Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Back in the US

We left Posada Don Diego at 6:15 yesterday morning, and finally parked for the night close to 10pm here at the Escondido Elks Lodge (map). Possibly our longest day on record.

The drive from Vicenté Guerrero to Ensenada was again scenic, and again involved narrow, twisty mountain roads. The good thing about the curves is that the closing speed of opposing traffic is lower. The bad thing is that the tails of the 18-wheelers tend to be over the center line when they have the outside lane, and one of our rigs lost a mirror. In fact, the trailer clipped the whole front of his coach, knocking off a snap for his windshield cover and putting a scrape in the fiberglass from top to bottom. He was very lucky -- another half an inch, and his windshield would have been smashed. We ended up right behind him going through Ensenada, and had to call out traffic on his left on the CB.

Speaking of Ensenada, which turns out to be a large and busy city, it was packed to the gills with Baja 1000 participant and support vehicles, and more were rolling in as we left. I'm sorry we did not get to stop and sample any of the town.

After Ensenada we turned off Mexico 1, which continues north to Tijuana, onto Mexico 3 towards Tecaté. About 20 miles up 3, we broke from the pack to fuel up, and I filled Odyssey's tank at Mexico prices of about $1.84 a gallon, taking on 740 liters. We caught back up to the caravan at their lunch stop a few miles up the road, on a dirt pull-off in front of one of the many wineries in this area. Sorry, no time for a winery tour!

Climbing a mountain grade another dozen miles up the road, half the caravan came to a sudden stop. One of the fifth-wheels had run his diesel out of fuel, and was dead on the road. He had another full tank of fuel, but failed to switch tanks before the engine quit, and his engine lost prime. Chaos soon followed.

With no place to pull over and stop, the wagonmaster continued on with any rigs who could follow, and the instructions were for all rigs to pass the stuck fiver, with the tailgunner remaining behind to handle the problem. This being Mexico, however, traffic behind the caravan was already moving around us, including 18-wheelers. On top of that, oncoming traffic was continuing down the hill, and there was a blind corner ahead of the stuck rig. We were only three or four rigs from the back end, and I finally put Odyssey across both lanes of the road, effectively blocking the bozos trying to pass the whole caravan until all our rigs could pass the stuck unit. I had to move back into the right lane for one or two downhill cars, but this gambit was effective in getting everyone back on the road. The tailgunner and I pulled over onto a dirt turnout a quarter mile downhill of the fiver, and one of the other rigs stopped just beyond him uphill with a gallon can of diesel.

I set out flares as I made my way uphill to the stuck rig. With the tailgunner directing traffic around us, the guy with the extra diesel and I poked around under the hood of the big Ford until we figured out where the fuel filter was. Oops -- that's the oil filter, unless his fuel has turned to black goo. The fuel filter is the smaller one next to it (go figure), both of them drop-in cartridge type. By standing on the tow eyes protruding from the bumper, I was able to reach down and get the fuel filter open -- I could hardly believe how tiny it was. I managed to fill the housing up with diesel, although it only took about a pint. I think I spilled at least that much all over the manifold as well. I threaded the cheesy plastic top back onto the the housing as tight as I dare, and we gave it a shot. It took a bit of cranking to get fuel pressure out to the injectors, but she finally lit off. A few minutes later, all four of us were back under way, perhaps ten miles behind the rest of the group.

By 2:30 or so, we were all in Tecaté, staged in a parking lot for a public ball field (map). We had to turn our tourist visas in and get our passports stamped at Mexican immigration, but there is no place to park rigs there. So the wagonmaster and tailgunner shuttled us up in groups to the immigration office to complete the task. So far so good, except the tailgunner was pulled over by the local constabulary on his first trip, necessitating a trip to the police station, and an appearance in front of the judge on a series of trumped-up charges. I think the cop just wanted a mordida up front, which would have been perhaps $50, but Larry only ended up paying $60 for his fine anyway. It did, however, cost us all time.

It was 4pm by the time we had our passports stamped, and we were lined up at the border by 4:30 or so. Night fell before we made it to US immigration -- the line, even here at Tecaté, was a good two hours. After jigging and jogging through the maze that is the US border station (and I think I heard that at least one of our rigs hit one of the concrete bollards while doing so), we had a cursory inspection and were waved through.

We are on a tight schedule to make it to San Jose, so we decided to press on, west on 94 all the way to I-15. I'm sorry we were not able to traverse this stretch in the daytime, as I'm sure it is scenic. We stopped at Olive Garden in Poway for dinner, craving a nice green salad and decidedly un-Mexican food. It is impossible, however, to urban boondock almost anyplace in San Diego county, so we continued here to the Elks, a stand-by that has bailed us out many a time.

I am a bit pressed for time today, but in a day or two I will post here our overall impressions of the tour, and of Mexico and driving therein.


  1. Looking forward to your final caravan commentary. Have really enjoyed your blog along the way. Hope that our paths cross some day.


  2. Hey guys! Glad to hear you are back in the USA. Interesting facts for you (well maybe): my grandfather owned the first Texaco in Poway. My mom grew up there. My dad grew up in Escondido, where you guys ended up spending the night. So you were surrounded by my relatives. Had you spent the night at the Wal Mart in Poway, you would have been about two blocks from my grandma's house. I hope you guys have a great Thanksgiving! Love, Anne


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