About Us

The Pack Family Journal is a place where we gather text and images of our lives, adventures and travels. This is a very personal site, written openly and honestly. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Round Trip from Loreto to Loreto

John and Rachel Pack

Every since arriving back in Loreto from La Paz, it has been a whirlwind, from the format change and printer change of Mexico Living to general non-stop go, go, go, and between it all we've made a couple of important discoveries—the first is we needed wheels with air conditioning. It's been almost three months now that we've had our bikes to get us around and it's been fun, but as August came upon us like a warm wet blanket, these wheels were becoming less inviting. The second came when we began to address the first discovery.

The only way for us to get air-conditioned wheels was to go get our car in San Felipe. That meant one of us would have to take the bus to get it . . . you can guess which one. When we left on this journey, we decided we would just leave the car and use our bikes and local transportation to get around. Which in most cases in Baja is ideal, except in the later part of summer. So, I had to go back to San Felipe to get our car. When Rachel bought the ticket, she did so without checking the connection time and as it turned out my 18-hour bus ride from Loreto to Ensenada was to arrive at 6 a.m., with a connection to San Felipe at 6 p.m.—the only one of the day. What I didn't know was how efficient they were, when they arrive at 4 a.m.

I wasn't exactly sure where I was in relationship to Lopez Mateo and the tourist zone, so I sat around the station until the sun started to come up enough that I could look for the Pacific or the the enormous Mexican Flag near the cruise ship docks. Sure enough, I spotted the flag, about 10 blocks away, probably the only flag that can be seen from outer space.

The trip was rather uneventful, the first 18 hours were spent watching Roll Bounce, a roller skating disco movie with dubbed Spanish, circa 1979, or Like Mike 2, a basketball movie with the little rapper Bowwow. I was astonished to find that Bowwow was fluent in Spanish. The 14 hours spent in Ensenada ticked away while I walked from one end of the tourist zone to the other . . . many times. I watched the U.S. get stomped by Mexico in the Gold Cup, and did a little work at a couple of Internet cafes.

I found out that although there was only one bus going to San Felipe that day there were dozens others that same time coming and going from many destinations, so many in fact, I almost missed my bus. Fortunately, I was able to get onboard just as it was pulling out. Another uneventful ride, except that the movies were better, both were in English, which was a lot more entertaining for me. The first was a mountain climbing movie, which was shown during the drive over the mountains, and as someone with an issue with heights, I watched it with the shades pulled.
The second movie was I Am Legend with Will Smith. I was so enjoying this movie that when the bus broke down, I wasn't too concerned because we were getting close to town and I didn't want to miss the ending. Fortunately, the bus starting having problems shortly after the road construction and in only a few minutes was rolling again, albeit only about five miles an hour, but it was getting me there. The bus will stop nearly anywhere you ask, so Joyce and Richard, Rachel's parents met me at the El Dorado Pemex. It was 10:30 p.m.

We had left our car at our friends', Gene and Darcy Jensen, house tucked in their garage for safe keeping. They were not in town and the house sitter, who's name I'll leave anonymous, since I didn't ask permission to publish it, had the keys. The next morning after lots of running around and getting four tires replaced, Rachel's dad and I went to get the car; of course, the battery was dead, apparently they need to have water in them and with the advise of the house sitter we put some water in it . . . lo and behold it started. Once we got back to Richard's house we loaded up, I grabbed my "Honey Do" list and it was off to Mexicali . . . almost . . . we had to jump the car again—then it was off to Mexicali at 11 a.m. First stop, Walmart for a new battery. On a previous trip I had learned my lesson about buying batteries, when I went all the way to Walmart on the U.S. side of the border only to find the batteries were "Hecho de Mexico."

Turns out our first stop was the military checkpoint. I forgot to leave the car running and turned it off—no bueno, now it wouldn't start. Richard and I pushed it off to the side of the road, and in a couple moments one of the higher ranking soldiers came over to offer a hand. All I needed was a jump, but he insisted they could fix it and brought over their mechanic, who fiddled with this and that, cleaned the terminals with brake fluid and finally walked away after saying something I didn't understand. Moments later he was back with a Mexican man in a pickup truck, just someone they got from the checkpoint line to help. He gave us a jump and we were on our way. I tried to offer the only thing we had, money and cold beer, but he didn't want either. Instead he said we needed to go get a new battery, which I explained was our next stop, and asked if he would like us to bring him some fruit or soda on our return. Which we did.

Mexicali was as hot as any place I had ever been—118. When we got into town, I realized the the car wouldn't even idle; I had to do the brake, neutral, idle, drive, brake, etc., to keep it running. The best part was the train blocking the Walmart entrance and the bumper-to-bumper traffic. "Traveling with you is never boring," said Richard, when I reminded him that the only difference between adventure and an ordeal is attitude.

By the time we got to Walmart, I hadn't stalled the car once and was getting pretty good at driving like that, although very dangerous. All this stop and go had put us way behind. Once we got the new battery we headed over the border, got all our errands done and were back in Mexico in less than an hour.

The drive home was non-stop. We were back in San Felipe by 8 p.m., just enough time to help Rachel's mom label the new edition for all the new subscribers of the month. At 5 a.m. the next morning, while Richard and Joyce slept, I started the car—no jump needed. Seventeen and half hours, lots of potato chips, water and text messages to Rachel, I was back in Loreto with new tires, a new battery and air-conditioned wheels!

Places We've Been

Here is a map of places Rachel and I have been together.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

An Wild Trip to La Paz

John and Rachel Pack

[All Images]

BANG! From over the stereo and underneath the coach came a loud sound that we could feel under our feet; “What the hell was that?” Rachel and I both said aloud in unison. “Now what?” is actually what we were both thinking.

Because of the never present shoulder, we had to wait until we came to a place wide enough for us to pull the RV off the road and investigate the sound. Both Rachel and I got out and looked under and around, but didn’t see anything. We assumed it had to be something in one of the compartments that had fallen or rolled. We got back on the road again—only this time, no stereo.

I was driving deliberately slow, listening to the RV, the road or any sounds that were not normal. BANG! This time there was no music and I was focused on all sounds. Again Rachel and I waited until we could get over, and then got out to investigate. This time we found the problem immediately; our inside right dually had lost its tread and had managed to knock our back bumper loose as it passed beneath. “Damn it!” Rachel and I both said aloud in stereo. “Not again?” is actually what we were both thinking.

Just 24 hours earlier we had a blowout as we ascended the mountains just 20 miles south of Loreto. We hadn’t sat for more than five minutes when a Federal Highway Patrol car pulled up. Between his zero English and my Spanglish, we determined he just wanted us to move up and out of the road, so with flashing lights from his patrol car we limped forward a few hundred yards to a wide area of the shoulder and pulled off. Then, just as we were feeling the relief of having someone to help us, he drove off leaving us there on the side of the road.

I walked to the top of the ridge to see what was beyond, only to find more of the same. At that point we decided we had to get back to where we could get help, so we turned the rig around and headed back the way we came at a staggering speed of five miles an hour. After two hours of big rigs passing us on the winding two lanes descending the mountains, we arrived back at Puerto Escondido and Tripui Resort, where we had been earlier for a meeting with Alma, the manager. We were late leaving Loreto and missed our appointment; this time she was there.

The Tripui Resort is on the right side of the road leading to Puerto Escondido, a boater’s haven and part of the Escala Nautica (Nautical Ladder). We explained the situation and apologized for missing our earlier appointment. Not only did Alma understand about missing the appointment, but she allowed us to stay the night for free. From the road, the resort appeared to be a small store, stark RV park and an office. But once inside the property gates a whole new world opened up. This was more than it appeared from the outside; this place had nearly 200 individual RV sites, each unique with beautifully constructed ramadas, outdoor kitchens, sun decks and nearly every one of them had large sport fishing boats. This is a fisherman’s oasis.

The llantera (tire shop) in Loreto came and changed our blown tire for our spare and we spent a wonderful evening at their resort. We had rescheduled our meeting with Alma for 10 a.m. the next morning. Our meeting with Alma only took about 15 minutes and Tripui Resort became a new advertiser of Mexico Living.

That was yesterday. Today we had a problem with no resort and no spare. We had just passed El Cien, about six miles back and thought it was our best bet, so we headed back the direction we came for the second time in 24 hours. El Cien was once a small village alongside Baja Highway 1 and, at some point in time, it was a working village, but today it was a nearly a ghost town. The only thing there was a dead gas station with the skeleton remains of two pumps, a small cocina (kitchen) and a llantera.

The llantera was a small shack of tin and scrap lumber. A large woman and two elderly men sat out front. Thrown about were lots of used tires in various stages of wear. It was clear that one of the men owned the shop and the other was just a buddy helping out. We were able to find a tire to fit that actually had a good load rating and he sold it to us for 400 pesos. Not too bad, I figured.

Neither of their jacks could raise the RV high enough to remove the tire, so they put a log from a tree on the floor jack and propped the RV up on that. Rachel had to turn away; she just couldn’t bear to watch. He only had a single socket for his air gun that fit our lug nuts, and on the first lug nut the socket snapped in half. For the next hour we watched as these two old guys replaced our tire using long steel bars, a sledgehammer and fire—Yes, fire. For quite a while they were having difficulties getting the tire to seal off the rim and couldn’t get it inflated. Finally, he put carburetor cleaner on the side wall and inside and lit it with a match. POW! Just like that the tire was sealed.

Once again we were heading to our destination, La Paz.

When we arrived in La Paz, it was already getting late in the afternoon, due to time lost dealing with the tires. Rachel had put together a list of all the RV parks, their prices and amenities. We had books on all the RV parks, and even purchased a list online. But after another hour of driving from one empty RV park to the next, we came to find out, after talking with one of the former RV park operators, that as of March the last RV park in La Paz closed their doors for good. All of them were being turned into condos and resorts.

Ten miles north of La Paz in El Centanario, and the closet park to La Paz, was Maranatha RV Park. A very nice, very clean park with a pool, playground area, private showers and buildings that resembled a hotel surrounding a large covered patio area, big enough to hold 50 people or more. On the corner of the property, near the highway, was a coffee shop called Café Exquisite that had WiFi internet. When we arrived at the RV park, the parking lot near the patio area was packed with cars and there was some sort of meeting on the patio. A couple hours later live music began and a patio of people sang for hours. At approximately 4 a.m. it all finally got quiet.

Turns out that the park is part of a Christian camp that has large events nearly every weekend and the occasional group of school kids during the week, for overnight pool parties. The property began as a landing strip many years back when the current owners’ father would fly down on missionary work. Today it is still used for missionary work.

Fortunately, the city bus stops on the highway in front of the café and for eight pesos we were in downtown La Paz in 20 minutes. Of course, there is no drinking on the property. Not too bad considering attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.

Be sure to follow us next month as we explore more of Baja California Sur and destinations beyond . . . that is if we make it there!