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Home on the Highway - San Francisco to Ushuaia, Argentina in an 87 4Runner
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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.