Friday, May 30, 2008

Home at Last!

Well, 3,300+ miles later we completed the drive from Seattle to Mexico City! We arrived at the condo late on Tuesday afternoon. Luckily, we found a parking place on the street that could accommodate the truck and trailer.

We were met by another teacher, Xou (say Zoo), from Vancouver, BC, who arrived in DF about a month ago. He has been living in the condo with the intentions of finding an apartment closer to the Inter Act school. We unloaded our basics needs stuff that we had been unloading into hotels every night and headed upstairs.

The first thing I noticed was the very strange secured parking garage. There is a main door at street level, 2 interior secured doors, and a secured door to our condo. That’s not so unusual, but the strange part is that there are 4 rows of tandem parking spaces (maybe 40 yards) for 3 different buildings. I don’t even know how many cars the garage can accommodate, but there are a lot. Fernando explained that the tenants park according to their schedule of when they need to move their car out of the garage and that if they need to move and another car(s) is in their way they go knock on their neighbor’s door and have them move!!! It is hard for me to believe that this works.

After that initial shock, we made our way to the 2nd floor to the condo. It has 3 bedrooms, the world's smallest bathroom, and is a fairly good sized condo. However, the kitchen is being redone so there is no refrigerator, stove, sink, cupboards or counters. Can I even tell you how much we cherish our Coleman cooler at this point??? And there is a small utility room with a utility sink, but the washer is missing. We have some couches and Xou has a bed, but Mike and I are back on the inflatable mattress. The condo is owned by Fernando’s brother and we have been told that the kitchen will be completed “soon,” a new washer will also be installed, and a bed will be provided for Mike and me.

The good thing is that we clicked with Xou right off the bat! We call him our new son. He has been so helpful with info about transportation and teaching, plus he is just a regular dude. We asked Fernando and Rosa if the 3 of us can just keep the condo and rent it for a year, but so far we don’t know if that’s possible or not. And if we could get the improvements completed we’d be very happy! The neighborhood seems safe and Sitka has barked with all the dogs on the block. Unfortunately, it takes about an hour to get to the school – using a bus OR a cab. Ugh. That’s not so good, but all things considered we like the condo.

On Wednesday we unloaded the truck and trailer and I thought I was going to die. We were running on about 5 hours of sleep, the 1.5 mile DF altitude, no showers (couldn’t find the towels yet), and 2 flights of stairs up cement stairs. When that was all done, Fernando parked the truck in the very back of the garage (I don’t plan on driving for a long time) and chained the trailer to a telephone pole on the street. And on Fernando’s recommendation, we removed the WA license plate from the trailer in hopes that it won’t be stolen since it obviously belongs to gringos.

Thursday morning Xou, Mike and I took a cab to school (just $5 US dollars with tip). We observed Xou’s 8:30AM class, had several hours of training with our manager, Michael, and observed more classes until 8:00PM. I was very worried about leaving Sitka alone for that long, but we got home at 9:00PM and there were no “surprises” from her. I immediately took her outside to do her business and then fed her a late dinner. I was so proud of her for holding it in!Mike and I each have 4 groups of students and we need to create our Lesson Plans for each group’s classes for next week. Plus, I am scheduled to teach my first class this Saturday! There is a lot to process and a lot to do before that first class, but I am STOKED and full of energy – even though I am physically beat.

Mike and I just have to remind ourselves about our quest for adventure and a desire to get out of our comfort zone. Well, I am here to tell you we are definitely out of our comfort zone!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

English Grammar

Oi vey!!!

Does anyone who speaks English really know English grammar? I don’t know grammar, but why would I? I can speak English and that’s all I need! Well, yesterday and today Mike and I got a rude awakening…we need to learn English grammar.

The Inter Act school managers (Fernando and Rosa) met us at the Queretaro branch yesterday after our first teacher training. The training was led by one of the teachers and it was a lot of info about the style of conversational teaching utilized at Inter Act. We met a few of the other teachers and the branch manager, Chad. Mike and I got just a bit confused when the trainer touched on grammar, but I didn’t think too much about it.

For lunch Fernando and Rosa drove us to San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato. San Miguel de Allende is an older colonial type of Mexican city with lumpy, brick (I think), narrow streets that is partially built on a hill with a few ex-pats living there. It was the kind of Mexican city that you might imagine from a movie – very rustic and the driving was, of course, a little crazy. And it was nice to be out of the driver’s seat and let someone else think about the traffic!
Us with Fernando.
Fernando and Rosa.

Back at the school we observed teachers teaching and met many of the students. While both the students and teachers were having fun, grammar was emphasized over and over. Gulp.

This morning we went back to the school for a 1.5 hour grammar training/refresher with all of the other teachers. It went pretty quickly as it was a review for those already teaching, but for us it was a bit overwhelming. Luckily, we’ll be able to bone up together and learn about modal verbs, passive voice, verb tenses like Past Present, Past Present Continuous, and all those other wacky things.
This afternoon Fernando and Rosa will lead us from Queretaro into DF. Fernando will drive our truck because he says it would be very challenging for me to maneuver the truck and trailer though the city. Inter Act provides our first month’s accommodation while we search for an apartment so we will be heading to a condo that Fernando and Rosa used to live in. And again it will be nice to be in the passenger seat….next post from MEXICO CITY!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

¡Viva la México!

This was our view of the border on the pic and you can see both the American and Mexican flags.

As promised, I am writing from Queretaro, in the state of Queretaro, MEXICO! We will go to the Inter Act school in the morning for training and observation. The same for Tuesday and then we’ll head down to Mexico City. We’ll follow our managers back to Mexico City and if you read this whole post you will agree that that’s a good idea…

The border crossing at Laredo, TX was a snap. I am so glad that we got our visa’s, Menaje de Casa (official list of everything we imported into Mexico), and vehicle import sticker BEFORE we crossed. I can’t imagine trying to get those same docs at the border. I think of the many times I crossed into Canada and of course there was never a language barrier so I was surprised that many of the Mexican officials didn’t speak English.

We did, however, manage to find a Mexican cop that spoke English. About 2 minutes after entering Mexico we were stopped and this officer said I had driven down a one-way street (I didn’t see any one-way signs or indications that I couldn’t go down that street) and that he was going to have to give me a $62 (US dollars) ticket and follow him to the police station to pay. Bear in mind that a Mexican youth that was helping other officers directed me down this street so I think something was fishy with the whole thing. I tried to look pathetic and told the officer that I wouldn’t do it again, but he was persistent. Mike asked him if a $20 US dollar bill would help, slipped him the bill, and we were on our way! That, my friends, was our first taste of bribery.

The drive got interesting when we got to Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo León. I don’t know how I did it, but I thought I missed a highway exit so I tried to circle back around. Circle around indeed. For about 2 hours Mike and I “toured” Monterrey and I got a crash course in driving in a large, crowed Mexican city in a truck with 5 gears, towing a trailer, with a cranky husband and a panting dog. I started to cry at one point, but I was afraid I’d lose a contact lense. So I reminded Mike and myself that we are on an adventure, we took deep breaths, I put the pedal to the metal and we found our way back to the correct highway! But I’ll admit – yesterday I could have used a valium or two.

We stayed in a small hotel in Matehuala, in the state of San Luis Potosi, last night and then figured we’d have a short 5 hour drive to Queretaro this morning. We were hoping to get to our hotel early and RELAX after that wacky first day of driving. We made great time (now that I am so good with that truck and trailer!) until we started looking for the hotel our Inter Act managers had set us up with. We managed to take a 3 hour tour of this large city that has not just one, but two highways numbered 57. We drove by our hotel twice, but could not find the access road to actually get to it. I wanted to cry again. But instead Mike and I looked at each other and started laughing. FINALLY we found it and checked in.

A couple of side notes: I had heard about cattle lots and how disgusting they are, but I had never seen one. In Duvall the cows at least get to roam around in grassy fields. But there was a cattle lot in New Mexico next to the freeway that went for about 1 mile and it was a very sad sight to see these beautiful animals in such pathetic conditions. Do a little research and you’ll understand what I mean.

Secondly, I actually saw 2 dead horses in the freeway median in Mexico and 3 dead donkeys on the side of another freeway shoulder, also in Mexico. Mike thinks the owners move the bodies to the freeway so that they can be removed by some sort of dead livestock retrieval companies. I had never heard of such a thing. It was quite upsetting to see these beautiful animals in that condition.

Lastly, we are very happy to be here and look forward to each day and the surprises in store for us. I realize I’ll see other animal stuff that upsets me, but I will remind myself that I am in a new culture with new ways of life.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday Morning in Laredo, TX

This is it! Today we'll cross the Laredo border into Mexico.

I think we have everything we need for immigration and customs. Yesterday we met several people here in Laredo that provided good info about the drive.

Also, we heard from the school managers and they want us to stop in Queretaro, about 125 miles north of Mexico City (DF) before going to DF. The original Inter Act language school is in Queretaro (DF is the 2nd branch) and we will do some training/observation there before heading to DF.

We plan to be in Queretaro on Sunday and then go on to DF with the managers on Tuesday. The next time I post we'll be in MEXICO!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Night in Laredo, TX

Yee-haw. All these months of planning are finally coming to fruition!

We rolled into Laredo at about 3:00 today and accomplished the following:
1. Purchased Mexican auto insurance.
2. Cancelled our US auto insurance.
3. Got the oil and air filter changed in the truck.
4. Did our laundry from the past 8 days.
5. Tried to find a car wash, but settled with wiping down the interior.
6. Went out to dinner in a nice restaurant and brought Sitka Mike's leftover ribeye steak.

Reflections from our travel from Seattle to Laredo:
1. I am so proud to be an American and that will never change - no matter where I live.
2. People are inherently kind to one another. A smile and a thank you (in any language) goes a long way. The Golden Rule lives on.
3. It is FREAKING HOT in the southwest US.
4. I now consider myself an amateur "truck driver." Who would have thunk? But I can back that truck and trailer into any spot. And with confidence! (Although I still do not understand why I have to turn the steering wheel the opposite way I want the trailer to go!)

5. Sitka is the best traveling doggie I could have ever hoped for. And as you can see she is very comfortable when we stop for the day.
6. I love Mike more than I ever thought I could!

Pics from Arizona

These are the flower pics from Arizona related to my last post:

And more pics with the wind storm and interstate closure:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arizona/New Mexico Wind & Dust Storm!!

Whewwww…what a day in the Great Southwest.

We left Buckeye this morning after a nice evening with Matt and Lisa. And before leaving I took some pics of some of the lovely flowering plants in Lisa’s neighborhood. It amazes me that plants can grow in rocks and produce such vibrant colors.

And as we were leaving Lisa told us that the area was expecting very heavy winds and it was a “red alert.” We hit the road and it really was windy – it reminded me a bit of our Harley ride to Sturgis, South Dakota when we hit the really bad winds in Wyoming and the bike was all over the road. But today I drove at a slower pace, kept my eyes on the trailer, and all was going well. “Was” being the key word.

About 25 miles from the New Mexico border, Interstate 10 East came to a complete halt. The 2 lane interstate and the shoulder quickly filled with mostly large, commercial trucks with the occasional passenger vehicle. We talked to some truckers and found that the interstate was closed (both directions) due to the high winds, dust storm and zero visibility. Ugh. We also talked to a Customs Boarder patrol officer and found that the closure was for over 100 miles – all the way to Las Cruces, New Mexico!

So for about 4.5 hours Mike, Sitka and I entertained ourselves in the truck and with walks through the truck “parking lot.” Finally the road was opened around 8:30pm and we found our way to the nearest motel several miles into New Mexico. Soooo welcome to New Mexico!

Unfortunately, I am unable to upload my pics, but I will try again in the morning.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Regional Differences – 110F in Phoenix!

The most significant difference I have noticed since starting this trip is the landscape. People new to the Seattle area complain about the constant drizzle. But it’s that drizzle that produces an abundance of green plants and trees. And it’s the green that sets Seattle apart from the southwest corner of the US – and most other parts as well.

Nevertheless, the people here in Phoenix are creative. Instead of watering lawns, some homeowners just flood them, with the hope of a green lawn.

Another difference is the lack of Starbucks or any other coffee stores. I don’t even see any of the little drive-through espresso shacks. Although I don’t have a latte habit at home, I was expecting to buy one whenever I wanted one on the road – not that easy!

Along with the coffee stores is the lack of wi-fi hotspots. They may be here somewhere, but they are not widely advertised.

Lastly, the further south we have driven, the larger the Hispanic population becomes. The Seattle area has a much larger Asian population than Hispanic and it is interesting to note the shift in demographics.

We made it to the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix by 12:50 on Monday only to find out that the window for vehicle import stickers closed at 12:30! And I tried my best to get it processed anyway, but finally I was told that the system had closed down at 12:30 and that we would not be able to get the sticker until Wed morning at 8:00.

We had dinner in Chandler Monday night with Mike’s childhood friend, Scott, and his wife, Vicky. Sitka got to run around the pool (the biggest “water dish” she has ever seen!) with Scott’s weiner dog, Ellie Mae. We didn’t stay late because of our “date” with the Consulate…this morning we went to straight to the Consulate and after going to the liquor store for a copy of my passport and a copy of my FM3 visa, we got the import sticker! Now we just need to apply for Mexican insurance for our truck and cancel our US insurance.

We are going to lay low today, keeping cool in our motel room with Sitka. (Yesterday was a record breaker with a high of 110F and the day before was also a record breaker at 105F. Today’s forecast is 108F!) Later we will head to Buckeye for dinner with Mike’s bro, Matt and wife Lisa. We’ll stay in Buckeye tonight and head out early for somewhere in Texas on Wednesday. My driving route was a little aggressive so we’ll take an extra day through Texas and plan to enter Mexico on Friday, the 23rd.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday in Phoenix

Oops - a couple of people advised me that I was all confused on our first post...we actually left Duvall on Thurs and today is Monday morning where we woke up in Phoenix! And this is the view from Mike's camera as we crossed the California-Arizona stateline... Right before this we saw this "windmill farm" - or at least that is what it appeared to be. It was just like farming, with patches of windmills spotting the countryside. And notice the row of windmills in the distance ont the hill in the second pic. I just can't help wondering how the energy is harnessed.
It is hot and dry this morning and we may try to get to the Mexican Consulate office where we can do the forms for importing our truck and trailer into Mexico. Or we may just stay in this Starbucks, drink more coffee and beat the heat!

This is the first long roadtrip Mike and I have ever taken together and Sitka's first time staying in motels and not having a yard to run a round in. All in all, the three of us are getting along very well together. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day Three on the Road to DF

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been on the road 2 days! This morning we are waking up in Willows, CA in the northern part of the state, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

We got a slow start on Wednesday and left Duvall at 1:00. But who cares?! We finished packing the trailer and truck and were thankful that everything fit! The truck is running like a charm and the trailer has not been a problem at all. I’m sure glad we changed to the low-end tires…the ride is much smoother without those giant, over-sized tires. Sitka has settled in and when she’s not sleeping, she is butting her head up against us asking for some attention.

We got to Mickey's & Ginnie's (Mike’s bro and sis-in-law) house (just outside of Portland) around 6:00 on Wednesday. Mike’s youngest brother, Monty, and his family joined us over there. It's something to see the Nickell brothers together - and there are two more of them too! It was Tillie’s (Mickey’s new dog) first time with an overnight guest and after a bit she warmed up to Sitka, but it was funny to watch them do the “alpha female dance.”

Before we knew it, it was time to get dressed and hit the road on Thursday morning. The weather was great all the way through Oregon. I remember thinking how lush and green the I-5 corridor is. And the rest stop restrooms – I had always appreciated how clean and tidy the Washington State restrooms are, but I was VERY impressed with the Oregon rest stop restrooms too! Sitka has been just a princess, with minimal barking, and actively pulling me around the rest stop pet areas. That girl never runs out of energy.

Mike got a couple of great pics of Mount Shasta, just north of here. And the scenery has changed from the varied greens to the scrub brush with a noticeable lack of trees.

We’re staying at a Motel 6 because it allows dogs – and big dogs like Sitka! It is clean and has a strong air conditioner. It was probably around 95F when we pulled in here last night and we needed that blast of cold air.

Our goal today is Indio, CA, but that might be a little aggressive…we’ll see. ¡Adios! p.s. I'm unable to upload any pics, but I will try again later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Last Day in Duvall

Wow. I can hardly believe we leave tomorrow for Mexico City. We are just about finished with our packing, but we're going to have lunch with my friend, Cheryl.

We still need to attach the trailer to the truck and drive it around a bit. Mike is freaking because he's worried about me driving all the way and not knowing how to drive with a trailer.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Menaje de Casa

The Menaje de Casa is an inventory list of everything we will bring into Mexico with us. Because we have FM3 retiree visas we are allowed to bring our household goods into Mexico without being charged import fees (one time only.) However, there is a process to go through.

Ours involved another visit yesterday to the Mexican Consulate in Seattle with Mr. Diaz. We presented our list of every item (with a dollar value attached to each item), paid a $127 fee and were told to return after 1:30. At 1:30 we received our Menaje de Casa that has the apostille (a stamp that is a verification of a public official's signature) on each page.

Now we just have to get an import sticker for our truck and trailer. We may do this while we are in Phoenix, or we may wait until we actually get to the border crossing in Laredo, TX. Mr. Diaz said we may be able to apply for Mexican license plates because our truck is older, 1992. Does anyone have any info about this??

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dog Certificate of Health

Saturday Sitka had an appointment with her vet. She's doing well for a 10 year old German shepherd and she's current on her vaccinations. We left with her Certificate of Health that we'll need for her entry into Mexico.

We have been taking Sitka everywhere with us in the truck. She is always very happy to get a leg-up into the extended cab of the truck and most of the time she sits right between Mike and me, looking forward out the windshield. Unfortunately, she still is barking at the occasional person walking along a Duvall street - and if that person is walking a dog Sitka gets very excited. We are trying to break her of that habit, using a muzzle and positive feedback for her when she DOESN'T bark. The weird thing is that when we're cruising downtown Seattle, windows down, with many, many people on the sidewalks Sitka has been absolutely perfect - no barking! And why downtown, but not in quiet Duvall??? Hopefully, she won't bark in DF!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

FM3 Visas

We were told it could take 2-3 weeks to get Mexican visas while in Seattle. And then Nancy and Paul called from Mazatlan and gave us some first-hand info on how to manuever the visa red tape maze. Thank you Nancy and Paul!

On their advice, we headed back to the Mexican Consulate in Seattle Tuesday morning. We had gone there once, but felt so intimidated we left! But this time we got there before the office opened at 8AM. We met Mr. Diaz who was very helpful.
We left to gather documents and when we returned on Friday Mr. Diaz worked some magic and expedited our visas! We can now cross the border with FM3 visas in hand.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Girls' Night Out

Beth, me, Cheryl & Julie. Last night was Girls’ Night Out. We’ve know each other since grade school. And about 9 years ago (after our 25 year high school reunion) we began a tradition of getting together once a month or so. No husbands, no boyfriends, no kids – well, except one time when Cheryl brought her brother!

We go out to lunch or dinner, or to a movie, or to play BINGO, or to race bumper cars or go-carts, or play putt putt golf, or bowling, or anything to just get together and yak, yak, yak. Every time we go out I have a BLAST!!! We talk about our current lives and reminisce about our past, we complain about work, we share stores about family, we gossip about friends, we describe our latest vacations , we brag about our successes, and we whine about our disappointments.

But most of all we talk to each other and we listen to what we each have to say. I usually cry on the way home because I have had such a good time. I am going to miss Girls’ Night Out.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Ten days and counting! Mike and I have entered the "farewell" phase - seeing friends and family and saying our goodbyes.

I mentioned recently that Mike went to Denver to see his daughter and brand new granddaughter when we returned from DF. Plus, we have seen his middle son (who lives not too far away) more frequently. And he has had phone calls from his oldest son in Eastern Washington.

Yesterday we met with my brother, cousins, and aunt for dinner at a hotel in Seattle. Our parents are gone so I hope my brother will keep up with the rest of the family so he doesn't feel abandoned.

Also, on the weekend we had coffee with a Terri and Wes from Duvall. Terri and I worked in the Legal Dept of AT&T Wireless as paralegals. And their doggie, Trotter, likes to play with our doggie, Sitka.

And to finish the weekend, we went to an open house for our friends that teach English in Indonesia. They just finished their first year of teaching and are spending a month in Seattle before heading back for year two. Denise and Billy were our inspirations to teach and we have followed their blogs (see links on my blogroll) throughout the year.
Denise used to work on Mike's IT team at AT&T Wireless.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Carpe Diem

Seize the day. That’s basically what Carpe Diem means. I actually had to look it up yesterday when I read my friend’s blog. That friend is Beth in Toronto and I have added a link to her blog on my blogroll to the right.

Beth is somewhat in turmoil…she wants to move to Mexico and experience more out of life along with her family. But she’s having some challenges and her blog address these challenges in a delightfully entertaining way. Check it out.

So back to Carpe Diem. This morning Mike and I learned that one of the real estate agents I work with has kidney cancer. He found out just about the time we returned from Mexico and although he has had radiation treatments, the prognosis is not good. They cannot operate nor do chemotherapy. Mike and I are very upset about this news.

This man was very generous with his time and knowledge when I was a fledgling, just beginning my short-lived real estate career. He always took the time to answer all of my questions, he gave me pointers, and he made me feel like I could succeed. I have always looked up to him in an industry in which you never know if an agent is going to stab you in the back.

And this man has also lived a great life! He has done so many things, lived several different places, raised a loving family, spoiled a few dogs, and owns multiple classic cars. But now it is all quickly coming to an end.

This makes Mike and me very, very sure that we are making the right decision in moving to Mexico and starting all over – even though Mike had emergency brain surgeries in Mexico, we have never actually been teachers, and we know very little Spanish. We never know when we will find out that our time is up – and some people don’t even get any notice.

Carpe Diem.