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Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner
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Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner on 11/07/2011 02:22:50 MST Print View

Since we all seem to dig the same stuff around here, I invite you guys to follow along on my PanAm trip, We are camping in the back of 4runner and backpacking around wherever we please.

Howdy folks! Figured it was about time to get this thread going. After saving and planning this trip for the past 3 years, Lauren and I are set to leave TODAY for the first leg of our Pan-American journey.

We are leaving from San Francisco to travel back to our home-state of Florida to say adios to our family and friends, from there we will trek back to Texas and cross the border into Mexico. DESTINATION: USHUAIA, ARGENTINA :bowdown:

We have no set plans, No real set destination other than getting to the bottom. Our timeline for the trip is at least 1 year. We are planning to extend the trip by hooking up with volunteer organizations, couchsurfing, and house-sitting when possible. We have modified my 87 4Runner into a quasi-camper with most of the luxuries of home. ie: Bed, Stove, Shower, 110v etc.

The truck is fitted to tackle some serious off-roading, we look forward to exploring tons of backroads and trails all up and down Central/South America. Any suggestions on places to go, people to see, beers to drink will be appreciated!

I am still waiting to pick up our truck from the 4x4 shop today where they are mounting a rear-swingout for 2 jerry cans, Our lease is up and my last day of work was yesterday so we are OUTTA HERE as soon as we get the truck.

We are going to take about 2 weeks or so to drive from Northern California to Florida. Lauren has never seen much of Utah, Nevada, Colorado so I believe we will be journeying that way. We plan to just look at the atlas and pick out national/state parks/monuments/forests to camp at along the way. Again we are open to ANYTHING so throw up your suggestions.


Here is our blog with more information, feel free to subscribe and follow us on the facebook

Home on the Highway | Our adventures driving the Pan-Am.


Edited by defrag4 on 11/07/2011 02:26:12 MST.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
update1 on 11/07/2011 02:28:57 MST Print View

November 1st came and went, we were antsy to get going but the world had other plans. Luckily we only ended up two days behind “schedule”, which I am now declaring as a dirty word. Schedules are for people who have someplace to be.

Darren and Marc at Any7 got the truck all finished up, they did a great job putting our ideas for the truck into action. We picked it up and headed home to cram all worldly possessions into the back.

Thanks guys!

Luckily this process only took about 30 minutes. Impressive! We bid our landlords and our cabin farewell and headed out the door. It was too late to actually make it anywhere and the truck was too full of crap to camp in the back. Darren let us crash on his couch for the night, the first of many couch surfing experience to come I am sure.

Re-arranged the back of the truck in the morning and hit the road. Our destination for the night was the Sierra mountains.

Excitedly we headed off into the rolling foothills of the Sierras.

The clouds looming overhead did not look very inviting, and as we approached the mountain range we saw signs stating the most of the mountain passes were closed. I thought this was odd since I was just up here last weekend and there wasn't any snow on the ground. Cranked up the weather report on the radio…


Perfect, so pretty much exactly where we were heading? Looks like our “schedule” is about to change again. A quick look at the map and we decide we are going to go up and over the Sierra range and camp at a ghost town called Bodie on the eastern-side foothills. The storm was not scheduled to hit until 730, was only 430 at the time. We were about 2 hours from the other side. No problemo. We press on determined to beat the storm.

Not much time for pictures this visit to the Sierras.

Approaching 8000FT

Making good time, should make it easily before the storm hits. …until

What the hell!? Construction delays on the Carson pass! A bunch of bozos trying to build a road as the storm approaches, A long line of trucks idling waiting for the road to clear. The white flakes starting to fall and winds picking up!

Eventually we make it over and haul ass down to Bodie as the storm picks up gusto. We find a side-road up in the hills and setup camp for the night as the storm set in. It’s going to be a cold one…

OUCH! 11F at 830AM, Had to have got down to 5F or so overnight

We awake to all the windows completely iced over, rear window and side windows frozen up, only way out of the truck is to move all the crap piled in the front back onto our bed and then climb out the front seats.

Iced over

She still started on first crank!

Froze our ass off trying to repack the truck in 11F weather, headed into town to grab a coffee then headed south. We wanted to check out the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. Home to the oldest living things in the world.

Weather was still crappy but we knew if we waited any longer they would shut the road down (We have tried 3 times to get up here, every time it has been closed due to inclement weather/snowed out roads)

Road to nowhere?

The ancient bristlecone pines are only found in the highest elevations of the Inyo forest, from 8000-12000ft these beasts have lived for over 4000 years. Older than the next oldest living thing by over 1000 years! I had to see them!

Conditions worsening, 4Runner can take it. My buddy Jimbo gave me my first 4x4 lessons driving in a Sierra blizzard, I think I can handle a little powdering.

Made it!

Quick poses! too cold to hang around

Back to the truck and crank the heater up!

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
update2 on 11/07/2011 02:29:46 MST Print View

Drove back out of the park and camped on another backroad near the back entrance to Death Valley

Not a bad sight to wake up too.

Headed up the backroad into Saline Valley, Death Valley National Park

blech, cooties!

DV has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the U.S, the weather/light was crap most of the day so I couldn't get very good pics.

Abandoned homestead

Stopped for some lunch, you can somewhat see our current “organization” system. Still a work in progress.

Saline Valley Rd.

Part of the old trolley system that carted salt from the Saline valley up and over the mountains to Bishop, CA. quite a feat in its day.

Driving down Saline Valleys dirt roads was a blast. The new OME suspension ate it up! I could haul ass now over every type of rock, pothole, dip, whatever. The suspension ate it up and asked for more. I am really happy with it, Thanks again to Any7 Offroad for putting it all together for us.

Riding down the road we came across a Toyota FJ60 broken down on the side of the road. Not being one to leave a fellow Toyota behind we pulled over to see what was up.

Hmmm… 20 year old spare didn't cut the mustard in Death Valley?

Turns out these guys were from LA and were out here cruising for the weekend headed to the Hot springs. They caught a flat the day before and the spare blew out them just a mile down the road. They had been stuck there for about 24 hours now.

At least they had a nice view…

10 minutes with the plug kit and the punctured tire was repaired, took about another 3 hours wrestling with the jack and the stock sagged out springs to get the blown out spare off. Luckily they had beer, which is about all it takes to keep me around for 3 hours.

Stock spare off, not enough clearance to mount the fixed tire though.

Gotta air it down! Ladies… We need your butts.

With the tire aired down we were able to clear the lugs, get it bolted on and air it back up. Back on the road!

We set our separate ways and setup camp somewhere down in the valley.

Woke up in the morning, pack the truck up and headed out. Destination Las Vegas.

Joshua Trees in DV.

Lauren says this is where Dr. Seuss came to write his books, the truffala tree looks oddly similar to the Joshua Tree

Off out the valley, into Nevada.

Reason #1 why Nevada rocks! Was paying ~$4/gal in CA.

We are now lying in bed in a hotel in Las Vegas, couldn't pass up the cheap deal and a hot shower! The adventure continues…

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 11/07/2011 02:34:37 MST Print View

I am having some issues with the truck though, looks like when the motor got rebuilt they put a O'Reillys thermostat in there instead of the dual-spring OEM one so I am getting tempature overshoot constantly, espciailly in this cold weather, the block cools down instantly and the thermostat slams shut until the truck is practically overheating, then it drops back down to normal temp, i gotta keep the RPMs up the keep the temp up to prevent the thermo from slamming. Calling the Las Vegas Toyota dealer in the AM, hopefully the have the thermo in stock, if not Ill call ahead to my next town and have them order it for me.

Also looks like I am seeping oil from the oil pan gasket and possibly someplace else, I thought I saw some red ATF fluid under the truck at one gas station but have not seen it since.

Going to give everything a scrubdown tomorrow and evaluate, anyone know know a spot in Las Vegas that I could get some work done if need be?

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Pan Am on 11/07/2011 09:00:01 MST Print View

Very jealous of your trip. We were down in death valley last month and really loved it too. Its hard to explain what's so special about it but it really is. Looks like you'll hit the southeast just about in time to be among the barren trees. Some like the views it gives but I like my leaves.
I have traveled a lot of Mexico and central america. I am a fan of the volcanos and west coast beaches. We loved Nicaragua. Its beautiful and the Nicas are really fun people overall. Make sure to stop in Granada, Ometepe, and the beaches south of San Juan del Sur (you will be glad to have your 4 wheel drive there).

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re: on 11/07/2011 11:49:58 MST Print View

thanks Ben, sounds like some awesome sites, I am really looking foward to Central/South Am

I found a dealer in St. George, Utah that ordered me the t-stat going to check everything out here today, if we look good I am planning to drive the Tuweep trail down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then head back to St. George to pick up the part tomorrow.

Hk Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
RE: Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina on 11/07/2011 12:13:21 MST Print View

Sounds like an excellent adventure and one of these days ..... I assume at least one of you speaks Spanish?

Advice: Get through the Texas-Mexican border during early daylight hours due to the troubles in their major cities and stay away from the Mexican states with a state dept advisory. All the restaurants on the MX side of the border towns are relocating on the US (Texas) side now - about to go eat in one now actually, so there's no real reason to stop. The border culture is much different from the interior culture. Read you were drinking coffee: Many other cultures prefer Nescafe instant (including south of the border) or something similar, so you might want to slowly limit your caffeine intake. However, I've read where some countries do not want you to leave with a sample of their coffee as well, so meh.

Edited by hknewman on 11/07/2011 12:26:26 MST.

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 11/07/2011 13:23:04 MST Print View


This was an awesome little report, enjoyed it tremendously. You have a killer Runner there. I'm a Toyota FJ60 owner and love seeing these things out in their element.... scraping along somewhere out in the desert. Mine is sitting over 300,000 miles and has a leaky tank, need to drop that thing and throw some JB weld in there when I get a chance. ;-)

d k
(dkramalc) - MLife
Re: "Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 11/07/2011 17:45:14 MST Print View

Sounds like a great trip you have planned. If you haven't read it already, you MUST MUST MUST pick up a copy of Tim Cahill's "Road Fever" and read it either before or as you drive down there. One of the funniest true books ever, covering the journey in the opposite direction (Ushuaia all the way up to Alaska).

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
Re: "Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 11/09/2011 20:25:06 MST Print View

ha nice, love those FJ's, hate the gas mileage though, thats why I went the 4Runner. Wish I had more ROOM sometimes though

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 11/14/2011 21:43:10 MST Print View

Wow! We had a great response to our first post. I am glad you guys are enjoying our adventure. I know in our last post we said that the Sierras and Death Valley is some of the majestic scenery in all of the U.S. I think I need to keep my mouth shut because the past 7 days of traveling the “4 Corners” area of the U.S. has been AMAZING.

The Colorado Plateau is a geographic region of the U.S which covers over 130,000 sq miles of land shared between Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. This area has the greatest concentration of National Parks in the U.S and it is easy to see why. Developed over billions of years and uplifted and modified by faults and receding oceans this area is chock full of geological, ecological, and historical splendor. We had a blast.

Leaving Las Vegas!

Our night in Vegas was spent mostly holed up in our room enjoying the HEAT! and updating the blog. We did make it down for a few drinks and some midway games at Circus Circus

Lauren won a Rhino, He got some free drinks

Headed up to St. George, Utah and camped off some forest road.

Our first taste of red dirt

Snow Canyon State Park, St. George Utah

Since leaving the Bay, we have been having overheating issues, the thermostat on the truck has been malfunctioning. I had read about this issue in the past happening with your standard Autozone thermostats and knew it was fixed by getting the expensive Toyota OEM dual-stage thermostat.

$45 later and 1/2 gallon of coolant onto the NAPA parking lot and we were fixed up, issue solved, no more overheating.

Off to the Grand Canyon! We read about a 90-mile backroad from St. George to a remote area of the Grand Canyon National Park called the “Toroweap Overlook”. Talked to a few people in town who said that it would be snowed and we would not be able to make it up and over the Mount Trumball pass. We’re used to naysayers and of course headed off anyway, the 4runner could make it.

Sunset on the Toroweap Rd.

Nightfall hit by the time we made up to the mountain pass, It was covered in snow and mud, I had a blast mashing through it all in 2 wheel drive, slipping and sliding all over the place and making a big ol’ mess of the truck.

Eventually made it to the campground, setup shop and went to sleep. Awoke in the morning completely alone and surrounded by the majesty of the red rocks and Grand Canyon.

Headed out on a hike to the Toroweap Overlook, no one around for miles but us and the canyon. No guardrails, no tourists, just the way we like it.

Played around in the Canyon for a while, then headed off again back to Utah. Headed to Zion National Park.

Spotted some Coyotes

We arrived in Zion in the middle of the night, awoke surrounded by huge canyon walls and beautiful CLEAR weather! Something we have been lacking most of the trip.

Spent most of the day hiking around Zion, then headed off to explore more of Southern Utah.

Headed to Bryce Canyon. Amazing Scenery of course.

Bryce Canyon was pretty well snowed out when we got there, Still checked it out.

Spent most of the time running out the overlook then back to the car, was about 30F outside at the time! Too cold for this Florida boy.

From Bryce we headed down another backroad towards Capitol Reef National Park, sun went down and we setup another freezing camp. Awoke in the morning to frost covering the truck once again and dreary cloud cover.

The beautiful dirt road through Capitol Reef made up for the weather. This is a great drive and there was no one out here but us. We enjoyed taking our time cruising through this beautiful place.

Eventually the dirt road led us to Glen Canyon National Recreation area, which is home to most of Lake Powell. Similar to Hetch Hetchy in the Sierras, a environmental tragedy took place here where we dammed up the Colorado River and flooded the majestic Glen Canyon to increase water supply to the surrounding area. The created reservoir was named Lake Powell after one of my heroes.

We hit the highway once again and headed towards the 4x4’er mecca. AKA MOAB, UTAH!

Got to Moab in the middle of the night, shacked up in a cheap motel. I thought I had heard some strange noises coming from our trash bag we had been carrying since Grand Canyon. Messed around for a bit with it and didn’t see anything, figured I was just crazy. Next morning Lauren is doing Yoga and hears the same noises coming from the bag. We snatched it up and dumped it into the bathtub to investigate.


Screaming like little girls and dancing around the room in our underwear trying to catch him but he ended up escaping somewhere in the motel room. Sorry Motel6!

Now that our adrenaline was pumping it was time to go beat on the truck some. We headed to the “Poison Spider 4x4 Trail” to try our luck and see how far we could make it. Lauren has never been 4wheeling before and was pretty much peeing her pants the entire time as we drove all over this place. The 4Runner with little 31 inch tires and open differentials is still a pretty capable machine.

After mashing around in Moab for most of the day we were headed up to Grand Junction, CO. An awesome guy from MarlinCrawler forums had offered to help us fix up a few issues with the truck that we did not have the tools or knowledge to tackle ourselves.

Drove around Colorado National Monument looking for a campspot, eventually found some dirt road that we took, kept getting higher and higher into the mountain. Eventually we were driving through deep snow in the middle of no where, figured we should turn around. Well the rear wheels dropped into a icy rut and we were stuck. 30 minutes of winching later we were turned around and headed back down the road. The Smittybuilt winch is no longer a virgin and it worked like a champ!

Next morning headed over to Phillip’s shop in Grand Junction. The shops name is Karnage Fabrication, Phillip knows Toyota’s like the back of his hand. He has owned over 50 of them and had ours torn apart and fixed back up in no time. This guy was a lifesaver, The Toyota community is an great group and I feel honored to have met such an awesome guy and his beautiful family. We replaced the oil pan cork gasket with the proper sealant, fixed up a leaky inner shat oil seal, and replaced the failing AUTO hubs with some beefy AISIN manual hubs. Thanks again Phil, you are our hero! And Thanks to Sean and Ace for grabbing some much needed parts. It was great to meet all of you!

Lauren and Phil’s daughter became bestest of friends.

4x4 Fabrication/Arts and Crafts. Karnage Fabrication has it all!

Headed off today for Vail to meet up with one of my dad’s old friends. Speaking of which… I should probably get on the horn and let him know were coming!

Edited by defrag4 on 11/14/2011 22:09:37 MST.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 11/23/2011 15:25:29 MST Print View

New post up on the blog if you want to check it out!

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching we had to step our game up. No more dilly dallying! We still have a few obligations to our parental units to uphold and one of them was Thanksgiving dinner in Florida. Unfortunately this means we had to pick up the pace from Colorado to Florida in order to hit our deadline. We missed a lot of great stuff and look forward to coming back someday to revisit lots of sites along the way. Luckily we have lots of friends along the way to stop in and crash for the night. Less camping shots on this post.

Heading out from Moab towards Colorado. We stopped off in Beaver Creek, CO to visit an old friend. Tommy is one of my dads best friends and basically an uncle to me and my brothers. It was great catching up with him and nice to get out of the cold for a bit. Tommy is a wild man, loves deep-sea diving, heli-skiing, dragracing, and basically raising hell. When I was younger he gave me my first job, let me get away with all my shenanigans, and was there to kick my ass when I needed it. A good guy indeed.

Beaver Creek, Nice little ski town. Still needs more snow to get pumping.

Fellow hellraisers

A little further up the mountain, Vail, CO had runs open and people skiing.

From Beaver Creek we stopped in Denver to see another old friend. We all call him Howie, I think his real name is Chris. But he has always been Howie to us. I met Howie back during my brief-stint with college. A lifetime friend and accomplice, how we got away with 1/2 the stuff we pulled I will never know. We stopped in unexpectedly and they were planning to go to a concert that night...

more on the blog

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 12/15/2011 19:46:46 MST Print View

Howdy folks, new post up on the blog. Check it out

Sorry it has been so long since our last post, things have been busy on the Home on the Highway front. When we last left you we had just entered Florida right around Thanksgiving time. We spent the holiday bouncing between our two parents houses and seeing friends anywhere and everywhere in between.

Beautiful Ladies, Impressive genes!

Vacation Dad! and his beautiful daughters out for a pleasure cruise on their boat.

You get two opinions of Florida, those who think it is a tropical paradise and others who think its nothing but a muggy retirement home. Like most things in life, Florida is all about the timing, and November is PRIME TIME for adventuring in our homestate. The mercury drops, humidity vanishes, bugs and tourists are banished, and we get to enjoy these pristine months in shorts and t-shirts relaxing on the beach while the rest of the country is bundled up fighting off Jack Frost. Needless to say, I love Florida.

November? Yep!

After we wrapped up Thanksgiving in Tampa with Lauren’s folks we headed down to Miami for a bit to hang out with my family. First order of business… FISHING. My crazy Uncle Wendell was happy to take the family out for a day of hunting dolphins. My Uncle is a true Old man of the Sea, not a lick of electronics to be found on the boat, no fancy GPS, no fish finder, none of the gauges actually work, hell I don’t even think there was a UHF radio on the thing. We fish by sight, smell, and feel out here.

My brother Jonathan and Mama Dukes, 80’s stylin on the fishing trip


Nice little Dolphin, To take the skunk off the boat

Laurens turn at bat

Sushi time! Blackfin on the menu

Put a few more in the boat and headed back in for dinner.

Happy Captain and Crew!

Next day we headed on down to the Florida Keys, one of my favorite places on earth. My folks have had a timeshare down in Key Largo forever and I have been exploring these mangrove waters as long as I can remember. I love it down here. Old Florida still survives in places like these.

Mom, Daddio, and yours truly.

Continue Reading....

Edited by defrag4 on 12/15/2011 19:48:25 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: "Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner" on 12/15/2011 22:16:14 MST Print View

I totally agree that you must read Tim Cahill's "Road Fever". But it appears you haven't since you did all those mods to the Toyota. All my Toyotas stay totally stock. No mods. At all. I took the first one to 294,000 miles with two $100 repairs (fuel gauge sender unit at 100k and a new clutch master cylinder at 200k). I didn't want to give it up but the wife (with the big pay check) felt it had gotten too doggie smelling. Someone else is still driving it around town, 23 years old now and coming up on two Earth-Moon distances. And every Toyota I bought since is still running except those that hit a moose. And you are totally safe from moose for the next year.

It sounds like a GREAT trip and I hope it goes really well for you.

But I'd paraphrase my standard travel packing advice ("Half as much luggage and twice as much money as you think you'll need") as "dump half the stuff you've brought and alwys keep a few bucks in your pocket." Overloaded vehicles break much more often. And spare parts and extra gas solve only a few problems. Extra money solves all problems.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 12/16/2011 08:39:59 MST Print View

ha tell me about it Dave, I should have just drove it stock. Shes a tough cookie though. Love Toyotas

stephan q
(khumbukat) - F
Re; Home on the Highway on 12/16/2011 18:47:56 MST Print View

Wow, sounds like a great trip. We went from Quito to Lima by road( mostly buses)this May/June. Crossed into Peru at the frontier crossing south of Zumba and made our way to Chachapoyas before heading to the coast. Fuel in Ecuador is only $1.25 per gallon for unleaded, and the country is fantastic for travelers. If you have any ?'s about the area we will be glad to help. Some great info can be found at our friends blogs, vnextstop and/or polarbearstopenquins. These folks are on bicycles, but you will find great info and local tips from them. stephan.

ben wood

Locale: flatlands of MO
Re: Re; Home on the Highway on 12/17/2011 08:41:41 MST Print View

James, this is awesome, i don't know how i missed this until now.

sounds like like all kinds of fun.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
new post on 01/10/2012 10:58:10 MST Print View

Hey guys, Things are going good here in Moreilas, MX. We are just about to head out from here up into the mountains to check out the Monarch Butterfly reservations. Apparently there are millions of these guys all over the place up there. From then we are headed to Mexico City!

We have been getting lots of requests on how we actually setup and organized the interior of the truck, This is Laurens department and she just put up a new post on how we manage it. Check it out!

Sleep mode, activate!

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: new post on 01/10/2012 11:47:56 MST Print View

Nice set up. A flat place to sleep is such a quality of life thing. It can also help you make miles when you need to by sleeping / driving in shifts. But I'd suggest you limit using that trick to US interstates - NOT Central and South American roads. Stick to daytime driving with seatbelts fastened. Goats, chickens, bandits, and potholes all come out at night and you don't need any of that kind of excitement.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 01/11/2012 17:51:01 MST Print View

Ya we dont drive at all at night, its enough fun driving in the day avoiding cows, kids, topes, pigs, horses etc... We try to start finding a place to camp at least an hour or two before sundown.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 01/21/2012 12:51:15 MST Print View

Howdy again friends, Its been a while since our last post. Been busy criss-crossing Mexico. When we last left off we were in a beautiful port town on the Pacific Ocean called Mazatlan. Now I am posting from the opposite side of Mexico, sitting on the Gulf of Mexico down near the Isthmus of Mexico. We have traveled over 2000 miles and had many great adventures along the way.

Leaving Mazatlan we cruised down the Pacific Coast for a while, we were enjoying the beach views and fresh mariscos (seafood). We saw a small beach town on the map by the name of San Blas. Drove on down the road to check it out.

The highway cut inland for a while and then curved back to the coast, when we approached the coastline this time the landscape had started to turn into marshland.

We reached San Blas, Mexico and drove right out to the beach, We got there about an hour before sunset, busted out some beers and enjoyed the view.

Another beautiful sunset… We found a little restaurant on the beach and sat down for dinner. The beachside palapa started to fill with acrid smoke, we looked around and noticed all the palapas were belching out this smoke. It smelled a lot like citronella, and within a few seconds we realized why. We were getting eaten ALIVE by no-seeums (tiny biting insects) The restaurants did all they could to quell the flood of fly's but there was no hope. We inhaled our food and made a beeline to the truck. We discussed our options for camping that night and figured if we got out onto the beach into the breeze and setup our bug net we would be OK.

Wrong! We drove out onto the beach, bugs didn’t seem to bad. We setup our bug net around our sleeping area and passed out. Woke up in the middle of the night getting attacked by thousands of no-seeums, turns out they took a meal break and were back for seconds. They were so small they just waltzed right through our net, gave a laugh at our weak protection, and started chomping on our bodies. With not many options we buried our heads under the covers and roughed it out for the night.

When I finally poked my head out from under the covers there were thousands of dead bugs around me and tons more alive flying around my head. I jumped out of the truck and found Lauren on the beach who gave me the “Lets get the HELL outta here look!”

Read more on the blog...

Edited by defrag4 on 01/21/2012 19:13:53 MST.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 01/27/2012 23:05:12 MST Print View

After we got our share of the beach scene we cut inland, Destination: Butterfly Kingdom.

If you haven't guessed by now we are kind of nerds. Back home we had seen a few nature documentaries on the mass migration of the Monarch butterflies. Each year the Monarch butterflies begin a huge southward migration from as far north as Canada all the way south to Mexico. This incredible journey is over 4000 miles and spans generations of Monarchs to reach its completion every year. Millions of butterflies arrive in the Michoacán highland forests of Mexico every year for the winter before turning around and heading back north for the summer. It just so happened we were here during the right months. We had to see it!

As we cut in from the coastline through the states of Jalisco we started encountering some wonderful mountain scenery and idealic farmland. Jalisco is known as the homeland of Tequila and agave farms abound. We also saw a few huge volcanoes.

Morelia is a beautiful Spanish colonial city. They have retained a lot of the architecture from the cities founding back in the 1500’s. We found it to be a wonderful town and spent a few days exploring the city alongside other Mexican tourists. I think we were the only gringos in town.

We then headed to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve. There were so many butterflies you could literally hear them flying around bumping into each other above our heads.

Read more on the blog...

Edited by defrag4 on 01/27/2012 23:06:13 MST.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 01/29/2012 22:30:33 MST Print View

Double Update Goodness!

After experiencing the majesty of the butterfly kingdom we pointed our truck towards another sort of mystical place. Mexico City. Originally we had planned to skip Mexico City due to reports of violence, crime, high traffic, smog etc etc etc. However, during our few weeks traveling the country we have come to realize that 99% of things we had heard about Mexico were bullmess, so we changed our minds and we are glad we did! We ended up spending 5 days in this diverse place and barely began to touch the surface. We also partied our faces off and put a sizable dent in our Mexico budget, well worth it…

We left the highlands of Michoacán and headed towards the mountain-ringed metropolis of Mexico City. Greater Mexico City with its population of 22+ MILLION is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the 2nd largest in the world. This place is DENSE. As we broke through the mountain tree line we saw an endless sea of concrete and buildings. Wow

We had made a friend off the internet who graciously offered to let us stay at his place, arrange us a safe spot for the truck, and be our tourguide for the duration of our visit. Note: I made these arrangements at 9PM the night before our arrival, We were lucky to find such a grand host!

We punched his address into the GPS and drove into the jungle. We tirelessly fought across the city streets making headway towards his barrio (neighborhood). The GPS said it should take 20 minutes to arrive, it ended up taking us around 3 hours. The GPS did not account for 1-way streets, curbs, and the constant reconstruction that takes place on the mean streets of Distrito Federal. Luckily we had mentally prepared ourselves for this and took it in stride, rather enjoying the wild west style of driving in the city. It’s a no-holds barred grudge match, kill or be killed, not for the feint of heart. I loved it.

We eventually arrived at Adrian’s place where he introduced us to his grandma and aunt, showed us our room, and took us to his uncles parking lot where we were able to stash the truck for a few days.

Our Mexico City adventure HQ

Wasting no time, Adrian said lets hit the city! We threw down our stuff and headed out, grabbed a cab, to a bus, bus to a train, and popped out in the middle of downtown Mexico City about 20 minutes later. The public transportation in Mexico City is cheap and reliable, bus ride was 5 pesos and I believe the train was a similar price.

Our first spot to check out was the Monumento a la Revolucion. A gigantic monument in the middle of downtown dedicated to the Mexican Revolution and the heroes who were involved in the movement. There is an elevator to the top and we headed up for a view of the city.

EL Angel

Headed to the bars to cap off our first night in D.F., lots of cool spots and plenty of hip young people out enjoying a night on the town.

and BACON WRAPPED HOTDOGS!!11 (Hotdog guy was not amused with my antics)

Woke up the next morning and headed to the Zocolo, Mexico City’s main historic square. This is where the capital building, cathedral, and Tenochtitlan ruins are located. Fun Facts, Mexico City is built ontop of the capital of the Aztec nation originally constructed in the 12th century. The whole region was once a marshy area with scattered lakes. These lakes were slowly drained and built upon over the centuries. The city is seeing the effects of building on this soft lakebed soil. The entire place is slowly sinking into the ground.

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Edited by defrag4 on 01/29/2012 22:33:39 MST.

Chuck Cheese
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newpost on 02/14/2012 18:53:31 MST Print View

Sorry it has been so long since we have updated, We have been caught up in a whirlwind of travel lately. (This is a good thing!) We have now settled down in a beautiful place called San Pedro De Laguna, Guatemala. We found a great spanish school that rents out nice little cabanas for $25 a week! We are right on the water and loving it here. I am lounging in the shady hammock outside, typing this up and listening to the birds chirp in the trees. Behind us about 100 yards is gigantic lagoon ringed by 3 massive dormant volcano mountains. Have we found paradise already!? Perhaps… Needless to say we have decided to stay here for a month taking spanish lessons and slowing down the pace.

Now back to our regular scheduled programing!

After our hectic day in Oaxaca we decided to put some miles down. My friend Doug runs a community center for a small barrio in Cancun. We had told him we were going to stop by and help him out so we set our sights for the tip of the Yucatan peninsula. As we descended from the top of the Oaxcan mountain range towards the isthmus of Mexico the change was immediately apparent. The pine trees gave way to jungle and the the cool dry air was now thick with humidity. Toto…We’re not in Kansas anymore.

On our way up to Cancun we stopped into the city of Villahermosa. A primarily industrial city with not much in the way of scenery. However it did have a nice museum/zoo combo that sounded interesting. The “Parque Mueso La Venta” combined both native Yucatan animals and excavated artifacts from the nearby Olmec ruins of La Venta into one attraction. Plus it was only $3 which the budget surely appreciates.

Yucatan Crocodiles. Vicious little guys. Note the croc is already missing one foot.

Lauren goes to the bathroom and when she gets back she hurriedly tells me “I think something escaped from the zoo!” and drags me to come look. Figuring she has been standing in the sun too long I reluctantly follow, and sure enough… something did escape!

or so we thought… We went and grabbed some employees and drug them over to look. They just took a glance at this obviously escaped zoo convict and started laughing. Ummm… hello? Aren't you going to put it back in the cage!? Well… it turns out these odd looking foreign creatures are basically a Yucatan raccoon and are more of a pest than a zoo exhibit. As we walked around the rest of the zoo we ended up seeing tons of them digging and climbing all around in the jungle. Man… we are such gringos.

The Olmec artifacts were very interesting, the La Venta ruins site is just up the road from Villahermosa. In the 1950’s they were planning to bulldoze the ruin area for crop land. An archeologist took charge, relocated most of the ruins to Villahermosa, and started the “Museo Venta” to educate people on the ruins site and Olmec heritage.

Magnificent Olmec heads weighing over 9 tons.

Growing up in Florida I have seen my fair share of Gators, I've seen the “World’s Largest Gator” at least 4 different times in 4 different tourist traps. But I think I may have finally found the actual “Worlds Biggest Gator”. Rumor has it that this thing eats Coatimundi’s by the bakers dozen, as the zoo keepers try to rid the park of the pests they toss them into the gator pit for dinner. He was a BEAST. I would say easily 17ft-20ft long.

Note the turtles in the pic are huge snapping turtles, not any baby sized Red Slider nonsense.

We packed up from Villahermosa and headed deeper into the Peninsula. We have visited a few ruins on the trip so far but we have heard that “Palenque” was one of the larger more magnificent ruins in Mexico. After learning about the Mayan Emperor Pakal, his tomb, and his jade mask in Mexico City, we were excited to see where it was all discovered.

The Palenque ruins were discovered in the 1800’s, explored and excavated over the centuries by a few different archeological groups. It is a beautiful Mayan site set deep in the jungle. They have done a great job with the excavation and restoration. The site and grounds are wonderful to tour around.

Although the site has been worked on for 200 some years, It wasn’t until the 1950’s that Alberto Lluhlier discovered Pakal’s tomb buried deep inside the temple. When he removed the (7 ton!) sarcophagus lid he discovered Pakal’s body dyed a deep maroon red and covered in magnificent jade jewelry. It was one of the largest archeological discoveries ever made on the Yucatan peninsula.

Pakal’s temple

I heard heard rumor that there were Mayan bathrooms at the site. I think this is a ancient Mayan crapper. Either that or I just desecrated thousands of years of history to make a fart joke.

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Edited by defrag4 on 02/14/2012 18:54:54 MST.

Chuck Cheese
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new on 03/07/2012 10:27:23 MST Print View

After a great night in Bakalar, Mexico we headed south to the Belize/Mexico border. Unsure of what to expect we checked out our friends “Life Remotely” blog who recently crossed the border and posted a great detailed report explaining the crossing in detail.

Cruising down the road we hit a river with a ferry crossing. This was no ordinary ferry, an ancient hand-cranked job which looked as if it would sink at any moment. (I later learned that it actually did sink about 3 weeks before…) It could hold about 3 cars at a time, apparently it runs 24/7. The conductor sleeps on a wooden bench in the ferry.

We met some cool [url="]Mennonites[/url] on the ferry who were partying it up, we shared a few beers while we took turns cranking the ferry across the river. Hard working farming folk, there is a large Mennonite community in Belize. Apparently they got fed up with U.S religious policy and a large population relocated to Belize in the 1950s. Most are still very religious leading an almost Amish lifestyle, preferring horsedrawn buggies to automobiles. We met some of the more "[i]progressive”[/i]boys. Ha!

We crossed the river, continued down the road, eventually hitting another hand-cranked ferry.

Pressing on towards the GPS coords we eventually found the spot. And it was worth every mile! Thanks again "Team Equipt"! We enjoyed this secluded beach cove all to ourselves. We stayed here for 2 days not seeing a soul, soaking up the sun and waves.

From our cove we headed towards a small town in Northern Belize by the name of Sartenja. Sartenja, Belize is home to the [“Backpackers Paradise” A great little hostel/restaurant run by an amazing French and Swiss couple. They have carved out their own little piece of paradise here. They rent out cabins, tents, and hammocks to travelers for great rates. Natalie also can cook like nobodies business, we had amazing French/Belizean fusion meals for dinner every night.

The “common area”. No shortage of hammocks to go around. Lauren and I spent most of our nights here lounging in the hammocks listening to the rain and crickets chirping outside.
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Chuck Cheese
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part 2 on 03/13/2012 18:00:29 MDT Print View

We left Caye Caulker behind and headed back towards Sarteneja where we had left our truck. We took a quick pitstop in Ambergris Caye as we waited for the next ferry.

We made friends with a Coatimundi (You may remember these guys as “Crock Snacks” in Mexico. Now I feel kinda bad, they are awfully cute.

We picked the truck up and headed deeper into the interior of Belize. We had heard good things about “The Belize Zoo” and went to check it out.

The entry fee for the zoo was a bit steep ($15US per person??) but all the animals were rescues so we figured it was for a good cause. It turned out to be a great little zoo, with lots of native Belizean animals we have never seen before.

The Jabiru Stork, largest bird in Central/South America, 2nd largest wingspan in the world. Over 9ft wide!

THE HARPY EAGLE! The largest and most powerful eagle in the Americas. This thing eats Coatimundis for lunch. (Coatis got it rough…) The harpy eagles are practically extinct in Central America due to deforestation.

Harpy eagle attacking some poor zookeeper!

Junior the jaguar, It was great how little concerns for safety the zoo had, You could stick you arm in the cages and pet the jaguar…

Hahahaha, Lauren was shooting shots of this Tapir when all of the sudden it turned around and shot a 10FT firehose stream of urine (At least we hope it was urine…) all over her pants and shoes.

After Lauren burned her clothes we jumped back in the truck and headed towards Barton Creek Outfitters. A small hostel deep in the jungle of Belize.

Adios pavement

A fun river crossing

More pictures and the rest of the story on the blog...

Chuck Cheese
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re on 04/07/2012 11:40:03 MDT Print View

It has been a while since we have done an update, We ended up spending the past 2 months in Guatemala soaking up the culture, slowing down our pace, and doing some much needed repairs to the truck. Life had been a bit hectic and I couldn’t muster up the energy to write a decent blog. We are now in Honduras, tucked somewhere up in the Pico Bonito National Park hiding from the craziness of Semana Santa (Holy Week). For the first time in a long time we find ourselves with nothing to do but listen to the crickets and frogs sing lullabies outside our truck. Perfect time to do some writing.

The border crossing from Belize into Guatemala was fairly uneventful. We went through the process of checking ourselves and the truck out of Belize. Got the truck fumigated, paid for new visas and a vehicle permit. All completed in our crappy spanish without the use of a tramidor (Tramidor: Dude who hangs around frontier borders helping/scamming confused gringos getting into the next country) thanks to our friends at LifeRemotely who posted a great explanation of the process, fees, and buildings. We spent 10 minutes in the car studying up and hit the booths, about 30 minutes later we had everything we needed. We were officially and legally now in Guatemala.

We spent all our money at the border and had nothing left. Our tank was on fumes. (We waited to fill up till Guatemala, Belize gas was at $6/gal)

We assumed (stupidly) that there would be a gas station and ATM somewhere near the border on the Guatemalan side. Well there was an ATM but it was empty. No cash. We tried to ask if there was another “cajero” nearby but our spanish is so bad we received nothing but confused stares. Oh well… hopefully there will be one further up the road. We placed our faith in the 4Runners crappy gas gauge being off and headed further down the highway. We have our 5-gallon reserve tank in case we ran out.

The section of Guatemala we entered is named Peten. Unknown to us at the time, It is a very sparsely populated section of Northern Guatemala. We drove past miles and miles of clearcut farmland, rolling green hills, and a few small pueblos with no services. Our destination for the first day was the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Eventually we arrived at Tikal, We never did pass an ATM or gas station for almost 60 miles. We tried to enter the park but they charge a ridiculously high price for entry ($~25US per person). We didn’t have enough dinero so we had no choice but to head out from Tikal to the next large town of Flores for some cash and gas.

Rolled into Flores sputtering, perfect timing, we found a nice gas station equipped with an ATM. Topped off our cash and our fuel tank. Headed back to Tikal.

We ran into our friends Paul/Susie again in Flores, they were also headed to Tikal. When we were both driving back to Tikal we passed our other friends Zack/Jill. Looks look we were all headed to the same place. We hit the entrance at the same time, just in time for Paul’s Trooper to start acting up. Not one to leave a man behind, we all set to diagnosing the problem in front of the Tikal park entrance.

Eventually we tracked down the problem to fuel. Figuring it was bad gas, we drained the tank and used my jerry can of U.S gas to refill it. While not running completely right it seemed to be doing better. By this point it was around 6PM and the park had closed. Having no place to go (We were planning to camp inside the park) We asked the guards if we could just camp in the parking lot in front of the park. No problem they said. So we did. Howler and spider monkeys crawling through the trees above, Us stinking like gas below. Luckily we had booze, all was well in the world.

Next morning we woke up early, Paul/Susie headed to town to further diagnose their issue. The rest of us headed into Tikal.

First sign we saw warned us of a “Coati Crossing”.. I guess we are in the jungle after all.

Tikal was like no other ruin we have visited thus far. The ruins are dispersed among deep jungle. You walk through 30 minutes of thick jungle canopy with monkeys howling overhead and then pop into a clearing with amazing ruins. It really gives you the feeling of discovering an ancient lost world.

Tikal is one of the largest sites of ancient pre-columbian Mayan civilizations. It was a hub for all surrounding Mayans civilizations, sort of a "capital" of the if you will. Estimations of population range from 10,000 to 90,000 inhabitants. Imagining a huge city of 90,000 milling around this place 2000 years ago is a surreal feeling.

Excavation of the ruins are still in progress, Check out this motorcycle powered cart they use to ferry equipment to the top of the temple.

More pics and detailed write-up on the blog

Chuck Cheese
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re on 04/07/2012 11:49:07 MDT Print View

From Tikal we hit the road to San Pedro where we planned to take some spanish classes. Our friend Zach had given us some info on the highways down there. There appeared to be two roads that took you from Peten down deeper into Guatemala. One was supposedly a much more rough and tumble route while the other was a decently paved road. Zach in the AstroVan opted for the easy route. We of course choose the rough and tumble path.

Our road actually turned out to be pretty decently paved (We heard from Zach that he accidently chose the road of death and sent us on the good road, HAHA!). We drove through lots of little lakeside villages and saw some beautiful Guatemalan countryside.

Our first introduction to Tuk-Tuks (The official in-town transportation of Guatemala)

Eventually we arrived at a small town by the name of Sayaxche. Here the road dead-ended into a deep river. We queued up for the ferry crossing with a few other sleepy travelers.

The ferry (which our friend Karina’s dad later informed us is installed/ran by the Guatemalan oil company) is an odd design. It has 2 outboard boat motors both on the same side of the boat. They work in perfect harmony to fight the rivers current and bring the ferry to its proper mooring point on the opposite bank of the river.

We got a cursory check by the military while on the ferry. I think they just wanted to check out the truck. Eventually arriving safely to the other side. We pushed through the town and wound through towns of small highway-side villages.

Coming up over the top of a blind hill at 60MPH to find dogs, people, babies, fruit stands… It’s a good test of the brakes.

The road was long and winding through the mountains. We were planning to stop in Coban, Guatemala for the night. Unfortunately the drive took much longer than we had planned. We were stuck driving at night through crazy mountain roads, in the rain, in the fog, with crappy headlights, and millions of people milling about on the sides of the road. Not a good situation. We made it to Coban and found the first motel we could.

We warmed up from the cold rain in the sketchy hot water shower. If you are sleepy in the morning just give the shower-head a tap. I guarantee a 110V shock will snap you out of your stupor!

Hit the road the next morning. There was an easy looking highway that led down to San Pedro La Laguna and there was a much more exciting route that took us up into the Guatemalan highlands. We of course, took the more exciting route.

The asphalt quickly gave way to dirt road as we found ourselves climbing higher and higher into the mountains.

We passed this statue of a Quetzal bird midway up the mountain. The Quetzal is the official bird of Guatemala and also the name of their currency. It is an extremely rare and prized bird. It has magnificent long green/blue tail feathers. It is very rare and seldom seen in Guatemala. It lives in the cloud forests high in the mountains. Which just so happened to be where we were unexpectedly headed…

We pushed further and further up the dirt road. The clouds and fog grew thicker and thicker. Eventually we were driving through an actual cloud forest. Pretty amazing weather compared to the 85F and humid temps we experienced the same day at lower elevations.

[url=]More pics and detailed writeup on the blog. [/url]

Chuck Cheese
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re on 04/07/2012 12:04:16 MDT Print View

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala is an interesting and beautiful place. The town sits on the volcano ringed Lago Atitlan (Lake Atitlan) at the base of the (now dormant) San Pedro volcano. It is populated bythe indeginous Tz'utuhil Mayan people who still work the land growing mainly onions and coffee beans for export.

The town is made up of an odd mix of ancient Mayan culture, westernized Guatemala, and flat-out takeover by gringos. You can wake up in the morning and watch an 85-year old Mayan lady haul a 40LB load of onions on her head from her hand-planted farm near the lagoon, spend your afternoon sipping freshly grown/processed San Pedro coffee beans, and waste away the evening getting S-Faced with a 19-year backpacker from Idaho. All within 1/4 mile strip of lagoon-front land. We loved it for all of its faces but most importantly for the little piece of isolated paradise we found at the Corozan Maya Spanish school.

We originally came into town actually searching for different spanish school altogether. We drove up and down the 1-way streets searching and searching for this other school. It was in our guide book, they said it was good! Where is it!?

During our frustrating search, time and time again we would pass this same little school sign. Eventually we said screw it, let check this place out. We were glad we did. What we discovered was a great spanish school that had everything an overlander could want. Secure parking, internet, and hot showers. Throw in a $25/week cabin with in-room propane stove and we were heaven. Classes were $75/week for 1-1 spanish school, the cheapest I have found in my research and our teachers were all amazing.

From the second we sat down to talk with Marta, the schools owner/operator, she made us feel welcome and at home. She spoke strictly in slow simple spanish terms that even we could understand with our horrible spanish. What the hell!? Are we talking in spanish already? This place is good! We signed up for 1 week of class straight away. We ended up staying for 4.

We relocated our clothes and essentials to our basic but comfy cabin. Complete with hammock out front.

Eventually bringing the mattress from our truck into the cabin to supplement the school provided bed. (We sleep like kings in our truck, Why not bring it inside our new home?

The accommodations were basic. A bed, a 2-burner propane stove, a few outlets, and a bare lightbulb. But what more do you really need? That’s all we have in our truck and we love it. We quickly settled in to our new cabin and started calling it home.

We made dinner from some leftovers we had in the truck and started preparing for our first day of spanish school. We were excited and intimidated. We spent the rest of night listening to our Pimsleur Audio books and running through Rosetta Stone lessons knowing we were woefully unprepared.

Next day we started classes. Marta assigned us each our own native San Pedro Mayan teacher.

We walked down the path to our individual tranquil huts out by the lagoon and started our lessons.

First thing was a pop-quiz. Oh great! I didn’t study for this! They wanted to gauge our skill level in spanish to get an idea of where to start the lessons. Needless to say I didn’t make it past NOMBRE/FECHA (Name and Date) (I guessed at FECHA…)

Lauren did a bit better, she made it to the second page before getting the glassy eyed stare of confusion.

Our teachers made no scene or judgements, just evaluated our positions and started right into the lessons. Our teachers spoke very slow, very clear spanish. We started with learning basic verbs and eventually moved onto to tenses, pronouns,conjugations, etc etc. All kinds of stuff. For 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. We would practice in the huts.

Some days class would fly by, other days we would beg for mercy “Por favor maestra, Mi cabeza esta lleno!” Please teacher, My head is full!

It was a calm relaxing atmosphere. Even though learning a new language is a challenge, it was hard to be stressed out in this environment.

In the mornings before class we would lounge around studying, reading books, going on hikes, whatever we wanted to do. One of our favorite activities was exploring “El Mercado” The Market.

Here you can find pretty much anything the heart desires. All native, fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables are available for a fraction (literally less than 1/4 the cost in the U.S.) of the price. Lauren and I would load up our bags with fruits and veggies. Never spending more than $3-5 for more than we could possibly eat in a week.

More pics on the blog

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
volcano hike on 04/08/2012 15:56:48 MDT Print View

been cranking out the blogposts lately, trying to use this downtime for good instead of just evil!

Our alarm started ringing at 4:30AM… I felt my body panic in confusion. WORK!?

Nope. Just hiking a volcano today… whew.. that was close. I realized it was the first time I have woken up to an alarm in almost 5 months (Not that I am trying to rub it in or anything…)

I stumble around in the pitch-black cabin fumbling for the light-switch. I find it and listen to the groans from the sisters. “5 more minutes?” Lauren asks. Nope! Not today, We gots to go.

Our destination for the day. The top of Volcan San Pedro on Lago Atitlan. It is the large volcano on the right-side of this pic. You can see the town of San Pedro down below it.

We load up the backpack with snacks/water, put on our hiking shoes and head up the road. The early morning darkness is chilly and foggy. There is Toyota pickup waiting for us, We load our gear inside and jump in the back. We get a good-grip onto the black steel coping lining the bed and hold on.


Lauren and fellow overlander Jill from Anywhere that’s Wild.

We wind our way through the silent streets of San Pedro picking up a few more hikers then start heading up the mountain to the trail head.

Eventually arriving at the the still pitch-black trailhead we crank up our headlamps/flashlights and hit the trail.

I read it was advised to use a guide on this trail due to some robberies/attacks on tourists a few years ago. Nowadays they have improved security and there is nothing much to worry about. However, the entry-price to the park included a tour guide so we took one. Our guide was named Pedro, I would put Pedro around 75 years old or so. He had 1-tooth and a big *** machete. My kinda guy.

Were hiking along in the dark single-file up a tight trail. It looks like we are hiking through some sort of coffee farm but it is too dark to tell. I am thinking to myself, it is kinda spooky out here… good place for robbers…

I hear someone from the back of the line scream “OH ****!” then I hear the distinct sound of metal on metal machete/machete clanging together. ITS HAPPENING!?

I turn around to witness the carnage and see my fellow hikers looking down the side of a steep rocky hillside at a very confused Pedro splayed out on the bottom. Looks like our guide misstepped and fell down the hill. What I originally heard was not the Pedro battling evil banditos but actually the sound of his machete clanging against the rocks as he rolled head over heels down the hill.

We check over Pedro and find him surprisingly intact for a 75-year old man falling down a cliff. He quickly tires of our medical attention gains his composure and yells “VAMOS!”

Up we go.

As dawn breaks we make it to a small shelter with a nice look-out over the Lagoon and San Pedro lights below.

Sun coming up a bit, we can actually see the trail now.

The first 45-minutes were fairly easy going, we were crossing primarily sideways across the mountain. However once we started heading straight up the volcano I realized… I am outta shape. It has been a while since we had been on a real challenging hike and I was feeling it. Also, Carly, who just shipped in from sea-level Florida the day before, was not exactly prepared for this much climbing at 6000FT either. Pedro on the other-hand was a never-tiring billygoat and nipped our heels the entire time to climb faster. Not bad for a 75-year old man who just fell off a cliff…

At first he had patient words of encouragement to speed us up…

“Es bueno por tu corazon!” (It’s good for your heart!)“
La Vista is muy bonito” (The view is very nice)

Eventually degrading into…
“Listo?” (Ready?)

And finally a flat-out
“VAMOS!” (Let’s go!)

“OK Pedro… OK Pedro…” Carly exclaims between winded breaths as we climb further up the mountain.

Lauren, of course, climbs straight up the mountain like she's on a leisurely stroll through the park.

We climb through lots of forest, coffee farms, corn plantations…

[urldecode=]More pics and the rest of the story on the blog.[/urldecode]

Edited by defrag4 on 04/08/2012 16:48:13 MDT.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
pollo on 04/09/2012 11:15:18 MDT Print View

Carly spent the rest of the week hanging out with us and touring around San Pedro. One thing she wanted to do while in Guatemala was to visit some Mayan ruins. In a country where over 50% of the population is indigenous Mayan it would be sacrilege to not visit one of their ancient sites.

We got to googling and did tons of research searching for nearby ruins to check out but came up bupkis. During our search however, we did find the Iximché ruins just outside the town of Tecpan. I knew we passed Tecpan on the way to the airport in Guatemala City. We figured we could head out the night before Carly left, drive to Tecpan, wake up early, tour the ruins, and get Carly on a plane around noon. Sounds like a plan to me!

During our spanish class we told our teachers about our plans to drive to Tecpan that night.

“Oh, you picked a very special night to go to Iximche.”
“Por Que?”

“Tonight is the Mayan new year!, of course”

… Of course? Our teachers explained about the Mayan Haab calendar, the long count-calendar, Tzoltin, equinoxes etc etc.The Mayans expounded upon 5th century BC knowledge of time and came up with a system to track/predict important events long before they ever heard of a Roman/Julian/Gregorian calendar. It is actually a series of several different calendars combined into one all-encompassing date keeping system.Pretty cool and complicated stuff.

Apparently it was so complicated that there were only a few people in ancient times who could actually understand it. These calendar readers were important nobleman in the Mayan society and worked closely with the ruling class. Mayan rulers used the power of the calendar to assert dominance and power over their cities/countrymen. If the king can predict what day the sun will be blocked by the moon, he must be talking to the gods and we should do what he says.

While I was very confused with the whole explanation (It’s hard enough explaining concepts of time in english, now try it in a language you can barely understand!) I managed to glean that tonight, March 21st, was an important night. Our teachers said the ruins will be open all night with shamans and elders performing rituals, blessings, and celebrating the new Mayan year. We were in for something special. Excited with the news we ran back to Carly. We packed her stuff and hit the road around 5PM for Tecpan.

The drive to Tecpan was uneventful. I was kind of hoping to see droves of natively dressed Mayans making a pilgrimage to the ruins. We drove through the sleepy town around 9PM and headed towards the ruins to check them out.

We arrived at the Iximche ruins.. A construction crew was busy building a stage for some reason, but no signs of any ceremonies. We wandered past the construction workers and into the actual ruins. No one was out checking any tickets or anything at this time of night. We ambled down the pathway until we realized we were actually walking on-top of Mayan ruins. It was so dark we couldn’t tell until we noticed the mud/brick walls and carved steps. Cool stuff, out here on our own ambling around ruins in the middle of the night.

There was no moon that night, It was pitch-black outside. Not sure if that happens every Mayan New Year or just a coincidence… With the accuracy of the Mayan calendars I am leaning towards it not being an accident.

We kept seeing small groups of people walking off into the woods. We asked a group if they were headed to the “ceremonias”, They said yes so we followed them down the random path.

As we walked the path we heard soft chanting steadily growing louder and louder. We pushed through some trees to a clearing to find this scene awaiting us…

Mildly intimidated we slowly worked our way into the circle. We were the only non-Mayans there. It was pretty obvious we were tourists but we did our best to be respectful and remain out of the way. The Mayans did not seem to mind us and were friendly. We were discreetly snapping photos under our shirts, eventually realizing that the other Mayans there were taking pictures of the whole process. Clearly this was a rare occasion and an experience for some of them as well.

The shamans were building the ceremonial circle when we first arrived. On top of a giant round stone platform they laid out an intricate circle design on the ground with sugar. Then layer by layer they started filling and building up the circle with various offerings. Cinnamon, honey, sugar, rice, maiz, avocados, coins, incense, candles, Quetzelteca!, beer, you name it. All things they were thankful for in the previous year. The entire time the shamans are chanting various prayers. This is all taking place in Mayan dialects so we have no idea what they were saying. The building of the circle was a beautiful and meticulous process.

After the circle was completed one of the elder shamans got up and gave a speech in Mayan and then translated it into spanish. I believe the jist was that it is important for the Mayan people to preserve their culture, teach it to the children, and educate others about it. He described things they were blessed with and things they had to look forward to in the coming year. He thanked everyone for coming to the ceremony and then got down from the platform.

The shaman headed back to the ceremonial circle and began to light the candles in the circle. Meticulously lighting each candle in a specific order North, South, East and West. Once all the ceremonial candles were lit he said another prayer and lit some small pieces of wood in the circle which set the entire thing ablaze in a huge fire.

Once the fire was going, he spoke with the other elders and said something in Mayan to the crowd. The entire crowd dropped to their knees all facing to the North and began chanting and praying. Not ones to be left standing around like a bunch of bozos we followed suit.

After praying and chanting for about 5 minutes in the North direction. Everyone leaned over and kissed the ground. And turned to the South. This process continued until we had prayed in all directions North, South, East, and West. Emotions were high, lots of people crying and whispering prayers. A very devout moment. We were privelged to be attending and witnessing such an event.

Eventually the prayers ended and the band struck up again, playing lively traditional music with flutes, drums, and marimbas. A few Guatemalan men and women danced what looked a helluva lot like an irish jig around the flames of the fire for a while. Everyone was pouring beer and quetzecal into the flames, as well as having a nip or two themselves. The men were smoking MASSIVE cigars. They were huge, as big around as a papertowel roll. The ladies were trying their best to light up cigarettes. (It was obvious none of them ever smoked as I watched them struggle with matches and trying to figure out how to light the cigarette, One lady set 1/2 the cigarette on fire in her hands and then started puffing on it!)

As the fire would die down someone would emerge with what I believe was sugar? and dump it all over the fire to bring the flames back. Eventually more wood was brought out to keep the party going.

So… Lauren, Carly, and I are standing around having a good ol’ time watching these Mayan’s party it up. Excitedly discussing our new once in a lifetime experience when all of the sudden we hear. SQWWAKK! The distinctive sound of a chicken. Uh oh…. Looks like the parties just getting started!

More pictures, VIDEOS, and the rest of the story at

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 04/24/2012 21:18:20 MDT Print View

We spent 4 weeks in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala taking spanish school. It was a great learning experience and we really enjoyed slowing down our pace and getting to know one location intimately. However, after a month in one spot our brains were burned out on spanish and we were ready to move on.

Our last night at school they threw a big bash for all the students. We cooked up a traditional meal of Chuchitos and Jicacma tea. Laurens teacher loaned her a traditional mayan outfit for the event.

The school got together and started cranking out Chuchitos (basically a Tamale with a lot less work) You take a ball of maiz flour and some oil, mash it up into a tortilla shape and fill it with some chicken/vegetables, close it up and wrap it in a leaf from a ear of corn.

Chuchitos ready for cooking

Throw them in a pot on top of the fire with a bit of water, steam for 45 minutes.

Serve with salsa and EAT!

For a beverage, take a pot of water, add a boatload of Jicama (Hibiscus) flowers, and some sugar. Heat for a while, add sugar, and serve. Jicama tea.

We are going to miss our cabin in San Pedro, but all good things must come to an end and the trip must continue!

We said goodbye to our teachers at Corazon Maya spanish school in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala. We became very good friends with our teachers. You spend 4 hours a day for 3 weeks talking to someone and you form bonds. We often wonder what our guatemalan teachers are up to these days…

We said goodbye to our sweet ass cabin

And took in our last views of Lago Atitlan…

Were off to Guatemala City to get some much needed repairs done to the truck (reoccurring theme??) and meet up with some friends.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 04/25/2012 17:45:15 MDT Print View

We made some friends off the internet (surprise, surprise) who offered up their place for us to crash in Guatemala City while we got some 4runner repairs done (by another friend from the internet!). We pushed into Guat City with no real idea where we were going. Guatemala City is a crazy town, traffic is horrible, the streets are a maze, and the signage slim. After driving around in circles for a while, making a few payphone calls, and being lost for about 2 hours we finally found our way to our friend Julio’s place. Probably the nicest home we have seen so far in Central America.

Julio and his wife Karina welcome us into their home. We busted out the bottles of booze and became fast friends. They asked us what we missed most from the states. Our answers were… #1 Chinese Food. #2 Movie theaters. (It doesn’t take much to please us…)

That night we went to get some Chinese food. Wantons and Brahva beer!

Our new friends, Julio and Karina.

After stuffing our face we went to the movies and watched Girl with Dragon Tattoo (subtitled in spanish). In one fell swoop Julio and Karina satisfied our American desires. (Tickets were $2.50 each for a state of the art movie theater, Julio couldn’t believe we paid $10-$15 to see a movie in the states)

Next morning we took the truck to our mechanic Adrian in Guatemala City. I had a laundry list of things I needed done/fixed on the truck. Adrian said he would treat the truck as his own and we placed our baby in his hands.

The repairs ended up taking a while and we spent the next few weeks partying it up with Julio and Karina. We met all their friends and family and got to see a side of Guatemala City most travelers never see.

Guatemala Cities “Eiffel Tower”

The worlds biggest plate of Guatemalan typical snacks. Julio got very excited.

Capital building of Guatemala (The Green House)

Guachitos! Guatemalan Drunk food. Greasy delicious hamburgers served up till 4AM.

Old town Guatemala City

Read the rest of the story at

Edited by defrag4 on 04/25/2012 17:45:55 MDT.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 04/26/2012 22:32:01 MDT Print View

Before our trip we researched all the countries we would be visiting on the PanAm. Overwhelmingly, overlanders reported the most issues with border crossings, corrupt cops, bribery, and theft in Honduras. From what we read the cops seem to like to play it fast and loose in Honduras with “official laws” changing daily or even in between car checkpoints...

We came prepared with our “Anti-Bribery toolkit". 3 reflective triangles, 1 fire extinguisher, roll of reflective tape, crappy nudie mags and cheap cigarettes.

We mentally prepped ourselves for chaos and headed towards “El Florido”. We reached the border, nestled in a small valley between some large green hills.

What we found was not quite the insanity we expected. In fact it was actually a pretty sleepy frontera with just a few trucks idling about. Not a single scamming tramidor or corrupt official to be seen.

Equipped with our new spanish skills we asked around a bit and figured out the process. We found the aduana office and talked with a customs official who took care of stamping our passports out of Guatemala and canceling our car permit. We gave him all the paperwork and just sat back, he ran around various offices taking care of everything for us. Gratis! (Free)

Well… that was easy. It must get crazy on the Honduras side right??

We get back in the truck, drive a few hundred feet down the road and park in front of the Honduras Customs office. A man in a customs shirt comes up to us and says he is headed to lunch... OK?

Apparently, the customs office closes daily for lunch. (OVERLANDING PROTIP: Get your border crossings done before 12:00PM)

The official instructed us to get our passports stamped into Honduras and then come back later to handle the truck paperwork. Alrighty… We didn’t really have much of a choice so we stamped into Honduras and headed over to the comedor (restaurant) to have some lunch.

We entered the small lunchroom and the customs official waved howdy to us over his bowl of soup. We spent an hour eating lunch with the entire customs office watching “Scrubs” dubbed in spanish on the lunchroom T.V.

FYI: I don’t think “Scrubs” style of humor translates to Central America… though that Zach Braff sure is dreamy.

When lunch was over we headed back with the customs official to the office. A bunch of stamps, bunch of copies, and we were in. No strange fees, no bribes. Easy. Just how we like it.

As long as you have plenty of time to hang out for lunch “El Florido” is a great border crossing.

Welcome to Honduras.

I read somewhere that 75% of Honduras is on at least a 25% incline. I believe it, this country is full of rolling hills and mountains.

Our first stop in Honduras was Copan Ruinas. We had heard tale of a bar there with a german owner who was brewing up 100% organic hefeweizen and other german beers. After drinking nothing but tasteless lagers for the past 5 months I was dying for a beer with some real flavor. Oh ya. I heard there were some Mayan ruins nearby too…

We pull into the city of Copan Ruinas and start asking beer questions, someone points us in the direction toSol De Copan, German Bar and Restaurant.

We walked up and met Tomas outside smoking a cigarette, He saw our truck driving down the street with the California plates. He said “You guys must be thirsty?”

We spent the rest of the entire day and evening hanging out with Tomas and making all kinds of new friends in Copan Ruinas. Once Tomas said we could just camp outside the bar we REALLY hit the sauce…

I don’t recall much from that night. I do remember we woke up the next morning in a fog. We drove 5 hazy minutes to the ruins, stepped outside the truck. Looked at the steep hike, looked at the hot sun, and then looked at each other… We jumped back in the A/C cooled truck and headed to the beach chugging water and tylenol the whole way.

Maybe next time Ruinas!

Up until Honduras the weather has been fairly mild, not too incredibly hot, not to cold. The instant we crossed into Honduras it started to heat up and humidify quickly. We thanked baby jesus that Adrian fixed our A/C in Guatemala City every time we stepped foot out of the truck into the inferno outside.

The palm-tree lined sandy shores of Tela, Honduras were more our speed on that hot day. We sat in the shade, ate fresh ceviche, and nursed our hangovers.

Sunset over the Caribbean. Tela, Honduras

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 04/27/2012 14:27:26 MDT Print View

Thoroughly relaxed and recovered from our hangovers we pushed towards La Ceiba, Honduras and Pico Bonito National Park.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) was rapidly approaching. During Semana Santa the entire latin american populace takes the week off and heads to the coastline to party it up. On the beaches of Tela we were sitting at ground-zero for the madness. The hotel owners all said we should get the hell out of dodge before Monday, every single hotel room was booked up for the next 8 days and people were flocking in by the thousands when we hit the road.

We headed for the hills! Specifically Pico Bonito national park located outside the town of La Ceiba, Honduras. We stopped by the grocery and stocked up on supplies. We were planning to be gone for at least a week up in the mountain, vowing only to come out once the madness had ended.

The Rio Cangrejal winds through Pico Bonito park. Rio Cangrejal is known for its world-class white-water rafting.

I had some fun mashing through some wild river crossings and getting some weird looks from kids wondering why this gringo is driving in their swimming holes.

On the road we pass this hut slinging some sort of jungle hooch. We, of course, pulled over to have a taste.

Guifiti/Gifiti is a Garifun native drink made out of sticks, herbs (including that good good), spices, and rum. It tastes like garbage but they say its good for your health and vigor.


They also had this bottle of AIDS for sale. Surprisingly it was pretty good.

Sun was starting to set and we still had not found a place to camp, We passed a few hostel/hotels on the way up the mountain so doubled-back to check them out.

We found a spot called “Omega Tours” who offer cabins/camping/rafting tours in Pico Bonito. $5 a night and they have a bar. Sold!

[urldecode=]More pics and the rest of the story on the blog at[/url]

Angus A.
(mangus7175) - F

RE: Home on the Highway on 04/27/2012 14:46:31 MDT Print View

I've been following this on ExPo...thanks for sharing this.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: RE: Home on the Highway on 04/27/2012 17:46:34 MDT Print View

It's been great following your posts. Thanks!

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/01/2012 22:09:36 MDT Print View

Glad you guys are enjoying, I see some traffic from BPL but never any comments. Was considering dropping it from the loop. We do plenty of hiking but not much backpacking lately :( Im looking forward to getting down towards Patagonia. Will have some EPIC backpacking reports.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Home on the Highway . . . on 05/01/2012 22:43:32 MDT Print View

James and Lauren,

Another person here following your blog! I'd probably get around to it without your posts here, but it's nice to get a reminder and good to see another facet of a "lightweight" life.

Plus, it's gray here in Portland, so any mention of a place that's warm with sunshine is alright!

Edit: added Lauren's name!

Edited by saparisor on 05/01/2012 22:44:31 MDT.

Brian Raap
(braap) - F

Locale: Bay Area
Re: Home on the Highway . . . on 05/02/2012 00:19:49 MDT Print View

I have been following along as well. Your trip has got me looking at Expedition Portal and all that goes along with it. I don't need another hobby! It would be an expensive one for me as I don't think my Honda Accord would cut it! Looking forward to future updates as you get into South America.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Home on the Highway . . . on 05/02/2012 06:32:34 MDT Print View

Keep it up. The trip of a lifetime. I 'm just too envious to post regularly.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/07/2012 13:19:25 MDT Print View

We packed up our stuff from the “Omega Tours” in Pico Bonito and headed to town to stock up on supplies, gas, and cash. We were planning to drive out to the remote “Miskito Coast” and needed to be prepared for anything.

We load up the grocery cart with tons of food, water, beer etc. Hit the register and try to pay with our debit card. Lady tells me its not working for some reason… OK, try this one? Still not working… Great. OK Let me go pull some cash from the ATM.

ATM is not working either. Crap. We try Lauren’s card, same thing. Nada. “Please contact your bank” UGH. Worst case scenario as we now have no money, no food, and no phone to call to figure out what is going on.

We apologize to the clerk and abandon our cart full of crap in the store, luckily we were in a mall and figured we could find a payphone/internet café to call the bank and see what was up. We went out to the truck and pilfered our last few bits of change from the ashtray to pay for a call.

We find an internet café which is setup for international dialing, after messing around for 20 minutes trying to dial a 1800 number (If you have ever tried to use a phone outside the country you will understand!) we finally get through. Then we end up waiting on hold for 45 minutes…. Lauren and I start to wonder if we have enough change to cover this call.

Finally an exasperated man picks up the line, Before I get a chance to say anything he yells “THE VISA NETWORK IS DOWN! YOU CANT USE YOUR CARD!”

Oh. Looks like we weren't the only ones with problems….

It turns out while we were staring blankly at the grocery store clerk and then confusedly stumbling from ATM to ATM with no success. The entire VISA network in the states was taking a 45-minute coffee break.

We hung up the phone, walked out to the ATM, and tried again. The sweet whiiir of cash being queued up was like music to our ears.

Life is all about timing my friends… 10 minutes earlier we would have had no problems getting cash, 45 minutes later the same. We just happened to arrive at the perfectly incorrect time.

Overlanding ProTip: We have a stash of US currency in the truck for emergencies like this, however the store did not take U.S. money. We now keep a little stash of local currency in the truck as well. You never know when your card is going to crap out on you.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/07/2012 13:27:51 MDT Print View

Stocked up, fueled up, and ready for adventure! We hit the road to the Moskito coast.

The directions we had were shaky at best and we ended up taking a wrong turn into a small sketchy neighborhood. Before I got a chance to turn around we found ourselves smack in the middle of a police-checkpoint in this barrio.

The checkpoint was manned by 6 young fellas. They see us coming and pull me over. Young guy asks me the usual paperwork questions and then says he needs to search my truck... OK. We haven’t been asked to search our truck yet in Honduras so I thought it a bit odd.

Then he asks me to get out of the truck. Again odd, I haven't been asked to get out in quite some time either.

So I get out and he puts me up against the truck and gives me a crappy cursory pat-down. The first pat-down I have received since leaving the U.S. Obviously he wasn’t looking very hard since he doesn't notice I have a buck knife in my pocket. He starts asking me if I have drugs, where we are from, did we come here to buy drugs. We are conversing in spanish, I am telling him… No we are just lost, we are tourists bla bla blah.

He continues to search the truck, I roll down the rear-window, he opens the cooler and comes back around to the front of the truck. He then tells me “Having a cooler full of beer during Semana Santa is illegal...”

I say... [i]Por Que?[/i] (Why?) and he says because [b]the police say so...[/b]

So from this point on we know this guy is trying to take us for a bribe and we mentally shift gears.

As sick as it sounds… We have been preparing for this moment now for so long we are almost excited to get a chance to have a go at some corrupt cops. The game is a-foot!

He rechecks all of our papers and tells us our vehicle import papers are only good for Guatemala (which is BS. Why would Honduran immigration give me an vehicle import document for Guatemala?) so I call him out on that in spanish. Surprised by our confidence. He moves on.

Then he says I need a front plate. I explain to him you do not need one in the United States and they do not issue you a front Honduran plate at the border, in spanish. He moves on again.

He starts saying I have drugs in the car, since I am from California and Californias love drugs! (I see our reputation precedes us…) I tell him we do not have any in spanish. He moves on.

The cop just keeps coming up random crap hoping we cave and just offer him cash. I keep calling him on his B.S. in spanish. He is almost smiling at this point, unable to keep the con alive and remain serious.

Eventually he just straight up starts asking for a bribe/regalo (gift). That is when we start playing the fool and immediately forget all the spanish we know….

Everything he asks now is met with a [i]"no entiendo"[/i](I dont understand)

He asks Lauren something, she replies [i]“No entiendo”[/i]

We go back and forth for 10 more minutes with him asking me for a regalo and me saying [i]“no entiendo”[/i]and talking to him about random nonsense in rapid fire english which really confuses him.

He keeps saying in frustration “You don’t understand my language!?”. Guess he forgot about the 1st half of our conversation that took place entirely in spanish…

Eventually he calls his buddy over who just tells him to knock it off. Young Cop #2 takes our paperwork from Young Cop #1 hands it to me and tells us to get going.

[b]Home on the Highway-1 Honduran Corrupt Cop-0[/b]

While every case dealing with the police is different…we have found, as have most others, if you play along with the cop long enough, waste their time, or just downright confuse them. You can get out of most bribery incidents without paying a nickel.

[b]NOTE: This was our first bribe attempt in over 5 months of travel and 20,000+ miles covered. The majority of police/military we have encountered have been friendly and helpful.[/b]

PS: He never did ask about our reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, or reflective tape!!!

Adan Lopez
(Lopez) - F

Locale: San Gabriel Valley
Down south on 05/07/2012 22:09:57 MDT Print View

I havent been following your reports but maybe I will now. What a great and enviable adventure. One of those things I wish I would have done before fathering, homesteading, nine-to-fiving, myself down here in Cali. Your exchange with the officers was hilarious. Thanks for posting man, enjoy your travels.

By the way, on your way back, stop in punta baja and tell "cocada" you want to go to la isla and eat lobster and sea urchin ceviche and watch the lobos (elephant seals)! Good times!

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/08/2012 14:00:11 MDT Print View

thanks guys, your comments are encouraging! glad you are enjoying the journey

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/08/2012 14:01:00 MDT Print View

ATM disaster dodged, Corrupt cops deflected. What else could go wrong!?

We are climbing through the mountain passes of Honduras and I can tell the 4Runner is losing power. Not exactly sure what is going on I do what any proud Toyota owner would do and simply ignore it. Hell... She still runs don’t she?

Eventually we are coming through a construction zone near the top of a pass and I lose all momentum/power. The truck basically cuts out. The accelerator pedal pins flat to the floor and doesn't come back up.

We are smackdab in the middle of the construction zone. Huge dumptrucks and bulldozers battle it out with the mountainside all around us. It is at least 95F, hot, dusty, and LOUD.

We are stuck blocking the 1-lane of the passable highway with gigantic buses and semi-trucks all honking and trying to squeeze around us.

I jump out of the truck and pop the hood. Chaos everywhere. Tons of dust, huge loud tractors, people honking like crazy at us. I check the throttle cable and its all screwed up, sagging from the throttle body like a limp noodle.

I try to jerry rig it quickly. No go, It wont retract. Something is jamming. I pull out my tools and take it apart in the middle of the highway with people passing everywhere.

No wonder it wont retract... Line is frayed and jamming inside the throttle cable housing.

Not going anywhere fast I decide to push the truck to the side of the road and assess the situation. I figured the cable had not yet broke and I could just remove the frayed wires and it would get me a little further. While I was working on this 2 random construction workers came over and started talking to us. They said they knew a mechanic in the next town and would be happy to give us both a ride. We locked up the truck and jumped into the construction workers truck.

They gave us a ride to town where the mechanic looked at the cable and said we needed a new one (you don’t say!?) He didn’t have one but knew there were parts stores in the next town. Back into the construction workers truck we go. Drove about 15 miles to the next town....

We searched from store to store. 83 throttle cable for a 22R motor, 88 throttle cable for a diesel Hilux, 22RE cable for a Corolla. No exact matches for a 87 4Runner 22RE. I figured I could make the 22R cable work but the parts guy insisted we need the right one.

The little town did not have the right cable but they assured us we could find one in San Pedro Sula (Large industrial town of Honduras). However the town was almost an hour away.

I started asking the guys if they knew a taxi that we could call to take us all the way to San Pedro. They said “Nonsense!” and off to San Pedro Sula we went, a 45-mile drive in the construction truck.

An hour later we arrive in San Pedro, same situation. Store to store to store with no exact match found. These guys have been helping me now for 3 hours in the hot as hades Honduran sun. We can barely speak to them, we have no idea what the hell is going on with our truck back at the construction site, and store after store turns us down. Our gracious construction workers are getting frustrated as well. I am wishing I just rigged my cable and ignored these guys, when all of the sudden I see a little hole-in-the-wall parts store "TOYOTA REPUESTOS IMPORTER". I jump out of the truck and run in with my cable, 30 seconds later I have an EXACT match 87 4Runner cable. We all rejoice and head back to the truck.

With the bad cable out.

We put the new cable in. Success!!! Back in business. I offered to pay these guy for their gas/time (They drove over 60 miles and were with us for almost 5 hours) but they refused. They said to us…

Today we help you, tomorrow maybe someone help us.

I forced a few cold coke-colas on them from our fridge, we gave them some hugs, thanks, and said goodbye.

Time and time again we say that the people of Mexico/Central America we meet are the nicest, friendliest, most giving people on earth. The people of Honduras live up this mantra as well. We have loved getting to know them and their beautiful country.

Edited by defrag4 on 05/08/2012 14:02:38 MDT.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/09/2012 19:45:24 MDT Print View

We had seen the movie "The Mosquito Coast"with Harrison Ford a few years ago that described this very remote undeveloped area of the northern Honduran coastline. We forgot all about it until we saw the name again in our Honduras guidebook. The Moskito Coast is described as the least developed area in all of Central America. With minimal roads, no services, and no tourist infrastructure. It sounded right up our alley.

We heard about a 4x4 trail that hugs the coastline out to a small Miskito village named “Pueblo Nuevo”. They said it was rough going, lots of beach/sand driving, river crossings, and no support out their if something was to go wrong. SOLD!

Winding through the hills towards the coastline

The paved road gave way to dirt path on the way to the coast.

Loads of Coconut/Date palms, Banana trees, all kinds of fruit trees. Dole/United Fruit Company/Chiquita Banana have had Honduras on lock for 50+ years. You can find various sides of the story, some people say they have exploited the people/land for profit, others say they took a malaria-infested swamp and turned it into livable habitat and provide a decent life for the people. Either way, They are here to stay. We passed mile after mile after mile of fruit trees. And thousands of people selling bushels of fresh off the tree (still green) bananas everywhere. You could buy a huge bushel of bananas (like 50 bananas) for $1.

Dirt roads through mile after mile of plantation.

Somewhere along the way on these horrible rutted roads, I go to push the brake pedal down and it hits the floor… Slowing to a stop, I jump out and find the front driver side brakeline spewing brake fluid and my front caliper bolt missing.

The caliper bolt had somehow rattled its way out allowing the caliper to rock back and forth eventually causing the brakeline to snap. 40 miles out into the bush with no brakes… We had the option to turn around and head back to civilization (Knowing that it was Semana Santa week and most shops would be closed) or just keep mashing it out towards the Miskito Coast using just the transmission and E-Brake to stop. What do you think we chose?

Getting further and further from civilization we encounter lots of small Garifun/Miskito villages. Most people live in simple thatched roof mud huts out here. Very basic but they all seemed happy and smiled at us when we waved.

Couldn't find any place to camp so we rolled into a small village and ask around for place to stay. We find Don Tinos hospedaje (small hotel) for $5 a night. We met Tino himself who was a nice guy and it was getting dark, so we say OK.

Things are a little rougher inside. Raggedy bed with roach guide on the wall. The roach guide did come in handy that night as we played “GUESS THAT BUG!” TV syndication rights in progress, back off FOX!

I tried to crimp/JBweld the snapped brakeline so we could at least have 3 working brakes. It worked for a few minutes but after I bled the brakes and applied some real pressure to the crimp/JBweld it gave out spraying my eyes full of brake fluid (fun!)

Oh well. E-Brake still works!

We mash on further. Tino from the hotel tells us there is a road that leads deeper into the Miskito Coast but the road is completely sand and there is a "river crossing" we need to pass. OK, I can dig a river crossing. He says its difficult to pass the river if you don’t know where to cross. He assigns some random dude from the village to jump on the back of our truck to show us the way.

Our new guia (guide)

We drive through the village and eventually out onto the beach, We drive through the deep sand for a ways when the truck stalls due to getting stuck in the sand. Homeboy jumps off the truck and starts running towards the ocean and taking off his pants. Lauren and I are thinking... What the hell? Did we just give this dude a ride to the ocean so he can go for a swim?

Eventually we realize this guy is fording some sort of underwater sandbar and trying to show us the way to drive across the friggin ocean to get to the other side.

I look at Lauren and say.... Looks like were driving in the ocean! We get out and air down the tires to 10psi which frees us from the sand and we head to the start of this underwater sandbar. Homeboy runs back to guide us once more.

We drive into the ocean, water up to the hood of our lifted truck and this random Honduran kid swimming in front of the truck in the ocean.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/11/2012 09:28:39 MDT Print View

We camped out on the beach and did not a see a soul for most of the next day.

Later in the afternoon, 2 young guys came riding up on horses. We started talking and it turns out that one guy was from Belize (and spoke english) and the other dude was Garifun from the village just up the road. We shared some beers and became instant friends.

We spent the rest of the day sharing stories, drinkin’, and riding their horses bareback on the beach. Kenry told us the last time he saw white people was over a year ago, another Californian (surprise, surprise) had backpacked his way down to the village.

Eventually we run out of beer and they say we can buy more in their village which is about 5 miles up the beach. OFF WE GO! FOLLOW THAT HORSE!

We parked in front of the village bar, headed inside to BOOMING reggae music and a handful of 5-10 year old kids doing some of the dirtiest dancing I have ever seen. It was hilarious. We picked up some more beer and on our way out a drunk dude tried to sell Lauren a dead iguana for dinner. I almost bought it (I've been trying to eat iguana this whole trip!) but my buddy said it wasn't a good tasting one.

We headed back to the beach and continued the party. Our friends brought a bottle of Miskito hooch, which got us all pretty loopy. The stuff was straight fire water.

Not a bad spot to party at.

After many beers and bottles of Miskito liquor I decided it would be a good idea to ride the horse again...




We say goodnight to our friends, they pose for some stunna shots and rode off into the sunset.

Another night in Paradise.

Read the rest of the story on

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/17/2012 23:02:51 MDT Print View

Perhaps we were getting too big for our britches, perhaps we had one too many drinks the night before, and perhaps we did not bother to sit down and seriously study the Honduran/Nicaraguan border crossing. But here is a lesson on what [b]NOT[/b] to do.

I went back and forth on sharing this story… Primarily out of amateur overlander shame and secondarily out of scaring the crap out of our parents. But here at Home on the Highway we like to share the UPS and DOWNS of the adventure. So here it is!

NOTE: There are no pictures to this post. During stressful times the last thing running through your mind is, “OH I SHOULD SNAP A PICTURE!” Sadly, once you look back these are the times you wish you had documented it via photos.
We arrived at the “El Espino” border from Honduras into Nicaragua. We had glanced over some border crossing info the night before but feeling confident enough with our Spanish and our prior border crossing experience we did not bother to study. We roughly calculated it would cost around $50 to complete the crossing and had that amount in Honduran Lempiras. [b]Mistake #1. ALWAYS CARRY EXTRA CASH AND CLOSELY RESEARCH FEES BEFORE HAND[/b]

We arrive to the frontier road and find a chain strung across it. A government official sits lazily in an old run-down shack nearby. We are instantly bombarded by touts (border helpers) but we are prepared for this and ignore them. I grab our paperwork and make a beeline to the government shack.

I hand over our paperwork over to the government official to check it out, he, in turn, immediately hands it over to some random dude in a T-Shirt who proceeds to run off with it. [b]Mistake #2 NEVER LET YOUR PAPERWORK OUT OF SIGHT[/b]

I ask the government official, “What the hell?”

Government [i]official [/i]explains that I [b]must[/b] to use this guy to get the process done…

Sensing the worst, I immediately run after him to find our paperwork. I find him in a another dirt-floor shack that has been rigged up with a copy machine. T-Shirt guy is happily making copies of all our paperwork.

I demand it all back from him, he refuses explaining that he is the[i] official[/i] in charge of this process. Not exactly wanting to get into a brawl at the border… I reluctantly pay the copy man $5! for a fistful of copies and we go back to government official in the shack whom I apparently need to get a stamp from to cancel my Honduran import permit to move on with the border crossing process.

The entire time I am yelling about getting my paperwork back, so now T-Shirt guy and government official are both perturbed that this gringo is rocking the boat. They start running a scam demanding some receipt we were supposed to have from purchasing the original car import permit into Honduras over 3 weeks ago.

I told them we received no receipt and obviously we have paid since we had a legitimate car import permit.

They explained that if I did not have the original receipt then I would have to pay again.... $40 (Originally it was $25 when I paid crossing into Honduras from Guatemala…)

Realizing we are now deep into scam territory I start some scamming of my own…
I explain… “Ummm... OK I am happy to pay for the new receipt but I do not have enough cash right now.”

I told the government employee that I needed his official stamp to move on with the process, to the next country where I could use an ATM. He reluctantly agrees and stamps our paperwork. He tells his T-shirt buddy to stay with us to make sure I come back and pay him. Great… a new friend!

I jump back in the truck, Lauren who has been listening to all this going down, gives me the “What the hell are you doing!?” look…

T-Shirt guy runs ahead of the truck with our paperwork. By the time I catch up with him he has had our passports stamped out of Honduras (I pay his friend $10 in bribes... for this) It is normally free and I know this but I am all flustered and not thinking clearly at the time.

After checking out our passports T-shirt guy goes to check the car import permit out of Honduras. For this he actually did come in handy since the office was closed for lunch, I guess he knows the people that work there since he banged on the door and someone came and got him. They went inside for a few minutes and came back with our stuff. The import official wanted a bribe as well, Worrying about my dwindling bankroll, I told him I didn't have enough money but would come back later to pay...

We were now officially checked out of Honduras (Owing at least $60 in back-pay bribes) but now needed to check into Nicaragua.
At this point I now have T-shirt guy and 3 other touts following me around like sharks. I have screwed up. I am now a mark...

To enter into Nicaragua you are required to purchase car insurance and pay a per/person check-in visa fee. I needed to change my Honduran Lempiras into Nicaraguan Cordobas (Again, We did not check the exchange rate.. and lost about $5 in this process)
I pay the Nicaraguan customs guy for our visa stamps. He was actually very friendly and yelled at the touts to leave us alone.

We get our passports stamped and now our bodies are official in Nicaragua but the truck is still in limbo stuck between the 2 countries.

We need to buy insurance and[i] [/i]get it inspected by customs to get the truck legally into the country.

Problem is after all Nicaraguan entry-fees, various bribes, and getting screwed on the exchange rate now we [i]REALLY [/i]are tapped out of cash.

We do not have enough money to buy insurance AKA [b]We cannot drive into Nicaragua.[/b]

This is when 3rd world shadiness comes in handy. I search around for a dude who sells insurance who also happens to know the Nicaraguan customs guy. I explain to him I do not have enough cash to buy insurance or pay for customs inspection. I need to get into Nicaragua to use an ATM and if he could help me I would pay him for his services.
So shady insurance guy writes us up an insurance policy and gets his customs friend to inspect my truck.

I tell shady insurance guy and customs guy that I will pay them for the insurance policy and bribes once I get some money.
OK. So now we have a Nicaraguan insurance policy, the truck is inspected and signed off by Nicaraguan customs. Our passports are officially stamped into Nicaragua. I have a long-line of people who are demanding payment for their “services”. Everyone involved is all kinds of mad and I still have no money.

I talk with Shady insurance guy and he assures the angry mob (lead by T-Shirt guy from Honduras!) that he will go with me to the ATM and come back with money for everyone. He wants me to go on his motorcycle into town and leave my truck at the border.

I say “Screw that, You get in my truck and we will go into town together”

Lauren who is all kinds of mad at me and this whole situation now has to climb in the back and squeeze between all of our crap. The shady insurance guy gets in the front-seat of the 4Runner and we drive into Nicaragua...

We are are now driving in Nicaragua, the closet town with an ATM is about 20 miles away. Lauren and I are talking in English to each other trying to figure out if we are 100% legit in Nicaragua. I am wondering if maybe we need some other paperwork at the border.

We determine we do not need anything. If we were to kick this dude out of the car we would be 100% legal and all those other border scammers could go pound sand.

Now Shady Insurance guy was really the only dude who really helped me out, he fronted the $12 for insurance out of his own pocket. I did not want to screw him over completely.

We finally get to the ATM. I pull out cash, jump back in the truck and drive back down the road. We are headed back to the border. Shady insurance guy is totaling up all the money I owe the other scammers, It totaled up to $85, plus $12 for insurance.
Somewhere in between the border and the town I pull over the truck. Give the guy $20 and tell him to get out. He gives me a confused look and starts asking for more money.

I tell him that is all he is getting. He argues for a bit but then gives up and gets out of the truck.

We are finally 100% legal and alone in Nicaragua.

[b]What a friggin' day.[/b]

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/25/2012 21:54:08 MDT Print View

Border fiasco behind us we drove deeper into Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the land of volcanoes. Pretty much everywhere you turned your head your eyes would meet at least one or two of them towering over the horizon. On the road to Leon we were passing many parks that looked good for camping.

We turn down the road into one of the parks, A guard meets us at the gate. We tell him we want to camp near the Volcano. He seems confused but then explains there is a road that goes up the Volcano and points towards some farmers and their cows plying up some path.

We ask “Can we camp up there?” He says “Sure!”

So we headed off towards the “road”.

We end up in "traffic" behind a farmer, his horses and his young son. The "road" appears to be more of a cow path that farmers use to move their cattle from pasture to pasture.

After slowly creeping behind this farmer up this horribly rutted and rocky path for about 15 minutes he stops and asks us what we are doing?
We tell him we are trying to drive up the Volcano to camp....

He says he has never seen anyone drive up this road and it gets pretty rough ahead. I ask him if he thinks its possible to continue, He replies “Maybe…”

We push on further up the volcano, the road continues to deteriorate the higher we get.

I am mashing in 4x4 over huge boulders, the path is barely wide enough for the 4Runner to fit. I was having a blast tackling this challenging trail, letting the 4Runner do what she was born to do. The farmer is enjoying watching these crazy ass gringos drive up his volcano. Poor Lauren is bouncing all over the truck, worried about breaking our home while driving up this crazy path.

The farmer is now on-board with the adventure to drive up this Volcano. Him and his son are going up ahead of us clearing huge differential murdering boulders out of the way and helping me pick lines to climb up and over rocks, cliffs, and washes.

After about an hour of mashing the living crap outta our truck we reach a point where we just cant clear the differentials any longer. The farmer looks heartbroken. He offers up his horse to Lauren and I to continue our journey. He wanted to take us back up to his ranch and to spend the night with him and his family.

We considered his offer. Unfortunately, the 4Runner was wedged in the cow path, Nothing else could fit through. I figured I should probably turn around and not leave my truck out here in the middle of nowhere blocking the way.

Sadly we had to say Thank you and Goodbye to our farmer friend and his son. We reversed in 4x4 for about 1/4 mile to a wide enough spot to turn around and start heading back down the mountain

Eventually we get back to the guard at the park gate. For some reason he was laughing his butt off when he saw us drive up… turns out that SOB knew it wasn't a trail for trucks! He was pretty impressed when we told him how far we got up though.

We caught a beautiful sunset that night as we drove into Leon, Nicaragua.

I also got pulled over TWICE in one day in Managua for legitimate reasons. It appears Nicaraguans actually enforce laws of the road. Passing on a double-yellow and using a turn-lane to pass is illegal here…

I explained to the first cop I was just a dumb tourist and he left us off with a warning.

The second cop actually confiscated my license and was about escort us to the bank to pay our citation. Before he pulled off towards the bank he asked where we were going for the day. I explained we were trying to get to Volcano Masaya. He starts laughing and explains we are very lost and completely off-track. All of the sudden he gives me license back, tears up the ticket, then pulls out his motorcycle, stops traffic both directions in the 6-lane highway and gives us a police escort all the way across town to the correct highway to Volcan Masaya. Talk about a turn of events!!

[urldecode=]Rest of the story, more pics, and videos on the blog at[/url]

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/26/2012 15:21:44 MDT Print View

We headed to Volcan Masaya. The only active Volcano in the Western Hemisphere you can drive to the rim of.

Look for the 4Runner on the left to compare to the crater

The volcano is surrounded by legend and lore.

The indigenous people would sacrifice young girls to appease the volcano gods to prevent eruptions. The indians considered the mouth of the volcano "the gateway to hell"

A spanish priest back in the 1600's placed this cross at the top of the Volcano.

The volcano is spewing tons of Sulfuric gas into the air. It is the largest natural polluter IN THE WORLD. You can barely breathe up there and cough the entire time. Definitely not a safe place to hang out very long.

The volcano went off in 2005 shooting huge rocks and gasses all over the place, lots of people were injured and cars were damaged. Now they have warnings to park your car facing outwards just in case you gotta get the hell outta there!


Prepared for a speedy escape

We took a hike up to the top of the ridge, Lauren is standing in front of an older volcano that is now dormant and filling in with plantlife.

Volcan Masaya

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Nicas on 05/26/2012 15:33:54 MDT Print View

Love your Nica pics a lot. Someone should have warned you about the patrol officers in Nicaragua. They will definitely give you a ticket. We loved Masaya too. Don't miss the spectacular coastline south of San Juan del Sur. perfect for a 4x4. Hope you get the chance to ferry over to Ometepe too. The border to Costa Rica is usually really bad too. They don't really like each other. Enjoy.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re ben on 05/27/2012 15:16:56 MDT Print View

ha funny you should mention it Ben...

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/27/2012 15:18:09 MDT Print View

We camped at the Volcano that night. Next morning we pushed off into Granada headed towards Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, a HUGE fresh water lake, 2nd largest freshwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and largest freshwater island in the world. The lake is so big is has BULLSHARKS, tarpon, and snook living in it. All saltwater species.

It also has 2 awesome volcanoes on it. One still active.

You can drive on the island but you need to take a ferry to get there. We bought some tickets and found a palapa to chill under while we waited for go time.

Loaded up

Volcan Concepcion as seen from the road as we mash around on Isla Ometepe

Main road/Airport runway. Dont get caught stalled out in the Runway when a plane comes to land

We stayed at a coffee co-op called Finca Magdalena, 25 Nicaraguan families all work the farm together. They recently built a small hostel/campground/restaurant. $3 a day for camping and around $1.50 for meals. Place was awesome.
Shot of the turn of the century processing house/hostel/restaurant

Made some new friends at the Finca, We decided to hike to the top of Volcan Maderas together. The finca suggested we hire a guide but after our last guided death march up Volcan San Pedro we said No thanks and hit the trail solo.

More pics and the rest of the story on the blog

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 05/28/2012 12:47:58 MDT Print View

Back on the mainland we book it down to San Juan Del Sur. This place is supposedly really popular for surfing. We checked out one suggested campsites and it was "BRO CITY". Not our scene, We searched around a bit and found a secluded spot called Matildas. $5 a night, beachfront. Sold.

We hooked up with some fellow overlanders. Our buddies from in a 3rd gen 4Runner and our friends Zach and Jill in an Astro van from You can see us all tucked up in the trees

The beach was gorgeous and hot. We spent most of the day lying in hammocks and drinking cold beers. Its a rough life.

At sunset the beach would fill with zillions of hermit crabs

Went on a adventure into town over this cool bridge to resupply on rum.

Drinking rum and watching the sun go down on sunset beach. Life is good.

More pics and the rest of the story at

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Matilda's on 05/29/2012 07:57:10 MDT Print View

Very nice. I spent Christmas week tooling around Matilda's. We stayed on the headland to the next beach. There is so much nice coastline there. South of San Juan del Sur is great too. Looks like a great time, guys. Keep buying the Flor de Cana while in Nica; its the best.

Edited by alexdrewreed on 05/29/2012 07:58:57 MDT.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
Bored of Volcanos yet? on 06/07/2012 00:58:00 MDT Print View

Getting to far behind on our blog! Need to catch up! It's amazing how fast you can get behind on these things. I go back and look at the on our Facebook (PS: You have liked us on facebook, haven't you!?) and it seems like years ago when we we arrived in Costa Rica. Then I look at the date and realize it has only been 1 month. Crazy! We are now actually in Colombia, so much has happened since then. Time to get writing!

We said goodbye to Nicaragua and crossed the border at Penas Blancas. Quite an unorganized and chaotic border. Not as many touts and pushers bothering you but no real rhyme or reason to the whole process. Lots of running around chasing down random officials in blue shirts trying their best to hide from these gringos who need an exit stamp! It was a literal game of "Where's Waldo?" as we went from blue-shirted man to blue-shirted man crazily waving our paperwork in their faces. We finally found Waldo hiding out under a palm tree WAYYYYY off in the far corner of the parking lot. Clearly hiding.

Thankfully many overlanders have gone before us and written some great walkthroughs. Thanks again to for their great Penas Blancas crossing article. We made it through in just under 2 hours. Not bad at all! These things are fairly easy provided you do your homework!

We crossed into Costa Rica with no real plan, as usual. We were just going to drive around and figure out something to do when we got there. We drove and drove and drove without seeing much of any interest. We made it to a town called Liberia, Costa Rica and stopped to have a look around and use some internet to figure out what to do for the day.

Our research discovered that the Rincon De La Vieja National Park was just a few miles back the way came. Apparently Rincon Vieaja is an active volcano complete with steam vents, mud pots, and the occasional eruption spewing hot ash and boatloads of hot liquid acid into the air if you are lucky. (Just kidding Mom's! But seriously... it last erupted in Sept 2011)

Sounded like our kind of place, Hopped back in the 4Runner and drove up a horribly rutted road to the park entrance hoping we could camp there. The park was actually closed when we arrived. But we randomly spotted some fellow overlander friends Petra and Klaus, who we last saw in Belize over 4 months ago! We knocked on their door, said howdy and picked up right where we left off, sharing beers and swapping stories. They said they have been camping in front of the park now for 2 nights without any problems. So we setup camp and hit the park early in the morning.

The hike wound through lots of dense rainforest, certainly didnt seem like there were gobs of molten hot magma benath our feet...

But after about 30 minutes we heard a faint rumbling and hissing off in the distance... Soon the acrid smell of sulfur filled our nostrils. Yep. Its a volcano alright!

We came across our first sign of the Earth's guts spilling out into the atmoshpere in the form of these nice steam vents/mud pots. I tried getting closer for a better picture but the warning signs describing the 400F degree steam lurking under the detoriated thin-pizza crust ground surrounding the vents deterred me. I settled for just chunking a few rocks and sticks into the hole for fun. YES, YES. FEED THE CRATER!

We continued our hike discovering more and more volcanic evidence. It seemed the earth was leaking out of every pore. Every once and a while we would come across a rock making strange gurgling noises, you touch the rock and it is red-hot. We thought if we moved the rock a huge plume of lava would come shooting out. Obivously, We tried moving the rock but instead just burned ourselves in the process. Perhaps its the Earth's way of deterring us from unlocking Pandoras box.

Walking along the path minding my own business when I see a funny rock, I think that rock kind of looks like a crab... Nah, Couldn't be.


I subdued him with a stick until Lauren told me to stop messing with the poor guy. He is already very lost. Silly Crab, This is a forest.

It was a beautiful day for a hike. We learned that the Costa Rican power company actually harvests some of the steam escaping from the Volcano and converts it into usable energy. An interesting concept I thought.

We packed up the truck and hit the road. The truck has been running like crap since Nicaragua and the hunt for the needed repair parts continues. Plus we need to get our butts to San Jose, Costa Rica to pick up Laurens Mom and sister who were expected to arrive soon.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 06/07/2012 11:10:58 MDT Print View

Everybody settle in for a little BACK-STORY TIME. AKA Blah, blah, blah... Where are stinkin pictures?

The 4Runner has been acting up since around Lago Ometepe back in Nicaragua. For some reason she seems to have no gusto any more. I can't seem to rev her past 3000 RPM while driving down the highway. While cruising along I could pin the pedal and the motor would bog out and run like crap. If I geared down and slowly creeped the pedal up above 3000K it seemed fine. To me and my research this sounded like a TPS (Throttle Position Sensor). We decided to go on a parts hunt in San Jose. This turned out to be a waste of time. We jump from used auto parts, to the dealer, to a new auto parts house. I found a generic O2 sensor but they had no specific 22RE parts that I could find. Oh well, She still runs, Don't she? I'll worry about it later.

With Laurens Mom and sister arriving to Costa Rica soon our plan was to hunker down and stay a few nights near the San Jose Airport.

We found a cheap motel in Heredia and went inside to pay for the room.

We came back outside and see some old man walking towards us with our fridge in his hands. I am runnin over yelling at him wondering how I can justify punching a Grandpa in the face when all of the sudden the owner of the motel comes out yelling that this old guy is actually his friend.

It turns out some young punk tried to run off with our fridge while we were inside paying for the room. Luckily these two old
timers saw it all go down and karate-kicked the kid who then dropped our fridge and ran off. +1 for Old Man Strength and +2 for
not having to fight a senior citizen. He probably would have kicked my ass anyway...

All that said and done we moved everything of value inside the motel room just in case. We got on facebook and sent out some feelers to see who was in the area.

Turns out one of our blog followers and a fellow member, Erick, lived right there in Heredia about 10 minutes from our motel. We met up later that night for some beers. We got to practice our spanish (which gets better and better with each drink) and listen to some awesomely horrible spanish karaoke. I considering singing those Tico's a rendition of "The Gambler" they would never forget. Even if they wanted to...

Erick and his sweet Nissan pickup.

Instead we stuck to planning a 4x4 overlanding trip together out on the Osa Peninsula in a few weeks. We had both heard that the roads out there were very bad AKA fun. Erick also gave me a lead on his mechanic who may be able to track down a new TPS and take a look at my issue. He graciously agreed to drive us out there the next morning.

His mechanic checked it out, agreed it may be the TPS but would need more time to be sure. We decided to come back later once we had picked up Laurens Mom and her rental car.

During our facebook blast we learned that fellow overlanders Brad and Sheena from were in the San Jose area as well. Word on the street was they were setup in some giant palace looking out over the mountains. They had bedrooms to spare, beer in the fridge, and meat on the grill. We said Adios to our motel in Heredia and headed for the hills!

We rolled up to the bad and simultaneously said "UPGRADE!!!"

When we came inside we met Brad and Sheena already hard at work whipping up some amazing dinner in their baller ass house. The place was a friend of a friends vacation home. Berry nice... Berry berry nice.

Dinner was delecious and many beers and storys were shared. As with every overlander we meet we became fast friends. We all have similar (Read: slighty insane) mindsets and outlooks on life. The community doesnt exactly discourage grandious ideas, going BIG is kinda our thing. As Brad and Sheena told us of their plans to ship their 1984 Volkswagon Vanagon to Asia to continue the journey once they hit Ushuaia, We started getting ideas of our own....

Brad also mentioned a neighbor who recommended an english-speaking mechanic in town. He had taken his VW Van there a day or two before. I figured it would be easy to just drop the 4Runner off for repair with this guy while we ran around Costa Rica in Lauren's Moms rental car... More on this later.

View from the Kitchen Window

Next morning I woke up and strolled around the "grounds". Thats what rich folk call a backyard. The house is set on a beautiful coffee farm with boatloads of beautiful plants and animals.

Aside from Coffee and Mangos, they had a "Cashew Tree" as well. I never realized cashews grew on trees, nor that each Cashew grows out of an individual fruit on said tree. The more you know...

Here you can see the "Cashew apple" just barely starting to form and the nut beneath.

Lauren and Sheena had left for a hike at 7 in morning that day. We had talked the night before about leaving at 10:30AM to pick up her Mom from the airport. When the girls weren't back by 9:30 I started thinking hmmm...

I started loading the truck, casually glancing over my shoulder from time to time wondering where the hell these ladies were at. Lauren is known to wander off for hours at a time on her morning hikes but she usually pops up eventually. I assumed she did in fact want to pick her Mom up from the airport...

At 10AM Brad and I considered them officially lost. We jumped in the 4Runner and searched the hills surrounding the house searching for our lost sheeps.

They couldn't have gotten to far... Or could they? There is a lot of land out there...

After 30 minutes of futile search and rescue I had to drop Brad off at the house and hightail it to the airport solo. It was a stressful ride as I racked my brain trying wondering how in the hell I was going to explain that Lauren was hopelessly lost somewhere in the Costa Rican mountainside to her mother.

Racing like a madman I made record time to the airport. I actually beat the plane by 45 minutes.

I found a payphone and called Brad's house.

"Are they there?"
"Yep, they just showed up"

I could work on the details later, all I needed to know was that she was alive.

I met Laurens Mom and sister, grabbed their bags and started walking them towards the Rental car pickup. I could see the confused looks on their faces wondering where their kin was hiding.

"Wheres Lauren?"
"Its a long story... but shes OK"

We headed back to the house and reunited. Everything worked out in the end as it always seems to do. Everyone was alive, Mom and sister were here.

Brad and Sheena from DriveNachoDrive, Carly, Lauren, Laurens Momma, and yours truly. Safe and sound!

You can read Brad's much more thorough and well-written account of our ladies MIA report on his blog here.

Time to see some sights!

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 06/07/2012 11:12:02 MDT Print View

oop doblepost

Edited by defrag4 on 06/07/2012 11:14:00 MDT.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 06/19/2012 10:31:43 MDT Print View

Now that Laurens Mom and sister have arrived we had some exploring to do! We loaded up the rental Toyota Rav4 with all our gear and hit the road. Our first destination was the Monteverde cloud forest up in the mountains. We waved goodbye to Brad and Sheena, plugged the coords into the GPS and away we went.

It was a beautiful paved highway drive back towards the northern side of Costa Rica. After about an hour we turned off the highway and started down some smaller paved roads, which gave way to a potholed road, which eventually gave way to straight dirt track. Ahhh... GPS how I love the adventures you take us on.

The dirt track took us up into the mountains through some fairly decent offroading action for a rental Toyota Rav4. I had to use 4x4 twice to get up some steep skree track. Banging up this rough and rugged road we were succesfully scaring the crap out of Lauren's Mom who kept mumbling something about a "deposit"...

Rest of the pics, vids, and story on the blog at

Lauren assured her this kind of driving was quite normal in Central America and away we went. The scenery was beautiful and as long as I kept the Rav4 decently away from the sheer cliff drop off everyone was happy.

View from top of the pass. You can see the Nicoya peninsula and Golf of Nicoya off in the distance

View towards Monteverde, You can see all the clouds hovering over the "cloud forest"

We eventually arrived in Santa Elena, where Carly had booked us a cool little apartment complete with kitchen so we could cook most of our meals. We settled in and got to eatin' and drinking.

View from the apartment

Next morning we were up early to see the sights. First order of business. Coffee.

The coffee is served in traditional Costa Rican style. The device is called a "Chorreador" and consists of a cotton bag which is filled with grounds and hot water is poured through.

As you can see, Carly is very excited about the coffee.

Finished product

After getting our boost we headed to the "Butterfly Garden". I was thinking... Ohhh great. Butterflys. This is going to be lame. But it was actually very interesting and we got to see and interact with some cool butterflies and bugs.

Lauren's Momma with a Blue Morpho

The girls got to release some freshly hatched? butterflys into the garden.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 06/19/2012 11:25:47 MDT Print View

We were up with the roosters in Puerto Viejo. We had to truck it from the Caribbean coast back to the interior of Costa Rica to pick up Lauren's dad from San Jose airport.

We waved goodbye to the Atlantic knowing soon enough we would be seeing the waters of the Pacific. One of my favorite parts about Central America is you can drive from ocean to ocean in one day. Bored of the Caribbean? Let's check out the Pacific!

After we grabbed Lauren's dad we headed out to the Pacific. First order of business, Lunch and drinks!

Lunch visitor

After fueling up we headed to Playa Bejuco, Costa Rica. A small little beachside community south of Jaco and north of Manuel Antonio. A perfect basecamp for relaxing on the beach and taking in the sights. This time Carly found a nice little beachhouse for us to stay in while Laurens dad visited.

We unloaded our junk and hit the beach!

We spent the next week exploring the area and eating/drinking our faces off! My favorite kind of activity.

Ed working the grill. These Central American coals take finesse!

Poolside cocktails

Many an Imperial were drank. The official beer of Costa Rica.

Every night was spent beachside watching the amazing sunsets.

We were there for the "Super Moon" as well.

It was nice to take life in the slow lane and enjoy some family time.

After a week of hanging out in Playa Bejuco it was back to the airport once again to drop off Lauren's folks and prepare to pick my Mom up the next day.

I am getting to know the San Jose Airport pretty intimately....

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
The saga continues on 06/19/2012 14:03:31 MDT Print View

James: thanks for the cool updates!

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 06/27/2012 09:59:51 MDT Print View

After dropping off Lauren's Dad and Sister we prepped for my Mom's arrival.

Originally the plan was to take her around in the 4Runner but after a hell-raising few days of dealing with a mentally unstable mechanic who will further be referred to as "Bill the Butcher". We threw in the towel and got another rental car. More on that later...

We grabbed Mom and headed out to Dominical, Costa Rica. I have a long-lost Uncle who has been running the Bella Vista Lodge out here in the jungle since the mid-70's. However, none of us had ever been.

We learned that he recently leased it out to another ex-pat named Bert. We arrived not knowing exactly what to expect.

What we found was a wonderful blend of the mountains, jungle, and the ocean. Basically, We found paradise.

Every sunset was matched with "Sundowners" of course.

Toucan's would wake us up each morning with their distinct call. In the background, you could hear the howler monkeys hooting a response.

We spent a few days at Berts, relaxing, taking in the nearby beaches and doing some horseback riding through the mountains with my long lost cousin.

Some of the gorgeous Costa Rican countryside and jungle we rode through.

We parked the horses and started hiking out to a secret waterfall

We crossed the river via this crazy trolley my Uncle rigged up years ago

Mama enjoying the wild ride

Our reward for our hike. We swam in the crystal clear and COLD waters of the falls. It was a refreshing dip after a long ride and hike

On the way bike we found this beautiful Strawberry poison dart frog. It was about the size of a dime and BRIGHT red. Don't touch!

More of the story and the rest of the pics on the blog at

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
Bill the Butcher on 06/27/2012 13:19:51 MDT Print View


I have sat down to write this post 3 different times. It is such a convoluted story and I am so teed off every time I write it that I just end up mashing the keyboard with intelligible nonsense. Here goes Round #4

A few blog posts back I had mentioned we were having problems with the 4Runner running properly. It did not have much power above 3K RPMS. The Check Engine Light was on and throwing an O2 sensor and a TPS sensor code. Simple enough I thought? Ill throw a new O2 and TPS on there and see how she runs.

Well it turned out finding parts in Costa Rica was harder than I expected.

Luckily our friends from DriveNachoDrive whom we were staying with were recently recommended an ex-pat mechanic in Atenas, Costa Rica. They had just left their van with him to get some work done. I figured it would be easy to have him track down and install the parts of my truck as well.

We ended up meeting Bill up at Brad's house. Seemed like a nice enough guy and we discussed what needed to be done and my hard date of 2 weeks when I would need the truck back to make airport runs and take my Mom around Costa Rica in the 4Runner.

No problem! Have her done in just a few days.

Sounds good! We left our baby in his hands and tooled around Costa Rica via rental car with Laurens parents for the next few weeks.

So far so good right?

Well... Brad would walk/hitch a ride down to Bill's shop every few days to check on the progress of our vehicle repairs. Despite much pleading and prodding he was sorry to report that after the first week nothing had been accomplished on either one of our trucks.

OK, I guess he does have another week to get the job done...

Unfortunately after having our truck for almost 2 entire weeks Brad reports that practically nothing at all had been done to it. He said they managed to finally pop the hood and start wrenching on random things but had no luck in tracking down a new TPS.

Fed up and in need of my truck to make an airport run the next day, I phoned Bill from Playa Bejuco and asked him to return the truck to Brad's house in Atenas and forget about the whole thing. After all, the truck still ran decent enough to get us around for the past month or so.

Bill assured me that he would have all the parts that day and have it up to Brad's early the next morning before we arrived to head to the airport. I reluctantly agreed to this...

Next morning we pull up to Brad's house in the rental expecting to see the truck. It's not there.

We call Bill. He doesn't answer.


I go into panic mode. We had less than an hour to put Laurens Dad and sister on a plane. The only car we had is the rental which needed to be returned. We would end up stranded down there without the 4Runner.

Brad felt bad but with his truck stuck in the same situation he couldn't offer a ride. I call in a favor from our buddies over at who graciously agree to cancel their plans for the day and scoop us up from the airport after we drop the rental and put the family on the plane.

OK mild crisis adverted. It's good to have friends.

We get back from the airport, wave goodbye to Life Remotely, and start blowing up Bill's phone. No answer.


Brad and I hatch a plan to walk down to his shop, about 5 miles away and start busting skulls and steal our trucks back.

The phone suddenly rings. It's Bill.

"Oh hey! My partner Rick is on a parts run, We should have it all done this afternoon."


Oh, It wasn't running right so we couldn't bring it.


We'll have it done this afternoon.


OK OK I'll bring it up to you this afternoon as soon as Rick gets back.


No problem, No problem, I'll have it for you this afternoon.


I drink a few beers to calm down. We head over to LifeRemotely's pad for some dinner and await Bill's call that the truck is on its way to the house.

4PM. No call
5PM. No call
6PM. No call
7PM. No call. I start calling Bill.

Phone rings 3 times, then goes to voicemail.
I call back. Straight to voicemail!


I ring back 3-5 more times, still straight to voicemail.


I start frantically pacing the floor imagine my truck being chopped to bits and shipped off to various parts of the globe. What is this man doing to my poor baby? What in the hell is going on!?

Brad mentions he has this "partner Rick's" phone number and maybe we should call him and see if he knows what is going on since he supposedly went on the parts run today.

I phone Rick.

Hey Rick, This is James with the 4Runner. You heard from Bill or know anything about my truck?
Uh... Ok calm down buddy
Uh... Bill said you were getting parts for it today

I stare wide-eyed back at Brad who was listening to the manic screaming on the other end...

I tell Brad what just went down on the phone. Brad tells me he has personally seen Rick working on my truck twice. So his story makes no sense....


We again start hatching a plan to break into the orphanage (I did mention Bill butcher "shop" is actually just a covered garage area next to an children orphanage?) and steal my truck back that night.

Thoughts of a rapey Costa Rican jailhouse and 2 lanky gringos caught busting into an orphanage full of little kids quickly squelch that idea from our mind.


We all rally around and continue drinking, plotting the battle versus "BILL THE BUTCHER" and his sidekick "Rick".

We wake up at 6AM the next morning, Dress in all black (Looking back dressing in black doesn't help much during daytime capers...) We grab 2 crowbars, a lance, and a rabbit pelt from the garage and head towards the door. Prepared for battle.

Phone rings. It's Bill.

Hey guys! Going to come by the house and pick you up to take you to the shop.

No apology, No explanation, No recognition of anything being wrong whatsoever. I start to think this man may just have severe mental problems.

We decided to play it cool, let's catch the ride down to the shop and I will just drive my truck away. We put away our spears and lances.

About 30 minutess later, Bill pulls up cheery as can be as if nothing was amiss. I say nothing to him, fuming in the backseat just hoping I can get quickly get my truck as far away from this madman as possible.

We pull up to the orphanage, little kids running around happily playing. Not realizing there is a group of lunatic mechanics working just feet from their paradise.

My truck comes into view. I run up to her with my toolbag.

Are you OK!? My poor baby! My poor baby! Daddys here. Daddys here. Everything is going to be alright.

I start the truck. More to say. I try to start the truck. It barely turns over and when it does it is running HORRIBLE. Barely able to stay running unless I work the throttle like a madman. The RPMs swaying frantically from 100RPM to 5000RPM in a state of utter confusion.


I jump out and examine the carnage under the hood. Oily paw prints all over every sensor, hose, and clamp. Nothing properly tightened. I can tell every sensor has been messed with, the TPS is limply dangling from its screws, the sealed AirFlowMeter has been pried open and fondled. Vacuum hoses hacked, slashed, and lying unplugged across the engine bay.

Oh god, Oh god. My poor baby. I just want to get you out of here. Tell me where the bad man touched you...

I start trying to repair her as best I can to at least limp it out of this house of horrors.

A few minutes into me repairing the truck... Guess who shows up. Crazy ass Rick!

He makes no recognition of my presence. I make none of his. Just focus diligently putting my baby back together.

About 10 minutes later I hear Bill talking to Rick about something. Rick starts cursing at Bill saying


I grip the heavy socket wrench in my hand tightly, visions of swinging it down on Rick's face like the hammer of Thor run through my mind.

No James, focus. focus. You gotta get outta here.

I tighten the last bolt, jump in and start the truck.

Oh man she is still running absolutely horrible. But she is running enough to move now. I pop her in reverse and pull out of the bay lurching and bucking like a wild bronco.

I'm sorry baby, It's for your own good. We gotta get you away from these butchers.

I walk up to Brad, whisper to him I am getting the HELL outta dodge. He nods in reply but says nothing not wanting to set off any alarms with these two madman.

I say to Bill, "Going for a testrun!"

Then I lurch and buck the truck up the hill and out of the orphanage. The truck is running so poorly that I have to keep it in 4LO to get enough gearing to climb even the most docile of hills.

I throw the CAUTION lights on and limp my poor girl the 5 miles back to Brad's house. It takes me 45 minutes of stalling, clutch slipping, and basically raping my truck to get her home. She screams in protest but I assure its for her own good.

When I finally make it home Lauren is waiting in the driveway, She runs out and hugs the truck. I open the door and collapse in a heap on the ground.

What a friggin day. It's not even 9AM yet.... and we have to be at the airport in less than an hour...

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 06/28/2012 08:38:18 MDT Print View

So how did the story end?

Basically because my truck was so screwed up and I only had an hour to get the airport I got the neighbor lady to call me a cab. $60 ride to the airport! Ouch

On the way, I am telling the cab driver my nightmare with Bill and he tells me he is so sorry and we should never take our car to an American mechanic in a foreign country. No one likes them and they just get screwed over at every at every parts house they go to.

The cab driver told me he is good friends with a local mechanic who in charge of repairing the towns fleet vehicles, rentals, and taxis. He says he can fix anything and on the super cheap.

He took me to his shop on the way to the airport. I met the mechanic who was a younger fellow, probably around 27 or 28 with a lot full of taxis, newer rental cars, and locals old junkers. Even though I could barely understand a word he said, I trusted him. He said his friend has the exact same truck and he could test parts between the two instead of just throwing money at it.

After I picked up my Mom from the airport, I dropped the 4Runner off with him and left for a week.

Got a call 2 days later that the truck was all done!

Came and picked up the truck and she was running better than she ever has before.

The mechanic said it took him a long time to just to figure out just what the hell the last guys had done. In the end he re-adjusted the AFM back to stock, cleaned and adjusted the TPS, cleaned the injectiors, replaced the O2 sensor, dropped the fuel pump and discovered it was fairly weak and not pumping properly, replaced that. Replaced the fuel filter and a few other adjustments. The final bill was steep since the fuel pump was around ~$150 but I was just happy to have the truck back and purring once again!

She has been running amazing for the last few months, starts on the first crank and getting around 20MPG.

Gotta love Toyotas!

Moral of the story: Wrench on your own truck when you can, and stick with the locals when you cant! at least I know I am.

Edited by defrag4 on 06/28/2012 09:16:47 MDT.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 07/11/2012 17:52:53 MDT Print View

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, jammed full of amazing wildlife and breathtaking scenery. It is a safe, well-developed country, with fine infrastructure. It has become the #1 tourism destination in Central America for good reason. That being said, We were getting tired of running the "gringo circuit" and having every place we show up be overrun with tourists, price gouging tour operators, eco-tour this, eco-tour that. Where was the REAL Costa Rica? Someplace that hasn't yet been bombarded by ex-pats looking to make a buck off of milk-faced tourists coming down on holiday. We were hunting for someplace where the smooth pavement ends and the true Costa Rican jungle takes back over.

When we last met up with our Costa Rican friend Erick, we were planning a 4x4 trip out to the "Osa Peninsula". Dubbed Costa Rica's last wilderness frontier, The Osa is rich in wildlife, sparsely populated and, until recently, very difficult to access. Much of this densely forested area is conserved in national parks and private reserves. Here, towering rainforests line undeveloped beaches and untouched coves, making this region one of the most beautiful anywhere on Earth.

Osa as seen from space

We loaded up the 4Runner and Erick loaded up his Nissan and we headed out from San Jose towards the jungle.

We are humming along when all of the sudden a huge thunderstorm hits us. It is coming down in sheets, we can barely see the road in front of us. I am losing sight of Erick who I am following out to the Osa, when all of the sudden the 4Runner bucks and then completely dies. Try to turn it back over and it just cranks and cranks but never turns over. Great.... broke down in a thunderstorm.

Luckily Erick's truck is equipped with a HAM radio setup and he had given me a Walkie, So I radio up to him that I am having some issues and he circles back.

We jump out in the rainstorm and pop the hood trying to figure out what the hell is going out. Getting soaked to the bone in the process...

After some fiddling I realize that while driving down the bumpy and rutted roads the MAF sensor plug has wiggled itself free. Plug it back in and hit with a few zipties and we are back in action! I think 90% of our truck is held together by zipties at this point...

We cruise along the Osa peninsula with no real destination in mind. We eventually decide to head out to "Bahia Drake".

We arrived in Drake and find a small fishing village with a beautiful rainforest lined sandy cove.

We drive right out onto the beach and setup camp for the night.

We share some beers and celebrate our arrival on the peninsula. We are honored with a beautiful sunset over the bay.

The Osa peninsula is one of the wettest places on earth, getting hit with an average of 360 inches of rain per year. It doesn't take long till she starts dumping once again and cuts our celebration short. We both retreat into our individual homes for the night.

Next morning we are up early eager to explore more of the Osa. Erick talks to a local fellow who gives him the scoop on a beautiful beach that we need to go check out. He says the road out there is pretty rough with lots of river crossings. Excellent!!

We make it to our secret beach. A beautiful palm lined beach with not a soul to be seen.

We hear loud squawks and look up into the trees above. We find a family of Scarlet macaws hanging out gnawing on nuts.

We spend some time exploring our exclusive beach

The jungle is THICK right up to the shore. Who knows what kind of beasts lurk inside?

We decide to move on. Lauren and I are planning to backpack further into the jungle and need to pick up some permits from Puerto Jimenez.

Our new friend Erick and his truck.

On the way to P.J. we come across a MACK truck who was no match for the rough roads of the Osa. Good luck gettin' AAA out here...

We grab the permits from the office and head down a wild road to Carate. The furthest south you can possibly drive in Osa.

Here we setup camp along the beach, have dinner, and prepare ourselves for the adventure to come. Backpacking Corcovado National Park. The most biologically intense place in the world.

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
re on 07/11/2012 17:57:44 MDT Print View

It had been far to long since we did some backpacking and Lauren and I were getting very excited to visit Costa Rica's Corcovado National park. Corcovado is located on the isolated and undeveloped Osa peninsula. It is considered the crown jewel of the Costa Rican park system. Corcovado contains the largest primary rainforest on the entire Pacific coastline and the largest lowland tropical rainforest in the world. National Geographic called it "the most biologically intense place on EARTH". We were stoked.

We signed up for a 2-day permit at the park office located in Puerto Jimenez and picked up a trail-map. The cost was $10 per person/per day plus $3 per day for camping. There are also meals available at the Sirena Ranger station. However, meals must be scheduled far in advance and are very costly due to the necessity of all supplies to be packed/flown/boated into the remote ranger station.

The next morning we loaded up our backpacks with food and gear, parked our truck at a crotchety old ex-pats tienda near the trailhead and started off down the beach.

The ranger informed us when we signed up for the hike that it was around 20 Km (12.5 miles) or so total to the Sirena ranger station where we would be camping. The hike is a mix of beach hiking and rain forest trail. Trudging along through the wet sand, Lauren and I were immediately reminded of our backpacking trip on California's Lost Coast.

The scenery was breath-taking. Tropical rainforest butted right up to the pristine beach. Similar to the Lost Coast, we had to be wary of the tides. There are 2 stretches of beach that could only be crossed during low-tide. Get stuck in the middle when the ocean comes up and you are shark food.

Within 2-minutes of hitting the trail we started to see our first wildlife.

A Coati (sort of like a tropical raccoon) is feeding on the beach.

They say hermit crabs are signs of a healthy beach. I would say this one is in pretty good shape...

Continuing along the beach we crossed a few small rivers and streams leading out of the jungle into the ocean.

We continued hiking through the sand and made it to our first beach pass. Tide coming up on us already? We are going to have to boogie if we want to get through the second pass before the tide is too high.

Making it through our first stretch of beach hiking we cut up into the rain forest. Immediately the temperature drops 15F and the intense sounds of jungle replace the sound of waves crashing the shore.

The forest is full of thousands of "Halloween Crabs" who make their burrows in the soft soils of the rainforest. They scatter as we approach filling the forest with the noise of claws scratching on the trees, branches, and deadfall of the woods.

We are deep in gigantic old growth rainforest.

We are peacefully walking along taking in the sights and smells of the woods when suddenly Lauren screams and stops dead in her tracks.

I run up to see what the hell is going on, She stops me and whispers. "I think I just saw a jaguar" Nonsense, I think. Jaguars are extremely rare and a nocturnal creature.

She points through the trees. Sure enough I see a black cat with long tail and piercing eyes staring back at us. EEK! It is a jaguar!

The cat stares back at us nonchalantly then takes a few steps into a clearing. I see now that it is certainly not big enough to be a jaguar but definitely some sort of large black feline. Lauren steps back to safety behind a tree. I on the other hand grab the camera and inch closer as she whispers "What the hell are you doing!?"

The cat is just sitting there staring back at us... in perfect view for a picture. I ready the camera, aim, focus, fire. *BEEP BEEP BEEP*. The serine silence of the forest is broken by a mysterious foreign sound. The cat bolts into the jungle. I look down at the camera which reads MEMORY CARD FULL. The forested mountainside echos with the sounds of me cursing at the top of my lungs.

We later learn that what we encountered was not a jaguar but actually a "Jaguarundi". Someone with a larger memory card than us snapped this photo of one.

We have encountered small bobcats before in the wild but certainly nothing as strange, exotic, and possibly man-eating as this. Our senses are on high-alert now. I grab a stick for protection, Lauren huddles behind me, and we press further into the jungle. The fact that we are the strangers in a strange land fully sinks in. This part of the world is still extremely wild and we are the intruders. We suddenly get the feeling we are being watched as we traipse through the woods.

*CRASH* The sound of breaking limbs, branches fall from the sky, and the forest fills with screeches and screams. We jump 5ft backwards then stare into the tree-tops. We find an entire troop of 15 white-faced capuchin monkeys swinging and playing around. We spot one lazily munching on bananas. My mind was blown as we stared at the stereotypical "monkey eating a banana" scene play out in front of us. I thought this stuff only happened in cartoons!

Eventually we break out of the woods and back onto the beach. The beaming sun was a warm-welcome after our harrowing time in the dark jungle. Unfortunately, We had taken far to long lollygagging around getting attacked by Jaguarundis and staring at monkeys in the rainforest. The tides had risen quite a bit and we found ourselves at the beginning of the second stretch of beach that was impassable during high-tide. By the looks of it we had maybe 30-minutes before high-tide was in full swing.

We had 2 choices.
Number one. Make a run for it and hope to cross the mile-long strech of beach before the tides reach the cliff-walls and drag us out to sea.
Number Two. Wait out the tide for hours and possibly end up spending the night in the man-eating jaguar infested jungle.

We looked at the beach, We looked at the jungle. We looked at each other. Then started running.

We sprinted as fast as we could with our 30Lb backpacks down the beach as the waves crashed inches from our heels. As we advanced we were pressed further and further towards the cliff-wall. Eventually the ocean was too high, we could not go any further. To our right was a semi-dried up waterfall to the left was the ocean bearing down on us. We scrambed up the dry waterfall and bushwacked it through the jungle.

Eventually we found a faint trail. Exhausted we through down our backpacks and enjoyed a victory meal of crackers and tuna fish. We had made it through the second pass.

The trail wound through the woods a bit then came right back down the beach but further in the trees away from the tide.

Palm tree being born from a coconut

We continued our trek until we come to our third and final obstacle. The Rio Claro.

The ranger had mentioned the river contained crocodiles and BULL sharks. But what he failed to mention was that it was over waist-deep and over 50ft wide during high-tide which was of course... when we got there.

We walked up and down the river bank trying to determine the best area to cross. Further into the forest the river was slow but very deep and wide. We figured our chances were high to be eaten by crocs or sharks before we made it to the other side.

Closer towards the ocean, the river was not as deep or wide, however when the ocean tide crashed into the river mouth it ripped the current so fast the banks were eroding and we watched 400LB fallen trees trunks being drug out into the ocean.

We knew the Sirena ranger station was less than 1/2 mile past this river. If we did not make it across we would have to sleep in the jungle, which at this point was not an option.

I threw down my pack, grabbed a stick, and stood on the river bank watching the tide come into the river mouth. If we timed it right we would be able to cross when the river was low, the tide was slow, and the crossing would be simple. If we timed it wrong and the tide crashed into the mouth while we were crossing there was a high probability we would be pulled out to sea.

I waited for the tide to slow and stepped off the bank into the river, I slowly picked my way across the river with the water coming up about waist-high. As I was half-way across I looked up and yelled to Lauren "Hey, A crocodile!" and pointed towards a large croc resting about 40ft in front of me near the river bank. No big deal...

I made it safely across with no drama aside from the croc sighting. OK, Well now we know its possible. I waited for the tide to recede again and crossed back.

We hitched our packs up as high as possible on our backs, waited for the tide to calm, looked around for the croc who had since vanished, and stepped in.

We were slowly picking our way across when all of the sudden, ROUGE WAVE. The river mouth started to flood with ocean water and the current began ripping the sandy river bottom from beneath our feet. I abandoned my crossing stick and turned to see Lauren stumbling and about to go face first into the ripping river. I grabbed her by the pack as she fell forward and drug her along as we clamored up the opposite river bank.

We made it! We sat on the bank for a while catching our breath and checking out our packs. The bottoms had gotten wet a bit but overall were surprisingly fairly dry. Luckily Lauren fell forward instead of backwards, she got her clothes soaked but her bag stayed dry.

I took this moment to remind Lauren this is the 2nd time I have saved her from dying in a river. She was almost swept away once before while hiking the Rae Lakes loop back in the Sierra mountains of California. Yes, I am a pretty awesome boyfriend.

We collected ourselves and trudged on as the sun was setting, 1/2 a mile later we came upon a clearing in the woods.

We had never been so happy to see a clap-boarded weathered station! Sirena Station, How we loved you!

We sat for a while taking in the whole experience and resting our bones in the old reclining chairs on the front porch of the station.

Set up our tent on the elevated covered platforms, stripped out of our wet and stinky clothes, and had one of the best sleeps of the entire trip.

The sounds of howler monkeys and squawking macaws woke us in the morning. We made some coffee and suited up to trek around the various trails found around the station.

We read this sign on our way out to the trails... I guess running towards the feline and trying to snap photos is not the correct procedure.

Lauren and I are avid hikers and backpackers. We have visited tons of parks, reserves, wildlife areas, etc all across the U.S. and in Central America. Never in our life have we seen anywhere close to the amount of wildlife that we saw in Corcovado. It is literal zoo without cages out here. You are constantly stumbling across natures creatures just going about their business in the wild. It is an amazing place.

Spider monkeys crawling in the trees.

More Coatis running across the trail.

And my favorite sighting of the trip. A wild Tapir munching away in the jungle. We were less than 5ft away from him. He did not have a care in the world and just kept on grazing as we snapped photos.

That night we were visited by all kinds of weird, giant and interesting bugs I have never seen before.

A gigantic grasshopper.

This crazy flying leaf looking bug

HUGE flying cockroach

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and the next morning we packed up from the platform as we prepared to set off.

We made some new friends at the station and we all decided to set off back to Carina together.

Back down the beach we go. This time we timed it perfectly and all the beach/river crossings were easy.

Not done with the wildlife yet! We saw an ant-eater plodding along through the forest.

Stopped for some beach-side fresh coconuts.

Not a bad view for a break.

Also spotted some poison dart frogs along the trail

We passed the final ranger station on the way back to Carina where we stopped for a break.

While resting we spotted a weird bird. Upon closer inspection, it was actually not a bird but a GIGANTIC moth. This moth is called the "White Witch Moth" and has the largest wing-span of any insect in the world.

We hiked the last stretch of beach in silence. Taking in the jungle, the beach, and the last few days experience. If you are a biology/nature lover you need to get your butt down to Corcovado National Park. I guarantee you will not come away disappointed. The hike out to Sirena station is challenging but worth every step.

Back to the truck, we loaded our stinky gear and headed to Puerto Jimenez where we got a cheap motel and enjoyed a long hot shower.

The next day we hit the road, Destination: PANAMA.