Tope’s & Tolls

We finally crossed to Mexico last week! After many delays, everything fell into place and we could head down to meet up with friends in Guaymas. We had a great visit with Kevin & Claire and then put on a bunch of miles once we left them to get south toward Mazatlan.

We were used to the tope’s (speed bumps) in Baja but amazingly there weren’t tolls there. Mainland Mexico is full of topes and tolls so far. At least we get a break since we changed from dual rear wheels to singles and they count the tires for the tariff! The toll collectors are friendly and its funny to watch them bend their head out of the booth to look at the rear wheel to see there is only one tire back there. Aside from all the bumpy roads, the traffic moves well and the truckers are polite. I can’t really explain it properly, but the minute you cross the border you start encountering little things that are funny because they are so different from what you see day to day in the US. People sitting in unusual places, skinny dogs on a mission to get somewhere without a care about the traffic or lying inches from the road, a trucker brushing his teeth with a gallon jug of water hanging out of the side of a semi spitting into the air, horses tied to sticks in the median, the tollbooth areas filled with people offering to sell you a donut, a household item or whatever is on their heavily laden tray of goods, balanced on their head. Its familiar from anyplace we go that is not what you would call a first world country. I like the way my travel book describes it: An enormously varied, vibrant, constantly surprising humanity. It makes me chuckle at times and at others it makes me sad.

The last time I wrote something here we were having a brake issue- a shake in the front when braking that had us worried. After a few calls, Jon found a place in Tucson that could turn drums for our size truck and once we stopped by to visit, the owner John said we could park in front of his shop and take the drums off for re-surfacing and that he’d do it right away. So the next morning we were there at 7 and Jon & Ivan went to work removing the tires and drums (fresh in their minds from multiple times at this point). Sure enough, they needed turning and once back together in record time, the shake had vanished! The mechanic said that he usually turns all new drums before he even puts them on because they are almost always not perfect. And it saves him having to redo them later. Interesting… Well the rear ones seem fine so it was decided not to touch those.

With our project out of the way, it was time for Ivan’s project which was a new overhead shelf for his van so that he could store his packraft and other stuff up there. We spent some time visiting the metal store (we are quite familiar with this place by now too!), hardware & fabric store, etc to gather the parts. Then we moved to a great campground in Colossal Cave Park to do the job because we needed a picnic table for the metal cutting and to glue the vinyl on. Yes, this shelf was going to be as if it came as original equipment! It took a day and a half to make but we had a perfect spot and perfect weather to get it done. Then we spent what time we had left there walking trails.

We were pretty much ready to leave for Mexico at that point but Ivan was now waiting on an envelope from Spain to arrive at our friend Rob’s house. It kept being the joke that one or the other of us was holding up the show- first our brakes then this envelope, then of course the more time we thought we had the more last minute items we would order to Rob’s house so then we’d be waiting for those to get there. It was good to have that time in a way. Did I mention Jon installed a new stepdown transformer/surge protector unit and driving lights? We can now take 220V into the truck too. He also installed a soft start so that we can run our AC off our batteries for a bit as long as we’re getting good solar input, or if we’re plugged in to some kind of power we can run it too. It also has a little heater in it as a back-up so we can use. We used the AC a couple of days ago to try it out. Seems to work well.

With those jobs done, we felt like we could at least spend more time having fun and Tucson is a fantastic mountain bike destination. There are more places to bike than you can count and all on lovely trails, many purpose built with banked corners, great signage and cool scenery. We biked all over and really enjoyed whizzing by big stands of cactus hoping we wouldn’t wipe out on one.

Someone had given us a tip that Empire Ranch historical site was a good place to visit so we headed south of the city to check that out for a couple of days. Up in the higher elevation grasslands, it was really pretty with long views and lots of peace & quiet. We toured the old ranch house, took a bike ride of course, worked on little projects and sat on the sunny side of the truck to admire the view. But then the wind piped up and blew us back to the pretty desert of Tucson except this time to the Catalina Mountains, a new spot for us.

Some sections of path were over our heads like this one!

We would spend my birthday parked at a beautiful spot on the flanks of the mountains right on a great network of mountain bike trails. We did exactly what I wanted that day- be outside all day biking, then have a big paella dinner! It’s great traveling with Ivan and we love his cooking. Turns out the weather was lovely and the warmest we’d had. Tucson has had an unseasonably cold winter this year. We liked that campspot so much we stayed a couple more days which was enough to witness a snowfall! We woke up to everything coated in soft snow but it disappeared by mid day. We didn’t expect to get to see snow on all the cactus.

We got word from Rob that the envelope arrived along with the last ordering spree so we did one last stock up and headed to his place for a BBQ dinner and to say goodbye. It felt like we were in Tucson long enough to really get to know it and its nice to know someone there too. We really like Tucson and the bowl of mountains it sits in.

We made our way to Guaymas and stopped at a truck stop overnight. They have a “pension” in the back of some truck stops which is a quiet, gated, lot away from the highway. It works. It felt weird going through the border and this being the start of our trip to S. America. How exciting! It was nice to have a destination to see friends right off the bat. The last time we saw Kevin & Claire was May 2018 when we were first driving the truck up to Vermont to start working on it. It was still red and the box was off of it so it looked creepy and it rode like a buck board. It also had a 12 gallon fuel tank so we got diesel constantly.

We arrived in time for Carnival and parked at their marina where they keep their boat. We took in the parade, complete with floats, dancers and lots of mariachi music, got some Mexican food and then got to enjoy more mariachi music all night long from competing stages! We walked the somewhat gritty town getting used to watching our footsteps again so as not to fall off the edge or into a hole. The next day we headed off all together (they have a camper van too) to check out a couple of beach spots where we could hike, have campfires and meet a bunch of Kevin & Claire’s friends. It felt good to be on a beach again. The weather was on the chilly side and the water too, so no swimming yet. But that will come. It was great to catch up and hang out for a few days.

After a few days, we said goodbye till next time and started a long slog southward to get to nicer spots in Mexico. When you look at the travel guide, it seems like the best of Mexico is in the south. What a big country! The first day’s drive wasn’t too pretty but we camped on a long, wide beach that was great for running. As long as you were along the water, you didn’t have to look at all of the trash. Then we drove all day again through mile after mile of agricultural land and the green of the crops and the big trees lining the fences made for some pretty scenery. We saw farmers moving through the fields with horse & buggy and it reminded me of all the places we’ve traveled to where people are still doing things the hard way. The traditional way, the only way they can. We parked up for the night at a beautiful, lonely stretch of beach without any garbage. Its good for the soul. A friendly local guy talked with Ivan about his wish to someday have a little restaurant there.

We were able to leave the interstate yesterday (and the tolls) to head up into the Sierra Madra mountains via a REALLY winding, scenic road to over 6000 feet. Now every time I open something it’s under pressure. The towns are getting cuter and there are trails to hike. We plan to explore this area over the next few days working our way to Durango.

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