Saturday Night Is for Dancing

We have settled into our routine – although it is still pretty flexible and I intend to keep it that way.  I work at my desk in the morning – answering emails, planning programs, balancing budgets.  Grant putts around in the garage – fixing stuff or making stuff – inevitably needing some part he will never find.  Our afternoons are spent at the orphanage – teaching English 2 days a week, and being silly the other 3.

But Saturday is for experiencing Mexico and on Saturday nights we often jump in the car with our friends and head to one of the nearby towns to hang with the locals in the town square.  There are 18-20 towns in the surrounding area and every one has a town square with a raised bandstand and colorful flags and ice cream vendors and taco stands.  Each town has a specific night in which the community will gather in the square to listen to music, dance and visit with their neighbors.  Grandmas and Grandpas dance together while little children run among them.  Old men in cowboy hats sit in circles telling stories and teens flirt with one another.  Although Grant and I are often the only gringos in the square, we are welcomed as though we belong.  It is fun and we stay until the band stops playing at 10:00.  2 weeks ago we spent the evening in San Juan de Abajo and last Saturday we were off to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.  I am a terrible dancer, made only worse by the Mexican quick tempo music and the realization that everyone around me was born with the rhythm DNA that my white parents did not have.  Grant is worse.  But we have fun anyway and we feel like we are becoming part of the fabric of our community.Map

The town of San Juan de Abajo

Fresh, hot Mexican Churros – tastes just like a mini donut at the fair

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As we head into summer months, the demographics have shifted drastically.  Most Canadians and Americans have now headed home.  Many shops and restaurants have reduced their hours or closed completely. It is sinking in that we are definitely not here on vacation.  As we walked into one empty Mexican restaurant, it’s owner asked  “What happened, did they leave you behind?”.

“Nope – we live here now.  We’re locals”.   Best. Words. Ever.

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El Dia de Ninos – Kid’s Day

In Canada, we look forward to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day – a day for children to express love for their parents.  Mexico celebrates those days too.  But every April 30th since 1925, Mexico has also celebrated Children’s Day, El Dia de Ninos.  It is a day – a few days actually – where everyone stops what they are doing to honor children.  We noticed that even in the poorest neighborhoods, homes were decorated with balloons and children were hauling around bags of candy.  I spend a lot of time with children here and I tend to see all the things that are wrong – poverty, disease, lack of decent education and medical care and shelter.  But when I let myself relax a bit I also see a country where family is important, where children are allowed to play with abandon and where laughter is loud and common.

This weekend we celebrated Dia de Ninos twice – once with the children of Casa Hogar and one with the children in our community.  Because Natalia’s birthday fell on Thursday and the children had Friday off school, we had a combined Birthday/Children’s Day party.  Natalia and her brother and sister live at Casa Hogar during the week to help their mom who works at night during the week.  She is young and had her first daughter as a very young teen. But she loves her children in the best ways she can and they love her too.  On Friday, she brought a giant pot of pozole and a cake for all of us to share.  We played some games, had a dance party and eventually filled up the water balloons for a giant water fight.  It was a super fun day for the children and the grown-ups too.

Natalia’s mom (top) brought delicious pozole for us all to share

Water fights and dancing party – yup I was soaked too!

On Sunday night, the local church had a community Dia de Nino’s party – over 300 children showed up to play games, eat hotdogs and cake and watch a bunch of Trolls tell them that Jesus loves them.  We picked up Jose to come to the party and while we were waiting at the house his 3-year-old nephew Kevin gave me the ‘look’.  The ‘please don’t leave me here while you take Jose to a party’ look.  “Do you want to come too Kevin”.  Giant smile.   His 16-year-old pregnant mom gave me a tired smile and a nod.  So Kevin came for his first big outing with us.  I don’t think Kevin has been out of his neighborhood often and he clung to Grant and I as he tried out the activities.  I have never seen a child ravage a hot dog like that and by the end of the evening my dress was literally dripping with green juice, snot, and catsup.  Once I asked Grant, “Do I even want to know what I feel dripping down my leg right now?”.  Twice he wiped out on the play structure hard enough to make most children cry – instead Kevin got up and kept going, not wanting to miss a second of this new freedom.

Kevin’s first adventure

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Hanging with my buddy Lucio

Obviously, I still worry about the children in this country.  Every day Grant and I get up and we work to find ways to help the children in our lives experience futures with hope and opportunity and possibility.  But this weekend we put that all aside and we joined with our community in celebrating these little people and the simple lives they live today.  Feliz dia de los ninos mis amigos!

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Another Trip, Another Travel Nightmare!

Maybe it’s me.  Or maybe it’s just this month.  This April travel just does not seem to be my friend.  After arriving back in Bucerias, I threw a few clean clothes in a suitcase and headed to the airport to make a trip to my other favorite Latin country – Cuba.  Every year I take a team of Canadian divers to this beautiful island to train at a sports school in the city of Matanzas.  This trip is part of my job that I am now doing from a distance and it is the first time I have traveled from Mexico to Cuba.  My flight took me through Mexico City to Havana and then it was up to me to find a way to get to Varadero which is a 2 ½ hour trip east.  I had done a lot of online research, but the answers I got were muddled at best.  I had given myself a whole day to get there so I knew I would figure something out – and it would be an adventure.

It was 2:00 am by the time I finally checked into my hotel in Havana – in order to keep costs down for my employer I had chosen a REALLY dumpy hotel.  That’s definitely not happening again – it was pretty nasty!  But the front desk guy was very friendly and very helpful.  Well he was friendly.  I asked how I might get to Varadero the next day and he enthusiastically told me about the bus that comes every morning between 8 and 10 that would take me to Varadero.  No I don’t need a ticket.  Just be in the lobby at 8 and give the bus driver my name.  Well I gave my name to many bus drivers the next morning between 8 and 10 – every one of them looked at his list and said “nope, you’re not on it”.   Finally at 10 the bellman asked to see my ticket since it appeared no bus was coming for me.  “I don’t have a ticket – the desk guy said I don’t need a ticket”.  Oh you definitely need a ticket.  And you have to walk a block to the tour office to get that ticket.  So off I went to buy a ticket.  The tour operator informed me there were no more buses that day.  But if I walked another block, the other tour operator might have an afternoon bus.   Okay – another block.  Another “no”.  No more buses today.

I walked back to the hotel and begged the bellman to help me find a taxi to get me to Varadero.  It was a good thing I had checked into the cheap hotel because I was about to blow my budget on a taxi.  By noon I was in the back of a tiny car headed to Varadero with some taxi guy – and the rate wasn’t even that bad.  I relaxed – for about 2 minutes – because that is when the torrential downpour began.  Of course, being as the car was ancient, there was no working defrost and the windshield was rapidly fogging over.  Taxi guy reached over to the glove box, took out a tiny scrap of red fabric and began to wipe a hold just big enough for him to see.  The car bucked around in the puddles and I actually laughed out loud.  I am going to die in this little car and not a soul in the world knows where I am.    Of course, I didn’t die – it was a long 2 ½ hour rainy trip but we made it and I gave taxi guy a good tip for risking his life for me and my crazy life.  Although I had planned to do some prep before the team arrived, the rain kept coming and finally I just went to bed and slept for the next 15 hours.  It had been a long month.

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Team Sask has arrived!

The week was amazing as it always is.  I love watching our Canadian divers connect with the Cuban divers.   These Cuban children all come from extremely poor families.  They have been chosen because they have shown potential in their sport.  They live in the dorms of the sports school and train every day.  Some go home on weekends, many are too poor or live too far.  They have almost nothing and I love how generous our team has become.  Every year we bring many extra suitcases of things to share with the divers – clothes, shoes, toiletries, and school supplies.  This year we brought 85 pairs of shoes, 40 bathing suits, and a huge pile of other clothes.  The coaches and divers at the pool were thrilled – many of them only own one set of clothes or shoes and they had a blast looking through the piles with our children to pick out what they wanted.  They didn’t really care if the shoes fit perfectly and the boys were just as excited to get a girl’s shirt or pair of shorts.  It was a good teaching moment for our team and I know it is always a highlight of their week.

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Sorting our donations – a LOT of shoes!

The children line up to get one piece of chocolate from Coach Laura

It is not just our divers who love the Cuban children.  As always, while our athletes were training, I was hanging out with my Cuban friends.  Some of them I have known for years.  Roberto and I have had a special relationship since my first trip and this time he told me he now has Facebook and Instagram and he gave me his email address so we can stay in touch.

Besides training almost every day, we also did some fun things.  We went boating and snorkeling one day, went to Varadero to listen to some Latin music one night, played in the ocean or pool most afternoons, had a fancy team dinner at a Japanese restaurant on our last night, and finished off the last day with a 3 hour Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt all over the city of Varadero.   This was the 6th time Team Sask has done this trip and this was the first year I didn’t even have to open the First Aid and Medicine kit.  The athletes trained hard and played hard and we all had a blast.

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Team Sask Cuba 2017

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Final Team Dinner – the coaches and I were presented with flowers!

The team headed back to Canada early Sunday morning and I again had to find a way back to Havana to catch my plane on Monday afternoon.  This time I bought the correct ticket from the correct tour operator and hopped on the correct bus back to Havana.  I had booked a slightly better hotel this time and they upgraded me to a beautiful suite.  I had a wonderful quiet afternoon by myself – sitting by the pool and reading, sipping the best pina colada I have ever had, eating a wonderful lobster dinner in a fancy restaurant for only a few pesos, walking a few blocks to the ocean and exploring the surrounding neighborhood.  I relaxed and processed all that had happened over the previous month.  It had been a wild ride and I couldn’t wait to get home and start my forever life in Bucerias.  I missed my husband terribly and was worried the Manos de Amor children would forget me.

Final morning of exploring in  Havana

Finally I was at the airport ready to board the plane back to Mexico City.  But then – nope – it’s delayed.  By at least an hour.  Which meant when I arrived in Mexico City I had already missed my connection to Puerto Vallarta.  When I went to the Customer Service desk she already had my little package printed for me – boarding passes for my flight the next day, hotel voucher, lunch voucher, dinner voucher, breakfast voucher, taxi voucher – a LOT of vouchers.  And I burst into tears.  I was DONE with traveling.  I wanted to be at home.  But not tonight.  Instead I spent the night in a hotel in downtown Mexico City by myself.  Somewhere I have never been and may never be again.  Another adventure.

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Good thing I can still laugh!

Another opportunity.  Another laugh out loud moment as I realized the craziness of what my life has become and just embraced it all!

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The Road to Fun

Okay this is what I signed up for!  No we didn’t spend the day by a fancy pool in a gated community sipping pina coladas which is what I THOUGHT I was signing up for.  Today we went for a spin around the neighborhood in our finally finished ‘restored’ golf cart.  Over dirt piles, into potholes, around roosters and horses and dogs.   We picked up children along the way and stopped for a lunch in a tiny new restaurant – less than $10 for 2 giant meals including soup, drink and dessert!

 

This golf cart has been my husband’s project over the past few weeks – Grant cannot be at peace unless he is fixing something.  And this REALLY needed fixing.  It had been donated to the orphanage and the children had used it as an experiment to figure out how things work.  Wires were pulled off, tires were shredded, the oil tank was full of water and the gas tank was full of toys.  We even pulled an MP3 player out of some random crevice yesterday.  Before going to Canada we had ordered all the needed parts to get this thing back on the road – we picked up some in Montana, had more shipped from Arizona.  We drove into Vallarta to get vinyl for the seats and had a local guy sew them up.  So today we set out exploring some of the back roads between our house and the orphanage.  We waved at old grandpas wearing sombreros and sitting on broken chairs outside their homes.  We were chased halfheartedly by the neighbor dogs and laughed at by toddlers in diapers.  It was just fun and it reminded me why we are doing this – to see life through a childlike lens of joy and simplicity.  Today I felt like a kid – and it was fun!

Check out the progression….

What on earth have they done to this thing???

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We’re on the road but it looks like we’re heading to war

Some paint…. some upholstery….. a top….

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Ready to pick up some passengers and hit the road! 

A bit nervous about what his next project will be….

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A Very Long Trip

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On the road again

No point lying.  It was not an easy trip from Nogales down to Bucerias.  It was really long – and pulling a 32 foot red box full of heavy stuff for over 5000 km is bound to come with challenges.  We were pleased to cross the border with relatively few problems, but that left us with 1570 kms to go and of course, it would not be uneventful.  Although we arrived at the border on Friday, we could not meet with the broker until Monday – and honestly we really needed a couple of days rest in Arizona over the weekend.  We set out on Monday morning, and after spending a few hours at the border, we only made it about 4 hours to Hermosillo.   The next day we went as far as Culiacan.  That is not our favorite place to stop – it’s El Chapo’s town – but it was the most convenient and we found a decent place to stay with a parking lot big enough to accommodate our crazy rig.   It was our plan to make it home or close to home on Wednesday – I had a plane to catch on Friday – but that was not to be.  We set out on Wednesday morning, and after only going about 40 miles we heard the clunk you don’t want to hear. Another tire gone.  And this time when we looked closer we saw that the axle on the trailer was completely broken.    So there we were on the only stretch of highway I don’t feel that comfortable on – Culiacan to Mazatlan – with a broken axle and shredded tire.   When you travel on toll roads on Mexico, you are entitled to roadside assistance when you have breakdowns and I had the number for the Green Angels in my phone.  When I called them they told me they don’t look after trailers, but they gave me another number to call.  That number put me through to a dispatcher in Mexico City who tried to understand where we were and who said he would send help.  At that point I decided it was time to call in the heavy guns – my friends Francisco and Anita.  Francisco and Anita are Mexican Americans who are living in Bucerias as they finalize the adoption of their sweet son.  They have become good friends and I needed to hear the voice of a good friend.  Who spoke Spanish.  So Francisco set to work calling the highway patrol for us and after about 4 hours two kind men showed up with a tow truck.  A small tow truck that had absolutely no possibility of towing our trailer.  They knew of a welder who lived nearby, and after about 2 more hours he showed up to spot weld our axle so that we could at least drive the 2 hours to Mazatlan.  We would try to find a new axle or a trailer repair shop there.

6 hours staring at this corn field thanks to this broken axle

We drove slow and made it to Mazatlan, exhausted and starving.  I started to look at bus routes and plane schedules – we thought perhaps we would leave the trailer there and return for it in a couple of weeks.  But when we started to look for trailer repair shops we realized our plan was impossible.  We eventually found an American guy who repairs trailers but when we met him on Thursday morning he told us he had absolutely no time and there was no chance of getting a new axle for many weeks.  The only thing we could do was drive home – slowly.  Unfortunately, the very worst part of the trip was still ahead.  From Tepic to Bucerias is only around 140 km, but it takes close to 3 hours to drive it.  It is a windy, hilly mess with crazy drivers who pass on the DO NOT PASS curves and we knew our trailer was going to be a hazard.

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We decided to take a detour to San Blas which is still an insane road but with less traffic.  By the time we reached San Blas it was late afternoon.  It is an interesting beach town and we stopped to eat some roadside sweets before tackling the final stretch.

Those last 3 hours were murder.  It was dark, we were exhausted and traffic on the curvy road was insane.  If my husband wasn’t already my hero, he definitely became one for me that night.  I don’t know how he did it but we made it home – with 12 hours to spare before I had to head to the airport to catch my plane to Cuba.

Yes, it was difficult.  It was exhausting. It was scary.  But it was worth it.  I think that’s how many of the best things in life come to be.  Through great pain.  I sometimes wonder how many times I have quit something that could have been great because I thought the pain was too much.   This time we couldn’t quit – we had to see it through and I am so grateful.  Grateful for a husband who just kept driving, for friends who spent the day tracking down help and checking in on us, for 2 highway patrol guys who stayed with us until we could head out, for a welder who welded the heck out of the axle so that we could make it home.  Grateful for the knowledge that no matter how difficult this all is, we are exactly where we are meant to be and the craziness of the journey just makes arriving at the destination all the sweeter.

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Sharing Easter breakfast with our Road Angels – Francisco & Anita and little Ivan

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We’re In – And so is our Stuff

Today was a surprisingly good day – and by ‘good’ I mean our ridiculously large trailer full of ridiculous items were allowed to join us here in Mexico.  This was a day I have longed for and worried about for a long time.  Although I don’t believe your identity is in your belongings – I believe the total opposite – there is no doubt that after 35 years of marriage we have gathered many things that we love and that make us feel at home, especially when everything else around us feels so unfamiliar.

As we packed, we really did purge an awful lot.  We sold lots, donated lots, pitched lots.  But we also packed lots and our reasons changed throughout the process.  After living here in Mexico for most of the last 18 months, I have realized the value of many of the things I wanted to get rid of.  I see so many needs and realize that some of these things just might be exactly what someone else needs.  For instance, I absolutely do not want to sew any more – but what if a young mom could use that old sewing machine to earn some income for her family?  What if someone living up in the surrounding mountains,  where winters are cold could really use some of the blankets I will never need?  And the kid’s games and Wii stuff – how fun for our Manos de Amor children who sometimes come to visit.  So we packed more than we intended to and spent these last few days pulling the monster trailer through USA, knowing that the border crossing might be difficult and scary.  We had done it with the tools in September and were not excited to do it all again.

But today went much better.  After getting the permit and approval from the consulate on Friday, we arrived at the Custom Broker’s office at 9:00 this morning.  It took about 1 ½ hours to get a bunch more papers filled out and signed – for a country of very loosy goosy rules, Mexico sure does love its paperwork.  We then headed to the Border, a few miles down the road.  There we were sent through a giant x-ray and then told to back up to a loading bay.  Unfortunately, they asked told us to start unloading the trailer.   They wanted to see all the way up the middle of the trailer and along the right side.  Apparently, there were recently two cases where people smuggled in video games and medication, hidden in mattresses, so security was tight.   We had packed that trailer – twice – like an enormous Jenga puzzle.  Everything JUST fit and there was not an inch to spare.  So to unload it and put it all back was terribly frustrating for us.  The good news is there were 2 guys to help – the bad news is they had obviously never played Jenga.   After the inspection, we did get it all back in but I expect it to explode like a spring loaded jack-in-the-box when we open that back door.  Altogether, the whole process took about 4 hours and then we were back on the road.

 

We now have 2 more long days of driving.  It’s not over yet.  But we are in.  Our stuff is in.  We have everything we need to make a comfortable home -and hopefully share some of our stuff with some new friends who need a hand.  Mainly, we are just really ready to be at home.

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It Hasn’t Been an Easy Week… BUT…

The rubber has finally hit the road (actually the rubber literally hit the road) on our journey to relocate our belongings south of the border.   Truly, this whole move has been one of the most difficult – and confusing – things I have ever done.  I am used to making a plan, putting it on a spreadsheet, and getting it done.  But this thing has had more twists and turns than you can imagine and I have reluctantly surrendered to the uncertainty of it all.  We are taking it step by step and the spreadsheet is in the shredder.   It is probably good for me to be ‘out of control’ but dang that is tough.  I know Grant feels exactly the same way.  We are living on pure faith and have seen so many mini miracles that remind us that this journey is not our own.

I won’t go into a lot of details but want to share some of the highlights – and lowlights.IMG_20170319_134847  After a difficult week in cold Regina emptying our giant trailer and repacking it to make sure the weight was distributed better, we hit the road on Sunday morning.  We were pleased at how well the trailer pulled and our first stop was to visit some friends in Montana – college friends we had made 40 years ago but lost touch with until a chance encounter in Wyoming last year.  It was a good visit and Charlie prayed a sweet prayer over us as we set out.

As we have travelled, we have encountered problems and challenges – lots of them – BUT we have also been given solutions in amazing ways.

  • Our very first night we looked out of our second-floor window at our 115-year-old hotel and saw that one of the tires on our trailer was missing. Not just the rubber but the entire tire – gone. Brand new tire.  What is with us and Montana and tires?  BUT – there was a tire shop directly across the street in this TINY town of 605 people and the owner agreed to work as late as necessary to repair all the damage that had been done.
  • The next day I forgot my purse – with our passports and Mexican immigration cards, etc – in a Mexican restaurant in Billings and didn’t realize it for 15 or 20 miles down the road BUT some kind soul turned it in without looting the contents.
  • We came across a snowstorm in Wyoming, BUT because of our delay in Montana we only caught the very end of it.
  • IMG_20170325_103806We had to unload our entire truck in order to go across the border to get our needed vehicle permits BUT the room we had booked at Holiday Inn was the largest room I have ever seen and the elevator was right next to our room so we had lots of space to store our 4 dining room chairs and millions of boxes after making 6 trips up with the luggage cart.
  • The super bumpy roads caused tire and brake problems with such a heavy load, BUT the tire guy in Pueblo, Colorado, the trailer hitch guy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the trailer brake guy in Nogales, Arizona – they all dropped what they were doing to fix whatever needed fixing to keep us on the road.

Seeing the country – Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona

This 115 year old hotel – Kempton Hotel in Terry, Montana – has never been closed.  Over 42,000 days in operation

So now we are at the border and that is where it all comes together – or doesn’t.  Although we have followed all the rules –  the 10-page list of every item, translated into Spanish, with Make, Model and Serial No – I know there are many things that can go wrong.  Mexican rules are fluid, and sometimes that works for you and sometimes that works against you.

Friday we arrived in Nogales – at least 1 day behind schedule.  We needed to get our list of belongings, known as the Menaje de Casa, approved at the Mexican consulate and a permit issued.  Everything I read said if you dropped the paperwork off today, the permit would be ready tomorrow.  But that doesn’t include weekends so the earliest we could expect to get it would be Monday afternoon.  We arrived at the Consulate on Friday at 2:00, with lists and photocopies of passports and immigration cards and letters of request in hand.  The lone man at the desk said we could have an appointment at 3:30 and the permit would probably be ready Monday.  And then I remembered my word for the year: BE BOLD.  So I said, “Senor, we have a difficult week and we are behind schedule and I really want to get home – is there any chance we could get it today?”.  Well let me see…… and he started going over the list.  Item by item.  All 383 of them.  He reminded us that the consulate has the authority to say NO to any one of those items if it seems like we’re bringing too much.  Which you know we are.  Finally, he looked up and said, “Your list is very good.  Come back at 2 minutes to 5:00 and I might have it done”.  And he did.  First thing done.  (I knew my spreadsheet skills would come in handy!)

The next thing was our car permit.  We had received our first 6 month permit on September 25th.  The truck must be back at the border before that permit expires – and yesterday was March 24th.  We had only a few hours left.  But we weren’t sure exactly how it would work.  Last time they almost didn’t let the truck in because it is so big.  I have read that they have relaxed that a bit, but I couldn’t find anything official saying large trucks are now allowed.  And the trailer.  Apparently you can only bring in trailers up to 16 feet long – and ours is 32 feet.  So we really didn’t know if our trip would end here or if they would give us a new permit to match our new residency status.

Nogales

We had to drive 35 miles into Mexico to the Banjercito office where vehicle permits are given.  We weren’t ready to take all our belongings through customs, so that meant we had to empty our truck before heading across the border.  Finally, at about 9:00 pm we set off – first to the office where they cancelled our old permit, refunded our deposit and scraped the sticker off the windshield.  Grant then pulled a U-turn in the middle of the highway to get to the office on the other side to apply for the new permit.  And it was uneventful.  We got a new permit for truck and trailer, applied the new windshield sticker and paid a new deposit.  The vehicles are legal.

By the time we got back to our hotel it was 12:30 am.  I was more exhausted than I remember being in a long time.  The many hours in the truck, the crappy fast food meals, the worry about lists and permits and tires and brakes – it all landed on my heart and I knew Grant felt the same.  We made a decision to take a couple of days off before tackling Mexico.   At 7:00 on Monday morning we will meet with the Customs Broker who must give us the final paperwork to get our stuff through Customs.  And then we will head out.  If we get the green light, we will be on our way.  If we get a red light, there is a potential the border guards will make us unload the trailer.  Either way we will be fine.  We will tackle each step as it comes because we know we are following the footsteps that have gone ahead to prepare our journey.

And today?  We are definitely tired.  BUT….we’re going shopping. We’re going to be tourists. We’re going to find a nice steak dinner.  Through it all, we’re having a blast together.  We’re living the dream – just not quite how we pictured it!

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. BUT take heart! I have overcome”  John 16:33

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