Saturday, April 27, 2013

Retrieving Chuck the Truck – or…………………...................….. Baja Ferries from La Paz to Mazatlan

This is a little story about the trip I took to retrieve our truck from La Paz and move it to Mazatlan…I hope you like it.

You may recall Chuck… our truck… the little green truck that brought us, and a whole lot of stuff, to La Paz.  Chuck the truck who did his duty as a storage locker, while we worked on getting Shannon ready for the season…  And, Chuck the truck who, through no fault of his own, threw a disc or a gasket or… well actually it was a very small (but apparently important) sensor gadget….  ‘after’ we’d checked out with the Port Captain (assuring him we were leaving in the morning) and ‘before’ we had a chance to actually leave…  Yup, one and the same. As a result of his ‘injury’ Chuck had to hang out at the Ford Dealership in La Paz while he waited for that small part… and he was still there when we left… waiting.  In fact, he waited for several weeks for that small part and when he was finally healed… the kind staff delivered him to Marina Palmira.. where he was received and ‘put to bed’ by Tom and Jeanne of SV Eagle, our brave friends who stayed to face the summer months in the Sea of Cortez (just click on the link to SV Eagle if you want to read of their adventures).

Anyway, back to Chuck.  As our season was rushing on and nearing that time when we must begin to prepare Shannon for abandonment during the Mexican summer weather… AND as we decided to leave Shannon on the mainland side so that we can do a better job of ‘seeing’ the mainland next season…  Chuck had to be retrieved from La Paz and brought to Mazatlan.  Now at home, that wouldn’t be such a big deal… but here… well let’s just say it took some significant research and planning.  You see there are things like TIPs (Temporary Import Permits) that you don’t need for vehicles if you stay on the Baja and/or north of Guaymas on the mainland.  BUT, should you dare to cross the line… you must have one for your vehicle… and you can’t get them just anywhere… nor can you turn them in just anywhere (as you’re required to do when you leave the country).  Aaaaand, there’s no road or bridge between La Paz and Mazatlan.. and it’s too far to drive up over and down… so you must take a ferry (and it’s no BC ferry I can assure you).  After much research (most of which was conducted using other people’s blogs and learning from their experiences) here’s how it went.

The flight…

They said, you can book your flight on line… They said, you could even take a bus to some place down the road and take a cheap flight easy-peezy. They said… you must be at the airport 2 hours before your flight.  Hmmrph. The bus would have taken 3 hours and that flight was impossible to book.. couldn’t even find the right destinations on their website… so I gave up the idea of a cheap flight. The flight from Mazatlan airport.. well, I couldn’t get anywhere finding out that info either… so I finally went to the concierge at the El Cid Resort and begged for help.  She was wonderful.  She made the call, spoke to the airlines in fluent Spanish (no one spoke a word of English when I tried to call), booked my flight, gave them all my particulars… and spent over half an hour with me setting it up. And she did it all with a smile on her face, happy to help me.  She too confirmed I needed to be at the airport 2 hours before the flight.. and so, on the appointed day (March 20th) I dutifully summonsed a taxi (at 0530) and was at the airport 2 hours early (0630).  There I sat, with a very expensive cup of not very good coffee, waiting… seems the airlines counter didn’t open until 0730. Eventually it did open and I was summarily booked in and sent upstairs to wait for my flight.  It took some time to find the gate as in true Mexican fashion, things weren’t labelled the way they were intended to be.  Gate A turned out to be kiosk 10, which was marked as kiosk 3.  But, eventually I found the place and settled in to wait.  They called for us to board about half an hour after we’d been scheduled to leave.. and so off I hiked, leading the line, across the tarmac… out to .. well, a very small plane.  Being first up the (4 step) ladder, I had my choice of seats.. so I took a single, left side of the plane and right beside the emergency exit. You never know when you might want to leave in a hurry…. and believe it or not, I was not the largest person in the line-up. The plane held only 12 passengers (not counting the pilot) and the seats were organized as a single row up the left side, and doubles up the right… with (and you had to see this to believe it) only about 8” of space at the most, between them.  Passengers who followed me had to turn sideways and slide their thighs up the aisle to their waiting seat (did I mention this was first come first served?).   Anyway, we were finally all seated and settled in (even found some seat belts) and we were roaring down the runway to take off when I finally focused forward and realized THERE WAS NO CO-PILOT!  I wasn’t too impressed by this and spent the entire  1 1/2 hr. trip between gazing out the window at the beautiful views and keeping an eye on the pilot to make sure he wasn’t grabbing his left arm or sweating profusely… (I even studied as best I could, how to open that emergency hatch – which was difficult as the instruction pamphlet appeared to be for some airplane…NOT the one I was seated in).  The ride got a little lumpy as we were crossing over land just before La Paz but we landed safely and after calling out “Gracias” to the pilot (everyone else did so I did too) we all exited the plane and hiked ourselves into the La Paz airport (almost a clone of the one at Mazatlan.. very confusing when you’re tired… I kept forgetting where I was).  Tom and Jeanne picked me up and whisked me into La Paz and Marina Palmira where I had a great time reconnecting with some of our friends we hadn’t seen since we left in November.  Chuck, bless his little green heart, started well (Tom and Jeanne had reconnected the battery and checked him out for us) and I was able to relax for the afternoon and evening, sharing a meal with Tom and Jeanne and catching up on all that’s been happening.  I stayed in a hotel just down the road and was up early the next morning as March 21st was the big day for TIP and ferry boarding. I really appreciated the info I acquired from other peoples blogs and so, as an update, I’m going to include the details of how to acquire a TIP at Pichilingue and information regarding riding the Baja Ferry.

Temporary Boarding Permits (TIPs)

TIPs are not required for vehicles entering Mexico and travelling no further than the ‘entire’ Baja or mainland Mexico up to a point just south of Guaymas (see the map and check out the state line).  BUT, if you intend to travel anywhere else south of that line, you must acquire a TIP for said vehicle, and pay a refundable deposit ($200 or $300 USD depending on the age of your vehicle).
I had learned I could get a TIP at the Pichilingue Ferry Terminal which was very handy as that was the exact ferry I was catching on the 21st. I was there by noon (in plenty of time) and armed with instructions from Tom as to where to go and who to see…  I found the office with English speaking staff and the application process went smoothly.
  • to find the TIP office at the Pichilinque Ferry Terminal you must first enter the terminal, then turn left and drive through the entrance marked by the Security/Fee booth. Continue straight ahead and park on the right hand side (parallel parking stalls).  Then walk across to the two buildings housing both the Ferry ticket office (on the left) and the TIP office, a short walk to the right.  There you will meet one of two women who work the counters (both speak English very well).  You will be required to produce your passport, Tourist Visa and registration papers (I had my Mexican insurance papers as well) and the office will want a copy of these documents.  If you don’t have copies, you will be directed to an office near by where you will be able to acquire copies for a small fee.  Once the paper work is done and your payment has been received (good advice is to use a credit card rather than cash as this will speed up your refund process when you are leaving Mexico), you will receive your TIP with strict instructions as to exactly where to mount it on your windshield.
  • I’ll mention here (even though it was many days later that we left) … to take note that there are only certain border crossings where you may turn in your TIP (which you MUST do before leaving the country) and receive a refund of your deposit. You should ask at the TIP office for a copy of the list of such border crossings . Thank goodness I learned that ahead of time or we would have had to drive hundreds of miles out of our way to backtrack to the correct border crossing.  As we were driving to Yuma, I elected to cross at Nogales and the transaction went smoothly.  NOTE:  The Nogales Banjercito office where you actually turn in your TIP and get your refund is approximately 19 kilometres BEFORE the border.  Start watching for it after you pass the roadside sign that says “NOGALES 21 KM”.
  • One more note of interest…  should you decide to request a refund from your ‘home’ insurance folks (for the period of time your vehicle was in Mexico and covered by Mexican insurance), they are going to require formal documentation of when you entered the country as well as when you left.  The leaving part’s easy as you’ll have your receipt for the refunded TIP deposit.  But, if you’re like me, and entered Mexico heading down into the Baja… and you didn’t get a TIP as soon as you entered Mexico…well, take note, and be sure to collect a receipt of some kind (gas, campground, hotel) with your vehicle license number on it as soon as possible after you enter the country.
Having succeeded in acquiring the TIP for Chuck (the truck) I stopped at the Ferry ticket office and picked up my ticket for the 5 PM (1700 hrs.) sailing.  Then, as I had several hours to kill, I took myself back out onto the highway and down the road to a nearby beach palapa restaurant for a cold cervesa and a read of my book.  By 2:30 PM I was bored and decided to brave the ferry line-up where I could then nap or read as I waited for the ferry to load and leave.  This turned out to be quite an adventure in itself.

Adventures on the Baja Ferry (La Paz to Mazatlan):

There I sat, in line, from 2:30 PM… and on, and on, and on….. The day grew warmer, the lines grew longer (of course I was near the front cuz I’d been so ‘smart’ and arrived so early.

That’s when I met Rafael.  As I sat there, at the head of the line, window down to ease the blistering heat.. a full fledged biker rolled up and stopped in front of my truck.  Must have been a biker… had the Harley, had the leathers…three layers of them.  Even wore a leather scarf under his helmet (altho’ I bet they don’t call them scarves :-)  Anyway, this fellow proceeded to peel off all his layers of leather and I got to thinking “oh no,… I’m the only one here (others had fled the heat, seeking cover under a few skinny shade trees, or were off to the banyos) and this guy’s going to want to talk to me…”  Sure enough, once the leathers were safely folded, he wandered over to my window and struck up a conversation.  Now here’s the thing… this guy had a gentle voice, go figure.  He didn’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Spanish… so we mumbled a few things at each other, exchanged names, and gave up.  He wandered back to his bike, I breathed a sigh of relief he hadn’t wanted to get ‘friendlier’, and the wait continued. Hours later, literally, the ferry began to load.  This ferry, scheduled to leave at 1700 hrs, didn’t even arrive until 1800 hrs., took until 2000 hrs to unload and begin loading… and didn’t actually leave the dock until 2200 hrs.  It was quite a show.

To start with, when the ferry arrived in the bay it didn’t attempt to dock on it’s own.  Nope, it hovered quite a ways off the dock while a lone character in a panga (one of the small, open boats commonly used by the fishermen and powered by a single outboard), screamed out to the stern, accepted a line and rushed it to the dock.  Then he turned, and screamed back out to the bow, accepted another line and delivered it to the dock.. and then, my friends, this hulking ferry (easily 3 times bigger than a BC ferry) wound itself in sideways, to the dock. Hmmmm, guess that’s a good description of Mexican bow and stern thrusters. Anyway, once the dock lines were all set and the ramp was lowered, the unloading began.  There were 4 decks of vehicles on this ferry, most of which are huge 18-wheelers.  Some didn’t have cabs attached so a fleet of cabs, that had been restlessly waiting in the parking lot, began their rush to pick up a trailer and tow it off, then go back for another… This procedure, along with normal trucks driving off, took  a very long time.
Finally, and to my delight, the loading began.  And, just as planned I was one of the first vehicles on. First on, first off… right??  To my horror, that was not to be the case.  I followed the vehicle in front as we drove slowly onto the ferry and then down a long skinny ramp into the very bowels of the ship.  Then, as directed, I backed down the far aisle until I almost touched the car ahead/behind me… and voila!  I was in the second to last position to be unloaded at the other end… Note to travellers:  being first on is not always a great idea :-( Once parked we had to leave the vehicle.  You’re not allowed to remain in your car or even return to it (problematic for pets) once you’re parked.  So up I climbed (literally climbed) up a steep metal ladder to get to the next floor, and then up steep metal stairs.. up and up… following in line like a lemming, until out we popped on the 5th floor and right in front of the reception desk.The fellow behind the desk, caught my eye quickly and asked “Cabino?” “Si” I replied.. grateful I’d understood the question, and he gave me my key and explained where it was (in Spanish, of which I understood enough to know I had yet another set of stairs to climb).  Up I went to the 6th floor and, after walking down hallways so skinny two adults had to turn sideways to pass, I found my little cabin and fell in exhausted.

Life on the ferry…

Life on the ferry wasn’t so bad once I got used to the routine. There were lots of folks to copy after all.  Very few spoke English so I got pretty good at watching others and moving with the herd. Like meal time.. now there was a comedy act.  Those of us with watches and who knew what time a meal was supposed to be presented… well didn’t we just quietly gather in the cafeteria.. and, oh, just kind of stand around pretending to watch one of the two TV’s… and didn’t we cleverly adjust our position so that, at the appointed hour, when the cook came pushing out of the galley with a big bowl of ‘something’ to slop into the hot tray… didn’t we just turn slightly sideways and find ourselves already in line.. a kind of long, snaking line that wound around all of the tables housing Mexican families… tired parents with even tireder (is that a word?) kids, all half asleep and draped over their table. Anyway, back to the meal. Once the three hot pans were filled, the line begins to shuffle forward; first to the stack of trays (you pick one up), then forward to the line of hot pans (at which time you indicate to the fellow serving, which of the rather sloppy looking concoctions you wish to try), and then further forward to the woman behind the counter (who conscientiously checks your ticket (don’t forget to bring your ferry ticket) to ensure you are entitled to this wonderful meal. Now I haven’t said too much about the meals… mostly because I wasn’t sure ‘exactly’ what I was eating.  Suffice to say, I didn’t get sick and the taste was not obnoxious… and, I was very impressed with the galley staff’s ability to produce three meals more than planned when the ferry took much longer for the crossing… pretty impressive I’d say.

If you are clever enough to have booked a cabin  your trip across on the ferry will be much more comfortable than had you not.  I saw folks sleeping wherever they could… some on what chairs they could find, some on the viewing benches secured at the aft end of the outside deck, and still others curled up in various corners around the decks (fore and aft). There were two main, large rooms available for passengers in general.  One held two very large flat screen televisions on which movies played….  all night long.  The chairs were of the larger, lounge type, and they were filled quickly with folks either watching the movie, or sleeping in their chairs.  The second room was the cafeteria.  It had about 8 tables, each seating 4-6 people.  These were grabbed quickly by groups of working men and Mexican families with children.  As mentioned above there were televisions in this room as well, and I actually got to watch snippets of some good movies while surreptitiously waiting for the meal lines to start up.

And so the journey continued.  I spent some time walking the decks, but not much.  There was no where to sit and it was very dark… nothing much to see.  I spent most of my time (when I wasn’t lining up for meals) in my cabin… reading and sipping beer (yup, the woman behind the counter was there all night, bless her heart).  And, when it was time, I crawled into my little bed and slept (waking up in time for breakfast, of course).

You will recall the ferry was scheduled to leave at 1700 hrs., but didn’t get away until 2200 hrs. Well, it didn’t make up any time in the crossing… and although we were scheduled to dock at 0900 hrs. in Mazatlan… in fact, there was no sight of that shore at the appointed hour. The ferry did not arrive at Mazatlan until… wait for it… 2000 hrs. ! eleven hours late !! So take note, and don’t plan any lunch parties on the day you think you’re to arrive.

There’s one more thing I have to tell you about.  Remember biker fellow?  Well I must report that on one of my rounds of the upper deck, during the sunny afternoon, I came across Rafael leaning on the rail and enjoying the view.  It was kind of hard to avoid him, so I joined him instead and we spent an enjoyable hour speaking very poor Spanglish to each other.  But, not only did we enjoy the companionship of standing together at the rail and enjoying the beautiful scenery (he made a good wind-break for me too :-) we saw a huge Dorado swimming beside the ferry, and turtles, and we watched some sailboats out in the distance. I learned that Rafael was not a 'biker'… in fact he had spent 17 years in the Mexican Airforce and he was now an Air Traffic Controller (go figure…).  I learned he was married and had three children, two of them boys. And, to my amazement… somewhere towards the end of our time together at the rail.. he sang to me.  He sang three songs, all of them beautiful.  I’ve no idea what the words were… I suspect they were a little mushy; but his voice was beautiful and his smile infectious.

After the singing I thought it prudent to extract myself from our visit, and so I did – returning to my cabin to finish the last of my books.  I saw Rafael one more time.  The ship was docked (finally) and passengers were milling about like cattle at the feed station.  No one was allowed down to the vehicle decks until they were told.. and permission was given one deck at a time (of course mine was to be last and so I waited).  While I waited my turn, I spied Rafael in the crush, down the hall.  He saw me too and waved and smiled. When he had shuffled forward with the masses, and was near to me, he came over and bid me adieu and then, to my surprise, he leaned forward and gave me a gentle kiss on my left cheek.   Phew!  who knew a biker could melt your heart with a song and a kiss…. :-)  At that point the ‘all clear’ was called for the rest of us to return to our vehicles and I followed Rafael down the stairs, and then down the ladders, and then… to the final platform (on the lowest deck… mine).  He had to climb up, between decks, using a short little ladder to get to his deck and that’s the last I saw of him.  I trust he’s well.  He certainly will remain in my fond memories.

Better late than never, the ferry finally docked… and one by one the floors of vehicles were unloaded…. at long last the lower level was invited to disembark.  The rest is history…  I found my way back to the El Cid Marina by following the Mazatlan shoreline (pretty logical I thought) and arrived about 2100 hrs…safe and sound… and tired.

This has been a long entry, but I thought it important to record the TIP and Ferry information for travellers following.  I’ll do  one more submission for the season.. and that will be a report on the hotels, motels and restaurants we enjoyed (or didn’t) on our drive north.

It’s the end of April and we’re home safe and sound.  I wish all of you and your families…  much peace and happiness over the spring and summer months.                                         For now, adieu.  Carolyn

Sunday, April 14, 2013

San Carlos to Vancouver… and then home

Brrrrrr, it’s cold here !!  Yup, we’re home, well almost home… arrived in Vancouver yesterday.  We’ll be here for a few days seeing family and friends and then, on Wednesday, we’ll cross the beautiful Straits of Georgia and head to our home digs.  We had a good drive north, including stops in Yuma (to see Susan & George and their new winter hide-away), Cathedral City (to visit with Ron & Dal… and go golfing on the windiest day ever :-), Seattle (to visit with Fred & Colleen and check out their new home)… and finally to Vancouver/Richmond to do a little business and pick up some things from Dad’s house.

We tried to bring the sun with us… all the way home, but lost it between Seattle and Bellingham when we drove into a real live blizzard… honest, white-out conditions… cars in the ditch… yikes!  Not sorry we’re missing that kind of weather in general … Again, we were blessed at the border; a few simple questions, a smile, and a “have a nice day” made our coming home to Canada all the better.

There will still be a few blog entries coming… to wind up the season, but know we’re home in BC now and looking forward to some domestic R&R and to the warming of spring suns and winds…  It’s just wonderful to see the green and the flowers starting to show.. and can’t wait for the spring blossoms.

We hope all of you are well and also looking forward to spring.  We look forward to seeing you or talking to you over the next little while.

Bye bye for now….  CJ

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A quick update

Hi folks.  It’s been a while since we’ve written.  Sorry, but we’ve been super busy getting the good ship Shannon ready for her summer siesta in Mazatlan.  She is now resting comfortably at Marina Mazatlan, under the diligent care of Tony’s Boat Management.  Tony is a great guy and his services include checking her regularly, airing out the cabin to help prevent humidity problems, keeping her decks and bottom clean, checking her dock lines and just generally keeping a watchful eye on how she’s doing… We’re very happy with how she’ll be cared for in our absence and look forward to starting again next season… with a clear start at seeing as much of the coastal mainland as we can.

We left Mazatlan at dawn on Monday, April 1st (was that only yesterday?) and drove north for ten hours to San Carlos. We’ll be here, in the San Carlos/ Guaymas area  for today (April 2nd) checking out shipyards and marinas… seeking safe haven for future summers.  Then, on the 3rd we’ll continue on our journey home; first stop Yuma to catch up with Susan & George, then Palm Springs to see Ron & Dal’s new digs; and finally Seattle to have a quick visit with Colleen and Fred.  This should be a comfortable journey home and a good opportunity to check in with folks we haven’t seen for a while. 

We’ve still some stories to tell, photos to share, and info to pass on to fellow cruisers and travellers so, over the next while, both Kathy and I will submit to the Blog as we create and as we have time.  For now, please know we are well (and the Princess says hi…  she’s enjoying full size beds again :-)…

Chuck the truck is in fine fettle, loaded to the gills (as usual) and carrying us all northward…  See you when we see you…  Adios for now.  CJ