Expedition company owners hope excursion leads to business
Scott Woodhams’ custom Land Rover Discovery gets attention in grocery store parking lots. But it’s nothing compared to the interest he generates when he and friend Bernard Barbour drive around town in their matching SUVs outfitted with roof racks, 100-watt spotlights, brush guards and rooftop tents.
“People stop and look at you. I get so many looks at the grocery store,” said Woodhams, 39, of Evans. “When there’s the two of us, that’s when people start asking questions. We draw a lot of attention.”
The questions give Woodhams a chance to tell people about the new travel and adventure company he’s starting with Barbour: Central America Overland Expeditions.
The two, along with Woodhams’ wife, Angela, take off on their first expedition through Central America on July 9. They’ve rented their Evans and Martinez homes and saved up from their jobs as self-employed property managers to fund a three- or four-month expedition at a cost of about $3,000 a month. When they return, the group plans to offer similar excursions to locals looking for adventure or churches looking for mission opportunities.
“It’s exciting. This is something we’ve always wanted to do,” said Barbour, 52, of Martinez.
The trio will drive from Georgia to Texas before crossing the border and making their first stop outside the U.S. in Monterrey, Mexico. They’ll head south along Mexico’s Pacific Coast and cross through Guatemala and Belize before looping around the Yucatan Peninsula and driving north up the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
The trip includes several stops for volunteer work, as charity is a key part of the excursion.
“Anywhere we go, where there’s an opportunity to help out, we want to do that,” Woodhams said.
While in Central America, the group plans to connect with a handful of Christian mission agencies working with children or in community development programs. In the future, he’d like to offer their travel experience to churches doing missionary work in Central America. There’s potential, too, to expand with expeditions to Africa, where Woodhams’ church, New Life Christian Center, is already digging wells.
The trip also includes several stops for sightseeing at beaches, remote villages, mountain towns, tourist destinations and ancient ruins.
“We want to explore, visit, take in the full culture,” Woodhams said. “Our friends and family, they say, ‘Are you crazy?’ There’s been some concern, but we have their full support. It’s been our dream.”
Road Blog: Central America Overland Expeditions
Scott, Angela, and Bernard. (photo stolen from their blog.)
Back when I was a kid, a substantial migration of Mex Trippers drove south every winter. Vehicles ranged from rust-speckled VW vans to tricked-out luxury liners (we once met an elderly couple who were driving in Fats Domino’s former tour bus, which was paneled in purple plush). Every year, we’d run into “our kind” in campgrounds, on remote beaches, and in the coveted walled hotel parking lot (where we’d pay a few dollars to set up camp and access a bathroom). When we met with fellow travelers, we’d share travel tips, horror stories, and (if we hit it off) good camp spots and secret camping beaches. These days, the RV community is the only strain of Mex Tripper culture that really remains vital. It always saddens that more people of my generation don’t get to enjoy the great adventure of driving across Mexico and Central America. Last year I vowed that I would blog my next drive to Mexico. My hope was to inspire a new generation to check out the truly awesome adventure potential afforded by a set of wheels, a visa, and a good cooler. Bernard, Scott, and Angela have beat me to it with their blog Central America Overland Expeditions. It’s great to see the drive to Mexico through fresh eyes!
Though I can’t help but feel a spark of envy for those rooftop tents…
A Beginner’s Guide to Driving Through Mexico
May 2, 2014
Cleveland, Tennessee, USA – This post is for the folks who are planning on driving through Mexico but haven’t done so yet. We decided to create a sort of guide of what we think folks would like to know before beginning a journey throughout Mexico, and we have been to a great many places. Since my husband and I put 3,300 miles on our Land Rover this last trip, we had plenty of time to create this list.
Of course, everyone’s experiences will be different, but we hope this helps in some way. If you have any questions, please feel free to Facebook message me or email me attndancelover(at)gmail.com. I am no expert, but I will help you if I can.
• Download several Spanish translation applications on your phone, which will not require access to the Internet.
• Make sure you have your original car title, car registration, driver’s license, passport, and a couple of copies of each with you. If you finance your car, you may have to get written permission from the loan company allowing you to take the car out of the United States. We did not have to deal with that, so I am not sure what to do with that.
• Have your vehicle thoroughly inspected and have all routine maintenance completed prior to the trip. There are some Auto Zones in Mexico, but they may not have the part you need on hand, and if they need to be ordered it could take an extra day or 2. We actually brought some spare parts with us just in case.
• Pay for Mexico car insurance and have a printout of the insurance details. You can get that online and print out the receipt. You will need all of this at the border crossing. They will put a hold on your credit card for several hundred dollars, depending upon the year of the vehicle. If you sell your vehicle in Mexico, the will charge your credit card that amount. You will receive a sticker to place in the middle of your windshield that proves you have gone through this process.• Get plenty of pesos and in small denominations. We were not always able to use our credit card when we expected to – so make sure you have enough money in your pocket.
• All gas stations in Mexico are PeMex. Prices are controlled by the government. The ones that accept credit will usually have a sign that says Pago Electronico. We were fairly successful with this, except that a couple of gas stations near the Southern part of Quintana Roo said they only accepted Mexican credit cards.
• They are one directional, so follow the arrows. You are not allowed to pump your own gas. An attendant will do it for you.
• Make sure that they reset the pump to Zero. Always be mindful.
• The word for Full is Lleno (pronounced yeah no). I would always say “lleno con premium por favor,” since we required premium gas.
• Between cities, gas stations can be few and far between – so do NOT let your fuel tank get too low.
Driving / Traffic Tips
• Folks stay on the right side unless they are passing. The shoulders are meant to be driven on to allow for easier passing.
• There are topes (speed bumps) everywhere and not all are marked. It is painful to go over them at full speed (ask me how I know.) Drive slowly.
• On highways, the driver ahead of you will turn on the left blinker to indicate to YOU that it is safe for you to pass. Of course, you will need to use your own judgment about that. Having said that, don’t put on your left blinker to pass someone because what you are actually doing is telling the person behind you that they can safely pass you. Drivers driving in the opposite direction will flash their lights at you to indicate there is an issue ahead (i.e. construction, accident etc.)• It is now allowed to turn “right on red” unless there is a derecha con precaución sign.
• In the cities, drivers are VERY aggressive and pedestrians at times with walk right out in front of you. You have to drive somewhat aggressively as well to be able to get anywhere.
• Google maps and other GPS devices are very inaccurate. Case in point, a supposed 2.75 hour trip from Tuxtepec to Oaxaca actually took us 6 hours. It will always take longer than you expect. We encountered more cuotas (toll roads) than we expected. Some were inexpensive and some were quite expensive. The most expensive one we encountered cost $11 USD.
• Military / police checkpoints are common, so be prepared. We had all of our paperwork nearby to grab quickly (passports, proof of car insurance, license.) Roll all your windows down as your approach. A lot of times they will motion you on through. We did get stopped a few times, and they wanted to know where we were going.
• DO NOT drive at night. There are too many topes, animals, and people along the roadside, and it is just not as safe to do so.
Miscellaneous Tips• Expect to pay to be able to use a public bathroom. Most PeMex station restrooms are usually free though. Most of the time there is not a toilet seat, toilet paper, or soap at the free ones, and often not at the pay one. Have a small “baño”kit to take with you that has toilet paper, soap, paper towels, etc. Trust me on this.
• Have patience. Keep in mind that everything takes longer in Mexico, even getting gas. I had to work on this.
• There are a lot of fires burning along the roadside. We kept a scarf to cover our noses when the fumes were too bad.
• Do not expect to get consistent wi-fi even if the hotel says they have it. It can be less reliable in Mexico.
Finally, don’t expect Mexico to be like the United States because, if you do, you will most definitely be disappointed.
Highlights for me on this last trip were El Tajin, the Costa Esmeralda area, and Oaxaca.
This is by no means everything you need to know, but we hope it at least helps you in some way. Driving through Mexico was a wonderful experience, and we cannot wait to go back and explore some more. Go with an open mind, patience, and an understanding that different is not inherently bad. We made some wonderful friends and saw some breathtaking places.
Tammy Barbour is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and the University of Florida in Materials Engineering. Her first career immediately out of graduate school was in the aerospace industry in research and development. With her desire for more freedom she left the engineering field after a few years and became a successful Realtor first in Michigan and then in Georgia and South Carolina. And now after almost 15 years as a Realtor, the desire for the outdoors and adventure led her to her final career change: overlanding expeditions. She has joined the experienced team of Central America Overland Expeditions who drove Land Rovers from GA, USA all through Mexico, over 3,000 miles for this journey alone. This is her fourth trip to the beautiful country of Mexico. Her goal is to explore all over Mexico and every country in Central America over the next few years and hopes to meet lots of like-minded adventurous folks along the way. You can follow their adventures atcaoexpeditions.com.
|An American Traveler Shares Her Thoughts on Mexico
Tammy Barbour – BanderasNews.com
May 12, 2014
Cleveland, Tennessee, USA – I have been to Mexico four times now (once on cruise ship, twice flying in and then taking a bus from Cancun to Belize City, and finally, this drive all the way down Mexico.) Here are some things I think about this country. Please note this is only MY opinion and not necessarily the opinion of my travel companions…
1. Mexico is a beautiful and geographically diverse country. We have seen gorgeous beaches, breathtaking mountains, farmland, arid areas, lush tropical areas, jungles, small villages and ginormous cities.
2. Mexicans are resourceful and self reliant folks. There is no sense of entitlement here. You have to try and make a living by selling something or providing a service. As a foreigner, you will be asked a million times if you would like to purchase something. You just have to say “No, gracias.” This is how they support their families.
3. Federales are everywhere especially in the northern part of the country. They look quite intimidating. They just waved at us as we passed through wherever we were.
4. Spanish is not the only language spoken here. The government of Mexico recognizes 68 distinct indigenous Amerindian languages.
5. We passed a great many elaborate descansos (roadside memorials) – especially up in the mountains where someone had died in an accident. I could not believe the size and beauty of some of them.
6. Mexicans will try their best to communicate with you. They are kind and helpful people. I took four years of Spanish in high school. I am surprised what I remember at times. We are usually able to get our point across with broken Spanish and hand gestures.
7. IF (and I said “if”) you want to see the REAL authentic Mexico, you have to venture away from the resorts. You see watered down, “Americanized Mexico” at those places.
8. Do not drive at night in this country. It is not safe because there are no street lights or guard rails. There are animals and people on the road. There are numerous speed bumps that are barely visible even during the day. We are always off the road by early evening to rest and plan our next day. Editor’s Note: Check out Tammy’s other Mexico driving tips.
9. Please be respectful. Don’t disparage a country as a whole especially if you have never been there. I ask you what area of the US is representative of the entire country: is it Detroit, NYC, Appalachia, California. What is America? The same can be said about Mexico. This is a culturally and visually rich country that you should consider visiting. I would love to help you if you decide to be adventurous.
Tammy Barbour is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and the University of Florida in Materials Engineering. Her first career immediately out of graduate school was in the aerospace industry in research and development. With her desire for more freedom she left the engineering field after a few years and became a successful Realtor first in Michigan and then in Georgia and South Carolina. And now after almost 15 years as a Realtor, the desire for the outdoors and adventure led her to her final career change: overlanding expeditions. She has joined the experienced team of Central America Overland Expeditions who drove Land Rovers from GA, USA all through Mexico, over 3,000 miles for this journey alone. After enjoying four trips to the beautiful country of Mexico, her goal is to explore all over Mexico and every country in Central America over the next few years and to meet lots of like-minded adventurous folks along the way. You can follow her adventures atcaoexpeditions.com.