Palm Trees to Pine Trees

Before we start the blog post I have a few items to get out of the way…

  1. I’ve been VERY busy since my last blog post so that is my excuse for not posting anything… A promotion, followed by an accounting integration (multi-billion dollar, 15 thousand + employee company), continuing into a cross country move, moving AGAIN after discovering mold, job hunting, then starting a new job… well lets just say the last year has been interesting.
  2. I have NO idea why old posts have photos that have suddenly turned sideways and/or disappeared. I’ll probably go in and fix at some point… If you know anything about wordpress/blogging/photo stuff and how to prevent things like this from happening, let me know.
  3. There just always has to be a third thing….. so there it is.

OK lets rewind….

Last spring we had just finished (most of) the truck build, and then did a few spring/summer camping trips (check out Gio’s Trips and Brews for some more detail on those). But mostly we just spent our weekends paddleboarding with the local dolphins and manatees. Such a rough life. We were happy, carefree (well except for  the whole working way too much thing) and loving our new Floridian life. We had made friends with the neighbors, met fellow overlanders John and Mandi, (who just celebrated 1 year on the road a few weeks ago – Congrats guys!) and had an actual social life. If you’ve ever moved to another state where you know no one, you realize how significant that is.

So, if Florida was so great, why did we move, you ask? Well it all started with a trip to Bend and Sisters, Oregon for a wedding….and there we saw this:

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And this:

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Most of my photos from that trip were of the wedding, but just so you know, these are just a slice of the magnificence that is the PNW. We also went hiking, Mike went mountain biking, and we spent some time in a natural hot spring. And did I mention the beer? There’s a LOT of breweries here, and most (ok all) make some pretty dang good beer.

We had one of the best weeks we’ve had in a long time. Good times were spent with friends, and doing some fantastic outdoor activities, but we didn’t even get to do a fraction of what we wanted to do (which was, um, everything). We got off the plane in Florida and looked at each other and said, “I want to go back” basically at the same time. It was kind of creepy actually.

So, we decided to move. Yep, just like that. We realized we missed the mountains, and, well… there’s no mountains in Florida.  I won’t bore you with the details of this, but basically we had the house listed 4 weeks after we got back (after 2 bathrooms remodeled, and chickens sold), and had a buyer lined up 2 weeks later. We spent a long weekend looking for apartments, sold/got rid of most of our stuff, and were moved in to our new place on Halloween. About 9 weeks from decision to fruition.

But we didn’t move to Oregon. We moved to Renton, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. There were several factors involved in that decision. First, work for Mike: He was able to transfer his NY union book to a local in Seattle. He gets a much better wage than in Florida, and better benefits, etc. There is a TON of work here, and it doesn’t look like there will be a slow down for another 5 years or so. He also gets to bullshit and screw around with other like-minded construction-y types. He tells me he missed that part of work. When we were in Florida he mostly worked on jobs alone. Second, work for me: There wasn’t enough work in Bend or Sisters for a sure thing. They’re both great tourist spots, so if you work in the hospitality industry they would be perfect, but that’s not me. And, did you know Seattle is a giant tech hub? Its no Silicon Valley, but there’s a lot of work here. Some big names are: Microsoft, T-Mobile, Expedia, Zillow, Boeing, Amazon, just to name a few. Giant companies need accountants. So, lots of companies = lots of work opportunities (#math). Do I work at any of these? Nope. I work in a growing tech/legal company, mostly dealing with their international expansion (face-palm). Apparently I like to work a lot. The third reason (I told you there’s always a 3rd thing)…Well there is this:

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And this:

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Lots of this:

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Views like this…

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… and if that doesn’t do it for you, how about this?

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Granted, while we miss our friends (from both FL and NY), being in the same time zone as the rest of our families, the ocean (since its 2 hours instead of 2 miles away, and COLD), etc. there are definite benefits to living on the “best” coast (ya know, besides the breathtaking views, thousands of miles of hiking, and  excess amounts of free camping).

The summers are amazing (so I hear – this will be our first summer) and the winters are mild. I know I practically live in Canada but it rarely snows (at this elevation), and the temperatures drop below freezing overnight and that’s about it. Yes there are cold spells, and yes sometimes they get hit with a freak snow storm, but they’re like the Carolina’s and shut down when that does happen.  There’s excellent skiing within 2 hours and world class mountains within 4. I haven’t skied in a long time but I missed it! The food is another good reason. My pants do not like this reason, but my taste-buds do. There is a stupid amount of good food. In addition to the excess of Asian cuisine (there’s a Pho/Thai/Teriyaki place every 1/4 mile or less) there are also a lot of unique establishments for just about anything you can imagine. There are places that specialize in buttermilk biscuits, doughnut stores that build you something that looks like a hamburger and french fries (all edible and all donuts – Legendary Donuts – they also have one filled with MARZIPAN), delicious barbecue, fantastic burgers (real ones), microbreweries up the wazoo, coffee roasters, the freshest seafood on the freaking planet (unless you catch it yourself) and  SOOOOO much more. Don’t even get me started on the local markets or even the grocery stores. In all seriousness though, we moved primarily for the hiking/mountains/outdoor stuff. We have to do lots of it to make up for all the food, so its pretty much a win-win.

Its a new adventure for us. And we are embracing it the only way we know how…. by buying some land in East Wenatchee, and building a tiny house to put on it. What? Did you think we were done doing crazy things? Nah, that will never happen….

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Let the tiny house build COMMENCE!

 

 

 

Our Growing Girl

The Gopher Tortoise is 6 months old. She’s grown so much (literally – I think i need a trampoline to get in now) – lets get a run down on all the stuff we’ve done:

So last update was we bought a truck and made some plans… well those plans are almost complete – so much for taking our time!

So far we demo’d the inside…

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Did a lot of painting….

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Please note: Spray painting inside the truck was a bad idea. Don’t do this.  It was messy and dusty and difficult to control. Paint with brushes or a real paint sprayer would work best.

Installed a 6″ lift from Rough Country

suspension

New (used) 37″ Military Tires (so a total of 9″ higher)….

That tiny thing in the background... oh that's just our house. You know, the one without wheels.
That tiny thing in the background… oh that’s just our house. You know, the one without wheels.

2 8″ Bully Side steps (But lets be serious… they only drop down like 6″ so its still a BIG step to get in – no skirts allowed in this ride unless you plan to give the world a show)

Installed custom cabinets, counter tops, a bar sink (bought locally) and an Atwood 2 burner stove

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Cabinets were used (read: cheap)- an old office filing cabinet and an old gym locker (one courtesy of an used office supply store, the other from craigslist). We sort-of fabricated the counter using some garage shelving plus sheet aluminum and some plywood for the counter top base. When I say we: I mean Mike did the work, with my uncanny supervision and artistic direction. I also helped carry stuff.

Mike installing our stainless steel sheet countertop.
Mike installing our aluminum on plywood countertop.

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Double-duty cabinet doors…

Cabinet doors double as tables/workstation
Cabinet doors double as tables/workstation
Me mixing the epoxy for the cabinets... see I do stuff besides blog and take pictures!
Me mixing the epoxy for the cabinets… see I do stuff besides look cute, blog and take pictures!

We might be changing the cabinet doors… we have found through use that these are just too big. Something maybe half the size would be good so we can still maneuver around them when open, and still big enough for eating/working.

4 sliding windows…

Mike cutting in some window holes
Mike cutting in some window holes

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An Engel 60 quart SR-70 Front-loading Fridge/Freezer

Stays cold, uses very little power from the solar, can be used on an uneven surface, worked well with our layout. Top loaders probably have a little more room.
Stays cold, uses very little power from the solar, can be used on an uneven surface (parked on a hill), and worked well with our layout. Top loaders might have a little more room.

Got ourselves a custom mattress/couch made by Karen’s Canvas Shop

Couch mode
Couch mode
Bed mode (bow-chika-wow-wow)
Bed mode (bow-chika-wow-wow)

We used high density marine grade foam for the bed and Sunbrella indoor/outdoor fabric. The foam and fabric are mold/mildew resistant (made for boats) and super solid… We couldn’t try it out by laying on it and its a little too stiff for us, but we hope it will soften a little from use.

Installed an 600W Samlex Inverter….

Pure Sine Wave Power Inverter Samlex PST-600-12 L

Installed 3 100W Renogy Solar Panels and Charge Controller… Purchased Here. 

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Ewwww look at all those dirty footprints. Also, please note those are bare feet footprints, only possible because of the fancy schmancy white paint. We painted the roof with Kool Seal – white roof coating that reflects heat, really makes a huge difference in heat absorbed into the truck, and onto the roof of the truck.  Totally worth it.

Added a cabinet we built to house all the solar components, wiring and fuse block. We decorated it using beer bottle caps that we saved from our last trip and a few maps from a thrift store + more epoxy (love that stuff)….

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4 V-Max 6Volt AGM 225 Amp Batteries for the battery bank, as of now we are powering our fridge, fan, water pump and inverter off of the solar battery bank but we have tons of available solar energy to still be utilized…

Added a roof vent, with a fan (purchased locally)…. Sorry no pictures of this one – its really not that exciting to look at anyway.

Changed out the old, non-functioning a/c unit for a new one that can be plugged in at RV parks or where ever “shore” power is available… Small problem is when we run it, we accumulate some water and when we drive it comes out in the truck…. so we need to work on that…

Put in a 11 gallon water tank and 55 psi Shur-Flo water pump…

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We also have a secondary tank that isn’t installed (both bought used from a local RV repair shop for $40 total) but we will probably put it in before taking any big trips – especially when we get that outdoor shower (hint hint Michael  – we ARE getting an outdoor shower – with HOT water).

And there might be some more murals added (so what was the point of painting the inside again?)

First attempt at immortalizing the GT. Doesn't she look majestic amongst the pines?
First attempt at immortalizing the GT. Doesn’t she look majestic amongst the pines?
Also works well as a fake halo in a photo.
Also works well as a fake halo in a photo.

A lot of the little things (sink, roof vent, paint, windows…) we got at a local store The Mobile Home-Depot. They had pretty good prices on most things (either comparable to Amazon or cheaper)and some pretty knowledgeable staff. Most of their stuff is for real Mobile (manufactured) homes, but they had RV supplies as well.

All told, we have spent about $17,000 on the truck, parts, supplies and professionals. We still have some work to do, like the spare tire mount (in process), second fuel tank to give us more range of travel between fill ups, adding shore power plug in, water fill port, hook up the stove (we need the propane lines run and tank mounted outside), that hot water outdoor shower I mentioned, and some more storage. We also plan to add a small microwave.

What is PRICELESS however is the help we got from our wandering pals; most specifically, Richard from Desk to Glory. Mike would probably be at least half electrocuted, and we probably would have needed new panels or something when he blew them up, if he didn’t have Richard to guide him in this electrical wonderland.

Other helpers:

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Neli’s Big Adventure, Slow Car, Fast House, and Exploring Elements.  Thanks Everyone!

Don’t Talk to Strangers (and other advice we ignore)

We love Florida. Its February and we spend our days outdoors in sandals and light sweaters, instead of covering every exposed inch of skin in layers… oh and no shoveling, unless you count digging in the garden… which I can do now… in FEBRUARY. Other things you can do in Florida in February: Camp.

So… you all know about how Mom and Dad told us not to talk to strangers, and look both ways before crossing the street, and no swimming for an hour after you eat…. you can ignore all these… ok maybe not the second one, but the other two, definitely.

CUE self-proclaimed Insta-Stalker Gio:

Gio and his Jeep Follow him on Instagram @flguardgio. Picture courtesy of the beautiful and talented  Amanda Burns
Gio and his Jeep Follow him on Instagram @flguardgio. Picture courtesy of the beautiful and talented Amanda Burns

We “met” Gio on Instagram (he also has a blog) . Sounds a little creepy right?… well it’s totally not. If you didn’t know we “met” Richard and Ashely, Sam and Erica, Off Belay Americas, and others on Instagram and other social media before ever actually meeting in person. What we learned: Social media is an awesome tool that helps bring people together from all over the world, while all over the world. So, why not use it in your own backyard? Gio, being the magnanimous guy that he is, invited us camping.

So, lets see…. stranger we met on Instagram invites 2 perfect strangers to go camping in the middle of nowhere, with no cell reception, along with 3 other people we’ve never met… in the middle of nowhere… if this isn’t the makings of a B-rated horror flick, I don’t know what is. But of course we went anyway, ’cause we’re crazy like that.

Where we went:

Alexander Spring, Ocala National Forest, Altoona, FL. 

What we did:

Well, it was cold, so we didn’t go swimming, but there were others who didn’t mind the cold….

Alexander Spring
Alexander Spring

Or, apparently, the Gators….

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Instead, we went exploring….

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Mike, doing his Yeti walk.
Mike, doing his Yeti walk.

Later, we went off-roading at night, which was a bit more exciting and fun, ’cause, it was dark, and also, my seat belt didn’t work… There also might have been some bad spanish over a CB radio, some rednecks in pickup trucks, a real trailer park bonfire, annnnddd somewhere in there someone had a handgun and offered me lessons… and somehow i managed to remember at least ONE of the things Mom and Dad told me… never play with guns… while drinking….in the dark…. unless you want to be on the next episode of Tosh.0.

Jeeps at Night... a little headlight comparison.
Jeeps at Night… a little headlight comparison. I think Gio’s won (on the left) for brightness.

After/during those shenanigans we shared stories,a few beers, some good food, and laughs. We also made some new friends who we will probably be camping with again in the future.

CampFire Ludy_Gio

The gang’s all here: Gio, Derek, Amanda and Ludy (also the back of my head, and some bacon)

So, moral of the story: Talk to strangers, go into the woods with them at night, and don’t wear your seatbelt. If you do all these things, you might have a fun weekend, orrrr you could end up as the basis for the next B-rated horror flick. But, my money is on the first one.

Me, Mike and our baby Gopher Tortoise... she's growing up so fast!
Me, Mike and our baby Gopher Tortoise… she’s growing up so fast!

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**Note: Some photo’s robbed from Facebook. Thanks Amanda, Ludy and Derek for providing them!

Planning for the Future AKA The Birth of a Tortoise (and a baby (NOT ours))

Did you guys think we were done?? Nah… Just a rest stop.

So… Recap of the last 4 months….

We returned to the states, visited some family in NY and the Carolinas, then got the hell out of the cold and made the official move to Florida (YAY!)

Mike on the Melbourne causeway
Mike on the Melbourne causeway

florida map

 

This thing decided to visit one evening. I check the sheets now.
This thing decided to visit one evening. I check the sheets now.

We spent the first week recouping, unpacking and whatnot… Then job hunting began. Mike got a job first and I had my job offer a week or so later… Then had to submit to a background check, pee in a cup (good thing we turned down all that ganga) and essentially wait two weeks before I could start makin that money honey.

We built a chicken coop and run and some raised garden beds… Bought 6 chickens (no we didn’t raise them we wanted eggs right away and I couldn’t bear it if one died or something) and planted a garden. Chickens are good and laying about 3-4 eggs a day. The garden didn’t fare so well… But we can replant next month and try again. We also remodeled our kitchen and finished the Florida room rebuild…. Now that I think about it that’s a lot of sh*t to do in like a month… We’re pretty amazing (pats self on back).

Raised garden beds. Failed mostly. We got corn tomatoes and salad greens though.
Raised garden beds. Failed mostly. We got corn tomatoes and salad greens though.
The old kitchen mid-tear-down
The old kitchen mid-tear-down

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I got a little creative with the coop.
I got a little creative with the coop.

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After weeks of effed up transfers (we hate our bank), poor communication and generally stressing ourselves to insanity, we are now officially Belizean landowners!

And….Probably the most exciting thing is we are officially Auntie Tiff and Uncle Mike! Check out this handsome devil.

Ozias
Ozias

Ok, so…. What now? Well.. Now… WE BUILD!

Meet the GOPHER TORTOISE:

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Why gopher tortoise? They’re the first critters we spotted around our new home. They’re kind of like our own personal mascots. We live a short walk for a preserve that these guys thrive in… And they need the protection. It wasn’t until 2007 that Florida put in a law protecting them from essentially getting bulldozed to death during land development.  Now, around here you see turtle crossing signs and people stop their cars to move them off the roads. So… We like these guys. They’re cool and eat grass and dig holes and walk slow. Other reasons we chose gopher tortoise… Well the truck is green, our home is inside the “shell” and this big galoot is slow. Like tops out at 60 mph slow. Hence, the Gopher Tortoise was born (cue angelic choir).

Now the real fun begins. We essentially get to creat our own custom four wheel drive camper. For under $20,000 (based off current estimates should be about 18-19k). Eat your heart out XP camper and adventuremobile! (**disclaimer: we would love to buy either of these great vehicles we just can’t afford it. We know people who have XP Campers and love them.) Progress details coming soon!

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I <3 (heart) Guanajuato

Guanajuato is a place worth exploring. I had never heard of it before a few fellow overlanders traveled there after we met up in Puerto Vallarta. Song of the Road and Desk to Glory both spent some time here… more time than we did… and we are still a little jealous of this fact.

SO… Morill Van Camp…. good luck finding this one without a GPS, a fantastic map, AND a fantastic navigator (ahem, let me be clear on this… I am a FANTASTIC navigator). Guanjuato is a big twisty, tunnelly, narrow-streeted city that requires all three if you have a specific destination. This is especially true if your Spanish sucks as much as ours does and/or you do not have an internationally capable GPS. Upon arrival (a short 3-4 hr drive from Teotihuacan) around lunch time, we found no one. It looked pretty deserted, but the signs were there, so we parked and waited… and waited… and waited… A lady did eventually come out (I swear we knocked like 3 times on that door…) and we figured out the rate and she gave us directions to the plaza and market. Patience is a commodity you will never have enough of when taking this journey. If you are an impatient person… please stay home (or, at least learn some patience… worked for Mike… sort of).

The only signs around to indicate the location of the camp... are on the gates to the camp.
The only signs around to indicate the location of the camp… are on the gates to the camp.

Also, please note the signs on the gate come from both directions, and the street it is located on is a one-way. That’s just how they roll in Mexico.

The view from camp is fantastic, but there is little shade on this mountainside… and it gets HOT during the day… and freaking cold at night. FYI. Can’t really argue about the view though.

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And if that isn’t good enough for you, take the short walk up the hill to the Mirador. There is an old fort and some old silver mining machinery as well as yet another fantastic view.

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The walk to the market/plaza is not that bad… Just a few hills…. and some uneven pavement. Just wear comfortable shoes and bring water… and maybe a walking stick… and a respirator…. You get used to it though, I’m sure. I just never did.

One of many hills
One of many hills

Exhausting  walks aside… the city is among the prettiest I’ve ever seen. If I weren’t such a fan of the ocean, I would have wanted to buy something here. At the very least, I hope to spend more time here, someday.

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tiffs iphone 2292There are tons of places to eat and drink. It’s a very affluent city with herbalists, coffee shops, yoga, natural food markets, etc. etc. etc. And, of course, there’s always a guy with some donkeys

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The city has its fair share of tourists, usually Mexican families and couples. The main plaza is home to street performers, mimes, those guys that pretend to be statues, some delicious food and, of course, there’s always a few kids hawking chicklets. We only got to spend two and a half days here but we crammed as much as we could into those two and a half days. We shopped (obviously, we needed to bring home some souvenirs for ourselves and our families, and the prices here were surprisingly low), strolled, ate, drank some fantastic coffee, and we went to the museum.

Not just any museum, mind you. The Mummy Museum. Its creepy to say the least, and while we went and photographed and whatnot, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the way I felt the whole  thing was an immoral excuse to make money off the dead. Also, the end with the kitchy house-of-horrors nonsense really drove the point home. Had I known this ahead of time, would I still have gone? Can’t say for sure, but… probably.

So a little background: The museum (website here) was founded after they had already exhumed several bodies. Due to the nature of the soil, bodies mummify quickly after burial. The bodies were exhumed when families of the deceased could either, not be identified, or could not pay the grave site tax/fee. So, when we start there are bodies from a hundred or so years ago… makes it seem less creepy and more museum-y. The bodies are mostly bare of clothing but some still have theirs and some even have hair. There are also some, ahem, members of the anatomy, that are also plainly visible. Ick. And lets not forget the ones they point out were clearly buried alive. ohmygod. This is the stuff of nightmares. This is also the most popular tourist destination in Guanajuato.

The further you progress the more recent the bodies become. There are guys with elastic in their boxer shorts. The fact that there are in boxer shorts at all should be an indication of more recent history, the elastic is just another sign.

And then, of course, there are the babies. Babies. Plural. And, the crowning glory, the smallest mummy in the world. The fetus taken from it’s mother’s womb after burial and exhumation. So… how enraged, creeped out, grossed out and annoyed are you? Just in case you need more prodding… here are some pictures: (If you’re squeamish, scroll quickly – but seriously, they’re not that scary or gross)

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The things to avoid in Guanajuato, from our brief experience would be (1) the vendor shops around the museum and (2) most of the (tourist type) vendor shops in the mercado. The prices there are astronomical for some things. Yes you can bargain, but if it doesn’t seem like a really good price, you’re probably paying too much.

Things to enjoy repeatedly (1) people watching in the plazas – The mime got Mike and I twice… once chased me with his imaginary dog (it barked by the way… so I’m not sure that he was really a mime), and once made fun of Mike’s beard/baldheadedness (basically told him his head was on upside-down). That one had the crowd roaring! (2) Outdoor food and drink – try something new people – sometimes you end up with Menudo (wretched, awful stuff), but usually its tasty, even if you don’t want to know what it is (3) Getting lost. This is a city of tunnels and twists and turns. I will probably never see the shop with the most awesomest dresses in the windows again, but it was fun trying to re-trace our steps. Plus, if you don’t get lost, how would you find the best coffee/candy shop/pizza place etc??

After catching some Zzz’s we headed to our last stop in Mexico. Mazatlan. We stayed here the so long ago it seems, but not that long ago at all. We found an RV park, very near the hotel we stayed at, with way better amenities. And cheaper… How did we not find this? To our very happy surprise, Carnival (Spanish version of Mardi-gras) was happening that weekend! We kind of got caught up trying to navigate the city with half the streets shut down, and party-goers already crowding the streets, but found our way eventually.

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The RV Park had a bunch of regular “snowbirds” who happened to have a key, so we decided to hit the parade for some drinking and debauchery.

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Mike likes to creep on the Ferderales. But can I just say that I love that the one guy is clearly texting or playing a game on his phone?!

OK so really there wasn’t so much drinking (there was a serious lack of banos and the walk back to the RV park was no joke – we ended up in a taxi), and the debauchery was limited to walking around, trying to break through crowds to get from one side of the street to the other, and then there was some fence hopping to get out of the street fair all together. That part was not fun, and seriously challenged my atrophied arm muscles – I essentially had to do a press-up of my entire body weight and then pull my legs over without resting my knees because the fence posts were pointed and that would have hurt. All while avoiding kicking small children in the head and apologizing in Spanish rapidly at the same time (it was a tight squeeze, someone got kicked but I think it was a drunk teenager). I’m fairly certain I said “I can’t” at least 30 times and whined at Mike (who was already over the fence and couldn’t really help me at that angle) while the security guards just watched me struggle (yeah 2 of them, watching this mess).  But, it kind of makes a good story, right?

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Honestly, i was expecting a little more from Carnival. The one in Rio looks so cool on TV, and even Mardi Gras looked cooler than this. Perhaps it was the expectations that made it seem so lame. Or maybe we weren’t drunk enough…

After another lazy day at the RV park and some last-day tacos from Jaunita’s we hit the hay for our last night in Mexico.

And, as a parting gift, we woke up to the Godzilla of all cockroaches making himself comfortable in my hair on my pillow. I’m cringing and holding in a little vomit just thinking about it. You wake up really fast when someone tells you there’s a cockroach in your hair.  Thankfully, we had very few bug incidents in the tent – one giant spider, two cockroaches and a few rouge skeeters… not bad for 5 months of living (mostly) outdoors. I was also thankful that after our first night in the states, we were either staying in hotels (thanks Sue and Steve!) or with friends (thanks Amy and Jordan – and Gunnar and Maggie too!) and would have no further bug incidents.

We headed to Nogales, turned in our sticker at a little roadside Banjercito a few miles outside of town, hit a gas station to spend the last of our pesos (after paying a zillion tolls we asked if there were anymore – we got the jist that there weren’t). Officially peso-less we got to the border to discover that, yes, there was one more toll. I can’t remember how much it was, but to do the fast crossing toll make sure you have an extra 100 pesos on you, otherwise you need to go through town.

tiffs iphone 2364But if you go through town you might see a cool train…

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There’s always people selling snacks and newspapers… and some blind guy being led around on a portable karaoke machine asking for donations.

And of course… if you go through town you have to sit in line for at least an hour.

And then, you talk to the nice customs agent, get an agricultural items search (or at least we did) and then proceed to enter the great state of Arizona. Nogales as a border crossing (either through town or at the fast pass side) seemed to be perfectly safe to us, so we would probably use it again if we ever drive through Mexico again. And we just might… you never know what this life holds in store for you.

We may have finished our adventure a little early, and didn’t get to cross all the countries off our list that we wanted to, but we had a fantastic journey, made new friends, saw new places and made new memories. We left Mexico a lot poorer in the bank account but we are much richer in spirit. Appreciate what you have, live every day, make mistakes, get messy, and whenever faced with a decision, always pick the one that makes the better story. One day you might be telling people all about that time you quit your job, sold your house and drove around the world….

Always Take the Long Way

The new and improved (?) Mike. Shaved his head our last day in Hopkins.
The new and improved (?) Mike. Shaved his head our last day in Hopkins.

After Hopkins, we had some decisions to make, namely, which way should we go home? Our original plan (the one before we spent all of our money…) was to hit everything we missed in Mexico on the way back, then go up the California coast to Washington, then, maybe, catch a ferry to Alaska and then back (to avoid driving ALLL the way through Canada and back), then hitting the Rockies for some more hiking/camping/wilderness fun all before getting back to NY and then Florida… this all sounds rather exciting doesn’t it? Almost makes a girl wish for different decisions… like ones that don’t result in me sitting in my living room typing this right now. Almost. Except then we’d be somewhere  (probably Nicaragua by now…) with a very, very sick dog and that is not anyone’s idea of fun.

Barley update: Officially 7 (ok 8… it took me a while to finish this) weeks since the diagnosis and he is free and clear of all symptoms (blood-related and otherwise) of “tick fever”. New fun though. After we arrived back in Florida, he started wetting the bed. Seriously. Like he peed on me in my sleep. Apparently if he has to go in the middle of the night, it’s always on me… brings me back to a pooping incident…. anyway, moving on…

So we took Barley to our local vet here (The Palm Bay Animal Clinic – they’re great BTW (that’s By The Way for the acronym-challenged)), since we needed to anyway, and got him checked out. After an exhaustive list of symptoms, treatments, time frames, etc. Barley got poked in every single hole he had (Every. Single. One. Seriously…. I’ve never seen a dog get catheterized before and I never want to see that again) to get to the bottom of this new and exciting development. Seeing as we were unemployed at the time (a situation we are rectifying quickly) we hoped this was not super expensive. It wasn’t cheap, but it didn’t break the bank. Two days later the doc gave us the news. It was serious, but it was treatable. Barley is now diabetic. For dogs, there is no way to treat besides insulin, except in few cases where it can be managed with proper diet. The onset of diabetes at this stage in his life is rare… 6 year old dogs don’t get diabetes. 12 year old dogs do. And puppies that are born with it. So, best guess is he got it because of the rapid weight loss from the tick fever. Now he gets fed every 12 hours with insulin after each feeding, as well as a specialized high-fiber dog food. So… being in Nicaragua (or wherever), sleeping in a tent with one dog that wets the bed, and trying to figure out what is wrong with him this time… while trying to communicate in another language…. would not have worked out well.

Knowing this still does not prevent me from raging bouts of jealousy when I see all the people we met (or the people we hoped to meet) doing totally awesome things in the coolest places we’ve never even heard of.

OK so where was I??… Oh yes, decisions, decisions…

So … back in Belize, we wanted to go to the Belize Zoo. It’s an open zoo where you can interact with the animals (or simply view them in the open and not in cages) and it’s supposed to be very cool. I was looking forward to going. The Tropical Education Center across the highway from the zoo offers dorms, private rooms and camping. They do not, however, allow dogs in the rooms. Since it is hot as the dickens in Belize pretty much year round, we hoped for a room, so we could go to the zoo (something tells me they don’t allow dogs in a zoo where monkeys and other creatures roam freely). So… we didn’t stay, we didn’t go to the zoo, and I didn’t get to see the monkeys, the jaguars or the jaguarundi (which is like an adorable smaller version of a jaguar, that would also kill you so those ones are caged). WAH! Instead, we headed for the border and back to Bacalar Camp.

Getting out of Belize is far easier than going in. Except the guy at the immigration desk confused the hell out of us and the Banjercito girl, but we figured all that out with the help of the lady who cleans the bathrooms. Go figure.

Back at Bacalar, Aki was still there and had somehow gotten his tent on the roof. I never did find the stairs…. I’m just going to go with the theory he uses his awesome Buddhist meditation mind skills and levitates up there. He’s really light so he could probably do it.

Sunrise at Bacalar Camp on our journey north
Sunrise at Bacalar Camp on our journey north

 

We spent just the one night there, used the WiFi and found our next stop. We were still up in the air about how we would get back through Mexico, and which border crossing we would use, so we chose a neutral next stopping point. It took us north and at that point, it was all that mattered.

We drove next to Catemaco again (and it took For-Freaking-Ever. Sunup to sundown to be precise), this time staying in the RV park near town. The Villas Tepetapan RV park is scary. Seriously, if you look at the website its great, right? Looks super nice. No no no no no. Stay away. The owner is great but seriously dude… buy some bleach, dump in in your (cess)pools, and then maybe, MAYBE, it might be worth staying there. I kid you not there were clouds (CLOUDS!!) of no-see-ums and mosquitos. The entire place was a nightmare. Don’t stay here. You have been warned. They do have WiFi so if you’re SOL you could stay here just for that. I’m pretty sure it’s one of 3 places in the whole town with it. Wear your deet-infused nylon suit if you do.

So the owner guy told us the route most people take through Eagle Pass, and it seemed doable. It would get us out of Mexico in like 2 more sleeps. But, where is the fun in that? We decided to try a slightly different route. Try Teotihuacan next (sorta/kinda on our way), see some more cool ruins and then go from there.

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Teotihuacan (the ruins part) was awesome.The city was quaint and had good tortas (sandwiches), which is always a nice change from the taco stands. The RV park wasn’t super easy to find but we figured it out and set up camp. A month in an English-speaking country totally ruined my Spanish so asking directions and understanding the answers got a lot harder. The park has a nice lawn, cold showers, and decent WiFi (if you know where to stand). The owner was also breeding her Dalmatian so there were about 8 adorable little puppies causing trouble and attempting to break out all the time. I wanted to steal them all! We spent one night just relaxing and the next day at the ruins site. These pyramids were impressive. Way better than Chichen-Itza. Probably a bigger site, with way more to see, and um, you could CLIMB THE PYRAMIDS. I guess I’m still not over that tourist trap rip-off.

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Camp – there were some SERIOUS rigs there

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I love the guys who drive donkey-powered vehicles.

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Its hard to appreciate how high up this is in a picture… Its really freaking high, let me tell you.

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And what ruins site would be complete without vendor shops? I still want one of those woven embroidered tops… maybe next time.

While in Teotihuacan (seriously, if you can pronounce that, tell me how) we compromised on the return trip plan. We wouldn’t spend a fortune or a ton of time, but we would see more of Mexico. This meant, instead of going north for two more nights, we would head west and hit at least two more spots on our way back. I didn’t “win” that argument (I wanted to stop at least 4 places and take a full two weeks to get out of Mexico), but marriages are about compromise, sometimes… and of course, there was the budget to consider. Or, lack of budget.

And here are some more photos in case you needed more…

Puppies!
Puppies!
High-steppin... these steps were HUGE. I thought people thousands of years ago were shorter....
High-steppin… these steps were HUGE. I thought people thousands of years ago were shorter….
Sorry folks, it wasn't the aliens... or is that just what the aliens want us to believe??....
Sorry folks, it wasn’t the aliens… or is that just what the aliens want us to believe??….
Awww look how cute we are!
Awww look how cute we are!
Clocktower... visible from camp. If you see the clock tower you can (sort of) follow it to the campsite
Clock tower (or bell tower – not sure)… visible from camp. If you see the clock tower you can (sort of) follow it to the campsite

Next stop: Guanajuato!

 

Hopkins: Belize’s Best Kept Secret

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Hopkins is that smaller dot just below Dangriga.

When you go to Hopkins, you might have someone ask you if you liked your stay. Most responses would be a resounding “Yes!” This person would then say, “Good. Now don’t tell anyone, or you’ll ruin it.”

So, I’m breaking all the rules here and telling you all about Hopkins, but really, only a handful of people will ever actually read this, so I’m not all that worried. But those of you that do read this… SHHHH!!!

The drive from Altun Ha to Hopkins was fairly short, but then all drives in Belize are… you can get from Hopkins to the Mexican border in under 4 hours, or to the Guatemalan border in just over 2… the country is about the size of Massachusetts. As long as your routes are mostly highway, you’ll get there in a jiffy. The highways were meh, but better than dirt, and the scenery was fantastic. We hit a grocery store and ATM in Belmopan since we had no idea what kind of facilities we would find in Hopkins, and followed the winding Hummingbird Highway down to the southern coast. You could also take the coastal road. This is all dirt and takes a lot longer, but if you’re up for it (and have a suspension that can handle it) go for it.

The whole, “if anything can go wrong…” theme of this trip was already pretty old at this point, but let’s add to it again. Arrival in Hopkins: Check – pretty smooth sailing actually. Finding the Funky Dodo (where we booked lodging for 3 nights): Check – it’s the only Hostel and there are signs everywhere.

The Dodo... it's pretty Funky.
The Dodo… it’s pretty Funky.

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Finding someone who works at the Dodo was a little harder and took a few minutes. Gio, the manager informed us our room was not available, and that we had been sent an email the night before letting us know our booking was cancelled. Well, isn’t that just shitty (Also, after checking several times no such email was ever sent and our booking fee on hostel world is still on our credit card)?  We were in Altun ha with no email for two days and this is the luck we have. Even after corresponding with the owner via email, and confirming there was availability and we could bring our dogs, “Hostel World” overbooked them, and now we had no room. Turns out, this is a fairly common occurrence at the Dodo, and even worse during high season (Nov – Jan), even though we were told otherwise. The policy at the Dodo is that if you want to stay, you can. Even if there is a booking. Which is great for the person staying, but shitty for anyone arriving expecting a room or dorm bed. I usually have a backup plan now (especially after the 7 P’s incidents), but with email confirmations I thought we were set. There was literally NOTHING else available, and it was pouring (PERFECT!) so camping was looking even less appealing. There was a suite under construction with some friends of the owners staying there, but had an available bunk. If it was OK with us, and the people staying, we had a bed for the night at no charge (I would consider that un-refunded amount from Hostel World our payment for the night anyway). We spent that day taking the dogs to and from the car for walks and food/drink and spent an uncomfortable night on a twin mattress together (with the dogs too) – with so many rooms/beds overbooked we felt bad taking two beds and offered the top bunk to another person who had nowhere else to go.

Strangely enough, one of the friends staying in the suite was Natalie (owner of Backpacker’s in Sarteneja) – so the mystery of the missing owner was solved.

In Hopkins, there are several very well stocked grocery stores and an ATM was put in about a year ago. So, unless you need something specific, there is really no need to leave town.

And guess who we saw while in town – Josh and Kathi from Birds of Passage! They were planning to stay at Cockscomb and do some birding for a few days before trying to get into Crooked Tree (roads were completely flooded while we were there).

After waking early, we lazed around waiting for our room to be available. With the heat it was impossible to leave the dogs in the car for any length of time, and we couldn’t leave them in the suite since we were sharing… so we were all stuck together. At around 11 we were told “soon” and to me that means within an hour or two. Well “soon” in Belize means a lot longer and it wasn’t until nearly 3 pm we finally got our room. We wanted to hike that day, and decided to try and give it a shot. We had plenty of time until sunset to get in a quick hike. We sped out to Mayflower Park (Bocawina Falls), only to find it cost 10 BZD to enter and the park closed at 4:30. It was already 4 pm… day 2 in Hopkins wasted. So, to compensate, we got wasted too. That was the first of too many nights in Hopkins drinking too much rum and juice. The stuff goes down like just juice after a while….

Day 3 Hopkins, we woke late (damn you Rum!), but made it to Bocawina eventually. We spotted a Gray Fox on the road in, which was pretty cool. The park was a mud fest from the previous few days of rain, and hiking in our merrills was a slippery affair. We made it to the top of Antelope Falls though, without incident (I only slipped and fell once on my way down – I call that a win). The hike itself is pretty intense, especially after some rain. There are ropes available for climbing some of the riskier parts. Please use them.

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Someone was enjoying himself.
Someone was enjoying himself.

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Spotted this guy early on in the hike… we think it was an Indigo Snake.

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Ropes: for the accident prone among us.

Schwetty.
Schwetty.

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Stairs… lots and lots of stairs….

After a cold swim, some cool lookout points and some creeptastic ants, we decided to head to another one of the falls in the park. The way to Bocawina falls is a muddy messy, watery, “road” to the back trails. Of course Mike kicked it into 4WD and took the Jeep mudding… because that’s what it was made for. The racks on the other hand were not, and we ended up bending our license plate up a bit.

The road to the falls... Hold on tight!
The road to the falls… Hold on tight!

On the trail it was way buggier than the Antelope Falls trail, but we spotted a Gibnut (we think – also called a Paca) and the walk was actually really easy to the falls. Bocawina Falls was not nearly as nice (for swimming or looking at) as Antelope Falls, but still, it’s a waterfall which is cool and you can sort of wade around if you want to. If you do go to the park and can only go to one trail (or don’t have transportation to take you to the back trails) definitely do Antelope Falls (trailhead is right near the visitor’s center).

Gibut. We think. Look down the trail on the right. Its brown and tan and about 10 inches tall.
Gibut. We think. Look down the trail on the right. Its brown and tan and about 10 inches tall.

photo(65)This is suspiciously clean looking… it didn’t last.

Bocawina Falls Park
Mayflower/Bocawina Falls Park

So, back at the Dodo (or Doo Doo to the locals – if you stay there you get it. Sometimes it STINKS – the sink drainage goes right behind some buildings – yuck!), we spent the afternoon lazing around, walking Hopkins and eating. And, ok there might have been more rum.

We did some more hiking the next day at Cockscomb Basin. There was a tubing/hiking combo so we didn’t take any pictures. After settling into the river I freaked out (just a teensy bit) realizing I hadn’t thought about the possibility of alligators/crocodiles/other dangerous creatures that could be lurking in the water. Relaxing tube ride it was not. From there the short hike to the falls was ok, but beyond there was an overlook with (1) no bugs and (2) no people – sometimes these parks get crowded, so that was a bonus. There are a bunch of hikes to take in Cockscomb, including a 4 day Victoria Peak hike, which we could not do with the dogs (even if they were both in perfect health, no dogs allowed in the park). We hoped to return the following day to do the Outlier trail – a 14 km hike – to the first lookout of the Victoria Peak trail.

Trail listing you can view on the Cockscomb Basin Website.
Trail listing you can view on the Cockscomb Basin Website.
This was actually after... and I still had all my limbs!
This was actually after… and I still had all my limbs!
We didn't actually see any, but Josh and Kathi saw some prints on the trail!
We didn’t actually see any, but Josh and Kathi saw some prints on the trail! Also, is it me or dies that look suspiciously like the Lyger (or was it a Tigon?) Napoleon drew…. all it needs is wings.

Returning to the Dodo we had a surprise. No power in the room. The suite that was under construction was causing issues in the electrical in other buildings/rooms so they were trying to sort that out. So, possibly while we were gone, the poor dogs were in the room with no fan. Not OK. We spent that afternoon and several other days keeping the dogs as cool as possible around town (usually at the beach) when there were Dodo, or village-wide outage (happened about 4-5 times for 2-12 hours).

In case I never mentioned this before, Barley had been acting poorly and not eating properly for almost three weeks at this point. In Merida we thought it was a combination of too long in the car and maybe eating something he shouldn’t have while we weren’t looking. Boiled rice seemed to get him back on track, except he didn’t want to eat his food. In Pie de la Cuesta (outside Chichen Itza) he started eating sort of normally again. By the time we got to Bacalar it was past the point we could try to help (not eating and starting to shake uncontrollably) and we had to go to the vet. He gave us some amoxicillin and some puppy pepto and some puppy liquid pain meds, along with special gastrointestinal food. About 1200 pesos ($90 ish US). He ate the food (yay!) and showed some improvement while on the meds. Once the medicine was gone (a few days after arriving in Belize), however, he started deteriorating, rapidly. He stopped eating entirely (wet food, dry food, rice, etc. – the only thing we could get him to eat were treats), and he appeared to have lost a lot of weight. His weight was 36 lbs when we started the trip. He was about 32 lbs when we took him to the vet in Hopkins. Thankfully, Hopkins has an amazing Humane Society that operates using volunteers and donations (open Wednesdays 1-3pm and Saturdays/Sundays for neutering/spaying). There is a trained local who treats the animals but he’s not a vet and cannot write prescriptions. The day we went there was a vet volunteer who, based on his symptoms and some minor swelling in his spleen (they were out of “snap tests” for tick fever, and could not do blood work) said “Tick Fever” (Erlichia/Anaplasmosis). This was what we were afraid of on the trip, and we were probably kidding ourselves the last few weeks thinking it was something he’d just getover. A couple who did this trip previously with dogs actually had one pet die from the disease. We hoped we caught it in time and headed to Dangriga to fill the prescription. $1 bzd per pill of 100 mil doxycycline – 42 pills total (which is not enough by the way, we found that out later and got more) and a donation of $50 bzd for the exam. ($46 us)

A few days of this and we still saw no improvement. He was eating less, and then he stopped drinking. The vet in Hopkins couldn’t do anything more for us, so we headed to Belmopan. Dr. Baptist came back from his house calls to check Barley out. He said he also suspected Tick Fever, but was out of snap tests as well. The only other place to go was Belize City and the Animal Medical Centre. The vet there was skeptical about it being Tick Fever, but he weighed him (now down to 28 lbs and looking skeletal) examined them, and took the blood (they were also out of snap tests – what the frig people?!) to test for signs of the disease. He also tried to give Barley some fluids intravenously but he fidgeted too much. Driving around that day cost us a tank of gas ($200 bzd) vet fees ($240 bzd) and some of my sanity. Two days later we got the results – Peanut was clean, and Barley had the bug (or bugs – Tick Fever can present with more than one bacteria). Thankfully, that was on a Wednesday, so we went back to the Humane Society for more fluids for Barley, and to see about getting another prescription (recommended dosage is for 6-8 weeks and retest after 3 months). Joseph, the trained local, gave Barley fluids subcutaneously (he had a big bubble on his back) and we got a bigger syringe (no needle – we had one from the Mexican vet for his other meds) to pump some water into him until he started drinking by himself.  He also got a nice B12 injection and that afternoon he drank and ate significantly more than he had the previous days, which helped his stomach when we had to give him the doxy. Since he is not a licensed vet he couldn’t write us a prescription, but when could come back on Saturday and Dr. Baptist would be volunteering and could write our prescription. Another $50 bzd donation and another $42 bzd for the pills – tablets this time, from Belmopan. Dangriga only had capsules that were upsetting Barley’s stomach worse. So total this cost us about $400 usd.

Update: It has been about 2.5 weeks since we started Barley on his doxy regime and he is just about back to his old self. Now we just have to fatten him back up again.

During this time of running around, cooking up rice, changing wet foods to get him to eat and generally worrying ourselves silly over Barley’s health, we did manage to enjoy more of Hopkins.

There was volleyball down at Driftwood Pizza.

Volley ball star I am not - but I enjoy losing almost as much as winning.
Volley ball star I am not – but I enjoy losing almost as much as winning.

Swimming in the shallow sandy waters of the Carribean.

The beach. It's small, but it's pretty.
The beach. It’s small, but it’s pretty.

Walking Hopkins and eating local cuisines.

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See that sign for Tina’s? Eat there. Daily.

And we also did a night tour on the Sittee River where we saw crocodiles and cruised the bio-luminescent lagoon, and of course, more rum. Like, a ridiculous amount of rum. My liver is still recovering.

We went from 3 days in Hopkins to 7, to 10, to a full two weeks. During this time we fell in love with the area and started entertaining the idea of buying in Belize. There are some issues with a foreigner buying in Belize, but mostly that has to do with knowing your seller and the rules. Our advice would be to deal with an agent. Yeah, you can probably get a better deal without one, but with an agent you know the rules are being followed and you’ll get a clean title on your property. Peace of mind does cost money.

Ultimately, after going back and forth, and deciding to walk away only to be pulled back in, we got our little piece of paradise in Hopkins Village.

Our piece of paradise... just a short walk to the beach!
Our piece of paradise… just a short walk to the beach!

This cost us our trip money. We will be officially broke in 2 months when the contract closes. So, with our money spent, and a sick dog on our hands, we decided the best idea was to head home… but not without a few more stops along the way.

The "new" Mike

This guy paid us a visit in our room one morning... EEK!
This guy paid us a visit in our room one morning… EEK!
Baby croc on the side of the road... see that shit everyday.
Baby croc on the side of the road… see that shit everyday. Ok really it was just the once, but apparently its fairly common.

Belizian Rum is One Hell of a Drink

...And it goes down sooo easy with some grapefruit juice
…And it goes down sooo easy with some grapefruit juice

I hope someone out there gets this Rick James/Dave Chappell reference. Anyway… enough about how I can’t tell a joke….

After our not-so-stellar border crossing into Belize, we were officially starving and needed a beer (or six). We headed to Corozal, to make the trip towards Sarteneja. From what we read, you can cross by hand crank ferry and just “follow the signs” to Sarteneja. In Mexico, signage was awesome. If you got lost going to a city, you just stopped paying attention (or didn’t have your handy dandy Guia Roji map). In Belize, have fun finding a speed limit sign (and then determining whether its in KM/Hr or MPH), let alone directional signs to other towns. So… lap one, we missed Corozol (we were expecting a bit more…. At least a SIGN), but found beer and some snacks a little ways down the road. Food craving temporarily sated, we turned around to return to Corozal. In town, we located an ATM (necessary since there is reportedly no ATM in Sarteneja – but we located a bank in town though we never checked out the ATM), and a slightly larger bodega store for some supplies. No fruit or veggie stands while we were there, but another couple who came the following day found them. When traveling through Corozal you need to turn off the main highway (as soon as you see buildings located closer together, you’re there) to locate anything, otherwise you’ll drive right past it like we did. After securing a few provisions (rum, juice and some more beer – you know, the important stuff) and some cash, we asked the security guy at the bank how to get to Sarteneja via the ferries… he said there was a big sign just past town and you turn left. Can’t miss it. Oh, yeah? Well, yes you can, since the sign only faces south, and is so faded you need to practically stop to read it, you can miss it. Lap two, turned around and spotted said faded sign, and turned right. Note: if heading south, there are signs for Progresso Grove (or Shores, or something like that) that point you in the right direction. After that, look for little car ferry signs like this:

Hand Crank Ferry
Hand Crank Ferry

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There are two ferries on the road to Sarteneja. After those two crossings you just go straight. No getting lost unless you try really, really hard at this point. As soon as you leave Corozal and turn towards Sarteneja the roads are all dirt. If you are not on a dirt road you are going the wrong (or long – through Orange Walk) way.

After riding on the hand crank ferries and bouncing along the dirt road, we came across a disabled vehicle. They needed a jump. We tried the jump box (easily accessible behind my seat) but that didn’t cut it. So, since we were already committed to helping, we had to unload the back rack (second time that day – hooray!) and open the back door to pull out the spare, and retrieve the jumper cables in the rim. After the jump was completed, we repacked the back and the bag, but decided to keep the cables in a more accessible locale. We’ve used them twice or three times already (for other people) and this unpacking and re-packing thing was just getting old.

We also spotted a few dead snakes along the way – one we determined was a rattle snake common in the area. They all have their heads removed and buried by whoever is lucky enough to kill them, to make sure the venom doesn’t accidentally hurt anyone, because apparently the darn things keep biting for like an hour – GROSS!

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In Sarteneja there are a few places to stay – guesthouses mostly – along the water. Other than that there is Backpackers Paradise, just as you enter town. So first impression: Buggy, muddy, overgrown, unfriendly and just plain disappointing. Everyone who had come before us said so many good things, perhaps we built it up in our minds but seriously, when the owners dogs pee on your tent annex twice before bed and once (at least) after, we’re allowed to be annoyed as hell. And of course, in addition to the bugginess associated with general jungly-ness, we had frequent (daily, sometimes twice or three times a day) rain showers while we were there, adding to the muckiness for those nasty bugs to procreate in. We arrived just before sundown the first day, so we decided to use the kitchen for some dinner (sparse kitchen – no sponge no dish soap and hardly and cooking or serving supplies) then hit the hay. And, of course we had to rinse the tent annex and wheels of the Jeep off a few times between arrival and bedtime, so that was fun.

Mud that was like cement on your shoes... I still carry a little of Sarteneja with me in my leather sandals from Oaxaca.
Mud that was like cement on your shoes… I still carry a little of Sarteneja with me in my leather sandals from Oaxaca.

The next day (after re-rinsing the tent) we decided to head to town to check it out, and pick up some cold beverages. The “Paradise” does offer drinking water for $1BZD per liter refill, but it’s warm. We took the dogs with us and were super surprised when we arrived at the pristine water that surrounded the village. Sarteneja is a fishing village, and most fishing villages we had been to didn’t have much for beach access (too many piers and the water near shore was usually gross with fish stuff and sometimes garbage) so this was a huge bonus. The day was super hot, so we headed back, got the dogs situated in the much cooler annex, changed into our suits and hit one of the local piers. Sandy bottom and so shallow for way far out it was the perfect place to swim for a person with a fear of stepping on something squishy (who? me?). The bikes for rent there are a nice treat too – at $5BZD for half a day it’s a bargain! We decided to stick it out for a total of three nights, and did one more day exploring the Shipstern nature preserve, and down at the water, just taking in the sun.

Just one of many piers in Sarteneja

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"Our" pier
“Our” pier
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike...
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…

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Sexy Chicken is a good name for a boat? Yes, I think it is.
Sexy Chicken is a good name for a boat? Yes, I think it is.

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Pups enjoying a stroll along the pier... do I smell fishes??
Pups enjoying a stroll along the pier… do I smell fishes??

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I can haz cheezburger?
I can haz cheezburger?

We tried to find placed to stay on one of the Cayes that allowed dogs, but had no such luck while we were in Sarteneja, so we decided a different route. There was an advertisement for the Funky Dodo in Hopkins Village, so we contacted the owner about bringing the dogs, and booked three nights there instead. We asked what there was to do around there from someone who had been before and the response was “Drumming, and drinking, and drumming…..” so we figured three days was plenty.

Overall, even after three nights at Backpackers, we never met the “super friendly” owners we heard so much about (saw Ed wandering around but he was always coming or going, but Natalie was MIA while we were there), were never made aware of the hot water system (WTF I could have taken a HOT shower?!?!) or about the tangerine trees we could pick from that were on the back of the property (I overheard these things when we were packing to leave). We did however, enjoy the common room (super plus with the mosquito netting, hammocks, and WIFI), the restaurant up front (convenient and the Lionfish is delicious) and the refreshing waters of the town. Out of 10 – solid 6 – could have been an 8 if i knew about the hot water though. I love hot water.

While there we met Josh and Kathi from Birds of Passage and had fun learning about all the birds we’ve seen so far, and hearing about the parts of Mexico we missed (they looped it like 3 times – we missed A LOT compared to them). We also learned we needed nylon pants. Bugs can’t bite through nylon pants – this is amazing information for me – care package anyone?

After Sarteneja we were headed south and inland – to visit the ruins of Altun Ha. We stayed at the Mayan Wells campsite, and would recommend it except for the bugs, specifically the doctor flies. Those suckers would not give two shits if you are wearing a 200% Deet body suit, and then proceeded to slather yourself in baby oil (the killer of sand flies everywhere). Though, I’m sure if we had some nylon pants and shirts we would have been OK. They bite, and you bleed, and then you swell and itch for 3-4 days. I think my right upper arm looked about twice the size from the dozen or so bites I received on that side. Mike, lucky guy that he is, looked like he had cankles from all his bites on his lower legs and feet.

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There isn’t much at Mayan Wells – the restaurant is closed and so is the butterfly house. The howler monkey is still there and she eats right out of your hand. I felt a little bad for her though, she seemed awful lonely. They have bathrooms with cold showers and a picnic area they let us use as our temporary kitchen. We only stayed two nights, but if we had an earlier start from Sarteneja, we could have made it there, to the ruins, and then out the next day. Altun Ha was cool, since it was pretty empty, but avoid the vendor stalls – some lady tried to sell us a wrinkled $2 BZD and some coins in a plastic sleeve for $5 US. Ummm…. ripoff anyone?

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Also, avoid the pond. It’s a muddy walk to no where and doctor fly/mosquito heaven.

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See, now you’ve seen the pond and you don’t have to subject yourself to the same torture we did.

Doctor Fly. If you see one, kill it. Don't think it will leave you alone. It won't. And you'll end up like us: Swollen, itchy, leper-looking creeps.
Doctor Fly. If you see one, kill it. Don’t think it will leave you alone. It won’t. And you’ll end up like us: Swollen, itchy, leper-looking creeps.

While at Altun Ha we spent the first night at the bar next door to Mayan Wells. It was called Maya Crystal Skull and looked more like a shack than a bar, but they had cold beer and food so we were all for it. We had already polished off a fair amount of rum that day, and a few more beers were probably not the best idea, but we had a good time, meeting some locals, drinking some beer, and having the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. Mike, since he drank way more rum than I did, got to taste his twice. We finished off the night by hopping the fence and breaking back into our camp (thanks guys, I always liked a good B&E). The owner of Crystal Skull, a woman who’s name I’ve forgotten (damn you Belizean Rum!) had big plans to put in a more permanent bar/restaurant out front of where we were currently, and some cabanas in the back, as well as an area for camping. She’s got the space and if she continues making that chicken I’ll stop by there in a few years to see what’s what. Aside from that place, there was a bar/restaurant near the ruins and some really small convenience shops along the road. Not much at all to do around there.

The beer of Belize - I prefer stout.
The beer of Belize – I prefer stout.
Camp - had to climb to get back in. Damn you Belizean Rum!
Camp – had to climb to get back in. Damn you Belizean Rum!

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After packing up our wet tent (because, of course it rained the last night), we hit the road and headed towards Hopkins Village. There are a ton of places to camp down the Hummingbird Highway (probably tent camping, FYI RVers) and a bunch of national parks. We hoped to hit everything we missed on our way back towards San Ignacio, but for now we were Hopkins bound, ready to find out what this Garifuna village had to offer.

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Mexico/Belize Border Crossing

The Mexico border crossing didn’t warrant an entire separate blog post, simply because it was pretty easy and, aside from our troubles finding the Banjercito, we had no issues. Belize was a whole different story.

First our troubles started with the banks. It was a Monday when we planned to cross, and that was because we knew we needed to change money to either USD or Belizian Dollars (fixed 2:1 exchange Belizian to USD). We heard there was no bank at the border crossing, so we needed the right currency to pay our fees. The ½ hour drive from Bacalar to the border turned into 2.5 hours of driving around Chetumal trying to find a bank or money exchange that was open. For some unknown reason everything was closed due to some holiday we didn’t get the name of. Then, the only change office we DID find didn’t change money FROM pesos TO anything else. They would only change foreign currency TO pesos. Crap and double crap. After a last ditch effort circling town one more time it came down to two things: 1) go back to Bacalar and try again tomorrow, or 2) empty everything off the back racks, yank out the spare tire from inside the Jeep, dig out the lock box and raid our emergency cash. We went with option two, but let’s just say someone was having a bad day and decided breaking his tool box was a good idea at the time.There may have also been flying zip ties and a few stomps accompanied by cursing like a sailor.

Frustrated, hot and annoyed, we finally made it to the Mexican line. When we went to get our passports stamped, he asked for 306 pesos each. We heard this could happen, but we had already paid coming in (at a cutthroat exchange no less) and weren’t about to pay again. Scouring our records from the beginning of the trip, we came through with our receipt, and got our stamps to exit the country. Always keep your receipts – and ask for one if you don’t get one.

Moving on; it’s time to turn in our sticker and get our vehicle deposit back. The Banjercito office is right next to the guy in the little Immigration booth, and the woman there spoke perfect English, so we had no issues with that. She snapped a picture of the VIN and we were on our way.

At the Belizian border we had to get a little fumigation treatment for $11 BZD before going to the customs office. The oh-so-helpful porter on site decided to guide us through. We didn’t need his help but he pointed stuff out and started following us around. Oh well. We hit the immigration counter first, and the robot, I mean lady, inside the box asked where we were going for how long and why, then stamped our passports. Afterwards, Mike went to get the Vehicle processed (just a stamp in his passport after showing his license and our registration) while I was sent to BAHA with the dogs.

Surprise, surprise our import paperwork is not complete. Super. Wonderful. Can we catch a break today PLEASE? The paperwork takes 3-5 business days to complete after submission. We ACTUALLY waited until the 5th day before crossing, figuring if it was late we might have to wait a few hours, no big deal. The BAHA officer, however, said that since it wasn’t done yet, it could be days until it’s completed. Yup, DAYS. So here we are, in “no man’s land” between borders, and we get told we can either pay a fine of $200 BZD per dog PLUS the inspection and import fees of $70 BZD per dog to cross (total equivalent is $270 US), or we could go back. As in, go back to Mexico, repay our visa fee and vehicle import crap and wait a few more days before crossing again. Hmmm…. Well that sounds like an awful lot of pocket lining to me. Besides, we only had $200 US ($400 BZD) so we couldn’t pay that anyway. When we said we would just wait at the border, he was shocked.

So…. Long story short (sorta, kinda, OK not really, but whatever), two hours later he agrees to write the landing permit without receiving the final approved import form. The final amount we paid to get the dogs to cross from Mexico to Belize – $70 BZD ($35 US –  I thought it was per dog but the fee is per permit), plus the Vet paperwork and a new rabies shot for Barley in Chetumal of approx 500 pesos (about $40 US). The vet stuff was only approximate because Barley also got a full groom and I don’t remember how much that cost us.

After clearing things up with BAHA, we hit the insurance office, and for $60 BZD we were insured for a month – the same period we had for our visas. That porter from the beginning got a $1 US tip, which we didn’t want and/or need to give him since we didn’t want and/or need his help, but he had the nerve to actually ask for a cigarette too. As if the tip wasn’t enough. Sorry buddy, we don’t smoke. We should have just taken the $1 back.

So, the customs agents were born without personalities or the ability to smile, the BAHA office was a huge hassle, and the porters are ungrateful, but at least the insurance guy was nice and gave us sorta, kinda directions to Sarteneja. Total time spent from Bacalar to Belize: 6 hours. Oh well. Welcome to Belize.

(For more detailed information on crossing to Belize with a pet, see Neli’s Post of their experience. She’s very detailed (especially for a dog) and I totally used it as a guide.)

Merida is for Lovers

They say “Virginia is for Lovers” but if you want to people watch on some serious make out sessions, Merida is the place to be.

For the first time in a week our Telcel stick finally started working. Thank goodness for big cities. It was slow going at first, but eventually we found the Rainbow RV park, on the highway heading towards Progresso. The only RV park (that we could find anyway) anywhere near Merida. It was nearly empty and the manager wasn’t there. It also offered little shade.  I think they are either in transition between owners (we had read conflicting reports whether it was open or closed) or simply a minimal operation. We decided to check out some other options for lodging closer to where we wanted to be: Downtown.

Booking.com was very helpful when searching for lodging in Merida. Because of the size of the city, there were nearly 20 options in our price range, near centro, and 6 of those were pet friendly. I think the best value was probably Hotel Reforma. 515 pesos per night (per Booking.com with taxes)– AC, TV, Pool, WiFi, Parking, and the ambiance was very nice. It was also right next to the Zocalo. If you have that in your budget I recommend staying there. We decided cheaper was better and checked out a hostel next. Hostel Casa Nico was slightly further from centro, pet friendly, (sorta) English speaking, and still close enough we could walk everywhere. They had parking (tall enough for the Jeep + RTT and Surfboards), hot (mostly warm but good enough) water, a shared kitchen/fridge, WiFi, a small pool (no one used it while we were there, but it seemed clean), and included a modest breakfast of bread and fruit. There are only 2 rooms that are pet friendly – one, a 3 bed dorm style room can be rented privately for 280 pesos. Its also on the street and noisier. The other (the one we rented) had a king size bed, and was close enough to the lobby we had WiFi in our room, for 300 pesos.  Being further from centro was good for dog walking too, since we didn’t have to compete as much for sidewalk space. They also had a kitchen, water cooler, and Fridge for guest use. The ambiance was pretty much non-existent (it’s a hostel so you get what you pay for), but the employees were great and we had no complaints. If you don’t mind some peeling paint and water stains (and some mosquitoes living in your shower drain) we would highly recommend it.

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Merida is one of Mexico’s many World Heritage sites. The colonial center of Merida has been mostly restored and is beautiful with its architecture and colors. We spent most of our first day walking around and doing some sight-seeing.

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The first night was spent relaxing in the common area. What started out as a few Americans (we met Brian and Emily from Montana backpacking the Yucatan for 3 weeks) turned into an all out international fest by the end of the night. We had Puerto Rican, German, Japanese, American and French all hanging out and talking, drinking beer and sharing the rest of our Mezcal. The best part about this (aside from the camaraderie and general good time) was we got some information about places to stay and visit in the parts of Mexico we hadn’t been to yet, as well as some parts of Guatemala.

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  The next few days we spent more time strolling around town, checking out the market, eating (bacon wrapped hotdogs anyone?) and taking in some music around the different plazas in town. The evenings spent in the common area always ended in too much drinking, too much talking and too much fun. Miguel, who worked the front desk, shared some local entertainment and food information, and toured us around the city a little after his shift one night.

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best place to buy hammocks in Merida - also directly across the street from several whore houses.
best place to buy hammocks in Merida – also directly across the street from several whore houses.

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Merida has a lot of museums, galleries and big historic churches and buildings. We were a little preoccupied with Barley being sick (someone ate something he shouldn’t have), so we didn’t get to enjoy as much of these things as we would like (especially since some of them are free). Even so, Merida was definitely a highlight of the trip for us.

After 4 days in Merida, we headed for Piste, the city where Chichen Itza is located. The Piramide Inn at the edge of town offers ground camping and allows RVer’s to park out front. We paid 100 pesos per night. The showers were cold, but they had decent bathrooms and a big pool we could use. The place where we camped they were planning to tear down, and it was a little overgrown (the rest of the grounds were nice). Also the grounds she said we could camp on were covered in HUGE ant hills and these trails all over. We didn’t find out until later that these trails are from the ants. These ants, called leaf-cutters, go out at night and form a line from their hill to a tree and carry leaves back home for the rest of the colony. The lines are HUGE. 6-12 inches wide and some stretched over 50 feet – all PACKED with ants.  We decided to put our tent up on a concrete pad under a palapa and were never more thankful than when we saw this:

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EEEKKK!!!!!!

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We camped under the enclosed Palapa – This area is scheduled to be demolished

We met a couple from Sydney who had been traveling for 10 months already, coming north from Argentina. Its amazing how many people travel for months/years at  a time! The following day we headed on the short walk (about 2 KM) to Chichen Itza. It was the second biggest ruins site I’ve ever seen (Termessos in Turkey was the biggest, it covered a whole mountain).

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The Ball Court - Biggest one in Mexico
The Ball Court – Biggest one in Mexico

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Tic Tac Toe anyone?

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The ruins were impressive for sure, but they were either under repair or they just changed the rules because you could no longer climb on anything, nor go in to the chambers. Even pictures from the website are misleading, and show people climbing the tall Pyramid Kulkulkan (or El Castillo). The website also has outdated information on prices and events (the light show is under repair), and even tells people not to buy from the vendors in the park as they enter “illegally”. That’s a big joke because (a) there are probably hundreds of them, and (b) they have their own entrance! The other big downfall is the amount of people. We arrived around 9:30 and it seemed crowded, but by the time we left around noon, it was over-run with tour buses and Mexican families (Sunday is free for citizens in national parks). We could barely fit out the entrance. And last but not least, its expensive. Most sites we researched were less than 60 pesos per person to enter. This one was 188 pesos EACH. It would have been worth it if we could have climbed around and explored more, but since everything was closed to guests, we wouldn’t recommend it.

Some "Illegal" craft tables on the trails throughout the site
Some “Illegal” craft tables on the trails throughout the site

After going we discovered the reason (speculated at least by some locals) climbing the ruins is no longer allowed. Apparently a tourist woman fell down the Castillo steps and died. The pyramids have been closed since 2006. I can see how that would happen, but that is a risk everywhere you go, even some cities and towns have steep steps, and you don’t see them getting roped off when someone falls down. Accidents happen everywhere (I’m an expert on this one, trust me), so it is up to you to be careful when you are traveling. Even some of the sidewalks are scary here!

Nearby are also some caves, and a few Cenotes (sinkholes filled with water) nearby. The Cenote recommended by the owners at Piramide was about 15 kilometers away (starts with a Y but I can’t remember the name), but after exhausting ourselves that morning in the heat we just weren’t up for it.

We headed for the coast of Tulum the next day. There was a place north about 40 km in Xpu-ha we planned to stay but wanted to check out Tulum beach instead. There are a few campsites (one ground tent only and one you could possibly open your RTT or park a small RV), but there isn’t anything nearby besides resorts, restaurants and beaches. Oh and yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. Since we would have been limited in resources for food/wifi/etc. we decided to head towards Punta Allen (even more limited – aka no wifi, no telcel and no – ok very few – people). We got a little food at the grocery store back near the highway, and then headed back. When we got to the gate, the park ranger (I guess that was what you would call him) stopped us. He wouldn’t let us pass with our surfboards. The area of Punta Allen is a reserve and no watersports are allowed. We weren’t planning on surfing (plus, there is no surf in the Carribean – at least not to my knowledge) but wouldn’t let us go unless we left them at the gatehouse. Hmmm…. Leave our surfboards, with no security we will get them back (besides the word of one guy)?… doesn’t sound kosher to me. So, upset we couldn’t go to what was supposed to be the best beach camping of our trip so far, we decided to just head to Calderitas and get ready for Belize.

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Camp at Yax-Ha

Yax-Ha Resort and RV park is picturesque with the whole side open to the bay. There are nice shower/bathrooms and a nice pool as well. We really only wanted to stay there since it was near to the Vet, so we planned to look for other lodging nearby. They have WiFi and allow dogs – 200 pesos.
Shortly after arriving, the same tour bus we saw in Piste showed up. Now this is not your standard tour bus. This thing is huge, and works as your accommodations, your transportation and your restaurant. What was going to be a quiet night ended up being rather noisy (not sure why everyone decided that chatting near our campsite was a good idea, but they did) and, with only 2 bathrooms/gender, I ended up waiting a few times before I could get in. This was especially annoying when they were all showering (bathroom/shower stalls were connected)

The next day we packed it all in (we planned on leaving some stuff out and coming back but changed our minds) and headed to Chetumal for the vet visit. Belize requires an additional health certificate from the country you are coming from, in addition to the US international certificate. Barley got a haircut, a new Rabies shot and peanut got her nails done, in addition to the certificates. Barley’s shot from the US is a 3 year shot but Belize requires it annually. The vet was accommodating and backdated it 30 days (SHHHH don’t tell!) for us so we wouldn’t have to wait around in Mexico (shots can’t be less than 30 days old either) before heading to Belize. We decided while we waited for Barley’s beauty session to be finished to check out Bacalar Lake. It looked cool from the road, and we couldn’t find any pet friendly places in Chetumal, so we hoped for some camping. The Costa road (starts from the town and runs south to the Cenote Azul) has a lot of nice homes and a few resort hotels. We found a few spots for camping as well, but one was too primitive for the price (300 pesos) and the other was too small an area and only ground tent camping (also 300 pesos but included breakfast and WiFi).

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We forged ahead, and just before leaving town we found Bacalar Camp. The campsite has room for a few small RV’s and has room for ground tent camping. If you don’t have your own gear they can rent it to you as well. Hot showers, bathrooms, kitchen, fridge and WiFi for 75 pesos per person.  Until we go to Belize (we have to wait for some paperwork) this is where we shall stay!

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Everybody gets to swim!

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One couple and their dogs on a driving adventure to the Panama Canal