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RV Caravan Through Mexico – Sierra Madre Mountains

January 1, 2003
Filed under Camping Destinations, Southwest Camping

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Its lyrics floated across my mind like a warm tropical breeze blowing through my hair. Oh, oh, Mexico. Ive never been, but I sure want to go. These words from a 70s pop song sum up how some campers feel about traveling in Mexico. Adding to the apathy about travel south of the border are the lingering rumors of modern-day banditos preying on lone campers theyre mostly just that, rumor. However, whether its hesitation based on the unknown, language barriers or distance, many camping folks who are curious about Mexico are afraid to go. We were in this group, but we found a way to get around our fears. We joined a Fantasy RV Tours Copper Canyon Piggy Back (railroad) caravan.

With the Fantasy RV Tours caravan we spent five days being pulled through Mexicos magnificent Sierra Madre Mountains. Each day included stops where we enjoyed prearranged excursions and excellent meals at first-rate eateries. Fantasy RV is just one of several RV caravan companies that offer Mexican adventures and they make all the arrangements for you.

The companys contracted guides accompany the caravan 24/7. These people have a thorough knowledge and first-hand experience when it comes to traveling in Mexico. Called wagon masters (ours were Jerry and Nola Howard), these guides are usually a husband-and-wife team. They deal directly with the Mexican tourist officials; local, state and federal authorities; the Mexican tour companies and the RV campground owners. Many wagon masters speak fluent Spanish and, as if that were not enough, a full-time, experienced RV mechanic (often referred to as a tail gunner) accompanies each caravan.

Our tail gunners (Bob and Ann Nix) were also a husband-and-wife team. They were the last to leave camp in the morning and the last to arrive at the next destination at night. The tail gunner is there to make sure no one in the caravan has any problems, mechanical or otherwise. While crossing the international border, entering and exiting Mexican toll roads, navigating through colonial villages or big cities, the tail gunner is there to assure that everyone successfully completes each portion of the trip. They carry spare parts and know experienced, local mechanics who can get an RV back on the road should the tail gunner be unable to do so.

Everyone in the caravan was encouraged to have a CB radio in his rig. We stayed in close contact with the wagon master and tail gunner. Our wagon master used the CB to explain the significance (history, folklore and such) of sites the caravan was passing. Road hazards such as topes (speed bumps) were called out. Our tail gunner also advised the wagon master when each rig had completed crossing a border, checkpoint, entered or exited a toll road, or had turned correctly at an important intersection.

VIP TREATMENT

Having the decal of a caravan company affixed to the exterior of your RV while traveling through Mexico also has its rewards. Many times our caravan was waved through inspection/checkpoints (agriculture, state, federal and military). Paperwork tasks such as those that allow you to take your RV into Mexico, or obtain a tourist visa, were streamlined, for the government employees are familiar with the caravan companies that visit regularly. The long and short of it is that traveling by caravan in Mexico offers a stress-free and well-planned adventure that facilitates meeting new friends, while experiencing and exploring the nooks and crannies of an unfamiliar and exotic foreign world.

The first and last travel days of this 17-day adventure were the longest, with 230 miles being covered on the first day between El Paso/Juarez (on the Texas/Mexico border) and the city of Chihuahua. Three hundred miles were covered on the last day, between San Carlos (on the Sea of Cortez) and Nogales, Arizona. However, rest stops were regular, as were lunch breaks. The four-lane highways (often toll roads) were very good, with 55 mph being the speed limit.

CHIHUAHUA

We spent three days and two nights at a full-service, RV campground (30-amp shorepower) in the city of Chihuahua. Guided tour buses escorted us to fine restaurants for dinner (featuring folkloric dancers), followed one day by a visit to the home (now a national museum) of Pancho Villa. Pancho Villa is recognized as an important force in the Mexican Revolution of 1910. His personal effects and some photographs are on display at his home, and beautiful murals decorated the garden walls. On display inside the compound is the car he was driving when he was assassinated in the early 1920s, and the bullet holes from the volley of machine-gun fire that ended his life are clearly visible.

A visit to the Governors Palace and the cathedral located downtown, offered a look at old-world Spanish colonial architecture, the kind that underscores much of Mexicos rich history. At a marketplace outside the cathedral, colorfully dressed Indian and Mexican vendors offered an array of goods, from pecans in the shell to religious icons. Ice cream (helado), canned and bottled beverages, and American fast food (just around the corner) made the time spent in Chihuahua a delightful experience.

MEXICOS MENNONITES

You dont have to go all the way to Mexico to get good German food. However, thats exactly what you get when you visit the colony of Mennonites (about 60,000 in all), a days drive west of Chihuahua. Leaving Canada in 1923 because of their pacifist beliefs, the Mennonites were welcomed to this sunny paradise with open arms. The hard-working Mennonites have turned the land in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Madres into a bountiful oasis, with farms and fields that look exactly like those youd find in Iowa. The farm equipment and agricultural sciences used are the latest. The Mennonite homes clean and well kept could easily fit into any upscale community in the United States.

These transplants are a warm and friendly people. Our caravan was treated to a home-style dinner by the Mennonite family that owned the full-service RV campground we stayed in. German is spoken in their homes and is the language that is taught in their schools Spanish is their second language. Home-crafted goods, fresh-from-the-farm products, freshly bottled vanilla, just-out-of-the-oven breads and pastries, and homemade chocolates were available from these busy hosts.

RAILS OF COPPER

A three-hour drive west to the Mexican village of La Junta is where we drove our RVs onto the flatbed railroad cars, upon which we would travel and live in our RVs for the next five days. After loading the RVs onto the rail cars, our wagon masters took us to a restaurant (a short walk through town) where a gourmet Mexican dinner had been prepared. After indulging ourselves on freshly prepared tortillas, baked fish, beans, rice, and endless margaritas, we wandered back to our RVs for a good nights sleep in our own beds. We were awakened at 7:00 a.m. the next day by the bump of the locomotive as it was hitched to the flatbed railroad cars, and the soothing, gentle rhythm of the train as we rolled along the high iron (rails), indicated our adventure into Copper Canyon had begun.

The locomotives pulled our flatbed rail cars for about four hours a day (beginning at 7:00 each morning). Traveling at a very comfortable speed of about 15 mph, those who wanted to sit outside in lawn chairs and view the canyons, high timber, rain forests, villages and local peoples, found this mode of travel accommodating. Just before noon each day, the rail cars would be moved onto a siding, the locomotive unhitched and there we would remain until the next morning. Dont think we were sitting bored, though. Each afternoon featured fun-filled excursions and excellent food and beverages planned by the caravan, as well as impromptu visits to markets offering traditional Tarahumara native arts and crafts.

So, youve never heard of Copper Canyon? The clich would be to say it is Mexicos Grand Canyon, but its so much more. The magnitude of the canyon is incredible, made up of five canyons that together cover a geographic area larger than the Grand; Copper includes climate zones that range from arid desert to snow- and timber-covered mountains rising 8000 feet above sea level. There are rain forests, rivers and waterfalls, and its all there for you to explore.

The railroad into Copper is a sight to be seen. Completed in 1961, after 50 years of construction, it crosses 90 bridges, passes through 40 tunnels, and in one place, the train actually circles around making a U-turn while it is inside a mountain.
The regions indigenous people, the Tarahumara, are a tribe that precedes (by several centuries) the arrival of the Spaniards. With a penchant for brightly colored cloth, the Tarahumara provide a vivid contrast to their bucolic surroundings. Known for their running prowess, these people enjoy a game that resembles soccer, which requires them to kick and manipulate a round object over a distance that covers 100 miles. Many of the Tarahumara live in hillside caves, and can be seen as the train passes through the high mountain village of Creel. We could have spent a month in Copper Canyon, exploring every bump and curve.

SEA OF CORTEZ

Off-loading the rigs at Los Mochis, we began a casual journey that would take us north along the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Cortez, heading back toward the United States. We would spend the first night of the new leg at an RV campground in the small town of Alamos. In Alamos, your senses tell you that you have stepped back several hundred years in time. The town is one of those quaint colonial villages that draws the RV caravan wagon masters back again and again. Cantinas, eateries, and swap-meet shopping add to the charm of this inland Mexican village. A number of U.S. citizens reside in Alamos during the winter months.
The final stop on our odyssey was San Carlos, a small village that sits on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, adjacent to the city of Guaymas. Our two-day and three-night sojourn at the El Mirador RV Park (a five-star RV resort) was an excellent way to end what had become the trip of a lifetime. Newly built, with manicured lawns, spotlessly clean facilities, its own five-star restaurant, a laundry, and a concierge who can arrange excursions for everything from deep-sea fishing to whale watching to bicycle tours, this RV park is a destination unto itself. Shopping trips to Guaymas were scheduled by our caravan leaders, as was a visit to a pearl factory.

Driving up to the border crossing at Nogales, we heard for the last time the wagon masters CB communications (much appreciated real-time directions) that helped us quickly and efficiently navigate our way back into the United States. With final good-byes being said during our last night together at a Western Horizon Resorts RV Park in Arizona, we reflected on our Mexican adventure. It would have been impossible to do a tour of this magnitude and detail on our own. The Fantasy RV Tours 17-day Copper Canyon Piggy Back experience left little room for improvement. It was a truly excellent adventure.

Insurance Contacts

Travelex Insurance Services
Coverage for trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, itinerary change, medical expenses, medical evacuation/repatriation, baggage and baggage delay, accidental death and dismemberment, flight accident plan and rental vehicle damage protection. Contact: 800/228-9792; travelex-insurance.com..

Points South Mexico
(auto insurance)Contact: 800/421-1394; rvtours.com.

Sanborns Insurance
(auto and other) Contact: 800/222-0158; sanbornsinsurance.com.

Ada Vis Global Enterprices, Inc. (auto insurance)
Contact: 800/909-4457; mexicoinsurance.com.

Caravan Companies

Adventurtours, RV Tours and Expeditions
Contact: 800/455-TOUR; adventuretrek.com.

Tracks to Adventure
Contact: 800/351-6053; trackstoadventure.com.

Adventure Caravans
Contact: 800/872-7897; adventurecaravans.com.

Points South RV Tours
Contact: 800/421-1394; rvtours.com.

Fantasy RV Tours
Contact: 800/952-8496; fantasyrvtours.com.

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