The Journey to Casa Madera – What do you mean there is a Hurricane out there!

October 10, 2011 – Heather and I are sitting on our kitchen balcony this morning at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta enjoying our coffee wondering what the next 3 days will hold.  5 days ago a small disturbance formed out in the Pacific Ocean that over the days developed into a Category 3 Hurricane, Jova.

Puerto Vallarta has been threatened before this year but nothing has come close.   Jova has been listed as a potential direct hit for our beautiful part of the world now for 3 days.  Late yesterday that changed and it will probably hit land 150 miles down the coast near Manzanillo which is great for us but not so much for the poor people in Manzanillo and surrounding area.

When Heather and I moved here 3 years ago we knew that the area always had the potential for Hurricanes but it is rare for a Hurricane to hit land on the Pacific East Coast.  It does happen but not like the East Coast of Mexico or the United State and Canada.   However we are from Northern Alberta where you never knew when a Tornado might make an appearance so really what was the difference.  That and you just cannot let something limit you like weather or other natural events.  So we moved anyway.

This has been the closest we have been to having to deal with tropical weather.  Since we have been here we have dealt with a glancing blow from a tropical storm which hit Mazatlan and another that came in for 30 minutes (which we both slept through), downed trees and took off some roofs in Bucerias but otherwise nothing. Yes there is odd good storm during rainy season but nothing worse than Alberta would see.

We know the power that these storms punch but somehow I am disappointed that it is not going to hit us.  I don’t know why.  Is it the power of nature that I really wanted to see first hand?  Or did I want to see how the house stood up to it?  Either way, it is idiotic!

The storm was upgraded last night to a Category 3 Hurricane which would be devastating.  Major storm surge, houses damaged, trees blown down and a large amount of flooding.  You just cannot wish that on the other residents in the area, many who have no insurance on their belongings that they worked hard to obtain.  Not to mention that our deductible is 20% of any hurricane loss so do I really want to spend $8,000.00 if we suffer $40,000.00 in damage?

But that is only money and really money does not mean anything in the grand scheme of things.  Life is what it is all about.  A hurricane at this point in time would be bad for Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit.  The Pan American Games are about to start in Guadalajara this week with a couple of events taking place in our fair city.   The City of Puerto Vallarta just spent a ton of money rebuilding the jewel of the city, the Malecon, which is due to open this week with the games.  I would hate to see all of those pesos go to waste, especially considering that high season is only 4 weeks away.

This is a tourist area.  It thrives on tourist dollars.  All of our Canadian and American friends who live here year round make their living off of tourists as we do too.  None of us can afford to have a hurricane take that season away.  But that is just us.  The infringers, the expats, the ones who really don’t belong.

The real damage would be to our Mexican hosts who let us live here.  People whose entire year rests on the next 6 months.  A major hurricane would wipe out families.  Some kids would not be able to afford to go to school.  Families would be struggling to put food on the table.   Lives would change and not for the better.

The country is already struggling thanks to the American and Canadian media and their reporting on what happens here.  I will not deny that there are areas in Mexico that are not particularly safe however, most tourist areas and cities are very secure and a pleasure to be in and see.  Heather and I feel safer here than we did travelling through the United States to get here.

While I will admit to trepidation when we crossed the border in a car 3 years ago that was mainly due to language and not knowing the customs.  In most places we stopped on the way down we were treated with respect and joy for being there.  That does not stop.  Whether we are driving in the middle of nowhere or in major centres, people are happy to see us and share their food and culture with us.  I would hate to see that change.

Though is it is currently pouring with rain, I am looking forward to spending a great day with some Canadian friends at Blakes Sports Bar to watch the Edmonton Eskimos beat the crap out of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  In reality who wins does not matter.  The fact is we got to spend the day with friends and all of us will be hopeful that nothing develops out of this hurricane.  If not for us but for the people who grew up in this great country.

I have only one message to say, don’t believe everything you read in the papers or hear on the 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00 newscast.  Mexico is truly a great place, the people will love you, feed you well and make sure your cerveza is cold.  But most of all you will be making sure that our Mexican hosts can eat.  They are good people and they deserve it.

So on Canadian Thanksgiving Day I am thankful that I have two healthy children, a healthy granddaughter, a grandson on the way and many, many Mexican friends who have allowed me to partake in their customs, their way of life and helped me to discover the joy of being myself.

This is truly a great place and Hurricane Jova, where ever you hit, YOU CANNOT CHANGE IT!

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.