29.10.-17.11.2011: Quartzsite - Phoenix - San Carlos - Teacapan - La Perula - Tenacatita - Neixpa

Click on a photo to enlarge it.

Quartzsite is a mecca for motor home owners - you can get everything you need between November and March. We needed a solar panel and whilst we were a bit too early for the season, we got lucky. The only place open was Solar Discounter who happened to have a second hand 60 Watt panel for only $60. New would be around $300. We also got a regulator and safety fuse plus an 8mm electric cable. Total cost - $165. Super price.

Helmut installed it for us on the camp ground at Quartzsite. The regulator and fuse were attached to our shoe rack inside and Kirsten asked another camper if we could borrow their battery operated drill so that a hole could be made from the outside battery compartment up inside Winnie for the cables which were attached to the battery and regulator. Ready in four hours! But it was already too dark to test it out!

The next morning we got out the solar panel and plugged into the other end of the cable attached to the battery - we have power! Easy!

Next, we dismantled our table that we rarely use any more and cut the legs to make a perfect support at a 45 degree angle. We just have to face the panel towards the sun and lean it against the support and then move it at intervals so it still faces the sun. We also got a large piece of cardboard to use as a protective cover for the panel when we store it inside.

We drove off to Phoenix and agreed to meet at the Wal-Mart car park on the I-10 Exit 136. Helmut and Agnes can drive a bit faster than we can. We arrived at 5-30 pm but no Helmut and Agnes! Now what? Have we already lost them when we haven't even got out of America, let alone all the way down to Panama!

Well, we'd just have to wait because there was no point driving off in search of them when Phoenix is huge. So we went into Wal-Mart to get a ready cooked chicken with salad for dinner. Then we got a knock on the door from someone whose battery was dead and was asking if we could help. So we got out our jump leads and just as we drove over to their car, Helmut and Agnes turned up.

They'd misunderstood which exit and drove all the way through Phoenix to Exit 160, 24 miles away. It's a good job there wasn't another Wal-Mart there otherwise they'd have waited a very long time for us! Fortunately they realised their mistake and had to drive all the way back through the evening traffic. The next day we bought walkie-talkies!

At the library we found out that Amazon had cancelled the order for our under water camera which we had asked to be delivered to Bill and Beth's address so we could pick it up from there. We made the order a week before but couldn't get into our account to track it. There is no help line number but Kirsten managed to get hold of someone on an email chat line!

So we had to re-order the camera but managed to get express delivery and the price had gone down in the meantime! Hopefully it will work this time.

Bill and Beth welcomed us with open arms and we had a lot of fun. We were here in April and went to boot camp with Beth - an experience we're not likely to forget! Oh yes - and the camera arrived!

We stayed for two nights and then left early at 7.30 am because there was a Haboob on the way - a heavy sandstorm. They have had several because the land between Tucson and Phoenix has been cleared of shrubs to be turned into fields. But the summer was so dry that the land turned to dust and whenever there is a high wind the dust is sucked up forming a huge sandstorm that comes over Phoenix.

Beth and Bill were left with a 2 inch thick layer of dust all over their property after the first sandstorm! And this was going to be Haboob number 7 this year! We wouldn't mind getting photos of it but we really didn't want to get caught driving in it!

We made a quick stop at Camping World because the door handle of our fridge broke again after 5 months. And that was the replacement for the original one that only lasted 5 months as well! So we got a free replacement and bought an extra one. At this rate we'll need ten for the next 4 years!

Then we drove via Tucson (no sign of the Haboob) and on to Nogales. The next day we crossed the border into Mexico and drove 257 miles down to San Carlos where we spent two days on the beach. After two more long driving days we got down to Teacapan. We paid the toll south of Navajoa rather than taking the long route to avoid it and then got stuck in traffic as the road was blocked by an accident. Fortunately the local farmer allowed some of the traffic to bypass the blocked area. The large trucks and buses couldn't make it but we were just about small enough to get through.

We stayed for two nights in Teacapan and were almost alone. We've never been here so early in the season. Continuing south we planned to stay on the free beach at San Blas but they're charging for it now so we decided to continue and ended up driving the last half an hour in the dark – something that we should never do in Mexico because it's too dangerous - too much speeding traffic and dogs and other animals on the streets. Fortunately we got to a petrol station for the night without a problem.

Further south the road got really bad due to hurricane damage around Puerto Vallarta and along the coast further south. It wasn't an easy drive to get to La Perula. Helmut and Agnes had already been there 2 hours and found out that the camp ground no longer existed but we were still allowed to stay there for 50 Pesos a night ($4). But we still had water, dump station, cold showers and Wi-fi. So we stayed for two nights and were rewarded with wonderful sunsets.

But we also had a few repairs to do because of the roads (oh and we also failed to spot a speed bump until the last minute!) so an Ikea rack had come down and the holder for one of our drawers broke. We had to improvise with the last and managed to come up with a solution.

Our next destination was Tenacatita where we stayed in 2006 - great beach and very good snorkelling in the reef. Quite a paradise. But we'd heard that it had all changed due to a land dispute and wanted to take a look for ourselves.

The dispute is between an Ejido (local land commune) who say they have the land titles to prove their ownership, and Jose Villalobos, a successful and influential businessman, former president of the Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce and current president of Expo Guadalajara. Villalobos has been trying the get the low-income families evicted from the land for two decades, ever since he purchased 42 hectares of Tenacatita beach front land from the wife of a former state governor in 1991. The local Mexicans have lived and worked here since the 60s but Villalobos claims they are squatters.

The problem turned Tenacatita into a war zone at 4am on the 4th of August 2010 when at least 150 Jalisco state police in full riot gear evicted some 800 people living and working in the beach community and the neighbouring village of Rebalsito. Although officers said they "invited" residents to leave, some reports suggest there were as many as 27 arrests and three people injured with gunshot wounds. At least 11 people who resisted the eviction were held at the municipal jail in Ciuhuatlan. Angry residents of Tenacatita blocked the coastal highway after being turfed out of their homes by state police. State police said they acted on the order of a judge in Autlan, who ruled that some 50 families were illegally occupying land that belonged to Jose Villalobos.

Many of the businesses on the undeveloped beach are palapa seafood restaurants that have been serving tourists and locals for more than 40 years. The omens were not good for the residents when police brought in heavy equipment to demolish the properties built on the land and a number of Americans and Canadians have also lost a lot of money because they bought parcels of land from the Ejido and built homes and businesses there. 2010 was the fourth time Villalobos has tried to evict everyone and almost 18 months later the dispute is still ongoing.

We drove there not knowing what to expect and found that the road to Tenacatita is now blocked by a large fence and gate that has armed guards. We were allowed to drive to the beach but had to leave by 6pm. No photos allowed of the remaining debris and destruction. It took 30 minutes to get through as they wanted our passports, vehicle registration numbers and so on.

We drove to the beach where an armed guard met us and told us exactly where we should park. We were only allowed on the beach and not allowed to walk through the former town as Helen found out when she walked in that direction!

A wonderful place has been destroyed but, as Helmut and Kirsten found out when they went snorkelling, the reef has also been destroyed. A tragedy all round.

Snorkeling in Tenacatita

We continued south towards Acapulco which meant we had already driven 1,700 miles from the US/Mexico border. A great deal of driving on roads that aren't the best, with lots of curves, bends, pot holes and speed bumps.

In Ixtapa we stopped for lunch and shopping at a supermarket. It was 40 degrees on the car park and as we left we noticed a big dark cloud coming out of our exhaust! It seemed to disappear so we drove off, but an hour later we overheated and pulled over. We'd lost virtually all our coolant! Two Mexicans stopped and one of them was a former mechanic. He said it was probably our head gasket or worse - engine problems! Our only choice was to get somewhere large enough to be able to deal with us, which in our case was Acapulco.

The Mexican took the rubber seal out of the radiator cap to remove the pressure from the engine. Then we filled up with coolant (which we have with us, thank God!) and drove to a nearby petrol station for the night. The next day we limped along the last 80 miles to Acapulco, stopping and filling the radiator up with water every 20 miles!

Ironically our engine problems happened just as we had clocked up 100,000 miles since buying Winnie!!