Nomad Life & Expenses April 2023

View from our room of the campground.

It sounds like aliens coming to beam us up. The song of cicadas bubbles up into a crescendo of an electric hum. It lasts seconds before the noise bubbles away just to start again.

There is a field between us and an event space. On the weekends there is always music. It could be a traditional brass band, rock & roll, or a crooner singing “A Mi Manera” (My Way).

Kids scream and play on the covered patio. They splash in the pool. There are a lot of them here in the Familiar Area now. Sometimes there are none.

The couple from Austria is back. They are traveling the country trying to book gigs from their musical act, bass and sax. Their tunes travel throughout the whole campground when they practice, RV park transported into some soft jazz lounge.

Firecrackers go off in the distance. There was a holiday weekend (often) and apparently lots of firecrackers left over.

There is a breeze. I hear the rustling of trees outside.

Across a field on the other side of the campground, there is a home with ten or twenty too many dogs. They all bark at once. It sounds like a hundred.

There are voices in many different languages. German, English, Spanish, French, Dutch.

It is the beginning of the rainy season and on many days there is the sound of rain on so many metal and fiberglass roofs.

And, thankfully, we have finally escaped the room with the bird that lives in the ceiling and sounds like a smoke alarm going off.

We are back living in the van. But this isn’t good news – yet.

I think last we left off on the van saga we were going with one of our mechanics from El Tule in his car to visit the transmission shop. They had received the new control module and we were super optimistic that everything was fixed. But there was another problem. The part of the van computer that controls the transmission was damaged. The mechanic at the transmission shop told us that he had sent the computer off to be looked at. He said this wouldn’t cost us any more money and gave us an estimated date when he would have it back. That date came and went and we didn’t hear anything. We contacted our mechanics in El Tule again. After a few messages back and forth between us and them, they decided that we all (both Two Brothers and us) needed to go to the transmission shop on Monday.

At the transmission shop, the two brothers, Willow and Uziel, talked with the transmission mechanic for a really long time in Spanish. We didn’t understand anything. Finally, I broke in and asked what they were saying. Apparently, the transmission mechanic said that the computer had to be sent to Mexico City to have the experts there look at it. Ok – we were prepared for this. Over the weekend we found a place online in the US that sold and programmed these computers. They ship internationally. According to their website, shipping would take from 2 to 8 business days.

We tried to explain this to the mechanic but I guess he didn’t understand because he finally called in a translator – his son.

The son spoke great English and seemed like a really good kid. He was excited to practice talking with us because he has a job in Florida this summer at a camp. So through the son, we were able to communicate about buying the computer online. We told him that we’d pay for it and have it shipped to us. That seemed to satisfy everyone. We got the relevant information off the computer (which apparently hadn’t been sent to México City, yet) so we could place our order. The transmission mechanic told us that we could take the van back to the campground. Yes! Wow! We can live in our home again! We were hoping that Two Brothers could install the part once we got it but apparently, due to the guarantee we have to bring the van back to the transmission shop. The transmission mechanic wrote us a promise for the installation on a sheet of paper.

To take Ballena Blanca back to the campground we had to go slow and drive in manual. We followed the two brothers in the car. After we got back to the RV park one of the brothers messaged us and told us to let them know when the part comes in and that they would lead us back to the transmission shop in their car.

It all seemed to be coming together until we called the shop that programs the computers in New York. This is when we learned that with a new computer, our keys may no longer work due to the van’s anti-theft system. This means that we will have to have the keys reprogrammed before we can start the vehicle. Our choices if this ends up being the case are to have the van towed to Ford to have the keys reprogrammed or find a local locksmith who can come to the garage and do it. Greg has researched all the local locksmiths and is waiting for an ETA for the computer before he contacts any of them.

And about that ETA. We ordered the computer on April 24. It hasn’t shipped yet. We got a notice on Friday, May 5 saying that there have been delays and it should ship in the next one or two business days. In one month our tourist visa and TIP (temporary import permit) for the van will expire. The only way we can extend the TIP is to go to the border with the van, cancel the old TIP and get a new one. If we don’t we will be in the country illegally.

Enough van talk…

April has been pretty quiet for us. Lots of waiting. Lots of disappointment. We didn’t hang out with any new friends (which is fine). And we only went on a few excursions. We have been walking every morning, studying Spanish lots, working on blogs, and trying to figure out a solution for every possibility to get Balena Blanca fixed and leave the country. Once or maybe twice a week we walk to Walmart (about 4.5 miles), buy groceries, and take the bus back. And every few days Greg loads up an empty half garrafon bottle (about 2.5 gallons) in a backpack and bikes to a local Purificada store to get it filled up.

One of our few excursions was to Parque Ciudad de las Canteras, a municipal park. The park was super cute. When we arrived loud music blared from an aerobics class taking place under one of the pavilions. The park was pretty quiet other than that. No vendors are allowed. And parts of the park seemed to either be under construction or falling apart. Here are some pictures of some of the nice parts of the park.

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 April were…


Here is the breakdown of categories…

Expenses April 2023
Gas $0.00
Insurance/Registration $76.32
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $578.00
Van Total $654.32
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $4.50
Camping $0.00
Household $0.00
Laundry $5.40
Showers/bathroom $0.00
Tolls/Parking $15.96
Van Life Total $25.86
Phone $134.45
Mail Service $0.00
Communication Total $134.45
Food $267.93
Booze $270.25
Cleaning/Paper Products $6.23
Medicine Cabinet $28.03
Consumables Total $572.44
Drinks/Eating Out $36.92
Museums/Attractions/Music $17.25
Entertainment Total $54.17
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $0.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $0.00
Clothes $0.00
Gifts/Charity $0.54
Gear $54.07
Personal Total $54.61
*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.
Our expenses were much better than the previous month’s – so that’s one plus for April
Of course no gas cost for the van. But we added $578.00 (for the new van computer) more towards the expense of hopefully one day leaving México with Ballena Blanca.
We had no camping/accommodations expenses because when Greg went to pay one of the campground owners for the room rent he said to wait. I hope that means he is going to give us a discount for our time here when we finally settle up. Today he just told Greg that if we wanted we could move back into the room for the same price as camping – so we will see. They are super nice guys. And of course, we are remaining in our beloved Ballena Blanca.
This month we found out that Farmacias Similares really is a whole lot cheaper than other pharmacies. We were able to get 3 months of prescription medicine for me and 2 months for Greg for $18.00.  Unfortunately, we have only been able to find Greg’s supplements in one store and they are expensive and come in a much lower dose than we can get in the US.
Since all of our friends left us, the entertainment expense has gone way down ($54.17 total for eating out and attractions). We ate out twice – once lunch in Oaxaca and another time as a treat, pizza here in El Tule. We also had a few treats out like ice cream and a couple of cookies.
Gear – I found out where to buy iron patches in Oaxaca – not Walmart which has no sewing or crafts section (we searched the whole store several times). There is a whole street in Oaxaca with dozens of crafts, sewing, and art supplies shops one after another. A pack of iron-on patches cost us $1.08. Also in our gear category besides our NY Times subscription, we subscribed to another app to help us learn Spanish – Quizlet, a flashcard app ($35.99).
Farmacias Similares.

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):

24 – nights in the cabin at EL Rancho RV Park
6 – nights in our beloved broken Ballena Blanca in El Rancho RV Park

* No free camping this past month but we haven’t been charged for any yet.

We are so happy to be living in Ballena Blanca again. The room was fine, but not great. We now have all of our stuff in one place and a place for all of our stuff. We have shade again. When we first moved into the cabin we’d have shade in front of the room in the morning but as time has worn on here that situation changed and we’d only get shade in the late afternoon. It’s good to be able to sit outside. We no longer need to direct people to the showers or laundry machine when they wander toward our door thinking our room is a bathhouse.

Greg relaxes outside the van.


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

Acquiring small denomination bills

Most ATMs (cajeros automáticos) here in México spit out bills in 500 peso denominations. 500 pesos are super hard to spend. It’s sort of like trying to spend $100 bills in the US. You can’t buy a Coke with a $100 bill. And here no one is going to be able to change a 500 when things cost 30 pesos or less. When we are traveling it is easy to break up these larger bills when buying gas or especially when paying tolls. We could certainly use 500s to buy groceries but we prefer to use credit cards. And mostly what we spend cash on now is for small things – bus fare, 8 pesos per person, Colectivos, 15 pesos per person, Half a garrafon of water, 8 pesos. So what to do when the ATM spits out thousands of pesos in 500s?

We were finally forced to find the answer. After you get your money from the ATM, walk into the bank and get them to break it up. The bank we walked into had a wait but someone came up right away to help us. They gave us a ticket with a number and we sat down to wait. There was only one person allowed at the teller at a time and I had to take off my hat (but not my mask). Easy peasy. Wish we had figured out that one a long time ago.

Mezcal doesn’t get you drunk, it makes you magical!

Figuring out elevation on a route

Ok – this isn’t a specific México tip but it is a tip that may help us get out of México. If we can’t get the van fixed but we can still drive it in second gear we are thinking that we will just drive it that way to the border. Except we don’t want too much uphill in our route. So this is what I just learned – If you map your route on Google Maps and pick “Cycling” as your mode of transportation Google will map the route with the least hills. And if you do this on your computer, an elevation graph will appear in your sidebar. Let’s hope this feature isn’t a factor in returning to the US.

Right Now

We made some new friends over the past couple of days but they are already gone now. I hear that some of our old friends are coming back to the campground. That will be nice because we miss our friends and although we have enjoyed our alone time we really do like socializing. Still, even though we haven’t been partying with people we have been talking to other campers and hearing their stories – everyone is different and they’re always interesting.

We are trying to keep our cool about our situation but sometimes it’s too hard. I know all of this will resolve one way or the other – and however it happens will be fine and we will move past it to the next thing. I’m just really looking forward to be talking about that next thing.

Back in Ballena Blanca watching a ‘sode on our table at night.

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

6 thoughts on “Nomad Life & Expenses April 2023

  1. What an ordeal! The silver lining is that you can stay in the van and that there is stuff to do in the area. I hope it will all blow over soon and that you can continue exploring! This reminds me of last spring when we had transmission issues in Florida and were stranded there for a month simply because of supply chain issues.

    1. Every day, we are thankful that this happened here. But as I look at the map now, I’d be even more thankful if it happened closer to the US border.

      Perhaps you had the same thoughts when you were so far from home in Florida?

      One guy in the campground is waiting for a part from Canada. He’s had it sent to his brother, and his brother is sending it on. He has to be out of the country by the end of the month. This is a good place to be broken down. Unfortunately, it’s a slow place to be broken down.

  2. Wow – this has been an ordeal!!! I hope it gets resolved soon! Reading about programming your security system reminded me that we’ve had to do that ourselves – but, on a MUCH older vehicle!!! We looked and looked on Youtube and finally found an answer. It took 30 minutes but was easy. I can’t remember why we had to change keys/locksets but it was something like Turn the key over to try and start, it will try to but won’t. then leave key in same “on” position for 10 minutes, then turn off and on and leave again for 10 minutes and repeat one more time.” I may be off a little and our Tahoe is OLD so I’m sure this isn’t the same, but you may try to see if you can find an answer on Youtube. I wonder if the American Embassy can assist with your visa/van illegal issue. Hugs to you both!!! Hang in there!

    1. Yes, we have looked into overriding the anti-theft, and it’s something like putting the key in the door lock and turning it certain ways. But I’m not sure if that is a permanent fix. The Embassy is an interesting idea. We will look into it if it comes down to it.

      Hugs to you and Pat!

  3. I’m so sorry that this saga keeps continuing. You are right, it will get solved one way or another, but hopefully soon as the pressure is on even more due to your expiring tourist cards and TIP. If your van would have been registered as an RV, the TIP would have been valid for ten years… Something to consider next time, maybe.

    The campground looks so nice. It’s been ages since we comfortable sat in our chairs outside. How are the bugs? I’m still in awe that you both are dealing with this multiple-month issue so graciously! I’d be bitching and moaning the entire time!

    Well, you had a good budget month! Other than the cost for the computer, it was cheap! Fingers crossed that the cabaña will not be a huge expense when you finally pay for the rent.

    Fingers crossed for this week’s developments!.!

    1. Thanks!

      Things do get a little tense at times. Now that we have the van at Ford and have tracking for our part we are getting updates from both. It is better just to know what is going on. Hopefully we will have answers soon.

      Dealing with everything graciously is just easier. Getting upset just makes everything worse.

      The bugs can be bad here. It sucks to not be able to sit outside. But some places in the campground are better than others – until the sun goes down and then it is time to go in doors.

      We are going to have a big camping/housing bill eventually. But I think they will cut us a deal – and it will end up being so much cheaper than any other housing option we could find around here.

      Lots of finger crossing right now.

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