Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Driving On

When we hit Acapulco, we were HOT. A dip in the pool, parking under the shade, and a cool breeze helped a lot with that, though. Although Acapulco is the oldest of México’s resort towns, I didn’t feel much like exploring it. Jonathan and I just aren’t that much interested in “resort towns.” Give us some nice scenery, a park, a lake, yeah, we would go exploring, but the wonders of a town, not so much.
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The next morning, when we plugged in the coordinates of our next stop, we discovered that it was 6 hours away (according to the GPS). We have had an issue with the GPS wanting to take us in a round-about loop before (like when we were in San Patricio-Melaque, the GPS wanted to take us on a 210 km [130 mi] detour up towards Guadalajara before letting us continue down the coast—fortunately we caught that one early and only went a km or 2 that direction), so I scoped out the route it wanted—it was legit. Faced with severe heat and 6 hours of driving, we decided to stay an extra day in Acapulco and head out early the next morning.

That gave us plenty of time to get a few things done and even call a few people via Skype. Found out that my cousin is finally engaged (been waiting on that one for years)! Such good news. We tried to get laundry done, but the one place we went turned out be a place that washes, dries, and folds everything for you and wanted 12 pesos per kilo. That was going to be pretty expensive, so we gave up. During the stop, Jonathan worked on a few things, like adjusting the heater control valve so that no heat would be leaking into the supposed-to-be fresh/cool air. The other day when we were driving, I had noticed that air coming through my vent was ridiculously warm. Turns out that the heater lines often leak coolant through them and thus can still heat the air when the heater is turned completely off. The heater lines up front (they run in the footwell of the passenger seat) were almost hot enough to burn me that day. I ended up having to turn off the air flow on my side as it wasn’t actually helping anything. Jonathan (mostly) fixed that in Acapulco. There is still a little coolant flow, but not near as bad and I can use the vent.

Jonathan also managed to put a bracket or something on the exhaust to keep it from coming off again. I guess an initial poor design (previous owners hack job), 30 years of age, and México’s topes and bumpy roads just don’t allow the exhaust system to stay intact. However, my irrational side wants to blame Jonathan (Jonathan here, apparently the universe and women at large have decided that everything is  my fault… now back to your regularly scheduled blogging). There is just something about this man and having vehicles with terrible exhaust systems. The van has had issues from the start, which he has patiently dealt with as they occur. Ever since I have known him, his Toyota has had issues (Jonathan here again, Big Red has had 15 years of Iowa winters, currently on its third muffler.). In fact, in the last year or two, his Toyota’s muffler has gotten worse. Have I ever told you about the Grumble Rumble? When the Toyota is in a low rpm range, it has an intense rumble that is enough to make me angry and tries give me a headache (and I don’t get headaches, I can’t count the ones I have had on my two hands). So God forbid if when we were driving home from work in that thing and Jonathan tried to talk to me or make me make a decision when it went into the Grumble Rumble, especially when it got hot. Let’s just say that I am thankful that Chuck’s current exhaust only produces a loud clicking sound that is only heard outside of the van (you can hear us coming for a mile—no wonder we turn heads).

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Next morning we got our earliest start yet: we were on the road by 8:15. It took an hour to bypass Acapulco. Now, driving 6 hours in the Midwest is easy; I mean, it maybe hard to stay awake, but it is nothing. You put on your cruise control, you drive for miles and hours in a nice straight line, maybe a lazy curve or two, and you might have to slow down for a few towns. Driving 6 hours in Mexico’s Pacific coast is torture, especially in Chuck. Jonathan has already briefed you on the horrors of trying to get Chuck up a mountain. Add to that the ridiculously winding, often potholed, roads that seem to come quite often to small towns with 7 topes in them, and you have quite the day. Plus, Chuck has no cruise control. With cruise control in the States, no problem, you could drive all day with no issues. In Chuck in México it is exhausting. You must keep your foot on the accelerator and account for the grade, the gear, the wind… You can imagine why we like to keep our driving down to 3 hours a day.

DSC02926 They had these little guys for taxis in several towns. Often they were very fun colors.

So, gracious moi decided to give Jonathan a break from driving after our early lunch break. He worked on his sandal tan while I worked on shifting. See, I can drive a stick. But what I mean by that is that I can drive a manual in the Midwest. I am not comfortable with hills or stoplights. With hills you have to worry about downshifting, or worse, if you are stopped going up a hill, you have to worry about not sliding backwards into the car behind you. With stoplights, especially if you are the first person in line, you have to worry about getting going without killing it in a timely fashion. Add those stresses to trying to move both feet and hands in a different, specific way and you get failure, at least for me. Not to say that I can’t do it (I drove across half the country one fall break in a manual car and navigated through the narrow, chaotic, and hilly streets of a Spanish town when my traveling companion broke her arm), it just is difficult and stressful for me. But, wonderful wife that I am, I let Jonathan ride shotgun and coach me through the shifting on mountain grades and over topes. I can proudly say that I never stalled the engine, and I only ground the gears 3 times. I guess Chuck is pretty lenient on his shifting, especially when trying to get started. (Jonathan here once more; Chuck has a 20lb diesel flywheel, one can start out in 3rd gear with no throttle whatsoever.)

DSC02922 I thought I was smiling in these pics… Guess I was too stressed to smile clearly or Jonathan got me at the wrong time (his counting was a lie!)

There were only a few exciting things that drive, and of course, they all occurred during my half. We came around a bend and there was a man waving a red shirt. I slowed some, but it wasn’t certain what he wanted me to do. Next thing I know, there is a semi coming around the next turn into my lane, so I slammed on the brakes. Fortunately, we and the 3 cars behind me all stopped in time. As we drove past, we were uncertain what happened, but maybe there had just been an accident or a near miss and the semi had to get in the other lane to pass the other vehicles?  The next thing was much tamer. They were doing construction on the power lines and had a bunch of workers on the road. As they saw me coming, they got really excited and started making call-me signs. I guess they never see a young female driver?

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We made it safely to Puerto Escondido (the drive took 8+ hours) and then the next day to Bahías de Huatulco. We had been trying to find a Laundromat (lavandería) since Acapulco, but with no success. Not that we were just driving around up and down the streets looking for one either. By the time we hit Bahías de Huatulco, I was down to my last spare set of underwear, so it was now or never. I asked a native at the trailer park we were at, but he just told me to drive back into town and I would find one (at least that is what I got out of his Spanish). So helpful (not). So Jonathan and I just got in the car and decided we would try out one in the GPS. Well, as usual in México, the GPS was completely wrong (on both ones we tried). I just had Jonathan drive through some of the streets to see if we could find one. We found one right away, but it was closed. So Jonathan circled around some more streets then decided to get back on the main thoroughfare. As he started towards the main boulevard, we spotted a sign and then sure enough found an open Laundromat. We stopped and walked over to find out prices. Long story short, desperate as we were, we dropped off our laundry to get washed, dried, and folded for 10 pesos/kilo, and we had 14 kilos of laundry (including our sheets). It ended up being about what we pay in the States to do our laundry ourselves, plus it was folded for us. We had to go back at 9pm to pick it up. I find it odd, though, that they don’t believe in self-service Laundromats here. I have only seen one, and it was in a major city.

Interestingly, while we were at Bahías de Huatulco, there must have been some celebration or party going on. There was a concert on the beach that lasted all night long and just before we finished our workout at about 10pm, there were fireworks. I wonder if they do the tamayas as they do in Spain?

Now with clean clothes, we are heading up through the isthmus of México to the Gulf of Mexico side. We will soon be exploring the wonders of the Pre-Columbian civilizations. I am excited. I love pyramids and ancient civilizations.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Return of the Heat, and Insanity



It is hard to believe, that only a few weeks ago, we were concerned about freezing Chuck's water lines.  Today the expected high temp is 89F  with humidity around 50%.


It is only going to get warmer, and more humid from here, at least on the coast.  Inland Mexico is at a higher elevation, and experiences milder spring/summer temperatures.  I will admit, that I am beginning to find the weather a bit too warm and humid for my taste.  Reminds me of Oklahoma summers, oh the terror....
Of course, our motto is to make life's challenges all the harder...  Jen decided to start the Insanity guided workout program.  60 days of jumping, running in place, and more jumping....  Oh, there is a few kicks, and some random 8-pack sporting dude screaming at you.

Of course these workouts are filmed in a air-conditioned gymnasium.  We are doing this native, usually on whatever section of clear ground we can find.  It is an interesting experience with sand, bugs, and dried grass sticking to the sheen of sweat.  In a nutshell, it sucks, hard. 


If you can imagine jumping in place and doing push ups for 25 mins straight, that's pretty much what insanity boils down to (of course there are at least 5 variations on the push-up). There are also these pure cardio days, which I would liken to running four 7-min miles back to back.


After 3 days, I will say that the jumping has taken its toll, I am having problems standing, sitting, bending over, and pretty much doing all the things that I would expect easy up until my mid 70s.  If I don't look like a 8-pack wielding lethal weapon in 57 days, there will be serious questioning of the morality of for profit workout video production.

On the exact opposite front, Mexico in general does not seem to have such exercise related afflictions. The most obvious indicator is how much gawking from locals we get when exercising. This is reflected by that fact that type-2 diabetes and its complications were the largest single killer of Mexicans in 2012.  I can say this does reflect my observations thus far.  I have a found a mean method of gauging the age of a Mexican, this is done by their body fat percentage.  It seems that gradual weight gain starts right after high school and continues unchecked until the late-middle years.  Its a different country, so I will refrain from any blanket statements about health and nutrition, but it is important to note that the health figures in this area are not much worse than the US.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Traveling the Michoacán Coast

It has been an interesting day or so. We started traveling down Mex 200 two days ago and it shortly became very winding. Literally we would travel 1 km down the coast as the bird flies, but we would put 3 km on the van. And, we would be a good minutes behind a vehicle but get to see him ever so often as we entered and they exited the inland cut along the sides of mountains. It was definitely an interesting experience as it seemed the closer we got to our destination, the more our arrival time was delayed because we had to go even slower. Michoacán is supposed to be a state with some security issues, etc.  It is hard to picture anything of the sort in this pristine, remote, and mostly undeveloped coast.  The Lack of shoulders and steep drop offs give trucks a hard time.  When we met heavy trucks, they were going at the whopping speeds of 5-9 kph (3-6 mph). That was fun too as it could be miles before there was a straight-enough section of road to see to pass.

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12598 Case and point: check out the scale here: ~1 cm = 500 m (you can see the scale in the left corner).

These winding roads at least are relatively smooth, as in no potholes. However, they do cause a lot of vibration in the van so that everything rattles. Most annoyingly lately has been the pop-top. Normally it doesn’t make any noise, but the latch all of a sudden started clanging. So today I had to remove it and put tape along the contact surfaces. Hopefully that will fix the noise.

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Currently the waves along the coast here are pretty large. We saw several instances of 20-ft waves coming in as we were driving. There was even green sea foam in places, which Jonathan tells me is a result of algae blooms. Unfortunately I am too slow with my camera to have any good pictures of these.

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Yesterday, we started the Insanity workout—60 days to give you insane results. I don’t know about that, but after doing the fit test yesterday I do know that we are definitely out of shape. Time to fix that. I will tell you what: doing those exercises outside with the bugs, dirt, grass, and heat is something else. That is dedication and determination, I tell you.

I also started going through my Spanish lesson books again. I had been reading fairy tales and Spanish stories, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to refresh on my grammar and vocab as well. By the end of this trip, I hope to be able to carry out a decent conversation without a native speaker thinking I am stupid and slow. When we were in El Fuerte, we took a cab to the train station. I was able to have a decent conversation with the driver; it did help that he talked clearly and slowly. Boy, it is hard to understand everything clearly when the natives rattle off their words like a machine gun, as if a race to see if they finish their clip first. Well, at least that it what it seems to one as slow in speech as I.

Today we ate out for lunch and had some tasty beef fajitas. The best part about lunch? The iguanas! Apparently the staff feeds them.

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DSC02846  These guys were nearly 4 feet long!

On another unrelated note, as I sit here typing a population of dozens of various hummingbirds are feeding outside of our van. They are rather entertaining creatures, flitting around, snipping at each other, making clicking and chitting sounds (instead of chirps). We have seen several varieties. If I lived in a location with hummingbirds, I would definitely have a feeder for them as they are hilarious and amazing creatures.

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Spanish words of the day:
Res = beef
Montaña = mountain
Ola = wave

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ramblings

We have been steadily heading south over the past week. The changing landscape has been interesting. It was near-desert scenery in Sonora, and then farmlands in Sinaloa. Nayarit was forest and jungle and mountainous, while Jalisco seems a bit drier. Everywhere has had beautiful flowers.

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There hasn’t been much to report on our end. We get up when we want, get around when we feel like it, drive, eat and chill. We normally start driving around 11am and drive for 3 hours to our next campsite where we chill for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, that normally means it is pretty warm when we drive, which makes the van really warm. The other day when we stopped for lunch, I felt like I was overheating. Fortunately, when we stop it is quite reasonable outside and the van cools off when we can get a breeze through it. This does usually lead us to showers or dunks in the pool or ocean shortly after stopping though.

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Besides the heat while driving, the van has been running pretty well for us. Though, two days ago the blinker started sounding like it was dying. When Jonathan signaled I am not sure if it would do its job or not, but it would definitely let forth a mighty gargle-hiss. For a minute in town, it actually completely stopped. So yesterday Jonathan decided to fix it. Fortunately it was quick fix, just jiggling it (or something like that) got it back into shape.

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Speaking of yesterday, we stayed at a nice place in Bucerías called Rancho Altarose (rvparkmexico.com). It is owned by a Canadian couple. They were super friendly and hospitable and the location was clean and landscaped. Apparently they do tours with ATVs and horses as well. (I made friends with the horse by offering him a carrot.) I was just happy that they let us change our oil there—finding a place to do it on the side of the road and furthermore to recycle your oil can be annoying. All-in-all, I would recommend them.


I am currently reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I am on book 2.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

(Mis)Adventures into Barrancas del Cobre

Our first night in Mexico this time around, the landlady told us that Copper Canyon was popular this time of year. As I didn’t really have any spots along the Pacific that I had to see, I thought it might be an interesting add-on to our trip. So I started to investigate it. My first forages into research didn’t result in much info other than you can book a tour for a week (not something we would be interested in). The next night, I found some more articles explaining what a great trip it was and how you could actually DIY without tour guides etc. Armed with this information, we made for El Fuerte, a small colonial town in the northern part of the state of Sinaloa.

First off, I had forgotten that we would be crossing the state border so soon and that they don’t like fruit crossing the border. It wouldn’t have been an issue, except that the day before we had stopped at Walmart and refilled my stores with 2 mangos and 7 apples (not including the 3 plums I had that morning)… So I threw my fruit under a towel and figured what happens happens. Fortunately, they didn’t do an inspection at the border, just asked questions.

After crossing the border, we needed to find the “shortcut” to El Fuerte. It was supposed to be at kilometer-marker 55. We found the signs easy enough, but when we went to make the left-hand turn onto the road, there was no road. I quickly figured out that we had to do a U-turn to make a right-hand turn onto the road. Then through the town, the road was atrocious, but just outside it turned nice and smooth, obviously recently repaved. However, true to Mexican roads, this wouldn’t last long. We soon discovered that there was road construction and a detour set up. We were warned by a sign about the detour and then saw the road block, so we followed the rest of traffic down a dirt road. We shortly realized this wasn’t quite the detour that was meant by the sign. As we sat parked at an intersection right before another town, a man on a motorcycle came up and offered to lead us on the way to El Fuerte. Yay!
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He took us down a couple of dirt roads until we arrived at the canal that we had seen along the road earlier. Apparently the detour directed traffic along the canal roads: washboarded, narrow roads. He stopped here, pointed the way. We tipped him a few pesos and he left. We thought we were in the clear now. We were wrong.
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The detour ended shortly after we got back on the actual detour route, and I thought that wasn’t that bad. But about a mile later, another detour sign popped up and we were directed along the canal again. This time we were on it for a while. And just about the time Jonathan wanted to know how far we were from the true road, we saw a turn-off. However, it was narrow (even narrower), winding, and surrounded by garbage. We thought it might be the road to someone’s home, so we kept going. But at that point, we started getting pretty far away from the road we were supposed to be on and there weren’t any other turn-offs. When we reached a maintenance checkpoint area for the canal, we took the opportunity to turn around and see if that one turn-off was the one we were looking for. It was. We were now back on the paved, potholed road were supposed to be on. Hurrah!
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We found the hotel that housed a few RV parking spots easily enough, and the landlady offered to secure us a taxi for the morning at 7:15am to catch the 8:20am train. As we prepared for the trip that night, though, I realized I didn’t have enough money for lunch and the return-trip home. So the plan was to get up early and figure things out.

In the morning right as we were waking to get breakfast, the landlady comes and knocks on the van and asks if we had decided not to go to the train this morning. I replied that we were still going and asked what time it was. It was 7:30, not the 6:30 on our phones. So I told her we would be five minutes and she explained to the taxi. Good thing we had packed everything the night before.

We rushed out to the cab and took off. But as we dropped off our original would-be driver who had had a flat on his way to pick us up, I asked our current driver about the train tickets—if they accepted credit cards. He replied that they only took cash, so I asked about an ATM. He had to take us to the center of the town. As he was driving through a school zone, a police officer waved him over for speeding through it. Fortunately he let us off with a chastisement to night drive fast through it.

I rushed into the ATM, grabbed the cash, made sure not to forget my card, which I almost did twice in my hurry (they sure take forever to eject those babies). And jumped back in the cab. He rushed us to the train station, where we arrived before the train and he gave us instructions on how to get the tickets and about who would be waiting for us when we got back that evening. So much for the rushing, though… We waited for a while for the train to arrive. We were one of the first people there. And the train ended up being about 40 minutes late.

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There was a tour group of 50 people who could have been my parents or more likely my grandparents. They ended up getting to the line first and all had to be together, etc… So we followed another couple into the back of the car, thinking I was being smart and bypassing the line. However, most of the seats seemed to be taken in the back. We finally found one that was open and sat down. Turned out though, that the tour group had all the seats from the front until the ones we were sitting in. We were asked to move. Having no clue as to where to go, we sat in back next to the bags that were claiming seats for people. Soon, an attendant told us that we could go to the first car, which was nearly empty. We found seats near the back. I shortly discovered that those seats weren’t near as enjoyable between the constant conversation and movement of the train staff directly behind us and the dirty windows. Turns out that the emergency exit aisle is a good place to sit if no one is sitting in front of you—the distance between the seats is very narrow compared to the other seats and has the next row facing you. Plus the windows are cleaner with only one pane of glass. So we relocated there.

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Barrancas del Cobre (aka Copper Canyon) is a canyon system that is deeper and longer than that of the Grand Canyon in the US. It is also home to a native American tribe known for their running. The most scenic views from the railway are known to be between El Fuerte and Bahuichivo, so that is where we went. It is also the only stop that you can get off at and make it back to El Fuerte in the same day. There were many interesting sites, and I was excited to find Tillandsia growing along the rocky walls.

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We did finally make it back to our station safe and sound. There was even a guy waiting for me with a paper with my name on it. I have always wanted that. Too bad he put it down too quickly for me to get a picture.

Spanish words of the day:
Cajero automático - ATM
En effectivo – in cash
Tarjetas - cards
Desviación - detour

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sea… Food… Run?

After a long day of driving (from 9:45am until 1:30pm), we didn’t feel like cooking lunch for ourselves. So, for a change of pace, we decided to eat at the restaurant whose RV park we were staying at. It was famed by several testimonies to be excellent.

DSC02680 El Mirador Restaurant and RV Park

Turns out the menu was all seafood, minus a beef or chicken fajita. If you know me, you are probably aware that I don’t like shellfish or strong-tasting fish. That makes it kinda hard to do seafood places. Jonathan isn’t a seafood connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination either, just very little experience with it in the land-locked Midwest.  We have branched out on occasion, but it is always an adventure and a surprise on whether it will be good or not.

This time was definitely a surprising adventure. We asked the server what was good, and he suggested the shellfish platter. I nixed that and asked about fish. He suggested the parga frita (fried red snapper), Jonathan agreed to it and we succeeded in telling him that we wanted one meal to share between the two of us. He left, but then shortly returned to find out how many kilograms we wanted. I tried to tell him 0.5 kilograms, but I had trouble communicating and he had trouble understanding that that was sufficient for the both us.

Then he left and brought back a frozen fish with the grams shown on them. Just so you know, this wasn’t the nice filleted fish planks that we Americans purchase at the grocery store, it was the whole, scaled fish, and it was even curved like it had been making a turn when it froze into place. I knew we weren’t getting what we were expecting then, but I didn’t voice my concerns too strongly to Jonathan. We selected our choice of fish: a single 700 gram fish, and then waited for it to be cooked.

Now, Jonathan had been expecting a filet of fish, pan fried. I doubted that was what we would get after seeing the frozen one, but I hoped. Nope, we got the whole fish, skin, bones, eyes, fins, and all. Ooh, what were we getting into?

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Bravely, I pulled off a chunk of flesh and tasted it. The meat was pretty bland, but the crispy skin was very flavorful and added texture. So we ate it. Overall, it was decent. I have discovered that I find traditional Mexican food very bland (I like more depth in flavor), but adding salt (and beans) helps.

Unrelatedly except that it was on the same beach, there were these interesting invertebrates washed up on the shoreline. I have no idea what they may be. They kinda look like large slugs with ruffles or perhaps squid without tentacles…

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Into Mexico

Our trip south so far has been mostly good. Besides the dust storm and snow between Albuquerque and Flagstaff, the weather has been pleasant. As an added bonus, we did get to hang out with my cousin who just relocated to Albuquerque. What she may not have realized is that she is now guaranteed visitors every time we have to drive that wretched I-40 through New Mexico. Just so you know, New Mexico’s tar and chip roads are killer on the van’s windshield, I believe the majority of the small divots and 3 of the 5 chips are from the stretch between the NM/TX border and Albuquerque.

DSC02529 Repairing the windshield (again).

DSC02530Chilling at my cousin’s.

We stayed at a couple of national monuments through Arizona to get free camping, as they are basically BLM land. Then, two nights before we were to cross the border into Mexico, I realized that my camera has a couple of flecks of dust on the sensor (under the lens so I can’t brush them off). I called Sony and this repair is covered under warranty; however, I have to ship it to Laredo, TX, and wait 7-10 business days for them to repair it, then they will mail it to the location on my account (Tulsa, OK). That just won’t work for me. Then I tried to see if a camera repair shop could handle the job. They could, but it would take 2-3 business days and cost $95. I was not interested in that ratio, either. Fortunately, if I have lots of light, the specks don’t show up too badly in the pictures that I am taking.

Crossing the border was actually pretty easy again. The one issue we had was that we ended up in a broken, nothing-to-declare lane. They had put a police truck at the far end of the lane to block it, but I didn’t look that far ahead (I was too busy trying to read the Spanish signs). So, we had to back up out of the lane and go into the next one. Strangely enough, the offices for paperwork (to get your tourist card and your temporary import permit for your vehicle) were not located at the crossing, but 21 kilometers (13 miles) father south. The good part about that is there is plenty of parking, unlike in Tecate, when we had to drive for 5 minutes to find a spot 1 mile away. The agents there made it easy as well, walking us through the entire process. Only downside was that they put the temporary import sticker right in the middle of the windshield, so it is constantly in Jonathan’s line of view.

On another note, the morning that we crossed the border, I got ambitious and decided to make sweet potato pancakes for breakfast. Mostly so that I could get rid of the last of my fruits and vegetables before we crossed. I used my new steamer basket and handheld beater to prepare my sweet potato puree. They worked wonderfully. Hardest part was trying to get my skillet to the right temperature. The pancakes weren’t the best I have ever made, but they were pretty good.

That evening, I was ambitious again and tried to make stuffed bell peppers. My filling of rice, black beans, and mozzarella cheese was very tasty. I cooked the pepper in the oven on my silicone bakeware. They turned out fine, except I felt that it needed some seasoning. Maybe next time I will add spray some oil and add some salt when baking it.

DSC02670 I also made some crescent rolls.

I do need help with recipes!! While in Mexico, I can only think of Mexican dishes… :/ This is fine for me, but Jonathan isn’t a huge fan of Mexican all the time. And, even I need variety. So, please, please, please! Send me some recipes. Low in dairy products (minus butter) is preferred as it can get expensive or hard to find in Latin America.

Friday, April 12, 2013

An Account of the Recent Chuck Upgrades – Jen Style

(Have you noticed how boring my titles have been recently?? I gave up a long while ago with being creative with titles. Probably because I do too much reporting and not enough story-telling…)

Well, as you may have guessed, the layover in the US for van updates carried over much longer than we planned. What started as simply installing a new fridge, a solar panel to support the fridge electricity needs, and updating the front shocks, turned into a complete revamp.

With all the added weight to the pop-top, I couldn’t lift it at all, except with mighty struggling and grunting. So we contacted our good ol’ buddy from Driggs, we will call him “Jack Bombay,” who hooked us up with heavy-duty pop-top shocks. Hallelujah! Now I can lift it with ease.

In Updating the Kitchen, you saw how the whole galley got a storage-space upgrade. With soft-close slides and extra storage, these new drawers have been quite the blessing.
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As a side-project, completed when I was traveling between family visits, I also added a silverware tray. I wanted it to be as small as possible, while still being functional, to allow as much space in the drawer as possible. That inspired me to “lift” the tray so that I could put not-often-used items underneath it, e.g. matches or twist ties. Isn’t it cute?  
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We painted our cutting-board-turned-table so that it wouldn’t accumulate as much dirt.DSC02335

Jonathan rebuilt the heater box and adjusted the whole system, and added a pump so we can get warm air much sooner. Now we have a cool green-lighted switch.
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Did Jonathan mention he put in an exhaust fan to keep it cooler in the van? It is pretty cool. Even has a temperature sensor, rain sensor, and remote. So we can set it to keep the van at 75°F and it will, plus it will close if it starts raining. Sadly, with its addition, we could no longer keep the van in Josh’s garage.

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We also now have cupholders in the rear to prevent spillage when we move the tables around. (Jonathan’s cup is particularly a spill hazard at such times.)
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Then remembering how annoying it was to pull a trailer through Canada and Baja, we decided to get rid of the trailer, which meant figuring out how to put its contents in the van. You saw what Jonathan did for this in Playing Catch Up and Finding Storage. However, I had a lot to do for this as well.

I created trays for storing the small spare parts under our dresser-cabinet.
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We created access to the empty space above our dresser-cabinet. (That was a lot harder than it sounds because of the tight quarters and such. I ended up having to tape the hinges on and then try to screw them on. And nothing was straight about the whole thing.DSC02480
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And then came my expert packing. I stuffed and rearranged and got creative. I kinda felt like a smuggler with all the packing into whatever space there was available. Under cabinets, behind the galley, under the floor…
Stuffing spare hoses and clamps and filters under the pull-out shelves and behind the fridge.
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And the new storage location for my toilet: between the window and the dresser-cabinet.
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We did put a few things that we hadn’t been using into storage, but we did it. We were able to cram the contents of the trailer into the new-and-improved Chuck.

And, last but not least, I removed our old bug screen for the sliding door as it was no longer really functional with big holes in it. We kept either stepping on it or catching it on things, and it just wasn’t working. I am not sure if I covered it in previous posts, but the last one was actually version 2. Version 1 was a modified (made shorter) version of a removable sliding door screen for a house. We had to go outside and install it every time we wanted to use it, which was annoying. And then, if we wanted to leave it out, but close the door, it wouldn’t stay rolled up and will fall, which would cause it to come off the Velcro. I wanted something that would allow us to open and close the doors and still keep out bugs, so for version 2, I took mosquito netting (it was supposed be a rectangular sheet, but I guess I got confused when ordering and got the bed drapery…) and cut into two curtains for the inside of the vehicle, which I permanently installed by reusing the screws that hold on the headliner in the van. This resulted in two curtains that you could tie open to either side for stowage. This one worked alright, but as I mentioned earlier, we kept stepping on it or catching it on things. Plus, it had super large holes, like almost 1/8”, not really, but yeah. So for version 3 (I think this one is a keeper), I picked up some mosquito netting from Joann’s. It was just a sheet of it (not shaped into anything) and the holes were drastically smaller, like 1/16” at the maximum when I stretched it, generally closer to 1/32”. Much better stuff. Then I took sail tape and “hemmed” the edges into a border. Then I taped magnets onto the sides to hold it to the door. Jonathan created a rod bent in the shape of the slider path and installed it. Then I created loops of the sail tape to hold the curtain to the rod. It worked beautifully. Then to keep the insects from flying directly into the gap at the top, I took a leftover strip of microfiber that I used on my seats and stapled/glued it to the van covering over the rod and the loops of the curtain. It works beautifully.

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I am sure there were other things, but that is most of it.