaccination and health certificates.  However, she didn’t ask for those, just told us to get them out of the coach because their dog was coming in.  I tried to explain that the cats were semi-feral (only socialized to me and Carol Ann) and that I would need to get their kennels from one of the storage bays, try to find them, and then get them in the kennels.  She said something like “Do it” so I got out and retrieved the kennels.  I then had to get down on my stomach, crawl behind our 2 recliners, and drag them by the scruff of their necks out from their hiding space.  We were then told to join the other caravan members in a covered area with concrete benches where we waited while the agents and the dog searched and sniffed our rigs. 

When the female US agent came out of Gunther and Candace’s coach she carried with her a frozen port chop, a bag of 4 or 5 potatoes, and a potted poinsettia.  None of which had been purchased in Mexico.  They were all bought in the US before the trip.  The agent said she was confiscating them because Gunther failed to declare them.  She then went back inside of our coach and came out a few minutes later holding a plastic container with 5 strips of bacon remaining from a package of “pre-cooked” bacon that had been purchased in the US prior to the trip.  The agent said we failed to declare the pork and was confiscating it.  She even kept the plastic container.  After a while they let Harold and Sylvia go and a few minutes later indicated that we could leave.

Our GPS was not working so after leaving the inspection area we parked on the side of the highway and waited until John came out and we followed him about 50 miles further to the RV park.  It was close to 5:00 PM when we arrived and the others began trickling in shortly after we had parked.  I think most people just sort of crashed once they had setup their rigs.

We didn’t get together again as a group until this morning when we had a continental breakfast on the street in the front of Butch and Cathy’s coach.  Loretta put it all together with homemade scones, muffins, breads, cinnamon rolls, and other baked goods.  It was a lot more than 35 people could ever eat at one time, which meant that there were enough leftovers for anyone wanting to take some home.  It was all “scrumptious”.

About half of the group is leaving today.  The ones that aren’t have plans to go out tonight for pizza.  It may be the last time together for many of us.  I hope that we will see all of them again during our travels.

Some conclusions that I have come to on the trip, based solely upon my own observations and personal experiences, are that the US agents do not smile, they are all business, they order you out of your vehicle without saying “Please”, and then they search it.  The Mexican agents smile, they are extremely polite, and they ask permission to enter your vehicle.  The inspection or “search” may be anything from standing in the door to check your visa or casually walking through your rig (you may accompany them) and opening a few cabinets.  Usually they just want to see what it looks like on the inside.

A large portion of Mexico’s population is very poor.  Mexico is a land of “the haves” and “the have nots.” Mostly “the have nots”.   The middle class is a rather small portion of the population.  We saw many people begging.  Those who weren’t begging were trying to sell you something.  The people were polite, waved to us as we passed, and seemed happy that we had come to their country.  After all, their economy is heavily dependent upon tourism and tourism has been down for the last few years.

We did experience a good (actually there was nothing good about it) example of Mexico’s reputation for police corruption.  The federal policeman who tried to tell us we could not tow vehicles behind our motorhomes was reported to the Ministry of Tourism and an acknowledgment received, which said there would be an investigation.  And there probably will be, as Mexico is trying to cleanup this blemish on their reputation.  Still, you can’t help but distrust the police instead of depending on them and you also try to avoid them as much as possible.  After all, it only takes a few rotten ones to make the whole barrel stink.

We passed through an extremely large number of toll booths during the trip.  We (the collective “we”) experienced being short-changed by the booth attendants more than a few times.  Sometimes the attendant would give you the correct change but if you checked your receipt you would find it had been made out for a lesser amount than you actually paid.  The attendant obviously pocketed the difference.  Similar rigs were also charged different amounts at the same toll booth.  Always check your change and receipt before you leave the booth.

Mexico is working hard to improve their infrastructure.  There is a tremendous amount of new road construction and resurfacing happening in Mexico.  But potable water is still a problem.  Almost everyone drinks bottled (purified) water, even the Mexicans.  There is also a very real problem with collecting and disposing of their trash and garbage.  You see a lot of it tossed or dumped beside the streets and highways.  This makes some of the towns and villages look “dirty”.  Still, several of the towns and cities we visited were very clean and tidy.  You could tell that the residents took a great deal of pride in where they lived.

We won’t know anything about our car until tomorrow (Monday).  Until then we have no idea when we will be leaving here.  This is my last “official” post as this is the very last day of the organized tour.  I will be posting more observations and experiences from the trip, once I have had a few days to rest think about it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Crossing the Border Tomorrow

Paradero San Pedro
Feb 24

There was one dump station for waste water at Bugamville RV Park and we planned to use it this morning before hitting the highway.  When we drove over to the dump station we discovered that the PVC pipe to which we needed to connect stood about 3 feet above the ground.  Now, the outlet for my waste water tank is probably no more than 2 ½ feet above the ground.  If you know anything about Newton’s Law of Gravity you should know that without help from a pump the waste water was not going to flow from the outlet up to the PVC pipe.  Earlier, I had noticed that Tom and Kim drove their motorhome to the rear of the RV park property.  I drove over to where they had been and found a partially uncovered sewer so I dumped there and then got the motorhome lined up and ready to leave.

We left the Bugamville RV Park at 8:00 AM to drive 322 miles to the Paradero San Pedro on Highway 57.  There were only a couple of tolls to pay and the roads were decent to good so we made good time (average of 44 miles per hour including stops).   I spent most of the day at the rear of the caravan so got the full effect of the rubber band action (slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up….).  Eventually I just drifted further back to lessen the effect somewhat.  All in all, it wasn’t a bad day of driving, as I wasn’t exhausted when we arrived.

At one point near the end of the day we drove for miles with nothing on either side of the highway except Joshua Tree cacti as far as the eye could see.  It was like a giant Joshua Tree forest.  I only learned today what a Joshua Tree cactus is.  I have wondered at times where the name for the Joshua Tree National Park came from.  Now I know.

We encountered two Federal Police inspection stations on the trip.  We were waved through the first inspection station.  Everyone but Harvey and Barbara, that is.  They had to pull over and be boarded.  Harvey said they looked in some cabinets but probably just wanted to see the inside of such a huge fifth-wheel.  At the second inspection station we had to drive through a large scanner or x-ray machine.  It looked like a super large version of the ones you have to walk through at airports and government buildings.  No lights flashed and no alarms sounded so I guess we didn’t have whatever they were looking for.

We arrived at the Paradero by 4:00 PM and claimed one end of a very large parking lot.  A Paradero is basically a truck stop on steroids.  There is a Pemex station plus a large building that houses a club for truckers (showers, gym, sleeping quarters, lounge, etc.), a big cafeteria, a small sandwich counter, a coffee bar, and of course a souvenir shop that must have had some of everything that anyone on this tour had purchased in the many places we visited.  The main difference was in price (higher at the Paradero).  There is also a police substation located here, which makes it a good place to overnight in an RV.

We ate supper in the cafeteria.  We couldn’t read the menu, didn’t know how to order, and weren’t sure what we would end up eating.  We pushed our trays down to the cashier only to learn that they didn’t take credit cards and we had left our money in the coach.  Bruce came to the rescue.  He and Karen were behind us in line and bailed us out.

When we left the cafeteria we found that the weather had changed drastically.  First came very high winds and then it got cold and rained very hard for a while.   A cold front must have moved through here.  We had to turn on our heat because the temperature dropped from the 70’s to 45 degrees.

Tomorrow is the final leg of our odyssey.  It’s about 300 more miles to the border where we will cross at Mission, TX.  We are taking a different route than the one in the logbook in order to stay on toll roads as much as possible. The possibility of another bandito experience is highly unlikely on a toll road.  It will add a few extra miles and about $75 US in tolls but worth it.  Butch says he does not want to have another machine gun stuck in his face!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two More Days

Feb 23

Today was our free day.  We shared a cab with Bruce and Karen and went to the Mercado Hidalgo about 10:30 this morning.  The cab driver would return at 3:00 PM and pick us up where he dropped us off.

The Mercado is a large building that was originally built as a railroad station to celebrate the centennial of Mexico’s Independence.  Construction of the huge building began in 1905.  Alexander Gustave Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower guy) designed the clock tower portion of the wrought iron, domed ceiling complex.  Unfortunately, things do not always work out as intended and by the time the building was completed in 1910 the plans for the railroad to Guanajuato were nixed.  This left the people of Guanajuato with a very large train station but with no tracks or trains.  A big PR program was undertaken by Porfirio Diaz (president of Mexico at the time) and the empty building was transformed into a market place for the local citizens.

Crammed inside the Mercado is a mish-mash of stalls and booths that are separated by  narrow aisles crowded with people.  The booths seem too small to hold the vast quantity of goods packed into each one.  The ground level of the Mercado is comprised mostly of food items such as fruits, vegetables, meats, breads, beverages, and many different kinds of cooked foods.  The stalls on the upper level sell all kinds of souvenirs such as pottery, T-shirts, toys, leather goods, jewelry, and many other trinkets and touristy kinds of items.  A lot of the stalls have some of the same stuff for sale and if you shop around you may find a better price.  The only thing Carol Ann and I bought in the Mercado were four bananas for $5 pesos (about 35 cents US).

After looking around in the Mercado for a while we decided to walk the five or so blocks to the Plaza we had been in yesterday.  The shops and restaurants in that area are a bit more upscale than those around the Mercado.  We had a very nice lunch at a sidewalk café and then just ambled around, in and out of shops and trying not to get run over by autos or pedestrians.  I took off on my own for a little while and explored some of the many narrow alleys and passageways in which I found a lot of photo ops.  The city is very clean, has cobblestone streets, and the buildings are bright and colorful.

While the four of us were in town we ran into Bob and Billie, Michel and Ellen, and the same three rug sellers that we have seen for the previous two days.  I bought a machete that is 3 feet long and sharpened on both sides.  It is a wicked looking piece of steel.  The lady in the hardware store wrapped it up in newspaper and tape; otherwise I might have been arrested for walking around with an "unconcealed" weapon. 

The cab driver met us as arranged and we were back at the RV park before 3:30 PM.  The briefing for tomorrow’s drive was at 5:00 PM and our “Goodbye Mexico” dinner at 6:00 PM in the RV park’s restaurant.  We had margaritas and were entertained by a four-piece Mexican band.  The dinner was one of the best we have had on the trip.  There was some dancing, toasting, and a lot of laughing and fun.  Tomorrow we leave at 8:00 AM for a drive of almost 300 miles to the Paradero San Pedro, which is a very large truck and tourist stop with a 24-hour restaurant, game room, shop, and an on-the-premises police station for security. 

We will be dry camping (no hook-ups) in the back of the parking lot and back on the road early the next morning.   Butch and Cathy are trying to arrange a police escort for the last day of our trip, as we will once again be driving through bandito territory.  No tourist have been killed on this highway since last February so we should be OK.  But, who knows, there is still time for more adventure before crossing the border!  Keep your fingers crossed for us.

I got more news about the car today.  The last I heard was that they had gotten the last part needed and the repairs would be completed by today.  Today they said they were waiting on a “few” more parts so we have no idea when we will get our car back.  We may end up staying in Harlingen, TX a little longer than we had originally thought.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mummies and Mines

Feb 22

Busses are not allowed in Guanajuato because the streets are so narrow.  That meant we had to be divided between two vans for the tour of the city.  The one I rode in was extremely cramped.  If I sat up straight and pressed my spine against my seat back it would keep my knees from pressing too hard on the seat in front of me.   The city is over 6,000 feet above sea level with very low humidity so even with the temperature in the high 70’s it did not feel too warm.  The van I rode in was not air-conditioned but the windows could be partially opened to allow air to circulate and that was enough.

After the Spanish founded Guanajuato in 1559 it became very wealthy from mining gold and silver.A third of the world’s silver came from this region during the 16th through the 18th centuries.  The mine owners became so rich they purchased titles of nobility.  The city’s population is now 159,000 and it remains one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico.

Because of repeated flooding of the city, the Spanish diverted the river, turned the riverbed into tunnels and rebuilt the city above the tunnels.  There are about 5 miles of intersecting tunnels beneath the city that help move the traffic, allowing some of the city streets to be pedestrian only. 

Speaking of streets, I don’t believe there is a straight one in the city.  The city is hilly and the streets are laid out in curves and angles and the buildings are just as irregular.  We got a good view of the city from a scenic overlook called El Pílipa where the multicolored buildings are laid out before you in the valley below.

In the center of the city is a small triangular-shaped plaza, the Jardín Unión, which is lined with closely spaced trees whose foliage has been shaped like a hedge.  As you walk around the plaza the trees shade you from the sun.  If you are much taller than 6 feet you may need to stoop a little to keep your head out of the leaves.

One of our first, and weirdest, stops on the tour was the Mummy Museum.  The mummies were of people that were buried in a Guanajuato cemetery during a cholera outbreak in 1833.  They were dug up between 1865 and 1958 because their relatives did not pay a required tax in order to keep the bodies buried in the cemetery.  The naturally mummified bodies made up only about 2% of all the bodies that were disinterred.  In 1958 the law was changed to prohibit digging up any more mummies.  The mummies were stored until a museum was built, which has become one of the biggest (and by far the most morbid) tourist attractions in Mexico.

We had lunch at a very nice restaurant, Real de la Esperanza, located in what was once a church. It was built by miners as a place to rest and pray before going into the mines.  The restaurant was on a hilltop overlooking the town.  While we were there, a large procession of people carrying religious icons and pictures of Jesus and Mary came down the road in front of the restaurant.  They had a police escort and seemed to be on some kind of pilgrimage (it was Ash Wednesday).

After lunch we “toured” a mine ($20 pesos per person) that is now only used in the training of mining engineers at the University of Guanajuato.  We were led into a mineshaft and shown some old mining equipment.  At the end of this shaft was an old elevator that once took the miners a half-mile straight down into the earth.  Before we started back out of the mine, the “tour guide” took off his hard hat and indicated through our interpreter that we should tip him.  I was afraid that if we didn’t tip him we may never see daylight again so Carol Ann dropped a coin into his hard hat.  I don’t know the denomination of the coin but he did tell someone that whatever they had tossed in was not enough!  You might say that this was the third time we had been experienced a bandito.

The vans dropped us off near the central plaza once we escaped the mine.  While at the plaza we saw the same three rug sellers that had been at the RV park the day before.  We wandered around shopping and taking pictures for about an hour before boarded the vans and heading back to the RV park.  On the way to the park our van was pulled over by the police and we all began wondering if this was going to be another attempted shake down.  It turned out that the police just wanted to check the driver’s papers to make sure he was authorized to haul tourists.

When we returned to the park we were once again greeted by the rug sellers, who had somehow beat us back to the park.  We got out our chairs and drinks but this time the rug sellers remained with their truck and didn't bother us.  Still, some from our group (namely Pat, Kim, Billie, and Gloria – I apologize if I left anyone out) managed to buy a few more rugs.

Tomorrow is a free day and everyone is heading in different directions.  Some are going by car to Delores Hidalgo and San Miguel Allende while another group is hiring one of today’s vans, driver, and guide to visit the same towns.  They will probably be gone most of the day.  Michel and Ellen and Bob and Billie are going back into Guanajuato by cab, which sounded good, so Carol Ann and I are sharing a cab with Bruce and Karen to go Guanajuato’s Hidalgo Mercado (market).  We will shop around, have lunch, and probably be back at the RV park around 2:00 PM in order to rest and get ready for Friday’s 290 mile drive to San Pedro where we will spend our last night in Mexico before day’s another drive of 295 miles to the border.

We are hoping that our car will make it to the border within a day or two of our crossing back into the U.S.  Yesterday we heard that the last part had been obtained and repairs would be completed mañana (Supposedly Spanish for “tomorrow” but it really means “not today”).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

167 Miles = 253 Miles

Feb 21

The itinerary said it would be 167 miles.  The trip logbook said it would be 215 miles.  My GPS said it would be 198 miles.  When we arrived at Bugamville RV Park in Guanajuato my odometer said it was 253 miles.  We used the toll roads most of the way so it wasn’t a cheap drive by any means.  However, the toll roads are far better than the alternatives with the many small towns and villages and their hundreds of requisite topes.  Even on the decent highways it was still a very tiring drive because the traffic was heavy and crazy.  There were a lot of 18-wheelers, buses, road construction, and toll booths, all of which slowed us down and managed to keep us spread out over 3 or 4 kilometers much of the time (I said “kilometers”!  I’ve been down here too long).  The logbook hasn’t been updated since the new toll roads were opened but we still made it to the RV park, even those who traveled separately from the caravan.   The “separatists” also made it in about 2 hours less travel time because of not having to worry about keeping everyone together.

Bugamville RV Park seems to be in the middle of nowhere but is only about 6 kilometers (there I go again) south of the colonial city of Guanajuato.  When we turned onto the dirt road leading to the park it looked as if we might be parking in a junkyard there was so much construction equipment and material just inside the entrance.  The park is a large flat, mostly dirt, area with electric (15 amps with voltage too low, thus unusable) and water hookups at each site.  There is one common dump station that we will need to use before we leave the park.  I will have to wait until tomorrow to see what the rest of the park has to offer.

I must say that I was very impressed with the welcome committee that met us upon our arrival.  First, there was a guy up on top of the park’s gate.  I believe his job was to make sure that the low hanging wires over the entrance did not become entangled with any of the RV antennas or other roof protrusions.  Then I noticed a pickup truck loaded with blankets, shawls, serapes (ponchos) and three eager vendors.

Once we had parked and setup our RVs, we brought out our lawn chairs and drinks to relax, unwind, and discuss the day.  The blanket salesmen provided some impromptu entertainment by parading around our circle of chairs with their blankets, which they swap out after a circuit or two.  If you looked the least bit interested they would stand behind your chair in the hope of capturing your attention.  Their technique seemed to begin working quite well after we had a few drinks!  By the time we broke up and retreated to our RVs the blanket salesmen had done quite well and even promised to return tomorrow afternoon with more blankets and great prices.  I can’t wait.

As the sun sank slowly in the west (cliché intended) our hard day of travel was rewarded with a remarkable sunset, making up for much of the day’s tension.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Floating Gardens

Mexico City
Feb 20

I changed my mind this morning and went on the Mexico City bus tour.  Carol Ann and I were in Mexico City in 2005 and it doesn’t seem to have changed any since our visit.  There is not much I can say about the city except that it is very large, traffic is terrible, and it is smoggy.  One interesting thing to mention is that a lot of the buildings in the city are sinking or leaning.  The city is located on what was a lake back in the Aztec days.  When the Aztecs moved in, the lakefront had already been claimed by other tribes so the Aztecs settled on an island in the lake.  Eventually they began to outgrow the island so they began reclaiming land.  Over the years they reclaimed quite a bit of land and took control of the entire area.  The lake had been turned into a large “artificial” island, crisscrossed by a series of canals.  Eventually, most of the canals were filled-in and the area became what is Mexico City today.  The lake still exists under much of the city and many of the larger buildings are “settling” into the mud.

We continued south through the city to the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco for lunch and a boat ride through some of the remaining canals.  The canals are narrow and quite shallow and the brightly colored boats that ply these waters are powered by “pole” (the boatman pushes the boat along with a pole).  All of the boats are of the same design and construction with the only difference being in how they are decorated.

Getting from the parking lot to the boat dock required running the usual gauntlet of vendors.  I had forgotten to bring a hat and the sun was hot on my head so I purchased a straw hat for $25 pesos (about $2 US).  Even after we were aboard the barge we couldn’t escape the vendors.  They had their own boats and would simply pull up alongside.  We were a captive audience, somewhat reminiscent of how pirates would pull up alongside another ship in order to board it. 

The vendors’ boats were “stationed” up and down the canal.  It seemed like they each had their own little area, or territory, staked out and they were laying in wait to intercept you.  They would hold onto your boat and show you what they had for sale.  Once they reached their territorial limit they would drop off and go back to the next boat.  Then, of course, another vendor would pull alongside and repeat the process. 

There were boats with musicians (Mariachi bands and xylophone players mostly) that would entertain you (for a fee, of course).  Other boats sold beer, rugs, food, trinkets, candy apples, souvenirs, and other items.

Around the halfway point we discovered that a vendor was actually on the boat with us!  One of the boatmen brought out his sales case and tried to sell us jewelry.  There were also a few vendors who just stepped across to our boat from passing boats.

The bus ride back took over two hours because of the traffic so it was almost dark by the time we returned to our rigs.  The first thing I did was check on the touch up painting.  The painter had done a very good job.  Especially for $360!  I hope he comes by for his money before we leave for Guanajuato in the morning.  If not, I suppose I could leave it with Nina, the park owner, since she is the one who recruited him for the job.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Feb 19

This morning we met our guide, Kim Goldsmith, Ph.D., Field and Lab Director at New World Archaeological Foundation.  Her specialty is on-site clay figurines and she works as an archaeologist in the Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone.  Her husband, Alejandro Sarabia, is Site Director at Teotihuacán.  We car pooled the 2 miles from the RV park to the Teotihuacán site where Kim gave us a very interesting history of the ancient city of Teotihuacán and its inhabitants. 

It was a very large city that covered over 12 square miles and had a population of 200,000 inhabitants.  The Olmecs planned the city from the start.  The site was stripped bare of vegetation and leveled with a very slight downward slant to facilitate drainage.  And you must remember that these people had no metal tools or beasts of burden.  It was all done by hand.

Once the site was prepared an underground system of water drainage and supply was constructed before any buildings were constructed.  The entire area was then covered with cement, which was almost the same as modern day cement except that the Olmecs used volcanic pebbles in theirs.  Then large houses were constructed of stone and wood.  One house for each extended family, each of which may have included up to 100 people.  All of the houses for the “common people” were identical in shape, layout, size, number of rooms, and wall murals.  The priests and rulers may have had grander houses that were located close to the pyramids and temples.  At its zenith, about 500 AD, the city had a larger population than that of Rome.  Only the foundations of the houses remain except for one house that still has some intact walls with portions of the original wall murals remaining.

The two grandest structures are the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon.  Construction of the Pyramid of the Sun began a little after 100 BC, coinciding with the building of Rome’s great monuments.  The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, the two largest being the Great Pyramid of Cholula (which we recently visited) and the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.  The Pyramid of the Sun measures 722 feet per side at the base and is 213 feet high.  The Pyramid of the Moon is not as high as the Pyramid of the Sun but because it was built on higher ground, its top is at the same elevation as that of the Pyramid of the Sun.

It is thought to have taken 400 years to complete the construction of the Pyramid of the Sun.  I can't begin to imagine the dedication and work ethic of these people who planned a city and stuck with the plan for over 400 years to complete the city.  What makes this even more amazing is the fact that their average life span was only about 35 years.

It is not known why the city was abandoned (sometime around 700 AD) but the abandonment probably occurred gradually over a 250-year period.  The city's decline began after its zenith (500 AD) when the Toltecs began to rise in power and took over the city.  When the Aztecs finally came to power the city was already falling into ruin, yet most people associate the city with the Aztecs.

Several of our group climbed one or both pyramids.  I did not climb either pyramid but I do know that Barry climbed the Pyramid of the Sun as I wished him luck when he started.  I later spoke with him by walkie-talkie when he was almost to the top.  I took a picture but I really can’t tell which of the little ant-like dots is Barry.

A bus tour of Mexico City is scheduled for tomorrow but I’m not sure whether or not I will go.  I have been to Mexico City and it is huge (world’s second largest city) and the traffic is a madhouse.  There will not be enough time to stop any where long enough to see any of the museums.  I also need to be here to check on the motorhomes paint job and pay the painter when he finishes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Banditos in Uniform

Feb 17 - 18
(Posted at Teotihuacán on Feb 18)

There isn’t much to say about Friday and to be honest I’m feeling a little down right now (tell you why later in this post).  We went on a day-long bus tour in an open-air, double-decker “trolley” with hard plastic seats that were molded to look like wood-grain.  The tour included a walk through more ancient ruins (they are all beginning to look alike), the most notable portion of the ruins was a huge pyramid on top of which the Spanish had built yet another church.  If you are really interested in knowing more about the pyramid just Google “Cholula pyramid” and you will find all kinds of information about it.  After the pyramid and the church we went to a Talavera Pottery factory to see how it is made.  It was very pretty pottery but expensive as hell.  Butch advised us to wait and look for it in the shops in Puebla where it would be much less expensive.

After the pottery factory we were taken on a bus tour of the old colonial city of PueblaPuebla is really a very “comfortable” city and most of the colonial buildings are well maintained.  The architecture is both interesting and somewhat complex.  A lot of colored tile is used in various geometric designs on the buildings. 

Carol Ann and I sat on the open top deck in the front row of the bus so I could take photos.  There were a few times when we had to duck because of low hanging wires that were strung across the streets.  There was often a tangled nest of wires and even a few loose ends left hanging where the wires connected to the utility poles.

The bus dropped us off at the city’s central plaza, a large square-shaped park with giant shade trees, flowers, and beautifully manicured lawns in between the walkways.  In the center of the plaza, to which all of the walkways led, was a large water fountain that was in the middle of a large stone patio.  There were other fountains located around the periphery of the park.  These shot streams of water straight up into the air from ground level.  At first I thought a water main had burst because there was so much water coming out of the ground.

We had lunch at another VIP’s.  This one was much larger than the one we had supper in Thursday night.  The theme of the restaurant was the Paris Metro and the structure included a lot of steel beams, Victorian globe-shaped lighting fixtures, and colored glass windows.  The food was excellent.

After lunch, Carol Ann went with a small group to do some shopping while I wore off some calories and a lot of shoe leather (figure of speech, it was actually “shoe rubber”) looking for photo ops, of which there were many.

At 4:00 PM we met back at the bus for the return trip to the Las Americas RV Park.  While we were gone an auto-body painter had come out with his compressor and painting stuff and touched-up the dings on both Jim and Kathy’s and Bruce and Karen’s motorhomes.  He used a computer to match the paint and did an excellent job.  It is much cheaper to have it done here than to pay the $500 deductible back home.

The drive to Teotihuacán this morning was an easy one, only about 80 miles and mostly on a brand new toll road (Highway 40D).  The tolls were kind of high but well worth it based on our experiences so far on the non-toll roads.  The last few miles were a little bad with broken pavement and potholes but we survived.  All in all the drive was short and relatively comfortable. 

Everyone except for Bob and Billie had decided to stick with the caravan because the directions to the RV park were somewhat confusing.  Bob and Billie left about a half hour or so before the caravan but they joined up with us later after making a wrong turn at one of the confusing intersections!

At one point on the toll road the Federal Police had set up a road block/check point and directed all 18 RVs to pull over.  An officer informed Butch and Kathy that towing vehicles was not allowed on the highway without a special permit and everyone who was towing would have to unhitch and drive the towed vehicle separately!  That was totally unbelievable and unacceptable. We suspected he was looking for a bribe.

Butch and Kathy argued with the officer and then invited him into their coach to see their “paperwork.”  Instead of permits, Butch got out a blank complaint form (provided by the Mexican Department of Tourism) and began filling it out.  He asked for, and received, the officer’s name, badge number, and car number.  When the officer saw what Butch was doing he immediately backed down and said that he only wanted to see our passports and visas.  Butch and Kathy showed him theirs but the officer only glanced at them before saying that everything was OK and we could be on our way.  He even offered to give us a police escort to our destination, which Butch and Kathy declined.

As you know, if you have been keeping up with this blog, we experienced real Mexican banditos at the beginning of our trip last month.  They had guns, stopped us, and demanded payment.  Now, as we near the end of our trip it’s deja-vu all over again, armed bandits wanting money, except this time wearing a uniform.  You can bet your bottom peso that the Mexican government is going to hear about this abuse of power.

Now comes the part that got me “down”.  As usual, the Teotihuacán RV Park is anything but “big rig friendly” and I added two more dings to my collection while parking.  I was backing into a tight space with the front wheels cut sharply when the front end of the motorhome “brushed” against a big piece of concrete (painted green, same color as the grass) that housed the water and electrical connections.  Then to make matters worse, once I got straightened out, I backed into another one and bent the tow bar and the chrome exhaust extension on the rear of the motorhome.  I am beginning to feel as though I am driving a bumper car at a carnival.

Since tomorrow is Sunday I’ll wait to see about getting an estimate on touching up the motorhome’s dings and scratches when we get to Guanajuato.  I have comprehensive insurance but if I have to make a separate claim and pay the $500 deductible for each incident it will be much cheaper to have it all done at one time and pay for the work out of pocket.  The Mexicans are really pretty good at this kind of work and the prices are unbelievably low.

I have finally come to the costly conclusion that a 40-foot motorhome is far from ideal for travel in Mexico.  I told Carol Ann that once we are back in the US, we aren’t going any place unless it is located on an Interstate Highway and is “Big Rig Friendly”!

Tomorrow we see more ruins.  The Aztec city of Teotihuacán.  Our tour guide will be an American with a Ph.D. who has been working as an archeologist/anthropologist in Mexico for over 20 years.  That should make the day very interesting.  Now, it’s time for Margaritas.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More Scrapes and Bruises

Cholula, Puebla
Feb 16

We decided to leave with Pat and Barry ahead of the main group this morning and headed out at about 6:30 AM.  We had about 225 miles to drive but almost all of it was on very good toll roads.  Expensive but well worth it.  We arrived at the Las Americas Trailer Park in Cholula about 11:30 AM.  We ate lunch and took a nap before the rest of the group arrived around 2:00 PM.

The trip, however, was not trouble-free.  Somewhere along the way something hit one of the brackets for the awning that covers the bedroom slide-out when extended.  I discovered it after we arrived and tried to extend the slide.  Butch got on a ladder and Randy got on the roof (I handed them tools) and they removed the awning so the slide would extend completely.  I have also collected more scratches on the motorhome, which is going to require some touch-up paint after we return to Nacogdoches.

Carol Ann also has a few more bruises to show for the trip.  She was bringing me a cup of coffee this morning after we left Oaxaca and I had to apply the brakes.  She ended up with her rear end between the steps and the door, her legs up in the air, and coffee all over both her and the dash.  She also managed to pull two pieces of wooden molding from a slide-out corner. 

Jim and Cathy managed to put a ding in their motorhome while maneuvering in the Las Americas Trailer Park this morning.  Tomorrow Carol Ann is going to ask for a show of hands from those in the group who have had no problems on this trip.  We don’t expect any hands to go up.

This RV park has seen better days.  There are three separate parking areas, divided by concrete walls.  We are parked in the part that is to the right of the entry.  Grass and cobblestones make up the surface.  The other two areas are grass and dirt.  The pool is empty except for some brownish rainwater in the bottom.  The pool house is a wreck and the pool bathrooms are worse than horrible.  There is a clubhouse that can’t be used at night because the lights don’t work.  Wi-Fi is available in a corner of the clubhouse but I haven’t tried it now that I have my cellular modem.

Cholula is at an elevation of 7,100 feet and it is much cooler here.  Snow capped mountains can be seen around us, including the tallest peak in Mexico at a little over 19,000 feet.  There is also an active volcano very near Cholula.  As we were driving in today we could see white smoke or steam rising out of it.  It will be just our luck for it to erupt before we leave town!

A large group of us ate supper tonight at a VIPs restaurant (a Mexican chain) only a couple of blocks from here.  The restaurant is very nice and clean, the food was excellent, and my VISA card worked!

Tomorrow we go on a double-decker bus tour of the city, the Cholula ruins, and the Pyramid of Tepanampa.  The pyramid is billed as the largest pyramid, by volume, in the world.  Archeologists have dug over 5 miles of tunnels (which are open to the public) in their exploration of the pyramid.  If I don’t get lost in the tunnels I’ll let you know more about it tomorrow.