DEMYSTIFYING MEXICO

Mexican Roads:

Let’s start by the most obvious, since I have read so many warnings about Mexican roadways and their poor and dangerous conditions. I must say the books I’ve read must be outdated because since crossing the border I have been pleasantly surprised by both Mexican toll highways and the free roads. You can tell by the sheer number of renovations, repaving or the plowing of new roadways that Mexico is heavily investing in their road network. Their tourism economy depends on it. With better and better highways, RVs are now able to travel further and further south, generating a welcome influx of income to otherwise dormant fishing villages. On the other hand, this boom is slowly changing the face of Mexico. Typical ocean side villages that appealed so much to travelers wanting to experience quaint and genuine Mexico are now turning into touristic resorts with RV campgrounds, hotels, boutiques, in short all the bells and whistles expected to be found in destination locations, to the grief of many old-timers that have been traveling these roads well before they were on the map.

However, no matter how well paved roads are, they remain Mexican in their quirkiness. Signs reducing the speed limit on the highway to 60 km/h and sometimes 40 km/h appear out of nowhere and no sign to resume speed ever appear! At first I was the only one obeying the signs, now I drive Mexican style, following the flow around me! I gathered that they were placed when the road was being worked on and never removed. That’s the only explanation I have for this weird phenomenon.  The other incongruous thing are the “vibratores” , speed stripes on the road that appear where nothing warrants their presence – no bus stops, no town or village in sight, no buildings… forcing you to suddenly reduce your speed. Sometimes they do have a purpose and are signaled in advance, but many times they would appear out of nowhere and without warning.

The Mexican government has the policy that for every toll highway there is a free option. It very often rides parallel to the paying highway and would typically enter small towns that the toll road bypasses. Paying the toll does not guarantee quality of the road and many times I’ve been stuck in traffic because of road work. If you don’t mind taking a bit of a detour, the free option often is in as good a driving condition as the toll road and definitively more picturesque. A caveat though, makes sure your rig can maneuver the narrow and convoluted streets of some of the villages along the way. Harvey gave me an excellent advice regarding this: look where the commercial trucks go – do they take the toll highway or do they turn off at the free road? This will tell me if the free option is a viable one for me. I also noticed many of the local buses will take the free road, of course because they service all the little towns. This has been a good indicator of how safe the free sections are to drive on. By the way, those buses are to be watched for: they drive with no regards for speed limits, safety or passing lanes! I am terrified of them and when I see one in my rear view mirror I purposefully slow down and get out of their way!

Speaking of passing, Mexicans have a different way of doing it, even when there is a passing lane, and often when there are none, and with no visibility whatsoever. On a 2 way road, each side of the traffic would ride straddling the shoulder yellow line, thus leaving a middle lane for passing. Traffic in both directions would use this “passing” invisible lane, sometimes at the same time putting everyone in their path in danger!

The other things Mexican roads have are “topes”. Big speed bumps usually at the entrance of towns or near bus stops. They are big and can be very damaging to a vehicle undercarriage if you do not slow right down. Because of this feature, topes have because the sight of many roadside vendors, some of them with little booths on the side of the road, others just standing on top of the topes and approaching you with their wares. The first time I saw one, I was famished. This woman was selling hot cheese burritos and I found myself at a standstill straddling the topes to talk price with her. Unfazed, traffic just moved around us. This being my first encounter with street vendors and still not familiar with the price of things, I drove off without buying anything and  later on beat myself up for it when I found out how cheap this hot meal would have been.

I now always have some change with me in the cabin for such occasions. Very often people sell fruit, homemade tortillas, tamales, burritos, still hot from the kitchen. Others sell pimentos, drinks or newspapers. Another great location to do some shopping are the toll stations. Local artisans will sell their crafts and wares and I even found a guy selling USB charged with thousands of Mexican music. I bought two: one  with popular music, the other one with more traditional Mexican songs, in the George Brassens and Jacques Brel poetic style of singing. It is actually a good way of learning Spanish while entertaining me during long drives. I hesitated getting a truly folkloric compilation, but there is only so much Mariachi music one can take!

Speaking of traditional music I have a little trivia for you. Guess what is the most common musical instrument you will hear in Mexican music? You hear it at night in the campgrounds, through people’s car windows, in villages. It is used in folklore, but also in pop music. It is, I would say the most loved instrument in Mexico. No, it is not the guitar. No, neither is it the trumpet. Care to make another guess? The tuba my friends! Not a particularly pleasing sound either as it seems to always strike the same 2 notes, but it is the bass behind every song!

Mexico is not cheap:

Since we are demystifying some popular misconceptions about Mexico, let’s talk about money! Mexico is not cheap. Not anymore. The price of gas is equivalent to the one in Canada – which bears asking the question as to how can Mexicans afford to drive at all on their modest salaries? Tolls are very expensive and so many that by the time you reach your destination you have parted with quite a chunk of money. Between Alamos and Mazatlan, there were no less than 6 tolls. Usually the fee is calculating according to the number of axles your vehicle has. For me, with 2 axles, it costs about M$110, but driving to Mazatlan, and sometimes for a 15 minute stretch of road, I had to pay double that! Adding the price of gas, driving days are very costly.

Campgrounds have become so popular that the claimed $2 a night campsites in some books have long disappeared and the average cost for an RV, with all hook-ups is an average of M$400 (that’s about $26 CDN). The boon docking beach I am currently at, with no service and no hookups whatsoever is costing me M$107 a night or $7 CDN. That’s more like it but these treasures are hard to find and want to be kept so by the regulars.

Hence my constant search for safe and cheap camping sites. I am discovering some unexpected options. Sometimes I would drive 2 days in a row to get to my destination. I might stay on the parking lot of a Sam’s or Walmart if I am near a town.  I also found myself on the side of the road at a truck stop, but would not do that again. It was too loud, and the trucks that I thought would be there for the night and “protect” me drove off and I found myself alone and exposed. Not a good feeling.20161118_170156

Parking at a Pemex gas station is always an option. It will be very noisy and you will have to tip the attendant, but it will be safe. However, I found another solution. On the free road to Culiacan I noticed big fenced complexes baring the title of “Motels”.

One night I decided to go and ask for sanctuary to the guard, asking if I could park inside their gates for the night. I was ready to tip him for this privilege. First of all my rig was too high and wouldn’t fit through the gate. I was told that it would be safe to park in front of the gates as they are watched by camera 24/7. The added bonus is that most of such motels are professionally landscaped, making it a pleasant site to park and let the pets out for a bit before dark. The guard even refused my tip! Because it was a bit off from the road and it not being a busy highway, I slept very well.  The Mexican “motel” concept is quite unique. Once you are through the gates all you see are garage doors! Do people sleep in their cars? I wondered. But upon closer inspection you can see that the back of the garage or the side of it, has a door opening into a very small building, probably just big enough for a bed and small bathroom.  The price of the units varied from M$260 to M$400 a night, which, even to Mexican standard is very cheap. They seem to be very popular and I can see why. Your vehicle and belongings are safe and out of prying eyes. The gated enclosure with security guard and cameras are a good deterrent against night rogues. The high walls will also block out the noise from the highway and ensure a good night sleep. It’s all round perfect!

To tip or not to tip?

The art of knowing when and how much to tip, as well as the art of haggling is an acquired skill and it takes time. I come from a country where people offer to help you and do not expect a tip for their help. Here everything has a price. I do not know if this custom started by gringos offering to tip in order to help the obviously more destitute population, or if this has always been a local custom, but sometimes it gets to me. What about human kindness and doing it just because you can, not because you expect remuneration from it? Also, I do not know if by offering a tip I will offend a person or not. Like the good water truck driver who pulled me out of trouble. Ray kindly reminded me to tip him and suggested M$100. Ok, cheaper that calling a tow truck I guess, but by the same token had you asked your neighbor in Canada to come and help, he would not have charged for the service. Again, I am getting acquainted to the cultural differences. The reason why I am so stingy with my money, and this time the misconception is the other way around – Mexican assumes that all gringos are rich. I am sure that the concept of working 60 hours a week to pay loans, bills and mortgages escapes them completely.  As well as the idea that most travel gypsies such as myself, sold everything to enjoy the simpler lifestyle that they themselves are enjoying is beyond their comprehension.  They too are becoming conditioned to strive for a more continental lifestyle and to look up to the American culture to the point of naming their children with English names they can’t even pronounce themselves!  I look at Antonio and his wife Veronica, the caretakers of this idyllic campsite i am staying at right now and think: “man, what a perfect job!” There is no pressure, you work outdoors, it is calm and relaxing”. They may not make a lot of money by our standards, but they are not lacking in anything either.  I know I might offend some people with my perhaps ignorant comments here, but I think that I am voicing a more and more common complaint that life in North America is not the end all be all. The price to pay can be too high for some and there are no guarantees. Many of the people I meet on the road, particularly couples that live fulltime in their RV are doing so because they cannot afford to retire in the States or in Canada!

Cartel: Danger or safety?

The question of the Cartel presence in an area is prone to disagreement depending on who you talk to.

Some advise to avoid certain areas and not stay overnight in some towns known for their cartel affiliations, yet others would claim that the cartel protects gringo populated areas because of the benefits they bring to that region. Expats are investing in properties, using local workers and supplies, and are also supporting the community by organizing milk runs and fundraisers. I am sure the cartel also wants to avoid unwanted attention that a crime against a gringo would bring to a region they would prefer remained unnoticed by the authorities.

So what is one to think? Remaining cautious and aware is a good policy. Heed warnings about areas to avoid with diligence without falling prey to paranoia would be my advice. Otherwise your ability to enjoy your visit in Mexico, or any country with a drug presence would be completely debilitated. Each country has a problem factor, a crime area, a danger zone. It might not be cartel, but it could be vandalism, robbery, home invasions…  Listen to the locals, to the gringos that are familiar with the territory and then make your own experience, but with your eyes wide open.  For this very reason and after hearing some stories I decided to add extra protection around my camp by adding men’s shoes and clothing to my perimeter! The local expats were happy to help! So now if someone is sniffing around and sees me alone, it might be a simple deterrent to have a male presence in the form of shoes by the door and large shorts hanging on the clothing line. One never knows!

That being said, the kindness and hospitality of the Mexicans I have met is heartwarming. I have never felt but welcomed and protected and this is another reason why I feel very, very blessed on this trip.

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

20161215_114445Kiki

 

 

RESCUED IN MAZATLAN

I took a conservative 2 days drive from Alamos to Mazatlan. One can perceptively see the difference in vegetation as you cross the Tropic of Cancer. Everything got greener and more lush as I kept driving south. I arrived at Mazatlan Playas early afternoon.  I met a gentleman at an RV park who gave me two options for dry camping in this northern part of town. The first was at the very end of Avenida Sábalo Cerritos, where apparently an Argentinian camped there for 2 weeks without being bothered by the police. It is right in front of a restaurant, he said and you’ll have wifi. The second was to find one of the many roads leading to the beach off an unpaved avenue right next to the train tracks.  Since I wanted quiet and privacy after 2 days on the road, I chose the latter. I found a side road leading to a bluff overlooking the beach. I decided to walk it first for safety, checking for things such as is it wide enough for the truck? Is there room to turn around? Is it level enough for me to park? Is it safe? Satisfied with my deductions I started to drive down the path to find myself stuck in the deep sand just a few meters away!  The one thing I forgot to check was the ground. Because of vegetation it seemed hard enough, but once engaged I discovered too late that the sand was quite deep in places! Undaunted I figured this was just a minor setback and that I was going to shovel my way out of this jam in no time at all!

It was a good thing that a gentleman saw me turn off and was waiting to see how I fared. I came out and asked for help: I am stuck! I said.

Well, he replied, you seem like a pretty resourceful woman. Do you have a shovel? I am pretty sure I do, I replied, wondering if his comment about my resourcefulness meant he was going to leave me fend by myself. We introduced ourselves. Ray is Canadian from Vancouver and owns the Surf’s Up Café down the road. I’ll be back with a shovel he said and off he went.  I desperately tried to shovel my way out, but the truck had sunken too deep in the sand. Bother, what I am to do? And still no sign of Ray… Oh well I can sleep here and figure it out in the morning I thought. But what do I see coming but Ray, followed by a big water truck! My savior! After a few pulls and a tip to the truck driver, I was safely back on the road. Evening was fast approaching and Ray kindly offered that I parked the truck on his property. The café is closed for the next couple of days, why don’t you stay there? You will be safe. I gladly accepted and followed him. I was greeted by a wrought iron gate leading down a long driveway. On the left was the café and on the right was the house – overlooking the beach! What an incredible property. The view was splendid, the buildings beautiful, Ray and his lovely wife Linda had found a piece of paradise and had called it home for 6 years now.

They allowed me to use their electricity and fill up my water tank in the morning. I also used their wifi signal to upload my blog on Alamos. This was a very wonderful and unexpected respite. What a blessing to have met Ray and Linda.

At around noon the next day I decided to leave my hosts and visit Mazatlan. I was looking to find the Malecón, the longest boardwalk in Mexico but couldn’t. I was concerned about not being able to park but was surprised to find the main beach completely empty and the avenue not busy. I parked right there and went for a walk.

Mazatlan is a beautiful ocean resort, with its many hotels, ocean side condominiums, souvenirs shops and many restaurants. I found it very windy and the waves would crash in thunderous clamor. After a few hours of playing tourist, I was anxious to settle down somewhere quiet for the night. Instead of seeking out the city center and the eluding Malecón, I decided to check option number one on Avenida Sábalo Cerritos. I expected the road to end into a parking area next to a restaurant, but instead found that it ended abruptly at the beach and that parking was on either side of the road. To my right it was lined with typical Mexican restaurants overlooking the beach and across the way was a row of souvenir shops. Since I was told that this was a safe area to sleep through the night I parked the RV and went for a walk on the beach with Marley. The place was beautiful, with jutting rocks, crashing waves and an amazing view.

The many restaurants were very appealing and the shops inviting. I spent the following hours browsing the area and decided to treat myself to dinner. I sampled a tostada of seafood, which was delicious – and a bowl of seafood soup which was not so great. There were too many sea snails in it and I must say, as a French girl I prefer my snails with butter and garlic! The broth was ok but paled in comparison to the soup Nadine and I sampled at the Food Fest in Bahia de Kino.

While having diner I watched newlyweds getting their pictures done on the beach. Theirs was a simple intimate affair with just the immediate family attending. Later they would feast on the lower terrace and I looked at the platers the cook would bring out, curious to see what locals have for their wedding dinner. The night was quiet and uneventful. Twice police cruisers patrolled the area without bothering me.

The next morning I woke up at 5:30am to the sound of fishermen parking their beat up trucks all around me to start their day’s work. I got concerned that I would not be able to get out of my parking spot and I was anxious to leave to my next destination. So, after making coffee, I took Marley for a walk on the beach and see if I had room to manoeuver out of my spot. A group of fishermen were leaving already so I harangued them asking if they had caught shrimp in the hope that I might buy some, but they answered they were out for oysters.

I didn’t see much of Mazatlan as I stayed mostly in the northern part of the town and avoided the city center, but I got an appreciation for its resort vibe and can see why it is a popular destination for tourists, be they foreigners or Mexicans.

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

20161129_133802   Kiki

ALAMOS

I fell in love with Alamos. First of all you will understand why when you see where I was staying for 4 days.

I arrived in the former mining town by mid-afternoon. With my trusted “Mexican Camping” book in hand I stopped my RV on the side of the main Plaza to ask for directions. When I heard the Police siren I got worried that I was going to get a ticket for my botched parking job, but instead I got an escort to my destination. A good thing too because I would never have found it on my own.

El Rancho Acosta greeted me in all its splendor: tall palm trees lining an inviting swimming pool and terrace, shaded RV sites, a huge and beautifully cared for property, clean facilities: I was delighted and when I heard the price $10 USD with no hook-ups or $15 USD with electricity I thanked my angels even more. To top it all, I was the only guest there – I had the whole place to myself and the pets were free to roam! I would say that within one month this ranch will be crammed with families, screaming children and yappy little dogs. I was counting my blessings!

The first thing I did was to go for a swim and then have a hot shower and wash my hair. Luxury! I decided that the next day I was going to stay at the ranch. The entire day I followed the shade around the pool and uploaded all the blogs I had saved in my computer, waiting for a wifi connection.

The next day I walked around the beautiful town for 6 hours and loved every minute of it.

Alamos found its glory in the 1700’s in the silver mining industry. It was at one time a wealthy colonial town. When the surrounding mines closed it virtually became a ghost town until the late 1950”s when wealthy Americans and Canadians with an eye for character buildings invested money to renovate some of the gorgeous buildings. Little by little the town returned to its former glory. One can peek through the gates to see the interior courtyards and gardens. This boom has now attracted wealthy Mexicans as well as lots of retired gringos, not all of them rich, but all of them attracted by the charm of Alamos.

Contrary to San Carlos where Americans seemed to have imposed their lifestyles, Alamos is very much an authentic Mexican town.  I relished discovering street food, browsing souvenir stalls and pretty shops. This is where I met a lovely lady (we never introduced ourselves) whose boutique showcased a lot of traditional work by local ladies. When I asked where she was from she answered from all over the place. After traveling extensively she decided to retire in Alamos. Her pension does not allow her to retire is the States (a very common complaint I am discovering). Here, she said, I pay $250 to rent a 2 bedroom apartment in a lovely villa, with a pantry (it sounded like a luxury the way she said it) and a terrace. She told me that she doesn’t do anything by the book. She is not a Mexican citizen, doesn’t have a permit for her shop and doesn’t even have a driver’s license – but here, she adds, nobody cares. She was pulled over by the police the other day, she explained, who asked her for her papers. Oh they are at home, I forgot them, she replied. Where do you live? they asked. In Alamos she said. Oh, in that case you may go, came the answer. She said that her neighborhood can be a little loud at times (but I’ve discovered, anywhere you go, things liven up at night. Mexicans love music and they love it loud!) She also said that the temperatures in the summer in Alamos where brutal.

For this reason, I read that a lot of retirees prefer to summer in the interior mountains and winter on the Mexican coast.

I followed a pretty cobbled street that led me into a beautiful neighborhood and in search of a private bathroom I discovered Teresita, which is probably the most expensive restaurant in the city. The oasis that greeted me from the heat as well as the inviting menu of Boeuf Bourguignon was a welcomed reprieve. I sat for a coffee and made sure to take a picture of the facilities for my friend Reg.  As a joke we decided to collect pictures of facilities along my route to eventually make a poster. The idea had come to me after seeing a similar poster at the Travel Clinic in Calgary.

A Mexican gentleman on a bicycle had struck a conversation with me on his way home. He spoke perfect English and told me that he works for an American family here in town. He lived in the States for 35 years and sometimes has to go back upstate to look after the family’s estate in Arizona. He lives with his mother on the outskirt of town and he was the one to tell me to find the church plaza. I am glad he did because at first glance one can assume that the main plaza is it. After talking with him I meandered the streets and discovered beautiful mansions, restaurants, hidden gardens and found the old colonial church and its plaza.

I was looking to purchase authentic, hand-made traditional clothes or artifacts.

20161125_133122 At the town entrance there was a gallery of such but I had found the prices to be really too high. However in town, all they had were machine made replicas of the beautiful embroidery style of the region. I was disappointed. The American shop owner had mentioned that a woman had a stall of embroideries she makes herself a few streets down and that her prices were reasonable. I soon found out that the lady in question was in Hermosillo for a fair and wouldn’t come back until the night, but if I was really interested, my interlocutor being her sister, she would let her know to come to my campsite in the morning with her wares. Definitively yes! I said.

Sure enough at 8:00 am like promised Linda and her son arrived in a little car jammed with beautiful artwork. Framed embroideries, pillows, men’s shirts but unfortunately no dresses. I loved the frames but decided that it would be too heavy in the truck, or for me to mail as gifts, so I bought an exquisite cushion for my bed. Every time I look at it I smile.

I was enjoying my stay at the Ranch so much that I decided to stay one more day than anticipated. This also gave me the opportunity to go back into town and purchase a mosquito net for my bed. I have been unable to find another Zapper! Marley – you little…! I also discovered Cocos Preparados (prepared coconuts)! A feast of spicy, salty and tangy flavors all wrapped into one!

I left Alamos, thinking that yes, I definitively can see why so many retirees call it home.

I was now on my way to Mazatlan, a conservative 2 day drive for me.

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

november-2016   Kiki

 

 

MEET THE BOYS: MARLEY THE DOG AND PATOUFFI THE CAT.

I felt guilty at first for forcing this trip on my pets. With the heat and long driving days it is not fun for a furry animal. Since I am myself a free roaming spirit and understand the need for freedom I always make sure that I find spots where it is safe for the boys to roam and so far I have to say they have been spoiled. Over the last month we have fallen into a routine.

Patouffi at first would travel in his kennel  securely wedged between  storage bins above the driving cabin. He was next to a window for fresh air. But soon he decided that he would rather be under the couch which I realize now has better air circulation and is a much cooler spot for him. As soon as I start putting things away for a drive, Patouffi wiggles under the sofa.

They both seem to know when I am stopping along the way for pictures, gas or food – none of them stir, and when I am stopping for the night. Marley is whining to get out and Patouffi comes out from under the sofa. How do they know, I wonder?20161015_183828

Patouffi  goes out for his early morning stroll, when it is still dark and cool outside and at night after dark. Sometimes he stays close by, other times he is gone for 2 hours. In Cocorit for example, we were parked at the town square, a beautiful shaded park with pretty lanes, benches and flower bushes. I let him out for his morning exploration. In the meantime I shower, have breakfast and start packing the RV for our drive. Patouffi  is still not back. I would intermittently open my screen door and call out.20161213_080302

What is she doing? One woman sitting on a bench across from the RV would ask her friend. She is looking for a cat, the other would reply. She is from Canada, traveling all the way to South America. Ah, would acknowledge the first lady. They left before Patouffi decided to come home and would never know the end of the story of the Canadian traveler looking for her cat.20161016_080037

Marley is not much of a guard dog. Let me rephrase that, Marley doesn’t have an ounce of guarding instinct! The only times he would bark is if someone (ie: Patouffi) gets too close to his dinner (or mine- which he considers his as well), or if a dog comes near the RV. But if a total stranger comes near, Marley would lick his face if he had food! In Cocorit again, I awoke to the distinct sway of someone climbing on my RV! I panicked! What should I do? But upon opening my curtains a crack I noticed it was 2 older gentlemen pointing at my map and discussing about my voyage.  Marley didn’t even stir and was happily asleep the whole time. I wondered if I should be the one barking to show him how it’s done!20161015_144253

Marley has been spoiled with our locales. Most of them have been gated, safe, where he is free to roam and only in Islandia did I become concerned because he started to look like a Mexican dog, which is not a good thing. I would watch him like a hawk to see if he was scratching himself a little too much or getting mangy. One day I had enough and gave him a lavender shampoo to remind him that he was a well-bred pup and not some street hoodlum!20161016_092454

As a beagle, Marley will never pass up food, even if it has been rotting for 10 days, is full of worms or flies or lying in the sand as in San Carlos. I realized too late that he had done some beach combing of his own and all night he was vomiting gravely sand.

I am so grateful for my pets to be with me on this journey. They make the travel more interesting and definitively give me the companionship that I need to stay sane.

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos! Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

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Au plaisir de la route!

november-2016

Kiki

 

 

GUAYMAS AND EL MERO MARINA

I didn’t see much of the town of Guaymas. It was actually on my way out of town, when I drove through its center that I saw what a pretty and typical Mexican town it was, much bigger than I originally thought when I first got in. Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures as the traffic was too intense.

The town seems to have grown around the  local mountain called “cerro del tetakawi”, that in native Yaqui language means “cerro de piedra”, or in english “rocky mountain”20161120_105602.

I was looking for a particular campground around the bay and found myself traveling down this beautiful scenic road along the shore.20161120_115615

When the road ended at a pier and I managed to turn my truck around without falling off the cliff, I retraced my steps in search of a free site where I could spend the night safely. I marveled at the number of beautiful mansions lining the road, most of them abandoned, some obviously not.

I stopped next to a marina for commercial boats to take a picture of all the pelicans and decided to talk to the guard and ask him where I could camp. The old gentleman sent me to the next bay over, telling me I would be safe there. When I arrived I was surprised to find, not a beach as I had assumed, but a small gated marina named El Mero. I decided to ask the guard if I could camp there and he waved me in with a big smile! Oh my god, I had found a gem. Private, secluded, quiet with a beautiful scenery! As for safety, I couldn’t have found better: gated and with a security guard! Wow.

I happily set up camp and settled in when a gentleman came over and introduced me to a sub-culture completely new to me: people that travel and live on their boats, the same way I travel and live in my RV! I was, after all not alone in my paradise. I had thought that the people milling about their boats were tourists with a villa in town, and that they would be gone by evening- but not so. They were to become my new friends for the next few days.

I’ve been sent over, he says, to figure out who the woman in the RV is. I forgot his name, but he tells me that originally Polish, he lived in Winnipeg for a number of years before starting to sail full time. He sold everything and has been sailing the world for 9 years now. He commented that a lot of sailors find out the hard way that the boats they have been using for the occasional sail are not designed for the high seas nor for living full-time but rather for berths in marinas. I understand this concept as it is the same for RVs set up for full hook-up campgrounds, versus the ones better equipped for dry camping such as mine.

Another person to pay me a visit as I was sun tanning in my bikini, where I thought was an out of sight location, was a Mexican hand, with his patron closely running behind saying “Roberto, I don’t thing your wife at home would approve!”

At $50 (pesos)[I know it is confusing Pesos is a dollar sign with only 1 /] a night El Mero is one of the cheapest and prettiest marina in Guaymas. Some of its residents have been here for over 1 year, either because of personal health issues as was the case of Jay or because of needed repairs or renovations, as was the case of most of the others. Most of them have been returning to this piece of paradise for years.

Knowing I was safe, I slept like a baby. I woke up early and decided to go out and wait for the sun to rise. It was still dark when I distinctly heard the very loud exhale from a breathing hole! It was so close I couldn’t believe it! I know of only 2 sea mammals that have breathing holes and the marina was definitively too small and shallow for a whale, so it had to be a dolphin. It leisurely came to the surface and breathed at very short intervals and I could see its wake, really close to where I was standing. What a magical way to start the day!20161121_093404

Locals came in to fish on the piers and would leave at dusk. My neighbors warned me to pack everything a night as thieves would come in by boat and snatch anything that was not bolted or tied up. Engine motors were a prime target. Apparently Guaymas is notoriously bad for boat thievery in both wet and dry marinas. They would boldly come on board as you are sleeping below deck!

I had arrived on the Sunday of a holiday long week-end. The week-end guard had let me in because he was not the one in charge of collecting the rent. On Monday I got the visit of the regular guard, Miguel. He told me that Campers were not allowed to park here and that I would have to leave or go to the main office to get a permit to stay. I didn’t know if he was implying that I paid him directly or not. Since the office was closed on Monday, I would get a lift to the office on Tuesday to sort it out. It turned out that I was not allowed to stay. That night had been quite windy and I had rolled up my awning. In the morning I thought that I could either leave right away and not bother going to the office, in fear too that they might charge me for all 3 nights, or go and find out about my options, in the chance that they gave me a permit showing the guard that I was cleared to stay, as per my neighbors’ assumptions. I was not ready to leave that day – I wanted to stay one more night before leaving the next morning so I was very disappointed to find out as I crossed the gates on my way out that all I had to do was bribe the guard!

I am still learning about customs here, as in pay half now, the other half when the job is done (I learned that one when I had my van painted. I paid him in full and of course he never showed up the next day to put the varnish top coat!) and as in offering a bribe to the security guard of a beautiful and cheap marina. Even at $50 (pesos) a night it is way cheaper than most RV parks that charge an average of $400 pesos a night! I beat myself up for this lack of judgement.

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos! Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

november-2016

Kiki

 

 

 

PEE POT AND BUG ZAPPER

Let’s be frank – there are 2 subjects on the topmost list of concerns about Mexico:  Sanitation and bugs!

The good thing about driving in a motor home, your toilet is always nearby and you will never be surprised by its condition or cleanliness. This perk comes with an inconvenience though, the whole messy business of dumping your sewage. From the unholy burbs of your full toilet tank telling you it’s time to dump, to the long hoses travelling uphill to the dumping hole that you have to “milk” to drain – it is quite the learning curve.

On this note, let me tell you about Mexican campgrounds septic systems as I saw it first hand in my last campground. The crew was digging a very deep hole in the ground. Curious, I asked them what they were doing, it’s for the grey water they tell me – and dark water I though, they both come out of the same hose! Oh, so you are going to bring in pipes for evacuation then? No, they say and point at an old rusty barrel and at the hole in the sand. Oh I see, so the water (and waste) just sits in the barrel? And they do the universal hand gesture meaning it will just seep into the ground!

I ran over to my neighbor Nadine to tell her the news. We are both surprised the campsite doesn’t smell at all. Nadine laughs telling me: ”and you were concerned about dumping on the side of the road! Mexicans do it”. Later on that night half a dozen men were rolling a large palm tree over logs, Egyptian style, and planted it in another hole next to the now covered dumping hole. Ah, says Nadine, this must be their filtration system.

I also learned a few dumping tricks from the old timers, the people that came before me and plowed the way so to speak.

First of all, do like the natives do and use a pee  pot (I also have a poo stick – but I’m sure you don’t want to hear about it!). Because the sewage system does not allow toilet paper, the custom is to place your used toilet paper in the basket sitting next to the loo. I had actually started this habit when I was dry camping last summer to conserve water. It also makes dumping easier and does not clog the hose.  I’m sorry, but in the RV I only do this for #1.  A plastic bag works but really you need something with a lid.

Second advice is when settled at a full hook-up campsite, do not open your valves, otherwise your waste just sits there in the hoses. Fill half of your toilet tank with water to allow for faster decomposition, and then on days when you’ve used a good amount of water from showering or doing the dishes, drain your tanks. Always drain the toilet tank first and leave the valve open when you drain the grey water second. It will certainly wash out any residual waste in the hose. OK, got it, thank you Harvey!

The other big problem for me, freshly out of Canada, I became a buffet for mosquitos, horse flies and noceums  – tiny little flies, so tiny they go through netting. Anything that bit or stung had a piece of me! I was miserable.  My arms and my face, the only things sticking out of the covers at night, were covered in bites every morning. I would joke to my friend Reg back home that I was having Botox treatments at night. One night we focused on the forehead, as I woke up with a huge lump there, another night we worked on the eyes and one morning I found out we plumped up the lips. The works!img-20161111-wa0000

But on one of my trips into town I came across the best invention since sliced bread: a rechargeable bug zapper in the shape of a tennis racket. At first the zapping scared me, but I soon got the hang of it and before bed I would wave my magic wand in the air and showed no mercy. Zap! Zap! Zap!20161116_114855

I couldn’t even see what it was catching those bugs are so small. One time it caught a big flie and it smelled like burnt bug I guess. Another time it must have been a swarm of noceums because smoke was coming out of the Zapper’s mesh.  I would zap before going to bed, but I would still hear them in the night and get stung, they were coming in through the window screens. So I decided to pull out the big guns: first I would burn some of that mosquito coil inside of the van to repel them out. Then I would close all of my vents and windows and I would zap mercilessly. I would sleep with my fan on, and later found out that opening a window after dark was ok too.

The pets were scarred of the zapper and hated it. One day it was lying on the sofa and somehow Marley dropped it on the floor and it stopped working since. I think Marley did it on purpose!

palm-tree

Until next time my new road amigos! Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

 

20161116_114723  Kiki

 

SAN CARLOS

I have been very blessed lately with amazing locations where I could camp for free or almost, and most importantly, where I was safe.

After leaving my new friends at Islandia, I drove to San Carlos, a little town along the coast of the Sea of Cortes. A beautiful place that smacks of American money where everything down to menus seemed geared to please the benefactors of the place: pizzas, chicken wings and Coca Cola! From the guide books I’ve read this used to be a typical Mexican town with dirt streets. It is now paved and lined with pretty little shops, souvenirs and food shacks. In many ways it reminded me of some of the little villages on the French Riviera. I had noticed a beach at the entrance of the town where I could boondock. I drove all the way down to the beautiful harbor where exquisite mansions are perched, build on that pretty pink chain of mountains typical of the region. San Carlos is surrounded by it. It is quite a stunning sight.

I settled on the beach under the only tree for shelter from the blazing sun and off we went for a walk on the beach. We were pretty much the only one there.20161119_095610

By the end of the afternoon, Mexican families came over to picnic on the beach. It became very lively. I became concerned that may be some unsavory soul might decide to pay me a visit at night and was wondering if I should move the truck to a more secluded area, away from prying eyes but decided against it. I was quite visible from the road and under a street light. I was told this was a safe place to stay for the night, but still slept lightly.

I woke up the next morning to a beautiful sunrise.20161120_070513

And off we drove to Guaymas, the next town in search of a cheap campsite I had found in my book. Good bye San Carlos.

Until next time my new road amigos! Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

november-2016

Kiki

 

 

 

Finally here!

I left Calgary October 12 2016 and drove about 4,000 km with little stops and detours on the way. I finally crossed the Mexican border at Nogales, just south of Tucson, Arizona on November  1st, 2016.

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Even though my trip started in Calgary, I feel that my journey is only starting now. Let me explain.

I drove through the States and stopped at Yellow Stone National Park on the way. I visited Little Big Horn Battlefield Monument which happened to be my route. I stayed in Boulder, Colorado for a workshop, pushed on to Tucson where I got my fridge repaired and finally crossed the border.

It was go-go-go all the way because of a schedule I had to keep. But once arrived in Mexico, I sought out a campsite with full hook-ups and, glory of glories: Wifi! I knew I was going to stay a while to rest from my long drive but when I actually stopped the truck and stayed for a night or two, it hit me like a bus: the physical aches and pains of my partially healed extruded disc that had me off work for over a year, the fatigue of the drive and most of all, the stress of the pressure I had put on myself to be road ready in less than 6 weeks from the moment I decided to start this endeavor. 6 weeks of selling everything, getting all my travel documents and vaccinations done for myself and the pets, to hand out my resignation at work and finalize a few other things. It all hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely get out of bed in the morning I was in so much pain. Then I would look balefully at the calendar not ready for my departure date – this was the sign that I needed to stay at the campsite longer.

I paid for another week and what a difference. I rebuilt myself physically and mentally, I started to be more active, visiting the adjacent little town and finally get to what I had intended to do when I chose this campsite, work on the internet!

I have to say this place is a piece of paradise. I am in the Old Bahia de Kino, the first resort south of the border in the State of Sonora. It really is just a small village and the campsite is small and rustic, just the way I like them, with a wonderful and friendly staff.

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Lo and behold but I find a spot right by the beach and my neighbors are French! I was to quickly discover that this camp is full of French people. Nadine and her husband John have become good friends. There is also Philippe and his wife Michele who now live here. Philippe is the campsite’s baker. Every Wednesday he makes french baguettes and pains-aux-raisins (grape buns – somehow doesn’t sound as appetizing). There is also Harvey and Linda from Edmonton! For Pete’s sake how far do I have to drive to get away from home?

I also met a French family of 5 who too are traveling to Argentina in a motor home that has been modified to accommodate 3 daughters and 2 parents in a 30 ft long rig!

So, as French people would do, we all sat around a long table under the hospitality of Philippe and Michele and ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company for the good part of the afternoon.

Now the clock is ticking again and with my departure due for Friday morning, I am pushing myself to be a bit more productive:) When I visited Olivia and Michael’s rig, I loved the way they had decals of the map of the American Continent with dots showing their progress down the Pan American Highway. Their blog: apietrip.wordpress.com is also well displayed and they have now over 200 followers from just driving around.

I had toyed with the idea of doing this before I left Calgary, but thought that as a single woman it might be unwise to advertise my whereabouts. However, after meeting with this family I changed my mind about this. The problem was that to make the decals take about one week and I had no intention of staying put in a city for that long so I thought that option was gone for me. But again fate smiled on me when I noticed a van being painted with dolphins. The owner tells me of his vision of having his motor home completely painted as if it was underwater and that right here in the village we have a person who draws free hand so well that he has acquired the nickname of the Michelangelo of Bahia de Kino! Ah Ha! I thought, here is my chance. Have Manuel come over my rig tonight I told Joe. That night I was on the computer, setting up this blog and getting ready to get my RV tatooed I call it!

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It is so delightfully tacky – I love it! Plus it suits my personality (no, I’m not tacky! a bit eccentric that’s all:) and that of my old 1984 Ford Glendale truck! A perfect match!

The road is calling to me again, I am getting antsy and want my space. I am really enjoying the company of my new friends here at the Islandia campsite, but I miss the silence and solitude that make traveling so special, a meditation in motion.

Until next time my new road amigos! Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

Kiki   november-2016