All posts by eldestinesia

A Week of Tacos in San Cristobal

San Cristobal

June 27 – July 1

We nearly never made it through Chiapas, thanks largely to the ever increasing road blockades happening throughout Southern Mexico (specifically Chiapas & Oaxaca). Prior to San Cristobal we met the first one. While we can truly appreciate the strife and anger of the teachers who are demonstrating, we really did not want to be stopped (again) from getting to our destination. Thankfully, at least at this blockade, the teachers were unarmed, there were no police present and we sort of just pushed our way through…gently of course because we like teachers.

San Cristobal is another perfect city, similar in feeling to Antiqua, Guatemala. Colonial, beautifully chilly, with its culture and vibes yet to be tarnished by the gringo effect. We spent nearly a week here, stocking up on our first Mexican Tacos and working out some business. As we got to know the city better and better, we also got to find the cheaper and cheaper tacos. Eventually, we stumbled upon the 2 peso (14 cent cdn) Al Pastor tacos by the public market. BINGO.

DSC02286

If you are in the city, you have to experience the absolutely insane market which boasts an extremely eclectic variety of goods; anything from plastic goods manufactured in China, to traditional medicine, to live chickens (30 pesos) hanging off ladies arms like purses, to perfectly balanced produce, to withered mountain women selling sheep wool.

DSC02289

We bought 3 different kinds of chilis in order to test out the spiciness levels and try to kill the suspected parasite that is worming its way through our body. These are listed by heat level, hottest first.

Later, I made them into a hot sauce, which was delicious for the first microsecond and then completely inedible.

Peruvian White Habanero Peppers 100000 – 350000 Scovilles

DSC02297Aji Variation (we suspect) Scovilles unknown

DSC02300Bird’s Eye Pepper 100000 – 350000 Scovilles

DSC02301

The Mayan Medicine Museum is obviously a place to learn about the rich mayan medicine still being practiced throughout southern Mexico, but also a place of worship, and a practicing mayan herbal pharmacy. We were lucky enough to be there during celebrations for a local holiday which included homemade fire crackers and a gathering within the chapel where we were offered refreshments (Orange Crush) by the attendees.

DSC02253DSC02252

Although we are not certain, we are deeply suspicious of the mannequins. The detail is so great on the hands and feet we suspect they may be actual embalmed humans…

DSC02269

This time of year the streets are pretty empty, but that makes for better traveling sometimes. Having the place to yourself is not so bad.

DSC02274

DSC02278

Mexico Bound – Version 1 & 2

Side Note: Due to the continued parasite issue, the assumption that Brett may have had a bout of Zika, and the fact that my back was destroyed… our volcano hike was out. Please don’t shame us, it really just didn’t work out this time


 

We peaced from the lake and headed northward, Mexican bound. This drive took us over some of the highlands, and through small bucolic pueblos which were so picturesque it was hard to envision them getting the majority of the brutalities during the 80s’. These places suffered incredible atrocities, but remain some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. We were constantly yelling at each other to “Look!” out the window. Northern Guatemala, you are on the top of our bucket list.

IMG_20160626_112004

Then, we were at the Mexico border. The Guatemalan side was smooth and easy. After crossing into Mexico you must drive down into the border town, which is about 4 kms away. We did. We entered Mexico passport wise, and then were outright rejected vehicle wise. Because, being Sunday afternoon, some over-scrupulous border guard decided that our paperwork didn’t match. We have a lot of colourful words now for this situation, but at the time we were struck by sheer fear.

We were being denied because James Easton Brett (name on registration) did not match Brett James Easton (name on passport). This is besides the fact that the passport number matched on every single document, that we explained to him it was simply Panama, and here are all the other government documents we have that show all kinds of formats, and that the other border officials were trying to convince him it was obviously the same person. No. He said no, we would have to go back to panama to fix it. Or sign the back of the registration to sell it from James to Brett. Which is also a bad idea sir.

The other option was wait until Monday morning and talk to his jefe at 8am. So we spent a very dejected night at the auto hotel across the street feeling really sorry for our situation. We ate a lot of shitty candy and drank a lot of beer to feel better. It was like Panama all over again.

IMG_20160626_174737

8AM, we waited for El jefe. The official opened shop and whether he was the jefe or not we never found out because he simply processed us within 20 minutes and didn’t ask any questions. He easily and correctly assumed that James and Brett were the same people. Like ANY NORMAL PERSON WOULD ASSUME.

And then we were in Mexico!

We celebrated by visiting Lagos de Colon, the place we had meant to go originally but were denied by a official with a vendetta. It was stunning, and highly recommend it to anyone looking to cool down, spend a night camping, or to celebrate their border crossing.

IMG_20160627_081935

Brett Celebrated by getting naked. Obviously.

IMG_20160627_094051

Here we are with our immediately adopted Mexican family, and our very first Michelada.

IMG_20160627_091443IMG_20160627_084423

 

 

Lake Atitlan

The road into Panajachel is not so much a road as potholes with patches in between. Sometimes just potholes. Endeavouring wannabe gangster children fill the holes and then demand money, or simply hold up a road trying to get some change out of you. To bad little dudes, we are bigger and badder than you, and you don’t have guns!

DSC02201

DSC02210

Besides this, its beautiful and the views are pretty great.

DSC02213

We’re going to split this entry into three parts, because each city around the lake has a completely different personality. There are three defining features we will point out in each town: Expat community, activities, and food.


 

Panajechal

This is the first point of entry for many, so really resembles a ruff and tumble frontier town. Although, not really ruff or tumble. The accommodations in town (for overlanders), are pretty expensive as well. We negotiated down for 2 nights and still paid too much (200Q 1st night, 150 Q second). Also, beware of the size of streets which can quickly go from two lanes to one way pedestrian size without you really noticing you are going to get stuck. Oops!

The expat community in town is entrenched. It seems to be where people first settled, and then got a little weird. Many seem to be running from some former criminal past, maybe a felony back home? Joe, a friend who lured us into his mosquito filled bar and then proceeded to talk near gibberish to us while spraying us with his homemade mosquito repellent (brown and sticky, maybe tobacco related)…. Really proved to us both how crazy the locals can be but also how genuine. Whatever Joe was on, we don’t want it, but he gave us some really good intel on “love, love love, love, love; Rituals with shit-sodomy necromancy, cannibalism, human sacrifice, rituals with blood, spiritual or alien contact, magic fallen angels, mixing of alien and human genes, and age old lies”

No we didn’t just have a stroke, we are giving you a little info from Joe’s pamphlet.

Things to do sort of align with food, because one of the primary things to do is wander around and eat the street food. We ate nearly 10 tacos in one day. Also Mexican corn on the cob and some tostadas. We sat down to dinner at a street stall and had some seriously delicious home cooked food in the company of regional travelers who complimented us on our Spanish. HA!

IMG_20160620_125907

Another thing is shopping, this is where all the handicrafts go to be sold around the lake, so don’t wait for other towns.. this is where you are going to find all the trinkets you littler heart desires. We, being broke, pretty much bought nothing.

IMG_20160621_174126

San Marcos

Although only a 20 minute boat ride away was really a 3 hour drive away on seriously striking mountain roads. The switchbacks into the lake really should be appreciated on a chicken bus howevr, because they literally cannot make the switchbacks without a 16 point turn each time. Our truck wasn’t that much better.

The town is notoriously hippy. And although I thought the guidebook was joking, we really did hear people talk about life forces, energy vortexes and chakras when we were there. The town center is all a labyrinth of walkways between healing centers, yoga studios and meditation intensives. These were all out of our budget, San Marcos is not really for the budget savvy, unless of course the universe provided it.

We stayed at a hostel with really great people and scenery, however we were not pleased with the price (and the  2 for 3 night sale that was not applicable because we didn’t ask for it on the first night….excuse me we didn’t even know about it!). Also, the dogs and screaming out of control children really made us feel like grumps until we heard everyone else complaining about it. Seriously, they were awful.

But nevertheless, we explored the town. Brett finally forced Jessica into a cliff jump (he pep talked me for nearly an hour, it was brutal), and we bought some of Keith’s famous cacao.

DSC02224

DSC02225

The expats here are all retired hippies. Maybe they just bought in when the prices were lower, and the lake was lower… because now the lake is rising and silly foreigners are losing their properties to the rise of the lake. The things to do are aligning your chakra, yoga and ceremonial cacao experiences… which we did not do. The food, gringo oriented and obviously organic. Expensive.


 

San Pedro

Last city! Took us a bit to find reasonable truck accommodation, because there is a fair coming to town and ALL THE STREETS ARE BLOCKED OFF. Damn. But we did, and although admittedly a little grungy, the price was right, the hosts oh-so-sweet and the grounds lovely. The grunge didn’t even bother us. The electrifying shower was only slightly off-putting.

IMG_20160625_114225

Since we were both eating for two thanks to our parasite issue, we ate a lot. Just really anything we could get our hands on. If you see someone setting up tables in a street corner, wait. Seriously just wait for the best tortas, empanadas or tostadas you’ve ever had. And the cheapest food you’ll find. Also, we will mention that tequila shots & cuba libres were 5Q.   Danger zone!

Here is the town’s volcanic namesake.

DSC02233

The expats in San Pedro are more discrete, but the backpackers are partiers. The music is loud and not always good. Besides wander around a bit, there isn’t much to do besides drink and eat. We did however stumble on a women’s weavers cooperative and learned SO much about the process. From picking the cotton to the finished scarf…. So much work goes into a product. We promise we will never barter for hand woven anything ever again.

DSC02234

Also, Taco’s mom lives here.

DSC02240

And just like that, we were out!

Guatemala Dream Days

Guatemala is strikingly different than the other countries we had blown through in the past week or so. It’s startlingly green and so jungley. One of the most beautiful countries to drive through, even if the roads leave a bit to be imagined. Despite its recent, and pretty disturbing past, Guatemalans are some of the nicest people we have met so far. They remind us of Colombia! Extremely eager to share whatever they have with you, and welcome you to their tables without a second thought.

Although we literally had no plans when crossing the border, Antiqua was a good accidental first stop. Pretty much the perfect city; all walkable, all colonially beautiful, and endless things to explore. The gringos may be plentiful, but they haven’t destroyed its character yet!

To top off all these awesome parts to the city, is absolutely free and secure camping within the Tourism police campground. We counted upwards of 6 Overlanders either parked or camping there, including these two who we exchanged tons of advice with as they are going south and we are going north. They are traveling for 5 years. We aren’t jealous.

DSC02183

We upped out street food intake by 100% while in the city, and also we assume our parasite intake. Something is still mucking around with our insides (2.5 weeks later), but at least it seems friendly. It did cause some problems at the campsite, as you are not allowed to use their bathrooms and must run like crazy down the street 3 blocks to the dominos pizza.

Maybe it was this tostada that gave us the friends…

DSC02108

In any case,  slowly the arepas are getting thinner as we travel north, turning into tortillas… and slowly Mexican food like tacos and tostadas are filling our souls.

The food market in Antiqua is fucking fantastic. Not only price range, but also simply what they have on offer. So many weird and amazing things like dried chilis, candle makers, candy makers, old lady mushroom sellers, and seamstresses whose primary market is frilly aprons. Seriously, every single Guatemalan lady must have the frilliest of aprons. So naturally, does Jessica.

DSC02091

The prices are the cheapest we have seen yet, definitely get much cheaper the farther you get away from the front most visited areas. We got this carrot, which compares in size to a small child for 2 Q (30 cents). Also a pound of beans for 4 Q (60 cents).

DSC02099

Because we loved the city so much, and we wanted to stay one more night and enjoy the new bike cop recruits do more awesome bike obstacle courses around the police compound (full set of orange safety gear on, of course), we planned a day of being touristy. This meant using the handy map we got at the border (thanks friendly border guard) and targeting the oldest most beautiful colonial buildings in town. Then taking pictures. Do we remember what they are? Nope! We totally lost the map.

DSC02114

DSC02117

DSC02104We do remember the Church and  of Capuchins though, one of the only places we paid entry into due to recommendations by both our mothers. It is worth the $7  to get in. Even for the uneducated like ourselves, seeing the remaining structure, and living quarters (arranged in a perfect circle of small rooms) was interesting.

DSC02123

DSC02124

DSC02154

DSC02145

DSC02138

At the end of our Tourist day, I jumped in front of a fountain (again) and Brett was commandeered by a bunch of highschool girls for a photo-shoot-with-the-cute gringo, obviously. No big deal.

DSC02169DSC02177

We also made friends, and nearly adopted, the police dog seen below. He followed us all throughout town one day, staying with us as we worked outside the coffee shop for hours. Whining when we didn’t pet him enough. It was a close call not taking him.

DSC02092


 

We have a brief mention for El Paredon, a surfside village in the country. The Pacific Coast of Guatemala is seriously underdeveloped; leaving it at once stunning and untouched, but also in extreme poverty. Since the surf is out of season, we were the only ones at Paredon Surf Camp, but still it was lovely. Met some wonderful locals, and Brett got in some good surfing and kayaking while Jessica threw her back trying to drag him into the waves.

DSC02184A good place to be laid up in a hammock though. Great view.

DSC02190

 

 

Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Honduras to El Salvador

Border:  Honduras to El Salvador

When: June 14, 2016

Where: El Amatillo

Time Frame: 2.5 hours (mid-day)

Process:

  • Park in front of immigration.
  • Exit out of Honduras. Free.
  • Aduanas/Customs is across the hall.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • Registration
    • Rainbow receipt received on import into Honduras

** Get ready, the El Salvador side is exceptionally more convoluted.

  • Drive through to El Salvador over a small bridge. 
  • Drive through into immigration building (righthand side). Entry is Free, no stamp given.
  • Official will pull you over to just in front of this building to review documents and protocols.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • Registration
    • License
  • Any passengers in your vehicle will need to exit and wait in the handy “waiting booth”.  Jessica was hit on by the military man. Then the owner of the vehicle will be directed to drive it into a building on the left (out of sight) for the vehicle version of a cavity search.
  • Drive the vehicle onto position over a large magnet and rollers. Leave the car running and in neutral. Exit vehicle, as directed.
  • They will turn on the x-ray machine, and slowly pull the vehicle through the machine.
  • Pick up your passengers and drive! Nearly 7 kms to the customs office. There is a customs checkpoint, so you cannot miss it. Official will direct you to turn left.
  • At this point, you will enter into a parking lot filled with only transport trucks. Drive to the second section of the lot past the little office. Park beside the office, but ignore this office for now.
  • Go to the largest and farthest building, used to inspect trucks & cargo. The office is located on the platform. Lots of people running around wearing the official burgundy La Coste pollo shirts can direct you.
  • Officials will ask if you want a temporary import (longer stay) or a transit permit (lasts 24 hours). We opted for the transit permit (free).
  • Fill out the permit form. Only about 50% applies to tourists. You will need to give a specific border crossing by which you will leave the following day then actually exit through that border. Some of the Spanish is a bit complicated (mainly due to the fact its for cargo carriers, not tourists) ask for assistance if needed.
  • Documents Required (1x copy needed of everything):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
  • They held copies and originals for approximately 30-45 minutes in the office. We were directed to wait by our vehicle. Patience. Pee behind trucks if needed.
  • Eventually, they arrive with all documents and inspects the vehicle (including VIN). Once inspected, he hands all paperwork over to the little office you are parked by.
  • Wait.
  • Receive all documents and your Transit Permit. The permit will look pretty blank (because you are not a transport truck) except for a fancy sticker.
  • Drive out and back to the highway.
  • Make two copies of your stickered permit at the copy shop located at the intersection with the highway. You’ll need these on exit.

Notes:

  • Again, we were warned about these borders but had absolutely no issue. Besides a bit of confusion. No fixers. No scams.
  • Border official advised us to gas up at the first gas station (located after the border, but before customs). He also advised us to drive as far as we could, past San Salvador for security reasons. He said “Do not stop for anyone”. Maybe he was just being extra precaution, but we thought we would mention it.
  • If you are using the 24 hour transit permit, plan your route in advance. You need to exit El Salvador at the border indicated on the permit. Also, we advise to stay in San Miguel for the night if crossing anytime after early morning. Our progress through the country was pretty slow due to traffic, road conditions etc., and we didn’t make it as far as expected. There are no hotels or known camping (iOverlander) between San Miguel and San Vicente on the Pan American. Auto-Hotels only began popping up around the exit to San Vicente and there was absolutely no safe hotels in San Vicente (don’t waste your time looking). 

Quick and Dirty

It is with great trepidation that we decided to skip Honduras and El Salvador this time around. Not only are we a little strapped for time (thanks Panama and Pablo), we are trying to plan longer periods at fewer destinations in order to enjoy each location more. Oh, and our familiars seemed terrified of both these countries. The more we read on the internet, the more we also were terrified. Gangs! Extortion! Road Blocks! Robberies… really scary stuff online.

However, internet, you were wrong. These countries and the borders seemed great, even if we were only in Honduras for 4 hours it was smooth sailing for us. Literally no issues as we crossed from Nicaragua into Honduras and then into El Salvador in the same day. BAM!

In Honduras we had armed ourselves with the warning triangles and fire extinguisher as we had heard police checkpoints love to extort tourists for missing these items… but nearly every police checkpoint was abandoned and the military just waved us through. Maybe it was a holiday? Maybe it was just our lucky day?

In anycase Honduras has great Pollo Frito, and great beers.

IMG_20160620_120022The second border, into El Salvador, wasn’t exactly the swiftest border crossing, but honestly it was smooth, had no lines or ‘fixers’. It was just a bit convoluted and as we decided to cross with only a 24 hr permit rather then something more touristy we therefore ended up with the transport trucks.

It was a hot in that line up.

IMG_20160615_083521

In El Salvador, we drove as far as we could into the country but didn’t make our goal. It was getting dark, and we were getting nervous. FYI, for anyone reading this that might be trying to drive through El Salvador there are literally no options for hotels between San Miguel and San Vicente. Don’t even try going into San Vicente….we tried, literally no hotels in the town. Thankfully, a few options came up and they were all of the Auto-Hotel Variety. $10 USD for 3 hours if you know what I’m saying. Our room had a disco ball, a scene from New York pasted to the wall, and a toilet paper dispenser over the bed. Oh, and a mirror on the other side of the bed. Sexy. Sorry no pictures… 😉

And then, thats it! We left. Catch ya on the flip side El Salvador and Honduras.

On to the next one.

Nicaragua Essentials

Wifi – 3 /5

Pretty great coverage and speed in major hubs, however the power grid in Nicaragua seems to be only loosely tied together (or loosely tied around tree branches… true fact) and entire towns go black for hours (days) at a time. Specifically San Juan Del Sur and the beach towns. Northern surf towns also have very limited wifi, if at all. This is a very poor region and we are sure all their other needs will come first before fast wifi.

Transportation – N/A 

We’re driving now bitches!

Road Conditions – 5 / 5

Absolutely shockingly wonderful. Brand new highway systems south to north. Not a single pot hole to be had. Even the newly built cobblestone road around 80% of Ometepe is spectacular.  No tolls to be found, only one police checkpoint by the border and seriously smooth sailing. Great job Nicaragua.

Food  – 4 / 5

One word: smoked cheese. Wait maybe two words. Also, the arepas (thick mais cakes) have been getting progressively thinner and turning more tortilla-esque as we travel north.  We are okay with this. Especially when combined with cheese.

Nicaraguan food is extremely flavourful, largely portioned and at least the street food is cheap. The markets are a great place to shop for fresh produce, and there were papayas that were larger then small children.

Safety  – 4 / 5

We had no issues in the cities, beaches or highways. Not to say we didn’t here about some issues (particularly on beaches) but we found everyone very friendly. The only place we felt a bit concerned about safety was after dark in Granada. There are too many gringos  in town partying too hard, it seems to draw in the lurkers just waiting to pick off an easy one.

 

Street Dogs – 3 / 5

Not as many as some places we have been, but generally healthy looking. Most people, most of the time seem to mostly be pleasant towards them. Unlike most other places we’ve traveled we didn’t make any dog friends, maybe because we were cat sitting?