1. Inspections by the military are relatively painless. I was scared to death when the military boarded my rig and asked for my paperwork and the paperwork for the animals. They were more interested in the art on the walls and petting Boss Tweed than anything else. We have been waived through most military checkpoints without inspection.
2. “Mordida” still exists in Mexico, but don’t be an asshole about it. Yes, especially with the Federales, bribery still exists. Our Tailgunner was pulled over for an allegedly illegal lane change. He was taken to the police station and asked to pay an arbitrary amount in pesos. They could not point to a law or a penalty schedule for this number. It was about 50 pesos – less than four dollars. Instead of paying the pesos he could have waited for the next time the circuit judge came to town. I’d rather pay the bribe.
At the outset of the tour we were given a sticker for the RV: “No Mordida.” There was no way in hell I was putting that sticker on my RV. Imagine walking around anywhere else in the world wearing a pin that says, “I won’t pay you a bribe.” How insulting! Besides, I will pay a bribe if the price is right and it gets me out of a sticky situation.
3. The driving is much harder than you think and takes at least twice as long. We are three weeks into this tour, and the actual driving time has been 53 hours. We have driven approximately 2200 km, which at 100 km an hour should be about half that. Many factors contribute to our slow pace: Rest stops, propane, fuel, mechanical problems, the condition of the roads, potholes, topes, and animals on or near the road, are all culprits. Even on relatively short days of two to three hours of driving, I feel like I’ve been through eight rounds of boxing when we park for the night.
4. A good tour company will provide you with a Wagonmaster and a Tailgunner. The “Wagonmaster” in the tour guide and lead rig. The “Tailgunner” brings up the rear and keeps the flock together. Not all tours provide a Tailgunner, and our tour was not scheduled to have one because we were supposed to be a total of eight rigs. Well, even with eight rigs, a Tailgunner is imperative. A close friend of our Wagonmaster volunteered to be the Tailgunner for this trip, and I’m so glad he did. On the first day he chased down one of the RVs that turned in the wrong direction. When we re-enter a highway he blocks the lane for the rest of us to safely merge. Today he stayed behind with a trailer that blew a tire. He radios when all rigs have made it off the highway or into the RV park, etc. I would not go on another RV caravan without a Tailgunner.
5. No matter what the tour company tells you, life is easier and more interesting with a toad. Beware of the full-color, glossy brochure. Our tour company promised that toads were not necessary, as transportation would be provided at various stops. That was true for the tour ahead of us, where the Wagonmaster was driving a van pulling a trailer, but our Wagonmaster has a typical Class A motorhome. On the day we left our rigs in the U.S. and crossed the border into Tecate for visas, we piled into their motorhome, sitting on the sofas and chairs and even the bed to get to the Visa office as a group. One member of our group is allergic to dogs, and of course the Wagonmaster’s huge German Shepherd went straight to her. On our first excursion we were expected to take a city bus after driving all day. NOT what I signed up for.
Initially I was relieved to leave my toad behind, because of the condition of Mexican roads and the additional insurance and wear and tear on the car. I assumed taxis would be available if I wanted to branch out on my own. Taxis are not readily available in some areas. And, RV parks are often far from the city core, making a taxi expensive.
Even when a tour provides a van, it limits your freedom. You must cede your wants and desires to that of the group. And, the group may be too big to fit in one van anyway.
Two rigs in our group tow cars, and I have been envious of them on several occasions. Of course it is a hassle to tow a vehicle, especially into some of the cramped RV parks we have been in, but if I had it to do over, I would bring the toad.
6. Be prepared to boondock. Period. That damned brochure again. Many parks were described as having “full hookups.” A full hook up in Mexico usually means sewer, Mexican water, and a 110 volt plug. One park so far had 30 amp service.
I have boondocked the entire trip. I have two animals on board and run the air conditioner during the hottest part of the afternoon. I am unapologetic about this. People do not want to park next to me because of the generator’s noise and heat, and I park away from them as much as possible.
Even if 50 amp service existed in Mexico, I would not trust it. In the United States a faulty power pole burned out my transfer switch, which was expensive and inconvenient. I would also not be confident that a Mexican park’s power would continuously run the air conditioner while I am away on an excursion; I refuse to come back to a suffocating rig and dead animals because of a brown out.
7. Propane is not plentiful. If you plan to use propane for hot water and the refrigerator and cooking, be economical about it. LP stations are few and far between in Mexico, and they usually are on the outskirts of town. To conserve propane I turn on the water heater only as needed every other day or so, and I have not used my propane campfire at all.
In another entry I’ll have some advice on what to look for in a good Baja RV caravan company. I must say, I have come about this knowledge the hard way!