As the icy winds of winter licked at the Volvo's tailpipe, I headed south through Maryland and Virginia after a late start caused by deliberate packing. The first night was spent about an hour north of Roanoke, where the evening temperature dipped to a shocking 17 degrees. The chill caused several problems, including one rather significant mechanical problem for Glee. I have taken to calling the Volvo Glee, since she is a 740 GLE model. The addition of a single vowel gives her a happy name that makes communication more personal. This harkens back to my two-wheeled friend Leonardo, with whom I traveled Europe a couple of times.
Toward the end of the first afternoon of travel, I noticed that the water temperature gauge was not rising to the normal range. By the time I was ready to stop driving and the outside temperature started to drop, the lack of warm air from the heater and the needle pegged in the cold position made me well aware of the severity of the problem. I arose early the next day, drove to Roanoke and located a Volvo/Mercedes dealer. They graciously squeezed me into their day's schedule and replaced Glee's thermostat, which corrected the problem. At my request, they also replaced the wiper blades and the gear indicator light, which was very difficult to access. It also made it impossible to know which gear Glee was in after dark, unless I found neutral and waited for the loud engine roar. In the three-hour stop, I had lunch, got Glee repaired, and was $388 lighter.
The other problem was easier to handle. I packed a case of water, mostly for use in Mexico where bottled water might be more difficult to come by. With nighttime temps in the teens, it became problematic to leave the water in the trunk. So, for the first couple of nights I carried my suitcase and a case of water into the room. I'm glad that I thought of that before I had a mess in the trunk when the bottles burst.
The second night was spent an hour south of Knoxville, the day before the President visited. Unfortunately, I stopped in a dry county and couldn't have any wine with my barbecue dinner.
Yesterday, trying to stay ahead of the one to three inch snow forecast for eastern Tennessee, I drove more than 400 miles and reached Memphis before dark. I had dinner at the Blues City Cafe on Beale St., in the heart of downtown. I listened to three songs at B.B. King's famous blues nightclub, before heading home. I easily fought off the advances of a bleached blonde in her sixties, self-described surgical nurse, who was absolutely plastered. I wouldn't have wanted her to assist with my operation, thank you. She was dressed in an overstuffed evening dress and had a bag of goodies that she had purchased on a shopping trip. She insisted that I look in the bag, where I found a Victoria Secret outfit, before quickly stopping my examination of her purchases. I had one glass of wine, shook off the bartender when he asked if I wanted another, and prepared to leave. The nurse tried to buy me another round, which I refused, and when the woman turned around, I grabbed my coat and exited through the gift shop. My nightlife ended and I was in bed by 9:30. I don't know if I can take all of these late evenings.
This morning, I drove to Graceland only to find that it wasn't open for another hour. Rather than waiting, I took a couple photos and headed south, hoping to find warmer weather soon. Last night remained above freezing for the first time, so things are looking up.
I am writing from the public library in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where I visited the wonderful Delta Blues Museum . There is a website by that name, so you can visit it yourself. I am heading due south, for Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I hope to update again in a day or two.
January 12 - From the San Antonio public library:
Wow!! This is a huge country!! The plan for this trip was easily described and charted on a map, but driving it is a tad more difficult.
I started yesterday in Breaux Bridge, LA, and ended here in San Antonio, putting more than 500 miles on Glee's tiring body. I passed through Lafayette, LA, and Beaumont, Houston, and Austin, Texas, on my way here. The day before, I quickly dashed from Natchez to New Orleans (two hours out of the way) to send a couple of postcards to my grandchildren and my little brother (Big Brothers program).
The scenery has been beautiful with antebellum homes (that's before the Civil War for the Latin-challenged among you) and Spanish moss-covered trees generously sprinkled through the cities of Vicksburg, MS (a gorgeous, restored Mississippi River city), and New Iberia, and Breaux Bridge, LA, in the very heart of Cajun country. Between cities, the agriculture of the delta with cotton, rice, and sugar cane was augmented with the large flooded ponds where crayfish are raised in the Cajun areas.
I put more than 500 miles on Glee's tiring body yesterday and shortly after I crossed the Texas border there was a sign that said that El Paso was 897 miles away. I have covered more than a quarter of that, but there is a lot of Texas to go before I reach that western hub. The map says that it is an eight-hour ride to El Paso using the interstate system, so I will take somewhat longer. The derriere is holding up better than on my trip through Europe on Leonardo, my little motor scooter, but this is going to be quite a physical challenge before my long rest in Costa Rica.
I look forward to sharing my experiences with you because, other than Glee, there are very few others with whom to communicate while on the road.
I have exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds to update the webpage, so here goes. I made it to Tucson after a drive of 568 miles yesterday. Needless to say, I am ready to stay in one location for a little while. I am planning to enter Mexico at Mexicali, across from El Centro, CA, tomorrow. I will then head down the Baja and probably spend the night in Ensenada, which is located on the Pacific Ocean. I will try to update you from there. Hasta la Vista.
January 15 - From Ensenada, Mexico, overlooking the Pacific Ocean:
I had a couple of interesting days before reaching Ensenada at three o'clock this afternoon. I left Tucson after updating at the library, but I probably left you wondering why I only had 2 and a half minutes in which to describe my day. It seems that there are two choices to use computers at the Tucson public library. Two computers are available for 15 minutes, if you only want to do email. The others are available for an hour, if you want to use word processing as I did to update the page. Unfortunately, there was a 45-minute wait for the processing computers, but I could use the email computer immediately. I jumped on the email computer and answered nine emails, leaving only two and a half minutes to update. That explains why I left you hanging so rudely in Tucson.
I'm not complaining. I was impressed in both San Antonio and in Tucson with the free access provided to citizens who use the library. This service provides many people who cannot afford a computer of their own access to the World Wide Web. There were many homeless folks using or waiting to use the computers in both locations, although some may have just been seeking a warm place for a nap.
Speaking of homeless persons, about 50 miles north of Tucson, at the beginning of the Sonoran Desert, I picked up a hitchhiker who just happened to be homeless. Dave was a bright, ex-computer programmer with a great interest in artificial intelligence. He informed me that he has written several papers on the subject, although he also informed me that it is typical of homeless folks to exaggerate their importance. He opined that he hoped that he wasn't doing that. He had spent the previous night out in the desert and was rudely awakened by three javelinos (wild pigs), one coming so close that he awakened Dave screaming. He wasn't too excited about spending another night in the desert under the stars.
We spent 300 miles together, stopping for lunch (my treat) where we both had a delicious barbecue and an iced tea. I dropped him in El Centro, CA, continuing his twenty-year odyssey looking for someone to recognize the authenticity of his work on artificial intelligence. Dave left Steubenville, Ohio, seven months ago and is headed for San Diego. He made my day's drive pass very quickly. We enjoyed some great conversations about world affairs with which he was very current. His vocabulary and expansive knowledge of current events was very impressive.
It took me one hour to cross the border at Mexicali, Mexico, this morning. I did not have to wait in any lines and both Glee and I now have the proper documentation to remain in Mexico for six months. It cost $49 to obtain both pieces of documentation, but I won't have to reprocess on the way home, so that should shorten things on the return trip.
Mexicali and Calixco, CA, are the two nicest border towns that I have seen along the Mexican border and I have been in six or eight other border towns. Most are pretty filthy places, but both of these cities were clean and well organized places, comparatively speaking.
It took about three hours to cross the beautiful, but very rocky mountains in Mexico and reach the coast here in Ensenada. The first part of the drive was on a beautiful toll road, but the last hour or so was spent on a two-lane, but well maintained road through many small villages. The clerk at my hotel tells me that I have another 24 hour drive before reaching Cabo San Lucas. I still have 1,000 miles to go and all on two lane roads. Whose idea was this anyway?
Ensenada is a weekend retreat for many Americans from southern California, so my presence is not at all unusual. Actually, this place is a party town with many nightclubs lining the main street. I don't think that I will partake, since I want to make an early start in the morning. My next stop is El Rosario, which I hope to reach pretty early in the day, and then I will make a decision about continuing onward yet tomorrow.
Incidentally, my two compatriots are still planning to accompany me on the leg of the trip to and from Mexico City - San Jose, Costa Rica. My friend from Orlando will meet me in Mexico City and my amigo from the Dispensing Company in Lancaster will meet me in San Jose for the trip back. They must be out of their minds, too.
I am not expecting to be able to access the Internet until I reach Cabo, but who knows. Stay tuned. Hasta Luego.
I expected to update the webpage yesterday and, as usual, when I write something that I think is pretty good, a calamity occurs. I was writing from Guerrero Negro which is about eight driving hours south of Ensenada. I was proofreading for a change, because I had some time. Just as I was about to hit the send button updating the webpage, a blackout occurred in the entire city, wiping out all of my work. I was frustrated, but I will try to recreate it here a day later.
From Guerrero Negro, on the Baja:
Uncle! Uncle! The Baja wins!! I have just spent one of the longest days of my life, full of anxiety over running out of gas and also about whether Glee had ruptured an oil pan when I pulled off of the road to take a picture for you folks.
The run south of Ensenada is a real bear, through the longest, most desolate batch of desert that I have ever seen. There is a run of about 250 miles where there are no gas stations. I passed up a station when I had 2/3 of a tank because I could pass a couple of trucks and campers that had stopped to fill up. How was I to know there wouldn't be another station for that many miles? Actually, when I was down to a quarter of a tank and worrying out loud, I came upon a gas station only to find out from the operator that they had no gas. Across the street, however, two guys had five-gallon cans of gas for sale for $14. I don't know if it was a scam, or if they were just selling government gas, since all gas stations in Mexico are the same nationally-owned Pemex Company. I didn't really care. The five gallons was a great relief, but I think that I would have made it with room to spare, now that I have a little hindsight.
I also pulled off of the two-lane, pretty well maintained highway to get a photo of some of the spectacular desert mountain scenery, thinking that I observed a flat spot to exit. Unfortunately, the blacktop was a full 18-inch drop to the desert sand below and Glee scraped pretty hard. I got the picture, found no puddle of oil underneath the car, but worried for a long time that a small leak would light the oil light suddenly. I was at least 125 miles from anywhere and would have been in big trouble had the oil pan ruptured. Thankfully, I had a case of water in the trunk and a couple of cans of cashews that would have nourished me until I was found. That was what I had for lunch yesterday, cashews and water. I didn't want to slow down my attack on the Baja with a meal stop. Glee performed admirably, and the oil light never appeared.
I finally made Guerrero Negro at dusk and found a good hotel with a fine restaurant, specializing in local seafood. I was absolutely beat and thinking that I was out of my mind for making this trip, but I had a great meal. I had an octopus and avocado cocktail and sea scallops caught in the local bay. When I wrote the update last night, I said that I was not going to go to Cabo; I was going to get off of the Baja as soon as possible. I did mention that I would sleep on it, however, before I made a final decision.
There, that is a poor substitute for the Pulitzer prize-winning update that I wrote last night, but I feel better about getting it off of my chest. Now...
From La Paz, the capital of the state of Baja Sur:
As I drove the 10 hours plus today to reach La Paz, I made up my mind. I am only 2.5 hours from Los Cabos, but to get the ferry to Mazatlan I would have to drive back here. That makes Los Cabos a five-hour detour. After driving from almost dawn until dark for 11 days consecutively, I don't need another detour right now. My trips are nothing, if not flexible. I have decided to stay in La Paz for a couple of nights, before taking the 19-hour ferry across the Sea of Cortez. I didn't lose anything in Los Cabos, and I also heard from many other travelers that Cabo San Lucas is expensive and more dangerous than the rest of the Baja. I'll just stay here.
The southern part of the Baja is as beautiful as the northern desert is stark. The desert continues, but the views of the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez from the desert mountains crossed by route 1 are spectacular in many places. As you approach La Paz, however, it is just as boring as the northern desert.
This is a beautiful city with a promenade by the beach. I will update you in a day or two after I rest and watch the Eagles game. Adios
Last year I gave you Buzios, the little town north of Rio that Brigitte Bardot and I discovered, as a potential vacation spot that you would love. This year I give you La Paz, on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California. Forget Cancun, Acapulco, and Cabo San Lucas for a Mexican experience. La Paz is an undiscovered gem - undiscovered by masses of tourists, that is. A few adventurous, frugal Californians have discovered La Paz and I even ran into a Canadian, noted for their frugality because of the diminished value of their dollar. The city is a laidback Mexican town and a little dusty like all Mexican towns, but the streets are paved and the people are open and friendly, greeting this gringo with a warm "Buenos Dias" as I take my thirty minute walk on the tile-covered promenade along the bay each morning.
The place feels so safe that I just gave the keys to Glee to the clerk at my hotel, asking him to move her to a better parking place when one opens. I have no concern at all that he will steal the car or its contents. It is safe to walk the streets at night, even alone, and best of all, it is WARM, even in January. There even appears to be a little nightlife, which I will try to sample tonight, if I can squeeze a nap into my busy schedule.
If I had it to do over again, and I may consider staying here for the winter next year, I would fly to Cabo San Lucas, spend a day or two among the tourists and the $500/night resort hotels, but sleeping in San Jose de Cabo, a twenty minute bus ride away. Then, I would take the local bus to La Paz ($12) and spend the winter here. For you, I even explored a couple of hotels that might be suitable for a week's vacation. First, I recommend Hotel Los Arcos across the street from the bay, where you can get a beautiful room for two with breakfast for $95/day, tax included.
You could also stay where I think you might prefer - Hotel Perla, also overlooking the bay and where I have eaten breakfast at their open-air restaurant on each of the past two mornings. The beautiful rooms at Perla will set you back only $78/day, but do not include breakfast. You would love it in either place with their pool, Jacuzzi, and other fine amenities.
No, I am not staying in either place. I am a block and a half back from the beach on a side street in the tiny Hotel Lorimar, where my room costs just less than $40/day at this time of year; it is cheaper in the summer. I have no pool or amenities, but the staff is very friendly and helpful.
My next project will be to investigate the cost of an apartment. The first inquiries that I made at a real estate office had a one-bedroom apartment at around $200. They had a much larger one, they said, at $700/month. I will look around later this afternoon for a potential apartment for next year.
I will spend an extra night here in La Paz, so you know that I must like the place. I purchased a ticket for the ferry to Mazatlan this morning and I could have left this afternoon on the 19-hour trip. The next ferry is the day after tomorrow (Wednesday), so I bought my ticket for that trip. The ferry travels back here from Mazatlan on the days in between.
The ticket was quite expensive, $195 for Glee and me, with a seat in the salon, which is like a seat on the train. I don't want to endure that for an overnight trip, so I took a private cabin with sink and shower for an extra $40. That is about what a hotel would have cost me for the night, but it would have been a lot less expensive to fly here, considering the cost of the ferry, hotels, gas, and the thermostat. I'll remember that for next year, but think of the money you have saved by reading my web page.
Now, I will go try to throw a few fishing lures into the water while I sit in the sun. No sense wasting a perfectly lovely day. Sorry for rubbing it in. Adios from the Baja.
January 20 - From La Paz:
I leave for Mazatlan on the afternoon ferry tomorrow, so I thought that I would write one last update from La Paz. Only a Burger King on the main street (Malecon) keeps La Paz from being a 100% Mexican experience. Otherwise, this is really Mexico and the people are still amazing me with their friendliness and warmth. I have never felt this safe in any foreign city. I have no qualms about walking anywhere in this town, even past groups of men gathered talking on the corner after dark. A "Buenos Noches" in that situation always gets warm responses and you feel a genuine appreciation for your visit to their town.
This afternoon I went fishing for three hours. I caught three sea lions, a gorgeous red crab, a flock of pelicans, a Frigate bird, and a gorgeous sunset. Unfortunately, I caught them all on film, because there was nothing on the other end of my fishing line. We went fishing today, not catching, but it was a wonderful day. There were four other people on the boat, but I am certain that I was the only paying customer. The three men were friends, but the young American lady must have met handsome Raoul just last night, since this was her second day in town.
All were very friendly and Hector II (there were two Hectors) even gave me the phone number of his brother to contact in Mexico City who "would be glad to show me around." It will probably come at a price, but that isn't all bad. Hector II consumed quite a bit of cerveza (beer) and the lack of fish did not diminish his enjoyment of the trip. He had us in stitches most of the trip.
Because no fish were caught, the fishing couldn't be called a success, but the extended stay in La Paz was an unqualified one. I am rested, much more relaxed, beginning to remember some Spanish, and ready to move on to the mainland. I am even looking forward to the 19-hour cruise that it will take to get me there. I will mail a few postcards tomorrow morning, complete my repacking with clean clothes which were inexpensively laundered at my hotel, and head for the ferry terminal. Hopefully, I will find computer access as easy on the mainland. I will be in touch. Adios, La Paz!
It may have been the nighttime crossing of the Tropic of Cancer that did it, but it is full-blown summertime here in Puerto Vallarta. I remember a bump in the night as we crossed the line that delineates the tropics, but eat your heart out: I am in shorts, sandals, and tee shirt as I write this and loving every minute of it. I got a little too hot last evening as I walked the 12 blocks to get downtown for dinner, but I feel really guilty complaining about it.
The ferry would not be mistaken for the Queen Mary, but the crossing was relatively uneventful. I had a cabin with a window and two crisply clean railroad-like bunks, along with a small, but dirty bathroom. I had to wash the toilet seat off with a bar of soap before using it. Also, there were no towels provided, but "necessity being the mother of invention," I used the pillow cover from the top bunk for a hand towel and my top sheet for a bath towel when I showered in the morning.
I slept very well after retiring to my "cabina" at about 7:30 p.m. I finished my first detective novel of the trip before dozing off and I awoke at 6:30 for breakfast. The food in the cafeteria of the ferry was very good. I had camarones al diabla (camarones in a slightly hot, but delicious sauce) and the woman of the couple with whom I shared a table had a club sandwich, while her male companion had a grilled fish fillet. We had a great dinner and conversation after sharing a couple of wonderful margaritas together before we dined. Actually, I had a couple of margaritas. She had three and he consumed four. They each had a beer with dinner, too. I couldn't keep up with them and really didn't want to.
Oh, yes, I should tell you about them. They are from Washington State and he had celebrated his 80th birthday the day before. She was 78. They speak literally no Spanish, but have often traveled in Mexico. They survive because the Mexican people are so nice to them. They had driven the Baja, too, and were headed for Mazatlan to get a different kind of vacation (more beach time). They were just living together, but with the blessings of their children. She has buried three husbands and he has buried two wives. They were having fun they said, and the marriage vows probably would terminate some pension or benefit, but I didn't ask.
I need to explain a little about what I have learned about the nature of my trip. Many folks at home think that I am crazy because of the risky nature of my winter adventures. Actually, many people are making even riskier trips. The couple that I just mentioned, for instance. At 80 years of age, these folks had driven from Washington state all of the way to Cabo San Lucas, while not speaking a word of the language. Their children think that they went to Las Vegas.
Not to worry, they weren't the biggest risk takers that I have run into. While driving through that desolate expanse of desert, I passed four pairs of bicyclists making the trek south. All were men and many miles separated them, so there must have been four different, wacky guys on that ride who had found a buddy to accompany them. About 50 miles ahead of them rode a lone bicyclist, humped over his front wheel and pulling the hill on which I passed him. Unbelievably, on the morning that I left La Paz, I was sitting at the computer, writing my last message from the Baja, when the same lone bicyclist sat heavily in the seat next to me, helmet still on his head and all. He was reporting home that he had arrived safely. I talked to him about his trip and, sure enough, he had been riding 10 days to reach La Paz from the U.S. border. You folks think that I take risky trips? And think about homeless Dave, sleeping with the javelinas in the desert!
I have come to believe that the only thing that is really significant about my trip is its length. Many people that I talk to, even here in Puerto Vallarta, are impressed that I am going to drive from here to Costa Rica. I haven't really computed the mileage thus far, but I almost need another oil change (3000 miles) and I last had it changed just outside San Antonio, if that tells you anything.
How are the roads, you ask? Actually, they are not too bad. Oh, there are occasionally some potholes here and there, but it isn't really bad. They don't have a lot of frost to cause them, but the tropical rains must open some of these holes, especially in the low spots where the water rushes across the road. There were some washouts in the Baja, but they were all well marked. Here on the mainland, the problem is mostly with the "topes" or speed bumps that are placed on the main roads to slow traffic as it enters almost every small town. Not all are marked, so one must be particularly alert. The toll roads, "carreterra cuota," are excellent and lightly traveled two lane roads, but are very expensive. The "green angels", mechanics in trucks that will repair any problem, charging just for the parts, traverse these toll roads. They are a government idea to encourage tourism and, although Glee and I haven't needed them, knowing they are there should help less hearty souls.
Puerto Vallarta: think Key West on steroids accompanied by plenty of hot sauce! This must have been a gorgeous place before Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor started the hordes of tourists coming. Now, tourists are everywhere and the town has grown with the urban sprawl that tourism brings. The heart of the town and the beach are beautiful, however, with the appropriate amount of Mexican dust to remind you that you are indeed in Mexico. Rather than describe the town for you, I just read an interesting description of the place on the Frommer's travel web page. You can read all about it there, if you are interested: Frommer’s Destination Puerto Vallarta
I have been asked a few questions about my plans from here, so I will tell you what I know. I will leave Puerto Vallarta tomorrow morning after spending two nights here. I will head down the Mexican Riviera to Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo I want to stop in Zihuatenejo because one of my sons spent his honeymoon there and just loved the place. Then, it is on to Acapulco and Taxco, the city of silver deposits and silver smiths, before meeting my friend from Orlando on February 2nd in Mexico City. I currently plan to park Glee in a town a little distance from Mexico City and take a bus into town. I have driven in Rome, Paris, London, Dublin, New York, San Francisco, and many other cities noted for their bad traffic, but I will not attempt Mexico City. The traffic is heavy, the signals and stop signs are hard to see, and the crime rate is high. I am willing to take some risks, but I do hedge some bets. Sorry about getting so wordy here. Hasta luego!
January 26 - From Zihuatanejo, Mexico:
It has been a few days since I have updated, mostly because I have been on the road. I have endured a couple of eight-hour days, winding over mountains, along beautiful coastlines, and through some interesting agricultural areas, but here I am in Zihuatanejo, where the temperature is expected to reach 90 degrees today in the humid air.
I have seen some interesting country, but there is one incident that I just must describe here, even though it was pretty gross. I stopped in what I thought was Manzanillo, only to learn that it was a tiny beach, apparently called Manzanilla, where I stopped at a roadside stand and ordered some camarones diabla - shrimp in a hot, red sauce. I needed a rest room, which they didn't have, but they pointed me across the road down a concrete path toward an outhouse. Just before I entered, I heard a loud splash in the river behind the building. Seeing three kids in the parking lot 20 yards away, I thought that they were swimming in the river and went to look. They weren't swimming, because when I looked closer I saw the head of an alligator slowly swimming away from the kids.
As I stood there, one of the boys reached into a garbage bag and pulled out a dead, stiff, brown and white cat and threw it in the water. Sure enough, one of the cayman (I could tell by the short, narrow snout) opened wide and ate the poor, dead cat. The boy quickly reached in the bag and threw in a similarly colored kitten and another cayman ate that. I couldn't take it any more and used the outhouse, but it certainly was a disgusting thing to see. After thinking about it for the last two days, however, I guess that we bury our dead cats and they serve no purpose. There at least they returned to the food chain. Gross!!
A little later, I came to what I thought was Manzanillo again and decided to stop for the night. Actually, I wasn't in Manzanillo, but in the adjacent bay, Santiago. I got a room on the beach and heard the waves thumping the sand all night long. This was a lovely bay and it reminded me of Italy after it got dark and the lights from the houses surrounding the bay glowed brightly. I negotiated the price of the room from over $50 to just under $30, learning that they try to charge gringos a higher rate, if they can get it. I can't blame them for that, but I will be a little more aggressive in my negotiating from now on.
The next day I got an early start and passed through some interesting agriculture in the lowlands between mountain ranges. I saw these crops growing: tomatoes, mangoes, papaya, corn, palm nuts, coconuts, sugar cane, and others that I couldn't identify. I had to ask what the mango trees and the papaya plants were.
It seems to me that the further south I have gotten the less friendly the natives seem to be. Not that they are aggressive, but I have gotten a few grumbles and overheard some derogatory grunts with the word gringo attached from a few folks. Others have been as friendly as the folks from up north.
I endured the more than eight-hour ordeal on two lane roads that switch-backed over the mountains and occasionally had guardrails, but the topes (speed bumps) drove me crazy. Every little town has at least two of the things and many are completely unmarked. These are not tiny, gradual bumps! These are mini-mountains designed to slow traffic way down and they work. Unfortunately, if you don't know the roads and don't see them, your teeth and the car's suspension system get a real jolt. I covered just less than 300 miles in the eight hours plus of yesterday, so the average speed is not very good. There was a lot to see, however, and what I saw most was abject poverty!
This morning I awoke for a nice, cold shower. No choice, that's all there was. I worked my way gradually under the spray and endured, but this is not my favorite way to start the day. I'll bet if I would have paid more than $20 a night, they would have included hot water. In the 80-degree temperature it isn't that bad, so I'll stay cheaply for a couple more days before moving on to Acapulco.
I am right on schedule to meet my friend in Mexico City on February 2nd, if I spend a day or two in Acapulco and one in Taxco. Hopefully, I will be able to update you in Mexico City, because after that it will be very difficult while going through Central America. Hasta la Vista.
January 27 - From Zihuatanejo, Mexico:
I will offer a short update while I have computer access here in this lovely, little Mexican community, although I am aware that some of you find reading my updates a major chore.
I have seen significant improvements in the Mexican society since my last visit here six years ago. First, and most important for me, is the widespread presence of water purification systems. Many houses and almost all large hotels sport a round, black tank on the roof, which apparently is an osmosis water purification system. Purified water in individual bottles is sold everywhere and there are many large trucks with cooler-sized bottles of water delivering water to houses and businesses throughout the country.
I have been very careful not to use tap water for anything except bathing, but it is difficult to remember to use bottled water to brush teeth and rinse the toothbrush each morning, even with the water bottle sitting right in front of me. I meticulously rinse my mouth and the bristles of the brush with the bottled water and then rinse the handle of the brush under the tap. So far, the nasty little bacteria have not been able to swim uphill to the bristles. Either that, or Montezuma has forgiven me my past indiscretions against his people. I realize that I shouldn't be discussing this success, because Montezuma just might be listening and make me pay in the morning.
Some of the Mexican towns, like Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, and even La Paz, are making a concerted effort to keep the town clean. I have always pictured Mexican towns as dusty, dirty places. They are still primitive and often dusty, but I detect an effort to sanitize, especially in the towns frequented by tourists. The poor little villages that I pass along the way are still as dusty and dirty as ever and it is amazing how these people survive those conditions.
Tomorrow, it is on to Acapulco, then Mexico City, where there should still be computer access. You may have to endure another update or two, before the long drought of passing through Central America.
January 29 – From Acapulco, Mexico:
The drive from Zihuatanejo to Acapulco took three and a half hours, lengthened to that from the incessant stopping for "topes" and the heavy, slow, bus traffic in suburban Acapulco. The ride was beautiful, however, with several elevated views of stunningly beautiful beaches painted with azure waters and stark white, crashing waves. There were literally miles of beautiful, deserted beaches with the only sign of human existence occasional small groupings of empty, thatched-roof huts. One could drive to these beaches with a tent and a few supplies and spend a week alone with Mother Nature and Neptune.
Let's see, I also stopped twice along the road for two sows and their broods of piglets who were crossing, slowed several times for burros grazing along the side of the road, and once drove slowly through a herd of goats split on either side of the road. Many horses were tethered along the road, grazing, but the attached rope gave comfort to a worried driver. This was a much prettier drive than through the desert of the Baja. The green trees and agriculture, along with the views of the ocean provided relief for road-wearied eyes. Always the natural beauty is broken when passing through the dusty villages where the only paved road is the highway on which I was riding. All other streets are dusty, dirty, rutted pathways.
The city of Acapulco is located on a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay, surrounded by hills which are especially beautiful at night when they sparkle with the lights from the houses and businesses located there. The bay is beautiful in the daylight, too, if you like bays surrounded by high-rise hotels and busy with the activities of tourism, like parasailing, jet skis, surfers, bathers, and the like. The beach is steep, however, and I can see why so many warn about the undertow in Acapulco.
Yes, I finally took the plunge and got my feet wet, literally taking off my sandals and walking on the steep slope of the beach where the water crashed around my ankles, although once it crashed somewhat higher and wet the bottom of my Bermuda shorts. The water was warm and many people frolicked in the surf. The beach seemed dirty, however, much like Copacabana Beach in Rio last winter, and I would have preferred the uninhabited beaches that I had passed along the way.
Acapulco is a busy, noisy place and the traffic is horrific. Six lanes of jammed traffic, scurrying cabs with horns constantly blaring, and shills trying to entice you into their restaurant do not provide a relaxing winter vacation for me. But, hey, some weird people probably think that they wouldn't like to drive this far, either, and others like Las Vegas and Ocean City, MD.
I cannot rate Mazatlan, because the ferry came in south of town and I didn't see the main beach area, but I have seen the beaches of most of the Mexican Riviera. I preferred the little town of Zihuatanejo, which also had a horseshoe-shaped beach and no high-rise hotels; those hotels are in neighboring Ixtapa, which was of no interest to me. Puerto Vallarta, despite its 300,000 population, still had a small town feel and nice beaches. The two bays of Manzanillo were also more primitive, especially Santiago, with which only the locals seem to be familiar, although the sand is not as white. There you have it; I have rated the beach locations for you. In order, I would go to La Paz on the Baja (if you can stand very calm bay beaches), then Zihuatanejo, Puerto Vallarta, and the Manzanillo area. But, there are so many beaches and so little time!
Another difference in the cities through which I have passed can be described from the view of a pedestrian. In Acapulco, one must wait 10 minutes most times before finding an opening to dart cross the six lanes of congested traffic, which is composed mostly of taxis that flit about like the beetles that they are - white VW beetles with four blue fenders. In Puerto Vallarta, a wait of four or five minutes is commonplace before crossing the streets paved with river rock, being careful not to turn an ankle. In Zihuatanejo, a wait of a minute or two, but only on the main street, otherwise little wait is required. In La Paz on the Baja, the traffic stops for you to cross and there is no waiting. This is a significant difference in the life of a pedestrian and reflects the lifestyle in each city.
As for me, my beach-prowling days are over with only one dip of my piggies in the briny deep. I will repack the laundry that I will pick up today and head inland for Taxco and probably Puebla tomorrow. There, I will get a hotel and look for a place to park Glee for four or five days while I head by bus into Mexico City to meet my friend Schim, who will accompany me on the adventure through Central America. Adios!
January 30 - From Cuernavaca, Mexico - one hour from Mexico City
I drove in rain most of the day after ascending the mountains north of Acapulco. Taxco is something to see - the houses are all white and they hang all over the mountains that make up the town. It is great silver shopping, too, but my two hours there was not pleasant with the rain and muddy water running through the streets. I made a purchase or two and have now arrived at the destination from which I will bus into Mexico City.
I have tallied the mileage to here and I have driven 5809 miles by myself, not counting the 300 or so that homeless Dave accompanied me. I am looking forward to seeing Schim on Monday. I will probably talk his head off for a couple of days.
In the almost 6,000 miles, the two best road signs that I saw were the following:
In Hondo, Texas, entering town:
This is God's country.
Don't drive through it like hell!!
Small Asses for Sale
(picture a donkey here)
Then, in relatively small letters - Gold's Gym
That's it. Hopefully I will next update from Mexico City. Hasta Manana!
February 1 – From Mexico City:
Gorgeous, snow-covered mountains surrounded the high lakebed on which Mexico City is now located as my bus negotiated the four-lane highway from Cuernavaca. The rain that I endured in Taxco and Cuernavaca brought snow to the highest peaks of the Sierra that frame this gigantic city. There were spectacular views from the windows of the first class bus that took an hour and fifteen minutes to make the trip.
Between the views of the white mountains, the spectacular vistas of the valley below, and the Bruce Willis war movie on the TV screen, the trip passed very quickly. I am now in the nation's capital and perhaps the most populous city on earth.
I admit to being a little intimidated at first. My anxiety level was increased by the horror stories about robberies by outlaw taxi drivers. I bought a ticket from the "Taxi Authorizado" stand to avoid the outlaws and rode in a gray and green taxi that made god-awful noises under the right rear fender as we hit the bumps of the city's streets. I carried mace in my right hand as I rode and insisted that my suitcase ride with me on the back seat. The reason for the mace is obvious. I did not want the suitcase in the trunk to prevent the cabbie from driving off with it after I exited and before I could get my luggage. Overkill, I guess, but better safe than sorry and remember my anxiety level.
I have now calmed considerably and am safely ensconced in the most luxurious room of my entire trip. I am not in the tourist area, but near the Zocalo, the very old, main ceremonial government square of the city. I seem to be in the heart of the jewelry district; jewelry stores by the hundreds line the streets surrounding my hotel.
I went to the rooftop restaurant of a nearby hotel to watch the ceremonial lowering of the flag, which occurs every evening near 6:00 p.m. I had a spectacular view of the zocalo, but they didn't lower the flag last evening. Instead, as I sipped a margarita, I had a great view of a rock concert played in front of a crowd dressed all in black that crowded the bandstand set up on the huge plaza.
The music was worse than anything that I have ever heard; the vocalist just seemed to scream into the mike. The evening was enjoyable anyway, as I was joined by four lovely southern belles, who were traveling through Mexico together. One was a retired history teacher, another an art conservator, and all were avid travelers. I admired their spunk, traveling together and not speaking much Spanish. A couple of them like to drive and they were curious about how long it would take them to get here from the Mexican border. They were also disappointed not to see the flag ceremony, but we enjoyed some guacamole and chips, and had a great conversation about traveling. They are staying in my hotel, too, and I will probably run into them again.
I plan to find a sports bar in the tourist area today to watch the Super Bowl; one of them should have the broadcast in English. Shim arrives sometime tomorrow and in the meantime I will enjoy the hustle and the bustle of the crowded streets. One observation that I have already made: this city is full of Mexicans, all going about their business of making a living.
Incidentally, I want to retract what I said about the Mexicans getting less friendly the further south that I drive. I think that I ran into three grouchy people on the day that I made that ridiculous generalization. Actually, the people have been wonderful and very helpful throughout the trip.
This morning, I had a delightful breakfast, flirting in Spanish with the waitresses in a nearby, little bake shop/restaurant, where I sat at the counter. The waitresses were a lot of fun and, as usual, when I responded that I was from Pennsylvania when they inquired about my origin, they asked, "es usted Dracula?" They always confuse Pennsylvania and Transylvania. It would be great to have a fake pair of fangs to flash at them. Enough about my social life. Hasta luego!
Many of you don't know Schim, although his 85 year-old mother is now also among the most fervent readers of this page. To acquaint the rest of you with my friend, Schim, I think a story from last night is in order:
He prefers to eat at cheap, roadside stands where the meals are inexpensive, although rarely sanitary, but yield a great sense of the everyday existence of the vast majority of Mexican folks, along with the dysentery that sometimes accompanies the entrees. Last night, however, I convinced him that we needed to upgrade our restaurant choice to experience the meals that a different segment of Mexican society enjoys.
We ordered appetizers and his was a plate of spaghetti, while mine was a bowl of cream of asparagus soup. The orders arrived at our table simultaneously, and I began to eat my soup. Schim explained a few minutes later that his was an unusual presentation. He said that the spaghetti was warm and the cup of soup they served him was cold. I shifted my focus from my delicious bowl of soup to see what he was talking about, only to observe him finishing, like a bowl of soup, the salsa that was served to garnish his spaghetti.
We had a great laugh and I guess you had to be there and be as exhausted as we were to find it as funny as we did. For his protection, I will need to keep an eye on him the remainder of the way. Incidentally, we both had two drinks, appetizers, desserts and our bill was $21 with tip.
Schim is a retired retail executive for a worldwide company and almost five years my junior. I would mention his former company's name here, but only if they paid an advertising fee. I would also mention Shim's full name if I was sure that the bad guys who might read the page wouldn't rob his house while he was with me.
Schim now does an inordinate amount of community service work. He is a Red Cross emergency operations volunteer, works three days a week for Habitat for Humanity, and has traveled to Russia for the Federal Government in a volunteer program to assist Russian retailers. He stands 6'2" tall, weighs considerably more than when I initially met him in Spain where we taught English to business executives, and is basically a great guy. He speaks about six words of Spanish at the moment, but more words are coming back to him from his three-month stint in Spain as he spends more time here in Mexico.
Schim's nickname apparently derived from Habitat for Humanity where his inability to cut wood to the measured length forced others to use shims to adjust his handiwork. At least that is the story that I tell about him. Actually, the nickname is a portion of his last name that is so long that I would run out of memory if I disclosed it here; it is a good German name, however.
He and I had a great time in our short stay in Mexico City. We visited Teotihuacan, where the great city and the Pyramids of the pre-Aztec civilization are almost totally intact. We also hurriedly visited one of the finest anthropological museums in the country, where artifacts, some of them enormous, from the pre-Columbian, Aztec, and Mayan civilizations are displayed. It was my third trip to both of these places and I enjoyed the experiences as much as I did on my initial visit more than 25 years ago.
This morning, we took an 8:30 bus back to Cuernavaca, where we found Glee resting, safe and sound. That was a concern that we both expressed during the bus ride; what would we do if Glee were not there. We had decided that after reporting the theft to the police, we would continue the journey by bus. Glee is packed and ready, however, and we are off for Oaxaca on the road to Guatemala. I will try to update you along the way. Adios!
February 4 Continued - From Puebla, Mexico:
Sorry for the quick update, but today brought some unique experiences worth sharing before they are lost among the next adventures. After my last update, we got Glee up and running, stopped at the Cuernavaca post office to mail some postcards, and headed for Puebla. We were trying to avoid going back to Mexico City where the traffic would be horrendous, but we had to take the autopista (toll road) toward the city to an exit that would bypass the mess. We missed the exit, of course, which is much easier now that I have a navigator who is admiring the snow-covered mountains.
We entered the unbelievable traffic of the city and stopped to ask directions 10 or 12 times, before being stopped by the policia who declared (without a word of English) that we were driving illegally. They were right! It is illegal to drive in Mexico City on certain days, depending on the numbers on your license plate. This is done to reduce the awful pollution that strangles the place, although the weather of the last few days was not so bad.
We knew the law and had discussed it previously, although we had no idea that it would affect us, since we did not intend to drive in the city. Oops! Glee was parked in a dangerous place on a four-lane highway with the police car behind us. The officer kept pointing to the book, which explained the law to us. I conceded that we had violated the law, but wanted to get out of the city. He held fast. "Whether you go back to Cuernavaca or head to Puebla is all the same and still illegal," he said, still pointing to the book.
"What do you want me to do," I asked, while Schim sat trembling in the front seat. He was a tad anxious about being locked up in a Mexican jail, I guess. The officer then asked for my driver's license and I feared that he would take it to the station where I could retrieve it after payment of a fine. He did not.
Corruption lives!!! It only came to me after he returned the wallet that he wanted a propina (tip, bribe, etc.) to be placed in the book or the wallet. I only understood after he opened the book for me a second time and then the light bulb in my head went on.
Schim handed me 100 pesos ($10), which I folded and placed in the book. The officer took the book back to his car and led us to a turn-around and waved us straight down the six-lane highway of jammed traffic. Two kind caballeros that I asked for help from a rolled down window led us in their rusted car on a 10 minute ride to the autopista that exited town and brought us to the beautiful city of Puebla.
I heard an audible sigh of relief from Schim when we exited the city. This is his first day on the road and he was appropriately baptized. We laughed about our experience the rest of the way here, through those awesome, snow-covered peaks that I have described before. We were still laughing while we sat at the main plaza of this city that is famous for beautiful tiles and good food.
Our hotel room is about half the size of the one we had in Mexico City and a lot less luxurious. We are having a great time, however, because all of these experiences are what make these trips so worthwhile. We expect to make Oaxaca tomorrow and will probably have other unexpected adventures along the way. Will keep you posted. Adios!
February 6 - From Oaxaca
Schim is a great traveling companion when it is mealtime. I never thought anyone could be my match, but he may be even more adventurous than I when it comes to trying local foods. Yesterday, we sampled dried grasshoppers. Yes, I said grasshoppers! The locals here in Oaxaca sell them along the streets and in the markets on large trays, along with other dried insects. They seemed to be flavored with anis oil, but they tasted like, well, like grasshoppers. We did not go back for seconds, however.
The mountains through which we passed on our way here from Puebla were spectacular: desert peaks, with buttes, mesas, arroyos, giant tree-like cacti, etc. It was really like driving through our western states where the views are awesome. We saw many subsistence farms in the flat areas where the fields could be flooded when rains provided water to the dry riverbeds.
We enjoyed a quiet evening with drinks overlooking the zocalo (main plaza), busy with holiday revelers and locals hawking crafts to visiting gringos. Our evening drink has become something of a ritual in each town where we spend the night.
I bought a few wooden bookmarks, while Schim purchased an Aztec symbol painted on the bark of a local tree. I also purchased several packets of Chiclets from a cute little 8 year-old girl, and then returned the packets for her to sell again. It is difficult to say, "No," to people in such great need. There were old women begging or selling trinkets to help support the family while several men played instruments (poorly) to garner a few pesos. The square was beautiful, but the presence of the poor Indians detracted from its beauty and made you aware of their plight and of your blessings.
Incidentally, although Schim is a great dining companion, he has already insulted poor Glee. He has taken to calling her what he insists is her full name, Ugh - Glee! She seems not to mind, but it really hurts me. Hasta luego!
February 8 - From Zacatecoluca, El Salvador
Get a map to check on our progress, which has been slow until this morning! It took 2.5 hours to cross from Guatemala into El Salvador this morning, but there was not much traffic on a Sunday morning. This border was better in that it was not as much hassle as crossing from Mexico into Guatemala, where Schim was a tad anxious. It is very intimidating with so many desperate folks trying to sell their services to assist in the border crossing and others trying to sell products. Schim bought a hammock while waiting for me to complete the process, and he also taught four or five kids how to speak English while he passed out Tootsie Pops.
We spent the night in Chiquimula, Guatemala, not far from the border to El Salvador. We hurried to try to make it across Guatemala, which is the poorest of the Central American countries. We failed and survived a near accident because of the hurrying. We have learned a lesson. I was passing a bus behind a couple of other passing cars when the first car suddenly turned left, forcing the car I was following to skid into a panic stop. I did the same thing and Glee started to skid sideways, but I left off the brake and she straightened out. There was a lot of squealing, smoking tires, but no damage.
We have had a couple of small problems with Glee. First, we took a stone in Guatemala and have a ding in the windshield on my side. Next, right after we entered Guatemala Glee started to overheat. We had just begun using the air conditioner, so we stopped that and filled the reservoir with water and anti-freeze. It drove cool the rest of the day without the air conditioner, but the water was low again this morning, so we added more. In the meantime, we will add water when necessary.
The town and the hotel we spent the night in last night make every place that you have ever stayed look like the Ritz Carlton in Beverly Hills. This was a filthy little hotel in a dusty, filthy little town. There was no hot water and no showerhead on the pipe that stuck from the shower wall. Schim and I slept like babies, however, after eating and getting back to the room by 7:15. We used the door alarm and both of us put mace beside our beds, but the night passed uneventfully.
We are about halfway through El Salvador and expect to cross into Honduras this evening. That will be poverty stricken, too. We are looking forward to Costa Rica!
Not much else to report except that Schim has taken to showering in his nylon shirt and pants to launder them. He is taking to this primitive life style, at least in the clothing department. OK, we have to run if we are to make Honduras. We are safe! Hasta Luego!!
February 9 - From Managua, Nicaragua
Ahhh, hot water!! We are treating ourselves to a stay in the Holiday Inn Select in downtown Managua, after a long day where we crossed two borders: from El Salvador to Honduras and, after driving across the country with a security guard that we didn't want (but for whom we had to pay $30), from Honduras to Nicaragua.
In frustration, we pushed the envelope a little this evening and probably drove 150 kilometers further than we should have, but we arrived at the hotel by nightfall. It was a little hairy in the dark, crowded streets for the final 15 minutes or so and Schim pretty well has his fingernails bitten to the cuticle. The hotel is spectacular, however, and has everything an American hotel would have. That is luxurious beyond description after the god-awful rooms in which we have been staying.
Glee is running like a champ and has even stopped getting hot. We have not had to add water for a couple of days, although we haven't used the air conditioner. We are getting acclimated to the warm temperatures and some of the time is spent in the mountains where the temps are wonderful. Glee has not reacted negatively to Schim's insults and I believe that she is starting to convert him. He has to be impressed with her performance.
We are only two or three hours from Costa Rica and hope to reach there sometime early tomorrow. We have one final border to cross!! Only then will I describe the terrible hassles that we experienced at every border crossing along the way. Hasta Manana.
February 10 - From Tilaran, Costa Rica
Estamos en Costa Rica!!! We arrived after a pleasant drive and the easiest border crossing that we have experienced. The people working both sides of the border, Nicaraguan and Costa Rican, were unbelievably friendly and cooperative, which was quite a unique way of doing things.
The other border crossings took from 2.5 to 3.5 hours and were full of frustrations with the petty bureaucracy, lack of efficiency, and the intimidation and overcharging by the officials or the "guides" hired to assist in the complex bureaucratic process. Sometimes, an official at one window would stamp a document, staple it to another piece of paper, and tell me to go to the next window. When I arrived at the other window and looked in, the guy that I now had to deal with was sitting at a desk right next to the official I had just left. Of course, the new official unstapled the staples, took off a sheet of paper and placed it in a file, stapled the remaining sheet to another piece of paper and sent me on my way. Sometimes there were as many as five windows in a building and I had to wait in line in each one for a similar process. In between, it was always necessary to get copies made in a separate building for a few cents. The inefficiencies were so gross that they defy description.
At the border between Honduras and Nicaragua on the Honduran side, where we were trying to exit, we had papers ready to be viewed at 11:55 p.m. only to learn that the border exiting process was closed for lunch until 1:00. We waited and passed the time entertaining the guides who were trying to get us to hire them to assist us in exiting the country.
The highways have been a pleasant surprise. Nicaraguan roads were especially good, but all of the countries except Costa Rica have had very acceptable roadways, which they call the Pan American Highway. Costa Rica is paving roads near the border, but the rest of the country still has the worst roads over which I have traveled.
Schim insists that I recant my description of the hotels in which we have stayed. He reminds me that only one hotel (the nasty one in the nasty town in Guatemala) was really bad and he is right. The trip has not been bad at all, except for the border crossing process.
Of course, now Glee is acting up again to make matters a little more interesting. She is overheating and a mechanic here in Tilaran was unable to repair her. He thinks that a radiator cap or the new thermostat may be the problem. We have decided to limp in to San Jose in the morning, where there is a Volvo dealer. Glee should be able to get the proper attention and the proper parts there. We'll keep you posted. Hasta la Vista.
February 13 - From Escazu, Costa Rica:
There are not many Volvos in Central America, so Glee has been something of a celebrity during our trip on the Pan American Highway. At each border crossing the guides attempting to sell their services to us made complimentary comments about her. She has been getting significantly more attention than Schim and I think that is why he has taken to insulting her with the fictional first name - Ugh.
After Glee overheated in Tilaran and the mechanic was unable to repair her, we decided to buy a couple of large bottles of water, fill the smaller empty bottles that we had on hand, and try to make the very rough, but scenic drive around Lake Arenal and the neighboring active Arenal Volcano, winding up in San Jose.
I think the insults that Schim had been hurling Glee's way finally must have gotten under her skin (paint), because on one of the very sharp turns climbing the gorgeous, lush green mountains that overlook San Jose, Glee overheated badly. The needle on the water temperature gauge quickly climbed into the red zone and I shut off the engine and drifted partially off of the twisting road. We removed the reservoir cap and steam exploded out. We quickly poured in all of the water we had carried to help in cooling the engine and I started the engine to circulate the cool liquid. We had to walk a hundred yards or so to a small store where we refilled the bottles and even used a little more than we had carried to reach the optimum water level in the reservoir.
We restarted Glee and she ran like a trooper to Zarcero, the city at the top of the mountain, which is famous for the extensive topiary garden in the plaza in front of the city's cathedral. There, we had a drink to allow Glee to cool further, capped off her water once more, and then we proceeded down the mountain to San Jose. She never overheated again until I drove her to a garage recommended by the owner of our hotel.
I had stayed in this hotel for a couple of months on a previous trip to Costa Rica and had become good friends with Pablo and Noelle, the brother and sister who manage the hotel owned by their family. After I had flown back to the USA on the previous trip, Pablo had sold the van that we had driven to Costa Rica and forwarded the money to me. I trust him implicitly and when he recommended his friend's garage around the corner, we immediately drove Glee there.
Almost on command, Glee started overheating when I shut off the engine. The mechanic, whose English is flawless, took about ten minutes to diagnose the problem. He stopped the fan with his hand, which he said that he shouldn't be able to do, and Glee immediately overheated excessively. When he allowed the fan to turn, Glee cooled down. His diagnosis: the fan clutch was bad! He wasn't sure that he could locate the part in Costa Rica, but said that he could have it shipped from Miami in five days if that were the case. The next evening, as Schim and I sat enjoying a Vodka and tonic with a couple of other Americans staying at the hotel, the mechanic appeared and pronounced Glee repaired. He said that he had located the part here in San Jose, had been driving Glee all day and that she had not overheated at all.
I had asked him to rotate the tires while he had the car and to see if he could repair the rear seats, whose seams had been splitting (no doubt from old age). He said that he had completed the rotation, checked the brakes (they were fine), and had an auto interior specialist sew up the rear seats ($16). The price was so reasonable and the labor costs so low that I decided to get a price on having Glee repainted on her hood, roof, and trunk lid, where the plastic coat has come off and gives her a scaly appearance like she has acne. He estimated $400 for a job that Schim thinks would cost more than $2,000 at home. Out of respect for the car, which has provided such outstanding service for 18 years, I think that I will have her painted with the hope that Schim will be forced stop his demeaning insults.
Then, when I get her home, she will become a distinguished member of the antique class of cars in short order. She has already earned the 200,000-mile certification decal from Volvo and is on her way to the 300,000-mile threshold. Shim just said, "she will soon qualify for AARA, the automobile equivalent of AARP, and will be eligible for senior discounts when we have to fill the gas tank." His insults never stop! Hasta la vista.
February 16 – From Escazu (suburban San Jose), Costa Rica:
Pure water out of the faucet makes all of the difference in the world! Here in Costa Rica, it is possible to brush your teeth like Americans do at home each morning - by rinsing the brush and your mouth with tap water. In other countries, it required carefully using water from a bottle, except in the very upscale Holiday Inn in Managua, Nicaragua.
Pure water makes more difference than that, however. We can now eat salads without concern about the quality of water used to wash the lettuce. Many gringos have suffered traveler's diarrhea or dysentery by forgetting about the water used to wash fresh vegetables. In case you are wondering, and I know that I take great risk by saying this, Montezuma has not smiled down on me this trip. I have been exceedingly careful with my consumption of water and fresh vegetables, grilling waiters and chefs until they were ready to kill me about the water used for washing their vegetables.
The food in Costa Rica has been very good and significantly different from the Mexican cuisine of frijoles and tortillas, ad nauseum, although I confess that better Mexican restaurants can be wonderful and have a varied menu. Here, we have been eating a lot of roast chicken, steak, and pork, usually served with white rice and a variety of vegetables. A breakfast staple is mixed black beans and rice, which makes for a dark rice mixture called gallo pinto. Our hotel serves juice, eggs, toast, and coffee each morning, but we can add to the menu by purchasing some of the many fresh fruits or meats and asking that they be prepared for us. Breakfast is included in the cost of the hotel room.
The diet is not boring, however, and many restaurants offer a wide range of choices. We weakened and ate in a very over-priced Italian restaurant a couple of days ago, when we were unable to find the Indian Restaurant that was recommended to us. There are many Chinese restaurants and we have accidentally eaten in one or two of those when we failed to look carefully at the outside sign where Chinese written characters are not always obvious.
At the bottom of the hill, a short bus ride or a 15-minute walk away, are a string of American chains - Taco Bell, the ever-present McDonald's, Burger King, Tony Roma's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, to name but a few.
I have probably made you hungry, so I will stop the food critique, except to say that my favorite dish is an appetizer called ceviche - raw fish cooked in lime juice with fresh parsley or cilantro added for flavor and color. Schim tasted mine the other day and is now ordering separate portions for himself. I have seen ceviche in upscale restaurants in the States as a unique appetizer of the day, so I highly recommend that you try it.
Today, we will visit the Spanish immersion school that I attended five winters ago and tomorrow I will visit Glee in the paint shop. I can't go today when she may be sanded and feel naked and embarrassed by her appearance; I'll wait until tomorrow when her new paint should be drying and she will look presentable. Wednesday, my wife will be joining us and Schim's love interest will be here on Thursday to start a week together exploring Costa Rica. Hasta Luego!
February 18 - From Escazu, Costa Rica:
I am just a little more than two hours away from hailing a taxi for the airport to pick up my wife. I already feel free from the significant yoke that Schim has been around my neck, because this morning he moved into the room across the hall to await the arrival of the ladies. We have lived together for 16 days, since I met him at the Gillow Hotel in downtown Mexico City. He is the first man with whom I have shared a room since my days in the military and, honestly, it really didn't go all that badly, other than the fact that he wears my shirts, uses my camera and film, snores occasionally, requires a lot of attention, and goes to sleep exceptionally early. He does mix a nice vodka and tonic, however.
I will now share a room with my wife, which will take an adjustment for both of us after six weeks apart, then become a bachelor for 20 days more until Dave arrives to accompany me back through the gauntlet of Central America. In that time, I may return for a week to the Spanish immersion school that I attended six years ago. There, I will probably live with the Costa Rican family whose home I shared before, although I am not certain that they still host students. They were wonderful, however, and I am eager to see them again. Schim and I stopped at their house on our trip to visit the school, where Schim and his friend are also interested in attending sometime, but they were not at home; I will have to make another trip to renew old acquaintances there.
We visited Glee this morning and her roof is sporting the first coat of her new paint. The hood and the trunk, which have been removed, are only covered by primer, which is why I must hail a taxi to pick up my wife at the airport. They tell me that Glee will be ready tomorrow to pick up Schim's friend, but I am skeptical. We actually only need the car on Friday morning when we will head to Playa (beach) Manuel Antonio for a few days in the sun and a few splashes in the Pacific. If I can get Schim to spend a few dollars for a change, he and I may also try our hand at catching a few fish off of the coast, where the fishing is excellent. We will not be chartering a boat for marlin, sail or swordfish, since that tab is about $800. My son caught a gorgeous sailfish while he was in Manuel Antonio last year on vacation, so I am eager to exercise the fishing rods that Glee has carried all the way from PA.
I will continue to try to update you occasionally along the way. The four of us will probably have some interesting experiences. Luego!
February 23 - From La Fortuna, Costa Rica:
Stunning!! She is absolutely gorgeous, with her glimmering new paint job that perfectly matches the old! Her value has probably doubled with the elimination of the acned clear coat on her hood, roof, and trunk, but unfortunately, she is still overheating.
Yes, Glee is beautiful, but I am afraid that she is suffering hardening of the arteries, hoses, or radiator coils, or whatever. She rode most of the way to Playa Manuel Antonio without a problem, but after stopping for some rotisserie chicken, rice, and beans, and climbing a few small hills, she started spewing water out from around the cap on the reservoir, which used to be called the radiator cap. It only seems to be happening after the heavy load of climbing mountains or using the air conditioner, but the leak is always from around the reservoir cap. I am describing this in some detail with the hope that some mechanic out there will have a notion as to what the root of the problem might be. When I return to Escazu, I will take her back to the garage that did the paint job and replaced the fan clutch (his description) and report the failure to correct the problem. I know that the owner of the garage will be disappointed, too. He was proud when he thought that he had solved the problem. In the meantime, we will proceed by not running the air conditioner, frequently checking the water level, and refilling when necessary from the water bottles we are carrying.
We only stayed one night in Manuel Antonio, which yielded no time for fishing, spending a lot of time on the beach, or doing much of anything, and it was just as well, since the heat and humidity were overbearing. We were unable to secure hotel reservations in the hotels we wanted, except for Friday night, and since none of us (even the Floridians) were able to adapt to the smothering humidity, we left at about noon and headed for Tilaran. We stopped at Playa Jaco for lunch, a beach town with significant numbers of surfers and fishermen, and made it to Tilaran at nightfall, having had to fill Glee's reservoir only twice. We had to drive with the windows open during the trip to avoid overheating Glee with the air conditioning load, but the air felt good, even though it contributes to a coating of dust, which needs removing shortly after arrival.
Yesterday, we drove around Lake Arenal running into an enormous bicycle race, which made the trip much longer, but far more interesting. We encouraged the thousands of bikers, who passed us sometimes slowly laboring up steep hills, with shouts of "Pura Vida," which is the Costa Rican national slogan and means "the good life!" Most of them smiled and returned the greeting, but many grimaced and continued on with the enjoyment they must have been experiencing under the hot rays of the tropical sun. Many times, we stopped for 20 minute stretches while bikers and their support vehicles passed us in the opposite direction on the narrow, pot-holed, sometimes gravel, sometimes black-topped road.
We spent the night in a lovely cottage with a perfect view of the active volcano, Arenal. As we approached, we had gotten an unimpeded view of the peak during a break in the cloud cover, but by the time of our arrival at Hotel Paraiso, Arenal had once again hidden behind the curtain of clouds. This morning at breakfast, however, we had a perfect view of the crater spewing forth puffs of white smoke when the white, cumulus clouds took a break and offered the peak for viewing. It is an awesome sight!
We will spend another night at the foot of the volcano tonight, lolling in the volcanically-warmed, mineral-rich, murky-colored spring waters in one of the pools at the hotel. We will alternate that with plunges into the chilly, crystal-clear waters of the normal pool and generally enjoy the weather, which has far less humidity than Manuel Antonio. We are having a great time. We will head over the mountains for San Jose tomorrow, where I will update you once again. Hasta mas tarde!
February 25 – From San Jose, Costa Rica:
We arrived safely back in San Jose after a trip through the verdant mountains surrounding the capital city. Glee overheated one time and required only a small bottle of the water we carried. We did not run the air conditioner, however.
Thanks to those relatives, friends, and Internet readers who offered advice on the cars cooling system. One of you, whose email address begins with E&C, even visited a Volvo dealer to get advice. I really appreciated that, but for the third time, the email that I sent to them expressing thanks was returned, saying that they refused email from my address. Either their spam protector is too aggressive, or they just don't want to hear from me. I will thank them here, since I know that they will be reading.
My daughter even sent me research links on the web, which expressly deal with Volvos. Tomorrow, I will give the mechanic those links to see if they give him some ideas. Somebody suggested driving without the thermostat to determine if the head gasket is blown, but I have every confidence that gasket is OK, since two mechanics who knew a lot more than I did explicitly told me that the head gasket was alright.
My own analysis has narrowed the problem to what appears to be an electrical fan in front of the radiator, which we never see running. Since most of the overheating occurs after the engine is shut off and the belt-driven fan is not running, I wonder if that electrical fan should kick in for a few minutes to cool the engine faster. The electrical fan could be thermostatically controlled and have a bad thermostat, or perhaps it is just a fuse problem. Of course, perhaps the water pump isn't working properly or the reservoir cap is not holding enough pressure or the radiator needs flushed. Who knows? The only sure thing is that if I have to rely on my mechanical ability to get Glee home, Dave and I are going to be in big trouble. Here's hoping Jose, the Escazu mechanic who speaks perfect English, will have some success with his next shot at Glee.
This morning we visited the Cafe Britt coffee plantation for a tour, a show, and lunch. We had been there before, but Schim and his friend had not. The tour was excellent, so we didn't mind seeing it again. Of course, the gift shop won again with tee shirt, coffee, and candy purchases.
Tomorrow, I will take my wife to the airport for her return flight home. I will leave Schim and his friend here in San Jose where they will meet friends for dinner, before departing on Friday. It will feel different being alone again, but I can handle it. I will stop at a golf course and hit a few balls on my way back to Escazu, where I will spend three weeks reading, relaxing, golfing, and awaiting Dave. I am certain that my stay will be anything but routine, so I will continue to update you from there. Adios!
February 28 – From Escazu, Costa Rica:
Batteria muerte! That is how you say dead battery in Spanish and I told you that my existence would be
anything but routine for the next three weeks. Glee had a dead battery when I went into the hotel garage to take my wife to the airport. I got a jumper cable start from a couple of caring Costa Ricans, but was afraid to turn off the engine when I arrived at the airport. My wife must have fared pretty well after I unceremoniously dumped her off at the departure gate, because she has arrived home safely after spending the night in Philadelphia with our grandchildren.
Now about the battery: I am trying to be understanding and forgiving with the car, but Glee is starting to get under my skin (I really cleaned up what I wanted to say there!). I know that you must make allowances for older women, but Glee is getting ridiculous. One of my female correspondents suggested earlier that it might be menopause that is affecting her and that may be an accurate diagnosis. The battery was four and a half years old, six months beyond its guaranteed life expectancy, and would have probably died several months ago in the cold weather at home. But, Glee picked a bad time to dump this on me, what with all of the overheating problems. She is testing my patience, but I continue to remember what new Volvos cost.
I got back to my Escazu mechanic and requested a maintenance-free battery like the dead one, which was still passing enough charge from the alternator through to keep the motor running. He didn't have one, but recommended an enterprise only a short distance away, where a Delco, maintenance-free battery was installed. Since when has the cost of batteries risen to $180? I also had them shine a light behind the car's grill to verify the existence of another fan, which was sitting there idly in front of the radiator, as I suspected. Jose, the Escazu mechanic, was surprised to learn of the fan's existence and will look at Glee again on Monday to make another attempt at solving the overheating problem.
Yesterday, I drove Glee with her new paint job, new battery, and old overheating problem to the golf course and hit a bucket of balls after chipping and putting for 30 minutes or so. My lower back stiffened up on the way back to the hotel, but it feels fine this morning. I will return to the course as soon as Glee is repaired to continue to hone my game so that I am ready for the stiff competition I will face when I arrive home. My opponents make no allowances for a winter spent on the road and a late spring arrival home.
Today, I will attempt to revisit the family with whom I lived for three weeks while I attended immersion Spanish school five years ago. They were a wonderful family and I look forward to seeing them again.
In future updates I will give you a mileage update on the trip so far and try to recount Schim's views as to the most memorable parts of the journey. I also want to give you a taste of the meals that I have been enjoying and generally keep you abreast of Costa Rican daily life. Hopefully, I can retain your interest. Hasta luego!
March 2 - From Escazu, Costa Rica:
It is bad enough that Glee's body is falling apart; now mine has begun a concomitant disintegration. That little back problem from hitting golf balls that I mentioned in the last update has not improved. As a matter of fact, I must have slept too long on my back a couple of nights ago and complicated the matter.
I was in pretty much pain yesterday, so I went on a date with a California woman who is living at my hotel. Joanna is a retired geriatric nurse (no comments) and has been living in Costa Rica to escape an abusive husband and to stretch her dollars. Our date consisted of a taxi ride to her chiropractor for an adjustment. The chiropractor, an American who moved to Costa Rica to practice four years ago, is a big dude - about 6'3" and 225 pounds, I would say. He got me on the adjustment table and I thought that he had killed me. He used such force on my back, hips, and neck that I thought that I was history.
I left the office in pretty good shape, however, and feel a little better this morning, but he wants to see me daily for a couple more days. I am not going back to that big sucker again, I can tell you that! I figure that I got out of there lucky, since I can still walk. I really thought that he had broken my spine. My chiropractor at home can sometimes be a little rough, but nothing like this guy. Today, I will try a new tack.
The woman in the internet center, who, by the way, is eight months pregnant, informed me about a woman who gives massages just a couple of doors down the street. That is more my style - a soothing massage. I won't risk the trauma of another adjustment just yet, but will see if a massage will help.
I was well enough last night to accompany Steve, a boring contractor from Oklahoma also staying in my hotel, to a Peruvian restaurant in downtown San Jose. No, he is not boring! He is a contractor who owns three pieces of boring equipment to drill under streets, houses, neighborhoods, etc., for utility companies, governmental agencies (think water and sewer), and building contractors.
We had a very good appetizer of ceviche, raw fished cooked only in cold lime juice and mixed with onions, and I had a Peruvian specialty - sea bass in a shallow dish, covered with shrimp and cheese. It was delicious and very reasonable. Steve had fried rice with mariscos (seafood) that included fish, mussels, shrimp, etc. We were both pleased with the meal and will probably dine together again tonight.
One of the great things about traveling alone is the wonderful assortment of interesting people that you meet. Steve is an example. He is a Vietnam vet, an alcoholic who has been dry for 20 years, and an inveterate gambler. He leaves every morning to head for the casinos in San Jose, but spends most of his time at the sports book establishment betting on college basketball games. He claims to have won more than $700 so far this winter. This is his first foreign trip and one that his brother suggested so that Steve could chill for a few months. He was skeptical, but when his brother had to postpone his plans to accompany him, Steve came anyway while his three crews are still working in Oklahoma. He seems to be having a great time, just recharging his batteries after a lifetime of very difficult, outdoor work. It is great that he ran into me, a regular traveler, so that I can share the little knowledge I have about traveling and about Costa Rica. I am learning a lot about the boring business, too.
Sometime soon I will share some information about Henry, a very interesting intellectual who also lives in my hotel. For now, I leave you with the knowledge that I am working on my recovery while Glee is in the garage doing the same. Hasta Luego!
I have several things to report since I updated you a couple of days ago. Glee is back at the hotel and Jose, the mechanic, claims that she is now fully recovered. He replaced the switch on the electric fan located in front of the radiator, which is where I thought the problem lay. He only charged me for the part, he said, and the bill was $46, which was reasonable since he also put on the snow tires that I have carried as spares since Pennsylvania. A trip back through Central America should finally wear them out after 18 years of little use (these are original snow tires), which is what I planned.
I have only driven Glee the one block from the garage, but I am planning a test run to the Caribbean in a day or two to test the cooling system before the long trip home. One of the maids at the hotel wrote, "wash me" in the dust on Glee's hood and I was horrified when she pointed proudly to her work, thinking that she had scratched the new paint. When she saw my reaction, she wiped the hood off with a cloth when I wasn't watching and that really did lightly scratch the surface. I am hoping that I can buff it out with a little wax when I get home, but the old girl still looks great.
My back is recovering since the massage that I treated myself to the day before yesterday. I was apprehensive about the massage because in a country where prostitution is pretty much out in the open, I wanted to be certain that it was only a therapeutic massage for which I had contracted.
The masseuse was a lovely, brown-eyed, bronze-skinned young lady of 27 who was originally from Colombia. She had shoulder length, thick black hair that perfectly displayed her glistening white smile, but with the pain in my back I was only interested in her ability to massage. She spoke only one word of English, "Relax," which I found a little difficult while undressing in front of her. Using hand signs, she instructed me to disrobe, piece by piece, until only my underpants remained, which she covered with a small towel when she had me lie down on my back on the table.
With the use of my meager Spanish language skills, I learned that Brigitte was married and had a nine-month-old daughter. She worked hard for an hour and a half, using her hands, sometimes covered in rubber gloves, sometimes not. She also used her fingernails, a wooden massage device with round balls on the bottom, an electrical stimulation machine on the sore part of my back, and a chord with wooden balls on it that she worked across my back like a shoeshine boy uses his buffing cloth.
The massage was entirely therapeutic, but I got my hopes up there for a minute when she folded up the bottom of my shorts and massaged the tops of my thighs. At that point all thoughts of therapy were sublimated by the licentious thoughts that all men share in times like these. For a minute there, I thought that she couldn't resist the gorgeous hunk lying in front of her. I was wrong!
The charge for an hour and a half massage was unbelievably only $25 and I will return today for more therapy. Under her skilled manipulations, my back has improved significantly. I will try one more massage, which is about the cost of the chiropractor's treatment, though much longer and unbelievably more pleasant. Now this is something to which I could get addicted. Yes, I have changed my underwear. With continued improvement, I may be able to return to the golf course tomorrow. Vaya con Dios!
March 6 – From Escazu, Costa Rica:
Jose was wrong! Glee is not fully recovered! I couldn't believe it, but when I decided to drive Steve, the Oklahoman, and Henry, whom I haven't formally introduced to you yet, to dinner on Thursday night Glee's new battery was dead! Batteria nueva muerta, otra vez!
I was shocked, but apparently there is a small short that drains even the new battery if the car sits for a couple of days. I admit to significant frustration here, but Jose will look at the problem today and he has a great reputation in the neighborhood. Perhaps, the wires leading to the help lights in the trunk or the hood, which were removed during the painting process, were scraped bare in the process. I imagine that it only takes a bare wire somewhere to cause a problem like this, but what do I know? I will have to trust Jose to correct the problem, but how I wish that I would have included a set of jumper cables among the tools, belts, filters, engine oil, and extra spare tires that I packed for the trip. I may not know with certainty that the problem has been repaired until I spend a couple of days showing Dave around Mexico City and return to Puebla to restart Glee after a couple of days away. No matter, I will work my way through this! It is part of the challenge of traveling like this.
I promised to update you on the mileage I have covered and some impressions shared with me by Schim before he departed for Florida. From Mexico City, Schim and I traveled 1,847 miles before reaching San Jose. Coupled with the 5,809 miles that I traveled alone through the USA and Mexico before reaching Mexico City, yields 7,656 miles total miles traveled to date. This total does not include the couple of hundred miles we traveled while touring Costa Rica. I am certain the distance home will be significantly shorter, since I plan to travel back the east coast of Mexico through Veracruz to Brownsville, Texas. After that, it will be just a short jaunt home through Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and St. Joseph, MO. I should be home in no time.
Now, Schim's observations about memorable experiences, which for some reason did not include the privilege of spending so much time with me:
First, he was most impressed by the traffic stop and the ensuing bribe paid to the Mexico City policeman. He should have been impressed with this incident, since he seemed so frightened by the prospect of spending time in a Mexican jail.
Secondly, he was impressed by the Arenal Volcano, which proudly displayed its constant activity to us for a full evening and morning.
Thirdly, he was taken with the abject poverty in all of the dry and dusty Central American villages through which we passed as well as in the rural areas. Costa Rica was a notable exception, since the poverty here seems much less pronounced than in the other countries.
Fourth - and this one really surprised him – the beauty and relative safety of Mexico, which gets a bum rap because of the ugly cities that border the USA. He felt that he could comfortably return on vacation to Mexico City, Puebla, Cuernavaca, or Oaxaca, even though he speaks only a dozen words of Spanish.
Fifth, Schim couldn't believe the river that we had to ford in Mexico while two new bridges were being built. Glee performed masterfully with water up to her front bumper on the first of the two crossings. It was exciting even after we reached the other side because we then had to follow a bicyclist to find the way through sand that was too soft to maneuver safely.
Lastly, Schim was impressed that although we must have asked for help or directions at least a hundred times or more, everyone was friendly, helpful, and pleased to be able to assist us. We felt no animosity because we were wealthy (in their eyes) Americanos.
Those were the most significant of Schim's impressions of the trip, although he has threatened to write to my daughter to have her include his side of the story on my web page, which she edits. Despite the many aspersions that I have cast, Schim was a great traveling companion: always open to new foods, new ideas and adventures, new cultural experiences, and old hotel rooms. Dave has big shoes to fill on the return trip - quite literally since Schim wears a size 14. Hasta luego!
March 9 – From Escazu, Costa Rica:
Glee is back and appears ready to roll!! An embarrassed Jose informed me that the problem was the trunk light, as I suspected. It seems that when they put the light back in after removing the trunk lid for painting, they snapped it in backwards which inverted the mercury switch. The light in the trunk was always on and after a couple of days of sitting, even the new battery would discharge. The only way to know what the problem was would have been to sit in the trunk with the lid closed - not something that I thought about doing.
Jose, a very honest young man, told me the truth and didn't charge me a cent to make the repair. No telling how long it took them to find the problem, but Glee started right up this morning in her first post-op test.
I still have not tested the cooling system, but will head for the golf course today and run the air conditioner during the trip. Then, I will leave tomorrow on a four-hour journey to Limon on the Caribbean coast, before turning south to Puerto Viejo to test Glee's readiness for the return home. She will dazzle people at the border crossings with her impressive good looks; of that I am certain.
The fishing is supposed to be excellent in the Caribbean, so I may yet get in my fishing experience. I will probably spend the night in Puerto Viejo, then head back the next day. I will not give up my hotel room in Escazu, however, but at $20/night with breakfast, that won't be the end of the world.
I ordered a pair of prescription sunglasses yesterday from the local optician. I wanted to get a pair before I left home but wasn't willing to pay the $200 that even the chain opticians wanted. I made the trip down here by slipping an old, large pair of sunglasses over my own glasses, which was effective, but not a pretty picture. Here, I got a pair of glasses with plastic lenses and bifocals along with the frames for $62. I should now be looking pretty cool as I head east into the morning sun on the way back to PA.
That is pretty much it, unless you wanted to hear about the great Argentinean restaurant in which Steve and I dined last night. I had a great restaurant-made grilled sausage of pork and beef as an appetizer with a great salsa and then, oh, never mind; you're probably not interested anyway. Maybe, I will update you with some Caribbean dishes from the other side of the country. Que le vaya bien!
March 13 - From Escazu, Costa Rica
Buenos dias, todos! Ahhh, I'm back in Escazu, which has become a second home. The trip to Limon and Puerto Viejo was successful, if one looks at Glee's performance as a yardstick. She ran like a new Volvo S80 on the four-hour trip, although maybe that's a stretch. The climb back through Braulio Carrillo National Park surrounded by dense rain forest and fog, with the road winding up one of the steepest climbs in Costa Rica, went exceedingly well. Glee did not overheat at all. I am so confident in her cooling system now that I topped off the reservoir when I returned with almost a quart of coolant. It is time to prepare her for the rigors of nighttime cold temperatures that will probably remain when I re-enter the northern tier of the US.
Other than Glee's performance, the trip was not so successful. Oh, I made it over to the Caribbean and saw Limon and Puerto Viejo for the first time, but the weather has been terrible there for two weeks with rain off and on every day. People were leaving their vacations early and flying back to the US because of their frustrations. The green-colored ocean was tormented by the storms and too dangerous for swimmers.
There is not much to do in Puerto Viejo in the rain, except get drunk or stoned, one of the long time American residents informed me. The local residents, mostly young surfers, seemed actively involved in this process. This is a very primitive place and there are only a few shops selling beach souvenirs and tee shirts, along with a generous splashing of primitive, thatch-roofed bars and restaurants.
The ocean was too rough to even think about fishing and locals told me that the fishing wouldn't improve until the moon changed. I got no fishing or swimming in during the trip, but I took some great pictures of the beautiful birds that were feeding on the bananas hanging in the garden of the little hotel in which I stayed. Bright red and black, totally blue, blue with fluorescent head feathers, and yellow with black markings were among the colors displayed by an amazing coterie of birds on display as the sun peeked out for an hour while I enjoyed breakfast. Here's hoping the photos captured their amazing beauty.
I was accompanied on the return trip by Tony, a 56 year-old New York bachelor, who tired of two weeks of
rain and paid $150 to change the date of his return-trip plane ticket to the day after our trip back. I saved him a ride on a slow local bus and dropped him at the airport where he was willing to pay another hundred to move the flight up another day instead of spending the night in San Jose.
I met Tony in our hotel in Puerto Viejo and he seemed pretty disappointed with his first Costa Rican experience. Our trip back to the central valley where the sun was shining brightly seemed to buoy his spirits, however. Tony is very interested in yoga and healthy life styles involving exercise and proper diet, which we discussed at some length during the scenic, ride back. We traveled from the black beaches of Puerto Viejo through tropical banana plantations with hanging fruit covered in blue plastic bags, before making the climb up the mountain road that exposed numerous, small waterfalls. It was a lovely trip.
Everyone appeared glad to see me when I returned, especially Mildred and Laura, the two maids at my hotel who apparently missed my daily efforts to entice them into my room. It was great to be back enjoying an afternoon political discussion with Henry, the intellectual, and having dinner and breakfast with Steve who had experienced his first bad day of gambling. I will introduce you to Henry in a day or two, but first I need to rest a bit after such a strenuous trip. Hasta la vista, baby (as the maids tell me sometimes).
March 16 - From Escazu, Costa Rica:
What better to report on a day when the snow is accumulating in my hometown than that I just had to ask to have the fan turned on in this Internet center because of the heat. It will, no doubt, be 80 degrees again today since the sun is shining so brightly.
It was the same temperature yesterday when I played golf on a gorgeous golf course near Santa Ana. The long winter layoff and the warm winds played havoc with my game, however, and I shot a dazzling 101. Don't laugh, the course was tough and I only brought along six old clubs, just in case Glee left me sit someplace. I didn't want to have to carry a bag full of golf clubs and my backpack of clothing on a local bus. That is also why I only packed my oldest clothing; I will be throwing or giving away many items as I head north.
Glee is still performing admirably and when Jose changes the oil and filter in a day or two, she will be ready for the long ride ahead. I think that she is now up to the task. I just need to decide if I want to have Jose drain the radiator and fill it 50-50 with anti-freeze. I guess that would be the best move since I have run so much water through her during her ordeal.
I took Henry and Joanna, two American residents of the tiny hotel in which I am living, for a ride on Sunday since they rarely go out of the hotel, except for a weekly trip by taxi to the large local shopping center. We had a great time, stopping for lunch and enjoying the great views from the foothills on which the University of Peace (Paz) is located. Joanna had selected a visit there as the place she would like to see. Henry really didn't care where we went.
Henry is an interesting man, a real intellectual who speaks five or six languages, including Arabic, with some degree of fluency. He graduated second in his college class at Albright, a small liberal arts school near Reading, PA. Henry worked as a computer technician with IBM and also with a General Motors subsidiary, then with governmental agencies in Washington, DC, before his phase-out at age 51. He then worked as a consultant, but as happens with so many consultants, he was unable to make ends meet and began to dip into what little savings he had. By the time he reached social security age, that stipend was all that he had to live on. He moved to Costa Rica three years ago at age 65 in an attempt to stretch his dollars.
Henry is an accomplished musician and plays the violin, the trumpet, the piano, and the guitar. I occasionally hear his guitar efforts emanating from his hotel room. Henry is interesting in that he is constantly in deep thought and often quotes philosophers or writers of note in our daily conversations during the evening cocktail hour. Unfortunately, Henry's deep thinking pretty much paralyzes his daily activities and he rarely leaves the hotel. He studies everything thoroughly, including the Sunday trip with Joanna and me in the car, and needs several hours notice for activities outside his routine, so that he can think about all of the consequences, including the effects on his state of mind. He is an especially sensitive man and I have enjoyed our hours of conversation, since he has taught me a lot.
Need an answer for remote geographical facts like the capital of the Seychelles Islands - ask Henry; a word in Spanish - ask Henry; the author of a book – ask Henry; the root causes of the Civil, Revolutionary, Second World, or Peloponnesian War – Henry knows. It is really unfortunate that a man of such intellectual stature has become such a recluse. He would have so much to offer so many people.
I will spend today recuperating from yesterday's golf and reading the latest novel that I have started. Perhaps, I will try another one of those great massages. Tomorrow, it will be back out to the links to improve on that 101. I can't let that stand as my best effort in Costa Rica this year. Ciao!
March 18 – From Escazu, Costa Rica:
Tomorrow, I will pick Dave up at the airport around noon. I have not told you much about Dave, so I should probably do that before he arrives and I start referring to him more often in my updates. Of course, if I have already done this in previous updates, it will be a further indication of how deeply I have fallen into the clutches of Alzheimer's.
Dave is a friend from my hometown whom I met in the last couple of years at the bar, which is our regular luncheon haunt. Dave owned a small printing establishment in downtown Lancaster with a partner, but the two of them sold the business recently and Dave now works for the man who bought his shop. I don't know all the particulars, but Dave is probably a multi-millionaire and working just to keep busy. I know that he enjoys watching the stock market at lunch every day, so he probably has his millions invested there. Dave lives in a condominium near the Central Market in our town and doesn't own a car. He also doesn't travel much, but has mentioned one foreign trip (to Germany, I believe).
I joked with Dave about meeting me in San Jose and riding back to Mexico City and he replied, "Don't joke with me about that. I don't get to travel much and that would be an exciting adventure for me." I replied that I wasn't joking, that he could do just that and that's how we got where we are. I can tell by his emails that he is excited about our upcoming adventure and I am eager to share a small portion of Central America with him. I have an idea that this will be a trip that he won't soon forget.
We will probably spend a couple of days looking around San Jose before heading north. The itinerary back through Costa Rica to the Nicaraguan border will depend on Dave's interests. Glee and I may have to swing past the Arenal volcano again, if he expresses an interest in that. If not, perhaps we will meander back the Nicoyan Peninsula and let Dave dip his toes in the Pacific Ocean, which he has apparently never done. Then, we will enter the gauntlet of Central American border crossings, which is guaranteed to be a memorable experience for him, though not necessarily enjoyable.
In the process, I will update you quickly from points along the way and maybe even once more from Costa Rica before we pack the car and depart. Speaking of the car, Glee is having her oil and anti-freeze changed as we speak and should be ready to roll. I had her washed last night and she is gleaming and gorgeous.
Oh, yes, I played golf yesterday, but failed to bring the course to its knees. I shot 105, which was just awful! I am really just trying to stretch muscles and recapture the eye-hand coordination necessary to compete at home and the score is not really important. I always say that when I don't break 100, however. The adventure will continue very shortly. Stay tuned. Adios!
March 22 – From Liberia, Costa Rica:
�!&#%@^!&^�&#*%/$!$%&/=� Glee is overheating again!! I didn't get a chance to inform you that I was leaving Escazu on Sunday to depart for home, but depart we did. Dave toured a coffee plantation yesterday morning, while I packed the car and filled all of the emergency water bottles, just in case. Glee climbed the mountains toward the Arenal Volcano and the needle never wavered. I was so confident that she was fully cured that I didn't check her when we stopped several times for Dave to see the sights along the way. We arrived in La Fortuna with the temperature needle at normal at 6:00 p.m., staying in an inexpensive hotel, which had a view of the volcano, but overcast skies prohibited Dave from enjoying the spectacle.
This morning, we awoke in a steady rain and departed the hotel at 6:30 a.m. About three miles later, I glanced at the temperature needle and it was pegged! I stopped in the rain and got soaked in the process, but the emergency water solved the problem temporarily. This is getting very frustrating!!!!
When we reached Tilaran this morning, Dave, Ronnie, and I checked the reservoir again and the anti-freeze mixture was spouting out around the cap after the motor was shut off, just like before the $300 in repairs. We filled the reservoir, refilled the water bottles, and, after getting Ronnie a large, flat loaf of bread to eat, proceeded to Liberia. Glee did not overheat on the way and the water is still at the full level, but the ride from Tilaran to Liberia is mostly downhill.
Oh, Ronnie is a hitchhiker I picked up along the road leading into Tilaran. Turns out he is (or I should say was since he is no longer with us) a Nicaraguan 19 year-old, heading back to Nicaragua to see his mother and brother. He has been living with his drunk and party-loving father in Puerto Viejo (see my earlier comments about this village) and hasn't seen his family in more than two years. He said that he studied pre-med at a Costa Rican University for three years, but needs to go four more years in Nicaragua to become a doctor. I'm not sure that I believe a word that he said because, although he thanked me for the bread and drink that I purchased for him, he asked to get out of the car in Canas so he could catch a bus to cross the border. The story was that he doesn't have a passport and can more easily cross the border if he travels in a crowded bus. As he got out of the car, he not only did not thank me for the ride, but also asked if I would give him 1,000 colones (about $2.50) for the bus ride. I almost threw him out of the car then. He is not mine to support, but I was willing to help out a hungry kid and provide a little food and a ride.
We will overnight in La Cruce, near the Nicaraguan border and try to make it through Nicaragua tomorrow. That is highly unlikely, however, since we have to go through two border crossings to make it work. I'm sure that we will be able to get beyond the busy city of Managua and eliminate that part of the trip, anyway.
Glee's malfunctions will probably not cause a termination of the trip; it will simply make things inconvenient, having to check the water level at every stop and constantly watching the temperature needle. Ah, well, that's what one gets for relying on an old vehicle. We'll get through this thing, but it will sure make an interesting story. I'll try to update you along the way - stay tuned!! Adios.
March 23 - From Managua, Nicaragua:
Glee performed admirably yesterday after the incident in La Fortuna. After filling her with water, Dave and I just kept going. We even ran the air conditioner for a while to check her out, but everything seemed OK. She still loses water after I shut the engine off, but we keep filling the reservoir as we go along.
We kept plugging through the border crossing at Penas Blancas and arrived in Managua after dark. Dave, who has lived in downtown Philadelphia, was not concerned at all about driving in the city after dark. Actually, it is difficult to tell that our car contains tourists and it probably is safer after dark. Driving in the country is dangerous after dark because of the animals and oxcarts on the roads, but the city is not as bad. We arrived at about 7 o'clock in the Holiday Inn Select Hotel in which Schim and I had stayed on the way down. It is a lot more expensive than local hotels, but is a great treat after a full day of driving. Hot water, lots of towels and washcloths, CNN, CBS, and NBC on the TV, and a sense of being home again. It surely doesn't give one a taste of being in Latin America, but we have already experienced that. Actually, we would have stayed in a local hotel, but the few that we passed on the way into town all looked pretty rough, with dirt courtyard floors, etc.
We will try to make Choluteca, Honduras, today and I will update you where possible. Hasta luego!
March 24 – From Zacatecaluca, El Salvador:
We made it through two border crossings yesterday and they haven't gotten any more efficient. It is just as difficult to exit one country, as it is to enter the next, so two border crossings are like four. That makes yesterday a great accomplishment. Out of Nicaragua into Honduras, then out of Honduras into El Salvador. Just after dark, we got into the same hotel in La Union, El Salvador, that Schim and I stayed in on the way south. We are also in the same Internet center in Zacatecalucas that Schim and I found on the way through this country.
We will depart from familiar ground later today when we enter the beach city of La Libertad, so that Dave can finally get his feet in the Pacific Ocean. It will probably only be his feet, too, since he cannot swim. We hope to find a hotel there for a night or two (depending on how long Dave wants to soak those toes) and then make a stab at crossing Guatemala in a day. That is not likely, however, so I am prepared to spend a night in Guatemala. I don't feel particularly safe in that country, so it will be early to bed and very early to rise (the banditos usually don't get up early), and then cross into Mexico where I feel immeasurably (and probably unjustifiably) safer.
Glee is overheating on occasion when we stop, but she is drawing a crowd at every border crossing. The new paint job looks great and Volvos are not typically seen in Central America, so she is really generating the oohs and aahs. Maybe she is just puffing up with such pride that she is generating too much heat and pressure for the radiator cap. She is an ugly duckling no longer.
Dave is out puttering around Zacatecaluca taking pictures while I am writing this, so I'd better get him out of town before he inadvertently insults somebody. I'll update when access permits. Adios!
March 25 – From Antigua, Guatemala:
This afternoon, we crossed from El Salvador into Guatemala in an hour, which was the most efficient and inexpensive border crossing that I have experienced. The two countries have combined the process in one building and have computerized part of it, making the process relatively pain-free. It cost us less than $20 to make it through, which included the $5.00 that I paid to have a young man help us through the process. No problems with the policia, either.
I mentioned the policia because I had to pay another bribe when we crossed from Nicaragua into Honduras.
Seems that after processing through three or four buildings and almost completing the process, the kid helping us through that border was riding with us, telling me to drive about 100 yards to hand in the last of the bureaucratic paperwork to the police station. I only coasted that distance at less than five mph, and knowing that I would be asked for my passport and driver's license one last time, didn't fasten my seat belt. Neither did Dave. You got it; the cop looked in, took the paper from my hand, and tapped the seat belt, telling me that it was illegal to drive without it. Less than 100 yards at 5 mph!!
He motioned me into his office and pulled out the ticket pad to write the ticket. I kept exclaiming that this wasn't fair, that I always wear my seat belt (which I do) but, of course, he couldn't have cared less about justice; he only wanted the bribe. 50 lempiras later (a little more than $3), I walked out the door, blood pressure boiling, but finally on my way into Honduras. Lovely country!
We spent the night near La Libertad, El Salvador, last night and Dave finally got those toes of his in the Pacific. That dunking was one of his major goals of the trip for and I have photos to commemorate the occasion. I should have taken photos of him slapping the bathroom floor with his flip-flops at 2:00 a.m., trying to kill the huuuge palmetto bugs with which we shared the space. Floridians call them palmetto bugs, but they look like cockroaches on steroids to me. Yuuck, they made me feel creepy, too. We were glad to leave the place first thing this morning.
Dave and I are luxuriating in the most expensive hotel in the ancient town of Antigua, Guatemala, and the most expensive of the trip. The stop was Dave's idea, since he had read all about the town and the hotel in one of the many travel guides he purchased for the trip. Cobblestone streets, a town surrounded by four, very tall volcanoes, and inhabitants strolling in the most colorful clothing of all of Central America – maybe Dave's research and the hot water in the shower and the sink will make Guatemala tolerable after all. Tomorrow, it is up bright and early to head through the rest of the country, finally crossing into Mexico. We will have completed the gauntlet of border crossings if we can get through one more frustrating process. Adios.
March 27 – From Puebla, Mexico:
Readers of this page know that when a city impresses me such that I believe a long week-end or a week-long trip to the place could satisfy anyone in terms of culture, scenery, activities, sites of interest, and quality of lodging, I recommend it to you. Antigua, Guatemala, is just such a place.
If I could select only one destination city of this trip, it would be Antigua and that is saying something because previously I have been most concerned about my safety in Guatemala. Other destination cities on this trip included La Paz on the Baja, Zihuatanejo, and Mexico City. Notice that I did not mention San Jose, Managua, or Acapulco on my list.
Much has been written about the beauty of colonial Antigua and all of it is properly lavish in its praise. This is one gorgeous city, with a must-have photograph around every corner. Pastel colored buildings line cobblestone streets and surround several beautiful plazas. Preserved 1600's-era building ruins change moods with changes of light and the four, huge volcanoes that seem to guard the city make the whole visit a surrealistic Latin experience.
The city yields its beauty slowly, or else I was very tired in the late afternoon when we arrived, but dinner in a small Italian trattoria and the morning sun's rays on the pastel buildings won me over quickly. Add to this the unique, colorful clothing and friendly demeanor of its inhabitants and you have a destination city. Since it is safe to walk almost anywhere, even after dark, and since Guatemala had the best roads in all of Central America, Antigua is a don't miss city. A flight to Guatemala City and a short ride on the expressway to Antigua will produce a vacation that you will not soon forget.
We traveled around 335 miles after leaving Antigua, reaching Arriaba in the volatile state of Chiapas, staying in an awful hotel with no hot water and no nearby access to the Internet. We managed to find an acceptable meal a short drive away, but were glad to leave there the next morning. At least there were no Palmetto bugs - primarily because of the resident lizard in the bathroom. Scared me to death when I walked into the room in the middle of the night, however.
Today, we left Arriaba by 7:30 drove through the mountains of central Mexico at the country's narrowest point and reached the busy city of Puebla at rush hour (5:30). The traffic was horrible, but we persisted until we found the hotel that Schim and I had stayed in several weeks ago. $38 for two, including breakfast and parking is pretty good in a city with more than a million people.
Tomorrow, Dave and I will bus into Mexico City where I will do my best to show him around the magnificent capital. A good friend just gave me a contact person who lives in the city, so I might see more of the place myself. After three days there, Dave will head to the airport by taxi and I will return by bus to Puebla to start the long, lonely journey home. My route should take me to Veracruz before I navigate up the Gulf of Mexico coast to make the border crossing from Matamoros into Brownsville, Texas. The adventure continues. Hasta luego!
March 30 - From Mexico City, Mexico:
Dave is a putterer! He doesn't know the meaning of the word hurry and putters everywhere he goes. Whether it is at 3:30 a.m., when he awakens to go outside for a cigarette, or at 4:30 a.m. when he reawakens, clips his fingernails and turns on the TV while I am sleeping, he putters. He packs and repacks his suitcase, ever puttering around the hotel room, placing this here and putting that there. I guess much of this comes from being a life-long bachelor with no one else around to consider or with whom to converse.
In Puebla, I took him to the corner of the eight block-long pedestrian mall to putter away while I updated the web page. He had eight blocks to join about 250,000 people (no exaggeration) in puttering among the shops, food stands, and street performers. My instructions were for him to putter down one side of the mall, and then putter back the other side to the Internet cafe, where I showed him I would meet him in 45 minutes.
You guessed it. He got lost!! Two hours later, he came puttering back from the wrong direction not even on the pedestrian mall, while I worried about him and his four word Spanish vocabulary. Seems he saw an interesting cathedral, puttered over there, and got turned around somehow. Thank heavens, a friendly English-speaking couple helped him back to the hotel and he puttered back to find me. The only nice thing about the puttering is that Dave admits it and smiles when I tease him about it.
Dave is into things historical, architectural, and anthropological, so he loved the Teotihuacan Pyramids, the Anthropological museum, and touring the cathedrals and government buildings of Mexico City. It appears that this has been a great 12-day vacation for Dave, who has not taken a vacation in 10 or 12 years. He has been in six new countries, seen several different cultures, gotten a little sun, and puttered his way around several large cities, which he dearly loves. He has been truly adventurous in his dining experiences and has tried it all, from sucking the juicy contents out of warmed turtle eggs to tasting all of the spicy sauces on his breakfast eggs, Dave has been a real trooper. He had an unusual, but delicious stuffed chili pepper in cream sauce last night. I was glad to have had him as a partner on the trip, even with all of the cigarette smoke and all of the puttering.
With the help of my wife, we solved the problem of having no money yesterday, when the ATM machines said I had exceeded the daily limit and finally ate my card. Dave has no debit card, so we have been using my card heavily and he evens things out by using his credit card for dinners. It turns out that the banks count Saturday and Sunday as one day of transactions and I had indeed exceeded the daily limit, because we were on the road and had heavy toll and gas expenses. I got the bank to open the machine and return the card and, after the end of the banking day with instructions from my wife, I got more cash.
Today, after we solve the new problem of my broken glasses temple piece, we will take the metro to the huge market where Dave will putter one last time. It is the perfect place to do that. In the morning, I will take the 9:20 bus to Puebla to pick up Glee and head to Veracruz. Dave will taxi to the airport and head home at 11:00 a.m. I will update you when I can as I travel over new territory for me. It should be an interesting journey. Hasta luego!
March 31 – From Veracruz, Mexico:
After the bus ride to Puebla and reacquainting myself with Glee, I arrived in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico before Dave left the ground in Mexico City. Although I have received numerous emails from readers about the dangers of picking up hitchhikers, I arrived in town with another one of them riding shotgun for me. I was confident that I could handle any problem that arose when I saw Claudia hitchhiking on the side of the autopista (turnpike). Yes, Claudia was my first female hitchhiker. A 35 year-old schoolteacher who is married and has two sons, she was returning 30 miles or so from her elementary school to the center of Veracruz where she lives. She spoke no English, but we had a nice conversation and she showed me the downtown before guiding me to the hotel I was seeking. She left on foot to do some shopping on the way home as I was checking in to the little hotel where I will stay tonight.
Incidentally, Claudia tells me that there are no problems for women hitchhikers here, so don't fret too much; if there are no problems for hitchhikers, there are probably not too many problems for those of us who give them rides. I try to use my judgment on whether the person would be a threat to me and I always have my police mace by my side if I need to defend myself. Yes, I know - the people who run into hitchhiker problems also used their judgment, too.
I traveled the 2.5 hours from Puebla in a slight drizzle and Dave and I had the same drizzle as we walked to the breakfast, which was our last meal together. It is different to travel alone and it will take some adjustment until I feel comfortable again. After all, I spent most of the trip since I left Mexico City with Schim the last time in the company of other people. First Schim, then my wife, then Steve for dinners in San Jose, and finally Dave on the way back to Mexico City. Now, except for the occasional Claudia’s that pop into my life, I will be alone.
Sorry, Glee, I forgot about you. Glee ran perfectly all the way to Veracruz and did not overheat. She is making some funny rattling noises now, however, which are familiar from years past. I think that the topes (speed bumps) of Mexico and the cobblestone streets of Antigua have shaken something loose. I'll try to make it back to the States as is and stop to buy a radiator cap, where I'll have them play hunt the rattle. Hasta pronto!
April 7 – From Pennsylvania:
Like an old mare heading back to the barn after a hard day's ride, Glee pounded the Mexican and American pavements, reaching home at noon yesterday. I didn't intend to come back so rapidly, nor take Interstate highways, but a bug hit me in Lufkin, Texas, and I needed to rest and recuperate in my own bed.
In Lufkin, I slept 13 hours with fever, chills, diarrhea, and aching joints after calling my wife to have her search the Internet for the symptoms of malaria. The symptoms, exactly what I was experiencing, but identical to flu symptoms, caused me to drive to a small hospital in Lufkin where I had my blood tested for the tropical disease on Sunday morning. This was not an over reaction since all Central American travelers are advised to be tested for malaria if flu symptoms are experienced for up to 60 days after returning home.
The doctor, who had diagnosed one case of malaria ten years ago, could find none of the little varmints that cause the disease, but advised me to see my doctor when the fever becomes active again, because the critters are easier to see then. Great, now all I have to do is wait for them to strike again! If this was only the flu, however, any little critters are already dead. Let's hope that is the case.
I passed one library in Nagadoches, Texas, that morning after leaving the emergency room, but was too weak to update the web page. After that, Glee and I drove from daylight to dark to reach home and I apologize to those readers who worried about me.
Let me update you on the final days of the trip where some interesting things transpired. I left you in Veracruz, another destination city with a Mexican Naval presence. This beautiful city has a bustling seaport, clean, safe streets, and a frenetic main plaza. I had dinner facing the plaza where strolling musicians, alternating marimba bands, and salespeople selling wristwatches, jewelry, baked goods, shoeshines, and anything else that could be carried made for an interesting meal.
I left Veracruz, heading north on Mexican highway 180, a decent road, except where it crosses through larger cities and deep potholes cover the roadway, making topes to slow traffic completely unnecessary. North of the city, I picked up Julio Caesar, a huge, fifteen year-old - the fourth and final hitchhiker of the trip. Julio spoke no English, but in 200 miles of travel I learned that Julio was married, had a two year-old child and had dropped out of school at 13. He was headed for Monterrey where a relative knew somebody who would accept a propina (bribe) to get Julio a driver's license so that he could get a job as a truck driver.
When he got hungry, I gave Julio a pack of cookies that I had been given on the bus from Mexico City, a large bag of nuts purchased earlier, and a Tootsie Pop that Dave had brought along. He washed it all down with a bottle of water that I gave him from my supply in Glee's trunk. All went well until he asked me for 20 pesos (about $2.00). When I refused, Julio wouldn't talk to me. I had done my share and was not going to give him any money. He was so disgruntled that he asked to be dropped off at the next gas station, which was in the middle of nowhere. I happily obliged. I would have taken him only a few hours from his destination, but his anger caused him several days of time and discomfort. I was glad that I would be out of the country before he started driving 18-wheelers.
My goal for the day was to reach Tampico a large town on the coast, but I got there in the late afternoon, with a couple hours of daylight left. I decided to push northward, knowing that there were few cities between Tampico and the border city of Matamoros. I thought that I could reach Soto La Marina, a dot on the map, before dark and I did just that, arriving at dusk. The only problem was that there was only one hotel in the tiny town and I had to spend the night in what was certainly the filthiest room of the entire trip. The room was so bad that I couldn't even brush my teeth in the slimy sink, choosing to use my bottled water to brush outside. My mind played tricks on me as I tried to sleep and I itched all over, picturing the bugs that must be in the bed with me. Sleep would not have been possible without an emergency half-tablet of Zanax, the tranquilizer, I carry in my toiletries kit in case I have to fly someplace.
In the morning, after a remarkably hot and high-pressured shower, taken with my sandals on because I couldn't put my feet on the filthy floor, I was on the road a couple of minutes before daybreak. I wanted to be away from that dirty room as rapidly as possible! Within two hours, Glee was thoroughly searched at two different military stops by young soldiers whom I left with white Tootsie Pop sticks protruding from their handsome, brown faces. In what was certainly the easiest border crossing of the entire trip, I crossed into the USA at around 10:00 a.m., feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I was unaware of the bug that would knock me down only eight hours later.
Glee performed like a champion the whole way home. She never overheated after leaving Puebla, although I topped off her overflow reservoir a couple of times before I started to drive in the morning. After unpacking her yesterday afternoon, I got her washed, had her oil and air filter changed, and made arrangements to have her windshield ding repaired. She has an appointment next Thursday with my mechanic to repair her cooling system (he suspects a new radiator cap or a flushing will do the trick), to have her brakes checked, and to find the metallic rattle that makes her sound like a threshing machine. But, she is beautiful! Her odometer reads almost 218,00 miles, she took me through some pretty desolate country over some god-awful streets and highways, and she only suffered a few minor problems, which validated the confidence that I had in her before the trip. There were more than a few doubters about her ability to handle the journey. Glee will, no doubt, provide me with a dependable ride until she crosses the 300,000-mile mark.
How far did we travel? It was 4, 375 miles from San Jose to home. For those few who are interested, it was 1,735 miles from San Jose to Puebla and 2,640 miles from Puebla back to my hometown in Pennsylvania. That means that Glee and I traveled a total of 12,031 miles since leaving home exactly three months ago. We had a few problems along the way, but basically did pretty well and learned a lot about other cultures. I hope that you enjoyed this year’s trip; I certainly enjoyed having you along, at least vicariously. I can now be reached at my home email address.
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