Tag Archives: Mexico

Our Move to Mexico

Jess-Poster-shot

Hello folks. My nom de plume is Jess Waid. My hobby in retirement is novel writing. Currently, I am penning my fourth book, a police story. No, I am not a best seller, perhaps because I don’t have the gumption to go out and be a peddler. Did you know there are 22 million books being published each year? That’s a far cry from the 12,000 a decade ago. Of course, thanks to the Internet, most are Print-on-Demand, self-published works that shouldn’t see the light of day. Then there is the Fifty Shades of Grey exception. Whatever.

I mention this only because cheery Karen McConnaughey, apparently thinking I might be able to entertain you by describing my experience traveling from the southern coast of Oregon to Ajijic, Mexico, had no idea what she was unleashing. Actually, I think she expects what I have to say to be informative, perhaps helpful to future travelers. We shall see.

OK, here I go. Having reached my so-called “Golden Years” well ahead of my wife, Barbara, I commenced upon a search for a final place to retire. I sought a location somewhere on this planet that would be kinder to my aging joints than the blustery coast where I’d spent the past ten years. Before that, it was a dozen years on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, in northern Idaho. Brrr.

When I discovered the Focus on Mexico website, I was intrigued. The year was 2009. That September, Barbara and I participated in their excellent eight-day seminar package, extending our stay several days because we liked the area so well. Soon, we decided that living lakeside in Ajijic was what we wanted to do. The temperate climate, the large lake, the terrain, and the warmth of the Mexican people convinced us.

The malecon, Lake Chapala, Ajijic
The malecon, Lake Chapala, Ajijic

Like most reasonable people, we tried to plan for everything well ahead of our departure date. Before we left Ajijic on that first visit with Focus, we started the process for IMSS coverage, and eventually got our FM3s. Fortunately that occurred before the rules changed. Recently Julie Vargas, our pretty and capable facilitator, advised us that new regulations now require us to change to an FM2 status. But then you likely know that. Hey, this is Mexico.

Folks, I don’t handle major moves well. I believe it has to do with not having had a stable home life as a youngster. So be it. Still, I told myself to take on the transplanting process one final time. I’ve got to say it has been quite an adjustment; one I am still dealing with; one I do not expect to repeat.

OK, on to our move to Mexico.

While in Oregon, Barbara was tasked with getting our personal house in order: bank accounts, utility, telephone/TV service bills for the house, etc., and getting our bookkeeper set up to handle the payroll account for our Mexican restaurant business in Brookings, Oregon.

My assignment was to set about ensuring that our unsold beachfront house and restaurant would be properly maintained; also, that the house-sitter, Maryjane, a talented artist, was up to snuff on the little things that continuously happen to buildings on the coast, due to the salt-laden and blustery air.

FYI, when the house sells, we will have an estate sale, and the big items we wish to keep will be packed, hauled and stored by Strom-White Movers to our Ajijic home.

What vehicle to use for the trip? After much discussion, we decided to keep our 2001 Silverado 1500 model, with its enclosed camper shell. It only had 86,000 miles on it, and best of all, it allowed us to bring down our computers, printers, and sundry personal items. We couldn’t see subjecting a newer vehicle to the narrow cobblestone passages and topes of Ajijic. Nevertheless, for my tummy comfort, I purchased new black wheels (the latest fad) and new tires. I had the pickup gone through completely, fitting it with new spark plugs, ignition wires, hoses, brake assemblies, wiper blades, a thorough cleaning, and a rust-preventive painting of the undercarriage.

Not exactly our vehicle, but here's a 2001 Silverado 1500
Not exactly our vehicle, but here’s a 2001 Silverado 1500

I should mention that earlier, in a Guadalajara paper, we noticed an advertisement for legalizing vehicles for Mexico. Deciding that was a good idea, I contacted Bella Flores Exports in Riverside, California. The owner, David Flores, assured me he could take care of our needs. As one might expect, we had some concerns and questions that, hopefully, his answers would satisfy. That meant a lot of phone tag during the subsequent weeks, a bit frustrating, especially the time when we were told he’d call us back the next day and no call came. We later learned that he was in France negotiating a deal with Fiat and Renault to import cars into Mexico, much cheaper than bringing them in from the States, he informed me.

Anyway, when Flores claimed he could legalize our truck for Mexico for $1100 as opposed to the $3,000 it would cost if we did it after arriving in Ajiic, we said OK. Then he explained that our Chevy pickup had to be empty. That meant unloading it at daughter DeDe’s hilltop home in Jamul, California, 128 mostly freeway miles south of Bella Flores. We had no choice but to do so.

Meanwhile, we sent him the original pink slip for the Silverado, along with copies of our Oregon insurance papers, our drivers’ licenses, and a utility bill from our future home in Ajijic proving our Mexican residence. This all occurred weeks in advance of our planned departure date. It was during this period that the phone tag took place.

Per Flores’ instructions, we delivered our empty truck to the Riverside address on a Wednesday afternoon, only to find his office closed. Numerous other businesses were located in the building, so I talked to the receptionist in the downstairs lobby, and she contacted him by phone. Fifteen or so minutes later, Flores’ assistant arrived. The man was pleasant but had no specific answers to my questions. So my daughter and I waited another ten minutes for his boss’ arrival.

When Flores showed up, he had his assistant examine our truck while Flores filled out some papers.  He asked me what the amount of the fee was that he’d quoted to me on the phone. I told him $1,100. He gave me a look of doubt, and pulled out a sheet of paper with figures for different types of vehicles. The fee for my truck was $1,600. He apologized for any misunderstanding, and said he would waive the $150 he normally charged for his personal services, whatever that meant. I thanked him.

Already committed to the process, I signed the agreement. Then he told me how fortunate I was, as Mexican federal law required all vehicles to be “smog certified,” but that it was the individual Mexican state’s prerogative whether or not to require the certification. He said that Jalisco had decided to adopt the federal smog law on January 1st and that meant registered owners, many of whom he suggested would be caught unaware, would have to bring their vehicles up to standard at a cost of around $500. I thought the difference between $1,100 and 1,600 I was paying very interesting.

Next, he told me I could retrieve my Chevy pickup on Friday at 6 o’clock.

On that day, DeDe drove me to Riverside early to avoid the expected heavy traffic. We arrived in town at 3 o’clock. Thankfully, the weather was pleasant because we found ourselves waiting outside the Bella Flores office well into the dark hours, when my pickup was finally delivered. Flores had called earlier and said his hauler was delayed at the border. In a subsequent call around 7 o’clock, he said they were only 30 minutes away as they were in Colton, a nearby town. Actually, it was 90 minutes later.

Apparently, the actual reason for the delay was something else. In retrospect I think I know why, because later, Flores said the camper shell, considered an accessory, meant there would be duty fees attached. I remember when we dropped off the truck, the assistant checked it over for damages, et cetera. It is reasonable that he told Flores about the shell.  So, did Flores, for whatever reason, wish to avoid the extra fee, and have the shell removed and stored in Colton before hauling it to the border for the legalizing process? I think so. Likely the delay was because they were remounting the shell.

At this point I must jump to the present. Several days ago we met with Julie Vargas at her “satellite office” at the Chapala de Real Hotel. The purpose was to ensure there would be no problem picking up our Jalisco license plates for the Chevy truck. Boy, was I glad we did. Julie said there were several steps that had to be gone through, including getting a letter from the police clearing our vehicle, and then going to Guadalajara at 5:30 a.m., likely standing in line indefinitely, and signing papers and paying a fee. Gloria is handling all of that for us. Yes, more pesos left my wallet, but soon we will have our truck properly legalized. I don’t know why David Flores didn’t advise us about the subsequent steps and fees that would be required.

OK, back to our move to Mexico.

Early Saturday morning found DeDe, Barbara and me loading the truck, getting all of our stuff stashed securely. It took us a good hour. Yes, the warm weather had me swiping at my wet forehead.

Guess what? When I tried to close the rear hatch, it wouldn’t seal. More sweat beads dripped from me when I discovered why.

The camper shell was skewed nearly two inches forward on the truck’s bedsides. Obviously, it had been reset on the bed in the nighttime hours, and likely in a hurry. To get to the mounting bolts meant unloading the bed. That wasn’t about to happen.

DeDe gave me three bungee cords to keep the shell’s rear lid shut while in transit.

Securing the lid was a security issue and a minor inconvenience on our nightly stops, when I had to unload dog crates and food bowls. Oh, guess I forgot to mention that we brought along our three small dogs: Beau, a 10 year-old six pound Papillon; Teri, a 10 year-old 14 pound Papillon mix; and, Chico, a two year-old 16 pound Schnoodle (papa a Poodle/,mama a Schnauzer).

A last comment about the truck situation: when we unloaded it in Ajijic, I discovered that the brake light wires to the shell had not been reconnected, so the added safety feature was missing during the drive. Not critical; we did have the regular taillights that worked.

Had Flores told me about the shell being lifted off, however, I would have checked to see that it was mounted properly. I’d gone through the process before we left Brookings when I’d removed the shell to repaint the truck bed. I knew it had to be squarely mounted to ensure the rear lid would seal. Ah well.

When we left Jamul, we headed for Camp Verde, Arizona to pick up our new pet, a nine-week-old Doberman Pinscher with ears freshly cropped. Ouch! I found Thor online when we decided, because of all the horror stories about bad guys in Mexico, that we should have a dog specially bred for protection. What attracted us to the Arizona breeder was the size of their dogs. Thor is expected to reach 30 inches at the shoulders and weigh close to 130 pounds. I recently invested in a grain shovel.

Our four-legged security system, Thor, at four weeks
Our four-legged security system, Thor, at four weeks

We spent the next night, Sunday, our first with four dogs, in Rio Rico, a small town 14 miles north of the border. It was a lovely, pet friendly hotel. Barbara had spent much time searching out such inns along our planned route. What had made it difficult was her not knowing what nights we would be arriving where, due to the phone tags with Flores and being unable to learn the exact date for delivery/pick up of the truck until we were already heading south. It’s a two-day drive to Riverside from Oregon.

In fact, Barbara spent hours online searching pet-friendly websites, like bringfido.com, gringodogs.com, and others including hotels.com. What she found was all of them were out of date, and their website information inaccurate. For instance, when she contacted the listed hotels in Guaymas, she was told they didn’t accept pets.

Go figure.

Obviously, this entailed changing our planned itinerary once we crossed the border.

Our advice: contact the hotels directly to ensure accurate information if you intend to bring your pets.  I suspect they have different rules for high and low seasons. Barbara finally called a number listed on a website for a hotel and got hotels.com.  She had the representative actually call the hotels in Los Mochis and Mazatlan to make sure that they were in fact pet friendly. Our stays in both locations were as pleasant as one might expect, having four dogs to contend with, one a puppy that wasn’t about to be left alone.

Our biggest surprise, a pleasant one at that, was the actual crossing of the border. We had all our paperwork in hand ready to show to the authorities. As we wheeled up to the guard kiosks and observed the dark-clad troops with their automatic weapons slung from their shoulders, I prepared myself mentally for the unknown. I envisioned getting the scary red light, then unloading the truck, and showing proof of ownership papers for the dogs, their shot records indicating they’d been properly inoculated within the past ten days, and that nine-week old Thor was three months old (the information about dogs needing to be three months old was confusing. As a precaution, the “dobie” people had pre-dated Thor’s whelping date).

Perhaps it was the holographic decal in the upper right corner of the windshield or maybe our rather non-descript and tightly loaded truck, but they merely glanced at us as the green light flashed. Our travails with Bella Flores had been worthwhile.

We were waved through!

A, the charm of crossing the USA-Mexico border.
A, the charm of crossing the USA-Mexico border.

Not convinced of our good fortune, I drove several kilometers, continuously checking the side-view mirrors for the policia and the federales before I accepted reality and found my breathing returning to normal.

Because of the pet-friendly hotel fiasco (finding a place to stay), the day we drove to Los Mochis found us riding along for nine plus hours. I had planned to be on the road for a maximum five hours because of the dogs. Thankfully, our pets put up with the rather cramped space on a blanket laid over suitcases behind us. We kept the extended cab’s rear and side windows open along with the AC fan for the entire trip

We used only the toll roads when available—one glimpse of the free (libramiento) roads quickly had us shelling out the pesos at the tollbooths. The fees varied at each one, and I gave up trying to reason why. All of the attendants were pleasant.

The route south was easy to follow, until we left Mazatlan. Ongoing roadwork had me missing the dirt transition lane (poor signage, plus I was behind a dump truck and couldn’t see the road ahead very well) to the toll road. We ended up in Concordia about half a marathon’s distance east of Mazatlan. It was a fringe benefit for me, as the small town, noted for its furniture makers, many of them of French descent, is where my father was born in 1911.

A bit of traffic in Guadalajara
A bit of traffic in Guadalajara

The downside of the scenic detour was it used up a critical hour, as I had planned to arrive in Guadalajara before the peak traffic hour. We hit it at five o’clock.

Aiee chihuahua! Never again.

Mexican Train

Not this.

 

This.

 

Mexican Train.

You might think I am referring to a locomotive that rattles noisily down steel tracks somewhere in Mexico. Well, I am not. I am talking about a popular board game using dominoes that I discovered through friends.

A year ago or so, when in Mexico, Tom and Dee Grant, along with another couple, Don and Leslie, introduced my wife, Barbara, and I to the game. I forgot about the fun event until our last visit to the Grant’s home. That evening we again played Mexican Train, but with another couple as Don and Leslie weren’t available.

During the game, funny little things occurred that brought chuckles. Soon the double entendres were flying. I laughed until my eyes were blurry. The game went on for five hours. Barbara won. She’s a games person.

Anyway, when we returned to our home in Oregon, I decided to buy the game. Fearlessly, I went online and found www.mexicantrainfun.com.

Wow! Check out the website and you will see why it nearly blew my mind. It’s not exactly the slickest website in the world, but boy is it ever filled with, well, content. I thought I’d find a simple game featured here — you know, a box full of dominoes,  the other necessary pieces, and some simple instructions. Wrong. Instead, I was faced with a a long list of choices.

First, which set did I want? here were five options: a Double 6 with threes and fives (the number of pips on a tile), the most popular size, along with a Double 9, a Double 12 with 91 dominoes with the tile pips ranging from blank (0) to 12, a Double 15 with 136 dominoes ranging from 0 to 15, and a Double 18 featuring 190 dominoes, with the tile numbers ranging from 0 to 18. This one allows you to play more complicated games.

The website features a video to help you see the games and the colors on the various sets. In addition to dominoes with pips, they’re also available  with numbers (makes ‘em easier to read). There are various racks and trays (wood or plastic), a rules and strategy book, tournaments to sign up for, and domino clubs to join. There’s even a blog site for players’ comments.

For example, a question was posed on the site about a player announcing that he wanted to “go out” on a double (a tile with the same number of pips on each half), but not having a tile to answer it. The rules were checked, and seeing a name of a recognized expert on the game they called her. Her response was that you must answer a double to go out. This changes the strategy of the game a great deal, since you should try to hold a tile that coordinates with a double, or be sure to play a double earlier if it doesn’t match anything in your hand so you can go out, or, if it is a low double, hang onto it to the end because it will be low points in your hand. Get it?!

You are wondering why I don’t explain the above in greater, more lucid detail, it’s because I really can’t, at least not yet. I am still a novice. Like I’ve said, I’ve only played the game twice. I’m not Barbara!

I have learned one important detail, however. It turns out that the owner of the premises where the game is being played is the final arbiter in all disputes. It might pay to host the game.

What’s available on the website doesn’t stop there. They sell train markers, a set of eight that come in solid colors or with glitter, or a Double 6 with black dots and brass spinners (don’t ask). You can buy a container (case) in vinyl, tin, wood, or aluminum, and carry it in a tote bag with a Mexican Train logo. Ot how about a yard sign for advertising that Mexican Train is being played at your place tonight?

They sell train hubs in clear plastic, or wood hubs for six or eight players. Some sets have train hubs that come with sounds. Even chicken sounds! And why not also get yourself a set of 10 colored chicken markers while you’re at it? Or there’s always the interactive yellow hub with chicken-foot and train graphics and sounds. Simply push “train sound” when you start a train, or “chicken crow” when you start a double (again, don’t ask!).

There are attractive red caboose pencil sharpeners, dominoes with jumbo sized pips or numbers, even a spiffy, four-fold domino tabletop. There are large train markers, the Mexican Train whistle key chain, and, best of all, a large glass train in a silver gift box. And of course you have to have scorecards, and an official train pen.

It’s apparently highly recommended that you cover your game table with felt. It makes for quieter play, and the tiles slide more easily. Also, since dominoes pick up dirt from table surfaces, people’s hands, food, and drink, over time they become dirty. You guessed it. The site offers cleaning remedy suggestions.

Being a party animal, I decided I wanted to be able to play with eight players, so I opted for the professional-sized Double 15. Hey, it was on sale, at a whopping 19% discount. I saved $16. Plus, bonus, it came with a faux cowhide Leatherette case with a snap closure. And the train hub is interactive. You know, with those funny chicken sounds.

I stopped short of purchasing the game night lawn sign. I like to think that shows a certain steely sort of masculine will and determination.

On the other hand, it could simply be because I don’t have a lawn.

Learning good manners, Mexican-style

Mexico — Viva la differencia!

Preparing for our move to Mexico, Barbara and I have read and reread Judy King’s article she published in the Lake Chapala Review in February of this year.

It contains valuable information that I am copying and offering to those of you planning to visit Mexico.

Judy’s advice is to start by learning her list of “basic etiquette tips and customs.” She says not to be discouraged, as it might take time to automatically respond correctly, and stop saying “Good bye,” when you think you mean “Hello.”

OK, here we go.

Adios: Whenever driving and you want to shout a cheery greeting to those you are passing, or when you meet someone on the sidewalk, but can’t take time to stop and visit, the correct greeting is “Adios.” The only time you say “Buenos dias,” (Good day), is when you have time to stop and chat. Coming or going, you are blessing those you meet by saying, “Adios.” In effect, you are placing the person in God’s hands.

Eye contact: I was taught to look one in the eyes when speaking to them. In Mexico, holding one’s gaze is deemed aggressive or flirtatious behavior. So, look at or near the other person’s eyes. With the opposite sex, intent eye contact can be considered a come-on. In some rural areas, looking intently at a baby can be interpreted as an attempt to cast the “evil eye.” You can show your good intentions and release the parents’ concern by reaching out and softly touching the baby’s hand or foot.

Introductions: When you meet someone new, be the first to respond vocally to the formal introduction. That way you can be the one to say, “Con mucho gusto” (with much pleasure). Your new acquaintance will then respond with one of the several more difficult phrases.

Handshaking: Men always shake hands at a first introduction, and at the next several meetings. Just a gentle squeeze, pr favor, as a bone-crushing grip is considered aggressive and invasive. Men’s handshakes evolve into a traditional abrazo (hug), where the handshake is used to move in closer as the men exchange a hearty hug, and three warm pats on the upper back. Women must initiate all handshakes. More often the handshake between a man and a lady or between two ladies is just a soft touching of right hands, and a kiss near the right cheek. Even the tiniest toddlers are taught to offer their hands for the saludos (greetings), often before they learn to talk. All girls and many little boys are accustomed to giving each adult un besito (a little kiss) when they arrive and as they prepare to depart.

Tossing and throwing: Never, ever toss something to a Mexican, even a close friend. The simple act of lofting a pencil or a key ring across a room is viewed as a harsh insult and can cause an immediate hurt and an angry reaction.

Physical contact: It might take you some time to learn to cope with being bumped, jostled, and touched in crowded situations. My cop street-wise side likely would have me immediately reaching for my wallet, thinking I was surrounded by pick pockets. In large crowds, as at fiestas, street markets, parades, and sporting events, I noted that when I paused to clear a space and waited for others to pass, those coming toward me never exchanged the courtesy, and often nudged me out of the way. When I realized that the constant contact was a normal situation, I wondered if they were being deliberately inconsiderate? My attitude changed, however, when I realized that many Mexicans grow up with whole families, including three or four children, sleeping in a single room. With the extended family living in a single dwelling, the inevitable and constant physical contact at home gave bumping and touching on the street a different context. Studies show that North Americans reflect their need for space by communicating most comfortably at a distance of 36-48 inches. Hispanics, on the other hand, move in closer to about 18 inches.

The shopkeeper: Try to remember to say “Buenos dias” or “Buenos tardes”  (Good afternoon) as you enter a business, even if the owner or clerk is not in sight. We’re accustomed to not “bothering” the clerk until we need help. Delaying that first greeting is considered not only unfriendly, but also dismissive to Mexican employees.

Put the money into the hand: OK, a small detail, but an important one. At the grocery store, the taco stand, even when paying the housekeeper each week, put the money directly into their hand. Placing it on the counter or tabletop for them to pick up is considered a snub—an indication that you don’t want to make direct contact with them.

The (even slightly) bad words and smutty jokes: Don’t learn to swear in Spanish (too late for me!), leave the Spanish words for pirates and parrots. That way you won’t be tempted to disgrace yourself, or even let a bad word slip accidentally. Today’s Mexico, even among the rich and famous, is more like it was north of the border in my grandma’s day—at least where language is concerned. Yes, you might hear workmen drop a string of expletives. So be it. While slightly off-color jokes and double entendres often are bandied about when the men and the women are in separate groups, it is extremely disrespectful in the presence of the opposite sex or in front of children.

Remember. Mexico is not North America. Viva la differencia!