Monthly Archives: January 2013

Costa Rica

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

We spent 5 days in Nicaragua. First, we headed towards the coast to the area of Poneloya but didn’t find any adequate areas to camp and it was early enough to keep on truckin. We went inland to Diriamba and the Centro Ecoturistico La Maquina where we had a great swim in the chilly waterfalls. We were also able to camp here in what they call the tropical dry forest. It was a nice and quiet night and we were all by ourselves once the swimming area closed.

Checking out the waterfalls

Checking out the waterfalls

A nice quiet camping area

A nice quiet camping area

The next day we again headed to the Pacific coast in hopes of some beach camping. We eventually found Matilda’s Camping which is near Playa Majagual just north of San Juan del Sur. It was not the best of roads at some points but we made it no sweat. The sweat began when we got stuck in the sand trying to wrangle our way into a camping spot on the beach. Thankfully there were some people there to help us and we didn’t get buried too deep.

Digging Ginger out of trouble

Digging Ginger out of trouble

We then chose a different spot with harder sand and were A-OK! It was a different campsite with lots of longterm surfers and hippie types hanging out. But everyone was friendly and we even got to try some local rum! I think this was to try and keep them warm as the ocean water was absolutely frigid! I guess some weird weather in the Carribean causing high winds to come through Lake Nicaragua and churning up the cold waters from below. Either way it made it difficult to swim and the winds were just a pain in the butt.

The beach was nice - but oh so cold!

The beach was nice – but oh so cold!

After a couple days on the annoyingly windy beach we decided we needed to get a move on. We were in need of some internet so that we could start arranging our van shipment from Panama to Colombia. Oh yes and a wedding too! We got some supplies and then headed to the border for Costa Rica. We got there around 11am and got out of Nicaragua no problem. However, we were greeted with a huge line of people all trying to get into Costa Rica. We stood in line for at least 2 hours, in the sun mostly. Once we got our tourist visas, getting the van in was just a matter of running between the different buildings and getting the right photocopies.

We were out of there by 3pm and headed to a campsite we had found details for on the internet. It shouldn’t have taken all that long but our GPS was a stupid cow and took us on a 4WD road. Dave and I both knew that we should turn around at so many points but we kept thinking it was going to go back to tarmac or get better. But the hills and rough road went on and up and up for what seemed like forever. The van is so heavy that braking on these huge loose rock roads is pretty much impossible. In hindsight this may have a lot to do with our brake issues in the near future (keep reading)!

We made it to the Brasilito Lodge in Playa Flamingo and sadly it was kind of a dump. Our nerves were shattered so we decided to head straight to a restaurant for food and internet. The next morning we checked out the beach and got back on the road for a short drive to Samara Beach and a great campsite right on a beautiful beach.

The beautiful beach at Samara

The beautiful beach at Samara

A great beach for a morning walk

A great beach for a morning walk

The locals fishing on the beach

The locals fishing on the beach

Camping Los Cocos had electricity, decent cold showers and toilets and did I mention was right on the beach! And the ocean here was like bathwater! So lovely. Here we got our laundry done for a small fortune, put our hammock up and enjoyed the sights. Some of us more than others!

Enjoying the sunset view

Enjoying the sunset view

Our next planned destination was to drive up a volcano, however once we got on the road we found our brakes were in poor shape. Plan B: Head to the capital, San Jose, where there was suposed to be a nice campground run by an American who could likely assist us. During the drive the left brake acted up so much that we stopped and Dave took the wheel off to see if he could fix anything. The problem was an almost non-existent left brake pad that was scratching the crap out of the rotor.

Ginger in trouble once again

Ginger in trouble once again

Being a spectacle on the side of the road we were quickly helped by the ice cream man, who immediately got on his mobile and called his amigo mechanic. A couple of guys showed up and tried to track down a part but said the earliest would be Tuesday (it was only Saturday!). He disconnected the left brake and recommended we go real slow to the next town. We thanked them very much and ‘gingerly’ hit the road again. Not stopping at the next town but continuing to the capital to find this great  campsite. Of course when we arrived the campground had turned into a really nice, really new grocery store – crap! We all together gave up at this point, found a nice hotel and booked in for 2 nights. We enjoyed the bed and the internet and everything!

Now we are just waiting on the van to see if they can get the new brake pads. We dropped her off early this morning at the neighbour of our Hotel Receptionists just down the street. Hopefully we will get her back today and head back North towards the volcano and hot springs.

 

This weeks banner - Ginger camped on Samara beach

This weeks banner – Ginger camped on Samara beach

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El Salvador, Honduras and beyond!

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

The last week we have been busy! We started with a lovely barbeque farewell in Antigua with all our fellow campers. It was a great night until the boys decided rum and tequila was a brilliant idea

Enjoying a few drinks on our last night in Antigua

Enjoying a few drinks on our last night in Antigua

Not so good the next morning when Christine found herself in the drivers seat with a less than fully functioning Dave beside her. Thank goodness we were travelling with Denis and Renee who took the lead on the road. We made it to the border crossing into El Salvador shortly after lunch and both managed to muddle our way through with all the different photo copies and documents needed.

Close to the Guatemala/El Salvador border we found our way to Parque National El Impossible. It was on the outskirts of a little town that obviously doesn’t see a whole lot of tourists, especially with RV’s. Our neighbours, Denis and Renee have a very unique, for these parts, truck camper that is constantly turning heads. The kids were so interested and loved to listen to Denis who’s spanish is excellent!

Enjoying one of Denis' stories

Enjoying one of Denis’ stories

We had a guide take us on a 5 hour hike up to the look out and explain about the area and its history.

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The view from the lookout – with our guide

It was a beautiful area and one of the best parts was cooling off in the river, sometimes with the company of half a dozen local kids.

Cooling off in the river behind our camp

Cooling off in the river behind our camp

Schooling and singing in the jungle

Schooling and singing in the jungle

 

These grow these jungle animals huge!

They grow these jungle animals huge!

Leaving El Imposible for the coast

Leaving El Imposible for the coast

We then headed towards the coast to a little surfers town called Sunzal Point. We hunkered down in the parking area of Sharky’s Restaurant and had access to their bathrooms, outdoor showers and internet, plus it was a two minute walk to the beach.

Sharkys restaurant

Sharkys restaurant

A typical view as we travel

A typical view as we travel

Our first look at the El Salvador coastline

Our first look at the El Salvador coastline

The beach here is really fine black sand and the surf is quite high with a very long right hand break (apparently??) which is why the surfers take up residence here

The beach at Sunzal Point

The beach at Sunzal Point

Dave and I enjoyed the waves and took a couple of days to try and plan our next few weeks of our trip as well as try and do some maintenance on the van. Ginger’s fridge is not working so well when it’s on gas but is perfect on electricity so Dave, with the assistance of Denis, tried to clean the orifice jet and see if it that was the problem. After a lot of sweat (literally) and work they got the fridge out and cleaned the jet and flue, but sadly there has been little improvement. Any other suggestions out there??? (It’s an ammonia fridge – very different to your fridge at home).

Working on the fridge

Working on the fridge

Our next planned destination heading south was somewhere on the beach around a little town called Costa del Sol. Would you believe that we could not find anywhere to camp?! We tried, with Denis’s excellent Spanish, at least 6 different hotels and turi-centers but no one would accommodate us and if they would it was for an extortionate amount of money. We tried one recommendation that had been previously used by other overlanders, but which closed down only 3 months before our arrival. Dave drove into the driveway and ran over what he thought was a steel water pipe. Sadly it was an aluminum irrigation pipe and the security guard decided that Dave would have to compensate him $15 USD as it would be taken out of his salary otherwise. We payed – and let me tell you Dave was not a happy camper!

The section of pipe we 'bought' in Costa del Sol

The section of pipe we ‘bought’ in Costa del Sol

After hours or trying, and not managing to find a place to stay in Costa del Sol we made our way back to a water park we had passed earlier in the day, Atlantis Aqua Park. Here we were welcomed and informed we could stay over night no problem just for the price of admission. We gladly paid the $8/per person and enjoyed the waterslides and pools all afternoon. The scariest was the huge tandem tube drop (Dave made Christine go on this!) but we even kind of liked the odd wave pool with waves going sideways.

The fantastic tandem slide at the aqua park

The fantastic tandem slide at the aqua park

A very bizare wave pool - where the waves went across the pool....

A very bizare wave pool – where the waves went across the pool….

Then at 6pm when everyone else left we plugged into their electricity and enjoyed our happy hour.

The next day we drove north to Perquin where there is the Museo de la Revolucion showing the photos and history of the not so long ago civil war. Over 100,000 people died and people came from all over to fight alongside the guerrillas.

The route our GPS - and the police! - recommend we take. No chance!

The route our GPS – and the police! – recommend we take. No chance!

That Bimbo's got to move! (not Renee...)

That Bimbo’s got to move!

When we finally got to the village at 1200m elevation, Denis informed us that our gas tank was leaking! We checked out the museum, then went in search of a mechanic. We couldn’t see any leakage on the way, and the mechanic couldn’t see any specific issue, like a cracked tank, and said everything looked ok.

Not so easy to see that gas tank

Not so easy to see that gas tank

Really getting in for a closer look

Really getting in for a closer look

Dave feels it’s more likely due to pressure and overflow as we had just filled up the tank then climbed steeply. Fingers crossed that’s it because if that gas tank needs to be lowered from the van we’ll probably never get it back up with the amount of rust under there!

Public Transport in El Salvador...

Public Transport in El Salvador…

After the gas leak excitement we needed to find a place to stay for the night, our last night with our friends Denis and Renee! We looked at a couple of spots before eventually stumbling upon the Arizona Hotel that is about 3km outside of town on a horrendous dirt road. However the camping spot was stunning with mountains, great view and excellent amenities. Too bad about the gale force winds that kept us from having a fire and really enjoying our last night together.

Ginger climbing up to our campsite

Ginger slowly climbing up to our campsite

And an amazing site it was!!

And an amazing site it was!!

Good luck to Denis and Renee (and their beautiful dog Mimi) as they now head north and eventually back home to Quebec. They were a wealth of information and experience for us first timers, and we really enjoyed spending a couple of weeks with such friendly and caring people!

Some other hazards of the road

Some other hazards of the road

Even the babies have machete's in these parts

Even the babies have machete’s in these parts

We decided to attempt to do 2 border crossings in a day – through Honduras and into Nicaragua. We got to the El Salvador/Honduras border around lunchtime today, Saturday, and had no problems exiting El Salvador but the Honduras border was a different story. The customs officer, and the random guy that had been following us unrequested throughout the whole exit/entrance process, told us that because it’s Saturday the bank was closed at noon and that we could either pay more than double the normal rate or wait until Monday. They had obviously seen on our immigration forms that we were just transiting and were doing their darndest to get as much from us as they could. But what can you do when it’s the goverment official telling you this??!! Well Christine did say a few words and even brought out some new spanish vocabulary, which included telling them that Honduras was a terrible country… All to no avail. We payed the stinkin money and set our mission to get out of Honduras ASAP.

Local boys selling Iguanas for food - very illegal - but still a common sight in Central America

Local boys selling Iguanas for food – very illegal – but still a common sight in Central America

The roads in Honduras were truly awful!

The roads in Honduras were also truly awful – some random bits were shaken off Ginger today!

This was successful a couple of hours later (and after three police checkpoints) when we exited Honduras and entered into Nicaragua.

Passing volcanoes in Nicaragua

Passing volcanoes in Nicaragua

By this time it was late afternoon and we started to look for a place to stay. We asked at the parking lot of a recreation park but we couldn’t stay over night. Next door was a hotel and they were kind enough to let us park as long as we got a room. Crazy but we did get a shower and toilet. The rooms are fairly yucky, and neither of us would dream of sleeping in the bed!

We’ll stick with Ginger thanks!

 

This weeks banner - the surf beach at Sunzal Point

This weeks banner – the surf beach at Sunzal Point

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Fin de Guatemala

We finished up our last day of Spanish school today! Over the last week or so since our previous blog we’ve been occupied with school in the morning and different activities each afternoon.

Dave studying with his tutor Sonia

Dave studying with his tutor Sonia

Fun with pinatas at the school

Fun with pinatas at the school

Christine has been busy doing volunteer work at Common Hope (or Familiar de Esperanza as it’s called locally). It’s a well run organization based in Minnesota that has been doing lots of charity work in this area for 25+ years. The project is at a huge old coffee plantation on the outskirts of Antigua complete with medical and dental clinics, a workshop for making pre-fab houses, a nursery, library and lots more to assist the community. One afternoon Christine went with one of the many social workers on home visits to some of the families and hear how they were getting along. The families were very welcoming and proud of their modest and extremely basic homes. Some with no running water!

Community laundries for those familes without running water at home

Community laundries for those familes without running water at home

There were many families affected by alcohol abuse and violence besides being poor and trying to take care of their many children. Common Hope focuses on assisting the children with education and all that this entails; happy home, family, health,and safety. I obviously worked in the dental clinic and saw a lots of different people and did everything from extractions to cleanings and even a root canal! All the patients were so appreciative and grateful, making it an unforgettable experience.

One very happy patient

One very happy patient

Christines helpful assistants

Christine’s helpful assistants

Dave has also been a busy little beaver! He’s been getting the van all fixed up so that we can continue our journey without cringing every time we see a huge bump coming our way. Our suspension has been tested to the limit and it was in desperate need of some help, especially since our rubber bumper thingys fell off. We found a mechanic right down the street from us and took Ginger in on 2 different days. All went well but the true test will be when we drive her!

Dave also went to one of the many coffee plantations for a tour, which was reasonably interesting, and educational.

Coffee beans out to dry before roasting

Coffee beans out to dry before roasting

This week has also brought many new campers into our little patch of police compound, including a few other overlanders heading to Argentina or Chile.

It's getting busy around here!

It’s getting busy around here!

For a few nights we had an English lad on a motorbike camped next to us. He had travelled up from Argentina and was headed to the USA to sell the bike before heading home. We’ve had a few hippies come and go, a Canadian girl in a hammock and a strange Italian guy that didn’t talk to anyone. There have also been a few really nice couples that we hope to keep in touch with and hopefully catch up with as we all head further South.

We are making the most of our last day in Antigua, Guatemala before heading to El Salvador tomorrow. Our good friends Denis and Renee are also heading off tomorrow, so we may tag along with them for a couple more days.

Christine dwarfed by the 'Gigantes'

Christine dwarfed by the ‘Gigantes’

Beautiful sights in Antigua

Beautiful sights in Antigua

We have really enjoyed it here and being stationary for 2.5 weeks but the trip is far from over and it’s time to get going again.

This weeks banner - Christine getting blown off of Volcan Pacaya

This weeks banner – Christine getting blown off of Volcan Pacaya

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Big news of 2013 – We are engaged!

We are happily settled here in Antigua, Guatemala and enjoying it a lot. Christmas was obviously not the same as being at home with our families, but we made the most of it.

Ginger all decked out in her Christmas lights

Ginger all decked out in her Christmas lights

We had a good sleep in because Christmas Eve was incredibly noisy with all the firecrackers and fireworks that each and every household sets off in the streets, or what seemed like directly under our van. After a good pancake and maple syrup breakfast we wandered the streets, joining all the crowds of families.

The busy streets in Antigua on Christmas day

The busy streets in Antigua on Christmas day

Old ruins around Antigua

Old ruins around Antigua

Christine tidying up around town

Christine tidying up around town

Apparently these foosball tables are also good for washing clothes

Apparently these foosball tables are also good for washing clothes

We had a very festive Christmas dinner with a Mexican theme – nachos. It was an early night though as Boxing Day was the start of our Spanish lessons.

Xmas nachos as big as my head!

Xmas nachos as big as my head!

Our school is ‘Antiguena Spanish Academy’ and where we study is in a beautiful garden with avocado, coffee, and banana trees, poinsettias as well as hammocks strung throughout. Pretty darn nice! And the learning espanol thing is going OK too.

Christine with her maestra Clarivel

Christine with her maestra Clarivel

Christines favourite time at school - break time!

Christines favourite time at school – break time!

We each have our own tutor and study one-on-one for 4 hours each morning. Then we have to do our homework and study in the afternoon or evening, and often find a nice park or cafe around town for this. It’s not stressful but your brain gets overloaded quickly and you get to a ‘maximum memorization’ point. The school also organizes activities around Antigua in the afternoons and we took part in one that walked up to the Cerro de la Cruz or ‘Hill of the Cross’ which is what it says, a look out point on a hill with a cross.

The view over Antigua

The view over Antigua

We also decided not to do a Homestay and instead continue to camp in the van at the Tourist Police Station. The price is right at less than $1/day including electricity, use of bathrooms and cold showers, good security and a great location close to the centre of town. Plus its only a 7 minute bike ride to our school. However there are a few downers like the fact that it’s in the ruins of an old hotel and hospital, no shade in the grassy field where we’re parked, lots of biting fire ants, not the cleanest toilets and there is a ‘Peeping Tom’ in the showers. We now also have great camping neighbours, Renee and Denis, who are from Quebec and are also taking Spanish classes. They’ve remedied the problem of cleanliness by doing a complete scrub down of the bathroom and ‘Tom’ seems to have disappeared too thankfully.

On Sunday, our day off, we signed up for a tour to hike up one of the surrounding and active volcanoes, Pacaya. We’ve had beautiful blue skies and sun every day except for that day! It was cloudy and chilly and at the top of the volcano there was a gale force wind and you felt like you were right in the clouds, which you actually were. But it was an experience and we met a lot of other interesting travellers.

On the way up the volcano

On the way up the volcano

With traditional mayan makeup

With traditional mayan makeup

Into the clouds - very windy and very cold

Into the clouds – very windy and very cold

Cooking marshmallows in a hot vent

Cooking marshmallows in a hot vent

Dave with his slightly warm 'steamed' marshmallow

Dave with his slightly warm ‘steamed’ marshmallow

Dave at the volcanoes crater (we think - we never saw it either...)

Dave at the volcano’s crater (we think – we never saw it either…)

New Year’s Eve was great! We joined Renee and Denis on a bit of a walk about town to see all the sights before heading for dinner. After dinner we went back to the crowds and waited for the big countdown.

Beautiful Antigua

Beautiful Antigua

Dave and Denis with the dancing giants

Dave and Denis with the dancing giants

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

Dancing giants

Dancing giants

We were in the central park where there were so many fireworks and crackers that you could hardly hear. It was beautiful with fireworks coming from every direction.

The lights and crowds at Central Park

The lights and crowds at Central Park

Waiting for the fireworks with Renee and Denis

Waiting for the fireworks with Renee and Denis

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We went back to Ginger for a toast to the New Year and that’s when Dave proposed! He had a ring and everything! It was a great way to start 2013 and we hope you all have a happy and healthy year!

Christine with her New Years bling

Christine with her New Years bling

 

This weeks banner - New Years eve in Antigua

This weeks banner – New Years eve in Antigua

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