Archive for the 'preparation' Category

Baja: Crossing the Border

November 7th, 2014

This post is part of our trip to baja.

If you’ve spent any time researching travelling in Baja, Mexico, you’ve surely run across these “rules”. According to the Internet, if you want to stay alive in Baja, Mexico, this is what you have to do or not do:

1. Don’t drive after dark.
2. Travel in groups.
3. Don’t cross at Tijuana.
4. No weapons (not even a bullet), drugs or anything illegal.
5. Cross the border at in the morning and drive as far south as you can.
6. Do not exit your vehicle before you get at least 400 miles south of the border.
7. Drive on the toll road. The bandits are on the libre.
8. If you are written a ticket, don’t pay the officer (it’s a bribe) for it. Go to the station instead.
9. Don’t drive after dark!

You’ll notice that one and nine are the same. This is because it is a very important rule!

Our plan
Meet part of our group near the border at 8am (Rule 5). Then, go to the border to meet the rest. Once there, we’d get our tourist card “visas”. Then, we’d drive as far south as we could in the remaining sunlight and find a lovely little place to stay (while following rule 6). We would get off the road before dark (Rule 1 and 9). The next day, we would enjoy a beach sunrise and spend the day driving as far south as we could. Rinse and repeat until we hit Mulege. Fish tacos and cerveza.

What really happened
Our group didn’t get together until about 10am. We all sat outside of a Starbucks programming our walkie-talkies and catching up. It’d had been years since we had seen each there. It was so good to see everyone and talk about the adventure ahead. It was going to be a great trip. We love you Bestest Bri and other guy.

We met up with the second part of our group at about noon at in a parking lot on the US side of the border at Tijuana. The boys walked across the border to get pesos and visit the immigration office. When they returned, they said that the office was closed (or didn’t exist I can’t remember which) so no tourist card at the border. Our friends assured us that it wasn’t a big deal and that we’d pick them up in Ensenada. No worries. OK.

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We all got into our vehicles and went across the border, being careful to stay together. The Mexican border patrol had their own way of doing things. They had each one of us pull into separate parking areas in anticipation of a full vehicle search. They searched everyone differently (that’s a story in itself). By the time our van was done, three of our five car caravan had already been sent on their way. Then it was our turn.

With no where to wait for each other near the border, we were thrust onto a fast moving network of roads that had obviously been designed by someone enjoying a plate of spaghetti. Everyone was heading south on their own. Thankfully, we had all turned our radios (walkie talkies) on.

 

 

Crazy MX roads


I still don’t know which way we went.

 

We were able to get Brightest Bri on the radio. Hurrah! We were not alone. We were also able to locate some of the folks that we had joined at the border. But, where was our other friend?!?! He wasn’t with the rest of our group nor was he answering our calls on the radio. I was soooooo worried about him. He said that never drives anywhere, and it was his first time in MX. He was no where to be seen or heard. OMG OMG I knew we weren’t supposed to cross at Tijuana (Rule 3)! We, and Brian the Wise, scanned the sides of MX 1 for our friend’s white Ford van. An easy find for sure.

After freaking out for about 10km, we spotted our friend just as we were entering the first toll booth on the Carretera Escenica. He had pulled over at what he thought was the immigration office where we were to get our “visas” at. We told Festiva Bri we had seen the other guy. And after a bit of driving/radio magic we were together again. Now, the “other guy” had his radio on. All was good. Then, we saw Jesus. He was standing over a bunch of expensive houses on the beach. I have no idea what he was thinking about.giant jesus ensenda

Baja: Getting Ready

November 6th, 2014

This is part one of our trip to Baja.

After three plus years of wanting to sell the camper (it was way too big for our lifestyle), we finally put our backs into it and got it done. Yeehaw!

The camper's final days.

 

With that (4 hours) behind us, we were free to move about the country again. I knew that our friends were heading down to Baja California, Mexico in just under two weeks, so we decided to crash their caravan. That’s right 10 days to get everything in order and drive from Florida to San Diego. Go!

We had just spent the last few months getting the van expedition ready (huge thanks to Shawn and my folks) so the only vehicle related prep we had to do was get Mexican auto insurance. That part was so easy. We signed up over the internet and printed the paper work out at a truck stop in route. It cost about $500 for 6mo. There are also plans for half that amount. We weren’t going to the mainland, so importation paperwork wasn’t necessary.

Ready to go!

 

It took us about five days to make the trip from across the country. Once there, we proceed to get our ducks in a row for our journey south into Baja.

This being my first time camping in another country (Canada doesn’t count), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything the media feeds us about Mexico sure puts the place in a bad light. So in a moment of paranoia, I opened a travel account with my bank. I considered it a disposable account that I could move small amounts of cash into as needed. They gave me an on the spot, temporary debit card. My bank offers these accounts without minimum balances or fees for up to 90 days. There are no fees or penalties to close it.

I got my bills set up on auto pay so that things would churn along without me. I wish that I had thought to put some of my accounts on hold. It would have saved me $100s.There’s no reason to pay for services I’m not using.

We have a lot of things that we didn’t feel needed to come south with us, so we rented storage bay near the border to store it until our stateside return. It’s $45/mo and the first month was free.

To be on the safe side, I got the required health certificate for the dogs. You are supposed to have one dated no earlier than 10 days before your border crossing. In order to get one, all you need is proof of current rabies vaccination and a healthy dog… oh and cash  I got our certs at the animal clinic in El Centro. They charged around $75 for Snowden’s booster shot and health certificates for both dogs. Much better than the $100 per dog the other vets were quoting.

The rest of our stateside time was spent shopping to fill up all of the space we made, by putting things in storage, with food and toiletpaper. I guess I just subconsciously assumed that, since I’d never seen TP in any of the Mexican bathrooms I’d been in, the whole country must be devoid of it. Oh and I bought tortillas… really?!? Haha I’m not quite sure what I was thinking.

 

Van Rebuilding

January 23rd, 2014

Thanks to the forethought of family, we are able to rebuild the van while still on the east coast. And it is none too soon. The body was starting to show some rust from the months we spent camping on the Texas coast. And, after living with our previous design for just over a year, we are ready for improvements.

On the inside, we pulled out all of our furniture, ripped out the plastic, took up the rubber, and removed floor padding to expose all of the metal. All surfaces received a good cleaning. Then, all flecks of rust and bad paint were removed. A good spray of primer was followed by glossy white rustolium. The inside of the van was a beautiful white palette.

It was time to consider the insulation. For the floor, we tossed the old compressed, and probably original carpet padding that was under the rubber mat and replaced it with a layer of 6# carpet padding. We tripled it up in the “living area” for extra comfort. The rubber mat was in good condition, paid for and easy to clean, so it was a keeper. We layed it right back down where we found it.

The roof is done. We are still working on our walls. At this point we feel a little envy for those folks who have cargo vans with out windows. They can just slap whole sheets of insulation and wall cover up. We’ve had to think of ways to deal with the wings and the parts that make them work. We’re still trying to figure it out. We are trying to use a lot less wood this time around and that makes fabricating a lot harder. When we pulled everything out of the van, I swear the body gained three inches of clearance. A decent amount of the weight was wood furniture.

Time to cut the insulation

Right now, we have placed a layer of reflectix. We followed it up with Polystyrene. We threw canned foam into the frame holes and any gaps around the styrofoam. Lastly, we are covering that up with insulation board. All together, it was the best weight, R-value, price ratio we could find on the spot.

We Are Not Powerless.

October 14th, 2012

A week or two ago, Johnny installed the solar panel on top of the van. The 205watt panel had already proven itself to be all the power we need as long as it’s sunny at least 50% of the time.

Because our old batteries weren’t holding the charge that they once did and we wanted to house our batteries inside of the van without worrying about ventilation, we bought AGMs this time around.

We Are Still Floridians

May 20th, 2011

Highlands Hammock, FL

Highlands Hammock State Park

I posted the following in response to the comments I received on My You’ve Got Mail post. I decided to make a post out of it, in addition to the comment, as it will most likely get lost otherwise.

Wow! Seems like, if you are going to get a South Dakota address, MyDakotaAddress is the way to go. Not a negative review in the bunch. Thanks to everyone for your feedback.

After running all of the numbers, we have decided to remain Florida residents. For us, it all boils down to the points noted below. We calculated the following figures using American Home Base as our Florida address and MyDakotaAddress as the South Dakota address.

  • It turns out that our $1000ish a year auto/camper (Florida) insurance would only be reduced by about $80 a year in SD. Not the 1/2 price reduction everyone else experienced

  • Our registration would go down significantly. It is currently $185/yr in Florida. It would be $75/year in South Dakota.

  • We would have to find a new health insurance provider. Humana doesn’t do business in Madison, SD. None of the comparable plans that with providers that do service in that area were any cheaper than our current ones.

  • Our mail service, while HIGHLY recommended, would cost us $36 more per year.

  • We would have to travel to Madision, SD sometime within the next year.

So as of right now, the $230 savings are not worth the hassle nor the 1400 mile trip from our current location to Madison. If/when we do pass through South Dakota, we will most likely make the move.

Thanks again to everyone for your input. I am sure this post will be helpful to others in the future as they contemplate making the same choices.

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