Waiting and walking – Day 164 (12033 miles)

After our night in the colourful Motel Plaza we headed to Veracruz to arrange for Juanita to be sea freighted to Colombia.

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We had dinner and a good chat with Alex and Simon who are on a 12 month RTW and travelling at a fairly speedy pace,  certainly by our standards anyway.  South America was their first continent and they had arrived in Patagonia in the middle of winter.  Hats of to them for enduring the hard riding and camping conditions that time of year brings.  They were up and off the next day to continue their journey.  Quite a different story was about to unfold for us.

Before our chosen freight agent could start the process of shipping Juanita they had advised that we had to cancel our temporary importation.  As we had come in over a land border from the US this type of importation is issued by and cancelled on exit from Mexico by an authority called Banjercito, as opposed to Customs (called Aduanas here) as would be the case in most countries.  After an hour waiting at their office we were advised that we couldn’t cancel the importation without a document called an Article 23 from Customs which is basically the document they produce when they inspect the van and approve it for export.  At this point we continued to try to be proactive which may have been our downfall😡.

We went to the Aduanas (Customs) office and met with an official who told us we would have to provide a detailed list of all the items in our van, no problem, we already knew this from other overlanders who had recently gone through this process.  We felt quietly confident that we knew what had to be done as we headed off to meet the freight agent.

John has been in e-mail correspondence with the agent we chose for several months, from the blogs of other travellers we had read Victor the contact wasn’t great at responding but once in Veracruz his staff took over and it all worked ok.  Based on this we were expecting to ship on 20/11.  We had a meeting at their offices which didn’t change our expectations, we could keep Juanita until Tuesday 15/11 and they would work with a Customs broker (so many people involved!) on our list of van contents to make sure there wasn’t anything that could cause any delays.

We started to relax a bit and have a look around Veracruz and most importantly celebrate John’s birthday (while keeping an eye on the US presidential election).  Not surprisingly we haven’t met a Mexican who believed Mr Trump’s election was a good thing and we would have to agree with them!

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Creme caramel, one of my favourites, luckily John was happy to share.

While we still had Juanita we took a day trip to Xalapa to the 2nd largest indoor collection of Mayan artefacts in Mexico, there is more in the Mexico City museum. The Xalapa Museo de Anthropologia has won international architecture awards.  Is was built in the 1980’s but has that Royal Festival Hall kind of mucho concrete look about it from the exterior.  Inside it is a wonderful sandstone covered space perfect to display these artefacts.  Built in tiers down a hill with lush gardens around.  We spent a lovely afternoon there.

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These huge Olmec heads date from 900 BC.  Would quite like one as a very impressive garden ornament!

We had asked the shipping agent to call us daily to give us an update.  This never seemed to happen without John chasing them.  We tried to stay optimistic and hoped this wasn’t a bad sign and carried on sightseeing to keep occupied.

Veracruz city, not the prettiest city we have visited, like most ports it has it’s charming bits and the bits that the locals said we should avoid after dark.  It did play a big part in the Spanish conquest and was the first city named by the Spanish in what became Mexico.  It was the biggest trading port and arrival point for Spanish settlers and the military.

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Shoeshines available everywhere including coffee houses.

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The gardens of the Naval museum, some similarities to Greenwich we thought, but with the addition of palm trees.

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Let’s hope this isn’t the closest John gets to Ushuaia!  Still no news from the shippers.

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In preparation for delivery to the freight agent’s yard Juanita gets a spruce up.  Equivalent of £2.50 for a clean that took 50 mins!  To be honest it could have been done in 20 mins but it was a bit too warm to rush.  This señor kept hydrated with regular swigs of Cerveza, obviously helped him balance on the bucket on top of the chair!

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So, Tuesday 15th November we left Juanita at the shippers yard in anticipation of her leaving on the 20th.

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Getting around the city was to become more difficult that week as 30,000 public workers took to the streets and blockaded key routes which basically brought the city to a standstill.  It was all very peaceful and completely understandable.  The current (although no where to be found) City Governer has been embezzling large amounts from public funds and now any overtime or bonus due to the workers is not guaranteed to be paid.  It seems hard to understand how 1 person can have unchecked access to manage this so maybe there were others involved as well but the Governer certainly appears to be getting the blame.

It was hard to get a feel from the press as to why the Governer hasn’t just been arrested and brought to justice but then the state of Veracruz is a tough place for journalists to freely investigate and report in anyway that could be deemed as critical of the authorities. 17 journalists have been murdered since 2010 and more have disappeared.

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As we no longer had Juanita and there was no through routes for buses or taxis we did manage to walk 48 miles over a 7 day period so that was a positive!

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This made us chuckle,  Mexican cities are pretty noisy,  it is a cacophony of car horns, virtually every shop having massive speakers outside playing either dance or traditional music plus the street musicians.  This is the first region where the xylophone appears to be a popular portable instrument!  We stopped at this coffee house in what appeared to be a quieter part of town to escape the noise, firstly we sat outside but within minutes the waiter had turned up the music played through the massive speaker next to our table, possibly at the request of another customer (it certainly wasn’t us!), there were no other free tables outside so we moved inside.  Part of the cafe was screened off but it was a busy Saturday so surely no serious building work would be taking place?  Within minutes there was the sound of a hammer drill so loud we couldn’t think let alone talk!   Luckily a couple of tables outside had been vacated so we grabbed one quick and began to enjoy our coffee.  A few minutes later the guys pictured above moved in, we were sat at the table on the right by the drummer.  When they started to play John got up to move and the drummer gratefully thought we were just moving to the other side of the table to give him more room!  Such nice friendly people but John and I are deaf enough anyway, we had to move a bit further away!

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Veracruz streets.

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We passed a car on the street that quite obviously hadn’t moved for a bit.  It is a windy port town and you can taste the salt in the air.  Definitely not good for car bodywork.

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So, back to the shipping.  2 days after we left Juanita at the yard we were back there.  Our agent had advised that even though we had provided a list of all the van contents the Customs office had advised the Customs Agent that they had to compile their own list in Spanish, including export categories and provide photographs of all the contents.  To try to hurry it along we got involved, it was taking this one guy so long to catalogue and photograph everything.   We did have a few things on board that strangely we could not ship including washing up liquid, bug spray, ant traps and really weirdly John’s spare watch strap!  Anyway with John behind him and able to identify items the pace quickened.  At this point the whole process was starting to get really frustrating, this one guy had been working by himself on the previous day and if we had been told we would have been there then to help.  We now only had 2 days for the list and photos to be put in the correct format and presented to Customs if we had any chance of getting shipped on 20/11.

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This street artist created pictures by setting fire to car paint.  It’s all perfectly safe!

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Yes Christmas starts too early in Mexico as well!

So, by the end of Friday 19/11 it had become clear the Customs Broker had not finished the detailed list and there was no way our shipment would clear for the weekend sailing.  Basically Customs appeared to be making an example of us.  There is a process for travellers shipping their own used possessions through Mexico that does not require such detailed paperwork but for whatever reason our Broker has not questioned Custom’s decision.  Over the weekend we mulled over the options.  Give them another week?  Get the van back and ship from Belize, Gautemala or the US?

On Monday a call by John to the shipping agent revealed that our first contact Victor was “no longer with the company” to be honest he hadn’t been involved much since we had arrived anyway but it did make us doubt that he had done anything at all to help our cause.  At this point the girl now handling our shipment was assured that the list would be compiled and ready for us to sign off (another new bit of information we had just heard about) in plenty of time to make the 27/11 shipment.  We made the decision to go with it and leave the shipment with them.

We needed a break from Veracruz but couldn’t risk being away from the city for more than a day in case we needed to get back quick to sign papers.  We hired a car and escaped to the lovely and quiet Tlacotalpan.

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“Come on lady, you must have some food in that big handbag?”  Unfortunately for them I didn’t.

The shipping saga continues………………………..

Dead and gone – Day 144 (11608 miles)

Perhaps a morbid title for this post but I will explain more in a while (now you have to keep reading!)

We were now driving west across the Yucatan and had a couple of days to kill before heading to Merida.  We settled on the small seaside town of Celestun.  Maybe we were both really relaxed or maybe we had taken so many photos of the ruins recently that we managed to not take a single pic of the beach or coastline!

However we did go on a boat trip so a few birdy photos

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We had shared the boat with Peter, Sabina and Nicholas who had escaped the European Autumn for a few weeks to explore the Yucatan.   We enjoyed several meals with them in Celestun and in Merida but yet again I failed to take a proper pic.  This is Peter and John trying to order breakfast at a place that only seemed to have one choice with Sabina and Nicholas waiting patiently.

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We moved on to a different breakfast venue that had more choice and the added bonus of Christmas decs already in place (possibly been up the last few years?)

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We arrived in Merida the capital city of Yucatan on 31/10.  I am probably repeating myself when I say John would be happy if we avoided towns and cities for all of our travels.  Still, I had twisted his arm with the promise of all the fun, colour and good photo opportunities to be had during the annual Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival.

I had checked out the best cities in the region to experience the festival and Merida was the one, I had read reviews of previous years and we were there for the traditional festival dates of 31/10 to 2/11.  Note the word traditional, there’s the flaw in my plan.  What I didn’t think to check was the actual timetable of events for this year (doh!).  I won’t go into what the whole festival includes but there are parades with the dressing up/skeletons etc. which are more of a public event and then there are the more personal traditions that take place for the families at the cemeteries.  This year the public parades where held a couple of days earlier at the weekend for the first time ever!  No excuse, bad planning I should have checked.

Anyhow, we knew of my mistake before arriving in Merida but I convinced John we should still go.  There were no campsites near the town so we were booked into a guesthouse that had parking.  Now it’s a nice old city, but is pretty congested and the centre gets rather gridlocked.  By the time we arrived it was very hot, the traffic was heavy and it turned out our parking was a block away, shared by several businesses and being used by some builders working on an adjoining building.  It didn’t look very secure and John’s mood had gone from the wrong side of good to “what the bloody hell are we doing here”.  We had a period of “storming” before we settled down to “norming” and after the builders left the car park didn’t look so bad.

We made the most of activities that were still happening.

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A rather eclectic Halloween display.

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Luckily there was still this couple to pose with, much in demand by us and others who had arrived late!

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And I got the T shirt!

We had gone to the tourist information office to check out what there was to do and were advised there was a guided tour of the cemetery the next night.  We turned up early to find the gates locked and no one around (well no one alive anyway!).  We did bump into a couple of Brits who were staying at our B & B and also turned up for the tour on the advice of the Tourist office.  Oh well it wasn’t to be so we went for a couple of beers with Phil and Dee instead.  Another couple I failed to take a pic of who have been touring South and Central America on an Africa Twin.

Before we left we did get to look around the cemetery, colourful and beautifully decorated, some graves were modelled on the deceased’s homes and some had their own Mayan pyramids!

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The food here is good and lots of fresh veg are easy to come by but green leafy veg has been somewhat lacking in our diet recently.  Luckily the Yucatan has an abundance of Chaya sometimes called Tree Spinach, full of vitamins, iron and calcium,we have been drinking and eating as much of it as we can.

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Heading over to Veracruz the port from which Juanita will sail to Cartegena we did a long day and arrived after dark in the town of Villerhamosa (or villersamosa as we had been calling it!).  IOverland  had some decent reviews for a highway motel rather grandly called the Plaza.  A bit like a drive in burger joint we paid our 350 pesos (a reasonable £14) at a window and were directed to the entrance below.

Very nice we thought, our own garage (or as we like to call it the kitchen) with electric door and integral door into the very spacious bedroom.

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First impressions, tacky 80’s disco decor but it will do.  Then we noticed the strategically placed mirrors, enormous bed, kind of dumb waiter thing in the wall to allow you to order room service without opening the door and complimentary condom (we would rather have had chocolates).

Now we’ve been to one we spot these establishments often!  They allow you to drive in, hide your car and be anonymous!  In Latin America where households are often big and multigenerational these motels provide some privacy for young couples as well as the more traditional liaisons of a financial nature!

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8 hours in the Jacuzzi, how wrinkled would you be?!

Buanas Noches xxxx Continue reading “Dead and gone – Day 144 (11608 miles)”