The last few months

Its been two and half months since we left Suzie in Costa Rica.  Two and half months that have flown by, yet the seven months we spent in Central America seem a distant memory.  It is incredible how quickly experiences and moments fade, but the lessons we learned on the road continue to stick with us.  When we decided to return for the summer, we knew it was likely that we would be working in different areas of the country.  After spending seven months in a space the size of an average U.S. bathroom, we have spent the last two and half months over 2,000 miles apart.  Ken is in Alaska captaining a whale watching boat for Juneau Tours and Whale Watching, and I am in Montana working at a local hospital in the beautiful Flathead Valley.  After two more months of lining our pockets with cash, we’ll return to Costa Rica and hit the road south again.  Here are a few pictures of what we’ve both been up to the last few months.

From Costa Rica heat to Montana snow!

From Costa Rica heat to Montana snow!

Just a bit of muddy mountain biking

Just a bit of muddy mountain biking

Montana guard cattle/cattle guard?

Montana guard cattle/cattle guard?

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Breaching orca, Juneau AK

Breaching orca, Juneau AK

 

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Breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, AK

Breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, AK

 

Captain Ken on the right doing what he does

Captain Ken on the right doing what he does

As much as we are enjoying our time back home, we cannot wait to get back to Suzie and discover what South America has in store for us!

 

 

 

A First World Whirlwind

Beautiful Baja beaches

Beautiful Baja beaches

We left Suzie three and half weeks ago, it feels like two and half months. Being back in the land of overplenty has been overwhelming.  Although life on the road isn’t always easy, its always simple.  Wake up, make breakfast, eat breakfast, pack up and hit the road, drive for a couple of hours, park, set up, laze on the beach, walk up a volcano, hit the local market,  eat dinner, watch an episode of Dexter/Weeds/The Wire, sleep, then repeat.  After over 10,000 miles and 210 days, on the road we have the routine pretty down pat. Within this simplicity lies great complexity.  As amazing at it is to wake up every morning in a new place, finding that new place the night before is often not a walk in the park.  After hours of stressful driving with Ken swerving potholes, dogs, ox-carts, horses, people, and me in the passenger seat occasionally putting in my two cents worth (usually at the most inopportune times) then utilizing my limited spanish to try to explain to a confused  hostel owner why we want to park and sleep in our vehicle and instead of one of their rooms. Does this place have a bathroom, a shower, a kitchen, running water, electricity, and internet are all questions that need to be considered.  One beautiful thing about being back in familiar places (Montana, Alaska) is the ease of decision making.  We have at toilet with a seat that we can throw toilet paper in, a hot water shower that lasts longer then five minutes, and a full kitchen, complete luxury.  I miss the road though.  I miss Suzie and the lessons we learned every day.  I miss Ken and the partnership that we have forged together.  We relish the freedom of our individuality, the ease of making my our decisions in a familiar environment, but we cannot wait to return to that elusive road.

From lazing on a beach to freezing our faces off on the local ski mountain's pond skimming competition

From lazing on a beach to freezing our faces off on the local ski mountain’s pond skimming competition

So happy to see these faces!

So happy to see these faces!

Long Term Costa Rica Parking

Warning, what follows is not interesting unless you are an overlander hoping to park your vehicle in San Jose while you are out of the country.  First, find a government bonded warehouse (almacen fiscal) where you will park your vehicle.  There are many options around the airport, we chose Terminal Unidas (10.00063 N, 84.197067 W), but we really didn’t shop around at all.  At Terminal Unidas at the security gate ask for Alexis and the security guard will let you through.  Drive past the parking lot on your left to an area with lots of large trucks and a huge fenced parking area.  The office is in the far left corner of the warehouse.  Brush up on your Spanish because Alexis doesn’t speak any English although he found a translator to ensure that we understood the process for suspending our permit.  Give Alexis your vehicle import permit, he will make a copy and direct you to the small office at the entrance to the fenced in area where an unofficial looking man will write some numbers on the copied vehicle import permit that should be the same numbers he writes on the key identifier tags.  Return to the office and Alexis will enter some information into a computer, print out a form with all the information needed to suspend your permit including a string of numbers specific to that warehouse.  While I was taking care of all the paperwork they took pictures of every ding, scratch, and dent on the truck as well as inside the camper.  We then drove to a second fenced lot behind the first one parked Suzie where indicated and sadly said our goodbyes.  IMG_2567

We then walked to the airport, playing Frogger across the busy San Jose interstate, I would suggest taking a taxi because it is about a 2 mile walk to the customs office.  The customs office (Aduana SantaMaria) is not at the airport it is about 1 km further down the road (9.99788 N, 84.2115 W) in a large white building.  Present your original vehicle import permit, driver’s passport, and paperwork received from the almacen fiscal and after typing a bunch of information into a computer you will be given a new suspended permit.  The top will say suspender and the permit will also say how many days you have left on your permit once you return to Costa Rica.  The official kept our original permit and stated we would be issued a new one when we returned.  This process wasn’t too difficult for us, hopefully when we return it will be just as simple to reinstate the permit and collect Suzie!

Headed Home

As many of our blog and facebook followers know, we have decided to return to the States for the summer to work and visit family and friends in order to extend our travel time in South America and experience Patagonia during the summer months (November through February).  But before we left Costa Rica we had one more major goal to accomplish, spot the extremely elusive resplendent quetzal.  We had been diligently scanning dense cloud forest foliage since Mexico without a single sighting.  Saying goodbye to the beach knowing we were headed back to a grey Montana spring was difficult, but we were eager to escape the unrelenting heat and humidity.  We also wanted to check out a purported free campsite on Lake Arenal with great views of the volcano.

Lake and Volcano Arenal

Lake and Volcano Arenal

The free campsite was incredible, but unfortunately the wind was whipping and putting the top up was not an option.  As we bumped along the dirt road around the lake we spotted what looked like a shortcut through the mountains to Santa Elana on the GPS.  Eventually we found inching down a narrow rutted two-tracked ‘road’ that disappeared into a river.  Clearly, Garmin had misled us and we resigned ourselves to a further two hours of driving time around the lake.  IMG_2516Rolling lush hills dotted with dairy cows coupled with the two Swiss chalet restaurants along the highway made us feel as if we really were in little Switzerland, as Costa Rica is sometimes called.  It had been a long day of travel and we were overjoyed when we saw a sign for the Volcano Brewing Company and stopped for a few of their delicious brews.

Beer...don't mind if I do!

Beer…don’t mind if I do!

We were exhausted and it was dark and the Brewery graciously allowed us to camp in the parking lot for free, even offering up the use of their incredible pool and hot tub.  IMG_2510The next few days were spent enjoying the misty beauty of the cloud forests of Monteverde.  Tromping through Curi-Cancha Reserve we were confident.  Every single person we had talked to had seen a quetzal.  Our quetzal spotting skills are deficient because after two hours we had not seen even a single tail feather.

Monteverde

Monteverde

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As we were exiting, Fabio the park caretaker, was aghast that we had not seen the famous birds.  Armed with his detailed instructions to the precise location we marched back into the park.  After 20 minutes of unsuccessful tree scanning we were about to leave when Fabio ran up the trail, pulled us behind a roped off area onto a faint trail and within 30 seconds pointed up into the tree.  Finally we saw the bright green and red feathers of the quetzal and not only were we lucky enough to see two females but also the even more brightly colored male.

Female quetzal

Female quetzal

Male quetzal

Male quetzal

 

High adrenaline we traipsed back down the trail unaware of the huge black and red coral snake sunning itself ahead of us.  Again my piercing scream alerted the rest of the tourists in the reserve that a deadly predator was on the move, and I’m sure I saved at least a few lives.  IMG_2565

Leaving Santa Elana we went against the flow of Semana Santa traffic and holed up in San Jose for a few days to prepare Suzie for five months of parking.  We successfully parked her bid her a tearful goodbye and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the culture shock we knew was awaiting us.

Ken prepping for culture shock.

Ken prepping for culture shock.

In a Costa Rica Minute

Costa Rica the birthplace of mass marketed eco-tourism, the two-week vacationers’ cloud forest dream, the overlander’s nightmare.  After a week and half here, we are still unsure how we feel about the tourist beast that is Costa Rica.

Rancho Santana luxury

Rancho Santana luxury

Overlanding best buds

Overlanding best buds

Reluctantly tearing ourselves away from the luxury of Rancho Santana and our fellow overlanders, we made our way across the tedious border at Penas Blancas spending our first night in the very uninspiring town of Liberia.  Our first few days in Costa Rica were spent nailing down the procedure for parking the car in San Jose.  We then escaped to the Orosi Valley and cool mountain breezes.  Here we found the beauty of Costa Rica in its lush green mountains blanketed with rolling fog, crowned with narrow, windy roads.  IMG_2369As we made our way through San Jose and Cartago to Orosi, we felt as if we were in any city USA with a McDonald’s on every other corner, manicured lawns, well-maintained houses, and hordes of bicyclists and runners lining the road.  Seriously, Costa Ricans love to exercise!  It wasn’t until we pulled into Flutterbye Hostel in Uvita on the Pacific Coast that we remembered we were still in Latin America surrounded by 10 feet high concrete walls topped with razor wire.

Truchas Selva Madre

Truchas Selva Madre

From the incredible heat and humidity in Uvita we high-tailed back into the mountains and to one of our top ten campsites of the trip, Truchas Selva Madre.  We enjoyed the cool mountain temperatures parked next to the babbling brook and shire-esque picnic shelters.  Forgive the cliches, but they are applicable to this place.

The Shire of Costa Rica

The Shire of Costa Rica

Ken said he would jump into the first waterfall if I jumped into the second.

Ken said he would jump into the first waterfall if I jumped into the second.

Lucky for me, not possible.

Lucky for me, not possible.

The coolest temperatures we had experienced thus far on the trip prompted us to head back to the beaches and heat, to the Caribbean coast and the town of Cahuita.  Up and over two mountain ranges through coffee fields, the land flattened out into miles up on miles of banana plantations.  Since it was my birthday we splurged on a hotel, La Piscina Natural, complete with some of the most beautiful, lush gardens we have seen to date and a natural pool filled by tidal fluctuations.

La Piscina Natural

La Piscina Natural

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The next day we joined the crowds of Tico’s in Parque Nacional Cahuita meandering down the seaside trail spotting thousands of hermit crabs and a few monkeys.  We had intended to through hike the 7 km trail, but tales and picture evidence of a very large, very yellow, reported deadly snake on the trail ahead and my subsequent hyperventilation prevented us from finishing.

Parque Nacional Cahuita

Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Instead we played in palm trees and soaked in clear Caribbean water.

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We still have a week left in Costa Rica and continue to be unsure of how we feel about the country.  It is a place of profound natural beauty, mobs of gringo tourists, and overpriced amenities, yet it is still possible to get off the beaten path.  Costa Rica lacks the authenticity that we loved in Mexico and Guatemala.  It feels as if the Tica culture here has become so tied to tourism that it has lost touch with its roots, but along the windy mountain roads we have driven we still spotted gauchos on horseback, farmers tilling fields with handmade hoes, and tiny roadside stands selling the 20 melons grown on their family plot.  The roots are still there, you just might have to dig a bit deeper to see them.

Beaches and Bands

As the all too familiar bass line of Bob Marley’s “One Love” filled the evening air, the young woman immediately to my right, head crowned with brown dreadlocks, raised her arms into the air undulating like snakes, hips and feet moving in smooth opposition.  The surfer to my left with his sun-bleached blonde hair offset by a deep, golden tan, fist pumped yelling, “I f****** love this jam,” and began his own version of the hippy shuffle.  Welcome to PitayaFest, a unique blend of tatter-clothed hippies and scantily clad surfers, and the beginning of our two weeks beaches and bands on the Nicaraguan Pacific coast.

Playa Mahajual

Playa Mahajual

 

Playa Maderas

Playa Maderas

The previous evening camped at Matildas on Playa Maderas watching the sun set and enjoying an ice-cold Tona, we were thinking a day or two lazing in the sun here wouldn’t be horrible.  Playa Maderas appealed to us with its two hotels and restaraunts lacking the overdevelopment and masses of people found in San Juan del Sur.  The empty beach with its crashing waves and hordes of hermit crabs scuttling about was perfection.  We ended up staying for a week.  After meeting the managers of the neighboring Castaway Hotel, Daniel and Megan, a couple from Florida who are leasing the property for the next five years and truly living the dream, we moved Suzie to their property.

Beachfront baby!

Beachfront baby!

They convinced us to extend our stay to not only attend PitayaFest, but also to attend their respective 29th and 30th birthday bash extravaganza.  Here we were introduced to a mysterious yet deadly concoction know as Hunch Punch, an addicting game dubbed Corn Hole, and generally behaved as if we were not 30 something year olds, zipping down the Nicaraguan version of a slip and slide directly into the surging ocean. IMG_2135

 

Megan and Daniel showing us how its done

Megan and Daniel showing us how its done

After a brief hiatus from the beach on Isla Ometepe, we turned slightly north to Playa Gigante where our long lost overlanding buddies Joe and Kylee (Patagonia or Bust), had found employment for the next few months.

Reunited!

Reunited!

Jeff and Monica (Overland the World) and Gayla and Tad (Overland Now) were also in Playa Gigante living it up in a rental house with an amazing ocean view, air conditioning, and hot water showers!  Camping outside of the hostel Campo de Gigante, we were equal parts excited and horrified to hear that the biggest reggae band in Nicaragua, Bluefield Sound System, was scheduled for a concert the next night.  We had missed out on hearing them at PitayaFest because we had left too early and heard they played an incredible set.  Given the fact that Suzie was parked 20 feet from the bar we were assured of a reggae lullaby lulling us to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.  Soon the bar was packed, the bonfires were lit, and hippy and surfer alike were swaying to rhythm.  IMG_2224

The rest of our time in was spent relaxing on the beach and at the pool, attempting  surfing, and getting together with our fellow overlanders that we had lured to Gigante.  IMG_2264

Paved with Good Intentions

I realize that I talk about roads a lot in our blog, but when half our time is spent driving transporting our home from location to location, roads become a very important part of our everyday life.  Since leaving Alaska, we have encountered roads in a variety of conditions and populated by drivers of all talents.  The roads in Nicaragua are by far the best since we left the states.  Well paved with few potholes, painted lines, clear signage, and drivers obeying those lines and signs equals road heaven.

Although walking at the moment, still enjoying the great Nica roads

Although walking at the moment, still enjoying the great Nica roads

Our joy was magnified even more by the knowledge that we had left the pot-holed roads of doom in Honduras behind us.  That is until we realized the plethora of obstacles that Nicaragua would throw our way, maybe just to keep our driving skills sharp, probably to remind us that we were still in a third-world country.  Instead of pothole dodging, Suzie now had to improve her oxen and horse cart, and cow and goat herd dodging skills.

Typical Nica horse cart

Typical Nica horse cart

As we later learned, the United States government and the European Union had given Nicaragua the funds necessary to repair, maintain, and fix their roads with the caveat that the next election held would be transparent.  In 2012, Daniel Ortega was re-elected in an election rife with corruption and the U.S. and E.U. withdrew their monetary support.  As we drove a horrific 20 mile stretch of road between Leon and Granada with some of the largest potholes to date, we decided that this stretch was where the money had run out.IMG_1990

After successfully navigating through the Los Manos border, we made our way to Canon de Somoto, Nicaragua’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon.  While attempting to find the entrance, we were cornered by a very helpful local, Louis, who not only hunted us down an incredible campsite, but also took us on a tour down the Rio Coco through the canyon.

Not only did he find us a campsite and guide us down the river, Louis also found us water!

Not only did he find us a campsite and guide us down the river, Louis also found us water!

Equal parts hiking, swimming, cliff jumping, and wading through the river with cliffs towering overhead on either side the Rio Coco reminded us of the Zion Narrows and the Smith River in Montana. P1020014

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From Canon de Somoto we headed to the Pacific for the first time in almost 3 months.  The last time we had dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean was Puerto Escondido, Mexico.  Playa Penitas was a very sleepy surf town with not much happening except spectacular sunsets. IMG_1969

Sunset and rum and coke on the beach....paradise!

Sunset and rum and coke on the beach….paradise!

After a two days lazing on the beach, we decided we needed a little bit of city culture not to mention a shower.  Leon had not impressed us as we drove through and so we drove onto Granada.  As we rolled up to our first police checkpoint in Nicaragua, we were confident.  I mean, we had just spent three weeks in Honduras, the country supposedly with the most corrupt police in Central America, without a single bribe attempt.  Pride does go before fall and I couldn’t believe my ears as the officer looked through our paperwork and sadly shook his head. “Where is your vehicle inspection paperwork?”  He asked sorrowfully as if it pained him to bring it up.  I pointed to the signature of the customs official on our vehicle import permit who had given Suzie a cursory glance.  “No,” he said, “you need a mechanical inspection, it is a yellow piece of paper.  I am very sorry, but I am going to have to keep your license while you go to the bank and pay for the ticket.”  Ken and I looked at each other in horror mixed with a little bit of glee.  Finally, we were going to put into use our practiced bribe evasion strategy.  In all reality, the officer’s grubby little fingers were only holding onto Ken’s international driver’s license, a document not vital for us to continue our journey, but we didn’t want to give it up without a fight.  Forgetting the Spanish I had been using to converse with the officer previously, I put a confused look on my face and spoke the phrase every overlander memorizes before leaving home, “no entiendo?”  The officer began speaking slowly in broken sentences, “banque, pagar, regresar manana,” all the while clutching Ken’s driver’s license to his chest.  We kept insisting we did not understand what he was saying as well as the fact that there was no possible way that Ken could drive to the bank without his driver’s license.  We continued on this back and forth debate for about 10 minutes until the officer made his fatal mistake and handed the license back to Ken.  Immediately, he realized his error and asked for it back.  When we refused, he gave up and waved us on.  High on our adrenaline rush we didn’t even notice the entrance to Volcano Masaya until we had passed it.  No worries, the next break in the concrete barrier Ken pulled a U-turn through the painted yellow lines and right into the eager arms of the officer at the next police checkpoint who could not believe his good luck.  This time we knew we had violated a legitimate traffic regulation.  The exact same song and dance ensued that we had been through only 20 minutes prior.  This officer kindly offered to let us pay him a mere $40 instead of driving all the way to the bank to pay the $20 ticket.  We figured we’d try to play the dumb gringo card again and to our surprise succeeded!

After our victory over the corrupt (or not) Nicaraguan police, we continued on with our day of doing things that we would never be allowed to do in the U.S and drove to the top of an active volcano.

If I conquered the Nicaraguan police, I can conquer this active volcano!

If I conquered the Nicaraguan police, I can conquer this active volcano!

Volcano Masaya last erupted in April 2012, yet tourists are still allowed to drive their vehicles to the edge of the still smoking crater, breathing in noxious fumes and wearing hard hats, and parking their vehicles pointed towards the exit just in case there is another eruption.  Luckily for us, but much to Ken’s chagrin, Masaya did not erupt and we survived another unique day on the PanAmerican. IMG_1996

The Guifiti Challenge

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The bottle looked innocent enough, merely herbs floating in a clear liquid.  Taking four shots in a row should be as easy.  Not easy when the four shots are part of the Guifiti Challenge at the Skid Row Bar. Guifiti is a local moonshine primarily made on the northern coast of Honduras.  It is not innocent.  It is potent.  Although recipes vary from town to town and even bar to bar, Guifiti is essentially aguardiente (local cheap booze) infused with a variety of herbs and spices.  It is rumored to have aphrodisiac and medicinal properties as well as a very high alcohol content.  During our two weeks on the Bay Island of Utila, we were able to closely study the effects of Guifiti on young European tourists, and although we cannot speak to the aphrodisiac effects, we can attest to its ability to enhance, impair, and otherwise debilitate and based on our observations recommend that no one in a normal state of mind should take four shots in a row.

Utila

Utila

Because we are older and wiser, we chose to only sample Guifiti once; our challenge while in Utila was to dive as much as possible.  Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja compose the Bay Islands about 50 km of the north coast of Honduras.  IMG_1862The second largest reef in the world coupled with some of the cheapest diving prices results in Utila, a budget traveler’s dream island.  Although food and hotel prices are higher then mainland Honduras, the affordable diving makes it a worthwhile stop.  Initially we had only intended on staying for a week while Ken completed his PADI Open-Water diving course.  We ended up staying for almost two weeks as we both completed our PADI Advanced Open-Water course.  We can now dive anywhere in the world to depths of 30 meters/100 feet.   IMGP1298

During our Advanced course we dove our first ship wreck.  Dubbed the Halliburton Wreck by the dive companies who had paid for it to be scuttled onto a sand patch, it was incredible to glide along the open deck and through the wheelhouse observing the plethora of marine life that now called the wreck home.  We also were required to do a certifying night dive.  I was frankly terrified of the thought of the complete blackness I knew would be the ocean at night, only pierced by our small torches, unknown sea creatures surrounding us.  My fears were confirmed, but the coral that came to life at night blooming with vibrant color and the bioluminescence flashing in the corner of my vision turned the dive into a surreal experience.  It felt as if we were floating through space surrounded by stars.  For our final two “fun” dives we were taken to the west side of Utila and dove its famous Black Coral Wall.  Here the reef stretches out from the shore to plunge 130 feet to the ocean floor.  Swimming along the wall was beautiful black, purple, green, and blue coral with hundreds of large and small brightly colored fish interspersed among them. IMGP1316

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After two weeks, our challenge had been completed and we are now seriously hooked on diving and Utila.  For any future travelers headed to Utila, we recommend diving with Parrots Dive Center.

Parrots Dive Center

Parrots Dive Center

This is a locally owned and operated dive center with top-caliber instructors and dive masters, decent equipment, and an amazing dock bar from where we watched two weeks worth of gorgeous Caribbean sunsets.  It is hard to tear ourselves away, but the road is calling and our CA-4 will expire in a month and we still have Nicaragua to discover!    IMG_1854

The Banana Republic

Honduras smells like sweet, sugary smoke.  Miles upon miles of banana plantations and sugar cane fields stretch across the eastern Caribbean coast rimmed by mountains densely carpeted with jungle.  Honduras is green.  A haze blankets the fields and mountains: a haze of humidity and smoke.  The straight road in front of us coupled with the startling green tempered at the edges mesmerizes me, until  ‘BANG’ the front end of the truck slams into a car-sized pothole.  Honduras is potholes.

Pulhapanzak Falls

Pulhapanzak Falls

Before we left while we were ‘planning’ of our route, Honduras was the one country that we had planned on avoiding.  With two cities ranking in the top ten most dangerous in the world as well as instability related to a military coup in 2009, we figured in the name of safety and preserving the sanity of our mothers’ we would take the normal overland route and drive the narrowest part of Honduras on the Pacific coast in one day.   But, our plans are never set in stone and we rarely know where we are going more then a few days in advance, and we were lured into Honduras with reports of two stellar breweries and cheap diving in the Bay Islands.

First up was the small town of Copan Ruinas just over the border.  Most tourists visit Copan Ruinas in order to explore the Mayan ruins of Copan, we went for the authentic German beer and food served at Sol de Copan.  Thomas, the owner and brewmaster, has operated and owned this restaurant for over 8 years.  He brews with fresh spring water using ingredients he imports from Germany, where has justly won awards for his beer.  It was incredible to sit down to some very delicious beers and  German food, it had been too long since I had spatzle (sorry no pictures, we were too busy stuffing our faces)! IMG_1668

We continued our hotsprings tour and drove the 20 km dirt road to the Luna Jaguar Hot Springs.  Set in amongst the jungle as a series of 10 pools of varying temperatures.  Our favorite was the spiritual bath that cascaded from hot to cool with a stately ‘Mayan’ sculpture overseeing our soaking.

Luna Jaguar Hotsprings

Luna Jaguar Hotsprings

Up next was D&D Brewery near Lago Yojoa.  We had been hearing about this place since we started researching the trip.  It seems as if it as the new ‘place to be’ on the overlanding circuit of Honduras.  We were not disappointed and enjoyed a few days of paddleboarding on the lake, pitchers of beer and good company. IMG_1693

Lago Yojoa

Lago Yojoa

After a month and half in Guatemala, we were yearning for some beach time so we pointed Suzie towards the Caribbean and the town of Trujillo.  Trujillo is near the place where Christopher Columbus first set foot on the the American mainland in 1502 and one of the earliest Spanish settlements in Central America.  It was also the first place where we got a taste of the poverty makes Honduras one of the poorer Latin American countries.  Barefoot children in filthy, dirty clothes ran down the side of the road trying to see us bags of coconut water.  Homes built of concrete, mud, and tin almost crumbling where they stood lined the road.  No shiny chicken busses in Honduras.  Only decrepit hand-me-down yellow school busses packed with people.  In many places, more bikes then cars rode down the road.  Ken is slalom driving, dodging kids, busses, bikes, and potholes.  Honduran highways have more potholes then any other road we have driven thus far.  And I’m not talking your normal run of the mill American pothole, I’m talking truck swallowing, axle breaking, tire popping monstrosities.  Intact we rolled into Trujillo into our own slice of Caribbean deserted beach paradise and settled in to do some serious relaxing.

Trujillo

Trujillo

Our new mascot, Cheetah.

Our new mascot, Cheetah.

Soaking in Guatemala

San Pedro from Indian Nose

San Pedro from Indian Nose

After over a month of playing house in San Pedro, it was time for us to hit the road again, but not before getting together for one last celebration.  We hiked up the infamous Indian Nose with a couple we met who are headed to Uruguay in their Honda Element Ecamper, and had a bon voyage dinner or two with Patagonia or Bust, Overland the World, and the Long Way South.

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Indian Nose

Indian Nose

As we prepared for this trip, we read and followed numerous blogs, never realizing how important our own blog would become for meeting other travelers along the way.  It was incredible to connect with other overlanders and we hope to see them again on the road.

Admiring rigs

Admiring rigs

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Leaving San Pedro, we had two weeks to kill until we needed to be in La Ceiba, Honduras to catch a boat to the Bay Islands for some diving.  We pointed Suzie north towards Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs near Quetzaltenago.  We love hot springs.  So far we’ve traveled through five countries and managed to soak in every country except Belize.  We plan on continuing this trend as we head south.  Fuentes Georginas currently holds the prestigious title of Ken and Anaka’s most favorite hot springs (a title that changes with startling frequency).  Skirting Queltzaltenago on CA-1 we went up and over one of the highest points on the PanAmerican, at 10,334 feet, and drove into prime Guatemalan agricultural country.  Ken, having been born and raised in Amish country Pennsylvania, thought he knew what agriculture land looked like. IMG_1605 Neither of us were prepared for the near vertical fields carved out of the mountains by hand, irrigation pipe laboriously carried and connected, and the tiny concrete, mud and wood huts of the workers’ homes nestled between the fields.  To my horror a majority of the crops were onions, my nose wrinkled in disgust at the pervading scent in the air (I hate onions).  Luckily, the acrid scent of onions was soon mixed with the sulfury smell of hot springs.  As the road narrowed, we climbed steadily up the mountain through the fields of onions, radishes, and cabbages, and into the clouds.  We slowed to a crawl, sure that to our left was a bus-plunging cliff and afraid that around every corner a death defying Toyota pickup filled with farm workers would be hurtling towards us.  Regardless of the dangers surrounding us, we pulled up to the gigantic metal gates marking the entrance of Fuentes Georginas unscathed.

Fuentes Georginas

Fuentes Georginas

We parked Suzie and threw our suits on, ready for some soaking.  There are three different areas with pools in Fuentes as well as a few cabins available for the night.  The first area consists of three pools and a restaurant.  The first pool abuts the rocks where the scalding hot water cascades down, and was much too hot to soak in for any extended period of time.  IMG_1607We were content with the second pool and soaked for an hour or so waiting for everyone to leave so we could navigate Suzie into a prime parking spot for the night.  After a delicious dinner, we climbed back in or cold, clammy suits and set our sights on the pool we had passed as we entered Fuentes.  Tucked into the cliffs with a lone street lamp, a sliver of moon, and a few scattered stars to light the way, it appeared to be a steaming witches cauldron.  It wasn’t.  It was pure heaven.

Heaven in the daylight

Heaven in the daylight

The next morning we awoke to a deserted parking lot and went for a soak in the third pool.  Again, we had it to ourselves.  Sitting in the steam in the jungle, we looked at each other in disbelief.  We are really in Guatemala sitting in a spectacular hot springs in the middle of the jungle at 7,900 ft with a view of the tallest mountain in Central America (Volcan Tajumulco, 13, 926 ft).  True contentment.   IMG_1613

Moving Day

We arrived in San Pedro on December 19th, a mere two days before the end of the world (aka the end of the 13th baktun of the Mayan calendar) and only five days before Christmas.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

We rolled out of bed the next morning with one simple goal in mind, to find a house with secure parking large enough for two trucks.  Our plan was to rent a home in San Pedro for the next month with our faithful travel companies, Patagoniaorbust, and settle down for some serious language lessons and truck maintenance.  After five hours of trudging the streets, the task seemed more daunting.

San Pedro "street"

San Pedro “street”

Despite asking every travel agent, hotel, hostel, posada, and guesthouse we could find, we still did not even have the slimmest lead.  Everyone shook their head, “no, no su posible causa de 21 de Diciembre, Navidad, Año Nuevo, San Pedro se llena de turistas.  As we wandered around aimlessly hoping to stumble upon a magnificent mansion, a scruffy Mayan clad in filthy jeans, a once white t-shirt, and sandals came running towards us babbling about a house on the hill that was for rent.  Out of desperation, Ken and the Mayan hopped in Suzie and headed up the hill to check out this house, leaving us wondering if we would ever see him again.  An hour later he was back, limbs and truck intact.

View from our casa over San Pedro and Lake Atitlan

View from our casa over San Pedro and Lake Atitlan

The house was perfect and brand new; unfortunately he did not remember the Mayan’s name nor how to contact him.  Through a serious of random and strange events, that we have come to accept as an everyday part of overlanding, we were able to track down our Mayan, Clementine, who hooked us up with the owner of the home, Byron, and by the next day we were ready to move in.

New casa

New casa

Driving through the tight, vertical streets of San Pedro to our new home, I was seriously questioning the ability of our truck and camper to fit through the gate into the secure yard in front of the house.  Confident as always, Ken had no doubts.  An hour and half later, Suzie was stuck.

Stuck

Stuck

It turns out a 6 ½ foot wide camper, does not fit very well through a 6 ½ foot wide gate, especially when said gate is abutted by concrete pillars and off a typical narrow, steep Guatemalan road with no maneuvering room.  Over the next hour and half, despite numerous though miniscule attempts to turn and squeeze her through, she was still stuck.

Stuck, stuck

Stuck, stuck

Byron had called for Guatemalan reinforcements, and was planning on demolishing the existing gate in order to get the truck in.  The prospect of possibly inebriated (it was 12/21, a grande fiesta in San Pedro) Guatemalan’s swinging sledgehammers around Suzie was not acceptable. With some muscle power, a bit of rocking, and the sound of screeching metal, ‘POP’ she was in.  A quick assessment of the damage revealed torn tin on the back right corner of the camper and a broken roof clip.

Oops

Oops

The rest of our afternoon was spent unloading the truck while being serenaded by the sound of sledgehammers against concrete and tin.

Out with the old...

Out with the old…

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We were amazed and gratified that not only was Byron destroying part of his new home to accommodate a few gringoes with too big of a truck, his friends were gladly abandoning whatever festivities that they had planned for the rest of the day and quickly rebuilt a wider gate to accommodate us.

...in with the new

…in with the new

Over the next few days we took full advantage of our new home and large kitchen, whipping up a Christmas feast and taking in the Christmas and New Year fireworks from our roof.

Christmas feast

Christmas feast

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The aftermath of Christmas dinner….maybe waiting for Santa?

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The 65.5%

Although we are two months post-election and one year post the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’m assuming that a majority of those that read our blog are familiar with the percentages sweeping the United States these past few years: the 1% versus the 99%, the 47% versus the 53%.  While in Guatemala, we have been introduced to a different percentage, the 65.5% versus the 34.5%.   Again, I shall assume that most of our readers have never driven in Guatemala, for those that have, you might have an idea of what I am referring to.  According to nationmasters.com (a very reputable source, I know), only 34.5% of Guatemala’s roads are paved, leaving an astounding 65.5% of unpaved roads and making Guatemala 98th out of the random 172 countries listed, superseded by such world powers as Azerbaijan and the Republic of Macedonia.  In the three days after we left Lanquin, we drove approximately 150 miles of the 65.5% of unpaved roads.  One hundred and fifty miles doesn’t sound like much.  Let me assure you, it is at 10 mph.  One hundred and fifty miles of the most stunning, remote scenery that we have seen since Alaska.  One hundred and fifty miles driving over the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America, the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes.  One hundred and fifty miles of truck rattling, bone shaking, dirt roads.

65.5%

65.5%

Leaving Lanquin, we followed the advice of the Swiss owner of the Zephyr Hostel and pointed north, the completely wrong direction, but towards the reported beautiful Laguna Lachua National Park.  IMG_1304Laguna Lachua is nestled close to the Mexican border, a crater lake formed by a meteor and surrounded by pristine jungle.  After a night of show and tell with the local family whose field we were camped in and an enjoyable hike to the lake, we were ready to hit the road. IMG_1288 Instead of backtracking to Coban to get to Lake Atitlan, we collectively decided to head due west towards Playa Grande and Barrillas, arriving in San Pedro de la Laguna through Huehuetenango.  Our host had consulted various amigos and assured us that it was a mere five hours to Barrillas and from there only seven hours to Huehue.  We were also told that the calle (road) was malo (bad) at times, but also bueno (good) at times.  Regardless, we were ready for an adventure.  As we crawled through Barrillas seven hours later, we felt defeated by the 65.5%.  The Guatemalan road had again given us a lesson in humility.  For seven hours we had taken a beating as we pounded over rough, narrow, dirt roads. IMG_1314 Evidently in Guatemala there is no gravel, only dirt held together with large, sharp rocks.  Occasionally, on very steep sections, two narrow concrete pads wide enough for the tires had been laid, but those would disappear at the top of the mountain.  IMG_1326But, despite the punishment of the road, we couldn’t wipe the huge grins off of our faces.  Even though we were in an area that according to our maps should be sparsely populated, we drove through small village after small village.  Defying gravity, they clung to the side of the steep mountains.  IMG_1345Logically, one would imagine that such villages would be better off placed in a valley or near the bottom of the mountain.  Each mountain plunged into the next with steep, narrow, uninhabitable valleys.  Along the road trudged tiny Mayan men and women dwarfed by the loads they carried on their backs.  In Guatemala, for the poor indigenous population, nothing is easy.  Corn crops are planted on vertical slopes, planted and tilled with simple hoes.  Corn is husked, by hand, from the cob and laid to dry in the sun.  It is then either ground by hand with mortar and pestle or if the village has one, a simple machine run with a motor.  Once the corn is ground into cornmeal, tortillas are made and baked over an open hearth.  Wood for the hearth is harvested from the vertical slopes of the mountains.  Painstakingly chopped down with machete, bundled up and carried on their back using a forehead strap.  It was not uncommon to see stooped old men and young children, carrying their weight or more in wood.  Exhausted yet ecstatic we settled in for the night in a rock quarry outside of Barrillas, feeling as if this is what overlanding is all about.

Huddled together for protection against banditos.

Huddled together for protection against banditos.

 

As we left Barrillas, Ken heard a new rattling noise coming from the back of the truck.  We pulled over in the first spot in the road wide enough to accommodate two trucks (unfortunately also the town dump), and checked the truck over.  A bolt holding the suspension airbag in place was gone.  If we had ignored the rattling and continued driving, the entire air bag would have been destroyed and we would have been stuck in the middle of no where Guatemala  for weeks waiting for a new one.

Guatamealan roadside maintenance

Guatamealan roadside maintenance

Luckily, Ken was able to use one of the bolts holding the camper to the truck bed and we were able to safely continue.  We kept climbing higher and higher into the mountains and the road did not improve until we topped out in a forest of pine trees and were beyond ecstatic to see smooth, unbroken concrete.  IMG_1356 2After an entire day in low range, cruising at 45 mph felt like light speed.   When we checked the Garmin, we saw that we were at well over 9,000 ft in elevation.  Surrounded by pine trees, we felt as if we were back in Alaska or Montana.  That is until three donkeys trotted by loaded down with wood led by a spry man in shin length white pants, a black vest, black cowboy hat, and sandals: yep, still in Guatemala.  IMG_1354Amazingly we continued to climb up windy, narrow, mountain roads, until we were driving through the Cuchumatanes high mountain desert at 11,200 ft.  A new record for Suzie and both of us!  But, when one goes up, one must go back down and down we plunged towards HueHue.

Sky-high graveyard

Sky-high graveyard

The hotel in HueHue no longer allowed camping in it’s parking lot, so we decided to push on towards San Pedro, only a 2 hours drive according to the waiter at the restaurant.  Lesson number 1,674 of overloading was learned, when asking a local for directions and driving times poll at least three different individuals and add at least 2 hours of driving time to whatever estimate they give you.  We made it to the access road to Lake Atitlan just as the sun was setting and navigated down the extremely steep road arriving in San Pedro four hours later.

The Road

It snakes in front of us, curving and winding, its brown contrasting vividly with the lush green around it.  IMG_1160We catch the glint of sunshine on metal high above us out of the corner of our eyes.  As we watch the glimmer barrels down towards us at a rapid pace becoming obscured by the billowing cloud of dust that envelopes it.  Glancing at each other we swallow nervously and prepare ourselves.   IMG_1155Ken grips the steering wheel with two hands, knuckles white, brow furrowed in concentration.  I quickly scan ahead of us looking for any minute widening in the road.  As we creep along at 10 mph with an inch of the tires hanging off a sheer drop off, the roar of the truck approaching us reaches our ears.  Around the corner at 40 mph, barrels a Nissan pick-up rattling, noisy, decrepit.  Crammed in the bed without an inch of room to spare 25 Guatemalans sway with the pounding of the tires against the rough road.  IMG_1351In unison, they turn to stare with incredulous eyes at the gringoes braving their Guatemalan road.  We were making our way from Poptun, Guatemala to Lanquin and the famed Semuc Champey pools.  Overlanding blogs abound with tales of the punishing road to Lanquin, purportedly the worst road in Central America.  Having done our research and read every scrap of information we could find online, we had decided to forgo the Poptun to Fray Bartolome cutoff and instead headed south towards Rio Dulce on (according to the thick red line on our map) a carretera principal.  After a 20 miles of smooth blacktop the road turned into a manageable gravel road then into a construction zone.  A game of dodge the construction equipment ensued.  The construction zone had no flaggers, no pilot cars, no neon flashing lights pointing hapless drivers in the correct direction.  Instead, we were left to fend for ourselves, dodging and weaving between excavators, steam-rollers, bulldozers, and molten stretches of fresh asphalt.   Suzie – 1, construction zone – 0, and we triumphed unscathed.  As we left Fray in our rear-view mirror, we scoffed at those who had gone before us.  This road was a piece of cake, there aren’t even any topes on it!  Little did we know that the Guatemalan road still had a lesson or two to teach us.  Soon our freshly paved, wide road disintegrated into a narrow, pot-hole ridden, dirt beast, winding up the steep side of the mountain between us and Lanquin.  Suzie’s transmission got a work-out climbing the 40 % grade, navigating around the tight switchbacks.  Although acclimated to mountains having lived in in Montana and Alaska, the lush, green Guatemala mountains made my jaw drop.  IMG_1171Coupled with the children frantically waving at us and screaming “gringo, gringo!” at the top of their lungs and despite the treacherous road, we were patting ourselves on the back for choosing this spectacular route. That is until we reached the small town of Sebol.  Weaving our way through the market we noticed an inordinate amount of trash and stumbling drunk men flies wide open, cowboy hats cocked to the side which diverted our attention from the very important sign stating the hours of passage through the upcoming construction zone.  It was 3:00 and we were confident that we were going to make it to Lanquin within the next 45 minutes, it was only 11 miles away.  Pulling up behind the orange cones in the middle of the road, we were amazed that this construction zone actually had someone directing traffic, but confident that our wait would not exceed 30 minutes.  The road had a different plans for us.  IMG_1179We would not be allowed through until 6 pm.  Deciding to make the best of the three hour wait we set up our table and chairs, cracked open a few Gallos and began playing a round of Hearts.  IMG_1193Soon a crowd of children, curious villagers, and drunk men congregated around us, gawking, touching, laughing.  The great gringo spectacle of Sebol lasted for four and a half hours. IMG_1190Finally, at 7:30 and in the pitch black with no pilot car, in the thick fog, we broke our number one rule of overlanding and drove at night.  Not only were we driving at night, we were on a one lane rough dirt road with potential unseen hazards all around us on the purported worst road in Guatemala.  Finally we arrived in Lanquin and headed straight for a few well-deserved cuba libres.  The next morning, after a sound night sleep, we put Suzie’s four-wheel drive capabilities to the test, and headed to Semuc Champey.  No more 40% grade here, we crawled up and down 45 degree slopes, bumping from one rock to another.  IMG_1209Luckily Ken had spent the previous week in San Ignacio re-mounting the camper to the truck frame and despite the crack in the truck bed, Suzie survived in one piece.  The pools of Semuc where breathtaking, and we spent a few hours jumping from pool to pool, sliding down the limestone chutes and stretched our legs climbing up the mirador (lookout).  IMG_1241As we headed back to Lanquin from Semuc, we were confident that we had showed those nasty Guatemalan roads who was boss.  Up next we head to the remote Parque Nacional Laguna Lachua in northern Guatemala.

Senor Lopez

A figure strode deliberately  down the hill toward us, the machete hanging from his belt to his shins swinging ominously back and forth.  We were deep into the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve west of San Ignacio, Belize.  I handed Ken the hand-drawn map we had used to navigate to this private property on the river.  This was our inadequate indication that we were in fact permitted to be here.  The thing was, we were not sure that the caretaker of the property had gotten the message.  And from the way he marched towards us, it seemed that he hadn’t.  But what was that flanking his heels, bobbing and wobbling as fast as possible after the machete wearing man?  It looked like a tiny, floppy-eared brown and white puppy.

Fierce guard puppy

Fierce guard puppy

Thus was our first introduction to Senor Lopez and his fierce guard puppy, Spicy.  IMG_0844Over the next few days as we relaxed by the river, cleaning and maintaining the truck, rejuvenating ourselves with intermittent slides into the refreshing river, Senor Lopez kept a close eye on us, teaching us as much as he could about surviving in the bush of Belize all the while lamenting in his broken spanish/creole/english that the attention we were lavishing on his erstwhile guard puppy, Spicy, were surely ruining her for good.  “All Spicy do is eat, play, sleep!”  “An then people, they pet Spicy, and it is no good.”

Spicy learning how to do dishes

Spicy learning how to do dishes

 One of the most important lessons in my mind was how to kill giant tarantulas.  Kylee almost stumbled on one outside of the bathroom (apologies for the lack of pictures, I was too terrified to move), and soon we were all huddled slack-jawed around, at a very respectable distance of course.  Ken came running over not with the machete that one would imagine would be used to kill a spider the size of a dinner plate, but instead with a mere stick.  As Ken goaded the spider with the end of the killing stick it moved with lightening quick speed, latching onto the end with it’s fangs, causing all of us to scream, jump back and Ken to heroically pound it to a pulp.

Senor Lopez, firing up the bbq

Senor Lopez, firing up the bbq

By far the most impressive skill that Senor Lopez imparted was his complete mastery of the skill known as macheting.  Not only did he sharpen Joe’s machete to a razor sharp edge, he also bequeathed to Ken one of his worn-out, old machetes and taught them both how to swing one properly.  The grin spreading from ear to ear on Ken’s face might have prompted an unknowing individual to wonder if he had just won the $300 billion dollar PowerBall jackpot, nope just the euphoric grin of a man/boy with the best toy he could possibly imagine.  Needless to say, the jungle around our truck got destroyed, or rather tamed, that day.
One of the many sights we enjoyed in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve was the Hidden Valley Waterfall, at over 1,000 feet Central America’s tallest.  Although beautiful, it was not as awe-inspiring as we had hoped.  IMG_0811More fascinating was Pedro, the caretaker at the waterfall overlook.  A hunched over, weather beaten man, with his wisdom carved into his face, Pedro had been maintaining the overlook for 23 years. Leaving the waterfall we passed by a tall lookout tower that promised to offer stunning vistas of the surrounding landscape.  Unfortunately it was behind a barb wire fence clearly marked with a no trespassing sign.  Fortunately, we were still traveling with Joe and Kylee who had no reservations about driving to the main farmhouse and asking permission to climb the tower.  Gary, the owner of the Pine Mountain Farm, not only gave us permission to climb the tower, but also printed out a comprehensive map of Mountain Pine Ridge, and even offered us hot showers and internet.

Don't they look good?

Don’t they look good?

He clearly has either overlanded or traveled extensively and knows the high value those commodities hold.  We are still amazed every day we are on the road as we meet incredible people who are willing to share so much with us, and it inspires us to return that generosity as often as we can.

After a day of relaxing, reading, truck and camper cleaning and maintenance as well as a few rounds of competitive hearts, we hit the road for some jungle adventures.  First stop, Rio On Pools.  A beautiful series of pools cascading over granite rocks down the valley.

Rio On Pools

Rio On Pools

As refreshing as the water was, the tiny leeches clinging to our legs and slimy rocks threatening total body destruction with one misstep, prompted us to continue on to our next destination the Rio Frio Cave.  The Rio Frio Cave has the largest cave opening in Belize, its huge.  IMG_0941-1Inside a river carved through the middle of the cave and mineral deposits flowed like lava down the walls.

Exploring the depths

Exploring the depths

On the drive back to our campsite, we decided to take a “shortcut” described to us by Senor Lopez.

Riverbed or road....you decide

Riverbed or road….you decide

Lesson number 985 of overlanding was learned, do not take your rig aka home down “shortcuts” that are not on maps, especially when there are absolutely no signs of any previous traffic on them.

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We reluctantly left the beautiful Pine Ridge to return to San Ignacio in preparation to cross into Guatemala.  We ate one final meal with patagoniaorbust, even finding the ingredients to make two belated Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, baked in a wood-fired oven.

Wood-fired barrel oven

Wood-fired barrel oven

After over a month of overloading adventures together we are parting ways this morning.  They are headed to Guatemala and we are holed up in San Ignacio, Belize waiting for my contact lenses to arrive (the gift that keeps on giving thanks to the Oaxacan thief) and catching up on blogging, podcast downloading, book reading, and hammock swinging.

The oven might have been a bit hot, but burnt crust and all it was delicious.

The oven might have been a bit hot, but burnt crust and all it was delicious.

Ragamuffin Mon!

Sailboat, don’t mind if I do. Snorkeling with nurse sharks, sting rays, and thousands of other fish, don’t mind if I do.  Shrimp ceviche, don’t mind if I do.  Free-flowing rum punch, don’t mind if I do.  Middle-aged Italian women bumping and grinding to some reggae, not particularly enjoyable, but it’ll do.  Stuck on a reef in a sailboat full of drunk Americans, Italians, and a semi-sober Belizean crew, you better Belize it!

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.  After an incredible 42 days and 4,730 miles spent in Mexico, we reluctantly crossed into Belize.  Mexico had surprised and enthralled us and although we were excited to head into new territory we weren’t looking forward to $6/gallon gas and triple the prices.  The border crossing was essentially uneventful (full write-up to follow).  After stocking up on some delicious Belikin in Corazol, we headed down the dirt road towards Sarteneja.  Ahead, two hotly anticipated hand cranked ferries awaited us.  A mere six miles down the road we approached the uncrossable river.  On the opposite bank, we spied a wooden boat loaded with two cars slowly making its way towards us.  Didn’t look too sturdy to me, but Ken is the boat guru and he was practically salivating waiting to get on the thing, so it must be ok.

Load up!

Load up!

We loaded our trucks on with no difficulty, rasta music was blaring from the radio and the the hand cranking began.  Of course, Ken and Joe immediately jumped in and asked to take over.  What had seemed like a simple task as we watched the ferry approach us, turned out to be a bit more difficult.  IMG_0553The opposing bank moved slowly towards us, water visibly rushing underneath the gaping boards.  Kylee and I thought we could provide a bit more muscle and took over. IMG_0554 Big mistake.  The boys wandered off with the cameras, the ferry operators were inspecting our trucks, and me and Kylee were left to crank the rest of the way.  As we disembarked, the operator told us that the second ferry was out of commission requiring us to take a longer road, that he assured us would only take 45 minutes longer.  Forty five minutes later we were still twenty miles from Sarteneja, faced with the biggest pot-holes we had seen since Baja.  Luckily we made it in one piece to Backpacker’s Paradise and enjoyed a laid back evening exploring the town and swinging in some hammocks.

Hammock's are awesome

Hammock’s are awesome

After a night in Sarteneja and a few days relaxing at a family friend’s home in San Ignacio, we were ready for a vacation from our vacation.  Along with patagoniaorbust (yep, we are in it for the long haul with them), we parked our trucks in San Ignacio and hopped on our first public transportation of the trip.  Big, bad Belize City here we come.  Thirty minutes in I was cursing all third world country busses that lacked overhead storage for backpacks that stopped every 20 minutes to off and on load more passengers, and really missed the comfort and convenience of Suzie.  We survived an irate bus load full of Belizeans cursing out the gang suppression unit that thought our bus was loaded with gang members and made everyone disembark in order to search all the luggage, and a mere three hours and eighty miles later (but only a $4 USD versus $50USD for gas) we made it to Belize City, purchased our tickets for the water taxi to Caye Caulker, and prepared for our second boat trip in Belize.

Paradise

Paradise

Caye Caulker is paradise.  Street of white sand, colorful houses and storefronts, unimaginably blue ocean framed with palm trees and mangroves, bikes and golf carts zipping through the minimally crowded streets, with reggae music and ‘hey mons’ wafting through the air.  IMG_0619Definitely paradise.  We spent a few days wandering the three streets that make up Caye Caulker, lounging in the sun at the Lazy Lizard on the Split (the beach where the middle of Caye Caulker was split in half by Hurricane Hattie) drinking buckets of Belikin, and feasting on conch fritters and fry jacks.

The good ship Reggae Queen

The good ship Reggae Queen

The third day we boarded the Reggae Queen of Ragamuffin Sailing Adventures and headed out to sea.  Belize and it’s Cayes are world renowned for their snorkeling and diving, with the world’s second longest barrier reef stretching from Cancun through Belize.  Diving here is incredible, everyone has heard of the Blue Hole, unfortunately it is quite expensive and Ken is not dive certified, so we settled for some snorkeling.  Our crew consisted of Captain Kimani, Shane, and Dillon, all speaking lilting Creole and doing their best to accommodate the mixed group of gringos they were stuck with for the day.  First stop was Coral Gardens, true to its name beautiful coral as far as we could snorkel.  Next up, Shark Alley.  Not my cup of tea.  Snorkeling with whale sharks in Mozambique was a once in a life time experience, one I thought would be literally once in a lifetime.  Now I was expected to jump in the water with sharks and stingrays that had been lured around our boat by the sardine chum that the crew had thrown in the water.

Yep, sharks.

Yep, sharks.

Luckily these sharks were merely nurse sharks, completely harmless to humans.  For the final snorkel we were split into two groups an followed our guides through the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, up against the barrier reef.  We were treated to incredible reef and coral with abundant marine life including moray eels and turtles.  As we motor sailed our way back to Caye Caulker, the crew prepared shrimp ceviche and deceptively weak tasting rum punch.  It began pouring.  No worries, everyone crowded into the cabin around the dreaded-headed captain who was navigating our vessel, and relaxed, out of the downpour.

Crowded?  Nope, just fun.

Crowded? Nope, just fun.

All was kosher until the sailboat came to an abrupt halt.  Ken and Joe sprinted to the top deck to investigate, returning quickly to direct everyone to the bow of the boat.  We were stuck on a reef.  In normal circumstances, sans four glasses of rum punch, we might all have been slightly panicked.  Instead, everyone cheerfully piled from one side of the boat to the other and eventually we drifted free and motored safely back to Caye Caulker.  IMG_0739Although we miss Suzie, Caye Caulker has been a welcome vacation from our vacation…I know, we are spoiled.

Over the Mountains and Through the Jungle, to Belize we go!

After we survived Oaxaca and its curse, we decided we needed some good quality beach time in order to fully recover.  Patagoniaorbust (yep, we are still together) had headed to the Pacific surf town of Puerto Escondido the day before, so after our car alarm was installed and found to be in perfectly loud working condition, we said goodbye to Oaxaca and headed west.  There are two roads from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, both of which as we stared astounded at Google Maps, appeared to be tortuously windy.  Taking the advice of our local hostel owner, we elected to take the slightly longer, potentially less windy, better paved road through Puerto Angel.  We thought we had encountered dangerous curves in the States on Highway 1 in California and then again in Mexico on coastal Highway 200 out of Puerto Vallarta, little did we know, those paled in comparison to Highway 175.  After about the 30th complete steering wheel revolutions, and 2000 feet of elevation gain we were at the top of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range.

Sierra Madre del Sur

Growing up in Montana and living in Alaska, I know mountains.  Not these mountains, these were Mexican mountains and the only similarities were their height and beauty.  Mexican mountains have towns and farms perched at the summit, at a respectable ± 7000 feet.  Corn crops planted vertically down the side, are intermingled with boldly colored flowers, set amidst lushly green jungle with a few pine trees scattered here and there.  Neat houses made of wood (a rarity in a concrete dominated Mexico) seemed to hang over the edge of the mountain, supported by a few wooden beams, laundry flapping in the stiff breeze.

Great view for laundry day!

We drove through a beautiful little town, San Juan del Pacifico, and wished we could linger there for a few days hiking, mountain biking, and getting our mountain fix.  But the beach beckoned and we continued.

We rejoined Joe and Kylee at Zicolete Beach in Puerto Escondido and settled in for a few days of pure laziness aka heaven aka white sand, turquoise ocean, cold corona, and snorkeling.  The only real work we did involved walking to Playa Manzanilla every morning to plop our butts down under some umbrellas and melding our collective culinary skills together to whip up delicious red snapper tacos, pineapple salsa, and fried plantains.  It was tough work.  

When we tired of the beach, heat, and humidity we packed up and hit the road for our longest driving day in Mexico, 407 miles to San Cristobal de las Casas, and back into the cool mountain air.  Way too many toll fees and too much gas later, we made it.  Arriving at Rancho San Nicolas on the outskirts of town that evening, it was cold!

Crammed in Suzie with Joe and Kylee cause it was too cold to eat outside

I am afraid to report that I have absolutely lost my Alaskan indifference to cool temperature.  No longer is 65 degrees a warm day.  In fact, I believe it only dipped down into the mid 40’s that night in San Cristobal, an average spring or fall day in Seward where I would normally be in a t-shirt making my way up Mt. Alice.  Instead I was in Mexico, in the camper huddled under the down blanket as close to Ken as possible, debating whether it was worth the effort to   light the heater.  Luckily we survived the frigid temperatures and set off the next day to explore San Cristobal.  Here the indigenous tribes have a much bigger presence and women dressed in brightly colored traditional blouses, black woolen skirts,  and two tightly plaited braids crowded the streets.  We visited the Mayan Medicine Museum, a fascinating (at least to me) display of the traditional methods and medicines used by the Mayan healers.  We then found one of my favorite places thus far.  A wine bar with cheap delicious Mexican, Argentinian, and Chilean wine that also served popcorn and tapas.

Anaka’s version of heaven

I actually could’ve stayed there for at least a week, but I don’t think everyone else had quite the same enthusiasm.

The next day we caught a collective (an old VW van to Ken’s delight) and headed to the Tzotzil village of San Juan Chamula, well known for its peculiar religious rituals.  As we hopped off the collective that cost each of us $1.68 each way, we were dismayed to see rows of tour buses belching out zip-off panted, fanny-pack belted, wide-brimmed hat wearing tourists.   We belined for the white stone church that sits at the head of San Juan Chamula’s zocalo, hoping to beat the crowds.  As we payed the 20 peso entrance fee, wafts of fragrant smoke and chanting floated out the door.  We entered into the barely illuminated interior, the floor carpeted with pine needles and flickering candles.  Statues of obscure saints lined the sides, candles on tables and candles on the floor (dangerously close to the dry pine needles) seemed to provide the lighting for the entire church.  Small groups of worshippers were huddled around their chosen saint, some kneeling in silence, some chanting, a few crying.  Combined it was a powerful scene.  Unfortunately, there were also groups of tourists, us included, far outnumbering those who had come to worship.  Any sense of spirituality was quickly replaced by the feeling that we were intruders peering into these peoples’ most private place.  We were merely curious bystanders here to watch the show.  It was a defining moment for the rest of our travels, and a concept I’ve struggled with in my previous travels.  What is the fine line that prevents tourism from becoming an invasive and disrespectful practice that might ultimately have a negative effect on the people and their culture?  As we continue on our journey we do not want to merely be the observers, making a spectacle out of someone’s every day life and practices.  Instead, we will strive to respectfully partake in their culture and way of life, not staring or comparing.  Some may call it responsible tourism, we think its basic human respect.

High rise church in San Cristobal

 

From San Cristobal we crawled at a painfully slow pace over a record number of topes (227 by our count) to Palenque, stopping for a refreshing dip in Agua Azul before arriving at Mayabell Campground.  As evidenced by the amount of tourists at Agua Azul and the next day at Palenque, we were back on the gringo trail!   That evening as we settled into camp we all eagerly listened for the first howl of the howler monkey.  Far off in the distance I heard a combination groan/burp/fart/howl, that almost sounded like a constipated donkey bray.  As these cries echoed all around us, we realized this was the infamous howler monkey.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get any sound bytes, but were entertained by a group of monkeys in camp the next day.

Baby howler monkey!

Palenque far exceeded our expectations.  We deftly evaded the persistent tour guides and the hordes of European tourists and along with our fellow intrepid explorers patagoniaorbust, we managed to discover and conquer every niche and cranny we could find.  Even imagining that we had found passageways that no one else had encountered and braving hordes of bats flying in our faces.  Actually, only Joe braved the lone bat, although it is debatable if it was a bat or a giant butterfly.

Obligatory ancient bathroom pic

From Palenque we headed to Campeche in a quest to find contacts (to replace the ones stolen in Oaxaca) and the makings for a traditional American Thanksgiving feast.  Campeche proved to be a quiet little city with a beautiful historic center.  That night instead of howler monkey cries, we were serenaded by an orchestra giving a free concert in front of the brightly lit cathedral right outside our hotel rom.  The next day we headed towards the Riviera Maya south of Playa del Carmen sans contacts and with the makings for a yummy albeit nontraditional Thanksgiving feast.  We pulled into the Xpu-Ha Campground set a little back from the perfectly white sand beach and found ourselves surrounded once again by Canadians.  Throughout Mexico, at every single campground, there has been at least one Canadian snowbird, and a glaring absence of Americans.  We admit were a bit apprehensive about the ‘safety situation’ in Mexico prior to the beginning of our journey.  That negative perception has been shattered.  Despite the incident in Oaxaca, Mexico has far exceed our expectations.  It is a beautiful, geographically varied country filled with friendly, welcoming people, delicious food, gorgeous beaches, towering mountains, and cultured cities.  Never once have we felt threatened or unsafe.  With a little common sense and travel know how, anyone can experience the amazingness that is Mexico, but I digress.  That evening surrounded by Canadians we enjoyed our version of Thanksgiving; pan fried chicken with gravy, instant mashed potatoes, green beens, corn, and a few bottles of wine.

Thanksgiving feast

The boys even put a Mexican twist on it, wrapping everything up in tortillas.  We enjoyed two days and nights at Xpu-Ha picking the brains of those Canadians, who between them probably had over 50 years experience RV’ing in Mexico and Central America and welcomed us young Americans in with wide open arms.

After Xpu-Ha, we based ourselves in Bacalar on the shores of the picturesque lake before crossing the border into Belize.

Lake Bacalar

More difficult days were spent lazing in the sun, paddleboarding, and cooling off in the freshwater lake.  We also managed to squeeze in a pickup soccer game and some impromptu Spanish/English lessons with the park groundskeeper.  Overall, Mexico was incredible.  We drove approximately 4,730 miles from Tijuana to Chetumal crossing deserts, beaches, oceans, mountains and cities and eating our weight in tacos, and we would do it again in a heartbeat.  Mexico we miss you already!  Check out our Facebook page for more photos.

The Rhythm of the Road

Our eyes open almost simultaneously around 7:30 (a straight up miracle for those who know me well) and we are ready for another day.  Every morning water is boiling first thing for tea and coffee.  Really difficult breakfast choices are then made, banana pancakes, fresh pineapple with yogurt, or eggs and chorizo?  I sip my tea and figure out how far under or over budget we were the previous day as Ken checks the truck and the camper.  Oil level, check, transmission fluid, check, air pressure in the tires and air bags, check, propane tank level, check, water tank level, check, fridge pilot light lit, check.  If we are in a city, we begin exploring after our morning routine.  Wandering the streets, poking our heads into shops, stores, whatever interests us.  Stopping in the zocalo’s (plaza) to take in the local sights and sounds, we inevitably find our way to the mercado.

My favorite part of San Cristobal. Vino and popcorn!

Each city’s mercado has different characteristics, but are essential the same.  A tangled labyrinth of narrow walkways, each section selling different wares.  A row of stalls selling DVD’s, a whole stall dedicated to remote controls, or shoe laces.

Outdoor mercado in San Juan Chamula

Then there is the carneceria  with stalls upon stalls of every cut of meat imaginable.  If the city is close enough to the ocean there are stalls of seafood displayed perfectly.  Inexplicably, the butcher stalls are always immediately next to the produce stalls where mounds of fresh tomatoes, avocados, peppers, bananas, pineapple and that regions specialty are heaped colorfully together.

Maybe not fruit, but colorful nonetheless.

And then our favorite portion of the mercado, the food stands.  Immediately, our ears are filled with the lilting calls enticing potential customers to choose a particular establishment.  “Enchilada, empenada, tamale, mole negro, tostada, tlayuda,” or some variation ring out.  If we happen to glance at a particular stand, the chant grows in intensity.  Finally we find someplace that suits our needs for that day and stuff our bellies with delicious food made in front of our eyes.

San Cristobal de las Casa mercado food

The afternoon might be spent in a museum or more likely enjoying a beer at one of the many cafes, watching the world go by.  Back at Suzie dinner is made, enjoyed, and cleaned up.  Some time is spent researching the next few days or watching a movie and we crawl into bed satisfied with another incredible day in Mexico.  If we are on the beach, we spend a hard day lazing in the sand, snorkeling or paddleboarding, eating fresh fish tacos and soaking in the sun and sights.

Fresh fish tacos in Puerto Escondido

On travel days the morning routine might be cut a little shorter, but usually not.  We try not to drive more then 200 miles in a day in order to keep our gas budget under control and to prevent too much of the country flying by our window without us exploring some part of it.  Fill up, drive, stop for lunch, drive, reach our destination and set up camp.

View from the road.

Such is our life in the road.  A day or two or three or more in a place, no real set itinerary, trying our hardest not to have anywhere we have to be.  This is how traveling should be and is becoming more of a reality for us every day.  By the time we reach Patagonia maybe we will be experts, but I hope not.  The most important part of the journey is the journey and we hope to be learning at every turn of the road.  We’ve found ourselves listening to this song a few times every day as we drive.  It always makes us smile and reminds us exactly why we are taking this journey.

The Tale of Cuatro Gringros and the Oaxacan Curse

We reunited with Joe and Kylee of Patagonia or Bust in San Miguel Allende after spending a few days stretching our legs in the windy, hilly streets of Guanajuato.

Streets of San Miguel de Allende…pictures courtesy of Joe and Kylee (aka patagoniaorbust)

After spending two lazy days catching up, updating our blogs, and exploring San Miguel we all headed to Cholula outside of Mexico City with the goal in mind to climb the pyramid and explore the churches of nearby Puebla.  Instead we were spooked by the ghostly empty, tagged up walls of Las America’s RV Park and ducked out after one night.  Our goal was Benito Juarez National Park 10 km north of Oaxaca where we planned on camping for the night in the clear air of the mountains before parting ways again.  Amazingly we found, or so we thought, the park relatively easily with only a few wrong turns.  As we inched our way up the dirt road on the side of the mountain, we marveled at the valley spread before us crammed with houses, people, and smog.  ‘Those suckers,’ we thought, ‘we are going to be sucking in the fresh air in no time!’  At the peak of the ridge as the mountains opened up before us, there was a lone gatekeeper’s house in front of a chain stretching across the road.  Forewarned by his two fierce guard dogs, who promptly wandered off to sleep, the gatekeeper came out to greet us a skeptical smile on his face.  We struggled to make ourselves understood, all we wanted was for the chain to come down so we could proceed up and camp undisturbed.  He mumbled something about permits under his breath and reached for his cell phone.  In rapid fire Spanish he spoke to some unknown higher up, all we could catch was ‘cuatro gringos’ and a couple of ‘buenos.’  We thought we were in!  As he hung up, he glanced over at us, shook his head and said ‘no permiso acampar,’ and retreated to his shack.  The last thing we wanted to do was head into Oaxaca at rush hour on a Saturday night to try and find a hostel, so we resolved to find a perfectly hidden pirate camping spot on the long dirt road we had just driven up.  As we descended, we spotted a rutted road headed up into the  trees.

Headed to pirate camping outside of Oaxaca

Our scouting mission was cut short by the tuk-tuk that came barreling down the road.  The words from numerous blogs came to life in front of me.  “When we had reached what we thought was the limit of our 4WD rigs, a crappy 2 wheel drive car would inevitably come cruising past us in no apparent distress at the conditions of the road (loosely adapted).”  We decided that this spot would work.  Ken gunned Suzie, she seemed ready to tackle the uneven terrain.  As we traversed the ditch, Suzie became airborne.  Rather one wheel left the ground and she seemed to teeter to a stop, balanced on her front axle, leaning towards the passenger side.  A million things happened in the space of a second.  I assumed we were not only high centered but about to go over so I leaped into Ken’s lap inadvertently grabbing the steering wheel.  Ken locked eyes with Kylee, noted the expression of horror on her face and hit the gas.  Somehow, miraculously, the other three tires grabbed and Suzie jumped out of the huge hole that Ken had accidentally driven into.  Joe and Kylee did not follow our example and managed to safely negotiate their truck into a ‘hidden’ nook next to us.  We cracked some beers and watched the sunset over Oaxaca.  After a delicious meal of chorizo, potato, peppers, mushrooms, rice, and squash, we started doing some dishes.  I was in the camper scrubbing away and saw some headlights approaching up the road.  We assumed they would continue past us considering we were so well hidden from view.  Instead, they stopped at the bottom of our illicit entrance and five separate lights approached us.  ‘This is it,’ I thought to myself, ‘Ken’s mother’s prediction is about to come true.’  I considered grabbing the bear spray, but instead stepped from the camper.  Ken and Joe nervously bellowed “hola” in a very friendly, nonthreatening manner (at least I thought so).  Soon five gauchos were milling around us.  After initial greetings and queries we were able to determine that we were not in fact camped in the national park, but were in fact camped on the town of San Pablo’s public grazing and farming land.  When the gauchos realized we were harmless, clueless gringos, they loosened up considerable and made us promise to not leave any basura (trash) behind.  Relieved that we weren’t about to receive harm to life, limb, or wordily goods we offered them all a cerveza and enjoyed a bit of awkward half conversation as they taught us some new words, warned us of the dangerous plants, and admired our vehicles.  As they left we all looked at each other with ear splitting grins, this is exactly the reason why we were all doing this trip.  Sure it was not the smartest or safest move to pirate camp outside a major city, but if we hadn’t we never would’ve experienced these men and their way of life.

Trying to get some dishes done

The next morning we woke up still high from the previous night, packed up and headed into Oaxaca for a day of city exploring and hot showers.  We found the Hostel Casa de Sol, got into the room and hopped into the showers.  We were excited to have soft, real beds, internet, and hot water for a night and we had even scored parking directly in front of the hostel.  Less then an hour after we had gotten there I asked Ken to get something from the truck.  He came back a few seconds later, pale, and announced, “I think someone broke into our truck.”  Our worst nightmare.  We knew before we left that we did not have the most secure locks, and intended on installing a car alarm at some point in Mexico, we just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.  Sure enough the lock was popped on the driver’s side and the thief had made off with our phone and three bags of stuff that we kept in the crew cab of the truck.  Initially we were not too upset.  The thief had stolen a bag of books (including our Central and South America guidebooks), air compressor, sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, and a lot of contact solution and tampons.

Video evidence from the hostel camera. The thief’s head is barely visible. Couldn’t see the license plate on the get away car either.

No items absolutely necessary to continue our journey.  The owner of the hostel was very apologetic and helpful, even arranging and guiding us to the locksmith to get the lock repaired.  As we were waiting for the repair, we began cataloguing the items stolen and figuring out what we needed to replace.  That is when we realized that our camera had also been in the back.  Then the anger and depression really set in.  Everything else that had been stolen was not vital, a camera is vital.  On the bright side, I have been lusting after a new camera body for quite a while, now I can with a clear conscience buy one.  It seems that the oaxacan curse is still in full effect and determined to make recent overlander’s experiences here difficult ones (see Home on the Highway and Drive Nacho Drive’s accounts of Oaxaca).  Again we learned lesson numero 1,000 of the million we will learn on the road, albeit a harsh one, and are getting a car alarm installed tomorrow.  We are thankful that nothing of vital importance was stolen including our truck and after a few tasty fried grasshoppers and some mescal life is looking up again.  After all we are still on a trip of our lifetime, with many more miles and incredible experiences ahead of us.

An Unfortunate Series of Events

The night that Suzie sprang a leak was a very unfortunate night.  We were sleeping soundly on the beach at Barra de Nexpa after a day of driving the windy highway 200 on the Michoacan coast.

Barra de Nexpa.

It had been cloudy all day, a fact that we reveled in, it was a break from the unrelenting heat and humidity of the previous few days.  The night before in St. Patricio-Melaque we had even enjoyed a thunder and lightening storm before going to bed.  In Barra de Nexpa, gusts of wind began shaking Suzie, flashes of lightening lit up the windows.  We snuggled a bit closer and closed our eyes until ‘drip, drip,’ Ken was rudely awoken by several splashes of water to the face.  Suzie’s roof was leaking!  Unfortunately it was one in the morning and pouring, and there was absolutely nothing we could do until the morning.  A pot was placed under the leak and we fell back asleep to the ‘plink, plink’ of the water.  In the morning, we expected to wake up to blue skies and heat, after all this is Mexico, it doesn’t rain here, right?

Michoacan coast, reminiscent of the Oregon coast

Wrong.  It was still pouring.  Instead of lazing on the beach for another day in the sun, surf, and sand we packed up and headed towards the colonial city of Morelia in the mountains of Mexico hoping to escape the rain.  However, as we proceeded north, it continued to rain.  Sometimes a sprinkle, sometimes a downpour.  We tried to push the worry out of our minds and enjoy the scenery, which was incredible, imagine soaring mountains strewn with yellow, blue, red and pink flowers, but it was difficult to do so considering the extensive water damage the roof had sustained the prior winter (read our post about repairs here).  Trying to keep our spirits up I read about the beautiful catherdral in the historic centro of Morelia that according to Lonely Planet was lit up by fireworks and spotlights every Saturday, and it was Dia de los Muertos weekend, even better!  ‘This is going to be incredible,’ we thought to ourselves.  Arriving in Morelia around 4:00 we found Hostel Allende relatively easily and it even had a covered parking garage nearby, because yes, it was still pouring.  Again, unfortunately, due to poor prior planning on my part, the hostel was completely booked.  So were the next four or five hostels/hotels we managed to stumble upon as we circled the city center for two hours.  Morelia is a beautiful city, but its streets are very narrow, cobblestoned, filled with throngs of people, and were flooded due to the storm.  Ken did a magnificent job navigating the hazards.

Morelia Cathedral fireworks. Stolen from the web, because we did not make it there that night.

Luckily we had a few contingency plans.  A WalMart had been spotted on the way into town and every WalMart we had encountered in Mexico had large canopies over its parking lot.  Perfect!  A free place to sleep and shelter for Suzie.  Unfortunately, this WalMart was the first one without canopies.  Fortunately, they did have wine, a soon to be necessary salve for the disappointments we had experienced throughout the day.  Our second contingency plan was an Auto Hotel.  For those of you not in the know, an Auto Hotel in Mexico is not a hotel for your automobile although each room does have its own private parking garage.  An Auto Hotel is code for a hotel of ill repute, without the girls, or so we thought.  We had read and heard from previous travelers that if you were absolutely out of options these were the place to go.  Sure you had to pay by the hour, but the hotels were remarkably clean and as mentioned before secure, covered parking was available.  For some reason though, the lady would not let us enter.  I tried over and over again, “Cuentos cuesta para todo noche, para doce horas?” I’m sure something got lost in translation as she rattled off a string of words and numbers that I could not sort out with my limited Spanish.  We deduced that this Auto Hotel must come with a girl in each room, and instead of taking advantage of us poor clueless gringos, this kind lady was actually doing us a favor and saving us from a potentially extremely awkward situation.   Defeated we got back on the road.  Things were getting grim.  We couldn’t pop the top unless we were under shelter and our bed and clothes were most likely getting soaked with the continuing rain, not to mention the newly reconstructed roof could be slowly becoming saturated with water again, and we were violating our one and only rule by driving at night.  Eventually we found a Quality Inn, broke our budget, and lived it up with two double beds, unlimited hot water, internet, and television!  The next morning we found a WalMart with a covered garage, because it was still raining, and Ken examined and recaulked the roof.

You gotta do what you gotta do

Hostel Allende had plenty of room for us the next day and we donned our raincoats, missing our xtratuffs, and explored Morelia despite the rain.

Dia de los Muertos decorations, a bit soggy, but pretty nonetheless

We ate a lot of delicious tacos el pastor and met a fellow traveler, Mike an Irishman living in Australia who has been traveling since January and covered the majority of the US and Canada.  He is planning on shipping his BMW bike from Panama to Chile and driving north. We hope to run into him on the road!

I love tacos!

Smoke filling the place from the open kitchen.

Morelia is truly a special city.  At night the streets fill with people stopping and chatting at cafes and bars.  Guitar and mariachi music spills from open doorways.  Couples kiss in plazas, on benches, under street lights, everywhere.  Even though there was no light show, the cathedral was still breathtaking.  We thoroughly enjoyed it despite the travails of the prior day.

We are now in Guanajuato, another incredible Mexican city.  Here the streets are even narrower then Morelia.  There are more people crowding the streets, sitting in plazas, sunning on the steps of the theater, and chatting it up in cafes.  If there wasn’t a continuous flow of Spanish all around us, we might think we were in any city Europe.  We are camped above the city center in a great little campground, and true to form have been serenaded at night by a cacophony of barking dogs.  Guanajuato is an amazing city and we are thoroughly enjoying exploring as many corners and winding alleyways as we can.  Luckily it hasn’t rained for the past few days and an inspection of Suzie has revealed less water damage then we feared.  Just another adventure to add to the growing list.

Guanajuato

The Crossing

We locked eyes across the counter, neither of us blinking.  A bead of sweat slowly trickled down my brow cooled briefly by the coolness wafting from the air conditioned office.  Scorn and indignation radiated from every pore of my body.  ‘How dare you call Suzie a mini-motorhome!  She is clearly a small truck camper! Just look at her measurements, she is petite! She is a truck!’  Unfortunately, my Jedi mind tricks did not work on the stoic Baja ferry employee.  We were faced with either an enormous ferry fee of $10,667 plus a $975 passenger fee and an additional $500 for a cabin (roughly $930 USD) or driving north back through Baja and over to mainland Mexico.  For the first time I felt utterly defeated and drained, the thought of driving north made me want to cry.  Little did we know that there was an angel in the form of a Banjercito teller who was watching over us.  She shook her head in horror at the price, hustled us next door to the TMC ferry office and in rapid fire Spanish booked a reservation for us for a mere $3,650 ($280.53 USD).  Better yet we would be able to sleep in car!  Our minds at ease we headed to Todos Santos for a beautiful night of boondock camping next to an abandoned bar.

Its hard, but someone has to do it

We then headed to La Ventana and spent an amazing two nights camped outside of a house thanks to Joe and Kylee of Patagonia or Bust.

Thanks Joe and Kylee!

It was such a luxury to have a full kitchen and a shower.  We spent our time watching windsurfers, doing some truck and camper maintenance, and I did my first load of dry bag laundry.  We also celebrated Kylee’s 23rd birthday with the folks from Southern Tip Trip, whom we had randomly run into, and we all enjoyed a delicious dinner and giant margaritas together.

Happy Birthday Kylee!

The next day we caravanned with Joe and Kylie to La Paz to embark on our 18 hour ferry ride to Mazatlan.  From reading prior blogs we knew that we wanted to be parked on the top deck, but well away from the deafening ventilation fans.  Unfortunately we were motioned to park directly in front of the fans and right next to the “work bench” which stunk of diesel fuel and paint fumes.

Damnation!

With my history of sea sickness there was no way we could sleep in the car.  Again, thanks to prior blog entries from tranquiloadventures and the dangerz, we knew to set up shop in the bow, sipped some beers, ate some dinner, read some books, watched some dolphins play on the bow, and created some cozy beds to sleep in for the night.  We would definitely recommend TMC Ferry over Baja Ferry.  Although the ship might not be as nice, we had full access to our trucks, the food was decent, and there were fairly nice bathrooms and hot showers!  There was even a movie room, albeit full of Mexican truckers.

Hull of the boat, a bit rusty and lots of layers of paint

We disembarked in Mazatlan, said goodbye to Joe and Kylee, and headed for either San Blas or Sayulita.  Again we were amazed at the beauty surrounding us as we drove.  Mountains, jungle, and palm trees as far as we could see.  It finally felt like we were really in a foreign country.  Baja was beautiful and its beaches amazing, but at times felt like an extension of California.  This was the real deal.  The heat and humidity was also the real deal.  Guess we better get used to drip sweating starting at 8:30 in the morning!  We wandered around San Blas but decided to continue on to Sayulita primarily because every guide book and blog we had read had said the bugs were absolutely brutal and we did not relish the idea of getting eaten alive.  About 30 miles down the road we noticed a familiar truck in the rear view mirror, Patagonia or Bust!  We decided it was fate for us to continue traveling together for the time being and headed for Sayulita.  Our first night was spent at Palmar de Camaron Campground and we would not recommend it.  The owners were extremely inhospitable and refused to let us pull our trucks up onto the deserted beach.  The next day as we were searching for an alternative we ran into Kellee and Jamie of tranquiloadventures who were camped at Sayulita RV and Bungalow.  We all set up next to each other and have been enjoying the sand, surf, SUPing and sun together for the past few days.  

The 5 T’s

Ahhh, Baja

Topes, tacos, Tecate, travelers, and tore up roads, these are the 5 T’s of Baja that we quickly learned in our first week in Mexico.  Number one, topes.  These invention of the Mexican devil, known as Mexican highway 1,  are put on the roadways to plague the unsuspecting overlander as they make their way to the nearest beach.  Although numerous books, blogs, and warnings have been made of these suspension wrecking bumps, we were not quite prepared for the entity that is a Mexican tope.  Sometimes, there might be warning signs on the road such as a innocuous appearing car ascending a sudden steep hill, or a bump outlined by rays of sunlight as if to foretell an amazing feature in the road ahead, but not always.  Often topes precede towns, but not always.   If you are lucky, there are topes are in the middle of towns to warn of stoplights at intersections that are not really intersections, but not always.  Occasionally, topes are preceded by a series of mini topes, but not always.  From what we can determine from our Mexican driving experience thus far topes are just what they are, there but not always.

Viva Mexico!

 

At least topes are followed by tacos, in our 5 T’s of Baja.  I used to be able to  wax eloquently about the attributes and virtues of tacos for quite some time as they are one of my top five all time favorite foods, but I had no concept of a true taco until I ate a taco from a dusty roadside stand in Baja Mexico.  No fancy sauces or cheese on this taco, simply tortilla, beef, salsa, and a squeeze of lime.  In other words, pure delicious heaven.  Since that first taco in Ensenada, the only meals we have eaten out are at roadside taco stands.  Most of the time we have a hard time understanding the Spanish (mostly because we are major slackers and didn’t put any effort into learning before we left…major mistake), but we can understand a few words, rez, pollo, o pescado? maize o harina? and then hand gestures towards the heaping mounds of lime, salsa, chiles, and cilantro….yum.  We have also recreated a few delicious vegetable tacos in the Skamper, but are still building up our courage to buy meat at the market.  

 

Those who know us well know we enjoy a good cold beer.  Adjusting to the Mexican heat after 4 years of Alaska living, aka temperatures never above 70 F, has been difficult for us, this difficulty has been eased by a wonderfully cold Tecate (or 2) each evening at camp.  I miss the hoppy IPA’s from the states, but put a squeeze of lime into any Mexican beer and it turns into a refreshing, tasty beverage.  From the RV park in Santa Tomas to the cool crisp air in Parque Nacional San Pedro Matir, to Playa Santispec in Bahia Concepcion on the Sea of Cortez we always look forward to popping the top, raiding the fridge, and that first sip of refreshing coldness.

Guess its not always Tecate

 

In the first six days we spent in Baja, we met a total of four groups of travelers embarking on the Pan American highway.  Our first day after making it through the Tijuana border relatively intact, we headed through Ensenada with our first beach camping destination in mind.  Its only 17 miles down a dirt road, and we have no information about the conditions of the road, but we knew we could make it.  Lesson numero uno of Baja was learned a mere 4 miles into the the 17 mile road, guide books are outdated and always research road conditions before turning down one.  We were pummeled by huge, merciless washboards and feared that Suzie would get shaken off the back of the truck so we turned around.  Not 5 minutes after we turned around a sweet Toyota land cruiser type vehicle with European plates roared by us, stopped and we pulled up beside it.  We had met our first fellow PanAmer’s!  Aly, his wife and 4 year old daughter are from Germany and plan on taking 8 months for their journey.  They are experienced overlander’s and interesting people and we look forward to seeing them on the road.  Our third night in Baja we pulled into Bahia de Los Angeles after a long day, on the tail end of the storm/hurricane that had swept up from Baja Sur.  The next morning we explored the beach and the town and were relaxing at the campsite when 2 gringos approached from the beach.  It was Joe and Kylee of Patagonia or Bust.  We knew they had left San Diego the day after us and were camped just down the beach.   They spotted Suzie from the water and that evening we enjoyed some cervezas and conversation, hopefully the first of many such meetings!  After two nights in Bahia de Los Angeles and a night in Punta Chivato we headed to Bahia Concepcion, from all reports full of beautiful sandy beaches and crystal clear water.  Pulling into Playa Santispec we noticed a group of 3 Sprinter vans, we had ran into Bryan and chatted briefly in San Ignacio, but here was the whole crew from Southern Tip Trip in one place.  Joe, Kylee, and Aly and his family were also all camped at Santispec and we gathered around discussing our vehicles and plans for the rest of the trip.  It was so much fun to chat with everyone and we enjoyed a good time at the restaurant that evening with the overlanders and the entire snowbird population of Bahia Concepcion.  Those snowbirds sure know how to party!

Meeting of the minds

 

We came into Mexico expecting the roads to be rough, but they have held a few surprises.  As I mentioned above, the topes have been a bit more brutal then anticipated but Mex 1 hasn’t been too horrible.  It has mostly been every single dirt road we have turned onto.  Washboards, ruts, rocks, and washouts have plagued us and limited our ability to get off the beaten path.  The first night we were determined to make it to Todos Santos 17 miles down a dirt road, only to be thwarted by 6 inch deep washboards.  Undeterred a few days later we headed for Punta Chivato past Santa Rosalia, 10 miles down a dirt road.  We had heard that the road was decent, but the storm damage from the hurricane a few days earlier had turned the road into a washed out river bed.  We persevered past not one, but two stuck graders and made it to a pristine, deserted, free beach.

Oops!

The next day the graders had freed themselves and the road was in much better condition. We then attempted a dirt road on Bahia Concepcion, but that was washed out and required 4WD as well.  The hurricane had wreaked havoc everywhere!

Climbing like a cat in 4WD

 

Overall Baja has been everything we expected.  We are savoring our time here taking in the pristine beaches, ocean, delicious food and friendly people.  One more week in Baja then to mainland we go!

We will be back

 

On the Road Again

His body perfectly positioned in front of the door, with unblinking bright blue eyes he followed my every move.  ‘I know exactly what you are up to, and you will not get away with it,’ those unescapable eyes seemed to say to me.  And so I lured him outside, with promises of frisbees and chuck-its, quickly closed the door and hurried away to Suzie Skamper and Ken with tears stinging my eyes, miles of road in front of us and one very disappointed and pissed off Rio behind us.  I have outed myself, I am one of those people who are hopelessly enamored with their dog, giving them human attributes, thoughts and feelings (I swear Rio’s ‘human’ voice sounds exactly like Stewie’s on The Family Guy).  Leaving him that day in Spokane was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do so far on this trip.  Luckily, that brutal morning has led to almost two weeks of bliss.  Seeing old friends, reconnecting with the Pacific Ocean, and remembering the routine that is Suzie Skampering has reminded us every second of every day why we are doing this trip.

Columbia River Gorge

We left Spokane and clocked an easy day heading to Sammamish, WA to reunite with Kelda, a friend from my Missoula, MT days .  We toured her and her husband’s new home, and drank PBR in the hot tub.  Just like the good old days minus the hot tub, husband, and new home.  From Sammamish onward to Seattle and two wonderful days hanging out with my brother Seth, his wife, and our friends Nick and Shannon.  We continued on the couch surfing theme and after a day in picturesque Astoria (we unfortunately did not spot any Goonies shaped rocks) we headed to Portland and spent an evening with our newly married friend’s Kathryn and Adam.  Thank you to everyone for the wonderful hospitality, its always good to reconnect and especially fulfilling to begin our journey southward again with such amazing people.

Astoria, Oregon

As great as it was to visit everyone, we were headed towards one of the highlights of our North American portion of the trip, for me at least.  The Tillamook Cheese Factory.  For anyone who knows me well, they know I can subsist very easily on a very few things as long as those things include wine, crackers, and cheese.  Any combination of the above will keep me going for days.

We came, we saw, we ate a lot of cheese.

So it was with the highest of expectations that we pulled into the enormous complex that was The Tillamook Cheese Factory.  The hordes of RV’s, whining children, and pale legged tourists should have clued us into the tourist sinkhole that is The Tillamook Cheese Factory, but I will never speak ill of cheese. We whizzed through the self guided tour, Ken marveling at the complicated machinery and I at the drudgery involved in operating the cheese making machinery, until we found ourselves at the sample line.  After sating our appetites on trays upon trays of squeaky cheese curds, sharp cheddar, smoked, cheddar, and our favorite red pepper/jalapeno cheddar we were happy.  We could leave The Tillamook Cheese Factory knowing full well we had been taken for a tourist ride, but with some small measure of satisfaction that we had shown them….we had eaten our weight in cheese.  Unfortunately that night The Tillamook Cheese Factory struck again, Ken’s increasingly worsening lactose intolerance rendered Suzie practically uninhabitable and we decided that for the good of all his cheese intake would be limited from this day forth.

Numero uno beach sunset of the trip.

The next morning we headed to Newport.  Ken got his ocean and boat fix and we walked the docks and the historic downtown remarking at the similarities and differences between this port town and our hometown of Seward, AK.  As we were looking for the Newport Marine Science Center we stumbled upon something oh so much better, the Rogue Brewery.  I am going to have to amend my above statement and add really good craft brewed IPA to the list of things I cannot live without.  Although we have been doing our best to cook only in the camper and limit our eating out to attempt to stay within budget, we could not resist.  The Rogue Nation did not disappoint.  Not only did we nosh on some incredible beer cheese soup, a kobe beef brat and sauerkraut, we also sampled delicious beer.  We strolled back to the truck fat and happy, right past the Rogue ‘garage’ sale.  Here were cases of 22’s for a mere 20-30 bucks!  After much agonizing deliberation, we decided that Suzie simply did not have room for a case of 22’s despite the killer price.  Thirty miles down the road we were already kicking ourselves and chalking this up to one of the worst decisions we might make on the trip.

Suzie dwarfed yet again.

The next day lead to more spectacular coastal driving down Oregon’s Highway 101, into California and through the Redwoods.  Neither of us had ever been here and were completely speechless and awed by the silent, older than time, majestic behemoths that are these trees.  Wandering through them felt like wandering among wise old men and women who looked down on us, silently and sagely giving their approval.  That day was also truck maintenance day.  Time for an oil change and a transmission flush, something we had been holding off on even though we knew it needed to be done.  For at least two years Ken’s 2000 Ford Ranger has made horrible grinding noises everytime it has downshifted, grrrnnnkkkkkdddd (or something along those lines).  We’ve decided that ignorance is bliss and had not investigated.  During the oil change the mechanic tested all the fluids and presented Ken with a  white sheet of paper marred with different streaks of oily/greasy substances.  Ken took one look, said ‘is your finger dirty?’ and turned back to me in disbelief.  Another piece of mechanical/car engine knowledge has been added to my tiny repertoire.  Transmission fluid is supposed to be of a clear, red, thinnish consistency, our transmission fluid was thick, black, and dirty.  Good thing Oilcan Henry’s was having a $40 off sale on transmission fluid flushes!  Amazingly after that, the truck ran like a dream.  No more horrifying grinding noises on downshift, only smooth shifts and accelerations for Suzie from now on!

That evening we rolled into Clam Beach State Park in Humboldt County, CA looking forward to some nice beach camping.  We should have know from the parking lot bordered by twelve sandy campsites and the overabundance of tie dye in sight that we were not in for a peaceful night on the beach.  It turns out Clam Beach is somewhat well known among Humboldt Countians, travelers, and everyone in-between as a sweet place to score free camping, some “nugs”, and an overall good time.  A caveat, we are not adverse to any of the above, in fact we welcome the opportunity for any of them (except for the “nugs” Mom, I promise!).  We might have been the only suckers dumb enough to actually pay the $15 dollars to park next to a sandy spot with a picnic table and a fire pit and host a bevy of itinerant backpackers, road bikers and a creepy dude in a BMW all on 30forthirty’s dime!  We were able to enjoy a fire with a couple we met from Seattle who had a really amazing homemade wooden truck camper/topper, I unfortunately dropped the ball and didn’t snap a photo before dark.  The next morning we were rudely awoken at 07:40 by some good Samaritan who was walking through the parking lot announcing, ‘It’s 7:40, time to get the train rolling.’  Groggily we looked at each other wondering what the hell he meant, and tried to roll over for a few more zzz’s.  Did not happen and we ate some breakfast and were pulling out of the lot by 8:45, just as the park ranger was pulling in.  Now the almost empty campground made sense, despite the music playing till 3 am that morning,  everyone was way more savvy then we were in avoiding ‘the man.’

Highway 1 Northern California

We are now picking our way along the incredibly windy, narrow, cliffy drop off that is Highway 1.  We thought we had experienced some beautiful coastline living in Alaska, but this highway has blown it out of the water.  On to San Francisco and LA and a few more friends, and we should be across the border into Baja in under a week!  We are really looking forward to a few days of no driving, beach time, cheap gas (almost $5/gallon in California), free camping, and dollar tacos!

Interlude Impossible

“Hey Sam, how’s it going?”  My standard greeting to my best friend Sam was not returned with the usual, “I’m good, what are doing?” response, I instead heard, “I’m volunteering at The Rising Sun Bistro (a local restaurant) as a bartender while they are filming ‘Restaurant Impossible,’ want to be my barback and make some money?”  My first response was, ‘What under the sun is Restaurant Impossible,’ quickly followed by, ‘Money?  Did you say money? Yes!’  That is how I happened to be spending a Friday evening pouring drinks, avoiding video cameras and a yelling TV personality instead of preparing for our trip (tune in December 19th on the Food Network to see if I am going to be that extra that gets catapulted to fame based on her excellent beer pouring skills).

This Restaurant Impossible experience is only one of the many things we’ve managed to cram into the three weeks since we have left Alaska, not to mention trying to cross everything off the many pre departure lists we have somehow created.

After an amazing day on Flathead Lake, filled with boating, lots of good wine, puppy snuggling, and good friends (thanks Jamie and Ryan!)…

Ken and Louis

Flathead Lake sunset

…we stopped and relaxed for a few days at my family’s cabin on the Smith River in Montana for some sun and fishing.

Papa Fraser and Izzie trying to prove something 

A side note about the Smith River, one of if not the all time favorite place in the world for me.  Being there always brings me a sense of peace and a reminder to slow down and enjoy ever little incredible second that life has to offer us, something that I definitely needed as the stress of getting ready was starting to get to me.

And I guess he proved it with an 18 inch rainbow.

We then booked it to Aspen, CO to attend Kathryn and Adam’s beautiful outdoor mountain wedding.  We were wined, dined, and generally pampered and thoroughly enjoyed ever second of it especially with months of Skamper travel ahead of us.

For the past week and half we have been back in Kalispell at my parent’s.  Ken has been killing it on a very long list of upgrades and alterations to the truck and camper (post to come soon) while I’ve been busy taking two recertification classes and getting together all the last minute paperwork and random details.  We are planning on hitting the road in a few days, by October 3rd at the latest, to head to Seattle for a few days then down the coast.  We are more then ready!

 

2,372 miles later

September 1st, scheduled departure date down the Alcan, the official start of our journey south, and somehow miraculously we were leaving on time.  Granted with a bit of a hangover, but on time nonetheless.  We pulled out of the driveway in two separate vehicles.  Ken and Pika in the Skamper, myself and Rio in my Subaru.  It was a surreal feeling to follow the Skamper along the Seward highway realizing that this will be our home for the next year.

Skampin along the Seward Highway

After months of dreaming and planning, we were really doing it.  Selling my car in Anchorage, sitting in the passenger seat and watching the Subaru drive away made it 100% real.  Here we go on one of the trips of our lifetime.

Somehow, the truck’s odometer rolled over to 91,000 miles as we were leaving Seward.  By the time we were in Tierra del Fuego roughly 30,000 kilometers later it should read 101,000.  We drove about 200 miles that first day and camped in Glenallen, AK.  Remarkably everything fit in the camper relatively well, although it was a tight squeeze with two dogs sleeping on the floor every night.

First night in the Skamper.

The next day we remembered why the Alcan was so brutal, frost heaves galore, and had to keep reminding ourselves that it would only get worse.  Crossing the Canadian border was simple, probably the easiest border between here and….well until we are back probably.  The second night we experienced the joy and freedom of our first “pirate” camping site.  “Look at the dirt road, that looks promising!”  Were Ken’s exact words.  Ever the voice of reason I made him stop the truck before barreling down the ‘road,’ merely two tire tracks with thick alders on either side and growing in the middle.  It did turn out to be a promising road and we ate dinner besides a beautiful braided river with snow and glacier covered mountains watching over us.

Pirate camping in style, Yukon Territory

Unfortunately that night the wind picked up, and we realized the drawbacks of sleeping on the roof of a vehicle in a tent.  The truck was rocking and not in a fun way.  We put top down and drove a few miles further and found a more sheltered pirate site and settled in for the night with some wine, some reading, and some sleeping.

The Alcan

After another day of endless scenery and our second sweet pirate spot, we turned onto the Cassiar Highway, the more remote, not quite as well known little side route sister of the the Alcan.This would be the first road we would be on that neither of us had ever driven on.

The Cassiar

From all accounts the Cassiar was more remote, less maintained, and more gorgeous than the particular section of the Alcan that we skipped.  All accounts were right.  The narrow, two laned highway dipped and weaved between soaring mountain ranges, through thick forests and along many streams and lakes.  Rarely did we encounter a vehicle.

From the Cassiar Highway onto the Yellowhead Highway and more population then we had seen in a few days.  Luckily we were headed towards Jasper National Park, and knew we would be back in the mountains shortly.

Yay! Ken let me drive, only 2000 miles into the trip!

Jasper did not disappoint, except for the fact that we were driving through the Park on September 6th and a majority of campgrounds closed for some inexplicable reason on September 3rd.

We ended up camping in our first parking lot site.  There wasn’t much to complain about considering we were directly beneath the Athabascan Glacier, surrounded by jagged mountains.  We also took some pride in the fact that we were by far the smallest RV in the parking lot.

Tiny in so many different ways.

At around 6,000 ft the parking lot was the highest elevation we had camped at so far and the coldest.  The only significant, recurring issue that we had been having with the Skamper was the pilot light on the heater occasionally going out.  That night the pilot light refused to stay lit, Ken mumbled something about a bad thermocoupler as he relit it for the 10th time.

Jasper National Park

Being Alaskans for the past 4 years, we decided we could tough out temperatures hovering at freezing without getting our extra sleeping bags out of the roof box, just add a few layers of long underwear and require Ken to actually cuddle and we survived the night.

The Icefields Parkway Highway offered up some of the most beautiful scenery so far. 

We were close enough to Montana that we pushed through the next day with brief stops at Lake Louise and Radium Hot Springs to soak our road weary bones, arriving in Kalispell September 7, 2372 miles into our 30,000 mile journey.  We are going to take an interlude and head to Colorado (which seemed so much closer in our heads while we were in Alaska) to celebrate a wedding and then spend some time in Montana with the parents and buttoning up the truck, camper, and the lists that are begetting lists that are begetting lists as I type this.

Lake Louise, Canada.

In the Beginnings

What would possess someone to think that purging their lives of a majority of possessions, packing said possessions in a storage unit, leaving friends, family and dogs behind and spend a year driving 30,000 miles in the small cab of a Ford Ranger with another someone who is also insane enough to think all of the above is a most excellent idea?  Well, we turned 30 this year and 30 kind of goes with 30,000 miles and we already live in Alaska so why not drive as far south as we can go?  Sounds like a good idea to me!

That was the gist of the conversation we had almost 7 months ago.  In that moment, possibly aided by unknown quantities of beer, whiskey, and/or wine, we decided to embark on that journey and drive the Pan American Highway all the way from Seward, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina.

After months and countless hours spent on the internet researching the various facets of an in depth road trip, here we are almost a month away from our scheduled departure date of September 1st.  One month away from starting the trip of a life time, a journey that will take us places we’ve never dreamed of being, and change us in ways we never thought possible.  One month away from a journey with the only limitations being the ones we place on ourselves.

“When I let go of what I am, I can become what I might be.” Lao Tzu