Tuesday, June 14, 2016
I had been toying with the idea of going to Europe for a while. When Jessica's USF Art class offered a program to study in France for a month and London for a week, she decided to go. I thought it would be a good time for all of us to go and meet up over there. We even asked if my dad and Darlene wanted to go. They did, albeit on their own program, and so we are meeting up in Paris for a week. We will be there sharing a house for the first part of our trip, and when we leave Paris they will head home to California, and we will continue on to Italy.
Everyone is very excited. I still can't believe we leave tomorrow. It has seemed so far away ever since we started planning it. Stay tuned as I will try to update our happenings. We will only have phones, with text and data. We'll see how well that does blogging.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
It's early Sunday morning, July 1. I left off last Sunday evening arriving in Auburn, Alabama fleeing from Debby. Monday we hung out in Auburn and went to a movie with the kids, Brave. It was okay, but definitely a rental. We got bedding for Swoosh and did some grocery shopping. I was emailing with my friend Mark Ellington who lives in Atlanta, and when he found out how close we were invited us to come up and visit. So on Tuesday we packed up and headed 2.5 hours north to the bedroom town of Marietta, Georgia.
We parked the trailer in their culdesac and visited late into the evening with them. Thomas had been wanting to see their son Keegan, his good friend from Florida anyways. We really enjoyed seeing their new house in the woods, it was beautiful. Mark works for the School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech as an administrator. He runs 9 buildings and staff in the manufacturing department. The boys slept in the house with Keegan, and the girls and I opened up the trailer and slept in it and it was surprisingly comfortable. Kye, their older son is going to college at Kinnesaw (sp?) State. He and I took a ride in the 1983 Jaguar XJ6 that he and his dad just got running again. It has an LS1 conversion in it, but it had been sitting for years, so the injetors were clogged. Thanks for having us to visit Sue, Mark and gang. It was a blast catching up with you.
After breakfast Wednesday morning we headed towards Florida. We had hoped to get the nickel tour of Georgia Tech, but it wasn't meant to be. We made it to Valdosta, Georgia and the Eagles Roost RV park. It was a fairly nice park for being 30 years old, and very well maintained. We didn't get to use the pool because it closed when the office did at round 7 pm, but the showers were nice. Nothing compared to the ones in Auburn at University Station though, wow.
Thursday morning we headed to Tampa, and after about five minutes on the road we were back in Florida for the second time. We arrived in Tampa around 2pm and went straight to Lazydays RV shop. Don met us there and evaluated the damage, which he later estimated at $5,400.00! The whole front of the trailer has to be pulled off to be repaired, but since the cheapest version of this trailer is around $12,000, its worth it to get it fixed. Samuel was starving to death because he didn't eat a good enough breakfast so we got in a hurry to get to the campground. Jenn snacked him enough for me to get the truck and trailer weighed. Amazingly, the truck weighed over 11,000 pounds and the trailer was about 8,300 pounds.
We went to the Happy Traveller RV park in Thonantasassa, just up I-75 from Brandon. The park is nice and shady like the Eagle's Roost and we're close to the showers, but the wifi is marginal at best and there are a few large ant hills nearby that keep raiding the trailer. There are quite a few permanent residents here, and as usual we are by far the youngest. We plan on being here for a week. I called Tanys, our Real Estate agent, to set up looking at houses on Friday morning, and she set up four for us to look at. We agreed to meet at the first house, near where Jenn ecpects she'll be working at 0930. We went shopping then ate dinner and crashed out.
Jenn stayed home to study for her seven tests on Friday while the kids and I went to look at houses. The first house we looked at was in Bloomingdale and had been built in the early 80's, and as Mark would say, "had a lot of deferred maintenance on it". It had a pool and was in a good location, but none of us were impressed. The second house was ready for move in and reminded us all of our old house here so it was an instant hit with the kids. The third house was smaller, still nice, but in a less desirable neighborhood. It was $200 cheaper than the second, but not worth it. The last house was nice but two of the kids almost revolted against it when I asked their opinion. We put an application in to rent the second house. The kids will be going to Mulrennan Middle and Durant High Schools.
We finished up looking at the houses and schools around noon and headed back to the trailer. Jenn was still working. Everyone was tired so we just kind of quietly hung out until we needed to go to the store. I took Shannon and Sam with me to the WinnDixie around the corner and picked up some food for dinner. If it seems like we are always shopping it's because we have very little place to store enough food for 6 people in the trailer. Our almost new Halftime oven decided to overheat and is in need of repair, so we are having to work around that too. Jenn was studying until about 10 pm and the kids and I watched a movie.
Saturday morning Jenn was up at 5 am finishing up her reviewing for the tests. I woke up around 6 am and made her breakfast. She was off to Polk State College in Lakeland by 6:30. It took her an hour to get there because avoiding toll roads in Florida can be a challenge. I went back to bed and didn't get up until she was calling to tell me she was done around 10:30. She picked up the rental application on her way home. She took seven exams of 30 questions each in an hour and a half, and felt good about it, even as the gal next to her was still trying to finish her first test.
When Jenn got back she was starving so she ate everything in sight. I didn't have lunch made since I had just fed the kids and I breakfast so after doing the laundry we ended up back at the store. This time Jenn came and we stocked up a bit for a few days. While Jenn was doing laundry I was working on John's web pages while sitting in the park office, the only place wifi is strong enough to use with my notebook. I learned the importance of child themes in WordPress the hard way as updating the themes deletes all custom files. It took about 2 hours to fix two web sites. We also got the application for renting done and sent that off. I did battle with the ants in the hopes of slowing them down a little. We shall see. We wrapped up the week by watching How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek 2 over a BBQ chicken dinner. Its good to be back in the south.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Saturday we started out from Monroe LA, leaving behind the Ouachita RV Park, which was hard to find and the bathrooms were in disrepair. We pushed through to the Clayton-Jackson areas (of JFK-Oswald lore?) and managed to decode the hideous roads enough to get off for fuel and get back on with only a few u-turns and minor frustration.
We made it as far as Lucedale on highway 98 when I heard a large boom. At first I thought Len Osanic on Black Op Radio had hit the microphone while recording that episode since when I got out none of the tires were flat and the truck steering had been normal. Jennifer was actually the one who noticed the hissing sound coming from the right front tire. It was a slow leak so I had mistaken it for the a/c condenser dripping water on a hot pipe.
There was a gas station across the freeway so we hurried over there before the truck was no longer drivable. The tire was flat in minutes, and it was after 3pm on Saturday, so the tire repair shop across the street was closed. The spare I had been lugging around was in such bad shape it was barely recognizable as a tire. The catch 22 was that the roadside assistance would only change a spare or tow us, tire replacement or repair was not covered. So we decided that while Thomas and I waited with the truck for the roadside assistance to arrive, Jenn and the other kids would take the spare to a nearby walmart (spit) to get it replaced, and then bring it back to be swapped out. Amazingly enough, this worked. Soon the truck was back on the road with one new off-road tire and one highway tire on the front. Frankenstein had nothing on us.
I still needed two tires on the front because apparently the reason the one tire blew (a 12"x4" section was missing from the inside sidewall) was the belts had shifted or broken due to over inflation and long hot driving. That explained why I got a violent shimmy above 65 mph in my front end ever since New Mexico. The roadside assistance guy, Glenn, noted that the other front tire was also uneven due to broken belts. 65 psi on the front tires is all it needs, not 80! Another lesson learned.
Despite our best efforts at finding normal tires we were forced to drive Frankenstein through Mobile to Pensacola.
On Sunday I headed to the only place open that did tires, Pep Boys (remember, this is the south). It took 3 hours, but I got two new tires installed and a rain check for a free oil change for Jenn. We still hadn't decided if we were going to stay and ride out Debby by the time I got back. Once we checked the storm's progress it seemed like Pensacola was going to get clobbered so we decided to move.
We headed north out of Florida towards Montgomery AL, and made it as far as Auburn by 7pm. We had planned on heading for Columbus or Macon, but in hindsight I think we're better off here. So now we wait. Debby isn't going anywhere soon, and we seen to be out of the way just enough here, at least for now.
Jenn got an encouraging email from one of the places she wants to work, and is excited about that prospect and at the possibility that FL may grant her a staff permit without meeting the 480 hr requirement. She needs to be there by Friday night so she can take exams on Saturday. For us Pikeys, the skootcher continues.
Friday, June 22, 2012
It was 111 degrees in Fresno on Sunday so we decided to leave early the next morning make it over Tehachapi pass by 10 am so it wouldn't be so hot. Bessy, my truck, needs all the help she can get. Amazingly enough the hottest the transmission got was 200 degrees and that was coming out of Oakhurst and driving around Fresno, but it hasn't been above 195 degrees since. We made it over Tehachapi pass without incident and then descended into the mojave desert. When we saw the campground in Barstow at Newberry Springs we decided to keep going and made it to Needles California where we dropped in on the Desert View RV park for the night. The air conditioner struggled to bring the temperature down to 90 degrees and the refrigerator was unable to cool because there was no moisture in the air. We spent a lot of time in the swimming pool but managed to cook dinner and get to sleep for another early morning on Tuesday.
Since we traveled an extra 2 hours on Monday we were very close in perspective to our next destination so we decided to continue to Gallup New Mexico. The climb up to Flagstaff was from about 200 feet to over 7300 feet in one day and was hard on the truck pulling so much weight, but she did well. Flagstaff was our planned second stop, but we ended up eating lunch in the parking lot of a Safeway in there. When we arrived in Gallup New Mexico we set up and then went to the store to purchase food for dinner and breakfast the next morning. Our third night we intended on spending in Albuquerque, but we ended up pushing on to Amarillo Texas. We stayed at Amarillo Ranch RV park in Amarillo Texas. The neighborhood near the park was a little scary, but the park was very nice although the pool closed early. Again, we ate dinner in and planned to get up early so we could make it to Allen Texas the next day to visit my cousin Laura, Katie, Megan and John (Steve was on call). On June 21st we headed out early and made it to Allen where we camped at Lavon lake and Hidden Acres rv park, which was very close to Steve and Laura's house. We had a very good visit that night with Laura, Katie, Megan and John. The kids swam and we had barbecue for dinner.
A full day ahead of schedule I decided to let everyone sleep in on Friday morning. We woke up around 9 am and were on the road by 1030 am. We had just bought gas in Longview Texas and got back on the I-20 headed east when I was struck by another vehicle that had drifted out of his lane. Jennifer watched the whole thing in amazement. A chevy box van ran into the trailer with it's box and its front wheel impacted my driver side rear wheel and sent us sliding across the road. I felt like I was in an airplane that had just taken some form of damage, so I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was driving with my left hand only and eating raisins with my right hand and Jessica was surprised that I only used my left hand to keep the truck under control as we were sliding down the road. I finished eating my raisins and got the truck of the side of the road. When the other truck hit us I looked in my side view mirror and watched his wheel buckle under my left rear wheels and then turn sharply and depart off the left side of the road to the median. Bessy did great and remained under control and didn't take any damage, the trailer however took some damage on the driver side front area where it is ripped open and the side where it was ripped open as well. We spent 2 hours talking to the state highway patrol and insurance claims adjusters and then spent another 30 minutes duct taping the trailer back together so we could keep going. Fortunately, the trailer is still mechanically sound and livable.
We arrived in Monroe, Louisiana at around 730 pm and stopped at the Ouachita rv park. Its a nice enough park, but the bathrooms and showers left a lot to be desired. Now we really look like trailer trash with our duct taped rig. LOL!
Monday, June 4, 2012
We woke up at 0515 to get breakfast at 0600 at the hotel restaurant on the 8th floor. Just like the night before it was a great view. The food was pretty good but just like most breakfasts at hotels it was heavy on bread. We had omelets (tortillas), but they were small. We grabbed our bags and headed for the free shuttle. After checking out we hopped in for the 10 minute ride to the airport. After arriving we made our way inside, and after a short confusion about which airline we needed to check in with we made it to the ticket counter. They were very efficient and nice, and like most people at the counters in the cities, spoke pretty good English. We checked our bags and headed for outbound immigration. They asked our destination and stamped our passports, then we headed for security. The security check is the standard metal detector and baggage scan. No pat down, no backscatter nuke the passengers microwave b.s. like you find in the U.S. (or old Nazi's in the future movies). After the security check we headed to the duty free area and found some gifts. The cigars we looked all over Quito for were right there in the stores. I didn't ask the price so I could tell myself that they were more expensive than where I got them yesterday. As usual we brought our empty water bottles through security so we could fill them up afterwards and have something to drink on the airplane. Apparently TSA in the U.S. has these nice people so confused that when we went to sit down at the gate they confiscated our empty water bottles. These two tiny girls proceeded to hassle all the passengers out of their water bottles and even performed pat downs on the women who had to leave the area to use el bano. When I went to the bathroom I expected to get pat down too but they just waved me through. I guess they aren't allowed to do any cross gender pat downs (fondling). The crazy thing is there are liquors and wines for sale in the duty free areas, which if you had bought one of these would have been confiscated within meters of where you bought it and AFTER security. Really here folks? No even the TSA is that silly. We finally managed to start boarding the plane. While we were waiting we talked to two nice Asian girls from Toronto, Canada. They were very talkative and told us about their trip and the blood letting mosquitoes they encountered. We told them about Cuenca and they liked that there were no bugs there. While we were waiting our new friends emailed and called us to make sure everything was going well. There was a long walk to the plane but we found our seats and despite being group 5 there was plenty of room for our carry-ons. Jennifer is regretting her Bola Rola activities a little as something in her food is causing a tummy problem. She is sleeping right now. We arrived in Miami and had to walk for miles before we got to the sky-train which took us about 300 yards, then we walked for miles agsin. Finally we got to immigration. That went quick. Then we had to walk another half mile or so to get to customs and baggage claim. Once we got our bags we went through customs where they x-rayed all our stuff... again. Then we go to walk about a quarter mile to the ticket counter where we got our tickets to Tampa. After that we had to walk another quarter mioe to drop off our checked bags. Then we had to walk about two miles from the dropoff to the security check area. When we finally got there the fat TSA Nazi at the checkin station started giving me a hard time because I had a plastic bag in my hand with a gift in it in addition to my carry-on and my personal item. He said, 'I don't make the rules, I just enforce them.' Well tubby, you must have been feeding your face when they finished writing the rules because you're the only idiot to 'enforce' that stray thought on our whole trip. So, as usual with TSA we opted out of the microwave machine. We were a bit tired of walking all over kingdom come with our luggage, so by the time the pat down folks started copping Nazi attitudes with us I was about ready to go off. They let me through to get my patdown but started by first ignoring, then treating Jenn like some bomb toting terrorist. There was one guy running everything on our half of the security check and he just ignored us for about 5 minutes. Next, I got the GI Joe with the kung-fu grip who was a bit overzealous with his pat down procedures. He pulled his hands up so hard when searching my legs I thought I was getting a free proctology exam. At least this guy didn't try to pants me! TSA - just go away. After we finally sat down Jenn was still having an upset tummy but she wanted to try to eat. I found a place that served mashed potatoes and brought it back for her. She ate about half of them. We finally boarded the flight to Tampa. It was 38 minutes in the air. We landed, got our luggage, picked up the rental car and headed for the hotel. Thrifty wanted to charge us $9.90 a day to have a second driver. I told them no, so I ended up doing all the driving, which wasn't bad but made for long and tiring days. We ate breakfast at Denny's on Hwy 60 at about 9 pm for dinner. Then we got back to the a Quinta and crashed out.
We got up and made breakfast and headed with Patrick to the bank by 9:40 am. The bank I chose had branches in all cities in Ecuador, but none in the U.S.. Still, being a U.S. citizen makes all banks everywhere squeemish about the hassles the U.S. IRS causes worldwide. Without Patrick's assistance we would never have succeeded in opening an account. The bank required two color copies of each passport and of each drivers liscense and a local address with proof of residence, like a bill. Here's where making friends in Ecuador saved our skins. The letter of recommendation Gabriela gave us was not enough to make everything work by itself. We also needed $500 cash to open the account, which I didn't have and couldn't get because my ATM card wouldn't work (maybe because I didn't tell them we were leaving the U.S. - good thing I brought some cash). Fortunately, I was able to write a check to myself for the amount, but it was going to take 8 days to clear. This alone would have put us outside our trip window. Also, there is one key to doing this that would have changed how I did everything. It takes 3 days after you open an account before they will issue an ATM card, which happens to be the only way to obtain internet account access. To get the ATM card you have to show up in person with your passport. Nobody can get it for you and it cannot be mailed. It will have to wait until I can return to Ecuador. The first part of the process involved the bank using the copies of our passports to run background checks on us through the embassy. We made the copies of Jenn's passport, I already had mine, and delivered them to the bank rep. Then we left to run other errands and make copies of our drivers licenses and get a utility bill. The backround checks woud take about an hour and a half. Doing this the morning we were planning to leave was pushing our luck. Again, without our new friends we would have had a critical failure. Patrick is getting his Masters degree in Business Planning and needed to get a new copy of his High School diploma, so we ran those errands with him. When we got back there was a lot of paperwork to sign and no time to read it. We got our receipt, a CD at 7%, and a new account number. In hindsight I would have done this first thing on Monday or Tuesday when we got to Cuenca, but at that time we didn't have the connections that we established during the week. If it were possible to do that we could have gotten our ATM cards by Friday or Monday and been set. As it was, we were lucky to do as much as we did. Also, as a retiree I only needed $500, instead of the $25,000 for non-pensioners who want to establish residency. We still had to go back to the house to get our bags, and Fernanda had Juanita making a huge lunch, which we unfortunately had to eat in somewhat of a hurry. The food was great. Soups are a big part of the traditional meal. Meats, and various sweets rounded out the lunch. Fruit juice is the standard drink, but there is nothing standard about the types of juices there. Jenn and I both want to learn how to cook Ecuadorian dishes. Fernanda wouldn't let Juanita come back with us though. :-) After lunch we loaded up and headed for the airport. Since our flight was inside Ecuador it made it much less painful to get our bags checked and through security than usual. We got there in just enough time to hear the first boarding call. We were soon on our way to Quito. Patrick had wanted to meet us back in Quito for dinner since he was flying in around 7pm. We had some time to kill and some shopping to do. There was a giant mall named 'Cinquento' across the street from the hotel so we went exploring. We found some great things in there for family and friends. We also hiked around looking for Cohiba cigars that Dad wanted. Bolita's tummy was upset probably due to all the new foods. Patrick called about 7:30 and said he was having to run errands until 10pm. We wouldn't be able to do dinner, but we skyped and tango'd a couple of times trying to get that to work. Jennifer and I ended up eating in the Penthouse restaurant in the hotel. There was a table near us full of ugly, swearing, loud, obnoxiuos Americans, so I was trying to restrain myself from throwing them from the window. Jennifer could see my distress and said she was done. We went back to the room, got organized for the next days travels and went to sleep.
Today we went to Chullabamba, a suburb northeast of Cuenca. The project Fernanda's father is working on is about 2 months from approval by the city and it is called Rancho Chullabamba. They have a 60 hectare area that used to be Fernanda's grandfathers farm. When he died the farm was inherited four ways and some of it sold off. The entire area is now owned by about 20 owners, Gustavo being the primary shareholder with 25 percent. The weather is slightly warmer than Cuenca, which is nice. Cuenca can be on the cool side sometimes. It is 10 minutes from the hospital and shopping and about 5 minutes from the 'Asian School' which is reportedly amazing. Chullabamba sits just over a ridge to the northeast of Cuenca proper, and slightly lower than Cuenca in altitude. Rancho Chullabamba is going to be designed like a suburb in the U.S. where the houses don't have their own security fences (which is common in most of the rest of the world and certainly in Ecuador). Instead it will have security for the whole community with fences, gates, walls and ravines 'protecting' it on all sides. I put it quotes because I'm not sure there is anything to really 'protect' against. The ubiquitous security fences and security guards in Ecuador are more of a tradition than a necessity. While there I never felt threatened, not once. The project will have a mini-mercado, bank, dry cleaners and even a meals on wheels program with healthy food options for those working people who don't have time to shop and cook all the time. There will be a club with a restaurant and a nearby facility for older residents, perhaps elderly relatives of other residents. The lots are an average of 450 square meters, which equates to about 5000 square feet. Not big, but nice enough to have fun with without time cosuming requirements. The project will have 55 percent of the area dedicated to green space along with community gathering areas for BBQ's and the like. After viewing the property and enjoyng the view from the top of the mountain we descended the trail and headed back the short distance to the Pan-American highway. We travelled north and east to the next town where there were pigs roasting. We stopped for lunch and had pig-skins, black sausage and many other pork products. Jenn had an Inca-Cola that is a Coke product. Apparently Coke is very big in Ecuador, which is an 'other'. After lunch we went to Cuenca for Ecuadorian ice cream, twice. The ice cream looked like an upside down dixie cup and it had a popsickle stick holding it up. The first type we got tasted like home made vanilla ice cream, and the second was called dulce de leche, which tasted like caramel. Thew were evil. Another type of cold treat we got was espumillia, which tasted like a creamy marshmellow. It was in a sugar cone and it even had sprinkles on it. We rolled ourselves back to the house and I found myself alone at the table typing on the blog, still staying about two days behind, and everyone else was taking a nap. The naps turned out to be a good idea. At about 8pm we drove over in two cars to Gustavo and Maria's (Fernands's parents). They were celebrating her parents returning from'a European vacation and they included us. It was great to meet Fernanda's mom and dad and brother and his family. It was also nice to see Pablo and Juana again too. They were giving gifts from their trip and they even gave Bolita a decorated finger nail file which she was using soon after. Gringo loco was treated to some very fine ron (rum) and then later a very strong dry martini. I was still nursing the martini as we were getting eady to leave later. They treated us like family. With Natalie's, then Fernanda's, then finally Patrick's help I was able to understand Gustavo's description of Rancho Chullabamba (RC) while staring at a large development schematic. His english was much better than my spanish, but there were a lot of new words we needed help with. This is a very exciting project and it's in a beautiful area. Once the crowd died down we talked more about the specifics of the business aspects. Fernanda will be in charge of the foriegn buyers, which is an interesting proposition for her. We left there around 11pm. After we got back to the house we talked for a bit then hit the rack. Monday we had to do banking stuff and make our 3pm flight to Quito.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
We have arrived at our 12th stop on our summer trip across the U.S. We have almost reached the half way mark. I can hardly believe we have...