Friday, March 11, 2016

On the road, 7000+ miles

We departed Santa Fe, NM on November 23, 2015, headed for Nevada for Thanksgiving with family, enjoyed one of the days there on a large houseboat on Lake Mead, very low water level.  Then it was off to Grass Valley, CA where we picked up our "new" to us 2006 Dynamax 32 XL (Freightliner M2 chassis, Cat 300 ACERT and Allison 6 spd) Very low mileage and in excellent condition. Pic above. Registration a little complicated in CA so had to drive to Reno to get the right papers so title could be issued from Montana.  NM has to have a visual inspection of the VIN and that wasn't feasible.

Then to Pleasanton, CA (Fairgrounds) for a week while we both got sick with some kind of ugly sinus infection, treated at Urgent Care, prescribed antibiotics and took all ten days to mend.  Left our dog Dude, somewhat reluctantly, with one of our kids and their three kids while we headed south along the coast, stopping along the way in Paso Robles, Ventura and then east to AZ to cross at Lukeville.  Crossed easily, quickly and spent a couple of days with friends camped at Puerto Penasco.

Forgot to get our visas and stickers so had to detour back to Nogales, then on to Mazatlan and a minor crash with a parked car while I was trying to make a U-turn at the end of a dead end street, near the Cerritos campground at the north end of town if you know the area.  Settled with the poor guy for cash as his older model Nissan suffered some major damage all along the left side.  Then it was Mazatlan to Lo de Marcos, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta.  Spent two months at La Parota, on the beach in a wonderful small, quiet town yet to be over developed and over priced compared to Sayulita and San Pancho.

Found a good Freightliner service at Jimenez Autocamiones in PV and they made two trips out to the park and we took the rig into town one day for some service and maintenance.  Very accommodating and reasonable.  Also had electric steps repaired in the park from local electrician who did a superb job.

Started back on Feb 23 and although going to CA to retrieve dog, decided to cross at Columbia Bridge near Nuevo Laredo in Texas.  Back to Mazatlan the first day and joined two other couples at La Jaimbas park, also on north end of town.  Then took the toll road from Mazatlan through and over the mountains to Durango and on to Torreon.  From there we made it to Columbia crossing and breezed through with no traffic, no inspections save for a check on the American side in the basements.  Did not turn in our visas.  Cashed in the car sticker but kept the RV sticker as it's good for 10 years.  Spent the night at Casa Blanca state park.

Then it was through and around Texas, to Van Horn, a very long way about 840 miles in one day. On to Pleasanton, CA via overnight in Banning, CA (adjacent to Palm Springs) had a couple of family gatherings including a birthday celebration and then headed back toward Santa Fe.  Great stop at Homolovi Ruins state park in AZ near Winslow and dinner at La Posada in The Turquoise Room, a must if you're traveling easy or west on I-40.  Arrived back on March 6 and began the job of unpacking, sorting, and getting ready for what's next.  All in all, a great trip!  Any questions or for more info, please inquire.

Monday, February 1, 2016


We have been coming to Mexico for the past 18 years, visiting often enough to have gained our own experience and impressions in different places and with other people, both Mexicans and other Norteamericanos.  There are as many Canadians here, maybe more in some places, than there are people from the United States.  An interesting fact is that all three countries, Canada, U.S. and Mexico are part of America in the sense of being part of North America.  Central America doesn't begin until below the Mexican border at Guatemala but few people would call Canadians or Mexicans Americans and usually reserve that label for people from the U.S.  Minor point, just interesting to me.

To put this in context, Warren Hardy has a fascinating lecture on the differing values between the U.S. and Mexico that are reflected in our different cultures. If you want to understand another person or another country, you need to understand and appreciate their culture.  You don't have to agree with what they do or how they do things but it helps enormously if you understand their history, their values and their language.   In fact, these days, you don't have to speak Spanish to get along well in Mexico although it is a tremendous benefit and facilitates more and better communication if you do.  You can find Warren's video lecture on his web site here:

Our experience is that our neighbors here, south of the border, are gracious, friendly, helpful, welcoming and often eager to connect and communicate.  There are many who believe that Mexico is a dangerous place because of the press that highlights the problems with drugs, the cartels that fight with each other, the violence and the statistics about homicides and theft.  The biggest consumer of those drugs is the U.S. and without that demand, the drug business would not be so robust.  The recent El Chapo publicity accentuates some of the problems including corruption at every level.  While political corruption is part of the fabric here, it's understood as another way of doing business.  We have even participated by paying off a couple of policemen instead of going to the "office" to pay a traffic ticket, one for going the wrong way down a one-way street and the other for being in the wrong lane in a commercial zone.  Tourists are easy targets for the "policia" who want to make a "mordita" or take a "bite" out of our pockets.  And even they were friendly while doing it!  I can share the details in another post later on.

We are currently ensconced in a small, coastal village, Lo de Marcos, about 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast.   It's a quiet place except at holiday times when Mexican families come to celebrate and enjoy the beach.  And even then there's a wonderful atmosphere of sharing and mutual respect.  The other villages that we have experienced nearby include Bucerias, Sayulita and San Pancho, as well as La Penita and it''s open air market just to the north.  We have also traveled some in the interior and spent time in San Miguel Allende, an historical city that's full of ex-pats from north of the border.   What many people who winter here for several months have discovered is not only the terrific weather and rich culture but also an affordable place for those on a fixed income.  Some believe the U.S. actively discourages people from coming to Mexico because they bring their income here rather than spending it in the states.

Suffice to say here, for now, that we love Mexico and the people here, we appreciate the opportunity we have for being here, as guests in their country, and we find the people here like others all over the world.  These are kind and generous folks, caring and loving of their families, often working very hard to make a living, and in a beautiful place with mountains, farms, oceans and a long history of slavery and impoverishment.  You can make of it what you will and I will share some stories later that illustrate a few of our experiences that highlight our time and travel here.  We feel safe because we usually know where we're going, how to get there and where we are going to stay.  And if we do get lost, people seem eager to help a stranger in need. To me, that's a big mark on the positive side to help erase some of the negative impressions that others might have.  More later.....

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


I traveled frequently for work for the last 15 years of my career and also traveled for pleasure (as we still do) and I have had just about enough experience in the air with the increased and intense security since 9/11, delayed and cancelled flights, uncomfortable seats, awful food, and at times, lousy service.   This is not a complaint and bitch blog but a description of my most recent trip in the great, silver cocoon in the sky.  It was a trip, or rather trips, from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to London and return.  When I traveled even more often than now, I often said I would take more time on one end or the other to enjoy where I was, an extra day or week just to explore the surroundings.  I rarely did, was eager to get there, get the work done and get home.

1.  PVR to MEX - Thursday morning, January 14 -  Wife Susie drives me to PV through the jungle and early morning traffic, about 45 minutes, and the airport looks deserted and empty.  Few morning flights leaving and even fewer arriving at that hour, around 8:30 AM.  Aeromexico is on time and we arrive in Mexico City, Benito Juarez Airport, in plenty of time to make my connection to DFW.
But wait!  If you've been in that terminal the airport is divided between two very large terminals, one for domestic and one international although the international also serves some domestic flights.  But, I must find and take the tram from domestic around to the other side of the airport to the international terminal.  Remember too that Mexico City is the 10th largest city in the world with over 19 million people and at least half of them are at the airport on any given day.

2. MEX to DFW - American Airlines, Boeing 737, easy peasy and in less than three hours, we touch down.  First order of business is to clear immigration and customs, a breeze with Global Pass and if you don't have one, it's worth the effort and investment.  Oh yes, leaving Mexico, they take your visa so just remember to get another one when you return.  Have about an hour to wait for the next flight and Terminal D at DFW is as good as it gets there.  But think of the time spent waiting in airports, waiting to leave, changing planes, waiting to check in with an already printed boarding pass, waiting for baggage, waiting for a shuttle, the waiting game.  At least I am looking forward to a Business Class seat on the next flight, remembering the comfort and convenience of the last one.

3. DFW to LHR -  American # 51, an overnight flight leaving around 5 PM, scheduled or estimated time of arrival about 8 AM the next morning London time.  Boarding I notice the Boeing 777 is the 200 series, not the 300 and this one's configuration in business is 2-3-2 and at least I had an aisle seat.
I had ordered my dinner ahead online from their menu of entrees although they had trouble finding it and they were late in finally getting it to me.  Nothing complicated, just some snafu in the galley area.
We were about an hour late leaving, and so also about an hour late arriving, not much sleep, a few hours after dinner and before breakfast and landing.  Even with a seat that reclines fully,  I am not all that comfortable as the seats aren't designed well for someone over six feet long, or tall.  I am not overweight but still, the seat/bed with pillow and blanket isn't all that great, really.  We arrive, have to clear immigration and customs again and that takes another hour.  So, an hour late, another hour and there is an hour's drive to get me to my ultimate destination in the city.   A driver is waiting for me at the exit and that's a big plus.

I arrive Friday morning, work most of the day Friday, all day Saturday and Sunday, and get ready for the return trip that begins at 6 AM Monday morning.  Driver is there on time and off we go, to Heathrow, ho, ho, ho.  Oh yes, I had a voice mail message saying the flight is delayed by two hours but I did not get it in time to postpone the pickup although I suppose I could have told the driver to come back later but hey, I am up packed and outside, so what's a couple more hours in the shopping mall at Heathrow?  Boring, that's what, although I have plenty to read and write.   I will make these next three segments brief and to the point, if there is one.

4.  LHR to DFW - American #80.  The reason for the delay is that the arriving plane coming in from New York was late and this is the plane we're using to get to DFW.  OK, enough said.  Some people began worrying about connections but I knew I had plenty of time even with the delayed arrival.  The airlines are fairly good about rebooking on the next available flights.  I have done that before.  It's a daytime flight, goes by quickly enough although I am in main cabin extra, not business as it was overbooked and I was only in line for a requested upgrade and it did not come through.  Damn and it was the 300 series with the 1-2-1 seating.   Caught a couple of naps anyway as I was in a bulkhead seat with plenty of leg room.  Arrived and Global Pass got me through immigration and customs without even stopping except to insert passport into kiosk and get a pass with picture and details printed.  Zoomed through in minutes, no lines.

5.  DFW to MEX -Another American flight, on time and we're outta there.  Arriving in Mexico City and looking down at the city lights, you know it's the 10th largest city in the world.  Huuuge!
Get another visa form, get through customs and because it's too late (9:00 PM) to make a connection to the next and last segment, I have to spend the night and as near to the airport as convenient.  Reserve a room at the Ramada, find the door where the shuttle stops and check in there around 10 PM.  Get about 7 hours of sleep, enough to take care of any jet lag which I don't usually have coming west, but do suffer some going east.  Shuttle is waiting at 5:30 AM to take me across the street which means five blocks down, a U-Turn and five blocks back. 

6. MEX to PVR - Find the line for check in to get boarding pass, only kiosks, no counters or agents, but that goes well.  Stop at duty free, get some French perfume for wife's birthday which is today,  January 19.   7 AM Aeromexico, terrific airplane, 737-800 series, have a three seat configuration all to myself, plane boards and leaves on time and we arrive PVR about 20 minutes early.  The flight over the mountains and a short way out over the ocean before a 180 turn and landing was all good.
Susie is waiting and we go to Punta Mita and the St Regis for a birthday brunch on the beach.
Spectacular finish to a long trip, much too far, too long and almost too much.  It will be awhile before I do that again, if ever.  Thanks!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Northern CA to Mexico (with stops along the way)

We launched forth from Grass Valley, stopping in Pleasanton, CA (Fairgrounds) for a week to visit family and recover from a miserable sinus infection.  Then headed south, stopping for a few days in Paso Robles (Wine Country RV Resort, recommended) and Ventura, park next to Emma Woods which had been evacuated due to high surf.  But, we were fine and began to load up with groceries and supplies for heading even farther south.

Crossed the border at Lukeville on 14 December and drove to Puerto Penasco to visit friends who were camped at Playa Bonita, nice park on the beach there by a hotel.  Then as we went on, planning to pick up our permits and visas at Pitiquito, near Carboca, discovered they could not issue car permits without a tourist visa and we had neglected to get those in Lukeville.   Don't need them if you aren't going too far below the border but our destination was about 1000 miles south.  So, at Santa Ana, near Magdalena de Kino, we went north to Nogales, about an hour the wrong direction, got both our visas and vehicle permits, spent the night there at Fiesta Inn and headed out the next morning, back the way we had come

By that next late afternoon we were in Navajoa and took a wonderful (although not such good roads) detour to Huatabampo and Hutabampito.  Camped for two nights on the beach at El Mirador, terrific family run place, same family for 30 years, good restaurant and while there were two German vans there when we arrived, they left the next morning and we were the only ones there.  Here is a picture of the sunrise on 18 December 2015:

From here it was on south via toll roads to Mazatlan where I encountered a bit of a disaster by trying to make a U-Turn at the end of a dead end street and I managed to crush a poor guy's old Nissan on his left side and left some scratches and dings on both RV and Toad.  Nothing that can't be fixed and we settled with him for some USD rather than go through all the insurance forms, deductibles, etc. and will get ours touched up later, after this winter trip.    I had missed the turn for the Punto Cerritos RV park about 50 yards earlier and the park was fine, not too far off the main highway and close to a Pemex station down the road a little farther.

The next leg was Mazatlan to Lo de Marcos and all was fine except going through the middle of Tepic, a BIG mistake having missed another turn.   Dyna Quest (Dinah or Dineh, still looking to name her) performed great with the exception of a Turbo issue which I hope to get fixed this week from a Caterpillar dealer in P.V. and the electric steps that stopped working.  Had those fixed this past Thursday by a terrific, local electrician whom we met in San Pancho while staying at Casa Colima.  Seems someone had wrapped the bottom step with a thick piece of plastic carpet and that wedged the steps shut so they would not open.  Regardless, the electrician had to reset the motor and sensors but had it all done in an hour.  Not typical Mexico.

So, here we are at La Parota, new friends and neighbors, and our lot is away from the beach but only about 50 yards and the village is yet to be explored fully.  We did venture down to the small market yesterday and there is a much larger one on Thursdays in La Penita.  We're between La Penita and Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta is about 35 miles south.   That brings us up to today, 10 January 2016.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our 6th RV (see previous post, short history of 5 RV's)

So, here we are about to pick up Number 6.  We talked about 5th wheels, we talked about Airstreams, never quite succumbed to either of those, have stayed with self-propelled RV's.  You can make a case for what you like and why.  Quick review in order of succession - 1975 GMC Transmode converted by a CA cabinet maker to a more classic motorhome; 1995 36' Barth, aircraft aluminum on a Spartan Mountain Master chassis with a Cummins 300; 2005 Roadtrek SS Sprinter with Mercedes diesel; 2006 39' Tiffin Allegro Bus on Freightliner chassis, 350 Cummins, 6 spd Allison, 3 slideouts; 2005 Newell, 47' w. four slideouts, Detroit diesel 515, all the bells and whistles imaginable; and drum roll please,  here comes a 2006 Dynaquest 320 with a 300 Cat diesel, 2 slideouts.  Why this Super C?

First, we wanted something smaller, easier to get into many of our favorite places including Mexico which is one reason for the 06 year, before diesel switched to low-sulphur fuel which is still unavailable in most places in MX.  Size also dictates where we can go in the States, such as state parks and numerous out of the way campgrounds.  We had seen a few of the Super C's both on the road and in the RV parks and we like the look.  Tested out a few, looked at the market, the reviews and this has the basics and is not all-electric which the Newell was and did best on 50 amp.  Don't count on that south of the border.  We are headed there in a few weeks for a few months.

We'll give you a report soon on the performance aspects on this Dynaquest also on a Freightliner chassis.  It's compact yet looks comfortable. Granted, it doesn't have a dishwasher nor a stacked washer/dryer nor a sub-Zero refrigerator freezer but it has what we need to go glamping.  My co-pilot seems comfortable driving it as she did all of the others except the GMC which tended to wander a bit and we did not go to the anti-sway bar up front which would have helped.

Our permanent home base in Santa Fe, NM is adjacent to the Trailer Ranch RV park there so we've had the opportunity for on site reviews and reports and people tend to like what they have which is a good thing.  Not one that we've talked to in the past 20 years didn't have something go wrong that needed to be repaired or replaced.  Some had more than others and I am not here to brand bash or
promote either so we'll leave it at that for now.

We are en route to pick up No. 6 in Grass Valley, CA and just may paint that in a big way on the side or back, NASCAR style.  Now if we can just find a sponsor.  We will then mosey down the CA coast and cross over into Mexico around the middle of December with our 2010 Ford Edge as the toad .  Stay tuned for the next installment.

Monday, February 23, 2015


We arrived in Key West on December 1, 2014, and spent the month of December camped at Boyds on Stock Island just 5 miles from Mile 0 downtown KW.  Convenient but crowded, great weather of course.  January 1 we moved up the road to MM 14.5 to Bluewater Key RV Resort,  well landscaped lots with Tiki Huts all owned by individuals who rent them out when they aren't using them and some rent seasonally.  Ocean on one side, deep canal on the other with docks on both sides.  Expensive but worth it in some ways.  We left BWK on February 15, enjoyed the scenic drive up the keys and across Rt. 41 to Naples.  Camped at Marco Island KOA, convenient for an overnight stop, or longer if you desire.

Then Tuesday,  2/17, we pushed north and around the corner of the panhandle to Carabelle Beach where we spent the next two days and nights.  There is also a newer campground a little farther west on Route 98 that looks very nice.  Great little restaurant in Carabelle called The Fisherman's Wife.  Also visited St. George Island where we have a friend with a wonderful beach house, bay on one side, Gulf on the other.  State park at the end of the island there in the Gulf.

Thursday, drove to Baton Rouge, another KOA, conveniently located off I-10 and back on the next morning to Destiny Dalls RV park that sits between Lewisville and Denton.  Terrible and extensive construction and traffic along I-35 E north and south, avoid it if you can.  Two nights there, visited friends in Dallas and the Geo. W. Bush library and museum on the SMU campus. 

On the road again Sunday morning to OKC where it's colder than I care to mention but it's 19 degrees this morning, Monday, Feb 23, and snow on the ground.  Camped at Twin Fountains RV park for this week while I work in Boston and Susie visits family, not much better weather there either.  Spoiled by two and a half months in south Florida!

Have an appointment for a week from today, Monday, March 2, at Camp Newell for some service and repairs.  Then it's back to Santa Fe.  Hooray!

Monday, January 12, 2015


1.  1975 GMC Transmode.  This model was produced by General Motors and instead of fitted out as a 23' or 26' motorhome, the transmode was for commercial purposes such as a bookmobile, bloodmobile, mobile post office, etc.  The previous owner was a cabinet maker in Grass Valley, CA and we bought it from his widow for $11K in 2000.  I don't know who the first owner was.  The cabinet maker had done a decent job with all the woodwork but before we could even drive it home, we had to purchase new tires and the front end was rather loose and wandered a bit on the highway.
There were a few other issues with the Olds 454 front wheel drive and we put another $11K into making it road worthy once we had returned to the Bay Area where we lived at that time.  We enjoyed it for a couple of years, sold it to someone in New Mexico who was allegedly taking it to Michigan.

2. 1995 Barth.  We found this beauty sitting on an RV lot outside of Joplin, Missouri, a 36' baby Newell, with a 300 HP Cummins, 6 spd Allison, all aircraft aluminum construction (like Newell) and here's the best part.  It had only 18,000 miles on the odometer and 4 hours on the generator.  The gentleman from Tulsa, OK who owned it was in ill health, could no longer drive it and we were delighted with the purchase.  It was well designed, well-built, was on a Spartan Mountain Master chassis and from the front it looked like a fire truck.  Small wonder as many fire trucks had the same chassis.  No slides and limited storage but ran like a dream and we put a lot of miles on it through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.   When we left for London, we put it in the barn for storage and it sat there for two years.  That's not good for any RV and when we returned we thought, erroneously, that we might be finished with RV's for awhile.  We put it on ebay with a fair reserve and it sold quickly to a man from Michigan who flew to Santa Fe and picked it up.  Sad to see it go but it went.

3.  2005 Roadtrek Sprnter on a Dodge chassis with that 5 cylinder Mercedes engine.   It was being sold by a fireman in Angel Fire, NM.  Decided to downsize to this 22' Class B and while economical, it was not practical.  Insufficient head room for my 6'2" frame and the bed was a sofa in the rear, facing forward that folded down automatically into a double bed without any room on either side.  It had all the necessary amenities but they seemed squeezed into small spaces and while we enjoyed the fuel mileage.  Comfortable to drive, easy to park and maneuver around almost anywhere as it was really just a van made into an RV, and a nice one at that.  Put it on ebay and it sold immediately as we were now veterans of buying high and selling low, thus selling quickly and easily.

4. 2006 Allegro Bus, 39' Cummins 8.9 L engine, turbo, (450 HP?) also an Allison 6 spd electronic transmission, three slides, very comfortable.  It was purchased privately on ebay from a private owner who had purchased it new.  Had 50K miles and was very clean but the owner was not entirely clean about some of the issues including a faulty inverter.  Various problems continued to appear, mostly minor but annoying and although we drove it to many places, including back to Mexico, we had longed for a Newell if we could find one that met our criteria and was within our budget.  We found one that exceeded both our criterian and our budget but we bought it anyway and that is Number 5.
We traded the Allegro Bus on the Newell in order to reduce the purchase price of the Newell.

5. 2005 Newell, 47', yes forty-seven feet as a few were ordered and made.  We picked it up at the factory in February 2014 and lived in it full time for 9 months before designing and building a manufactured home last Fall.  With four slides and all the bells and whistles of an '05 Newell including steerable tag axle, the Detroit 60 series 515 Turbo, the 6 spd Allison, stacked washer/dryer, Fisher-Paykel dishwasher, sub-zero refrigerator with two freezer drawers, desk with a file drawer, two flat screen TV's, power awnings and window shades and you get the picture.  It is coach # 729 and we love it.  At 56,000 pounds, my wife refers to the "law of tonnage" when on the highway.  We tow an F-150 pickup and carry everything we need in the basement compartments.  Love the air operated leveling system, mid-entry, inside and outside sewer controls, also air operated, one full bath with shower, plenty of closets and storage space inside.