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Feel the Warmth of Mexico

 


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Camping on the beach at Playa Amor, Aticama, Nayarit between San Blas and Santa Cruz.

 

 

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Vendors add to the experience 

 

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The sun catches fire

night after night...

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Tips on  'Planning A Trip' south of the USA border

       Winter of 02/03 John and I began researching an upcoming trip to the fascinating utopia of Mexico. We along with two other units of first-timers planned leave early December 03. To us John and I would be reliving pleasant memories; to our friends the adventure would be a mystical trip of a lifetime. As it turned out our getaway did not become a reality but as we discussed our plans with other RVers, many wanted to join us.  By sharing our advance preparation it may simplify planning for those who wish to venture into friendly picturesque sunny Mexico.

      John and I spent our first seven winters of our RV travels exploring central Mexico and laidback coastal campgrounds. Some days a stroll along isolated beaches was the high point; other times we shopped at unique stores or searched historical sites. We loved the people, the customs, the pageantry, the culture and the history. Unfortunately as our motorhomes became larger we no longer fit into the places most dear to us. Although we can’t return to some of our favourite places there are still many campgrounds that can accommodate larger rigs, even some located at isolated mesmerizing beachfront paradises. Conversation that began on a whim in 2002 slowly brought this trip idea to the forefront.   

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      We planned to cross at Pharr, Texas and overnight in Matehuala (Highway 57) at the super hotel/restaurant/campground complex of Las Palmas. Enjoying a great meal or a day long visit to the 19th century silver town of Real de Catorce nestled high in the mountain makes for an interesting side trip.  RV’s too high to drive under the arch to the campground can park (without hook-up) in the front of the restaurant.  En route south we’ll tour the mummies in the historic city of Guanajato plus Leon, San Louis Potosi and more to add interest. A month at Lago de (Lake) Chapala, south of Guadalajara, the retirement community surrounding a peaceful lake with it’s year-round perfect weather provides a great opportunity to explore numerous local treasures.

      Between Chapala and the coast, 3-4 days at the full service multi-pool hot spa of Chimulco at nearby Villa Corona creates a different diversion. Campers congregate in a private pool of hot mineral waters that is filled each evening just for them. An overnight at Manzanillo will follow to stock up on supplies for a two to three week break on the beach at Perula (midway between Manzanilla and Puerto Vallarta {PV}). A good friend not only manages this laid-back park, he upgraded many of the amenities at Punta Perula Trailer Park - one of five parks in this tiny village.  Henry has his 4x4 plus his boat and motor; he loves to take campers into the deep seas to catch their trophy fish. 

       It will be sad to leave the peace and quiet but 10-days in PV will be waiting. This fascinating hypnotic place is another favourite. While there we’ll explore intimate beachfront hideaways 60 km north by car searching for a bit of paradise where our three units will fit. The beaches of the popular snowbird destination of Mazatlan will be our next extended front yard. A few days at Los Mochis while our friends’ experience the joys of a train ride to the renowned Copper Canyon follows. En route to the Arizona border we’ll tour as many interesting places as possible before we go our separate ways by mid March.  This outline is flexible and no commitments were etched in stone until closer to our proposed departure.

      I’m sharing our research to help those who plan to explore on their own rather than by caravan. One RVer recently relayed that after his caravan was 100 miles into Mexico he said to his wife ”Driving here is no problem, why did we pay extra to travel with a caravan”. Mexico is a very safe but a very different country too, lots of RVers explore on their own. Yes, you must be streetsmart but if you feel better travelling with company, go for it. Several Canadian and American RV caravan tours offer comprehensive guided trips-some are even priced in Canadian dollars. (see sidebar).

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      PEMEX is Mexico’s only gas/fuel stations.  Numerous new complexes have tons of room for truck parking and RVs to stop overnight without hook-ups.  Some RVers use these stations as an alternative to the limited campgrounds en route. Always ask permission before overnighting; it helps to pave the way for others if you top-up with gas/fuel before retiring. Unleaded 87 or 93 Octane plus diesel are available, but fill-up when your tank is ½ full in case a station is temporarily out. Attendants pump fuel in Mexico but watch them, and the pump. Be sure it is zeroed before they begin pumping plus be aware of the amount you received according to the pump face; it may be zeroed very fast. This warning has not changed since our first trip to Mexico in 1986. Fuel is paid in cash without receipts.

     The interior is very different than border towns. Mexico specializes in large co-op farming and the vistas are vast and beautiful. The terrain covers high mountain altitudes interspersed with expansive valleys. Mexico’s free (libre) roads are frequently very poor quality with many potholes but the new toll roads linking most cities are wide, multi lane and a joy to drive.  Toll fees can be quite expensive; they also vary from state to state especially for motorhomes towing a car.  According Kathy Olivas author of Mexico by RV, it seems staff at each checkpoint decide if your RV/towed is a four-axle truck or a two-axle bus and a car.  On one trip John and I were charged an extra axle fee simply because we were connected by the hitch.  OUr friends were having problems towing at that point and their cost for car and motorhome travelling separately was less than our cost attached. Fifths and trailers do not seem to have this problem because toll assessments are easier understood.

      Much of our research took place on the Internet (see our RV WebLink page for many links under the Mexico section and the RV Book section). 

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      Insurance will be your biggest expense. Canadian and American vehicle insurance will not cover you in Mexico plus many Canadian companies do not provide a rebate for the months you are out of USA/Canada.  Last January I logged onto Mexico insurance websites to find a phone number to ask for a quote.  For stays longer than a few weeks it is more economical to buy a six-month or an annual policy.  I converted our insured Canadian RV dollar value to US$ and asked for a quote for that amount.  The variations were unbelievable. During my first conversation the quoted price was $2500.00 US$ for six months and that only included the motorhome.  Our car quote was extremely high as well. Our trip was off before it started since in our budgeted overview was $1000.00 for both vehicles. As our search continued we found Point South RV Tours, Vagabundas Del Mar and Mexacan Insurance (Cdn) were all brokers for ACE insurance and since these quotes for both vehicles came in well within our budget, the trip was on again. Others are listed on our site.

      Understanding border-crossing info is always a bit confusing. Rates for 2002 were as follows but everything changes in Mexico. Tourist Visa from Immigration should cover 180 days (in case your trip lasts longer than expected); approximately $15. -$20. per/person is paid to a Mexican bank. A valid passport or a birth certificate plus a photo ID such as a drivers license is also a necessity. 

     To obtain a Vehicle Import Permit you need a valid drivers license, proof of ownership and legal possession of your vehicle.  Owners of leased, rental or mortgaged units require a letter of permission permitting the vehicle into Mexico – simply request one from your lien holder. One driver can also only import one vehicle (including motorbikes or ATVs etc) so motorhomers towing a car must have two licensed drivers with a registration and credit cards registered in individual names.  Only one licensed driver is required for fifths, trailers or truck campers. Cost is approximately $20.00 per vehicle.  In lieu of a credit card, a costly cash bond can be posted. When all paperwork is completed, a hologram sticker is attached to your windshield and you are free to go. It is mandatory to turn these in before you leave Mexico at the end of your trip. Do not forget this point.

      Most insurance companies offer a legal package; a very valuable extra if you are involved in an accident. RVers with these policies have bilingual lawyers close by to discuss accident details on Mexican terms. It is comforting to know someone will intercede on your behalf.  Mexico follows the Napoleonic law where all vehicle and patrons may be detained till everything is sorted out. 

     Two books from Amazon.com that provided updated info are Mexico by RV by Kathy Olivas and Travellers Guide to Mexico Camping by Mike and Terri Church.  They each highlight different aspects about the friendly warm sunny and unique Mexico.   When one author misses a point the other enlarges upon it.  Thanks to these books and the webpages listed on our RV WebLink Page we quickly became aware of what to anticipate in 2003/04.   

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      These authors provide detailed info about what to expect in campgrounds, water and purification techniques, sewer hook ups and more. They relayed that many campgrounds were 15 amps with a few at 30, but they warned that power frequently fluctuates. (this was not much different in 1993 - our last winter in Mexico). Long-term visitors use the park electric for lights etc. and their generator or solar panels for the big stuff. Frequently parks are not wired for the 'ground' connection. Both authors suggested that to accommodate for this form of wiring, RVers should carry a two-prong plug that has an extra wire hanging loose to add ground. A ground monitor tester is a must to test for correct polarity. 

     They both relayed that a number of parks are laid-back peaceful paradises located well away from the hustle and bustle of everyday turmoil.  On the west coast and the Baja the choice is extensive. During our first trip to Mexico we were afraid to venture off the main highway; we missed so many beautiful spots that trip. Thankfully in the following years we realized that Mexico has beachside resorts to die for. Quiet, uncluttered, hypnotic, picture perfect, secluded, peaceful are only a very few words that describe the majority of these outstanding getaways.

      Campground costs vary from very low in out of the way places to similar rates you would find in the USA. Rates depend on the popularity of the park such as a beachfront spot or spacious location with amenities, etc. Ten years ago we paid $310.00 per month at El Caracol campground in Lo de Marcos; our serene campground 50 km north of PV boarded an interlocking brick patio overlooking giant palms on an incredible sandy beach. During the same period we stopped at small parks along the way at $15.00 per night.  Prices don’t seem to have changed much over the years. As in the USA the longer you stay the less you will pay. Amenities may range from cold showers and 15 amp service to spacious sites, hot showers, 30 amps, sewer hook ups, swimming pool, laundry, restaurant on site and more.

     Kathy maintains most transactions are conducted in cash, preferably pesos. She states that even traveller cheques can be a problem trying to cash them in some areas; the rate may not be as favourable at the ATM’s either. Bank teller service can be very slow, with bothersome paperwork plus sometimes you stand in more than one line to complete the transaction. Times set to exchange funds may also be limited. Money Exchanges  work with less delay but the rate may not be as good.

     Accessing pesos with a client card from an ATM gains the best rate (carry a second card as back-up). If you have a PIN for your credit card, making withdrawals at the ATMs is also possible but interest begins the day you receive money.  TIP: friends in Chapala during the ‘80s asked their son to make a monthly deposit to their credit card; they then withdrew their own money thus eliminating interest charges.  One choice is to use the ATM for cash and your credit card for purchases whenever possible.

     It is highly recommended that your vehicle is in good mechanical condition and that you carry extra parts like a spare tire, belts, filters etc. Mexican mechanics can repair almost any vehicle even while you’re parked in the campground but finding vehicle or RV parts is a big problem. Cost for repair service is very low. Mexico’s Green Angles tour each stretch of highway twice a day offering ‘No Cost’ mechanical assistance to stranded motorists; tips are accepted.

     Several giant department stores featuring food and inventory, such as Wal*Mart Supercenters, sell are located in large cities.  In small towns a visit to the weekly markets is a must. Besides day-to-day necessities they also feature local fruits, veggies and more. Butchers, bakeries, convenience stores and more punctuate most villages.

      Phone content and Internet access are improving each year. Cyber café are located in many areas.  The majority of RVers buy pre-paid phone cards to make calls at approximately .50 cents per minute. Finding a cell company with extensive service throughout Mexico is next to impossible but the Digital One Rate with Bell Mobility (Cda) does cover a portion of calls made in Mexico although International long distance rates still apply.

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      We discovered a plethora of general info on the Internet - numerous links are featured on our RV WebLink page under the Mexican section and RV Books.  Much of the information we found was also repeated in our two reference books. Each author provided personal and varied viewpoints of border entry points, official contact phone numbers, routes to follow, toll amounts and the various inspections you may encounter en route. They also addressed road signs and road hazards such as not driving at night or animals on the road or why speeding is not advisable or using a left turn signal to indicate it is OK to pass etc. Other topics covered pets, health care, pharmacy and prescriptions, ‘turista’, dental (John and I have some very good  and very economical Mexican crowns and fillings) and more.

       I can’t begin to cover all aspects of a trip south but this info noted above should help get you started for a super adventure south of the USA border.. Enjoy the journey.  RV Living - the Freedom Lifestyle.

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