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, January 30, 2012

Chichen Itza Sound & Light Show

(Posted Jan 30, Piste)

It was dusk when we presented our tickets and walked through the turnstile and along the wide tree-lined hard-packed dirt walkway to the outdoor seating area at Chichen Itza.  As I exited the walkway onto the large grassy plaza I was momentarily surprised to see the large pyramid to my right, perhaps a hundred yards away.  I suppose you could use the cliché, “awe inspiring,” but really mean it.  We walked to the plastic chairs set up in long rows, perhaps 200 yards opposite the north side of the pyramid.  It was becoming darker but the few clouds in the sky were still visible.  The pyramid was lit with multicolored floodlights and its features were still easily identified in the semi-darkness.  We were given headsets that would allow us to hear an English translation of the show.  The headsets were accompanied by stern warnings not to touch the black knob or we could end up listening in French or German instead of English.  The yellow knob we could touch.  It was the volume control.

While we waited in our front row center seats under portable lighting, the Maya story began playing in our headsets.  The show had not yet begun.  I suppose that the purpose of this “preview” was to allow us to familiarize ourselves with the yellow knob and maybe to see how many of us would touch the forbidden black knob and have to ask the attendant for forgiveness and beg to have it changed back to the English translation. 

Meanwhile, there were a lot of people coming in and filling the chairs.  Somewhat surprisingly, many of these people were teenagers who would take turns standing in front of us (taking advantage of the portable light source) in order to have their friends or family take their pictures with the lighted pyramid in the background.  There was a teenage girl who posed in every imaginable position while her girl friend snapped away.  A rather large teenage boy came to the front and took his place in front of us.  He stood as still as a statue, with a frozen expression, for several minutes.  I began to wonder if his friend was having camera trouble or taking hundreds of exposures.  I finally realized that the friend was shooting a video, even though there was no movement at all for those several minutes.

At the appointed time, the headphones went silent and all of the lights were turned off.  We sat in total darkness for perhaps 15 to 30 seconds.  During this period of absolute blackness I just happened to lean my head back and look straight up.  What I saw took my breath.  That portion of a minute was more beautiful than anything the light show was to offer.  The sky was crystal clear and against the black background of the universe it seemed as if I could see every star and planet in the heavens.  My immediate thought was that this was part of the show and that somehow the bright and shining stars and planets were being projected into the dark night.  But it was no such thing.  With no cities within miles of this place there was very little or no light pollution and I was really seeing the heavens, as had the Mayans a thousand years earlier.  They were noted astronomers and through their observations of the skies they understood time and developed very accurate calendars and a system of dates, which allowed them to predict the occurrences of the summer, winter, spring, and fall solstices.  I was almost sorry when the sound and light show began and brought me back to the present.  Then I noticed that the English recording began where it had been stopped when all the lights went out.  When the recording finished, 10 or 15 minutes later, it started over from the beginning and went all the way through to the end again.  I guess we got our money’s worth.

Tomorrow we would be coming back at 8AM for a guided tour before the expected thousands of tourists would arrive in fleets of buses from Cancun.

An Editorial (Jan 29)

(Posted Jan 30, Piste)

I have become acutely aware of two things that seem to function much better in Mexico than do their counterparts in the US.  One is the way in which automobile accidents are handled and the other is the way in which the petroleum industry is handled.  Let’s start with automobile accidents.

When one is involved in an automobile accident in Mexico, the police respond as quickly as they do in the US.  However, unlike in the US, the matters involving insurance are handled very fast.  The involved parties immediately call their respective insurance companies who send an adjuster directly to the scene of the accident.  The adjusters arrive very soon after the telephone call is made.  Undoubtedly, there are a lot of independent adjusters operating in Mexico. The involved vehicles may not be moved out of the roadway before the adjuster arrives unless ordered by the police.  

Once the adjusters arrive, they ask each party for their version of what happened, fill out forms, take a lot of photos of the damage, talk to the police, and then the two (if different insurance companies are involved) adjusters put their heads together and decide which party is at fault and which insurance company is responsible for the costs.  The at-fault party is normally required to pay the insurance deductible amount for the “innocent” party.  “Your” adjuster even determines the shop to which your vehicle should be taken (driven or towed) and negotiates with the shop for the repairs.  It’s all over (except for the actual repairs) within an hour or two, maybe even less.  It doesn’t matter what day of the week or what time of day the accident occurs. 

In the US, the police respond to the accident, interview the involved parties, fill out forms, and issue a citation to the at-fault party.   You may not notify your insurance company for hours, usually not until you are back home.  Maybe not until the next day.  The insurance company will then arrange for an adjuster to contact you by phone.  The adjuster may not do so for a couple of days, depending upon how busy he is.  He will then make an appointment at a convenient time to inspect your vehicle.  He will probably do the same with the other party.  You may even be required to obtain a copy of the accident report from the police, which is not usually available for at least 24-hours, perhaps longer in some jurisdictions. In other words, it can take days for the matter to be settled in the US.  As to the repairs, it will be up to you to find a shop in the US to handle the repairs and they may require you to pay something up front unless they have arrangements with the insurance company.

The second thing that the Mexicans do better than the US is how they handle the petroleum industry.  Simply put, they own it.  There is only one company, Pemex. Fuel is only sold at Pemex stations, which are everywhere.  Most are new, all are very clean.  Best of all, the prices are the same all over.  About one dollar (US) per gallon cheaper than in the US.  No one seems to be complaining about the government control of the petroleum industry. 

Most Pemex stations are big and have easy access.  Most have separate diesel pumps and convenience stores located with many of the stations.  There is no self-service.  A uniformed attendant pumps the fuel and, unless you are in a semi or motorhome, will usually clean your windshield.  I even saw an attendant washing a customer’s tires at one station.

I suppose that insurance procedures could some day change in the US.  But I will not live to see such a change in the petroleum industry.  Our government will never own the petroleum industry as in Mexico.  Unfortunately, our government is owned by the petroleum industry and a reversal of roles is not likely to occur, ever.

Uxmal Ruins (Jan 26)

(Posted Jan 30, Piste)

From our really great campsite in Campeche to the ruins of Uxmal, an ancient Mayan city, was 109 miles.  We arrived at our destination about lunchtime.  Time for a quick bite and a brief look around before we were to make a tour via carpool of the area around UxmalUxmal is out in the Mexican sticks.  There is no town.  Just the ruins and a few hotels.  We parked for the night in a hotel parking lot so there was no power, water, or sewer but we were within easy walking distance to the ruins next door.

We formed up our caravan, this time with cars and trucks, and headed out to a nearby, yet very much off the beaten tourist path, village which had an old church with a small museum.  Admission to the museum was posted on a hand-painted sign that was on the wall next to the entrance. The price of admission posted was:

Mexicanos                   $5.00 (pesos)
Extranjeros                 $10.00 (pesos)
Baños                          $3.00 (pesos)

Since we weren’t Mexican we must have been Extranjeros because about 35 of us paid $10.00 (pesos) each.  A big boost to the local economy! I don’t know if anyone used the baños or not.  However, I’m willing to bet that we helped the church make its annual budget.

Of course, every village in Mexico has a church but this one was special. Several graves had been discovered under the floor of the church.  They were not Mayan graves.  In these graves were small coffins made of rough wood that contained the not-to-pleasant-to-look-at mummified remains of infants and small children, which were on display behind glass.  I’m not sure when these children were buried or when they were discovered (maybe 100 – 200 years ago?).  Nor did I have any idea why they were on display. Nothing was in English. There was nothing else very remarkable other than a wooden phallus in one display case. It seemed quite small.  Normally, if someone is going to make one, they tend to exaggerate the size, not reduce it!  We did not linger long in this “museum” but quickly returned to our vehicles and proceeded to the next village.

This town must have been the world center for the production of brightly painted and tacky clay frogs, birds, and flamingos.  The small town’s streets with shops selling these “ceramic” figures.   Interspersed along the line of shops were the “factories” (usually one open-air room) that mass-produced these tacky “garden-gnome” products from molds.  Nothing was hand-sculpted, that was for certain.

Barbara found an old, rusty, probably antique sewing machine sitting on a dirt floor in the rear of the shop.  She picked it up and took it to the cash register but the shop owner wouldn’t sell it to her because it had belonged to his mother.

After spending more time here than necessary we headed back to our RV’s for naps before dinner and that evening’s Light & Sound Show at the Uxmal ruins.

We ate dinner in the restaurant located in the ruins’ visitors' center.  The special was soup, entrée, dessert, and coffee for $8 (US), about $50 (pesos).  The lime soup was delicious, so was the flan we had for dessert.  I don’t even remember what my entrée was so it must not have been great.

The walk from the restaurant to our seats for the show was not a short one and there were a lot of steps and uneven surfaces which had to be navigated.  It had rained earlier that afternoon and the chairs were wet but it was either wet chairs or wet rocks so we sat in the chairs.  The light show was nothing spectacular.  No lasers or anything like that.  Just flood lights that changed colors.  The headphones I was given for the English-language narration worked poorly at first, then quit working entirely about half-way through the program. I was able to hear the story of the rain god, Chak, before the headphones died. 

Lightning began flashing across the dark sky and I couldn’t help but wonder if it had anything to do with the show’s incantations and pleas for rain.  It was kind of eerie.  When the show was over we headed back to our RV’s as quickly as we could just in case Chak decided to make it rain.

Campeche (Jan 23 - 25)

(Posted Jan 30, Piste)

Club Nautico RV Park was 109 miles further down the coast.  The weather was definitely a lot warmer and there was a fantastic pool available to us.  There was also a great beach right there in front of the pool.  Everything was first class.  We even had good 50-amp electric service as opposed to the unusable 15- and 30-amp services we had experienced at most of the previous RV parks.  The only thing missing was Wi-Fi!  However, we did find a coffee shop in town with free Wi-Fi from which I was able to make a post to the blog.

For a couple of days prior to our arrival in Campeche I experienced some trouble starting the motorhome’s engine and had to use the auxiliary start switch (to use the house batteries as opposed to the chassis batteries).  I had also noticed that the chassis batteries were not charging properly.  They were the original chassis batteries, about five years old and probably due for replacement.  I had already replaced the four house batteries last year.

The Green Angels said “no problem”.  They would remove the chassis batteries and take them into town to find replacements.  As they began removing the two batteries we noticed that both of them were badly cracked and seemed ready to burst open at any moment.  I can only assume this was caused by the many bone-jarring topes we had crossed.  I was somewhat anxious to see what kind of new batteries that the Green Angels would find for me.  To my relief, they turned out to be exactly the same as the originals, AC DELCO from the local Autozone, with a guarantee that will be good in the US if needed.  Cost was about $120 (US) per battery.

Isla Aguada (Jan 21 - 22)

(Posted Jan 30, Piste)

This was a lengthy drive of 327 miles but at least the roads were beginning to improve.  Isla Aguada is an island that is reached by crossing a very long bridge.  It is a beautiful tropical paradise reminiscent of Gilligan’s Island except that Isla Aguada is not a set in a TV studio.  Perhaps the prettiest place we have stayed so far, it is a stereotypical tropical island complete with real palm trees and white sandy beaches.

Due to John’s unfortunate encounter with the tope, he missed the first night on Isla Aguada.  Several of us were standing on the beach when we saw him, followed by the Green Angels, coming across the long bridge to the island.

On the second night we enjoyed a hamburger cook-out under a large palapa overlooking the beach.  We cranked up our margarita machine and served frozen margaritas to everyone before dinner.

At most of the parks in which we have camped, the power was too bad to use safely (too many or too few volts).  It was no exception at Freedom Shores RV Park.  Nor was there Wi-Fi available as I had, once again, been led to believe.  Apparently it was just too much for Thelma (park owner) to maintain after her husband’s death last year.  I read an article from Truckcamper Magazine in which an ex-pat living in Mexico remarked that Wi-Fi in RV parks was more prevalent than in US RV parks.  I’m not sure what he was smoking when he said that but it is very far from the truth.  The lack of Wi-Fi has been a big disappointment to me on this trip.  The repeater works well when there is a signal within line-of-site, but there aren’t that many Wi-Fi signals around.

The French Un-Connection

(posted Jan 30, Piste)

When we arrived at the Tepetapan RV Park in Catemacho we learned that three RV’s in the park belonged to three French couples, two children, and an unknown number of dogs.  We were sandwiched between two of their three RV’s and the spaces were narrow.   Our motorhome being, so close to theirs and the fact that they never seemed to go inside their RV’s except to get another bottle of wine, we felt compelled to introduce ourselves so they would not consider us to be “ugly Americans”.  Their English was somewhat limited and our French somewhat nonexistent once we got by oui, si’l vous plait, and parle vous. 

The electricity in the park was outside the 120-volt +/- 5% margin allowed by our Electrical Management System (EMS) so we ran our diesel generator.  About 6 PM I was outside when one of our new French friends came up and asked if I would please turn off my “machine” as the "smoke" from it was making them sick.  Being the polite person that I am, I apologized and went inside, turned off the generator, and began sweating.  Without the generator we could not use our microwave oven, which meant we would have PB&J sandwiches for supper.  But that was alright because we did not wish to poison our neighbors with noxious gases.  All three of the couples, their children, their dogs and a dog they picked up in town to play with their dog were having a grand time communing with nature.  Now, tell me, what kind of people pick up some stray dog in the middle of town and take it to the RV park to play with their dog?  These were strange people who were eating, drinking (mostly drinking), and being very obnoxious (just as has been rumored that the French can be).  They were sitting around their outside table that was located right under our bedroom window, which was open because we could not run our air conditioner for fear of upsetting these same neighbors. 

We had to get up very early the next morning because we had a long distance to drive.  We got in bed about 9PM in order to get a good night’s sleep and be fresh for the long drive.  Our French friends didn’t begin eating until about the time we went to bed.  Their children were running around squealing like pigs, their dog and the stray were barking non-stop, and the adults were laughing and talking loudly.  Of course that is generally how anyone would talk and laugh after consuming god-only-knows how much French wine. 

They were not only bothering Carol Ann and me, but also other RV’ers in the park.  They were asked several times to please tone it down.  They would be quiet for a few minutes but then the alcohol would erase any memory of the requests and the volume would go back up.  I really wanted to, and really wish that I had, turn my generator back on and hope to drive them all inside.  However, that is not how my momma raised me.  When I finally managed to fall asleep, sometime a little after midnight, they were still going strong.

I hope we were able to get a little bit even with them when we cranked our generators before sunrise in order to make our coffee in preparation for our early departure.  I also hope they were all laying in bed with hangovers, especially when we cranked the diesel engines and let them fast-idle until warm, which took about three times as it normally did that morning. 

Catemacho (Jan 19 - 20)

(Posted Jan 30, Piste)

It was only 94 miles to our next overnight stop.  Tepetapan RV Park in Catemaco, which is located on the Isla Aguada (an island).  We were still not very far into the trip and John had some bad luck.  John “claims” that the sun blinded him momentarily and caused him not to see the humongous tope that he hit at 30 mph!  Needless to say, it shook both him and his coach up pretty good.  Most of his cabinets flew open and, as John described it, the contents just exploded from the cabinets.  The lighting fixtures were jarred so badly that they fell from the ceilings.  He managed to limp to the next Pemex station where the rest of us were waiting.  Once again the Green Angels came to the rescue.  I can’t say enough about them.  They have been so helpful.  They managed to locate a mechanic who came out and took a look at the coach.  Both rear shocks were broken and the tow-bar for his jeep was bent.  The mechanic said it would have to be taken to his shop.  The way John described it; the shop left a lot to be desired.  John had to back down a steep hill from the street and park the motorhome over a large hole in the ground.  The mechanic waited in the hole so that he could stand under the motorhome while working.  I suppose it was his version of a “grease pit”.  After parking over the hole, John had to join him in the hole in order to identify some of the parts and their functions.  After all, most Mexican mechanics have never worked on an RV.  Eventually some shocks where found that fit and were installed.  The ride-height was “sort of” adjusted and a friend of the mechanic straightened the tow-bar.  This required John to remain overnight.  The Green Angels stayed with him and they all managed to rejoin us at Isla Aguada before noon the next day.

The town of Catemaco is situated on Lake Catemaco in the state of Veracruz.  The lake water is brackish, which may make it more of a lagoon than a lake.  Whether a lake or a lagoon, however, it is a very picturesque body of water.  There are small islands in it, virgin jungle along part of it with mountains in the background.  The water wasn’t very pretty up close.  It was a dirty-brownish color. Of course, the Suwannee River in Florida has water as black as the Ace of Spades but is not necessarily dirty.  The color is from tannins that leach out of dead cypress trees.  Maybe Lake Catemaco is brown from something dead in it!

We hired three boats with “Captains”, each boat about 24-feet long with an outboard motor.  There were about ten or twelve plastic seats along each side with a walkway down the middle of the boat.  There was also a canopy to help shield us from the sun.  We were taken on a two-hour tour of what was probably a relatively small portion of the lake (I believe the “Captain” said there were 52 km of shoreline).  We saw a lot of birds such as egrets, kingfishers, pelicans, large black birds, a funny-looking bird that walked around on the lily pads, and a hawk.  We also cruised (do you really “cruise” in a rather small converted fishing boat?) along the shorelines of two small islands that were inhabited with two or three kinds of monkeys.  On one of the islands the monkeys were all from Thailand and were left over from some kind of research we were told.  I asked if the research had been conducted by a Dr. Moreau and was assured that this was not the case.  We tossed bananas to them and they would gesticulate wildly in an effort to gain our attention in hopes that the next banana would be thrown their way.

Our boat was trailing behind the other two boats on the return leg and we were enjoying a beautiful sunset when all of a sudden the motor coughed a couple of times and died.  The “Captain” picked up the gasoline tank, shook it, and shrugged his shoulders.  This is Spanish for “we are up shit creek without a paddle.”  At first I thought he was making a joke or planning on passing the tip jar to see how badly we wanted to return to the dock.  By the time we realized that the man was not joking the other two boats were quite some distance from us.  As luck would have it, Betty had a walkie-talkie with her and was able to contact Tom (Tail Gunner) on one of the other boats, which turned around and came to our rescue by towing us back to the dock.

Located right on the dock was a wonderful restaurant in which we had dinner and some good conversation.  After dinner it was back to the RV park to prepare for the next day’s leg of the tour.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Special Edition!

January 28
Merida, Yucatan
(Sanborns Restaurant)

Let’s fast-forward to yesterday, Friday, January 27.  I’ll catch you up on Catemaco, Isla Aguada, Campeche, and Uxmal later.  WiFi is harder to find down here than I was led to believe.

We left Uxmal yesterday morning for a very short drive of about 27 miles in route to the Hacienda Yaxcopoil.  This stop is not on the original itinerary, however the two nights scheduled for the Rainbow RV Park in Merida has been changed to one day.

The Hacienda (landed property) is located in the village of Yaxcopoil in the state of Yucatan.  Prior to the Mexican Revolution, this estate included about 22,000 acres of land that served as both a large cattle ranch and as a henequen (sisal) plantation.  Sisal, used to make rope, was a huge export at one time.  After the Mexican Revolution the Hacienda’s property was appropriated by the government and distributed among the people, reducing it to only about 3% of its former size.  The Hacienda has been in the current owner’s family since purchased by Don Donaciano Garcia Rejon in 1864.

The Hacienda is now operated as a parador (country inn) and museum.  It consists of the main building (casa principal), with spacious corridors, high ceilings, and original European furniture, and is surrounded by beautiful (and peaceful) gardens. There are two long water troughs for watering horses, one on each side of the wide front steps that lead up to the Hacienda’s front porch.  There is a large front yard with a huge shade tree located right in the middle of it.  This is where we parked the RV’s and camped overnight.

Now for the bad part.  Entry from the road to the yard was through a gate in the wall surrounding the Hacienda.  The gate was wide enough but required a little jockeying because the narrow road did not allow for a very wide turn in the motorhome.  I was about half-way through the gate with a couple of feet to spare on each side when suddenly the left-rear wheel dropped into a dip (it wasn’t really a hole), causing the coach to tilt (possibly better described as a “lurch”) over to the left just enough to come into contact with the concrete gate post.  I managed to scrape paint from an area about two feet long by six or eight inches wide on the left side of the coach.   Needless to say, it made me sick at my stomach.  Since I was one of the last coaches to enter the courtyard, many of my fellow travelers were watching and witnessed the whole thing.  But this is a great bunch of people and no one laughed or made any disparaging remarks (at least not to my face!).  In fact, everyone was very supportive and kind in their attempts to boost my deflated ego and spirit.

By the time we were all settled in our camp sites we still had about 3 hours before the owner toured us through the Hacienda and served us a very excellent dinner on the patio.  I decided that the best way to use the time before dinner was to forget about the close-encounter with the concrete gatepost and take a nap, which I did.  

The dinner outside on the patio was setup buffett-style.  Everything was home-made and excellent.  I would tell you what we had but I have no clue.  I can tell you that among the many dishes were two kinds of tamales, some mushed-up black beans, toastatas (I think), and for desert, some kind of candied squash.  All very good, which, along with the Mexican beer, helped me feel much better about what I had done to the motorhome.  I was also assured that I could have the paint repaired as good as new here in Mexico for a fraction of what it would cost in the US.  I’ll have to think a little about that.

Unfortunately, the next day things went from bad to worse.  It’s as though we have been cursed.  The drive from the Hacienda was another very short drive of around 25 miles so we elected not to tow the car behind the motorhome.  It’s a hassle to hook and un-hook.  Instead, Carol Ann drove the car and followed the motorhome and me to the Rainbow RV Park in Merida.  Only a couple of miles from our destination, Carol Ann was involved in an accident while driving through a round-a-bout (glorietta).  Another car exited the round-a-bout by crossing in front of her, but not quick enough to keep her from colliding with the other car’s side.  Fortunately, there were no injuries other than pride, but I was totally unaware of what had happened until I heard it announced on the walkie-talkie as I was lined up to enter the RV park.  There was nothing I could do until I could get inside and park the motorhome.  Once I did manage to park the motorhome, our Wagon Masters, Butch and Kathy, drove me back to the accident site.  The Tail Gunners, Tom and Kim, along with our Green Angel escort were with Carol Ann at the accident site.  By the time I arrived with Butch and Kathy, the man with whom Carol Ann had collided already had an insurance adjustor there with him.   A police officer was writing a report.  Butch called our insurance agent and within 30 minutes “our” adjustor arrived.  Everything was in Spanish with Butch and Kathy translating, but, cutting to the chase, the front-end of our car was in pretty bad shape, the tow-hitch was bent like a pretzel and a green liquid had leaked from somewhere under the hood.  The car was neither drivable nor could it be towed behind the motorhome. 

We left it in the care of the Green Angels and the insurance adjuster who was arranging to have it towed to the “nearest shop” (as stipulated in the insurance policy) for repair.  It will require 5 – 7 days (this is the weekend and it is Mexico, so that may be optimistic) in the shop.  We really had no choice but to have the repairs done locally.  The good thing is that we will be in the area for the next week; probably in Pamuul by the time the work is completed on the car.  Tom, our Tail Gunner, or David, one of our Green Angels will drive me back to retrieve the car.

Once we got back to the motorhome we elected to skip the bus tour of the City of Merida and allow our selves to unwind.  I didn’t think I was that traumatized from Carol Ann’s accident, but I must have been in pretty bad shape.  I paid $650 pesos (about $50 US) for a very colorful, large, mesh-net hanging chair from a vendor in the RV parking lot.

Later this afternoon, after I have regained my senses, I intend to walk over to the very large and modern mall located next-door to the RV park.  I have been told that free Wi-Fi is available there (I have heard that before only to be disappointed) and I hope to get this posted to the blog. 

When we get back to Texas we may have to consider both downsizing the motorhome and trading automobiles.  I’m pretty sure that once we do get home (about a month from now) that the motorhome and the car will both look as if they have been driven to hell and back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reply to an Anonymous Comment

 Jan 24, Campeche

I received the following anonymous comment via email.  It was not entered as a comment for all to see:

"I wonder - do you ever think what it's like for the rest of the people who have to drive the same roads? A caravan of 2 giant RV homes is an obstacle on a two lane road. A danger.

If you ever get cursed while dominating the road so that you and one other person can drag every thing you might want around the continent, maybe you'll get a clue as to why.

Extreme selfishness with a smile is still what it is."

My reply to this comment is as follows:

Dear Anonymous,

I could laugh at this comment and say something like, "It is obvious that you have never seen the way that the Mexicans drive if you think our RVs are a danger on the roads!".  But I don't want to make light of this comment.

I really don't  believe that you understand how we travel.  We are all very cognizant of the potential for 19 RVs to disrupt traffic.  However, we maintain enough separation to allow for easy passing.  We also ride with perhaps half or more of the RV on the shoulder of the road where it is wide enough.  Mexicans make three lanes out of a two-lane highway when they want to pass.  Whether on a hill or curve, they don't seem to care.  Any oncoming traffic will simply move to the shoulder and a passing lane is "created".  The first time this is seen can be a little unsettling but after a while you get used to it.  That is why we spend a lot of time riding on the shoulder.

I don't believe that we are "dominating the road" at all.  Nor have I been "cursed while dominating the road" (at least not that I am aware of).  On the contrary, the Mexican people are extremely polite and seem to be genuinely happy to see us.  I have yet to see any of them looking at me with anything other than a smile on their face.  They not only want us to come down here, they really need us to come down here. I very much doubt that the Mexicans would accuse us of "extreme selfishness".

You may not know this, but the Mexican economy depends heavily upon tourism, primarily Canadians and Americans, and the Mexican economy is currently suffering badly due to the drastic reduction in tourism caused by the over-hyped stories of violence in the US media.  Yes, there has been violence, but there is probably just as much in the US.  If two people are murdered in Phoenix while you are there would you immediately pack up and get out of town!  No, you probably would not give it a second thought.  Other than the novice bandits' unsuccessful attempt to shake us down, there has been nothing to suggest that there is any danger here for tourists.  They are so happy for us to come and spend our money that they actually seem to look out for us. [NOTE: I would later change my mind about the "over-hyped" stories of violence. We were unaware at the time, but it was extremely dangerous to drive where we did in Mexico.]

I welcome comments and I encourage you to post them for all to see.  Otherwise, I will simply include them in my posts and draw even greater attention to them.  Thank you for your input.

Anton Lizardo, Veracruz

 Jan 17 - 18
El Rey Beach Club
Anton Lizardo
( No WiFi available here so not posted until Jan 24 in Campeche)

The drive from Monte Gordo on the Costa Esmeralda to the El Rey Beach Club RV Park in Anton Lizardo (near the city of Veracruz) was only 123 miles but took us 5 hours and 45 minutes (a 2-hour drive almost any place in the US).   I now realize that the major determinant of driving time is not necessarily how strung-out nineteen RVs can get.  The greatest cause seems to be due to the deteriorating highways and the Mexican answer to stop- and caution-lights, the topeTopes can do serious damage to a motorhome.  They are speed bumps on steroids! 

The highways are full of potholes, broken pavement, and unfinished construction projects due to the government’s inability to properly maintain the highways, which is primarily due to the decrease in tourism over the last two or three years.  Driving these roads in a motorhome is hard on the RV and the driver.  The decibel levels of road noise, squeaks, rattles, and vibrations make it very difficult to hear and understand what is said on the radio.  Items thought to be well secured are easily tossed to the floor of the motorhome by the constant shaking and bouncing. 

Enough about the roads.  Let me tell you about the city of Veracruz, the RV park, and the village of Anton LizardoVeracruz is large and has some very nice (as in “US-like”) shopping and residential areas.  However, Veracruz is a very industrialized city with a large seaport. It is a major oil exporter.

We went on a bus tour of the city, which included a 16th century fortress, Bastion de Santiago.  One of the most fascinating things to me about this old place was the stonework.  In the stone could be seen the fossils of coral in many interesting shapes and patterns.  People probably thought I was nuts when they saw me standing a couple of feet from a stone wall and taking photos of it. 

After the fortress tour we went to the Paroquia Coffee House, which enjoys some renown as having been in the original location for 200 years (correct me if I have the wrong number of years).  I had a lechero grande, which was a shot or two of espresso and hot milk.  It was very good! 

We still had a little time to kill before the bus was to come back for us so I walked around the city for about an hour taking photos.  It was hot and we still had a little time until the bus came so a lot of us visited an ice cream shop.  On the bus ride back to the RV park we stopped at Wal-Mart (there are quite a few in Mexico, also Sam’s Clubs).  Except for the language and some of the items for sale it was almost like being in a US Wal-Mart.

Mexico seems to be a nation of salespeople.  Almost anywhere you look there are street vendors.  They sell anything imaginable.  And some things you would never imagine.  In the Wal-Mart parking lot I saw a man selling windshield wipers!

The Costa Esmeralda

Jan 14 – 16
Neptuno RV Park
Monte Gordo
(Once again, no WiFi to be found.  This is being posted on Jan 24 from Campeche)

Our first morning on the Costa Esmeralda was a beautiful day and Barry and Pat, along with the Green Angels, made it in before 9AM that morning with all accident and insurance reports successfully completed.  I was disappointed to discover that our RV park (Neptuno RV Park) did NOT have Wi-Fi as we had been led to believe from Googling the place prior to leaving Texas.  It did have 15-amp (US parks normally offer 30- and 50-amp service) receptacles, sewer, and water (although not potable) at each site.  It was off-season so the pool was empty (which was OK because it was rainy and cool) and the restaurant was closed so we were unable to take advantage of the reported breakfast and dinner for about $5 (US) per person per day.  Nor did we ever see Lucas; the parrot that was said could be seen hanging out around the outside dining room.

We arranged for our motorhome and car to be washed by the sons of the RV park owner.  His wife would also wash, dry, press, and fold any laundry we had for $16 pesos per kilo, or about $0.55 US per pound. We would be charged $350 pesos for washing our 40-foot motorhome and $70 pesos for the car.  A total of $420 pesos, the equivalent of a little less than $32 US!  Most places in the US charge at least $2 US per foot to wash a motorhome.

A bus picked us up at 9AM for the short drive to the ruins of El Tajin, a Mayan city that is still being excavated.  El Tajin is noted for its “Pyramid of the Niches” because of the many niches included in the architecture.  There purpose is still unknown.  Why must they have a purpose?  Maybe the Mayans just liked the way they looked.

I skipped the guided tour, figuring that I could read all about the place later.  All I wanted to do was photograph everything there was to see and the place was so big I didn’t want to be held back by the tour.  The sun was out and it was quite humid, after all, we were on the edge of a rain forest.  Amazingly, there were no mosquitos or other pesky insects to make my life miserable (I am a “mosquito magnet” and if there are any within about a ten mile square area they will manage to find me).

Although soaked in sweat by the time I finished, I managed to take over 500 photos from many different angles, distances, and perspectives (since then I have eliminated about 200 of them but still have a lot of culling to do).   Unfortunately, climbing on the pyramids was not allowed.  However, I did find a hill at one end of the cleared area, next to the jungle, that overlooked the archeological site and allowed me to view almost the entire city.  It is amazing what human beings were able of constructing before the invention of the wheel or metal tools.  Millions of tons of stone had to be quarried, shaped, transported, and designs carved – all with only rocks and bones for tools.  At least the Egyptians had the wheel and metal tools when they built their pyramids and temples.

The Mayans were into human sacrifice in a big way.  At the top of the big pyramid/temple, the “sacrifice-to-be” would be held down on a stone altar by priests.  The head-honcho priest would then take a stone knife and rip the victim’s chest open and tear out the still-beating heart.  The priests would then smear the blood all over themselves and eat the heart.  The body would be tossed from the top of the pyramid and roll to the ground where minor priests would butcher and eat the body.  This was supposed to place them in favor with “the gods”.  The gods must not have appreciated the offerings or the Mayans would be a world power today!

They also played a ball game with a solid rubber ball.  The court was enclosed by a stonewall, perhaps 50 or so yards in length, but relatively narrow.  On the “50-yard-lines” of each side was a stone hoop that jutted from the wall several feet above the ground.  The object was to put the ball through the opposing team’s hoop and the ball could only be passed by hitting it with ones hip or thigh (not real sure about this).  Anyway, when the game was over, the winning team would be sacrificed to “the gods”, which was apparently a great honor.  I would assume that there was no such thing as a “winning streak” back then! 

On the way out of the ruins we took in the “Papantla Fliers,” composed of about a half-dozen brightly costumed Indians. They climbed a very tall pole, wound ropes around the top of it, and hung by their feet as the ropes unwound while they rotated around the pole, their circle becoming greater as they got closer to the ground.  The ceremony (dancing around the pole to the sound of a wooden whistle and drum) of climbing the pole and getting ready took a lot longer than the actual act of descending.  Apparently, the city and area around Papantla are noted for this feat and there are quite a few of these “Fliers”.  Kids in the area dress up like “Fliers”, do the ceremonial dance, and probably dream of someday hanging upside down while spinning around and down a pole.

We returned to the Neptuno RV Park to rest up for the next day’s activity, a little side-trip to San Rafael.  We would not take the optional San Fernando side-trip.  I had read about some of the places we would visit prior to leaving Texas and learned that, in Mexico, San Fernando was becoming known as “the murder capital of Mexico” and the highway running through the town was called “the murder highway”.  It has something to do with over 100 bound and blindfolded corpses being dumped in the highway about a year ago.

The next morning we car-pooled to the town of San Rafael, whose main industry seemed to be bananas as we saw many banana plantations on the drive.  Bananas hung in bunches, which were enclosed in plastic bags.  I assumed that this made it easier at harvest time or perhaps it was to deter birds or insects from feasting on them.  That is something I intend to learn. 

In San Rafael we shopped at a general merchandise store that had a little of everything.  Carol Ann and I bought some tequila (for Margaritas!), bread, canned cat food, pastries, insect repellant, and milk (the non-refrigerated, quart-sized cartons that are kept on the shelf at room temperature).  I remember when quite a few years ago this type of milk packaging was experimented with unsuccessfully in the US.

We stopped at a small independent cheese “factory” on the way back to the RV park.  They sold a variety of cheeses and pastries.  Carol Ann bought something that looked like a jellyroll but was filled with vanilla custard instead of jelly.  It was delicious!

Next on the itinerary and in the next post will be a 123-mile drive further south to the El Rey Beach Club RV Park, on the beach in Anton Lizardo, just a few miles south of the city of Veracruz.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Catching Up

This post should cover the last few days and get you caught up with us.

We left the Country Express Hotel parking lot at 7 AM on January 14 and headed for the Neptuno RV Park on the Costa Esmeraldo, state of Veracruz, which would be our first night on the Gulf of Mexico.  It was not a good day.  The rain started around noon and lasted the rest of the day.  It was 236 miles and took us almost 12 hours!  There were several reasons that contributed to the length of this leg of the trip.
One big reason is that 19 RV’s can really get strung out due to the “rubber-band” effect.  The leader drives 35 MPH and “Tail End Charlie” will sometimes have to drive in sprints of 60 – 65 MPH because some of the other drivers allow too much distance to come between themselves and the RV in front of them. 
Then there are the many small towns along the route.  The entry into, and drive through, these little towns is pure torture due to the many topes (pronounced “toe pays”) that must be crawled over in a motorhome to keep from tearing it to pieces.  Topes are speed bumps lacking any consistency in size.  Some are relatively small and others are larger than any I have ever seen in the US.  They may be spaced out so there are only 3 or 4 through the town.  Other times you might encounter topes in groups of 4 or 5, with only a couple of feet between each one.  Too add even more injury to misery; the roads are filled with potholes that must be avoided while simultaneously climbing your RV over the topes.  These are absolutely the worst roads I have ever had to drive on for any appreciable distance. 
When the lead RV completes the obstacle course and heads out of town, the last RV may be just entering the town and will be far behind by the time it finishes creeping through the town.  This requires the leader to slow down to about 15 MPH until everyone is once again in radio contact.  This exercise occurs many times a day due to the numerous small towns through which we drive.
There was also an accident involving one of the RVs (Barry and Pat) in our group. They were rear-ended by a car that was following too closely and unable stop fast enough.  The rest of the group pulled onto the shoulder and waited almost an hour until the decision to proceed was made by the leader.  The “Tail Gunner” (Tom and Kim, Fantasy Staff) stayed behind with Pat and Barry.  They had to file police reports and wait on an insurance adjuster to come and view the damage.  The local police told them to move the vehicles from the roadway so they drove them a couple of kilometers and parked in a Pemex station.  Once there, the state police arrived and threatened to impound the vehicles because they had been moved from the scene.  He told them that the local police were nothing, that he (the state policeman) was the “boss”.  They all went to the nearest state police office and waited for the adjusters (one for each insurance company involved) to show up.  In Mexico this must be done immediately after an accident, and apparently prior to moving the vehicles.  The adjustors showed up around 7 PM and it was all over by 10 PM with the state policeman deciding not to impound the vehicles.  Barry and Pat, along with Tom and Kim, spend the rest of the night in the Pemex parking lot and left at 6 AM the next day. 
Meanwhile, back at the caravan, we finally pull into a Pemex station about 6 miles from our destination.  It was necessary to do so in order for everyone to catch up and to un-hook our cars before arriving at the RV park.  When we finally got to the park it was raining and dark and everyone was tired and miserable.  It was about 7:30 in the evening once we were able to relax.  Not many went out to dinner that night.
The next day a big tour bus picked us up at the RV park and took us to the Mayan ruins of El Tajin.  That is where I will start the next post.

The Silence is Broken!

WiFi at last!!  This afternoon we arrived at Tepetapan RV Park in Catemaco, Veracruz, Mexico and were very happy to find working WiFi.  I just finished setting up the repeater and have a good signal. 

This short post is simply to let everyone know we are OK, as our last post was about the bandito road block.  I will catch everyone up on our trip as soon as I get it written (I have been a little lazy and with no WiFi had no incentive to write). 

More later.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bandits, 12 O’Clock High!

(This was written on Thursday, but no internet connection was available so not posted until Friday)

Everyone said we were crazy! Thought we were nuts for going to Mexico. Well, maybe we are. Imagine 19 RV’s (yes, I said 18 earlier, but it is actually 19) with at least 15 of them towing a car and the Green Angels bringing up the rear. 
The Green Angels is a fleet of tourist assistance pickup trucks with bilingual crews who are trained in mechanics and first aid. They patrol all federal and toll highways in Mexico and offer free assistance in the case of a breakdown, accident, or medical emergency. The Fantasy RV tour company had hired one of their trucks and crew to accompany our caravan for the entire trip.

There were probably about thee vehicle lengths between each RV. That would make the caravan at least three-fourths of a mile long from front to back. Carol Ann and I were in the next to last position and could not see the front of the caravan. Nor could we always hear their radio transmissions (Family Radio - similar to CB but FM) so we never seemed to know what was going on.  About two hours or so into Mexico I heard several broken transmissions that went something like this:

“… the road…..stopping…..want money……send Green Angels up front…..military on the way…..”. 

The caravan began slowing and eventually came to a stop.  We pulled onto the shoulder wondering why everyone was stopping.  Had there been an accident?  Was there a Military checkpoint?  Road construction?  Goat in the road?  After about fifteen minutes the caravan started moving again.  By being so far back in the line we never saw anything.  Not until we reached the RV Park in La Pesca several hours later did we learn what had happened.  Several men with automatic weapons had stepped out onto the highway and stopped the lead coach (Butch and Kathy, our Wagon Masters).  They demanded $2,000,000 pesos (about $140,000 US) or they would take their car.  For $140,000 they could have mine. Butch was able to talk them down to $2,000 pesos (about $140 US). They really must have been small time banditos or they would not have settled for such a small amount.

The second RV in line belonged to Gunther and Candice.  Gunther, originally from Germany, shouted at them in German and drove on through. That must have surprised them, or maybe they didn’t realize there were 19 of us.  Anyway, by the time we got to the “ambush site” there was nothing to see. About 15 minutes latter we met 3 or 4 truckloads of soldiers (our Green Angels had called them) racing towards the scene in an attempt to catch the bandits.  Candace had been cool enough to write down the license number of one of the ambusher’s trucks and this was passed on to the military. 

I was kind of disappointed to have missed all the excitement. I had wanted to be closer to the front all day long. Tomorrow I won’t have any problem being closer to the front because now everyone wants to be in the rear!

It was a long day but at least it ended without further mishap. However, because of the incident, the military and various police forces have been informed of our entire route and instructed to keep an eye out for us. I'll let you know if I can find out more details about what happened.

There were a lot of stops made during the day so it took us a little over 8 hours to travel 225 miles (our trip log said it would be 155 miles).  That’s an average speed of only 28 mph.  My trip computer showed the engine to be at idle speed for 21% of that time! 

We did arrive in La Pesca (Spanish for “fish”) in time to see a nice sunset before we went to dinner at a local seafood restaurant where they served shrimp about a dozen different ways.  No joke, there were at least four separate shrimp dishes, a fish appetizer (cerviche?) that was heavy on the lime and cilantro, a couple of other fish dishes, charro (bean) soup, chicken tamales, French fries, and tres leche cake.  Tomorrow, Tampico for a couple of days.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Confederate Air Force

This is our fourth day in Harlingen. Tomorrow we say goodbye and head to Mexico. I have to say that I am ready to go.  If it weren’t for the problems we’ve had on this trip, Harlingen would be a somewhat boring place. To Harlingen’s credit, and you may not know this, it was once home for the Confederate Air Force. You heard me right. The Confederate Air Force. Although not incorporated until 1961, it all began in 1957 with a group of ex-service pilots who purchased and restored a P-51 Mustang.

The CAF is no longer located in Harlingen.  It was moved to Midland, TX in the 90’s and in 2002 the name was changed to the more “politically correct”, Commemorative Air Force. The CAF is comprised of about 160 restored WWII–era aircraft. My personal favorite is the B-17 bomber. Out of 12,731 built, mostly from mid-1942 to mid-1945, there are only 15 of these Flying Fortresses still airworthy. Two of them, Sentimental Journey and Texas Raiders, are flown by the CAF.  I was able to go inside and look around one at an air show a couple of years or so ago. The next time you see an air show advertised in your area, check to see if one of the CAF planes will be there. You can actually take a ride in one for a small fee.

Of course we all know that there wasn’t really a Confederate Air Force during the “War of Northern Aggression”, but if there had been a Confederate Air Force back then, one thing I know for sure, people in Maine would be eating grits and whistling Dixie right now!