A few found fotos

Every now and then I get around to downloading the pictures off of my TelCel cell phone. This last time, I found a few random shots of life in Mazatlán that I thought were worth of sharing:

This dog is very calm. When we lived in Kansas City, I couldn’t drive a car with our dog inside. I can’t imagine how you teach a dog to lay still on a motorcycle at speeds of 40-60 kmh, or 25-35 mph.With the heat index well over 100 degrees everyday, this is not the most efficient way to deliver ice!

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Goyo versus “El Hombre” —or— A Great Start to Valentine’s Night

Background Information for non-residents of Mazatlan:
The main road along the ocean is called Avenida Del Mar. The road connects the Golden Zone or tourists’ area to the south of the city called Olas Altas. The posted speed limit on this street is 40 kilometers per hour, or about 25 ridiculous miles per hour. This speed limit is routinely ignored except during traffic jams and parades. If you drive 35-40 kilometers per hour, you will get beeped at, cut off and not enjoy your driving experience. I try to go as close to the speed limit as possible. In other words, it is not like me to dart in and out of the two lanes and try to be the guy in front. The risk does not justify the outcome, as there are frequent stoppages for busses and taxis as well as the threat of encountering “the man.” Much has been written about the graft of the traffic enforcement system in Mexico. We have all heard stories about bribes (or “mordidas”) being paid to police officers for legitimate and not-so-legitimate traffic offenses. Most people prefer to pay the bribe rather than deal with the bureaucracy of paying a legitimate fine. Having lived here for about eight months, our friends are usually shocked to learn that we have not been pulled over ever for anything. We always write it off to the fact that we drive a Honda Civic and try our best to obey traffic laws and not draw attention to ourselves. Just in case, I always state, we have a stash of small bills in the console of the car. You never want to be the guy who asks the cop, “Do you have change for a five hundred?”

So here it is Valentine’s Night. Saturday night—we are on our way to dinner downtown. We are treating ourselves to a nice night out at an expensive restaurant we have never been to before. It is dark out, just after 7:00. I pull onto the Avenida Del Mar and ease into the flow of traffic. Very light for a Saturday night. Okay with me, we’ll get there early and have more time to find a parking spot. As I go past the most commonly referred to landmark, The Fisherman’s Monument (also called Monos Bichis, or “naked mannequins” by the locals), the road opens up as traffic all but disappears. The road gets a little windy as we begin a slight assent along the rocky shore. As I execute a bend in the road, my eye is caught by a flashlight being shined into our car from the side of the road. A lone motorcycle police officer stands some 30 feet from his bike and is shooting a beam of light straight into my face. I look at the huge digital display on our dash and see that I am doing 51 kilometers per hour. By the time I pull over, I am a good few hundred feet from this man, who is now my bitter opponent in what will be a bloody battle to the end for our hard earned pesos. Ahh, I think, if I back up and get closer to him, it will give me points for saving him the long walk. I demonstrate my driving skills by backing up yet still following the curve of the road. American driver indeed, he’ll know he is dealing with a local when he sees me.

I put the car in park and roll down the window. At this time I realize that I am parked in the darkest part of the damn road. This Mordida Fund that I have stashed in the center console is all but irretrievable, lost to the dark abyss of the too-deep console. How can I offer this man a reasonable bribe if I have to enter the console and spend five minutes showing him how prepared or unprepared I am for this monumentous event? I guess I’ll need another strategy.

I quickly tell Danny to say nothing and let me do the talking. I assume Dianne already knows. The officer approaches and I give him a hearty “Buenas noches” in my absolute worst Spanish. He asks me in Spanish if I know how fast I was going and I again offer up “Buenas noches.” He then asks where we are from. “Vivimos aquí” (we live here), again in my worst Spanish possible. I figure if he can’t tell me what I did wrong, he will have to give up. He wants to know where we are going, so I make him ask about three times and I just keep staring at him like I really want to understand, but have no clue what he is saying. Finally, I relent, and say “restaurante en la plazuela.” I said it poorly enough that he says it back to me in perfect Spanish and I give him a celebratory smile—now we are communicating. He asks who is in the car with me and I proudly point out, “mi esposa y mi hijo.” Two in a row, uh oh, back to the speed thing. He tells me the speed limit on the street is 40. I repeat in Spanish, Cuarenta (40), and point at my dashboard to show that I understand. Feeling like he can strike pay dirt, he goes back to his first question and I again smile. He tries a few other ways to ask, but I’m not biting. He tells me again about the speed limit and I tell him again, “cuarenta, no mas (40, no more) and smile. I throw in a gracias and he wishes us a buenas noches and we are on our way.

I feel bad for a few things. One, I was speeding and did deserve whatever punishment I am entitled, except when you factor in the fact that most traffic rules in Mazatlán are a joke. Second, it is no coincidence that this guy was set up in the darkest part of the street as to avoid the cameras installed along the Avenida with the expressed purpose of catching cops asking for bribes. Third, it was Valentine’s and I could have given him enough pesos to get his wife a couple of roses or himself a six pack of Pacifico – his choice, but I would recommend the roses. I didn’t want to get into a bidding war which is what these too often can become. In my defense, if I had not stopped, he never would have caught me. He gave us something to talk about as we navigated the streets to our destination, obeying every speed limit, of course!

My Thursday Pendientes (Errands)

Warning – this is a long and potentially complicated little story, but it is a typically wonderful slice of everyday life in our new home.

I had arranged to meet Jesús at noon in front of his office. Jesús is the agent who sold us our major medical insurance coverage. He signed us up for a plan that has discounts for three things: having an account with their bank, paying automatically from that account and paying one year up front. So far so good, right? We set the account up with the minimum balance of 30,000 pesos about ten days ago. He was there to help us (by the way, did I mention he speaks no English and very much enjoys my Spanish?). When we made the deposit, we had to pay a government tax of 2.5% on everything over 25,000. Not a big deal, just a surprise. I assume that this is Mexico’s way of getting a piece of the underground economy that exists here, but who knows. Anyway, the problem is that the insurance costs just over 30,000 and we have to maintain the minimum balance. We realize that we need to deposit 35,000 more. Jesús remembers that we don’t like paying the tax and, being the kind and helpful guy that he is, he tells me he has a way to get around it.
The plan: meet him at noon, go to, for lack of better words, the telegraph office by the post office in El Centro. Deposit the money, which gets recorded as a transfer instead of a deposit, and thus no tax. Sounds very strange to me, but okay, we’ll go and learn.
I pick him at noon on the busiest street in Mazatlán. I hate driving on Ejercito Mexicano. It is always packed and dangerous. I know where we’re going, but not his way. I know parking will be a you-know-what—it always is.
We get to the general area of the office uneventfully. We start looking for a parking space.

Learning #1 – the relaxed approach to finding a parking space. He directs me through a series of four right turns covering about a three block radius. Very patient, never frustrated, prepared to drive all day if necessary. We don’t see a singles spot. He doesn’t comment, other than instructing me repeatedly, “a la derecha” (to the right).
We find a spot three blocks from the office. As usual, there are car wash guys on the street. I am in the habit of always saying no. I say no, the guy gives me the sign of he’ll watch my car for me. Great, I think. He then asks me again if I want the car washed—he points out that he has fresh, clean water. I remember that Dianne wants the car washed so I ask how much. He says three dollars. I say no. As I am about to say 30 pesos, Jesús takes over and says 20 pesos. I guess I have always paid too much! They go back and forth and can’t agree. Then they start negotiating the time it will take. The guy says 30 minutes. Jesús says 15. The guy finally comes down to 25 pesos; Jesús simply tells him we’ll pay 20 and we’ll be back in 15 minutes.
Learning #2 – Only pay 20 pesos to have my car washed on the street.
We walk to the telegraph office. Dark windows, no sign, it looks abandoned. There are two large counters inside. One is labeled Telegraph/Fax. The other has no label and has two staff members behind a teller cage with computers. There is a large banner hanging on the wall behind the counter, and it has the logos of all the utility bills you can apparently pay here. There is only one customer and he is a blind guy who is just finishing up something.
Jesús tells the guy we need to deposit money. He asks for my account number and name. I give him that and he proceeds to push buttons on his computer. The application he is using is web driven and he keeps getting web errors. At this point I am not optimistic. As the “teller” works on this, he and his fellow staff members are giving directions to the poor blind guy on how to get out of the office. “Derecha!” (right), they yell, but the blind guy keeps going “derecho” (straight). He has an old wooden stick that he is trying to use and he is about to walk into a white moto-scooter parked in the lobby of the office (don’t ask). The guy apparently is not just blind, so Jesús goes over to walk him out the door.
Learning #3 & #4 – Help blind people and don’t park your moto in a telegraph office lobby.
When Jesús returns, the teller is midway through telling me that the bank has rejected my money. Jesús asks him to try 30,000 pesos instead, then 25,000, then 20 and finally 15. No luck; we are rejected. At this point, I have invested 30 minutes and for 20 pesos hope to have a clean car. I don’t mind paying the tax, I explain as we head back to the car. No problem, Jesús tries to explain. He has another plan where we put money in some other account(s) (his maybe?) and then transfer them to mine. Not fully understanding, I nod and appear to be distracted by the passing circus advertisement.
What is a circus advertisement? It is a caravan of six or seven very large cages on trailers pulled by large pick up trucks that parades through town followed and led by mini trucks with loudspeakers repeating how great this circus is and why you need to take your kids to it. As we walk, we see five tigers, four camels, one buffalo, two zebra, and a few miscellaneous other animals. We turn away from the circus parade towards the car.
The car appears to be clean. It has the standard “finished” symbol: wipers sticking up and away from the windshield. The guy who washed our car is not around and someone else is in his place. There are four guys on the street all washing and parking, but my guy has apparently moved to another part of the street. Jesús says to get in and we’ll pay as we turn the corner.
We drive about ten feet when one of the other car wash guys stops me to have me roll down the window. He wants 40 pesos. I tell him no, 20, and no, not to you. Jesús takes over and they jabber back and forth about 40 pesos and 20 pesos and the gist of it is this guy says they never clean for 20 and he wants to get paid. Jesús says to give him 20 and drive away. Traffic has opened up in front, I am getting beeped at, and so I agree. I hand him 20 and drive away. The guy we paid walks ahead and greets the guy who did wash my car and hands him the money. That guy looks at me like I have robbed him. I lock the door, roll up the window and drive away.
Learning #5 – Maybe 20 pesos is not enough for a car wash.
As we turn on the one-way street to get back to the Avenida Del Mar, I see really bad news. We are now in the middle of the circus caravan. For the next 12 minutes, I listen over and over to the announcement as Jesús and I practice the Spanish and English words for all of the animals. With the help of some desperate pulmonia drivers, we create a second “lane” and attempt to get around the circus. Doesn’t work; the circus parade is too damn long. The police officer who could be helping direct traffic is too busy with his camera phone taking pictures of the African safari passing by his intersection. A few minutes later, we do get back onto the Avenida Del Mar and head back to Jesús’ office.
I find parking one half block before his office and tell him that we’ll be walking. Parking?—American Style. Very effective. As we walk in the bank, he tells me to wait for a minute. I then clearly and strongly tell him in Spanish that I have taken too much of his time today and I am happy to pay the tax (besides this, there is no line at the moment, a rarity in Mexican banking). He smiles and says he will wait for me. They have a silly rule about no more than one person at the window at one time. I guess thieves travel in pairs or something.
I manage to deposit my money quite easily and no tax is ever spoken of. Great! I tell Jesús the good news about no tax as I prepare to leave and, unbelievably, he goes over to talk to the teller! He returns and without mentioning anything about taxes, tells me that I have to go back and collect my contracto. I go back and she asks for my account number and passport. I give her my passport and a piece of paper with my account number. She hands back the passport and says, in Spanish, “no, yours.” I look at what I thought was my passport and see that I have been carrying Dianne’s passport around all day. Great, sure glad the telegraph office didn’t need it. We go back and forth about my Kansas driver’s license and why it is curved and why you can’t read the address and yes, that is me, just a few years ago, please, please please. No, evidently whatever this contracto is, it can’t be given to just anyone. Final answer, I will need to come back mañana.
Learning #6 – Don’t carry anyone else’s passport other than yours.
Time invested so far, about an hour and ten minutes. Money, 20 pesos for a mediocre car wash. My next job is to go shopping and get food for lunch and get home in time to cook before Danny gets home. I decide to go to the Old Ley as it is close. I get my cart and proceed to the back of the store where the milk always is. I need milk, apples, bananas, and something for a main dish. I park my cart in the middle of the aisle and walk over to grab some milk. I find two with good dates and as I am walking back to my cart, the power goes out.
Lesson #7 – There are no emergency lights in Old Ley.
The old women start screaming, the staff starts hooting and I reach for my cell phone in the hopes of getting a little light in the midst of jet-black darkness. A few hundred feet away there is light coming in through the front door, but none of it can reach those of us in the bowels of the refrigerated section of the store. In a few seconds, one phase of the power comes back on. This gives some light, no air, and no refrigeration. In my mind, I’m thinking how often does this happen and no wonder the meat is funky sometimes.
I get home two hours after I left. I made a bank deposit, bought some excellent pork, got the car washed, practiced Spanish with my new friend Jesús, and if I ever need to send a telegraph I know where to go!

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

We picked Danny up from Boy Scout camp on Saturday, June 14, 2008, my friend Basma’s wedding anniversary, to begin our big adventure. Before leaving Leawood we had to stop one last time to say goodbye to our dog, Nacho, who now lives with good friends on their acreage.

The day before we departed had been the 35th anniversary of my first airplane ride. This time we were driving: a Honda Civic hybrid, loaded to the gills with three people, four computers, and loads of other have-to-have-right-away goodies. Needless to say, we wwaaayyyyyy exceeded the weight limit of the vehicle and the car barely cleared the ground.

We drove diagonally through Kansas—truly a beautiful state. We knew we’d miss the prairie, the Flint Hills. We were psyched to be able to drive through Greensburg, the town so devastated by the tornado and now rebuilding itself as a world-leading green city. What an encouraging way to leave the US. We spent our first night in Liberal, Kansas, two blocks from Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz; quite fitting, we felt.

The journey went really quickly and smoothly. Good highways the whole way, we met all terrific people, and it was fun counting the states. We crossed the border in Nogales, where we had our foreign resident cards stamped, and 50km or so later registered our car. Hooray!!! ¡Bienvenidos!

Crossing over the thousands of topes (speed bumps) on the journey through Mexico was not easy given our heavy load, and we had to stop at a mechanic’s once to have something underneath the car tied back up. The only really hairy episode was at one point on the highway in Sonora. Greg was driving, and heading towards us on two wheels, out of control and loaded to three times the height of the cab, comes a pickup truck. Greg froze: heading to the right would take us off the road and into a deep ditch, no doubt flipping us; heading left would take us into the path of the pickup if he was able to right the truck and course-correct; staying where we were seemed to be suicide. Fortunately, the driver was able to get back on all four wheels and onto his own side of the road, and all was well.

We spent our third night, the only night on the road in Mexico, in a “Romance Hotel.” Pulling in it looked great: advertising air conditioning, cable television, room service. It looked clean and new and very private; like a Japanese “love hotel,” you drive straight into a garage with your car, close the door, and no one sees who you are; great for secret trysts. Once we were in the room, we realized the AC didn’t work and the window didn’t open; we were stuck in a steam bath! We ordered dinner delivered, but when they brought it, they couldn’t get the garage door (only door to the outside) to open; the switch had come loose and fallen inside the cement block wall. No worries. We survived, spent one of the most steamy, sweaty nights of our lives, but the next day we made it to our new home and all was well. Seeing that ocean in front of us made everything good!