WheRVe we been? Our travels, 1st quarter 2020

I’m departing from the usual format for this update because… well, because we’ve all had to depart from our “usual formats” this spring, yes? Sheesus, this.

I’ll borrow words from our friend, Joodie, at Chasing Dirt, “There is no way to blog today without some talk of The Virus, but I don’t really want to talk about it in any appreciable way. I have nothing to tell you that you don’t already know or aren’t hearing and seeing in about a thousand other places a million times a day. I have been wrestling with whether or not to continue to blog right now at all, not because I don’t have anything to share, but because I don’t want to seem callous or naive about the current state of our world by sharing anything else.”

Same.

Joodie, like me, is a person who needs to write (and you’ll get to “meet” her if you stick with me and keep scrolling). What I don’t need, not always anyway, is for my writing to be seen. So with that in mind, I’ll start with my customary travel map, and after that, just one pic from each of our major stops along the way to this COVID-19 Spring.

We went back and forth and around and around a lot,
from AZ to NM to AZ to CA to Mexico to CA and then across AZ and NM again to TX.
RV miles traveled this quarter: about 3236
(Map does not reflect exact routing.)
Tucson, AZ, 12/20/2019 – 01/06/2020
A day at the Desert Museum with our friends, Andrea & Shawn of 40FootHouse
Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, AZ, 01/06 – 01/12
Quiet, secluded boondocking in the grasslands
Whiskey Mountain RV, Phoenix, AZ, 01/12 – 01/17
Had repair work done, and spent some time staring at this clock in the lobby.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM, 01/18 – 01/25
Service project! Cleaned the place with paint brushes. Read this post.

Alamogordo, NM, 01/25 – 02/02
Ranger-led sunset hike at White Sands National Park
Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area, AZ, 02/02 – 02/04
Boondocking and a hot tub
Phoenix, AZ, 02/04 – 02/11
Dinner meet-up with Kevin & Judy, who were our co-managers at the pumpkin patch in CA, back in October
Gila Bend, AZ, 02/11 – 02/13
That’s Joodie and her husband! There on the left!
We didn’t know they were staying at the Gila Bend Famcamp when we pulled in, and they didn’t know we were coming, but Joodie spotted us, and we were thus able to spend some quality time together.
She wrote it up here.
San Felipe, BC, Mexico, 02/14 – 02/24
Ten days of tequil-aaaahhhhh
(and lots of tacos, relaxation, and fun with friends, all of which you can read about here)
Borrego Springs, CA, 02/26 – 03/06
Boondocking in the desert, with PCT hiking for Tim, and recovery from the “San Felipe Flu” for me
Kerrville, TX, 03/08 – present
Our 3rd springtime gig as camp hosts is stretching quite a bit longer than the planned 3 weeks, so that we can continue to help contain the spread of COVID-19 by staying in place.
Also? We’ve doubled our occupancy by sheltering our younger son and his girlfriend with us.
Hooray for full hook-ups!
And when I look back on this season, what I want to remember is that when it felt like everything else in our world had stopped, the bluebonnets still showed up.
And bluebonnets don’t have to worry about social distancing.

Where to next: We’ll ride out April here in Kerrville, and we’re just going to have to wait and see which of our plans in May, June and July are still viable. Same as everybody else.

Please stay well, y’all. Please.


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.

¡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!

Pssst. If you go to a dentist in Mexico to save money? Awesome tacos afterward.

“Going to the dentist, eh? Where?”

“Mexico. Right across the border in Nogales. It’s a thing.”

“Oh. (pause) Wait. WHAT???”

I’m guessing we’re not the only RV’ers who have participated in a conversation like this.

I know we’re not the only ones who have stayed in a campground, RV park, or BLM area near the border on the US side, and then walked into Mexico to take advantage of professional, efficient, and inexpensive dentistry.

Yes, you can walk in. In fact, it’s the preferred entry method due to ease and convenience — no worries about a potential automobile search at the border crossing, or about a tricky insurance claim should you be involved in a traffic accident on the Mexican side. The dental practices want to make things easy for their American customers, so they are located within steps of the border.

Into Mexico we go. Our friend, Mark, is in the blue shirt, and Tim is in the red one.

We left The Toad at our RV park in Amado, AZ, and drove the BFT about 30 miles south to Nogales, AZ, where we parked at a McDonald’s that was just a quick walk up the hill from the border crossing. The McDonald’s, like other public parking lots nearby, collects a $4 fee (cash only) and gives you a card to leave on your dashboard to show you’ve paid — and to keep you from being towed.

Parking’ll set you back $4, but you can use the ticket to get a free beverage in town!

But… who?

The practice we chose — based on recommendations from others staying at our RV park in southern Arizona — was Dental Laser Nogales*, which offered the following:

  • Comprehensive and informative web site
  • Prompt responses via both phone and email
  • Fluent English (to include office staff, dentists, and hygienists)
  • Payment via cash, debit or credit; some US dental insurance plans accepted
  • A very clean facility, with modern equipment
  • A full range of services including but not limited to preventive and cosmetic dentistry, implants, orthodontia, dental surgery, crowns, fillings, and of course x-rays, exams and cleanings
  • Both pre-scheduled and walk-in appointments

Our dental destination was in a courtyard just a few steps from the border.

We made our appointments ahead of time. Our friend, Mark, who joined us for the adventure, asked when we got to the office if he too could get a cleaning, and despite the busy waiting room (full of other Americans doing the same thing we were), they were able to work him in. We were seen on time, and all three of us were out the door less than an hour later.

Completing intake paperwork is the same ritual in both countries.

The equipment in the building was quite modern, but these stairs offered a little taste of Old Mexico.

And speaking of a taste of Mexico, we walked to a local cafe for a late lunch of shrimp tacos after our appointments!

But… why?

Why go to Mexico for dentistry when we’ve got that here on US soil?

I can tell you the primary reasons we chose to do so:

  • Cost. We opted not to purchase military dental insurance after Tim retired from the Navy in 2013. Paying out of pocket for a dental exam and cleaning (without x-rays) at our former dentist in San Antonio, TX, would have cost us $110.00 each. An exam, cleaning and x-rays in Mexico? $35.00 each. To avoid international transaction fees and potentially unfavorable exchange rates on our credit card, we paid in cash. US dollars were accepted, so there was no need to exchange for pesos.
  • Adventure. We like stepping out of our comfort zone from time to time, and had done enough reading on the subject to determine that this is in fact a pretty safe bet — but we wanted to see for ourselves.

For more information on why Mexican “dental tourism” has grown such a following in places like Nogales and the even more popular city of Los Algodones, I refer you to this article from NPR that helped solidify our decision to make a go of it.

And if you want to read more personal accounts from others who have done so, especially those who make use of their recreational vehicles to get there, you can find numerous true-life experiences on the internet, by using search term strings like “RV dentist Mexico.” I can’t list every blogger whose story eased my mind or made me laugh, but I thank them all for their honest accounts and helpful information.

Mira.
They said not to drink the water.
I am an obedient traveler.

But… how?

  • Ask other RV’ers in your park who they recommend. If you are anywhere within 50 miles of a border crossing, you will not have a problem finding someone who has been there, done that.
  • If you’re still nervous, ask that person to accompany you, and offer to buy his or her lunch as thanks. Seriously, who turns down tacos?
  • Take your passport.
  • Park on the US side of the border in a designated lot, and walk through the border crossing (see above).
  • Know your cell phone plan, and your service provider’s rules for use in Mexico. We chose to avoid the risk of surprise international charges by putting our phones in airplane mode. For the brief time we were across the border, they served as timepieces and cameras only.
  • Find out beforehand what methods of payment the dental practice will accept, and in which country’s currency. Some practices accept US dental insurance plans, so ask.
  • Be prepared: vendors on the Mexican side will approach you and ask if you’d like to buy whatever merchandise it is they’re selling, or to come into their store, bar, or restaurant. There’s no need to be afraid or rude; it’s how business is done there. We were approached at least three times, but declined each vendor with a “No, gracias,” and were not bothered further.

Back to the US we go…

But… was it worth it?

Yes. And we’d do it again, without hesitation.

It was a convenient, professional experience, and we love that we saved so much money. Also, at the bargain price of $150, a teeth-whitening trip to Mexico is in my future!

Clean smiles

*Disclosure: We were not compensated in any way by Dental Laser Nogales. This was our first and only experience with border town dentistry, and all opinions are our own.

Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Outdoor cooking: We got the barbacoa

Tim is a fan of outdoor cooking — specifically that which involves charcoal and a Dutch oven.

I am a fan of letting Tim do the cooking.

Today, we adapted this recipe for Slow Cooker Barbacoa, and although nobody who’s lived in South Texas for more than two suppers would call it true barbacoa (wrong part of the cow, wrong cooking method), what it yielded was some Damn Good Shredded Beef, and we shall enjoy its tender, savory deliciousness in tortillas, on salads, and right off a fork. Definitely a keeper.

I changed nothing about the recipe (?!?) but the cooking method.

For the Dutch oven: Brown the meat, onions and garlic over 23 coals. Add the remaining ingredients, transfer 7 coals to the lid, and allow meat to cook for 3-4 hours, replacing coals as necessary. Shred and serve as per recipe at link above.

For the Dutch oven: Brown the meat, onions and garlic over 23 coals. Add the remaining ingredients, transfer 7 coals to the lid, and allow meat to cook for 3-4 hours, replacing coals as necessary. Shred and serve as per recipe at first link above.