The Adventure Continues - July 26th 2004 (50,000
miles on the odometer). Once we were back in the States I
visited the Ford dealership in Hondo Texas to inquire about what I needed to
do about the warranty claim for the clutch work done by Ford in Cancun
Mexico. Unfortunately the only person qualified to deal with the claim was
the service manager and he was away on vacation until the following week.
We couldn't wait until he returned and we were told that the claim could
be made at any dealership so decided to try again at our next stop.
A couple of days later we decided to spend some
time just outside Carlsbad NM., so I tried again. The service manager
although not happy to see me was very helpful and as he had never
processed a claim like this before searched through his manuals to find
the correct way to handle the claim. After much page turning and mumbling
it was established that his manual didn't have the procedure and he would
have to call Detroit and could I return the next day? He made copies of
the work orders, the towing invoice and the invoices for the parts we
purchased in Cancun. As we were leaving Carlsbad on Saturday we said we would
return on Friday and left him our Sat. phone number just in case.
Well with not too much confidence we returned on
Friday and were told that Ford had accepted the claim but was not finished
processing it yet. Could we return next week? I asked if, or
when, Ford approved the claim could they just debit my credit card and
email us with the outcome of the claim. Well, Tuesday of the following
week I got an email and not only had Ford paid the full amount I paid Ford
Cancun, but they also paid for the towing and to top everything off the
exchange rate had changed and I actually made a couple of bucks off the
deal. Apparently the delay in processing the claim was because the Cancun work order had a
box for kilometers on it and they had written down the miles off The Rig's
odometer in the kilometer box and it took Ford awhile to work out that it
wasn't kilometers but miles! As when they did the conversion from
kilometers to miles my claim in Cancun was made with less miles on the
odometer than the service I had done in Texas before leaving for Mexico.
Well hurray for Ford and we now have a new "Good Guy".
After New Mexico we made our way to Oregon and
spent a couple of weeks exploring, using the Church's "Camping In The
Pacific Northwest" camping/guide book. Oregon is truly an amazing
state. We had often visited the Oregon coast and are always amazed by it's
breath-taking beauty, but we had never ventured inland. What a surprise
was waiting for us there. The inland portion of the state has incredible
high mountains covered in pine and fir trees with crystal clear mountain
streams. This is especially true around Sisters where Annie found all the quilt
stores that a quilter could dream about. The beauty of Crater Lake is not
to be missed, although I would probably try and visit later in the year
than we did as the Rim Road around the crater was closed during our visit
in May. Traveling further inland we came to Oregon's high desert. Then
down the Columbia River Canyon to Portland. We took the Church's advise
and got onto the Old Highway for our drive to Portland and visited the
numerous waterfalls hidden within the forest. Hidden from the modern new
highway, that is, but right alongside the Old Highway. What a treat?
While we were dragging our feet in Oregon our
friends Mike & Liz (The Grey Nomads), whom we had
planned on getting together with sometime this summer, wrote and said that
they were going to celebrate the Summer Solstice in Inuvik in Canada's
North West Territories. This sounded like a great idea and we decided to
join them in Inuvik for the celebration.
The road to Inuvik is called The Dempster Highway
and starts just outside Dawson City. Although The Dempster is called a
highway it really is a 2 lane dirt road that stretches for 734 kilometers
from the junction outside Dawson to Inuvik. The first fuel stop is at
Eagle Plains 369 kilometers from the junction and then at about kilometer
406 we crossed the Arctic Circle. All the reading we did on The Dempster
had warnings about how hard the road was on tires and suggested travelers
have at least 2 spare tires and even that might not be enough as flat
tires were very common due to the sharp shale that they had used to make
the road. While we were doing our laundry in the campground in Dawson we
meet two travelers who had just traveled The Dempster and both of them had
had 2 flats a piece and of course had horror stories of people that they
had met who had as many as 6 flats. Well we had 1 spare tire, 2 inner
tubes that we could insert into our tubeless tires and we had a tubeless
puncture repair kit. Well prepared we thought.
The Dempster Highway must be one of the most
beautiful roads that we have ever travelled. We kept cresting a hill or going
around a corner and just gasping at the beauty surrounding us. Our friend
Markus in Norway wrote and told us of his travels in Norway and said he
often felt like he was "Traveling in this painting" and that just about
explains the experience we had driving up the Dempster. As the road is
less well traveled the opportunity to see wildlife is much greater than on
other roads on the way to Alaska. We saw a lone wolf, a number of moose
including a bull moose and a mother with a youngster in tow at
Two Moose Lake ( I wonder why they called the lake Two Moose Lake? We must
have seen four or five!) at different
times a couple of ptarmigan, Dall sheep close to the road and a few raptors.
Inuvik and the Midnight Sun didn't disappoint us
either. The First Nation People had a demonstration of the different
Northern Games which included things like Blanket Toss, Head Pull, One
Foot High Kick, Two Foot High Kick and The Alaskan Kick. There was an
Traditional Dancing Competition and an Traditional Dress competition and
of course folk singing accompanied by the Traditional Drums. Free
burgers, hotdogs and baked salmon. All in all a very memorable couple of
We traveled back to Dawson with Mike & Liz
boondocking along the highway at a couple of great secluded pull-outs. Neither The
Grey Nomads nor us had a flat tire on the entire trip, although Mike did
have a stone break his headlight. Both Mike and I have the same theory about
flat tires and The Dempster... the more aggressive your tire tread the
more likely they are to pick-up a rock and then
that rock is just going to be pounded into the tire as you travel down the
road. We also traveled a lot slower than just about anybody else and when
we were being passed, in either direction, we slowed right down and pulled
over to the side of the road. We did see a couple of vehicles with flat
tires pulled over to the side and abandoned while their drivers went to
get help. In both instances the trucks had mud or snow tread tires.
Most of The Dempster is a very good dirt road. So
good in many places that it was possible for us to travel at highway
speeds if we had
wished to do so. There are some very rough spots where it is prudent to
travel at 15 to 20 miles an hour, but they are few and far between and
don't last for more than a couple of miles or so at a time. We saw 40ft motorhomes, tiny
compact rental cars, motorcycles and even an intrepid bicycle rider along
the way, so just about anyone could enjoy the adventure. If you travel to
Dawson City it really makes a nice side trip to just travel the 1st 100
kilometers of The Dempster to the Tombstone Mountain overlook and pay
a visit to the Tombstone Campground Interpretive Center. The first 100
kilometers part of the road is in
excellent condition and you get to see some majestic scenery and as you have
travelled so far to get to Dawson City you may as well add a couple of miles
and enjoy a little bit of The Dempster.
The Adventure Changes - February
26th 2004 (35,000 miles on the odometer). The best laid plans of mice and men...
We could not find a ship that would allow Trudy to travel with us from
Costa Rica to Ecuador and the only way to take Trudy would have been to
fly her and because of her age we were advised that it would not be a good
thing for her. So our travel itinerary had to change. We decided that we would head
back to the States and travel with Trudy to Alaska this summer and then
depending on her health, make fresh plans for next winter which could
include only Mexico and Central America if Trudy was still with us, or if
she was not, South America, Australia or Africa.
We decided, on the way
south, to avoid El Salvador, as all the guide books and most of the
travelers we had met cautioned about traveling in El Salvador because of
the possibility of violence and the possibility of being robbed on any
road. Especially the roads around Santa Ana and Cerro Verde volcanoes.
During our travels in Central America we had met a
number of people from El Salvador and they encouraged us
to visit their country explaining that the violence and robberies were a
thing of the past. We decided on the way back north to throw caution to the wind and venture into El Salvador. This
was one of our better decisions. We found the country to be beautiful and
the people the friendliest in Central America.
The border crossing into El Salvador was very easy
and we spent our first night at the Turicentro in San Miguel. This is a
very large swimming pool complex that closes to the public at 4:30 pm and
then, except for the guard, we had the place to ourselves. The manager of
the complex was so pleased that we choose to stay at his Turicentro that
he treated us as if we were his long lost relatives. What a great
introduction to the country. The next morning we went to a very modern
supermarket (where we could have spent the night in their secure parking
area) and stocked up on supplies.
We then went down to the coast on a very good,
narrow 2 lane road to Playa El Espino. This is a small pueblo on a long
black beach that was hit very hard by Hurricane Mitch. Most of the beach
front buildings that were destroyed by the hurricane have not been
restored as the owners have decided to rebuild one or two blocks back from
the beach. We camped, for a small fee, just off the beach in one of the
lots that had a destroyed building on it. It was nice to be on a fairly
clean beach again, to be able to swim in the warm Pacific and to take long
walks along the beach. We were quite a novelty in the small village with our rig,
Trudy and our limited Spanish.
We then headed to one of the highlights of our
trip, Cerro Verde National Park. Cerro Verde is at 6,000 ft and has an
surprising view of Izalco Volcano. Izalco, because its such a young
volcano, about 400 years old, does not have any vegetation growing on its
slopes. The park has an orchid garden and a hiking trail with great views
of Lago Coatepepue and Finca San Blas. They no longer allow camping in the
park, but just outside the park, along a very rough road there is a
campground at Crystal Hacienda. We had a clear view to the west and were
able to watch the sunset over the Pacific ocean which was about 35 miles
away. Being at such a high altitude, the nights can get very cold which
was a welcome change from the heat and humidity of the coast.
Last time I mentioned things that have worked
really well for us. As usual I missed a couple, so here are 2 more. Window
Awnings... Keeps the tropical sun out of The Rig even in the strongest
winds. Portable BBQ grill that taps into our fixed propane tank... This
little guy allows us to cook most meals outside, including breakfast of
eggs and bacon on the skillet, soups and stews in our pot and of course
any regular BBQ.
The Adventure Continues -
December 28th 2003 (32,000
miles on the odometer). Through Belize onto Tikal, Rio Dulce,
Coban, Panajachel, Antigua & Monterrico all in beautiful Guatemala. A
visit to the Coban Ruins in Honduras and a ride down the Caribbean
Coast of Honduras. Our first live volcano up close in Nicaragua and then
straight into Costa Rica. 3 months and 8,000 miles of excitement, worry
and amazing sites.
Belize has some of the most accessible rainforests
in Central America, especially the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Sanctuary which
has beautiful hiking trails
through the forest. Unfortunately Belize also has some of the most
unfriendly people we have encountered. We drove down to Puenta Gorda with
the intention of spending a couple of days at the beach, but we were
treated so badly by the locals that we turned around and headed back
without spending a cent in their town. Then Belize also has the Mennonite
community in Spanish Lookout. They can't do enough for you and all at
exceptionally reasonable prices. If you need repairs of any sort, do as
the locals do and head for Spanish Lookout and Caribbean Tire. If they
can't fix it, they know of someone who can. The community also runs the
Farmers Trading Center which is a great grocery store to stock up on
Tikal has always been on my Life List of things to
see, so you can imagine my disappointment when we got to the gate and the
guards saw Trudy and said no dogs allowed. We begged, we pleaded and a
Spanish couple translated and begged on our behalf. Finally they agreed
but only for 1 night and someone had to stay with her at all times in The
Rig so that she didn't bark and disturb the tranquility of Tikal. Tikal didn't disappoint
especially in the early morning before the tourist buses arrived. You can
enter the ruins at 6am and either climb Temple IV and watch the sun rise
or head to the Great Plaza and enjoy the sounds of the jungle waking up.
The plaza is a magical place at this time of the day.
Guatemala is my favorite country after Mexico. The
people are friendly, the countryside is beautiful and the towns just full
of color with the indigenous people in their traditional dress. The road
to Copan from Rio Dulce was especially surprising with waterfalls around
one corner and quaint villages with their colonial churches around the
next. We spent 3 weeks at Panajachel on Lake Atitlan taking Spanish
lessons. I can't think of a more beautiful place to be while studying
Spanish. We were parked right on the shore of the lake and every evening we
enjoyed a beautifully unique sunset.
One of my most memorable experiences must be the
small, 1 car barge ferry to the town of Monterrico on the Pacific Coast.
The only way to get to the town is by ferry. The ferry takes about half an hour
while traveling along a tranquil river bordered by a mangrove forest with
many species of birds both in the water and in the trees. This is one of the many times
I was glad we had high clearance and the 6th, extra low gear as we needed
both to get The Rig on and off the ferry.
I thought I would mention some of things that have
worked and some of things that I would have done differently. Remember
no-one sponsors us so this as honest as it gets.
The Xcursion... after over a year of driving, much
of it on very rough roads, and 11 months of living full-time in her, she
really surprises me with how well she has held up. I have not needed to
tighten one screw. I can't say this about any of our previous rigs. A
testimony to the quality work done at Xplorer Motor Homes. The Ford diesel
chassis... except for the clutch problem in Cancun it has been trouble free.
She has taken us along dirt tracks and over mountain passes that would scare the
pants off anyone and diesel is sometimes half the price of unleaded gas. The water filters... especially the reverse osmosis. We
have pumped water from a pond in Belize and used it for drinking water
without thinking twice about it. It also has been great to have our
drinking water taste the same no matter where we filled the tank. The
Endless Breeze Fan from Fantastic Vent... this 12 volt, low draw fan has
been a Godsend when we have camped without hookups in the tropics. No
carpets and dual pane louvered windows must be part of the list. And as
Mike & Liz say "Don't leave home without your GPS". We struggled over
getting the rear view camera, but Annie was right, it has been
indispensable and well worth the additional expense. We originally had
leveling jacks installed, but we removed the front levelers as they
lowered our clearance too dramatically... the rear ones have been great to
lift The Rig when we have had to remove stones between the dualies and
when we needed the sand ladders to get us out of the mud. The 6 gallon
plastic jerry can for filling the water tank when the faucet was beyond
the reach of the 50 ft hose. The list must
also include the extra counter space and cabinets that the
additional length allowed us.
I wish I had installed a locking rear
differential. We would not have got stuck in the mud in Cockscomb if I had
had one. The rear dualies are a pain. Every time we came off dirt roads, and
sometimes while we are on them, I have to get out and check that we
haven't picked up rocks between the tires. If you do pick up rocks and don't notice them
they will eventually wear through the sidewall of one of the tires not
only giving you a flat but also making that tire completely un-repairable.
Additional solar panels, during the rainy season you need as many panels as you have room for. An additional 2 golf cart batteries. You'd be
surprised how much power you suck up overnight. I have read that the
rule of thumb is 2 batteries per person and we feel this to be accurate.
The wish list would also include a built-in high capacity air compressor
to air up the tires after airing down to handle off road conditions. I don't mind the
length or width, but I truly wish we weren't as tall.
And for all who are wondering, our travel weight
is about 16,000 lbs. and we are averaging 11.5 mpg after 32,000 miles.
Price... talk to Joe, he would probably make you a deal. Would we consider
ourselves an Expedition R.V.? Well we have 4 X 4, high clearance, diesel and have traveled where no ordinary R.V. could or would go.
The Adventure Begins- September
13th 2003 (24,000
miles on the odometer). After a frantic 2 expensive days of
stocking-up on supplies that we might or might not need, we crossed into
Mexico at Pharr, Texas. The border crossing is relatively easy, the Mexican
officials are very helpful and the whole process takes less than 2 hours.
Now the fun begins... within 10 miles of traveling in Mexico we got lost (
not our fault, never is, they had created a divided road so that we
couldn't get to the road that we needed to take South), watched a donkey pulling a way
overloaded cart, being cut off by a taxi, slip and slide its way to a stop
while we sat with our hearts in our mouths, sure that it was on it's way
to meet it's maker. Then for us to come back to
our missed turnoff we went the wrong way down a one-way street. Traveling
is fun, traveling is fun just keep repeating, traveling is fun.
We spent our 1st night at the small fishing
village of La Pesca at La Gaviota Restaurant y Hotel. They have a fabulous
pool which we both enjoyed. The next day was a hard rough ride around
Tampico to the Costa Esmeralda where we spent 2 nights enjoying the
endless beach right outside the campground. We then drove to San Juan
Teotihuacán about 50 miles outside Mexico City and where the Teotihuacán
ruins are situated. The ruins include the huge Pyramids of the Sun and
Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun has the same size footprint as Egypt's
Cheops, but is only half as tall. Truly an amazing sight. Off to Cholula
just outside Puebla
for a couple of nights and then back down to Costa Esmeralda and a visit
to El Tajin ruins with the Pyramid of the Niches with it's 365 niches and
the Voladores (flying men).
We then bypassed Veracruz and drove straight to
Catemaco where we camped in the parking lot of Restaurant La Ceiba right
on the shores of Laguna de Catemaco and had the best pollo (chicken) tacos
for dinner. On to Isla Aguada across what must be the 2 most expensive
toll bridges in the world, cost $30.00 USD to cross them. Next day off to
Bacalar, just outside Chetumal where we camped across the street from the
Cenote Azul where you can swim in the crystal clear fresh water. Diving is
allowed off the restaurant's roof and the fish come begging for any
unwanted tortillas. Started early the next morning for one our favorite
spots in all of Mexico, the campground at Paa Mul. We had planned to spend
about 5 days there soaking up the sun and enjoying the coral reef just off
the beach but just like the last time we were there we couldn't tear
ourselves away and 5 days stretched into 10.
While doing the inventory of our spare parts I
realized that I had forgotten to stock-up on fuel filters and our friends
Mike & Liz who are currently down in Brazil had told us that oil, air and
fuel filters for the 7.3 diesel are impossible to get outside of Mexico.
So on a rainy Monday we decided to drive the 50 miles to Cancun to visit
Ford and buy the fuel filters. Just outside the city the clutch started to
feel a little strange and then just as we entered the city at a busy
intersection, the clutch went completely. Panic set in... but Annie,
usually the one to say "What now Frank?", sat there cool as a cucumber and
said that she would stay with The Rig in the traffic and explain to one
and all what happened while I take a taxi to Ford and get help in the
pouring rain. Fortunately Ford had a service guy that had lived in
Massachusetts (he did insist legally, but he was much to adamant to be
believed) who was very helpful and within the hour we had The Rig towed to
Ford. The diagnosis was the "clutch pump" was bust. Now there are 2 clutch
pumps, a big one and a small one and they only had the big one but they
were sure this would fix the problem. Remember this is Mexico and you must
take them at their word even if you are not sure what a big and small
clutch pump is. Couple of hours later they declared the problem fixed, so
I tried the clutch. Yes, it worked but it was taking right at the floor.
They said it would start taking a little higher the more we drove The Rig.
So off we went with our fuel filters and a somewhat doubtfully fixed
Well, we drove the 50 miles back to Paa Mul and
drove around the next day and the clutch did not miraculously fix itself.
So, back to Ford to have them adjust the clutch. No sir, the clutch cannot
be adjusted you need the other pump to really fix the problem. They were
able to order the part from Guadalajara and it would be there in a couple
of days. OK, we will come back. When we did I had a look at the new part
and realized that it was the Master and Slave cylinders that they were
replacing. Well, this did fix the problem and The Rig ran like new. Of
course Ford Mexico does not honor Ford USA warranties but I was assured
that all I had do was contact Ford USA and all would be refunded... seeing
is believing. Now, we are finally ready to cross into Belize.
Introduction (August 2003).
This past March & April 2003, we explored the Baja from
San Felipe to Cabo San Lucas and then crossed to the mainland to explore
the Copper Canyon. We must have traveled at least 300 miles on dirt roads
as this was intended to be our shake down cruise before our trip to
Central & South America, which is still on schedule to start in September.
After spending a very exciting couple of weeks on
the Baja we took the ferry from La Paz to Topolobampo near Los Mochis on
the mainland. There are a couple of ferry companies that do the route and
there seems to be quite a difference in the basic fares that are charged.
We choose Baja Ferries, which charged us $3,280.00 pesos (about $300 USD)
for our rig and 2 passengers. This was about $1,000.00 pesos more than the
other company, but Baja Ferries assured us that we would be loaded on the
top deck and be able to stay with our rig during the crossing provided we
were ready to be loaded at least 5 hours before departure. Being able to
be on the top deck was a huge plus for us, as it meant we didn’t need to
get a cabin and we would be able to cook our own food for dinner and sleep
in our own bed, easily making up for the extra cost. The other company
loaded all vehicles below decks and even if we could have stayed with our
rig it would have made for an extremely unpleasant journey.
As it turned out, it was a very pleasant crossing.
Lots of fun, being jammed in between 18-wheelers on all sides. We did have
enough room to open our door, so therefore, we were able to slide between
the trucks and get to the ship’s rail and watch the sunrise, and enjoy the
voyage. Mexican ferries are loads of fun.
We then made our way to Alamos and a very cute
campground on the far side of town. The campground is part of a motel and
occupying the motel was about a dozen students from Washington State
University on their spring break. They were exploring and studying the
geology and fauna of this part of Mexico and were gone all day out in
the field but returning in the evening. After dark they got out their
flashlights and searched the campground for tree frogs, toads, geckos and
1 guy had a black light and he was searching for scorpions. Of course we
had to join in the fun (or get in the way I am not sure which) but we did
find a couple of tree frogs around the pool and the guy with the black
light found a scorpion much to Annie’s chagrin. Unfortunately they were
there for only 1 night and while they were getting ready to leave the next
day I couldn’t help but compare them to the other spring breakers we had
encountered in Los Cabos with their margaritas and hangovers, and wondered
who was really having fun. Well the next night we got out our flashlight
and went looking for tree frogs. We found a couple near the pool and
although the male would sit still to have his photo taken the female moved
as soon as we switched the flashlight off (we had to use the flashlight to
allow the camera to focus in the pitch dark) so we got a lot of pictures
of a frog walking out of the picture frame.
After Alamos we drove the back roads through the
quaint town of Quiriego and along a cattle track to La Cobriza and then
joined Mex 21 into the Sierra Madre Occidental on our way to The Copper
Canyon. Some of the most beautiful country in Mexico. We spent the night
in the courtyard of a small hotel in Yecora and dinner at the hotel's
restaurant. The menu consisted of 1 item, Carne Seca, (dried meat, I hope
beef). It appeared to be a jerky that was fried in a spicy hot oil and
served with refried beans. Actually very
delicious, my mouth is watering now thinking about it.
The next day we drove to Basaseachic to explore
the countryside around Mexico's tallest waterfall... Cascada de
Basaseachic. You can view the waterfall 3 ways. From just above it, and look down a
stomach turning drop to the bottom, climb down to the bottom along a well
worn path or drive a couple of miles to the other side of the canyon and
view the whole waterfall from atop of the east canyon wall.
We spent the
night at a great campground (Rancho San Lorenzo) about 1/2 mile from the
east canyon wall, where two beautiful mountain streams meet to form one
stream. We were the only campers there. From here we had a very easy ride
to Creel and the gateway to The Copper Canyon.