The Journey to Casa Madera – The tale of Oswaldo

September 2011 – It’s a hot one today at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  35 degrees with a humidex of about 42.  We have not had a good cooling rain for two weeks.  Very unusual for that to happen in rainy season.  Due to the heat there was not much going on today but trying not to sweat!

Labour day weekend was a treat.  Casa Madera was visited by friends from Lacombe, Alberta to celebrate their 24th anniversary.  It was a great weekend and too short a visit.  We are happy they enjoyed their tour of “our Mexico“.

It’s during these visits that our memories go back to what this house looked like when we bought it and how far we have come in less than 2 years.  The house was a mess.  Plants were overgrown everywhere.  The woodwork was termite infested, the fixtures were old and everything was in general disrepair.  All this with two people who were office workers and one who spent virtually every waking summer moment on the golf course…..

December 2009 – We have been in the house for about 10 days.  Still feeling our way around and trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.  We were working on tearing out the kitchen and rotten woodwork in the back room.  It was a long process as screws had to come out to get things apart.  Most had been in place for 20 years in a humid environment which made them just a tad rusty.

It was frustrating.  We thought that we finally had the last screw or nail and then when the unit still would not move we would find 6 more.  It seemed to take us forever just get the counter and the kitchen cabinets out let alone the rotten pine wall unit. If we were having  this much difficulty in the first room how hard were the next two going to be?

Kitchen and Wall unit in Room number 1

We were up to our necks in rotten wood when our friend Bill came by to see how we were doing.  He had a man working at his house building a pizza oven and patio area and he was just about done so he thought maybe we would be interested in having him come to work for us.  He could do tile, concrete and other general construction work.  He would come for 2500 pesos a week and lunch everyday.

Heather and I thought this over for at least a nanosecond and said sure.  Oswaldo would start on Thursday as he had one more day at Bill’s.

Thursday came and Oswaldo showed up at the appointed hour.  We went through the house and showed him what was going on and what we wanted to do.  The first order of business for him was to repair our outside wall where there was giant hole as neither Heather or I had ever mixed concrete in our lives.

Hole in the wall

Oswaldo looked at the hole, did some calculations and said we needed to get materials so off to the store we went.  He ordered what he needed and said they would deliver it in a couple of hours.

Back at the house Oswaldo asked whether we would like him to work on the tear out.  Sure I said.  He asked a very important question, “are you keeping anything”?  No.  In the space of the next 30 minutes he had the wall unit that Heather and I worked so patiently on for two days in a pile outside of the house.  Who cares about screws, just rip the thing out I can deal with the screws later.

Room number 2 after the removal of it's wall unit

From there he was into the bathroom ripping out the sink, the vanity, the toilet, and the shower doors.  He was done it all by the time the materials for the wall showed up.

After the demolition of the shower in room number 1

It was at that point when Heather and I realized how far in over our heads we were and boy did we feel like idiots.

With the materials there Oswaldo started on the wall.  He could only do a little at a time as the mortar had to set before more weight could be added on top of it so he started on the second bedroom.  He completed the tear out in that room while working on the wall and moved into the third bedroom.

By the time the wall was complete and stuccoed he had completed the tear out in all three rooms.   Two and a half days.  Heather and I spent 2 days in room number 1 and were not done when he joined us!

2 Days of Oswaldo, hole fixed and just needs paint

Monday morning came and Oswaldo was wondering what we wanted him to do today.  We decided to start on the kitchen in the first bedroom.  Heather and I had made up our minds that the kitchens would be Mexican without a stick of wood in sight so concrete had to be mixed, forms had to made and we needed to show him where everything would go.

It was a demanding task keeping up with him.  While a great worker, he was not a great planner so there were many times when he came upstairs and said I need this or that before I can go on.  This meant I spent a lot time going to the store to get more supplies.

It got to the point where I was always greeted by name at El Guero (our local hardware store).  If Heather was with me, I am not sure they really noticed.  They were only interested in the guy who kept buying tile, glue, grout, toilets, faucets, shower heads, and anything else they had on what seemed like a daily basis for a while.  Every person who worked there would break away from what they were doing to say hi, how are you Kevin?  I have to admit, I liked it!

The New Shower in room number 1

Oswaldo did great work.  He built all of our kitchens in our guest rooms, rebuilt all of the bathrooms and did a spectacular job.  I thought they looked great then and I still do.

The finished kitchen in room number 1 and the bathroom sink, all Oswaldo's handiwork

He was a god send to us.  He had his quirks and at times he drove us absolutely nuts but  his work ethic and the quality of his work was great.

We look back it now and realize that without him we would have been screwed.  We had no idea of what we were getting into or how to fix it and were ripe for the picking.  Thanks to him we were not picked.  He handled our problems, sometimes well, sometimes not so much but we learned from it.

After 5 months Heather and I realized that it was time for us to start doing things for ourselves and taking ownership of our house.  We owe Oswaldo a ton and I hate to think of where we would be if he had not come into our lives.  Thank you.

Oswaldo standing beside his first finished kitchen in room number 1

 

 

The Journey to Casa Madera – We have the house….what the heck do we do now?

August 25, 2011 – I am enjoying coffee this morning on our balcony at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta surveying our front yard and trying to remember what it looked like 20 ago when we moved in.  It is difficult as we have made so many changes over that time.  New iron fence, a few more plants, grass; they all contribute to fogging the memory.  It has been an amazing 20 months since we signed the papers and took over the stewardship of this house.  It was a few more months until we really took ownership of our home….months

December 9, 2009 – We are sitting in the office of Notario #4 with our realtor, the listing realtor, the mortgage company representative and the Notario’s assistant.  Our search is at an end.  After months of looking, making an offer and then waiting for all of the paperwork to be completed we are about to sign the final papers.  We were excited but also a little terrified!

Signing the papers. Are those smiles of joy or trepidation?

We were about to take on a project that neither one of us had ever thought about 4 years previous.  We wanted a house that could be used as a Bed and Breakfast and we found it.  It was perfect.  All the guest rooms would be separate from the main dwelling so no one actually had to walk through our living space to get to their room.  The pool was right by the guest rooms.  The rooms had front and back doors.  It looks like the house was designed specifically for this purpose.

After many explanations of the various documents, many photos & many signatures, the deed was done.  The keys were handed over and we went to look at our new abode.

The house that would become Casa Madera

Everybody feels something different when they walk through the front door of their new home for the first time.  For some it is the elation of having a house for the first time.  A house to raise a family in and build their lives together.  For us it was different.

It was the feeling of incredible terror!  We had just walked into a 3,000 square foot mass of concrete that needed some serious upgrading before we could even hope to get our dream up and running.  However, it was now ours.  Two people who had spent the last 20 odd years working in Insurance.  Heather, a gamer who would try anything in a home handyperson kind of way and me, who is anything but a handy kind of guy.  We spent that first 30 minutes looking at our castle and realizing we were about to be taken on the ride of our lives.

Over the next 3 days we moved all of our stuff into the house.  Now all of our stuff is kind of a liberal term.  We moved down with the Toyota Rav 4 filled to the brim but that was all we brought with us.  I still cannot believe it took 3 days to move everything in but apparently we had bought a lot in a year.

Before we could set anything up or put anything away the house had to be cleaned.  It was filthy.  So after buying new brooms, mops and cleaning supplies we went to work.

A rare sight, me with a mop!

The second day our new bed was delivered so we spent our first night in the house.  That was more than a little different.  We had been living in the interior courtyard of a condo complex where you might hear a cat meowing after dark but that was it.  We spent the first night and a few more after that going “what the hell was that?”  Some noises were easy to identify, crickets, frogs, the odd cow but there were others that just defied description.  We don’t notice those anymore.

After getting everything moved in and put away it was time to try to figure out what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.  We would sit under the palapa and just stare at everything.  We had no clue of what to do or where to start.

Tearing out the kitchen in room number 1

Do we deal with the green pool first?  Do we deal with a bedroom?  We just had no idea.

The pool, what a lovely colour

It was few days before we started to work out a plan.  The bedrooms had to be demolished.  The woodwork was termite ridden and rotten.  The rooms were dark and dirty.  The bathrooms were disgusting.  They needed a complete overhaul but nothing could be done until we had ripped everything out.

So we started with our back room.  It had a full kitchen which was at least 20 years old and looked 40.  So I started taking out the kitchen while Heather started on the wall unit.  It was difficult figuring out how they had everything installed and removing screws that had been in place for many, many years but it started to come together.

Bathroom sink and vanity

For 3 days we worked on this room.  It was hot and dirty work but we did feel a sense of accomplishment when we were finished.  The problem then was what do we do with it?

The first bedroom after the kitchen tear out

It was that day a friend of ours came by and said he had a fellow working at his house building his wood fired pizza oven.  He was almost finished with and he wondered if we would consider taking him on.  He did concrete and tile work.  He could do other things too but we would need to make sure he knew what we wanted. We needed somebody to help us with this so we said yes.

And thus began the tale the Oswaldo…..

The Quest to get a Mexican Driver’s License

When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta to start the quest of finding a house that would be suitable to turn into Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast we were driving a brand new Toyota Rav 4.  We loved that vehicle.  It was great to drive, good on gas and the air conditioning worked which was a BIG plus for those of us trying to get accustomed to warmer weather.

Unfortunately the fact that a good many of the roads are cobblestone caused us to think that this was not the place to have a new vehicle so we decided to drive it back to Canada in August 2009 and sell it while we were visiting family.  It hurt to sell it but it was for the best.

When we returned to Puerto Vallarta at the beginning of September we set about looking for a vehicle.  That was lots of fun as the main car dealers do not sell a lot of Semi-Nuevos as they call them here.  This meant that we were forced to go to the used car lots which was always so much fun in Canada.  Well its double the fun here when your Spanish is limited.

We did eventually find 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee that we could live with at a reasonable price and did the deal.  The car dealer was gracious enough to send his wife with us when we went to go register it and that was a good thing as the original bill of sale was written on a form that was 2 days past its valid dates of use.  This meant they had to procure another bill of sale that was valid before the state would transfer ownership of the car.  Without the sellers wife, we would have had nothing but frustration.

While there we saw that the driver’s license bureau was right across the hall.  Now we had noticed that driving in Mexico was unique at best but we figured they all had to have driver’s licenses, didn’t they?  So we asked our helper about getting Mexican driver’s licenses.

We wandered across the hall and spoke to the receptionist who said to come back at 4:00 that afternoon for the test.  Our helper said that we would take a written test and then an actual driving test!  Cripes, I had not taken a practical drivers test since I was 16, neither had Heather.  Well that will be fun.  Sure hope the examiner speaks english!

We arrived at 4:00 and were ushered into the room at the back and told to take seats.  We did and more people arrived so soon we were sitting with about 20 other people, all Mexicans, of ages from 16 to 35.

The instruction welcomed us and then proceeded to lecture us in Spanish for 90 minutes on the rules of road.  Heather and I looked at each other and laughed silently…RULES!  Get out-of-town.  There are no rules.  The only rule we could see that when the light phase was about to change from red to green someone was going to be honking at the front vehicles to get their collective butts in gear and get moving.

Apparently though, there are rules.  The driver must wear a seat belt.  You must not follow the vehicle ahead of you too close.  Speeding kills. etc.  All rules we knew from driving for 35 years.

This lecture took place in Spanish, of course, but we both found that we were able to understand a good part of what the officer was saying.  It became totally apparent that we did because he looked at Heather and asked her how long she had been driving.  35 years she responded and he looked to me for an answer to the same question.  I repeated the same answer and on he went through the room getting answers like 1, 2 or 5 years throughout most of the room.  He then said that because of the two people in the front row, gesturing to Heather and I, that no one would have to take the practical driving test because we brought the class average up to 15 years driving experience!  You have to be kidding me!  It was a little shocking but neither one of us was upset about not having to take a practical exam.

It was then he told us to come back tomorrow after 9:30 and do the written test.

We arrived right at the appointed time and got checked in.  The instructor from the night before motioned me over to the computer and gave me a demonstration on how the system works.  I had 20 questions to answer.  He did not tell me what the fail mark was  but during the course of the demonstration he answered the first question for me.  I wondered if it was my sparkling blue eyes or the fact that sitting in my hands was a Spanish/English dictionary.

We had been told that the test was in Spanish but we would be allowed a translation dictionary for help.  So there I was, facing my first real question that I had to answer and looking up words like there was no tomorrow.  We had taken 3 semesters of Spanish but you only learn so much and we found that out in spades.

After about 3 minutes I thought I had a grasp on what the question was about and then looked at the answers.  I caught a break as the answer was obvious even in a different language.  On to question 3.  I was rifling through the dictionary like my life depended on it.  And really it did.  What good are you at 51 when you cannot pass a drivers test after driving for 35 years?

After answering question 3 I was reading question 4 when I sensed a presence beside me.  It was a security guard.  I looked up at him and he said in English, “Do you understand Spanish?”  I replied that I could understand a little and words I did not know I was looking up and so far things were going ok.  I thought that was a little odd that he would come in and talk to me while I was working on the exam but quickly forgot about it.

For 35 minutes I flipped pages, tried to figure out words and gave what I could not get my best guess.  The people there were quite amused with the gringo trying to do this test.

I finished the test and called the instructor over who came over and scored the exam.  The look on his face when 90% came up was priceless.  Of course I could not stop beaming!

At that point it was quick, he took my picture and printed off my secure license right there.  No need to wait 15 days for it show up like in a Canadian province that I know.

They had a lot of people waiting to take this test and they had two computers.  After they got Heather sat down at the one I had been working on they put a 16-year-old boy at the other computer.  Heather was working diligently at her test and completed it faster than me and passed it as well.  It was a happy day for both of us!

And then we ran into a glitch.  The computer they were printing Heather’s license on froze.  The license would not print so they told us to wait while they called someone.  We were hanging around the door waiting when the sister of the boy at the other computer asked Heather what she put for this particular question.  WTF??  You don’t ask someone what they put for an answer on an exam question???

Heather went over and looked at the question figuring what the hell, the woman who acted as a proctor was sitting right there and did not bat an eye when the woman asked Heather for help.  Heather said “I put C”.  It was then that the proctor piped and said (without a word of a lie), “That is not the right answer, it is B”.  huh….You mean we could have asked you for help!  Give me a break!

I cannot speak for Heather but for 35 minutes I sweated over that test.  The Old Spice was working hard keeping me fresh during that time and my brain was tired.  What really irritates me is it did not need to be!  For a small fee, it turns out the security guard would have written test for both of us and we would have walked away as fresh as a daisy with no problems what so ever.  And from what we understand now many people we know have taken the small fee route which worked for them but I can tell all of you this.  They don’t have the sense of pride and accomplishment that Heather and I did walking out of the Motor Vehicles office, getting into our car and driving to Victor’s for a Corona and a shot to celebrate.

You Want to Eat What???

February 8, 2011 – We had friends staying at Casa Madera a few weeks ago. Two couples, Doug and Linda who are Vallarta veterans and Bob and Susan who had never been to Mexico before. 

It was a great combination.  Doug and Linda were free with information and advice to the rookies who ate it up.  It was fun watching as Bob and Susan discovered what it was that caused us all to love Mexico so much. 

The highlight was the day that Doug suggested we all go to Tacos on the Street in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle for dinner.  So we packed everybody into the Jeep with Doug riding in the luggage compartment as he had a broken leg that needed to be kept straight. 

We arrived early enough that we were able to get a table without lining up and I wandered down the street to the local store to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.  This is an excellent restaurant food wise but it is not much to look at and I am pretty sure Bob and Susan were wondering where in Gods name we had dragged them to eat.

The Crew at Tacos on the Street

That changed the moment the food arrived.  It was great, grilled rib eye tacos, tostadas and quesadillas, it just does not get better.  Everybody loved it.  A great evening out, good friends & good food.

It was the start of something great and the next evening Bob & Susan ate in a small little hole in the wall in Puerto Vallarta.  They told us they loved it too.  The two of them had come a long way in a few days.  It reminds me of Heather’s and my eyes being opened to the variety of food available on the street a few years back.

December 15, 2008 – Time for a walk.  We had just finished dinner and were feeling cooped up inside our little condo.  We were just locking the gate when a Mexican man came down the hall with his hands full of paint and other building materials and stopped at the door next door. 

He smiled and introduced himself as Marco and explained that he had bought the unit a few months ago and was here to renovate the unit and get it cleaned up.  I had heard working next door and knew someone was there but we had never seen him.

We chatted back and forth for the next little while getting the details of what he was doing, how he was doing it and his schedule for the next week.  He explained that he is a Mexican National who has been living in the US for 20 years.  He is an American Citizen living in the Bay area but has a lot of family in Mexico.

One of the things he had been doing on this trip was reliving his youth and enjoying the food that he used to eat but cannot get in the United States.  He was especially interested in Tacos de Sesos but had been unable to find them yet.  We said our good nights and continued on with our walk.

A couple of nights later we were relaxing in the condo watching some tv considering going to bed because it was after 9:00 when Marco yelled up to our patio windows.  He was going out to see if he could find some Tacos de Sesos and would we like to come with him.  We wrestled with that for a while as we had yet to beat the Canadian responsiblity gene out of ourselves yet but finally we decided what the hell, it sounds like fun let’s go. 

So into Marco’s car we got and we were off.  Marco had done his research and had found out that there was a stand down by Casa Ley, a supermarket so we headed downtown.  he drove slow through the area but could not find the stand. 

Marco was not going to be put off by this turn of events and decided to keep driving.  He knew there was one or more out there and he was going to find it! 

We continued driving around the northern end of el centro but we were not having any success.  It was at that point that he saw a young man standing at a bus stop.  He asked him in Spanish if he knew of any stands in the area that served Tacos de Sesos and he said maybe up the road and to the right.  That was enough so Marco asked him to get in.

Now there was something we were not quite ready for but Marco and passenger kept conversing in Spanish with Marco translating for us into English.  The man rode with us for a couple of minutes and then Marco let him out at another bus stop where he could catch his second bus.  He had pointed him in another direction so Marco had dropped him in a place where he would only have to pay one bus fare to get home.

We ended up in a part of town that Heather and I had never been in.  Marco was checking every stand for these tacos but no, not one of them had them.  He finally got to one that said that they had other types that interested Marco so we stopped. 

He ordered a taco whose name was indiscernable to me but it turned out to be breast of cow.  We agreed to try it and it was udderly fascinating.  Not quite up to my tastes, a little chewy but not overly offensive.  He liked the stand so he continued to sample the rest of their wares.

Next up, Tacos de Labia.  Cow lips.  Better than the udder ones, more flavour and not as chewy.  This was quickly followed by Tacos de Lengua or tongue.  I have never liked beef tongue so I let Heather have that one.  I stuck with a regular meat taco.  It was delightful, as was Heather’s tongue taco according to her.

Marco still obsessed with the Tacos de Sesos however and was questioning the stand owner about them.  We were in luck.  He had a brother who had a stand a couple of blocks away and he sold them.   

So back into the car we went and after starting to think we were going the wrong way we found the stand and yes, he had Tacos de Sesos.   Marco was like a child a Christmas, he was so excited.  Marco ordered two and only two because he had not had them for quite a while and was unsure about whether or not he would still like them.  After he liberally doused the first one in hot sauce he took a bite.  I watched with anticipation as he uttered the first words out of his mouth, “well these will be an acquired taste”.   

Immediately he added more hot sauce, salt , pepper, and offered a bite to us.  After his second bite he offered the other taco to us.  I passed  but Heather being the gamer that she is jumped right in with both feet.  Marco ordered a drink. Heather covered hers in hot sauce.  I steadfastly refused to touch it.

Heather ordered a drink.  I watched an Iraqi journalist throw a shoe at George Bush on the tv while trying not to gag at what they were eating.

Marco finally got his down.  Heather kept struggling.  Why you say did these two continue to struggle to eat these?  Well it would be an insult to the proud chef who was watching their every move to throw it out. 

So I ordered drink because they looked good.  Horchata, a drink made of rice water, sugar and cinnamon. Very tasty but somehow I doubt it would totally clear your taste buds of what was lingering there.

Heather was obviously struggling to keep the taco down but she was still working on it.  I kept expecting Jeff Probst to jump out of a truck, but no there were just a lot people wondering what the gringos were doing in their neighbourhood.

Marco may have had his Tacos de Sesos but he was not done yet.  He then a Taco de Ojo, which he explained was to get the taste out of his mouth of the Sesos.  Again he offered a bite to us but Heather after just managing to get the other one down chose not to.  Me, not a snowball’s chance in hell was I going to try Cow eyes.  So Marco finished his Ojo and paid the man.  4 tacos, 3 drinks, 40 pesos….we said goodnight to the man and off we went home. 

Marco was a revelation to us.  We owe him a ton.  Without him dragging us out on this adventure we would have taken forever to get over eating food off of a road side stand.  He showed us what Mexico really had to offer and that while you may not like all of it or want to try it all there is a ton of food out there that is very, very good.  You just have to look for it and you will find it.   

And for that Marco we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!  Though honestly, I still cannot figure out why you will try all of that stuff and not eat an escargot.

Enjoying a Sunset Cerveza with Marco on Playa Las Glorias

As far as what are Tacos de Sesos?  If any of you are game to try Cow brains come on down and we will be happy to show you where you can get them.  The stand is permanently ensconced in our brains.

Does anybody still own a typewriter?

Aerial view of marina, cruise ship docks and d...
Image via Wikipedia

January 23, 2011 – It has been a very busy month.  We have been inundated with friends and relatives coming to escape the cold and snow of Canada.  It has been a great 6 weeks.  Lots of places to take people, lots of laughs and lots of great food and drink.  It did cut my blog writing time down but it was worth it having everybody here.

The kitchen renovation is complete save the refinishing of the tile floor.  That starts tomorrow.  We are looking forward to seeing the finished product and finally being able to fill the new cupboards.  More importantly we will be able to stop living in a construction zone!

While Sergio is sanding the floor I will be wandering down to the Vialidad ( car registration and licensing office) to register the Jeep for the coming year.  That should be entertaining.  Sure hope the dot matrix printer does not break down.  Yes, that was not a typo, dot matrix printer.  They are all over the country.  Office Depot carries an entire rack of printer ribbon as do all of the other business supply stores in town. 

An Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer
Image via Wikipedia

 

It was quite a surprise the first time I heard one fire up when we moved here.  I am not sure how they get parts for them anymore but they are in use everywhere and especially in every government office.  It’s funny.  The Vialidad issues the registration on a dot matrix printer but the licensing division across the hall can issue you a fancy new security holographic drivers license in two minutes.  

It is this that reminds me of our first trip to Immigration in Puerto Vallarta to register that we had arrived in town a couple of years ago….

November 20, 2008 – Immigration day.  We were told we had to register with the Immigration department locally even though we already had the documents we needed to be here.  We had a quick breakfast and headed out the door at 8:00 am to walk to the office to be ready when they opened at 9:00. 

We arrived there about 8:20 to find a line up.  Hmm, a line up for immigration, that seems a little odd.  It was even more odd when we found out that one guy got there at 4:30 so he could be first in line!  At 8:30 the security guard starting handing out numbers, we were 14.  This won’t be too bad, should be out in an hour. 

While we sat there waiting for the office to open clutching our number so we would not lose our place in line Heather struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to her on the sidewalk.  Her name was Patti.  We talked with her until the office opened.  Nice woman. 

When the office opened, like cattle we all tramped up the stairs into their cramped waiting room and they started calling numbers.  An hour went by and they were at number 4.  Well maybe this won’t be that quick.  Another hour goes by and hey we are up to number 10.  Things are moving along.  I am watching the traffic at the windows because it seems like people are coming in and cutting in on those with numbers.  It was then I realized that some of the people at the windows were dealing with papers for lots of people!  Whats this then??? 

Patti then explained it to us.  She and a lot of the people were helpers who dealt with immigration.  For a fee they took care of the paperwork and the filing of the documents.  Ok, that makes more sense now.  We took her card for future reference.

At 12:15 our number was finally called!  Up to the window we moved quickly so nobody would muscle in on us.  We handed the woman behind the counter our documents and said we were told that we needed to register our presence in Puerto Vallarta.  We thought we would just need a stamp on our books.  Noooooooo.  That was too easy. 

She handed us back more forms to fill out.  She told us to fill the forms out and return with them along with our original FM -3’s, photos (front and side views) and a copy of a utility bill for proof of address. We realized that this is more than a stamp and it is going to require more than one trip to immigration.  It could be 3 trips and 6 hours of time judging by some of the comments we had overheard this morning.  Then she dropped the bombshell….the forms had to be typewritten, not filled out by hand.  The typing also had to be lined up with the lines or they would not be acceptable.File:Underwoodfive.jpg

TYPED!!!  Who are they kidding?  Who has a typewriter anymore?  Yes typed.  Crap.  So we walked out in stunned silence wondering where the heck we were going to find a typewriter.  We know 3 people in town!  Good luck with that one.

We mulled it over for a few days wondering what we were going to do about this when we finally decided that we should call our Property Manager and see if he can help.  He did have typewriter that we could use if we wanted.  The next day we headed over to his office to try to type this document. 

For fifteen minutes Heather tried to line up the paper on the roller so the type would hit where it was supposed to.  It was futile.  Half of the problem was that neither one of us had used a typewriter since the early nineties so we were out of practice.  She finally got it lined up to where she thought it should be and pressed the first key.  Damn, not lined up correctly.  Erase, try again.  Nope, not right.  This went on for at least an hour and she was unable to get one line on the form done.

Frustrated was not the word.  Anger was building and building quickly.  After about an hour and a half of frustration Heather threw in the towel.  We thanked them for the use of their typewriter which both us wanted to throw out the window to see it hit the parking lot below and left the office. 

Now what are we going to do?  We were miserable failures at typing and that is how the form needs to be filled out.  We got home, opened a beer and called Patti. 

Patti did it all.  We only had to go to immigration once to be finger printed and get our documents.  It was easy and we spent no more time in line. 

We phone her every year now.

The Journey to Casa Madera – Ok, We’re Here, Now what do we do?

December 13, 2010 – Heather and her mother Barbara, who is visiting from Wetaskiwin, just went into town to see Berta, our seamstress who will be making some curtains for us.   After that they will be off to the printer to agree or disagree with the new business card design, hit Colchorama to buy a new mattress, and stop at the store to pick up a few necessities.

The Malecon bridge over the Rio Cuale

Everyday life here in Vallarta.  Not much different from Canada, NOW!  When I think back to that first day after we arrived and realized we had absolutely no idea what to do about anything I marvel at how far we have come in such a short time….

November 17, 2008 – First morning in our new home.  We had hit the grocery store the night before to get a few groceries so we would have the some of the important things in life like food and of course, coffee!  So we made some coffee and Heather set about trying to make breakfast.

The condo we owned was not the largest, about 450 square feet, but it was purchased with retirement vacations in mind and was mainly an investment.  When we bought it we had no idea we would be living in it full-time 2 years later.  So of the 450 square feet, about 10 of it was the kitchen.

The Kitchen

There was no stove, only a hot plate so Heather plugged it in and started trying to fry some eggs.  She put the pan on the burner and cracked the first egg.  She then felt her right hand go numb.  Figuring that she had hit it on the side of the counter she cracked another egg and then as she her hands got close to the frying pan both arms went numb.  It was then that we realized that there was something seriously wrong with this appliance so she got a plastic spatula and removed the plug from the wall.  I carried the offending item outside to the garbage.

Well ok, what do we do now?  We had brought a new hot plate with us from Canada so it was unpacked and put into use.  Well we at least tried to put it to use.  It was a three prong plug.  There were no three prong outlets in the entire condo.  They were all two.  Apparently grounding was not big in Mexico in the eighties when the condo was built so we were going to require an adapter to plug the hot plate in.  Microwaved eggs it was and they were delightful.  Well not really but hey when you are hungry you make do.

The Beach by our condo

After breakfast we thought we should head out and see our property manager who had been taking care of the condo for us.  His office was on the other side of old town.  It was a nice day, the sun was shining so we decided to walk.  We were noticing that a lot of the small family run stores that we passed were closed.  It was then we found out that it was a holiday celebrating the Mexican Revolution.  Well we were three-quarters of the way to his office so we kept going only to find it locked up tight.

Street in Old Town on the way to Ted's office

That took us 2 hours and we were soaking wet and wilted from the heat.  Just not used to it.  So down the hill from his office to a sandwich shop for something cold to drink and a snack.   We hopped on a bus from there and hit Wal-Mart to pick up some converter plugs so we could plug in the hot plate and few other things that we needed.

The next day we returned to the property managers office, however this time we went by bus, so we smelled a lot better!  Not in today.  Oh well at least we could get an appointment.

As we were standing outside of his office enjoying the view of the Bay of Banderas below us I noticed that across the street was the realty company that our favourite rental agent had gone to work for so we thought we would drop by and see if he was in.  Nope, out.  Well, 2 for 2.  Well what shall we do now?

One of the many beautiful views in the Bay

We were standing the company’s parking lot deciding that, when a car backed in and two people got out.  I recognized one, William Michael, who had shown us the condo next door to ours when he had it listed for sale.  He had been sending me email since then which always had his picture attached.  As I asked if it was him, the other man said I know that voice, that’s Kevin.  I had spoken to Robert about 5 times the last time we were in town about rentals and I was kind of surprised, I never thought of my voice as distinct.

Either way it was nice to see faces we knew and to finally make a connection with someone.  We made dinner plans for the following week and let them get back to work.  Since that time they have become some of our very dear and close friends.  And they still handle real estate and rentals for us through Vallarta Escapes.

Fishermen pulling their nets at dawn
Fishermen pulling their nets at dawn

Later that night we were sitting in our living room watching the movie SWAT on TV in spanish.   It was warm in the condo, 24 degrees, and no breeze so we were both sitting there waiting for the oscillating fan to blow our way.  Our condo had absolutely no flow through ventilation so a fan or air conditioning was in order.  We could not use the living room a/c unit as we used it on Sunday night and after 20 minutes water started pouring out of the unit.  That was a little frustrating so it was at this moment unusable and one of the items on our list of things to talk to the Property Manager about.

We had hired the Property Manager very quickly after buying the condo as we needed someone to pay the bills and look after the rentals.  We had already decided that we would relieve ourselves of him at the end of the year but there were a few things we needed done first.  The air conditioner needed repair, we needed a new toilet as the old one just was not working properly and we needed internet.

He is a nice man and was good at his job, bills were paid and things were looked after.  He was hard to get to see sometimes when we were in town but we always did get to see him.  He loved to talk and we got a lot out of those talks.  We listened and realized that it may take persistence but we could do a lot things our selves it would just take time.  We look back on those times fondly because without him we would not be where we are today.  He introduced us to Robert, the best rental agent in the bay (and the only one who could rent our condo) and Lupe, the fastest and best damn housekeeper we have ever seen.

We met with him the next day at the appointed hour, 10:00 Am for our usual 3 hour appointment.  We discussed the state of the economy, what it is doing to business in Mexico, what is happening with our condo, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be paid.

He asked if we had gone to immigration here in town to register and let them know we were here.  We had not but we said we would.   We left his office at 12:30 and headed for our favourite beach restaurant, The Lazy Lizard.

Los Muertos Beach, PV

We got there and it was closed and the space was for rent.  For rent?  Many times we had sat under their palapa’s and talked about how we would run the place as it was rarely busy which always seemed odd to us as it had the cheapest drinks on the beach, reasonable food and fun waiters.  Maybe we want to open a bar instead?  This was something that was going require some thought.  We wandered on down the beach in search of a cheap bucket of Corona to enjoy our afternoon with thoughts of bar ownership in our heads……

Maybe.......

Next up….the visit to immigration….ugh

The Journey to Casa Madera – Puerto Vallarta, our new Home!

December 7, 2010 – A month ago we sent our dog, Alexa, to training school.  She was good dog but we had bad dog owner habits that had made her a leader in the household instead of the 4th in line behind Heather, myself and Zorro the cat.  This needed to be corrected so she got a month’s vacation with Carlos at Dog Tag training.

Alexa and Zorro

The final stage of this training is training us on what to do and how to handle her.  This entails us going into Vallarta everyday this week for that training.  That can be a challenge at this point in time to say the least as on August 31, 2010 heavy rains washed out one of the bridges over the Rio Ameca which divides the two states, Nayarit and Jalisco.

What was remaining of the Northbound section of the bridge

This has caused quite the traffic mess as people work of both sides of the river and go back a forth a lot.  This is also the highway that goes to Tepic.  Needless to say there have been days when we sit in a traffic line up for an hour just to cross the river and because of this we only went into Puerto Vallarta when we had to.  This all changes tomorrow at 11:00 AM as they have finished rebuilding the bridge and traffic will once again flow smoothly between the two populated areas.

Fifteen weeks from the date the bridge went into the river, it has been replaced.  They worked 24 hours a day to get it done.  It is truly an amazing accomplishment.  But I digress….

One of the main things we like to do when we are on the other side of the river is find a fruit truck.  The fruit is farm fresh and much, much less expensive that at the grocery store.  Today we drove into Ixtapa when we were done with our training and found a truck selling Papayas, Pineapples, Watermelons, Mandarin Oranges, Apples and Cucumbers.  As we were picking our fruit I was reminded of the first time we bought fruit on the side of the road on our way into Puerto Vallarta….

November 16, 2008 – We were up early at the City Express Hotel in Mazatlan.  Breakfast was included in our room so we loaded up the car and headed to the lobby to chow down.  The hotel was new and they were still working the kinks out so we had to wait a bit for them to get everything out but the coffee was ready so we were able to enjoy a cup.

All fed and watered we were in the car trying to find our way out of Mazatlan.  The GPS worked wonders and that was a good thing because while I am not normally directionally challenged I certainly was in Mazatlan.  I would have gone in totally the wrong direction!  However the GPS rescued us and we made the right turn and ended up on the road out-of-town.

It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was out and it was 24 degrees at 7:30.  This was the nicest morning we had on the entire trip down.  It was a perfect start to the day we arrived at our new home.

Lagoons south of Mazatlan

We had been on the road for only a few minutes when we hit the toll booth.  Now all of the toll roads we had been on so far were smooth, 2 lanes and nice to drive on.  Today….it was a toll road but is was a 2 lane toll road, one lane in each direction!  Speed limit 110.  Straight as an arrow.  Oh and no shoulder.  Sigh…

In Mexico they build the bridge before they need it!

It did eventually change back to a 4 lane but that did not last long, only about 50 kilometers and then it was back to the 2 lane.  A 2 lane that began to climb about an hour out of Tepic, Nayarit.  It did not finish climbing until we got to Tepic.  The other problem with this toll road was that it was no longer straight.  It turned here, it turned there.  It was like a road race set except you don’t find buses in a road race set going 110 on a twisty turny road.

It turned out the road was still under construction so being as it was two years ago maybe some of the curves have been ironed out or at least maybe it has been twinned.

We were quite happy when we got to Tepic as it was the final major center on our journey.  161 kilometers to go.  That won’t take long.  It was about 11:30.  The GPS was telling us that our arrival time in PV would be 4:00 pm.  What the heck?  It was 161 kms.  No way.  Even allowing for the time change from Mountain to Central, that is still 3 and a half hours.  It must have miscalculated.

Woo Hoo!

So we left Tepic knowing that we will be in Vallarta soon.  Certainly well before 3:00 pm.  It was then the highway got narrower and hard to believe, twistier!  The speed limit was 60 kph and I could not get to it.  It made the Trans Canada Highway outside of Golden, BC look like it was straight as an arrow.  To top it all off most of these corners were on cliffs where Heather was looking straight down.

Did I mention the buses who were riding my bumper.  Cars were passing on the 75 feet of straight highway between corners.  Needless to say we started to drive even slower as we had not driven this far to go over the side of the cliff.  Luckily there are little pull outs on the side of the road here and there where you could escape to let people by.

Dangerous curve, no FREAKING kidding!

While the driving was hairy, the scenery was spectacular.  We thought it might be similar to the Alps with the lush farming fields in the distance and views that went forever.  It was beautiful.  However, I was ever so happy when we came off the hills down into the town of Compestela and the road flattened out.

Spectacular views

We stopped at an Oxxo store and picked up some drinks and junk food for the rest of the drive.  Evidently the GPS was going to be right and we would have another 2 hours on the road.  It took us an hour to go 31 kilometers.  We still had 130 to go.

The drive did not get any less pretty.  Rainy season had just ended a few weeks previous and the jungle was lush and spectacular.  There was a canopy of trees and vines over the road.  Really cool.

As we moved towards Puerto Vallarta we started to see fruit stands on the side of the road.  After passing about 30 of them we finally stopped at one.  The woman and her daughter who ran it were all over us letting try this fruit and that fruit, many we had never seen before.  Some was ok, some would be an acquired taste.  But one thing that was purchased was a Pineapple.  10 pesos for about 2 kilo pineapple.  She had given us a taste of one they had cut, oh so sweet and juicy.  I had never tasted one so good so it was a no brainer, a pineapple for a buck.  We had to buy it.  Hopefully it will be as good as the one she gave us.

It was about an hour later when we saw the sign for Sayulita, Nayarit.  Something familiar, finally.  We had visited Sayulita in 2006 when we were in PV with my kids.  A beautiful little beach town.  With nice gentle surfing waves it is a very popular place and gave us a very California in the sixties kind of feeling.  A nice place to spend a Sunday.

The final push, 30 kilometers left.  Over a mountain.  Lots of traffic but it was slower as the climb made it difficult for trucks and buses to move fast.  The next thing we knew we were thrust out of the jungle onto the four lane highway by La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.  We had made it.  4 lanes all the way now.  What a relief.  20 days after we had left Edmonton we had finally reached our destination!

Ahhh

We drove through town finally starting to relax until we pulled into the area where our condo was located, Plaza las Glorias.  Now the fun part, finding a place to park.  Our condo was in a retail, office complex that was surrounded by 3 hotels.  It was a busy area so parking could be a premium and it was this day.  We finally found a spot in the middle of the street and started the unloading process.

Almost there!

We were getting the second load out of the car when a time share sales rep named Juan approached us and asked if we wanted some help.  He was probably looking for someone to sign up for a presentation but it was a hike to the condo from where we were parked so we said sure.  His help probably saved Heather and I three extra trips.  We said thanks and offered to buy him a beer later but we never saw him again. (and we did look)

Almost full

We stood in our kitchen (20 square feet of kitchen) and surveyed the living room.  It was packed with stuff.  Well what should we do, unpack?  Nope, off to Casa Blakes Sports Bar to say hi and have a well-earned cerveza!

Time for a well earned Corona!

The Journey to Casa Madera – The Big Scary Border

November 28, 2010 – We are downstairs sitting by the pool. It is a sunny, beautiful day.  Temperature is heading for its usual 28 degrees.  Just another spectacular Vallarta day.

Today is a special day.  Nobody is working on the house.  We have it to ourselves.  The only sound we hear is the pool fountain and Aretha Franklin.  It is divine.  We love the men working on the house, they are great guys but we have two weeks left before they will be done.

Alfonso Jr., Marco, Alfonso, Roberto, Me

It is nice to be alone.  However, it is also Grey Cup Sunday.

 

Saskatchewan Roughriders Logo
Image via Wikipedia

The one day of the year that most Canadians gather around tv’s with their friends to watch the biggest Canadian Football game of the year.  When I was growing up it was known as the Grand National Drunk.  It may not get called that anymore, but it certainly still is.  It will especially be that in our hometown, Edmonton as it is being held there in -7 degree temperatures.  They have been partying for 3 days.  It looks like it should be a great game.  A pity that my Eskimos will not be there but being westerners we still cheer for the western team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Walk into virtually any bar in Canada and you will find someone wearing their green and white jersey.  Once a Rider fan, always a Rider fan.  The people from Saskatchewan may relocate across the great land but the green jerseys follow them everywhere.  Even to Puerto Vallarta.

Today we will become part of the Rider Nation (man that hurts).  We are venturing into town to Casa Blakes Sports Bar.  It will be full of Rider fans and we will be sitting with 2 of them.  Dale & Annette.  They live in Victoria, BC but Dale was a transplanted Newfie in Regina.  Who else would he cheer for?

We met them last year at the same bar for the same game between the same teams.  The bar is busy and you need reservations for Grey Cup.  Sue Blake  puts people together to fill all the tables.  She put us with Dale & Annette.  It was a riot.

Today we will be immigrants in the Rider Nation.  It is a daunting experience.  We felt their pain last year when they could not count to 13.  We will feel their pain this  year should they not come out victorious  but at the end, we will still be immigrants in a scary land.  Riderville.  Much like we were two years ago crossing the border into this great misunderstood land of Mexico….

November 14, 2008 – 6:48 am.  We were up and ready to go because the walls in the hotel were thin.  People had been moving about since 4:00 am.  So in our bleary eyed state we started the car and pointed it in the direction of the border.  D-Day was here.  Were we going to actually do it?  We were excited but we were also scared spit less.

The Big Scary Border

 

We had never crossed the border in a vehicle before, we had always arrived by plane.  Would we get through without an inspection from a corrupt border guard who was looking for money.  We did not know whether the stories were true about the customs agents in Mexico but we had everything we owned in that car and did not want to lose it.

We drove past the American checkpoint and crossed into Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  There were no barricades.  You just drove through.  Hmm, that was odd.  We saw the immigration building and pulled in beside it.  We had arranged our immigration papers with the Mexican Consulate in Calgary and they had advised us that this white and red piece of paper had to be turned in at the border.

It was 7:00 am.  We walked in and located the one person who was working and handed her our documentation.  She looked at it and took it back to her desk.  She drank some coffee and slowly moved to the copier.  Photocopied the FM-3’s (our immigration documents) and our passports (the first time out of about 400 that they were going to be photocopied in the next two years).  She took the pieces of paper, stamped the documents and sent us on our way.  Was it that easy?  Wow.  Didn’t expect that.    However we still had to go through the customs checkpoint 12 miles down the road.  We still had that to look forward to.

We drove on right into the center of town.

Nogales. Sonora

It really is like driving into a foreign land.  It was so different.  Vendors in the middle of the road selling newspapers, food stands everywhere and lots of different things to catch your attention.

 

We found our way out-of-town still feeling like frightened rabbits.  There was nobody else on the road and we started to relax a bit.  The signs were all in Spanish but the gps had our backs.  It knew where we needed to go and lead us on towards the car importation station.

To bring a vehicle into Mexico it has to be imported.  You need a sticker.  To get that sticker you have to provide copies of your registration, your insurance, your passports (one more time) and a credit card guarantee that you will not leave the car in the country.  They charge you $30.00 US for this sticker.

We arrived at this station just before it opened are were not the first people there.  We were however the only people in shorts.  Did I say how freaking cold it was!  It was 7 degrees, not what we expected.  We waited in line and after an hour we finally got everything taken care of.  They gave us our sticker and some paper documents that we were to not to lose and return when the car left the country.  There was also some paper work that would be taken at a checkpoint farther down the road.

We left the station and there it was.  Customs.  Here we go.  For those of you who have never travelled to Mexico, they have a random inspection system that does not involve questions.  After you say whether or not you have something to declare you push a button.  Red they search your car and your bags possibly keeping whatever they find, green you drive happily down the road.

It was time, I pushed the button and GREEN LIGHT!!!!  The gate goes up and needless to say we were out of there as fast as we could go without attracting suspicion.  Not that we had anything illicit or illegal but we wanted the hell out of there while we still had all of our stuff.

The GPS said we had 24 hours to Puerto Vallarta so we knew we had 3 days of driving ahead of us.  It was 8:30.  Our destination for the day was Ciudad Obregon.  Did not know anything about it but knew it was approximately as far as we wanted to travel that day.

Wide open Mexican Landscape

 

We spent some time getting used to Mexican traffic and drivers not that there were a ton on the road, most were Americans and Canadians heading down for the winter.  We  tried to decipher road signs.  That was entertaining as what little spanish we knew did not include translating the verb usage on road signs.  Needless to say we just played it by ear but most of the time we had no idea what they meant.

Signs warning of a toll booth

 

9:30 – We needed a driver change and needed a bathroom.  Stopped at Pemex station which had a corner store attached to it and bought some water and some galletas (cookies) that we had no idea what they were about but the girl behind the counter told us they were good.  She was not wrong, they were delightful.  Nice soft cookies filled with cajeta (goats milk caramel) that were really tasty and to this day if we see them on the street we buy them.

A half an hour later we approached a military checkpoint.  Lots of men and lots of guns.  A little unnerving.  They wanted to see the vehicle paperwork.  We handed the soldier the form we got from the import people and he took a portion and waved us on our way.  Pheeww.  You just didn’t know what to expect.

We drove on to Hermosillo.  A big city.  We were in one lane and the GPS was telling us to turn left.     However, I had forgotten one thing about the roads in Mexico.  In a lot of Mexican cities they have a lateral road that is to access the businesses on the side.  It is generally also used for left turns.  We were a little stressed over this and could not turn left there so we went straight.

I should have turned left here

 

That actually worked out for the best because we were hungry and there, lo and behold, was a Subway!  A quick lunch and back on the road.

It was a nice drive to Ciudad Obregon.  The scenery was nice, we were more relaxed and beginning to enjoy our adventure.

Trucks waiting in line at a cargo inspection station

 

We got into town about 3:00 and looked a hotel.  We found Hotel Valle Grand.  It was $87.00 for the night.  The parking lot was secure with a guard.  We felt safe.  We unpacked the car and went out for a walk to look around.  It was hot and sunny.  We found a little sidewalk cafe ordered a couple of Corona’s and some chips and salsa and enjoyed the afternoon.

We sauntered back to the hotel and relaxed for the evening to ready ourselves for the big drive to Mazatlan in the morning.  We slept well that night.  We were comfortable, we were in a safe place, we were happy and we knew that things were going to turn out just fine.

The Journey to Casa Madera – The Run to the Border

November 23, 2010 – I was sitting in the traffic line up waiting to cross the last remaining bridge over Rio Ameca with 300 of my closest friends to come home after buying a fridge and stove for one of our rooms.  Now there is not much you can do when you are sitting in traffic but sit there and think.  I was thinking about how nice it is that the government is running the reconstruction of the washed out side 24 hours a day.

7 inches of rain in one day throughout the basin took this bridge out

Because of those efforts the bridge should be open early in new year instead of April which was the original estimate.  This wash out has made a quick 15 minute jaunt to Home Depot a 2 hour ordeal.  We only go when we absolutely have to.  It reminded me of the daunting task of leaving Anaheim, California on our way to Tucson, Arizona at rush hour….

November 12, 2008 – Our original plan when leaving Anaheim was to spend the day and night in San Diego.  We wanted to see the San Diego Zoo.  I had seen it before but it is always nice to go to a world-class facility.  Unfortunately we had been on the road for over 2 weeks and were getting tired of hotels, shuttling in all our of possessions into the room every night, and substandard food.  That day we decided the heck with it we will skip the zoo and head for Tucson.

Freeway to San Diego not far from the border

We had long ago decided that we would cross the US Mexico border at Nogales, Arizona as it provided better access to the toll highways in Mexico.  The toll highways would be faster, safer and it was a more direct route to Puerto Vallarta.

We set out  from Anaheim after the worst free hotel hot breakfast that was served to us on the trip.  While it is nice that they do that, this hotel should have stuck with bagels and cream cheese!  We had done some internet research the night before looking for a place that would sell a gps map for Mexico somewhere on our route and there was a store that listed Garmin maps in its advertisement in San Diego.  The best part was that it was just off the highway so that was our first destination for the day.

The traffic on the freeway to San Diego was absolutely brutal.  All 5 lanes were full and traffic was moving at least 15 MPH over the posted speed limit of 75.  While that’s fine in some situations, when its bumper to bumper it is a little hard on the nerves.    We made it to San Diego without incident and the steering wheel recovered from the nail marks in time.  It was time to find the Map store.

A turn here, a turn there, another turn here.  Well it should be here somewhere???  Finally located the address.  Out of business.  Damn.  However, we are not really surprised as the location sucked.  Oh well maybe in Yuma or Tucson.

Off we went on Interstate 8.  While we wanted to go to Tucson it was 410 miles and it was already noon.  We were realizing that we may have to stop somewhere else.  We would play it by ear which is the way we like to travel anyhow because it gives us the opportunity to stop and see things that might be worthwhile.   We were about to cross the Mojave Desert so we were not sure if we would see anything or not but we would make time for it if there was.

Climbed all the way from San Diego to 4000 feet

The drive was nice, especially after the hectic drive from Anaheim to San Diego.  Traffic was light and the highway was great.  It was a good thing as this was a spectacular drive.  Who would have ever thought that there would be so much scenery to enjoy crossing a desert. This is a high elevation desert so there were lots of mountains, big rock faces and Serrano Cacti by the thousands.  They were unbelievable. 

Serrano Cactus as far as the eye can see

We arrived at Yuma at 4:00 pm as the time zone had changed and decided that we would stay there the night.  After touring a few hotels and deciding that Yuma and Santa Barbara should start a most expensive lodging club we finally found one that was ok and close to our budget.  This took almost an hour and a half.  Yuma is a very oddly laid out town and it was difficult finding the hotel zones.

We unloaded the car and went outside to enjoy an absolutely beautiful desert sunset.  The one thing about touring looking for a hotel was we also saw a great many restaurants.  We decided on BBQ.  It was good but not exceptionally good.  We realized that this was a chain so it was cookie cutter formula food.  We have since been to Texas and found out what proper BBQ should be, but that is a story for another day.

Sand around Yuma, just need a buggy
The Snowbirds were already there

We spent the evening planning our route in Mexico using the paper map we bought earlier in Windsor, California.  It was important that we planned it out as we had no intentions of driving at night and wanted to make sure that we knew which towns or cities we had to stop in.  We knew that when we crossed the border that we would take 3 days to do the remaining miles.

We were up in the morning and off to Tucson as we had located a store there that did sell the Garmin map for Mexico and they had it in stock.  241 miles of desert, mountains, more desert and Serrano Cactus.

The black line in the distance is George Bush's wall

We found the store, bought our map, grabbed some lunch and headed for Nogales, Arizona.  The border town.  We thought it would be better to stay the night on the American side then try to find a hotel on the Mexican side.  That way we could get up early and hit the border before it got busy.

It was an hour to Nogales.  Driving into town was different.  This was a border town, no doubt about it.  Very rough-looking.  They had three hotels.  A Super 8 built in probably 1960, a Best Western that did not look like it was in the best area of town and a Holiday Inn that had just opened.  We tried the Holiday Inn.  No go, fully booked.  Super 8 it was.

It was early in the mid afternoon so it gave us some time to do some laundry.  Heather was doing that while I was downstairs checking email in the lobby.  I was on my way up the stairs when I heard this blood curdling scream (one that I was going to get very familiar with over the next few months) coming from our room.  I dashed up stairs trying not to drop my computer and there sitting on top of our freshly washed clothes was the biggest freaking bug I had ever seen.  Really this thing could have carried away small children.

We brought it to the attention of the desk clerk who calmly came up and killed it.  We know it came out of the dryer and was not in the room because the hotel was spotless.  It was at that point we went to Safeway and bought a bottle of wine as we had the sneaking suspicion neither one of us would sleep all that well tonight.

It was during that drive around town that we saw that the town was not really that bad, it is just old.  We hit the mall, did a little shopping and asked people for suggestions for dinner.  We were directed to a little mexican place downtown.  We were not disappointed.  The food was delightful, the people were friendly and we left well fed and watered.

We retired back to the room both with apprehension as the big event was here.  We were about to cross the border.  The scary border that we had heard so many bad things about.  What will happen?  What about all the goods we are carrying and dealing with customs?  We just could not turn back now.  It had to happen.  So we climbed into the bed whose mattress was probably not manufactured in this decade and drifted off with visions of the new adventure starting in about 8 short hours.

The Journey Begins

I was sitting down by our swimming pool the other day having coffee listening to Alphonso and Marco hammer the crap out of our kitchen walls to enlarge it and I started to think about how we got here….

A couple of years ago Heather and I were enjoying life in Sherwood Park, Alberta. We had good jobs, great employers, my kids were growing up, excellent friends, the house was close to being paid off and we had just finished renovating our kitchen. However, something was missing. We had a sense of adventure that owning a 30-year-old motor home was not fully satisfying. We needed something else…..it was a that point we decided that it was time to start a new chapter in our lives.

We sold the house, packed up our Toyota Rav 4 with what ever we could fit in it and moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to open a Bed and Breakfast. This is the story of that journey and how we got to where we are now.

When we decided to do this we already owned a small condo in Vallarta that we could live in while we searched for a property with which we could open this grand project.  However we never thought how about how long we would have to live there!

In October 2008, the car was loaded and we headed out on the Yellowhead highway towards the west coast. We had decided we were going to take our time and have a small vacation on the way. Our plan was to drive down to San Diego on the coastal highways and then head inland to Tucson and down into Mexico from there.

We crossed the Canadian/United States border south of Vancouver in a driving rainstorm. At the border the US customs agent asked us the reason for our trip, it was obvious he could see that we had the Rav packed to the rafters. We explained we were moving to Mexico. The response was “oh, and why would you want to do that?” After our explanation we were off and driving.

Our stopping point for the weekend was Seattle. We both wanted to actually see Seattle and some of the things we had seen or heard about. The Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and things we had yet to encounter.

The Pike Place Market
The recognizable face of the Pike Place Market

If you ever have the desire to go to Seattle and even if you don’t, you must go. A truly beautiful city and just seeing the fish mongers at the Pike Place Fish Market toss the fish around is a treat. I could go on about it but really you need to experience it yourself!

The Space Needle at Night
The Space Needle at Night

After a great weekend in Seattle we moved on towards the coast down past Olympia heading towards Seaside, Oregon. On the way we stopped at Cape Disappointment State Park which is on mouth of the Columbia River. An interpretive center is located there on the difficulty ship captains had with the currents at the mouth of the river and the shifting sandbars which caused many a grounding and wrecks on the beach. It was an interesting stop, one I would recommend.

From there is was across the massive bridge over the river to Astoria, Oregon where we visited the Astoria Column. The column is unique and quite the site. The view from its location is spectacular! We ended this day in Seaside about 40 miles down the road from Astoria.

The Astoria Column
The Astoria Column

The next day we were the Oregon Coastal Highway. The scenery is absolutely spectacular! If you have not driven this road, it is a must do. The ocean is wild in this area with large waves and many scenic points to watch them crash on the rocks below.

Beach in between Seaside and Newport, Oregon
Beach Close to Tillamook, Oregon

It was this day we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon.  It was a great place that had a self guided tour of their factory.  They also make great cheese and we are very happy we can buy it in Vallarta!

Tillamook Cheese
Tillamook Cheese Factory

As you may have figured out we were not moving at the speed of light.  We figured we were only going to do this drive once and we wanted to do it right so there were lots of stops for pictures of scenery or stops at places of interest.  Sometimes we found interesting pictures for no reason at all.

ironing board
this was in a parking lot????

We have no idea what this was all about!

The scenery on the Oregon coast is phenomenal.  Pictures will say it better than words.

Lighthouse
Lighthouse overlooking one of the many coves
Sea Lions
Yes those are all Sea Lions
Oregon Dunes
One of the many Oregon Sand Dunes

From Oregon it was on to California and the Redwoods!

That will be our next installment.

Kevin