Tag Archives: overland

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…

newtruck

Through 21415 1716

Through 21415 1718

Through 21415 1723

 

Did a lot of painting….

Through 21415 1731

Through 21415 1734

Through 21415 1736

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

Through 21415 1737

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.

sinkandstove

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

Through 21415 1743

Through 21415 1738

Through 21415 1757

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. 

solarpanels

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)….

cabinet

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…

water_tank

 

sink

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:

stickers

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

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.

end of trip 1590

end of trip 1591

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.

end of trip 1605

end of trip 1597

end of trip 1607

Mike's IPhone 2344

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.

Mike's IPhone 2351

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

tiffs iphone 2298

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)

end of trip 1628

end of trip 1627

end of trip 1620

end of trip 1636

Mike's IPhone 2373

end of trip 1642

end of trip 1630

end of trip 1632

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.

Mike's IPhone 2430

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's IPhone 2412Mike's IPhone 2413

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?

Mike's IPhone 2410Mike's IPhone 2417

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…

tiffs iphone 2359
Mike's IPhone 2434

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.

end of trip 1555

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.

end of trip 1533

end of trip 1535

end of trip 1538

end of trip 1546

Camp – there were some SERIOUS rigs there

end of trip 1544

I love the guys who drive donkey-powered vehicles.

end of trip 1570

end of trip 1557

end of trip 1573

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

end of trip 1584

end of trip 1579

end of trip 1588

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

map

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.

through 2.16.14 277

through 2.16.14 288

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.

Image

Someone was enjoying himself.
Someone was enjoying himself.

photo(67)

photo(51)

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

photo(53) photo(58)

Ropes: for the accident prone among us.

Schwetty.
Schwetty.

through 2.16.14 198

photo 2(5)

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.

through 2.16.14 280

through 2.16.14 282

through 2.16.14 285

through 2.16.14 287

through 2.16.14 289

through 2.16.14 290

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.

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.)

“Wherever you g…

“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.

Our last vacation to Turkey in Goreme
Our last vacation to Turkey in Goreme
Little Peanut with her mouse ears on
Little Peanut with her mouse ears on
Barley-man with a full winter coat.
Barley-man with a full winter coat.

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.