Mexico. Eventually after three attempts……

Our last night in Antigua we spent as guests in Brant’s Hostel as we no longer had Michelle.
It was going to be a hard adjustment to make. No freedom to travel as we chose.  We’d be tied to schedules. We now have to stay in hotels and eat restuarant food!
In other words we’d just become ordinary tourists

We left early in the morning on a shuttle bus filled with happy, young backpackers for San Christobal. 
There were two ex South African girls, now living in Australia. A young Israeli girl, a young Dutch couple, a British couple and a family from France.
We had lots of laughs. Luckily we’d learnt to adapt to anything that came our way and enjoyed ourselves too. Especially me who was able to relax and enjoy the scenery for a change!

Back at the La Mesilla border for the second time we had a surprise when we came out of immigration.

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A Palomino the same as ours, but on the back of a Toyota!!
Was it there just to torment us?

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We had to wait for our new transport to pick us up on the Mexican side of the border.

In San Christobal that evening we had to find a place to stay. The first hostel we tried was full. They recommended a few others to try. We’d already dragged our massive pile of luggage to the first hostel and had barely made it!

We asked if we could leave it all there until we found a place and set off by foot. We couldn’t find the first recommendation but fortunately the next place we tried was ideal and we booked in.
We fetched our luggage in a taxi and afterwards looked for a place to eat and get a much needed drink.
Will we ever adjust to this form of travel????

San Christobal is a lovely old city with many beautiful buildings. We were staying near to the Plaza so headed in that direction.

Looking for a restuarant that served regular food we ordered a very tasty schwarma and a salad, which we shared.
To celebrate, I had a cerveza and Solveig red wine and a bucket of ice, followed by wonderful cinnamon flavoured iced coffee…. A lovely end to our first day in Mexico! At Last!!

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The next day we explored San Christobal.

Sue and Pieter had said that it was their favourite Mexican City and it cetainly looked as if it could be our favourite too….
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The streets were filled with colourful people and musicians which all add to the soul of the city.
We checked out the bus options and found tickets to Mexico City on an overnight luxury bus. Expensive – about the same as flying – but we’d save on the hotel expense for the night!
We’d also been dying to try bus travel as an alternate method of getting around.

We enjoyed our stay in San Christobal for another three days before bussing out.
While there Solveig came out with a massive itchy rash all over her body. So off to see a doctor. The big surprise was the visit was free!! He diagnosed an allergy of sorts and also found she had hypertension which she’ll have to see to when home again.

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We weren’t cooking for ourselves any longer and had to get used to eating out in the colourful restuarants.
So many amazing dishes to try…..We even found a favourtite treat of ours – Chorros – a crispy doughnut-like deepfried pastry, with a cinnamon and sugar coating. Yummy!
Haven’t had those since our last visit!

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The bus left in the evening and was almost in Mexico City by the time we awoke.

It was a pleasure for me to just relax and watch the countryside pass by even though we weren’t able to stop on the way.

I’d found a weekend special on Booking.com for a Howard Johnson hotel in the centre of Mexico City and we took a controlled fare taxi from the bus terminal. We were amazed at the absence of traffic from the centre of the city (other than public transport, commercial vehicles and taxis). It was so much quieter than the previous times we’d been there.
Considering that it’s the largest city in the world it’s a miracle. The controlling of which vehicles may enter the city, and when they may, really works.

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It was great to be back again. I’m sorry Sue, but Mexico City must take the prize for being our favourite city in Mexico with its many parks and historic buildings.
We returned to the Grand Hotel near the Zócalo where we’d stayed before. The Zócalo is the main Plaza of the city and has been since the Aztecs. image

The hotel is magnificent with its stained glass ceiling, bird cages and wrought iron elevators.
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We enjoyed returning to all our favourite sites using the topless city tour bus.

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But our stay was dampened somewhat by Solveig not being fully recovered yet. We took the intercity bus through the beautiful countryside once again in comfortable luxury to San Luis Potisi, our next stop.

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San Luis Potisi, Gisela’s home town…..She married our nephew Ryan. We were sorry we hadn’t attended their wedding there 5 years before…..

We spent a few days staying with Gisela’s parents, Juan Luis and Carmen.

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Coco, her aunt and Sissi her sister also accompanied us while we were being royally treated.
What wonderful hosts they all were. We’re so glad we’d made the decision to include San Luis Potisi.
A highlight was our day trip to the hacienda where Ryan and Gisela were married. A Christening was taking place there and luckily we were included on the guest list! Juan Luis and Solveig at the Hacienda…

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So we got a taste of what the wedding might have been like. What a party!

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We also visited an old mining town outside of San Luis Potisi .

When we sadly had to say goodbye to our generous hosts, we undertook an 18 hour journey to Houston in USA in another overnight (and all day) bus trip.

Our thoughts on bussing ?
A comfortable way to travel offering an alternative to flying. The cost is much the same; it takes a lot longer; you don’t see that much on the ground as much of the time we travelled was at night; during the day we never stopped anywhere half decent, only service stations. Not a suitable way to overland. Renting a car and staying in the same accommodation as we did would have been a far better option. We’d give it a try in the USA.

Our final thoughts on our stay in Mexico were that the experience would have been so much better in Michelle. We had been so looking forward to that. It was to have been the highlight of our entire journey. But that wasn’t to be unfortunately.

But we’d done it very differently and still had a great time there. Thanks to the wonderful people that made us so welcome.

Guatemala. The return.

As the impact of being turned away at the border sank in, we were devastated.

We examined the options…..
1. We could try again at a different border. Maybe it was the official that didn’t understand our documents.
2. We could ship the camper to USA.
3. We could forge the papers required.
4. Or sell the camper in Guatemala.

We drove back to Panajachel.The rain had stopped and we made better time.
We still arrived at the lake after dark but fortunately knew where to go.

In the morning we met a couple camping there too. Richie and Leeza. A young couple from the USA travelling in Central America. We told them of our problem. They suggested we alter our vehicle’s title papers.
We just couldn’t afford to take this chance. If things went wrong the consequences were unimaginable – it was also against our principles – and we decided to make another attempt at getting into Mexico.
The next day we left for the Tucan Uman and Hidalgo border for another attempt.
This time a very decent Mexican customs official who could speak English gave us the full story. We were not going to get through with the papers we had. He suggested the only solution would be to sell the vehicle in Guatemala.
So we returned to Antigua where we felt we had a better chance in getting a solution to our dilemma. Back to the Tourist Police campsite.

We were overjoyed to meet Andre and Monique there. The Belgians we’d met on the ferry. So much had taken place since then! A new couple from France were there too.

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Everybody had so much advice for us, it was confusing.

The police commissioner at the camp knew of somebody at a different border who had a contact in the Mexican customs that could fix our papers for $300.
After much deliberation we decided to try and sell the camper in Guatemala. It felt like the best solution for us. We felt comfortable with that.

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We needed to inform Sue and Pieter of our problem as the car was registered in his name. So we went to the Rainbow Cafe where we had spent a lot of time on our previous visit to Antigua.
We were definitely being looked after. Someone there informed us of a local advertising site on Facebook that sold everything you could imagine. He was a young British visitor that had arrived in Antigua to learn Spanish 8 years before. Fell in love with the country, and a lucky lady, then never returned to England.
Oh boy did we meet amazing people!

Solveig made contact and we posted details and a few photographs of the camper on the site.
Back to the campsite to await replies.

More surprises awaited us there.
Richie and Leeza had returned from their short trip to the Atlantic and the towns of Livingston and Rio Dulce.
The Brazilian writers, Roy and Michelle, who we’d met in Panama had also arrived!

It was like the final act in a play with all the characters appearing on the stage! With so many good vibes around we must be successful!

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Was this another good omen? Volcan Fuego which had erupted recently was smoking again!

We had three enquiries by the next day!! ONE WAS POSITIVE!

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Here I am with the new owners counting the money!

The camper was purchased by Brant who owned a Hostel in Antigua and Jan. They were opening a campsite on the coast. The camper was needed for alternate accomodation and the van for transport to and from the coast.

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A sad moment for us as the camper was dismantled for storage until they were ready to take it to the coast.

We had sooo many memories of the wonderful time we’d spent in Michelle on the most fantastic journey we’d undertaken.

We looked into the various options that lay before us completing our fairytale journey.

We chose to take a shuttle bus to San Christobal in Mexico and then a luxury bus to Houston. At least we would be able to say we’d gone overland all the way.
We looked forward to continuing our adventure and booked our places on a shuttle.

Guatemala

After another easy border crossing we headed for Antigua having decided not to stay over in Guatemala City. However we stopped for coffee at a Gallery on the outskirts. Amazing contemporary furniture was on display in many of the galleries and shops.
At the coffee shop there was a deli section that sold imported foods and sauces that also sold Appletiser and Grapetiser!

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When we left the gallery I had trouble getting the car into gear. The clutch wasn’t working as it should. Back on the freeway the traffic was terrible. It took over an hour to bypass Gautemala City. The difficulty I was having with the gears didn’t help either.
By the time we arrived in Antigua there was no clutch at all. We camped at the Tourist Police parking lot. It was amongst ruins left by an earthquake. And it was free!

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The police were friendly and very helpful. They gave me the contact details of a garage that could repair the clutch. It was Friday so we had to wait until Monday before seeing them.

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Fortunately we were staying on the edge of the town and could walk everywhere.

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The timing of our visit couldn’t have been better.

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The biggest festival of it kind in the whole of Latin America was being held in Antigua that weekend.

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Samana Santa.

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The streets were decorated with dyed sawdust forming beautiful patterns and combined with corn, greenery and flowers.

Jacarandas in full bloom!
Something we’d noticed the whole way through South America was the wonderful display of Jacarandas and Bougainvilleas. And now here again in Guatemala.

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The procession of floats, bands and people dressed in purple, walked over the decorations destroying them in the process.

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So much hard work had gone into preparing them too.

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On Monday the garage fetched the camper and took it in for diagnosis. They spent the whole day removing the gearbox and clutch assembly so we had to sleep in the garage that night! We were actually locked in between 6pm and 7 30am!
The next morning we received the quotation as the parts had to be brought in from Gautemala City. The problem lay in the master cylinder, but the clutch plate and flywheel were very badly worn and needed replacement too.
We spent another two nights sleeping in the garage while the work was carried out.

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Luckily we were in Antigua, one of the prettiest cities we’d been in, with it’s colourful people and their wares.

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We found a number a very good restuarants and coffee shops in town where we were able to connect to wifi.

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The crafts were exceptionally good and Solveig found a stunning new jacket design. There was lots to keep us busy.

As soon as the car was ready we left Antigua for Lago Atitlan. The car was back to normal and it was a pleasure to drive. On the way we detoured to Iximche, the site of ancient Mayan ruins near Tecpan…

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The decent to Lake Atitlan was terribly steep and passed through a small town, Solala, to Panajachel on the lake shore. We arrived as it was getting dark. Luckily there was a wonderful campsite right on the edge of the lake under trees.

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The calm lake waters were also an ideal place for fishing.

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We went into Panajachel in the morning to buy provisions and we could see immediately why the town had been a hippie favourite in the 70’s

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Solveig bought some items from this Argentinian couple.

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The town was filled with crafters on the sidewalks selling their crafts and the restuarants still had old hippies, that had returned to live here, reminiscing about the good old days.

A boat taxi service operated around the lake that locals used to get to their small villages that were otherwise cut off. We took the taxi to nearby Santa Cruz la Laguna…

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The next day we awoke to find the weather had changed. As it looked like rain we headed off once again for the border, this time at La Mesilla. It was a long drive on mountain passes and through valleys so we stopped for the night in San Domingo near to the border.

The next morning we awoke, excited that we would be in Mexico in time for my birthday. 20 years before we’d celebrated my 50th there and it seemed fitting that we should celebrate my 70th there too.

But it was not to be !!! We went through imigration without a problem but were turned away when we tried to get a T.I.P. for the camper.
Even though we owned the vehicle it had not been transfered into my name. As it was registered in USA we could only do that there.
We had paperwork which had been drawn up by a lawyer in Argentina that got us through each of the eleven countries we gone through without a problem. But Mexico had different requirements for the tempory importing of vehicles we were informed by the customs officials.
With our tail between our legs we returned to Panajachel to decide what to do next…..!!

Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador

We were sad to leave Costa Rica but still had more countries to visit and time was getting shorter. We loved it so much and could very easily come back for a longer stay now that we have had a taste.
We were up early to leave and in two minds about what to do.
We’d pulled over to the side of the road to take pictures when the Belgians drove past and hooted. This made up our minds for us!

We had to pay to exit Costa Rica! And to enter Nicaragua, in US $.

Nicaragua

We found the countryside to be very similar to Costa Rica. The roadsides were also similar, but with fewer small towns on the route.
We carried on all the way to Managua, the capitol. It was getting late. As we were in a city there was no chance of wildcamping.
We headed for a campsite indicated on our GPS map. It was dreadful! We decided we couldn’t possible pay to stay there, but rather book into something decent!

We’d passed what looked like a Motel and returned to it. The Colibrí Auto Motel. We were guided into the property by a night watchman and parked undercover and entered a huge dimly lit room. When our eyes adjusted to the low light the first thing we noticed was a huge bed, jacuzzi and a glass walled shower…..and mirrors everywhere…. including above the jacuzzi and bed!

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A bell rang from a metal door in the wall. I opened it and there was our bill. I left the money and later found the receipt! No human contact. All very discrete!
There was this apparatus in the room. At first we thought it to be exercise equipment but then there was this chart on the wall that showed how it should be used……

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There were no bedside lamps in the room so we couldn’t read that night !!!

Refreshed, the next day we were off Granada but stopped at Masaya on the way and found a lovely market with really good local crafts.

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Something we’d seen so often on our trip is a Shoe Shiner

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Granada……

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Another special Hispanic Colonial city with beautiful buildings and Plaza.

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The city also had its quota of colourful buildings, galleries and eateries.

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After a tasty lunch we left for Leon, the last town before the Honduras border.

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We arrived at sunset and camped between some trucks at a garage.

The next day we went to the nearby coast and had lunch at a seaside restuarant after taking photos…
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There was nowhere we felt like staying so we returned to Leon and booked into a Motel. We wanted to freshen up before our trip through Honduras the next day.

Honduras

Up early and on our way again. We had to cross two borders in one day as we’d heard and read so much bad news of the unsafe conditions in Honduras.
We’d decided not to take any chances and take the advice of those in the know and spend as little time there as possible.
The border crossing was no different to usual and the officials seemed to be the same as everywhere else.
The roads were perhaps a little more potholed and the people seem to be very poor.

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We came across this colourful bus…

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At a stop for coffee and something to eat we chatted to the staff running the restuarant and they were friendly. Then we continued to the second border, only 110kms from the first one. We’d chosen the narrowest part of the country to cross through.
Again we had no problems as we crossed into El Salvador.
We’ve often found negativity written about most of the countries we’ve been through. It’s been published in the travel guide books. In nearly every country you’re told to be careful about everything from pick pockets to hijackings.
One must not take unnecessary risks and do stupid things obviously. But our thoughts are that one has to experience the countries for oneself before making any judgement.
By avoiding big cities as we have – due to the inconvenience it would have caused us with the difficulty in finding suitable camping facilities in cities, and also taking the camper into busy streets – is probably the reason we found things to be pleasant and safe.

So I’m not about to bad mouth Honduras like others have. We didn’t have enough time there to make a fair appraisal.

El Salvador

Our first night we wild camped at a garage in San Miguel. A very poverty stricken and run down town. We didn’t stay there longer than necessary.
The next day we continued our journey and bypassed San Salvador, the capitol. Our route was through rustic villages.and beautiful countryside….

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The properties had high walls with broken glass bottles on top of them to prevent easy entry. The roadside restaurants were behind strong security gates which were closed. Not very inviting for the tourist.

We eventually arrived in Santa Ana which had a lovely Plaza and church.

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The inside was stunning….
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Santa Ana seemed to be so much better. I even found a cellphone shop that said they could repair my phone and I could get it back the next day.

The market place reminded us of our trip in Africa……
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The ladies were dressed in colourful aprons and the men all wore cowboy hats. We had lunch in a lovely courtyard

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That night we booked into another Auto Motel! This time no jacuzzi but a mirror above the bed and a soft red light was the only illumination.
As someone later said, at least we knew the linen had been changed and the facilities were all disinfected and spotlessly clean!!
The proprietors were friendly ladies and realised we only wanted a room to sleep in!
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The following day we fetched my cell. It had not been repaired. I decided to leave it until our return home and battle on charging the battery externally.
We headed for the border, paid $20 taxes and left without any problems for Guatemala and the Myan ruins, crafts and culture…….