Travels from March 23 to April 27:
As a boy, I loved to ride the bus, Go Greyhound. In high School, I traveled from Lake Tahoe to the Bay Area and points between numerous times. I liked the drivers; I liked the passengers; I liked the scenery; I liked the sleep. Since there wasn't a plane from Truckee in those days, I had few options anyway.
As a young man in the Navy, I even traveled to Seattle for the World's Fair all the way from San Diego. I met families and developed friends along the way. I even bumped into old girl friends (well, let's say previous girl friends J). All in all the bus was a reasonable mode of transportation for families and children. That was then, this is now.
While the Greyhound is less desirable these days, in Mexico the bus is THE standard mode of family travel.
Now that it was time to return to California for Visa renewal, medical checkups, tax preparation and family visits, we chose to try Mexico's superior bus system. You might wonder about my use of "superior" after reading of our past adventures on various buses in Melaque, Puerto Vallarta, San Blas and Mazatlan. Our experiences had been on the short-haul options, though. Remember that we had options in Melaque, an Express or the "chicken" bus with the see-thru floors. See, we had a choice! In San Blas we took a bus to Tepic and had a reserved seat! That was on a second class bus. Our trip to Tijuana was to be on a First Class coach.
We took one bus line north and a different line south. Estrella del Pacifico was having a special out of Mazatlan to TJ for 500 pesos per person, about half price. Still we had reclining seats, more legroom and five movies during the 26-hour trip. The return was on the Elite bus line. This bus was even more plush. The seats reclined further, the legroom was greater, the movies were newer - Soldier, The Haunting, etc. Their price was 970 pesos, the other lines priced in that same range. Both buses had so much air conditioning that we had to wear jackets and use blankets. There was a toilet on board each bus but we used the bathrooms at the various stops. However, we had brought our own supply of TP to use on the bus. Our advance information from cruisers had prepared us for the cold, the TP and the inspection stops . . .
On the way north, various authorities would stop all vehicles at inspection points. I can't call them stations because there weren't buildings. First it was the Federales. Then it was plain-clothes police (narcs?). Next we entertained the Army, State inspectors, etc. Five stops before arriving in TJ. All of them looking for drugs. We were required to take all carry-ons off the bus for inspection at the first stop. We stood around watching trucks being unloaded by the presiding officials. We looked at various food stands longingly, waiting for our inspection. Then we were abruptly told to take our things and get back on the bus. No official had ever inspected. The next stop we got off without bags. The narcs did something onboard. At the third, we stayed aboard and a soldier banged on doors, squeezed bags and looked around. The fourth provided one question, "From? - Going to?" At the final stop, the bus stopped for 5 minutes and no one came aboard . . . If this was a typical example of narc inspections, there isn't much to be concerned about.
The southbound trip presented customs inspections, no drug stops. It seems the narc inspections are to honor the demands from the US, the customs inspections heading south are to prevent smuggling and avoiding duties. To reduce the level of scrutiny, we chose to use the Greyhound from San Diego to Tijuana's central bus terminal. We had heard this recommendation from experienced cruisers. Upon arriving at the border inspection station at San Ysidro, we were told to remove the checked luggage. With my folder of papers, documents, receipts and letters in my hand, I waited for my turn with the inspector. I have to say I was apprehensive since I was bringing back a case of deck caulking for a friend without a receipt and I didn't have a receipt for every single item of ours either.
The briefing we received from cruisers warned that it is best to "declare" vs not. Because the next thing you have to do is push a button to see if a random inspection will be necessary: Red = inspect, green = pass. If you get a red, and they find something that should have been declared, it is confiscated, you are fined and probably detained for a period of time.
The inspector turned to me and asked me a question in rapid Spanish . . . I had also been told to not "know" much Spanish and only answer the precise question asked, present the exact document when requested. Nothing more, nothing less. I didn't respond, looking blank. He then asked if I knew any Spanish. I responded with a sheepish grin, two fingers an inch apart and responded, "Pocito."
He smiled and said, "My English not good." We smiled back and forth. Then he said, "Ropas reciente . . . new clothes?"
"No. Only traveling clothes."
"OK." He waved for me to follow. We walked a few yards away, to a short post with a red and green light and a button. He pointed at the button. One of the other bits of cruiser-info was to wait until someone gets a red light before taking your turn at the 50-50 gamble. A green light was staring at me - the odds were not perfect. I pushed the button . . . GREEN!
"OK," he said. I was waved away. I had passed! I hadn't been asked if I had anything to declare, I didn't have to fill out any declaration forms.
The second customs inspection was a complete surprise to us. Well, actually a passenger had told us there was going to be another after we had been on the road awhile. Of course my apprehension returned. I had been fortunate once but I knew the odds would catch up to me sooner or later. I was just taking my evening insulin injection when the bus came to a halt and people began to disembark. Nancy and I were the last people off. Again, I removed my checked luggage from the side of the bus. I forgot to mention we had a mix of four bags and boxes. The latter being strapped together for easy inspection. The soft bag with our clothes had developed a tear in its side and several new notebooks (Nancy's logbooks) were threatening to fall out. Nancy picked up the damaged bag and carried it vertically. I hefted the others across the pavement to the inspection station.
The people ahead of us were getting one red light after another. Inspections were in progress, with a waiting line forming. Finally the main inspector came to us. He instantly spoke in English, pointing at Nancy's arm-full, "What is in that?"
"Clothes," I responded. "And some notebooks here," I pointed at the obvious.
"OK, push the button."
Just get it over, I told myself, pushing the button. The day after our 35th anniversary must be lucky for us, I was rewarded with another GREEN!
Our load was much lighter, as we took it back to a loading zone. I took one of the straps off the box and used it to keep the notebooks from falling out of the torn clothes bag.
So, traveling north you have narc inspections and south it's Customs.
Before I drop the bus theme, the other ideal occurrence that day was when we had arrived at the Tijuana central bus terminal, the final destination for our Greyhound leg, we were rewarded with a departing Elite bus 15 minutes later. You must pay for the bus tickets in cash; an ATM was within feet of the ticket counters. We were on terra firma for about 10 minutes.
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Our stay in California was packed!
A few days in San Diego to visit sisters, buy items specifically known to be available in San Diego, visit the chiropractor, Dr. Salt, and get our new Visa documents at the Mexican Consulate.
Then up to San Jose. Here we discovered that Raymond and Bonnie were moving back to the Bay Area but were between houses (San Clemente sold, San Ramon in escrow). They were expecting to move in any day, but that didn't happen.
We spent two weeks with Mary and Karl-Heinz, doing day trips to doctors and labs, visits to family in Berkeley, shopping at West Marine (ordering non-stocked items) and Svendsen's, picking up mail and caulking for Pepina and seeing only a few additional people. We felt bad that we didn't have enough time to see many of our friends at Emery Cove Marina.
On the weekend we went to two places we had never been to in the 20 years we had lived in the area: Filoli House on the peninsula and the old Alum Rock Park. It was a spectacular Spring in the Bay Area during our visit. At that time of the year the Bayside hills are so green, our past March pilgrimages to Hawaii were somewhat anticlimactic since the NorCal-green was better than the Island-green. The floral display at the Filoli House was awesome. The Alum Rock Park was a gem from the past, a wonderful reward for anyone who takes the time to go there. But again, Spring is the best time, before the heat burns the hills to "California Gold" (tan, in other words).
We went to visit Nancy's Mom in North Fork, in the hills above Fresno, before Easter. Raymond and Bonnie AND Cassandra were still there, their house still in escrow. So we enjoyed re-connecting with our #1 grandchild, and catching up on the adult stuff. Raymond was being transferred to San Jose to become an Area Manager for his company, Novellus; Bonnie announced she was blessing us with a second grandbaby (in Nov.); Grandma was preparing herself to have a knee replacement, a process which had already discovered she needed to have a pacemaker implanted for an irregular heart beat.
Finally Raymond's house was going to become his. Only the movers were not able to get there until the day before Easter. We brought Grandma to Mary's house for Easter. Saturday, we all helped unpack after the movers left. The kitchen was almost usable when we left. Easter, everyone came down to San Jose to feast and hunt for eggs at Mary and K-H's house. It was a beautiful day, fun had by all. But it was also our goodbye-day for R, B and Cassandra . . . unfun!
Monday we drove Grandma back to North Fork. Well, not all the way. We had received a message that my doctor needed to see me that evening, in Pleasanton, the night before leaving for San Diego and Mexico. We had to let Grandma drive the last 30 miles home on her own so that we could get to the appointment.
My thyroid test (TSH) was way out of whack and my glucose readings weren't where they should be either, as my HbA1C test was above the acceptable range. I needed to change my thyroid dosage and get another blood test in a few months, for the first problem. My diabetes management has been redesigned and re-disciplined, to correct the second one. [Dr. Santos and Dr. Sis, my numbers are averaging lower each of the last four days and are close to 125 avg. for the last two.]
It is warm in Mazatlan and good to be "home". Nanjo was dirty and forlorn looking, but dry in the bilge and with full batteries. Everything is working, the bottom cleaned and water tanks filled. Soon we will be able to go back to the harbor anchorage. Soon we will be re-focussed on the joy of cruising rather than that empty feeling coming from missing you all.
Crew of Nanjo