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The Mexico Dare – Truth and Camping South of the Border

Above: An  “El Jimador” removing the husk of the Agave root ball

TCM: There has been much debate on the use of toll roads in Mexico.  Please give us some insights into the use of toll roads and whether or not you recommend them.

Paul: Certainly for the newbie, one should use toll roads whenever possible.  A camper on a single rear wheel truck will pay the same rate as a car.  It gets more expensive every time you add an axle and a dual rear wheel truck is considered an extra axle.

The free roads, however, can be false economy. They are often windy, hilly, slow, and you may find you burn enough extra fuel to cover what would have been the toll.  Most toll roads are up to United States interstate standards.  They are faster and safer and they provide you with free towing and will even cover the cost of some repairs if you breakdown, or your vehicle is damaged.  They are also free of the ubiquitous “Tope”, or speed bump, which are found all over Mexico.

TCM: The police in Mexico are notorious for shakedowns and asking for bribes, aka Mordida.  Is that a real concern and how should a RVer handle that potential experience?

Paul: Unfortunately this is still widespread and any RV’er will likely encounter it at least once on their trip.  It is also illegal to pay a bribe.  You seldom see this with Federales anymore, a recent purge of dishonest cops and better pay has all but eliminated it.

It is another story with municipal and transit police.  The first piece of advice is to smile, even shake their hand, and do not appear irritated.  I have found the best initial strategy is to pretend you speak no Spanish.  They will sometimes give up in frustration.  If you obviously did nothing wrong, tell them you will follow them to the station and pay the fine.  This will often result in a warning.  If they speak English, another tactic that worked this year for me, was to tell them how much I loved their country and how I tell all my friends to RV here, and so on, heaping copious praise on Mexico.  In that particular instance, I was actually in the wrong.  He let me off, I gave him my card, and told him if he ever makes it to Vancouver I will show him around (I will).

Mexicans are very proud of Mexico and this strategy will often make them feel guilty about shaking you down.  If all else fails, ask the officer for his identification and write down his information.  If the ticket is bogus, he will likely back off.

You should make every effort not to hand over any cash unless he provides you with a receipt containing his name and badge number.  Some people say take his photo.  I would really not advise doing that.  If you are in the wrong, pay the fine and get a receipt.  Don’t try to buy them off for a lesser amount, it only encourages the practice.

I have not always followed my own advice in the past.  On one occasion, when I had serious doubts I could maneuver my rig into the narrow, tight streets of the town, I asked the officer to pay the fine for me.  Obviously it went into his pocket.

TCM: Any diesel truck bought in the United States on or after 2006 uses Ultra-Low Sulfer Diesel (USLD) and is not compatible with non-USLD diesel.  The issue is that you supposedly can’t get USLD in Mexico.  What’s the story there?

Paul: This subject is almost as controversial as the safety issue.  Mexican diesel is supposedly 30 ppm sulphur and USLD is 15 ppm.  Somebody on a forum claimed they took a sample to an environment lab and it tested at 16 ppm.  Next year I am going to take sample myself, since my wife was an environmental chemist and still has access to getting it tested.  This should hopefully settle the issue.

I wish I had thought of it this year.  I feel Mexico is at least two years away from officially having USLD.  It is available close to the border where fuel is imported from the United States.  I have seen plenty of people taking later model trucks down.  I don’t think four or five tanks will hurt and that will get you from Nogales to Mazatlan and back.

A number of people have attached extra tanks and are running 50/50 United States and Mexican diesel.  This is doable with a fifth wheel or travel trailer, but not with a truck camper.  I know one person who has taken his post-2006 diesel truck to Manzanillo and back for the last three years with no issues.  I certainly would not mention to your dealer that you have taken it into Mexico.

Fuel prices in Mexico are considerably cheaper.  As of the writing of this article in May of 2011, diesel works out to $3.10 per United States gallon or 80 cents per Canadian liter.  I have written a handy little fuel price conversion utility in Microsoft Excel that you can download at http://www.natcoa.net/convertor.xls.  All fuel in Mexico is sold by Pemex and price is consistent across the country.  Diesel pumps are black, not green.

Rip offs at Mexico gas stations are less common these days.  Regardless, get a locking cap and ensure the pump is zeroed.  I always tip attendants 20 or 30 pesos.  They appreciate it and are probably less likely to try to rip off the next gringo.

beach in front of Laguna del Tule RV park Melaque

Above: Beach in front of Laguna del Tule RV park, Melaque

TCM: Are there any special precautions one should follow concerning possible RV repairs and RV part availability?  Should we bring spares for anything?

Paul: RV parts are pretty well unknown.  With a truck camper, space is limited, but I would carry a spare sewer hose and fittings, a spare water pump, a spare oil filter, and a spare fuel filter.  Also a roll of Eternabond tape in case you damage your roof.  I learned about the sewer hose the hard way.

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