Thursday, July 26, 2012


A hotdog in Guatemala

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.

I can say that neither of us got sick in Mexico, though! Which for me is probably a miracle, considering the copious amounts of sketchy salsas and agua frescas I consumed along the way. We generally got by in Mexico by just stopping at random taco stands/ restaurants on the way and almost all of them were delicious. Our most disappointing meals were actually at sit down places. 

In Guatemala, it's been a bit more difficult. Tonight we are in Chiquimula, a quite busy little city ~50km from the Honduras boarder. We spent two days in Lake Atitlan, which was breathtakingly beautiful, but very very touristy. This made it more expensive and just more annoying to find good food and get around. On our last morning there I made A come with me to get some coffee at a place we had driven by a few days before (he doesn't drink coffee). The guy turned out to be a crazy ex-pat who was heading to Japan shortly (we were just there in May). We chatted with him for a while about his plans, our trip, what to do in Antigua (our next stop, and his shop (which A called a "coffee cult," where expats with crazy stories kept stopping in). When we tried to pay, he brought us into the back of the shop and showed us his roasting machine, different beans (all local that he roasts on site) and sent us home with a few pounds of coffee and an awesome bag made out of a coffee bean bag. If you're ever in Panajachel (on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala) I would definitely recommend stopping in (Crossroads Cafe). It was also the first long conversation A and I have had with another person since leaving LA.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala from our bike tour

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

¿Cómo se conduce a través de México?

La Mesia, Guatemala (*not my photo)

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).

Lago Atitlan on the drive into Panajachel

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

Driving in Mexico

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:

Art Gallery, Oaxaca, Mx

If you can't tell, its the word made out of honeycomb. There were live bees crawling all over it. The water is made of honey. There were also other honeycomb art. 

That's it for tonight. Planning to cross into Guatemala the day after tomorrow! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Photo Update!

We are in Acapulco and totally sunburned. On the upside we had a great time at the beach and ate delicious tamales and banana smoothies for dinner. We spent the last few days driving along the beautiful and mostly empty Pueblan coast. The drive from Guadalajara to the coast and then along it was one of the most breathtaking I've seen. We went through jungle, plains and coast. We stayed one night at a campsite right on the water. More on all that later.

Anyway, finally uploaded some photos (not all of them yet, hotel internets are super slow -- we have some beautiful ones of the beach). I've posted the album on G+ (with a note that A hates his picture on the internet, so all the pictures he's in have been retouched).  If you're not on G+, either add me or send me an email and I'll send you the link.

The hotel we stayed at in Mazatlan (Belmar) was really old, it was clearly a nice hotel in its hayday, but that was a long time ago. More than half the hotel was broken down and abandoned. A loves those sorts of things and took about 1 billion photos (check the G+)

We've been seeing some beautiful skies on our drive, this is just one of them on the way from Guadalajara to the pacific coast. 

A and I on our hike with T above Palm Springs

Seen on the drive through the desert on the way to Guadalajara

Beautiful coast of Mazatlan

Blue Agave plants on the way past Tequila

I'll leave it at that for now. More to come soon and I will hopefully upload the rest of the photos!

Friday, July 13, 2012


I promise I'll upload photos next time, but for now here's a cake that looks like a hamburger:

 Dane Bakery, Guadalajara

We are in Guadalajara, which is the first city we've been in that seems like somewhere you can actually live. There are people out at night walking, street carts selling food and snacks and lots of awesome green space. More about Guadalajara below.

So A fancies himself much funnier than me, so here are some of his notes about Mexico so far:

1.Almost killed an iguana that was crossing the road. It appeared to be 3 feet long and with black stripes. Those stripes may be tire treads from prior crossings.

2. Spanish language MP3s are a great alternative to Mariachi music and religion radio. The "Michel Thomas" product includes 2 whipping boys as pedagogical devices. Also, no one uses the term penultimate, except for naming frisbee teams in PA and the over-educated.

3. Compressor->Condenser->Expansion Valve->Evaporator, repeat. Never fill the high pressure side and don't let mechanics work unsupervised. Also, you can build your own cabin air filter to replace the one that was never installed in your vehicle.

4, After a long and personal exchange with a 19 y.o. auto mechanic, we decided to trade contact information. He suggest that I use his email address to locate him on Facebook. I told him that I did not use the service. He called me out on being a "hipster". I have never been more entertained and insulted.

5. WEP is a thing here. Unfortunately, promiscuous mode is not available on my eeepc.

6. Topes are Mexican speed bumps, except that they are simultaneously invisible and mountainous.

7. A hotel that looks like a self-storage business will advertise their hourly price. This makes price comparison difficult and haggling awkward. The neon red lighting should have been a dead giveaway.

8. Mexican gas prices reflect market price + retail premium + tax. The tax portion does not include road upkeep. This is my conjecture about why the roads quality is lacking and the toll prices are shocking. Also, only male toll operators skim and the switch from "dias" to "tardes" to "noches" will forever be a mystery to me.

My additions:

9. We saw a dead dolphin rotting on the beach, it was gross and sad and smelled much like you'd imagine it to.

10. Our real goal of this trip is to get a capybara and and penguin and tie them together. It's going to be magical.

11. Mexico is where all the VW bugs went, you see them driving by all the time. A claims the other half went to eastern europe, this has yet to be seen.

12. All showers are attached to the same floor as the bathroom and there are no bath mats, they must not mind the floor being wet all the time.

13. We saw a man with a flame thrower on the side of the road.

14. Generally taco stands have been way better than sit down restaurants, despite being terrified of eating the salsa.

A longer update on Guadalajara: We decided to spend two nights in Guadalajara after spending a long day driving from Mazatlan. After around 7 hours of driving and probably around 50 (US) dollars in tolls, we make it to Guadalajara right at rush hour. It takes about an hour to drive through the city to our hotel (actually 1.5 since we had to stop because the car was steaming for the engine to cool). We get to the hotel, park the car and go out to dinner. Guadalajara has been the first place it actually feels safe to walk around. There are families and people walking around even at around 10pm.

We decided to stay 2 nights in Guadalajara because it's a big city and we really haven't done anything cultural in Mexico yet. We decided to go to the Museo de Regional Guadalajara. It's pretty close to where we are staying (the city center) and has a natural history of the world section, a pre-colonial era section, post-colonial and then all lots of christian themed art. It was a pretty nice museum that had an open air center. We then decided to head to the modern art museum. Turns out it was ~5 miles. Turns out we should probably be exercising more often when doing a long road trip in a car. Ouch. We walked 2 miles back to the subway to take it back to our neighborhood. Guadalajara is enough of a city to have a subway, which is pretty awesome. A read the wikipedia and it says it's the "silicon valley" of mexico, I guess there are a bunch of tech companies and stuff here.

We are trying to figure out where to go next. Mexico city is supposed to be awesome, but driving there is also supposed to be a pain, there are only certain days you can drive and need a permit. We may just skip it and head down the coast, not sure yet. Will check back soon with photos and such!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mexico! An update so far..

A in front of the largest flag either of us has even seen (in Ensenada)

I've been pretty bad about taking photos and keeping in contact, but we are in Mexico! If you'd like to see where we are daily (since I will clearly not be updating that often), we bought a SPOT device and you can track our GPS progress here. I will post about our pre-July adventures soon, but here is an update since July 1st.

Tonight we are staying in a beach town called Mazatlan, it is a nice change after spending the last five nights in the desert. A long summary is below (very very long), but here are some quick things:

1. Our AC broke in the desert, we spent ~2 days driving with no AC in 110 degree desert weather.
2. Mexican roads range from excellent to horrible. Some are large toll roads, some are highways that just turn to dirt roads for patches without any warning. Sometimes there are cows on major highways.
3. Mexican tolls are expensive, we probably so far have spent ~$70 in tolls so far.
4. They love speed bumps here and if you do not slow down to a stop, you will damage the underside of you car.
5. WIFI is available most places in Mexico, but is generally very slow.
6. We have finally made it to warm pacific water!
7. A is much better at Spanish than I thought, I am trying to learn now (using both and lessons downloaded off the internet in the car)
8. We are generally having a good time, but need to work on planning things out better.
9. Neither of us have gotten sick from drinking the water or eating sketcy salsas (well that is mostly me eating those)

A lot about our trip so far: I will post pictures when I get them off my camera. A and I left SF a day late (July 2nd) and headed South to Gilroy to store our stuff, there were some problems with the storage company honoring our online paid rental, so we got a late start down to LA to meet up with T and M. We made it as far as Bakersfield the first night and stayed in a truckstop style Econolodge there (we can just tell ourselves we were preparing for Mexico...). The next day we made it down to LA and went to the Griffith Observatory with T, it was mostly foggy (or shall I say smoggy) over LA so it was hard to see much, but pretty none-the-less. We decided to stay for the next day in LA since it was July 4th. T took us down to Palm Springs where they have a crazy spinning tram car that takes you up ~8k feet to the top of the mountain. We went on a nice hike there. In the evening we went to Malibu to see the fireworks, which happened from multiple sides.

July 5th we woke up early and headed for the border. We had not really made any plans about which way we were going, so after purchasing Mexican insurance we headed down through Tijuana. It was a strange experience, you go through what looks like a toll booth and get a green or red light. Red I assume means search your car, but we got green so we may never know. Then there is nothing, no passport check, nothing. We later found out that this is because they want you to pay to get your passport stamped (which we ended up doing down in the town of Esensada where we stayed the night). We drove down the Baja peninsula the first night, since we figured it'd be nice to stay on the beach. Everything is in English and you can pay tolls in dollars. In Mexico there are lots of toll roads (you can choose the toll road or the free road, but the free roads are much slower and in much worse condition). We ended up staying at an older hotel in Ensenada. Ensenada is both a harbor town and a surfers area. You can see boats come in and a little further down there is public beach. When we were there it was pretty overcast and the water was still fairly cold. We had our fill of fish tacos. It's a bit difficult eating tacos with the toppings (which we are afraid contain water and will make us sick), I have been probably taking too many liberties with things like this, but am okay so far!

The next day we headed over toward mainland Mexico (not sure if that's the right term?). It's hard to judge distances and how far you can go, roads vary a lot in quality so it makes judging distances very difficult. We have been told it's not safe to drive at night in Mexico (above things like robberies people walk on the roads here at night to church, there are animals, unknown potholes, etc). We decided to aim for Mexicali (a board town) the second night. We made it in plenty of time and found a hotel fairly close to the boarder/downtown (although there didn't really appear to be downtown Mexicali). We walked in the ridiculous heat to a place that was said to brew their own beer. It was loud and they were playing wonderful music videos from Earth Wind Fire (seriously, go watch some). They were out of most beers and the brown ale we had was only okay. Mexicali is a city where there was a huge influx of chinese immigrants, we decided to eat some Chinese food in celebration. It was awful. We did pick a place randomly, so I am sure there could be some good Chinese food, but this was definitely not it.

The next morning we headed to Caborca (which we picked based on distance alone). This was probably the worst day of driving we had, the road along the boarder was being worked on and every few kilometers we would have to drive on a dirt road. About 3 hours into the day, our air conditioning died. It was over 110 and we had to keep the windows closed since we were in the only part of mexico without gas stations. When we finally made it to Caborca there was not much there, so we stayed at a fairly sketchy hotel with stray dogs eating out of the trash. The highlight of the city was probably the steak dinner we had (Sanora is known for its steak). Since it was a Saturday and no mechanics work on Sunday, we decided to go onto the next largest city Hermosillo with the idea we'd have a better chance of finding a Honda dealership (we are driving in a 2000 Honda Civic).

The drive to Hermosillo was uneventful, just hot and sweaty. We got to Hermosillo at around 2 and decided to stay in a nicer hotel with a pool since it was so hot out. Hermosillo actually has some museums and an interesting history, but it was Sunday so everything closed ~4. The next day we went to get the car fixed. The honda dealership said the could do it, but it would cost ~1200 dollars US.  When we said that was too much, he told us he had a friend that could do it cheaper and drove us over to another mechanic. After spending ALL day at the repair shop, we had a mostly working AC and decided to stay in Hermosillo another night. Went and had some awesome tacos.

To make up for lost time, the next day we drove around 700km (when I say we I really mean A, I haven't actually driven the car yet). Mexican toll roads while much better than their free counterparts (we mostly suspect) are very expensive, we probably paid ~30 dollars (US) in tolls. We made it to Culiacan, drove around the city and finally ended up staying at a strange place on the outskirts of town. The city looked pretty nice, large green areas, museums, river, etc. When later reading on wikipedia it turns out it is the most dangerous city in Mexico. Who would have thought? We decided to head down to the beach at Mazatlan the next day instead of exploring Culiacan.

We made it to Mazatlan ~2 and checked into the Bellamar. This clearly used to be a nice hotel, but now it is very run down. It does have the quality of being really cheap and right on the water. We headed into the ocean and it was actually warm, unlike in Ensenada. I was not aware that the Pacific actually got warm enough to enjoy. Although hot here, it's much nicer than the desert. There is green and areas to walk. We walked around the harbor to a seafood restaurant on the water. Mazatlan turns out to be a resort town for Mexicans. People are all over the boardwalk selling coconuts and trinkets.  The sunset over the water was beautiful. We are heading to Guadalajara tomorrow.

That's it for today, will try to update more regularly and not inundate with so much boring driving info.