Starlit Rambler - Adventure Travel Our Way
It was time to start heading back North to the US border just outside Tucson. The last couple weeks had been filled with too many emotions to count and it was time to move on from our time in Puerto Vallarta. Rachelle had signed a 3 month travel nursing contract in Boise, ID which was set to commence on May 2nd, 2016 giving us enough time to stop over in Laguna Beach for a wedding, spend a few days in Park City shuffling out gear, and make the final drive to Boise. The calendar was beginning to fill with hard dates as the last year of our lives had been spent living in a new place every other night. Both of us were tired, not physically, but emotionally drained and not as inspired to explore much more of Mexico. We had lost the zest for new exploration, clearly telling us we needed a break and a little familiarity.
Instead of going through the details of the drive back home I am going to highlight a few memorable experiences along the way. Really the drive was pretty uneventful (which is good) as the military checkpoints were few and far between, when compared to Baja, and luckily the Rambler made it to the border even though the "check engine" light illuminated at the beginning of our 1,000 mile trek to the border. I figured it was the sulfur rich diesel fuel which caused the light to come on but then something else happened...the van began to vibrate when idling, not optimal. Our short 3 day trip to Mascota coincided with an unusual snapping sound from the engine compartment as we crested the hill and began to descend into Puerto Vallarta. Immediately coming to a halt at the nearest turnout my stomach began to cringe with the thought of a broken part just as the trek north was about to begin. My limited mechanical knowledge shone through as I peeked under the hood confident I would find a broken part...if I appeared as if I knew what I was searching for, I did not. Shrugging my shoulders as Rachelle looked on from the passenger seat we continued down the hill until coming to an abrupt stop at a police checkpoint with no less than 80 police trucks lining the road all the way back to Puerto Vallarta. I hope they found what they were looking for! Here is when the van began to vibrate at idle as the realization something seriously went wrong came about us. I am not one to ignore a problem but in this case I crossed my fingers and toes because the last thing I wanted to do was explore the unknown of a Mexican mechanic, as even our local Mexican friend had discouraged it.
Just hours prior to the unknown vibrations from the engine compartment, I had done something I verbally said I couldn't do. Something which would surely cause stress, anxiety, and momentous delays as our geographic location was far from the halo of AAA. Putting the Rambler to the test, the rubber tires gripped the winding twisting cobblestone road ascending through the mountains of Mexico in route to Sierra Lago. The wheelbase is long on the van and our aftermarket hitch hangs lower off the bumper giving us even less clearance during off piste explorations. Confident in my handling skills I disregarded Rachelle's warning to take this dipped turn wider, opting for increased acceleration as the metal hitch scraped against the cobblestone road. My foot was on the gas pedal but no longer was our trajectory in forward motion. Resistance between the rubber and road was non-existent under the back right tire. I had done the one thing I could not do. We were stuck for the 3rd time on the trip (The first time was in Banff on a dirt road, 2nd time outside of La Paz on the beach - fortunately 2 Mexicans came out of the darkness to assist us for a tip).
Here we were high in the mountains as the van rested on the hitch and 3 out of 4 wheels. With no time to spare, I had an idea, as stacking logs and rocks under the elevated back rear tire was not working since the gross weight of the rear of the van was firmly resting on the hitch. A flashback came through my mind remembering the slightly overweight country man in Utah, who had elected to help us as we experienced a flat tire on New Year's Eve. He had jacked up the rear of the van on the back right leaf spring, which caused it to fall off the jack as a semi-truck passed. At that time, when the van fell off the leaf spring, the Rambler moved back about 2 feet changing the location of the back wheels. Now in Mexico, having an "Ah ha" moment I raised the van, positioned the jack under the left rear leaf springs, high enough for the hitch to clear the cobblestone roadway. Immediately the van was sent back a few inches as it fell off the jack, just like what had happened in Utah. Still the hitch rested on the stones but with one more lift by the hydraulic jack my faith in the plan was within an arm's reach. Raising the left rear tire by way of the leaf spring I instructed Rachelle to be ready to "gas it." Adding to the drama and necessity to get it right for fear this MAcGyver move might snap the jack in half, we were in position. Rachelle at the helm, while I prepared to push with all my might, I gave her the countdown and off we went. It had worked as she continued to gun it! The jack moved from a position perpendicular to the ground, loudly meeting its final position parallel to the earth.
Our first destination on the long drive home was the quaint surf town of Sayulita, Mexico, a popular spot with the gringos. In fact I would venture to guess there were more gringos cruising around in golf carts and walking the streets than local Mexicans in town. We added to the crowd taking in the artwork, food, beautiful beach, and fun vibe this town had to offer. Wishing to stay another day longer but time was running out. We had a wedding to make in San Diego.
The final stop on our Mexico adventure was the town of San Carlos just a couple hours from the border. Victor was spot on with this recommended destination as the beauty of this land was exceptional. Similar scenery to the Baja Peninsula, the desert mountains met the Sea of Cortez in an display of arid, marine brilliance. Not to mention there was wind and I was able to get one more kiting session in Mexico leaving the water just as the sun began to set on the western horizon. That night, back at the safety of our hotel, we reluctantly shared dinner with 6 other guys, visiting from North Carolina for a fishing trip. Rather confident they had approached our table, originally to hit on Rachelle, we decided it wasn’t worth passing up an opportunity for fresh fish from the day’s catch. To our surprise, our time with this group was enjoyable and more fish than one could stomach came out prepared a number of different ways. Getting to know the group more our education on the details of Nascar increased exponentially. The older gentleman who had invited us to join them after his drunken colleague initiated the conversation was a professional Nascar driver. Knowing very little about the sport it was clear he had done well as the talks of multiple homes, 60+ cars, planes, and helicopters came to the table. He was very modest but kept getting talked up by his drunken friend explaining how famous he was. Neither of us get too star struck and especially in a sport neither of us understand, even though Rachelle grew up among the redneck fans. Finally retiring for the evening I asked what number he was, mostly out of curiosity to see if I was familiar with him. Greg Biffle, a legend and longtime race car driver from Seattle, WA, a man I knew from my childhood days playing video games. Oh don't we all love the randomness of travel!
The next morning we crossed back into the United States expecting a decent shake down and feared the chance our van could get ripped apart. Taking a quick look at our passports and a short look into the van, the border patrol officer welcomed us back to the US. All our concerns vanished, as we had successfully smuggled 50 lbs of marijuana, 3 illegal aliens, 12 cases of Tequila, thousands of worthless DVDs/CDs, 4 dogs, and a cow. Just kidding!
The true euphoria set in for Rachelle upon arrival into Tucson, AZ when after a rest break, she suddenly realized her surroundings in the health food Co-op. All the sudden she had all the comforts and familiarity of dark chocolate, kombucha, goat cheese, and much more. You might never experience the beauty of familiarity of your country and how lucky we are to live in the U.S. until you venture outside, but this new understanding makes you feel like you could grow wings and fly. That may be the most important thing about experiences gained through travel, appreciation for even the little things!
This blog concludes our travels through USA, Canada, Mexico, and Colombia. As of now the Rambler is going into storage for the winter as a flight is booked to New Zealand October 21st! The adventure will continue down under but for now we want to thank everyone who have followed us for over a year. At times we did not want to write and compile these stories but in reflecting we are so grateful to have this record which will accompany us for the rest of our life's.
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