Running into the Storm

Northern Caribbean Coast of Honduras

We left Costa Rica, and headed to the northern Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Our plan was to stay in Triunfo de la Cruz, a small Afro-Caribbean community located on one end of the Bay of Tela.  This village was home to the Garifuna people, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.

As we crossed into Honduras it began to rain.  Then it started to pour.  We arrived in Triunfo de la Cruz to find a windswept village on the edge of a very angry ocean.  The salty waves were overflowing into the streets, and palm fronds and coconuts were strewn about.  We got out of the truck to get a better look at the waves.  We realized this wouldn't be the best place to be during a storm.

We drove up the road to the beach camp we had planned to stay.  The caretaker was outside, watching the ocean as we arrived.  She said the camp had no electricity or water. As we were speaking to her, I caught a glance of PJ in my peripheral vision.  He had discovered a little cement pond, and had jumped in to go after the ducks.  We raced over to the pond to find him laser focused.  I don’t think he even realized we were there.  As PJ dove for the ducks, I saw the caregiver begin to actually pull her own hair.  

Jorge grabbed a stick to try to lead PJ near the edge, but he was too quick.  I wanted to laugh out loud at this funny scene, but it wouldn't really be appropriate if PJ ended up eating one of those ducks. Jorge was finally able to grab PJ and pull him out, only to have him escape and dive back in.  In the end, Jorge got that crazy dog out of the pond and the ducks lived another day.  The caretaker was happy when we finally got on our way.

We drove into the town of Tela, and found a place to stay on higher ground.  Although it rained for most of the week, we took some time to explore the area on foot and on our bikes. 

The most interesting day was when we discovered another Garifuna village called Miami.  It was located on a sand bar between the ocean and Los Micos Lagoon. There was one sandy road that ran the length of the village.  Palm frond houses were scattered along the lagoon and the beach.  Horses and children ran free.  This sweet little village had a peaceful and quiet vibe.  Photos below.

By the time we left Honduras, we had been gone almost a year.  My clothes were tattered and torn.  I broke one toe early on in Mexico, and sprained both wrists Nicaragua.  We both had been stung by bees and bugs.  My feet were cut and bruised.  Jorge was stung by a scorpion in Panama.  It was just a small price to pay for such a great adventure.

Our next stop was Rio Dulce, Guatemala.  This place turned out to be one of our top 3 destinations.  Look for my next post coming soon!


The Places I've Never Heard Of

Discovering Arenal, Costa Rica

By the time we left Panama, we had already crossed six borders. We've learned that borders are tricky and unpredictable, especially if you are crossing with a vehicle, a dog, and a motorcycle.

We decided to leave Panama through the Rio Sereno border, a different border than the one we entered. At the border office, we checked out of Panama and then proceeded to the Costa Rica immigration building. No problems.

Next, we proceeded to the Costa Rica aduana office (vehicle import office). They tell us our original vehicle permit was only for 5 days, and we have already used 2 days, therefore our vehicle must be out of Costa Rica in 3 days. Panic twirls around in my stomach.

Fortunately, our tourist permit was for 30 days. So we were permitted to be in the country, but our vehicle was not. This was the worst possible timing for border issues, because we are supposed to meet up with our friends, Sonja and Rose. They rented a house for us, and we had plans. Not to mention, we planned to use our truck as transportation, and Sonja and Rose were counting on that.

We asked if they could extend the vehicle permit to 30 days, same as our tourist visa. No can do. We went round and round, thinking of solutions, but each one was shot down by border officials. Finally, they said to go to the original border (Paso Canoas) we entered Costa Rica at, and see if they can work it out. That border is at the opposite side of the country.

We should have looked more carefully at the vehicle permit. However, I assumed that once we left Costa Rica the first time, our tourist visa and vehicle permit would be cancelled and re-issued when we returned, and our time would start over. I should not have assumed anything.

I sent a text to Sonja to let her know what was going on. She writes back in her usual calm and soothing tone, "So sorry that happened! Postitive thoughts, don't let the situation get the best of you. It will work out." Okay, she's right. I'll take it one step at a time.

We start the long journey across Costa Rica to the Paso Canoas border. Once there they tell us the same thing, our vehicle must be out of Costa Rica in 3 days. The only other option is to store our truck on their impound lot, and during that time our remaining permit days are frozen. If we put the truck in impound, we would need to rent a car.

We knew that was our only solution, so Jorge set the truck up for the impound lot while I tried to reserve a rental car online, on my phone. I couldn't believe that the cost for an economy rental car started at $500 per week. But at this point, we have no choice, so I book it. We have to travel to Liberia to pick up the car at the airport location.

It starts pouring rain. Jorge runs off to find a taxi, and returns in 10 minutes with a beat up old taxi that is probably unregistered. As usual, Jorge and I are trying to be very aware, as taxi's can be dangerous sometimes. People have been robbed and assaulted in taxis. No need to be paranoid, just aware.

Without being invited, PJ (our dog) jumps in the back seat of the taxi. The driver immediately asks me if he bites. I reply, "Oh, no, he's very friendly. He only bites if I tell him to."

We get all our stuff packed in the so-called taxi. We drive about 10 minutes and the driver stops at a gas station. We notice his tank is almost full. He only puts a couple dollars worth of gas in the car, and he makes a call. He didn't top of the tank. Weird.

I see a guy on a motorcycle at the gas station. He was fully loaded for travel, with Alaska plates on his bike. I get out quickly to say hi. I tell him I am from Alaska, and ask him where he is from. Turns out he is from Germany. He bought the bike in Alaska, where he began his long journey to Argentina. I love meeting people doing amazing things. He was about 30 years old, traveling alone. We talk for just a couple minutes, wish each other luck, and say goodbye.

The taxi driver starts driving again, and we are flagged to stop at a police checkpoint. The police asked for the driver's papers, and our passports. The driver gets out of the car and hands over some paperwork. He looks nervous. We hand over our passports. Five minutes later the policeman starts to remove the license plates from the taxi. Since they are taking his plates, I'm wondering if we will have to get out of the taxi, and be left there on the road. We wait. If the police take your plates or your drivers license, you must be off the road within two hours. The taxi driver gets back in the car, and we continue on toward Liberia.

Finally, we get to the car rental office, and get out. We are still alive. The taxi leaves. We show our car reservation to the consultant, and she tells us they over-sold and they don't have any cars. Then she stares at us with no expression. I was waiting for her to apologize, and start working toward a solution. No, she doesn't care. I wonder if she is enjoying herself. Jorge tells her to figure it out, and he goes outside.

Fifteen minutes later a miracle happens and they have a mini van available. The consultant smiles sweetly and tells us we have to also purchase required insurance, and that is $700 additional dollars for the week. Oh my God, that would be $1200 to rent a car for a week. I know for sure she is enjoying this, I see it on her face. That is more than ALL my expenses for an entire month. Even if your own car insurance covers you, you are still required to buy it. I am thinking I may need to kick this girl's ass.

Unfortunately, we are stuck with no choice. We do the deal, and off we go. Jorge tells me to let it go, but I need fifteen minutes of silence to get over the robbery. We drive toward Arenal, the place we are meeting up with Sonja and Rose. It was a gorgeous day, and the closer we get to Arenal, the more magnificent the landscape becomes.

Arenal is a rural town located in northern highlands of Costa Rica. This place is known for the serene, 33-square-mile, Lake Arenal, and the looming Arenal Volcano. My mood changes as we drive through green, sloping hillsides, wide open spaces, and then to tropical jungle. We turn a corner, and I caught sight of the deep blue lake. It puts me in the moment, and I feel the stress fade away. I know I am priveledged to be in this special place. I want to enjoy every moment of this wild adventure we are on.

We drive along in search of the rental house, and we happen to see a gang of monkeys. Maybe 5 of 6 adorable creatures just chillin' in the tree. It was so amazing to see them in their natural environment.

Sonja knows how to choose a great destination. She sure does. She's a traveling gypsy at heart, and even has a travel website - www.travelelixir.com. I've realized that the most interesting places are the places I've never heard of. They are still mysterious, magical secrets, not yet crowded by tourists and make believe attractions. You get to one of these places and you can't believe the whole world doesn't know about it. I am happy to report from the road that there are so many places that are still undiscovered and untainted.

Sonja booked a beautiful house overlooking the lake. See house photos below.

Sonja and Rose arrived later that evening with smiles and hugs. It was so great to see old friends after all this time away! Rose is Sonja's 14 year old daughter. I was looking forward to hearing all her teenage comments and opinions in the coming week. She did not disappoint!

Rose and PJ

Apparently, it can rain heavily in Costa Rica for days on end. We experienced that our first couple of days. It was refreshing, and we didn't let it stop us. The first day we drove around Arenal and the neighboring town of Fortuna. The second day we went to Hotel Los Lagos, to soak in hot spring-fed water, while the heavens poured down on us.

On the last rainy day, we visited Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. We walked 3 km over the bridges through the mesmerizing cloud forest. We crossed 15 suspended bridges above the trees, through the thick, wet jungle. It was an enchanting place, especially in the rain. At the end, we were lucky enough to see a sloth hanging from a tree.


On another day we went to check out "living nature" at the Arenal Natura Ecological Park. The most interesting area was the frog and toad garden. There are several poisenous frogs in Costa Rica, and getting poisened by one is not uncommon. Everyone told me that if PJ (our dog) licked one, he would be dead in an hour.

Anyway, the park was over-priced, and just okay. The highlight was the guide, who was really into it. I loved his passion. I mean, he really knew his stuff. He was so serious about his reptiles, I was sure there would be a pop quiz at the end. I was watching Rose, and I could tell she was soaking in all the information. I am amazed at the information she has retained in her 14 years, on many unusual subjects too!

In my opinion, the best day was the day we kayaked on Lake Arenal in the morning, and then took a drive to Tenorio Volcano National Park where we did the 4.5 mile waterfall hike. It's a gorgeous walk along the bright blue waters of the Rio Celeste. The highlight is the roaring Rio Celeste waterfall. The trail was very well maintained, and is so gorgeous it doesn't seem real. The trail was very muddy, due to the rain. For me, that made it more fun. At the end, right before we returned to the parking lot, we crossed a little creek. We took the opportunity to wash the mud off there. Rose decided to just lay in the creek and let it flow over her completely, which was so cute. Teenagers.


I should mention that the drive through the countryside to Tenorio Volcano Park was pretty dreamy. Along the way we passed through a little tiny town, where a man was cooking chicken skewers on the side of the road. I was surprised that Rose wanted some chicken that wasn't properly inspected by the health department. She went crazy over it, and said if she had to order her last meal, it would be that chicken. She makes me smile.

On the way back from Rio Celeste, Rose keeps talking about the constellations. Her and Jorge are going back and forth about it. So Jorge finds the perfect spot to stop the van near a wide open field, with no civilization lights to be seen. The sky was clear and the stars were bright that night. They got out of the van, and she gave Jorge a little tour of the sky. Where does she get this? She says she gets her constellation information from her Dad, Noel.

On the last day, Sonja and Rose went ziplining, and Jorge and I went swinging over a wonderful waterfall along the side of the road. Sonja decides to take her daughter "extreme" zip lining, no surprise. Photos of their zip lining and our swinging adventures below.


Thank you, Sonja and Rose, for a fantastic time in Costa Rica! 

I Fell From the Highest Cloud

I fell from the highest cloud and landed gently in the Panamanian rainforest. Wow. We made it, and it felt great to accomplish our goal of reaching Panama. We made it to the narrow piece of land that connects North America to South America.  It would be our turn-around point. Columbia was so close I could touch it. It was a shame we couldn't continue on, but that would be for another time.

A slice of the Panama rainforest below.

The leg to Panama started in northern Nicaragua, where we had been for close to a month. From there we drove south, towards Costa Rica. We passed five police spot checkpoints as we departed Nicaragua.  Each time they questioned us and requested our passports and vehicle documents.  If they found any violations, they could take our license plates or drivers license.  If that happened, we would have to pay a fine the following day to have them returned.  Or we could just pay the police "personally".  We had no violations.  We kept going.

It took about four hours to cross the Nicaragua / Costa Rica border. We entered Costa Rica after dark and drove about an hour in search of a hotel for the night.

When I called the hotel, a man with a New Jersey accent answered the phone.  He gave me directions, and said to call him when I got to Liberia. He said he would wait for us under a bridge near the hotel, so he could show us a short cut. By now I was used to the things people do south of our border.

I called him, and five minutes later we saw him flagging us down under the bridge. He said to follow him, and "don't be scared". He jumped in his car. I wasn't sure why he said not to be scared, until he led us down the Panamerican highway, ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, driving on the shoulder.  And yes, we followed.  We went the equivalent of about two blocks, and then he made a quick left turn into the hotel. He said if wouldn't have taken the short cut we would have had to drive a couple extra miles, God forbid!

The New Jersey guy turned out to be the owner of the hotel. It was a charming little place for $30 per night. He checked us in and ordered us a pizza. It wouldn't be the last time we saw him. We ended up staying there again on our way back through Costa Rica.

Notice the focus....

Notice the focus....

We got up early the next morning and drove the entire length of Costa Rica, and then crossed the border into Panama.

We rented a condo in Chiriquí, not too far from the border. Chiriquí is the western most province of Panama. This region is the most varied of Panama's provinces, ranging from beaches to cloud forests. You can visit a banana plantation or coffee farm, swim under waterfalls, raft challenging white water rapids, hike up a volcano, kayak in estuaries or around islands, and so much more.

The condo building was built and owned by an accomplished Canadian man named Jack. It was a beautiful riverfront property, complete with monkeys swinging from the trees.  This was the first time we stayed outside of the local community.  We also had some treasured amenities like hot water, air conditioning, and a washer and dryer. 

I think there were six units, and one casita, all occupied by Canadians.  You couldn't see the condos from the street, they were set way back off the road down an grassy path.

In addition to the condos, Jack had a nice shop, with an attached "bar". The bar was a screened-in room that was used by the residents to get together, eat, drink and play pool. The residents had a potluck one night and they invited us to join them. It was interesting to meet everyone, and find out how they came to Panama. Most were retired, and lived there half the year.  Jack was fortunate to have such a great group of people living on the property, and they were lucky to have such a hardworking man keeping everything in working order.

Jack had a giant 105 pound dog named Atlas (named after Panama beer company). When we checked in he said that Atlas roams free on the property, and that he was friendly with people, but not dogs. To our surprise, he said Atlas would probably kill PJ. He had killed other dogs. So that element turned out to be a real bummer because before we took PJ out we had to make sure Atlas was closed in somewhere.

Photos of of Jack's condo project.

We got out quite a bit in Chiriquí, and visited Volcan, David, Boca Chica and Boquete.  Below are images of our adventures.

Hiking in Boquete.

Jumping and Swimming in the Canyons of Gualaca.

December 8th was Mother's Day in Panama.  We celebrated by kayaking in Boca Chica Bay, around a mecca of islands.  This place had very strange, circling currents, and a few nice empty beaches.  As we loaded up to leave Boca Chica, the town had a horse parade for the mothers.

Hiking at Macho de Monte.

Kayaking in Estero Rico.

After a couple weeks at the condo, we decided to move closer to Panama City. It wasn't working to have PJ so trapped. We found a little house an hour and a half from Panama City, in a place called La Laguna. It was a 20 minute drive up a scenic mountainside road from the beach. The house was a little odd, consisting of just a small kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms, but no living room or dining room. The owner explained that the living and dining room were outside on the back deck, where he had an outdoor couch and chair, along with a plastic folding table and chairs. Ok, that works for me.

Jorge with our neighbor, Derrick.

It was a cute community with houses spread out along the pretty road. There seemed to be a river flowing at every turn.  Within walking distance from the house, at the end of the road, was a dreamy lagoon. Photos of the lagoon below. We spent Christmas there.  We made a fire, had a picnic and paddled and swam in the lagoon.

Photos of La Laguna

We took a bus to Panama City. We went to see the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo, its cobblestoned historic center.  The hour and a half bus ride was like a scary amusement ride, but without being strapped in. At one point the bus rounded a turn on the highway, and the old lady in the seat next to me ended up in my lap. Not just half way on my lap, but completely on my lap, like a child sitting there. I had to struggle to keep from laughing out loud. She was embarassed, so I kept it inside. The situation got even more awkward when she couldn't get off my lap because with all the movement of the bus.

Shortly after that, the bus exited the freeway to pick up more people. The pavo (the guy on the bus who collected the bus fare and who helped the people on and off) jumped off the bus as the bus driver rolled to a stop. He yelled out for any grandmas who might need help getting on with their bags. A few people got on the bus. The last woman to get on was a plump lady in really tight pants. As she pulled herself up onto the bus, she lost her balance and began to fall backwards. The pavo didn't miss a beat and was right behind her.  With both hands on her butt, he pushed her right back up. I am pretty sure that was all part of the job, and he was good at it.

Photos of Casco Viejo

We couldn't go all the way to Panama and not see the Panama Canal, considered on of the seven wonders of the industrial world. The canal serves as a maritime shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This interoceanic waterway uses a system of locks that operate as water elevators to allow the crossing through the Continental Divide. The Panama Canal transformed world trade by reducing time, distance and costs between producers and consumers.

It costs a 40' sailboat about $800 US dollars to go through the locks, and it costs a large container ship about $400,000 US dollars.

Photo taken at the Panama Canal.

Before leaving Panama we did one of my favorite hikes, right above La Laguna - a trail called Cerro Picacho.  From the top you could see Anton Valley below.

From Panama, we started our journey home and headed to Costa Rica.  Our plan was to meet up with our friends Sonja and Rose.  Stay tuned for descriptions of Costa Rica!



The Rooster Was Too Close To My Window

Jorge and PJ, Chinandega, Nicaragua

The city of Chinandega is located in the Chinandega department (region), located in northern Nicaragua on the Pacific side.

My first impression of Nicaragua was formed at the Nicaragua / Honduras border (Los Manos), and it felt sketchy and deceptive. Men quickly surrounded our truck as we pulled in, portraying themselves as border officials with credentials. They insisted that we hand over our documents, as if they had authority. They were actually men you could hire to escort you through the border process.  By hire, I actually mean tip. This is not necessarily bad, since it became very apparent that they know the process well, and maintain positive working relationships with the actual border officials.

We spent four hours there, at the border. Once through, we went directly to an ATM to get cash.  That was when the machine kept my card.  I was pissed, because I knew that would be a big hassle. Ten minutes after the ATM incident we were back on the road, and I saw a volcano smoking. I grabbed my phone, and rolled down the window to get some photos.  Suddenly the wind blew, and my phone went flying out of the window. It didn't feel like a good sign.

A couple days later, people surrounded us again as we parked near a town center. We could barely get out of the truck, because people were suffocating us with their presence.  I wasn't sure what their purpose was at first, but I soon realized they were just trying to get us to eat at their food stands. They even grabbed us to pull us the way they wanted us to go. I definitely didn't want to be rude to someone in their own country, so I tried to escape the crowd gently. 

Nicaragua was the country I was most excited to see because it was the most unfamiliar.  I also thought of it as the most dangerous, and for those reasons I was interested.  I didn't really know what to expect.  After a couple days I was in love with the place.

As we drove into Nicaragua, I was surprised that the roads were so pristine. The highway was lined by grass on both sides, and beyond that there were big open fields. Horses grazed along the road, and volcanos rose up proudly in the distance. It felt so serene.

As we got closer to the city of Chinandega that first night, the road got busier. It was a Friday evening, and sunset was approaching. Suddenly I noticed we were sharing the highway with people, bicycles, pedi cabs and cows and horses pulling old carts.

It was dark by the time we arrived in the city, and the streets were awash with enthusiastic energy.  People socializing in the streets with no regard for motorists trying to squeeze around them. Smoke was drifting through the air, and I guessed that crops were burning near by.

That first evening we had to find the property management company to get the keys to the rental house. As usual, there was no proper address for the place. We were just told it was at KM 154, past a bridge. They said to look for a wooden house on the left side.

Somehow we found it. They offered to escort us to the house, since it was hard to find and down a dark road. They led us up the highway, and then turned down a dusty dirt road. We drove through a creek and past pastures and thatched houses. I squinted to catch a closer look at the houses and people through the darkness. I could see the living spaces were mostly outside, but under thatched rooftops. Most had outdoor kitchens and washing sinks, and old water wells with cranks and buckets. There were animals wandering near the houses; pigs, cows, chickens and dogs.

Finally at the end of the dirt road, we saw the white caps of the ocean lit up by a big moon, and we turned into the driveway of our rental house.

Daylight photos taken along the dirt road.

The modest concrete rental house had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and an outdoor shower placed under a giant tree (no indoor shower). The windows had shutters and screens, but no glass. There were fans, but no air conditioning. No television or wifi.  No hot water. The floors were rough concrete. It was nicely furnished and comfortable. The outstanding features included a large screened-in patio, and an outdoor brick barbeque grill. 

We really enjoyed the house, and the location. It was a large lot, and the house stood on a hill looking down on the ocean. There were neighbors, but they weren't close. PJ could run free here, and he had open access to the cool Pacific. He shared the yard with the neighbors' two pigs, who wandered over every afternoon.  Horses grazed freely on the perimeter of the property, and chickens and roosters were always around.  One rooster in particular loved to wake me up at 5 am.  He would get way too close to my window, and I think he must have stuck his head under my pillow so he could crow directly into my ear.  

See photo description of the house below.  I found the rental house on www.airbnb.com

The caretaker and night guard of the house, Fernando, was waiting for us when we arrived. He showed us around the house, then went outside. Jorge told me Fernando was going to sleep in the hammock on the patio.  The hammock right outside my bedroom window?  Just tonight, or every night?  Well, every night he slept there.  I was kind of taken aback at first, but in the end I didn't mind him being there at all. I could tell he was careful to not bother us.  He was quiet as a mouse each night as he swung in his hammock with his machete strategically placed below him. 

Jorge and Fernando

We quickly began to enjoy Fernando's company. He was a happy person and a pleasure to be around. We started to bring him coffee every evening. He drank it black with one spoon of sugar. Then we started cooking him dinner and eating with him outside each night. His Spanish was hard for me to understand, but we would have these funny conversations. He would say something to me in Spanish that I didn't understand, so I'd reply in English. In turn, he would reply back in Spanish. We'd go back and forth like this for twenty or thirty minutes, smiling and laughing. Neither of us had any idea of what the other was talking about, but It didn't really matter.

We came to find out that Fernando worked at the property seven days a week and was paid $150 per month by the American owner.  He would arrive around 3 pm and work on the landscaping. After dark he would retire to his hammock.  He got up early each day and racked the leaves before leaving. 

He told us a little about his life. He was 51 years old. He had married twice and had eight kids, and a few grandkids. His second wife died not long ago. She had been sick, but died rather suddenly one day. He said he was with her, and she bent over to cough, and suddenly she was gone. Just like that. He didn't have the money for a casket or formal burial, so he built a wooden box for her and got permission to bury her in the corner of a pasture.  He said he could only bury her four feet down, as deeper than that he would hit water. 

Fernando burning in the yard.

What I loved about Chinandega was the country setting right up to the coast line.  I usually think of a country landscape being inland.  I loved all the trees, plants and flowers.  And I loved how the animals just mixed together freely, and animals were everywhere.  Most of the houses near us on the dirt road had dogs, pigs, chickens and goats.  Many had cows that would graze in the big pastures during the day, and at night they would come home and stay in a coral near the homes.  I have never seen so many cows!

We took advantage of what nature had to offer in Nicaragua.   There was so much to do!  When I think of Nicaragua I will remember the breathtaking volcano hike, and the rough off road trip to get there.  I will never forget racing down the wide open beaches on our motorcycle, and paddling through the thick mangrove forests.  I will laugh when I remember being on the water when we heard the blare of the tsunami siren after an earthquake, and PJ chasing the chunky pigs in our yard. And I will dream about the deep orange sunsets and the simple life of days past that still remain.  

Cosiguina Volcano hike memories below...

Paddling photos below taken at:  Resurva Natural Padre Ramos, Estero de Aserradores and the Pacific Ocean.

Motorcycle and Bike Ride Photos

We visited the city of Leon, the second largest city in Nicaragua, and founded by the Spanish in 1524.  The streets and colonial buildings were crumbling.  I wouldn't rave about Leon, but it was fun to see.  There was an outdoor market/mercado set up behind the cathedral, with large outdoor grills, and folding tables and chairs set up under tarps.  We had an amazing chicken lunch there. There were many other stands with vegetables, cheese, house supplies, meat and fish.  Although I saw several tourists and international students around the city, the vendors didn't seem to cater to them.  The shopping was mostly for locals.

Chinandega, Nicaragua beach photos below.  The first two shots were taken directly in front of our rental house.

I actually had a good cry as we pulled away from the beach house for the last time.  Fernando was waving through the rear view mirror.  I wondered if I would ever see this place again.  It was perfect, except for that damn rooster who was too close to my window.

Far and Away Places - Guatemala

In the last seven months we have traveled over 10,000 miles through Mexico and Central America in the truck, and over 2,400 miles on the Mosquito (motorcycle).  I have been the navigator. I plan the route, and am responsible for getting us there. I think people who know me would be really surprised, since I'm known for getting lost. I never use short cuts, and rarely deviate from a route that I know. However, I can read maps and use a GPS.

It wasn't that I didn't have a sense of direction, I just didn't pay attention to my overall surroundings and take the time to understand where I was in relation to what was around me. With a new sense of awareness and observation, I have been able to get us through foreign lands without many mistakes.

I try to always have an actual road map for reference, and to more easily see the big picture. I also have a Garmin road GPS and Google Maps on my phone. Google Maps is what I have relied on most.  Jorge also has a GPS that he uses on the water and in more remote places. It has main roads but not streets. We can use it to record a track on a trail, off road, or on the water, so we know how to get back. Jorge also has an external antena for that GPS, with a magnet so he can place it on the hood of the truck. Apparently it picks up 6 satellites instead of 3.

While I have been the navigator, Jorge has been the driver. I'm the travel agent, he's the tour guide. Jorge is the cook, I am the dishwasher. He's the joker, I'm the voice of reason.  PJ is always the tourist.

The journey from Yucatan, Mexico to Guatemala was long and exhausting. We headed toward Palenque, Mexico in the late afternoon and drove until darkness covered our path. We had a good nights rest in our trailer at a Pemex gas station along the way. Just like before, they asked for a couple dollars to watch over us through the night.

We got up before the sun the next day and got back on the road to Palenque. Our plan was to leave our trailer somewhere in Palenque, and continue through Central America with just the truck. Consequently, we would have to rent places along the way. We decided to do this because we heard many roads weren't well maintained, there weren't many RV parks, and rentals could be found quite cheap in Central America. The new plan was to look for a place in Palanque, Mexico to leave the trailer - maybe someone's property, a hotel or restaurant, or maybe a campsite. 

The hours ticked by as we stayed focused on getting to Palenque. We arrived around 3 pm, and immediately started scoping the place out. It didn't take long to find an old house on a large property, with the family outside cooking. They were happy to let us use their property for a small fee, but in the end we couldn't agree on where it would be parked on the property. We had to continue our search. We drove in circles for awhile, finding a couple more possibilities that don't work out. 

We were both pretty drained when we finally found a hotel / restaurant that had a perfect spot for us. We give them a couple hundred dollars to park it and watch it for the next four months.

We prepped the trailer for our departure, then fell asleep watching the last presidential debate.  The next section of road between Palenque and San Cristobal was known to be a treacherous ride through the steep mountains. It definately proved to be an adventurous, curvy, steep and narrow road. We left when it was still dark. We had to be careful of people walking along the roadside, since there was no shoulder. Most were men, and I quickly noticed that 99% of the men were carrying machetes. There were huge unmarked topes (speed bumps), and numerous horrible potholes.  There were even places where people were holding a thin rope across the road to block our truck and asking us to contribute some coins to the Virgin Mary. Although it was a little stressful to be so alert on this long drive, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. We saw the sun rise over the rugged mountains while the clouds drifted between them.

We arrived at the Mexico/Guatemala border a couple hours before dark. It was chaotic, with no organization.  We had an idea of what to expect from internet research.  We had our passports, birth certificates, drivers license, registration, title and proof of insurance for truck and motorcycle, PJ shot records and international health certificate. First we have to check out of Mexico, so they know we have left their country. Second, we have to check in to Guatemala. After about three hours and running back and forth between windows and buildings, we finally get through.

San Antonio Palopóo, Lake Atitlan

San Antonio Palopóo, Lake Atitlan

We choose to stay in Lake Atitlan for our time in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is a lake in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. Thirteen Mayan villages lie around the perimeter of the lake, each with their own personality, and each known for something different.  The climate has been described as an eternal spring, and considered one of the best climates in the world. I was also lured to this area by stories of the colorful and rich Mayan culture, vibrant markets and the beauty of the lake.  Lake Atitlan was said to be stunning and clear, with volcanoes and mountains rising up around its edges. 

Before we left the Yucatan, I found a rental house for us at Lake Aitilan. I looked for rentals on www.vrbo.com, www.airbnb.com, www.flipkey.com, www.homeaway.com, www.longtermlettings.com, and then I also check out other sources like property management companies or private owners I find over the internet.

I found the rental house in Guatemala from a local real estate company. I found them last minute, three days before our arrival. They had one house that was MUCH more than we needed, but it had been vacant awhile and they wanted someone there. It was also the only one they had that would allow dogs. It was located in the village of San Antonio, right on the lake. Five bedrooms, three baths, a fireplace, and a huge deck overlooking the lake. Like I said, much more than we needed. No television. The closest internet was in the next village. They gave it to us for $400 for 3 weeks. It was just a lucky break, and the place was absolutely wonderful. 

Photos of the house below.

Unfortunately, the main road to San Antonio was being repaired, so we had to take the back route which was much longer.  It also required a 4wd.  Photos below.

We settled in. We walked to the mercado in front of the old church to stock up on food. We started to explore. San Antonio was a quiet and picturesque village that rested on a mountainside along the shore of the lake.  It was a very laid back and simple place.  There was one hotel and only a couple of restaurants. The church is near the center of the village and a natural focal point. Their cemetery was spread on the hillside. The indigenous people wore traditional and very colorful woven garments and headdresses, which added to the ambience.  Photos of San Antonio below.

We happen to be in Guatemala for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). People celebrate with kite festivals in various locations. The festival is a way to remember their lost loved ones. People create elaborate, large and colorful kites, and they are flown in local cemeteries throughout the country. 

I realized later that kites are very popular in Guatemala at any time of year.  We would see remnants of handmade kites hanging off rooftops and electrical poles all over the place.  We saw kids flying kites during the entire time we were there.  From sun up to sun down you could find kids in front of our rental house flying their kites on the edge of the lake.  You could also look up the hillside and see kids flying their kites out of their windows or on rooftops.  Most homes in San Antonio didn't have glass in the windows. 

A couple days before Dia de los Muertos, Jorge decided he was going to make a kite.  He decided to build it with the tent poles and the rain cover of our tent.  He designed it, and then redesigned it a couple times after it landed in the lake.  After he was happy with it, he gave it to a couple little local boys.

On Dia de los Muertos people come to the cemetery to paint and decorate the headstones of their relatives, and leave candles and flowers.  Many family members stay at the cemetery all night, bringing dinner and listening to music.  Our house had a view of the hillside cemetery, and when it became dark we could see the twinkle of the candles, and hear the music.  It happened to rain hard late that night, but the people stayed and the music continued.

We spent a lot of time kayaking and paddling on Lake Atitlan.  There were very few boats on the lake. We only saw the small water taxis that take people from village to village, and the small wooden fishing boats the fisherman used.  For that reason, the water was very clean and clear.  The lake is approximately 50 square miles, and the deepest lake in Central America.  

The village of Panajachel is known to be the main tourist center, entry point of the area, and the transport hub to other villages or cities.   It was filled with worldly backpackers, souvenir stands, restaurants and shops.  It's a fun place to visit, with the only complaint being the vendors were very aggressive.  Maybe they are so persistent because they are forced to sell their high quality handmade items for so little because there is so much competition between the sellers.  The general rule is that they initially ask for double what they are willing to take. 

We drove the mosquito to Panajachel every couple of days.  We bought our groceries and did our laundry there, and went there to take water taxis to other villages.

Lake Atitlan is also a great place to hike. One day we hiked up beyond the village on San Antonio, past the onion fields to a beautiful waterfall. The waterfall feeds the onion fields below, by a network of narrow trenches that weave down the mountain and through the fields.  Photos below.

One day we decided to take a bus to Antigua. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You could hear horse and carriages clicking through it's cobblestone streets, past the old churches, Spanish style architecture and beautifuly restored homes.  Shopping and restaurants were outstanding.  It would have been better to stay at least a couple of days.

During our three weeks in Guatemala, we only drove our truck one time. Instead we drove the mosquito (motorcycle), chicken buses, tuk tuks, and community trucks.  Chicken buses can be taken between villages, to other cities, and even to different countries in Central America.  The buses are school buses from the US, that are auctioned off when they reach 10 years or 15,000 miles.  People in Guatemala paint and decorate them, adding to the already vibrant flavor of the country.  They are a really inexpensive way to travel, I think we paid a couple cents to go about 20 miles.  They are known to be fast, fun and sometime dangerous.  When we got on, the bus driver didn't stop, he just slowed down and we jumped on.  Photos below of chicken buses.

The "community trucks" (my name for them) are smaller pickup trucks, that have a metal frame over the bed.  In addition to carrying people, I've also seen these truck carrying livestock.  They park in various areas, and you just pile in the back.  The are usually really full, with everyone squeezed in standing up.  One day we took a community truck with PJ.  He squeezed in with all the people, and when the truck started moving he laid down and put his head on a man's foot.

I loved the bustling local markets of Guatemala.  Every village had their own, on a scheduled day of the week.  We probably visited seven or eight markets.  In addition to fruits and veggies, spices, live chickens, meats and cheeses, they also sold their crafts, textiles and garments.

Lake Atitlan was full of good vibes, and I hope to return one day.

Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico

The next leg of the trip took us south.  We traveled through Mexico City to Cuernavaca, the largest city in the state of Morelos.

We decided we would stay at El Paraiso Trailer Park in the municipality of Xochitepec.  We would stay a week, and then proceed to the much anticipated YUCATAN.  When we arrived at El Paraiso we found the gate locked.  We pressed a button on the gate to try to reach someone.  Two minutes later and older gentleman arrives on a bicycle to let us in.  He turned out to be Roberto, the owner of the park.  He spoke English.  He directed us to a nice space under one of the many trees.  I told him that his park was really beautiful, probably the prettiest park we had been too.  He asked where we were from, and I said San Diego, California.  Jorge said Tijuana.  Roberto began to smile and asked, "Are you Mexican?" and Jorge replied, "Si."  Roberto was happy to hear that.  He extended his hand, and gave Jorge a big, strong shake.

He told us that most of his clients were from Mexico City, just an hour away.  He said some keep their RV's in the park all year, and they come down with their kids on the weekends to escape the rat race.

He said in America senior citizens usually travel in RV's, but in Mexico it is the young families that travel this way.

Photos of El Paraiso Trailer Park below.  www.elparaisotrailerpark.com

Roberto was an interesting man. I asked him lots of questions because I was curious.  He told me that he began building the park 36 years ago on a raw piece of land.  Later I saw some photos in his office, of the construction taken in 1980.  He created his own little paradise inside the tall brick walls that now surround the place. 

The landscaping and features are something to be very proud of.  He planted over 50 small trees all those years ago, and now those trees grace the park in their full glory.  They line the grassy lanes and serve as space markers for the RV parking.  There is also a custom playground, complete with a watch tower, slide, bridge, swings, benches, trampoline, and a creative garden maze.  Designed by Roberto, of course.  Next to the playground was a pool, and bathroom/shower facilities.  The park was well manicured, clean and cared for.  We paid $21 US dollars per night, with the 7th night free.

Roberto and his wife live in a house inside the park. Roberto keeps the gates to the park locked at all times.  If you want to enter or leave, you must buzz him from the gate.  He told us he would let us in an out between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm. This was a little weird.  I like to be able to go in and out more easily, but those were the rules.

We happened to be in Cuernavaco on September 16, the day marking the Mexican War of Independence.  I had never celebrated this holiday, so I was pretty excited.  Cuernavaca and the surrounding towns put up lots of decorations leading up to it.  We decorated the Mosquito (motorcycle), and PJ's cart with Mexican flags and colors.

We decided to go to one of the nearby Pueblos to celebrate the afternoon and evening in their plaza.  I knew we would return to the park past 8 pm, so we had to let Roberto know, and make sure he was willing to open it for us later.  He said that would be fine.

Photos of September 16th below.

Photos of Cuernavaca below.  As you can see, Jorge has been having fun meeting new people and dancing in the middle of the street whenever he feels like it.

During our week in Cuernavaca, we also drove up to the Xochicalco Archaeological Ruins.  Photos below.

We have since left Cuernavaca, and I am writing this post from the Yucatan.  It took us 22 hours of driving over the course of two days to make it in time to celebrate Jorge's 47th birthday.  It was an exciting journey.  The first night we slept at a Pemex station (gas station).  We parked next to truckers also resting there.  The Pemex station requested $3 US dollars to keep an eye on us overnight, so sweet! 

We also had two tire blowouts on the side of the freeway.  Both on the trailer (not the truck).  We had a spare on a rim, and another spare without a rim.  So for the second blowout we had to use the motorcycle to find the nearest town and have the tire put on a rim.  That Mosquito is so handy!  Photos below.

Stay TUNED!  Much more to come from the magical Yucatan.

Gettin' Around

Photo taken at San Miguel de Allende Mercado.

Of all the things we have for this trip….we both agree that the best thing is the “Red Mosquito” motorcycle we bought in Puerto Vallarta.  It’s a little Italika 115 that we picked up brand new for less than $800 US dollars.  The truck is big and uses a lot of gas. We can go far and fast on the Mosquito, and it costs us less than $5 a week for gas.  We take that motorcycle everywhere, and it is much more fun.  We use the truck almost exclusively as transportation from one destination to the next, and the Mosquito and bicycles otherwise. We have a cart for PJ that attaches to both the Mosquito and the bikes, so he can come with us.  Jorge also added a plastic crate on the back of the Mosquito so we can use it for grocery shopping or to do laundry.

We have our rhythm now on this road trip.  Things are getting easier and we have various systems in place when we are on the move.  Things aren’t as complicated as I thought they might be. 

As we prepared for the trip we weren’t exactly sure how we would work with money.  Should we have a sum of money hidden in the truck or the trailer?  How much cash should we carry?  Turns out to be very simple.  Most ATM’s allow you to withdraw 5000 pesos (roughly $260 US dollars) at a time.  It works for us to withdraw 5000 pesos each, every 10-14 days.  I usually put half of that in a secret place and carry the rest.  I think Jorge carries the full amount with him.  We don’t need much.

We haven’t used credit cards, just cash from the ATM.  In Central Mexico a meal at a restaurant or food stand has cost us about $3 US dollars per person.  Many of the "restaurants" are actually someone's house.  They open up their kitchen, maybe add an extra table or two. Some cook in front of you, and others have a few pots of homemade food on the table, and you just serve what you want.

The other day at the market we bought 6 tomatoes, 3 onions, 8 limes, and a handful of jalapeños for under $1 US dollar.  At the same market I got three healthy bean tostadas - with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and salsa for about .50 cents TOTAL for all three!

Photo of Guanajuato (left), San Miguel de Allende (right).

I was really looking forward to finally seeing Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.  We planned on staying in Guanajuato the usual two weeks, and taking a side trip to San Miguel during that time.  We got up early to start the 5+ hour drive from Guadalajara.  About a half hour into the trip we stopped at Pemex for gas, and Jorge noticed we had a broken lift spring on the trailer.  Jorge decided to just pull it over to the side of the Pemex and weld it right there.  I ran across the highway to one of the food stands and bought some chicken, tortillas and drinks.  He finished in 45 minutes; we had lunch, and were back on the road in an hour.  We were pretty impressed with ourselves.

Jorge welding the lift spring on trailer.

There were two RV parks in Guanajuato, and I thought one was too small for our 5th wheel.  So we choose Bugamville RV Park.  For the first time, we were a little disappointed in the park.  It was very “blah”.  It consisted of a fenced-in, big open grassy field, an office, restrooms, restaurant and small playground on one end.  No trees.  No personality.  More importantly, the whole place looked closed.  After about five minutes a teenage boy appeared and opened the gate and let us in.  The park turned out to be just fine.  PJ had a whole field to run free.  It cost us $14/day.  We were out exploring most of the time anyway.

Bugamville RV Park, Guanajuato City, Guanajuato

The morning after we arrived we left PJ at the trailer and jumped on the Mosquito to check out Guanajuato.  I had seen photos, and heard it was one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico.  After spending two weeks there, I will say it was by far my favorite place on the trip so far, and it is the most charming city I have EVER been to. 

All over this lively city you will find outdoor cafes, theaters, beautiful churches, museums, art galleries, unique shops and welcoming parks and plazas.  Guanajuato is set into a narrow valley, and colorful houses are squished up the mountain sides.  The streets are walkable and clean.  Although there is lots of activity in the streets, the ambiance felt unexpectedly quiet and peaceful. It was the strangest thing.  Jorge noticed it too.  It seems like you can hear the fountains in the plazas, conversations in the restaurants, church bells or the wandering musicians, but you don’t really hear traffic or typical city noises.  Photos of Guanajuato below.

I think the amazing and unique tunnels of Guanajuato contributed to the quiet factor.  They efficiently divert, hide and limit the traffic around the city center. The tunnels are an intricate network of roadways underneath the city, allowing you to move easily and quickly to wherever you need to go.  I was really captivated by these tunnels, and hadn’t ever seen anything like it.  They were quite a sight, with pretty decorative entrances and open stretches revealing the tall rock/brick walls leading up to homes and places of business.  I was impressed by the complexity and efficiency of it, especially since they are quite old.  In the more narrow tunnels water drips in. 

It is my understanding that the tunnels are converted underground caverns where the Rio Guanajuato (River) used to flow.  The river was rerouted in the mid-20th century.  There are even footpaths in all the tunnels, and entrances and exits for both walkers and cars throughout the system.  Walkers used stairways leading in and out.

Speeding through the tunnels on the Mosquito, exiting into the beautiful city, and racing through the narrow streets and winding steep alley ways made us feel very James Bond.  A motorcycle is the perfect transportation in Guanajuato because many roads are too steep and narrow for cars and trucks. 

For our side trip to San Miguel de Allende we decided to board PJ for the 3 days we were there.  I found the Pet Hotel San Miguel de Allende, which turned out to be an AMAZING place.  They charged $10 per day.  PJ has been boarded a few times and he doesn’t like it.  He also doesn’t like going to the vet.  He hates the vet so much that I have to sedate him so he will allow the vet to examine him.  The vet gave me some sedation pills to take with me in case I needed them.  I usually give him one pill an hour before his vet appointment.  I am embarrassed to say I decided it might be a good idea to give him half a pill before taking him to the pet hotel.  My thought was that it would calm him just a little, to make it easier.  Well, that turned out to be a very bad decision. 

After giving him half of the pill, he quickly got very lethargic.  It scared me, because he had never gotten that lethargic with a whole pill.  On the way to San Miguel we stopped to get coffee.  As we returned to the truck we saw that PJ had moved to the front passenger seat.  He was staring at us through the window with a blank stare.  Then he started to waver from side to side, and suddenly he fell face forward into the passenger window.  We could see one paw reaching for the window, and the top of his nose facing up.  Oh my God, I couldn’t believe his reaction.  What had I done?

I opened the door gently, so he didn’t fall out.  Then I slid into the seat and just sort of held him while he looked up at me with glazed eyes.  It was the most terrible feeling.  I wasn’t sure why in the world he was so drugged up.  I was scared, wondering if he would ever be the same. I thought Jorge might be really upset with me, but thankfully he didn’t make me feel bad. 

It all worked out in the end.  The pill wore off and he went right into the boarding place with no problem at all.  The owner was very professional and knew how to handle all kinds of dogs.  I was the problem, not PJ.  Later Jorge thought it was funny to remind me of what happened, and threatened to call immigration and have me deported for the incident. I laughed about it, but I didn’t really think it was funny.    

Photos of Pet Hotel San Miguel de Allende below.

San Miguel de Allende easily takes you in.  It's warm and inviting and you are calmed by the colors and the people. I first heard about San Miguel when it was a featured city on the HGTV show, House Hunters International.  I knew I'd love it, and it was so cool to find myself standing right there on the streets of San Miguel.  I have had many moments like that on this trip.  Before leaving I would be driving home from work, or trying to fall asleep at night and I would think about specific places I wanted to see.  I would research those places, and look at maps, and now I was actually right there.

On the first night we took an hour long trolley tour around the city.  I like to do this to get the layout of a place, and then return to the places I'm interested in on my own.  This particular tour was fun because in addition to pointing out the highlights, the tour guide filled us in on the legends associated with different areas.  We did end up returning to many of the places she pointed out.

We came back to the public laundry area in the old neighborhood of El Chorro. It's sort of like a plaza area.  On the perimeter there are basins in a line with a water trough above them, fed by a spring. This was the traditional public laundry area where the women came to wash clothing.  Some people still wash their clothes there at no charge.

Below the public laundry is a lovely park called Parque Benito Juarez.  This is an active city park for families, people of all ages, birds, dogs, trees and plants. 

We wandered through their Mercado de Artesanias, which was packed with handicrafts, blankets, hats, jewelry, scarves, purses, and food.  We also checked out Fabrica la Aurora, an old converted raw cotton factory.  They displayed a diverse selection of art, furniture, textiles, jewelry, home decor and so on. 

The public library (La Biblioteca de San Miguel) was also a great place to see.  They have an old theater in the library, and one night we saw, Miles Ahead, a movie about Miles Davis.

Once you visit San Miguel de Allende, you can see it is an easy place to fall in love with.  It is a popular place with Americans, and many call it home. It has a rich history, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  From the Colonial and Spanish architecture, to the windy cobblestone streets, the boutique hotels, artsy shops and top of the line restaurants, it is an authentic, sparkling jewel. 

Photos of San Miguel de Allende below.

On another night in San Miguel we read there was tango dancing at a cultural center, so we decided to check it out.  As we entered the building we ran into an older, elegant woman wearing a….”tango outfit”.  She said, “Are you here for tango?”  We replied, “yes.”  We weren’t sure…was it tango lessons, or just tango dancing??  She said they would teach us, no problem.  So we follow her upstairs to a dance room, and there were only 3 older men waiting to dance.  Oh boy, this was going to be awkward.  I was sort of hoping it be a bunch of people dancing and sweating, and the music would be loud and we could just blend in.  I walked toward the door to put my bag down, and the woman said, “Don’t sneak out!”  Jorge whispered to me, “Do you want to get out of this?”  He said to meet him downstairs on the street and he would take care of it, which he did. 

So we wandered down the street to El Jardin, the main plaza.  There were lots of people hanging out, and mariachi’s singing in front of one of the restaurants.   All of a sudden the sky got dark and the thunder started to rumble and crack.  There was a definite storm coming.  I told Jorge let’s stay and take some photos of it, with the Cathedral (Parroquia De San Miguel Arcángelh) as a backdrop. 

Within just a few minutes it got much darker, and rain started to fall.  Another minute went by and suddenly it was pouring like I have never seen before.  Within about 5-6 minutes it turned into what I thought was a flash flood.  The steps around the plaza turned into waterfalls and the water rushed into the street creating a fast river. Jorge and I were amazed by the whole scene and just instantly got excited about it.  When everyone ran for cover, we ran into the swift waters flowing in the streets, we stood directly under the water spraying from the drainage pipes sticking out of the tops of the buildings, and sat on the plaza steps which was now a newly formed waterfall.  We were running around like kids taking video and photos and we got completely soaked. Every item in my backpack was also soaked. It was so much fun.

I thought I would like San Miguel more than Guanajuato.  As it turned out, I preferred Guanajuato.  I liked the bigger city feel, the mysterious, narrow alleys, the art students wandering everywhere, the entrances of unique restaurants and shops and the peaceful parks and plazas.  The only thing missing was water.  No ocean, no water to swim or kayak.

While staying in Guanajuato, we visited El Pípila (statue of local hero of Guanajuato}, the mummy museum (yes, real mummies!), Cristo Rey (statue of Christ). We hiked up to the lighthouse, and on the trails around our RV Park.  We also took a trip to Leon, a town famous for their shoes.

Hiking in Guanajuato.

Cristo Rey statue

Meeting the family

Jorge's Great Uncle, Ramon Martinez

Visiting the Guadalajara / Lake Chapala area was really special in so many ways.  Of all the places we’ve visited in the last few months, this turned out to be Jorge’s favorite place of all.  Interestingly, this is the area his mom and dad are from.  His parents met in Tijuana, but they both come from small towns on the outskirts of Guadalajara.  Jorge had never seen the towns his parents came from, until now.

Zapotitán de Hidalgo is the town Jorge’s mom is from.  It is located in the state of Jalisco, just outside Guadalajara, and very close to the shore of Lake Chapala.   It’s a farming town of approximately 460 people.  Jorge has never met the family members from Zapotitán de Hidalgo, so we were looking forward to going there and meeting them for the first time.  His mom said to just go to the town and ask anyone where the Martinez / Flores family lives.  I told him he should call first, but he said it wasn’t necessary.  Cultural difference, for sure!  So we rolled into town and within a few minutes we were directed to the home of Elena, Jorge’s moms’ cousin.  She wasn’t expecting us, but when she found out who Jorge was, she invited us into her house.  She told us that her house was the home Jorge’s  Great Grandma grew up in.  She showed us around the house, and quickly offered to take us around to meet the family.  So she got in our truck and took us house to house.  As we drove she stopped people on the street, who just happened to be Jorge’s great cousin or great aunt.  As we stopped at the various houses, I was touched by how warm and hospitable his family was; especially since they had no idea we were coming.  

Elena and her sister, Chata, invited us to come back again for the day, to meet more of the family.  So in a couple days we returned at 9:00 am.  They had breakfast made for us and Jorge had time to ask some questions about the family.  Later Elena took us around again to meet more people. 

One of the most poignant meetings was when Elena took us to meet Jorge’s Grandpa’s sister, Maria Flores.  We heard she was very petite and had a big personality in her day.  She wasn’t expecting us when we arrived.  She lived with her daughter and grandchildren in a small brick house.  As we approached the front door we saw a woman of 90+ years sitting in a chair directly in front of the open front door.  She was very little, and very cute.  She wore pants, a couple sweaters, and was covered by a blanket.  Elena told her who Jorge was, and she looked up at him, quite taken aback.  Jorge kneeled down so she could see his face, and reached for her hand.  Her eyes were wide with surprise, and she stared into his face in silence for a moment.  She was shaking a little, and a couple tears rolled down her cheeks.  She asked if he had come from Tijuana, and then said how much she hated Tijuana and everyone laughed.  She asked about her late brother (Jorge’s grandpa), and they talked about him and other people.  At the end of the visit Maria’s tears flowed.  Everyone in the small room who had gathered around to see the reunion was teary as well, to see her reaction to meeting her brother’s grandson.

Maria Flores

The whole visit with his family was such a highlight.  Chata prepared Albondigas soup and tortillas for dinner before we left that evening.  They really rolled out the red carpet and made us feel so special.  Photos of Jorge's family and some of their animals below.

It was really interesting being in the town and visiting the family at their homes.  Since I have known Jorge’s mom for the last 15 years, I loved seeing where she had come from.  I hope to tell her about it in person when we return.  I should be finally able to speak to her in Spanish, instead of relying on someone to translate everything for me.  It was also an opportunity to get a closer look into their culture that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  

We stayed Roca Azul RV Park on the shore of Lake Chapala, next to the town of Jocotepec. A couple photos from Jocotepec below.

Roca Azul - www.roca-azul.com

For $13/day they offered a gigantic swimming pool, two thermal pools, a well-manicured soccer field, club house, picnic area, volleyball courts, and a few options for RV parking.  This was the first place we had American neighbors.  There were two American couples, an angry, single American man, and a German couple close to our RV spot. 

Jan and Bob from Oregon were the couple directly across from us.  It was such a pleasure to meet them and talk with them.  I was surprised at how happy I was to connect with people from home (US).  I believe they have been living in the park for 4 years.  Bob told me that all he knew about Mexico was that it was really dangerous.   At some point they had an opportunity to go to San Felipe (Baja), and they loved it.  They realized Mexico was nothing like they had heard – so they ended up to moving to central Mexico!  It is just crazy how life unfolds.   They enjoy the mild weather, the friendly Mexican people and the low cost of living.  Roca Azul allows their long term residents do whatever they want to their RV spot, so many have installed covered patios and put in some nice landscaping.  Jan and Bob had made their space very comfortable and pretty with their outdoor kitchen and patio, and pretty plants and flowers around their space.