Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Musings on our recent trip

August 30—We’re home! After going cross country and back in 26 days, and putting more than 3,500 miles on Baby, we arrived home around 2:45 p.m. EDT. It took us almost two hours to unload (and of course we forgot some things in Baby, which we’ll get tomorrow).

We took Xena into the house immediately, but Charlie wouldn’t come out. Jim finally found in inside of one of the kitchen drawers! Both the cats are happy to be in the normal habitat without hearing the ominous hum of a generator or a diesel motor.

If you have been reading my blogs, you know we have had an eventful trip: We drove to California and back without headlights, because of a failed headlight switch (of course we didn’t drive in the night); we cracked the front window; we learned it is not wise to drive in sand (even accidentally); we discovered that cats can get into very small places; and we learned to navigate a dusty whisper of a road at the top of a levee (and get under a low-hanging overpass). We also learned that some law-enforcement officers can be helpful, at least in California and in Louisiana.

Here are some other things I learned:

• Pack less. We have the good fortune of having a washer and dryer in our motorhome. They only hold about half as much as a normal washer and dryer, so I found myself doing wash about every other day. I didn’t touch most of the clothes I brought with us. I don’t think Jim did, either. Next time, I’ll pack less—assuming, of course, that our trip will not be for an extended length of time.

• Take less freezer food. I had taken as much of our frozen meats/fish/poultry that I could stuff into the freezer, plus several loaves of our gluten-free bread. We didn’t eat all of it. (I actually lost several pounds, not a bad thing!) It would be better to prepare and freeze meals ahead of time and take several of them, rather than to take a lot of frozen goods. It’s easy to stop at a grocery, especially a super Walmart, and buy what we need for dinner. And, of course, we like to eat local cuisine, too, which we did several times.

• Stock dedicated items in Baby. When I got ready to make dinner tonight, I discovered that I had left the potato peeler and masher in the utensils drawer. Those are easily duplicated items. Until such a time (if ever) that we travel full-time, it is better to have a set of utensils in Baby, as well as at home.

• Don’t ask if we need to get more diesel. I’m the kind of driver who never lets the gas tank get below one quarter. Jim likes to drives on fumes. He gets annoyed when I ask if we should get diesel. I think from now on I’ll let him worry about it (and the consequences of running out, should that happen).

• Charlie-proof the motorhome. That little scaredy cat needs to find a safe place where we can find him! Like, behind the pillows on the bed. Jim will be cat-proofing Baby.

• Get an e-reader. That has been a life-saver. Some nights we didn’t have television, and even when we had TV, we found we didn’t watch too much. (I haven’t missed it; Jim says he hasn’t either. Maybe we’ll save some money by canceling Uverse.) The e-readers we bought have come in very handy.

• Stay connected. My VirginMobile Broadband2go device has worked very well. Sometimes RV parks offer free broadband service, but not always. Besides, it’s good to have our own private connection, to safeguard information when we pay bills or make other secure transactions.

• Keep your library card active. Jacksonville has a good library system, with a lot of e-books and audiobooks available for downloading. The library doesn’t know I am downloading a book while I am in Texas or Arizona! I transferred the audiobooks to an MP3 player, which I plugged into the radio’s speaker system. We listened to at least a half dozen books, a real life-saver, since radio stations don’t always play what you want to hear. Fortunately, Jim and I like the same types of books (mysteries and suspense). Listening to them helped while away the time as we passed through the various types of southwestern deserts.

• Have fun! I’m still a Reluctant RoVer. I consider the motorhome a means of transportation. In some ways it is much more comfortable than a car, because you sit so high and you can get up and go to the bathroom whenever you want. (I can; Jim has to stop since he is driving.) It is also nice to be able to sleep in your own bed each night and not have to worry about bedbugs or if the linens have really been laundered in a rented motel room. And it is convenient as well as less expensive to be able to cook your own food, rather than eat out all the time.

I admit that I am roving because my husband wants to do it. This is his dream, not mine. But that’s not a bad thing. You see, if it were up to me, I probably wouldn’t go anywhere. I am very content staying at home. Yet, it is nice seeing the countryside and visiting places I’ve only read about in magazines (if at all). Would I want to do this full-time? Not if full-time means I don’t have a house to come back to. I need my roots. I can do this full-time for a period of time, if the house were to sell and we were looking for someplace to plant a new set of roots. But I would not do it indefinitely.

I will also admit that when we drove into Jacksonville, and even up to our house, it felt anticlimatic. I didn’t have a big feeling of relief of coming home. I think what that means is that although I live in Jacksonville, it has never been “home.” It is a place where I own a house and where I worked, nothing more. I would like to have a place to call home, where I know people and feel a part of the community, but it is not here.

So, I’m still a Reluctant RoVer, but I did have a good time. Really. It was an adventure, and adventures are good. Until next time (and there will be a next time, probably in a few weeks), Your Reluctant RoVer, Linda

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gotcha!

August 29—Charlie keeps us mystified. Even though we closed off his hiding place, my scaredy cat has still managed to disappear.
Last night we boondocked in a rest area. After we got settled in, Charlie still had not reappeared, so Jim took another look for him. We had not opened the cupboards, but Jim decided to pull out the drawer, behind which we had found him before.
And there he was! How did he get there? Well, perhaps we had left the cupboard door open, we thought.
So this morning, I made sure that no doors were open, yet minutes after we started the engine, he was gone, into thin air.
Intent on finding his hiding place, I pulled the drawer out, and there he was, cowering behind it.
How did he get in? When the slide is in, there is a “hole” behind a kitchen cabinet. He must have jumped into the hole and then found a space at the bottom of the cupboard. He then crawled into his safe space.
I’m amazed that my skinny little kitty could be so flexible to get into such a small space, but he did.
I took the drawer out so that he could come out more easily and not get crushed, should we camp in an RV park tonight.
Before we travel again, Jim will have to patch up those holes. But at least we know where Charlie goes.
Until next time,
YourReluctant RoVer,
Linda

Never a dull moment

August 29— Traveling in Baby remains an adventure. Yesterday was no exception.
We decided to go home. We were going to go home, anyway, but we decided not to go to Atlanta this trip. So, we programmed Garmina (our GPS device) for “home” and let her decide the route.
I think there are various ways Garmina can be programmed to work—fastest route, most direct, Interstates, etc. We apparently have her programmed for the most direct route, which isn’t necessarily the fastest. She took us across Texas on highways (not Interstates). We eventually hit I20 and stayed in a rest area just inside of Mississippi, but we are pretty sure she’ll take us crosswise in Mississippi once we hit Jackson. We’ll see.
We filled the diesel tank before we left Texas, but as we approached Mississippi it was time to look for a fill-up place.
I checked prices on a bookmarked page (http://autos.msn.com/everyday/gasstations.aspx). It told me diesel was several cents cheaper at a Chevron station just before we crossed into Mississippi. We saw the sign for the station and pulled off.
We cannot use all stations; some do not provide enough room to make a turn. (Remember: Baby is 38 feet long, plus we have “toad”—our car behind her.) This Chevron station didn’t even look like it had diesel…so Jim drove in front to see if it did and if he could get in and out.
It turned out that the station had several diesel pumps for trucks on its far side, but by the time Jim discovered them, he had passed the station. He said he would turn around up ahead. Usually we can find a place.
Not this time.
The road was asphalt for another 100 feet or so, then it turned into gravel. We kept following it, until it turned into a Y and climbed a rise. Jim decided to take the left turn…surely there would be a turnaround place up ahead!
The road narrowed. We were actually on top of a levee, driving on a narrow one-lane dirt/gravel road. And there was no turnaround in site.
Garmina actually knew about this road…sort of. She told us it went straight for a couple of miles, then turned back.
We kept going, and going, and going…until we came to the Interstate.
Of course, we couldn’t get on the Interstate. This was a levee road; we had to go under it. But the question was: Could we fit?
Baby is close to 12 feet tall. Jim took a walk to see what lay up ahead. When he came back, he said he saw a place he thought we could turn. He was concerned, however, that Baby could get under the overpass.
Before we did anything, a Louisiana law-enforcement officer approached us on the road we would we intended to take. We explained our dilemma. He said he could not turn where Jim thought we could, but if we could make it under the embankment, he would lead us to the main highway. (We have had very good luck with law enforcement officers recently!)
The police officer turned his truck around. I stood on the embankment and watched as Jim inched forward. Using my cell phone, I told him to keep going. Baby made it!
The police officer led us along the levee and finally into a small neighborhood of houses, where kids were playing in the yards and families were outside. Everyone stopped to watch us go down their street. (At one point, a sheriff’s deputy guided us under a low hanging power line. Another nice policeman!)
We finally made it to the main highway.
Our guide stopped his truck and came back to talk with us. He said, “In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never had an RV up there on the levee before.”
Always a first time, and never a dull moment with us.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Staying connected

August 27—When we were contemplating traveling, the question arose, “How would we stay connected?” Since I still do freelance writing, it was important to be able to connect with the cyberspace world. The question was how to do so economically.
A few months ago, we thought we might have the answer—Clearwire. Clearwire is a wireless internet service that claims to have both 4G as well as 3G service nationwide. We signed up for both 4G home service (via a wireless modem) as well as a for mobile internet service, using a 3G/4G modem.
We discovered that the home service did not perform as fast as expected. Furthermore, 4G mobile service was limited to big cities, and although the fee we were paying gave unlimited 4G downloads, there was a limit on 3G downloads. Another drawback was the cost: We were paying for both home and mobile service each month, yet we were going to using the mobile service only sporadically.
Given the drawbacks, we quit Clearwire. We had to pay a small service charge (not like AT&T or T-Mobile), but we were willing to do that in order to be free of the much larger monthly cost. (As a side note, Clearwire made an error in its paperwork when I quit the service, and for several weeks, we were received harassing recorded telephone calls from them. It took a letter to the president of the company to clear up the problem. I do not recommend Clearwire because of its very poor customer service.)
So, we were back at square one: How to get connected? I investigated the various services. Verizon has the best coverage, and also has widespread 4G, but it is expensive. Likewise, the same for the other major brands.
I discovered, however, that Virgin Mobile, the carrier I currently use for my cell phone service, has Broadband2go, available either through a USB gadget or a “mifi” device. These only come currently in 3G service. I decided the USB device would probably serve us well, and it has.
Online, the USB device costs $79.99. I bought one on Amazon for $49. (You also might be able to buy one on E-bay for less.)
For the most part, the 3G service is fast enough. No, you can’t really watch videos very well, unless you have a very strong 3G connection, but Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network, and we have found service pretty strong all along the interstates we have been traveling.
Broadband2go has distinct advantages over traditional contract services. For one, there is no contract! You only have to use the service once during a 12-month period to keep your account active.
For another thing, you can buy as much download capacity as you need. Choose from several time-limited plans—$10 for one week or 100 MB (whichever comes first); $20 for one month or 500 MB (whichever comes first), or $50 for one month (unlimited downloads at 3G speed, up to 2.5 GB, slower after that theoretically). I bought the $50 plan, which was a good decision, because it doesn’t take long to go through 100 or even 500 MB.
The plan has so far served me well. I am able to check my e-mail several times a day. As we travel start to consider where to stay for the night, I pull up the internet and search out various discount RV clubs for the best and least expensive sites. I also search for diesel prices. And (perhaps just as important as all the other things), I browse our Jacksonville public library and download both e-books as well as audio books, which keep us entertained during our travels.
I also keep connected with my cell phone. I have a Virgin Mobile cell phone. At home I pay for 300 minutes a month. I upped that to 1,200 minutes for $45. (That $45 includes as much texting and web browsing as I can do!) I will go back to the 300 minute plan once we return home again.
Virgin Mobile, as I mentioned above, uses the Sprint network, so we get pretty good coverage. I am considering changing to Straight Talk, which piggybacks on the Verizon network, for even better coverage. Jim’s phone is T-Mobile, which has additional coverage. (He has a limited plan—1,000 minutes for $100, to be used within a 12-month period.)
So there you have it—how we stay connected. So far it has worked well. I am able to do my freelance work, know what’s going on the world, download my morning crossword, and remain in touch as much as I want.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer
Linda

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The case of the missing cat--solved!

August 24—He did it again. Charlie. As we prepared to leave Bisbee, he disappeared, hiding somewhere in this motorhome.
He remained closeted until well after we arrived in Las Cruces, N.M. We were determined to watch for his emergence, but we didn’t catch it. Sometime after we got settled, Charlie mysteriously emerged and became part of the family again.
This morning, to eliminate some potential hiding places (although we had already gone through the motorhome from top to bottom, side to side, and end to end), we closed the bedroom door before we started our morning ritual of emptying trash, stowing loose items, and disconnecting hoses. Although we were determined to watch where he went, Charlie still disappeared on us, seemingly right before our eyes.
This time, however, we knew he had to be in the main cabin area. But where?
Every time we stopped, we looked, but could not spy him. A few minutes ago, we stopped at a rest area somewhere in Texas, to make lunch. As Jim was putting away the dishes, he happened to glance down at the kitchen cabinet (the one with the left door removed). And what did he see? A tail!
We found Charlie’s hiding place.
The kitchen cabinet comprises a set of drawers on the left, and the typical under sink cabinet on the right. The cabinet with the drawers, we discovered, does not meet the floor; there is a space of perhaps three or four inches. And, further investigation showed, the drawers themselves do not meet the wall. They stop shy by perhaps six or eight inches.
And that is where Charlie goes into hiding, like a mouse in a mouse hole.
Mystery solved.
I guess if we put the door back on, we’ll take away his safe place. We’ll decide that later.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Monday, August 22, 2011

Playing tourist in Bisbee, Ariz.

August 22—Arizona is an interesting state. I don’t think I would want to live here (too conservative), but I’m finding that there are places that are not as dry and desolate as Tucson and Yuma. Fort Huachuca and Bisbee are such areas. They are green! And the grass is almost “real.”
We decided to detour to Bisbee to tour the Queen Mine. When Jim and I were here several years ago (gosh, must be about eight or nine years!), we went to Tombstone and passed through Bisbee. It was November, however, which is the high season for tourists in this state, and all the mine tours were booked up, so we were not able to see the mine, which closed down in 1975.
We figured there wouldn’t be any problem booking a tour in August, and we were right. We were the only ones on the 9 a.m. tour this morning. Nothing nicer than having a private showing!
The tour was informative; I’m glad we went. Afterwards we walked up and down one of the main streets in Bisbee, which has become a haven for artists.
Bisbee was originally a mining town built on the mountainside. Houses are erected in places that most people would consider unreachable. We were early for the tour, so we decided we would drive down into the town. Well, we got stuck is some traffic (road work). When we were able to pull off and attempted to find the downtown area on our own, we found ourselves “distracted.” So we asked Garmina (our GPS) to get us back to our destination. She started to take us places I didn’t think we could navigate! Fortunately, we were only in the car, not in “Baby.” I would hate to think what would have happened if we had been driving her!
A side note: On the way back to the RV park, we stopped at what was labeled a “scenic overview.” It was a view of Lavender Pit, a huge open-pit mining operation that scarred the mountainside. I would not call it scenic.
This afternoon we played golf, an interesting experience in this altitude (4600 feet above sea level). It was about 94 degrees, with 27% humidity. Not at all bad! The fairways and greens were wonderfully kept, and although the course was not especially challenging, we really had a good time.
Tomorrow, we’re off again. The golf superintendent told us about a place to have lunch, outside of Deming, N.M. The town is Hatch, and restaurant is Sparky’s. Supposedly it has a reputation for having the world’s best chili.
If we are near there at lunch time, we’ll find out.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Charlie's nineth life?

August 21—They (whoever “they” are) say that a cat has nine lives. I wonder which life Charlie is enjoying right now.
We found him. Or, rather, he let himself to be found.
We looked high and low for Charlie, in every conceivable spot in this motorhome. I mean…how many places can hide a cat in less than 400 square feet?
After going over the motorhome home inch by inch, again and again, Jim and I finally lamented that he was gone. Jim wanted to get in the car and head back to Yuma, although he knew logically the cat would not be there. Jim felt very bad. So did I.
Night fell over the mountains, and a lightning and thunder rain storm washed over us. After it passed, it was time to find some dinner. Jim said he wasn’t hungry, but I was, so we went off to find a restaurant in Bisbee, about six miles from here.
We found a local Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a dish we had never had before. Then we returned home.
Jim walked into the bedroom—and what did he find? Charlie.
The little you-know-what had been hiding all along. Where? We don’t know. But I think we have to find out, because he’s bound to hide there again.
Jim has a love/hate relationship with Charlie, who promptly ran to his favorite safe place, under the kitchen cabinet. He refused to come out and he actually hissed at Jim.
Welcome, home, Charlie. We missed you, even if you weren’t gone!
Until later,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Long live Charlie, long live the cat

August 21—We lost Charlie.
We don’t know how this was possible. Charlie is the original scaredy cat; he jumps at his own shadow and runs away whenever you want to pet him. The only time he is affectionate is at night. Then he climbs into bed with me, kneading biscuits on my arm or leg, wanting attention. Finally after a while, he settles down and curls up next to me, while I rub his tummy.
We have been very, very careful about making sure the cats stay away from the door. In reality, though, they skitter away from it whenever we go in or out. And whenever we start putting things away, in preparation for taking off, they go into hiding.
Charlie’s hiding place is in the cabinet under the sink, where we had taken a door off, originally with the intention of putting the litter box there. (Xena took to climbing into the litter box as her safe place, so we removed it from the cabinet. We didn’t want her hiding in her toilet!) This morning when we left, I thought I had looked to make sure he was there; perhaps I assumed he was there and didn’t look. I don’t remember.
We packed up and left at 8:40 a.m. We made one stop at the gas station, but he could not have gotten out there, since I stayed in the motorhome, and my chair is next to the door. We made another stop at Dateland, where we shared a date shake and a cactus shake (both delicious). We could not have escaped there, either, since we were by the door and in and out quickly.
So, the only place he could have gotten out was in Yuma, in the RV park where we were staying. How, we don’t know.
All we know is that when we stopped tonight in a small town near Bisbee, Ariz., I looked for him and he was nowhere to be found. We have opened every door, looked in every cranny. We even opened the basement doors! He must be back in Yuma.
I called the RV park, and the caretakers looked all around, to no avail. They said they would continue to keep an eye out for him.
I’m afraid, though, that he is gone. Jim irrationally wants to take the car and return to Yuma to look for him. Rationally, he knows there is little chance of finding him. Either the heat or a coyote has most likely gotten him.
Charlie was a good cat, even though Jim would get mad at him for not being a “cat.” He wasn’t affectionate, except when he wanted to be. He fled from strangers, would not climb into your lap (except when you were eating ice cream), and wouldn’t let you pick him up unless it was his idea. To me that is typical cat behavior. But the cats Jim has always had were different. They did all the things Charlie (and Xena) didn’t do.
Despite his cat-shortcomings, however, Charlie was my pet. I salvaged him from the animal pound when he was only about eight weeks old, in June 1998. (I got Xena from an acquaintance about a month later.) I named him Charlie, because that is what Dad always called Rob. It seemed the perfect name.
I feel sad; I think Jim feels even sadder, even though he often threatened Charlie when Charlie disdained his advances.
Charlie, we miss you! Will you be one of those miracle cats who finds their way home after years on the road? We can always hope.
Long live Charlie, long live the cat.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Smile!

August 20—The deed is done. We have new smiles.
Yesterday morning we went back to the dentist to have our crowns put on. I was first (since I had fewer to do). Then Jim took the chair and let the dentist go to work.
When we were finished the dentist gave us each a mouth gard, which we are to wear to avoid teeth grinding and damaging the crowns.

Getting an entire set of crowns is different from getting only one or two teeth capped. Theoretically, the bite matches up; realistically, some adjustments are necessary. This morning we went back for some minor adjustments on mine, which now feel much more comfortable. Even with that, however, the new bite takes some getting used to—especially for Jim, who has both upper and lower sets.
The dentist asked to see us again in January. At that time, he may make some adjustments to Jim’s bite; I think mine will be OK.
Were we planning to return then? Yes and no. Ever since we bought this RV, Jim has been reading about RV rallies and has wanted to participate in one. The biggest one of the year is in Quarzite, Ariz., in January, and that small desert town is only about 90 miles from Yuma. (A couple million RVers camp out on BLM land. Apparently there are workshops, get-togethers, and temporary RV stores to satisfy the needs of all attendees.) We were already planning to travel at least as far as Dallas to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday in late January. Now we’ll have two “excuses” to be out west (three, if you add in the dentist).
Was the trip to Los Algodones worthwhile? Absolutely yes. The quality of work was very good—I think better than some of the dental work I’ve had done over the years. And the cost was a fraction of what we would have paid in the States. On top of that, we have had a vacation in our motorhome, which has been very nice and relaxing (aside from the minor problems we encountered as well as getting stuck in the sand dunes…). I would recommend the experience to anyone, and I would give you our dentist’s name.
Until later,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shifting sands

August 18—The desert comes in all kinds of “flavors,” depending upon where you are. In Texas, the arid land was punctuated with mesas. In New Mexico, we climbed higher and higher, and the land became dryer and dryer. Somewhere, I think in Arizona, the desert was actually green. The area had had some rain, and green sprouted from the brown soil.
Yuma sits in a desert, but it is also in a valley irrigated by the Colorado River, and surprisingly is a major agricultural center. According to tourist information, it is the iceberg lettuce capital of the world.
Today Jim read about another desert area, not far from here—Imperial Sand Dunes. He wanted to see them.
Having grown up near the Indiana dunes, I didn’t care one way or another if we went to see the dunes, but I didn’t want him to go alone, so we prepared a large thermos of water (just in case), and drove the 15 miles to the dunes.
Once you leave Yuma and cross over into California, the desert takes on a different visage: It becomes even more arid and desolate—in fact, it is the most desolate area I’ve ever seen.
We drove about 15 miles and got off at the first entrance to the Imperial Dunes. No one was there; the visitors’ center was locked. (The area attracts many campers and tourists and ATV drivers—but not in August.) We saw a trailer with a sign “tourist host,” so we stopped and knocked on the door. The host, a fellow in his late 80s, gave Jim a map of the area and then came out to the car to talk with him. His last words were, “If you want to see the plank road, it’s near the end of the paved road. Whatever you do, stay on the pavement. I can’t tell you how many times people come knocking on my door, saying they got stuck in the sand and could I help them.”
Jim assured him we did not intend to drive on the sand.
We tooled down the pavement for several miles. The dunes looked just like dunes should look. Actually, they are somewhat an anomaly in the desert, because most of the desert is hard-packed rocky sand, not the soft, windswept sands of the dunes.
We were looking for the plank road (an actual road made of planks used in the desert in the early 20th century), when suddenly I said, “I think we’ve run out of road.”
Jim didn’t think so, and continued on.
BIG MISTAKE.
You can guess: Within a few feet, we were stuck in soft sand. As Jim admitted, “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done!” I agree.
The tourist host had said that when people get stuck in the sand, he tells them to let the air out of their tires and gives them a shovel to dig their way out. Jim let the air out of the tires, but we didn’t have a shovel. The host’s trailer was several miles back.
Did I mention it was 115 degrees? Fortunately we had water.
Imperial Sand Dunes
We started digging by hand. The problem was that the sand was up to the carriage of the car, and we couldn’t reach far enough to clear a path.
Fortunately the road we were on was in sight of I8, and as Jim was fruitlessly digging, a California Highway Patrol car stopped and came over to see if we needed help. “No,” said Jim. He wasn’t ready to call a tow truck yet. The CHIP car did not have a shovel. The patrolman told us if we didn’t succeed on our own to call 911 and they would send a tow truck.
Dig, drink, rest.
Jim was ready to jack up the car in order to be able to clear out the sand under the carriage when we saw a vehicle approach. It was a U.S. Border Patrol agent. (The U.S./Mexico border was only a few hundred yards away; we could see the fence.) The agent stopped and gave us a shovel. Then he asked if we had a way to tie a tow rope, which he also had in his truck.
It took some doing and another 30 minutes to succeed, but finally Jim and the agent got a rope tied to the car and we got pulled out.
We managed to get back to the paved road safely. If I never go into the desert again, it will be too soon.
Oh, one more thing: On the way back out of the area, we saw the plank road. We didn’t stop.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Open wide!

August 17—I’m hungry. Since Monday, we’ve been on a soft diet, because the temporary crowns in our mouths make it difficult to bite and chew.

Last Friday we went into Los Algodones and visited the dental office recommended by my sister’s friend. (The dentist the friend used was closed; we went to the practice’s other office.) As we were waiting, a retired American finished her appointment with the dentist. I asked her about her experience. She said she was very pleased with her implants and she highly recommended “Dr. Edgar,” the young dentist. I looked at her smile and was satisfied with what I saw.

Dr. Edgar speaks English, but to avoid confusion, he uses his assistant to translate. She is bilingual, and speaks English without an accent. He initially recommended 15 crowns and a root canal for Jim, and seven crowns (replacements) and the needed root canal for me. Over the weekend, though, we decided to “up the ante” and go all the way: What Dr. Edgar had recommended initially was just to correct apparent problems. It did not address Jim’s lower teeth, which were uneven. Nor did it address my front lower teeth, which over the years had become gapped. So on Monday, when we returned to begin our work, we discussed additional options.

The result: Jim has had a complete smile makeover (uppers and lowers), and I had a complete lower makeover. (I had all done in order for all teeth to match.)

A couple years ago Jim had visited two different dentists in Jacksonville, and had two estimates, which ranged between $30,000 and $40,000 for a makeover. My recent visit to the dentist to replace two crowns and have a root canal was about $2,000. So, when Dr. Edgar told us the total would be about $6,400—for both of us—we were elated.

Why are the prices so much less in Los Algodones than in the U.S.? One reason is because the facilities are plain-Jane. The dentist has all the modern equipment, but the office is very small and crowded. Another is because the dentist does all the work himself. In the U.S., I’ve only had one dentist in Chicago who kept his prices reasonable by working alone—no hygienist or assistant. That’s the way the Mexican dentists work.

Another thing: We each needed root canals (Jim ended up needing two, me one). Instead of our marching over to another office, the endodontist came to us. And, like the other dentist, he worked alone. (As a side note: I’ve had many root canals in the past. This specialist was better than most.)

It took only one visit for me, two for Jim, to prepare for the crowns. Unfortunately, we have to wait until Friday morning to get the permanent crowns, and until then we are on a soft diet, mainly because the temporaries are awkward. It feels like I am wearing a dental retainer. (I’ve had experience with temporaries before; they are all awkward—so this is not a reflection on the dental lab.)

We’ll extend our stay here until at least Sunday, just in case we have to return to have adjustments made. But I’m confident we will be pleased with the end result.

Until next time,

Linda
Your Reluctant RoVer

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ah, Mexico!

August 12—The purpose of our trip to Yuma was not to visit Yuma—it was to go to Los Algodones, Mexico, for extensive dental work.
Los Algodones, known to Americans as “Molar City,” is just south of Yuma. However, we discovered that it actually borders a town in California. (A side note: I don’t know why, but when we entered Arizona, I didn’t feel that far away from home, nor that far west. But as soon as we crossed the border to California, I felt as if we had gone clear across the country—which, of course, we had, from Florida!) Had we known we had to enter through California, we would have RV-camped closer. But, it’s not a big deal to make the drive.
To get to Los Algodones, you drive down U.S. Hwy 186 for about eight miles. The Quechan Indian reservation abuts the border, and the Indians operate a parking lot next to the customs station. Because this is the off season here (winter is high season in Yuma), the parking lot was relatively empty, and we didn’t have to walk far to cross the border.
Border towns in Mexico are all very similar: A lot of poverty, a lot of street-hawking, and a lot of outright begging. In Los Algodones the street hawking extends to soliciting patients for the 350 dentists who practice there. An unknowing dental traveler would be overwhelmed. I had found a website that operates a referral service to dentists; however, we decided to rely on the personal experience of friends.
A friend of mine who lives near Phoenix has visited Los Algodones for years. She provided the names of a couple of dentists she has used. And a friend of my sister in Oregon also gave us a referral. I had spoken to this lady directly, and we decided to visit that dentist. If we weren’t pleased, we would go elsewhere.
The office was very small, but clean. The dentist gave us a complimentary exam and told us how much the procedure would cost. I knew I needed at least two crowns and a root canal, but I also have a number of very old crowns that I suspected needed some work.
Jim also had an idea of what he needed/wanted—his work was more extensive than mine. He also asked the dentist about his options, for instance implants rather than fixed bridges.
The bottom line? A fraction of what we would pay in the States. I will be getting seven new crowns, a root canal, and a cleaning—for $1,330. Jim will get 15 crowns, a root canal, and a cleaning, for $2200. And surprisingly, he said he would do all this in two visits. (He calls in a specialist to do the root canals.)
Incidentally, while we were waiting, an American lady about our age just finished with the dentist. I stopped her and asked her about her experience. She said the dentist had given her implants and she was extremely pleased. I looked at her smile and it was very nice.
Will we be pleased? I think so. We’ll find out next week. Our first appointment in Monday morning.
My niece, who is in the State Department, assigned in Eritrea (a god-awful place in Africa) posted a note on Facebook, saying that the State Department considers Mexico to be the most dangerous place in the world right now.
Not in Los Algodones. Medical tourists are the reason why that town exists, and I think everyone takes extra care to make sure Americans feel secure. We did not feel threatened; we felt safe. And as we left, passing through security was easy.
After we had left Los Algodones, however, we realized we had forgotten to do any shopping. (Jim wanted to check the price of Irish whiskey, thinking it might be cheaper in Mexico than here.) Rather than turn around and return to Los Algodones, we decided to drive to San Luis, another entry point. We didn’t realize San Luis was a distant 20 miles until we were halfway there. When we got to San Luis, we parked on the street, crossed the border, and found a larger city that did not feel as comfortable as Los Algodones.
Someone directed us to a farmacía that sold liquor, but Jim didn’t find any bargains, so we decided to leave. The line at the border crossing was much longer than in Los Algodones. One of the Border Patrol guards wore a bullet-proof vest, and the fellow who looked at my passport questioned me about why I had gone to Mexico! I was happy to have left that town and will not return there.
It’s a warm 104 degrees (but doesn’t feel that hot; there is no humidity), and I think I’ll go for a swim now. Tomorrow we will brave the heat and go golfing.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Meow

The cats are not happy campers—especially Charlie.
When we began planning our trip, the question arose, “Where do we put the litter box?” (A 38-foot motorhome does not have a lot of floor space or out-of-the-way niches for such things.) We finally came upon a solution: Put the litter box in the cabinet under the sink. Our plan was to remove a door to allow the cats to become acclimated to the box’s location. Once that was accomplished, we intended to modify the door by replacing its wooden panel with a cat door. Mission accomplished! The cats would have a private toilet and we would have a kitchen cabinet with a door.
Good plan, except that as soon as Jim fired up the motorhome, Charlie hightailed it to the cabinet and cowered on its shelf, and Xena jumped into the litter box on the lower level! They stayed there until they were sure we had stopped for the evening.
We didn’t want Xena to sleep in her sandbox, so this trip after the first night, we moved the box out from the cabinet. Xena still jumped into the cabinet and slept on the floor, with Charlie kept on the shelf above her.
After a couple of days, Xena no longer felt the need to travel hidden in the cabinet. Generally she curled up on the floor near my leather recliner and occasionally even roamed the living area, asking for a little rubbing. She was the brave one.
Charlie has been the scaredy-cat. He doesn’t reappear from his hiding spot until we’ve stopped for quite a long time. And he’s the first to hide in the morning.
We arrived in Yuma yesterday afternoon. The kitties came out of hiding and are getting used to their new confines. A few minutes ago, Xena jumped up onto the dash (the cats’ picture window to the world) and spied something new: a bunny rabbit! She really, really wanted to go play. But, of course, she cannot.
She—and Charlie—will have to be content to watch.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer, Linda

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Oops!

August 10, 2011—Stuff happens. Everyone knows that. And it seems to happen more frequently to novice RoVers.
The night before last we camped in a small amenity-free RV camp off I10 in Balmorhea, Arizona, about 150 miles from El Paso. No frills, but we had full hookups, and we rested well. When I say no frills, I mean it: The camp didn’t even have cable available (although the RV directory and website said it did). We were in a valley, pretty far from anywhere. We could pick up one lonely radio station and no TV on our antenna, although Jim tried redirecting the signal several times.
After a good night’s sleep, we packed up and started on drive westward. Around lunchtime, we stopped at a picnic area and got out of the motorhome. Guess what? We had been traveling with the TV antenna pitched high into the sky! Good thing we hadn’t gone under any low overpasses!
Last night we treated ourselves to a KOA in Lordsburg, Ariz. KOAs have the reputation for being nice, and this one had some amenities, including a pool. We opted to pay a little extra for a pull-through so that we would not have to unhook the car and back in. The pull-through also had sewer hookup.
Jim plugged in the electricity, then the cable, and the water. Then he opened the storage door to the sewer hose. Uh…Seems that he left it back in Balmorhea. Oops!
Oh, well. He said it had a pinprick hole in it anyway and he was planning to replace it. Fortunately, our tanks were empty, so the lack of hose did not pose a problem. It did serve to remind us to double-check everything. I had not gone outside when Jim had unhooked us; from now on, I will, to serve as a second set of eyes.
We stopped in Tucson at Camping World and purchased a few needed items (like sewer hose!), then continued westward. Several miles outside of the city, we were stopped by a traffic accident—an overturned DOT water truck. Traffic was backlogged for miles. I lost track of how long we were stopped.
At one point, I looked out my window. A black SUV pulled up and a lady rolled down her window. I opened mine, and she asked, “We have a little emergency…Would you mind terribly if my friend used your bathroom?”
Of course we let her.
I had just been thinking how nice it was to have the toilet available. I’m glad we were able to help someone out.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant Rover,
Linda

Monday, August 8, 2011

A recalcitrant baby

August 8, 2011—As any parent knows, children don’t always live up to their expectations. Our “Baby” is no exception.
Yesterday we tooled along. I was happy to leave Louisiana; Jim was unhappy to enter Texas. I love Texas! Although I don’t like the Beaumont/Houston area, as soon as we entered the state, I felt like I was going home again, despite the fact that it has been 25 years since I moved away. Jim, however, doesn’t like Texas because of the ultra-conservative politics. I can’t say I blame him in that respect.
When I lived here, I was a middle-of-the-road Republican. I still would be, except for Bush and the right-wing ultra-conservatives that have pushed this country to the brink of economic ruin. I really don’t get involved in politics and religion. I just wish everyone would let everyone else be! But, they don’t, and in Texas, the politics lean farther right than they do even in Jacksonville, another bastion of conservatism.
But Texas is so beautiful! And the people (except for the religious and political fanatics) are so great! I absolutely loved living there, and I would move back there in a heartbeat, albeit it would be a move to the Austin area.
Jim? No. As soon as we passed over the Texas/Louisiana border, he became determined to get out of Texas as soon as possible. Of course, that takes a while: I believe the milepost sign said it was 885 miles until the end of I10 in Texas. That’s a long way.
So, we drove, and drove, and drove.
I suggested that we boondock (dry camp) last night. Our choices were many, from rest stops to Walmarts. But Jim wanted to keep going until he got too tired to drive. So we kept moving westward. That was fine with me. I don’t want to “tourist” until we get our business done. Plenty of time to see the sites on the way back.
We passed through Houston late Sunday afternoon as the sun was starting to set. That was a good thing. If it had been rush hour, we probably would have sat in traffic, moving at a snail’s pace, for hours. Instead, we got through the confusing and ill-marked spaghetti bowl fairly rapidly.
We kept going. San Antonio, according to the markers, was another 250 miles from Houston. We reached it by around 11 p.m. And still we kept driving…until Baby apparently protested. All of a sudden, outside the lit highway areas, Jim noticed that we couldn’t see very far. Our headlights failed us!
We pulled over at a picnic area (where there were several semis parked for the night). Then Jim tried to start the generator to get the air conditioner running. Baby protested again. The generator worked, but we could not turn on the air conditioner!
There is not a whole lot you can do at midnight. We slept the old-fashioned way—with the windows open. Fortunately, there was a cool breeze and the temperature had dropped to the 70s.
Jim has a pretty good idea of why Baby failed to live up to our expectations—at least regarding the air conditioner (something about a faulty transfer switch at the generator). We’ll stop at a Camping World in El Paso tomorrow. Right now we are at a remote RV camp at the Balmorhea exit, about 150 miles from El Paso. We stopped early so he could investigate our problems and finally rest.
This is a plain-Jane RV camp—no amenities except for full hookup. We can see the Davis Mountains in the distance, and the Texas sky is HUGE right here. In a desolate sort of way, it is beautiful.
We’ll sleep in comfort tonight.
Until next time,
Linda, your Reluctant RoVer.

Driving, driving, driving...

August 7—The trouble with RVing is that you have to drive—and drive—and drive. I am not fond of driving, even though I am a passenger, not the driver. Driving was OK was I was young and I shared in on the chore, but now I find it boring and tedious. And I do not intend to drive Baby, with or without “toad” (our towed car). So, driving is boring; one interstate mostly looks like another.
The good thing about RVing, though, is that you don’t have to stop to use the toilet (as long you are the passenger!); you have a clean bathroom; you sleep in your own bedbug-free bed; you can make some popcorn for a midafternoon snack, and you both can listen to the same audiobook at the same time.
You can’t do those things when you are flying.
Jim keeps reminding me to enjoy the journey. To me, it’s the destination. I just want to get to where I am going, in this case Yuma, Ariz.
But, I’ll try to do as he says. I promise.
Still the reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Delayed start

August 5. Things don’t always go as planned. We had wanted to get an early start on our journey to Yuman/Los Algodones, but it didn’t go that way. Our neighbor e-mailed me that the lawn mower (which he uses) was still malfunctioning, so Jim had to fix that before we could even fetch “Baby.” Fortunately the fix was an easy one and didn’t delay us too much.
Packing up was another story. It seemed like I moved my entire house! It’s amazing how much you can stow in a 38-foot motorhome—with room to spare. Baby seems to have a lot of nooks and crannies, and perhaps I admitted to myself that I really don’t need all that “stuff” in the house. At any rate, we packed and finally got on our way at about 2 p.m. EDT.
We traveled as far as Tallahassee. Florida is ONE BIG state! (Can’t wait to go across Texas:<).
More later.
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda