Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dear Croft's Mexico

Sandy and Darrel, a couple from BC wrote to ask my advice for their first RV trip to Mexico. I sent them answers to their specific questions and also offered some unsolicited advice. After thinking about it, I decided to reprint my letter in the Blog. It might be of interest to others contemplating their first trip South Of The Border. I am sure many others will argue with some of my statements but this has been our experience with this beautiful country.

Hi Sandy and Darrel,
First of all, thanks for following our adventures. You will love Mexico and you have the perfect rig for Mexican roads and RV parks. 
Our medical insurance comes from our Desjardins Visa card company in Quebec. It is the only one we have used and are very happy with it. Norma broke her hip in Tucson several years ago and they flew us both home in a Lear Jet for repairs and then back to Tucson to pick up the motorhome. 
Vehicle insurance comes from Mexico Bob's San Xavier Mexico Insurance in Arizona. We have found them very reasonable and if you have been following the Blog, you know we have had three claims. They have paid everything. Also remember you can get a refund from ICBC for all the time you are in Mexico. Just keep all the receipts you can to prove you were out of their jurisdiction. 
As far as border crossings, we always enter Mexico at Lukeville, AZ / Sonoita, MX. This is because we visit friends in Yuma on the way down and also get glasses in Algodones, just across the border from Yuma. Lukeville is an easy crossing and is a short days drive to Edgar and Anna's Punta Vista RV Park in Santa Ana. Coming back, we have used Lukeville, Laredo, TX (Columbia Crossing) and El Paso, TX (wouldn't cross here again - Juarez is scary). The same rules apply going in either direction. Cross as early in the morning as you can and do not spend the night on the MX side near the border. The best method heading north is to spend the night about 100 KM from the border in MX, wake up early and get to the crossing before 10:00 AM or so. We have never had a problem, this is just the recommended method and that is what we do. 
Also, have several sources of cash available. We have three debit cards as well as four credit cards. We have had several cards compromised over the years while in Mexico as well as one ATM card swallowed by an ATM. None of this has cost us anything but just in case it happens again we carry lots of cards. Mexico is a cash economy so do not think you can depend on credit cards for day to day expenses. Buy pesos as soon as you cross and please do not try to use USA dollars. 
The drug violence is just that - drug violence - and does not affect RVers. Having said that, we always use common sense, stay out of drug areas and late night bars, don't drive around at night, don't flash money around.... Pretty much the same as we do at home. "Situational Awareness" as my retired US Military friend Belgique calls it. There have been more RVers murdered in Canada (2) in the last few years than in Mexico (0). Do not believe everything you see on FOX News. 
If there is anything else we can help with or explain further, just email! You also might want to join this Mexico RVing Forum.
The following is my response to a followup email:

In the USA we use T-Mobile pay as you go cell phone and in Mexico we have a Telcel pay as you go phone, both very cheap to buy and load with time but expensive if you have to use them to call Canada. Skype is our main method for calling home. Walmart in the USA sells another very cheap pay as you go cell plan. Unless you have an unlocked SIM type phone, you will have to buy phones for each country but they are cheap.  
We also bought a Telcel Internet Broadband stick for Mexico. It offers 3 GB of data for about $300 pesos a month. Coverage is excellent! We also have a Virgin Broadband stick for the USA. They are all pay as you go.  
WIFI coverage is fairly good in Mexico with most RV parks having WIFI of varying quality. Usually you have to take your computer to the office or some other designated area. There are Italian Coffee Company stores everywhere that have WIFI as well as many hotels and restaurants. We just got tired of carrying the laptop around and bought the Telcel Broadband plan. It worked everywhere. 
Be sure to buy a copy of the Travelers Guide to Mexican Camping by Mike and Terri Church. You can order it from their website or get it from Amazon.ca. This book is indispensable for Mexican RVers. It gives directions to and descriptions of every RV park in Mexico. You will not be able to find most RV parks without it. Do not go without it, you cannot buy it in Mexico (unless you run into Mike and Terri as we have three times)!  
Take lots of reading material, English books are very expensive and hard to find in MX. Take extra RV supplies (white hose, in line water filter, toilet chemicals, sewer hose) as they are not sold in MX. Be sure to have at least two 20 / 30 amp converters as 95% of RV park outlets will be the three prong household type. Be sure you can plug in. I also carry enough oil and a filter to be able to change the oil once in MX.  There are many roadside mechanicos who will do it for a few pesos if you have the parts. Multi grade oil is hard to find in MX and synthetic oil is impossible to get. Take a gallon of distilled water from the USA for your batteries. It is not available in MX.  
Plan on using your generator much more than in Canada or the US as power is not as dependable in MX. For example, in Merida every three spots share one 20 amp breaker! If a park is crowded there is a good chance voltage will be as low as 99 volts. Get a cheap meter from Canadian Tire and learn how to use it.
Mexican butter does not taste anything like ours. I can get used to it but Norma hates it and stocks up the freezer with butter in the USA. Beer and Chilean wine is reasonable in MX but if you drink scotch, take it with you. Every city of any size has a Walmart Superstore and Mega is the other large grocery outlet. There are quite a few Sam's Clubs.  
Experiment with food. Do not be afraid to eat at street taco stands. If you have not traveled much you might get a intestinal infection. It is not a big deal and will not last long. We take Imodium with us but pharmacias are very good and carry almost everything we get at home although with a Spanish name. It is recommended to get a Hepatitis A (corrected - thanks Kathe) shot before you go and we did. Mexico is not "dirty", in fact restaurants are usually spotless. Eat in the centros and squares. I love Mexican restaurants! They never rush you and you only get a bill when you ask for it, "La cuenta, por favor". You can sit at a table on the square ("jardine") for hours and watch the young people. It is a great way to spend an evening. In MX we dine out an average of once a day, maybe more. You can dine out cheaper than buying and preparing food in the RV.  
We use taxis most of the time as streets are narrow and confusing and parking is difficult in the cities. It also lets you have that second (third?) glass of wine. Cabs are very cheap but establish the charge before you get in the cab as the (very) odd one will try to overcharge. 
Like you say, our paths will likely cross. Mexico is a small country!
Croft  
Added:Another thought I should share. To be clear, we have never had a problem with crime in Mexico. One attempted (failed) camera snatching in Guadalajara and one smooth talking con artist who "needed" to "borrow" $400 pesos to pay school fees in San Miguel de Allende (successful). But that could happen anywhere.
However, our friend Les was robbed at gunpoint in his motorhome in a gas station. Les is a retired British Bobby and had the good sense to have a "dummy" wallet. It is an old wallet with two or three hundred pesos plus an expired credit card and a few old business cards in it to make it look real. He carries it on the front consul. When the bad guy stuck his gun in the window and demanded money. Les grabbed the fake wallet, threw it out the window and when the robber bent over to pick it up, drove off. This is what I am going to do from now on, carry a fake wallet. This is good advice in any country!

11 comments:

  1. All great advice, Croft. I have couple things to mention:

    A Kindle or Nook will solve the problem of English language books and will add very little weight to your rig (unlike the big stash of books I used to carry). All you need is WiFi to download new titles when you want them. The downside? You can't trade books with other travelers.

    We cross the border in Nogales, AZ. We overnight at the Walmart in Nogales (Arizona, the US side) so we can cross the border early the next morning. Take the same crossing (west of the town of Nogales, Sonora, MX) that the truckers use - big, smooth, and easy. The customs stop is at kilometer 21, I believe. The Church's book describes the crossing well. You can then drive as far as San Carlos is you so desire, hitting the beach in the evening. :)

    There is safe beach boondocking in San Carlos, on the eastern end of town (as you enter)... or at least it was safe the last time we were there, a few years ago. We also drycamped at some of the large Pemex stations, especially those with truck parking behind/beside the station. We always felt safe doing so.

    Safe travels,
    Laurie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for posting your letter on the blog. It is valuable advice for anyone contemplating RV'ing in Mexico, as we aspire to do.

    We have Mike and Terry Church's book too and it's a must have for anyone planning to venture into that most beautiful and welcoming country.

    ReplyDelete
  3. excellent advice....great read thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience
    Elaine

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just add to the comments that Laurie and Odel made regarding ebooks and getting content.

    I suggest that you download the books before you enter Mexico. I found recently that I can't get a new release from one of my authors here in Canada because the author doesn't have an agreement with a Canadian publisher, the book is available on the US website but not on the Canadian. The websites know the country you are in by the ISP you are connected to, if there isn't an agreement in-place you won't be able to get some books.

    Al (almcc)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Croft, great advice....a couple of additions are: distilled water is readily available in the supermarkets in the section where they sell irons or, even a more sure bet is any auto parts store...I buy it by the case for my all solar house. The other comment is that unless you are an IV drug user or plan to swap blood with someone, a vaccination for Hepatitis A is the way to go to avoid food borne Hepatitis...I think everyone should have one even if you never leave your hometown. Kathe

    ReplyDelete
  6. Almost forgot....RVers are welcome to boondock on my property for free...I can provide a sewer dump and shower/dishwashing water but no electrical hookups. So if you get to Chetumal and are looking for a place to stay for a while, write ahead to kathek at maricasa dot com

    Kathe

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Kathe. I have found Bardahl brand "Battery Water" in auto parts stores but only in small bottles for quite a few pesos. It is $.60 per gallon in the US.

    I always get the Hep A & B confused. We got the one that protects from fecal mater in food, not the STD one.

    We will probably see you this winter if you are back from your travels!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wonderful post Croft! With your permission I would like to make reference to it on my blog shortly.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Feel free Contessa. I am not a huge fan of "intellectual property" laws! If it is on the Internet, it is there to share.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I just want to thank our friend Kathe for extending her invitation to my readers to boondock on her property in Chetumal. She has a gorgeous spot right on the Bay! Thanks for this generous offer Kathe!

    ReplyDelete