Thursday, January 12, 2017

Corn Island, Nicaragua housesitting gig front porch 360 vid spin

The tradewind was constant in our 3 months here. Straight out front is basically pure east and looking onto over a 1000 miles of open caribbean sea. But a pronounced shelving offshore off Corn island so the swells were very moderated. Just south of here, starting about southern Costa Rica, huge swells roll ashore from a deep bottom tongue offshore. 

The great thing about a tradewind micro climate is basically no mosquitos and a cutting of the usual tropical coast heat. Just 100 yards inland from this house it was a stutifying and oppressive heat and humidity plus mosquitos. Makes a strong case for living aboard a sailboat in carefully chosen micro climates.

Plus: you cannot put a price tag on a locale that has english as the prominent lingo..... so much easier to establish relationships with the locals. This is part of the old english pirate kingdom of old. The big sport on Corn island is baseball and they had a strong team back then in the caribbean league. Fun games to attend. Sitting in the stands we looked like lillies in a blackberry patch but no problem with prejudice here, even as it is a horribly impoverished place.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Visa Border Run Blues: our days are numbered now....

Reverse mojado city, bud........ now we're the new wetbacks.

Just got back to Oaxaca from my semi-annual new tourist visa border run to get the next 180 days nailed down for me and the van. In 60 hours I knocked out 880 miles and waited on protest blockades for 12 of those hours. 

But those days are looking to be through thanks to decent computer database usage finally seeming to take hold in 2nd world mexico. They are checking the past records now and this time saw me grilled mightily about minute details. Back 20 years ago I just walked across and was issued a piece of paper I was supposed to keep on me.... no computer input at all. The word seems to have come down from on bureaucratic high that repeat, back-to-back, gringo tourist visa types should be encouraged to go for the residency visa.

Screw that!!! What happened to the concept of the perpetual tourist and such? The one who kept his money in several countries and out of the tax mans reach (mostly), the one who didn't give up a shitpot of personal data to a government to get "residency", the one who treasured anonymity because, as the gypsys have known for centuries:

FREEDOM  =  ANONYMITY  +  MOBILITY........... oh well.............

Pausing halfway to the pacific coast from Oaxaca city to shoot this pic

Oaxaca is known for road blockades by any number of offended parties from teachers, to health care workers, to gasoline price increase outragers, to just small town "fuck you we can do it so we will" mobs. So halfway down the 166 miles of winding mountain road I am encouraged to take a break just outside a little town by the angry townies stopping all traffic. It backed up for miles and miles both ways.

Leave it to the mexicans to be jolly about a roadblock blockade....

I was making great time up to this point but from 11 am to 9 pm we did not move. Luckily I had a bed thrown into the back of the van and T had made me some bang-up sandwiches so it was manageable. Visions of using a mortar to lob a few wake-up call rounds into the actuial blockaders swam delightfully through my head. Or Magneto, of X-Men fame, hurling all their crappy old pickup trucks into the surrounding mountainsides. Luckily the other vehicled folk seemed to have a good attitude so that helped me calm down. That's highland dirt staining my clean sheet.... oh well....

Maybe I should have just starting lobbing longbow arrows into the blockaders....well.....

When they finally let us through and I drove by the actual blockade in the cooling night air it was about 200 town folk all jubilant and almost festive, almost all the guys wielding machetes, and me resisting flipping the finger. Who knows? Maybe they have a good cause. This is the land of multiple outrages.... a 1001 people jacked up before you even finish your breakfast by sleazy corrupt politicos and such.

I drove 3 hours in the darkness after they let us through..... supposedly a no-no since you can't see the numerous, trip ending potholes and speed bumps as well. But I was tucked in behind some motivated mexicans to make up for some time and just drafted with them in the inky blackness around hairpin mountain curves and such. Once down near the coast I pulled into a PEMEX gas station and crashed in their parking lot until first light. PEMEX is cool about that almost nationwide.

Bypass highway down on the Oax coast and isthmus wind farm country

It's only about 150 miles across the isthmus of Tehauntepec from the pacific to the gulf of mexico. Norther weather patterns funnel through here, between 2 mountain ranges, and there are miles and miles of giant wind turbines here. When it roars semi trucks get flipped on this highway. Good road though, by mex standards, and you can make a good 60 mph or more.

Poor pic but the Chiapas state line.......

Just beyond the Oaxaca-Chiapas state line it gradually turns green and lushly verdant from the dry season burnt browns of Oaxaca and it's great 4 lane highway all the way to the border. Still requiring the usual razor sharp vigilance for the occasional trip ending pothole or unmarked speed bump.

This follows a narrow 10-20 mile wide hot ass coastal plain that slams right up against a steep coastal mountain range that is incredibly green. In summer just sweltering with tons of rain but in January really nice. This coastal plain is called the Soconusco.

Lots of rivers and bridges along this coast on the way to Tapachula and the border.

Being fogged out from just 5 hours sleep in a gas station parking lot my plan was to find a nice little beach mom&pop motel south of Tapachula then hit the border the next day all rested up and as early as possible before the border gets hectic. I usually enter at Talisman crossing, just 10 miles to the NE of the big city of Tapachula, check out and cancel my old vehicle permit in Mexico then go across the bridge and get my guatemalan vehicle permit (about 30 bucks all in for all this).

Then I drive about 30 miles south to the Ciudad Hidalgo (mex side)- Tecun Uman (guat side) crossing and about a hour after checking into sunny, friendly Guatemala I am ready to fricking leave and cross back. So it's cancel the new permit after just laying it in on the guat side, across another bridge, and hope the mex officials don't notice I just cancelled my old permit a hour or so earlier and go through all the crap to get a new 6 month mex car permit.

3rd world border crossings are usually pretty chaotic with a lot of hustlers about.

But this time I ran into a shitpot of bureaucratic static: they saw I had done this many times and gave me a lot of crap about addresses not matching up and such. "Why is your drivers license from Florida and your truck registered in Washington?" and "It says here your van is white, not blue" to which I was probably supposed to say to the guatemalan official (checking in at Tecun Uman earlier) "Well, it used to be white, see this flaking paint and how much to just pass me through?" and such. But my spanish is good enough I can usually disarm these folks with polite banter and joking. I pointed to the white bumper and smiled and said "Well, it's a LITTLE white". And the hapless, grinning, seemingly bumbling jolly gringo sails on through, folks...... this time anyway.

Tecun Uman immigration and vehicle permitting station. Temperature low 90s on this day but almost deserted.

Good times in the steaming border heat.... even in the dry season. "Yeah, but it's a DRY heat". Tell it to someone else, man. My body is used to the cool altiplano climate and sweat is sweat, brother.

Going across border bridge I paused to fotograph fellow crossers.... on inner tubes rafts out in the river.

Forget all the propaganda about the mexicans cracking down on central americans crossing into mexico. That's a burgeoning inner tube raft crossing system going on out there.

Good times afloat, aye?

Who can blame folks for wanting a better life in a seemingly better place?

Miles and miles of banana plantation holdings south of Tapachula on the way to Tecun Uman crossing.

Amazingly rural south of Tapachula. I was down here trying to find a beach motel and struck out. It was 1 pm so despite little sleep and just having driven about 280 miles of pretty good soconusco highway I decided to cross and do my obligatory one hour guat fun ride up to the other crossing. I cleared off the first crossing about 3 pm or so and headed north a hour to the Talisman crossing. Always dicey, this little drive, because I do not buy insurance and if you get in a accident you go straight to jail.

About sunset I hit the Talisman crossing and no problem clearing out of Guatemala after cancelling my 2 hour old or so guat vehicle permit. The guys on the mex side really asked a LOT of probing questions foremost of which was "I see you have done this MANY times, yes?" as he stared into his computer screen. What do you say to that besides a sheepish "yes"? But clear off I did after a $59US fee for paperwork, $25 for a new 180 day tourist permit, and the usual 200 buck deposit on the old van that I will get back in 6 months time.

Tired as hell but victorious with a new windshield sticker in place and a new 180 day tourist document I headed out in the now blackness and determined to head west to Mapastepec, my usual stopping place where there is a nice little motor court type motel I usually stay at for $14 a night. Screw finding a place in big ole Tapachula in the dark and sleeping in the van in the heat is OUT. The Mapastepec hotel was a few hours of night driving away so I went for it, albeit a lot slower due to not seeing potholes too well even at 45 mph. It's safe for me and the van, clean, convenient right off the highway, and has shitkicking old massive window AC units to get a decent nights sleep down on the steamy soconusco plain.

Entrance to Mapastepec at dawn the next day after my hotel respite there

On this run I initially take food because the first time I stayed in Mapastepec I ate at a little mom and pop comedor (food restaurant hole in the wall) and got the craps so bad that night that I was late clearing out the next day until I could go find a pharmacy to get some meds for the runs. Now I eat the usual crap but sanitized sandwiches at OXXO, which is the big mex convenient store chain.

Mexico is full of these down at the heels, fading motels. Clean and safe though!!!!

The manager now remembers me. This is my third time staying at this high end resort and he knows a high roller when he sees one. I told him it is my stop every 6 months for a border run and he just nodded like "Si, claro" (yes, of course).

47 channels and nothing on......

No hot water but in this climate not a big deal at all.

Pausing to gas up about a hour west of Mapastepec..... soconusco coastal range to the north 10 miles or so...

After a good nights sleep in sub-arctic AC and a nice shower, a bang-up OXXO microwave burrito and old but potent coffee, I was off about 8 am heading back up the soconusco 4 laner. The dry season is pretty along here with tons of rivers and bridges with no threat from the usual rainy season squalls and such. Nice!

Restaurant of the Road.... great title and a nice place at mile 223 of hwy 190 to Oaxaca city, still in coastal heat.

Winging it around the isthmus ring road bypass I wonder if I should just stay in Salina Cruz and hit the hwy 190 mountain road the next morning at first light, just in case the small town protesters who threw up the blockade on the way down are still at it. Most mexican blockaders seem to prefer a leisurely start to their blockade days and don't throw it up until at least 10 am. So this strategy would let me be past them by 9 or so. 

But this was Friday, January 6th..... 3 Kings Day locally: the day mexicans exchange christmas presents traditionally and a day of feasting with family and such. Surely they won't blockade in this day I tell myself in my gringo ignorance. So I hit the mountain road turnoff, onto hwy 190, and stop at my usual eatery along the path and buy my only restaurant meal of the trip.... great steak dinner with roasted veggies, tortillas, and some nice coffee (7 bucks, all in, with 20% tip to boot) since I am starting to drag about noon or so after the trip up the soconusco strip, around the isthmus ring road, and a bit up the mountain road.

But NO....... same little town ahead down in the little bowl valley there.... same blockaders just getting going at 1 pm

Nothing like contentedly cruising the usual 25-35 mph on the curvy mountain road and slamming into a blockade again. Traffic was backed up all the way into the little town you see above. I was resigned to another 9 pm release but just a hour later they let us all through. Guess the women folk back at the casa had a bird in the oven waiting for them all. I passed a tight clutch of maybe 100 campesinos in the little town, all with machetes, staring stonily at us passing motorists. All were clumped together and with machetes looked like a giant, angry porcupine. Guess I could not hide my anger since one old guy yelled at me as I passed. Small town mob justice is alive and well here and folks get strung up and lynched a lot. Child molester in town? Not for long? Professional thief? Forget a trial, pal. I was glad to be shut of them. Yet feeling sorry for them in their ignorance too.

Oaxaca mountain vista on hwy 190 mid way up to the capital city in the high central valleys.... one more time.

And so we limped home, all of us, at about 15 mph since we were all jumbled up due to the road block earlier. I got home about sunset.

This will be probably my last run to the border in the van. Next time they may deny me a new vehicle permit and then I would be screwed with no way to get back to our little country casita here just outside the capital city. Things are changing rapidly and no way to hide in plain sight anymore with a foreign vehicle. The push seems to be towards denying perpetual tourist status and pushing us into disclosive residency status.

To which I say a hearty "SCREW THAT". My anarchist leanings already rebel at passports and the state feeling you are their personal tax cow property. Guess we'll have to come up with a new strategy. For some reason no auto permit is needed for all of the two baja states so that may be a option. Plus a eternal spring coast to boot but...... barren and economically depressed. 

We'll see, aye? Meanwhile we are making it here at 5100 feet in the land of eternal spring and it ain't half bad.

The next morning the doods got on me in the morning highland chill...  a welcome home

What $125 a month can get you up in the altiplano these days......