"The Americas" in a 1st gen. Toyota 4runner
We quit our jobs, sold our belongings, and left our home in Austin, Texas in February. After a short detour (almost all the way to Canada) and a month in Baja...we're now in Oaxaca and SLOWLY making our way south.
We're in no rush at all, we have no exact time frame (currently thinking 2 years on the road) and we have no exact route planned. We're just winging it for now because that's the way we like to travel: day by day.
For all the details up to now, you can read our blog posts at RuinedAdventures.com, or for the little day to day stuff you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+
If it sounds like we're shamelessly promoting our trip, it's because we are...we want to inspire others to do something wild, the same way we were inspired two years ago! Stay tuned for info that could be helpful on a future Pan-Am trip or maybe just some cheap entertainment. beer
Fast-Forward to Now: bribes, counterfeits, and dysentery
First of all I'd like to formally apologize to our readers, all five of you, for the serious lack of updates we've had over the past few months. I hadn't realized how far behind we were until we won the award for "Most Slackerest Blog" (new word courtesy of James at Home On The Highway). Between fighting Shannon over the keyboard and actually putting the computer away to actually enjoy our trip, it's been a little tough to update our experiences. I'll do my best to sum it all up to date, and get things back on track.
We've had a few highs and lows over the past few months...
In Mexico, we fell head over heals in love with the small town of Guanajuato. Admittedly I already had a serious love affair with GTO, but after I introduced Shannon to the charm and beauty of this pueblo magico in Central Mexico, it became a full-on complicated love triangle. We spent over a month there and could have easily just put the 4runner up on blocks, and slipped away into the daily grind as full-time expats there.
In Mexico City, while shopping for a wedding dress and size 4 heels for Shannon (an experience that all overland travelers should seek out) we were robbed not once but twice by taxi-drivers...well robbed may be stretching the truth a bit. There were no weapons involved, no threats, and we didn't even notice it was happening but after the ride we realized that one driver slipped us a fake bill in change and the other had given us an out-of-circulation bill that was worth less than a dollar. Another souvenir for the road and another lesson learned.
Occupy Oaxaca in full effect...teachers on strike made it difficult to appreciate the downtown architecture
In Oaxaca and Chiapas, we blazed through at least 4 of the unofficial roadblocks that we had heard so much about. Basically two people holding a rope or cable across the road, we were warned that these were attempts to stop you while men in the bushes come out to rob you. Admittedly it appeared that these were all simply attempts to sell elotes or tamales by the road, we drove through anyway, not really in the mood for a snack.
I'll be happy if I never eat another chapuline (grasshopper) again
We crossed paths with Crossing Latitudes, who we went into the Sierra Norte with, eventually giving a ride to two colorful characters in a small mountain village. The six of us followed a lead towards a nearby party and stumbled on a 600 year-old religious tradition in a small village that I couldn't even pick out on a map. We were treated like royalty and the villagers were warm and friendly. I may or may not have consumed fire-water straight from a gasoline jug...I survived, but for a second I thought that I may go blind.
Going where the wind takes us
The reason for the celebration
Our new friends Mindy & VJ, Aaron & Aneta
Our border crossing experience to Guatemala was gentle at La Mesilla, however the nice man at Migración did ask for the unofficial Q20 fee for each of our visas. Thanks to Life Remotely and WikiOverland, we knew what to expect beforehand so we kindly asked for a receipt.
"The stamp in your passport is the receipt." He claimed.
Without skipping a beat, I replied "That's cool, but I just need an official piece of paper that says I give you Q20 and you give me the stamp to receive the visa."
We went back and forth like this for a while, referring to notes that I had made on a piece of paper. Since I had obviously done my homework and I was not going to budge on the matter, he quickly changed his story to "You pay the 20 quetzales for the visa when you LEAVE Guatemala" in a disappointed tone. Sure buddy.
Not a bad view for the next month
Tractor-powered ferris wheel of death in San Juan La Laguna
We spent a month in San Marcos La Laguna and this was our second time finding home away from home. A quiet village on Lago de Atitlan, we spent three weeks taking spanish lessons from Homer of San Pedro Spanish School. We now feel very confident with our spanish conversational skills and we've definitely noticed a difference in daily interaction. We made a few friends on the lake and even managed to pick up some informal lessons in Kakchikel, the local Mayan dialect...although the local girls giggle every time we attempt to pronounce it.
One of many lancha rides across the lake
Our new friend Sean, we bumped into him at one of our favorite haunts in San Marcos La Laguna
My sister and brother-in-law came to visit us in Guatemala and they brought our 4-month old nephew so we could finally meet him. This kid is so awesome...not only does he live in Madagascar, but he's going to have more stamps in his passport by the age of one than most of my friends back home do.
International man of mystery in training
Getting stamped out of Guatemala, officially in "no man's land"
We decided to make the short trip to El Salvador for some surf and sun. On the way there we had a few options to get to the coast...
Easy does it
Enjoying a beer on the ferry to Monterrico
This border crossing experience was a little more interesting now that we were officially in Central America...we had read stories about the "helpers" that approach like zombie hordes and harass you into paying them to get your paperwork completed. We decide along time ago that we wanted to do it the hard way, completing our paperwork for ourselves and hopefully becoming border-crossing pros. We did not however, expect the helpers to barrage us on motorcycles, before we even got near the border. Imagine the final chase scene from Mad Max: Beyond The Thunderdome...post-apocalyptic thugs chasing us on bizarre machines riding alongside the 4runner for the chance to hop on the hood, while screaming "Let me help you! I will take care of your papers!"
Approaching El Salvador's border
While I may be exaggerating a little, the description is not too far off. The sketchy moto-helpers were riding through oncoming traffic, tapping on my window, pleading to be the one to help us take care of the border crossing red-tape. Once we parked at the border, we had at least fifteen helpers literally surrounding us in the 4runner before we even stepped out. They were all banging on the windows and claiming to help us "for free", while we just sat for five minutes in pure shock. We had to brush them off and make our way to the migración, but one helper who spoke very good english would simply not leave me alone. I told him we wanted to do everything on our own and we already knew what to do, but he was like a fly in my ear at every step. He would tell me what to do AS I was already doing it, while I was politely telling him that he was actually making the process more difficult since we could not hear the border officials talk to us. I finally ditched him when I needed a copy of our vehicle title...he waited for me at the copy-shop while I went to the 4runner to get a copy I already had. Overall the border took us almost 3 hours, most of that time was spent waiting for the kind folks in El Salvador's aduana to notice us and actually give us the time of day.
Note the convenient handle above the bed and the toilet paper dispenser
We got lost trying to find Parque Nacional El Imposible, stumbling past MS-13 graffiti and eventually ended up staying for the first time in an auto hotel. In case you're not familiar, an auto hotel is a place where you pay by the hour and they have a little garage for each room so you can hide your car from sight. The menu had condoms and lubricants...probably not the best way to welcome your family to Central America, but it was unforgettable no doubt.
Keeping a low-profile in gang territory
Sunset in El Salvador
The volcano of Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
While in El Salvador my brother and I got to enjoy some surf at El Zonte, where I was desperately trying to avoid swallowing the water while half-drowning. The surf break is about 200 yards from a river outlet that is undoubtedly flowing with sewage. Needless to say, while attempting to duck dive my lower lip was ripped open by the powerful surf and I ingested more crap-water than I had hoped.
The break at El Zonte
A week later when we finally found Parque Nacional El Imposible (it is indeed fairly impossible to locate),where I spent 48 hours trembling in bed with a fever of 103, surrounded by hallucinations of a tombstone that read "DIED OF DYSENTERY" while wondering if Shannon would continue the journey without me or find an El Salvadorian sancho to replace me. Unfortunately Shannon eventually got just as sick, so we took turns nursing each other to health and trying to cool each other down.
So that pretty much brings us to present day, with a couple of exceptions. The 4runner is currently out of service right now for some maintenance and repairs, so we're trying to figure out our next move from Antigua. We may write a few updates that will fill you in on some of the specifics that I've left out, but for now we will consider our story updated. James, you can stop harassing us now...
I almost forgot to mention the highlight of our trip so far: 31 of our favorite people came from all over the world to see us on the lake...
And we got married!
Stay tuned for more details on our recent nuptials.
A few more FAIRLY RECENT pictures...
Our friends Kamil & Zuzanna we met in Mexico City (and again in Oaxaca, and again in San Marcos La Laguna)
Watch out for this dude if you go to Mexico City, we caught him peeing on our rig while we were sleeping inside
Laundry Day at our campsite in Oaxaca
Some of our new friends at the Oaxaca Campground
Found an apartment in Oaxaca for $5/day with no furniture and serious mosquitos...no problemo!
A short hike in the Sierra Norte
With Crossing Latitudes, exploring a watch tower and suspension bridge
One of our favorite campsites in Oaxaca, despite the fact I was sick as a dog
Pulling up to Monterrico on the "fun-ferry"
Stealing as much air conditioning as possible from the Aduana office in El Salvador
The guest bed in our sleezy auto hotel...still can't figure out why there was a little closet-sized garden?
Obligatory overlanding photo for Parque Nacional El Imposible
Sweet little Suby we saw in El Salvador
Tuckered out little traveler
Everyone has their preference
I ain't skewered...
Thanks for the updates - congratulations on tying the knot! bier
Enjoying reading about the trip and congratulations on tying the knot.
I have a 2nd Generation 4runner, which I am hoping to take to Mongolia next year. From the pictures I see a rather interesting rack on the tailgate. Can you use the tailgate while this rack is in situ. How is it connected to the truck. Is the roof rack fastened directly to the roof ? You don't seem to be carrying alot of luggage on the roof is the interior fully loaded.
Thanks for all the congratulations!
We don't carry much for luggage, especially inside, since we prefer to sleep in the vehicle and there isn't much room. We just carry less and enjoy more comfort without the extras.
Mongolia sounds like quite the adventure! Good luck preparing for the trip, for me that was half of the fun bier
Many thanks, there is a wealth of information there. I will study it carefully. We did a 2 month trip to Morocco with a roof tent on the 4runner. Was not impressed with a roof tent, condensation, noisy when windy and if you wanted to move in a hurry, was not possible. We intend to sleep in the truck, thankfully my wife is only 5'. Once again, many thanks and have a safe and happy trip.
It just takes a little more planning and maybe a swiss engineer to organize your gear inside the vehicle AND a bed. My only advice would be to make sure that you can just hop in the back and go to sleep, without having to move gear around. Otherwise it'll be too tempting to splurge on a hostel at times. Having a wife under 5' is certainly convenient (Shannon is 4'9")...definitely important criteria when searching for 'the one' :thumbup:
I had a friend in school who had a full-size Ford with a huge topper/canopy/whatever-the-hell-you-call-it on the back. I always loved the fact that you could crash in the back and no one could tell from the outside. That was always our goal. We camped outside of an orphanage for a week inside the 4runner until one day they insisted we stay in their shack. We showed them how comfy we were inside the rig and they were shocked, they thought we had spent the week sleeping in our bucket seats!
We wrote a short article, discussing the finer points between driving, backpacking, cycling, or traveling the world by motorcycle. This one's for all of our readers who are contemplating how to go about their journey...however we would love some feedback in the comments section if you have relevant experience, feel free to contribute to the discussion!
Here's a little post that Shannon wrote while I'm dealing with our electrical issues...
Our Wedding Day in Guatemala
Even though we had been engaged for a year, we didn't actually decide where our wedding was going to be until about three months before the actual event. After seeing photographs of Lake Atitlan and getting confirmation from several other about how amazing the lake was, the decision was made to have our wedding there.
We decided to keep the wedding to family and invited only a few of our closest friends. We wanted to keep things as simple as possible. We were originally planning to have our wedding alone, with no guests at all, so this was a stretch. Considering the short notice, we figured ten, maybe fifteen people would commit to the occasion. You can imagine our surprise when thirty-one loved ones RSVP'd.
Our good friend Katie recommended staying in San Marcos La Laguna at Hotel Aaculaax. At Aaculaax we made friends with the owner Lily, who recommended talking to her friend Ana who happens to be a wedding planner and owns a hotel in Santa Cruz La Laguna.
Our honeymoon suite at Hotel Aaculaax...only a slight adjustment from sleeping in the 4Runner.
The honeymoon suite's balcony at Hotel Aaculaax.
Wedding planner? No thanks, sounds expensive and you know wedding planners…they always go over the top. That's what I thought anyway. Brenton and I met with Ana and her assistant Karen at Hotel Isla Verde, a short fifteen minute lancha ride from San Marcos.
After talking with Ana and Karen for less than an hour, I was proven wrong. Ana and Karen were both down-to-earth and didn't try to make our wedding anything we didn't want it to be. Not to mention, their whole business is based on being eco-friendly, which is something we appreciated. We waited about a day for word on what the total cost would be and again we were pleasantly surprised. For what they were quoting us, we didn’t feel like we could do it on our own for any less. It wasn't long after that we decided to do our wedding at Hotel Isla Verde.
Our family all arrived within a couple of days of each other and we spent the first few days exploring the beautiful city of Antigua. On the third of August, we all piled into a bus and made the three and a half hour drive to San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan.
The first night we enjoyed a wonderful meal and drinks at Fe Restaurant. We called it our "non-rehearsal dinner" since we didn't plan on actually rehearsing anything. Half of our family stayed with Brenton and I at Hotel Aaculaax, the other half stayed about fifteen minutes down the main road at Pasaj-Cap. Both places were wonderful, beautiful, and our hosts were amazing.
The first course from our amazing dinner at Fe Restaurant.
...and of course we had to wash down that incredible dinner.
The breathtaking view from Pasaj Cap, where we had a bbq together. This is also a great place to camp if you find ever find yourself in San Marcos La Laguna.
The next day, the fourth of August, we headed over to Santa Cruz in lanchas. I headed over a couple of hours earlier to get ready. Brenton and the rest of our guests came over in two different boats. As people arrived they enjoyed the incredible view and drinks from Hotel Isla Verde. We decided the ceremony would start at four o'clock, though I didn't actually come down until four-thirty. That's not too bad right? Brides are supposed to make a fashionably late entrance.
The lancha ride to the wedding venue.
Every bride needs a support team.
We married on the dock, surrounded by our family, with "the most beautiful lake in the world" as our backdrop. Amazingly, we didn't get rained on either. Remember, we chose to get married in Guatemala, in the rainy season, in the late afternoon. That's prime time for a downpour.
Our officiant has a problem with pacing, especially when public speaking.
Did I mention my now brother-in-law was our officiant? We couldn't think of a better person to do it. As Brenton mentioned in the previous post, his sister Marissa, her husband Jay, and our nephew Cooper came down a couple of weeks before everyone else so we could spend some time traveling a bit with them. It was at this point when we asked Jay to officiate. We didn't give him much time, so we're grateful he agreed.
Note the Mayan girls enjoying the show through the windows.
Brenton and I decided to write our own vows and we also wanted Jay's part to be unique and personal. We looked up traditional vows and found some aspects that we liked, gave them to Jay, and told him to go wild. You could tell that Jay had poured his heart and soul into the role, and we couldn't have been happier with our choice to have him as our officiant.
You may kiss the bride!
After the ceremony we enjoyed incredible food, dessert, and a fun night of dancing and spending time with the people we love. Our day was amazing and everything we could have wanted.
Things got a little emotional during the father-bride dance.
Since we were still on the lake, I surprised Brenton with a night at Hotel Isla Verde exactly one month after our wedding, on the fourth of September. Since tourist season is slowing down right now, we almost had the whole place to ourselves. We enjoyed a romantic dinner and slept in a comfy room with an amazing view of the lake.
A nice little surprise, the girls at Isla Verde pulled out all the stops for us...again!
We are so grateful to all of our family and friends who made it to our wedding and for all the wonderful people who helped to make it possible. We couldn't have asked for more.
I see you met Ruth and Walter in their Toyota? We met them in Montevideo, they were sailing home on the ship we sailed over on. Small world. (Please tell me that is their truck your photos?).
Anyways, keep up the good work, congrats on getting Married!
Watching your progress, we must have a brew when you hit South America.
Merv and Sarah.
Hey Merv & Sarah! I think you're talking about the tan Landcruiser/Camper we have pictured next to a white Iveco van in Oaxaca? That's a nice Swiss couple we met, Claude and Erika. They've been traveling the Pan-Am for about 9 years now. I've seen pics of some very similar campers around the world, I think they picked theirs up in Germany 13 years ago.
We'll definitely have to take you guys up on the brew somewhere south of here and north of there (congrats on getting to South America!). We've been following along too, so we hope to see you out there!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch...
Another month has passed along with another long period of silence on our end. We've since crossed several borders and it's hard to believe how much has happened since we left our little bubble of peace in Lake Atitlan. For the sake of consistency, our story will pick up where our last broadcast left off, but in regards to our 4Runner.
Of course, if you get impatient and once every month or two isn't enough for an update...you can keep closer tabs on us with Facebook.
Apparently when folks head south, once they get to Guatemala, the miles really begin to add up and it's typically time to replace a few things. Toothbrushes, book lists, maybe a timing chain. The 4Runner was starting to misfire terribly since we left for El Salvador and our wedding was quickly coming.
I decided now would be a good time to let someone else do the work and cross my fingers that the rig would be waiting for me after the wedding. Luckily, fellow travelers Home On The Highway and Capitol Southbound had already been in that boat, so we followed their recommendations for a mechanic in Guatemala City.
Driving in Guatemala City (or any capital south of the border) can be a little intimidating. Take the typical mishaps of driving in Latin America, Guatemala's lack of useful signs mixed with plenty of nauseous one-way boulevards, a notorious reputation for crime, and you've got a giant bowl of scary spaghetti to get lost in. The very thought of driving through Central America's largest city is enough to put any tough-guy Clint Eastwood into the fetal position, sucking his thumb. No problem though, we had been practicing for this…couldn't be worse than Mexico City right?
Even though I had studied several maps of the city and I already had the GPS dialed in for this little venture, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little worried for the drive to the mechanic's shop in Zona 8 (see: sketchy-ville). You see, my first time driving into the capital was to meet with my sister, brother-in-law, and my 4 month old nephew when they flew in for our little side-trip to El Salvador. Sure we got really lost before we up with them, but at least I had the best navigator in the world helping me thru every wrong turn (I'm referring to Shannon of course, not the GPS). Only this time I would be driving solo, while Shannon entertained the first of our guests who were starting to arrive in Antigua for our wedding.
Of course the 4Runner battled me every second of the drive. It was like dragging a spoiled child to the dentist to get all of their wisdom teeth pulled. Knowing fully well that we're too cheap for proper anesthesia, this was going to hurt, and the 4Runner was kicking and screaming the whole way in protest. I didn't even think that I would make it to the top of the first hill as I left Antigua…but like a broken horse, the 4Runner eventually submitted and miraculously dragged me all the way to Guatemala City in a fit. I was amazed when I realized that I didn't get lost in the city once, and I even made it in decent time, though I was hardly able to break 45mph the entire drive.
I met with Adrian of Krazy Kustoms, and I was glad that we had found him to work on our baby. Not only was he a nice guy, but he seemed passionate about his work. We chatted for a while and I got to know him, and I felt at ease as I handed him the keys to our home. So what do we do now? I suppose I just sit back and enjoy the fact that several friends and family have come together in Guatemala just for our little wedding. This should be no problem while some stranger manhandle's our little girl right? Right?
Volcano climbs and an eruption
After our last wedding guests left town we still had some time to kill while the 4Runner was getting some surgery. We met a couple of fun German backpackers, Fabian and Puck, while hostel-hopping and they had convinced us to tag-along on a day-trip to climb Volcan Pacaya. It was less than $9 usd per person, and we were tired of worrying about our vehicle, so we were game.
We didn't realize we would be part of a large tour, but we still enjoyed the short 1.5 hour hike up this active volcano. The tour guide was in his sixties, but he was built like a 25 year old. He said he makes the steep hike twice a day, 6 days a week.
The guide's dog was following the whole day too. We named him 'Black Fred', in honor of Guanajuato Fred, because this dog was obviously a badass too. He climbs volcanos every day, what does your dog do? Lick himself to sleep?
It was funny to see a mini gift shop at the top of the volcano, allegedly selling "Lava Jewelry", but no one was there and we didn't see any molten gems on display. We did get to see some interesting thermal vents and Shannon even climbed inside. Then the tour guide roasted some marshmallows using the heat from one of the vents, the typical volcano tour photo op.
Fabian has been carrying around some traditional liederhosen around Central America, for an "art project" he's been doing for university. He takes a photo wearing the liederhosen in random places that you wouldn't see in Germany. So we talked him into bringing the liederhosen. At the top of the volcano, he snuck behind a rock and changed for us. It was a good laugh, and everyone enjoyed the irony.
Unfortunately they try to sell all the tourists on taking this trek, even some who physically shouldn't. A woman with hip problems was told that the hike was "easy" and she would have no problems. They offer a horse ride to the top for a small fee, but there was no option for the slippery walk back to the bottom. The poor thing seemed to be having a terrible time, but luckily she had some nice German boys to help her down the volcano.
For more photos of Volcan Pacaya, go to our Facebook page.
Later that week while we camped at the Tourist Police headquarters, the Antigua area made international headlines. The nearby Volcan Fuego had been more active than usual, and we were fortunate enough to see some eruptions. Over 30,000 villagers were evacuated to the southwest of the volcano, but luckily we were safe in Antigua since we were to the Northeast, even though we were only 6 miles away.
It was very doomsday looking, but the locals all just continued with their day, so we followed suit. From our campsite at night we could even see the lava pouring down the side of the volcano, with an occasional eruption. It was a powerful display to witness and I feel lucky to have been there at that time. It's also a humbling experience, knowing that one minute we can be living our every day lives, the next minute we could be running our asses off while 10,000 degree lava chases us. Just a friendly reminder to take stock of what you have, and of course it's never a bad idea to sacrifice a virgin for the sake of the villagers.
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