Later this week, Rotarians from our District will arrive in Mazatlan with what has been designated as the 100th vehicle to be delivered to the city and the Mexican state of Sinaloa since Highway to Mexico began in 2002 with a single school bus filled with wheelchairs.
Vehicle number 100—a former hotel shuttle that has been repurposed to become a fire support shuttle—is one of 10 vehicles in this year’s convoy, which left Grande Prairie on March 29.
“I think it an incredible achievement to keep this project sustainable and to keep people involved and to be able to raise the funds we require to do this, year after year,” says Felix Seiler (Rotary Club of Grande Prairie-Swan City), who is making his 12th or 13th trip to Mexico.
This year’s convoy, which was described in a recent article by Edmonton Journal columnist Nick Lees, and also in an interview on CBC’s Radio Active, includes two fire trucks, four ambulances, three school buses and the fire support shuttle, bringing the total number of vehicles delivered since the program began to 106.
Eighty-five per cent of the vehicles delivered by Highway to Mexico are still in service.
Knowing that the residents of this part of Mexico have better access to emergency transportation and fire protection because of this program is a source of pride for the Rotarians who have been part of Highway to Mexico over the years.
“You can’t miss it. You see the Rotary name on these vehicles whenever they pass by,” Felix says.
“You get immediate gratification when you realize each of these vehicles will be in use for years to come.”
Several awards for international, community and youth services will be presented at this year’s changeover event on Thursday, June 27, at the Chateau Louis Hotel in Edmonton. The deadline for submitting entries for the 2018-2019 awards is May 15.
The vehicles come from various sources. The fire shuttle vehicle was donated by the hotel where it formerly served as a hotel shuttle. The two fire trucks were purchased at auctions by Rotary clubs.
Two ambulances were part of eight obtained from Alberta Health Services, while another was donated by an oilfield ambulance service. The school buses were purchased from school systems through sealed bids. Other vehicles were purchased by individuals in order to donate them to the project.
Once they obtain vehicles, Rotary clubs arrange to have them refurbished. In addition to the Swan City club, other clubs involved in this year’s Highway to Mexico include the Rotary Clubs of Grande Prairie, Grande Prairie After Five, Peace River, Edson and Edmonton Riverview.
Several other clubs have participated in the project in previous years.
Getting these vehicles to Mexico required a great deal of organization, which began long before they left Grande Prairie.
“It is almost like on ongoing project,” Felix says. “We are already in the process of collecting vehicles for next year. Six months out, we begin to do paperwork with our Mexican colleagues. It’s very time-consuming.”
Each of this year’s 20 drivers—two for each vehicle—received a detailed itinerary for the 5,000 km journey, identifying everything from the order in which the vehicles will travel (“All vehicles will travel in the same position in the convoy until we reach Mazatlan”) and speed at which they will travel (“The convoy should travel around 95-100 km per hour, depending on the slowest vehicle in the convoy”), to where the convoy will stop to refuel and where the drivers will sleep each night.
There is also advice on crossing the two borders they will encounter.
“Crossing the U.S. border is not as much of a challenge as it once was,” Felix says, explaining all the necessary paperwork is in place before the journey begins.
Entering Mexico at Nogales can be a different story.
“Every year, it’s a new experience. Crossing the Mexican border can take from two to 14 hours,” Felix says.
“We usually have a pool (US$10 each) on how long it will take to cross the border. The winner is usually responsible for beer at a later date.”
Rotarians from Mexican clubs meet the convey each year at the border for the final segment of the journey.
Referring to these Rotarians, Felix says, “We have made lots of good personal friends over the years.”
While the Canadian Rotary clubs obtain the vehicles, Mexican Rotarians decide where they will go.
“They go through an application process. The organizations requesting vehicles need to prove that they have the resources necessary to keep the vehicles on the road.”
Once they reach Mazatlan, the Canadians will park the vehicles and head to their hotel in the Golden Zone, before participating in activities over the next few days organized by local Rotarians.
Then it will be time to fly home to begin preparations for the 2020 version of Highway to Mexico.