Sunday, December 30, 2007

Paraiso Miramar

The name says it all. This is probably our favourite spot on the entire west coast. Its also probably as far south as we will go this trip. We rolled in here early yesterday morning after spending the night on the side of the road at a toll plaza. We had planned to spend the night in a Pemex fuel station but ended up on a really new stretch of toll road where there simply weren't any toll booths so, after running for about an hour in the dark decided to just stop for the night at the toll plaza. They're open 24 hours and well guarded so we felt pretty secure but it was NOISY. The old Dinas didn't come quite as often after dark but we still woke up plenty of times to the brap of their compression brakes as they slowed down and the grinding gears as they left the toll stop.

We're in a little courtyard behind a small hotel, right on the coast. About 150 feet outside the door we can sit on the seawall and watch the ocean. There's room for maybe 12 rigs here and there's about 6 of us here right now - mostly Canadians - us and some Quebecois. Yesterday there was a fiesta de boda (wedding) on the grass in front of the hotel. That didn't go as late as I expected but they alternated between playing Mexican polka music and some crap that I supposed is rap and it was all at about 200 decibels higher than I consider reasonable. We turned the TV right up as far as the volume would go and we could sort of hear a movie over the "music". But the the party broke up around 8:30 so that was OK.

This area around San Blas has a bad reputation for biters. They have mosquitoes and a little no-see-um that the locals call jejenes (hayhaynees). They don't seem too bad this year and they are never as bad here as in San Blas so we will likely stay here for a couple of weeks or maybe more. We even went so far as to meet with a local real estate agent yesterday. We'll see where that goes.

SWMBO just got up - more later.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas dinner

We're waiting for the crew from Guasave to arrive - its our turn to cook supper tonight. After 2 wonderful evening meals (la cena) in town we offered to cook a Canadian meal tonight. So we have a 15# turkey in the oven, getting ready to be the guest of honour later today. Along with some carrot/raisin salad, one of Marilyn's famous hairy salads and smashed potatoes with turkey gravy that should make a pretty typical Canadian Christmas dinner. Oh yes, we had some dried cranberries that I resurrected last night and that I think I have now persuaded to be cranberry sauce. Of course we have no idea whatsoever when our guests might arrive. They said they were coming in the early afternoon but that is rapidly becoming a non-possibility. They'll get here when they get here and CJ will get here about 4 hours later.

Its a miserably windy day here but that's not uncommon for Las Glorias. The bus thermometer says its 21 degrees outside and 28 degrees inside - thanks to the convection oven. I'll get some pictures of the Lopez Rodriguez Diaz clan up in the next couple of days.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Building with adobe blocks

When we arrived here a week ago that's what we saw. Its a very imposing structure and the picture doesn't give a good sense of the scale of the building. Along each side of the building there are two apartments that will eventually house 2 "families" of orphaned children. Each apartment is completely self contained with kitchen, living area, bedrooms and laundry facilities. The intent is to have 8 kids per apartment and a foster parent couple in each apartment. There are 2 small "bachelor suites" at the front centre of the building. The back of the building houses a huge meeting/eating area with an institutional size kitchen at one end and a large workshop at the other end. The upper level has some smaller apartments for volunteers and the intent is to eventually house some of the older orphans in that area as well. The centre of the structure is a large open courtyard with all of the apartments opening onto it.

It has taken 3-1/2 years to construct the building to this stage using a crew that currently numbers around 20. There's a lot of work to laying adobe blocks. The crews only work from about the end of November to late April because that is when their gringo volunteers are available.

Those walls are well over 14" thick. An adobe block starts out life as the local red clay mud. In the case of this construction site "mud" is actually pretty dry dirt that is run through a hydraulic press to convert it into a block about 5" high x 14" long x anywhere from 3-8" wide. Then the blocks are laid crosswise side by side to slowly build up a wall. Then the wall is covered with successive layers of concrete. One of the really neat features of adobe construction is its ability to heat sink. Because there is so much mass in the structure it stays relatively cool during the day and relatively warm at night. Noticeably warm first thing in the morning and noticeably cool during the heat of the afternoon.

I got to participate in several distinct phases of the construction process, from making blocks through placing them to forming for a roof and finally pouring the roof. The traditional way to make blocks is to form mud into blocks and wait a month for the sun to completely dry them. This project uses a press so we could make blocks for a half an hour and place them for the rest of the day. The traditional way to make a roof used to be to lay poles across the span then place clay tiles across the poles and then to pour concrete on top of the tiles. That evolved into using poured beams to replace the poles and now the usual practice is to pour the entire roof with integral beams. We formed the surface of the roof, then laid chicken wire so the finish stucco would have something to carry it, then laid 2'x2'x8" styrofoam blockes to create voids and beams, placed steel in the beam areas and finally formed the sides to create a slab roof that is about 4" thick carried by 12" deep beams. There is probably 60% of the roof volume taken up by the styrofoam so it is not as heavy as it appears but still a lot of overhead concrete to form and place.

Since I have some experience with pouring concrete - actually a surprising amount of experience once I start into the process - pouring the concrete was the least educational part of the whole process. I was glad to see that they didn't adhere to tradional processes for pouring the roof. There is a 1/4 yard mixer out behind the site that runs constantly during the day with one man continuously shovelling sand through a screen and another running the mixer non-stop. He dumps into wheelbarrows and the mud goes off to grout blocks or get trowelled onto walls. I've seen them lifting concrete to the roof using a pail and a rope so I had visions of us lifting 6 yards of cement to the roof. I was very pleased to hear that there would be a pumper truck onsite for the pour. The picture is of the truck set up to pour the roof of the bell tower.

We also poured the sidewalk yesterday. 80' of sidewalk, 4" thick & 6.5' wide when the temp is over 80 degrees - you don't have much time to work the surface in those conditions. Fortunately the water was on yesterday or we would have lost about 1/2 of the sidewalk pour. It was a near thing as it was. The local guys are so good with concrete it is a treat to work with them and learn from them. They use so much "cemento" in all their construction and they know what they can get away with. They use too much water for my liking so they end up with a lot of cracks but they are the local experts and there may be some other problems that they are avoiding with the excess water.

And on the subject of local expertise - - concrete counter tops and concrete sinks. You have to see them to believe them. They polish the concrete so it looks like granite and the sinks are integral with the countertop. This stuff is like Corian on steroids - looks great and is indestructible. It would be great for a cabin or for a laundry area but maybe a little "heavy" both visually and physically for most kitchens.

For more information this is the website for the project:

and this is Bob Masons website that deals with the orphanage project from its inception:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grinding, eye wrenching poverty

We just moved from Alamos where we spent the last week over to Refugio Infantil de Navajoa, recently renamed We had a wonderful time in Alamos, as usual, and got reacquainted with our friends there. Friday night we got invited to a TGIF party put on by some of the expats in town. We should have known better - we have hung out with that crowd before and always regretted it. Imagine a roomful of nouveau riche, everyone wearing exactly the right designer sweater and the right gucci sandals and everyone looking for someone important to hang out next to. Clearly we weren't who they wanted to hang out with and the feeling was mutual. The occasion was the sale of one of the houses close to the centre of town. They were trying to sell some of the art and excess furntiture so that potential buyers could actually see the house. The house is listed for $435,000.

So from one extreme to the other. Today we took Manuel & Delphina up to Obregon to see their adopted son, Chiquire (I really don't know how to spell his name - that's my best guess). Anyway, we left early this morning and drove to Obregon, about 1-1/2 hours away. Chiki is working at a new carwash on the southwest side of Obregon, making 800 pesos per week, for 6 days work (about $80). His home is on the northeast side of town, probably 5 miles away. He gets to work every day on his bicycle.

After visiting with Chiki we drove across town to see his wife and 3 year old daughter. We drove through the better parts of town and then farther and farther into the barrio. Finally we stopped in front of an adobe "house" - two rooms, set back from the street behind a barb wire fence. It turned out that was Chiki's wife's parents' house. Behind that in a shack that appeared to be built out of partially adobe, partially corrugated iron and partially cardboard is where Chiki's family lives. It was one of those spots where your eyes don't know where to look because there is so much poverty in every direction and it hurts no matter where you look. Dirt floor, a few pieces of old furniture obviously scavenged from a dump somewhere, pullout couch for a bed. Dirt everywhere, some dirty dishes balanced precariously on a table in the area that obviously serves as a kitchen. Taking a picture would have felt like voyeurism. And to cap it all off the daughter was recently diagnosed with epilepsy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Carbon credits are the new pet rock

Excellent article by Maureen Bader (no relation to my bride) that hits on all the reasons why climate change activism is bad. Everywhere I go now somebody has figured out how to climb on the climate change bandwagon. The goal is to "sell credits" whether its a grain farmer who can convince a buyer that he has abandoned his reckless tillage practices in favour of greener reduced tillage or a cowboy who can document that his cows fart less under his current management program than under the previous one. Everyone is chasing the ephemeral "carbon credit" which will eventually be sold to real industries - like the hospital in Maureen's excellent article - and which will take money away from real productive activities.

Carbon credits are the new pet rock. Remember pet rocks? Some smart marketer figured out that the public was actually stupid enough to buy rocks, something that hitherto had been ubiquitous and valueless and lo and behold, he was right. The emperor's new clothes revisited. Carbon credits are no different. We're buying a mirage and in the process diverting productive funds to unproductive causes. Even more significantly and ominously we are diverting creative energy from productive avenues to chasing rainbows. All the effort that is currently being directed to figure out ways to milk the carbon cow would be better spent developing new energy technologies or improved extraction techniques for old energy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Irishman shingling his roof

One of the earliest stories/parables I recall father telling me is the story of the Irishman who never could get the leak in his roof patched because, when it was leaking it was raining and he couldn't patch it in the rain and when it wasn't raining it didn't leak so didn't need patching. I feel the same way about the ProHeat - it quit working reliably when we got to Regina and was generally a real PITA the rest of the trip but I didn't want to tackle trying to fix it because it was too bloody cold. Now it would be easy to tear it apart but its 27 above outside so its hard to get too excited about needing heat.

This morning I got the fresh water tank filled. One of the cool features of the bus is that it has a 20 gallon drinking water tank in addition to the main coach water tank. We have always thought that when we got down here we would refill that tank from purified water. I rigged up plumbing years ago to let me do that but had never needed to use it until today. Roberto sells purified water from his plant here in the trailer park so this morning I started packing bottled water to the bus and pumping it into the tank.

I walked out the door this morning and met Salvatore walking up to the bus. Salvatore makes his living in the winter by buying fish at Huatabampito, about 50 miles from here and reselling it in Alamos. We have got to know him and his family over the years and have visited their house. We recognized each other immediately - he hadn't seen the bus before of course. His business has a new innovation. Previously his equipment consisted of a cooler with a rope around the middle. He would get off the bus from Huatabampo, heft the cooler up on his back, hang onto the rope and head out across town. Now he has a two wheeled cart that someone gave him to carry the cooler on & it makes a huge difference for him.

We had a great visit over coffee and blueberry muffins this morning. One of his brothers is currently working in Canada and he would like to investigate that possibility. He does OK for work in the winter when the gringos are here but I think life is pretty hard in the summer. We're going out to visit the family again a week from Sunday - before then I will do some research to see what the requirements are for him to get a work visa to Canada. I tried to discourage him as I did for Elsira and Sergio but it is hard for them to understand that things aren't perfect in Canada. The economy is really gathering steam down here & I think the real opportunities over the next decade will be here rather than in the US & Canada but they don't see it that way.

I gave up on the bus ever settling down on the stoppers yesterday & bled the air off the airbags. One side had gone down but the other side was still holding air and we were getting tired of sleeping uphill. I'm going to have to either put in a compressor to keep the bags up or put in an easy way to bleed the air off and let it go down everytime we stop. Its nice having it down because it is lower to get in and out of but we need some way to get it down quickly and evenly. We're really level here - once we get all four corners down - so I am going to install some levels that I have been carrying around for years. It will be nice to pull into a site and know immediately whether we are even close to level before I get out of the seat.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alison - you can't post here!

Jorgito's mom is learning to post here but she was very concerned that Alison not be able to post. I assured her that even if I say something really dumb that bugs the H out of Al she still can't post a response.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hola from Alamos

Its 6:00 AM (the locals think its 5 but they're wrong) and the roosters are already hard at it - we must be back in Alamos. What a lot of changes 4 years have brought. The road in here used to be pretty scary - narrow lanes with no shoulders, I really wasn't looking forward to herding the moneypit over it. Instead yesterday we found a wide, new highway all the way from Navajoa. In fact the highways all the way down from the border have been considerably improved - on the average much better than Saskatchewan highways, maybe not up to Alberta standards but certainly up to US interstate standards. There's two new Pemex fuel stations on the west side of town which is a major help for us. The old Pemex station is almost right downtown - accessible with the bus but only with difficulty. I wasn't going to bother getting fuel here but now it will be easy.

We walked Carol & Virgil all around town in the early afternoon yesterday and then went looking for Manuel & Delphina. At their house we found a couple of kids from West Virginia who are boarding there while they study Spanish. They told us that Delphina's mother had died in the morning and that the family was at her mother's house but of course they didn't have a clue where that was other than "near the airport". That was too far too walk so we took the truck over there and instead looked for Sergio & Elsira's house which we had been to before. Four years is a long time though & it took us a while to find it. Then Elsira went with us over to Delphina's mother's. There was a huge crowd there - they had the casket in the yard just outside the little adobe house and the women were gathered around it probably reciting the prayer for the dead but I'm not real current on my catholic liturgy and especially so when it is in Spanish. We paid our respects and got out of there because we felt more than a little under-dressed for the occasion. Today we are going into Navajoa to drop off the stuff we brought for the orphanage so we will pick up some flowers and take them around to the house later.

Last evening we went for taquitos in town and then sat in the square watching the evening activity. There was a festival of some kind going on - our neighbours here told us it was a folkloric music festival before we left but it sure the hell didn't sound like folk music. I think it was an excuse for a party occasioned by the arrival in town of a small traveling midway such as you often see down here. All the kids were out dressed to the nines and walking around the square. The guy next to us is quite an authority but I'm not convinced he is as wise as he thinks he is. 3 rigs in this park (that would accomodate 100+) - 1 Manitoba, 1 Sask and one US. There sure aren't many people down here yet and even less Americans. There's 4 RV parks in town - we drove by 2 of them on the way in and saw one rig in one of them, the other looked abandoned. Tonight there should be two more rigs in from BC that we met up with at the border and again Friday night in Guaymas.

I had to thread the needle with the satellite dish through the trees around this site but as usual setting up on SatMex5 was a breeze. I hardly moved the dish from the time I set it up until I had the signal locked. Skype isn't working worth a damn though - I tried to phone mother from Guaymas & that was a complete disaster. Last night I tried to phone Dick to let him know about Delphina's mom and that was a total disaster as well. I "upgraded" Skype last night - not sure what that means other than a 26 meg download but I will try phoning someone today to see if it made any difference. Once the sun gets up I'll get some pictures of this site posted. Its so pretty.

We have a camp cat that is almost a dead ringer for George only smaller. George is more than a little concerned. We fed it a bit yesterday so I expect it will hang around while we are here. I told George he'll have to watch his attitude or we'll trade him in. He seemed a lot more cuddly last night - perhaps it is working.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Update from Guaymas

We're running a day later than we expected. When we got to Nogales our travel buddies needed a day to get ready to actually cross the border - they had to buy propane, buy insurance, go to the post office, etc. We thought they might have had some of that done ahead of time but apparently not so we decided to wait a day for them. It was nice to have the day off although we would have liked to get on with it too.

On the way down to Nogales we stopped at Home Depot in Tucson to pick up some carpentry supplies for the mission in Navajoa. That turned into more of an adventure than I was planning for. The freeway in Tucson has been under construction for as long as we have been coming down here and that is going on 10 years now. Its absurd. They just don't seem to be able to get it together. Flagstaff's road system is a complete screwup, Tucson is perpetually under construction and Phoenix is probably my favorite city in North America to drive in. And they're all in the same state, within a 1/2 day's drive of each other.

When we got to Mi Casa in Nogales it was considerably fuller than we have seen in the past. Its a pretty down at the heels campground on its best days and it is looking pretty rough now. We probably won't stay there again. For all we got there we might as well have been on the parking lot at the Safeway on the south side of town.

Coming into Mexico yesterday was typical. They tried to make us back up in the pylons at the 1st border crossing. That wasn't going to happen. Then I got the stupidest person on the face of the earth to do my vehicle import papers. Fortunately there was a shift change. Marilyn got the import certificate for the bus and was waiting while doofus accomplished nothing. Then the shift change showed up so doofus shut down his computer and left. The new guy was as good as doofus was bad so I finally got the hologram. Carol was having a bit of trouble getting the certificate for their towed so we waited for her. Then when we got to the actual customs entry there was nobody there. They were all milling around a 1/2 ton over on the car entry side - we rolled through S L O W L Y but nobody seemed to care about us or the trucks rolling through with us so we kept on going.

I'm looking forward to getting to Nogales to get the moneypit washed off. The trucklet is covered with soot on both sides - the engine exhausts on the road side and the generator exhausts on the curb side so both sides of the towed vehicle get coated. There's a "car wash" right next to Dolisa that I have taken vehicles to in the past so we should be squeaky clean tonight.

Mama just got up and the sun is starting to peek over the horizon so it is time to do something useful.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Headin' down the highway - lookin' for adventure

Well - we're out of the deep freeze - finally. Regina was challenging to say the least - the diesel furnace packed it in while we were still in Saskatoon so Regina at -30 was a serious challenge. But we made it out of the cold yesterday. Sunday night we were south of Great Falls and then we came all the way to Kanab (southern Utah) on Monday.

Customs was a breeze. Its funny - Marilyn & I were talking about this yesterday - we always worry about US & Canadian customs but never Mexican customs. We know that the Mexicans will be unscrupulously polite. The whole Mexican border experience may be a complete muddle - everything may have changed from yesterday, let alone last year and we expect it to take a long time but we don't worry about capricious ignorance. We do worry about someone having a bad day and taking it out on us when we cross into the US or back into Canada. Yesterday though was a treat. The guy looked at our passports, gave them back and said "did anyone ask you to bring anything into the US?" Of course I said "No". He said "odafaia lsdifl ndew sodi" I said "Pardon me?" He said "Have a nice trip" And that literally was it. There was a line up 1/4 of a mile long coming into Canada but we drove right up to the window on the US side. So it took less than a minute total.

The trip to Great Falls was uneventful, dry pavement and great conditions. We should have kept on but I was getting tired so we shut down for the night. Monday I woke up to light snow but the road quickly turned into a mess and it was tough going until we were nearly out of Montana. The picture is taken up in Monida pass. If you look closely you can see the reflector stakes alongside the road. They are about 3' high and they have 3' extensions added to them for the winter. That is because the snowplows use them to gauge where the edge of the pavement is and the snow ridges in the pass get so high that the stakes get buried. Fortunately there's not that much snow there - yet.

Jorgito got much braver on this trip. Up until now he has travelled under the futon. And never come out while we were moving except for very brief periods. We don't know if it was the cover of darkness or if he is just getting accustomed to our nomadic life but Sunday night there he was wanting to be picked up and he spent most of the evening in Marilyn's lap. Monday he was in my way while I was trying to handle the snow pack and blowing snow early in the morning and then he just naturally settled into Marilyn's lap for a large part of the day.

Last night we arrived in Kanab very late and found our way to the Hitch'n Post campground. Its pretty de-classe but adequate although what they call a pull-through site is a little different than what I would have expected. This morning I got the satellite set up and switched over to SatMex 5 so now we are good to central or south America. Not that we are likely to go there - this year. In theory us tripod users have some special hoops to jump through to switch satellites so I was understandably sceptical when the guy who sold me this system absolutely assured me that it was no problem. Until I had actually made the switch I was reserving judgement but if all the switches go as smoothly as the one this morning did then it truly is no problem. We need to switch each time we move north to south or back because the footprint of the northern satellite doesn't go far enough south & the footprint of SatMex 5 doesn't go far enough north.

This afternoon we've got some housekeeping to do and we need to get ready for an early departure tomorrow morning. Tomorrow night we are supposed to meet up with a couple in Nogales in preparation for helping them cross the border for the first time. More from Alamos.