If you’ve been following along for a while now, you know that we spent a couple of weeks last February visiting Baja California, Mexico.
We traveled there with the Escapees RV Club Chapter 8 – The Mexican Connection. Chapter 8 has been organizing Mexico caravans for nearly four decades now and we found the trip to be exciting and relaxing at the same time. The countryside was beautiful and our interaction with the locals made the trip all that much more rewarding. We look forward to the next Chapter 8 trip
As a refresher, you can go back and look at some of our posts by following this link. Clicking on this link will bring up a search results page with links to each of the posts I wrote while we were on the trip.
What I wanted to share with you today is that our caravan Wagonmaster (Kassandra) recently received some pictures from our friend Miguel at La Jolla Beach Camp. Miguel was not only our host at the beach camp, but was also instrumental in helping to identify local areas of need where we, as travelers and guests to their area might be able to help.
One of those groups of folks that we so enjoyed getting to meet were the residents of what we here in the states might call an “assisted living” center. In Spanish it’s called La Casa del Abuelo (Or “The House Of The Grandfather”). I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because I’ve posted about that visit back in February and you can go and refresh your memory by following this link.
But I do want to share with you the pictures that Miguel sent along. These show how the monies that we donated through our auction and through individual donations have been used to pay for fabrication and installation of the new range hood in the kitchen along with installing new gates on the compound to promote the safety and security of the residents.
I know that our fellow Chapter 8 members are just as proud as Kathy and me that our efforts and our donations have been put to good use and we look forward to a return trip so as to be able to help even more.
If you’re an RV’er and you’d like to find out more about Chapter 8 and their caravan to Mexico each year, check out the chapter web site at www.mexicanconnection08.com
NOTE: This post was started about a week earlier but I ran out of data on my Mexican (Telcel) phone and so I no longer had a hot spot for wifi to my computer, so I’m finishing up this post while we are back at Rover’s Roost in Casa Grande Arizona where my Visible phone service and hot spot (with no data cap) is working great.
Now, back to the story …
Yes, we’re really enjoying our visit to the Baja with our new Escapee friends. Although we’ve been members of the club about 5 years now, there’s no way you can get to know everybody as there are currently (I think) over 50,000 members nationwide.
And although Chapter 8 has been coming to Mexico for 37 years, the people that travel with them change from year to year. Some have been coming for years while others (like us) have made this their first trip with the chapter and very likely the first trip to Mexico. They don’t always travel to this side of the Baja. Sometimes it’s San Felipe, Rocky Pointe, or even Mexico City.
We’ve been given the opportunity to give back to the communities in which we stay. At our stay at the zoo in Guadalupe Valley we were offered reduced camping fees and free admittance to the zoo (even when they were closed to the public) and in return we helped the keepers in the care and feeding of the animals and their habitats.
We learned that the zoo was founded by Mr. Jiminez and his wife Perla as a service to the forgotten and abandoned animals and the children of the community. They wanted a place that all families could come and enjoy wholesome family time together not only to learn a little about the wildlife kingdom but also to enjoy some recreation together.
The Jiminez family also owned the Jersey Dairy and for many years the dairy supported the zoo financially. Recently the dairy was sold to another corporation and the zoo is now a stand-alone non-profit zoo. It still has Perla (Mrs.) Jiminez as Director and the family is still involved in the management and operation, but the funding is FAR below where it was just a few years ago.
As a result they are struggling to feed and care for the animals. A lot of their “residents” are brought to the zoo by the government that has confiscated these illegally owned animals at ports of entry. Although the government delivers the animals to the zoo to be cared for, they provide NO financial assistance for their care and can come and remove these same animals at any time. That’s a real frustration for the keepers.
We (Chapter 8) members will also help the zoo by ordering items from their Amazon Wish List and some of us brought items down and hand delivered these things to the keepers while we were there. The keepers here are much like our teachers back in the states in that they buy a lot of their own supplies to care for their “flock”. Many of the 13 employees at the zoo are single and are so attached that they think of the animals in their care as their “family”.
In case you are interested in seeing what sorts of things the keepers need – and maybe you’re even moved to help as well, you can check out the Amazon Wish List link here.
When we arrived here at La Jolla Beach Camp, our hosts the Pabloff Family introduced us to the need at a local “Grandparents House” about 10 miles away from our camp. Our Wagon-master and Charity Committee had previously arranged to have us form a work party and provide them with about 200 man hours work to insulate one of their new living units.
When we arrived on site we were introduced to the husband and wife team, Angelica and Nicholas (both pastors) who started this mission along with the help of Justin who’s family is doing mission work both at this home and another one a few miles down the road.
It’s really a pretty remarkable story. Mrs. Pastor fourteen years ago found an old woman sitting on her front lawn. The lady looked to be alone and unfortunate so Angelica invited her into her home for lunch. They chatted and got to know each other. At the end of the lunch, Angelica told the lady she was welcome to return for lunch again the next day. The lady thanked her and asked if she could possibly bring a friend …. and so the beginning.
One friend led to another and another and another. Pretty soon Angelica was feeding 20 homeless old people on buckets and tree stumps in her front yard.
In Mexico there is very little money for programs like we have in the states and further these people that Angelica was meeting were mostly forgotten. They have no family that will admit to being related to them, they have little or no education, they have no way to travel, and they have not the knowledge or experience of how to ask for help. They are typically migrant farm workers who historically have lived the nomadic lifestyle traveling from farm to farm working in the fields and living on what little meager existence they can eek out with the wages their farmer pays.
Angelica knew there must be some public assistance available for these poor souls. She took one of them into a government office and introduced her as her grandmother. The agreed that Grandma qualified for a pension of $25 every other month. She then took another and introduced him as Grandfather. Then another and then another. You know what happened next … by the 5th time they knew something was up. She told the government agents the truth. They told Angelica that they were going to make a surprise visit to see for themselves.
When they arrived and saw what she was doing – unfortunately they couldn’t help financially with anything more than the $25 per person every other month. But the COULD provide her with a building close by where she could prepare and serve the meals. Soon after and still today, she and her volunteer helpers are serving meals to about 200 forgotten souls on a daily basis.
But she knew there was still more to be done. These people needed homes. They were living under sheets of cardboard under trees. The more fortunate ones had acquired plastic tarps to live under and were begging on the streets. These are sick and aged people in their 70’s and 80’s who could no longer do manual labor.
That’s where our new friend Miguel Pabloff comes in. Mike helped them obtain the land on which to start a small community of nice clean stick-built homes for these people. All the work and all the materials have been donated. Angelica and her husband Nickolas receive no government funding except the $25 previously mentioned.
Currently there are 15 residents and the Pastors do all the cooking, cleaning, bathing, activities and more. The do get volunteer help as well. The day we were there two student nurses came to check on all the residents and will be coming weekly for the next six months while they are still in school. Other volunteers come (unsolicited) from churches and neighborhoods in the area to help because they’ve heard of the unselfish work that Nicholas and Angelica are doing and want to help.
Although the resident rooms are very plain, we were told that to these folks, it’s a castle. Most of them had been living on the streets.
The rooms are spartan and very clean. There is one very large shower (to accommodate a wheelchair) in each building. When the residents want community or meals, they need to get over to the community dining room. Some are ambulatory with the help of canes or walkers while others need to be pushed along in wheelchairs.
Remember, clicking on any of the thumbnail photo will open a larger picture so you can see more detail.
The pictures in the gallery below show tables filled with donation items (food and clothing) for the Grandparents home and also to distribute to some of the less fortunate out in the country.
We collected (from ourselves) the donations and then on Saturday night we had an auction where we got lubed up with $2 Margaritas beforehand and then bid on items given by ourselves to our “other” selves. We raised about $4000 in the auction. This is just part of the monies that Chapter 8 will be giving back to four different Service Projects (charities) here in Baja California before we leave.
Thanks for riding along … More to come in our next post.
This might be getting a bit repetitive, but it’s not getting old for us! This is so wonderful being able to get such a close-up interaction with the zoo animals and their caregivers.
Today we spent time with the Yellow Parrots, Pumas, Spider Monkeys, and Macaws. We helped to feed them and helped to clean their habitat — things that the keepers do every day. We also gave them enrichment toys – things that help to keep them curious and stimulated – not just bored & locked in a cage.
See the cart that Arturo (picture above) is pulling along the trail as we walk from exhibit to exhibit? They use carts (usually pulled by bicycles) to move tools and supplies around the zoo as they need them. In the states we would have the luxury of being supplied with motorized carts/trucks of some sort.
Arturo got one of the staff here at the zoo to take our wheel off and get the flat tire fixed and reinstalled. Service on-the-spot and only $300 pesos ($15 US) – Hooray!
Later in the day we got to share some time with a new (3 month old) lion cub “Carlotta”. She’s very playful so she had to be watched very closely by both Stephanie and Antonio (keepers) because the wooden fence isn’t that tall and she can jump easily and quickly.
Keeper Carlos talked to us about the 4 different types of reptiles and introduced us to a few of the residents of the habitat he manages. Some were so uncomfortable they left the room or refused to come in to begin with, but most of us stayed and enjoyed Carlos’ informative presentation.
Late afternoon we all carpooled to L.A. Cetto Winery. We got a great tour of the operation led by our tour guide Adrian. He shared with us that this winery was started in 1928 here in Guadalupe Valley and it is the largest winery in all of Mexico. They manage and harvest about 3000 acres, having about 250 seasonal employees in the fields. The grapes are all hand picked and they produce over 1 million cases of wine annually. The (2) rooms of stainless steel fermenting tanks hold over 3 million liters of wine at a time. After fermentation the wine is transferred to the oak barrels where it stays for just a few and up to 65 years!
After the tour we all went up to the outdoor patio for the wine tasting and Tapas made by our own crew. Our caravan leader Ed Dennis graduated in culinary art from a Paris school years ago so he asked for volunteers from our group that could help him prepare our afternoon feast – It was fabulous!
There’s more to come …. we’re all heading out to a local Mexican restaurant tonight and tomorrow morning we will all say goodbye to our new friends at Zoologico Parque del Nino Guadalupe Valley and head further south on the Baja Penninsula to La Jolla Beach Campground.
Our first day in Mexico was without our RV’s. Our caravan of 27 rigs has been divided into four smaller groups to make the trip(s) more manageable.
Kathy and I are the second rig in Group 2. Today the mission for each group is to drive our cars 20 minutes to the border crossing of Tecate. We carpooled and parked our cars in a public lot ($5 U.S.) and walked across. We stayed in our smaller groups of 8-10 people as we toured the town.
Each group’s mission was to check in with Mexican authorities and get our FMM cards, exchange our dollars for pesos, enjoy breakfast at an open air cafe, visit Tecate Brewery (free beer), visit a Wonderful bakery, and anything else we wanted as long as we were back to Potrero Bark by 3pm or so.
I needed to buy a cheap cell phone for Mexico as my service provider does not include Mexico coverage. A couple of folks in our group found a pharmacy to get some much needed aids (drugs) to help with their ailments.
Along the way some of us felt the need to get some ice cream too! I should’ve got a picture of that .. sorry.
The Mexican people are very friendly and smile and wave. A smile back with a “Hola” or “Buenos Dias” goes a long way way toward making new friends in a strange country.
One funny experience we had was our interaction with the border crossing official. After he reviews and processes your passport and FMM card (and collects your $31), he then graciously offers to sell you either honey or hot sauce and he’s sure to tell you the hot sauce is “good on your eggs in the morning!”
Back to Potrero Park for an afternoon info meeting, Happy Hour, dump our tanks in preparation for tomorrow mornings trip across the border, and finish off the night with a nice campfire.
More tomorrow as we drive south and enter the “Zoologico Parque del Nino Jersey” (zoo) at Guadalupe which will be our home for the next few days.
We drove yesterday from the SKP Park in Yuma (where we spent Sunday night) on over West to Potrero County Park.
It was mostly a great drive, with a little rain and a LOT of wind .. it was definitely a two-handed drive! The scenery was fantastic, along westbound I-8 (I wish I had pulled over to take a picture) there were miles and miles of huge, smooth boulders as far as the eye could see. It’s so fascinating to see all the different types of landscape we see as we travel.
These were large hills (or small mountains) made of millions of huge (larger than a truck / some larger than a commercial building) smooth-surfaced stones mounded on top of one another.
The colors ranged from white to sand to deep browns and reds. No jagged edges here like so many other geologic formations we’ve seen, just big rocks smoothed over millions of years by what force? Did they all actually used to be in a huge ancient riverbed whose cool running water smoothed them?
Once we got off I-8, we traveled about 25 miles west to Potrero County Park where we met up with about 20 or so of our fellow Escapees who are going to be our travel partners to Mexico over the next couple weeks.
Last night we had a Happy Hour at the park shelter where those of us that are here early could get together and share some munchies and get to know one another. Seems about half the group so far are returning travelers while the others like us are “Newbies” to the Mexican Connection trip.
Today the group leaders and some of the board members are headed across the border to Tecate just to make sure all is in order for our excursion there tomorrow. While we are in Tecate tomorrow we’ll get our Mexico FMM card, exchange some U.S. dollars for pesos, and visit a local bakery and brewery.