Monday, October 10, 2016

And So It Begins
Did you know that Steven King and John Cougar Mellencamp were collaborating on a horror musical?

I know that's an odd way to start a blog entitled "Belize Bound," but bear with me.

Here's a quote from Steven King in an interview with Rolling Stone regarding this rather odd partnership:
"You can just keep doing the same shit and you'll make a living at it," says King. "But the question is, do you want to dig a rut and furnish it?

This is one of those arbitrary things you read that jolts you. How many years have we been talking about leaving Fresno? Our rut is looking pretty furnished and getting more so every day. It's now or never so we're Belize Bound.

I'll fill in more of the who, what, when, where, how, and why behind our decision to make this jump as we go along. We've been in the forest far too long to see the trees so ask questions and we'll fill in the blanks. I'm not fond of social media or public discussions so you don't get to interact with this blog, but you are more than welcome to email us at and we'll have a good ol' one-on-one chat. I'll post the things that pop up frequently in our email conversations and spare the majority the minutia.

Holy Christ. Do you have any idea what it's like packing up your life into a 26-foot RV and the bed of a Toyota pickup truck? I suspect not. Add to that preparing two houses to rent (ours, which our kids are moving into and theirs, which we also own and will be rented out to others) and you have quite the busy pre-departure schedule. We did what we could and the kids finished up the rest and, as our good friend George said, "Sooner or later you just have to say that's it, and leave." So we did.

Behold the Belize Mobile:

We gutted it and reconfigured it to better suit our needs and it's quite cozy. Did I mention that our grand adventure to Belize is the third time we've ever gone anywhere in the RV? Hopefully, fortune truly favors the bold (or foolish).

Week 1 in the States 
Week one is largely about getting a feel for this RV thing, establishing routines, buying more crap, and not killing each other or the dogs.
Departure and Stop #1 

It was a teary goodbye with the kids and grand kids. We got off late (3:00), hit stop and go traffic in Bakersfield, and arrived in the dark at Tehachapi. Stressful day, but thank God we’re finally underway.

Rather than stress out over an immediate departure and a longer drive to our second stop, we opted to stay in Tehachapi another night. It was a good call. Mountain Valley RV Park is part RV park, part RV storage, part glider school/glider rides. It's secluded and very pleasant. At night, the place was full. By mid-morning we were nearly the only ones there.

Stop #2
Even though I got up about 7:30 (amazing) we still didn't get on the road until 10. We have to hone our skills a bit.

Stop 2 is Fender's in Needles, CA. It's an older park with only a handful of RV spaces and a small motel. 6 of the RV spaces are right on the river. When we arrived there was only one other RV parked on the river. They were long-termers (with a confederate flag in the window - yikes), parked on the opposite end from us, and only popped out occasionally so we had the whole river section to ourselves. Needles has been upper 90's lower 100's, but very windy which makes it much more pleasant.

Again, we opted to stay 2 nights and considered staying a third night until all the other river spaces filled up. Plus, we need to keep moving so we can get across the border before the weekend. We'll 
 pack everything up tonight so we can make quick departure in the morning.

Stop #3

For those of you fantasizing about the RV lifestyle, this is what that lifestyle is more typically about. Tons of RVS parked on pavement, stacked on top of one another, little to no grass and the backside of your neighbors RV as a daily view (please note the highly depressed dog). I don't mean to insult those who opt for this lifestyle, but it's really cramped for folks like us. We're more campers than RVers and this will take some getting used to. Fortunately, we leave tomorrow for Patagonia State Park which will be a campground setting on a lake.

Laurie's brother, Dennis, lives nearby and came to visit us last night. It was really great having him here and he even bought us pizza - thanks again, Dennis!

Arizona - wow. Big and spread out. Every road feels like it's 6 lanes wide and each "block" is a half mile long. We were in a corner strip mall today with a Super Mondo Target, Ross, etc. and I swear to you, the parking lot was the size of 6 football fields. Unbelievable. It took us 5 minutes to get from Target back to the street through the parking lot. That being said, gas is super cheap and we're restocked with supplies and ready for the road.

Stop #4

Last stop in the states – Patagonia State Park – about a half hour north of the border. As I mentioned before, we’re really more campers than RVers so this is much more to our liking. We just prefer a little elbow room, some nature, and as little pavement as possible. The dogs concur (note a much happier Tess). Plus, if we can land near a water feature, it’s a real added bonus for all of us, so the lake here is perfect.

The only downside in the park is no cell service which means no hotspot, so no internet and no Netflix – our only TV option. I had to drive the truck out to the entrance of the park to send this email.

We were planning on going all the way to Hermosillo after crossing the border tomorrow, but when I called the only RV park in Hermosillo today he informed me that they are closed. So, we can either drive 6 hours to San Carlos or 1.5 hours to Santa Ana. Since the border crossing will likely be at least an hour, we’re opting for Santa Ana. Once we get across the border we can finally stop rushing. We’re ready to just park our butts someplace for a while and start to enjoy ourselves instead of this constant state of having to hurry.

Mexico Arrival

Yes, we made it across the border. We were very happy we opted for a short stint into Mexico instead of the marathon drive. We would have been totally stressed out had we chosen the latter.

We left our campsite a little before 10 and arrived at the border about 10:45. There are two border crossings in Nogales; one for folks just

doing a short stint in Mexico and one for folks like us who are heading deeper into the country. We didn't encounter any Mexican officials until we were a good 20 minutes or more into Mexico. The first stop was an "inspection" by the police. They just wanted our vehicle registrations to cross-check our VINs. 5 minute stop, max. Then another 15-20 minute drive to the official stop where we got our visas and vehicle permits. 45 minutes to an hour spent there. When we asked about our dogs, they sent us back to the first inspection stop again where I had to park and track someone down to help us. He told me in very broken English that we could only bring in 3 dogs. I told him I'd bring in 3 and mi espouse (thank you Kevin Costner from Dragonfly) would bring in the 4th. He grimaced until I told him we also had two vehicles. Then he smiled and said “no problemo.” He came out, looked at the dogs through the screen door of the RV and sent us on our way. We really didn’t even have to go back and do all this (or get the dogs’ certificates for that matter). Also, no one asked about produce, meats, contraband, booze or anything else that’s supposed to be restricted. Anyway, the whole process was pretty painless. We have visas for 6 months, the truck is permitted for 190 days and the RV for 10 years. All pretty inexpensive, too.

We drove for about another hour to Santa Ana (pronounced Santana by the locals) to Punta Vista RV Park. The park has about 12 spaces in a ramshackle little yard and we are literally the only ones here. It’s nice because the dogs have the run of the place, although, there are several cats roaming the grounds and the dogs are obsessing. Tess found a sickly little kitten and I didn’t discover it until I saw it dangling from her neck where it had grabbed hold with its paw and wouldn’t let go. Punta Vista is also know in RV circles as Ana & Edgar’s, the sweet couple who own it. We were greeted by Edgar who informed us he lost Ana to cancer 3 months ago. He’s lost without her and it just broke our hearts. We invited him to go out to dinner with us. He refused, but insisted on chauffeuring us to one of his favorite restaurants where he came in, ordered for us, chatted a while, left, and came back and scooped us up a half hour later. Incredibly nice man.

We’ve unpacked as little as possible here because we’re heading out first thing so we can get to the coast in San Carlos. It should be about a 4 ½-5 hour drive. Longer than we like to travel in one day, but our only option unless we opted to stay overnight in one of the Pemex gas stations (a common practice for many travelers). We will likely stay put in San Carlos for a few days and finally relax. It will also give us time to do some housekeeping, catch up on some business back home (yuck), and get the blog up and running so all our other friends know what’s going on with us.

Our First Major Mexican Misadventure

Well, I guess it’s best to get the first biggie out of the way early on.

We left Edgar’s place about 9:45 and encountered our first stretch of genuinely good freeway - so we made good time. Our destination was San Carlos/Guaymas, where the desert meets the coast. We figured it was going to be about a 4 1/2 to 6 hour drive. About half way there is Hermosillo. Just outside of Hermosillo we stopped for our first round of gas in Mexico. All gas stations in Mexico are state owned. They’re called Pemex. We pulled in and had the gal give us ¾ of a tank to fill us up. Allegedly, neither of our credit cards worked so I had to pay her cash - undoubtedly a scam so she could skim some cash for the deal since we haven’t had any problems with either card anywhere else.

A few minutes after leaving the station we stopped at a stop light and the RV died. It struggled starting again and limped to the next light where it nearly died again and we ended up running a red light in front of a police car trying to get through the intersection. As we desperately worked to get into the parking lot of another Pemex station the cop car pulled alongside of us. Seeing our dilemma, I think he opted to let the infraction slide. Perhaps he didn’t want to help push the beast and/or figured we had enough problems to deal with. As we limped into the parking lot, the generator (which runs off the same gas tank and which we keep running to power the rooftop AC in transit) also started struggling. Laurie instantly diagnosed the problem as faulty gas. Michael, the security guard at the Pemex station ushered us in and got us situated.

Here we are, day 2 in Mexico, in a Pemex parking lot, where we don’t speak Spanish and no one speaks fluent English, our RV won’t run, the generator won’t run – which powers the fridge and AC, with four dogs and one wife roasting to death in 90-degree weather, not knowing what’s wrong or what the hell we’re going to do. AND, although we have bars galore, our T-Mobile connection dropped off the face of the planet so we can't call anyone or access the internet either. The perfect storm.

Security guard Michael started asking customers if anyone knew a mechanic. Jorge called his brother Jesus and said he’d be there in a half hour. An hour and a half later, Jesus showed up. Long story short – the bimbo at the Pemex station put diesel in our tank instead of gasoline. Jesus and a cadre of his friends, family and helpers, spent the balance of the day diagnosing the problem, draining 45 gallons of bad gas out of our beastie, flushing out the system, and getting both the RV and the generator working again. By sunset, everything was running again (maybe better than before) and he wanted all of $2,000 pesos (about $100 dollars). I gave him $2,500 pesos and told him he was a Santos.

The dogs were incredibly patient throughout the process. They pretty much chilled on their piece of fake grass, sitting next to mamma in the parking lot for hours on end. It was a major intersection with lots of traffic and lots of exhaust, but Laurie hung in like a trooper, as well. By the end of the day, we opted to spend the night there. You’re not a real Mexican RVer if you haven’t spent a night in a Pemex parking lot (honestly, it’s a common practice). I went to bed thankful, knowing it could have been 10 times worse.

Time to Take a Break
About a 2 hour drive from our Pemex overnight, we arrived where the desert meets the sea - San Carlos. It's a sleepy little hamlet that is becoming a major tourist destination. Apparently, we are about 2 weeks ahead of the onslaught of snowbirds who will overpopulate the entire area. We’re staying at Totonaka RV Park. It has 120 spaces and another 20+ rooms for rent around the perimeter. Since this is a regular RV park my biggest fear was that it would be asses and elbows with other RVers, but as I said, we beat the crowd and are one of about 6 inhabitants at present.. This means we have room to breathe and the dogs can roam a bit. Mexican RV parks are a lot more relaxed about the dogs (and rules & regulations, in general).

We are literally right across the street from the ocean. It's a bit of a heat wave this week - mid-90's and lots of humidity, but we can finally stop rushing. We were going to clean the RV, do laundry, go shopping, etc., etc. today. Instead, we bought a bunch of seafood and have done nothing else. Speaking of seafood, we treated ourselves to an incredible meal last night. Calamari appetizer, fish for Laurie, bacon wrapped shrimp for me and two margaritas. Everything was unbelievably good and the whole shebang, including tip, was less than $40 (actually a little pricey, but it is a tourist area).

We’ll likely roost here for at least a couple more days. We’ve been on the road in a panic for a week and a half and we need a bit of wind-down time. It’s very strange not having to worry about a time table. We don’t have to be anywhere, anytime. Not today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Weird and liberating. It’s truly a great way to reset our attitudes. And in that spirit, I'll post again when I feel like it :).

We Ain't Nothin'
Tonight we met Marc & Juliet. From France. RVing from France. In their RV, shipped from France.

They shipped it to Florida, drove it and their two boys, both under 8 years of age, up the east coast into Canada, all the way across Canada to BC, down the west coast and into Mexico, where we happened to bump into them.

They'll continue down through Mexico into Guatemala, possibly Belize, hitting various Central American destinations on their way to Argentina where they will ship their RV to Asia to do another 4 month jaunt before returning home.

Tomorrow we head a few hours further south into Mexico. Godspeed Marc, Juliet & family.

The Roads, The Roads
In multiple locations online I've read how the Mexican toll highway is comparable to U.S. highways. I know we're not that far into Mexico, but so far my response to this statement would be "bullshit." Maybe 25% of the highway we've driven so far has been comparable to the U.S. and half of that has had such restrictive speed limits that it didn't matter how nice they were. Add to that the number of towns we have to drive through and more road construction than I have ever before witnessed and I'd say we're averaging 40 mph. It's slow going.

Topes (speed bumps) - you've heard about them - they're real. Most of them are marked, some are not - like the one we hit yesterday at about 35 mph. It bent the tow bar on the truck and sent everything and everyone flying.
Image result for topes
The scale depicted is accurate.
Image result for topes

Off the Beaten Path
Actually, the path to Huatabampito is pretty beaten up. Although it’s only about 26 miles off of the main highway, it took us over an hour to get to our destination. The first half hour we followed a school bus on a zig-zag path along a road that looked like it had been shelled. Thankfully, the bus driver knew where all the potholes were. They’re doing construction on this road (as with all roads) so we had to drive in the ditch alongside the road on a couple of occasions. This was not indicated in any way so again, we were grateful to have a lead vehicle.

As we approached Huatabampo (the town halfway to our destination of Huatabampito), the bus driver ditched us and we found ourselves at an intersection that appeared to be torn up beyond drivability in all directions. We simply stopped and sat there. Soon, a local resident drove alongside us and signaled us to follow him. We jogged right, then left, then left again along shredded dirt until the road reappeared before us. A couple more wrong turns followed by U-turns and another half hour or so and we arrived at El Mirador.

El Mirador is a restaurant, hotel & RV park right on the ocean. Martha, the owner, informed us that, as her first guests of the season, we would receive a discount (as if $20/night wasn’t cheap enough). Although there are 2 dozen RV sites and another dozen hotel rooms, we are literally the only ones here. The dogs have the run of the beach and love their new “yard.”

Map Quest told us it would take us 3.5 hours to get here. It took 7. Granted, an hour of that time was wasted on wrong turns and course corrections. It was a grueling drive through major construction, detours, speed bumps, etc., etc. After the ugly drive and with the lovely setting, we opted to stay 3 nights. Tonight will be night three and we’re off again tomorrow.

The El Mirador restaurant keeps giving me
From Dusk Till Dawn flashbacks.