Guerrero, Mexico

The girls taking the public transportation to the swimming pool with their cousins. (February 2015)

Tlaxcala, Mexico

Erika picking out pan dulce at our favorite panaderia. (January 2015)

Bend, Oregon, United States

Our family photo taken in Drake Park with all three of my daughters (October 2014)

San Francisco, California, United States

Enjoying the beautiful view from the top of Twin Peaks (July 2015)

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

Exploring the ruins of Palenque during our Great Mexican Road Trip. (May 2014)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Great Move South: Part 4 (Baja Ferries)

We had a relaxing breakfast in the hotel lobby since we weren't in a huge hurry to leave. Our travel plans for today included driving to La Paz and taking an eight hour ferry ride across to the mainland. Our ferry wasn't set to depart until 2:30pm but everyone is encouraged to be there about two hours early to allow for boarding. Baja Ferries goes to Topolobampo or Mazatlan. I had debated back and forth over which route to take. The one to Topolobampo only takes about 8 hours and it's during the day so no need to reserve a room to sleep in. The one to Mazatlan is overnight, we'd need to reserve a room for the evening, and our dogs would be penned into a kennel alone and exposed to the sea elements for about 12 hours. In the end, I decided that short and sweet was the best option for our family and critters. 

The ferry charges an additional fee if your bikes are on the exterior of your vehicle so I stopped in the parking lot to rearrange our load. We had decided that José would board with the girls and the dogs and I would drive the van onto the ferry and park it. As you enter the loading area, you must pass through another inspection area for customs. They inspected our paperwork for the vehicle and my receipt from the aduana in Tijuana when I crossed over and declared our belongings. All the vehicles formed a line to board the "ship." You enter on ground level and the floor literally opens up and you drive down a ramp to the lower levels. The vehicles are parked bumper to bumper.  I grabbed the girls personal bags to keep them occupied for the 8 hour journey as we weren't allowed access to the van during the trip. José and the girls were slow to join me in the lobby upstairs. They had to wait forever for someone to come retrieve the dogs and place them in a kennel. I have no idea where this holding area is and I was very concerned during the trip. In hindsight, I would have just stayed quiet and left the dogs in their kennel in the van. No one looked inside when I was boarding and they would have been warm and cozy there. 
A meal is included with the price of your ticket. It is served cafeteria style so you grab a tray and slide it down the line. While it was not pretty, it tasted decent. There were other desserts, snacks, and drinks for sale but we had brought snacks and juice on board with us. There are several levels on the ship. There was a lounge with a bar, couches that were snatched up quickly for sleeping, foos ball tables, and loud music and large screen TV's. We settled into the TV that had rows of lounge chairs so we could try to relax during the trip. The girls played on their Kindles and covered up in their blankets when it got chilly. The dogs were on my mind the whole time... It was dark by the time we reached the port in Topolobampo. The dogs were shivering and Rocket was wet when we got them back. I will not be repeating this experience with them.

We had to pull the bikes out of the van and strap them back on the van again so I could load up the girls and dogs. As soon as we pulled out onto the road, we heard an awful noise and had to pull over, not 50 feet from the entrance to the port. Now driving in Mexico already makes my husband nervous, add in the dark and Sinaloa and it multiplies. The rear fender connected to the running board had somehow been tweaked and was jammed into the left rear tire. We had no tools in the vehicle...I pulled the tire iron out of the back and we used it along with a large rock to beat on the metal. We were there for almost an hour with only one person asking if we were okay. We finally ripped the screws out and folded it onto the running board so we could continue.

Los Mochis is the next town closest to the port so we had planned to get a motel room and eat. On the way into town, I was lucky enough to get pulled over by the local police for speeding down town. I was going like 5 mph over the speed limit and I couldn't find my freaking driver's license!!! Seriously, the only time I get pulled over and I've misplaced my driver's license. I already misplaced my debit card somewhere between Guerrero Negro and Cabo San Lucas so this was the last thing I needed. Thanks to the dark lighting and my fabulous Spanish, they didn't realize I was an American. José was able to talk our way out of it for 200$ pesos and $20USD. We found a less than desirable motel for about 400$ and we all shared a king bed for the night. José said he didn't get much sleep because of all the talking outside the door but I was out like a light. 

The Great Move South: Part 3

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Great Move South: Part 3 (Cabo San Lucas)

We were finally able to figure out what time zone we were in when we woke up and went in search of the free continental breakfast down in the lobby. When I was planning the move down here, I included a free day in Cabo San Lucas because I knew we were all going to need a break, I wanted to have fun on the beach as a sort of belated 40th birthday present to myself, and José hadn't gotten the chance to visit Los Cabos before. Erika had been with me before when she was 3 years old but has no memories outside of my scrapbook pictures.When we pulled in during the early morning hours, I had no idea how close or far away from the beach we were, just that I was tired and we needed to find lodging. After breakfast, we unpacked our beach towels and bathing suits, snapped leashes on the dogs, and set out to find the beach. Thankfully, it was only 3 blocks away from the hotel so we really scored!
The beaches weren't as crowded as I would have expected which was a great bonus. We walked past the hotels with their roped off lounge areas and headed for the far end of the beach. The girls made a friend right away and the three girls played in the sand. The water wasn't warm enough for me to get in but it was relaxing to sit on the beach with two very yappy dogs and people watch. There was still a good number of vendors that were walking up and down the beaches selling everything a tourist could desire but the only thing that appeals to me is food and drink, cold drink! Jose asked one of the vendors where to find beer at a decent price so he walked up the street a couple blocks and brought back some drinks for us.
When I was here last, we arrived on a Princess cruise line, we anchored off the shore and took boats to shore. I had walked around in search of a glass bottomed boat that I'd read about in a travel guide, and took the family to the Lover's Beach (Playa del Amor). This time, the boats pulled right up on the sand and waited for people to hire them for the ride out. For a ride out of the beach and back, 400$ pesos. I wanted the full tour for José and the girls so he charged us 600$ to tour the bay and see the rock formations. First stop was to get dropped off at the beach and then we arranged for him to return for us a couple hours later. Not as many tourists out here so the dogs weren't quite as hyper. The girls ran all over the beaches searching for sea creatures. There were some sea urchins and the like.
Our boat operator returned right on time and took us for a ride around the bay. There is one rock formation that they call "Scooby" due to its profile. There are the arches and a small peekhole to see through to the Pacific Ocean on the opposite side. After our boat ride, we packed up the kids and headed off in search of food. Due to being an area of high tourism, there are lots of American fast food restaurants available. We walked around in circles trying to find food to satisfy everyone; not happening in our family so I'm not sure why I even bothered trying! I finally gave up and the girls got a medium pizza, two drinks, and a side order of jojo's for 169$. José and I ordered gourmet hamburgers from a stand right now to the hotel. It's funny how two hamburgers that were advertised for 69$ each ended up costing us 300$ pesos. José is relearning the golden rule about confirming all prices before ordering anything.
After we got the food and took it up to the room, we finally got a chance to relax and close our eyes for a moment without having a care in the world. During the evening, I took advantage of the hotel's laundromat to wash three days of dirty clothes. There is something about sitting in a car sweating in the sun with dogs and kids slinging slobber all over that just gives this special odor to your travel clothes. José changed into his running gear and used the gym while the girls got in more swimming in the hotel's pool. The water was even colder than the ocean water so I elected to relax in a chaise lounge and catch up in my journal and travel log.
The dogs weren't allowed in the hotel so I went out every couple hours to give them water and walk them. The temps aren't that high since it's January and the building provides shade to the van most of the day. Tomorrow it's time to get back on the road and make our next push to Bucerias, Nayarit. We'll be taking the Baja Ferries across to the mainland, fingers crossed that nobody gets seasick!

The Great Move South: Part 2

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Great Move South: Part 2

I have driven in Mexico before, quite a bit actually, but never loaded to the gills with everything I own near and dear to me along with hubby and daughters. We chose our route for two reasons in particular. Driving down the Baja is fairly safe due to the high tourist traffic and the fact that it doesn't connect to any destination for drug trafficking like the interior routes do. And lastly, my husband has never gotten the opportunity to travel around and explore his own country and I wanted to take him to Cabo San Lucas for a mini vacation while we were traveling.

It was pretty easy to find our way out of Tijuana, just follow the signs for the next coastal tourist town, Rosarito and then Ensensada. My biggest fear was how we were going to circumvent the collapsed highway without losing too much time. It is always a test of character when something happens, and it always will, no matter how much careful planning you do. The rule in Mexico is that you stick to the toll roads or cuotas and never drive at night. We were lucky to only hit one toll booth the whole length of Baja California and Baja California Sur. I hadn't realized previously that it is divided up into two different states. The distance from Tijuana to Caba San Lucas is approximately 1631 km/1013 miles and takes approximately 20.5 hours to drive according to Mexico's version of MapQuest. I use this website for EVERYTHING related to travel in Mexico because I know the distance between toll booths and have much it's going to cost me in addition to gas and food and lodging which can add up over several days. The first day driving in Mexico was very uneventful. We didn't get on the road until just before 3pm, we think. We could not figure out what the current time was for the entire trip. Our cell phones never updated no matter how many times we turned them off and on. Our GPS would give us the time of our approximate arrival but we couldn't tell what time it was basing that off of.

We stopped for street tacos not long after we got on the road. Our first street food and it was pretty good. The first thing you have to learn about street food is that it's not sanitary 99 times out of a 100. There are no hand washing stations or clean rags. It is open air which means anything in the air can get into your food and it will just get mixed right in. They'll take your money and give you change with the same hand that reaches in to grab your food. So you have to choose early on; delicious and unsanitary street food or expensive packaged food with little flavor. I like to live on the edge so street food it is!

Our first day on the road in Mexico and we broke the cardinal rule of not driving after dark in Mexico. Your nerves start to get a little on edge because you're never sure what's around the next corner, a huge pothole or armed men. There are lots of military checkpoints on the highway where you are stopped, they asked you what you're doing, where you're headed, why, why, why. Jose casually says we're on vacation?! while the van is obviously loaded with everyone we own. Sometimes they ask us to open the doors and peek in at the girls and two yapping dogs that don't like having their privacy invaded.

We checked into the Baja Cactus Hotel about 10:30pm at night and pulled our van into their closed parking lot. We got a gorgeous double room upstairs for only 500 pesos along with a refundable 200 pesos dog deposit as long as they didn't get on the beds. This place was hands down gorgeous and completely in the middle of nowhere. The dogs immediately peed on the stone tile floor...
We were up bright and early the next day in an attempt to make up for lost time. I had already made reservations for two nights in Cabo at the Cabo Inn Hotel and if we didn't make it tonight, we forfeit a night's cost. Driving down the Baja is long, drawn out, and not a lot between Point A and Point B. You had to make sure you gassed up the vehicle when you had the opportunity. More military retens. We finally reached our original first night goal of Guerrero Negro and stopped to fill up the gas tank and find some food. After driving up and down the strip and not finding a lot of places open at the early hour of 1pm, we opted to try out the 40 peso breakfast options. A dismal failure, we paid 60 pesos for a bowl of cornflakes, close to $5. Back on the road with high hopes of finding better food and the highly sought after seafood for Jose.

We finally found seafood in the coastal town of Loreto and Jose was happy with his plate of shrimp. There really wasn't anything else on the menu to order so the girls ate the rice and puree de papa (mashed potatoes) off our plates. I stepped outside to call the hotel in Cabo and cancel our reservation because there is no way we were going to make it all the way before midnight, if that. We decided to try and make La Paz before stopping for the night. Two and half hours down the road, we pulled over and grabbed some hot churros for dessert in Ciudad Constitución. It's nighttime and everything is quiet so we break the cardinal rule again and decide to keep pushing on towards La Paz. It's almost 1am by the time we pull into town and we find a hotel on the road heading south so we can get on the road bright and early in the morning. Jose went inside to book the room and ask about our dogs. The clerk says that dogs aren't allowed but it's okay as long as they stay quiet. We park, unload all of our suitcases and dogs and head for the room. Some gentleman stops us, tells us that dogs are absolutely not allowed under any circumstances, and we're out in the streets again, money refunded.

I'm getting tired and cranky and frustrated. Knowing that we've already paid for the room in Cabo, we decide to risk it and push on to Cabo San Lucas which is about another hour west to the other side of the Baja. The GPS leads us all over town until I find the hotel, right in the middle of the busy tourist zone with loud music blaring and drunk white girls literally stumbling and falling in the streets. The hotel has no parking except for the crowded streets. I knock on the door and wait for the agent to answer the door so that I can inform him we'd like to cancel both nights. We'll still be out one night's cost but we can't afford to park everything we own on the streets and hope it's there in the morning. We spent the next two hours driving around the streets of Cabo trying to find a hotel or even hourly motel that would take four people and two dogs. Some of them won't even let you leave your dogs in the car in the parking lot! As soon as you mention dogs, the deal slams shut. Mexico is famous for motels that rent by the hour...and even those wouldn't take us. I even called one hotel that was listed on the internet and a sleepy lady answered and proceeded to berate me for calling at two o'clock in the morning! Everything coming up on my Google search were the super expensive hotels by the beach and in my desperation, we finally headed in that direction in hopes that we could sleep in one of their parking lots until morning. Finally we found the Fairfield Inn by Marriott and they had a room available and would allow us to keep our dogs in the car in the secure parking lot. We could see the van from our window and it was only $100/night in comparison with the others that charged two and three times as much. We unloaded our suitcases and fell into a deep stupor around 3:30am.

The Great Move South: Part 3

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Great Move South: Part 1

What is it about telling someone that you're moving to Mexico IN A CAR that prompts them to gasp in horror? I'm here to tell you that we did it and WE'RE STILL ALIVE! I knew my biggest headache was going to be getting across the border into Mexico with the correct paperwork for two dogs, one vehicle, and 3 humans. If you think the US has a lot of red tape, try doing anything with the Mexican government!

We selected a 2001 GMC Safari passenger van as our moving vehicle. Everything we held dear to us had to either fit inside, on the roof, or strapped onto the back.
The girls are lucky I left room for them!
Saying goodbye to Grandma Joni
We didn't end up leaving behind our beloved home and getting on the road until late afternoon on Wednesday January 8th. Everyone was trying to help me clean and pack up the house and I was simply overwhelmed. In the end, I just started throwing stuff in boxes and putting them in the garage to deal with in June when we fly back for our planned summer visit. Erika was extremely upset about leaving Grandma and cried the majority of the day and wouldn't leave her side in the days leading up to the move. The van was completely loaded to the brim, I had a rooftop carrier with 8 boxes in it and two huge duffel bags full of shoes and clothes strapped on top, and the girls bikes lashed onto the bike carrier in the rear. The tires looked like they were about to burst under all the weight. In my sheer desperation, I unloaded the Big Daddy fryer and my roasting oven <sob>. And then we were off....

The first day was Bend, Oregon to Modesto, California where my cousin June lives. We made it, albeit pretty late at night and fell right asleep. Jose had his consular appointment Thursday morning and I couldn't get back on the road until he finished up and called me. This appointment would decide our future for the next 10 years; eligible to apply for a waiver or not. We stayed at June's for almost 4 hours waiting for the phone call and it only gave us more questions than answers. The agent marked down that he was eligible to apply for the waiver but that he also had an additional charge of human trafficking for bringing his infant son across the border with him, normally a lifetime ban unless it involves an immediate family member for the sake of family unity!? My head was spinning but we had to get back on the road.

The second day drive was from Modesto to La Mesa, CA which lies just minutes from San Diego and the international border. We had a great evening chatting with my cousin Barney and family that I haven't seen in some time. At the same time we are relaxing, Jose was flying from Juarez to Mexico City to see his family for the first time in more than 10 years and I'M MISSING THIS REUNION. My scrapbooking soul was just screaming over the lost photo opportunity.

The third day is when the adventure truly began! The girls and I woke up bright and early to make the biggest leap of faith in our life. Jose's flight was set to arrive at 9:30am and I had wanted to surprise him at the airport. And I would have made it too but I had to pull over on the side of the highway and search for the dog's certificates of health and I lost a good half hour before I found them in the glovebox, right where I put them for safekeeping! I passed over the border into Mexico and pulled into the lane for autodeclarar (voluntarily declaring my goods) and parked the van. I walked into the building and located the aduana (customs) office and advised the female at the desk that I needed to declare all of my belongings and pay some import taxes so that she could give me a written receipt. From previous experience, I learned the hard way that can't ship anything from Tijuana without a customs receipt with a list of the items you want to ship and customs taxes paid. The girl walked out, had me open all the doors on the van, unload the bikes to look in the back and opened up a few of the large plastic totes. She cleared me and charged me 600MXP/$46USD and gave me a receipt that would allow me to ship all of my household goods and electronics. The only thing you are barred from shipping is used clothing. As long as you have a receipt for it, you can ship new clothes and shoes, etc but you have to pay a 16% IVA importation tax on the amount you paid. After that, I walked farther back in the building and presented my passport and temporary visa. She stamped it and gave me the temporary visa that I have to present within 30 days at my local immigration office in order to get my permanent visa. I did most of the work at my local Mexican consulate in Portland, Oregon but that will be a completely different post.

Jose called me while I was taking care of the paperwork so the surprise was gone. I told him that I was clearing immigration and to stay put. You have to circle back and drive through the regular customs checkpoint where a traffic light will either flash red or green. Every fiber in your body begs for a green light and your sphincter muscles begin to spasm when it flashes red.  And I got a red light... I pulled over to the inspection stall while the agents approached my passenger window and signaled for me to open the doors. I advised them that I had already declared, been inspected, and showed them a copy of my receipt and they waved me on! I even managed to find the airport in Tijuana and I only took out one sidewalk with the running boards on the van. The van was so tall that I was afraid to venture into the parking garage so I just parked on the ramp leading up to the second level. I couldn't describe to Jose how to find me because I was turned around myself. Thanks to cell phones, he finally found me.
Our next hurdle was finding a paqueteria (shipping service) and trying to unload a bunch of stuff out of the van. It was riding so low that the tires were rubbing the fender wells with every bump and that could only equal disaster on Mexican roads. It took us quite a bit of bumbling around and taking the wrong road before we found Castores. They set a pallet on the ground and we started unloading all of the totes and misc boxes. Then they wrapped everything on the pallet in plastic wrap and charged us 1900MXP/$146USD to deliver it to their office about 30 minutes from our house. It will probably even beat us there since we have a couple rest days built into our schedule.

Then we had to link up with the guys who were assisting us in legalizing the van so it can stay in Mexico permanently. If you enter on a tourist visa, you can pay a deposit and drive your American vehicle as long as your visa is valid. Once it expires, you have to take the vehicle back to the US border and turn in your permit in order to get your deposit back. It also means that a Mexican national can not drive the vehicle unless they are your spouse. We had already emailed down copies of the title and VIN number and identity and proof of Mexican address. Now you can do all of this on your own but we were trying to use a service in order to save time. The guy gave us directions that led me straight into 4 lanes of traffic headed BACK to the US border and I wasn't about to attempt that with my husband in the car so I just put it in reverse and backed up about 3 city blocks out to the streets. There are street laws in Mexico but they are a little more flexible. We met the guy, we drove to two different places, and our van was legalized within an hour. Then it was food, gas, and get on the road.

The Great Move South: Part 2


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