“Oh my God!”, Mikey exclaimed as he read about Frida Kahlo for the first time, “she’s like someone you would be crazy about; a painter AND disabled!” Later he added that if she were alive, I’d probably be stalking her.
I started my “Frida Period” when I lived in Tucson, Arizona about 20 years ago. I was mad-crazy about her for about 5 years, buying every book I could get my hands on about her, collecting prints of her paintings, photographs of her were all over my apartments… Frida Kahlo for me was what ponies are for most other girls.
And then, I just stopped.
I felt sated with what I had, I felt like art around me was saturated with her, I felt like she was turning into an mass-produced icon without depth or relevance. So I quit.
Fast forward to last week when we were waiting in line to enter the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyoacan, Mexico. I started choking up seeing the blue of Casa Azul, just like that, the flood of memories came to me. All the hours spent pondering photos of her, absorbing her paintings.
In her place, it was overwhelming to see her actual clothes on display.
It was overwhelming too, to see the actual spaces of her life. Her garden.
I teared up when Moxie’s small face photo bombed – and I couldn’t help but think of how much Frida would have LOVED this tiny, perfect and vibrant child of mine.
Surprisingly small bed (- with the mirror above!).
Diego’s room (downstairs, far away from hers..?)
This was a place she loved. Her home. Her space.
Disability was a central theme in the museum – it wove its way so thoroughly in her life and work.
It was like she was caught on edge – between living, expressing and explaining her life. She was walking a line between making herself desirable, beautiful and existing authentically.
Who knows this feeling? Who doesn’t know this feeling?
Frida Kahlo’s life, visage and work has been overexposed and that’s a crying shame. Because she remains relevant simply by dint of her artistic, pioneering spirit. She took the conversation on disability to a new level; she probed and exposed her realities, she made what was once hidden, accessible to the non-disabled. She spoke in a way that was understood, through the language of art.
She painted in the fluid colours of her emotions.
The museum is free for people with disabilities and appears to be largely wheelchair accessible.
I was wondering about how wheelchairs got into her studio/bedroom – and how guests to the museum can access them from a wheelchair?
Also: we got there around noon. The line to get in was long but moved quickly. It was fine. The cafe is anemic; if you have kids, you might want to bring your own snacks (there are plenty of great tables for sitting down at in the back).
The gift shop is also a little on the scant side. Kind of made me sad that I’ve seen cooler Frida stuff in Oakland than in the Casa Azul, but there you go.
I was trying to put my finger on why I thought that Mexico City would look like this:
A smog-laden valley of rampant pollution.
I think it was my Japanese high school in Tokyo that made me think it was a den of ick. There were a lot of photos, you see, in my Japanese school textbooks that compared Mexico City to Tokyo – they were roughly the same size when I was in high school (1988-89) and Japanese love comparing themselves with others.
So I was shocked – utterly and completely stunned – to a find a clean, well-designed, beautiful city. Make no mistake about it, Mexico City is a city; it’s humming with something like 26 million people and has all the energy anyone could ever want in a massive metropolis with a multi-cultural, multi-lingual population.
It’s busting art out of its seams, globalization and all the resulting Starbucks have reached it, but it holds on tight to some serious charm.
I don’t doubt that are slums in Mexico City. And I don’t doubt that poverty is real and heartbreaking there. I also don’t doubt that Mexico (as locals seem to call it, much like the “city” part of “New York” is dropped by most) has worked hard to clean up its air, image and make itself safe.
But what we saw there on the whole, made us really like it. A really cool, really fun city with a fabulous vibe. Brilliant city streetscapes (all the statues! trees! roundabouts!) and functionality. The metro was simply outstanding. Fast, cheap, easy.
We were only there for about 5 days but I have nothing but good to say about it.
Getting to Mexico City:
We drove through Mexico City to Teotihuacan. We left our rig and teardrop in the campground in Teotihuacan and bused in to the city. We caught a cab from the central bus station to the hotel.
The bus to Mexico City was a breeze with Kianna; the bus back had Mikey frothing and ready to explode. Everyone was saying ‘no’ at the last minute until the bus driver finally stepped in and said it wasn’t a problem.
The cabs were also an issue – the cab drivers did NOT want to take Kianna.
We stayed at a nice place, in a nice district. Mikey really wants me to make that clear. Nice, it was nice – and safe. You even needed a key to leave the hotel!
The hotel was the only one out of some 20 that would accept Kianna. This hotel also has wheelchair accessible rooms! And it won’t break the bank. Our suite (2 rooms, separate bathroom, balcony, foyer) was $60/night and was a couple of blocks from the metro station.
Hotel Casa Gonzalez: Rio Sena #69 Col. Cuauhtemoc, Mexico, DF CP 06500 * www.hotelcasagonzalez.com
– when I asked them about access, they said that they put in the wheelchair ramps because a guest who uses a wheelchair called ahead and asked for them a few months ago. And they just kept the ramps in. It’s obviously that type of place – accommodating. So call ahead and ask for what you need; I have no doubt they’d do it if they can.
Disability Access in Mexico City
Mexico City is better than a lot of the smaller towns we have been in for access. But it’s still no joyride. Certain things are great for certain disabilities (- the green man crossing is fantastic for the deaf but the lack of sounds must be hard for the blind) but it’s not equal access.
The metro was similar to BART in SF/Bay Area. Some stations didn’t have anything, in other stations, the elevator was broken and in still others, everything worked fine. How would you know ahead of time? I have no idea.
I saw a lot of blind people with their canes and gps talking devices. It made me miss Berkeley.
I saw a deaf couple and got all excited and was ready to approach them until I realized they were having a lover’s spat over another guy. I didn’t think it was the best time to be all, “heeyyyy!‘
I saw more people using chairs (- and not begging); still no powerchair users though.
I was just in cranky mood for pretty much the whole time we were there. I am generally a pretty cheerful person, so that’s just not normal and I blame it on.. what… I blame it on the freezing cold weather there, on the greyness that seemed to perpetuate everything, on the RV park we stayed at that I didn’t like because the owner let her rabid asshole dogs loose and they BIT Kianna, can you believe it?? (thank God Kianna’s current with her shots). And those asshole dogs were always digging around in our trash, and our trash invariably contains stuff like POOPY DIAPERS and you know what that results in. I was so pissed off.
I even got pissed off visiting Teotihuacan because we brought Kianna and they wouldn’t let us bring her in. So we had to take a taxi ALLLLLLLLLLLL the way back to the RV park, leave Kianna kenneled in the camper and return. And then we ran into wild dogs at the pyramids. For crying out loud.
But it was cool to see the pyramids. Way hella cool.
Cooler though to see Moxie – who adores climbing stairs with the passion that Cookie Monster reserves for cookies – to see her little face LIGHT UP with the shining happiness of ten million megawatt bulbs at ALL THE STAIRS to climb!
And Mikey, because visiting that site was a dream come true for him.
Janitzio is an island off of Patzcuaro that was on Globe Trekker. I’m think I may have seen it in the blur of one of my three post-partum periods (which one, I don’t recall), but I remember absolutely nothing about it. Mikey assures me it was a good show.
So we piled into a cab from Patzcuaro, piled onto the boat, piled up the stairs and it was fun. The boat part was especially fun. Once there, it’s like this weird vertical mall, chock full of indigenous crafts, Peruvian ponchos and… dashikis. The top sported a big statue of Jose Maria Morelos, play spaces, more stores (more shopping! more dashikis!) and some kid-run-around-space.
There were also some gorgeous butterflies.
Then back down.
If you are the type that loves shopping whilst climbing up and down hundreds of stairs, this is your spot!
[soliloquy id=”30955″]Around Christmas last year, we camped next to Tim and Ann, a couple that we came to be good friends with. They are older and very much an inspiration to me with the no-holds-barred way in which they live their lives.
Well, at that time, we were just meeting them and Ann said I really should meet this friend of hers, Karen, who blogs at Acrobatic Thoughts. Karen has 9 kids and travels all over the place.
I was impressed as anyone would be – NINE KIDS!! Boondocking!! All over Mexico! WOW!
Fast forward a year.
Christmas again and we were driving and I looked up and was like, “hang on – we’re in Ajijic?! Karen said that’s where she is!” and so while in the parking lot of a coffee shop with wifi access, I was able to connect with her and that’s how we came to be hanging out in the hotel they were staying at over the course of Christmas.
How random. How serendipitous.
What nice people.
It was good getting to know them. We don’t often run into other travelers with kids, let alone with more kids than we have. We were taking notes.
Ajijic and Chapala are neighboring towns. Ajijic evidently has the largest expat community in Mexico. Since expat scenes aren’t ours, we didn’t go there. Chapala gave us the feeling that it makes its money off of Ajijic and the expat community – people were more cautious with us there.
But it’s still a cute town, by a pretty lake.
I though Chapala was more physically accessible than most places we’ve been to so far. Everywhere I looked, I saw ramps, Some of them were in kooky angles (like, you’d have to position yourself *just so* to be able to wheel up), but they were there.
Villa Corona is an adorable little town about an hour from Guadalajara. It looks just like I thought a small town in Mexico would. Sleepy and colourful, with efficient, friendly beautiful and hospitable people. Amazing food. A rich weekly market with vegetables that could be placed directly in a Whole Foods display. Fresh cheese mongers, bakers, soap makers, and makers of every other type of thing that one might find useful or delight in (- we got a kick out of the sticker-maker and her spins on Che Guevara and other revolutionary leaders) (we also got a kick out of the guy selling roosters).
It’s an interesting. An easy place. Yes, the place where my iPhone was stolen, so there’s that, but it’s still a good place.
It’s also a cool place. Like, literally, cool. Freezing cold might be more like it. In the morning, it’s just as misty as it was on the Lost Coast and every bit as cold. Our breath would hang in the air in front of us, catching and clinging at the sides before fading into a chilled oblivion.
I don’t know if we became sick from the cold at Villa Corona or if Villa Corona gave us the sick from the cold.
Could have been either, but while we were all struggling to get well enough to leave, we enjoyed being where we were. Even if, perhaps, where we were was the source of our sickness?
This is a hot-springs sort of resort/RV park. It gave Mikey some pretty big dreams of starting our own RV park along those lines – with smaller, private pools and with an eco-friendly, disabled-hiring theme. And why not? This area is CHOCK FULL of thermal water, lots of land for sale. Discounted land, to boot, on account of everyone’s current fear of Mexico. You know the theme song from Portland? “the dream of the 90’s is alive in Portland, Portland…”? – I was getting it in my head with a twist, “the dream of the Inn is alive in VC, VC….”
It was fun to be our version of spiders and spin dreams out from our heads in glittery, silvery silk, weaving elegant (fantastical!) designs to snare our futures upon.
It was wonderful to have the most thoughtful, generous, cheerful RV neighbours one could possibly hope for – I’m talking, taking Micah to teach him Scottish songs, baking us to-die-for cookies, gifts for the kids to entertain, you name it. It made Mikey and I feel bad to an extent – we’re a little at loss when people take us in and treat us like long-lost family. We don’t know what to do, how to reciprocate, we’re awkward with our thanks because “thanks” seems like such a small word for the big feelings of love and gratitude in our hearts.
I had been sick. That’s really my main excuse. I was sick and fuzzy brained and lulled by the quiet small town that we were staying near. The sun was warm. I had recently had an attack of Montezuma’s Revenge and was weak, sitting by my beloved across the street from the truck (wherein the chitlins were cool, comfortable and sleeping/reading).
I got up to follow my beloved in taking a look at something on the truck tailgate, forgetting my phone that was next to me. I had been sick, remember, not myself. The sun was warm. The town was so small and quiet. I thought it would be okay – or did I? I think it’s more honest to say I just wasn’t thinking.
And this is what I learned:
Where is my iPhone: best. App. Ever. And guess what? I didn’t have it on my phone! Do yourself a favor and download it RIGHT NOW. You know what I could have done if I had downloaded it? I could have driven right up to where the radar indicated by phone was, stretched out my hand and said, “put it here”. [head-desk]
Insurance: oh, I had it?! What a pleasant surprise! Great to learn and I do think it was worth it.
Dealing with companies: Verizon, the insurance company, all of them are NOT deaf friendly. And they seem stupid – they ask me continually to ‘call them’ on their site and it’s like, wait a sec… besides the fact that you assume I am hearing, you are missing the fundamental point that I just filled out a form that said I’m in MEXICO and my PHONE WAS STOLEN – with WHAT would I be calling you, if I was actually hearing and going to call at all?
Evernote: I don’t use my phone for calling. But I use my phone for everything else: texting, photos, music, audible (if you want to know how a deaf person listens to music/audible on the phone, I would be glad to explain it but you gotta ask), kindle and especially NOTES. I am kicking myself here, KICKING myself because I didn’t use Evernote. Evernote would have synced to my computer and I would have, could have, kept the lists of things I wanted to keep track of, the millions of blog post ideas, the this, the that, and… sigh. Gone.
iCloud: failing Evernote, I could have just logged into iCloud and saved my actual Notes on the cloud… did I ever? NO! Not once! I could have backed up all those photos, all those notes, all my contacts information, every.single.piece. that is standard and iphone-ish, I could have kept.
I miss my iPhone. That is absolutely true. It’s also true that I see this as a good lesson. This costs mostly time and energy to fix (thanks to the insurance), and a lot of frustration. But I know that I was growing careless and it was better to have this stolen than say, the camera. That’s actually kind of funny as I type it because I use a Nikon D5100 which used, costs around $300 – that is less than the iPhone!! But whatever. You get my drift.
Buckle up, kids, it’s a wild world.
If there are any other apps that are along the lines of ‘you-will-head-desk-yourself-if-you-find-out-later-about-this-and-don’t-have-it’, will you share in the comments?!
After being sick for the better part of a week, offline because of the loss of my iPhone and the malfunctioning of my portable modem and just…out of it… I’m catching up with some news, photos and posts.
I can’t say I like RV parks anywhere. It feels so much like camping in a parking lot to me. Everyone is so close to each other, there’s all that concrete going on and those monster buses! Holy cow!
Blow. Me. Away.
Part of me wants to ask why those people are traveling anyway, if they are just bringing their entire home with them, but then I take a sip of some Chill and try and zen out. It takes all kinds to make the world turn, right?
We don’t have to stay in an RV park because our rig is self sufficient. Our power is solar, we have a small portable toilet inside and we bring our own water. Regardless of that, we usually camp in RV parks or designated campgrounds because it feels safe, there is wifi, usually a space for the kids to play, showers and laundry. It’s convenient.
Camping in a parking lot, but convenient.
RV Parks in Mexico
That was cool for the US, but after we stayed in the Totonaka campground in San Carlos, it just felt really weird. Like, huh. Here we are in MEXICO, surrounded by white retirees from the US (with a few from Germany sprinkled in, judging from their license plates and rigs), with the only Mexicans around being the people who are maintaining the establishment. It didn’t feel right to us.
So for a while, we were trying some other things out: we’d ask locals about camping – that turned out to be our best experience yet. We asked an elderly man sitting out in El Fuerte. He jumped up (and looked so much like my Grandpa Knobby that tears immediately sprang to my eyes) and led us to his back gate and we camped in his back yard (with the chickens running around) for 50 pesos. Awesome.
We also tried camping in the parking lot of those pay-by-the-hour motels (!!!!). Not bad – usually in a good location, super cheap to park/camp and felt safe. But weird. Really weird.
Then we noticed that the further south we went, the more the license plates on rigs changed. There were far more Mexican plates than foreign.
In Guadalajara, the RV Park was entirely Mexican. Mexicans camping, Mexicans in their full-time rigs and Mexicans who had built houses around their rigs. It was fascinating to see how different things were in a completely-Mexican RV Park (- the pool was dead, for instance, but the attention to the trees! It was like camping in an arboretum!).
We are enjoying RV parks more, the further south we go. We like having Mexican neighbors in Mexico, it feels great to be vacationing with Mexicans in their own country.
Here are some photos from along the way:
…and…Books We Use:
Also using iOverlander, which is a new app developed by Jessica from LifeRemotely. It’s just beginning, so I’ve actually added some campgrounds that we were at (-like at Stone Island across from Mazatlan). Free, in the app store, check it out – the more of us that use it, the better it will get
I think the thing about travel that I’ve always found so addicting is the unfolding of an adventure.
Sure, that happens at home too. In the Lost Coast more than anywhere else I’ve lived in, but the thing about traveling is that you the opportunity to have an adventure in something just completely, utterly unexpected. Okay, I’m thinking of the Lost Coast again, and I think life on the Lost Coast is as much alike traveling as one can get while at home, but you know what I’m saying. Life on the Lost Coast is far from usual, and so is traveling.
Take Guadalajara, for instance.
Huge city. Something like 4 million people? Right, big, B-I-G.
Mikey’s been looking forward to going there for a donkey’s age, like since we were in Baja and every store that sold anything he liked had had the item shipped in to Baja from Guadalajara…. I was a lot more on the fence about visiting, just because big cities make me go crazy now.
Staying in Guadalajara
But when we drove into Guadalajara, it was fun and easy. Mikey had studied his maps ahead of time and had a good fundamental understanding of how the city was laid out. We had agreed ahead of time to stay in a hotel. Mikey had fixed the camper, but we wanted to keep it easy by staying someplace fairly central. We just had to find someplace that could fit our rig easily, accept Kianna, the chitlins AND not be expensive.
It didn’t take long to find a place that met the first 3 requirements, but it was more than we wanted to pay. So we figured we’d stay one night there, then if we liked Guadalajara enough to stay longer, we’d switch to an RV park on the outskirts of town.
Well, we did and we did – the next day we switched to an RV park… I’m glad we did because it was beautiful there, but I’m not glad we did because the long driving to and from the RV park made us miserable and is what resulted in leaving soon. The traffic just slaughtered us and had Mikey frothing at the mouth and yelling at everyone cutting him off, cussing at the freeway signs (that didn’t make a lot of sense to us) and the 4 hours it took us to get somewhere that should have only taken 40 minutes.
The kids were really cool with it all (going to McDonald’s helped, that’s for sure), but still. We don’t want to make that mistake again. In the future, we’ll either just stay at an RV park at the edge of a city and taxi/bus in, or we’ll find a good parking lot in the center of town, park everything and stay at a hostel that’s close to everything.
One big adventure.
One thing always led to another. We’d walk by something interesting, stop, ask someone where something else great was, follow their advice and get our socks knocked off. I’m not sure if there is a better way to travel. In fact, I feel like for a lot of the photos in this post, I should be leaving an arrow trail – like, “we wandered in HERE; met this one guy and he told us about THIS place; then when we were in THAT place, they told us about this OTHER thing, so that’s what we checked out…”
It’s just the way we roll.
Here are some photos of it:
We parked where we could find a spot big enough. Followed our leader.
She led us here:
An indoor market where we had a FABULOUS lunch for a few dollars
Then we went walking around
…before getting back into our truck and drove to the Tonala district, where we had heard there were some great crafts shops
I swoon for murals and good graffiti – I want to go back to Guadelajara just for that. They had some OUTSTANDING pieces, absolutely incredible, gorgeous works
With that, we pulled into Tonala and it seemed like everything was closed… huh.
But this one shop was open
We had wanted to get some clothes for the kids anyway, so we stopped by and bought some items… including a complete little outfit for Number One. We asked the shopkeeper (a delightful woman with a big smile and even bigger dimples) what was going on? Why were we seeing so many people walking by in one direction?
She said everyone was headed for the Temple.
We asked where that was, could we go too?
She said, sure, why not, and gave us the directions.
So we headed off.
On the way, we saw this little pottery shop open and stopped by –
I was personally speechless for the better part of being there; so much beauty, and they artisans were making and painting it RIGHT THERE.
The owner was a delightful. laid back guy who had no qualms about our kids and Kianna being in his shop FULL OF BREAKABLES, he even gave the kids little toys made of pottery. He had dimples too. Must be a dimpled-person thing.
From there, we found the Temple
And understood why everyone had been kind of chuckling when they asked if we were walking there.
OH. Right. Temple on a BIG HILL and we have the kids on our backs.
HA. HA. HA.
So, we get to the top and it is CRAMMED FULL of millions of absolutely adorable Mexican children in traditional clothes.
Evidently, they wear traditional clothes to symbolize the native Indians who converted to Christianity, and the day was celebrating the Virgin Mother.
See the statue of the left?
It’s of a native Indian who is embracing the cross – and with it, Christianity.
I wanted to take photos inside the Temple, and I also wanted to take photos of the children. But the mothers of the kids said no when I asked, so… no photos. And I thought it would be disrespectful to take photos inside on such an obviously holy day, so… no photos.
And that’s fine.
On our way down (stairs this time; easier), I came upon a young girl with Down syndrome, so of course I introduced us all and we had a very enjoyable time, getting to know her and her beautiful family
Being spontaneous works for us as a family and is our travelling style. But it’s not a good way to connect with the Down syndrome and disabled communities in Mexico.
I was thrilled to be able to talk with this family and get to know them.
And there. That was our first full day in Guadalajara.
Guadalajara is such a big city that it’s not fair for me to give a sum-up when I was only there for a few days.
With that in mind, I saw some things that I found interesting:
buses with the ‘accessible’ sign on them, I guess indicating ramp access?
decent ramps and access in the main square areas
a few buildings that seemed designed with universal access in mind – the ramps were integrated into the structure, not added as an afterthought.
But… yeah… oh man. there were plenty of streets that you wouldn’t be able to get by easily WALKING, let alone using a wheelchair, where we had to pull the side mirrors in just to drive through.
Other kinds of access are still very much in their infancy – deaf/blind/sensory, for example. I would absolutely love to meet someone who knows about what’s going and how disabled access is unfolding in this beautiful city
We were driving through the state of Nayarit (I didn’t even know there was a state in Mexico called Nayarit until we drove through it, isn’t that sad?) and I kept being reminded of Taiwan. The jungle-y-ness of the green, the wild, the feeling that if you had some gumption, energy (and maybe connections) you could could make something happen. The people were also similar to how I experienced the Taiwanese: genuine. If people don’t give a shit about you, they don’t give a shit, and (unlike China) they don’t pretend to give a shit so they can make a buck or get a visa off of you.
Closer to Tepic, it felt as if we were back in Humboldt County. It was that GREEN, huge trees, the air had changed with the elevation. It was refreshingly cool. Delicious.
And then when we drove into Tepic, we were reminded of Paris – it has a lot of the feel of some of the older areas there, there is a European charm to it. Cobblestoned streets to boot.
Tepic is (evidently, according to the guidebooks) not usually a town that people stop at. They tend to just stay on the highway which leads around it. We think the city is worth visiting. It’s small enough to easily navigate but big enough offer various things of interest. One of the things that interested us were the indigenous people in the region, most noticeably the Huichol (yeah, like the hot sauce).
You see them ALL OVER the main square area and walking around downtown, most all in their native garb. GORGEOUS stuff. Long colourful skirts for the women, beautiful woven shirts, headscarves, absolutely stunning beaded jewelry. A lot of them were selling their creations in the square and I’m seriously kicking myself right now for buying something to have giveaway on this here blog – you would have loved it.
So we were just bumbling along, eating too much of that sugarcane that they douse with lime juice, salt and chilli (OH MY GOD. YUM. ) and big bowls of soup with hand-pressed tortillas fresh off the grill, stuffed pineapples, octopus empanadas and other morsels of divinity….
when our hotel kicked us out. We were shocked.
We had arrived in the night and had everything (“everything” being the presence of 3 kids, a trailer and a hearing dog) okay’d. They weren’t keen on Kianna but said it was all right so long as we used the back entrance so that other guests wouldn’t be scared. (Larger dogs in Mexico are evidently used mostly as guard dogs, so people really freak out with Kianna, thinking she’s going to go all Cujo on them.) “All right!” we said, “no problemo.” And we dutifully used the back entrance.
Kianna didn’t bark once. Of course she didn’t; she never barks unless we give her the command to bark. Kianna was better behaved than any one of our kids and yet the next day the manager said he needed us to ship out because he was just too, too worried that another guest would be scared.
We went over E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G with him. What a service dog does, the organization that trained her (CCI), showed him her ID card, tags. We even showed him what she does and… no way, Jose. He said he just couldn’t take the risk.
I shrugged, I was okay with leaving. I felt like for a simple eviction, the guy (and everyone else in reception, and quite a crowd had gathered) got a long and tidy lesson on service dogs, so hey! Disability Awareness Training, right?
We went on over to this gorgeous old hotel across the way, which funny enough was the one that I hadn’t wanted to try when we arrived in town. I thought it looked too fancy for us, so beautiful draped in lovely lights, huge trees, graceful buildings and old-time classic atmosphere. We went and checked them out – they were only 50 pesos (- a few dollars) more than the last place and had NO problem with Kianna. No back door for us, either.
We asked them why they would accept Kianna and the other hotel wouldn’t.
“Well, we don’t know about them, but if you give us your word that your dog will be behave, that’s enough for us. We welcome you.”
Tepic Disabled Access:
The main areas of Tepic are as physically accessible as any other in Mexico (- meaning, not very. But with a ramp here and there, some streets being spectacularly accessible or inaccessible; take your random pick). The cobblestones, while charming, would complicate things for a chair user, I assume, as well as a blind person who uses a cane? I’m not sure.
I saw someone using their chair on the street and it did not look like fun or comfortable. The street was narrow, cars could not go around the person and there was not enough room for the person to use their wheelchair on the sidewalk. Major access fail.
I was disturbed by the begging that I saw going on with people with visible disabilities. A kid with CP was in the square, begging with an older family member by him. A legless man on the sidewalk with h= a bowl in front of him. Another guy with an intellectual disability with his bowl. The powerlessness and the sense of, “help me; this is all I can do” deeply troubled me.
Wonder why we were staying in a hotel in the first place? It was because the bit that Alaskan Camper “fixed” broke AGAIN. This was the second time. Such a major fail – it now is worse than it was before we dropped it off with them. So we had to stay in a hotel so that Mikey could fix it.
The point of going to El Fuerte was to catch the train to the Copper Canyon.
Now, we had been planning on that train ride for a LONG TIME. Since it’s expensive (for us), we’d been saving specifically for that trip. We had read about it, purchased maps, researched the train and actually put more care and thought into it than we had for the Grand Canyon.
The economy train goes through El Fuerte just a couple of times a week; other than that, it’s the first class train. There’s no way we could afford the first class, so it had to be the economy one (which isn’t cheap either). So we arrived in El Fuerte, found camp (in an elderly couple’s backyard), and waited the couple of days to catch the economy train.
The train was supposed to leave the station at 8:00am. We rose early, all of us really, really excited. Mac-Q had woken up with “choo-choo!” out of his mouth first – he’s two after all, at that age.
We packed for an overnight trip, got completely ready and assembled, walked on over to the station. Waited. I took some photos.
The train arrived, a huge powerful one, everyone flocked up to different cars.
We went to one first and since we were going to Creel, they pointed us to a different car. Then a different one. At last we were in front of the right car, ready to buy our tickets and board.
The ticket master was waving us forward when a “federali”, a federal police officer, came up with his machine gun and told us that dogs were not permitted.
I wish I could write out the exchange that went from there, between Mikey and the guy, but I can’t. Suffice to say that he didn’t have anything written that said no dogs, the ticket master was okay with us getting on board with Kianna but the federali basically didn’t like the look of us and said, “no”.
We didn’t have my service dog ID card on us, we had nothing that was “proof” that Kianna is a service dog (other than her vest, which she was wearing), not that it would have mattered anyway. Mexico doesn’t have laws allowing service dogs into public spaces.
So the doors to the train closed and it chugged off as the kids and I sat down on the tracks and bawled.
And then we trudged back over to our truck and tried to figure out what to do.
Wait till Monday and go to the train office to get my service card authorized or a letter saying that it would be okay to bring Kianna on board? But what if we went through all that and then waited for the next economy train (- which only runs a couple of times a week, remember) and ended up with the same asshole federali who just didn’t like the look of us? He could just as easily find some other reason to not let us board.
Or should we try again and hope that he wasn’t working that day? The ticket master would have let us board.
Or should we try and drive to Creel and then catch the train from there?
In the end, we decided to skip the Canyon on the way south. If we return to the U.S. via Arizona, we can make a detour to the Copper Canyon from the North much more easily than to drive from the South. The roads from the North are better.
We weren’t sad as Myrtle gulped the northern-facing miles down.
We were happy to visit the Best Damn Taco Shop Ever, Tacos Los Poblanos in San Quintin.
MacQuinn loved the radishes.
The asadero (the guy who handled the meat) kept slipping him choice slices of meat, gratis, and Mac-Q thanked him with big gooey smiles and eyes shooting blue bolts of love.
Goodbye tacos. Goodbye beautiful salsa
Goodbye to aching little legs that were thrilled with parking lot run-arounds…
Aching little legs that were attached to squeeling little bodies, so happy to have Daddy running after them as they’d scramble up stairs…
Goodbye to the toilet roll which seemed to come undone at each and every motel room. Between Moxie and MacQuinn, it was never safe on the spinner.
Goodbye to sinks that Moxie adored climbing into
Goodbye to carnitas tacos. Oh yum.
Goodbye to ceviche
And all the mariscos, point blank.
We were so, SO proud of our kids loving ceviche and all the fishly goodness that drips forth from the mariscos stands. I doubt I would have been as adventurous at their age.
Goodbye to breakfasts on the go,
Goodbye to chasing Pugsley, “HEEEEEEEEEEL!” and dealing with everyone going nuts over seeing a pug, “your kids are cute too”, people would say, giving their heads a friendly pat, after crooning and mooning over Pugsley and getting their pictures taken with him.
Goodbye to wide, dusty streets that harken to the Wild West and where dreams are big and fierce and all things are possible with a little work
Goodbye to the military and military checkpoints. It’s funny how they really freaked us out on our first driving trip to Baja, but how we kind of like them now. They guys are always young and usually chatty. 9 times out of 10 they adore kids. A whole truckful went nuts once when Moxie waved to them – every*single*guy (bar none) shot his hand up and waved back at her with bright smiles.
But they can look scary. I get it. I just think they are all right now.
We said goodbye to Baja, this place that we love so well
From the very tip to the top
Goodbye. We will see you in a while, maybe? One day?
We were going to write a post about this a looooooonnnnng time ago but never got around to it. Maybe it’s because just thinking about paperwork makes me yawn and this is all about paperwork.
Okay, we’ll do it though. For the sake of trying to be a helpful blog, I’ll suck it up and type it out for y’all. 🙂
When you bring your vehicle into mainland Mexico (- not Baja), you need this cute little red sticker called the Temporary Vehicle Import Permit. You get it at the border evidently? We are not sure. It’s not necessary in Baja, so Overlanders traveling through Baja usually just get it in Pichilingue, when they are boarding the ferry to the mainland.
Here are some cute pictures of the kids when Mikey was busy dealing with all that paperwork:
It costs $200 which is your refundable deposit based on your promise that you won’t try and sell your vehicle in Mexico. When you leave with your same vehicle, you get it back.
Since we were originally planning on crossing to mainland Mexico in February, we went ahead and got the sticker in January. Well, our plans sure did change! So, completely unexpectedly, we had to return the sticker, get our deposit back and have our names free and clear from suspected vehicle-selling.
First we went back to Pichilingue and asked to return the sticker. The lady there said no can do – but she said that we could do it either at Ensenada or at the border. We went on over to Ensensada – it seemed more manageable than Tijuana, but once we finally found the building there, we were told that we couldn’t do it. It had to be done in Tijuana at the Otay Mesa Border Crossing.
We went on over to Tijuana. Nervously. It’s not our favorite place, and we get so spun around driving there! But we finally – after over 2 hours of wandering around, finally! – found the place that was marked at being the place for Temporary Vehicle Import Permits. But the thing was, we could only find the SIGN, we couldn’t find the actual BUILDING. Mikey asked a guard and he said that the place to deal with the permits had changed, you couldn’t do it there anymore. He told us it was on the other side of town. Of course.
We checked in with another person and she said the same thing and advised us to hire a taxi and follow it.
After wandering around some more, we did just that…
and the taxi driver dumped us off at the border, where we realized we were on the ONE WAY, no-stopping lane bound directly for San Diego.
NOOOOOOOO. Talk about total deja vu! I mean, really, right?! Me and Mikey were groaning all over the place. Two border crossings in one day…again….
We went out to San Diego, turned around, re-entered Mexico. We were thoroughly checked, then let loose to figure out where to go and FINALLY after another hour or so of wandering around and checking at Pemex Gas Station after Pemex Gas Station, we found it – on this small side street, snuggled between a bunch of big buildings.
Like pretty much every other experience we’ve had like this, it took us 4 hours to find the place and 15 minutes to get it done.
We really wanted to have a nice bulleted list of super helpful advice for you Overlanders reading, but all we could come up with was this:
have a good song playlist available to help keep you calm
choice refreshments too
if you hire a taxi to follow (- which is a really good idea), make sure the taxi driver doesn’t dump you at the border (we think ours may not have heard us right; to avoid that, we’ll definitely ask our driver in the future to repeat where he heard us say we want to go)
allow for a full day to get it done
plan something fun for the finish? I ended with a question mark there because we have 3 kids and for us, “something fun” depends (at minimum) on noone crying, noone being too tired, no diaper blowouts, no bloody noses or hurt feelings – and sometimes that’s simply too much to ask so we just go to sleep.
We were camping on Tecolote, a beach that was literally a few miles long.
The beach was lovely no matter where you were on it – no part was really that much better than another. For the sake of some privacy – and also with a considerate nod to others who were camping (due to the amount of noise our offspring produce) – we camped on the far side of the beach, well away from anyone.
After dark, as we were starting to get ready for bed, a car came over the dunes and parked on the little ridge right next to us. I’m talking, RIGHT next to us, about 10 feet away. The lights were on, high-beaming directly into our little camper. The music thumped, the laughter was loud and it was obvious that some locals were in for a night of some intoxicating beach revelry.
All fine, right? I mean, it’s their beach, after all. What are we going to do, go on out, “oh, hi! We are boondocking on this here public beach of yours – love it, by the way! – and since we have three little kids, can you keep the noise down? Or better yet, how about you scoot over to some other part of this massive beach?”
We swallowed. I mean, what right did we have? We’re guests in this country. Besides, I didn’t want Mikey going on out after anyone has started drinking. Better not to mess with drunk folk, you know. So, we swallowed, pulled the shades down to dim the glare of their car lights coming in, kept the kids calm, read some Dr. Seuss and breathed deeply.
The next morning, we found beer bottles and cans in the sand along with plastic bags and other garbage. And I just kept wondering about it, you know, we try to not be asshole tourists, we try and leave spots better than we found them in. We try and do the right thing, always conscious of the fact that this isn’t our territory, we are guests in this country.
But it sucks when locals act like assholes.
Still – and this is the reason why I am posting this piece – it’s okay to remember that people really are people, you know?
It’s like the ‘Ebony and Ivory’ song, says ‘there are good and bad’.
Traveling is experiencing the new in the foreign. So much of how the experience unfolds depends on our attitude, I think, depends on what we ourselves are putting out there. If we are friendly and believe in the best, that is usually exactly what we’ll get.
Sometimes dumb or scary stuff just happens though. But it shouldn’t mean to take that out of context and turn it around and blanket it over a whole country or people, right? I mean, we wouldn’t do that for our own country, would we? So we shouldn’t do it to another.
I gotta admit that I was getting a little annoyed.
First there was a lot of dead silence from disability organizations in the US that I was trying to contact to make connections with other groups or people in Mexico. I mean, I know people are busy, but gimme a break! Not responding at all, ever, after more than one email is just plain uncool.
Then I googled the hell out of Down syndrome and disability in Mexico, Mikey wrote out nice letters of introduction in Spanish and I sent them off as well as offers to volunteer (- the websites had asked for volunteers), and then! I went to facebook pages and drummed on those doors!
Deaf as I am, the silence we received was profound. It was more than a little dispiriting.
But after we met the awesome family at the Carnival, we were re-inspired to connect.
We went looking for CRIT, which is supposed to be a state-of-the-art disability services center. We thought we found it but it was CLOSED and shut tight.
We went back and it turned out that the place we thought it was, in fact, NOT – so hey! We found the right place!
This is a really interesting design concept. Evidently, they take whatever the region is about and design the building to reflect that. In Mexico City, it’s “city”; in La Paz, it’s “star fish” because of La Paz being by the sea.
They try to make it as un-medical-like as possible; replacing white with festive colours, including lots of cheerful things: bright grass, circles – predominately natural light – they are trying to make it a happy space for the children.
So there we were, all 5 us (Pugsley was in the Myrtle), walking on up, all “hi! We just wanted to stop by and say hi! Can we be friends?”
I give Mikey about 500 billion marital points for being such a sport about translating and also for all the potential embarrassment that an uninvited visit like that holds. For all we knew, they’d recognize me as the crazy lady from Facebook who was bugging them, and would be all, GET THEE GONE!
But they didn’t.
We were introduced to a lovely lady who took us on a personal tour of the facilities and answered all of my (many, many, many) questions. This was what I got out of it:
CRIT was given land by the government but supports itself solely through Telethons. When I said that must things very awkward for fighting for respect and equality, she agreed.
The people who use CRIT are all kids with disabilities. Most of the kids are pretty severely disabled. We saw many kids with Cerebral Palsy there, some kids that looked like they they had Muscular Dystrophy. We also saw a few Little People, kids without obvious disabilities and kids who were using a wheelchair but we couldn’t tell what their disability was.
It was pretty awesome.
We didn’t get numbers, like how many kids are served, percentages of disabilities held or anything like that. We also didn’t get the ages served, but we saw babies through teenagers there.
There is a waiting list of up to 2 years. Yeah: TWO YEARS!
Every major type of therapy is covered. The most popular, she said, was the water therapy. There is a big pool that is heated to around 34 degrees (Celsius), the temperature at which the muscles will function best. Parents and therapists work with the kids in the pool and there are individual hot tubs for just the therapist and child.
We totally wanted to jump in – it looks SO FANTASTIC!!!
One thing we noticed was that there is an area for wheelchair training and practice and that area INCLUDES STAIRS. So kids are trained in how to get their chairs down and up short flights of stairs. !!!! whoah, right?
They also practice over grass, sand and rocks.
I would have taken photos of all of this but I was only allowed to take photos of the areas without people – understandably.
Our own kids were going NUTS there, running all over the place, laughing, squealing and just having a blast. We took them over to the playground and I have to say, I just felt so goooooooood being on a playground full of kids with disabilities. It really made me happy.
There was so much I wanted to ask the parents on the playground, but in the end I had to be content with smiling, nodding, and warm feelings of camaraderie.
A lot of the parents come from far away and they stay at the center for the ENTIRE day, covering all different kinds of therapies for their kids. So the playground serves as more than just a play space – it’s a place for napping, eating, respite. Many parents looked really tired, but every one of them smiled in welcome at us.
A few of them even played with our kids.
The playground equipment was really tricked out: they had swings for wheelchair users, for kids who lay down and so forth. Something for everyone.
Parents also receive therapy in the form of counseling and support. Our guide mentioned “spiritual therapy” and when I asked her more about it, she said that disability is still regarded largely as a punishment from God. Spiritual therapy covers that ground, helping the parents understand that it’s not a punishment or curse; it’s simply what it is.
There are over 20 of these CRIT centers in Mexico. I asked about volunteering at them and I was told that they can usually always use volunteers.
I think what I would like to do when we head into Mexico again next September is to volunteer to talk a little about the Disability Rights Movement in the US, show the video of Sit Ins, talk about what access can look like.
We can also do things like colour with the kids! Whatever, it’s all good. It would just nice to be involved. We have direct contact information now – YAY! – so hopefully we can avoid all that empty emailing and stone silence.
MacQuinn couldn’t stop dancing along with the girls –
And now! On to the update:
Our income was halved in February.
We have some savings, small investments and (untouchable) money in retirement – but we’re not talking about big chunks of change. Income from work online seems like it is feast/famine – we either have a steady stream that makes a decent income supplement or we don’t make anything at all.
We could continue…
With half of our income still intact, we could continue traveling the Pan Am. We would need to continue very slowly because if your budget is a firm little one, overland travel works best done sloooooooowly. Gas mileage is much better if you drive slowly, you can find the free places, cook on your own and so forth.
But we could do it. We could just keep traveling very, very slowly – and look for more secure work that is location independent, continue with the freelance work that we do.
The cons in doing this are that finding (and keeping) a secure job is not guaranteed and looking for a job is real work. It’s very difficult to make that happen with limited internet access and while trying to be full time parents and teachers for our 3 kids.
If we already had work, it would be a different story. With something steady already locked in, it would be a simpler matter to simply find a few hours a day or week to complete tasks.
Right when we were trying to figure out what to do, my brother Dana told us he’s bought some land up on the Lost Coast of California, a farm. With a house. Close to the river, close to the ocean, with a swimming hole on the property (I mean, can this get better?!) and offered us enough money to complete the whole Pan Am come September if we go up and farm for him for 6 months.
Let’s see: live up on the gorgeous Lost Coast for 6 months (in the summer) and walk away with enough money to go the whole Pan Am without working at all?
Travel very slowly through Mexico in the dead of summer (- we’re talking temperatures over 110) with a very slim steady income but with uncertain job security.
Tough choice, huh.
We left La Paz on March 19th
We are so grateful for everything – for all the prayers you all have been offering for us, for all the love and good vibes we feel coming our way. We feel like we have to be the luckiest family alive to have this option – to leave a place of joy and incredible beauty to go to another place of joy and incredible beauty to make good money in a short time.
We will continue the Pan Am
We plan on continuing our trip in September, driving down the other route – down through Arizona, and directly into mainland Mexico.
We’ll use the time in California to outfit Myrtle with some new fixin’s , make some repairs on her engine,install an air conditioner and new stereo (- our stereo got stolen in La Paz).
From the Lost Coast, we can also make connections with more disability-related organizations in Mexico and beyond. We have a better idea now of what we are looking for and who we need to talk to.
We are excited for that and also excited for our current adventure.
We are driving north now
We are driving north now, and you know what? We never thought we’d be heading back up, happy and grateful. There you have it. Life changes plans.
We don’t watch a whole lot of TV here, and when we do it’s usually Plaza Sesamo (- Sesame Street). But once in a while we get to watch Bandamax,which is completely, utterly, deliriously addicting! It kind of seems like the Mexican version of country music? And while I can’t get far enough from Country in the US, this Banda stuff is full of YAY! or…hotness. Here are some of the things we’ve learned from it:
If you are fat, wear a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a BIG belt buckle you are a HOT CHICK magnet
HOT CHICKS dig accordions. Big time
Accordions are just HOT. Smoldering vessels of sensuality, begging to be released
Mini vans are HOT
Tequila is HOT. Oh wait. No. AGAVE FIELDS and Tequila are HOT
Black leather is HOT – in all senses of the word
Polka is HOT
All the music sounds kind of the same but it’s NOT
Pool parties are HOT
Singing about food is HOT
I looked all over YouTube for a not-so-steamy video to put here for you
There’s this one too which is kinda cool (petting the chicken!!!!) but confusing in the way I’ve found a lot of the videos to be… still…it’s FUN 🙂
Confession: sometimes playing with my kids is about as much fun as pulling a tooth out, sans laughing gas.
The crying! The wailing! The knashing of teeth over this or that thing to play with! I get so sick and tired of saying or signing “share”, talking about ‘sharing is caring’ or ‘sharing is the WAY to PLAY!’ that I just want to throw my own body down in the sand in one big tantrum, SCREW SHARING!!! Whoever said sharing is so great DIDN’T HAVE KIDS!
Sharing is sooooooooo over-rated.
Oh, I suppose it teaches them something, but frankly, I don’t care after I’ve been playing on the beach with them for half an hour. I just want them all to have their own damn sand-toys, and sharing can take a hike where the sun don’t shine.
Towards that end, when we went to Soriana, the big box Mexican store that sells everything from cilantro to enormous flat screen tv’s, I headed straight to the kids section, searching for beach toys. I wanted 3 buckets, 3 shovels and 3 of anything else that was being sold for a good price that would bring joy to 3 pissy cherubs.
I found nothing.
I turned around and asked Mikey how to say “sand toys” in Spanish, he told me, then I ran off to find a person who worked there before I forgot how to say it. I found her, asked her and she went off on a rapid stream with a ‘it must suck to be you’ look on her face that told me all I needed to know. Mikey translated the rest when he caught up with me.
It’s winter here.
Oh sure, it’s 85 degrees on the beach, full sun every day, but see, that’s a MEXICAN WINTER. When Mexicans come to the beach we are at, they are wearing their woolens and fur boots. I kid you not. We are bordering abusive-parent status with locals, having our kids frolic in this, this… 85 degree sunshine. No Mexican in her right mind, apparently, would let her kids play in this hypothermia-inducing condition, so no sand toys are being sold now.
I repeat: NO SAND TOYS ARE BEING SOLD.
The lady at Soriana said to wait for Spring, that’s when people start warming up.
So, we’re stuck. I’m just glad Mikey and I drink so much instant coffee. We’ll have 3 coffee bottles for the kids to play with pretty soon. Then we can be over and done with the “sharing” already.
I have a confession: I feel happy when I see an ill-mannered or unkept child here. I told that to Mikey and he was all, “oh, you’ve seen an ill-mannered or unkept child here?” and I said I was sure I had. Somewhere. Couldn’t remember where. But I’m sure I have.
And I don’t get it! What are the parents DOING?!!
On the face of it, it’s everything wrong by American standards – coca-cola given to tiny children, cars crammed full of children and babies without seatbelts let alone infant seats. Those 5-point harness things seem like a joke when you see 3 children crammed into a front seat of cab.
Is it some holy trinity of a tight community, the church and school?
Is it the delicious food that is making them so well mannered?
Because I swear, I have never seen children so CLEAN, so spotless, so well groomed and as well mannered as the kids are here.
We’ll be at a taco stand or something, our kids wolfing down the pure deliciousness that they receive and fighting like feral creatures over the one cup of Jamaica – while at the next table, the 4 kids that are approximately the same age as ours are eating gracefully, happily sipping from their shared cup (- no wailing! no knashing of teeth! no screams! ) and their mom or dad looks our way with a kind expression full of pity. Like, ‘man, it must suck to be you’.
It happens again and again and finally I went and did a google search on “why are Mexican children so well behaved” – and hot diggity baby! I found it!
Mikey’s out to get one 🙂
Well, here are some photos of our little hellions, most of which were posted this past week on Instagram (- we are @meriahnichols if you care to follow our feed)