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.
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.
And our total expenses for March were…
Here is the breakdown of categories…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
*Click pics to enlarge, read captions, and view in a slide show.