25 March 2016

Globetrotting gets complicated

I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming north east USA trip. It can be very busy on the east coast and we will have to book RV sites in advance, something I really don't like doing. It locks you into a set itinerary, so you can't add on days when you want to or leave when you are bored or the weather is awful.

The amount of time we have for this trip depends on what date the USA border control put in our passports. We got our five year US tourist visas six months before our first trip so that we could book our plane tickets early, which means they run out this coming September. With this in mind I have planned our trip with a 19 September exit date but I have read that as our visa will be current when we enter the US they could give us six months instead of five, which we would prefer. So I am working on two itineraries one for five months and one for six.

When we crossed from Canada into the USA last October, we asked if they could put an exit date of 28th December. He said no, and gave us six months. The date in our passports ends two days prior to us going back in, so they are not going to be happy when we ask for another six months. To make it worse we didn't hand in the paper i94 visa slip that is stapled in our passports as we left because we didn't realise we were going through immigration; the guy was just standing at a portable desk, who knew? This is a big no no and they have a whole page on their website of what to do if you didn't.

We made sure we spent less than six months in the US last year, but it just doesn't look that way in our passports. So I really hope we don't have another discussion saying they don't believe we just spent the last 3.5 months out of the country like they did this time last year. As you have to pay cash for most things down here, there is no credit card trail. All I have are our boarding tickets, our accommodation receipts and a lot of photos. I will also make sure I have a copy of our upcoming itinerary and bank statements on my iPad to show what we are doing and that we can support ourselves as we have been told this will greatly support our case. Such is the life of the nomadic traveller.

I have also been planning where to go at the end of the year but I can't make any bookings or even finalise the itinerary until we find out when we will be leaving the US. We have already booked to come back to PV next winter as Lindsay feels more comfortable knowing how everything works and where everything is down here. We have talked to many people who have been coming down here for years and years; so it seems once you discover it, you keep coming back.

Lindsay is working on a six week self drive camping trip in Namibia for July 2017 which he is really excited about. Not only will we both be shooting wildlife but there will be a lot of landscape opportunities for me too. Lindsay is also looking forward to trying some star trails and milky way shots. I wonder if he realises these are actually landscape photos - something he vehemently says he does not take! I will need to process them for him as they are a little tricky and have to be done in photoshop, which he doesn't want to learn. I don't know how to do them yet either and have downloaded a few You Tube clips to help teach me.

Google's my best friend

He never realised how much work goes into researching and planning a trip. Deciding where to go, where to stay, how long to stay, and what we will see. What kind of car do we hire and what do they include. We have to prebook all the camps and he has tried to make sure we are in the Dead Vlei and Sossusvlei region when there is a new moon so that the sky is dark for the night shots.

I have also been gathering information for our south east USA trip, which will probably be in late 2017. We will be on a 90 days ESTA visa by then which means we will also have to spend 90 days out of the country at the end of each visit. Europe's Schengen agreement means you are limited to total of 90 days in any of the countries within the agreement - which just happen to be all the ones we want to go to. This will be fine just as long as we don't need to add in extra time so that everything ties in. It's also not always practical or convenient to leave on a particular day either, so you will end up with less than 90 days and no, accruals are not allowed! 

Visa constraints aren't the only issue we have to consider when trip planning. The weather, season or even month may be vitally important to where we are travelling to. You can't camp in Yellowstone before May; there aren't any bears in Bella Coola before the salmon run; we can't take our RV through snow (yes there was that one time, but we aren't doing that again!); some national parks only have a short season when they are open for camping such as Glacier, Mt Rainier and Crater Lake and I don't want to go unless I am right there in amongst it all otherwise it's too far to travel each day; we want to avoid hurricane season when going across the middle of the US, it's too humid and there are too many insects in Florida before December; we like to go to Kenya when the migration is on; it's too hot; it's too cold, the list goes on. I would love to travel through New England during autumn, but unfortunately that isn't going to happen, even if we do get the extension, as we will be too far west. The Galapagos are really nice in May and June but that is when I now have the US scheduled.

After spending three months in Africa, we should come back into the US early October but I've just found out it will be too humid and buggy when we get to Florida in November. I'd also forgotten about the hurricane season, which runs from June to the end of November in all the states we will be travelling in. How would you hide with a 35' trailer if one started brewing? I've looked up each state we will be travelling through and there are very few hurricanes in November so I'm hoping it will be safe to travel then.

Then it depends on what camera gear we have with us. Filling in three or more months out of the US at a time is not going to be easy. If we go to Africa with a few cameras and lenses including the 600mm, we then don't want to be lugging them around Europe to fill in a few extra weeks.

I am now trying to plan our flights so that we don't need a hire car on a weekend as the depots are not open in Yucca Valley where we leave from. When we came down to PV in December we nearly had to pay for four days hire for our three hour trip to the LA because of the Christmas break, but thankfully Dale and Shelly drove Lindsay down to Palm Springs to pick up a car there. :)

I'm also checking fare prices on different days as there can sometimes be a huge difference depending on the day of the week or from one week to the next.

I don't know about you, but after all that, I'm exhausted.

4 March 2016

A seaside village only accessible by boat

Yelapa, Jalisco Mexico

Yelapa beach

Yelapa is a little seaside village about an hour's boat trip from Puerto Vallarta, there is no road access from the rest of the country. We had checked the day before and were told that we didn't need reservations, just turn up at least 10 minutes before 11am at the Los Muertos Pier. Not wanting to miss out we organised to meet up with Bill and Michele at the ticket booth at 10:30. There are numerous people selling these tickets so it makes you wonder how often they overbook. At the dock our ticket was torn in two and on the back of the return portion he wrote Jack. It turned out we were on Jack's taxi and therefore had to return on Jack's taxi at 4pm. Most of the people get a seat but if you are one of the last four on, three of you will have to sit on the bow and one at the stern, no cushions, with water splashing included! Being early, we got a seat on the right hand side and with the canopy this meant we were out of the sun; the tradeoff being that we weren't on the side of the shoreline as we were going south. For some entertainment along the way we came across the pirate ship and a few dolphins. It was really nice to be out on the water. I can get seasick, so I was a little worried as this boat was really just a little fishing boat. As we sped through the waves, a few people got wet but no-one got sick.

Water taxi - ours was full

As you get closer to the village, you come into an aquamarine bay with a sweeping beach. It reminded me of Gilligan's Island. People who didn't want to go to the waterfall were transferred to another boat which took them straight to the beach and restaurants. Jack pointed out the best restaurant, not just because it happens to be owned by his brother in law, but because he has been coming here for years and he knows it is. really? We all decided that we would go anywhere but to the big blue canopy. 

go to the one with the blue roof Jack kept saying, it's the best

Those of us that were left on the boat went to the other pier and walked about ten minutes to the waterfall with Jack leading and letting us know that while he didn't charge to take us there, a tip would be appreciated. 

There are no cars here. A few 4-wheelers and a few donkeys and horses are the only means of transport. Along the way we came across a bar and a flea market and I wondered how on earth they make a living just from the people who walk up here to see or swim at the waterfall. 

Flea market on the way to the falls

There is another bar right at the waterfall where the four of us had a drink, so this one probably does make money. The banos as they are called here are pretty basic. There is a sign asking you to put the toilet paper in the basket and put a bucket of water from the big barrel in the pan to flush. The door of the cubicle was a shower curtain which is so close to you that your knees push it out - at least other people can see that that cubicle is occupied!

Jane & Michele

We had brought our good camera and tripod to try and get some long exposure shots. As the shoulder strap was attached to the camera, the tripod base plate had been taken off, and was still at home! There wasn't a lot of room around the waterfall, so not only did I really need the tripod to use a slow shutter speed and to use my neutral density filter to make the water silky, but I also needed it to take 2-3 shots to cover from top to bottom. To do this you need to overlap the two photos precisely to be able to stitch the photos together later on. I took a few sharp ones just in case I ended up with nothing, then I lowered my shutter speed and took a number of 2 and 3 group shots. I didn't push my luck trying to use the ND filter, so some of the foliage is blown out a bit. The best picture ended up being two shots at a quarter of a second. It's extremely difficult to take a hand held photo at less than 20 seconds without it blurring slightly, so with all things considered I am pretty happy with the result.

the waterfall, there is a pool at the bottom where people were swimming

When Jack told us we were leaving, we decided to stay and finish our drinks. We made our way back to the beach following the signs nailed to trees, passing a man who had a donkey all dressed up for tourist shots, another with three tethered horses carrying goods to wherever, and an expat lady who was riding her 4 wheeler selling baked goods.

I don't think he gets to carry the heavy stuff

Jack was waiting for us as we reached the beach to steer us to the restaurant where the rest of our boat group were but we ignored him. There were numerous places to eat on the beach and we chose one at random. There were roosters and chickens running around just a few metres from our table and beach lounge chairs with umbrellas if you could snare one.

the rooster and a couple of his girls

At 4pm forty people boarded our water taxi, which were two more than on our trip over. We all had to show the backs of our tickets to make sure they said "Jack" but for some reason they never did work out who shouldn't have been there. They ended up putting four people on the bow but this made the boat ride too low in the water so they had to stop and move people around. The poor people at the front got even wetter than on the trip over as the water was a bit choppy according to us non-sailors, but according to Lindsay it was just a slight swell as there weren't any white caps. 

We were on the right hand side of the boat this time and had some lovely coastal views along the way.

Wonderful vistas from the sea

2 March 2016

Living in Old Town

We booked two different places on Flipkey for our stay in Puerto Vallarta because I couldn't get into the one I wanted for the whole time.

Our first place was in a condo complex of about 25, with two swimming pools and a heated spa. The condo had a slight Mexican feel inside and out, but so do a lot of places in California, we could have been anywhere. It was a 20 minute uphill walk from town that really got our hearts beating and our legs aching. We aren't being precious when we say it was a hard slog. The property agent's car can't make it up the hill, so she leaves it at the bottom, and walks up.  One day a gas truck was driving up the road and Lindsay was able to out walk it - that is how steep it was. I'm not going to miss that hill.

Moving next door to the locals

We have moved right into the heart of town, with all that comes with it. Kids playing in the street until 10.30pm, garbage trucks picking up rubbish around 8pm nearly every night from the corner just opposite us. Dogs bark and cats scream during night and roosters do their thing in the morning or sometimes all day. I did know all of this before we came here, but knowing and experiencing are two different things. Most nights are relatively quiet and I'm having no problems sleeping. It's loud, it's colourful, it's Mexico.

We are on the first floor (bottom being ground floor), just don't lean out over the balustrade too far, those are power lines!

A balcony surrounds our condo on two sides but as it's less than a metre wide, we can't sit out there. I tried to get the condo above us with the balcony but the people who rented it last year had the first option to rent it again. The ambiance of having all the doors open though is really lovely, which you wouldn't get if you were on the ground floor. There is a communal rooftop terrace with comfortable chairs, a couch, two dining settings and a barbeque (grill) and we look over all the rooftops, but we can't quite see the sea. We didn't have a barbeque at our last place so it's a great addition. It's only a flat 7 minute walk to get into town, add a few more minutes and you're at the beach. With the mercardo (market) only two blocks away, it's in a perfect location.

The Neighbourhood

When we hear the jingle "better, better, better gas", we know the gas man is coming. He sells LPG (propane) in large gas bottles, a bit like swap and go but he comes to your door. Less often, the big gas truck comes around that must fill up large gas tanks and the big hose gets connected to a tank inside the building. Soon after the water man comes "Agua agua" (ag-wa-r = water) he shouts as he pedals around the streets. At 20 pesos for 20 litres, it's 15 pesos cheaper than what we were paying up the road and he brings it up to our condo. There is a bread man too, he yells Pan (bread) and a few other things that I can't understand. He carries his pastries on a large wicker tray on his head, and a fold up stand on his shoulder, which he then uses to rest them on when he finds a customer. There's a lady who sells strawberries and vegetables from the back of her truck, that has what could be a radio blaring through a megaphone, which sounds more like some propaganda, it's even worse when she stops right outside our windows - it reminds me of Istanbul.

It's lively around here and life is hard. The houses in this area are dark and small as the doors are often open and you can see in when you pass. Our condo is like a palace compared to what they live in. The streets are relatively clean; there really isn't a lot of rubbish around. They take pride in what they have and you will often see people sweeping or hosing down the footpath outside their homes. They are the most helpful, courteous and happy people I have ever met. On the way home one night, we had stepped onto the road but were waiting for the traffic to pass. The cars stopped right in the middle of the intersection of one of the busiest roads in town, and waved us through. They will do this when you are on the footpath as well, usually in the side streets, not always, but often.

a rock band playing covers at the market

Mexicans love their music and it blares full bore from their cars, sometimes at one o'clock in the morning. There's always music coming from somewhere. Friday nights there are dance shows down at the Farmer's Market square. During the Mardi Gras, every float had different music at full volume. Easter is supposed to be very loud, apparently they party 24/7 so we aren't expecting much sleep that weekend.

A lady came to the door on our second day, not understanding but remembering that Raymond had said the cleaners may come around to water the plants on the balcony in between the cleaning days because it was so warm. So I said to her (with my new word for water) agua plantes, and she said si with a big smile. I made the plantes up, it's actually plantas, but it was a pretty good guess. I had great aspirations of learning a new word every day, but I don't have a flair for languages and to be honest, I haven't tried very hard at all.

When we go walking together we tend to go north along the Malecon. Left to my own devices one day, I went in the opposite direction and found some steps that lead over the rocks at the southern end of Los Muertos beach. I had thought the only way around was through the water at low tide and had walked up there to investigate. I was very happy to find a trail that leads you around the coast, through little coves with hardly anyone around.

the cove around the corner

We like to go to a bar on the beach where you can get a table right near the water but be in the shade. Sometimes we have to lift our feet if the waves come too high.

Shelly and Dale at the local Burro Bar right on the water

Massages go hand in hand with a holiday

There are many many massage places all around PV and on a recommendation from some Canadians I tried one that had just opened. You have to be careful she said, not all of them are "massage" places but this one is a normal one. They had an opening special of 300 pesos ($A26) for an hour. I wanted a relaxing massage, none of this deep tissue stuff that feels like you've been through the wringer. There were two tables in the room when I went in and I was hoping that I wasn't going to be sharing with anyone else. Which table do you want? she asked. Get undressed and put all your clothes on this (the other) one. All my clothes? alarm bells ringing. Yes, it will be better for you. Lie face down. O k a y. In the past I've had a massage with clothes on, which I thought defeated the purpose. Others with clothes off but knickers on, but never all off, so I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. I have to say, I've never had a massage quite like it. She used so much of oil on me I thought I'd slide off the table. It was brilliant with nice soft meditating music and some essential oils over my face when she did my front. So yes, I did have to turn over. And I have to agree, the knickers would have got in the way. Pretty much every centimetre of me was oiled, except for the bits that probably would have been the only places that got oil in those other massage places. Not only did I get oiled, massaged, pressed and rubbed, limbs and appendages got pulled. I just wish I could have stayed lying on the bench for another half an hour just to relax a little bit more.

One minute they are burying the little girl in the sand, then 15 minutes later...
Never trust the sea

Art, Food and Dancing

Every second Friday night during the peak tourist season, which is probably December through February there are extra activities down in old town. Our Californian friends Dale and Shelly came down for ten days, so we took them to all our favorite places. At 6pm we made our way down to Basilio Vadillo to the many art galleries. There were lots of people are around and many of the galleries offer drinks such as margaritas and wine. Lindsay and Shelly are margarita fans, so they were in heaven. There are lots of artists here and the works are very diversified - paintings, sculpture in various mediums, pottery, jewellery and ornaments. One of the galleries must have had about five large rooms that held an amazing amount of art. By the time we toured a number of them it was getting dark and time for dinner. Down at the Farmer's market there were a number of Mexican food stalls to get dinner and drinks. Lindsay even managed to find his favourite rice pudding to take home for desert. At about 7.30pm there was a live show of traditional music and dancing. The girls looked gorgeous in their colourful dresses and the boys were very smart in their traditional costumes as well.

love the pelicans down here

Our local eatery

There is a little local restaurant in the same street as us but in front of the river. They have a couple of plastic tables and chairs sitting up by the river and one outside their "restaurant". The woman who runs it is just delightful. We have dined there a number of times with both our friends and she takes photos of us with both her camera and ours. One night we went there we thought we wouldn't get a table as the other tables were obviously set up for a special occasion. No problem, the table from outside the restaurant was taken up to the river for us. There was a birthday party for a lady that had been coming to their restaurant for 30 years. She had brought many friends to dine at their restaurant and considers the owners as family and so do they. She said that they had even visited her in hospital when she had a minor operation. The owner's told her that they would not have survived had it not been for her continued patronage and referrals and are eternally grateful. Dale went there for breakfast every morning while he was here. One day he didn't have small enough notes for her, no worries, she said "pay me tomorrow". 

Eating by the river Cuale

On the corner, just underneath us a lady sits each night selling her two desserts - creme caramel and baked cheesecake. We have tried both a number of times and they are delicious. I'm sure Lindsay would have one every night if I wasn't around. Another lady sits on the opposite corner. Even though I can see directly down from our balcony onto her little "table" I still haven't figured out what on earth she is selling. It wouldn't be allowed at home.

Not sure what she is selling

La Cruz

La Cruz is a little fishing village about fifty minutes north of PV on the coast, it's a two bus trip to get there and the day we went it was quite humid. Each Sunday they have a market similar to the one that we go to in Old Town.

the breakwater
La Cruz market
Being on the marina, it's a pretty setting and it's funny to watch the pelicans sitting on the boats like seagulls do at home. There are a few other stall owners there and some different foods but otherwise it's nothing special. The market is crammed into a small space so you are constantly jostling with other people and there's nowhere to sit comfortably and eat. Our local Farmer's market is better and easier to get to, so we won't be going back.

the marina at La Cruz
Other Mexico Posts:

1. A very different place for us
2. Life's a beach
4. A seaside village only accessible by boat
5. Wrapping up Puerto Vallarta
7. Puerto Vallarta Essentials