Thursday, February 26, 2009


I am visiting my family. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave much time for playing with the laptop. There is just so much to do!

On the way up from San Antonio this morning, I composed a little traveling poem:

The miles scream by on
Interstate Highway 35
all around are
propositions winking
from billboards and
digital signs and the
windowless walls of
hot pink buildings
saying come on
buy this religion buy
that pair of shoes buy
something else you
didn't even know you needed
and all my energy is wrapped up
in staying alive
all the way to Austin.


...which I did. Tomorrow, I'll be going back to San Antonio, just for the day, and in a car, rather than the motor home, to meet an online acquaintance and a newborn grand-niece. On the way, my sister and I will indulge in a little Ikea time.

We've gone shopping for enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood, compiled a list of the movies we want to see together, made plans to go get our hair done, and generally filled the next few days with girl stuff. Our husbands will just have to cope. We will be going to the Alamo Drafthouse to see "Slumdog Millionaire". That's at the top of the list.

So if I disappear for a while, it's just because I'm having a wonderful time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Elmendorf, Texas

Elmendorf? I thought I was in San Antonio until I read the header on our RV park receipt. Oh, well. It's been a long day. We spent one more night in Alamo, and I'm glad - because I got to watch about 50 people of a certain age crowded together in a smallish swimming pool, playing volleyball. It was hilarious. I worried at first that somebody would get trampled and drown - but then I realized there was no room for anybody to fall over, so there was nothing to worry about. While the volleyball game was going on outside, there were five games of pool and three card games in progress in the hall where I sat, trying to catch up on my favourite blogs amid the general uproar. I turned happily from one entertainment to the next, until the party animals finally went off to their various RVs and left me to my websurfing.

We headed for Three Rivers this morning. That's an hour and a half or so back down the road. I had found an RV park listed online, and it looked pretty good, so we tracked it down. It wasn't as pretty in person as it was online - a not uncommon problem with internet relationships, I understand - but the manager was very pleasant and understanding. The problem was that the park didn't have much in the way of amenities. To soften the blow of our rejection, I used an age-old tactic - passing the buck. "It's my husband, you see," I said. "We've been in Mexico for a couple of months, and he really, really wants to settle down and 'veg' in front of a television tonight. You understand, don't you?" She did, and she kindly told us about the park where we are now. But this is what happened. We turned on the tv and watched what was left of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". Then we found a remnant of "Jeopardy". The news came on, and we watched that for a bit - but then we pretty well lost interest in the tv, and eventually I just turned it off. Now, if "House" had come on, or some show that I used to watch regularly, I'm sure I would have been sucked in, but as it was - ehhh.

So we ended up spending the evening the way we've been spending all our evenings for the last couple of months - reading, websurfing, and finally - blogging.

Tomorrow - Austin.

EDIT: I just noticed that this is post #200. That calls for a celebration, or at least a little Ta-da! ...and maybe a song. "Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum...You're getting to be a habit with me."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Here they are, as promised, twenty-five random facts (and random impressions) about Mexico, and about my love affair with Mexico - with a bow to the meme and with the intention of exorcising the ghost of Tampico:

1.Mexico has cowboys – real ones, on horses, wearing boots and five-gallon hats, twirling lassoes, herding cattle near - or on - the highway.
2.From the northwestern corner to the southeastern tip, Mexico is approximately 4,000 kilometers long.
3.In Sayulita, there is a sanctuary for the protection of sea turtles. I am told that if you kill a sea turtle, you can be sent to prison for seven years. I don't know if it's true.
4.Stray dogs starve in the streets of Mexico. People are reluctant to have their pets spayed or neutered. Male puppies are preferred; females are often abandoned or killed.
5.A very popular snack in Mexico is the taco de cabeza, which means head taco, but I'm told it is a brain taco. I ate one, in a village near Veracruz. It was very tasty. So far, I have suffered no ill effects. It was beef brain, by the way.
6.As you drive along the highway, you see donkeys tethered nearby, sometimes wearing saddles, grazing the long grass. Sometimes there are horses or goats, though with goats, there is more likely to be a herd, untethered, perhaps tended by a child.
7.The traditional Mexican work outfit is made of white cotton. It is still worn in parts of Mexico, and I have never figured out how Mexicans manage to keep those brilliantly white pants and shirts clean in such a dusty country.
8.Speed limit signs are common and apparently whimsical. An 80 kilometer zone will suddenly become a 60 zone, or 40, or even 20, for no discernible reason. Sometimes there will be two signs within a car's length of one another. Or there will be a long, long time between signs, so that you're not entirely sure how fast you are allowed to go. Watching the cars around you will not help, because of #18.
9.According to a Mexican friend, Mexicans are not actually required to have licences in order to drive. They can get them, if they desire, but a licence is not required, and getting one involves filling out forms and paying a fee. There is no driving test. This rule (or lack thereof) does not apply to foreigners.
10.Most of the water in Mexico is now potable. We nevertheless buy purified drinking water there (and everywhere we travel) in carboys, just because you never know.
11.There are thirty-one (31) states in Mexico.
12.Most of the Mexicans I have encountered in six years of visits (so far) were kind, friendly, honest people, but
13.There are still corrupt policemen and politicians in Mexico. I met one of the former, just a couple of days ago.
14.A cactus in bloom is a beacon of hope and a cry of victory. I suppose that applies to cactus everywhere, but I thought of it while gazing at a Mexican cactus, so it counts.
15.In Zihuatanejo, there are houses painted truly beautiful and extraordinary colours.
16.Mexicans eat their breakfast (el desayuno) fairly late in the morning; they have their main meal (la comida) at around two or two-thirty in the afternoon. The evening meal (la cena) is lighter, like our lunch.
17.Almost everything happens slowly in Mexico: check-out at the supermarket, arrival of the electrician you're waiting for, real estate deals – pretty well everything, except #18.
18.Normally easy-going Mexicans become monsters when they get behind the wheel. They drive at breakneck speed, overtake on either side, even on curves and street corners, turn two-lane roads into four, five, or six-lane gridlocks, and lean almost constantly on their horns. Hence,
19.Mexico is a very noisy place. If it isn't the horns, it's the radios, or the mariachi bands, or the cars equipped with huge loudspeakers on their roofs roaming the streets, drivers with microphones in hand shouting out the price of shrimp or the virtues of a presidential candidate.
20.In San Carlos, Sonora, at the Totonaka RV Park, Silvano, the office manager, greets me after nearly a year with “Sandra! It's so good to see you!” which is a large part of why I regard San Carlos as my second home.
21.Not all Mexican tacos are tacos de cabeza. There are tacos made with ground beef, hunks of achiote-seasoned pork, hunks of pork fat (truly disgusting. I tasted one once, by mistake), chicken, fish (yum), and no doubt other fillings. What they have in common is that they are made with corn tortillas, and the tortillas are not fried. They are always served warm and soft. Tortillas are fried crisp when they're too stale to use any other way, and then they are totopos – tortilla chips.
22.Many Mexicans are ingenious people, no doubt out of necessity. I'm sure there's somebody in Mexico who really could make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
23.There are signs all along the highways advising motorists to respect the signs, not to damage the signs, not to destroy the signs. In fact, most of the signs appear to be in good shape, unless they've been run into by bad drivers.
24.Some of the signs admonish people not to litter. Those signs are generally surrounded by mountains of garbage. When you do find a litter barrel along the road, it is usually full to overflowing and sitting in the middle of a sea of garbage. This is despite the many signs pointing out that a clean highway is a safe highway.
25.Contrary to rumour, and notwithstanding #s 4, 13, 18, 19,and 24, traveling in Mexico is generally safe and enjoyable, as long as you follow Robin and Sandra's rule: Expect the unexpected.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Part 2 - No estamos en Mexico. We're in Texas!

We are, in fact, in a town called Alamo, near Harlingen. We got here several hours ago, and I've been glued to my laptop ever since, trying to catch up on blogs, discovering that I've won yet another book over at Stone Soup (, thought seriously about looking up the location of RV parks between here and Austin.

Last year, we sat for five hours at the border crossing (Sonoyta, Sonora/Lukeville, AZ) waiting for all the Spring Break revelers to get across the border. Today, we came to the crossing at Puente de los Indios, which was not on our map, and we waited perhaps ten minutes in line. Our RV did have to be searched, and I did have to give up my one remaining potato, since apparently potatoes are forbidden to cross the border. Otherwise, it was a very easy, even pleasant, crossing. The border guards kindly looked at my map book and showed me approximately where we were, which was very helpful. When we drove up from La Pesca, we turned off Hwy. 101 at Hwy. 53, which was not on our map, but which went in the right general direction (north, to come out somewhere between Reynosa and Matamoros). Sure enough, it did.

We saw nothing of any civil disturbance at the border, contrary to rumours.

Tomorrow, or within a day or two, we will head for Austin, via San Antonio. In the meantime, I'm holed up in the common room of an Over 55 RV park full of pool players, card sharks, and general ne-er-do-wells. It's really quite relaxing, sitting here blogging to the sounds of laughter, the racking of balls, the grumbling of curmudgeonly card players.

While I was driving today, I had an idea. I was thinking of that meme that's spreading on Facebook - and everywhere else, it seems - the 25 Random Things meme. Given my recent unpleasant experience in Mexico, I'm going to compile a list of 25 Random Things about Mexico for tomorrow's post. Positive and negative, personal and general, just 25 things. It may help me to put the last couple of weeks in perspective.

Meanwhile, I'm content to be in Texas.
Part One - Catch-up post

Yesterday was a terrible, awful day.

First, it rained. That started in the middle of the night. I got up and closed vents, but there was no rain coming in my high window, so I didn't think to close the lower windows. Things were pretty damp in here by the time I got up.

It was raining so hard that I suggested we stay put another day, but Robin didn't agree. I worried about pot-holes hidden under the water, invisible topes, poor visibility. Driving in Mexico is a challenge even in good weather. He still disagreed. We were in a hotel parking lot, and that wasn't his idea of a vacation spot. He just wanted to get going. So we left at nine o'clock. Robin drove for the first hour, and by the time my turn came, the rain had stopped. At least I didn't have to drive in the rain. I do dislike that.

We had a long drive ahead of us. The major obstacle was the city of Tampico, which has a reputation for being difficult to get past, especially without getting a ticket. We managed somehow to find the correct bypass road for heavy vehicles, although the road is not marked. At all. It looks like a farm road. You have to do a U-turn in a Pemex station to get to it. We took that instead of the marked bypass, because we had been warned that taking the marked road would surely get us a ticket. We had almost made it past Tampico. I was driving. There was a place where the road forked. A traffic light brought to a halt the traffic taking the left fork. It appeared that the light did not apply to the traffic turning right, as all the vehicles around us were going through. I went with them. A policeman standing on the median let everybody else go, pulled me over. Why hadn't I stopped for the traffic light? Well, it appeared that it didn't apply to me, as everyone else going toward Ciudad Victoria kept going. Well, it did apply to me.

I shall not go into detail here. I'll just mention the word “extortion” in passing. This is our sixth year of driving in Mexico, and it is the first time we have ever had such an experience.

Shortly thereafter, Robin took over driving and I got to do some serious fuming. I needed talking down, but Robin was just as tightly wound as I was, so we just had to do lots of deep breathing and keep on going. If we had been able to cross the border last night, I would have been ready. I wanted out.

The highlight of the day was when we passed the sign reading “Tropic of Cancer”. We had Officially Left the Tropics. Hallelujah!

We were originally headed to Ciudad Victoria, but the approach to the RV park looked like a hassle, which we definitely did not need, and our bible mentioned an RV park in the village of La Pesca, east of Ciudad Victoria. We decided to go there, instead. It was fifty kilometers off Highway 180. We finally arrived at the park at 7:30 in the evening, having done the last thirty kilometers in the dark. There was a five kilometer long construction zone, but most of the road was very good, unlike the highway.

The park's managers helped us get settled into a space. There were lots to choose from, as we were the only guests. I cooked dinner, and we ate. I spent the rest of the evening reciting my mantra, 'I love Mexico, really I do.' and wondering whether the demonstrations we had heard about were still going on at Reynosa, the city 300 kilometers away where we were to cross the border. I still needed talking down, but I didn't get it.

After a fitful night's sleep, I woke to a beautiful sight. Our RV was in the middle of a huge expanse of lawn. There were three buildings on the property. I think two of them were part of the hotel/resort that constituted the main operation. Beyond that was a wide river. The third building was the house where the owner/manager lived. The oddest feature was a court on the other side of us. I went to investigate it. It was a sort of winding concrete river, lined with indoor-outdoor carpeting. At intervals there were keyhole-shaped protuberances. Around the perimeter were palm trees (five) and black iron lamp posts (three) Each lamp post had five round white bulbs. There was a sixth palm tree right in the middle of the court. I presume it is a court for some sort of miniature golf. While I was out exploring, I checked the temperature on our outdoor thermometer. Ten degrees. Perfect waking up temperature. We both felt slightly chilly, but we were infinitely cheered.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

First, there was the bang - then the flash. We were playing cards at the kitchen table. My computer was right beside me, so that I could dive back into the net whenever I finished beating Robin at rummy. He said "What was that?" "Fireworks, I think." In Mexico, it's usually fireworks. They're very popular, and their use isn't limited to holidays.

Then the electricity browned out for a moment. Never mind. It came back. When we finished our game (I did win) I picked up my laptop and found out that I had no internet connection. Sigh. Wait a minute and try again. No luck. Then there was a knock at the door. It was our neighbour, the one between us and the swimming pool - also, between us and the wi-fi gizmo. "Do you folks have electricity?" she asked.


"I don't. Nobody at that end of the park does. It looks like the problem is between your RV and mine."

So it was. The bang? The flash? Something had fried the electrical connection in the space between the two RVs, and it had thrown half the park off the grid. By this morning, it still hadn't been fixed. Our poor neighbour had to run a generator to keep her fridge in operation.

I did mention that Robin was thinking we should cut our losses and head north, didn't I? Well. I'm writing now from the lobby of the Poza Rica Inn Hotel in Poza Rica, which is about 70 kilometers north of Casitas. We left Casitas before nine o'clock this morning (good-bye, Chica!) Along the way, we stopped at El Tajin to visit the archaeological site there. Once we got through the hordes of people selling food and drink and souvenirs outside the gate, we found a beautiful, well-tended site complete with museum. The paths were wide and paved with stones - uncomfortable walking, but much cleaner than the mud paths at Palenque. I said at one point that it was like using stepping stones to cross a very wide stream. Climbing on the structures themselves was forbidden. I thought that made perfect sense. Palenque, by contrast, was an accident waiting to happen, with people scrambling all over the stones.

After our visit to El Tajin, we followed our noses to Poza Rica, since our maps didn't seem to be of much help. Somehow, we found the hotel, and we secured a spot in their parking lot. We have electricity and water, and the internet reception is fabulous - as long as I sit in the hotel lobby or the restaurant. I'm in the lobby right now. There's canned music playing. I enjoyed hearing "All By Myself". I caught one of the receptionists staring at me, so I suspect I was doing an unconscious imitation of Bridget Jones - but very quietly, of course, and in a dignified manner. The music alternates between Latin and North American pop. Meanwhile, there's a music video station playing on the television. I see that there is a swimming pool here - oh, and a hot tub - so I know what I'll be doing this evening. We plan to have dinner in the hotel restaurant, which advertises filet mignon for 90 pesos. I will probably have enchiladas. Now begins my frantic attempt to eat all of Mexico before we cross the border in a couple of days. It happens every time. I start going into Mexican Food withdrawal before we even get to the border.

Tomorrow, Victoria. Robin tells me there's no wi-fi there. I hope he's wrong, but if I'm not here, I'll be there, tapping my feet, pacing, making typing movements with my fingers.

photo from Wikipedia

Friday, February 20, 2009

Still in Casitas, Veracruz.

Second post of the day.

Angie commented on my post yesterday, and I told her I would take a walk in the rain today, just for her. So I did. I walked down the beach. It wasn't raining very hard, but it was breezy. I wore my hot pink and turquoise 1980s vintage windbreaker over white Mexican shorts, purple faux-crocs on my feet. I was a vision of loveliness. ;>)

Small white shells dotted the beach, which was wet from the storm. I saw a quarter-sized, sand-encrusted crab scuttling along. Every eighteen or twenty inches, there was a hole in the sand, about the size of the crab - a tunnel, I presumed. I checked - and saw that the holes were actually all over the beach. Lacking a shovel, I didn't investigate, lest I get my fingers pinched.

I walked for ten or fifteen minutes before it occurred to me that the beach went on forever, and I should establish a point at which to turn back. Have you ever walked and walked, daydreaming, loving it, gotten tired, and realized belatedly that before you could rest, you had the same distance to walk all over again? Way down the beach, I saw what looked like a fallen tree. There were no live trees anywhere near it, and that piqued my curiosity. I decided that that would be my destination. On the way out, I didn't indulge in my usual pleasure, walking in the surf, because the water was choppy and the breakers were storm-dirty, more brown caps than white caps. I walked on the firm, moist sand instead. I passed a few hotels, some palm trees. There were no birds on the shore, probably because of the rough water. There were three brave people playing in the surf, though.

When I reached the tree, I saw that the trunk had been sawn at both ends, but the branches were still attached to the trunk. I think it was part of a madrona (aka arbutus) tree. There was nothing like it growing nearby. I suspect it was washed in during a storm. We have arbutus trees aplenty in British Columbia, where I spend most of the year. Seeing this one made me feel a little homesick.

On the way back, I let the water wash over my feet, just to get rid of some of the sand building up in my crocs, and then it didn't matter anymore that the waves were full of sand. It felt wonderful, as usual, and I walked the rest of the way with the surf breaking and dissolving over my legs.

Three hours later, the rain has stopped but the surf is angrier than ever. Somehow, I don't think the storm is over yet.
Something woke me in the middle of the night. My legs were wet. There is a ceiling vent over my bed (one of those that Robin and I cleaned yesterday), and rain was coming through. I closed the vent. Robin closed the ones in the kitchen and bath. We went back to sleep.

Again, something woke me; I wasn't sure what. The clock read 4:44. I looked out my open window, saw the sky brighten and go black again. That must be what woke me. Again, the sky went bright, went black. Finally, there was a distant rumble. The storm must still be far away. I opened the screen and reached outside. The rain was warm and gentle, barely a drizzle. I closed the green curtain across my bed so I wouldn't disturb Robin, turned on my reading lamp, and read the last few pages of Goldberry Long's Juniper Tree Burning, weeping with the rain. I couldn't imagine reading something new while that beautiful prose was still whispering in my head, so I turned off the light and listened to the storm coming closer and closer.

When I awoke again, at 5:35, the rain was audible on the roof, the lightning was brighter, the thunder came faster. At last, the storm had arrived. I scrabbled around in my traveling collection of books, found Adrienne Rich's Diving Into the Wreck, and read again. When it was 6:45 and a respectable hour to get up, I did. Coffee for me, tea for Robin.

When Robin got up, he went outside. Chica and her Mom were waiting. I had three eggs that had broken in the fridge while we drove. I heated my cast iron frying pan and set about scrambling them for the dogs. I added garlic to frighten the worms. I would mix the eggs with the dry food I bought last night. It came in a plain plastic bag, and when I bought it I thought it was puppy food, but on second thought, it's probably cat food. These dogs won't care.

Before I could get the eggs out of the pan, our next-door neighbour appeared with a huge aluminum foil pan full of meat and rice (leftovers, she said) for the dogs. She asked permission to feed them under our awning. Of course. They polished off their breakfast while we stood around watching, discussing the weather. Robin said that he regretted having paid for a week in advance. If this rain continues tomorrow, he thinks we should cut our losses and head farther north. I suggested that the weather might be even worse up there. We will see.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why I Don't Use Public Showers

This is the giant water bug. Apparently they have wings, though I haven't seen one flying, thank goodness. I did mention that they bite, didn't I? When I swam this morning, I eyed every spot on the bottom of the pool with great suspicion. They all turned out to be places where the paint had peeled away, but I got lots of exercise, not putting my feet down.

The rest of the day has been frittered away in a positive orgy of reading and web-surfing, looking out the window at a sky that keeps threatening to rain.

Chica, the little black and white puppy, started barking and screaming this morning, and I went rushing outside. I saw a medium-sized black dog and a big black Lab, but not Chica. It turned out that she was under our rig, cowering. The woman in the next rig over explained that Chica is terrified of the Lab. We managed eventually to get rid of the Lab. He has a collar. I think he belongs to the park, or at least Antonia was calling him from up by the office. Then Chica came out, unhurt, all waggy and cheerful. Sheesh. I thought she had broken her leg or something. The middle dog is Chica's mother - and I was wrong. They don't have any people. They are feral. Woody, the park manager, left money to have the mother dog spayed, but it turned out she was already pregnant, and she had five puppies - in December, the lady said, though I think she may have her dates wrong. So some time soon, I guess she will be spayed. Meanwhile, Chica is the last of her five puppies, and she's still too young to be spayed. By the time she's old enough, she will probably be pregnant, and the cycle will continue. Mom has taken to hanging around here, along with Chica, because I have put out a water dish, and because things like smoked salmon and roast chicken have been known to appear outside the door.

At the moment, Robin is struggling to pull down all the vent screens for cleaning, while we still have any air coming through them. He's the only person who is exhibiting any kind of ambition. I, obviously, am firmly seated, and I can see that our next-door neighbours are sitting around, reading, as they have been doing all day.

Just typing that was enough to make me feel guilty. I got up and helped Robin with the screens. Cleaning them isn't a big job. The big job is getting them down for cleaning, which involves dismantling the entire ceiling - at least, that's the way it feels. Ah, well, it's done now, and the screens are going back up, looking a whole lot better.

Now, it's my turn to go do something ambitious. There's not a thing in the house for dinner. I discovered yesterday that the town's bus system consists of an endless stream of taxis going up and down the street, picking up anybody that flags them, until they're full, charging six pesos per person. I rode uptown yesterday with three other passengers. So in a minute, I'll wander out to the street and take a ride to the grocery store.

That's it. Another exciting day in the tropics. The sun isn't even shining, today!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hear me purr. We found the park we were looking for. I think that the reason Marcia (in Catemaco) recommended it was that Robin is English, and there were a couple of English people helping to run the park. As it turns out, they aren't around. Antonia, the owner, is running things. She doesn't speak English, but I can manage in Spanish (a little better, every time I try). The park is less fancy - and less expensive - than where we were last night, and friendlier. There's a great swimming pool - twice the size of the one in Zihuatanejo, but with no basketball hoop. There is a water slide. Heh. The wi-fi here works better than at the more expensive place.

There are four rigs, apart from ours. One of the rigs is occupied by Bill and another is occupied by Bill (to save confusion). There is one of the ubiquitous Mexican 'stray' dogs here, this one a female who looks to be about three months old, black with a white bib. I suspect she has a home - maybe she belongs to the park - but comes around for the odd snack on the side. She's quite adorable. We've put out a bowl of water for her, and I've fed her some leftovers. We'll have to buy a can of dog food. I call the puppy Chica, because that's sort of generic, and I don't want to get too attached.

I understand why we couldn't find the park last night. We were looking for the RV park attached to the Hotel de Alba. As I said, we found the hotel, but it was nowhere near the RV park. Furthermore, the sign in front of the park reads Hotel (in small letters) at the top and de Alba (in tiny letters) at the bottom. In the centre is the word YURI, whatever that means, in huge capital letters. I hardly managed to spot the place in broad daylight. Somehow I had missed the YURI part when I wrote down the particulars.

Never mind, though. We're here, and we like it here, and we've booked in for a week. We may even stay two weeks. I get to sit still for a while. Hooray!

Now. This morning, back at the lovely Hotel Torre Molino, I went to check out the facilities. Traditionally, Robin showers in the park facility, and I use our own, because I feel creepy about public showers. I have been trying to change, but I'm just not a public shower sort of lady. Today, in the interest of openness, I did walk over to what turned out to be a clean, well-kept washroom. There were, I think, three shower stalls. They were lined with white tile. I ended up not examining them as closely as I had intended, because when I looked into the first one, I saw that there was a drain about four inches across, with a slotted plate on top. A couple of inches from the plate, there was something moving. I looked more closely. I have no idea what the thing was, but it was just about as long as the drain plate was wide. It looked like an earwig to fit an elephant. It was lying on its back and waving its legs in the air. I went back to the RV and got my camera. When I can finally upload photos, I will post a picture of whatever it was, to demonstrate Why I Don't Use Public Showers. Can you imagine? You're washing your hair, lathering away, and you get a bit of shampoo in your eye, and while your eyes are closed, you feel something touch your foot, and you scramble to clear your eyes, and you see - THAT?

EDIT: I found out what I saw in the shower. It was a giant water bug. They bite. Tonight, I walked out to the swimming pool in our new park, and I saw one floating in the pool. When Robin went to look at it, it swam to the bottom of the pool.

I am still in the tropics, as witness that last paragraph. But we have turned north, and I am glad we made that decision. Yesterday, when our brakes failed, we thought about how much worse the situation would have been if we had been on some twisty little jungle road in the Yucatan. (Actually, we also thought about that downhill curve that went on for six miles, and how it could have happened there, but there are some things that don't bear thinking about.) We have come far enough north now that, as I write, there is a cool breeze from the Gulf blowing through the window, and the air conditioner is not running. Not even the fan is running. That horrible buzzing noise in my head is quiet, at last.

We like it here. Did I say that? We are only two days from the Texas border, but we are still in Mexico, and I do love Mexico, so that's a good thing. We may even add the Emerald Coast - and Hotel de Alba - to our itinerary next year. As for the Yucatan, we got close enough.

I thought I was finished writing, but then I remembered that it's time to go get my laundry, and that reminded me - While we were out driving this morning, we dropped our laundry off at a place up the road run by a lady named Margarita. Margarita is a very small woman with a huge grin. She and I ended up chatting for a few minutes while Robin sat in the RV, wondering what had happened to me. I got the feeling that if we stayed here for any length of time, Margarita and I would become very good friends.

And that, my friends, is the best part of my visits to Mexico.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I was cheered yesterday (Monday) morning by an e-mail from Tim telling me that another of my Found Poems has been accepted. It will be published on Wednesday at I found it in a National Geographic dated February, 2003. That was a good start to the day.

We left Isla Aguada just before 9:00 o'clock, headed back to Villa Hermosa and its only RV park, Recreativo El Gordo y San Pancho. The ride was beautiful. There was a huge mangrove swamp bordered by trees that reminded me of lilacs. The blossoms were pinker than lilac blossoms, though. On a post in the middle of the swamp, a cormorant stood at attention, wings spread, completely motionless. A small heron flew past the windshield, apparently either taking off or landing, as its feet were hanging straight down. It looked incredibly clumsy.

Later, there was farmland. I noticed a cow with long, slender horns like half-screwed corkscrews. One horn curved up. The other curved down. The effect was very silly.

We were on a road that hugged the coast. The land was flat, all the way. We passed a peninsula border station, but nobody took our food this time. They don't care what you take out, it seems.

Speaking of food, we stopped for gas near Frontera at about 11:00 o'clock and saw that there was a Burger King next to the station – so instead of pulling over somewhere so that I could cook ham and egg sandwiches, we went into BK and had our brunch. I felt a little silly, and I could feel my arteries hardening, but I must say that my sausage and egg breakfast burrito tasted really good.

Some reports had the RV park, Recreativo El Gordo y San Pancho, closed, and some had it open, so we hunted it down – way down - a little dirt and pothole alley off Highway 180. It turned out that it was open, if barely. It was right beside a scrap yard, so Robin said security should be good, and it was. There was just one other rig there, a fifth wheel from Michigan. Its occupants were Steve and Sandra. They had been there for two weeks, waiting for a part for their fancy-schmancy diesel engine that nobody around there knows how to fix. We spent a very pleasant evening with them.

We were supposed to have electricity and water, but in fact we had only electricity. Had it been any day other than Monday, our 240 peso nightly rate would have included the use of the pool, but we chose the wrong day to arrive. Robin reported, uncharacteristically, that he would not be using the park's sanitary facilities, which made me suspicious of the pool anyway. Oh, and there was No Wi-Fi. If it had been at all practical to go on to one of the many RV parks along the Emerald Coast, we would have done so.– but we stayed, and then we headed out early this morning, leaving Steve and Sandra to await their rescue.

Things went pretty well for the first three or four hours, but then I noticed that a red warning light had gone on, indicating a brake problem. We pulled over when we could, and Robin checked the fluid level. It was low, so he poured in the bottle of fluid we carry for just such a situation.

We proceeded. The light went out, and the brakes firmed up. Shorly thereafter, the light went on and the brakes went soft again, then softer. Robin was driving by that time, and we were on the Autopista, the main highway. There was nowhere to stop, so he kept going, knowing that there was a Pemex station some distance up the road. I sat quietly in the passenger seat, closed my eyes, and tried not to think about it. The advantage to being on the Autopista was that there wasn't the need to keep braking for entrances and exits, other vehicles, topes – any of those things that make for slow going on the secondary roads. He just kept to a moderate speed and drove to the Pemex station, where we used pretty well the last of our stopping power to stop at the pump, filled up with gas and hired the mechanic to have a look at our brakes.

Robin is out there now, sitting by the RV, waiting for the young man to come back from Veracruz with a new brake line and connector. From what I could understand, which was not much, our brake line had been cut. We suspect that it happened when the tire blew, way back by Manzanillo, and that fluid has been slowly leaking away ever since.

Meanwhile, I am sitting in the air-conditioned Starbucks clone next to the Pemex, drinking decaf and eating a totally decadent cinnamon bun, hoping I understood what the young man was saying to me. I gave him 400 pesos to go to Veracruz and buy the part, and I'm pretty sure we were communicating, but he spoke no English at all, and I was picking up about every fourth word of his Spanish. A gaggle of Federales came into the coffee shop a few minutes ago, and I was going to ask them to give me a hand with translation, but only one of them knew any English, and he said he knew “un poco”. I decided there was no point in getting him involved, and I told him never mind. I got the impression he thought I was ever so slightly crazy.

All this is turning what was going to be a long day's drive into a very long day's drive. Unfortunately, there aren't any RV parks right near Veracruz (except the one we stayed in on the way down, which was awful and which is off our route this time, anyway). We were shooting for the Emerald Coast, where there are lots of parks, but that's quite some way off. We may just stay here for the night, or go on to the next Pemex station and sleep there.


Okay, well, that worked out better than I expected. The young men didn't go to Veracruz to get the part. They manufactured it themselves, then installed it. The whole episode took two hours and cost 900 pesos (about $90), including parts and labour. The brakes are working fine. We drove to the Emerald Coast and arrived just after sunset. We were looking for a particular park, which we understood was attached to the Hotel de Alba. We never did find it, despite going up and down the entire row of parks and hotels a couple of times in increasing darkness. We did find the Hotel de Alba, but the receptionist there told us that the RV park of the same name was four kilometers back. We will find it in the morning. In the meantime, we have checked in at the RV park attached to the Hotel Torre Molino. Much of our traveling this afternoon was on roads that were in disgraceful condition. Most of them were toll roads, giving us to wonder what happens to all those tolls.

So. This has been an expensive day, and a long one. We plan to stay here (somewhere in this little enclave) for the next several days, resting, recovering, catching up to our budget.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Still in Isla Aguada

One more day here.

First thing this morning, I put on my bathing suit and walked down to the edge of the lagoon, determined to go for a swim. I was walking over broken shells as I got to the water, but they gave way shortly to sand, so that part was okay. But the water wasn't as lovely as I expected it to be. It wasn't cold, but it also wasn't clear. It seemed very murky to me, and it just didn't appeal at all, so I turned around and walked out again. There's a cold shower right near the entrance to the beach, so I settled for that. So, for my personal record, I have at least put my feet in the lagoon that''s connected (at the bridge) to the Gulf of Mexico.

After I spent an hour or so sitting outside, reading, I took a proper (hot) shower while Robin went for a bike ride. He came back a few minutes later, knocked on the door, and said "Bring a plastic bag." "What kind?" "The kind to hold some fish." I opened the door and there he stood, holding three fish. He claimed that he just put out his hands and they jumped in, but I didn't believe him. It turned out that he had been down the beach and had bought them from a fisherman who was there, cleaning his catch. So it seems we're having a fish fry tonight.

We had a short discussion today about what we should do now. We did plan to go all the way to Cancun, taking in Chichen Itza and Tulum along the way, but neither of us is doing well in this heat. I get up early, go outside for a little while, until it gets to be too hot, which doesn't take long, then retreat into the RV (or, as now, into the shade of an unfamiliar tree), and wait for it to get cool enough that I can stand to venture out. We are no longer seeing anything of the towns we're visiting. I have no interest in taking in the public market - unless they'll hold it at dawn or sunset. We aren't getting much exercise at all, and I, at least, don't feel well. It reminds me of summers in Ontario, when I used to sit on the sofa, not moving, just trying to breathe. Robin is a little better than I am at making the best of it, but that is what he's doing.

Hmmm. I seem to be thinking this through online. We left the final decision until this afternoon, but I think I'll vote for heading north tomorrow. Robin suggested we might spend some time in southern Texas, but for me, just going north in Mexico until we're out of the tropics would probably make all the difference.

I feel like a party pooper.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Isla Aguada, Campeche

We have escaped the viny clutches of the jungle, and from where I sit now, I can see the blue Gulf of Mexico. As we drove along the shore, we noticed that the water looked very green - emerald green was the closest we could come to describing it - but that must be a function of the time of day. It's certainly blue now. Robin has been swimming already, but I'm holding off, not quite ready to brave salt and sand again. I'm spoiled now by the swimming pools at Zihuatanejo and Palenque. I tried to have one last swim before we left Palenque, but somebody was vacuuming the pool, so I had to do without.

Our drive today was almost, but not quite, uneventful. Unfortunately, there's an inspection station at the entrance to the Yucatan Peninsula, where we were stopped and required to give up our bacon and ham and eggs and smoked pork chops. The inspectors didn't care about anything but pork and chicken products, so my fruit bowl full of mangoes and papaya, tomatoes and oranges survived the search, as did the last of the smoked salmon. As we drove away, we imagined the border guards sitting down to a lovely breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Speaking of chickens, I posted a blog entry about chickens over at the Red Room just a few minutes ago. It's a memoir called The Story of the Lone Rooster.

When we arrived at this park - Freedom Shores, it's called - we found Marcia and Ray here. They were our neighbours in Catemaco. I still find it strange to arrive in a completely strange place and see familiar faces. Strange - but nice. This RV park is unique in Mexico, I believe, in that it is designed to be wheelchair-accessible. One of the owners uses a wheelchair, and he wanted to make this a holiday destination for people with mobility problems. Next year, he's planning to put in a 50 foot dock and start running day trips out to see the dolphins. The boat will be wheelchair-friendly.

We hoped to find some fish for sale on the beach, but we arrived too late in the day for that, so we ate dinner at the park's restaurant, instead. I ordered garlicky fish filets again. Robin had a whole mystery fish, and we both had salad. I love it when somebody else makes salad for me. I like eating it, but I can't stand making it. Now I'm looking forward to my dessert - the slice of flan I bought at Wal-Mart the other day. I almost forgot it was in the fridge, which would have been a shame. I love flan. Flan, and a comforting cup of decaf.

We will be here for a couple of nights, resting from too much driving, planning the last of the southward push.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Here I am - better late than never. We set off for Villa Hermosa yesterday, and arrived there around one o´clock in the afternoon. After raiding Wal-Mart for much-needed supplies, we decided that the day was young and we should proceed. It didn´t appear to be very far at all to Palenque. So off we went, but it was farther than we thought, and we didn´t arrive here until just before sunset. We are camped at Mayabell, which is the RV park closest to the ruins. It has no wi-fi, but I don´t think any of the parks do. Fortunately, there are several internet places in town.

Before settling in for the night, we went to the swimming pool, where I rediscovered one of my irrational - no, semi-rational - fears. It was dark, and there was very little light around the pool. I knew that the pool was created by damming a stream, and that there are no chemicals used in it. The water just flows through. It´s very pleasant to swim in. The problem last night was that, well, it was dark, and we were in the jungle, and I couldn´t see what was in the pool, and I found that I didn´t want to put my feet down. I told myself firmly to get over it, and I swam around for a few minutes, long enough to cool off. I went swimming again today, by daylight, after we came back from the ruins. There´s nothing on the bottom of the pool except concrete. A few leaves float on the surface of the water, but they don´t seem to have any ill intent. They just float around.

I needed that swim today. At 9:00 this morning, we got on our bikes and headed up to the ruins. The operative word is üp¨. And up and up. Finally, I gave up, figuring that by the time I had climbed to the top of a pyramid or two and struggled down again, I was going to be too tired to hop on my bike and ride the brakes all the way home. Robin agreed. We rode home a lot faster than we had ridden up, locked the bikes, and took the bus. The gate wasn´t too far beyond where we had climbed, but the hill was very steep.

We paid our admission and set off on our own, as the going price for a guided tour appeared to be 600 pesos ($60 Canadian), which seemed a bit much to us. I´m glad we made that decision, as a lot of what the guides did appeared to involve taking their charges to the many catchpenny operations set up along the paths. People had put plastic tarps on the ground and were selling wooden horses, blouses, statues of various sorts, jewellery, prints - none of which interested us. We walked around and read the plaques, which were written in three languages: Spanish, English, and Chol, the Mayan language. The comments were chiseled into stone. I had to laugh when I was reading the sign outside the Juego de Pelota, the ball court. It referred to the ¨slopping midsection¨ of the court, and I pictured the look on the face of the poor guy doing the chiseling, when he noticed his ¨typo¨.

The highlight of the site, for me, was el Templo de la Cruz, the Temple of the Cross. We climbed five tiers of stone stairs. Some of the risers were knee high. I think there were about fifty of them in all. At the top was the temple, where archaeologists had found tablets describing the accession of Lord Serpent-Jaguar II to the throne in 684 AD. Later, in the museum, I saw this temple and the plaza in which it stood described as follows: It was conceived as an image of the universe, where its temples symbolized the mythical places where the gods had been born.

To get to the museum, which is quite near where we are staying, we descended hundreds of steps through the jungle (where, sure enough, things hang from trees and crawl on the ground and sneak up onto your sandal and sting you - okay, it was an ant). Halfway down, there was a wooden platform for viewing an absolutely beautiful, gentle waterfall called The Bath of the Queen. Then there was a wiggly, squirmy wooden suspension bridge over the wide stream. Then, the museum, where I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and realized I looked as if I had gotten caught in the rain, though there had been no rain. When we got home, I made a hurried brunch so I could get back into the swimming pool. I feel much better now, but I think my legs are going to break and fall off.

Oh, speaking of rain - there was some, but that was yesterday. We drove through two rainstorms between Villa Hermosa and Palenque - the first rain we´ve seen on this trip, I believe, at least the Mexican part.

The last I saw, Robin was still poring over maps, trying to decide where we will go tomorrow. We think perhaps back to the gulf coast, headed toward Cancun. RV parks seem to get a bit scarce along that coast, so it will be an adventure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's an in-between day, a neither-here-nor-there day. I'm here, of course, in Catemaco, but we'll be leaving tomorrow, so I haven't really taken root.

First thing this morning, we had to drive up the road to yet another tire shop. One of our brand-new tires was virtually flat. I think the gauge read five pounds. Fortunately, it was the outside left rear tire, so we could drive a bit, slowly, without doing any damage. The inside tire held our weight. When we got to the shop, there was a bit of a problem, because they didn't seem to have the right socket to fit our lug nuts. (Does that sound racy to you?) Anyway, they did eventually manage to get the tire off and submerge it in soapy water, so now it's nice and clean - but there were no leaks in it. They put it back and filled it up with air for us. Life is full of mystery.

After that, I went down the street to shop for breakfast and dinner supplies, then made breakfast and started the spaghetti sauce for tonight's (very good, if I do say so myself) dinner. I did some more scrubbing, then figured I had earned a few hours of internet immersion, so that's what I did.

I tried to check out the newest Found Poetry entry, but something is wrong with their website. I've gotten nothing but error messages all afternoon when I've tried to connect. It's a measure of the subversive nature of that site that when the error message came up, I found myself wondering if there was a poem hidden in there.

I also learned about a new (new to me, that is) poetic form, the ghazal (See the comments to last night's post). John Hayes - of Robert Frost's Banjo - mentioned it, and I found it online. It makes my brain hurt, but one of these days I think I'll try writing one. I am drawn to couplets, and a ghazal is full of couplets.

Speaking of Robert Frost's Banjo, there's a very interesting post there about the history of children's literature. The blog is listed over here. --------------->

So. Tomorrow we leave for Villa Hermosa. We had heard that the RV park there was closed, but today we did some Googling and found a blog (Croft's Mexico) written by a man who seems to be a few weeks ahead of us on a similar odyssey. He stayed in that camp (Recreativo el Gordo y San Pancho) just a month ago, so perhaps we will have a place to sleep tomorrow - though no internet on site, from what he says.

When next I write, it will probably be from the restaurant beside the Wal-Mart in Villa Hermosa.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another new home -

So much for my beautiful lake view. Now we're in a proper park,
where we can hook up to water and 30-amp power, and where there's a pool (though Robin says it's cold, so I haven't braved it yet). The park is attached to the Hotel Tepetapan, which I write here because I'll never remember it otherwise.
Which brings me to my good news: I have clothes! Woo-hoo! Yesterday, while we were staying at the restaurant, I took a taxi to a laundry and left my clothes there, to be picked up at 5:00 this afternoon. Then I took the taxi home. However, there were a few little problems: I didn't get a receipt for my clothes, so I had no idea what the name of the laundry was, or its address; and worse still, I had no idea how we got there, or how we got back to the restaurant. For a tiny town, this place has a very confusing layout.

Never mind, I thought, it will be obvious when I'm coming from our new location, because we're just off the main street. No. It wasn't. About an hour ago, I walked out of the park and up to the corner. I looked around and thought, I haven't the faintest idea which direction to go to get to the laundry. Oh, dear. So of course I flagged down a taxi and told the driver my sad tale of woe. I said "It's the laundry that's near the rodeo." That didn't get a reaction. "Some lady told me it's the one by the rodeo. I don't know what the rodeo is." (by the way, it isn't the obvious! I think it's maybe the middle of town.) "Do you know where the laundries are?" Yes, he did, and we embarked on the same sort of cat's cradle trip that I took last night. I decided to consider that a good sign.

The first laundry we tried wasn't the right one. I knew that from half a block away. "Is it on a different street?" the driver asked. Yes, I knew that much. So we twisted and turned a bit more, and there it was. Great sighs of relief. I picked up my laundry and came home in the same cab, and even though I tried to watch where we were going, I know that I couldn't find my way to the laundry again. Never mind. I am not naked in Mexico.

But there's more good news - our friends Kristin and TJ have resurfaced, and they're way ahead of us - probably in Cancun by now. I'm so glad. I was beginning to go all maternal.

I've spent most of the afternoon cleaning out and defrosting the refrigerator, but I did take time to clean up my blog a little, too. Do you like it? I ditched my beach photo and replaced it with the same one I use over at The Red Room. I also did away with some messy stuff and replaced it with a new widget that Blogger just introduced (I think). It's a list of some of my favourite songs, of which you can play snippets, if it pleases you. Of course, I'm now thinking Oh No, I forgot Alison Crowe's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah! But never mind. I'll just refer you to You Tube for that.

Oh, and one more thing. This day is just full of good news. Remember the poem I was trying to find? An online friend of mine found it for me. She's a much better internet sleuth than I am. So here it is, in its entirety and its correctity*!:

Vertigo by Adrienne Rich

As for me, I distrust the commonplace;
Demand and am receiving marvels, signs,
Miracles wrought in air, acted in space
After imagination's own designs.
The lion and the tiger pace this way
As often as I call; the flight of wings
Surprises empty air, while out of clay
The golden-gourded vine unwatered springs.
I have inhaled impossibility,
and walk at such an angle, all the stars
Have hung their carnival chains of light for me:
There is a streetcar runs from here to Mars.
I shall be seeing you, my darling, there,
Or at the burning bush in Harvard Square.

I followed my friend's instructions to find the poem on Google (type in "I distrust the commonplace" Adrienne) and guess what I got? My own blog. I got the post in which I asked for help finding the poem. Aaaargh. I also got a couple of sites in Spanish. I guess I have to wait until I get home to search again and get the source book. Meanwhile, though, I have the right words. That's plenty to be going on with. One line that I'm always forgetting is "the flight of wings surprises empty air". After last night, I should have no trouble remembering that.

*my word.

photos from

Monday, February 09, 2009

More from Catemaco

Oh, I have to add a mini-entry to my longer one. I'm still in the restaurant, downloading my tv shows, getting caught up on discussion boards - and the sun is going down. Suddenly, the air is alive with birds. I look out to the sides of the restaurant, and all the trees are full of birds-mostly grackles, I think. The birds fly from tree to tree, then back again, shrieking, making the most incredible racket. In front of the restaurant, they fly above the cars on the street. There is a flock of ducks on the lake, right out front, and they look as if they're keeping a low profile. What? There's one white bird in the midst of all those grackles. All very eerie.
We drove to Catemaco and settled in the unassuming RV area beside La Ceiba restaurant. We have electricity, but not water (we are using what's in our tank). We don't have wi-fi, but the restaurant itself has it, and the connection is great - so now that I've taken a taxi to the laundry and back, we're enjoying a quiet afternoon drink while we catch up on the web.

Robin took a ride on his bike and found the proper RV park in town. He says it's beautiful, and he wants to move over there tomorrow. That's fine with me, but in the meantime I don't mind this place at all. Sitting here, I can see fronds of the open-air restaurant's palm roof hanging down and, below that, the beautiful lake just across the road. Almost the first thing we did when we arrived was to take a one-hour boat ride on the lake - to see the monkeys. Well, why not? I said. I wasn't too sure about the monkeys, but I was up for a boat ride. It was great.

The first place we went was to a Marian shrine somewhere along the shore. I wasn't quite sure why Erick the guide had brought us there, but I thanked him, and then we proceeded. We tore across the lake at great speed, then slowed down at several islands and crept right up to the shore where the monkeys - Erick called them 'macacos', so I gather they are some sort of macaque - were lounging about. He said they were from Thailand, and they were part of an experiment done by the university. Here, my Spanish failed me. I don't know what sort of experiment Erick was talking about. He also pointed out a number of birds, some of which we already knew from Canada and England. It was just weird to see moorhens swimming around, cheek by jowl with some very exotic and beautiful birds that could only come from this kind of climate. There were also kingfishers, which seem to thrive anywhere, and many, many egrets. The lake was studded with very sturdy-looking floating plants, and many of the plants were serving as chairs for the egrets. About two-thirds of the way through the tour, we pulled up by an island where there was some sort of eco-tour encampment. Erick told us that for a price, we could go for a thirty-minute walk there to see the turtles and the wild pigs and I forget what else. Robin's ankles weren't feeling up to the walk, so we declined, but it did look like a beautiful place to walk.

All in all, I'm very glad we took the tour. We are surrounded by ecological preserves of one sort or another - including a volcano. I'm not so sure about getting close to that.

I don't imagine we'll be here more than two or three days, but there's lots to see, and the climate is wonderful - not too hot, not too cold.

What has been haunting me today is that our holiday is more than half over. We are very near the Yucatan, which is the outermost part of the journey. Already I'm beginning to feel nostalgic.

Photos from

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chiconcuac seems a million miles away. We left at 9:00 yesterday morning, knowing it would be a full day's drive to Veracruz. We used the toll road, which was expensive but, in this case, not in very good repair. Somebody had told us to avoid the city of Puebla, but somebody else had said there was a by-pass, so we decided to make use of the toll road and take our chances with Puebla.

So here's one of those traveler-to-traveler warnings: Don't go to Puebla. I mean, I'm sure it's a lovely city to live in, but for a stranger passing through, it's a little on the nightmarish side. Not that anybody was unkind to us, or tried to rob us, or any of that other stuff you hear about Mexico (and which we've never experienced, by the way). It's just that Puebla is a huge city, and coming from the south (southwest?) as we were, there doesn't appear to be a way to get onto the by-pass - or else there is, and it isn't marked, which is more than possible. So we went right through Puebla.

I say that as if it were a matter of driving in a straight line. No. We tried that, and at some point we did see a sign pointing straight ahead to Veracruz, but we seemed to go on a long time after that without seeing another sign. We saw a Pemex station, and we were low on gas, so we pulled in there, filled up, and asked directions. The attendant told us to go two blocks more and turn left. We drove two blocks, looked to the left while we waited for the light to change, and saw what looked like a very unpromising road. There was no sign. So Robin opened his passenger side window and spoke to the lady in the little black car next to us. Veracruz? Yes, she said, pointing straight ahead. So off we went, straight ahead, until the road ended at a t-junction. As the gas station attendant had told us to turn left, that is what we did, if at a different intersection. Then we pulled over to consult our maps. A little black car pulled in ahead of us and stopped. Out came the lady who had directed us. She ran back to my side of the car and said 'Follow me'. Hot damn. Okay.

There ensued half an hour of barreling around Puebla, twisting and turning and watching our lady ask people for directions. Her car, again, was quite small, and ours is a 24 foot motor home, but I managed somehow to follow her. I think I've mentioned before that in the cities here, roads are often marked as having two lanes in each direction. However, when traffic is heavy (usually, that is), the two lanes each way become three, at least. Our lady led us down one of the phantom lanes. I am so glad I was driving, because I think Robin's head would have exploded if he had tried it - he has a better imagination than I do. I had to stifle a giggle - a nervous giggle - from time to time, while I whipped that RV around as if it were a sports car. I suspect Robin closed his eyes.

I didn't hit anything!

Finally, we arrived at the place where we could get onto the Autopista, the freeway. We all pulled over beside a wrecking yard, and we all got out. The lovely lady walked up and threw her arms around me, kissed my cheek, wished me a good trip, apologized for the fact that there are no directional signs in Puebla. I asked where she lived, as she seemed to have driven awfully far to help us. Back in the city, she said. She just felt sorry for us and wanted to give us a hand. May she live long and prosper.

We got back into the RV and climbed the dirt ramp to the freeway. It was then that we discovered our next problem. There was no way to get on the freeway heading to Veracruz. We had to head back toward Cuernavaca. EEEEEEEEEEK! Never mind, I said, there's bound to be a retorno (an interesting bit of engineering that allows for u-turns). There's always a retorno. But where? How far would we have to go back? Soon, though, we saw an exit for a different, smaller highway, so I turned onto that, and from there I was able to make a u-turn through the boulevard and head back toward the Autopista, where we could see an entrance to go in the direction of Veracruz. It turns out that in Puebla, no matter where you are, and no matter where you're going, you just can't get there from here. Our lady hadn't misled us. She had given us our only possible course of action, short of wandering in Puebla until we grew really, really old.

Okay. Enough of Puebla. We proceeded. Oh, yes, Puebla is apparently at 7,100 feet, but the climb from Acapulco is gradual, so we hadn't thought much of it, except for the usual breathing problems - And oh, yes. Breathing problems. The mountains around there belch smoke. Most unsettling. Anyway, we traveled on to Cordoba, and it was after that that we came to the hill. Robin was driving. I pointed out a sign warning of a dangerous hill ahead. We rounded the bend and started down. Robin said it didn't seem very dangerous to him, and I agreed. Then we rounded another bend, and another bend, still going down, and I looked to my right. I've never looked down that far except from an airplane. On and on and on we went, ever downward. The way Robin feels about driving in Mexican cities is the way I feel about driving in the mountains. (Get me down. Please. Just get me down.) If I remember the signs correctly, the 'dangerous hill' was 10 kilometers long. It seemed longer, but it did end, and after that it was level going.

Eventually, there was Veracruz. It doesn't have much in the way of signs, either, and we were tired when we got there at around five o'clock, but we finally found our way to the water and turned right to get to the RV park, eleven kilometers out of town. Unfortunately, the park has no wi-fi - and not much in the way of water pressure, either - but we've booked in for two nights. Today I took the bus into Anton Lizardo, the little pueblo just up the road, because there was an internet cafe shown on the RV park's map. The cafe is closed, but eventually I found this place, which is a bank of computers in an air-conditioned room. That is just fine, because I don't need coffee. I also don't need lunch, because while I was wandering the main street in search of the cafe, I found a little open-air restaurant that advertised empanadas. Yum. I ordered two - one with ground beef, the other with chicken - and waited for Robin to turn up on his bicycle. I waved him down, and ordered cafe con leche for both of us, another empanada for him. After the empanadas arrived, the cook leaned over the counter and presented me with a taco on a styrofoam plate. Try this, she said. Thank you. What is it? Res (beef). Okay -and as I took my first bite, 'cabeza'. Erk. Too late now. I had already tasted it, and it was good. Spicy. I offered Robin a taste. He decided that the soft tortilla and filling were too much trouble to be bothered with, so he declined. I ate the rest.

There. I have had my first (and my last, I suspect) taco de cabeza - brain taco. I've seen them advertised all over Mexico, and I've never had any desire to try one (visions of mad cow disease will haunt me now). However, this village is full of very pleasant people who seem to be quite healthy. I'll try to remember that.

Tomorrow we will head for the Yucatan. There was a delightful man staying in the park last night. His name is Ivan, and he comes from Quebec. He has just spent a month exploring the Yucatan, and he spent an hour this morning telling us about all the things we simply must see. He also mentioned that the RV park we were heading for next is closed, so we're changing our plan. If I heard correctly, we will only travel about three hours tomorrow. I'm not sure we will have internet there, (wherever 'there' is) but I'll be back as soon as I can.

Before I go - thank you so much for the encouraging comments about this blog and about my Found Poetry. I'm having a great time.

Oh, and one more thing - I have been directed to yet another beautiful blog, this one featuring the paintings of Mónica Zúñiga. There's a link to her blog, Hands & Heart, over there on the right ---> and she's having a giveaway! I hope you'll pay her a visit.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Chiconcuac - noon

Aha! I've found out where we are - just outside the village of Chiconcuac. Coming in yesterday, we were so intent on finding the park, we drove right through the village without seeing any identifiers. So we cycled into town this morning, right after the power (and thus my Facebook chat, of course - and the internet as a whole) went down. I should really arrange to have the power go out more frequently, to get me off the computer and out cycling, or walking, or swimming. I was just so excited that the network was actually functioning this morning, I wasn't going to get off until I had read absolutely everything on my list. I had internet access for a while yesterday, but it would have worked faster under treadle power.

This morning, Robin saw that I was connected, so he grabbed his computer and turned it on, whereupon I lost my connection. We thought at first that we had just overloaded the network, but then we saw that there was no electricity in the RV at all.

So off we cycled to town - uphill all the way. We bought a few groceries from a lovely lady who looked at me with a very stern expression, wagged her finger, and told me in Spanish to practice my Spanish! I felt about six years old. Then she smiled, I giggled, and we had a great chat - in Spanish, of course. Once Robin and I had bought our groceries, we cycled home for brunch, stopping first at the town hall, where I noted the town's name. Along the road, we flagged down the water truck and asked its driver to follow us home, so that we could replenish our drinking water supply.

When we got back to the park, we had new neighbours. I said "Good morning" to them, and they looked a little baffled, so I said "Hola!" and they responded. It turned out that they are Francophones from Quebec. I let them know that the water man was coming, and we stood talking for a few minutes in our broken Spanish, mostly, with a little English and French thrown in now and then. I speak no French, so that part was interesting. I asked the gentleman whether he spoke any English, and he replied in Spanish, "Poquito" (a little). They are here to spend a month learning Spanish by living with a family in Cuernavaca. Then they are going to spend another month just exploring. I like that kind of encounter. It's hard for people to stand on their differences when everybody is struggling for words, looking equally foolish.

It also turns out that we didn't break the electrical system. At least I assume we didn't, because the whole town is out, and Robin's laptop doesn't draw that much power!

News flash: While I was connected this morning, I opened my e-mail and discovered that my Found Poetry submission had been accepted. Woo-hoo! I am totally chuffed. My find will be up on the site today I just hope I'll be able to see it. I'm starting to feel like a bona fide citizen of the blogosphere. Thanks to Kathryn Magendie for introducing me to Found Poetry.

It's just occurred to me that I'm taking part in a small but not insignificant culture change. Whenever I visit people's homes, I am drawn to their bookshelves. Seeing what books they read - and what books they care about enough to keep - can tell me a lot about new acquaintances, and it can also lead me to discover new books, new authors. Now, when I find a new and interesting blog, I explore its Links section and its Blogs I'm Following section. There are some fascinating blogs out there, written by fascinating people, and most of them have Links and Blogs I'm Following sections, too. The web is so full of a number of things - it's a wonder I ever get any exercise!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Somewhere near Cuernavaca, Morelos

Three hundred and some-odd kilometers from Acapulco, that's where we are. We left behind the sultry jungle air and the crashing of the surf, and we climbed the Sierra Madres. For a while, it seemed we had lost the palm trees, in favour of pines - but then the palms began to reappear, along with prickly pear and a cactus that may have been a saguaro. It looked as if someone had stretched a saguaro out so that it got really tall and skinny.

Seeing that cactus made me remember a conversation I had several years ago with my friend Lupytha, who managed the RV park where we stayed in Bahia Kino, Sonora. I asked her what a particular cactus was called in Spanish. She said "Cactus." Fair enough. What about that other one, the barrel cactus - what is that called? "Cactus. We just call them all cactus." Well, I guess that simplifies things!

Getting out of Acapulco turned out to be as easy as we hoped - if expensive. We traveled mainly on a toll road. I said at one point that it was an elegant road. It was smooth and straight, terrain permitting, and as we neared Cuernavaca there were plantings down the centre - dwarf palms and oleander. At least the tolls are well spent. The scenery was lovely. It reminded us what a huge country Mexico really is.

One odd thing was that we passed several towns along the way to which there were no exits. Nor were the names of the towns posted. I don't know how people get to or from those towns, but it certainly isn't via the toll road.

I was a little apprehensive when I saw what RV park Robin had chosen. It seems to be owned by the same people that own the place where we stayed last night. However, it is very quiet and pleasant. The park is nearly full of rigs, but we and the people next to us are the only campers in residence. I think the rest are permanent sites leased by people from Mexico City or thereabouts. We are near a village with a number of little shops selling fruits and vegetables, general groceries - and there's a tortilleria, where I bought half a kilo of corn tortillas, fresh off the press. The road from the village to the park reminds us both of places in England. There's a long, very tall stone wall right next to the road. It seems to surround an estate. Very English.

We've booked in for two peaceful nights in the mountains.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Sounds romantic, doesn't it? There was a time when Acapulco was the ultimate in romantic getaways - but I think it's lost a lot of its nice. We tried to avoid coming into town at all, but we missed our turn. I think we were supposed to turn right, back at the little town that was only about eight blocks long - eight blocks of solid traffic jam. Have you ever had the desire to jump out of your car, leap up on the roof, and start yelling "Listen, idiots!" Either all the intersections were four-way stops, or there were no stops. I'm not sure. At any rate, every intersection was a knot of cars and trucks and buses and us, nobody moving, everybody except me honking (and no, I wasn't causing the snarl!) Between the intersections, there was a parade - a very slow-moving, sometimes not-moving - parade of the vehicles that had managed to bully their way onto the highway. All I could think about was getting through the mess. Eventually, I did, and it soon became apparent that I had driven right into Acapulco - and right into a construction zone.

Well. I didn't hit anybody, and I didn't get lost in a maze of tiny streets. With Robin's help, (he of the excellent map reading skills) I drove calmly down the coast road and went through two separate cities, to all appearances. Is there a Nuevo Acapulco now?

I finally made a wrong choice - I knew that I had, but couldn't help it, traffic being what it was - and ended up on one of those tiny dirt and pot-hole streets. I turned left at the next corner and stopped. There was a little store there, with a taxi parked in front of it. We asked the taxi driver to lead us to this RV park, and he did. Even he had to stop to ask directions.

All that was about three hours ago. It was still light outside, but Robin had had enough for the day - which had started out, after all, with a trip to the tire shop, so that we didn't actually get on the road until 11:00 o'clock. We also try not to drive at night here (remember my description of the topes?). So we rented a space at Diamante Acapulco RV Park. It's not a thing of beauty, but it is a place to sleep. It has electricity and wi-fi - and Robin says it has two swimming pools.

TJ and Kris hadn't had enough fun yet, I guess, so they decided to keep going. I have a feeling we won't see them again until we get to the Yucatan, because they're talking about going all the way down to Playa Escondido and then cutting across. Robin prefers to catch the expressway, which is very close to here, and head toward Mexico City, then detour later (I hope!) We will keep in touch via Facebook, though, and hook up earlier if we can.

So buen viaje, TJ and Kris! And good-night, all.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Chinese food in Mexico. Who'd have thought? We went downtown tonight, the four of us, to a restaurant recommended by our hosts. They served Mexican and Chinese food - and there was also Pad Thai on the menu (chicken or shrimp) - so I ordered that, with shrimp. We had Szechuan beef, almond chicken, and curried chicken. There was a lot of food - and it was delicious.

This was our 'Last Night in Zihuatanejo' celebration. Tomorrow morning we have to make a stop at the tire shop because, would you believe? One of the brand new tires is flat. We figure it's probably a valve stem problem, and Robin says we can drive that far with it, because it's the outside rear, and the inside will carry the weight. I hope so. After that, we'll head for Acapulco.

Robin and I went for a walk on the beach this morning, all the way to the end. There was a redheaded woman running on the beach. She ran past us to the end, turned around and ran back, then ran out and back again, all while we were walking out and back just once. I complimented her and asked whether she was a marathon runner. She said she used to be, but no more. I'm not sure how old she was - but she was old enough to make me feel like a pudgy old wimp.

I spent part of the afternoon lying around, happily reading my favourite blogs. I discovered that Kathryn Magendie had a story up on Sotto Voce, and I read that. I loved it. Do check it out. It's called Woman Inside Out, and it's at

After my lazy afternoon, and after dinner, we walked around downtown for a while, window shopping, trying to walk off our calorie binge. I don't think it worked.

My moonlight swim was a little melancholy, as it's my last here. I had been in the pool about a minute when I saw the oddest phenomenon - three stars in the southern sky, connected by streams of light so that they formed a brilliant isosceles triangle. Now, I'm not given to flights of fancy, at least not with respect to visions in the sky, so I figured (and still do) that what I was seeing was due to a combination of stars, palm fronds, and the fact that my glasses were sitting on the kitchen table, rather than on my nose. I moved around, trying to make sense of things, but I couldn't get rid of the vision - so I decided to recite a poem, instead. Who wouldn't?

My favourite poem, the poem of my life, was written by Adrienne Rich. I found it when I was rummaging around in somebody's office one day - back in the 1980s - and I have always kept a copy. I was going to reproduce it here, so I went looking in my other blogs, where I could have sworn I posted it years ago. I can't find it, and Google is failing me. Now, what? I can only hope that when I get back to Canada, I'll find my worn hard copy waiting in my desk drawer.

Or - if anybody who reads this can help me find the poem, I would be most grateful. There in the pool, I quoted it as best I could -

"As for me, I distrust the commonplace -
Ask and am receiving marvels, signs,
Miracles wrought in air, acted in space
After imagination's own design.

The lion and the tiger pace this way
As often as I call,
And out of empty air,
The golden-gourded vine, unwatered, springs.

I have inhaled impossibility,
And walk at such an angle, all the stars
Have hung their carnival chains of light for me.

There is a streetcar runs from here to Mars.
I shall be seeing you, my darling, there -
Or at the burning bush in Harvard Square."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Half a moon tonight, so fewer stars visible. Still, I loved my moonlight swim.

I also swam first thing this morning. Have I mentioned that none of the showers in this park have hot water? If I swim during the heat of the day, my pre-swim shower is warm, at least for a few seconds - but early in the morning, before the sun has heated the pipes, the shower is cold, and so is the pool. A week ago, I would have shuddered at the very thought of taking a cold shower, but now I accept it as part - several parts, actually - of my daily routine.

I could take a shower in the RV, of course - except for one little problem. When our tire blew a few days ago, it destroyed the compartment under the rig that holds the sewer hose in place - so although we could use the hose, getting it in and out of its precarious perch is a most unpleasant proposition. I have been asked, therefore, to put as little waste water as possible into our tank, thus postponing the inevitable task. Not that any of this makes sense to me, but I am trying to co-operate. Someday, I trust, we will be able to get that compartment replaced, and I will have my shower back. Meanwhile, I am a traveling ascetic.

So after my morning swim, we took the RV to the tire shop from which Robin had ordered two tires. They installed those two, plus the two that we bought in Manzanillo. We now have four brand new rear tires (the front tires were replaced just before we left Canada). With another four thousand miles or so to travel on this journey, we really needed to do that.

I was unwise yesterday, spent too much time in the sun, so when we got back from the tire shop, I was wary about going for my afternoon swim. Instead, I spent the day inside the RV, with the air conditioner blasting. It was 33C outside, far too hot for me. I wanted to go downtown to buy groceries, but there was no way I was going out in that heat. I waited until 4:30 this afternoon, then took two buses to get to a supermarket, rather than going to the public market, mostly because I figured the supermarket would be air conditioned.

The first bus was parked down by the beach. When I boarded it, I saw that there were four men on board with guitars. One of them was strumming a bit, but nobody was actually playing, to my disappointment. A big man with grey hair and a lovely voice boarded after I did. He started singing, then chatted with one of the guitarists, then sang some more. The bus might hold twenty people in a pinch, but there were only eleven of us on board today, including the driver, and the atmosphere was convivial. A few blocks into the trip, the driver turned on the radio - to something like a Mexican version of soft rock - and the man across from me sang along. It occurred to me that I was doing something I've always loved - sitting in the middle of a group of strangers who didn't speak my language. I used to love walking around in Chinatown in Toronto, for the same reason. Nobody knew me, and nobody understood a word I said (or vice versa), and I found it oddly liberating - as long as I didn't really need to communicate.

I came home by cab and shut myself indoors again, cooked and ate supper, and finally went for a walk on the beach with Robin, well after sundown. This time, the beach was empty - except for what we thought were a couple of swimmers way down the beach, standing hip deep in the surf. They turned out to be not swimmers at all, but fishers. One of them walked out of the water, grinning, carrying a big fish on the end of a short line. A restaurant halfway down the beach was surrounded by lighted tiki torches. All I could think was omigod it must be hot in there!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Super Bowl is over. I had a great time watching it. I've become such a football expert, I even remembered who was playing. I cheered (officially) for Arizona, because they were the underdogs, but I saw Keith Olbermann interview Pittsburgh's head coach last night, and he's a bit of a cutie, and he's also the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history, if I heard correctly, so I couldn't help pulling for him, too. I was torn.

We've all fallen rather in love with Zihuatanejo, so we're going to stay a bit longer - a week longer, if Robin and I have our way. There's just so much to love. Our park is clean and neat and quiet; the downtown area is great fun, the beach is lovely; the sea is warm. Still, we seem to spend most of our time in the pool, coming out to eat and sleep. Seriously. I swam this morning, right after our beach walk, then again after lunch. The Super Bowl got in the way of my swimming this evening, but when I got home, I put on my suit and went over for my moonlight dip. I suggested to Kristin that we should figure out a way to dehydrate the pool, fold it, and carry it with us. In the photo above, Robin is doing one of his signature belly flops.

Today is the first time on this trip that I've gotten a sunburn. I think the beach walk was the culprit. It was early in the day, so I didn't even think about sunscreen - but by the time I got home, I was toasty. Then, of course, I jumped into the pool and forgot to get out. I should save my beach walking for sunset and later - not only for the sake of my skin, but because it's so lovely out there. Early in the day, there were a few people on the beach, but when I walked down to the restaurant for the Super Bowl, it was standing room only - both on the beach and out in the water. I think the whole population of Zihuatanejo was out there, relaxed and happy, swimming, playing ball, half-burying each other in mud at the edge of the water.

Good night!

Photos courtesy of Kristin Ames

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