4/17/2015 – Uketube

Want to see what I’ve been doing when I should have been writing blogs?

Yodel it with me: You-ku-lay-LEE-tube


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3/31/2015 – Continuing to get entrenched

Looks like it’s been a full month since I last wrote anything.  I guess when one isn’t relocating every day or two, there just isn’t that much to write about.

Let’s see, since the last time I wrote, our friends Bill and Elli (s/v Cada Día Más) have returned to their condo out at Playa Encanto and our mutual friends Keith and Kay (s/v Chamisa) stopped by on their way back to the US from San Carlos where they had been working on their boat.  Keith and Kay were here, at the Playa Del Oro RV park for about a week.  It was a pretty eventful week as we hung out with Bill and Elli, ate out a lot, and went on Del Mar Charter’s last whale watching trip of the season.

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We went out with our old amigo Oscar from DelMar Charters on a whale watching excursion.  Oscar’s catamaran is a very comfortable platform from which to look for whales.  We did eventually see some fin whales (second largest whale, after the blue whale) but it took until late afternoon and we had to go out 13 miles to see them.  Apparently they were starting their migration.  Oscar decided that was just too far to go so ours was the final whale watching trip of the season.  Now he’ll concentrate on sunset cruises, dive trips, snorkeling trips, etc.

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And just so you don’t think I’m a complete schlub for letting Lulu do all the cleaning and painting while I just ran for supplies, etc, I started doing my part this month.  Using our pickup tailgate and a couple concrete blocks for a workbench, I managed to build a couple of cabinets and an ukulele hanger.

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As you can see, none of the cabinets have doors yet.  We’re still a little up in the air about the doors.  I think we’ll end up putting doors on some of the openings but leave some open.  I like the way the open cabinets look but Lulu wants doors on at least some of them.  Same goes for the existing (door-less) cupboards in the kitchen.  One thing’s for sure. If I’m going to build the doors down here, I’m going to need to buy some more clamps.  At least I’m getting used to buying lumber, etc. down here.  And, happily, it’s really no more prohibitively expensive than I remember it being up north.

On an unhappy note, during Keith and Kay’s visit, our truck got broken into and we lost our cell phone, a 1.75 liter bottle of really good tequila and, worst of all, Dora.  I imagine Dora sitting up on the dash was the initial enticement since the other stuff wasn’t really visible from outside the truck.  I made the rookie mistake of leaving the back vent windows open for ventilation while we were walking around the Old Port area.  I guess I just figured that no one would actually break the window latches.  Don’t know what I was thinking.  After I mentioned the robbery on Facebook, one woman said that it was my fault for leaving the windows open.  I beg to differ.  While my error certainly did make the theft easier, there is no way that I forced the bad guy to make the decision to break into my truck.  That’s on him.  Anyway, it could have been so much worse.  I usually have my very well-equipped tool bag in the truck.  Would have really hurt to lose that.  Or, they could have stolen the whole truck.  Also, although they got the one bottle of tequila, they left the even larger one behind because it was just a non-descript plastic jug.  The kind that water is sold in.  That’s because this is the good stuff that Arturo at Mickey’s has made for him.  They get it in big plastic jugs and just sell out of them.  The bottle that was stolen was a repurposed 1800 Añejo tequila bottle.  And, our cell phone was a prepaid “burner” phone so the thief didn’t get much there.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  He got an earful from Kay.  She called our number after the rip-off and read the guy who answered the riot act.  Told him she hopes he burns in hell.  He probably stopped answering the phone after that.  Since the robbery I don’t leave any windows open or even cracked and I also don’t leave anything visible inside.  We replaced Dora with Dora Jr. on a trip to the Phoenix area last week.  However, since we don’t need it to get around Puerto Peñasco, it’s sitting in the house until we take a trip again.

We now have a new Mexican cell phone, a real phone with a US number using Magic Jack, and a post office box in Lukeville, AZ.  So, I guess we’re planning to be here awhile.

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3/1/2015 – Well, since you asked…

Now that I’ve successfully whittled my readership down to family and some friends who don’t really care whether or not we’re sailing, I guess I’ll tell you what we’ve been up to, mundane though it may be.

So far we’re really digging living in Puerto Peñasco.  The first couple of weeks were spent working on the casita.  As I’ve stated before, Lulu did most of the work and I did most of the running for supplies, groceries, etc.  Since our only rig was Flipper, most of these errands were done on my bike.  It’s a good town for bike riding for the most part.  Lots of back streets that see very little traffic and a pretty live-and-let-live attitude towards bikers.  Most of the bike riders are Mexicans who are riding because that’s the only transportation they have.  As time passed, my bike took on a decidedly Mexican look.  I call it my Long Bed:

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However, we knew that this couldn’t last forever.  We needed a truck to get lumber, furniture, etc.  I was hoping to find a Toyota pickup and had been watching Craig’s List Phoenix to see what was available.  Ideally it would be a 1983 with a 22R motor and low miles.  You know, the pickup equivalent of Flipper.  However, although a few 83s did come up for sale occasionally, they were definitely not low mileage, in spite of what their sellers were saying.  Sorry folks but the fact that your rig has less than 200K on the odometer does not make it “low-mileage”.  Also, a lot of the rigs in Phoenix and Tucson were tricked out in one way or another.  They were either jacked way up and rigged for extreme desert off-roading or they were lowered way down, rigged with those skinny little tires and fancy wheels and ready to cruise Main, or whatever they do these days.  I saw a few that were possibles but arranging to see them was kind of tricky.  Many only wanted phone calls or texts and wouldn’t respond to e-mail.  That may be OK if we were living in Phoenix but, we’re not.  I don’t like shopping for vehicles in the first place so you can imagine how excited I was with the prospect of trying to find one long-distance.  I decided to expand my search to include Nissans and also to include Yuma.  Found a really promising ’94 Nissan in Yuma.  The price seemed fair and the seller preferred e-mail.  I e-mailed him about the rig and he responded that there was a pending sale but he’d know by Monday and would let me know how the transaction went.  He e-mailed back on Monday that the potential buyer couldn’t come up with the cash so the truck was still for sale.  I told him we’d be up to take a look and, since we were coming from Rocky Point, we’d be really bummed if we got there and it had been sold before we even got a chance to see it.  He promised that he’d hang onto it until we got there.  Can’t beat that.

So we gassed Flipper up and headed north.  The upshot is that we bought the truck and it’s better than we’d hoped for.  We knew we’d want a canopy and it came with one already.  Hadn’t even thought about an extended cab but we could definitely see the beauty of one when a truck is your only vehicle.  We weren’t looking for a 4×4 but can also see the beauty of owning one living where we are.  Roads tend to get washed out during rain storms, etc.  The mileage?  Just under 114,000 which is pretty low compared to most of the ads I looked at.  Six cylinder engine (would have preferred a 4 cylinder but so be it), with a 5-speed manual transmission.  So, here she is:

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We spent the next day in Yuma running  around spending money like crazy people.  Some things we need for the place just aren’t available in Peñasco or, at least we don’t know yet where to find them.  There were also things we wanted for ourselves like bread flour, cheddar cheese, butter, sausages, etc that aren’t available in Rocky Point.  Note, I’ll use Puerto Peñasco, Peñasco, and Rocky Point interchangeably as they all refer to the same place.

Got the truck licensed and insured (US and Mexico) and loaded down with all our booty.  Left Flipper at my uncle’s house (in Yuma) with plans to return in a week or two to get her and drive her back to Rocky Point.  The truck drove beautifully all the way home although she sucked down the gas since I was driving near the 75 mph speed limit, just because I could.  Won’t be doing that again.  We’d gone to the trouble of removing all packaging from our goodies in anticipation of going through Mexican Customs (Aduana).  Didn’t want to have a bunch of new stuff to have to pay duty on.  At the border, the Aduana agent (a young guy) just peeked through the side window of the canopy and waved us on.  Guess he was in a hurry to get back to playing with his smart phone.  OK with us.

Back in Puerto Peñasco we decided to get serious about getting a couch.  We looked at a couch/loveseat set in bazaar (bazaar’s are what the second-hand stores around here are called when they’re not being referred to as “segundas”).  Anyway, it was a nice set but definitely not our style.  But it gave us an idea of what these things were going for.  We went to a consignment shop run by a gringa and recommended to us by the lady we bought our place from.  There were some OK pieces but they were a little pricier than we wanted to pay.  We went out back to look at the overflow and the stuff that had come in recently and hadn’t been cleaned up for display yet.  There, on a trailer, was a couch, loveseat and big hassock, all upholstered in blue denim, that looked right up our alley.  Jill came by and we asked what she wanted for the set.  She was not excited about having to clean it up and find a place to display it.  So, if we’d take it as-is on the trailer, we could have the set for $250USD.  That was real bargain compared to what we’d been looking at so we jumped on it.  It was obviously too big to fit in the Nissan so Jill said she’d have it delivered for an extra $20.  Fair enough, although I suspect a Mexican seller would have delivered it for free as was done when we bought our bed and kitchen stove, but whatever.  The set was delivered later the same afternoon.  Lulu did some cleaning on it and declared it to be remarkably clean and well-built.  I declare it comfortable.

The next day I went to Sam’s Club and bought a 40″ LED/LCD Philips TV.  I compared local prices to Best Buy prices on the internet and found the local prices to be a bit lower than US prices.  Unexpected, but good for us.  So here we are:

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Yeah, the couch has faded areas but so do my jeans.  Denim is supposed to be faded.  Now that we’re watching TV in the living room, on a real TV rather than the laptop, we really feel like we live here.

Lulu has been busy making curtains, too:

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Getting homier all the time.  Today I installed track lighting in the kitchen.  The kitchen had no overhead lighting at all.  When we moved in the only light was the one in the hood above the stove. We bought a couple of under-cabinet fluorescents that helped a lot but there were still some very dark spots in the kitchen.  So, on our Yuma trip we bought track lights and I installed them today.

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Also bought myself a Weber kettle BBQ while at Home Depot.

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Our friend Kevin offered to give me a ride north the other day.  He knew I needed to go back to Yuma and get Flipper and he needed to go up to Williams.  We left Peñasco early Friday morning and he dropped me off in Gila Bend where I caught the Greyhound to Yuma.  My uncle Felty picked me up at the bus stop.  As soon as we got to his place I fired Flipper up.  Lulu and I had come up with another list of things we “needed” to get from the US and I wanted to get as much done as possible so that I could head back to Mexico as early as reasonable on Saturday.  I managed to get everything on the list, had a bite to eat and was back at Felty & Dolores’ by about 9:00.  Had a brew with Felty and then headed to bed.  I slept great in Flipper except that I had my phone alarm set to go off every 3 hours.  “Why?” you ask.  Well, you see, I went to the dentist earlier in the week because of sensitivity (read “pain”) on the tooth I’d had fixed in Guaymas a year or so ago.  At the time she fixed it, the dentist told me it was temporary and I’d need a root canal soon.  Well, the time had come.  So I had the root canal on Thursday but, because there was more infection than he expected, the dentist couldn’t finish it all then.  So, I have to go back on Monday to get it finished.  In the meantime, I’ve found that 3 ibuprofens every 3 hours keeps the pain at bay.  But I’ve also found that if I slack off and fall behind, it takes awhile to get back to the minimal-pain state again.  Consequently, I prefer to wake up every 3 hours to taking a chance on pain. I’m sort of a baby that way.

Hit the road for home at 6:30 Saturday morning.  Again, I’d removed packaging, etc. from everything I’d bought and scattered it all through the camper.  Needn’t have bothered.  Normally you get either a red light or a green light when crossing the border.  Green means you can just go, although they reserve the right to inspect your rig anyway.  Red means you will be inspected.  I’ve always gotten a red light when driving through with Flipper.  This time I didn’t get a red light.  Or a green light for that matter.  No light at all and total indifference from the Aduana guys who all seemed preoccupied with their phones.  Some times I love smart phones.  They didn’t even bothering waving me through.  I just slowed way down, stopped and proceeded on with nary a glance my way.

It was good to get home.  Feels more like home all the time.  Went out for tacos with our landlord, Les, and our friends Mary and Rick who have a 53′ sailboat and are staying in the condo here while their boat is being worked on in the yard.

And that’s what’s happening down here.  Weather is spring-like.  A little cooler the last couple days (high 60s) with some blustery winds.  Beautiful blue skies almost every day.  Lovin’ it.

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An afterthought:  I mentioned having our stove delivered.  We knew that our kitchen stove had a propane leak somewhere.  We had taken to turning off the gas whenever we weren’t using the stove.  But, even when we were using it, we could smell unburned propane.  I finally tracked it to one of the burner controls that must not shut off completely.  It wasn’t something that could be fixed w/o parts and I doubted I’d be able to find a new valve for a Brown stove built for trailers.  So we decided to scrap it and get a new one.  Went to a local muebleria (furniture store) that had been recommended (Muebleria Colonia).  Our stove is narrow, only 24″ wide.  They had a bunch of narrow stoves to choose from.  We picked on that was mid-way price-wise but was on sale for the same price as the cheapies.  They took our info for delivery and it was waiting at the front door when we got home.  Installation was easy and now we have no errant propane smells.

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2/11/2015 – A work in progress

After a little over a week, Lulu’s finally able to relax.  We’ve (mostly Lulu) gotten the casita to the point of a blank canvas.  The photos will show where we’re at and what’s left to do.  The previous owner removed all the upper cupboard doors as well as some of the lowers.  So, while in Silverton this summer (where the table saw is) I’m going to build natural finished pine doors for every cabinet in the place.  Until then we’ll live with what we have, which is not particularly difficult to do.  I also need to do lots of shelves inside the pantry and the bedroom closet to take better advantage of the space available.  Lulu’s going to be making curtains.  We’ll also start shopping the segundas for some living room furniture and the local discount stores for a TV.  The camp chairs are OK for now but we need a real couch with a real coffee table to put our feet up on.

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We figured out how to make the vent fan in the bathroom work and also found out that the original trailer’s A/C unit still works.  That means we have a total of 4 air conditioners.  Should make summer a bit more tolerable.  Hope we never have to use all four.

So far,we have been living entirely in the trailer portion of the place since we don’t have any furniture in the living room and Lulu was busy cleaning and painting it.  And you know what?  We could easily live in just the space of the trailer.  The living room will be nice for spreading out but we totally don’t need it.  The trailer is really very well set-up.  The shower/tub is my favorite one ever.  Here’re the square footage specs on the place:

Total: 629 square feet

Trailer, with the slide outs deployed: 350 square feet

As long as we had some sort of storage shed, I have no doubt we could be quite comfortable in 350-400 square feet of living space.  We even have a washer and dryer.  I’m telling ya, we’re living in the lap of luxury.  I think everyone should spend a few years living in a small boat or RV, and, if possible, do at least some of it off-grid.  And by “small” I mean 30′ in length or less.  Makes one very appreciative of life back on the grid with even a little bit of room to move around in.

Well, time to go out and explore Puerto Peñasco some more.  Saw a carnitas stand yesterday that needs to be checked out a little more closely.

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2/8/2015 – Working on the casita

Just in case you wondered what the heck we’ve been doing since we fell off the road, here’s an update.

As you know, we headed to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, to get settled into our new little trailer/casita.  The day we arrived it was pouring down rain and everything was wet and gritty.  Not fun.  Fortunately, the rain quit the next day and hasn’t shown any indications of returning.  The weather now is pretty much perfect: daytime highs in the mid-70s and nighttime lows in the mid-50s.  Only bugs we’ve experienced so far are a few in the early evening just as the sun is going down.  Little gnats of some kind.  Nothing like the bastards that were eating us alive down south.

We’ve gotten pretty much everything that we didn’t want in the casita torn out, walls all sanded down, and, as of today, the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining area are all painted.  All that’s left is the big living room.  Well, that and putting back all the switch plates, outlet covers, ceiling vents, etc. that got removed for painting.  Our landlords, Les and Pat, have been great.  The monday after we arrived, Pat took us around to the water store, the paint store, the dollar store, etc, as well as showing us where a whole bunch of other useful places are.  One thing about Puerto Peñasco is that, other than Sam’s Club and Bodega Aurrera, there just aren’t any big box stores.  I’d kill for a Home Depot right about now.  So, instead, you need someone with local knowledge to show you where to find lumber, light fixtures, paint, and all the other myriad things that go into making a new place your own.  Yesterday, they took us around again.  We visited a couple of Segundas or Bazaars which are basically just second-hand stores or garage sales.  We’re checking out furniture mostly.  There is a lot of furniture for sale at these places.  Les said that this is one of the local businesses.  They drive up to the States and hit garage sales and second-hand stores and then bring the stuff back down here to sell.  This only works if they can sell it for more than they paid for it which isn’t too hard as a lot of this stuff is hard to find anywhere else so there’s a pretty reliable market.  Or so I’m told.

We passed on a couple of second-hand beds and ended up buying a new queen bed at a local mueblería (furniture store).  Last night was the first night we didn’t sleep out in Flipper.  We also got a couple of under-counter lights for in the kitchen.  Until then, the only light in the kitchen was the one in the stove hood.  There was a fluorescent under-counter fixture but no tube and I hadn’t had any luck finding a replacement tube.  But I did find 2 matching fixtures at the segunda.  Now we can see what we’re doing.  Today I returned to the segunda and got a couple of wall-mount reading lights for the bedroom. 

We haven’t done too much cooking since we’ve been here.  Been busy working on the house and then don’t feel much like cooking once us and our tools are cleaned up for the day.  There’s a gringo-owned restaurant/bar a couple blocks away from here.  It’s called the Pink Cadillac and the dining room is all tricked in 50s diner garb.  Although they do have a Mexican menu, their claim to fame seems to be their gringo meals.  We’ve been enjoying some of the gringo food we’ve missed during the last 5 months: chicken fried steak, fish and chips, chicken fried chicken, patty melts, etc.  The first Sunday we were here, or maybe it was the second Sunday, no, I’m pretty sure it was the first.  Anyway, we went down to the malecón and had a late lunch at The Satisfied Frog, another gringo-owned place.  On Sundays they have a fried chicken special: 8 pieces of crispy batter-fried chicken, fries or mashed potatoes and gravy, and a salad for $12USD.   It was like Colonel Sander’s chicken used to be, back in the day.  We ended up bringing leftovers home for lunch the next day.  I think we’re going to go there again today, it being Sunday and all.  Soon, we’ll be chowing on Mexican food and homemade stuff, too, but right now, all this north of the border fare tastes pretty darn good for a change of pace.  Guess that’s one of the bennies of living so close to the border.

Been riding my bike a lot.  Lulu’s doing the bulk of the work on the house.  I do some rewiring, some surface preparation, and most of the demolition but she does all of the painting as well as a big share of the prep work.  I’ve designated myself the go-fer.  And the best way to go, not having a vehicle other than Flipper, is to ride a bike.  The town is mostly flat although we live on a little rise so I get to finish every ride a bit out of breath.  Pretty easy town to ride a bike in.  Lots of wide dirt/sand back streets with very little traffic.  Going out to Sam’s Club there’s even a really nice bike lane.  I’m looking forward to getting a little pickup to tool around in and haul things home but I hope I keep riding my bike, too.

Sorry, no photos until the place is a little further along.

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1/31/2105 – The numbers and the end of the road (for now)


After a grimy, nasty, rainy, muddy drive from Magdalena de Kino today, we arrived at our new little homebase

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Wish I had Photoshop so I could draw a tongue hanging out of Flipper’s grill as she breathes a big sigh of relief.  But really, she took the trip in stride.  Here are the numbers:

Total miles traveled:  9,133

Miles traveled in US: 6,085

Miles traveled in Mexico: 3,048

Average distance traveled (including long stops): 57.8 miles/day

Most miles traveled in a day: 340

Fewest miles traveled in a day (not including the “zero mile” days): 13

“Zero Mile” days: 87 (55% of the total trip)

Total length of trip: 158 days

Total spent on gas: $1,994.51

Average price of gas in US: $3.41/gal

Average price of gas in Mexico: $3.49/gal

Average mileage: 16.12 MPG (about 0.5 mpg higher than we’d hoped for)

Total spent on Mexican cuotas (toll roads): $367.47

Total spent on RV parks and campgrounds: Unknown because, unfortunately I forgot to keep track.

Mechanical problems: 0 (other than having to use a bungee to keep the shifter from hopping out of 4th gear)

Quarts of oil added during the trip: 5

Flat tires: 0

No. of times the weld broke causing the spare tire rack, along with the spare tire and both bikes to fall off the back of the camper right in the middle of the road: 1

No. of times we were stopped by policemen for traffic infraction on this trip: 0

No. of military checkpoints where we were stopped and searched: 1

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1/27/2015 – Driving in Mexico

The first time I had to drive a car in Mexico, in La Paz, I was petrified.  I just knew that every cop was corrupt and they were all waiting to get me.  I also was sure that I wouldn’t be up to the task of dealing with other drivers, road signs, etc. and would be reduced to a quivering mass of tears before I’d gone 5 miles.  That experience turned out to be a whole lot less traumatic than I’d feared and gave me the nerve to try again some day.

Now that we’ve put several thousand Mexican miles on our little motorhome, I feel somewhat qualified to talk about driving in Mexico.

First, there are only a few things that I don’t particularly care for:

Cops:  In all these thousands of miles I have only been stopped by a cop three times.  Once was entering La Paz when a Federale roadblock was checking licenses and registrations of everyone passing by.  No biggie.  Once was in Caborca when a local cop stopped me for speeding. This was a legitimate stop as I’d been going 20 km/hr over the posted speed limit (like pretty much everyone else).  I’m sure that the reason I was chosen for a stop was because I was gringo.  The cop made it fairly obvious that he was looking for a payoff which he didn’t get and eventually waved me away with the admonishment to “slow down”.  Fair enough.  The last time I was stopped was in Hermosillo.  I was pulled over for making a right turn on a red light (like every car ahead of me at the intersection did).  I’m not sure what this guy wanted as he didn’t seem to be fishing for a bribe or anything.  Just wanted to hassle me maybe.  Anyway, got away without a fine or anything again.  No harm done.  That’s been it so far.  So, although I’m still a bit leery of cops, I’m just as leery, if not more so, in the States.

Cuotas:  There are toll highways (cuotas) all over Mexico.  These tend to be the newer, wider, faster roads.  The deal is that you never supposedly have to drive on a cuota to get somewhere.  All cuotas are supposed to have an accompanying “libre” or free road.  Sometimes, however, the libres are pot-holed, circuitous, and generally poor choices.  Most times. however, at least from our experience, they are just fine.  Not if you’re in a hurry maybe, but otherwise they’re fine.  You go through many more small towns than on the cuotas and every small town requires a drop in speed from 60-80 km/hr to 40 km/hr. And, if you choose not to slow down, the topes (speed bumps) will make you wish you had.  A small town less than a half mile long might have as many as 8-10 topes, each one high enough to make dropping your speed low enough to shift into 1st gear a wise choice.  There are also the “vibradores”.  These are small topes which are placed closer and closer together as you approach a pedestrian crossing, etc.  They do just like the name implies:  they vibrate the crap out of you.

If you want to avoid most, though not all, of these slow-down techniques, and arrive at your destination faster since you can often travel legally at 110 km/hr, you take the cuota.  Also, if you happen to miss the poorly-marked, if marked at all turn-off to the libres, you take the cuotas.  We actually tried to avoid taking cuotas most of the time but still found ourselves on them much more often than we liked.  The worst thing about the cuotas is that they are FREAKIN’ EXPENSIVE!  “How expensive are they?” you ask.  Well, as luck would have it, I just this morning finished entering the amounts on all my receipts into the computer.  On this trip, since we entered Mexico in November, we have spent a total of $317.07 ($4,597.47MX) on tolls.  That’s for traveling on 17 cuotas.  This means we spent an average of $18.65US (or $270.44MX) per toll booth.  And sometimes these toll booths are only a few miles apart.  It’s also tough to tell whether you’re paying for the road you’re about to drive on or the one you just finished driving on.  I have no idea which it is or if there’s any consistency.

No Shoulders:  Fortunately nothing has happened that has caused us to have to pull over to the side of the road.  Good thing since most of the small roads have absolutely no shoulder to pull off the road onto.  No shoulder.  None.  And the road is elevated such that just pulling off onto the brush would usually entail a very steep drop.  It’s just kind of unnerving thinking about what you’d do if the rig just stopped..

Directional Signs:  I’m sure they’re much better than they used to be but much of the directional signage in Mexico is somewhat less than helpful.  There might be an arrow indicating a turn off to say, a libre.  Trouble is, the arrow might be a few hundred yards ahead of the turn-off, or it might be right at the turn-off.  And, the turn-off will often not even look like a real road which makes you question whether or not to turn now or a few yards down the road.  Oops, there is no turn-off down the road.  Should have taken that one.  Crap, now we’re on the cuota.

And that’s really about all that I don’t like about driving in Mexico.  On the other hand, there are some things that I really prefer about driving in Mexico vs. the States:

Retornos:  On pretty much any divided highway, there will be openings every so often called “Retornos”.  These give you a chance to undo whatever you did wrong and go back the way you came without having to wait for the next exit, which may be many, many kilometers down the road.  We’ve only had to use these a couple times, but when we did, it was nice to have them.

The General Attitude of Other Drivers:  Mexicans have a reputation as a very laid-back people.  You know, “mañana” and all that.  However, this whole persona changes the minute they get behind the wheel.  Now they need to be wherever they’re going RIGHT NOW!  This leads to them driving fast and passing slower vehicles at very dangerous-looking places.  Solid middle line?  So what?  Blind corner?  Big deal.  Being one of these slower vehicles, we’ve seen more than our share of what looked like was sure to be a head-on collision only to have the passing car pull back into his own lane at the very last minute.  So, why does this make me like the general attitude of Mexican drivers?  Well, it doesn’t exactly.  But the thing about these scenarios that does make me appreciate them is their attitude.  No one’s mad.  I doubt they can even grasp the concept of ‘road rage’.   Sure, I’m driving slower than they might want to go.  But they seem to recognize that I’m probably driving as fast as I am comfortable driving or as fast as my rig will let me drive.  They might tailgate me until they see a suitably inappropriate place to pass but, as they fly by on my left, I’ve never heard a horn honk or seen a raised middle finger like is so common in the good ol’ US of A.

The unwritten rules seems to be “drive however you need to to get done whatever you need done and recognize that everyone else is doing the same thing”.  There just aren’t all that many cops so there isn’t a strict adherence to a bunch of rules.  Quicker to cut through this gas station than to wait at the intersection?  Go ahead.  Need to drive your motorcycle the wrong way down the street?  No problem, just stay well over to the side so you don’t impede traffic going the right way.  You’re in the right lane and need to get into the inside lane, 3 lanes over?  No problem: turn on your blinker and just start edging over.  They’ll make room and no one will get mad or try to squeeze you out.  It’s all very live and let live although you may not recognize that at first as these little Hondas and Toyotas go zipping here and there.  And, for every 2014 Jetta speeding along at 120 km/hr, there will be a ’77 Chevy LUV pickup, loaded to overflowing with palm fronds, and held together by bailing wire trundling along at 40 km/hr.  And it’s all OK.

I think the reason that Mexican drivers generally seem to survive the narrow-misses that go along with passing at crazy places is that everyone is expecting to see someone hurdling at them in their lane and they, maybe unconsciously, plan for it.  They don’t get mad and try to force the guy to back off.  They do what needs to be done so that everyone survives: they back off their speed enough so he can get back over safely.  Oh, they’ll probably make sure that they pass him pretty close just to give him a thrill, but there’s no flashing lights, no honking horns, no one-finger salutes.

I have only had one instance in which other drivers acted like jerks.  Entering the little village of Costa Rica, you come to a “T” intersection signed as a three-way stop.  Everyone has heard that in Mexico a STOP sign is just a suggestion.  But that’s not really true.  Granted, if they slow down as they approach the intersection and see no reason to stop, they will probably just blow on through.  But, if it’s a multi-way stop and someone beat them to the intersection, they’ll at least slow down to take their turn.  In Costa Rica, however, they weren’t so courteous.  The intersection was busy and the streets were very small and narrow, I was on the leg of the “T” and had to turn left.  None of the other drivers would even slow down to allow me to stick my nose out into the intersection.  Very-unMexican.  However, a gentleman in a pickup on my left finally pulled up to the intersection and blocked the other traffic while waving me across.  Very Mexican.

I don’t even mind the topes.  They make one slow down and I don’t mind slowing down.  I don’t like the topes that take me unawares but they are usually fairly well signed or painted so they stand out.  I’m not crazy about some of the really, really badly potholed roads but I just slow down.  They only bother me when I want to get somewhere and I can’t even go fast enough to get out of 1st gear.

We took a dirt exit off the cuota the other day to stop at a Deposito to get some cerveza in case we didn’t pass a store before our evening’s stop.  No problem until I looked at what I had to drive over to get back onto the cuota.  A steep dirt incline that pulled right onto the right lane of the highway, no shoulder or breakdown lane to ease the transition.  Fortunately, I could see the highway well enough to tell when there was a low enough traffic flow to make the re-entry safe-ish.  It was a little unnerving but ultimately no big deal.

We don’t drive at night and we’re happy to have whatever help Dora is willing to give.  She’s bailed us out many times.  But all in all, I have to say that, even though it seems like everything is faster and crazier, I’m actually more relaxed driving in Mexico than I am back in the US.

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Sunset at El Mirador, Huatabampito, Sonora

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