Changes in Latitude
As we head into our third winter RV-ing (as we have come to call it) we are becoming more adventurous. This season the highlight is Mexico, and visiting with family and friends. We are staying "out west" this year!
Long and Winding Roads
1996-97 Season We have our sites on Mexico. Last year we purchased a 1986 Mustang convertible which had been towed by a fellow for many miles and was ready to go. So we have wheels!
"By the 'way" OCTOBER 1996
Alaska, Our Home
Yeah, It's a Neat Place
Since we started spending winters traveling in the fall of 1994, we have reported on interesting places and, occasionally, people we have been privileged to visit. But friends have asked us "What about Alaska? You live there and never mention it in your newsletter!" Well, hardly ever, anyway.
Alas! 'Tis true. Being so close to something for so long, it may have appeared we were taking that part of the country for granted. It is a remarkable place. Being from the Interior part of the state, Fairbanks, we wanted to share a little of that with you. Summers in Fairbanks, the Tanana River Valley, are usually wonderfully warm, and amazingly green. This comes as a surprise to many people who cling tightly to their old stereotypes of Alaska, "Land of ice and snow."
Working in the travel industry and speaking with many, many visitors to Alaska, I can assure our readers that many people from not only the US but around the world are surprised by Alaska's weather, her crops, her scenic splendor, and the services available in a place which they had previously considered geographically distant and even culturally remote.
There are a lot of people working to debunk that image. Curiously, as a tourism icon, "the frontier" image is what attracts many people to this part of the world. Our experience has been that they are delighted to find things are not as "dreadful out here" as they'd thought while watching the Discovery Channel the previous winter.
Colors in Alaska, from the flowers of summer to the leaves of autumn, are justifiably the object of amazement by visitors to Alaska. In spite of the ruggedness of the country, and inaccessibility of much of the state, people mostly love it.
Indeed, and why not? Those of you from the "Lower 48," why not come up this summer and check it out?
Speaking of "Days"
In the little community of Issaquah they have a celebration called "salmon days" where you can get "anything salmon" from smoked to grilled, and all sorts of salmon art. The event celebrates the return of the salmon to the hatchery at Issaquah. Every community should celebrate something special in its history. In Fairbanks it is Golden Days which celebrates the discovery of gold in Interior Alaska. We have also seen promotions for Rhyolite Days in a small mining town north of Reno, NV, and Sorghum Days out on the plains of the Mid-West. Near Clinton, MT, there was a celebration which hit new lows celebrating "rocky mountain oysters" which is one business's idea of commercial promotion. Notwithstanding the food product, the entire event was completely tasteless. We missed the formal celebration but took advantage of their $5 RV parking fee (never too proud). The event is called the "Testicle Festival" which is about a poor a rhyme as you can get. We came late and missed the ball.
Yellowstone: Where the Geyser!
Old Faithful is an interesting curiosity, but Yellowstone Park, arguably one of the crown jewels in the US National Park system, is so much more. There is something charming about a geyser which seems to go off almost like clockwork. It is worth every bit of effort it takes to reach the park and then find the geyser itself. Did I say "find" the geyser? Well, it is less that one hour's drive from West Yellowstone, MT. Except that this year that short stretch of road is close d, so the trip to Old Faithful was a two hour drive! Did you know there are other geysers that go off almost as predictably? Old Faithful goes off about every 55 minutes. Echinus (now there's a memorable name) Geyser, much closer to West Yellowstone, goes off about every 35-75 minutes. Steamboat Geyser can shoot water 300' in the air, and after-eruptions which can last 30-40 minutes, blasting steam for some time. Steamboat last went off in 1991 so we decided not to wait for it.
In addition, there are formidable mineral and rock formations, pools of mineral and acidic water and displays of awesome geothermal power. The Yellowstone River cuts a grand canyon and sports beautiful waterfalls. There is wildlife which boggles the mind from herds of elk and bison, to chipmunks and other rodents. It is a marvelous place.
West Yellowstone, MT, is a tourist town which you may recall from the news footage of the great fires in the park a few years ago. If you do not recall the fire, well, don't feel too bad, there is nary an official mention of those fires by the U.S. Park Service or the promoters of local communities. Lingering evidence of the fires is throughout the park, of course, although 2-3' lodgepole pines are already taking over burned out areas. One of the biggest hazards in the park today, aside from wildlife: falling trees.
Meanwhile, Grand Canyon National Park declared itself insolvent, last year, and Yellowstone is perilously close to doing the same. Federal funds are said to be low and research a nd development in the park is suffering. You may have heard about and/or seen the lines of cars crawling through the park during summer. The roads are in pretty sad shape. Luckily, at this time of year we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
West Yellowstone, the town, is mostly gas stations, gift shops and lodging. The industry there is the park, the park, and uh, oh, the park. It is snowmobile Mecca come winter; already the rental yards are filling up with the latest models and the signs are out. After three days th ere, we left ahead of the snow.
You've heard of catch & release ... and other oddities Out on the road we see a lot. Here are a few of our favorites:
The National Park Service is offering a $10,000 reward for the scoundrel or scoundrels who released lake trout into Yellowstone Lake. Meanwhile they are requiring fishermen keep and kill any and all lake trout they catch. Seems the dreaded lake trout, said to be a large predatory fish, are endangering the Yellowstone cutthroat trout upon which many other animals rely for survival.
We toured Lake Union and the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Worth the time and money. Educational too. For instance, did you know that the house in the Tom Hanks movie "Sleepless in Seattle" is a "floating home", since it has no motor. A "houseboat" has its o wn motor. (So glad we could help on that.)
The Lewis & Clark Caverns in Montana are exquisite. The guide points out that stalactites, stalagmites, and all those "growths" are harmed by the oils from human hands. "So please do not touch the formation... besides, there's a $500 fine." (And the motivation here is....?) Oh, and when they tell you to duck when going through the tighter parts of the caverns, they aren't kidding. "Ouch!"
We visited Royal Gorge in Colorado, where a tram travels more than 1000' above the Arkansas River. Our guide told us a stone dropped from the tram would take 8 seconds to reach the bottom of the gorge. "What is the velocity when it hits?" a passenger asked. Without batting an eye the guide replied, "Zero!" (Different Ouch!)
LIFE ON-LINE; LI FE ON THE ROAD
Living on the road creates interesting communication challenges which are exciting to meet and usually beat in this age of technology. Since we have few bases of operation, we rely on truck stops which are "modem friendly." To date almost no RV parks are "modem friendly" and an alarming number are somewhat rundown. They are taking time to catch up with the recent changes in technology, and just finding a pay phone is sometimes the best one can expect.
Tech note: For us, daily access to e-mail is questionable, but we do check it every 2-4 days and respond ASAP. Already e-mail has made it possible for us to meet up with old friends from Alaska.
Octogenarian Days in Seattle
The patriarch of the Deisher clan, Dr. Joe Deisher, turned 80 on 9/29. All the Deisher men were in Seattle: myself, and brothers Jon and Joe for the big day. We ordered up a mess o' sushi, organic greens, saki, chocolates, fresh fruit, and cake. Sister Tashna was stranded in Anchorage, unable to fly due to a sinus infection.
Dad stays active with his computer (collecting articles, monitoring the stock market, and writing) and still teaches a class on Fridays at the University of Washington. We gave him a cell phone and a year's service so he can stay in touch when out on the freeway.
Speaking of "Days" In the little community of Issaquah they have a celebration called "salmon days" where you can get "anything salmon" from smoked to grilled, and all sorts of salmon art. The event celebrates the return of the salmon to the hatchery at Issaquah. Every community should celebrate something special in its history. In Fairbanks it is Golden Days which celebrates the discovery of gold in Interior Alaska. We have also seen promotions for Rhyolite Days in a small mining town north of Reno, NV, and Sorghum Days out on the plains of the Mid-West. Near Clinton, MT, there was a celebration which hit new lows celebrating "rocky mountain oysters" which is one business's idea of commercial promotion. Notwithstanding the food product, the entire event was completely tasteless. We missed the formal celebration but took advantage of their $5 RV parking fee (never too proud). The event is called the "Testicle Festival" which is about a poor a rhyme as you can get. We came late and missed the ball.
"By the 'way" JANUARY 1997
South of the Border:
Heather joined us in San Diego, CA, as we head into the Baja for the Holiday. She has been studying Spanish and enjoying the classes in college so this will be a chance for all of us to experience a different culture.
Speaking of Mexico
We have no way of kn owing how easy it will be to stay in touch from Mexico. We suspect e-mail may be difficult if not impossible due to the unavailability of modem-friendly phones to the traveling public. On the other hand we are trying out the mail service from the Baja with this newsletter. This will probably be mailed between Christmas and New Year’s Days. We will be back in the States in mid-January and then reentering Mexico via Nogales, south of Tucson, later that same month.
Happy Holidays to one and all!
Visualize Whirled Peas
The Baja: December 24-Jan. 9
Preparation for travel into Mexico is quite a process. To take a motorhome fully into Mexico, and not just certain “free ports” is an involved process. Just buying insurance for Mexico requires a mountain of paperwork, including permission from the leinholder on the vehicle if there should be one.
There is a great deal to know about the customs of driving in Mexico. Fo r instance, we have been cautioned not to drive at night. It seems when people have vehicle problems in this county they put rocks on the road to signal motorists that there is a breakdown in their lane ahead. Also, they do not use flashers at night. When they move on, they seldom remove the rocks. We are told there are a hundred rules like this. Very exciting!
Our biggest challenge is to become moderately conversational in Spanish as spoken in Mexico. We admire travelers to the US who speak conversational English. So we’ll try to return the courtesy.
Changes in Latitude: Our limited experience in border towns has helped us understand Mexico a little, and helped with our negotiating skills. Marketplace culture is interesting.
You can find decorative items in the mercado! Skulls, 3 for $10US.
The open air markets - mercados - expect a certain amount of bargaining. When done good-naturedly it is a great way to meet people.
Many of the open front shops are family businesses where youngsters learn from their fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles. In one such shop we met Hiram (pron: ee-rAM, silent “H”). Hiram is a business student at a Nogales technical school (2-year college). He speaks good accented English, and has an uncanny ability to remember people on the street after seeing them just o nce. In most small shops you can walk by and say “I’ll come back later”. When Hiram sees you coming back he says “Glad to see you came back to the best prices in Nogales.” He hopes to get a degree in business and hopefully own his own shop one day.
We stopped at the Hotel Pasaje, had lunch on the second floor balcony with its wrought iron railing and distressed plaster appearance, and watched the mercado below.
A favorite restaurant in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
The ambience was Hemmingway-esque. After lunch we stopped at the front desk of the hotel and were greeted by Frank, whose father owned the business for years. Frank grew up in Nogales an d recalls that an arroyo (a wash) went right next to the hotel. The wash was replaced by a culvert - pasaje - under the downtown area. Frank speaks flawless, unaccented English, and jumps from one language, Mexican which he uses on the phone to speak with his staff of housekeepers, and food service workers, to perfect English to finish a conversation with us. The hotel is old and he is doing a great job of renovating it. It is a fine contribution to the Nogales shopping district. It still has lots of funk because of Frank’s sense of art and his efforts to maintain the style of the original hotel. There are small shops on the first floor, the restaurant and and 25-room hotel on the second floor, and a large modern bar is opening in January on the third floor.
Home Page: Discovery III on-line Well, you've heard me talk about the business I work for during the summer. It is difficult to describe in simple words what fun the work is or what is involved. So, the best way to discover it, short of coming to Fairbanks, is to check out the company Home Page on the World Wide Web. (riverboatdiscovery.com) It is, I must say, a well done website. Enjoy. And feel free to come to Fairbanks any summer for a few weeks. You'll love it.
Exploring Arizona We have been exploring Central Arizona, primarily the Verde Valley north of Phoenix and south of Flagstaff. It runs from the Cottonwood area in the south to the Sedona Mountains in the north and roughly I-17 on the east and Prescott Valley on the west. It is a temperate area which boasts four seasons rather than the two-season format - Winter and July - to which we are accustomed. The Verde Valley is rapidly being discovered, especially by disaster-weary Californians (who may sense Arizona could become a Pacific Coast state some day! And whose fault is that?). Verde Valley’s air is clean, something Phoenix cannot boast and Tucson is losing. The Verde River provides water year ‘round to the lush valley. Developers are building homes as the area becomes a retirement magnet. Mostly we enjoy the warmer temperatures and the scenic vistas. The desert is such a change from Alaska. Not only is it warmer, but stopping on a hiking trail and sitting for a while does not guarantee a wet behind and a chill. It is a fascinating change of terrain and lifestyle.
"By the 'way"
Baja and the Transpeninsular Highway -- The Alcan, With a Twist We spent about a week in Cabo San Lucas we updated our SCUBA certifications and Heather completed her certification begun in Alaska. We all enjoyed diving off "The Last Rock of the Baja" where there were sealions, seal, pelicans, and great tropical fish.
It is roughly 1200 highway miles from San Diego to San Jose de Cabo at the tip of the the Baja California, Mexico. This mileage includes getting lost in Tijuana (do not even ask) and other communities where it is not always easy to negotiate the exits and corners with an RV/car combination roughly 55 feet in length. Others may be able to make the trip in fewer miles. So might we, next time! But, as the man say, "If you wanted a vacation without excitement, the suburbs of Seattle would be fine, the Baja is very much not the burbs."
OK. Cabo (Cape) San Lucas and San Jose de Cabo were the destination. But the trip was really about "the trip" not the "Tip". For the first half day into the Baja the highway is fairly good divided four lane. The balance is two lane, mostly well-paved (smooth side of the pavement UP, most of the time). The lanes are narrower that those found in the U. S. and have no (nada, none, zero) shoulders. This translates into "no room for error, gringo!"
The scenery is spectacular and twists from sea-level playas (beaches) and farm lands which rival the Imperial Valley of southern California, USA, to steep, winding, cut-into-the-mountainside roads which would cost you precious dinero to enjoy as a ride in any amusement park.
The people are marvelous, helpful, seemingly aware of the visitor in distress even before we were! For instance, they helped us find the freeway when lost in Tijuana (TEE-wanna). OK. It is not rocket science figuring out that a family in a rig like ours did not want to be in a traffic jam with a Pepsi delivery truck, fire truck, taxi, and assorted of old cars in a TEE-wanna neighborhood shopping district.
That problem solved, we headed south and enjoyed the increasing beauty of the Pacific on our right and the improving country side on our left as we got further and further from the influence of the US-Mexican border.
By early noon we'd been winding through the mountains for a couple of hours when we stopped to evaluate an RV park for the night and met up with delightful couple (Dave and Linda) from Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, towing a boat, and also headed for Cabo, as it is called. So we caravanned to an RV park, arriving at dusk on Christmas Eve. For $5 we were allowed to park for the night and enjoy a free holiday dinner the next day. The beaches as Cielito (little heaven) Lindo (lovely) were vast dunes; the weath er was perfect for strolling and beachcombing.
The Christmas party was lots of fun, with seven turkeys being removed from a cooking pit where they'd baked for 24 hours! There was a Mariachi Band, and free cervesa (beer).
The next day it was on to another RV park, this one with full services, after buying about $600 worth of fuel. This RV park also had full hook up so we could service our rig and prepare for the next coupe of days. (Oh, did I mention that a US dollar is worth about 7-8 Mexican dollars? So, that's $600 Mexican.)
Those Resort Towns...
In major resort towns like Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta there are all those "international" bistros like "Planet Hollywood" and "Hard Rock Cafe" where you can eat expensive hamburgers and see other people's clothing framed and hanging on the wall. There are also the traditional fast food restaurants. After a few weeks as strangers in a strange land, a Subway Sandwich and Dairy Queen ice cream was kind of refreshing. Mostly the local food, especially seafood, was wonderful and reasonably priced.
Geography, Vocabulary, and words that end in "Y" The Baja California is divided into two frontier states in the Mexican Union. The north is abbreviated BC; the southern portion is abbreviated BCS (the "S" is for Sur, or "south".)
Onward, to the Mainland!
We entered the State of Sonora, Mexico, through the border town of Nogales and thence as far south as Manzanillo. It was, to be brief, a remarkable journey. I am amazed at this huge country with almost 100 million inhabitants and a profound effect on our country about which we as US citizens seemingly know so little - barely acknowledging we share this continent with a people so culturally diverse, so industrious, so capable, and so nice. (Sad commentary: The publishing software we use included NO map of Mexico! We came up with our own.)
Parking at Los Mochis, we took a train to the Copper Canyon. Los Barancas de Cobre are part of a canyon system six times the size of the Grand Canyon. The Tarahumara Indians live in the tropical depths of these c anyons and are still quite primitive by our standards. This is a remote region of Mexico about halfway between Los Mochis on the west coast, and Chihuahua in the interior. Wild country! Los Mochis's port has the lyrical name of Topolabampo. The RV park is at the Hotel Colima across from a hill which features a lovely statue, and a veritable orchard of communications antennae -- prompting us to name that hill Our Lady of the Perpetual Microwave (Nostros Senora de las Microndontas Perpetual).
The Natives who live in the canyon receive poor treatment by the Mexicans - makes our treatment of some Native American people seem generous! This is a remote region of Mexico about halfway between Los Mochis on the west coast, and Chihuahua in the interior. Wild country! The slow moving passenger train was guarded by security men carrying assault rifles. Apparently bandits have been known to jump onto the slow moving train and relieve passengers of their goods. Nothing first on that.
Our route went from Nogales to San Carlos (through Hermasillo, Capital of Sonora), to Los Mochis, San Blas, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Manzanillo, Guadalajara, then back to Mazatlán, and return. There were brief stops along the way and many side trips. With the exception of San Blas (small, remote, jungle-with-biting-flies), and Manzanillo (industrial port-city-with-no-RV-parks) we stayed about a week in each place. A genuine adventure.
By the way, many people relate horror stories about Mexico (trying to discourage or warn us I suppose). We have yet to hear one first hand where someone was truly victimized. Most of what you hear are isolated incidents repeated and enlarged upon by wide-eyed story-tellers, or in the rare (as in, we've-never-heard-one) first hand account, if you look into it the rare first hand, the teller was most likely somewhere doing something they should not have been doing. Such things happen as frequently in Denver and New Orleans (to name two) than they do to the thoughtful traveler in Mexico.
Got stopped for speeding in San Carlos. It was a road we'd driven many times, over the speed limit, like everyone else, but not "too fast for conditions". The fine was $73 Mexican (about $10 US). The nice policia took my driver's license and said I could get it back by paying the fine at the police station. "Gee!" I asked, with a stroke of originality, "Can't I pay it here?" "Si," says the nice officer, "but no copy of ticket." The price was $100, Mexican, about $14 US. Hope he had a very nice outing with his family, at my expense. I, on the other hand, took care of the problem, got my license back, and, of course the nice traffic officer took part of the money to the police station (yeah! Right!). Mexicans, it has been said, don't pay their police well since the law-abiding citizens don't feel they should pay for a service which mostly involves "bad guys". So it is. Of course, it felt good to contribute to the Policemen's Benevolent Fund!
Fabulous Fakes ...
It is well known that in Mexico you can buy all sorts of "name brand" fakes. Our favorite was a beautiful "Rolex" watch for about $80 US. It was flawless -- except, on the back where it said "Swiss - Mide." So close, and yet...
There’s funny Stuff
Traveling during the "Holidays" in Mexico we, the illiterate, at least learn the highway signs, and holiday greetings. Like all newcomers to foreign languages it is easy to make mistakes which are, at least to us, pretty darn funny. Feliz aĖo nuevo means, roughly, Happy New Year. The word for bathroom is "baĖos" so with a slight slip of the lip it is possible to mean well and say "Feliz baĖos nuevo" or, Happy new bathroom.
Speechless in Seattle
Indeed, we have tried to do about four newsletters a year to share our adventure, and learn more about this continent. This year we'll do only three letters - falling short. One reason is the remoteness of Mexico where we have spent much of this season.
But perhaps more profound than the physical difficulty of communication (no on-line, mail is slow, phone is expensive), is that Mexico left us almost speechless. Having had the chance to visit this neighbor I was tempted to quit writing because to attempt to write about a country based on just 40 days of travel, borders on the absurd. Almost enough to make one shut up!
Mexico is a huge country and impacts the United States of America more than any other country in the world. Most of that impact could be positive. Yes, there are border problems, and tho se problems have created stereotypes which make many Americans cautious regarding our Hispanic neighbors. BUT, more Mexicans in the heartland of Mexico do more, better, with less, than most Americans dream of. They like Americans, share what they have and are friendly to a fault. We thought perhaps a country with so many people, poor by US standards, might resent people like us (hundreds of RVers exploring Mexico, most from northern US and the Canadian Provinces). Nope.
They are creative and industrious people who work harder than many of us for a fraction of the return.
Mexican motorists are generally friendlier and more considerate on the highways of Mexico (the best of which are toll roads) than many on the US Interstate system. Excellent and thoughtful motorists.
Until next year, don't be shy; letters and e-mail are always welcome. Have a good summer.
Other RV Log Pages
RV LOG ONE, winter 1994-95
RV LOG TWO, winter 1995-96
RV LOG THREE, winter 1996-97
RV LOG FOUR, winter 1997-98
RV LOG FIVE, winter 1998-1999
RV LOG SIX, winter 1999-2000
RV LOG SEVEN, winter 2000-01