Mexico by caravan, train, & ferryby Betty Brewer
This article chronicles the trip of a lifetime taken by Terry and Betty Brewer on a caravan through Mexico. The original story was reported by Betty via satellite internet on their coach. This edited version is published with the permission of the original author.
We have begun our adventure to Mexico. Last Fall, during an FMCA Rally in Albuquerque, NM, we signed up for a 38 day trip into Mexico with Fantasy Caravans. From El Paso we will travel into Mexico to take our motorhome on a flatbed rail car through the Copper Canyon. We then travel to Mazatlan, cross on the ferry to Cabo San Lucas and drive up the Baja Peninsula. I will post periodic updates as time and internet access allows.
We traveled from Yuma to El Paso with an overnight stop in Steins, NM. Steins is one of the most authentic ghost towns I've ever seen with sixteen 1890 circa dusty buildings and a tour of the place for $2.50 each. We were also allowed to stay overnight in their parking lot. Since we were traveling east we exited Interstate 10 at exit 3 and had to cross under the freeway overpass. This was a very narrow squeeze but we made it with 2 whole inches on either side of our mirrors to spare.
We have met the wagon masters and tail gunners and 17 other coaches who will accompany us on this trip. Yesterday we made a dry run into Juarez to acquire our tourist Visas and permits to take the motor home into Mexico. So far we have really enjoyed having the help of the group leaders with the paperwork. The only thing we understood at immigration was the universal signs to not use our cell phone and not to smoke. We have our permits, will change money tomorrow and set out on Tuesday.
Betty and Terry Brewer Mission RV Park El Paso TX
Ok now it is Tuesday 1/25 and we have arrived in Chihuahua Mexico. We left at 8:25 and caravanned with 19 rigs. We stopped for breaks and lunch which was a treat for me as we do not usually stop on a 220 mile day. We were waved through customs and immigration, having completed all paperwork in prior days. Two rigs were left behind due to the fact they could not get their slides in. They did catch up with us and now we are all at a delightful RV Park. I've never gotten settled so quickly with all the arrangements made in advance.
This caravan is heaven for a navigator as the leader is in CB communication for every turn. The terrain today was rolling desert with high mountain peaks. Looked much like the desert near Quartzsite or Paseo Robles, CA. We are at 5100 feet and the weather is 70 and beautiful. Surprise sights today were Wal Mart, Sam's, Home Depot, Carls Jr, Sears, Penny's and very good roads. My crock pot is cooking ribs and Happy hour awaits so off I rush.
Terry reports this is the first time in Mexico he has set up his satellite (220 miles south of El Paso) and he hooked right up. We will keep in touch as satellite is accessible.
Chihuahua ( No small dogs seen here at all). We awoke to light rain which continued all day. We are told it has not rained here in 3 years. And then 3 years ago it only rained for 5 minutes so the people here are thrilled to end a drought. We have mud all over the front steps. We boarded the bus this morning for a city tour. We visited Poncho Villa's home, visited the estate of a rich Mexican who built a huge home for his fiance who promised to marry him if he built her this big house. When the house was finished she reneged on the deal. We also visited a few cathedrals and the Government building. The murals along the wall of the Govt building told the history of the Mexican Revolution.
Our guide was a very knowledgeable historian and I feel like I've had an all day history lesson. Wish I had paid better attention to history class in high school. Realized today just how many wars, revolutions and assassinations there have been in Mexico. Tonight was a welcome to Mexico dinner, which was delicious (the tortilla soup my favorite) and then dance students entertained us with several dances from various states within Mexico. The bus ride home was filled with those of us who wanted dance. laughter and good humor abounds in this group as the gears to the bus ground with each shift.
Terry is very popular as his internet connection is available to those with laptops or a wireless connection. We have also invited anyone inside to send email if they do not have a computer on board. We hope the connection continues as we move 65 miles south tomorrow morning. Now many want to park next to us. We hope they want to give us a ride to the grocery store when we need to go as we did not bring our tow car.
Day 5, January 28
Terry won the award for keeping a Happy face. This was while we were loading the rig onto the rail cars. He has to drive over 5 ramps spread between flatbed rail cars to get to our final car. On the first ramp he crossed over the ramp gave way and his left front tire went down between the cars. The watching crowd gasped, I freaked as from my angle I thought the entire front end of the coach was mangled, but when he put it in reverse he was able to get out of the drop off and they secured the ramp much better this time and he drove off and over the other 4 ramps without incident. Only damage is a little scratch under the fiberglass where you have to lay on the ground to even see it . He said it was like the biggest pot hole he's ever encountered. Not my favorite day.
Fun parts of the day included the Margarita loading party, which was done after all rigs were loaded onto the rail cars and secured down. Boy did I need a margarita ! We went through 3 gallons of margaritas and it is rumored the secret ingredient was Clorox to avoid any tourista after effects. It was a beautifully sunny day (in the 70's) and all of us have sunburned faces due to standing or sitting in our chairs along the loading dock watching the "show." Now something they don't show in the brochures or slideshows for this trip is the actual loading itself and the clanging sounds. The timbers creak, the metal ramps clang and bang and I was a nervous wreck. This is quite an adventure.
One of the fellows on board is doing a daily newsletter, complete with photos. We were the featured couple yesterday. His printer ran out of ink so Terry is loaning him our printer to print. Terry the toy man.
At five o'clock the group walked some 5 short blocks to the town of La Junta to Cafe Rosy's for a Mexican dinner. The sauce was HOT and Terry loved it, I avoided it. After dinner the group danced the twist and to other oldies songs. With only a short walk back to the rigs guided by our flashlights, we climbed up the ladder to our railcar and our snuggly home on wheels and on rails. I slept like a log . Got down to 23 degrees.
Betty and Terry in La Junta on a flatbed railcar.
Olla to all. Today was one of those pinch me, is this real days. We started out of La Junta around 9:30 (only 1 1/2 hours delay from the scheduled departure time) securely loaded onto this flatbed rail car. We rolled along beautiful scenery and it warmed up almost 55. We have been on several train rides and in the first class parlor cars, but today was the best ride I've ever been on. Our top speed was 26 and we averaged 19 or 20 miles per hour so we could enjoy the scenery change from rolling hills to mountains with long needle pines. Several little farms along the way dotted the scenery with their pigs and piglets, horses and cattle. Lots of skinny junk yard dogs follow the train. We had taken candy to throw to the children along the route who come out to greet the train. Terry ate one chocolate and then threw three. He is a kid at heart.
Highlight of today's touring in Creel was a visit to the Talamahara Indian Village situated high up a mountain (four wheel type road taken in an old bus) to a cave. We saw these Indians who have lived the same lifestyle for over 10,000 years with little or no changes. They live very simple lives with some farming and some men work in the lumber mills. There is little crime and few divorces and no stress. Life expectancy is 55 or 60 years. The anthropologists of the area have called this culture the Ancient Civilization of the future. They are happy and have no wars. They do not shoot each other over parking places.
Tonight's award yielded one to me. I won the "Goofy Award." Seems when I filled out a form for the couples feature article, I listed all of my information under THE MAN and listed all of Terry's information under THE WOMAN column. There was a big laugh by all as elementary school principals are expected to follow the rules.
We can't still believe we are catching the satellite but will continue to hook up as long as it lasts. This trip is so cool.
Betty and Terry In Creel Mexico
We could not get a satellite signal yesterday so I'll combine two days. Day 6 Divisadero and Day 7 Bachuichivo.
As you may know, I have traveled a bit in my lifetime. This trip is now among the top 3. It is unlike anything I've ever seen. I cannot make a comparison and words would only make the scenery seem small. This railroad was carved out of mountain and through tunnels and over bridges. Today the mountain walls were yellow and orange and red rock. Today I know why the area is called Copper Canyon. Some rocks are smooth and some are jagged. The train rumbles and clacks over the tracks and rocks us side to side. I'm glad Terry moved the side mirrors in as we are very close to the sides as we rock. There appears to be good overhead clearance for even a Prevost but parts are very narrow.
Yesterday we climbed up several hundred stairs to the side of a cliff to visit an Indian family who live up in the caves. An old man greeted us and played his violin for us. He is 103 years old. Today's train ride was but 2 hours and we visit a mission school this afternoon. Yesterday my pesos got a work out. Well actually they got spent. Many Indian women were selling their baskets and I bought 3 long needle pine baskets. I also snagged some Mexican dolls 3 for $10. and I got a violin painted like a mask.
The Indians seem to follow us up the mountain tours and entice us with their handicrafts. I am spending my Christmas money. The children still run along the train to greet us and Terry still throws candy out to their delight. We are laughing and making new friends daily. We were treated this morning by a windshield wash by the guys who guard our train at night.
This is the neatest way to enter a "RV park". The train pulls up to a station and the engine detaches from us and we put out our little green ladders and off we go to tour the town. We are dry camping for the 5 days we are on the train. All of our night time meals are in the local town and this means we do not have to cook, which saves on water.
A good hike this morning yielded some of the most spectacular sights of the canyon from bluffs above.
February 1 & 2
Last Days on the train.
I'm losing track of the days. Yesterday was a long 12 hour train ride across and through some gorgeous terrain. We started at 7 am in the morning in a little village train station where we had overnighted. It was 33 degrees and the frost blew off the motorhome and car in front of us. It almost looked like it was snowing. This section was 5000 feet high and we had come down from a high of 8000 feet the day before. Well it's no wonder it's cold, this is January in the mountains.
Today's ride was through many of the 86 tunnels and 39 bridges on this track. One of the tunnels today was over a mile long in total darkness. It took us 3 minutes and 45 seconds to pass through the darkness with only the twinkle of Terry's gauges lighting our way. A few of the bridges over waters were really spooky as you can't see anything holding you up as you cross over. We rocked and rolled sideways a lot today despite our slow speeds. As we lowered elevation the Jacaranda trees were in full purple bloom and forests of cactus appeared. The vegetation became very lush and green. Toward the end of the day the terrain became flat farmland and we saw corn and corn and corn and I almost thought I was in Kansas except for the sugar cane and tomatoes along the farms too.
In one little village near Los Mochis, our final destination, our train ran directly between two rows of shanty type houses. Most had roses and bougainvillea growing in yards despite very poor construction standards and materials. The entire family would run down to greet the train. They waved and hollered and we threw them candy. The children squealed with delight as they scramble to catch the goodies. We ran out and could have easily used two more bags of candy. It was like our train was a parade and the people came out to watch us go by. Terry sat in the drivers seat and mastered the Rose King wave. Now he waves at all people along the villages.
At the late hour of 6:45pm we arrived at the station in darkness and now could see the fires inside the homes to be used for warmth and cooking. It is not good to travel in Mexico in the dark even on a train as you can't see anything. The train positioned our cars and wouldn't you know it we were last. This means Terry has the longest distance to travel to get off the train of anyone else. But the good news in that this station is a major railway and they have perfected the exit strategies and position sturdy ramps very well. He got off without incident though our entire group did cheer him when he pulled off.
An hour's drive and we are now parked at Mr. Morro's RV park right on the Sea of Cortez in Guastave. I'm looking for a ride to a liquor store to buy a case of Tecate. My nerves need it. Roads are narrow and now that we are off the train I have to navigate again. Off to 4 o'clock Happy Hour.
This 38 Day Copper Canyon Piggyback Caravan is now in day 18. What an adventure. Each morning Terry and I say, "Another day....Another adventure..." I think I thought the excitement would subside when we left the train but noooo. There was Matzalan during Carnival to contend with. Our visit was punctuated with rainy days, roads blocked with beer stands for Carnival and a wonderful Mexican fiesta complete with all you can drink margaritas and dancing. Wal-Mart ala Mexican style yielded some interesting goodies and supplied us for the road.
The RV park lacked a working phone, internet access but it did include washing the RV for $24.00 and we got our damage from the train fixed for under $100. Yes the body work and matching paint was only $100 done in the RV park while we walked on the beautiful beach. We wish we would have had all dings and scratches fixed but who knew???
We had to leave a day early as the rain caused havoc with the ferry schedule and we wanted to be on the top deck. This was phase two of this adventure. The ferry was a big old dirty rusty rig that was in need of paint and a good steam cleaning. A cruise ship it was not. We were loaded on the top deck with the use of an elevator. We were directed onto a special place and then hoisted up to the next level. They parked us so close we could literally reach out and touch the rig next to us. The mirrors were all pulled in and most of us were so close only a piece of paper would fit between us. I took two Dramamine for the seasickness and slept during most of the 16 hour crossing between Matzalan and La Paz.
Unloading was an adventure as we had to back off the ship using no mirrors. The local Mexican guide gave very clear non verbal directions. But I was scared as when it was our turn to back off the ferry there was a big tanker truck filled with a pelegrosso material and we had to maneuver around him. Whew! we made it and waited for others to leave. The Mexican officianados boarded the RV and opened every upper cupboard, opened the refrigerator and then sent us on our way. For 30 required peso we were sprayed for insects and then waited for our buddies to exit the ship.
A few short 5 miles away got us to the next destination. Playa Tecolote. This was a dry camp on the beach place. Beautiful!!! Spent several miles on the beach collecting shells and viewing puffer fish who washed upon the shore to die. We went to a little local restaurant and had the strongest margaritas of the trip and ceviche. We slept to the sound of the crashing of the surf. I don't know how life could get any better.
Today we traveled over very narrow roads through steep mountain curves to East Cape RV Park on Los Barrilles which is close to Cabo San Lucas. Terry is going fishing early in the morning and I am going for a walk to shop. We ate out at a local home restaurant recommended to us by a drunken tourist. It was the best meal of our trip. They even made Terry burritos for his lunch tomorrow. We are here for a few relaxing days. We don't think we will have internet access again until day 28 so hold on for more photos and news.
In Los Barriles
We are half way through this once in a lifetime adventure. We have just survived a nightly downpour and today is sunny and beautiful here in Los Barrilles, Mexico which is just north of Cabo San Lucas, tomorrows' destination.
Yesterday was one of those wonderful touristy days. Terry went out to fish with 5 other anglers. He was first to hook up to a big Marlin but it got away. Three other lucky fishermen brought in their striped Marlin and one other got away so all in all it was a great day for fishing. I did the city walking tour and what an enlightening treat. First stop was the local smoke house where fishermen bring in their catch for smoking and packaging. We were treated to sample of smoked fish and I'm going back to get some for happy hour treats.
We got a tour of the back and saw the maple sawdust used for smoking and learned that this packaging plant has helped the fishing industry as it is now easy and affordable to take home your freshly caught fish. Next stop was a tortilla factory. Actually this is a little old house along a dirt street (they are all dirt) and saw the tortilla being mixed, then cut into equal portions by a gigantic cookie press. Each piece is then fed into a machine which rolls them into balls. The balls are then pressed flat between a press and the flattened tortilla is tossed onto a hot grill and turned when puffy and brown. I bought a kilo of them for 20 pesos and went merrily on my way thinking of butter and jam on them as has been suggested.
Walking single file now around a blind curve our next stop is a cinder block factory. Yes they make 3 cinder blocks at a time and make 1,000 of them a day. Sand and cement are mixed together in a big blender type machine and then that mixture is shoveled into a mold which is pressed with hydraulic pressure in to the forms and bingo 3 blocks are pressed together. A dolly rolls them away to dry for a week. Hardly any wood is available in Mexico so most construction uses these cinder blocks.
Next stop was a cock breeding yard. Seems most all of Latin America is really into cock fighting and we were given a tour of several hundred cages of the most beautiful crowing roosters ever imaginable. They were clean and well fed and we were told that only one in four fights results in the death of a cock, despite the razors which are attached to their hind legs. All the bets are side bets at a cock fight, however I am not going to the one being held this Saturday night. This is one cultural norm I have not warmed up to supporting.
Back at the RV park a vendor of very fresh vegetables was being sold as well as the "donut" guy. I bought pastries and coconut macaroons and lots of cookies. After greeting the fishermen with their flags proudly hoisted indicating 3 marlin catches and 3 releases Terry and I sat in the hot tub while it poured rain on our heads. Life is good. Today we are going cruising along the coast in a boat called "Too Awesome" to see Mexico from the sea. More later from Cabo.
On Day 22 of the trip I had some good news and some bad news. The bad
news was that during the Beach party at Cabo San Lucas I fell and injured my right wrist. The goods news was that
it was not broken (only badly sprained) and that I was the oldest woman left standing in the limbo contest! How
low can you go? Apparently not as low as I used to be able to go. I have now given up yet another sport as I
age..no more limbo. The contest was won by a 12 year old. After three weeks in a brace and brushing my teeth left
handed and having had x-rays by a USA doctor I can now type well enough to report the history of the Mexican
Days 21 to 24
Cabo San Lucas
After a short 67 mile drive along some of the most beautiful beaches Mexico has to offer, we arrive at Villa Serena
RV Park overlooking the ocean, just outside of Cabo. It's our kind of park, a terraced parking lot with beautiful
bougainvillea in bloom and NO trees. Easy to park and a clean laundry facility. Having spent the afternoon in the
laundry I decided I wanted a treat of dinner out at the nearby restaurant associated with the park, offering
lobster for $9.95. The restaurant is located on the bluff and the 180 degree view was spectacular. The
entertainment was superb as we listened to a Mexican with a guitar sing songs from Evita and Phantom of the Opera
in Spanish. Now in Mexico they don't rush you for the check as it would be considered impolite so we listened to
music and enjoyed the company of another couple from our caravan. What a surprise we got when our bill came to
over $50.00. Somehow one glass of wine and one shrimp cocktail along with taxes added up. So much for the $9.95
come on. No matter !
The next morning Terry left very early to go fishing. He caught Sierra's. A guy on our
caravan offered to smoke them and it was a featured dish on one of the many happy hours sponsored here by our
fellow caravaners. His fishing adventure cost more than advertised as well. Cabo is a cruise ship town and is known
for "get the tourist traps." No matter. I purchased fresh pies from a lady who drives her car into the RV park
each afternoon, fresh lemon meringue and banana crème. Friends also took us into town where we shopped at Sam's
Club. A case of Corona's was a bargain. We toured a glass making factory and viewed how blown glass is formed. I
bought a vase that looks like a whales tale and 6 margarita glasses.
The highlight of Cabo San Lucas for me was the sunset dinner cruise. This rather large ship cruised Lover's Beach
and the tip of the Baja Peninsula. As the sun began to set, a hundred or more dolphins began to jump around the
boat. They were everywhere just playing with us. I felt like all of god's creatures were on display. Beautiful
pelicans flew by, the golden sun reflected and our friends were having a wonderful time as the unlimited margaritas
flowed on board. Life is good. Will rest tonight as La Paz is tomorrow and a long trip over winding roads with a
new definition of narrow. Gotta get a grip!
We leave Cabo San Lucas to head north up the Baja Peninsula toward La Paz. We have moved our mirrors in and are grateful to the wagon master who calls out the oncoming traffic. "18 wheeler from the front" becomes a familiar and comforting announcement as we anticipate traffic around narrow curves with no shoulders. The scenery is beautiful but all navigators agree the drivers should not be looking anyplace but toward the road in front of them. Some drivers have commented to their passengers "If you don't like how I drive, I will be happy to unhook and let you drive the car." I have a new definition of narrow roads. Yikes.
We arrived at Casa Blanca RV Park in La Paz which was by far the tightest and least maneuverable park on the trip. I had to get out of the motorhome and guide Terry through the narrow arches of the park to guide us in. Once inside we don't come close to fitting into the space we are assigned. After several radio communications we are parked in a position not quite parallel to the spot but since our caravan fills the entire park there is no need to worry about our parking angle. The treat of the next day is a visit to the weavers shop. Here the locals are using looms that look like something that the Pilgrims might have used. They are old, wooden rickety and yet they are producing some mighty beautiful rugs, table cloths and wall hangings, most of which I purchased. We can no longer sit on the couch of our motorhome due to my purchases. Do I care? That night at happy hour I invited Ben, a local blanket vendor, to bring his wares to our group. We negotiated a group price and some of the blankets were in a bidding war. We were all winners as we were happy with our purchases. Now on up north to Mulege.
This is an area in which Terry has been on prior fishing trips. Different though as he flew in and was not driving these roads. Santispac Beach is a dry camp area where we are right on the water. We nose to the water and hope the tide does not cover our wheels in the morning. The views are spectacular and we know our RV Forum friends , Colette and Peter Cashmore are nearby. As the satellite worked, we email them with the reply that we are but 3 kilometers south of them. We make arrangements to meet them and discover the little piece of paradise they have managed to capture. Their views are to die for and we learn of their home plans. Mexico has it's challenges with construction but the environment is awesome. We have a festive get together and watch the rising moon. Wow is all I can say. Our Caravan friends have a beach bon fire which is flooded when the tides come in. No matter we are happy campers.
Whale watching in Guerro Negro is next.