Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Guatemala to El Salvador, La Hachadura

Tuesday morning. Wake up, walk Winston and chat with the gas station attendants. We have breakfast at a restaurant next door and pack up. We have decided to try to cross at La Hachadura. If the bridge is really impassable then we will turn around and go to Las Chinamas. Well, the bridge was definitely down and several makeshift piers and planks had been set up to cross the river. We watched. We waited. We chatted. The locals, the police, even the bus drivers agreed... we could make it! Okay. We head down into the bank of the river. Ahead are 4 "bridges". These are temporary piers made from tree trunks with planks on top. All very shaky, all very narrow and no railings. I say a prayer and Tom forges ahead. All I can see is the river below us. Oh well, at least it's not too far of a fall if the worst happens. I unbuckle my seatbelt, just in case. My side, my side, I keep muttering to Tom. Meaning that we are awfully close to going off the planks on my side. "Hey, what about my side" he says. "Just concentrate". As we head over the rickety makeshift bridge, I wish we had a camera handy. There is no way this would be allowed in the States. Liability comes to mind but with the river rushing beneath us, a truck ahead of us and a bus behind, there is no turning back. Finally we cross the last bridge and climb up the far embankment. Tom glances over and notices that my seatbelt is undone. "What, you think if we went over, you could jump?" We start to laugh. Partly at the the insanity of it and partly because...we made it! We are 30 mile from the border. I start checking and re-checking our file. All is in order. We arrive at the Guatemala departure and are again inundated by the tramitadores. We tell them we need no help. Tom and I have agreed on this. We have many borders to cross and we need to get used to it. The officials, the questions and the paperwork. It really is not so bad. Just go slow and be patient. At the checkpoint we go first to the temporary auto window to have the vehicle stamped for exit. Then to immigration for our passports and finally to Quarantine to get Winston stamped out. Change our Quetzales for U. S. dollars (El Salvador uses dollars as it's national currency) and onto the El Salvador side. Thoughts of bribes, shakedowns and bureaucracy cross my mind. Everywhere there are signs in English and Spanish that there are no fees expected and none were requested. We went to immigration and had our passports checked but because of the CA4 not stamped. Whilst Tom started the temporary Vehicle Importation Permit, I went to Quarantine to deal with Winston's paperwork. I was through in less than 5 minutes,the vehicle permit took longer. The customs agent checked the RV, but did not go inside. We had exited Guatemala and entered into El Salvador in less than 2 hours. We high fived one another and beaming with calls of goodwill from all sides and directions from customs as to our route we took to the streets of El Salvador. Gangs, drugpushers, militia, police bribes... what would the roads be like? Well, for one thing, they are better maintained than Guatemala. Less potholes. And all those other scary mindtraps, that first day all we ran into were people waving at us and smiling. We relaxed. Our first stop was going to be a string of beaches north of La Libertad, a large port. We turned off the main CA2 onto the playa road and followed it around. We found one area for parqueo and the restaurant owner said we could park but kept changing the price on us. We decided to go to the end of the playa and if there was nothing else, we would come back. As we were driving along, we came to a beautiful hotel resort called Sabas. We stop and talk to the armed guard, who in turn brings the general manager. La Senora Bianca told us we could park by the street, the guard would watch out for us and that for drinks and/or a meal (if we wanted) we could you use their sparkling, refreshing pool. I needed no further encouragement. We parked and readied the RV, changed into swimming gear, grabbed Winston and headed through the hotel to the pool and the beach. Fantastic. We walked Winston on the beach and tested the ocean. Warm and with the kind of waves Tom likes. He gets his boogie board and Winston and I head to the pool area. There is a couple with a young child and older lady already at the pool. I listen for a second. They are American, well almost. They are from New York and on a 2 week vacation. He is from El Salvador and the older lady is his mother. We talk for quite a while. He tells me that like anywhere, be alert, be watchful but have fun. I sip my beer, play with Winston and watch Tom in the waves. The sun is setting. I am definitely having fun.

Monterrico to Chiquimulilla. 105 miles

There had been much discussion about the border crossing. We had intended to cross at La Hachandura which would put us on the coastal route (CA2) through El Salvador but had been told by many people that a bridge before the border was washed out, so our backup was through Las Chinamas, which is actually supposed to be the quietest crossing since no commercial vehicles can go through there. But first we had a problem. We need propane. In the motorhome, our cooking and hot water is via propane and because of the huge fluctuations in electrical voltage we also keep the fridge/freezer on propane. We have ran into people who have burned out their refigeration units by using electricity. The closest propane plant is a detour back to the city of Escuintla, the problem is, no-one can give us directions to the propane facility. Oh well, another driving in a busy city adventure. Just as we were arriving to the city, the most torrential storm started. Big rigs, trucks and buses pulled into gas stations and we followed. We had already been told there was nothing to do but wait it out. In the meantime we made a quick sandwich for lunch and studied our maps and tried to get directions. Everyone is helpful and everyone has their own idea as to where the propane facility actually was. After about 30 minutes we were back on the road. Well, sort of! The main street we were driving on is now a river. Some cars are stuck. We follow a bus - remember if they can go, so can we - and manage to get through. But to where? We go down road after road with no idea if we are even in the right direction. Finally..a McDonalds. Tom pulls in. He is going to get a quarter pounder and hire a taxi to lead us to the propane plant. The rain has relented to just a steady downpour, Tom gets his junk food fix (plus a cheeseburger for Winston, who is now estatic) and has found not only a cab driver but one who speaks Engish and knows where the propane is located. Our sun is shining, at least metaphorically. We follow the driver to one place that does not have any propane and then to another which does. He volunteers to wait for us and then take us to the correct road out of town to the border. After spending about an hour and a half taking care of us, he accepts the 25 quetzales that he had originally quoted and we pressed an additional 10 quetzales for everything else, a total of about 4.50. He didn't want to take the extra money, we made him. He just wanted us to tell everyone that Guatemalans are a kind, helpful people. By now it is almost 4pm. and we still have a long way to go to get even close to the border, but the sun is now shining, literally so we press on. By 5:30 we are at the crossroads of the turnoff to Las Chinamas. There are quite a few gas stations and we know we need to start looking for a place for the night. Darkness falls around 7pm here. We pull into one and inquire about the borders. After checking out the RV, they assure us that there is a bypass from the bridge that will hold the motorhome. No problemo. Oh Lord, here we go again! We will leave the decision for morning. There is a 24 hour market, similar to our 7-11's by the gas station and we decide to spend the night there. No sooner did we pull in than the gas station attendant came up. Do not park here. It is not safe. Go to a hotel or elsewhere but not here. Tom and I look at each other. We are tired. We head up the road one way and turn around. We go back towards Escuintla where we had seen more gas stations. At the first one we pull in. It is open. There are two attendants and an armed guard. Perfect. "Can we park for the night?" we ask the guard. No problem. And when we requested if there was an electrical outlet to plug into, he showed Tom where to run the power cord and water was close by. Fantastic. We thank the guard, tip him 20 quetzales (about $2.50) for his trouble (he was thrilled!) and after walking Winston, we nestled in for the night for tomorrow is our crossing into El Salvador.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monterrico or more precise La Curvina, Guatemala

Mike, we find out does not technically live in Monterrico, he lives in La Curvina. A tiny hamlet south of Monterrico. To say we lost our heart here is not quite true but through Mike's eyes, we see a slice of Guatemalan life we would not normally see as tourists. Mike is as thoroughly integrated into this community as any transplanted American could be. For Guatemalan children, formal education ends at 6th grade. Mike has taken it upon himself to help the smartest and brightest continue. First by going to school in nearby Monterrico for 7th through 9th grades and then to a larger city for pre college. For this the student with his parents consent, stay with a family and attend higher education school. For the most part this is a prohibitive cost for most families but by our American standards is about $200.00 per year. He also holds English and computer classes at his home and on most days around 5 children come after school to have fun, learn and, with his encouragement, find out that there is more to life and that education will help them attain it. This is hard in an area where there is a 40% unmarried, unplanned birth rate. We find out that the main religion of Guatemala is Evangelican, which superceded Catholicism during the communist style wars throughout central America. Over the next few days, Tom & I meet the children and visit the town, the school and their families. I was awoken early on Saturday by Tanya, a 9 year old who speaks a little English. She solemnly showed me a necklace made from shells and tied it around my neck. She had stayed up on Friday night to make it for me. We had bonded the night before, now she holds my hand everywhere we go. On Friday, we visited the school. We had already been told that in the 6th grade class the top student is Franklin. Franklin continually scores in the 90's for all subjects to a perfect 100 in Mathematics. He has a scholarship to go to the upper school in Monterrico but his parents can not afford the money required for the uniforms, shoes, books and supplies he needs. He needs $120.00 for the 3 years of continued school. Tom & I are sold. We discuss with Mike the logistics of money and Mike, as he does with his own committments tells us he will do all the shopping. Saturday afternoon brought another surprise. Tanya showed up in the afternoon with windchimes made entirely of shells for us to remember them all. How could we forget? I cried and hugged her. She cried and hugged back. Sunday, after breakfast, we visited Franklin and his family. Their home is clean and scrubbed. We chat. They proudly produce in an instant Franklin's report cards and then a file of his achievements. Diplomas, top marks, a trip in an airplane awarded to the top student of each class each year. January 15th they must make the decision for continuing his schooling but... Mike informs them that Tom & I will provide his uniforms and other items needed. $120.00 a year. A Sushi dinner for us, a chance to get an education for him. They were so overwhelmed and thankful. Later that day, Tanya shows up. At 3 in the afternoon, her family want to take us in their small boat for a trip into the mangrove area. These people are amazing. They have so very little and yet share so easily. At 3pm Tanya takes us to her home. Again, it is spotless. Tanya has 3 sisters. The eldest is married and works in the local bank, Bianca goes to pre college school and is only home at weekends, Sorrida (who Mike sponsers in school) wants to be a doctor and Tanya, at nine would like to be a dentist (she helped one on the last visit to town). Again the house is spotless, the girls clean. The whole family accompanies us. They show us where they thread shells to make necklaces, windchimes and other items from shells, where they cultivate water and make salt and where they fish. They are lucky. Their father has a good job by these standards. He is the caretaker of a huge mansion here for a wealthy Guatemalan family. This means a regular income. He also understands that his daughters need an education to satisfy their obvious intellect and to become more than average. Mike helps. It is humbling. As a side note, anyone who upgrades their laptops, let me know. Mike needs old laptops in Guatemala. His goal is to have one in every classroom here. Sunday is our last meal with the extended family. As a bonus, we get to Skype home. The children are amazed. At Tom's mom and his sister, a doctor. They ask me many questions about our life and family. There were hugs and tears at the end of the evening and promises from Tom & I to be sure to send emails and come back on our return. Monday, we ready the motorhome. Sorrida shows up. They remembered Tom did not have a gift. Now he also has a shell necklace to remember La Curvina. Sorrida and Mike's other sponsored student, Gracie have school starting at 1pm until 6pm (grades 7 - 9). Usually they walk the 3 mile or so to town but we tell Sorrida that we will pick them up at 11:30 and drop them off. The idea of riding in the motorhome is exciting. First we have to go to the school so see Franklin and Tanya. More hugs, kisses and photos. Then we pick up Sorrida and Gracie, drop them off and head off. I am already looking forward to returning!

Antigua to Monterrico. 105 miles

After much deliberation, we have decided to by-pass Guatemala City and head straight to Monterrico, which is on the southwest coast of Guatemala and on the map looks to be the last coastal town accessable by road prior to heading into El Salvador. Also, because we now know the road situation, we will do it in two stages. Our first stop will be outside of Guatemala City at one of the few RV parks in Central America. After leaving Mexico, by far one of the biggest challenges to motorhome travel is lack of full hookup RV Parks. Usually wherever we park, we can run a long extension cord to get power and as a fall back we have a generator and water is available everywhere even gas stations. But...the sewer! Dumping not just the grey but black tank is a challenge. There are various methods, none of which are appealing especially to Tom who will have to carry out the "dirty" deed. This is one place where we can dump and clean out our tanks, I will keep everyone informed as to the next dumping. The park is also a huge water slide facility with 9 pools and a variety of slides. It was fun as we swam and after the park closed allowed Winston to run in all the grassy areas. We stayed two days and Wednesday started the drive to Monterrico. We had decided to come via Puerto Quetzal and thank God we did. By road is a misnomer. You can get to Monterrico either via a toll bridge through Puerto Quetzal or a barge across the mangrove swamps. This gives isolation a new dimension and we wonder how in the world an American couple from Colorado could wind up here. After asking directions in town to Casa de Gringo Mike with the big bigote (mustache) and getting lost several times, a very nice man from Italy who runs 36 kms every day to train for the Miami marathon, curtailed his regular route in leiu of running ahead of the RV for the last 4 km and, after turning into a narrow driveway from the road (we would never have found it), showed us the house of Mike. Mike and his young houseguest Alex, came out and after introductions, pressed a welcoming cold beer into our hands and showed us around. Mike is adding an upper addition to his house, an open air, palapa-style room where hammocks will sway and look directly onto the black sand beach and Pacific Ocean. Oh, yes, Mike's house is right on the beach. From his deck you walk onto the sand and into the water. For now, a cold beer and a hammock on the deck work for us and we relax after another day of driving.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lago de Atitlan to Antigua, 77 miles

We left Panajachel via the same route a week later. Saturday finds us headed to Antigua for a 2 day stay. It is not far by milage count but still takes almost three hours before our arrival into Antigua. Antigua is one of the cities that I really want to visit on our travels. Filled with a colonial past, this city transports you back in time to when the Spanish ruled. It was originally called Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, after the patron saint of the Conquistadors and was capital of a region that includes what is now all of Central America and part of Mexico. Along with Lima and Mexico City, it was one of the greatest cities of the Americas. It is the old colonial capital of Guatemala prior to 1773, when, due to earthquakes demolishing Antigua twice in a 60 year period the capital was formally moved to Guatemala City. Antigua does not allow traffic into the main old town centre and traffic circles the city on the perimter in a counter clockwise direction. We had been told that the easiest way to drive the town was by following a bus. The idea being, if a bus can fit down a street, so can an RV. This is true but quite harrowing. Our campground in Antigua is a Parqueo next to the bus station. A parqueo is simply a parking lot available by the hour, 1/2 or full day use for people coming to town. In our case we negotiate a 24 hour parking fee (about $18.00) per day and we parked at the back, in a beautiful grassy park with no other vehicles. These parqueos are manned with guards day and night and are completely safe. Petty crime is prevalent in Antigua as in many tourist towns both abroad and the States and it is not unusual to see security guards armed with automatic weapons walking around, hopefully as a detterent. Sunday is a sight-seeing day for us. We walk Winston for a couple of hours and set off. Antigua is really an old city that was devastated by 2 earthquakes in the 1700's, rebuilt after the first and abandoned in 1773 after the second. Our first stop is La Recollection, an old monastery built in the 1400's. The walls still stand but the huge ceilings collapsed, leaving a shell and huge stone boulders as a reminder of how massive these quakes were. Leaving there we go to Nuestra Senora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy) cathedral. This is the famous yellow and white cathedral that is pictured in many photographs of Antigua. The church is bright yellow with white decorations that make it look like frosting on a cake. Beautiful architecture and mass was in progress. So we joined the congregation and stayed until well into the sermon stage. Not understanding Spanish as well as we should, we could not follow the priest and so headed outside to continue on our sight seeing mission. The next stop is the Colonial Arch (Arco de Santa Catalina) which spans 5th Ave Norte. This is the remaining remnant of the enormous Convent of St. Catherine. The convent was founded in 1613 with only 4 nuns but in the late 1600's due to it's growing numbers the convent spread across the street. The arch was built to allow the sisters to pass from one side to the other without being seen. This arch is also highly photographed with the volcano in the background. Be still my heart! This particular sight is one of my "bucket list" items. I am overwhelmed. We take lots of photos and just in time. The rain started and surprise of surprises, we find an Irish pub! Beer and appetizers are on our agenda now. After a break and getting a break in the weather we head for another abandoned convent, The Convento de las Capuchinas. This is the largest convent built by the Capuchin nuns. Their numbers were huge because unlike the other sisterhoods, this was the only order that did not require young women to pay a dowry to go into religious life. The convent was damaged in the earthquake of 1773 but restored in the 1940's and opened to the public. The ruins are a poignant reminder of how sequestered a nun's life was like and the grounds are beautiful. Afterwards we head to the main plaza, the Plaza Mayor which is the central park and home to the main cathedral, the Catedral de San Jose. This is a gorgeous white cathedral with two chapels and like most Central American churches, the cross and altar face east so that worshippers pray facing the Holy Land. We are now both sated with culture and reminders of our Catholic religous upbringing. We decide to splurge and instead of walking back to the parqueo, we hire a horse and carriage for a final ride through the city's cobbled streets before going home to the RV. Antigua is haunting and beautiful and well worth a visit. We get back to the RV, to a very excited beagle who now wants ....a walk. We pour a glass of wine, toast our day and as Tom prepares dinner, I walk Winston through our private park sanctuary (now closed and locked for the night) and with the volcanoes around us, reflect on a near perfect day.

Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

The lake is gorgeous. Surrounded by three volcanoes, it is regaled as being one of the world's most beautiful. It is also at an elevation of over 5300 ft. Our first night, I woke up to an unusual noise and feeling. What was it? My God, it was my teeth! They were chattering and I was freezing. Tom woke up also. We spent the next 15 minutes trying to find the comforter, which we had had cleaned and packed away after leaving Arizona. We settled for the sleeping bag and finally snuggled up underneath it, went back to sleep. Our first morning (Sunday), we headed into town. We can now see the volcanoes clearly and their reflections in the lake are quite breath taking. The town of Panajachel is small but extremely cosmopolitan. Not too many North Americans but plenty of Europeans, many of whom have settled in this community. The outdoor market is crammed with local craftwork - woven fabrics, leather goods, carpets, wall hangings, ceramic, pottery and a myriad of other items for the tourists. Prices are good but higher than Mexico. We wander for several hours. There is also a surprising number of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines and price ranges. We settle for a French styled restaurant and order onion soup, lobster bisque and an appetizer of Serrano ham. The bisque was the only item that disappointed, so we knew we would try other restaurants in the days to come. We also purchased rain ponchos. The weather has a distinct pattern here. The mornings are fabulous, warm, clear and sunny. The clouds start forming in the early afternoon and the rains will begin anywhere from 4pm onwards throughout the night. This is rain, not showers, complete with thunder and lightening on some occasions. Our mode of transportation from the hotel to town is taxis. These "taxis" are designed for narrow streets. They are a 3 wheel vehicle (one wheel in front and 2 in the rear). The driver sits in front and it takes 2 passengers, if you are a family of 4 that means 2 taxis and the cost is 10 quetzes (about $1.25) per person. They are remarkable little vehicles and quite effective. During our week at the lake, we spent our days wandering the town and surrounding area and visited a Nature Reserve. Winston also had a fun time exploring new territory. We could have spent more time here but we know we want to be in Costa Rica by mid August so after a week decide to head for Antigua.

Puerto Arrista to Lake Atitlan - 239 miles

Well, we finally left Mexico for Guatemala. After spending the night in a Sam's Club parking lot in the border town of Tapachula, we spent the morning shopping and crossed the border at noon. Tapachula is one of the best border towns I have known. There are plenty of shops besides Sam's Club (WalMart, Home Depot, Auto Zone and a very upscale mall), so we made a final forage before heading for Guatemala. The crossing went very smoothly. Leaving Mexico we kept our vehicle permit, got our exit stamps, paid a toll of about 3 dollars and we were headed across a bridge to the Guatemalan border. We exchanged our pesos for quetzales and was directed to the first of 3 stops. This was for spraying our tires ($5.00) and processing Winston. They reviewed his USDA permit and about 5 other documents. I provided copies of everything which makes them happy. The more paperwork and copies they have the more legitimate they think it is! Winston was legal to enter Guatemala, now it was our turn. Immigration was simply handing over our passports, no paperwork to fill out and no fees. Because there is a standing agreement between what is known as the CA4 (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) you are only processed once at immigration for all 4 countries. We were given the standard 90 days to pass through the 4 countries and it was on to Aduana (Customs) for our temporary vehicle permit. The gentleman who processed us could not have been nicer. He helped fill out our paperwork, again all our copies were ready. He inspected the motorhome, inside and out (but no search), took the vin number and whilst he prepared the permit, we paid the fees of $6.00. He then accompanied us back to the RV, put the sticker in the windshield, hugged and kissed me on the cheek!, shook Tom's hand and welcomed us to his country. Both Tom & I were slightly overwhelmed and quite pleased with ourselves. We can only hope border crossings continue to be this easy. HA!! By 2:30 we were on our way. The first thing we noticed were the roads are in terrible condition. Now and again we reach a mach speed of 35 miles an hour but for the most part we are lucky to maintain 25 mph. We realize there is no way we will get to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan this night. We turn off the main road (CA2) onto a side road to the lake. Now we are "cruising" at 20 mph and it is getting dark. We finally find a gas station at the small town of Polulul and they give us permission to park in their lot overnight. The next morning we are up bright and early to continue to Lake Atitlan. We leave at nine o'clock and figure we have about 2 hours of driving time remaining. After 2 hours of driving through roadwork, ravines, across washed out bridges and just about anything else immaginable, we pass a family of Germans. They wave and stop us. "Are you heading to Panajachel?" they ask. We nod. "Well, the road is closed due to a landslide", they say and off they go. We look at each other, find a place to turn around and head back to a village we passed, which had a gas station. We are about 6 mile from the lake. I pull out the maps and we arrive back at the station. We begin to try to find out what is happening and how are people driving to the lake. We are told that 2 of the 3 roads which go to Lake Atitlan are closed due to landslides. The third is the road from CA1 through Solola, which is mentioned in all guidebooks as the steepest, worst route to the lake! It is also a detour of about 50 mile! Oh well. We find the correct road and on we go and go and go! Everything we had read about this road, is all true. It is narrow and steep and slow. At Solola, we had to make several turns down narrow streets and then the steep decline to the lake. The views were amazing. We finally reach the hotel where we knew there was RV parking at 5pm. Once again, what was supposed to be an easy 2 hour drive , had turned into a marathon session. But we are here. After setting up the RV, we grab a beer and head down to the lake to watch the sunset

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jose's Cabana Camping, Puerto Arrista

This is a small update of the campsite for our birding friends. There are lots of birds in the area and at the campsite, remember those 6 acres and the lagoon. There is 71 species of birds noted on the property incuding the Boat-Billed Heron, the White Bellied Chachalaca, the Painted Bunting, the Russet Crested Motmot and the Giant Wren. Birders come here from all over the world to view them. Well we are on our way to Tapachula and will cross the border tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Arriaga to Puerto Arrista, Chiapas. 30 mile

The state of Chiapas is the most green, luscious state we have travelled through. Unfortunately at this time of year that does translate to mosquitos. Jose's Camping Cabanas is in the middle of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. Not many people make it as far as Puerto Arrista. Jose, by the way is Joe from Canada. He owns this place with his family and it is amazing. They have about 6 acres of camping, cabanas and hookups. There is a small patio area where you can join them for meals. Last night, we visited with 3 German students from the University of Stuttgart studying Civil Engineering. They were headed north so we gave them information for Saladita and the Michoacan coast. Tom and I remain amazed at the number of European youngsters (late teens to mid twenties) who just fly in to Mexico and then travel by bus, wherever it goes. They camp, hostel, sleep in hammocks and just generally hang out. Americans think they need a destination, hotel and God forbid, they ride on a bus! As we were sitting, we realized we were getting smoked out. Turns out that burning coconut shells keeps the mosquitos away. Tonight we tried it out and it does work so once again we have gained a little knowledge that might help. By the way, if you have a hound (or any dog, for that matter), Jose's is fabulous. There are the six acres, fenced in on 3 sides and a lagoon on the fourth. Winston is in hound heaven. He has scented, ran, waded in the lagoon (I know, totally disgusting) and roamed to his heart's content. It is such a joy to see him so healthy and happy after the paralysis of a couple of months ago. After being in Mexico for 3 months, we have achieved a certain amount of comfort and complacency and we are now trying to prepare for our border crossing to Guatamala and our route through that country. We keep changing and syaying flexible. Right now, our plan is to get to Lake Atitlan and Antigua and then follow the Pacific coast to Monterrico. Mike and his wife Betty live there. They are friends with the Saladita crowd and we look forward to meeting more fellow expats. From there we will drive through the rest of the CA4 (El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) to Costa Rica. Our next blog will be frm Guatamala - somewhere. Pray for our safe and successful crossing. Talk to you all soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Huatulco, Oaxaca to Arriaga, Chiapas. 217 miles

Monday. Still reeling from yesterday, we break camp early and go back on the same dreaded road to get our ereader from DHL. We are trying to come up with a system, using what we have to be able to have an awning for shade and rain. Tom has a few ideas but I can see that he is still too shell shocked from this happening to deal with it. It is quite a long drive for us and we stop several times for Winston, for lunch and a couple of checkpoints. The countryside is lush and green and quite mountainous. The El Parador Hotel where we stay is on the side of Mex 200 and is really an overnight stop for travellers but the parking area for RVs is thick grass and shady. Winston as I have mentioned in earlier blogs lovesgrass. He rolls and plays. Tom prepares hamburgers for dinner and I catch up on emails, blogs and getting the new ebook up and running. Before going to Guatamala, we are contemplating making a side trip to Puerto Arrista (way off the beaten rack) to stay at Jose's Cabanas, a tropical paradise. After Sunday, we could use a little of that.

Puerto Escondido to Bahias de Huatulco, 73 mile

Sunday, July 4th. What a day and at the end of it we are left with a huge problem. The drive to Huatulco was fairly easy and straightforward. This is election day in Mexico. As we pass through towns and villages, we can see the town squares "the zocalas" tented and ribboned for the occasion. It was around 5pm when we got to Huatulco and if we had only gone straight to the RV park. If only! Insead we decide to check out the location of the DHL office, where our package is. We found the street but not the office but we did find a large Super Che supermarket. Tom made a U-turn and decided to go and pick up something for dinner. If only! Whilst Tom went to shop, I walked Winston. Upon leaving we knew we had to make another U-turn to put us back in the right direction for the camp. I was checing our camping book and Tom was looking in the side mirror for traffic to enable making the turn. I look up. "Honey, you are really close to"......BAM! The side of the RV rocked and I could hear thumping and clanging. I look at Tom and say quietly "I think we just lost our awning". Tom pulled over and we got out. No, No, he kept saying. Sure enough the entire awning - top, cover, sides, bars - the whole thing had gotten ripped off the side by a tree limb. I follow Tom who is talking to himself like a sailor with Tourrette syndrome. What can I say? We pick up all the parts from the street and get them on the sidewalk. We look at each other. "Let's just put everything in the RV and get to the trailer park" I said, "we can check everything out then" Not having a better idea, Tom complied. Not much was said during the last part of the drive except for Tom muttering and blaming himself. We get to the RV park, settle in, pay for the night and assess the damage. It is awful. Completely broken and unreplaceable unless we head back to the States. That is not even an option. Tom blames himself. "Honey, let' take a walk on the beach with a glass of wine and watch the sunset" I tell him. It's an accident. It happened and now we have to deal with it and cope. But, self recrimination and loathing are not productive. We walk and talk and try to come up with a plan. We are still too upset and stunned by the suddeness of it all. We take photos in case the insurance company asks for them, we decide what we will keep - the cover and side rails and discard the rest. We eat lefoveovers for dinner, neither of us with much of an appetite. We go to bed, tomorrow is another day.

Puerto Escondido, July 2nd & 3rd, 2010

We woke Friday thinking this would be our final day in Puerto. Again, we have been here almost 2 weeks and the time has flown by. Tom goes surfing with Jim and meets up with Pat who is also out that morning. Tom arranges for us to go to dinner with them, one last time. Pat is also helping me out by printing some insurance forms from online for Guatamala. The afternoon brings a surprise. Up until now, with the exception of Texas Jim, we have had the campsite to ourselves. Imagine our surprise when a huge motorhome pulls in. Mike and Rosemary are Australians but originally Rosemary is from England and Mike a New Zealander. They are headed to the States but coming back from Panama and Costa Rica. More stories and info. Unfortunately for us they are only planning to stay one night and we are going out to dinner. We ask lots of questions. The most interesting info is that they color photocopied their vehicle license plate and drivers licenses and then laminated them. They kept all original in safety and had only the photocopied license plate on their home. It seems that in Central America, license plates get stolen and the police have a habit of keeping your drivers license until you pay them to get it back and they don't really know the difference! It got Tom and I thinking. With dinner brought surprise number 2. We knew Sunday July 4th was election day in Mexico but what we didn't know was that for 2 days there was no sales or public consumption of alcohol in Mexico. Yes, that's right. The day before and the day of the elections, no alcohol is sold. After having 6 people for drinks that night, we are low on beer. This led to a late night foray at the local abborretta for supplies. We had a great dinner with the Puerto gang and hope to meet up with them in a year or so. Saturday, Mike and Rosemary had a slight mishap in the motorhome. A sink oveflowed and soaked everything. They would have to stay one more night. As I had already planned a dinner of smoked salmon fettucine with spicy green beans and almonds, and I knew we had enough to go round, we invited them over. However in the afternoon, armed with some addresses from Pat we went to town. First to an office store. We had color copies made of the car licenses plate and our drivers licenses and then had them laminated. Is this considered forgery? I am sure the US would not approve but if it works in Central America and helps us keep all of our originals, so be it! We also got some reflector tape to put around the motorhome. Again, in Central America the police looking for any reason to get money found Mike and Rosemary "in violation" for not having reflector tape (They do have the standard reflectors that are acceptable in any other country) on their RV and having no emergency reflective triangle in case of a breakdown. They were fined and immediately went and purchased the desred items. Tom & I decided to be preemptive. We feel more prepared now to face the CA4 (Guatamala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua). We had a wonderful dinner with Mike & Rosemary. Picked up more names of contacts and said our ggodnights. Tomorrow, having dried out, they are headed to Acapulco and us to Huatulco.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Puerto Escondido, June 28th - July 1st, 2010

Monday, 7am. I could not have gotten out of bed for anything, let alone be drenched and pounded by high waves. But Tom, the trooper went out with Jim, as usual. Extreme perseverance, but he slept the rest of the day! Chatted on skype with family and friends in the evening and...went to bed early. Tuesday, Jeanne sent our new ebook via DHL, there were no promises on when it will arive in Huatulco but we have a tracking number and faith. Tuesday night or rather early Wednesday morning about 2:30am, brings another surprise. Between the storms and flooding rain, tropical depressions and hurricanes, we thought that about covered any natural disasters. Wrong! Earthquake. A 6.2 epi-centered in Oaxaca (the state where we are) about 90 mile from us. Tom woke thinking I was up and moving around. Finding me asleep, he then thought someone was outside and had bumped the RV. But Winston was asleep and would have barked if anyone were lurking outside. Yes, Winston and I slept through it. Earthquake. I knew headed south into Peru and Chile we might face them but not here. Wednesday, I emailed another contact friend of the Saladita crowd who lives in Guatamala. Mike got back to me. Seems they live on the Pacific coast in Monterrico which is far south, not too far from the El Salvador border. Mike offers some advice on going to Guatamala and with luck we will meet him in a couple of weeks. We track our package, it is in Mexico City already, headed for Oaxaca. Thursday we decide to take Winston to the vet for a check up. Poor thing. Of the 3 of us, he has had the most difficult time and seems to go from one problem to another. This time, it is a rash that has developed on his back and he is losing some fur. His skin also feels bumpy. Pat had said that although Mexican dogs handle the conditions here well, American dogs have a difficult time adapting. This is true for Winston. So, Thursday finds us at yet another vet, here in Puerto. At this rate, when I write the book, there will be a whole chapter on vets. It turns out he has been bitten so many times by ants, flies and other insects which he then scratched and infected the area. Another round of anti-biotics and some special shampoo. A bath every three days and Winston hates baths. We are also going to be applying Frontline every 2 weeks from now on. Hopefully this will help all problems. When we get back from town we check the tracking nmber again. Surprise. In only 2 days th package from Jeanne has arrived. DHL came through again. We decide to stay here until Saturday, break camp early and get to Huatulco to pick it up by 2pm. That leaves us just one more day in Puerto so we should make good use of it.