Tag Archives: overlanding

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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Panama

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The birding was fun but I’m not a birder. We hunted the Quetzal through the jungle trek. There was six of us shuffling up this mountain. I think we saw more than a few. If I was a birder I would be able to brag to all my bird nerd friends about the sight we saw. Yea its a beautiful green bird, and we had fun on the hike, but the humid tropical air was hard to handle without the beach nearby.

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Surfing is always an option anywhere in Central America, and that was one of the main reasons we left Jersey in the first place, to surf everywhere. Our last couple weeks in Costa Rica surfing one of the longest lefts on the planet during the first big swell of the season left our bodies beat down and it was hard to move, our feet sliced up from rock reef. It was probably the best biggest longest waves of the trip and probably our lives. The sense of satisfaction was glowing in our minds, so surfing in Panama was not a priority.

 

Pavones, Costa Rica
Pavones, Costa Rica

The constant thought of having to ship the Toyota to Colombia was on our minds. This process involves mucho paperwork, constant back and fourth emails to our agent, questions, security concerns, coordinating dates as to when we can pick it up, and deciding how we will be getting our bodies on the other side to receive the vehicle on time. This was a small burden, but maybe i worry too much. Not to mention the many thousands of dollars its going to cost to get us and the truck finally moving again in South America. We knew about this though, for a long time. Its all part of driving to Tierra del Fuego.

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Once you travel from the States to South America, by the time you get to Panama you are kind of over Central America. All the countries in Central America feel very similar, especially the costal route. You are anxious for a change, and you know South America is on the horizon. You are excited to get there, to taste the new food, and peep all the hype. For example, once you leave Mexico the food situation goes downhill. Maybe thats because Mexico just has some of the most amazing inexpensive eats i’ve had my entire life. The rest of central America, not so much.

 

eating streetfood in Oaxaca MX
eating streetfood in Oaxaca MX

Dont get me wrong, Panama has a lot to offer, and is a beautiful place to visit, but for us personally it marked to end of a major leg of this trip and the beginning to something bigger and more mysterious. In Panama we surfed Santa Catalina, which was an interesting paddle out, with welcoming locals. The place is famous and the waves are strong, this is not a place for the meek, which is good because it keeps the kooks in check. The tides in Santa Catalina can have a difference of 15 feet, so getting caught inside at a lower tide can have an impact on your feet, body and board. We did manage to see one surfer with a blood gushing wound on his face, but thats normal there.

 

Santa Catalina at mid-tide
Santa Catalina at mid-tide

In many of these tourist communities there was a large presence of expats. These folks a lot of the time are a miserable bunch of chaps. They usually have their own cliques and sit around complaining about locals while chain smoking and making business. Its kinda funny that during our 9 months of traveling the most miserable sketchy people that crossed our paths are usually jaded american expats. I recommend minimal contact with these people. Connecting with locals is far more rewarding.

 

We spent over a week in Panama city getting ready to ship the truck and coordinate our sail to Colombia. We camped out in the street next to the canal one night. In the morning were woken up by a large family picking mangos from a tall tree above our camp. The street was crowded with parked cars and sound of mangos slamming on the hoods was amusing. Old town was riddeled with street art and narrow roads. Evidence of an old colonial town once threatened by pirates and smugglers. The history was evident and the ceviche is fresh. For $1.25 you get a heaping cup of fresh lime soaked fish straight from the boats you dine next to. And don’t forget the first Dunkin Doughnuts we visited since Jersey, it wasn’t the same though, no bagels, no sandwiches.

Costa Rica summed up

We spent more days indoors than any other country.

We spent more money on food than in any other country.

We saw more wildlife and crossed more rivers, than in any other country.

We caught the biggest and longest waves of our trip.

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Costa Rica.

1 month and 9 days.  It was the second longest time we spent somewhere.

Ticos really are nice.  It is true. Pura Vida. They kept giving us  stuff: mangos, fish, a place to crash, assistance with Spanish, tips on surf spots.

I remember one the first nights we arrived in the country. I walked down the beach, right after sunrise.  It was so beautiful. I am not even sure how to convey the beauty, or what specifically made it more “beautiful” than the 100 other beaches that we have visited. I came back to camp and said to Dean, it cannot be denied that Costa Rica has really amazing beaches.  They have a sense of life and health. There is that.

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I must admit that we had a little bit of a bad attitude about Costa Rica (or perhaps it was just some resistance).  We had been there before, and we knew it would be more expensive and commercial than the other Central American nations where we have traveled.  And it is. But it is difficult to have a bad attitude when you have plentiful surf, kind people, familiar faces, and monkeys.

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Day One. We crossed the border amped for our adventure to Witches Rock.  There was a silence in the car, both caught up in our daydreams about the famed spot.  It is known that if you camp there, you are able to surf (alone) prior to the arrival of the boats, which make day trips from CoCo Beach. We really wanted to camp there. So there we were, driving that 51 km from the border for Santa Rosa National Park.  We see the sign, hang a right, roll up to the guard station, open our window, smile…and to our complete surprise…we are…DENIED. No mascotas. huh?  This possibility hadn’t even entered our little brains. We were dumbfounded. Silent. Smiles turned upside down. It can’t be? What about? Can we? No, No, No. And No. A young, serious Costa Rican police officer with a buzzed head and mirrored sunglasses looks back at me straight-faced as I attempt to smile a little bit more in my final attempt to cross the line. No.  Lupe sits on her little platform.  Her expression is the same as it has been for her entire life. We turn the Taco around and the 3 of us spend the next 2 hours brewing in a silence of disappointment. I guess we go to Tamarindo? It will have to do for the night. This was our first day in Costa Rica.

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In Tamarindo we camp in the parking area for the town beach. We are cheap and Tamarindo is expensive.  It serves the purpose. A couple of drifters roll through. A drunk dude passes out near the truck, claiming to be checking the surf. Women in brightly printed cover ups, and children in sun shirts stare as I attempt to to find el bano de la playa.

Then there is Marbella for a night. We camp at a killer spot on the beach, shaded by trees with the expansive beach on display in front of the Taco.  Dean splits his rail and I play in whitewater (that wave scares me).  Lupe makes a boyfriend (aka Old Sport).

There is Nanci’s house. She takes us in, feeds us delicious meals, provides us with beds and showers.  And how about that caramel corn?  We surf some local waves, have good conversation, and enjoy the company of a our new friend.

Juiquillio, Playa Negra, Playa Grande, Avellenas, Santa Cruz, Nicoya

Santa Teresa, Manzanillo. We return to a spot we had been 3 years earlier. A landing in front of a rocky beach with tidal pools.  I am really happy to be back in this spot. I  have fond memories of a previous trip to Costa Rica in which we stumbled upon this little gem and spent the day frolicking in the water. It is real nice until we put it together that this “landing” maybe acts as a toilet to locals who party at the beach.  Let’s get out of here. Our second campsite is beneath the palm fronds.  A couple slow days of swimming, beach runs, yoga, spearfishing, cooking over fire and chatting with locals.

Mal Pais. 10 nights.  We have a local crew at our campsite: David, Camila, Jake, the french dude who went drunk swimming in the rough surf at 6AM.  Playa Carmen, Banana Beach, La Lorna. The owner of the campsite, William, is a kind man.  He is an ex-Costa Rican futbol player.  He cooks paella on my birthday. We spend time with our friends Marcos and Carlos, whom we left in Popoyo. We make dinner together and hang out at their hostel.  Carlos gives Dean a tattoo.

Samara. We reconnect with Will, whom we met in Mexico through our friends George and Rachel.  There is Pablitos, surf, tours of local beaches, and some good catching up and hanging out with our new friend.

Playa Camronal, Playa Barigona

Nosara. Playa Guinoes.  Dean’s mom visits us along with her friends Cindy and Lois.  It is a week of family, quality time, love, nourishment. A nice break. We are replenished, spoiled, and appreciative for all the attention.

Puerto Jimenez. Kaylor, the owner of the local surf shop, takes us in for a night. Dean had painted a mural at his shop a few years ago.  We sleep in his garage.

Cabo Matapalo.

Pavones for 12 days. 6 days camping at the point. It is hot! It rains. We cook over fire. It is hot! I am grumpy. I take out my crankiness in the water (and on Dean). We love the wave and trade time in the water.  I practice. Get frustrated.  I enjoy the challenge, but grrrr! We watch the waves from our campspot. Dean surfs until he can’t move.

Chinos for 6 nights (pavones part two) We are under a roof, have a bathroom and kitchen, and are in town.  We reconnect with a bunch of fellow travelers whom we had met earlier in the trip.  Familiar faces are so awesome when you are traveling.   We eat hamburgers. I continue to practice. Dean surfs until he is “surfed out”.

Semana Santa is over and we decide that it is time to move on. We will meet Dean’s cousin, Cara, in Panama in a week.  Me, Dean, Lupe, Carlos, and Marcos pack into the Toyota and head to the border.

 

 

23 wake ups in Nicaragua

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23 wake-ups in Nicaragua.

So, what did we do while there….

Well, let’s backtrack for a moment.  We rolled into Assedores, a small village in Northern Nicaragua, on the 18th of February.  It was just before sunset.  It had been a long day on the road, which included a double border crossing. We were cranky. We navigated the area, searching for a spot to set up camp for the night. We pulled up to Pedro’s, whose hand painted sign of surfboards and tents caught our attention. This should do the trick. I ask, “Podemos acampar aqui?” Two white pick ups with Cali plates had just rolled in, and Pedro informed us that his lot was full with campers and vehicles.  Luckily, Hugh, a Canadian expat who happened to be buying water at the time, kindly offered us a spot to park on his nearby farm. It was 2 nights at Hugh’s farm amongst goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens.  We met David, Carlos, and Sarah, a trio from California, who also stayed on the property.  I practiced my Spanish with Layla, the 4 year old daughter of the neighbor.  Lupe frolicked amongst the various animals. Dean sampled some weird fruit that he claims is the best thing he has ever eaten.

hugh's farm
hugh’s farm

Onward.

We drove North, arriving at the village of Jiquillo early in the morning on the 20th. We scoped the small coastal dirt road for a spot to possibly set up shop for a bit.  We pulled up to Rancho Esperanza.  It seemed perfect. Perhaps, just what we were looking for? It was 4 nights at the Ranch. It was like a vacation. We met travelers from around the world, ate some tasty food, and enjoyed their extensive library consisting of every book a traveler could desire.  There was some surf out front, an abundance of hammocks, and Lupe was able to make some friends.  Oh, and how about that $2 fried whole fish next door?! That was a game changer.

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Lupe the dog and Sara the human

Onward.

Popoyo.  Well, then there was that day driving from Jiquillo to Popoyo which turned out to be a little tricky.  It began with some transit cops pulling us over, outside of Managua, with claims that were not wearing seatbelts.  Tough chance, Matlock.  We always wear seat belts.  We were not budging and homeboy knew he was in the wrong. We continued on our way.  Well, the roads in Nicaragua were slightly more rugged then we had anticipated, and our map was definitely not up to date with the latest road construction (or lack there of). From dirt road to dirt road, we searched for the route to Popoyo. I swear it was on the map! We followed the coast through small villages until the road… suddenly…ended. We inquired with some locals. Does this route exist? We are informed that it would take 30 minutes of driving on the beach to reach our destination.  Okay, we can potentially handle that.  Let’s give it a try…

getting un-stuck
getting un-stuck

So, we began. It was smooth traveling consisting of hard packed sand, late afternoon sunlight hovering above soft breaking ocean waves, open windows, and fresh breeze.  Everything was cool.  That was…until…the sand…started…to get….deeper. Wheels were spinning. We were stuck. Okay, everybody stay calm. 30 minutes, some frantic shoveling, strategic positioning of rocks and we were, once again, ready to roll.

Hugh's farm
Hugh’s farm

Onward.

So now the sun was going down quite rapidly. We would need somewhere to camp…PRONTO. We rolled up to a little nook on the beach, slightly hidden amongst some trees. This would do.  Lupe would be securidad for the evening. There was a house nearby and we agreed that it was probably best to check-in with the people and inform them that we were sleeping nearby. This is when we met Lionel.  Lionel owns the property and he is building a house on it, along with his brother-in-law. Lionel kindly offered us to camp on his land.  It was a beautiful ocean front lot, surrounded by secure fencing.  We pulled in, set up, and found a temporary home for the evening. We had a conversation with Lionel, in which he shared stories about his life and travels.  He proudly told us about his children who are successful professionals in the States.  He also informed us that he had just written a book of poems. It was a nice conversation, and we felt thankful for his hospitality. We were up at sunrise and enjoyed our morning coffee on the rocky point out front.

camping in Lionel's property
camping in Lionel’s property

Onward.

But wait, there was the morning of driving.  We leave Lionel’s with Popoyo as the destination, but somehow we found ourselves back on uncharted dirt roads.  It appeared that a wrong turn had brought us off course, but, luckily, we managed to find our way to the meeting of “Eagle”.  “Eagle” is a retired Floridian who is now living in Nicaragua.  We converse, trade some stories, and he kindly put us back on track. Right on, Eagle!

beach crusin'
beach crusin’

Onward.

En route to Popoyo. We rolled into town.  We think this is the spot?  It is quiet….somewhat deserted. We were unable to locate any signs for camping.  Hmmmm…..We started asking around. A Spaniard named Paco, who lives at the Mini-mart, offered us help.  He directed us to a nearby restaurant and provided assistance in talking to the owner: $4, shower, close to the break. Perfect. There was 1 night there, but some concerns about security had us looking elsewhere.

bananna tree
bananna tree

We arrived at Finca Popoyo. It is a 10 minute walk down the beach from our first spot, in town. Apparently they don’t usually allow campers, and word on the scene is that we are the first.  We are proud of this. There were 10 days here. We formed a small camp/community of sorts. Along side of us, there were 4 surfer dudes from Basque country (turns out that they were the white truck with Cali plates at Pedros’ up in Assedores), and 2 hilarious Spaniards who we had met at the ranch in Jiquillio.  There were other travelers, as well, who were part off our nice little community. There was Fer, a surfboard shaper from Basque country, and his beautiful, kind girlfriend, Huen.  There was Don, a well-traveled, sociable chocolate maker from Asheville, NC.  We also met Elijah and Gideon, two easy-going travelers  from Cape Cod. Oh, and Jorge! He was the securidad hefe who LOVED our truck. It was easy living with long, quiet days and familiar faces. Well, that is until Lupe got attacked, I got a surfboard to the head, and we all got fleas…but, hey, it is all part of the adventure. There were surf day trips, goose barnicle hunting expeditions, hamburger nights, Tonas aplenty, nightly Spanish lessons consisting of Dean and I attempting to understand the group. Que pass tio? So, we did learn that, while in the States we say, “What’s up, man?” apparently in Spain they say, “What’s up Uncle?”  Who knew. So, we learned something.

hunting for goose barnicles
hunting for goose barnicles

Popoyo was really good. It was invigorating.

our compound in Popoyo
our compound in Popoyo

We then found ourselves in Astillero. We were there for 3 nights.  It was just the 3 of us (me, Dean, and Lupe).  We enjoyed the quiet of Hostel Hammocas. Mario hooked us up with a fan, we had showers, and uncrowded surf. There were only a few other people staying there, and it was a peaceful spot. Midday was hot, but we camped beneath the shade of tamarindo trees and the ocean was nearby. It soon became time, though, to move….onward.

Dean in Asterillo
Dean in Asterillo

There was Playa Gigante for a night where we reconnected with Becca and Mark, an Australian couple, traveling in their Kombi to South America.  We walked the rocky coastline, before sunset, soaking in the vibe of the village before it was time to continue onward.

mounting the fan at Hostel Hammocas
mounting the fan at Hostel Hammocas

Our last night was spent in Playa Maderas, outside San Juan Del Sur. The Taco parked beside Cafe Revolution, at a beachside campspot.  We both got in the water, connected with some fellow travelers, made final preparations for the next border crossing, and within a day it was decided that we would be moving on to Costa Rica.  Our time in Nicaragua had come to an end.

Lupe in Popoyo
Lupe in Popoyo

Nicaragua was rather extreme for us. It had it’s challenges, but they seem to be forgotten amongst the many wonders of the country. As I write these words I recognize that ‘challenges’ seems so relative when traveling through a country. I imagine that this also reflects the country, though- this experience of extremes. There were hot afternoons, water impoverished landscapes, skinny dogs, and the faint smell of burning trash in the air. It was common to see men in oxen-drawn carts, children on horseback, and pigs freely roaming the landscape. There was  a seriousness in the people.  It was not unfriendly, but there was sense that life is tough. You see it in their brow. There were also the big shady tamarindo trees, expansive beaches, powerful surf, and playful children (so many children!)- all symbols of the life and energy present in the small nation. There was a sense that people work hard and they go out of there way to offer assistance.  For that we are thankful.

right after the injury occurred
right after the injury occurred

It took me a little bit to warm up to Nicaragua, but now that I have, I have fallen. I hope to see you again someday, Nicaragua.