First of all I'd like to formally apologize to our readers, all five of you, for the serious lack of updates we've had over the past few months. I hadn't realized how far behind we were until we won the award for "Most Slackerest Blog" (new word courtesy of James at Home On The Highway). Between fighting Shannon over the keyboard and actually putting the computer away to actually enjoy our trip, it's been a little tough to update our experiences. I'll do my best to sum it all up to date, and get things back on track.
We've had a few highs and lows over the past few months...
In Mexico, we fell head over heals in love with the small town of Guanajuato. Admittedly I already had a serious love affair with GTO, but after I introduced Shannon to the charm and beauty of this pueblo magico in Central Mexico, it became a full-on complicated love triangle. We spent over a month there and could have easily just put the 4runner up on blocks, and slipped away into the daily grind as full-time expats there.
In Mexico City, while shopping for a wedding dress and size 4 heels for Shannon (an experience that all overland travelers should seek out) we were robbed not once but twice by taxi-drivers...well robbed may be stretching the truth a bit. There were no weapons involved, no threats, and we didn't even notice it was happening but after the ride we realized that one driver slipped us a fake bill in change and the other had given us an out-of-circulation bill that was worth less than a dollar. Another souvenir for the road and another lesson learned.
Occupy Oaxaca in full effect...teachers on strike made it difficult to appreciate the downtown architecture
In Oaxaca and Chiapas, we blazed through at least 4 of the unofficial roadblocks that we had heard so much about. Basically two people holding a rope or cable across the road, we were warned that these were attempts to stop you while men in the bushes come out to rob you. Admittedly it appeared that these were all simply attempts to sell elotes or tamales by the road, we drove through anyway, not really in the mood for a snack.
I'll be happy if I never eat another chapuline
We crossed paths with Crossing Latitudes, who we went into the Sierra Norte with, eventually giving a ride to two colorful characters in a small mountain village. The six of us followed a lead towards a nearby party and stumbled on a 600 year-old religious tradition in a small village that I couldn't even pick out on a map. We were treated like royalty and the villagers were warm and friendly. I may or may not have consumed fire-water straight from a gasoline jug...I survived, but for a second I thought that I may go blind.
Going where the wind takes us
The reason for the celebration
Our new friends Mindy & VJ
, Aaron & Aneta
Our border crossing experience to Guatemala was gentle at La Mesilla, however the nice man at Migración did ask for the unofficial Q20 fee for each of our visas. Thanks to Life Remotely and WikiOverland, we knew what to expect beforehand so we kindly asked for a receipt.
"The stamp in your passport is the receipt." He claimed.
Without skipping a beat, I replied "That's cool, but I just need an official piece of paper that says I give you Q20 and you give me the stamp to receive the visa."
We went back and forth like this for a while, referring to notes that I had made on a piece of paper. Since I had obviously done my homework and I was not going to budge on the matter, he quickly changed his story to "You pay the 20 quetzales for the visa when you LEAVE Guatemala" in a disappointed tone. Sure buddy.
Not a bad view for the next month
Tractor-powered ferris wheel of death in San Juan La Laguna
We spent a month in San Marcos La Laguna and this was our second time finding home away from home. A quiet village on Lago de Atitlan, we spent three weeks taking spanish lessons from Homer of San Pedro Spanish School. We now feel very confident with our spanish conversational skills and we've definitely noticed a difference in daily interaction. We made a few friends on the lake and even managed to pick up some informal lessons in Kakchikel, the local Mayan dialect...although the local girls giggle every time we attempt to pronounce it.
One of many lancha rides across the lake
Our new friend Sean
, we bumped into him at one of our favorite haunts in San Marcos La Laguna
My sister and brother-in-law came to visit us in Guatemala and they brought our 4-month old nephew so we could finally meet him. This kid is so awesome...not only does he live in Madagascar, but he's going to have more stamps in his passport by the age of one than most of my friends back home do.
International man of mystery in training
Getting stamped out of Guatemala, officially in "no man's land"
We decided to make the short trip to El Salvador for some surf and sun. On the way there we had a few options to get to the coast...
Easy does it
Enjoying a beer on the ferry to Monterrico
This border crossing experience was a little more interesting now that we were officially in Central America...we had read stories about the "helpers" that approach like zombie hordes and harass you into paying them to get your paperwork completed. We decide along time ago that we wanted to do it the hard way, completing our paperwork for ourselves and hopefully becoming border-crossing pros. We did not however, expect the helpers to barrage us on motorcycles, before we even got near the border. Imagine the final chase scene from Mad Max: Beyond The Thunderdome...post-apocalyptic thugs chasing us on bizarre machines riding alongside the 4runner for the chance to hop on the hood, while screaming "Let me help you! I will take care of your papers!"
Approaching El Salvador's border
While I may be exaggerating a little, the description is not too far off. The sketchy moto-helpers were riding through oncoming traffic, tapping on my window, pleading to be the one to help us take care of the border crossing red-tape. Once we parked at the border, we had at least fifteen helpers literally surrounding us in the 4runner before we even stepped out. They were all banging on the windows and claiming to help us "for free", while we just sat for five minutes in pure shock. We had to brush them off and make our way to the migración, but one helper who spoke very good english would simply not leave me alone. I told him we wanted to do everything on our own and we already knew what to do, but he was like a fly in my ear at every step. He would tell me what to do AS I was already doing it, while I was politely telling him that he was actually making the process more difficult since we could not hear the border officials talk to us. I finally ditched him when I needed a copy of our vehicle title...he waited for me at the copy-shop while I went to the 4runner to get a copy I already had. Overall the border took us almost 3 hours, most of that time was spent waiting for the kind folks in El Salvador's aduana to notice us and actually give us the time of day.
Note the convenient handle above the bed and the toilet paper dispenser
We got lost trying to find Parque Nacional El Imposible, stumbling past MS-13 graffiti and eventually ended up staying for the first time in an auto hotel. In case you're not familiar, an auto hotel is a place where you pay by the hour and they have a little garage for each room so you can hide your car from sight. The menu had condoms and lubricants...probably not the best way to welcome your family to Central America, but it was unforgettable no doubt.
Keeping a low-profile in gang territory
Sunset in El Salvador
The volcano of Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
While in El Salvador my brother and I got to enjoy some surf at El Zonte, where I was desperately trying to avoid swallowing the water while half-drowning. The surf break is about 200 yards from a river outlet that is undoubtedly flowing with sewage. Needless to say, while attempting to duck dive my lower lip was ripped open by the powerful surf and I ingested more crap-water than I had hoped.
The break at El Zonte
A week later when we finally found Parque Nacional El Imposible (it is indeed fairly impossible to locate),where I spent 48 hours trembling in bed with a fever of 103, surrounded by hallucinations of a tombstone that read "DIED OF DYSENTERY" while wondering if Shannon would continue the journey without me or find an El Salvadorian sancho to replace me. Unfortunately Shannon eventually got just as sick, so we took turns nursing each other to health and trying to cool each other down.
So that pretty much brings us to present day, with a couple of exceptions. The 4runner is currently out of service right now for some maintenance and repairs, so we're trying to figure out our next move from Antigua. We may write a few updates that will fill you in on some of the specifics that I've left out, but for now we will consider our story updated. James, you can stop harassing us now...
I almost forgot to mention the highlight of our trip so far: 31 of our favorite people came from all over the world to see us on the lake...
And we got married!
Stay tuned for more details on our recent nuptials.