One Full Year to Get Some Plates

(Warning – this post is pretty long!  Much like our experience….)

1  year.  1 entire year.  To get Mexican license plates on the trailer we brought down from Canada …. it took 1 full year.    I am happy to report that we now have the Nayarit plates – 2-ND-7586 – but it was a crazy ride that you won’t believe.  Unless you’ve tried it.

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At the Border

The story started after we had gone through a sketchy 2 days at the border to get the trailer and the tools it contained across the border.  That was scary enough.  I am still not entirely clear exactly what went down there but we made it here to Bucerias and were certain the worst was behind us.  As we often are, we were wrong.

The week after we arrived, we headed to the DMV office to get our plates – passport, registration, and importation papers in hand.  We weren’t foolish enough to think it would be easy – but we did think it could be done that week.  Bahahahaha.

First hurdle – apparently we didn’t own the trailer.  WHAT?  The lady who would become our ‘new best friend’ showed us the importation paper that had someone else’s name on it.  Did we have a bill of sale – a pedimento -from that company?  Ah no – because it’s our trailer.  And I’ve never heard of that company.  We called our broker guy in Tucson and I could see him hitting his own forehead over the phone – that’s the import company and I forgot to send you a bill of sale to get it back in your name.  You’ll have to come back to the border to get it.  WHAT?  We are definitely not going back to the border.  He made a few phone calls, talked to some people and a few days later, “I’ll courier it right out overnight.”

A number of days later it arrived, along with his invoice to cover the cost of the courier – even though it was his fault that we didn’t get it at the border.  Fine.  Whatever.  We headed back to the office.  We have all the correct papers.  “Okay, but these papers have to be stamped in Tepic and you have to pay the fees there.”  WHAT?  Tepic is 2 ½ hours away – through the craziest mountain road and WE JUST CAME FROM THERE with this trailer.   We do not want to go back.  There must be another way?  “Well for $1000 pesos, I can send it there for you?”    Yes please.  Of course.   And then the copying, shuffling, stacking, reshuffling, stapling, unstapling, reshuffling began.  “Wait, you have given me a copy of your telephone bill to prove your address.  I need the original.”  You’re kidding right?  It’s just a phone bill.  “No, I need the original”.  We drove home and got the original.  The addition of that 1 piece of paper meant she had to start over unstapling, reshuffling, recopying, more shuffling, more stapling.  Some more fees.  And finally the papers were on their way to Tepic.   “Come back in 2 weeks for your plates.”

Okay, that’s not so bad really.  We returned in October to get the plates and met the same lady.  She pulled our file, shuffled through the papers and then told us “No, you will have to come back in 3 months.”  WHAT?  Why 3 months?    “Blah blah blah  Spanish Spanish blah blah 3 months.”    Apparently, the government had run out of plates and there would be no new ones until January.

In February, we returned to the office.  We had given them a couple of extra weeks – surely our plates would be ready for pickup.  Nope not yet.  We waited another month.  “Yes, everything looks good, but you will need to take the trailer for inspection now”.  WHAT?  We had the trailer thoroughly inspected at the border.   Why another inspection?

There are simply no common-sense answers to that question WHY and I have no idea why I keep asking it.  We took the giant pile of stapled papers, went to the storage compound, loaded up the trailer and headed for the final (?) inspection.

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The young inspector came out. Looked at the serial number on the trailer and headed back inside to fill out more papers.  Until he didn’t.  “I’m sorry.  The serial number on these papers doesn’t match the sticker on the trailer.” WHAT?   That’s impossible.  It was checked and double checked at the border.  “Sorry they don’t match. There’s nothing I can do”.  Now since this conversation was happening in Spanish, we were not 100% sure we understood, so he told us to come back the next day when his English-speaking boss would be there.  The next day we returned, and hearing the pronouncement in English did not help at all.  The numbers don’t match – you’ll have to take the trailer back to the border.  WHAT?  There is no $#**x.@@**!!!!  way we are taking the trailer back to the border.  “Well then you’ll have to go to Tepic to talk to my boss”.  Nope.  We’re not doing that either.  Give us something else.  “Okay well my boss comes to work out of the Bucerias office sometimes.  You can meet with him there”.

Of course, first we had to figure out what had gone wrong – why didn’t everything match?   As we looked closely at the paperwork and the stickers on the trailer, we found a perfect storm of problems.  Our trailer had been manufactured in 2005 and a serial number sticker affixed.  Then it was shipped to a dealer who wanted to sell it as a 2006 so another sticker was put on top of the older one.  Apparently not all Canadian businesses are honest either.  The top sticker had faded and you could see the original sticker through – which made the numbers really tricky to read.  Bottom line was that our Border customs guy had simply written the number down wrong at the border.  A 5 that looked like an 8 was transcribed wrong.  It was obvious when you looked closely at the label on the trailer.  Surely this little mistake could not shut down this entire transaction which had already cost us many thousands of dollars. This couldn’t be the end of the road could it?  We tried calling and emailing our customs guy hoping he could get the papers reissued with the correct number.  He never did return our call.

A few days later we headed over to the office in Bucerias to meet with the boss, el jefe.   Every day for a week we went there.  “He’ll be here in an hour”.  We heard it over and over.  He was never there in an hour.   Eventually they gave us his cell phone number and we decided we needed translation help from a friend.  Francisco phoned El Jefe and finally we had an appointment – and this time Francisco came along.

El Jefe – the boss – was friendly and he listened.  He unstapled the papers, reshuffled them and restapled.  Francisco laid it on thick – my Canadian friends are good people, they work at an orphanage, they are going to build houses and employ people, they are good for our community.  There must be something you can do to help them.   Even I was impressed.  “I would like to help them but the numbers don’t match.  I don’t know what I can do.  They need to go to the border to get new papers to match the serial number on the trailer.  Or they can find a local welder who will write a letter saying he built it in Mexico and they could give it another number”.  WHAT? Then Grant spoke up.  What if we can get a new serial number plate to put on the trailer to match the papers.  Instead of changing the papers, let’s change the trailer.  Then it will match what the Mexican government has put in the system?  ‘Yes that could work.  If you get that, I’ll just sign off on it all and you can get your plates.”  Okay we had a plan.  We had no idea if it was possible, but it was a plan worth pursuing.

The next few weeks were full of telephone calls and emails to Canada to the trailer manufacturer and the dealer who had sold it to us. We pushed hard.  You guys sold us a 2005 trailer and passed it off as a 2006 by hiding the original serial number label.  We thought we were buying a 2006.  You left 2 stickers on the trailer which has caused all these problems.  You need to help us.  “Sure, we can make you a new sticker with the new number – it will only cost you $500”.    What choice did we have?   We waited a few more weeks and finally the manufacturer told us he had mailed the new sticker.  WHAT?  You just don’t mail things to Mexico – it will never get here.  We had specifically asked him to courier it.  As expected, it never did arrive in our mailbox.  A few weeks passed.  “Okay, I will courier it overnight – today.”  By which he meant 5 days from now.   Another week passed until we got the new sticker.    And then we opened it and immediately saw the new sticker said 2006.  And we needed it to say 2005 to match the Mexican paperwork.  Which we had said in our emails.  Ahhhhhh.  More phone calls, more emails, more overnight courier packages that weren’t overnight.   But eventually we got a new sticker to match the Mexican paperwork.  Surely, we were close.

By this time, we were into August.  We took the stack of papers and the new sticker and we headed to El Jefe’s office hoping to get his signature on the whole mess.  First problem – it had been so long he had forgotten our story.  Second problem – he doesn’t speak any English.  But eventually he remembered and looked it all over and nodded and eventually said, “Okay now you need to take it for an inspection.” WHAT?  I thought you were going to sign off on it?   “No …. Inspection”.  Which is how we found ourselves back at the inspection building almost a full year after we had started the process.   20170908_104622.jpgThe same inspector looked at the trailer yet again and this time he admired our ladders on top of the trailer.  “I could really use a new ladder – how much are these worth?”  We ignored the bait and we headed inside.  He looked at the new sticker, shuffled and reshuffled the papers, punched away on the computer and finally said “Sorry – this number doesn’t seem to be in the computer database.  There’s nothing I can do.  You’ll have to go back to the border”.   WHAT?   Okay I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS.  We are not taking the trailer to the border.  You can see the serial number matches the papers now.  “Well then you’ll have to see my boss in Tepic”.  We already saw your boss – in his office in Bucerias.  “That’s not my boss.  That guy has nothing to do with this.  You need to go to Tepic”.  I really wish I had taken a selfie right then – my face had to be in complete shock.  What was going on?  So I did what I should have done 11 months earlier.  I sat down in a chair in front of his desk and said, “We are not going anywhere – you have to do something.”  And then I sat there.  For 90 minutes.  A standoff of silence.   I was not leaving until the inspection forms were stamped and stapled to the other papers.  Just.  Not.  Leaving.  He phoned a few people.  Told me over and over he couldn’t do anything and I just sat there.  After about 90 minutes I said “Look, just fill out the form and give us the plates.”    And you know what he said?  He said “Okay”, and he pulled out his inspection pad and filled it out in triplicate and handed me the green copy to take back to the DMV office.  We were getting plates – and just to be sure, one small ladder stayed behind.

20170912_113614When we arrived back at the Transito office we lined up at the cashier – one last step.  But nope.  Back to our friendly lady in the office.   I am not even exaggerating.  She unstapled our stack of papers, made new copies, reshuffled, and restapled.   Then she sent us back to the cashier.  After another ½ hour or so the cashier went to talk to the woman in the office and they both came to us, “This telephone bill you gave us to prove your address – it is dated September 2016.  That’s a year old.  We can’t use it- we need a current one.”  WELL NO KIDDING IT’S A YEAR OLD – CAUSE THAT IS HOW LONG THIS THING HAS TAKEN.  ONE YEAR.  Luckily we had just paid our phone bill that morning and it was in our car and we handed it over.  Surely that is it right?  “No we are missing the original registration to prove it was registered in Canada.”  Oh my gosh – you are seriously kidding me.  How can you need more papers?  You have every paper I have ever owned.  It is all stapled in that stack with 1 million staple holes.  I don’t have anything else to give you!  And then she pulled an email out of the file folder I was carrying.  It was the email Grant had sent to the manufacturer asking for another Serial number sticker.  “Okay, this is good enough”.  WHAT?  That paper had nothing to do with the registration – in fact it was evidence we had changed the serial number on the trailer.  But it was in English and she had no idea what it said and she was happy to have one more piece of paper.  Whatever.    Back to the cashier.  We paid the fees.  And then the cashier handed us all our papers back, divided into 2 piles and told us to go back to the office and get 2 copies of this pile and 3 copies of the other one.  WHAT?  We were just in that office.  She made lots of copies.  How can you need more copies?  Back to the office.  More copies.  More fees to pay for the copies.  Back to the cashier who stamped every copy, reshuffled the piles, restapled them all.

And then they handed us the plates.   One year to get plates for a trailer that sits in a storage compound.  Thousands of dollars.  1 ladder.   I have never experienced anything like it.  I still am not really sure what happened – why numbers didn’t match and weren’t in the database and who was really the boss.  I can’t imagine where all those stacks of papers are tonight.  Have they not heard of scanners?  Of computers?  Of the paperless society?    But it is done.  2-ND-7586.   Transaction completed. It would be kind of funny if we didn’t have one more trailer to register and plate.  Stay tuned…..

 

Update – This week’s flyers

You thought I was exaggerating didn’t you?  Here are some pictures of the flyers delivered to our house in the last couple of days:

On the truck windshield:

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On the car windshield right in front of the door:

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Taped to the garage door – directly beside the front door:

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Taped directly above the mailbox:

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Stuck in the door right below the mailbox:

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Everywhere but IN the mailbox!  And since mail does not ever show up here in Mexico, I’m thinking I may have wasted my money!  On the up side, I am very aware that there is a 2 x 1 Pizza special this week.

What I’ve Learned …. So Far….

It was 2 years ago this month that we rented our house and began our move here to Bucerias.  Last September we moved our first big load of belongings here and really settled in.  It is our Mexico Anniversary month.  We have survived all 4 seasons, celebrated all of the annual holidays, and embraced the rhythm of this community.  I know many of you are probably wondering if our mid-life crisis has passed, if the honeymoon is over, if the ‘phase’ has ended.  If we are happy.  I dare to ask myself those same questions from time to time and today as I celebrate this anniversary I am confident in the answer.  We love it here.  Almost every single day I say to Grant “Can you believe this?  That we get to do this?”   It has not been easy but it has been good.

I have definitely learned a lot and I decided on this anniversary to share 10 pieces of important wisdom I have picked up:

  1. There really are not 4 seasons here – there is high season and low season; Gringo tourist season and Mexican tourist season; dry season and rainy season; fan season and air conditioner season; mango season and sadly not mango season; hot season and bloody hot season. Today I was teaching the children in my English class the months of the year and most of the little icons I had downloaded for my calendar were useless – no January and February snow, no April showers, no May flowers, no September orange leaves, no October turkey.  Just sunshine icons and rain cloud icons.
  2. Golf carts are not practical means of transportation in rainy season. Even little children will laugh at you when you try.
  3. Mexican bureaucrats like to shuffle papers and staple papers and stamp papers. That absolutely does not mean you will get what you are asking for.  It has been 12 months since we imported our trailer full of tools.  We still do not have license plates even though we have been shuffled and stapled and stamped.  Maybe next week?
  4. No matter how many little Mexican children I cram into my little VW, I can always fit in one more.  Always.20170728_132244
  5. No matter how big or obvious your mailbox is, the delivery guy will always stick his flyer in the cracks of the door, under the door, on the car, on the tree.  He will even tape the flyer ON the mailbox.  He will not put the flyer in the mailbox.
  6. Mexicans love to sing – I love walking around town and hearing men on job sites, men on street corners, men lounging in plastic lawn chairs, men climbing trees to pick coconuts – men singing old Mexican folk songs without caring who is listening. That just feels friendly to me – like life is one big karaoke party.
  7. mini.pngMarket analysis and profit margins and business plans are not a thing here in my neighborhood. There is literally a corner store, a mini super – on every single block.  All selling exactly the same things.   At the cheapest price you have ever seen.  You can buy one egg, one diaper, one cigarette, one bun.  No one is getting rich – but everyone can have his own business.   And this week when I went to buy a loaf of bread at my neighborhood mini super, the owners were in the middle of eating their family meal and offered me a tostado.   Customers, neighbors, friends.
  8. Mexicans really like to please people and hate to say no (well except for the bureaucrats!). A few months ago we noticed a Café that serves cake and coffee in the neighborhood so in the evening we decided to go for a walk and grab some dessert.  When we got to the café, we noticed a pizza delivery guy in the doorway and the owner paying for the pizza.
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    The cake lady.

    We pushed past and when the owner asked if we wanted something we said that we wanted cake and coffee.    Sure.  Okay.  Then she closed the door behind the pizza guy and locked it – the café wasn’t even open.  We looked around and realized her family was there gathered around a table to eat together.  She told us to sit wherever we wanted and then she went into the back – into her own home – and brought us some cheesecake and a jar of instant coffee.  We sat there, in a closed restaurant, with her family, and ate that cake and drank that coffee.   And it was delicious.   

  9. If the sign on the store says it is open from 10-4, it is not going to be open from 10-4. If the gas guy says he will be there in an hour, he will not be there in an hour.  If the street sign says STOP, no one is going to stop.  If the sign on the baby stroller says it costs $700 pesos, it does not cost $700 pesos.  If the internet says the store is at a particular address, the store is not at that address.  If they tell you the party starts at 5:00, the party actually will start at 7:00.  Get over it.
  10. Mexico is not an easy place to live. I always thought that at this stage of my life I would want easy.  Comfortable.  Safe.  But I have realized that life is best lived with a bit of uncertainty, a touch of adventure, a sense of being stretched and tested.  Yes, some days I get frustrated, I’ve had a meltdown or two, I’ve felt lonely and homesick for things that are familiar.  But on this anniversary, I celebrate this new life.  Even the crazy parts.  Maybe the honeymoon is over – but the good part of the marriage, the real love story, is ahead and I can’t wait!

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Old Folks for the Win!

As we continue to settle into our daily lives here in Mexico, there are many familiar habits that have changed.  Some of these changes are good – some still need some adjustment.  We have grudgingly accepted that we cannot live as if we are on a perpetual vacation.  This is our life and it is time to choose how we want to live it.   One of the good changes is that we no longer watch TV.  So far, we have decided not to buy a satellite dish, which means we have no English speaking TV.   We do have Netflix, and every now and then we watch a movie.  And we always figure out a way to watch our Riders play – either on our computer or at some local sports bar.  But we don’t have that endless TV background noise playing in our house anymore – that is a welcome change.   Another good change is that Grant and I really do spend all our time together.  I like that and I am crossing my fingers that he does to.

One of our biggest changes has been in the area of health and exercise.  Grant has always been super active with his construction business.  He didn’t need exercise because he was lifting and climbing and pounding every day.   I, on the other hand, have always been a paper pusher so I do need to exercise.  In the last couple of years I had gotten into a good rhythm using online and/or DVD exercise programs and the gym equipment we had purchased.  Even when we traveled I was able to exercise.  And I had started to cook and eat pretty healthy.  Then we settled here and I was flooded with perceived barriers.  My house is too hot.  It is too small.  The floors are all tile which is uncomfortable to exercise on.  I sold all my equipment before I left Canada. My daily schedule was completely different.  I just couldn’t get into a rhythm.

5 weeks ago, Grant said “That’s it – we need to start exercising.”  So we put on the spandex, filled up the water bottles, updated the playlists and drove 10 minutes to the community of Nuevo Vallarta, the only neighborhood with smooth roads and sidewalks.  Grant strapped on wheels, I tied on running shoes and we started the painful journey of getting in shape.  As a former hockey player, he wanted to skate.  Fast.  I couldn’t possibly keep up on skates, so I ran while he skated.  I have always hated running – A LOT – but it was the best solution so I decided to JUST DO IT.  I started by walking more than running.  The low point was the day when TWO different taxi drivers stopped to ask if I needed a ride.  Apparently, I did not look like an athlete in training.  But we kept going 3 days a week and last Saturday I actually felt a moment of victory when my fitness app told me I had run 42 minutes and walked 11.   I realized I was enjoying my time more – running part of my route on the beautiful morning beach.  Praying as I ran – feeling peace and hope and joy in the journey.  Breathing it all in.  I can’t say I like running yet – my knees and ankles still hurt.  I look at my watch a lot.  But we are doing it.  Grant had a good day Saturday too – he skated 16 km, hitting his goal.  Old folks for the WIN!

Jungles and street paths and beaches – even some coatis checking us out

Progress and pain go together!

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Happy Birthday Francisco

Let’s face it – change is uncomfortable.  Stretching yourself is uncomfortable.  Walking in a direction that you know is going to hurt…. It’s all uncomfortable.   But if you want to live your best life – you just have to do it!   This weekend we went to two birthday parties for our dear friend Francisco.  I ate tacos and tostadas and strudel and 2 pieces of cake.  Because celebrating is also part of a good life and sometimes that comes with amazing Mexican food.  Tomorrow we will get up and head back to the street where the taxi drivers wave at me now.  And the one thing I know for sure?  It’s definitely going to hurt…..

And I’m okay with that.

A Week of Surprise Dates

This was the last week of summer vacation for the school children of Banderas Bay.  On Monday, they will head back to school after a 4 or 5-week break.  Like children everywhere, they are not happy about the end of freedom, the beginning of perceived bondage.  Someday they will remember these as the simplest days of their lives, but for now it’s just school with its early mornings (school starts at 7:30 here) and afternoon homework.

Some of the children went to stay with immediate family or extended family during the break.  I have worried about them because I know they may have been left alone while parents or grandparents worked and they may not have had much to eat.  I will feel better when everyone is back safe in our care. But many stayed at Manos de Amor for the entire summer and we continued with English classes twice a week.  We went to the pool and the beach and played games and went for rides in the golf cart.  This week Grant and I decided to celebrate the last week of vacation by taking each of the children on a surprise date.  We took most of them in pairs, but the littlest girls are impossible to separate so we took all 5 of them together.  Although we know that living at Manos de Amor Casa Hogar has made a huge difference in each child’s life, we also recognize that living in an institution can never be quite like being in a family.  These children long to spend one-on-one time with grown-ups who love them and we knew they would be excited to head out for a treat with us.  We didn’t tell them what we would be doing – each date was a surprise.

Samantha and Mareli

On Friday, we picked up the two oldest girls and headed to the theatre to watch Despicable Me 3.  I had checked online for the movie times and dates – I double and triple checked.  The movie was to be on at 11:00 at the mall in the next town.  Of course, as per Mexico, schedules mean nothing and when we arrived at the theatre, the ticket counter was dark.  Others were waiting as well, until an employee told us all “No, we’re not having it today”.   Our very first date of the week and our plan was already in jeopardy.  I quickly went online and found out the movie was showing in Vallarta in 90 minutes – and looking at the puppy dog eyes of these two girls I knew we had no choice.  We headed into Vallarta to the bigger mall where we had lunch, played a couple arcade games, and watched the movie with giant tubs of popcorn, both plain and caramel.  They loved the movie but do you know what made them the most excited?   The escalator and the automatic hand dryer.  It seemed they had never used either before and they just laughed and laughed.  Samantha said, “You’re the Mom and Gran is the Dad (they just can’t say Grant) and we’re a family.”  Before heading home, we stopped at the giant bead store where they each picked out one charm to remember the day by.  It was a good day.

 

Cesar and Luisito

On Monday, we picked up two of the boys in our Golf Cart and took them to our house for an afternoon of Wii video games and a hot dog BBQ.  As they came into our very simple house, Luisito said “You must be so rich – you have a TV and games and an office.”  Well that’s humbling considering how often I grumble about what I think I lack.   We laughed and laughed as they raced cars, played tennis and baseball and boxing.  A perfect boy date.

The Littles

On Tuesday it was the little girls’ turn – 5 of them, aged 5-7.  They were waiting at the door when we arrived and the next 4 hours was nothing but a pure giggle fest.  We took them to a little zoo in Nuevo Vallarta where we fed the turtles and fish.  Then we headed indoors to the nearby mall to play in the giant play structure, eat pizza and Happy Meals and finish off with ice cream sundaes.   I am not really sure if the littlest ones understand that we don’t speak the same language – they just keep talking and we just keep nodding and laughing.  It seems to work.

Fernanda and Santiago

We have known these two for many years – they used to live at Manos de Amor but at some point, went back to live with their father.  They were visiting for a few days and when we arrived back after our zoo date, they were waiting by the door with expectancy.  What about them?  Could they go with us too?  Honestly, I was pooped, and we had English classes to teach in a couple of hours, but they looked so sad.  How could we turn them down?  So we put them in the golf cart and took them home – Wii games were waiting.  It was hilarious watching these spunky siblings fight it out – but I was so sad as I watched Fernanda’s tiny arms swing the tennis racket.  She is too thin and that scares me.

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Carlos and Brayan

Wednesday was another Video Game and Hot Dog Day with these two brothers. This day was kind of special to us.  These two boys were the first children we ever met at Manos de Amor on our very first visit 6 years ago.  They captured our heart then and that was really the start of our “Moving to Mexico” journey.   They have had a tough life – their Dad died when they were very young and their mom left.  They live with grandparents who really can’t care for them.  Manos de Amor has been the only constant in their young lives.  Watching them play with Grant in our home felt like coming full circle in this adventure.

Meeting Carlos & Brayan in 2011 – the day I fell in love with Mexico’s children.  Who could have guessed the road ahead!

Grand Finale Water Fight Party

Thursday was the party to end Date week – and more importantly to end the summer.  We filled up 350 water balloons, cranked up the music and spent the afternoon drenching one another.  When the water balloons ran out, Carlos introduced the hose and that took it all to a whole new level.  Grant and I were not spared – in fact we were ganged up on – and with 32 degree heat, it felt really good!  We finished it all off with a bunch of pizza and danced around the patio with Brayan as our DJ.  I was tired, but we weren’t quite finished…..

Jorge and Victor

These two guys don’t live at Manos de Amor, but they live in the neighborhood and are in our English class.  We couldn’t leave them out.  Especially Victor.  His mom recently died and he lives across the street with his stepdad who is seldom around – he is so sad and often cuddles close under my arm.  When the water party seemed to be winding down I gave them the signal – let’s go to my place.  It’s your turn.  One last round of video games and since they were a bit older than the rest, they really got Mario’s Kart moving!  It was so good to hear Victor laugh.

That was the end of Date Week.  We will never know what it meant in the lives of these children.  Probably something different for everyone.  But it brought us all closer and as I watched them play throughout the week, I recognized that they now deeply trust us.  When they were scared or upset they ran to either Grant or I and held on tight.  They held our hands as we walked.  They whispered “Gracias”.  And today, when we were driving a number of the girls home for the weekend, Mareli said “Karen, remember the day we went to the movie and Samantha farted and Grant plugged his nose?”  And then we all laughed like crazy again – cause that’s what families do!

 

It’s Really All About the Food

Let’s face it.  One of the main reasons – maybe the primary reason? – people vacation in Mexico is because of the food.  Yes, the weather is perfect, the beaches and mountains are breathtaking, the people are welcoming, the culture is exciting.  But the food – well the food is amazing and addicting in both its simplicity and its complexity.  It’s generally just some kind of meat flavored with chile in a tortilla, but the flavors and the spices and the sauces come together to create heaven.

For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve loved to eat – but I’ve never really loved to cook.  I’m too clumsy and too easily distracted.  Inevitably shortly after I begin, my computer whispers to me that there just might be a super important email waiting (Is Publisher’s Clearing House Lottery even a thing anymore?)  and before I can download and delete, I smell the burning.

But recently I have been thinking it’s time for a change.  For a few reasons:

  1. 20170809_085053Money: To do all the things we want to do here, we’ve started tracking a budget.  We’re cutting back. ☹
  2. Weight: Our 6-week road trip did some serious damage to our midlife midsections.  We’ve upped our exercise game together too!
  3. Health: A recent cancer scare in our family reminded us that we need to get serious about cutting out sugar and chemicals and processed foods.

So this week I got the urge to cook some Mexican dishes. From scratch.  If I am going to do it, if I’m actually going to cook, I need to make it a fun part of our new life experience.  No lasagna, no meatloaf, no pot roast – nope I’m going Mexican!

I started by thumbing through the Mexican cookbooks I had accumulated.  (I’m so weird – for someone who hates cooking, I love to collect cookbooks) and then went shopping.  I was determined to buy everything I could at the small local shops and stands in my neighborhood.  I read about the different types of chiles – red and green, fresh and dried – but when I got to my neighborhood fruteria, they all looked the same to me.  But I did it.  For less than $20 I loaded up my basket and headed home to spend an entire day in the kitchen.  I toasted peppers, I grilled peppers, I peeled and seeded and blended peppers.  I soaked beans and boiled beans and mashed beans.   I roasted and shredded a giant chicken and made a huge pot of chicken broth.  I chopped a LOT of onions and minced many cloves of garlic.  I boiled and blended tomatillas and tomatoes.  When it was all done, I had a big pot of refried beans, a container of salsa verde (green sauce) and a container of red enchilada sauce.  I had enough shredded chicken to make dinner for many nights.  And of course, I had guacamole.

Last night we had red enchiladas and I have to say they were delicious.  Grant said they were the best he had ever had.  Not sure if that’s true, but HE SAID IT and that’s enough for me.  Tonight, the green enchiladas – pretty good too.  Both served with a bowl of guacamole and some refried beans.  And a salad.  Enough left to try a few other things this weekend.

Red Enchiladas, Green Enchiladas and a huge pitcher of Pineapple Agua Fresca

As you are probably guessing, it wasn’t all successful.  My first round of beans was a FAIL – I blame the computer and the stupid stove.  Grant blames my basic lack of attention to the pot that had boiled dry.  Whatever.  The poblano peppers that were on their way to being stuffed hit the garbage can after tearing in half.  Meh.  That won’t discourage me.  My oven dial does not have degrees on it – it has numbers 1 through 5.  Took me a while to figure out that just past 2 is 350.  That’s dumb.  But I’ll keep trying.  I think we’ll head to the fish store next and try some seafood dishes – how about a nice grilled red snapper? Some ceviche? Some giant shrimp rubbed with the left over chile paste?  Obviously some fish tacos with chipotle sauce.

But that’s on the weekend.  I think tomorrow night we’ll head over to California Pizza for some Chicken Tequila Fettuccine – I’m exhausted and craving some Italian!

 

 

We’re Padrinas mistaken for Celebrities

It’s the last week of school here in Banderas Bay and that means it’s Graduation season.  Just as it has in Canada, Graduation has spread to every level and we were invited to a Kindergarten (Kinder) grad as well as to a Sixth grade grad (Sexto).  We were honored to be included in both of these important days with these students and their families.

On Tuesday, we accompanied the three Manos de Amor Kinder students – Gigi, Geraldine and Jose – to their ceremony.  We picked up the prince and the two princesses in our chariot and headed to the school.

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When we arrived, there was standing room only and we found ourselves a spot right at the back.  That’s when it got hilarious.  One of the teachers – perhaps she was the principal – came to us and asked, “Were you invited here for the ceremony?”.  Not quite sure what she was getting at, we said yes and she told us we needed to sit at the front.  We thought perhaps we were standing in an off-limit area, so we followed her to the front before we realized that she was leading us to two empty seats at the head table.  I tried saying “No, there must be a mistake” but it was too late – the program was starting and she indicated we needed to sit in those chairs.  Somehow, we had been mistaken for some expected VIPs.  She had me write our names down and we were introduced and asked to stand – to great applause.  We couldn’t actually understand the introduction except for the part where they thanked us for all our help.  Huh?  For the next 2 hours, we sat there like celebrities, handing out the graduation certificates and the parent awards.  We shook hands.  We stood for the Mexican National Anthem – notice in the picture that we are the only ones not saluting.  That was rectified with one sharp elbow to Grant’s side.  After the ceremony, the woman who had been leading the ceremony thanked us profusely.  We graciously accepted her thanks.  Eventually they will realize that we were just two old gringos who were celebrating like all the rest of the parents but for those long 2 hours we had the best seats in the house!

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On Tuesday afternoon, we attended our second Graduation party – this time for Samuel who was graduating from Primeria (primary school) and heading into Secondaria (high school).  Samuel is the son of Norma who used to work at Manos de Amor and the nephew of Veronica the director.  Again, we were honored to be included in this family celebration – with Anna’s delicious birria.  We had to leave early to teach our English classes and sadly missed the Karaoke!

20170719_140137On Wednesday, we went to nearby San Vicente to attend the 6th Grade graduation of Isabel and Laurentino.  This time we were asked to be the Padrinas, which are similar to Godparents.  In Mexico, children will have many different adults throughout their lives who will be considered supporters or mentors.  At important milestones such as baptisms, graduations, even weddings –  families choose madrinas and padrinas to stand alongside the children to show love and support for them.    At the graduation ceremony, we each sat behind our graduate and walked with them to the front to get their diploma. I love the symbolism of that – we support from behind, we walk alongside.    I admit I looked around today – the only white English speakers in attendance – and wondered what on earth we are doing here – with this very poor community, with this family, with the orphanage, with Mexico in general.  Maybe this is it – we are offering love and support and encouragement from behind, walking alongside our newfound friends as they find their own way.   When the ceremony was over, we told Isabel and Laurentino that if they finish High School, we will help them fund university.  I am giving you fair warning – it’s a few years off but I will be asking for your help when that day comes!

Madrina Karen and Isabel …. Padrina Grant and Laurentino

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Meet the Santanas – Laurentino, Irandi, Isabel, Mom Tina with baby Cristofer, Ibet & Kevin, Ivon & Lupita.  Irandi’s baby Alison is missing from the picture.  Also missing are brothers Jose and Nasabid

So this was a good week of graduation and celebration.  Milestones.  Accomplishments. Hope.  Future.  In so many ways the odds are against these children but for this week we dream and we celebrate.  FELICIDADES ALUMNOS!

 

Arriving Home to Good News

We did it!  After 15,000 kms and 41 days – all but 3 of them in a hotel or Airbnb – we are finally home for good.  This was a painfully long trip and I am glad I didn’t know how slow it would be.  We thought we’d be gone 4 weeks and it just kept multiplying until it was 6.  Although slow, it was truly a great trip with no breakdowns or illnesses or emergencies.  We explored 3 countries – mountains and jungles and deserts and rivers.   It was the necessary conclusion to our life in Canada.  Besides the people we love, we have absolutely nothing left in Canada.  Everything has been sold or donated or relocated.  No matter how sad or painful, the end must come before the new beginning can manifest.

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The border crossing was easier this time.  We hired 1 guy to drive our heavy equipment and trailer over, 1 guy drove 2 van loads of household and building supplies, and we drove our truck full of all that was left.  After 2 or 3 hours, – and a pile of U.S. cash – we were IN and so was our stuff.  For the next 2 days, we traveled through Sonoro and Sinoloa south of the Mexican border, and we arrived home in Nayarit on Thursday night.  The last 5 hours were the worst of the whole trip, but we were determined to make it home and we pushed through the beautiful but curvy mountain roads as the sun was setting.

On Friday morning, we headed straight to the orphanage and were greeted just as we expected – with huge hugs and toothless smiles.  The children wanted to know about Canada and looked through every picture on our phones.  They loved the videos of the waterfalls and wanted to know who every person was in every photo.20170714_124927

20170714_120655We had two surprises waiting for us.  The first was to be hugged by little Brittany and Priscilla.  I told you their story last year when they had to leave Manos de Amor because their drug addicted mom insisted she wanted them back.  (My Very Worst Day….)  We had visited them a couple of heart breaking times at their grandmother’s tiny home and then a few months ago they disappeared.  No one knew where they had moved to and I thought I would never see them again.  In June their Grandmother called the orphanage – she had taken the girls from their mom, could they come and live at Manos de Amor again?   20170714_172811.jpgI am not certain about the status of their legal papers and honestly, I am not going to ask.  I am just so happy to see them laughing again.  We drove them back to Grandma’s house on Friday evening so they could spend the weekend with her and we were relieved to find out where they now live in a nearby town.  We were also thrilled to reconnect with their two older sisters.

We then drove Jose to his home and met his 5-day old nephew who had been born to his 16-year-old sister Ibet.   One of my Canadian friends had given me a large bag of clothes and diapers to share with this young family and the tired mama was grateful.  This baby is the second son for this teenager and I worry how another little person will impact this already struggling family.  Even though he was 5 days old, this little guy hadn’t been given a name yet – Ibet said she was waiting for me to help her choose – so we threw around some ideas and today I got to give Cristofer Alejandro his name.   He is tiny – around 7 pounds – but I was happy to see him being nursed which isn’t always the case with teenage moms here.

 

Meet Cristofer Alejandro

And there was more good news.   On Saturday afternoon, we met little Mateo who had also been born while we were away.   On Saturday night we visited with Francisco and Anita whose adoption of little Ivan recently took a giant step closer to being complete.  On Sunday, we hugged Carmelo and Paola who are now engaged after a sunset proposal on a beach arranged with hearts and roses.  Many happy stories – new beginnings – God directed stories of great hope.

 

New Beginnings! Meeting Baby Mateo, Ivan’s dedication, Carmelo pops the question

As we reconnected with all these friends, I was reminded that although cultures differ in so many ways, we are all connected by our similar human experiences – births and marriages, poverty and riches, joy and pain, hopes and disappointments.   The shades may be different but the colors are the same.

For Grant and I, a new stage of this crazy journey has begun.  The forever part.  Stay tuned…. it’s gonna be a story!

To Canada and Back

What an incredibly wonderful and awful month it has been!  We have traveled over 15,000 kms  – through 3 countries,  6 Mexican states, 3 Canadian provinces, 13 American states and 3 time zones.     That doesn’t include the side trips we took to see waterfalls and mountains and lakes and wineries and deserts.  We have seen some beautiful sights and met many kind and interesting people.  Lots of weird powdery eggs in free hotel breakfasts and crazy gas station snacks.   We have been to a graduation and a wedding and a planning retreat.  We hung out with our daughters, our parents and all our siblings but one (next time Connie?).   We visited 3 different welders for trailer repairs and replaced one bulging tire.   It was a great trip and it is almost over.  Unfortunately, the last leg is the toughest – getting all our building supplies and equipment imported and driving it all through Mexican mountain roads.  But we are close and this last load represents the end of the transition.  The start of the forever life.

Heading up to CanadaMap - MX to Can (2)

Heading back to Mexico

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Jungles and Waterfalls and Cities

 

Diana’s graduation and Jason & Bailey’s Wedding

 

Family time

I have learned a lot during this trip:

  • Hotels never have enough electrical outlets for all our devices
  • Americans still don’t know where Canada is
    • Guy:  It must feel pretty hot for you being from Minnesota
    • Grant:  Actually we’re from Canada
    • Guy:  Yeah same thing
  • People eat too much sugar
    • Girl in hotel breakfast room:  Dad, what are Corn Flakes?
    • Dad:  That’s Frosted Flakes without the Frosting – you have to add your own.  Proceeds to dump A LOT of sugar on daughter’s corn flakes
  • Avoiding mountains when you’re pulling a large trailer adds a lot of miles and states to the trip. In order to avoid Colorado we visited:  Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Arizona, New Mexico
  • There is no place on earth where you will not see a Rider fan wearing his green
  • Oklahoma is really good at summer storms and Arizona is really good at summer heat
  • Apparently Google Maps doesn’t know about all the new highways and interchanges….. rerouting…..rerouting…….
  • You get what you pay for when you book hotels online, no matter what the pictures look like – we’ve had some nice ones and some really NOT NICE ones
  • USA has not embraced whole grains – almost every hotel offered white bread only for breakfast
  • Big dreams come with big challenges – I have never considered quitting on this dream, but I acknowledge that it has been difficult and somedays are downright scary. I don’t know if I could keep moving ahead if I didn’t have faith that this all part of a divine purpose.
  • When you’re traveling with your best friend even the bad days are fun – or at least manageable!

 

Road Trip Sugar Overload

 

Crazy weather didn’t slow us down

I think the main thing I learned is that Bucerias has become my home.  When I learned that we would not be able to meet with the broker on Wednesday but would have to wait until the next Monday, I bawled like a baby.  I am so ready to be home.  I miss hugging children and eating tacos and hearing Spanish.  I miss our garden.  I miss my friends and my church and my crazy neighborhood.  We were so fortunate to see our family this month but we are definitely ready to settle back into our new life.

20170703_152107Tomorrow we will meet with two different brokers.  We will unload the trailer and the truck and will get inspections and will pay all kinds of fees and duties and ‘honorariums’.  It will take a couple of days and then we will be on the road to home.  If all goes well, next Tuesday. we will go to Jose’s Kindergarten graduation.  We will meet Ibet’s new baby who will arrive any day and Mateo who was born last month.  We will celebrate little Ivan’s final adoption by his wonderful California parents.  We will congratulate Peter on getting his Mexican citizenship and Verito on graduating from Veterinarian school.  We will celebrate with Carmelo and Paola on their recent engagement.  We will go dancing in town squares and exploring around town in our spunky blue golf cart.  We will reach out and make a difference wherever we can.  And we will eat tacos!

 

On the Road Again

I can’t quite believe it either – we’re driving north again to get one last load of stuff.  Business stuff this time – our bobcat and scaffolding so Grant can do some building.  And my BBQ and Christmas stuff which didn’t make the last load.   We have combined it all together with a graduation in Tepic, a wedding in Penticton, a visit with my sister in Squamish and our daughters in Vancouver, time with family in Regina, and a work retreat in Moose Jaw.  And if we have to drive through Mexico, we decided to add a few vacation days and check out some new territory.  So this is a combination family/vacation/work trip and we will be gone about a month.

Our first stop was to say goodbye to the kiddos at the orphanage.   On Thursday when we told them we were leaving, they were not happy.  Samantha just mostly glared, “you said no more Canada, you said you live in Bucerias now”.    Yes but we need to visit our daughters and our parents.  We’ll be back, we promise.  We hugged and kissed goodbye and reminded them to be good for the English teacher sub Luke.  We will be back – this is our home now.

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After driving 2.5 hours through crazy winding mountain roads, our first stop was Tepic for our friend Diana’s graduation from Vanguardia – a Bible school connected with La Fuente church.   After spending so much time every day seeing children and teens who seem to have so little hope, it was refreshing and emotional to see a room full of young adults passionate about their futures, all of them eager to start internships where they will care for others and live out their faith.

 

This 113 km trip takes almost 3 hours because of crazy roads and crazier drivers

We then headed to the historic center of Tepic to start the vacation portion of our trip.  We hadn’t been in Centro 10 minutes before we were pulled over by the police – who knew you couldn’t turn left at any corners?

 

 

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Good morning view from my bed

Today we are heading to Guadalajara – the adventure begins!  We are taking a different route this time so we can see some new places.  Some gardens and waterfalls and historic towns.  Some Pueblos Magicos – magical Mexican towns.  Stay tuned – you know there’s going to be entertainment along the way!