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Intro to Mexico

Roosters. It was the sound of roosters crowing. I opened my eyes and saw the ceiling of the van in the darkness. “Funny,” I thought to myself, “I didn’t know there were roosters in Banff National Park.” And then I remembered…

We’re in Mexico.

Just the day before, we camped at the KOA in San Diego and crossed the border at Tijuana. This was our first morning on the Baja peninsula. We had camped at an RV park called Don Eddie’s, located just outside of San Quintin. It was all coming back to me.

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No shoulders on the road!


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You know you’re in a different country by the font on the signs.


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We found Don Eddie’s campground after a 9-hour travel day from the San Diego KOA. For $12 CAD/$10 USD we had running water, hot showers, 120 V plug-in, and WiFi. The KOA charged $42 CAD/$35 USD for similar (though much cleaner) services. Finally, our daily spending average was coming down.

We were the only campers here. You could tell that the place was once a beautiful resort – it had motel rooms, a boat launch, and a restaurant along a lake – but last year’s hurricane “Odile” hit the place pretty hard so it looked kind of run down.

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6:00 am. The roosters were still crowing in the dark. One of them screeched with a serious smoker’s hack: “Get the hell up you lazy gringos!” Another sounded like a SoCal surfer: “Hey dude, wake up, you’ll miss the sunrise.” Gregor and I turned to each other on our pillows and started laughing at this bizarre wake up call.

We staggered out of the van and started our morning routine: bathroom, coffee, breakfast, dishes, computer. Around lunch time, we drove to San Quintin to get groceries and gas.

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On the way to town, Gregor noted some odd sounds coming from under the van, similar to popping metal. He initially dismissed the noises, thinking they were just rocks bouncing between Lucky’s underbelly and the dirt road beneath us.

When Gregor turned off the ignition at the grocery store, he heard the popping sound again. “That doesn’t sound right” he said. Gregor went down on his hands and knees in the parking lot and peaked under the van. The popping had stopped and nothing was out of order. He stood up, brushed off his knees and we walked into the store to get our groceries.

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Our next stop was the Pemex gas station – it’s owned by the Mexican government and it’s the only place you can legally get gas in the country.

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When Gregor removed the gas cap to fill up, he heard a weird sucking noise at the opening of the fuel tank. It sounded like Lucky was taking a big breath of air.

“Ooooh, that’s not good,” Gregor said.

I craned my neck from the passenger window. “What’s not good?” I asked.

My husband calmly explained that there’s probably a clog somewhere in the fuel tank venting system and it’s causing a vacuum in the tank.

I gave Gregor the raised eyebrow. “And this is ‘not good’ because…?”

“Because,” he continued, “a vacuum means that no air is flowing. That popping sound we heard earlier was the fuel tank collapsing onto itself because no air was flowing.” He demonstrated a collapsing motion with his hands.

Gregor paused, sensing that I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. “If we don’t fix it, the tank will buckle like an accordion and burst open”.

I looked straight at Gregor. “BURST OPEN?” I said in my outside voice. “We’ve been in Mexico for one day and the fuel tank may BURST OPEN??” I immediately thought of Brad and Sheena, the Westy owners who chronicled their Pan-American journey in the blog-turned-book Drive Nacho Drive. Halfway through their trip, their van “Nacho” broke down in Colombia. Brad flew back to the US and smuggled a Westy transmission in his carry-on luggage on the flight back to Colombia. Despite the success of Brad’s mission, I was NOT about to smuggle automotive parts into Mexico.

“I’ll fix it back at camp,” Gregor said, trying to sound positive and hoping to diffuse my mini-freakout.

Taking the hint, I shut my mouth and sat quietly in the passenger seat. I was so quiet that we could clearly hear the popping noises as we drove back to the campsite.

At camp, Gregor pulled out his computer and frantically Googled for a way to fix the issue. The links led him to pages and pages of probable solutions. “I’ll try them all,” he said desperately.

“Yard Sale” time. We emptied our luggage from the back of the van and placed it on the ground so that Gregor could access the engine compartment.

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He cursed and swore and muttered at the engine. After poking and prodding for about half an hour, he realized that he needed to take off a tire to access a specific part: the fuel recycling charcoal canister. Knowing that this was going to be a dirty job, Gregor put on his monogramed coveralls and went to work.

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More poking and prodding and cursing and swearing. He tweaked here and adjusted there, testing fixes and troubleshooting along the way. He emerged two hours later with his hands covered in grease. “I think I fixed it,” he said hesitantly.

I don’t know exactly what he did. Gregor doesn’t know exactly what he did either. All we knew was that the fuel tank stopped popping and air was successfully venting back into the tank.

Several days later, we were driving back from a whale watching tour when we heard the popping noises again. Gregor hung his head at the wheel looking defeated. I didn’t say a word, feeling his pain.

Gregor walked out of the van, opened up the back hatch, and pulled out a blue rag. Then he opened the gas cap and stuffed the rag in the hole.

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“There,” he said. “That should let some air in”.

He got back into his seat, turned on the ignition, and started driving.

6 thoughts on “Intro to Mexico

  1. Janice S.

    Sorry to hear about the van problems.

    My favourite part of this story is Gregor’s monogrammed coveralls!

  2. Mark Griffiths

    Great to hear you’re down in Mexico. Sorry about the van trouble. Coincidentally I just finished replacing my entire fuel system this weekend, so maybe I can help you with the venting problem. Have you checked the two expansion tanks under the front wheel wells?
    There are float valves on top that are meant to let the tank breathe. If you were able to disconnect the top hard line when the tank is popping and you hear air rush in – there’s your problem.

    1. Gregor

      I just unhooked the line going into the canister and attached a plastic generic fuel filter. That will do for now until I can spend more time on the fuel system. Thanks for the info!