Guadalajara

Guadalajara HouseLovely, old city with too many vowels in its name – from now it’s GDL. It’s well-known that GDL is one of the safest cities in Mexico and we were told the only reason for that is that the boss of one of the biggest cartels has the family residence around these parts… A case of not defecating on your own doorstep even if that means plenty of poo everywhere else. In addition, the only reason that the place looks fairly neat and tidy with rubbish bins on every street corner was the recent PanAmerican Games held here, a temporary blip in the normal run of things that made me think of home and the coming Olympics… All in all, it’s a very relaxed and friendly place  – by night we parked up near the compact centre of town within range of the free GDL wi-fi – by day we found a spot on a busy road not far away where we met one of GDL’s graffiti aficionados.Guadalajara graffiti Cue a spot of spray decoration on the yellow side of Jigsaw – the first of a series of graffs from everywhere before us, a kaleidoscopic art mural, representing the nations of the world on a van that has driven through them… that’s the idea anyway – stay tuned on that…Fath Ey Out graffs Jigsaw

Guadalajara Historic City Centre

Tequila

Blue agave harvest

Blue agave harvest

With the sun setting on our first day’s drive inland towards Guadalajara, we arrived in Tequila. Parked up for the night outside one of the many breweries and strolled into town to sample the atmosphere, the tacos and the alcohol. In the end we decided against purchasing anything more than a few postcards – most of the liquor looked like it had come from the nearest cash-and-carry wholesalers to be honest. On the way out of town in the morning, we stopped to shoot some video, and otherwise annoy, a team of workers hacking their way through a field of blue agave, piling the heavy cores high into trucks. We’d seen loads of these trucks around and while the chemistry of distillation and the well-advertised brewery tours held little attraction, the sight of these weird-looking, alien egg things certainly intrigued us. I remember reading somewhere that there was a shortage of mature, ten year old, blue agave plants leading to a possible world shortage of tequila and, as it turned out, talking to the plantation owner, they were now being brought to the bottle after six years. Does this mean inferior tequila is being produced these days? He wouldn’t say…

San Blas

San Blas, Playa de Bottega Sunset

We were pointed this way weeks ago and we will forever be grateful for that – San Blas is the perfect stop on a round-the-world journey. Especially after many weeks of driving with not more than a few days stopped anywhere since leaving North California – this was the Tropical Paradise we had been waiting for…

But beautiful beaches aside, it was the people we met and spent time with that made this a wicked two weeks off the road: Special mention goes to Alex and Katie, a UK couple cycling around North America, with whom it was a pleasure to hang out with – on the beach drinking tequilla, the boat trip around the crocodile infested mangrove swamps or the early morning whale watching.

Los Cocos RV Park

Jigsaw at Las Cocos RV Park

Jigsaw at Las Cocos RV Park
Vaga San Blas
RV Park Spring CleanThis is the first RV park that we have ever stayed in so far on this journey. Not the first time that we’ve paid money – that has happened to thingy’s mother for a place in her front garden in Irkutsk and again in Seoul at the World Cup Stadium car park which was pure tarmac heaven but the toilet did have heated seats that squirt water up your bum.

So we’re a little green with the trailer park etiquette – do you leave the lights on in the toilets at night? – Is it OK to run power tools on the hook-up? Is it OK to empty the contents of the van out onto the pristine grass and cause a right old rag and bone mess by day that is only superficially tidied up as the sun goes down but manages to get away with it cos, well, Los Cocos RV Park is a well cool and chilled out place.

I’d like to state here that I think it’s OK to arrive in a tropical paradise and then spend the next five days building cupboards, painting rubberized coatings on the undercarriage, fixing fans, etc. My essential point is that I’d rather do them here, with pleasant weather, dog walks on the beach and cheap tacos everywhere, than, say, rainy old Czech Republic or housed in a gloomy warehouse under imminent eviction from the London Olympics Force. Some people must think it’s sad but, possibly, their only experience of tropical paradise is the expensive ten days book-ended by Heathrow Airport that demands no work and all play. But this trip is, of course, fundamentally different – we are looking at the next six months at least in the Tropics and we feel we need working fans, rubberized undercarriages and cupboards in order to make the most of that time.

Next week I’m going to justify why I like to spend my days staring in a computer screen even though I’m at a surfer’s beach internet caff sipping an ice coffee or was it fresh coconut and rum?

How to Get Rid of Mice in Your Truck

Mice Hide Dog Food

Basically with mousetraps. The ones that kill. We found around 4 kg of dog food that the mice had nicked from Vaga’s food bowl. They had hidden it; behind the gas bottle; under the fridge, in the flat-screen cupboard; in the tent-poles bag (which is slung under the chassis); between the driver’s seat cushion and the frame… Poor dog must have been starving – we thought she was eating well. But she wasn’t – it was the mice. And that was in the winter, back in California – yes, we’ve had them for months now and it’s got to the stage…

The first thing you do is put all your food in mouse-proof containers but that just directs them elsewhere – for mice have to chew: if they don’t, their ever-growing teeth grow right up through their brain. They are forced to chew. And the next thing they chew is electrical cables and gas tubes: there was the faint smell of a gas leak; left front and rear speakers stopped working; the lights over the desk wouldn’t come on…. what if they started on some serious cabling in the engine?

So we bought two humane traps that trap the mice in a box. We caught the babies, who must have spent hours inside squealing and scratching and basically alerting their parents never to go near these kind of traps again. By the time we let them out on a patch of grass far from the truck in San Francisco somewhere – go be City Mice! They staggered around exhausted and went of to flop under a bush – surely to be caught by a cat  – those traps didn’t look particularly humane.

So next we bought the sticky paper stuff. We caught one smallish mouse and set it free but he must have alerted the family to the new danger because all we found on the sticky paper ever again was the tell-tale sign of patches of mouse hair. By now, we were getting properly fed up with the buggers. Vaga had already torn up her sponge bed one night when we left her alone in the truck: At first we thought she had missed us but I think it was a particularly frustrating night for her not being able to catch them even as her food was spirited away before her.  And it wasn’t just the dog – any normal-hearing person was kept awake all night with these rodents running around the double walls, in and out of cupboards, desperately trying to find something to chew on to stop their teeth growing out through their brain…

With increasing rage, then, we employed the standard, traditional mousetrap: Bang, bang – we got mother and father in two nights of death. They were beautiful specimens, glossy coats and all, well-fed on high-protein nourishing dried dog food, of course… Mice, no more. Now we have ants.

 

Mazatlan, Push-starting and Heartworm

Mazatlan Mariscos Dunia

Comfortably in the Tropics at last, we spend a couple of days in Mazatlan doing stuff – the town is pretty enough; long seafront boulevard with free parking, instead we chose to overnight on the busy, main road close to a Telcel shop whose wi-fi fuels an internet session (this time for financial reward, hopefully). Yes, we missed the famous Mazatlan sunset, the deepest of reds over rocky islands set in a bay but I guess you can google pictures of them – what you can’t google is the film of Dunia in the hot seat as we push-started Jigsaw on the busiest street on a Friday afternoon rush-hour… Flat battery, broken battery isolater, solar panel not connected? We couldn’t figure out why Jigsaw wouldn’t start but the next day all was fine… Hmm.

Mazatlan VetBut the biggest news for us was Vaga testing negative for heartworm. The story began a few years ago when any vet checking Vaga’s heart beat heard that there was a massive heart murmur and the likely cause would be heartworm. But we never had her tested – vets in the rich countries advised us to get her treated (which is very expensive, very dangerous for the dog and traumatizing for everyone), while our more sensible vet, Dr. Richter of the Czech Republic, always said that it was kinder to just leave it and hope for the best… We always followed his advice mainly because Vaga never showed any symptoms of having a dodgy heart – the medical recommendation being to avoid over-working her (ha – this dog sleeps for Jesus!).

So, anyway, heading into the Tropics means heading into heartworm country. The worm spreads from animal to animal via mosquito and requires warm temperatures at all stages of its life cycle. This high risk meant we were looking at prevention (chewy drug-laced morsels administered once a month) which means in turn you should test the animal for any existing heartworm. The point is you have to be careful not to kill the heartworm as there’s a high risk that the dead worm blocks a major artery.

At Mazatlan’s finest, poshest veterinary practice, we got Vaga’s blood tested and half an hour later got the all clear. She’s still got a dodgy heart but it’s the heart that she was born with 10 years ago, worm-free and persistently pumping…

 

Tropic of Cancer

Mexican Tropic of Cancer

What we should have done is taken a photo of someone smoking a cigarette with one hand covering up the letter ‘R’ in that sign…

Halfway down the Pacific coast we cross the Tropic of Cancer, the line around the planet that represents the furthest north that the sun can appear directly overhead. Between here and its southern counterpart, the Tropic of Capricorn, is the hot zone otherwise known as the Tropics.

This means that our trusty solar panel, glued flat to our roof, is going to be doing the photovolt of its life. For the first time ever, barring the odd climb or descent down a steep hill at the correct time of a sunny day, the solar panel is soon going to be perfectly perpendicular to the sun’s rays and added to the general increase of intensity, maybe we’ll see our batteries getting a proper charge.

Navopatia Field Station

navopatia field stationJust a few miles of the highway, along a washboard road that cuts through fields, Navopatia is a small, off-grid community. Surrounding the village is an Organ Pipe cactus forest – one of the best preserved in the whole world – and on one side is a large salt-water estuary which attracts countless species of birds and animals. This place has got to be one of our most favourite ever – the field station is run by natives from Washington State who come here every year to catalogue the wildlife and host students and the occasional lost travelers. We had such a wonderful few days here: kayaking, celebrating New Years Eve, morning walks watching the dolphins and meeting some of the people who have houses here and even helping out with the construction of the field station’s new kitchen (hope that table doesn’t collapse – you could hardly get a screw into that hardwood they use – it was like concrete).