Travel journal Mexico 2010 - 2011

by Claudia and PJ Potgieser




November 2010, Mexico
The morning awakes with red skies. At 6.50 AM we arrived at the US immigration office at Sonoyta (Az). Outside custom officers wear woolen hats and gloves, it is just one degree above freezing. We decide to be honest to the custom officer. "We are tourists from the Netherlands and we go to Mexico. Should we do something? ". The officer looks at our passports. "When did you entered the United States?".
"November 9th".
"And how long will you stay in Mexico?".
"In April we will come back to the USA." "And you are with the waiver ESTA program? (That's the name of the 90 days visa).
" Yes."
"Well that seems no problem to me, but I'll will check with my colleague here. A little later he returned with the message:
You are good to go”.
Less than five minutes later we're back outside. PJ remains suspicious, but I think we can stay for four months in Mexico!

The Mexican side is not to so smoothly. The first thing you need to do in Mexico is getting a visa. Our travel companions Lesley and Terry went first. The officer takes its sweet time filling in their forms and gets confused when Lesley is an American citizen and her husband Canadian. After twenty minutes it is our turn. The officer puts one of our passports through the scanner and looks at his screen. And keeps staring ...
"Problemas?" I ask.
The man is studying again the front of our passports again which says rise up "European Union Kingdom of the Netherlands" (in Dutch).
"Holanda", I help him. 

He scrolls through his screen and shakes his head. "No Holanda."
"Países Bajos" PJ tries.
The man looks it up mumbles all the countries starting with a P.
"No." he decides.
"Netherlands? ", I say hesitantly now and browse through my passport. On the first page there is in about 21 languages, the word Netherlands.
I try again, "Reino de los Países Bajos", but the man keeps shaking no. And this goes on for twenty (!) minutes.
"Uno momento" says the man and leaves the office. Moments later he returns with a young girl wrapped in a fluffy white ski jacket with fur collar. She takes off her gloves and takes place behind the computer. "Países Bajos" she says surprised, pointing to the computer. The officer smiles sheepishly and takes the form and pushes it under my nose. "You fill it in."
Yeah, great, thanks a lot! I have to fill in a Spanish-language form. I do it as best as I can.  Only two hours later I realize that we do not have an entrance stamp our passports! How can we proof in the USA that  we have been in Mexico?

First Mexican trailer park (San Carlos)          Third Mexican trailer park (Mazatlan)                    Mexican drive-through store

After four days driving we arrived in La Penita and  a warm welcome (especially for Bob) awaits us. His friends have barricaded their site with a wall of palm leaves, signs and pictures of Mexican bandits with machine guns! Hilarious!



The next day Bob has his revenge. He dresses in camouflage, war stripes on his face and build a wall at the office and waits for the Mexican staff who helped with the wall. Again we have an exuberant beginning of our time in La Penita.


December 2010, Mexico
We have our campsite all set up nicely and PJ has built a "kitchen", complete with bowl with drain! from Bob and Char we got a comfy chair and a canapé that we put above the kitchen. We hang our hammocks and bird feeders. We take the camper from the pick up. We have a ocean view and lots of pink and purple bougainvillea around us.



The wildlife around us is colorful (birds, iguanas and butterflies), dangerous (crocodiles), cute (squirrels), scary (spiders and bats) and just disgusting (cockroaches).




I am sitting on my knees at the shore of a lagoon near the trailer park making pictures of a huge crocodile. From the road he is hard to see, because the swamp is overgrown by branches. A guy from the trailer park walks by along the road.
"wow, he is big", I can hear him exclaiming. Strange, because you can hardly see him from the road.
"And these colors, unbelievable!" and I can see he points his camera at a tree. 
"Colors?", I am thinking and do not get it. Later I see that I have just missed a huge brown spider with yellow dots hanging in its web.


We party a lot with our Canadian friends, try out Mexican restaurants, but we are also sportive every day. We give each other weird presents and have a lot of fun.



December 2010, The Netherlands
On December 17th we get the sad news that the partner of PJ's dad has passed away. We exchange the tropical Mexico for a snowy Holland.
On the plane from Detroit to Puerto Vallarta, we are with only 27 travel companions, so we had lots of space. In Detroit, we were told that only passengers with Amsterdam as their final destination are allowed on the plane! We were lucky because 90% of passengers had to stay behind! Without delays we arrived  to a snowy landscape and stumble at the airport on the stranded passengers and see corridors filled with abandoned suitcases.

Unique: a white Christmas in the Netherlands. In the last 110 years this has only happened seven times!

our mobile home in the snow

What a weird experience when we hear knocking on our door and PJ finds a white goose on our doorstep!


On December 30th we flew back to Mexico.

December 2010, Mexico
31 December 2010
We are just in time for the New Years party at the trailer park. I am having a bad cold and also Char has one, but that did not stop us from partying. La Penita trailer park has filled up with Mexicans while we were gone and they are showing us how flexible their hips are and how easy they move on the Mexican rhythms.

January 2011, Mexico
Peter and Monique, our long time friends from Holland came to visit us for two weeks starting January 7th. It was their 25th anniversary, so the theme is 'Honeymoon' and we had decorated their tent with white tulle ribbons, angels and signs that were showing them the way to their 'Honeymoon suite'.
Our Canadian friends were warm hearted to them and Peter & Monique experienced it as a warm bath.


Their 25th anniversary was celebrated with bridal cake, champagne mixed with orange juice, a pick-nick on a romantic beach and dinner with a view off the bay of Guayabitos.



Chills were running over our skins when a boa constrictor was found in a tree above somebody's trailer! Skillfully he was removed by a brave camper and returned to the jungle next to the trailer park.

Not even four days later another boa was hanging in the same tree!!! This one was thicker and longer. The snake was caught by one of the boys working in the park and after been measured (6feet) returned to the jungle.

One-and-a-half week later, in the same tree(!) there is another boa. Because this snake is way smaller, he can stay in the tree. Will it get any crazier?




Peter en Monique's vacation is full of eating, drinking, dancing, shopping and sun tanning.


Highlight of their vacation was a whale watching boat tour with guide Enrique, who picked us up from the beach at the trailer park. In the beginning the tour was not so successful; we did see the hump back whales, but they were far out and as soon as we got closer they dived under. Enrique rode to one of the whales and turned the engine off and we just waited if the whale would surfaced again. To our big surprise the whale started singing, right underneigh our boat! This lasted twenty minutes and the sound was someting in between a crying baby, air leaving a balloon and trumpeting of an elephant. Amazing! What an experience. When he finally came out of the water it was only 3 yards from the boat.

Peter reeled in a fish and we saw a leatherback turtle and Enrique was heading back to the beach. But then he saw a mother whale with young and he followed the couple up close. Now the whale tour was also photography wise a success.



After two wonderful weeks we said our goodbyes to Peter and Monique and immediately we received an email from other Dutch friends who would like to come to visit us in February with their two young kids. As soon as they booked their flight tickets we started with the preparations of their visit.






February 2011
Cancer de Mama Clinica (Breast Cancer Clinic)
In 1996 Jackie Jackson from BC Canada started a breast prostheses project for  Mexican women who cannot afford a breast prosthetic after a mastectomy operation.
Dealing with cancer of any type is a horrible ordeal. Being a poor woman complicates the physical aspects due to lack of available options or assistance. Add the cultural taboos to the situation and most breast cancer survivors withdraw from social activities for fear of standing out due to the loss of hair and a breast.
For many women in Mexico, just surviving the breast removal surgery is not enough, there is still a huge uphill battle for regaining self-esteem and feeling like a woman again.

Jackie’s Cancer the Mama project was  adopted by the La Penita RV Park residents in 2008. The clinic provides more than free prosthetics and a hot meal - it welcomes clients with instant fellowship, understanding, and a chance to feel feminine again - all wrapped in smiles and hugs from the many volunteers.

I am asked to make pictures of this three days event. Weeks ago the preparations for the clinic have started: the donated bra’s and prosthetics has to be sorted. The clubhouse where normally the residents play carts and ping-pong, is transformed into a clinic with eight private cubicles that are pleasantly decorated to ease the women's anxiety and to help the Mexican women feel respected, comfortable, and safe. With some 130 volunteers (also Mexican) and the help of the local stores the clinic cannot fail.

normally ping-pong is played in the clubhouse                      \ \ \ \ piles and piles of bras   \    \ \  \ \ \pink fitting room

 \ \\ \ \ donated breast prosthetics

The Mexican ladies are arriving at the nearby Pemex gas station because the buses are too large to travel right to the clinic door, so park volunteers ferry the women from the gas station to the trailer park. I take a ride with one of the male volunteers. There are so many women waiting that I feel obliged to wait for the next van or the next. I did not want to take somebody’s place.




The ladies are registered by Mexican girls and ask them for example when they had their surgery, if they have been here before and if they need a wig. Most of the women have risen at 4a6m and of course there is breakfast and coffee for them. This food is prepared by many volunteers who are working behind the scenes. The waiting starts and the ladies are entertained with bingo.


The first 15 ladies are called and are walked to the club house and seated. One by one is called inside.

I follow one of the ladies into the clubhouse and wait in a corner until she is fitted her prosthetic and bra.



Last year Karen Stranaghan published the following story about the Cancer de Mama clinic. Although I have not met these women, the feeling she describes is the same and I have decided to publish her story and frame it with my pictures.

Beautiful boobs! by Karen Stranaghan
They arrived in the hours before daylight; bundled, breasts concealed, heads bowed and hearts heavy.  Mexican women, all with breast cancer, and all with the hope that there might be a breast prosthetic for them.
For the previous year, women in Canada and the US have been quietly raising funds, gathering used prosthetics, prosthetic bras and regular bras that other volunteers will transform into prosthetic bras.  Scores of other women have been knitting tit bits, cotton filled breast prosthetics complete with nipple, by the hundreds.  All of these efforts have poured into the La Penita RV Park, in Nayarit, Mexico. 

                "titbits" sorted on size

For the next three days, 325 women from as far away as Guadalajara, Tepic, and Puerto Vallarta will come here to be transformed.
Unfortunately, In Mexico, it is not uncommon for breast cancer survivors to be made to feel dirty; the men in their lives shun them, their families shun them and sometimes even their whole village shuns them.  Times are changing, but still two women in the same village suffering from the same cancer might not even know that the other exists.  There is no support group, there in no Cancer Society, and in many cases, there is no information and precious few resources to deal with the physical and emotional damage of breast cancer.
But these women have hope, and as the days progress, the rewards of our efforts shine through.  As each woman is fitted with her prosthetic bra and tit bit, she emerges from the filling room, coat over her arm, like a butterfly from a cocoon.  Her hands fly to her face as she views herself in the mirror.  A wide grin splits her face as she realizes how beautiful she still is, then the tears overflow.  Others shake their booty and dance through the room, out the door and into the waiting arms of loved ones.  The air is filled with “Gracias, gracias”.  There are hugs, more tears and lots of clapping and cheering from the volunteers.  “Bonita Chi Chi’s” we call out; “beautiful boobs,” as indeed they are!


                     "God bless you, you are the working ants from God!"\ \ \ \ \ \A wig and some make-up make such a difference!

There is also much heartache, and none of us remains untouched.
The most fragile women, those still undergoing chemo, are assisted by helping hands on either side.  Their transformation begins quickly as they are first fitted with a wig or hat so that they can enter the fitting rooms feeling less naked.



A volunteer moves through the crowd with a baby that can surely be only a few weeks old; held so that the mother can be given her chance in the fitting room.  We wonder aloud how much time the baby and mother will have to share.
“Interpreter needed” a voice calls out and another volunteer rushes to help with what we know must be more than just a prosthetic fitting.
A young woman has arrived fresh from her surgery, drain tubes still in, with a body too sore to even wear a bra, but she doesn’t want to miss this once yearly chance for a prosthetic.  She will leave with everything she needs to weather the next weeks of discomfort, as well as her new bra and her new breast tucked into her bag.
As a fitter struggles to get just the perfect fit with the prosthetic breast, the young Mexican woman reassures her with gestures and broken English.  “Do not worry, it is perfect.  The other breast will be taken in April.”  More tears flow.
“May I have some pretty bras”, the volunteer fitter asks me as she fights back tears.  “She is only 15.”
I dig through dozens of bras, determined to find the most feminine ones I can.  “Thank you” the fitter whispers as she takes them away.  I notice that she has regained her composure and is once again ready to brighten the small cubicle she works in.

But it does not end here; the women are given a prosthetic bra, a breast prosthetic, a titbit and two regular bras. These two need to be altered to hold the prosthetic. Teams of seamstress are ready to sew the pockets into the bras.  


Everything is registered in the computer.

In the meantime the Mexican women have to wait again and are served a warm lunch. The ‘choppers’ are cutting in three days 25 kilos of potatoes, 25 kilos of carrot, 25 kilos of onions. And then the fruit: 25 kilos of oranges, 3 cases of pineapple, 3 cases of papaya. 36 chickens, 10 kilo of rice, 25 kilo sugar and more than 500 tortillas are being eaten. From 6 kilo grounded coffee beans coffee is percolated and 20 kilo of cookies are baked. Just to name some numbers.



When the bras are altered, the woman can go to the free clothes stall, where they can pick three items..

This is the end of a long day and with a big smile and a bag full of ‘goodies’ they can go home. Their future is still unsure for these women, but the clinic helped to bring them dignity and hope for tomorrows to come.

Not only the
Mexican ladies are fulfilled, we are too!

14 February Pig Roast
After the emotional clinic it is time for some fun and the yearly Pig Roast theme is Mardi Gras. PJ and I are asked to make pictures of the guests and PJ made a back ground cover in the sixties style. A lot of La Penita residents have done much effort to find a mask and costumes. We are eating roasted pig and dance of the live music of the Perez Brothers






17 February 2011
Then it is time for more Dutch friends. Peter and Monique’s enthusiasm made them book a flight ticket to Puerto Vallarta. With their two young children it will be tenting again, but we have found them a luxury site across from us. Our neighbors have just left yesterday and the site is tiled and has an outdoor kitchen!

We dress up the site, put up a large tent, blow up their beds and our friends can just move in.

The weather in La Penita is not always clear and sunny. Sometimes the day starts with a thick fog, and the sun has to work to clear it away. We plan a whale watching tour on Monday, but when we wake up a cold wind is blowing and the waves are high. We postpone the tour till Wednesday, but in the afternoon it clears up and we can still sunbathe on the beach. That is typical Mexico.



“It’s time for something different”, I thought and have my natural dark blond hair dyed dark brown!






We have planned our whale watching tour for today. From our campsite we sometimes see the whales spouting and even jump, but that is mostly on the horizon.
Our tour guide is Enrique and we launch from Guayabitos into our La Penita bay. Only ten minutes later we see two adult humpback whales and one young. We follow them up close. When they have moved to deeper waters they start to jump! Wow, fantastic!




March 2011, Mexico
March 4th we bring our friends back to the airport and only two days later we are ready for our return trip north. We are traveling in the same company as we did in November and the first day we drive 6 hours to Mazatlan. We are right in the middle of Carnaval and the fleet ends right before the entrance of our trailer park! The fleet starts the parade in the old town of Mazatlan and follows the boulevard to the Golden Zone, where we are staying. It takes a long time to get here and we are hanging around on the boulevard. The Antaras Nightclub has its speakers outside and we are enjoying the good music. A six year old boy plays the ‘air guitar’. He rocks!

Finally at 8.45pm (instead of 6pm) the parade passes us. It was worth the waiting. Pretty Mexican girls in tight embroidered dresses are swinging and waving, lights are flickering and one float is even bigger than the other.


The parade is over, but the partying continued for a long time while we are already in bed. The next morning we read on the website  the following:

Violence continues unabated in the port city of Mazatlan in spite of the presence of hundreds of military, federal and state police reinforcements guarding the Carnaval festivities. Tuesday morning 6 people attending a private concert in the Antares nightclub were shot and killed by unknown gunmen during an attack that occurred at approximately 5:45am as a crowd was emptying into the parking lot. The Antares nightclub is located on the Avenida Del Mar seaside promenade.

At least 20 more partygoers were wounded by gunfire, many reportedly in serious condition in local hospitals. 

Now this drug war is suddenly getting close! 

We move to a trailer park at the north and quiet part of town. We really like Mar-a-Villas trailer park with lots of bamboo around the sites and a pristine beach. The ‘chicken bus’ to the Golden Zone stops at the entrance and brings us for 80 dollar cent to the restaurants. This way we can dine out one in a while. We stay on this trailer park five more days.


In an easy pace we travel five hours north to Los Mochis. The temperature has risen to 90F, it has not been this hot all winter!
The next day is another lazy one, over the toll roads to San Carlos, where we arrive at 2pm. Quick some laundry in he washing machine, the humidly is finally so low that the laundry dries quick on the line.




We rise early on the last travel day in Mexico, at 5.45am we are on the road north. At around 8 we enter the big city Hermosillo and PJ wants to to take diesel. He sees a gas station at the other side of the road and throws his steering wheel to the left, realizes that an U-turn is not allowed and goes quickly back to the right. Okay, not a pretty move. Next thing we see is a cop ordering us to stop. The police officer copies PJ's steering move and says that it is a problem. He also points at the odometer and says that we were driving 60 km in a 40km zone. I don't now that PJ was indeed 'speeding' and start to blow off steam. PJ normally drives at a very slow pace, so the officer can't blame him for speeding. The police did not ask for PJ's drivers license, so we know that it is a scam. The officer walks back to his car a couple of times, it is all very unclear. PJ thinks he is getting away with a warning and starts driving. Oh, no that was not the officers plan and he bangs on the camper. He now grabs his ticket book. Now I am really getting pissed and start shouting that this is a "pequeño problema”, and he should not hassle tourists like that. ("little problem", because I am still thinking he is going to fine us for a steering mistake and not for speeding). The officer backs away surprised and start asking PJ for dollars. PJ gives him a 20 dollar bill.  
Una mas” (another one). PJ gives him a dirty look and gives him another 20 dollar bill.
We hate it that we are giving in to the corrupted system with this, but in only 5 minutes we are on our way again and our friends did not had to wait for us very long.
Without an more problems we arrive at the USA border at Lukeville and are getting a 3 months tourist visa without any hassle. We are checked for fruit, veggies and meat and are allowed to keep our bison meat, pork(!) sausages and tomatoes.



trailerpark in Why, Arizona...I am missing the jungle already!