Archive for November, 2012

Butterfly’s, Mariachi and Ninja camping !

Posted: November 27, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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Now that we had a catalytic replaced on the Rover, it was running super strong and even sounded better. Scott had some other mods done as well as the cat replaced and now the Rover had a nice growl to go with it’s awesome looks. “Time to get back on the road!” we high fived each other and continue our trek across the country of Mexico from sea to shining sea. After having a good breakfast, packing it all up, we navigated through the dense Guadalajara traffic one last time and found our way to the toll road to Mexico City.

Off with the old and on with the new.

Out on the toll road now, we could tell the Rover was running right. From Guadalajara to Mexico City is 343 miles as the crow flies and our GPS told us if we stayed the toll route we could make it in 5 hours. However being the expedition team that we are, we got off the toll road after a couple of hours and took the side roads, to see more of the real Mexico and good thing we did.

Once we exited the toll road we started to see signs for Morelia. I had read Morelia is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico, with a consistent colonial-style throughout. It is not really on the well-trodden path of the leisure tourists and so you can walk around in comfort without fear of the Bermuda shorts crowd, and it is a registered UNESCO World Heritage site. Also, Morelia is an excellent gateway city for cultural and outdoor adventures throughout the state of Michoacan, and Michoacan is home to millions of monarch butterflies. The Monarch descend on the forests of Michoacan each November and leave for their northward migration around March. And that meant unfortunately we would not be seeing any Butterfly’s.

Notice anything different about the Michoacan license Plate? Butterfly’s!

Not to worry though, as there was a lot more to do and see.

As we arrived in early afternoon, we had ample time to drive around Morelia and see all of its wonderful sites. I also couldn’t help but notice the many Mariachi groups singing on every corner. It was magical. I don’t think there was anything special going on, that’s just the kinda town Morelia is I would soon discover. Little did I know that Morelia is the home of the  National Festival of Mariachi, which  is held annually. We where totally awed as we drove through the historic district and on just about every corner there was a Mariachi group in full swing. I’ve never totally wrapped my brain around those images in my head that this is really happening, it was like being in the best Mexico movie ever. As the evening wore on we knew we needed to find a place to camp as we did not want to drive into Mexico city at night. After checking out several places that were either closed or no longer in business we ended up in the KFC parking lot right in town. Guess where we slept?

You’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out.

Stranded in Guadalajara! Is the trip over?

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
Tags: , , , , , ,

We stayed the night at the campground we found in Guadalajara. It had rained that day so the grass was wet and a  thick dampness settled in the air. It was nice to have some relief from the intense heat. Before setting up the tents, we stopped at an open air grille that offered a hamburger bar. The challenge was communicating what we wanted on the burger.  Another patron sitting at a table near where we were ordering came to our rescue translating for us. We thanked her as we sat down at the massive wood stump that doubled as a table. The TV was broadcasting a Mexican channel, people were talking loudly and, to top it off, we were near the highway, so the traffic noise bustled nearby. However, there was something enjoyable, even peaceful, about sitting back and relaxing after the stressful day of limping the Land Rover into town.

The next morning, we followed the internet directions to the Land Rover dealer. It took about 20 minutes to make our way through the early morning traffic, We carefully watched for the signs so as not to miss our turn. According to the internet, it would be a long way around if we missed it. As we approached the intersection of our turn, we noticed a detour sign! We had heard about this but did not realize it might affect us. Crossing in front of us and riding along the road that we needed to turn at was a steady stream of bicycles. It was not a race or coordinated event, just local families enjoying the open streets without traffic. Apparently, on Saturday mornings, certain streets are closed to vehicles and open to pedestrians and bikes. It is a very good practice and I would have been much more supportive had I known where to go to get back to the Land Rover dealer.

We finally arrived at the dealer. We pulled right into the reception bay and were greeted by friendly faces. A gentleman met us at the door and said “Beunas Dias”! He spoke excellent English and after sensing we would be more comfortable speaking English, he said, “How can we help you today”? I have been working on a nice bronze tan, being on the coast for so long, and Bernard came ready-made with a bronze tan ,but some how we still stood out as outsiders.

My next Expedition vehicle

Full attention of three mechanics!

We were ushered into to a very nice waiting area, offered coffee, Coke, and the password to the internet, while the Land Rover was being dissected in the shop area. I walked out there a couple of times and there were three guys working on it, computers hooked up, and diagnostic machines all attached with wires running from under the hood. It looked like an operating room. One mechanic was sitting up on the engine compartment while the other two monitored the equipment and spoke back and forth. After three hours of intense diagnostics, tests, and head scratching, the manager walked in to announce they think they found the problem.

We were told that the only thing they could come up with was it needed a valve job. I immediately questioned this as prior to leaving on this trip, we had replaced the head gaskets, machined the heads, and had the heads pressure tested. The machine shop said they looked great and would not need a valve job. I explained all of this to the manager, to which he said,  “We are confident enough that it needs a valve job that if it is not, we will cover the cost of the job”. I asked how much will that cost? “Dont worry, it is cheaper than in the US. “Really, well how much?, I asked again. He said, $40,000 Pesos (about $3,000 US)! However, the shop was about to close and it was Saturday afternoon. We would have to come back on Monday morning.

What a slap in the face! $3,000, and 3-4 days for repairs??!! I was downcast on the ride back to the campground. What is the best thing to do? Should I scrap the vehicle, fly home and call it quits? Should I look for another vehicle? I don’t know, but I just do not believe it needs a valve job since we had just inspected the heads before we left on the trip. We drove back to the site in silence. Luckily, the Land Rover was still running. As long as I didn’t have to get up to high speeds quickly it drove fine. The check engine light glared at me as a reminder of the predicament we were in.

Before setting up the tent again, I called my dad to see if he had any recommendations. He has been in the automotive field his whole life, and was blessed with an over abundance of mechanical knowledge that has come in handy on countless situations in the past, not only for me, but all of his family and friends. He spends a lot of time on the phone or under the hood helping people out. I grabbed my tablet and headed toward the office to get the best wifi signal possible. We were using a couple of apps, Skype, and Tango to communicate, and it required a good signal.

I explained everything that we had done so far to try to fix the problem, replaced plugs, added fuel cleaner, tested injectors, secured wire connections, etc. As he listened, he was computing all of the info. All of a sudden, he said, ” I bet you have a plugged cat” A catalytic converter? All of these problems were caused by a bad cat? He said, “Disconnect the exhaust and see if your power comes back”. I thanked him for the direction and jogged back to the truck to try it.

I grabbed my tool bag, hollered at Bernard that I may have the problem fixed. Luckily the exhaust had cooled, making it possible to loosen the bolts. They cam off easily (benefit of a southern vehicle). I pulled the exhaust off the studs and crawled back out from under the vehicle. Turning the key, the engine roared to life, and I mean roared! With the open exhaust poring out of the engine, it reminded me of being at the local drag strip back home. It had a deep throaty snarl that any race car would be envious of, all eight cylinders pumping out the horse power. Bernard could not help but hear the engine start, along with the whole campground. We hopped in and were off for a test drive.

Guadalajara

As we edged out into traffic, an opening offered a spot to cross the three lanes. Well there’s no time like the present to test it. I floored the gas and the engine roared, the Land Rover leaped into traffic and responded to my stomp. We had power! Man it felt so good to feel the full power of all eight cylinders doing their thing. This proved my dad’s theory, the catalytic converter was bad. It was plugged up restricting the exhaust causing the cylinders to misfire.

We drove to down town Guadalajara to enjoy the market and festivities. While we were there, a large crowd had gathered around two clown street performers. We stood and watched as they performed tricks and the crowd laughed. All of a sudden, one of the clowns spotted Bernard. Sensing he wasnt a local, he began heckling Bernard. He called him out to the center of the crowd and both clowns had fun with him. I made the mistake of taking pictures, and this alerted them we were together. Now their sights were set on me. “You take picture, come here”. They were friendly and enjoyed bouncing back and forth between Spanish and English, making the crowd laugh at our expense. We got a few more pictures and moved on to see the world-famous market.

Is that an American in the crowd?

Bernard is in for it now!

SMILE!

The market featured everything you could think of. There was everything from watches, clothes, hats, shoes, trinkets, food, blankets, flowers, you name it. We spent a couple of hours walking around, and patronizing a food stand that had remarkable calzone type sandwiches. We enjoyed our time there and had to laugh at the sign for the bathrooms. We were used to seeing a charge for using the bathrooms, but this sign announced an extra charge for toilet paper!

Overview of atrium market

Meat market

Fresh Fruit

One bay muffler shop

Lets, “Git Er’ Done”!

The next day, we drove to a little muffler shop not too far away from the campsite and pulled into the one bay garage. I got out and pointed to a picture of the cat on the wall. We tried to communicate as much as possible, but it wasnt working. I am sure they were not used to someone coming in and telling them what they needed in English. Fortunately, Tom from Barre de Navidad had put us in touch with his brother who lived in Guadalajara. I looked up his number and the young mechanic let me call him. I explained our predicament, and asked him to translate. After their conversation, we were off and rolling! The courier hopped on his moped off to get the catalytic converter.

Job well done!

As soon as he got back they went right to work cutting out the old one and installing the new one. I was charged the equivalent of $225 us for the job! That’s a far cry from $3,000! The Land Rover ran like a champ. Man what a relief. Although I was thankful for all of the help along the way, it was amazing that my dad who was 4000 miles away was able to diagnose the problem over the phone. I am blessed to have such a wonderful man as my Father! Check our Facebook for more pictures of Guadalajara (click here)


I practiced saying it over a hundred times, in many different accents and tones, and still couldn’t get enough of the way I loved hearing the name of the next city that we were approaching. “Scott” I would call over the radio. “Guadalajara is only one more hour” I’d say. “Scott”, do you think we’ll catch the rush hour traffic in Guadalajara?”  “Guadalajara, Guadalajara, Guadalajara!” I don’t know but it just sounds so exotic to me. However, I knew we were not in expedition mode any more since we left Barra de Navidad, the Rover was still running slow to the point we had to get in the far right lane and sometimes ride on the shoulder of the road going up hill. We were really riding on a wing and prayer trying to make it to the Land Rover dealer, and the closer we got the worse the Rover was running. Fuel mileage was deteriorating, the temp gauge was dancing around the danger zone and we were running on the shoulder of the highway trying not to get hit.  Things couldn’t have looked worst when we finally saw the sign welcoming us to Guadalajara. Now we just have to find the dealer.

Finding the dealer proved  not to be much of a problem, but now just getting there in the traffic was.  With a population of 1,564,514 it is Mexico’s second most populous city and it seemed to us everybody and their brother was out driving today. Since it was so late in the afternoon we decided that we’d find a camp ground in town, get a little rest and tackle this in the morning.

Camping in Guadalajara

Lucky us we found a camp ground right on the edge of town. And as a bonus, just before turning into the camp ground area there was a huge assortment of eateries all within walking distance of the camp. We were really starting to like Guadalajara. After setting up camp, eating and figuring out a strategy to get over to the dealer without dealing with the massive traffic we called it a night. Now mind you that just earlier that day we where on the Pacific coast dealing with 90 degree heat and humidity and now we were in the mountains and the weather was considerably colder, like in the 60’s. It was time to break out the blankets in the tent, the sweaters or a coat to walk around in during the day which neither of us had, so we found ourselves driving around with the heat on and looking for warm clothes. It was so at cold night we had to keep all the flaps shut in both tents to keep the heat in, and I slept in my clothes in the sleeping bag.

We were busted by some clowns!

Manana we’ll tell you about the $40,000 Peso repair bill !


After spending several days in Barra de Navidad and seeing the small surrounding towns of La Manzanilla, Cuastecomate, Isla  Navidad and Melaque it was time for us to push on. We now had to make it across the entire width of Mexico and head to the other coast. The other coast being the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Looking at the maps, Gps and the like we knew it was going to be roughly 1,800 miles to get across Mexico and was going to take  at least 10 days. In the states you could easily drive this distance in two days or so, but in Mexico because you can’t drive at night, rough road conditions and other possible hazards, any trip this distance was going to take caution, patience and we didn’t want to rush and miss anything. We  only had one major problem now, and it was a major problem! Our Land Rover was throwing misfire codes on cylinders 1,3,5 and 7, only on the left side of the engine and we could not figure out why. It was also running very low on power, starting to overheat and could barely get out of it’s own way going up hills. Now things where not looking good for the team. We met a few people in town that referred us to a mechanic that specialized in fuel injection as we thought that might have been what the problem was. We spent a day at the mechanics shop in Melaque and he was kind enough to let us use a work area and some of his tools to pull the top part of the engine apart, take the fuel injectors out and test them. Everything checked out fine and we replaced them and yet we still had the same codes after hours of work. Also, we replaced the spark plugs, inspected all the wires, reset the codes and did everything we could possibly think of. To make matters worse the only Land Rover dealer was in Guadalajara  which was inland, up through the mountains and several hours away. We were getting quite frustrated and were running out of options. Finally we made the decision to try and make it to the Land Rover dealer in Guadalajara. What’s the worst that could happen? We would tow it. It wouldn’t be easy or fun, but we had no choice.

Our stop at a road side fruit stand in route to Guadalajara.

After saying our goodbyes to all the friends we made in Barra we took off for Guadalajara not know if we were going to make it, but we knew we had to get going. We reset the codes, topped off the fuel and hit the road. Looking at the map we knew it was pretty much an all up hill drive for several hours. We would be starting our trek into the interior of Mexico. We planned to take it easy, keep an eye on the gauges not to overheat the Rover, and figured if we took it in increments we would be okay. Our first planned stop was to be in the town of Colima, as we wanted to see the Volcano, http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=48886.

Our stop in the Volcano town of Colima, Mexico

As we made our way through the mountains, Scott called over the radio ” I have to pull over, the temperature gauge is getting into the zone!” I knew what that meant and he did not sound happy to report that. I had noticed a few miles before, that I was actually able to keep up with the Rover in the mountains and usually that was not the case as my old Cruiser is slow with just a straight six and all the weight of the expedition equipment. Normally Scott would be calling me on the radio asking me if I was sightseeing or something because I was so slow. Soon we pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the temps to subside, checked the fluid and then continued on. We were relieved to see we had not lost any fluids. That would have been the last thing we wanted to see was the Rover totally overheat and quit on the side of the road in Mexico. Finally after arriving in Colima, we parked the trucks in the center plaza, went to get something to eat and try and to find some internet and look for more answers.

So how does this all end?

So far so good we’re thinking! Not!

Stay tuned to find out what the real problem is!


We made it into Barre de Navidad just in time for breakfast and to meet a man named Tom. Tom offered to be an impromptu tour guide. We drove through town, looking at the nice homes and the unique marina layout. There were three roads that featured water front homes. A large lagoon made for some desirable homes sporting large private boats, docked right outside these homes. A particularly large home was distinguishable by the massive gates and security walls that surrounded the concrete structure. We were told that a local business owner had purchased it from an “alleged” drug dealer that had it built originally. We marveled at the apparent money that had been involved in building these architecturally appealing homes. Most of them sat vacant as they were seasonal second or third homes.

We spent nearly 3 hours touring the town and visiting a friend of Tom’s that lived out on the outside edge of town. To reach his house we traversed deep holes full of water, and gravel dirt roads. His family was friendly and inviting. In front of their home was a small family convenience store where one could buy an ice cold Coca Cola in a glass bottle. With the warning of drinking the water in Mexico, Diet Cole had become a staple. and you cant beat an ice cold glass bottle of Coke, when the thermometer threatens to blast past the maximum reading and burst.

Ice cold Coke or Diet Coke, actually

We told Tom we were looking for a campground preferably on the beach. He said, “there is one in Melaque, just 5 miles away”. He decided to take us there and get us set up. He warned us, “never pay upfront, you never know if you want to stay and then you are locked in”. We heeded his advice and checked into a nice beach side space looking over the ocean. The entire facility was fenced in and seemed secure, right in the middle of town. This would be great. We could set up the roof top tents and walk to the stores and restaurants. Tom hung around for a while and we chatted about life as an expat in Mexico, and our adventures so far. After a while he stated, “I should go, its starting to get too hot out here”! We dropped him off at home and made arrangements to meet for dinner at his “favorite place” later on.

Our tour guide, Tom, and the campsite

Ocean front with wifi at our tents!

The next morning, Bernard and I walked around town and took pictures after breakfast. Being interested in real estate, we were drawn to a building that looked like it had potential. Right next to a large concrete entrance to town, was a dilapidated two story structure boasting, “Se Vende” (For Sale). We peeked in the windows and wrote down the phone number. We headed back to the campground and fired up the computers. There was a strong wifi signal, so we wanted to update family and friends and see what was going on back home. We looked up just in time to see Tom ride up on a moped. He decided to pop in and see if we wanted him to play tour guide again and check out a cool little town up the bay. We gladly accepted and decided to call a cab instead of taking the tents down. And we were off!

We pulled into a little town that didn’t appear to have more than 50 residents, but it was right on the beach and their were several restaurants just starting to open. We wandered along the beach and enjoyed the ocean breezes, even though they didn’t do much to suppress the intense heat. There were many photo ops and we took advantage of them. The grand tour didn’t take long, so we were headed back to camp pretty soon. Tom hung around for a while longer and then hopped on his moped.

Beachside restaurant

Around 6 PM, the manager of the campground stopped at our site and said, “you need to pay for the four nights you stayed here.” I figured she was mistaken and I said, “tonight will actually only be our third night”. She became defensive and said, “No! you were here 4 nights”! I told her we would pay her for the actual amount of nights we were there (going on the third). She walked off, obviously upset with me. I didn’t think much about it that night and decided we would go to the ATM in the morning to pay for our stay.

Our campground. We un recommend them!

A great place for a nap at the campground

The next morning we got up headed to breakfast and then to the ATM. We were met at the gate by the manager of the campground telling us we needed to pay for four nights. I again explained that we were only there for three nights. She became argumentative and then walked back in the office. I was planning on working on the Landrover because it was still misfiring. We loaded up and headed toward the gate. I hopped out to open the closed gate and found it was padlocked. Dont tell me we were locked in! The gate always stayed closed, however this time, it was locked. I went to the office and told her I needed the gate opened. She said, “You must pay for 4 nights”. I began to understand that we were in fact being locked in. I became furious.

Caged like an animal!

I told her we would pay her for the three nights that we had stayed, but she needed to let us leave. She refused, and stood there glaring at me. Now I was angry. We were not animals to be caged up and locked away. I told her she better open the gate and let us leave. I said, “are you telling me you are holding us here against our will?” She said, ” I will call the police”. I told her she better go ahead and call them, so I could tell them we were being held against our will. I took it further, and said. ” I will also be calling the U.S embassy and letting them know we were being held against our will. Ironically, she all of a sudden said, “No inteindo”. I dont understand. She had been arguing with us just fine in English and now she doesn’t understand? How convenient. I said, spitefully, “well when the U.S embassy shows up, you will understand”. I was furious. She finally said, “Fine, you pay three days and leave”! I told her that would not be a problem, as we would not consider paying her for one more night. We packed our trucks, paid the bill and left.

Before we were kicked out

Well the truth is, it was a little bit of a problem as there were no other campgrounds in the area. We drove back to the restaurant that we had visited when we first arrived, to determine what to do. At least we had internet access there and we had made some friends there as well. As evening set in, we still didn’t have a plan. We walked the sidewalks and it began to come to us. In the center of town about a block from the restaurant, was the town square. The stage was in the center, and fortunately, there were electric outlets on the back side of it. We could park along the street, use the restaurant internet, and plug into the electric outlets on the stage. Breakfast in the morning could be had at the restaurant! We had everything we needed…..except a shower. At this point it was our best option, so we set it up. To avoid drawing unnecessary attention, we routed the electric cord up a pole, overhead to the balcony above, and then overhead to the plaza stage. It was genius if I do say so myself! Anyone walking on the sidewalk would be oblivious to the cord since it was overhead. We  hopped in the vehicles for a overnight stay.

Our makeshift power supply ran overhead

The next morning we woke to small  children walking down the sidewalk on their way to school. They were talking excitedly and chasing each other. All of a sudden a little boy yelled, “Connectodo” Apparently he noticed the electric extension cord running into Bernard s vehicle.  Bernard later told me that he woke up when he heard the shout and then noticed a small face and hands pressed to the window trying to see in. Bernard said, “Boo”! and the little boy ran off. Leave it to a small child to notice we were “borrowing electricity from the town square.

Our breakfast hosts

After breakfast we headed back to Melaque where we were to meet up with a “Facebook friend of a friend”. We were told by the friend if we needed anything while in the area  to look up their friend. With the Landrover running worse, we decided to call in a favor to find a place to work on it. After changing the spark plugs and wires and looking for vacuum leaks, and scratching our heads, we were referred to a local mechanic. That’s a whole “nother” story, so watch for it…….