February 20, 2010

Carnival in Merida

From the Monday Night Carnival Parade

IMG_0280: Night Parade

Two weeks in Merida at a wonderful house and we have done next to nothing.

The big event in the city was the 2010 Carnival celebration. Starting a little over a week ago, there were parades everyday. On workdays they were in the evening and on the weekend they were during the day. We went out to see the crowds last weekend and on Tuesday, Mardi Gras.

On Monday evening we saw an entire parade. It was a bit cool and raining off and on. It was cool enough so that we wore sweat shirts. To be honest the whole week has been cool enough to require pants and long sleeved shirts. The parade was different from most of the other parades in Merida. This one featured social clubs in the local, old-fashion and native costumes, mostly Mayan. The floats were gaudy with loud music. Unlike New Orleans, they do not not toss beads and aluminum doubloons, rather it is plastic CocaCola cups and all kind of snacks in bags. Oh, and there was an occasional t-shirt. We felt for the paraders. They were getting wet, while we stayed dry.

I cannot say that my pictures are great, but they will give you a flavor of the Carnival in Merida.
To see all of them, press HERE for a slideshow of the Merida Carnival.

Posted by bill at 07:31 PM | Comments (3)

February 09, 2010

From Zapata to Merida

A Video Tour of Our Merida Home

The story of our week in Emiliano Zapata did not end on Friday. It ended on Sunday morning when we left for Merida. But I want to jump the gun in the story and start with Merida and our rental house, Casa de Angeles.

We arrived late in the afternoon. We were about to see a house that we had learned about through connection on Craig's List. We had seen some photos and by the description we thought the house would be great. But our first impression of the neighborhood was not all that appealing. The caretaker lives next door and he showed us through the house. It was wonderful with a courtyard, a garden and a pool. The house has lots of bedrooms and a decent kitchen. There were two things missing: a parking place and a washing machine. Seeing the house I understood the lack of parking but I could not understand the lack of a washing machine. Still we love the place and the rent was just within our upper limit, so we took the place and paid two months rent. We hope to stay until the first of May. If you have a fast connection, take a look at a video tour of the house. If you do not have a fast connection I have posted a few still photos on this page and on my Flickr photostream.

So lets go back to Thursday night in Emiliano Zapata. The engine was in much worse shape than we originally thought. When the belt failed, every one of the twenty valves that maintain engine compression and fuel flow were twisted or bent. The difficulty of the repair and its cost jumped exponentially with this information. I am not quite sure what the belt cost, but I know each valve cost 240 pesos or about $20. So $400 just for the valves. We were very lucky to have been directed to a mechanic who could essentially totally overhaul the engine. Before we were done, Porfirio had $1000 of our dollars and we got our a car engine that seemed to be running like a champ.

The Pool
 Casa Pool
The Kitchen
Shop Yard of Chilango
Our Sitting Room
Casa Sitting Room

We got that information late on Thursday. On Friday I returned to his shop to get clear on everything. My fear was that the costs would run away and be higher that the value of the car. But Porfirio assured me that he would be able to fix the car for a reasonable price. We also finally saw some other relief. The cost at the hotel was hurtful and life there was a bore. To our delight, friends of Porfirio invited us to their home, an invitation we gladly accepted. After we moved in, I was able to return to the shop and get a clearer picture of the final cost. His lower estimate was good to hear, but better yet he said that the job would be finished before noon on Saturday. Still, the head was off the motor and I could see what a difficult job it was going to be.

The Klaja Family
Klaja Family

Porfirio's friends were Slawek and Sol Klaja. They are a wonderful couple with a young son called Luis. Luis is a talkative two-and-a-half year old. boy. Sol is dentist and Slawek a web-page designer. Slawek is a polish immigrant. Sol and he met several years ago online and later in London where he was working. We talked and talked and talked. The conversation roamed from computer tech stuff to kids and child-rearing to life in Emiliano Zapata and so much more. Slawek and Sol live with her parents. Her parents were out of town on Friday night, which gave us even more time together.

I was a nervous wreck on Saturday, worried there would be problems and worried Porfirio was not as good a mechanic as all proclaimed. Noon came and went and still no car. We had called earlier and we new he was hard at it. Finally after one we called again, just one more hour. Around three Porfirio arrived with the Passat. We took it out for a test drive and it seemed to be working great. Then I got the final bill, which was several hundred dollars more than what he told me the day before. We settled on $1000 and we had the car.

It was so late in the day, we decided to stay another night and leave in the morning. Our wonderful conversations with the Klaja family continued and we shared a great meal. On Sunday morning we took some photos and bade our farewells. The car ran like a top during our six-hour drive to Merida.

Well that is it for now. I will try to write an update every week.

Posted by bill at 04:09 PM | Comments (6)

February 04, 2010

In a Mexican Limbo, Miles from Nowhere

An alternate title for this entry might be:
Broken Down in Purgatory, Mexico

Leaving San Cristobal early on Sunday morning, we had high hopes making it most of the way to Merida, which was some 450 miles north east. The hardest part of the journey would be the first 130 miles over narrow, winding roads through the mountains of Chiapas. Near the end of that 130 miles is Palenque, where we thought of stopping. That first leg took four hours to traverse. The rain discouraged our stopping. Just north of Palenque is Mexican 186. We stopped near there for lunch, then proceeded northeast. The road was straight and in good condition. We were making very good time now passing by the road to Emiliano Zapata, and then then into the state of Tabasco. After lunch we had gone about 40 miles when the bottom fell out at kilometer marker 169.

Outside Wall of Chilango
 Outside Wall of Chilango
Shop Yard of Chilango
Shop Yard of Chilango
Porfirio and His Crew
Porfirio and His Chilango Crew
Passat Front-End in Storage
Shop Yard of Chilango

One of the worst possible travel situations befell us at that moment. The motor on our 1998 Passat just stopped - no power, no go. We immediately got a car to stop and take the message of our breakdown to our Mexican car insurance company, which supposedly provides road assistance everywhere in Mexico. Foolishly, we waited a little over one hour for help, which never came. Finally, I had to act. It was 3 PM and there would only be light for another two hours or so. A very kind Mexican family took pity on us and drove me 15 miles to the little pueblo of Chable. I tried dealing with the insurance company from a pay-phone on the street. They were impossible. And after 45 minutes they finally let me know that there was not much that they could or would do for me. Should I get a tow they would pay for it, but I had to solve the problem myself. So, how do you get a tow-truck in a little town in Mexico on a Sunday? The answer is with great difficulty. The nice, old Mexican couple had not abandoned me. In very broken Spanish, I explained my problem to them. I suggested that a local mechanic might know where to find a tow. They drove no more that a hundred yards when they spotted a mechanic who did have an idea of where to find a tow. So we took off down the highway, over the Rio Usumacinta again with the 20 peso toll and another five miles almost back to the turnoff to Emiliano Zapata. Here was a small Federal Police Station and our eventual salvation of sorts. It was here that I said farewell to the Mexican couple. I wish to thank them with deep sincerity. They were a life saver. So, thanks to you Candelaria and Rosemberg Trujillo Martines for your great assistance in our hour of need.

The desk sergeant, Armando Gonzalez Lopez, was also kind. He called for a less expensive tow-truck in Emiliano Zapata and arranged for a shop to repair the vehicle. We waited a half-hour for the truck to arrive. It was a flat-bed tow truck with a driver and a helper. We drove the twenty odd miles to our car, back over the river and through the border check point. I had been gone three hours. Betty had been brave and stayed with the car. There was still light and they quickly secured the Passat. Then back again through the border check point and over the river again. Then we turned off to Emiliano Zapata and covered ten more miles again passing through yet another check point and the river again. The mechanics came out on a Sunday night to put our car in their yard. I paid the tow-truck. The price was 1600 pesos or about $130 USD. The mechanics brought us to a hotel. Damn, the hotels are expensive here, 705 peso the first night. We and the mechanic had hoped that Betty and I would be on our way by noon the next day. Noon came and went. The shop owner and mechanic Porfirio came to the hotel at about one PM. He gave us the bad news that he was having trouble finding a part, but he hoped that it would come later in the day or tomorrow. We hoped so, too. I asked him to bring us to another hotel. Not only was this expensive, but the desk clerk was not authorized to make phone calls, which had made it a hassle to call Porfirio Rosales Salgado, the owerner and chief mechanic. The new hotel was fine and the cost was more reasonable at 495 pesos per night.

We checked out on Tuesday and waited for Porfirio. He arrived with his two translators, who spoke English like I speak Spanish. Again he brought very bad news, the part was nowhere to be found, save in Mexico City. It seems that our Passat motor is virtually unknown in Mexico. The motor is a four-cylinder, five-valve turbo engine. He gave us a worst case scenario the the car would be ready on Friday. Yes, Betty and I were extremely bummed out. But what could we do?

We explored the town a bit. There is nothing to do. Are we in hell? Not quite, but being here is a kind of limbo we would wish on no one. They say this is a farm town of 30 thousand people. Where they are is hard to say.

We checked back on Wednesday, walking to his shop - Chilango. Still, no part and trying to pin him down on when that part would come in was impossible. Evidently they have never heard of overnight air delivery. And Porfirio had no concept of a tracking number. So, where is the part? He does not know.

Today, Thursday, we checked again, late in the afternoon. Porfirio was not at the shop, because he had gone to pickup the part. If the right part came in, he should be able to finish tomorrow. Let us hope that Friday is our lucky day this week. If so, our stay in purgatory will be over.

Posted by bill at 04:53 PM | Comments (5)