RUGGED, WILD AND FREE EL SALVADOR

Here I am in Costa Rica, sorting out my pictures and filling my Salvador images in a folder and realize that the only blog entry I’ve posted about my visit to El Salvador was somewhat negative and doesn’t do credit to the wonderful reception I’ve had in this beautiful and friendly tiny country.

So here is a rendition of the wonderful places I visited in my 2 weeks in El Salvador. The people are very friendly and so happy to see tourists coming into their country. They are proud of their culture and want to share it with visitors. They welcome the influx of business tourism attracts and are grateful to visitors.

My first stop in El Salvador was wonderful but ended on a sour note as per my blog “playas y maras”. Unfortunately that atmosphere of insecurity followed me, no matter where I stayed. Other than the incident with the local mafia on the beach, there was no other. Everywhere I went I was very welcomed but always warned about my safety.

My first encounter with Salvadorians was actually in Guatemala where I had a lovely young couple, Jessica and Eric for neighbors at Easter. Jessica is an interior designer and Eric a gym teacher in a private English school. Both young, dynamic, educated and speaking English fluently. We exchanged contact information.20170415_095418

After Garita Palmera, I drove the beautiful winding mountain road aptly called la rota de las flores to the small town of Juayua. I arrived on a Monday and the town was dead – all the stores and restaurants were closed, not a tourist in sight. I walked around discovering a charming little town with towering peaks shrouded in mist in the distance. I noticed a woman with a hair salon inside her house and decided to treat myself to a $2 haircut. My shampoo was done with icy cold water and when I yelped in surprise, the husband, who was just sitting there, watching his wife work… (no comment:) went into the kitchen to warm some water for me – sensitive gringa! I noticed a lot of little businesses set up inside of homes. The next day the town came alive with a market selling the most exotic looking fruits and vegetables.

 

I went into the hotel lobby and enquired about hiring a guide to do some hiking. There were two waterfall hikes to be done in the area, one was a full day of steep hiking up the mountain and rappelling down a cliff to a gorgeous waterfall, the other was a simple walk from the hotel to a 7 waterfalls park just outside of town. I was feeling tired and my back was hurting, so I chose the smaller hike. Unfortunately there were no guides available that day, but I was told that tomorrow I’ll have a guide. The next day happened to be my birthday and I was told by my guide, an eager pleasant young man called Eduardo that today, May 3rd, was the Day of the Cross, a major festival and that it would be a great opportunity for me to witness this unique celebration. A little village nearby, Eduardo’s home place, was hosting a celebration. First, Eduardo took me to the market to buy our offerings of flowers and fruits for the altar, he explained to me that most of the exotic fruits and decorations sold at the market were all for the purpose of decorating a cross for the festival.

 

We then walked to his village, where he explained to me how they are reviving this tradition in the hopes of attracting tourists in the area. It was their 3rd year of the festival and so far I was their first and only foreign visitor. They were ecstatic and awaited my arrival with eagerness. Eduardo would give them updates of our whereabouts by phone. I felt like a queen and was certainly treated like royalty. Eduardo was a wonderful guide, helping me discover local food, introducing me to his parents, little sisters, his teacher, his school. He told me about his culture, the way they live, his plans for the future, with university studies and career and about his girlfriend who is going to university in a different town than him. He introduced me to the festival’s organizer. When we arrived in town, we met up with the open-cab truck transporting the procession’s traditional characters of the grand-mother, grand-father, the jaguar, the monkey, the jackal and the devil. We also had an extra devil and a “scream” character for good measure. I got to ride in the truck amongst the celebrants.20170503_145113

We drove to the starting point of the procession and waited for the priest’s arrival for the ceremony. The atmosphere was very festive, with fire crackers being lit up, the masqued characters stopping and climbing onboard buses causing squeals of delight from kids. Everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves despite the rain. We took group pictures and I asked to borrow Grandpa’s wooden riffle to take a picture that would scare away any maras – don’t mess with me!

 

Finally a young priest arrived apologizing for his lateness and the procession started with chants from the crowd and fooling around from the masked characters. We arrived at the cross, heavily decorated with garlands, fruits and flowers. Under a canopy, a mass and blessing was delivered. The rain started to come down hard and kids started frolicking in the torrential downpour.

 

I was ready to go, but not before I sampled the wonderful warm local drink called Atole de Piña. We took a tuk-tuk back home and decided to meet again the next day to visit the waterfalls.

Watch my YouTube video of the Day of the Cross here:

At the appointed time Eduardo picked me up and we took the bus to the path leading to the park’s entrance. The vegetation was lush and intense and the path led to a series a gorgeous waterfalls known as Los Churros de la Caleria.

 

On the way back Eduardo showed me how to eat a guamita, a fruit in a pod that didn’t have much flesh but was delightfully sweet.

Watch Eduardo demonstration on how to eat a guamita here:

The next day I left Juayua for the little town of Ataco but on the way I saw a sign for La Laguna Verde that I had read about in my guidebook. On impulse I veered into the lane and started to regret my decision as I left the town behind me and was driving down this isolated rural road, where the loud rumble of my engine advertised my presence to the locals. Where I am going? I started to worry. Would I even be able to turn around at the end? Am I attracting unwanted attention? Remember, my first experience in El Salvador was an encounter with the local mafia and everyday locals would tell me that I was not safe staying wherever I would be. I am usually a very positive person and not to dwell on danger. But I found myself becoming paranoid in El Salvador. When I got to the end of the road, it opened up to this gorgeous mountain lake nestled in the jungle. It reminded me of some of the remote lake camping I had done in British Columbia. Yes! I totally love it here, I decreed.

 

I asked a local person if I was safe staying here the night. Yes, he assured me, travellers do it all the time, it is safe. You can also ask for police protection. Oh, would you call them for me please? Yes I will, came the reply. So I started unpacking, taking out my lounge chair in the sun and preparing to settle for the night. But I had a nagging suspicion that I should follow up on this guy’s promise to call the police. He hadn’t of course but he helped me make the call myself. After a few attempts, my call finally got through and my conversation basically revealed that yes, the police in an effort to make tourists safe and comfortable would escort them anywhere they want. (Eduardo had told me so when I enquired about a group at the waterfalls escorted by Police). However, they cannot provide this service at night. Furthermore, it would be unwise for me to stay at the Laguna for the night. Too dangerous! And so, confused and a bit upset, I packed and left for Ataco which was a few miles away. Did the local man sincerely thought it was safe or was he going to come back with armed buddies to rob me that night? With hindsight I believe that the danger is real in El Salvador and that the local really feared for the safety of a single woman on the road, hence the perpetual warnings. My friends that are traveling in a convoy never had such a concern. I believe that everyone I met in El Salvador were well intentioned when warning me about my safety.

And so I arrived and settled in Ataco in the large parking lot of a hotel with a gate and armed guards. I took the bus into town right away.  I really liked this town, with its beautiful murals, colorful shops and cobbled streets. The next day I returned to the center to do some shopping. I surprisingly could not find much Salvadorian arts and crafts, most of them were from Mexico or Guatemala. I did find beautiful Indigo (anil) dyed clothing of the northern region. I enjoyed meandering the streets of Ataco.

 

My next stop was to be the town of Santa Ana and on the way I stopped at the archeological site of Tezumal. Compared to Mexican or Guatemalan sites, this was not much, but the stalls and local street food lining the street was worth the visit.

 

I treated myself to the typical Salvadorian fare of Yucca puree and I tried a glass of fermented tamarind juice.

Watch the serving of my Salvadoran meal here:

I camped right in front of the police station in Santa Ana. Policewomen were openly curious about my truck and so I gave them a tour. They were very happy about my hospitality and so impressed with my rolling home as they call it there.

It was evening and I was parked right in the center of town, so I decided to take in the sights. Behind the police station was the main plaza with a beautiful church and theatre house on 2 of the corners. There was a big carnival going on in the square and I relished people watching before retreating to the safety of my home. I was told that Santa Ana was not safe to visit. That was the extent of my exploration.

 

Onward I drove to the village of Alegria and after getting lost and stuck in its narrow streets, I decided to skip my visit and  go directly to the famous Laguna of the same name. Up and up I went to the crater of a volcano. There was a small lake with the brightest green water. It was absolutely mystical up there. High up in altitude, completely enclosed in green lush misty mountains. It was cool, devoid of city and people noises but full of jungle noises.

20170509_075112

Watch the video here:

But yet again, as I paid my park fee and enquired about the gates closing at night and being reassured it was safe to spend the night here, a local family parked next to me and pointing at a group of teenagers heading to the football court at the end of the park, told me that I was not safe sleeping here. At which point I had it! I was so upset and tired of hearing it, of moving my truck, of being wary that I decided to forget about everything. I didn’t like how I was becoming fearful and untrusting. I had so for traveled through Mexico and Guatemala with a positive and trusting attitude, all the while being diligent about my safety and it had served me well. I decided to stay the night and enjoy it. I went out and played my didgeridoo surprised that contrary to my expectations, the sound didn’t carry and resonate in the valley. I guess there was too much humidity creating a heavy cupola over me, swallowing the sound. The energy was absolutely stunning. On the shore of the tiny volcanic lake I collected the best natural facial clay that nature could provide and filled up jars to give out as gifts.

The next day I noticed that I was not alone in this misty heaven. There was a school there. I could see the kids at recess, playing in the field. I decided that I was time for me to hand out one of the world maps that I had been given by David Pickering at World Map in Calgary. I made my way to the school and introduced myself to the school headmistress. I stated my purpose and she had all the children gather into the central courtyard. It brought so much joy in my heart to see all these children in such a playful, joyous gathering, not really knowing what was going on. It brought back memories of my own schooling, back when we had to address adults politely by their last name and all clamor “Bonjour” in unison. I told them I was from Canada and they had to find it on the map, they also had to point to El Salvador on the map. All in all it was an enchanting experience. Watch it here!

My intention leaving La Laguna de Alegria, was to go to the capital city Salvador to extend my 90 day-visa which was expiring soon and I had yet to visit Nicaragua. But to make a long story short, my dealing with Salvadorian officials was horrible, and mind you I was already in a foul mood. And so I decided to cut short my Salvadorian visit and cross into Nicaragua.

I am going to finish here by thanking all my wonderful Salvadorian friends who made my visit of their beautiful country so wonderful. I will always remember your generous and infectiously joyous nature.

20170503_134539

Before signing off I would like to ask my dear readers a big favour:

Help me continue traveling by liking and sharing my blog posts on Facebook and other social media that you use.

Please do write a comment directly on my blog page. By helping me gain more visibility and increasing the number of my subscribers you are helping me become a successful and remunerated travel blogger. Keep me rolling!

Help me become a successful blogger by telling me what you want to read about:  more food share? More YouTube videos? More funny stories? More info about traveling with pets? More about traveling solo as a woman, RV camping in Central America?

A like, a share and a comment at the end of this blog will take you 1 minute and make a big difference in my reach. Tell your friends about me, ask them to subscribe to my blog and YouTube channel.

Thank you in advance and until next time, Amigos y Amigas!

Au plaisir de la route!

IMG_20170509_101515_296  Kiki

 

 

 

 

DISCOVERING BREADFRUIT

You know me by now, I am an adventurer on land and with my palate as well. There is nothing like treating oneself to the local foods prepared in rickety shacks on the side of the road. A lot of travelers are wary of local food and in my opinion, they are missing out! It is a crucial part of discovery a country and its customs to eat at local stands. It is mama’s cooking at its very best and for the price of a penny.

And so it is no surprise that when a farmer approached my motorhome camped on Playa Negra in Cahuita, I had to see what he had to offer. The poor old man was skin and bone with no teeth and bent in half under the weight of his bag.20170706_115416

He had oranges, limes, avocadoes and a breadfruit. I was about to dismiss the breadfruit when he explained how to prepare it. That is one of the problems with unknown fruits and vegetables, they are so foreign to me that I wouldn’t know how to prepare them, so I pass on most of them. He explained how to peel it, remove the core, and eat the flesh. You can boil it, bake it, fry it or stew it, he said.breadfruit-cut

And so that night I decided to find out my favourite way of cooking breadfruit by boiling some, baking some other en papillote and by frying the rest. The verdict: Boiled has more moisture and its texture better for me, as the rest was really quite dry. It tastes just like potatoes and cooks a lot faster too. It was so tasty that I ate my bowl of boiled breadfruit as is, without any salt, pepper or butter. It was quite filling too.

The next day, I find myself discovering the stunning Parque Nacional de Cahuita. A jungle reserve bordering the ocean, brimming with exotic life! I was on my way back when all of a sudden I have an urgent need to go to the bathroom. I am hurrying my steps, trying to reach the bathrooms at the entrance of the park on time. My my, I thought, I haven’t had a bathroom incident since Mexico. I wonder what is going on? Was it the salmon that was not fresh? Hum, I would have been sick almost immediately had it been the case. I was in such a bad state that I even considered wandering off the raked path to relieve myself in the bushes. A good thing I didn’t since I learned during a following visit that Hognose Vipers are numerous and hide it the fallen leaves on the ground. They are of the same brown colour and almost invisible, hence the importance of staying on the path! When I learned of this I had this image of me, lying dead in my own shit, with my arse hanging out, bitten by a viper on the cheek. What an undignified death indeed!hognosesnake

It was not until a few days later, while browsing the stores in town and leafing through cooking books, books on fruits and vegetables native to Costa Rica that I come across this little phrase under Breadfruit: “Do not eat it raw as it is a potent laxative!” That’s when it hit me: that little bite, no bigger than my pinky’s nail, that I ate while preparing my Breadfruit was the culprit!

Breadfruit-shrimp-cakes-631I cannot imagine what would have happened had I eaten more! It would have turned me inside out for sure. Potent laxative! No shit Sherlock!

20170627_100445

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

Kiki

 

 

COSTA RICA, HERE I COME!

I arrived in Costa Rica and went straight to house sit my friends’ house in Atenas. It was wonderful to be sedentary for a while and staying in a gorgeous house with a swimming pool to boot. But after 6 weeks I was itching to get back on the road. I decided to start my discovery of this wonderful country by driving to the Caribbean coast. My first stop being the Parque Nacional Volcán Irazu. Up and up we climbed lush peaks that soon became completely covered in thick fog.20170627_091323

We easily found our camping spot for the night a bit down the road from the park’s entrance. It was wonderful to be layering clothes again and pulling out the heavy blankets, hey I’m Canadian after all! The air was thin and crisp. The valley below was shrouded in clouds; a lone crater peeking out of the whiteness.

 

The pets were in heaven with a lush countryside to explore. The temperature dropped to 8 degree Celsius that night. Brrr! The next morning, the sun was out. I was at the park’s entrance as soon as they opened as I had read that often the fog would come in late morning making any sighting impossible. I didn’t realize that the craters were 2 km away. I probably walked 8 km that day. I was walking to the uppermost crater and would stop every few minutes to take pictures of the luxuriant vegetation. Everything was new to me and I loved my walk. As I was climbing the steep path to the uppermost crater the fog started to rise, covering everything in a thick blanket. It was 9:00 am and I hadn’t even started my visit yet! I got worried but luckily, by the time I reached the lower craters, the fog had lifted and the sun was out for the rest of my visit.20170627_101215

As I was walking across a large crater, it started to steam! The sight of the rising smoke was quite impressive and the ground was warm to the touch. That was the highlight of my visit for sure, having never been around volcanoes, being inside of an active crater was quite magical.

Click here to watch my YouTube video!

I was home to the pets by noon. I had decided to stay another night in this high altitude heaven (we were parked at 3,432m) but decided that I was not up for another cold night. There was an annex to the volcano 12 km below that I heard was worth the visit. 12 km would definitely make a different in the temperature I told myself. And sure enough as I drove down the steep road I watched the temperature rise from 17 degrees to 25. Prusia is a park, annexed to the Volcán. I didn’t know much more about it and was hoping to camp there for the night and explore the area the next day. Unfortunately I soon discovered that no pets and no camping were allowed. Bummer! I had done all the hiking I could muster that day, so I decided to go back to the main road and drive to Cartago, the main city in the area.

 

Cartago used to be Costa Rica’s capital city until 1823 when San Jose took the title.

In itself there was not much to see. It is a surprisingly small town for a former capital city, nestled in the mist-shrouded peaks. However, the Basilica is worth the visit. The beautiful grey and white Byzantine Basilica of our Lady of the Angels hosts the “Negrita” a black virgin relic that appeared to a native woman in 1639. The Basilica was built on the site and despite several earthquakes due to the Volcán Irazu nearby, it is still standing. The black virgin is Costa Rica’s patron saint and the Basilica is a place of pilgrimage, on August 2nd, date of its appearance.

The exterior is beautiful and different from all the churches I had visited in Central America so far, but the interior, with its high ceiling in dark rich wood forming honeycombs and its tall gilded and painted columns was really stunning. It was of an understated beauty, not overdone, just right in the grandiose and reverence atmosphere it conveyed. Also, the energy was utterly calm and serene. It was 3 pm and people were coming in and praying, some supplicants would walk down the nave on their knees. I returned to the church 3 times to bathe in its wonderful energy.

 

We were parked on the side of the road, right next to the church and had a quiet and safe night. The merchants in front of me were curious about my truck and asked for a “visit” which I gladly obliged.20170627_151515

I have to say the response I am getting from Ticos (Costa Ricans’ nickname to themselves, in the same way Canadians are Canucks and New Zealander are Kiwis) has been very warm and enthusiastic. I would be driving down a road and cars would pass me by, yelling “Kiki” and waving their arms, they would honk their horn and show their approval of my traveling their beautiful country. I even had a truck slow down at my level, the driver showing me his baseball cap with a red maple leaf – a fellow Canadian!

Costa Rica stands apart from the rest of Central America. It is more westernized and feels very rich by comparison to its neighbors. Their physical appearance too is very “western”. The aboriginals having been for the most part completely integrated by the Spaniards and other European settlers through interracial marriages. They do not have the dark skin of their Latino neighbors. Costa Rica also very expensive! The price of gas is double what I would pay in Canada – Ouch! This makes my rambling around the country very costly. Everything else compares to what it would cost in the USA.  So I am trying to dry camp as much as possible to compensate for the price of gas, and lucky me, it is quite safe to do so in Costa Rica.

After one last meditation in the Basilica, I left Cartago for Puerto Limón, the main harbor town on the East Coast of Costa Rica. I was eager to get some Caribbean vibe!

La Negrita

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments!

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!IMG_20170627_102128_003

Kiki

 

PLAYAS Y MARAS- EL SALVADOR

El Salvador, here I come!

Crossing the border, despite the many warnings online about long, long, long truck lines and wait time, was a breeze! I was 20 minutes away from the border when a man on a motorcycle harangued me “Welcome to the border! – Do you need help crossing?”  Shortly after meeting Jorge, another 3 guys on mopeds were also offering their services, so to be fair I hired Jorge. He was a gem! He basically did all the paperwork for me while I was having ceviche for lunch at one of the stands! He had lived in California for 15 years and worked in the orange groves until the industry went bust. He spoke perfect English.

Why hire a Tramitador do you ask? Sure I can do all this by myself but for the small fee involved I find that they help you navigate through the labyrinth of offices, and paperwork. Also, being locals and working at both borders, they can advise you on who gives the best rates for money exchange and I find that inspections seem to be easier when accompanied by a local helper. It saves me time and hassle.

View my border crossing YouTube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVFlvn-vS-I

When I found out that Jorge was Salvadoran I asked him where I could safely camp near the border and he indicated that Cara Sucia, the first little town after crossing the border would be where I could get some money and supplies and from there go south to the little fishing village called Garita Palmera. I would be safe to boondock on the beach, or hook-up for $5.

When I arrived in Garita Palmera I met a woman who asked me if I was looking for a place to stay: “come to my house, I have electricity, water and swimming pool too, follow me! “ We followed the road along the beach and entered her gorgeous property.

Her name was Cora and she introduced me to her property manager, an older woman with a teenage son and daughter. I am sorry  to say that even after asking for their names at least 5 times I still can’t remember them – if I don’t write them down on a piece of paper right away, it’s no use. I do not know if my memory is getting worse or if the Spanish names make it harder to memorize, but it’s becoming a problem…

I learned from the keeper that Cora actually lives in the capital city, San Salvador. She has been a widow for 5 years now and inherited this property from her father. Later on she showed me that the property extended as far as the eye could see and was rented for coconut harvesting and pasture for milking cows.

I really enjoyed my stay there. I was parked under palm trees right by the beach so I had shade and breeze, which also meant no bugs.  The pets were free and safe to roam and after our week stay in the welder’s shop, this was a welcomed change.  I couldn’t help seeing the huge potential this property and its prime location near the border had. For the first time since leaving Calgary I could see myself live here. I had to reign in my entrepreneur mind and remind myself that I was here to be free from responsibilities for a while and to just enjoy the gift of freedom. I was the only one there, and I could see no one else on the long stretch of beach so when the keeper told me that the house had been rented by a family of 10 for the week-end I felt a bit annoyed that I had to share my piece of paradise with someone else.

The family in question was a sister and 2 brothers, their partners and children and turned out to be really nice people, no loud partiers as I had feared. At one point Sylvia came to me, introduced herself and started a conversation. Before long one by one every family member came to my site. They were very curious about me, my travels and of course my RV. However Sylvia warned me to trust no one in El Salvador and be on the lookout at all times.

This was the May long week-end and I decided not to drive since the roads would be traffic heavy. Before they left I asked the men in the group to help me move my truck out of the sand and unto the dirt path so that I could leave for Juayua early the next morning.

We had a terrible thunderstorm the night before and I don’t know if it is related, but there were a lot of people in the woods on the property picking crabs.

Even when dark fell, they stayed working with head lamps. I went to the house one last time to do my dishes and I could hear the keeper scream and yell and what I thought was an argument. Soon after I returned to the truck she came with her daughter of about 15 and begged me to close my door. I could tell she was quite upset. What is going on? I asked. Maras, she kept saying, my son, my son she repeated. I could tell something had happened but didn’t understand what. When I asked her: what is maras? She said men. That’s all I needed to hear. I locked my door even though my cat Patouffi was outside. He’ll sleep under the truck I thought.  “Maras” I thought, is that the term for “gangs”? I opened my guide book to where I knew I had read about gangs in El Salvador and sure enough it is. It confirmed that something bad was happening, so I left my lights on, closed all my windows and curtains, took my baseball bat out of its hiding place and started praying in earnest for the keeper’s family safety and mine. There was nothing else I could do. At one point I heard men’s voices just outside my door. It took a huge amount of willpower not to peak through the curtains and later not to open the door for Patouffi  when everything was quiet again (which I did much later anyway – not much willpower there after all but I didn’t want to leave them anything they could use to hurt me you know like, will kill the cat if you don’t open the door!).

I slept lightly with the lights on, my bat and phone near me.

The next morning at 6:00 am I heard a knock on the door and after checking through the window and saw it was the keeper, I opened the door. What happened last night? I asked her. Maras, 8 men and 1 woman – with tattoos. They wanted to rob you but my son intervened (a young boy of may be 18-19), they took a rock and hit him on the head! She mimicked how he was bleeding and how, when he was down they kicked him.

I was horrified but I couldn’t understand why they still didn’t rob me, after all we were just 2 older women, a young boy and a girl, hardly any threat to a gang of 9. Why didn’t they come and robbed me? I wanted to know. I had to take the shotgun out she said. The police was called but never showed up. Please, she pleaded, leave now before they come back, I don’t want any trouble.

I unhooked my electricity cable, got dressed in a hurry and left very shaken up, never knowing the full extent of her son’s injuries.

My guide in Juayua explained to me that despite Jorge’s claim that the border region was safe, it is the place of gang wars between Guatemala and El Salvador groups fighting for territory.

When I arrived in Sonsonate, I got lost in the town where I was to take the touristic route to Juayua, as per Central America’s custom, there were no signs anywhere. My GPS was useless. As soon as I knew I had made the wrong turn I stopped and asked for directions. This man came over and was obviously upset with me. Don’t you care about your family? He screamed at me looking at the van, I suppose assuming that I had children in there. He was looking at me as if I had lost my mind for traveling in El Salvador in such a fashion. His directions were very convoluted, out of the way with many warnings about my safety. I decided to ignore him. I knew the turn off was just around the corner and that this is probably the safest route in the country, but still this shook my confidence. I remembered that I had data on my phone and input the information on good old Google Map and I was out of there and on my way in 2 shakes of a lamb’s tail.

The moral of this story is that unfortunately, I am learning to trust my instinct and not depend on what people say. Either they genuinely think they are right, or they are in on the plot to come back later to rob you, I do not trust what people tell me anymore.

Another fine example is that yesterday, driving to Ataco I see signs for La Laguna Verde, which I had read was highly recommended. So I took the detour. Oh shit, I thought as the road turns into a wide and well paved dirt road, but very isolated and going on and on. I am advertising my coming here with my loud big truck and there is no place to turn around…. I could get ambushed on my way back… However when I get to the Laguna, it is a green peaceful heaven, just what I wanted.

20170505_123144

After asking two persons working there, I am told that this is very safe and I could camp for the night, I will not be bothered. The manager even told me if I could ask for police protection if I was still unsure. I asked him if he could do that for me. Oh sure he said,  but didn’t pick up the phone. I was relaxing in the sun but the thought about my safety kept niggling at me. I went with my phone to the manager and asked for the police telephone number. The first one he gave me didn’t work; the second one came through on the 3rd call. When I spoke with the officer, he explained that they only work during the day and couldn’t provide protection during the night, and that La Laguna was not a safe place to stay at night anyway! I thanked him, thanked my intuition for having me follow through, packed up and left. Was the manager genuine in his reassurance or was he going to come back at night with his buddies and rob the silly, gullible gringa? I do not know but I have to say that unfortunately, I am feeling more unsafe here than I’ve been so far on my trip.

There were parts of Mexico that were a bit dodgy, I felt a bit unsafe in Belize but it was unfounded, but here I’ve had so many warnings, people misguiding me and warning me and then the maras’ visit, all of it is deeply affecting me. What a shame, because the country is beautiful and the people friendly. I do not want this to affect my perception and enjoyment of this beautiful country nor force me to revisit my desire to continue on this trip.

I will do a blog on my visit to Juayua and Ataco, but to recap my visit in El Salvador here, I would say that the atmosphere of untrust is unbearable. When I arrived in San Salvador to request a tourist visa’s extension is was met with many difficulties that led me to choose to drive out of Nicaragua before May 15th, the deadline on my C4 Visa. You get 90 days to visit 4 countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. You can only renew once and only in San Salvador. The paperwork is so ridiculous, with the necessity of a sponsor as well as copy of your bank statements that’s  it’s better to just drive out of Nicaragrua, and re-enter a few days later from Costa Rica to be granted another 90 days. I drove 2 days to get out of El Salvador feeling very ambiguous about the country.

On the one hand it is beautiful and the people are charming, quick to smile and help. But for a single woman on the road, there was not a single place I camped that I was warned it was not safe, even though some where locked and guarded at night and all of them listed as safe on the IOverlander App. When you hear the same message over and over, you have to take head. So unfortunately I cut my stay short and was actually relieved to get out of the country.

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

20170429_064720

Kiki

 

 

HOW TO USE A LATIN AMERICAN CONCRETE SINK?

Ok, I admit I’ve been traveling Central America for 6 months already and I just clued in on how to use the typical 3-sided  pre-cast concrete sink that one sees all over Latin America.

It always baffled me as to why the locals would fill the middle basin up to the rim where dead bugs and leaves would accumulate. I know that I am not the only traveler to have been puzzled and frankly annoyed with this custom. For example in Antigua, at the Touristic Police where I stayed, there was only one basin to do your dishes and it was full to the rim. The water was already dirty with someone else’s soap and food scrap. The only solution would be to dip your arm to the elbow and pull the plug. Even in well-established campgrounds I noticed the workers fill up the tanks to the rim. I figured there was a reason, a way of using it that I hadn’t understood yet.20170424_093555

Well, the answer came to me this week and frankly I feel a bit ashamed of my ignorance.

As a person used to unlimited running water, I could not have understood the utilitarian purpose of the 3 compartment sink. It took a stay at a garage in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa for me to learn the hard way the importance of a basin full of water!

In need of repairs and upgrades I found a garage to do the work. They allowed me to stay in the van while doing the work. Being in the sun, the heat, the dirt and the bugs – for a whole week, you need to shower and do the dishes at the very least. I had arrived with just a ¼ tank of water, never thinking that I would stay for that long.

The first day, I was able to fill my tank up to ½   using buckets as the water pressure was too low to use a hose.  This is heavy work and to protect my back, I thought I would add a few bucketful every day. Understandably, to preserve my own water,  I went to the basin to do my dishes. And there it was again: a full middle basin! I did my dishes in it and rinsed them with the tap on the side basin. Well! The next day my mechanic saw the dirty water in the sink and was furious! Who dirtied my water? Those guys, he said, blaming the other mechanics… (knowing full well that it had to be me). I watched, puzzled, as he emptied the main sink and proceeded to scrub it clean with a brush for this purpose. I got from this experience that the main sink is to be kept clean, but I still didn’t have a clue as to why and how to really use this. I almost wanted to ask Eduardo but that would have been admitting guilt, so I didn’t.

The answer soon came to me when both taps on the property ran dry – for 2 days. It’s only then that I noticed the buckets full of water everywhere. Eduardo had even brought me one by the door. That day, when I went to the stand-up sink to do my dishes, forced into thinking on how to preserve the integrity of this precious clean water, I found the solution.

You never contaminate the water of the middle sink! Using a small bucket you take some clean water and do your dishes, your laundry, or wash your hands, in one of the side tanks with a drain. That middle sink contains gold! You never know when you will have running water again, even in a good-sized town such as Santa Lucia.

Sure enough during my week stay here, there have been more days without running water than with. When the taps are dripping, the men fill up all the buckets and containers again.

Having now experienced a total lack of water in the blistering heat, I will take bugs and leaves infested water for my dishes and my sponge bath any time!

So please gringos, learn how to use a stand-up sink and never empty or contaminate the middle basin. Use the container (there is typically one around – it could be a cut-up jug, a plastic container, a bowl) to take some water and use it in one of the side basin where it will drain. That middle basin filled with, what to our standard we would describe as “dirty” water, is precious.

I know I am not the only one to have been puzzled by this and thought that I should pass the word around:)

And if you’re still not sure watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op45rv2cOZ8

Happy travels and stay wet!

20170124_160903

Kiki

THE VISITOR UNDER MY BED

I realize, dear reader, that I am due for a cute little story – the kind I used to write when I started my journey and everything was so new that even a pee-pot made the news. After that novelty period, everything became more business-like. Describe my travels, my adventures may be, from a neutral point of view (verily, how can a single white female, first time traveler in the Americas, driving an old RV along the Pan American highway be neutral?).  I’ve been wondering of late: where did that woman go – the one that saw humor in everything? And may be, part of sharing is also about my everyday life in a camper along bumpy, dusty roads that might be lined with “bandidos” lying in wait.

So, if not for my own story telling pleasure here is the tale of the visitor under my bed. And since I do not have related pictures to post, I will relish you instead with photos of my stay at the Santa Lucia garage – I know you can’t wait!

I first noticed it Chez Pierre on Lake Atitlan. Every morning I would wake up with huge welts on my toes. They didn’t hurt, but when I scratched the itch, they would atypically swell and puce. On cool night I had put on mini socks to keep me warm and in the morning I found the bite just above the sock line! I knew then that I was being eaten by something hiding in or under my bed. From the bite marks we could see the outline of little fangs – definitively a spider!

My bed is a story in and of itself. It originally had a custom-made mattress to fit the cubicle, with a cut corner to allow room for the corridor to the bathroom. I am pretty sure it was the original mattress and so was 34 years old. It was quite comfortable despite its age, until I started to sleep on it nightly. The support caved in and the coils jutted out! As I was reorganizing the camper for my long trip, I decided to convert the cabin above the driver’s seat, which was set up as a sleeping cabin with a thick foamy, into a storage compartment where I would store all my heavy bins full of shoes  and purses (hey I’m French!– some had to make the trip with me! Believe me the cut was brutal), a pharmacy, extra bits and pieces for my engine should I need to repair it en route… you get the idea! I put the foamy on top of the mattress and that was comfortable for a few months until it became agony. Finally, in Belize, when I was decluttering the van one more time to make room for my daughter’s visit (I had already purged twice) – I gave my mattress away to the campsite owner, who was delighted to take it, despite my warning him of its bad condition. I guess when you sleep on the floor a bad mattress is definitively an upgrade!

The foamy was heaven for about…1 month until the center line where I sleep mostly, lost its bounce and I was basically lying on plywood. I put all my blankets and sleeping bags as underlay with a special focus on the middle line and so far so good. I however have no doubt that down the road I will have to purchase a proper mattress for it.

My sleeping platform sits on top of my external storage bins where I keep all my hoses and engine fluids. I also have a bit of storage for personal items. For the most part it is open to the dust of the road and unwelcomed visitors could easily climb in.

Upon realizing that I was feeding a spider every night, I searched, aired out, and vacuumed my bed and platform, knowing full well that it was futile. Short of fumigating the van, which is out of the question since I live there and because of the health hazards to my pets, I haven’t done anything else about it. I don’t know if I chose to ignore the signs or if I was in denial, but I swear that the bite marks disappeared for a while. I thought may be my rummaging about scared my blood sucker away.

And so, weeks later, here I am in this dusty, dirty, mosquito and fire ant infested garage yard (and I swear a huge rat which scared Patouffi so much he hasn’t ventured out from under the sofa!) to get my RV fixed and I am covered with bites. There were a few big ones on my legs that looked different than your usual mosquito or ant welt, but still I didn’t clue in that my visitor was back!

One morning I decide to add my wonderful wool blanket to my underlay and air out my bed in the process and what do I see? A h.u.g.e black spider! I am not afraid of spiders but this one was big. It was not moving, just chilling there, digesting its feast of the night. This gave me time to look around for a weapon to finally get rid of the beast. I wanted a rod-like object with a rounded end to poke it dead from a distance and settled on the fishing rod. Of course I missed and Dracula was on the run, until it fell near my feet and I dropped everything and screamed like a girl! It made its way back to the compartment under the bed. I looked and searched but the sucker was well hidden.

Soooo, plan numero uno: Go to the store and enquire about my options short of fumigating. Numero dos, which I will have to do anyway when my new undercarriage compartment is installed, take everything out from under the bed and vacuum the hell out of it… it might still hide in a crevice. I definitively will feel better if I see the culprit die. I do hope it doesn’t have a family waiting to take up the baton!

What eats spiders I wonder?

20170422_120443
I do not know if it’s because of the heat or the noise, but Marley has taken up residence in the cat’s litter box!

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

20170412_125226

Kiki

 

 

 

TIKAL – NOT TO BE MISSED!

The reason for my daughter Tiffany to arrive in Belize City was simply so that we would go to Tikal. Tikal, the largest Mayan site in Central America, nestled in the northern jungle of Guatemala. I had been told, even before my departure for my long journey, that if I were to only visit one archeological site, it would have to be Tikal!

Crossing the border into Guatemala was a breeze other than the fact that we got completely ripped off by the money changers. It was my fault, I should have researched the exchange rates online ahead of time. Oh well ­-an expensive lesson learned!

By comparison, my friends Dub and Sheila crossed the border from Mexico in Tapachula and their experience was horrendous!  Trucks were being accosted by some 50 Guatemalans, hanging on to railings, side mirrors and climbing on the roof.  Their formalities were also very strenuous. A good thing that I didn’t experience any of this; I do not know how I would have handled a throng of people hanging on to my truck!

My concern with this itinerary was about the road conditions. There was nothing current online about the only road to and from Tikal. All I had were older accounts from books and blogs, describing the terrible dirt road. However, at various campsites I met people that had traveled to Tikal and were on their way back home reassuring me that the road was actually really good. It had been completely repaved a few years ago. Although a simple 2 lane road, it was free of danger and potholes. That’s all I wanted to hear!

We opted to stay at El Remate, the northern village on Petén Lake, the closest we could camp to Tikal since pets were not allowed in the park. We ended up finding this idyllic free spot right on the lake and every night we would swim in the deliciously warm water watching the sun set!

We were parked close to the French Hostel/Restaurant “Mon Ami” and decided to take advantage of their shuttle service to Tikal the next morning at 5:00 am in order to arrive at the park to see the wildlife at sunrise.

20170217_055808It was a wonderful drive in the wee hours of the morning, and already we could see women in little stands on the side of the road lighting the fire on their coal stoves getting ready for the morning crowd. It was misty and the vegetation got thicker and greener as we approached the gates. Once inside, we still had a good 30 minutes’ drive to get to the main visitor center.

Tiffany and I decided to hire a private guide for the tour. We figured this was a huge archeological site and after our wonderful experience with our previous guides in Belize, Russell – for our jungle walk and Luis – for the ATM caves, we knew that we would get more out of it. We also decided to do the tour in Spanish since we both needed the practice.

Our guide Kevin Reyes was a young student who had a trainee with him. The benefit of this being that while Kevin was showing us around, his apprentice was looking for wildlife. In this manner, we ended up seeing a wealth of animals that many others missed. We were rewarded right away with 2 troops of howler monkeys – one never gets enough of seeing them! Especially in the luscious jungle where ancient monuments would disappear under the thick vegetation, it was indeed magical. My favorite sighting of the day was 5 toucans on top of a tree. I hadn’t realized how big they actually are and their beaks are an absolute wonder!  We saw pretty much every animal we wanted to see and were rewarded by the extremely rare sight of the Crested Guan, a bird on the extinction list! Tiffany really wanted to see pizotes but so far nothing. After we parted ways with our guides we decided to stop for lunch and wander about.  It is then that we came across a whole herd of them, with babies in tow! They are the cutest things ever! At one point, one went to a shallow pool of water to drink and Tiffany joked that if he were to jump in for a bath she would die of cuteness overload!20170217_123332

Watch this video of our pizotes sighting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM4joIwTwzY

What was wonderful about our visit of Tikal was that in the grand scheme of things, very few visitors come in early. Those who do end up spreading out so that the whole time we were there, it felt that we had the site to ourselves, except in the main courtyard where everyone would pool in. The throngs of tourists didn’t start to come in until may be noon, when we were just about finished our visit. The early morning light also added to the magic of the place, with the monkeys howling from the canopy. A lot of the buildings are still covered by vegetation, some are just barely excavated out of their jungle tomb and the largest and most famous ones are erect in their full glory.

We were given free time to explore the main courtyard and climb the monuments.

A highlight for me, and I’m sure for every visitor, was the steep climb to the top of the pyramid named Temple VI.  From the top we had a breathtaking view of the jungle’s canopy with various pyramids and buildings jutting out. From there one could really see the extent of this archeological site, spreading as far as the horizon.  We had only visited but a tiny portion of it, most of it still undiscovered or unexcavated!

Watch this video of Tikal on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJNCUnTu1t0&feature=youtu.be

We got “home” just in time for a cooling dip in the lake and another breathtaking sunset – the following day we would take off again for a 2 days drive to Semuc Champey.  Another must see area of Guatemala!20170217_113207

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments:)

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!

Kiki