Apr 17, 2011

Notes from the Road North

Packing up our winter home is never easy. Each year we have added more stuff to our palapa that needs to be dealt with. Our last week in Paamul was also very hot and humid, so I suggested to Susan that we take it in little bites -- work an hour, then escape to the A/C of the trailer, work another hour, and go for a swim, etc. The swims were particularly refreshing and energizing.

Still we got things together, on schedule and Wed. morning were hitching up the truck. Then a setback. Well, 3 actually, as in bad luck comes in threes...
The first started a couple of days earlier as I was servicing the two batteries that run the 12 volt circuits in the trailer. One of them was way down in water, and when I added more, got all hot and stinky. These are special deep-cycle batteries that work hard for us 12 months a year. The first set I had to replace after two years. I replaced them premium ones and they have now worked for nearly 4 years. So with one battery out, I bypassed it and we are now working on the one left. With less reserve power, it will restrict the time we are able to be dry-camping.
The front of the trailer rests on two jacks that raise and lower it to fit on to the truck hitch. The jacks are driven by a low-geared 12 volt electric motor that always seems to be straining hard to lift its weight. The two jacks are connected by a drive shaft and that morning, one of the jacks decided that it had had enough and snapped off its connecting pin. The one jack still worked, so I brought out our little bottle hydraulic jack, and between the two were able to raise up the front enough to get it hitched.
And the third; well, the bedroom slide is acting wobbly. I help it go in and out, but that too will have to be fixed when we get to an RV service depot NOB.

With consideration to all the fatigue and delay of the pack-up, we drove just 4 hours down the road to a lovely park in Chetumal, where we overlooked the sea and a brisk warm breeze blowing from it.
On many of our trips up and down Mexico, we have overnighted in Pemex (the Mexican national fuel company) truck stops. They are usually free, though sometimes you tip the night watchman, they are always noisy, as they are right on the roadways, with transport trucks coming and going. and usually hot and sticky, because we only have one little 12 volt fan.
This time I set a schedule that would take us from RV Park to RV Park.
So the second night, we made our first visit to a park in Villahermosa. It was handy, just a couple blocks off the highway, much quieter, and much cooler with all our electric fans going.

The next day I got overoptimistic. Going west down Hwy. 150, there is a long stretch of expensive toll road that has always been in very poor shape. Last fall, as we drove down with Joe & Marilyn, he showed us the alternate “Libre” (free) road that runs sort of parallel but through farms, villages and towns. It is a much prettier drive, but slower.

I knew it would be slower, but how much slower, we soon found out. There were just two narrow lanes, filled all kinds of traffic, from transport trucks to old farm vehicles. And there seemed to be more villages than I remembered, each with their many topes (speed bumps) to ease our big trailer over. Then a couple of hours into the route, the traffic came to a complete stop. A few vehicles would go through, and then stop again. Eventually we were at the front. I walked up to see what was going on. It was a protest by local people about injustices. There were plenty of signs and cel phones. “Codeci Demands Justice” and “We Demand the Liberation of Cuauhtemoc”

There were perhaps fifty people milling around. The police came and left, and came back and left again. Assurances that it would be just a while longer dragged on. Fortunately, we had our diesel truck that could idle forever, and we had our books. Four hours later, they pulled back the barricade and the huge lineups started moving. By this time we were well out of range of our destination, and so found a truck stop and settled in as best we could. The afternoon temp had risen to nearly 100F and it barely cooled at night.

The next day we got into the highlands (over 7000 ft.) to Cholula, and settled in to a tidy RV park surrounded by blooming Jacaranda trees -- with Susan’s favorite beautiful purple blossoms. Cholula a suburb of Puebla, and we rested and did some sight seeing.
Puebla is a planned city begun in the 16th century to be the stop-over between Mexico City and Veracruz. Work started with the main plaza and the government buildings and the huge cathedral around the square.

About a block away was the oldest house in Puebla, the “Castle del Dean” which was finished in 1580. Quite different from the frontier cities to the north.

Puebla is the birthplace of Mole Poblano, the unique sauce that I wrote about last month. We got on the local transit bus and it took us racing to Puebla Centro where we walked around and then started asking about where we could get a good Mole for lunch. We ended up at a hotel off the centro, where we had a five course lunch for under 10 dollars. I soaked up all the mole sauce with tortillas. Yum.

From Cholula, we had a short drive to Queretero another city we have long wanted to check out, but with the trailer tethered to the truck, we stayed in the rev park. The next day, we spent our last Mexican night in Matahuela. That park at the Las Palmas Hotel, was another good addition to our travel possibilities. It has a large clean pool that was just the thing after a hot afternoon drive. It also has great wifi, and checking the rv.net forum, I found there was another couple in an rev park a couple of hours north of us who were inquiring about different crossing to the US.

As many of my readers will know, there has been a lot of reports about the trouble and violence in some of the border areas. The general consensus is now to avoid our old route through the congested east side. I responded that we were returning north right up Hwy. 57 (the way we came down last fall) and would be happy to hook up and lead the way. We left Matahuela early and joined up with Randall & Pam a couple of hours later, and had a very easy trip up to the frontier and breezed through the border, getting to US customs by 5 pm.

We love Mexico. We love the Mexican people we meet. WE love the friends that we have made who share our winters. However, some aspects of Mexico’s casual nature and random bureaucracy can be frustrating.
The roads and highways are getting better every year, but navigating the signage and the routing can be challenging and tiring.
Crossing into the US, being given a thorough cavity search (the truck and trailer cavities) by surly US border officials, it was still some relief to be back in the land of English; the land of wide roads and good highway signs; the land of GPS;and the land of 30 amp electric.
Our first night in Texas was spent at the border town of Eagle Pass, inn the RV parking area of a casino. What a culture shock. I have never seen the appeal of casinos, even Las Vegas, but for convenience, we wandered through the casino to the overpriced and overcooked buffet restaurant. To get there we had to go through the maze of the slot machines, through crowds of glassy eyed people in front of blinking lights and ringing bells. It seemed so gloomy, so commercial, so inauthentic, and so unsocial. Of course the casino offered no wifi (the outside world shall not enter the gambling den) and now on our second night out of Mexico, we are at a park just outside of San Antonio, near where we will be getting our trailer serviced, and while they advertise wifi, it is almost non-functional. Hmnn, after enjoying good internet all our trip through Mexico, we feel a little cut off from the big wide world.

Our six months in Mexico are over for another year, and now we have a few weeks to wander through the US. Each trip we see some neat places and meet some good people. WE will never see it all, but we will enjoy the journey.