Monthly Archive for August, 2010

Traveling with Pets

Miss Zoey

Zoey hiding as usual

I had a request to write up a blog about traveling with pets so here is the little wisdom I’ve acquired over the last few months. Since I am at a border post I had the option of throwing the cats in the car with me. About a week before I left I took the cats to the vet and decided that since they couldn’t deal with a 20 minute ride to the vet, a cross country car ride wasn’t going to happen. Yes, I said cats. As a few of my colleagues have pointed out the name of my blog is technically inaccurate. Last March I went to the pet store to get a cat carrier for Belize for the trip down. I did get the carrier but they were having an adoption event for a local shelter, so it came out with a cat in it. Apparently though having 2 cats in the foreign service brands you as a bona fide  “crazy cat lady.” I suppose though since  “cat” is in the name of my blog title, that probably qualifies me as a crazy cat lady regardless of the number of cats I have. I jokingly call Zoey my shame kitty since she hasn’t appeared on my blog yet and she always hides when I have company, but she is a fabulous kitty (that’s her tail peaking out from under the couch).
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Not even halfway through my duty week, thus far I’ve had calls about a kidnapping, car theft, possible death case, a sick American needing a medevac and done my first jail visit. In fairness the kidnapping and sick American were out of district so those got punted to Mexico City (I apologize to the Mex City duty officer who ever you are!). I thought that since I had gone 14 hours without receiving a call that maybe it would be a quiet Saturday, then the phone starting ringing at 11 (that was my car theft followed by the arrest call an hour later), so much for quiet! I suppose no one ever promised me that Foreign Service life would be quiet! I had hoped that by staring at the phone and being in this constant state of anxious ready that I would avoid major issues but since that seems blown…. I wonder what the next few days will bring me! I can definitely see how satisfying American citizen services work can be. I actually felt like I helped calm down my car theft victims and gave them good solid advice on what they can do before ACS reopens Monday. Of course in all this I am just so, so grateful for the Duty FSN who has just made everything so much easier and has been putting up with my stumbling attempts to weed my way through duty week.  71.222 hours down… 87.778 hours left. Almost halfway there.

Duty week

Pardon the lack of updating, this week is my duty week. For those not familiar with duty week, basically I’m the person on call after hours in case Americans have any emergencies; I’m the point of contact. The nice thing about being at a large post like CJ is that there is a lot of support for the duty officer including an FSN who is on duty with me who is pretty much my lifeline. Still because it is my first time on duty I’ve been sleeping with one eye open. My first night was rough in terms of sleep since I also have to wake up to open the building. I thought since I had to get up at 4:30 I would go to sleep at 9ish. Well my 10:50pm visa call followed by a 3:38am visa call pretty much killed any hope of sleep that night. The line is for emergencies but the visa calls manage to sneak through anyway. I don’t mind those too much… well I was pretty irked at 3:38 am, but it is better than having a call from someone in a real emergency. Anyway, I doubt I will update much until after Wednesday when I am off the hook. I’ve been pretty much staring at the phone, with the theory that a watched pot never boils. So far, I’ve had mixed success with this strategy… worst thing thus far has been a car theft but I’ve only completed 64.857 hours of my duty week,  94.143 left to go. But who’s counting? On the bright side I look at this as a chance to get a taste of ACS work, which as a consular officer I’m sure there will be plenty in my future, and apparently duty week came with duty cereal. So, I have Berry, Berry Kix to keep me company while I stare at the blackberry. 94.072 hours left and counting….

The Hazards of Juarez

Like any city, Juarez has its hazards.  Most of Juarez’s issues are well covered by the news media. There are however a few little gems that go unnoticed… those would be parqueos, speed bumps, window washers and car buffers. Yep, every day it’s like a little game to see how many of these Juarez hazards I can avoid while getting all my business done in the city.  My friend and fellow Juarezident has already done a great job describing the perils of Juarez speed mountains bumps, so I’ll skip that little delight and go straight to parqueos. These industrious fellows lie in wait in ordinary parking lots, ready to direct the hapless driver into a “space” and then later back out again. I put space in quotes because sometimes their idea of an open spot seems to be up on a sidewalk or on top of another car. There seem to be 2 types of parqueos, those  that eagerly try to help you in and out and then those just magically appear right when you are about to pull out, and manage to stand right in your blind spot waving madly to “assist” you out. Of course, they all manage to appear by the window at tip time.  I’ve heard of parqueos directing people in to cement barriers and other cars, so unfortunately my recommendation to any future Juarezidents doing battle with this particular hazard is have a few pesos ready and proceed with caution.

Window washers and buffers, both work the same territory. These gentlemen hangout by traffic lights waiting to catch those unfortunate enough to get the red light. It doesn’t matter if you got attacked by the window washer at the last light and there isn’t a speck of dirt on your windows, they’re ready to wash again if the intrepid Juarez driver isn’t fast enough with the “no, gracias.” Sometimes they don’t even take no for an answer. I will say that for the most part they do a pretty good job. I must have given a heck of a tip the other day because the one who washed my windshield then proceeded to wash all my windows, my headlights, and my side mirrors. My car was pretty dirty, I will give him that, but I didn’t think it was that amazing of a tip. The most insidious of all these hazards is “the buffer.” They are the hardest to spot. You think it is just some nice guy crossing at the red light when all the sudden you hear a thump on the roof of your car and you realize you are getting buffed. They carry rags around for the purpose of well, rubbing the dirt around on your car in the name of shining it. But the problem is, it doesn’t actually do anything other than move the Chihuahua dust from one spot on the car to another. Lest you think I deprive these industrious gentlemen of their tips, I will admit I do carry a small cache of coins for when I “lose the game” and don’t manage to wave them off quick enough. I figure it’s my tax for failing to be quick enough on the “no, gracias.” Thus far, I’ve only been caught by the buffers and washers 5 times in 3 months and most of those were in the first month; I’m getting better…

El Otro Lado

Last weekend I took my first real vacation since joining the foreign service. My family has a summer home in the Adirondack Mountains about an hour and a half away from the Canadian border, so I went from one end of the country to the other. Despite a series of unfortunate events caused by Delta Airlines, I managed to have a lovely vacation. I hate to rant but after the abysmal experience I had with Delta if I can scare even one person off using that airline and save them the pain, then I’ve done my duty! After losing my bag and spending 3 days continually telling me that it would be delivered in a few hours, it finally turned up in Vermont. I flew in to JFK, I was flying out of JFK. If I’d been given the choice I’d have preferred to get it there. Instead they made me spend a day driving to BURLINGTON, VERMONT to get the bag, never mind the 9 times they told me they would

The Vermont Wildflower Farm billed as the "seediest place in Vermont"

deliver to me. To top it off the “lovely” customer service rep informed me I was basically out of luck and if I was truly blessed I would be reimbursed for the $30 worth of supplies I bought to shower and continually wash the 2 outfits I had with me. Never mind the money wasted on gas and the fact I spend 3/4 of my vacation waiting for a bag and trying to get in touch with Delta. The best part is if you try to call their complaint line you get “due to high call volume we can not take your call at this time.” I bet. Anyway that’s my story, I’ve sworn off Delta, proceed with caution when booking with them!

However, make lemonade right? So the impromptu trip to Vermont was not wasted. We visited a wild flower farm, a teddy bear factory, a vineyard and farm store for cheese. I found a pouch of wildflower seeds that are supposed to be specially selected to grow in the Southwest… we shall see if it can survive Juarez. To improve my mood I also acquired a cow-spotted bear for the bear factory. The drive to Burlington was a bit longer than it should have been because the bridge between Vermont and New York was washed out, which meant we had to take a car ferry! Which was pretty cool. It was funny being up at the other border, instead of Spanish everyone was speaking French and in place of a million Chihuahua plates there were a plethora of Quebec plates.

Inside the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor in Chestertown, it just oozes charm.

After reclaiming my luggage we trekked back to our cabin which is near a tiny town called Chester. Actually the Cabin itself is near a town called Horicon which is so tiny I don’t there are actually any businesses in it anymore and I don’t think it is even on the map. Comparatively Chester with its grocery store and 2 restaurants is the big city. My favorite place is a old fashioned soda fountain with a view of the mountains out the window.  It’s not a trip to the mountains without my yearly sundae! It was pretty much a low key weekend, spent visiting with family. My Aunt and Uncle have the cabin across from us, so it is a bit like the family ancestral stomping grounds. The cabin itself is over a 100 years old and until recently didn’t have such fabulous amenities like running water or at one point, a floor in the kitchen. Since it’s my home leave spot it’s nice to finally have a functional place. I’m sort of looking forward to home leave in about 2 years, it will be kind of fun to go from one border to the other. Oddly I’ve only been to Canada once. I think next summer I’m going to have to bring my passport and trek on up to Montreal, since it’s so close.

After all the hassle with Delta and the fact that it is a long trip up to upstate New York, I was glad to get back to Juarez. To

Sushi, Juarez style! Meaning deep-fried and featuring chipotle sauce, chili peppers, and bananas. It actually is really tasty.

celebrate a couple of friends and I went out to savor the delights of Juarez sushi. You know you are back in Mexico when you get jalapenos wrapped in your sushi and it’s topped with chipotle sauce!  We also seem to have made friends with the waiter at Sushi Express. When we walked in he asked us where the rest of our friends were. The music also seemed to change to “American friendly” meaning a lot of Lady Gaga once we arrived. Ah.. it’s good to be home. Back to work tomorrow!

Treking around El Paso

When I lived in Melbourne I never went anywhere without an umbrella, because inevitably every time I left the house without

Yep, that's a cow in the back of that Chevy. Only in Juarez!

one it poured rain. I think I’m going to have to start carrying sunblock everywhere I go, since I seem to be getting burnt every weekend.

On my list of things to do in El Paso has been the Wyler Tram Aerialway and hiking in the Franklin Mountains State park. Sunday I crossed the park off the list. The trek turned out be a little more adventurous than I hoped. I wound up getting a bit lost on my way back. I was following what I thought were ties on random trees and cacti meant to mark a trail. I think in reality it was just trash stuck in the branches. After an hour of hiking through a really “rough path” that was covered with shrubs and boulders it occurred to me that I had perhaps strayed off the path. Lo and behold I was hiking in a little gully next to the actual path which was delightfully flat and free of thorny bushes in my way. Sigh, I blame the sun for crisping my good sense.

Our chariot up the mountain

Today’s trek was little more successful. A friend and I decided to check out the Wyler Tram. On the way there were stopped behind a truck that was transporting a rather bewildered looking cow. The  poor thing was nearly pitched over the side about 3 times. I don’t know how he managed to keep his balance. We weren’t the only ones entertained by the poor cows plight. The street vendors seemed pretty perplexed by the  sight as well.

The tram was pretty cool too.  When we reached the top we were able to see New Mexico, Texas, and Juarez. It’s pretty neat to beable to look down and see the border between two countries.  Since I spend so much time in one small corner of Juarez I tend not to appreciate justhow big the city is. I have to say though, as cool as the view from the top of the tram was, that  the most impressive sight of the day was probably the cow in the Chevy.