Saturday, August 28, 2010

Almost Mexico; Real Mexico

First off, here's the new truck.

We had a decent flight to Cancun but I wish I had taken them up on the offer of First Class at a reasonable price when I had the chance. We were like sardines in the aircraft. It doesn't bother me much but poor Ted is really squished. We waited for Tom & Jeanne at a bar and had two of the most expensive margaritas ever ... about $14 each! They certainly weren't that special but you know how airport prices are.

We made our way via the pre-arranged transportation to the Royal Islander, one of several resorts that belong to the Royal group. It was fabulous. This is the view off our balcony and from the front door. Tom & Jeanne had a king sized bedroom, bathroom, dressing area, walk in closet, kitchen, living room and dining room. We had two queen beds, a bathroom, dressing area, walk in closet and kitchen alcove. We were connected by a door. The entire unit is their time share but it can be rented as two different units if they want to use just one or the other.

We got settled in and later went to Captain's Cove for dinner. There is a shuttle that rides you around the Royal Resorts so you can avail yourselves of all the amenities of all the resorts.

Over the next four days we had coffee on the balcony in the morning, spent time at the pool and just took it easy. One day we rode the shuttle to an upscale shopping center and then walked a little further to another shopping center and had lunch at Chili's. There are very pretty amenities here. We didn't buy anything; in fact, I never bought one thing the whole week.

This is an iguana we passed on the street. They roam freely all over the place.

Tom & Jeanne had a massage on Wednesday and Ted and I did laundry for all of us because we were leaving on an overnight trip to Merida at the northwestern edge of the Yucatan Peninsula. We would be gone from the Royal Islander all day Thursday and Friday with an early Saturday morning departure from Cancun airport for all of us.

If you've been over the TX, AZ or CA borders into Mexico or vacationed in Acapulco, Cozumel or Cancun you know the American influence is strong and you are "almost in Mexico." Our 2-day trip took us into Mexico like none of us had done before.

We rode through small villages that were laced with little more than concrete block shacks here and there, some painted pastel colors. When the doors were open, I could see inside and there was little if any furniture. We were told these people sleep in hammocks hung from hooks on the wall. We stopped at Izamal called the City of Hills and located right in the middle of the Yucatán Peninsula. Izamal may be the oldest city in the Yucatán. It was conquered by the Spaniards, and the monks in their eagerness to convert the Indians to Catholicism gave the city its religious distinction. To this day, Izamal's people are very devoted to the Immaculate Virgin and the church here bears that name.

The most important thing to see here is the Franciscan convent that was built over one of the Mayan pyramids. This is also where Pope John Paul visited in 1993. His visit has been one of Izamal's claims to fame ever since, and is commemorated by a statue of the Pope in the church courtyard.

We traveled on with a stop at a fabric factory and observed mostly young men sewing the colorful clothes on sewing machines. What we have computers do running as many as 20 or 30 machines, these people still do by hand and get paid by the piece.

Our lunch stop was at Hacienda San Pedro Ochil. All I can say about the food we ate over these two days is it was not anything like what Mexican restaurants in the U.S. or even along the Americanized Mexican beaches serve. There was not a fajita, quesidilla, burrito, etc. in site. There were chips and pico de gallo (not salsa), corn tortillas (no flour ones) and lots of banana leaf wraps. I had a chicken leg and thigh, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked in the ground. It was tasty and tender. This is the chapel; one was always in a hacienda. Ted and I in the courtyard and the open air entrance to the hacienda where the restaurant is located now.

Our next stop was the ruins at Oxmal. Just as we arrived it poured down rain and while we waited under an eave, lightning struck the top of the largest pyramid. When the rain let up we were able to tour some of the area. Our guide was very knowledgeable and explained a lot about the Mayan people and how their culture was almost destroyed by the Spaniards much like Europeans almost destroyed the culture of the American Indian.

Founded in the 6th century AD, Uxmal flourished from 700 AD to 1000 AD, when it was abandoned, leaving ruins covering an area roughly one and a half miles by 600 yards, with a few lesser constructions outside these measurements. Long after it was deserted, people still dimly recalled Uxmal as a place of great pomp and splendor, a walled city and capital of a powerful and interconnected regional state.

The Governor’s Palace, built on a huge stepped platform, was probably the residence of the most important members of the ruling class. It gives the extraordinary visual effect of movement with its rain-god masks jutting from the friezes, and the remarkable filigree formed by over 20,000 mosaics on the façade.

One can also visit the Ball Court where a game was played using the body to get an object through the circle. Feet, hands and head were not permitted.

We checked into a very nice hotel in Merida and walked to a local restaurant for another meal that I can only describe as Mexican peasant. I'm not sure what I ate but it had shredded turkey and was very dry. I added pico de gallo but that didn't make it a whole lot better.

After a good night's rest we were off to explore the city of Merida (pronounced Mare-a-duh). We stopped at the home of the founder of the city, built in 1500s and at the cathedral built about the same time. In contrast, we rode down the boulevard where very beautiful homes are mostly businesses today.

I took a picture of Tom and Jeanne at The Monument of the Flag. On the other side of the circle is the symbol of the eagle standing on a cactus with a snake in its beak as it appears on the Mexican Flag.

We had lunch at a dance hall of sorts where a band is always playing and there are singers too. It's what we would encounter on a Friday or Saturday night in a local pub but not in the middle of the day. We were told this was to be a buffet but it was more family style of lots and lots of small dishes of stuff that we didn't recognize. We all put some of it together to fill a tortilla. Just so you know I'm not making this stuff up, dessert was carrot sticks, jicama sticks and orange slices sprinkled with chili powder. Imagine our surprise when we thought it was cinnamon!

After a 3.5 hour ride back to Cancun, we opted to eat a HAMBURGER and FRENCH FRIES at a restaurant in the resort. When we took the elevator back up to the room, a fellow said they were going to release the baby turtles into the ocean at 8:00. All week I had seen turtle tracks where overnight turtles had come out of the ocean, dug holes and deposited eggs but I never saw one.

I went down to watch and was told they dig up the eggs each morning and re-deposit them away from the crowds. They are marked with the date they are laid, the mother's size and how many eggs. There are hundreds of them. When they hatch they release them back into the water. They had almost 300 to release. I was able to hold one and I got a picture but you weren't allowed to use a flash so it is done with artificial light. It was the next best thing to seeing the mother lay the eggs.

We were up before 4:00 am for our ride to the airport for a 7 a.m. flight. This time I paid the upgrade fee and we flew first class. We had a great ride home with no wait at Immigration or Customs and were home a little after 10 a.m.

Next trip - Boerne, TX for the Texas Boomers 10th Anniversary Labor Day Rally. Talk to you then!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

I've switched children's books to The Little Engine That Could. We have had to set the alarm all week for 7 a.m. to accomplish everything we needed to get done before we leave tomorrow morning. I saw Chris watering his folks' lawn and when I asked if he was ready to come back he said he certainly was. I'm just as ready to get on that plane to Cancun.

I was dealing with things at home like the plumber who installed a new thermocoupler on our hot water heater; it took two electricians 1.5 hours to determine a lightening strike across the street knocked out a circuit breaker and they fixed it, our cable was restored to what I wanted, the pest control fellow came back to do the inside plus I had to work at a NAM (Northeast Assistance Ministry) back to school shot blitz clinic one day, deliver Meals on Wheels one day and attend a Junior Forum meeting today.

In the midst of all of this, Ted bought a new truck - 2010 Champagne colored F350 Super Duty diesel dually. I drove it home from Ted's brother's house. It has such power that I was doing 60 without realizing it. I immediately slowed down. Ted also had the hitch moved and the plug put in. Then he sold our old tires and wheels and delivered them to Conroe. Lots of running around.

I canceled the old toll road EZ Tag and ordered a new one for the new truck, changed the insurance from the old truck to the new one. In the meantime, Ted made an overnight trip to Austin for work.

We'll be gone a week and I have no idea if I'll have access to a computer so just think of me on the white sand or in the turquoise water. If anything breaks, I'm calling the front desk.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fortunately, Unfortunately

I feel like I'm starring in the book "Fortunately, Unfortunately" that Kristin wrote in grade school. It mentioned something good that happened and then something bad.

We got the new tire put on the RV and put it away. That was good. Also Gwen did not charge us a late check out fee for hanging around until 3 pm on Thursday. The day before Ted had rolled onto his cell phone in his pants pocket while under the RV. It broke in half so we had to go to Verizon and get a new one. His glass lens all of a sudden came out of his glasses so it was off to Wal-Mart to get that fixed.

Things were good at home and I started in on all the mail that had accumulated. Most of it goes into the trash but there were some things to tend to. My license plate is up for renewal, I had a sympathy card to send as well as two packages needed to go to the post office. I did all the laundry and packed for Mexico as I got it finished. I was feeling pretty good by Friday evening.

Saturday we tied up loose ends around the house then went to church at 5 o'clock with Terry & Carol. Kathy brought my new Junior Forum uniform shirts and one of them has a big stain on it. We all went out to eat and they came back for a little while afterwards. We had a couple things to give them that I had forgotten to take with me to church. That night I sent an e-mail to the lady about my stained uniform shirt.

I decided Sunday to call Comcast and get the cable boosted back up to its normal level. I had them set it back to basic while we were gone. Sounds simple, right? I told them we wanted the three local channels and Fox News. Beyond that I didn't much care what the line-up was. After three hours and three different customer service reps I had over 600 channels, free HBO and NO Fox News. Someone is coming out Wednesday to take a look.

The uniform lady wrote that she would get my shirt replaced and I didn't need to bring it back. So I decided to wash it. The Shout lightened it but it didn't come out. It said no chlorine bleach but I took a white cloth, wet it, dipped it in bleach and dabbed gently. I think I got it out!!

This morning while shaving Ted said the water was only warm and not hot. So I went up into the attic and the pilot light was out on the hot water heater. Ted went up to light it but it wouldn't stay lit. We have no idea when it went out. It's been so hot out that the water was pleasant for showers. The plumber is coming tomorrow.

Ted received a call from Planet Ford and the truck they called him about in May when we had already traveled to Arkansas was still available and they were ready to deal. He left to go down there. I had to wait for Rose to come pick up some deviled eggs I made for a funeral at church. I can't help tomorrow because I'm working at an immunization clinic doing a shot blitz getting kids ready for school. A storm blew up and lightning hit our neighbor's tree across the street and knocked a breaker out that covers our garage, hobby room and laundry. The electrician came right away.

Planet Ford was not ready to deal and Ted came home empty handed. I told him maybe with all that is going wrong, today was not a good day to buy a new truck.

The new H tires did arrive at Thornton's in Magnolia so Ted drove the trailer out so they can put them on. He asked Terry to ride with him tomorrow to pick it back up. He can do everything himself except back it in to our spot. He can't tell exactly when he is at the line to stop. So Terry will do my job and signal when he is at the yellow line. The new parts won't be in from NuWa for at least 10 days so we'll take the RV to Boerne with a cracked fender panel and get it fixed afterwards.

Ted has to wait tomorrow for the plumber to fix the hot water heater and then he is leaving for Austin. I'm hanging around Wednesday for the cable guy. Thursday I'm helping Judy deliver Meals on Wheels. There is a big meeting for Junior Forum on Friday and we leave Saturday at noon for Cancun.

Don't ever say things couldn't be worse. They certainly can. Now if I can just keep the locusts from destroying the crops I think things will be OK.

Friday, August 13, 2010

All's Well That Didn't End Well

We left Burleson close to 1:00 and made our way to Madisonville for one more stop at a dealer. From there we continued south on I-45. At Exit 116 in Huntsville KAPOW, a blow out on the trailer. This is our third one with Goodyear G614 tires. When this happens the wheel well fender gets torn up and has to be replaced.

As fate would have it we were stuck on the x-way in front of a Pilot Truck Stop and across the highway from a Shell Truck Stop but Good Sam sent a wrecker from Centerville, some 50 miles away. Thank goodness we could go into Wendy's at the Pilot to get out of the 104 degree heat. After an hour, the spare was on the trailer and we continued the remaining 40 miles to Rayford.

When I went inside the trailer I could smell burned rubber. Ted looked under the trailer and there was shaved rubber everywhere. The bracket that held the mudflap must have been bent, gouged the spare on the inside removing the edge of the tire an inch wide and an inch deep. How we made it home is beyond me. The bracket and mud flap were both missing at this point.

It took some phone calls, e-mails, advice, etc. to decide what to do. We couldn't go anywhere on that tire and now had no spare. In the end we ordered a new tire from Goodyear that didn't arrive until 1:30 on Thursday afternoon. Ted picked it up and Milstead came to put it on so we could put the trailer away. The guy said he had never seen such a thing.

In the meantime Ted has ordered four new H rated tires and new wheels (these tires are bigger). They will be delivered to Thornton RV Repair on Monday. We'll take the trailer out there for Elmer to put them on. At the same time he'll assess what he needs from Nu-Wa to repair the fender damage and whatever else he finds underneath.

Ted has a claim once again with Goodyear. The first time we had a blow out they gave us a new tire and paid to have the trailer fixed. The second time they gave us all new tires and paid to have the trailer fixed. I know they will pay for the new tire we bought that we'll keep as a spare since everyone said that would work OK in an emergency with the new H tires but I'm not sure if they'll give us anything back on the new H tires ($2250 for tires and wheels). They'll pay to get the trailer fixed too.

Ted is now having conversations with the engineers at Nu-Wa on their recommended tire pressure. He feels they post too high a psi for the heat in the summertime. His friend Greg from Haulin' HitchHikers has the same trailer and now has H rated tires so they are putting their heads together on the best psi, especially in summer.

Ted was complaining to Elmer at Thornton about the Goodyear tires. They have stood behind them every time but this is getting old. Elmer said it's not just Goodyear. He said he sees every tire manufacturer and every type of RV rig in his shop with the same thing. He said it happens to all of them and he hasn't seen anymore Goodyear than any other kind. I guess it's just a hazard of the road.

So with everything under control we went to Mario's for dinner. They have long brass handles on their door. One was wrapped with a rag so you could open the door. Of course Ted had to touch the other handle and found out quickly why the rag was on the other one. We both had not one, but two, frozen margaritas before dinner. We earned them!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My 400th Post!

My niece Jill keeps track of her posts and told me where to look. So I'm celebrating this one.

We were delayed leaving Guthrie because Ted found a sheet metal screw in the truck tire. I'm sure we picked it up at Nu-Wa's service bay. So he unhitched and went in to get it fixed. Then we moved on to Thackerville on the OK/TX border to Winstar Casino. They've put in an awesome campground with huge sites. There's no shade yet but everything else is terrific. AND ... we got our night free because they found me in their computer. We were both given new cards to use in the casino.

We had to drive into Gainesville, TX to go to church. Then we ate dinner at Toby Keith's Grill in the casino. Afterwards we played for a couple hours and left with $20 extra so it was a profitable day and night.

Sunday we moved to Burleson then spent three hours at Sam's getting two new tires put on the truck. Ted found small slits on the outside of the tires and he isn't one to chance anything with tires. They prorated the tires and gave us $70 and $80 off the new tires. We came home and jumped in the pool. It wasn't very refreshing because the water was in the 90s.

Ted drove to Plano to Dow Jones for a meeting on Monday. I went to get my nails done and he found a truck at a dealership. It was black and had been stolen off the lot and then found. The bed was beat all to h*ll. Ted really doesn't want black and who knows what else they damaged while driving so we decided not to get it even though there was probably a big bargain to be had.

Ted is at the Fort Worth paper this morning and I'm battening down the hatches. We'll leave when he returns. I think there's a stop at another dealership on the way home. I'm getting used to this. We've stopped in dealerships from Texas to Michigan and now back. Then we're going into Rayford to empty and clean the trailer before we put it away.

Chris is going to lose his happy home for about 10 days until we leave for Cancun. Then he is coming back. He sort of has his own guest room and leaves his clothes so he can go back and forth between his parents and our house with great ease. We're glad to have him as a housesitter.

Next stop home!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Still Love Nu-Wa, Manufacturer of HitchHiker

Don't miss my post previous to this one on Kansas City. If it is not visible, click Older Post at the bottom. This post will be of most interest to our RVing friends but read along anyway if you want. We arrived in Chanute early enough to take the RV to the factory for a couple hours on Thursday which shortened our time on Friday. We spent the night in the Santa Fe park about a half mile from there for free. Two nights free, $10 a night after that for up to 15 days. It's usually filled with Nu-Wa products but anyone can use it.

We were back at the factory at 7 a.m. Once unhitched we went to do our laundry then returned to the Customer Service Lounge where we met Mike Mitchell who is the owner of Nu-Wa. Ted has corresponded with him on the Owners Forum but this was his first time to meet him in person. Such a nice fellow. He said he would see us at the rally in October.

At 10:30 our rig was ready. When Ted asked for the bill he was told it was all done under warranty because we hadn't owned the rig for a year. It was never titled to anyone but the Vacation Station dealer who ordered it, but it is two years old. Needless to say we were once again impressed with the service Nu-Wa provides.

We had a list of about 15 items. A few were just us needing to understand the bells and whistles, others were minor cosmetic things and a couple items were replaced with new components.

We headed out and drove to Guthrie, OK. We're a day ahead of schedule since we didn't need to spend a second night in Chanute so we're moving on to Thackerville on the TX/OK border today and will spend the night at the Winstar Casino campground. They have a promotion this summer - first night free with your gambling card. We just have to find our card among the MANY we have from all our travels. We'll do church at 4:00, have dinner and MAYBE give back the money we don't spend on our camping fee.

I've been keeping track this year again and we came in at a little over $24 on average for nightly camping fees. This hasn't changed since we started being gone all summer five years ago. We could have spent another two weeks in Cincinnati for free (15 days costs the same as one month) and another two days in Lake Linden (5 days costs the same as 7) for a lower average but our schedule didn't permit it. We spent $3.05 for diesel one time in the U.P. of Michigan but other than that it was always under $3.00. We'll be gone 77 days and have gone probably about 5,000 miles. That's way short of the 11,000 miles we did last year! But it's been fun and I'm already looking at our route for next year. If all goes as planned, we're heading to the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Kansas City Here I Come

We drove to Lake Jacoma Campground in Jackson County, Missouri, southwest of Kansas City on Sunday. When I called from Columbia to make a reservation the gal told me Site 30 was available and it’s the best site in the park. She is right! We have a huge, huge “yard” overlooking the lake with big old oak trees providing shade all day. Since we’re here Monday-Thursday the park is sparsely populated. We’ve had deer, raccoons and wild turkeys in our “yard” in the evening. Brian and Lisa came for dinner Sunday and we had a really good visit. We’ve had people for dinner a fair amount this trip.

Monday we drove to the Jesse James Family Farm in Kearney, MO. I learned a lot about the guerilla warfare that went on in Missouri as much as 10 years before the Civil War. The Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the territory for settlement. The decision on slavery was left to popular sovereignty. If Kansas became a free state, slavery in Missouri was doomed. Northern Abolitionists attempted to populate the area and control the vote. This brought savage violence to the region. This sign tells a lot about the bitterness and resentment that built up in Jesse James as a youngster. His stepfather survived the hanging.

Later on during Jesse and Frank’s crime spree, Pinkerton Security personnel threw a bomb into the James’ home in the middle of the night. His mother lost half of her arm and his 9 year old half-brother Arthur was killed and neither James son was at home.

This is the original James home and the second picture is a “kit” of two rooms that was added on after Jesse James’ death. He was shot in the back of the head while hanging a picture in his home by acquaintances that he trusted. They thought they would be hailed as heroes but instead within 10 years they were both dead - one from suicide and one was killed by a fellow “who wanted to kill the man who killed Jesse James!” The third picture shows the original logs that are under the renovation done in recent years.

This is a duplicate of Jesse’s original tombstone in the yard. It says he was “murdered by a traitor and coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.” The original was chipped at by souvenir hunters until it is in 3 pieces and is in the museum on site. He was moved to the family plot in Mt. Olivet cemetery to be by his wife, mother, stepfather and half-brother. If you look closely you can see where the A M and S in JAMES have been chipped by souvenir hunters.

On Tuesday we went downtown to the Hallmark Visitors Center. We didn’t know exactly what to expect but ended up very pleased. Hallmark is 100 years old this year. There was a timeline by decade of Hallmark items displayed against a backdrop of world events and social trends including newspaper clippings and period toys. Many Presidential Christmas cards, beginning with Ike in 1953, have been produced by Hallmark and are also displayed.

Mr. J. C. Hall received a Christmas tree from employees for the last 17 years of his life. Each tree has been saved and is on display.

To celebrate their centennial, 250 creative employees accepted the challenge to take a plain white resin crown and decorate it.

And everyone will recognize Maxine!

We saw a movie featuring the creative writers, sculptors, artists, etc. A small area demonstrated die cut, foil imprinting, etc. Hallmark Hall of Fame TV programs and television ads were featured as well. It was all exceptionally well done. We were able to make a couple bows and were given greeting cards and postcards on our departure.

I learned there is still a Hall’s Department store; that the name Hallmark was adopted to include Mr. Hall’s name and the word “mark” as used by silversmiths to mark their work; wrapping paper was “discovered” when the Hall’s store ran out of plain brown wrapping paper and they used the printed sheets normally cut up to line the inside of greeting card envelopes. Also, Winston Churchill was an artist and several of his paintings have been used on Hallmark cards. An original given to Mr. Hall by Mr. Churchill hung in Hall’s office above the mantel and is on display in the Visitor’s Center.

From there we went to the Money Museum in the Federal Reserve Bank. We had to give them our driver’s license and walk through a metal detector. We watched them count and wrap money to be sent to the vault. Robotic fork trucks move the pallets of money. Ted took this picture of $101 million. It costs almost $25,000 to produce this many $100 bills.

There was a gallery of presidents displayed with each coin that was used during their administration. There were sets of the state quarters, the presidential quarters and you could buy a Yellowstone National Park quarter. I’m not familiar with that set but perhaps they are being minted now too. We saw a movie on the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank and how it works. There were many displays of money and explanation of the banking system. On our way out we were both given bags of chopped up money that would be worth $165 if not in a zillion pieces!

We are under a heat advisory here in Kansas City and our truck said 106 while we drove back to the campground. We sure are happy we have two air conditions on the new RV. We’ve been comfortable and I’m sure the shade from the trees has certainly helped.

For our last day in Kansas City we chose to visit the Steamboat Arabia. In September 1856, this medium-sized steamboat hit a snag (a tree trunk buried in mud at an angle) about five miles outside Kansas City. She sunk in minutes with 200 tons of frontier supplies in her hold. The only fatality was a mule whose remains are on exhibit.

In 1988, five men located the ship 45 feet under the ground of a farm about a half mile from the river. It had changed course over the years. Buried for 132 years, the excavation uncovered a time capsule of remarkably preserved 1856 items of every description. We had a historic talk first and then saw a movie giving us the background and then the story of the excavation.

This is a picture of the Arabia and the second is a picture of the excavation.

The original paddlewheel with new wooden planks installed.

The Arabia’s anchor.

The boilers that were recovered intact.

The “snag” pulled from the hull. Hitting this caused the sinking.

Tools on display. Most have not changed – saws, hammers, planes, knives, scissors, etc.

Dishes, kitchen gadgets, bottles (some with food that is still preserved), keys

Thimbles, hat pins, perfume, buttons, beads.

Very little gold and jewelry was recovered.

It was mind boggling and our docent was excellent. Her enthusiasm was contagious. We were glad we chose to visit this museum.

We came home to have dinner then took a ride to Panera Bread to check e-mail. I sure like my I-Pod Touch for such situations.

We leave tomorrow for Chanute. We’ll spend Thursday night at the Santa Fe campground in Chanute so we can be at the factory at 7 a.m. Friday morning. We’ll decide about our departure from there once we know the time the RV will be done.