Nicaragua

Nica, Nica, Nicaragua.

My favorite sign hanging over one of the hostels that we parked at read ‘Party like a Nica and tip like a Gringo!’ Needless to say, we took their advice. It is hard not to fall in love with Nicaragua. It’s a beautiful country with easy people, quick with a smile. Warm and inviting, we could have stayed months here.

Getting into Nicaragua proved to be a bit more difficult with Alex than the previous countries, but luckily we hired a young kid for $1USD to work his magic and help get us across the boarder. Now you can judge us for hiring children or you can see that we support young entrepreneurs and probably pay better than any other local jobs. These boys are efficient and navigate you through the crazy bureaucracy that happens on some of the boarders. Our little man at this boarder, Livingston, told us he was our man. And he sure was! He got us through all of the different stops, including the headache of getting a dog through the boarder. After about three hours we finally made it into Nicaragua.

Leon, Nicaragua

Our first stop in Nicaragua was the colonial town of Leon. AJ and I, and Dan and Heather all decided since there are no camping spots near Leon, that we would boondock in front of the hostel that we were doing the boarding with. The four of us had heard about volcano boarding and wanted to try it. It’s basically where you hike up a volcano carrying a sled, get to the top, dress up in a prison jumpsuit with goggles, and then point down the volcano and go shooting by a guy timing you. It’s a ton of fun! We even brought Alex, he was the first canine volcano boarder, sans board. I held onto Alex while AJ went first and let him fly about the time AJ was halfway down, and sure enough Alex caught up and finished with AJ! I was fastest girl, coming in at a whopping 55kmh! I really wanted to win because I thought there was a tee shirt to in it for me, what I didn’t realize was that my prize was the lava shot challenge and then I got a free tee shirt. Not one to turn down a challenge, I went up the the bar and took a shot of hot pepper rum with the seeds still in, every five seconds three times. It was so hot I thought I might have burnt my insides! But part of the challenge is to keep it down, for a little while at least! Don’t worry, I still won my tee shirt! And before we knew it, there was a mustache party going on and it turned into a really fun night in Leon. One night in Leon and we did it right!!

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua

Volcano Boarding Leon, Nicaragua

After our fun time in Leon, we decided to head to the Pacific side of Nicaragua. I had to head back the US to visit family and Dan and Heather graciously agreed to hang out with AJ and Alex while I was gone. I was a little nervous to leave our little unit, but my worries melted away when we got to the hostel on the beach in paradise. We stayed at sister hostel of the one we had boondocked outside of Leon. But this time they had space for us inside the gates and it was perfect! AJ and Dan ended up taking surf lessons and Heather went to Spanish school. I came back ‘home’ to Las Penitas Nicaragua and we ended up staying a couple extra days.

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Surfing Nicaragua

Las Penitas, Nicaragua

Surfing Nicargua

Lake Apoyo was the next stop. This is another crater lake surrounded by volcanoes, a little bit lower in elevation and much smaller, but it reminded us of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. We stayed at a very fancy hostel and parked at the top of the property with buildings sprawling down to the lake. The lake was beautiful to swim in and the hostel offered free kayaks to use. We suited Alex up in his life vest and explored Apoyo! We got word from AJs mom that she was coming to visit us in Ecuador with AJs little brother Sean! They are landing in Quito on March 21st so we knew that we were going to have to pick up our pace again!

Lake Apoyo

We said bye to our friends Heather and Dan at Lake Apoyo and headed to the really big lake, Lake Nicaragua! It was sad to say bye to our friends as we had been traveling for over a month together, seen a lot, and had so much fun! But we needed to move on, and who knows, somewhere down the line we might see them again.

Parked at Apoyo

Ometepe, Nicaragua

We spent a day trying to secure a spot for Ramona (Our truck, yes we’ve named her Ramona!) on one of the tiny ancient ferries that take vehicles and people across the lake to the volcanic island called Ometepe. We tried on two different boats but were turned away twice. We ended up spending the night on the street outside a hotel and decided to try again in the morning. We ended up getting the last place on a very small ferry. There were three trucks behind us and a huge delivery truck parked next to us. It was so tight that there was no way that we could leave our truck, in fact, AJ had to keep his foot on the brake to keep us from rolling into anything. We made it to Ometepe early. The island is formed by two volcanos and all of the towns and communities skirt the bottom of these two giants. We drove down the west side to the smaller of the two and hiked up to a huge jungle waterfall. To get to the hike you had to go through the owners plantation of limes, tangerines, and avocados; past all of his huge, beautiful cows and horses; and then finally through the jungle past howler monkeys screeching down at us to the huge waterfall. Once we got there we just stood under it to cool down. On our way down we met the owner, Eduardo, who offered his gated land on the lake for us to sleep for free. It was perfect! Cool with the breeze from the lake and the waves crashing right next to the camper. We drove around the island when we woke up and went to camp at the plantation for another night. Eduardo helped us hire a guide to hike the smaller of the two volcanos the next day.

Ometepe, Nicaragua

Hiking to San Ramon Waterfall, Ometepe, Nicaragua

Looking down on Lake Nicaragua

San Ramon Waterfall, Ometepe, Nicaragua.

Planning on turning in early for the 6am wake up, we started making dinner early. It was a bit windy so we were inside the camper blasting music and hanging out, but AJ was certain that he had heard a horn. I thought he was crazy. We went outside and guess who it was? Dan and Heather! We had been emailing and sent some cryptic message about where we were, not thinking that they would be coming that day or needing directions much less! So good to see our friends again, and sure enough they were up for one more hike with us! We got up early and went down the island to a really nice hostel right next to the trailhead where we met our guide Simeon, apparently for this hike we needed two guides for four people so he called his little assistant Orbin to join us. It was a bitch. Eight hours total and the top half was such thick jungle, in the clouds, with mud up to the ankles. It was like the fire swamp, but luckily no rodents of unusual size and the volcano was not shooting any fire balls at us. After the haul up there the clouds were so thick that we couldn’t even see the crater lake! But it was a fun adventure, our guide Simeon started doing the howler monkey call (which sounds eerily like jurassic park) and they started howling back at him! It was creepy. We finally made it down, dirty and tired, but yet another volcano down and with our friends.

Sunset over Lake Nicaragua

Sunset in Nicaragua

Kat feeling refreshed after hiking the volcano and taking a shower...

Our new place, Merida, was perfect after a long trek. Ramona and the Hulk (Dan and Heather’s rig) parked next to each other, on the lake, on a nice flat parking lot. We chucked off our shoes, peeled off socks, and cracked some beers. The hostel was having a dinner buffet that turned out to be delicious. Pork, mashers, gravy, salad, veggies, cheese, bread, rice, beans, and almond cake. The best spread after the hike we just did! It was a perfect last night with our friends, and to finish it off we played an awesome round of cards against humanity. The next day we rolled out at 6am to go catch our ferry and continue on the road. This was a definite goodbye to our friends, at least for the time being.

Volcan Concepcion, Ometepe, Nicaragua

Kat on the Ferry leaving Ometepe, NIcaragua.

Ramona Posted up on the Ferry, notice the guy passed out in his car!

The owner of Merida, Al, who was so cool, told us of a turtle reserve that is a nice little spot on the way to the border. Al was building a bilingual grade school for the local children that was built from two liter bottles filled with trash. It was truly amazing and we wish him the best! So anyway, we headed to the turtle reserve on Al’s recommendation. We made it to La Flor turtle reserve and were not disappointed. They let us know that at sunset we would be able to release over 50 baby Olive Ridley turtles into the ocean. It was so beautiful to let these tiny creatures loose onto the sand and watch them crawl their way to the ocean and then fight the waves. So brave! It was a magnificent way to end our trip in Nicaragua, a beautiful country.

Olive Ridley turtles, La Flor, Nicaragua.

La Flor, Nicaragua

Playa Gigante, NIcaragua

Alexander the Great, tearing up some Nicaraguan Beaches

As promised, our first guest blog post. From the one, the only, Jennifer Golden…

A month ago when I found out that Kat, AJ and Dog were in Utila I could not believe my eyes. It just so happened that I was cruising through Roatan on the infamous Jam Cruise one week from the time she posted that on their blog. I tried to play it cool, and indifferently say that I understood if they wanted to get a move on. But let’s be real: I wanted to see them with all of my heart and soul. And so, after some circular convincing (Mike, Kristin and Jen—-Kat—-AJ and Dog) It was all gonna work out after all.

Prior to leaving I got a last minute request from Kat to bring some of their favorite comforts of home, which I will leave unnamed. I also came prepared with a few surprises…which I will also leave unnamed. We set a rendezvous day/time knowing that she would have no way of getting a hold of us once we set sail. I believe her last words were: “You better f*cking not be too hungover to get off the boat!!!!” She knows us oh too well.

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We arrived 1/8/15 at 8am anchored off the shore of Roatan, and were on the first dinghy to shore (at 1030am) which I am sure caused some anxiety on Kat’s part. As we jumped off our dinghy (wearing the loudest colors and most painful hangovers we could muster for our conspicuous entry) out runs Kat screaming and waving her long-gangly arms. Mike came up behind us and was much relieved to see AJ and be released from the insanity of Kristen and I. And as we shrieked and squealed with joy, all of the large middle-aged American tourists from another cruise ship looked on with wonder and disgust.

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We rushed to meet Patrick (our young snorkel guide), grabbed a case of Salvavidos, and hit the water in his cute speed boat (with no swim ladder). We did not want to waste one minute together. Kat came fully prepared with a small speaker and we were bumping tunes, cracking brews, and getting down Colorado style-like we never missed a beat. Patrick was a very generous host. His party favors were many, and we greatly appreciated the way this young entrepreneur got down. Yeah, we saw some fish. Maybe a turtle or two. But let’s be real here people. I didn’t come to see fish. I came to see Kat, AJ and Dog!

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The real fun came upon trying to get back into the boat with no swim ladder. Considering the fact that Kat, Kristen and I were probably each 50lbs heavier than Patrick, our host gave it his most valiant effort. In the end we dubbed it the “Beached Whale Maneuver.” Thanks Patrick! You’re our hero!

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When our dunk in the ocean came to an end we decided to sit on the beach for a while and enjoy each other’s company for our remaining minutes. We saw plenty of orange Jam Cruise towels on the beach so we knew we still had time. Kat and I got caught up on the latest gossip, and made plans to meet up on their way back north. Finally, there was a mass exodus of orange towels, and I knew my time with them was over. We said a tearful good bye, and she threw us in a cab with cash to get back to the dock (like a pack of assholes we forgot to bring our cash ashore). My time with Kat, AJ and Dog was far too short. But it was just what I needed to saddle up for another 4 nights of music and hedonism on Jam Cruise.

 

 

 

Honduras

We sped through El Salvador so that we could spend Christmas in the Bay Islands on Utila. Having both had a rough go of scuba diving in Croatia and we were excited to give it another go in Honduras. The second biggest coral reef in the world extends down from Belize and into the Bay islands. It also happens to be one of the cheapest places in the world to dive. We cruised up from El Salvador to a little American owned brewery in the middle of the jungle, D&D Brewery. It was a perfect place to spend a couple of days hiking in the cloud forest, exploring the local fincas (coffee plantations), meeting some really great people and drinking delicious homebrew. We actually parked at a finch next door to the brewery and got our own private pool and a beautiful river coursing right next to our rig. We met some really cool Canadians, Brittany and Greg, camping their way through Central America who were headed up to Utila as well, so we took on our first hitchhikers!

Utila was a little slice of heaven. It’s a tiny island that’s untouched from all the cruise boats in the Caribbean and keeps its little town charm. And it’s still super cheap. We parked our rig in the secured lot at the ferry port and caught the ferry to Utila. AJ and I got to ride on the back of the boat outside with Alex which turned out to be one of the best seats in the house! We splurged and got a nice hotel room on a hill overlooking the ocean that welcomed Alex. Utila has one main street wide enough for a tuk tuk on either side, is full of dive centers, restaurants, mini-supers, little shops, and bars. We met tons of super cool people at our hotel, our favorites were a group of Swedes that offered to share the boat they rented out to Water Caye for a day of snorkeling and swimming in crystal blue waters. We ended up diving throughout the week and loving it! We had a tiny Australian dive instructor who was very patient and let us go at our own pace. In the end we both dove 8 times each for the bargain price of $15/dive! Utila definitely found a special place in our heart, the people, the food, the water. The only thing we could have done without is the constant sand fleas, but even they couldn’t stop us from going back.

With NYE rapidly approaching we decided to go to back to D&D brewery and meet up with our other Canadian friends, Dan and Heather,whom we met in Guatemala. This time we parked right in the brewery’s lot next to our friends. NYE ended up being a crazy party, the owner of the brewery, brought out a big box of fireworks and everyone just started setting them off in the street. Alex has had a hard time with the bombas but apparently he is starting to get used to them because the camper was still in one piece at the end of the night. Our original plan was to start making our way to Nicaragua, but as we’ve found out its best to just go with the flow.

At this point in our trip we had planned on already crossing from Panama to Columbia, but as you can tell we are way behind our “schedule”. But we also hadn’t planned on loving Central America as much as we have. It’s beautiful, cheap, always some adventure whether it’s hiking volcanoes or climbing around in cloud forests. The people are so kind as well. We have never felt threatened, only witnessed people going out of their way to make us feel more welcome in their country. So needless to say we have stayed longer and loved every second. When we heard that our good friends from home would be on Roatan, another of the Bay Islands, we decided that we had to make it happen.

We killed a couple of days at the brewery, then back tracked to the Copan Ruins with our Canadian friends Dan and Heather who decided to go to Roatan with us. The Copan Ruins were very well preserved and quite the sight to see. We proceeded into the jungle north of Copan to the Luna Juagar Hot Springs. After an hour of rough switch backs we arrived at our destination, to find a luke warm pool and a flat spot to park. It wasn’t the best Hot Springs of the trip, but it was nice to soak after a few days of driving.

The next day we drove to La Ceiba, to catch the ferry to Roatan. We left our truck in the secured lot at the port and hopped on the fancier ferry to the biggest of the bay Islands, Roatan. The four of us rented a little jungle cabin that came with its own tree house! We spent the week hanging out on the beach, snorkeling, playing cards, reading, and just enjoying being out of the car. And the highlight for us was our friends from Colorado who came to visit, but I’ll let them tell you in their own words…

We travelled the West on Caribbean coast of Honduras to Trujillo, the oldest spanish settlement in Honduras. We drove south from Trujillo to La Tigra National Park, which involved an intense mud filled 4×4 drive but we had our good friends driving with us. La Tigra, was gorgeous we entered the park from El Rosario, which is an old mining town. The Drive to the trailhead switchbacked above the town for 2000 feet, it was similar to ouray, but with a jungle surrounding it. We hiked through a lush cloud forest and passed many beautiful waterfalls, before heading to the Pacific Coast to enter into Nicaragua at Somotillo.

El Salvador

 

As sad as we were to leave Guatemala we were very excited to get to El Salvador. This is another country that has struggled with civil war and US involvement. There has been peace and democratic elections here since 1989 at the end of their decade long civil war. There is still a long way to go as far as crime, poverty, and inequality, but they have been able to transform the country from extreme violence to a working republic. One of the most interesting things about this transformation is that the guerrilla group FMLN who was in the war against the previous government is now ruling political party having its president elected in 2009. Nevertheless it was still strange to see the FMLN banners hanging from buildings and painted all over towns.
We drove into El Salvador along a road called Ruta de las Flores, not only was it filled with beautiful flowers but the streets are amazing compared to surrounding countries. We decided to keep our stay quick in this country, for no other reason except we wanted to try and make the Honduran islands for Christmas. Our first stop in El Salvador was in Parque Nacional Cerro Verde, a group of three volcanoes that allows you to park overnight on top of one of them in the park center. We ended up being the only people camped at the top of this volcano with beautiful views of the surrounding volcanoes and cities far below. In the morning we walked around the park filled with intense topiary designs including a huge igloo made out of a tree with three picnic tables underneath it and two tunnels spanning most of the park. After walking around for a bit we stumbled on a building that could have come out of The Shining or The Haunting. It had signs all over with caution warnings and chains around all of the doors but you could still see the beauty this place once held. Peeking into the windows there was furniture flipped over, a bar, a reception, and a garden and walkway that would have been spectacular once. It was creepy and cool and we still have no idea what it used to be or why it was closed but we guessed that it had to do with the war since we were in what was the thick of guerrilla territory at one time.

We moved on to the boarder of El Salvador and parked on top of another volcano. Although our GPS wanted to argue and it seemed as if we were actually in Honduras. The volcano was Called El Pital and we parked near the local restaurant. When we arrived we couldn’t tell where we were, we were in the clouds and they were moving. We knew it was just before sunset and before we knew it the clouds started getting thinner and it seemed as if all of El Salvador appeared right below us. It was spectacular! It made us second guess rushing this beautiful country, but we didn’t want to turn back now and decided to keep moving on. Next stop Honduras…

One last hurrah in Guatemala…and then one more

Guatemala was a beautiful country to visit. Not only that but we made so many friends overland traveling. It is very nice to be able to travel around, get lost and be completely alone in a foreign land, but when you pull into a spot and you see another rig it can be such a relief! Wether it’s just to be able to bitch about the last boarder crossing or sit around and have a beer and discuss the best places you’ve traveled to and what your future plans are. It’s especially nice to run into new friends in a whole new location whether its expected or completely by accident. Sharing our adventures along the way have turned out to be such a nice little bonus.
Our last big adventure in Guatemala was hiking Volcan Paycaya and then our plan was to stay at a small hot springs resort close to the El Salvador boarder. We started driving up to the trailhead, which wasn’t well marked, and it took us trough a small town. We took a wrong turn somewhere and it became apparent when the whole town came out to watch us climb the steep hill on a  road just wide enough for us to fit. I got out and spoke with a cute little grandma who let me know that we would need to reverse to get to the proper street. AJ’s driving skills keep getting better and better. Soon enough we found our way to the trailhead, hired a guide, and started our trek up the volcano. We got to the top and was able to hike around on a huge lava field from 2010. We even brought our marshmallows and roasted them on the still smoking lava! Our guide took us the fast way down the volcano and we got to ‘ski’ down the skree fields. We came down in a quarter of the time it took us to get up and got in our rig and started heading south to the hot springs. 

The hot springs on our app didn’t have the best reviews, but it was a good location and sometimes you just need to see for yourself. Added bonus that it only cost $2.50 US to park overnight and use the springs. We were about 20 miles away when we were pulled over at a police check. No big deal, just the usual questions and showing of paperwork, but to our great surprise our friends that we had met in San Pedro pulled ahead of us and waived us down! Jim and Alina are two Brits who had been working in Australia and flew into Guatemala bought a Suburban and pimped it out a bit with a sleeping platform. The four of us headed to the springs and were pleasantly surprised with a beautiful little place with several pools located right on a river. After having a nice soak our friends invited us for dinner at their place and made us a delicious curry and mojitos. In the morning we woke up and had the pools all to ourselves to have a nice soak before starting the boarder crossing. It ended up being a perfect end to an amazing country.

Guatemala

Guatemala is the first of many countries that we worry about our nationality and any hard feelings that are more than deserved. The country was in a civil war from 1960-1996 that was highly funded by the US government. The UN declared that genocide against the Mayan people happened during these years from the government military trained and armed by US CIA paramilitary. But to our surprise and great delight, Guatemalans are very welcoming and very proud to share their country with us, and luckily the Mayan culture and people are still strong and make up around 40% of the population. The country is now a democratic republic hard at work to encourage tourism and rebuild the economy. In fact the CA-4, or the Central American Boarder Control Agreement, allows nationals of each country and tourists alike to move freely over boarders. They have created tourism police that help to control petty crimes and are very welcoming in the big cities. And perhaps the best part of the agreement for us is that we get to cross three boarders with little to no hassle “fingers crossed”.

From Belize we crossed to Guatemala finally got through a boarder without any problems and without having to double back. It was so easy that we could not trust our luck. We paid the $2 USD to have our car spayed with insecticide, then walked into the open air office with our paperwork. A smart little boy, maybe 10 or 11, attached himself on to us and became our guide. We gave copies of everything and had our passports processed. The man doing our paperwork then walked out to our truck and verified the vin number with that on our title and then waived us on telling us to enjoy Guatemala. They didn’t even glance at Alex, or even at the camper on the back of the truck. They gave a vehicle import permit that we will have to get for each of the four countries, but we will not have to get stamps in are passports. We have ninety days from the time we enter Guatemala to cross over from Nicaragua to Costa Rica.

Our first stop was Tikal, the largest of the remaining ancient Mayan cities, unfortunately they do not allow dogs even inside the gates. We turned back a little bummed but even happier that we had made the trek to Caracol a few days before. A little French hotel and restaurant on Lake Peten Itza, the second largest lake in Guatemala allowed us to camp outside after we ordered a wood fired pizza and a couple local beers. We headed south the next day trying to get to a forrest reserve with beautiful hikes, waterfalls, and some ruins. Unfortunately, and not mentioned on our maps/GPS/apps, that this route included a ferry crossing. We came to a large line of traffic. AJ got out to explore and figure out the problem while I stayed in the truck watching all locals trying to figure out what the hell we are driving around. AJ reported that there seems to be some kind of problem with the ferry and we should wait it out. Hours later we moved up a bit and are able to see the river and the solution to the broken ferry, which is a barge being pushed on either side by a couple zodiacs trying to fight the current. Crazy! The last attempt we watched, they were only able to get one truck on before the river started to pull them downstream. This is when we decided to go north again and take the another route the next day.

We stayed on a little island on the south side of Lake Peten Itza called Flores and slept outside a very fancy Marriott with a helicopter pad. The next day we took the route that sent us to the Caribbean side of the country through a town called Rio Dulce and then west towards Guatemala city. We spent the night in an abandoned quarry overlooking two valleys. It happened to be Thanksgiving that night and we didn’t have much, planning on hitting up a large market the next day in Guatemala City, but we feasted on ramen noodles and a snickers we had been saving in our freezer. I can tell you that we are thankful for our little family and gypsy lifestyle and all of friends and family across the world.

Alex woke us up bright and early the next growling at someone or something outside the camper. Apparently we had parked on the main walkway from the small town behind us to the main highway in front of us. We peaked outside to see Mayan men headed to work with some lunch strapped to their back and machetes at their waist. Even though we must have been the weirdest sight first thing in the morning, they just waved at us and moved on. Our journey that day took us to Lake Atitlan located west of Guatemala City up in the highlands, surrounded by volcanoes. The drive from the top of the highway down to lake was intense, switchbacks upon switchbacks. A few friends we met later told us they had to stop at the base to let their brakes cool off, thank goodness for manual! We made it to the lake and it literally took our breath away, it is the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. I have not said how beautiful Guatemala is. It is so colorful everywhere you look. There are wildflowers everywhere, and everything is green and lush. The people are beautiful and the Mayan women take pride in wearing traditional Mayan dress made of vibrant colors from head to toe. And the chicken buses!!! My favorite thing to see on the road, and possibly AJs worst fear. They take so much time tricking these old school buses out and turning them into works of art. And a lot of chrome! Guatemala is so visually stimulating, theres always something new around every corner.

Lake Atitlan & Beyond!

Our plan is to spend one week on Lake Atitlan studying Spanish for several reasons. One being how cheap it is here in Guatemala, two is that Lake Atitlan is known for its beauty, and three that we would be immersed in Mayan culture. We chose Corazon Mayan school in San Pedro on the coast of the lake. We walked in and were greeted by Chema, the son of the family who runs the school. He showed us the grounds which included: a hangout room with wifi and a pingpong table, small casitas to stay in during the week, closer to the lake there are maybe eight small rooms dispersed individually in a field full of trees and plants where you study one on one with your tutor, then their farming closer to the lake with coffee, corn, mandarins, and avocado, then finally the beach. AJ and I rented a casita and for the first time left our truck in a secure lot and stayed put for an entire week! We each took four hour lessons five days a week with our sweet Mayan women who are very patient and knowledgeable. The family that owned the school lived on the grounds with us including the mom and dad, Marta and Andreas with Chema and his wife Jozepha with their daughter Ish Yax. We met two overlanders who pulled up right behind us and got to hang out with them all week which was an added bonus! Heather and Dan are from Canada, although Dans originally from England and he introduced us to our first Sunday Roast and pub quiz- that we won! The family taught the four of us how to cook a traditional dish one night called chachetes which was a lot of fun. I think that we learned a bit of Spanish too. Our last day in San Pedro we hiked Volcan San Pedro with Dan and Heather. They are ultra marathon runners so they had no problem. AJ and I have been riding in the car too much and it was quite the hike, especially because volcanoes tend to go straight up! But it was worth it in the end to have a view of the entire lake and all of the towns spread out below us. 

Our new friends recommended a hot spring resort up in the highlands to the west of a town called Quetzaltenango, or Xela for short. After this brutal reintroduction to hiking we were quick to agree and the four of us headed over the mountains, sad to say goodbye to the beautiful lake and wonderful people but excited for new adventures. The hot springs were set into the rocky mountain walls with the springs dripping straight from the rocks into huge beautiful pools. We were able to camp in the parking lot and wake up the next day with the pools all to ourselves. Not a bad way to start the day!

We split from our friends that day, they are heading north to Tikal and we are heading south making our way to El Salvador. We are hiked our second volcano called Volcan Chicabal with a lake in the crater where their were several different groups of Mayans worshipping their gods. We were told they celebrate at this lake all December long, it was a very powerful expierence listening to their chanting while we took in the view. On our way back to the truck, we were surprised to find our quiet campsite now had 30 tents around it. We came to find out they were Mormons and 90% teenage girls, it was an eventful evening full of Hallelujah. 

We are staying in a town just south of the City called Antigua. It’s a little colonial town with none of the buildings over one level so you are able to see all of the hills and volcanoes surrounding us. It’s the most westernized place we’ve stayed at recently, and by that I mean there are a lot of tourists. Last night and tonight we are staying in what looks like the remains of a city wall surrounding a block in the middle of the city. It is owned by the tourist police and they let people stay for one week free as long as you are respectful and inside the gate by 10pm. Thank you CA-4!  We plan one last stop before heading over to El Salvador, we are going hike Volcan Pacaya which is active with lava flows at the top that you can roast marshmallows on!! 

Bugs.

We’ve both been bitten by mosquitos before, and sometimes had several bites that were annoying. AJ lived in Alaska on and off for five years where the mosquitos are as big as hummingbirds. But nothing prepared us for what was in store for us in Mexico and Belize- and we haven’t even gotten to the Amazon yet! We started getting bitten as soon as we crossed the boarder, fresh blood with meat sticks that hadn’t seen sunlight in weeks. It was something we could live with. I remember the fist time the bugs got to me. We were wild camping on a beach after a long days drive. We drove down a street with million dollar houses and past them to the quiet end of the street next to the turtle reserve. We set up our chairs, opened a nice cold beer and watched the sunset over a beautiful black sand beach. As soon as the sunset, hell was set loosed in the form of sand fleas. Hundreds of little creatures started attaching us from all angles. As we ran for our lives back to the safety of the camper, some of our foes breached the door and made themselves a nice little home. The next night after driving all day again and parking late I remember thinking that I was ready to throw in the towel, if I had to share this space with these savages then this was not for me. That was the one and only time I’ve had that thought so far on this trip, and AJ was very patient with me and with these devils. We found out that they don’t have a very long life span and that they weren’t permanent residents, the next night they were gone. Spiders are another resident down here that flourishes in the heat and the wet. We saw our first tarantulas while driving, they were trying to cross the road but they are no match for the dodge. We met one the other night face to face in Belize, the groundskeeper was unimpressed telling us that they hurt horses worse than humans. It was easily the size of my palm and was not scared of us almost stepping on it. The spiders aren’t the worst, although we haven’t been bitten yet so I’ll let you know if that changes. The worst is the flying insects, the little blood suckers that attack from every angle. Flys, knats, and mosquitos are going to be the end of us. There are easily ten types of each and the next one is bigger and more aggressive than the rest. We both look as though we are going through the second coming of chicken pox. We have conversations while the entire time we are scratching ourselves, and we both wake ourselves up itching till we bleed. This is war. And it is just the beginning.

You better Belize it!

Our first goal on this trip was to crash our good friends Ebs and Wes’ honeymoon by the 16th of November. This meant flying through Mexico at a quick pace that was faster than we would have done had we not had this goal. If we hadn’t kept this pace we may have spent our entire year, or at least half of it in Mexico. This has been a good pace setter to let us know that we must keep going if we want to make it to Argentina and all of the countries in between. Mexico was amazing, but Belize has been even better! I have a feeling that we are going to love each country more than the last. 
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Our second boarder crossing was much like our first. We sailed through Mexico from Chetumal to Corozal. We walked in to get our passports stamped and the guard wouldn’t let us through. Apparently they had forgotten to stamp AJs entry into Mexico-back in Tijuana. We walked out, weighing our options, and a porter caught up to us. He said if we bribed the guard $25 US she would let us through. We decided to go back to Mexico boarder and see if they would put a stamp in it since we had just left. Thank goodness Mexico guards took care of us and stamped an entry from 21 days prior. Back into Belize again and we still had to grease some palms just to get Alex in, his paperwork had not gone through yet… An hour later and we were finally in Belize and speaking English and using American money. We cruised down the Pacific to a small town called Hopkins and a little pizza joint playing really good reggae on the beach allowed us to stay the night after we bought a pizza and some beers. The locals speak English but their dialect of choice is Creole, a blend of island/spanish/french, and it is so melodical we could listen to them all day. Not only do they sound beautiful but they are the nicest people! Everyone waving and welcoming us to their country!
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The next day we made it to Placencia, a small peninsula on the Pacific surrounded by small islands called Cayes and the second largest barrier reef next to Australia. We drove up to Ebs and Wes’ hotel on the ocean a couple hours ahead of them to see if we could park there, they had not arrived back from their island adventure yet. Elsa the manager greeted us and welcomed us to park right next to our friends place, she was expecting us. Before you knew it, Ebs and Wes were back on mainland and it was game on. There was a lot of rum and swimming and drinking and eating and more rum and more drinking that first night. For some reason its still a little fuzzy. I do remember taking advantage of their hot shower- I think it was the first hot shower in almost a month. The next day we had a guide, Devin whom Ebs and Wes had met 4 years earlier, take us out to Laughing Bird Caye. We went snorkeling for conchs and shrimp for lunch and then Devin cooked us up a feast on the island. After lunch we went snorkeling around the Caye and saw some of the amazing barrier reef that surrounds Belize. Back on main land we went to dinner at one of the beautiful restaurants on the “worlds narrowest main streets”, it’s a sidewalk. The next day our friends had to leave. I hadn’t realized how nice it would be to see familiar faces that you love half way around the world. We both were a little sad this day, realizing that it was back to the two of us and that our world was very far away.
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Luckily, our next destination would make us feel a little closer to home. We headed west into the mountain region that is full of Mayan ruins, caves, and waterfalls. Our first stop was St. Hermans cave where we had a guide take us up into the depths of a Mayan cave. There are still remnants of sacrifices and blood offerings scattered throughout. We spent the night in San Ignacio, a sweet boarder town with open air markets and Belizian restaurants. The next day we drove to Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, the only pine trees found in Belize up in the mountains. Home sweet home! Our first stop in this little haven was 1000 foot falls. I guess they couldn’t measure properly back in the day since its actually 1,600 feet high. We drove up to the entrance where a wooden sign greeted us as it was almost dusk. There were three buildings on the property that looked dark and possibly abandoned. Out of the closest building a nice man came out and approached us. He called himself Alonso Tun and welcomed us to 1000 foot falls. We asked if we could stay, he was hesitant since it was the weekend and he had no way to notify anyone, but he let us stay. And then gave us a tour of the grounds- i.e. three buildings, hand sized tarantula, story of two jaguars fighting right where we were parked, and of course the most majestic waterfall I have ever seen. We set up our camp early, before dark, before jaguars like to feed/fight/show themselves, made dinner and called it an early night. We woke before sunrise and got to watch the most beautiful sunrise over the waterfall all to ourselves.

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After sunrise we had a quick breakfast and headed through the Reserve to the Mayan ruins of Caracol. We had spoken with an English expat earlier in the week because we had heard that we needed a military escort to enter the ruins and we were a little concerned. The story went something along the lines of the Guatemalans crossing the boarder to steal some leaves to help “cultivate their crops” when one of the Belize military stole not only what they had cultivated but also all of the donkeys that had been carrying it. The Guatemalan “farmer” came back the next day and shot one of the military in Caracol in broad daylight in front of the tourists. We took our chances and met up with the guards in the morning, the Dutch are also in the area training so we had plenty of beefcakes with AK 47s surrounding us and we felt pretty safe. The ruins were spectacular and worth all the risk. That night we went back into the Reserve and spent the night at Rio on Pools. It is the same river as 1000 foot falls, but broken into hundreds of pools to bath and soak in after a long trek through the ancient Mayan ruins. A fantastic end to an exciting trip in Belize. 
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Off next to Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These countries share a treaty allowing us to cross boarders without hassle (hopefully, but knowing us we’ll have to double back at least once). Until next time…