Tag Archives: camping

Off to the captivating Costa Rica and through the jungle by zipline.

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Driving towards the coast

We spent our first week in Costa Rica hunting for the best beaches, little did we know that the first beach we found would be the best and our favorite.  Pro-tip: Look for Hotel Playa Conchal just southwest of Playa Brasilito, drive down the beach access road until it ends and opens up in a beautiful cove.  The drive to beach was anything but dull right off the highway.  The road turned into a rugged dirt route quickly and here is where we met our first of many river crossings.  We would let the dinky cabs pass us first before diving the van into the river, all went well.

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Our first camp-spot in Costa Rica

We showed up here late Sunday afternoon which is a noob-move and we knew that.   The beach was packed until sunset, after the sun sets it completely empties for the week.  We pull up to the beach careful not to hit the soft sand and then we dug in.  As soon as we woke up the next morning we slid the sidedoor open to the water and we have the beach to ourselves.  This van has a room with a view like none other.

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Playa Conchal.  Pura Vida

My favorite moment here that sticks out in my mind is probably our third day on the beach.  Christian and I split the day by staying in the shade under our awning or dipping in the bay for a swim to cool off.  Off in the distance we see a family of four kayaking right towards us from the other side of this bay.  The mom approaches us under the awning and asks us “how much are ya’ll renting four-wheelers for?”  Christian replies very nicely “Mmm I am not sure how much they are but I think you can rent them down the beach at the hotel.”  Lovely mother of two replies “Ugh, so you’re what are doing then, just sitting here?”  She was damn right, we were just sitting and soaking up this kick-ass place while not doing a thing.  She thought quite highly of us thinking that we were running a four-wheel tour company out of our van though.

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This place is free
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Let’s never leave
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We found this awesome waterfall on the side of the road

Our drives through this country were Christian’s favorite part of Costa Rica, pull over anywhere and you are guaranteed to see at least a waterfall.

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Driving through Costa Rica

MonteVerde National Park, Costa Rica

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I was feeling brave and excited when we arrived to Monte Verde, Costa Rica.   On our PanAmerican-Highway Trip Bucket List is another box I was ready to check off, zip-lining above the Rainforest.

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Christian in the first part of the mile-series lines
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Superman over the jungle for a mile

I am a nervous wreck when it comes to heights, I get dizzy standing on a chair or using a short ladder.  I can’t even watch someone cliff-dive on TV without getting butterflies.  Zip-lining over the tree-tops is way beyond pushing my comfort zone.  Honestly I loved this, it was dreadfully marvelous.

After MonteVerde we camped down at Lake Arenal for a few days making our way around Costa Rica.  We had a lot of rain here so working our day (finding groceries and a bank) around the down pours was our only qualm here.  Two blocks from this camp spot into town was a German Bakery that sold all things delicious.

We received insider information where we could find free thermal springs right across the street from a pricey Hotel Spa.  The directions were iffy but I mean what else do we have to do, nada.  We brought nothing with us beyond a go-pro, yet again another novice move.  What’s our deal, right?  Next time…cold drinks, snacks or a cooler full of hot springs items at least.  This gem was found underneath a small highway bridge.

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Where to next: El Salvador and a drive through Honduras, visa deadline coming in hot.

We spent over two months in Guatemala most of that time was spent in Antigua where we were taking spanish classes and I was catching up with good ol’ buddy.  When we entered Guatemala we were given a 90 day visa for four countries called the CA-4, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  We had to do some trimming and quick moving to get to Costa Rica in three weeks.  I had a list of to do’s that I wanted to check out in Nicaragua and two weeks was barely enough time.  The plan was to spend about four nights on some beaches in El Salvador and drive through Honduras in one day in order to get to Nicaragua in five days.

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El Tunco, El Salvador.   A black sand beach.
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Sunset at El Tunco
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The night Christian wanted a van-kitten

When looking at the map and our route we had to stay on the Pacific side in order to make this timeline.  After a little bit of research it looked like all of the cool places and things to do in Honduras were all on the Carribbean side.  Unfortunalely we spent only four hours in Honduras and stopping once for gas.  Most of our time in Honduras was spent driving to and through the two borders or waiting in lines.

We arrived in Leon, Nicaragua after a nine hour drive from El Cuco, El Salvador driving through Honduras while crossing two borders and three countries in one day.  Here in Leon, Nicaragua we found one of the hottest and most humid places on Earth.  Let’s find a parking spot and a very cold drink, like one that has ice in it!

Bucket list: Hike a yuge Volcano in Guatemala, check.

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Volcano Acatenango reaches 13,044 feet Christian and our friends Josh and Jenna (travelamateurs) thought hiking up it would be great fun.  I had already decided that I would prefer to skip out on this great adventure, because I tend to have bad timing.  Volcano Acatenango is part of a two peak volcano, you hike up the taller one at 13,044 feet (3976m) and you look down at the very active Volcan Fuego.  It has a loose schedule of off five days and on fire for five days, the hike was set for an “on” day.  My worry was that I would do this insane hike up the volcano in all types of weather and I wouldn’t be able to see the Volcan Fuego erupting.  I love hiking but there needs to be some sort of pay off; travelamateurs.com Give me a view, cave, river, waterfall, lake or an erupting volcano next door.  The night before Josh called Christian and they had the trip all set with a local guide.  “What if I want to go?” I said.  It was go time and I got a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out).  If I didn’t go then the volcano would erupt in perfect plain sight and I would miss out on the awesome opportunity with our friends.  The next morning I put my game face and big girl pants on.

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Our guide tells us at the head of the trail that the first 45 mins are straight up and tough but the next five hours would be easier.  Jaime, our guide carried all of our food and cooked our meals for the trip up on his broken backpack tied to his back with a rope.  I was the rock-like caboose during the entire trek.  We also brought along our friend’s giant white german shepard and at first everyone was worried how he was going to do.  I had a feeling that if I could survive this quest that this fearless pup would run circles around me and he did.  Up and up we climb arriving at base camp just an hour before sunset, I would venture to say it was about 30 degrees cooler at basecamp.  We were surrounded in clouds and the wind had picked up,  Jaime points to where we should see the other volcano.  He in a hopeful attitude says “it is going to rain tonight and that’s good news because after the rain the clouds will clear and open up for a great view!”  The plan is to go to sleep early and wake up at 3:45am and hike to the summit for the sunrise and an erruption.  That night Jaime makes us some hotdog-spaghetti and beans for dinner with hot chocolate.  The weather is a wee bit intollerable at base-camp so we all retreat to our tents and inside our sleeping bags.  Off in the nearby distance we can hear and feel Volcan Fuego errupting.  The clouds open up for a breif moment and we all catch a glimpse of the volcano shooting fire into the sky and the lava river flowing down the side of the mountain.  It was too cold to peep out of the tent for longer than a split second so we try to go to sleep while hearing the fire rage out the top of the neighbor volcano and hope for better conditions in the morning.  The rain is whipping around our tents and Jaime was climbing up trees and macheting down branches to make tarpaulin from scratch for our tents to keep us all dry throughout the rainstorm.

3:45am on the dot Jaime is at our tents “Guys, Vamos!”  It’s pitch black out, cold, windy and time to finish the hike up volcanic gravel for an hour or two.  We take our headlamps and try to stay on the thin trail in the dark, two steps up and one slide down.  Eventually we make it to the summit and we can barely see ten feet in front of us, let alone the other volcano.  It’s so close we can hear and feel the rumbling but our timing just didn’t work out and the weather was a thrashing winterlike storm.  We couldn’t stand it for much longer than a few photos and Jaime said it wasn’t going to get any better.  Behind the clouds the sun was trying make an apperance, but we never got a clear shot it just lit the way down back to base-camp for us.

Here we are at the chilling summit in a monumental moment together during our last week in Antigua, Guatemala.

Part 2 Guatemala Adventures continue to… TIKAL

Just a short two day and eleven hours northeast from Antigua is Tikal, now a National Park that was once a Great Mayan City set way back in the jungle.  Cheers to Guatemala City for showing us the worst traffic that we have seen in five thousand miles.  We got so far behind schedule that it turned dark before we could get anywhere safe to stay the night, for hours we were in the middle of nowhere.  We did our first nighttime drive for three hours and with great luck the road was in decent enough shape to make it ro Rio Dulce without getting a flat.  I was stressed!

We finished the long drive to Tikal the next day early afternoon.  We found a great little spot to camp just outside the park gates to rest up for an early sunrise hike in the morning.  5:15am still dark the alarm goes off and I hear the jungle breathing above the van.  We gathered the camera, a fresh made thermos of coffee and a couple of granola bars to make the long trek through the jungle alone and looking for the tallest ruin.  There’s no short of wild animals on our walk; greeting us right away were a couple of coatimundis wrestling eachother on the trail, then a colorful wild turkey guarded the restrooms, and a couple of monkeys accidentally I assume drop mangoes a foot from our heads.  After an hour and a half through the mayan city, Tikal we arrive to the tallest ruin Temple IV there standing 212 feet high.  We climbed the side of it, grabbed a seat at the highest step, opened the coffee and took in the unprecedented view.  We were sitting above the clouds and waiting for the sun to appear while toucans were flying below our feet.  Virtally we had this park to ourselves, there was a quiet moment had while listening to the howler monkeys travel around us and off deep into the jungle.

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Christian descibes the sound of the howler monkeys like this “imagine King Kong angry and ripping through the jungle heading right for you!”  Their sound together is like one giant beast, it was beautiful.  No jaguars were spotted on this adventure.

On the way back to Antigua we stopped at Rio Dulce for a few nights during a monsoon.  However it’s hard to complain when you camp at a place on a river with a pool, bar and restaurant in the jungle.

Antigua part 1

Hello Antigua, Guatemala home of Laurel Baker!  Eight years ago Laurel/Lori left Chicago to “visit” Costa Rica for awhile.  She made her way north eventually landing in Antigua, Guatemala and has been there ever since.  Eight years ago I promised my great friend that I would visit her someday.  After a move to Sitka, Alaska and San Diego, California Christian and I built a van and drove six months and a few thousand miles for a long overdue reunion.  Within hours of arriving to her city I was on her bar/restaurant schedule for a full weeks worth of shifts.  The same day Christian signed himself up for spanish classes and was looking for temporary housing for us.

 

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Our plan was to park the van and stay in Antigua for about a month.  We found a cool communal spot to live in called La Casa Gitana (The Gypsy House) with every wall painted a different color and four other housemates.  It was a six minute walk to work and a ten minute scooter ride to spanish classes. Two weeks later I signed up for classes as well while contining to work.  Classes took place in a garden and we each had our own private teacher.  I loved the scooter ride to the garden five days a week down the cobblestone roads, pass the ruins from an 1877 earthquake all the way to the garden.  We spent twenty hours a week with a private teacher, Christian took seven weeks and I took five.  Halfway through we talked our teachers into a Nacho and Micheada party for a class.  We convinced them that with a little alcohol we could speak a way better spanish, and they went for it.  It ended up being more of a party with five students and five teachers joining in.  Mostly the party was in spanish until the class moved to a nearby pub with more beer, more nachos and tons of dancing.  With that recipe we all started speaking some rediculous spanglish.

Weeks before Christian and I made the descion that Antigua was where we will drag the scooter up to and try to sell it.  The weight of the scooter was destroying the van; shredding the back tire, ruining the suspension and breaking the shocks.  So for our last few weeks  we took it on many mini adventures through the colonial city, up to tiny mountain towns, through the nearby villages and out to organic farmers markets with live music.

We were able to meet up with a handful of friends here since we stayed put for ten weeks: Micheal and Izabella (kocovnici kocovni), Josh and Jenna (Travel Amateurs), Miles, Aaron and Nietzsche (Totoro the Van), Joe and Josee (Joe and Josee’s Journey) along with making new friends from school and housemates.

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Several times a week we would take the scooter to the mercado for some fresh fruit and veggies, which was always a colorful errand.  I didn’t want to forget to share the chicken busses here, they are retired american school buses that are bedazzled to the nines and take on king of the road role, however because we had the scooter we missed the opportunity to take a ride in one.

On to Guatemala, it only took 4 months

We took a two hour drive from San Cristobal to get to the chaotic insane small border of Guatemala, after spending four months in Mexico.  The border town was wacky and swamped with vendors leaving us barely enough room to squeeze The Globe Trol through.  It it two days to get to Lake Atitlan.  Our midway stop along the highway was at a fancy hotel’s gravel parking lot for the night.  In the morning I watched their gardener mow the entire site with a weed wacker for hours.

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I read ahead and told Christian that the road down to our next campground in San Marcos, Lake Atitilan might be narrow, steep and in complete shit condition.  So we decided right before it goes to shit we will take the scooter down and drive them seperately.  I was more than nervous to drive the van-haus so I opted for the scooter.  OH MY LORD!  Driving the scooter down a mountain covered in trees, surrounded by Volcanoes heading towards a lake…was phenomenal to say the least.  On top of that I was manuevering around pot holes a foot-two feet deep some the size a small car could fit into.  Total breeze on the skoot-skoot.  An hour later we make it to a sleepy little town called San Marcos and head just outside the square down some “road” of holes and gravel to a incredible campsite with an even better view.  The owner of the grounds Pierre sells steak, prawns and a great priced wine.  Sweet we never have to leave.  The next afternoon we hopped on a water taxi and shimmied off to another little hippie town called San Pedro that you could tell had been overran with gringos.  Ah whatever lets buy some souvenoirs and grab a drink on a deck.  It rained everyday we were there and we could just barely see the volcanoes that surrounded the lake.  After a few hours we hopped back on the water taxi and rushed to take shelter when the storm came in.  The storm was here for the night so we grabbed a bottle of wine, sat under the awning and binged watched on some Game of Thrones.  After three more days of dodging the rain we were ready to head to Antigua and finally meet up with Lori, eight years waiting to visit her here.

Our Last Bit of Mexico, Chiapas

 

We left the insanely hot beach of Oaxaca, Mexico and headed straight for the Aguacero Waterfall in Chiapas.  It’s 742 steps down in 98 degree weather to a creek bed.  We walked through and across the creek bed and looked up at a breathtaking waterfall.  It pooled in several places covered in moss, plants and purple flowers.  The water was crisp and cool.  “We found Fern Gully!”  Christian gave me a hand and helped me up the slippery moss covered boulders to make our way to the bottom of the cascada.  We played under the chilling fall until our feet went numb.  Okay Chiapas, you got our attention, you are beautiful.

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That night we took a short drive to find the Sumidero Canyon.  We arrived after dusk and when everything was closed so it was diffilcult to find secure parking right away.  After an hour we found a locked gate fence where some guys where chatting under a street light near possibly the opening.   They figured out what we needed through some rough spanish and whislted for the night guard to let us in the parking lot of the canyon because we wanted take a boat ride the next morning.  We read other overlanders had done the same in the past and it seemed like a safe camping option for the night.  The next morning we headed down to the dock for a giant speed boat tour through the canyon.

The walls of the canyon were towering above us at 3,280 feet in some places.  This canyon is thought to be as old as The Grand Canyon.  The canyon was started by cracks in the earth’s crust and the Grijalva River dug its way for 35 million years.  Flying through the canyon our captain would abruptly stop for wildlife and the first stop was “Vulture Island.”  I don’t know, but to stop for a hundred vultures at once was probably the least appealing thing for me.  Moving along our next stop was a tree where two monkeeys were wrestling and showing off.  This was our “first monkeey sighting of the trip!”  Half way through the two-hour tour I notice that all of our life jackets have crocodiles on them and we haven’t seen one yet.  We get all the way down to the dam and pull up to a boat that is selling fruit, chips and soda.  Latin American culture “never miss an oppotunity to sell something” I believe is their moto.  For the return the captain speeds back through the canyon and then all of a sudden we come to an aggressive hault and a sharp turn.  I’m thinking “Hell yes, this must be it, the Crocs!”  This captain has laser eye sight or something?!  He pulls the boat right up alongside the croc so we all can bend over the side and take a million pictures, and nicely enough the crocodile stays motionless.  “How cool, it’s like he is posing!”  Them we speed off and head to another favorite spot for the captain where the next croc is out of the water and is also posing for more pictures.  A few minuets later a crocodile is actually moving and he swims by our boat for 10 seconds and then poof, gone.  The group is now satisfied and we head back to the dock.  When we got back I couldn’t let go of how strange our crocodile show was and I mentioned to Christian ” Do you think those crocs were real or staged? ”  Oh well if they were fake, they were really good ones.  Weeks later we ran into friends who had also done the tour a week prior and we compared our photos and had the exact same two crocs, same spot, same pose, same same.  However they never saw a crocodile swimming, Yea we saw a real one.

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Our last stop in Mexico was a spanish colonial town called San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It’s set way up in the mountains so the air was a lot cooler, and less sweating for us.  It rained a few hours every late afternoon, just enough to cool you off.  We found a campsite a mile outside of town and took the scooter back into town for sightseeing, groceries, chocolate and beer runs.  Our campsite was underneath tall evergreens, I absolutely loved it here.  I loved being in the woods but also only a mile to town, five days here flew by.   Chocolate shops, cheap decent wine and coffee everywhere, my little heaven and not a bad spot to spend a few dollars and a couple of days.

Next stop…Guatemala here we come.

Zipolite, I can’t quit you

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We rolled up to this mystical beach late one hot mexican night.  Looking for a perfect spot to set up shop for maybe two or three days we lucked out and found Habana’s Cabanas.  Ok, sounds kinda cool let’s go talk to the boss.   For $7 USD a night, you can park behind the cabanas 100 feet from the Pacific Ocean, a few feet away are the bath/showers, WiFi incl, cold beers and water in the office and shade underneath the cabanas.  That’s not all, our hammocks hung underneath the cabanas and fresh food will walk-by you just in case you’re too lazy to move to get snacks or dinner.  A margarita guy will pass-by, the ice cream man delivers and chocolate croissants show up at just the right time.  Pizza calzones, taco lady, herbal pastries  you name it, they make it and deliver to your hammock all day long.

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This place made it feel like we were on vacation, not a trip that takes a lot of work; straight-up, kick-back.  We took long walks on the beach, starred at the sunsets, laid in the hammocks for hours reading, telling jokes and stories.  Oh did I mention this was a clothing-optional beach, we may have tried it out or not.  We planned on two nights and it quickly turned into ELEVEN awesome days.  Friends were made here and other friends joined the scene a day later.  With nothing but time on our hands I decided that I would try making almond milk from scratch, after ton of messy work it turned out great.

Christian loved catching happy hour everyday and taking a walk down the beach for a brick oven pizza or a plate of Al Pastor tacos for about $1.  On semi-windy days he would bust out the kite and attach the go-pro to it for our make shift version of a “drone shot” along the beach.  It’s been a few months since we were here but this is a place we will return to.  We still talk about our time in Zipolite, in our six months of traveling this ranks as top 3 favorite moments.

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A few times we took the scooter out for great adventures and sightseeing, why not.  We headed out on the scooter for a gorgeous twenty minutes ride towards a lagoon called La Ventanilla Mangroves where we tour a small boat tour to check out some crocodiles, birds, Iguanas and turtles.   The next day we went to the Turtle Sanctuary in Mazunte the town over from Zipolite with our friends in a teeny tiny taxi and 6 of us crammed in an almost clown car while it was around 100 degrees.

The rest of our day was filled by sitting in our hammocks and people watch.  Naked old  guys would wear flip flops and a back pack, nothing else.  One occasion a chic was holding hands with two guys one on each hand and making the men walk backwards naked the entire length of the beach.  So as you can see we were entertained sitting on the beach for a short eleven days.

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca City, Mexico…mucho culture

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Oaxaca City, Central Park

A walk through the park on a Wednesday afternoon looking for our friends and we stumble upon this lovely orchestra performing.  This city was beautiful and full of handicrafts of all kind.  However, by the time Christian and I arrived we were over crowded cities.  We just didn’t have the energy to explore more while we were here, so we looked for a camp spot nearby.

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Wednesday afternoon in the park in Oaxaca.

We had two choices here in this area for camping.  We could park in a gated gravel lot in the middle of the lively city with no shower or bathroom.   The other option was a campground twelve miles outside the city that had WiFi and a bathroom however it was located between abandon buildings and in the middle of nowhere.  We chose the latter.  The next morning with our WiFi we found out there was a small public water park within walking distance.   PERRRRRFECT it was 100 degrees with no wind, and we were in the dessert.

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On top of Monte Albán, alone!

Now that we are seasoned tourist of Ruins, we got to the top of a small mountain range where we found Monte Albán before it opened.  Monte Albán sits 1,300 feet above the valley of Oaxaca and it’s City at an elevation of 6,400 ft.  This humdinger was inhabited for over 1,500 years by at least three different civilizations who literally chopped off the top of the mountain, almost as it stands today.  This site contained tombs, temples, inscriptions and it even had a ball court!

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friends buying crickets-snacks at the market

This is Josh and Jenna (from Travel Amateurs) they are our overlanding friends that we met along the way.  So glad we did.  While in spanish classes in Guanajuato they heard that crickets are a greeeeaaat protein (as Tony the Tiger would say).  Some really took this info to heart, like Josh and Jenna.  On the other hand Christian and I decided that if chicken or any other food was more accessible that we would choose everything else.

The next day six of us overlanders went up a 10,000 ft mountain for the Oaxacan experience.  The six of us hiked for four days and did 35 miles at 10,000 to 8,000 feet depending on the next town’s destination.  I wish that I could say that hike was glorious and maybe for some of the other five it was. My experience was…”Stay alive, don’t fall it will hurt, eventually this will end!”  One day for about 1,000 ft we slid down a “trail” with 40lb packs on our backs.  Tons of Fun.  This hike wore us all out so much that we never had the energy to check out the waterfalls, caves, and view points.  Pro-tip: Drive to the small Eco-towns and hike to the cool stuff.  Ex-pro Tip: Anything tastes better than crickets, like CHIPS or peanut butter or real trail mix.