Backtracking because we cannot go further. We are RHD, “right hand drive” its over for us. Central American countries of Nicaragua, Cost Rica and Panama. We cannot go there. Great shame but there you have it. Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, were ok. Such wonderful memories of people and landscape. Further south? Its no way Jose!
Now back in Mexico. Getting very hot and humid we traveled up to Tulum, a Mayan site that is awesomely beautiful on the waters edge. The most touristy destination for Mayan ruins, Exorbitant entry fees!! Magnificent but pails a little in comparison to the Mayan ruins at Pelanque and Tecal in Guatemala. Maybe because it’s close to the Tourist Mecca of Cancun (if you want to see Mexico, you will not find in Cancun). Tourism is the industry in these parts of Mexico, Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula are honey pots for Europeans, North Americans and well heeled South Americans.
So we are on the final leg of our trip to Central America and Mexico as we head to Veracruz and a ship that will take Wiggy to Cartegena in Colombia. We shall leave Wiggy in the hands of a shipping agent. We have to fly to Cartegena and wait a couple of weeks. We have booked 2 weeks at a Spanish School, where we shall learn a little bit more of Spanish. We have managed very well with the little we know but we both feel our experience would have been enhanced if our vocabulary was a little “fuller”.
So, It’s almost time to say ciao. Our 1 year in Mexico has been such an amazing journey and experience. Despite dire warnings whilst in the USA from well meaning folks we have found the people of Mexico and Central America warm and helpful. Even an Honduran local said he would never go to Mexico! A fabulous country marred by its still present violence, drug cartels, kidnapping and corruption. We didn’t wrap our selves in cotton wool, neither did we venture at night to “hot spots’ or drive at night time. The roads are poorly lit, people and animals walk them, there are no footpaths. Topes (speed humps) of which there are literally thousands are not always marked and pot holes abound.
So, really a thank you to special friends and locals we have met (many who are now Facebook friends). Fellow overlanders from whom we garnered many tips and information on special places to see and experience.
A mud pack for pen
Big day going to pick up Wiggie.
Off we walk to the last day of Spanish school this morning.
Just 5 minutes into walking and dripping. Hot? Sure is.
IAN: Oh sh…t Pen, have you seen the keys since we have been here, to the padlocks into the house part?
Pen: No. ( imagine, tone is low, controlled).
No keys in our rented apartment.
That evening after Ian has spent 5 hours at the port, we still have no Wiggie.
We hope they release her tomorrow morning and we will saw off a lock or two to get to the missing keys. We must have left them inside the truck! Wiggy has a few extra security measures. Padlocks on doors, lockable metal grill from cab to living area. External metal plates over windows. Story’s abound of items missing when you get your vehicle returned. RORO (roll on roll off) means a starter key has to remain with the vehicle.
Take it easy, relax, chill, don’t worry. Yeah right!!!
Cartegena, Columbia. Day 1.
Finally get here at 2am. Cancelled flight, then on again. But we here in Sth America. Our room overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. We wait for a couple of weeks for wiggy to join us, from Veracruz. We take a 2 week Spanish course on Monday and learn a little bit more.
How does one say in Spanish “you F&&*cking little fu&**^ers” as they speed away on a motorcycle after drawing alongside and snatching my gold chain and ripping away from my neck.
I’m ok, all happened within 2 seconds. I did quite like that gold chain though. Had it for 20years or so.
Finally got Wiggy back from her Port holding today. Breezed along with Alexander (our French pal whose vehicle made the journey with Wiggy), paper work in order. One hour later, Alexander was on his way! I was to stay because the computer said “No”.
Usually Vin (Vehicle Identification No’s) are checked against paperwork and off you go. Usually!! Apparently and at random customs do a vehicle check, guess who drew the short straw? You already know who hasn’t got keys to open anything!
So, waited 2 hours then customs needed to look at personal effects.
“No keys” said I.
“Where is key” said he.
“NFI” said I.
So cutting a long story short. A pair of bolt cutters were found in the Port somewhere.
“Can I break Lock”?
“Sure” said I. “Be my guest”.
Wiggy was opened, in stepped customs guy (he was a nice guy). Opened 1 drawer, took a pic on his smart phone and said “Ok, all is Ok”.
So, I knew that after retrieving Wiggy I would have to find (or buy) a pair of bolt cutters so we could get in and retrieve keys.
Silver lining to a cloud day, 2 burly port guys, one handle each on bolt cutters busted a high tensile lock, to take a peak at Wiggy.
We were freed!
Our Wiggie has landed!
We are no longer stranded
In a city we love to see.
Our home is arriving,
and we will be driving
all over the place, you’ll see.
The weather is summer and
we need a plumber to fix the humidity
In our fridge which is cactus,
to ensure our lack of longevity.
Life is an adventure, you betcha,
and more we have to see
We are old and still moving,
things keep improving,
and so much of of the world to see!
I am entirely responsible for the poem, Pen.
Couple of amazing things also happened . I needed some batteries for my (now) only one working hearing aid. “Producto número, tres, uno, dos..” i said. Amazement No 1. He understood!
“Cuanto cuesta” (how much) said I. Amazement No 2 he understood and replied. “Veinte cinco” (25 million Colombian pesos. Yes 25 million!). Amazements 3&4 together here, I could actually hear what he said and what it meant!!!
PS 25 million Colombian pesos is about $8.
A mud pack for pen
A walk to the locals market. Mercado de Bazurto. “Tripadvisor” warn of thieves and pickpockets. A warning from a market vendor to wear backpacks on the front!!
Colours amazing, the meat market was pretty iffy but interesting. First time we’ve seen pig eyes for sale!
The video is a bit jumpy as I was trying to not be mown down by Pikipiky Taxis (motorcycles where the rider carries a spare helmet for his fare paying passenger), hundreds of them. Tried to capture the noise of music, people and produce.
So, we are back on the road. Heading South in Colombia. Maybe 4 weeks till Equador where, hopefully the new part for our now very dead fridge will await us.
I mentioned in our last Blog episode the road to Aguacarte, Belize as being the worst we have experienced. I take that back. Guatemala and Honduras roads you’ll read about later in this missive are horrific. Truly horrendous!
In both countries the local form of Transport is in the back of what we call a ute, or a small truck. Everyone piles on, hangs on, and off they go at the speed of light. You may come across them either broken down or changing a tyre, with all the passengers patiently waiting beside the vehicle.
We have never seen so many semi trailers totalled by the side of the road in the mountains. Lack of brakes and poor maintainence is probably the cause of these horrific crashes.
Yasmin our Swiss friend is still travelling with us. She is brave!
After crossing the Belize/Guatemala border we headed for Tikal, an amazing Mayan World Heritage archeological site. This Mayan city was home to some 150,000 inhabitants at it’s height.
The towering temples each took some 300 years to build. Rich fertile country side was farmed to feed the the large community. Something really catastrophic must have happened in the Americas during the 11th century. Mesa Verde in Arizona, home to cliff side dwellers was abandoned and all of the Mayan culture and people in Central America vanished during that time. Famine? Disease?
We spent 2 days at Tikal walking around the beautiful ruins. Howler monkeys hidden in the tree tops added to our experience. They sound like lions roaring, and are really a small baboon.
South to Flores and a campsite overlooking the lake and city, which is an island approachable by water or one bridge. Very old and attractive. Water taxis ferried us across to the city for a bit of shopping and to explore.
It was at this campsite we first met a convoy of 3 British cars who are travelling the World. “GlobalConvoy.com”. These guys bought cars in the UK,(aka bombs. 100 British pounds each ) and started travelling the world some time ago!
They offer via their website an incredible experience for anyone who wants to join them on a leg of their world journey. Pay your own expenses, fit in and do a share of the work (which also means getting out of the cars and help push these bombs up hills). They have extraordinary tales and funny videos on YouTube. Check them out! We keep in contact. The last we heard 2 cars brakes and shock absorbers totally failed. They are taking ad hoc work to get the Bombs running again. Quite an incredible intrepid balmy group. An inspiration!
People we meet say we are an inspiration. Because we are of a vintage?
Anything is possible even the seemingly impossible( he gulps for air).
From Flores we headed south to Lanquin and Semec Champey high up in the fabulous Guatemalan Mountains (truly magnificent). This is where we encounter our horrific roads, read tracks. Boulders, rocks, washouts. Wiggy in 4×4 we bounced and lurched along for hours. Reversed to let oncoming vehicles pass where narrow tracks won’t allow passing. These tracks are the major routes in these parts. Pretty high elevation, mist and drizzle (known locally as Chipy Chipy, which happens Feb/March each year) made tracks greasy and slippery. 10hrs of exhausting driving we finally made it to our camp. We all 3 would have loved a hot shower. Not in these parts buddy! Perched on a grassy terrace above a beautiful river we slept.
Woke next morning to find GlobalConvoy.com right beside us! WTF! Truly amazing how those guys made it. We were camped with this “motley” crew for 2 days. The road into camp had a very steep wet and slippery descending hill. We offered to winch them out using Wiggys rear winch as they thought they would never make the climb out!
Pen, being the mother of all breathing, cooked one pot meals for two nights to feed some of them. No leftovers for breakfast! No dishes to clean as our motley group dug in and all woke to a tidy camp. They loved it!.
Semec Champey has a fierce flowing river that has cut its way through limestone and runs some 300 mtrs underground and appears again as a magnificent waterfall. Above are superb swimming pools. We did a guided hike up to a lookout, 500 mtrs climb of vertical rock “steps” and ladders. At the lookout chippi chippi mist and drizzle made our view impossible. We were in thick cloud and visibility was down to about 10 mtrs so we missed the magnificent view. Descending by a 700mtr different route we were back at the swimming holes. Returned to camp and Global Convoy were no where to be seen! So they obviously found a way out. Clever them.
Coban was our next stop, a night here before the beautiful city of Antigua flanked by the Volcano de Agua. Cobbled streets here are typical. Antigua is to Guatemala what San Miguel de Allende is to Mexico. Rich in heritage. Behind doors and gates lie courtyards fringed with artsitan shops and restaurants. A lot of Antiguan tourists fly in or are coached in from cruise ships docked on the Guatemalan Pacific coast.
Wiggy had a service with Gunter the wonder mechanic found on iOverlander site, and all filters replaced as well as much needed greasing. $150! We had Wiggys tyres rotated for the equivalent of $6 just down the road at the side of the street. Our roof rack had been busted on some welds from the horrific roads. Couldn’t find an aluminium welder in Antigua so rack is now held together by Ratchet strap and 20 cable ties.
We stayed in a hotel in Antigua for 2 nights for much wanted hot shower and desperate laundry needs. We do have a shower in Wiggy and hot water, but keeping our general water to a level is paramount for us. We can bucket wash, “top & tail” as it were or have copious amount of cold showers (yikes) at most of the campsites we stay at. But there is nothing like a hot shower with a bit of room to “dance” around in. Dance in Wiggys shower you cannot.
From Antigua we drove on paved roads although with some huge holes and cracks from earthquakes. Was a heavenly drive in comparison to the last big push.
4 hrs west to Panajachel on the shores of Lago Atitlan. If it’s not the most beautiful lake on this planet it certainly comes close. The lake boasts magnificent views of 3 Guatamalen Volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. Villages nestle around this lake and plenty of water taxis to take to each, San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago. At the rear of Santiago is a mass graveyard when in 1992(?) A Hurricane Killed all inhabitants. While at our camping spot we met 2 Irish Girls who were cycling through Central America, a really gutsy effort as Guatamala is so mountainous. Wow, people you meet!
Yasmin left us in Antigua, to do an overnight hike to the top of a volcano and to make her way to the Honduran Caribbean Islands to get her PADI (dive) licence. Utila and Roatan are considered the dive Mecca of the Northern Hemisphere. We are headed that way so we may catch up once more.
Heading towards our Guatemala/Honduras border crossing we stayed at a superb little campsite outside of Chiquimala, which as a bonus had a superb swimming pool. Camping was free, use of pool was 25 quetzals each ($4) 24 hr security. We had 4 glorious 4 nights here.
Had a security “gate” made and fitted by Marvin, the wonder welder between cab and living space, ready for our RORO shipping to Cartagena, Colombia. RORO means roll on roll off, and you have to leave the keys to your vehicle with the ships Capt. (or someone), so if there is access to personal space and items, one stands a very good chance of being totally denuded of everything! Quite common.
A little side journey South from here to the town of Esquipula which receives 1 million visitors many who queue for hours to see Christ Negro, a black Christ who appeared and cured a dying Spanish Priest in the 15th Century. The queue when we were their was snaking 1 km, in temperatures close to 90 F.
Crossed the border into Honduras, which we had heard could be problematic. Well prepared for this. Gulp! We had six colour copies made of all documents pertaining to Wiggy and us. Had them “Plasticoed’ and cut to look very similar to our originals. Never, ever hand over original documents!!! Too much hassle and “Admin. Costs” to get them returned. No problem at this Frontera for the Wiggie team!
First Honduran night was in Copan Ruinas, a quaint gated little city. The Mayan ruins here are the most southerly of the Mayan civilisation. The city road was fine driving in, but to get out all gates had ‘roofs’ were too low for us to get through. Had to stop traffic, reverse and attempt another exit. Thwarted twice more before we eventually “escaped”. Hoots and Holas from locals. Just gorgeous.
We use Maps.me for navigation. It’s an offline maps App which to the most part, here in Central America has been pretty jolly good. Our TomTom is useless here. But twice Maps.me has got us into some extremely difficult positions. The app always advising the shortest route which can mean the crow can fly this way and so can you. Not!
We had read that to complete the Honduran driving experience the route across the Mountains through coffee plantations was well rewarded. We agree. the Mountains and plantations were simply stunning. The aroma of harvested and cleaned coffee is not as you would imagine. The beans have a pungent smell a bit like fermented barley, as they are cleaned and then dried in the sun on huge tarps. Men continuously rake the beans and they change colour in the really hot climate.
When you next have your morning “Heart Starter”, give a thought to these very hardworking Hondurans. They endure so much hardship.
Maps.me said turn right at a tiny village to take this mountainous route. Gut instinct, (note to ones self, trust your gut) here said turning right didn’t seem right somehow. We checked with a local, in our very bad Spanish. We pointed and shrugged, he pointed and smiled. So, we turned right.
As you would. OK!
This, dear readers, is where the shit really hit the proverbial fan! The track was steep and continued to narrow until there really wasn’t a road. Hairpin bends over grown with jungle vegetation not allowing the slightest of “round the corner” views. Urban male Hondurans (and Guatemalans) all carry machetes, I suspect because you can almost hear the jungle growing around you. Stop for too long and you become part of the landscape and have to slash your way out.
We had been travelling all day in 4×4 high range. Up ahead the narrow track turned to a single very steep track. Wash outs meant deep gutters (dry thank god). We had no other choice but to attempt it, reverse? Not an option! We had 100 mtrs before the track widened and flattened somewhat, then another corner and steeper incline to negotiate but without washouts. Signs of habitation after walking the track saw double tracks meant other vehicles use the track further on. 1 hour later after backfilling gutters with rock and visualising the finish line was time to “gun” it.
Some local coffee growers appeared and told us all would be fine, we should continue, and walked the track for a little while to check on our progress. They were great.
An aside. these people work so hard, are extremely impoverished, and some of the most generous souls we have met. They hate to say no, so we guess thats why the original guy at the ‘right’ turnoff urged us on. He was very polite.
This was without doubt the worst 4×4 test we have experienced, ever! Crossing the Simpson Desert and driving outback Australia is by comparison a walk in the park. It was a driving nightmare in a really remote mountain range full of people with machetes who looked really scary, but were angels.
This is what Wiggy was made to do, we agreed. Yeah, but what about us!
Slipped Wiggy into low range 1st gear. We crawled uphill, Wiggy bounced and lurched over the rocks from washout to washout. Have no idea what revs we were pulling, just trying to steer. Wiggys engine was screaming!
Or was that me and Pen?
We managed the first bad section, and had a minute or two of quiet reflection, as you would. Humidity pretty high and we were soaked in sweat through both humidity and nervous exhaustion I suspect.
Then to tackle the second and steepest incline. Pen had to walk in front and guide by hand signals where Wiggys wheels needed to be. Screams once again. Might have been me or Wiggy, or both!!!! Wasn’t Pen for sure, as she was out front. Tyres smoking, we reached the summit. We made it!!!
Whooo Hooo! Whoo Hooo f@@king HOOO!!
This 6 tonne Isuzu truck we lovingly call Wiggy is one amazing vehicle.
Wiggy, we have put you over some torturous and horrendous tracks. We will undoubtedly need your guts and power again.
Hopefully these two old dudes will meet YOUR expectations!!
Our little Buddha, given to us in Mexico has had his head knocked of twice during the above journey. We’ve stuck his head back on each time. He now wears a little choker to hide the damage. Poor little chap.
We now off to the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Roatan Island. The dive centre of the Northern Hemisphere. Wiggy is parked in a secure parking lot on the mainland.
At La Ceiba, the mainland port.
In our last blog I mentioned we may be able to cross into Costa Rica and Panama with our right hand drive Wiggy. Is now confirmed we cannot. So from here we head back to Mexico for shipping from Veracruz, Mexico to Cartegena in Colombia.
Globalconvoy.com has a website. Check them out. They are a wonderful group of young people. They have a ‘gofundme’ site which is all about getting their (bombs) around this amazing planet while providing a life experience to others, and donating to a charity for Cancer research in the old dart (UK). Any contribution you may make goes to maintaining their truly awesomely bad vehicles, and providing young people with the adventure of a lifetime.
We are finishing the blog off today sitting by the azure (like it?) Caribbean, watching people, vendors selling clothing, pineapple donuts, bracelets and conch shells, (and fighting about territory!), dive boats going in and out and little water taxis zooming up and down the beach. Lots of tourists, and it is just so beautiful we are not surprised it’s so full of people lying in the sun.
We leave in less than 48 hrs for the mainland of Honduras, will pick up Wiggie and return to the mountains, the Parque Nationale Pico Bonito, and the magnificent river we didn’t get a chance to explore. Eco adventure time!
BELIZE- January 2017
As I’ve said many times in our blog “books you read and people you meet”. Books are going around a second time, kindle and pick me ups! Meeting people is special and the best part of our travels, it never ever stops. Coban, Guatemala sees us writing this missive.
We’ve found the time to knuckle down. Do I feel a poem coming on? Good grief Ian get on with it. Discipline is the key! But…….. How do two 66 year old globe trotters find discipline. Answer……With difficulty.
We’ve found it so, here comes another episode on our fantastic, magical, fortunate journey.
By the way, our blog has had over 7000 reads. That in its self we find humbling.
Just finished Niall Williams. “History of the rain” second time around, (beautifully written, long listed for the Man Booker). Pen reading ‘The HIstory of 7 Killings”, a tough but excellent book about Jamaican history. Also listed for the Man Booker.
Anyways its winter here in Guatemala, but still the humidity presses down. Almost like swimming/duck diving and when reaching the surface, the atmosphere pushes you down again. Pens loves laundry, but drying our no mentionables and bigger thingies is a task to say the least. Even the furry animals run nose and tail down, maybe looking for food or more by atmospheric pressure?
By the way we are not travelling alone at the moment, Yasmin, a young Swiss woman joined us in Hopkins, (a drinking town with a fishing problem) Belice. In Kismet hotel/hostel. What a wonderful, crazy place. Thanks Tricia & Elvis and the Rastas.
Went something like this… either during the Garifuna drum night or after. Lots of Ganja aromas drifting the air that night so memory a little cloudy from second hand smoke!
Me….Where your headed!
Me….So are we! How you getting there?
Me…..We going that way , so jump on board if you want. She did and its been lovely travelling with her.
Wiggy has a dining table, and it quickly makes up a second bed.
Belize, formerly British Honduras until Independence in 1974, is a beautiful little country. Bordered by Mexico and Guatemala and its coastline is all Caribbean Sea, with a population of around 400,000 Afro, Cuban, Spanish, Creole and ex pat people, who take great pride in their little country.
Tourism is the mainstay of the Belize economy which continues to be plundered by a Lord Ashcroft (according to the local press). I couldn’t comment but Google him if you want more information.
From Corozal in the North until Belize City nothing much happens except for a couple of non descriptive towns and small sugar plantations that provide the crop for “Travellers” distillery to make Belizean Rum.
We had 2 nights in Belize City. Be very careful we were told. We were! Most tourists who come to Belize head for the Cayes, a beautiful set of Islands set amongst the coral reefs. San Pedro and Caulker Cayes are the attraction for many Belize travellers. We went out for a day trip to Tobacco Caye.
Southwards to the little town of Dangriga and a trip to the Tobacco Caye on the reef. Captain Doggy we were told was the best to take us out. He was very good although his seating on this old fishing boat would not have passed any safety requirement on this planet. A plank from gunwhale to gunwhale was where Pen and I sat, a French family of three sat just in front on a seat (somewhat garden type) not fixed to the floor which kept moving back on us as Captain Doggy steered his pride and joy through the 2 mtr swells.
All passengers on board hung on to anything that was a fixed part of the boat. The trip back to shore after snorkelling and bird watching (Boobies and Frigate birds), was far calmer. Captain Doggy took the return home via the reef fringe, and did a spot of fishing, while our French “Crew” did a bit more snorkelling. We think he uses his tourist boating to feed his family. Cap’n Doggy sure can fish! A big barracuda on a hand line, and other fish not sure what they were. But was a good fun if not a terrifying (at times) day. The ride back to Dangriga was beautifully calm.
We free camped right on the waters edge in Dangriga and 2nd night a whippet thin Belize man, Stephen , asked if we want coconuts. Sure we said and before we had time to get the camera he had climbed a coconut tree and cut a couple of for us and shimmied back down bearing the fruit with a toothless grin and macheted the tops of . Beautiful fresh coconut water. Turned out he was 64.
We stocked the freezer with some fresh fish from the market. Snook we were advised. A firm sweet white fish.
Then travelled south for about one hour to Belize Zoo. Its more of a sanctuary for orphaned and injured animals, but we had a fabulous few minutes watching a 6 month old female Jaguar (Chi Chi), taking raw chicken from her carer. She was found in the jungle, nearly dead, when she was 3 weeks old. Tapirs, Keel billed Toucans, Owls and Raptors. Free in the trees were Spider and Howler Monkeys.
Spent the next 2 nights camped alone, in the Catscomb Parque Nacional; Belizes’ Jaguar Sanctuary. Being nocturnal, we didn’t see any of these magnificent cats during day hikes, but we were told that they would have been watching us!
The heavens opened the day we left the Parque. Torrential rain and torrents crossing our path.
While in Mexico, we met a couple from Bakersfield, California. They were escaping a possible Trump for USA President, (now confirmed). San Ignacio, Belize, in the mountains, was where they were headed. We found them and camped out side of their rental property, while they searched for a place of their own. Lovely time with people who have become close friends. That includes the dogs.
The Mayan ruins at Xanantunitch were very close and very impressive, not quite on the scale of the Ruins at Pelanque in Mexico.
South again to Punta Gorda, along the Hummingbird Highway.
In all of Belize Punta Gorda or “PG” as everyone calls it, is the stand out place for us. People so friendly, the town easily walked, and few tourists.
Being the Southern most town in Belize, people there feel a sort of specialness about their little city, and are very inclusive.
First night we had trouble finding some where to camp, as there are no tourist amenities, and we asked for info at the Towns fire station. We were invited to camp right along side the station on a lovely grassed area. Later we found a fabulous little spot right on the towns edge and water side. Perfect, for 3 more nights!
As always people come up to us and start talking (Belize is English speaking), wanting to know about our travels. Children arrive, and want to have a look inside Wiggy and before you know 3 little kids are bouncing on your bed giggling their heads off and others are doing gymnastics from the front bumper, (fender).
One of our campsite visitors Filberto, told us about his village of Aguacarte and how they are providing a “Mayan” experience, complete with home stays, and Mayan food. So, we being the intrepid types decided to go. The village was fabulously set in an amphitheatre of dense jungle covered limestone hills. Homes were all dirt floored and grass covered. The charcoal fire cooked everything. Smokes escaped under the eaves. Our experience included Iguana stew with Iguana eggs for breakfast! Lots of tortillas.
We had 2 gruelling hikes during our stay, one to what the locals call a sink hole, (I would call it a cave.) Ancient Mayans performed rituals in this place many thousand of years ago, including sacrifices to their gods. There are still pieces of Mayan pottery to be seen. Really difficult to get into and out of!
Our guide told us about a lot of the natural plants they use for medicines and food, all from the bountiful jungle.
The 2nd gruelling hike was to a waterfall, 2.5 hrs. 2 guides came with us. One in front who at times had to machete his way through the jungle. One of the guides wives came too, and she walked the whole trek in thongs. She had great fun showing me her pristine little feet, while we were up to our knees in mud!
The Mayan village experience was truly fabulous. The road into and out of Aguacate was our worst ever. By far! We twisted the fridge and Ian swore lots.
Our baby Buddha was so shocked by the trip in and out of Aguacate that his head fell off! We have glued him back together, and he now has a lovely ribbon choker to hide the injury.
Our Belize visa was valid for 30 days, we still had 7 days left so decided we would go back to Hopkins on the coast, which is where we meet Yasmin. Free camped along side Driftwood Pizza, next to Kismet Inn, once again overlooking the Caribbean.
The night we arrived an open sided tent was erected outside the pizza joint on the beach, and Lo and behold, drummers and singers arrived for a great night of music. Pen finally listened from our bed, while Ian put on his Derby, and ‘maracced ‘ with the band. In payment for Ian using his maracas, the guy said, in a rich Caribbean accent. “rum and coke, man”. Ian shot off and got one for him, but couldn’t find him again, so decided to drink the one drink you don’t need! We are not sure what they felt about his involvement, but they are a kind people.
4 days left on visa so we head again for San Ignacio and once again camp at Bill & Laurie’s. When Ian was playing cards with them he had a vision of a woman sitting opposite him. He saw a ghost/spirit.
We had arranged to go horse riding while in San Ignatio, along the absolutely beautiful river. Ian’s first time on a horse. It moved as he tried to get on, and he fell off. Ian reckons the horse sensed his “seeing” and was left with under care. Pen, Yasmin, Bill and the Cowboy had a great ride around the farm. Laurie iced his leg, which had been trampled on, and no bones were broken, thank you universe.
1 day to go, we say our farewells and head 10 kms west to the Guatemalan Border.
3 of us in Wiggy, (Yasmin perched in the cab with us on cushions) roll up to the border. Immediately establishing that our Spanish is woeful, Yasmin saves the day by taking management of the situation, and bankrolling us with local quetzals to pay all the fees required. Nothing like having your own private Swiss bank account! Her Spanish is excellent, and it was a great help to have her with us. She is also calm and very tough with money vendors etc., so we were very impressed and thankful.
We cross into Guatemala.
A smidgen of info has led us to believe we may be able to drive through Costa Rica!
There are more than 3 million bicycles in Amsterdam. The average person owns 3. The average person has one stolen each year. 10,000 bikes are pulled from the Amsterdam Canal system each year. The average Amsterdam prostitute spends 7 minutes with each client! There are some 350 kms of waterways in Amsterdam with water gates able to shut off the City from any danger of flooding. If you fall into any canal these days, you have a good chance of surviving, as opposed to just 150 years ago your chances of survival were pretty slim! These and other gems of information were imparted to us by our Amsterdam Walk Tour Guide. Amsterdam is a perfect walking and cycling city.
We spent a morning wandering through the remarkable Van Gough museum. Pre paid tickets are the way to go as to queue on spec means hours of your life standing in line. Our very short 5 day visit to this lovely city was spent walking the canal pathways, and seeing the City from a canal tour boat. Anywhere in Europe during the tourist season of July/August guarantees shoulder to shoulder shuffle of the cities streets and tourist meccas.
Europe, for the time being completed.
A flight back to Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico and back to “Wiggy”. It seems perfectly normal for us to feel affection for our truck, we are bit wacky anyway!
We took off for San Miguel Allende, Zacatecas, Guanajato and drove in a big loop through these fascinating areas. Each Town/City has it’s own Industry, for example Delores Hildago, colourful pottery, Guanajuato and Zacatecas have a history of silver mining. San Miguel Allende has a very big industry of American and Canadian Expats, and the flow on effect of shopping and restaurants makes this City quite prosperous.
An amazing festival and dancing through the streets in San Miguel Allende, with various Mexican tribes all costumed dancing through the streets. Our friend Dr Robert (Tito, we met him at the Combi Fest 4 months ago) kindly drove us around the local points of interest. He is the President of the Bibliotech, or local library and museum, a retired vet and a funny guy. He drives old Combis and Vdubs, and prides himself on being a bit of a renegade and boasts of himself “drug running” between the USA and Canada albeit Veterinarian drugs . Lovely generous man. We were happy to leave (English speaking) San Miguel Allende and throw ourselves once again into Mexico proper.
Outside San Potosi we camped in a big compound where we and a horse were the only occupants. The owner lived in a substantial home within the compound and drove a big Hummer.
We didn’t like to ask what he really did for a living, (as you couldn’t possibly make a salary from one camper and a horse). He told us he was in ‘real estate’, we left it at that! He and his wife drove us into town of San Potosi so we could walk the streets, and look at the architecture. San Potosi Is the home of Mexican independence. While we were walking the City the communists and mothers were holding a demonstration for students who have gone missing, presumed murdered, decades before.
There was a big marquee erected on one plaza for “Seniors Day”. We were both welcomed by the MC, he told the Senior crowd how old we were and of our travels around the World and how long we planned to travel. A big cheer went up for us. We don’t see what we do as remarkable but lots of people we meet do! We confirmed our “senior” status by losing our camera in our campsite owners Hummer in San Potosi and having to backtrack from Guanajato 3 days later some 200 km’s to retrieve it!
On the way to this area from Jalisco to San Miguel Allende/Guanajuato we drove through what is considered to be the food bowl of Mexico. Lush high Altitude (5000 ft) prosperous farming with plenty of irrigation water available.
Each day for four days as we were driving, we saw semi trailers that had flipped over and crashed on the freeways and side roads. One truck was full of white chickens, now very dead, and possibly numbering in the 10,000’s. Some men had lit a fire just down the road and were roasting some of them! You gotta hand it to the Mexicans for an impromptu Bar B Q.
Another truck caused absolute chaos on the freeway as when it crashed and rolled over all the cartons of beer it was carrying spilled out the back. Cars had pulled up all over the highway and people were running away with as many bottles and cartons they could carry. Anarchy, but we suspect another impromptu party was about to commence! The third truck had miscalculated a curve around the railway lines and had tipped over the tracks. Maybe tables and chairs on board?
Ten days for this trip then back to Ajijic, on Lake Chapala Mexicos largest fresh water Lake. We had a house sit organised for 4 weeks, so it was park up Wiggy once again and have the relative luxury of a house with pool and 3 doggies to care for. Our host Judy ( who was holidaying in the USA) gave us the use of her car. When we left her home (we went to another house sit for friends for 2 weeks). We met her a few times after leaving her home, and she “returned some men’s underwear” she had found in her glove box. Didn’t belong to me so I wrote a little poem.
AN UNDERWEAR MYSTERY.
What shall i do this beautiful morn?
The sun is shining and it is quite warm
I think I’ll go for a spin in my car
Tired from my trip, I shan’t go far.
Fix the mirror, check my glove box
Rego’s there…..and a pair of Jocks!
Blue in colour, all alone, no shirt or socks
Just those jocks!
How did they get there I furtively thought
not bespoke, surely store bought
A bit old and faded and not a duster
I sat for a time but couldn’t muster
The slightest clue!
I’ve travelled a lot and I’ve seen a bit
Woke bleary with eyes just a slit
But never, ever have I forgot my knicks
In my handbag they go. I know boys tricks!
No man of mine would dress in jocks so faded blue
It’s that Aussie house sitter bloke thats who.
Pen and Ian won’t you come for dinner
Quite candidly I asked have you been a sinner?
Ian looked aghast didn’t blink or wink.
They could be Sams’ Freds’ Homers or Kens
They’re definitely not mine, said Ian
I usually wear Pens!
So our house sit was for friends we met some 18 months before in Washington State who have moved permanently to Mexico. Ajijic is a charming old town by the lake, full of creativity, galleries, food markets, organic produce, music and smiles. We said our good byes to some wonderful friends we had the pleasure of meeting around Lake Chapala.
Really was time to get going! We had left our selves just 5 weeks to get to Belize and a lot to look at along the way. Patzcuaro is the place in Mexico for the “Noches de Muerta”, the Day of the Dead celebration, which is Mexicos Major festival. All the cemeteries are decorated with thousands of marigolds, portable shrines, and families celebrate with their dead relatives and ancestors by singing, dancing and drinking. Tick that one off.
Mexico City with its mad traffic, we parked 40 kms outside the city and caught the train to the the Centre and had a hotel stay for 3 nights. Once again shoulder to shoulder tourists. A visit to Mexicos religious mecca the “Virgin of Guadalupe” , a beautiful ornate Cathedral on a dangerous lean and gradually sinking into the former swampy Mexico City City Valley. This colossal City of some 29 million people has awesome street markets. Day 2 and a “Hop On, Hop Off” tourist bus ride to some of Mexico Cities major attractions. 3 days in this city was enough for us! Next stop Puebla, and 3 nights in a very central car park (literally). A city once again with some magnificent Spanish influence architecture, countless street food stalls selling Tomales, Tacos, Enchiladas, roasted grasshoppers and nuts.
Keep moving guys! Saddle up! You now have just 10 days to get to Belize!
Oaxaca: another car park, but safe, central and locked at night, (we are always aware of being secure, it’s our mantra). A beautiful city to walk around and once again some great markets. Oaxaca is famous for its Chocolate and Mole sauces. A mole is a blend of spices and chocolate to make the strong sauce and is a wonderful dish with chicken and other meats being added to the sauce. People can be famous for their secret recipes, and the bases of green and black moles are available everywhere. It’s pretty much about the Mole than the meat added to it.
We loved the mountain cities and towns of the Sierra Madre Sur we have seen and tasted since leaving Lake Chapala, but we were desperate to see some Ocean again. South we headed to Puerto Escondido on Mexicos Pacific Coast, a broad expanse of sandy beach and a not too bustling little town. We were lucky enough to be there for the Annual Marlin Fishing Contest. One hundred or so small fishing boats went out to sea at 8am to be back by 3 pm the same day, for 3 days. Biggest fish went for the weigh in, and all others sold to the local market. It was here that we went to a Turtle “Turtoga” sanctuary. This was fabulous. The Michoacan State Government is trying to help the volunteers increase the turtle population along 100kms of Pacific Costline which has been dangerously diminished by mans hand, as the eggs are a traditional food for the local communities.
They now monitor the nests, and when the little turtles emerge in this little sanctuary they gather them up. We were handed a half cocoanut shell with a 1hr old “Turtoga” in it. We all lined up near the waves on the beach and released them. The strong ones bolted down the beach and disappeared into the surf. The volunteers in charge threw sand at the circling seagulls in an attempt to stop their murderous dives upon the surface swimming babies. Only 1% of these little turtles survive, and return to the same beach to lay their eggs some 15 years later. They have to flap down the beach to the water as they need to listen to the waves, and register the distinctive smell. Only then when their inner senses have locked in these two vital homing devices are they able to return to their “birth” beach and continue their breeding cycle. An amazing experience for us.
Get moving, you now have only 5 days.
Destination, Pelanque. From the Ocean, over the Sierra Madre Sur mountain range once again through a high altitude village where we were stopped by villagers demanding 200 Pesos to pass through!! Got through for 50!!! A huge driving day for us 10 hours and 400 kms. Happy to have a beer, and an early night. Next morning we were woken by Troops of Howling Monkeys occupying the surrounding forest. A 5 km hike after breakfast to the Maya ruins nestled in the Palenque rain forest. These 5000 year old ruins were huge and magnificent.
3 days guys, you’d better move your bums!!
Out of the mountains now and into East Mexico the driving was easier and a little faster, we were still bedevilled by Topes, (Topes are nasty speed humps. They are in every hamlet, village, town, and city. Some are marked, many are not. They are designed to slow down the traffic. And they do!!!!). If you are lucky to be following a vehicle you know when you are about to approach a Tope. But as surely as night follows day, sooner or later you will know you’ve met a Tope only when you hit it and become airborne! We are 6.5 tonne (14000 lbs) and we hit these little unseen MotherF…ers pretty hard. We have clothes out of cupboards, storage doors open, stuff stored on our bed hits the ceiling and lands where it does!
2 days to go!!
To our Belize crossing and we are in Chetamul, Eastern Mexico, just 1 hour from the Belize Border. We are now eating all foods stuffs we have in our fridge and freezer, Belize Border control confiscates all non tinned foods. We’ve read a lot of information about the Belize Border crossing and all went without a hitch pretty much. We could only get Wiggy a permit for 30 days. We are returning to Australia for December and Xmas for 34 days so we couldn’t get a permit, so Wiggy is safe and sound in the Customs yard on the Belize Border. When we get back to Belize early January we’ll get the 30 day permit and continue our fabulous journey and wind our way towards Guatemala and Honduras.
We spent the night in Belize city after our 2 hour transfer from Chetamul. 5.30am we arrived at the International airport somewhat ready for our Gruelling 30hr trip back to Australia for Pens mums 90th birthday and to have Xmas with families.
No further news on a possible reversal by the Costa Rican and Panamanian Governments not to allow, Right Hand Drive vehicles into their Countries. So it still looks like after visiting Central America we will not be allowed into Costa Rica, so from there we’ll be turning around, going back to Mexico and shipping Wiggy to Cartegena in Colombia from Veracruz.
JUNE 2016 – WE GO OUR SEPERATE WAYS FOR JUNE (OZ & UK) AND MEET UP IN LONDON FOR A MONTH OF EUROPE.
We hope this instalment to our Blog finds you all well and enjoying October!
After 3 weeks in Australia for Pen, and a flight to the UK and family for Ian, we met up in London on 27th June to see a bit more of Ians’ homeland, much of Ireland and Amsterdam, for about 5 weeks.
The Wiggie was parked securely at Jocotepec, Jalisco Mexico, waiting for our return at the beginning of August.
Airbnb (an internet Bed & Breakfast booking service) was really good on this little side trip in London,
around the UK, Ireland and Amsterdam, we had some really great and interesting stays and one real dodgy B&B in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
We walked London for a week, used the “Tube” and rail system extensively. The Queen was at home in Buckingham Palace, so we were able to wave in her general direction, along with the thousands of other tourists outside the Palace. High Season!
Our stay in London was in the middle of the Turkish community in Harringay which was very colourful, eclectic and ethnic, lots of Turkish food and bakers shops, restaurants and barbers. Besides doing all of the tourist places around Central London we had a day at beautiful Kew Gardens, the kitchen garden section was a delight and the Palm/Cactus pavilions were stunning.
Leaving London we hired a car and headed North on the M1 Motorway for Leicestershire, Ians home county which he left 40 years ago for his new life in Australia. Visited many of Ians family and had some glorious walks through the Charnwood Forest area of this beautiful County. Memorable was a visit to Leicester Cathedral and the new Museum dedicated to King Richard III, whose body was discovered in the Car Park of the Cathedral 2 years previous. He was buried there following his death at the Battle Of Bosworth during the English Civil War.
A trip to England is never complete for us without a trip to the Cotswolds (on this occasion no rain!). The villages around this area of England are just “Picture Perfect”, taken somewhat for granted by the Brits, tourist buses line the streets leading to Village Tourist “Hot Spots”. Every where you travel in England you have to pay for Car Parking. Not cheap! We did a lot of “Park & Ride”. Park on the outskirts of a City and use Public Transport to town and City Central areas.
We toured the West Country before heading North to the Peak District with its own charming villages, including Matlock, Buxton, Bakewell and a visit to Chatsworth House Farm Shop. Chatsworth House is the ancestral home of the Duke of Devonshire.
Next we headed to Yorkshire and toured very “Olde Worlde” York City and its famous York Minster Cathedral. The North Yorkshire Moors and quaint Coastal Villages Staithes and Robin Hood Bay were stunning. The seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby were in full Holiday mode with thousands of English families enjoying their annual holidays. Fish & Chip shops, ice cream Parlours were frantically busy. Beach Ride Donkeys (a very English Tradition) were patiently waiting for the next child to hop aboard for the 50 yards up and back along the beach. The dialects in this part of England were thick and broad, people sitting on beach chairs in coats and sweaters shielding themselves from the North Sea winds were very amusing to us!
We headed West through the Yorkshire Dales, (first time for either of us in this part of England) which is now one of our favourite places. The village of Wensleydale in the heart of the Dales has a cheese shop and we urge all to travel the Dales a spend an hour or two amongst the cheeses, just mind blowing.
Driving West and reluctantly leaving the Dales we joined the M6 Motorway and headed South, our destination being Liverpool where in 3 days time we would catch the ferry for Belfast. Liverpool was a big surprise to us, its City Centre being transformed into Pedestrian Malls full of Restaurants, hotels and Pubs. The Liver building dominates the water front and has 2 Phoenix atop its towers one looking out to sea and the other over the City. Locals reckon the Phoenix looking out to sea is waiting for its seafaring men to return while the other is looking to see whether the Pubs are open! A visit to the Cavern Club where the Beatles played during the 60’s was a must and also photo for Pen next to John Lennons’ statue. We didn’t visit The “Beatles Museum” as Ian reckons he’s probably got just as many Beatles Original albums as they would have!! The (awesome) Liverpool Museum sits along the banks of the River Mersey and tells of the rich Heritage of this fascinating Lancastrian City.
We dropped our hire car off at Lime Street Station (left behind Ians prescription sunglasses and our SPOT messenger gizmo), and headed for the Ferry that would take us past the Isle of Man, across the Irish Sea (calm as the proverbial Mill Pond, most unusual we were told) to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Were we would spend the next 3 weeks touring this fabulous verdant Island. Our AirBnB in Belfast was a funny experience, a lovely B&B and just as lovely Hostess, Yvonne. She and Ian sat on her house steps one night both smoking huge Cuban Cigars (which Ian had with him from our Cuba trip), drinking red wine, whiskey and he can’t remember what else! Both getting completely “Molly Monk”.
We travelled this beautiful Island anti clockwise, our next destination after Belfast was “Giants Causeway” an amazing volcanic formation of thousands of identical hexhagonally shaped interlocking standing pillars of Basalt rock.
Our next AirBnB was in Londonderry (Derry). This was our “Dodgy” one. An excuse to get a bit of money we concluded! Interesting location though, right in the centre of the notorious “Bogside”, which was central to the Northern Irelands “Troubles”. The Band U2’s iconic song “Bloody Sunday” was written after the tragedy that happened just around the corner from our AirBnB. But as in all of our journeys to date we felt safe. We were told by a Southern Irishmen we met later that neither he or any one else from his part of Ireland wouldn’t, for fear for their lives, dare venture into Derry, ever, “Troubles” over or not!!
Pouring rain when leaving Derry, (lots of Irish rain days, it’s why the Country is so beautifully green) we headed to the West Coast, to the little village of Killinor, 30 minutes inland from the lovely coastal City of Galway. Also home of Ians’ cousin Lesley where we had a fabulous few days with her and had a great tour guide during our stay, with the added bonus of meeting locals at the best village Pub, (read.. served the best Guinness) ;-). FYI, “What constitutes a good pint of Guinness?” Answer is that each sup will leave a froth ring down the glass and the optimum number of rings shall be 7.
On the road again, south to Doolin and a ferry to Innisoir, one of the Aran Island. A beautiful windswept rocky Island 8 miles off the Coast, we almost felt like we could touch Newfoundland. 12 months ago we stood on the further most Eastern Coast of North America knowing that across the Atlantic lay Ireland. And here we were thinking the reverse. Our little ferry boat took us under the majestic Cliffs of Mohar, sheer rock face rising some 300 mtrs. Wind and sea battered this coastline and some island are home to the largest breeding colonies of Puffin, Guilliemots and Kittiwakes in Europe. Leaving County Clare we continued South Towards Dingle and Kerry and drove the very touristy “Rings”, ancient Stone beehive buildings still cling to cliff tops, and pretty white cottages nestle on mountain sides.
Blarney Castle was a blast. Kissing the Blarney Stone (ensures eloquent speech) mandatory, leaning backwards and kissing the stone while being held by a “Minder” meant Specs off, hats off, pockets empty or gravity would help your belongings find the ground some 25 mtrs below the Stone! Blarney Castle cameras catch your kissing moment. Purchase your digital memory on the way out, no thanks. The gardens surrounding the Castle were beautiful and immaculate. The little village of Blarney is also home to Ireland largest Wool Mill. The original Mill now a huge retail outlet, Hotel and restaurant for the tourist hordes.
Now fully bestowed with the “gift of the gab”, Dubliners beware!
Ireland is very much part of the European Union and Dublin is evident of its Open Borders policy, many accents serve behind bars, cafes and restaurants. But as in much of Ireland Celtic Music is never far away, Pubs (which there are many) have live music streaming out of doorways as soon as the tourist “hit” the streets. Trinity College (Protestant only in this very Catholic country for a couple centuries) is home to the “fabled” and extremely ornate “Book of Kells”. We joined the inevitable queues! On exit from the Kells exhibition was entry to the stunning and imposing library lined with rows of 200,000 books and “guarded” by a sculptural row of philosopher busts.
Our AirBnB in Dublin, Clayton Hotel was an old Castle now transformed. On a wide street of Embassy Buildings we were flanked by the heavily walled and gated American and British Embassies.
Goodbye Dublin! We’ll leave you to the all year weekend crush of Hen Party’s and Bucks Nights, groups of which fly in to revel for a “final soirée” in the “Old Towns” pubs and clubs.
Onto Newgrange, a Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley. County Meath. It’s the Jewel in the Crown of Irelands heritage. Constructed 5,200 years ago is older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. 85 mtrs in diameter it houses a 20mtr passageway which leads to an inner chamber constructed exactly that the winter solstice sun would shine on a single rock, precisely at 9am on the day of the solstice. The rock was stolen years ago!! So now, today, if the rain stops, the clouds clear. The sun will shine into the finely engineered chamber onto a rockless spot! And, if you are lucky enough to have a ticket drawn at random, you will be one of very few to witness the event.
North to County Monaghan for a 2 night stop in pretty Monaghan village, meals in an excellent (albeit the only) local cafe/restaurant. We walked through quaint villages close to the Ulster Border. This area was a violent hotspot during the “Troubles”. Wall plaques remind where village pubs were bombed and many innocent lives lost.
Onto Belfast for our final night, our first AirBnB hostess Yvonne was fully booked. Perhaps a good thing in hindsight!
To be sure, to be sure “sur”. Oireland is full of friendly Oirish people a is wonderful country. Tis.
An Irish blessing…
May you alway walk in sunshine.
May you never want for more.
May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.
We had another glorious and calm ferry crossing back to Liverpool. Picked up lost glasses from hire car company, ( SPOT Gizmo was never to be seen again). Train from Liverpool Lime Street station to Manchester Airport then onwards to Amsterdam.
Our UK, Ireland journey was fabulous. Waistline took a hammering! Pork Pies, fish and chips, butties, burgers and beer. Full English and Irish Breakfasts.
We caught our flight in Guadalajara, changed to International at Mexico City and flew into the Aeropuerto Internacional Jose’ Marti’. La Habana.
What a fabulous journey we were able to make, a dream come true in fact. A couple of Australians free of any encumbrance the Americans have, on their 50 + year embargo placed upon travel and trade to this wonderful hot, steamy and really economically downtrodden country. We weren’t the only tourists of course. Havana is a World tourist honey pot.
In the early presidential term of John F. Kennedy. The Bay Of Pigs and the CIA inspired (fiasco) invasion of Cuba loomed large on the world stage. Nuclear war was a terrible and “very real threat”. We “baby boomers” according to the now “Y” and “X” generations the 60’s had the new “rock n roll”, Flower Power and “free sex”. To them we were on easy street, free education and health care (we’ve had discussions about this with the X and Y’s since we’ve been travelling). Pen and I reckon we must have been in the local library, looking up “Free Sex and Flower Power”, no Wikipedia then! (Ian said this, not me!). While everyone else was getting some! Anyways we became part of the 60’s “set”, we guess, much as we could. Pen wore higher hemlines (she tells me), and I grew my very red hair (I told her). How very, very ultra cool were we? Back then! (I was very cool, says Pen). But we did grow up in the shadow of A nuclear Armageddon
Pen, Yvonne, London. Chiaki, Tokyo
Our AirBnB street
Che Guevara, the then, and todays’ iconic revolutionary Hero sells T shirts. Che is not revered by all In today’s Cuba. Far from it. (The Castro’s have a dynasty going on here, so no T Shirts!). But Guevara, as a dead hero and revolutionary figure is well represented, sells lots of T shirts in Cuba, as does John Lennons’ round glasses portrait, in Cuba? Go figure! Nearly bought one myself, of both (wanted red X large. Sold out!). Must admit being in somewhat awe, for decades of this motorcycling Doctor by profession revolutionary by cause. This handsome bearded, bereted freedom fighter ultimately won his cause but lost his life in Cuba.
A slave escape route
The Castro’s have developed a dynasty. Soon to be democratic(?) 2 party elections are to be held this year for the first time in most Cuban people’s lives. We Didn’t experience too much enthusiasm for the outcome. Many Cuban people we spoke to were willing to talk about their lives. Most have no idea what their future might hold, if it would change or remain the same. One would need a crystal ball to see how they will be impacted as a population, post elections.
Obama’s legacy with the 2015 new free trade between USA/Cuba hardly raises an eyebrow. Cuban reaction. Yeah, heard, so! What will drift down to me? The people are totally pragmatic and honest. The revolution didn’t deliver. The future they can’t see delivering, either!
Back to our journey…..
We flew into Havana at midnight, straggled in a queue for an hour at the only exchange booth to get some Cuban cash to at least pay pay for the cab ride to downtown old town Havana. We sat in the back as you do, looked out of the windows into a completely moonless night. Our taxi driver was giving a midnight driving lesson to his daughter as we drove a long. How to change gear, indicator useage etc. Hey just sit back and relax, open the windows (those that worked) and smell the new exotic smells of a new city. Our driver and pupil really didn’t have an idea where we wanted to go.
As always, we made it with lots of help. The Havanas people were sitting on broken and uneven kerbs in the heat of the night smoking their smokes, drinking cool drinks and trying to suck in some cool outside air on the cobbled, dirty and pot holed streets. They were happy to give directions to our very confused driver and pupil.
We had booked online in Mexico for a AirBnB room 2 blocks from the heart of the old city. A fabulous, eye opening district, the area full of happy but poor people with very little and not much else. Our AirBnB apartment proved to be very close to the magnificent Old City Centre which has a definite French/Portuguese feel. Beautiful, seemingly at first glance derelict buildings (many are mere shells); one wouldn’t have a clue what lay behind the beautiful original wrought iron gates.
Murals adorn many of the corner buildings depicting the revolution, Guevaras’ portrait is common.
We could not have scripted our entry into Cuba if we tried. Greeted at our AirBnB door, by David (owner, with German but no English ) and Angel, who was take care of us. We climbed a stifling staircase 4 floors to an apartment that boasted 4 bedrooms for their AirBnB clientele. We had our Australian particulars including passport details registered. Cuban police check almost daily the whereabouts of foreigners in their country.
Exhausted after a day that started at 4.30am, we showered and slept.
Our AirBnb also had a roof top sitting area. A great place to sit late at night, relax with a glass of wine and listen to local sounds and music drifting up from the streets below.
Angel, a gorgeous young Cuban with excellent English, had our breakfast waiting each day at a time requested by us. Fresh fruit from the local market, omelette and aromatic Cuban coffee. Heaven! He was an excellent source of information for all things Havana, and made our stay so much easier and interesting. Day one in Cuba we had first hand experience of the US embargo. Our credit card and Travel money card are Australian but issued through MasterCard, an American Organisation. This meant no Cuban ATM or business could transact (those with Visa, no problem). Only one bank in Cuba (The Government bank of Cuba) would allow MasterCard or Travel Card transaction. We paid a pretty hefty 10% fee to buy Cuban currency.
That meant a 30 minute each way journey to the nearest bank branch but it did provide an extra view of Havana, by Gogomobile taxi, or pedal taxis. The bank branch (read hot and stifling cubicle) was situated in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba a very ornate Hotel, by the sea, in what’s called the ‘new city’. The hotel looks out towards the Florida coast and has old powder fired guns emplacements located on its grounds built to ward off the imminent 60’s invasion by the USA during the Bay of Pigs scare and the hapless CIA inspired invasion. The biggest threat ever of a nuclear war between the USA and USSR and potential World annihilation.
Cars, let’s call them (American) autos are wonderful in Cuba and are really a step back in time. The US embargo has meant there are very few autos under 40 years old.
Without auto manufacturing of its own Cuba is home to undoubtedly the best array and number of American 50’s and 60’s iconic vehicles, Chevrolets, Pontiacs, GM’s and Ford.
Many are lovingly restored, but most are old noisy bangers running on unleaded fuel and belching out black exhaust fumes. Cubans have had to be very inventive about keeping these vehicles on the road. Strands of wire and assorted tapes hold on mirrors, lights and and a host of other accessories. Without exception horns worked!
Many of the restored gas guzzlers are also a form of employment for the Havanas being used as “taxis” and hired out with driver for tours around Havana and nearby countryside. Must be close to one hundred superbly restored and maintained convertibles that line up daily, opposite the Exquisitely ornate Gran Teatro Del Habana. We hired a car and driver to take us to Pinar del Rio a 3 hr drive west of Havana. Our new friend Mr Welcome (real name) organised this for us and brought with him his lovely 11yr old son Eric who was fascinated by the Sketch App on our iPad. A piece of equipment used many times daily for us but so out of monetary reach for Cubans. Our day trip allowed us to see the beautiful Cuban country side and a tobacco growing farm where we witnessed cigars being hand rolled. A fascinating art. The Cuban Government takes 80% of a farmers crop ( for which we assume at a contracted price) for Cigar manufacturing and export providing much needed foreign currency. The other 20% the grower is able to market himself, personally, cooperatively or by way of back alley “retailers”. Ian helped!
The geography of Pinar Del Rio reminded us so much of North Vietnam, with its towering limestone buttresses and subterranean waterways, which provided an important “secret” route for many slaves desperately attempting escape from the sugar cane and tobacco plantations owners and overseers brutal treatment. Cubas slave population was the largest in the 17 and 18th century as being one of the first landfalls Countries out of the West Coast of Africa.
We paid for everything by the tourist currency, the Peso and Cuban dollar. Cubans also prize the American dollar. Local Peso currency (a two tiered system) allows locals to buy their basics on this currency while the tourist pays much more. The Cuban Government issues monthly coupons for absolute basics ( rice, sugar, flour, nuts etc). Money gained by other means (read tourist, read us!) is an absolute bonus.
Cheap drinks in Havana when you keep out of the hotels are unbelievably good. (Am still able to write, but vision impaired in Cuba a couple of times). Excellent inexpensive restaurant food. On Angels (our AirBnB host) recommendation we went to a restaurant which was 5 star in food, taste, appearance, presentation and absolutely cheap. Hola! Why would you go elsewhere?
In old Havana there is beautiful wide pedestrian avenue “The Passeo del Marti (del Prado) that leads to the Malecon (Promenade) and Straits of Florida. Very fashionable (which we suspect will become Embassy or Consulate territory when the embargo filters through). Permission from the USA notwithstanding of course! Its very architecturally pretty. Imagine a tree lined avenue of 4 storied residences. Absolutely ripe for foreign investment and government money to hyper inflate!
On Saturdays, In this avenue the locals gather to market their properties, mostly apartments for sale or rent. Maybe 200 people with hand written signs stating what they have to sell, or rent.
As well as the property marketers touting their wares, there is an absolutely fabulous array of wonderful artists displaying their excellent work. About half a kilometre of pleasure. We managed to snaffle 2 art works to hang pride of place on our travel gallery art wall in our home in the Central Highlands of New South Wales, Australia.
It was here on the avenue we were interviewed by 4 students doing a project that we didn’t entirely understand. No Habla Espaniole! Their English was pretty good though But we had a good time chatting and they thought we were celebrities when we showed them a picture of Wiggie and said we were travelling the world and had been on TV’s “Travel channel”. What a hoot!
Obama and the US is lifting embargo thank goodness, but it will take a long time for benefits to trickle down to the Cubans. We can see this changing Cuba once US money floods in. We were very happy to see Cuba and Havana before this inevitable change, and to connect with so many good gentle and savvy people.
We walked our little legs off tramping around, took a rest, people watched from a side walk cafe (as you do) then walked around a whole lot more. We loved every step. Only one mishap on our Cuban journey, we were walking through a crowded market when 2 men bumped into Pen. Not a normal bump, instinctively she pushed them away. It was only outside the market that she noticed her shoulder bag had a cut, not a tear near the bag bottom. A sharp bladed cut obviously caused with the intention of spilling contents. Nothing stolen.
Our 7 days in Cuba was fabulous, Havana we both agree, is one of our favourite cities visited where ever we have travelled in the World to date.
Go see it before money ruins it!
We travelled back to Lake Chapala, Mexico via Mexico City and Guadalajara. Had our tourist visas stamped for another 180 days. Had 2 bottles of duty free booze confiscated by security. WTF!
The customs officer didn’t find my find Cuban cigars though.
Hello Wiggie friends! Here we are just across the United States border into Mexico, and its’ 14th April. We crossed at a small place, east of Tijuana, called Tecate. Very easy crossing. We had read so much about the USA/Mex border crossing and were super organised. We were told (read instructed, by people who had done the border crossing) when you get through Customs, drive for at least 3 hours and get out of the ‘danger zone’. Albeit while Pen was doing the important paperwork stuff Ian drove through the border with Wiggys’ side doors completely unlocked and rocking open following inspection. Yep an easy border crossing, but although we were relaxed and organised you do feel the pressure. Just relax guys!
In all honesty, we did feel the pressure . We were on guard. We had heard so many stories, and to be truthful from people that had never done this crossing.
The political hype in the US is very wrong and emotional about the danger from Mexican drug runners, border runners and misfits and does engender a feeling of uncertainty.
What a shame for the majority of the Mexican people, such lovely people.
Anyway, danger is real, and does exist, and there is a zone prone to drug runners and “aliens” ( American word for Mexicans crossing border) running, fleeing across the border attempting to avoid the US Border Police on horses and in vehicles we saw all along the Texas/ Mexico border. this is drug cartel country, but we were fine.
We already had our drugs on board! Aspirin, anti inflams, anti ageing etc. If you stick to the major roads, don’t drive at night or camp alone, it’s fine. It was. We saw no one.
We feel safe in Mexico. Soft, gentle, tough survivors. so welcoming.
From the border we drove much of the way through the lovely rolling hills of the Baja wine growing area of Valle de Guadalupe down to the Pacific side of the Baja to Ensenada. No reliance on GPS (Sat Nav), Garmin stopped at the border. No Problem really as only two roads down the Baja, one hugging the pacific coast and the other hugging the sea of Cortez.
Valle de Guadalupe wine growing area
Our journey down the beautiful Baja California (would take us over the 1000 miles to the bottom of the Baja Sur) so, off we set through the Californian Baja Norte, to Ensanada on the west coast of the Baja. We had been told this was a good city to start off in, as it is mostly English speaking, and we could stock up with supplies. A good camp site on the waterfront just south of the city was recommended in our Mexico Travel guide. Never trust all you read! Truly awful. But we’re self contained in Wiggy, all we need is a safe haven.
The USA was a totally awe inspiring breeze, yes, it was. But here in Latin America we are pushing new boundaries. No language skills at all. Regardless, this our journey. We’ll make it work.
A slight detour south of Ensanada to La Bufadora home to a blow hole and big tourist draw card.We arrived pretty early in the morning so the local entrepreneurs were only starting to set up their stalls which were to line the whole of Main Street. We bought snacks of dates and dried fruits to sustain us for the day. Aquaculture (Tuna and Salmon) off the coast was hugely visible as we journeyed the twisty cliff top roads of this peninsula, obviously an important industry for this part of the Baja.
We had decided to cross the Baja to San Filipe on the east coast to the Sea of Cortez. The road across is long, steep and winding. San Filipe is now a small, basically tired 2nd grade tourist town once more given over to mining, and struggling. However, the view from the extremely basic park on the seafront was fabulous.
We were really starting to see the rural and urban areas of poverty, and the very difficult lives of many extremely hard working Mexicans, farming, running simple cheap (but excellent) roadside food stalls and other meagre survival outlets.
Camping on the Sea Of Cortez
Playa de Los Angeles
We left San Filipe south along highway 5 to drive through high winds and sandstorms along the coast. We followed this “Highway” (read, not a highway). A work in progress one would say, with around 80 kms of truly terrible dirt road, narrow and winding. Semi trailers and vehicles all creeping along, wondering if they or we would lose a mirror or two on this goat track stretch. The Wiggie (our truck) thought nothing of it. She is made for these conditions.
On this stretch we met an American, Kurt, who owns a business called Black Dog Outfitters, motorcycle gear. He suggested we stop at Gonzago Bay further south. So many of our travel stop overs have been by recommendation we now take those without question.
Travelling Hwy 5, onto Hwy 1 we once again met the crystal blue waters of the Sea of Cortez on our left hand side we pulled up at a Fuel stop/shop called Rancho Grande, an isolated and very prosperous general store that owned part of the beach across the road on Gonzaga Bay.
Many very relaxed Mexicans sitting in the shade outside the store, watching the world (very remote here) go by. A few dogs at the shop as well, that looked just like your typical Australian border collie/ kelpie crosses!
The beach camp sites ( about 15 of them) consist of a palm leaf covered hut, called Palapas’ for shade, and very dodgy long drop toilet behind. No water, no showers but we carry both, so no problem here. The sea to the east and view of mountains to the west behind us was indeed spectacular.
The sea was beautifully calm! We stayed for 2 days, Ian fished a bit (read donated bait) We met Carlos and Michael who were camping two sites up. These two old friends were there for three weeks camping, paddling their kayaks to haul in beautiful fish way out in the bay. They gave us 3 bay bass for dinner!
Where you find Mexicans you’ll find Mexicans music. And fire works! Be it driving, eating, camping, talking, swimming, there is always music in the background. Lots of tuba involved, oompah oompah, then repeat, then repeat!
On 95% of the Baja the desert meets the sea. Birdlife is wonderful, with thousands of pelicans and other coastal and sea birds abounding. Spring on the Baja is already quite hot, and gave us a taste of what to expect further south on mainland Mexico.
After another horror stretch of road we camped at Conceptcion Bay, beautiful sandy beaches, one of the highlights of the Baja, and went inland with a bit of a wiggle and landed in La Paz! Mexicans are good salesmen with obvious years of experience with Gringos’ and relieved us of a few too many pesos’. They were so slick! We can laugh at gullibility, so that’s good.
There is a small very arty town on the west side of Baja Sur (south) called Todos Sandos, which is where the real Hotel California is (of Eagles song fame!) We really enjoyed this part; it’s highly touristy of course, but a good dose of the 60’s/70’s déjà vu. Totally paid over the top pesos’ here again by to a real smoothie with cigars and Tequila.
We thought we had experience to handle! This guy fleeced us! We may learn yet dear reader.
Ther end of Baja Sur
We did the loop right down the bottom of the Baja Sur. Cabo San Lucas which has been traditionally the playground of the North American mainly Southern Californian rich and famous yachting crowd, was fine, but touristy!
Apparently the marine mooring fees in this pretty little harbour have become almost extortionate. Most of the moored marine craft were for tourist excursions or Deep sea game fishing trips. Tourist resorts all over the Sur are in a downturn.
All the way down the Baja were various property projects at various stages of abandonment. Some just had magnificent gates and walls and partially completed concrete buildings. It looked like everyone one said ‘no way Jose’ and went home!
Up the right hand side of the Baja to Los Morrilles and then back to La Paz, to book our ferry ride to Mazatlan, on the Mexican mainland.
The weather on the mainland was getting hotter by the day and we had regular daily temperatures that hovered around 95deg.
Next, a 3 day journey inland through the notorious drug cartel county of Sinaloa. We stuck to the toll highway roads and never drove during the night. That’s an absolute no no. Durango and Creel saw us climbing some 5000 ft and to much cooler temperatures to the area known as Copper Canyon. Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon in the USA but this place is exceptional and extra, read extraordinary!
Copper Canyon has an area 7 times larger than the Grand Canyon and is deeper! 1.4 Klm’s. It’s possible here to drive down to the bottom of the Canyon! You cannot to that in the Grand Canyon.
It’s an exhilarating terrifying 2 hour journey descending on a very skinny dirt road, little wider than a goat track with sheer drop offs of 1000 mtrs. Room for one car only with very irregular passing spots. Regular flower memorials all the way attest to the real danger on this road.
At the bottom of the Canyon nestles the town of Urique, home to some 3000 mainly Tamaruhan Indians famed for their long distance running. Temperatures were close to 100 deg. 3 days in Urique we tasted the delicious fruit of the cactus, were enthralled with the Hummingbirds and the locals were equally enthralled with Wiggy.
Ian was (by his own admission) terrified about our one way exit. Up. Which was up, up and further up and experienced over 2 days anxiety/panic attack about driving out of this colossal switchback road canyon to safety The high cab ride in Wiggy only exaggerated sure death with one mistake with gear change (do not stop. Ever). No reversing on a switchback with a 1000 mtr sheer drop behind your 6mtr vehicle!!! You do not reverse!
You want fun? Don’t do the drive down Copper Canyon to Urique. You want to live the world? Then do it!!
We did it.
7am was advised to be the safest to climb this 20 km “goat track”, as you can follow the yellow school bus. Wiggy was slipped into 4 wheel drive, low range 2nd gear and we grunted our way up this truly terrifying exacting and horrible track out of the canyon. The yellow bus was a godsend, and probably related to Fangio.
Los Mochis (Sea of Cortez) was our destination from Copper Canyon over the Sierra Nevadas Occidental Mountain Range. Over 10 hours we were only able to travel 130 kms distance 4 wheel drive all the way another truly rugged Mexican road. Wiggy got a slow puncture (best outcome as far as punctures go!). We were able to use our on board compressor to top up air every 30 mins rather than spending 2 hrs changing our wheel.
We came upon a group of local young guys with a flat tyre, no tools, wheel brace or Jack!! Wiggies tool box came in handy. While these young (lovely) guys sat on rocks they watched as their puncture was fixed, tyre inflated, and we were back on our way. (They did offer a certain mind numbing inhalant which one our party of two imbibed, as she thought it was poetic, making the rest of the journey to Los Mochis somewhat shorter and less stressful). They were probably up to mischief as they absolutely refused to have a photo taken, and became briefly very hostile when Pen got out her camera. It was certain they had something going on up in ‘dem ‘dere’ mountains, but were extremely grateful for our assistance and probably would offer us safe passage if anything else happened in the mountains.
We had stayed in touch through a travellers Internet site with a lovely, fellow traveller, Edmundo, who is a Los Mochis local, an exporter of corn to the US, an international traveller, a bike rider, and seems to know everyone on the travellers Internet!
He interrupted his busy life to arrange for us to stay on his fathers farm just out of Los Mochis, underneath a huge tree, out of the heat, with facilities like showers, toilets! Locally they grow huge corn crops, miles and miles of crop, all exported to the USA.
Next major stop for us after Los Mochis was Jacotopec on the shores of Lake Chapala, which is Mexicos’ largest lake and 1 hour south of Guadalajara. We immediately extended the awnings on Wiggies left and right sides and turned on our little internal fan which afforded us some cool, At an elevation of around 5000ft we had some cooler temperatures overnight. Fortunately this venue was very ‘hot’ friendly.
It is one of the major raspberry growing areas in Mexico. Lovely for us.
Our friends Lachy and Beckie, who are expat Americans and live in a lovely little town nearby, Ajijic, had told us about this semi rural sports/spa park, so we booked.
Lots of local knowledge from our friends, and settled under a big tree we were able to walk into the local town, and had our first Wiggie dinner with “proper” guests. Beckie plays guitar and has the singing voice of an angel.
While we were quietly parked, chatting with next door neighbours we had just met from UK, Sue and Alan, Volkswagen Combies began “invading” the campground. A pavilion, music stage, food stalls, and all things VW took over the whole place.
We had become part of 2016 “National Mexican Combi Festival”. Totally unexpected and just fantastic to be part of the festivities and met many new friends. Some 400 hundred Combies, beautifully kept or restored were ready to party for the whole weekend.
Sue and Allan chose to leave, our option also was to move out or stay. We stayed! No contest!! What a hoot it turned out to be! We must have given a tour of Wiggie to about 50 people.
We met Jim and his friend Steve, a Louisiana man, who are the sole members of the “Hooligons” Club. It has no agenda, no President, no financial arrangements, and they love Combies. They wanted us as members but we declined cos’ we just couldn’t be members of any club that would have us as members!!!
Dinner invite from Israel and family (now Facebook friends). Beautiful and exceedingly messy beef ribs. Little English, and our even non existent Spanish was no barrier to a wonderfully shared table.
Apart from being their guests for a night when we arrived, Lachy and Becky so very kindly gave us a bed before we had to fly to Mexico City and on to Havana, Cuba.
Also our Wiggie fridge was struggling with the heat, drawer runner was a “no runner”. They drove us to the airport for our trip to Cuba and fixed our fridge while we were gone! What wonderful hospitality. Xxxxx.