Nomad Life & Expenses March 2023

Sunset at El Rancho RV Park.

Lots happened in March – except for the one thing we were really hoping for, getting our van back. If you have been following along you may remember from February’s terribly tedious Nomad Report that Ballena Blanca’s (our van) transmission went out on February 1. February was consumed with everything we needed to do to get her fixed. It involved a whole lot of patience as nothing went smoothly. But finally, all the pieces fell into place and we dropped BB off at a local garage, Two Brothers (not a translation, the name of the garage is in English). On the last day of February, we thought we’d be on our way. People had spotted the van being taken for a test drive. But then we got the news that the van was still having problems. And then on March 1, the van disappeared from the garage.

We would eventually find out that our mechanics sent Ballena Blanca to another garage to have the transmission installation checked. Perhaps if we had better Spanish language skills we would have been informed that that was going to happen ahead of time. And perhaps if we were fluent in Spanish we would have gone to the two brothers and asked them exactly where Ballena Blanca disappeared to. But due to our lack of language skills, we were just sitting patiently hoping everything would work out. Our new friend, Michael, was amazed that we hadn’t “gone all gringo on them.” Everyone we told our story to was surprised at how calm we were. But it was more of a “What can we do, go yell at these guys in English? They have our van. We don’t want to piss them off.”

But our new friends at the campground weren’t as calm. One evening without telling us, our four besties (Micheal, Layne, Omar, and Angelica – all Spanish speakers) went to talk to the guys at the garage. Then one day Greg went with Michael to talk to them.  Greg was assured that the van was in a safe place. But that wasn’t enough for our friends. Finally, Layne and Michael took us over to Two Brothers in their van so we could find out Ballena Blanca’s actual location. One of the brothers, Uziel, told Michael that we could go see the van right then. Uziel jumped into Layne and Michael’s rig with us and we took over an hour’s journey through Oaxaca to a transmission shop south of the city.

And there she was, propped up, and taken apart.

I started retrieving things from inside Ballena Blanca that we needed now that we knew we weren’t going to get her back anytime soon. More clothes, spices, oils, and vinegars for cooking, the pressure cooker, the popcorn popper, more silverware, and backup toiletry supplies. As I was putting our life into bags, Greg, Michael, and Uziel were talking with the transmission shop mechanics.

They thought the problem was with the control module. We needed a new one. This would end up costing us more money and a really long wait.

As I write this we are still waiting. Apparently, they have the part and the van will be ready any minute. But are hopes are only slightly up.

Our poor Ballena Blanca torn apart. Uziel, Greg, and Michael.

The good thing about March is that we have had lots of distractions. We made lots of friends – which of course, we would have never met if we had left the campground in early February as we had planned. Here are a few pics of the people we met, the parties that were had, and a few of their stories.

Besides partying with our friends we started walking every morning for at least an hour and a half. We started out going to destinations, walking through nearby towns, to a dam, and an old hacienda, but finally ended up in a routine walking to an old strip mine in the mountains and then looping back around into town.

After we saw Ballena Blanca in the other garage we realized that we couldn’t keep living like we were going to get her back any day. We decided to settle in and take some Spanish classes in Oaxaca. We took the bus or a colectivo into town and back to El Tule for two weeks. Our classes lasted 4 hours. In the morning we did grammar with Tanivet and in the afternoon we practiced talking with Friida. We liked the school, I think we learned some, and our experiences getting to know our teachers were very enriching. But at the end of every day, we were totally exhausted. I’d get back to our room at the campground and pass out. Every Friday at noontime there would be a little graduation ceremony for whoever was wrapping up their classes that week.

The Expenses

Notes about us, some of our expenses, and our rig:

  • All expenses are in US dollars.
  • We drive a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van that we upfitted ourselves to live in. Currently, the van gets about 17 miles to the gallon.
  • Our van is registered in Florida as a standard cargo van. Our van insurance is through USAA.
  • We are vegetarians and we cook – eating little packed or prepared food.
  • We get our health insurance through the ACA exchange in Florida. Our insurance is very basic and is mostly good only in Florida where we are residents, but hardly ever visit. Our costs for health insurance are one of the few things we don’t include in this report.
  • Our phone plan is with Google Fi. We pay a monthly fee of $110 plus tax for two people which gives us unlimited calling and text (in the US, Canada, & Mexico) and up to 50 gigs of high-speed internet per person. Our data plan works internationally at no extra cost. With Google Fi, we can make phone calls over wifi from our phone, tablet, or computer. The plan provides an extra sim card for our tablet at no extra cost. At any time we can switch to a metered plan which costs $20 a month for phone and text and $10 for each gig of data we use.
  • We receive our mail through St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. We pay $11.99 per month for the basic service plus an extra $7.99 to have the envelopes scanned and posted online where we have the option for small additional fees to have the envelopes opened and the contents scanned. There are additional charges if we want anything sent to us on the road. We keep $100 in an account with the service. When this runs low they charge us another $100.
  • Our dentist is in Los Algodones, Mexico. If you would like to read more about our experience with our Mexican dentist, click here.

And our total expenses for March were…


Here is the breakdown of categories…

Expenses March 2023
Gas $0.00
Insurance/Registration $76.31
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $811.67
Van Total $887.98
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $6.54
Camping $315.36
Household $1.20
Laundry $2.70
Showers/bathroom $0.00
Tolls/Parking $23.34
Van Life Total $349.14
Phone $151.94
Mail Service $0.00
Communication Total $151.94
Food $296.47
Booze $282.84
Cleaning/Paper Products $4.85
Medicine Cabinet $109.86
Consumables Total $694.02
Drinks/Eating Out $162.95
Museums/Attractions/Music $20.01
Entertainment Total $182.96
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $0.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $0.00
Clothes $37.62
Gifts/Charity $146.33
Gear $925.75
Personal Total $1,109.70
*Utilities include our water, propane for the stove and heater, and items that are required to run our composting toilet.
*Gear is anything we think we need but probably don’t. These are the things that make our life more fun and interesting, and keep us entertained and informed. Our NY Times subscription goes here. As well as expenses for hobbies, computer devices, books, kayaks, bikes, etc. These are the things that make us not quite minimalist.
I don’t think anyone will be looking to us for tips on how to live cheaply on the road because we just aren’t. We had to throw another 15,000 pesos  ($811.67 US) at the van for the control module. Our camping costs might look okay-ish – except that the $315.36 US is only for a partial month. We were paying weekly but the last time Greg tried to pay one of the owners he said not to worry about it – so I guess we are on a monthly plan now.
Our phone bill ($151.94) is a little higher because of my procrastination. Google Fi cut off our data service because we have been out of the US for 3 months. If I had planned ahead I would have ported our phone number with Google Voice (so all the people who have our phone numbers could still call us) and then just gotten a Mexican phone plan once our data was turned off. But I didn’t plan ahead and ended up spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to port our phone numbers to no avail (I think this will have to wait until we are back in the US). And then on March first my phone got stuck in a reboot loop. I tried everything to fix it – including ignoring it for a few days – but eventually had to do a factory reset, losing some important data like my recipes and a few Whatsapp messages with Two Brothers. Anyways we finally got a Mexican cell plan (which added an extra $17.88 US to our phone expense) for my phone but I still procrastinated putting my Google Fi plan on hold. And now, of course, we hope to be back in the US soon so I think we will just keep everything the way it is for now.
Food ($296.47) was a little higher this month. The Méxcian peso is gaining value so things are costing us a little bit more. The higher cost might also be due to less eating out and that Michael and Layne took us to Sam’s Club in Oaxaca and we did some stocking up. I’m blaming the high alcohol expense ($282.84) on the fact that we made friends and shared a whole lot of mezcal. And also since we have to take a bus or colectivo to get groceries we don’t go often and when we do we can only buy as much as we can carry. So we have been tending to buy beer here in El Tule where it is more expensive.
Getting prescription medicine in México is pretty easy and cheap but we’ve discovered that it is only cheap if you buy it at a Farmacias Similares or other discount pharmacy but not if you buy it at Walmart. Of course, we only found that out after we spent the money and checked our receipt. Also, supplements are a bit expensive.
Gifts and charity ($146.33) were high last month because we treated our friends a couple of times as a thank-you for toting us to the garage and Sam’s Club and helping us in general. We also bought besties going away gifts. And finally, we donated some money to our friend who was struck by Guillain-Barré Syndrome and has been struggling to pay for her physical therapy.
The gear category mostly went to learning Spanish. We paid $768.77 for two weeks of classes and $131.33 to renew our Duolingo subscription.

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.

The Camping/Sleeping Report

Here are our camping/sleeping stats (all camping/sleeping is free unless otherwise indicated):

31 – nights in a cabin ($315.36 – this only accounts for 15 of those days, the remaining days will be paid for this month)

We spent the whole month at El Rancho RV Park. Every day we think about how lucky we are that the campground is so nice. There certainly are worse places to be stuck.

There aren’t usually burros outside the campground, but sometimes…

Map and Miles

One of the upticks of being stranded is that I don’t have to spend time figuring out our miles or making a map.

Mexico Tips

A few food tips

We have spent a lot of time hunting for popcorn in Oaxaca. We had purchased it in other Mexican cities on our travels but haven’t been able to find it in the two grocery stores we frequent, Chedraui and Walmart, or any of the convenience stores we have checked. Microwave popcorn is easy to find. Everyone has lots of it just where you’d expect it – in the snack aisle. But bagged corn for our on-the-stove whirly pop was elusive until very recently. And then by chance, we noticed it stacked along with dried beans and lentils. So if you are looking for popcorn in Oaxaca, quit searching in the chip aisle.

One of the curious things we see for sale in grocery stores is pre-toasted sliced bread. No melty butter on this toast – unless, of course, you like your toast twice toasted.

Getting Around

I know these notes might be a bit boring but my hope is that someone will be staying in El Tule without transportation someday and find them useful.

From what we can tell El Tule buses only go toward Oaxaca (ENE). Other buses going WSW from Oaxaca take the highway bypass around El Tule. There are lots of places to visit in this westerly direction, ruins, charming villages, and mezcal fabricas. So if you want to visit any of these places you either need to take a bus (or walk) towards Oaxaca and get off right before the bypass to catch a bus going the other way or you can walk through El Tule about a mile and a half to the Pemex on the bypass and hope a bus will stop for you (the buses go super fast on the bypass so I’m not sure how good an option this is).

Getting a bus going west can be a little tricky too. We got a bus the other day that had on its marque that it was going to Yagul but it stopped a couple of miles short of our location. We ended up getting a colectivo the rest of the way. So it never hurts to ask the driver where they are going.

Buses and colectivos are privately owned in Oaxaca so every experience is different. El Tule buses tend to either be mostly red with Tule written on their sides or White with a red and yellow stripe on their sides. But then there is the purple bus. Try to catch the purple bus.

Another thing about Oaxaca buses. Perhaps you noticed the guy hanging out the door in the video? The driver usually has a helper. The helper keeps an eye out for riders and lets the driver know when to stop and go by slapping the side of the bus. That way the driver can careen down the road at top speed without missing anyone.

But here is the best tip I picked up this last month… Getting a bus to a stop is fairly easy. There is usually a button to push near the back door and sometimes on the overhead grab bar in the middle of the bus to alert the driver that you want to stop. But with colectivos you have to tell the driver where you want to get off. I have been telling them that we want to get off at the corner of the wall (there is a freestanding wall with graffiti on it across from the street that leads to the campground). After saying this in Spanish there is always a back and forth between me and the driver confirming where exactly I want off. But then one day we got into a colectiveo with a super nice driver. He said something about music and changed it from whatever Méxican music was playing to Blondie! How could he have known? As we are rocking out to The Tide is High, I say my thing about wanting to be let off at the corner of the wall and he tells me that this stop has a name – Sabritas. Since then I have just been telling drivers that we want off at Sabricas – and it works! Thank you nicest colectivo driver ever!

Right Now

We are going with the Two Brothers to see the van at the transmission shop on Friday morning – shortly after this blog will be published. There is some talk of validating the warranty on the transmission and finding out when the van will be ready. I’m not sure what all this means but it feels like progress. We will see…

Our end-of-the-month portrait at El Rancho RV Park. This is the third month-end we have spent in the campground.

*Click pics to enlarge, read captions, and view in a slide show.

6 thoughts on “Nomad Life & Expenses March 2023

  1. Hi Duwan, we really miss you guys, we hope you fix your van soon. Great memories, you, Greg, Michael and Layne were the best of our trip for Oaxaca.

    1. I’m so glad. Despite the worries with the van and not being to continue our travels to the Yucatan, meeting all you guys was the highlight of this journey in México. Hopefully, we will have the van back soon and come visit you in CDMX.

  2. I’m so glad you at least are having some fun and that the campground is pretty amazing. Is that a pool I see in one of the photos? So nice! Especially as we are sitting in a desert (by choice) in temps of the mid-nineties, with lots of biting bugs, and, believe it or not, humid air! We won’t stay long. And, yes, there are pools around for a dip. But we are trying to save money as last month was pricey for us.

    We’ve found popcorn everywhere here in the dried bean section. I wish I could have told you where to look. And here’s my tip to save money (like on meds), it’s a very easy one: check prices before you buy anything – and compare where thought useful. 🙂

    I hope you got the van by now and that you’ll be able to leave El Tule soon. Camping costs will go down, but fuel costs will go up!

    1. Yes, we should check the prices ahead of time. We keep learning. I’m so glad we finally found the popcorn, though. It was purely by accident. We spend so much time in grocery stores trying to find things.

      We still don’t have the van, but we are hoping to hear something this week. They are checking one last thing.

      Yes, the pool is lovely, and the weather is perfect for getting in it now – but my swimming suit has been in the van until this past week when we visited it again and i got more stuff.

      There are no-see-ums here that drive us in at night. For a while, they were getting at us in the room at night, but now Greg does a nightly sweep with the bug zapper, and the problem is much better.

      Looking forward to seeing where you go next.

  3. Wow, Duwan, this might be your best post ever. A very frustrating situation but y’all are truly making lemonade, as the saying goes. It makes for fascinating reading. I don’t know if you’re planning a book (I’m not going to say the annoying “you should write a book” thing, because that’s up to you and the blog is fab just as it is) but if you do, I’ll be in line for an autographed first edition. Brava!

    1. Wow, Rick, you made my day. And reading my blog while you are on vacation!

      No book. It is hard enough for me to just write the blog.

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