Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Return Home

If you read last week’s Blog you will know that I spent the week visiting family and friends in Calgary, so this week I want to describe my return trip to Mexico.

The Westjet flight left at 11:00 am so I was at the Calgary airport about a quarter to 9:00 to checked in, and had some time to pick up some paperbacks and magazines for some new reading material when I got home. In the past there has been a reasonable selection of English books available at El Caballo Blanco (The White Unicorn), a bookstore in the town of Loreto, and our new Community Center has a growing collection of used books for loan, but new bestsellers are hard to find and there are practically no English magazines, so I didn’t miss the chance to pick up the latest Vanity Fair.

After a typically thorough security check, I got my last cup of Tim Horton’s coffee and made my way to the gate. The flight was full of vacationers, excited about starting their trip south for a spring break in the Los Cabos area and there were several overheard conversations about which timeshare properties they were going to. I was struck by the numbers of people who have a share in the many resorts that fill the beaches between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. It demonstrates the success of the marketing of these resorts and explains (if not justifies) the preponderance of timeshare salesmen that seem to be on every corner in these resort areas.

The four hour flight south was uneventful, arriving on time about 2:15 local time. Normally Baja Sur is on Mountain Time (the same as Calgary) with the northern state of Baja Norte keeping Pacific Time like California across the border. However, since we had “sprung forward” last weekend in North America and Mexico won’t shift it’s time until the beginning of April (no idea why), we had to set our clocks back an hour when we landed.

Having chosen a seat near the front of the plane, I was one of the first people off and made my way into the same terminal I had departed from a week earlier. Since I am travelling on an FM3 visa, I did not have to fill in the FMT tourist visa that was handed out on the plane, and I flashed my visa book at the clerk checking that the tourist visas were properly filled out and then made my way to one of the Immigration desks.

After turning in the copy of the exit form I had filled out when I left on the outbound flight, and getting my entrance stamp in the visa book, I made my way to the baggage claim area, where, for once, mine wasn’t the last bag off the plane. So there was no line up at the baggage scanner that X-rays all of the arriving luggage for inbound flights to Mexico. This precaution has always seemed redundant to me, why scan bags when they are getting OFF a plane? Since this is the only country I have travelled to that does this procedure, I have assumed that the reason is to check for incoming firearms, which are strictly prohibited here. But this begs the question, wouldn’t that sort of contraband be picked up in the security screening that all bags go through BEFORE they are loaded on the plane at the departure point? In any event, when I retrieved my bags at the other end of the machine, I presented myself at the Customs podium and handed over the declaration I had filled out on the plane. It was then time to “push the button”, which triggers a random Red/Green light to determine whether or not you are going to be selected for inspection of your luggage.

Not wanting to invoke the fickle finger of fate – but I personally take some satisfaction in my high percentage of “Green” lights on my many arrivals here in Mexico over the years - and since “Green means Go” (green-go, gringo?), I was once again free to proceed without any further inspection. This was a good thing, as it happens – since my rather large suitcase was 20 lbs overweight and contained considerably more than the $300 duty free allowance permitted to passengers arriving by air. (For the record, it is worth noting that the duty free allowance when you enter the country by in a vehicle is only $75 – contrary to logic, or perhaps because of it - since there is obviously far greater carrying capacity in a vehicle than what an airline passenger is allowed!) On this trip I was carrying half a dozen printer cartridges which alone accounted for more than half my allowance, some other hard to find office supplies and computer accessories, a set of Ikea drapes, and a replacement part for a neighbour’s high end oven, that on its own was worth more than double my allowance! Mid-winter trips back to Canada are always accompanied by a shopping list of things that would be impossible to find, or prohibitively expensive if they were available here.

All considered, I was exiting the busy Cabo airport within half an hour, wading my way through line ups of confused looking vacationers, some of whom were already drinking their first Mexican beer, and found “Denny” (my trusty Denali) patiently waiting for me in the parking lot outside the Terminal, looking a little dustier, but none the worse for wear, after its week-long stay. After loading my bags and plugging in the 12 volt cooler I had left in the back, I drove to the exit booth to pay for my parking.

You may remember from last week that I had timed my arrival back at the airport closely, after checking in and going into San Jose for lunch. So when I arrived at the parking lot and got my entrance ticket, I noticed that a sign that listed the parking rate for every hour, up to and including 24 hours – for which the charge was $354 pesos, almost $30 US a day or over $200 for the week! At the time, this came as an unpleasant surprise, since I had expected about half that rate, but since I didn’t have time to go to and from the off-terminal parking lots, I had no choice but to stick with my plan of parking at the Terminal. But when I pulled up to the kiosk and surrendered my ticket and started counting out my $500 peso notes, I was interrupted by the attendant asking for payment in Spanish.

Understanding spoken numbers is a challenge, they seem to say them so fast, and I wasn’t sure that I had heard correctly so I asked him to repeat the amount –using the ever-useful “Gringo-in-the-headlights” look - so he reached for the ever-present calculator, punched in the number and showed it to me. I was right! I had heard “un mille – something” - it was only $1706 pesos about $130 US - less than $20/day, a much appreciated “long term” discount that the very detailed sign I had seen earlier, had failed to note!

So I paid the man and left the lot, feeling almost a thousand pesos richer than I had been prepared for, and headed away from the Terminal. To be immediately faced with two choices – an arrow pointing to Cabo San Lucas and another to San Jose del Cabo. Deciding quickly, I took the San Lucas exit, and within a few kilometres, realized that I guessed wrong. I went on for about 10 km before I could U-turn and back track to get on the San Jose road again, where I saw the proper exit for La Paz a few “kliks” further on, and was finally on my way again. The drive along the now familiar road I had travelled the previous week, was largely uneventful – barring some heavier traffic and slow stretches caused by construction zones and transport trucks – but I still reached the junction with the road to Todos Santos in about two hours and was arriving in the outskirts of La Paz in less than 2 ½ hours.

I headed for “La Paz Centro” and made my way to the main thoroughfare that became the Malacon, along the edge of the large bay that downtown La Paz is built upon, and managed to pick the right one way road to get me to the parking entrance of the Hotel I had planned to stay at. After squeezing into a very narrow stall, the last vacant one under the Hotel building, I unloaded my suitcase and made my way to the Registration Desk, where I asked for a room. After replying that I did not have a reservation, (“we don’ need no stinkin reservations!”) I was relieved to hear that they did have ONE room available and so I didn’t hesitate to accept the rather pricy $1,100 peso - $90 US - rate they quoted and was soon settled in my room.

Next week I plan to tell you about my day in La Paz and trip back to Loreto and I promise there will be some pictures, and I offer my apologies for the lack of illustrations in this piece. But in conclusion, I have often heard it said that you don’t feel settled in a place till you return again from where you used to live. This brief trip back to Calgary, followed by my return “home” this weekend, proves to me that THIS is where I live now, and after all,that is really what “Living Loreto” is all about!