Mexico, Part 18: Projects in Ensenada

We have to apologize for not having a post last Monday. In our mad dash back to Colorado, we were off the grid and pounding pavement for several days. Time for some catch up!

Chelsea was ordered to stay in bed for the first two weeks of her recovery, and only partook in the most limited amount of movement. I, on the other hand, was bored and restless. Luckily, Mauricio, our host, let me help him remodel his new rental property. The house, which was situated next to his existing rental, would eventually be used as an AirBnB product, but first needed a new kitchen, some furniture, and a lot of paint. Lucky for us, they agreed to let Chels recover in the back room while the remodeling happened. The location was amazing, and with some hard work, the house would soon be able to host couples and families, and start generating income for Mauricio and Abby.

We had done some furniture shopping before Chelsea's surgery so there's a few photos of us walking around Los Globos, an enormous flea market that stretches over city blocks. Chels and I are huge fans of second hand stores here in the US, so visiting Los Globos was a real treat. In addition to the great shopping, we had a chance to sample many local dishes, including shaved ice, fried pork rinds (chicharones), tacos, and some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

The walkway to Mauricio's second AirBnB rental after we got it all cleaned up.

The walkway to Mauricio's second AirBnB rental after we got it all cleaned up.

Much of the kitchen renovation happened on that shaded patio. What a view!

Much of the kitchen renovation happened on that shaded patio. What a view!

The old kitchen, coming apart. SOme other travelers had already painted the walls.

The old kitchen, coming apart. SOme other travelers had already painted the walls.

Demo complete and a new kitchen counter being built.

Demo complete and a new kitchen counter being built.

All finished! Chels' photography really makes it shine.

All finished! Chels' photography really makes it shine.

The living room, complete with a couch from Los Globos.

The living room, complete with a couch from Los Globos.

Starting the shopping excursion with some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

Starting the shopping excursion with some sort of fermented corn sugar beverage.

City blocks upon city blocks of this: the best used good available.

City blocks upon city blocks of this: the best used good available.

So many things we wanted. We need to move into a home with a garage next.

So many things we wanted. We need to move into a home with a garage next.

Chels found a camera!

Chels found a camera!

Shaved Ice!

Shaved Ice!

Loulou couldn't come with us to Los Globos, so she stayed at home...

Loulou couldn't come with us to Los Globos, so she stayed at home...

... and made a friend!

... and made a friend!

In addition to helping Mauricio and Abby with their mini renovation, and helping Pablo and Anna with their Airstream restoration, Chelsea and I had a little wish-list of projects for Little Foot. First things first, we wanted a roof rack over the cab, partially to add storage space and take weight off the top of the roof, and partially to add security. Without a roof rack, anyone could take a knife to the cab's soft top and gain entry. While a burglary would be heartbreaking, the cost of replacing the soft top is crazy! $2000 for a new one! So, to dissuade the unjust, we added a roof rack.

Mauricio and Pablo got in contact with a Lupe and Mario, two very talented fabricators who used to work with Baja Rack, a performance roof rack company that outfits a lot of adventure ready vehicles. Lupe took one look at the project, deemed it to be very simple, and told me to meet him the next Monday to fit the rack to the truck. Awesome!

Scoping out the project.

Scoping out the project.

Lupe and Mario getting after it in the workshop.

Lupe and Mario getting after it in the workshop.

Me, wishing I could help. Or weld. Or be cool like Lupe.

Me, wishing I could help. Or weld. Or be cool like Lupe.

Test fitting.

Test fitting.

More test fitting. (We used the old machine gun foundation on top of the cab to bolt the rack to for support. It worked really well.

More test fitting. (We used the old machine gun foundation on top of the cab to bolt the rack to for support. It worked really well.

Welding in place!

Welding in place!

Finished welding, and ready for powdercoat.

Finished welding, and ready for powdercoat.

Installing Little Foot's new hat. It attaches in three places…on the machine gun mount, and on the hood where there were already bolts for the windshield to fold down.

Installing Little Foot's new hat. It attaches in three places…on the machine gun mount, and on the hood where there were already bolts for the windshield to fold down.

Isn't he handsome?

Isn't he handsome?

Aren't I handsome?

Aren't I handsome?

In addition to the roof rack, Lupe was willing to fabricate a larger fuel tank for us. The original held roughly 19 gallons, which just wasn't enough. After 5 days of work, Lupe, Mario, and myself and created a tank that would hold over 32 gallons, and greatly increase Little Foot's range. I slept on a street corner (in Little Foot!) for 3 nights, abandoning Chelsea at Mauricio's, just to get the project finished. It was a big undertaking, but I made great friends. By the end of the project, Lupe's family was feeding me, and I was well acquainted with most of the drug addicts in the area, all of whom were very nice to me, and most of which returned my salutations of "God bless you," something that doesn't happen often in the states.

I can't thank Lupe and Mario enough. They worked crazy hard, and they are very talented, and we made a beautiful tank. I don't know when I will see them again, but I hope it is soon, because they're my friends now. God bless you guys!

Little Foot's Original tank.

Little Foot's Original tank.

Unbloting and draining.

Unbloting and draining.

Draining the rest.

Draining the rest.

Trying my hand (and my mouth) at siphoning.

Trying my hand (and my mouth) at siphoning.

TACO BREAK!!!!! I love Mexico.

TACO BREAK!!!!! I love Mexico.

Finishing fabircation.

Finishing fabircation.

Dryfitting the tank.

Dryfitting the tank.

Looking good in steel. Ready for paint..

Looking good in steel. Ready for paint..

Painted!

Painted!

And mounted. (We chose white because fuel doesn't like being hot, so black was out of the question…and, as you can see, our paint job isn't quite holding up that well, so we might try to repaint LF White in the future.

And mounted. (We chose white because fuel doesn't like being hot, so black was out of the question…and, as you can see, our paint job isn't quite holding up that well, so we might try to repaint LF White in the future.

Loulou freaking out because we locked her in Chels bedroom. She just couldn't be pleased. First she missed Chels and wanted to hang out, but then when the door was shut she could only focus on trying to escape.

Loulou freaking out because we locked her in Chels bedroom. She just couldn't be pleased. First she missed Chels and wanted to hang out, but then when the door was shut she could only focus on trying to escape.

Mexico, Part 17: Back surgery in Ensenada

Happily back in Ensenada, we looked forward to hitting the ground running with some projects. We were wanting to build a roof rack over the cab and have a new gas tank fabricated, but we were also eager to help our friends Mauricio, Abigail, Pablo and Anna with some projects of their own. Since we'd been gone, Mauricio and Abby had secured the rental house next door to their own and were feverishly rehabbing it to turn it into a rockin' Airbnb rental. Alongside that, they'd also purchased an old Airstream with P&A and were ALSO rehabbing that to turn it into an Airbnb! Lots of projects to be and worked on!

Shortly after we'd arrived, the recurring issue of my back pain came up. We'd decided that receiving an MRI to diagnose the cause was my best bet to start working towards a solution. Knowing it'd be a while before we returned to the stability of a job and able to buy health insurance, I wanted to try to get an MRI while still in Mexico, where we were certain it'd be much more affordable. As luck would have it, Mauricio knew a wonderful neurosurgeon in town and was willing to set up an appointment for me to get a referral for an MRI.

From here on out, I'm going to do this post in a timeline form. Our experience with me having surgery in Mexico was really wonderful and eye-opening…from the quickness of the process to the cost of care, we were just blown away. Not only would we not have been able to afford any of this in the US, it would probably have taken months of appointments, referrals and the like to achieve the same outcome.

Monday, March 13th

Mauricio calls Dr. Fong to see if he can set up an appointment for me. The appointment was scheduled for the very next day.

Tuesday, March 14th

I have my first appointment with Dr. Fong. He gives me a small examination and tests my movement after having me describe my symptoms. Appointment ends with him writing me a referral for an MRI and some X-rays. I ask if I need to set up an appointment to get them, he says, "No, just show up in the morning and they'll set something up."

Total cost for appt: $35 USD

Wednesday, March 15th

I show up to Burboa Radiológos with my referral and no appointment. After listening to me stumble through a poorly spoken Spanish explanation that I didn't have an appointment, they tell me that they're so sorry, they can't fit me in until 10:30am (it was 9:45am at the time). I paid my bill up front, and after a short and pleasant wait, I was brought in for my MRI promptly at 10:30am. Following the MRI, I had a set of three X-rays taken and was then told I could wait for my films out front (which only took an additional 15 minutes after I'd finished being scanned).

Total cost for MRI/XRAY: $238 USD

Friday, March 17th

Another appointment with Dr. Fong for a follow-up to have him read the films and diagnose. Burboa had sent him the scans online, so he'd been able to review them before our meeting. His first comment when I walk in the door is, "I don't know how you're still walking!" He identified two herniated discs…one between L4/L5 and another, the culprit behind my pain, between L5/S1. He recommends surgery (a microdisectomy with nucleotomy in L5/S1). We decide to think on it, and he gives me his cell phone number to call or text him when we've made a decision. He also says I will have to get labs and blood work done beforehand, but that can be done without an appointment at his clinic.

Total cost for appt: $35 USD

You can see where the disc is severely herniated in the lowest disc above my tailbones. (Between L5/S1 for those that know…) That large black protrusion should not be there. I also have a partially herniated disc above it in the L4/L5, but that one was left alone during surgery.

You can see where the disc is severely herniated in the lowest disc above my tailbones. (Between L5/S1 for those that know…) That large black protrusion should not be there. I also have a partially herniated disc above it in the L4/L5, but that one was left alone during surgery.

Saturday, March 18th

We text Dr. Fong to let him know we'd like to do the surgery. Even though it's a Saturday, the clinic is open, so I go and get my labs and blood work done.

Total cost of labs/blood work: $45 USD

Tuesday, March 21st

I have another appointment with Dr. Fong to go over the details of my surgery and review my labs.

Thursday, March 23rd (surgery day)

I have my last meal and last liquids before 8 am. I check into the hospital at 2 pm and my surgery is scheduled for 5 pm. When checking in, we pay part of our hospital bill up front and they explain that additional costs incurred will be charged upon my discharge the next day. My room is private with its own bathroom and also has a couch/futon for Christian to stay the night if he wants. The nurses prep me, giving me an IV and compression socks. I'm rolled out at 5 pm on the dot. Dr. Fong greets me in the operating room and introduces me to the anesthesiologist, who asks me some questions and then explains what will happen. We go over the details of the surgery once more and I learn that I will be receiving a catheter (thankfully, after I'm put under). I was also intubated, so my meds to keep me asleep were administered through the IV.

The surgery took a few hours, and Dr. Fong even called Christian down to show him the nucleus that he'd removed and explain that everything went well. My incision was closed up and I was carted back up to the room where I was transferred back to my bed and left to rest and recover overnight.

Total cost for surgery and hospital stay: $4,886 USD

Checking into the hospital. Everyone was super helpful and friendly despite us not speaking much Spanish.

Checking into the hospital. Everyone was super helpful and friendly despite us not speaking much Spanish.

Don't worry, my name was only spelled wrong on this sign. In their defence, phonetically, according to how we pronounce our last name, this is how it would be spelled for Spanish. If we pronounced it correctly according to the Spanish alphabet, we'd have to say, "Tootle"

Don't worry, my name was only spelled wrong on this sign. In their defence, phonetically, according to how we pronounce our last name, this is how it would be spelled for Spanish. If we pronounced it correctly according to the Spanish alphabet, we'd have to say, "Tootle"

Hospital gowns are so flattering, aren't they?

Hospital gowns are so flattering, aren't they?

One of several of the fantastic nurses that tended to me putting my IV in.

One of several of the fantastic nurses that tended to me putting my IV in.

Waiting for them to come get me.

Waiting for them to come get me.

Wheeling me down to the operating room…

Wheeling me down to the operating room…

Friday, March 24th

The next morning, Dr. Fong came to see me and answer any questions we might have about my recovery. I received a prescription for an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory (no painkillers!). He let us know that the surgery was a very good decision on our part, as the nucleus of my disc had ruptured out in such a way that it was jammed between my nerves and pretty severely cutting off my sciatic nerve. The nerve was very red and inflamed and had we left it alone, I might've caused permanent damage. Thank God we were led down this path!

The nurses then fed me breakfast, my first and very highly anticipated meal in 24 hours, and sent Christian down to the front desk to pay the remainder of the bill and got me up and walking to prepare for my exit. It was painful and slow, but amazingly, I felt better than I had in months. My pain relief from my nerve was immediate, and though the surgical site would need time to heal, I was in high spirits.

TOTAL COST OF EVERYTHING: $5240

Dr. Fong, my hero!

Dr. Fong, my hero!

Walking out of the hospital! (Don't worry, they made me take a wheelchair after Christian took a photo of me shuffling triumphantly out of my hospital room.)

Walking out of the hospital! (Don't worry, they made me take a wheelchair after Christian took a photo of me shuffling triumphantly out of my hospital room.)

I then spent the next two solid weeks in a bed graciously loaned to us by Mauricio and Abi. Christian had worked it out that he would help with all their projects while I recovered in the back room of their beach house Airbnb, both of us equiped with Walkie-Talkies to communicate with. By the third or fourth day, I was starting to become more independent and able to do the simpler things such as get myself in and out of bed and on and off of the toilet by myself. For a 32-year-old who has always thrived on self-sufficiency, relying so heavily on Christian to help with even the smallest tasks was difficult for me, but I was so thankful for his support.

Christian building a bed frame for the mattress for the recovery room. He actually built it specifically for a height that would be more comfortable for me to get in and out of. What a guy!

Christian building a bed frame for the mattress for the recovery room. He actually built it specifically for a height that would be more comfortable for me to get in and out of. What a guy!

Finished!

Finished!

Out for my first real walk, the very next day! My steps were slow and tiny, but it was good to move around!

Out for my first real walk, the very next day! My steps were slow and tiny, but it was good to move around!

Loulou, who was still living in the rig while I recovered inside the house, was a highly motivating factor behind my frequent walks.

Loulou, who was still living in the rig while I recovered inside the house, was a highly motivating factor behind my frequent walks.

One more note about this post and my surgery:

I wrote this post in such detail because I am hoping that my transparency about the process and the cost will help someone else out at some point. For those that are in a position where seeking out proper medical care because it's unaffordable, finding out that there are healthy and safe alternatives to the normal procedures can be very important knowledge. For those not in this situation, it might be a helpful glimpse into a world they're unfamiliar with. Our experience as a whole while in Mexico has been nothing but positive, but once we dove into the medical care side, we were floored by the efficiency of the system. We didn't go into the decision lightly, but we trusted our friend who recommended the surgeon (he had had extensive reconstructive spinal surgery from the same dr.) and trusted the surgeon to not recommend an unnecessary procedure.

That being said, we're so happy I went through with it. I'm a month out from surgery and I'm still blown away by how much better I feel now that I'm pain free. Though the pain only became extremely severe around Christmas, I've been living with moderate to slightly severe back pain for years, so it has been a truly life-changing experience. 

Mexico, Part 16: Fuel Problems, Baja in Bloom & Heading North

Fuel Problems

Rules to live by: if your filters (fuel, oil, air, and otherwise) are cheap, or even if they are not, carry many spares. And, if you see a tanker delivering fuel to a gas station, don't buy gas from that station for at least a few hours, and be wary of all the other gas stations in town, because it is likely the truck stopped at the other spots as well.

We fueled up in Santa Rosalia, passing by one Pemex station that had a tanker delivering fuel parked by the pumps. New fuel being dropped into the underground reservoirs stirs up all the particulate and lacquered fuel that lies on the bottom of the tank. Eventually all this dirt and grime settles again, but if you're at the pump while the fuel is agitated, your fuel filter is going to get a workout. We pulled into a station that was probably just visited by the tanker we had passed, and filled our tanks, preparing for another long day of driving.

A few hours on, Little Foot developed a worrisome hiccup, a very gentle misfire. We performed some on-road tests, like increasing and decreasing rpm, switching gears, and revving the engine in neutral, but we couldn't recreate the hiccup with any amount of reliability. There just happened to be a beautiful dirt track paralleling the highway, so we pulled over, and drove in low gear for a while, just listening to the engine. We started to rule out engine problems and carburetor problems, and eventually we figured that the problem must lie somewhere in the world of fuel delivery. We slowed and parked amidst the wildflowers, took the engine cover off, and had a look at everything.

The fuel filter had a streak of dirt along its bottom, and while it didn't look like enough to cause our misfire, we spun it 180 degrees. The improvement was immediate, and with that figured out, we continued. Just south of Guerrero Negro we pulled off the road and found a hill to shelter us from the view and sound of the highway for the night, and in the morning we drove into town and swapped out the fuel filter for our spare.

The beautiful sand track that we used to diagnose our misfire

The beautiful sand track that we used to diagnose our misfire

The wildflowers in bloom after a wet winter in the desert

The wildflowers in bloom after a wet winter in the desert

A horny toad saying hello!

A horny toad saying hello!

Generally checking things out under the hood.

Generally checking things out under the hood.

Not as clean as I would have liked, but an easy fix.

Not as clean as I would have liked, but an easy fix.

Beautiful Succulents full of water.

Beautiful Succulents full of water.

Our campsite reminded us of parking on BLM land in Wester Colorado And easterN Utah.

Our campsite reminded us of parking on BLM land in Wester Colorado And easterN Utah.

Replacing the fuel filter in Guerror negro the next day.

Replacing the fuel filter in Guerror negro the next day.

A rare passing opportunity for Little Foot! We were cheering the whole time.

A rare passing opportunity for Little Foot! We were cheering the whole time.

The Blooming.

Guerrero Negro is the gateway to Baja Sur, and we were sad to leave the great state behind, but time wasn't on our side and we wanted to put some miles behind us, so we continued north. The Baja desert had received a significant amount of moisture over the winter and the hills were covered in blooming desert flora. Deserts, in the US, Mexico, or wherever,  are diverse and beautiful ecosystems, and if you have never visited one, I highly recommend it, especially after an unusually wet season. Everything that is normally brown was green, and everything that was normally green had erupted in color. God's hand had recently been holding a paintbrush, and his work was evident.

We needed a leg stretch at one point, and stopped at what looked like an abandoned rest stop only to find a small nature trail and interpretive center. We followed the signs and eventually ended up in a cave viewing some cave paintings. What a suprise! We had stopped for a stretch and instead were given a beautiful display of desert culture.

Leaving the south, entering the north.

Leaving the south, entering the north.

Ensenada finally started showing up on highway signs!

Ensenada finally started showing up on highway signs!

Green was everywhere.

Green was everywhere.

The desert was enthusastically alive after the wet winter.

The desert was enthusastically alive after the wet winter.

Super Bloom!

Super Bloom!

Signs and cactus at our rest stop walking trail.

Signs and cactus at our rest stop walking trail.

The interpretive trail was deserted but well signed and obviously planned.

The interpretive trail was deserted but well signed and obviously planned.

The trail led us down into a valley, across and arroyo, and up a hill.

The trail led us down into a valley, across and arroyo, and up a hill.

Little lizards were watching us everywhere.

Little lizards were watching us everywhere.

At the top of the hill we found a cave with cave paintings!

At the top of the hill we found a cave with cave paintings!

We hadn't seen a cave painting yet, but they are all over Baja.

We hadn't seen a cave painting yet, but they are all over Baja.

Just chilling in the art cave.

Just chilling in the art cave.

Some of the cacti were crazy!

Some of the cacti were crazy!

Everything was green and gold.

Everything was green and gold.

The "trees" in the center, the Dr. Seuss style ones, had burst into bloom. We had seen them on the way down and the looked like tall, silver cones, but by the time we returned they had grown mini branches.

The "trees" in the center, the Dr. Seuss style ones, had burst into bloom. We had seen them on the way down and the looked like tall, silver cones, but by the time we returned they had grown mini branches.

Heading North

We continued driving and eventually caught sight of the Pacific ocean. We had zigzagged our way across Baja and now we could finally see the ocean instead of the sea. From here, we would follow the coastline back to the border, so finding the ocean here was a lot like opening the last chapter of our book.

We drove through many small communities that we hadn't seen on the drive south, because we had driven on Mexico 3 to San Filipe and down along the Sea of Cortez. We eventually grew tired of the tarmac and found a coastal dirt road that looked relatively abandoned. We camped on a bluff overlooking the ocean and let the crashing waves lull us to sleep. The next day we found that a lot of our dirt road had been washed out during the winter, making for some fun detours and arroyo crossings. We arrived that night to our friend Mauricio's property in Ensenada just in time to catch a spectacular sunset over the Pacific. The next few weeks would be filled with projects, catching up with our friends and even a surprise back surgery (more on that soon)!

The road to the north.

The road to the north.

Fields of orange flowers along the coastal dirt road.

Fields of orange flowers along the coastal dirt road.

Every campsite looked good.

Every campsite looked good.

It was like a dirt road from an adventurers fairy tale.

It was like a dirt road from an adventurers fairy tale.

Camped! in the wide open!

Camped! in the wide open!

A sunset and a book.

A sunset and a book.

Arroyo climbing the next day.

Arroyo climbing the next day.

Little foot loves the hills and the mud.

Little foot loves the hills and the mud.

As always, pictures just don't really do it justice… this hill was much steeper than it looks.

As always, pictures just don't really do it justice… this hill was much steeper than it looks.

Our first sunset back in Ensenada!

Our first sunset back in Ensenada!

Mexico, Part 15: Awaiting our part in Loreto

Waiting for Parts

After limping our way back to Loreto, stopping only for red lights and refusing to pull over to let traffic pass (sorry!), we strategically approached the RV park that would provide our safe haven for nearly a week as we awaited our part. Christian slipped Little Foot into low gear and  rolled slowly through a u-turn on a dead-end street as I hopped out and ran to the entrance, hastily explaining our situation before Christian arrived. Luckily, we knew the owner from our previous time spent there and she let us have the first spot available, which meant Christian could literally pull straight in.

We heaved a huge sigh of relief once we arrived, knowing we were settled until morning, when we rallied enough man-power to push Little Foot to the back where we’d be out of the way as a caravan of big-rigs arrived to take over the rest of the lot.

One of our favorite things about the Loreto RV park is that there is a beautiful common area, complete with a grill. During our time there we grilled out often, feeding not only ourselves but an array of fellow travelers, usually bicyclists and motorcyclists who would gather around to hang out as the food cooked. It was always a pleasure to entertain and it gave a sort of wonderful purpose to our nights there.

Our front and center spot when we first arrived. We quickly moved to the back of the lot, only to be parked in by a caravan of 19 big rigs.

Our front and center spot when we first arrived. We quickly moved to the back of the lot, only to be parked in by a caravan of 19 big rigs.

Sitting in the common area at the RV park, enjoying the wait while our laundry hangs to dry.

Sitting in the common area at the RV park, enjoying the wait while our laundry hangs to dry.

Enjoying one of many beautiful sunsets while tucked away in the back.

Enjoying one of many beautiful sunsets while tucked away in the back.

Can't be upset about being stuck somewhere when there's a hotdog stand nearby!

Can't be upset about being stuck somewhere when there's a hotdog stand nearby!

One of many communal dinners at the RV park.

One of many communal dinners at the RV park.

Loreto's beautiful downtown church.

Loreto's beautiful downtown church.

Christian kept his mustache for a while.

Christian kept his mustache for a while.

Enjoying some very non-exceptional sushi in an exceptional location.

Enjoying some very non-exceptional sushi in an exceptional location.

Killing time in Loreto

About every other day, I would walk to the house of Antonio, the local “healer” that had provided me with relief from my back pain. It was on the other side of town in the local area, where gringos aren’t usually seen walking around. I was taken by surprise one day by a gentleman yelling “Hola!! HOLA!!!” at me and running towards me as I walked. Preparing to apologize profusely for not being able to speak very good Spanish, the man quickly interrupted me saying, “Don’t worry! I speak English!” Relieved, I asked him if everything was ok. He then looked at me and said, “I came over here to ask YOU if everything was ok!” (I guess the sight of a limping American girl wandering the local side of town got him worried. After I explained that I was headed to my friend’s house and was in fact totally fine and not lost, he begged me to let him buy me a soda. If I hadn’t just split one with Christian shortly before the walk, I would’ve taken him up on the offer.

I wanted to share that story because so many people have expressed concern for our safety while in Mexico. In my lifetime, I’ve had two attempted muggings, had my car broken into and my iPod stolen, and found my car on cinderblocks with all four tires gone…ALL WHILE LIVING IN THE USA.

Here’s the thing: there are bad people everywhere. There is not a higher concentration of bad people in Mexico. However, there is a higher concentration of bad press about Mexico. No one is going to write a news article that gets circulated around Facebook about a random Mexican offering help and a soda to an American girl walking around his neighborhood. I am in fact more comfortable here than I have been in several cities we’ve traveled through in the US, and for good reason. The majority of the folks down here are grateful for the tourism industry and the revenue that brings to their towns. We’ve had countless people ask us if we’re enjoying ourselves and if we feel safe and how they can help. The locals are more helpful than most people we’ve encountered in the US because they’re genuinely happy we’re here.

Ok, rant over.

At Antonio's place, getting ready to get healed.

At Antonio's place, getting ready to get healed.

Antonio is a very gifted and self taught therapist, but at this point he was just treating pain, not the cause of the pain.

Antonio is a very gifted and self taught therapist, but at this point he was just treating pain, not the cause of the pain.

We spent our hours and days finding ways to fill the time, reading books from the RV park book exchange, visiting Antonio for pain treatment, making trips back and forth to the grocery store, etc. Even though Loreto is a highly walkable town, we had to limit our time wandering because of my ever persisting pain. It was becoming apparent that treating the pain was a very temporary solution and that we would soon need to address the bigger problem (though we still didn't know exactly what that was.)

In our time spent waiting for the part, we met a bunch of fellow travelers with cool rigs and stories. One was an ambulance, which is close to our heart since the Campbulance was our first conversion. Since Little Foot is often the most unique rig in a group, we're used to giving tours to everyone that wanders our direction with a curious look on their face. This means that we get to ask for tours in return and see how everyone's setups function differently and get ideas for how we want to change and adapt our own setup for the future. Nothing helps you brainstorm quite like seeing someone else's camper and picking their brain about their likes and dislikes.

Admiring a homemade sun shelter awning on a fellow traveler's rig.

Admiring a homemade sun shelter awning on a fellow traveler's rig.

We're always interested in an ambulance!

We're always interested in an ambulance!

There were all sorts of rigs, and we gave many tours of Little Foot, so in turn we were given many tours of other rigs! It was fantastic.

There were all sorts of rigs, and we gave many tours of Little Foot, so in turn we were given many tours of other rigs! It was fantastic.

Installing the part and hitting the road!

We had our part shipped down Baja using a service called Baja Pack. It's a delivery service that utilizes the bus system, saving both time and money because of its efficiency. Waiting on the part was only slightly frustrating, as it was scheduled to arrive either Saturday night or Sunday morning. The buses run seven days a week, but the office closed on Sundays. As our luck would have it, the part didn't arrive Saturday, so we spent another day sitting around waiting, knowing the part was behind the closed doors of the office.

Christian walked over first thing Monday morning to retrieve the package, determined to get the part installed and hit the road by the end of the day. Lucky us, it was there and as expected, the install was straight-forward and fairly quick. By the afternoon, we were hugging our new friends goodbye and crossing our fingers as we started Little Foot for the first time in a week.

Waiting for the part at Baja Pack. This parcel office was clear across town, but the walk was enjoyable everyday.

Waiting for the part at Baja Pack. This parcel office was clear across town, but the walk was enjoyable everyday.

So... where is my part?

So... where is my part?

It arrived!

It arrived!

Clutch Master cylinder in hand!

Clutch Master cylinder in hand!

The install of our new part was super fast.

The install of our new part was super fast.

Old parts out, new parts in.

Old parts out, new parts in.

Little Foot fired on the first try and as Christian depressed the clutch for the first time, he shouted with glee when we didn't hear brake fluid immediately rushing back into the master cylinder. The part had fixed the problem and we were clear to hit the road! We started driving north, skipping all the places we would've loved to stop and enjoy one last time. Our timeline was starting to get a little tight with the delay from our breakdown and we didn't want to risk not having plenty of time to spend in Ensenada before crossing the border. So, with a sigh, we kept driving, only stopping to camp and gas up, knowing we'll be back to enjoy Baja again someday.

So excited to be driving again.

So excited to be driving again.

Every bend in the road taunted and teased us. Every ebach deserved a week or two of camping.

Every bend in the road taunted and teased us. Every ebach deserved a week or two of camping.

We stopped at beaches we had been to before, knowing that we could camp easily and freely.

We stopped at beaches we had been to before, knowing that we could camp easily and freely.

Putting the Sea of Cortez behind us.

Putting the Sea of Cortez behind us.

Onwards, to Baja Norte.

Onwards, to Baja Norte.

Mexico, Part 14: La Paz, Carnaval, Whale Sharks and a failing Clutch Master Cylinder

Making it to La Paz

Our last post ended with us driving some sand track just north of Todos Santos with a failing clutch master cylinder. The signs and symptoms were as follows: the clutch pedal would depress and hold the clutch for about 1.5 seconds, and then the clutch would drop and violently reengage the flywheel, leaving the clutch pedal depressed, but with no feedback. We had rebuilt the clutch master cylinder in August in Montana just after purchasing Little Foot, and at the time I had noticed some pitting in the cylinder's wall. I knew that the pitting was bad, but because I was most of the way through the rebuild, I figured I would complete the job and see if the new rubber seals would hold. The seals held and continued to hold for 12,000kms, until the pitting caused enough damage to allow the brake fluid to bypass the rubber bits.

So there we were, on a sand track, trying desperately not to stop because starting from a standstill was violent, as I didn't have enough time to engage 1st (a locked, non-synchronized gear) and instead had to drop the clutch onto 2nd gear, which wasn't a pleasant affair. NEVER had I been happier about Little Foot's shift-on-the-fly low range gearbox, and his engage-on-the-fly locking differentials and 6 wheel drive. With four levers slamming back and forth we made it out of the sand that desperately wanted to drag us down.

We limped Little Foot to La Paz, stopping only a handful of times and taking every stop sign and traffic light at a rolling pace. We made it to La Paz, found an RV park that offered dry camping, and parked with a great deal of relief. We were in a paid parking spot, with water, wifi, and bathrooms, and that freed us up to diagnose. I was fairly certain our problem was the clutch master cylinder, but I called two experts in California just to get their input as well, and they agreed. My parts supplier (check them out, they are AWESOME for UniMog, Pinz, and GWagen sales, supplies, and support: expeditionimports.com) had a new master cylinder in stock, which was excellent, but it was all the way in California, and between me and it lay a national border. Shipping, even just to Baja, was going to be a pain (because of customs), so we spent many hours calling in many favors, especially from our friend Mauricio and his business partner Scotty. I recognize that the write up of all this seems pretty straight forward, but trust me, it was a maelstrom of international calls and multi-lingual texts.

All the while, we had begun to develop neighbors in our secluded dry-camping area. The rest of the RV park was fairly well packed with cookie-cutter big-rigs, but soon the dry camping area filled out with the coolest rigs around. Strange birds of a feather follow the same rules as the rest of the flock! First, a newer Land Cruiser pulled up with a mostly stock body, save for its pop-top roof. Its inhabitants turned out to be German and Austrian, with one of them being from the Pinzgauer region of Austria! What luck! I asked her if she had any spare Pinzgauer parts, but alas, she did not. Next, Christa and Johan, whom we had met in Todos Santos, arrived in their older Land Cruiser outfitted with an AlphaCab camper box. They are Swiss, which means Johan is a veteran of mandatory military service and trained in Pinzgauers back in the day. Lastly, another Swiss gentleman showed up in his Hyundai 4WD van, who also trained in Pinzgauers! We were surrounded by people who knew that choosing to travel, or even drive, in a Pinzgauer was a crazy and borderline bad idea. (As evidence, when we first met Johan and Christa on the streets of Todos Santos we introduced ourselves as the drivers of the Pinzgauer they had seen rolling around, to which Johan replied, "AH! So you're the masochists!")

Surrounded by Europeans who knew better than to buy a Pinz!

Surrounded by Europeans who knew better than to buy a Pinz!

Down time at the rv park meant it was a good time to catch up on our blog posts.

Down time at the rv park meant it was a good time to catch up on our blog posts.

Our plea!

Our plea!

I took the time to check the valves while parked - i like to do it at every oil change - and while I was at it I taught some other travelers how to use a feeler gauge.

I took the time to check the valves while parked - i like to do it at every oil change - and while I was at it I taught some other travelers how to use a feeler gauge.

Chelsea went swimming with whale sharks as I rotated tires! Division of labor!

Chelsea went swimming with whale sharks as I rotated tires! Division of labor!

Whale Sharks

(Chelsea here…I'm writing this section since Christian wasn't there!)

While Christian stayed back at the truck trying to get the ball rolling on getting our part and rotating the tires, I got to tag along with the Swiss/German bunch to go swim with whale sharks. It was the one big thing I'd had my heart set on doing while we were down in Baja, and when our clutch started going between Todos Santos and La Paz, Christian broke the news to me that it likely wouldn't happen. Lucky us, the amazing folks parked around us had arranged a group trip together and I was able to tag along to fulfill my dream.

The boat they'd booked was small and intimate, perfect for our group of six. As we motored out to the bay, breaking down only once, we changed into our wet suits and got our snorkel gear and GoPros ready. It's a very laid-back process, with several boats communicating by radio to let the captains know where the whale sharks are located. The boats then circle around, trawling slowly to keep up with the ever-moving creatures. Each load of people takes a turn, jumping into the water with fanfare when the captain says "go." The water fills with splashing and fumbling snorkelers, all vying for an up close and personal glimpse of the massive creature, all the while, the whale shark continues swimming, unfazed by the clamor around it. When the crowd tires and the whale shark disappears into the murky turquoise, the swimmers return to their boat and the next boat gets in place to drop its eager visitors into the water.

Being with such a small group was a huge bonus, as it meant we weren't fighting each other to get close to the whale shark. The water was just murky enough to make it difficult to discern which direction to go once in the water. I had a very difficult time managing the waves that were splashing into my snorkel and choking me with saltwater. After a few minutes of this, I became a bit jumbled and turned around, so I had to stop, reach up and empty my snorkel to continue. With the situation under control, I dunked back under the water, only to reel back in surprise that I was directly above the whale shark we'd been pursuing. In my struggle, I hadn't noticed the giant creature heading my way right before I'd gone above water. They'd warned us not to touch the whale sharks, which I respected, as I'm of the opinion that we're messing with their environment enough just swimming around them. I was so close, I actually had to make a concerted effort to not disturb the beast or graze its flesh. I floated there, holding my breath, as the form moved swiftly and gracefully below me, very barely missing me with its giant tail fin as it continued into the depths.

The GoPro I was haphazardly swinging around in my right hand caught the shadow of the head before it swung with me above water, then, after capturing my choking escapade, it picked up the moment I dunked back in. Full disclosure…I'm not very good with a GoPro. I'm a photographer by career, but I tend to get shaky, blurry and poorly framed content whenever I use a GoPro. Luckily, I was videoing, so at least I got something, but the quality is lacking. Apologies ahead of time for the crooked photos!

I tired out fairly quickly, as kicking and swimming were pure torture on my back. We had jumped into the water a total of four times and in addition to being above the whale shark once, a second time had enabled me to swim right beside it for quite a while, getting a wonderful glimpse of the giant creature. As the rest of the group continued their pursuit, I climbed back into the boat, satisfied with my experience.

Underwater selfie!

Underwater selfie!

The image my GoPro saw that I didn't, right before I pulled it up to adjust my snorkel.

The image my GoPro saw that I didn't, right before I pulled it up to adjust my snorkel.

The moment I put my head and GoPro back underwater, I was greeted with a close encounter!

The moment I put my head and GoPro back underwater, I was greeted with a close encounter!

As you can see, I was inches from the whale shark. I this shot, you can see the scarred fin, likely caused from rubbing on the bottom of a boat.

As you can see, I was inches from the whale shark. I this shot, you can see the scarred fin, likely caused from rubbing on the bottom of a boat.

A good shot for size reference.

A good shot for size reference.

This time I swam beside the whale shark, not above.

This time I swam beside the whale shark, not above.

Climbing back in with fins and a bum back was difficult!

Climbing back in with fins and a bum back was difficult!

Getting towed back to the dock!

Getting towed back to the dock!

Carnaval

We arrived in La Paz on a Friday afternoon, after my specialty parts shop in US was already closed, so we had to wait the entire weekend before even confirming that they had the part in stock. Saturday was spent diagnosing, Sunday doing our Bible study and twiddling our thumbs, Monday calling frantically... the days extended longer than I wanted, but it gave us yet another chance to slow down. We've been perfecting the art of slow travel since 2014, and God keeps giving us chances to slow down even more. Carnaval extended all weekend, and we visited the malacon to see the parade on Monday, the night it was closing down. The food was out of this world, with many stalls offering many unhealthy foods. Available were churros, tacos, hot cakes, hot dogs, breads and candies of every sort - think state fair food, but dirt cheap and way better.

The parade was great. Many, many floats, some amateur and some professional blared traditional Mexican, pop, and Mexican pop. Many floats were produced and staffed by local dance schools, meaning that the every float had every kind of person, and every kind of body dancing away to the music. None of the standard beauty-pageant-only attitude - everyone was welcome. One float, our favorite, was created by a local school for disabled children, which made us love the inclusion and think of our amazing nephew Paxton. 

Speaking of the little dude Paxton, Wednesday of that week was World Rare Disease Day! So, in honor of my inspirational nephew Paxton, I shaved an inspirational mustache into my face. The next day we left La Paz, under our own power but not happy about it. The clutch master cylinder was working well enough to drive, but it wasn't a sustainable action. We set our eyes on Loreto (a favorite Baja city of ours…and the location of the one person who'd been able to give Chels pain relief for her back), and at the encouragement of Johan and Christa, and at the discouragement of Little Foot, we drove on, north into Baja, intent on making it to Loreto to await our part.

The scene at the malacon for the parade.

The scene at the malacon for the parade.

Considering hot dogs. Hot dogs considered.

Considering hot dogs. Hot dogs considered.

The parade route was also the party route. But the party was really, really family friendly.

The parade route was also the party route. But the party was really, really family friendly.

Oh yes. Yes please.

Oh yes. Yes please.

Fried bananas.

Fried bananas.

Fried bananas. (Techincally, they're plantains…but they're awesome and very similar to bananas. - Chels)

Fried bananas. (Techincally, they're plantains…but they're awesome and very similar to bananas. - Chels)

Sun setting on a parade.

Sun setting on a parade.

The float of kiddos with disabilites!

The float of kiddos with disabilites!

Street art in La Paz.

Street art in La Paz.

World Rare Disease Day mustache!

World Rare Disease Day mustache!

Johan and Christa cheering us on.

Johan and Christa cheering us on.

On the road and shifting as little as possible, and definitely not stopping.

On the road and shifting as little as possible, and definitely not stopping.