Category Archives: Food

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

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

 

 

Venao’d Out

Venao Cove
Ending May 23rd

We definitely lost count of days and forgot many of our sorrows while staying at Venao. It sort of has that effect on people. All the guests, owners and volunteers were one big happy family by the time we left. We played together, worked together and partying together.  So before we wrap up this entry to move on to what we did after Venao, there were some really exceptional moments that we want to show you.

The entire time we were at Venao, we were watching the developments next door at Panama’s next big thing: a restaurant called Panga. We did not expect to be on the beach long enough to see it open, but we were. But that wasn’t such a bad thing based on the amount of amazing food we consumed that night. Their motto is to try to focus on all local food, within 20km and handmake whatever is missing. Our motto is to just keep eating the delicious food until we cant eat anymore.

DSC01882

DSC01892One of our great new friends, Jen, helped give the opening a bit of atmosphere.  She is a traveling surfing babe who happens to sing like an angel.

DSC01840

Speaking of surfer babes, I have been bequeathed by the babest of babes her surf board. As she was headed back to England, I received a pretty sweet deal on the board, fins, leash and bag. We now have 2 boards, and are ready for whatever breaks this adventure has to throw at us. Just hopefully they are gentle, and maybe not over too many rocks.

DSC01792

Brett really upped his lighting game while here. His sign now features prominently in front of the hostel, and his lamp now hangs over the smokers hut (as we all know he has always wanted to make it more pleasant for people to smoke). In return for the lighted surfboard, he also received a legit surf board in return.

DSC01775DSC01748

Finally, one of our last days a swell came in and ruined the waves. Not only was it choppy and messy to surf, there were frequent shark sightings. Don’t worry moms, these were just baby sharks that would only take a bite out of your thigh, likely nothing serious). So we decided it was best to head back into shore and not try to swim with them. They had other plans though, and somebody noticed that down the beach one shark had washed ashore. We ran like kids as fast as we could down the beach, and then stood in a circle wondering what to do. Thank god we had Marian with us, a bad-ass Venezuelan chica who didn’t wait for nobody and grabbed the beast by the tail and flung it back through the waters where it came from! (photos not by us!) Powerful!

IMG_20160525_130156IMG_20160525_130427

On Sunday, May 23rd, we packed up everything we love including Sam and Chris, and headed back into Panama. Our expectation was to check in on the paperwork progress (it was supposed to be finished the following Friday) and then head down to the bottom of the Pan-American highway while we waited. We made a pit stop along the way back to the city, and discovered a hidden gem of a free camping spot. We cannot tell you where it is though, we have been sworn to secrecy.

DSC01920

The waves were absurdly fun. A very strange break, that gently rocked you but then threw you to shore. All four of us paddled around for hours.

DSC01911

DSC01905

 

 

Pending in Panama City

Panama City, Panama
March 24 – Present

Welcome to our first new country on this trip! We landed in Panama City over a week ago, and are on only one mission: Find a truck, Find it now. Update on that progress later.

Flying into Panama City was a bit of a shit show, to be honest. From what we have heard Air Panama is notorious for helping themselves to items in people’s checked baggage…. they even had a warning sign at the Check-in. Also, the Air Panama airport (not the international airport) is more like a building that just happens to contain some parts of an airport. The security and the customs were low in quality but high in entertainment value. Partially because they had us just point to the bags we wanted back, and some guy carried  them over.

For the first few days, as we got our bearings, we stuck to a regime of truck research for half of the day and exploration for the other half. We have discovered that its a mistake to do it in that order, exploration must come before the heat wave. Research and repose must come after.

Panama City is actually quite walk-able. Long, hot, incredibly sweaty walks, but you can do it. Between down town and old town its only about 45 minutes along a seawall but its seriously over 35c everyday (only to get progressively hotter as we reach the rainy season). Its no fun to walk very far, but we do to save money.

We have visited Casco Viejo, the old city, which was absolutely beautiful. Crumbling and reconstructed all at the same time. This is definitely the gringo zone, hostels, upscale hotels, restaurants we can’t afford, cathedrals and ruins all live here.

DSC01417

DSC01400

There is a great artisan and indigenous market along the seawall in this neighbourhood. Tons of Kuna cultural items for sale, and enough Panamanian hats to shade the heads of the world. Can’t comment on the prices though, we are on a strict Ramen noodle  diet right now.

DSC01411

DSC01425

And once again Jessica is getting intimidated by the mannequins.

DSC01430

Another day we walked along the  park by the ocean, filled with snow cones and a substantial fish market at the end. First ceviche of the trip, and it was wiggly and delicious. IMG_20160324_142005

Found a fountain in an extremely interesting shape. Not sure who pulled the fast one on the city planners, or if they still have a job.

DSC01466

Possibly the most exciting place we explored was  Parque Natural Metropolitano de Panama. A large natural reserve within city limits, about a 3$ cab ride from the center. Although both of us have seen many tropical parks, it was obsurd how many animals were running around in this city park. We’ve wandered around some of the most famous reserves in Costa Rica and not seen as many creatures as we did here. And – very exciting – our friend Chris from Costeno beach met us in Panama City for a few days.

DSC01471.JPG

We got to witness tortugas sunbathing, Jesus lizards running across the water, strange anteater-rodent-creatures trampling through the leaves. The most exhilarating creature was the sloth, who due to the dry season was extremely visible through the foliage. He was also motoring faster then any sloth we have ever seen. Really putting on some mileage.

DSC01486DSC01481

We’ve also found some really fantastic graffiti here, typical big city angst and art.

PANO_20160326_134644DSC01408

Panama City is a big change for us from the places we explored in Colombia. Its all skyscrapers, expats and malls. For a big city its not bad, but its beginning to wear us down as we are in essence trapped here until we find a truck. We want nature, jungle and beaches rather then pavement, pollution and expenses. We vastly under estimated the costs here (nearly %60 of our budget is accommodation and we are staying in the cheapest place in the city). We need to cook all our meals, and stick to the basics. Only free explorations allowed!

 

Mompos(x)

March 11-March 14
Mompos(x)

Getting to Mompos requires a few modes of transportation, and by a few we mean a taxi to the bus station (Medellin 30 mins), bus from hell (Medellin – Sincelejo 12 hours), shared taxi (Sincelejo – Maganque 2 hours), boat ride into the river (20 mins), collectivo (to Mompos 1 hour). It was a marathon by all accounts, especially the bus from hell which may or may not have had a coked out driver and caused Jessica to throw up 3 times, and have 2 panic attacks. Brett also, for once in his life, wasn’t able to sleep due to the shear G-force.

In any case, we made it and promptly had a giant nap. Tranquillo por favor.

Santa Cruz to Mompox is located on an island in the Magdalena River and has held on to its colonial character since its founding in 1537. It was an old stomping (and recruiting ground) for Simon Bolivar a Colombian hero. Nearly all gold was held in Mompos prior to being shipped to Cartagena and off the continent during the rape and pillage of the land in the 15th and 16th centuries. It also was some location inspiration for One Hundred Years of Solitude. The history is thick here and the lighting is always great.

IMG_20160312_181657DSC01276

You can walk Mompos in a day. Which is sort of why we went here. The streets are bustling but the town is peaceful. There are many key squares to visit, many cathedrals and churches to admire, and not much else to do. Time is slow.

May we recommend a wander through the cemetery? It had a bucket load of kittens and an eerie mash up of old and new graves.DSC01209

Another highlight for us was the nightly fiesta and food cart bonanza in one of the central squares. Literally some of the best food we have had in Colombia, including juices, pizza and pork BBQ. This was the place to be most nights, especially on Sunday when entire families would rally in the square and spend some quality time together.

DSC01281This was all that was left of our pizza before we decided to start documenting the food glory.

IMG_20160313_191331IMG_20160313_200342DSC01301

We also enjoyed some tiny rums and cokes. Strong ones.

Just like in One Hundred Years of Solitude the magic is real here. The people are genuine, and the setting to die for. We could have easily kicked up some more entertainment if we had stuck around longer (especially if we had stayed for Easter as this town apparently goes off the hook) but we had beaches to lay on and sand to get in our ears!

IMG_20160312_182435

Colombian Essentials

Wifi – 4 / 5

Our opinions may change as we travel (its been a few years for both of us to see the affects of wifi on traveling), but Colombia has wifi everywhere.  Literally. Buses, bus stations, nearly every hostel or hotel, even city parks have wifi. The quality is not always consistent, but wifi is ever present.

Transportation – 4 / 5

From our wide range of international experience, Colombia has efficient, uncrowded and extremely friendly transportation options.

Buses for example are nearly always on time. Most have wifi, none have been over-crowded. The classic chicken buses do exist here, but generally most people take privately owned and operated buses/collectivos between cities. Or for longer travel, fancy aircon mega buses. Drivers of all these options are less crazy then we have encountered elsewhere, but there have been a few who are causing nightmares for us still.

Transportation terminals have been clean, safe and everyone is very willing to help you figure out where you want to go and how – even if Spanish is not your forte.

City transportation as well has been easy to figure out and efficient (save Medellin, which I am sure if efficient but operates on privately run city buses which have no schedule or map as far as we can figure out…. and therefore we  literally just did not figure out the buses).

Road Conditions – 3.5 / 5

Although we are not overlanding yet, we have been on a lot of roads, so we might as well report on them. Road conditions are relatively good. Highways are smooth and fast. There are many tolls (sometimes our bus crosses upwards of 5 in a 6 hour journey). Seem to cost between around $5CDN on average.

But there are so many god forsaken speedbumps, sometimes in the middle of a highway that was otherwise traveling smoothly. Colombians care more about their shocks then their breaks, be warned! But, drivers mainly follow a set of common rules, and traffic patterns are pretty easy to grasp.

Not many military/police checkpoints on the roads, for example you may encounter one on an all day journey. However, in regions where there is more guerrilla activity the police activity also increases. We have not encountered any problems, they will check your info maybe your bags but leave you alone. Police here are someone you want to run to not away from in 99% of cases.

Food  – 2.5 / 5

As reported before, the food in Colombia is great but limited. Mostly the same mixed plates (which are really good) but consistently chicken/pork/carne, rice, platain, ensalada, aprepa. Repeat. Also, if spending the day in transport or on the move it becomes more restricted to deep fried everything, mostly bread.

Fruits here have been spectacular and would get a 5/5 on their own right. That being said, if you are a vegetarian, or worse a vegan, you will basically need to cook every single meal yourself. Even if you are not, you will likely end up cooking many meals simply to avoid scurvy. Love you Colombia! But Veggies in restaurants are not your strong point

Safety  – 4 .5 / 5

If we were reporting on only our time here, we would report a 5/5 . We have never encountered a thief (yet), a corrupt official (yet), or a threatening situation (yet). We have been very mindful of going out late at night and what we bring with us, and avoiding some higher risk areas.

That being said we have heard from friends about a terrifying trip across the Ecuadorian border where the bus broke down and the entire bus spent a few nail biting moments screaming at the driver to “GO GO GO” to avoid any attention from guerrillas (this was at night, not traveling in a convoy which is not the norm). We have also heard of a friend of a friend being robbed at gun point in Cali (thankfully he literally just dropped his pants to show he had nothing), and we have also been warned by literally everyone in Medellin to get out of Centro before 6PM before the real sketch creeps in.

Street Dogs – 5 / 5

In her many years of loving, and petting street dogs around the world, Jessica has never come across as happy and as healthy of dogs as run around Colombia. The dreaded mange is seemingly absent, dogs love all people and seem to be loved by most. Restaurant owners take the scraps right off our tables to feed their favorites. We’ve even come across happy street pigs (Mompos) and happy street roosters.  Interbreeding between dog breeds has led to some amazing creations here, but street dogs can also be of a high pedigree. Many friendly pit bulls, or retrievers roam the streets and you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the feisty little chihuahuas marching up and down the road like they own it.