There are a lot of ways to beat the heat in summertime when you’re traveling in an RV. The most obvious is simply to head to a cool place when a heat wave hits. Afterall, your home has wheels!
But there are other things you can do to prevent the sun from baking the interior of your home, even if you don’t have electrical hookups to run the air conditioner. And if it does get unbearably sultry, and you do need to run the A/C from a portable gas generator, there are some tricks we’ve learned to make it possible…
GO SOMEWHERE COOL – In the MOUNTAINS, FAR NORTH and/or NEAR WATER
Cooler places are located either in high elevations, and/or up north, and/or by a big body of water — the ocean or a lake.
Moraine Lake in Banff National Park is a cool place, even mid-summer.
In the west, the key to temperature is elevation. Many folks who are new to the western states are surprised to find out that there can be a 20 degree difference in temperature between two places that are just 150 miles apart.
Similarly, the coasts enjoy wonderfully cool sea breezes. The whole west coast, from San Diego to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is much much cooler than the communities that lie directly inland (over the coastal mountains), 150 miles from the coast.
Life is definitely cool at the beach (Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint, Idaho)!
If the ocean isn’t easily accessible, spending time near a big lake can do the trick.
Want to get cool? Find your inner child and play in the water with a toy wagon.
Large lakes offer “sea breezes” in the afternoons, and many lakeside towns have fantastic waterfronts, like Seneca Falls,New York, in the Finger Lakes, and McCall, Idaho, on Payette Lake.
GO SOMEWHERE COOL IN TOWN
The worst part of the day is the late afternoon and evening, and that’s a great time to get out of the rig. A late afternoon or early evening outdoor picnic under a shady tree in a place with a breeze or cool grassy lawn will work wonders. A trip to the air conditioned library or bookstore with a little cafe inside can be a delightful change of pace.
A hot afternoon is a perfect time to take in a matinee at the local cinema. If the laundromat is air conditioned, the heat of the afternoon might be the time to get that chore done, or if your laundry is already clean, doing the week’s grocery shopping could give you an hour or two of air conditioned respite at the supermarket.
HOW TO RUN a 15K BTU RV AIR CONDITIONER with a YAMAHA 2400i GENERATOR
Sometimes, it’s just too darned hot to survive without air conditioning, and in that case it’s really nice to turn it on.
15 amp Male to 50 amp Female dogbone adapter (15 amp Male plugs into generator)
50 amp 125-250 volt RV shore power cord (50 amp Male plugs into dogbone above)
However, when we first bought our trailer, we stayed at an RV park that had a 30 amp pedestal that didn’t match our 50 amp shore power cord, so we had to buy an adapter. Making good use of that adapter with our generator now, we use two adapters plus our shore power cord when we connect to the generator:
Our 2400 watt generator is able to power our 15K BTU air conditioner just fine. However it sometimes takes a little coaxing to get it to fire up because there is a big spike when the air conditioner’s compressor first turns on. Over the years, we’ve learned that the trick to persuading it to run is the following:
Run the generator for a few minutes with no load and make sure it is warmed up
(also make sure the hot water heater and fridge are set to “gas” and no other electrical appliances are running)
On the air/heat control unit, set the Fan button to High On
Set the System button to Fan and let it run for a few minutes
Set the System button to Cool and listen to the compressor come on
Make sure the genny is warm and let it power the fan on high for a while first… THEN switch on the A/C.
Keeps the gas in the genny fresh
If the last step trips the breaker on the generator, set the System button back to Off, restart the generator and try again.
On a few occasions it has taken us 2-3 tries to get the air conditioner going. However, most of the time it fires up on the first try.
We always run it for 4-6 hours when we turn it on, and it purrs along just fine. However, we run the air conditioning just a few days each year. The rest of the time we stay cool using other means.
To keep the gas in the generator (and in the gas can) fresh and to ensure quick starts after storage and to prevent gumming and varnish, Mark puts the stabilizer Sta-Bil Gas stabilizer in the gas.
POSITION THE RV
— BIGGEST WINDOWS FACE NORTH and SMALLEST WINDOWS FACE WEST
The toughest time of day is the afternoon when the sun is in the southwest and western sky and is slowly baking the RV. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the sun to set while everything inside the rig quietly fries!
No matter what the wall and roof insulation R-factor is for an RV, the windows are where all the heat comes in. So, keeping them shaded as much as possible throughout the day makes all the difference in the world.
Every rig has a different arrangement of windows, but if you can position the biggest ones to face north or east and the smallest ones (or the wall with no windows if you have one) towards the west and southwest, the difference to the interior temperature will be astonishing.
If there is a way to block the afternoon sun entirely by parking next to shade trees or a building, that is even better.
SET UP THE RV AWNING
Even if the awning will only shade a small part of the RV’s walls and windows for a few hours of the day, this is still helpful! When an RV wall gets hot, you can feel the warmth on the inside of the rig. And you can especially feel it in the cabinets. There’s nothing like a hot bottle of olive oil in the kitchen pantry!
Even though it’s shading just one small window, the awning is keeping the whole wall cool.
Modern rigs have wonderful powered awnings, but ours is the old fashioned manual crank type of awning. The other day we heard two RVers complaining about how putting these old awnings out was really difficult and was a two man job.
It’s actually not that bad, and Mark does it by himself in just a few minutes. Here are the steps:
1. Unscrew the knob on the back of each awning arm.
2. Open the clip right above the knob on each awning arm
3. Use the awning tool to open the lever on the roller
4. Pull down on the lever to open it.
The roller lever is now in the down position.
5. Use the awning tool to pull out the awning by grabbing the webbing loop
6. Pull the awning part way out with the awning tool
7. Grab the webbing and pull the awning out the rest of the way
8. Close the RV door handle to get it out of the way
9. Slide out the awning arm in its track
10. Pushing down on the awning arm to keep the canvas taught, tighten the knob.
Do this on both sides
11. Open the big awning handle to raise the awning up.
If it looks like it might rain, position one side of the awning a little lower than the other so the water will drain off of the awning.
Another neat awning trick is to get an awning shade extension that drops from the edge of the awning to the ground. This provides shade from touching the rig even when the sun is at a low angle.
INSULATE THE WINDOWS and HATCHES INSIDE
The day/night shades in most RVs are great for reducing sunshine in the rig, but do little for eliminating the heat that pours in through the glass and metal frame.
Pulling down our night shades doesn’t block much direct sunlight.
We cut Reflectix, which is a bubble wrap kind of aluminum foil that comes in a huge roll, to fit each window (a pair of scissors is all you need). We labeled each piece for the window it fits into.
Reflectix picks up where RV insulation leaves off…
We raise the RV’s day/night shades, press the piece of Reflectix against the window, and then lower the shade to hold the Reflectix in place.
A layer of Reflectix behind the shade blocks all the sun!
When leaving the trailer, we close the hatches and put vent insulators in them.
In our big rear window we jam a pillow under the large piece of Reflectix to hold it up. Otherwise it would drop to the floor.
If we are going to leave the rig for a while, we close all the windows and put an RV Vent Insulator in each of the roof vents. It is amazing to come home after many hours of running around to find that the rig is still fairly cool inside.
However, if we are planning to stay home, we don’t like to live in a tomb, so we have another strategy using fans and open windows that allows us to have some ambient light coming in…
STAY COOL WITH FANS
We rely on two different types of fans to stay cool.
We have a Fan-tastic Vent Fan in two of our trailer’s four roof hatches. These are designed to push a maximum amount of air in or out of the rig. We set them to push the air out of the rig, and then we open the windows on the shaded side of the trailer to let the cool air from outside come in.
Fan-tastic Fan in an RV hatch
If we were to replace our Fan-tastic Fans, or if we wanted to upgrade another hatch to one of these or a similar type of vent fan, we would choose a very simple model that does just the basics.
Our Fan-tastic Fans are whiz-bang models with remote control, rain-sensing, auto-opening, auto-closing, slicing and dicing and who knows what else. Unfortunately, they have minds of their own, and they won’t listen to reason.
They auto open and auto close at the weirdest times, they don’t necessarily know when it’s raining, and they make it impossible for the mechanically challenged (ahem…me) to turn them on or off or to open and close them. There are way too many buttons that do way too many different things.
Also, Mark has had to rebuild various parts of both of these fans, and by the colorful flow of expletives I heard him let loose on these jobs, I would gather that it was not easy.
While vent fans help move fresh air through the rig by forcing hot air out the vents and pulling cool air in through the windows, portable fans are a godsend to aim right at you when you start reaching the boiling point.
We got this fan in Quartzsite one year for our (not yet purchased) sailboat and we’ve used it a lot in the years since then. But it is extremely noisy. Forget trying to sleep with it running nearby! It’s also kind of silly to spend so much money on a 12 volt fan when a smaller and quieter 120 volt fan will do just as good a job, if not better, for a fraction of the cost. All you need is an inverter.
…A small, quiet, cheap portable fan will run on an inverter just fine!
Last of all, there’s nothing that can cool down your body temp like an ice cold drink. A smoothie in a blender tastes wonderful and can bring your core temp down quite a bit. We make ice using old fashioned ice cube trays in our freezer, and we use a few cubes and frozen fruit in our smoothies to ensure they are as cold as possible.
Smoothie time – Get cool with lots of ice and frozen fruit!!
Those are a few of our tips for surviving the dog days of summer in our RV without hookups. It can take a little finagling and strategy, but these things have kept us cool in our trailer for ten summers now!
Defrosting an RV refrigerator is a surprisingly easy job. We’ve been living with a propane RV refrigerator for many years now, and they always need defrosting after a few weeks or months. Being meticulous about not leaving the refrigerator door open unnecessarily can help, but when you find yourself living in a hot and humid environment or if you have the refrigerator side of your trailer or motorhome facing the blazing hot summer sun all afternoon, the frost is going to build up over time.
Over the years, we’ve tried several different techniques for defrosting our RV fridge, and in the old days this was a big job that, with some methods, could take well over an hour. We now have it down to a super fast method that makes this pesky job a cinch. The last time we did it, I made a note of the time on the clock as we went through each step. From start to finish, it took 20 minutes.
The first step is to turn off the refrigerator and empty the contents of the freezer into cooler bags or a cooler of some kind. Since these things will be out of the freezer for just 20 minutes, they won’t defrost and the ice cream won’t melt. If your RV is hot inside, covering the cooler bags with blankets for extra insulation can help.
9:17 a.m. – Turn off fridge and unload freezer into cooler bags
We used to unload the whole refrigerator and empty it out completely, but that isn’t necessary and it takes a lot of time. An awful lot of what is in the refrigerator can handle warming up slightly as you keep the refrigerator door open to defrost it.
Instead, just unload the most temperature sensitive items — milk, yogurt, lunch meats, mayonaise, etc., into an insulated cooler bag or a cooler. Most of the fruits, veggies, bread, cheese, condiments, etc., can remain right where they are in the fridge for the 20 minutes it takes to defrost it.
Set the cooler bags aside. Covering them with blankets will keep everything even cooler.
Next, put a super absorbant chamois towel in the bottom of the freezer compartment to absorb the water from the melting ice, and use a hair dryer to thaw the walls of the freezer.
9:22 a.m. – Use a hair dryer to thaw out the freezer.
We put it on the high setting and keep a distance of about 8″ between the hair dryer and the walls of the freezer. A higher wattage hair dryer may need to be put on the low heat setting. Hold your hand about 8″ from the hair dryer and see how hot it feels.
Be sure you keep the hair dryer from heating up the plastic walls or they will crack from being cold and then getting hot. Keep the hair dryer moving and test the temp of the plastic walls with your hands.
After thawing the walls of the freezer a little, move down to the cooling fins in the refrigerator compartment. Keep the hair dryer in constant motion, sweeping it back and forth from side to side.
Slowly wave the hair dryer in front of the cooling fins.
Alternate working on the freezer compartment and the refrigerator compartment.
Alternate between the cooling fins in the refrigerator compartment and the freezer compartment.
At the beginning, when the cooling fins are caked in ice, the hair dryer can be closer to them.
Little ice sheets will begin to fall off the refrigerator cooling fins into the drip tray underneath. As the thawing process continues, increase the distance between the hair dryer and the cooling fins.
As ice drops and the cooling fins thaw, move the hair dryer back a little.
Don’t chisel the ice off the fins or the freezer walls with a tool. If you pierce the metal base behind the cooling fins or the walls of the freezer, the refrigerant (ammonia) will leak out. We don’t use any chiseling device. We simply assist the thawing process with the hair dryer.
Check beneath the cooling fins and you’ll see the bits of ice dropping into the drip tray.
Check below the cooling fins where the ice drops off in chunks.
If you go outside, on the back of the RV you’ll see water seeping out of the refrigerator vent.
Outside the rig, water will be seeping from the refrigerator vent.
A little trickle of water flows down.
Once all the ice has fallen off the cooling fins, pull out the drip tray and dump the ice in the sink.
9:34 a.m. – Once all the ice has dropped off the cooling fins, empty the tray of ice into the sink.
Up in the freezer compartment, the chamois towel is now fairly wet with water that has dripped down off the walls. Wring it out and use it to wipe down the freezer and the fridge.
9:35 a.m. – The chamois towel in the freezer is pretty wet. Use it to wipe down the fridge and freezer.
Load the food from the cooler bags back into the refrigerator and freezer compartments, and you’re done! Put the fridge at max temp for a few hours to help it cool back down, and then set it to the temperature setting you normally use.
9:37 a.m. – After loading the food back in the refrigerator, turn it back on. Done!
Other RV Refrigerator Tips
The key to having an RV refrigerator work optimally is having the air circulate inside well. Overstuffing the fridge with food makes this difficult for it. We have used a little RV refrigerator airator fan that’s designed to keep the air flowing. We’ve had mixed results with this, and when it died we didn’t replace it. I think this would work well if there were space between all the food, but our fridge is usually packed (the turf wars between the beer and the veggies can be brutal…sometimes we can hear them battling it out in there!).
As a maintenance item, we keep the door seals clean, wiping them down periodically.
We use simple refrigerator thermometers to monitor the temperatures in the fridge and freezer. It has a built in hook, and we hang it from one of the rungs in the top shelf in the refrigerator. The one in the freezer rests against one wall.
We were surprised to learn that RV refrigerators have an expected lifespan of about 8 to 10 years. A classic sign of impending failure is the appearance of yellow dust in the refrigerator vent area behind the fridge (go outside and take the vent cover off and look around with a flashlight). Click the following link to read the funny story of our RV refrigerator replacement and see how an RV fridge replacement is done.
If our hair dryer method of defrosting an RV fridge seems unorthodox to you, believe me, we have tried many other methods. We tried opening the fridge and freezer doors and letting the fridge thaw out on its own. We tried doing that and “helping it along” by chiseling the ice off with a small plastic scraper. We tried putting a bowl of hot water in the fridge to help it warm up.
All of these methods were adequate, but they were time consuming. We’ve been using our current method with the mini travel hair dryer for a few years now and really, really like it.
A trip to the dentist’s office isn’t fun for anyone anywhere, but Mexican dentists do terrific work, and we have received outstanding and very affordable dental care in our travels throughout Mexico, both on our sailboat and in our RV.
This page offers a glimpse of what a trip to a Mexican dentist’s office is like, what to expect when crossing the border to get dental work done, which dentists we’ve been to and recommend, and what various dental procedures have cost us. There’s a ton of info on Mexican dentistry here, and if you don’t want to read it all in one sitting, these quick links will get where you want to go:
Our first experience with a Mexican dentist, and the one that totally changed our attitude towards Mexican dentistry in general, was in San Luis Mexico, just a little south of Yuma, Arizona, back in 2008.
Getting a Mexican Crown was quite an adventure for us back in the day.
We walked over the border and continued on for half a block to the office of Dr. Sergio Bernal at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. We did not have an appointment, but we wanted to see what could be done about a baby tooth of Mark’s that had never fallen out but had suddenly started bothering him.
After two minutes in the chair, Dr. Bernal recommended he get a crown. We weren’t sure about getting something complicated like this done in Mexico, and were also unsure whether a gold crown or porcelain crown would be preferable. We walked around the streets of San Luis for an hour debating whether to go for it, and if so, what kind of crown to get.
When we returned to Dr. Bernal’s office, we met a group of Americans from Las Vegas in the waiting room. A big friendly guy in the group told us he gathered up his friends and family every year, rented a car, and drove down to San Luis to get their teeth checked and worked on by Dr. Bernal. He’d had extensive bridge work done by Dr. Bernal 10 years prior, and he had been so impressed by the quality and affordable cost of the job that he’d been going back ever since.
Mark decided to go for it, and in no time Dr. Bernal had ground down his tooth, made an impression of it and made arrangements for a porcelain crown to be delivered to his office by noon the next day. Because the permanent crown would be installed so soon, there was no need for a temporary crown (how nice!).
As we walked out the door (without having paid a cent for the diagnosis, the tooth grinding or the impression), Dr. Bernal asked Mark his name, scribbled it on a yellow sticky pad and put it on the impression. He waved to us as we left to walk back over the border and said, “See you tomorrow!”
Despite the next day being a Saturday (we later learned Mexicans work six days a week), we walked across the border again at noon, and Dr. Bernal quickly cemented the crown in place.
The cost? $130 US.
Best of all, it was a perfect color match and was the best fitting crown Mark had ever had. It has been fine ever since.
From that moment on, we have entrusted our teeth to Mexican dentists throughout the country without a moment’s hesitation.
The Dentist Chair… yikes!
During our nearly four year cruise of Mexico on our sailboat, we visited dentists (and doctors) up and down the Pacific coast and in the Sea of Cortez. The dental care was always top quality, very caring, and very affordable. We have never had unnecessary work recommended (as happened to me 15 years ago in the US when an unscrupulous dentist recommended I get five crowns immediately, only one of which I actually needed).
I always feel like going to the dentist in Mexico is basically like going to the barber. You walk in off the street without an appointment, talk to the dentist directly, hop in the chair for him or her to assess what you need, get it done right away or return the next day, and walk out with everything completed at a fraction of what it would cost in the US.
Where Are Mexican Dentists Trained?
There are some urban myths about Mexican dentistry. I’ve heard people say, “The best Mexican dentists get their training in the US.”
In our experience, that is not true. Of the ten excellent dentists and doctors we have been to in Mexico, none received their training in an American university.
Usually, Mexican dentists and doctors hang their diplomas on the wall. Whether the diplomas are hand calligraphed in Latin or typed up in Spanish, it is pretty easy to tell if the university was in Guadalajara, Mexico City or Baja California (the three areas for medical and dental schools we’ve seen on diplomas).
Do Mexican Dentists Speak English?
In our experience, most speak at least a little, especially in tourist areas and in the border towns where a lot of Americans come specifically to receive dental care.
Why Are Mexican Dentists So Cheap?
People also wonder how it is that Mexican dental (and medical) professionals can charge so little for their services if they are really as good as (or better than) their counterparts in the US. The reasons are complex, but in a nutshell, the American and Mexican economies and cultures are totally different. Even more important, the business models for the dental and medical professions are not at all alike in the two countries.
A Lower Wage Scale in Mexico
The average DAILY wage for an unskilled Mexican worker is around $5 per DAY. Obviously, skilled workers make more, but the entire spectrum of wages, from professionals to janitors, is scaled down much lower than the US. In many cases, like that of a city employed street sweeper we met in Huatulco, the employee provides the equipment for their job. This industrious city worker we met had fashioned his brooms for his government job from tree branches and twigs himself.
Cheaper Office Space
Commercial property rental is also much cheaper. A friend of mine who owns a store in the popular seaside tourist town of Zihuatanejo pays $30 a MONTH to rent the space. Office space for Mexican dentists and doctors may not be quite that low, but even if it is double the price, it is still negligible by American standards.
Very Little or No Staff
Mexican dentists and doctors also don’t employ much staff, if any. Some dentists have an assistant, but many of the best ones we’ve been to don’t. Also, there is no one dedicated to answering the phone and making appointments. Any time we have had our teeth cleaned, it was done by the dentist and not by a hygienist. One very conscientious dentist spent an HOUR cleaning my teeth and then spent another HOUR on Mark’s, for $45 US each.
Little or No Malpractice Insurance and Marketing
Unlike their American counterparts, Mexican dentists and doctors don’t have to carry massive amounts malpractice insurance. Also, they don’t invest in marketing. None of the dentists we’ve been to have websites, and it is very difficult to find information about any of them on the internet. The few Mexican dentists that do have websites cater primarily to Americans, and we found that their fees are often adjusted upwards accordingly.
No Third Party Relationships
Mexican dentists and doctors also set their fees according to the market demands of their patients. There is no insurance company operating as a middle man. Patients pay their medical providers directly rather than paying an insurance company who, in turn, then pays the dentist or doctor, as happens in the US.
This keeps the patient/doctor relationship very pure. The doctor or dentist is employed by the patient, not by a third party insurance company. Fees for unexpected issues that come up requiring return visits, extra x-rays, additional prescriptions, etc., can be discussed between doctor/dentist and patient. In our experience, though, those little extras have been free because the dentist/doctor is managing the relationship with the patient/customer and wants to provide good value.
Getting A Root Canal in Mexico — Our Experience in San Luis south of Yuma, AZ
A few weeks ago one of my teeth began to bother me, so we decided to return to our dentist, Dr. Sergio Bernal, in San Luis, Mexico, who had done such a fine job with Mark’s crown years ago. We took our rig to Yuma, drove our truck to the Mexican border and parked it in a parking lot on the American side right next to the border crossing area. The parking fee was $4 for 24 hours (in 2017 it is $5 for 24 hours).
The parking lot on the American side of the border at San Luis, Arizona. $4 for 24 hours.
It was 8:45 in the morning on a Tuesday, and we followed signs that walked us through the border crossing. We saw a few Mexican border agents, but none asked for our passports. Then we emerged on the other side and saw a soldier dressed in desert camo holding an automatic weapon.
The soldier smiled broadly at us when we said “buenos días” to him as we passed by, and he said “buenos días” to us in return.
Having lived in Mexico for a few years, we learned that Mexicans always greet each other with a warm “buenos días” (before noon), or “buenas tardes” (after 12:00 p.m. – sharp), whether they are passing in the street, or standing in front of a store clerk about to pay for something, or boarding a crowded bus (everyone on the bus responds!). Mustering the guts to say that phrase in Mexico will always get you a smiling response, and it is heartwarming and fun to give it a try.
We also learned that the presence of soldiers is just standard procedure at Mexico’s borders (we’ve seen them at the US and Guatemala borders). It is also standard procedure when the Mexican Navy boards boats at sea.
Our sailboat was boarded 8 times during our cruise, either to to check our papers, to check for weapons and drugs, or to make sure we had proper safety gear on board. Each time the inspectors couldn’t have been nicer or more polite. In one case, when they brought aboard a drug-sniffing dog, they put booties on his feet so he wouldn’t scratch the boat. Another time we were given a performance evaluation form to fill out for the boss!
I touch on three of the Mexican Navy boardings we experienced in these blog posts:
Moments after crossing the border, we emerged onto a lively and busy street in the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, the Mexican sister city of San Luis, Arizona.
After emerging from the border complex, we walked straight down the street, crossing a small intersection and looking to our left towards the opposite side of the street as we walked.
Mark crosses a small intersection after crossing the border. Dr. Bernal’s office is on the left just beyond the lavender “Genesis” sign (center of photo).
We were walking south on First Street (“Calle 1”). Dr. Bernal’s office is in an alcove on east side of the street (the opposite side…the left side in the above photo) about halfway between the first intersection we had just crossed and the street light at the next intersection.
The shops are small and tightly packed with colorful but faded signs overhead.
Walking down Calle 1 (1st Street), and looking left, these shops are just before Dr. Bernal’s alcove.
Catching sight of the lavender “Genesis” sign on the left side (east side) of the street, we spotted the alcove where Dr. Bernal’s office is located just beyond that sign (to the right of the sign while facing that side of the street (facing east)).
Inside Dr. Bernal’s alcove, we saw a large grinning tooth out in front of his office door. A sign overhead and a sign on the roof both said, “Family Dental.”
Dr. Bernal’s office is in this alcove. The door is on the right.
We head in!
Even though it had been 7 years since we had been here, back in 2008, memories flooded back as soon as we walked in. We had known nothing about Mexico back then, and we had been quite overwhelmed by the differences on the two sides of the border.
Things are not as spiffy or glam in Mexico as they are in much of America, and this dentist’s office wasn’t in fancy Class A office space like we were used to back home. That had been a little off-putting to us back then. But during those early days of full-time travel we had yet to learn that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
The waiting room.
When we walked into Dr. Bernal’s office with all these memories swirling around, he greeted us with a big smile. I explained (in English) that he had done a crown for Mark way back when and that we had come back because I had a toothache.
“Oh yes, I remember….” He said.
“You remember us???!!” I asked, incredulously.
“Of course I do…” he said, “Gold crown or porcelain… you couldn’t decide.”
We were the only patients there at the moment, so I hopped in the chair right away and he tapped my teeth and said I needed a root canal. Darn! I was afraid of that.
Dr. Sergio Bernal tells me I need a root canal. Oof!
Mark got in the chair and was given a clean bill of health. No problems, no need for work, no need even for a cleaning. “Come back when you have a problem,” Dr. Bernal said. I should only be so lucky!!
Wasting no time on my behalf, Dr. Bernal got on the phone to an endodontist across town, Dr. Horacio Avila, to make sure he was available to see me right away. Then he walked us out to the corner and hailed a cab for us. He handed the cabbie a business card for the endodontist, and we climbed in the cab.
Dr. Bernal puts us in a cab to go to endodontist Dr. Horacio Avila across town.
The cabbie swung the car around and then let another guy in too. The cabs in San Luis are shared cabs, and it is normal to have the cabbie pick up someone else who is headed in the same general direction.
A few minutes later he dropped us off at Dr. Horacio Avila’s office. The cabbie wanted 40 pesos or $2, whichever we had. We happened to have some pesos we wanted to get rid of, so we paid in pesos. Back when we got those pesos in 2013, the exchange rate had been less than 13 pesos to a dollar. What a shock it was to find that the exchange rate is now 19+ to the dollar!
Dr. Avila’s office at Calle 13 (13th Street) and Madero
Dr. Avila’s office was nice inside, and like all dentists and doctors we’ve been to in Mexico, his diplomas hung on his wall. He had earned his dental degrees at the University of Baja California. Dr. Bernal had earned his degrees at the University of Guadalajara.
Dr. Avila’s diplomas. He was trained at the University of Baja California.
I was blown away by Dr. Avila’s equipment. A quickie x-ray yielded an image on a computer screen in seconds, and he explained (in English) that the root canal would take about 45 minutes. He said it would normally cost $180 US, but because it was in a tooth that already had a crown on it, the extra work of drilling through the crown to perform the root canal would raise the cost to $230 US.
I leaned back, he numbed me up, and in no time the root canal was finished.
Dr. Avila had very modern equipment with x-rays that went directly to a computer screen, etc., etc.
When I got out of the chair, he explained that I needed anitbiotics and anti-inflammatory meds. He described how to take them and wrote up a prescription, handed me an envelope containing prints of my x-rays as well as the images of my root canal in progress, and then he led us to the door.
His assistant asked me my name and wrote it down on a pad. I gave her $230 in American dollars in cash, and she asked me whether I wanted a receipt. Then she took us out to her car and drove us to Liquis Farmacia, a big pharmacy back near the border crossing area. (“Farmacia” is pronounced “far-MAH-seeya” even though it doesn’t look like it).
Liquis Pharmacy (“Farmacia”) is a block away from the border.
She took us through the drive-through lane, placed the order for the meds at the window for us, and passed our cash through to the clerk (we paid in pesos, but dollars would have been fine too). It was about $10 for a supply of amoxicillan (Ampliron) and anti-inflammatory Supradol. Then she drove us to Dr. Bernal’s office.
We tipped her $5 in American dollars for driving us around town and making sure we had the right meds in hand before we left the country.
Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to the drive-through window and ordered my meds for me.
We walked over to Dr. Bernal’s office and I climbed back in his dentist chair (gosh so many times in and out of dentist’s chairs in one morning!!). He took a look at Dr. Avila’s work and said he would complete the job by putting a filling in the crown where Dr. Avila had drilled through to do the root canal. But he didn’t want to do it until a few days had passed and the tooth was totally pain free.
So he sent us on our way (and again, did not charge us a cent).
It was 10:00 in the morning when we crossed back over the border into the US and got back in our truck.
The pedestrian crossing going back into the US
The whole thing had taken an hour and a quarter — with no appointment. In that short span of time we received two check-ups, a diagnosis, a root canal, x-rays and meds.
Including the cab ride from the dentist to the endodontist, a tip for the assistant who drove us to the pharmacy in her own personal car, and the parking fee for our truck that was waiting for us on the American side of the border, it all came to a grand total of $241 US.
So far, we hadn’t paid Dr. Bernal a dime, yet he had masterminded the whole thing.
Does this sound like American dentistry?
We returned a few days later to check in with Dr. Bernal (no appointment, we just walked in). My tooth was still a little tender, so he told me I wasn’t ready for him to do the filling in the crown yet yet. So I was in and out of the chair once again! And again, he didn’t charge me for the checkup.
Finally my tooth was back in action and pain free, so we crossed over the border to Mexico again. This time we went to the endodontist, Dr. Avila, first to get a final x-ray of the root canal and verify that everything was A-okay. He was happy to see me and said everything looked great and sent me on my way. He didn’t charge me for the x-ray or the office visit.
Dr. Avila explains to me about teeth and roots. The x-ray is on the computer screen on the wall.
Then we stopped in at Dr. Bernal’s office. He had a line of patients waiting this time, so we took a seat and waited with them. I got chatting with an American woman next to me, and she told me she and her family had been coming down from Phoenix to see Dr. Bernal for 25 years.
“He must have been just out kid out of dental school back then!” I said.
“We were all a lot younger back then,” she laughed.
Suddenly, an old, hunched Mexican woman came in clutching her mouth. She was moaning as she took a seat. Mark asked her in broken Spanish if she was in pain, and she nodded and rubbed her fingers along her whole lower jaw, obviously in agony.
We were next in line now, but we got up and stuck our heads into Dr. Bernal’s office where he was working on a patient and told him we’d be back later and to please take care of this old woman first.
We wandered around town for a while, and when we returned the woman was gone and Dr. Bernal was free again. I hopped in the chair, and after a few quick zips with the drill, he was done filling the hole in the crown. Then he did a full check on the rest of my teeth and polished some of my white fillings that had started to leach and turn a darker color.
Back in The Chair with Dr. Bernal.
He charged me $40 US. This $40 fee covered the three times I had sat in his dentist’s chair over the past few days since we first crossed the border as well as putting a filling in the crown where the root canal was and polishing me teeth. We handed him the cash, and went back to the border half a block away.
So, my entire procedure involved sitting in dentist’s chairs five times for check-ups and procedures, x-rays, a root canal performed by an endodontist, a filling performed by a general dentist, cab rides between dentist’s offices, antibiotics and pain medications, a tip for the dental assistant who drove us across town and took us to the pharmacy, and the parking fee for our truck waiting for us on the American side of the border.
The grand total for my root canal plus all that other stuff was $281
Yuma is 23 miles north of the US/Mexican border, so it is very easy for RV travelers to get dental work done in Mexico at the San Luis border south of Yuma, AZ. Allow about 35 to 45 minutes to get to the border (it’s mostly highway).
There are loads of RV parks of every description in and around Yuma, and Yuma is a fun town to visit anyway. There are some pretty buildings in the Old Town neighborhood, a really funky burger/bar scene in town at Lutes Casino, and an interesting glimpse of how the Wild West used to be for the bad guys at the Territorial Prison.
For RVers who want to be a little closer to the border and don’t mind dry camping in their trailer or motorhome, Cocopah Casino is 16 miles from the border and has a paved parking area out back that is striped for RVs. As of January 2016 the cost to stay there was $10 for 3 nights. It was very busy when we were there in late January, and I imagine the place is quite packed through the winter season.
There are tons of RV park options in Yuma. At Cocopah Casino there is dry camping as well.
In Mexico’s border towns like San Luis, you can do all financial transactions in US dollars. Some businesses, like Liquis Farmacia (the pharmacy Dr. Avila’s assistant drove us to), will take a credit card, but in our experience most dentists and doctors prefer to be paid in cash (some don’t even have credit card machines in their offices).
If you want to get some Mexican pesos, there are money exchange shops on both sides of the border. But you certainly don’t need to.
There are money changing shops on both sides of the border, but US dollars work just fine. Take lots of $1 bills for cabs and tips.
Walking over the border is easy, and if you are finished in San Luis early in the day, the walk back over the border is easy too. There was no one in the pedestrian line going back into the US when we got there at 10 a.m.
Later in the day, the border crossing into the US gets much busier. Walking back over the border late in the afternoon can involve a long wait in line for pedestrians (and much much longer for cars). Riding our bikes, we never saw anyone in line at the Sentri Gate.
For us, in all our travels and dental office visits in Mexico over the past eight years, figuring out which dentists to go to has been a matter of talking to the locals and to fellow travelers and to ex-pats who live in the area.
We first heard of Dr. Bernal from RVers staying at the Escapees Kofa RV park in Yuma. Some places with lots of ex-pats have online forums where local dentists are discussed and referred, and that’s how we found two of our favorite dentists in southern Mexico.
Some quick tips:
You need a passport to return to the US from Mexico
Take lots of $1 bills for tips and cabs just in case you want or need to be driven around town
Change will not be made with American coins, just bills. Take a variety of bills to avoid making change in general.
Some dentists and doctors will take credit cards, but not all. We carried about $350 in cash.
Bigger pharmacies will take a credit card. Unlike most stores in the US, Liquis was set up for the new chip style credit cards!
To save on currency exchange fees, get a credit card from Capital One. They waive the standard 3% currency exchange fee
If you bike over the border, you can save a lot of time getting back into the US because no one uses the Sentri pass / bike gate
Make a day of it. Go to El Parianchi (10th St. and Obregon) for some awesome food and a truly authentic Mexican experience, especially on a busy Saturday
Here is a Google Maps link for the locations of things in San Luis, Mexico. In this map link, the locations are:
Dr. Sergio Bernal – showing as “Calle 1 115”
Liquis Pharmacy – showing as “Calle 1 7”
Dr. Horacio Avila – showing as “Madero 1307”
El Parianchi restaurant – showing as “El Parianchi” at 10th St. and the border road.
You can see the location of the town square “Plaza Benito Juarez” too.
Here are some of the dentists we have been to and that we would return to. One thing that can be confusing about Mexican names is that the Spanish convention is to give your mother’s maiden name as part of your own name, at the end. So, you state your name like this:
Dr. Sergio Bernal does general dentistry and is located about 1/2 block over the San Luis Arizona/Mexico border on the left hand side in an alcove marked with a large sculpture of a tooth under a sign, “Family Dental” on 1st Street (“Calle 1”) just north of Obregon as described in detail above in this article. Call him directly from the US by dialing this number: 011 52 653 534 6651
Address: First St. #118-9 San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Open Monday-Friday 9-5, Saturday 9-2, Sunday 9-11
Dr. Horacio Avila is an endodontist located at 13th Street (“Calle 13”) and Madero (address is 1305 Madero). He did a root canal for me in 2016 as described above in this article.
Dr. Aldo Velásquez works with his father Dr. Eduardo Velásquez at #53 Benito Juarez Street in downtown Loreto. In 2011 Dr. Aldo Velazquez filled a cavity in one of my teeth and checked Mark’s teeth for 450 pesos. At the exchange rate of the time, this was about $40. We went to his office because we passed it on the street while out walking and it appeared well kept and attractive. Later we found out that Aldo and his father are very highly regarded in town. I wrote about our experience in HERE at this link
In 2013 Dr. Oliverio Soberanis (#210-E 5 de Mayo Ave.) replaced several large fillings in my teeth and fixed some work that had been poorly done by an American dentist long ago. See some pics HERE at this link. I found him by reading an ex-pat forum for Zihuatanejo. He had brand new equipment with TV screens showing the work in progress. I had a cruising friend who is a retired dentist check his work afterwards, and he was very impressed that he took the time to polish the fillings, something many American dentists don’t do because it takes extra time.
In 2012 Dr. Francisco Hernandez (Sierra de Ixtlan, Edificio B Dept 101, Conjunto Residential Los Mangos) did 2 cleanings for us (550 pesos, or about $45, each) and 3 replacement fillings (450 pesos, or about $35, pesos each) for us as well. The cleanings were the most thorough we’ve ever had, taking about an hour each. He was gentle and very conscientious. We went to him because the dentist that had been recommended in an ex-pat forum was on vacation, and she had left a note on her door giving Dr. Hernandez’ name and address. Another cruising friend (whose boat appears at the top of all our blog posts from Huatulco had an excellent experience with getting some fillings replaced by Dr. Hernandez as well.
If you have been enjoying your RV down near the Mexican border this winter and have been on the fence about whether or not to get some dental work done south of the border, hopefully our stories and info here will help you decide to give it a try.
Typical Costs of Mexican Dentistry and Where It’s Cheapest
Mexico has lots of dentists and doctors practicing all over the country. After all, Mexico’s population is nearly 1/2 of America’s population, and all those people need medical and dental care, just like Americans do!
Because of the big difference in the cost of living between the two countries, Mexican dentists are well aware that their services are sought after by Americans because it’s cheap.
Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Mexicans Are The Cheapest
Most Mexican dentists set up practices in predominantly Mexican communities, and they charge prices their patients can afford. Their prices are typically 10% to 15% of the costs for identical dental procedures done in America.
San Luis is such a community, even though it is a border town. A few Americans cross the border to get dental work and medical procedures done in San Luis, but they are a smaller percentage of the dentists’ and doctors’ total patient base than in other locations.
In San Luis, Mark’s porcelain crown cost $130 US in 2008. At that time, in America, the cost for a porcelain crown was typically $1,000. My root canal in 2016 plus medications, cab fees and parking fees cost $281. At that time, in America, the cost of a root canal in a tooth that had a crown on it already was typically $2,000 or more.
Mexican Dentists Whose Practices Serve Primarily Americans Are More Expensive
In contrast, dentists that are located in places where Americans tend to congregate often establish their practices specifically to serve Americans. After all, they can make a lot more money that way than by serving Mexicans. This means that they have flashier office space, they have marketing geared towards Americans that is in English, both of which Americans appreciate, and they have higher prices.
Their services may not be any better than the Mexican dentists who focus on Mexican patients, but it will feel more like dentistry “back home” in America. They may require that you make an appointment in advance, they may accept a credit card for payment, and they may speak very fluent English.
The prices in these kinds of places are typically 40% to 50% of the costs of equivalent procedures in America.
One area that is extremely oriented towards Americans is Los Algodones near the border of Yuma, Arizona. Los Algodones is a tiny handful of tightly packed streets that are wall-to-wall dental and medical offices that serve an entirely American clientele. Few, if any, Mexicans go to these dentists and doctors for care. It is way too expensive for them.
Likewise, we found in our cruise along Mexico’s west coast that the dentists who operated in the more central and touristy parts of any town tended to have more American style facilities and higher prices.
In Ensenada, a cruise ship destination 70 miles south of San Diego, a dentist on the “front side” of town greeted us wearing scrubs (you rarely see that in more Mexican-oriented dental offices). He spoke perfect English and gave us a quote for a very American sounding price for a simple cleaning and a filling.
We decided to pass on his services. However, during our stay in Ensenada, we got to know the affluent looking owner of an ice cream shop in town and asked him for a recommendation for a dentist. He sent us to a totally different part of town where a very skilled dentist in a much simpler office took care of us at the typical 10% to 15% of American prices that “Mexican dentists for Mexicans” charge.
So, when looking for a dentist in Mexico, keep in mind that dentists whose patients are primarily American will charge you prices that are much higher than dentists whose patients are primarily Mexican. Whether the actual dental care they provide is any different is truly debatable. It’s just more expensive and feels more familiar because of the outer trappings of the office space itself and the way they run their business.
Crossing the border on foot forced us to rely on taxis to get to the more distant locations on the other side, so after our first visit, we decided for future trips it would be a whole lot easier and more interesting to ride our bikes over the border instead. We simply parked our new truck on the American side for the day, unloaded the bikes, and walked them across.
Once on the other side we could get around town quickly and easily.
We found riding our bikes around San Luis was much more fun and made the border crossing back to the US easier.
And that’s when we really started to have some fun too.
Mexico is a vibrant country with really exuberant, fun-loving people. Everybody is outgoing and friendly and warm, and we have always found it really enjoyable to chat with people on the street, whether in our halting Spanish or in their typically very good English.
The town square/park named for Benito Juarez has a small band stand.
We really enjoyed seeing San Luis beyond the dentist’s office. There’s plenty of security too — we saw police riding around on Segways (how fun!). They very kindly came over to offer assistance when we looked a little lost at one point.
Now there’s a great way to get around town!
There are lots of places to eat, and if you find yourself in town waiting between dentist or doctor visits and need a bite, there is a Subway that makes sandwiches exactly the way we’re all accustomed to. The only difference is the menu is in Spanish. But don’t worry, the workers will take your order in English — and if they struggle, sign language and pointing at what you want always helps.
Subway has a shop in town, and the only difference we found was the Spanish words on the menu. Pointing and smiling works fine if you can’t make out the Spanish words.
If you have a little more time, check out El Parianchi, a fabulous restaurant that is the Real Deal for Mexican food, Mexican flair and Mexican fun. We LOVED it there.
We found El Parianchi one day when we were looking for the other top restaurant in town, El Herradero where we had enjoyed some chips and salsa and beer on an earlier visit. We were a little lost, though, and we found ourselves in front of El Parianchi instead. When we asked the parking lot attendant, Fernando, for directions to El Herradero, he talked us into staying at El Parianchi, because the food there was truly delicious.
“I’ll put your bikes in here,” he said, pointing to a locked shed in the back of the restaurant. “They’ll be safe.” Deal! We rolled them in between the rakes and shovels and barrels, and went on in.
We had been noticing that we were the only gringos in the whole town. And now we were very definitely the only gringos in this restaurant. We were also the only people dressed in cycling clothes.
Talk about standing out!
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the place was hopping. Waiters rushed here and there, grabbing extra tables and chairs for people, and the food was flying out of the kitchen at a wild rate.
The servers were hustling at El Parianchi on Saturday afternoon!
Two big parties — what looked like a baptism party and an engagement party — were in full swing at long tables on either side of the restaurant, and a Mariachi harp player was singing and strumming his heart out in a corner.
People were laughing and eating and have a grand time while the waiters ran at top speed from one end of the room to the other.
Gringos in cycling jerseys. Sure…we blend right in!
We were seated to one side, and in an instant, a waiter was at our table welcoming us.
We both ordered Corona with a lime, and Mark got a bottled water and I ordered a Jamaica water as well. Jamaica water is an absolutely delicious drink make of hibiscus flowers that has a tartness like cranberry juice (and is about that color) but is much sweeter. Jamaica is pronounced “Hamikah” with a long “i” (even though it doesn’t look like it), and it is a refreshing drink I enjoyed repeatedly throughout our Mexico cruise.
The drinks arrived along with tortilla chips and a bean dip that was to die for. If only I could make beans like that!
Suddenly the harp Mariachi player appeared at our table. Mark handed him a few dollars and asked for a song.
A harp playing Mariachi sang some songs for us — what total fun!!!
“What song do you want?” the harpist asked.
After racking our brains to remember the name of a Mexican folk song, we came up with “Alla En El Rancho Grande!”
He proceeded to play a great rendition of it. I don’t have a video of him singing, but I do have a special video of another Mariachi singing this exact same song for us when we were in Huatulco Mexico at a little beach bar in the sand. Our sailboat Groovy was anchored just out of sight.
When he finished the song, the folks at the tables around us clapped. He wanted to sing a second song for us, so we asked for Mariachi Loco. This is a really cute song we first heard on a day charter catamaran called Picante that used to circle past our boat at anchor in Zihuatanejo.
We were having so much fun in this restaurant, we hadn’t even looked at the menu yet!
Suddenly, the manager, Jose, came over and asked if we were having any trouble understanding the menu. We told him we wanted a beef and bean burrito, and he recommended one of the “percherones.” We’d never had one before, but the “Sonorense” was absolutely scrumptious. It was so good, in fact, that we came back another day just to sample it again!!
For a genuine Mexican culinary experience, check out El Parianchi on 10th Street and the street along the US/Mexico border by the international boundary wall.
When the bill came, it was $17.73 US including our 20% tip — and we had plowed through four beers, a bottle of water, my Jamaica water, our chips and bean dip plus the huge percheron burrito we had split.
We got up to go, rubbing our aching tummies, and suddenly a waiter was carrying over two huge sombreros for us.
We put them on and cracked up.
The harp player placed his harp in front of us, and Jose took pics of us while everyone at the big party at the long table clapped and laughed. How fun!
Then someone handed Mark a guitar and he strummed a few chords.
What a total blast this was!
Mark finds a guitar in his hands and a sombrero on his head!!
We left to a chorus of cheers and found Fernando waiting in the parking lot. He unlocked the shed door and helped us disentangle our bikes from the rakes and shovels and buckets inside. We tipped him a dollar for his efforts.
Rolling back to the border on our bikes, we passed dozens and dozens of cars lined up to cross into the US. By now the pedestrian line was really long too.
In San Luis, bicycles go through the Sentri Pass gate (a special gate for people who cross the US border on a regular basis). This was awesome because there was never anyone in line at that gate!!
What a fabulous day… and no line for bikes at the border!
Our smiles went from ear to ear when we settled back in our little buggy after a great day in Mexico.
Note: We returned to San Luis to see Dr. Bernal and Dr. Avila for more dental work a year later in October 2016. Read the blog post here:
No matter how big an RV you get, if you live in it long enough, eventually you will begin to fill it up with stuff. This has happened to us and our 36′ fifth wheel trailer. When it was new and we first moved in years ago, it was so big that half our cabinets were empty.
Our old dining area – no storage and seating for two.
We began storing lenses in a drawer with dish towels (soft padding) and we had four camera bags that lived on our desk and under our dining room table. Camera bodies were always strewn across the sofa, fanny packs got piled on the desk, and tripods often got stuck on top of the subwoofer under our TV. Tucking everything away for safe passage while driving was a real pain. We needed to get this stuff organized!
Our new dining area – lots of storage and seating for four.
We began researching storage benches and ottomans and found the perfect thing from Simpli Home Furnishings. They are made of a nice faux leather, and there are no decorative buttons on the top, so the plush, padded top is very comfortable for sitting on (here’s more info).
These storage ottomans are 36″ wide by 18″ tall and 18″ deep.
The outside dimensions are 36′ long by 18″ high by 18″ deep. The inside dimensions are 33.25″ long by 11.5″ high by 15.5″ deep.
Our new storage ottomans have voluminous interior space.
We bought them sight unseen from Amazon and couldn’t be happier. They come with four short legs, with three screws each, which were easy to attach.
The only assembly is attaching the four legs.
Some customers have complained that the screws are too long and coming up through the floor of the box, but the legs simply need to be oriented correctly with the three screw holes aligned with the outside edges of the ottoman.
Be sure to align the screw holes with the outer edges of the ottoman.
The legs were attached in just a few minutes using our cordless drill.
A cordless drill makes this a quick job!
The end result is much more comfortable seating at our table and a whole bunch more storage space for our camera gear.
The tricky thing about storage space in an RV is that anything located behind the coach’s rear wheels is going to bounce around a whole lot as you drive down the road. That’s why most RVs don’t have the kitchen in the rear.
Our new storage ottomans sit just slightly forward of the trailer’s axles.
The box tops easily clear the table when they open.
Another tricky thing with storage space in an RV is that in many coaches, like ours, the shelving is very flimsy. We prefer not to put anything heavy into the wall cabinets (except in the kitchen where our cabinets are more sturdily built). But it doesn’t take long to run out of storage space down near the floor.
This new storage space is solid.
A few throw pillows makes these pretty darn comfortable for lounging!
We put some throw pillows on our new benches and now we’ve got not only a great place to keep our camera gear organized and a nice, new, clean look to our dining area, but we can kick back after a meal, prop our legs up on the benches and chit chat for a while. It’s fun to sit there together and get a new perspective on our little rolling home and on life!
We never used to hang out after meals on our old chairs… but this is fun!
Winter RVing is loads of fun, but figuring out how to stay warm in an RV on those chilly winter mornings and long cold dark evenings makes all the difference between having a great time and wishing you were in a house. Going to a southern state is a good start, but it may not always fit with your overall full-time RVing itinerary. You might get caught in an early winter storm, like we did in one year in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Or you might get whipped by a blizzard on your way south, as has happened to some of our snowbirding friends who wanted to celebrate the holidays at home in Montana before trekking south to Arizona in January.
Here are some tips for ways we’ve found to stay warm in our RV in winter…
Brrr…How do you stay warm inside of this??
WINTER RV TIP #1 – STAY IN BED UNDER THE COVERS TIL SPRING!
One winter RVing tip is to go to bed and stay in bed until the spring wildflowers begin to bloom. Our two little RV companions, Chrissy the cockatoo and Weazie the ferret (named for former beloved pets) seem to have decided to go that route this year.
One solution – jump under the covers and stay there until Spring!!
WINTER RV TIP #2 – GET AN EFFICIENT SPACE HEATER!
A better option is to get a good and efficient heater. The factory installed propane furnaces that come with most RVs is very inefficient. The blower uses a lot of electricity. What’s worse, the heater goes through a lot of propane, because much of the hot air is exhausted outside the RV (just go outside on a cold day and put your hands by the RV furnace vent — they’ll be warm in a jiffy!).
If you will be plugging into electric hookups a lot, and staying for just a few days at a time in most of the places you travel to (with no metering on the electricity and unlimited power built into the overnight camping fee), then it makes sense to get a really great electric space heater.
WINTER RV TIP #3 – INSTALL A VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATER!
We have been using ours since Mark installed it in 2008, both during the winter and the summer, and we love it. We have a whole blog post explaining how this kind of heater works, what the technologies are behind the different styles of vent-free propane heaters on the market, what kind of heat each type of heater produces, and how to install one here:
We have used this heater from sea level to 10,000′ altitude year round, and we share some tips for heating strategies we’ve used when we’ve camped on a lofty mountaintop as temps plummeted and a snowstorm rolled in:
WINTER RV TIP #4 – GET A PORTABLE VENT-FREE PROPANE HEATER!
A portable vent-free propane heater is an easy way to go.
If you love the idea of using an efficient propane heater that doesn’t use any electricity, but you’re not keen on doing a permanent installation, another great option is to get a portable propane heater.
WINTER RV TIP #5 – INSTALL A VENT-FREE PROPANE FIREPLACE!
How about a vent-free propane FIREPLACE?!!
On the other hand, if you are outfitting the RV of your dreams for a life of full-time RV travel or of winter snowbirding RV adventures, then you might consider installing a vent-free propane fireplace that is built into an elegant mantel. These heaters give off the same incredible heat as the more industrial looking vent-free propane heaters, but they have the cozy and inviting appearance of a fireplace and produce a beautiful (and mesmerizing) flame. What a great addition to an RV!!
WINTER RV TIP #6 – SHRINK-WRAP YOUR RV SCREEN DOOR!
One of the easiest ways to winterize an RV is to shrink-wrap the screen door. By covering the screen door with a thin layer of plastic, you can keep the big RV door open all day long, close the screen door, and let the sunshine fill your rig with light and warmth. It is really surprising that just a thin layer of plastic on the door is all it takes to keep the cold air out and let the warm air in (if you aren’t in sub-freezing temps!!).
Shrink-wrapping our RV screen door keeps the cold air out and lets the sun shine in!
We learned this trick from our RVing mentors, Bob and Donna Lea, in our first winter of RVing back in 2007-08. The beauty is that the installation of the shrink-wrap is less than a one hour job, and you can remove it in the springtime in just a few minutes.
Window shrink-film kit
We love having shrink-wrap on our screen door so much that we’ve gone through quite a few summers without removing it. Up in the mountains, it can be chilly in the summertime, with a brisk breeze blowing into the rig in the mornings, so the shrink-wrap can work its magic there too, and it also keeps the dust out.
This year, however, we took the shrink-wrap off our screen door when we got into the heat and humidity of the northeastern states in August, so we had to reinstall it just a few weeks ago.
All the tools we used to shrink-wrap our screen door.
The window shrink film kit comes with double-sided tape, and all you have to do is outline the door with the tape, remove the backing, press the plastic onto the tape, trim off the excess and then heat it up with a hair dryer to make the plastic taught. It is best to clean the frame of the door with alcohol or film remover first so the tape adheres well.
Press the double-sided tape along the frame of the door, going around the plastic sliding insert by the door handle.
Go around the little slider opening for the door handle, because you need to be able to slide this open and closed (the shrink-wrap is covering only the screened parts of the door!). Then peel the backing off the tape all the way around the door.
Remove the backing from the tape.
Press the plastic onto the sticky tape around the door frame.
Hang the shrink wrap around the door frame.
Then use a razor blade to trim off the excess all the way around the door. Get the plastic as taught as you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect, though, because all the wrinkles will be taken care of in the next step.
Use a razor blade or box cutters to trim off the excess plastic.
Using the hair dryer on the high setting, wave it gently back and forth over the edges of the door. The plastic will miraculously shrink up and become taught.
Use a hair dryer on the high setting to shrink up the plastic along the door frame.
Once you’ve gone around the frame of the door, wave the hair dryer across the middle to tighten that up too. Keep the hair dryer moving so it doesn’t melt the plastic in one spot.
Keep the hair dryer moving and wave it across the plastic to tighten it up.
If it’s cold out, you can always give yourself a blow dry too!
Once it is done, open the outer RV door open and close the screen door. The warm sun will pour in, but the cool breezes will stay outside!
Morning sunshine fills our kitchen
Note: Since publishing this post, we have refined our shrink-wrap system even further. We have found that it is easy to make this into a Dual Pane system but adding a second layer of shrink-wrap film on the INSIDE of the RV door. What a world of difference this second layer makes!!
WINTER RV TIP #7 – ORIENT THE RV WINDOWS (and DOOR) TOWARDS THE SUN
Every RV floorplan is different, with the largest windows and the door placed in various locations, depending on how long it is and whether it’s a trailer or a motorhome. Take a look at where your biggest windows are, and try to orient the rig so those windows are in the sun for most of the day.
Our biggest windows are in a big slideout on the curb side (passenger side) of the trailer and also in the rear of the coach. So, in the wintertime we are best off orienting our rig with the truck headed northeast. This places our biggest windows towards the southeast and southwest.
In the summertime, the opposite is true as we try to avoid having our windows facing the sun. Our best orientation in the summertime is for the truck to be headed northwest. This way, although we get blasted with some sun in the morning, our biggest windows are blissfully shaded during the long hours of blazing hot sun as it shines from the south and sets in the northwest.
This does place our RV refrigerator in direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day in the summer, but we’ve never had trouble keeping our food cold with the fridge on the highest setting during those hot months (of course, our fridge died recently, but we discovered that that was to be expected because of its age!).
For our rig, it’s best to orient the truck to the northwest in summer and the northeast in winter.
Note that the sun doesn’t travel the same arc in the sky in the summer months as it does in the winter, as shown by the orange arrows in the graphic above.
In the dead of summer, the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. During the day it is high in the sky, almost directly overhead. In mid-winter, the sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest, traversing a very low arc in the sky. At its highest, the sun is only halfway up the sky. These low angles are advantageous for keeping an RV warm in winter, however, as the sun shines directly in the windows into the center of the coach.
WINTER RV TIP #8 – INSULATE THE HATCH VENTS
The RV roof may have some fabulously high R-rating that the manufacturer proudly touted when you bought it, but that applies only to the parts of the roof that are solid. Most RV vent hatch covers are thin pieces of plastic, and they don’t have much of an R-factor at all.
You can give the vent hatch covers a hand by using a hatch vent insulator. These have reflective insulation on one side to make them even more effective.
Another option is to cut styrofoam to the exact dimensions of the hatches. When we bought our fifth wheel trailer from the manufacturer NuWa Industries, we asked them to cut four pieces of the Blue Dow insulating styrofoam that they used in the walls to the exact dimensions of our four roof hatches.
The great thing about having insulation on the hatches is that they work both summer and winter. We often use ours in the summertime when we leave the rig for the daytime hours.
Another helpful benefit is that they block out all light. So, if you are parked under a bright light or there is a full moon that wakes you up as it shines right in your eyes, you can block out the light with an insulator in the bedroom hatch.
We use Blue Dow foam from the fifth wheel walls cut to the dimension of our hatches
You can minimize the condensation build-up by running the RV furnace for a while to blow out the moist air. You can also open a window a crack, or open the RV door for a bit.
Absorber towels sop up moisture with ease.
The fastest way to deal with the condensation is simply to wipe it off with an Absorber towel. As the name implies, these towels are incredibly absorbant. They are most effective when they are damp, so they come with a little plastic container that will keep them damp for months.
Simply wipe the window and then wring out the towel. And repeat. Once the window is dry, give it a final swipe with a soft microfiber towel. This gets rid of any streaks.
To make your life easier during the winter condensation season, remove the window screens and put them in a closet. This way, you aren’t fighting with the screens every time you wipe down the insides of the windows.
How much do we love our Absorber towels? We have two — blue for him and red for me!
WINTER RV TIP #10 – INSULATE THE WINDOWS AT NIGHT
Like the big roof insulation R-factor that doesn’t account for the hatch vents, the well advertised high R-factor in the walls doesn’t account for the windows, which is where much of the heat in a rig escapes, especially at night. Closing the blinds makes a difference. When we’re in a remote area with no one around, we prefer to keep the blinds open so the first light of morning fills the rig. But we can’t do this in the wintertime unless we want to wake up to a rig that is 5 degrees cooler than it could be.
Likewise, on the worst of the cold winter nights, covering the windows with Reflectix insulation makes a big difference. This aluminum foil insulation comes in a big roll, and you can cut it to the exact dimensions of each window. Just use a marker to write on each one which window it’s for.
To put one of these window insulators in place, simply hold it against the glass and then lower the blinds over it. In the case of our biggest one in the back of the rig, we rest the bottom of it on a spare pillow so it doesn’t slip down.
The window-sized piece of Reflectix Insulation is held in place by the window shade.
We keep all of them rolled up together in a closet and use them both summer and winter. In the summertime, they help immensely with keeping the heat out during the day.
WINTER RV TIP #11 – USE THE OVEN
One of our favorite ways of warming up the inside of our buggy is by baking. Mark is the Resident Baker in our household, and there is nothing like a batch of yummy muffins or a fresh loaf of banana bread coming out of the oven to warm us up inside and out!
On a brisk morning, there’s nothing like a fresh loaf of banana bread coming out of the oven!
After the baking is done and the oven is off, we keep the oven door open for a while so we can enjoy the residual warmth as it cools down. By the way, we recently discovered Chiquita banana bread mix, which is absolutely delicious and tastes just like a loaf made from scratch. It requires two bananas, and lately Mark has been adding raisins to it too.
On a cold afternoon, we’ll bake something in the oven for dinner. The longer it takes, the warmer the buggy will get during the baking process! Anything from frozen pot pies or lasagna to a whole chicken does the trick nicely.
WINTER RV TIP #12 – DO SOME EXERCISES
As soon as we wake up in the morning, we do some modest exercises. We might be shivering when we first turn on the vent-free heater, but a quickie round of 25 sit-ups and pushups always gets the blood flowing, and by the time we get in a few rounds with the hand weights, we’re sweating and turning the heater off!
This is also a great way to work off those extra calories from the tasty muffins, sweet breads and pies that keep coming out of our oven!
One way to take the chill off — do a set of sit-ups. Still cold? Roll over and do a set of push-ups!
WINTER RV TIP #13 – PLAY THE FIREPLACE DVD
This may sound a little goofy, but a video of a fire burning in a fireplace is really fun and makes the rig cozy. The video simply shows logs in a fireplace burning down to embers, accompanied by the crackling sound a fire makes. It is surprisingly realistic, and quite funky. The crazy thing is that whenever we play it, the person sitting in the recliner closest to the TV always feels a little warm on the side by the fire!
WINTER RV TIP #14 – INSULATE THE HOT WATER HEATER and HOT WATER PIPES
To conserve propane, we always heat the water just once a day, right before we take our showers. After we’re done, we have warm water for dishes, etc. By insulating the hot water heater, the water stays warmer longer. We also put insulating pipe foam on the hot water pipes that run from the heater to the shower and the vanity and kitchen sinks.
Taking a shower in an RV in the winter can be a numbing experience if temps got to freezing the night before, no matter how hot the water is in the hot water heater, because the cold water has to run through the pipes before the hot water reaches you in the shower.
If we are conserving water, we’ll bring a small cooking pot into the shower and run the cold water into it. Then we’ll warm that water up on the stove later for dishes or whatever. Even though it’s less than a quart of water, this way it’s not wasted on our bodies as we hop around in the shower shouting expletives and soaping up our goose bumps!
For more tips on heating an RV, see these articles:
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Ten days ago, after a fabulous two weeks in Maysville, Kentucky, and a long day of driving, we set up camp, grabbed a beer, and kicked back to enjoy a cold one. But to our dismay, the beer was kinda warm. We ratcheted the RV refrigerator up a notch and went about our business. After dinner and a movie in our RV, we decided to have a bowl of ice cream. When Mark lifted the lid on the Haagen Dazs, what he found inside could only be described as cool chocolate soup.
Oh no! Our 8 year old RV refrigerator had died.
Do something quick! We’re going to lose everything in the fridge and freezer!!
As the clock neared midnight, we began a frantic search for RV repair shops in the area. We put together a list of them, went to bed quite distressed, and first thing the next morning we started making phone calls. Mark threw bags of ice in the fridge and freezer and we didn’t dare open either door after that. We lamented sadly that all our frozen meats — all those nice burgers and steaks, and even our bacon, darn it — were quickly defrosting.
After about 15 phone calls, we were still nowhere. Everyone told us it would be a two week wait to get a fridge and that it would probably cost upwards of $1,500. Finally, we called Camping World just south of Indianapolis. They had an identical unit in stock and they could squeeze us in for service the next morning. They told us they always try to make an extra effort for desperate travelers passing through.
Well, we weren’t exactly passing through. We were in Kentucky driving west towards Tennessee, and they were 150 miles to the north in the totally wrong direction. But what can you do? We were absolutely thrilled to find an RV repair facility that had an RV refrigerator in stock and could install it quickly, so a 150 mile detour was not a problem!
It looked like this RV warranty repair would not only bring our total reimbursements to the point of covering the original cost of the RV extended warranty but would go well beyond that.
18 hours after we’d discovered our fridge was dead, Camping World service manager Rick Helvey was in our trailer examining its hulking carcass. He told us that propane RV refrigerators typically last only 10 years.
It was no surprise to him that our 8 year old unit had kicked the bucket. He opened the fridge vent on the outside of the trailer and showed us the telltale signs of a dying RV refrigerator: greenish or yellowish dust.
The presence of this dust meant the ammonia was leaking out and the cooling unit had given up the ghost. The crazy thing is that the price of a cooling unit is nearly the same as the price of a new RV refrigerator — Not Cheap!
Yellowish dust in the fridge vent area is proof positive that the fridge is dying.
Here is a closer look at the greenish – yellowish dust.
He called our warranty provider, Portfolio Protection, to get approval to proceed with the repair the next morning. To his astonishment (and ours), they said they wouldn’t reimburse us for a replacement refrigerator. They would reimburse us only for the replacement of the cooling unit to save themselves a little money. Here’s the breakdown:
Install New RV Refrigerator
Replace Cooling Unit Only
DIFFERENCE IN OVERALL COST: $175.56
This was a problem — for us and for Camping World!!
If we got our refrigerator replaced, we would be in and out of Camping World in 3 hours the next morning and they could go back to business as usual with their local customers. If we had to have the cooling unit replaced, we would have to wait a week or two for the part to come in and Camping World would have to reshuffle their appointments the next morning, once again, because our appointment was already on the books. We had all assumed the approval of a replacement refrigerator would be a slam-dunk.
Our new refrigerator is ready and waiting — all we need is approval to install it!
What to do?
Well, here’s one reason we are becoming more and more enamored of our RV extended warranty through Wholesale Warranties. Unlike most warranty brokers who wash their hands of the deal once you’ve purchased the contract and signed on the dotted line, they are willing to go to bat for you if the warranty reimbursement process isn’t going as smoothly as it should.
We called Wholesale Warranties and told them what was going on. The difference in cost between repairing and replacing was not astronomical. Couldn’t the warranty company allow us to go ahead with the refrigerator replacement?
Within an hour they had called our warranty company, Portfolio Protection, explained to them why it made more sense for everyone involved to install the new fridge Camping World had in stock and, magically, our refrigerator replacement had been approved. We were floored that Wholesale Warranties would do this and that they could be such effective facilitators. Yet it turns out that making these calls is business-as-usual and is routine customer support for them.
Early the next morning we parked the fifth wheel in front of Camping World, and service technician Raymond and his assistant José got started on it right away. Unfortunately, our old refrigerator was 1/4″ too wide and could not fit through our front door. RV refrigerators are installed at the factory before the doors and windows are in place!
Good heavens, the old fridge can’t go out the front door!
So, the dining room window had to come out!
The dining room window has to be removed so the refrigerators can be hoisted in and out.
It would have been so much easier if the refrigerators could have gone through the door!
The new fridge is ready for some strong person to pick it up!
A forklift was used to remove the old fridge and hoist up the new one. It was at this point that I realized just what a challenging DIY project this would have been for Mark!
Thank goodness for fork lifts! This is not an easy DIY installation for one guy!
Then the new RV refrigerator was put in place.
Raymond settles the new refrigerator into place.
The pretty oak panels from our old refrigerator were slipped into place on the new door.
Our oak panels from the old fridge slide neatly into place.
Then Raymond ran around back to hook everything up in the refrigerator vent.
The back of the new fridge is exposed in the vent area where Raymond hooks it all up.
Meanwhile, his assistant José removed the silicone remnants from the wall around the window opening using a scraper and wiping the wall down with Acrysol
José scrapes the old silicone sealant off the outside wall around the window opening.
The wall has to be completely clean for a good seal on the window.
Raymond lifted the window into place, and he and José screwed it in place.
Raymond puts the window back in place.
The guys work together to get the window screwed into place.
Then they remounted the window valence and reinstalled the day-night shades.
The window valences are reinstalled over the windows.
The day-night shades are reinstalled on both windows.
Raymond gave us instructions not to put a bead of silicone around the window frame for about a week because he had used caulk tape that would ooze a little for the next few days.
We were impressed with how quickly these guys worked and got the job done, and we were really grateful to Rick for making an opening for us. In just 36 hours from the time we had soup for ice cream, we had a brand new RV refrigerator up and running. Now we just had to wait for it to cool down (about 9 hours).
In the meantime, our frozen meats had fully defrosted but were still cold. We couldn’t re-freeze any of them when the refrigerator finally cooled down. Arghhh!
As we hitched up the fifth wheel, I noticed Mark had a twinkle in his eye as he drove it around to the back lot. He hopped out and instantly set up the barbecue, right there in the Camping World parking lot. He happily began grilling burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and brats.
“We can’t let all this good meat go to waste!” He said to me as he handed me the bacon and sent me inside to fry it up.
It turned out he’d invited the service guys to come on over to our place for a barbecue lunch, and when the yummy smells from our grill began to waft across the Camping World parking lot, they quickly showed up in a golf cart and began chowing down.
The Camping World service team stops by for an impromptu barbecue. Thank you guys for a super job!
At last it was time to settle up the bill with the service manager, Rick. Our RV warranty deductible was $100. Indiana charges sales tax on deductibles, so our total out of pocket cost for this phenomenal repair was only $107. Wow!!
Our RV warranty (less our $107 deductible + tax) covered $1,647 on this one repair alone — that is nearly the cost of the entire four year RV extended warranty itself!
Shockingly, this RV refrigerator replacement was just one of a slew of major repairs our trailer needed in a four month period in 2015:
Here's a summary of what our four year RV warranty through Wholesale Warranties cost, what our repairs WOULD HAVE cost, and what our warranty reimbursements have been to date:
Are we happy with our extended trailer warranty? OMG Yes!!
Having suffered four major repairs in four months, we have come to the conclusion that anyone with an RV older than four or five years should seriously consider getting an RV extended warranty, especially if they don’t like unexpected financial surprises.
What a shock it was to find out that RV refrigerators are expected to fail by their tenth year of service. All you need is that one repair plus another one or two (air conditioner, water heater, furnace, slide-out mechanism, hydraulic leveling system, etc.) to cover the cost of a four year warranty and even wind up ahead.
Do I sound enthusiastic and excited about our trailer warranty? I am!! I was hugely skeptical about RV warranties before our trailer axle and RV refrigerator replacements, and all I can say is that this has been an amazing process!!
If you want to find out what a warranty would cost for your rig, Wholesale Warrantiesis offering a $50 discount to our readers. Call our contact, Missi Emmett at (800) 939-2806 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or go to this link:
If propane RV refrigerators are so prone to failure, why don’t we have a residential refrigerator? — It takes a huge solar panel array and big (heavy) battery bank to power a residential refrigerator along with everything else in an RV. See the following:
Taking an RV into Canada to explore the Canadian Rockies or the Atlantic Maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is very easy, but there are a few fun and funky things we thought fellow RVers would appreciate knowing about.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR RVers THAT ARE PLANNING A TRIP TO CANADA:
For starters, you need a passport to cross the border into Canada. The border agent in the booth at the Calais border crossing in downeast Maine asked us a bunch of questions about where we were going and how long we’d be staying. He did not look inside our trailer. It was very easy. Likewise, crossing the border north of Eureka, Montana, at Roosville, British Columbia was a quick affair, and our trailer was not checked.
Coming back over the border the US border in Calais, Maine, the agent wanted to check our fridge for fruits and veggies. The only thing in our veggie drawer was a peach, and he took it. Crossing into the US at Chief Mountain, Montana, the border agent took the keys to our trailer and opened it up and inspected it himself (we offered to get out of the truck and accompany him, but he refused). This time we had no fruits or veggies in the fridge, and nothing was confiscated. Checking things over later, we assume he also looked in the basement compartment of our fifth wheel trailer, as we found it was unlocked when we arrived where we were going, and we’re sure we’d locked it when we’d packed up to leave Canada.
Credit and Debit Cards
To avoid having our cards declined at stores in Canada, we called our credit card companies and banks before we crossed the border to let them know we’d be traveling in Canada.
Because every transaction on a credit card or debit card involves exchanging money between Canadian dollars and US dollars, most credit cards and banks charge a 3% fee for making the exchange, no matter where you use the card (i.e., at an ATM or restaurant or gift shop). This 3% charge on every transaction quickly adds up!
Some credit card companies and banks list the 3% fee as line item on their statement. Others may not.
If you will be spending a long time in Canada, or plan to do many repeat visits, consider getting a credit card and checking account with Capital One. They do not charge a currency exchange fee on their credit and debit cards.
On each visit to Canada, we were in Canada for three to six weeks and we used only $20-$50 in cash (to do laundry). If you need cash, you can get it without paying an ATM fee by asking for cash over on a small debit card purchase at a big supermarket like the popular supermarket chain Sobeys.
We also had clerks in tiny mom-and-pop stores change a US $20 bill for us so we could either make a purchase from them or could get some coins to finish drying our laundry next door.
By the way, $1 coins are called “Loonies” for the cute loon on the back of the coin and $2 coins are “Toonies” to rhyme with Loonies.
Data / Phone Plans
Verizon MiFi Jetpack shows “GSM” for Global Service in Canada.
Contact your cell phone provider and mobile internet data provider to see what happens when you take their phone or internet device into Canada. Technology is changing rapidly, and these companies are modifying their plans all the time.
If you don’t like the company’s plans and restrictions for taking your devices to Canada for some reason, you may be able to suspend the account for a period of time and reinstate it once you get back. Find out if there is a disconnect or reconnect fee for doing this.
It also may be possible to swap out the SIM card in a smartphone for one from a Canadian carrier, but from what we saw, it is brand and model dependent. Some can and some can’t. Canada has a lot of cell phone providers.
Internet Access via WiFi
There is ample free and open (no password) internet access in both the Canadian Rockies and Nova Scotia via WiFi at town halls, visitors centers, big box stores like Walmart, restaurants and coffee shops.
Unlike the US where almost all WiFi signals are password protected, there is usually a free signal available in the more populated areas. However, they aren’t always all that fast and, of course, they aren’t secure.
The following links give the current currency conversion between US and Canadian dollars:
If you see a great sale on something because the price is low and the conversion math in your head makes it seem like a steal, don’t forget that there is a much larger sales tax than in most American states.
During our visits, the sales tax in New Brunswick was 13%, the sales tax in Nova Scotia was 15% and the sales tax in British Columbia was 12%. Alcohol is taxed a little extra and other goods are taxed a little less.
Comparative Cost of Groceries and Beer
We found that groceries were just slightly more expensive than the eastern states and New England where we had been traveling prior to visiting Nova Scotia. Groceries were perhaps 5% to 10% higher for identical items. The same proved true in the Canadian Rockies as compared to Idaho and Montana.
Beer and cigarettes are heavily taxed, and we found the typical cost of a six pack of darker beer was around US $10-$12.
In the National Parks in the Canadian Rockies, everything is priced a little higher simply because these are heavily visited tourist destinations.
For lovers of dark ales, porters and stouts, the selection in Nova Scotia is almost non-existent. After trying every “dark” ale we could find, and discovering that they were all just a shade darker than Bud Light, we discovered a wonderful brew called Propeller Porter.
We really liked Propeller Porter.
In the Canadian Rockies we had much better luck with finding good darker microbrew beers.
Parks Canada Discovery Pass
Parks Canada (similar to the National Park Service in America) offers various ways to pay the entrance fees at the national parks. There are day rates but there is also an annual pass called the Discovery Pass.
The easiest way to get the Discovery Pass is when you arrive at the entrance gate to a National Park. The fee when we got ours in 2016 was C$136.40 per couple/family group.
Because Canada is celebrating its 150th year of confederation in 2017, all the National Parks entrance fees will be waived in 2017. So, the ranger happily informed us that our 2016 pass would be effective for two years, which is another way of looking at it.
The first time you do a Google search in Canada, you may be surprised to see that rather than www.google.com you end up on www.google.ca. The search results are quite different, because the search is done primarily on Canadian websites.
This is a wonderful chance to see how cyberspace looks from another vantage point, and we truly enjoyed browsing the internet with a Canadian slant.
However, if you get lonely for the Google that you know, simply enter the following:
The “/ncr” will go away the next time you visit Google.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are in the Atlantic Time Zone which is one hour earlier than Eastern Standard Time, so you will need to set your clocks forward when you cross the border.
We have atomic clocks in our RV that beam up to satellites every so often to get the current time of day according to the time zone they think they are in (we tell them what time zone they are in via buttons on the back of the clock).
Unfortunately, these are American clocks that don’t have a setting for Atlantic Time. So, we spent three weeks in Nova Scotia not really knowing the correct time. The manual override on the bedroom clock worked okay, but the living room clock insisted on beaming up despite being set on manual, and unfortunately the satellite it got its time from was four hours off.
Oh well! The computers had the right time, and who really cared what time it was anyway?
There are lots of great boutique stores and wondrous shopping experiences to be found in the Canadian Maritimes, and Walmart and all the other big box stores have a strong presence in urban parts of New Brunswick (less so in Nova Scotia). One incredible store that is well worth a visit is Canadian Tire. It is a combination of Walmart, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and Target all rolled into one. They also sell tires.
Nova Scotia was having a cool summer during our visit in June and July, but more important than that was the variability of the weather. In general, we found the coast could often be foggy or rainy, so we tried to make hay when the sun was shining.
We visited the Canadian Rockies ahead of the main tourist season in May. We saw high temps ranging from as low as the 40’s to as high as the 80’s (Fahrenheit). We saw low temps get as low as the 20’s. We saw beautiful sunny days, snow, sleet and rain. Be prepared for anything and everything!
Later in the season, the Canadian Rockies is much warmer, but can still throw a cold day at your. The trade-off is that the number of tourists sky rockets.
DECIPHERING THE ROAD SIGNS IN NOVA SCOTIA
Striking off on the highway in New Brunswick was ordinary enough until we noticed some of the highway signs flying by. Canada’s official languages are both English and French, so the road signs are written in both languages. What a cool truck scale sign!
We’d never seen a truck scale sign like this before!
Then we were reminded that Canada uses the metric system for all units of measurement, including speed.
WOW!! Oh, wait, that’s kilometers per hour. Darn!
This includes not just kilometers per hour for speed but Celsius for temperature too.
Bridge may be icy
Including both English and French words on a small sign can get crowded, so lots of the highway signs in Canada use creative imagery instead. It was really fun to look at the signs and try to figure them out.
Eye catchers on the side of the highway
Did a lighthouse picture mean there was a lighthouse somewhere? What about that snail vine looking thing?
We got an eye full when we pulled off the highway and had to decide which way to go.
That’s a lot to take in all at once!
Wait a minute — can we see that again up close?
Oh my goodness. What are all those things?
The traffic piled up behind us as we studied the icons and tried to guess their meaning. Our route was to the left, despite all the wonderfully artistic imagery that tried to lure us off to the right.
We got back on the highway only to pass an exit that made it very clear we were now traveling in a foreign country. English might be spoken here, but then again, maybe not!
Where are we, exactly?
The icons are really imaginitive, and at first glance, going by at 60 mph, it was impossible to know what they all referred to.
Some of these are obvious, but some…what the heck are they??
Was the “@” sign something with email? Was the flower and barn a nursery? Were the masks a theater?
There was a key icon — we sure could use a key to unlock the other icons!
It became a fantastic game to spot these signs whipping past us and to try to remember all the icons we saw and to guess what they represented.
We stopped at a visitors center, and the hosts shed some light on a few that they knew. The egg in an egg cup was a bed and breakfast. The wrapped gift was a gift shop.
They had never noticed the barn with the people in it waving, so they weren’t sure what that was. We had seen several — one had a silo and another was under water with a fish swimming above… who knows!
There was a seahorse and there was a father and son looking off to sea with a spyglass and pointing. There was a tulip in a house and a vase on a hand. Just wonderful, but utterly baffling!
Inventing meanings for these signs sure beat the old alphabet game we used to play as kids in the back of the family station wagon!
We learned later that some were icons for designated scenic drives, and the hosts at the visitors center told us that one time a fellow came in and was very irate because he had followed all the lighthouse signs to the end of the road and had never seen a lighthouse. They’d had to explain to him that the lighthouse icon stands for a scenic drive that has lighthouses along the route, but you have to get off the route to see them!
Another mysterious icon for a scenic drive had triangles and stripes that looked to me like a fish skeleton. I don’t know what that indicated, but when we saw the beer stein icon we knew for sure that a brewery was nearby.
Ahhh… follow that sign!!
Some signs were very familiar and very obvious.
This one we know…
Others were familiar but had a special twist. McDonald’s puts the Canadian maple leaf in the middle of their logo, and we later noticed that many online retailers like Amazon put the red maple leaf on their websites too (along with the “.ca” extension rather than “.com”).
…and this one too, but it has a special maple leaf twist~
Within a few days, though, the novelty of these exotic road signs wore off and we felt very much at home.
That’s about it. Going to Canada to do some RV travel is pretty darn easy. I hope these little tips and insights are useful to you, and have fun RVing the Canadian Maritimes!!
June, 2015 – After a wonderful four weeks in the lush green mountain forests of North Carolina and Virginia, we looked at the map to find a route into the northeast and panicked. There’s a reason that many RVers stick to the big wide open western states, and looking at the map confirmed why: FEAR.
Both Mark and I grew up in the east and drove many thousands of miles there, but zipping around in a small car is a lot different than driving a tall, wide and excessively long RV on those narrow, congested and fast moving roads.
Many interstates in the northeast are poor condition, especially in the right lane, and are overloaded with truckers on tight schedules who whip past at 75 mph or more. So, I plotted a course through the spider’s web of secondary roads from Virginia through Pennsylvania and New York that would land us on the western edge of Massachusetts and see us up and over the Green and White Mountains in Vermont and New Hampshire to arrive, breathless, on the western side of Maine.
Off we went!
Where are we going again?
I forgot that in the eastern states the roads change names and change numbers without warning. And roads merge and intersect and become friends and part ways without ever letting the driver know. We were continually sent off on wild goose chases for route numbers that had vanished 20 or 50 miles back.
Did you get that?
The road signs come up so fast and with such a myriad of numbers that we were repeatedly left staring out the windshield in a daze, trying to remember what it was we just saw.
“Did you see Route 21 in all those numbers?” I’d ask Mark.
“Hell if I know!” he’d say.
“Well, we want 21 North — or maybe East — umm….wait a minute…” And I’d be buried in Google Maps again, trying to figure out exactly where we were going, only to find out that 21 North was now 18 East — at least for a little while.
Truly dizzying. But look, it’s a palindrome! Almost.
The roadsigns were just a blur of numbers, with all the routes going in different directions all over the place. Sometimes the numbers formed patterns, and one was even a palindrome. Almost. Sometimes the roads just went to the devil, literally.
We’re going to hell in a handbasket.
Meanwhile the cars stacked up behind us, riding so close they were invisible in the rear view mirror. The semi tractor trailers passed us at every opportunity, pushing us out of the way as they zoomed by us on the descents, and then slowing down to a crawl in front of us as they crept up the climbs.
Impatient drivers pile up behind a fifth wheel.
At least in New York they call a spade a spade, though, and we got a laugh when we saw a sign written for dazed RVers from the western states:
You’ve gotta love New York. Not only do they know the temperament of their drivers, they know their habits too. New Yorkers are so plugged in they aren’t given just a plain old Rest Area on the highway. They get a Text Stop!
For the modern traveler…
Most of these secondary roads were in really rough shape, especially crossing the Catskill Mountains in New York. We’d forgotten about the dangers of potholes, since they are a rarity out west. A deluge of ungodly blizzards pummeled the northeast this past winter, keeping the plows busy chewing up the roads, and we found ourselves doing a zig-zag dance down the highways to avoid all the endless man-eating, car-eating and RV-eating potholes.
Luckily, the powers that be have set about fixing the roads. However, that made the driving even more scary. Orange signs popped up out of nowhere and cones and equipment crowded the roads for miles at a time.
The road was small already… and now it’s filled with construction signs and crews!
Oh, and did I mention that these states are NOT flat? The mountains in the west climb straight into the heavens, going up for miles on end, but the hills in the east are like a roller coaster. They go up and down like waves on the ocean. We had installed our new brakes and engine tuner with this trip in mind, and we were now really glad we’d had the foresight to do those upgrades before coming here.
It seemed almost every hour Mark had to slam on the brakes for a red light at the bottom of a blind descent, or jump on the brakes when someone cut us off. Each time he’d mutter under his breath how great those new brakes were.
And did the buggy get stuck? Oh yes indeed. Several times.
In the hilly back streets of Boone, Virginia, there’s a long, deep scrape in the asphalt that is the signature left by our trailer’s bumper hitch. Confusion about road construction on the highway had sent us into this miniature town, and when we got there the only place to turn around had a massive dip in the road that was too much for our wheel base.
And in southwestern Massachusetts I played Twister with a maple tree sapling as I tried to keep its branches out of our bike wheels while Mark did a miraculous turn at the edge of someone’s farm on a steep hill. Once the maple tree released me, I watched in horror as Mark drove off over a lip down a hill that is meant for winter sledding. The fifth wheel overhang almost crushed the tailgate of our truck!
Share the road!
It was a truly wild ride taking our RV from Virginia into the northeast. But in the end, the scars and scrapes on our rig and ourselves were a small price to pay for the great times that lay ahead!
When we decided to cruise Mexico, we planned to anchor out pretty much 100% of the time. That way we could put more of our budget into a comfortable, newer boat, while keeping the day-to-day expenses to a minimum. Marinas in Pacific Mexico typically cost anywhere from $30-$50 a night or $600-$900 a month for a boat our size, so living “on the hook” at anchor can mean big savings.
But living on the hook has its ups and downs. Literally!! The Pacific swell keeps the boat in constant motion, frequently lurching it from side to side for hours, or even days, on end. Also, the beautiful ocean is often held hostage by red tide — or algae blooms — that cloak it in an unpleasant color and odor, and fill it with debris, making swimming impossible and dropping the water temps as much as 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ahh… warm water!!!
For the past week, however, we have had one ideal day after another (November, 2012, in Huatulco). The water has been turquoise and clear and in the high 80’s. The air has been sunny and warm, and the swell has been modest, jolting us awake with a jerk only once or twice a night, if at all. Our days have been spent swimming til our skin is wrinkled, kayaking in the bay, and walking the beach where the waves caress our feet with the warmest of sun-heated ripples.
The water in Huatulco is gorgeous
Life on the hook, even during these heavenly days, is not exclusively about umbrella drinks in the cockpit, however. Each day we have a few hours of work that needs to be done. Mark keeps us on track with this stuff, making lists and making sure we stick to them.
I always find my interest in these things wandering quite a bit, though. Left to my own devices, I’m afraid the list would soon be lost, and after a few weeks we’d be living in true squalor.
Who wants to quit swimming to do a bunch of boat chores??
Back when I lured Mark into this cruising lifestyle (well, let’s see, I think I dragged him into it by the ear!), we divvied up the responsibilities according to skill, inclination and interest, rather than going straight “pink” and “blue.”
Since I’ve worked with computers all my life and had cruised before, the chartplotter was easy for me to learn, and I became navigator and skipper while underway.
Mark keeps us on track with our boat chores. Notice: “clean bilge” is not yet crossed off…
In our RVing life I never tow the trailer and rarely drive the truck. Last time I tried parking the rig, I put us exactly perpendicular to the spot I was aiming for. Mark’s last docking experience with the boat went just about as well. So this division of labor has been a happy one.
I love technical things and understand the theory of many things on the boat, and I got a huge kick out of researching and specifying the boat’s major system upgrades. But when it comes to holding a wrench I am still flustered by which end is which. Mark was a professional service engineer for Xerox’s high speed (room sized) printers and grew up working on cars. He is a master when it comes to electro-mechanical troubleshooting and installation.
I like using a kid’s bazooka water gun to clean the bilge!
So, in exchange for putting all the responsibility for all the boat’s systems squarely in his lap, I volunteered to keep the bilge clean.
Having a clean bilge makes it is easier to notice when something isn’t right. Water in the bilge must be coming from somewhere. Is it salt water or fresh water? Guess who gets to find out! Hopefully if a chemical is leaking into the bilge it isn’t lethal!!
In our earliest days in Huatulco, “clean bilge” went on the to-do list (our engine’s packing gland material is getting old, so it drips now). Mark had the luxury of taking a snooze next to the open bilge compartment when he finished his items on the To Do list! I dawdled as long as I could.
Boat work done? Take a snooze!
I’ve found the easiest way to get water out of the bilge is to use a kid’s bazooka water gun. Ours has a pointy end that can get into the crevices, and it soaks up a good bit of water that can then be squirted in a pail. Doing a final squeegee pull with fresh water before putting the toy away has kept it in good working order.
There, it’s done, and we have a clean bilge once again.
Living on the hook means that going ashore requires either a swim or a boat ride. So taking out the trash requires loading it in the dinghy first, and then finding a trash barrel on shore somewhere to throw it away.
The kayak works for this task too. The cool thing is that after the trash is gone you’re free to go exploring either on foot ashore or in the kayak.
Time to take out the trash!
Getting the laundry done also means loading it up in the dinghy and then lugging it to a laundromat — that is, if there is a laundromat somewhere nearby! In most Mexican ports laundry service isn’t hard to find.
Everyday we wash yesterday’s clothes in the sink. We wear light clothing around here and it’s an easy task.
Here in Huatulco the laundromat is a cab ride away — in addition to the dinghy ride to shore. Once you get there a woman washes and folds it for you (for 15 pesos per kilo, or about $4-$5 USD per load). But you don’t get it back til the next day!! (Ahem — that means another combo dinghy ride / cab ride to pick the laundry bags up…). If you splurge and stay at the marina, you can have your laundry picked up and delivered back to the boat for 20 pesos a kilo…
Luckily there are lots of places to hang the laundry out to dry
So, to avoid the laundry hassle while living on the hook, we’ve found it’s easiest just to wash out yesterday’s clothes in the sink each morning and hang ’em out to dry. Luckily our clothes down here consist of bathing suits, running shorts and light shirts. We haven’t worn shoes and socks since we got here.
I’ve learned that what gives our clothes that “clean” smell from a washer/dryer is the fact that they don’t get fully rinsed out. So we always rinse our clothes to a point — but leave enough soap in them so they smell nice after hanging on the line. Sheets and towels have to wait for real laundry service, however…
Mark gets ready to install new zincs
Tools for the bottom: scraper, new zincs, scotch brite pad…
We both keep the bottom of the hull as clean as possible. In some places (like Zihuatanejo), the barnacles grow so fast you have to scrape the bottom with scrapers every few days. In other places (like the Sea of Cortez and Huatulco), you can merely wipe the bottom with a towel to get the algae slime off. It takes a lot of breath to get to the bottom of the keel, though, and Mark is much better at that than I am. So I do the hull and he gets the keel and scrapes the prop.
Electrolysis in the water, especially at marinas, can eat a prop down to nothing in no time. So we put sacrificial “zincs” on the prop and shaft that are made of that softer metal.
Screwdriver and zinc in hand, you gotta get down there and get it attached all in one breath.
A new zinc is installed on the prop shaft
Over time, these zincs get eaten away by the electrolysis instead, sparing the prop shaft and blades’ slightly harder metal.
However, the zincs are not that easy to install. Mark makes it look like a piece of cake, completing the task in just a few free dives. I would be spluttering and drowning and would probably drop the screw driver or the zinc in the sand deep below the boat, never to be found again…
Bountiful fresh water is critical to a comfortable life aboard, and we get our fresh water from a “watermaker” that converts ocean water into drinking water.
We go out to clean deep water to “make water”
This is a rather miraculous system, and our watermaker is enormous by cruising standards, converting 60 gallons of water an hour by pushing it through a strainer first (to remove the fish and sea creatures) then through two filters (to remove the algae) then through two 4′ long high pressure membranes (to remove the salt, bacteria and viruses).
Wow – clean water!! Such a special treat. Red tide is an unfortunate fact of life on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
The system is rated for 38 gallons an hour, but after the two membranes failed in our first season, the manufacturer (EchoTec) kindly replaced them with high capacity membranes, so now we fill a gallon jug in 63 seconds. It’s quite thrilling to watch. Shower water, toilet water and deck cleaning water all go into our holding tanks (140 gallons), but we keep our drinking water in gallon jugs as a habit held over from living in our trailer.
Mark hated the watermaker the first year. It was a bear to install due to inaccurate manuals, incomplete parts shipped to us, and difficult positions for the various parts in the boat. Plus, installation required fabricating a bracket to hang the high pressure pump from the engine.
To top it all off, the first membranes we received were dead on arrival. Then the replacement set failed after four months! Now, however, with great, working membranes, the watermaker is his pride and joy (“I want to keep it even if we sell the boat someday!” he joked recently). It is his favorite part of the boat.
EchoTec’s main watermaker panel. At 800 psi the system pegs at 60 gph.
Mark runs a hose to the deck to wash it down as we make water
The purity of the water is measured by a TDS meter (“total dissolved solids”), and we found the San Diego water supply at our son’s apartment got readings of 350, and the FDA limit is 500. Our watermaker usually gives us readings between 75 and 95.
Most boats our size have systems that convert 6-13 gallons an hour. However, we’ve found the 60-gallon-an-hour flow is fast enough to be able to wash the deck and cockpit with a hose run out a hatch. This is a real boon at the end of a salty crossing or after sitting in a dusty area for a while. So, making water and/or washing the cockpit/deck is often on our day’s to-do list.
60 gallons per hour gives a good flow
Then there’s food. We are simple eaters, so our diet is pretty plain by most standards. In Mexico we’ve discovered many familiar foods can be found on store shelves, even if the packaging is in Spanish.
The most common bread available in Mexico is “Bimbo Bread,” which is equivalent to our Wonder Bread. But it turns out that Mexico’s Bimbo Bakeries actually owns the US brands Oroweat, Arnold, Thomas’s English Muffins and many others.
Oroweat Bread is owned by Mexico’s Bimbo Bakeries
We’ve found Oroweat breads in most supermarkets in Mexico, and the price of around $3 to $3.50 USD is comparable to home.
“Azucaradas” sounds & looks like kids’ sugar cereal
It helps to learn some of the basic food terms in Spanish: “avena” (oatmeal), “integral” (whole wheat), “grano entero” (whole grain), “pasas” (raisins) and “azucar” (sugar) are a few. So when you see a cereal called “Azucaradas” with a crazy, wild zebra on it, you can tell it’s probably a sugar cereal for kids!
In this age of jet-setting food, we’re used to seeing tomatoes from Mexico in the supermarkets in the US, but what a surprise to find Washington apples here in Mexico as well as organically grown California spinach.
Did this spinach bring a passport?
This spinach was a bit wilted (it’s a long flight for a little leaf!), and the price was $6 USD a box. But it’s available.
Bean burritos are a common dinner aboard Groovy. They’re yummy, easy to make and don’t take a lot of ingredients. But I was amused when I asked our friend Andrés from southern Mexico if he’d like a bean burrito, and he responded, “Is that an American dish or a Mexican one?” What we always thought of as being so very Mexican isn’t really…
Matt Damon & Scarlett Johansson – We’ll take it!
At night we often settle in with a movie. TV reception is non-existent on the boat, but the bootleg DVD industry is alive and well in Mexico. DVD’s are sold on the street for 20 to 30 pesos apiece ($1.60-$2.40 USD). The titles often have no resemblance to the English titles, so you go by the actors’ names and hope for the best. Who knows what this one is, but with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, it oughtta be okay!
Groovy is happily anchored off a lovely resort in Tangolunda Bay, Huatulco
So we live rather simply, floating in a tub on the ocean and washing our clothes in the sink! It’s a crazy life, but lately it has been fabulous.