Tag Archives: adventure

Using the Bathroom in Mexico

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The sun was freshly set when my stomach began to bubble. I felt the “plato del dia” sink low, to the dark haunting depths of my bowels, making its way to the end of the line. We have all been there. This can happen after eating 3 Brothers Pizza on the Jersey boardwalk, or even in your own home. This specific instance, while at high elevation in a Mexican forest, we were able to pull into a roadside posada during the early evening hours. Not wanting to drive at night, and desperate for a place to camp, we approached a small bundled up Mexican gent and asked for permission to camp in his lot. He was enthusiastic regarding our request, and welcomed us to camp for the night. We had been traveling Mexico via automobile for the past 3 months. This was just another day on the road.

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I strolled to the restroom just like I had done a million times before. I did not have much time to spare. The restroom was in my peripheral vision and appeared to be vacant. This was child’s play- no worries. I will mail the package, then resume my evening plans of sipping cerveza and discussing tomorrows drive to Oaxaca.

I finished my restroom meeting and reached for the flush handle. It was night time and there was no functioning light source. I pulled out my flashlight and inspected the situation, soon to realize, a flush handle did not exist. “Ok, just relax,” I thought to myself. “I can solve this riddle. I can pull the plug up from inside the tank and then be on my way.” Next, to my continued amazement, I shone my light to the depths of the tank and startled the insects inside. Not only was the tank bone dry, but there was a golf ball sized hole in the bottom where I could clearly see the grey concrete floor below.

I contemplated just leaving the scene, as is, and later warning my fellow campers to not use the “stall on the left,” but this would only prove that I am not just inconsiderate, but a complete asshole. The poor Mexican man that owned the establishment was extremely generous. He does not deserve such a gesture of disrespect from American travelers, especially those privileged enough to tour several countries over extended periods of time.

This predicament might baffle even the most “off the beaten path” traveler, but after being presented with situations such as these, numerous times, one has no choice but to educate him or herself on proper 3rd world bathroom use. This includes the ins and outs of how a toilet properly functions. One becomes an “amateur plumber,” in a way. You will soon leave these situations confident and coming out on top, literally.

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some tips:

-Bring your own toilet paper: Toilet paper is usually absent from both public and private bathrooms. On occasion,  you can purchase it on the spot, but it is always a good Idea to keep a roll handy when traveling. There is no guarantee that a given location will have some to sell, and exiting a bathroom with only one sock or sleeve will make you an easy target for possible humiliation.

-Keep spare change handy: Often times you will need to pay to use the restroom. It is never much, but it is indeed a reality.  Also note that having to break a 100 peso bill might prove difficult for some establishments, not to mention the lack of enthusiasm from the attendant to finish the transaction quickly. In this situation time could be your worst enemy.

-Toilets missing water tanks are still functional: When presented with this predicament, you can flush the toilet by pouring a bucket of water in the actual bowl, or in the hole where the tank once lived. Most likely there will be a giant drum of water outside the bathroom with a smaller scooping bucket for doing this.

-No toilet seats are common: In this situation, one may develop his or her own methods to cope with the inadequacy. You can do “the hover”, which can be tough on the thigh muscles. There is also “the one-cheek lean”, which people have mixed feelings about, but after a quick bowl rim cleaning this might prove to be sufficient.

-Do not flush toilet paper: The plumbing in most countries South of the border can not handle toilet paper. There will be a receptacle usually within arms reach. In the rare case the receptacle is absent, you can either throw it in the corner, or take it with you and find a trash can. But do not flush, because clogging a toilet can prove to be  not only embarrassing, but also a messy job to clean up.

Sometimes one needs to step out of their comfort zone and see what’s around the corner (no matter how dark it may be). You might have to sacrifice luxury in order to get a unique travel experience. Roughing it proves necessary in order to get things done when things get rustic. And to conclude the story above: I managed to find a large drum of water outside the restroom. After using the “pouring water in the bowl method” I was on my way.

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Our Baja Article in Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine

Check out our recently published article on Baja, Mexico in Toyota Cruisers & Trucks Magazine. I posted the article below, along with some screen shots of the magazine, but I recommend you go to their website and check out the entire issue. CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE ENTIRE ISSUE.

“You’re driving through Mexico, are you crazy, it’s so dangerous, you might die.” This is a common response we receive when telling people about our upcoming travels through this unaccustomed country. My usual response entails something along the lines of, “Really. What do you mean? Have you ever been there?” This is traditionally followed by an answer  of, “Nooo. No, I’ve never been there.”

In the overlanding community, it is a fact that Mexico stands out as a major highlight of any Pan-American adventure.  This is mostly due to the country’s abundance of culture, incredible food, warm people, and one cannot forget that it’s great on the budget. As these parking lot conversations arise before your departure, attempt to just nod and smile. Don’t be rude. You know the real deal. You did your homework.

On Halloween 2013 we headed West in the Toyota Tacoma (the Taco) on the Southern most road in California. We were making our final preparations to cross into Mexico, at the Tecate border. This sleepy border town had no line and no stress, but we were rookies. There was no denying that we were nervous. After all, it was our first international border, and with us we carried a truckload of personal possessions that would be bringing us to the southern most tip of South America. In the end, we psyched ourselves out for no reason. It was easy, and Baja awaited with an abundance of possibility.

Baja has fish, and fish is good. We camped in Punta Conejo close to the river mouth. When I say river I actually am referring to the dried-up dirt arroyo that bared more resemblance to a Fred Flintstone highway. But over millions of years of floods and river deposits, a giant river rock reef translates into an abundance of fish to eat and waves to be surfed, making this desert wasteland paradise to some. It was paradise to us. Sunrise surfcasting off the point was a guaranteed meal, or should I say meals. It was here that enough fish were caught, in 45 minutes each morning, to not only feed ourselves everyday,  but also our fellow campers. The fish was also provided to the landowner who happily accepted Pargo instead of the small suggested camping fee. In the surf lineup they called me “the fish slayer”. This was a good thing. Amongst the catches were Snapper, Corvina,  and trigger fish, just to name a few. As a result of the ocean’s bounty, we were able to invent new recipes and make some new amigos.  When you catch your own food, you don’t have to buy food.  It is like putting money in your pocket, which extends your trip. This is Baja.

On the Sea of Cortez we managed to find a less traveled nook not far from the highway and we were able to park right on the beach. The sea was calm and clear, like a toilet for the gods. There was no one around. “Lets get snorkley!” After about an hour of diving in the shallow crystal sea, I counted over one hundred chocolates in my black mesh bag. Chocolate pronounced, “cho-ko-la-tae,” is a clam native to Mexico. “Clams for days” was the phrase of the week. When we craved some variety, we switched over to scallops. These were additionally as abundant as the clams, but required more work.  In hunting for Scallops, the end of the shell peeks out of the sand like a shy man at a singles retreat. Armed with a gloved hand, I wrenched at the creature. After a period of strangling and struggling, the ten plus inch shell fish finally revealed itself in its entirety. The process of cleaning scallops is messy and takes some time, but when your camping in Baja, time you have.

There are fish stories for days when overlanding Baja. I’m only scratching the surface. In addition to the surfboards and fishing gear, it is wise to pack a camera, because your friends won’t believe you. When you are not surfing, you will be fishing, and when you’re not fishing, you will be eating your catch. This baron desert is surprisingly abundant in sea life and if you should have the urge to fish, you will be successful. Besides remote camping and hunting for your meals, Baja provides plenty of opportunities for organized campgrounds (with hookups), cheap accommodations, and fish taco stands for miles. After not showering for weeks at a time, and finding fish scales in your pockets, campgrounds begin to provide a certain unprecedented sense of comfort.  There is an ability to get a room in town, or gorge one self on the never-ending array of tacos, simply due to  amazing affordability of this region.

If you’ve spent time in the desert you know that it possesses a magical quality. You know the polarity of it’s landscape, representing both strength and an undying sense of unforgiveness.  Baja is all beautiful, spellbinding, and dangerous rolled into one narrow peninsula jutting off California. It is best to remember that one must always travel with water, the proper recovery gear, and perhaps extra gas.  On some of the roads, you might not get a passer-by for weeks at a time. Also bring  your warm cloths because Baja can be cold, depending on where you are at any given moment. And always bring paper maps because your GPS might stop working all of a sudden.

We spent over 6 weeks surfing, fishing, driving the dusty dirt roads, buying hundreds of fish tacos, and traveling with friends we made in the desert. The stars were bright and the whales were swimming, but, as always, there is a time when one must move on. We drove the Taco aboard a two-story ship, parked on the top deck exposed to the sky. We were the only noncommercial, non tractor-trailer truck aboard the crowded vessel. The sky was clear, the truckers were drunk, and we departed La Paz before sunset. We set up camp as if we were back in the lonesome desert, popped the top, and spread the blankets. On the chilly clear night, the constellations were stunning. In less than twenty hours we landed in Matazalan, Mexico.

 

1 YEAR ON THE ROAD!

One Year on the road: 11 borders crossed, 4 vet visits, 1 bribe payed, 2 dead bodies seen, dozens of fish caught, countless waves ridden, and many friends made.

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Sometimes you get sick of it all; burnt out, tired, hungry, living in a truck, the rain, the cold, the heat, the bugs. There are fleas on the dog, fleas in the tent, sand in the pants, salt in the eyes. Washing dishes in the sea, showering with a bucket, dried food on the forks, dried sweat that makes your socks stiff like stale bread, stale bread and old eggs, fresh bread and local cheese. There are drivers with no regard for human life. Days with no propane means no coffee, no morning coffee is like a punch in the face.  You sample alien fruits, uncertain regarding the proper way to consume them. People are talking, not knowing what they are saying, just nod and smile, walk away, fake it. Locals yelling, selling, and talking at you, “grrrrrringo!” I would still take it any day of the week over the routine back home.

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Its not all stale bread and sandy butt crack, and it is always more good than bad. A bad day on the road is still a day on the road, and any day on the road, is a good day indeed.

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The markets South of the border, specifically in Mexico and Peru, provide access to all sorts of culinary delights. The food that we know as “Mexican”, in the states, is not Mexican food at all (I have yet to see a burrito south of the border). The tacos, salsa, meats, and price leaves one speechless. I will eat street food from anyone who sells it (no matter what it is). Often times I place my order without knowing what I will receive. They slide a plate my way, and I send it to my gut. They tell me what I am eating, but I don’t know what they say (my spanish is fickle). Down the hatch. I do this in every country, and sometimes several times in one day. There is fish stew for breakfast, guinea pig for brunch, ceviche for lunch, and trucha frita for dinner.  I find myself eating hamburgers with ham, while the pigs freely roam the dusty streets. The only bouts of food poisoning that I have experienced have occurred in the states (several times I might add).

All the locals have been welcoming and warm. Although each country has a different overall attitude (with kindness occurring on a spectrum), in general, people are good. People are happy. Locals are welcoming. They ask where we are from, shake our hands, ask how dangerous our dog is. Bravo? No matter how poor, or how rich, people have been universally good. But!… don’t forget, that no matter where you go, there will always be an asshole. Assholes are everywhere in this world, and just because you are in their country it does not mean that you have to be nice to them. In terms of the big picture, 9 1/2 times out of ten people have been awesome. In reality, most assholes that we cross paths with are American expats who can be found complaining about any number of things (usually locals).

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Camping south of the border is cheap, and many times free. If we pay to camp it means that we are taking showers, using wifi, enjoying the luxury of  bathrooms, and sometimes cooking up a fancy meal in the communal kitchen. There are sometimes even perks such as pools and flat screen tv’s, and “Law and Order” is always on. On average camping costs anywhere from $5 to $15 a night, but one must remember that this does add up, over time. Free camping on the beach is fun, but you are often exposed to the elements, and sometimes need to get creative with how you go to the bathroom (especially if the area is crowded with other beachcombers). We could write an entire blog post just on that topic, but we will keep moving forward. There have been several free camp spots that trump any pay site. This is due to seclusion, surf, scenery, adventure, and the general satisfaction that occurs when one discovers a pristine location with an unspoiled backdrop . We camp for free as much as possible, but when we start to resemble the hippies and homeless, with our smells, haggard appearance, complete disregard to how a successful society should function, then it’s time to take a shower, wash the cloths, and email the family. It is a slippery slope. Maybe not?

The experience has been educational, enlightening, and an overall eye-opener. People in the states are frightened to travel to the 3rd world, but we like to challenge this idea. We met a couple from Europe that did this trip from the South heading North. They claim the most dangerous place they visited was Florida. They got robbed multiple times (one of which was a break in to their hotel room while they were sleeping). But hey, that was just one couples experience. You also learn to listen to others, but be aware that it is their experience. One must remember that the most dangerous situations are usually involving being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.  As with anywhere, one needs to be smart, keep their eyes open and have personal awareness as to how they relate to their current surroundings. This is true whether you are in Northern Florida or Southern Colombia.

There is no denying that this has, in fact, been one big learning experience. For example, did you know that eggs and meat don’t need to be refrigerated, 90’s rock is huge in South America (from the remote villages of Colombia to the beach towns of Chile), and there are ALOT of people in Central and South America with family in New Jersey. In Peru when I ordered an egg, cheese, ham sandwich, they actually brought me an egg sandwich, a cheese sandwich, and a ham sandwich. Separately. In Central America its more glorious to drink beer from a can, rather than a bottle.  And people cannot comprehend how we are married and have no kids. In an effort to keep the mood light, we just tell them Lupe the dog is our kid. That always brings a smile.

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Life is short, work is hard, surfing is fun. After all working takes the best years of a persons life, right?

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Gear Review for overlanders

Everyone travels differently, and has a variety of values while on the road. Some things that may be important to you, might not be a necessity for others. Not to mention, different travelers have a variety of different budgets to manage. A big part of travel, camping, and adventure is the wide variety of gear one can purchase before or during a journey, and sometimes its difficult not to go overboard in this category, especially considering all the amazing gear and new technology out there. Some like it fancy, and some like it simple. During our travels we have bumped elbows with a wide range of people. We mingle with everyone from wealthy retirees who drive luxury big budget ex-military vehicles, all the way to lost hooligans peddling their way across countries by unicycle. Me personally, the more time i spend on the road, Its important to keep it simple and cheap, while not sacrificing gear reliability and personal enjoyment. Fancy new technology is always fun to play with, but how much of this do you really want to bring to unfamiliar locations in the third world. Dont get me wrong, I do have and iPhone, lap top, sweet camera, and more than a few nice surfboards. But when push comes to shove, and this stuff gets broken or stolen, I can only hope I don’t get too bent out of shape over it. Which leads me to believe, less is more, keep it simple. I’ve met plenty of travelers who have very little, and having less makes you more free in a certain sense.

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With this being said I’ve come up with my personal review of gear that has been more than helpful on a daily basis, and in my opinion, no overlander should venture without. In no particular order…..

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1. Bucket ($0.00 – $6) Like a lot of great things in life, the bucket is multi-use. I left home with no bucket, and quickly realized how badly I needed one. The best buckets are usually old 5 gallon spackle buckets which can be found for free at almost any construction site. Besides the obvious of washing clothes and dishes, My bucket is my chair, table, I bring it fishing, fetch water from several underground wells, weapon, collecting firewood, and the list goes on. If you can’t buck-it, fuck-it.

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2. Insulated coffee mug ($1 – $10) Us americans like our coffee, and if coffee is not your cup of tea, you can drink a cup of tea. Being from the east coast I like my coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. Its tasty, you get it quick, and the price is reasonable, unlike the racket Starbucks is running. Most if not all Dunkin’ Donuts sells insulated coffee mugs ranging from $3 plastic ones to $10 stainless steel ones. We left NJ with 3 of these. One got lost, the other one blew out, only one remains. I purchased a replacement mug at a supermarket in Nicaragua for $1 and its just as good. I use this everyday, several times a day, for hot and cold drinks.

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3. String / rope ($0.00 – $5) Another multi-use item. We live in a truck, mostly on the hot beach. We are sweaty disgusting people who share a bed with a dog. We are constantly washing clothing and bedding out of our bucket. At our campsites we always have a clothes line set up. sometimes we have several lines set up drying clothes, dish rags, wet suits and the list goes on. I also use my string collection to tie down tarps, the awning, lowering my bucket into mysterious wells, and stringing up the hammock to any and everything, blah blah blah. String can be found amongst the rest of the trash that washes upon the beach or you can buy it almost anywhere.

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4. Smart phone ($50 and up) This item goes without saying. A smartphone is basically a small computer. Besides stating the obvious that one can email, Skype, and stay connected to family and well-wishers, there are many other great uses. The calculator comes in handy when contemplating exchange rates, maps, entertainment, we know the rest. Ive also used my camera several times to take quick photos of my license and passport, email to myself, then print it our for border crossings. The notes app is good for writing down important info and wifi passwords. Functioning without this would be very difficult.

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5. Skobbler app for phone ($0.99) This offline world road map application is probably not considered gear, but its been pretty amazing. For those who don’t know, listen carefully. We downloaded this app in Panama (brought to our attention by southtonowhere.com.) We do not have a cell phone plan, and you do not have to be online, but the map knows your location (via satellite) and you can plan a route, and download maps specific to the country. Being from the states we are extremely spoiled when it comes to road signage and city infrastructure. Its a different story down here, and not to mention several people south of the boarder (mostly in South America) drive with absolutely no regard to safety or the well being of human life. This is highly recommended and has given me the ability to avoid countless anxiety attacks when lost in these confusing cities, as well as saving gas by not getting too lost.

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6. Hammock ($10 – 80) The hammock could possibly be one of the greatest inventions ever. They are easy to set up. I have an anchor point on my truck so all I need to do is park near a tree or something to tie off the other end. After a long days drive, or some hours surfing, the hammock is a comfortable way to unwind and relax. Not to mention during those hot nights in Central America, its nice to get out of the tent and spend the night swinging in the wind. After Lupe the dog destroyed my compact camping hammock after having it for several years, I purchased a large cloth 2 person hammock in Cost Rica which is nothing short of amazing. During the drive South of the border there are dozens of opportunities to purchase several different styles of hammocks ranging from different prices. Hammock life means a comfortable relaxing life!

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7. Safe ($0.00 – $100) The safe is important for obvious reasons, and it should be large enough to hold all of your really important things. I built my safe out of scrap wood and metal from the shop I worked in at the time of my truck build. It can hold my laptop, folder, camera, phones, and more. Its also important to bolt down your safe to your vehicle somehow. Although we have not had any break ins, its also a good peace of mind knowing your important things are locked up securely. If someone was to break into my truck specifically, they would need a good amount of time and tools to get into my safe. Considering most breakins are a smash, grab and run situation I feel pretty good about my things being safe.

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8. Lupe the dog ($125) By no means do I consider our lovable pet a piece of gear, but I put her on the list anyway. We paid $125 at our local high kill rate shelter and saved Lupe’s Life. Im not looking for thanks but it was in fact our best purchase. Besides being part of the family Lupe acts as a great security guard. When a shifty individual approaches she makes her presence known, sending people in the opposite direction very quickly. When a friendly person approaches she is friendly and lovable. Several nights we have camped in questionable spots and when people get close I signal her to bark on command. Most people south of the border use dogs as security, so locals can only assume she is dangerous. Although she farts in the tent, gets fleas, frequents visits to the vet, and requires an expensive high protein diet due to food allergies, we love this dog like our own child and I’m confident she would seriously injure any person that tried to do us any harm. Not to mention Lupe is also a great mediator when Sara and I get into it.

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9. Filet knife ($1 – $20) Bringing a knife camping is a no-brainer. But I do recommend a large, sharp, durable knife. I bought one of those big white handle knives that professional fishermen use. It has no case and hangs out in the back of the truck. It cuts through live fish and dead meat, and veggies better watch out, cause Its sharp as hell, and has held up through over a dozen countries. these can be purchased in tackle shops, garage sales, or maybe you can find one in your garage that needs sharpening.

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10. Roof top tent ($800 – $5000) The RTT (roof top tent) does not apply to everybody of course. Some sleep inside their rigs on sleeping platforms, campers, or regular camping tents. We were lucky enough to find our Auto Home on NJ Craigslist for $900. This model tent from the factory might run closer to $4000. We put a clean mattress in, rigged up some swimming noodles so the surfboards fit nicely on top, and we’re ready to roll. The tent is extremely comfortable and is about the size of a queen size bed. Camping on the beach provides great views from above, plus scorpions and snakes have a hard time finding us on top of the truck. We decided that spending money on this item would be worth it, we got a good deal on it, also considering we will be spending the next year plus on the road.

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Ecuador

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“The beach is good, we need to get back to the beach” was what Sara and I were saying to each other during our final days in Colombia. The beach in Central America was rough living, mainly because we were camping most of the time. In Central America the heat was torturous, the nights were long and breezeless, the bugs unrelenting, but the surfing made it all worthwhile. Now we are in South America, about to enter Ecuador. Ecuador is on the equator. The equator must be hot. It was shockingly cloudy, cool, sweatshirts and pants, and pleasant ocean water. Maybe it is just the time of year? Either way, we will take it.

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The Colombia/Ecuador border was a breeze, making it through in record time. So far the border crossing situation in South America is more contemporary and user friendly compared to the outdated circus show that Central America had to offer.

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Driving the smooth camino, smiling at the signage of the gas stations displaying $1.48 a gallon, we had our destination in mind. We still have hours until we reach Mompiche. Mompiche might have the longest wave in Ecuador (too bad it is not the season for surf), but we head there anyway. We drive in to the night, through the hectic outskirts of Quito, spotting a snow capped mountain on the horizon at sunset. The view is pleasant and comforting, the vibe is mellow, and the roads twist through the mountains similar to a hiking trail. We see an uncrowded gas station, fill the truck for only a few bucks, roll to the edge of the lot and set up camp for our first night in Ecuador.

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The next day we arrived in the small fishing village of Mompiche. The waves were fickle, but we still got plenty of water time and hung out for a couple weeks to kill some time before entering Peru.

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After camping on the beach for a week in Mompiche, we spent the second week working as volunteers at a hostel. As volunteers, we painted some signage, built furniture, created a promotional video, and did some gardening for a few hours a day, in exchange for one of the private cabins (The Mud House). It turned out to be a great way to familiarize ourselves with the village, spend little to no money, and live in in an actual domicile (instead of a tent). Our time at The Mud House was enjoyable, and we highly recommend the place to other travelers (or overlanders). Mendee and Andres were warm, welcoming, and they make amazing sandwiches, and they were super cool with Lupe, which is a big plus.

-check out the video I made for the Mud House

 

After Mompiche we planned on doing another volunteer job in a beach town called Canoa. As soon as we rolled into town we were uninterested in the locale. The surf was bad, people were partying, and lost hippies roamed the streets. We spent the first night camping on the beach on the outskirts of town. The next morning we wandered to the hotel where we were supposed to work for the next couple of weeks. The people were friendly, but unorganized. We did some work, discussed the unpractical projects at hand, and waited for several hours for some woman to bring us to where we would be living.

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Finally, long after sunset, we meet up with the semi-intoxicated woman (at a 4th of July gringo party) and it is understood that she will be bringing us to our house (where we will stay for the next couple weeks in exchange for the work we will do). We waited longer, she offers me a beer, to which I respond that I don’t want one, but she proceeds to bring me one anyway. After I drink the beer she says I need to pay $3.50 for it (which is more than three times the amount beer usually goes for down here). Fire works start bursting. Lupe is in the truck startled from the close by explosions. I calm her down. We decide this whole situation is bullshit, and to top it off these people expect me to build a number of structures on multiple properties which seems completely impractical for the 4 hours of expected daily work. The whole situation seemed like a can of worms, so we decided the best thing to do was to just drive away. In the cover of darkness, not notifying anyone about our departure, we drove away and didn’t look back. And no one messes with Lupe. That was the broken shoelace.

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After escaping back breaking labor for minimal compensation, we slowly weaved our way down the Southern Ecuador coast. We camped in fishing villages, purchased fresh fish from locals, partook in solo surf sessions with not a soul in sight. Eventually after another week of nonchalantly driving, and stress free living (nothing to do, nowhere to be), we look up at the signage and it seems that we have made it to Peru.

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Propane Story : featured on Provenoverland.com

Click here to see our story on PROVEN OVERLAND!!!!

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OR READ IT BELOW

 

From my experience propane tanks can be filled on the outskirts of select towns across Mexico, Central America, and most places we’ve been. It seems logical that these filling stations are not actually in the towns, because If an accidental explosion was to occur, only the employes and current patrons would be the unfortunate individuals to be taken down, instead of  the surrounding bystanders in a crowded pueblo. We have a 5 liter tank that can fuel our stove for well over a few weeks, depending on how much we cook. The tank will cost between $2 and $5 to fill, dependent on the country and who happens to be working the register that day.

We are somewhere on the central coast of Mexico on the hunt for propane.  We are caravanning with George and Rachel (southtonowhere.com), following their vanagon through crowded Mexican streets. They also need a fill. We find a station, the van gets filled, but we do not. Our tank adapter does not match with the stations hose. While this seems odd to me, we are still relatively new to the South of the border vagabond lifestyle and our Espanol is no bueno, so perhaps something is getting lost in translation. Either way, we shrug our shoulders and start problem-solving.

The chubby Mexican man perched on a small motorcycle with a plastic bag full of canned beer witnesses our current dilemma. He watches and crushes a couple empty cans. He wants to help. He is communicating a strong desire to guide us to another filling station across town. He assures us through hand motions, that he knows the way. We accept his offer with hesitation. Sometimes locals see gringos in a pickle and they want to help, but they also want money.  This has been our experience in a  couple different situations. We need propane, and navigating unfamiliar cities in Mexico is a feat not for the meek. So, we take the easy road, deciding to follow this complete stranger through winding back streets, wrong ways, down one ways, cutting off busses, all in an attempt to keep up with this intoxicated hooligan. Where are we going? is this legit? is this dude alright?

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We get to the station and fill the tank for a couple bucks. This means hot meals for the next few weeks, beachside under the stars. We strike a conversation with our new amigo, the beer drinking Juan G. He asked for nothing, but we handed him some beer, observing his love of the beverage. He refused the suds explaining that riding the moto with a bottle is more difficult than riding with a can. We then reveal to him our surfing paradise destination, Saladita. He knows it well, has family there, and says that it is close by. Cool. After thanking this man for his help, a few high fives and posing for a couple photos, he now insists that we follow him to the beach. Once again we accept his offer with hesitation. I mean, this is our new friend after all.

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The Taco (our Tacoma) and the van follow this motorcycle madman down the Mexican highway at generous speeds. As he rides helmet-less drinking beer swiftly, he tosses his empties like a bean bag at a town fair into the green roadside brush. One, two, three beers down on this 30-minute caravan. Yikes. Should we be concerned? As we tailgate this swerving rascal, he makes a variety of hand gestures. He points to a smoke stacked factory on the horizon, removes both hands from the handle bars, makes a typing gesture, and then points to himself.  He is trying to communicate that he works there (or so we think). The message is not completely clear. He points to the sea, makes gestures of fishing, and makes a motion to convey that this fish is BIG. No hands on the bars, beers in a plastic bag swinging from his handlebars like a pendulum. Caught up in this moving game of charades, we missed the turn. No problem. Juan G illegally U-turns on the uncrowded highway, gesturing  for us to follow suit. More than a few times during this trip we have been put in odd and, at times, uncomfortable situations. Although this was more odd than uncomfortable, sometimes you need to trust your gut. My gut was telling me to follow Juan until the bitter end. So this is what we did, and we made that illegal U-turn.

We arrive at the beach.  It is a dead-end dirt road with no one in sight. It is beautiful. A rocky coast with a perfect spit of sand, perfect for relaxation. The late afternoon sun was hitting the sea with a dramatic orange glow. We began to envision the hammock hanging. Juan stops his bike, pops kickstand down, stands up, and raises his arms in such a way that a referee might during a field goal kick. He is a proud man and he has shown us the way.  He smiles with an aura of satisfaction and accomplishment.  He looks to us, perhaps gauging our reaction to the arrival at this small paradise. We exit our vehicles and take a look around with a bit of confusion.

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Our destination of Salidita, from what we read, is a popular surf-spot littered with traveling surfers, as well as accommodations and campsites. This beach was a nice one, but had none of the above. We look at each other because we know we are not at our desired destination.  We consult the map. We show our new navigator where we are trying to go. He says “Salidita? I thought you said Saydita, this is Saydita.” Several beers deep this could have happened to anyone. We all have a good laugh,share a few brews while Juan G tells stories of his time spent in the states.  He shows us photos of his life, exchange Facebook info, hug, and wish each other well. Juan rides off into the Mexican sunset like the outlaw he was.

Juan G did not want anything for his favors, he merely wanted to help some gringos in a jam. It turns out Juan loves the United States. Juan used to work in the states and managed to make enough money to go back to Mexico and build a fantastic home for his family. Most people we have met on our southbound journey have been warm and generous. There are a ton of Juan G’s out there.

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Our time in Colombia…

I sit alone reflecting on our last five weeks, as a patron in a crowded street-side eatery, while smothering my fried, half potato with spicy green sauce and hot relish. It’s hot, humid, and everyone around me seems to be busy, in this outskirt neighborhood of Cali, Colombia. A young man with not one, not two, but four tear drop tattoos, on his blistered jowls, sits across from me and gives me the smile nod of approval. I respond with the same gesture, as I scarf down the remains of my potato making sure that I don’t leave any crumbs behind, toss my trash, pay my bill, then march back down the street to the mechanic where Sara and Lupe sit and patiently wait for the truck to be fixed.

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Colombians are welcoming and warm. They are delighted to have us in their country as tourists. Colombians go out of their way to make you feel accepted, and at no point in our six weeks here did I feel in harm’s way. It is rumored that Colombians are like this because they try to rid themselves of their checkered reputation as it being a dangerous place active in the drug and kidnapping business, but I would like to believe that this is just the way they are. Although the history here might not look too bright through the eyes of a wayward tourist, I can assure you (from our experiences only), that Colombia is an amazing country filled with gracious people and dreamworld landscapes.

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Old town Cartagena is surrounded by tall, thick walls that were built to keep out pirates and bandits. Roaming the walled-in city streets after dark, you can almost sense what it was like to be an hoary scalawag with questionable intentions in search for women with loose morals and bottle of hooch. The history is voluminous like the walls that surround it, and the atmosphere is alive with the smell of titillation in the breeze. This was the most alluring colonial city we have seen to date.

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The 8 months of torturous heat in Mexico and Central America was unyielding, to say the least. Hot, bright, uncomfortable and with nowhere to hide, one feels like a newborn baby stranded in a newly blacktopped parking lot in the mid-summer swelter. It was time for remission.

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No matter how close you are to the equator, if you are high in elevation than the temperature is cold. El Cocuy Park is around 300 miles from the Caribbean, and a tad farther to the equator. The mountains are snow capped like the drawings of a juvenile, and seeing the glaciers after the tribulations of the heat you can’t help but feel some sense of relief. There are locals are draped in the provincial poncho, long windy day hikes, nights with toasty drinks in hand, and this all feels pretty swell. We camped tucked in the hills at a cabin owned by a local. Juan Carlos was generous with his hand picked teas, potatoes, and plethora of local knowledge. I attempted to repay the favors by handing-off my Bostich hammer, that he found quite impressive, while I hammered in my awning spikes. So now he insists on frying up a double trout dinner, with appetizer, and splendid handcrafted coulis on the side. So I sendoff my “Old Bay” spice to his shelf of kitchen condiments as another act of thanks.

The locals take advantage of the speed bumps strewn about the small towns, and big city streets. Beautiful, smiling women anxiously stand selling the local tinto (coffee) out of the plastic dental cups for $0.25. The coffee tastes superb, and the convenience factor is quite substantial, considering we are, in fact, lazy Americans who are used to the drive-through culture. The accessibility of any consumable item through the window of a vehicle is quite awesome, to say the least. Other than the coffee, they also offer salty snacks, cold drinks, fresh fruit plates, and even a lunch complete with meat, veggies, and rice.

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Camping is not as popular in Colombia as it is in Central America and Mexico. We did, in fact, stay indoors in hostels and cheap motels more than any other country. So when it was time to penny pinch we would find solitude at the highway gas stations, and set up camp for free. Gas stations have all the conveniences that the pay campgrounds have, minus the shower. These include 24-hour security, clean bathrooms, power outlets, and sometimes a convenience store for the last minute purchase of beer. The gas station attendants are usually so intrigued by the fact that you would want to sleep there, that they can’t help but feel motivated enough to bring you coffee, and keep coming by to see if you are comfortable. The local patrons gaze at you in wonder.  They point, gawk, and whisper amongst themselves, “who are these people, where did they come from, and why in god’s name are they sleeping here?”

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Just like Mexico, people whom have never been to this Latin American nation insisted that we avoid it. They said Colombia is dangerous, we will get robbed, and possibly kidnapped. Not to make light of serious situations, that does happen in these countries, but I do believe that most countries are as safe as you want them to be. You must travel smart, travel light, and of course use plenty of common sense. And if you are in fact one of those paranoid Americans, you can always just tell people you are Canadian.