Posts Tagged ‘expedition’

Howler monkeys and roaring Jaguars, oh my!

Posted: April 12, 2013 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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The roads leading to Tikal were surprisingly smooth, with the exception of a few miles of teeth chattering bumps. We had heard the roads were much worse conditions  than Belize or Mexico, however, so far so good. As we entered more dense growth along the way, we were excited to see the over head sign announcing we had arrived in Tikal!

As we approached the entrance we noticed a gate with a guard standing beside it. He told us we would be better waiting for thirty minutes to enter the park, as the next days entry would also be included for one price. This gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. Out of the Land rover and checking out our surroundings when all of a sudden there was a screeching through the trees above us. Was this the famous howler monkeys welcoming us with shrill screams? No, looking up we saw a zip line amongst the tree tops where people were jumping off a platform and flying overhead. Sounds like fun!

As we stood there we saw the outline of a mammoth vehicle approaching. I immediately recognized it as  a Mercedes Unimog. This is a serious off road machine designed to be a totally self sufficient overland vehicle. It is the size of a commercial Semi truck or Massive dump truck. It has on. board generators, air compressor, winch with synthetic line, and many other amazing features, bells and whistles.

We talked with the owners for a while as we waited to enter the park. They had been on the road for five weeks, starting from Canada. They planned to be traveling for two years before returning home. We exchanged travel stories and contact info to place on our website. It is always nice to meet up with fellow overlanders and make new friends along the way.

Finally, it was time! We followed the winding canopy tree covered road along back towards the ruins and lodging area. Along the way, we noticed numerous signs warning of possible encounters of animals such as turkeys, snakes, anteaters, deer, and most interestingly, jaguar!

We pulled into the Jaguar inn, one of several accommodations inside the park. We checked in and were shown to our rooms. We were centrally located deep in the jungle. The atmosphere was consistent with our surroundings. As with many outlying areas, we noticed a sign that said we would lose power from 9 pm until 6 am. A candle was provided for light, however.

The park closed at 6 pm, so we decided to take a sunset walk into the ruins before dinner.  The trail was an easy 10 minute walk from our rooms. We encountered many interesting jungle sites.


As we rounded a slight bend, you could see the remains of a towering building with stairs all the way to the top. The stone had eroded away in areas, but it was very much intact. Of all of the ruins we have seen, this was surely one of the most complete and spacious layouts. On the other side of the building was a large open stadium style grass area. It was surrounded by many other ruin remains. Obviously this was the central area of the town lost and forgotten. The sun was beginning to set, casting interesting shadows from the piles of rocks and stairs. One section was still open to be climbed so we made our way to the top to watch the bright sunset.

Interestingly enough, we learned that a portion of the original Star Wars was filmed here. We talked with a couple that was from Southern Belize, expats, originally from the U.S. They owned and operated a dive school there and had come to see the ruins on vacation. A large group of teenagers approached the massive stair steps and proceeded to have a group photo done. They were a traveling soccer team and were taking some time to enjoy their stay in Guatamala. At one point the teacher/coach made his way to the top of the pyramid for the photo, clearly announcing he was the “head”. I couldn’t help but walk behind him and tower over him with my hand resting on his shoulder, waiting for another photo. l usually would have easily stood a foot taller than him, but with me standing on the top platform, towered over him by two feet! The kids roared laughing despite our language barrier, until the coach looked up to see why they were laughing. We shook hands and the team moved on across the field.

After dinner in the nice onsite restaurant, we made our way to our rooms. As promised, the power was cut off later that evening, leaving us without lights or a fan. It was a little stuffy, but not unbearable. All of a sudden,we were awoken from our sleep by a hissing howling sound. It was eery! What made that noise? All around us, there seemed to be a chorus of this sound. It finally calmed down and we were able to settle back to sleep. The only thing I could figure is the Jaguar Inn had lived up to its name. Then around 5 am, we heard the hair raising sounds again. Hair raising even when you know you are sleeping in the middle of a  jungle.

The next morning, I asked the host, if in fact that was jaguar we had heard. He chuckled a little and said, “no, howler monkey”. That was like no monkey sound I had ever heard. We packed up the Land rover again and were off toward Lake Atitlan, a lake surrounded by volcanoes and traditional Mayan villages.

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Tikal Guatamala, Here we come!

Posted: April 6, 2013 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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After we loaded into the Landrover, we had one more stop to make. Natalie, Mckinley’s wife was flying in to Belize City from work to join us on the expedition. We will be traveling for three weeks through Guatamala and then back into Belize for another week. The airport is small,so finding her was a breeze. We loaded her luggage and were off!

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Packing the rest of the luggage!

The trip from Belize city toward the border was uneventful and beautiful. We made good time, but decided since it was getting later in the day, we would stop at the border to spend the night, and cross in the morning. We found an excellent resort offering two pools, one of which, featured a dinosaur fountain shooting a stream of water into the pool. I posted a picture of it on Facebook, and leave it to my brother, he made a comment about, “Nice bidet”. That’s my brother, Chad, you have to know him. The next morning, we loaded up again. Wow! Thats a lot of work. I will be glad when we stay in one place for a few days.

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We pulled up to the border and were met by many “money changers”. These are local people that will exchange your currency to their local currency, the Quetzal or “Q” for short. For example, a gordita might cost Q3 or $ .39 US. The official exchange rate, is currently about 7.77 to 1 U.S. dollar. Its not quite as easy of a conversion as the peso or Belizian dollar, but my handy currency exchange app on my phone does wonders. We paid the Belize exit tax, purchased our Guatamala visas, and reluctantly did a currency exchange. Of course their was a small fee incurred for the “convenience”.

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Pay the fees to Exit Belize

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Fumigation is mandatory for vehicles entering Guatamala

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Welcome to Guatamala!

At last second we decided to run back to the burrito stand a local girl had set up and eat an early lunch of gorditas and jack, a type of fried bread that is delicious. Once on the other side, it felt like another country. Spanish was now the first language, unlike Belize who’s language is English. Another stop to register the Land rover was an opportunity to get a cold Coke and bathroom break. We crossed over the toll bridge, paying 50 quetzales or 50Q.

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Burrito girl

The bustling town of Melcher spread out before us like a small metropolis. We decided to find a cell phone store to purchase data and cell service for our phones. The usual communication issues were lessened by Mckinley’s practicing of Spanish. A few parts from an auto parts store and we were off to Tikal! All in all, We spent about an hour crossing the border. Not too bad!

Stranded in Guadalajara! Is the trip over?

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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We stayed the night at the campground we found in Guadalajara. It had rained that day so the grass was wet and a  thick dampness settled in the air. It was nice to have some relief from the intense heat. Before setting up the tents, we stopped at an open air grille that offered a hamburger bar. The challenge was communicating what we wanted on the burger.  Another patron sitting at a table near where we were ordering came to our rescue translating for us. We thanked her as we sat down at the massive wood stump that doubled as a table. The TV was broadcasting a Mexican channel, people were talking loudly and, to top it off, we were near the highway, so the traffic noise bustled nearby. However, there was something enjoyable, even peaceful, about sitting back and relaxing after the stressful day of limping the Land Rover into town.

The next morning, we followed the internet directions to the Land Rover dealer. It took about 20 minutes to make our way through the early morning traffic, We carefully watched for the signs so as not to miss our turn. According to the internet, it would be a long way around if we missed it. As we approached the intersection of our turn, we noticed a detour sign! We had heard about this but did not realize it might affect us. Crossing in front of us and riding along the road that we needed to turn at was a steady stream of bicycles. It was not a race or coordinated event, just local families enjoying the open streets without traffic. Apparently, on Saturday mornings, certain streets are closed to vehicles and open to pedestrians and bikes. It is a very good practice and I would have been much more supportive had I known where to go to get back to the Land Rover dealer.

We finally arrived at the dealer. We pulled right into the reception bay and were greeted by friendly faces. A gentleman met us at the door and said “Beunas Dias”! He spoke excellent English and after sensing we would be more comfortable speaking English, he said, “How can we help you today”? I have been working on a nice bronze tan, being on the coast for so long, and Bernard came ready-made with a bronze tan ,but some how we still stood out as outsiders.

My next Expedition vehicle

Full attention of three mechanics!

We were ushered into to a very nice waiting area, offered coffee, Coke, and the password to the internet, while the Land Rover was being dissected in the shop area. I walked out there a couple of times and there were three guys working on it, computers hooked up, and diagnostic machines all attached with wires running from under the hood. It looked like an operating room. One mechanic was sitting up on the engine compartment while the other two monitored the equipment and spoke back and forth. After three hours of intense diagnostics, tests, and head scratching, the manager walked in to announce they think they found the problem.

We were told that the only thing they could come up with was it needed a valve job. I immediately questioned this as prior to leaving on this trip, we had replaced the head gaskets, machined the heads, and had the heads pressure tested. The machine shop said they looked great and would not need a valve job. I explained all of this to the manager, to which he said,  “We are confident enough that it needs a valve job that if it is not, we will cover the cost of the job”. I asked how much will that cost? “Dont worry, it is cheaper than in the US. “Really, well how much?, I asked again. He said, $40,000 Pesos (about $3,000 US)! However, the shop was about to close and it was Saturday afternoon. We would have to come back on Monday morning.

What a slap in the face! $3,000, and 3-4 days for repairs??!! I was downcast on the ride back to the campground. What is the best thing to do? Should I scrap the vehicle, fly home and call it quits? Should I look for another vehicle? I don’t know, but I just do not believe it needs a valve job since we had just inspected the heads before we left on the trip. We drove back to the site in silence. Luckily, the Land Rover was still running. As long as I didn’t have to get up to high speeds quickly it drove fine. The check engine light glared at me as a reminder of the predicament we were in.

Before setting up the tent again, I called my dad to see if he had any recommendations. He has been in the automotive field his whole life, and was blessed with an over abundance of mechanical knowledge that has come in handy on countless situations in the past, not only for me, but all of his family and friends. He spends a lot of time on the phone or under the hood helping people out. I grabbed my tablet and headed toward the office to get the best wifi signal possible. We were using a couple of apps, Skype, and Tango to communicate, and it required a good signal.

I explained everything that we had done so far to try to fix the problem, replaced plugs, added fuel cleaner, tested injectors, secured wire connections, etc. As he listened, he was computing all of the info. All of a sudden, he said, ” I bet you have a plugged cat” A catalytic converter? All of these problems were caused by a bad cat? He said, “Disconnect the exhaust and see if your power comes back”. I thanked him for the direction and jogged back to the truck to try it.

I grabbed my tool bag, hollered at Bernard that I may have the problem fixed. Luckily the exhaust had cooled, making it possible to loosen the bolts. They cam off easily (benefit of a southern vehicle). I pulled the exhaust off the studs and crawled back out from under the vehicle. Turning the key, the engine roared to life, and I mean roared! With the open exhaust poring out of the engine, it reminded me of being at the local drag strip back home. It had a deep throaty snarl that any race car would be envious of, all eight cylinders pumping out the horse power. Bernard could not help but hear the engine start, along with the whole campground. We hopped in and were off for a test drive.

Guadalajara

As we edged out into traffic, an opening offered a spot to cross the three lanes. Well there’s no time like the present to test it. I floored the gas and the engine roared, the Land Rover leaped into traffic and responded to my stomp. We had power! Man it felt so good to feel the full power of all eight cylinders doing their thing. This proved my dad’s theory, the catalytic converter was bad. It was plugged up restricting the exhaust causing the cylinders to misfire.

We drove to down town Guadalajara to enjoy the market and festivities. While we were there, a large crowd had gathered around two clown street performers. We stood and watched as they performed tricks and the crowd laughed. All of a sudden, one of the clowns spotted Bernard. Sensing he wasnt a local, he began heckling Bernard. He called him out to the center of the crowd and both clowns had fun with him. I made the mistake of taking pictures, and this alerted them we were together. Now their sights were set on me. “You take picture, come here”. They were friendly and enjoyed bouncing back and forth between Spanish and English, making the crowd laugh at our expense. We got a few more pictures and moved on to see the world-famous market.

Is that an American in the crowd?

Bernard is in for it now!

SMILE!

The market featured everything you could think of. There was everything from watches, clothes, hats, shoes, trinkets, food, blankets, flowers, you name it. We spent a couple of hours walking around, and patronizing a food stand that had remarkable calzone type sandwiches. We enjoyed our time there and had to laugh at the sign for the bathrooms. We were used to seeing a charge for using the bathrooms, but this sign announced an extra charge for toilet paper!

Overview of atrium market

Meat market

Fresh Fruit

One bay muffler shop

Lets, “Git Er’ Done”!

The next day, we drove to a little muffler shop not too far away from the campsite and pulled into the one bay garage. I got out and pointed to a picture of the cat on the wall. We tried to communicate as much as possible, but it wasnt working. I am sure they were not used to someone coming in and telling them what they needed in English. Fortunately, Tom from Barre de Navidad had put us in touch with his brother who lived in Guadalajara. I looked up his number and the young mechanic let me call him. I explained our predicament, and asked him to translate. After their conversation, we were off and rolling! The courier hopped on his moped off to get the catalytic converter.

Job well done!

As soon as he got back they went right to work cutting out the old one and installing the new one. I was charged the equivalent of $225 us for the job! That’s a far cry from $3,000! The Land Rover ran like a champ. Man what a relief. Although I was thankful for all of the help along the way, it was amazing that my dad who was 4000 miles away was able to diagnose the problem over the phone. I am blessed to have such a wonderful man as my Father! Check our Facebook for more pictures of Guadalajara (click here)


We made it into Barre de Navidad just in time for breakfast and to meet a man named Tom. Tom offered to be an impromptu tour guide. We drove through town, looking at the nice homes and the unique marina layout. There were three roads that featured water front homes. A large lagoon made for some desirable homes sporting large private boats, docked right outside these homes. A particularly large home was distinguishable by the massive gates and security walls that surrounded the concrete structure. We were told that a local business owner had purchased it from an “alleged” drug dealer that had it built originally. We marveled at the apparent money that had been involved in building these architecturally appealing homes. Most of them sat vacant as they were seasonal second or third homes.

We spent nearly 3 hours touring the town and visiting a friend of Tom’s that lived out on the outside edge of town. To reach his house we traversed deep holes full of water, and gravel dirt roads. His family was friendly and inviting. In front of their home was a small family convenience store where one could buy an ice cold Coca Cola in a glass bottle. With the warning of drinking the water in Mexico, Diet Cole had become a staple. and you cant beat an ice cold glass bottle of Coke, when the thermometer threatens to blast past the maximum reading and burst.

Ice cold Coke or Diet Coke, actually

We told Tom we were looking for a campground preferably on the beach. He said, “there is one in Melaque, just 5 miles away”. He decided to take us there and get us set up. He warned us, “never pay upfront, you never know if you want to stay and then you are locked in”. We heeded his advice and checked into a nice beach side space looking over the ocean. The entire facility was fenced in and seemed secure, right in the middle of town. This would be great. We could set up the roof top tents and walk to the stores and restaurants. Tom hung around for a while and we chatted about life as an expat in Mexico, and our adventures so far. After a while he stated, “I should go, its starting to get too hot out here”! We dropped him off at home and made arrangements to meet for dinner at his “favorite place” later on.

Our tour guide, Tom, and the campsite

Ocean front with wifi at our tents!

The next morning, Bernard and I walked around town and took pictures after breakfast. Being interested in real estate, we were drawn to a building that looked like it had potential. Right next to a large concrete entrance to town, was a dilapidated two story structure boasting, “Se Vende” (For Sale). We peeked in the windows and wrote down the phone number. We headed back to the campground and fired up the computers. There was a strong wifi signal, so we wanted to update family and friends and see what was going on back home. We looked up just in time to see Tom ride up on a moped. He decided to pop in and see if we wanted him to play tour guide again and check out a cool little town up the bay. We gladly accepted and decided to call a cab instead of taking the tents down. And we were off!

We pulled into a little town that didn’t appear to have more than 50 residents, but it was right on the beach and their were several restaurants just starting to open. We wandered along the beach and enjoyed the ocean breezes, even though they didn’t do much to suppress the intense heat. There were many photo ops and we took advantage of them. The grand tour didn’t take long, so we were headed back to camp pretty soon. Tom hung around for a while longer and then hopped on his moped.

Beachside restaurant

Around 6 PM, the manager of the campground stopped at our site and said, “you need to pay for the four nights you stayed here.” I figured she was mistaken and I said, “tonight will actually only be our third night”. She became defensive and said, “No! you were here 4 nights”! I told her we would pay her for the actual amount of nights we were there (going on the third). She walked off, obviously upset with me. I didn’t think much about it that night and decided we would go to the ATM in the morning to pay for our stay.

Our campground. We un recommend them!

A great place for a nap at the campground

The next morning we got up headed to breakfast and then to the ATM. We were met at the gate by the manager of the campground telling us we needed to pay for four nights. I again explained that we were only there for three nights. She became argumentative and then walked back in the office. I was planning on working on the Landrover because it was still misfiring. We loaded up and headed toward the gate. I hopped out to open the closed gate and found it was padlocked. Dont tell me we were locked in! The gate always stayed closed, however this time, it was locked. I went to the office and told her I needed the gate opened. She said, “You must pay for 4 nights”. I began to understand that we were in fact being locked in. I became furious.

Caged like an animal!

I told her we would pay her for the three nights that we had stayed, but she needed to let us leave. She refused, and stood there glaring at me. Now I was angry. We were not animals to be caged up and locked away. I told her she better open the gate and let us leave. I said, “are you telling me you are holding us here against our will?” She said, ” I will call the police”. I told her she better go ahead and call them, so I could tell them we were being held against our will. I took it further, and said. ” I will also be calling the U.S embassy and letting them know we were being held against our will. Ironically, she all of a sudden said, “No inteindo”. I dont understand. She had been arguing with us just fine in English and now she doesn’t understand? How convenient. I said, spitefully, “well when the U.S embassy shows up, you will understand”. I was furious. She finally said, “Fine, you pay three days and leave”! I told her that would not be a problem, as we would not consider paying her for one more night. We packed our trucks, paid the bill and left.

Before we were kicked out

Well the truth is, it was a little bit of a problem as there were no other campgrounds in the area. We drove back to the restaurant that we had visited when we first arrived, to determine what to do. At least we had internet access there and we had made some friends there as well. As evening set in, we still didn’t have a plan. We walked the sidewalks and it began to come to us. In the center of town about a block from the restaurant, was the town square. The stage was in the center, and fortunately, there were electric outlets on the back side of it. We could park along the street, use the restaurant internet, and plug into the electric outlets on the stage. Breakfast in the morning could be had at the restaurant! We had everything we needed…..except a shower. At this point it was our best option, so we set it up. To avoid drawing unnecessary attention, we routed the electric cord up a pole, overhead to the balcony above, and then overhead to the plaza stage. It was genius if I do say so myself! Anyone walking on the sidewalk would be oblivious to the cord since it was overhead. We  hopped in the vehicles for a overnight stay.

Our makeshift power supply ran overhead

The next morning we woke to small  children walking down the sidewalk on their way to school. They were talking excitedly and chasing each other. All of a sudden a little boy yelled, “Connectodo” Apparently he noticed the electric extension cord running into Bernard s vehicle.  Bernard later told me that he woke up when he heard the shout and then noticed a small face and hands pressed to the window trying to see in. Bernard said, “Boo”! and the little boy ran off. Leave it to a small child to notice we were “borrowing electricity from the town square.

Our breakfast hosts

After breakfast we headed back to Melaque where we were to meet up with a “Facebook friend of a friend”. We were told by the friend if we needed anything while in the area  to look up their friend. With the Landrover running worse, we decided to call in a favor to find a place to work on it. After changing the spark plugs and wires and looking for vacuum leaks, and scratching our heads, we were referred to a local mechanic. That’s a whole “nother” story, so watch for it…….


We packed up and hesitantly started down the road toward Puerto Vallarta first thing in the morning. We had such a good time in Sayulita, that it was difficult to leave, but the road was calling. My check engine light had been giving me some problems since the trip into the jungle the day before. Fortunately, I had brought my diagnostic scanner on the trip. The codes were indicating a misfire. I didn’t really notice anything too detrimental, so I just erased the code and hoped for the best.

Welcome to Puerto Vallarta!

We drove through Puerto Vallarta and were a little underwhelmed. The entrance to the town was inviting enough, but the traffic, businesses and tourist littered the small ocean front town. There were some interesting statues, monuments and views, however nothing drew us in to stick around. We stopped at the local Pemex gas station to fuel up and then headed out of town.

Many miles spent on this “highway”

Highway 200

We found ourselves quickly driving down Hwy 200, a two lane narrow road with overgrowth extending in to the driving lanes. Traffic was very light and we decided to put some miles under our belts. Angela had decided to stay home until her next doctors appointment, which meant we would pick her up later down the road. For now, Bernard and I were loners travelling the roads unknown. The light on the dash popped on again.  This time, I noticed some “fluttering” mis fires. Fortunately it wasn’t affecting the power, however, the fuel mileage was another story. Im pretty certain I could see the guage as it raced toward “E”. I was running premium fuel per manufacturer requirements, and even though Mexico has subsidized prices, it was still expensive. Darkness was rapidly approaching and we were still not close enough to Barre de Navidad, the next town we planned to stop at. Each “town” we approached was another missed opportunity for a place to stay. There was hardly a neighborhood convenience store let alone a hotel or camp ground. Darkness set in quickly as we tried one more small town. We stopped at a small roadside restaurant and ordered tacos. We inquired about accommodations. There were none. We decided to ask one of the restaurants if we might park next to them and spend the night, but this was a very small town and  nobody spoke English.

Home for the night in front of the arcade

After wandering around the few places that were open we headed to a side street. One lone house seemed to be lit up like a football field. As we approached we could see that it doubled for a small video game arcade. The owner peeked out his window as we approached and he met us n the front yard. He spoke some English and agreed to let us stay under the lights on the parking pad and plug an extension cord in. He wanted to make sure we would be gone first thing in the morning which was not going to be a problem. We gave him 20 pesos and set in for the night.

The next morning, sore from an uncomfortable night sleeping in the vehicles, we were off. The town we were headed to was about an hour and a half away so it was an easy trip. The night before it had rained heavily, however the sun was brightly shining, promising a new start. We were hoping to get into town, find some internet and then a shower! As we rolled into the quaint town, it was hard not to notice the ocean, the blue skies, the people walking around, and kids running in the park. Mexico just seems to do more outside, in spite of the heat hovering in the mid nineties. Straight ahead was the centro part of town.

Barre De Navidad beach

Busy street corner

We parked on the street and checked out the surroundings. It was reminiscent of a small town you might find in the States. Storefronts lined the sidewalks with signs marketing their products. There was a post office, a police station, a smoothie bar, and a small store offering beach items. The large sign on the front of the police substation said “Tourista Policia” or tourist police. They actually dedicated an entire force to the tourists here! We walked in the door a slender built officer with his feet propped up on the desk greeted us in English, “Buenas Dias, how can I help you?” We asked for a restaurant with wifi offering breakfast. Leaving our trucks in front of the police station, we followed the directions on foot to the next street. We walked into the open air restaurant and found a table under the ceiling fan, as the heat was picking up already. We were greeted by the waiter, ordered breakfast and set right into accessing the internet.

A guy walked up and said, “Are those your trucks on the next street over?”. Was it that obvious that we were the outsiders? Did something happen to them? “Yes, we are we are travelling around Mexico and Central America in them”, I said. The guy pulled up a chair and began talking to us, enjoying our accounts of the trip so far. Bernard showed him the newspaper article and pictures online. We learned that he was an American and had moved to Barre de Navidad 20 years ago. We enjoyed chatting for a while, and then he asked, “What are your plans today?” When we said we didn’t have any specific ones, he offered to ride along and act as a tour guide. We hadn’t even been in town 30 minutes and already we were onto or next big adventure. It is truly amazing the generosity of the people we have encountered. We found out the mans name was Tom. He was an expat, an American that has lived here 20 years! He lives in a one bedroom apartment above the restaurant and paid $300/month including his electric, water, and cable! He said he couldn’t afford to NOT live in Mexico. I see why! We loaded up and headed out for another fun filled day of pure unadulterated adventure!


You probably last remember that we were caught up in a traffic jam headed toward Puerto Vallarta Mexico, when we decided to make a small detour to visit the town of Sayulita Mexico. As we pulled into town, it was difficult to take it all in. Everywhere we looked offered fascinating sites. There were numerous restaurants, road side stands, people walking, dogs barking, children playing, and the beach! Let me tell you about the beach. There were several streets leading from the town square ending up directly on the beach. You could actually see the sand and water while standing in the center of town. It was one of the most amazing views I have encountered to date. Most beach towns are over built, allowing the mega hotels to hog the frontage. Not here. There was hardly a two-story building, let alone a skyscraper.

View the Ocean from town

All roads lead here

We quickly found a coffee shop where we could get internet, ordered a coffee and checked online while taking in the sites the sounds, and bask in the  exuberance of having arrived in what appeared to be the find of a lifetime. And all by happen chance? I think not!

Sadly, we loaded up the cars and headed to take Angela to the airport in Puerto Vallarta . Bernard and I vowed to return to the small town to wait for Angela to get back so we could continue on with our trip. We found the back way to the airport bypassing all of the construction traffic we were dealing with earlier. We encountered more beautiful beach and ocean views, along with the occasional vendor selling coconuts in a stand alongside the road.

Fortunately the airport in Puerto Vallarta is very easy to navigate. It only took 30 minutes and Angela was checked in waiting for her flight. We sadly said our good byes, knowing it was for the best to get her treatment from her doctor as she was still experiencing abdominal pain. We got back in the vehicles headed back to unknown adventures in Sayulita.

We had put in an inquiry for a place to stay that Bernard found online, that offered a kitchen and bathrooms. We decided if we were going to be here for a week or so, we needed accommodations. We drove through back streets, and passed people on bikes, and horses, all the while trying to locate the address. We noticed a dry river bed running through town that looked like a fun place to explore later. As we made a turn onto one road, we noticed a burm of dirt across the road that appeared to be part of the river. We needed to get to the other side, so I figured why not cross it? A man and boy were sitting on their front porch likely amused at the site of our vehicles attempting the crossing. The loose ground caused some interesting driving, and after making it into the dry creek bed, I decided to turn back. All I needed was to have our first day in Sayulita being interrogated by the local police..

A little off roading in town!

After wandering around town, we finally gave up on finding the house. However on our tour of town, we came across a little hostel called “The Amazing Hostel”. Hostels are common in Mexico, offering individual beds, in a common area, most having kitchens and bathrooms available as well. This particular facility seemed top-notch. There was a security fence and gate at the entrance, and as we entered we noticed the pool, rock climbing wall, and sun areas. Wow! This was luxury living in an unlikely spot.

Our new home

We met Anhuar, the live in host, and later  found out his daughter and husband were the owners. They had been awarded 3rd place on the Latin America version of The Amazing race. Anhuar showed us around the newer facility. The kitchen was clean, fresh and offered all the essentials including silverware, plates, fridge, microwave, and two burner stove. Attached to the kitchen was a common  area living room that featured lounge seating to watch tv, wireless internet, and a computer. Individual hammocks hung from the ceiling with views out of the wall size windows. Once you walk out of the kitchen you are literally at the pool lounge area and rock climbing wall. They had thought of it all. We were astounded to find out that the accommodations were only $15.00/night! We were told if we pre paid for six nights, we would get the seventh for free. That made it around $13/ night. Not too bad.

Anhuar- giving the tour

The sun deck at the hostel

Pool and rock climbing wall

After receiving our clean sheets we made our way downstairs to the dorm style bedroom. There were lockers next to each bed that allowed you to securely store your clothes etc. There was one shower and one bathroom inside the large bedroom, and several more throughout the facility. In front of the rooms was a patio with 3 tables and umbrellas where you could sit and visit, read or relax.

After getting set up, we decided to walk into town (a short two blocks to the main street), and find what it had to offer. Everyone we passed were so friendly, waving and smiling. This town was magical. The cobblestone streets made for a challenging walk, albeit beautiful. Each rock seemed as if it were hand placed causing an uneven surface individually, however a defined road to drive on. The humid, salty air was refreshing and added to the experience of the beach surroundings.  Each store appeared to be owner operated. These were not large chain stores, though there were a couple in town. One of the chains common to Mexico is called “OXXO”. As we passed restaurants, stores, produce stands, and people walking in the streets, we noticed a common theme. This town, like most in Mexico so far, was a very community oriented area. Children were running and playing in the streets, dogs barked and played, people visited in front of the establishments. It was just a great feeling to be here walking amongst the streets, in this town.

In the center of town we noticed a square or plaza. From the plaza, you could see the beach and ocean. Vendors stood along the streets selling tacos, smoothies, refrescos, and of course sunglasses and wrist bands.

Do you want a bracelet with your name?

There were VW bugs everywhere. This gave Bernard and I an idea. Why not take pictures of the bugs and upload a photo album online to enjoy later as there are not as many bugs back in the states? You can see the VW’s of Mexico by clicking: VW’s of Mexico. We are adding new ones as we go.

Many VW’s in Mexico

We walked down to the beach and noticed the families playing, surfing, eating, and sunbathing. Man, I could spend a week here no problem! Out in the bay was a sail boat that appeared to be anchored. Some locals were paddle boarding out to the deck and diving in. Our best guess was that someone left it here year around and the kids enjoyed it when the owners were away.

Sayulita Beach

The sailboat

Playing in the sand

Tired from all the walking and sight seeing, we decided to go back to the hostel to settle in to our room. I was ready for a hot shower. One of the things I have missed on this trip is hot showers. Even though it is hot outside, I enjoy a good hot shower. So I entered the room where the shower was. On the wall was a sign posted that read,”To get hot water on the shower,you need to turn the light on and only use the right hand side knob”. This seemed strange, but when in Rome…..or Mexico. I clicked on the light switch, turned the shower knob, and presto, there was water. On the shower head was a small valve that instantly blew off and landed on the floor. I picked it up and started to return it to the head, when all of a sudden, I felt a tingling sensation going through my hand from the water! I jerked back and looked up. Just to be sure, I hesitantly touched the water again. Yes! There was definitely an electrical shock coming through the water. I looked up at the shower head and noticed a lamp cord coming from the light on the ceiling directly to the shower head. Now water and electricity mixing, with me standing wet, in the shower, went against all common sense, I might have. I quickly turned off the light switch, and continued my cold shower in the dark!

Here’s your sign

Electric shower

I know this is only the beginning of our many adventures in Sayulita, so stay tuned as I will try to get caught up on writing these blogs.  For more up to date photos and stories visit our Facebook page at Central America Overland Expeditions. If you havent signed up to receive notifications of our blog posts, please scroll back up this page and sign up now.

Lo De Marcos Mexico, the surfs up?

Posted: September 4, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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We left San Blas headed towards Puerto Vallarta with no particular destination in mind. We had heard of a few small towns that might be interesting to visit. One of those towns was Lo De Marcos. We rolled into town looking for a campground. After some challenging one way streets, we came to campground row. There were numerous campgrounds all promising similar accommodations. “Free wifi”, “beach front”, “electric hook ups”, they all boasted. We chose a nice location and set up camp.

Campsite under the fruit trees

We used the same campsite but were still charged for three people!

We walked down to the beach where there were many tourists and locals enjoying the 96 degrees. The waves were gently rolling in, much to the surfers dismay. It didn’t look like they would have a chance to display their talents today. However, as with many other beaches thus far, it was beautiful with lots of clear sandy beach. It was nice that there was not much sign of anybody peddling their wares. We dove in and took a relaxing swim, as Bernard looked around for photo opportunities. Now isn’t this what Mexico is all about? Sun, surf, sand, and locals?

Lo De Marcos beach

We noticed the beautiful trees scattered around the campground, and had chosen our spot based on the shade covering of a coconut tree and mango tree. We were able to sit around the trucks while enjoying the 10 degree difference in temperature the tree covering provided. All of a sudden, there was a loud thud and then a “splat”! What in the world was that? After some investigation, we found a large ripe mango had fallen on the other side of the truck. It smashed open upon impact gushing its sweet contents all over the asphalt driveway. The bees wasted no time attacking the pulp, and sweet juices.

Bernard went down to the beach taking pictures, while Angela and I sat in our loungers being lazy, reading and surfing online. It was hot even in the shade of the coconut trees. If you sat perfectly still, you might avoid having sweat trickle down your forehead, but mostly it was unavoidable.  Bernard returned to the campsite and said he had some exciting news. He had met some surfers that operated a surf school on the beach, and because Bernard promised to take some pictures of them, they offered free surf lessons. Learning to surf is definitely on our list of things to do while here in Mexico. The waves might be a problem though. If I am going to learn to surf, I need decent sized waves to propel me through the water. The waves that were rolling into the beach currently, barely resembled a ripple on an inland lake when a ski boat drives by.

Small waves on the beach

Bernard siesta!

We decided to head into town to find something to eat. We also wanted to pick up a fan for the campsite and tent. We drove around asking about fans in the area, but much to our dismay, were informed we would have to drive about 20 miles away to another town, called Rincon, that might have them. We decided it might be a good thing, because it would allow us to be in the air-conditioned truck for a little longer. It would be  a nice relief from the sweltering heat. We decided to wait until the next day to go.

We headed back to camp to settle in for the evening and had to laugh as we approached Bernard’s truck. A very ripe mango, half eaten by squirrels, had fallen from the tree above and landed on his fender guards. The “guts” splattered down the side of the fender and onto the ground. Of course this became another photo opportunity, so Bernard began snapping photos for memoirs. After some wireless internet time right at our campsite, we climbed up tour tents for the evening. It was still uncomfortably humid, and sweat was threatening to stream out our pores with any slight movement. We decided a shower in the shower house was in order. Fortunately, we found the bathroom and showers very clean and accommodating here, unlike the mediocre ones back at San Blas.

Splat!

Mango’d!

The next morning we closed up the tent on the Landrover and headed into town in search of a fan. Upon arriving in the predominately tourist area of Rincon, we did a little tour of the town and discovered many seasonally vacant homes along the ocean side community. From the markings and flags, it appeared many of the lavish homes were owned by Americans and mostly Canadians. These were very nice homes decorated with local flares, such as masonry, block and wrought iron work. Many homes had a concrete walls defining the property lines and offering access through large wrought iron gates. The architecture was very appealing. These homes would  fit in nicely in any upscale neighborhood in the states. I wonder if they need a house sitter to keep an eye on the home while they are gone…..?

Rincon statue in town

Cowboy in town

Some vacant homes

More homes in Rincon Mexico

We found a fan and a body board to play with in the water, back at camp, and headed back to find something to eat. On the way we stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand, so I could buy a whole, fresh pineapple. I paid 20 pesos, “venti” (or about $1.50), for a nice large one. I would put it in the cooler to get cold for a snack later. There were not many restaurants open, so we chose one that looked clean and the people were friendly. They were probably glad to see us, as we were the only ones there. After ordering from the menu, we enjoyed chips and salsa, with varying temperature salsa. My favorite was “Caliente”, which I enjoyed, but not sure how much of the taste I experienced as my tongue went numb after the first bite! Our food was brought out and we enjoyed the hot fresh fare, along with a Coka Light, and “botella agua” (Diet Coke and water), and Bernard, Pacifico, a watered down beer, common here in Mexico.

We arrived at our campsite, set up the fan facing the lounger chairs and enjoyed the breeze the fan offered. Angela decided to do some reading, and Bernard and I decided to go down for some surf lessons. Unfortunately, when we arrived on the beach, the surf instructors were standing around talking. The waves were still belemic. We talked for a while, and they offered to take us out in a boat to an island that has better waves, but it would cost $250 pesos or about $20. I had my body board or boogie board, and noticed the glee in the surfers eyes, as they somewhat discretely laughed at me. They said surfing is way more fun. We decided against taking the trip at this time, but told them we would get lessons later.

Lets Boogie! Boogie board

In the sand, on the beach, is a large truck or tractor tire that is buried half way. When the surf is down, the surfers use it to perform tricks. apparently this is common at most surf beaches. One of the guys began showing us his tricks. He would run up to the tire do a hand spring, flip in the air, and land on his feet on the edge of the water. It was purely acrobatic. Bernard began snapping photos, so naturally, the tricks became heightened, and his friends started joining in. It was a great show of athleticism and skill.

Up, up, and Away!

Great shot! And he landed it too!

We said good-bye to the surf crew and headed back to camp to try the now chilled pineapple. I went to the truck to get my Crocodile Hunter knife to cut it up. As I approached the table to begin surgery on the fresh fruit, I could not help but say, “That’s not a knife, This is a knife”, in my best Australian accent possible. Wow, fresh pineapple is nothing like the canned fruit back home! Well its similar, but so much more juicy and sweet. The cool pieces of fruit was just what the doctor ordered.

After dark, Angela decided to go take a refreshing shower before bed. Bernard and I sat waiting our turn checking emails, and surfing Facebook. It was really nice to have a strong signal right at our campsite. All of a sudden I heard Angela call for from the shower area. I was a little panicked. Was she ok? Maybe I had become too comfortable just letting her wander around alone, in a foreign country. I quickly made my way over to where she was. She was leaning over the sink saying she was dizzy and in a lot of abdominal pain. She said she could not walk out of the shower area because she was in so much pain. I didn’t know what to do. I wasnt sure that I would be able to get her up the ladder into the tent or if that would even be best. I just stayed with her trying to see what I could do for her. She told me she had to have a bed to lie down on. I hollered at Bernard who by now was just as curious as to what was going on. “Can you try to see if the camp host is still around? I need to rent a room”.

Family suite entrance from the beach

Of course, we were one of the few people at the campground, but for some reason there was only one room available. It was the family suite on the beach with 3 beds, a kitchen, patio and view of the ocean. I couldn’t argue, so we took it and got Angela laid down. She was still in a lot of pain as I helped her walk the 200 yards from the bathrooms to the room. There was A/C in the room, however, apparently you have to pay extra and they give you a remote. By this time, there was nobody around to get a remote from. I went and got our newly purchased fan and set it to blow the air on Angela. I didn’t get much sleep worrying about her and not knowing what was causing her the severe pain she was in.

The next morning, Angela was feeling slightly better but still in pain. We decided it would be best for her to fly home to see her doctor. It was too severe of pain to just leave unattended and travelling in a roof top tent might just inflame it more. We decided to head to Puerto Vallarta to get her on a plane as quick as possible.

Travelling south on Mexico 200 was slow going there was construction and it was common for us to sit for a half hour or more at a time, at a dead standstill. People were getting out of their vehicles impatiently looking to see what the hold up was. At one point just as traffic was starting to move, we noticed the vehicle behind me did not move. Then the yellow Nissan truck turned on its flashers. sitting right in the middle of the road. Bernard and I stopped our vehicles and ran back to see if we could help. We communicated the best we could and could see it was overheating. Bernard went back to his truck and pulled out a half full bottle of antifreeze and gave it to him. It was too hot to open the cap, so we just helped him push the truck off the road. So as not to hold up anymore traffic, we wished him well and jumped back in our vehicles to go.

Traffic jam

A little farther ahead we were stopped once again. I could see a Pemex gas station and a sign for Sayulita Mexico. I had read about the sleepy surf town online, and it had been recommended to us by DJ, a woman back at Stone island, as a must see. The campground book we had said very little about the town, stating, ” there are a few restaurants, a small market, and not much more”. It wasnt much of an appealing sales pitch, and anyway we needed to get on to Puerto Vallarta to get Angela on a plane. We continued inching forward for the next hour until we finally came to the intersection to turn or go straight through. Still wanting to make it to Vallarta, we inched forward some more. All of a sudden, I had enough inching! We can wait out the traffic while we look at the town of Sayulita.

Sayulita Mexico!

I made the turn, the sign said 3 km to Sayulita, Somewhere around 15 km, I figured we had missed it. We turned back, and finally found the one street that led into town. It was a little cobblestone street that ran off of the main road in a “V” heading in a direction difficult to see from the other direction. A small sigh hand painted on a post marked the turn. We had arrived.

We drove farther in and found a place to park right near the center plaza. We got out and Bernard and I just stood there in disbelief. This was an absolute amazing town! It was so inviting, we could see the beach from where we stood. We could not believe what we had just stumbled on. It is going to be difficult to spell out into words what we experienced next. Check out the next blog for the rest of the adventure!

Sayulita Mexico- What have we found here?

Check out our facebook page for pictures of these and many more pictures at Central America Overland Expeditions.

We had a run in with the law in Durango!

Posted: July 28, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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**Note** I do not have many pictures in this post. Due to the situation outlined below, you will see we were much too busy to take pictures. If you have to have pictures, please read another one of our posts. Thanks!

At Some time during the afternoon, we decided to head out to a campsite that promised hot water spas. It was approximately 30 miles to the first site or 65 to the second. We figured we could not lose. If we couldn’t find the first, then we had the second as back up. We left Durango going south-east down a small hwy 23. I use highway lightly as this is more like a secondary back road we might find in the states. Not in a hurry, we enjoyed the sights and navigated the topes, in the few towns that we came to. The towns equated to some houses and a few businesses selling tacos and empanadas.

As we left the last town in our rearview mirror, the roads became increasingly winding. Fewer people were around and only an occasional taxi or motorbike would pass us. Ahead we saw the mountainous skyline looming. Our GPS, not having Mexico maps installed, only showed that the road was going to snake through the mountain like the plastic straw you might give a kid to sip their juice from. The road, winding back on its self with each turn, almost heading back in the opposite direction before sharply maneuvering in the other direction.

We managed to make it through this s-curve debauchery without incident, except a little car sickness. Out the other side we began looking for the first hot springs location. Trying to decipher each sign, making out each word that we could, piecing it together to see if it was ‘the one”. We drove a ways farther and soon realized that we should have already found it. There had been no apparent sign indicating camping or hot springs.

Fortunately we had a back up plan. We would continue on in before dark and make it to the next location. It was at the end of hwy 23, actually a dead-end. There was no way we could miss this one right?

As we were coming into the area of town where we expected to find the campground, we noticed a utility worker tending to a down power line on the side of the road. We didn’t think much of it until, we noticed people sitting outside their houses and businesses. Apparently, the main line had been damaged in a storm earlier that day. The whole town was without power. Undaunted, we trudged on further out-of-town to find our campsite. The road began to narrow sharply. There was barely enough room for one car to pass through. It was a two-way street, but you had to pull over to let anyone through from the opposite direction. The houses were literally feet from the street. It was a little unsettling as there was no cross streets for “escape” if need be. People were watching us drive by, as if we were the grand marshalls in a parade. It appeared that there may have been a festival in progress before the power outage. Many people lined the side of the streets.

We pulled out the other side of town and noticed on the GPS, that we were at the end. Right about then, we saw where a large rock slide had fallen and covered the road. Debris, mud, and gravel still littered the road as we traversed the piles of rubble. Larger piles on the side of the road indicated they had made an attempt to clear it. The road became clearer as we passed the site, but we soon realized we had not found our campsite again. We opted to turn back toward Durango to try to get a room for the night before pitch darkness fell. As we were pulling back into town on the narrow street, a new Chevy truck with four younger men in it pulled up to Bernard in the lead, and said “What are you doing out here”, as he shined a flashlight in his face. I said out loud to myself and Angela, “Aww Bernard, do not stop”! We did not need any problems. Fortunately, Bernard told them we were looking to camp. He was told there was no camping around there. We gladly started back toward Durango. We headed back through the mountains, and small towns, and desolate areas. It seemed to take longer, especially since we were all tired and irritable, so there were no conversations.

As we finally pulled into Durango, it was getting dark and we could see police lights ahead. “Great, just what we need, another checkpoint stop.” No, this time it was a road block. The road was completely impassable, due to a large fair that was going on that evening. Cars were u turning to go another direction. Of course there were no detour signs to follow, so we decided to follow the cars. Around the fairgrounds we went. So far, so good. The couple of cars that were in front of us were taxis. Surely they would know their way around this road block. That is exactly what Bernard was thinking when he followed them into the fairground field, through the parking area, into a super swamp mud hole and out the other side of the field.

We exited the gate and immediately realized we were not in Kansas any more. The road was more of a two-track rutted trail. I have been to off-road parks with fewer obstacles than this! We were on a greasy, pot hole, rutted, wet trail that passed by small houses just outside the fair gates. Ok, it must be a small subdivision that we must pass through to get back to the main road. All of a sudden the taxis gained momentum and began criss crossing in different directions. We latched onto one and followed. We passed homes with people standing outside, almost as if we were the main event for the fair tonight. We were doing water crossings that would make any overlander proud. I looked at my floor boards several times expecting to see filthy brown water/ sludge come streaming in. We didn’t drive through the mud puddles, we drove into them and back out the other side. All the while we were on what appeared to be streets in a neighborhood. Somewhere in there we also came across a fire burning. I do not know if a house was on fire or if the locals were roasting marshmallows, laughing at us gringos trying to find our way out of the maze.

After what seemed like hours, we circled around for probably the 5th time, and finally found a paved road. Bernard took the road and then, to my chagrin, he whipped a u turn and headed back into the neighborhood. Now, I know Bernard like to play off-road, but this was ridiculous, without radio communication, all I could do was follow. All of a sudden we were back in the grassy field of the fair grounds. Bernard pulled over, threw up his hands and said, “I don’t know, I’m lost”!

I decided to lead and try my hand at getting us back out in the direction that we came from (back by the road block). Maybe by now they had cleared it and we could go the direction we knew. As we pulled up to the intersection, it was clear that was not the case. Red and blue lights pierced the dark sky warning of the detour. I pulled up to the intersection behind another officer directing traffic to see if he might offer directions. Bernard pulled in behind me.

I turned off my headlights, leaving on only the parking lights, so as not to blind him. He cautiously approached the passenger side, so Angela rolled down her window. I asked “Se Habla English”? No, he said. Great! I began in mixed Spanish and English trying to ask for directions, but it was not working. He spoke into his radio and indicated someone was on their way that knew English.

A couple of minutes later, another officer showed up with his lights flashing as well. We were starting to make quite a spectacle of ourselves sitting on the edge of the road with two police cars and lights, while all of the people exiting the fairgrounds drove by. The second officer spoke some English. He spoke enough that we could tell him where we were trying to go, and get directions. He finally said, “Follow other officer, he take you”.

We hopped in our trucks, started them up, and then grabbed for the gear shifter. It would not budge. I pressed the brake even harder trying to release the lever. Still, nothing. I turned the ignition off, restarted and attempted to shift. No luck. Meanwhile the officer is sitting in the street waiting for me to follow. I tried everything I knew. Unfortunately, it seemed as if maybe a fuse was blown or something not electrically releasing the gear selector. I got out of my truck and let Bernard know what was going on.

The officer was waving his hand to follow him. I waved back and said, “it wont go”. Both officers drove back to where we were. I tried to explain it to the English-speaking officer who said “ Oh, I know”. He proceeded to jump into the front seat and press the brake pedal. As he did that, he aggressively pulled on the handle. He tried again, each time increasing the grip on the lever, as if he man handled it, maybe it would magically work.

What happened next was a similar situation, only now we were joined by two additional officers. At this time, I am sure all of the passer-byers thought they had encountered a huge drug bust. There were police cars, lights blazing all around us. Traffic was being diverted, by yet another one. It was quite a scene. Each time a new officer approached, the English-speaking officer would tell them the problem. Each one of them jumping into the front seat to try to “muscle” the lever into gear.

Lights everywhere!

After this went on a while, one of the officers began canvassing the traffic looking for a bilingual attendee. Finally, they approached with a girl in her early 30’s. She said, “They asked me to translate for them. What is the problem”? I explained about the detour and the new problem with the gear selector. She relayed the info, and informed us that they had called a mechanic and tow truck. I was not very interested in having a mechanic work on the vehicle on the side of the road, not knowing their credentials. All we needed was a hack job that would lead to more problems. She informed us that the tow truck driver was the mechanic also.

When the truck arrived, the officers filled him in to the situation. We spoke to the girl who was translating and she told us of a good hotel, and of the officers plans to get us there. We also, amazingly, learned she was from Gainesville Georgia, only here visiting relatives. Boy was she a God send! All the way from our home state of Georgia just to translate for us! She wished us well and left, knowing the truck was there and all was well.

I tried my best to communicate with the tow truck driver. He was all over my truck. Under the hood, under the frame, under the dash. He was just under everything! I grabbed the book and went to the fuse page, trying to locate which fuse might operate the release. Finally, I showed it to him, and he went under the dash to try to locate any burned fuse. We worked together in silence, a little grunt or groan here or there, checking each one, until we determined they were all good. He then decided he would tow it where we needed it. I told the officer, it could not be towed with the type of tow truck he brought. It was the style that only picked up two wheels. I either needed a flatbed, which still would be difficult with it stuck in park, or would have to remove one of the driveshafts.

The scene

The driver quickly dove under the truck, and began working. I thought he was pulling the driveshaft. As it turns out, he removed the shift cable from the selector so we could manually place it into drive. He borrowed a 13 mm wrench from me, and within minutes we were ready to go. I asked him what was the charge and he held up his hand, jumped into his truck and was gone! Talk about service. He just did what it took to get me going, never charging or trying to make a buck towing me. I stood there perplexed. Where are all of the bad people of Mexico?

We were finally ready to follow the officer to the hotel. He motioned for us to follow him. He left his lights on and we were off! He professionally navigated back streets avoiding traffic snarls, and turning many times throughout our nearly 20 minute convoy through Durango. We pulled up to the hotel, and the officer walked us inside. He spoke with the clerk, apparently letting him know we needed a room. After checking the computer, we were told, they did not have one available. The officer did not miss a beat, he motioned us to follow him. We turned up the street and over a few more blocks to another hotel. He again jumped out of his truck, ran inside and spoke to the clerk. This time we had a room! Knowing we could take it from there, he walked over to me, held out his hand into a big hearty handshake, one you would get from an old friend. He smiled largely, and then was out to the curb to say good-bye to Bernard and Angela. This man went above and beyond the call of duty. Not only for his position, but for mankind. Here we were three foreigners, that didn’t speak his language, broke down, and yet he stayed with us until we were safe in a hotel.  I’m beginning to believe God has placed these people in our paths. I Love America, but would not necessarily expect the same selfless acts as the tow truck driver and officers showed us that night!

It turns out the next day after a little research on the internet, that my brake light switch, which also controls the safety release on the gear lever was bad. I went to Auto Zone (yes they have them in Mexico), to try to get one. Unfortunately, they did not stock it, but we were told they could get it in 3 days. We would be in Mazatlan in three days, so, they made arrangements to have it sent to the store there. I was equally impressed at the service of this store. The person helping us followed up by email later making sure we were able to get the part. We did and it is back in the truck working great now, though I did have to manufacture a part to hold the shift cable to the shift lever. Thanks to Auto Zone they had a part I could modify. I couldn’t ask for a better situation being 2000 miles from home in another country!

Hidalgo Mexico- Not for the faint of heart!

Posted: July 21, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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I do not even know where to begin on this one. We experienced so much in such a short period of time. We left the border heading toward Monterrey Mexico. Angela found a campsite in Hidalgo that looked interesting. We decided to head in that direction to see if we could find a place for the night.

Travelling down the highway, it was a mix bag of emotions. The sheer exhilaration and excitement over powered the butterflies, the unknown, and the nay sayers’ warnings. I soon realized that beside the fact that the signs were in Spanish, Mexico was much like back home. Traffic was merging, everyone pressing for their own position. The mile markers were in kilometers, as were the speed signs. The roads were similar to a secondary road back home. They were just a little rough, but much better than I anticipated.

Cruising down the highway most times around 110 KM, everything was going well. The concern of police singling out vehicles from the US, my senses were totally alert. All of a sudden, up ahead on the right, was the dreaded Policia vehicle sitting perpendicular to the road. I looked down, and saw I was within the speed limit, but slowed anyway just to be sure. As we rolled by it, Angela and I laughed as we saw the 2×4 stands holding up the life-size car made of plywood, but painted to look identical to a police car. I guess it served its purpose. It kept me on my toes, and slowed me down. Not to mention got my heart racing.

After many miles of seamless driving, we came to the airport that we were looking for. We made our turn onto highway 53, a toll road, headed west. After a short distance we exited to find a small toll “shack” on the side of the road. Fortunately, I had seen the sign earlier indicating that the toll was 130 pesos. I pulled up to give the operator my 100 peso bill, and two 20 peso bills. He looked confused, then shook his head and reached for the two 20 peso’s only. He made change, and offered a receipt. After looking at the receipt, I realized I had misread the sign! It was only 30 pesos. Given the opportunity to cheat me out of 100 pesos, the operator chose to do the right thing. Was there something wrong with my money? Why didn’t the operator take advantage of the situation like I have heard so many times? I felt slighted. I cannot even get cheated in the most corrupt country in the world! Or is it that not everyone in Mexico is dishonest? Time will tell.

We took many turns, and navigated unmarked roads and hazards, as we continued to Hidalgo. One of my favorite turn by turn directions found on the internet was “get off the toll road and look for a small toll booth, and pay an even smaller toll”. As we passed under the large entrance arch to Hidalgo, we realized we were no longer in Kansas! It was just the way I had envisioned a small quaint Mexican town! We snaked through town, waving at the locals, and they waving back. We turned a lot of heads, two fully outfitted expedition vehicles driving through the residential streets. We have extra gas cans on the roof rack, along with the roof top tents, and front brush guards, not your typical site here, I presume.

We began climbing an incline of a back street, passing children playing and people walking in the streets. Bernard stopped to check his Spanish abilities, asking a local if we were headed in the right direction to the park. “Si”, he said. All of a sudden, we were astounded by the rock mountain that seemed to jut up from the ground straight in front of us. It was so tall, we could hardly see the top, as we approached. The excitement was building, and Bernard and I were chattering on the radios back and forth. “Man, we finally made it”! We have arrived”! “This is what it was all about”! The air was cooler, and the breeze blew through our windows like gust of a hurricane only warmer and friendlier. The sun was bright, and very few white clouds spotted the sky. It was picturesque perfect!

Heading up towards our camp site

We made our way to the entrance of the park, realizing that we were directly at the base of the mountain. We were able to nearly drive right up to it and stop. We were in a shadow now as the mountain almost blocked the sun. The air temperature felt like an air conditioner. It was cool and relaxing, no need to have ours on in the vehicles. We hopped out to take in the sites, and stretch our legs. We decided it was a perfect time to take a new photo of our group. There were only few people in the park, and no one was there to collect the entrance fee. This is one advantage of travelling in the off-season. After circling the park, taking in the fresh mountain air, and marveling at the beauty of God’s creation, we turned around to enter the camp ground where we were to stay that night.

Our new Facebook photo!

Tallest sheer face rock wall in North America

We had our heads in the clouds

We were greeted by Homero, the park owner. He opened the gate and waved us in. He approached the window and spoke to us in Spanish. I asked, “Any English”? “Pequena” (little), he gestured with his fingers. We settled on a charge of $5.00/person for the nights’ stay. There are rooms at the campground that we were shown, however the weather was perfect for using our roof top tents. We were shown the showers and bathrooms and a grassy area to park. We were the only souls there, save Homero and his sons sitting under a tree drinking Cervasas. We were cordially introduced to the men and offered a cervasa, of which Bernard was happy to partake.

We began to set the tents up, and after a few minutes noticed that Homero and his family began to watch us from a distance. They likely, had never seen roof top tents in their campground. They wandered over as we finished setting up. We had fun communicating in our best Spanish, using a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions to talk. Homero, pulled a picture out to show us his granddaughter, a cute little girl, with a huge smile. After learning that we were from Georgia, “Atlanta”? Homero asked, we found out that his son-in-law was a pitcher for the Braves, Óscar Villarreal. He now plays for Baltimore. What a small world we live in!

Setting up camp

Angela busy setting up-enjoying the breeze!

We had camp set up and began making dinner. You guessed it! We made left over Cajun sausage over the propane single burner stove. Nothing taste better than fresh cooked food, roughing it in Mexico. The smell wafting across the brisk air was all but euphoria! We settled into our respective tents and went to sleep.

Chef Scott- Whipping up vittles

The breezes turned into strong gusts, threatening to rip our rain fly from the top of our tents. The window flap, slapped loudly against itself making a popping sound. Though it was cool, we were restless with the wind, the unknown, and getting acclimated to our surroundings. Around 4 am, we heard the loud, “Cock A doodle, do”! Are you kidding me? Where are there chickens at the base of a mountain?

We got up early and Bernard went for a run up to the mountain. Angela and I decided to skip the morning exercise and get showers. I took my bathroom bag with me hoping to get a nice shave and shower. I found quickly, that wasn’t going to happen. Being in the mountains, it makes sense that the water would come from there as well. This was proven by the crisp, cold spray that greeted me upon turning it on. Both the hot and cold knobs were turned on, but only one temperature was spewing out. You guessed it, cold! Ice-cold. It never did warm up. It is not fun juggling your soaps, shampoos, etc. while doing a little dance in and out of the ice-cold water. After I cooled down to the temperature of the water, well below chilled, I was able to finish my shower. Shaving was all together different. My facial pores puckered up like a pig waiting for lipstick. They held the hairs tighter than Scrooge holding his money.  The razor blade ripped each hair painfully, one by one. Rip!

After we were all cleaned up, and Bernard had jumped in the mountain stream water, pool to cool off after his run, Homero pulled back into the camp ground. “Buenos Dias”, he called out. We chatted for a few minutes and then we showed him the Augusta Chronicle article about our trip. He was intrigued and told us he had just returned from Guanajuato recently, a beautiful little town in Mexico. He called a friend of his, also the camp director during the busy season. I got on the phone with him at the request of Homero. “Homero really likes your tents and wants me to come take pictures of them and translate for you. How long will you be there”?

Milton, whom we learned was the friends’ name, showed up about 30 minutes later. He was bilingual and spoke very good English. He translated for a more in-depth conversation with Homero. We learned a lot about the history of Hidalgo, talked of their families and of destinations that we should see. About that time, Homero’s son showed up with his two little girls, 5 and 2. They were not shy at all and enjoyed meeting each of us. They treated us like old friends, latching onto Angela, like a new English-speaking Barbie doll. They spent a couple of hours walking around the campsite teaching each other their respective language. The girls were curious about the roof top tents and followed Angela up the ladder for a better look. Milton, Homero and his son all came over to get a better look at the tents and ask questions also. The talks were briefly interrupted as Bernard got the attention of the two little girls by performing a magic trick making a hanky disappear and re-appear. There were smiles of delight by both girls and the audience. I always say, Bernard has more tricks up his sleeve than anyone I know. I was finally able to give each of the girls a stainless steel and black ring with the Lord’s Prayer inscribed in Spanish. I had ordered fifty of these for just such an occasion. The oldest of the two tried to communicate with me, saying she would keep it at her “casa”.

She asked if this was our “casa”

Bernard giving the grand tour

Homero’s family posing

Bernard always has a trick up his sleeve!

Scott giving away the ring

We packed up and asked if there was an internet café in town. Milton said he would lead us back to town and show us where it was. We said our goodbyes to the family, each of us getting a hearty hug, hand shake, and even a kiss on the cheeks from the little girls. After about 10 minutes of following him, he pulled over and said, “Here is the place, but they are on their afternoon siesta”. Now this is my kind of place. Close business and take a nap! Milton offered to take us to his home and allow us to access the internet. We parked on the street. Milton introduced us to his mother, and two sisters. All of them only speaking Spanish, made us feel right at home, with their big smiles and friendly talk. Milton told us to follow him into the living room where we were given the access code, and told to take our time. We spent nearly an hour and a half online updating Facebook, checking emails, connecting with family and enjoyed sitting on the couches of our new-found friends.

At Milton’s house in town

Any trepidation of entering a foreign country, and not knowing how people would respond to us, was out the window. We had met some of the most wonderful, warm, friendly people. They welcomed us in like family, even writing down their email addresses and phone numbers, with the offer to call them at anytime if we need help. “We will be your point of contact in Mexico for your family or friends”, said Milton. You just could not ask for a friendlier bunch of people.

After spending the morning with Homero and Milton, we decided we better return to the campsite for one more night. We could get a fresh start the next morning heading for Monterrey. Milton Called Homero to let him know so he could let us back in. We stopped at a local taco stand. Angela and I ordered Taco de Pollo (chicken tacos), while Bernard went a little more traditional with his Cuban sandwich. We stopped at the only grocery store in town (Mercado), and purchased some things to make for dinner later and snacks for the road. We were able to find pre packaged foods, acceptable to eat with our gringo stomachs.

Taco stand in Hidalgo

While we were still packed up we decided to experience a little off-road adventure. At the base of the mountain is a dried, rocky river bed that snakes through and around the mountains at the campground. We set out onto the trail enjoying the obstacles, and uneven terrain. Scrub brush, abandoned shacks, and cattle littered the back trails we encountered. We were gaining altitude fast as we climbed higher elevations. We saw beautiful views overlooking the mountainous area. We rounded bends, climbed large boulders, lost traction on loose gravel, all in the name of an off-road adventure. We finally made it to the top of the accessible mountain and turned to go back to the campsite. Along the way, we found a large pile of bones, the skeleton of what appeared to be a cow. It had been picked over clean by the buzzards and dried in the sun.

Headed up the trail

Bernard headed up the first leg of the mountain trail

We headed back to the campsite and noticed another campsite across from ours where loud Mexican music was playing. We stopped in and asked someone if there was internet access. “Si”, said the gentleman, whom we later learned was the owner of that campground. We ordered a Coke and sat outside with the computers. Bernard ran his extension cord to his laptop, and Angela was able to “Tango” with her parents (video chat). After we had been there a while, the owner came over to ask if we were hungry. Having just eaten not too long ago, we said we were not. He brought out a bag and set it on the table and said you have to try these. “They are Chicorrones from Monterrey”. Not wanting to be rude, but also leery of eating room temperature meat, we reluctantly tried one. They are like thick pieces of deep-fried pork, much like bacon. It tasted excellent. Bernard and I went back for another piece. Angela, still reluctant, passed. He then pointed at a tree across the parking lot and said, “That is an avocado tree”. We were intrigued to see the tree that produces such wonderful fruit! Angela and I love guacamole on almost anything.

Back at the campsite, we let ourselves in and began to set up for the night. It was nearing dark and we wanted to get to bed early so we could get a good start. Homero came to check in with us and welcome us back.  After setting up, we were sitting in our lounge chairs, when we began to hear some strange noises on the other side of the cars. Bernard grabbed a flashlight and walked cautiously around the front of my Landrover. “You’re not going to believe what it is”, he exclaimed! 5 wild cows had wandered into our campsite and were grazing inches from our trucks, and 8 feet from us! What a surprise. Cows in the night! We slept a little restless that night also, waiting to see if they would return, and the wind picked up strong again.

Cows in the camp-After we shooed them away.

Curious about our home on wheels

Bernard showing Milton the Augusta Chronicle article about us

Our campsite- Beautiful view of the mountains!

The next morning we were up and packed early, headed for Monterrey. What a wonderful two nights we had in Hidalgo, plus today, I turned 40! We did it. We made it on the road and were having the time of our lives on my 40 th birthday. Have you set any goals that you have or still plan to meet? Leave a comment, we love to hear them! Visit our Facebook page for more photos of our adventure CAO Expeditions

We are leaving in 18 days…..so what is the plan?

Posted: June 7, 2012 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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Our departure date is less than 3 weeks away! Bernard stopped by the house so we could go over our travel plans. We mulled over maps, discussed people we hoped to meet up with along the way, and time lines. I had to keep reminding myself, “It is the journey, not the destination”. I have a habit of choosing the shortest (read fastest) route from point A to point B. If you have ever traveled with me, you know that when we stop for gas, make sure you use the bathroom, get something to eat, and stretch your legs, because we will not be stopping again until the fuel tank reads “E”.. With the use of my GPS, this has actually gotten worse. The built-in arrival time seems to push me even harder to try to maintain or beat the arrival time. But, with this trip, we have agreed that we are going to be laid back, travel if we want to, stop to see the sights, or even, take a detour, yes a detour. As you notice we have adopted the tag-line on our blog site and our journey as mentioned before, “It’s the journey, not the destination. Leading fast paced lives and travelling as we have in the past, I hope this is not a problem! We intend to get off the beaten path and mingle with the locales. Tourist towns, and attractions will be secondary at best. We hope to avoid these over priced areas as much as possible.

So as we began to map out our route, we decided to take it in small sections, so as not to over plan. The first leg, was determined that we would stop in Mobile Alabama. This should be a good days drive after leaving Augusta Georgia. We will stay overnight there, enjoy the town and the ocean, and then on to our next stop of Lafayette, Louisiana. Bernard has secured us accommodations and even a cooked meal using an online community called www.couchsurfing.com This is a community of travellers (not gypsy’s) that offer their couch for people travelling through their area. It is a great opportunity to meet people and hear their stories of their travels. When you need a place to stay, you just put out a couch request and wait to see who responds. There is a rating system and bio’s of the hosts and travellers so you can match compatibility. Check it out it’s a pretty cool concept, that we hope to take advantage of as much as possible along our route.

In Louisiana, we have been offered an open invitation to have a real Cajun meal prepared for us by the infamous Chef Bourque! He is a family friend from my childhood, that I have not seen in well over 20 years. We are looking forward to this stop, as it will be as an authentic Cajun experience as possible. Check out Chef Bourque on youtube here:

Chef Bourque

After we leave Cajun country, we are off to Beautiful Houston Texas! Bernard has a cousin here that has agreed to fire up the bar b q grill. There is nothing better than a grilled meal prepared by a local in Texas. You know, they say everything is bigger in Texas! I hope the meals are no exception. Bernard’s cousin (to be named later), has agreed to let us use his yard to pop up the roof top tents. The neighbors ought to get a kick out of that. Hopefully he doesn’t live in a restrictive neighborhood, with the nosy neighborhood association. I imagine there isn’t a bi law in place for roof top tents…..yet.

After we “camp” in Houston, it is off to a city that Angela and I have vowed to visit for some time, San Antonio Texas. We are really excited about this stop. We cannot wait to ride a gondola down the canal and walk the sidewalks along side. Bernard, having been in the military, and already a world traveller, has friends here as well. They too have agreed to put us up, and show us around. As an alternative, there are several military installations locally, that offer camping facilities. if needed. We intend to stay for 2 or 3 days to take in all of the sites and activities that this historic area has to offer. I am sure there will be an entry in the future dedicated soley to this city, so watch for it!

When we finally decide to leave, we will be heading for the Mexican border! Finally our Central America trip begins. It is approximately 2-1/2 hours from San Antonio to the border crossing. The plan is to get up early (6-7 am) and get through the border crossing as early as possible. We hope this will help with traffic and our rusty skills crossing the border with limited Spanish abilities. Once we cross the border, it is about three hours to Monterrey. This will be our first official destination in Mexico. From there, the sky’s the limit. We are totally open to any direction we feel like going (although ultimately we will be headed to the west coast). We intend to travel along the coast all the way down to Southern Mexico. So as we figure out our direction, we will post them for you. Do you have a recommendation or “must see” to share? Please let us know by “replying”. Stay connected!