Mazatlan was great for us. We had enough time here to get into a good routine. We love to walk, hike, lift weights, eat good and have fun together. It is hard to imagine a better place for that kind of activity, that is I mean, one that we can afford. The weather has been perfect never needing more then a T-shirt and shorts day or night and the sun has been out every day.
We constantly rethink our trip route and schedule, always telling ourselves that we can do anything, nothing is set in stone. Our adventure is more road trip from here on in. We expected it to be the other way around thinking we would do most of our driving early in the trip then find a place to stay long term. We remind ourselves that this is not a bad thing, it only means that we have liked where we were too much to leave quickly. Our trip planning was getting more intense the week leading up to our leaving Mazatlan. The guide books are out and the maps are getting marked up. The guide books are filled with warnings about roads I plan on driving and beaches I looked at checking. To me this is a willing challenge and I plan our tactics accordingly, for Heidi it's scarier. I've been pouring over books for more then a year planning the trip and have had time to put it all into perspective but for Heidi this is new. We now talk about our strategy, our route and down to exactly where we plan to look for each nights lodging and for how long. I'm getting so excited I can hardly stand it and so is Heidi.
The jeep is packed and we're out of Mazatlan early. I've used the jeep very little while in Mazatlan but did notice it has been making a squeaking sound when first starting out and sometimes I felt a clunk. I'm thinking maybe playing in the Baja for a couple of months has taken a toll. I felt the clunk when we first hit the road that morning. When we got on the highway I was feeling a vibration, I tried to ignore it but couldn't. Heidi confirmed it. The vibration stopped at times but would always come back when we slowed down then started to pick up speed again. I was hoping it was the straps humming on the luggage rack. Heidi felt the inside of the roof, no vibration there. I finely find a shady spot to pull over and check it out. I felt the hubs on all four wheels, all were cool. I crawl underneath and feel the front and rear differential. The rear diff. was hot but not burning. I figure it must get hot, that's where all the power is transferred. I just had the U-joints replaced last summer on both the front and rear drive axle so I didn't even check it. I readjust the straps on top and take off. The vibration is not any better. I'm having Heidi check the maps for any city of size ahead in the direction we are traveling. It's not looking good and getting worse, going up hill it really starts to vibe. I find the first place to pull over. I felt stupid for not checking the axle slop the first stop. I crawl under and grab the axle with a rag and twist. The rear U-joint is shot and the bolts holding it in place were loose. Alarm, we are in trouble!! I get out the tools and tighten the bolts that hold the axle in place. We're off, I was hoping that this would stop the vibration but NO, I think it was worse. We look at the map. We are midway between Mazatlan and Tepic. We know Mazatlan, we know where the hotels are with parking and how to get around. It's also closer to the US in case we need to retreat and try to limp north back across the border. Scenarios are racing through our heads. If the jeep stays like this maybe we should just shoot for the border now. We need to cross the mountains and do some steep climbing if we go that route, not good. We were about 70 miles out of Mazatlan when we turned around, the closer we got to Mazatlan the more apparent it becomes that this needs to get fixed now, before we go anywhere. I am really bumming, not so much because I have to fix the jeep, I expect problems with a 15 year old rusty jeep, but for all the destinations we will miss if we have to abort the mission now and turn for home.
We were taking it super easy and pulled into Mazatlan. I was thinking of looking for a shop first but after the second or third stop light the sucker blew! Super heavy in town traffic and we got no drive. I whip on the parking break while Heidi and I are screaming trying to engage the emergency flashers, we couldn't find them! It took only seconds to figure out 'stop looking for the flashers and take care of the emergency at hand'. I jump out to let the traffic know I'm not moving and to pick up what ever fell off the jeep. The traffic stayed a good car length behind, maybe because they saw our drive shaft lying in the middle of the road. Drivers in Mexico have been very courteous. The traffic is handling it so I do a little dance and go pick up the drive shaft from the middle of the road. I throw it inside the jeep and calmly climb back in, stick it into FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE and we proceed on down the road. One advantage of owning lots of old rusty vehicles your whole life is you run into lots of problems and learn how to deal with them. We were about two miles from hotel Del Sol, we pull in with no problems spewing transfer case fluid for the first mile. We have our same room back and the jeep is sitting right outside of our door, we can't believe how lucky we are!
The first thing we do back at the hotel is get some ice, mix a cocktail, flick on MTV and start talking. If I was a smoker I would be taking a couple deep drags and letting the smoke out slowly. I had all these ideas in my head after breaking down about how I was going to go about getting us back on the road and home again. Now it was time to develop the plan. Before our cocktails were half down it became obvious that I will take off marching with the drive shaft in hand. I need to get a new U-joint part, I need the old U-joint pressed out and the new U-joint pressed in, I'm confident I can stick the axle back on the jeep and all the rest myself. Heidi and I are looking up words and compiling phrases in Spanish for getting the job done. I have a cheat sheet in hand and take off on a bus. I get off at a road where I think there are maybe some mechanics. Next I flag down a taxi and ask him to take me to a Jeep shop or any grand auto shop.
Two miles and $2.50 later the taxi pulls into a good mechanic that he knows. First I go next door and see if I can get the part. The guy holds up the drive shaft and I think says "No problem"
I have the part in hand, about $6. I'm so happy I'm getting giddy (No, not me!)
I then go next door to look for the mechanic, Sanchez.
I pull out my most proper Spanish and ask for help. Before I know it I have two mechanics drop what they were doing and start working on pressing out my bad U-joint.
These guys were great, they worked for over twenty minutes on getting that old rusty U-joint out and the new U-joint pressed in Everyone is smiling. I asked how much, they seemed embarrassed to ask me for so much money, $9.00. I gave the mechanics a $2 tip.
Back on the road looking for a bus, but No, first I see this. Buy the looks inside I think the bar is associated with this $5.00 pink hotel next door. @
"Cars break down
and people break down
and other things break down too
so let's go down together..."
I'm following your write up with excitement, amigo. I love it. A good thing about travelling in Mexico is the availability of knowledgeable mechanics. And damn if Mexicans weren't about the kindest people on the planet when a gringo is in need of some help.
These photos of the u-joints and your self portraits are cracking me up.
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And damn if Mexicans weren't about the kindest people on the planet when a gringo is in need of some help.
Driving South into Mexico:
We do a quick 'checklist' rundown; break off, everything on top lashed down, is their anything we don't feel right about. We do a pinky shake and commit to safety just before I stick it into gear. For the second time we try to leave Mazatlan for points farther south, tonight we're shooting for somewhere near Puerto Vallarta. While driving along the drive shaft seemed good but the further we got the worse the jeep ran. The engine was running really bad at slow speeds. I'm having a tough time keeping it running and had to pull over to adjust the idle speed screw on the carburetor so it wouldn't kill, this is not good. Driving in town is no fun, we jerk back and forth while the motor tries to keep running. This can't continue, when the motor oscillates between almost killing and running it feels like there are no breaks.
Getting gas in route:
About 200 miles and almost eight hours later we pull into Sayulita, a beautiful small beach community of surfers and tourists looking to avoid the crowds of Puerto Vallarta. We see a sign for $50 bungalows, sounds good. Two nights right on the beach in a tropical paradise setting. Out of all the places we've been in Mexico, Sayulita is the best for sure. We talk about wanting to live here forever. To go anywhere, includes a barefoot walk two or three blocks along a beach filled with surfers, after that a choice of beach bars, restaurants, markets and cafe's. Down the beach the other direction are a few small beautiful tropical hotels with decks and terraces jetting out over the beach. The ocean water here is warm. The beaches are good for swimming but you have to be able to handle a big wave or two to get out. We look at the waves here as being small compared to the waves we had at Todos Santos, people here say they are big. We are where we want to be. Again our luck holds out.
Heidi and I are now involved in high level discussions, we are not feeling good about the jeeps ability to make it back to the US the way it's running. Are emotions are running wild, one day we're headed south, next day north, one day the jeep is fixed the next not. The guide books are back out and the maps are getting marked. We pick a bailout route heading north toward the border while trying to hit several major colonial cities along the way. We are determined to enjoy the trip back as much as possible, we have the time, as long as the jeep keeps running.
After I took a short ten mile ride to an ATM it became obvious that I had to try to fix this jeep problem Now. I have a plan, first extend our stay here in paradise for another week so I have time to fix the problem, Heidi likes that idea. Then take the slow speed jet assembly out of the carburetor and soak it in cleaner. That all went smooth but no difference, the jeep still ran like crap. Now plan B:
1. Take the plugs out and give them a good look and gap them.
2. Check every vacuum tube and connection again.
Well I sure did something right, the jeep now runs like a top. At first the idle speed shot up to around 1500 RPM like it should have. I adjusted the screw to bring it back down to 900. It ran smooth. A short test ride was like night and day. The jeep was fixed but I couldn't believe anything I did fixed it. Well I was right, it didn't, during my vacuum tube inspection I noticed a large diaphragm assembly attached to the carburetor was hanging funny, I moved it back into place. It turns out, that was my problem. A bracket that holds the diaphragm in place rusted off causing the plunger to be fully extended causing the motor to run bad at slow speed. I've always liked to fix things but the pleasure I'm getting here is indescribable. After a short walk to the hardware store I'm back with some bailing wire to hold the diaphragm in place. The jeep has a Band-Aid fix and again we're pointing it south, deep into Mexico.
Buses run out of Sayulita about ten times a day headed for Puerto Vallarta. Heidi and I take a day off and are on the bus by 8:30 AM for a day of exploration and goofing off.Waiting for the bus this guy was selling sea food by the kilo. He gave his entire sales pitch over the megaphone and people started gathering.
The bus ends at the city terminal, from there we hop on a city bus to the old downtown and malecon area. Our main mission is to eat and find a couple book stores the guide book talks about. Finding reading material in English is sometimes an effort. Using a map of the city torn from the guide book we find the caf' with the big used book selection, Heidi has several she trades in. Next we're looking for Senor book where we can buy a new Mexico guide book, ours is out of date and in many pieces. We find Senor book no longer exists but we are told there are more book stores downtown. At a book store downtown a sales person gives us a card of an English book store down near where Senor book should have been. We got everything we needed and more and had a great time, about eight hours of walking around and goofing off.
Heidi making new friends:
Being on the road in a foreign country is stressful, especially when your ride isn't running good and you're not sure where you're spending the night. After we get settled in at a new destination we can both feel our mood change from wanting to start heading for home to wanting to check out the next destination south. We are for sure settled in here and both can't wait to get to the next destination, as long as the jeep keeps running. With our new 2005 Lonely Planet guide book we plan our next several stops south; Melaque, Colima (in search of some famous mask makers and some volcanos), Tracones, Acapulco, Puerto Escondido, city of Oaxaca. We're thinking a week or more in the state of Oaxaca while we look for more mask makers, shop and check out the scene.
Sayulita was like a dream, we wish we had a month to spend here because it's so perfect. A week was good but now we are concerned with extended stays eating away precious days into our schedule, we don't like that. Heidi and I have developed a good system for adventure traveling, we like to give each place enough time to really check it out. Things aren't going as planned but as some great travelers like to say "The adventure begins when things stop going as planned" We look forward to the road ahead.
Driving south of Puerto Vallarta is beautiful. We felt like we were in another world, it was so awesome. This is where the classic movie 'Night of the Iguana' was filmed.
Part of the chores when living out of a jeep long term. I buy large jugs of purified water and pay about the same for 5 gallons as I would for a single gallon, about $1.20.
Our Jeep idle speed mysteriously shot up to around 1500 RPM and it started to run on after turning off the ignition. The jeep also acquired a new clicking sound that seems like it's coming from the U-joints. I go under the hood and adjust the carburetor idle speed down to around 900 RPM. Next I crawl under and look at the drive shaft. It seemed good but we have concerns, it shouldn't be clicking.
Melaque / Barra de Navidad:
We stop for lunch at a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere and meet some people who were getting ready to close a big development deal in the area, they were waiting for their clients. It ends up one of them, Marsha, owns a hotel close to the place where we are shooting for that day, Barra de Navidad. It was priced toward the top end of our budget, $55 but they said it had parking. It ended up no other place in town had adequate parking for our Jeep. Marsha's hotel was the nicest we have stayed in during this trip for sure, everything in and around the hotel was like new and designer like, plus it had a pool and cable TV. No way would we have found this place without the card Marsha gave us. It was difficult finding the place even with the small guide book map we had.
Our luck holds out and we find ourselves in another charming Mexican beach vacation spot. On one side of a narrow sand peninsula is the Pacific ocean, the other side is a large lagoon with a sand beach island you can swim to.
Our laptop keyboard started to spew some type of resin when I used it in the sun one day. The next day I had no back space or space bar, Hatin it. I pour some rubbing alcohol on the keys and work them by tapping on the keys. After drying it out I fire the laptop back up. The keys were working better now but the computer was acting funny, then the screen went haywire, then the computer was dead. After several attempts of taking the laptop apart, cleaning it and reassembling I finely get it back working. I was ecstatic, the thing was completely dead and now it lives. The only problem now was the keyboard didn't work at all. The external mouse worked so I knew an external keyboard will work also! The next day I pull into a small village to a small PC shop attached to a home, it was about 6 miles away. I walk away with a new $11 keyboard and a big smile.
The lagoon. This is looking at the island. Sailboats go in here and stay long term.
There is another town on the opposite side of the bay, Melaque. It's about an hour of hard beach walking to go from one town to the next. Melaque is less glitzy then Barra de Navidad but has a beautiful location and nice facilities for beach goers.
Live music at a Mexican beach party. We see a lot of roaming musicians in Mexico ready to provide live music at a moments notice.
This is the adventure I have been dreaming of since before I was 16 years old after I borrowed a road atlas from my Dad. I'll never forget the feeling I had when I saw you can drive all the way down to Central America. Thinking about driving through Mexico and communicating with Mexicans really gave me a chill. I knew then that some day I would drive south of the border and experience all that for real. Well, we are experiencing on this trip all we could ever have dreamed of and more. From our insecurities and fears to our overwhelming joys and thrill in doing new things together. This is an adventure into ourselves and our relationship as much as it is into Mexico. It's hard to put into words how much we are enjoying this. I know when Heidi helps edits this she will be in tears. I was right.
I don't like this new clicking sound our Jeep had developed, I have a feeling it scares the sh_t out of Heidi. I can hardly blame her after just going through losing our driveshaft in heavy city traffic in Mexico and losing a clutch in the middle of the Baja a few months earlier. Heidi keeps quiet but I know she is concerned. For the type of low budget traveling we are doing I couldn't be luckier or more pleased in my choics of a travel partner. Heidi has ultimate faith in my judgment but when I'm worried she's worried. I need to do things right. I leave Heidi at the hotel pool and go off on another Mexican adventure I enjoy so much. My mind is racing with what the noise could be. I'm not sure if the guys that pressed in the new U-joint filled it with grease, I filled the end I put together but not the pressed in end, you need a grease gun for that.
I find a shop with a grease gun and in less then 20 minutes and five bucks later the entire jeep is all greased up. The jeep still clicks but at least I know all the U-joints have grease. I'm thinking this clicking sound could just as likely be another one of the other three U-joints I haven't replaced. Maybe plowing through deep sand beaches and desert and going down 5 MPH dirt roads in the Baja for two months has had a negative effect on our old rusty Jeep, Daa.
With all the troubles with the jeep we still both want to press on into Mexico. With fingers crossed we roll the dice and point the jeep south. It takes us sometimes over eight hours to do 200 miles, cows on the road are common and this is on the pay autopista roads.
Lots of fruit stands along the road.
Last edited by cavebiker; 12-24-2005 at 07:49 AM..
We roll into the town of Colima where we were planning on staying a couple days. It was Labor Day in Mexico so of course we hit a big parade in the middle of town. We were diverted into some far sections of town. The town was split by a river so that made navigation interesting. We manage to get to the other side of town to where a road leads up into the mountains to where the famous mask makers and volcanoes are.
Great parade, lots of real cowboys and marchers.
Mexico liquor stores are great, drive through.? The beer sits in a huge tub of ice water. We decide to get a few beers and shoot for a campground near the volcano about 25 miles up into the mountains.
The guide book talks about a good place for lunch with a great view of the big volcano. The lunch spot was in the middle of nowhere and you almost need 4WD to get there, but nice!
View from our lunch table. The volcano is impressive but hard to see in the mid day haze.
We luck out again! The campground has a few rooms and bungalows. We take a room for $33 a night. Pool, fishing lake and hiking trails all included plus a view of the volcano. I go off on an exploratory hike around the lake. Half way around the trail gets real difficult with steep climbs, loose sand and 20 foot tall tree roots to climb over. I'm thinking about snakes and watching my step. I get to a portion of the trail that is close to the water and before I know it the ground disappeared from under me and I fall straight down into the water. I felt like I was in the Raiders of the Lost Arc movie. I was up to my waist in water, mud and guck surrounded by tree roots, vines and leaves. The trail was about face level and I had nothing to grab onto to pull me back up out of the hole. I started thinking about snakes again, I then pull out some super human ability and launch myself out of the muck and back onto the trail. Wosh, I was covered in muck but glad to be out. I decide to not take Heidi on this path.
Back at the campground Heidi and I were playing cards next to the pool when this woman motions us and starts telling us in rapid Spanish to follow her and check something out. WOOW, I'm asking if we should all start running!
I guess we are far enough away but Heidi and I cancel our hike to the lip of the volcano. It's not that important to chance dealing with a plasma flow.
Your story is so awesome, it makes me want to go on my own adventure , please keep us updated!
Thanks. You should go. There are a lot of YJ's in Mexico.
I take off early in the morning one day to drive back into Colima and have a mechanic look at our drive shaft and U-joints. The clicking coming from the jeep is getting worse.
A lot of sugar cane grows here and there are trucks all over going 4 MPH filled with cane.
A mechanic was sitting in a chair outside the first shop I see. The sign over his head included the word 'Clutch' That was good enough for me so I pull in. They jack it up right away and spin the wheel listening for the click. The guy says it's that mangled bracket I tried to straighten. Someone takes off in a car with the old bracket and twenty minutes later returns with a new one.
After a test drive I heard nothing. I'm back on the road for $18.
In search of the mask makers:
This town, Suchitlan has a celebration and customs that have links back to before Columbus and the tradition still is carried on today.
The clicking sound in our jeep came back and doesn't sound good. We make the decision to point north and concentrate on enjoying central and northern Mexico instead of southern Mexico. Our emotions are bouncing between extremes, we feel relieved to be pointing toward home feeling more confident we are going to make it back in one piece and at the same time disappointed to be missing out visiting Oaxaca and Central America. We finely stop questioning our decision. We just have to say out loud what we have been thinking. If we continue south we will be in an area where the guide book talks about road side robbery warnings and worse. Our Jeep is no longer reliable in case we run into a sticky situation and need to drive out of it. Also the jeep could die anytime leaving us sitting ducks. No biggie, central and northern Mexico is something we would have missed if we continued south. We feel good, this way we will be closer to the US border in case the jeep falls apart.
Back on the road:
We head out early driving toward the biggest natural lake in Mexico, Largo de Chapala. Of course I see a short cut to the autopista and suggest to Heidi that we find a nice place in the hills with a view of the volcano and have our morning coffee, sounds good.
Well, driving in Mexico, especially small towns, isn't exactly like driving in the US. No highway road signs to direct you and no direct path through town to get you to the road going out the other side of town. I reassure Heidi that this is normal and we have to just drive around and find our way out. We take one wrong turn and are given no route to get out for a mile or more and end up in the back of some construction site. We finely end up circling around the town before realizing we must have just missed the turn that would have gotten us out of the town easy.
Anyway we get out of town and find a nice place to pull off the road with a good view of the volcano and fire up a cappuccino. Driving on we come into an area that seemed like it was filled with large flying black dragon flies. They were everywhere coming right at our windshield but no splats. This was eerrie, we soon realize what we were driving through was volcanic ash falling down from an eruption. Looking at the volcano we see the smoke spewing out. We are out of here!
Lunch on Lake Chapala. Great ceviche and guacamole and the prices are less than half than what they are on the coast.
The lake level is going down from over use. At the rate it's going it's predicted to be gone by 2050.
Lots of weeds, but nice to look at from afar.
We get another $33 hotel with a pool right in town with a lake view. The place is run down but the rooms are big with a kitchen. Huge exploding bottle rockets were going off all day and night. I finely find out it was Dia de la Santa Cruz. It's a big party day.
Lots of handcrafted Mexican goods for sale here. We decide it's time to look for some bargains.
We get a great wool handmade rug and a woven wall hanging and a few bracelets.
Next we are shooting for Guadalajara, a huge Mexican city with tons of culture and things to do.
The hotels downtown deal with a lot of business people, the guide book says you can barter with them if you're a traveler. I get a great deal for a week stay at a nice hotel right in the heart of the colonel downtown section of town. We are likin it!
Heidi and I check in for a week at hotel Roma in the heart of Guadalajara. I drive around to the parking and see the clearance is 6 foot 3 inches. Crap, our clearance is 7 foot 4 inches. I cuss a few times then realize our only options are to find another hotel with adequate parking or take everything off the top of the jeep including the rack and stay here. It took a lot of effort to find this place. Guadalajara population is over 4 million with mostly one way streets that aren't obviously marked. I opt for option 2, the rack comes off and we drive down into the parking garage with the rack on the hood of the jeep and all our stuff crammed inside.
Heidi and I love to explore big cities and Guadalajara is all we could have hoped for. It's the second biggest city in Mexico with tons of culture, museums, galleries, historic buildings and night life. Guadalajara is the birth place of many things Mexico is known for, the Mexican hat dance, mariachi music, sombreros, rodeos and last but not least tequila, my favorite alcoholic beverage. Our week stay here couldn't have been more pleasant. Nothing too exciting to report, just a lot of photos to enjoy.
Tourists come here but we detected few that looked like they were from the US, just the way we like it.
All the historic buildings and museums are within walking distance from our hotel.
As budget travelers these are the type of places we like to eat at. All the people we came across were super friendly to us.
Lots of street musicians around the old colonial section of town.
Guadalajara has endless opportunities for different types of food.