The universe came into alignment for us and several projects and life goals seemed possible. As you read in the first post we weighed all the options and decided to purchase a Ford Transit, Van Wilder. Winter is in full swing in Colorado and Paige mentioned getting away somewhere warm. Like all outdoor maniacs we are always discussing 'where to go next' and one area we have both wanted to go is Potrero Chico, Mexico. Neither of us is a lie on the beach person so clipping bolts in Mexico with the possibility of some close beaches fit the bill. The next big step was Paige and I getting married and showing everyone what we had already told each other, we would never find a more perfect fit and we will stay together forever.
This next part may make you sick, guys, but our first date (thank you Match.com) never ended and we both 'knew' the moment we saw each other. Over a year later and this traveling nomad is now living in life and not moving through it. We had talked about getting married for a bit and friends were asking 'when' and starting to give us ideas on how we should celebrate our love and nuptial. Well it is our love and nuptials, and this would not be the first time for either of us. Third time better be the charm. We had both seen the demise of our past marriages after expensive weddings and did not see the need for any of it. We even questioned whether we should get married but the kids really wanted us to get married and would ask if would ever break up. In their view we were only dating and living together, we were not committed to each other in their minds. Then there are the pragmatic reasons of life such as health insurance, property transfer in the unfortunate death of one of us and recognition as a real couple. So we did it for us and on the way to the climbing gym it was decided we would get married after our gym session.
Colorado is one of a few states where you can marry yourselves without any official or witnesses. So we headed down the courthouse with Charlotte and we made it official. No fanfare or other BS, just us. Celebrating after buying our rings that night.
The dates are set with the kids father and now our inaugural trip in Van Wilder will be our honeymoon. Kris at Alpinemechanisms suggested spending time in the van before we start the conversion and get a feel for how we want it laid out. So we did a temporary van conversion; bed (inflatable queen mattress), refrigerator (RTIC cooler), water system (8 gal portable water cube), electrical (small duracel inverter) and kitchen (propane stove). It was suggested to up to travel in the van before starting the conversion and see how we would like to layout the interior. Traveling for 2 weeks throug Mexico for some climbing and beaching in Mexico would be the perfect moment. Thankfully one of the first upgrades we did to Van Wilder was installing some Nokian Hakkapeliitta LT2
studded tires as reccommeded by another couple converting their transit at faroutride
.com and reading the thread
on FordTransitUSAforum about winter traction in these vans. The thread made the limited slip differential a must have for where we live and how we plan on using the van.
A few things to keep in mind before driving your vehicle into Mexico. Your regular auto insurance will probably not cover your vehicle in Mexico so you will have to purchase it online, we used Baja Bound
and it cost us about $300. The next step in obtaining a visa and vehicle permit. You are not on a plane and no one will hand you your paperwork so you have to stop at immigrations after you cross the border for your visa and temporary vehicle import permit if you are traveling outside the Mexico Free Zone, which we were. The temporary import permit is graduated according to the year of manufacture of your vehicle and is refundable upon your exit of Mexico. Just make sure the border point your are crossing offers temporary vehicle permits and the hours of operation. We had it down getting in, getting out was a different story.
Crossing into Mexico was easy and we received only a cursory glance inside. The temperatures warmed and we left the snow behind. Welcome to sunny Mexico!
The further we drove the closer the mountains came to us. We were shocked when we drove through Monterrey and all the factories there. When you see the Made In Mexico symbol on a product it either came through Monterrey or was made there. Just past Monterrey you come to Hidalgo and the cliffs of Potrero rise above the fray.
We toyed with climbing but we had been driving for over 18 hours and wanted to just find a place to camp and relax for a moment. We went up the valley a bit more and found a dry creek bed with a level spot to make ours. The next day we woke to a cold morning and misting rain so we made coffee and looked at our weather apps. The sun we saw before leaving turned into several days of cold and rain, not the best weather for climbing on limestone. This was our first night sleeping in the van and we loved it. The simplicity of vanlife was apparent right away. Not having to remove most of our gear and then set up the truck and then put it all back together to leave was simple and fast.
The decision was made to head towards the Sea of Cortez and Mazatlañ and to take a scenic route through the Cumbres de Monterrey (Summits of Monterrey) National Park
. Unfortunately the clouds and rain followed us into the park and we could only glimpse the many waterfalls and vistas. We found a campground with cabañas and campsites, all empty. We paid our fee and the wife of the groundskeeper sold us fresh eggs and tortillas for breakfast in the morning. We thought the snow was behind us but we were over 3k feet and woke to snow and rain. We really didn't plan for too much cold weather on this trip so it was a bit chilly in the van and we had to start it a couple of times for some heat. We are definitively looking forward to getting the Webasto heater installed and insulating the van.
On the way out we passed through several mountain villages with cabañas for rent with soaring limestone faces all around. A quick search showed us there is some climbing here but the weather kept us moving. It is a place we would like to return to and explore further. With all the food stands and rentals this area must be very popular to visit but the weather kept the crowds to none and open food stands at the same status of the crowds.
Camping and RV parks are limited in Mazatlañ and we found one on a blog that was located on the beach, trailer park Las Van Wilder parked amongst the big boys at the park. We really brought class to place. RV campgrounds are a great place to people watch.
We officially toasted our marriage with Winefication from the Bruery, not exactly a light beach beer but a special one to enjoy. We were up in the air with our plans and after this beer and a couple other beverages it was decided to stay another night. !
We then ended up being tourists and went parasailing and then taking a Hobie sail around a small island off the beach. The next thing I knew the sun was going down and I didn't apply any sunscreen to my milky Colorado body so I topped off my tourist day looking like a lobster on one side. Oh yeah, we also bought Burkenstocks before leaving. I wish I would have bought some sooner! Next up will be matching Hawaiian shirts.. Never
We chatted with the 'experienced' RV people around us about which way to head next, North or South. Unfortunately they never stopped anywhere North of Mazatlañ in the 20-30 years they have driven down from the United States and Canada. Even the resort staff didn't really recommend anything worthwhile North so South it was. It didn't take long to see the change from the drier northern climate to the lush jungle foliage of the south.
We found a RV park/hotel (Hotel Paraiso Miramar) on a web search and as we drove down a stone cobbled road we were a little suspect. There were several run down houses and lots filled with trash but we felt hopeful when we parked at a locked gate. Just past the gate we could see the water and outdoor seating for the restaurant overlooking the water. The grounds are incredible and contained pools, large palapa with tables, beach and several building with rooms for rent. We ran across a expat from California and were told of the violent history of this property. Apparently it was built by Germans who exploited the locals in the mines, to the point of revolt. All the male Germans were hung in the large tree overlooking the water, with the females and children allowed to flee. It then sat dormant until a local Governor bought the property and then hung himself from the same tree. The story continues with families battling in court to this day..
The one detraction of heading South was increasing temperatures, humidity and the addition of bugs. Since we haven't modified Van Wilder with windows or ventilation we opted for a room with a/c. The tree of death and the grounds:
We continued South and found the small beach village we were hoping to find when we rolled into Chacala. We parked Van Wilder outside a beachside restaurant and that I where she stayed for the day while we sat on the beach and pondered the rest of our lives. Looking out at the anchored sailboats we discussed sailing the world some day, living out of the van for years and riding motorcycles from the Arctic Circle to the tip of South America. Along with many other adventures and explorations.
There is some camping along the beach here but the heat and bugs made us decide to get a room this night also. During this whole trip these would be the only nights we didn't spend in Van Wilder. Accommodations in this area of Mexico are very affordable and didn't break the bank and also have a pretty nice view. The campground is in the palm trees you see across the water.
Well according to our weather app Portrero's weather has improved and it was time for some climbing. We took for granted the availability of ATM machines and money exchanges. Chacala did not have any of these and the closest one was almost to Sayulita but that was not on our way back and we did not have enough pesos for the toll road or fuel (not all the gas stations take credit cards). It took us several hours and stopping at a few different towns before we finally found a ATM we could get money out. No all the bank ATM's worked with our cards either. The old adage of if you see fuel get it also applies to money when traveling in the smaller town areas of Mexico. The piggy bank refilled and we set our route back to Potrero on the toll road and the long drive across Mexico. The toll road is expensive to drive but it is feat of engineering with several bridges and tunnels. The toll road also saves hours in travel but takes you away from towns. We thought about taking the free road and going through Aguascalientes but we were itching to get some climbing in.
And some pics of the limestone walls. We used the Rakkup app for the climbing guide. Nice to have updated route information but there is something about a actual book we missed while climbing the cliffs. Our leading heads were not altogether there and barely bumped the 5.10 grade but we still found some stellar climbing. Unfortunately we never conquered a mutilpitch on this trip so we will have to return.
Nice when they label the climbs
The trails aroud the routes are littered with cactus. Note to self, don't grab the cactus when you fall. I am still pulling spines out of my hand.
We also ran out of coffee and had to resort to instant and then we bought some ground coffee at the grocery store. The instant was better. The cream is a bit different also. Sometimes you have to really suffer when traveling.
We didn't starve or go thirsty!
After our last climb we bought some bloodied from the drink trailer and shared a final beer before heading out.
Before leaving we decided to go through a different border and we thought it was open 24 hours for immigration and vehicle permit refunds. All the border crossings are toll roads and the people on either side of the border are toll collectors with limited knowledge of procedures and our limited Spanish made it more difficult. In order to get our vehicle permit fee we would have to drive over a hour back and then return. The toll collector told us we could just keep going and then visit a consulate in the US to get the fee back and return our immigration papers so we thought we were golden. Just head home and go to the consulate in Denver. Not so much. The US border guard told us we would have to go to a open Mexican border immigration and vehicle permit office for a refund and to turn in our paperwork if we wanted our money back, and more importantly, be able to travel to Mexico again. We thought about getting a hotel room and then returning at this border at 8am when it opened but then looked at maps and websites and found a border a couple hours to the North that opened at 6 am with the services we needed. We drove to just outside the border we needed and found a deadend street to nap for a few hours.
Well, back to Mexico again. It took a bit to find the building for our vehiccle permit refund and a bit back and forth. You only have to show paperwork to get the permit and sticker but to get a refund they take pictures of the VIN and need to see the vehicle. Then we had to locate the immigration office and we followed a toll worker through several buildings as he attempted to locate the office. All of our paperwork was finally taken care of and we were free to return to the US again. All our border crossings were painless and quick. We thought the van would get torn apart and inspected but we only received a cursory glance. All the doors would be opened and the cooler looked in but we didn't spend hours having our bags inspected and everything taking out.
The drive home was uneventful and boring. Western Texas and the New Mexico border are scrubby and full of oilfields. Also only two lane highways with a lot of semi truck traffic that makes for slow going. If we would do it again we would route ourselves around these areas and take the interstate.
Once home we thought about the trip and our experience. Friends and others asked about our safety or if we felt threatened at all. We did not but our trip was shortly after the inauguration of President Trump and since then protests have happened at the border with Mexico. It also came back to us about our talks with Canadian travelers telling us about ill feeling towards Americans based on the election and the policies being put into place. We drove across Mexico twice throughout the night twice and never had a issue but we could see how the views of the world towards Americans could be changing.
It was a great trip and our purchase of Van Wilder was reinforced, along with our love.