“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.
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 So far the border crossing situation in South America is more contemporary and user friendly compared to the outdated circus show that Central America had to offer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2001 Toyota Tacoma for sale, Overland ready
The Taco will be up for sale sometime around the last months of the year 2014 in the Buenos Aires, Argentina area. We are also slightly flexible regarding the time and location of the sale. The truck will be sold with all accessories unless we sell off certain things piece by piece. This truck has safely taken us from New Jersey to South America, and has been nothing but reliable. Please read through the list of modifications and accessories that make this vehicle overland ready. Extensive photos and information about the truck will be posted on sardinetaco.com under the “our taco” section. Serious inquiries only, any reasonable offer will be considered.
2001 Toyota Tacoma TRD V-6 3.4 liter
I estimate the truck will have under 150K miles on it at time of sale
-OME full suspension kit
-Dakar leaf springs with add a leaf
-Optima dual battery setup
-1100W power inverter
-alarm with remote
-arb 12 volt / DC fridge
-12 volt viair air compressor
-full kit of tools
-full size spare
-truck bed cabinets with LED lights
-pump sink with 7 gallon water tank
-thule roof rack
-2 x 5 gallon gerry cans mounted to roof rack
-autohome rooftop tent
-secure lockable safe
-camping stove / kitchen stuff
-5 liter refillable propane tank
-front and rear tow hitch hook up, for “D” ring
-some various other odds and ends
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.