Archive for October, 2010

Old Mazatlan

Old Mazatlan (pueblo viejo) is a wonderful spot. Spanish Colonial architecture, restaurants, art galleries and the like adorn the streets and attractions centered around Plazuela Machado. Natalie’s favorite spot was a new little gelato vendor half a block off of the plaza. If you are ever in Mazatlan, you have to miss a meal for the ice cream popsicles here.

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We took the water taxi to Mazatlan in search of a couple of things. The first was a pizza place called Benji’s Pizza. A gringo in Celestino Gasca had told us that we had to try it that it was the best pizza in Mexico. After a 30 minute search of Old Mazatlan by pulmonia (open air taxi) we abandoned our search at the Mercado Central. We wandered the stalls and ate street food, taking it all in. We then headed to the newer, glitzier, tourist dominated, Zona Dorada (gold zone) in search of a surf shop.

Outside of Hermosillo, we were search by one of the Federale checkpoints. It was one of the more thorough searches I’ve endured. Happy and chatting the whole time, they pulled most of the van apart. They then wanted to check the top. This is sort of my nightmare as it takes 20-30 minutes to pack and unpack the roof. But up I went to unlock the boards. I told the young Federale to wait until I had unlocked the boards. He said that it wasn’t necessary and before I could stop him he stepped on the nose of my gun (7’6” big wave board). Crack.

The main surf shop in Mazatlan is called Mazatlan Surf Center, it’s a small little shop by SoCal standards and the board repair guy wouldn’t be in until 2:00 the next day. So off we went in search of the M Magazine. An English language tourist zine, M was purported to have an advertisement for an English speaking auto electric mechanic – purported by the same gringo that recommended the as-yet to be located Benji’s Pizza. We traipsed from resort hotel to resort hotel looking for the mag. After our second failure to locate a copy of M, a Mexican surfer and another local looking guy came ambling up the rocks to the street in front of the hotel. I asked, in English, how the waves were? The surfer replied in English “ok, fun, got wet.”

Not expecting any reply at all, much less in English, we stopped to chat with the guys. Neto and his buddy Gilberto we late-forty-something surfers that had both lived and traveled in the states. Neto, it turns out, knows the editor of M Magazine and knew where to find one. Also, just my luck, Neto was an amateur shaper and could fix my board. The stringer had popped through the glass so it would take some fabric and some skill to fix. I took a shot in the dark and asked Neto if he knew a good auto electric mechanic and he said he knew the best one in all of Mazatlan. He invited us to jump in the back of his truck and he’d take us to the guy’s house and we’d talk to him about the van issues.

We jumped in the back of the truck and sped away down the malecon. In the middle of traffic Neto’s truck died. He managed to coast into a parking spot. Great. How good could this guy’s mechanic be if his truck just died on us. Luckily Neto was just out of gas. So Gilberto, Natalie and I just sat in the back of the truck, drank beers, and watched the sunset while Neto marched off for a gallon of gas (literally a gallon, not liters, as he had a gallon milk jug in the back of the truck).

We rolled up to Ramon’s place just after dark. Ramon the Mechanic is a mid fifties, be-speckled, no-nonsense sort of guy. He is very introspective, deliberate, asks the right questions and doesn’t speak unless he has something well thought-out and reasoned to stay. He reminds me of my Dad in a lot of ways. I instantly liked him despite the fact that he spoke zero English and didn’t understand a word of my limited Spanish. I felt more confident in him than any other Mexican mechanic thus far. He actually wanted to know the whole history and everything that had be done. He gave no suggestions as to what might be the problem but he offered to come out to the island the next afternoon and run diagnostics on the electrical system. He doubted it could be fixed the same day and that we’d most likely have to wait until Monday to get the right parts.

We made plans for the three of them to come to Isla de la Piedras the next afternoon sometime after 1:00 pm. I gave them water taxi money and they dropped us off at the embarcadero.

After my morning session at the Piedras beach break – a fun, punchy, set of peaks a lot like IB back home, we lounged around and chatted with our newly arrived neighbors. Warren and Joyce are Canadian snow birds from just outside of Toronto that have been managing the Tres Amigos RV park on the island for seven years. They were about as surprised to see us as we were of them – us because we had been so isolated at all our stops so far, and them because they had never showed up for the season and had someone already in the park before. “The Season” for the snowbird RVers is (depending on who you talk to) roughly October 15th or November 1st through whenever it gets too bloody hot to stay for the summer.

Like clockwork for Mexico, Neto, Gilberto, and Ramon showed up at the park at 2:30; Roman toting a full complement of electric diagnostic tools. Gilberto expertly translated my full electric history for Ramon that I had painstakingly scribbled down that morning. At some point, if I have nothing to post, I’ll transcribe it here. It is pretty funny to read.

Ramon went to work, connecting and disconnecting various components of the van’s “custom” electrical system, periodically asking me to start the van, turn on all the electrical, accelerate some, more gas, less gas. He was painstakingly thorough. He announced that the initial problem was that the alternator wasn’t charging near the full capacity. It was only kicking out 11 volts and really need to be in the ~14 range. He asked what the total amperage of the new alternator was. I told him 70 amps. He laughed, not condescending, but knowingly – “doble!” he exclaimed. He then explained that the alternator that Checker in Tucson had sold me was for the base model van, not one with two batteries, two stereo amps, a 10” subwoofer, 8 speakers, a multitude of interior lights, etc. The engine electrical system would alone need all the amps from the alternator and that I needed a high output alternator. The batteries weren’t receiving hardly any charge at all while driving, possibly even a net drain. Which, would explain why the van worked fine for an hour or so after having the solar panels plugged in but quickly degraded as we rolled down the road.

If Ramon hurried, he could make it to Mazatlan, and back with a new alternator before the parts store closed. Neto worked on the board and the rest of us lounged around and drank beers into the evening. Ramon finally came strolling back up the beach with… the same damn alternator in hand. Ugh. I went from cautiously optimistic to downtrodden immediately. Ramon explained that he wasn’t sure if the larger alternator would fit so he just had this one rebuilt such that it would kick out more amps. Dubious as I was I let Ramon put the old alternator back in. We went back through the whole litany of tests. No bueno. Still less than 12 volts coming back to the batteries. Parts stores were all going to be closed on Sunday, so we made plans for Neto and Ramon to come back on Monday with the new alternator. We shall see. I’m still not totally confident that the alternator is the problem. We’ll let Ramon put it in and then he and I will take it for a test drive down the Isla Piedras road. That should be a more than ample test.

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You’ve all seen the movie right? We have two types of Gremlins haunting us. The first, and amazingly less worrisome, are the sharp teethed, pointy eared, green motherfuckers living in our guts, wringing out our intestines like they were wet towels. Some probiotic yogurt drinks and possibly some Cipro and we become the good guys in the movie that microwaves the bastards.

The second type is like a string of really bad horror sequels that keep showing up at your neighborhood cinema. Think Saw II though VI. You saw the first one, thought that it was pretty inventive, something different. But then they just keep coming and you think, who are these morons who keep shelling out $10 a pop to watch the same shit over and over again. Eternally frustrating.

That’s how I feel about our electrical problems. At first I was kind scared that we’d get stranded by the side of the road and some banditos or narcotrafficante would rob us or worse and then tell us that they wasn’t going to steal our piece of shit van because it was too much of a headache.

Now we joke about having a flickr set of portraits of Mexican mechanics that have worked on the van. We are currently up to five with nothing to show but a few hundred miles south. There is a short somewhere. I just can’t figure out where in the hell it is. We are not going to leave Mazatlan until it is solved. If we can’t figure it out then ferry to La Paz and homeward bound.

Oh… and if you ever have anyone tell you that the Mexicans can fix anything, call bullshit. The real answer is that the Mexicans can keep any old POS junker on the road forever never once buying a new replacement part. That in and of itself is a true marvel; but it is in no way the same as actually fixing the damn car (van).

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Mazatlan is one of those places that we both relish and fear. The tourist resorts of Mexico are awesome places, a place to reconnect with civilization, re-supply, and find a decent mechanic that may or may not be able to fix the van. They are also places of high crime, high prices, high crowds (in the surf only – we are again the only ones at our current RV park. We haven’t even see the manager, we talked to him on the phone yesterday afternoon, he said he’d come by mañana morning. It’s officially tardes and no manager yet.

Isla de la Piedras is a good spot to capitalize on all the resort has to offer without many of the headaches. The “island” is set up much like Coronado “Island” in San Diego without the bridge. The peninsula comes rather close to Mazatlan proper and is only a 10 peso, 10 minute, water taxi ride away. Its still rather expensive per night and the beer is ridiculously priced but it has the feeling of a small fishing village turned tourist getaway. We don’t exactly have all the amenities we need though, the good mechanics are all on the other side of the water and since there haven’t been any guests here in a while the wifi is off. We might have to move back into town.

I think the reason it has retained its charm while Mazatlan has grown up around it is the eight mile road in:

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About an hour north of Mazatlan, along the Maxipista, is an unremarkable turn-off towards the puebla of Celestino Gasca. Past the six or seven street town of Celestino is a rather rutted dirt road that runs along the beach for a couple of kilometers. The road pings along until you reach a stretch of RV parks and the Cardone surf camp.

We made it just inside the gate to Celestino RV “Resort”. We checked in and fired back up the van to drive down to our spot for the night; the ignition clicked, the starter wound up, the engine fired and the starter wound up, again and again and again. Natalie turned of the key, the engine died, but the damn starter kept firing and firing. Frantically, the park host, Brian, myself, and really great snowbird character, John, scrambled with the nuts to disconnect the batteries. Finally she quit. We deduced that another solenoid had fried, electrical gremlins be damned.

Brian towed us down to our spot on the beach where we camped for the next few nights, we found a mechanic in Celestino who had worked in the same capacity for the last ten years in Santa Ana, Riverside and Temecula and had just moved back in the last year. For MX$400 he replaced various fusible links, fuses, wires, connections, and anything he found suspect for about three hours. He said that the main source of our problem was a short in the plug to the dash AC. He didn’t have one and said that we should get a new one in Mazatlan. I’m not convinced but everything appears to be working for the moment.

Celestino is a pretty cool spot. The waves were head high and the surf camp patrons said that it had been two to three feet overhead and should be again in the next couple days. I never saw it really work but could see how it would. The camp, Cardone, is US$1000 per night, all-inclusive, including transfers from Mazatlan. Seems like a good spot to spend a week on a south swell. The only problem is that reef goes dry (already lost a fin) at low tide and the evening never really glasses off. So you really only have three to four hours a day to surf before its blown out.

John, a really great expat, when he wasn’t shuttling us to town or giving the tour, regaled us with stories of a bygone era, most of which are unfit to print in a quality family publication such as this, but they were of the old-school, surfer/trafficker variety from the seventies and eighties – crazy stuff.

As we pulled away from Celestino we were once again optimistic that the van would cooperate. That lasted about half way to Mazatlan.

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Las Glorias, Sinaloa

Las Glorias is a tiny little puebla pretty far from the beaten track near Guasave. It was a stop of firsts for us. It was the first time we’d seen ride-able surf. Granted it was two foot closeout long board waves, but waves nonetheless. It was needed. I got a couple good ones and saw a few sets from time to time that looked pretty fun.

It was also the first opportunity for some fishing! I spent the day fishing with a local pescador who had wandered up to Mr. Moro looking for some change. Mr. Moro is a cool little beach side hotel with a pool, a swanky restaurant and an RV park surrounding the hotel. We got the choice spot in the shade of the hotel next to the pool with a ocean view. Because again, we were the only ones there.

The fishing trip with Roberto was pretty eventful. We saw some huge corvina get reeled in, we net casted for bait, we caught a few red snapper; which became dinner, and we had to take his boat out to rescue an over-turned jet ski. Having wrecked a jet ski or two in my day I helped the Mexican kids flip it back over and get the water out of it. We couldn’t get started so we towed it back to the beach.

We left Las Glorias in pretty high spirits; we hadn’t had any van issues in days.

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One thing that I really enjoy about working at enXco is the chance to get out of the office to project sites and cruise around on quads (ATVs) while getting paid. Pretty good gig right?


I really wanted to get “out into the canyon” our second day in Creel. It seemed like the best way to do that was to take a tour on quads (cuatrimotos – such a better word). So Natalie and I tandem-ed on one while our guide Omar led us around the spectacular Barranca de Tararecqua. The whole region is more Yosemite and less the Grand Canyon.

At the base of the canyon are some hot (luke warm) springs and some pools that the locals built to capture the spring for swimming. We spent the afternoon swimming, lounging, eating, and chatting with some other tourists before climbing back on the ATVs for the trip home. This time the tour turned out to really be worth the money as Omar led us to some vistas and overlooks that we never have found on our own.

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