Sunday, August 30, 2020

Central America 2020

I made the following slide show mostly for myself, but figured I would share it.  I know it is a bit long.  Trying to fit so many experiences into a short slide show is no easy task!  

I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

My Public Service Announcment

I'm not exactly an environmentalist, but I try to be a good steward of the world when I travel.  I don't blaze new trails on virgin terrain with my 11,000+ pound van.  I pick up trash when I can.  I try to leave places a little better than what I found them.

The one thing I observed on the short length of my trip before COVID stopped me in my tracks was the horrid amount of plastic trash.  Plastic trash seemed to be everywhere, the most omnipresent was on most beaches.  I did manage to find a beach here and there without plastic trash, but it wasn't easy.

My photos and the photos of most overlanders are typically carefully framed to give the appearance of a beautiful place.  The following photo is one I had to work particularly hard to hide all the trash in the photo and give the appearance of a pristine Caribbean beach.  Truth is that just below the short drop to the beach was a lot of trash and behind the van was more trash.  Unfortunately, the trash is what drove me from this otherwise idyllic spot much sooner than I would have cared.


I find it rather sad to see all the trash in beautiful places.

So, to do my little part in minimizing my contribution to the problem I am doing my best not to use single-use plastic bottles.  Not to say I'm perfect and don't use one occasionally, but I try. 

I ask you, the reader, to also try to avoid using single-use plastic bottles.  There are so many nice re-usable bottles available and the world got along pretty well before bottled water was a thing.

Thanks and I'll get off my environmentalist kick now ...

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The drive out from Semuc Champey, Guatemala.

I visited Semuc Champey before I had ever heard of COVID-19, but it wasn't long after my visit to this remote jungle paradise that further travel halted on the shores of Lago Atitlán.  I wrote about my visit to this magical place in a previous blog post here.

The intensity of the drive in to Semuc Champey was a complete surprise to me.  I really hadn't researched the access at all before heading in.  It took MUCH longer than I anticipated.  The roads were very narrow, very steep in places, and overall was much more remote than I expected.  I guess all the things I like!

This unedited video is a time-lapse of my exit from Semuc Champey.  It may be boring for most to watch, but gives an idea of the area and access.  It's hard to tell how steep some places are, but wherever you see parallel concrete strips it's either steep up or down. I was in 4wd the way out as it had been raining most of the night before and would have been too slippery in 2wd.

Enjoy ...

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Farewell Guatemala - You did not disappoint!

At about the 5 week mark at Pasaj-Cap it became evident that the chances of continuing south this year are extremely slim.  It was time to start thinking of heading home and leaving this little slice of Guatemalan paradise and this great little community of people that feel more like family by now.

Me and some others began to prepare for a border run on April 24th.  The convoy size fluctuated for a while being as high as 7 vehicles at one point.  In the end it was 2 vehicles from Pasaj-Cap (myself and Victor in his 4Runner), Vladimir & Foxy (his dog) in his van from San Marcos, and Prizm in his 4Runner that we picked up along the way to the border.  In addition, I had my “travel kids & dog” Dave, Ela, and Taco in the van with me.  They needed to get to Mexico City to catch a flight back to Europe and their van just wasn’t up to the task, so it continues its time at Pasaj-Cap.

Packing up after living in the van in the same place for nearly 6 weeks and adding 2 people, a dog and their luggage was no small task,  but by around 7:30 Friday morning the goodbyes were in full swing, the engines started, and we exited Pasaj-Cap Penitentiary as it was sometimes referred to.  It felt great to be behind the wheel again but sad to leave so many friends behind.


First challenge for me was negotiating a particularly tight turn in San Marcos that had block walls on every side.  After running the bumper into the wall a few times, I finally made my way around the corner where we met Vladimir and our 3 vehicle convoy was on its way.

That will buff right out.


Leaving our home on Lake Atitlan requires a steep and windy climb out of the ancient crater that forms the lake.  Once up top we headed towards Mexico.  On the way we had to stop and get last minute paperwork for the dogs.  This went surprisingly smooth.  Shortly later we joined with Prizm and our 4 vehicle convoy was off to the border. 

The Guatemala Escapees!

We had been watching border traffic patterns on Google Maps to try to figure out if there were road blocks and which crossing would be best.  Based on that and other info we had from FB we chose to cross at El Carmen / Talisman border.  On approaching El Carmen, we encountered a road block made up of locals and one police woman.  We explained our situation of just wanting to leave the country and they agreed to let us pass to the border.

Once at the border we had a difficult time convincing the Guatemala side to let us out.  They kept stating that we would not be able to get into Mexico.  We knew that Mexican borders were technically open and after a lot of back and forth and confirming our understanding that once stamped out of Guatemala we would not be allowed back in, we were stamped out.  All of us except Vladimir who had to pay a fine for expired Temporary Import Permit (TIP).  While he was more than willing to pay, there was no one to accept the fine.  As the rest of us were stamped out already, we had to proceed.  Vladimir made his way back to sleep at a gas station and try Tecun Uman border the following morning.

Guatemala side of border.



The 5 of us in our 3 vehicles made it on to the bridge (after we had our temperatures checked at the Guatemala medical tent in the pouring rain), they lowered the chain in the middle of the bridge and we crossed to the Mexican side only to be greeted by officials holding their hands up and motioning for us to go back.  That wasn’t an option, so we began to tackle this next obstacle.

“You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.” 

Mark Watney – The Martian

Initial discussions on Mexico side.  They are not going to let us in!

All fumigated and no where to go.


As Victor and Prizm spoke the best Spanish, they took on dialogues with the Mexican border officials.  Very long story short, they were not going to process us into Mexico until we could exhibit that we could actually go somewhere.  The border town locals had put in place a roadblock to keep anyone from entering and passing through their town.  We had heard that this was taking place in various locations throughout Mexico.  Some local border towns are taking matters into their own hands to keep foreigners out of the country who are “spreading the Corona Virus”.

Up to this point we had had our pictures taken by many people on both sides of the border and information on us along with photos had made it to the locals at the roadblock, so they knew all about us.  The border officials recommended we meet with the locals and try to get clearance to pass.  As Victor and Prizm were walking towards town three local representatives were walking towards to the border to meet them.  A discussion took place in which the locals made it clear they were not going to let us pass.

While previously the border officials said we could not stay on the bridge, they also were absolutely not going to let us stay at the border building.  It was getting late, so it was back on the bridge for us to spend the night stuck between Guatemala and Mexico.  It all felt very surreal and only the stuff you might see in a movie.  Together with us on the bridge were 6 Guatemalans traveling on foot that were not being allowed back into Guatemala after being turned back on their journey north.  I felt bad for them as they just wanted to get home as we did.

Dave (British) and Ela (German) contacted their Embassies for assistance.  It seemed as though the British were most engaged and taking lead on trying to get an escort for us the next day.  They were working together with the German Embassy.  I tried to contact the US Embassy and only got a Spanish speaking woman that I think was just answering phones for the evening.  No help at all there this evening.

We arranged the vehicles and configured for camping.  Dave & Ela would sleep upstairs in the van, Taco on the floor, and me in the downstairs bed where I normally am.  Just one big happy family.  After getting some food in us we all tried to get some sleep.

By far the most bizarre camp site I will ever have.

Dave and Taco on security patrol (or just pacing the bridge).

Guatemala behind me.  We can't go back ...

It was interesting to note that the Mexican side only had a couple night watchmen on duty while the Guatemalan side was staffed with fully armed military most of the time.  Regardless, we never felt in danger.

Morning seemed to come pretty quickly.  I found another number for the US Embassy and got ahold of someone to work on our issue.  He got with the British & German Embassy and things started to roll.  Shortly after we received word from the British that an escort was on the way and to start packing up.  The British are Coming, The British are Coming!

While this was all going on, a large military truck rolled up on the Guatemalan side and deposited ~20 Hondurans that were being deported back to Mexico.  As we understood they were trying to get to their homes in Honduras but not being allowed to pass through Guatemala.  After they sat for a long time on the Guatemalan side of the bridge, they finally had their temperatures taken and passed to the Mexican side of the bridge where they sat.  It’s my impression that Mexico wasn’t going to take them either.  I felt bad for both Hondurans and Guatemalans stuck in this shitty situation.  All they had was what they were carrying with them.

Another side story playing out during this time was a guy that tried to swim into Guatemala below us.  He was stopped and being forced to swim up river 20 times under the watchful eye of armed Guatemalan military as punishment (at least that’s what we understood was happening).  He was still swimming when we left.

One other side story playing out was the Mexican border folks denying us access to bathroom facilities.  Being on the bridge, it was hard to go inconspicuously.  Much later in the morning I asked again and was denied access.  When asking their recommendation, they pointed to up around the corner of the building.  I went there to be met by a guard that wasn't too keen on my plan and pointed across the road to a parking lot.  I walked over there into the nice landscaping, past the sign that said "No pisar" and proceeded to my business.  The guard had followed me and was further displeased with me.  We exchanged a few words and I started heading back to the cars.  He was insistent that I take the pedestrian border crossing path back which I wasn't interested in doing.  A few others joined into the dialogue before I made my way back to the vehicles.  And that is the great international pissing contest so to speak!  Sorry, no photos of this.

The border river area really was pretty.

Guatemala was always on guard.

Breakfast on the bridge.

Morning view out of the van doors.

I bet he'll be more careful not to get caught next time he tries to swim into Guatemala.

All packed up and waiting for our escort.

So, we are all packed up now and waiting, waiting, waiting.  Finally, we were told to start paperwork to get into Mexico.  We all drove up to the building and the real fun began.  There were at least 4 different entities we had to deal with at the border and no one was about to make this easy on us or  each other.  The paperwork BS went on for hours to the point we had to beg our police escort not to leave.  After somewhere between 4-5 hours we finally had all our paperwork and searches in order and fell into line between the 2 police escort trucks.  We were off to the town roadblock. 

A forever reminder of our night spent between countries.  
Stamped out of Guatemala on the 24th and into Mexico on the 25th.

Escort


By this time our passage had already been cleared between the police and towns people.  They were waiting for us and after a short stop to let them spray pesticide on our tires we were on our way.  The police peeled off at the edge of Tapachula and we were on our own in a Mexico which, for the moment, seemed totally normal.

We pulled into a grocery store parking lot to determine our next move.  Part of us wanted to lay down some miles, but we were all pretty wiped out from the last 24 hours and agreed to join other friends that had been staying at Mission Surf not far away.  We called them to confirm there was space for us, bought some supplies at the store and made the 45 minute drive to Mission Surf.  When we arrived, the gate was opened and we were greeted by smiling faces, food, beer, and maybe a little tequila!

Not to forget about Vladimir.  After a little headache at Tacun Uman border, he made it through much quicker than we did and was already 4 hours ahead of us heading north in Mexico.  He felt safe and we agreed to just stay in touch as we progressed separately through Mexico.  I'm happy to report that he did finally make it all the way home safely!

Sunday morning rolled around, and well, it was my birthday so let’s stay the day.  The kids at Mission Surf all made some birthday cards for me, I was treated to a great dinner, a tres leches cake (yumm!), some birthday songs in English and Spanish, and generally a good day!  Monday seemed like a good day to do nothing as well so one more day of swimming and drinking a couple beers.

This was the best beer ever after the last 24 hours we had at the border!

Not a bad place to hang out for a few days.

Breakfast served with a smile!

Victor has excellent slack line skills now.  Congrats!

A birthday I will never forget.  Thank you everyone at Mission Surf!!


Taco can't wait for London weather.  For a Mexican native, he doesn't like the heat.

The stress of the border crossing had faded away.  Thanks for the hospitality Pam and Paul!

Come Tuesday we packed up and started north.  

Me and the travel kids and dog.  I miss all 3 of you.

The Mission Surf gang.

Victor and Prizm had arranged an AirBnB near Oaxaca to hunker down in for a month or so and headed there.  Dave, Ela, Taco and I darted across to the east coast.  We came across one toll booth in Chiapas that was taken over by somewhat threatening looking locals wearing bandanas and some toting wood clubs.  They asked for 50 pesos which we gladly gave (it was less than the toll would have been) and they were happy as clams.  Lots of “Buenos tardes” and we were on our way again.  Knowing camping options were limited, we headed for a Walmart in a coastal town.  My first ever.  Not the best, but not the worst I guess.  We had a decent night sleep and headed to Veracruz where they had arranged a driver to take them to Mexico City. 

A far cry from Baja beach camping  :(




All smiles even in a Walmart parking lot.


As we pulled into Veracruz Ela got a text message from the driver that his car had broken down and he was being towed back to Mexico City.  A new plan hatched quickly to take Dave, Ela and Taco to the airport to get a car.  Soon after arriving at the airport they had a car arranged to take them to Mexico City at less cost than the original.  All’s well that ends well and I'm also happy to report that after getting Taco classified as a comfort dog they were able to arrange a flight to London where they are getting acclimatized back to life there.  

Bye guys!

Taco sporting the latest in travel dog diapers.

I was happy to hear they had made it to London!


After bidding my travel kids and dog farewell I was on my own with a sole goal of getting into the US as soon as I could.  One more speed bump was thrown in my path at Santiago de la Peña where I needed to cross a bridge over a river.  I was signaled out at a roadblock at the edge of town for my California plates.  After some discussion with an official I was told I would not be allowed into the town and had to turn around.  Despite my repetitive attempts at asking for a reason, I was given none and eventually turned around.  There was no reasoning with him.  The only other bridge crossing was at Alamo about an hour away.  So off I went where I crossed without issue.  All-in-all, I lost about 3 hours of forward progress and was not a happy camper.  As dark drew near I made camp in a big Pemex gas station with many truckers.  Camp spots are just not as fascinating as they were pre-covid but other than a lot of big trucks coming and going I had a peaceful night.

Even a Pemex station camp can look pretty at sunset.

The next day I was off to the US border.  Only issue this day was a municipal cop in the city of Tampico. He pulled me over for apparently no reason and seemed to want to make an issue that my van was too heavy for a TIP.  I went into total non-Spanish speaking gringo mode and he quickly grew frustrated and just waved me through.

After a long drive, I made my way to the border where I cancelled my TIP and visa (thank you Vladimir for prepping me on where to do this!!), drove out of Mexico and waited in line to get into the US.  Once it was my turn I had to try to explain where I had come from.  I guess I looked “iffy”, so they sent me over to have the van x-rayed.  With clean results they returned my keys and passport and off I went to spend the night in the Texas Welcome Center.  I was EXHAUSTED!

Almost there!


Texas Welcome Center camping.  Sunsets and sunrises make it good.




From here on out, I just drove.  Spent a night at my dad’s near Tuscon, AZ, a night with friends in Scottsdale, AZ (including too much tequila), a night camping near Flagstaff, AZ with Sean & Gina who I had met in Baja back in January, a night in Bakersfield, CA after having dinner with my oldest son Chris, then finally home.

Lunch stop somewhere in Texas.

Camp on Balmorhea Lake in Texas.

A horny guy!

Camp at my dad's.  Just in case I had the "rona".

Fun day with friends and a little tequila!


Some mountain time with Sean and Gina (@sean.gina.adventures).

Last camp of the trip in an RV resort.  Certainly not my typical kind of spot.

Full moon on my last night was reminiscent of the full moon the first night in Baja.
Baja moon early January at Puertecitos!


While I am very happy to see my family and friends at home, I am sad to have not been able to continue my trip.  I would now be shipping the van from Panama to Columbia including a chartered sailboat through the San Blas Islands for me.  That will all still be there for me later though.  For now, I’ll enjoy the fantastic memories of what traveling I did get in and have fun times at home.  Hopefully the US will open up enough that my wife and I can travel in our truck / travel trailer combo later this year.

I continue to be amazed by the kindness of strangers.  This was a repetitive theme all along.  I met many people in the 4 months I was traveling that I am happy to call friends now.  I hope our paths cross again some day!

I especially will miss my extended family at Pasaj-Cap Guatemala!!



Victor (@victhewanderer)

Dave & Ela (@itsallaboutimagination)
There van had to be winched into final resting spot.

Jeremy & Chloe (@titonandco)

Josh and Peru

Martin & Susi (@whaleontrail)

Oliver, Anja, Vincent, Marlene (@turtur_adventures)

Tim, Sarah, Charley, Jaxon (@ourworldsafari)

Dennis & Jen (www.kisiandapom.nz)

Serge & Yana

Stas, Kate, Elisa

Bonus pic with Elisa saying "Hello" mimicking holding phone to her ear.  Going to miss her "hello's"!

Going away party.


I will miss the lake!