Subject: Travelogue I from Mexico Ed and Edith Gray
Buenas Noches from Mexico,
We are definitely having an adventure. There are so many things to write about I can't even scratch the surface so if you are interested in more when we get home a total daily travelogue will be posted on our website which will literally be pages and pages, day by day. I will send you an E Mail in April when it is posted. Also at www.triotel.net/~W0sd/retire you can find link to a map of our route and a daily description of our RV Caravan activities and locations. If you go to the site listed below there will be a place to type in an amateur radio call sign, type in W0SD it will show a map of where we are located. It will be very close unless I would make a mistake uploading our GPS location which occasionally I do. I will try and do this for each new campground we are in. Remember it is W (ZERO) not the letter O in w0sd. The link for our location is: Http://www.winlink.org/aprs/aprs.htm
Why do people go to Mexico? I am quite sure there are a number of you who have absolutely no desire but for some I suspect you are curious be afraid. I think that is why many fly to a resort destination and that is great and of course many have limited time so that is another reason. This is our second major trip to Mexico and to me the tropical vegetation with all the dazzling colors such as bright pink, orange, purple, lavender of the flowers, blossoms on bushes which last for months and also on trees which last a long time are absolutely beautiful. This color in many places seems to be every where you look. Second I think it is the laid back life style where people visit, sit on the porch and watch the world go by, sometimes the whole family and have time to visit with you. People are happy here; especially the children. Third the beautiful emerald and turquoise sea and wonderful beaches. There are a number here on the east coast and now the northeast coast and then at the Yucatan and of course the many Pacific coast beaches along western Mexico and the Baja. Third is the Zocola's,(town squares) celebrations, special Colonial and other architecture. Fourth I think is the ancient Indian and Mayan cultures and how advanced they were in many ways and in other ways how primitive and the structures, pictures and artifacts they left behind. Fifth it still is an adventure to see Mexico. I will guarantee you it really is not dangerous, we are safer here than most places in the USA. One does have to be careful on the narrow roads but I have driven just as dangerous in the USA the difference being in the USA you have other alternatives for roads but here sometimes the only road is narrow and no shoulders with a big drop off so you do have to be alert when driving. Buses are a great alternative and decent hotels are cheap but I think it would be tricky with the bus unless you knew some Spanish but with ingenuity it is amazing what maps and sign language can accomplish.
BTW nearly every medium to large and many small towns have Internet Cafes and the price is about $1 per hour I gather there has been a very bad recent virus going around. I hope it has not filled my other e-mail address as I have not checked it since leaving so will have to try one of these days.
For us things have been going very, very well! Radio E-mail has worked the best of any trip yet, the Caravan people are great and the fellow travelers are great. Our rig is doing fine, we had a black water tank that acted full twice when we knew it was not close to full but we worked things loose with a coat hanger arrangement. We now have a "SEWER SNAKE" added to our travel tool list. We are going to change out a tail light on the 5th tomorrow as we have been fighting it for months. I carry a couple of extra with us. We blew out a fan fuse but probably from vibration as there does not seem to be an electrical problem. We have got separated from the group with a couple of others twice and on one of these somehow I caught the railing on the top of the roof and ripped about the front 3 foot off. I just caulked where the bracket was ripped out of the roof. The big tires and heavy duty springs are really working out great. Now the others have had all kinds of things, I just can not believe how much stuff has happened but so far everything has been patched together. One refrigerator died the first day and there appears to be no fixing to it. However they have found that it is doing great as an icebox and ice is readily available so I now know that is a viable alternative and they are going to do it for 62 days! Two of the rigs had a small collision and put a hole in the side of one of the 5th wheels, an alternator died, hitch and tote wiring problems, broken battery terminals, wheel bearing hot and ruined problems and others. The most attention getting one is that we all have red tape on the back of our mirrors so the on coming trucks and buses see them. One of our party had there mirror taking off when a bus cut to close in front of them. Other years on coming traffic has got them. The roads are sometimes narrow and with no shoulder you don't want to get to far right and you have to remember your 5th tracks wider than the pickup. This causes you to be right on the center line and so is the on coming truck or bus so there is only a foot at best and sometimes it gets down to 6 inches. Mexican drivers are aggressive, they just pull out and pass going up a hill or into a curve and if they meet someone they just get back in the driving lane or at least so far all that I have seen make it back in! I always leave room for them to get back in. One last thing, Edith and I got diarrhea and a slight fever for four days. Each day we got a little better. We are careful about what we eat in regards to where we buy it, etc. but we decided we are not going to get to know much about Mexico's food being here about 70 days and not eating any so we eat Mexican food at restaurants, at our sponsored events, etc. I will say nearly all those in Mexico unless very poor drink bottled water and the ice is made with purified water so it you stick to bottled water you are OK and the ice should be OK although we stay away from it. We always try and use popote (straw) and drink out of the container if it is a soda, etc. Anyway We likely will be OK for the rest of the trip but it was pretty rough for the first day, big time cramps, etc. We try and eat things that have not had a hand contact and try and wash in a weak clorox water solution
What I want to tell you about is Mexico! I reminds me a lot of Ghana as there a so many similar things. I think the bottom line is that there are these similar things for all countries where there are so many poor people. In regards to scenery when we entered at Pharr, TX of course as we headed south it is very similar to around Pharr. One side note we went to Mexico with the Caravan people ahead of time and got our permits which is a story you need to read in the complete travelogue. Anyway when we went into Mexico with the RV's there was no one at the border inspection station and the red/green light was not working. Normally if you get a red you will at least be talked to and they will look around and sometimes "rip" you apart. We got on up by the building and they just waved us all on so everyone of us basically just drove into Mexico with no checks which was absolutely great as I had two computers, several radio's etc. which can cause problems if they want to give you a bad time. At the second check point at 22 KM the Green Angles were leading us and they just waved us through there also. They Green Angles work for the government and patrol the roads looking to help tourist and have tools and are good mechanics. Also if you can get to a bigger town you can get specialized help for computerized systems, etc. if you are good enough with the language to be able to make contact and get together. We have had one incident where one of our group got a fine for not getting stopped for the red light quick enough and he was 2 meters past the line. It cost him 500 pesos which is a little under $50 and they paid it on the spot. It was a cheap shot but then I seen a Canadian winter Texan get nailed in a little Texas town on a speeding charge which would be about equivalent to being a cheap shot. Supposedly at one check point one guy wanted a 100 peso bribe but they acted dumb that they did not understand any Spanish ONLY English when if fact they knew some Spanish. They gave up and waved them on. We have had an agriculture inspection between states down here but so far the only one that has been a problem was today going into Campeche where they took all the eggs, pork and chicken away. I got wind of it from some Canadians yesterday so we boiled our eggs and cooked our pork so we lost nothing. A number of our group really got cleaned out! Anyway the bottom line is that bribes are getting very rare in Mexico and most cheap fines are in 3 or 4 isolated cities just like speed traps etc. are just in a few cities in the USA. It is really nothing to be afraid of as it is probably only going to cost you about $50.00.
As we went south of Pharr we lost all farming and got to rolling hills, all grass and goats, sheep and cattle. You could see they got more rainfall. As we got down toward La Pesca our first stop there was more vegetation and more trees. La Pesca is a fishing town and we dry camped primarily but it was a nice place. I talked to a local in Spanish and got a boat ride lined up for our free day for Edith and I and a few others went along so ended up with two boats. My Spanish is poor and it is difficult to remember words you know under pressure and trying to form sentences and of course they speak fast but even when you get them to slow down they say a lot of words I don't know so I am trouble. I am best off if I can control the conversation to try and get back words I can understand. The good news is that all this hard work is paying of and poor as it may be I can communicate and just as in Quebec or St. Pierre I find people who say you find all kinds of people that speak English just don't know what they are talking about. It absolutely adds a totally new horizon to traveling in Mexico being able to speak some Spanish. I am not saying you can not do it as you can and we did 2 years ago but you will just see the scenery and be able to shop but that is about it. At Poza Rica we got into tropical country and had pineapple, banana's, coconuts, sugar cane etc. It was hilly and they farmed little patches and on hill sides. This is also a big oil area for Pemex and has what is one of the biggest oil deposits in the world right here. We toured an Indian Village, seen the Voladores Flyers perform they ancient custom of descending upside down from a 70 foot pole as their ropes unwind from the pole. We also seen Tajin our first ancient site which is not Aztec but Totonac Indian. It is typified by having a 9 type figure and having windows. Several had 365 windows for the days in a year and points that lined up with the cardinal directions and the seasons. They had ball games and the winners had the privilege of being offered as sacrifices to there God's. Their hearts were not taken out but rather they were bled to death by the priests. One of our group pointed to a hill nearby and said that would of been a nice place to go and celebrate your loss but they seen it differently. At Veracruz there is more sugar cane but similar to Poza Rica but it is the major seaport for Eastern Mexico and has been the site of many conflicts to invade Mexico including Cortez and we toured the nearby town where Cortez came up the river and made contact with to Totonac Indians. As we went south toward Villahermosa there were more pineapples and hilly with lots of trees and very tropic. We then moved into the seacoast area where it flattened out and we seen beach hotels, restaurants, etc. Most were pretty run down and not many were very nice. I would say in general the infrastructure in Mexico has deteriorated a tremendous amount. They only nice things left are in some of the bigger towns where money has been invested in stores, hotels and restaurants for tourist Mexican's and others and business meetings, etc. Oil is a growth industry, there are some government housing development for a growing middle class that is just starting to form. There is also some infrastructure building beginning but the technics are still very primitive and make use of cheap labor. They is quite a bit of heavy equipment for construction but farming is pretty much not mechanized along the east coast. There are manufacturing plants in Veracruz and stores like Sears, Wal-Mart, Cosco and Sam's. We were in Wal-Mart and Sam's and mostly all Spanish and a lot of things packaged different and lots of different products offered. Really quite and experience to see the people's dress, what they were buying, cell phones, trying to figure out what some things were, things are in Kilo's, how to figure out what the fat content of the milk was and many other things like that. From Villahermosa we are now at Isle Aguana and about 1200 miles from the tip of Texas and are right on the Gulf Of Mexico south of Campeche. Edith got two buckets full of shells today, has learned some new crochet patterns and has had some tough days as co-pilot when we get lost and go into El Centro! Her brake pedal is badly worn from the last few days. The roads were quite good the first couple of days with some being narrow with no shoulders but since then they have been quite rough and some pot holes. The toll roads are very expensive and are in poor condition where on the west coast we found many miles that were very, very good. The toll roads are not very crowded and there are no topes (speed bumps). On other roads every town has several speed bumps and they can be many other places as well and are often not marked and they are wicked!!! One has to always be on high alert for Topes. Also if you see a flashing green you should stop as the yellow is not like in the US and often lasts just a split second and you end up getting fined for running a red light. They are also tough on fines on bridges for speeding. On the other hand for small towns and other areas the speed limit seems to be consistently disobeyed but I try to not go over by much so they don't try and get some out of town money. Tourism is big business so we are actually given preferred treatment. Most people are friendly, some seem to show no interest in you. The kids wave at us and all seem happy. Things move slowly here and people seem very relaxed. The unemployment rate is about 66 percent which means they don't have a full time job. On the other hand most of the 66 percent do have part time jobs. There are some many small shops, mom and pop type and I think the problem is they all have to buy from the same wholesalers and they just don't have much margin to work with so in Mexico the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor but the middle class is starting to grow and NAFTA is starting to help down here. There is tremendous truck traffic down here with much of it headed to the USA and there is many USA products down here. You buy a can of refresca in a upscale restaurant and it is 140 pesos and at a stand, etc. it is 70 pesos so you have to shop and OF COURSE BARGAIN! We do notice a lot of litter laying around. There are people hired that are out cleaning it up in some areas but in others there are just garbage piles that are from time to time are partially burned. There is a lot of smoke pollution in Mexcio. As far as homes there are all types but many are just shacks and all are small. Vehicles are of all types but in rural areas there are some really junkers! In town there are lots of new vehicles; especially the bigger towns. Diesel is about $2.00 a gallon and very readily available.
Our first few days were cool and rainy but since then it has been in the 80's with sunshine. The Mexican owner of this CG is a ham radio operator with a big beam and tower and speaks perfect English so he has helped me with some Spanish words and we have had fun visiting. I enjoy visiting with the attendants at the PEMEX stations as they usually are not busy. Some know a few English words but not many. In the markets you can practice your numbers and names of things. At one market the kids from school were on break and they could speak good English so they really were tickled at me trying to talk Spanish with one of the ladies selling at the market. They helped me with pronunciation but I could see they were having a great time listening to me struggle but they had an appreciation that I was trying after there having learned English and knowing it is not easy. The good news about the Spanish is my pronunciation is usually good enough they can figure out what I am trying to say and they will then help me with the pronunciation. Como se dice XXX in Espanol works absolutely great. They all understand so I can point to something that I don't have a clue what it is in Spanish and get the Spanish word and then I can ask them to write it down please so that works slick. So far I have not resorted to it but one could carry a phrase book or pocket translator and get a lot done as well. Often since people in not in a hurry they have time to spend with you while you struggle to remember the right words to try and communicate what you want. We they start talking to me about something else it is tough unless I can get a word or two. Yesterday at a Olympic statue site by a big bridge we were all parked and a young man and women came up and wanted to interview me as they worked for one of the newspapers. They could speak some English. The young girl was trying to ask me something as I got down off the top of the 5th wheel to check if the railing and extra tire was OK. I finally caught the word arriba which means up and pelicula and figured out she wanted the two of us to climb up on top of the 5th and she took a picture of me with the huge suspension bridge in the background. From up there it was a great shot where on the ground it was not. Of course sign language helps a lot but I am more fired up than ever to get better at Spanish. Please excuse any spelling or grammar errors, I am on holiday and don't have the time or any easy way to spell check all the words.
Ed and Edith