Wednesday, October 24, 2012
So what do you do with a perfectly functioning car you can't sell? You destroy it. We are trying to come up with ideas that aren't going to be too bad for the environment (the customs guy suggested we burn it, we said no), so we probably wont be driving it into the ocean or off of a cliff. Any ideas? Let us know!
PS We are flying out Friday. Can't wait to get back to San Francisco.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
1. We saw a glacier! A friend from work T and his wife L were actually vacationing down in the glacier park, so we decided to stop by and say hi (as well as see the glacier, which was totally worth it on it's own). Was great to see some friendly faces.
Monday, October 15, 2012
1. All of the amazing restaurants, including steak, pastas, and even a great french place.
2. Staying in a place where we could cook. We even got to have pancakes! We stayed in the neighbordhood of San Telmo, which was super cute (it's known as the Tango neighborhood, but we managed to avoid Tango entirely) and we were able to park the car on the street easily.
3. Seeing not one, but about 15 capybaras at the Buenos Aires zoo. We even got to see the less awesome side of capybaras, when one ate its own poop in front of us.
Since Buenos Aires, we've been trying to make good time down to Ushaia, although yesterday we stopped by a Penguin Colony. We got to see a billion penguins up close, they are pretty cute. Unfortunately the babies aren't around til the end of the year, but we did get to see their eggs. Almost immediately after that, we ran out of gas on the highway for the first time. Turns out everyone we interacted with was super friendly and helpful, way more than required. The next gas station was about 30 miles away, oops. I did get to ride in a truck for the first time, though.
Here are some more photos from the past month or so:
Monday, October 1, 2012
2. We found our new favorite song on Bolivian radio.
3. We have descended off the mountains to sea level, this now means there are cockroaches. I'm totally freaked out. But, the sunsets are beautiful here.
4. There are two speed guns in all of Mexico, Central and South America. They are located on one road in Bolivia. They are unfortunately susceptible to non Spanish speakers.
5. Argentians love: bidets, camping, sandwiches and mate. Seriously go read the wikipedia about it, the strangest part is not the fact that they drink it, but that they carry around this stupid little mug with a metal straw to drink it out of. Along with an enormous thermos full of hot water. They also have this whole ritual around drinking it that is strangely drug like.
7. We went to an animal preservation site and got to see three(!) capybaras. They call them carpincha here. We didn't know they were around this far south, but apparently they're all over South America. Here is a video of one chewing.
8. More to come soon when I have better internet to upload photos and such (that are not from my phone).
Saturday, September 22, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
It doesn't help that it is winter here, so the beach towns are all closed up. The other night we were driving on the highway and it got dark and it took forever to find somewhere to stay. There were hundreds of little beach towns, but they seemed all boarded up and some only consisted of fancy condominiums. We finally pulled off to one of the towns that had a paved road, there were a few hostals (which is Spanish means small hotel, not somewhere with bunk beds and guys with dreds). A went into one to ask about it, there was only a child there, he had to run and call his brother to see how much to charge. I guess this should have been our first sign, but we were desperate for somewhere to stay and since it's winter, we were guessing it's just the off season. When we went up the stairs, we were greeted with this little scene:
Another strange thing about Peru is the Chinese influence, we had noticed a lot of people look vaguely Chinese and the supermarkets had a Chinese produce section, but we really noticed it yesterday when we stopped at a small restaurant off the highway and they served us chicken in a star anise sauce with pickled radishes. Turns out in the 1850's Peru was importing Chinese laborers as essentially slaves. Reading more on it, seems like different people estimate it differently, but at least 5% of the population has some Chinese origins.
We are very excited to make it to Cusco, to see A's friends as well as D (oh and maccu picchu and stuff).
Friday, September 7, 2012
First of all, we met our first set of other people doing this trip! S & E are from Germany. They shipped their car from Germany to Halifax and have been on the road 17 months! They had a much more legit setup than us, with a pop-up tent on their car (photo below). They thought we were absolutely crazy for doing this trip in 4 months, maybe we are, but it still feels like we've been away from home for a long time. They are essentially going until money runs out, which I think is a common theme (from blogs I've read) of people dong this trip. I cannot imagine living on top of a car for two years, but I guess we are missing out on a lot of stuff by going so quickly.
We are currently in Catacocha, Ecuador (very close to the Peruvian boarder). We have been enjoying Ecuador, the scenery is beautiful and everything has been super cheap. We had originally wanted to go to the Galapagos, but after looking at timing and cost, it looked like it was too much to include in this trip. That being the case, we have been staying on the mountainous side of Ecuador, which has been cold (which was a welcomed change after a long hot week in Cartagena, Colombia). We have spent the night sleeping in the crater of a(n inactive) volcano, a water park, and in the beautiful town of Banos, that has natural hot springs. I forgot to mention that gas is RIDICULOUSLY cheap in Ecuador, $1.50/gallon. Ecuador also uses USD, which makes everything easier. The roads for the most part have been super well maintained and tolls are very low. Food is also cheap and better (in my opinion) than Colombia. In Colombia, every meal seems to come with: a soup, at least 4 starches (rice, beans, plantains, yuca, pasta?, etc), a "salad" which is sometimes sweet and sometimes mayonnaise-y and a sugary beverage. The soup is usually the best thing. They seem to love sugary drinks. The plus side is that everyone makes fresh fruit juice, so you can get strange tropical juices almost anywhere for very cheap.
Once we got the car in Colombia, we were behind on schedule (of getting down to Buenos Aires by beginning of October to meet my parents), so we decided to start doing some long driving days. We had originally planned to spend a few days in Bogata, but we took the western route to Medellin first. It turns out Medellin and Bogata are about 9 hours apart by car, because they are on two separate mountain ranges. Also, having the car in large cities is almost always a pain. When we arrived in Medellin we had marked a bunch of hotels in one area we wanted to stay at, when we got to that neighborhood it was pretty sketchy (prostitution is legal in Colombia, so I think it makes sketchy areas seem even sketchier) so we ended up driving around for a few hours looking for a place to stay. We did not really want to repeat this in an even larger, more crowded city. We hope to go back sometime soon, though.
Otherwise, we really liked Medellin, it seems like a city you could actually live in. There is a subway line and a bunch of totally reasonable residential neighborhoods. We visited the modern art museum, the zoo, the botanical garden (this is a strong word, it was more like central park with some tropical plants, very pretty though), and the exploratiorium. It was nice to be away from the car seeing things. After leaving Medellin, we spent a few hours twisting and turning through the beautiful mountains of Colombia. Probably one of the worst parts of driving in Colombia is the expensive tolls, every 100km (or sometimes less), you pay a toll somewhere between 3 and 5 dollars. This adds up quick, as well as gas being ~5 dollars/gallon.
Today we are heading to Peru, we are trying to catch A's friends who are going to be doing Machu Picchu on the 19th! We are also very excited to do some more hiking and camping in Peru.
Sunday, September 2, 2012
We arrived in Cartagena on Thursday August 23rd, our boat with the container was supposed to leave the 21st, arrive the 22nd, so perfect, right? Except, when we called Seaboard and Barwil they told us the boat wasn't arriving til Saturday. They of course never thought to call and tell us this. Luckily we could track the boat online. We wanted to start the process as soon as possible, but the boat did not start moving til Friday afternoon. We called Seaboard and they are not open on the weekend, so we had to wait til Monday to get the Bill of Lading from them (which is necessary to start the car import process). So not only did their boat leave almost a week late and they didn't inform us, they also were not very helpful in the process and made us wait in Cartagena until the next week.
Note: Lots of people seem to hire an agent for this process, we did not. It costs about $175 dollars to do so. Most people in the offices speak no English, so if you don't speak Spanish, this process could be very difficult. People tend to be friendly and helpful, so if you are confused, ask someone.
To start the process you must get the Bill of Lading. For us (since we shipped with Seaboard Marine) this meant going to the Muelles de Bosque port at 8am. The Seaboard office is to the left of the entrance (note you don't need to go into the port to do this, they have a window outside). They had it mostly ready when we got there. We had heard from others that if you got all your paperwork done before 1030am, you could get your car the same day. We rushed over to the Manga port where the DIAN (Aduana) is to get our car import form and schedule our inspection. Note that you need to go to the North side of the port (the taxi drives seem to know where the DIAN office is). When we got there the woman took our paperwork (which involves a copy of your passport, passport stamp, title, cancellation form from Panama, and bill of lading), but informed us we couldn't get our car inspected til the next day at 8am. It was only 9am at this point, but she said no way, even after much arguing. At this point, there was nothing to do except spend another hot day in Cartagena.
The next day at about quarter to 8, we showed up at the Muelles de Bosque port again. This step involves getting someone to open your container and getting an invoice. This happens at the document office. You need to surrender your passport at the gate to go in. When we went to the desk, the woman seemed confused by our Bill of Lading and asked if Seaboard marine had put other things in our container??? This was not the case. BUT, Seaboard Marine did screw us a third time, they had not informed the port that our container needed to be moved, so it was not in fact in the inspection area. This could not actually be done til 2pm, since it had not been scheduled the day before. At this point, it turned out the magical inspector (who is supposed to be at the Muelles de Bosque port from 8-2) had already left, it was only 930am. They were also confused at the port who was supposed to pay for the unstuffing of our container. Luckily, we had a detailed receipt from Barwil that we showed them, at that point they were able to send an invoice to Seaboard Marine, but this took almost three hours to go through their system.
There was a woman that worked in the Muelles de Bosque office named Andrea, who spoke English really well and helped us a lot. She was able to call the inspector and get him to agree to come back at 2pm. At this point there was a lot of waiting around. The port basically closes from 12-2pm for lunch. We were able to get our container moved and unstuffed before 2pm as well as getting the invoice needed for port fees (which you pay once your car is inspected). This probably could not have happened in one day without Andrea's help.
Once we were able to get the invoice and into the port, they had already opened our container. Apparently this is pretty common, no inspector or anything (so much for all the photos of the customs seal and such). The car was alright, but they insisted on driving it out of the container and then basically told us to get lost. We drove the car back over to the document office (or rather the area in the fenced off port closest to the document office) to wait for the inspector. We waited and asked everyone and waited some more. Finally at around 330 we found Andrea again. She was able to call the inspector and he agreed we could take some photos of the car and bring it to him at Manga (we had to suggest this many times, they did not offer). We snapped some photos (after getting yelled at by the guard and then getting permission) and got back in a taxi to Manga. We found the inspector and he signed our papers after looking at just two of the many photos of the car and the VIN. He gave us our stapled paperwork that we had given to the woman in the Magna office the day before, which now included permission to enter Colombia with our car! We got into another taxi and headed back to Muelles de Bosque to pay our invoice and get the exit permission from the port. This was all pretty quick. We rolled out of the port around 5pm (remember to pick up your passport and return your badge).
All in all, it would have been easier to ship with someone that shipped to Magna, to avoid the back and forth. We also could have done the whole process in one day, since the inspector never actually went to see our car in Muelles de Bosque. This was all annoying, but after almost two weeks, we were very happy to have our car back and get out of Cartagena. I could not say I would recommend using Seaboard Marine, with all the trouble we had with them. Although, I am not sure there is a better option.
Friday, August 31, 2012
Friday (or Monday -- their office opens at 8am supposedly):
After reading a lot about the process, we decided we would arrive in Panama city on Friday (August 10th) and stop by the Barwill office. They tell us the boat is all set to leave the next Sunday and gave us all the paperwork (a draft Bill of Lading along with two sets of photo copies of necessary documents we would give to the Aduanas) we would need for Monday. The woman we worked with was named either Pamela (whose email address is mysteriously missing from our contact email) or Mabel (mabel.estribi
Barwil office: It's in an area outside the city called Panama Pacifico, it's in a very american looking suburban office park. It's on the 4th floor of the furthest north building in the plaza. They're only open from 8am-4pm M-F and don't expect anyone to answer email or their phones after those hours. They require IDs to get upstairs, but fake copies of drivers licenses were fine)
GPS: N8 55.662, W79 35.561
Turnoff from Highway: N8 57.142, W79 35.309
Monday (or Tuesday) at 9am:
On Monday the first thing you do is go and get your car "inspected." Barwill gives you a sort of crummy map of the city with the offices, but it is still difficult to find (even with GPS coordinates). It's a parking lot behind a nondescript looking building and it's filled with a bunch of taxis and other cars. When you're turning right off the main road (you must approach from the correct side, otherwise it will be very difficult to u-turn and get there), its the second parking lot on your left (the first is tiny and on the corner with the main street). You turn off the main road right after the overpass. We did a trial run on Sunday to make sure we could get there okay, I would definitely recommend this. The paper Barwil gives you says the inspection is from 9-10am. When we get there we ask someone and he tells us the guy gets there at 9, but doesn't work til 10. In reality he came out closer to 10:30am. Back into a parking spot close to the door and open your hood. You will need to give the inspector a set of your copies, which will appear in the Secretary General office later across the street. You will not leave here with anything.
GPS: N8 57.970 W79 32.690
***If you paperwork is incorrect and you cannot do the step above, you will need to visit the Aduana office which is a few blocks away. GPS: N8 58.490 W79 32.819
Go to the secretary general office across the street in PANTS and SHOES -- they will not let you in without them. When we went they were doing construction so you had to park around the back, meaning you had to drive past it then approach it from the rear. We actually got to the office at 1:30 and the woman was ready to do our paperwork. The entrance is the same side as the main road, you will need to get a badge to go in (and give them ID, since you will need your passport, make sure to give them a drivers license, the fake copy of mine worked fine). They will give you a form that includes permission to exit the country with your vehicle.
GPS: N8 57.947 W79 32.719
Wednesday 7am (or Thursday):
Wear pants and shoes, you can't go onto the port without them. Drive to Colon, it's on a main toll road and super easy. The Barwil office (says Wilhemson on the door) is on the second floor of a business park in the Manzanillo port (there are three different ports in Colon). It is the entrance to the left of the big fountain area. We were told to ask for Mary and Alfredo. When we got there we had to wait about an hour for Alfredo to show up. Afredo is a fairly friendly guy, he understands English, but prefers Spanish. Alfredo drove his car alongside ours to the various offices to take care of the loading into the container. First we went to customs and then onto the port. At the port we had to go inside and get some paper work filled out and pay the port fees (30 dollars). After that we could bring the car to the container loading area. It took about two hours for the container to show up once we got inspected (inspected = a guy comes by, asks you to open your trunk, pushes stuff around), but it was quick to load. We took pictures of the seal or everything, but this was irrelevant in Colombia. You are required to roll your windows down a bit, the guys will try to get you to roll them down more than a crack, don't.
Once we stuffed our container, since we refused to pay until we had our car in a container, this meant carrying 1500 dollars cash on us. We ended up giving it to Alfredo in the back seat of his car, at which point he kept telling us how terrifying it was going to be driving across the city to the bank with that much money. We held our tongues (mainly because it wasn't his fault) from pointing out that it was in fact their companies policy to pay in cash... People kept saying how dangerous Colon is, but it really just looked like every other Central American city to us.
GPS for Barwil office in Manzanillo: N9 21.931 W79 52.849
We were done by 230. Since the train that goes down the canal didn't leave til 530, we decided to take the express bus. The train is supposed to be a nice ride, but it costs ~25 dollars, whereas the bus costs 3.15. Alfredo drove us to the bus station and pointed us to the correct bus. The whole process seemed eerily easy (from all the terrible things we'd heard). Bus ride back was quick and we were able to get off not too far from our hotel.
As I stated before, I would not leave Panama until you know the boat is leaving Panama city, otherwise you end up wondering whether you need to fly back to Panama when something goes wrong.
I detailed our process in Colombia in a separate post.
The rest of this post will mostly be about the process of shipping, so unless you're planning to do this trip or you really love reading about complicated logistics in foreign countries, you may not want yo read any further. I will do a nice post with photos and such soon.
We had spent a lot of time online reading (mostly other people's accounts via Drive the Americas Site -- see more links to accounts below) about how the process works, but it seems like it is slightly different for everyone. It was really helpful to be able to read multiple people's advice and how it worked for them (hence me attempting to post this here). Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions about any of this. We shipped with Barwil (via Seaboard Marine) and were not particularly thrilled with them (in fact they screwed us a few times). We also looked into some other options listed below.
Before the long explanation of everything, here are some useful tips:
1. When you are entering Panama make sure everything is correct on your car import paperwork. We heard from many others that if it is not, you will spend many hours running back and forth to the Aduana in Panama City and may miss your boat. Make sure the Motor Number is not marked as Not Visible (N/V), put the VIN number there if you can't see it in your car. We spent about three hours at the border making them re-type the paperwork (at one point the guy in the office even threw a hissy-fit). This made it so we never had any issues with our paperwork.
2. Do a trial run of driving to the offices in Panama city before you need to, driving is very annoying and streets aren't marked. Even with a GPS we got lost several times.
3. Get formal quotes from several companies. Don't pay anything until your car is in the container, they will try and get you to pay beforehand.
4. Make sure you list out all of the fees and understand what you're paying to the agent. These include: Ocean Freight, Stuffing (Colon), Unstuffing (Cartagena), Doc Fee, Agent Fee, Drayage (moving of the container), Port Fees (Panama), Port Fees (Colombia). None of the quotes you get in Panama will include port fees or an agents help on the Colombia side (this can be hired separately).
5. Find a hotel you are comfortable staying at for many days (with parking). We stayed at Villa Michelle, it is a bit out of the way, but there was a full kitchen and we were excited to be able to cook for ourselves. It costs 45/night (cash only), but had a shared bathroom. In Cartagena we stayed at Casa Tatis for 70,000/night (after moving around a bit). We discovered strong air conditioning is a must. Under no circumstances stay at Hotel Espanaola, there is a very loud club downstairs that will blast techno all night.
6. You must call your shipping agent to confirm everything, they will not call you if something is running late or has gone wrong.
7. Arrive on Monday to start the shipping process, you will want your vehicle inspected on Monday or Tuesday, in time to get your vehicle into a container in Colon on Wednesday or Thursday.
8. Get a SIM card, they are super cheap in Panama. You can even get data for something like 4 dollars for 7 days. This will help a lot with the logistics.
9. Wear pants and shoes to everything, some offices will not let you in without them.
10. Bring snacks. You'll often be sitting around for a long time.
11. Don't get on a plane or boat until your car is in motion, otherwise you are totally powerless to do anything. If I did it again, once the boat leaves, fly to Bogata and take a bus from Bogata to Cartagena once your stuff is ready. Cartagena is too hot and there is not much going on.
Different Companies and Prices:
We had originally contacted Barwil (who is an agency the handles the paperwork for you on the Panama side) about shipping via RORO (roll on roll off), since it was supposed to be cheaper (the downside is you need to remove everything from your car that is not completely locked down, because you give them the keys). They said there was a RORO boat leaving the 16th of August, this was actually perfect timing for us. As the date approached, we contacted again and they told us that the RORO ship was actually not leaving til the 9th of September, but we could ship via a container (which leaves every week on Sunday). Since we are trying to do this whole trip in only 4 months, we decided that we would have to do this (what other option did we have, really?)
There are two main companies we know of for shipping to Panama. Seaboard Marine and Marfret. For Seaboard marine you can work directly with them, or use Barwil as an agent (contact info on Panama page). Barwil was much more responsive to email. Marfret would not work directly with us, they recommended an agent named Boris who also seems to work with an agent that many people use called Tea (email@example.com). Neither Boris nor tea were as responsive as we would have liked via email or phone. There were a few exchanges with Boris where we'd call him and he'd say, "send me an email," which we already had hours before. Boris and Tea had found someone for us to share a container with (which was not the case with Barwil), but both seemed totally incompetent with logistics. I'd read many other reports from people saying Boris had asked them to meet him in a parking lot in Colon at 9am and not shown up til after 2. To complicate the matter, the shipping partner they had found for us somehow had an expired exit permit and wanted to get it corrected on the same day he was shipping, rather than doing it the day before (with no explanation as to why). We were not comfortable with the possibility of not getting into a container for the next shipment, so ultimately ended up shipping with Barwil Solo in a 20' container. I cannot say this was the correct choice, since the boat left almost a week late (and no one ever contacted us to tell us this, we had to call).
Comparison of Costs:
Costs for Barwil solo: 1475 (includes ocean freight, stuffing/unstuffing, drayage, doc fee)
Costs for Barwil shared: 1000 (includes ocean freight, stuffing/unstuffing, drayage, doc fee)
Costs for Everlogistics (with Tea and Boris): 1050 (does not include things like unstuffng on the Colombia side which I believe is something around 150 dollars).
Port Fees Panama: 30
Port Fees Colombia: ~170
Taxis: Seaboard marine ships to Mulles de Bosque port in Cartagena, the government office (DIAN) for paperwork is at the Magna port. The logistics would have been much easier with a company that shipped to Magna, but I am not sure which do.
We spent a bunch of time reading other people's accounts (thanks so much for their help). You can read there here: LifeRemotely, FromAtoB, and TheRoadChoseMe!
Also, read on for our specific instructions/account of the process in Panama and Colombia.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
I'm sad to report that A and I will not be sailing around the world anytime soon. In fact, we have no interest in getting on a boat for a very long time. For some reason I got the idea in my head that it'd be fun to take a boat to Colombia, even though I get car sick (a separate boat from our car, that one is for cargo only). I will spare you the details of how one gets a car from panama to Colombia (I actually won't, I'll post about it later when I have my computer back). This will be a short post since I am writing it on my phone since we do no have our car (and our stuff back).
Some highlights of the car shipping:
1. Carrying 1500 cash in TWENTIES (for some reason panama doesn't believe in 100s) through a very dangerous neighborhood. Our shipping agent was nervous to carry that much cash on him (except of course they make you pay in cash so it is their fault...)
2. Spending days on the phones with various agents and running between offices.
3. Arriving in Colombia a week later to find out your boat has not even left panama and there is nothing you can do about it.
4. A did not murder a single person (yet... we still don't have our car or our documents)
Some musings from the boat trip:
1. We learned a new term: "aqua-poopoo". It's when your ships captain poops in the ocean water instead of using the horrible pump toilet on the boat. He even has special techniques for this involving how to fan away the water quickly.
2. Never get on a boat for 5 days that does not bathing facilities. Ever. Even if you've just taken a multi-hour 4x4 ride and speed boat trip to get there.
3. Salad is not good for the stomach, despite your captain insisting on it.
4. Dolphins swimming next to the boat are very hard to photograph. You'll have to believe us.
5. Apparently snorkeling gives you a really bad sunburn on your back, we're shedding.
6. Don't stay at a hostal with horse art on the walls that looks like a prison, loud techno music will be thumping from the club downstairs, all night.
I'll write more when I have the chrome book back.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Monday, August 6, 2012
Friday, August 3, 2012
1. My father was mostly correct, the food in Honduras is fried and not very good.
2. Go see a cloud forest if you're in Honduras, very cool stuff.
3. We met a crazy tour guide at a overall bad hotel that took us up into the small towns and cloud forest of Santa Barbra Mountain, where we met some wonderful people and saw some cool things.
4. It's increasingly difficult to find hotels with wifi or anywhere that takes credit cards.
5. We can't stop drinking smoothies, it must be all the awesome tropical fruit.
6. Speaking of tropical fruit, we tried Naranjaliia, some crazy avocado that tasted like anise, a strange variety of raspberry and some fresh passion fruit. All were delicious except the avocado.
7. We got lost in a coffee plantation and had to slide down the side of the mountain.
8. We got out hiked by a man in jeans, that did not break a sweat in the most humid of climates.
9. We saw a man selling a monkey by the side of the road today. A started screaming when he saw it.
The long of it:
The crossing from Guatemala to Honduras was pretty uneventful, the boarder was much quieter and cleaner than most we'd seen. We headed straight to the Copan Ruins, since we missed all of the other Mayan ruins when we decided to skip the Yucatan Peninsula/Northern Guatemala. This was A's first ruins and I believe the farthest out ones. They were pretty cool, but a lot smaller than I remembered Chichen Itza being when I was younger (maybe I was just the smaller one...). We stayed that night in the town of Copan Ruins, which was cute and touristy.
We found a hotel online (the D&D) that was near Lake Yajoa and brewed their own beer, from everything I read online it seemed really cool. We drove there the next day, only it was not cool at all. The space was nice, but the beer was bad, the food was worse and the crowd was horrible. We were kept up all night by some drunk college kids' renditions of Hotel California. There was one redeeming factor though, we met a crazy English expat tour guide (Malcolm) whose specialty was birds. I had read online a lot about cloud forests in Honduras and really wanted to visit one. It seemed like most of them were inaccessible with our car. I had read online that there were tours up to Santa Barbra mountain (just above Lake Yajoa). When we found him at the brewery that night, he said that he couldn't do the tour like he usually does because the road up to the mountain was under repair. He said if we really wanted to go he could possibly do a three day tour, one day hike up, one day on the mountain and one day down, staying up near the mountain. Since we had not done much hiking yet on the trip, we decided to do it, though he couldn't leave until the day after. The next day, we ended up joining him for a boat ride out on the lake looking at birds (which I think would have made my mother the bird watcher super jealous) the next day. We also got to check out a really awesome waterfall park that day.
Our tour guide had traveled all over the world, so he had some interesting stories. Mostly, he seemed to be trying to live as much off the grid as possible. He'd stumbled upon Lake Yajoa and the brewery and realized he could make a living. We hiked up to a town above the lake called El Dorado, walking through various villages along the way. It was nice to see Honduras not from the car. We hiked a bit around the mountain before going to visit the local family we were going to stay with. The family turned out to be super sweet and the mother was a great cook (there were also two adorable daughters running around). A got to practice his Spanish, which is getting pretty good. Turns out there were two folks from the Peace Corps in town until about March, when the Peace Corps pulled out of Honduras. Apparently, there were a serious of incidents where a Peace Corps member was shot on a bus and another was raped and they deemed the country unsafe. This came at a really unfortunate time for the village since the Peace Corps members were trying to setup a library and training for nature guides in town. They are trying to add a visitor center to the mountain in order to help protect the forest land (which is being overtaken by coffee farming). The girl that had been working there had set up a beautiful library with equipment, computers, etc, but there was no one there to train anyone.
The whole area around Lake Yajoa is really pretty, but the cloud forest was definitely something different than we'd seen before. Much like a rain forest, everything is extremely damp. All the trees have many varieties of climbing plants on them as well as moss that holds droplets of water. The ground is covered in a layer of damp leaves, mud and fallen plants. There are thousands of air plants everywhere, where snails, lizards, etc feed. A got covered in about 1000 bug bites after forgetting bug spray. I will put up pictures soon, since I probably can't do it justice. The whole thing was really enjoyable and it was nice to have some home cooked meals.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
I haven't written anything about food in this blog. Most people that know me would say I'm fairly obsessed. On this trip we've had a chance to try some amazing things, but mostly it's been hard scheduling everything and just making sure we are eating regular enough meals. Also, A doesn't care that much about food. Generally, he humors me, but on this trip it's not always possible. We have gotten into the habit of stopping by any Walmart we see to stock up on granola bars to keep in the car for breakfast/any random time we are hungry and cannot stop.
We spent a night in Antigua, probably the second most touristy place we've been. We did get to have some okay coffee at a place recommended by our friend from Panajachel. The coffee shop although looking like it could have been pulled from San Francisco, turned out to be creepily Christian, which we discovered via some magazines on the table called "Relevant." We also had some great French food at a place called "Hector's" that had no sign on the door, but did have Brooklyn IPA? I have no idea how it got there. Probably the strangest part of the night was accidentally walking into a giant Guatemalan carnival, where people were packed so tight you could barely move. People were waiting on line for rides while other rides buzzed within inches of their faces, it was quite a spectacle.
Tomorrow we head to Honduras to see the Copan ruins. Honduras is supposed to be the most painful border crossing since they require multiple copies of everything (I read one person said the office floor at immigration is covered in stacks of paper). We plan to get there early. My father has a theory that Honduras has the worst food in the world, we will test that and report back!
Monday, July 23, 2012
The google translate (I haven't made it to past tense yet in my spanish lessons) translation of "how did you get through mexico?"
This is what the Guatemalan border guy asked us when we told him we had driven from San Francisco. Going from Mexico to Guatemala was fairly simple, it took about an hour and costs ~20 dollars. A few days ago we found out we actually had our car in Mexico illegally. When you cross over into Mexico you are supposed to get a temporary import permit, which we failed to do. When reading about his online, we couldn't find anyone else who had done this trip and not gotten this permit. According to the Mexican government, if you don't have it you can be either fined, incarcerated or have your car permanently impounded. It looked like the only safe option was to get a 3-5 day exemption from the government and drive back to the boarder of the US. Since we were all the way in Oaxaca, this was not going to happen. After reading about it, we decided to just go to the boarder as soon as possible and try our luck (and feign ignorance). We read a lot of stuff online and picked La Mesia as our boarder crossing, it is supposed to be the easiest and least trafficked.
When we reached the boarder town it was of course a jumble of car, people, animals, etc. A describes this process as "trampling through the border" We drove through some traffic cones and past some government-y offices and then there was a sign that said welcome to Guatemala. It looks like again, we accidentally skipped some steps to leaving Mexico (you are supposed to cancel your vehicle permit and get a certificate saying so as well as have Mexican authorities check all your paperwork). All would be okay as long as we got our Guatemalan passport stamp and vehicle permit. After waiting for the vehicle counter guys to finish breakfast, he started checking our paperwork. He asked for the proof of cancelling the Mexican permit, once we convinced him we didn't have it, he seemed not to care and filled the rest of the stuff out. An hour later we were driving through Guatemala, with plenty of time to make it to lake Atitlan (where we are staying for two nights).
In other news:
1. I drove today for the first time! Not so bad. I did this only after convincing A that he could not eat his Chile Relleno and river of beans while driving.
2. Panajachel, the town we are staying in, has more tourists than we've seen this entire trip. Including a high school basketball team that came here without even learning to say hello in spanish.
3. Chiapas (the state in Mexico) is absolutely beautiful and I wish we could have spent more time there (we were racing to the border with our illegal car).
4. We ate Pizza for the first time today, after failing to find our intended burger place. A described the pizza as "bowling alley" quality.
5. Topes in Guatemala are called "tumulos"
6. Guatemalans think Americans are going to steal their babies. I better stop smiling at all the cute babies here.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
As A points out, we have not technically driven all the way through Mexico yet. BUT, we have already learned a few things:
1. Topes=Reductors=Cruces de los Peatones=Cruces de los Escolares=enormous speed bumps and they all equal come to a complete stop or scrape the underside of your car. Sometimes its not possible not to scrape the underside of your car they're so large. They are put near towns/crossings/villages/markets/cities, etc. Sometimes they appear to be constructed by the locals in order for you to stop so they can try and sell things.
2. If there is an option for a toll road, take it. Even if said toll road is 2x the length, take it.
3. Tolls seemed expensive when we were first driving through Mexico (sometimes up to 30 dollars per day), but are definitely worth it.
4. If the locals tell you there is only one way through to Oaxaca, believe them. Your paved road will turn into a dirt road that is "tan feo." This translates to potholes the size of your car and rivers of mud. The one way through was only barely acceptable.
5. Watch out for dogs, cats, donkeys, horses, goats, chickens, pigs, people, farm equipment, pieces of tire, clothing, enormous holes, rocks, missing road, etc etc etc. Dead animal count: 4 dogs, 1 cat, 1 dolphin, 1 bird, 1 fish and infinite butterflies into the windshield of our car.
6. We may have illegally taken our car into Mexico (oops). More on this once we get to Guatemala.
If you'd like to hear more:
As you can see below, coming east on 200 it appears there are three paths to get to the road North to Oaxaca:
View Larger Map
If you'd like to laugh at us a bit, please see page two of our spot track. Since all the roads looked the same on the map, we decided to take the second one since it looked shortest and least curvy (these roads were all up mountains). When driving on 200 between the first two segments we came to stopped traffic and saw lots of black smoke. It turned out a truck was on fire, they could not put it out, so they were waiting for it to blow up. We thought to ourselves, well that's okay since there's another road! We went back to take the first track. The first road is pretty bad, a few km in we hit a town. Part of the road is totally unpaved and there are speed bumps that we cannot cross without scratching the hell out of the bottom of our car. We decide to press on anyway. The road continues to deteriorate. Eventually the road becomes dirt and we go on it slowly for a few km until it turns into gravel and realize that we will not make it on this road. We turn around to drive the 1.5 hours back to the main road. We stop to ask a construction crew about it and they were not too sure, but believed the only way to go was through Puerto Escondito (which is the bottom of the East-most track on the map above.
We finally get back to the road and start driving, once we get to the second path there is a sign that says Oaxaca, we decide to go ahead and try it. This road is in MUCH better condition than the last one, it's paved, there aren't too many potholes, seems like everything is going well. About 4km from where the two roads meet, there start being unpaved patches. Now this is pretty normal in Mexico and we figure since they are ending and there is paved road, it must be fine. At some point there stops being any pavement. We get up to a town that's in the clouds and ask a passing truck (that is COVERED in mud) about the road condition. He tells us it is "muy feo" and that we wont make it unless someone carries us up. This is really disappointing since we already had done this once, it was getting later and we had to go back down this super twisty turny road to get back to the point we were just at.
Once we get back to the main road, it is getting late. We decide to find a hotel. In the very first town there are hotels, but they look kinda sketchy. We decide to try and make it to Puerto Escondito, which is much larger. This was a mistake since it was getting dark. At some point A tells me "don't freak out if someone throws a brick through the window." Not sure how I wouldn't freak out if that happened, but OK. Right as there are the last bits of daylight we find a hotel. We go in and ask how much. It turned out to be the most expensive hotel we have stayed in (730 pesos), had no wifi, the restaurant was closed (we had not eaten dinner at this point), we appeared to be the only guests at the hotel and it started thunderstorming. We thought someone was going to murder us in our sleep.
Anyway, moral is, always ask for directions from multiple people and do not trust google maps. The next day we drove another beautiful mountain road that took us all day to get to Oaxaca.
Oaxaca was great, after driving for two full days we stayed for two nights. We saw some museums, went on a long walk and went to some evening gallery openings. I think Oaxaca may have been too cool for us. They are totally into food, coffee and biking. There was even some type of bike party or critical mass going on on friday night (followed by a bike race saturday)! Oaxaca is super lively at night, with people out walking all around. A even caught some pickpockets in action on line for some potato chips.
Here is our favorite art exhibit: