Returning to the US: Motocross Heaven and the Tow of Shame

We finally crossed the border at Mexicali East on Monday, January 18, 2021 at about 11:15 am. The dogs and I were waved right through without even being asked for their health certificates. The Joad Family truck was obviously referred for secondary inspection so I drove to a gas station adjacent to the crossing and waited. The bf was allowed to drive through the X-ray machine, which saved a ton of time. He fully expected to unload the entire truck.

We brought a laptop up from Mexico for some friends so we stopped in El Centro to ship the package and grab lunch. I wasn’t prepared for such a culture shock. It didn’t seem like I had been gone that long or maybe it was just being in California but I definitely felt out of place.

The same friends have an RV in the desert near Ocotillo Wells so we headed there to take a breather and hang out while my tire was replaced. By this point, I had driven approximately 350 miles on my spare. Totally fine, y’all. Our friends have a terrific fenced area for their very large dogs allowing Sherman to finally, literally, take a load off.

The RV park has a motocross track and it’s surrounded by trails. Lulu was predictably unimpressed by the off-road engines, but she was especially annoyed by a woman riding an old Honda two-stroke three-wheeler. The bf, who used to race motocross, thinks two-strokes sound like music but I only hear chainsaws on wheels. The track was deserted during the week so we used it to walk the dogs.

The next day, we drove both vehicles to Borrego Springs to fuel up and then dropped off my tire. We went to a coffee shop for lunch and Wi-Fi since there was no connection at the RV.

The coffee was good but not *that* good.

My Jeep died when we tried to leave and it made a weird electrical sound when I tried to restart it. I called the shop where we dropped the tire to see if they could send someone over but I was told they don’t do anything offsite. He gave me the number for a tow truck but that’s how people who haven’t lived in Mexico handle things.

Because the fence at the RV is short and the ground is soft, the dogs were with us when all of this was going down. There wasn’t anything in the truck that we could use to tow my Jeep back to the shop so we walked the dogs over to a NAPA and bought a tow strap. The way things had been going, I figured we would probably run into this type of situation again.

We stumbled on to a bank of chargers during our walk. All of them were out of service.

After completing the tow of shame back to the shop, we had to move a bunch of shit from the front seat of the truck into the backseat of the Jeep so there would be room for the dogs and me. We never imagined the Mighty Dodge would survive the trip, let alone save the day once again.

Wednesday morning, Aaron at the shop called to say he had to order a tire and it would arrive the next day. My alternator had failed (hence the electrical sound) so that also had to be ordered. We settled in and awaited his call to let us know it was ready.

Click the links below to see how we got to this point.

Returning to the US: He Literally Thought I Was Dead

Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

Returning to the US: First the Why

Returning to the US: Sherman, I Just Really Need You to Poop

The dogs are amazingly adept at keeping me on a tight schedule. I began imploring them to take care of what I considered urgent business before first light.

While their lack of concern for my agenda did allow me to catch a beautiful sunrise, I was extremely worried about the status of Sherman’s colon. Dog moms know the poops occur shortly after each meal. He hadn’t done anything in nearly 24 hours and we had a long day ahead of us. Anyone who has had a dog do a whoopsie in a vehicle prefers to avoid any such emergency going forward.

Both dogs were still afraid of getting too close to the water. There were also other people walking dogs, which is always a distraction and they both wanted that stupid dead mouse. I wasn’t having a lot of luck.

As promised, the hot water was restored by the time we returned to the room. While I waited for the bf to finish showering, I noticed a Loreto Municipal Police truck on the beach.

I had forgotten the beach was supposed to be closed again due to the COVID numbers. It appeared the police took canine constitutionals much more seriously than violent crime because they were very quick to clear the area. I’m not saying Mexican police are corrupt but…wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Mission-focused as always, I skipped breakfast to continue pleading for potties because I could always have a protein bar from my lunch pail on the road.

Not far from the hotel, I asked on the radio if the bf could check his mirrors for anything wobbly on my Jeep because it felt like the wheels were going to fall off at low speed. He said everything looked fine. We inspected all four wheels when we stopped for fuel and they really did look okay. I have a history of breaking shocks and struts on this vehicle so I thought maybe the Baja roads had finished wrecking my suspension.

The truck was pulled aside at the second military checkpoint for a cursory inspection. I was asked to step out of the Jeep and a guy just took a quick peek in the back after seeing the dogs. While the truck was being looked at, I parked near a restroom where some entrepreneurs were charging five pesos per person and *once again* tried to get Sherman’s bowels moving. There was a Belgian Malinois barking in a checkpoint kennel and my boy had no intention of relaxing any part of his body.

In order to avoid additional night driving, back pain, and stress we decided to stay at the Halfway Inn just outside Guerrero Negro again. They’re super accommodating with regard to both people and pets. The food is good and I had luck getting the dogs to do their potties during our previous stay. It’s not the nicest place but it’s cheap and clean.

We grabbed dinner at the hotel bar and crashed out early. The idea was to make the next day a marathon and cross at Mexicali Sunday night. Little did we know…

Click the links below to see how we got to this point.

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

Returning to the US: First the Why

Returning to the US: Leaving Todos Santos

We finally rolled through the gate leaving the house we rented in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur at about 1:30 pm local time on Friday, January 15, 2021. The check engine light in my Jeep had recently lit up again and pretty much every light on the dash of the boyfriend’s truck had been on since forever.

A few miles south of Ciudad Constitución, traffic came to a complete stop. Apparently, the protests over workers not being paid and general corruption were still closing the highway for hours at a time. After a couple minutes, some random guy rolled up and said he could lead us on a detour around the barricades. We would have to go back about half a mile and then on some dirt roads that we were assured our vehicles could manage. Since this was supposed to be an adventure, we were totally game but I should note that Americans and Mexicans have vastly different ideas about what constitutes a viable roadway. I had already shared my location with my mom and I’m not even a little bit ashamed to admit I sent her a message to let her know what was happening in the event our charred bodies were found without identification.

As we turned onto a dusty trail with very deep sand, I considered the weirdness I had recently experienced with my four-wheel drive and just really hoped I wouldn’t need it. There was a PT Cruiser stuck in the oncoming “lane” with a guy trying to dig it out with a shovel and I mentally willed the traffic ahead of me to keep moving.

Things started to get weird when the “road” became one lane. Driving in Mexico means being prepared to do things that would give your high school Drivers Ed teacher an aneurysm. Once the road curved back to the west, I was completely blinded by a combination of dust and bright sunlight.

At one point, I was barely crawling because I couldn’t see the boyfriend’s truck in front of me or whether I was about to drive off into the trash dump we were passing.

I don’t really know how much time this funny little detour cost us but we finally rolled into Ciudad Constitución at about 5:45 pm and I was already over it. We had planned to avoid driving at night but once again, we were breaking our own rules. We arrived in Loreto at 8:00 pm and got a room at a pet friendly hotel right on the malecón.

So about this hotel. Like, I understand it is literally *right* on the beach but US $150 is a fucking ripoff. But they know they have you. It’s dark outside and you’re not fiddle fucking around trying to find a more reasonable place. So whatever…I just wanted to take a shower and go to bed. Hahahahahahahaha….no hot water and the office had closed for the night right after we checked in. The remote for the heat also wasn’t working. This room wasn’t even nice and my patience was gone. Thank goodness for Facebook pages. I was able to send messages to management and they sent over a maintenance man, who quickly deduced the hot water was out in the whole building. I was told they would fix the electrical problem when the office opened at 7:00 am. He switched out the remote for the heater and I began trying to get the dogs to go potty next to the Sea of Cortez.

My dogs strongly prefer that water never touch their bodies. Or their paws. They have a serious problem with the Pacific Ocean but I thought the calm waves on the gulf side would be okay. I was wrong. After a long and frustrating day, walking around for what felt like hours with dogs afraid to do their business really was the cherry on top. But Sherman putting a dead mouse in his mouth on the beach was *chef’s kiss*. I went to bed pissed off and exhausted.

Click here to see why we decided to return to the United States.

Returning to the US: First the Why

I moved to Mexico for reasons that probably didn’t make sense to anyone who knows me. It was a rough year and three months which can be summed up in three words: Filth and sadness.

My experience was undoubtedly worsened by the COVID pandemic and the social circle I intended to cultivate never fully materialized. Some of that is totally on me. Unfortunately, I was dealing with other shit that just didn’t allow me the mental fortitude to venture out into the world.

We did not live in a gringo neighborhood. I initially tried to interact with people at mercados and along my walks but had difficulty getting people to even make eye contact with me. Locals tended to only acknowledge me if I was with the boyfriend and sometimes not even then. After a while, I just let that be. As 2020 wore on, I began resenting the locals and their dual price system. Their resentment for gringos was palpable. It was obvious they only tolerated us for our money and many merchants took full advantage whenever they saw an opportunity. There were a few exceptions but mostly it was constant financial fuckery.

FB groups were endless streams of locals complaining about Americans ruining Baja or “The Enlightened Ones” complaining about how Mexicans should keep their dogs on leashes, stop burning their trash, and wear helmets on bicycles. Some Mexicans saw dollar signs and charged outrageous rent but then other Mexicans complained they couldn’t afford to live in their own neighborhoods. Gentrification had finally arrived in Baja. It was just too much.

I developed a system, though. Mostly, I spent every day just trying to get through the day and a lot of that revolved around laundry and dishes. The dogs were on a schedule. The trash pickup was (mostly) on a schedule. I never knew what I was supposed to be doing so I basically just retreated to the things I knew how to do and when to do them. I certainly couldn’t take my dogs for walks because they would just be attacked by street dogs running amok. They say if you don’t like it, leave. I thought that sounded like a fine plan.

We spent much of 2020 watching Argentina to see if they would open their borders to foreigners. South America is a bit of a shitshow but Argentines are accustomed to financial meltdowns and they handle it pretty well. In the fourth quarter, it became clear that Argentina was not a viable option in the near term and a local murder in the middle of the day caused me to lose all patience with Mexico. Burglaries were a constant problem in the area but suddenly foreign women were being robbed at mercados and in front of banks on busy streets in the afternoon. That murder, though, was the thing that made me demand we get the fuck out of there. It wasn’t that there was a murder. It was the circumstances and the people who were threatened if they talked. Common sense says if you stay away from cartel shit, you won’t get involved in cartel shit. That’s difficult when it flows into a busy street and affects people just going about their day.

We then began daily debates (I’m being kind here) about when we were leaving Mexico and where we were going, which was fun. In the midst of that, we made dental appointments and got health certificates for the dogs. We sold our surfboards and his motorcycle (tagged in Baja California Sur). Both of our vehicles had fallen prey to the harsh conditions on the peninsula so we did what we could to prepare them for the 20-hour drive, which was only the first leg of our road trip. After a series of intense negotiations, we departed Todos Santos on January 15, 2021.

The next few posts will document our travels and the challenges we have faced along the way. As I’m posting this, we’re still on the road more than three weeks later. And still working on a destination.

Ooooh…we have water again (and other expectations which must be managed)

A typical home in Mexico tends to have a tinaco on the roof and possibly a ground-level cistern because water delivery is tricky. Rather than go into a boring explanation, you can learn all about it here if you are so inclined. I have written previously about my frustrations in learning how to get laundry done when there is no water but it hadn’t been an issue for a few months. The lockdown gave me nearly first-world water pressure on laundry days and I was borderline giddy with excitement, aside from the whole people dying thing.

Once businesses reopened, I returned to my routine of starting laundry at about 7:30 am so I could do two loads before the pressure dropped. Keep in mind, the stackable washer/dryer is on the covered porch and is connected to the outside water spigot so the temperature of the laundry is the temperature of the water. It drains into the yard via an exceptionally attractive PVC pipe. Anway, I noticed the pressure dropping lower than normal a couple days ago and assumed there was a problem with one of the water mains so an outage was inevitable. I was right.

Yesterday, people in various neighborhoods were discussing their water situations online and there were scattered outages but we were still dripping along. When I turned on the irrigation to water the trees this morning, there was nothing. No big deal…we have the tinaco so we can still bathe and I can carry buckets from the kitchen sink to the washer in a pinch. If it drags on for too long, we can have a truck deliver water. I checked again at around noon and literally said out loud to no one, not even the dogs, “Ooooh…the water is back on.” I use terminal prepositions when talking to myself.

So this is my life now. I literally push my dogs out of the way to slay aggressive scorpions on the kitchen floor. I vacuum gecko shit from the window sills. I listen for the garbage truck every Friday morning and rush to meet it. I complain when the price of a 30-kg propane tank increases by 70 pesos (approx US $3). I can almost sing along to my neighbor’s favorite songs. And I get excited when the water outage is limited to a few short hours. Now I just need to accept that my Jeep will never run right again. This is Baja.

What if you walked away from everything you ever knew?

It seems like an entire lifetime ago but I was once married to one of the nicest people to ever live. That’s a pretty strong statement and I stand by it one hundred percent. Even though I’ve now been divorced for 18 years, I distinctly recall the feeling of wanting to escape. For about the last two years of my marriage, all I wanted to do was load my two Rottweilers in my Jeep and drive far, far away. The destination was irrelevant. I just wanted to get lost.

This year, for the first time in my life, I spent Independence Day in a foreign country. The beaches are closed again due to COVID-19 but other than that it was a regular Saturday. The neighbors were drinking and singing along to their favorite songs. My dogs chased birds. I watched the ocean and social media from our front porch. Twitter was depressing as hell.

I’ve written before about feeling disconnected from the US but I feel like this is different. Right now, I feel like Mexico isn’t far enough away. At the same time, Mexico feels like home. None of this makes sense to me but we’re living a much simpler life here. We don’t own a television and there are no political ads on Netflix, ya know? Maybe it’s a cop-out but I’m done picking sides. All that matters to me right now is my own sanity.

I’m turning 45 later this month and have been reflecting on how people find their places and purposes in life. I’m one of those people who has never quite fit in, no matter the situation. I’ve tried and given up and tried again. It was kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I just don’t belong in a conventional role or a conventional family. Speaking of family, mine thinks I’m batshit crazy and I accept that. People are convinced I’m going to get caught in the crossfire of some cartel war when the reality is I’m walking around the backyard checking to see if the mangoes are ripe enough to eat.

I guess this makes me a selfish asshole but at this point, I have no intention of returning to the US. If I did, I don’t even know where the hell I would go. A cabin in the woods in Wyoming? Civilization is just not working out. How far can we go and still avoid freezing to death? Just north of Antarctica sounds good. Unfortunately, we can’t drive all the way there. You know, the Darien Gap and all that unpleasantness. It’s my understanding the ferries are no longer running through that area. Yes, I’ve actually looked into it. We could take a ferry from La Paz to the mainland and drive to Panama but that’s the end of the road. So then the question becomes how to transport the dogs? Can we all hop a freighter together? Where will they poop?

That’s right…while my home country is burning itself to the ground, I’m pondering the logistics of artificial turf on the deck of a container ship and how much trazodone it would take for my Plott Hound to avoid a psychotic break during the voyage. Sorry, not sorry.

Who Knew I Would Be a Fan of Paying Bribes?

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the intricacies of paying bribes. It definitely happens in some industries to obtain permits and political favors but there’s usually some sort of quid pro quo rather than cash directly changing hands. In the US, citizens are extorted via citations for violations of obscure and often contradictory codes which somehow try to convince us the state can be a victim. The system is much more straightforward in Mexico.

Getting mail and packages delivered in Baja can be an adventure. From my first day in-country, I was told to never, EVER use the Mexican Postal Service for any reason because things just disappear. We’ve had 100% success with DHL delivering to our house. They honk at the gate and we’re off to the races. I ordered a mango slicer from China via Amazon Mexico and the end carrier they used was a local company called Estafeta. I’m guessing they don’t deliver because they called and let me know my package was ready for pickup. We live in a small town so it was barely an inconvenience. There are also local companies who transport letters and packages from the US to Baja so if you have a seller who won’t ship internationally, it’s no big deal. You just use their US address and they charge a fee based on the invoice amount. Easy peasy.

So we ordered an item from Amazon US and the Chinese seller offered shipping to Mexico. Yayzies! I tracked the package from Shenzhen all the way to La Paz and that’s where it stopped. Wouldn’t you know, the end carrier was the Mexican Postal Service. I sent the seller a link to initiate an investigation to locate the package since it had been there since May 14 and I seriously doubt they took any action. The bf was discussing the situation with our mechanic who just happens to live next door to a mailman. Our mechanic passed along the tracking info to his neighbor, who immediately located the package and agreed to bring it to town for the low, low price of 450 pesos (approximately $19.52 US). I have no idea if that’s what the mailman had to pay to release the package or if that was his service fee. I also don’t care.

There is a similar process for resolving traffic citations, expired vehicle registrations, etc. Rather than going to the police station and dealing with a lengthy hassle, you can generally just settle up with the officer on the spot and then go on your merry way. I appreciate the opportunity to expedite the process. My time is valuable and the rules are generally very limited. For example, dirt bikes do not need to be registered and are street legal. Yesterday, I saw a family of three riding a four-wheeler past the Pemex station. They were not recreating; this is a legit form of transportation. I do enjoy living in a place with limited rules and restrictions. The plumbing is garbage but the freedom is fire.

It’s sort of fun learning there truly is a workaround for everything. You just have to ask a local how to make it happen and have some cash on hand.

It’s Not Looking Good in Minnesota

Catching up on the latest news in the US makes me grateful my top concern today was catching the garbage truck. I have completed that task and can now bask in the foggy Baja morning. It’ll warm up someday.

Honestly, it’s times like these that I point to when people seem baffled by my sudden move to Mexico. The term “Going Galt” evokes a massive eye roll but there’s a point where you just want to get off the damn ride. Why stick around and lament something that is utterly unfixable?

I’m old enough to remember when Americans could agree on a set of facts. We generally agreed on intended outcomes and our differences manifested themselves in our beliefs about the best paths to achieve those outcomes. Now we’ve gone completely off the rails. Gaslighting, virtue signaling, concern trolling…it’s all just too much.

Americans have gotten lazy and overprivileged. We’ve stopped being thinkers. We’ve eaten every line of bullshit fed to us with a knife and a fork and asked for more. We’ve stopped paying attention to things like how money really works and abdicated our responsibilities for keeping our government in check. We’ve been so focused on viral cat videos that we forgot to question why a particular officer in Minnesota had EIGHTEEN complaints of excessive force and had never been prosecuted. I’m not saying a frivolous complaint has never been filed because that would be provably false. I’m saying maybe it’s worth a look, ya know?

We need to get our priorities in order. The US has become a giant Karen full of rules and regulations and taxes and more rules. The criminal justice system is a fucking farce. Breathing air has become criminal activity. It’s like everyone declared themselves HOA President and it’s fucking chaos. I’m done. 

I hate what has happened to us. A better person would probably stick around and try to work on a solution but I fear we are far beyond the point of repair. It’s much easier to see how dysfunctional the situation has become from a distance. If things don’t improve, this trial separation could ultimately lead to divorce.

Waiting for Ramón

I have a very special relationship with a man named Ramón and I don’t even know his last name. We’ve been corresponding on a monthly basis since last November. Our conversations are 99% one-sided but the outcome is what matters.

It turns out only about 6% of homes in México have natural gas and most of them are in the southeast region of the country. As of 2017, Baja California Sur had no demand. The electrical grid is the polar opposite of reliable so that means if you don’t have solar or a generator, you’re using propane to cook and heat water.

It is my understanding that some homes do have those huge permanent propane tanks like you see in rural areas of the US that are filled by the big tanker trucks. This is not the case at our house. We have this setup, which I am told by the bf is on par with the situation in Iraq:

I have learned a 30-kg tank lasts almost exactly 30 days without being extra careful about usage and that costs 605 pesos, which is about $25 US using today’s exchange rate. That’s outrageously expensive compared to my monthly natural gas bill in Arizona…and this is ONLY for the kitchen stove and water heater.

I am not trying to pay $25 a month for cooking and showering so you know my cheap ass bought a $15 hot plate. Electricity is crazy cheap here so we try to cook with the hot plate as much as possible and use it to heat the house when it’s chilly outside.

So anyway, I learned about Ramón from a local Facebook group and people just contact him on WhatsApp to get their tank deliveries. He has only replied to my request via the app once. Normally, he just shows up and honks at the gate. This means once I make the request, I have to stay home and wait…sometimes for 30 minutes…sometimes for days.

Imagine washing your hair out of a plastic bucket that has been sitting on the patio warming in the sun. It didn’t take long to realize we needed a second tank to use as a backup while we wait for Ramón.

Don’t think for a minute I’m bashing him because he’s super professional and obviously very busy. In fact, Ramón brought me a propane tank in his personal truck on New Year’s Day with his wife looking displeased in the passenger seat. I was absolutely gobsmacked and extremely grateful.

The last time I saw him, he seemed to be in a good mood so I tried to practice my Spanish a bit. Too much…got it. We’re not on that level. I’m not sure I’ve ever cared so much about what a stranger thinks of me. I don’t want to piss him off because I need that gas!

Businesses are still operating in BCS but people are definitely trying to limit contact with one another. I imagine the propane delivery guys are overwhelmed by the demand as everyone prepares to be home for the near future. I sent my first request early on Tuesday and then a follow-up first thing this morning. Sherman needs to go to the vet for a Rabies booster before the vet has to close. He should be here any moment. Until then, I’ll be waiting for Ramón.

Gather ‘Round the Hot Plate

I may have previously mentioned our house in Mexico has no heat. You might think due to our town being situated on the Tropic of Cancer that this is no big deal. You would be what I like to call wrong.

Seven years of desert dwelling in southern Arizona has made me severely cold intolerant. Anything under 70 degrees is uncomfortable. After growing up in Kansas and being assaulted by constant hurricane-force winds, prolonged exposure to anything more than a  gentle breeze makes me a little stabby. Right now, I’m dealing with both…in a house without heat.

Gas is expensive in Mexico; propane, gasoline, whatever…it’s outrageous. Electricity, however, is dirt cheap. So you would think an easy solution would be to buy a space heater and stop bellyaching. In a house with US wiring, you would be correct. Unfortunately, I live in a house with wiring so piss-poor a hair dryer precipitated a visit from an electrician. There is no way this house could support a space heater. We could turn on the stove but again, propane is outrageous.

My solution was to order an electric hot plate from Amazon Mexico. Delivery took a few weeks since DHL temporarily misplaced the box somewhere near La Paz but I guess once the workers decided it wasn’t worth stealing, it finally made its way to us. This little burner puts out some serious heat but obviously cannot be left unattended. Our morning routine is to turn on the hot plate and stand around it until the sun is positioned to warm the kitchen. The house is basically a concrete bunker so there is no warming the whole house until the weather changes.

This morning, we have virtually no water pressure from the municipal line so I’m carrying buckets of water from the kitchen (via the reserve tank) to do laundry on the porch. Between the carrying of the water and the trips up and down the stairs from the roof deck clothes lines, I’m both working out and warming up with a spectacular ocean view. Cup half full, people. CUP. HALF. FULL.

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