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If the plan doesn't work, change the plan, not the goal!

In the last blog, we were about to take the ferry from La Paz to Mazatlán. The 14-hour journey went smoothly. It was difficult to sleep on the benches (there were no more cabins available), but the kids always find a way to collapse somewhere!

Today I'm writing from Isla Aguada in the state of Campeche, Mexico. Have a look at the map, it's a peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, very pretty, heavenly even. We arrived on November 17 and are spending just over a week there. We're stationed in front of the sea with its dolphins and pelicans, surrounded by coconut trees and visited by enormous iguanas. It doesn't get much better than this, but behind the picture postcard there's a Mexican reality that stands in stark contrast to our "Quebec-Canadian, French, French-Canadian, French North American, French-speaking Quebec-Canadian, French-Canadian-speaking Quebecker" baggage - Elvis Gratton.

So today's blog will focus on a few nomad findings after almost two months in Mexico, and on an update of our game plan for what's to come.

First observation: In Spanish, please, and the louder the better!

Mexico is a country rich in culture and diversity, and it's hard to fully understand how things work or to grasp the regional differences without mastering the language. Nevertheless, Mexicans are welcoming (apart from a few "gringos" shouted at us here and there) and willing to help. The fact that our children speak Spanish makes a considerable difference and it opens doors for us by making it easier to cross military roadblocks, visit museums, ask for information, buy groceries, etc. Despite the fact that 44% of Mexicans live below the poverty line (81% in urban areas), there's a striking joie de vivre! Whereas our neighborhoods in Quebec are generally peaceful and quiet, everyone here seems proud of their heritage and they let it be known, even in the most modest neighborhoods… This includes sharing their lively discussions, their huge charcoal for BBQs and above all their very loud music! Whether it's an early Monday morning or a 3 a.m. Saturday night, in the street or in the car, there's music blasting everywhere, and a lot of it is traditional Mexican music. It's a country marked by its decibels. If you're looking for silence, then go elsewhere!

Second observation: People work all the time (put aside the stereotype of the Mexican sombrero napping under a tree).

We are struck by the fact that people work six days a week and they do so for long hours. After doing a little research, we found that the official work week in Mexico is 48 hours long, and Sundays are usually taken off and spent with the family. Even in modest villages, we have seen many small stores and boutiques where residents are hustling to make their living. They are entrepreneurs at heart! Take our host at the Isla Aguada campsite: Manuel does all kinds of jobs. As well as managing this hotel and campground, he's a circus performer, a Spanish teacher (Christophe and Francis have done a few sessions with him), yoga instructor, message therapist and he apparently makes these special silver bars (supposedly radioactive...) for clients in need of cosmic energy... we did not quite understand this last activity but Manuel can deliver internationally if you're interested...

Third observation: This country seems held together with duct tape, lots of duct tape...

The infrastructure is a little rickety. Nobody in Mexico drinks tap water, not even the locals. Everyone buys purified water in shops or has it delivered. It's crazy that a country like Mexico ranks 106th out of 122 countries in terms of water quality (according to the UN). Even with a very good water treatment system in the RV, we do not dare drink it.

The electrical network is also unreliable, and we have great difficulty coping with the wide variation in voltage. In an instant, we can go from 120V to less than 100V or close to 140V, risking frying the RV's systems. It takes a voltage regulator to manage the current in homes and RVs alike.

The "free", i.e. public and unpaid, road system is disastrous and dangerous, whereas the paid highway system is generally in very good condition (but not well lit). But hold on to your hat because it's very expensive to travel on toll roads – even for us North Americans. So far, we've paid more than $400 USD to drive from Mazatlán to Campeche which is a distance of 2500 kms (there were no tolls in Baja). We'll have to spend another $500 USD to get back to the U.S.! Also, it's not uncommon to see broken water mains or to cross streets that are literally flooded and muddy to the point of possibly getting stuck, all under the puzzled eyes of residents wondering how you ended up there with an RV...

Fourth observation: It's colorful and ornate, but green isn't the order of the day

Just walking through the various towns classified as "Pueblos Magicos" (San Ignacio, Chalula, San Miguel de Allende), you're struck by the colors of the houses and churches, from ochre to orange, terra cota to red. People are also very fond of colorful decorations. Whether it's for Halloween, the Day of the Dead or various carnivals, there are plenty of murals and evocative designs. Christmas is also a very busy time in Mexico, and there's a lot of decorating going on, in stark contrast to the tropical climate. The city is also full of dichotomies: you can walk down a street with pretty, colorful houses only to turn the corner and find yourself literally in a favela district of extreme poverty. Green or environmental consciousness isn't really on the agenda as it is in Canada and Quebec.I'm not passing judgment, but it's dirty and people dump their garbage everywhere (even construction debris).Considering that wastewater is discharged untreated into waterways, I suspect that RV wastewater discharge at campsites simply ends up in the same place, despite good intentions. Forget about recycling and composting.

Fifth observation: Don't listen to the warnings against going to Mexico!

If we'd listened to the warnings about violence and crime in Mexico, we wouldn't have come. Yet, since our arrival, there hasn't been a moment when we've feared for our safety. Obviously, we adopt behaviors to avoid exposing ourselves (no driving at night, no excursions to risky places, no displays of opulence, etc.). People greet us and show interest in our trip. Does being Canadian help? No idea, but people recognize the flag on the RV. Even in poor neighborhoods, we felt at ease. As for requests for money from law enforcement agencies, that didn't happen to us. We came across American travelers who had bad experiences and paid bribes, but honestly their attitude was condescending and unpleasant, so may that had an impact...

Well, that's it for our observations as nomad tourists, and although we are candid in our observations, at no time do we regret having made the decision to come to Mexico. It's a country worth discovering, and one that has much more to offer than all-inclusive resorts.

Now, a few words about our trip, as tomorrow marks the anniversary of our 5 months on the road. First of all, I'd like to come back to the blog's title. Our plan was to drive to Panama and back, but ultimately that won't be possible.

For two reasons: First, the political situation in Guatemala is highly unstable, with nationwide road blockades in support of the newly elected president, who has been declared "illegal" by the government in power. With this president due to be sworn in at the beginning of January, observers are expecting even more chaos, and we're afraid we won't be able to return to Mexico. What's more, the authorities will be stepping up the pressure on the demonstrators as we get closer to the swearing-in, and we're afraid of being caught in a mousetrap somewhere on a Guatemalan highway. That's our very cautious assessment, but we keep coming across travelers who will be going anyway.

Second, the political situation in Panama is also highly unstable, as the Panamanian government has reached an agreement with a Canadian giant mining company to operate a copper mine. A general strike mainly affects Panama City, and shortages of petrol, food and gas have brought the city to a standstill. Demonstrations and road blockades are also affecting the main arteries. There's a lot of anger towards this Canadian company, and observers are drawing parallels between this situation and the Panama Canal, which was under French and then American control before being handed back in 1999. I'm not sure I want to drive around Panama in an RV with a "flag on my hood", as Jean Chrétien would say.

So we've changed the plan, but not the objective. We'll store the RV in Cancun and fly from Cancun to San Jose, Costa-Rica, on December 9, where we'll stay for just under a month with family joining us. From there we'll take another flight to Panama City to spend a week there and return to Cancun on January 12. We're counting on the situation in Panama stabilizing, but we may have to change our plans again, who knows!

It's not the plan we had envisaged, but there are times when we have to accept that our plan may not be viable! Our regret is that we won't be seeing Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador (we're considering a foray into Belize if time permits).

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

N.B. Another observation: there's a lot of volcanic activity in Mexico, as we saw with Popocatepetl, which was spewing smoke and ash as we went grocery shopping on November 15.

P.S. This is Francis and Christophe with their Spanish teacher, Manuel, who talked to them about philosophy and mathematics. Our boys found him a little "spacey" and "hippie". But still, some private Spanish lessons under palm trees and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, that’s not so bad!

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