Slowing Down

Due to limited WiFi in Baja California, we were’t able to post this particular blog during our trip.  Here’s one from the tail end of our trip, when the bus was getting cranky.   

One of the most scenic parts of driving Baja is the central Catavina desert region.  It lies between Guerrero Negro and El Rosario (which is also known as the famous 300 km ‘Gas Gap’).  Mex 1 passes through a region known as Sonoran Desert Vegetation and reminded us of Tucson, AZ and St. Geoge UT.  This is the land of cardons (larger relative to the saguaro cactus), boojum trees, chollas and agaves.  Many of these species can only be found in this region.

We were super stoked to hike in an area littered with massive granite boulder and these rare cactus species.

As we wound our way through the various mountain passes towards the trailhead, we came around a bend and saw cars backed up.  We could not see what was going on further ahead around the bend, but lined up in the queue.

We suspected an accident, as this was a ‘Curva Peligrossa’ (dangerous curve).

IMG_1847 We stopped Marigold, got out and saw that it was in fact a serious accident.  A fatal car accident.  Many Mexicans were standing around and helping at the scene.  We stood back, out of respect, to give the people space. There were many helping hands already working together.

A distinguished elderly Mexican gentleman left the scene and approached us.  He quickly stated in his perfect English, that he is a medical doctor, and there is one fatality and a woman in serious condition.

He then asked us, “Do you own the yellow Kombi?”

Jeff replied, “Yes”.

(You see, Mexican’s refer to these hippy busses as Kombi’s. ‘Kombi’ comes from the German word Kombinationskraftwagen referring to a combination motor vehicle – part cargo mover and part people mover.  In North America we refer to them as busses, transporters or Westy’s. In Europe and Mexico they are known as Kombi’s)

The doctor then went on to explain that help was 100 km away, most of the travel being through mountainous passes.  An ambulance had already been dispatched, but would not be arriving for a very long time.   The group helping at the accident scene wanted the injured lady transported by our bus, Marigold, to a medical facility closer to San Quintin.


Jeff and I stepped aside and discussed this urgent situation.  Do we transport a woman without understanding the extent of her injuries, in a bus that could breakdown any moment, without being in cell phone range?  Not to mention that neither Jeff nor me are Paramedics?  Or do we take her, and at least get her closer to a medical facility, even of the bus breaks down?

After a quick discussion, we felt the heart-led thing to do was to offer Marigold as an ambulance for the injured woman.   The back seat folds flat and she could be comfortably transported.

Another Baja traveller offered to follow us, knowing we were having some engine issues, in case we broke down.

So we gave the doctor the green light to transport the injured lady, although we were extremely nervous about her medical state and saddened by this whole situation.

The doctor went back to the scene, and then returned to us. He then shared that the injured lady would prefer to wait – but thanked us for offering our help.

Then another person helping at the scene came to us holding a cell phone covered in blood, and some ID.  In her broken English, she said this was the cell phone of the deceased man and asked if we could call his family.  She explained he was a single driver, English speaking, and that no one at the scene spoke English well enough to notify his family.

We warmly shared that the police and ambulance should be the ones to handle all of the details from the accident.  It turns out we couldn’t get a cell phone signal anyways in our remote location. So we politely declined.  Our thoughts then turned to the many police and firefighters that have to make those heart-wrenching calls as part of their daily profession.

Again we found ourselves in a situation that would likely never happen back home.  To be so close to an accident, not to have police, fire or ambulance securing the scene, and to be directly and emotionally involved in such a horrific, upsetting situation.

After some time, we got flagged through, and Marigold narrowly made it past the carnage. Other vehicles had to wait hours before the accident was cleared.

We drove in silence until we reached our lunch stop.

While eating Lobster Burritos at the famous Mama Espinosa’s in El Rosario, the ambulances went by in the direction of the accident.  Likely an hour and a half after we left the scene. We counted our blessings, thought of the families impacted, especially the friends and family of the man from California, and expressed gratitude for our life and being safe.

There is a quote, “The value of life is revealed when it confronts death from close quarters” – A. Dubey.

Having just experienced a life and death encounter, we shared our gratitude with one another for being healthy and having an abundance of love, opportunities and experiences.   And simply the value of being alive.

This tragedy will always remind us to be grateful for all that is (and all that will be), as someday this will all be gone.

There were strong and deep emotions that were generated from this experience – yet a stillness descended on us as we drove away. We both acknowledged the importance of living life in the slow lane and being present – both physically and mentally – in order to truly live life. And to find inner peace in our busy world.   Easier said than done.  I guess this is part of our work, and perhaps why Marigold has come into our lives. To teach us some important life lessons about slowing down.

If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt the sadness of never understanding ourselves“.  – Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet 

Crossing into Mexico

Day One:  Dec 27, 2014

Oceanside, CA to San Quentin, MX (400 km)

I must admit I was a bit nervous and stressed about crossing into Mexico.  While everything we read, and everything we heard gave me comfort, my spidey senses were tingling a bit.  Hard to ignore that feeling and have the fear creep in to my mind.

Welcome to Mexico!

We chose to cross at Tecate, about 30 miles east of Tijuana, upon the advice of many.  Furthermore, we avoided toll roads and rather opted for a meandering scenic drive through Mexico’s two main wine regions (Santo Tomas Valley Region and Guadelupe Valley), south of Tecate.  Apparently this was a safer, less busy route.  Which indeed it was!

Crossing was a breeze.  We were well prepared getting our Mexican documentation in advance, there were no waits at the border. No inspections – unlike the movie “We Are The Millers” where the yellow bus was ripped apart and the hippy guy beat up….

Tecate was typical Mexico.  Broken dusty roads, colourful wall murals, locals standing around looking bored, old beat up cars and trucks, brightly coloured cinderblock storefronts and stray dogs running around.


The roads were fairly quiet and we got into the Mexican driving groove, learning the nuances.  Passing on the double line is common, and we learned that if you are the slower moving vehicle (yes, that would be us), you move as far right as possible (like on the shoulder) to allow cars to pass. So around some crazy twisty mountainous roads, we had large trucks bombing by us with oncoming traffic. Yikes.  Mexico is in the process of upgrading their notoriously dangerous roads.  Lots of construction, new asphalt and wider sections.

El Pabellon campground

On our journey we stopped at Ensenada for lunch on the beach, then drove south past San Quentin to El Pabellon Campground directly on the beach.  For $10 US a night or 130 Pesos we stayed on the beach, had clean flush toilets and hot showers,  Saaaweet!  Debbie drove the bus right next to the surf, but got stuck in the sand along the way.  We tried and tried to get the bus moving however we kept digging a deeper hole.    Amazingly – on a totally remote beach – a couple appeared with a dog.  We figure they were amused by the rooster tail of flying sand from our spinning tires and decided to check things out.   Thanks to our fellow Canadians from Osoyoos, we had 4 extra hands to push us out of the sand rut, while Jasper their dog wagged his tail with excitement.

Wheels spinning - not moving

We set up camp amidst the dunes, made a gourmet meal of organic salmon, with a kale salad and ate on the beach watching the sunset over the Pacific.

Good night Baja

Our dream is now a reality.  400 km down and 3,000 km to go.

We crawled into bed at 7 pm after two long days of driving.

Buenos noches, all, from Mexico.


A Little Lesson in PATIENCE…..

On the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, we had a nightmare of a weekend.  That would be Nightmare (with a capital ‘N’)

After weeks of our beloved 1976 VW Westy, Marigold, being in and out of the shop, she was finally ready for a jaunt up north to Cannonball Cottage.  We dreamed of this moment, to enjoy the leisurely journey to the wilds of Northern Ontario, take her to the Combermere and Maynooth Farmers markets for butter tarts and homemade bread, and to camp in her overlooking the lake.  Our dream was about to become a reality.  But a nightmare ensued instead.

Friday night of the long weekend, I drove to meet Jeff.  His loaner 2013 Subaru Outback was fully loaded  – including our road bikes on top.  I pulled up in our happy Marigold to 5 wired kids ready for the first official long weekend of summer. Life is good.

Well…sort of.

Nightmare #1:  One of the kids notice a massive nail in Jeff’s tire.  Air is streaming out of his tire and within seconds we had a flat.  It’s 5 pm on Friday night, we have yet to depart, and we call CAA.  An hour and a half later, we are patched and on our way.  I’m so thrilled to be driving Marigold the Bus down the highway, with Jeff following behind.  Life continues to be good (…well for about 60 minutes)

Nightmare #2:  Marigold became cranky about 1.5 hours into our traffic filled journey.  And quits.  She is gasping for air, has limited power, keep stalling, and we are now on the side of the road.  One broken down bus, and 7 people en route to the cottage.  The Outback can only seat 5 people.  Hmmmm…what to do?  After a lengthy discussion with Jeff, he and his son limp Marigold back to the City.   I carry on up north with 4 kids, a car load-o-crap and no Marigold.  Made it to the cottage at 11 pm, after being on the road since 4 pm.

Nightmare #3:  Jeff and his son borrow his dad’s Subaru (which we affectionately called the ‘Daddy-ru’).  Jeff arrives Saturday morning at the cottage to share that his son was up all night throwing up.  Kinda strange for a very healthy 12 year old…..

Nightmare #4:  The airborne stomach flu goes viral and 5 out of 7 of us are head in the toilet all weekend long.  Including me.  My tummy is cast iron so this is a very violent flu bug. Crappy weather was a suitable reflection of the dark cloud that loomed over Cannonball Cottage this weekend.  And for me?  I was desperately missing Marigold, and wondering if owning a vintage bus was really the thing for me.  Arggg….

Nightmare #5:  Driving home, my son barfs in the loaner Subaru.  All over the place.  I pull over in 30 degree weather to try cleaning out the car using Tim Horton’s coffee cups and a Timbit box.  Ended up tossing out the floor mat.  I had no paper towel. No plastic bag.    This brand new Outback is now officially coined the ‘Barf-a-ru’.  Meanwhile, Jeff texts me that his youngest barfs in the ‘Daddy-ru’.

I was wiped out after this weekend.  And was ready to throw in the towel with Marigold.  She was costing us a lot of money and time, with little to nothing in return.  I was growing increasingly impatient with this 37 year old bus.  How on earth did she run for 1200 miles in California problem-free, and now she barely runs for 10 minutes without coughing, sputtering and quitting?


So we decided that our bus will be ready when she is ready to roll. Jeff and I were so attached to Marigold being at the cottage for the long weekend.  Being too attached to anything creates pain in humans.  We were so caught up in this dream, and tried waaaay too hard to make this happen. It was utterly disappointing the way things evolved, but we failed to listen to her, honour her issues and we forced something to happen. The payback?  Five nightmares, and a weekend so far removed from our dream.

After the weekend, we took her for the first time to an air-cooled shop in Toronto (our preferred shop, Total Mechanical, is 1.5 hours away), and they lovingly embraced her.  They worked tirelessly and patiently to get to the source of her crankiness.  After multiple times in and out of Peter’s VW shop, it was recently discovered there was a jump wire that by-passed a key electrical relay to the fuel pump.  They removed it, remedied the other wiring, and VOILA!  Marigold is now running purr-fectly.

So what are the lessons for us?

1.  Often things in life don’t happen on your time and schedule.  There are larger forces and powers at work.  Marigold wasn’t road ready and this little wiring issue would have persisted without the patient work of her mechanics, Chad and Frank.  We were impatient, in denial about her state, and wanted a quick fix.  Taking her to the cottage was a big risk, given her unpredictable state.

2.  Slowing down and being patient with our blended family of five kids.  Like Marigold, these kids bring us miles of joy and bliss.  They do, however get cranky and break down.  We are learning about our kids through Marigold: to allow time, not to rush things, to listen carefully, and their constant need for maintenance.

Jeff and I are sprinters in life.  Slowly, we are learning to pace ourselves and learn the life lessons when our various ‘teachers’ appears.

We have the best Professors in Marigold and our five kids that anyone could ever ask for.

Nightmares are just lessons in disguise.  Lots to learn from these testing moments.  And the good news is that after every storm there is a rainbow.

And perhaps even a pot of gold.