Tuesday, March 31, 2020

OVERLANDERS . Chapter 1.

“It’s as easy as walking round, picking up $100 bills.”

“Never had much luck with get-rich-quick schemes,” replied Kevin, “what kind of a dinosaur is a megalodon anyway?”

“Big dead shark, teeth the size of your hand, biggest fish the World has ever seen.”

    Kevin should have felt safe; Arizona had no coastline. They were camped in the Sonoran desert but Rufus was a little bit sketchy and his proposition was bordering on illegal. The big problem was that funds were running low, they had under estimated the cost of touring the World in an ex-British Army 4x4 truck; they needed an income more than their online t-shirt shop and their Youtube channel could provide.

    Gabby and Kevin were nearly six months into the adventure of a lifetime. That’s if you don’t count the two years building their overland expedition truck from a 1993 Leyland Daf T244 four tonner. The chassis cab had been cheap enough but building the living area and equipping the vehicle had eaten into their savings. The cost of shipping it to North America was reasonable but driving from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Fairbanks, Alaska, and then South to the Mexican border had made a huge dent in the running money.

    The vast distances and expensive diesel fuel of Canada had been underestimated. The permanent four-wheel drive of the Leyland Daf gave horrific fuel mileage. Wild camping where ever they could had helped. They tried to avoid tourist traps and admission fees; paying out for just fuel and food but now the trip was stalled in the desert. They were at the crossroads of the trip. Central America and then South America lay ahead but the money was running out.

    The BLM [Bureau of Land Management] land around the town of Quartzsite has been a magnet for recreational vehicles for a long time. Snowbirds from Canada, nomads from all over the States flock to Quartzsite in their thousands. For little or no charge the desert becomes the winter base for motor homes, travel trailers, 5th wheelers even tents. A community practicing economical living, that suited Gabby and Kevin just fine. They may have had the only UK registered Leyland Daf in the county but they had a lot in common with their neighbours.

    Missy and Rufus had also built their own RV. A thirty year old re-purposed fire rescue truck; lime green and white with chrome. Not a 4x4 overland expedition vehicle but one big and tough truck all the same. They were from Idaho, just wintering in the South-West, their second year of working just the summer. Missy would go back to waiting tables at her family’s restaurant; Rufus would try get back to dry-walling with his brother. Rufus didn’t relish the return to hard manual labour. Selling megalodon teeth on E-bay for a hundred bucks each was something he awaited with pleasure.

    As the four travelers sat around a ring of stones, a small pallet wood fire flickered enough light to see the passing joint. Conversation was about the finer details of tooth extraction from Mexico.

    “Technically it is illegal. Yes. But they turn a blind eye; they’re more interested in whole dinosaur skeletons and ancient man-made artifacts than old shark teeth that once were on the Pacific Ocean floor.”

    “But how did these teeth end up in the Baja?”

    “San Andreas fault, earthquakes and the clash of continents. What was seabed millions of years ago is now high and dry.”

    “Who buys the damn things? Where’s the market?”

   “Kids worldwide. Awesome thing to have when you are ten years old. A sixty million year old shark tooth that is massive.”

    Gabby was reluctant to commit to the scheme but Kevin persuaded her with a few more relevant points.

    “ We have to get out of the US soon. Our B2 visas only give us six months. I know Baja California is not really on the way to Belize but I think it would be good to get some spending money together while we have the chance. We can sell on E-bay. We got Pay-pal. A little bit of poking around in the desert can’t do much harm?”

  Next morning, the four cycled into town and wandered around the endless gem and mineral stalls that are an ever present feature of Quartzsite. They found a vendor with shark teeth for sale; they bought a small megalodon chomper so they would know what they were searching for down in Mexico.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Pandemic Drive Home.

Depart Yuma Wednesday Midday-Arrive Winnipeg Sunday Midday.
____ Sitting in the desert as the World reeled from the relentless spread of Covid 19; we felt we were in a good place. The snowbirds had thinned; neighbours had left throughout the previous two weeks and we were surrounded by wide open wilderness. Our only close interaction with crowded areas was at the launderette and Fry's supermarket in the Foothills, near Yuma. A once a week, fifty mile round trip.

____ The original plan was to be back on Canadian soil by April 14; the determining factor being our health insurance. After last years tragedy; when Gilles from Montreal collapsed against the side of the truck with a stroke, health and fitness has been of elevated importance. Good coverage for over 65s is expensive for long-term visits to the US but totally essential. However, once the coronavirus situation had been designated as a "Pandemic"; all health insurance policies refused to pay for treatment. Then the Canadian government issued a "No Travel" advisory for the USA which gave the insurance companies the excuse to cancel all travel and health cover to people in the States. We were given ten days to get back to Canada.

___ The Mack had developed a few problems since the start of the trip, nothing too serious and stuff that could wait until the return to Manitoba. But coming North in the tension of a country on the verge of shut-down was stressful. The fuel pump was leaking, a drip, drip, drip at idle; the 11 litre motor marking its territory at every truckstop, rest area and car park. The diesel fuel at the front was now being complimented by a oil seal leak at the differential. The fuel level gauge in the diesel tank abruptly stopped working. One of the battery isolating solenoids gave up the ghost; so the truck now just had the one operable 12 volt battery in the front bumper. Somewhere, unknown, a parasitic draw resulted in a flat battery every morning; luckily a 3500 watt generator easily over came that problem.

___ But Macks are built tough, they get the job done. A bottle of gear oil in the rear axle every morning and a lot of concentration; we brought it home. Many Canadian snowbirds on the same roads; playing leap-frog with Manitoba plated travel trailers, 5th wheel and motorhomes all the way from Tucumcari. The final two nights were cold, drumming in the fact we had returned too early, but a strong tail-wind gave us good fuel mileage and the price of a gallon was way less than the outbound journey.

____ The border at Pembina/Emerson was the last stressful obstacle. There were plenty of warnings on the Internet that the border was closed with chaotic advice about who would be let into Canada. At the end of Interstate 29, the line-up was short and we were across with just a few questions answered. However we  did have agree to a 14 day period of isolation at home. Go home, straight home and don't stop a Tim Hortons for coffee at Morris. So, the Mack is back in same spot where it was re-purposed; the snow is still two feet  deep on the deck. The groceries are delivered and I have conditioned myself to sit and watch TV for 16 hours a day. The Mack needs a lot of TLC but with such an uncertain future, there is no time-line; just a quiet determination to get through the unforeseen darkness that has enveloped everyone's lives.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Whale Watching At Guerroro Negro, Baja California.

____ Some more of Cheryl's wonderful photographs from her Mario's Whale Watching Tour.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Mexico 2020

____ The days before Mexico were spent at Mittry Lake and at Quartzsite. Mittry Lake for the access to good easy kayaking. We parked by the boat ramp and paddled every day on the mirror smooth waters. Seeking out the hidden places as we pushed through the reed beds and corralled the cootes. A fully stocked larder lasted a week and as we passed the New Year at our lakeside campsite, We replenished the food  with a trip into Yuma and stayed another seven days; hiking in the hills that formed the edge of the desert as it came down to the fertile valley of the Colorado River.

____ The departure to Quartzsite corresponded with the need for more supplies and the need to empty the waste tanks. Seventy miles north on Highway 95 where RVs out-number cars and trucks through the Sonoran Desert. A few days before the big RV show with enough time to do laundry, buy food and settle in before the massive influx of every imaginable recreational vehicle to a small town on Interstate 10. We cycled into town everyday; taking the dirt tracks through the vast camping area on the southern edge of town known as South Posa. Busy, busy, busy with sold out food shops and gridlocked traffic in and around the Big Tent showground.

____ Two days of looking around everthing RV and a whole lot more; electric bikes seemed to be the new “must-have” for motorhomes with multiple vendors on site. I came away with a couple of roof-light covers and a couple of sore feet from all the walking. We signed up for membership of the Quartzsite library; a busy place with its free Wi-Fi and vast free-to-borrow DVD collection. It was handy to have a place to print copies of stuff from the Internet; we bought our Mexican vehicle insurance on-line and registered for our FMM, Mexican tourist visas.

____ The show lasted for a week but we shipped out after three days and headed back down Highway 95, straight through Yuma and onto St.Luis de Colorado; stopping overnight just north of the border. Not much RV traffic but plenty of locals crossing both ways as we lined-up and got through in about an hour. That left plenty of time to get down to San Felipe, restock the fridge and fruit bowl and set up  for the night at Pete’s Camp. Just the one night before five nights at Gonzaga Bay and a chance to kayak on the Sea of Cortez where early starts were a must as the wind chopped up the water later in the day.

____ High-light of the kayaking was a long paddle to Punta Final when we came across a group of grey whales. Laying on their sides with one fin waving in the air; about six whales were so close we could hear them breathing. Close enough to feel vulnerable, sitting on top of a plastic kayak. We quietly drifted away as the wind started; taking photographs that somehow turned out crap.

____ Mulege, pronounced “Mule-ah-hay,” had been the long held destination of this Winter’s roadtrip. Gaining a mystical-like presence to me as people had been asking about our plans. Some knew of it and recommended it; others had never heard of it and expressed surprise that we should go into Mexico with a thirty year-old vehicle at all. But finally we were less than one day away and on our way to Mulege. Highway 5 had just been finished being paved all the way through to Highway1, south of Gonzaga Bay. So new that the asphalt laying machine was still parked at the roadside and they hadn’t finished the white lines. A great piece of road that put to shame Highway 1, a narrow, shoulder-less black ribbon that ran through the undulating Baja Californian desert from Tijuana to Cabo San Luca.

____ After all the talk of Mulege, the town was a disappointment, nothing outstanding, nowhere to park the rig and before we knew it, we were out the other side of town. Now heading for one of the beaches on the Bahia Concepcion; we pulled up at Playa Santispac, blasted the air-horns at the gawking customers at Armando’s bar and grabbed a palapa at the water’s edge. The start of two weeks in paradise; sunshine and sheltered calm seas with a dozen yachts moored offshore among islands. Two restaurant/bars, Armando’s and Ana’s, a regular supply of fresh fruit and veg, fish and shrimp, pastries and cakes, even drinking water and propane, all brought to your vehicle by local vendors. The usual tourist tat of blankets and jewellery as well; but nobody was pushy and all very friendly. A great place, except for a couple of things; the toilets were disgusting and the beach lay at the bottom of a steep hill which was Jake-Brake alley for every Ken-Mex Dubya 9 with straight-through pipes as Mexican truck drivers played “Wake-up-a-camper” with their engine brakes.

____ Kayaking around the islands on clear, calm water as pelicans dived for fish, hiking the shore line trails or dipping into the natural hot-springs filled our days. It was a popular spot, being the easiest of the beaches to access. For some it was a long-term stay, for some just an overnight halt on the road to La Paz and the southern tip of Baja California. We contemplated moving on but couldn’t envision anything better; so we stayed until the peso count got low. It was 200 pesos a night, not exceptionally good value but that was a typical price for all the places we stayed. Mexico is not as cheap as it is made out to be. Sure, beer and groceries are cheap but expensive diesel and paying for campsites eats into your funds. Boon-docking is possible but didn’t seem practical to us in the Mack, maybe in a Jeep with a tent you could hide away every night but we went for the easy option.

____ Coming back North, we overnighted at Guerrero Negro on the Pacific coast. Number one spot in the World to watch whales. Cheryl went with Mario’s Tours and was not disappointed. At Gonzaga Bay, we came across a P-reg VW camper. Lee and Willow touring North America with Subaru power and a cat called Aimee. Great couple on a great roadtrip; check them out onhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UC19-hATcDPEGCYj92PccfgA/featured?disable_polymer=1…. Finally we rolled back into the US and set up camp, back at Imperial Dam.

680 miles, North to South and hardly touched on what is possible in Mexico.

Cow Patty. Lunch stop between San Felipe and Gonzaga Bay.

The smooth waters of Gonzaga Bay

Dawn at Gonzaga Bay.

Kayaking around the islands of Bahia de Concepcion.

On the Playa de Santispac, South of Mulege.

The yachts offshore were mostly from Canada
Lee and Willow with their VW Camper at Gonzaga Bay.

One of Cheryl's photos from Guerrero Negro.