The next day I was up early and eager to take off for Nogales, Arizona. I had noticed a new Walmart a few blocks away as I approached the RV park, so a quick backtrack was in order. There is a nice new Walmart in Nogales, but that store is always loaded with Mexican nationals. They cross the border from Nogales to shop at the US Walmart. I guess the prices are better, but there are sure long lines of Christmas shoppers around Thanksgiving. I’d learned my lesson a few years back. At 6:00am, the Kingman Walmart was deserted.
Before I pulled away from Kingman I called Pat.
Pat was the best friend of my next door neighbor, Mona. I had talked to Mona at length before I left. She watches my house and waters my plants. Mona mentioned my upcoming trip to Pat in Ohio and Pat got all excited about going to the orphanage construction site. She was retired, and an experienced home builder and had a lot of knowledge about miscellaneous repairs. She could think of no better way to spend some time than in Mexico working on the new housing for the children. In a few days, we were set. Pat was driving to Phoenix and staying with a friend. We arranged a meeting point in the northern part of the city near a Lowes store that had a large parking lot. That was OK with me, I had no desire to get lost, then explore the city of Phoenix while towing an RV.
I found the freeway exit and the Lowes store with no problem and Pat and her friend Sandy were waiting as we had planned. We loaded Pat’s suitcases in the trailer and we settled down to get to know each other. The traffic was amazing, the lightest I’ve ever seen in Phoenix. We breezed through.
She looked gruff, but it turned out she had a heart of gold. We became immediate friends and we had 4 hours of driving time for Nogales. I was in a bit of a hurry as I wanted to purchase Mexican auto insurance on that day, Saturday. I wasn’t sure if any agencies would be open on Sunday and I didn’t want to hang around Nogales for an extra day. Nogales isn’t exactly what I would call a tourist destination. The only thing really to do is walk across the boarder and shop in Nogales, Sonora. We’d have plenty of time to shop in Navajoa, Sonora and I was eager to be on my way.
No luck. We arrived in Nogales at 2:30pm and the office was closed. Wait, good news. The door said they would be open at 7:30am on Sunday. I wasn’t going into Mexico on a Saturday afternoon in any case. The following morning was fine for insurance. We found a local kiosk and got some Mexican pesos for Pat. I always use a charge card (Capital One is by far the best deal for foreign countries) and I would get pesos later in Hermosillo, Sonora. The fueling stations take US dollars, but the exchange rate isn’t the greatest. Still, it was cheaper to wait and get money later.
Next morning, Sunday, found us at San Xavier insurance at 7:30am. Someone else had the same idea as there were already two people in front of us. No problem, we were out by eight and across the border. I’m used to the paperwork involved to temporarily import a pickup and RV, and the customs people hardly glanced at us.
Mex15 is four lanes from Nogales to Mazatlan. The southbound lanes are older and narrower than the northbound lanes. I can maintain around 60 mph for the most part. The road is rough, from lack of maintenance and the extremely hot summertime weather. Certainly passable, not great. But the main concern is the road shoulder, or lack of road shoulder. Most of the highway is 21 feet wide. In the US that would be one lane, but in Mexico that is two lanes. At lane edge there is a white, painted fog line. Two inches outside of the line the road surface ends, with a vertical drop of anywhere from 3-12 inches! To allow a trailer tire to fall off would be at the very best undesirable. In many places it would be deadly. I take my half out of the middle when there is no traffic. But as traffic approaches from behind, I slow from 65mph to 45 mph and watch my passenger side mirror closely. The mirror is tilted down to where I can clearly see the passenger side trailer tire. I keep that tire on the inside edge of that fog line while the traffic passes. This requires intense concentration, there is little room for error.
I have tremendous respect for the Mexican truck drivers. To hold that fine of edge driving 12 hours a day is almost beyond my comprehension. There are many fatalities. There is an average of about one truck off a night every 50 miles or so.
The RV drivers have few problems. I’ve never seen an RV off the road. We are all well aware of what the road is like and we prepare ourselves. Retired people tend to be cautious and drive very carefully and frequently, very slowly. Occasionally I lead first timers that I’ve met in Nogales across the border and to Guaymas. They get a lecture before we cross.
On my first trip to Mexico, I was pretty stressed after traveling from Nogales to Kino Bay. I had no one to help with the crossing and everything was new to me while driving. The last 5 miles into Kino was eroded and scary. The trailer was too wide for the lane and I had to come to a stop to let oncoming traffic pass in some areas. At least by this latest trip I was ready.
By now you’ve noticed that I’m not posting pictures on this blog entry (maybe a few a little later, I’ll have to search through my old albums and do some scanning). Regrettably, I have few photos of the trip from Nogales to Guaymas. There are several reasons for this. There really isn’t a lot to see that can’t be seen and photographed elsewhere. There are few pullovers to large enough and smooth enough to safely park an RV. But, most importantly, I don’t hang around. Highway Mex15 from Nogales to Guaymas is one of the main corridors for drugs running into the US. In my opinion, it is best to move through here as quickly as possible, at least as far as Hermosillo. The only places I will stop are large Pemex fuel stations and toll booths, where there are plenty of people and armed guards. The remainder of the time is windshield time. I’m always uncomfortable near the border towns and I’m glad to be away from them. Walking through downtown Tijauna, or Algodones, or Nogales, is safe enough. There are cops everywhere, watching out for the tourists. But on the open road…
There is a huge army checkpoint at Benjamin Hill south of Santa Ana. They inspect all northbound trucks for drugs. Sometimes the trucks can be backed up for 2 miles. The inspectors have drug dogs, fork lifts, sub machine guns, and an attitude. They will completely unload a semi if there is any suspicion of contraband. I’ve personally seen drivers in the process of being arrested here. They are heading for a place in Mexico I never want to visit. Cars and RVs are usually allowed to pass unmolested.
This may seem pretty scary traveling to readers, but not-to-worry. The drug people (indeed all shady people) seem to leave the RVers and tourists pretty much alone unless you are just plain foolish or unlucky. There is little money in it and lots of down side. The Mexican law enforcement is quick and brutal towards any Mexican foolish enough to harm an American or Canadian tourist and then get caught. I have personal knowledge of one such instance which resulted in Mex2 suddenly turning completely safe (and it still is) between Santa Ana and Sonoita. Therefore, I travel confidently in Mexico with my RV and some reasonable limitations.
We arrived at Guaymas in mid afternoon and I headed for my favorite stopping point, the Playa de Cortez resort. It is an old building that has been restored and lavishly decorated. It is beautiful and exclusive, only the well heeled can afford it. But, they have a nice RV park on the grounds. I had to drop the RV and head for town to find an ATM. We then ate dinner at the excellent restaurant and sat around to talk with our neighbors. Two of our neighbors had been parked near us at Nogales. we exchanged stories and I watched as two of their cats came out of the trailer and wandered around the parking area. The cats stayed close, they were used to this. I was fascinated. Time for a good night’s sleep and get ready for the drive to the orphanage.
Ken’s Traveler’s tip to Mexico— (I will post these every day, a little bit of wisdom that will make things just a little easier for the Mexico traveler. While I’m not an expert, I’ve learned a lot so…)
Change-Cambio. ATM’s pay off in 200 ($18.00 USD) peso notes or sometimes the worst, the dreaded 500 ($46.00 USD) peso note. The average business simply does not have enough cash flow to be able to have enough money in the till to change either of these large bills. Banks have long lines and they are often short on small bills and the tellers guard them (they will gladly give you the big bills, though). Walmart, Home Depot, etc. usually have small bills, but again long lines and/or uncooperative and unsympathetic cashiers. Forget about the street vendors and small shops. The only quick, reliable source I’ve found was the attendants at the Pemex fueling stations. They always get paid in cash and that means they always have a big wad of small bills in their pockets. Be sure to tip them ( I think a buck or 10 pesos is fair) for their trouble. Cambio, por favor?