Camino Gear

As promised, here is my follow up post on the gear we plan to take when we walk the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied-de-Port (France) to Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in May.

First, here’s the photo layout:

Now here is what you see. Starting in the upper left corner (and moving clockwise) is my pack, an Osprey Kestrel 48. This is an overly-large pack for the Camino, but it fits me well, and if we need extra room I have it. On top of it is a Venture ID bag for our passports and camino credencial, the document which identifies us as pilgrims and gets us into albergues. Next is a Melt travel roller, a lightweight device for stretching; on top is my Diamond red light headlight, and below it is a pair of Keen travel slippers.

Moving due right is a soap/wash solution and the Brierley guidebook, and slightly right and up from that is a large travel towel (folded) with a pair of walkie-talkies. Above that is my emergency caffeine kit (24 packets of starbucks instant coffee), which is all that is standing between me and disaster if Judy needs a coffee fix some morning!

In the upper right corner is an Osprey 2 liter water bladder which fits into my pack with a drinking tube right to my face. Below left is a lightweight set of stuff sacks, a cocoon brand mummy liner (sleeping bag liner, no bag), a set of lower leg protectors (keeps rain/pebbles out of our boots) and an electric travel adapter. In the lower right corner are my Cascade adjustable hiking poles and gloves.

To the left is my lightweight, collared travel shirt and a long-sleeve Under Armour shirt, with my toiletries bag on top of them. Next left is a pair of running shorts which double as swim trunks, then my other detachable hiking pants and short-sleeve shirt. Curling back in to the center are two more pairs of quick-drying travel underwear and two sets of travel socks and silk liners. Above that is an over-the-pack rain poncho, and to the right is a Cool-rag brand towel, a travel utensil kit, and a blacklight flashlight.

And that’s it.

Not pictured are a small Android tablet and phone, and one set of gear I will be wearing (t-shirt, Keen hiking shoes, merino wool socks with silk liners, detachable hiking shorts/pants, quick-dry travel underwear).

Most of the gear is self-explanatory. We bought lightweight, quick-drying  equipment because (1) we’re carrying everything, and (2) you wear one pair, wash those when you are done for the day, then wear the other pair. We tried to get gear which is multi-purpose, like the detachable shorts or the running shorts/swim trunks.

Some things are unique. The Cool Rag is a towel which stays cool and moist in its container: on hot days you pull it out to cool off. The black light is great for identifying bed bugs, a nemesis when staying in dormitories. We found Melt rollers a necessity to recover from hard workouts. The headlamp is great for early morning (dark) starts, and can be used inside an albergue in the red light mode (without disturbing other sleepers).

We probably don’t need the 2 liter water bladder, and on some legs I won’t fill it, but it is a nice emergency item for us (or other pilgrims).

In yet another follow-on post, I’ll cover what I anticipate a camino day to be like.

Camino veterans, or those who are just meticulous planners, if you see something missing, please ask about it in the comments section!

Training down the homestretch

We’re now under 90 days out for our departure for the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela, so it is time to get serious about training. We have done once- or twice-a-week walks thus far, getting up early or walking under the hot tropical sun to experience different conditions.  We have gone as far as 24 kilometers carrying our loaded packs and wearing our gear.

They gave way!

After a few weeks off for Christmas and a trip to the States, we started back in yesterday with a 8 mile mid-morning hike. No sooner had we left our development then we found ourselves heading against the herd, literally.

It was difficult getting back into the swing of hiking: neither Judy nor I felt very motivated this hike. We ran into our friend Lisa who stopped to talk, and even she noticed we didn’t look very motivated (good assessment). By the time we took a lunch break, we began feeling better, and the last few miles felt like old times. We are very tired for such a short walk, but I think we will recover our form rapidly as we increase the frequency and duration of our training hikes.

These two demanded I take a photo

Part of my problem was probably overpacking. I have been gradually increasing the weight in my pack, well beyond what I will actually carry, so that the hike seems easy in comparison to our training walks. However, I did not keep track of how much I was adding: I would just see something fairly heavy but still compact, and I would think “that would make great pack filler!” so I would throw it in the pack. After yesterday’s hike, I went back and unloaded and weighed everything, and I was up to 25 lbs. Seasoned Camino pilgrims suggest never carrying more than 10% of your body weight, which would give me an 18 lb target.  Seven pounds may not sound like much, “but ounces make pounds, and pounds make pain” is the mantra.

Keeping your pack weight to a bare minimum is critical for an 800 kilometer hike.  I will detail what we’re bringing, and why, in a follow-on post.

A little Whiplash

So during the last 10 days, we left our relatively perfect lakeside weather for a quick Stateside trip.

First, we spent a cold snowy weekend near Cincinnati. We had pre-staged some cold weather gear there, so I was able to hit the sledding slopes with my Grandson Ian.

Sledding in my Hannibal Lecter outfit

We hopped over near to Baltimore, where it was even colder! There wasn’t enough snow to sled or make a snowman, but there was a steady wind. I didn’t stash as much weather gear. The granddog didn’t even want to go out for a walk at night. But Grandson Henry and I did get to build a fort out of the sectional couch, and defend it from the beasts (Granddaughter Quinn and Granddog Rufus) outside the walls.

Baltimore: not charming!

That cheap flight I mentioned last post got us to Playa del Carmen, where we thawed out. We were the only tourists NOT complaining about the cloudy weather with occasional rain, as the temps were all 70 degrees and up.

Beautiful view from the balcony, but notice the missing Sun
So we were forced to eat French food indoors (sigh)

Not looking for any sympathy, just noting what it is like on the road.  I do claim my “winter credentials” for another year! Winter is a season best only visited.


We’re currently in the States on a quick visit to see our kids and grandkids.  Unlike our last marathon car trip NOB, we are flying this time. Going back to visit family or friends is a perennial aspect of expat life, and the ready availability of air routes via Guadalajara’s Miguel Hidalgo International airport (GDL) provides many opportunities to do so. Landing rights and routes between the US and Mexico were strictly controlled for a long time, and only recently began to loosen up, so new options are constantly evolving.

The main routes from GDL to the States are United Airlines via Houston, American Airlines via Dallas-Fort Worth, and Delta via Atlanta. Many airlines fly directly to Los Angeles and Mexico City, which provide other alternatives. New direct routes to New York are popping up, and the advent of low cost carriers is making a real difference.

One thing I have learned is the need to consider all the alternatives, including unusual routes and special sales, when planning a trip. My favorite travel planning site is, which provides a comprehensive set of options for any trip. It shows options for driving, bus, rail, or air, and has flight data even on carriers like Ryanair and SouthWest, which often don’t show up on air search sites. The site only gives you an estimate on the costs, but you can immediately check those estimates with links to the actual carriers.

For example, during this trip we’re using old accumulated frequent flyer miles to get from GDL to Cincinnati, then Southwest (via their most recent fare sale) to Baltimore, Southwest again from there to Cancun before returning to Guadalajara on AeroMexico. The savings from the Southwest tickets (versus a normal fare via the routes I mentioned earlier) is large enough to let us stay a few days at a resort in Playa del Carmen! I also noticed very cheap direct fares to/from Europe via Cancun, due to the tourist demand. And we’re doing this with very normal flight times, not using the other advantage of retiree travel, the long or multi-leg travel itinerary.

In the interest of sharing info, please add in the comments if you have a good travel planning or search website/service to recommend.


Anybody who has known me for even a short time knows I don’t like surprises. In fact, I really don’t like surprises. There is a reason I have never had a surprise party, and why I spent so much of my career doing strategic planning or scenarios exercises, all to eliminate or mitigate the effects of surprise.

Our LR mini-split sits serenely

So the past few weeks have been a lesson in patience as I deal with some surprises. The first came when we contracted to have two mini-split style air conditioning units installed in our casa: one in the living room, one in the bedroom. As I previously posted, the a/c is only necessary  for a few weeks in May and June, but we figured why endure even that if it’s not necessary? The vendor came from Guadalajara; he told us it would take a little more than a day to complete. Today we are on day three, stretching over the weekend, because they ran out of cable on Friday, but that is no longer surprising after a year in Mexico. What was a surprise was late on day one, when I heard the vendor yelling “Señor, señor! El Agua!” I ran outside, where they were installing the condenser unit on top of my bodega. There was the youngest member of the team, valiantly sitting on top of the ledge and pushing with all his strength on a power drill, while water gushed straight up at him from the water pipe he had just drilled through.

Picture a young man kneeling on that ledge…
The blue pipe was agua

Did I mention it was a power drill? As in an electrical device, still plugged in? Surrounded by gushing water?  Visions of lawsuits danced in my head, but then I remembered this is Mexico, and a lawyer is not the first resort in every case. We got the young man and the drill out of harm’s way, then went to turn off the water. Now I had been told that the water shutoff was built into the carport floor, clearly marked agua. But when we opened it, (surprise!) there was a customized handle which we did not have the right key to turn off the water. It seems this is a municipal shut-off, not my home water shut-off. The water kept pouring out, luckily only in my carport and down the drain. We went searching for someone who might know where the shut-off was, and finally found the community groundskeeper, who calmly walked up to my exterior wall hedge, reached in, and turned off the water. Of course!

Not this one!
This one!






I never would have imagined a water line in the roof of my bodega (or a shut-off valve in my hedge), but it turns out that was where the builders ran the line to get water to my rooftop mirador. When all your utility lines are built into a stucco and brick structure, you can’t just tap on the wall or use a stud finder to see what’s underneath. So the vendor just drilled and hoped for the best; it worked well on the other three holes they drilled. We had a plumber come out and cap the line (for the moment). As I was typing this, the vendor just came to tell me my fuze box is configured differently than he expected, so now we have an electrician coming to address that. I am betting on day four.

Meanwhile, we are preparing for a possible visit back to the States to see our kids and grandkids.  I say possible because while I have airline tickets, I don’t yet have authorization from the Mexican government to leave. See I was on a one year temporary visa, set to expire February 1st, but I wanted to apply for a permanent resident visa (same as my dear wife already has). I knew we were planning a January visit, so I started the paperwork early in September: thus I would have my Permanente all done well beforehand. When we hit early December with no final status, I knew I was in trouble: Mexico goes on holiday from early December through January 6th, and I was flying January 11th!

Luckily, the Mexican government faces this issue all the time, so they have a procedure set up for gringos to apply for a special exception which lets us leave the country (and return) while we are still in process for our visa. I started my paper work the second week of December, and it usually take a week to complete, but I ran into the same holiday problem: no one at work to process my exception. Now, someone in my situation can always just get up and go and ignore the paperwork; no one is keeping me here. But if I leave without a visa or an exception, my status upon returning to Mexico is Tourist and I get to start the process all over again!

Final Update: sorry to those who saw this post earlier this week, before I finished it. I thought I was previewing it for editing, and I hit the publish button instead. So, the air conditioning team did finish on day three, despite my prediction. And today I got my special exception permit, so I can legally leave and return. I said many prayers this past week for patience, trusting it would all work out, and it did.  I still have a lot of room to grow in terms of patience, but then again, can you ever have too much?


Closing out the series on utilities, let’s talk television, telephone, and internet.

First, you have to understand that every country has rules and regulations (i.e., laws) on who can broadcast what within their borders. These rules go back to the dawn of the broadcast radio era, then were broadened and reinforced when television was invented. Cable television was a challenge to these rules, but could be accomodated. Satellite and streaming blow the national rules apart. So while it may be illegal for a US firm to broadcast its signals into Mexico, it is not your fault if you receive them. And if someone else receives a signal and resells it to you, they may be liable, but you probably are not. Perfectly clear? No, of course not, but this is useful background to understand the details I will cover now.

In Mexico, you can sign up for Mexican cable and satellite services as well as receive signals over-the-air. What you will get are channels in packages designed for the Mexican mass market, with some English language channels thrown in. If that does not satisfy your needs, you can buy a satellite dish from a US or Canadian provider and install it in Mexico; there are experts here waiting to assist you. The service provider is not supposed to provide service in Mexico, but they cannot control where you pick up their signal. If you let them know you are in Mexico, they will cancel your service, but if you don’t, you just pay them as you would if your home was in Toronto or Tampa. Sometimes the geography can pose complications. I hear that Shaw (a major Canadian satellite provider) is switching to a new satellite which is difficult to target from Mexico. Likewise, some packages available in the States may not be available in Mexico (I still don’t know exactly why). You can get a basic channel package for less than $100 dollars a month, which gets you the major networks, sports, and entertainment channels.

If you have a decent internet connection, you can watch television with devices such as Roku, Amazon Firestick, or Kodi, etc. These are vehicles to access content on the internet, which may require additional costs for the actual service provider (think Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.). In some cases you just buy these services, but in some cases those pesky national laws interfere and you need a IP masker which fools the internet into thinking you are in whatever country you choose. Some enterprising individuals will also sell unlimited pay services which they are accessing and retransmitting. These deals are usually “too good to be true” in that they are violations of the copy- and broadcast-rights of the original service provider.  Service providers and access devices makers work together to shut down such pirate resellers, resulting in spotty service. Costs for streaming are very a la carte, meaning prices are all over the map and depend on what level of quality and access you desire.

Speaking of the interwebs, rural Mexico is where the US was 10 years ago. The main provider is TelMex, the phone system, in competition with Mexican cable providers like IZZI and Telecable. Most access is shared, meaning high-usage periods result in slow service, which is generally neither particularly high-speed nor consistent. We have 10 MBs download with about .5 MB upload via TelMex, sufficient to watch TV/streaming. There is a high-speed, fiber-optic cable system considering running direct service to our area this year, which would be a significant leap forward (say 50-75 MBs in a basic package). Some satellite internet service is available, but very expensive.  Despite this, many expats who work on the internet find ways to obtain sufficient bandwidth to work from lakeside.

The phone system in Mexico was only deregulated recently, so change is underway. Previously Telmex was a subsidiary (and a near monopoly) under América Móvil, which belongs to Carlos Slim; depending on his holdings and the value of the Peso, he is either the richest or one of the richest people on the planet on any given day. A basic landline or simple cell plan is very cheap, and often includes free calls to the US. Some expats keep their US cell plans, although if you use all your data continuously outside the States, they might cancel on you. Many expats use free or low-cost VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) systems such as Vonage or MagicJack. Different from the States, many Mexicans use WhatsApp, an asynchronous messaging application which permits voice, text, photo or video sharing either over cell data or wifi.

Phew! That is a lot to digest, and more importantly, it is changing all the time, so consider this a snapshot at best. The short version is: like most things, basic communications service in Mexico is inexpensive. As an expat, you can access most anything communications-wise you want to in Mexico, but it may not be easy or cheap.

But they still don’t have “any stinkin’ badges!”

Utility is a relative concept

I previously covered the ins and outs of electric power in Mexico. What about the other utilities? I’ll leave television, the internet, and phones for another day. Here are the other mainstays.

Let’s start with the postal system, or Correos de México. Getting mail directly from NOB to your home address is entirely a crap-shoot. It may disappear or it may show up months late. Based on some magazine subscriptions I transfered down as a test, you can anticipate a 3-4 month lag. However, there is a work-around: many expats sign up for local PO boxes in Texas and mail transfer services which (in effect) hand carry your snail mail down to lakeside. So if you have to have regular mail delivery, there is a way to get it. As to local mail, all I get are electric and telephone bills which always come on time. Regular mail is delivered to our development whenever the mailman has access to his bicycle. Package delivery varies: Amazon Mexico is pretty fast and consistent; some stateside ordering (including Amazon USA) can get hung up either because they don’t use international shipping services (think DHL for Mexico) or if there are customs issues with your order.

Roof top tinaco

Water varies in quality and type of service based on where you live.  Most municipal and well water is not potable, so folks have bottled water delivered in bulk for drinking and cooking. Most Mexican homes have a aljibe or cistern which gradually fills up from a low pressure municipal feed.  A pump moves the water from the cistern to a tinaco or water tank on the roof which provides a store of water under pressure, which is also heated by the sun (but that is as hot as it gets for those houses). Some expats add pumps and heaters to address the pressure and heat limitations. If you live in a more modern development, especially one built with expats in mind, you will probably have a community water system which is filtered and pressurized. We also have an infrared water purification filter for our house so whatever comes out of the faucet is as good as anywhere NOB. We have a propane water heater which provides ample hot water. Since the local water is very hard, we must use a water softener. Water costs us about $15 USD monthly, including our fountain and landscaping needs.

That mention of propane in the last paragraph was not a typo: propane is the fuel of choice in Mexico. We have a sizable propane tank in a bodega in front of our house, which a gas truck comes and tops off whenever we run low. We use propane for cooking, grilling, heating water and a single fireplace. A gas refill runs about $70 USD and lasts around five to six weeks. Gas trucks cruise the neighborhoods, playing unique company jingles over loudspeakers and always ready to refill a tank.

One of the smaller trash trucks

The trash team comes by on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. They ride a huge truck with giant trash bags hanging off the sides. They leap off the truck, grab whatever they find in or near the trash can, and toss it to the top where the other team members sort/throw it into the appropriate bag, and away they go. Trash fees are built into our homeowners association, which is approximately $90 a month (covers outside maintenance, security, etc).

Sewage is also covered by the HOA fee, and just disappears down to drain (as it should be). However, our situation is unique as again we live in a development built for expats and Tapatios (the nickname for people from Guadalajara). In most of Mexico outside the big cities, tourist and expat zones, the waste system is not designed for paper products. You’ll see signs in Spanish and English reminding you to throw all toilet paper in the trash can in the bathroom. This is a hard habit for many visitors and expats to adopt; the alternative is a clogged toilet. You must determine, before you buy/rent/visit, what type of waste system is in the casa you are considering.

Sorry for all the nitty-gritty details, but that’s a part of expat life!