The perfect RV:
| Hi, I just finished reading your article on the Perfect RV, and I gotta tell ya'--you're close but off the mark. How do I know? Welllll, I'm a very experienced RVer and a moderately experienced Mexico traveler, as well as a former RV tech, aaaaaaand we just bought the perfect RV for Mexico--a Class B motorhome. For those unfamiliar with the beast, it's an extended van with a raised roof, converted to a motorhome. Ours is a '93 3500 GMC with all the amenities of a standard motorhome: small bathroom and tiny kitchen, as well as a generator and air conditioner and a couch that converts to a bed.
I'll start by telling you what I think is wrong with your choice, which is based on our trip through Mexico last year in a similar rig. We drove about 6,000 miles over two months, down the east coast of Mexico, across the Yucatan, through Chiapas and up the west coast in a 1971 21' Winniebago Class A built on a Dodge chassis.
If you're travelling with kids or an excessive number of animals I think a 21' Class C is the ideal compromise--for everyone else it's too big and you're paying to haul around too much empty space. A 21 footer can be parked most places a car can and you can get it into just about any place you need to. Due to unfamiliarity with the area I drove the Winnie through part of the colonial section of San Cristobal de la Casas--not something I would recommend for the faint of heart--but doable. Anything else is way too big for Mexico in my estimation, even though I've seen some very large rigs down there, as the sheer size is likely to keep you out of places that you really should go and keep you from stopping in little spots you really should stop and see. A Class C is really too wide for comfortable driving on the rural roads of Mexico. It can be done, I've done it; but, it gets to be a very uncomfortable squeeze between the trucks on one side and the nonexistent shoulder on the other side. And dragging around a toad (RV for car in tow) you've given up all the advantages you gained by not hauling a trailer house.
I'm a shadetree mechanic myself and used to avoid engines with a lot of electronics. Driving from Palenque to San Cristobal made a believer out of me, as a normal carburated motor really suffers a lot of power loss at those altitudes. It's time to get a repair manual for that modern EFI (electronic fuel injection) engine and upgrade your skills. EFI engines don't suffer nearly the effects of high altitude that a carburater will. They get better milage and the engine will last longer because you've eliminated things like the cylinder wash down that you'll get at start up with a carburator. With a carburator your Class C will get roughly 6 miles to the gallon--my Class B, with EFI averages around 12. You don't have to be much of a mathematician to figure out the advantages of that one.
And what in the world did that guy need with a 6.5kw generator, is he planning to power a whole village? We get by fine with a 2.8kw Onan microlite, which runs relatively quietly, burns about .3 gallon per hour and powers our A/C and everything else. (A bigger motorhome would probably need a bit bigger generator; but, not 6.5kw until you get into the larger 2 A/C rigs unless you have special power needs.)
As a former RV tech I take major exception to your comments on the quality of RV appliances. They get a lot rougher treatment than your home appliances and need more maintenance; but properly cared for they'll give years of good service. The one exception is propane refrigerators with electronic controls, which are made to satisfy people's desire for appliances which emulate the ease of use of their home appliances and require less labor in their manufacture. Last year I'm sitting in a trailer park in the Yucatan with my refer hooked up to the AC power and running great while I'm talking to a guy with a much newer rig who's afraid to run his refer on the somewhat variable AC power because it might burn out his electronic circuit board, which is $150+ to repair, with the nearest parts on the other side of the border. He's running out of propane and looking at a 150 mile round trip to refill his permanently mounted tanks, while I'm sitting there with all the cold beer I want and no worries. The 29 year old refer in that rig is still running fine.
Back to that Class B, the *real* perfect RV for Mexico: By going with a motorhome based on a van body I get a much more comfortable fit on Mexican highways. On our next trip (coming up soon) I won't have nearly the problem I had with the overhanging trees getting into the Calakmul reserve (a beautiful Mayan site that few tourists get to). I've cut my gasoline expenses in half ($2k last year in Mexico alone). And while it's not spacious, we have room for all our dive gear and other toys. The trick is that we don't live in it--we live out of it. In addition to all the usual camping supplies, such as roll up table and hammock chairs, we're carrying a 12'x14' screen room for additional living space. I can park it anywhere and go anywhere that I could go with a car, thus I don't (shudder) have to consider towing anything. In addition I'll pay less for tolls without that dual wheel truck axle when we do get on the toll roads--$120 from Guadalajara to the border last year.
With proper precautions I think RVing in Mexico is reasonably safe. I'd agree with you that most wide spots are not appropriate for overnight parking; but, I often used the same areas as the truckers use, toll road rest stops and spots in the vacinity of a cop shop without problems.
You and I defer on the accuracy of the "Red" atlas, it's very frustrating to be looking for a town that isn't where the map says it is. For that reason I've added the Map and Go CDrom by DeLorme to my maps. I also consider the Church's camping guide and Michael Coe's "Archaelogical Mexico" to be indispensible.
Another good source of information on RVing is the usenet group rec.outdoors.rv-travel. There we all pretty much agree to disagree on the perfect RV for any purposes or tastes. :-}
Enjoy the hell out of your book,