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.