Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Container Arrives

We've been here almost two weeks and our container has cleared customs and is ready to be delivered. We just need to get a list of what is in the container, to the BTB and then on to customs, so they can check and see if we're bringing in anything that is not allowed under the QRP. Not a problem, except, we need the official stamp on our QRP paperwork, that then needs to be given to our customs broker. That would mean a trip to Belize City.

So off we went to Belize City, to get all of our paperwork for the QRP and the official list of approved contents. But wait. What do you mean it's not all tax and duty free? My power tools, my cement mixer, my tile saw, their all OK? But we get duties and taxes on the toilet paper and paper towels? The sodas and potato chips? Oh, and shipping is included in those calculations? So, that 36 roll package of TP cost me $25 in duties and taxes? Go figure. But the government needs the money, and our total duties and taxes for everything in the container was $600US. We can live with that. They were going to get something, one way or another.

The container was scheduled to be delivered on Friday, October 22, but things happen and the delivery date was pushed out a day, until Saturday, October 23. Usually, that would not be a problem, but this time it was. Hurricane Richard was scheduled to hit Belize, sometime on Sunday, and that meant, the container had to be unpacked quickly.

Bands of rain were already coming through, when the container arrived. Customs was there and we were ready to start unloading. Except, we couldn't get the container seal off. It was as thick as rebar and twice as strong. Now I had to run around looking for bolt cutters as all the guys are standing around, waiting to unload the container. Finally, we located a bolt cutter, and got down to business. But with the rain, customs wanting to see everything and the driver waiting to take the container back to Belize City, it was going to be a quick unload.

We opened the container and the unpacking began...only not in the organized fashion that we had envisioned. Things were flying out of the container so fast, the customs agent couldn't keep up. We had eight guys unloading the container, and what took me two days to load, took two and a half hours to unload. Boxes were everywhere.

After spending all that time labeling boxes so we knew where they go, everything ended up piled in the guest bedroom, stairway, living room and kitchen. It was a mouse maze by the time they got done unloading. But, at least the container had arrived and we now had the essential things we needed...if we could find them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Work On The House Continues...

We've been here just over a week now and we now have running water, showers and toilets. We still have things that need to be fixed, but at least we have some of the basic comforts of a home. They've started cutting and installing the quartz counter tops and what a mess that is. Fine dust everywhere.

But when it is all finished, it will be worth the trouble.

And while all the work inside the house has been going on, they have also finished the pool and were in the process of filling it with, what was suppose to be, water from the municipal water supply. Only, the water that came out of the tank looked like river water. And I was paying $300BZ for 3000 gallons of clean water, not this shit.

So, I told them to take it out. I was afraid it was going to stain the pool before the filter could take out all the dirt. Our only option now was to use well water from a local source. Lots of minerals and low pressure were the big drawbacks. I figured it would take over three days to fill the pool. But right now, our options were limited.

But the house is finally coming together and I'm looking forward to beginning the landscaping.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our Coral - Oct.30, '99 -Oct.10,'10

Our priority today was to get Coral to the vet. She was very lethargic, and wouldn't eat or drink. She didn't seem to be in any pain or terribly uncomfortable, but you could see it in her beautiful, brown eyes, that something wasn't quite right.

We took her to see Dr. Sheila, the local vet, first thing in the morning. She looked her over and gave her an IV to rehydrate her. The seizure had taken its toll on her, but we would have to wait and see, how she responds to treatments. We were given a prescription to have filled at the pharmacy in town, and we were to come back on Monday for a check up. So, we took her back home, and hoped for the best.

Only, the home we were returning to, was full of construction workers, scurrying about, trying to get the house in somewhat, working order. They were everywhere, except in the master bathroom. So we put Coral in the bathroom, which was also the coolest place in the house, and shut the doors to keep the noise down. We still had the two other dogs to look after, and this was all new to them. We hadn't yet established a routine, and with all the workers around, we tried to keep them occupied and out of the way.

After the all the workers left, the house became ours, once again. Coral was resting comfortably and we had now set up camp in our master bedroom. We inflated the bed, put out the dogs beds, and turned on the light and fan that our new neighbors, Tom and Terri, had lent to us to use. I don't know what we would have done without them. With only the things we brought with us in the truck, we didn't have much. And, with the house not ready, and our container still a week or more from arrival, we had no refrigerator or stove. We were living out of an ice chest (also borrowed from Tom and Terri), and food from our local restaurant. Even the coffee in the morning was provided by Tom and Terri.

We moved Coral into the bedroom with us and the other dogs. Timber, occasionally checking on her from time to time. The two of them have been together for over ten years, and have spent more time together, than with Mischelle and I. He could sense something was wrong. She was now breathing harder and her legs had become stiff, but she still seemed to be in no pain. We would wait until morning and see how she was then. There was not much we could do, but make her comfortable.

This might be our first night of good rest in more than three days. Coral was asleep next to me, on the floor. Then, around 2AM, Timber came in and got up on the bed. He had not done that in ages. Since we were on an air bed, the movement woke me up. The room was quiet. It was then, I realized that Coral had just passed away. I am heartbroken as I write this. This was our little girl. We had gone through so much, and we were looking forward to spending lots of time together as a family in our new home. Timber must have sensed she had passed and wanted to be close to us. She had passed in a position that made her appear to be very comfortable and one we had seen her in many times over the years.

In the morning, we contacted Dr. Sheila to get a death certificate so we could get Coral cremated at the local mortuary. It was tough taking her to the mortuary, knowing that would be the last time we would get to see our little girl. But everyone was so good about it and I felt as though Coral was left in good hands and would be taken care of properly.

We didn't know what to expect when we picked Coral's ashes up from the mortuary, but they had done such a nice job and put her ashes in a small, white, wooden box with a small black bow around it. It was beautiful.

We will save her ashes and plant a tree in our yard, where we can spread them. Now we need to focus on Timber and Jesse. Both of them are older, with issues of their own. Jesse is 13 and almost blind and Timber's 11 and his arthritis seems to be coming back. As Dr.Sheila said, " it's a bitch getting old". But I'm happy that we will be able to spend more time with them down here and that the quality of life will be more fulfilling.

We will always remember you, Coral. You were our first dog and you had the sweetest personality. You will be sorely missed. We love you Coral....just wait for us.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Can See Belize From Here

We slept in a while at the auto hotel, but we got out of there by 10AM, so we weren't too far off schedule. It was a clear day and the roads were dry. I thought we could probably make Santa Elena before nightfall if we didn't encounter any roadblocks. It's a beautiful drive through the countryside and most of the drive from VillaHermosa to Escarsega is a flat farm and cattle ranches. Not much to see, but a welcome relief from the prior day.

Since the new highway has gone in, the drive is a fairly easy one. The only change that I miss was the overhanging canopy of trees that use to envelope the road from Escarsega to Chetumal. Maybe after a few years, the canopy will grow back. Just never to the way it was.

We stopped in Escarsega at a new Burger King for a quick lunch and then to the Pemex station to fill up for the last stretch to Belize. It was getting later in the afternoon and we would probably arrive in Santa Elena after dark. But, at least we would be in Santa Elena.

We found a nice hotel, just before town, that was right on the lagoon. Nice place with big rooms for us and the dogs. Just what we needed before our final push into Belize.

But the rest we wanted, was not going to be here. Our girl, Coral, started having a Gran Mal seizure, late in the evening, that would last for hours. Here we were in Mexico, late at night, and unable to find a vet that would, maybe, be able to help. And then, how do we get her there. Being unfamiliar with Chetumal, I could have been driving all over town, with Coral in full seizure. We decide to wait the seizure out and give her medicine that our vet had given us before we left. She finally starts to settle down around 2AM, but at this point, she is thoughly exhausted. And, so are we. She had done so well during the whole trip, and even at our last stop, she was out of the truck, investigating everything.

Morning finally comes, and I don't think either one of us really got any sleep. Coral was sleeping, but something wasn't really right. It was Friday, and if we didn't cross the border today, we would have to wait until Monday. Do we try and take her to the vet in Chet, or do we try and cross the border with her and risk dealing with BAHA. We decide that we need to cross into Belize, and we need to do it today. So, we wait until 11AM, then head for the border. We need to turn in our visas and get the bond for our truck returned.

Mischelle does the foot work and gets everything taken care of in 15 minutes. Gotta be a record. From there we drive over to Belize Customs, to clear our truck and possessions. Coral is holding up well and all the dogs are sleeping in the back of the truck. As luck would have it, we were able to clear Customs in less than an hour (gotta be another record), and when the officers from BAHA came down to inspect the dogs, all of them were sleeping, so we got a quick pass there.

We're in Belize, and heading home.

Unfortunately, not the home we were expecting. The house had one working outlet, no water, and most working toilets. This was camping in a quite expensive tent. But, it is what it is, and we were home. We pulled out the dog beds and pulled out our inflatable bed, and we were going to spend out first night in our new home. After what we had been through the last few days, we were ready to try and get a good night of sleep. Same for the dogs.

Tomorrow is another day and our first priority is to take care of Coral.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Are You Sure This Is The Right Way?

We left Aldora early, hoping to get through Tampico before traffic was bad and the policemen were out. I've heard from more than a few people that Tampico was a shake-down town. Speeding tickets, travel documentation is wrong, you name it and it's probably happened. It's just a shake-down. $100 US or 1000$ Pesos. Christmas is coming. And it may not even be the real police. Tourists are easy pickin's and easy to find.

We made it to the bridge, just outside of town, with no problems or tickets, when we came across a set of policemen at the end of the bridge. Sure enough, we were flagged to pull over. But as bribes go, this was cheap. 50 pesos or a Coke. We've heard it's a good idea to stock an ice chest with Coke, for cheap bribes or a friendly offering.

We were off again, this time our destination was VeraCruz. Looking at the map, I decided we would head down to the coast and what appeared to be a shorter route. Not quite so. We headed down an interstate road that wasn't that begin with. After a half an hour, the road changed from paved to dirt. OK, no problem, the road has just been washed out in portions. Then the dirt became mud. Then the mud and water. It was time to turn around.

An hour lost going in on that route and 45 minutes coming out. It's now 11:30 and we are still just outside of Tampico. Not where I wanted to be. But, the next 5 hours of the drive was through the mountains, very beautiful and very uneventful. We arrived at the small town of Cardel, just outside of VeraCruz, just before dark and decided to look for a motel/hotel that would take dogs. We had heard that the auto hotels were a good place to stay and that most of them were rented by the hour (no tell motel) and would have a small garage where we could safely put the truck. As luck would have it, we found a nice little place on the edge of town. Big rooms, big bathroom with a nice shower, large enclosed garage and reasonable rates. We had found our home for the night.

And as the evening went on, the place got crowded. Probably twenty rooms and I'm sure they weren't all weary travelers. It cost us 400$ Pesos or about $34 for the night, and was the best place we had stayed at, so far on this trip.

The next morning, we were up early, looking forward to getting a good start on the road. Our next objective was to reach VillaHermosa or if we're lucky, Escarcega. As we headed for VeraCruz, I was looking for the road around the center of the city. I didn't find it. Next thing I know, we're in the city, looking for signs to lead us to the auto pista (toll road). As with our experience in Reynosa, there were conflicting signs everywhere. We drove inside of town for the better part of an hour before we finally saw a sign to the auto pista. Only it was going in the opposite direction of where we were headed and we could not find a place to turn around. The idea came to look for cops, then flip a u-turn at the first opportunity. Not the best option, but one that had to happen.

We finally find our way to the auto pista, and now we were looking for our connection to the Route 145 toll road that would take us to VillaHermosa. This is where our journey would take a turn for the worse.

As we arrived at the Route 145, there was a road closed sign and markers directing us to another road a couple of miles away. When we saw all the cars waiting to turn left at the stop sign, we knew this was going to be trouble. With the main road closed to VillaHermosa, all the car and truck traffic heading south was forced to use a secondary road, Route that would take us through several small towns and pueblos. Each of those towns had a series of speed bumps that the truckers would have to cross, but only after coming to almost a complete stop at each one. So when you have 20 or so trucks in front of you, it can take 45 minutes or more to get through each town. We were passing trucks at every opportunity, but there were always more ahead. Then after a couple of hours of this cat and mouse game, we came to a dead stop in the road. This didn't look good.

As I got out of the truck to look ahead, I could see a couple of massive tow trucks working to pull a large truck out of the gully. Work was progressing, but it was a full Corona truck and I wonder how many beer breaks these guys were taking. As we talked with some of the locals, we found out that this road had also been washed out about 15 miles further down the road so it was back to the map to look at our options. It wasn't looking good. We could stay here and wait for the truck to be cleared from the road and take our chances further down the road or we could turn around and look for another route to VillaHermosa. We decided to turn around and take our chances on another road, further west, that would take us almost clear to the Pacific ocean. From there, we would decide if we wanted to continue on to VillaHermosa or detour around to the Pacific side and approach Belize from another direction.

We checked the map and looked for a way to get to Route 147 that would hopefully get us around this mess. It was now after 1PM and we were only 50 miles outside of VeraCruz and a long way from VillaHermosa. We got gas at the Pemex station and asked if the road we were going on, would get us to the Route 147. They directed us to a road to going to Playa Vincente, that on the map showed it was a paved road. No problem. We headed down the road with a couple of other trucks following us. At first the road was a nice, paved road that passed by some big ranches. Some eight miles or so down the road that nice paved road gave way to a muddy dirt road. Again no problem. We had 4 wheel drive, so I figured we would be OK and the road wasn't that bad. Well a few more miles down the muddy road, it became down right nasty. The mud was slick as snot. The small streams were everywhere and it had begun to rain. But the other trucks in our little caravan pushed onward, so now, I just followed them. It looked worse before it got better, but soon we came across a small village where we got directions to the highway, just a few miles ahead. What a relief.

When we finally found our way to Route 147, it was now after 2PM. And it was the same story as the other route. Lots of trucks, all backed up at each small town. But we were able to pass the trucks as they slowed down for the speed bumps and we managed to not get pulled over by the local police. We seemed to be making good time and we might make VillaHermosa by dark. But this was not to be. The hurricane season had taken its toll on the state of VeraCruz. Roads were either buried in mudslides or washed out. The large trucks were forced to use these secondary roads that were not made to handle this kind of constant truck traffic. And the truckers were not use to driving these type of roads.

Another truck had gone off the road, but this time there were no tow trucks on the scene. It was going to be another long wait.

But not everybody was bothered by the delays.

Again, after a few hours wait, we were on the road once again. But now it had become slow and go. The roads were now weaving through the mountains and the roads had not gotten any better. And on top of that, it was now starting to get dark. It looked as though we were going to have to travel in the dark. Not much of a choice. Most of the towns had resturaunts, but no motels. As we came out of the canyon and onto a main road, we decided to continue, in the dark. There were no Pemex stations around where we could park and maybe get some sleep. Just a dark road and miles between towns.

After a couple of hours on the road, we finally approached the auto pista going to VillaHermosa. We could catch a good road for a while and find an auto hotel at a Pemex station, where we could spend the night. But, it wasn't going to be that easy.

On the toll road to VillaHermosa, we came across a large 4x4 piece of lumber, lying in the road. Since it almost spanned the width of the road, we had no choice but to go over it. We figured one of the large trucks had lost it from its load. Almost immediately, the back right tire went flat. So I pulled over and proceeded to get the jack and spare tire out from the truck. As I was changing the tire, suddenly a couple of men came out of the bushes, looking to rob us. It had been a set up and we were the victims. It now fell into place. The 4x4 was not there by accident, but was planted by these robbers to take advantage of the shock of the blow out and the surprise of the ambush. Give us money, they said in broken english. As one of the robbers took a swing at Mischelle, she hit him hard with the police type mag flashlight we were using, when we changing the tire. That sent him back a few feet. That's when I grabbed the flashlight from Mischelle and went after these guys like the gringo from hell. I don't think they were expecting any resistance, as they both ran back into the bush. I went back to the truck and did my best imitation of a NASCAR tire change and we were out of there within 5 minutes. Mischelle all the time, scanning the bushes, fully expecting them to be back. But their element of surprise was gone, we had the dogs and we were gone before they could regroup.

You think you are safer on the auto pista, rather than the local road or highways, but unfortunately, things like this are happening all over Mexico. Even the buses from Playa del Carmen to Chetumal are being robbed.

We found an auto hotel, at a Pemex station, about 15 miles down the road, where we could stay the night and survey the damage to the truck. We were lucky it was a 4X4 and had a higher clearance. It probably would have flipped a smaller car. Other than the flat tire, the truck was in good shape.

I wanted to get to bed, so we could get a good start in the morning. It had been a long day, topped off by a dangerous situation, and we were exhausted. Our goal was to reach Santa Elena, on the Belize/Mexico border, and get a hotel there for the night, so we could cross into Belize in the morning.

Monday, October 4, 2010

An Adventure Begins

We made it across the border at Los Indios and encountered no real problems. Of course, when we crossed into the Mexican side of the border, we had to push a button for a red light/green light customs check. We got the red light. I had to take down, from the top of the truck, all the luggage I had just secured down at the motel, open them up, let them inspect and then re-secure them all back on top. A half an hour to get through that, then on to immigration, the posting of a bond and insurance for the truck. Another hour and we are finally on the road, hoping to reach Tampico before dark.

Shortly after we cross the border, we have a detour. The Route 180 that we usually take is closed, and we are detoured to Reynosa, about 30 miles away. A little out of our way, but we find a road that will get us back to the Route 180, so off we go. Or so we thought. Once we arrived in Reynosa, we found so many conflicting signs directing us to the road out of town, that we were driving in circles for the better part of an hour. Finally, Mischelle sees a small sign with our route number, and we are back on the road again. It's now, almost noon, and we still have a good drive in front of us.

Along the way, we pass a caravan of 30+ military vehicles, full of men and equipment. With all that is going on in Mexico, I wonder where they are headed. We manage to make it to Aldama, a small town about 30 miles north of Tampico. It's been a long day, the dogs have been great, and it's time to call it a night. I've stayed here before, and the dogs were welcome, so this was our first stop outside of the US.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A New Day, Same View

Our second day on the road began with a late start out of the motel. I needed to move items around, inside and outside of the truck, so the dogs could have more room to move about. After that, it was back on the road to our next destination, Fort Stockton, Texas. We were looking at a 8-10 hour drive through the rest of Arizona, all of New Mexico and then into Texas.

The dogs have been wonderful during the trip, sleeping most of the time while in the car. We usually average about 3-4 hours on the road before they need a break. Then we take a short pit stop, then back on the road again. Even in the motel, they have been great. No issues at all. It really helps when we don't have to worry about the dogs.

We arrived at Fort Stockton around 7PM, which was later than I wanted, but I had forgot about the time changes, which shaved off 2 hours of travel time. Again, we stayed at Motel 6, with no problems, but this time on the ground floor. We got up early, but because of the time changes, it was after 8AM before we left. This time we were looking at a 10 hour drive from Fort Stockton to McAllen, Texas. It was a long drive, but nice and uneventful. We got into McAllen around 6PM and made contact with Rocio transmigrante, only to find out the border crossing we use is closed on Sunday. Great. That meant another day in McAllen, waiting to cross the border. Deja Vu of my last trip. And on top of that, the toll road from VeraCruz to VillaHermosa has been washed out in places and is still being repaired. The only option around it is a road that is in such poor condition, that the average speed is only around 5 mph. So we are spending the night again at the Motel 6 and getting a good nights rest before we start again on our adventure. Rocio is checking on the road conditions for us and hopefully the road will be repaired before we get there, in a couple of days.

The trip through the US has been pretty uneventful and we hope the trip through Mexico will be just the same. Only 3 or 4 more days to go.

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's All a Blur

We finally closed the deal on our home, Wednesday, five days later than we had originally planned, but it has all worked out in the end. With the container not showing up as scheduled, we lost four days of loading time. So, when we found out closing on the house wouldn't be until at least Tuesday, it gave us more time to load the container. And we needed every minute of it. I had it so well planned. We had, what seemed to be most of the house packed and we still had lots of room in the container. Even enough for a golf cart, or so I thought.

But it was all the last minute items, the odd size pictures and my tools, that was the straw that broke the camels back. The container was stuffed as full as it could be and we finished loading it, just as the truck pulled up to pick up the container. It was scheduled to be there, Wednesday at 12, and there it was, right on schedule. We finished packing it with not a minute to spare. Whatever was in there was going to Belize, what ever wasn't, wasn't. We have to take the dogs to Belize in the truck, so there is no room in there for anything.

Now that the container was gone, that part of our adventure was over, but we weren't quite finished. We were so busy trying to load the container, we hadn't got around to finishing the final touch ups on the house or even cleaning it up. So there we were, just an hour after the container left and we had to be out of the house by 7PM. The new owner, Kay, came by to pick up the keys at 4pm, and we were still cleaning the place. Of course, all of our wonderful neighbors came by during the day, to give their best wishes for us, and that took more time. Soon it was six and we had one hour left before we left our beautiful home for the last time. It was just going by so quickly. And we still needed time to get the truck packed and the dogs situated inside.

I finally finished loading the XTerra, just before 7PM. The neighbors came by for the final good-byes, we loaded the dogs, and we were off on our new adventure. I didn't even get the chance to go back through the the house with Mischelle, and remember all the good times we had there. It has been a wonderful first house for us and I am proud of all the upgrades and remodeling we did. It looks nothing like the home we moved into, back in '99. But it was all such a blur, that final day. We no longer lived in California, and soon we would no longer live in the United States. What a change in our lives.

Our first stop on our trip would be Desert Hot Springs, where Mischelle's mom lives. We would stay there the night, then push on to Benson, Arizona the next morning. When we arrived around 11PM, you could smell the rain in the air. By 2AM, it was pouring rain and looked more like Belize than Palm Springs. The monsoon weather had arrived and it looked as though it would stay around for a few days. But we didn't have a few days. So, the next morning, we pushed on. It turns out to be a good decision, as we had clear weather for the next part of the trip and Desert Hot Springs had heavy rain, at times, for the next couple of days.

We got a late start from Mischelle's mom's place and didn't arrive in Benson until around 6PM. We were staying at Motel 6's all along our route in the US, because they allow dogs in the rooms. We had a nice room in Benson, but it was on the second floor and the dogs had never been in an elevator. Coral was a little weary of it, but Timber had no problems at all. Once we got inside the room, Mischelle and the dogs settled in for the night, and our first full day on the road, was over.

The journey continues.....