Tag Archives: overland

The Waters of Unknown Emotion

Unknown

G’mork:  Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries.

Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then?

G’mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger.

Atreyu: What is the Nothing?

G’mork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it.

Atreyu: But why?

G’mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control… has the power!

…looking at the blog, reading posts from way back in the beginning, recalling people and memories that had slipped to the back of my mind…

I am in a daze flipping through pictures, in an attempt to reconnect with those moments “on the road.”

People ask, “Are you sad that it is over?”

“I don’t know.”

Sad feels too committed. I would rather wade in the Waters of Unknown Emotion: slightly dangerous, but equally exciting. The Waters of Unknown Emotion- It is like a land you would find in “The NeverEnding Story”, next to the Swamps of Sadness. The Swamps of Sadness– no way, not going there.  That is where the horse died: it just got sucked in and was never to be seen again. Perhaps you will find me basking on the Beach of Nostalgia, the swamp is behind me but the sound of ocean waves is nearby. I am just laying out, soaking in the rays of places and people past, feeling their warmth engulf my body as the sunshine penetrates my skin. My golden tan will hold me over as I envision the frigid winter weather that lay ahead (I am going to be digging myself out of emotional snow banks this winter). Come on, I must defend against the Nothing. Oh, and don’t forget my luckdragon…Lupe.  A fictitious flying dragon with a wingless elongated body, possessing neither magical talent nor immense physical strength, but distinctive in its unfailing serendipity” (www.wordnik.com). Yup. Right on.

Falcor (the luck dragon): Having a luck dragon with you is the only way to go on a quest. 

Not a child of the 80’s? Confused about the NeverEnding Story references?  Watch this: Neverending story trailor

Cold is okay, though. I will adapt, I always do. Shoveling is good exercise.

I try not to make situations too loaded. I do not want to invest too much emotion into an “end” because then it is just that: an end. From the get go, I had a strong desire to view this “trip”, “journey” (or insert your favorite related word) as a continuation of my life. I struggled to feel settled with this idea of “getting away” and then “returning” and was resistant to identify with concepts such as wanderlust, or any other romanticized notion that communicates a sense of escape, dreaming, and my personal favorite, “head in the clouds”. As G’mork stated, “Fantasia has no boundaries.” It is alive in all of us (all the time), but sometimes we need to go a quest to experience it’s true strength. And upon return, we are inspired, invigorated, grateful.

Besides, I identify more with the image of my head hovering above the water’s surface as my legs kick to keep me afloat- sometimes it is relaxing, sometimes it is exhausting. You have to find your rhythm. Although if you hand me some kid of floating device- I am golden. I could float around forever.

 The Childlike Empress: Bastian. Why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?

Bastian: But I can’t, I have to keep my feet on the ground!

The Childlike Empress: Call my name. Bastian, please! Save us!

Bastian: All right! I’ll do it! I’ll save you! I will do what I dream!

Can’t it all be a continuum? All experiences will be gently protected under the umbrella of life, as opposed to this concept of leaving reality and then having to “go back” (wait for sound of heavy sighs).  In reality, when we refer to reality, or the return to “the real world”, are we not just referencing the concept of responsibility? People have strong opinions regarding the topic of responsibility. I think I may be considered irresponsible for even introducing the topic.

Bastian’s father: I got a call from your math teacher, yesterday. She says that you were drawing horses in your math book. 

Bastian: Unicorns. They were unicorns.

Bastian’s Father: What?

Bastian: Nothing? 

I feel your pain, Bastian.

I still don’t know. Can it be a continuum? Will it be a continuum? Or am I just over analyzing all of this? Most likely the latter. I am going with the Einstein quote these days, “Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”  He was a smart guy.

We are on week 6 in Buenos Aires. The reality of returning to a different way of life (that is how i am framing it today- “a different way of life”) has started to reveal itself.  Already I find myself zoning out to CSI, and giddy with excitement about watching Girls (a series I had never seen due to our absence of cable.) Wow, we have HBO! Slowly I plug back in, and part of me hates another part of me for finding comfort in David Caruso’s face, and excitement from Lena Dunham’s escapades.

I am nostalgic for those slow, hot days in Central America when all I had was a papaya and a book. Conversations of “remember that?”, pervade the daily chatter.

As with all losses, there is that transitional space where you have to organize the experience.  You need to find a shelf for the books, a box for your letters, a closet for the clothes. The idea of everything being scattered on the floor can be unsettling (as I sit in this rental apartment with my belongings strewn about). It’s a heaping pile of mess and there is nowhere to put all your crap. And in the end you have to accept it (the mess), or be riddled with anxiety. I have a feeling all my crap from the last 15 months will lay out for a while. I have not developed a storage system for an experience such as this. It is new. And with that comes opportunity, perhaps even the possibility of invention!

The book shopkeeper, Mr Coriander- one of the only people to have been to Fantasia and returned, explains:

Bastian: What’s that book about?

Mr. Koreander: Oh, this is something special.

Bastian: Well, what is it?

Mr. Koreander: Look, your books are safe. While you’re reading them you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe

Bastian: But that’s what I like about ’em.

Mr. Koreander: Ahh, but afterwards you get to be a little boy again.

Bastian: What do you mean?

Mr. Koreander: Listen. Have you ever been Captain Nemo, trapped inside your submarine, while the giant squid is attacking you?

Bastian: Yes.

Mr. Koreander: Weren’t you afraid you couldn’t escape?

Bastian: But it’s only a story.

The sadness, reality that things will be different, hovers and you just leave it there… hovering… until that moment when it kicks in…”things will be different.” Ah-Ha!

Things will be different. I can handle that.

But at the same time, a part of you knows that things will be exactly the same. Ugh (heavy sigh).

And the cycle continues.

So, How long till we get out, again?

“Human  passions have mysterious ways, in children as well as grown-ups. Those affected by them can’t explain them, and those who haven’t known them have no understanding of them at all. Some people risk their lives to conquer a mountain peak. No one, not even they themselves, can really explain why. Others ruin themselves trying to win the heart of a certain person who wants nothing to do with them. Still others are destroyed by their devotion to the pleasures of the table. Some are so bent on winning a game of chance that they lose everything they own, and some sacrifice every thing for a dream that can never come true. Some think their only hope of happiness lies in being somewhere else, and spend their whole lives traveling from place to place. And some find no rest until they have become powerful. In short, there are as many different passions as there are people.”

Prologue (The NeverEnding Story)

 

Works Cited 

“Luck dragon”. Wordnik.com. 2014. http://www.wordnik.com/words/luckdragon (10 December 2014).

The Never-ending Story, Dir. Wolfgang Peterson. Perf. Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach. Neue Constantin Film, Bavaria Studios (in collaboration with); Westdeutscher Rundfunk.  1984.

“Never-Ending Story Clip- Gmork Scene”. Online Posting. YouTube,10 December 2014. Web. July 25 2007.

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.

 

Rain Soaked in Uruguay

It was three in the morning as I sat naked, confused, disoriented, and a bit groggy from the drinks of the evening. I was sitting in the reclined driver seat of my truck in a major city in South America, downtown, in an upscale neighborhood.

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It started as a travel day like any other, moving from one place to the next, just like we’ve been doing for the past fourteen months. We spent the past two nights camped at “The Point” of Punta Del Diablo on the Northern coast of Uruguay. We shot up to the border town in Brazil to fill up with gas and load up on some tax free goods. The skies were clear, the color of the ocean resembled chocolate, the wind was howling through a windowless structure. Its was a weekday, so the beaches were lonely.

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Hours were spent driving south down the coast, the landscape in Uruguay mostly rolling hills where cattle roam the fields waiting to be consumed by humans, the small crowds of tall trees growing close to one another in the wide open fields bearing resemblance to socially awkward teens in an auditorium at a junior high dance. The climate is not tropical, but palm trees grow wild. We would occasionally see small flocks of kermit-green birds spastically flying in close proximity to our faces. We watched for whales while surfing, the occasional startle from a curious seal as it popped its head out of the water only a few feet from where we floated.

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Then there was the drive through upscale Maldonado and Punta Del Este, the bright white skyscrapers contrasted against the blue sky. The sea was choppy and wind blown, so surfing was out of the agenda. There was a certain comfort provided by the upscale communities we had traveled through. The surroundings felt safe, the off season kept the crowds in check, and well groomed beach combers wished us well. This was all too easy, but the entire day still lay ahead. So we decided to go to Montevideo, the largest city in the country.

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Navigating large foreign cities in the truck is not our strong point. On any given day we would drive into a big sprawl, I would get an anxiety attack, and we would quickly drive out. But Montevideo was clean, organized with courteous drivers steering through the streets while locals exercised up and down the malecón. The clean city beaches below the high-rises, were separated by well-manicured lawns littered with mate sipping bystanders. Although we were in South America, it felt more like Europe.

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Camping in urban areas where we come from is often referred to as “homeless.” Our roof top tent attracts unwanted attention and firing up exotic curry dishes in the rear of the Toyota also attracts wandering eyes. Sometimes I wish we had a van.

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We found a spot to camp amongst other overland vehicles, sandwiched between a gas station and the Atlantic Ocean. The situation was suspiciously perfect. The gas station provided bathrooms and free wifi. The green grassy field we parked in had other overlanders (safety in numbers) and a horizontal view of the Atlantic lightning storm which we would later find out, would unexpectedly changed our night’s plans.

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The wind was strong all day, but the rain came around midnight, soaking the tent and shaking the truck violently. It was about 2am when the wind clocked in at over 30 mph, the roof top tent resembling a giant clam shell closing down on us while we helplessly tried to sleep inside. At this point Sara feared for her safety and retreated to the cab of the truck, pleading for us to join her. Lupe and I stayed in the tent giving in to the comfort of warm wet blankets and a half drunken slumber. The tent was on the cusp of eating us alive and then blowing away in the night sea.

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Rational thinking finally kicked in, the tent was on the verge of explosion, we needed to get the hell out, and quickly. I cradled the dog and exited the tent, instantly soaked we entered the truck and hatched a quick scheme. Wearing only a bathing suit and a rain coat, blinded by wind and rain, shivering cold, Sara and I struggled to break camp while Lupe laid comfortably on her bed in the cab of the truck. It was 2:30 am, the truck was now running, the streets were flooded, the downpour was torrential. Police barricades blocked flooded streets and we noticed were the only ones out in the city of 1.5 million people.

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We retreated deep into the city streets, wind blocked by apartment buildings, rain intercepted by tree. It was still uncomfortable, but compared to where we came from it was a better situation. We striped off our wet cloths, tired and disoriented, this was where the story began. How long could we sit here in the truck, naked, drying off, in an upscale neighborhood, and not get arrested. The storm was bad, no one was around so we had the night to ourselves. We re-setup the tent, laid in wet blankets in the soaked clamshell of a tent and surprisingly, we slept the rest of the early morning in downtown Montevideo.

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Waking up to the light of day, we climbed down the ladder from the roof of our truck, in a neighborhood where respectable citizens were on their way to work. They give us the “button eye” while they briskly walked past. I didn’t blame them, we looked pathetic. Then driving through the city we spotted the golden arches. There is no better place for a couple of pathetic Americans than a McDonalds. Americans seem to be the only people who travel thousands of miles to eat the same hormone injected protein we could get in our local shopping mall parking lots back home. We try not to make this a habit, but free internet, clean bathrooms, and hot coffee was hard to resist after a tiring night exposed to the elements.

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It looked like rain for the rest of the day in the entire country. All hopes of exploring the city were denied, everything was shut down. We were wet, everything was soaked, and we needed to find a room somewhere. So we headed towards the Argentinian border in hopes of crossing over within a few days. We drove towards Colonia, only a few hours away. The gasoline light illuminated; I had 30 miles left until empty but Colonia was only 10 miles away––no problem. Five miles from town, the traffic stopped. Then, cars ahead began to turn around. I was in desperate need of gas. I passed the line of traffic only to discover that the road had turned to a rapidly flowing river over 1/2 mile across. We headed back to where we came from, finding a gas station just as the last fumes were consumed by our engine.

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The next several hours were spent exploring the surrounding area, where we searched for a safe route to Colonia, only to be disappointed with more flooded highways. There was no way in or out of Colonia by vehicle. So after more hours of driving we pulled into the riverside town of Mercedes. The river was swollen but the town sits safety on a hill, protected from the waterlogged river bank and flooded parks. The day ended and the sun sank on the horizon. The sky and buildings turned the color of salmon, a rainbow spanned the late afternoon sky. The worst was over, we could sense it in the air. As the last few raindrops fell from above, we sipped wine and looked out the window of our rented room. Exhausted and relieved, we embraced our hard earned relaxation, the wine too good to describe. Tomorrow would be another day, one of drying wet clothes and gear. Such is life on the road.

 

3 Weeks in Chile

We were craving a bit of organization. When I say “organization” I’m mostly referring to safer drivers and pasteurized cheese. After traveling some of the poorer countries in the Americas, It will be an interesting transition back to the so called “first world.”

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We were not surprised we got denied at the Chilean border, Lupe’s papers were insufficient. Chile is  very strict about any pets, eggs, vegetables, and various other animals and food products one may try to pirate across national lines. For this might contaminate the country with disease and foreign fauna from the bordering countries. Being unsure of the specific paperwork we might need for Lupe, we just rolled in to see what needed to be done. Smuggling her across the border (like we did in Panama) is a risky move, because Chilean authorities have the ability to take your pet from you, for a variety of reasons, including no paperwork, so we’ve heard.

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Approaching the border we are surrounded by grey mountains of sand and rock. It could be the backdrop of any haunted desert movie. Everything was dreary, the overcast sky, the color of the sand, the trucks driving by. We had no choice but to drive the 20 miles back from the border to the Peruvian border town, in search a vet to provide the proper papers for Lupe.

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Before the days end we made it through the border legally. While approaching downtown Arica, I immediately notice a difference in the Chilean drivers good etiquette, as well as no senseless horn blowing. Not to mention we are in a beach town during the off season, and I can’t help but admire the resemblance of Arica, to the off season at the Jersey shore. I immediately liked Chile.

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Some of our food was confiscated at the border by the vegetable cops, so we decided to do a quick shop. The large grocery store resembled one from back in the states, genetically oversized veggies, pre packaged cheese and meat, individually packaged tuna burger patties. This was familiar, and noticeably more expensive than anywhere we’ve been this past year. Then we found the Chilean wine, which is only three dollars a bottle, so it all evened out.

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We camp on the beach every night with the overcast landscape, sounds of the ocean, and the occasional drizzle. Our mornings were spent watching surfers shred “El Gringo,” which is a large barreling wave that breaks on a shallow sharp reef. Expert surfers and body borders only, due to the danger factor, which is why watching proved to be entertaining. We were restricted to surf all the other breaks in the area, and did so every day we were there. The wind picks up in the afternoon, leaving the jaded vagabond to roam the beaches or explore the pueblo.

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Afternoons were mostly spent wandering downtown, buying car insurance, stealing wifi, eating epanadas and completos. “What the fart is a completo?” A completo is a regular sized hotdog in an oversized bun, laced with guacamole and mayo, and possibly other various sauce and toppings depending who you buy it from. This might sound disgusting and sloppy, and you are right, it is gross. I bought a completo and did not like it, plus it made a mess on my lap. Eating a completo while driving is not recommended. Unhappy with this hotdog creation, I just thought I went to a bunk vendor. I tried a new vendor and I got the same results. Sara got it all over her cloths forcing me to kick her out of the truck. The completo was not only messy for our relationship and apparel, it also does not look very appetizing to begin with. The popularity of the completo will forever remain a mystery.

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Ten nights in Arica, a daily routine, several acquaintances made, we could stay here longer (and later wish we had,) or start heading south down the desert costal highway. Arica is laid back, and an easy place to live in your truck. Our favorite city in the country we hardly traveled at all. Chile is safe, beach camping is not a problem. From what I gather, the most dangerous thing I experienced in Chile was almost chipping my tooth on an olive pit in my epanada.

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The costal road is littered with nameless fishing villages, sandy cliffs, and waves crashing on the rocky urchin covered reefs. Driving days spent passing several grassless golf courses, a suspicious number of pet cemeteries, one abandoned and possibly haunted house. Once again faced with the dilemma of having no place to be and no specific time to be there, we walked the cemeteries and wandered old buildings while overlooking the never ending Pacific blue.

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There is cloud cover every day, while a few miles inland the sky is as blue as can be, its that time of year. Over several days we drive through and pirate camped to the cities of Iquique, Tocopilla, then to Antofagasta. None of these places matched the relaxed vibe and waves of Arica, which is why we wished we stayed there longer. While questioning our next move we drove to the “Mano del Desierto” also known as “Hand of the Desert, and had a team meeting discussing our next move.

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We wanted to go more south, we wanted to see the rest of Chile. With the budget dwindling, It would be tough to make it work. You could easily spend 6 months exploring Chile and Argentina alone, we don’t have the resources at the moment to do it properly, so we decided to save it for the next trip.

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Our time in Chile was cut short. While leaving the “Hand of the desert” we unexpectedly decided to drive East and prepare ourselves to cross South America, with Uruguay as a final destination. The Atacama Desert, salt flats, and the Northern Argentinian farmland is what lies ahead for the next week.

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2 months in Peru

Petrol pumping on the beach, street side pork stands, reckless drivers, world class surfing, and glaciers. We must be in Peru.

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After an overcast couple weeks of mediocre wave riding in Ecuador, we decided to hustle down South to Peru. Peru has a reputation of being a country where the culture and history of ancient civilizations are abundant, amazing food for the frugal traveler hunker around every corner, the disconnect between the rich and poor are strikingly apparent, and travelers will experience a complete sensory overload, only comparable to our travels through Mexico.

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The border crossing was a piece of cake: new facilities, uncrowded, organized, and fast. Our paperwork was complete, the vehicle import permit granted, and a seductive glare from an auto insurance sales women sent us on our way. A generous bag of plantain chips was purchased, split open the top, and our greasy hands dug into the feast. Now we head Southbound through the desert.

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In need of the ATM machine, we search the streets of Tumbes. I park street side, enter a casino, and withdraw some bills (not knowing my bank is about to red flag my account because a transaction has been made in Peru). With cash in pocket, I return to the taco to find street folks trying to sell cocaine to Sara and Lupe. We brush off these clowns, lock the doors, U-turn on main street, and head for the desert highway. We are anxiously excited as we seek out the beach town of Punta Sal.

Punta Sal

Punta Sal, from what we have read and heard from other travelers, is a good first night stop while driving the coastal border crossing from Ecuador. It is on the beach, safe, and provides a welcoming first impression of the country. We find the gated entrance (most costal towns in Peru are gated with security guards), sign some paper that states we will not rob, rape or murder while visiting the community and creep down the dusty beach side road in search of a place to set up camp.

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We drive on the beach ready to set up for the evening, when a man (Jimmy) approaches us, and explains that we cannot camp on the beach. He then notices our New Jersey plates, and states that he used to live in Elizabeth, NJ, where he drove a taxi and sold cocaine in the 70’s. He smiles, shakes our hands, and politely insists that we camp in the driveway of his hostel. Jimmy has a clean, well manicured little hostel on the beachfront in Punta Sal. He performs Ayahuasca ceremonies (a psychedelic brew known to enlighten people spiritually) for people at his beachside crash pad. He was caring for a client at the time of our stay in his driveway, so we made sure to keep quiet, and respect his profession. Our first night in Peru was clear and starry, the desert beach was comfortable, and there was a noticeable difference in scenery and temperature from close by Ecuador.

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The next day we arrived in Lobitos. Lobitos is a town in the baron desert with little to no vegetation, off shore winds most of the day (in actuality it is a very windy place), and travelers seeking good surf. There is not much to Lobitos and if your not looking for surf there is absolutely no reason to visit this place. The noisy petrol pumping litters the sandy landscape, the ocean horizon is contaminated with drilling platforms, and 6 breaks of world class surfing with waves all year round. Although the town is not crowded, and very spread out, the surf is jam packed much of the day. If you can work the crowd in the water, the reward is quite superb. Lobitos has been, without a doubt, some of the best waves along our Pan-American journey. I describe this place, as the movies, Mad Max meets Point break. An industrial wasteland of abandoned dilapidated buildings amongst desert landscape, with consistently wicked surf. We rented a cabin (Tres Cabanas) in Lobitos for close to 3 weeks, surfing everyday under blue skies. Countless waves ridden, full moon, ceviche, windy afternoons. Would I come here again? I hope so.

After a full days drive Southbound, In search for more surf, we inspect several breaks to set up camp for another couple weeks. Anxious to surf Chicama (one of the longest waves in the world) we arrive to flat seas. If we hang out for several days, and wait, we will surely become overwhelmed with boredom. We move on. A couple days here, a few days there, a quick bribe to a corrupt cop at a traffic stop, and we find ourselves in Huanchaco. We set up camp at Huanchaco Gardens, a hostel/RV park on the north side of town. Huanchaco is famous for their reed boats that fisherman have been using for thousands of years. The town is booming, cheap street food is abundant, The waves are big, fast rolling masses of power with virtually no one else was in the water. The paddle out was difficult, the water was filthy, but the wave was amazing. At Huanchaco, I surfed the biggest, fastest, longest wave of the trip, and my life. All the way from the point, past the pier, into the bay. Several waves, and a very long walk back to the point through traffic and tourists, lets do it over and over again.

Peru is a beautiful country with a wide range of things to do and see. Like all places in the world, Peru is not without its problems. Especially the costal regions we’ve noticed just so much trash everywhere. In the desert, its hard to decompose, and the wind will take it flying down the coast. Driving behind a bus, people are throwing their styrofoam take out containers out the window for miles on end. I see people eating in the streets and throwing wrappers on the ground while a trash can is within arms length. People picnic while leaving bags of trash and miscellaneous rubbish to blow around the beach. Maybe there is no organized garbage pickup? Maybe there is no money to correct this problem? Maybe locals have zero respect for their home? Maybe people are blind to the disgustingness of this behavior? or maybe I am ignorant to the root of an even bigger problem? This was the disappointment with Peru.

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For the past month, surfing daily, satisfied and physically unscathed, we thought it would be a good time to head to the mountains and breath some clean air. We planned on a few days but it turned into a couple weeks. Snow caps, glaciers, hikes, and cheap living. The markets were similar to those of Mexico where you find meat for sale hanging from hooks on the streets, entire cooked pigs sit on tables while chunks get sliced off and sold to lined up street walkers. You sit and feast amongst locals and the plate of the day is a measly dollar or two. The markets are bustling, the eats are abundant. Its difficult not to enter a market and stuff yourself to the gills. The variety of food is unlimited, and cheap, so why not gorge? During this trip I have learned that my stomach is bullet proof, I have not been sick. I eat anything, served from anybody. This is a talent I’m proud to exploit. I am a pig with no self respect when it comes to street food.

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On the way to the mountains we accidentally stumbled upon the famous Canon del Pato (duck canyon.) The canyon carved by the Rio Santa gives one an epic few hour drive through a massive rock canyon going through 35 one-lane tunnels. This route is a must see to anyone driving through Peru. Once through the canyon opposite the coast, one is rewarded with unlimited opportunities of the mountainous inland life. Exploring the city of Huarez, and the surrounding area over the next couple weeks, we hiked to glaciers and lakes during the day, had wine and cheese at night, and purchased large bags of veggies and trout for only a few bucks. Camping in the mountains, (We recommend camping at the sustainable hostel outside Huarez “The Hof”) one is rewarded with stunning snow capped views, old rock rubbles are evidence of expired civilizations, and road side cheese stands under clear blue skies. While we explored underground tunnels built by ancient ancestors, Lupe the dog was not allowed entry. We each took turns trotting along the 2000 year old subway passages. With no other tourists around, the lonely tunnels gives one a haunted presence of life back then.

We want to get back to the ocean, the sea is always calling. We heard the beaches on the southern outskirts of Lima are supposed to be welcoming, so we head there.The drive through Lima was riddled with close calls of crashing the Taco. The drivers in Peru are the worst to date. Overall I’ve noticed the drivers here are dangerous and take unnecessary chances while passing on blind curves or with oncoming traffic. We make it out of the city in one piece, we camp here and there. The more south we go the less towns there are. The Pacific Coast of Peru then 1000 miles into Chile is all desert. Its a beautiful stretch of baron coastline, scary and desolate. Driving the Southern Coast of Peru into Chile, one is rewarded with awesome cliffside highways looking into the deep clear Pacific. This time of year the water is moving North, so the clean 1st world waters of Chile are reaching Peru, which makes the South coast a true beauty.

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Peru is a huge country covering half a million square miles. We only scratched the surface. The coast is mostly South West facing, making it a perfect wave making machine. The waves here will blow you mind, if you don’t mind wearing a wetsuit. This is a place of endless exploration, a rugged country that suffers on many levels. Amazing food for the broke and rich, and gold toothed indigenous selling anything one desires.

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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