Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My “Casita” – The Outside

It has been a few weeks that I have promised to take photos of my new residence, the reason being that I was hoping to show a completed project. It is still a work in progress. So, without more ado, here is what I have so far.

The exterior driveway is very long, bordered on both sides by “llamarada”, a quick-growing vine with bright orange flowers that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Stone wall and long driveway

When I moved in, the wall was covered with flowers. The gardener, who is more of a painter than a gardener, ruthlessly cut off most of them with a machete. Fortunately, the plant will not die, just hold off growing as many flowers until the spring.

The entrance is fronted by a brick patio with, on the left, an old mesquite tree and bougainvillea that I hope to see blooming in the spring, provided that a winter frost doesn’t kill them. For now, they only show foliage. Hmmm, Queenie ENJOYS the place so much that in retrospect, I realize how hard it has been for her to adapt to the desert. Hot and dry during the day, it turned quite cold at night once the sun was down.

Front patio and entrance door

Here’s a quickie about the climate in Tequisquiapan. The town of about 50,000 people is at 5,600 feet of elevation. It is surrounded by green mountains, a delightful sight, but an impediment to the early rays of the sun. The days are for the most part sunny and warm but can be chilly by the early hours of the morning. I will have to get a gas heater for the winter.

To the right of the front patio is a grassy area of which Queenie is quite fond. She alternately roasts her hide, then goes for the shade of the covered utility-laundry room.

More photos to come on a later post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keeping in Touch

I have to make an aside from my little adventures here to thank all those who have remained faithful to my blog despite my prolonged absence following my surgery and during my readying to trek across the continent to reach my new home, Mexico!

It is always comforting to hear that one’s adventures and the recounting of them may be of interest or help to others. All that I can say is, thank you! It means the world to me, whoever you are and wherever you may be. Your comments will always be appreciated. Writing is a passion that can be fulfilled only in solitude. Yet the words may as well be spoken alone in the wind unless they reach another human being.

Now that I am reasonably settled in, you can count on regular posts that will include pictures of the sites, and of my not yet fully furnished casita.

Tequisquiapan, Mexico --- A Reality Check

Please get ready for a bumpy ride and a long post. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this, which is why there was no post for quite a while. My apologies.

Now that I have lived in my little “casita” for more than a month and been around Tequisquiapan, even ventured out to San Juan del Rio and QuerĂ©taro, I feel that I should add a word of warning to the unsuspecting who, like me, took at their word the descriptions and assurances of some who publish claims about Tequis, many of which need further investigation and questioning.

There is NO sizeable chunk of English-speaking residents in Tequis, unlike Chappalah, Ajijic, Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende and other cities that count a number of expats but are pricier. There are NO books in languages other than Spanish. Learning a new language is both challenging and time-consuming. Make no mistake about this. SPANISH MUST BE LEARNED if one wants to socialize and is without a Spanish-speaking partner. Entertainment, unless one counts walking around the plaza, going to one of the “tianguis” or outdoor markets, little bodegas, is practically non-existent, except for the numerous raucous fiestas. Movies (or shows, as is sometimes written) are all in Spanish.

Now, there is a world of difference between trekking on this lovely continent in a fully equipped motor home and living in a stationary home in a country and climate so different from one’s own. Ask questions? Sure, but which ones? Like, Are there kitchen cupboards? WHAT! A drug cabinet in the bathroom? WHY IN THE WORLD NOT! How big is the fridge? YOU MUST BE KIDDING, NO FRIDGE! . . .NO STOVE EITHER! Now, Tequis can be quite cold at night and early morning throughout winter. THERE IS NO SOURCE OF HEATING OTHER THAN THE SUN! Electric blankets are a must.

So, here goes. . . Unless one comes here with VERY comfortable savings, one should count on getting broke real fast. Houses for rent (I was in no position to buy any, I already had one on wheels, which cannot be sold as yet) come with a roof, walls, doors, and windows. Oh, and a bathroom or two. NO fridge, NO cupboards, NO stove, NO mosquito screens most of the time, NO appliance of any sort. And this house is no exception. Almost all that are destined for Mexicans (or expats. . .) come bare of all except a roof, walls, doors and windows, some like mine with huge closets, fortunately. No second-hand bargains in Tequis either. Furniture is lovingly passed from one generation to the other.

Therefore, besides furniture, the initial outlay of cash is beyond a surprise. It is a RUDE AWAKENING. If the place needs painting, it is often at the renter’s expense. PLUS the absolutely gorgeous ceilings made of bricks and in the shape of an arc up towards the center need to be occasionally scrubbed with a wire brush, after which, a sealant needs to be applied, both inside and out. In my case, the landlady ABSOLUTELY REFUSED to cover the cost ($300.00) of inside sealing, which added to painting the place, the purchase of appliances and furniture, is breaking the bank. All of these I found out at my own expense. And, it was costly! Still is. But despite all, I am settling in and not considering moving back to the uncertainties of life as a vagabond. Perhaps a wise move at age 70.

Another rather unpleasant and painful surprise for a pet person like me was the number of roaming dogs, some mangy, many very tiny and in obvious need of anything to eat. It will most likely be from garbage left early on the street (not advisable). I witnessed a seriously hurt tiny poodle dragging its paralyzed rear end on the cobblestone sidewalk. For a few minutes, it took refuge under my motor home then dragged itself down the road. I doubt that it is still alive. The sight of most will just break your heart.

There are definite pluses to be had in Tequis. So now that I have vented out, let me state how delightful the qualities that Tequis delivers can be. Just as venting came with the house, so does merit. For a similar accommodation up North, the price would be at least triple, most likely quadruple, or more.

Also, Tequis is not a bustling city with hardly any elbow room to tackle a sidewalk. Its colonial charm is undeniable. Flowers abound. The COURTEOUSNESS of the people here is reminiscent of old-world manners. Every person one walks across will salute you with a “Buenos dias”, or a Buenas tardes”. The children are well-dressed, superbly clean and wonder of wonders, POLITE!

If a visit to a doctor is required, the doctor will invite you into his office, sit down and another wonder of wonders, engage you in a dialogue querying you about your complaint then issuing his diagnostic or sending you for further tests, with explanations. Time is not an issue. Many drugs do not require a prescription and are reasonably priced.

And yes, your garbage bags will be picked on a daily or on every second day basis. But the garbage thrown by the wayside and in vacant lots WILL NOT. Let it be a word of caution to the unprepared or NOT warned, as I was. Taxis are cheap, 20 pesos (a little under $2.00) to take you anywhere in the city, no tips required. TaxiVans are 5 pesos, or about 50 cents. Help is very affordable.

There are all kinds of little “tienditas”, or convenience stores that are very reasonable and store many items, from Raid to fresh tortillas of the day to detergent and receipt booklets. All that I have seen so far are impeccably clean. Tiny hardware stores stock an incredible number of items considering their sizes. And one can find them within a stone’s throw in any district. The people one meets on the street are all impeccably clean. Boys and girls all wear their school uniforms and all appear clean and freshly pressed. 

But more than anything, what impresses me the most of the Mexican people I’ve met in Tequis is their amiability, their willingness to help any stranger in their midst, the old-world politeness and charming manners that have disappeared from our frazzled and equality-obsessed Northern cultures. So, is there a culture shock arriving in Mexico as other than a tourist? Undeniably. In my case, it hovered between pleasure and pain, often yoyo’ing from one to the other in the same day. Are there hardships based on misinformation, lack or incompleteness of it? Certainly. Could these have been investigated prior to coming here? That, I’m not so sure about. Coming from either the U.S. or Canada where there are certain standards and amenities expected in any rental other than fully furnished, one would not think of asking whether a fridge or a stove or even mosquito screens come with the rental. In Tequis, unless one is WELL acquainted with a local resident who speaks English, this kind of information would be difficult, if not impossible, to find before arriving. I didn’t find out until I was here. I agree that it may not be everyone’s reality check. It was mine.

In short, this is a post destined to anyone who comes here charmed out of their socks and is excusably ignorant of what questions to ask. A tourist has few objectives other than to enjoy the place. But anyone wanting to settle down will be hard put to find out all that is necessary to do so unless fluent in Spanish or having the (constant at first) help of a friend or acquaintance with true Tequis experience. It would be most unfortunate to find all this out at a point of no return. Which is my case.  Which is the reason for my long and detailed post. Knowledge is power. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Settling down in Tequis. . . a start with a Bang!

Getting to know another country, with different customs, traditions, language especially, need not be an arduous or daunting task. It is a task, however. And it is not learned overnight.

My arrival in Tequis started with a bang. Literally. In actualidad!  (Oh, my! I’m either getting better in Spanish or it’s actually beginning to reside in my brain. Who knows?) I was unsure of where to go. The people who had made Tequis known to me were not immediately available to guide me on arrival. Their address was on a street that started out ok but soon became impassable for my RV, it was so narrow. I had to go in reverse, didn’t know how to ask for guidance in Spanish, so began to S L O W L Y back up to look for a parking space elsewhere on my own. This after driving all day and being stopped by the Policia for driving on the elevated where TRUCKS (RV’s count as such) were not allowed. Tired doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. Just then I heard a screeching sound. . . That’s when my heart did a flip flop in an unknown language and almost got lost. The small rack hooked onto my hitch, and holding empty propane bottles and a hose, had made contact with a vehicular yacht of impressive proportions, in a spectacularly bright yellow colour. The scratch was highly visible on that colour and measured about 4 inches.

One agitated Senor emerged from a house with a devastated look on his face repeating that it was his car, “…mi carro, mi carro!” I got increasingly devastated myself. What a start in a new country! From his house, after attempting to contact the insurance people (I had just paid for a one year insurance policy a couple of days before) and getting nowhere after half an hour, we unanimously decided to hang up. He then made me the offer to look after the damage himself for a measly 1,000 pesos (a bit under $100), to my mind, an offer that I couldn’t refuse! An exchange of pesos and good will took place, I thanked them for their civility, then proceeded to park my RV just around the corner from their house on a street wide enough to allow for traffic in either direction. I stayed there for about a week until I found my new “casita” and moved right in front of it. Now that I know better, it appears clear that I was had, or so I’ve been told! The scratch, according to Mexican “experts”, could have been fixed for a maximum of $300 pesos. Live and learn.

Once settled in, I had expected to hear from his family, as we had left with such good feelings. I’d given them my new Tequis phone number. I’d met his wife, a charming vivacious lady who plied me with her jelly confections, and his son who introduced himself and added “….a sus ordenes”. Of course, I’d been immediately charmed. When does a self-respecting woman hear a man say “at your orders” and stays absolutely silent with a gaping mouth unsure of being connected with proper hearing and a brain?

Thus began my love affair with Mexico and its charming customs. Surprisingly however, I never heard from either the matron of the house or any of her family. I’ll have to stop by later, preferably in a vehicle other than my RV.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Getting to a New Country and Oopsies. . .

I know that I’m already here in Mexico, but I’d like to comment on the travel coming here. Also about the answers I found out about Mexico insurance, the roads, parking… oh, the parking! and other concerns about getting into Mexico in an RV. It may be of help to someone.

I was ready for anything, or so I thought. I had read some writing about Tequis and decided that it was my final destination. So I went right ahead and planned my move through the North American continent after serious preparation, and it worked. I had the tools.

The travel was actually ideal. I had an atlas published for or by Wal-Mart and planned my daily travel with a view to using every free overnight place at a Super Center Wal-Mart, yet avoiding the larger cities traffic. Also, I had seen the sights in earlier travels. As an aside, I’d like to state how I appreciate the gigantic store chain for its amiability in accepting RV’ing overnighters. Not only does it provide a one-stop shop and a quick bite for tired drivers, it is also safe with a security guard on wheels keeping an eye on the well-lit parking lot all night. A definite plus for a woman traveling alone. There are many other overnight options, but I chose Wal-Mart Super Centers and never regretted a single night spent there (I had many). Most are close to interstate highways. A definite PLUS.

Now, since I had absolutely no experience driving through Mexico, I took care of all mechanical concerns in the US. Isn’t the unknown always a bit scary? I found most of I was looking for right there in Del Rio,TX, (except for a place to stay overnight unless I was ready to dish out $28. a night for using space only) and headed out for the Eagle Pass Wal-Mart for the night. Incidentally, although there were few services there, I found (cheap) Mexican insurance there. In retrospect though, I should have signed up for insurance in Del Rio where there were more choices, then headed out to Eagle Pass. At the insurance office a kindly soul gave me a map of Mexico. No matter that I needed a serious magnifying glass to read it, nevertheless it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it. A traveler welcomes any kindness with gratitude so far away from any homey feeling or familiar surroundings.

I had read that route 57 going from the border to Mexico City was for seasoned drivers only, at least in the earlier part from the border. So I’d like to comment on that. As an aside, I’d like to say that most people head down to the Pacific Coast tourist areas from either Matamoros or Tijuana. My goal was a bit different, heading down the colonial central part of Mexico. Unsure as to whether the toll road would lead me back to 57 that I was heading for, I simply took 57 from the border. What surprised me was that at every border that I had ever crossed, all kinds of papers had to be produced and checked. But here, there were a few friendly “officials” and even fewer questions, but no papers other than a passport check, no stamp. As, always, the main point of interest was Queenie! I sometimes wonder whether her attracting that much attention may be a handicap, making people forget other things, such as stamping a passport! Oh well. . . I went on somewhat puzzled, without any indications as to what to expect or  warned as to what to produce further on.

Onward I went until a number of miles later, I noticed a military station right by the wayside, soldiers so easily identifiable by uniform and armed to the yin/yang. I had not been flagged and there had been no indications about the Banjercito building. So, I stopped and asked when and where would I be asked to produce “papers” and was told that I had passed the place right by!!! OMG, I could have had the police chasing me! Not an auspicious beginning, to say the least. Quickly and with the guidance of a military man, I made a U-turn and headed right back to where I SHOULD have noticed some kind of official building but had not, and without a single soul on the road to STOP me. May this be a warning to the unwary. One has to LOOK FOR the Banjercito. From Piedras Negras, it is a number of miles farther South.

Back at the Banjercito, all my papers were checked, a “holograma” granted me a 6 month stay and with relief that no one was eager to fine me, or worse to arrest me, I was about to stick the holograma onto my windshield when I saw the lady from the Customs Office waving frantically at me and telling me “No, no, no, holograma no good, different papers!” With my gut doing a somersault, back inside we went where she said that in the case of RV’s, the length of stay was different: 10 years!   Eventually, a new holograma was issued and I was finally ready to legally trek onto Mexican soil. Yet the paper still states 180 days to this day. Length of stay remains a mystery that I’ll elucidate later on. (Sorry. Right now, I’m busy with the casita.)

Route 57 from the border to a bit before Saltillo is narrow, used mainly by trucks going in both directions. If I’d had no experience in  driving within inches of trucks and keeping up with their speed, I guess I would have been terminally frazzled. It is not for the faint of heart, is all that I can say. Now, let’s talk about the shoulders. Why? For the simple reason that, for the most part, there aren’t any! But it doesn’t last for miles and miles. It just feels like it. . .The road is best used for truckers or RV’ers who have had experience with narrow roads and LOTS of truck traffic. So in the end, 57 was rather ok. There were a few sheltered picnic tables along the way and I used one. Not a soul other than moi (and Queenie, of course!) A rest was required at that point. And used.

I’m going to stop here. I made it to Saltillo and spent the night in the RV camping grounds behind the Hotel Imperial right downtown. Again, as an aside, when in doubt in Mexico, flag a taxicab and ask him to drive ahead of you to where you’re supposed to end up at. It is cheap and very secure. At the very least, you’ll reach your destination for a few pesos.

At the Imperial, I found  a level lot, few services other than dump, but I did welcome a warm shower and quiet under leafy trees. Queenie just loved the place! I guess this should qualify as ok. I honestly cannot state what is right for any woman traveling alone since I didn’t chance it and used recommended places only. I know that a number of men just stop by and rest for the night, but as a woman alone, I was unsure as to where to park, so I used recommended camping spots, even though all that I needed was a level parking lot. I felt safer that way. Men have it easier. . .

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