Sickness and seeing our new Friends again
On January 1 woke up feeling seriously ill. Of course, I just assumed it was a hangover. The previous night’s festivities were quite fun and involved a bit of mescal. But I should have known it was more than the repercussions of ringing in the new year. I didn’t have my usual hangover craving for chocolate ice cream. I had no desire to eat anything. I could barely make the bed (which we have to do each morning to turn the van from a bedroom into a living room). I wadded up the sheets and blankets and threw them aside. I stood long enough to fold the bed back into a couch and then crawled onto the couch and stayed there all day.
We were supposed to head out. We had been in San Miguel Allende for 4 days and had plans to see a friend who lives in Mexico City and then go on to Puebla to meet some friends who would be staying in an Airbnb. But I couldn’t go anywhere. We extended our stay for two days, and then another two days. The day after the first I started having stabbing fever pains. I started to think it was more than a hangover. Greg gave me some aspirin and I started to feel better. I emerged from the van on day three. And on day four I felt good enough to go on an excursion. My lousy start to the year was starting to get much better.
We left San Miguel de Allende on January 5. The night before our departure we saw our new friends we meet in Nuevo Leon again. Juan who was still working at the time (but is now retired. Mucho Felicidades Juan!) had some surprise days off so he and his partner Chris drove down to San Miguel de Allende where they have a second home. Besides us, they also had two other couple friends in town. One of those couples, like us, was at the campground, and the other was visiting in an Airbnb. So a happy hour was planned and everyone joined – Chris and Juan, their friends who were staying in town, and everyone in the campground.
By January 6, Greg was sick. Like me, he had a fever and was unable to do much but lie on the couch. We changed our plans, decided to not go see our friend in Mexico City, and headed in a different direction. We were a little worried that whatever we caught might be contagious and Greg wasn’t up for much besides rest. Luckily Greg recovered much quicker than I did (perhaps I did have a little bit of a hangover).
The best camp host ever
Serendipity followed due to our change of plans and we ended up having a truly special experience. We landed at a campground called Burbuja (bubble in Spanish). La Burbuja is mostly a climber’s camp and a good bit off the beaten path if you aren’t that interested in scaling cliffs. But it has hot showers, was in the general direction that we wanted to go, and only cost 100 pesos. The campground is run by Raúl and his family. We contacted Raúl ahead of time (he speaks English) on Whatsapp and made plans to meet him on the road so he could lead us to the campground. We followed him up a mostly unpaved rugged path. At the top it was lovely. We saw a few of the climbers that we had met weeks ago at the Aventurarte Campground in San Luis Potosí.
On our second day at the camp, we met Raúl’s wife’s cousin, Ismael, while we were coming back from a hike and he was riding his motorcycle up to the campground. He had little English and of course, we have little Spanish but we chatted with the little language we shared. That afternoon the rest of the family showed up at the campground and Greg played a song he had written in Spanish for everyone. Later he played some guitar for Raúl and Ismael and chatted for a while with Raúl. I had just started making dinner that evening when Raúl called me on Whatsapp and invited Greg and me to dinner at his home.
At first, I tried to decline thinking that they would be making some traditional Mexican food that involved meat. But then he told me his wife was making pizza. You know we love pizza, right? I told him we were vegetarians and he said he would come pick us up.
Raúl’s house was beautiful. A stunning dried flower stalk of an agave decorated for Christmas stretched up into the bricked dome ceiling of his living room. In contrast, outside his porch door, we heard the baying of farm animals. In addition to running the campground, we learned that Raúl also raises livestock to sell (he also has a job as a teacher). But inside Raúl’s lovely house, we were far away from the rustic idea of a farm. Raúl’s wife Miche was busy with the pizza and snacks in the kitchen. His little girl was riding around the tiled floors of the dining room and living room on a trike towing a plastic wagon full of popular brightly colored toys including a My Little Pony. The older son joined us around the dining table. We were offered wine and small quesadilla snacks with artisanal cheese. The pizza was so good!
Eventually, Ismael showed up. He had been taking photos that afternoon when we met him and I asked him in Spanish about his picture-taking. The rest of the evening amazingly ensued bilingually (despite our limited Spanish). Everyone was patient and talked slowly. We learned that Raúl had lived and worked tended horses in the US just outside of the two cities where Greg and I had once lived together, Greenville, SC, and Atlanta, GA. Greg told a story entirely in Spanish about an encounter we had with the police on a beach when we were traveling in Mexico four years ago.
We were blown over by their hospitality.
Meeting up with our friends
The next stop was the state of Puebla to meet up with our friends now known as The Third Street Thugs, aka, Scamper Squad, aka the crew of Tickety Boo. Our lives with these friends collide every once in a while. We have now hung out with them in 8 United States and 3 Mexican States. They were spending a few weeks in Puebla City in an Airbnb, where one member of the Thugs’ sister, Susan, was currently doing a live-in Spanish immersion course, before traveling to Oaxaca City and then on to Mexico City. Since Puebla and Oaxaca were generally in the direction that we are moving we decided to hang out with them a bit.
We spent a week in Cholula, a neighboring city to Puebla, in a campground taking day trips by bus to visit our friends in Puebla and doing one excursion in the van with Susan and the Thugs to some ruins in the neighboring state of Tlaxcala. But then we decided to do a late-night activity in Pueble, Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling). We didn’t want to drive back to Cholula in the dark so we moved into the city. We found the perfect place on iOverlander to camp in town – right next to the tourist police station.
Inside the station, we asked permission to camp on the street. Everyone was so nice. They moved some police trucks to make room for the van and took pictures of our passports and license plate. When they asked how long we were going to stay we were a little tentative – we wanted to stay a week. It was no problem.
The street was a bit noisy in the evening but by the time we went to bed, it was super quiet until the morning when the police officers did their morning pep rally and the propane gas truck came rolling through the neighborhood playing its musical gas tune to announce itself. We had absolutely no worries while we stayed there. The day before we left we found a place that sold mini donuts and bought 40 for the crew at the station.
Soon it was time to move on. The Thugs had a reservation in Oaxaca so we picked them and their luggage up and drove to their next destination. After dropping The Thugs off in Oaxaca city we went to a campground in Tule, 6 miles away.
The city of Oaxaca is nice but I think the real charm of the area is all the places you can visit outside of the city. We planned a couple of driving excursions with the Thugs. Our trip to Monte Alban and the small town of Arrazola went really well. Our next drive was to the Mercado Municipal in Tlacolula de Matamoros. We were on the way into town to pick up our friends when we started to get a little confused about our route. We changed course and ended up going down a street that was blocked off by a small market. We turned onto a side street – a two-way street that was only wide enough for one vehicle. Cars were coming the other way so we pulled over into an open spot to let them pass. Except that we turned too sharp and the front fender of a parked car got scraped.
The parked car was a taxi and the driver was at the car within minutes. Luckily he was calm but obviously not pleased. I was already somewhat familiar with how accidents are handled in Mexico. Unlike in the US where everyone exchanges information and works it out later, in Mexico no one leaves until the matter is settled.
Right away we pulled out our insurance information. I flipped through the pages until I found the number to call. It was an 800 number that only worked if you had a Mexican telephone. I tried it anyways since we have international calling but couldn’t get through. The only other numbers I could find were office numbers. It was Sunday. I put my poor Spanish skills to work and tried to explain this to the taxi driver. I asked him to call the 800 number but he said he couldn’t connect. He mentioned wanting to take his car to a garage and wanting 12,000 pesos (ok, this comes to just over $600 US which we could have easily given him and been on our way but in the confusion i thought he was asking fir $6000 US). Finally, I thought about our friends Juan and Chris who we met in Nuevo Leon. I called Chris and explained our problem.
Chris asked to speak with the taxi driver. I don’t know how this conversation went but I will tell you this – Chris is an American who has lived in Mexico for 30 years and is fluent in Spanish. He knows how to deal with problems. I often read about how to get out of bogus traffic stops in Mexico by either pretending to not know Spanish or wasting the cop’s time. Chris’ solution – which I think only he could pull off – is to get out of a ticket by actually shaming the officer.
Anyways when I got the phone back Chris told me that the taxi driver had called his insurance and an adjuster would be there within a couple of hours. He told me that he would try to find a local number for our insurance and get back to us. The taxi driver’s insurance adjuster arrived shortly after I hung up with Chris. We asked him to call our insurance.
With the arrival of our adjuster, I eventually felt relief. At first, I anticipated that we’d have an adversarial situation with him – like dealing with insurance companies in the US. But in no time I realized that he was only there to help us. We explained what happened in our broken Spanish and he used a couple of cell phones representing cars to demonstrate what he understood us telling him. We filled out some forms. Our adjuster talked to the other adjuster and then came back to us and told us it was all settled. We didn’t owe a thing.
We texted Juan and Chris, thank you, and let them know all was good before continuing on our way to pick up our friends.
And our total expenses for January were…
Here is the breakdown of categories…
So here is the good news, we only spent $1428.65 last month! Since we only traveled 798 miles and our friends kicked into some of the cost our gas expense was low. Unfortunately, we are still paying our US auto insurance even though we can’t use it here in Mexico. But I did get it reduced by about $20 before we left the states. If we had canceled our insurance I would have lost my Florida driver’s license. That might have not been too bad since we are considering changing our state of residence once we return to the US anyways.
Thirty dollars of our camping expense is for our Boondockers Welcome subscription. I don’t see any more opportunities to use it again in Mexico but because it is so cheap it is worth keeping for when we will be back in the US.
Once again we shared our phone plan with our friends who are traveling in South America. But unfortunately, Google Fi only allows you to use the plan’s data out of the US for a limited time. Our friends are getting kicked off the data and have paused their entire plan which means our rate will go back up for February. But our phone expense should lower again for March because Google Fi will also be canceling our data. We will probably also pause our entire phone plan and switch to using a Mexican cell plan – which will mean less data but next time we need to call a Mexican 800 number we should be good.
Just like last month our grocery expense was much cheaper than it was when we were in the US. Some things we buy are probably more expensive than they’d be in the States but the last time we bought a dozen eggs it only cost us $2.02 – so we can’t complain much. And look at the super low booze total! Beer is fairly cheap to buy in the grocery store but it is super cheap to drink out (which we did a lot of with our friends).
Considering how much we ate and drank out with our friends (lots and lots) and how many museums and archeological sites (a whole bunch) we visited, I’d say $319.88 is amazing for Entertainment.
Lastly, in Personal, in addition to our regular NY Times subscription and Patreon donations to artist friends, Greg bought a few t-shirts and a wallet. I bought some flip-flops. And we bought a few souvenirs, a couple of shot glasses and a painted turtle.
To see all of our expense reports, click here.
If you are interested in reading other expense reports from nomads who really know how to live cheaply while still having a good time, check out the blog from our friends Mark, Liesbet, and Maya at Roaming About who are currently traveling in Columbia.
The Camping/sleeping Report
Here are our camping/sleeping stats (all camping/sleeping is free unless otherwise indicated):
1 – night at a lake
1 – night at a rest stop/gas station
21 – nights at a campground ($279.40)
8 – nights on the street outside of a police station
Map and Miles
Number of miles driven: 798. Cost of gas per mile: about 28¢ (this is based on our actual cost of gas and doesn’t include gas money our friends contributed)
Auto Insurance and what to do if you have an accident
All month I wondered what my Mexico Tip would be for January. And then we had the auto accident. I learned so much!
When traveling in Mexico you have to have auto insurance. Our US insurance won’t cover us so we had to buy Mexican Auto Insurance. We went through a broker link I found on Facebook and entered our specifics. We ended up choosing the cheapest insurance that gave us the coverage we wanted.
We were sent insurance papers in English and Spanish from the company we choose, Chubb Seguros. “The In Case of an Accident” page of this packet says:
- Please remain calm. (Good advice! I was super calm but apparently, even though he didn’t show it, Greg wasn’t)
- Do not leave the scene of the accident. (I was really glad that the taxi driver was there because my first thought was, “What do we do? Leave a note on the windshield?”)
- Call Chubb Seguros toll-free number (the next 2 bullet points give two different numbers you can call for accident and theft and roadside assistance. The 3rd bullet point says these numbers are only good from a Mexican phone.)
The following steps detail what you need to know on your call, what to do when an adjuster arrives, and that you will need to fill out an accident report.
Obviously, we didn’t read any of this before our accident. I guess I just assumed that if we were Americans being sold Mexican Auto Insurance we’d be able to call for help from our own phone. And of course, I never thought we’d have an accident. But now I know better.
So my tip this month is when you buy Mexican Auto Insurance make sure you can call your insurance company from Mexico with your own phone. In addition, make sure you will be able to communicate with (speak the language of) whoever answers on the other end.
I suggest going to the insurance company’s website or calling them to assess whether they meet these requirements.
We are still in Oaxaca. Because just like January, February didn’t start off so great. We are having mechanical problems with the van. I will detail all of this in next month’s Nomad post but for now, we just dropped off the van at the garage around the corner from the campground. We have high hopes that they can help us but we have also been talking to a family in the campground that has also had mechanical problems with their rig and has found no solutions even after engaging many mechanics for 4 months. We fear it is Ballena Blanca’s transmission but don’t know for sure. Next month’s expense report will probably not look as good as January’s.
We just paid for our third week at the campground in Oaxaca and will probably be here for a fourth. We are hoping we won’t be out of the van for more than a day and if we do need a new transmission we can stay in BB in the campground while we wait. If not, we have a tent. We can also rent a cabin in the campground for 450 pesos a day.
Ballena Blanca is still drivable in manual so we’ve been able to slowly and carefully drive into town to get water and groceries for another week or two.
So we have time on our hands. We can take public transportation into Oaxaca Ciry to continue to see the sights. I should be able to crank out a few blogs while we are here. We are catching up on reading and studying our Spanish. And I am still placing dots on Google Maps for places we want to go next.
*Click pics to enlarge, read captions, and view in a slide show.