About Us

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Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Brian & Deya met in Vancouver Canada. After a few years together we were married and made choices. One was not to have children the other was not to take life for granted. The rest is yet to come.

December 26, 2010

Long days in Cordoba

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I would have thought that the days spent here would be somewhat leisurely. The truth is we have been very busy and trying to get accustomed to life in this neck of the woods. It took me a while to say it but I don’t like this city, Cordoba. There I said it, despite its importance and the presence of caring family and friends the city just makes me ill. It is noisier than it needs to be, dirtier than is reasonable and polluted to the point that my lungs hurt. It’s not all bad but I haven’t been here long enough to make a very fair judgement, too bad. There are cool little towns nearby that are great to hang out in and fantastically cool places like Guanajuato.

We got here by December 3rd and by the 4th I was in my first Spanish class, it was interesting and the instructor was pretty good. Folks that we meet wonder why I can’t speak Spanish yet after a few classes, it’s a little frustrating but I’ll manage. The place we are staying in is a small little apartment with a full bathroom, kitchen and dining area. It’s good for the two of us. Since it’s near the Centro it’s noisy all night and there is not much comfort in the way of sitting outside due to the busy streets. It’ll do while we work on our construction project.

The project as it turned out was moving along at a snail’s pace, I was a little annoyed when I saw what wasn’t done and realized that we have lost probably 12 months of revenue. It’s one of the problems of not being on hand to keep things moving. We developed some basic quotes and a contract for moving forward but it’s not nearly the same as in many situations in Canada. Basically down here you just ask a guy to build something and he tells you what it’ll cost without any idea of the material, labour or profit costs. The contractors put all their profits into the project so you never really know what you are paying for. This is okay though because nobody asks for more than one quote anyways and if they do they don’t actually look at what is involved in the job. The lowest price must be the best right? Oh ya and I’ll take 70% up front and the 30% when the materials arrive and if it takes me six months with one guy making $58 pesos a day to get the job done then it’s because you’re cheap! Anyways, let’s just say I’m not going to roll that way.
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We have been to a lot of party events, birthdays, party’s for virgins (it has been some time), Christmas stuff, a good guy’s and bad guy’s parade in Cosco and various other outings as well as we got our haircuts done by an industry expert from Mexico. It was our 4th anniversary and we celebrated with cake thank goodness. The majority of the time for me is trying to pick up the language I hear but to be honest I have just developed a permanent headache. I know I am getting dribs and drabs but it is pretty hard. I can remember when Deya would sit patiently and then get upset about something totally irrelevant as the rest of us conversed. I sometimes think I know what is happening or simply spend all day lost and get frustrated. Everyone is always concerned that I look tired or don’t want to chat, it is because I have only got about 30 minutes of brain power before my mental strength evades me and I am stuck in dumb land. I’ll tell you now though, when I learn this language watch out, I’m going to speak with a vengeance!


We needed to get a bit of a routine; so far we have come up with this: Monday is Asian cooking night, Tuesday is baked goods night, Wednesday is movie night at a private theatre, Thursday is Taco de perro night at a local joint and Friday is up for grabs. That’s all we’ve got so far but it’ll do.Photobucket


We have also had the chance to visit a few more companies, tour the town and go for some short rides with Deya’s brother.

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On one of our walks we saw another example of police performance. An elderly couple had been trapped in their house for two hours as someone was parking in front of their door to attend a party next door. The police were finally called, since you aren’t allowed to contact the tow truck directly, and arrived to manage the scene. After almost an hour with three transit police the tow truck showed up and the people next door came running. They argued with the police, berated the little old couple for calling the fuzz and when they were facing a fine and a tow they called someone they said was high up in the transit authority to get out of the fine and the tow! Well, the poor cop could only agree and let them go. Meanwhile the traffic had been backed up the whole time, the old couple was obviously missing their Christmas dinner and productivity level of the entire city was likely under question. I wanted to go yell at someone, instead we took a picture, the cop looked nervous and took a picture of us taking a picture of him, poor bugger.

In January I gave strict orders to Deya not to speak English to me, we’ll be finishing our floor in the building then tiling. Tucson Tony will arrive to join me in my Spanish lessons and I’m hoping to have large amounts of wine and tequila on hand. This is not a new years health kick it’s called cooping and it’ll be coupled with baked goods, push ups and savoury Tacos.
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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

December 24, 2010

6 Month Budget review

Summary
The first six month held a great deal of learning curves and as we have learned in other experiences whenever we fail to plan and practice risk mitigation the cost tends to mount. Forecasting is also never an easy effort and we have managed to fall short 18.21% of our meagre budget. The primary reason for the bias in our forecasting was not Food, Fuel or Lodging but in the category called Other. In fact we achieved a budget on Food at 74.83%, Fuel at 100.39%, Lodging at 54.02%. The Other category got us at 169.41% but was comprised of only two primary categories which covered about 95% of the overage: Insurance and Maintenance.

Background
When Deya and I set out to travel the Americas we had entirely too much stuff, some the right stuff and some the wrong stuff. Our budgeting strategy was to attempt an absolute minimum budget without having to sacrifice too much experience along the way. We would tent whenever possible, cook our own meals on the road side and limit our kilometres to about 300 per day. Balancing the three main categories of Food, Fuel and Lodging would be the primary focus for controlling our budget day to day. Daily sacrifices would have to be made in order to accomplish our goal of travelling without having to have a camera crew and follow up vehicles. Part of our effort is to help people understand that if all else fails in life they can just go ride. This of course was not our case which makes it an important part of our purpose.

Without exhaustive planning we estimated our mileage and knew roughly when we would use more fuel than other times, the food was not a great leap for us since our regular working budget for food was very thin but lodging was a bit of a mystery. The art of camping is an ever evolving and changing creature as we have determined and have had some trouble, particularly in Mexico finding appropriate camping. This has been an unfortunate case since we have had some of our best experiences camping.

We did limited research on things like ferries and bridges for extra costs as well as some attractions that might become costly and for the most part we were bang on. Our three months of negative budgeting occurred in July (learning curves), September (Newfoundland) and October (We got slammed!).

Evidence
July as mentioned was a learning curve where we had to make several adjustments in equipment (group 904) selection and some equipment maintenance (group 700). We had to make a call on getting a service done on one of the bikes sooner than anticipated, the philosophy when your bike is the whole trip is that preventative maintenance is the better option, unfortunately we didn’t predict this one. The other issue was eventually covered by a good will warranty through BMW.

September’s major overage was a chain and sprocket set which we had budgeted for the previous month but I felt I could get a few more thousand kilometres out of the one I had and I did! It caused a discrepancy in the budget but it worked out for the best anyways, I was eventually able to do the installation myself in Maine, USA at significant savings over the BMW shop rates. Deya had a service tune up which capped off the budget for the month.

October was a heavy hitter, we had maxed out on our kilometres this month, had covered the border costs, health insurances and a multitude of various other events. We had a chance to attend a Ralley in Texas for a cost but it was well worth it. Some cost came from the damage to our tent received during the hurricane in Newfoundland and its replacement but the bulk of the cost came from vehicle equipment: 6 tyres, clutch cables, spare bearings, etc. The other cost which was an error on my part was the vehicle insurance. Mine ran out; if I have gotten an extra month while back in Canada it would have cost me $60 bucks, but as we had intended to be in Mexico sooner I would have been okay. Since the problems at the border were serious we got delayed in the USA, this meant that in order to cover five days in the USA I had to purchase an additional three months of insurance. The cost was about $535 dollars for the insurance, added to the $900 dollars of equipment this cost accounted for the 60% overage for the month.

Here is a simple break down of our daily averages to give you an idea of how we are doing.

Daily Budget Performance Average

 Daily    Budget   Actual      %

Fuel      $13.33   $13.39      100.39%

Food     $5.94    $4.45         74.83%

Lodging $8.06    $4.35         54.02%

Other    $19.78   $33.51     169.41%

Totals    $47.11  $55.69     118.21%

Conclusion
If you noticed our performance on food and lodging you will see that we have done very well. While we have spent a lot of time in our tent and have cooked a lot of food ourselves on the side of the road I must give a warm and special thanks to all those folks out there (you know who you are) who have contributed to our success this far by selflessly offering warm food and a comfortable place to rest, Thanks You!

While fuel is the simpler of the calculations, we will endeavour to increase our maintenance budget and tighten up on the miscellaneous items. It’s difficult to estimate the maintenance as it comes down more to convenience of time, place, or price than it does kilometres or other predefined measures for maintenance. Since we’ve reached Mexico we’ve been higher in lodging as a result of security issues, I’m hoping this will change, maybe it’s as much a change of mind as it is a change of place.

The Family

Coscomatepec is a lovely town of about 13000 people. It sits in the hills at about 800-1200 metres and is typically cool in the evenings. You get to see people wearing sweaters and toques, I love it. It’s quiet and has plenty of topes and cobblestone streets to keep the traffic under guard and reasonable so driving around here is not too death defying.



Our stay with the aunts and uncles in the area was charming and they are very entertaining people. There is just enough English to keep me near the loop in the general conversations but the conversations themselves are always lively enough to stay entertained regardless of the understanding.

While in Cosco, as people call it, we had the chance to visit some companies. This was a great opportunity and allowed for a fairly relaxed pace. The folks in town are very accommodating and their business interests are typically family oriented which includes a great deal of pride in their products, if nothing else. We saw coffee and tomatoe plantations, bakeries of course and very fine leather manufacturers.

Our route to home, Cordoba, was less than an hour away but we were not in any rush to leave. Cordoba is a sprawling city of about 200 thousand people (by 2005, http://www.inegi.org.mx) and has an evening curfew to deter crime. It has everything you can imagine from Wal-Mart to little taco stands on the side of the road. It’s a noisy place at this time of the year because of all the religious events but also has a lot of opportunity for interesting things to do, as many larger cities have.

We made our way easily to the city and arrived to the mother’s home near the heart of the down town core. Prior to arriving we stopped near the Zócalo to visit a municipal official who wanted to see us on our bikes. It turned into a crowd as this official is of some importance and reporters and pedestrians alike gathered around to take pictures and ask for pictures with us. It was fun but always makes me a little nervous having too many people around me, I just want to start swinging. Once we cleared downtown the next step was to settle in and get to work.

December 13, 2010

Winding our way into Veracruz

We left San Miguel de Allende heading West, our stop would be at Pachuca and we would stay with some family there. Distant family, I’m not sure how it works but the youngest of the kids there are uncles? Either way we stayed for a few nights and we were received and treated very well.

We had a tour of the city; I believe there are over 260,000 thousand people there. Its proximity to Mexico City means that people can commute South for an hour versus commuting through Mexico City for two hours. The area is mountainous and there are old buildings and an important clock tower. The town was established by the British for mining purposes and then abandoned but has some particular beauty due to the mountains and surrounding small towns that are very touristy.

Spending time with these new family members was refreshing; they are intelligent hard working and good people. I had a great time and they just about killed Deya and I with good food and attention.

After exiting the route got interesting, we somehow ended up on a short toll road and there didn’t seem to be any escape. Once off the road we got onto another route that we had been warned was very dangerous. Dangerous means curves here and we had a great time. The route was gorgeous and there was enough traffic and enough curves to keep it moving slowly. WAY safer than the maniacs on the toll roads. It was also way more interesting and you can stop just about anywhere for a break.

We stopped at a little road side café run by two ladies and had Café de olla. It was really good coffee. We chatted and they told us some of the local news about some bad stuff in a nearby town. Remember the study? Everyone talks about the bad people in the nearby town, it seems to hold true everywhere we go. As far as security goes here it is more about your regular crimes versus the Narco crimes. We did notice a lot of Police with balaclavas on, though there were also some important government officials in the area. The two ladies sent us away with two kinds of bananas, both no longer than your finger or thumb but thicker. One has a very strong banana taste which is very appealing and the other had an orange flavour and was coloured slightly orange, very cool.

We ended our day near the beach on the Gulf of Mexico, the sea was rough and the water was dark closer to shore. The day was overcast and we had very mild rain. It was cold enough all day that I wore my raingear from departure to arrival. We ate simply with some leftovers and bought a half kilo of fresh tortillas for about 50 cents CDN.

The next morning we left early, the sky was clear and it was warmer, we ended on another toll but this time it was for two bridges so I wasn’t bothered too much. The route was easy and as we left the coast, destination Coscomatepec, it became twisty and the altitude rose up to about 1500 metres. It again got beautiful with bright, natural flowers everywhere and many coffee plantations, the feeling was relaxed and the riding was grand. The area is lush and green and you can see why people will say that Veracruz is rich. They don’t mean in dollars but in land, you can throw anything on the ground here and stuff will grow. I am pretty fond of the landscape here and impressed at the weather, it’s cool and clouding in the evening and often rains at night while keeping a reasonable and warm temperature during the day.

We arrived at Coscomatepec and were greeted again by family at their bakery. We arrived sat down and were served FANTASTIC coffee and one of my favourite breads from this area. It was the best coffee I’ve had since entering Mexico and my mind was refreshed for the 20 minutes of pleasure. I love sitting at a café, a cool and light breeze, mountain air and fresh strong and hot coffee in my hands. It’s as good for me as a long easy ride and lets my mind wander. We ended the day with a great dinner, family and a plan to tour the area a bit and stay another night.

December 02, 2010

Hope

A Traveller on a long journey was near his destination but received a painful stone in his shoe. The Traveller said, “I have the courage of a thousand men yet I am made lame by this stone” and so he sat on the ground and wept. A young man with no legs approached The Traveller and asked, “Why do you weep my friend?” and The Traveller replied, “I have the courage of a thousand men yet I can no longer see my destination”. The young man with no legs looked at The Traveller for a moment then said, “It is not courage you need now, it is hope” and the young man with no legs carried on his way. The Traveller sat for some time watching the young man with no legs move off into the distance and said, ”This young man has a far greater stone than I!”, and then picked himself up and carried on his journey. The stone was unbearable and he winced in pain yet after some time it loosed itself from the shoe and The Traveller was free from the torment. The Traveller looked up and could once again see his destination and had hope.

The Mayor of Ciudad Juarez, a current area under severe conflict, bordering El Paso, Texas spoke about people not needing more police, army and guns but about hope. The people there need to see that their future can improve, that the stone in their shoe is not permanent and that they can still move forward, with 2000 murders in the area this year alone it is a painful stone to bear but there is hope.

I was going to write a rant called: Mexican Pride – The Façade, because I’m annoyed at the lack of pride witnessed here. I’m not one to paint with a big brush so please forgive the generalizations but I’ve been puzzled and down right upset about the people here pretending to be proud of their country when it is really a smokescreen for something much more painful. While I recognize that a percentage of all humans behave in particular ways the weighting of those behaviours can be more or less favourable depending on geographical location or maybe other factors but it’s not for me to study.

When you see the evidence of the pride and passion of Mexico in the every day life you can see these things in abundance:

- Garbage all over the place, I can not count how many times I’ve seen people just throw pop bottles and other garbage on the ground around them.

- People might diligently sweep the garbage from their door into the street as though their community deserves no better.

- The population takes advantage of each other as well as outsiders, there’s a terrible level of caste and class distinction. It’s most evident in the name calling for me; I’m called Güerito (sounds like Whito, is intended to call you white), does that mean I should call them Yellow? They call me Gringo (likely meaning foreign troop and historically referencing US occupation of Mexico in the late 1840’s possibly meaning “Green- Go”) but does that mean I should call them wetbacks? I typically pay double for everything; today it was quadruple the going rate!

- The lack of regard for the laws of the country, keenly evident in the general traffic. Less evident is the actual ignorance of the laws (Mexico has very good systems in place, we’ve been researching), the lack of contribution, cash transactions not recorded, unfinished buildings that detract from the community so they aren’t required to pay taxes, etc.

- The corruption, contributing to it (cheaper to pay the ‘bite’ than the fine - which is often NOT true), accepting it or worse doing nothing about it.

It doesn’t matter what people say, actions speak louder than words and until we got here I couldn’t really understand why Deya and a few other Mexican born Canadians I know are not very proud of their country of origin. I get it now and for the first bit I too was upset about it but I just realized, after reflecting on what a good friend told us, that people need hope. I have sympathy for the people here now. I don’t know what the answer is but in there somewhere lays hope and while the stone might be big, the destination is still there not far ahead.