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.
Double-duty cabinet doors…
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.
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 3 100W Renogy Solar Panels and Charge Controller… Purchased Here.
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)….
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…
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?)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
There 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
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)
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.
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.
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?
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.
But if you go through town you might see a cool train…
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….
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.
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.
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.
Camp – there were some SERIOUS rigs there
I love the guys who drive donkey-powered vehicles.
Its hard to appreciate how high up this is in a picture… Its really freaking high, let me tell you.
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…
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.
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.
Spotted this guy early on in the hike… we think it was an Indigo Snake.
Ropes: for the accident prone among us.
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.
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).
This is suspiciously clean looking… it didn’t last.
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.
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.
Swimming in the shallow sandy waters of the Carribean.
Walking Hopkins and eating local cuisines.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
Also, avoid the pond. It’s a muddy walk to no where and doctor fly/mosquito heaven.
See, now you’ve seen the pond and you don’t have to subject yourself to the same torture we did.
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.
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.
Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performace. – Also, prevents sleeping at a Pemex – so maybe there are 8 p’s
Thanks Sandy for that little acronym. Too bad we didn’t really think we needed to plan, at least not any further than the city or town we planned to stop. So far, aside from one Pemex stop, we haven’t had any issues finding lodging or RV parks. Usually we just went towards “centro” and everything fell in to place. No such luck for us the next week or so after Oaxaca City.
Leaving Oaxaca, we used the WiFi from Overlander Oasis and had an idea of where to go… Sorta…. Kinda… ok we just had a city name and that was it. Tehuantepec. The isthmus of Tehuantepec is influenced heavily by indigenous cultures. The people are considered to be welcoming and good-natured (and have lots and lots of parties – all of this according to LP). So far in Mexico, most of the people we encountered would be considered such… so we weren’t expecting anything new.
The road from Oaxaca was windy and more mountainous, but wider, and not as scary, as western Oaxaca. Also, there was a fair amount of colorful leaves happening – reminded me a little of the Hudson Valley in the fall, but not as dramatic.
It doesn’t look that colorful, it’s kind of like a muted fall happening here.
We stopped a few kilometers outside of town for some Mezcal. It seemed like every 100 yards there was another distillery. By distillery I mean a thatch roof building, with maybe just a back wall, a wheel and mash area for the horses, a place to but the liquor being distilled, and some barrels for aging around the place. Looks about as legit as a moonshine stand. The place we stopped had Mezcal in 3 sizes. 1 liter (in Bacardi bottles) 3 liter, and 5 liter (in something that looks like it’s meant for gasoline). We had a taste and decided on the one liter. It was good, but holy crap was it strong.
Also, we stopped at the Yagul ruins. The price was 42 pesos each, but the site was completely empty so we could explore. It was small, but had a nice overlook and some burial sites underground for viewing. Overall, we always like ruins better when we can climb all over them, and there were very few restrictions here.
Mike looking for bodies
Some of the original red walls are still red! most are yellowed now.
Second biggest ball court in Mexico – Chichen Itza (the biggest) makes this look tiny!
After that we arrived in Tehuantepec around 5 pm… and the road through town was closed. AGAIN?! This time, we got better (ok, more understandable) information from a cab driver. The road would open at 6pm. Sweet. We decided to wait and check out town before deciding on other lodging. The only other options were the “passion” hotels. These hotels are common… and outside just about every decent sized town. They rent rooms by the hour (hmmmmmm I wonder why?). Now, these are not hooker hotels, they are for (usually) married couples, who want some time away from the other members of their household for some privacy. If everyone lived with their in-laws (and other extended family members) these would be common everywhere. Most don’t allow dogs, but some do, and have secure (they lock the front gates and each room has a “garage” for added privacy) so its still a good option when there is nowhere else to go.
When the road opened, we drove through the square (zocalo) and were actually surprised. It seemed like the entire town was there. There was volley ball, dance classes, zumba, a produce market, street food vendors, and just people everywhere! It looked like so much fun! There are a few hotels 2 blocks away from the zocalo, but to our disappointment, there were no rooms available. Even if there were, I have my doubts they would have accepted dogs.
Statue outside Tehuantepec
We ended up at the Pemex in town. We were sitting outside the Jeep, poring over our maps and Lonely Planet book when a gentleman from across the street comes over and speaks to us. Our problems in little towns like this is we speak very little Spanish (compared to the size of the vocabulary – still enough to get by usually), and this gentleman (along with just about everyone else) spoke no English. So, my basic understanding was: Where we were staying (outside the Pemex) wasn’t that safe, there are “landrones” which means thieves (thanks to spanishdictionary.com for their app which does not require data or WiFi for most words) nearby and we should move and park near his house. He tells us to think about it and he points to where he lives and says we are “amigos” and he wants to help us. He genuinely seems like a nice guy, but our American/tourist internal fear monster says to talk to eachother about it. We decide… it’s literally 150 feet away, under lights, and the guy was seriously just a nice guy, so why not take his word for it?
We moved in front of his house, were greeted with coffee and pastries (Nescafe and sweet bread roll thingies but still delicious, appreciated and unexpected) and the man (I believe his name was Samuel but it could have been something close to that) tells us he and his wife are both teachers in town. He teaches secondaria (high school) and his wife teaches nursery school. He sleeps the entire night on his gated porch in a hammock keeping guard with his rifle. A few times during the night I woke, but I think it was probably the best night’s sleep I got in the car.
Samuel’s place – the corner with the wrought-iron surround is the porch where he slept.
We left early the next day, crossing back across the mountains again, this time towards Veracruz. Our route since leaving Acapulco has been such a cluster f*ck I’m amazed we made it anywhere. We planned to go to a town called Catemaco. The town is on a lake, and doesn’t take that long to get to. It’s actually pretty decent sized and picturesque – also famous for its “witchcraft”. There are fortune tellers and card readers everywhere (must speak Spanish if you want a reading)! When we arrived it was like the welcome committee came out. So many smiles and waves from the locals, we felt a little like celebrities – we stand out just a tad. Lonely Planet mentions camping at Ecobiosfera about 10 or so kilometers outside town, closer to the coast. It’s actually really easy to find (HUGE signs), even though the road was a bit bumpy.
The road is so infrequently traveled it is covered in grass
Please note: It’s for sale. There may not be an Ecobiosfera in the future.
In the book, camping is priced at 100 pesos, but isn’t specific, so we figure it could be as much as 200 (per person prices are not uncommon). When we arrived there were a bunch of cars on the overlook point, but I didn’t see anyone. I buzzed the buzzer. No answer. I walked around… down the path, saw something that looked like bungalows behind a fence and a kind of communal area… still no one. I’m about to give up and go back to some bungalows we saw further back when a woman appears on a patio and says she is on the phone with the owner. Success! After some phone calls, a little waiting, and finding the lower road to get to the camp area, we finally get in and it’s super nice. Not only that, but we have it entirely to ourselves. The place was fenced so we let the dogs roam free. They were in heaven, especially after spending a night in the car, and the two days on Oaxaca we couldn’t really let them out much. The camp site was gated (picket fence type, no lock), cold showers, big sinks for washing, clothes line, no WiFi, and only a few outlets worked. The parking was out front, but there were so few people, and they all seemed really nice, we weren’t worried.
Some shots from the overlook above the camp area
Fruit anyone? Tangerines here, there was also an orange tree and papaya trees.
The area around Catemaco is the farthest north rainforest in the world (or something like that, according to lonely planet) and while it did not rain, it was very very wet. We were very glad to have tarped the top of our canopy tent, otherwise we would have woken with all our stuff and ourselves drenched from the amount of condensation. The company, Ecobiosfera, offers nearly 20 different tours, including horseback riding, waterfalls, repelling, etc. but we didn’t do any. The guides don’t speak English and we didn’t want to pay for half the information. The small town we were in, Dos Amates, had a few small stores and that’s it. When unpacking for the night a woman walked by selling tamales for 5 pesos each. I think we’ve been getting ripped off everywhere paying 10 for everything being sold on the road, but it’s really not that much. The best 5 pesos I’ve ever spent. Tamales are different everywhere in Mexico, and I definitely prefer the corn husk ones with lots and lots of spices.
Some shots around Dos Amates
Ecobiosfera also had some pretty active wildlife. We saw toucans and these brightly colored birds with yellow and black and kind of looked like bandits (not idea the name but they looked/sounded cool) and a few of the green parrots. Supposedly there are monkeys around too but we didn’t see any.
We spent only two nights there, since we weren’t planning to do any tours, and we REALLY needed to find some wifi (Telcel stick did not work here). Afterwards, with no service to help us plan, we hit the road hoping to make it to anywhere cool. We set our sights for Ciudad del Carmen about a 7-8 hour dive away. On the way, in Tabasco, we spotted Off Belay Americas! We follow them on Instagram (you can too, @offbelayamericas) and its kind of crazy to run into people like that on the road in such a huge place. When we got to the city, it was nice looking, but the hotels didn’t accept dogs where we asked, and we didn’t see any signs for RV parks. Campeche was our real goal, and it was only another 2 hours away, so we decided to give it a try, and do a bit of night-time driving for the first time (aside from some city driving in PV).
Campeche was lovely, and the historic town looked awesome at night. We tried a few hotels, and the only luck we had was at Hotel Nicte-Ha where they wanted us to book the most expensive room (690 pesos – only about $58 but still out of our price range, especially when we wanted to stay a few days) so the dogs could stay on the balcony. Not happening. So… after a few more attempts we ended up at yet another Pemex. It was late (nearly 11pm), and even if we could have found an RV park it would have been locked up already. A futile attempt at using our Telcel stick (I swear that thing works but never when I REALLY need it to) prompted us to pack it in in the morning, instead of searching again for lodging and head to Merida instead. So, we missed the whole Gulf coast because we drove at night, and then we slept at a Pemex, and then the bathrooms at said Pemex were the grossest ever. Thanks to this we are now much better planners (doesn’t mean there are never any wrenches thrown in there) and so far, things have gone much much smoother. Heading to Belize in a few days… Stay tuned for Mexico’s budget and our last week in Mexico!
After 2 nights at the Acapulco Trailer Park in Pie de la Cuesta (FYI a decent place to stop with nice beaches but nothing special – nothing nearby except a few hotels/restaurants. We paid $M200/night) we headed south again, planning to hit Puerto Escondido. That was a LONG drive… and we never did make it there.
After about 6 hours on the road we hit a snag. OK, more like a giant hole. About 25 kilometers (guesstimate off the map) past the Guerrero/Oaxaca border, the road through Pinotepa Nacional was closed. This also happened to be the only way we knew to get to Puerto Escondido. There was probably 2 miles worth of traffic of people just sitting there. So, from more recent experience we determined it was probably closed until 8pm and then reopening (we heard a bunch of things but only understood about 25%), but we didn’t stick around to find out. It was 3pm already, so we only had about another 3 hours to find someplace (a Pemex would be lovely) to stay, before it got dark. So, we took out our handy dandy Mexican road atlas (if you plan to come here you need one of these – and it even comes in ENGLISH – ours is in Spanish) and tried to figure out how to get somewhere else. We had a fellow overlander recommend a few places in/around Oaxaca (the city not the state – Thanks Neli’s Big Adventure! http://nelisbigadventure.com/), and figured we could get there by mid-day the following day.
There are few cities of decent size in the western mountains of Oaxaca. We went as far as we could to the biggest one within range (based on font size of city names in the atlas). Santa Maria Zacatepec didn’t seem too friendly when we were driving through, (we mostly got strange looks and no smiles, but that could just be because they rarely see Americans) but it was big enough for a hotel, just not one with parking. Just before town, we spotted a Chinese food restaurant that happened to have a gated lot. We figured, some Chinese food for dinner, and a free place to stay wouldn’t be so bad, and we always had the nearby Pemex as a fall back.
La Muralla China was not only delicious, but the owners (we neglected to get their names, however we did get the names of their three dogs – #dogpeopleproblems) were super friendly and, after they closed up around 8 PM we opened up camp and hit the hay. Something we noticed outside of tourist towns – people don’t always expect tips, even if you’re being served. Our 40 peso tip (more than 20% but still less than $4 USD) surprised the crap outa the lady.
Camping at a restaurant – way better than a Pemex
The first leg of the trip, until we hit Zacatepec was pretty windy, and the roads had steep drop offs and whatnot (don’t look down!). This did not prepare me for the following day AT ALL. The remainder of the way through the mountains north, and then south to Oaxaca (up until we hit the last 60 KM of toll road – our route looked like an upside-down V) was INSANE. Parts of the road were missing completely (usually on my side), and we were sharing blind, hairpin turns with tanker trucks and semi’s. Holy. Friggin. Crap. In spite of holding on for dear life, and my stomach residing in my throat for most of the ride, I was still able to appreciate the beautiful scenery. We saw stunning landscapes, colorful woven pieces adorning most of the women in a few towns, and the colonial-type (no idea the actual age, but that’s what they looked like) churches were stunning and surprising in their size and grandeur. And, considering the remote locations we drove through, the road was actually in very good condition (for Mexico).
So the road wasn’t all there… its O.K. as long as there isn’t a tractor-trailer sharing the road at that particular moment….
You can’t tell from these pictures, but next to those little weeds is nothing. Like absolutely nothing but air and space until you meet the ground several hundred feet down.
Arriving in Oaxaca was a bit of a shock. Hello traffic, exhaust fumes and absolutely nowhere to turn around if you miss your turn (yeah, that’s what happens when you’re looking for a telcel: the universe works against you). We had an idea of where we needed to go (the name of a town, El Tule), but no real clue from there. Our telcel data ran out in Playa Azul, and since we had free wifi in Acapulco Trailer Park, we didn’t worry about refilling – bad move. We made it to El Tule by sheer luck. The route through the historic part of town actually forced us to happen upon signs for the small suburb. Now, most fellow overlanders know that RV parks are usually well marked, with signs all over – especially in bigger cities. Not so with Overlander Oasis in El Tule. Thank goodness for GPS coordinates, and finding a spot to refill our Telcel data. When driving down the street, don’t expect a sign or anything really. The road it’s located on (Ninos Heros) ends, and if you missed it, back up and try again. I spotted a RTT and that was what gave it away. They also have a small sticker above the mail slot on their outer door.
Camp. On the left you see Morena, the owner’s dog. On the right is Jan and Mona’s rig and RTT.
Calvin and Leanne run a very nice (but small) operation. They have wifi, hot showers (OMG I almost DIED), and the bathroom sink doubles as a wash sink for dishes. With 2 SUV’s sporting RTT’s we had plenty of room, but they mentioned to email ahead of time since they may not always be able to accommodate (www.overlandoasis.com). Also, if you have dogs keep in mind that they also have a dog. We ended up having to keep our two dogs closed up most of the time because their dog seemed to be territorial around Barley (might have been because he was male, or because he was the same size as her – who knows).
We took the compostela (group taxi – crams 5 passengers (or more if there are kids) plus the driver in a 90’s Sentra. It’s snug. Its also only 10 pesos per person to ride to Centro. You make sacrifices where you can. Old town Oaxaca is stunning. The Zocalo (which I didn’t get any pictures of I was too busy gawking at everything, and drinking my hot chocolate – Oaxaca is kinda famous for this, it’s like crack in a cup) is large, and surrounded by restaurants and shops. These places are a bit on the higher end but still reasonable by US standards. The rest of the historic district has huge churches (I’m sure you can go in to them, but we just admired from outside), and tons of street vendors and more reasonably priced shops. There are also a few hostels we noticed. Backpacking Mexico is something we could definitely do. There’s a great market one block off the Zocalo, where we got the best beef we’ve had in months. I even cooked it well done, and it was like buttah. Produce was expensive here (like $1.75 for 2 peppers and 2 potatoes), but I think it was either Gringo prices, or the distance from the farmers (or perhaps it was organic?). The market had everything though, from bugs (for eating) to tapestries, saddles and other horse gear, meat, dairy, produce, clothing, jewelry, etc. Best part about this market – NO HASSLES! We could walk around, browse, buy, and even take pictures without anyone so much as batting an eyelash.
Meat Lady and her wares… I want more of this now. Some sights from around Oaxaca
Market stuff – even some chili lime crickets!
After buying a few necessities (like stripey ass-enhancing leggings that are very popular in Mexico, some cigars and dinner), we headed back to camp. That evening, after filling our bellies with too much meat, we got to sit around the chiminea with Calvin, Jan (German name pronounced more like Yahn), and Leanne. Unfortunatly, Jan’s girlfriend Mona was sick so she couldn’t join us. We saw some awesome pictures, got some awesomer leftover Christmas chocolates (there was peanut butter – yeah I’m not obessed or anything), and discussed the meaning of life. Ok, not really on that last one but we did talk a lot about a lot of things. This meant we got to bed later than usual, overslept, and didn’t leave on time… But we left with (sort of) and idea of where we were going… and that was all we needed. Right?
Here’s a little trip recap from Florida to the Mexican border….
Mike and I posing with the Jeep, all packed and ready to go!
We left Florida on a Friday morning, with plans to stop in Pensacola at a free campground I found on www.freecampsites.net (great website BTW, has a lot of information on free camping especially in south and western US, and also has pay campgrounds listed). It rained, and rained and rained, so when we were thinking of stopping and setting up camp for the night, we decided to just keep driving instead, and hope for no rain soon. It was during this part of the trip we discovered that the lovely people at Healy Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Beacon/Fishkill didn’t calibrate the Jeep correctly when putting on the after-market wheels and tires. Apparently for every mile we drive, according to the odometer, we actually drive .1 miles farther. Also, Mike’s speedometer was 5-6 mph under what we were actually driving. This would be good to know for the remainder of the trip to avoid speeding, and to properly record MPG and miles driven.
We made it as far as central Louisiana that first day, and camped in a Wal-Mart. It was gross and smelly outside. There were a few homeless types wandering around and there were groups of kids coming and going at all hours, walking in from these fields behind the store. Mike, being the researcher he is, looked up this lovely town’s Wal-Mart on his phone and discovered that recently a body was found behind the store in those fields. Wonderful. I was too tired to care at that point, and fell asleep. That is, until a train came blowing through every hour for the entire night. Oh well, we slept a few hours, used the facilities in Wal-Mart, and headed back on our way shortly after sunrise.
Our plan was to get to Houston, and we were already two-thirds of the way there, so we got to town in time to hit a grocery store (Kroger, which is huge, and apparently only sells beer to people with Texas ID’s) and a BBQ (Texas Original Rib Tickler. Delicious. Closed Sunday AND Monday though, so don’t try to go there those days like we did). We stayed at Spring Creek Park in Tomball, TX. It’s a nice spacious park, not a lot of camping, but it’s free (found on freecampsites.net) had full hookups and bathrooms with hot showers. You can’t really ask for more than that. We also left our camp set up for the days we had to go into town and nothing was stolen or anything like that. For this portion of the trip we used the 8 person ground tent. It really is an instant tent and set up in like 3 minutes and broke down in like 5. This was our first time using it so now that we know how it will probably go faster. This park is also for RV’ers but you do have to call in advance if you plan on going there to see if they have sites available.
Just inside Houston we went to a very nice vet, Parker Road Animal Hospital. We got the international health certificates for the dogs (about $100 each) and they got their Lepto shots (not required in NY but it is in most southern states and suggested for Central America, and cost about another $100 for the shots and the visit). Afterwards, we found a local cigar shop, Serious Cigars, since Mike had a hankering for a good cigar. He was smiling from ear to ear when he came out because it was the biggest and best cigar shop he’d ever been to, and tobacco isn’t taxed like it is in NY so the prices were much cheaper. He spent his grocery money for the week in there, and managed to remember to buy me my little flavored CAO’s I like. While in Houston, we discovered we didn’t need to visit any consulates, and all necessary paperwork for the dogs and vehicle should be taken care of at the borders. We learned this from other helpful travelers on the Drive the Americas Facebook group. So we cut that visit short, and instead of staying the full week, left on Tuesday morning. As a side note, it rained every night in Houston (not a ton, but enough to soak the ground and tables) except the last night before we left. I was starting to think rain was going to be our constant companion until that point.
Our campsite in Tomball, TX with my fanny sticking out of the tent.
On to Arizona… we decided the “drive until we can’t see” (aka drive until Tiffany gets cranky because she needs sleep) plan would be in order again. En route, we drove past Juarez in El Paso. I wish it was daylight so we could have seen more, but as it was, you could see the border fence from the highway, and the distinctive difference was astounding. It went from bright lights and strip malls and chain food shops on the right, to 1 or 2 room cinderblock homes with sad little street lights on the left, just over the fence. We stopped that night in Deming, NM, at a Wal-Mart again. This was WAY different than the last one. The lot was full of RV’ers spending the night, the people in the store were friendly, and, while there were the occasional homeless types wandering around, they seems more like hippies than homeless. Oh, and there was a train again. Another poor night of sleep and then it was, Onward! to Why, Arizona!
Pics from the road
Why Why? Well, we were originally going to sleep on BLM land in Ajo, AZ (another free gem from freecampsites.net), but decided one more night with a bathroom and showers was in order, so we paid $8 to camp at Coyote Howl in Why. We stopped in Tuscon to print our Mexican Insurance paperwork ($599.60 for a year from ICI including full vehicle coverage), and make some final photocopies. Why, AZ has pretty much nothing. Two gas stations with little markets (not much of a selection, we got hot dogs), and a café/diner type place open for breakfast and lunch. While there isn’t much around that bodes quite well for the awesome sunsets over the desert, as well as crazy star-gazing. This would not be the first night I wished I had a book on constellations. Coyote howl had decent spaces, a lot of permanent residents, fresh clean water, and available showers. If you ever make it there it’s nice to know to bring quarters. The showers are free but the hot water is not. I think a quarter bought about 5 minutes of the good stuff. Since we only had two quarters for two people, that was the fastest shower I’ve ever taken. Mike spotted a scorpion in the men’s showers so we tossed the pups up in the tent and went to bed early, after our delicious hotdog and white bread dinner (topped with BBQ sauce and salsa – I totally got my veggies in). During the night, not only did we actually get to hear coyotes howl, we also got another night of freight trains. Apparently, if its not raining, we must deal with super loud trains all night.
The Jeep at Coyote Howl in Why, AZ
That is the end of our American adventure (for now), because the following morning, Thursday, we packed up, and headed south the 27 miles to the Lukeville border crossing. Coming up next… Mexico!
Oh and if you’re wondering the 7 states we drove through/stayed in were: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexicio and Arizona.
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” – Confucius
We finally made the big announcement to the world (and our employers) that we are leaving the state November 1, 2013 to head out on the first leg of our journey to the Panama Canal. So far the reactions vary from those who are wary of our trip to those who are jealous and want to come along. I’m waiting for the reality to set in at work and then see how people really feel. I’m hoping there isn’t much animosity, but when someone leaves, someone else has to handle their workload and the transition isn’t usually easy. Oh well, I will do what I can until I leave and hope it is enough.
Here’s a little background information on us, the dogs, and the trip:
We are Mike and Tiffany and have been going through the journey of life together for more than 10 years now…. Peanut joined us in February 2006 and Barley in December 2008.
In our travels we’ve met some really interesting people from all walks of life. On our last trip to Turkey, we met a very cool couple from New Zealand that had quit their jobs, rented their home, and went off on an indeterminate length trip through Europe (the trip ended when the money ran out). We asked ourselves, “why not?”. We have been wanting to go on an extended trip for a long time. What was holding us back? Well, a few limiting factors were, our jobs (we’d both probably lose them), our house in NY (if we lost our jobs we couldn’t pay the mortgage), and the dogs (who wants to watch our angels for 3 months 6 months or a year?? Any takers??).
So, we planned a driving trip. Somewhere we could take the dogs with us. As much as it would make the trip easier to not have them with us, we would miss them terribly, they are our babies. We enjoyed our previous trips to Mexico on the Pacific coast, so why not go as far as we can south, then turn around and come back. That solved one problem. The only other (major) things we needed to do were sell the house (it was already on the market for a year) and make sure we had enough money.
We did not expect the house sale to happen anytime soon, however, 5 weeks after returning from Turkey, and 3 weeks after deciding this was the trip for us, we got an offer on the house. This was not the first offer, so we didn’t (tried not to) get our hopes up. The process was EXCRUCIATINGLY slow: over 60 days from the offer to closing. Due to the volatility in the market, the government shut-down (she was getting a VA loan), and the luck we had so far with our previous offers, we decided to wait to tell anyone outside of close friends and family about the trip until after we closed. There was always the chance it could all go to sh*t so we didn’t want to risk it.
Of course there was a lot more to do other than move out and put in our notices at work (including selling most of our stuff, doing ridiculous amounts of research, creating country specific budgets, route planning, outfitting the jeep, etc. etc. etc.) but we will discuss most of those things later in separate posts. Some of these things we still have to do yet!
Now for the hard part – saying “hasta luego” to everyone and everything we have ever known to travel to places where we have never been, and we don’t speak the language (very well), all for the sake of adventure and a common love of travel. Two weeks is going to fly by and before we know it, we will be hitting the road. It won’t always be easy, it won’t always be fun, and sometimes, we will want to kill each other. But in the end, I have a feeling, it will be worth it.
One couple and their dogs on a driving adventure to the Panama Canal