This article is from the October 2000 The Mexico File newsletter.
Back Issues and Subscriptions available.

The First Timers RV Guide to Mexico Travel, Part I

by Gordon Jett 

Gordon Jett is a retired public relations and advertising executive. He and his wife, Betty, lived in Singapore and Australia, but always planned to retire in Mexico. They have lived in San Miguel de Allende for the past six years. The second half of this article will appear in the November 2000 issue of The Mexico File.  

My wife (co-pilot/navigator) and I have lived full-time in Mexico for the last six years. One of our homes is in San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful colonial town north of Mexico City. The other is wherever we park our RV. We have driven and camped from the US border to the Guatemalan border and from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Coast. 

The great majority of RVers we meet in Mexico love traveling here. “Wish we’d come down years ago!” is a common response. Yet most of the RVers we meet in the States think we are crazy. “Aren’t you afraid?” We answer truthfully that after living in Los Angeles with its gang wars, drive-by shootings, fires, mud slides, riots and earthquakes, Mexico is a tranquil haven for us. Are there places we would not go in Mexico? Yes, but not nearly as many as the places we would not travel in the US. 

There are many, many differences between our two countries. And one of the biggest differences is the driving conditions. In the States you can cover 600 miles a day with your brain on auto-pilot and your stereo going full blast. In Mexico, driving 150 miles can be a long, exhausting day. There are many potential driving hazards down here that you never encounter in the States. You really have to stay alert. 

Your co-pilot/navigator will earn his or her fare by adding an extra pair of eyes. There is much to see and much you have to see to avoid problems. If you consider right from the start that driving is a two-person job down here, you will have a safer and more enjoyable trip. 

My purpose in writing is not to scare people away from Mexico. Quite the opposite, it is to acquaint you with the differences between here and the States so you will be prepared, relaxed and confident about coming down. It is designed to help you drive your RV to any destination or cultural treasure you choose in Mexico and arrive safe and stress-free! 

CROSSING THE BORDER

Taking your vehicle into Mexico is a simple matter of P & P¼preparation and patience. Preparation means you have all your vehicles registration papers, driver’s license, proof of US citizenship (birth certificate), visa and proof of insurance. You don’t need a passport, but we always carry ours anyway. 

Your US vehicle insurance in not valid in Mexico. All those signs selling Mexican insurance as you approach the border are there for a reason. You have to have it. You can buy it by the day, the week, the month and the year and it’s not terribly expensive. Some US companies have Mexican affiliates and you can buy your insurance before you leave home. My own experience with Sanborn’s Insurance in McAllen, Texas, has been excellent (1-800-222-0158). They pay claims in dollars and provide excellent maps and detailed travelogs. You’ll find other Mexican insurance brokers advertising in Trailer Life, FMCA Magazine, Highways (Good Sam Magazine) and Escapees magazine. My advice is to buy insurance before you leave home and you’ll have one less thing to worry about on “Border Day.”

No matter what, you will probably be waved across the border by a bored looking guard. “Ah ha!” you’ll say. “What’s the fuss?” Truth is, you crossed the day tripper’s border, where thousands of gringos stream across for a few hours of mariachi music and margaritas. RVers may get a cursory search before being directed to the “Aduana” or customs agency. You’ll have to show your papers and will get a hologram for your windshield. It will cost $11 if you put it on a credit card and over $300 dollars if you don’t have a card! Basically it is a guarantee that you will return your vehicle to the US and not sell it in Mexico. This can be time consuming, but don’t sweat it 

If you are taking two vehicles into Mexico, you’ll need two credit cards and the names on the cards must match the names on your vehicle titles. If your vehicles have liens on them, you’ll need notarized written permission to bring them into Mexico. Mexico can be very relaxed about many things but paperwork regarding vehicles is not among them. Every document will be carefully inspected – all names and numbers must be an exact match. 

The real border for you is about twelve miles down the road, where you’ll be met by serious looking, well-armed guys in black uniforms. They will study your papers and will probably want to look in your vehicle(s). Let them! 

Your attitude at this and other checkpoints will determine how you are treated. Be patient, be polite, be pleasant. Have all your papers ready for inspection. We carry all our papers in a bright red binder, well indexed. My wife has the book on her lap as we approach any checkpoint and can hand over any paper requested in an instant. It is far better than frantically pawing through the glove box while the inspecting officer stands sweating in the hot sun! 

If you are a belt and suspenders person, check all your papers for accuracy before you leave home. We once registered a vehicle in Texas and covered half the US in it before coming back to Mexico. A Mexican inspector discovered the last two digits of our VIN number were reversed on our title. We had to turn around and drive 150 miles in Texas to get it straightened out. Don’t underestimate these guys. 

If any officer wants to inspect inside your rig, go in first and invite him in. Then stand back and allow him to open cupboards, closets and the refrigerator as he chooses. You will not have left small cameras or wads of cash lying around, any more than you would in the States. 

At various points throughout Mexico you will find other checkpoints. Some are Army checkpoints, some are drug agents, some are looking for illegal aliens, and others for agricultural products. The Yucatán, for example, will not allow you to bring in fresh meat. Our freezer was full of “pollo congelado,” frozen chicken, and we had no trouble. One family we know had lots of fresh meat and they were loathe to have it confiscated. They unloaded and had a big barbecue beside the road and then proceeded, full and happy. 

If there is a problem at a checkpoint, keep your cool. Blustering, swearing and threatening will only make it worse. If you’ve made an honest mistake, admit it, even if it means going back across the border. Remember that Mexico goes by Napoleonic Code, which means you are guilty until proven innocent. Insulting a uniformed officer in Mexico can be very counterproductive! 

I would not, under any circumstance, try to bribe my way out of any situation that revolves around hard facts such as mismatched numbers, expired registrations or the like. There may be a few situations where “mordita” (little bite) may be appropriate, but border crossings are not among them.

And finally, DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TRY TO BRING ANY FIREARMS OR AMMUNITION INTO MEXICO. THEY ARE STRICTLY FORBIDDEN AND NO EXCUSES ARE ACCEPTED. YOU WILL BE PUT IN JAIL FOR WEEKS, MONTHS OR EVEN YEARS, OR PAY A HEAVY FINE. THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT CANNOT HELP YOU. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! 

DRIVING ON MEXICAN ROADS

You won’t go very far in Mexico before you notice two things. First, you cannot count on any kind of signals from the vehicle ahead of you. No turn signals, no brake lights, nada! There are some well equipped, well driven vehicles, especially in larger cities, but you cannot count on them. Get used to it!

You learned to drive by watching the signals ahead of you. Now you’ll have to learn to drive by watching the driver ahead of you. You’ll see road signs which say, “Garde su distancia” (Keep your distance) and it’s damn good advice in Mexico. Always leave yourself as much room as possible behind the other guy.

As you’ll see farther along, your co-pilot/navigator will really earn his/her keep in Mexico because staying safe is a full-time, two-person job. 

Second, the roads are much narrower than you are used to in the States. When it comes to driving your RV into Mexico, bigger is not necessarily better. I’m not saying you can’t bring your 40-foot, wide-body Juggernaut Supreme into Mexico. Huge Mercedes busses and double semi-trailers navigate every road in Mexico, so if you’re careful, you can too. 

One way to feel safer (and be safer) in Mexico is for you and your co-pilot to practice hugging the right edge of the road before you cross the border. In safe, no-traffic conditions, let the co-pilot tell the driver when your right front tire is as far right as you can get it. Then make some kind of visual notation of how it looks from the driver’s seat. For instance, my truck has a ridge down the middle of the hood. From my normal driving position that ridge intersects what I can see of the right edge of the road when I’m as close to the edge as I can get. Try to get several hours of practice before you cross the border. 

Mexican secondary roads are so narrow you will have to drive like this most of the time when there is traffic. The problem is compounded by the fact that Mexican roads rarely if ever have shoulders. The drop-off may be anything from ½ inch to ½ mile! Guard rails are rare, too. So get the feel of where your right side wheels are at all times. It’s not all white-knuckle driving, but practice will make your trip more enjoyable. 

This “right on the edge” driving problem is further compounded by the fact that the right edge frequently crumbles away. Grossly overloaded trucks take a fearsome toll of road surfaces and potholes are a way of life in Mexico. If your way is clear, steer around them – but if you can’t, just hang onto your steering wheel. Better a bump or even a busted wheel than a head-on collision. 

This all more reason to keep your distance behind the vehicle in front of you. I was following a truck too closely one time and hit the mother of all potholes. The truck was wide enough to straddle it but I wasn’t. I bent a wheel and had to cut my trip short because I didn’t have two spares. If I had kept my distance, I would have seen the pothole in time to avoid it. 

Keeping your distance also helps avoid rear-ending the vehicle ahead of you. Trucks are so heavily loaded that they creep up hills at a walking pace. Coming around a curve on a hill you’re very likely to find a huge truck RIGHT THERE. Breakdowns and blowouts are frequent and, because there are no shoulders, the busted vehicle is still in traffic lanes.

In fact, there may have been a danger signal but you missed it. It may have been a small tree branch in the middle of the road. It may have been a red rag or even a red snack wrapper on a branch. Or even one rock piled on another in the road. This latter is so common that you will see signs that say “No deje piedras en el camino.” (Don’t leave rocks in the road). Drivers are so happy to be moving again that they frequently leave the rocks in the road and drive off. You’ll see many false alarms but take them all seriously. The rig you save may be your own! 

And finally, there is the problem of making a left turn in Mexico. In the States we have one way to do it, Mexico has five.

1.) In cities there is probably a left turn lane and a green arrow for protected left turn. All well and good if you remember that you can turn left only with the protected arrow. It’s a no-no to turn left on a green light after the arrow turns off even if the coast is clear.

2.) If there is no green arrow it’s up to you to judge when it’s safe. Do not count on Mexican drivers to give you any leeway here.

3.) On some roads you must exit to the right onto a lateral (side) road and then turn left, across oncoming traffic when it is safe

4.) On a two lane road, do not indicate a left turn and stop in the traffic lane. Pull off to the right onto a paved shoulder and wait until traffic is clear before making your left turn.

5.) On a divided highway, wait until you see a “retorno” sign and pull into a special left-turn lane and turn around when it is safe to do so. 

On a rural road with no traffic signals, you’ll often see a Mexican driver turn on his hazard flashers before turning. But again, don’t count on it. 

And to add a note of Mexican “quaintness” to this chapter, a left turn signal from the vehicle ahead of you can also mean, “It’s OK to pass.” It may sound confusing, but in practice it all works out pretty well. 

By the way, never pull out to pass another vehicle without checking in your left side mirror. Mexicans hate to wait in line. The guy six cars back may decide to pass a whole string of cars and by the time he is starting to pass you he’s going 80 miles an hour. On a three lane road I’ve been passed by a truck as I was passing another truck. Three abreast! 

And finally, the ubiquitous “tope,” pronounced “toe pay.” In the States they are called speed bumps and are not very common. In Mexico they are everywhere, especially entering and leaving every pueblo in Mexico. Some are clearly visible and/or have signs. Most are not marked. A few are a small ripple in the road. Most are truly axle busters. In traffic the vehicles ahead of you will be slowing down. If you are on the road alone, keep a sharp eye out. You must learn to spot them in time to slow down. You never know when you’ll hit a “biggie.” Believe me, a “biggie” hit at speed can ruin your whole day, if not your rig. 

The same goes for railroad crossings. Even if you can see a mile on either side, slow down to a walk for every crossing. Mexican RR tracks are rarely graded to match the road surface and many have no fill at all between the tracks. All the more reason to drive slow in Mexico! 

DRIVING AT NIGHT

This one is simple: Never, never, never drive at night! 

Re-read this entire phrase and memorize it word for word. Rephrase in your own words. Discuss it with your co-pilot/navigator and see if you agree on its meaning. A complete understanding of this point will save your life. 

THE PEMEX STATIONS

Pemex is the Mexican government’s monopoly gasoline and diesel fuel chain. Within the last few years there has been an amazing transformation here. The green and white logo used to signify the greasiest, grossest “gas station” you could imagine. I’m happy to say they are rapidly being phased out in favor of new, large truck-stop type operations. The new ones tend to be clean, well-lit and often have snack-shops or restaurants. They’re now large enough to handle even the biggest rig. (And wonder of wonders, the bathrooms (baños) are now usually clean and some even have toilet seats. But of course, that won’t affect you. We all know the real reason you bought an RV in the first place is so that you can travel with your own bathroom!) 

Diesel pumps usually have their own islands but the hoses only have truck-size nozzles. If you have a notoriously slow drinker like my Ford diesel pick-up you are in for a long fill-up. A company in Chico, California, called “Transfer Flow” has retro-fit, fast-fill kits for Fords and other brands, as well as auxiliary tanks for most RVs. 

One of the oldest tricks in Mexico is that the attendant will start pumping your fuel with the previous sale still rung up. You have no recourse when your “sale” shows twice your tank capacity but to pay the bill. If you do get caught , pay up and chalk it up to experience. 

What you must do is get out of your vehicle, stand by the pump and verify that the pump was re-set to zero. The newest pumps even have a sign that says, “Verifique marque cerros” (verify it shows all zeroes), indicating how common the scam really is. Do not check your tires or your oil or go to the rest room until your tanks are full and you’ve paid your bill. Stay at the pump and pay attention! One way to make sure you do that is to have a locking gas cap that you must unlock before taking on fuel. A friend of mine was watching the pump when a second “attendant” told him he had a low tire. My friend got out his tire gauge and checked the tire, which was OK. But when he got back to the pump it showed 50% more than his tank capacity. He had no alternative but to pay the bill. 

There are two grades of gasoline currently available in Mexico – Magna Sin (unleaded) at 87 octane and Premium Magna Sin at 89 octane. Prices are the same all over Mexico. New Pemex stations are being built on virtually every road in Mexico, often within sight of each other. Availability is not the problem that it was a few years ago, but it’s still wise to fill up whenever your tank gets to half. 

By the way, Pemex does not accept credit cards, checks or US currency. You’ll need to pay in pesos, so get some at a “cambio” (currency exchange) either before you cross the border or immediately after. 

Most Pemex stations have a regular army of peddlers hanging around, selling everything from cold tortillas to religious medals. I just say “No hoy, gracias” (not today, thanks) and wave my hand horizontally in front of me. You may have to repeat it several times. A particular hazard is a swarm of kids with greasy rags who want to “clean” your windshield. They are apt to be more determined than the old lady tortilla seller and harder to dissuade. But you should do it, unless you like greasy footprints the length of your hood. 

(Editor’s Note: Look for the second half of Gordon Jett’s guide to RV travel in Mexico in the November 2000 issue of Mexico File.)

 

 

This article is from the November 2000 The Mexico File newsletter.
Back Issues and Subscriptions available.
 

The First Timers RV Guide to Mexico Travel, Part II

by Gordon Jett   

Gordon Jett is a retired public relations and advertising executive. He and his wife, Betty, lived in Singapore and Australia, but always planned to retire in Mexico. They have lived in San Miguel de Allende for the past six years.  The first half of this article appeared in the October 2000 issue of Mexico File.

In a Mexican Campground

Mexico has no RV industry and very few Mexicans have RV’s, as we know them. But they all love to camp and any kind of campground will be wall-to-wall with tents and pickup trucks during Christmas Week and Santa Semana (Easter Week). The rest of the time it will probably be U.S. and Canadian RV’ers and a surprisingly large contingent of Europeans. The latter tend to drive vans or pop-ups. A lot of old VW vans are still chugging along in Mexico.

Most, but not all, Mexican RV campgrounds are along the Gulf and Pacific coasts. They are usually close enough together to make an easy day of driving. In central Mexico you may have to plan your route carefully to get from one to another in a day.

In 1997 a couple named Mike and Terri Church published the most complete guide to camping in Mexico since Carl Franz’s justly famous People’s Guide to RV Camping in Mexico was published in 1989. Mike and Terri’s book, Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping, even has maps to show you the exact location of each campground. It’s an absolute must before heading south. You can contact Mike and Terry at 1-800-265-6555, www.rollinghomes.com, or P.O. Box 2099, Kirkland, WA 98083-2099.

In any event, don’t expect to find U.S. standards in Mexican campgrounds. “Hookups” can be just about anything from an extension lamp cord out of the owner’s house and a sluggish garden hose on up. Many have no hookups at all, so you are essentially boondocking. On the other hand, there are a few RV parks in Mexico with all the amenities you are used to.

Many of the better campgrounds are used by RV caravans and can fill up for weeks – or even months – at a time. Along the coasts the better campgrounds fill up as soon as snow flies in the States and they stay full all winter.

Water in any Mexican campground must be treated before drinking or cooking. We use an external filter at the end of the supply hose and then treat the water with a bacteriastat. We use one called Sinbac. We add a capful per gallon and let it sit for five minutes. It has no taste or odor. We soak all unpeeled vegetables in it too. At popular campgrounds you’ll often find a guy with a pickup truck who sells five-gallon bottles of purified water.

Electricity can vary wildly in Mexico. Make sure you have plenty of fuses and other voltage protection before you head south. Reversed polarity is not uncommon, so a polarity checker is a good investment. RV’s with 30 and 50 amp service will need an adapter to use with 15 amp receptacles.

Dump sites also vary widely in Mexico and all of them are in campgrounds. There are no RV-friendly gas stations or roadside dump stations. Make sure you have at least 30 feet of black water discharge hose (I carry 40 feet) and a good supply of holding tank additive before you come down.

I’ve never had a problem with thievery in a Mexican campground, but I do take prudent precautions. Don’t leave tools or hoses or hitch parts lying around. Make sure your doors and windows lock securely. Don’t tempt fate.

Mexican Road Signs and Maps

Mexican road signs are not the highly visible green monsters we are used to in the States. This is a fact of life you’ll have to get used to. They may be hand-painted, they may be hidden by something or they may be far outside your normal range of vision. Or there may not be any signs at all. So how do you cope?

First, as I mentioned earlier, four eyes are better than two. Second, have at least two maps of your route and go over them carefully before you head out in the morning.Your dashboard compass will be very useful.

Guia Roji puts out a book of detailed maps that are very good and easy to follow. They have been known to put in roads that aren’t built yet, but that situation is pretty rare. You may be able to find Guia Roji in the States and they are easy to find in Mexico

You will often see two destination signs for the same place: “Libre” and “Cuota.” Libre is a free road and will have very heavy truck traffic. That road will probably be severely damaged by overloaded trucks and very bumpy. “Cuota” is a toll road. Most are recently built and are usually almost empty. They are boring and very expensive by U.S. standards. It’s not unusual to spend $100US or more on a day’s drive. Considering wear and tear on your rig and lighter traffic, I think the Cuota is a bargain.

When approaching a town of any size you will often see two arrows. One indicates “libremiento” and one indicates “centro.” Always take the libremiento if you have a choice. It is a bypass around the center of town and all the big trucks and buses will be on it. In many small towns, especially in Colonial Mexico, the central streets are hundreds of years old and were built for burro traffic. You can easily get your rig stuck and never get out!

If you take the centro there is no guarantee that what looks like a wide main street will go straight through town. We tried to drive through Pachuca one time. Within two blocks, the four-lane divided street dwindled down to a narrow one-way street which ended in a “T” intersection. I could not turn and I could not back up. The usual crowd of curious spectators quickly showed up as did a squad of police. They reversed traffic on a one-way street and moved several parked cars and I finally got free.

Then a cop indicated I should follow him¼to the station house. We spent four hours there as a full deposition was made of our “infraction” and we paid a 400 peso fine. It was all very polite and non-threatening. Once freed and back in our rig, a police car showed up and the driver indicated that we should follow him. Lights flashing , he led us to the road out of town and made one more indication that clearly said, “Don’t come back!”

PESOS INSTEAD OF DOLLARS

The US dollar and the Mexican peso use the same sign, “$,” but at this writing the peso is worth about a dime, at 9.75 to the dollar. It usually fluctuates daily within a narrow range that won’t affect your budget. Once in a while there is a major devaluation. The actual rate is published in daily papers and is displayed at all “cambios”( money changers).

Once you get south of the border tourist towns, U.S. money is not accepted by local merchants. You must either pay with Mexican money or use credit cards. Only a few large stores in Mexico accept credit cards so you may as well get used to Mexican currency.

Mexican bills are in denominations of $500, $200, $100, $50, and $20. Coins are in $20,$10,$5, $2 and $1 peso and $.50, $.20, $.10, $.05 and $.01 centavo denominations. With the exception of the 50 centavo coin the centavo coins are of so little value that they are rarely asked for or given.

One strange thing about Mexico is that there seems to be so little actual currency in circulation. Even in a major supermarket a checker will often have to ask the cashier for change of a $100 peso note. In smaller stores the proprietor will have to run next door or across the street to make change of a $50 peso note. Just be patient and you’ll eventually get the correct change. By the way, even Mexicans are confused by the similarity of the coins, so don’t be embarrassed to examine them carefully as you count out change.

You will have trouble cashing or paying bills with American bank checks in Mexico. U.S. traveler’s checks will be accepted only at banks and major hotels. Major banks with ATM machines will accept major credit cards and debit cards on PLUS, STAR and EXPLORE systems. You can withdraw $1500 pesos ($150US) on a daily basis. ATM’s in Mexico tend to run out of money more often than those in the U.S., especially on weekends. An increasing number of supermarkets now have ATM machines, as do Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco.

Banamex, Mexico’s largest bank, has a program you may want to check out before heading south. It’s called the Amistad (“friendship”) program and is designed just for tourists. Banamex has a branch in Los Angeles called the California Commerce Bank. A checking or savings account at CCB can be accessed with their ATM card at any Banamex branch in Mexico. We have all our income deposited automatically in CCB and use their ATM card for all our cash requirements. The exchange rate is as good as you can get and you don’t have to pay either credit card or bank charges. For more information about CCB and their Amistad accounts call 800-222-1234.

IN A MEXICAN GROCERY STORE

There is a much wider variety of grocery stores in Mexico than in the U.S. There are Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs and Costcos in Mexico, but they are located only in larger cities.

There are also several large supermarket chains in which you’ll feel very much at home. Gigante (“he-gan-tay”), Soriana and Commercial Mexicana (commer-see-ahl may-he-cana) are just three of them. Many sell household goods as well as food, and an increasing number have ATM machines. Incidently, supermarkets will have a bunch of kids waiting patiently (or impatiently!) to help you bag your groceries and get them to your car. Please use their services and tip them several pesos for helping you. They may be a major wage earner in their family! The same goes for the guy who waves you in and out of a parking spot.

Most likely you’ll be doing your shopping in something much smaller. “Mom & Pop” stores take on a new meaning in Mexico. It’s not unlikely that the “store” will be a few dusty cans on a shelf in someone’s living room. Save that kind of shopping for emergencies only.

Meat tends to be leaner in Mexico than in the US. Chickens are plentiful and fresh. Produce in supermarkets is not usually as fresh as you are used to, but street vendors often have day-fresh produce. Milk in Mexico is more convenient than it is in the US. It is ultra-pasteurized and sold in one-liter cartons. It does not require refrigeration until you open a carton. We buy a case regularly and keep only one or two in the refrigerator.

Liquor, beer and wine are plentiful and easy to buy in Mexico. Mexican beer is excellent. Mexican wine is so-so, but rums and tequilas are great. Imported stuff in any category is expensive. If you have to have your own special brand of single malt Scotch, you’d better bring it along.

On our last trip down the Gulf Coast we met a couple in a huge motor home who were desperately racing back to the States. They had brought along every bite of food and every drop of liquid they had consumed on a four-week trip into Mexico. And they were running out! Granted there are a few common-sense precautions about eating and drinking in Mexico, but to pass up everything in Mexico is to deny yourself one of the great joys of this marvelous country.

Ironically, the very next RV’ers we met had a custom of eating at whatever restaurant they passed at exactly 1 p.m., no matter how humble. They claimed they’d never had any problems, but somewhere between these two extremes would seem to be a prudent course to follow.

STAYING HEALTHY IN MEXICO

Call it what you want –  “Montezuma’s Revenge,” “The Turistas,” “The Mexican Two-Step,”but diarrhea is pretty common in Mexico. However it isn’t fatal and it is, by and large, preventable. Most of the cases you hear about are from people flying down to Acapulco and trying to cram a year’s worth of partying into a two-week vacation. You are different.You are unstressed and unhurried. You did not eat airline food on the way down. And you will be doing your own shopping and cooking.

Drinking water requires a simple but crucial purifying process. We use a product called SINBAC, a liquid bacteriastat. It’s available at almost every grocery store and farmacía (pharmacy) and comes in a ½ liter (1 pint) white plastic bottle with a red and green label. Put one capful in a gallon of water and let it sit for five minutes. It has no taste and no odor. Other brands are available widely available too.

Fruits and vegetables you won’t be peeling should be scrubbed with a brush and soaked in a double strength solution for ten minutes. This simple regimen soon becomes second nature and we have never had any problems with it.

Meats need to be thoroughly cooked. If you usually eat your steaks bloody rare, please change your eating habits in Mexico. I assure you that you will enjoy your trip more. Fish and shellfish are great in Mexico if you are near the coast, but I pass on seafood inland.

I suggest you avoid food from street vendors no matter how enticing it may be. Restaurants are usually OK, but you’d probably be wise to drink bottled beverages even if it is only agua pura (awa poora), bottled water. 

If you do have an internal problem. Pepto-Bismal and Imodium are readily available.

If you need more medical care than that, good medical care is widely available and at refreshingly low cost. Mexico’s Guadalajara Medical School has trained innumerable American doctors. Many doctors in Mexico speak some English. Their offices and equipment may not be up to Beverly Hills standards, but they are caring and will do their best for you. It is a distinct pleasure to walk into a doctor’s waiting room and be seen in ten minutes instead of making an appointment three weeks hence and having to wait an hour, as is common in the States.

Last year I had reason to want to see a cardiologist. I drove to our local brand-new hospital. A US- trained, English-speaking cardiologist saw me almost immediately. He gave me a 12-lead EKG on the spot. No problems were evident but he asked me to come back a week later for a stress EKG. I did so.

The doctor’s treadmill was connected directly to his computer so he got both measurements and diagnosis on the spot. Again, no problems. Both appointments included a half-hour of unhurried consultation. Total cost: $150US!

Dental care in Mexico has the same high standards and low cost. I recently had a root canal done, including five visits and x-rays for $75US. The equipment and technique were up-to-date and the dentist spoke excellent English. I’m not saying that every village and pueblo in Mexico can offer this kind of care but large cities and places where there are lots of tourists will certainly be able to match what I’ve experienced.

Elective surgery, such as plastic surgery is available and inexpensive here, too. San Miguel de Allende, where we live, must be the face-lift capital of the world. Half the gringas in town have 40-year-old faces and 70-year-old hands!

In summary, a little common sense and a few simple precautions will keep you as healthy in Mexico as you would be in the States. Perhaps even healthier!

GUIDE FOR YOUR PETS IN MEXICO

It seems like half the RV’ers we meet in Mexico are traveling with a pet or two. If you’re not happy without Fluffy or Spot, bring them along. Your vet in the States must provide all the precautionary shots and a letter saying they have been given. I suggest special attention to flea, tick and heart worm prevention. There are lots of new products on the market. There are excellent vets in Mexico if you need one. Many have trained in the States.

Plan to keep your dog or cat on a leash or confined at all times in Mexico. Never let them run loose. Fleas and ticks are very common, and rabies is not uncommon in Mexico. Any place you stay will have a pack of campesino dogs running loose and they may look at Fluffy more as a snack than a new friend.

Mexicans do not have the same fanatical love of animals that we do. You’ll see packs of roaming dogs that will disgust you. They will be starving and mangy and many will be limping from encounters with cars and trucks. Mexican truck drivers will not slow down or swerve for dogs – and the roadsides are sometimes littered with canine corpses. You must make up your mind that you will not take evasive actions to avoid hitting dogs in Mexico! The drivers behind you will not be expecting it and you could cause a major accident. That may sound cruel but one mangy dog saved is a high price to pay for crashing your rig. Trust me on this. 

Burros, horses, sheep, goats and cows are also common on the roads in Mexico. Do your best to avoid hitting one of these because they could do major damage to your rig – all the more reason to drive slowly and keep alert south of the border.

And finally, check with Customs before you bring a pet bird into Mexico. Quarantines are very strict in both directions.

PREPARING YOUR RIG FOR YOUR FIRST TIME IN MEXICO

I hope you are not so eager to travel in Mexico that you will buy a brand-new rig and head south. You’ll need several thousand miles of “shake-down cruise” (literally!) before you cross the border.

On the other hand, just because “Old Blue” has served you faithfully for 100,000 miles in the States doesn’t mean it will hold up in Mexico.

Mexican roads are much rougher that even secondary roads in the States. Curves are sharper and hills are steeper. You must have absolutely first class steering, brakes, tires and cooling. Engine belts should be brand new and you should carry OE spares. I recommend two mounted spare tires for each tire size you use. Make sure you’ve got adequate jacks and lug wrenches and know how to use them.

Pay particular attention to your wheel lugs. I’ve heard of two cases recently where wheel lugs failed in Mexico because they were not factory spec lugs. One was a very high priced rig so don’t feel complacent just because you paid big bucks. Have a knowledgeable mechanic check them before you leave home, and check them every day or so to see if they are tight. A torque wrench would be a very good investment here. Mexico is quite literally “hell on wheels.”

Remember that there are no “Camping Worlds” in Mexico. Mexican mechanics are famously talented and eager to please, but they aren’t magicians. In the old days there was very little that a Mexican mechanic couldn’t fix. But the advent of computer chips has changed all that.

Realistically, the most important thing you can do to make sure your rig serves you faithfully in Mexico is for you to have the right attitude! If you are relaxed and confident and willing to go with the flow, Mexico will reward you with the finest RV’ing in the world. But if you are in a hurry, up-tight and determined to do things your way, either you or your RV will break down. You’ll cross 10,000 topes in Mexico and if you ease over them you’ll do fine. But if impatience is driving, you’ll bash your rig to pieces.

There is absolutely no reason why any well-prepared rig with well prepared drivers cannot take you anywhere you want to go in Mexico and get you home again safely. Bien Viaje !!!

TOOLS AND SPARES YOU’LL NEED

At least one mounted spare tire and wheel for each size you use

Tire gauge

Heavy duty jack

Lug wrench and nut-breaker (extension handle)

Air pump, either manual or 12-volt

Spare oil and coolant

Tail light and turn indicator repair tape

Good old “duck”tape

Plenty of windshield washer fluid

Windshield wiper blades

Radiator hoses with hose clamps

Fan belts

Fuses

Flashlight with spare batteries and bulbs

Factory or “Chilton’s” repair manual

Air and fuel filters

Spare keys