Subject: Travelogue III Ed and Edith Gray
It is day 21 of the 62 day Adventure Caravan trip and then we will spend about 10 more days in Mexico going to Copper Canyon.
Some things about we have seen and experience so far! It is extremely safe going down the east coast and in the Yucatan. I have not been any place yet that I would be the least bit concerned about walking even alone at night. Every place we have been so far we so women walking alone at night and young people. You see lots of police but I am sure it is not because there is crime but the government is a big employer. The same things goes for the stores they have all kinds of people working because the labor is not that expensive. The people in the rural areas seem to be poor and many walk, use the bus, have bicycle or and old car or truck. In the all the bigger town there seems to be a lot more middle class and it seems like everyone is driving a very new car. No matter where you go people are dressed very nicely with very clean clothes and many have very, very white clothes. Most of the children have school uniforms for going to school. They like to wave and they know they often get gifts such as pencils, pens a tablets from the Caravans that come through. We have given away a number of these sorts of things. We are learning to give them out when there is only one or two kids so we don't get mobbed and you can be sure they each get something. With a bigger group often an aggressive boy in a group gets more than his share. They are very excited to get something and definitely say thank you. Many of the adults wave also. About 25$ seem to care less but I would say 75% are very friendly and cordial. We see some animal pulled carts and at many tourist spots there are the bicycle, motor cycle taxi's and one horse buggy's. In the rural areas most of the homes are very, very small and are in tough shape. There is all kinds of construction that is not finished or even abandoned. What is painted is generally badly in need of paint. Almost all the churches are very run down. Almost every where the infrastructure seems to still be deteriorating. About the only thing that seems on the upswing are roads and bridges. There are a few government housing projects. Agriculture is severely depressed and certainly far, far behind the times although we are in jungle like country. The major problem is the government owns most of the land so there is not and incentive. In one areas Mennonites had land through and old agreement with the government and they had cleared the trees, used machinery and fertilizer and were growing good crops and the ground looked very fertile so there is great potential if people can have their own land to give them an incentive and get the financing. There is signs advertising seed corn and herbicides and we seen in areas where it is being used. Things to me do not seem that cheap so I can see where it is very difficult for a family with a low income. The best bargains are food in the markets. Food in restaurants is not that cheap but all you see in restaurants are tourists and middle and upper class Mexicans. The low income ones eat at stands or at home; although you see them drinking beer, cokes and junk food. It definitely pays to shop as prices vary a lot from place to place. As I said before people are selling things everyplace you turn. If you get way off the road in the rural areas you see less but still there are a number selling and no matter where you go there it is all little stores and in the small towns we don't see restaurants other then maybe a stand where they are cooking chicken, etc. and they have some shade and some small tables and chairs.
The thing you notice about driving is that people are very, very quick to use their horn and don't seem to have much patience and yet as you drive along everybody seems relaxed and not in a hurry so it seems some sort of transformation happens when a Mexican (or American) gets behind the wheel!
English is pretty much non-existent unless you are in a tourist place then there are some Mexicans who are very smart and they learn they can do much better in making money by being able to speak and understand English. It is as all levels. Also some of the young people learn English in school but that seems to vary a lot and seems only certain schools do that. I think it is certain private schools, I don't think the government schools teach English. We have run into some young adults who speak perfect English and perfect Spanish and what that usually means is that one of there parents came from the USA.
We talk to Campers in most of the CG going it alone and having absolutely no problems other than having a hard time finding their way through towns as the roads are poorly marked and often confusing. They all seem to use the Mexican Camping book which is excellent and makes camping in Mexico very do able. Maps are not very detailed in Mexico. Many of them speak very little Spanish and also by and large in a PEMEX where there is some room they will let you stay for nothing or a small fee if you can not find a CG so that is a fall back. We have also talked to many who staying down here for the winter traveling down in cars and renting in one area for the winter or moving around. In no case has anyone reported any problems with robbery, bribes, scam's, etc. Only one has his wallet taken in Mexico City on a crowed bus. As everyone knows one has to be careful in Mexico City.
In the Yucatan on some of the roads the traffic has been extremely light. In the towns the streets are very narrow so a small car is certainly nice. It is more of a challenge with the big F-350. They best is to park it and walk. I guess a club and alarm might be OK but I think most of the car robbery is up along the border or in Mexico City. We certainly have not been in any area where anybody is having trouble with cars being stolen.
We toured an old hacienda (ranch) of 22,000 acres where they raised cattle and also raised and sold sisle/henequen where fortunes were made. They of course are gone as nylon rope pretty much took over and the government also took the land away in many cases. Merida is the nicest town we have been in so far with many mansions of families with old money from the boom days of making rope. Merida now have anything you would want with lots of American stores and Mexican stores. You name an American store and it probably is in Merida. Lots of foreign cars but not many American other than smaller ones and some F-150's.
I would say the roads are better than expected. The major problem is that they are narrow and most places no shoulders so when you meet a big truck you really wonder if your mirror is not going to get hit. The topes just make the trip a lot longer and some are narrow and sort of wedge between the two tires on the 5th and it seems no matter how careful you are it gives the 5th quite a bump even when just crawling along and virtually stopping. The other concern is if one would not see one in time. One could do some major damage. So far this has not happened but it takes constant vigilance as some are unmarked. I would say the toll roads are poorer than expected. The one thing about toll roads is that you get away from the Topes. We have had one great toll road. Tomorrow we pay about $40 to go on the toll road about 120 miles so about 33 cents a mile just for the toll. I hope it is good! The CG fees are part of our tour fee but they are quite cheap. We have only had electricity once that was adequate for 30 amp and air conditioning so to be safe and because we have the battery bank we have not hooked up. We have had sewer at two places and one dump we used and another we could of used if we would of needed to so in 21 days that is not a lot of dumps. Electricity with our battery bank and generator for A/C has not been a problem and neither has been water; although we never have had enough water pressure to hook up like city water but rather just use our tank and 12 vdc pump. For many in our group it is quite an experience dry camping but I believe all but two have generators and they have had to suffer with the hot trailers several days. We have been inviting them to come over to our air conditioning. It is fine at night as it cools down and they can open up but even then they have to be careful not to run their batteries down. However in several places they have had 15 amp electric so they can keep their batteries charged. We have had two refrigerators die so they are both using them as ice boxes and getting by reasonably well. One for all 21 days so it is a proven method that works. They also have gotten some of those containers you can freeze and we take turns freezing them for them. This saves them the cost of constantly buying ice. Actually the ice has been lasting a couple of days and ice is readily available and reasonable down here. LP is also readily available as a lot of vehicles burn LP and a lot of homes use it for cooking.
We have been feeling much better, our stomachs have settled down although Edith had a relapse yesterday. Edith broke our Fantastic fan. It was the plastic piece where the auto/manual switch is. With this broken the whole thing just hangs by the wires and you have to hold it up into the area to be able to open and close the lid. We took the broken pieces and laid it on a heavy paper towel and used epoxy and filled the screw holes and in general used lots of epoxy. After letting it dry for 24 hours I took a file and filed it back to the original shape and filed the paper towel off the back side. I then drilled out the holes through the epoxy and mounted it and it is as good as new.
We continue to use our generator for the first time ever on this trip as there have been about 4 days where it has gotten over 95 degrees in the 5th with high humidity so we use the generator so we can run the A/C so we have been very comfortable. If we were not so packed in one can put out the awning and sit under it and if there is any breeze at all it is fine. We are going to add a fan to carry with use so one can sit in front of the fan either in the 5th or under the awning. I think we will start with 110 VAC one and use the inverter or get a 12 vdc one.
We have radio schedules one the days that we move and also on week ends we have talked to our son Curt. We get some e-mails and get a sports report on the Jackrabbits on Friday and Saturday to see how the season is going. One thing we don't bother with is getting any news, we could get it on Shortwave or read what we could of a Spanish newspaper but then we don't read the newspaper at home anyway. I trust any big news someone will send us an e-mail. They e-mail has worked the best on this trip of any yet.
We bought a hammock and the gentleman could speak quite a bit of English so he was willing to help me with my Spanish word list that I have made from what I have learned from my Pemsuler Spanish tapes. The problem is that some Spanish words would be understood in Spain but not in Mexico so the purpose was to find out what words would be understood in Mexico. I was happy to learn that about 99% were OK in Mexico. I am finding out that some that I though were no good for Mexico I was not pronouncing correctly enough to be understood and that in some areas it was Indians and Spanish was a second language for them so they just were not familiar with it. This area has a lot of influence from Spain so in other areas some of these words may not work as well but it was a great help. I do not do well at all listening to people speak Spanish but if I have questions things seem to go better than I expected. I find if you have your Spanish, English dictionary you can look up key words and really do quite well! None of the TV dishes are working down here; although I know with a 90cm dish you can get the Canadian Star Choice satellite. One thing most Mexicans do have TV even if they are very poor.
Shopping is quite an experience learning the new names, and reading the labels checking for fat, hydrogenated fats, etc. We are doing pretty good. Liquid milk is very hard to find down here in the Yucatan. We did get some at Sam's finally. Nearly all of it is in a box and not refrigerated. Apparently it is irradiated so it has a shelf life to May 2004, I assume that is if you don't open it and once you open it the clock starts ticking and it need refrigeration. We got some Ammodium A-d for Edith but that was a struggle explaining in Spanish what we wanted and figuring out the dosage/time. From what we can find at one of our first tours at an Indian village we got some bad food as a whole bunch of people spent several days on the toilet including us. Certainly one can have problems with new food but in this case we had new food at our social hours, in the restaurants, etc but this one place really caused a lot of us problems. I guess the lesson to be learned for the first couple of weeks to be careful but then again it can happen in a restaurant as well. I will say this what you get at a Mexican restaurant in the USA and what you get at restaurants in Mexico are not very similar at least so far and I don't see that changing.
Chichen Itza and Uxmal were fantastic. We also visited Dzibilchaltun which has s sun temple where the sun aligns and blazes exactly through the temple window at the equinox's and shines through corner wise on the longest and shortest day of the year. If you want some interesting reading do a search on this site and use the words house of the seven dolls or Sun temple. I am going to learn more about it when I get home. It seems to be one of the best building in regards to the sun and also the moon although there are some similar things at Chichen Itza and Uxmal. We have seen two Cenotes which are open water natural cisterns that are fed by underground water and were the source of water to the Mayans as it can be very subject to drought here during the dry season. It is brutal here in May with it being hot and humid. June there is rain to cool but my understanding is that July and August are very, very hot so those that can afford it go to the ocean for a couple of month to live.
Tonight we had a buffet and valentines day party and had Yucatan Dancers. The other evening we visited one of the Zocalo's and there was a band, Yucatan dancers, guitar players and a Cuban singer. Tomorrow we go to Cancun and over the next couple of weeks work our way down the coast to BELIZE and then head back west for Palanque in CHIAPAS and then down to the Pacific coast on follow it in a northwesterly direction to Acapulco.
We will close with a couple of experiences that our group has had. At Merida the four girls had a great story. On the way into Progresso they sea port and cruise ship port they spotted a big snake about 5 feet long and about two inches in diameter. They decided to go around the block to try and get a picture. When they got back around it was still there so Sandy rolled up slowly and Pattie was on that side and she snapped a picture as the snake decide to crawl under their Jeep. They watched on the other side to get a picture as it came out the other side but the trouble is it did not come out. They waited and waited and waited and it did not come out. They did not know what to do so they roared the engine and rocked by and forth but no snake appeared. They then decided to go to the Police station and was going to report it and they decided that Sandy knew the most Spanish so she was trying to figuring out how she was going to explain this in Spanish. They got there and chickened out as they were not sure what might all happen so they decided to turn into a dirt road that went across a field that was rough so the bounced along hoping the snake would fall out from under neath but it never did. So as far as they know the snake is still someplace under the Jeep when the got back to camp so everyone is watching for a snake and wondering about their pets and making sure they keep their doors closed. It really had everybody laughing and certainly was quite and experience.
Elaine who is Mexican went swimming in the Cenote and some of the local Mexican were telling her that if the blossoms on the water plants closed and she we not a virgin she would be sucked down into the underground river which was 90 meters high. Elaine has several children. That got everyone laughing even more They acted dead serious and there certainly is a lot of superstition and folk lore among the Mayan decendants in this area.
At Progresso after seeing and getting some great pictures of the Flamingo's we went to the Flamingo Restaurant for a late noon meal. We were with another couple Bruce and Eunice. Bruce is always joking and making remarks during our caravan travels. We come in and there is this couple sitting there eating and they look like Americans. We are sitting down and the fellow says Bruce, is that really you! Man it has been a long time. Do you remember me and he goes on and on and your could see on Bruces face he is trying to figure out who this guy is. He says she looks familiar but you are going to have to help me out I just can't place you. He says don't you remember the fisherman's handshake and he reaches over to shake hands and instead of grabbing his hand he goes on by to around the elbow and slaps his arm quickly a few times like a flapping fish. About that time his wife can take it no longer and lets on that her husband is just pulling Bruce's leg and does not know him at all but spotted his name on his Adventure Caravan name tag. When we came in he told his wife, watch this and she pleads with him don't do it but he did it anyway. Actually they are from Ontario and drove down and had been there since early November and we had a great visit. They were fun to visit with. They know another couple from Ontario and she and the other guy likes to play golf and the other two like to fish so thats what they do a couple of days a week. They rent a big house for $1000 a month and have a maid and gardener that comes with the house. At Easter and during the summmer the people who own it move out there from Merida to celebrate Easter on the ocean and get away from the summer heat and humidity. The lesson here is to take you name tag off when you are not on caravan functions! The locals call us carabaners.