Sometimes it feels as if we're letting our guidebook and the iOverlander app dictate our trip. They're both incredibly handy but they often seem to lead down an invisible predestined trail, so well trodden by the travelers before us that its deep indentations in the earth prevent us from veering off.
After Las Pozas and Aguas Calientes, it seemed right to stick with the inadvertent river theme we had developed and head to Semuc Champey. It is by far one of the highlights of Guatemala's natural beauty, one of those places that is difficult to describe, and pictures don't easily do it justice.
Oso, with his wavy blond hair and piercing brown eyes, is quite the handsome bloke. He spend's half his time with his front paws in our laps, and the other half whimpering over his unrequited love for Malta. This charming pup is one of the reasons that we stay longer than planned at this camp spot
Back in the spring we popped over to Guatemala for a few days so we could reset our visas in Mexico. That nearly ended in disaster, with us stuck between borders for several days. I hate to say it, because I want to love every country we go to, but for whatever reason we weren't all that impressed.
The Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is very flat. Most of Belize, which is pretty much part of the same landmass, is very flat. With so many new things to see and do all the time, I don't miss home all that often, but I do find myself missing mountains. Sometimes I just need something, other than a tree, to break up the horizon. Maybe it makes the world seem a little more manageable.
“Well....shit just got real”, is the thought that goes through my head as Pete, Karin and the family we've rented this cabin from begin to board up the windows. Two days ago, along with our friends Sunny and Karin, we were whiling our days away on a beach with not a worry in the world, when we start hearing reports of a tropical storm headed towards the Belizean coast.
The Hummingbird Highway is supposed to be the most scenic road in Belize, and....well, it is. It was our first foray in to the “mountains” here, and while they're small they are definitely not lacking in beauty. The area was reminiscent of the mountains near our home in Tennessee, except with palm trees.
Pastel toned houses on long, lanky stilts......clear blue water....the creole language heard around every corner....tasty, cut-rate lobster....superb snorkeling and diving....narrow, golf cart traveled streets made of sand....and fruity rum drinks all day, everyday, make the tiny island off the coast of Belize seem about as “Caribbean” as it can get.
For such a small country, there sure is a lot to do in Belize. Within just a few days you can see ancient Mayan ruins, an anachronistic Mennonite community, and a zoo full of rescued tropical animals that we'll probably never have the fortune to see in the wild.
After our somewhat disastrous first night camping in Belize, we were really hoping for a better second one. Fryjacks were a good start. After asking around about a good place for breakfast in Corozal, we were told we should try Joe Malins. When the guy that recommended the place saw us again ten minutes later, obviously lost, he offered to lead us there on his bike.
Damnable borders crossings, this whole driving through Central and South America thing would be way easier if we didn't have to deal with the bureaucracy , but without an illegal stealthy entrance on a tiny dirt road or forging a river there's no way getting around them. At least this time we'll have company.
I swear, one of these days we really will move on with our trip and stop lounging on beaches. Maybe after Belize? For now though there's just too many to choose from. The small village of Punta Allen sits at the end of a long narrow peninsula in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve south of Tulum.
The Yucatan Peninsula and its pristine, post-card-ready Caribbean beaches are the reason we extended our stay in Mexico. Shortly after we arrive our enthusiasm fades. The camping options are expensive, which we expected, but no one seems to want us. We, along with our friends, are turned away from several spots for various reasons, so the last three weeks are spent away from our camper in an apartment; time we thoroughly enjoyed, but not what we wanted our stop here to solely consist of.
Even though we are incredibly lucky and even more thrilled to be doing what we're doing, living on the road in a small camper comes with its own set of stresses and challenges. Doing it in a foreign country with an unfamiliar language and customs just adds to that. And although we have been moving at a snail's pace, we still felt like we needed to just stand still for a little while and decompress. We'd been looking forward to the Yucatan Peninsula the whole trip so it seemed a likely place to stop.
The hardest thing about this trip is being away from my family, particularly my parents. It's quite the change from my nomadic, egomaniacal twenty-year-old self that wanted nothing more than to be far away from home. I would wander for long spells only thinking to call them every couple months and gracing them with my highly annoying “I'm more worldly than you” presence once a year.
Since reading about the Mexican state of Chiapas, known for its natural beauty, I've been daydreaming about its landscapes being swathed in the blues and greens of its numerous waterfalls and lush jungles. Unfortunately because of our lengthy border crossing debacle we have less than two weeks to explore the entire region before family come to visit us in the Yucatan.
Sitting in the truck at the southern most Mexico/Guatemala border I'm staring intently at the customs building, not daring to take my eyes of its darkly tinted front doors. I'm waiting for Pete to reappear so I can read the expression on his face. Will he be smiling or wearing the same expression he's worn for days, the one that emulates despondency and frustration?
To say that we're going slower than we planned would be an understatement. In fact, we're moving so slow we think we've coined a new term; sloverlanding. We figured we had enough money to stay on the road for about a year and a half. South America is huge, and we wanted plenty of time to explore, so we gave ourselves six to seven months to get through Mexico and Central America. Five months into the trip and we're still in Mexico. And to make matters worse we still don't want to leave. We love this country.
Our seemingly insatiable search for calm, warm blue water and talcum powder sand is over. We've surprisingly found it at Playa San Augustin on the Oaxacan coast. A coast we almost skipped because, from what we'd researched, the water was more suitable for experienced surfers than beer clutching, lackadaisical swimmers.
For most of our time in Asia we traveled by public transportation. We took boats, trains, buses, tuk-tuks, the backs of motorcycles, and pedi-cabs. It wasn't until we rented a motorcycle for three weeks in Lao that we truly discovered the joy of having your own transportation to be able to explore at will. It's partially what inspired us to do the trip we're on now.
It's obvious we have arrived at Teotitlan de Valle. Displayed rugs hang from almost every house and store front; their once vivid colors muted by long days exposed to the sun. We've come to this famous weaving village to replace the rugs in our camper.
We've been carrying our backpacking gear with us for months and I was starting to wonder if we'd ever use it. We found the perfect opportunity outside of Oaxaca. High in the mountains, there is a group of small villages that have joined together to form an eco-tourism collective called the Pueblos Mancomunados.
After a week in Guanajato we weren't ready for another city so we just spent an afternoon in Oaxaca checking out the main plaza. We were more interested in the natural beauty that Oaxaca state has to offer.
Driving around in a self contained camper means we can stay just about anywhere that feels safe and we don't think we'll get kicked out of. Here in Mexico, that's a lot of places. But the internet being what it is, we end up spending a lot of time chasing pictures. We'll see a fellow traveler's blog or Instagram post and think, “Whoa, that place looks amazing! Where is that?”
I may have mentioned that we aren't really crazy about cities. Especially huge metropolises like Mexico City. Unfortunately, heading south from Guanajato, it seemed to be smack dab in the way of anywhere we wanted to go. Luckily, the ruins of Teotihuacan are thirty miles outside the city with a conveniently located RV park in the small town of San Juan Teotihuacan just minutes away.
Natasha and I aren't much of city people. We're typically more at home on top of a mountain or on a deserted beach miles from civilization. That being said, there are a few cities that we've been excited to see ever since we started our trip. Guanajato is one of them
Driving north the landscape changes drastically, trees and mountains increasing in size as we gain altitude and head towards the mountain town Tapalpa. Without knowledge of any spots in town we chose to camp a short drive away at ….....which turned out to be the home of a paragliding school,
Well we can't live on a beach forever. It was time to give up our search for the perfect playa for a while and enjoy some mountains. We headed inland towards the city of Colima and the giant volcano that looms above it. At over 12,000 feet you can see the Volcán de Fuego from just about everywhere for miles around.
While in San Pancho, we heard an enchanting tale about a protected bay with placid, translucent water where the snorkeling was excellent and one could most certainly catch their dinner if they could figure out the mysteries of the Hawaiian Sling. Being on a never ending search for the perfect beach, we were intrigued.
With feet outstretched on the sidewalk, we lazily drink our morning coffee, sitting on what has recently become our front porch, the town square curb . Directly behind us are the public bathrooms we've partially commandeered and down the street, at a fishmonger's house, is where we pay ten pesos to use his outdoor shower.
Since having arrived in mainland Mexico, we've experienced the change from dry desert days with cool nights to the sultry tropical heat and humidity that never quite abates as the sun goes down. Driving is different too. Instead of narrow two-lane Mexico 1 that traverses Baja, we're now driving on two-and-a-half-lane highways. It's an interesting concept, as long as everyone on the road is paying attention.
Chris and Jenn have suggested we do a car tour of Mazatlan. Usually Pete and I steer away from anything with the word tour in it because, in our minimal experience, they're pricey, occasionally fabricated and frankly... they seem a little to touristy. Since Pete was temporarily indisposed and most likely wanted to be left alone; I decided to go with everyone.
As if something sinister awaits us; we drive off the ferry with trepidation, securing our expensive belongings, locking our truck doors, and readying our mace that's been hidden away in the depths of our camper. Even though we know better, we've let the warnings of a few and the sensationalized media stories of violence and crime in mainland Mexico seep into our subconcious.
At long last, it's time to take the ferry to mainland Mexico. We're elated to finally be on our way, but the excitement we're feeling is tempered by a nervous apprehension. Try as we might, it's hard not to let all the warnings we've heard get into our heads, even though we know that with a little caution and common sense that Mexico can be as safe as just about anywhere.
We've been driving around southern Baja trying to figure out where to stay when the parts for our truck finally come in. We've checked out quite a few beaches, the mountains, and several cities and towns. We even considered renting a house or apartment, but realized it wasn't quite in the budget.
The parts are here!! After such a long wait, it's hard to believe that we can finally take the truck to the shop and start the repairs. But that means we have to remove the camper. I've done this dozens of times since we bought it, and, while a little time consuming, it's usually a pretty simple process. This time though there are several complications.
A fellow traveler we recently ran into equated meeting other overlanders to speed dating. After the first 10 minutes of asking the easy question of “What did you do before you quit your job, hopped in a vehicle and decided to drive around the world?” is out of the way, the not so easy question of “Why?” is usually next. This seems to quickly lead to a much deeper discussion of people's world views or a personal life changing event.
There are several things that I didn't even realize that I've been missing on this trip; mountains, fresh water and quiet. As you traverse Baja, the mountains are ever present in the background and you even cross them a few times on the highway. But so far we've hopped from beach to beach all the way down the peninsula without stopping to really check them out..
This is my favorite spot yet. I say this every time we come to a new beach camp, but this time I mean it. We're tucked in behind head high bushes that block the wind and give us a fair amount or privacy. The people before us, or before them, built a fire pit using a wheel well. There's a makeshift alter; neatly stacked rocks topped with a candle and covered with smaller rocks and shells added by the camp's various inhabitants over the years.
The elusive Sipac has arrived in La Paz! After over a month of waiting for this form; it took all of two hours to take it to the other driver's insurance company, have them issue the paperwork we need, go to a shop, have our car looked at by the mechanic and get the parts ordered.
White sand beaches, periwinkle water and 70 degree weather is fantastic, but it didn't really inspire the holiday spirit in us. Being thousands of miles away from our family didn't help either. We were both rather unenthusiastic about the impending holidays.
Everything is just a little harder when you're in a foreign country. Going to the grocery store, the laundromat or the gas station all present their own challenges at first, but eventually you become accustomed to how things work. Getting in a car wreck and dealing with the aftermath are in a league of their own.
We are ¼ mile down a dirt road parked feet from the turqiouse water of Playa Escondida on Bahia Concepcion. There are no alarm clocks, no name badges or uniforms, no one calling my name to tell me someone needs me or that I have a phone call.
I feel a little naive, but I never bothered researching what the climate of northern Baja is like in the winter. It's cold. Not cold like Minnesota, or even our home in East Tennessee. But when you're expecting to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt and it's in the forties (farenheit) at night, it can be a little jarring.
As difficult as it was to leave our new friends at Live Different, we were a little anxious to be on the road again. After spending the morning getting our camper door pounded into shape by Carlos, we got a late afternoon start so we didn't really make it very far...about an hour down the road.
It's taken us a long time to try to write this post. This one really needed some thought. How do you eloquently put into into words the kindness of strangers? Not only do they work for the non-mission based, humanitarian relief organization, Live Different, but Andrew, Dawn, and Anthony randomly stopped to check on us after our wreck.
It starts out as another normal day on the road. We have a nice short drive planned; about 3 hours or so down to San Quintin. We're already dreaming of the crab we'd planned on having for Thanksgiving dinner when we come across a jeep stopped in the middle of the highway. I have to brake pretty hard to avoid running into him and the first thought through my head is, “I sure hope there's nobody behind me”.
As we leave our southern California camp spot at 8 am I feel a little nauseated...I'm nervous this morning. We keep hearing negative things about the Tijuana border crossing. Countless people have told us we would be better off crossing at Tecate. Countless more people have told us that we need to get away from the border as fast as possible. I usually don't take heed of such warnings, but there's been so many of them that its starting to wear on me.
For a couple years now, while working grueling hours and forsaking all fun to save every penny; we have been imagining the sand of a secluded Baja beach between our toes and a Sol beer in our hand. Apparently Baja gets busy in December and we hope to have a little solitude, if only for a few days. This is why we are blazing through the United States.
This trip has been years in the making. There's been countless hours of research, planning and overtime. Countless dollars saved, spent and saved again. The last few weeks have been a frenzy of truck and camper modifications, packing, moving and unpacking.
We decided months ago to leave our to dogs with my parents on their farm. Fitz, our 90 pound behemoth of a pup, is fiercely protective and doesn't like strangers. This isn't his fault. Pete and I are unsocial creatures and didnt get him out and about when he was little. Malta, Fitz's smaller more genial sister would stay at home because we couldn't imagine separating them,
I didn't grow up off-roading and this is the first four-wheel drive vehicle I've ever owned. So when I started looking at overland forums about what gear to take on this trip I had a lot to learn. We're not really sure how much hardcore off-road driving we plan on doing, but we definitely want to get off the paved roads to explore.
There's some long stretches of road in Central and South America where gas stations are few and far between so we decided we need a jerry can. The tricky part was figuring out where the hell to put it and how to mount it.
One of the things about this trip that I am most looking forward to is slowing down and enjoying things that we haven't been able to do lately. That includes cooking. We'll have a full (albeit tiny) kitchen in our camper.
We realize that not everywhere in Central and South America has unsafe drinking water. But we also know that many places do. We didn't like the idea of chemical sanitizers like bleach or buying all of our drinking water. So we needed some sort of filtration system.
Pete and I are both pasty white so have a space where we can hang outside and be protected from the sun was a must. Lately we've been thinking in terms of costs for camper/truck modifications vs. lengthening our trip. The less money we spend;the longer we get to travel.
Last time we were in Bajathe temperature reached 107 degrees so we thought it might be a good idea to get a second Fantastic Fan. We had read on another overlander’s blog that the Four Wheel Campers were prewired for this. We contacted Four Wheel and they confirmed it.
The second project we decided to undertake was putting in a new floor. The old floor was fine. It was the original vinyl floor Four Wheel Camper installs. It had a few scratches here and there but was perfectly functional. Regardless, we decided to replace it.
Since we've decided to do this overlandig trip we keep running across this saying from other camper owners. It's really starting to sink in that this will be our only tiny house for over a year and we want to make it as homey as possible.
Deciding we wanted to take a 15 month road trip from Tennessee to Argentina was the easy part. Deciding what we wanted to live in was the hard part. We knew wanted a truck camper from the start, but there are SO many companies and SO many opinions.