Road StoriesRyan's Blog
Hullo friends and family!
After hearing that it was -56C back in Manitoba I felt inspired to rub it in all the more with tales of our misadventures! So get yerself a cup of hot cocoa and curl up by the baseboard heaters and harken:
It’s Not All Pina Coladas, White Sandy Beaches And Hammocks
Admittedly, I haven’t lost any digits to frost bite, BUT there’s rarely soap or toilet paper in our community bathrooms, I am besmurfed with mosquito bites, my back is peeling from sunburn, my bedsheets are full of sand, I have watery poo and coupled with a little chafing rash from kitesurfing it makes it somewhat painful for me to walk.
There, did that make you feel better?
How About This One, Does This Story Make You Feel Better?
When we crossed the Mexican border about 3 weeks ago we tried to pay an importation tax on our tent trailer so we could leave it down here. Estimated at 20% of a vehicle’s worth, the import tax has been a long-standing government policy (akin to Canada’s duty taxes) designed to protect Mexican’s auto industry. Our trailer was assessed at $1000.
$1000 (= $200 in taxes) didn’t seem too unreasonable: we only use our tent trailer in Mexico, and every time we drive it back and forth we pay an extra 50% on toll roads (probably totaling about $100 per direction). With the tent trailer parked in a patch of jungle on a buddy’s property we could conceivably make our money back in the 1st year!
And so it is, we were ushered thru about 4 lines and 1.5 hours of bureaucracy before being dumped into a sort of “no man’s land” on the border
No Man’s Land
-60% of No Man’s land’s population were illegal aliens that had been kicked back into Mexico and were waiting for paperwork to allow them back into Mexico (aspiring illegals would be stupid to carry i.d. saying that they were Mexican when they make the border jump and pretend to be american). These folks had just gotten themselves kicked out of the proverbial Garden of Eden. Many had probably spent every last peso they had scrounging up the money to pay the Human Contraband Industry. These dudes are poor and bitter.
-39.9% were officials who didn’t seem to be able to get ONE thing done for every 4 hours worked (we counted 8 different people on five separate occasions reading and then writing down the serial number on our tent trailer).
-0.1% were the glaringly out-of-place whitey touristas (namely ry, man & banjo).
Needless to say, this is a refugee camp-style place full of desperate people that seem to be forgotten by the world and now we found ourselves stuck in limbo among them.
The sense of feeling forgotten was further demonstrated to us when we met a man with a tent trailer (trying to do the same thing as us) who had been there for going-on 3 days!!!
WHAT?!?!? 3 days??? Where do you shit? Where do you eat? Where do you sleep? Eek!
It turns out this guy was bilingual. I guess the customs brokers don’t work on weekends (it sounds like a country I know) and he arrived on a Saturday.
Well, thank God we got there on a Monday.
After about 2 hours (to our great relief), an official came towards us, looked at our trailer’s serial number (for the 8th time) and said “Darme un media hora y puede salir.”
Hooray, just half an hour and we can pay the $200 and be on the road!
Well, 8 long hours later after being charged $550 cash (although the receipt said we paid $214) it looked as though we could finally be granted permission to enter Mexico!
Even though the sun was starting to go down- and the last place you want to be is in a border town at night, I took up an interest in the discrepancy between the price we just paid and the receipt. $335 is no small amount of money!
The worker told me it was a paperwork fee. In my poor Spanish I communicated that even in Canada, no one gets paid $350 for taking 11 hours to fill out 1 sheet of information! I also asked why there was no receipt for the paperwork fee and why we could only pay in cash.
He told me I could get back in line and talk to the Jefe (but it was now outside of business hours and they were closed for the day). I also recalled that even the Hispanic guy with the tent trailer was going to be paying over $1400 (he was importing an old Chevy as well as the trailer) and they still didn’t have his papers in order!!! That poor bastard was going to spend his FOURTH day stuck on the border. Shit, imagine if he only had a week’s vacation!?!
We decided that it wasn’t worth spending the night getting raped, robbed and killed by some (or all) of the homeless, penniless, shady, desperate bastards in No Man’s Land to try to recoup some of the money that had so quickly disappeared into the hands of a brown-skinned man with a moustache named Juan Carlos. There are probably thirty brown skinned men with moustaches named Juan Carlos in the custom broker’s department alone!
Anyways, after more than 11 hours and the sun now well below the horizon, we made our way into our unknown future. After 11 hours of “driving”, I could still see the Brownsville Walmart on the other side of the US/Mex bridge. After losing $350 before we had completed even 1 km of Mexico’s sketchy ass roads with their ubiquitous moustachio’d corrupt federales I had a sick feeling in my stomach.
Bienvenido a Mexico
Well, after such a miserable introduction to Mexico I was feeling the way most people who drive into Mexico feel:
“What the hell have we just gotten ourselves into?”
You can smell the difference even a block in. There are no air emission standards in Mexico and technology that was illegal 30 years ago is still being sold here.
The air in most cities is nausea-inducing. Every stop light lasts for about 8 minutes- just enough time for every squeegee kid within a block radius to amble over to you, spit on your windshield and request money for replacing the spit on the windshield from the last guy who spit on the windshield.
Well, the sun is down and you can’t see the unmarked potholes in the roads (I’m not kidding sometimes as deep as 3 feet). We’re driving through the heart of this border town cesspool and it starts to rain. “Hooray”, thinks me, “maybe that’ll drive away the squeegee kids!” - but then I hear the frapfrapfrap of a blown tent trailer tire; probably the vengeance of that most recent squeegee kid. He looked bitter because after about 6th one, I refused to pay more than a few pesos. I could be wrong, Lord knows the roads are shitty enough to eat a tire within 10 blocks, but I couldn’t help but suspect that those ratty little squeegee kids carry spiked blocks for suckers who refuse to hand over a tip (their parents probably work as custom’s brokers).
Well, I guess that’s why it started to rain: I’m in hell; and changing a tire after 11.5 hours at the border amidst the filth of Matamoros isn’t hellish enough on its own merit so it needs to rain on top of everything just to make sure I’m in the right state of mind!
I just about started crying. I was thinking (like so many others before me), why don’t we just spend the winter in Texas with all the other snowbirds? I’ve heard there’s a big contingent of Erickson/Minnedosa folk just west of Brownsville. Is it really worth 5 more days of driving through this shit??? I could be the king of the shuffleboard courts!
We changed the tire in the rain (the scene was almost cartoonish it was so ridiculous), and dripping wet, we got back on the road until we found a place to sleep. We spent the night in a $20 hotel that you can rent by the hour. I guess some Mexicans only need to sleep for an hour at a time. What a strange culture.
The next morning we had the tire repaired for less than $2 and tried to put some distance between us and Matamoros.
Well, three days of somewhat uneventful driving on Mexican roads passed slowly by (I don’t want to suffer through writing about what was really quite boring). Mostly you’d see and smell pollution and poverty on an Arizona-looking topography.
Three nights of $20 hotels. We used to squat in gas station parking lots but $20 is a nice way to keep the second world at bay.
I used to avoid Mexican toll highways because they are so ridiculously over-priced (sometimes as much as $20 for 1 hour of driving) but now we just fork it over. Having tried the libres and compared: free road driving speeds average about 30-50 km per hour. Toll roads get you about 90km. When you have 2000km of Mexico to drive through, spend the money. 5 days at 12 hours of driving a day is more fun than 9 days (not counting flats)- all of this is just one more way for a 1st worlder to keep the 2nd world at bay.
Eek, I hate thinking that there’s a 3rd world.
Our 4th day on the road in Mexico was scary. My Tacoma kept stalling so I knew it was either the battery or the alternator. In Villa Hermosa (pop. 200,000 people) we rolled into a mechanico and told our story. They fit us into their busy schedule and after a series of tests, replaced the battery with a new one and had us on the road again in a few hours (I kept the old battery just in case). We had the attention of about 4 mechanicos so I assumed their diagnosis must be correct. They charged us almost $10 in labour (haw haw) plus $80 for the battery. We got back on the road, tickled pink.
We spent the night in another $20 whorehouse hotel. This one smelled more like moldy semen. But they had 3 free porn channels to help balance out the pros and cons.
That’s the problem with Mexico. No middle class. Villa Hermosa has a Best Western but it costs $225 a night. We figured the $20 hotel at least has night security, porn and a toilet to drop off my watery poo in. Best Western for $225 probably doesn’t have pubes on the toilet seat, but hey, pubes don’t bite (except maybe pubes with crabs in ‘em).
The next morning the truck barely started- we realized that we were looking at buying a new alternator. The bad news is, until 2006 there were only two Toyota dealership in the entire country: D.F. and Guadalahara (both of which were 1000’s of km in the wrong direction).
First and foremost, I had to get the hell away from the moldy semen hotel- I barely slept all night because before we arrived, the caretakers had apparently tried to mask the stink with a powerful chemical odourizer and the chemical burn, coupled with the fungal stink made my eyes water. We drove out of Villa Hermosa even though we kind of knew we would likely have to go back there to get anything done about the alternator.
I recall people in Barra de Navidad on Mexico’s west coast who had spent nearly a month waiting for parts for a starter for their Toyota. I couldn’t see myself spending an entire month in the moldy semen hotel so we turned off music, A/C, and driving lights and limped the truck towards the gulf coast (1 hour north) and tried to find a place to stall the truck, lick our wounds and hold siege to the tremendous disparity between us and a 2nd world country.
We stalled in the middle of an intersection in a poor, Brandon sized town called Frontera (still 25km from the ocean). A kindly fat guy and his fatter brother rolled us to the side of the road.
Immediately we recognized the sense of community that smaller towns have. We were probably the only whiteys to have stopped in their town since the mid 1980’s so we were exotic enough to attract the attention and benevolence of townies.
Quickly we were introduced to an electronic mechanico (a blessed half block away).
He was super busy so we bribed him $100 to get his undivided attention for 2 full days (hee, hee, Texas mechanics charge $100 an hour!!!).
We had him escort us to a decent 20$ hotel, dismantle our broken alternator and leave our dead Tacoma in the hotel parking lot.
For two nights and three days we settled into the town of Frontera as Jhonny (pronounced yawny) our personal mechanico drove his scooter all over hell trying to at first fix, and then ultimately replace our alternator. I mostly got drunk on rum.
We enjoyed two days of Spanish immersion. We’d visit the town’s humble centro plaza, eat delicious Mexican cuisine and shit watery poo into our own cleanish toilet.
Yawny managed to get us up and running by the night of our second day. Truly amazing- he had to do over 7 hours of driving to find the alternator in the first place!!! We left the truck running for an hour with AC blasting to make sure it was legit and to our happy surprise, it worked. Instead of spending the month of December in our own slice of purgatory called Frontera, it turned out to just be 3 days!
We got back on the road and pointed towards Cancun.
One week into Mexico and still 1000 km to go!
The Merida Detour
We figured since we were already way behind schedule, we may as well stop and try to find some flowers to smell.
We detoured to Merida, a Spanish colonial town known for its support of the arts (2 years ago we stayed for a few days and enjoyed Cuba’s National Ballet on their world tour -accompanied by the Symphonica Orchestral de Yucatan).
This time we got a little skunked. It was a contemporary dance troupe from Mexico City. I expected an hour of gay men prancing around in tights but it ended up being THREE hours of REALLY gay men prancing around (to the cacophonic sounds that only a postmodernist contemporary dancer could truly appreciate), wearing hardly anything at all!!! They kept taking off their clothes, lying on each other, putting their clothes back on and taking them off again. There was only one girl in the whole show but she was lying rag-doll on the floor in a corner for about 2.5 hours- I think this symbolized how entirely disinterested the characters (gay maybe?) were in the feminine sex. It’s hard to tell, but I think the story’s producer/director was trying to dramatize a three-way gay love triangle and the cultural pressure a gay fella has on being hetero.
Oh well, it was good for my heterosexuality to learn that I’m definitely not gay. I’d be naïve to pretend that there wasn’t some kick ass dancing going on amidst all the homosexual allusions and some pretty hunky gay guys if I do say so myself. Maybe the point was to make a hetero man (for once in his life) feel as awkward as a homo. Too bad about all the shitty music though.
The next night we arrived at our destination 1.5 hours south of Cancun in the beautiful beach community trailer park of Paa Mul. We were immediately welcomed by all of our old friends (read old) whom we hadn’t seen since 06-07. It was great to see all the familiar faces.
Sixth Child Security Inc.
My old nemesis security guard (Sexto) is still working.
He and I had got into a fight when I suggested one night that he was complicit in a robbery of one of our neighbors.
It was the perfect crime: on a night where all of Paamul was partying it up at a charity fundraiser in the local resto-bar, someone broke the lock of a fifth wheel resident named Ron and stole $5000 cash.
I guess someone knew he had cash because he recently had a stroke and knew that (much like U.S.) if you don’t show a Mexican hospital cash, you don’t get treatment.
I speculated that the person who committed the crime needed to know:
1. that the night security was placated,
2. that there would be no one around
3. that there was a 5th wheel worth breaking into.
Who better than the night security themselves?
Of course, with 7 rum and cokes into my system I didn’t think about the ramifications of accusing the park security (whom I have to live with every day) of a very serious crime that would land a person in a federal penitentiary or at least get a person fired from a good job (by Mexican standards).
Anyways, Sexto (meaning “sixth” child) has never forgiven me. I later recanted everything admitting that it literally could have been anyone!
I apologized about 6 times and even bought him a bottle of rum but he still won’t talk to me and any time he can get on my ass about something he inevitably will.
Manon and I set up our tent trailer in our usual spot about 2 rows back from the beach (the first rows were colonized long ago by wealthy ex-pats who have built extravagant thatch roof palapas around their 5th wheel trailers and pay year-round rent).
We elected to set up in the “camping zone” an area with a few more trees and a bit more space than the sardine can format of much of the RV park. In the “camping zone” the trees are too close together to squish in a 5th wheel and no one has had the heart (yet) to chop them down.
We hoped to get our guitar gig again at the local restaurant in exchange for free rent. (it worked well for us in 2004 and ‘06.), but sadly, it wasn’t in the budget for the big boss so we had to come up with $700 a month up front!
In ‘06 we spent about 1.5 weeks of our 3 months in a standing puddle of water sometimes as high as our knees. It seems as though the community drains all the rain water that the ground doesn’t swallow to the lowest point and the lowest point is our living room. I asked around to see if the rain season was over and everyone said it hadn’t rained in a month.
Few things are scarier than to step out of your tent trailer into 1 foot of water to see your 30amp electrical cable submerged at a connecting joint 3 feet in front of you! But because it hardly ever rains in the winter season (most years less than 3 times all winter) AND because (other than the potential puddle), it is an amazing spot- we decided to set up in our usual place.
No sooner had we set up camp (it takes about 5 hours) than a monsoon rolled in. It rained for about 8 hours and I started thinking about being a shuffle-slingin’ snowbird in south Texas again.
The next day we dried off, packed up (it takes about 2 hours) and set up again in a vacant lot on higher ground (it takes about 5 hours). Carpets, cupboards, stove, table, awning, lamps, garbage can, speakers, dishes, Christmas lights, hammocks, beds, fridge etc.
No sooner have we finished the exodus than my old pal Sexto comes by to say,
“Who told you that you could stay here?”
“You can’t stay here. It’s for RV’s only.
“well, uh…, it just so happens that we’re paying rent this year and we pay the exact same rent as an RV does.”, says me.
“$30 US a day?”
“No Sixto, when I pay for 3 months in advance it drops to $20US per day.”
“Well, you still can’t stay here. Get yourself packed up by tomorrow. This lot is reserved.”
I got that hollow, sick feeling in my stomach again.
Thank heavens Sexto is known to have been an asshole to many people in the park, including his manager and coworkers. If he had any lasting friendship with park staff, he very likely could pulled some strings and made us pack up and move again. We bolted for the main office and tried to make a plea and quickly learned that Sexto was full of shit. We’re allowed to rent site 143 all winter and Sexto can’t do anything about it!
And here marks the TSN turning point. Our trial thru purgatory (thus far) seems to have ended.
The sun started shining. We got a paid gig twice a week at a different restaurant 6 km away (with tips it should make us about 500 a month). Even my poo is getting more stable.
We’ve been enjoying the company of our PaaMul resident friends (an eclectic bunch who have all made the same hellish drive and have their own hellish stories), I’ve been working my switch stance back rolls on my kite in the ocean swell (just 2 rows out my back door) and when the wind isn’t blowing we play volleyball, ping pong, snorkel, get drunk or scuba dive (sometimes I get to do all 5 in a single day!
Yesterday after kiting, in the time between mid afternoon hammock time and drunken ping pong I did a $5 dive off our little zodiac and encountered 2 moray eels and a giant loggerheard sea turtle. 44 minutes at 40-50 feet. I’m still suckin’ air like a tourist, but I’ve got time to get better…
Manon and I have been trying to do morning jogs every second day down the biosphere/turtle reserve virgin beach that runs for 2 km (it’s entrance is 100 metres north of our tent trailer). Trying to work off my Mono-belly.
My mononucleosis seemed to clear up about mid September and it feels good to be able to enjoy life to the fullest again.
Life is good! Heck, we’re even paying off some karmic debt singing and playing guitar in the local church. Manon helped me lead the church band last week (cuz the Jamaican worship-leader Traize went on tour with his band). Yup, rockin’ the Hallelujah harmonies with a 25-person church full of smilin’ southern Baptist ex-pats! Our extranjero (whitey) church raises money to fund the Spanish version church in Playa del Carmen. They’re doing a lot of good things for the poor (and there is certainly no shortage of poor, needy people- even here on the other side of purgatory).
Gord Z arrives today and we’re looking forward to visits from all sorts of pals this year:
Jim and Peggy, Mel M, Pat n’ Gilly, Lauriellen, Roxy, Anne Bonner and even Manon’s Mom (Margot) is coming out at the end of January.
We can’t have all the excitement. I’m sure Providence has some purgatorial drama set aside for them too!
ONE MONTH LATER
well, most of our visitors have come and gone.
My "purgatorial drama" prophecy turned into wet poo for about 50% of our pals and food poisoning for manon and pat's granny. poor manon- it was our visit to an all-inclusive hotel and all she could eat or drink was 7up!!!
It was great to have a pile of buds to share the sunshine with (and we hear it warmed up in the arctic a bit too)!!!
Drink some cold Canadian milk for me and the next time you crawl into bed, remember that some people have sand in their bed sheets, ciento pinche insectos para los dos partes de mi cudo (100 fuckin insects for each side of my ass) and a case of diarrhea that never seems to go away.
love ry, manon and banjo pajama
posted by: Webmaster on 23 Jan 2009