It feels like more than 8 weeks since our return. Probably because things have been going at warp speed and we have yet to catch a break!
There have been a few celebrations in there like Easter, Keira's birthday and mine to occupy our time. Keira had a wonderful 6th birthday. Her birthday theme of "bugs and butterflies" was perfect to encompass all facets of her personality. We did a bunch of fun games, had cake and Priscilla provided a fun play area for Keira and her friends. She got her first bike equipt with training wheels, a basket and of course frilly streamers! We captured a few photos of the events which are below.
VISIT FROM FRIENDS:
We had a wonderful visit from our friends Liam and Matilde who we had met in Jiquilliio in Nicaragua. They were driving through with their friend Jay, so stopped with us to visit, explore and chill for a few days. It was so great to re-connect again. Keira of course loved having them stay and monopolized Matilde's time!
Mike took them all out shooting which was quite an eye opener for them. Gun laws in Canada and Australia are a "little" stricter than in the USA!!
Our friends Ashley and Noel got married on April 15th. Congratulations!
Keira was very lucky to be their ringbearer, a job she took very seriously and did with flare and a princess walk. Ashley had pink hair for the wedding so Keira followed suit with a pink hair extension to match. She loved the evening and we all had a great time.
Then there have been dentist and doctors appointments to get ourselves back on track. We have had 2 of the worst flu's we have ever experienced and from which we are still recovering. Keira has also had some residual stomach problems that we are still sorying out. New territory and new bugs to be exposed to!
There is a new BUGARIUM in town which is totally awesome, according to our 6 year old daughter. It is equipt with all sorts of insects and even naked mole rats. So we have joined all the local museums, zoos and aquariums making a visit to each.
An Earth Day celebration at school was fun with songs, a parade and bubble making table!
Keira is doing very well at school but is having some separation anxiety, as are we all.
After being together so much for so long, we genuinely miss eachothers company.
So life is moving along. We are looking forward to getting over the recent illnesses so we can begin to explore our immediate environment again and to reconnect with friends whom we still have not had a chance to see.
Do we miss our previous life on the road. Definately!
OUR EPIC ADVENTURE/OUR LIFE FOR 15 MONTHS;
Fifteen months on the road exploring South and Central America was definitely an epic adventure. We covered ~56,000 KMS (38,000 Miles), visiting 12 different countries (13 for Riss), completing about 18 border crossings with 2 vehicle shippings and 2 flights.
Just to recap, we flew into Buenos Aires on December 5th, 2014. Our car, Priscilla was shipped from Houston Texas into Buenos Aires arriving on the same day after ~20 days at sea. After ~42 days and the initial challenges of clearing Priscilla through customs, we began our trip.
SOUTH AMERICA: This trip took us overland, zigzagging through Argentina and Chile in the heart of Patagonia. Through Southern Chile we drove the Carretera Austral, Highway 7, a road that travels through the islands of Chile and that is connected through a series of ferries. Then it was on to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
CENTRAL AMERICA: Priscilla was then shipped in a container to Panama, whilst we made the journey by plane. After a few days in Panama, we crossed into Costa Rica where we spent many wonderful days exploring with friends. Central America was about beach time, with time spent on beaches in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. A week in both Honduras and Guatemala, and 5 days of driving in Mexico saw us returning back to the USA.
There were so many highlights of the trip, which I have tried to capture in our traveler’s information page. Take a look there to see a few of our favorite pics and to get a list of our favorite places. (will update the last few countries soon)
THE USA- OUR FIRST WEEKS BACK
We have been back in Albuquerque almost 2 weeks now and life has definitely been hectic. There are so many things that have to be done to get your “normal” life back on track.
Our immediate focus was seeing our good friends, which was definitely a highlight of those first few days. We still haven’t had a chance to see everyone but that will happen as things settle down.
The next priority, cell phones. In this day and age, in the western world anyway, it is impossible to function without cell phones. Crazy because we had been without them for 15 months and coped just fine!
So in the last 2 weeks we have purchased cell phones and a data/phone plan, bought another car (Priscilla needs a rest and some time at the mechanics), settled into a house which we are sharing with a friend, whose name coincidentally is also Kiera, Mike started work, and Keira started school and we got a membership at Costco. Oh and we have visited the evil empires of Wal-Mart and Starbucks! I must say I do enjoy a vanilla, soy, decaf latte!
KEIRA'S FIRST DAY AT PRE-SCHOOL:
Keira is attending Escuela del Sol, a montessori school. Of course, she took to school immediately. It was Mum and Dad that had more of a hard time with their little girl being so grown up.
Everything is pretty much how we expected it to be. We knew it would be crazy and we are suffering from reverse culture shock. Being in crowded places and slammed with commercialism and so many people is overwhelming and soul wrenching at times. So far Keira and I have been coping with half days and then escape back home to recoup. Mike doesn’t have that luxury, as he was straight back to work the day after we arrived. But he is coping well.
On a POSITIVE note, and there are many. We have hot showers, a freestanding refrigerator, a microwave, a real kitchen, a sofa, a bathtub (having trouble getting Keira out of it), a dishwasher, and good healthy food with a huge selection. It has been fun watching Keira make the transition. She still is not use to putting toilet paper in the toilet, and is thrilled she can drink water straight from the tap and brush her teeth with tap water. She can now access the refrigerator so hasn’t stopped eating. Her facial expression and awe at seeing a dishwasher was priceless. It was like it was a mystical and magical object!
AND IN TRUE ALBUQUERQUE STYLE THERE ARE BALLOONS IN THE SKY!
I am sure it will take a few months to feel at home again. And to process some of the experiences we have had.
Now that Keira can access the refrigerator she has not stopped eating! And a big TV, wow!
Francesca's birthday party:
Keira also got to go to a birthday party, something she has not been able to do on the trip. She did create birthday parties for her stuffed animals along the way. We had cake, balloons and gifts but it wasn't quite the same as a real friend's birthday party.
It was incredible to be able to spend so much time together as a family, meet so many amazing people and see so many spectacular things. We had a lot of help to make this adventure happen and I wanted to take the time to thank a few people.
FIRSTLY and MOST IMPORTANTLY:
MY HUSBAND, MICHAEL, who put in hours of research to ensure Priscilla was equipped for the trip. He cooked for us, did the majority of the driving and took care of “his girls”. He also helped many fellow travelers and was a catalyst for gathering people together.
MY DAUGHTER KEIRA, who is an amazing little girl, so open to new experiences, so flexible and loving. She is my inspiration.
AND PRISCILLA- we love you Priscilla, you are a part of our family. Thank you for carrying us safely for so many months and for being our home. We promise we will get you all fixed up and give you a much-needed wash!
GEORGE AND JOHN (OUR MECHANICS AND FRIENDS) - thank you for the many hours you spent preparing Priscilla for the trip. She is an amazing vehicle and a great home, and you helped to make her that way.
ELIZABETH, TOM AND FAMILY- our USA support team. Thanks for being there for us, collecting our mail and providing us with a refuge and home when we need it most.
MARCO, MIRANDA AND FAMILY- thanks for coming to our aide during our initial car scandal, and for being our back up team. It was reassuring to know that if something went majorly wrong that you would be there.
AUSSIE TEAM- Thanks to family at home for taking care of our Aussie affairs. And to Pam and Clem for being supportive in spite of your concerns.
OUR VISITING FRIENDS- Lesley and Phil, the Mensink family and Murphy, thank you for coming to meet us and sharing a part of our experience. Special thanks to Nita and Kev for letting us crash their honeymoon so we could spend time together.
OUR FELLOW TRAVELERS AND FRIENDS: special thanks to Kaj, Carina, Jeff, Els and Gerrett who were our travelling companions for extended time periods. What great memories! To everyone else and you know who you are “thank you”. Thank you for helping us create such wonderful memories, and for playing with and being positive influences for Keira.
MIKE's WORK CLIENTS: thanks for being open to Mike working on the road. The extra funds certainly helped.
and of course we have to include our highlights/challenges just to complete the blog:
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF BEING HOME:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: our friends, and Priscilla
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- definately seeing friends; Keira- seeing all our friends but especially my best friends Brandy (a golden retriever) and James; Riss- seeing friends
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-returning to work when I was so tired; Keira- still dealing with being sick, but I am better now ; Riss- dealing with crowds, commercialism and western systems and rules
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-,Tom's cooked breakfasts in the mornings, I didn't want to leave; Keira- EVERYTHING, but especally cake pops, oh and John's french toast, it is the best; Riss- wow, healthy food options, gluten free foods
BEST CAMPING SPOT: staying at Liz and Toms, a haven and home when we need it most
Our door is always open.
The USA or Estados Unidos was a bittersweet transition for us. Crossing the border meant the end of our Central American adventure but is also meant we were closer to home. After a few weeks of being on the move, driving many long days, sickness and having to be on heightened alert we were relieved and happy to be crossing the border.
The last month had posed many challenges; a stolen camera, 2 bouts of sickness for Riss, kidney stones and Dengue for Mike, illness for Keira which she was still recovering from, car problems, corrupt police, 4 border crossings, and many long days of driving.
FINAL BORDER CROSSING TEXAS, USA
We crossed the border into the USA at Brownsville, Texas. The border officials were a little taken aback by our happy faces and our positive demeanor. But after explaining our trip they became increasingly friendly, apologizing that they would have to inspect our car. We were prepared for this and frankly would have been concerned if they hadn’t checked our vehicle after the places we had visited.
The officials were mostly looking for animal products, and fresh foods, and I am sure any illegal substance. We handed in some remaining food items and they confiscated a feather that Keira had collected in the back of a car seat. Then Priscilla went through an x-ray process. We briefly wondered whether the machetes Mike had got as gifts would be a problem, but we got the all clear.
There were a few yeepees and waahoos that echoed through the car and a few hands waved in the air as we drove onto US soil. Keira was very happy that this would be our last border crossing, as were we.
We still had a couple of long days of driving to do, and we continued past San Antonio, driving into the night before stopping at a budget hotel to get some hours of sleep.
As we drove we noticed many changes in our surroundings, which I jotted down in order to record our first impressions. Remember that when we crossed into the USA, we crossed the border into Texas so the “big” sightings really were “big”.
ALIENS AND NEW MEXICO
It was fun when we passed into New Mexico, again a few yeepees and waaahoos were expressed. We were then on familiar ground passing through Carlsbad and Roswell, towns we had visited on a previous long weekend trip. Keira was excited to see the alien statues in the streets.
ALBUQUERQUE- HOME AGAIN
As we got within 30 minutes of Albuquerque, we discussed all the places and animals we had seen, and all the wonderful people we had meet along the way. Wow! It really was an epic adventure with so many highlights, amazing experiences and challenges. It is hard to put it all into words.
I plan to write another blog entry when some time has passed; I have processed the trip and its impact on our lives.
We knew the next weeks would bring many of their own challenges as we re-established our “normal” lives. There would be a mixture of things being familiar but also a feeling of things being surreal.
But for now we were going to enjoy reuniting with friends, and enjoying foods and things we had missed.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: Priscilla – she made it home (just); she will now have a rest and we will get much-needed repairs done
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike-crossing the border to the USA- we did not need to be on our guard all the time; Keira- crossing the border to the USA- we were now closer to home and seeing my friends; Riss- definitely crossing the border, after all the challenges of the previous month, it was a huge relief.
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-long days of driving; Keira- the long drives; Riss- long days of driving
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-subway sandwiches, Keira- the huge selection of candy, I wanted one of everything, but Mum would not let me; Riss- nothing for me
BEST CAMPING SPOT: no camping, boo hoo!
MEXICO- BORDER CROSSING FROM GUATEMALA
Mexico would be our final country before heading back into the USA. We had a deadline of Sunday March 6th for arriving back in Albuquerque for Mike to start work on the Monday. The extra days at the Lake had put us a few days behind schedule, so we needed to do some long days of driving.
As we had discussed before this trip, the countries of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico would be the countries we would choose to spend less time in, so we could see the lower countries in Central America. We had already determined back then that another trip would be required to see these countries and would be easily doable from New Mexico.
The border crossing from Guatemala to Mexico was a little chaotic to say the least. Again the challenge is to find the buildings you need in order to complete your paperwork. Luckily as foreigners in a vehicle you stand out so much and it is so clear what you need that people usually direct you.
This time we had to complete our departure papers, and then pass under a barrier to the Mexico side to complete a preliminary inspection and to get Priscilla fumigated. Then we had to drive another 2 kilometers to complete immigration and our car paperwork for Mexico.
Our initial problems with shipping Priscilla out of the USA and into Argentina, came back to haunt us yet again. Our original car title had been stamped by US customs, I guess because our car had been exported out of the country. The Mexico official indicated this was a problem with getting our permit for Mexico because our title had been stamped. He told us that this paper would not be accepted by Mexico. After discussing the issue with him, he finally agreed to give us a permit based on the registration and indicated we should not show our title to officers in Mexico. We are not sure if this is in fact true, it definitely could be, but he may have been looking for a bribe too.
We were officially in Mexico with only one more border crossing to go. Hopefully the Car Title would not pose a problem getting into the USA. Only time would tell.
SCENES OF THE COUNTRYSIDE ON THE DRIVE:
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
Our first destination in Mexico was San Cristobal de Las Casas. Mike and I were interested to go back there again. We had visited San Cristobal in 1994 during the Chiapas uprising. The last time we were there we could hear artillery fire in the surrounding hills. There were military patrols everywhere, and the van we were in constantly got stopped for passport checks.
The town now is extremely different and besides a few landmarks the rest was unrecognizable. The atmosphere of the town has also changed, with a huge tourism focus. There are boutique shops, restaurants and cafes on 2 pedestrian walks around the plaza. We still enjoyed the town. We walked through the market making a few last minute purchases, and found some jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt for Keira. Like her shoes she has outgrown her winter clothing, which she had not worn since Patagonia days early in the trip. Again she was thrilled with her new clothes. It is amazing how the small things we usually take for granted mean so much now. Hopefully this will remain. Although as we progress closer to the USA the more commercialism we are faced with.
Around the chruch street performers were putting on shows. There were also people begging in the squares around the church. Some girls were weaving their wares right on the street where they were selling.
ENJOYNG SAN CRISTOBAL:
Keira was so excited about new clothes that she wore them out of the store.
The markets sold everything from regular clothing to masks, traditional dress and colorful kids toys.
Not camping means not being able to cook for ourselves which in turn means we eat out in restaurants more often. This is like a game of Russian roulette, not knowing how the food has been prepared and whether potable (clean) water has been used. We always try and choose restaurants that have a large clientele and preferably some locals eating there. On this trip even doing this has resulted in sickness.
On the morning we left San Cristobal I was sick again, and Keira followed with stomach problems 24 hours later. Once again we were thankful for our first aid kit. And thanks again to our Aussie doctor David Walder for having the hindsight to give us antibiotics for Keira in powder form which extended the life of the product. The medicine from Keira’s pediatrician had long expired.
We did a long day of driving and headed for the town of Casitas which was on the Gulf/Caribbean coast.
LOVE (AUTO) HOTELS:
We had heard from fellow travelers about “the Love Motels” that lined the streets in Mexico. We had begun to see these doted throughout some of the other countries we had visited but they definitely increased in frequency as we arrived in Mexico. The hotels are actually referred to as “auto” hotels. Since a lot of young people stay with their parents until they get married and because a lot of the residents are catholic, couples seek out places they can spend time together out of the public eye. (Also known as cheaters hotels according to Mike)
The rooms of the hotels are all on the second floor with room to park a vehicle underneath. There is a curtain that you pull across the garage space so your car cannot be seen. Fellow travelers had reported staying at the auto hotels and finding them to be very clean and good value.
We checked out a few options in the area and found the auto hotel to offer more for the money, $35 USD per night. Priscilla was a little tall for the garage so had to be parked on the driveway. It had a nice shower with stained glass, an “L shaped” sofa and an oddly shaped curved loveseat (???!!!), which Keira thought was a great slide!
Unfortunately long days of travel and a vomiting 5 year old was not conducive to our “love motel” experience!
We had 2 more long days of driving, nothing much to report. It has been really nice to be able to limit our use of technology on this trip, but having a sick child and lots of miles to cover, we were thankful we could “plug” Keira in for those days. She watched endless movies from her car seat.
As we progressed further into Mexico we were confronted with a lot of reminders of the western world, like an increase in the number of McDonalds, and Wal-Mart’s began to appear, as did a few Starbucks.
Mexico was over in a flash, 5 days only. We had no incidents at all driving through the country and found the people to be very friendly, and the roads to be in great condition. We saw many vehicles with soldiers standing in back, gun in hand as they patrolled the roads.
The majority of travelers, 99.9%, report no problems in Mexico. I have outlined some stories below that had given us some cause for concern. I wanted to relay these stories not to scare people at all, because we had no problems, but to make you aware of the issues we always have to consider when traveling in second and third world countries.
We took extra precautions for our peace of mind, and remained alert for potential problems. We stayed on toll roads when we could, kept our phones charged for GPS tracking and we kept friends posted of our daily whereabouts.
Like we said we had no problems and we hope to be able to visit and explore Mexico on another trip.
THE EDGE OF THE ROAD TO THE RIGHT OF THE WHITE LINE IS MEANT TO BE JUST THAT AN EDGE, HOWEVER IS MEXICO THEY USE IT AS ANOTHER LANE. IT IS INSANE
SO THIS IS HOW MIKE'S DRIVING AREA HAS LOOKED FOR THE PAST YEAR. LAUGHING BUDDHA AND GANESH (REMOVER OF OBSTACLES) HAVE BECOME A HANGING AREA FOR JEWELLERY, AND THE GEARSHIFT A HAIRTIE HOLDER!
Look for the next blog, which will focus on our reactions to returning to the “first world”.
STORIES AND ALERTS:
Most of the stories we had heard about Mexico were all very positive and actually Mexico was on every overlanders list for being one of their favorite countries. The negatives were merely about corrupt police who wanted bribes.
We had however heard several reports that made us concerned about driving through the country. Mostly people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
***A California family told us that whilst they were driving through Mexico going slowly over speed bumps, a car came out of nowhere with guns blazing and pulled over the car in front of them. The armed men pulled the people out of the car and into their own vehicle. The family kept their hands up in the air in their own vehicle, so the armed men did not see them as a threat. The car pulled alongside them, assessed their faces and then sped off. This was obviously gang related, but very scary.***
** An Australian couple we met in Antigua, who live in Mexico, told us a story that they had heard. A car of Mexicans and one foreigner crossed the border into Guatemala. Not too far from the border they were told to take a detour by 2 men dressed like policemen. Once they were off the road and out of site, a car sped up beside them, firing gunshots and an armed man climbed in their window. They were all told to get out of the car and were placed face down in a field. They took all their money and phones, except for the phone of the foreigner. They stole the car and left them there. Luckily, they could make a phone call to friends and one of the women had some money hidden. This was a second or third hand account so not sure how much was true. This incident had apparently occurred 1 month before we crossed this border.***
*** Whilst at migration exiting Guatemala, we talked to a Swiss woman who was riding a motorcycle. She warned us that the day before, locals who had formed a roadblock near a road works area had accosted her. They demanded money and when she tried to drive on, they pulled her off her bike and beat her with sticks. Luckily she had a helmet on and a protective motorcycle jacket.***
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA::
MOST VALUED POSSESION: first aid kit
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- shopping for my girls/watching how excited Keira was getting new clothes; Keira- watching endless movies; Riss- shopping in the markets/having a last day of just “being” in a foreign city
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-long days of driving; Keira- being sick; Riss- being sick and Keira being sick
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- nothing stands out, Keira- a cake pop; Riss- missing Mikes cooking; we would use our rice cooker in hotels/hostels to prepare rice to which we would add raw/tin veggies
BEST CAMPING SPOT: hotels only
LAKE ATITLAN: getting there
We had heard about an awesome overlander place on Lake Atitlan, near San Marcos run by a Frenchman Pierre. The drive there was really interesting as we began to see the indigenous people with the women in traditional dress. Around the Lake were small villages and farming communities.
There was a rough patch of road that was gravel with major potholes we had to negotiate. It was very bumpy but Keira still managed to sleep through the whole thing. Only later did we find out from Pierre that this section of road is known for robberies. When you think about it, it is the perfect place, isolated, and cars going slow so easy to intercept.
We encountered no problems. Maybe the fact that we always wave out the windows to people we pass and have smiling faces helps? Or maybe the thieves had their quota for the week!
PASAJ CAP- SAN MARCOS
Pierre’s place, Pasaj Cap, was incredible. He has an amazing property on Lake Atitlan with 12 assorted villas for rent, both short term and long term rentals, and several beautiful and well set up sites for overlanders to park their vehicles and stay. There were hammock and lounge chair areas with amazing lake views, clean toilets and a hot shower. The place has its own dock from which you can hail the public water taxis to take you to various locations on the Lake.
It was just what we needed for a couple of days rest, and a chance to repack the car (to safely stow our purchases) before the final push through Mexico to the USA.
On our second morning, Mike awoke feeling fine, but as he got out of the tent, he was hit with an excruciating pain in his lower back and abdomen. The pain continued to intensify to the point that he could no longer walk and he was vomiting from the pain. He was ghost white. Mike can usually tolerate a good deal of pain, so by his state, I knew it was bad.
After consulting with a nurse Kathy who was also staying at Pierre’s, we ruled out appendicitis and believed it was kidney stones. Our concern was that the stone might be too large to pass without medical intervention. When the pain got unbearable we decided that we needed to make the 5-hour drive into Guatemala City for medical attention. Pierre was incredible providing us with information for a reputable urologist, making us an appointment and securing a vehicle and driver to take us there.
The journey was a challenge as the roads were rough and winding. Mike felt every bump. We were lucky to have strong painkillers in our first aid kit that helped some. On the way Keira was suffering from carsickness so had to sit on my lap in the front seat. We believe Mike passed the stone on the way into Guatemala.
The Urologist spoke English and was straight forward, sending immediately for labs. The results did in fact show another kidney stone, but the doctor was unable to tell its size. We opted for medications to help with the process.
The driver, Tono, was great. He waited 2 hours for us, until 7pm, so we could drive back to the Lake that night. It took us 2 hours to clear traffic through Guatemala City. He drove safely and carefully. And luckily both Keira and Mike were able to sleep on the drive.
We finally returned at midnight, totally exhausted.
We decided to stay on another 2 days, so Mike could rest and be in a comfortable place whilst the medication did its work.
It was a hell of an experience, but it is amazing what you can cope with when you have to. Our daughter was amazing as usual, and so patient.
On our last day at the Lake we took a boat ride to 2 of the towns on the Lake, San Pedro and San Marcos. We enjoyed walking in the markets and through the towns.
We were sad to leave Pierre’s. He has an incredible place and is a wonderful host. If anyone is ever considering a vacation in Guatemala, please contact us and we will share Pierre’s information or go to http://www.pasajcap.com.
STREET SCENES FROM THE MARKETS IN SAN MARCOS. ILLUSTRATING THE TRADITIONAL DRESS OF THE WOMEN AND THE POPULAR COWBOY HATS OF THE LOCAL MEN
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: money for bribes/hydrocodone and a zip lock bag
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- Pierre’s hospitality; Keira- swinging in the hammock looking at the Lake; Riss- being at the Lake
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike- passing kidney stones/corrupt cops; Keira- being car sick/Daddy being in pain; Riss- the drive into Guatemala city/not knowing where Mike was when he didn’t return after paying the fine
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- none really, not focused on food/did have average Chinese food, Keira- Daddy’s pancakes; Riss- Mike’s cooking
BEST CAMPING SPOT: definitely Pierre’s place
Guatemala was the country of dengue fever, kidney stones, poo samples and police arrests. Oh, there was a colonial town and a lake in there somewhere.
We crossed the border near Copan ruins in Honduras into Guatemala. We did our usual early morning crossing with a smooth transition, well as smooth as any border crossing can go.
We made a stop along the way to get Priscilla’s exhaust fixed at a Toyota dealer. A mount had broken many months ago, and Mike had been doing backyard mechanics to hold it in place. The staff was very accommodating, and we were on the road again. Take a read of the funny story below.
KEIRA: THE CHARMS OF A LITTLE GIRL
So to set the scene: Keira and I were standing outside a Toyota dealer/service center in Guatemala, when a heavily armored truck arrived. You know the ones that come to pick up money from businesses and securely transport the money to banks?
Keira and I were about to walk back into the building but decided to wait as 2 armed guards were stationed either side of the doorway. Keira said “Hola” in her innocent little voice and gave them a timid wave. The 2 grown man with guns melted on the spot, and started waving back and saying Hola to her. This continued as they got back into the truck, and they all waved goodbye to her through the little tiny windows/gun slots.
SECURITY GUARDS EVERYWHERE:
We completed bypasses around the capitol, Guatemala City with our doors locked and on high alert.
In Guatemala every business has their own security guards that are carrying shotguns. They are posted outside businesses all over the place. Imagine our surprise though when we saw 2-armed guards riding shotgun on a water delivery truck!
Really necessary? Must be, but strange all the same. It has been said that water will be the new gold.
Our destination for 2 nights was the old colonial city of Antigua. The cities location is quite spectacular. 2 volcanoes, one of which was active, surround it. From the rooftop of our hotel we could see the smoke billowing from the volcano’s crater.
Antigua is a beautiful town, with cobbled streets, churches and the usual plazas that are a trademark of Sth and Central America. It reminded us of other towns we had been in, like Cusco and Granada, but a little shabbier. We enjoyed walking in the city, and completed some shopping, adding once again to our chocolate and coffee collection. We also bought cool masks, and a doll for Keira’s international doll collection.
Street scenes and pics taken around the Plaza
Returning from our shopping jaunt, our car that we thought was parked legally had a wheel lock on. Mike then did something wrong (as Mike sometimes does) and was “unofficially” arrested by the Guatemala police. He was taken to pay the parking fine but was not released. He was driven out of the city where the police demanded a bribe for his release. One and a half hours later after paying a portion of the bribe the police were insisting on, he was returned to the hotel. Not an occurrence we wish to repeat! Police corruption at its best!
Whilst in Antigua we decided to get a final check for parasites to make sure we were clear before going home. This was a very simple and inexpensive process. Obtain containers, get a sample, take it to the lab and an hour later the results are ready. All for the grand total of $4 USD each! What is wrong the medical system in first world countries? Results were all negative, all clear!
CRAZY TUK TUK RIDE:
We took a tuk tuk around the town, which was quite a ride. The cobbled streets make for a pretty rough and loud journey.
There were more chocolate establishments in town and it was fun to watch them making chocolates. And of course we had to sample some!
Markets and weavers:
Some of the items at the markets, all very colorful.
**********ANTIGUA was definately a place we will remember for better or worse.********
Our last night in Nicaragua proved to be a challenge, not only was our camera stolen but the night was sleepless with the locals blaring their Saturday night tunes and with me spending the night in the bathroom.
We still managed to get moving at the early hour of 5 am, so we could cross the border to Honduras. We had heard reports of it taking several hours to complete the paperwork at either end.
The exit from Nicaragua and entry to Honduras all went smoothly and we were through within 1½ hours. By this stage I was feeling extremely nauseas again and incredibly tired from no sleep. We headed to the first main town and checked into a hotel at 9am, and spent most of the day in bed. Keira loved it as she got to watch movies all day and in a real bed!
Suspecting giardia again, I completed a course of tinadazole and felt better by the end of the following day.
Mike once again having pressures of work, required several days in one location to work. We arrived early than expected in Gracias, a small colonial town in western Honduras. The roads were unrepentantly very good, that means paved with only a few potholes.
Deciding that we needed to rest up in comfort and requiring decent wifi, we sort out and found a great hotel. The rooms were comfortable, with nice décor; there were hammocks, a restaurant and beautiful gardens.
The following day we were very happy that we made this choice as Mike presented with a body rash, fever, aching joints and fatigue. Dengue? Zika? Cinchagunya? Or a Virus? We still don’t know what it was but treatment for all the above is rest and fluids, so that is what Mike did. He did continue to work to meet approaching deadlines.
Keira and I took a few walks through the town, took some time to catch up on homeschooling tasks and also rested.
We did discover a wonderful restaurant that did incredible wings, potato wedges and frozen mojitos!
CRAZY THINGS YOU SEE:
There are so many bizarre things that we see throughout our day, usually when we don't have a camera handy to record them, so we take a mental picture. Here is a couple of things I did manage to capture on film:
TOP LEFT AND RIGHT: Typical electrics in Sth and Central America, wires going everywhere
BELOW: a truck piled high with grass, trucks are always overloaded with goods and people
LA CAMPA- POTTERY
The morning we left we visited a nearby town famous for pottery. There was a festival in progress with a lot of stalls selling various sweet treats, clothing and gadgets. We tasted a coconut ice that was delicious but very sweet.
After looking at a couple of pottery vendors we came upon a family run little pottery business. The pottery is all hand made and incredibly cheap. The oldest member of the family was incredibly sweet, so we made quite a few purchases from her. I always like buying from and supporting people who you have a connection with and who have personality. We shared life stories in Spanish, laughed a lot and shared food. We spent about $50 USD and got about 12 items, including a big jug.
The grand daughter, ten years old, was selling pottery necklaces that she had made. She was so excited to sell 2 necklaces to us.
This was a really wonderful experience and now we have some beautiful pottery pieces that have required some creative packing to get into Priscilla.
COPAN RUINAS - the town itself
Copan Ruinas was our next destination. The main purpose of our visit was to see the Mayan ruins of Copan. The town itself although small, caters to tourism with many hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops. We added some more coffee to our growing coffee collection.
THE COPAN RUINS- THE MAYAN KINGDOM
The Copan Ruins have been on our “to do” list since we visited Palenque and Tulum in the Yucatan Peninsula 20 years ago.
The Ruins are incredible and we had an amazing day exploring the grounds, temples, tunnels and museums. It is overwhelming to sit on the steps of one of the pyramid temples and think that the Mayan people lived and worked there so many years ago. It is really moving.
Over the years the jungle has encroached on the ruins, with tree roots growing throughout the structures. This adds to its mystic.
We arrived at the ruins early so literally had the place to ourselves.
Many of the original statues and artifacts have been moved indoors to a large museum at the site in order to preserve them. The craftsmanship is spectacular.
An extra treat at the ruins is the macaws that live in the trees. They are domesticated so are unafraid of people. They swoop over your heads and walk on the ground around your feet.
They add to the jungle atmosphere, and are just fun to watch!
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THE AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: hotel rooms to rest up in
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- seeing the Copan ruins; Keira- seeing the macaw parrots and the pyramids; Riss- visiting the Copan ruins, a place on our bucket list/buying pottery from the family in La Campa
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-being sick; Keira- Mom and Dad being sick; Riss- crossing a border whilst sick
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- chicken wings/potato wedges, Keira- grape flavored dairy free ice cream; Riss- chicken wings/potato wedges and frozen mojitos
BEST CAMPING SPOT: no camping, but loved having a real bed, bathroom, and good wifi
I will have to post this blog at a later date, as unfortunately we lost all our photos from here and I am awaiting photos from friends.
Will let you know when I get it done.
Post Leon, we headed to a beach area at Jiquillio on the north east Pacific coast of Nicaragua. We actually ended up spending time there on two seperate occasions, so I will complete one blog following this one.
Unfortunately, as I have stated before, our camera was stolen, and we lost quite a lot of photos from this area of the trip. The ones we do have are compliments of Mike's phone and from Britt and Fiona, 2 fellow travelers who were kind enough to share their photos with us.
Matagalpa is a small village in the mountains of Nicaragua. It is an area that produces coffee, cacao and handicrafts. The drive there took us through varied terrain, from the dry coast to the lush countryside and mountains.
We headed to Finca Esperanza in the mountains above Matagalpa. The Finca is beautiful and lush, with hiking trails, a garden and coffee crops. We were able to camp in the parking area and utilize the facilities and common areas. It was a great place to relax and it was nice to have cool mornings and nights after the heat of the coast.
Whilst there we completed a couple of hiking trails, and generally relaxed. We met Britt, a very dynamic and free spirited American who was working at the Finca and teaching yoga.
We also spent time with Fiona, an intelligent, well rounded and impressive individual who is an engineer at NASA, who had spent a year teaching english in Nicaragua and had returned to visit her collegues and friends and to explore some more of Nicaragua. She has promised to show us around the Houston Space Centers mission control, when we can arrange a visit there. Definately on our "to do" list.
A definate highlight was finding a red eyed green tree frog in the trees at the Finca. Keira got to hold it, which was an amazing experience. She is so brave, and was not phased at all when it jumped on her face! She simply took it off and laughed.
THE FOLLOWING BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS WERE TAKEN BY FIONA: THANK YOU
RED EYED GREEN TREE FROG:
A definate highlight was finding a red eyed green tree frog in the trees at the Finca. Keira got to hold it, which was an amazing experience. She is so brave, and was not phased at all when it jumped on her face! She simply took it off and laughed.
AHHHH!! We finally got to do a chocolate tour at El Castillo del Cacao (the castle of chocolate). The factory is owned by 3 foreigners, but run by 2 local women who produce 300 bars of chocolate a day. We learnt all about the chocolate making process. Many steps at this small operation are still completed by hand with minimal machines. The bags are individually cut with scissors and the labels are pasted on with a glue stick! Keira was able to help with glueing a label on a bar. And of course the best part was the chocolate tasting and getting to buy bars of chocolate. We did buy some chocolate for presents but sorry these will not be making it back!
SOMOTO CANYON is a beautiful canyon through which winds the Coco river.
Our visit to the Canyon was somewhat limited due to most of the canyon being only accessible by swimming through the cold water of the river and through long bouts of hiking. Keira would have been able to do this, but we questioned how enjoyable it would have been for her. So instead we did a short walk, a boat ride and scaled some rocks to access the first part of the canyon. We found a beautiful waterhole to swim in. It was really cold but refreshing and we had the place to ourselves.
The unfortunate thing was that a huge amount of garbage has collected around the first part of the canyon. We were so disappointed. You are unable to go into the depths of the canyon without a guide, and the guides have established a co-operative. We would have hoped that they would clean up the garbage, to protect the area and their livelihood.
We camped one night in the area of the canyon, on a beautiful grassy patch right by the river. It was very tranquil, and the stars at night were spectacular.
CHANGE OF PLANS:
Our plan had been to cross the border into Honduras from Somoto Canyon, however Mike had received a lot of work from the USA which was great, but he required 7- 10 days of solid work time.
Honduras was an unknown for us. We would have 3-4 days of long travel to get to a secure location and Mike had a deadline to meet. We did not know how much internet access we would have which is essential for Mike's work. We needed to be somewhere that would be safe for Keira and I, and somewhere that we could entertain ourselves for 7-10 days whilst Mike worked.
After a lengthy discussion we decided to head back to Jiquillilo to Rancho Esperanza which met all of our criteria for the next 10 days.
DRIVING IN THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES:
We left the canyon around noon, and stopped in Esteli to grocery shop, and upgrade our "claro" data plans. We had about 5-6 hours of driving and knew that the last part of the trip would be driven in the dark.
One of our rules for the trip is "not to drive at night" and we take this seriously. We have only driven at night about 5 times on this trip, and it has been out of necessity and usually for just an hour after sunset.
We discussed our options and decided to drive through, knowing it would be only 1 hour of night time driving and that it was on familiar roads.
We made excellent time, and were only an hour away when darkness hit. By that time we were on country roads, so less traffic. What we had to be alert about was the endless bicycles hugging the edge of the road, the people wandering along the road edges on their way home, all of whom were dressed in dark colors and some of whom were obviously drunk. It was definitely a tiring drive.
We were so pleased to be back at Rancho Esperanza and we were welcomed by friends we met on our previous visit.
LEON VIEJO (OLD):
Leon Viejo is the old city founded in 1524 but abandoned a century later in 1610 after being hit by a series of earthquakes. The city was then buried under volcanic ash when Volcano Momotombo erupted. We made a detour to visit the ruins on our way to Leon city. There wasn't a lot to look at, but it was interesting to see the roofs of the houses that are now just above ground.
NOTE: OUR CAMERA WAS STOLEN AT THE BEACH ( WILL FILL YOU IN LATER REGARDING THIS) AND WE LOST A LOT OF OUR PHOTOS, WE WERE LUCKY THAT MIKE HAD TAKEN A FEW PHOTOS ON HIS PHONE OF THIS AREA.
Leon was founded in 1610 when old Leon was abandoned. The city served as the capitol during the colonial period. It is similar in some ways to Granada but less touristy and many of the buildings remain unrenovated. It is also very hot.
We were lucky to find a hostel with a pool. We enjoyed walking around the streets for the afternoon. We visited a french bakery recommended by fellow travelers that was actually very disappointing. The cakes were average as were the lunches, not our favorite french bakery of the trip!
BASILICA DE LA ASUNCION - CATEDRAL
The other highlight was visiting the cathedral and walking on its roof. Strange you may think and we did also until we did it. The cathedral itself does not look particualrly special from the ground, but once on the roof, the starkness of its white domes and the shadows they create make it beautiful.
You have to remove your shoes to complete the walk so as not to mark the paintwork, but in return the soles of our feet were covered in white dust.
At this point we were done with being in towns and were anxious to return to the coast. We stocked up on supplies and a "claro" (phone company in Central/Sth America) card for data so we could access internet and headed to Playa (beach) Jiquilillo, and Rancho Esperanza, where stayed for about 5 days and then returned for an additional 11 days.
CLASSIC QUOTE FROM KEIRA:
" DAD WILL YOU STOP STEALING MY INTERNET!" - In many hostels your ability to access the internet and the speed of downloads is affected by how many other people are using the internet at the time. Mike and Keira often compete for internet when we are at hostels.
We have learned a sneaky trick of locating the router in a hostel and secretly turning it off and back on again to kick other people off!! Thanks for that trick Gerrett!!
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.