Opening Our Door

Here is a blog we weren’t able to post during our Baja California roadtrip.  There are a few more blogs to follow shortly!

December 26, 2014:  After an extra long journey to Costa Mesa, CA on Boxing Day, we arrived late at night to pick up Marigold. Thanks to a 7 hour flight delay caused by bad weather in Denver, we finally arrived at VW Surfari at 7 pm to pick up Marigold, with little time to stock up for our 16-day camping expedition.  Our goal was to cross the border at 6 am the next day, so we worried about being able to honour our pre-camping ritual: Trader Joe’s.


Back in November, Bill Staggs of VW Surfari generously offered to receive our bus off the car carrier and then store it along with his dozen-plus air cooled VW campervans. We’ve gotten to know Bill a little bit by phone as we live over 4,000 km away from one another. You may know him from his appearance in the recently released documentary, “The Bus Movie”.


So last night we arrived at his shop – weary and anxious to get going – only to discover the sliding door on Marigold was jammed. It would not budge. At this point we are in Bill’s garage, working like possessed zombies half asleep, trying to open the door. It should be noted that we have never had issues with our sliding door. Ever.

We called Bill who was 30 minutes away. He talked us through a series of remedies (including Debbie hip checking the door from the inside repeatedly.)

Nothing worked.

And we were losing patience…

Bill told us to make ourselves at home at VW Surfari’s world headquarters and he’d be over right away. Meanwhile we were course-correcting our trip and praying Trader Joe’s was open late on Boxing Day. Otherwise we’d be losing one valuable day in an already tight schedule to travel the entire Baja California peninsula.


Bill arrived and quickly went to work on the door. He took charge for no charge, and worked tirelessly for more than an hour. We took the sliding door off, took apart the hinge, replaced parts, deep cleaned everything, and super lubed the seized piece. Bill said he had seen many things, but not a door like ours (which he said was working a few weeks before).



At 8:45 pm PT, the problem was resolved, Marigold’s door was reinstalled and working better than ever. Without Bill coming to our aide our trip would have been greatly compromised.

He was kind, generous, trusting, patient, wise, and provided a wealth of information. He lives and breathes Baywindows and Vanagons and is a walking encyclopaedia. Fascinating man – someone we’d love to sit around a campfire with for a long chinwag.

Thanks, Bill, for opening the door to your business. And opening Marigold’s door – our home for the next 16 days in Baja California.

On a final note – Trader Joe’s opened their door to us as well! We arrived at 8:50 pm just in time to shop for our trip before they closed at 9 pm. Our grocery list was quite long and TJ’s staff stayed late to allow us to stock up.



Mexican Magic

Day 14:  The Driveway of Naomi and Gonzo (near Aqua Caliente)

Woke up our second last day of our adventure, and quickly started calling Bus Depot, Go Westy and many parts suppliers to get a brand new alternator.  Only Bus Depot had one in stock, at it was going to take days and a whole lotta shipping charges to get the part to San Diego.


Meanwhile, Naomi had offered to drive Debbie to the San Diego airport.  So sweet.  Our Plan B was coming together with a new part for the bus, and getting Debbie home in time for the kids.

Plan A was sourcing a part locally, and getting back on the road by the end of the day.  Gonzo believed our alternator could be rebuilt, so off he and Jeff went to the guru in town.  They said it could be done and it would take a few hours.

During this time, we connected with our hosts and their friends.  Peeking into a world that was foreign to us in many ways.  Naomi and Gonzo have given up much of their money, possessions and now their home, to be in service to others. They were days away from having an Open House to show off their new home for the abandoned and neglected elderly in Mexico.  Their home was part trailer and part permanent structure – perhaps about 1,100 sq. ft in size.  They were giving up about 800 sq. ft. of their home – 75% of their personal space – to help others in need. Something we rarely see in our society.


Naomi quickly got Jeff to help out the volunteers finish the kitchen – some dry walling, electrical wiring and cabinet installation.  Meanwhile, Naomi and Debbie hit the kitchen to do some baking for the Open House.   Debbie learned how to make Empanadas with a recipe from Naomi’s Mexican grandmother.  We also baked cookies.


Then Gonzo returned with our refurbished alternator.  And voila, after a few more hours the bus was running and like new.


We hugged, kissed and high-fived our new friends and hosts.  Debbie even got a little teary-eyed saying good-bye.  Touched by the kindness and generosity of total strangers.


The whole experience was magical, moving and expanded our world.

For us, the emotional extremes were profound.  Having the bus breakdown in an unknown area……at night…… Northern Mexico, conjured up all sorts of obvious stress and anxiety.  Fear for our safety and wellbeing, getting Debbie to the airport on time (we had less than a day), and finding a replacement part for Marigold with limited resources available to us.  We didn’t know if our phone would work, and there was no WiFi.  Plus, we were in the middle of an intersection when the bus konked out. At night!

But lo and behold, it was our good fortune that the car behind us was a helpful soul who took the time to ensure we were taken care of.  Thanks to Ulysses and his wife Patricia (who stayed with Debbie and Marigold, while Jeff went to visit the mechanic).  How lucky is it that we ended up meeting not only a magical mechanic, but generous people with HUGE hearts.  Naomi and Gonzo wanted nothing in return and were simply helping us.

The experience will stay with us forever, and really can’t fully be captured in words.

By 2:00 pm we were back on the road, heading north on Mex 1. Naomi had secretly tucked some warm empanadas and cookies in our bus. In her usual self-less way – she gave us half the batch of baking that we had made together.

Our next big hurdle was crossing back into the US at Tijuana before dark. Not long ago, waits could be up to 6 hours to cross.  Just last year, they upgraded the San Ysidro access point and we sailed through at 5:30 pm on a Friday night. This is the largest border crossing in the world with 1,000,000 passing through each and every day.

Made it to San Diego at sunset…..sad to know it was the end of an epic trip, and happy to know we made it 4,000 km safely.  And much richer for the magical experience.


Banditos and Boojums

Day Two:  San Quentin to Bahia de Los Angeles (380 km)

Woke up to find that we were robbed last night while we were sound asleep.

Our double burner Coleman camp stove, special cooking table (that we picked up in person from Go Westy), pots, frypan, and lighter were stolen in the night.  Jeff was pissed off about the lost goods.  Debbie was pissed off about some crooks being 3 feet away from her lurking in the dark.    After the initial anger and upset, we counted our blessings that we were okay and that only a few replaceable things were stolen.


The morning after….

Things always happen for a reason, so we decided that we weren’t really meant to cook all of the time on this trip, but rather visit more fish taco stands and local eateries.  Fortunately we travel with a small MSR Whisper Light stove as a backup, so we can still enjoy our tea in the morning and making the occasional single pot meal.

Before leaving the San Quentin region, we took a sunrise stroll on the beach to shake things off.  What a glorious morning.


Nowhere did we read about locking everything up at night or bringing ALL of your belongings inside.  So you’re hearing it first from us folks – bring EVERYTHING inside. Leave nothing to chance.

We learned a big lesson here and will be vigilant about keeping everything locked inside the bus.  And also selecting campgrounds that are busy.  Counterintuitive for us, as we long for solitude while in nature, but during this trip we will hunker down with others.  Call it what you will – herd mentality or safety in numbers.  We are seeking the company and security of other travellers.

After breaking camp a little quicker than usual (strange how that occurs with a few less things to pack), we made our way south to El Rosario, then onto the Sea of Cortez..  This is north end of the famous ‘Gas Gap’, with the next gas station more than 300 km away.

We fueled up the bus and estimate her range to be about 400 km on a full tank.  So no need for a Jerry Can.

On our way out of town, we passed a cute hotel and cafe that advertised it had WiFi. We stopped to charge our devices and access WiFi.  Plus chow down on Chilequiles and Huevos Rancheros for breakie.  And watch their two chihuahuas play together.

photo 5

Today’s drive took us southeast across the peninsula from the Pacifc to the Sea of Cortez with spectacular scenery and desert flora along the route.

A highlight for us was seeing all of the Boojum trees around Catavina.  These tall skinny cactus look like something created by Dr. Seuss.    They resemble a furry giant carrot growing upside-down. There are Seuss-like tufts at the top.  So bizarre and cute at the same time.  No where else in the world can you find these funny trees which only grow in central Baja.


Debbie is standing next to the Boojum Tree – look closely!

Boojum Trees

We also passed an area littered with massive granite boulders.  It looked like the home of Fred Flintstone.  On our way back north we will stop here for a hike.

Finally, we turned off Mex Hwy 1, towards Bahia de Los Angeles (Bay of Angeles).  This region is considered to be on of the most scenic spots in all of Baja with its blue waters and barren desert shoreline backed by rocky mountains. The huge bay is protected by a chain of islands making it the perfect playground for fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving and sea kayaking.


Our home tonight is Dagget’s Beach Camping.  Lovely spot just north of town where we have our own palapa and direct ocean access.  Not many spots in this campground, however there are 2 other Canadians as our neighbours tonight.  We are in good company.


Buenos Noches, from the Sea of Cortez.

To Baja With Love

The trip of a lifetime awaits us in 7 days.

After a pretty quiet summer here in Canada with not a heck of a lot of bus roadtripping, we shipped Marigold to southern California.  Days before the Snowmageddon in Buffalo, we dropped off our bus at a dealership in order to be auto transported across America. Although we are based in TO, we save nearly $1,000 by shipping from the U.S. versus Canada.  Strange but true.

So about this big Baja adventure……


We are driving 3,400 km from Costa Mesa, CA all the way down Baja California penninsula to Cabo San Lucas (and back) in 16 days.  We will be crossing the border on December 27, 2014.  The inspiration for the trip came from various things, people and experiences.  Quite frankly we didn’t think we could pull this off until the kids were older.  (We are travelling just the two of us – no kiddlets).  Thanks to our schedules, and the best Chistmas gift ever from Deb’s mom (the gift of babysitting), we are taking nearly 3 weeks for this trip.  Let us share a bit more about our love of Mexico and Baja specifically….

Jeff has many deep connections to Mexico.  Namely his mom, dad and sister (who are Canadian) moved to Mexico City when he was in high school.  He was fortunate to travel much of the Mexican countryside, truly experience the culture and learn some Spanish.  It was during this time he fell madly in love with air-cooled Vee Dubs and dreamt of owning one someday.  Sadly, Jeff’s mom was diagnosed with cancer while they were in Mexico and she passed away in Mexico City in 1988 at the young age of 46. An emotional connection to this country will forever stay with Jeff.

Meanwhile, Debbie first visited Baja in 1989 on a college trip.  Back then , Cabo was a sleepy fishing town wanting to grow big and become the next Puerto Vallarta.  It was love at first sight for Debbie.  The California grey whales, the sand, ocean, desert, fish tacos, and majestic mountains pretty much won her over.  She left Cabo longing to return someday.  It took more than two decades before her return.  In the last five years, she has visited Cabo three times, learned to surf and has shared this place her kids and several friends.

While on her most recent trip last Feb. 2014, she bought a book called, ‘Travellers Guide to Camping Mexico’s Baja’, by Church and Church.  She got this as a gift for Jeff hoping to spark his interest in driving Marigold there someday.  Debbie also took the time to speak with locales last year about the drive, safety, duration etc.  Everything checked out a-okay and they told her she bought the best resource guide – Church’s, ‘Baja Bible’.


Little did we know the trip would become a reality so quickly. Guess that’s the power of positive intentions.

The last little while has been a mad scramble getting maps, auto insurance, health insurance, our FMM (tourist VISA) planning our route, researching all of the incredible things to see and do, and dreaming of the possibilities.  We are grateful for all of the people who have helped us thus far – Kristina Pearce who insisted Deb buy the Baja Camping Book while in Todos Santos a year ago, Jay Dean from Schmitt’s Audi in Buffalo for welcoming Marigold when auto shipping, Bill Staggs of VW Surfari in Costa Mesa, CA for receiving our bus and storing her until Boxing Day, plus all of the other people who have shared their knowledge of Baja with us.

Baja 2

Our plan is to cross at Tecate and drive about 3 – 5 hours per day before setting up camp and settling down for the night.  Stops will allow us to do some adventuring – namely snorkelling with sea lions and whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, seeing Scammon’s Lagoon where the California Grey whales give birth to their young, surfing, sea kayaking, scuba diving, camping on remote beaches, and then spending a few glorious days at boutique hotel – Rancho Pescadero – before turning around and heading back north.  We plan to camp in our bus the entire time, except our splurge of 2 nights at Rancho Pescadero just south of Todos Santos.

While Mexico has been getting a bad rap, Baja is isolated from the mainland drug lord violence. That being said, we are expecting some police checks along the way. Additional advice we received was to get as far away from northern Mexico as possible.  So, Day One will involve a lot of driving once we leave Tecate.  The other advice Debbie received was NEVER to drive at night.  The cows down there are jet black in colour and meander all over the roadways, making it impossible to see them from a distance.  So we will drive during daylight hours only and avoid getting the ‘horns’.

We’ve immersed ourselves in reading dozens of blogs of other RV and campervan adventurers posted over the years.  Many make this pilgrimage down the coast an annual tradition – and some have been doing this trek for more than three decades. We feel extremely comfortable and safe in undertaking this journey.

That being said, it is still a great big unknown.  We look forward to the mysteries and new discoveries during this epic road trip to a magical part of the world.

We plan to blog every day where possible and post loads of photos.  Our only limited factor is WiFi.  Not sure what we’ll find, however where there’s WiFi, there’ll be a blog.  We invite you to follow along.

To Baja:  Here we come!

With Love: Deb, Jeff and Marigold  XOXO

Payoff: The Golden State

What a nutso summer.  Crappy weather put a real dint in our cycling.  Our bus, Marigold, continued to baffle us with an intermittent fuel problem.  We kinda felt down in the dumps questioning some of the decisions we had made – especially around Marigold.  All of our dreams seemed to be moving further away from us.  And we were getting cranky.

We threw up our arms in September with our bus.  Jeff had spent the entire summer rebuilding the engine and the fuel injection system.  Every week we had new bus parts arriving and every week was another disappointment when the hopeful solution didn’t work.

Marigold was flatbedded 100 km away to an air-cooled engine guru.  Who solved the problem in one day.  Bits o’ silicone rubber were floating around the gas tank, at times blocking the fuel supply.  We would have NEVER found this problem.  Gas tank was drained, the mischievous nuggets were removed, and now the bus is running like brand new.

There is a rainbow after every storm. And every rainbow leads to the pot of gold – if you are patient and believe.

Campsite #9 Mount Diablo, California

Campsite #9 Mount Diablo, California

Welcome to our first bus adventure just the two of us.  Right now we are sitting atop Mount Diablo in northern California, under a perfect sunny morning having camped with Marigold under the stars.  Campsite #9 in the Juniper Campground is THE site with an expansive view to the West.  We can even see Mount Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge. Dinner last night was take-out from our favourite place to eat in San Francisco – The House of Nan King.  Can you spot Marigold in the photo?IMG_0111

Okay, so you’re wondering.  How the heck did the bus end up in the Golden State?  Well, one of our dreams was to have her flatbedded to the Southwest USA, and have her stored in a warm dry (rust free) climate for the Canadian winter.  This would allow us the opportunity for a few getaways.

We had the bus shipped from Buffalo, NY to San Francisco a week or so ago.  We are forever indebted to Arash Hadari of Serremonte VW in Colma, CA.  This dealership agreed to receive our bus.  And we guess they really fell in love with her.  She was washed, waxed, tires greased and then put on display in their showroom.  She looked brand new!

Jeff riding to the summit

Jeff riding to the summit

Yesterday we flew into San Francisco, picked up the bus and are now on a 10-day adventure.  We have no specific plans, however intend to drive through Yosemite, Death Valley and then onto Zion National Park in Utah.  We have our mountain bikes in tow, so we can’t wait to ride some incredible singletrack along the way.

Good morning Sunshine.  :)

Good morning Sunshine. 🙂

This morning we were up super early.  Part due to being on East Coast time and part due to yipping coyotes in the campground at 4:30 am.  So we got up, made coffee in the dark, then saddled up and rode nearly 1,000 feet to the summit to watch the sunrise.  What a treat for our first morning here.

California sunrise!

California sunrise!

Off to ride some more singletrack on Mount Diablo, then driving west towards the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite.  And cooler weather before the stifling heat of Death Valley.

In the meantime, we are on the hunt for tarantulas.  It’s mating season and apparently the palm-sized males are on the prowl for the ladies.  Contrary to popular belief, these arachnids are harmless, have NEVER killed a human being anywhere on earth, and are nervous nellies.  They jump vertically when startled.


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.