Chapala or Bust: Our Ultimate Road Trip, Part 2

We were finally in Mexico!

(If you’re looking for how we got here, see the prior post here.)

Driving in Mexico can be sorely challenging.

First, there’s the newness of it. It’s just plain different here than in the States. Once we were out of Nogales and the commercial zone, there were no more strip malls, big-box stores, gaudy flashing signs. But there was an entirely new (to us) landscape. It’s really a challenge to keep the eyes on the road with all this newness coming at us at sixty miles per hour.

Second, the roads are different and until you get to know them pretty well, a careful eye is required.

We’ve articulated in other posts some of the issues with driving here in Mexico. You can find them here and here.

Suffice to say that the biggest challenge we faced immediately after crossing was how to ensure that we stayed on the toll roads. We had Google fired up; still just the sheer difference in layout of the highways here in Mexico requires special driving attention. At least it did for us.

And we had been forewarned not to drive at night, even on the toll roads. Some of these warnings are just fear-based. Yet, there is good reason to follow this rule. Toll roads can become regular roads without warning. It’s not necessary that you will pay a toll and then be off the toll road. Nope. A toll road can become a regular road and vice-versa with warning.

So? So what? A regular road can (and is very likely to) have speed bumps. Hard to see sometimes during the day; almost impossible at night. Plus pedestrians, bikes, and motorbikes.

We kept track of which major cities were coming up on our route and would then book a hotel online to spend the night.

We went through a number of cities.

You’ll find peddlers and vendors at many intersections. Guys (it’s always guys) will want to wash your windshield for you and will just start doing so unless you pretty aggressively say No. Doesn’t matter than your windshield was washed at the prior intersection. They’ll keep at it. And, for the most part, they will leave you alone if you wave them off.

Yes, we passed through areas of Mexico listed as danger zones on by the U.S. Department of State website. We had no problems.

Keep smart; be vigilant; be aware. We’re found that to be sufficient here in Mexico.

More from Grupoteriso

Happy weekend to you and yours.

Music, music, music. One of the many things we love about Mexico.

In an earlier blog we wrote about an encounter with a delightful band in Guadalajara. You can read that post here.

We subscribed to their YouTube feed and they have released another toe-tapper we thought we would share.

Hopefully we can find out how to learn where they are playing so we can see them again. If you find out, please let us know!




Volaris, We Have A Problem (And We Love You Anyway)

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posts to blog on a particularly annoying issue. In poking around among expats here in the Chapala area, we found that a number of expats have had similar experiences with our local airline, Volaris. Hopefully, Volaris will accept the challenge to fix these issues.

If you’ve read this blog with any regularity, you already know we really like the low-cost Mexican airline, Volaris. Their prices are outstanding. And they’ve expanded their service to a lot of U.S. destinations.

For example, we travel a lot between Guadalajara and Houston. If we can travel toward the middle of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), we can get a fare of about $230 U.S. For a direct flight. The only other direct we’ve been able to find is typically over $500 U.S. And many flights from Guadalajara to Houston cost $300 or more and route through Mexican City with a ten, eleven or twelve hour travel time. Not very attractive.

Not only is the pricing on Volaris excellent, the service is excellent as well. We’ve always had four flight attendants on every flight; the planes are clean; the flight attendants actually help with boarding.

Bet you know what’s coming. There’s a big BUT here. Yes, there is.

Volaris strongly encourages passengers to check in online, or via their mobile app, or even via Facebook Messenger. Actually they charge you to check in at the airport.

So what’s the problem? Well, in our experience, and in the experience of at least a number of expats we know, sometimes you can check in online; sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can check in with the mobile app; sometimes you can’t. And, the same with Facebook Messenger.

When I say you can’t check in either online or via the mobile app, I mean that you fill in the information Volaris requests, verify it, and submit and you get back a message saying there’s been a problem and you can’t check in.

And waiting an hour or so doesn’t help. Nor does trying multiple times. If it doesn’t work the first time, it’s not going to.

Last week I had a flight scheduled and couldn’t check in online. And then I missed the flight because of horrendous lines at the Guad airport and the rigmarole of checking in and getting through security and dealing with immigration.

So I bought another ticket for a flight a couple of days later and, voila, I actually did get to check in via the mobile app.

However, for the return flight scheduled for today, I tried to check in on Sunday, and no. Couldn’t do it.

My brother-in-law poked around and discovered that the problem is definitely in the Information Technology (IT) settings that Volaris has instituted.

Volaris: this is totally fixable. So, please, please fix it!

I’ve tried to communicate with Volaris about this problem. Unfortunately, their contact channels are something else in dire need of upgrading.

So, here’s the oddity. Volaris has the operations side down. They’re really good at what I need an airline for. Thumbs up! The customer service side? Well, certainly not the worst I’ve ever encountered. That’s about as kind as I can be.

So, use them. We do, but we do so knowing the risks and the hassles that may, and are likely to be encountered.

And if you know anyone who knows anyone upstairs in Volaris, please have them read this blog page. I’d love to have these issues fixed.

Chapala or Bust: Our Ultimate Road Trip, Part 1

Per the request of one of our readers, we’re reaching back into the memory time capsule to bring you the story of our journey from Wisconsin to Chapala by car.

It’s an odd thing, reducing one’s life to a carload of stuff. What goes; what stays (in storage or in Aunt Sallie’s attic or basement or garage); what gets donated; what gets tossed. This can be a truly agonizing process. Our advice, having gone through it: get help. A more blind, objective eye can be a great assistance.

We determined the cubic footage of the storage space available in the car and ferreted out all the nooks and crannies into which belongings could be stuffed or coaxed. Then we relentlessly began the trips to a small storage unit we had rented and many more trips to Goodwill.

We added a roof rack to the car and had a strong young man to help install and secure and load it for us.

On the designated day, we waved goodbye to Wisconsin and began our journey.

Yet, here is the kicker of the story.

We were heading to Chapala from Wisconsin via Arizona.

Looking at a map, this makes no sense at all. Basically Chapala is a straight shot south through Texas into Mexico to Guadalajara and Chapala.

But we were adding a good two to three days of driving via Arizona.

Why? Glad you asked.

One can drive across the border with a U.S.-plated car without a permit within a zone of twenty-five kilometers (about 15.5 miles). Any further and a permit from the Mexican government is required.

This, of course, meant that we needed a permit.

Looking into what paperwork we would have to present to get a permit, we determined that the vehicle registration and insurance were required. Also, we would have to provide a payment of earnest money (basically a security deposit) that would be returned to us when we took the car back out of Mexico.

And, the point of contention: needing the title, or, if the car was financed, a letter from the lienholder giving permission to bring the car into Mexico.

We had neither.

Now, there was not agreement on whether or not the title or letter would be required in order to get the permit. Some websites said definitely yes; others said no.

We had paid off the car, but not quickly enough for Arizona (where to loan originated) to issue the title back to us. So the only way to get a copy of the title was to present ourselves at DMV in AZ to obtain said document.

We figured better safe than sorry, so we diverted our trip by over 1,000 extra miles to get a copy of the title.

Fortunately our chosen border crossing, Nogales, had an AZ DMV office. We stopped and got the title and proceeded to cross the border.

Here we were, loaded to the gills (at least the car was). On the Mexican side, an officer waved us over and asked if we had any alcohol or cigarettes. No, neither. I opened the tailgate. He looked at the household bric-a-brac and waved us onward.

Just in case you’re worried, Google Maps worked (and works) perfectly in Mexico. We’re both Verizon subscribers for cell service and had bought Verizon’s plan that covers North America and Mexico. So we had no issues with either cell service, internet or mapping on the entire trip.

About twenty-five kilometers south of the border crossing, we came across another official installation that clearly was the place to get both our tourist visa and the car permit.

The process really was easy-peasy.

And the title? They did not ask for it. When we actively tried to show it to them, they waved it off. Didn’t want to see it.

Will that be your experience? We can’t say. Our motto in Mexico is the Boy Scout motto learned oh so many years ago: Be Prepared.

More to follow.


A New Year in Chapala

Hola, mis amigos! (Hello, my friends.)

Feliz Ano Nuevo! (Happy New year.)

Glad to be back in Chapala.

You may have noticed that we did not post last week. Bonita was with her family in Florida (and still is) and I hopped a flight to Phoenix to ultimately participate in a class in Sedona between Christmas and New Year’s.

I arrived back in Chapala late on January second, so I was not here for most of the last two weeks.

Yet, Chapala is still here. Life eases on.

As I took my daily walk on the malecon my attention was captured again by the small changes that come from observing the same territory day after day.

Friday, I witnessed a massive and very short migration of the local pelicans. There’s a set of stairs leading down to the lake right off the malecon at the center of town. A large flock of pelicans were floating, paddling around, out toward the end of one of the three main piers that jut out into the lake. As I walked by, the pelicans took off, soaring over the the lake by the stairs. There were hundreds taking this flight of a few hundred feet.

Turns out one of the local fishermen had stopped by, as they do periodically, to dispose of fish unusable to them. The pelicans love this of course and jockey for position to get part of the the booty.

Today on the malecon, I passed a couple with a teenage daughter. The daughter wore a t-shirt saying “Perfecta Imperfecta”. I roughly translate this, after three years of Spanish lessons with Duolingo, as “perfectly imperfect.”

How appropriate I thought, for life here in Chapala.

We love Chapala and we hope that’s apparent from our blog. And yes, we think we are living in paradise. This does not mean that Chapala is perfect, nor is Mexico. To think otherwise would simply be ignorant and incautious.

Yes, it is imperfectly perfect. Perfect for us.

As I said earlier, I was in Sedona over the holidays. And Sedona had a pretty significant snowstorm while I was there. Sedona is unusual in Sedona. It happens maybe once or twice over the winter season.

This storm was several inches and traffic in town was stopped. Literally. It took me two hours to move a few hundred feet.

Now, earlier in my life I would have found this intolerably frustrating. Not now. Having lived in Chapala for a year now, I understand and love the Mexican way of life, just go with the flow. No hurry, no muss, no fuss.

Perfectly imperfect. I can live with that.