Thursday, October 10, 2019

Bisbee, Arizona to Naco, México—A Pleasant Day Trip

A Wonderful Lunch and Friendly Experience in Naco, MX! 

     Bisbee, Arizona, north of “The Wall” and Naco, Mexicó, nestled against the south side of “The Wall” are worlds apart culturally, yet only ten miles away from each other. When we discovered the Bisbee Bus would pick us up in the Bisbee Historic District and drop us off a block from the pedestrian border crossing into Mexicó, we decided to head to Naco, MX for lunch.
     As we walked toward the Naco pedestrian border crossing, I couldn’t resist snapping two quick photos, one including the ugly, sad “Wall” separating the United States people from the Mexican people. As I was recalling the horrible Berlin Wall, I heard a loud shout and noticed a U.S. Border Patrol guy marching toward us. Busted! I guess I wasn’t supposed to be taking photos of the “The Wall”. I hastily tucked my camera in my purse and we continued casually to the gate. I gave a friendly wave over my shoulder to the U.S. Border Patrol guy who followed us until we entered the Immigration checkpoint. Weird!
Naco, Arizona Pedestrian Border Crossing
"The Wall" Separating Naco, AZ from Naco, MX
           The Mexican Immigration officer at the border greeted us with a friendly smile and then checked our passports, Jon’s backpack, and my purse. Guns are strictly prohibited in Mexicó and I had wisely left my pepper spray at home. He handed our bags back and asked where we were headed. Jon told him we were walking to Mariscos Mirador for lunch.
“Walking?!” the officer exclaimed in English. “You’ll never make it! It’s way down at the other end of town. You’ll need a taxi.”
“I pulled out my Google Maps printout and said, “Goggle says it’s only 1.2 miles down the highway. Are there sidewalks all the way?”
He laughed good-naturedly and said, “Yes, there are sidewalks. Have a good lunch.”
          Walking past the pretty little Naco plaza, we studied this cute heart-shaped container half-filled with plastic bottle caps. What is the purpose of this? Bottle caps aren’t recyclable, are they? Is it to discourage people from tossing their bottle caps on the ground? Simply a form of art? We never figured it out, but it looked clever and nicely maintained.
          We admired a couple of statues on our walk and commented on how quiet the town was. But the best part of our stroll was how friendly the people were to us. At the fire department, a man proudly asked us in English if we needed help finding anything. Mariscos Miramar? He pointed down the road and said, “Keep going and stay to the left.”
As we passed a small house where a man and teenager were hanging laundry to dry, we greeted them in Spanish. The man returned our greeting in English and asked if he could help us. He said Mariscos Miramar was very far down the road and did we need a ride. Jon said, “No, thank you. My phone shows it’s only another half-mile farther. We can walk.” The three of us had a friendly ten-minute conversation in English before we were able to say, “adios” and continue our walk.
Mariscos Miramar in Naco, Mexico

          By the time we reached Mariscos Miramar, we were hungry and our mouths were watering at the thought of Camarones Empanizados and cerveza for lunch. It was a bit before noon, but the restaurant was open and smelled as though they had just finished the morning rush for huevos rancheros. The shrimp were fresh and delicious, the portions very large, and the service friendly.
I was still enjoying my Michelada when I noticed through the window that the rain was coming down in sheets. “Good thing we brought our umbrellas,” I commented. Within minutes, our waitress appeared and asked us if we needed a ride. How thoughtful! Jon said that we would appreciate a ride to the border crossing. He asked her how much and she offered it for 50 pesos (about $2.50US), a very low price for their trouble.
She brought me a giant black trash bag sliced down one side to use for a rain poncho and said her husband would bring the car to the front for us. We thanked her profusely, dashed through the downpour, and happily hopped in the back seat of their SUV. At the border, Jon tipped the friendly man 100 pesos (about $5 US) and thanked him. It seemed clear that our driver was grateful for the money.
We couldn’t have asked for a nicer experience in Naco, Mexicó. We’ll definitely return to Mariscos Miramar next year, maybe for breakfast next time, when we are staying at the QueenMine RV Park in Bisbee, AZ.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Visit from Mexican Federales While RVing in México

Our Experience with GrinGo!

     It started when our EEZ Tire alarm on the dash of our motorhome suddenly began beeping and flashing, indicating a rapid decrease in tire pressure in the front driver’s side tire—A TIRE GOING FLAT! Jon was driving and quickly pulled to the shoulder of the toll road.
     Thank goodness, there was a wide, fairly safe shoulder to pull onto—this is one very good reason to drive the toll roads (called cuota roads) in México whenever possible. Those free roads are free for a reason—no shoulders.
     Jon’s first comment was, “That EEZ Tire alarm just paid for itself. It prevented us from driving on a flat tire and ruining it.”
     His second comment was, “Oh, sh--, we don’t have a tire jack.” Our new-to-us RV included a spare tire, nicely mounted on the rear with a pretty tire cover. But no jack. And we hadn’t purchased one yet.
     We looked around to orient ourselves and realized we were just past an exit to the big city of Tepic, Nayarit and a small town named Bellavista. This has to be good, we thought. A Green Angel, the free roadside assistance service in México, must be working this stretch of highway and would cruise slowly by soon, searching for stranded motorists.
     Jon calmly (nothing much gets him rattled) pulled out his phone and started punching buttons. He said, “I’m sure glad I downloaded this GrinGo app on my phone. I’m calling the Green Angels.” He explained to them that we had a spare tire but needed an RV jack and an air compressor (our spare tire was about 20 pounds low and our RV air compressor had just quit working a couple of weeks previously while Jon was trying to inflate the spare to full pressure). He was told the Green Angels did not have an air compressor. Really?
     The Green Angels put Jon in contact with the Mexican Federal Police, the Federales. He explained where we were and what we needed. About 30 minutes later, the Federales’ car pulled up behind our RV and two officers approached the driver's door. Jon hopped out and had a conversation with them in Spanish, explaining again that we needed an RV jack and air compressor to change our flat tire. They didn't think the tire looked that flat since the rim wasn't sitting on the pavement.
     Jon showed them the EEZ Tire monitor and told them the air pressure was dropping fast, already down by over 20 pounds of pressure—not safe to drive on. They looked a bit skeptical. Most Mexican would continue driving on a tire that was simply low on air.
     The officers were surprised that we didn’t have a jack. Jon explained, laughing with embarrassment, that he hadn’t noticed the RV didn’t have one when we bought it. I wondered if the Federales were thinking, dumb gringos.
     One officer was discreetly running our license plates. The Arizona plate on the back met his approval, it appeared. When he got to the front, a troubled look passed over his face. He exclaimed, “Guerrero?!” Our MEXICO trinket license plate had pieces of Guerrero stickers on it, as it was created from strips of license plates from that Mexican state. He was probably thinking, These might be dangerous folks if they are from that warring state.
     Jon laughed good-naturedly, knowing the best way to put these men at ease, and explained that this was a souvenir we had purchased from a vendor in Sayulita. The officers had never seen one of these “license plates” that are commonly sold in tourist areas. It could have said “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” and the Federales wouldn’t have given it a second glance—unless, of course, the Guerrero stickers caught their eyes.

     Once we passed their scrutiny, one of the officers called a roadside assistance company to come help us. Thirty minutes later, two tire repair men (llanteros) arrived in a car with a jack meant to lift a car, not an RV, but they weren’t afraid to give it a try. “Sorry”, one said, “no air compressor”.
     The Federales stayed (to keep us safe while we were stranded?) the entire time the llanteros were jacking up the RV, helping Jon change the tire, and having him sign the paperwork so they could charge the government for our free service. Their bill said they would only be paid 200 pesos (about $10 US) for their service!

     One of the officers helped Jon lift the flat tire onto the spare tire mount and refasten the cover. I realized that the Federales were there to assist and protect us. We appreciated their help so much!
     I asked Jon to tip the llanteros for their work, but they said they could not accept it. I’m pretty sure they were not allowed to accept tips and knew the Federales were watching to make sure they adhered to the rules on this. After the Federales drove away, the llanteros were still standing beside their car. Waiting?
     I lifted two cold Diet Cokes in their direction and they grinned. I asked Jon to take the sodas and 100 pesos each to the men. They were very appreciative.
Delia’s Trailer Park in Etzatlán 
     We had left the beautiful and peaceful Delia’s Trailer Park in Etzatlán that morning thinking our drive to Mazatlán would be easy and uneventful. But we were reminded that “Life in Mexico: Never a Dull Moment”. Sometimes we have unexpected adventures during our life and travels there. Maybe I should write a sequel to this book.

     In Mazatlán, a llantero and his teenage son came to Las Jaibas RV Park where we were staying to repair our tire. They discovered a large bolt had punctured our tire and was still lodged there. They efficiently repaired the tire on the spot and swapped it with the spare for only 300 pesos ($15 US) plus a 50-peso tip which the llantero gave to his son.
     We appreciate that services in México are inexpensive and that the people are so friendly and helpful. We’re so glad we retired in México four years ago.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

RV Park Living in San Miguel de Allende, Trolley Tour of the City, and Hiking the Botanical Garden

At the San Miguel de Allende Mirador (Lookout)
      We finally got to go on the Trolley Tour of San Miguel de Allende! On our third attempt, we arrived early enough to purchase a ticket before they sold out. We had to settle for a Spanish-only tour as there is only one bilingual tour per day in July, but it was fine. It was actually good practice for me to learn to hear Spanish and Jon could interpret most of the information that I couldn’t understand.
     Much of the tour we had already experienced while walking around downtown, but the view from El Mirador (the outlook) was worth the 40 pesos ($2 US) per person, providing a panoramic view of the city. It was especially breathtaking to see the Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel, the magnificent neo-Gothic 17th-century church, from this mountainside vista.
     There are so many beautiful old churches in San Miguel de Allende, I could do an entire blog post on that topic alone. There are so many beautiful old churches in San Miguel de Allende, I could do an entire blog post on that topic alone. Designated a World Heritage Site in 2008 by UNESCO, San Miguel de Allende's well-preserved historic center is filled with buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
     One of my bucket list items was to visit the El Charco Botanical Garden in San Miguel de Allende. We finally made it a day trip and hiked almost all of the trails. Since there is little rainfall in this area, the garden exhibited mostly cacti, agave, and other drought-tolerant plants. The trails led us down to the reservoir, a wetland for birds, turtles, and various aquatic plants. It was a more strenuous hike than I expected, mostly because it's in the mountains at 6500 feet and, even after spending three weeks there, I had not completely adapted to living at this altitude.
     The San Ramón Hotel & RV Park in San Miguel de Allende was a pleasant place for us to live in our motorhome for three weeks while we explored the city. We parked on a level concrete slab with full hookups, surrounded by shade trees and lawns. Our view was of a lush green pasture and trees where beautiful horses and frisky sheep played and grazed during the day. We felt like we were out in the country but we were only a short bus ride from downtown San Miguel de Allende. Uber was also easy to use and inexpensive, so we often bussed into town for dinner and took Uber home.
     The variety of RVs parked at San Ramon RV Park, even during low season, was interesting. We especially liked the old, renovated green Winnebago with flowers painted on the body. No, it wasn't owned by hippies, but by an elderly Mexican couple. The swimming pool was emptied and refilled daily with fresh warm mineral water, a nice place to spend an hour on an 80-degree afternoon.  
     We'll definitely return to San Miguel de Allende. We can't get enough of the various views of the churches and the wonderful restaurants. Maybe this will become our summer home. Its cooler, drier summer climate is a refreshing break from the humid, hot rainy season on the Pacific coast.
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Friday, August 2, 2019

San Miguel de Allende: A Wonderful Place to Be in July

     The Parroquia San Miguel Arcángel is probably the most photographed building in San Miguel de Allende—for good reason. It is the most beautiful church I’ve seen in all of my travels. When the sunlight changes, the colors of the stones change and a new photo is called for. When it rains, the church changes color again and my camera comes out for another photo. Of course, I can’t post all of them, though I’m tempted to show every changing mood of this masterpiece.
     There are so many amazing buildings, doors, parks, and restaurants in San Miguel de Allende that this article will be more of a collection of photos from our first two weeks here. We love the architecture, the cooler summer weather, the food, the gardens, and everything there is to explore so much that we’ve decided to stay another week.
     The buildings shown below are facing the Jardín Principal near the Parroquia, and create the center of town.

     During our walking tours of centro, self-guided, I noticed that predominant colors used on many of the beautiful buildings in San Miguel de Allende are various shades of orange and yellow. Though not typically my first choice, the colors work well here.
     I have often heard that San Miguel de Allende is overrun with foreigners. We sure didn’t notice that to be the case. Maybe because July is the month that locals take family vacations, the vast majority of people we saw were Mexicans. Spanish was the preferred language spoken in restaurants and on tours.

     We want to take the Trolley Tour of SMA, but the tickets sell out quickly. We have tried twice to buy a ticket but arrived too late in the day and all were sold out. So, we went back to our self-guided walking tour.
     We enjoyed many parks and plazas, watched children play basketball at the Parque Benito Juarez, saw the historic "Pemex Gas Station", and wandered the narrow stone-paved roads. Some calles remind us of the streets of Venice, Italy, except in San Miguel small cars and buses fill the streets. We especially enjoyed the streets in centro that were closed to vehicle traffic so that pedestrians could wander down the center of the streets.
     As always, finding good restaurants is an important part of our explorations. Hank’s New Orleans Café and Oyster Bar has become a favorite. The Cajun food, excellent service, and fun atmosphere keep inviting us back. One day, I began craving Chinese food and we decided to walk miles across town to reach Dragon Chino. I almost talked Jon out of going in due to its appearance, but he insisted we try it as we had walked so far to find it. We were glad we did—the food was delicious. They didn’t serve wine so we ordered Margaritas and they were excellent, too. We’ll be back for their spicy shrimp and chicken dishes!
Cajun-Style Calamari at Hank's
Dragon Chino Restaurant

     We have enjoyed the amazing weather here in San Miguel de Allende. It has been 80 degrees in the afternoon and in the 50s to 60s at night-- a very nice July climate. 
     Transportation around town is convenient which is important to us since we don't own a car. Who would want to drive in this city, anyway, where there is not a single traffic light and parking is a challenge? Roundabouts and driver courtesy keep things flowing, but it seems a little scary to me. We have a convenient bus service into centro which we use almost daily for 8 pesos (40 cents US) per person. When it rains in the evening, taxis are easy to find and Uber is inexpensive here.
     We’ve decided to stay another week. We still have plans to go to the Botanical Gardens, a yoga class, ride the trolley, and discover one or two more restaurants. Look for one more blog article from me about this fun city in Mexico.
Gombos Pizza
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