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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Also, Taco’s mom lives here.

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And just like that, we were out!

Northbound-Borders Collection: Nicaragua to Honduras

Given our shortened timeframe, and the warnings by many about traveling Honduras/El Salvador we decided to skip them this time. We know that many, many people have traveled safely into the beauty of these countries, but decided that we would wait until next trip to really explore them.

We were able to travel between Leon Nicaragua, to San Vincent, El Salvador in 12 hours (Leave 5:15AM, Arrival before dark 5PM). We would recommend stopping somewhere immediately after the border though, because after San Miguel there are few towns and fewer hotels. We stayed at a Auto-Motel (*wink wink 3 hours for 10 $).


Borders : Nicaragua to Honduras

When: June 14, 2016

Where: Guasuale

Time Frame: 1.5 hours (early, early morning 7AM)

Process:

  • Drive up to the border checkpoint, they will check your passport and give you a Customs Declaration to fill out.
  • Park on the left in front of the border office, get your passports checked (no stamps) at the exit side of immigration. He will instruct you to pay 45C (or alternately a terrible USD ripoff rate) for exit fee. Pay on the opposite side of the office. **If you do not have exact change, the bank is in the same building and can make it for you.
  • Keep exit receipts!
  • Once processed, return to your vehicle and find a customs official wondering around to inspect your truck. Again, picture someone dressed for business-casual day at the office. He will sign the back of the customs declaration form for you. You will then need to have a customs official sign the back of your Vehicle Import Document (originally received on entry in Nicaragua). Is this can be the same official or a different one, we are not sure. Both were wandering around the same area.
  • Proceed back to the immigration office, down the hallway from the cashier whom you paid the exit fee too.
  • Customs will process you.
  • Documents Required (no copies):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Vehicle Import Form(signed by customs officer)
    • Customs declaration (signed by customs officer)
  • No exit stamp from Nicaragua
  • Drive through to Honduras (over the bridge).
  • Park on the left side of the road, in front of the Border Offices.
  • Get an entry stamp for Honduras. $3 USD, receipt given.

***You’ll also need to have exact change. No banks in this neighbourhood, but they accept Lempiras or USD. Moneychangers can charge you a fee for change. 

  • Walk through the building to the other side. You will need to enter into the offices (just ask the Transito booths for permission). Someone will escort you to an office, to import your vehicle.
  • Vehicle import is $13 USD.
  • Documents Required (2x copies needed of everything):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Passport Entry stamp
  • No Insurance required (we did not ask about prices since we are only going to be in Honduras for a few hours).
  • You will receive 2 receipts: a receipt for the transaction and for the import itself (a rainbow receipt, hang on to this)

***Copy office located across the large tractor-trailer parking lot from the customs side of the building. We recommend checking it out if only for the lewd pedophile poster and ancient beast of a typewriter.

  • On leaving the border zone, again you will be checked by an official to make sure you have everything. They’ll kindly inform you if you need anything else, which we did (the rainbow receipt).

Notes:

  • We were warned by everyone about this border. We were warned about helpers jumping on your car, running after you, yelling at you. We were warned about scams from the officials and about sketchy transactions. We were 100% surprised to find this the easiest border of all time. No helpers to be found, no scams, happy officials, and even some that spoke english.
  • One of the warnings is of the police checkpoint in Honduras, immediately after the border. Apparently they typically extort people for not having warning triangles, fire extinguisher which are required in the country. We stocked up in Leon (check out the SINSA hardware store on the way out of town) in preparation.  However, there were far more police pylons then police at the countless checkpoints from border to border.  The one time we were stopped, he simply asked where we were from. We were also waved through both military checkpoints. Success!

 

 

 

Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Costa Rica to Nicaragua

Borders : Costa Rica to Nicaragua

When: June 6, 2016

Where: Penas Blancas

Time Frame: 2.5hrs (mid afternoon)

Process:

  • Pay exit fee at Costa Rican border. To the right of the road, down a small embankment. Looks unofficial, but they gave a receipt. $7 USD.
  • Off the main street, to the right, get your exit stamp at immigration. They need to see your exit fee receipt.
  • Costa Rican Customs Office is located in a strange location in relation to immigration. Drive towards North towards Nicaragua, past the immigration offices, then turn around and head in the opposite direction back into Costa Rica. The customs offices are located to the right; you cannot miss it, looks like a parking lot for semi trailers with no building visible. Drive to the southern end.
  • Customs office will cancel your importation, but needs one copy of the Importation form. No charge, and copy shop located nearby.
  • Documents required:
    • Passport
    • License
    • Vehicle Registration.
    • Costa Rican Vehicle Import Form (received when you entered the country) + 1 Copy
  • Now you are ready for Nicaragua….. and boy you better get ready for the craziest border crossing yet.
  • Loop back around as if you were starting the process again, but head all the way across into Nicaragua this time. **Nicaragua has relocated their Border offices compared to 2015 (right hand side of the road). They are now located on the left hand side of the road.
  • Park in the parking lot to the south of the building. Helpers, children and maybe baby ducks, will swarm you. You do not need them, politely decline their services. You can do it.
  • Receive a Vehicle Inspection Form, from a customs officer who will be wandering around the lot. Should look like an official, but on business casual day. He will fill out a small customs form, including various items you are carrying (example: Surfboards, ropas, “casa” by which he meant our roof top tent). He did not check anything besides our license plate, and opened the back door but did not need us to open the drawers.
    • You can pay him off if you want so he does a shitty inspection, but if you have nothing to hide… why waste the money. We did pay a helper $5 USD for this service, but seriously do not think it was necessary.
  • Take the Vehicle Inspection Form to a Police officer who should also be wandering around the parking lot. He will thankfully look more official, and will inspect the vehicle also. He needs to sign the customs form for you.
  • Pay for Nicaraguan insurance (unofficial looking tent to the left of the immigration office). $12 USD
  • Enter immigration office, receive exit stamp. Exit fee $12 USD
  • Walk through the immigration office into a big blank room with many tables and only one grumpy lady. We honestly have no idea what she does, besides take a dinosaurs age to enter and reenter your information.
  • Documents needed (no copies needed):
    • Passport
    • License
    • Registration
    • Vehicle Inspection Form
  • However grumpy she is, she is necessary. Once she approves you in her voodoo computer system, you can exit.
  • When you are driving out of the border zone, there will be someone checking to ensure you have all the correct clearances. If you are missing anything, never fear! He will kindly redirect you.
  • Pets: Customs noticed out cat, but completely ignored her. No documents needed. We did not declare her.

Notes:

  • This Border is literally the craziest to date, thanks mostly in part to the helpers rushing you all the time. They are persistent.
  • This crossing has the most steps out of all the borders so far but we have found it really helpful to simply ask at each official step “What is the next step” Or  “A donde vamos  despues?” Officials will always direct you.
  • The Police checkpoint is located before the turn off for San Juan Del Sur. They only needed to see our passport.

 

Northward-Bound Borders Collection: Panama to Costa Rica

Since we have been frustrated by the lack of information available for Overlanders traveling North, we decided to put together the Northward-Bound Borders Collection. The border information we have been relying on is for those going south, meaning we are trying to piece together information from various sources on the procedures going against the grain. It’s a lot of note taking, a lot of investigation, and really annoying. We appreciate all the monumental efforts of those before us (Overlandwiki, 30forthirty, Drive the Americas) but it doesn’t always apply to us.

So Northbound travelers – here you go – please enjoy our step-by-step process for overlanding borders the opposite direction.


Borders Collection: Panama to Costa Rica

When: June 5th, 2016

Where: Paso Canoas

Time Frame: 3 hours (mid afternoon)

Process:

**Warning** since we had so many problems on the Panama side, we can only advise on the process starting afresh on the Costa Rican side. We cannot offer any real advise for the Panama portion.

  • Drive through the Panama immigration/customs building once processed. Cross the main street immediately outside the border building and you will see a Costa Rican Border Office to your right about 200 meters down the road.
  • Request a Customs Declaration Form at an immigration booth. Immigration is located on the Northern side of the building. Complete the form and hand it in at immigration for a passport stamp.
  • Proceed to customs, located on the southern side of the building (other side from immigration). You will need to go inside and fill out the appropriate temporary vehicle import form.
    • Documents Needed (no copies required):
      • Passport
      • License
      • Vehicle Registration
    • A Customs Officer will come outside with you and inspect your vehicle. They did not check anything besides our license plate, and opened the back door but did not need us to open the back drawers.
    • Insurance is located back beside immigration on the Northern side. 90 days of coverage cost $37USD. It does not get refunded if you leave before hand.
    • No exit fees for Panama.
    • No entry fees for Costa Rica.

Pets: Customs noticed out cat, but completely ignored her. No documents needed. We did not declare her.


Additional Notes:

  • Panama side of the border is much more chaotic. Quite a few helpers who are very pushy. They can be helpful if you need assistance with your paperwork in Panama. They seem to work in cahoots with the border officials who often call them over for translation. Negotiate price ahead of time.
  • Although overwhelming at first, the general lay out of the border is in a straight line. When being processed in Panama, enter the building with your vehicle but do not drive entirely through as you’d technically be crossing into Costa Rica. Park somewhere along the offices. Someone will direct you if you are in the way.
  • Police checkpoint located within 20 km of the border. They needed to see our passports and our registration, and our vehicle import form.
  • Fill up on fuel before leaving Panama. Costa Rica is Fucking Pricey.

 

 

 

Playita Life

Here is a great tip while waiting on export paperwork that is taking literally 75% more time then you expected: Chill the F*** out and surf. We are currently on day 14 of chilling out and surfing at Playa Venao. Seriously, life could be worse. We’ve gotten really good at getting bad news or hearing set backs. As experts in waiting now, we have found the best possible place to do it and we recommend it to others – Venao Cove. Its located at the farthest (west) part of the relatively small and uncluttered beach. If you come for a visit it has luxury rooms, privates, dorms, and camping. Unlike Santa Catalina, our last location, which seemed like a surfing ghost town due to the beginning of the low season on May 1, Playa Venao in the low season seems perfect. Just enough people to be interesting, not enough people to start fighting for space.

All the towns along the Pennisula de Azuero are small, feeling like out posts. They get progressively smaller as you drive down towards the ocean so make sure you stock up on beer and food before you arrive. We also highly recommend the road sausages and fruit stands between Chitre and Las Tablas. Stock up on the awesome chorizos man!

Pedasi is pretty much the last place to visit a Mini Super with reasonable prices. It also has a pretty excellent French bakery. Although if you are to believe the realtor offices and billboards it’s the new up and coming beach resort town, its sort of seems that it was a dream that died after the announcement. Its still extremely relaxed. We checked around outside of town for a camping spot and were directed to an Italian Restaurant named Villa Libera.

“Do you have camping here?”

“No, but you can spend one night no problem”

“How much?”

“Free! But we start dinner at 6”

So for the price of the finest pizza Pedasi has to offer (with Bacon and Rosemary, made by a real Italian), we camped.

Playa Venao is about 45 minute drive west, and here, the beach town boom has definitely hit. There are giant construction sites popping up everywhere and honestly a huge eye sore. In 2 years we bet this place is going to be a shadow of its former self, so hurry up and get here before everything turns into expats and cocaine. At the moment there are only a few places to get a few supplies (at absurd prices) and about 4 budget hostels. Selina’s is too expensive (18.50 to camp!?), Eco Venao is too far from the beach, La Choza had an MIA reception and Venao Cove is perfection.

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About 3 times a week the vegetable man drives through town, the fish man comes on Fridays and if you are lucky the langostina man comes on Saturday. Some of the best seafood we have had on our trip so far, we roasted them over the fire.

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Every day we surf, and everyday we get better. This beach is perfect to learn on. The mentality here, at least off the big break, is less competitive. We met some really amazing people here, including a couple from Brazil and Argentina who were so encouraging with us to Surf. They would make everyone go out at once, get everyone surfing a party wave and yell Spanish encouragements from the beach “ VA CANADIENSE! GO GO GO!” Really boosts the self-confidence.

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We have offered our services and Brett has designed them a light up surf board sign. Now we stay for free with a few other bonuses.

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This is a baby Boa we found in the sign

We’ve had a really good crew of people to be with here, including some old friends from other Panama locations. Eventually we’ll likely all leave together at least as far as Panama City.

DSC01730 The beach here is run by Ridgebacks, an amazing yet giant breed of dog that has basically taken over the local breeding pool. Their family tree is quite complicated and is the basis of most conversations. There are 4 main ones that live here now, and follow us everywhere. This is Linda. One local dog (small to medium size) gave birth to 13 ridgebacks. EVERYONE SURVIVED.

Paperwork update – we’ve had a few set backs. We’ve had to make the trip into the city 2x now, and hopefully not again until the end. We hope, but again based off experience… we are afraid to think about it too much. A plan has slowly been hatching that if the paperwork doesn’t work out, and then we’ll just move here permanently. See ya later!

 

A Pause

There has been a pause in our blog recently, but only because life is seemingly on hold until our truck is ready and Brett returns for the voyage north. Plus, the MacBook returns with Brett and posting is must easier with it.

The Ecolodge continues to amaze me, really settled into being relaxed. I’m unsure what I’m going to do when I have to work a real job again….

Export paperwork continues to chug away. More on that later, as its really a tale onto itself.

Pablo, the truck, is also plugging away at the mechanics, because why not just get an entirely new engine for fun. Right? This is also another tale for another post.

Just know that the voyage continues at the end of April, and our small misadventures wrangling together a functional and exportable truck in Panama end are looking up and extremely hilarious in retrospect.

stay tuned!

Rest and Relaxation in Medellin

Feb 25 – March 7
Medellin

We have been in (or around) Medellin now since Feb 25th. We’ve moved into Envigado officially, a neighborhood perched on this hillside of the city. We have a side suite to ourselves and are spending out time with the Expedition Colombia crew. Not only do these guys know how to host, they know how to build one hell of an adventure.

Medellin is big. So big that we are trying not to get overwhelmed with all the touristy options available to us. We are here to reset, take our time and breathe from what has been a bit of a hectic travel schedule. Medellin will be our longest stop in Colombia, so we want to make sure we balance the exploration and the relaxation. Also the eating, this city has some great food. Chorizos, Chicharrons, Roscons, crossants, Pollo Broaster etc. There is so many delicious new things to try and very few vegetables.

All the girls in the house went on a shopping expedition last week to El Centro. Some highlights include buying croc decorations for the croc wearers, sweatpants with “Yeezus” across the crotch, blinged out overalls, and addidas kicks for 20 bones. Are they real? Who knows!

Every night brings new people to the house, so every night is a bit of a party here. That also means there are always new people to explore with. On Thursday last week we did an epic adventure via public transit up the mountain to Santa Elena. I am talking epic: Taxi, Metro, Cable car #1, Cable car #2, bus and 1.5 hours later we were in a picturesque mountain town. Just like that….. and just in time for us to turn around and come back before the last cable car. It was beautiful, and a feat of public transportation made only slightly nauseating by rush hour and sweat.

The cable car has literally transformed the barrio’s they service, for the first time they brought mass-transportation to poorly serviced areas and made it easy for these growing neighborhoods to access the rest of medellin. IMG_20160303_135432

Shortly after switching to the second accent cable car, the city completely disappears.

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Did I mention that all the public transit cost us was $5 CDN?  A cheap way to access the mountains, and breathe some non-diesel fumed air. This is the center square of Santa Elana, I’d love to tell you more about it but we literally had to turn around and leave.DSC01017

Chugging juice and looking exhilarated during our brief stay.DSC01031

Sweaty and not one bit excited for the long trip home.DSC01038

Next time, we will plan better, leave earlier and stay awhile.