Friday, June 25, 2010

Quirks and Peculiarities of Tequisquiapan

Everyone must be tired of hearing about my problems. I know that I am. Tired of thinking and writing about them. Now that I've had a little more head space, I've been thinking of how peculiar the climate is here. I had read that the state of Queretaro lies in central Mexico and has nine (that would be 9!) distinct climate regions, ranging from semi-tropical with a rainy summer to semi-arid and very hot. All in a mountainous state that has an area of 4,544 square miles (11,768 That would be approximately half the size of New Hampshire in the  US. and it would fit into Nova Scotia (Canada) four and a half times.

While I can't vouch with certainty as to the climates of either New Hampshire or Nova Scotia, I do know for having traveled in both that they are mainly temperate, running to cold in the winter, warm in the summer with hot spells, and in either season with varying degrees of humidity depending on the region. Nothing arctic or tropical. It boggles the mind how this tiny area can have such a diversity of climates; but it must be remembered that most of it is high peaks, small valleys, and deep canyons. I suppose elevation plays a role in this.

On a more personal note, I'd been told that the hottest month is May. It was! I have a hard time wrapping my head around this, used as I am to summer being the hottest season. And I lived in Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Florida, the Bahamas, the foothills of the Rockies, the West Coast, Texas, etc. the list is too long. June is supposed to be the start of the rainy season. I was chatting with a cab driver the other day and he said that the rainy season this year might be on the dry side. So far, he's right on. Only three sizeable rainy half-days thus far. But the weather has changed. We're back to cool nights with a temp around 60 F. in the morning. Very comfy. The afternoons are a bit hotter but so far, not in the nineties as in May! Is it the elevation? Very peculiar for a Northerner. . .

Nearby San Juan del Rio lies at 6,299 feet (1,920 metres) of elevation. I suppose Tequis is close to that. Maguey (agave) used to be widely cultivated here because of the plant's need of a higher altitude for proper growth. Maguey is used in making alcoholic beverages like tequila, pulque, and mescal. The plant resembles aloe vera and has a bluish colour. It can grow to gigantic proportions. San Juan del Rio was (I'm not sure it still is) reputed for milpas growing maguey. I heard that my lot used to be part of such a milpa.

So do the cacti here grow as tall as trees. Here's one i003n the field  east of my lot. What a quirk it is that the soil is so rich that the area has been termed the bread basket of Queretaro, yet mesquite and cacti appear to be the most abundant! It is however, a rather dry climate.

Funny thing about adopting a new country. It takes some time to make it your own. Especially when everything is so far removed from one's native land. New and exciting, though! If familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes, I do hope that I never take this magical place for granted. . .

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bouncing Back

There's one good thing about hitting rock bottom; it's a surface hard enough to let you kick down and bounce right back. I have an intimate knowledge of this, as I'm sure many have. The bevy of problems that have plagued me since some time in May is slowly receding much as dark clouds after a heavy downpour. . .

I now have internet access after I returned my modem to Telcel in San Juan. They supplied me with a temporary replacement while mine is repaired. I'll get it back on July 8th. There's only one problem with the replacement modem--I can't get Skype with it. 

Now, as to the generator, my friend's husband (not the previous one. . . please!) took a look at it and declared the problems all fixable preferably by a Honda tech. There's one in San Juan. A clogged up carburetor needs cleaning and adjusting; it's not easily accessible behind everything so the generator will have to be unscrewed and lowered on a jack. What caused the problems? I'm told that the gasoline here is not too clean and that the gasoline/air ratio has to be adjusted to a leaner mix for the altitude above 6000 feet. In the future, using a higher octane gasoline should prevent this kind of problem. Also,

I must use only Honda parts (oil filter and spark plugs) on the generator. A project for next month. Not useable now, too great a fire risk.

I was despairing of ever finding an all-around capable builder/handyman/mason. My good friend Guadalupe talked to her neighbour Ismael about working for me. I was going to say "coming to my rescue" is more what it felt like. He built his own two floor house by himself and I can see the results, quite remarkable, right across from my place. He'll start next week on the bodega coating the walls and roof with cement to waterproof them and give the bodega a finished look. He helped me out last week by building a door for the fence and a roof next to my RV to replace the defunct awning. Photos just as soon as I've done the painting. I hope that finally I have found someone who won't let me down either by slacking off or decreasing the quality of his work after the initial gung-ho start.

I have to make adjustments to my plans once more. I'm now working on plan number 3. I'll need some advice and will get it next week when Ismael begins work. 

For this week though I have my work cut out. Painting the wood posts for the new "awning" and a ton of clothes to wash by hand. I'd better get going.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rough Testing

Usually, I refrain from reporting hardships or trouble in too much detail. But this past week, ending with Saturday the 12th has been a heck of a gut-twister. That would include Moctezuma's Revenge. Right now, it's Sunday and I'm writing this on Windows Live Writer to publish it later. Why later? My modem suddenly stopped functioning after my Wednesday post. This means having to go to San Juan del Rio, first taking a bus to Tequisquiapan, then another one to San Juan, a cab to Telcel for a new air card (modem), then doing the reverse. What would require a 20 minute drive and another 20 back will devour at least half a day and will cost a lot more than just gas. So until I go to San Juan, no internet, no email, no blog...

OK. Now to this fateful Wednesday. I needed to do the laundry. My washer is in the bodega and I run it electrically from the RV generator. A hose connected from the RV to the washer supplies the water. Since I have lost my water heater to wear, cold water only is available (yep, even for showers). No RV water heater to be found in Mexico. My generator had been giving me trouble lately, despite doing all the required maintenance. Half-way through the wash, a full load I might add, the generator balked and would not re-ignite. Oh well, guess I'll do the laundry by hand...

Now to the generator. I got a friend's husband to look at it on Saturday (yesterday) with a promise of immediate payment. He's trained as a mechanic and is in charge of a whole bank of machines at his place of work. He tested a number of areas including the gas pump attached to the generator. A hose runs from the RV gas tank to feed fuel to the generator. In testing the generator fuel pump, some gasoline dropped onto the base part already coated with oil residue. Also, on MY tools spread out below. When afterwards he tested a spark plug, the whole thing shot up in flames; in the generator cubicle and on the ground. Quickly he called to me to give him a fire extinguisher but even after emptying it all the flames would not be extinguished. I WAS GOING TO LOSE MY HOUSE, MY RV, ALL MY POSSESSIONS.  Nothing shoots up in flames as quickly as an RV--less than a half-hour until complete destruction! Calm despite my racing heart, I passed him water, one container after another from the kitchen which is right over the generator, no time to disconnect the hose from the washer, until he finally succeeded in putting out the fire. He left telling me he'd send me someone he trained as soon as he could find him. I'll pass on that one...

Now, the only way to fix the generator is to dismantle it from its cubicle while the RV is jacked up, remove it also jacked up (it weighs a ton) to a truck and take it to the shop. Without my generator, no washer, no air conditioner, no use of power tools. That's a little rough since the worker who was going to build me a roof shelter to replace the 18ft awning that had given up the ghost said he would not work without his power tools. I'll have to find someone else who is willing to work by hand. So while the temp hits the high nineties, even over 100 in the rig, the galvanized sheets are resting in the yard until I find someone to finish building this roof...

What had started out as an adventure is now becoming an incredible challenge. My plan had been to slowly build the place up. Yet one problem after another have cropped up and had to be fixed before I could proceed further. And believe me, I'm skimming lightly on the problems, one of which is finding people who are BOTH qualified and willing to work at a reasonable rate. There is a lot more to it than what's described here. Another part of my plan had been to put some money aside to get me a vehicle. Having a vehicle is crucial. Without transportation, not only construction, but my whole life has become REALLY problematic. Anyone out there with cash or a vehicle to spare?

The lack of financial means is hurting awfully bad. Let me say that I do not regret my decision to boondock on my lot. At times, I knock my head against the wall, but not too hard; I can't afford to fix walls on top of all else... Having the water finally worked out would alleviate some of the hardships; (a work in progress) but even more so having a source of electricity other than the generator. To get it, I have to go to Queretaro and apply for it. Probably 4 to 6 trips to get the whole thing worked out. Electricity involves purchasing and installing two posts and running the wires all the way through 2 or 3 lots to my place, with me footing the whole shebang for now. I had more or less counted on Google Ads for a trickle of money. No go. Solar energy would solve everything but I have first to have a fixed roof to get the extra panels. And the money to buy panels and batteries. And the proper enclosure for the batteries. Plus temporary wiring to the bodega and RV. A later project...

The alternatives to giving up the lot are even more unthinkable, especially when I look back to living in a seniors chicken coop surrounded by the living dead. Boondocking in the Desert Southwest was becoming as problematic as boondocking right here at home. Plus it involved finding other boondocking areas for the spring and summer months. Let me state this unequivocally here. Boondocking is not a cheap living solution. RVs are not made to support constant living. And they involve a LOT of work. At least, I'm home. Guess I'll have to figure out a way to tough it out...

I suppose I should lump all this under "learning experiences". Make no mistake about it. I'm all for learning. Just that getting an overdose of it at 71 feels overwhelming at times. How does the saying go? When times are tough, the tough get going? Or in my case, get to stay put...

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Wealth of Full-Time RVers Knowledge

When I started full-time rv’ing, I lived in a small town where there was one RV “specialist”. I had decided to stay in the RV in a back yard for a while to acquaint myself with all the nooks and crannies, but more importantly with the various systems. The service manual lightly skimmed over these and posted at least 3 or 4 warnings per page. Not at all illuminating or intimidating.

The RV hadn’t been used for 2 years. New tires were a must. Next I proceeded with the water tank and got flooded. Poor winterizing. Too many problems cropped up, one after the other, to enumerate them all here. Every time something would pop up, I’d go to the “specialist” and ended up changing many modules that later on, proved to not have been faulty at all. $$$$ went down that way.

One was the fridge. First, he advised that the eyebrow board had to be changed. It didn’t fix the problem. I tried another “specialist” in the next town. He advised to change the control board. I did. The problem kept recurring. The fridge would start for a few seconds then quit. The second “specialist” had mentioned that almost NEVER does an eyebrow board have to be replaced. Yet HIS new control board was not solving anything. I went back to him determined that the problem would be solved. He felt the same way.

roof and fridge 007 So… he opened up the fridge compartment where all the controls and connections were and methodically checked each and every connection, cleaned each thoroughly and reset it. No change. Finally, he got to the ground screw, removed the wire ring, sandpapered it (it was lightly caked with white stuff), put it back in place and BINGO, the fridge purred into life and never quit!

Later on, full-timers reminded me of my old boss engineer’s motto, “The Devil is in the Details”. Since then, I’ve been as vigilant as possible in checking each and every part of the working systems in the RV—at least those I could feel safe accessing. Last night, in a blinding electric storm, rain pelting down, the fridge was up to its former antics. I had to go out and check it, rain-wind-lightning-thunder or not. I noticed that one connector seemed loose. I removed it, cleaned it as best I could, reset it, and BINGO, the fridge came to life and has not quit since.

Beware! I reminded myself. THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS. And when in doubt, check with a full-timer. A few days ago, I’d been having problems with my generator and decided to check with George full-timing in Mexico, but now in Israel. He told me that the fuel in Mexico is not too clean, and that therefore, he always carried an extra fuel filter, and an extra fuel pump. So I figured he was right, the fuel was responsible. I let it rest overnight and a full day. When next I pressed the button, it came to life and stayed on for as long as I needed it. Thanks George, and may all full-timers be blessed with a long and enjoyable life!

Friday, June 4, 2010

First Impressions that Deceive

Hard to believe that it’s now been months, MONTHS! that I have been involved with construction concerns and bureaucracy. I shall leave the saga of the water for a later post. Now that the fence is finished, lacking only a coat of cement to waterproof and beautify it, my thoughts have turned to how different construction methods differ from one climate to another. For example, the fence. Not the kind of fence you’d see up North. Here everything is concrete, cement, stones, bricks, or a combination of any of these. In rare cases only will one see a chain link fence. One of the things that truly enchants me in Mexico, is how a house is truly an individual unit, wrapped in privacy, surrounded by high walls often covered with flowering vines, and accessed only through a gate that prohibits any onlooker from stealing a peek. A fortress whose look is softened by coats of many shapes, scents, and colours. The very first time I had experienced this was here in Mexico and in France, many decades ago.

I have always been fascinated by houses whose external appearance give no inkling as to what might be inside. There are many such houses or even apartments in the south of France where I spent some time in my twenties. I recall visiting a spacious apartment (co-propriété) in Nice, which gave no clue as to how truly magnificent it was on that first impression. The stairs were drab, nondescript affairs, which surprised me as I had been told that this was an architect’s place!

Things changed at the door. His large apartment-office combo entrance was through a huge mahogany door that would have looked at home in a castle; it opened onto a (to me) gigantic foyer with panelled walls covered in velvet in deep warm colours, in elegant contrast with the coolness of the marble floor. His office alone was the size of a whole downtown apartment. The huge mahogany desk mirrored the classical style of the whole place and I was smitten for life. I suppose that’s when I learned first hand that one should not judge a book by its cover and that first impressions may be deceiving, despite the customary warning. Could it be that sometimes you get a chance at a better second impression?

Not that my plans are aimed at deceiving anyone. The house plan is simple and in a style that I hope will turn out to look truly Mexican with brick ceilings arching up to a cupola that will trap the heat of warmer days and will let in light through arched windows. A one bedroom affair. I’m still working on the plan right now. I’ll publish it some time really soon just as soon as I’ve tweaked it to my liking.

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