Mexico, Part 3: Waiting for Christmas and Christmas

Waiting for Christmas

After spending a few days in the Valle de Guadalupe and Rancho San Carlos, we started playing the waiting game, passing the time in Ensenada until my father arrived. He had asked us months ago, when we were on the Oregon coast, where we would be for Christmas, and we had NO IDEA. It's pretty tough to schedule an overland trip, much less an overland trip in a 30+ year old Swiss Army surplus van. We glanced at the map, figured if we hadn't made it to Mexico by Christmas we'd be enormous failures, and therefore chose what we thought would be a home-run destination, a local wine region just over the border. 

What this meant in reality is that we had loads of time to kill in Ensenada. Luckily, our newly made Mexican friends, Mauricio and Abby, let us camp at their house for over a week, and we got some projects started and finished. We searched for some steel hardware to better secure our doors while we're away from Little Foot, and stumbled upon a small factory building Baja 1000 trophy and race trucks. We found a fantastic Spanish teacher and took some language lessons, and watched American football at a foreigner/expat bar. We even scoured the beach for mussels and made free dinner at Mauricio's seaside abode. By slowing down we got to explore even more of Ensenada and become closer with our new friends. It was great.

The Baja buggies at this factory took me by surprise! We were looking for small pieces of angle steel to make into locks and pulled into the lot of what looked like a scrap metal recycling center. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the workshop and saw this scene!

The Baja buggies at this factory took me by surprise! We were looking for small pieces of angle steel to make into locks and pulled into the lot of what looked like a scrap metal recycling center. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the workshop and saw this scene!

The finished lock project.

The finished lock project.

Scouring the beach with Pablo and Anna for mussels.

Scouring the beach with Pablo and Anna for mussels.

Preparing the mussels! (Hey Leatherman… we think this could be an ad photo for you!) (Is that how sponsorship works? You just write a caption and it happens?)

Preparing the mussels! (Hey Leatherman… we think this could be an ad photo for you!) (Is that how sponsorship works? You just write a caption and it happens?)

The best part: eating the mussels! A free protein from the sea for dinner. Very nice. 

The best part: eating the mussels! A free protein from the sea for dinner. Very nice. 

Overlooking northern Ensenada from a fantastic and mostly hidden cafateria at a local university.

Overlooking northern Ensenada from a fantastic and mostly hidden cafateria at a local university.

From right to left: Mauricio's 1961 Land Rover 2A, Little Foot the Pinzgauer, and the Cucaracha of Viajeros4x4x4 fame.

From right to left: Mauricio's 1961 Land Rover 2A, Little Foot the Pinzgauer, and the Cucaracha of Viajeros4x4x4 fame.

Loulou got used to her oceanside view at Mauricio's.

Loulou got used to her oceanside view at Mauricio's.

Chelsea took me on a date to watch the New England Patriots at a local expat bar.

Chelsea took me on a date to watch the New England Patriots at a local expat bar.

Spanish lessons might have been made more difficult, but far more entertaining by these two charismatic kittens.

Spanish lessons might have been made more difficult, but far more entertaining by these two charismatic kittens.

Helping Mauricio work his way through some designs for his Land Rover overland project.

Helping Mauricio work his way through some designs for his Land Rover overland project.

Christmas

Chuck, my dad, finally arrived in Mexico and the Christmas Festivities got underway. He chose to stay at boutique hotel named Hotel Boutique in the wine region of the Valle de Guadelupe. It rained for the first few days of the stay, but the sun cleared after that, drying out the vineyards and providing great weather for wandering around the agricultural region.

In addition to visiting the wineries of the Valle de Guadelupe, we toured parts of Ensenada, including the docks, the Mercado Negro, and Hussong's bar and restaurant.

The Mercado Negro, which translates to the Black Market, is a sizable warehouse full of fish vendors. Decades ago, captains returning from a day or week of fishing would hide some of their catch from the ship's owners and sell this portion to the people of Ensenada. Hiding the fish allowed the captains to make some side cash, while letting the people of Ensenada access the sea food without paying a middleman.

Hussong's is one of two restaurants that contend the title of "Home of the Margarita". The place is in the tourist district, and is itself a little touristy, but you know what you're getting when you find it. The margaritas were alright, and if there is a famous home for an iconic beverage near you as you're traveling, you've just got to go. It was worth it.

Wine Tasting.

Wine Tasting.

Ensenada's dock region.

Ensenada's dock region.

The Mercado Negro. The catch was SO fresh you couldn't smell fish, no joke.

The Mercado Negro. The catch was SO fresh you couldn't smell fish, no joke.

Hussong's!

Hussong's!

Loulou making friends with a wolf dog that wanted to eat her.

Loulou making friends with a wolf dog that wanted to eat her.

More wine tasting while we opened Christmas presents!

More wine tasting while we opened Christmas presents!

Oregon Part 3: Cousin AdVANture, Roseburg, and OREGON IS TAKING TOO LONG!

Cousin AdVANture!

As we drove down the coast, we met my cousins Jay and George, and Jay's wife Morgan, in the pretty little city of Eugene for an adVANture! Jay and Morgan have just recently purchased a built-up E350, with a 4x4 conversion by Quigley (no, not the Tom Selick Quigley, the motor company Quigley). Their rig is pretty cool, and all the hard parts (slamming an F350's suspension and driveline under an E350) were already done, but all the fun bits like customizing the interior are awaiting their hard work and design.

We headed out on the Coos Bay Wagon Road, a mostly paved, sometimes forested, and often steep road from Eugene to the coast. We had a great time, and Little Foot only broke down once!

Team photo!

Team photo!

My excitement about the chance to have our photo taken going through a covered bridge caused me to stall out Little Foot, and upon trying to restart him, he wouldn't fire. I had a sneaking suspicion the spark plugs needed to be replaced, and THANK GOD we had picked up a spare set the day before. After trying a few normal and easy fixes, like letting the engine breathe, starting with and without choke, and feathering the throttle, I decided to rule bad spark out of the equation by performing some roadside maintenance. New plugs, gapped to 32/1000 of an inch had Little Foot back up and running. For those wondering, Little Foot has an aftermarket solid state ignition manufactured by our friends at PinzSSI.com.

Broken down!

Broken down!

Tuttle cousins and some handsome rigs. Notice the size comparison between LittleFoot and a E350. The bodies are nearly the same length.

Tuttle cousins and some handsome rigs. Notice the size comparison between LittleFoot and a E350. The bodies are nearly the same length.

We set up camp in the rain, but had a great time under Jay and Morgan's excellent tarp. We made a fire, had some dinner, and generally carried on. It was a great adVANture!

Luckily all five of us hold honorary master's degrees in "Tarp-ology", so setting up the shelter was a breeze. Notice the crucial ladder.

Luckily all five of us hold honorary master's degrees in "Tarp-ology", so setting up the shelter was a breeze. Notice the crucial ladder.

Roseburg: Reorganization, Solar Power, and Shower Version 1.0

In Roseburg we stayed with Chelsea's fantastic Uncle Paul and Aunt Debbie. They opened up their driveway, home, and workshop to us for a few days, and man we needed it. Chels tore all our storage stuff out of Little Foot for a reorganization and pairing down of gear. We sent away a pair of skis to my brother, sent a box to storage with the rest of our moth-balled gear, and reorganized everything else.

Also, I spent some time finally wiring up our solar components, and fully charging our batteries. We also built what would turn out to be a leaky solar shower. We hadn't planned on failing, but we learned that you need to use big, full strength PVC instead of the lightweight irrigation tubing we used. Because we failed, we'll do a full post on our final product in the future, but there's some shots of me drilling holes and such below.

We can't thank Paul and Debbie enough for taking us into their home for a few days. Everyone out there who has helped and hosted us, thank you SO much, especially for the use of your bathrooms! Showers are like gold to us.

Taking stuff down.

Taking stuff down.

Taking stuff out.

Taking stuff out.

Our solar shower (version 1.0, super leaky!) was constructed from 4" PVC irrigation tubing , two caps, and a T-joint with a screw on inspection cover we use as a fill port. We included a tire tube valve to pressurize the chamber and a radiator drain plug to allow for the water gravity feed without air locking. Like I said, we'll do a whole breakdown in the future with version 2.0.

The solar power also got wired together, finally, and is charging our house batteries and powering our Whynter Fridge as I type. Pretty cool!

Installing valves into the screw cap on the T-joint.

Installing valves into the screw cap on the T-joint.

Wiring VERY CAREFULLY!!!

Wiring VERY CAREFULLY!!!

Chelsea painting the shower.

Chelsea painting the shower.

Finishing Out the Oregon Coast

Oregon took a while, in real life and in Blog updates! We're going to try to cram together some weeks of travel in the next updates. The end of Oregon was punctuated by AMAZING coastal views. We spent some time wandering around beaches, impersonating statues in seaside hamlets, and hiking up a forested trail to a coastal peak. Long story short, visit Oregon. There are too many adventures to be had in a single lifetime just inside this great state.

We found some statues. I had to impersonate them. For more BAD performance art, see our  Rusty Does Arches  blog post!

We found some statues. I had to impersonate them. For more BAD performance art, see our Rusty Does Arches blog post!

I  am  the seahorse!

I am the seahorse!

The beaches are outstanding. Check out the driftwood! It collects and naturally barricades the exit from the stairs in this photo. Pretty cool.

The beaches are outstanding. Check out the driftwood! It collects and naturally barricades the exit from the stairs in this photo. Pretty cool.

Chelsea looking pensive.

Chelsea looking pensive.

A great hike on Humbug Mountain

A great hike on Humbug Mountain

Me at the peak of Humbug, doing my Peter Pan stance.

Me at the peak of Humbug, doing my Peter Pan stance.

The light coming through the trees was AMAZING.

The light coming through the trees was AMAZING.

Moss on the trees in a coastal forest.

Moss on the trees in a coastal forest.

Chelsea looking a bit disheveled after nearly slipping and falling down some mud.

Chelsea looking a bit disheveled after nearly slipping and falling down some mud.

Solar Installation.

Electrical self-sufficiency is basic need/want in the world of van dwelling. A robust electrical system can provide a way to charge devices, light a living space, keep food from spoiling, and more. In a past post, we listed the components we plan on using on our truck and house circuits, so check that out for a breakdown of what we're using. After all those components arrived in the mail, Chels and I got to installing. The big project, as far as installation is concerned, was mounting the photovoltaic cells (PV cells) and the charging devices.

Components (toys) laid out.

Components (toys) laid out.

We knew we wanted the PV cells on the roof rack, and we knew we wanted to be able to access the room beneath the cells, and be able to rotate the cells to take full advantage of the sun when camped for a few days. To achieve this, we needed to tie the PV cells together so they would act as one, and then mount them in such a way that they could rotate on a hinge.

We decided to make a very basic frame from some double sided 1/2 inch U-lay plywood. We could have bought a fancy hinging mount, or spent more money on steel components, but the plywood was free, light, low profile, and did we mention…free! 

Cutting the plywood to size, and losing the centers to drop weight and add access.

Cutting the plywood to size, and losing the centers to drop weight and add access.

We cut the plywood to nearly the exact dimensions of the two 100w PV cells (43" x 47"), leaving a 1/2" between the cells. Then, to reduce weight and allow for us to access the mounting hardware, we cut large rectangles out of the plywood. The PV cells added a lot of rigidity to the whole setup, so we weren't very concerned about cutting wood away from the frame.

It fits!

It fits!

One side of the plywood frame is held to the roof rack by 1" U bolts. These act as a simple hinge, and allow the PV cells to be rotated out of the way. The PV cells are held to the plywood by a handful of M6x30 bolts, washers, and nuts. We dry fitted everything before painting the plywood with leftover spray paint to add some weatherproofing. We also added some drain holes in the 1/2" gap between PV cells.

It hinges! The U-bolt setup is simple, cheap, and cheerful.

It hinges! The U-bolt setup is simple, cheap, and cheerful.

Mounting the panels wasn't terribly difficult, and it was (God willing) a one time event. There isn't a lot of room under the PV cells to move around, so bolting the cells to the plywood was a bit tricky. We don't have a permanent solution for holding the non-hinging side to the roof rack, so for now we've employed a cam strap.

Paint for weatherproofing.

Paint for weatherproofing.

The positive and negative leads are wrapped in a plastic wiring loom and zip tied in place, and then tucked into the bungee straps that hold the cab's canvas top in place. 

My wire face.

My wire face.

The wiring loom containing the PV cells leads running into the spare tire storage.

The wiring loom containing the PV cells leads running into the spare tire storage.

The next day we spent a few hours building a simple plywood shelf/rack for the charging components. The solar charge controller, the NOCO Genius battery charger, and the inverter will all live in what we call the "spare tire storage" to keep wire runs short. When dealing with a PV solar setup, keeping wire runs short will keep charge loss to a minimum.

The panel for the components. All cables and wires will be zip tied in place.

The panel for the components. All cables and wires will be zip tied in place.

In its cubby space where it will eventually be all tied together.

In its cubby space where it will eventually be all tied together.

We're not done yet. We still haven't bought deep cycle batteries, wired anything up, or bought any of the load-side wiring (fuse block, outlets). Once we get the system up and running we'll post a full review.

Out you heater, out! We had to tag team this one. (I'm glad Chels is smaller than me.)

Out you heater, out! We had to tag team this one. (I'm glad Chels is smaller than me.)

We also completed another project that needed doing. The original heater for the box was still mounted in place, taking up valuable storage space in a locked and out-of-the-way compartment. While it probably worked great for the original purposes of the Pinzgauer, we didn't need it. We opened a side hatch on the box, capped the hidden fuel lines, and removed the filter, pump, wiring harness, heater, and exhaust ducting. It took us a while and the heater fought back a little, but we won, and with a minimal amount of damage to the heater. So, if anyone wants a 24V Eberspaecher petroleum fueled heater, let us know!

Paint makes vans go faster.

We had hoped to be able to paint Little Foot while in Salmon and followed quite a few leads to find a place to do it indoors (so we could protect it and heat it to get the paint to cure properly). After some back and forth, we finally thought we had a spot lined up via an old friend of my dad. When the morning came, we loaded up the supplies (including tarps to cover anything nearby since we decided to go the "easy" spray paint route this time around) and headed over to the spot.

Salmon, ID, refuses to not be pretty.

Salmon, ID, refuses to not be pretty.

Plan A foiled. On to plan B.

Plan A foiled. On to plan B.

Unfortunately for us, the garage bay (that happened to be on the lot of a government agency) was for use by employees only. But because God was watching out for us, one of the other gentlemen at the lot offered us the use of his personal garage, just up the road. He mentioned it was outfitted with a paint booth, and we couldn't say yes fast enough!

The owner of the workshop mentioned we'd have to move a project out of the way. He didn't mention it was a home-built, 5.7L Corvette-powered hotrod!

The owner of the workshop mentioned we'd have to move a project out of the way. He didn't mention it was a home-built, 5.7L Corvette-powered hotrod!

Think short thoughts! We barely fit. You can see the exhaust fan on the left side of the garage door.

Think short thoughts! We barely fit. You can see the exhaust fan on the left side of the garage door.

We pulled the wood stove's draft cap off the chimney, slid Little foot into the garage, dropped the paint booth's walls. and got to work on prep. The most important part of any paint project is preparation. Between cleaning, sanding, and taping, the preparation should take at least 1/2 the time allotted for the project. 

Tape tape tape.

Tape tape tape.

After everything was taped, we coated Little Foot with automotive primer. A solid coat of primer should keep the original paint from seeping through, as well as allow for strong adhesion of the new paint.

We turned Little Foot into the Tin Man!

We turned Little Foot into the Tin Man!

After priming we started in on the top coat. We had wanted something simple, so we chose an aluminum gloss paint, thinking it would be a muted silver. We were WAY off! The paint was darn close to a mirror finish. We had turned our matte green steed into the Tin Man, and we were worried. Little Foot looked comical, and not the good kind of comical. In an effort to tone down the silver, we decided to quickly add original, olive drab racing stripes. For what may be the first time in automotive history, racing stripes were added to a vehicle to make it look less ridiculous. 

I'm just posing. Chelsea did all the geometry work on the stripes. I think they look great!

I'm just posing. Chelsea did all the geometry work on the stripes. I think they look great!

Clear coat misery.

Clear coat misery.

After finishing the racing stripes we decided to clear coat Little Foot to add some protection to the paint. About half a can in, Chelsea noticed that the clear coat was causing the aluminum paint to run. It looked terrible! After inspecting the warning labels on the clear coat, we read "DO NOT USE ON ALUMINUM FINISHES." Oops. Luckily, we realized that we weren't suppose to use the clear coat on aluminum finishes because it reduces the reflective qualities of the paint, effectively removing the sheen. This was an enormous blessing to us, because it muted the super shiny paint job, and left us with a gentle silver finish. Perfect! All our mistakes turned into one decent, cheap paint job.

So now Little Foot looks a lot faster, and a lot less like an army van, which was exactly why we painted him in the first place. We really didn't want to travel over any borders looking like a lost band of paramilitary soldiers. We may get robbed as tourists, but at least we won't be posing as something we're not.