Mérida or Bust — Day Nine: Xalapa, Veracruz, to Villahermosa, Tabasco

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,442 (based on distance driven and distance remaining according to my GPS and Google Maps)

Kilometres Driven Today: 560

Total Kilometres Driven: 4,840

Kilometres Left: 602

Amount of Trip Completed: 88.94%

Today, I drove as far south as I’ve ever been in my life and tomorrow I’m heading back north! 😀

I slept solidly in Xalapa until about 6AM when someone got on the treadmill in the gym next to my room. GAH. It was such a comfortable bed and such a shame to not be able to get a couple more hours of shut-eye. I finally gave up and got up around seven and went to check out the included breakfast. I don’t normally eat much on travel days in this climate, but it didn’t make sense to leave on an empty stomach. Which reminds me, I felt the climate change as I was coasting into Xalapa yesterday, with the humidity increasing exponentially with each kilometre I got closer to the coast. I’ve been so itchy because of my dry skin since I got back to North America and being back in this climate is a soothing balm. I won’t need body lotion again any time soon!

But anyway, breakfast today. The coffee was as abysmal as expected. Shame that they can’t put in an automatic coffeemaker like you see in Europe that always dispenses a perfect cup. That was the Camelot Inn in Amarillo’s secret! But beyond that, there were a lot of good offerings. You could do a continental breakfast (pastries, breads, fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt, cottage cheese, etc.). I went over to the hot table and found eggs with ham and also black refried beans. I had those with salsa verde, queso seco, and some crema (YUM). I was shocked that there were no tortillas and I had to settle for toast!

Before heading out, I topped up the oil in the truck since she’s due for an oil change! She’ll need a bit of work when I land since she’s developed a few squeaks that I think are a chassis that needs lubrication and brakes that need attention. Nothing worrisome at this point, but I’ve ridden her hard and she needs some time at the spa! Of course, a guy came by as I had the hood up to ask if I needed help.

Getting out of Xalapa was as difficult as expected because of the lack of retornos. I went almost 10KM out of my way (roundtrip) before I could get turned around in the right direction, and that was better than what my GPS thought I’d need to do. I’ve gotten really good at making illegal U-turns over a low median in this country…. In fact, the more I drive here, the more I like it. You have to be really present when driving here and so it forces me to focus and get out of my head instead of zoning out like I would on a long stretch of interstate. I’m never bored driving in Mexico!

The first couple hundred kilometres of my day just flew by. I had good pavement and traffic was light. I ended up taking my only break of the day at a Pemex/Oxxo about 250KM from Xalapa, where I downed a much needed Elecrolit hydrating drink and noshed on a granola bar. Croft had warned me that that stretch of highway was really bad the last few times he drove them, but they were so newly paved that I started to feel sick from the fresh tar fumes and smells! In fact, the road didn’t get ugly until the section after the bypass he’d suggested that would have added hours to my day. So it’s a good thing I stuck to the cuota.

Coming out of one of the tollbooths I passed (none too pricy today, thankfully), I saw my first sign announcing Mérida! And then, they were everywhere!

I was literally parked there. The off ramp was so bad that it took that truck several minutes to get through. See that little sticker on my windshield? I still make it a point to donate to the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) regularly. It’s a cause I believe in. When you have that sticker, they tend to leave you alone, but I always put a peso or two when I see a kid collecting and every few times when it’s a grownup.

Even with a very long section of teeth rattling road, I made very good time to Villahermosa, arriving just shy of 3PM. There is a bypass around the city that I found tempting, but that would have meant finding a motel before, which was way too early to stop, or after, which was way too late. I had options for both, but as I realised that I would be arriving into the city so early, I decided to stay in it so I could possibly go see a movie this evening!

Despite having a map and directions from Siri, Google, and my GPS, coming into Villahermosa was like driving in Xalapa yesterday, going round and round near the hotel without being able to find it. Just as I was about to flag down a taxi to guide me there (a tip from Croft), I finally saw the hotel in the distance and managed to make my way to it. It wasn’t cheap ($1,200), but I did much better than expected my last two nights here and I’m actually under budget for accommodation thanks to Amarillo, so I didn’t care. I definitely upped the accommodation budget on this trip compared to last ones and that removed a lot of the stress and meant that I got to stay in nicer and more comfortable places. I’m getting to that age where the fleabag motel just doesn’t cut it anymore. I really like this Latin American chain I’m discovering, City Express. The rooms are a bargain for their location, super clean and well appointed, and they have a free breakfast. Unfortunately, they don’t all have great beds.

First order of business was to find a cinema. There was a Cinépolis not even 2KM away that seemed walkable! There was nothing playing that I would have paid to see at US and Canada prices, but for $55, the mostly comedic “Going Out In Style” with Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christopher Lloyd, and Ann-Margaret sounded perfect! The movie started in about an hour and I decided to head straight to the mall and then grab a very late lunch if I had time.

My walk was through the “real” Mexico that I love so much. It’s not pretty and it’s chaotic and smelly and loud, but it’s also very communal. I didn’t know if this was a bad part of town or not, so I kept my phone tucked away so as to not draw attention to myself as I strolled purposefully to my destination, which explains the lack of pictures. 🙂 I passed a Paletería La Michoacana, so I popped in to get a paleta, which is just a fancy popsicle. The owner didn’t seem to know what to do with me, reminding me of the juice vendor in Mazatlán who gave me a “I’ve never served a Canadian before!” discount. No discount here, but I came out with a coco paleta for $15. It was very drippy and I had to eat it fast, but I was happy with my choice since there was real coconut in it and so it was surprisingly filling.

Shockingly, the directions I’d memorised were perfect and I found the Cinépolis with no detours. I still had about 30 minutes to the movie, so I went to the food court and ordered two tacos arabes, which is another name for al pastor. 🙂 They were pretty good — very generous with the meat for $18 each, but there was a lot of gristle and no onions, cilantro, and only two salsas (the guacamole, which isn’t spicy, and the salsa mexicana/pico de gallo that was and tasted like home!). They didn’t double up on the tortillas, so the second taco was so soggy by the time I got to it that I had to eat it with a spoon! I can’t even begin to describe the happy dance my taste buds were doing!

There’s a Mega right by the cinema, so I went there after eating to see if they might have a Scotiabank ATM by their bathrooms. They did! I initiated a transfer to that account so I could make a withdrawal after the movie and then went to buy my ticket. I almost asked for a “bilet,” rather than a “boleto.” The former is Bulgarian, LOL!!! I thought the last time I went to the cinema was in Bulgaria, but no. I went once in England.

The movie was exactly what I wanted. There was a lot of suspension of disbelief needed, but the actors were all in fine form. It was great to hear other audience members laugh at the same time I did. Oh, for those who don’t know this, most movies in Mexico are shown in their original language with Spanish subtitles. Just look for “subtitulado” or “sub” next to movie name when looking up showtimes.

It was just coming on seven when I left the movie theatre. I checked my email and my transfer was complete, so I moved the money into my Scotiabank account. Last time I did that was in Brighton on my iPhone 5C and it took ages since I had to type my password on a tiny screen. With my “new” iPhone 6, I just had to give the phone a fingerprint! I was then able to take out enough cash to cover fuel tomorrow and leave me with a bit to get me through until I locate the nearest Scotiabank to where I’m staying in Chelem, which is very likely the one on Pasejo de Montejo since I know there is no Scotiabank in Progreso, the nearest city to where I’m going to be living. Let me tell you, soon as I get my residency card, my first stop will be a bank to get a Mexican account so I can go directly from the USD in my PayPal account to pesos, have access to more ATMs, and also have access to a debit card system!

Banking done, I went down to the main level to look for a taxi. I found a stand where I could order one. As it turned out, there are a few City Express hotels in this city and I didn’t have the address, but saying the one 2KM away near the Walmart did the trick. I was quoted $45, which sounded very fair for the distance to travel. Am I glad I didn’t drive because the driver had to take me through a warren of streets to end up on the correct side of this main thoroughfare to drop me off!

I was ready for dinner by this point and asked the front desk clerk for a suggestion. She said I’d have to drive as there are no sit down restaurants within walking distance and she doesn’t recommend the taco stand right in front of the hotel. There was no way I was getting back in my car, so I went to the Oxxo next door to put together a picnic. I almost got a beer there, but spotted a proper beer store in the distance (look for the word SIX in big red glowing letters!) and knew their beer would be colder. When I got there, the grill was down, but the lights were on. I called out and a guy came out from an inner office to serve me. I asked for a Tecate and he asked me if I wanted red (regular) or blue (light) and what size. A small red was $15, about what I’d pay on Isla for a single.

The desk clerk was surprised to see me back so soon. I held up my bag and said, “¡Viva Oxxo!” She and the security guard burst out laughing. I wasn’t super hungry and I had a cold beer, so a decent ham and cheese sandwich with some Fritos were absolutely fine for supper. I even found a packet of honey mustard at the bottom of my purse to dress up my sandwich!

I can’t believe it’s the end of my last full day on the road and while I’m definitely DONE with living out of a suitcase (been doing it for more than 10 months!), I’m still in good spirits. It’s been an uneventful trip and I have to say that a lot of that has had to do with my being focused on just getting there. The more detours one takes, the more can go wrong. Croft is sad that I haven’t done any tourism, but I have to remind him that I’m going to be living here full-time for at least the next four years! Soon as I can afford to take a vacation, I can come back out to this part of Mexico and explore some archaeological sites over a long weekend. Or I can get on a cheap flight and take a longer trip further afield. All my travel money in the next few years is going to go to exploring Mexico instead of having so much of it spent on going back and forth between Canada and the US.

So patience readers. Give me time to settle in, replenish the coffers ahead of my move in the fall, and soon, we’ll set off and discover this magical country together. I want to do it just like I did with the US and Canada, thoroughly and purposefully and at a leisurely pace.

I can’t believe I’ll be in Chelem tomorrow!

Mérida or Bust — Day Seven: Laredo, TX, to Matehuala, San Luis Potosí (Mexico!)

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,400

Kilometres Driven Today: 575

Total Kilometres Driven: 3,430

Kilometres Left: 1,970

Amount of Trip Completed: 63.51%

The first time I drove down to Mexico, I was so broke I had to sleep in my truck as much as possible. It hit me last night in Laredo just how much my life has changed as business has improved. I was staying in a studio apartment in an extended stay hotel that was very luxurious (which you can always tell when there are different soaps for different parts of the body!). Sure, I got a great deal on booking.com, but it was still a $75 a night room and right on budget. I’m starting to feel like I’m “middle class” and I’m wondering how living in Mexico, where I will pretty much be wealthy, is going to change me and my values…

At any rate, I actually slept pretty well last night and would have gone the night through if the very loud alarm of the person sleeping in the room above mine hadn’t gone off around 4AM. I still managed to fall back asleep after, a very good pre-border night! I finally got up around seven and refused to be rushed. I’m travelling at a time of year where the days are longer and I only had about 500KM to do past the border, so I had some of my coffee before taking off, although I definitely was in no mood to eat (the hotel sent me off with a granola bar and I had bought more bars yesterday as well).

Getting out of Laredo and to the Colombia Bridge crossing was more trying than it would have been had there been some signage saying that I was on Mines Road, which takes you up to the Colombia crossing road. The portion of the road between Mines and I-36 is a tollway for which you need a pass. So if you don’t have one, you have to go all the way into Laredo and then back up again. I was going about 80KM out of my way, 40KM on each side of the border, to cross at Colombia, but research told me it would be a quiet, non-busy, one-stop crossing, compared to using one of the crossings in Laredo. The only caveat is that staff there don’t have much, if any, English.

It was only as I approached the bridge that I realised there might be a toll to cross it and that I’d left my last few dollars as a tip for the hotel cleaner! Thankfully, they took pesos. The exchange rate for US to MXN today was 1:20. So 1USD=20MXN. My bridge toll was 3.50USD, so 70MXN.

Unlike when you cross at Nogales, the checkpoint is right at the border. Signage was a bit confusing, but I saw a sign for Banjercito and vehicle importation, so I pulled over to deal with that. A customs officer promptly came over to check me out. She said to go in and do the visa and vehicle stuff, then return to the truck and she’d do the declaration thing.

It was maybe 8:45 when I entered into a very neat building where all the windows were numbered to make it clear in what order  to do things. First stop was INM where I asked for a 30-day entry since I have a residente temporal visa sticker in my passport. I didn’t have to fill out anything. The officer just stamped some stuff and gave me my entry paper. I had no fee to pay since I’ll be paying muchos pesos for my residency card when I arrive!

Next stop was a copy shop for a copy of the entry paper, then Banjercito for the vehicle import. That was easy since I’ve done it twice before. The lady started to explain that I only have a 30-day TIP (temporary import permit), but I told her that I know all about that and that I have friends at my destination who will help me get sorted with aduena so I hopefully don’t lose my 200USD deposit (but I’m already resigned to losing it).

I then went back out to my truck and pulled out my inventory list. The customs lady (about my age, maybe younger), came back over and explained to me that I wasn’t eligible to bring in everything for free because I didn’t have a consulate certified menaje de casa (list of household goods). So she was going to have to go through everything, figure out what it was all worth, and then charge me 16% IVA (tax) on it all.

Thankfully, it was still cool out! I began to pull out things and she went though a bunch of it. You can see one of my Mexican blankets there — it was wrapped around a painting, then wrapped in paper and a garbage bag. She actually handed me a knife to get into the garbage bag, which was taped pretty solidly.

I suspected I was in trouble when she started to count the number of DVDs I had in one of my boxes (hundreds!). She made me go almost all the way to the back of the truck bed, but not entirely, and she cut open several bags of clothes while asking me if I had any weapons of any kind (only kitchen knives!). We then went into the cab and she made a note of the printer and stuff I had in a bin. Finally, she told me to leave everything out while she went to calculate what I’d owe for import duties while a colleague came by with a sniffer dog.

I was just rewrapping my painting when said dog came and he was clearly very bored by my truck. His handler gave me a big smile and a gracias before telling me that I could repack. Just as I was doing that, the customs (aduena) lady was back and telling me that I owed 800USD.

Needless to say, I had nothing in the truck save maybe my computer that would be worth paying 800USD for. I didn’t even have 800USD to give her! I finally told her flat out that I couldn’t pay and she gave me a horrified look and apologised for not having been clear. What she actually meant was that she had evaluated my stuff at being worth 800USD and that I had to pay 16% of that, which she pegged at 120USD. So if I agreed to pay that 120USD, she could clear me for customs and I could be on my way. I’m still laughing with relief.

When I met up with her inside, I made sure to thank her for being kind and patient with me so that it would be clear that I was not upset with her and that I respected her job and the fact that I had to pay this money. I’d only been upset because I hadn’t expected to have to pay a huge amount and couldn’t see my way around doing that besides having to leave my things behind! She and I had a good laugh and she said it was a good thing my Spanish is so good or we might have had to wait hours for an interpreter to come! She finally got the bill together and I was able to pay it. She told me to present it to her colleague at a booth I would drive by and I could be on my way.

Well… I got to the booth and was sent off to have Moya X-rayed! Holy smokes are these folks thorough! I followed the instructions to get Moya to the X-ray booth and then stepped out to a safe area. The man doing pantomimes for me was very grateful when I told him he could just speak Spanish to me. LOL We had a nice conversation while we waited for the X-rays. As it turns out, he just recently did most of my drive since he went on holidays with his family to Playa del Carmen. Can you tell by now that this was a very relaxed border crossing with lots of chatty, friendly folks?

I then had to go back to a waiting area just after the booths to wait for the results of the X-ray. Finally, a guy came over to let me know I was clear. Woohoo!

Pause here to make a guess in the comments on what time it was when I finally pulled away from the border station…

It was only about 10:15. I’d been there at most an hour and a half!

Before I go on, I just checked the Montreal consulate website’s fees page and see that a menaje de casa is $178. I paid about $160 in duties, so I not only saved money by not having a proper menaje de casa, I still have the option of getting one done at a later date if I have something valuable to bring into Mexico with me. So my stupidity paid off. 😀 I think the woman’s evaluation was incredibly fair and extremely low ball, just based on the amount of electronics I had with me. I feel that she gave me a break because I declared everything I had with me. She matched my list to my boxes and there were no surprises. The amount certainly didn’t feel punitive.

Moving on, I got about two minutes from the border before I pulled into a very nice rest area to use the bathroom. I then pointed Moya south towards Monterrey, stopping in at the first Oxxo I passed to add $200 to my phone to get 1GB of data for a month since I knew there was a strong chance I would not have internet at the motel tonight (I must be psychic).

The first bit of my drive was painful like driving down MX-15, with huge variances in the speed limits. But once I got onto the cuoatas (toll roads), I was in a whole other world than the Mexico I’m used to, with good speed limits and no endless parade of stops at military, federale, and fruit checkpoints! I did have one inland customs and border checkpoint, but was able to just roll through it.

But the toll booths… OMG. So many tolls. Over $600 (40CAD) worth, starting with a big one at $219! I did something stupid at one booth and got in the wrong lane (in my defence, I don’t think any were actually marked). This was a no cash, tag only lane. Some very angry truckers honked at me for blocking it and a lady in the booth next to me yelled loudly to wait for her. I got exact change change ready for her and was quickly out of there, only to be flagged down immediately by a federale.

Well, it was bound to happen sometime that I’d get a moving violation here. Right? I pulled over in front of him and looked back to see him waving me off. I think he saw my out of country license plate, correctly figured that I’m a stupid gringa, and decided to be forgiving. 🙂

There is a dearth of taco stands on the road most travelled, so instead of not eating all day while hoping to find good food, I stopped at another Oxxo and after much label reading, found a ham and cheese sandwich with no mayo that looked almost edible. It was surprisingly soggy though, and one bite told me why — jalapeños! There is something about the combination of ham, American cheese, and jalapeños that is very “Mexico” to me, probably because of Panamá’s bakery, so my rather uninspired lunch ended up being satisfying.

I drove pretty hard all afternoon since I need to get used to the pace. I was very comfortable, not quite “home,” but definitely more than a tourist.

I was perhaps an hour from my destination when I pulled into a Pemex. I took on $500 of fuel and the attendant tried to scam me when I paid, telling me that I gave him only $50, not $500. He was very young and I let him have it, telling him he should be ashamed of himself. I left him practically in tears, but doubt that he learned his lesson. Always be sure to count bills that you hand over, make eye contact, and get verbal confirmation that you’d handing over the correct amount. I got lucky on this one.

Just as I was pulling out of the Pemex, I saw a sign for “dulces de guayaba” (guava sweets) and I roared to a stop by a couple sitting under an umbrella with their ware. I bought this huge triangular portion for $35. I knew I didn’t stand a chance in hell of eating it all, but I wanted some guava flavour and texture, dangnabit! I got through about a third of it (it’s not very sweet), but threw out the rest after it was in a hot car all afternoon. The texture of this sweet is a bit tough to describe. It’s a little gritty and it holds together. You can’t just break off a piece and it’s not gelatinous like Jell-O. Anyway, YUM.

I had more tollbooth fun when I exited just before the Matehuala tollbooth to find a bar across the road. A man came running in my direction and said, “No worry, no worry. I speak very good English! My colleague he comes for your money. 23 pesos!” His English was not good and I failed at getting an answer as to whether I did something wrong turning off where I did. What I suspect is that traffic was light and instead of staffing the little tollbooth at the off ramp, they just had a young employee run down to collect money and open the bar for the odd car. The toll was actually $24. 🙂

It was then a very short drive to the Las Palmas Midway Inn, which Croft and at least a half dozen other people recommended highly.

I was quoted over $1,000 for a room and asked if they had a better price. I was offered another room for $864, with the only difference being that I’d be at the opposite end from the pool. Not a big deal! I was then led to my room by a man on a bicycle who showed me everything and gave me my key. The room is pretty basic, but nicer than other hotels I’ve stayed at in Mexico except for Durango. The bed is actually pretty comfy!

First order of business was to get my bathing suit out! I jumped into the freezing cold pool and enjoyed the dip immensely even though I didn’t stay in long. Despite wearing sunscreen, my left arm is pretty burnt from the drive today (should have listened to myself this morning and stuck to long sleeves), so the cold water felt nice.

Then, I went back to my room to start on this post before going to the attached restaurant for dinner. I had their pork chop special and that suited me just fine. Mexicans tend to prepare their meat the way I like it, well seasoned and well cooked. Some might have found these too stiff for their taste, but they were perfect for me. I just didn’t expect that much meat! I made it through half of my jalapeño. That’s a Victoria beer in front of my plate and some very bland salsa that I had with totopos. I teased the server that I got served the Gringo salsa and he understood what I meant, bless him. That’s why I have Tabasco sauce to the right of my plate and a jalapeño. LOL I have to get reaccustomed to eating spicy food, but the learning curve won’t be super steep since I did eat hot peppers often in the Balkans.

I added Coahuila, San Luis Potosí, and Nuevo León to my Mexico visited states map today, and also went through Tamaulipas!

The next three days are going to be long. I was going to go all the way to Córdoba tomorrow, but Google is telling me that’s a 10-hour drive (865KM) and I’ve got too much Mexico experience now to commit to that. I’m going to aim for Puebla (713KM, 8 hours).

That would leave me 628KM (8 hours) to Villahermosa on Thursday and 600KM (8 hours) to Chelem on Friday. I’m going to be wiped when I get there but, really, the budget can’t support more than two more hotel stays and, frankly, I’m ready to get there. This was never meant to be a tourism trip and I’m not on holidays.

Well, I think that’s everything. It was a full day! Yay for being back in Mexico!

Mérida or Bust — Day Four: It’s Sleetailowing in Amarillo, TX

I picked the perfect rest/work day. The weather has been some of the worst I’ve experienced in my life! It’s been sleeting/snowing/hailing/howling since last night. I would not have wanted to be on the road in this mess. Work is progressing steadily, but I’m actually considering staying a third night or at least requesting a late checkout tomorrow so I don’t have to work insanely late.

The hotel here was a really good choice. Despite being right by the interstate, it was dead quiet last night. I have good blackout curtains and while the bed is harder than I’d like, the mattress is good and not lumpy. So all that to say, I slept well. There was really good coffee waiting for me in the lobby when I got up and danishes so fresh and delicious I couldn’t resist! There’s really nowhere nearby to walk to get coffee and my coffee maker is buried somewhere in the truck, so I was very grateful this morning that I didn’t have to expend any effort to get a delicious brew.

I did go out at lunch to pick up a pizza at the Domino’s next door (almost blowing into Oklahoma as I raced across the parking lot) and then I screwed my courage to the sticking-place and drove less than 2KM roundtrip to pick up something quick for dinner. Yes, I drove that teeny distance. If that’s not proof of how vile the weather is, I don’t know what is!

Mérida’s insanely hot and humid forecast is looking so good right now. But, of course, I’m expecting to land when the temps are going to drop and rain is going to start. Seriously. I’m trying to figure out what Mother Nature is trying to tell me!

Mérida or Bust — Day One: Haven to Douglas, WY

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,400

Kilometres Driven Today: 830

Total Kilometres Driven: 830

Kilometres Left: 4,570

Amount of Trip Completed: 15.37%

Google says I did 871KM, but my odometre says 830KM.

Okay, I know I have A LOT to catch up on. What I’ve concluded from the last week is that it is no longer possible for me to be “semi-online.” My 10 months in Europe have made me accustomed to living in the 21st century and I’m lost without access to Siri and the ability to be able to do what needs doing online when I need to do it. It has nothing to do with not being able to unplug, which I absolutely can do, just not in the context of trying to plan an international move! I was so discombobulated and disorganised this past week. 🙁

I am going to try do proper backdated posts about the myriads of things I had to do to prepare to leave this morning, but here’s the short of it:

-I returned to Haven late last Tuesday night, thanks to my neighbours C&C picking me up in Regina;

-I stayed with C&C so that I could more easily pack up (never mind that Haven had no power, water, or Internet). They have tons of room and a similar routine to me so this worked out super well;

-Caroline kept me well fuelled with one delicious meal after another. Here’s the brunch she made for the two of us on Sunday, what she calls an “apple pancake,” but which I find is more like an apple upside down cake even if the apples end up floating to the top:

-I had some work done on Moya to ready her for her final epic voyage. Among the things I tasked my mechanic to resolve is why my overhead light stays on, requiring me to pull the fuse when I park lest I drain the battery. That wound up being harder to diagnose than expected, so he told me to keep pulling the fuse like I’ve been doing and gave me this to make it easier:

car fuse puller

I was suitably amused by his solution, especially since he didn’t charge me for poking around;

-I was able to renew my driver’s license, but it didn’t come before I left so now I have to figure out how to get it to Mexico (my host in Chelem suggested I have it sent to her in Ontario for her bring it down in the fall rather than have it couriered to Mexico);

-I got my property tax assessment and went to town ready to pick a fight because I thought that the amount was a mistake at best or a cash grab at worst. Turned out that the number was real and reflects the current market. So Haven is now valued at 5.35 times what it was valued the last couple of years and I’ve been assured I will only get a token property tax increase. Looks like the expected real estate boom has started!!!

-The traitorous weather was not conducive to packing:

It was freezing in Miranda and I was not able to give her a cleaning before taking off again. By the way, I had some serious mouse damage (my scarf drawer was decimated), so that’s another reason I couldn’t have stayed in Miranda since she needed serious disinfecting.;

-All the Tetris I played as a kid paid off. There isn’t an ounce of space left in the truck:

Here’s how I loaded the cab, filling it with boxes…

And then stuffing soft items into the gaps:

I got about 95% of my most prized possessions into the truck! I’m not that disappointed since I’m headed into a humid climate and so it doesn’t make sense to bring all my journals, photo albums, and the rest of the books into that climate until I fully commit to it. I am going to have to fully unpack when I get to Chelem otherwise I risk packed items moulding over the summer.

So today was departure day. I’d hoped to leave yesterday, but that was a moving target and I was fine with leaving as late as Friday. For one thing, I desperately wanted one day before departure where I could just stop to sit for a moment and think about anything I might have forgotten. I managed to get the afternoon and evening off.

Caroline made her amazing homemade pizza (with homemade venison salami!) for dinner so I could have leftovers for my drive today! After dinner, she and I sat down at her computer so I could show her a few things. She has moved to a Mac and has had basically no learning curve. I’m so proud of her and happy that she now has a computer that works well so we can keep in touch better. It’ll also be so much easier to help her troubleshoot issues, although based on an email she sent me today, I think she’ll be able to handle many of her own issues. We then played cards, visited a bit with my immediate neighbours K&T, and I ended up going to bed way, way, way, way too late, well past midnight.

I wanted to be up at 6:30, but was, of course, awake at 5:00. I got up around 6:15 and was delighted to find Charles up and the coffee already perking. The border didn’t open till 8:00 and I had less than an hour drive there, so I sat for a bit before dressing and putting the last of my bags in the truck, as well as mug of coffee for the road.

Goodbyes are always difficult, but we all three vowed to see one another again in two years in Mexico!!!

Standing by the truck, looking east. Goodbye, Canada, it’s been good knowing you, but I’m heading somewhere new…

I made a pit stop in Coronach and got to the border at 8:30. Based on my experience recently at airports, I made the decision to cross while wearing a wig rather than a headscarf. The atmosphere at the crossing was very different than it was under the Obama years, much more no nonsense than conversational and friendly. For example, I was greeted with “Passport?” rather than, “Hi! How are you today?” I was asked the usual questions about where I was going, where I live, did I have any ATF, etc. All seemed to be going well, but soon as the officer opened the rear of the truck, he asked me to step outside and go into the waiting room. There, he had me fill out a customs form. As I did so, I overheard him say to someone, “This one is going to take a while.”

Well, at least they weren’t making me unpack the truck, but, dang, I’d forgotten my coffee! When the officer came back after just a few minutes to get my declaration, I asked if I could get the coffee and he said, “We’ll be done in a few minutes.”


Sure enough, he had me back in the truck a minute later, at most 12 minutes from the time I’d started the interview! The last thing he said to me was, “You wrote a book?” which tells me that they have Rae as an alias on file for me, that he Googled me, and that whatever he found told him that I likely was not carrying contraband or otherwise a threat (by the way, I had provided him an inventory of what I have in the truck).

One of the questions I was asked was how I plan to support myself in Mexico and he didn’t seem happy with my answer that I was going to work there for myself and that Mexico was satisfied with that. My answer should have been, “That’s what made it possible to get my residency visa.” He also asked me if I’m keeping a Canadian bank account and it was obvious that he liked my answer that I am not cutting ties with Canada at this time.

So it was another absolutely uneventful and easy, it not particularly welcoming, entry into the US. I pointed Moya south, fuelled up in Scobey, then continued south towards Circle, where I made another pit stop, before pulling into a Wendy’s in Miles City at 12:30 to get some lunch (most of the pizza had been breakfast, with a bit left for an afternoon snack!), use their WiFi, and find a room for the night. The greeting there was so friendly and a reminder of why I’ve so enjoyed my travels to the US in the past.

After a bit of research, I decided to push on to Douglas, Wyoming, where I would land around 6:00. That was a much longer day than I wanted to do, but there aren’t a lot of cities in that part of Wyoming so I would either stop too late or too early. I’m staying with one of you lovely readers just south of Denver tomorrow and will have a relatively short (400KM) day from Douglas, so I can get a late start.

I just love this corner of the US, just rolling hills not unlike home. It was a very isolated drive, of course. I stopped in Broadus for fuel and coffee and then drove straight to Douglas, with only one pit stop at a rest area about 45 minutes from my destination. After weeks of GREY, it was amazing to get blue sky the deeper I got into Wyoming. There was a brief thundershower right before Douglas, but it cleared quickly.

The hotel rate I was quoted was 79USD. I asked if they had an “Exhausted Canadian driving to Mexico” rate and… got a 14USD discount. WOW! That covered some takeout and a beer for dinner. The liquor store is right next to the hotel and the lady there was super helpful and friendly in showing me what they had for single beers. Interestingly, I no longer get carded when I buy booze in the US so I must be starting to look my age at last… 🙂

I’m sure there should be more to this already novel-length post, but I’m ready to drop. Hopefully, I’m back to a more regular posting schedule. April really has been sheer madness. But I’m on my way!

I learned about this song just before heading down to Mexico for the first time. It no longer applies to me, but I love the tune. So here’s an earworm for you. 🙂

Brightoned Out, But So Glad I Went

I forced myself out of bed early this morning for two reasons: 1) to get a bit of work done so I wouldn’t have a daunting amount left after my outing; 2) to encourage me to get to sleep early…

My destination for today was Brighton proper. My host strongly recommended that even though it’s only a 3mi/5KM round trip on foot that I buy a £2.90 return ticket and go on the train to save my energy, which I think was very good advice. I headed out around 9:45 to take the 10:08 train, but I got in with plenty of time to catch the 9:59 even with having to stop to collect my previously purchased ticket.

That put me in Brighton just past 10:00 and I headed out of the station to my first destination of the day. There was plenty of signage and clues that I was heading to the touristy part of town.

The first touristy thing of interest that I saw was the Brighton Dome, an arts venue. It is part of the Royal Pavillon complex and is quite impressive from outside!

I walked around the Dome and got my first view of the Royal Pavillon. Keep reading for more details, but let’s just say that I was not expecting this in Brighton and am so happy my host and her decorator put it on my must-do list! There were even palm trees by it, adding to the exotic feel.

I wandered up North Street to find a second breakfast.

Then sat in front of the entrance to the Royal Pavillon to enjoy my last sausage roll and really good coffee from Greggs.

Then, it was time to enter what is, bar none, the most incredible building I have ever had the privilege of visiting.

Unfortunately, interior photography is not allowed in King George IV’s seaside pleasure palace. But the are tons of high resolution photographs on the palace’s website. Please head there now to at least look at photos of the banquet hall and its dragon chandelier. This palace was sold and completely stripped by Queen Victoria, who did not find it a suitable home for her family, but was bought by the city and carefully restored over the years to give an inkling of how sumptuous it was in the days of George IV. Spoiler: while the outside is of decidedly Indian influence, the interior decor is of Chinese influence!

I could have spent a day going through the palace as there were so many exquisite details to take in, but it was overrun by school children and hard to visit leisurely. 🙁 I think the music room was my favourite, but the dragon chandelier that is just two feet shorter than Miranda (!) was the most memorable feature.

Entrance to the palace is £12.50, or you can buy online a combination pass with the Brighton Museum for £15 (plus play an additional £2 for the palace audioguide if you want to get any real value out of your tickets). So the museum was my next stop.

It’s adjacent to the Dome.

The museum has a hodgepodge of exhibits, most of which are behind glass, so difficult to photograph. The building held  more interest, to be honest. Here are photos of a few things that caught my eye.

The tiles are gorgeous and have so much depth!

I enjoyed making a motif of Iranian-style tiles.

This turquoise colour is very traditional in Iran.

This pot looks like a beautiful work of art, but is a”stealth bomb.” The background of the images are of unspeakable wartime horrors.

This stack of crockery has a rod going all the way through it to hold it.

There was an exhibit about how Brighton was the place to come for a “dirty weekend.” This is very much England’s Sin City.

The mosaic floor in parts of the museum was a work of art.

This French-inspired bathing costume was the standard in Brighton for a long time.

I really liked these.

This one looks like a rainy day viewed through a window.

This one is deceptively simple. So many colours in it!

Frankly, at £5.20, I don’t think the museum is worth a detour unless you pair it with the Royal Pavillon and basically get in for half price.

I was ready for lunch when I came out of the museum and knew where to go, a little Japanese restaurant right in front of the Dome. Get this. I was thinking I wanted Asian noodles for lunch and was going to ask my host if she could recommend a place, but she beat me to it! It’s rather scary how well she’s gotten to know me! The restaurant is Pompoko and it was super busy, always a good sign. I went with their lunch special of udon noodles with prawns and squid. This picture is terrible, but if you squint, you can see how they cut the squid to make it more tender. This was crazy good!

I then meandered my way down to the water.

My destination was, of course, the tourist trap that is the Brighton Pier.

The pier is free to access, so I got to take it all in without spending a penny. The entire structure is owned by one company so prices are the same throughout all the shops. Not much was open today.

There are free deck chairs to use on the pier. I imagine these go very quickly in the hotter months!

At the end of the pier are a bunch of rides, some for kids, some for adults.

I learned while watching a programme recently that that tower at the back with a slide is called a helter-skelter.

I eventually reached the end of the pier. I’m looking towards France here.

Spot the annoying typo.

The last thing on my list was to walk through “The Lanes,” Brighton’s shopping district in a maze of narrow lanes not unlike the bazaar in Sarajevo.

On the way there, I paused for a gelato, surprising myself when I picked “sour cherry,” which was exactly that, with very tart fruit contrasting pleasantly with the smooth vanilla ice cream.

Brighton Square.

This block of flats does not suit the ambiance of the neighbourhood.

Most of the shops in The Lanes sell jewelry.

I didn’t linger long and decided that I was ready to go home after having a beer.

More pretty tile work at a hotel.

Another church made of flint.

This pub seemed welcoming.

I ordered a half pint of bitter and was offered a choice of four. I went with their darkest and strongest, Laine’s Best Bitter. So pretty! One of the options was an American pale ale, so I’m thinking that’s what I have to look for in North America.

I then meandered my way back to the train station.

But took a detour up a very steep hill to check out St. Nicholas’ Church.

I am fascinated by the use of the flint as a construction material. It is exquisite!

And here I am back at the Brighton train station, where there was a train only going to Hove leaving in two minutes. Talk about good timing with trains today!

I’m glad I went to Brighton for the day, but it’s definitely not a place I would care to return to and I’m happy I stayed in Hove. As I’d been warned, Brighton proper is very dirty, run down, and full of panhandlers. It’s also very tourist and gaudy. I can imagine that there are much nicer places to go for a seaside holiday in England. But the Royal Pavillon is worth the detour!

When I got into Hove, I had the bright idea of picking up my ticket for Gatwick tomorrow to save me a step. Well, I witnessed a distraught young girl have her money eaten by a machine. She said that there’s never anyone working at the Hove station and that when this has happened in the past, she was never able to get her money back. A nice man stepped in to buy her a ticket on his card before I could offer, so she was able to get home. But that sure validated my feelings of hopelessness the other night when I missed my stop!

I popped into Tesco to pick up a pizza and a small bottle of wine for dinner. One of the first things my host showed me in her kitchen was how to use the grill to heat up a pizza, so I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble doing that for my dinner.

Now, my host is the lovely Moira! I don’t like to say where I stay when I’m there, but I can finally give a shoutout to her and her  Airbnb listings. Coming home tonight, I marvelled that I’ve been living with her a full week and haven’t gone nuts yet! 🙂 Her home is unfussy, cosy, clean, and so welcoming. I could make meals at home if I wanted, watch telly in the lounge with her in the evening, and just live my normal routine. It says a lot that I felt comfortable leaving the door to my office open while I worked and didn’t feel the need to squirrel myself away to be as invisible as possible.

My European adventure has wound down. If I have time to grab a late lunch in Iceland tomorrow instead of just rushing through the airport, that will be icing on the proverbial cake! It’s been incredible and I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Now, it’s time to go pack. I’m told WOW Air is extremely strict and won’t let me on with my purse in addition to my backpack and suitcase, so I have to get everything packed the way it was when I came over here. Even though I actually have less than when I arrived, I’ve been struggling with the packing, so I really need to go spend some time on that. Then bed, because 5:30 is going to come really soon…