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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:04 pm 
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Ok, I normally don't take this blog very seriously, but I suppose if there is a time and a place, this is it. Thanks to all that showed concern, the list is way too long for here, but it is appreciated. To all that emailed or facebooked me, its too difficult to respond one by one while on the road, so consider this your thanks, I do appreciate it. Props to Ed G. for waiting on hold unsuccessfully on two separate occasions with the Oaxacan embassy, I have jumped out of taco lines for less of a wait, dealing with anything "official" in Mexico takes some extreme patience. I was shocked to see the amount of friends, as well that complete strangers, on sites like facebook, as well as ones I have never heard of like Reddit.com, were doing their part to help "locate me". But here I am jumping ahead of myself, first, moonshine!

Oaxaca City, and Puerto Escondido


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1 US dollar = 13.1884 Mexican pesos
Miles driven to date: back at the car of course!

Oaxaca, Oaxaca:

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The night before heading off to Oaxaca was a fun, but rough one. I had spent the evening in Catemaco enjoying the sights, but not wanting to tackle the road back to la Jungle at night I decided to stealth camp in town as I had a good parking spot, though with the heat was forced to open the windows. Turned out those guys in Catemaco can party, as I was awoken on and off all night until at least 3 am. I had planned on heading out around 8 as I knew it would be a long day of driving, but at 6 am I was once again awoken to the sounds of people heading to church among other things. I figured it was time to bail, and hit the road tired, but ready for Oaxaca, the end point of my previous Mexico trip. I had seen shacks selling liquids of some sort which I assumed must have alcohol in them 30 minutes outside of Catemaco. I pulled up to one several booths side by side all setup and selling the same things around 7 am. Turns out they are selling bottles of honey, and vanilla for around 5 USD, and not wanting to try and explain to the woman in Spanish that I had stopped at 7 am for some moonshine, I am now the proud owner of a giant bottle of honey. I am not really sure what to do with it so I figure once I get my hands on some granola there will be a lot of "fruit, granola, yogurt, and honey" mixtures for breakfast.

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Disappointing that this would be a sober drive through the mountains, I continued on. Driving from the north as I was coming from the Gulf of Mexico, I came in on the 175, which is very similar to the devils backbone previously posted about, though with much less traffic. A winding road through the lush green Sierra Nortes reaching heights of 9600 feet, it is not a surprise as to why Oaxaca had long been isolated from the rest of Mexico. It was a long day of driving from Catemaco, and being deep in the mountains really gave an idea of what the terrain surrounding Oaxaca is like, as well as a sense that I had earned this drive, unlike when cruising in on the the toll roads we previously took from Puebla. This isolation is one of the many reasons people love Oaxaca, a city full of history, culture, and tradition. Last time I was recovering from a rough case of food poisoning, and was unable to explore Oaxaca and see what the city had to offer. This time would be different, and even though most of this trip consisted of new places, it still felt like Oaxaca was what would be the kickoff point of the trip. I feel many things have worked out great on this trip considering the last minute decisions, and here was yet another unplanned example of luck, as I had unexpectedly arrived during what must be Oaxacas most important festival, Guelaguetza.

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Guelaguetza

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Thousands of people come to Oaxaca to take in the festivities over a two week period for Guelaguetza, and to see the main event where costumed dancers from the seven regions which make up the state of Oaxaca perform their traditional music and dances. The auditorium holds 10,000 people, and the event is held two times a day on the 1st two Mondays after July 17th, which gives an idea of the amount of people here in attendance. On the Friday kicking off Guelaguetza I sat at yet another cafe with my Australian friend, taking in the sites. We ditched the Spaniard because she was shoe sopping, and as we are men we dont do that kind of thing. Well, little did we know what a great decision this would be. We sat there enjoying another beautiful day in Oaxaca, known for its great weather due to its location high in the mountains. We sat and did the norm, some people watching, telling the constant flow of vendors we were not interested in their crap, even telling the shoe shin guys my sneakers didnt need a polish, some day I may let them do it, just to see what happens. We then noticed all the people lining up on all sides of the road surrounding the zocalo. Clearly there was a parade coming, and we had front row seats for the show...well until the hundreds of people stood in front of our seats and partially blocked our view. No worries, this was the official beginning to Guelaguetza, and the crowd was full of positive, festive energy. You could see the pride these people had for this great city, and their great state, as chants of "Vive Oaxaca" would ripple through the many people filling the centro, while the costumed dancers who would be preforming in a few days gave the city a taste of what was to come. Once again it is the little things that make me appreciate Mexico. We were both pumped when they started shooting off fireworks right there in the zocolo, which hit us, much of the crowd, and even a baby. Yup, who doesnt love a good Mexican parade.

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After the parade was over the city seemed to kick off into party mode. My friends had seen a flyer for a mezcal tasting festival, and while my drinking days are well behind me we headed off for that. Due to the amount of people we never did find the Spaniard even though she ended up being there, but we did find plenty of mezcal...maybe that was part of the reason we never saw her, who knows. For a mere 20 pesos (1.50USD) entrance fee, you could go from booth to booth sampling all the mezcal you wanted. There were a variety of flavors, which also means a variety of colors. I had never seen a pink, blue, or green mezcal before, so naturally I tried them all. We had planned on doing several laps around the festival as the only limits to how much you drank where your own, but decided that it would be much easier and efficient to just buy a bottle for 80 Pesos (6 USD) and polish that off. There was of course live music, with a band that definitely rocked. People were up front salasing and everyone had a blast, which seems to be the norm for a Mexican fiesta.

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The next day was the Aussies birthday, and even though I hadn't previously drank since Jan 1st, I figured this was a good excuse for drinking two days in a row. After a nice dinner at some random restaurant we went off searching for the parties. While walking down the main street fireworks were set off in the sky. We knew it would be a good night as we figured this must be for his birthday, and even though we had already started drinking before coming to this conclusion, the logic was flawless. We continued on until we stumbled across a small bar with a live band, playing ACDC of all things, yup, that was all the sign we needed. The bar was full of Mexicans, and as word spread that it was his birthday the mezcal started flowing again, and some of our new Mexican friends let the band know so he even got a weird rendition of Pink Floyds Another Brick in the Wall in Spanish as a birthday treat...though I still dont understand what that is all about or how it related to his birthday. The evening probably went to well for some of the group, as I was the only one to make it to the Gualegetza dance festival the next day.

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In case you missed that last paragraph, there was some drinking involved the night before, so I obviously went to the afternoon, not the morning show. I had read you should go at least two hours before the show if you want to get the free seats, what I didn't read was that the line would be a mile long, and take over an hour to get in. I like to be one with the people, so rather than sitting up front with the fancy pants snobs, I reluctantly walked all the way to the end of the line...after contemplating several times trying to cut my way in and playing the dumb gringo when I assuredly got caught. Looking at the line, and flying solo, there were many times where I almost bailed, figuring there was no way I was getting in. With some perseverance and a little luck, I made it in, and was able to see the festival, though it was clear there were a ton of people who would not be so lucky. Each group comes out in the traditional costume and performs a few songs with dances. Then they throw traditional items out to the crowd. The traditional items mostly consisted of Bananas, Limes, straw hats, chocolate, and plastic water bottles. Yup, hard plastic water bottles, which someone thought would be a good idea to throw from both the center and rear sections, so you had them coming in from both directions, it was basically a war zone. I had the pretty girl sitting next to me literally dive onto my lap trying to get a water bottle, but she still wouldnt talk to me after :( I had no idea if she was 25 or 15, so i decided it best not to talk to her either. When someone did get an item, like a single lime, it was like they had caught the winning home run ball hit by Arron Boon in the 11 inning of game 7 against Boston back in 2003, an event I was lucky enough to see at Yankee Stadium in person, suck it Boston. Overall the festival was a good time, but I didnt quite make it to the end. Now, I think I did pretty well considering I was slightly hungover, I made it 3 hours which was about 2 hours longer than my dancing festival limit. At the 3 hour mark I could not take anymore and had to get out of there, the dancing was nice, but there were a lot of groups, as it ended up taking 4 hours for the festival to complete. The cement block seats certainly were not helping anything, but overall I was glad I went and saw what i did, it is clearly very important to the people of the state of Oaxaca, and because of that these are the kinds of things I want to be a part of. I did feel a bit guilty leaving when I know others missed out on getting into the festival, but I waited until the people on both sides of me left, so clearly I was not the only one over the dancing. I also didnt want to deal with the thousands of people leaving at once in the darkness of night, as I have read pickpocketers can be a minor issue up on that hill, and I didnt want to have to hurt anyone.

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The half way point
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Monte Alban:
There was a group of about 5-6 of us, which began to split up after the weekend. When everyone was doing their own thing I went to check out Monte Alban, which I had hoped to check out the first time in Mexico but was unable to. Just 6 miles outside of the city the ancient ruins of the Zapotec capital Monte Alban are believed to have been occupied since 500 bc. I headed up to this spectacular site, which combines the ancient buildings with spectacular views of the city below. There was fog rolling in and out throughout the morning, which added to the mystical feeling. It is believed that these people may have been the 1st within Mexico to use a form of writing, as well as a written calendar. This is definitely a must see site if you are in the Oaxaca area, and once again only something like 5 USD to visit.

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The Aussie, Spaniard and I met back up and spent a few days checking out the city, and local markets. The food in the entire state of Oaxaca is fantastic, so I made sure to get my fill of that. There were three additional Mexicans in our group who had already taken off, but they certainly added to my Oaxacan experience. My time in Oaxaca has been amazing, and the people I met were directly responsible for that. One thing I really appreciated was that the Mexicans really got what the trip for me was about, and they appreciated the fact that I would be willing to travel alone, through their country. I have spent several weeks in England, and while a great country, I doubt I will go out of my way to return. Mexico on the other hand as I have previously said is a country I cannot wait to return to, even before I leave it. They are very lucky to live in such an amazing place, and while the beaches, mountains, desserts, and rain forests are all amazing places, it is the people that make Mexico what it is.

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See, everyone was Gualagetza'd
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Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca:

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As there was a taxi strike of some sort, which somehow affected the buses, the Aussie was stuck in Oaxaca unable to leave for 3 days. I finally did some rearranging and cleared out the passenger seat since the Aussie was heading to Puerto as well and gave him a lift, which worked out well as he knew all the spots as he had come from there a few weeks before. While headed south there was a roadblock setup, I assume it had to do with the recent elections as people dont seem to happy with the results, saying that it was once again rigged. Guess the US isnt the only one with this problem. As we sat for over an hour, we got to see entrepreneurship at its finest. Out of nowhere this guy with a box of donuts appears and hops into the military vehicle, where he instantly made a killing. I snapped a pic of this fantastic even as it unfolded which the military guys did not like. Instantly a tarp was setup to obstruct eyes on what was happening. I am not sure if it was because there were not enough donuts and they were greedy, or if they would get in trouble for buying donuts while on patrol or wherever they were headed. Eventually we made it to down to the hot and humid Puerto Escondido. World famous Puerto Escondido, also known as the Mexican Pipeline, was "flat"as the locals kept saying. I was hoping to see 25 ft monsters pounding down on the shore, but instead arrived with what probably 6-8 ft waves crashing down on the shore. Puerto is one giant beach break, normally closed out, though when you get a good wave it can be great. A deep water trench off the shore is the reason for this no none sense wave, as the swells travel miles before hitting the beach while barely losing any of their original power. Realistically it appeared you spend most of your time dodging the giant waves and when you grab a good one, you be-line it for the end, hoping you and your board makes it in one piece, well that is what it looked like from the shore anyway. I did return later on my way back through to see some larger waves, but still nothing like what I had hoped to see.

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I quickly realized Puerto wasnt for me, but there are many small beach towns in both directions that were. In one particular beach town we were staying at my Aussie friend bumped into different friends from home randomly several. One he knew was living down there for part of the year, but the other 2 sightings were within a week of each other, and were of the "I just saw him walking by" kind of deals. This worked out great as we usually had an entourage of 6-10, though that is definitely bad surfing etiquette. Great for hanging out when the surf is small, never good when hitting the water, so we made sure not to all paddle out at once as no one wants to be surfing and see a group of 10 roll up. Seriously, these bastards are everywhere, FOX needs to relax on those Muslims, its the damn Aussies that are taking over the world. Due to this I pretty much gave up on Spanish for a few weeks. The obvious downside to hanging with the Aussies was that not only has my Spanish not improved, but I am pretty sure my English has gotten worse.

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Character limit hit, additional story and pics here: Missing Person No. 38153729

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Tue Sep 04, 2012 6:25 am 
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War within a breath

San Cristobal, Tonina, Palenque

1 US dollar = 13.1899 Mexican pesos
Miles Driven:

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San Cristobal, Chiapas:

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While I spent the 3-4 weeks at the beach previously I borrowed a book from the Aussie, yeah just one, titled "The War Against Oblivion: the Zapatista Chronicles". Now I am delusional enough to think I am an expert, let me drop some knowledge on you. Aside from listening to what Zach De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine wrote about the Zapatistas back in the day, I didn't have much previous knowledge of the E.Z.L.N. Lyrics from songs like war within a breath make a lot more sense, as the chorus repeats "Everything can change on a new years day". The Mexican Government had been controlled by what many consider a "dictatorship" known as the PRI which held power for 71 years, and with this control many people of Mexico, especially the American Indian descendants of the Mayans, have suffered. The typical story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, they had finally had enough. On January 1st 1994, the same day the NAFTA agreement went into effect which also played a part in the loss of their land, a group of rebels known as the Zapatistas, also known as the E.Z.L.N, took over the four largest cities of Chiapas, the most famous being San Cristobal, where they announced to the world that they were here, and would not take it anymore, demanding freedom, liberty, and justice. In total 145 people were killed in the uprising, and after several days they were finally forced out by the military, but the damage had been done. This political army demanded food, land, education, and free and fair elections. This group of indigenous tribes had banded together and presented their list of demands, which became known as the San Andres Accords. While many meetings were held over the years working towards reaching an agreement, the Mexican government would inevitably end up ignoring any promises they had made. The Zapatistas for the most part used the poetry of one of their leaders, "Marcos", as well as the internet, to capture both Mexico, and the worlds attention. They themselves made many mistakes which would also hinder any progress towards reaching an agreement, but with this world wide attention they were somewhat protected, though always in danger, as the government continually supplied upwards of 70,000 troops to the jungle closing the noose. Sadly this world support was not enough protection, throughout the years the military raided villages looking for rebels or weapons, burning houses, destroying corn crops as a means to use starvation as an indirect attack, as well as raping and killing many innocent people, despite the outcry of world human rights groups. Just one example of the horrific acts was when 46 unarmed Tzotzil Indian peasants were shot while praying in a Church near the town of San Christobal de Las Casas, shot with Ak-37's and cut up with machetes. Its terrible to think these things could happen in the 90's, but then again its 2012 and these things are still going on throughout the world. I wish I had read the book sooner, I had partied with a group of 20 or so kids from Mexico City at the beach until 2 am one night back at the beach. One of them had brought up the PRI and E.Z.L.N. when talking about the current elections, though typical gringo I didnt know much of it. Funny side comment to lighten the mood after this depressing into, I was with the Aussies when they invited us to join them, I immediately jumped in and sat down eager to do a little fiestaing mexican style, while the Aussies bounced instantly as they were either intimidated by their lack of Spanish, or by the Spanish chicas, im not sure which. They certainly missed out on a good party.

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San Cristobal is another city built up in the mountains, as always a relief to the heat the lower altitude areas provide. The mountains are covered with pine forests, which are both beautiful and provide clean, refreshingly cool air. The weather was great while I was there with chilly nights, though I have read it gets very cold in the winters. San Cristobal is one of the favorites for travelers due to the large amount of indigenous people in the area. There are many different tribes in and around San Cristobal, who speak their own dialects, each with different styles of clothing, all extremely beautiful. It is also amazing to note how pristine their clothes are for a group coming from such extreme poverty. Once outside the city I would see women with their elegant clothing walking into their tiny, run down shacks, which at least in the 1990's did not even have power or water. I saw people washing clothes and bathing in creeks, so I assume this is still the case today for many of them. Within San Cristobal itself it is mainly the women who still wear their traditional clothing, especially those selling these clothes and fabrics, the men tend to wear normal clothes you or I would wear, jeans, t-shirts, etc. As soon as you get outside of San Cristobal this changes, and a majority of the men are seen wearing their traditional styles.

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This is a stop sign in San Cristobal. If its red you stop, black you dont...if your mexican you never stop.
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Due to the time of year this is another city that has things going on, but at the same time feels a bit empty. There are a fair amount of Europeans who visit here, though not many Americans. It is not necessarily easy for Americans to get here, but at the same time, there are Europeans, come on, there is nothing easy about that. After talking with other travelers, as well as having driven a fair amount of Mexico, it seems in general aside from places like Cabo, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or certain parts of the big cities there is not much of a night life in Mexico. I had trouble finding places to eat that were full or busy in the evenings, usually there were three or four people to a restaurant, if that. I even eventually succumbed and eat at what was clearly a travelers restaurant, though it had a great atmosphere and was full of non-mexicans, one of 3 places I was able to find that had a crowd in a week or so in the city.

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Las Grutas, and San Juan Chamula (not the same location):

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Even though I had never been in or near a cave in my life before Mexico, I visited my second of this trip, Las Grutas, which is just outside of the city. I grabbed the collectivos for the short ride, so round trip for collectivos along with the entrance fee to the cave totaled just under 4 USD. Not bad, but the trip itself is really only good if your looking to kill an hour or two, which I was. You can walk to the end of the sidewalk they built in the cave and return in about 10, maybe 20 minutes, it wasnt really good or bad, just kind of eh...but a large cave regardless. Another morning I headed out to San Juan Chamula, a tourist destination also just outside, if not part of San Cristobal. Known as A fiercely independent tribe, just about everyone here wears their traditional clothing, which is part of the tourists allure. Sunday mornings they have a huge market in the centro plaza, selling their clothing, cowboy boots and hats, foods, shampoos, more plastic crap, you name it, I got there early as they close down the market early in the day, as it is not geared towards the tourists. The vendors in and around San Cristobal are great, they dont hassle you like Cabo, so when I bash vendors its really just the ones who wont take no for an answer. I have grown to enjoy it though, many times they dont give up after a simple no thanks, and keep talking their speal to me in rapid fire spanish like I may suddenly need that little wooden jaguar probably made in taiwan. I have started answering in them in rapid fire english as retaliation, dropping an occasional spanish word of maybe, or 2 or 3, how much, back to english, and then abruptly turning and walking away. Nothing like getting their hopes up only to crush their spirit. Again, its just for the ones who are dicks. This did not happen here at all to me, which is a nice change of pace, though I already know its coming as I head for the Yucatan. I forgot to mention but I snagged a pic back in Oaxaca of women in traditional clothing preparing their "authentic" merchandise, which conisted of ripping the price tags off in a doorway out of site before starting their day. This is the reason why i dont like "vendors", the ones who push their crap taking advantage of unsuspecting tourists. I also had a guy try and sell me an "authentic, straight from the ground" artifact at Monte Alban, only 20 pesos, which is probably a buck fifty! This ancient carved animal was a extremely great condition for such an ancient artifact, so I told him that was amazing and I couldnt possibly take it, as it belonged in the hands of the people of Mexican in a Museum due to its historical value. He was not amused.

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San Juan Chamula is also known for its unique church practices. I dont go in many churches as I feel weird that places which are obviously important to peoples religious beliefs become "tourist attractions", but it is also a good way for the community to receive money, as you must pay a small entrance fee. Cameras are strictly forbidden inside, but they let you know before going in so you dont have to face gods wrath for unknowingly taking a picture, though I provided one below from the internet that some sinner took. There are no seats and the floors are covered in fresh green pine needles, and there are hundreds of candles, both on the tables, alters, and the floor. The people will place and light a bunch of candles on the floor in front of them as part of their practice, kneeling and placing their heads on or near the floor and chanting in their native tongue. There were several men and women both young and old with tears in their eyes, which made it quite evident that this was an extremely important and emotional part of their lives. I did not spend too much time inside as I did not want to overstay my welcome, though it was clear that they are used to tourists inside and did not have any problem with me in there.

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Palenque:

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I then headed north to the Mayan ruins of Palenque. Going back to the E.Z.L.N, while the accords never reached an agreement, there was a bit of a silver lining. These events helped unite and open the eyes of the Mexican people, and eventually led to the PRI loosing power for the 1st time ever. With the 2012 elections they are now back in charge though allegations of vote buying could lead to the recounting of votes from tens of thousands of polling places according to a NYTimes article. Many of the students I have met who have been traveling from Mexico city have told me they do not believe that they should have won, and are not happy with the outcome. Today the indigenous communities are still extremely poor, and fighting to keep their land, and for obvious reasons nervous with the PRI back in charge. While driving north to Palenque I would drive though many of these villages, built on the mountain sides covered with beautiful pine forest, tiny corn fields grown anywhere they can be grown, and people living in extremely tiny, basic, wooden shacks. About half way from San Cristobal to Palenque you go through Ocosingo, where in 1994 or 1995 the Military allegedly went in and destroyed buildings, tortured many people, and executed somewhere between 5-10 civilians whos hands had been tied behind their backs. Many others were forced to flee and hide in the mountains. This was a message to anyone who sided with the E.Z.L.N. There are many sides to the story as far as who did what, the military, the paramilitary who many believe was funded by both the Mexican Govt with Clintons help, others say it didnt happen, and to this day no one has been held accountable. Sadly to this day their is a large military complex on the outskirts of town, a constant reminder to those who lived through the nightmare.

A few hours further Palenque is located at the base of the mountains, surrounded by jungle, and due to this currently less than 5% of the ruins are excavated. There are something like 1400 sites within the ruins, most of them overgrown by trees and other jungle plants. My expectations for this site were probably too high, along with not being in the mood for ruins, I was not very impressed and did not take very good pictures. I then returned back to San Cristobal as a jump off point to Guatemala, as I had decided after my month on the beaches it was time to hit Central America. While both the Yucatan and Belize have plenty of amazing things to see, they are not high on my list, so I decided to skip them as I was already falling behind my already slow schedule.

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Tonina:

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After returning and spending A bit more time in San Cristobal trying to absorb as much of the cool weather as possible, I came to my senses. Theres no way I am skipping things, that was my rule from day one. Unfortunately that means backtracking back to palenque, as it is the most direct path up into the Yucatan. Well I told you I was flying by the seat of my pants, sometimes that means poor planning. I figured I should make the return trip count, so this time around I stopped briefly in Ocosingo to visit Tonina, another set of ruins located just a few miles outside the city. I had no idea what to expect, but knew if I left San Cristobal early I could visit it in an hour or two and then continue to Palenque in the same day. It didn't add much extra time to my trip, and as most ruins in mexico, was also under 5 USD dollars so worth the gamble. Tonina is a must see that I almost didn't. It consist of mainly one large complex, but it is huge. You can climb all over it, and again, it only takes a bit of time out of your day so I recommend it. Tonina also played an important part in Palenques history, as they eventually conquered and captured, and killed Palenques king. They spent many years at war against each other, though with the height and steepness of Toninas building, I am pretty sure their warriors were ripped killing machines as climbing all over it was a bit tiring. Agua Azul and Mis-ho falls are two more popular destinations on the way to Palenque, though I opted to skip these as the agua is not very azul during rain season, it is rather brown this time of year.

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Palenque Again:
Since I was in Palenque again...I decided to pay 5 more dollars and get a few better pics. After you pass the 1st toll booth entering the park, but before arriving at the gate where you purchase your ticket, there is an entrance to a hiking trail in the jungle off to the right, so I wandered around in there. There were some cascades, obviously all kinds of plant life, and some sort of pig like creatures running around that I was not quick enough to get pics of. I did not see any howler monkeys, but heard what was obviously speakers setup in the jungle to trick tourist into thinking they were around somewhere, I feel like I have said this already, maybe I am running out of material. I then bought an entrance ticket but sat down for a drink to relax before going in as it was very humid. Some guy offered me a jungle tour but I declined since I just did my own. Then a few minutes later another guy who was obviously a guide stopped to chat with me. He didnt speak english but his spanish was somewhat easy to understand as he works with torists every day. He told me about Palenque, the large amount of ruins in the jungle un-excavated, the plant and animal life, etc. Well, I like when people earn their work, so he sold me. He wanted 600 pesos (45 USD!) which is a bit much for a jungle tour, so I offered less than what he wanted but it was slow so he jumped on it. We went into the jungle where he pointed out the various trees, including the tree of life which was important to the mayan civilization. He also pointed out other medicinal plants, my favorite being one which is used for hangovers...where was that back in my college days? He imitated birds to get them to start singing back, made some howler monkey sounds to no avail, but then suddenly stopped, and whispered that he "smelled" them. Not seeing any we continued on, but 5 minutes later we found 10 or so climbing around in the tree above, of course I only had my point and shoot camera as it was too hot to lug my nicer one. I am pretty sure the monkeys live in that tree and the "I smell them" was part of his speil, but who knows, at least we saw some damn monkeys. He also took me to a small amount of un-excavated ruins, which are mostly just rock structures with trees growing out of them. It was a good time, and I love those chances were I am forced to speak spanish so it was probably worth the money, though the trails I was on are part of the same network, and I could have walked them on my own for free had I known where I was going.

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I also met up with some guys from england, and some girls from New Zeland and Australia while staying in Palenque. They talked me into joining them in a temazcal, which is regarded by the indians as an important cleansing practice to rid oneself of sickness and evil spirits. They were a good fun group who I enjoyed hanging out with, so while I was not sure if it would be a tourist trap, I jumped on board. These guys were normal, had similar interests, were not weird hippies, so I figured it would be a good idea....though I am pretty sure its very popular with the hippies, a group of people I struggle to understand. Again I am trying to do things important to the locals, be one with the people or some shit like that, so since it is an important spiritual thing I decided it would be a good experience. Of course it costs 200 pesos which takes away from some of that spirituality thing, but that seems pretty cheap for some sort of exorcism. I will admit, I may have gotten in over my head on this one. There was a mix of us, some locals, and of course a couple hippies. I think there were 12 people or so who did it. Basically its a small, stone dome structure representing the womb of the earth, with a fire pit in the center. I may have misunderstood parts as things were translated roughly for us, so bear with me. One is supposed to emerge reborn I think, pretty sure I am still me. Lava rocks area heated outside in a fire so they are glowing red and obviously hot, and are supposed to represent the bones of their ancestors, which are summoned to guide us with their knowledge. The mind and heart are supposed to merge as one, kind of a meditation thing they said. We had to have them pass smoke around us individually before entering, which was important, though I wasnt sure why, I just stood their and let them do it cause everyone else did, they didnt really explain that part. One of the guys who was not with us, though was kind of a local and knew the deal, entered without doing this and was scolded. Everyone strips down to their boxers, bikinis, possibly just a towel if your an english dude, and sits in a circle around the fire pit, and was it ever cramped in this tiny structure. They put the rocks into the fire pit using deer antlers, traditional, though dangerous as they often slipped out almost burning the girl in charge a few times. The door is closed, and you sit inside in darkness aside from the glowing rocks as there is chanting, singing, and drumming in some native language. They splash water on the rocks ever so often which due to the heat sends hot water on everyone as it explodes off the rocks, and eventually leads to complete darkness. They also use giant palm leaves to send water throughout the hut, so you end up getting soaking wet. Now I assumed I would be covered in sweat, but there was water everywhere, the floor, the roof, in my ears. I have stood in rainstorms and stayed drier. We did 3 doors, which means we were trapped in this thing for just over an hour. I think the 1st door was for air and invoking the "grandmother", an ancient spirit. Then the door is opened to get more rocks and give everyone a slight break, though the heat didnt really escape. Then its closed again, repeated with different chants and songs they sing, this time giving thanks to water. I dont remember what the 3rd door represented, as I was approaching my limit and just trying to make it to the end, possibly earth and fire, as it was some sort of combo since we were only doing 3. It was hot, and I kind of wanted out, but I was ok so just stuck with it. They said they do 4 doors sometimes, and I am pretty sure I could not have handled 4. Turns out I was not alone, and the others I was with also wanted out around round 3. I was oblivious to this, but one of the english guys couldnt stop laughing in the beginning, though he tried, everyone sitting by him said they could feel his body as he fought the laughing fit and heard him suppressing his laughter. One of the women made a comment about breathing deeply which I assumed was just helpful advice for everyone, but they agreed it was directed at him, as she wasn't really happy with him. Turns out he couldnt get the image of his english buddy in a towel sitting there cross legged out of his head. The next day I still had a cough that has been lingering, so I can only hope it got rid of my demons, otherwise I was scammed. We all agreed it wasn't something we would be doing again. At the end I asked one of the girls running it how often she did it, and she said whenever they get enough paying customers, maybe tomorrow. Yeah, I was thinking she would say once a month, or maybe a couple times a year. I just googled it in and it seems many different groups from the mayas, aztecs, to the american indians have their own form, but it might just be on full moons, which we happened to do it on, so maybe I misunderstood her and its just a few days at this time of the month, not sure. Google also said those who partake are considered warriors for having the courage to face their demons, so im a warrior.....fuck yeah!

I have no pics of this, but it looks similar to this
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As always, additional pics here: War within a breath

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:09 pm 
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Great update! Keep them coming! :supz:

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Wed Sep 05, 2012 2:53 am 
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LiftedAWDAstro wrote:
Great update! Keep them coming! :supz:


X2! :bounce:

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
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Seriously cool adventure..........thank you for taking the time to share it with us. :supz:

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
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Oh, its going to be one of "those" police checkpoints

Campeche, Uxmal, Merida, Cancun


1 US dollar = 13.1899 Mexican pesos
Miles Driven: Roughly

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Campeche, Campeche:
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Not much to write about Campeche. It is nothing more than a stop over to get to Uxmal, if it is even necessary. I drove in expecting this city to be nice, as it is another of Mexico’s Unesco sites. The centro is surrounded by a giant wall made of limestone, of course built by indigenous slave labor. The wall took over 50 years to build, and was to protect the city from pirate invasions, arghhhhh. The buildings have been restored, and are painted in bright vibrant colors giving it a mixture of Caribbean Spanish flair. I was hoping the night life would be good as it was a Friday, and my plan was to stay 2 or 3 days until Sunday or Monday so I could hit the Uxmal ruins on a weekday, to avoid the Cancun crowds. I tell you this place was dead. It’s pretty in the centro, but the majority of buildings do not have any lights on inside at night, I don’t think anyone is ever home. There was nothing going on, and the busiest restaurant I could find was once again Burger King. Unfortunately instead of moving on I had taken a siesta in the afternoon assuming Friday night would be going off, so didn’t realize this until it was too late. I spent the night eating at Burger King, and played some guitar on the slightly used malecon while watching an awesome thunder storm off in the Gulf, before proceeding to Uxmal the next day.

Uxmal, Yucatan:
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As luck would have it I once again had no idea of what day it was and had actually ended up in Campeche on Saturday night, so I really arrived at Uxmal Sunday evening. Keeping with ancient Mayan tradition, Uxmal has been setup with a high-tech light and sound show, which is part of the ticket cost….a whopping 177 pesos, high by Mexican ruins standards. At least on the bright side the locals get in a bit cheaper, though I don’t think it was anywhere near the standard 57 pesos I had seen at every other ruin site throughout Mexico. You can blame Cancun for the high prices, as all major ruins out here are 177. I was able to camp in the lot across the street from the ridiculously expensive restaurant that served extremely small, bland portions. The cost to dry camp was 131 pesos, there are no facilities, but it works out great for an early start the following day. I bought my tickets that evening and headed to the lights show. There are electronic translators available pretty cheap, but I didn’t realize that at the time so missed most of the story, but it was a great way to get my first sights of Uxmal, as myself and maybe 50 others watched the 45 minute show. Camping here also let me get in at 8:15 when the gates opened the next day, which is pretty good for Mexico as that’s only 15 minutes later than it is supposed to open. This allowed me to enjoy the ruins with only 2 other people anywhere in sight, before the tourists busses started to arrive between 10-11am. Uxmal is in great shape compared to other ruins I have seen, and had elaborate stone carvings on all of the buildings. There were also dinosaurs running around everywhere, so it was a pretty cool place to visit, though once again its tough to get into ruins at this point.

Merida, Yucatan:
I then headed north to Merida, a popular destination with the Europeans from what I have read. While driving into Merida I encountered the most bizarre police checkpoint yet. I was asked a few standard questions, and then asked to pull over, nothing new here as I have gone through countless checkpoints. I pull over where another cops talks to me, and asks me to pull over even more, behind the police building temporarily setup under the overpass. Still no big deal, but I am now out of sight of most of the people going through the checkpoint, I think to myself “Oh, its going to be one of those checkpoints…here we go. It’s the usual where are you from, what are you doing, license and paperwork, ect. He is obviously not pleased with my expired license and passport, so I reluctantly get the good ones out. This is the first time I have had to get them. This guy makes it a point to remember my name, and is overly friendly once the paperwork is in order…which can be taken either way here in Mex as I have met tons of great cops, so still no red flags. I have been leaving my guitar in the front seat rather than dragging the case out to put it away, so he tells me he plays and grabs it, where he begins playing me a song. Now he isn’t the best guitar player, but neither am I so I let him give it a go, he should probably work on his chords a bit more but theres a bit of music in there somewhere. We are only about 3 feet apart now, and suddenly he starts singing, which I didn’t see coming considering his skill level. I give him a nod and say hes pretty good assuming he would put it down, but no slow down amigo, I am treated to a full, and awkward, authentic Mexican serenade on the side of the highway. Finally finishing his masterpiece he put down the guitar, clearly impressed with himself. It was now time to get down to business. He must have asked me over 10 times if I did drugs throughout his search. Not if I had them, just if I did them, or had ever tried them, staring at me as he asks, grinning and giving me the nod cause all Americans must do drugs. He then asks me if I have friends. Confused, I ask if he means in Mexico, he says yes so I say no, I am travelling alone. “How about America?” Well, yeah sure I did before I started the trip and lost all touch with the outside world. Do they do drugs? I laugh a little when I see what he is getting at and say no. He keeps asking, and searching, and I am getting the impression his overly friendly attitude which is slowly fading is so I wouldn’t realize that he is not the most honest policeman here in Mexico. Eventually he pulls out my empty cup holder, and without a word stars at it for a good 30-45 seconds. Finally he asks, “What is this?” He holds it up to me and points inside, but I don’t know how to say empty cup holder in Spanish. Turns out he is implying the dirt or crumbs inside must be drugs, and he is slowly using more and more intimidation in his search process while this is occurring as his demeanor changes. Eventually he puts it back and asks if they have dogs in the US. Now there have been a lot of random unrelated questions at the same time while this is all going down, so I play like he is talking about pets and tell him I have 2, even though I don’t, and make up some really girly names. He looks impatient and asks about police drugs, so I then say yes. ”We have them here too” he says, and gives me the stare and grin look again, almost insinuating they are on the way. At this point the search has gone on for 30 minutes, well past my previous record of 5 minute searches, so my response is, “That’s good, I bet your searches go much faster with the dogs.” He has no response to that one and continues poking and prodding around my front seats, and asks if I have a knife. I tell him I have a pocketknife in the door, as he is bound to find it. He grabs it and says “Oh, this is no good in the Yucatan, I need to take it for your safety, I am sorry”. “Not for me, I take it to the police station, there are bad people, someone can cut you” as he makes a slicing motion over his throat. Now I figure this is bullshit, but have looked into it previously and am aware there are tough laws on weapons, including knives, in Mexico. I have also read countless reports of travelers who carry much larger hunting knives without any problem, as they have been told by the guys at the military checkpoints that they are more worried about drugs or guns, though it can be an issue if your carrying it on you in cities, and again I have yet to have a problem from anyone else. The US travel site does says not to take a knife with you, but the also say not to drive through Mexico, so that advice is clearly for the travelers who fly in. Plus, this is a Leatherman, and was in my van, not on me. It is more of a tool than a weapon, and is clearly for camping. I don’t say anything to this as I don’t want to piss him off until the search is done and play dumb not understanding his Spanish…so he leaves it on the seat. A few more stupid questions from this guy and eventually he is happy with his thorough search of the fronts seats, and decides that there probably are not any drugs in the remaining 75% of the van that he never even took a look at. He again brings up the knife, so I play dumb for a bit and act like I don’t know what he is talking about. Eventually I politely tell him that it is fine if he takes it, but I need to photograph the blade and get the address where he will be taking it, as I was told by the US embassy that as it was only a 2 inch blade it was ok, so they should know they are wrong about the laws. This is all bull, I just wanted to say US embassy as I knew he would know those words. I didn’t ask for his info yet, but planned to depending on his reaction, as you are supposed to get name, badge number, and even car number from these guys if you have problems. I certainly wasn’t trying to piss this guy off as I liked my knife and want it back. I tell him I think he is right, but now I have been told different things by different people and am confused. Really I know this is probably going home to his kid, and while its just a knife a Leatherman is not cheap, plus it’s the principle, he is clearly stealing it. Quickly his story changes as he becomes buddy buddy with me again, and says he is going to let me keep the knife, but if it is found in the Yucatan I could be in trouble. Suddenly he is done with me and tells me I can go, shaking my hand and playing good cop again….at this point I am not even pissed as I can add the shakedown and serenade cop to my collection, and think to myself that I will need these kinds of practice scenarios for Honduras, land of the corrupt cops.

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I then make my way to Merida which was nice, but I don’t see what the allure was to be honest. I later told two Israeli girls to skip it which I hate doing. Even though my opinion is always fact, I don’t know what others will or wont like, but they were short on time and I am confident they will enjoy the other destinations they had planned. By the way if all Israeli girls are as beautiful as those two I have another place I need to visit now. I may or may not believe in love at first sight now, but I have defiantly been convinced in god(s) existence. Sadly they were leaving that day, clearly their god did not find the Jewish jokes I have made in my younger days funny and was punishing me, son of Jehovah! The Centro in Merida had a great plaza to hang out in, but it seemed just like any other nice city in Mexico. I stayed at a popular traveller’s hostel to meet up with some people, and ended up taking a cenote tour with guys from the UK, Germany, and Australia. We took an hour collective to some town outside Merida, not sure where as the others had taken care of the details. We then had to take a ride on a horse drawn cart, which was, well, an adventure I suppose. The cart was not very comfortable, though it wasn’t bad, just a bit teeth jarring. As the man whipped the horse we sped along through the woods towards the cenotes, about a 20 minute ride to the 1st, and maybe 10 more for each additional one. There were about 50 horse flies attacking us the whole way, only occasionally biting us, but more annoying than anything. We got the cenotes and had each one to ourselves, as again tourist season is pretty much over. We spent about 30 minutes in each jumping into and swimming in these cenotes, though it was tough to take any pics of them due to lack of light. I believe much of the Yucatan has underground rivers, and the limestone collapses creating these cenotes, so they are found everywhere here. The water was very blue, and often had giant roots hanging down from the roof, though only a few catfish and a couple bats, not much else for life in the ones we went to. It was a good time, and after that none of us felt like there was much left for us in Merida, so I was not alone in my unimpressed opinion. There are better centotes throughout the Yucatan and Belize, but for the low cost and luxury of having it to ourselves it was well worth the trip.

Cancun, Quinta Roo:

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The Aussie had said he was planning on going to swim with some whale sharks next, then head off to Cuba for a bit, and come back to do Central America. He almost convinced me to join him in Cuba….but I didn’t want to drop the money for a plane ticket and parking my van in Cancun. I have since heard mixed reviews about Cuba so glad I decided to save my money, though I bet it’s a very unique, and fun trip. We exchanged info and decided we would meet up for some surfing later on Central America somewhere, though I will probably still be in Mexico at this pace. I told him I had planned to go to Chitzen Itza, one of the 7 wonders of the world, but ruins start to look the same after awhile, and with both the increased prices in the Yucatan, and the tourist coming from Cancun decided I didnt need to see it. The next day I decided to join him with the sharks so offered him a ride. The Giants game was on that day so we jumped on the toll road as I hoped to make good time and possibly could catch it somewhere close to where we were going. Turns out the toll roads outside of Cancun do not have exits, and we were tricked into going to Cancun, a place I already knew I would despise, and would remind me of Cabo. We found a hostel right away in the centro, I had been sold instantly, the Aussie wanted to keep looking for a better deal. We walked over to one more around the corner to check prices where we met 2 more travelers from New York, so we made plans to watch the game later. Our hostel was empty but much cheaper, 140 pesos (10.73 USD) for our own room, 2 beds, a fan and private bathroom vs 180 for a 10 person dorm. Yeah 10 bucks…why are we wasting time looking for better deal, we have a game to catch! I wish I had written it down as I have no idea where it was or what it was called but it was a pretty good find. We all headed to the tourist area and watched the game at Hooters. Now, I have only been to 3 or so of these, but cannot figure out why they exist. The food is terrible and overpriced, and aside from the Brazilian working in the Toronto Hooters, I have yet to see an attractive girl in there, but the game was on so we didn’t care. As we walk in we were immediately greeted in English, and most of the waitresses were from the US. Yeah you have got to be kidding me, Cancun is worse than Cabo, its little things like that that can piss me off….greet us in Spanish dammit, this is Mexico! Fortunately The Giants ended up losing the game, as the key to their Super bowl domination has been to barely make the playoffs, and then crush the unsuspecting opposition, so we are right on track now. I have to admit I was looking forward to bashing cowboys fans, but since most cowboy fans don’t know how to read I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway.

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We then decided to celebrate the successful plan Coughlin has come up with and headed out to the clubs right around the corner. It was a Wednesday night, this I know for a fact. Cover charges for the clubs went as high as 60 USD which included all you could drink of crappy alcohol, so we walked around to find the best deal. We ended up talking to a guy from Iowa selling bracelets to the clubs for a good 10 or 15 minutes just shooting the shit. He appreciated that and told us of one for 15 USD even though he wasn’t selling one to that place and wouldn’t make any money off us, and it included a pass to enter the 60 dollar place, just didn’t include the drinks, so we could get our drink on and then go to the better club. Turns out not everyone in Cancun is a douchebag, so I thought. Well, he then set me straight as he follow this up by laughing and telling us he just sold 4 girls passes to the 60 dollar club, even though the 15 dollar clubs pass lets you enter both places, yup there is the Cancun I expected. It was a good night, with both a spiderman sighting and a Michael Jackson sighting. At one point “Billie Jean” came on and like the red sea the crowd instantly parted, where we were treated to moves I thought I would never have the privilege of seeing again. Later the Aussie and New Yorkers headed home while I stayed behind as I was once again dancing to extremely terrible music. The girl was from somewhere in Mexico…it was waaaaay to loud to figure it out, as everything in Mexico is done at maximum volume. For someone who does not like to dance I have done way too much of it out here.

Eventually I decided I should head back as well since it was 3 and the group I was now with were showing no signs of slowing down for the night. I grabbed a cab and headed back to our hostel in the Centro. I was dropped off a few blocks from the hostel as I didn’t know the street name and began my walk, late at night. This is not something I recommend, and definitely not in Cancun. There were a bunch of working girls on the streets, now I haven’t read much about prostitutes on the blogs or travel forums I follow, but am aware it is common. I think due to the taboo of prostitution people shy away from telling these stories, but I told you I would tell the good and bad of the trip, so here is my prostitute story, yay! As I am walking a “working girl” approaches me and tries to catch my interest, “Come on baby, want to have some fun”. I continue walking and tell her no thanks, while she tries to convince me otherwise. Finally she sees she is losing the battle, and in one last desperate move, helps herself to a handful of manhood through my shorts. It is at this point I am sure a good amount of guys out drinking for the night would have been F’d and succumbed to her business tactics. I immediately push her arm away and change directions, making it obvious I want no part of her. Suddenly, a cop car comes speeding up with lights on, throws her into the back, and tears off as quickly as they appeared. They certainly could have been dicks and accused me of being involved as I have heard nothing good about the Yucatan police, so I am thankful it ended the way it did, though that means I don’t have a jail story…yet. I don’t think it was a setup due to the amount of working girls around at this time of night, but who knows. Hey. At least I have my 1st, and hopefully last prostitution story.

At this point I am almost home, but still need to go 3 more blocks so pick up the pace. As I near the hostel a different group of cops come tearing up in a truck and come to a stop in front of me. About 6 cops jump out, push me up against the truck, start patting me down and emptying my pockets asking me if I am drunk multiple times. Its fast, forceful, and certainly unpleasant. Then they put everything back in my pockets and without so much as a thank you jump in the truck and tear off. It all happened quick, and I was sure I had been robbed. I check my pockets, and still have my iphone. I open the wallet and all my money is there as well, phew. Turns out they were only looking for drugs, but could have gone about it in a much more professional way. Speaking with others here the cops out here have a reputation for both robbing and intimidation, as they know they can get away with it. Between Cancun and Merida, I certainly have gotten that impression.

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Hung over and having spent about 15 hours in Cancun which is way too long, we headed off for the whale sharks. Some of you may have heard of the mystical Liger, a hybrid killing machine combining the agility of a tiger and the power of a lion. Well there is a similar animal of the sea, the whale shark. This man killer combines the enormous size of a whale with the taste for blood and killing power of a great white…my kind of adventure. The only down side, its very touristy. Even though the season would end in a week as they head off to warmer waters, there were still a lot of people. We paid 1000 pesos (76 USD) for a boat ride out to the deep ocean, which also included a few waters/cokes, a crappy sandwich, some fishing, and a stop off in a lagoon for some ceviche, if we caught anything fishing. The scene was a bit chaotic with about 100 boats and people snorkeling everywhere, though it must be 10 times worse in July with even greater numbers of people. 3 people at a time get to jump in wearing a snorkel, mask, and fins, and swim along side the whale shark for a few minutes before losing it in the great abyss. There is some confusion with all the people as everyone looks the same in a mask and the mandatory life vest, but our guides set us up away from the pack so it was great. These guys are enormous, and while you are not allowed to touch them (I presume that is when they will eat you as I somehow survived the ordeal), I came dangerously close to being hit by their giant tails often as I snapped away with my camera. I got a few good pics but it was tough as you are swimming along trying to keep up as long as possible. After maybe 10 minutes max you get out and another 3 go, though you get 2 rounds in total so 20 minutes for 76 bucks. We heard others had paid up to 150 USD so I am not complaining, but some had gotten them as low as 53 USD as well. The second round my camera was off so I didn’t get any of the great pics I thought I grabbed, but it was definitely a great, experience. We then went fishing to catch our lunch of ceviche, which really means we paid them so we could catch them some fish, as they kept the best ones either to take home or sell. An Irish girl caught her first fish ever which was enormous and ended up being the catch of the day…I wish I had gotten a pic of it. I told her she should probably never fish again, it could only lead to disappointment, hey I am an optimist. Turns out I am very good at catching bait fish, many of which were thrown back to the ocean. Overall it was worth it, but its definitely all about the money...as are most thing in Cancun.

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Some more beach relaxation away from Cancun was enjoyed, as I wanted nothing to do with cops or prostitutes. The Aussie and I hit a new hostel and grabbed a room for 125 pesos (9.80 USD). I misheard the guy at the desk mention the cost of a room with AC and figured the fans in the dorm would be fine. It was a 10 person room and we had the last beds, so I had one no where near a fan. I joke to the Aussie I should pay the extra for AC, even though it was crazy at 30 USD. He tells me it was 145 pesos for the AC room, which cant be right, since that is only about 1.50 USD more. Its really hot so I go to ask and verify, the Aussie is correct. He stayed in the cheaper room and even joked travellers like to cut corner whenever they can so it would probably be empty. Turns out he was right, travellers are cheap, and I had the room all to myself the 1st night, what is wrong with these people, AC for 1.50 a night, I would rather skip dinner than AC in this heat. The next day I return to “MY” room and see a bag on a bed, damn, too good to be true, I should have known. Well, I didn’t stay upset for long, as I write this it is myself, and 9 attractive chicks from around the world all enjoying some AC in our 10 person dorm room…yup, life is good, that’s what you get you cheap bastards!

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I keep getting emails about chicks in Mexico, sorry you losers, this is a travel blog, and its already too personal for my taste as it is. Im not trying to brag about where I have been or how your stuck in your boring cubicles, it just naturally comes across that way. Really I hope it shows the awesome places that exist and should be visited by more people, though not too many more, on second thought just stop reading and go back to work, I don’t need you ruining my paradises. Besides, Mexico is not known for its number of attractive women, and as soon as you leave the cities the numbers drop into the negatives. I don’t mind sharing a few failures though. What began as an easy night of drinking in this beach town somewhere in Mexico ended with too much tequila, which is how the story usually goes around here. Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for blondes, so myself, the Aussie, and two hot blondes from my awesome room went to grab dinner. As it’s a pretty social hostel, more people were invited and it spiraled out of control. I cant complain as I started it when I invited a guy who worked here, but it was one of those awkward things where we had asked him where to go and he hinted that he was hungry, so I felt I had to. Damn, so much for me, an Aussie, and two hot blondes, in hindsight I shouldn’t have even invited the Aussie and just kept them all too myself, lesson learned. At least the guy to girl ratio was still well within our favor, as we invited more people since my diabolical plan had been ruined. Much later most of the chicks went to bed so a German dude and I hit up the local bar where a few of the remaining girls were going to meet up with us. Turned out this bar was where all of the local average looking to below average looking women apparently go in this town. As soon as we walk inside some guy who is clearly shitfaced is hanging all over the German and I. He wraps his arm over my shoulder and slurs to me “where are you from”, so I tell him “California”. 15 Seconds later he asks me where I am from so I say “USA”. 15 Seconds later he asks me where I am from so I say “California”. 15 Seconds later he asks me where I am from so I say “Me gusta chicas”. 15 Seconds later he asks me where I am from, you get the picture, he couldn’t remember anything, let alone stand up on his own. I shack him off me as he clearly is not going to do it himself. He was harmless, and the local chicks thought it was hilarious, so we politely humored him for 2 or 3 minutes before his friend finally pulled him away and told him to leave us alone, so I though. 5 minutes later I see the German dancing hand in hand with him, not that theres anything wrong with that. The German was shitfaced but was a good sport and had no problem putting up with him. We finally get away and were forced into more dancing though finally with women, and actually had a good time as we were often the center of attention being the only white boys in the place. We left with a group of 10 or so locals pilling into a golf cart to head to another bar. We did a lap of the town and ended up back at the same crappy bar as it was all that was going on. The bars there close at 4, so later as it was closing everyone was outside hanging out in front of the store having a good time. A new group of girls approaches us and starts talking to us. Now I will admit I was pretty drunk at this point, so the vision was a bit blurry….but something was defiantly off here. The girls were dressed nice and all done up…but they were looking a bit…well…masculine, with some pretty thick eyebrows. I figure I drank way too much but brush them off figuring it is probably just more unattractive girls from the bar. Once they are gone I ask the girl next to me if they were men dressed as women. She laughs and says no, so obviously I have drunk way to much. The next day I mention it to the guy who works at the hostel, and he confirmed that there were definitely some lady men in this place. Great, now I have a tranny story as well…I think its going to be a long time before I drink again, this shit is getting out of control.

Naturally that didn’t last and 48 hours later I was suckered into a bit more drinking, I need to get out of here fast.

On a side note I met up with a Columbian who was with the Irish fisher-woman, (you can check out their site discoveringice.com) so we exchanged info as we figure we will meet up later in our travels. He sends me a facebook message a few days later saying he stumbled upon the reddit page of my “missings persons thread” where people were asked to help find me. Great, I will never live that one down.

More pics: "Oh its going to be one of "those" police checkpoints"

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2012 3:25 am 
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OK, the oversize pics were killing me a bit, but stil a great read!

You are braver than I'll ever be....

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Wed Sep 19, 2012 6:44 pm 
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mdmead wrote:
OK, the oversize pics were killing me a bit, but stil a great read!

You are braver than I'll ever be....



Hey now 3 months on the road and that's the first time I missed any haha. Thanks but I'm not very brave, it becomes second after awhile. I'm just travelling i don't even think about the dangers anymore. The 1st two weeks or so of isolation took getting used to, now I just wake up and go, I probably should be more cautious

Will fix pics when on my computer, FYI fotosizer is great free software for that.

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 Post subject: Never Say never
PostPosted: Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:29 pm 
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Guatemala: Flores, Tikal, Antigua, Lake Atitlan

1 US dollar = 2 Belize Dollars
1 US dollar = 7.98250 Quetzals (Guatemalan Currency)

Yes, you may have noticed a huge gap in posts between the Cancun area and Guatemala. I was considering paying for one more week where I was to enjoy the beach life, I had also been talked into getting my open water certification on Cozumel, and SCUBA diving my way down the Yucatan coast. It didn’t make sense to save a couple bucks waiting for Honduras diving with the amount I would miss in Mexico and Belize, so I was looking forward to it. This all would have worked out great as the Mexican Independence day was only 2 days away, and some pretty attractive German girls would be in Playa del Carmen which had to be a good spot to party. As I looked at a calendar I was reminded of how far behind I already am, the whole point of going into Mexico during the hottest time of the year was to get to Central America for the summer surf...uh yeah its already mid September, and I figure I have 4-6 more weeks in the Yucatan, and of course there is Belize. Time for another 180!

Pushing the image of drunk German and Mexican women out of my mind I decided to skip the parts of the Yucatan I haven’t yet seen, and all of Belize. With so much of Mexico still on my list I know I will be back soon, so plan on doing these things at that time, as I still have a large chunk of the Pacific coast I skipped from both Mexico trips as well. Sick of telling people I don’t know if I am doing South America when that was originally the highlight, I now sit in Guatemala, and at this time plan on doing a relatively quick trip through Central America to ensure South America happens. I will still hit some of the major tourist spots, but the talk of living in this country for a month, that country for two months are over….for now. I wasn’t sure about South America since I have no budget and wasn’t sure how much I would spend here in Central, but this way I can make sure to do South America the right way, and return for anything I miss later, as Mexico and Central are pretty much in my backyard. There is always the raqce against time when dealing with South America and avoiding the Tierra Del Fuego winter, so I either need to pick up the pace, or slow down even more to avoid it. Looking back I am still glad I took the alternate route through central Mexico, but would not advise others to do so. In my opinion the sights on the pacific coasts and the colonial cities we hit the 1st trip are much better than what is offered in central Mexico, there is a reason the tourist path goes where it does, but it was definitely a great trip, and I loved every minute of it.

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Mexico – Belize Border Crossing:
I setup for a night in Chetumal Mx to cross into Belize the following day. I had reservations of skipping Independence day. I had asked the gas station attendant about the party, his response “too many girls”. Its not often a guy says there are too many chicks at a party, but I pushed on. The Belize border was a cake walk, it helps that they speak English, though I did most of the crossing in Spanish, as I need the practice. Getting a late start I crossed at 11 am on a Friday, and it still only took 45 minutes. I followed the directions from others online, but am reposting the process here. The Belize border is a short 20 or so minute ride from Chetumal. As you arrive at the border you can pull up to the curb on the right and park by the small shack, where you hand in your FMT card and will get you passport exit stamp. I updated the Tijuana post, but keep your receipt when you originally pay for your Mexican FMT, or you will have to pay it again. After several months it can be easy to lose, so just keep them together as I did, as you need to show proof that you paid when you entered Mexico. A professional looking guy in a suit came over and told me what “we could do”. I was pretty sure he was an infamous helper, which is not needed here. He was clean cut and had his act down, so while he could have been legit I I suspected he was just looking for some money, and as soon as mentioned selling insurance his game was up. The purchase of insurance is the last stage of the process, regardless to what anyone tells you. I politely declined and he left for a couple minutes, though he then returned and tried one more time to help me get the passport stamped from the guy in the shack, something a child could have done. So step one, hand in your FMT card and get the passport stamped by the guy in the shack on the right hand side of road, boom 2 minutes and I am done. Step 2, pull up to the left side parking spots 10 feet further before crossing the bridge and get your Mexico vehicle importation cancelled, a quick check and a pic of VINs and you’re done. They will give you a receipt and tell you when the bank should return your deposit that you paid when entering Mexico, which was just under 400 dollars if paid on a credit card, sweet…that’s gas money I forgot all about. Drive over the bridge toward Belize and the 1st sight will be a sign in English “Fried Chicken and French Fries”…..mmm, she almost got me. Ignore the delicious food, as well as signs for the free zone unless your into shopping for cheap Chinese crap, and follow the road around the bend towards the right for maybe a quarter of a mile and stop at the small building on the right for your fumigation. Pay the guy 5 USD to spray some cancer on your van. Continue on to the Inspection booths, but park in the lot to the left before them for Belize customs. Inside at the 1st booth you will get your passport stamped, and at the second you will get your vehicle imported to Belize. You can then proceed to the inspections, where they will take any fruits or veggies you have so make sure you hide them. They may open one door and look inside for the “inspection”, and then let you go. Drive forward and cross the road to the white building where you will purchase your insurance, at the standard rate rather than what the helpers will sell it to you for. I think it only cost me 12 USD since I had requested transit, and was passing through in one day (though they gave me 2 or 3 to be safe). There is at least 1 police checkpoint in Belize where they will make sure you picked up insurance. (He also asked if I had a knife…oh great here we go again. Well, he just meant a fishing knife, as he loved to fish and wanted to talk about filleting them, phew). The whole border process took me 45 minutes and was a piece of cake. Enjoy Belize, or drive straight through it as I did.

Belize – Guatemala Border Crossing:
Belize is easy to get through, you pretty much follow one major road and eventually get to the Western Border, I did both the Belize and Guatemala crossings the same day, though I recommend you get an earlier jump as I arrived at my destination of Flores a bit after dark. Since I hadn’t put much planning into this I didn’t have any maps of Belize or Guatemala. I used the cartoon map they gave me at the Belize border and did not get lost once, just head towards Belize City, but once close to the city you can follow signs to bypass it and then head towards San Ignacio where the border crossing is. Park at the Belize customs building and at the first counter pay your Belize exit fee (18.75 USD) and at the second get your exit stamp. After you have completed the process at both counters, go through a door on the left to get to the other side of the building and cancel your vehicle importation, just ask how to get over there. The whole process took 5 minutes. I then exchanged money outside from dollars to quetzals, not the best rate but the exchange only cost me 5 USD, so I didn’t care. I grabbed 250 quetzals, he gave me some nonsense about how expensive Tikal was trying to get me to buy more, but obviously you can grab money from an ATM with a better rate than this guy. You then drive through the gate, and proceed through the giant fumigation building, great more cancer. Pull over to pay that, they charged me 50Q because I had a van, I objected since others in a truck only paid half that, but it was on the receipt and there was not much I could do. You then park across the street and finish the process in the open air building. Proceed to the Guatemala entrance line, you get your passport stamped for a questionable though small fee of 20Q (2.50 USD), most people seem to pay it, though theres no receipt so you can try and argue it. Then leave the building and go to the right of the open air building where the wooden shacks are and get a photocopy of the front and back of your title, front and back of your license, and your passport photo page, and Guatemala stamp. I noticed a Swiss couple behind around the same age as me and told them they needed to get the photocopies before jumping in the next line so we went over together. Turns out they started in Washington and are headed to Argentina. Return to the open air building and proceed to the left part of the giant counter to get your vehicle importation done. This is where I hit some snags, as my guy was pretty social, always on the phone or chatting with his coworkers. He took a “quick” look at the van which consisted of 1 minute of looking, and about 15 minutes of talking on his phone and disappearing and reappearing several times. I had to fill out some forms, as did he, and eventually he gave me my paperwork to take to the bank window to pay. ALWAYS CHECK THESE PAPERS. Ive read of typos causing problems when trying to leave a country so made sure it was correct, which of course it wasn’t. Not only did he mess up the VIN, he also messed up the plate number. I warned the Swiss couple, but they didn’t seem concerned. I don’t think they understood what I meant as far as problems down the road even though their English was very good, they just shrugged me off. 10 more minutes of social hour and the guy finally fixes everything and I check it again. New typos in BOTH the VIN and Plate number…welcome to Central America! Suddenly the light bulb goes off and the Swiss girl tells me she will be checking hers from now on, yeah no kidding…you’re welcome. I stay calm and tell him its no problem, and this border is calm so these things are once again good practice for more hectic ones down the road. This time I write out the numbers in huge block letters for him since he is having trouble reading my brand new easy to read title. Perfect, turns out the third times a charm. Head over to the bank window to pay the fee, I don’t recall what I paid but others have paid Q160 per person (20 USD). Eventually I get my sticker, put it on my windshield and cross the bridge heading into Guatemala. There is one last booth which charges a municipal tax or something, and ranges from Q10-Q40 so I read. I got hit with Q50 (6.26 USD), but at that point didn’t care as it was getting late and I wanted to head to Flores before dark, plus that’s like 6 bucks total, I’m over it. This border took me about 1.5 hrs, but it should have only been about 45 minutes to an hour as well had I not had the guy I had. Tons of money changers on both the Belize and Guatemalan side, but all respectful and not pushy. I now had Q30 left over, which was not much, and the local ATM only took from a savings account, something I didn’t have, wait people save that stuff? Without much of a plan I drove off with half a tank of gas and no money into a country I knew little about as I didn’t have any time to read up due to my last minute decision making. I had less than 2 hours of daylight left, and no idea of the road conditions. In hindsight I should have walked back over to the money changers and get some more money, but Flores was only 2 hours away so gas was not a problem, and ATMs are available, though I later found out only 1 of the 3 I tried would take from a checking account. It also turns out they all had checking accounts, its listed as DDA accounts on most machines if I remember correctly. The Flores ATM actually said checking rather than DDA, so I didn’t realize these were the same until much, much later.

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Flores, Peten:
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Some hostel are great, some are terrible. Want to know my biggest qualm with hostels…idiots. You cant help but eavesdrop on people when they are speaking English, and since I love to judge others I eavesdrop all the time. Sitting here now as some chick goes on and on about how she will continue to be a vegetarian until animals get treated better. She follows this by saying fish and chickens don’t count…yeah I am pretty sure they are both animals last time I checked. There was also a holocaust reference connecting this poor treatment of cows in there somewhere, so you can see what I am dealing with at times. I think your corn rolls are a bit too tight hippy. Seriously, its been at least 15 minutes and showing no signs of stopping….I think its time to order a nice juicy hamburger, mmm that was delicious. Ok now its been 2 hours and she must have mentioned weed 150 times. How she wants it, how she doesn’t have any, how good it is elsewhere. I don’t wish ill on many, but I wouldn’t mind if she gets robbed and has to cut her trip short as she clearly gives travelers a bad name. I thought hippies were supposed to spread love, but they just bring out the hate in me. I am pretty sure the only reason the guys sitting with her are letting her go on and on is because she is a girl, and they are guys. I would move, but I am right next to the fan, so either my ears are in pain, or my whole body is….its a hopeless scenario. Oh good she just left looking for weed, maybe this is where she loses all her money and has to hitchhike home, fingers crossed!

Shifting my focus back to Guatemala now…ok just breath. As luck would have it Independence day isn’t just a Mexican holiday, all of Central America is celebrating today, so I only missed out on beautiful German and Mexican women, the festivities are still in full effect, and from a quick look some of the Guatemalan girls have potential. The island of Flores, located on Lago Petén Itzá is mostly a jump off point for Tikal which is about 1 hour away, though it also has a relaxing vibe to it that can be ok for a day or so, and with the festival I expect a good night life, we shall see. Unfortunately there is a causeway so access is very easy, after the islands I have hit in Mexico I was hoping for something a bit different but it isn’t a bad place to kill 2 days as I want to hit Tikal on a weekday. There is nothing to do here though, you can circle the island with a 15 minute walk, but at 7 USD a night at the local hostels I am not complaining, especially since this trip has spoiled me with not hitting ruins on weekends.

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So I wake up after a long night and find a small purple flower on my bed. Its obviously not for me, so I disregard it. A few hours later a cute girl comes over and tells me her friend who works here is interested…come on now who isn’t, I should have known they knew purple was my favorite color. Now I have seen this game before, the old bait and switch, so am a bit weary that they sent the cute one in. Back home when someone asks me to do something I should probably decline I usually respond with a “F’ Yeah” though not censored. I figure hey this is Central Am, so respond with a reluctant F’ Yeah, I will meet your friend at the bar. Well, it’s the train wreck I expected, but it was a good time, and if nothing else I realize now my Spanish really sucks. It also involved a motorbike ride before hand where my new friend was driving. While it is never a good idea to let a chick drive, it is a terrible idea in a developing country, especially when I am wearing shorts and sandals….All the gear all the time (ATGATT)! We got to a local bar where it was myself and 3 average looking girls who all worked at the hostel. This should also help to enforce previous stories that when I say I had a room full of hot chicks that my stories are legit. I could easily make things up and say they were hot, but they weren’t, but they were very nice, and we had a good time. I also enjoyed that I had gotten to know “the help” as most backpackers ignored them, meanwhile I am walking around addressing them by first name like old friends during my stay. I was relieved when I escaped though I am not going to lie, as it was a bit strange even for a blind date.

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This was definitely one of my least favorite hostels as there were lots of burnt-out hippies, not really my scene. I planned to sleep in and then head off to Tikal, but unfortunately am awoken by my “new love” caressing the inside of my hand at 9am as she wants to wake me to say hello…great, well now I am up I guess I should get going. There was also another, larger purple flower, I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. I gathered up my things and happily headed north to Tikal, a mere hour or so away, but took my time as I needed to arrive in the late afternoon as I wanted to camp at the grounds and get an early start on Monday morning, having read that you cannot enter before 3 if you plan to do this. Camping was about 7 USD, so I setup my tent and enjoyed a night of jungle noises. I was the only one camping, so I spoke with the grounds keeper a bit who ended up being a nice guy, and to practice my Spanish. The pic of the shack below is where he stays, I presume every night though did not want to ask. Sadly my parents have a shed for their lawnmower bigger than this guys digs. The weather was perfect during the night, luckily there were no mosquitos though I went to bed early so may have missed them, and woke up just before 6 am when the park opens.

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Tikal is great, though if you took the ruins out of the jungle and put them elsewhere it would probably just be another set of ruins, impressive but not necessarily spectacular. Man I am such a dick, some people bend over backwards to see these things while im just “eh, ive seen old buildings before”. You will see monkeys, toucans, some animals I didn’t recognize, and of course the pyramids towering over the jungle canopy, so its certainly worth visiting. Basically you want to head straight for Temple IV 1st to avoid the crowd that arrive by bus later, as it provides the best view of the jungle canopy mixed with the morning fog, and then backtrack through the park after. The walk to temple 4 takes about 30 minutes, you can also pay a guide to go at 4 am and catch the sunrise, but I figured me and a dude on top of a pyramid overlooking a jungle may not be the romantic setting it sounds to be.

I had Temple IV to myself for as long as I wanted basically, and then walked the rest of the grounds after. The major ruins are good, the other smaller ones off to the sides can be skipped in my opinion. I was there for 4 hours but could have stuck to the main structures and bailed after 2 if I had known. I don’t know what those people who say to go in the morning, return to your hotel/camping to rest, and return to the ruins in the evening are up to, maybe they haven’t seen enough ruins yet, maybe I am missing something. I figure one bus came that morning around 10 or so, as when I left I saw about 15 new people, but basically this was another park I had to myself as I only saw about 6 other people the 1st few hours.

With an empty park, and the fact that I often say hi to people down here, a lady asked if I was from Spain after some a quick exchange of hellos while passing. I said no, I was from the United States and asked if she was, but she said no she as from Mexico. She then told me I had a great accent. At first I though F’ Yeah! But this is exactly why I get into trouble when trying to talk to people down here. People hear me speak with an accent and assume, incorrectly, that I can speak Spanish, which they then reply in their rapid fire responses. I think I need to learn gringo speak, so I sound as dumb as I am.

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Now Asians had never caught my eye until a few friends from San Diego turned me, and there were two attractive ones here so I snagged some stalker pics with my cam. I then started heading over to see if they spoke English, but before I got anywhere near them this guide swoops in out of nowhere and the next thing I know they are all posing for pics….man those guys are good, he had it locked down. Defeated I continued on.
The jungle was a bit hot, but not unbearable as you spend most of the time under the canopy. On the way out I gave a guide a ride down to the town about 20 minutes outside the ruins, so was treated to some free knowledge of the area and Tikal, though he didn’t inform me he was sick until inside the van and on our way coughing into his hand, my dashboard, and pretty much everywhere else. What was bizzare was that he was from Italy but had been there for 28 years. I would think they would give the job to locals first, but he married a Guatemalan so maybe he is considered a local at this point. I then returned to hippyville for one more night of 7 dollar sleeping, ready to head off to either the Candelaria caves, or Sumac Champey. I was told I could probably do both the same day, but not sure I want to do the guided tour of the caves, as it’s a weekday I am sure it would be just me, and a guide, for another romantic adventure.

I decided to skip the caves and head for Semac Champey, where it is common knowledge the roads going there suck. I woke early again, I never set an alarm, but am starting to feel I have insomnia on this trip as I never get a solid 8 hours. The ATM with the checking account access was closed, and not wanting to waste time hanging around doing nothing I pushed on, figuring I can find one later. A few hours and 10 ATMs later I am starting to get nervous, as I don’t know the pin to my credit card so cant use that option of the ATM either. There are western unions everywhere so I know I can have money transferred as a last resort, but decide to see if I have enough gas to make it to Guatemala City as they certainly have other ATMs besides the “5B” ones here that I am struggling with. I scrap the Semac Champey plan as I need money, and that is out in the middle of nowhere, and I don’t even have enough to pay for camping, let alone gas. Eventually I realize I wont make it to the city on whats left in the tank combined with what I have in my spare gas can, so tear apart my van looking for the other credit card I hid away in a spot so well even I had problems remembering where it was. This one works, and I now have cash, cha-ching! Ive missed a good portion of Guat, so decide to add this country to the list of will see later and decide a quick stop in Antigua, and possibly Lake Atitlan were all I had time for. This meant I ended up doing a lot of running around, as I should have just jumped into northern Honduras, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

You have to drive through Guat city to get Antigua, and I arrived in the city around 4. Knowing this was a beast to get through I push on knowing I have 2 hours of light, and Antigua is just on the other side. Again, I have no map, and my GPS is only showing the 3 or 4 main roads in the city, so if I get off those I am screwed, not a place you want to be driving around blind in the dark that is for sure. The traffic is bumper to bumper, its raining, and there are motorbikes cutting in and out everywhere. I get fairly lucky and pretty much make it through without much trouble, leaving the city just as night is approaching. That could have been much worse, though it’s a fairly easy city to navigate regarding the main roads. I then continued on to Antigua, in the dark, with hundreds of people walking on the shoulders, this ends up being a much too common scene in Central America.

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Antigua was ok, another one of these why is it so popular with tourists? I certainly didn’t stay long enough to get a real feel for it so cant really comment, though I think this is a city popular with people who enjoy the company of other tourists. Not a bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t have the Central Am vibe I was looking for. While walking the streets some guy offered me a pamphlet selling some tour I already knew I wasn’t interested in, so I politely declined. This guy was a bit rough looking with a long scar across half his face. He persisted, we had some quick friendly back and forth in Spanish as I told him I didn’t need it, and eventually he said “never say never….never say never” as I walked away. I was not sure if that was friendly advice, or a threat, so when another guy immediately followed me for the next block to offer me his pamphlets I accepted them right away haha. I wasn’t sure if the original guy sent him to see what I would do, but of course as soon as I get the pamphlet he is offering me weed, hash, coke, and girls. Every single one of these guys does it, and while I know its how they make money, is freaking annoying. I just want to walk around and check out your city, leave me alone. I wonder if I am hit up more often than other travellers since I am alone, but figure everyone gets it to a degree. Anyway, I saw the same never say never guy a few times the next day and took his pamphlets, he was super friendly so I don’t know if he remembered me or not, as there are a lot of gringos around. The second time he offered me a pamphlet I told him I already had it and showed him but he showed me this one was new which it was. He gave me 3 or 4 more throughout the day, maybe he was f’ing with me, I couldn’t tell, but it was funny at this point.

After a problem free night of street parking I drove the van to the police station, as they provide free camping. They are a bit weird about it, but its free and safe, as I have heard there can be break in problems in Antigua. They don’t make you feel like its something they are necessarily thrilled about, its almost like your inconveniencing them. I would think they would want tourist to come to their city and encounter zero problems, so more would come as word spread Antigua is safe, especially since it’s a large campground type of place and I just wanted the parking as ‘I had a hostel, but if your in Antigua definitely take them up on the offer regardless to how they act about it, its worth the peace of mind to know your things are safe, and is in walking distance of everything if you want to camp there and save some cash.

Fortunately for me, though not for them, my internet friends of ruinedadventures.com I have previously mentioned were still in town taking care of a few problems with their vehicle. I headed over to a bar that night to meet up with them, so I could stop calling them internet friends as that sounds crazy stalkerish. Now, I had envisioned rolling up with a hot blond or two to show them my level of awesomeness, but instead showed up with some dude from LA. It wasn’t that bad though, he was a traveller as opposed to a tourist, and we had been talking about manly things like motorbikes in the hostel, so I didn’t mind too much, though I fear ruinedadventures has no idea of my sheer awesomeness now, talk about false advertising. The four of us had a good time over some beers talking about the normal things travelers talk about. My hopes are not high for meeting back up with them but we will see. It took them 5 months to get through Mexico, I think they are already up to 3 months for Guat, and well, you have seen how well I am with scheduling, but who knows. Either way it was great to finally meet the newlyweds, now that is how a honeymoon should be done! They also confirmed the weird attitude of the cops, as they have used the lot on and off over the past few months.

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After talking with them about Lake Atitlan and all there was to see there I decided to move onto Honduras, saving Lake Atitlan for the return leg. I think the real reason for my hasty departure was what I had spied my first pass through Guat City. Now, It has been about 18 months since I have been back east, and that means 18 months of craving Dunkin Donuts…and would you believe Guat City has one! Well, in I go with a stupid smile on my face like a kid in a candy store. I cant decide what I want as I am a bit overwhelmed. The young girls at the counter love a gringo who speaks “stupid” in Spanish, so I am an instant hit. They drop a few words in English while blushing, and eventually they talk me into getting 6 donuts. I figure that sounds like a great plan as I will have some for the road. Not able to contain myself I sit down to dig in rather than eat them in the car. I must have blacked out from the sugar rush, as the next thing I know I am looking at an empty box and a half drunkin coolata. I had been so excited I posted a pic on facebook of my box of donuts. I then posted an after shot, and was informed it only took me 8 minutes to devour all 6 of them. Now that’s no record, but I had only planned on eating 2 when I sat down. You should note that while still good, the coolatas just aren’t the same. Damn that was good…its going to be a long time before I see one of these places again. Its times like these that remind me why I am traveling in the 1st place.

Additional pics as always: Never Say Never

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:33 pm 
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Also, let me know if you meant the oversized pis regarding the 2 that were not reduced (which now have been), or if these are still too large. They should be 800x600 but I dont know if that is still too big for people, I am no computer guy, but think thats the size others are using on Expo

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:01 pm 
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These pics are the perfect size! Thanks for the trip report again. You are braver than me so I am enjoying the reports. :supz:

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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:26 pm 
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Wiley wrote:
Also, let me know if you meant the oversized pis regarding the 2 that were not reduced (which now have been), or if these are still too large. They should be 800x600 but I dont know if that is still too big for people, I am no computer guy, but think thats the size others are using on Expo


No, it was the two from above and you got 'em. (I post mine up at 900, so I 800 is fine by me.)

Great update!

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 Post subject: Shit Just Got Real; AKA Welcome to Honduras
PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:02 pm 
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Honduras: Coban Ruins, El Ceiba, Roatan
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1 US dollar = 19.7000 Honduran lempiras
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Well, the 1st 24 hours in Honduras were relatively pleasant, especially considering the reputation Honduras has, but naturally that would all change soon enough. Land of the corrupt cops as I like to call it, many overlanders fear Honduras, and the only reason they enter it is the fact that it is impossible to drive to the rest of Central America (Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) without crossing through it. Most reports I read consist of people crossing at the infamous El Amitillo border crossing, and making a mad dash to freedom. Now each persons experience is almost always different no matter what border they choose, but this crossing consistently brings about horror stories of corruption and hassles, sometimes paying fees as high as 200-400USD, nowhere near what you should be paying to cross the Honduran border. People seem to put up with this as once crossing here, you can drive across Honduras to the safety of Nicaragua in between 3-5 hours depending on police checkpoints, limiting the time spent in this savage land. Well, I am awesome, and only fear things like hippies, so I decided to see what Honduras has to offer and headed north for two reasons. One, I don’t fear Honduras like the typical Gringo, and two I have read the northern crossing of el Florido is a mellow crossing. Turns out those who want to experience Honduras, rather than believe everything they hear and rush through it, end up often having a great time in this country, with very few, if any problems.

Amped up on a dunkin Donuts sugar high from Guat City I headed for the el Florido crossing late in the evening. There was a military checkpoint not far from the crossing, but no one was manning it, they were all on the sides of the road. I had my window down and heard a whistle as I passed through, presumably meant for me. I continued on not wanting to deal with it knowing I could claim I never heard it…but as predicted no one was up for chasing me down. I arrived at the border around 7:00 pm, well after dark this time of year. I have read the crossing here is a breeze, so the late start in the evening did not bother me. I had not worries of how it would go since I have read others have arrived later at night and were forced to sleep here, with zero problems, so I knew worst case scenario meant a night on van camping in a safe area. The Honduras portion to get your passport stamped is open 24/7 I believe, while I think the vehicle import portion is open till 9pm. Speaking of driving at night, I remember back in my naïve days when I said I would drive the speed limits, not pass on solid lines around blind corners, and not drive at night…well those all get broken too many times to count, but I really try and avoid the driving at night, that one is very important. Seriously, I have almost hit at least 4 cows, encountered missing portions of road large enough to swallow the Astro, and in Guatamela while driving at night had to not only deal with tons of people walking the lonely back roads, but also had to deal with hundreds of kids running around carrying torches. Yeah it was bizarre, I think it was some sort of high school cross country thing, but it went on for the entire 2 hour drive from the border to Flores, all driven at night. I asked the guy running the desk (UK tourist) at the hostel in Flores about it, he didn’t know. See what I mean, tourists just don’t care what is going on around them unless it involves partying in some way. Anyway, I still don’t recommend it, but here I was, ready to exit Guatemala after a successful session of night driving.

Guatemala to Honduras Crossing:
This part is easy, 1st drive through the gate and park right after the gate on the left side, go up to the office on the left and get your vehicle import cancelled, and yes, the guy will make the photocopies for you. He didn’t copy my license though, and I ran out of photocopies so that bit me in the ass a little later, but overall it was easy. Next walk 15 feet to the exit window and get your exit stamp from Guatemala. Now drive about 100 feet into Honduras and park in front of the Aduana. Enter the door in the center to import your vehicle into Honduras. It was about 7:30 when I got in here, and no one was around. Knowing this is Central America I stay patient and relax inside. After 10 minutes I entered the other part of the building to ask the officer in charge of passport stamps if the vehicle portion was open even though I knew it was open, but really politely letting him know I could use some help in there. Eventually the woman comes, asks for my photocopies, and gives me a disgusted look when I don’t have one for the license. The photocopy machine is literally behind her seat so I put my license on her desk, but she asks me to wait outside while she chats with some guy who is probably her husband. I am waiting outside assuming she is delaying until she can say she is closed since its now around 8:20. 10 minutes later a different guy shows up and helps me out, makes my copy and fills out my forms. I paid 35 dollars for the import (in US dollars even though I had Limperas, it would have cost the same, so I wanted to save them) I then walked over to the section next door and got my passport stamped and was ready to enter Honduras, boom another cake walk, and I didn’t have to pay 400 USD.

Copan Ruinas:
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It began to pour heavy rain as I was finishing up at the border. An older woman had been hanging around and I figured she needed a lift, so I asked the customs guy what the deal was, and he confirmed that if I could take her to Copan it would be a huge help. No problem, I am headed there now. I make room for her, and another guy, luckily skinny, asks if he can get a ride too. Sure, if you can both fit hop in, its miserable out there. We make our way slowly crawling through the rain down towards Copan, and he is asking me if I am going to Copan Ruinas now. Confused, I tell him tomorrow probably, but he doesn’t understand. What the hell man, why would I go to the ruins now its pitch black and raining cats and dogs. Turns out the actual town name is Copan Ruinas, so while I was saying I was going to the town tonight, I was telling him I would visit the ruins tomorrow. Eventually he has me let him out on the side of the mountain in the pouring rain. I think he was asking the questions to make sure the woman would be alright, but I hope he didn’t get out early thinking I wasn’t going into town. I certainly wasn’t shocked at his request to get out on the side of a mountain in the middle of the night as it is Central America, nothing is out of the ordinary anymore, and it looked like there may be a house of some sort down the hill nearby. I then headed to the Centro to drop off the woman, who tried to pay me even though I refused. Eventually she said something about me and God and points to the sky in a move she must have picked up from Eli Manning during the Giants Pats Super Bowl game, (either one, Eli kicked Bradys ass in both) so maybe Jehovah is cool with me now, we will see if he sends anymore Israeli chicks my way. I stealth camp for the night right in the centro and wake up the next morning to go see some ruins, not exactly thrilled to see them but figure if I am here I cant not go, they are literally within walking distance from the town.

Copan Ruinas – The Mayan Site / San Pedro Sula:
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As mentioned I took the 10 minute walk from town to the ruins. The ruins were nice, and famous for having the longest set of hieroglyphics of all the Mayan ruins built into the stairway of the main temple. They are impressive, but they are also very worn, which is why the tent now covers them. I finish up with the site in an hour so decide to make the drive all the way to La Ceiba, on the coast. You end up taking the road to the ruins and continuing on, so you might as well just drive there and park in the lot if your not hanging out in Copan any longer, though it seems like a cool little town. I know the ferry wont be going to Roatan by the time I arrive but figure if I sleep there I can catch the 9:30am the next morning. Now I mentioned Dunkin Donuts in Guatamela City on my drive the day before, well Honduras has at least 4 of them, what the hell Cali, you cant even get one?? Anyway, I stop to get my fill of donuts in San Pedro, and see it’s a pretty good area with all kinds of fast food choices, my kind of town, hey you can only eat so many tacos. It’s a very clean city in the part I was in, and there seems to be very attractive girls everywhere. I pull up my lonely planet on the iphone and consider staying here for the night as I am sick of driving. Just an FYI, turns out San Pedro has a crime and gang problem. It also mentions San Pedro is the AIDS capital of Central America, needless to say I grabbed some donuts and hit the road. To follow up with this, I considered staying here after taking the ferry back to mainland, but asked around and was advised it wasn’t the best idea. Well, some friends from the island did a quick google search as they were figuring their options out as well, and it turns out San Pedro was named the most violent urban area in the WORLD in 2011. So yeah, skip San Pedro, just to be safe.

La Ceiba:
I make it to La Ceiba after a day of driving and decide to crash early as I am a bit tired. Its not a bad city from what I have read, but it’s a bit seedy and there are certainly poor people here, as is normal in Honduras, the poorest country in all of Central America. It apparently has a good night life, though I am in no mood to find out. I setup shop under a street lamp just off the main drag, but within maybe 30 feet of it, so basically on the main street. I have mentioned I don’t mind sleeping in my van when its not too hot as I feel my things are safer, though I also have no problem leaving it behind to stay in a hotel or hostel. If the van, and all contents get stolen, well its just a van, mentally I am prepared for that. If I wasn’t, there is no way I could leave it behind and enjoy myself, I would be busy stressing out about my things. So back in the van tonight, I am reading a bit of the Lonely Planet trying to figure out which island to go to, Utila or Roatan, as I have not had any time to catch up on reading/planning. Suddenly I hear some scratching on the side of the van, which is somewhat normal when I am in there. I figure someone is walking by and being careless as people are always walking into my car while I am in it unbeknownst to them. After 10 seconds its clear that this is no normal passing, so I give it 5 more seconds, and realize someone’s trying to jimmy their way into the Astro. Ok, shit just got real, its on! I jump up, throw down my iphone, punch the window where the noise is coming from with a closed fist and rip down the curtain. I hear a scream followed by “ok, ok” and see some douchbag in a white and black striped shirt scrambling to his bike. Luckily my van is covered in curtains so there is no way I can drive, cause I immediately jump into the drivers seat and start the car, ready to run this bitch over. Now I don’t want to kill him, I am thinking a nice love tap, enough to break a few bones and make him rethink his Iife of crime. I relax for a second and realize he is now gone and was just looking for an easy target. I look at the clock and somewhat shocked realize its only 7:45 (pretty much 24hrs since entering Honduras) in the evening, though again its pitch black by this time, pretty ballsy if you ask me. For several days I have been telling myself I need to find the knife I packed away back in the Yucatan just in case something did happen, and now make a mental note that tomorrow morning that is the first thing on my to do list. Just two days ago during my visit with RuinedAdventures, Brenton and I had discussed how we prefer being in the vehicle for this very reason, so we know our stuff is secure. We figured a kick to the face would deter any would be thief who was most likely just looking for an easy opportunity. I wish he had gotten his face in so I could have verified that, but am glad I was in fact in the vehicle, so nothing was taken, and of course that he gave up so easily. I think next time I will rip down the back and front window covers instead, so I can drive away (or at a bitch) if needed. I didn’t have time to think and pulled the one on the sliding door side down so I could see him and what he was doing, knowing he wouldnt be able to see me due to the tint. I will also try and not throw my iphone in the heat of the moment, as it took me a solid 30 minutes to find it in the mess of my van. Forgetting all about the Lonely Planet I find a hotel with some secure parking, as I don’t need a repeat of this later tonight, and rest up knowing the van is safe for at least one more night. While I know my mom doesn’t like to hear this kind of story, I think its great. It could have happened anywhere, to anyone, so you cant take it personal, its just another story for the books. Seriously, who wants to just keep reading about me sitting on a beach enjoying myself, sometimes a little adventure is a good thing.

Roatan Island:
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The next morning I head off to Roatan which supposedly has a bit better animal life in the reefs than Utila, leaving my van at the terminal which is supposed to be safe, we shall see. I pay about 28 USD for the one way pass and jump on the ferry, where I resume my Lonely Planet reading and see Roatan is for Tourists, while Utila is more for backpackers….son of a bitch! It also says that unlike Utila, the toursists and locals don’t really mix on Roatan, uh can we turn this boat around? Roatan is slightly more expensive, but both islands are pretty similar regarding prices as they are both more expensive than the mainland. Roatan does not have the whale sharks that Utila has, and while I saw them in Cancun I was hoping for more as they are supposedly even larger here. Turns out its very dead on Roatan this time of year, and it looks like Coconut Tree Diving school is the only one that really has any people, plus it comes highly recommended, so that is where I go. It costs 280 for the open water course, 35 for the book, 10 bucks for something about saving the reef, and I get a dorm room for 5 bucks a night since I am diving with them, as opposed to the 50 dollar a night cabin I was offered elsewhere. So for just over 300 dollars you can get the open water certification, in one of the best places to do it on Earth. The 1st two nights had 2 other guys in it, but the rest of my stay with the exception of 2 more night I have it to myself, and it has AC…not bad. I don’t particularly like Roatan, but I don’t dislike it either, and the diving was great. I had been hoping to share my diving experience with a boatload of hot chicks, but once again it was myself and my instructor Marco, for some one on one romantic diving. Diving is kind of weird since you cant talk under water, there is a lot of fist bumping, some high fives, ok signals, a lot of underwater bro time….where is that boatload of girls? But I suppose one on one was the best way to get my money’s worth, and Marco was an awesome instructor. The water was nice and warm, we had 80 Ft visibility, saw a ton of giant turtles, one of which swam with my guide and I for 5 or so minutes, saw a 4 Ft moray eel which was kinda sketchy as hell, a couple octopus, and hundreds, if not thousands of fish. It was like swimming in a giant aquarium, except this is the ocean. The people at Coconut tree were all nice, but certainly a different breed than I am. It was like hanging out with Captain Ron and his buddies, as they sat around trading diving stories. I wasn’t very social on this island, but they did lure me out a few times while I was there, and it turns out they were all really good people, and I can see why people go back time and time again.

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There was also a big to do on Roatan as the paving of the main stretch of road here, about a quarter mile or so, was just being completed. Now originally I was going to head out after 3-4 days whatever it took to get my open water SCUBA certification, but was informed there was a festival in celebration of the road on Saturday, which would include the President of Honduras. A road paving party, now that sounds like something I should stick around for. I remember sitting home back in college one morning with my roomates as we contemplated taking the day off when some geese flew by the window. Now Canadian geese in Buffalo is an extremely rare event (heavy sarcasm here), so we immediately called it and made it an official goose day, which following tradition involved a lot of beer pong. But even we had never experienced a road paving party…I was pumped. So pumped that I decided to hangout with the diving crew Friday night, which led me to being extremely hung over on Saturday, which also meant I missed the President of Honduras and the festivities that afternoon. Luckily the festivities turned out to not be all they were cracked up to be, but I was hoping to get a pic with the President to put on my “wall of pics with myself and famous people”, since it is currently a wall painted white, with nothing on it at the moment. Eventually 3-4 days turned into 18, even though I didn’t really like the island I just couldn’t get off. I always find it pretty difficult to get off these damn islands, my life is so hard. After the road paving party I was ready to take the 7am ferry, which meant I had to be up at 6. Well, I woke up at 3am, and couldn’t go back to sleep. Not wanting to drive all day after 3 hours of sleep I decided to skip the ferry. Since I was still on the Island I decided to grab my advanced open water certification as well, as this would enable me to see more dive sites on the trip if I decide to, as open water limits you to 60 feet, where advanced gets you down to a max of 130. After that went down I got some food poising from the street food, so ended up on that island much longer than I originally wanted.

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On the advanced dives I had a partner to go with, and a chick instructor…who was much better looking than my male instructor. Her looks were not the only reason I would have liked some one on one instruction, turns out my partner was pretty awful at scuba diving. I picked up the diving pretty easily, and Marco had previously mentioned that I was really good and hoped I would stick with SCUBA diving. I figured he said this to everyone on these one on one romantic adventures, but once I saw this guy I immediately understood. I guess some people get it, and others struggle, cause even the simplest tasks were tough for him. He was also an air hog, a term the chick instructor openly called him, so I am not even being mean. He had to use a larger tank than what most people used, and even then our dives were always cut short, which was unfortunate as I always had plenty of air. We did a deep wreck dive, which was at 110 feet, and that alone means your air will go faster. The wreck was cool, a giant shipping freighter of some sort that had been intentionally sunk in the 90s, and later broken into 3 pieces by hurricane Mitch, on of the few hurricanes the island has ever had to deal with. The site was also home to giant 4-5 foot grouper which would come right up to you and hang out or follow you, hoping you had some food for them. Well there were two groups doing the wreck dive, and my group had to surface about 10 minutes earlier as one of us was once again low on air. The other group got to see some more moray ells, which I would have liked to see again even if they are weird. Luckily the terrible diver was a nice guy and meant well, so it wasn’t a problem. He also provided some great entertainment during the buoyancy dive, were we practiced our skills going through hoops, and floating in place. While I touched the hoops a few times with my flippers, something that pissed me off as I thought I would have no problem with them, the task were fairly easy. Well, this guy didn’t just touch the hoops, he constantly hit them, and at one point ended up wearing a hoop around his neck and swimming about 30 feet up before he even realized it. Seriously, even if he wasn’t wearing the hoop, there was no reason he should have been 30 feet above where we were. It was pretty funny to see my instructor doubled over in what was obviously laughter while under water.

One of the other advanced dives consisted of a night dive, which provided a different perspective and allowed us to see animals that are normally not present in the day. As a wanna be surfer I am fairly comfortable in the ocean, but why would anyone go down there at night, with nothing more than a couple flashlights to fend off any sea beasts? This is where I got to see the 2 octopus, and watching them change colors to blend into the rocks was amazing, so certainly worth risking life and limb for. Just when I thought this wasn’t such a bad idea after all, it was then time for us all to turn off our flashlights, and swim around in the dark ocean at night. Wait what, are you trying to have sharks mistake us for gourmet meals, if I am going to get eaten I would like to at least see it coming. Well we shut them off so we could play in the phosphorescent green stuff, which was pretty cool as well, and it turns out there were no sharks. The night dive was fun, though due to the lack of visibility I don’t know that I will do another night dive.

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So after doing dangerous things like diving at night, I decided it was time to smarten and play it safe. In typical fashion this meant signing up for the shark dive, yup, cause I am awesome. The shark dive is a bit expensive at 100 dollars, as well as an additional 20 dollar round trip cab ride. Had I known, I would have taken a colectivo or a cab from just outside West End, as prices are inflated greatly from here, especially when they know your doing the shark dive. Turns out the shark dive leaves from Coxen Hole, which should only be 5 or so dollars in a cab, max. Get in a cab and tell them to take you to Woods medical Facility, the shark dive operates out of the hotel literally across the building from it. Anyway, due to the food poisoning I didn’t get to go with a couple I had met that were my age from coconut tree, so headed over alone. I was with 6 other people, and the dive was awesome. I wasn’t necessarily sold on SCUBA diving, its cool, you see neat shit, but its something to do occasionally. Well, if I could dive with sharks every day I probably would. There are Reef Sharks which live about 2 miles off the island, on the edge of a ledge which drops into some deep dark abyss. Reef Sharks are not very dangerous, I think there have only been about 30 attacks since 2008 worldwide, so what could go wrong? They have a bucket with fish closed off, so that the sharks spend 20-30 minutes getting all worked up looking for an alternative snack in their impatience, namely SCUBA divers. There was probably 30 sharks, though it seemed like 50 as they swim at you, over you, just past your head from behind…whoa where did he come from? You sit along a reef wall so they stay relatively in front of you, and I mean a 2-3 feet in front of you. Depending on the current the guide said you can swim with them, well the current was right so he signaled we could leave the protection of the wall and we all proceeded to swim along side the sharks. There was an instance or two where a shark and I would be heading at each other in a winner take all game of chicken. I admit, I lost every time and stopped in place, not sure if it was better to move or not, I figured I would let him decide my fate instead. After 30 minutes or so they opened the bucket of food and the sharks devoured it, at which point they left…mostly. 3 or 4 hung around after, I figured they were still hungry so kept my eyes on them, hoping to throw one of the chicks in the way if they came our way, hey survival of the fittest!

Oh one last thing, every speaks English here, something else I am not a fan of. The first woman I talked to about a room told me “relax, I am on the island now, everyone speaks English”. I told her I need the practice, and she said most people, including her, don’t even like speaking Spanish. I should have gone to Utila!

Additional pics here: Shit Just Got Real; AKA Welcome to Honduras

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 Post subject: Turns out it harder to kick someone in the face than I thoug
PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:29 pm 
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Location: Socal
Nicaragua, and Panama:

1 US dollar = 23.9600 Nicaraguan córdobas
1 US dollar = 499.6000 Costa Rican colóns
1 US dollar = 1 Panamanian Balboa

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As mentioned it was a mad dash through Central America, one which turned out to be even quicker due to a last minute plane ticket home, to see the family one more time before jumping the gap. To the surfers, I apologize for the lack of surf content. For one thing, when there were waves, I was in the water rather than taking pics of them, I am sure you can understand. Second, as you can guess, there are no secret spots left in this modern world. I hope to get pics of beautiful beaches with waves, but wont be saying where they are aside from which country, you can find that info all over the internet. There have been countless beaches that were empty, but just as many ruined by one or more resort complexes or giant gringo homes. Central America is full of surf, so if your looking for a surf trip my best advice is to go out there yourself, don’t worry you will find it. I also didn’t do much surfing due to the revised schedule, knowing I will be back to focus on it more later. Of course I plan on Surfing in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chili, and possibly Brazil so don’t worry, there should be more to come. There is a lot more to see down here than just waves, so it was a tough line to walk on when to stay near the beaches and when to head inland.

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Back to the traveling, I stopped in Both Grenada and Leon, two cities in Nicaragua that people seem to love. I could once again take them or leave them. They were nice enough, and due to the rush I didn’t have time to stop and take a step back to really get a feel for them, but they once again they didn’t have the Central American feel I was looking for, though I will be back to give them a second chance. With Grenada especially, it is clear that there are two distinct parts of Grenada, the touristy section that they want you to see, and the real, poorer Grenada on the outskrits, almost banished in shame. Once again it seems these are cities “tourists” like, as opposed to travelers. They come in, see a nice section and say they were there when they fly back home.

I then proceeded to Costa Rica, where I spent a full day of driving through the country to setup outside of the border, ready to cross in to Panama the following day. I am sure Costa Rica is great, and there is that surf stuff down there as well, so I will give it a chance…another time. Even in Panama I only spent one day surfing, followed by another day of beach camping, before heading to Panama City, where I would end up spending more time than I really wanted to.

Playa Tela, Panama:
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This beach I am naming for a reason. As I was flying home before heading to South America I wanted to be near Panama City as the flight date approached to make sure there were no problems making it, as delays are inevitable in Central America. Playa Tela is a beach break located about an hour outside of Panama City. Popular with the locals due to its ease of accessibility, and the somewhat consistent surf, I headed that way 1st before seeing if I would need a more isolated beach. I found the turnoff and followed the dirt road to the end where I came out onto the beach, with no people, or waves, in sight, sigh. I had decided I was camping here regardless so parked along the side of a natural rock wall and walked out to get my surroundings. This beach is another example of what I hate seeing, as there are several enormous new houses along the beach, most likely built by rich gringos from countries north of Panama. I am one of those people who would love to see only locals being able to own land or homes, but what can I say money talks. Usually people sell the land because they need the money, then rich gringos or resorts move in, and drive the prices up, forcing the rest of the locals out, ruining it for just about everyone. Turned out there was one other guy tent camping just around the corner, with a board leaning against the nearby tree. He was relaxing in his hammock for an afternoon siesta, so I decided I would wait till later to head over and get the lowdown on the area. Some cops then immediately showed up, so I verified this was in fact Playa Tela, as there are several beaches in this immediate area. Once they left I took advantage of the solitude and did some quick Astro maintenance greasing the zirks. No I have not gotten too intimate during all this time alone with my van, that is what it is actually called.

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Later during the day a family with Cali plates rolled up and hit the water, hungry for any scraps they could find. Being a polite surfer I gave them 45 minutes before making my way out as well, as I had been waiting here all day to get some waves of my own after all, and there was more than enough room for everyone. I said hello and mentioned the Cali plates. They had moved down to Panama just two weeks ago, so didn’t have a whole lot of info on the area, but seemed excited to be in the area. We shared some mediocre waves, and eventually they went in. I decided to stick it out, as it had been way to long since I had really surfed, and just getting out there always seems to make it worthwhile, regardless of the session itself. A person here or there would show up and surf for a bit, and then leave, but overall I had the waves to myself, and the tide finally cooperated. I don’t know why no one came back out, but I had the best waves of the day to myself while others stood watching from the shore. Now that’s my kind of day!

I eventually came back in and tried to talk to the guy in the tent rather unsuccessfully, but he told me there were 3 of them, and one of his friends spoke English. Turns out his friend had lived in the same place as where I spent some time living north of San Diego, and mentioned he couldn’t go out as he forgot his leash. Hello sir, have you seen my van overloaded with way too much crap, I have a leash, and possibly can throw in a microwave and airplane for free, who knows whats really in there. Even though my arms were tired, he immediately talked me into heading back out for a sunset session. I tried to convince myself 25 years old was still young and mentally prepared myself to head back out. As I am heading back to the van to grab the extra leash he warns me that Playa Tela has a bit of a smash and grab problem, where the young locals are breaking into the vehicles here, so I should park where I can see my vehicle from the water. I continue around the corner to my van and see too young guys hanging around the Astro. They are not right by the van, but also not where anyone would hangout for a day at the beach, so decide I had better move. Its quite probable that they were just there not causing any problems, but I got a bad vibe from them after hearing the smash and grab news, and wasn’t taking any chances. They then left around the same time I moved, so its also probable they were up to no good. Either way I enjoyed some more waves even though it was getting dangerously dark out. I was slightly bummed as I paddled in and noticed the pile of firewood I had gathered before moving my van was now blazing, as someone had helped themselves to it. At least it was a good fire. We stood around talking for a bit and suddenly the skies opened up and we all retreated to our shelters for the night, so it would not have mattered anyway as that fire went out quickly, and the people took off to escape the rain.

It had gotten dark early, and after about an hour of rain it finally let up around 8:30. I hear a knock on the window but cannot see out my windows, so roll them down to find one of the guys who only spoke Spanish from my new Panamanian group. This guy is pretty small, and soaked to the bone. He is asking for a ride to the store but I figure he just needs a tarp or tent, but we still cannot connect on exactly what he needs so I tell him to get his friend. Why they sent him is beyond me, but at least it forced more Spanish on me. I am also not sure why they waited in the rain an hour before stopping by. While he is off getting his English speaking friend I jump out and open up my never ending back of stuff to pull out the tarp, as I am sure that is what he is looking for. Seriously, if I keep digging I am pretty sure I can find the entrance to Narnia somewhere in my van. The other guy shows up equally soaking wet, does in fact need a tarp, and I once again save the day. I throw them a towel I have and wish them luck on what has to be a terrible night ahead for them. I get back in the van, crack the front windows, and open the side windows that open outward as its getting real hot without the rain. The only thing within reach are my board shorts and rash guard hanging to dry so I don’t mind opening these windows, as the threat of theft is low. I then pass out to the sound of waves crashing, is there any better sound?

I wake up the next morning to a different, though familiar sound, almost like foil flapping in the breeze. The reflectix curtains I use are made from a foil like material, so with the windows open they blow around a bit and often wake me. Probably due to the smash and grab story in the back of my mind I awake from a deep sleep and lift my head to look over, even though I usually hear this sound and just roll over to continue my sleep. I see a young guy probably about 15, with his face up in the small opening the side windows provide, with his hand halfway in my van pushing the reflectix to the side. He freezes for a moment, and I whip my leg up into the air, and extend it fully connecting with his face knocking him back to the ground in his own pool of blood. Well, that is what I pictured doing in this scenario anyway. Instead I hesitate not wanting to hit my small Panamanian friend in case he is looking for a dawn patrol partner, as my vision is still a bit blurry as I come to my senses. The clearance from my bed to the roof is somewhat cramped to begin with, so any chance of extending my leg into this would be thief’s face is pretty low. Add that to the fact that I am a bit sore from too much surfing (is there such a thing?), and this guy could have had a sweet rash guard. Instead we lock eyes for a brief moment, and he suddenly puts his head down, turns and breaks off into a sprint. Not that easy I think, and yell out “Fuck off bitch!” Yeah I showed him, I am so clever 1st thing in the morning.

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At that point I am up, go about my normal morning routine, and eventually the Panamanians get up and come hangout. We discuss going to another beach as this one is flat again, and don’t think it will pick up until at least 4 in the afternoon. I like this plan, but we sit around anyway as its getting hot and we have the awning providing some much needed shade. Just then we see a mini cooper with tinted windows coming down the dirt road to the beach. A chick is driving, and like a fortune teller I am hit with a vision, and instantly know she is going to get stuck, yup I got skillz. Before she hits the sand I say “we should probably go help her, but none of the guys move”. For some reason that no male driver could ever understand, she pulls onto the beach and drives along the rock wall, then backs up to turn around , backs around, and then tries to pull forward, digging herself deeper and deeper into the sand. She then jumps out, and hold on, this chick is pretty attractive, and not wearing very much for clothing. She grabs a stick to put under the tire, and while its clear this will accomplish nothing, I have to commend the idea as she is on the right track. Next the other doors of the mini open and like a clown car 4 more super attractive girls pile out. Suddenly I am not the only one thinking these girls need help, and my Panamanian friends stop watching and finally get up to help. Of course by then its almost too late, as 2 cops show up out of nowhere, as well as some random dude to help free these girls from the sand. I was pretty sure we were the only ones on the beach a minute ago, but you get a group of hot girls in bikinis in distress and people come out of the woodwork I guess. While still an idiot, maybe she is smarter than I thought, as she clearly will never have a problem getting stuck on a beach assuming she normally dresses like she is. The mini is freed easily, and since I have lost all confidence in my Spanish skills from the 2 Panamanians that cant talk to me, I foolishly let them do most of the talking. Basically all I get from the convo is that they are local, 4 Panamanians and a Venezuelan. Well once again I am reminded I NEED to learn to speak Spanish as letting those guys do the talking ends up being a huge mistake. I don’t know what they said, but whatever it was did not impress these girls. After thanking us they wander off wanting nothing to do with them. At least that works out for you, as we can chalk this up to another failure story to share. With no hope of getting to know these girls I am forced to take a stalker pic for the good of the blog as that was the best I could do. Hey I didn’t want to, but I have to keep my fans happy.

Later in the day everyone took off and it began to rain again, so I made a run to the store for some food. I came back expecting to do one more night of beach camping, but as I was driving back to the beach I find a parked taxi car that was not there when I left. In the hour or so since I had left this guy parked his car and headed down to the beach. Unfortunately when he returns he is going to be met with the same sight I saw, the shattered glass of a smashed window. I obviously decide that this place has too many petty theft problems and head out to find somewhere else to sleep for the night. Obviously this can happen anywhere, but I would avoid this beach, it just isn’t worth the risk, especially for the average waves I saw.

Panama City:
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A day or so later I headed off to Panama City, which after months of relatively empty roads left me sitting in hours and hours of traffic. There is construction everywhere, and no matter what I did I found myself behind the wheel, mind wandering back to the beaches or deserts free of this madness. Luckily I wouldn’t be here long, I just needed to catch a flight home to visit family before I jumped the gap. Of course the week earlier I had called and asked my family what their Thanksgiving plans were, as I figured this would be a great time to go home and see everyone at once, as well as working with my loose schedule allowing me to return to Panama and focus on the daunting task of shipping the van to Colombia, as you should know by now you cannot drive from Panama to Colombia, you must ship your vehicle across. I purchased my tickets and sent them the itinerary so they could pick me up. My mother then informed me that the tickets were for next week. Yeah, that’s right, I want to come home for thanksgiving before I go to Colombia, we just discussed this. Well, turns out thanksgiving is in Nov. this year, not Oct! I told you I had no concept of time anymore, and considering my birthday is 2 weeks before thanksgiving you would think I would know this by now. Luckily as I am the favorite, this just meant everyone would drop everything and an early thanksgiving dinner would be had in my honor. We had turkey, stuffing, a large variety of vegetables, an apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate chip pie, key lime pie, rhubarb pie, chocolate pudding pie, cookies, a chocolate cake, and I am sure I forgot something else…(Giant Inhale of air) whoo I feel like Bubba Gump. More proof, that I am the favorite. It was great seeing the family, and my mix up with scheduling worked to my advantage as I got to go home during fall rather than the cold cold northeast winter upstate NY provides in late November, though I was delayed from the hurricane, but eventually made it out. As I write this they are now being hit by a nor’easter, if you don’t know what that is consider yourself lucky!

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After being delayed several days due to the Hurricane, I finally arrive back in Panama to find myself in more traffic. Son of a Bitch! It isn’t consistent, some days its awful, other days there is hardly any. Today though, it is awful. Just so you know I am not bitching, on a weekday it took me 10 minutes to drive somewhere in the city from where I was staying, and 1 hr and 30 minutes to get back during rush hour (7-8:30 pm), and that is no exaggeration. Anyway no matter where I turned the main roads are closed,I am forced up one way streets going away from where I want to be, and quickly going nowhere fast in the stop and go traffic as cars cut in and out of lanes with no regard for each other. Luckily every once in awhile someone realizes that everyone is probably just not paying attention, so they lay on the horn for 30-60 seconds to politely tell people to go, even though there is nowhere to actually go. Thanks buddy, it almost worked, maybe you should hold it longer next time! Eventually I realize there is going to be a parade, not sure why but it is Saturday in Central America and sometimes that is reason enough. I crawl back towards the Casco Viejo, a touristy part of town that is nice, though immediately next to a rather rough area of Panama City. There is a lot of restoration going on there, so construction equipment is everywhere and I previously learned I would not be parking in that area as its currently a zoo (of course that was a Saturday the day I tried as well so it may be ok on other days I didn’t try again, it sucked that much). I somehow find a spot to park somewhat near the area and not too close to the slums, and walk towards the action. Turns out it is Panamas Independence day, so everyone is ready to party. See, these bonuses happen all the time if you stay down here long enough, I had no idea what I was going to do all day, so Panama City provided the answer for me. The parade was actually pretty good, the bands really got into it, as did many of the people who lined the streets. At one point there was a group of drummers who rocked, though they really got intimate with their drums which gave me flashbacks to the Astro getting dry humped by the military, something I had hoped to block out. They also threw the drums up in the air and caught them. Things really started heating up so one guy decided to use the shoulder strap to almost hula hoop the drum around his neck several times, until it finally flew off his head into the crowd, both hitting a spectator and denting the drum in true Central American fashion. The next day was Flag Day, so the roads were again shut down for parades, which seemed a bit excessive to me, I mean how many parades can you go to in a row? I now know how Bill Murray feels in Groundhogs Day.

The following day was Monday, and I was hoping to start the shipping process for the van, as I knew I needed to load it on the container Thursday, possibly Friday, otherwise I would have to wait a whole week to get it on the next boat. Turns out due to the holidays everything was closed Monday so I couldn’t do anything till Tuesday, so there is one day lost. I drove around to find the place where I would need to do the Police Inspection so I would at least know where it was for the following day. If they find any problems they will send you off to the aduana to fix before allowing you to continue the shipping process. They also run your info to make sure you have no outstanding tickets in Panama, thus giving you permission to leave the country. I already know I have an issue on my Vehicle Import which needs to be fixed at the aduana before I can ship, even though I had read warnings previously. After hours at the border I thoroughly checked the paper that my VIN and plate were correct, as always. NOTE: Whats also important here is that your VIN (assuming you don’t have a motor #) is also listed as your motor number, not the normal N/R they usually put. Well mine said s/n, and the next box had the VIN, so my VIN was listed twice, which I assumed was correct. What I hadn’t noticed till days later was that she put my Astro down as being grey colored, so I wanted to get this changed to avoid any problems down the road. Turns out the S/N is also incorrect, and the VIN should be listed 3 times in a row, I will provide a picture of the form later, so either way I needed to hit the Aduana. The other issue is regarding timing is that once loaded it takes about 1 more week to get your van back between waiting for the boat to arrive in Colombia, waiting for them to unload the container, and finishing up the paperwork. This is clearly going to set me back time wise, and mentally I am ready to get to Colombia, so the sooner the better. Of course the latter, longer option is the one which developed, so it looks like I will be killing some time in Panama.

I will save the shipping information for the next post, but figured a good drug story should be told here as many wont need to read the shipping post. Naturally I am sure this is butchered, but this was the gist of it. I met a couple from Europe during the shipping process, who had flown to Toronto to purchase their vehicle for the trip and head South. Somewhere in Belize I believe, they started having some sort of electrical problem so the guy checked the fuses. When those were fine he decided to follow the wires and see if any were loose, or if he could find additional fuses. While running his hand under the dash he was surprised as a large brick of powder fell from the dash. As you can imagine this got his heart racing and they did not know what to do. They knew someone in the police force back home and sent him a picture asking for help. Their friend finally got back them that they had a brick of heroine or cocaine, and they should probably contact the embassy. They asked the embassy what to do, and if they should bring it to them. The embassy did NOT want that, and not wanting to keep this on them in a foreign county they then eventually did what any smart person would do and ditched the brick, hoping to avoid becoming stars on the locked up abroad show. They informed the embassy that they no longer had the brick, and arranged to have their car searched with dogs and endoscopic cameras to make sure that was all that was left, which of course was not, as yet another brick was found! Again this car was purchased in Canada, so not only did they smuggle drugs into the US, the smuggled drugs out of the US as well, don’t even get me started on the wasted money of this “War on Drugs”.

As usual, more pics and rest of story here:"Turns out it harder to kick someone in the face than I thought"

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2guys1truck.com: 2004 AWD Chevy Astro from California to Colombia!


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 Post subject: Re: Picked up a 2004 AWD Astro for Central and South America
PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2012 3:17 am 
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Joined: Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:45 am
Posts: 2137
Location: Selah, WA
Panama is the one country I have visited to our south! But it was many years ago ('85)...

Great update again!

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Matt
Selah, WA
-96 GMC Safari AWD Hi-Top Conversion -->Stalled 5.3L swap & 5" lift
-74 Ford Bronco -->Far from perfect but mine!
-99 V-10 Ford Super Duty Super Cab 4x4 -->Stock with 285 Cooper ATs
-00 Ford Focus Wagon -->The Red Turd
-95 Ford 24' Class C Motorhome -->My big block sleeper
-07 Can-Am Outlander XT -->My yellow 4x4 quad for work & play
-04 Ski Doo REV Summit -->Still several chassis behind!


No new projects until the current ones are done!


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