THE DOG BLOG
Lovers of Travel
January 3, 2006
We encounter four stray dogs on our morning walk. Two of the dogs
I'd seen separately yesterday. Today they are together and follow us at
a respectful distance. I wonder if they want to join our pack but when
we make a sharp left, they continue straight. When we cross the main
road to return home, I don't put the lead on Bruiser. 'Of course he's
not going to rush out into traffic,' I think, and feel silly I hadn't
trusted his judgement earlier.
The van HAS to get fixed. I can't keep driving without front-end
work. But I don't want to sit out in the open for the next ten hours.
Despite incredible resistance and whining, I take the van in for
repair. I walk the dogs back to the RV park and try to settle. I feel
homeless. I put Bruiser on a lead. He whines. I feel I'm the one on a
lead. The retractable lead continually wraps itself around his legs and
he stumbles like an animal caught in a trap. All he wants is to
explore. An hour later his whining is incessant and I take him for a
walk around the grounds. Again I try to settle down. I don't succeed.
After over an hour, I dig out the Cadbury's chocolate I bought in Texas
and devour six squares, and then eat a salad.
I'm incredulous how ill at ease I am without my 'home'. Now I
understand why people seemed confused when I tried to travel like this
with a Jeep Wrangler. "How on earth did I write out in the open with my
laptop?" I wonder. Eventually I settle into a writing routine and on
our afternoon walk, I stop in to see the mechanic. He's a gentle and
soft-spoken young man who lived in San Antonio, Texas for seven years.
He says the work has gone smoothly and is delighted to tell me the van
will be done by the end of the day. I'm delighted. And not totally
convinced. I return with money I withdrew without problem from an ATM
machine inside Pollo Feliz, a fast food chicken restaurant. It appears
the work is just being finished. But he tells me with a crestfallen
face, that in fact the parts which were sent, aren't the right ones.
He'll contact me when the right ones come in the next day. I'm not
upset. But I decide tomorrow will be my day and even if the parts do
arrive, I won't return the van till the day after.
January 2, 2006
Before sun-up, the dogs and I set off on a walk and only use a lead
once for Bruiser when we cross a main road. Two dogs lean out from a
window in a construction site and bark furiously at us before they spot
their owner and then they begin wagging their tails furiously and we're
forgotten. When we encounter stray dogs on the street, there seems to
be a mutual respect though wariness they all share. There are no
squabbles. I know if we were in America, Dog and Bruiser would've tried
to dominate them all.
Hand painted Calla lillies motifs wrap around the exteriors of
homes, not unlike the strips of mass-produced wallpaper sold at Home
Depot that people glue below the ceilings of their kitchens and
bedrooms in the US. Wrought-iron grates placed over windows for
security are shaped into imaginative patterns instead of plain
horizontal and vertical bars. It seems the philosophy of the town is,
"Instead of just having a door, why not have a beautiful door." Each
individual house is a work of art. And I'm not even in the older part
of town. All around me are new buildings and all have the same
attention to detail as their older counterparts. The entire town has
been declared a national monument by the Mexican government.
After settling the dogs in the van, I embark on a trip to the market
to buy supplies. This is my first time into town during the day and I'm
surprised at how many elderly Americans roam the cobblestone streets
with me. I go to Pedro and Dixie's apartment but they're not home.
Instead, a maid cleans the stone floor around the center water fountain
while a man sells blue jeans in the entrance way.
I buy bread from a bakery, placing my choice with a pair of tongs on
a pizza tray. An attendant tilts my choice into a paper back and says,
"Cinco pesos-cincuenta" for me to tell the money collector. I have no
idea how much that is, but repeat the number religiously until it's my
turn to pay. I hand the woman a 50 peso note, ensuring I get change and
don't have to look like an idiot. I notice many of the Americans do the
same. It's there I meet a woman from Florida who travelled to Egypt and
Kenya before settling in San Miguel de Allende fifteen years ago. She's
a bit tottery on her feet and reminisces about the good old days when
only a thousand Americano's lived here. I wonder if she is a vision
into my own future.
A few hours are spent finding a place to get the van's front end
fixed. The quote is half the price I was given in the US. The job will
take 1 1/2 days and they won't let me sleep in the van overnight, but
agree I can take the van after 7:30pm and bring it back in the morning.
I don't like the idea, but there's not enough time to look for a place
to rent. They order the parts.
The young couple heading to South America are leaving tomorrow, so
they have a little party in front of their RV. About 20 of us gather in
a circle and drink run and fruit juices made from fresh pineapple. The
dog owners and myself discuss dog behavior ad nauseum, just as parents
discuss their children's foibles. It's a thoroughly enjoyable
get-to-gether. I feel part of a transitory family.
January 1, 2006
I wake up at 5am, far too early after only getting to sleep at 1am.
I wait until daybreak before taking the dogs onto the streets. Despite
trepidation, I don't use leads, only putting bandanna's around their
necks to alert passersby that they're not stray. This is what I've been
waiting for, a time when I don't have to worry about cats being
attacked by my dogs. With so many dogs on the streets, no feral cats
would survive. Half way down the block of the first street we enter I
see seven stray dogs frolicking and playing together. Once they see us
they begin barking and approach slowly. Bruiser, who for the past two
years has dominated almost every dog we've come into contact with,
whimpers. "OK, we don't have to go that way." We ease away from that
street and go down another.
Back at the campsite, I chat with Joseph who I'd met the day before
and give him a book on colloquial Spanish. Far too advanced for me, I'm
happy to lighten my load, and he's delighted to have it. As we stand
talking, Bruiser rushes off. 'Uh-oh...' I think and quickly close the
van door on Dog and run in Bruiser's direction. A huge cat and Bruiser
are having a stand-off. Sam is owned by a couple in their 80's who've
been on the road for 20 years, despite having a home they never live
in. I rush towards Bruiser and grab his collar and drag him back to the
van. New rule: in the RV park around American dogs, I need a lead. With
the Mexican dogs, no lead.
In the afternoon, most of the RV park occupants have gone to a New
Year's Day party and I sit with Joseph and chat about travel, books and
life. All the dogs and the one cat are safely inside their owners RV's
so I take Bruiser and Dog off their leads. I feel wonderfully relaxed.
An amazing way to begin a New Year.
In the late afternoon, three huge RV's roll in. I contemplate
putting the lead back on Bruiser - but don't. Suddenly there's a
commotion and a Labrador, the breed of dog Bruiser and Dog like the
least, being led by a woman, is pounced on. I run and pull them apart
and apologize profusely. The group leave the next morning...
December 31, 2005
All I want is a shower and after settling the dogs in the van, I
head to a unattractive yellow block of a building. Sitting nearby with
two dogs is a young woman. By her is a motorcycle with Arizona plates.
Amy and her new husband Aaron are planning a 1-2 year tour of Latin
America, with the aim of volunteering where they can. At her father's
request and because he was paying her university bill, she gave up her
dream of being an Egyptologist. At her husband's wishes, she's given up
her dreams of being an archeologist and is now playing with
photography. I loan her my two books and debate whether or not to tell
her and her ex-Marine husband that doing magazine assignments sometimes
involves being away from home for months at a time. I decide to mind my
During the course of the afternoon, I meet other players who form
the current residency of La Siesta Hotel and RV park. They are:
~A retired Graphic designer and her retired real estate appraiser
husband and their near deaf collie Allegre, which means happiness in
~A couple who've worked with NBC and Disney and their black poodle
Hugo. They've produced a DVD entitled "RVing in Mexico" and are
currently working on a sequel.
Click here for info They
have a satellite dish on their Winnebago they let others use. I'm
envious. I'd like a miniature version of their set-up to make
communications easier with editors and friends.
~A retired Canadian language professor who lived in France for a
year and who now regularly spends his winters in Latin America. This
winter he'll travel to the Yucatan to learn more of the Mayan language
~A couple in their 80's who despite recently buying a house, only
live in it six months out of the year. They've enjoyed a nomadic
lifestyle for twenty years. She's a retired occupational therapist and
he was in in the army in World World II.
~An American couple who are retired teachers, now photographers
who now do exhibitions of their work. Previously, they spent a year
sailing from the Great Lakes down to the Bahamas island hopping. They
have a Ford Econoline Van.
~A Texan couple who have an Australian Sheepdog.
~A German couple in their mid-40's who are computer specialists
who've taken two years off to travel across Canada, the US and down
into South America. They're six months into their journey.
In the next few days, a number of people in convoys of huge
bus size RV's come and go. There are five white vans including mine,
though mine is the oldest by far. I feel I've made a good choice.
Though on the small size, the white reflects the heat and the vans are
Late afternoon I take the dogs for a walk. There are dogs
everywhere. Two poodles clad in green and red festive coats bark at us
from a balcony. Two huge Rottweiller mixes slather at us from behind
wrought iron doors. We spot stray dogs in the distance. Only in New
York city have I seen so many dogs in one place. Barking echoes off
buildings painted pink, purple and deep ochre. As sunset approaches,
the sky turns magenta and the buildings are shrouded in a soft glow.
In the evening, I call my friends Dixie and Pedro. Pedro is 88 years
old and was once Frank Lloyd Wright's main photographer. I'm exhausted
and want nothing more than to go to bed. But I don't want to miss out
on the festivities so I let myself be coerced into coming to Plaza
Principal or called Jardin for Garden, a block from where they're
staying and where fireworks are scheduled.
As luck would have it, two retired teachers are also going and we
share a bus ride to the square. We meet up with Dixie and Pedro outside
a Dunkin' Donuts shop. But the facade is rough stone and blends in
wonderfully with the cobblestone that paves the narrow streets and the
buildings which look like they've been imported from Europe. The three
of us roam. Lines outside nightclubs consist of trendy teens and
twenty-something locals interspersed with a few American teenagers.
Adults and children everywhere hold sparklers almost three feet long.
Outlawed in the states when I was a child because of the danger in
getting burned, I'm delighted to see them again. We walk into a
restaurant with hundreds of candles burning. A stone stairway winds up
to the patio above against the far stone wall. Above us is the sky. It
looks like a Medieval castle. "Magic," we all breath.
At midnight, we stand in front of the Parroquia de Nuestra Sonora de
Dolores, a church with a 18th century Churrigueresque facade. Suddenly,
bells toll from inside its Gothic-like spires which can be seen for
miles around. Fireworks explode directly above us and the sky is awash
with colour. This continues for what seems an hour, but is only 15
minutes. Moments after each explosion, we're showered with faint debri.
Despite the danger, no one gets hurt and there's no fear of lawsuits.
America seems a world away.
December 30, 2005
I drive. I drive some more. I drive still more. Other than when
getting gas, I speak to no one all day and in the evening find a dirt
track amongst cactus. I worry about dreaded cholla cactus thorns
getting into the dogs and so I carry tweezers with me, a habit I began
in Arizona. But they've remembered and we leave the next morning
December 29, 2005
I wake and the demon inside has passed. I feel great. Fog covers the
scene, and my van is completely obscured. After our walk, the dogs
frolic around freely for the first time in months. They're happy, I'm
happy. Both are immediately covered in dust and mud. It's a small price
I make my last phone calls to friends and we cross the border.
Nothing is clearly marked but there's people who've made numerous trips
back and forth who are more than happy to assist. I check my cell
phone. Instead of reading T-Mobile, it says 'Mx TelCel'.
"That's it doggies. We're on our own."
But despite my sudden isolation into a world where I know less than
30 words of Spanish, my overwhelming feeling is, 'I've done it! I've
crossed the border.' And, there's an even bigger success. I've been in
the US for two years and seven months and despite a number of close
encounters, there isn't one less cat alive because of my dogs. I can
now relax. No longer will the dogs have to continually be on leads. Dog
and Bruiser were once semi-feral and I'm eager to see how they re-adapt
to the freedom they once knew. In towns where there are cats in Latin
America, of course they'll have to be on leads. But usually where there
is a large feral dog populations, cats don't survive.
Because I'm wanting to be in San Miguel de Allende by New Year's
Eve, and because just before leaving the states a mechanic had shown me
the warning signs of some front-end problems in the van, I pay
exorbitant fees for the privilege of traveling on fast, smooth roads.
I'm filled with low-grade apprehension. After three hours of driving
the engine begins to splutter-a fuel problem.
"I just had a new fuel pump put installed in September," I say in
an effort to defy what seems inevitable. "That mechanic must've given
me a bad fuel pump. I knew there was something about him I didn't
I coax the van along, accelerating at intervals in the hope
that if it's not the fuel pump, then whatever's clogging the system
gets pushed through. It works. No, it doesn't work. I see a mountain in
the distance. Cars seem to drift like flies to the side of the road as
they break down and tires explode. My van, which had seemed a social
status outcast in America, fits in well here. But still, I keep
climbing amidst splutters. The downhill on the other side of the
mountain seems initially to help, but it's only temporary. After
fifteen miles, the van grinds to a halt, as it had done several times
before, but this time it doesn't start. I speak no Spanish...
One of the downsides of the toll roads is there are few if any exits
and no towns. They are long, excellent roads with scenery you can't
stop to explore. It is the worst place to breakdown. However, about 50
yards ahead on the other side of two one-way lanes of streaming
afternoon traffic is a gas station. I'm hopeful, though I know the
times are gone when a mechanic and map taped to the window was a
feature of gas stations in America. I fear it's the same in Mexico.
I approach an attendant and say, "Mechanico?" I only hope this is
the word for mechanic. He points to a police car parked a short
distance away. One of the police speaks some English and the two of
them listen seriously to my story before consulting amongst themselves.
Nearby is a tow truck. I'd heard of a service that assists tourists.
Commonly called "Green Angels," up till this moment, I hadn't seen one.
The 'mechanico' and myself jump into the truck and head back to my
van. He speaks no English. And I no Spanish. We're able to communicate
perfectly. We both hope it's the fuel filter, though we're both
doubtful. He gets out tools that I also have, and much more easily than
I, takes out the filter. I get in the van. The engine starts
immediately. We're victorious. He agrees to drive behind me for a few
kilometers up the road to make sure the problem is solved. It is. We
wave goodbye. In the next two days of driving, I never see a Green
I'm done for the day. I go to my first grocery store and pick out
some supplies and hand the woman some money. I head to the hills and
travel on a dirt track, looking for a place to camp. I find a spot
overlooking the town. We're in the desert now. I get out of the van
December 28, 2005
After our morning walk, I hear gun-fire. Someone doing target
practice? This is a sound that's interrupted so many good camping spots
in the US. Later in the morning, a 65 year old Texan pulls by the side
of the van to check I'm ok. This man is a true Texan with brilliant
blue eyes that emerge from underneath a well used cowboy hat. He's
incredulous of my travels.
"Well, it takes all kinds to make a world, I suppose," he says. "Thank goodness there's people like me around..."
"...who'll stay in one place to grow the food," I finish. "Yup, I
completely agree." I like the man. He has a good feel about him.
He tells me of a neighbor who has about $3 million in stuffed animals in his house, many from Africa.
"I'm not into huntin' myself, but this man's place looks like a museum."
"From what I gather, when men get older they're less interested in hunting."
"Yeah, I think you could be right."
"I did hear shots this morning, from over there."
"That could've been me. I got a coyote."
"You've got sheep?"
"No, just cattle. Just something about coyote...I just don't like 'em. Don't know what it is."
I'm sad. One of the coyotes I'd heard, now dead.
"Well, I better be going if I'm going to cross the border today," I say.
"Yeah, who knows what might happen if you don't make it today," he
says. I catch an element of irritation in his voice. After four months
of city living, I realize I'm still in fast mode-and he's not.
I drive the remaining three hours to the border filled with
apprehension and fear. This is the moment I'd been anticipating for so
long. And I will go. But I don't want it to be like this. I try and
figure out what is the source of my fear. It's communication. Whilst
travelling in the US, my cell phone connected me by voice to friends,
and as a modem to the world of internet and email contact. Once I
cross, I will no longer have that privilege. The rates are too
expensive. I'll have to rely on internet cafes where I can find them,
and give up the luxury of emailing from the privacy and convenience of
my van. And no phone conversations. Or very few... I fear being
isolated. When something goes wrong, who will I turn to? No longer will
I be able to pick up the phone and share my woes. This, not security
and physical danger is what I fear.
The town of Phalo next to McAllen, Texas is, like many border
crossings, not a great place to spend the night. I'm about five miles
from the Mexican border. There are no RV parks, and no campgrounds. But
it's getting late and I'm not mentally prepared to go into Mexico. I
don't want to go into a hotel and leave my van unattended. I drive
around and find a dirt road that follows a drainage canal that goes
through some farmland. I find a small grove of trees to hide the van,
if one can actually hide a large white Chevy van.
'Geez, I can't believe I'm camping five miles from the border. This is crazy. People will think I'm totally stupid...'
We're next to spot used to dump garbage. I can hear the roar of
traffic on the other side of the canal. In the other direction is
gunfire. Someone doing target practice after work. But huge herons fly
across the fields and into the waterway that's laden with garbage. The
long-legged birds are exquisite.
December 27, 2005
I leave Houston about 1pm amidst many hugs and a few tears. I've
spent four months on and off with this family-mostly on. It's been
intense, and good. It's difficult leaving, much more difficult than I'd
imagined it would be. As I drive down I-45 the feeling I'd expected,
that larger than life, exhuberant I'm-on-the-road feeling doesn't
happen. I feel empty and a bit lost. Even knowing there's a possibility
of meeting friends from Arizona on New Year's Eve in the town of San
Miguel de Allende doesn't help.
I drive far too long for a first day, and feel sorry for myself
almost the entire five hours. After sun-down I'm in Kingsville, home of
the largest cattle ranch in Texas. I find a spot about a quarter of a
mile from a garbage dump down a empty country road. The dogs and I walk
down down a dirt track and hear an owl and coyotes-our first in months.
Bruiser and I are elated and he runs in the open fields under cover of
darkness before returning when I cook lamb for dinner.