Friday, May 31, 2013

A Hop, A Skip, and a Jump

Tuesday – the Hop

After all the border and tourist shenanigans, we stopped at an ATM in the next town. And, blessed surprise again, the ATM withdrawal was free on the ATM side again, just like it was in Nicaragua. As we drove to our first campsite, we were hungry and I asked Jonathan what he wanted for lunch. He replied a pizza, jokingly. However, I took the GPS and found that there was a Pizza Hut in the town we were going to, so I punched it in.

Pizza Huts in Central America are nice dining places. It is one of those nicer places the middle class dines out when they want to go to a nice American place. This Pizza Hut had an extensive menu and even desserts like cheesecake displayed in the front. Our waiter even spoke English, although apparently not well enough to understand that we only wanted ham on half of our pineapple pizza. So Jonathan got to enjoy a large pizza to himself. Fortunately it only cost US$10 with the special they were offering and not the usual US$27 there.

Back at the campsite, we started planning more on where we would go in Costa Rica. I asked Jonathan if he wanted to go back to the States for a bit. I just felt like we were both getting a bit road-worn and looking forward a bit too much to when we would get back to the States and air-conditioning. I thought we might both appreciate a break from our travels. Now, most people on journeys like this splurge on a nice resort and stay there for a week or so. I thought about this, but with my flight benefits, it is just as cheap, if not cheaper, to fly back and stay with family. Whenever I mentioned this to Jonathan, he said that it was not necessary and that he was fine, so I thought the discussion was over. But then as I let the matter rest, he started throwing out ideas of what we could get done while in the States. I soon decided that even if he wouldn’t admit that was what he really wanted, it would do us both good for a break. Now we just needed some more information.

Wednesday – the Skip

So Wednesday morning, we got up and ran into town to find some internet. When we did, we found out that we could leave from the town that we were in (Liberia’s LIR) or we could depart from San José (SJO). We also decided that if we were holed up without a vehicle, my family’s lake house sounded about the best place to go between space for us, vehicle options, and distance to the airport.  Flights were looking fun—we would have to fly to MIA and then to DFW (or Chicago’s ORD) and then to Springfield (SGF) and looked like it would take 2 days with a night in an airport. And then I discovered a single flight that left from SJO to DFW and then straight to SGF. It left daily at 8:45am and the flights looked mostly clear—the one to SGF looked pretty full, but the ones after that looked clear, so we would definitely get there in one day.  It was decided. We would drive to SJO and find a place to park the van (probably at a government-bonded warehouse of which we had heard). So we took off of San José.

We arrived there at about 4 pm. But, it immediately started pouring, like end-of-the-world stuff. With the van fogging up and the sheets of water falling from the heavens, we could barely see.  We decided we would go first to the warehouse and see what we could work out with them. We only passed by the warehouse once before we found it. They let us in and I ran out in the pouring rain to find out where to go and what to do. The gate attendant pointed us to the back. We found another attendant in a hut and they pointed us to the garages and lent us an umbrella. We finally made it into the garage and found the offices. When we got our turn, we asked him a few questions to determine if this would work for us as we still needed a place to stay for the night. They closed at 5:30pm and wouldn’t open till 8am. They didn’t want to do the work tonight and let us drop it off in the morning, either. So we decided we would figure something else out. We had heard there was a trailer park not too far away, so we thought maybe we could work something out with them.

We ventured back out into the rain with the van. Unfortunately, it was rush hour and the interchange we had to go through was poorly-designed. We sat there for 10 minutes trying to nudge forward through traffic. Stupid people would block the roads so traffic would get jammed. It was quite the battle, but we finally broke free on the road on which we needed to be.


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This little 270m drive took us 10 minutes.

We were soon cruising down the road to find the Belén Trailer Park. It was still pouring rain out, but at least the van wasn’t fogging up anymore. We navigated easily enough to the location on the GPS, but didn’t see the trailer park. We made another pass and checked out an alternate GPS location. Still no success. We got out at the Mas x Menos grocery store there (mostly to use the restroom), but we walked around the neighborhood and asked a clerk about it with still no success. I then told Jonathan that I thought I had heard something about a new location or it not being open. We had to assume it was no longer open. By now it was 5:30pm and pretty dark and we were tired. I caved. I told Jonathan we would just find a hotel. There was a hotel area nearby, so we went there.

The first place was Double Tree Resort, and I figured that one would be too expensive. We kept going, then I saw a sign for Country Inn. There is a Country Inn in Garden City near my hometown. I figured it couldn’t be too high-class or expensive. So, I went and talked with them. I was concerned at first because I saw a sign that said the standard room was $149. But, they offered me a room for $90. This would have been too expensive for us, but then I asked about leaving the vehicle there while we were gone. They said that was fine and that they wouldn’t charge for that. So for a $100, we get a room for tonight, two weeks of parking in a secure area, and a complimentary shuttle ride to and from the airport. That averaged about $8/night. Definitely not the cheapest option ever, but it seemed reasonable to us, so we took it.

For what we paid, the place was impressive. They met us in the parking lot with an umbrella and offered to carry our bags—we didn’t have any. Then they walked us to our room and gave us a tour of it plus pointed out the amenities—where the restaurant, gym, and pool were. The room was townhouse-style with the an office and sitting area and bathroom downstairs and the bedroom upstairs.

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The only other problem we had was dirty laundry. With all the sweat we produce, our clothes start smelling pretty badly. This normally isn’t too much of an issue, but with the van closed up for two weeks, it wouldn’t be a good combo. The hotel couldn’t do laundry over night, but they recommended a place down the street. We walked to it, but they only dry-cleaned. We went back to the room to find some options, but they were all closed. So, we decided we would go through them and take what we could with us and what we couldn’t we would wash by hand (again). But, after that we packed up and we were ready to get going in the morning.

Thursday – the Jump

We rose early (me earlier than planned with Jonathan hogging the bed and the room being cold) and finished our preparations—mostly moving our drying clothes from the room to the van. (Jonathan here, I would like to point out that we had a remote control for the A/C and that I respond well to kicking.) We ate our complimentary breakfast at the restaurant and caught the shuttle to the airport. I was a bit concerned because we forgo the 6am shuttle for the 7am shuttle so that we could partake in breakfast. In the US, they say to arrive 2 hours early for international flights and we had no idea what to expect at SJO, especially with having to pay the departure tax. The shuttle was delayed a bit while we waited for someone, but they eventually got a call to take us alone.

They dropped us off at the international terminal and there was a sign pointing us where to pay the departure tax (hallelujah!). We quickly paid that and then found the American Airlines counter. I had Jonathan scoping it out while I walked and filled out the departure forms. Apparently he bypassed the counters provided for us to fill out the forms and check them and went down the exit lane instead of the entry lane—talk about single-minded. ;) However, there wasn’t anyone in line anyway, so it wasn’t an issue. After we were issued our stand-by tickets, we walked out of the area the wrong way and had to go under the belts. That is when I realized we had gone in the exit lane and out the entry lane. Go figure. We followed the signs to the gates and security. There wasn’t much of a line and we quickly found ourselves on the other side, ready to find our gate. I was pleasantly surprised. I had heard of horror stories of trying to navigate through the SJO airport, but we found it quiet, pleasant, and quick.

At the gate, they began boarding early. Mostly I think to give time for the American Airlines staff to inspect the carry-on luggage. Towards the end, we were called up and given tickets—I hadn’t been concerned, there were plenty of open seats. When we got on the aircraft, we found we had been given seats in the new Main Cabin Extra region. I must say, the extra space was super nice. Jonathan has forgotten what it was like to be in the normal economy with the his knees almost touching the seat in front of him and everyone in the row having to get up to let the aisle seat out to use the restroom. While we were sitting there, we realized something was wrong. We had pulled out from the gate, but we had just been sitting there near the runway for a while. Sure enough, in a few minutes the pilot came on and said they had detected a problem and needed a mechanic to inspect it, but that he expected to be on the way shortly. All-in-all, we were delayed 40 minutes to an hour, but we did get to fly.

When we arrived in DFW, we were ushered out and filed into the customs line. It was long, but it moved relatively quickly and we were through the entire process, including back through security, in about 12 minutes, surprisingly. I was impressed, though. With the greatly delayed flight, they arranged for those with short connecting flight times to be moved to a quick customs line—a very nice option. We made our way to our new gate in the American Eagle wing, Terminal B. We weren’t really expecting to get on this flight as it was mostly full (48/50) with seven people standing by with Jonathan and I being the last ones. I was starving though, so we went to TGIFridays’s To-Go counter and ordered a sampler appetizer of potato skins, mozzarella sticks, and fried green beans. We scarfed that down while we waited on the now-delayed AE flight (making it even more unlikely we would catch it). But, surprise of surprises, when they had boarded all the passengers and all the other standby-ers that were there, they called our names as well. We got on the flight, albeit in separated seats. However, we sat for a while at the gate in this one too. This one was caused by the weather. The pilots were trying to come up with a flight plan around the weather. When they did and it got approved, they then had to wait for the fuel truck to come back by and get us more fuel for the longer flight. But we made it to Springfield and my parents and sister and her boyfriend were even there already to pick us up.

As I had requested food immediately after we got in, we went to Cheddar’s for dinner. And, after a stop at a Walmart to pick up better windshield wipers for my mother (and other supplies), we finally made it to the lake house and bed.  And now you know about crazy last-minute decision to return to the States.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Signatures and Walking Galore

Tuesday

We drove onto the van onto the ferry with much less hassle this time—between the more competent workers on the Rey del Cocibolca and the fact that we were the last vehicle in a row, so we didn’t have to make more room for any others. The Rey del Cocibolca is the largest, nicest vehicle ferry that they have. I had also heard that it was the most expensive. But, they charged us much less than the Milton Arcia. I can’t remember the exact totals between the tickets and the taxes and everything, but it was like US$25 or less as compared to the US$30 on the other boat. Additionally, inside they had booths everywhere and a bakery/convenience shop downstairs. Very nice. I definitely recommend this boat over the others if it is convenient, especially since its port on the island is closer to where tourists go.

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DSC04129 It was also all decked out for Mother’s Day which seems to be Mother’s Month in this region.

Only once turning the wrong way down a one-way, we made it safely back onto the Pan-American highway, where we proceeded to the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border. This border was a bit in disarray. You could tell that they were working on putting a nice, new drive and checkpoint, but it was still in progress. As a result, there were fences and “detours” up everywhere. We didn’t know where to go. The road went off to the right where there seemed to be some shops, but there wasn’t any customs or immigration buildings there, and it didn’t sound like what was described in our guide. So we pulled over to discuss our options. As always, the guys desiring to be guides flocked to swamped our vehicle. They told us the way we were going was for taxis, but we managed to offend them with Jonathan telling them off and closing the window. So we went to the fenced off area. There wasn’t a booth or anything and there wasn’t anyone standing there looking official. A semi pulled up through it from the other direction, though, and a guy went out to meet him. So we thought we would give it a shot.

We pulled up and we were waved to stop by guys in official-looking shirts. They did the customary ask for passports and vehicle permit. We then asked them where we needed to go next. He directed us past the buildings to the other side of the duty-free shopping area. We pulled into a parking spot and immediately a custom’s agent inspected our vehicle and signed our vehicle permit. Next up was a policeman’s signature. This one was interesting to find as there were tons of people milling around and the policemen didn’t have a booth. We did spot him relatively quickly though. When we asked where to go next, he pointed inside the building next to him. It was filled with all kinds of touristy-things like vehicle insurance and a information booth and one lady with a computer with someone in the seat in front of her. We weren’t sure where to go, but the lady at the information booth said we needed to go around the building and get our passports stamped, so we went that way. After paying our exit fees and taxes (total $3pp), we didn’t know where else to go, so we thought we would try leaving. As we started driving towards Costa Rica, we found another customs agent. We decided to ask the agent if we were missing any signatures. He looked it over and informed us we were missing the one at the window and sent us back.

We parked and as I opened the door, I managed to break the door handle. Well, not really break, but I didn’t know at the time. The handle released and went perpendicular to the door (not a normal position) and the door wouldn’t open. Oh joy… I have skills. Jonathan had to come over and open the door for me and after that he was distracted by fixing it. So I went and found the other customs agent we had seen here and asked him to show me where I needed to go for the last signature. He kindly walked me back into the room with the touristy-stuff and pointed to the lady with the computer. I should have known. Of course, this time, she had a line of about 3 people and they were coming into Nicaragua, which meant longer processes. In fact, I waited there long enough for Jonathan to come find me after he had already taken apart the door and reassembled it. That was probably good timing as I don’t know if they would have given me the exit stamp without Jonathan (the driver) being there as well.

Loaded down with all our stamps, we were finally able to go to the Costa Rica’s side. As we crossed the line, a police officer took our canceled permit. Then we followed the signs for Costa Rica and fumigation. After fumigation was supposed to be someone to collect money, but no one was there, so we kept going forward. We found the immigration and customs area and parked. At the immigration booth, the ladies there asked for a copy of our cancelled Nicaraguan vehicle permit (apparently we were supposed to make a copy, but I didn’t as I had promised myself I wouldn’t until asked). Well, we didn’t have a copy. They looked at each other with the “eye” and I was concerned we would be in trouble. They asked if we had any other evidence of the direction we came, so I provided them the Nicaraguan insurance. They accepted that (and returned it) and let us go. We always try to verify what we have been told in our guides and such, and we asked the immigration ladies where we go next for our vehicle permit. They said the customs agent across the street, our guide said that was incorrect. Well, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask since there wasn’t anyone in line there. He verified what was in our guide. So, we walked over to the other customs area.

At first we weren’t sure where to go, but semi drivers were kind enough to point us in the right direction. We finally arrived in the right area, but we weren’t sure which window or do to go to. One lady selling things said to go around and inside, but when we went there, they directed us back out to the window with a lady sitting at it. She was selling the insurance. It was now US$35 instead of the US$17 we had heard. We had also heard they accepted córdobas (Nicaraguan money), dollars, and colones (Costa Rican money), but they only accepted the last two. I didn’t have enough dollars and Jonathan couldn’t find his wallet, so we had to walk all the way (300m) back to the van to either find Jonathan’s wallet or find a bank. We didn’t see where the bank was, but we did find some emergency money we could use. So we walked all the way back. We paid for the insurance and then the lady directed us to where we could get the required copies. We got the copies then walked back over to the first customs area. The guy reviewed the paperwork, put it in order, then walked out to the van with us to inspect it. Along the way, he complimented me on my Spanish, the fact that I could conjugate and such. Yay for me! Although I know half the time I communicate with less sense than a two-year-old when I get flustered, which is often with these border crossings.

But, we weren’t done yet. He gave us the ok to go back to the 2nd customs area. This time we got to go to the inside area we tried to go earlier and we drove this time. We managed to be first in line and shortly after, we were clear to go.

As we drove along the highway, we were pulled over at a police checkpoint. They asked for our passports. Apparently they try to add all tourists into their systems, so the brought a form over for Jonathan to sign and we helped them understand our first and last names on our passports. They filled out a form and then let us go. I think they also radioed the next station along the route to let them know they had already gotten us.

Finally free to go, we pulled back on the road to find our campsite.

To be continued on “A Hop, A Skip, and a Jump” (coming soon).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Insanity

Sunday

Well, as a reward for no longer feeling sick and my finger no longer hurting as bad, we decided to go on a hike up the volcano. It was supposed to last 7 hours. In the States, those times are greatly conservative. In Central America, those times are pretty optimistic.

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So, we rose early and prepared a backpack with water to leave by 7am. We finally left with a group and a guide at 7:30. We were warned it was a 5km hike up to the lake, and there was about 3000 ft elevation gain. The first part was deceptively easy; the path was staired and an easy slope. After a kilometer or so, the path lost the stairs and started climbing steeply. The tree-density increased, and the water on the ground as well. As we climbed higher, we entered the clouds that normally cloak the mountain, creating a cloud forest.

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DSC04052 See how cloudy it is? I couldn’t have my flash on because all the light would reflect back.

Walking through the cloud forest was interesting. It never really rained on us, but the water condensed on the leaves. Whenever there was a breeze or movement through the trees, big drops of water would fall down. Despite the lack of rain, there were puddles of water along the trail. With so many people climbing the path, the ground was quickly ground into a nasty mud. It was very difficult to avoid stepping in either it or the water and keep dry feet. Jonathan became very grateful for his waterproof hiking shoes, and I decided I needed to get a pair.

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Towards the top, the path became ridiculous. If I hadn’t been in a group with a guide, I would not have continued up the path. There were areas where we literally had to use trees and vines to climb up a four-foot vertical embankment. And there where areas that were deceptively flat but with tons of small roots that were slicker than snot. I nearly fell several times going up.

We did see some interesting wildlife.

DSC04026 This guy’s throat bubbles out like a frog’s. We were quite surprised.

DSC04038 And, a cute little pokey-haired creature was around. He could climb a vine like a boss, I tell you.

DSC04046 There was a blue cicada that whirred loudly and sharply.

And at the top, we climbed down into the caldera where there was a small lake. At first you couldn’t see anything at all because of the clouds congregating there, but as we waited, a wind came up and cleared the area for a minute.

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On the way down, between the exhaustion, mud, and water, it was as slow-going as it was going up. I actually did slip about 5 times. Did I mention that I am not very good at a going down? We finally arrived at the bottom at 4:30pm. We probably could have climbed up faster, but we were slowed by our group. And on the way down, Jonathan could have gone faster, but I couldn’t have. Our guide brags that he could climb to the top in 1 hour 10 minutes. Sounds like he pretty much runs up the path, I don’t know how he does it.

DSC04084 See how muddy and dirty I am? Especially the shoes. It took me two washes plus stain remover to get those stains out that shirt.

DSC04083 Jonathan only fell once, but slipping around, he managed to get quite a bit of mud on his legs.

In fact, I think we must be going a bit insane. Maybe it is from the Insanity exercises or maybe it is the heat or maybe it just requires more work to see interesting sites the farther we get from the States, but we seem to be going on longer and more strenuous hikes as we go along. Previously, we would not even have considered going on hikes longer than about 3 miles, definitely nothing longer than 3 hours. Now we have been on two 10-km hikes with increasing elevations. Well, we definitely decided not to do Insanity that night either, we had already done 9 hours of cardio and strength.

Monday

We took things a bit easier on Monday. We got some internet to catch up on things. Internet on the island is slow and expensive. We paid US$2/hr for internet there at the hostel. Then we took off on an 2-km total hike along the circumference of the mountain (not vertically) to check out the petroglyphs near the hostel.

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The petroglyphs were interesting. Very whirling and circular. Reminded me a lot of Gurren Lagann and its association with spirals (shout out to anime fans). Is there some relation?


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After that we took off and chilled at Ojo de Agua for a couple of hours. They had constructed some pools out of a natural volcanic spring (cold not warm, though). The guy at the entrance informed us in an animated, entertaining voice about the alleged healing power of the mineral waters. I very much enjoyed the oration, Jonathan just thought he was crazy.

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We planned to head out early the next morning on the ferry. I wanted to make sure we knew the procedure and the location, so we went in search of the ferry at San José del Sur (instead of Moyogalpa where we got off) to see the setup there. Interestingly, there was no booth or anything there. The ferry was there when we pulled up, so I got up and talked to the crew. They said that we could just show up in the morning and pull on the ferry. We would pay on the boat. We made reservations with them for the 7:30am trip and left for our next campground at Posada Chico Largo.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Recovery

Saturday

I woke up after the sun rose and needed to urinate, a customary action in the morning. What wasn’t customary was the nauseousness I was experiencing. I slowly eased myself vertical and took a sip or two of water. When I felt like I had it under control, I made it to the restroom to relieve myself. I had felt like it was fine on the way there, but as I stepped out of the stall, I was suddenly overwhelmed with needing to puke. I immediately turned around and emptied my stomach contents into the bowl. This is literally the first time I have puked since before middle school, 15 years now. Not a pleasant feeling.

Between the occasional feeling of sickness and the constant finger pain, I wasn’t up to much that day. My finger pain had increased since it was stung. On the ride back from the volcano on Thursday, I couldn’t stay standing because using my right hand to hold the pole was impossible. I couldn’t handle opening the pop top. When we were shopping on Friday, I had a spaz-out when my wrapped finger started itching and stinging. Jonathan needs me to make decisions on food, and I am just struggling to keep my sanity. Not a good combination. After the first night of trying to sleep with my swollen finger, I learned I need to keep it elevated to keep the pain under control and to keep from hitting it. So I slept the next night with my hand tied up with a towel hanging from the ceiling.

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I guess you can probably imagine that between the painful finger and the off-and-on sickness, I wasn’t up for much on Saturday. I mostly just lazed about in the van, sleeping or watching movies. I did manage to work through the pain to write a few posts for you faithful readers as well.

Jonathan was more productive. He worked on straightening out his door and his window. He also managed to reattach the mirror, although it was no longer powered. He also managed to become a magnet for ants. They were constantly swarming over his shoes while he was working. He came away from the encounter with about 10 bites, I think.

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That evening, Jonathan ran into a couple that was was traveling the Pan-American, but from Peru north. They were from England. We had a good time exchanging stories. By then, I was no longer nauseous and my finger wasn’t stinging horribly anymore, especially if I kept it vertical. So I was pretty much flipping people off all the time for the past three days. Then it was bedtime.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Two Mountains

Friday

With nothing to hold us near Granada or Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, we decided to do some stocking up and head to Isla de Ometepe, the next place on our list. Isla de Ometepe is the largest volcano island in a freshwater lake. Its name means island of two mountains, which are volcanoes. Volcán Concepción is the taller, active volcano, while Volcán Maderas is dormant and covered in a cloud forest.
 
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To get to this island, you must take a nearly-2-hour ferry ride. We arrived with enough time to catch the Milton Arcia at 2:30pm. It wasn’t very clear where you purchased tickets and such, but once we got directed to the right location, it wasn’t too bad. We paid C$480 for the van’s fare and C$140 for the both of us, making the total about $24.80. But then we had to pay “taxes” for the tickets separately when we entered the ferry terminal area. The totals were about another C$100, all in all not too bad. Taxes and tickets were less than US$30.
 
We managed to get Chuck safely onto the ferry. The hardest part being getting him into the exact spot the operators wanted, which was mostly just almost scrapping the van’s side against the wall, but we finally made them happy. After we thought we were done, we went and sat down. However, shortly, an attendant came and told us that we needed to move again. When we got back on the vehicle deck, another guy who had been told the same thing said that the head honcho said that we didn’t need to move, that the guys were mistaken. So we went back inside. Apparently not the most organized crew in the world, but they got the other vehicles settled and we were off.
 
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DSC04014 Note, there is barely enough clearance for me to squeeze between those vehicles. Jonathan actually had to get in and out of the van via the back hatch.
 
On the way, we talked with a nice lady who owned a bed and breakfast (currently closed for vacation) on the island. As we talked, we learned about the nice places on the island, where she had traveled, and Nicaraguan life in general. Apparently they had in just recent years initiated taxes on the island. The locals were outraged. It was funny to hear that the locals thought it was ridiculous that they had to pay for the road that was being constructed in front of their place. Previously, grants or donations or loans from other countries like Japan paid for such upgrades. The lady, an American expat, had to explain to her friends that that was how the rest of the world works. During the ride, a storm came up suddenly and started the drenching everything in sight. The ferry’s front door had a window missing, so we were getting sprayed a bit, despite everything being closed up. It passed quickly though.
 
When we arrived on the island, we simply drove off the ferry and started following the GPS. When we turned left instead of the right that I was expecting, I was immediately concerned that the GPS would be taking us the slower, bumpier route. So I was pleasantly surprised to find the paved road continued outside of town (our map showed differently). That pleasantness didn’t last long, though. Within a mile, the pavement ended and we were on the bumpy road that I had been expecting. Jonathan hadn’t read the same things I had, so he thought that road might get better. I had read that roads on the eastern half of the island were exactly this and we were proceeding directly along the eastern half of the island. Jonathan thought it might change at the split in the road. When it only got worse, we decided to turn around and take the slightly-lengthier-but-less-bumpy-and-probably-quicker route along the western half of the island. We basked in the smooth ride on the pavement.
 
The island was interesting to drive. The locals’ attitude to the road and the cars reminded me of my hometown’s attitude. They simply walked down the middle of the road and expected the car to yield to them. This was especially bad at 3pm when we got off the ferry because school had just gotten out and the kids were walking home. Another interesting part was the airstrip. It was perpendicular to the road and went right through the road. Literally. There wasn’t a bridge or underpass or anything. They just put up fences around the air strip with gates where the road intersected it. These were left open most of the time, and then there were orange cones along the airstrip where the road was so that they knew they couldn’t have anyone land or take off.
 
As we got to the isthmus connecting the two mountains and turned onto the east side, I was again expecting the road the turn into unpaved bumpiness as every mile passed by. But I guess a lot has changed in last year and the road has been paved from Moyagalpa to Altagracia (along the western side) to Balgue. So we were pleasantly surprised to find all of our path completely paved except from the turn off the main road to Finca Magdalena. The less-than-one-mile road to Finca Magdalena was more of what we had been expecting for the entire eastern side—slow and bumpy, but we made it safely.
 

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Finca Magdalena is at the red pushpin. Balgue is just north of that. You can see how it doesn’t look like it will be a good road to there.
 
By this time it was about 4 or 5 pm. We got situated, made some dinner and then I required a movie. My finger was throbbing and I was tired. When I hurt, I like stories—whether it is in a book or movie, but movies are easier. So we pulled out the bed and pulled up House, M.D., Season 3. We have been watching it since we left Tulsa, so we watched another two episodes before falling asleep.





















Friday, May 24, 2013

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

Wednesday

When we arrived in León, Nicaragua, we went to the two main volcano-boarding operators, Bigfoot and Quetzaltrekkers, to see if we could get signed up for it. We ended up signing up for an outing with Bigfoot, as they went every day and we wanted to get out of León sooner (Quetzaltrekkers was currently only doing Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I think).

DSC03929 Homemade natural pineapple juice, fried quesadilla with a sort of pico de gallo heavy with lime, and rice and beans for breakfast. Delicious!

Wednesday morning, after a breakfast of a delicious fried quesadilla-type meal, we decided to try to get Chuck’s exhaust tube fixed. It was “loose” on the muffler and would randomly move in and out of the muffler. It wouldn’t come off or anything, but it made Chuck quite noisy. We figured Central American mechanics could probably handle welding. Armed with a name and a spot on a map without street names, we ventured out to get Chuck fixed. With only a small detour because of a road closing, we made it easily to the mechanic’s place. As Jonathan’s post mentions, the setup didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but fixed us up. We only had one issue which was when they wanted the battery terminals disconnected. Jonathan was having a hard time getting it undone, since the van was so high. The mechanic brought up a chair, which I thought was for Jonathan. When I pointed it out Jonathan, he moved and the mechanic quickly got up instead. We were ok with that until he started beating at it. I yelled at him, and he backed off. With Jonathan at the appropriate height and the appropriate tool, he had it off in seconds. After that, they quickly and sufficiently welded the tube in place.

DSC03936 This is what happens when Chuck is put at a 45° angle with a full water tank: water leaks out and flows along underneath the floor.

On another note, we experienced our first bout of petty theft that day. Someone snatched two of our four blue tire valve caps. Not a big deal, we had two spare from replacing the tires in Guatemala, but it was annoying and the principal of the thing. Still, if we had to experience theft, this is a pretty minor and bearable experience.

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Later that afternoon, we arrived at Bigfoot Hostel just before 1pm to participate in boarding. As not too entirely unexpected in a party-style hostel and bar, we departed late. However, we only got about 1/3 of the way to Cerro Negro before it started raining. They put down the tarps, but without them being taught, most of us were getting dripped on. After about 10 minutes of sitting there in the rain (vehicle not moving for some unknown reason), we had just started moving again when they heard thunder. That canceled the outing for us, and we heading back to base. When we arrived, they said that they could take us the next morning and said that it would be from 8am to noon. While that wasn’t ideal, I wanted to go boarding, and we figured it would work out so we agreed.

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We spent the rest of the evening planning the rest of Nicaragua trip and watching TV in air conditioning. We did go out for dinner at Al Carbon. We accidentally came across it, but apparently it is rated #8 of restaurants to eat at in León.

DSC03940 They had a lovely courtyard. I want one.

 DSC03943 We had the beef fajitas and added some refried beans. Strangely enough, their fajitas don’t come with tortillas. We had to ask for those, but when they brought them, they had cut them into quarters, making them useless for fajitas.  The taste of the red-wine beef was fantastic, though. It made a good tostada made of the fried plantain.


Thursday

The GPS read 5pm, 15 minutes after closing of the Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, where we had planned to camp that night. There were still some rangers seated outside the entrance office, though, so I got out and went to talk to them. I asked if we could camp there. At first the young ranger said yes, but he looked back at his boss, who said no. That shot down, I thought I would try to at least sign up for the night tour that you had to sign up for at least a day in advance. When I asked about that, he said that wouldn’t be doing that for another 3 months. All plans for the next 2 days shot down, I returned tiredly to the van. What brought us to this? I am glad you asked.

We got up early to empty out the room and prepare to go volcano boarding, as we weren’t coming back to the hotel that night. After breakfast, we made it a few minutes early to Bigfoot Hostel. As the day before, they were slow to get started. They only got around to putting people in the car after I told them that we had to get out of León today. However, instead of going directly to the volcano, they had to stop for gas. (Step 1 in delaying us.) Then we were finally on our way. At least this time they didn’t stop for beer for the drive. After a long bumpy ride, we finally made it to the mountain.

DSC03962 Cerro Negro, the youngest volcano in Central America.

We were given our gear and started hiking. We started chatting with the guide as we hiked up the mountain. Turns out this tattoo-ridden, studded, pirate-look-alike was an avid bird watcher and gardener. Who knew we would have so much in common? They divided the hike up the short volcano into three 3 legs with reasonable breaks in between. However, even this was too much for our French girls. They were so tired by the second stop already that they didn’t even bother making their way all the way to the rest of group. Then again after the 3rd stop (which was an extremely long one so that the other groups ahead of us could do their business before we got there), they couldn’t make it up the easy trek along the top of the volcano. One of the guides had to go down and take their boards so that the could make it to the top, over 5 minutes after the rest of the group. (Step 2 in delaying us.)

DSC03994 The butts were all worn out on our suits.

Eventually (after the French girls had had sufficient break), they gave us the instructions for boarding. We walked down to the starting point in full gear. Boy did we look fabulous.  (BTW, one of the French girls started feeling sick at this point and delayed one of the guides even further. *sigh*) While we were up at the top of the mountain and waiting in line for our turn, insects of all kinds were plaguing the area. We had everything from grasshoppers to wasps (as I found out) landing on us, which is apparently a pretty rare phenomenon. I felt a bug hit my neck and I quickly smacked it off with my hand. This was a grave mistake. Whatever it was apparently had a stinger. I felt it immediately. I tell you, getting stung by a stinger is one of the worst feelings. With the stinger clinging to you, it feels like you have a 1-lb creature hanging onto you with its teeth. This continued to linger and turns out the stinger had dislodged into my middle finger and I actually had to pull it out. That little sting was extremely painful and I ended up with a swelling finger by the time we got down the mountain.

Back to boarding. We each got our turn to board (more like sled) down the mountain. It was pretty fun. I didn’t get going very fast, as suddenly my board started getting loads of ash covering it (not supposed to do that) and slowed it down. I really wanted a second chance at it, but Bigfoot only lets you go once (Quetzaltrekkers lets you go twice and provides a meal instead of mojitos—probably should have gone with them once the first thing was canceled).

We made it back promptly after the boarding. Since Jonathan and I don’t like mojitos, we negotiated showers instead since we no longer had our room at the hotel. We got cleaned off, then made our way to Panadería Pan y Paz for a quick lunch (Step 3 in delaying us, but probably worth as we were starving and it would have taken us longer to cook something). Then we hit the road.

As we started out, I checked the info on the place I wanted to go: Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, and discovered that we would be cutting it close, we needed to arrive by 4:45pm. We started out fine, but there is a section between León and Managua that was pretty bad (step 4 in delaying us). We had to go pretty slow to avoid another exhaust jamming or suspension beating. Then, finally with the road cooperating, we were making decent time. It was still borderline, but we had hopes in making. Sadly, a cop at a police checkpoint pulled us over. And, it wasn’t a quick one (5th and final step in delaying us). He wanted our documents, which I happily pulled out. Then he wanted an “eepeckyun.” At first I didn’t understand because he was dropping his s’s and trying to say inspección. Apparently in Nicaragua, locals are required to have a mechanical inspection of their vehicles. As far as anyone has ever said, that isn’t required for tourists. I tried to explain that to him. He was unyielding and said that he was going to take our permit and Jonathan’s driving license. I told him “I don’t understand,” etc. He sent his partner (boss, maybe?) over to talk to me. He was a bit more reasonable and easier to understand. First he noticed that the international driver’s permit I had given him needed his state driver license as well and said that he needed that. I gave it to him, hesitantly (didn’t want him to confiscate that as well, but I figured cooperating would be more effective). He said that he needed our inspection still, and try to say that Jonathan’s window wasn’t working, etc. I tried to explain that everything was working and that the permit that customs gave us said that we could drive in Nicaragua. He eventually accepted that and returned all our documents.  Time is your best defense against cops that are phishing in Central America.

After 15 minutes of police time, we were on the road again. If we hadn’t been stopped, we would have made it to the camping spot. But, that is how it goes. So, in the entrance area of Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya, we pulled out our campground lists and figured out where we could go that we could get to before dark. We made a choice to go to a marina in Granada. We arrived just in time for sunset.

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Mechanical Update: Cumulative

For those of you wondering how Chuck is doing on his longest roadtrip ever; look no further.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

As you know, Chuck was terrified of Central American roads.  So much so, that he attempted to fake lameness in a Wal-Mart parking lot in OK.  Since then, Chuck has mostly given up on lame attempts to get us to turn back, and is mostly having small problems to keep me on my toes. 

On Mexico’s south-west coast, he developed a spastic turn signal issue, that I finally traced to a cracked solder joint, in the multifunction flasher relay/unit.  When beating on the fuse panel fixes a wiring problem, you know its time for investigation. 
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Here is the dirty little bastard apart.  I had to drop the fuse panel to pull it.
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One free internet to the person who can spot the cracked solder joint on this PCB.

DSC02856 I then got my solder on; well I had to hunt for a outlet first.

A few minutes and some super-glue later, Chuck was street legal once more. 

Somewhere in Guatemala the high-pressure water line under the sink developed a leak.  Can you say wet dishes?  Took me a couple of days to track it down to a nick in the water line under a hose clamp.  Why it waited until the middle of nowhere to spring, I cannot comment.  A roll of paper towels, and an hour on my back had this one beat. 

As explained in Tubo de Escape and Other Capers, on the way to Semuc Champey, we trashed a tire on some hidden debris, 8-ply sidewalls?  Meaningless.  The next day we had some more exhaust carnage.  Much more than we experienced on road construction in the Grand Tetons.   We got this damage partially repaired in Guatemala City, the muffler itself is internally damaged.  We got it patched up in a dirt yard on some Sketchy (yes, sketchy with a capital S) ramps in León, Nicaragua.
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Certainty in the skills of “El Aguila” was not inspired on first site.  However, they had an actual sign, which counts for way more than it should down here. 
 
DSC03930 Chuck gets a lift, the 2nd edition.  No amount of money would convince me to work under there.

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Your friendly neighborhood Nicaraguan muffler dudes. 
At this point there was a guy directly behind us (I kid you not) repairing/assembling/body-working a car with a hammer, chisel, and some sketchy pliers.  It had been in a total-out-worthy head-on collision. I will say that it looked nearly drivable.  

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With the outlet welded up and braced, we were set to go.

We have had this intermittent (read; impossible to replicate for testing) power loss issue.  Usually (but not always) happens when going uphill.  Nearly complete power loss at upper throttle levels, backfiring, and poor idle.  Stop the engine for a few minutes, or a few rough bumps/turns and it goes away.  Might be a wiring issue, could be junk in the fuel tank/filters.  It isn’t bad enough to be fixable.  So until another symptom appears, I am just gonna roll it.  Or maybe I will get bored and starting tearing things apart.  Meh, its way too hot to be that motivated…

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Quick Pass through Honduras

Monday
When we backed out of our camping spot that morning, a palm tree attacked our mirror. While it doesn’t look like it should be that bad, our mirror was on pretty secure. Before it broke the mirror off, it bent up the door post pretty badly, resulting in the window not being able to roll down and the door not sealing properly. What a way to start the day.

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We decided to go ahead and cross into Honduras on this day. But, we needed to obtain a set of reflecting triangles (like semis use when they pull off on the side of the road), which are required in Honduras as well as a fire extinguisher. So, we decided to see if we could find anything in La Unión. Sadly, our guidebook led us astray and there was no cyber café where they said it would be. There was a hardware store (ferretería), but they didn’t have any nor know where we could find one, so we moved on.

When we were about 2 km from the border, there is a checkpoint where the border official cancels your vehicle permit (see process if interested). Immediately, we were assaulted with men offering to help us. All I wanted was a copy of my permit so that I could get it stamped when we got our other permit canceled (one of the requirements). They were offering to get the copies or something for $5. No way. So I got out and found a copy shop. They made the copy for $0.10. Much better. I got back in the van with Jonathan and went to the stop. They had us pull off and bring them the permit. The official took them, stamped them, and then explained that I could walk across and get the three more copies I needed of the canceled permit for free. That was nice. I got the copies. I needed a few more copies of a couple of other things, though. So I went back to the original place and got a few more copies of my other documents.

We found the El Salvador side of the border, and got our passports stamped. Then we were allowed to leave for Honduras. This was the interesting part. In Honduras, as soon as you cross the bridge, we got stopped by customs, they asked for all our paperwork and then took off with it and ask us to follow. However, just as soon as customs agent started down the road, we were pulled over by the Honduran police. He wanted to make sure we had a fire extinguisher and two reflecting triangles. We showed him the fire extinguisher, but told him we couldn’t find a place that sold the triangles. A “helpful” guide there said he could take us to a store that sells them, so I followed him to get the triangles. Turns out you also have to have red/white reflecting tape on your vehicle as well. So I spent a whopping $33 for the two triangles and 6 strips of tape, talk about extortion. By this point I was very flustered. I couldn’t see the customs agent anywhere, and he had our vehicle title and registration, etc. Jonathan was left alone with the Honduran police officer and I had just paid way too much money. Then I had to clean off the van and put on the stickers (btw, I really don’t like stickers). Apparently the police officer had given up with Jonathan after I left and walked over to the other side of the road to watch in the shade.

Finally, cleared with the police, the customs official had returned when I was putting on the stickers. I asked him about parking. He said there was a spot in front of the customs building. And the guide that had attached onto me stuck with us. I told him that I didn’t have any money for a guide, but he and the customs official said it was a free service; well that was nice. We got parked and followed them into the customs building. Personally, I thought this was backwards and turns out it was. The lady official there, obviously the one who knew what was going (have I told you how much I love women workers in a predominantly-male career?), saw us and asked if we had been to immigration yet. We said no; she gave us our passports back and sent us there, our guide directing us to the location. We were given forms to fill out and told it would cost $3pp. As I filled out the forms, I apparently took too long… A large group of people filled in before us. So we got back in line, but apparently our definition of personal space is much larger than theirs, and another person cut in front of us. I gave out an exasperated sigh, and the guide helping the guy who cut in front of us told him that he had cut and he let us ahead. Muchas gracias. We paid and got our cards and receipts and stamps.

I had read that we would need copies of our passport stamp, so our guide took us over to a copy shop to get them. Turns out we didn’t need that. So much for our guide knowing what he was doing. We went back to customs and the friendly, breath-of-fresh-air agent. She got all of our paperwork lined up. Her stamps were worn out though, so I had to read her the words on the stamp so that she could put the correct information on the passport’s vehicle import. When she finished, she needed two copies of everything. I had copies already of everything but the permit, the title, and her stamp. So, we walked back to the copy shop. By this time our guide had left us, as we pretty much knew what we were doing. And, lesson learned, I will not make copies of anything until they ask for it. Trying to have what they need beforehand has just been wasting money and I still have to go back and get a copy of whatever they do. As an added bonus, they didn’t need to inspect the van, nor did they ask about vegetables or meat.

Other than the fiasco with the police right when we crossed the border, the crossing was rather painless. We were now cleared to travel through Honduras. We had been warned that in 2012, there were 14 police checkpoints in this 80-mile stretch of highway between El Salvador and Nicaragua. This time, there were only 5, I think and we were only stopped by the ones at the borders. Only the first one asked about our equipment. Thus, we made it without incident to Hotel Gualiqueme, our next camping spot. We parked in their parking lot, and took advantage of the pool and air-conditioned lobby. We even found a laundry mat in the parking area that cleaned our clothes for us. We were in heaven.

Tuesday

We decided to finish our journey through Honduras and head into Nicaragua.  Our travels took us from Choluteca to the border town, Guasaule. The roads there were pretty miserable with huge potholes riddling the road. We were thankful if we found half a kilometer stretch that didn’t require us to dodge a pothole.

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One of our guidebooks, Life Remotely, described this crossing as hell iced over. Basically, it was supposed to look like a bomb had gone off and the people were supposed to be sketch, etc. Fortunately, a year changes things. We found the border in a completely-renovated condition. Instead of the debris-lined area with the immigration officer sitting outside to escape the heat, there was a freshly-painted (and being painted) yellow building with lots of nice parking. It was air-conditioned inside. You can enter on either side and cross over to the other side, but the southwest side was customs and the northeast side was immigration. We went to each side, got our stamps and approvals in minutes and we allowed to proceed to Nicaragua.
When we crossed into Nicaragua, we were fumigated and waved over to pay the bill and get insurance. There was a bit of a cat fight with the insurance ladies over who was going to get to provide us insurance. It cost the same ($12), so I didn’t care and one eventually allowed the other work with me.  All that taken care of, we were told that the vehicle permit would be free, but tourist cards would cost $12. They pointed to where the immigration/customs building was, but I had a hard time seeing/understanding. We followed the instructions in our book about turning a sharp left, but as we did, Jonathan saw someone point us to a different area. So he went where they pointed. We determined that it was a semi-only area and kept searching. Eventually, we made it all the way to the end of the border area and the guys there asked for our paperwork from immigration and customs. I told him that we missed them and asked for more instructions. Still uncertain, but determined to find it, we turned around. This time, we found it, but we were on the leaving Nicaragua side, not that it mattered. We got money at the ATM there, which surprisingly didn’t charge us any transaction fee.

We went to the immigration line and provided our passports and fees. After a few questions, the guy told us to go to the next window to get our change and cards. This part was a bit confusing as the next window said closed, but a guy stepped up to it and started doing work. Eventually, Jonathan could see them holding our passports and such, so we knew we were at the right spot. After several minutes, he provided us with everything. Onto customs. As I learned at the last crossing, I didn’t make any copies of any of the documents until they asked for it. This was a good thing as they didn’t ask for any copies. I think they scanned or printed a copy of the documents for themselves, but they didn’t ask anything of me. That was super nice. A few minutes later, we had all our documents. Other than having a hard time finding the immigration and customs buildings, it was one of the nicest border crossing experiences we had had.

Back on the road, we made our way to León. The roads were much better than in Honduras, although potholes still occasionally littered the roads. When we hit León, I tried navigating to one of the places I had picked out in our Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring guide. Turns out the book’s map is rather off. Between the map being off, the crazy one-way traffic, and few street signs in León, I had Jonathan park. I thought it would be much easier and calmer to try to figure things out on foot. Well, it was and it wasn’t. The map was still off. But we knew where a couple of places were, and just as we were about to give up and see if Bigfoot Hostel would have space for a van, we saw the place I had been looking for: Hotel Real. They were supposed to have a great view and nice, air-conditioned rooms, which is a necessity in the humid heat of León. As an added bonus, they had parking reserved in front of their business with a night guard. They showed us a room, and despite the high price tag of $49US, we took it. We went and grabbed the van and then came in and turned the A/C on full blast. It was wonderful. I have never appreciated A/C so much.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Iron Vans in El Salvador

Saturday

We went to explore Joya de Cerén, the supposed Pompeii of Central America Mayan sites. Albeit small, this site was really unique. Back before the Spanish discovered Central America, several Mayan villages and cities were covered in several layers of ash by a nearby volcano. Under 14 layers of ash, these sites went undiscovered until 1976, when a bulldozer, in the process of trying to level the ground, cut through a building. When they realized what they had found, archeologists were called in to investigate. Using state-of-the-art technology, they were able to find 18 buildings, covered by ash. Ten of these have been excavated and can be viewed.

While Jonathan and I had been exploring Mayan Ruins for nearly a month at this point, these ruins were rather unique. It was a village of commonplace folk, not the religious and commercial centers that we were used to seeing. Normally, the villages, made of more perishable materials, did not make it to modern day to be studied.

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It was really cool how you could see the remnants of the farms and orchards around each grouping. Each grouping consisted of a domicile, a storage room, and a building that had a function for the community, as though each family was responsible for a certain aspect of the community. One had a meeting room, another the “clinic,” and another a sweat lodge.

DSC03874 The sweat lodge, used for cleansing the spirit and the body. The dome on the roof has caved in a bit.

DSC03881 The “clinic.” The cross-hatching rectangle there was a window of sorts.

They had made an enlarged reconstruction of the temazcal, sweat lodge.

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DSC03884 Under that sphere inside, they would have a fire lit. They used the wood plug in the dome above the door to regulate the temperature. It was pretty neat.

After that, we started driving over the eastern half El Salvador, which took us directly through San Salvador. Thursday, when we were driving to the water park, we saw a Chili’s symbol on someone’s car. Jonathan said, “If they have a Chili’s here, I would like to eat at it just for kicks.” Remembering that, I pulled up the GPS and found that the Chili’s wasn’t far off our route, so I added it. We soon found the Chili’s and some parking.

DSC03896 You know you are not in the US when there is a guard watch tower in the parking lot.

DSC03892 Both remarkably and unsurprisingly, the Chili’s decorations were exactly the same as in the States, even down to the restroom signs.

DSC03893 The menu was even the same, except the descriptions were in Spanish, plus it looked like it was last year’s menu. And, they even had a non-chocolate dessert, which was an improvement over the US.

We appreciate the simple things anymore: Heinz ketchup, air conditioning, and well-cooked meals. Jonathan got his favorite: Texas Cheese Fries. I must say, these were the best cheese fries, I have ever seen. The cheese was evenly distributed and nicely melted, the jalepeños were seeded, and nothing was burned. Fantastic! Unfortunately, they didn’t have the Shiner Bock burger, our favorite at Chili’s, so we tried their fajita pita, an item we hadn’t seen before on the menu (and felt relatively El Salvadorian as a restaurant that served typical El Salvadorian food had a fajita pita). When we got it, I wondered if we had chosen poorly, but it was actually really good. The onions and peppers had been cooked to perfection, and the meat was tender and delicious. All and all, a wonderful meal. A bit more expensive than in the States, but worth it, after not having to cook and getting air conditioning for the first time since the Walmart in Guatemala City.

DSC03895 Chili’s Fajita Pita.

Afterwards, we needed internet, so we asked the waiter if he knew of a place nearby. He said there was a Starbucks just down the way. We wandered down La Gran Via, the pedestrian road down the middle of a nice shopping mall. It was like little America, with English music playing and places like Bennigan’s and Starbucks. There was even a Cinemark movie theater. The theater is what caught my eye, as Jonathan got caught up on emails, I went over and scoped out the showings. There was English-audio, Spanish-subtitled, non-3D version of Iron Man 3 playing at 1:30pm! And the tickets were only $4.25 each. I thought it was a deal and proceeded to convince Jonathan of such. We decided to go. There was an electronic ticket kiosk there, so we went there to purchase tickets. In the process, we got to choose where we wanted to sit when we purchased the seats, like when you go to the opera. And, everything only cost $7, which I thought was a steal. Inside, it was air-conditioned, but perhaps they needed to change their filters, as it smelled of mildew. The seats were fairly comfortable, though, and the screen quality decent. So I finally got to watch Iron Man 3, and greatly enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we found out that fellow overlanders and vanagon owners, Vanenvan.com, were only about 30 miles north of our current location. And, as we were now too short on daylight to get to where we had planned on going that day, we decided we go to the same town they were, Suchitoto. As we navigated the roads to the town, we soon discovered why you should not drive at night in Central America (again). There were manholes and storm drains that were missing their covers. They were truckeaters. To top it off, the manholes weren’t consistently in the same place relative to the road every time. So it wasn’t safe to stick to a certain path, thinking you would avoid them.

DSC03897 See how scary these look? And, don’t think just because they are on the side that they are avoidable. Lanes in Central America are often awfully narrow, combined with pedestrians, bicyclers, motorcyclists, and buses weaving on and off the road, that foot and a half on the edge of the road are often used.

We finally reached our new destination, but sadly didn’t see the van of our fellow travelers. Ironically, they heard us coming through town and saw us. Our broken exhaust is pretty distinguishable. However, we were down the road and away before they could catch us. And we left the next morning before they made it down to the lake.

Sunday

After being distracted by Chili’s and Iron Man, we decided to proceed ahead to eastern El Salvador. Our guidebook portrayed Playa El Esteron as being near La Unión, so I typed that into the GPS. But, turns out they aren’t that close and when coming from the west, there is a quicker way to get there than traveling from La Unión. However, I didn’t discover that until too late. So we drove a little more than necessary that day. It also required us to take a back way into the beach area, but at least there were signs. We weren’t quite sure where we were going to camp that night. There were some room options, but our guidebook didn’t mention any camping. And, when we arrived, we didn’t even see the hotels mentioned in the book. So we got out and started walking around. One area looked promising. There was grass and palms right next to the beach. There was a $2 entrance fee, but no one came to take our money. While I was standing in front of the restaurant, waiting to talk to someone, a guy pointed me towards some cabins. We started walking that way and we saw a gringo come out from behind the cabins. He saw us and hailed us, saying that we looked a little lost. I told him, maybe. He thought we were looking for La Tortuga Verde down the road. I told him, kinda, but we were mostly looking for a place to camp. Turns out the guy we were talking to owns both La Tortuga Verde and the locals’ beach place we were at and he was more than happy to let us camp for the same rate we had been paying elsewhere in El Salvador.

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We spent the day in a hammock and tried an iced treat there. I was expecting something similar to a sno cone. It wasn’t remotely like it. He added fruit on top of the ice, and then covered everything in really sweet and thick syrups, finishing it off with condensed milk. Really strong, but at least it was cold.

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That evening, we made meatloaf for dinner, using my oven, silicone bakeware, and thermometer. It actually went fairly well and was pretty tasty.

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