Roadside Assistance, Mexican Style

Yesterday, on our way from San Juan Teotihuacan to Patzcuaro, we made a gas stop as usual. Not so much as usual, when I had finished fueling and hopped back in the AdventureMobile and tried to start her up, nothing happened.

Fortunately I’m not traveling alone and so the collective wisdom of the group, including a couple of decent shade tree mechanics, was brought to bear. After some futzing with this and that it was determined that the starter was the likely culprit.

Now if I were in the States and this happened, I would call my roadside assistance plan and spend a few minutes filling them in on the problem and my location, and then they’d go off and start calling service providers and in a few minutes, or maybe more, they’d call me back and tell me they had arranged with so-and-so to come to me and give me an estimated time which might be a couple of hours or might be many hours. And when they came they’d do a cursory check and agree that yes, the starter was likely dead. And then they’d tow me to a garage somewhere, and hopefully one that could and would actually work on a motorhome, and that day or maybe the next they’d look at it and determine that I needed a new starter, and maybe they’d have to order said starter before they could install it. So all of this could easily take a couple of days and cost a fair bit of money, even though the tow would be covered by my roadside assistance plan.

But we weren’t in the states; we were in Mexico. And I was really lucky. Firstly, I was lucky that one of the members of our caravan speaks Spanish fluently. That’s an immense help when things go awry and we need to communicate to find a solution. And secondly, I was really lucky that there was a taller mecánico (a mechanic) located just across the road from the gas station.

While I was settling up with the gas station attendant, our wagon master Michel and G Ron our Spanish speaking caravan member walked across the street and talked to the mechanic and he agreed to come over and take a look. He did say, though, that we had to move the motorhome away from the gas pumps as he wouldn’t work on electrical issues with it parked there, so we pushed her out of the way.

A few minutes later the mechanic showed up carrying a small tool bag, and through our volunteer interpreter G Ron we discussed the symptoms, he listened to the starter, and agreed that indeed that was the culprit. Then he crawled under the AdventureMobile in the dust and removed the starter, then took it back across the road to his shop to disassemble it and figure out what was wrong.

Pulling The Starter

A while later we walked over to his shop to check on the progress and he was just finishing up reassembling the starter after putting on a new solenoid and lubricating everything.

The Shop
The Taller Mecánico With My Newly Rebuilt Starter

It took the mechanic only a few minutes to reinstall the starter, and then it was time to put it to the test. I hopped behind the wheel and turned the key, and she started right up.

From beginning to end the repair took about an hour and a half. I was charged $1300 pesos for the parts and labor, which is about $65 USD. I tipped the mechanic an extra $200 pesos, so my total cost was about $75 USD. $75 and an hour and a half and I was back on the road. Awesome!

Adventures in RV Driving

One of the RV parks we stayed at is the San Juan de Lago RV Park. In order to get there you need to drive through the village of San Juan Benito Juarez, and then once you’ve reached the gate of the RV Park property you have to climb a ridiculously steep hill. I grabbed the footage from my dash-cam and put it on YouTube to share with you all. Yes, the video is rather long, but I think you’ll find it interesting. I left it in real-time except for a few spots where I sat still for a few minutes, and I cut those out.

Mexico at Random

Here are some not-so-random facts:

– I have never traveled with an RV caravan before
– I have never traveled in Mexico before, other than walking across the border to Los Algodones to visit my dentist
– I am a hardcore introvert with a fair bit of social anxiety. A classic misanthrope

These things all being true, I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like traveling in a new country with a rather large group of people I didn’t know, other than “interesting”. I was rather sure it would be interesting, and I was right.

While it’s all still new to me and fresh in my mind, I think I should write about a few random topics. These are in no particular order as I’m simply writing about things as they come into my head.

I was really concerned I wouldn’t be able to function as part of the group. I can easily be overwhelmed by social interaction. I remember attending the Xscapers Convergence in Quartzsite in January of 2018 and being so overwhelmed I had to spend 10 days alone out in the desert at Mohave National Preserve to recover. Fortunately I haven’t had that experience here. The people in the group are all friendly and easy to talk with, but not pushy. At the end of a day of sightseeing I am often really tired from the social aspect of it, but a few hours of alone time in the evening allows me to process everything and get back to normal.

I am really glad I wasn’t crossing the border by myself. I found the whole process of getting the FMM, the Forma Migratoria Múltiple, aka my “tourist card”, and the TIP, or Temporary Import Permit for the motorhome, very confusing. All of the officials at the border crossing were friendly and helpful enough, but my Spanish doesn’t go much further than “hola” and “no comprendo”, so without someone there to tell me where to go and what to do, the whole experience would have been a nightmare.

The roads haven’t been a surprise, since I had read plenty about how bad some of the roads are, about all the topes (speed bumps), that one should use the toll roads rather than the Libres, and about driving half on the shoulder. But all of that still took a bit of getting used to. The toll roads seem to have a lot of toll booths. At one of the first toll booths we went through I went to the right-most lane, and that turned out to be for Carga (Cargo, or trucks) only, and didn’t go back onto the highway. The toll collector was trying really hard to make me understand what I had done wrong, but I couldn’t understand him. Finally I realized I needed to back out of the toll, and a couple of official guys stopped traffic behind me so I could back out and move over to the proper toll lane.

Most things in Mexico are less expensive than in the US, but gas isn’t one of them. Gas runs in the area of $4 USD per gallon. You don’t pump your own gas in Mexico; there are attendants. These attendants don’t get paid a wage, they work strictly for tips. Depending on how much gas I’m buying, and thus how much of the attendant’s time I take, I tip them 20 or 30 pesos.

When you eat in a restaurant there is no pressure to leave as soon as you’re done eating, you are expected to linger and chat and sip your drinks for as long as you like. The waiter or waitress will not bring you the check until you ask for it.

There are a lot of topes (speed bumps) on the road. They come in all kinds of profiles, and some of them are absolutely insane! I’ve actually kind of gotten hung-up getting the rear wheels over them and had to back up a bit and have another go.

Umm, I’m sure there are other things I should mention, but I can’t think of them at the moment. This will do for now.

South Of The Border

A month from today, if all goes as planned, I will be crossing the border from Mission, Texas to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

I don’t remember exactly when I came up with the idea of spending part of the winter in Mexico. It was a number of months ago. At first I thought I might just go down to Baja for a couple of weeks. A lot of RVers do that, and the Mexican government makes it especially easy to do as they waive some of the paperwork requirements so long as you don’t continue farther into Mexico.

But then I decided no, I really want to get a more comprehensive overview of the country, so I decided to join a commercial caravan and see as much of Mexico as I could. The idea is to get an overview of the country, learn the practical ins and outs of traveling there, and see if there are regions or specific places I might like to return to in the future.

After some research, I settled on Caravanas De Mexico. Every other year they offer their Yucatan – All Mexico Loop which goes for 3 months and makes a circuit of the whole country, and since they are offering that loop for 2020, I signed up.

Planned route of the Yucatan – All Mexico Loop

The specific group I will be traveling with will consist of 13 rigs including the leaders. There will be 8 couples and 5 solos, for a total of 21 people. I’m very happy I won’t be the only solo, as I feared that would be awkward.

Since both RVing in Mexico and RVing with a group will be new experiences for me, I expect that I will be blogging more frequently during the trip. I am looking forward to seeing what it’s like and sharing it all with you.

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