Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Vincent Chapter

After bouncing around for over a year - things are starting settle down and look normal again. I have a permanent address - in Edmonton of all places. After returning from Mexico I lived on a farm for 10 weeks, then did some more housesitting for my parents on Vancouver Island. Housesitting was how this whole cycle started - so it seemed fitting that it would conclude my semi-transient phase.

After my parents returned from their travels, I set about arranging to move to AB…and low and beyond, found myself surfing Craigslist for a used van. I hate U-Haul - it never goes according to plan. Either they don’t have the vehicle size you reserved, and/or it is poor repair (eg. on my last move, the gas filler hose was ripped - which poured gas everywhere when I filled it up)…and frankly I didn’t a large vehicle.

After pricing rentals out - I figured it would be around $800-$900 to rent one for 2-3 days - so buying a cheap van seemed like a reasonable gamble. After all, I had done it with Walden and it had worked out well - this time, all it needed to do was travel ~1000k and it would owe me nothing.

Enter Vincent - Vincent van Gogh. A 2000 green Dodge Caravan. He was for sale just down the hill from my parents place so I wandered down and took him for a spin. Originally from California, he is a typical high mileage Caravan. Foggy headlights and all. The seller wasn’t overly forthcoming about known issues which worried me but the wheels didn’t fall off, so I put in an offer. He was listed at $1200 - so I offered $1000, expecting the owner to meet me half way. Nope. No joy….so I waited a week and returned…ended up paying $1100. More than he is worth but there wasn’t much out there - pro tip: don’t talk more than necessary when buying a vehicle. I feel I ruined my chances of working him down because I mentioned how much renting a van cost. Gotta learn to be a little more ruthless when negotiating. Whoops.

Still. All said and done, I was happy with the purchase, I felt the extra cost was worth the freedom (after all, with a rental, I had to complete the move within 3 days). As with Walden, I was expecting bugs to come out of the woodwork and sure enough, things started to surface.  For example, the passenger door didn’t open from the inside…buddy had opened it with the window down and I hadn’t thought to check it. Lesson learned - luckily it was easily fixed ($4 plastic clip)

I picked up Tamara’s stuff in Vancouver and drove out to AB without a hitch. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there wasn’t an interesting story to go with it.

Once in AB - we emptied the back out and went on a road trip. More on that next post.

It looks like a lot of stuff but that is with the two benches stacked on top of each other behind the front seats.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Perpetual State of Transit

The last leg of my Mexican adventure was pretty arduous. For prosperity sake - I’m going to start from the beginning and try to portray how grinding it was:

Things started to go wrong from the get-go. We tried to book seats on the same flight simultaneously on Expedia - when we fell victim to a pricing algorithm . I when bought mine for $330 - my gf immediately got a notification that the price had risen $90 odd dollars (while she was filling out the information). When she refreshed - it jumped even more - raising it to a couple hundred more.

Feeling this was ridiculous, we decided to hold off buying the ticket.  We hoped that letting it ‘cool off’ for a day, would bring the price down. Unfortunately - this was about the time the lower portion of the states experienced winter storm Sparta. Sparta was about to unleash a cluster fuck in the aviation world - thanks to Dallas’ inability to clear snow and ice. I propose that _all_ international airports that act as major hubs, regardless of location, have adequate provisions for snow/ice. It seems to happen once a year - you’d think we’d learn.

A day or two before my flight - we found a flight for my gf for around the same price - only it was 15hrs instead of 7hrs like mine was scheduled to be.

I remember saying something to the effect of “Sorry babe, I’d switch places with you if I could…I’m good at waiting”. Little did I know the gods were listening…

We debated what to do the last night in Mexico City. My flight was to leave at 6am (my gf’s was two hours later). The options were:
A) staying at a hotel at the airport
B) taxiing from our hostel
C) or catching the metro before it closed (12pm) and pulling an all-nighter.

We opted for c) - having pulled an all nighter on the way down, and it being the cheapest option.

We arrived at the airport around 11pm and found a table in the food court to set up shop. Timbit (gf) slept while I did some work.

While I worked, I did note one flight was cancelled. US Airways flight 1066 to Dallas TX - unlucky for them.

Them turned out to be me. For some reason, I thought my layover was in Phoenix. When we realized it was actually my flight was cancelled - we weren’t quite sure what to do. That late, everything was closed…and there were no clerks to help us sort it out. It would have to wait.

I logged into Expedia and found that they had been nice enough to automatically book a flight with American Airlines for 1:28pm. It only took me a couple of hours to realize it was 1:28pm the _following day_. This was about the same time Timbit had to check in. I waited in line to talk to a clerk while she did so (the plan was for her to take the main rucksack). The line moved incredibly slowly. I wasn’t even half  way when she had to leave me.

Kiss. Good luck.

The girl at the AA counter in Mexico City was great. After explaining I had nowhere to stay/nothing other than my laptop - she worked hard to find an alternate. The best she could do was a flight with AeroMexico to LAX, then a flight with what appeared to be Delta to YVR.

The AeroMexico flight was at 2pm - so I had some time to kill (around ~8hr)

I caught the flight without much problem…a couple hiccups converting the flight coupon to a boarding pass…but nothing I couldn’t blunder my way through.

I arrive a LAX and set out to find the Delta terminal. Luckily I as an official looking dude named Javier. He was very nice and called it in…turns out what appeared to be a Delta flight was Westjet (it was operated by Delta). Happy that quick question saved me a lot of time, I retraced my steps to the Westjet counter.

Well ahead of time. I check in with a girl named Natalie….or attempt to. Natalie informed me that the flight I was confirmed for was full. Something to do with the system (AA received the confirmation - but WJ did not).


Natalie then tried very hard to figure it out. When we realized there was no way I was getting on the flight - she called AA (who originally booked the ticket). AA said that they’d book me on a 6am flight and cover my hotel. All I needed to do was go to their terminal and sort out the deets.

I wander over to the AA terminal and wait in a growing line of unhappy people. AA had 4 people on….despite the fact one of their main hubs was offline and they needed to redirect hundreds of customers.

To this point - I’ve been pretty chill. I understand that the weather can’t be controlled and the clerks are doing their best to sort things out. In Mexico, some dude started to loose his shit while dealing with the clerk next to me. Inside, I wanted to tell him, that’s not the way to do it - gotta be nice.

So I tried to be super nice to every clerk I dealt with - and up to this point - it had worked beautifully. Until I stepped up to the AA counter in LAX.

The clerk waved me over, and I proceeded to explain the story above as best I could. She checks and in fact I am booked for a 6am flight - but there is no mention of the hotel. Finally it ends with us talking with her supervisor.

This is when I almost hulk out. The super visor was a stone cold bitch. She didn’t acknowledge I was there - instead, talked through her subordinate about me. I don’t care if you can’t do anything for a customer - that is not how it is done.

Not going to take no for an answer - I went back to JC, a clerk that I had seen dealing rather expertly with some unhappy customers while I was getting jerked around. JC did his best to help (or at least pretended to) and soothed the degrading feeling my encounter with his supervisor had left.

Looks like I had some more time to kill.

As a side note: If you are ever in this situation - make sure that your clock is set to local time - It’s depressing when you realize you have more hours to wait than you first thought.

I paced around LAX - cold - almost to the point of being really uncomfortable.

Finally. 4am rolls around. Again. Time to check in. The nice woman at Delta informed me that I needed my ticket (AA had neglected to give it to me - only an itinerary) - luckily she was nice and didn’t make me walk back to the AA terminal.

I must have looked pretty frazzled. At this point, I had only been able to sleep 2 hours in Mexico City (I couldn’t sleep alone as I had to watch my laptop/camera etc).

I finally board the Delta flight and make it back to Canada.

I arrive at my girlfriend’s apartment a disheveled, red eyed mess. I slept like the dead.

I ended up being awake for the majority of 54 hours We woke at 8:00am at the hostel the day before our flight. I slept for 2 hours the first night at the Mexico City airport, and about an 1 hour on each of my flights home).

The one perk out of all of this was that I got to try In and Out burger in LA (just outside the airport) - it was just what I needed...a multiple thousand calorie meal. :-)

Sunday, 1 March 2015


I'm currently at the Mexico City airport.

It's 10:30am and I've been here since roughly 10:00pm last night...and still have three and a half hours until lift off (hopefully).

I love airplanes but that's not why I'm still here, I was supposed to be at 30,000ft by now and most of the way home.

We decided, since my check in time was at 4:00am, to pull an all nighter like we did on the way down here. As we were desperately low on pesos, we took the metro. It closes at 12:00 so we had to come a little early...hence the 10 o'clock arrival. The airport seemed as good (and as safe) a place as any to burn the remaining time.

We realize a couple hours after arriving that my flight was cancelled due to "Winter Storm Sparta" (Dallas TX got some sleet/snow).

I log into Expedia and see they've booked an alternate. Great. What I didn't see is that it was for tomorrow!

By this point, my girlfriend had already checked the rucksack in - while I was in line waiting to see if I could change flights.

I see my gf off...and I was alone. Homeless, Sleepless, peso-less (we had carefully spent them all) in a foreign country. I have my day bag - which is pretty much my laptop and socks. Nothing else.

Luuuuckily - because I had no pressing deadline or no unrealistic expectations (like the old dude next to me). I remained calm and polite...and the lovely American Airlines clerk found me an alternate route home. It's wasn't easy but it's amazing what keeping calm next to a guy loosing his shit will get you. :-)

I've changed my itinerary 3 times - Aeromexico hopefully the last time - as this is started to feel like musical chairs.

Cultural and plumbing differences...

After 2 months in Mexico, there are a few things I still haven't gotten used to:
  • Roof dog/random dogs roving the streets.
  • Emergency vehicles constantly having their lights on.
And finally
  •  Wiping and putting the toilet paper in a basket next to the toilet.
The 3rd point is apparently is true for all of Mexico - which up until this point - I thought only applied to toilets with signs specifically instructing the user to do so.

Gringo mistake...I'll know for next time.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Mexico City

We are spending our last couple of days in Mexico City.

I can't say I was overly stoked on coming here - but due to the fact it was likely the cheapest way home (rather than spending 10 hours to get back to PV).

Mexico is the largest city I've ever visited - there are about 8 million people living in the city (20 million in Greater Mexico City).

It's got a bit of a reputation up north. Polluted (still is...) and crime ridden. From what I've read, they've worked hard cleaning it up. The pollution is still there, but it's no longer the most polluted city in the world (I'm not sure if they cleaned up, or somewhere China just surpassed it)...and crime wise - it's a big place and so far, anecdotally, it feels safe enough.

I still am pretty paranoid, especially riding the Metro....but in any big city, one should be.

We kept close to the hostel the first night and today we took the metro to the Anthropology Museum and Chapultepec Castle. The Museum was maaaaaaasssivvve - way to much museum for one go. We did make it through but frankly, near the end we were looking forward to finishing. 'Luckily', a lot of the exhibits were in Spanish which gave us a valid excuse not to read everything.

The castle was pretty cool...the exhibits were all in Spanish - so it was just looking at the pieces/building and scenery.

The Cathedral

Favorite building in Mexico City (Latino Americana)

Best part of the Anthropology Museum

Favorite part of the Chapultepec Castle

What a great view!

View from the hostel terrace.

Latino Americana building at night.

Chapultepec Castle

Passport Please

We arrived in Mexico City yesterday.

During the check-in, the hostel staff asked for our passport (standard procedure). I stuck my hand into my bag pocket where it always is - only to find it wasn't there. After a quick, progressively sweaty search - I handed my bag over to my ladyfriend.

She couldn't find them either!

We quickly retrace our steps. The passports have lived in the same spot, more or less undisturbed, until we bought my ticket.

She swore she put them back in the bag!

So at this point, the hostel staff takes our drivers licenses. Meanwhile, our lives flash before our eyes. Stuck in Mexico. Gf needs to be back for the 4th.  I've already spent 330 on a non-refundable ticket leaving in two days...


I am just about to loose my mind when my hand lands on the passports.

Disaster averted. Best feeling ever. :-)

F-ing Expedia

Airline pricing is a shell game at best. I think I hate booking tickets more than I hate buying/selling vehicles (in other words a lot).

I booked my flight the day we left Guanajuato. The prices had risen since we flew down - but only by $100 - so no big deal. My gf wanted to pay for hers separately, so we started the process simultaneously.

I finished before her, and as I did so, she got an increase stating the price had risen. Whoops. She refreshed only to find - to our collective horror - that the price had skyrocketed to ~$500CAD from $330CAD.


Looks like we were bidding on the same seat or there was some fuckery involving cookies/ip tracking. We decided to leave it a little to see if it cooled off

We revisited expedia today hoping that the price had fallen - nope - it now was ~$700CAD for not even the same flight.


So in the end, she found a flight on Skyscanner that leaves an hour or two after me (so at least we can head to the airport at the same time) for about what I paid ($340CAD). The problem is, her travel time is 8hrs more than me!

So yeah. Moral of the story - book your tickets on Expedia during the same transaction...