¡Vámonos! Our RV caravan to Mexico

What was our biggest fear about taking our RV across the border for the Escapees Baja Mexico Hangout in San Felipe in February?

(screen cap: Apple Maps)

Welp, as two people who quite happily roll by the seats of our pants, often departing for the day’s drive rather giddy with the notion that we have no idea where we’ll be sleeping that night, it was the massive level of planning required.

Dios mío, the paperwork! Some was new, and some we just had to ensure was accurate and up-to-date, but the list was impressive: passports, Mexican tourism cards, Mexican liability insurance, driver’s licenses, registration, and US insurance.

Our group members also had to figure out what to do about weapons, alcohol, and other items that are prohibited/restricted in Mexico; about drinking water; about pets; about cell service, fuel, and groceries. As with any type of foreign travel, the more you prepare, the fewer unpleasant surprises you may have to deal with in a country whose customs and language are not your own.

Luckily, our Escapees Hangouts directors rose to the occasion as they have for prior gatherings, and made sure — via social media, email, an event web page, and even a live webinar Q&A — that very little was left to chance.

I won’t fill this post with all the decisions we made and actions we took for every little aspect of the trip. It’ll take forfreakineverrr, and I’d rather get to the good part: the pictures.

However, if you’re considering an RV trip to Mexico, and you’ve got specific questions, first read the FAQ on our event’s web page, and then feel free to ask how we personally handled that issue by posting a comment below. If I’ve got an answer, I’ll tell ya. If I don’t, I’ll shout, “Hey look at that giant margarita over there!” to distract you, and then we’ll laugh and laugh because I am so hilarious.

And now, the photos. ¡Ándale!

We gathered in a mall parking lot in El Centro, CA, on the day before our border crossing, for a brief orientation with our directors, a radio check, and decal distribution. All of us dry camped in the mall lot that night (by previous arrangement with management) to be ready for our 0800 departure the next morning.
We used the radios to relay messages along our 46-rig caravan during the 140-mile trip, and the decals were used to keep us in numerical order for parking in the right spots at our destination, Victor’s RV Park in San Felipe. Tim and I brought up the rear, hence the ULTIMO decal. It also helped our police escorts in Mexicali and San Felipe tell when our group was done passing through the intersections they’d kindly blocked off to ease our passage through their congested cities (another pre-arranged perk).
And that fourth shot is our view from the tail end, as everyone waited along the Mexico side of the border wall for the last of us to pass through customs and immigration, a process that took about 2 1/2 hours from primero to ultimo.
Like the other Hangouts we’ve attended (Maine and Carlsbad Caverns), this one offered scheduled group events.
1. Day trip to Valle de Los Gigantes, home to a forest of cardón, the tallest growing cactus in the world.
2. Service project planting 30 trees our group donated to our host town as a gesture of goodwill.
3. Margarita Throwdown, a $1/vote contest that served as a fundraiser for Escapees CARE.
4. Guacamole Throwdown, a $1/vote contest that raised all the money for those trees. (photo by V. Fillmore)
We also took a trip to the San Felipe Brewing Company, where one of our members was sporting the best RVing shirt ever, and I drank a hibiscus ale and a couple of other varieties that I no longer recall, but it was enough to make me kick off my sandals and dance to the live band. A lot. Looks like I also threw my arms up and shouted “wooooo” maybe a little more often than usual.
Ahem.
The great part of it all is that we went by bus, so none of us had to drive home.
And the hilarious part of that, given our tipsy-chummy state, was that they were school buses. Ha!
Unlike our other two Hangouts, this one offered several large blocks of unscheduled time so that we could get out and explore on our own.
Which we did!
We carpooled with a small group to these natural seaside hot springs
(photo by D. Lupton)
… we rode our bikes to the lighthouse…
… walked into town for tacos several times, because at these prices, it was cheaper to eat out than cook at home (70 pesos = about $3.70 USD, for not one, but four fish tacos)…
… and I spent some time in a bathing suit, with my ass in the sand and my margarita green toesies in the Sea of Cortez.

It was easy to love the colors of our little town on the Baja. Check these out:

I know at least a few of you are wondering if there were any “incidents”?

Ugh. Yeahhhhh, unfortunately there were two, and I didn’t want to mention them at all, because they did not detract from our fun, nor have they turned us off from future visits to Mexico.

But not mentioning them feels dishonest. So…

At a Mexican military checkpoint on our way back to the US, two members of our caravan had items stolen from their RVs during the inspection. And a few of the trees we planted were vandalized after we left, but later replaced by the volunteer organization we’d been working with.

We don’t blame Mexican culture for these incidences any more than we blame Boston culture for the time my friends had cash stolen from their hotel room, or San Antonio culture for the time my brother had the contents of his car stolen, or Austin culture for the three times our son has had his bike stolen.

Crimes of opportunity happen everywhere. If you already harbor fears of foreign travel, and assumptions about certain peoples, I know I’ve done nothing to dispel them. But hiding this part of the trip would feel like a crime on my part. So take reasonable precautions when you travel outside our borders, yes? Just like you would on more familiar soil.

This.
This is what we’ll remember about our trip to San Felipe: that we felt so welcomed by its people, and most especially by its small businesses and restaurants.
We were the third and final large group of Escapees RV Club members to stay in this seaside town over the course of a month, and it was clear that our presence was very much appreciated.

We’d go back!

Surprise! We worked as pickers again.

No, not for Amazon, like we did in 2017.

Better.

Way, way better.

This time we were picking lint out of Carlsbad Caverns.

Yes, actual lint.

Like dryer vent lint, but 800 feet under ground, embedded in what you might think of as Mother Nature’s navel, for four days, with 30 other RVing volunteers who paid for a week-long excursion to get the job done.

It went like this.
And sometimes like this.

Like picking merchandise for Amazon, our task was tedious and repetitive, and it left us with surprisingly sore muscles, but this time? We earned far more reward. Our team was helping — really helping — one of our treasured national parks look better, and maybe even survive longer.

Are you still stuck on the lint thing? Fine.

How does the lint get there?

About half a million visitors walk through the caverns each year (that, and other cool facts about the park are here). The clothing fibers, hair, and skin cells that naturally fall off of their bodies end up collecting as wads of lint along the walkways, and also trapped on the sides and in crevices of nearby rock formations.

The lint makes the formations look grubby, and also causes them to break down over time, as it collects moisture and blocks air from their surfaces.

This problem was discovered about 30 years ago, and volunteers have been arduously and carefully removing lint ever since, at a rate of about 19 pounds a year. (Remember that number. There’s a quiz later.)

This poster in the Visitor Center explains it.
(Photo: D. Goldstein)
We looked just like the poster!
(Photo: D. Goldstein)
Sort of?

Fascinating. Now how did you get there?

We signed up to join the Escapees Carlsbad Caverns Cleanup Hangout as soon as registration opened back in October, knowing that 1) this Hangout’s mission was to spend a week in service to a national park, and 2) that we are already big fans of this particular program after having such a blast at the Downeast Maine Hangout last year.

Our Hangout directors made sure we always knew where to be, when to be there, and what to do, and they also coordinated some group events and meals outside of work time, so that we could all have fun getting to know each other.

Our welcome gathering on the first night, with directors David & Cheryl Goldstein (standing) describing the mission we were about to accept.
We went on a group hike to nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and…
… ate out at few locally owned restaurants.
And of course, as RVers do wherever they gather, we overindulged at more than a couple of potlucks at the campground.
(Photo: C. Goldstein)
We all stayed at White’s City RV Park, a quick 7-mile drive from the caverns.
No frills, but quiet and convenient, with access to a 3.6 mile hiking trail to the park, for those who might want a more strenuous way to get back and forth.
I climbed only the first 1/4 mile to get this photo of the campground from above.

Did you need special equipment?

Yes, and the park can provide all of it, but our group arrived prepared with a lot of our own gear. Our yellow vests with the Escapees logo were included in our event fee; the park has a stash of their own logo vests for other volunteers to borrow.

For safety: reflective vests, knee pads, head lamps, helmets, rubber gloves

For lint collecting: paint brushes in various sizes, plastic baggies

Who you gonna call? Lint Busters!
(Someday, I will forgive Hangout Director David Goldstein for implanting that ear worm. But not yet.)
Orientation, training, and gear issue took up most of our first morning.
After a lunch break, we were ready to get to work!

What were your work hours and conditions?

Expectations were clear from the start. We weren’t scared.

This screen cap is from our Hangout description page.
Click here for a more thorough document.

Our work hours in the cavern were from 10-12 and 1-3, Monday through Thursday, with lunch on site (brown bag or park concession).

At 9:30 a.m., we’d gather in our meeting room with our ranger (Jo Ann Garcia or David Tise, depending on the day), learn about our work location while gathering our equipment and putting on our gear, and then descend together to the cleaning area. At noon, we’d stop work, head back up to the meeting room to drop off our equipment and gear, and take our lunch break. Repeat the 9:30 routine at 1:00, and the noon routine at 3:00, only we’d go home instead of to lunch.

On Day 1, we descended through the natural entrance into the Bat Cave, and in just over 2 hours…
… this was what only half of our collection looked like. I took this picture before everyone had returned to our meeting room with their haul.
Daily amounts varied by individual, and by the areas in which we were picking. My bags weighed right around 2.5 ounces — after four hours of very diligent work.
Annotated map showing where we worked each day
(Credit: D. Goldstein)
Here’s our crew of triumphant lint pickers, with all the gunk we collected in that black garbage bag in front of us.
No, we’re not flashing gang signs. The Hawaiian shaka, meaning “hang loose,” is the official Hangouts symbol, greeting, and goofy pose of choice.
(Photo: random guy with a real camera and a lot of patience)

Did anything unexpected happen?

Well, one thing we were not prepared for was the number of cavern visitors who stopped to ask us what we were doing. We’d explain as briefly as we could, since we had work to do and they had exploring to do, and it was such a kick to watch their reactions.

They were astounded — and a bit grossed out — to learn that lint is such a big issue, and every person I spoke to expressed sincere gratitude for our efforts. I even got a few laughs when I’d joke in my best mom voice, “Don’t walk there. I just cleaned that!”

Get to the good part, Emily. How much lint did y’all get???

Remember the annual average I told you way up there?

I’ll save you the scroll.

It was 19 pounds.

Our crew of 32, putting in seven roughly 2-hour shifts over four days, right here at the beginning of 2020, collected …

… drum roll please …

28 pounds.

Twenty. Eight. Pounds.

Eeeeeeeeee!!!!!

Were you compensated for your efforts?

As volunteers, the only compensation we wanted or needed was the satisfaction of providing a much needed service, and we got plenty.

The park also thanked us with some nice material goodies, including certificates of appreciation, logo pencils, water bottles, and bandanas.

They also gifted us on our last day with a complimentary guided tour of the King’s Palace, a section of the cave that not many visitors get to see, as it requires an advance reservation and an additional fee.

Now that’s my kind of reward: a unique and memorable experience.

I’m not an RV’er or an Escapee. Can I pick lint too?

Yes. According to our rangers, the park welcomes scouts and other service groups, as well as individuals and families (ages 10 and up). Contact the volunteer coordinator to make arrangements, and you too can fill a baggie (or 2 or 6 or 30) with icky gray cave lint!


For further reading:

I did a dumb thing (and nobody got hurt).

Blame it on hormones. Or Mercury in retrograde. Or the children. I don’t care.

I honestly don’t know why I thought it was the ideal moment to try backing up the RV for the first time. 

(I know. I did all that practicing for the upgraded driver’s license last year, but that was with a friend’s flatbed trailer, which I could see behind. That’s not possible with our 5th wheel, which is why I’ve heretofore been too chickenshit to try it.)

Anyway, our site was a giant parking lot at a remote casino in northern CA, for a quick overnight.

There was only one other vehicle in it. 

Sure, it was after dark, but there was plenty of room beside that big rig, and all I had to do was go straight back. 

I knew I could do that. 

In fact, I’d already done it quite successfully on the opposite side of the lot, but after Tim guided me all the way back, he realized he’d backed me up to a closed gate, and we didn’t know if or when someone might need access, so we moved. 

I declined Tim’s offer to spot me in the second location, because I knew I’d be done when my front end lined up with that semi’s cab. Easy peasy!

But also a big mistake. 

That is when we were reminded that some big rigs are shorter than others. 

Some are even shorter than we are. 

Like this one. 

So yeah. I backed into the fence. Because another compounding factor? Wire fences are pretty much invisible in the dark. 

I didn’t feel it — at all — but Tim definitely saw it when he got out to check my position. 

If I’d pushed any farther, there’d have been some flattened fencing — and two red-faced Rohrers exchanging insurance information with the casino manager come morning. 

The truly embarrassing part was that I know better. I paid more attention to my overconfidence than to two critical rules. (Hell. I couldn’t even see those rules, blinded as I was by that sparkly outfit Overconfidence was wearing.) 

  1. Take extra safety precautions after dark. 
  2. Always — always — use a spotter when backing up. Yes, even if the lot is the size of Connecticut. And especially after dark. 

So now my sense of embarrassment is the size of Connecticut.

There’s no photographic evidence of the actual smoosh, but I took a morning-after shot, showing that I’d had to make a forward roll of shame.

Oh, and one showing where I’d scraped the paint off Tim’s bike frame, although that might actually be from a far older boo-boo. Neither one of us is sure.

And uh, one showing that I bent our bike rack pretty good. Dammit. We really like this one, and it took no fewer than three prior duds to get to it.

The fence took no damage; my ego sustained a fairly large bruise. 

And that’s why I’m sharing this story. 

Let it serve as a reminder that things like this can happen to any RVer, new or seasoned. 

It could have been worse, and thankfully, Tim and I go easy on each other when it comes to such incidents, by which I mean we know full well that we take turns being the bonehead. 

This time, it was my turn.

WheRVe we been? Our travels, 3rd quarter 2019

We don’t always make plans without consulting our calendar or a map first, but when we do, we end up having to drive from Maine to southern California!

Luckily, we had almost a month between events. And hey, maybe next year, we’ll try the Washington-Florida diagonal to make things even.

Here’s the summary of our 3rd quarter travels, mapped with a little help from Google.

RV miles traveled this quarter: about 5512

The briefest possible description: we went from PA to IN to MA to VT to NY to ME, then spent about 3 weeks rolling to CA.

Erie, PA, June 30 – July 7: As I mentioned in our 2nd quarter wrap-up, we spent 4th of July week moochdocking in a cousin’s driveway, and hanging out with Tim’s cousins and auntie.

Knowing that pie crust is one of my culinary challenges, Tim’s aunt invited me over for Pie Camp, and walked me step by step through her no-fail process. I had my own pie tin, and did all the measuring and mixing my own self. Look at that thing!
(She also taught me her method of hard boiling eggs, and I think I’ve finally got it now. Yes, I can make bread in the shape of a perfect frigging lobster, but I regularly fail at eggs.)
We also did some kayaking on Lake Erie, ate our weight in gyros at the Greek Festival, and just enjoyed a relaxing time with family.

Howe, IN, July 7-11: We went back to the DRV factory for Round 2 (ding ding!) of warranty repair work. The punch list had grown after our first visit in February, and since we were already in the general area, we had the repair team attack it.

We know that things go wrong with all RVs, even new ones, and ours has been no exception. That doesn’t make it any less disappointing, and we are both of the opinion that our unit must have missed Quality Control Check Day before it left the factory.

This article explains a lot of the weak points and outright failures in the RV industry, and provides ample evidence that we are not alone.

But misery loves company!
While in IN, we finally got to meet Andrea & Shawn of 40foothouse, and reconnected with friends Michael & Kelly of Performance Trailer Braking — all full-time RVers.
And speaking of performances, we watched some Amish mommies leave the park with their kiddos. They made it look just as easy as piling everyone into a minivan and backing out.
But then, they do learn early.

Massachusetts, July 12-30: We’ve been to Boston before, so this time we focused our sightseeing efforts on some of the outlying areas, like Bedford, Lexington, Concord, and Salem.

We saw Minute Men monuments, Walden Pond, and several cemeteries containing the remains of people who were around to witness the birth of our nation.
Oh, and I got a little witchy in Salem.
I bet brooms don’t break down nearly as often as RVs do. Hmmmm.
We also celebrated our anniversary by taking a ride back in time.
One of the stops on our honeymoon in 1992 was the historic carousel in Fall River, MA, so we recreated the photo 27 years later.
Grayer hair, wider ass, but by golly, that is the same horse.

Waterbury, VT, July 30 – Aug 1: Remember our partners in crime, Chip & Penni from our Amazon Camperforce days? We really have stayed friends! Waterbury is their home, and when we said we’d like to come visit, they offered up boondocking space at their summer location.

Ice cream played a big role in our time together.
We went out for maple creemees, and of course made the pilgrimage to Ben & Jerry’s.
To Chip, it’s a former employer. To me? The holy land, and a visit I’ve been waiting to make for 30+ years!

Albany, NY, Aug 1-11: The good news is that my Auntie Judith turns 85 this year, and a big big surprise party was planned for her in her home town of Albany. The bad news is that I jumped the gun on making a campground reservation, and had to hide for ten days so as not to spoil a surprise that took a year to plan, and involved family members arriving under top secret conditions from locations across the country!

And how do you hide a 41-foot 5th wheel? You can’t.
So even though we were at an exceptionally lovely state park that whole time, I kept my mouth shut and my social media posts vague.
And it worked.
That was one utterly gobsmacked aunt/sister/mother/grandmother/great grandmother, and we hope to surprise her again at 90. Or maybe 88, just to keep her guessing.
(She’ll read this, so please take a moment to face NY and shout, “Happy birthday, Judith!”)

Maine, Aug. 12-19: I’ve already written about this adventure in detail, so here are two photos I haven’t posted yet.

The lobster “roll” I made for a potluck vs. an actual ready-to-eat lobster on my plate.
They could be twins. Right?
(Click for my bread recipe)
Between Tim’s naval career and our RV travels, we’ve admired a lot of coastlines.
Maine’s gets an A+.

The long diagonal from Maine to California, Aug. 19 – Sept. 10: For the first 11 days, we stopped for only one or two nights at a time, before spending the next 11 just south of Tucson. Tim has an aunt & uncle there, so we were able to visit with them and make ample use of their garage for building our solar panel frames.

We are joining the “cult” of RV solar power.
Tim may eventually write up the nitty gritty on that, because all I’ve really learned from this process is that I’m good at metal grinding.
Who knew?
I will instead heap praise upon two friends who assisted with some of the physical labor.
My childhood pal, Mark (who went to the Mexican dentist with us a while back), gave us a hand under sweltering conditions in Tucson, and Ted did the same in Escondido.
Love those guys!
As part of the solar power system installation, we have also joined the Cult of the Battle Born. These batteries get a lot of hype in the RV world — so much that I fully expected to hear a choir of angels when I opened each box.
But I did not, so I’ve added glowy starbursty things to the photo.
We’ll see what happens once we’ve actually got them all wired up and working.
Along the way: more meals with RV friends!
Remember Andrea & Shawn from our stop in Indiana, just a few inches up above? Hung out again in New Mexico.
Then, we met up in Tucson with Julie & Sean of Chickery’s Travels, who we’d met in Texas last year.
And finally, we reconnected with Ted & Jan of the Wandering Kolbs, for the first time since we met in Arizona, in January of 2017.
We’re all neighbors. We just rarely meet up in the same neighborhood twice.

Right now: We’re parked on site at the pumpkin patch for our seasonal jobs in Escondido. We’ll work 7 days a week for the entire month of October, co-managing all the fun things with another couple: hay rides, corn maze, school field trips, petting zoo, sunflower field, and of course pumpkins!

It was Ted & Jan who got us into this job.
They’ve returned for their third season at a Pumpkin Station location, and we figured that if they like it that much, it’s worth giving it a try.
Here we go!

Where to next? Uhhh… I guess we’d better figure that out by Halloween, eh? We might go visit family in WA, or we might hide out in the desert for a while, to get some use of that solar power system. Or both!

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter for updates as we go.


We started full-timing in August of 2015, but I didn’t think to do an annual review until the end of 2016, and it was just a listing on Facebook of places we’d visited. After that, I started using a quarterly format.

15 reasons we acted like kids at summer camp in Maine

Take my money!

Although I thrive on our usual “roll by the seats of our pants” style of unplanned travel, I also enjoy an occasional event or trip for which all we have to do is pay a fee and show up on time, because someone else has done all the legwork and planning for us.

And that is exactly the experience we had last month, at the Escapees Downeast Maine Hangout in Sullivan.

Hangouts are a brand new addition to the Escapees slate of social events for RVers, and since we already counted the program directors as friends, and knew we’d be in the right part of the country, we registered for the Hangout in Maine as soon as we heard about it. Also? I’d never been to Maine!

The week’s schedule was packed full of events. None were mandatory; all were thoroughly researched; and all were described in a printed packet containing detailed instructions on locations, times, and any additional fees.

I think you’ll see pretty quickly how that 8 days in August felt so much like summer camp to us. In roughly chronological order:

1. We went on a group excursion to a historical site.

A visit to Fort Knox was combined with…
one to the adjacent Penobscot Narrows Bridge & Observatory.

2. We went to a lobster bake.

I mangled and ate my first whole lobster!
The folks at Bar Harbor Lobster Bakes were very patient about helping out us newbies, plus there were instructions on our place mats.

3. We went blueberry picking.

The proprietor of Beddington Ridge Farm taught us how to use a rake to collect berries, and although it felt a little like cheating, I used it after picking my first container by hand. Definitely went faster!
I’ve still got 2 pints of these wild blueberries in my freezer. What should I make?

4. We went biking.

Views from the Schoodic Loop Road were breathtaking.
And speaking of breath, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced cleaner, fresher air than we did in Maine. The sea! The pines!
Aaaahhhhhh.

5. We sang camp songs and other hits at karaoke night.

I taught our fellow attendees a song I remembered from my own summer camp days.
It’s about a skunk.
Let us all give thanks that there is no video or audio of this moment.
(Photo credit: D. Goldstein)

6. We went hiking.

Tim and I hiked several miles on our own in Acadia National Park, then joined our group for a ranger guided tour along the Ocean Path.
We obediently flashed the official Hangout sign — the Hawaiian “hang loose,” or shaka — when we saw the camera.
(Photo credit: D. Goldstein)

7. We admired the sunset from atop a mountain.

Our group spread blankets and unfolded chairs at the perfect time to view the setting sun from Cadillac Mountain.

8. We went on a boat tour.

All aboard! Acadia By Sea gave us a different view of places we’d hiked and biked, plus an education on the area’s wildlife and history.
We saw harbor seals, harbor porpoises, bald eagles, osprey, cormorants, and two historic light houses.

9. We got ice cream!

This triple scoop of guilt came from Udder Heaven in Bar Harbor. It was our first stop for ice cream, but not our last! At least all that hiking and biking burned off some of it.

10. We went to a local festival.

Wild blueberry season in Maine means lots of wild blueberry festivals.
Tim and I celebrated this one by running in the annual 5-mile race, which benefited a regional cancer charity. We also treated ourselves to some home grown goodies.

11. We went kayaking.

Our 6-mile guided group tour rewarded us with even more fantastic views, and an upper body workout to balance all the walking, hiking, running and biking we’d done.
Have I mentioned that we had a lot of excess calories to burn?

12. We saw real live lumberjacks in action.

If you ever get the chance to attend Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show, do it.
It’s a bargain, it’s family friendly, it’s entertaining as all get out, and let me just add that lumberjacks sport very pleasing physiques. Very.

13. We stayed in a campground.

Acadia Seashore Camping & Cabins offers RV hookups, tent sites, and even two cabins and two rental RVs.
The owners are friendly and attentive, and the campground boasts views of both bay and mountains.
We’d go back!
Flanders Bay

14. We obeyed the directions of our camp directors.

OK, so David & Cheryl of Landmark Adventures were already friends of ours, and by “obeyed the directions of,” I really mean “posed for selfies and enjoyed all the fun with.”
(Photo credit: D. Goldstein)

15. We shared potluck meals with our fellow campers.

I made a “lobster roll” out of my family famous challah dough. Because Maine.
And it made sense to bring the state’s most famous CRUSTacean to brunch.
(Photo credit: M. McIlraith)

And that wasn’t even all! I didn’t post pictures of the campfires, blueberry recipe contest, craft class, outdoor movie night, star viewing, or all our new friends (44 people in 25 rigs).

We even left with mosquito bites on our legs, just like summer camp when we were kids.

Oh, and you’d better believe we signed up for another Hangout. Next year: Mexico!


Disclaimer: This blog was neither solicited nor compensated by the Escapees RV Club, nor any business mentioned or linked to herein. All opinions are our own; all mistakes are Emily’s (and I’ll correct them if you ask nicely, after I finish smacking my forehead and sighing grumpily).