Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner
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Chuck Cheese
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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... http://homeonthehighway.com/cruising-the-mexican-coastline/

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

Chuck Cheese
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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.





Read more on the blog...

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

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
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.



Read more on the blog...

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

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
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="http://www.northernbelize.com/cult_mennonite.html]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.
Read more on the blog... http://homeonthehighway.com

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... http://homeonthehighway.com

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
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 http://homeonthehighway.com

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
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=http://homeonthehighway.com]More pics and detailed writeup on the blog. http://homeonthehighway.com [/url]

Chuck Cheese
(defrag4) - F
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.

VAMOS!


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=http://homeonthehighway.com]More pics and the rest of the story on the blog. http://homeonthehighway.com[/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 http://homeonthehighway.com

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 http://homeonthehighway.com

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.


Saluld!


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=http://homeonthehighway.com]More pics and the rest of the story on the blog at http://homeonthehighway.com[/url]

Angus A.
(mangus7175) - F

Locale: http://theshadedtrail.blogspot.com
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.