Snowbirds Returning Home

Anyone who understands my travel habits knows how I hate to take the same route twice, even when returning from a particular destination. So, why would our return trip from Mexico be any different. If you read my post, Snowbirds Who Drove to Mexico, you got to see how it really is possible to drive there, and see some cool stuff along the way.

They say, what goes up must come down. But in our case we did it in reverse, driving back home from Mexico and taking a completely different route to get there. After six days of 8 to 10 hour drives on the way down, we slowed things down a bit on the way home, taking 7 days instead. Daily stopovers were chosen in advance for peace of mind.

To prep the Silver Bullet for the trip home I attended the local outdoor car wash for an in and out. I had them check the air filter, top up my fluids, and repair a sticky hood latch. All for the scandalous price of $12 Canadian.

From out winter home in Melaque, on the Pacific coast. we chose the town of Tonala as our first stop. It’s kind of a suburb, southeast of Guadaljara. We chose this stop as a place to shop, hearing that it is the place to go in Mexico for wholesale and bargain prices on everything from furniture to artwork. Our car was already quite full, but we managed to stuff in a large mirror, tin sunburst for our patio, and a set of handblown glasses, all for a fraction of what they would cost anywhere else.

We spent the next night in Saltillo, an automotive town just south of Monterrey. For safety-sake we never travelled at night and mostly stayed on the larger toll roads or highways. The drive was fairly uneventful until we hit a large rock and blew a tire, in the middle of nowhere. No problem, we thought, we had full coverage Mexican car insurance that included flat tires.

While I checked the damage, Cathryn called the emergency numbers for roadside assistance. No answer at one and a message from the other stating to call back during normal business hours. Another call to the Green Angles (roadside help) also went unanswered. Seems nobody was working on Saturday. I had the trunk empty by the time she got off the phone and found the spare tire.

Thankful that I took auto mechanics in high school, I was able to figure out the newfangled jack and how to change the blown tire. Problem #1 solved. Our GPS found a Goodyear about a half our away but they closed for their 3 hour siesta around the same time. Problem #2. Driving above the recommended speed limit on the ‘donut’ spare, we made it just in time.

After some discussion with the garage manager, with both of us faking each other’s language, he agreed to the repair. He and the tire jockey had their own discussion about working overtime to take care of us. With the new tire is was easy sailing to the U.S. border, until we got stopped for speeding about 15 miles shy of America. 117 in a 60. Shit!

Now, you have to understand that we never encountered a speed trap anywhere in Mexico the whole three months in country, and for the most part I didn’t think police could afford radar guns. I’d heard stories of them using hair dryers to extort money from gringos, but I’ve seen my share of radar guns and got to see the digital readout for myself.

Add another 200 bucks to the cost of travel. There are few posted signs in the area, where it seems the cops prey mostly on the heavy truck traffic heading for the border. Perhaps the Silver bullet set a new land speed record. I never saw a 60k sign, I swear. They call that racing here at home. The border was a welcome site and we headed for New Orleans.

Our first stop in the U.S. was in Sugarland, just south of Houston, where we found a hotel near a Rudy’s Smokehouse. We’d stopped at one near Austin on the way down and had to do a repeat for some Texas Barbeque. No more tacos! Highway signs in Louisiana for Boudin and Crackling got the best of us and we stopped to check out the local snack food. The latter being something like pork rinds with some meat still attached, and sprinkled with cajon spice.

Our Airbnb

From there we were able to get into New Orleans early the next afternoon, where we found the coolest Airbnb in Algiers Point, across the Mississippi River from downtown NOLA. Only a 5 minute ferry ride from Canal Street, we were blown away by our quaint little neighborhood, with it’s colorfully painted shotgun style houses and eclectic cafes and restaurants. Our Airbnb was actually an old gas station at one time.

I’d been to NOLA once before but Cathryn hadn’t so we started with a trolley tour along Canal Street, then through the Garden District to ogle the fine mansions. We got off in the French Quarter and took in touristy things like beignets at Café du Monde, the waterfront, and Bourbon Street. We chowed down on Willie’s Fried Chicken while listening to live music on Frenchman Street.

Crown & Anchor English Pub

The best meal we had was back across the river at the Dry Dock Cafe, where we sampled Alligator sausage, seafood gumbo, a turkey Po Boy, and bread pudding. Our best breakfast was also in Algiers Point at the Tout de Suite Cafe, where we also scored a cool piece of stained glass art. They say NOLA is all about music and food. We ate our share and Cathryn gave her leftovers to hungry street people.

Our last night was spent along the Interstate, somewhere, less than a day’s drive from home. Most of the Covid bullshit was over by the time we hit Canada, and only had to produce our passports. With our side trips in Mexico we did a total of about 10,000 kilometers or 6,000 miles. Cheers to the Silver Bullet.

Don’t Let The Vid Flu Ya

Covid 19 – has it become your youngest child who just won’t leave home. They keep promising to go, but continue to come up with an excuse to linger a while longer. At least you still talk to your kid, even if it’s mostly to ask if they’ve found their own place yet. But if you’re anything like me, you’re sick of hearing and talking about The Vid. That’s what Cathryn calls it, The Vid.

The buzz and belly aching and discussion of the pandemic of the century is partly the reason we fled to Mexico for the winter. Okay, you’re right, I’m full of shit. We definitely heard less about The Vid on our journey south…hard to believe when they recently hit a million cases in one day in the United States of Anarchists.

Only a day into our trip south, masks, social distancing, and all talk about the plague was virtually non-existent. Yet, when we crossed the border to Mexico, we found rules similar to those at home, without mass lockdowns. They took our temperature, sanitized us and required everyone to wear masks in any indoor places we visited.

Things are different everywhere you go and although you can’t actually see The Vid, it is all around us. Maybe they should sell masks that say ‘vid’ and ‘no vid’. How else can we tell is someone’s got it or had it. I think I had it. There, I said it. Is it okay to tell people? I feel like I’m publicly announcing I have AIDS. Stay back, he’s got The Vid!

You can call me a vaxer, conformist or even a sheep, since I got my two vaccinations, the booster, and my flu shot. I did it more for everyone around me than myself. But my throat started to bother me before we left home and I loaded up on vitamin C. No big deal, I thought, because I always get sick around the holidays, whether at home or away.

But what if I’ve got The Vid, I wondered. Because any cold or flu symptoms have to be The Vid – that’s how it disguises itself. Things didn’t get worse until a week later, in Mexico. Stuffy nose, sinus headache and congestion, and a really sore throat. Again, it couldn’t be The Vid, because I get these kinds of symptoms every year when I’m sick.

When I started needing two naps a day instead of one, I said to Cathryn, “I think I’ve got The Vid.” She looked at me as if I just told her I had terminal cancer. I responded that I googled the symptoms and mine matched perfectly, and that maybe I should get tested – you know, to see if I was one of those dirty people with the disease.

So, I slept on it and thought about it some more. All those yahoos in the bars and restaurants carrying on without masks, hugging and kissing and spitting in each other’s faces while Cathryn and I huddled at a table in the corner, away from the mayhem. If I didn’t have The Vid, it was only a matter of time. Isn’t that the real answer – let everyone contract the virus and build herd immunity?

After more thinking, I decided not to get tested. Not so much because I was on the mend after three shitty days, but because I’m calling myself a ‘Non-Tester’. I know I was sick, and it may or may not have been The Vid, so why do I need to spend my beer money on a test that will confirm to the rest of the world that I’m one of ‘those’ people, a statistic, someone who’s got The Vid. And as life goes on…so do I.

Snowbirds Who Drove to Mexico

Some of our friends already wonder about us when we tell them that we’ve chosen to spend our winters in Mexico. They worry about things like our safety and if our severed heads will end up displayed on a highway overpass for all to see. But this year, when Cathryn and I told everyone we were driving to Mexico, they looked at us as if we were from a different planet.

It’s not like I haven’t researched the idea or spoken to other snowbirds from places like Toronto, BC and Quebec who’ve made the trek more than once and lived to talk about it. So, with a bit of preparation and a good set of wheels like my Chevy Silver Bullet, why couldn’t we do it? That car has taken us to both of Canada’s coasts and back, so why not Mexico?

Of course this is me talking, the guy who travelled to S/E Asia and parts of South America with nothing but travel itinerary and backpack on wheels. Sure, Cathryn was a bit worried about things like scorpions and cartel hijackers, but she’s proven to be a trooper on our Harley trips around the continent. It’s not that she’s gullible and believes everything I tell her, she trusts me (so far).

And when she realized how much more she could bring by taking our car to Mexico, she made quick work of adding to her packing list. She had to consider what specialty foods and cookware to bring, instead of how many different outfits she could fit in her suitcase. After she had it all sorted out and in boxes, we went through it together and I cut it in half so we didn’t have to tow a trailer.

With the packing thing under wraps it was my job to plan the itinerary – the route we’d take to Sayulita, Mexico, how long we’d drive each day, and where we’d stop on the way to our final destination. According to Google Maps, it takes 40 hours to drive from Detroit to Sayulita, staying on major highways. That meant at least 5 days of driving for 8 hours. Easy peasy.

Our plan was to rent in Sayulita for the month of January, then in Melaque for February and March. So, I had to pick what date to leave home and an interesting place to spend NY Eve on the way south, without having to spend the night in a non-descript highway motel. December 29th became our departure date, after spending ample time with family over the holidays.

After rising with the birds, we ate our pre-made breakfast wraps gave Earl Grey hugs and kisses, and were on the road by 7am. Being only recently reopened, the tunnel to Detroit was a breeze with only two cars in front of us. Unseasonable mild weather meant clear roads, but we dealt with light and patchy fog most of the day. The mild temperatures stayed with us through Ohio, Kentucky and and Tennessee where fog turned into rain. It was better than snow, but driving in heavy rain after dark was nerve-racking.

I had hoped to inch further south on the map the first day but settled on Memphis for the night. The first day’s driving conditions took a toll on both of us and we wondered if we should make a planned pit stop near Austin, Texas to visit my old water polo coach. As it turned out, day two was better. There were some serious traffic jambs to contend with but my old map reading skills got us hooked up in time for an early dinner with my old friend.

The Alamo

We arrived in San Antonio, Texas early enough on the second night to take a short stroll for a well-deserved drink on the Riverwalk. Day three was NY Eve. We slept in, had a great breakfast out, the lolly-gagged around downtown San Antonio and it’s Riverwalk, taking in the sights. As the NY revellers took to the streets, we sat and people watched until calling it an early night without waiting for the ball to drop.

Being in San Antonio put us within easy reach of the Mexico border. Driving through the baron landscape made me wonder what those at the Alamo actually fought for. We crossed at the lesser-known Columbia bridge, something that looked like it was run by Barney Fife. We drove right through to the highway before realizing nobody stopped us for passports, visas, or the vehicle permit we needed to drive in Mexico. After turning around, to enter the country legally, we found ourselves the only visitors at the border crossing.

Day 4 had us cutting south-west across Mexico to a city called Torreon. The only difficult part of that day’s drive was trying to keep count of our toll fees – it’s quite expensive driving on Mexico’s safe highways – they are comparable to those in the U.S. with some things extra and some less. There aren’t many service centers along the way but emergency phones and even water is available every few kilometers. The Torreon hotel was basic but offered us the best breakfast omelets ever.

Day 5 was a shorter drive, but way more interesting than we had anticipated. Climbing the Sierra Madre mountains became breath-taking, a mountain range comparable to the Rockies without the snow-covered peaks. We lost track of how many bridges and tunnels we encountered, figuring there were at least fifty of each. By the time we started our decent on the western slopes, we were both a bit nauseous.

We arrived in Mazatlan before dinner. Our waterfront hotel was nothing fancy but the view from our room made it priceless. We even got to park on the road directly out front. Stopping is Mazatlan for 2 nites served a few purposes. First off, it broke up the drive, once again. And besides being on my Mexican bucket list, it got us to the Pacific coast where Sayulita was only another half day’s drive south.

The silver bullet looked dusty grey when we pulled into the garage at our Sayulita Airbnb on day 6. The odometer showed 4,000 kilometers or 2,500 American miles. After a couple of celebratory cervesas Cathryn and I agreed the drive wasn’t all that bad. There was that first long day of frayed nerves, but no high jackings or beheadings. Will we do it again next year? You’ll just have to wait and see.

Renters Beware – Read the Cancellation Policy

Cathryn and I have learned from personal experience that not all hotel or vacation property rentals are fully refundable upon cancellation. Some are partially refundable, depending on how much in advance you cancel your reservation. Please read the fine print or look for the Cancellation Policy before you book your next weekend getaway or family vacation.

This was copied from an Air Bnb listing:

Many of us are now aware at how fickle the Airline industry can be when it comes to cancelling flights, although we lucked out and eventually received cash refunds on international flights we had to cancel because of the global pandemic. We weren’t so fortunate with AirBnb. Where we were able to recoup funds on our hotel room bookings through Hotels.com, we lost most of our money deposited with AirBnb.

The policy below is from Hotels.com:

VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and other companies have cancellation policies similar to AirBnb, you have to read the fine print to see what your different options are. Some give a full refund up to a certain date and partial after another date, minus the up front service fees, where others offer no refund at all.

The list below is from VRBO:

So be sure to read the fine print before you make your next booking.

Five Reasons to Buy A Casual Traveler

At a retirement seminar I attended, before packing in my thirty-one years and four months of police work, we were told to have a plan, a hobby or something to do for the rest of our lives. Even before that, I knew that travelling the world was how I wanted to spend a large part of my senior years.

I travelled abroad and around the continent for the first two years of my retirement, and sent family and friends email about my adventures and misadventures. Coaxed on by their remarks, I wrote my first book.

Here are five reasons to buy A Casual Traveler:

Forty-two Travel Tales. Stories like the kind in Readers Digest, that take you to exotic places near and far that in some cases you can only dream about. Share my experiences on motorcycle trips across the continent or in countries like Peru, Argentina, Chile, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico and Belize.

Travel From Home. In these unsure times of the Corona Virus and restricted travel, stay safe at home and read a good book. You only have to go as far as the book store or your computer to order a copy online.

Cheap Entertainment. Since we can’t go to the movie theaters and there seems to be nothing left to watch on Netflix or Crave, visualize all the places you can’t visit by seeing the world through my stories.

Support a Local Author. The ten most popular authors in the world control eighty percent of book sales. Help me supplement my retirement and build my travel fund.

It’s Christmas. What do you buy someone who has everything but likes to read? A book. A Casual Traveler’s convenient size makes it ideal for wrapping, mailing or stuffing it into a Christmas stocking.

A Casual Traveler and all my other books can be purchased locally in Windsor at PB Books or Storytellers Books, and in Amherstburg at River Bookstore, or online through my website: www.edmondgagnon.com

Social & Anti-Social Distancing

91048701_10157968077190928_7106635999597297664_nThere’s a new virus in town – in everyone’s town, that’s caused us all as human beings, to take a hard look at how we live day to day. It took a dark stranger called COVID-19 to wake us all up and reconsider how we interact with each other on a daily basis. It’s not that we’re all dirty creatures by nature, most of us take our personal hygiene pretty seriously.

But history has taught us there’s one thing that we humans do, that has cost us dearly over the millenia. Socializing. Yes, my friends, catching deadly diseases from people you know is not a new concept. Disease and viruses have plagued the earth for as long as we’ve inhabited the planet, and from what the experts tell us, it’s only going to get worse.

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No Cambio (No Change)

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I’m sure just about everyone who reads this has experienced the same dilemma when trying to buy something in small town Mexico, and some other countries south of the border. Stores and restaurants don’t have any change!

It’s not usually a big deal paying for everything in cash, unless you’re at a fancy restaurant and don’t want to take a chance that the ATM is out of money again. Yes, even the banks seem to be low on cash. We’ve had the experience in Sayulita, Melaque and Barra de Navidad.

The thing I don’t get is at places like OXXO or Kiosko (stores like 7-11) who have customers in and out all day long, they never have any change for paper money that would be the equivalent to our ten or twenty dollar bills. If people are giving them change all day long (cuz the can’t get any) then where the hell does it all go?

It’s like a comedy routine, watching a store clerk search her own purse, or running to the store next door to make change. We’ve tried to pay our bar tab and have seen the waiter dig into their tip jars for change. They never carry a float and in many places a metal box serves as a cash register.

You get to the point where you break into a sweat after opening your wallet and you see only $500 peso notes…what the ATM normally dispenses. So, can anyone tell me where all the Cambio is?

Rants, Raves & Reviews – Trouble with Travel

de6484e76b7d5538dcf1e47a6679e1a1There’s a saying about the journey being more fun than the destination. If you’re including travelling by air it couldn’t be further from the truth. Never mind logistics and trying to get to a major hub if you live in a small city off the beaten jet path, lets get right to our favorite part of flying anywhere. Security.

I know, I know, I should have known better but WTF? Once again I lost my tube of hair gel from my carry-on because it was too big. And this is only flying from Windsor to Toronto…like some budding terrorist is just waiting to announce himself to the world by taking down a thirty passenger puddle jumper. And apparently they’d need more than a small tube to do the job right.

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Ed’s Weekly Rant -Turning Wrong

GREEN+ARROWI know it’s not just me who has to look ahead and both ways before entering an intersection on a green light. Since when does green mean wait for everyone else who’s blowing the red before you go? And wasn’t it yellow lights that used to mean hurry up and go?

My wife complains to me almost daily about how many people who turn after the green and yellow arrows and then the red light. Is there a contest I don’t know about where ignorant drivers get a prize for being third or fourth or even the fifth car to blow through the intersection instead of stopping like they are supposed to.

Personally, I lay on my horn and barrel towards the blatant offenders, trying to scare the shit out of them or at least wake them up. One would expect to have the bird flipped in their direction for such behavior but most drivers continue through the intersection as if I’m not there and about to broadside them.

I wonder why the police don’t sit at these intersections instead of picking off dangerous speeders going 15km’s over the limit-it would be like shooting cars in a junk yard. Is blowing red lights not more dangerous than breaking the speed limit on an open road? Would camera’s at intersections make a difference? Is there a better solution?

Maybe it’s just Windsor drivers. I’ve driven in many other cities and some countries and haven’t seen it this bad at controlled intersection. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen safer intersections in some countries where there are no signs or lights at major intersections. We obviously couldn’t handle such responsibility here.

Who’s gonna cook, clean and pick?

IMG_2968I’ve never used this forum to preach anyone’s political agenda, and I usually try to remain impartial to any policies that may affect me when travelling abroad, but in this case I’d like to offer my two cents on the illegal immigrant status in the United States.

Being Canadian and living in such close proximity to the U.S. we are bombarded with American news hourly, especially the everyday antics of their politicians and president. It was on our recent trip along Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica that I made certain observations and came up with one big question for any American who believe’s there’s no room in their country for illegal immigrants.

Who’s going to cook your meals, clean up after you, and pick your produce?

During our trek across eight completely different States I noticed something missing from common laborers ‘everywhere.’ There were no fat white people making my breakfast, cleaning our motel rooms, or picking vegetables in the fields. The only ones I saw were being waited on in places like Denny’s, where they were shoving massive amounts of biscuits and gravy or waffles and pancakes into their pie holes.

Whether they believed in deporting illegals or not, none of the white folk I saw seemed to have any problem whatsoever with who was putting their food in front of them or cleaning up after them. It was obvious that the younger generation only cared about the mobile devices they were fixated on and probably couldn’t have told you if it was a human or machine that served them.

So back to my question. If America is successful in kicking all the illegals out of their country who the hell is going to run the place? I wonder how many politicians have immigrants working for them at home? I’d bet there are more than a few. I’m just a bashful and passive Canadian. What do I know?