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Saturday, September 17, 2011

TRAVEL: Driving Your RV On Baja



Don't forget to check out your discounted rates for RV and Vehicle Insurance with the Baja Good Life Club!


What is important to know about in town driving?
Often when you get off the main highway in a city, town or village you can experience narrow roads which can be a challenge driving a large RV. Add parked vehicles on either side, jaywalking pedestrians, barking dogs and running children it really gets exciting! In addition you may find very unique road
signage, including stop signs. Signage can be placed in unexpected locations, such as: on the side of buildings, back from the corner, together with other signs, etc. A keen eye for these is always essential. In Constitution and La Paz the Police know where all the hidden signs are! Although the village has a large new entrance the town is virtually impassable for a large RV. A Truck & Camper or Class B can often find the streets very tight. RVers are advised to find a spot in the many campgrounds, beaches or RV parks and return with the towed or without the trailer.

What should we know about highway driving?
Much of Mex 1 can be narrow and without a shoulder, however for the most part this highway is very good and always undergoing improvement, with wider lanes and paved shoulders. As you drive, you will get used to it. Take your time, its part of the adventure. We recommend you travel 80 km per hour maximum. Hwy 19 between La Paz, Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas is fantastic and should be almost completed this year. The ongoing upgrading construction efforts on Baja include new bridges where Vados (creek beds) and Arroyos (rivers beds) were once the norm. Although there is not a lot of traffic once you are a few hours south of the US border , it is the only highway. Truck traffic can be somewhat intimidating however the Mexican commercial drivers are very considerate with tourists and will let you pass safely whenever possible and vice-versa.

The do’s and don’ts about passing and turning are vital to know.
On the highway, when it is OK for passing, the vehicle in front of you will put on their left turn signal – this is giving you the all clear to pass. When a vehicle actually wants to make a left turn, 4-way flashers are used. Again, this is used for highway driving only. The key to driving safely on these narrow roads with big rigs is sharing the road and speed. Big rigs need extra room, particularly on the corners, just slow down, leave room and stay in your lane, use your common sense. The only time we have lost a mirror is when another RV (A Class Motorhome with California Plates) passed us on a corner!

Other driving safety tips.
Rain is not very common on Baja, however when it rains occasionally during the winter in the north, or September and early October (Hurricane season) in the south; the roads are often a mess! Again, common sense should always prevail. Be sure to take it slow, you never know what’s under all that water – rocks, mud, no pavement, etc. A local may take this opportunity to pass. Your next stop may be a car wash! Speed limits are in kilometres per hour, this is familiar for Canadians. Entering and leaving towns you will encounter “TOPES”. These are speed bumps. Take care, these can be very big! Often they are painted, often you are warned with signs. Often not ALWAYS! From time to time you may see people in the middle of the street collecting money for charities, slow down. We give them loose change – any amount will do, they are always thankful for any donations.

No Night Driving! This is a rule that should be strictly followed on Baja. This is an extremely dangerous practice and it is not because of Banditos! Animals come to the roads at night for the warmth and greenery on the edge. Outside of town there are no street lights, it is really dark. Remember these are roads you are not familiar with. Also it is not uncommon for locals to drive after drinking.

Have you heard of the Green Angels?
This is Mexico’s Roadside Assistance who patrol Mex 1 on a regular basis. We know breakdowns do happen! The Government operated Green Angels travel the entire length of Baja twice a day, once in the morning then again in the afternoon. The Mexican government maintains a large fleet of these green vehicles across Mexico’s major highways on the lookout for travelers and tourists alike that have broken down. In many ways this is very similar to the service offered by BCAA or AAA. They normally travel in pairs and on the Baja speak some English. They are in radio communication with their base and can call for a tow. The service is free except any supplies you might use. In the event you use their service please provide a tip! They possess remarkable mechanical skills and ability and have likely seen everything you can imagine. In the event you break down don’t be surprised if a local Mexican also stops to help – they (or their Uncle or Brother) are very resourceful people and those working with autos are very competent mechanics!

What about Fuel? PEMEX is the gas station of choice for both gas and diesel as they are the only company (government owned) selling these products. This is a cash transaction (pesos or US dollars); however receipts are available on request. Normally this is a full serve experience and we recommend you do not leave your vehicle when the attendant is filling. Paying in US $ means you are paying more. Stand with him and chat him up, this is a good time to practice your Spanish. To ensure your pump starts at zero have a locking gas cap. Pumps measure fuel in litres (makes it easy for Canadians) and reads in pesos. Tipping the attendant is common, particularly if they wash your windshield. Although most of these precautions regarding purchasing fuel have come from our experiences on the mainland, this is a good routine to follow.
Don't forget to check out your discounted rates for RV and Vehicle Insurance with the Baja Good Life Club!