The Other Side of the Wall


We spent a night in Laredo at a lakeside state park, before waking early and hitting the border just a few miles down the road.

Nada que declarar—but that didn’t matter, they wanted to see us anyway.

Fortunately, our check didn’t look like this. We opened up one cabinet door, answered a couple questions, and were on our way. We picked up our immigration visas ($60 USD), our truck papers good for six months, and our Airstream papers good for ten years ($264 USD for both TIPs), and were headed south in about two hours. They had to fill out our truck paperwork entirely by hand because their computer system wouldn’t accept our short VIN. This is always an issue for the DMV back home as well. Our Porsche has a six-digit VIN!

As we were climbing some steep mountain roads the truck began to buck and hesitate. I limped us along, and we got where we were going, but not without a lot of stress as we faced each mountain. That night it finally occurred to me—vapor lock. When gas in the lines gets too hot, it boils, and creates vapor in the lines, shutting the engine down. The pieces fell into place. A few days back I noticed that the exhaust was leaking in the engine compartment and tracked it down to a crumbling gasket. I bought a replacement gasket, but hadn’t put it in yet. Well, the exhaust leak was just a few inches from the passenger side metal gas line, and the fuel filter and pump.

So the next morning I got out the wrenches, replaced the gasket, and eliminated the leak. Just for good measure I wrapped the fuel line in tin foil as well. And that day, despite the 7,000′ passes and ninety degree heat, not a single problem.

I love it when a lady selling burritos sets up shop on the sidewalk right outside the door of the OXXO (convenience store).

And twenty feet away from another burrito stand.

Just checking things out during a break.

Sure, we had just stopped at a gas station fifteen minutes earlier, but he didn’t have to go then.

At the end of the day we camped at a balneario (water park). We were the only campers there, and the place closed an hour after we arrived, but for our $17 we were still welcome to roam freely about the park and use the pools. Can anyone even entertain the idea of something like that happening in the States? They basically just locked us inside the park and said, “Have fun. See you in the morning.” Our kids got to go down water slides 8,442 times.

With big mountains ahead we got an early start for Mazatlan.

To go, or not to go, that’s always the question. There are usually two different answers inside of our truck.

Bus stop in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

If you lose your brakes, just follow the red line for a few terrifying miles to the runaway ramp.

Or, do what this guy did and just run it into the ditch on the mountain side of the road.

Crossing the Baluarte Bridge along the 40D. Unfortunately, one thing Mexico rarely does anywhere is provide scenic overlooks. This entire drive was without a pullout. The idea of breaking down anywhere along here was pretty scary.

The drive from Durango to Mazatlan is a doozy, which is what makes it fun. I love taking our 50 year-old vehicles and totally putting them through their paces. In three days we climbed from sea level, to 9,000 feet, and back down again to the beach. No overheating, no struggling to pull a few extra thousand pounds of trailer, nothing. The truck is a beast. Once I fixed that exhaust leak the other day, it was smooth sailing through the mountains.

Back down to the flats, Ouest took my triumphant photo.

Back in Mazatlan, camped right on the beach. It may be the last time, as the sale of this land looks like it may finally happen, and I’m pretty sure the buyers aren’t looking to own an RV Park.

The other day me and Lowe were running around and stopped at Taco Bell to have a taco. While we were waiting for our food a homeless guy ordered something off the dollar menu, and was a couple pennies short. They gave it to him anyway. Lowe and I ate, and when we were finishing up I asked the guy if he was still hungry and offered to buy him a meal.

After we left, Lowe asked me, “How did you know he was hungry?” I explained that I heard him tell the lady he didn’t have any more money, that he was homeless, and that I saw him put some of his stuff in the bushes outside.

Lowe asked, “How old is that man?”

“Probably about 60. Older than me.”

“How old was he when he ran away?”

That’s when I realized how important it is to talk about this stuff with kids. Everything around them is new, and they use what little they do know to construct their world. In this case, the only explanation for a person to be without a home is for them to have run away from theirs. A perfectly reasonable assumption for a five year-old to make. How do they know that not everyone has an easy life, if they never see it, or are never told about it. I love having these conversations with the kids. It’s when I feel most like I am doing my job as a father.

Today we were at a gas station, Ali and Ouest were inside while Lowe and I stood around out by the truck. A guy came up and asked if he could wash the windshield. We talked for a couple minutes, inevitably about how he had worked for a couple years in California before being picked up and deported. I have these conversations pretty much daily in Mexico. Twice today, in fact.

Lowe stood nearby listening, and after the guy had left he asked me, “How much money did you give him?”

“I didn’t give him the money, he did a job for us.”

“Can you pay him as much money as you want?”

“Yeah, pretty much. I paid him twenty pesos.”

“Is twenty pesos a lot of money?”

“No, not a lot for us.”

[note: I’m in no way looking to be congratulated for my “generosity.” The money we give out is but a tiny fraction of what we could. I have yet to meet a person who gives everything they could. Though, it’s possible I have met that person, but don’t know because they don’t talk about it. Point being, us giving people down on their luck a few bucks is not something I intend in any way as a humblebrag. I hesitate to even share these stories, but I find the kids’ reactions to be thoughtful and interesting, and a good reminder to myself to do more and give more.]


45 Comments on “The Other Side of the Wall”

  1. Wonderful post. I happened to have Clair De Lune playing as I slowly scrolled through your photos, and the mood fit beautifully.

  2. You and I give to the world in different ways, my brother. You help your kids understand how the world is (and hopefully, they grow to understand how it should be) and you also help those in need. I help those who want to further their lives.

    I just wish I could give my services for free without having to worry about my own needs for survival.

    This was a great read. Thank you for sharing it.

    Love to you, Ali and the kids. I look forward to our next meeting.

  3. It must feel good to your family to be back in Mexico. After two months, I cross the border northbound on Monday. Already I have a lump in my throat about leaving.

    “How old was he when he ran away?” made me teary-eyed.

  4. Great photos and great learning experiences. We’re headed to Mazatlan for the first time on Monday, having spent the last three weeks in Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara. Excited to see more of this great country!

  5. Love this post. Love your rig – such a great setup! Makes me dream of setting up my Humber Supersnipe and 1962 Sunliner caravan and hitting the road (although I would have to become a more savvy mechanic). We have just pulled into the first place we have come to that it’s going to be difficult to leave! Been here a week and have met such great people – our kids right now are jumping on someone’s trampoline a block away… ? I so enjoy reading your adventures… ?

  6. You want to give more? Visit Tres Islas Orphanage in Mazatlan. It was my Dad & Mom’s (she is now deceased) passion when they spent the winters in Mazatlan. Just pick up a bag of oranges or something and knock on the door. Do it in the afternoon, when the kids are back from school. Trust me, you will get more than you give when you visit an orphanage.

  7. The amount of photos alone are a clear indication of how happy you guys are to be back in Mexico. The photo of the people after the border inspection looks like someone moving (back). Without being political one bit, I was wondering if you noticed a lot of people moving back to Mexico?

    I always admired you and Ali. You’re teaching by example. I had teary eyes reading this post. Your children are citizens of the world. The best kind of people ever. Here’s a gold star for your exceptional parenting.

  8. We had vapor lock with our 72 Winnebago in hot weather at altitude. A few sheets of old roofing aluminum isolated the fuel lines & both fuel tanks from being in line-of-sight of the exhaust parts, and the vapor lock was fixed.

  9. I’m an old expat living at Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala, and I meet lots of people traveling like you and your family is doing. One such couple shared your blog, and I love it. San Marcos La Laguna seems to be a popular stopping off place for “campers,” and it is easy to understand why because it is a mystical, magical place. If per chance, you guys come here, I certainly want to meet you. Otherwise, happy trails.

  10. While growing up in Oregon, my paternal grandparents lived in San Antonio, Texas. That’s a long, boring road trip for young kids. My dad gave my sister a thin piece of plywood that would fit across our laps in the back seat. She drew a small village on it, with streets that fit matchbox cars. We spent hours playing on that map. When we didn’t want to play on it, it fit in the back window well, so was out of the way. No headrests to get in the way in the 50’s! It’s great to see your kids growing up in such a natural way. Always love your photography, was especially intrigued this time with the two rearview mirror and side mirror shots. Good use of the range of focus in those.

  11. Ah, yes, “Leaky exhaust manifold”, went through that with our 75 Ford F 250, with a 390 V8 in it, carrying a large cab over camper all over the country. Slipped in a new exhaust manifold gasket in it at the RV Park in Las Vegas. It lasted until we got home in Northern California. I waited too long to fix it & the exhaust gases eroded the manifold away, luckily not the block side. Had to replace the manifold.

    If you have power steering or any other kind of hoses or tubing in the area of the exhaust manifold, I suggest you fabricate
    some sort of heat shielding for them. Our power steering hoses were about 6 ” away from the exhaust manifold but still
    split from the heat, & caught fire. Should have let the whole thing burn to the ground, it was the worst piece of Detroit iron I ever owned. One shouldn’t have to travel with a complete set of tools & coveralls. Pardon the rant. “Fool me once—“

  12. I see what you did there in the “triumphant” photo Ouest took, wearing a T-shirt with your doppelganger on it. Well played, Pat!


  13. After almost 20 years we still call them “Topes”, not speed bumps! Love the pictures and the post. We did that drive once – Mazatlan to Durango – it is a very challenging drive! Glad to be back in Mexico with you!

  14. I read your blog from time to time as my husband, Corey follows you on your adventures. You’re kids are the sweetest beings on Earth and I wish you all the best on your journeys. Thanks for keeping it real, and please don’t stop blogging!

  15. Bienvenido a México! Wish I was there. I am having the same conversations with my son. I am trying to instill in him the feeling that he was blessed to be born in Germany. I think it is important that he realizes he could also have been born in a very poor and deprived country, and he should be grateful for what we have. Last time I was back in Portland, I saw a lot of older homeless. People who had worked in the mills, and now can’t afford to live there anymore. It is sad to see them begging to survive. After growing up poor in Oregon, it scares me because I realize it could happen to anyone.

    Enjoy Mexico!

  16. We had a good time reading this post as just over a month ago we,too, camped at that very same Balneario and the at Mar Rosa in Mazatlan…although we hadn’t heard it was sold. Enjoy being back in Mexico

  17. More fantastic pictures in this post Pat! Once I finish with Canada, I would definitely do Mexico next. Kicking myself I didn’t stop by and say hello when we were 30 miles apart in Destin, Fl. Keep up the great work! wynnehonsinger@goinjeepin.

  18. Awesome post. Way to go with Lowe!!

    Is that El Faro? Are you just off the old harbor? We had to sail into there once because our water pump was out. Found a spare one on the morning net and got to know the town bus system pretty well as the spare was in a marina North of town.

    So glad you’re back in Mexico and that the truck is a beast!! 😀

    1. Nope not El Faro – way down the other end of Mazaltan near El Cid. We did go by the old harbor the other day. Not many boats.

  19. I grew up in a very religious Christian home and my folks never taught us kids one thing about giving. When Kevin and I started driving truck he was very liberal about giving the panhandlers money when they would ask. It always made me question, what if they go spend it on drugs or booze? So one day I asked him. His answer… “I give because I’m supposed to, but as soon as it’s out of my hands it is theirs to do with as they will and up to them to spend it wisely”. It’s made giving for me something I do freely from the heart. Kudos for teaching your children lessons they won’t every questions when they are grown.

  20. Hey Guys. We are back in the States and it feels so strange to see no one giving here. On the road the locals always gave a little to the less fortunate, and so did we. We will continue here so thanks for reminding us how ridiculously fortunate we all are. Especially on this side of the border. Safe travels you 4!

  21. It was nice meeting you and your kids at Mar Rosa last night and share an ice cream. Such beautiful, happy kids. Thanks for your insight on places to visit here in Mexico. Safe travels.
    Wayne & Nonie

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