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Friday, December 28, 2018

How to Really Get Mugged in Mexico!

Not The Way You Think


You've seen the headlines, and you've heard the warnings. Mexico isn't safe! Don't venture outside the resort. People will trick you, skim your credit card, empty your bank account and shake you down.  It is easy to get mugged in Mexico, and some even end up dead. Stay in the resort people say - they will look after you.

We haven't experienced much of the above during our travels so far to this fantastic country. The truth is, we cannot get enough of Mexico, and we are looking for reasons to spend more and more time there. It is one of our favourite destinations. 

Mexico has only served us with pleasant surprises. We love their food, rich culture, natural beauty, and friendly people. We've discovered that the real gems are outside the resorts in popular tourist destinations of Cancun, Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Porto Vallarta and others. If you go where people can only speak Spanish, you've arrived at authentic Mexico. That's where you want to be. Then the real adventure begins.

Our most recent and unpleasant experience in Los Cabos confirmed this again for us.

Leave the resort!

If you want to be tricked, have your credit card skimmed and your bank account emptied, all you have to do is accept a "Gift Certificate" from a prestigious Mexican holiday resort, and make the trip as an unsuspecting tourist. They will "take care of you".

We stepped right into this one. Instead of the horror crime stories you read in the news, we discovered that the typical Mexican holiday resort has a much more subtle and civil approach to shaking you down. Here's what happened to us at The Grand Mayan at Vidanta Los Cabos.

Our timeshare company dished out the annual "gift certificates," and we were the lucky recipients of two this year. For around US$300/week and change, plus a nominal daily resort fee, and an exchange fee, we get a week in the off-season with an available holiday resort of our choice. A good deal isn't it? Yes and no. It all adds up once your annual levies and fees come into play and your cost of funds for buying the timeshare in the first place is added in. But, that is a sad story for another time.

Shaken Down


This is how we booked two weeks at The Grand Mayan at Vidanta Los Cabos in early December of this year. We couldn't wait for the welcome break and landed on a sunny winters day after a reasonably pleasant flight with Westjet in San Jose del Cabo.

While we checked in at the resort, we made the disturbing discovery that what is usually a nominal daily resort fee (generally around $15/day) turned into US$60/day per person expense (US$120/day for my wife and I, which translated roughly into CAD$165/day or CAD$1,155 for a week). Luckily we've sent the other Cowboy home to South Africa for Christmas and left the kids at home, or this would really have turned into an even more expensive holiday since the fee is a per-person fee.

However, all is not lost we were assured by the reception that it is not as bad as it sounds. We have the opportunity to get 75% of our resort fee "back" if we spend the money at the resort's spa, restaurant and shops. Oh yes, and then there is the small matter of going to a complimentary breakfast and a short presentation as well. It will not take more than 2 hours of our valuable vacation time we were assured. Yeah, right! We know about these things.

Heck, the prospect of getting back some of the exorbitant resort fee, which we are now paying in a fast sinking CAD$ made me jump at the chance to attend a short presentation and get some of my money back. After five years of dodging the despised breakfast and presentations in these resorts, I was finally outwitted into one. I was a sitting duck.

As you know, the presentation was not just for two hours. It was an almost three-hour highly unpleasant battering to shake us down for a "Vidanta Holiday Club" membership. During this time the price came down from USD$120,000 to below USD$10,000 for a week, and an on-the-spot nominal deposit of USD$900 for something I still cannot comprehend and don't care to understand. We were not in the market for it. We made it clear every step of the way.

What I do know was that when the fourth and final "handler" couldn't get me to agree to the purchase, she finally threw our "client assessment forms" at us across the table while telling us to take our documents to reception and check out. I was ready for war, and my wife had a micro melt-down. She oscillated between disgust for the way in which we were treated, scolded me for losing my temper, and fearing that our holiday just came to an end. All that remained was for someone to escort us off the premises.

No one came. Instead, we dutifully handed over the extorted loot of a resort fee every day on Tacos and breakfasts at the resort's overly priced restaurants. We paid five times the going rate. Drinks at the pool bar made our eyes water when we saw the bill. Let's just say the price of a couple of beers can buy you a case at the local grocery store. You can purchase a small coconut plantation for the fee of a single pina colada.

We changed our flights. We shoved the second week up Vidanta's arse to return prematurely to a snowy Canada, while vowing never to set foot at their facilities again. More importantly, to never fall again for this cleverly disguised and very civil scheme of extortion and skimming. It cannot be good for business and definitely not for the people of Mexico!

From this day onwards we will only spend our Pesos with a local property owner, buy our tacos and beer like locals and invest in Mexico - the real Mexico. Viva la Mexico and Vidanta be damned!

Hendrik
Taco Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. Please book us here so we can tell your story too.


Photos


Local Beer

Local Taqueria

"Traditional" Resort

Dead Cow

Bliss!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Two Cowboys are Getting Lost in the Boundary Country of British Columbia

Boundary Where?


When you tell someone that you are from the Boundary Country, they have no idea where it is. Where? The Boundary Country is in British Columbia. It is the strip of country nestled between the Okanagan and Kootenay Valleys that is hugging the US Border to the South of Canada.

It is understandable that people don't know much about the area. It dates from a different era. American miners poured across the border in 1859 during the Rock Creek Gold Rush. In subsequent years they were followed by the discovery and industrialization of the area's abundant mineral resources. 


DO YOU WANT YOUR BUSINESS FEATURED?


Copper provided the industrial base for development in the region, with many large mines and smelters, and associated mining camps and communities. At one time these settlements were large enough that there were two provincial electoral seats in the area - Greenwood and Grand Forks. At one time, Greenwood was even in contention for the Capital of the Province.

The communities of Boundary had three major railways connecting them to the rest of the world. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail and the Columbia and Western Rail Trail now form part of The Great Trail (formerly the Trans Canada Trail). Another trail, the Dewdney Trail ventures east from Christina Lake.

Several towns from this era have since disappeared or vanished beyond recognition. Among them are Eholt, Deadwood, Cascade Falls and Phoenix. Many more are following in their footsteps. When you drive through, it seems the rest of Canada forgot about the Boundary. Names like Phoenix, Beaverdell, Rock Creek, Westbridge and Bridesville means nothing to folks that are not from there. If you mention Big White, Grand Forks and Christina Lake, there may be a flickering of recognition.

Observations


Why bother with the Boundary Country?

We are not giving you a fluffy destination tourism pitch of nice weather, clean air, and great tasting water. It has all of that by the bucket load, coupled with a good dollop of history and natural variety. On the tourism front, it has the potential to outcompete with many destinations in Western Canada, even its closest cousin - Kelowna (yes, we know we are pushing it - hear us out).

Here is another angle. We think it is a place caught in a twilight zone between the end of industrialization and the potentialities of the neo-digital revolution. It combines affordable living and lifestyle, with digital reach and old-school faculty. Heck, the second busiest highway in BC runs through it, and it borders agricultural breadbaskets to the West, East and the South!

It is bound to be discovered by digital road warriors and the feck-this-9-5-life, time-to-become-an-artisan folk. It is similar to places like Revelstoke and Canmore. Only, it is still affordable. It offers the potential of natural living to highly educated people that are looking to break out of mad-rush city careers and cutthroat mortgages in favour of artesian lifestyles and meaningful lives.

Boundary Country offers plenty more space, affordability, quality living, good infrastructure, and all the possibilities to make a living working online, blowing glass, weaving, building furniture, spinning pots, brewing beer, blacksmithing, raising goats, roasting coffee, chocolateering, planting stuff, or running a butcher shop or deli on the side.

It offers a digital future with 18th-century charm - without breaking the bank.

You can still buy a plot of land for under $50,000, and build a nice little house for less than $250,000 in one of the many typical small towns. They all have the requisite infrastructure, lack restrictive and overbearing zoning, and are within striking distance by road and air to the leading centres in BC, Washington, Idaho, Montana and the world.

It is a transport corridor and a tourism destination without bounds, that offers nature trails, history, lakes, mountains, skiing, hiking, biking, boating, swimming, etcetera. It has the best weather and water in Canada - milder winters and balmy summers.

The only thing the Boundary Country needs is to be discovered by people looking for a better way of living. We think it has the potential. That is why we are here, and why we are telling the world about it. Prepare to hear a lot more about it from the Two Cowboys. Get in touch if you, like us, want to visit or relocate to this newfound affordable little paradise. Come and build something new here where it is still possible, where people once thrived, we can do it again.

Together with those that are already here, we look forward to welcoming you.

Merry Christmas. See you in 2019!

Hendrik
Boundary Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. Please book us here so we can tell your story too.

Photos


Passing Through

The View

Town Hall Greenwood

Golden Mornings 
Living Wood


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

When Travel Gets Real: Getting Lucky DownUnder in a Typical Kiwi Camper

Lucky VanLife in New Zealand


The Kiwi Camper holiday dream is out of reach for most people on a budget. Once the flights, rental, fuel, insurance and camping fees are added, you are better off to rent a little clunker and stay in motels. It is not ideal. At least you will be able to say you were there.

New Zealand is probably one of the most popular destinations to explore by camper. The weather is good (mostly), the roads are safe (mostly), camping spots are everywhere and many of them free or at a nominal fee. How does the term "freedom camping" sound? New Zealand may not have invented the concept, but they are working on perfecting it. You freedom camp and they actually encourage you to do it (mostly).

2019 - EP1


2019 - EP2


Previous Episodes


Lucky 1


Lucky 2


Lucky 3



Final lucky

DO YOU WANT YOUR BUSINESS FEATURED?


Unfortunately, parking a camper by the ocean or on the beach comes at a price. It is in high demand with the retired older folk and affluent German tourists. A few large operators dominate the market. And as it goes with a service in demand, it usually comes at a higher price.

The alternative, for younger people, is to buy a cheap Van, fit it out with the necessary amenities when you arrive, and build more into it as you explore the country over several months. You are looking at the cost of around $5,000 to $10,000 for a reasonably conditioned Japanese imported passenger or trade van. The rest is for inexpensive planks to build a bed and some shelving, cooking gear, portapotty, mattress and bedding and water tanks. Budget around $2,000 for that. Give it a good mechanical service when you set out. Insurance is cheap from the AA. A warrant of fitness (WOF) will last you the duration of your trip. The good thing is, when you are done you will be able to sell it to the next eager student explorer at the same or even better price.

There is another choice if you want to dip your toe into the water of budget camping travel NZ-style. You can get Lucky. Seriously, Lucky Rentals arrived in NZ. If you are on a budget and want to give Vanlife DownUnder a try, you can get into a Lucky Van (or camper) and see what the great land of the Long White Could have to offer for a short 2-3 week explorative journey. It won't break the bank, thanks to Lucky. If you go longer, then it is better to buy a van.

The name Lucky Rentals rings more accurate than we thought. Look at their nice website. Make a reservation, and you cannot believe your luck to get such a sweet little camper for less than the hire of a small passenger car. The pictures conjure visions of adventure, comfort, utility and confidence. In their own words, "This 4 sleeper boasts a cooker, a fridge and a kitchen. That’s pretty much everything you’d ever need from a camper. Trust us, this thing is the goods."

Lucky Rentals squeeze the last of the life left out of end-of-life Ozzie Lucy rental campers, for what appears to be a song if you are willing to put up with all the "luckiness" that comes with it. Don't get me wrong. We think it is an excellent concept, if only they can pull it off (a little better). It operates in a market sector where there is a big demand. However, you need to know what you are getting into when you rent a Lucky.

Observations


In our three weeks during November we rented three vans from Lucky Rentals and ended up with four. Our experience started with the friendly staff at 08:00 in Christchurch on a typically miserable rainy Canterbury morning.

Our reservation was for 08:00. At 09:10 we were informed that the unit we were to get had some electrical troubles. They were looking into it. Two hours later, and terribly late for our appointment in Dunedin, we finally were on the road with our 566,000 km, 20-year old Lucky Roadie that looks like it's seen the Outback! The condition of the vehicle is a shock. But hey, it is an adventure, isn't it?

Credit where it is due. Everything worked, sort off, except for the air conditioner, and we couldn't get above 80km/hour. Truth be told. We didn't want a higher speed given the risk. We were surprised by the damage security hold of $2,500, which we thought a little excessive considering that the vehicle was probably not even wort that. Less is available if you are prepared to bump the insurance to almost the daily rental fee, which doesn't make sense. Nevertheless, we persevered and after a few days actually fell in love with our Van. Yes, it was slow, noisy, dirty, damaged and full of character. It worked. Thankfully!

Our next Lucky rental was in Auckland. Same routine. Booked for 10:00. Got it passed 12:00. By now, we were into Island time and knew what to expect. This one needed tyres apparently, which they only discovered when we arrived. It also needed more diesel tax. This was also quickly arranged while the hours ticked by. Finally, on the road, we discovered that the unit overheats in the hills of the Coromandel and there is funny hissing sound from the right rear tyre.

Seemed the new tire also acquired a brand new nail as we left the Lucky parking lot. It caused a slow puncture. We made it to Whangamata to get the tire fixed (our cost) and found that there were almost no oil or coolant in the engine. Topped her up. The overheating continued. Spent the weekend and took her back the next Monday to Lucky in Auckland.

Let's just say we had to remind Lucky of their customer service obligations under the consumer protection act of New Zealand. We managed to get a replacement "upgraded" Rover unit with a portapotty for the remainder of our journey. A few days later we also picked up a Rookie with a leaking sunroof and bald tyres. (The other Cowboy refused to continue bunking in the same Van - that's a story for another time.) By now, I think you get the Lucky picture.

We were Lucky to get a van from Lucky that is in a reasonable working condition, for the money we paid. Are they safe on the road? Hell no! After all our good luck we asked ourselves if it is worth the risk and trouble to get a Lucky van again. We think not.

Stay longer in New Zealand, buy an older model passenger or trade van. Fit it out during the first few days. Hit the road and sell it when you leave. At least then you know it is your own good luck that makes your adventures possible in New Zealand, and you can only blame yourself. Enjoy the ride!

P.S. Should you do VanLife in New Zealand. Hell, Yeah!! We cannot get enough of it. So, if there is an entrepreneur out there in Kiwiland that can make the business case work and provides a decent vehicle at a fair price. Let us know. We will jump at the opportunity.

Hendrik
VanLife Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. Please book us here so we can tell your story too.


Photos

Camper

Getting Lucky!

Waiting for Lucky 
More Waiting for Lucky



Really Lucky

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Foam In Our Seats Please Air New Zealand - It is a Travel Safety Issue for the Two Cowboys

Hard Landings


Sitting on planks for fourteen hours straight should be classified as cruel and unreasonable torture and be illegal. If it is not felonious, it is immoral.

Air New Zealand squanders thousands of dollars on pc-perfect hard-to-follow and frankly, ludicrous rap safety videos, while they fail to recognize a growing disgrunt amongst their most loyal long-distance economy-class customer hoard. 

We want foam in our seats, please!

People like me, who are trapped in Air New Zealand’s reigning monopoly on long-distance direct routes from places like Vancouver to Auckland are fed up with our seats. Air New Zealand appears to be distracted (as usual) by the sizzle of flight and is completely oblivious to a simple crucial detail required for reasonable fourteen-hour travel bearability - the padding in a seat.

In their case there is none!

Observations


It is gone. Taken by the arse-grinding of the masses that frequent the aeroplanes every day. Fuel is restocked, food loaded and staff refreshed. What about the seat cushions? When do we get those serviced and replaced?

We are budget travellers like normal people. Like normal people, we have a simple expectation to depart and arrive relatively intact from point A to point B. That is our first priority. This means that before the beef bourguignon is served with croutons and freshly ground (at the hanger back in Welli.) pepper, and the latest Villa Maria chablis is broken out, we expect the simple good fortune of at least having a reasonably adequate seat.

Note, I didn't say comfortable, large, spacious, plush or feature loaded. I simply used the word "adequate seat". After hour three we've crossed the line of all comfort anyway with the Asia-standard seat dimensions that are prevailing on their long-haul flights.

I mentioned seat and not bench or stool, which usually comes with a wooden platform for your behind. Fourteen hours of endurance on the plank should be something relegated to the torture chambers of the Middle Ages. Guess what! It's back!

A seat, one would reasonably expect, has some level of padding that helps you endure fourteen hours of wedged cramped vibration and shaking. Did I mention fourteen hours of agony?

Come on Air New Zealand. Fly and seat, then food and drink. We are not asking for much. You can do it. Our horse hardened foundations will be eternally grateful.

Hendrik
Flying Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. Please book us here so we can tell your story too. Air New Zealand need not call.

Torture Tube!