Sunday, August 29, 2010

Travels with Shermie - Boca Chica, TX

A while back (... ok ...that might be one year ago or a tad more) I mentioned that I'd relate some of my adventures on my first extended road trip in a 1974 Volkswagen Westphalia many seasons ago. The post was Introducing Shermie. However, I got so involved with my present situation that the post remained a simple intro. There were some delights and some hmmm... shall we say less than delightful moments, as well. Most of them I recall with a chuckle, others with a shudder. The next one is a bit of both.

I had landed at North Padre Island, on the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas thinking I'd spend some of the winter right there. The camping was primitive--a spot on the beach, chemical toilets, garbage pickup, and showers (icy cold as I well remember!) But it all made me feel ecstatically happy.

There I met with very interesting people, one of whom was Will, also in a VW van, a 1964 bright orange model. (It very nicely complemented my Yosemite yellow Shermie in garishness.) Will had brought up his daughter as a single dad. She had recently turned 19 and, keen on exercising her newfound independence, had told her dad that she was ready to begin her life as an adult. Will gave her his blessing, promptly got rid of his apartment, bought the van, and almost trembling with anticipation, took to the road hoping to realize his long held journalistic dream of ferreting out The Big Scoop and writing about it.

Christmas had come and gone. Will thought that we ought to celebrate the new year at the southernmost tip of Texas, at the mouth of the Rio Grande where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The place is called Boca Chica (meaning small mouth). He and I agreed to meet there on the day before New Year's Eve. By the time I'd made it into Brownsville from North Padre Island it was already dark.

I usually double-check routes that I have to travel and did so in Brownsville, just to make sure. The distance was about 25 miles and the road, at that time, featured nothing but darkness. I had been told that there would be some sort of building before entering the camping area. After more than 21 to 22 miles by my reckoning, I began to have doubts as there was nothing but blackness on either side of the road. Finally, I spotted a white trailer not too far from the road with lights on inside.

I knocked at the door and this diminutive elderly lady opened the door a crack. I asked her if I was on the road to Boca Chica. By that time, I thought that perhaps I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. She told me, " minute, I'll get my husband" and closed the door. When it opened again, this very tall lanky senior (a dinosaur, in my view) came armed with a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other. I took a couple of steps backward and said with a bit of a tremolo in my voice, "Sir... I'm only wanting to know whether I'm on the right road to Boca Chica". His response in a dreadfully cavernous voice, "...Lady, you'd better not try anything funny!" I assured him that I only wanted the information. He reiterated, "...Yeah, well you'd better not try anything funny. This time I'm ready! I opened the door once before to a woman asking for directions, and before I knew it, 4 or 5 men barged into my trailer and robbed me blind. There better not be anyone behind you, 'cause I'm ready this time!"

I shuddered thinking that if Will saw my van, he might stop by and end his journey and mine right there before the New Year and Boca Chica. I didn't know whether he had left before or after me since he'd said he had some shopping to do. So, very slowly, I took some steps backward telling the "gentleman" that if it was ok with him, I'd just get back to my van and GO. I slowly, calmly, made it backwards all the way to my van, then hauled ass out of there as fast as I could, praying he'd be convinced of my departure or I'd end up a stiff.

However, I still didn't know if I was heading to Boca Chica. A mile or so down the road, I spotted two rigs with lights on. So this time, I took my lantern, turned it on, and held it way up above my head to show that I was indeed alone, unarmed, and hopefully looking innocent enough. I knocked at the door of the most brilliantly lit rig and this LOVELY woman opened the door laughing her head off, commenting, "... My, my, what have we here--a walking lamppost?"

From scary the whole thing was ending up ludicrous. I joined her laughter and told her about my encounter with the "dinosaurs". She replied that they were quite ancient, well into their eighties, quite nervous, and afraid, from Saskatchewan, Canada (I'd already seen the plates which is why I'd felt quite safe knocking at their door). I asked her whether I was heading in the right direction since I'd been told that I'd see some buildings before the camping area and there was NOTHING but blackness. She replied that there used to be some but that the last hurricane had wiped everything off. Relief is too mild a word to describe how I felt. She added that the beach was only a bit further and admonished me to be careful as the tide sometimes could be quite high. She closed the door, still laughing...

I drove on, saw Will's van right on the beach and related my encounter. We ended up both laughing the whole thing off. He added however, that the place was not safe as right across the Rio Grande was Mexico and that sometimes, some came across armed. We resolved to just celebrate the New Year and depart. Quickly, Quietly.

In all my years of traveling solo, first in Shermie and later in my present RV, it was probably the most dangerous encounter I've ever had to face.

Go figure.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Intro to Living in Tequisquiapan

This took me some time to prepare, hence my not posting for the past week. It may not be of interest to anyone other than someone wanting to settle in Tequis. I have tried to cover the essentials and hope that it may be of help to any newcomer. The information may very well apply to other towns or cities in Mexico. At least, it will provide the potential settler basic info as to what questions to ask.

    This is a short list of getting around in Tequisquiapan for the necessities of life. It is not exhaustive as there is more to life, fitting into a new society, learning about a different culture, etc. than the few tips and reminders included here. They are offered with the hope that they will help a newly arrived foreigner navigate around Tequis without a constant tutor.


Available from TelMex in San Juan del Rio ONLY

Assuming that there is an existing installation, it is available without much fuss. Bring the lease and either a water bill or one for the light. These bills remain in the name of the landlord/landlady for the duration of the lease and will not be questioned. Bring proof of identity, usually a passport.
Sometimes, the availability of a line for the district from the central will have to be checked first. Also, the existing installation from the street to the house will have to be verified by an installer if the place has been empty or there is no proof of a previous tenant. If it all checks out, a return trip to San Juan del Rio will be necessary to get the ok and the telephone itself.

TelMex often has promotions if you choose a package including both and an installation fee may be waived. Apply for both at the same time. The modem will not be issued until TelMex has made sure of the physical installation of the phone. Prepare for at least 2 trips to San Juan. Before leaving with the modem, make sure that your username and password have been set up for both the email address and the account, respectively at MI CORREO and MI TELMEX. Also, get the toll-free number to access by phone any help you may need for the internet.

Do not assume that the bill will automatically reach you by mail. If you get both the internet and the phone, it is easier to check up the balance to pay on the internet but you will have to set it up first. If you opt to receive the bill by mail and it does not reach you in time, you will receive a call from TelMex advising you that payment will be due within a number of days.

There is a cajero or cashier booth open 24 hours a day on Juarez next to the bridge. The TelMex office is located a couple of doors down but opens only on Thursdays and Fridays.
    NB. Unless you get to Tequis close enough to July, no telephone book will be automatically given and you may have to go to the TelMex office on Juarez to get one, if close to publication date.       


There are a few companies with Telcel the front runner, as it had a monopoly (or so I heard) for a while. There is the MovieStar company but I hear that the coverage is limited. At times, you may not get a signal for your next door neighbour. Nextel also operates but according to someone who has it, it costs more. The author has had experience with Telcel only and the prices are exorbitant compared with those north of the border. To get the full lowdown, it is best to go to San Juan del Rio at the Telcel official store. In Tequis there are only agencies. If you have a cell phone from Canada, be aware that your Canadian phone is locked and does not allow for a simcard to be transferred into it. If you are from the U.S., it may be possible but only Telcel in San Juan del Rio can tell you whether it’s possible and do the installation.


The bill comes at the end of the month and is based on water consumption, at an incredibly low rate. The water main is usually next to the front gate. It is a good idea to remove the water main handle as pranksters sometimes turn it off. (It happened to the author of this intro!) The bill will remain in the name of the landlord/-lady) for the duration of the lease. Payment is in person at the office on Juarez next to the Presidencia. (There is a fountain in front of the office)

The Presidencia is the Mexican equivalent to the Municipal Administration office.


The light bill comes every two months and is based on consumption, again at a very low rate compared to “the other side”. Like water, the invoice will remain in the name of the landlord/-lady. It is a good idea to note the meter number if there is any question about billing. The meter is next to the entrance gate. Payment can be made at a cajero or cashier booth on Francisco Madero a couple of paces past # 9. If you need to discuss something with the office, it will be across the cajero. It closes at 1 P.M.


The name of the company is TV Rey and it is located on Lazaro Cardenas. Be aware that there may be an already existing cable connection but if the cable wire is a black one, it is an old one that must be replaced with a new YELLOW one. Just check out the color of the entrance wire in the house. You will be charged by the metre for the length of the cable from the street to the house. There may be an additional charge for each cable outlet. No invoice will be mailed. Just bring payment equal to the package installed to TV Rey on Lazaro Cardenas close to the carretera.



There are a few companies that deliver. The propane tank may be at floor level or on the roof. It is a good idea to call a little in advance as sometimes, the truck runs out of gas and you may have to wait until the next day for delivery. Here are two companies that have served the author well.

    EXPRESS GAS - 273-3594
    GRUPO GARCIA GAS - 273-3855   


You can purchase the first 5 gallon bottle(s) at any store that sells them or order a full garafon by phone. Many tienditas have them (highly visible from the street) as well as Dorantes and Aurrera. You will need a base with a faucet. Delivery is very cheap and you simply give the empty bottle for a full one. Following are two companies:

AGUA BONAFONT - 01-800-999-2662 (comes from Mexico City and costs more)


Houses are not centrally heated. Many have a fireplace and most chimneys, if not all, will not have a flue. Just light a rolled up newspaper and hold it up towards the chimney in the fireplace. If the flame (smoke too) follows up an upper draft, all is ok. Reasonably priced propane ceramic heaters are available in Querétaro at stores like Costco, Home Depot, etc. A plumber can run a hose and control for the gas from an existing gas installation as for instance, the water heater.



There are two main supermarkets on the carretera. Both carry alcohol:

AURRERA - 273-4613 -  A subsidiary of Walmart where basic items may be a little cheaper than at Dorantes but choice may be more limited.

DORANTES - 273-0435 - May be a tad more expensive than Aurrera but they carry a wider choice of items, such as peanut butter, imported delicacies, etc.

SORIANA - This is a new outlet of the Mexican version of Walmart. It is very close to the main bus terminal. No phone number is available at the time of writing this. The author has yet to visit this new store.

In addition you will find a number of tienditas (like mom and pop stores) along almost every street. There are convenience stores, hardware stores, electronics, carnicerias (meat stores), pollerillas (fresh chicken, whole or cut any way you wish), papelerias (stationeries), verdurerias (fruit and vegetable stores), and too many to list here. No wine or hard liquor are sold at convenience stores, only beer.


The main store is called La Divina and is on the main carretera.


Most pharmacies carry medicines for an assortment of ailments and they can be bought without a physician’s prescription, except for narcotics and controlled drugs such as anti-depressants, etc. Few carry generic drugs, which can be bought at Farmacias Similares on the carretera.


No recycling facilities exist as yet, except for some beer bottles, which can be returned to the store from which they were bought. Only imported beer in bottles can be redeemed for bottle refund.


As far as the author was able to ascertain, only Farmacias Similares (the one on the carretera carry supplements and the choice of these is limited. In addition, there is a number of tienditas, mostly on the carretera, which carry herbal medicines based on locally grown herbs and natural products. They are worth checking. One of these is FARMACIA NATURISTA on Colegio Militar.


It is highly recommended that disposal of used toilet paper be in a closed container lined with a plastic bag later put out for garbage pickup. Flushing the toilet paper may result in a clogged drainage system that will require professional help from a plumber and may necessitate breaking down the concrete or stone pavement to access the drain pipe. This will entail replacing said pavement and may end up a VERY COSTLY PROPOSITION.


Depending on location, garbage pick up may be daily or every other day. Inquire with neighbours what frequency, time of day, and day of the week it is for your street. Refrain from putting the bags out early. Roaming dogs are always looking for a morsel of food and will leave quite a mess.


This is not a recommendation, simply an experience lived by the author who happens to have a dog, loves them, and takes pity on the poor vagrant canines who are faced with starvation unless otherwise helped out. Leave kibble or CLEAN pieces of meat always at the same place, and WAY AFTER garbage pickup, usually at night and away from passers by. The dogs will find the offering and clean it up, leaving nothing behind thereby preventing neighbours from being annoyed by the practice.


TaxiVans cover the whole city and all go to the Bus Terminal for out of town travel. The rate per adult is 6 pesos.

Taxis charge a single rate of 20 pesos from origin to destination. If you want the cab driver to wait for you and take you to one or more places, the cost will multiply according to the number of stops. Please note that the driver will wait for a number of minutes, not for a whole shopping session.


Buses leave from either La Central de Autobuses on the main carretera every 15 minutes. The cost per person is 8 pesos. TaxiVans ALL stop at the main bus terminal.


The name of the line is FLECHA AZUL. The bus leaves every ½ hour from either the main carretera at Las Cruzitas or the bus terminal called La Central de Autobuses. The cost is about 40 pesos per person.

All TaxiVans go La Central de Autobuses regardless of TaxiVan line number.

For a taxi on arrival at the bus terminal in Querétaro, line up to pick up a taxi chit priced according to the desired destination.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Learning Spanish

In the past, (it feels like it was eons ago), I'd taken private Spanish lessons from a real gentleman, his name was José-Maria Villasante, who had the most enchanting voice (he was a radio announcer) and an elegant pure Castilian accent. My very first Spanish book was Paso a Paso and it delighted me with short extracts from poems by Federico Garcia Lorca and my favourite, Antonio Machado. Nothing much remained that I could recall except the name of the teacher and those of the poets. It was more than 47 years ago. . .

Some 15 years later (yes... that would be 32 years ago), recently divorced and yearning to keep my mind busy and my evenings absorbed in anything but a new relationship, I took a course at college, but from English. My mother tongue is French, so learning a third language from a second one proved a bit of a drawback. I found that to recall the lessons, I had to translate from English to French first before tackling the lessons. Then comprehension dawned and something managed to remain, for a while.

Ages later came my wandering life, which took me to the Imperial Dam Long Term Visitor Area (yeah... it's a mouthful!) north of Yuma, which is right on the Mexico border. I thought I'd renew my study of the language but did little about it except buy a book and proceed to painstakingly translate from English to French first, then follow the lessons. The book featured much grammar. I eventually gave it up too. It proved to be much too much work. So, I'd say that I was ill-prepared, linguistically at least, to move to Mexico!

Living in Mexico meant total immersion. But I was starting from an insignificant knowledge of the language. Thanks to a certain knack for talking with the aid of gestures when all else fails, I managed for a while to make myself understood, but frustratingly so. Clearly, I had to learn all over again. Then, an expat mentioned a site that not only translates from English to Spanish but also offers courses absolutely free on the internet. The lessons are structured the best of all that I have encountered previously, and finally, something got through my senior brain. I cannot talk enough about that site and how finally, I have learned enough to hold a conversation after 10 months of living in Mexico. I highly recommend it. It is . Their translation service, also totally free, is a life-saver for someone having to make herself understood; particularly when it comes to a visit to the doctor.

So if you, or anyone you know, is keen on learning Spanish, go for it! Besides the Learn Spanish and the Translation section, there's a Reference section, Grammar, a Phrase Book, the Word of the Day that is emailed to subscribers, and I repeat it, it's free, easy to follow, interactive, and with oodles of people who are ready to help at any level in a Chat section, as well!

I love it and highly recommend it.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

While in Limbo to Now

First of all, my apologies for not posting anything for most of July and even August. I'll try and make up for it.

The whole month of July has provided me with a learning experience in so many ways. First about the physical. Because of the depleted state of my batteries, I had to use electricity very wisely, if at all. The use of the computer was out for sure, even during the day, because my regulator failed to recharge the batteries. Now that it's the rainy season (not that it rains all that much, but it's overcast) the batteries are often short of a full charge, the veiled sun failing to fully cast rays the rooftop solar panels. If I had not realized how water and sun are mighty precious to my way of life, I do now. So is technology. There's not a day goes by without my thanks and appreciation for all that permits me to still boondock, even after years.

So, on to pioneering ways... To alleviate the dreadfully l o n g  dark evenings, I had bought a whole box of candles and used them at night to read (no... it's not romantic!). Since I was painfully short of books, this gave me an opportunity to re-read the book, "Lessons from the Light" by Kenneth Ring, a couple of times over. Ring is a  pioneer in NDE* research and retired professor from the University of Connecticut. His research into and relating of near-death experiences and what many of those who had gone through had learned from their experience made me realize even more acutely how profound these lessons were. In fact, it appears as if the experience had taught them more about life than about death. Since my take on the subject is that, statistically there is one death per life, clearly I'm heading toward that event. But meanwhile, since I'm very much alive, I might apply myself to the wise use of these lessons.

Getting to the NOW, I'd missed surfing the net and getting emails, the news, etc. I must admit to neglecting some chores just to spend time enjoying the internet and the computer. Wanting to check up on Kenneth Ring, I followed a number of links and eventually ended up on NDERF, a research foundation where those who had experienced death and returned from it had a chance to relate their experience. There were HUNDREDS of them, if not THOUSANDS!!!!! One, in particular struck me powerfully. Anita was 36 hours from certain death. Her experience offered her the choice-- life or death. Obviously, she opted for life and as a result, was cured of a terminal disease, miraculously. What a powerful message she has for us who still have a few good years before the inevitable!

*Near-Death Experiences

(For those who might be interested, here's the link).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Water Saga - The End

Well, finally it does end. After my first meeting with the Water Commission months ago I went to see the Delegado as instructed. A word of explanation here. The Delegado serves as the representative of the community of Santillan in the greater area of Tequisquiapan. He also represents the Authority as far as bureaucratic requirements are concerned. So, armed with my not insignificant pile of papers, I went to seek his stamp of approval. This to confirm that I am indeed a resident of Santillan and that the area I occupy is legally described and that I am officially entitled to occupy it.

I had it all except for the legal description of the lot with a drawing helping to locate it. That was on the reverse of a form that I had unknowingly filled on one side only. So, back to seek that information from Wayne who had sold me the lot. However, Wayne was away in Texas. Usually, his stays are rather short; 2 to 3 weeks. This time however, he was away ALSO in Alaska and gone for a total of 7 weeks. I had been given a month to get it all. Patience was a must, fretting notwithstanding.

An inspector from the Commission came to visit some weeks later, wondering what was taking me so long. I explained and my explanation was accepted. Finally Wayne was back and immediately supplied me with a paper he had forgotten to give me. I figured I was ready and went to the Delegado's office, which is opened from 6 to 8 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Except that HE was on vacation but had failed to notify the residents. So faithfully, I and a number of people would line up at his office twice a week hoping to see him. I did this 7 (seven) times) without ever seeing him. More weeks went by. . .

Then, two weeks ago, I was politely summoned back to the Comision Estatal de Agua who had begun to have doubts about my application (and probably my good faith). Again, explanations were furnished and I was sent my way with obvious sympathy and understanding. What a relief! What a country!

So, now we come to the happy ending. Back from his vacation, the Delegado put his seal and signature on the missing form this past week. (He was friendly and absolutely charming!) I took it to the Commission the very next day (last Wednesday) and signed my contract. I will get my connection to the water main next week but will have to run the pipes to my place. Why? This is undeveloped land that has yet to have services. But I love it anyway! Who would have thought that at 71 I would start a new life in a new country and (eventually) in my own house? What an adventure! What learning! (And, it's fun most of the time, as well.)

However, I may have to modify my plans when I think about electricity. . . the office of Comision de Luz is in Queretaro!

I'll probably opt for solar energy.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


It feels as if I've been away for a g e s but realistically, it's been five weeks. Tonight, as I'm writing this, a soft rain is falling making the most soothing sound on the roof of the RV. It's the rainy season here but while the sun shines almost all day long, the rains have the good grace of manifesting mostly at night. Who could dream a monsoon season so convenient! And check this out, I've got POWER! I'm still cool about boondocking on my lot though I'll admit that the past five weeks have been trying.

I have a particular outlook on new projects. If things fall into place at the very beginning, it's the right move. (They did.) Then, if problems pop up (and boy-oh-boy, did they ever!) it might be that my resolve is being tested. I know that life isn't a bed of roses, but even if it were, roses DO have thorns. . . (Pardon me for philosophising, I've earned the right to do so.)

Back to my problem with the regulator. I had followed the guide to identify what was wrong and come up with nothing other than the regulator since it failed to recharge the batteries. I greatly admire George who is so knowledgeable after more than 7 years on the road. Patient too. As a woman traveling alone, my goal had been security first. Later, while I was boondocking in the Arizona desert, there were so many experts in all areas related to full time boondocking that all I had to do was get on the CB radio and call for help. Someone would come and teach me. What a boon that was! (No pun intended).

Now in Mexico, in a rather small town, solar energy is in a state of development and focused on housing and industry. The trouble shooting guide kept indicating that a battery diode was faulty and I had thoroughly checked each and every one and found them all ok. At my wits' end, I called a solar energy technician across the border to help me identify what needed fixing. He figured that the regulator was most likely the culprit so I ordered a new one.

I'll make this long story shorter. (It DID last for weeks after all!) I got the new regulator, my deep-cycle batteries were found to be in excellent shape and fully recharged. However, after I'd installed the new regulator, the reading was the same! By then, thoroughly disgusted and in the absence of anyone qualified who could figure out what the problem still was, I appealed to local help and came Manuel, a young man who is a mechanic by trade here in Santillan. Manuel is bent on learning as much as he can in as many areas as possible. It helps that he's a little genius. He was determined to find out what was what. Methodically, he followed all wire connections and found the culprit hidden away in a tiny cubicle that rarely needs checking. A connection from the panels to the batteries where a fuse was located was too slack and the fuse had blown out. I simply had forgotten about that ONE fuse so remote is it in its tiny cubicle; I had checked all others. Oh well... I now have two regulators and will probably use both when I get a solar energy system installed for the house.

When I was traveling full time, I had a calendar of maintenance chores (believe me, there are many...) and religiously attended to each and every one. Those that were beyond my ken, I relegated to professional help. However, construction so occupied me in the past months that the chores calendar became secondary. Never again!

Regardless of the problems that crept up, I know that I'm in the right place. Like I know that my vagabonding ways are a thing of the past. And, how I do love Mexico and its many friendly people. The climate is incredible. Peter (Schuster) had told me about the climate here and he was right on. I would not change one iota. As I was telling my sister today, I have finally found my SPOT!  You can bet I will not budge from here. My bones will find a final resting place right here in Tequisquiapan, Mexico.

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