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.
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.
They say “Virginia is for Lovers” but if you want to people watch on some serious make out sessions, Merida is the place to be.
For the first time in a week our Telcel stick finally started working. Thank goodness for big cities. It was slow going at first, but eventually we found the Rainbow RV park, on the highway heading towards Progresso. The only RV park (that we could find anyway) anywhere near Merida. It was nearly empty and the manager wasn’t there. It also offered little shade. I think they are either in transition between owners (we had read conflicting reports whether it was open or closed) or simply a minimal operation. We decided to check out some other options for lodging closer to where we wanted to be: Downtown.
Booking.com was very helpful when searching for lodging in Merida. Because of the size of the city, there were nearly 20 options in our price range, near centro, and 6 of those were pet friendly. I think the best value was probably Hotel Reforma. 515 pesos per night (per Booking.com with taxes)– AC, TV, Pool, WiFi, Parking, and the ambiance was very nice. It was also right next to the Zocalo. If you have that in your budget I recommend staying there. We decided cheaper was better and checked out a hostel next. Hostel Casa Nico was slightly further from centro, pet friendly, (sorta) English speaking, and still close enough we could walk everywhere. They had parking (tall enough for the Jeep + RTT and Surfboards), hot (mostly warm but good enough) water, a shared kitchen/fridge, WiFi, a small pool (no one used it while we were there, but it seemed clean), and included a modest breakfast of bread and fruit. There are only 2 rooms that are pet friendly – one, a 3 bed dorm style room can be rented privately for 280 pesos. Its also on the street and noisier. The other (the one we rented) had a king size bed, and was close enough to the lobby we had WiFi in our room, for 300 pesos. Being further from centro was good for dog walking too, since we didn’t have to compete as much for sidewalk space. They also had a kitchen, water cooler, and Fridge for guest use. The ambiance was pretty much non-existent (it’s a hostel so you get what you pay for), but the employees were great and we had no complaints. If you don’t mind some peeling paint and water stains (and some mosquitoes living in your shower drain) we would highly recommend it.
Merida is one of Mexico’s many World Heritage sites. The colonial center of Merida has been mostly restored and is beautiful with its architecture and colors. We spent most of our first day walking around and doing some sight-seeing.
The first night was spent relaxing in the common area. What started out as a few Americans (we met Brian and Emily from Montana backpacking the Yucatan for 3 weeks) turned into an all out international fest by the end of the night. We had Puerto Rican, German, Japanese, American and French all hanging out and talking, drinking beer and sharing the rest of our Mezcal. The best part about this (aside from the camaraderie and general good time) was we got some information about places to stay and visit in the parts of Mexico we hadn’t been to yet, as well as some parts of Guatemala.
The next few days we spent more time strolling around town, checking out the market, eating (bacon wrapped hotdogs anyone?) and taking in some music around the different plazas in town. The evenings spent in the common area always ended in too much drinking, too much talking and too much fun. Miguel, who worked the front desk, shared some local entertainment and food information, and toured us around the city a little after his shift one night.
Merida has a lot of museums, galleries and big historic churches and buildings. We were a little preoccupied with Barley being sick (someone ate something he shouldn’t have), so we didn’t get to enjoy as much of these things as we would like (especially since some of them are free). Even so, Merida was definitely a highlight of the trip for us.
After 4 days in Merida, we headed for Piste, the city where Chichen Itza is located. The Piramide Inn at the edge of town offers ground camping and allows RVer’s to park out front. We paid 100 pesos per night. The showers were cold, but they had decent bathrooms and a big pool we could use. The place where we camped they were planning to tear down, and it was a little overgrown (the rest of the grounds were nice). Also the grounds she said we could camp on were covered in HUGE ant hills and these trails all over. We didn’t find out until later that these trails are from the ants. These ants, called leaf-cutters, go out at night and form a line from their hill to a tree and carry leaves back home for the rest of the colony. The lines are HUGE. 6-12 inches wide and some stretched over 50 feet – all PACKED with ants. We decided to put our tent up on a concrete pad under a palapa and were never more thankful than when we saw this:
We camped under the enclosed Palapa – This area is scheduled to be demolished
We met a couple from Sydney who had been traveling for 10 months already, coming north from Argentina. Its amazing how many people travel for months/years at a time! The following day we headed on the short walk (about 2 KM) to Chichen Itza. It was the second biggest ruins site I’ve ever seen (Termessos in Turkey was the biggest, it covered a whole mountain).
Tic Tac Toe anyone?
The ruins were impressive for sure, but they were either under repair or they just changed the rules because you could no longer climb on anything, nor go in to the chambers. Even pictures from the website are misleading, and show people climbing the tall Pyramid Kulkulkan (or El Castillo). The website also has outdated information on prices and events (the light show is under repair), and even tells people not to buy from the vendors in the park as they enter “illegally”. That’s a big joke because (a) there are probably hundreds of them, and (b) they have their own entrance! The other big downfall is the amount of people. We arrived around 9:30 and it seemed crowded, but by the time we left around noon, it was over-run with tour buses and Mexican families (Sunday is free for citizens in national parks). We could barely fit out the entrance. And last but not least, its expensive. Most sites we researched were less than 60 pesos per person to enter. This one was 188 pesos EACH. It would have been worth it if we could have climbed around and explored more, but since everything was closed to guests, we wouldn’t recommend it.
After going we discovered the reason (speculated at least by some locals) climbing the ruins is no longer allowed. Apparently a tourist woman fell down the Castillo steps and died. The pyramids have been closed since 2006. I can see how that would happen, but that is a risk everywhere you go, even some cities and towns have steep steps, and you don’t see them getting roped off when someone falls down. Accidents happen everywhere (I’m an expert on this one, trust me), so it is up to you to be careful when you are traveling. Even some of the sidewalks are scary here!
Nearby are also some caves, and a few Cenotes (sinkholes filled with water) nearby. The Cenote recommended by the owners at Piramide was about 15 kilometers away (starts with a Y but I can’t remember the name), but after exhausting ourselves that morning in the heat we just weren’t up for it.
We headed for the coast of Tulum the next day. There was a place north about 40 km in Xpu-ha we planned to stay but wanted to check out Tulum beach instead. There are a few campsites (one ground tent only and one you could possibly open your RTT or park a small RV), but there isn’t anything nearby besides resorts, restaurants and beaches. Oh and yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. Since we would have been limited in resources for food/wifi/etc. we decided to head towards Punta Allen (even more limited – aka no wifi, no telcel and no – ok very few – people). We got a little food at the grocery store back near the highway, and then headed back. When we got to the gate, the park ranger (I guess that was what you would call him) stopped us. He wouldn’t let us pass with our surfboards. The area of Punta Allen is a reserve and no watersports are allowed. We weren’t planning on surfing (plus, there is no surf in the Carribean – at least not to my knowledge) but wouldn’t let us go unless we left them at the gatehouse. Hmmm…. Leave our surfboards, with no security we will get them back (besides the word of one guy)?… doesn’t sound kosher to me. So, upset we couldn’t go to what was supposed to be the best beach camping of our trip so far, we decided to just head to Calderitas and get ready for Belize.
Camp at Yax-Ha
Yax-Ha Resort and RV park is picturesque with the whole side open to the bay. There are nice shower/bathrooms and a nice pool as well. We really only wanted to stay there since it was near to the Vet, so we planned to look for other lodging nearby. They have WiFi and allow dogs – 200 pesos.
Shortly after arriving, the same tour bus we saw in Piste showed up. Now this is not your standard tour bus. This thing is huge, and works as your accommodations, your transportation and your restaurant. What was going to be a quiet night ended up being rather noisy (not sure why everyone decided that chatting near our campsite was a good idea, but they did) and, with only 2 bathrooms/gender, I ended up waiting a few times before I could get in. This was especially annoying when they were all showering (bathroom/shower stalls were connected)
The next day we packed it all in (we planned on leaving some stuff out and coming back but changed our minds) and headed to Chetumal for the vet visit. Belize requires an additional health certificate from the country you are coming from, in addition to the US international certificate. Barley got a haircut, a new Rabies shot and peanut got her nails done, in addition to the certificates. Barley’s shot from the US is a 3 year shot but Belize requires it annually. The vet was accommodating and backdated it 30 days (SHHHH don’t tell!) for us so we wouldn’t have to wait around in Mexico (shots can’t be less than 30 days old either) before heading to Belize. We decided while we waited for Barley’s beauty session to be finished to check out Bacalar Lake. It looked cool from the road, and we couldn’t find any pet friendly places in Chetumal, so we hoped for some camping. The Costa road (starts from the town and runs south to the Cenote Azul) has a lot of nice homes and a few resort hotels. We found a few spots for camping as well, but one was too primitive for the price (300 pesos) and the other was too small an area and only ground tent camping (also 300 pesos but included breakfast and WiFi).
We forged ahead, and just before leaving town we found Bacalar Camp. The campsite has room for a few small RV’s and has room for ground tent camping. If you don’t have your own gear they can rent it to you as well. Hot showers, bathrooms, kitchen, fridge and WiFi for 75 pesos per person. Until we go to Belize (we have to wait for some paperwork) this is where we shall stay!
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?
As we drew closer to Puerto Vallarta the familiar jungle sights and smells boosted our excitement of finally reaching the first extended stop on our adventure.
We visited Puerto Vallarta 8 years ago and stayed just north, in a small town called Bucerias. It was dusty, slightly rundown , and completely void of almost all tourist influence aside from the downtown market and The Royal Decameron Hotel, which is where we stayed the first time. That vacation was one of our best and we quickly fell in love with a Bucerias and decided it would be a great place to have a break from driving.
Tiff’s dad blessed us with a much needed break from crap hotels and our tent so he gave us an early Christmas gift of 3 nights in the Westin Hotel while we did some apartment hunting. We figured 3 nights would be plenty since which we envisioned finding a place would be fairly easy.
A room with a view!
And while we have found some “pet friendly” hotels so far, the Westin upped the ante and actually accomodates their furry guests! Our room was outfitted with a dog bed and food and water bowls. For us there was nothing better than hot showers and a real bed (can you say KING SIZE?)…we could even flush the tp! (If you have ever been to a less developed country and not stayed at a resort then you get it!)
Our Bed. They totally bogarted the whole thing through.
After relaxing our first full day in Puerto Vallarta on the Westin beach we readied ourselves for the apartment hunt. We had some prospects lined up from a few locals we met around the marina and Craigslist ads. Little did we know that Over the past 8 years Bucerias had been invaded by gringos and was no longer the quaint little town we remembered. So, the cost of rent had skyrocketed and we were forced to search the outlying towns of San Poncho, Lo de Marcos and Sayulita. San Poncho and Sayulita, while smaller, both had even stronger gringo influences. In addition, we came right at the beginning of the peak season, as well as watermelon picking season, so the amueblado departamentos (furnished apartments) on the other side of the highway were all rented (the cheaper ones) and even the moderately priced ones closer to the water were taken. Crap and double crap.
Some sights from around town while searching for a place to stay
We stopped and knocked on a few places with “Se Rente” signs, asked around at RV parks and bungalows, and even scoured the local websites but were not finding anything close to our budget. We were checking out of the Westin when we got an email from an ex pat who had been in touch with us regarding apartments. He found us a place 1 block off the beach next to the Decameron For $300 usd a month! Whattttt????!!!! That was our ideal location (secure, with easy access walking to everything)! We met up with him, looked the place over and sealed the deal.
Home (for now)
The breakfast nook
The view. You can sorta kinda see the ocean!
Our new home for the next month ended up being an open air bungalow on the roof of an apartment building. While not ideal with like 3.75 walls and a sort of outdoor bathroom, the price was right. It has been kinda like indoor camping, with a slight fear of bats and bugs, as well as the occasional rainstorm getting us and our things a bit damp. The bonuses being we could leave the dogs for a few hours to explore on our own and it had significantly more privacy than a tent. Also, a sink. Sinks are amazing. Its amazing what you come to appreciate while living without regular water sources. The shower is cool… well, cold, but it’s a shower.
We spent the next few weeks hitting the beach for sun and some boogie boarding. We walked the streets and hit the familiar markets but it became obvious that the area had changed significantly due to the influx of expats and tourists. 8 years earlier there were no condos or fancy restaurants, and there were definitely no yoga studios! Thankfully we found out from the woman who cleaned our apartment before we moved in that the Lady of Guadeloupe festival was going on about a 30 minute walk away. The festival lasts from the 6th of December until the 12th. We went a few nights and we were the only gringos there! The Lady of Guadeloupe Church is a bit of a trek (especially in the dark after a few cervezas) up the Seco (dry) river that runs through town. We tried our hand at some of the games at the fiesta . Tiff blasted a rock through a glass bottle on a stick and won a beer and I won a box of cookies in a dart game. The food at the festival was great too. Also, cheap. Just another bonus of leaving the tourist trappings behind.
On the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta
The Market “Buy something you don’t need!”
Aside from beach bumming most days, we did a few trips to Puerto Vallarta centro and strolled around. We also finally got out wifi straightened out with Telcel, and Tiff busted her but to finish her CPE for the year.
Beach fun with the dogs
Part of the Lady of Guadeloupe Festival
Beer on the beach
With the holidays approaching we started to get the urge to get back on the road to see new places. Although it has been nice having a place to leave the dogs while we can do our thing. We are still up in the air if we will stay until the 6th of January, but its starting to look that way…
Teaser: Stay tuned for Christmas with the Overlanders and Surfin’ Safari
To clear up any confusion from the “I”s and the “Tiff’s” this blog was mainly written by Mike, edited and posted by Tiffany.
San Carlos was mentioned in our Lonely Planet book and described as a beautiful beach town with a marina. Beaches? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. Marina? Yep, they got that. The town?….. I think we missed it. We did drive through and around the bay past the marina, up to the lookout. The views were spectacular.
The beach in the picture was really pretty, but private property. Wah!
The majority of the area was tourist winter homes, condos, hotels and chintzy tourist restaurants/bars. We searched for free beach camping, but the only spots we found had “Private Property” signs and mentioned fines for overnight stays. Sucks. The signs were all in English, which I thought was rather strange. It felt like we left Mexico. We found an RV Park to spend the night since free camping was out, and we were starving. There are two RV parks in San Carlos, according to online sources. The second RV park we found online, called El Mirador, was closed. FYI Future travelers to San Carlos. Tonatonka RV Park in San Carlos seemed a lot more transient than Isla Marina in Kino. It was also the most we had paid for camping so far at $14 USD. There was little shade, no character, and the people were, um, cold. We got looks like we were either: homeless, drug addicts, or Satanists. A wave garnered no response whatsoever, and a hello? That got an odd look and whispers. I’m pretty sure the people in the rig across from us took turns in the showers thinking we would rob them or something. Retirees with their huge rigs with all the fixin’s (Satellite TV??) sat out under their awnings and stared at the odd newcomers with the rooftop tent. Awk-ward.
While scouting for the next stop using the Park’s Wi-Fi, a fellow “overlander” pulled up in his restored VW van.
Mike got all excited, seeing his setup (hard top RTT), and some conversation was made before they headed off for dinner. We were still out searching for our next stop (or three) when they returned and Mike (the other guy) offered us a beer and hung out for a bit. We discovered that he’s a famous fisherman (of the Deadliest Catch variety) and has been driving down to the southern Mexico coast for the last 30 some-odd years. He offered some advice on places to stop along the way, and some helpful Spanish to know (don’t eat the lechuga (lettuce) – more on this later). If not for meeting Mike, the whole stop in San Carlos would have been a bust.
We left the next day and headed towards Topalobampo. I liked saying it and I figured, how bad could it be? Well, Mike (fisherman Mike) did say there was nothing there, and he was right. It’s a decent sized city/town, but it’s basically a port town. There was a small beach area about 15 minutes away but it was a nature reserve and had “No Perros/No Gatos” signs posted all around. Also, no wind protection either. After a few pointless hours of driving, we returned to a Pemex (Mexico’s only gas station) outside of Los Mochis to bunker down for the night. We asked in our best Spanish if we could park for the night, and if it was safe, and one of the two ladies working there nodded (success!). The manager came out later and chatted with us, said it was too cold to sleep in the car but we insisted it was fine. He also said it was OK for us to park overnight and wished us luck on our trip (all in Spanish). We slept in the Jeep (sorta slept anyway) and left early the next day. Camping at the Pemex stations is something fairly common among RVers but we didn’t feel comfortable opening the tent in the parking lot, it just would have been weird, and windy.
Let me just throw out there something I mentioned in another post about bathrooms. Yeah this one had no seats. Other than that it was clean and had TP and soap and running water, and even hand towels. Apparently, toilet seats were not in the budget. At least the bathrooms were open overnight even when the gas station was closed.
Six or so hours south was Mazatlan. Another, much larger port city that has an abundance of “norteamericanos”. After a small debacle involving a cut-throat exchange rate for USD at a gas station, we made it there (mostly) unscathed. There is a quaint old town on one end of the strip, close to the port, and the “Zona Dorado” (golden zone – aka tourist town) runs along the ocean front and north of the port. We circled, looking for a few elusive RV parks (secure parking is more necessary in tourist towns) but only found ones with RV rates and no camping rates (I’m not spending $25/night for a parking spot with an outlet) so we decided to try our luck at finding a room. No secure parking in the old part of town (where we wanted to stay) so we headed into the tourist mecca and found ourselves a cheap, ugly room with secure parking, hot showers and (thankfully) no bugs for two nights. Clean doesn’t mean pretty people, and clean is way more important. We were able to snag a room with no kitchen for 350 pesos (less than $30 US).
We went down the road for some grub after getting washed up, and found a decent looking place full of people. I, being the brave soul I am, ordered their Sunday special of “Menudo” while Mike got every kind of taco they made. See here was my logic: Menudo, in my Spanish dictionary meant, “little thing”. Also, I know of Menudo as a boy band from Puerto Rico or something like that, so how on earth do you make a soup, brewed from animal parts (mostly stomach) and call it Menudo??? No seasoning in the broth, it came out smelling like sewer. I kid you not. There are many gas station bathrooms that smelled better. Bravely, I had 2 bites of the stuff, and proceeded to even try and have it with bread and onions. NO FREAKING WAY was I eating any more. I stole a taco from Mike and called it a day. Lesson #47 of the trip: If you don’t know what it is, don’t order it (or at least ask first).
I wanted to walk around the old town, which involved a REALLY long walk from the Zona Dorada. We found out later there was a regular bus across town. Oops. We stopped at a market and wandered through, seeing the butchers with their wares out, tons of produce, and surprisingly not too many people. Outside we grabbed some grub. OK, so earlier, back in San Carlos, Mike said, no lettuce. And I thought, let’s try this and see if it’s true. Well, Its true. Don’t freaking eat the lettuce. Neither of us got sick from it, but lets just say, we got more than lettuce with our lettuce.
It was pretty, and hilly in the older part of town, but we quickly grew too tired and headed back. It was hot, we were in need of Wi-Fi, and I was fairly certain after 3 bottles of water I should have had to pee.
A few beers and some friendly “advice” from some other Canadians/Americans at the bar about how dangerous everywhere we are going is (even though they said they’d never been, but they “knew a guy”), we headed back and packed up for the next day. I feel like we missed something in Mazatlan, but we can always hit it again on the way back.
The next day we headed south, in search of warm waters and some familiar scenery, to Puerto Vallarta. The toll roads on this leg were the most expensive we’ve come across yet. After exiting the toll roads in Tepic, we headed towards the coast to San Blas and Highway 200. These roads were the most fun so far. Windy hilly and it smelled like jungle. We drove through several teensy villages in the mountains before hitting the coast. Watch out for TOPES (pronounced toe-pays)! These things are all over Mexico, essentially speed bumps but bigger (or smaller in some cases) but those suckers always sneak up on you when they’re big enough to send you flying.
South of San Blas were several smaller coastal towns, each one similar to the last but all looked lovely. If we didn’t have reservations in Puerto Vallarta we would have stayed a night in one of these places, but we always have next year. We also heard from some folks in Bucerias that the mosquitoes in that area are terrible. So… maybe not. The road was mostly good but there were areas we had to drive much slower, due to traffic, construction, or poor road conditions.
We got some really good chicken with everything for like $10 and it would have fed 6 people (if we weren’t so hungry) and then FINALLY made our way to Puerto Vallarta for a few nights of pampering at the Westin. With lunch in our bellies and leftovers for dinner, we were ready for a relaxing evening with a real bed, a real shower, and four solid walls.
One couple and their dogs on a driving adventure to the Panama Canal