On a road trip as large as ours the need to either tow someone or be towed by some one, stood a pretty high probability of eventuating. However today took that eventuality to a whole new level!!!
Currently well ahead of our journal, on our first day back in Brazil for the second time. We were first on the scene of this situation about 80km outside of Oiapioque. Thought it too interesting to wait...
Way beyond our ability to help, we discussed options with the physically uninjured occupants and we all decided we would continue on to the next town to send help back whilst they waited by the car in case another vehicle that could tow them out came by.
Fortunately 2-3km down the road we stumbled across some construction work and this gentleman…
...and we led him back to the crash site to perform the following...
Despite the reasonable remoteness of the area it still wasn't long before word got out and spectators started to show up.
Within an hour we managed to pull the whole car out, minus a bumper bar, wing mirror, and pretty much all of its oil.
Our good deed done for the day, we offered 2 quarts (2 litres) of oil and hand shakes all round.
And every one piled in the closest vehicles and continued on their way...
Thanks for you help guys, obrigato y bom dia.
It was a little extra exciting for me to make it to Costa Rica. When I was in high school my one of my older sisters spent a student exchange year in Alajuela. I had never really expected to see first hand where my sister disappeared that year. But 17 years later here I found myself it really was a treat.
From the very first drive into the country, Costa Rica greeted us with a blue sky day and well maintained roads, often tunneled by lush green rain forest. Costa Rica was already living up to one of its reputations as a country with fantastic drives.
Our first drive after crossing the Nicaragua Costa Rica border lead us to La Cruz as the sun was setting, so we found Santa Maria Cabins for the night. Ever since entering Nicaragua it had been raining heavily every night limiting our option to camp.
Costa Rica is a small country that we planned to visit twice so it did not take long for us to reach Alajuela and then the capital San Jose where just outside we made our second attempt at summitting the Poas Volcano, and for a second time we were foiled. This time by heavy cloud and rain.
So trying to make the most of the remaining sunlight we kept heading south till it ran out and rolled into the only hotel we could find in the area.
Now we had become accustomed to the heavy security on buildings throughout Latin America when compared to the USA or Australia. Bars on windows, high security fences, gates both at the street and on the doors which were often required to be unlocked or buzzed before entry is granted. Even razor wire isn't an uncommon sight. All are pretty standard issue in many Latin American places…
But even being accustomed to that level of security. As we entered this hotel I do remember thinking as the guard opened the door to let us into the lobby "Wow these boys are heavily armed and have some very sophisticated communication earpieces for a hotel of this standard."
As three guys walked up to reception and Kevin opened up conversation with the question "...How much for a triple for the night?" A question which became very amusing in hindsight. We soon started spotting clues, such as the fact that rooms were charged by the hour, the abundance of high heels walking the hotel, and if the plastic sheets weren't enough to confirm it…
Our server Erick at the local Chinese restaurant confirmed our suspicions when he held his face just a little too straight when we told him where we were staying. Upon asking directly is it an 'auto-motel' he couldn't keep the straight face any longer and we all had a laugh as he confirmed yes it was a love hotel.
Drive in love motels are very common in Latin American countries, just usually a little less subtle and not a hotel. Speak to many Latin American over-landers they will tell you the love motels are often excellent for value and security if you paid for 24 hours. Just a little more amusing if you are traveling as 3 guys and NOT as a couple!
James & Lauren have a great story about the first love motel they innocently checked into… James received some very impressed looks when he asked how much will it cost for the night! After giving James a very approving look, reception had to go make a phone call to find out! It was obviously not a common request at that hotel. :)
Being the only occupants to actually stay over night we loaded up the 4Runner in the morning and continued south to the home of Corcovado National Park the Osa Peninsula. On a hunch we thought we may start stumbling across other over-landers many whom had started dragging there feet in an effort to see whether or not the rumoured Vehicle Ferry between Panama and Colombia would commence operation soon as it had claimed.
Based on the blog progress of other over-landing teams, and pretty confident the Ferry was not going to be operational in time. I had started emailing the night before to see if any others were interested in sharing a vehicle container to cross the Darien Gap.
Kobis, Jessica and Jared of www.liferemotely.com
were just one of the overlanding groups we contacted less than 12 hours before rolling into Porto Jiminez. Being unsuccessful finding a Corcovado Park Information Center first our first drive through town. We thought we would just stop by a random hotel and ask for directions… then as we rolled by Jimenez Cabin's parking lot we spotted a familiar Blue 4Runner which upon its roof rack bore the sticker www.liferemotely.com
...so we just had to hang around to see if the guys would show up - we did not have to wait too long.
It turned out James & Lauren of www.homeonthehighway.com
were also in Porto Jiminez at the same time hiking in the national park for 3 days. We did see their 4Runner parked in Porto Jiminez as we left the following morning disappointed we missed them, but we had to keep moving.
On our way down to Panama City to start working on shipping Bessie across the Darien Gap, we detoured down the road to Drake that runs behind Corcovado highly recommended because we did not have time to hike up to the park entrance.
Often we meet great locals as we are fueling up, usually fascinated by either our Colorado license 'placa', the roof box, just three white guys obviously a long way from home, or a combination of all three.
Fuelling up in Ciudad Neily just before the Panama Border we got talking to a heavily armed 'vigilante' a wonderful man named Freddy who we will definitely stop by with our progress report on our way home. It was great to meet you Freddy.
Nicaragua is a really unusual country of contrasts which permeate through out the nation from landscapes to lifestyles.
There isn't a whole lot to tell that photo's couldn't tell on our behalf. Its an intriguing country full of lush green jungle forests, and in some places literally (tessellated) paved roads making for some really beautiful driving.
What made Nicaragua one of my favorite Central American countries, in addition to the lush tropical scenic drives, was the stark contrast between the simplicity of farming practices and lifestyles in the rural areas, and the complexity of lifestyles in the cities.
While on the surface the of the cities of Nicaragua often appear to be third world. But hidden within the dilapidated walls of buildings and winding down sketchy streets is a thriving modern western lifestyles with mobile phones, big screen TVs, latest cars, personal gyms and the trendiest of fashions.
Our first night was spent in Esteli where after an awesome meal accompanied by a pack of street dogs. We ate from a street vendor that lived up to its name, Big Burger! Before returning to our Hotel El Meson in time for it to start raining so hard it eventually started raining bullfrogs!
Pushing on through the road craziness which Nicaragua eagerly continues on from Honduras...
With all they craziness it was inevitable that at some point we would have to become held up by something like this...
Caused by a motorcycle and two truck collision in which the reports were of "no one seriously injured." However the likely hood of things remaining that way if the police didn't start taking control of the traffic pretty damn soon, wasn't promising.
Cars trucks and bikes in the absence of anyone taking charge of directing traffic, started to make up their own solutions. If we had not acted as quickly as we did we would have found ourselves gridlocked in an 8 lane stand off... between 4 lanes of opposing traffic in each direction, on a TWO lane highway!!!
After having driven through the ditch, up a bank and along the front fence of a commercial farming property, we were the last vehicle to squeeze through the opposing 3.5 lanes of angry traffic. Our escape, the only remaining shoulder, was filling up behind us just as fast as we would clear it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Style.
We had planned on visiting the Masaya Volcano just outside of Managua but delayed by the accident and negotiating our way through the countries capital Managua. We decided it would be wiser to make camp in Grenada by the lake and then back track a little in the morning. Grenada is a really interesting city to visit with a lot of character and even more markets.
Sorry a batch of photos went missing from my very much despised compact Olympus camera! What were they thinking when they designed the Olympus Stylus Tough DO NOT BUY IT it maybe water and shock proof but it is TOO SLOW for any kind of practical photography. I guarantee you any photos that may particularly appeal to you were not taken on the Olympus, which I have to use at times for security reasons.
Unfortunately when we did back track to the Masaya Volcano we discovered it closed due to the toxic levels of gas built up in recent weeks activity. We were not the only ones, also caught out were three friends who were cycling through Central America: www.balanceodyssey.com
really great guys who we were glad we got to meet, and we wish them all the best because in the heat of Central America they are definitely doing it the hard way. Check out there website www.balanceodyssey.com
they have great stories.
Logan, Daniel & Ray Fantastic to meet you we hope all is well.
After our failed attempt to summit the Masaya Volcano we continued on to the border, stopping by Alice Lake for morning break and also the beach over looking Ometepe Island for lunch with a view!
And on to Costa Rica
We arrived in Honduras after a very protracted border crossing, partly due to it being the weekend and partly because it seems the processing agent also operated the border boom gate. So lots of time was spent waiting for her to walk from one job to the other each time she would send us away to do the next step in the process.
So on our first night in Honduras we made it to Santa Rosa spending it in an unexpectedly nice hotel called Maya Chortis. With its own restaurant the Don Chepe I can honestly say they make the best payella I have ever tried, despite the fact it was also the first payella I have ever tried I am still confident it was pretty darn nice.
The next morning however wasn't initially so nice. We were abruptly awoken before 6am by explosions all around our hotel for at least 2 or 3 minutes...
NOW, having spent some time in Mexico where we got used to hearing random and not so random explosions in and around various towns and cities. Explosions which we were never really quite sure what they were...
In Guanojuanto they told us it was "police operations" in Mexico City we observed two heavily armed military helicopters very promptly deployed in the direction of a chain of recent explosions. Combined this with small round holes we would occasionally question in the sides of buildings, in the roads and in the sidewalks... the imagination roams.
So, while the explosions currently going on around our hotel seemed too loud to be gun fire, and were NOT accompanied by shouting, sirens or any other collaborating sounds of battle we still played it safe. Stayed indoors, turned off the air-conditioner and went back to sleep.
Later on that morning we discovered we were actually waking up into the second Sunday in May, and it seems customary to setting off the Mothers Day fireworks first thing in the MORNING rather than later in the evening.
Which was much more comforting to know because at this stage we were still trying to make sense of all the sensationalised travel warnings coming out of the USA that were not matching up at all with our own personal experiences. For a moment there we were almost starting to wonder if there may actually have been some merit to them.
So with the mysterious 6am explosions all sorted out, we had pancakes for breakfast, packed up the 4Runner and headed for Comayagua.
To answer the frequent question "Why Comayagua?"
Kevin had a friend from his Ukrainian peace core days who had recently moved from Denver, Colorado to Comayagua 6 weeks before we arrived to complete 12 months of lucrative 'hardship' contract working for the local US Military Base.
Marcus had generously offered to put a roof over our heads for as long as we wanted.
Now because Marcus had spend most of his first weeks working and was still undecided as to whether he was even going to bother buying a car for his time in Honduras… WE may have actually wound up seeing more of Comayagua in our three days there than Marcus had in his last 6 weeks!
But don't ask for addresses in this town, the streets are barely named and most houses are not numbered… the locals all use land marks to describe where locations are, finding Marcus's place was not easy! We forgot to turn at Donkey Corner because the owner had moved the donkey... I feel sorry for the Pizza Delivery Guys! (while amusing, this actually is no Joke!)
One thing we did do in our time in Comyagua was LEAVE... and head to the capital of Honduras: Tegucigalpa (or to the locals Tegoose) for a day to organise each of our required Brazilian Tourist Visas. In Tegoose we discovered the Embassy Assistant Ambassador Elan, who had only 8 weeks prior been recently posted to Tegucigalpa, Honduras after finishing a 5 year posting in Canberra, Australia!
So she was very excited to have an American two Australians walk into her Embassy… we all got our Visa's on the SAME visit. Thank you Elan for being so organised! Elan had reduced a ten day visa waiting period backlog down to an, often same day wait, within just 8 weeks!!! Elan you have no idea how appreciated that is.
Next stop Nicaragua we just have to make it through all the craziness on the roads!!!
If only we had known Guatemala was saving the best pyramids for last!
If you only have time to visit one location of ruins in Central America, head to Tikal National Park in Guatemala… it has a little bit of all the Mexico Ruins rolled into one location, excluding the cliff top ocean views of Tulum of coarse.
The US State Department travel warnings classed the road leading up to Tikal National PARK as "Avoid all unnecessary travel" due to reports of tour bus-jacking's and bandits.
Since we were already learning first hand that many of the travel warnings seem to be well over-due for review. We continued on our way up the No# 3 Highway to visit the Tikal Pyramids with the same general vigilance all travelers should apply everywhere they explore.
And BOY ...was it worth it! But do make sure you read the signs warning you about the Poop Flinging Howler Monkeys… and the not-so-elegant way in which they like to assert their dominance is also something you may wish to be aware of!
Take note… make sure you follow the National Park Speed Limits as every single vehicle's travel time is recorded from the entry gate to arrival. We were fortunate - we made a couple of stops along the way which corrected our travel time for us.
Tikal was also the first night any of us had ever camped on a restaurant lawn… treated to the wonderful Guatemalan hospitality of Romero the manager of the Jaguar Inn. And joining us for breakfast, the company of fellow adventurers...
Claire from Coola, NSW, Australia, ...and… Matt from Montreal Canada
As we drove southwards from Tikal towards Honduras, we detoured off the path a little to visit the Cascades de Agua Calliente (Hot Water Waterfalls) and met Fracisco who had been the life guard and guide at the: waterfall, natural sauna and river for the last 5 years and loved his job… you will see why!
When we first arrived there was a little bit of a Guatemalan family reunion in progress already enjoying the water, including 2 families that had returned home to visit the rest of the family after 7 years in Miami. They were A LOT of fun!
Fracisco lead us up to the source of the waterfall where the water bubbles up out of the ground at 100 (we think he was meaning Celsius but non of us were sticking any body parts in to test whether it was Celsius or Fahrenheit!)
Buy the time we returned from the source to the waterfall, this natural playground was really starting to fill up with visitors from all over the globe. So we said farewell to Fracisco and walked back to the 4Runner.
As we rolled back into Rio Dulce it was getting late. In an effort to find a place to pitch a tent for the night, we wandering around some small back streets till we found the gates to Hacienda Tijax, and amazing little elevated eco-resort situated in the rain Forrest that lines the edge of the Lake Izabal
As I write this blog all three of us and the 4Runner are currently camping on a bulsa (barge) with another around 28 trucks/trailer all being pushed down the mouth of the Amazon river over two nights… and Hacienda Tijax, is still right up the top of my favourite accommodations so far!!! (Along with Phillipe the French policeman's house you will read in the future French Guiana blog)
But until then more on the on the roads of Guatemala....
Belize-it or not... We made it through Mexico
While it was nice to be back in a country that speaks English, Belize still had its own challenges. One being that in the north no English was wasted on signs of ANY kind. Whether it be town Names, street names or even SPEED LIMITS… signs were very few and far between.
Fortunately for us, whilst we were waiting in line at the Mexico border for our exit stamps. From behind us came…
"Hey Colorado!!!" in English for a change!
A Belizean couple, Ernie and his wife Anna had been driving through the Belize border when they spotted the license plate on our 4Runner, quickly pulled their vehicle out of the line and came looking for the owners.
Ernie and Anna had lived in Colorado for 20 years, in SILT!!! just down the road from our home in Vail of all places!!! Before they had in recent years returned home to Belize to retire.
In retirement Ernie & Anna had purchased a bakery just a little further down the road from Orange Walk that they named E & A Bakery. Which since we still had to spend some time at the border exporting and importing our 4Runner from Mexico to Belize, we said we would come find their Bakery for lunch and spend some time with them on our way through.
For lunch we received the bakery tour, purchased some freshly baked treats, exchanged stories and discovered Ernie & Anna still had a daughter living in Rifle, even closer to Vail.
On our way to the coast, we stumbled across the Belize Zoo. We almost passed up the opportunity to visit, and were so glad we didn't because the Belize Zoo was not like your typical zoo… it is a rare close up and personal experience with minimal fencing between you and some of the most unique looking animals - well definitely from an Australian perspective at least (and we HAVE some pretty unique looking animals! :)
As we have discovered with the ITMB maps they are not always the most accurate. Which is probably why ITMB Canada asked us to help them update any maps we found errors on during our travels. Which has become apparent that in certain countries especially Guyana that some of the less visited countires were mapped based upon their best guess based upon terrain.
The combination of a time zone change in Belize and the Coast Highway being FAR from paved as listed on the ITMB map ...led us to run out of sunlight well before planned.
Earlier along the Ocean highway we had met Egbert who was "Just out here doin' my thing in the jungle, man" to ask more information about the road.
And after it was clear we still had MANY MORE rough KM's to drive in what would soon be a dark and bumpy road. We had discussed turning back to set up camp with Egbert briefly before we discovered a smaller road which we though may lead us to a beach to Camp… instead on this road we came across a security gate and Jose, Rudy and Rudy's son Rudolpho at Paradise Shrimp Farms.
After a few phone calls up the chain of command, Jose the head of security and Rudy the property manager let us set up our tents and chatted with us for a few hours into the night over some of the BEST natural orange juice any of us had, had in years! It was great company a fantastic demonstration of Belize hospitality. Thanks Jose and Rudy I know you'll find this :)
The next morning we headed down to Placencia at the tip of the coastal peninsular where we discovered a very unusual "vehicle crossing boom gate" with perfect timing as it was actually in action "down" seconds before I could take this photo... Stop: Aircraft Crossing!
After we finished exploring the peninsular we made our way to the border town San Ignacio for the night before crossing into Guatemala.
Teotihuacan, Mexico State
(Source Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan is an enormous archaeological
site in the Basin of Mexico
, just 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Mexico City, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures
built in the pre-Columbian Americas
. Apart from the pyramidal structures, Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes, the Avenue of the Dead, and numerous colorful, well-preserved murals
. Additionally, Teotihuacan produced a thin orange pottery style that spread through Mesoamerica.
The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC and continued to be built until about 250 AD.
The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium
Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population of perhaps 125,000 or more,
placing it among the largest cities of the world in this period.
Teotihuacan began as a new religious center in the Mexican Highland around the first century AD. This city came to be the largest and most populated center in the New World. Teotihuacan was even home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate this large population.
The civilization and cultural complex associated with the site is also referred to as Teotihuacan or Teotihuacano.
(Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palenque
Palenque was a Maya city
state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date back to 226 BC to its fall around 1123 AD. After its decline it was absorbed into the jungle
, which is made up of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees,
but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site attracting thousands of visitors. It is located near the Usumacinta River
in the Mexican state
, located about 130 km (81 mi) south of Ciudad del Carmen
) about 150 m (164 yd) above sea-level. It stays at a humid 26°C (79°F) with roughly 2160 mm (85 in) of rain a year.
Palenque is a medium-sized site, much smaller than such huge sites as Tikal
, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb
carvings that the Mayas
produced. Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments; historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state's rivalry with other states such as Calakmul
. The most famous ruler of Palenque was Pacal the Great
whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions
Chichén Itzá, Yucatán
(Source Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza
Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities and it was likely to have been one of the mythical great cities, or Tollans
, referred to in later Mesoamerican
The city may have had the most diverse population in the Maya world, a factor that could have contributed to the variety of architectural styles at the site.
Tulum, Quintana Roo
(Source Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulum
Tulum is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city
serving as a major port for Cobá
are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) tall cliffs, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula
on the Caribbean Sea
in the state of Quintana Roo
Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayans, it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have been the cause of its demise. One of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites.
If you only have time to get to ONE RUIN go to Guatemala instead...
Tikal, El Petén, Guatemala
TIKAL HAS IT ALL!!!
Pyramids, jungle, hidden valleys, abundance of both flora, fauna including poop throwing Monkeys!!! AND most important of all FREE of hawkers hassling you to buy stuff when all you want to do is enjoy some history.
A word of advice stick to the LOW speed limit as you enter the Tikal National Park EVERY vehicle is TIMED... we were fortunate we stopped for a break along the way.
(Source Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikal
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization
. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin
in what is now northern Guatemala
. Situated in the department
of El Petén
, the site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.
Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period
, ca. 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city
dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica
such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan
in the distant Valley of Mexico
. There is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century AD.
Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.
Arriving in Mexico City on April 6th we sought out Hotel San Francisco right in the heart of Ciudad (City) de Mexico. A hotel that was recommended for our parking requirements by a friend who drove in these parts for Trek America. Which also used to use Hotel San Francisco as its accommodation for their clients.
To our surprise we negotiated an excellent price on a room for its location right in the centre of all the tourist attractions. For three people, for three nights on the 14th Floor (including secure parking) only 600 Pasos in total, or US$46!!!! ...we were already starting to love Mexico City!
In order to get Bessie into the hotel's parking we had to remove the roof box in order to fit the 4Runner in to the cargo lift which would take Bessie down one floor into a small parking level. Here she would stay for 3 more days due to the fact the number which our license plate ends in placed us in the group of vehicles prohibited from being on the roads on Tuesdays. Something initiated in Ciudad de Mexico in an attempt to alleviate traffic congestion and I like to think pollution as well. But this is kind of undone by the fact locals can also purchase additional registration permitting them to drive it on the day their vehicle would otherwise have been prohibited from driving.
You will notice a white haze blanketing many of the photo I have taken from as far north as The Big Bend USA. This haze is actually not a poorly selected ISO setting on my camera. It is actually a constant haze throughout Mexico from a combination of pollution, bush fires, and active volcanoes Mexico was currently experiencing.
So when it came to Monday morning May 7th, we awoke to the beating of drums and tens of thousands of protesters marching down the streets around our hotel. It was Mexico's equivalent of Labour day where labour workers from ALL over Mexico were bussed in on coaches to join the local labour workers to speak out in one voice in order to lobby for better working conditions. The sheer numbers of people were amazing and how many streets they could fill and had closed down in a city of 20,000,000 people were even more impressive!
So many streets in the center of Mexico City were closed in order to accommodate this show of free speech it looked like all available police forces, auxiliary police forces, and military forces had also been bussed into Cuidad de Mexico in order to line the side walks and keep the peace. Which they did do very successfully.
Being a public holiday with visitors from all over Mexico currently in town also meant the park precinct which is also home to: numerous museums, lakes and the Mexico's National Zoo ..had truly come alive. Amongst thousands of people and street vendors we noticed a crowd had built over by one of the lakes. If curiosity didn't kill the cat… it definitely does make for a great Australian gringo trap...
Because of Keith's height in a crowd of hundreds of people that made even me (Daniel) feel TALL at only 5'9". The street performing clown at the center of all the attention took one look at Keith towering in the crowd, and I think he totally altered his whole show to accommodate dragging first Keith into the ring, then 5 minutes later Daniel into the ring… now at this point: Kevin seeing the pattern emerging, quickly dove for cover in the crowd. As best as a white man can in a crowd of awesomely tanned locals. Which was a good thing too, it allowed kevin to capture the following photos of our 1 hour long participation in this very talented Gay Mexican Clowns show, followed by 20 minutes of posing for photos with our new found fans.
On Tuesday we met up with one of Kevin's friends from the Peace Core (Ukraine) for lunch. Jeff, Jeff's daughter Sydney and mother in law Anna (Unfortunately Jeff's wife Rosa was currently in the USA for work) I liked Jeff's answer to what he liked most about living in Mexico City:
"One of the best things is also one of the worst things about Mexico City… The lack of laws being enforced." Which we had to agree with, based on our own three days in Ciudad de Mexico. But despite that not all laws that were not strictly enforced (and lets face it which countries have a 100% success rate) it sure adds to making Mexico City a fantastic city to visit and experience... just be super vigilant and super assertive in traffic!
On Wednesday we explored the outer reaches of Mexico City by subway and light rail… the system was incredible. We did not have to wait longer than 30 seconds on any platform for any connections between trains. WOW!
Up until Mexico City, after spending a lot of time sitting on out butts letting Bessie do all the work, it was nice to clock up many, many miles on foot over our three day stay in Cuidad de Mexico. But after Wednesday our time was up we had to keep moving next stop Ciudad de Veracruz, Veracruz ...via TEOTIHUACAN PYRAMIDS just north of Mexico City .
It was driving around outer Mexico City after TEOTIHUACAN on our way to Veracruz that we ran into the serious police shakedown in the blog Corrupt Cops of Mexico City.
The Bits That Link All The Other Bits...
With all the sensationalised travel warnings currently on every state north of the State of Mexico - basically 2/3rds of the country. To avoid any unwelcome hassle's, as well as, as many topes as possible (nasty speed bumps through every built up area of Mexico.) Once we were out of Copper Canyon we headed straight for the Toll Roads to take us all the way into Mexico City.
Traveling such a large distance the land around us changed dramatically from the classic barren desert of rocks and cacti, to tree covered mountains, valleys and ravines to areas filled with GUM TREEs that could easily have passed as parts of Australia. There was so much more diversity to Mexico than I had expected.
Unique Passing Technique On Toll Roads
The roads of Mexico have a unique vehicle over-taking procedure which I will explain a little because it is not necessarily obvious.
Any where a lane shoulder line goes from solid into a broken line, you are expected to drive with 2 wheels on the shoulder and two wheels in the lane, effectively creating a 3rd lane (with wheels on either side of solid center lines) for vehicles wishing to pass in either direction. Which creates plenty of opportunities for head on collisions and misjudgements that result in four vehicles side by side, and also sometimes a vehicle, over taking a vehicle already over taking another vehicle. We passed plenty of trucks that had been run off the roads.
Plenty of vehicles travel at a cruising speed of 100mph (160kmh) and you will know this as these people drive with their hazard lights permanently on, which basically should be read as "We are coming THROUGH you, get the HELL OUT OF THE FAST LANE" So pay attention to what is going on behind you as much as in-front and, always check your rear vision mirror before you even consider over taking ANYTHING.
On our 4th day inside Mexico we came across our first attempt by local police to stop us. They were actually pulling over another local vehicle for speeding, as that vehicle was slowing down looking for a place to pull over we wound up along side with the police who thought they might try their luck at a double pull-over. The driving cop repeatedly pointing at us and then to the side of the road.
Fortunately the gesture was vague enough, and they had there hands full enough with the original vehicle that was now coming to a stop. That as we just continued on our merry way, and it did not become a problem.
Then the next day on day 5 in , as we were entering Mexico City on a 5 lane highway. Of which 2 lanes were separated by a small traffic island. A cop on a motorcycle pulled up beside us and tried to get us to pull over into a break in that traffic island, which was no larger than 1m wide… Basically trying to pull us over in the center of 5 lanes of flowing traffic!!! Way to dangerous for us to stop, and way too dangerous for the cop to stop.
Keith just gave the cop a look of "Are you NUTS?" Look, shrugged his shoulders at him and kept on driving… and the cop gave up… so we obviously had done nothing legitimately wrong.
Amused at the lame attempts by the police, and our good fortune that they had given up so easily. We made our way to our accommodation for the next 3 nights. Our longest stay anticipated in Mexico due to the fact Mexico City By-Laws prohibited our license plate from driving on the road on Tuesdays.
Our home in Mexico City was Hotel San Francisco right in the middle of all the urban tourist attractions. We negotiated 3 noches for 3 personas and secured parking (which required that we remove Bessie's roof-box to fit inside a freight elevator that would take her to a downstairs parking lot, it doesn't get any more secure than that) all for only US$85 in TOTAL. Our time in Mexico itself will have its own blog. This one is just about the roads between the destinations.
3 days later after visiting the massive Teotihuacán Pyramids on the outskirts of Mexico City to the north, we were following a highway which led around Mexico City to connect us to the highways which would take us to Veracruz on the East Coast.
On this road we ran into a police shake-down which was so serious it required its own blog. Read our previous blog Corrupt Cops In The State Of Mexico.
Descending approximately7000 feet (2000 meters) past three major volcanoes down to Veracruz at sea level, the air-condition in the 4Runner had done a fantastic job of disguising the fact that the humidity outside had been soaring its way up to 88%... The MOMENT we stepped outside the vehicle our bodies became INSTANTLY clammy!
Veracruz at 32C/96F and 88% Humidity is possibly the most uncomfortable we have reached so far… OR we are just starting to adapt. We were surprised to discover recently on a day we didn't consider to uncomfortable in Panama City it was still 32C/96F and we had been wearing trousers and t-shirts. Not because we felt cool, so much, but trousers were required so as to avoid being thrown out of government buildings - as Kevin discovered when he forgot to put them back on after lunch.
Following the coast south of Veracruz we headed for The Palenque Ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula, where we camped just outside of the Palenque National Park at a wonderful camp ground called Mayabelle Campground we highly recommend it… It was the first time the Aussies had ever seen fire-flies, and I probably shouldn't mention the howling monkeys of the night, so you too can wonder apart from El Diablo (the devil) "WHAT THE HELL MAKES NOISES LIKE THAT!" deep into the night.
On our way to Merida we went to refuel only to discover that the Puma Fuel Station had both its credit card machines down and we did not have enough cash between us to pay for a full tank of gas.
So leaving Kevin at the gas station as a security deposit, Keith and I drove back to Champotón to find a cash machine. Unfortunately we knew we were going to have to deal with a Police trap which we had just driven past on our way out of Champotón. This turned out to be legitimate and harmless. However we were very wary of a second slightly different uniformed police patrol in this small town… and as it turned out… for good reason.
Keeping our distance from them whilst we found an ATM, they had started circling us whilst we were withdrawing cash. Temporarily distracted by a large truck which had also driving into the town square brought us some time to try and sneak away. But they were soon on the hunt. When I saw them pop out of street and starting to do a U-turn in the rear vision mirror because we had turned right where they had turned left, I quickly put my foot to the floor to try and get out of town before the could catch us. Un-fortunately in all these small towns they love their one way streets, and put very little effort into signing them as such. And the cops easily caught up to us.
This time we HAD actually broken a rule, making the attempted police shakedown that followed a little harder to be so dismissive of. But we just stuck to our guns on the "no ablo Española, no intiendo" in the face of the more typical "This is the fine, but for turista we will half that figure" shakedown.
So we knew the infraccion: driving wrong way up the one way street, just meant that they did not have to conjure up a reason to pull us over… We soon got the cops frustrated enough (mostly just buy sitting in the car and just not saying anything after a point) that they handed back my photo-copied passport and licensia (which they only accepted because i insisted the originals had to be left at the fuel station to ensure we returned) shook our hands and let us on our way.
90mins after we left Kevin a a security deposit, we returned to the Puma to pay for the fuel. Kevin had assumed after 40 minutes, I knew you guys must have ran into more police.
Crossing the state of Yucatan into Quintana Roo which actually makes up the MAJORITY of the "Yucatan Peninsula" We headed to Cancun and followed the coast down through Playa Del Carmen and finding an awesome little camping spot in Xpa-Hu. Recommended to us after we stumbled into "Little USA" basically an oasis RV Park on the beach filled with retired Americans and satellite dishes.
After meeting Julian who loved his job (when you see the photos you will understand why) as our wonderful Resort Manager of Bonanza Playa. Xpu-Ha. And also something biting Kevin 100 times on his shoulder through his hammock (note for future close bug net ALL the way around a hammock) We spent one last night in the VERY PINK AND GREEN Maria Delores Hotel in Chetumal before crossing the border into Belize.
Chetumal had some very dodgy hotel/motels and some very expensive ones we were struggling to find something in between. I highly recommend The Maria Delores Hotel great value… and the food in their very GREEN restaurant was one of the best meals we had come across in all of Mexico.
Throughout Mexico we used the toll roads where ever practical and our Toll Road Tab at the end only totaled US$170 which we think based on other travelers police shake-down stories and subsequent fines paid. For the amount of small town police the Toll Roads let you avoid, they are potentially WAY cheaper than all the shake-down opportunities and tope induced vehicle wear and tear you are exposing yourself too on the free roads running parallel.
And if you are not quite as bold as we are in taking on corrupt cops the Toll Roads may make your traveling experience of the amazing, must explore, country of Mexico ...a much more pleasant experience.
A couple of these blogs will be out of sequence in trying to catch up after significant internet problems through Northern Mexico... because this update all text is an easy journal update. This update comes from Belize, during our time in Mexico we had 4 attempted police shake downs in the last half of our time in Mexico which kind of took the shine of of Mexico a little.
But proud to say we foiled all attempted shake downs, including one where Daniel had actually accidentally driven the wrong way up a one way street (whilst trying to stay off the local cops radar) and was blatantly in the wrong! However this particular "Shakedown" I wrote up because it was the most serious of all 4 much more highly organised and other travelers may like to know how we dealt with it, since they obviously do this regularly. You will soon realise why this entry has no photos... we kinda had our hands full at the time.
Mexico State, Corrupt Cop Shakedown!
I could almost see the $$ signs in his eyes as he drove past us in the opposite lane… You know that feeling you get when some one is staring at you a little TOO intently?!
I Looked up from my "Keys To Spanish" book that I was reading in the back seat of the 4Runner and spotted him straight away. Amongst all the traffic on the other side of the high way median divider. A local town cop with his eyes locked on our Thule roof storage box… I remember thinking "Yep it is still attracting attention even in the city"
5 minutes later he had found a place to u-turn and already chased us down, appearing over my right shoulder with a short blast of his siren, waving us to pull off to the side of three lanes of busy traffic.
This was a standard routine for him. He arrived at the driver window "Buenos Dias… licencia!" were all we could make out and he knew it too, deliberately speaking to fast for gringos and acting pissed off that we pretended not to understand what he said.
Keith inadvertently opening an unintended panel as he was reaching for our Vehicle Permit left his UK license visible enough for the cop to spot it and accept no substitutes. Snatching up Keith's license he barked his preconceived fake "infringement" in Spanish. Trying to say we could not see out the back window (which is actually how Keith spotted him), and that we were to follow him to the police station to speak to his boss. "You Follow Me" and he marched off to his car.
We knew it was a shake down straight away by the concocted and false "infringement", Keith was seething under his breath as he searched for his thongs "You are going to have to work a lot harder for this one buddy" ignoring the corrupt cops instructions he got out of the car slammed the door and marched back to the policeman's driver window.
Keith knew he wasn't going to get it back, but stood his ground at the policemans window as three lanes of traffic wizzed by just meters from his back.
"I will follow you but not until you give me back my documents..." back and forth they repeated there statements the cop just replying "Follow me to the deligacion" after about a minute of disagreement Keith shook his head at the officer and returned to the 4runner, starting the engine and pulling back on to the highway in behind the corrupt local official who was leading the way.
"Man I don't care if we have to sit at the police station all afternoon, we have plenty of time." Kevin said from the back seat. Both Keith and I agreed without hesitation as this was not the first time we had discussed this exact situation, we started stripping our decoy wallets of all cash, expired bank cards and expired IDs leaving just a few paso's in each of our decoy wallets.
Trying to stay on the tail of the corrupt police officer we actually broke more laws trying to follow his 7-8min route to the "policia delegacion " than we had the last 10 days since entering Mexico.
As we started to head more than two block away from the highway, looking at the condition of the buildings around us we were already questioning where the hell we were being lead. We rounded a corner and two men in street cloths were already opening large gates to a fully enclosed compound attached to a building that obviously was NOT a police station.
The police officer pulled his vehicle into the gates. "Hell no, I'm not driving in there." Keith said. "You sure aren’t" Kevin responded "Drive past - Pull up in front of the building"
The last few minutes following the corrupt officer had brought us some time to plan. Daniel was going to stay with the car, Keith HAD to go and said "Kevin I want you with me listening to what was going on just in case things start heading in the wrong direction, but ONLY speak SPANISH if you have to!"
The police officer and 4-5 of his civilian clothed "mates" frantically tried to get us to comply with their instructions to follow the police truck into the compound. As we ignored them driving past the gates we could see there was not a single other vehicle in the compound, let alone any signs of it being a Policia Delegacion… so we knew it was on. Kevin didn't hesitate "Daniel as soon as we are out of the car get in the drivers seat" he commanded from the back as soon as we all saw the compound empty but for the corrupt Mexico State Officer and his cronies.
We all opened our doors and stepped out" Kevin and Keith carefully surveying the situation as they walled back from the vehicle towards the gates to meet the "police" which were still insisting we pull the vehicle in behind the gates.
Daniel on the other hand headed the opposite direction, around the bonnet and jumped straight in the driver seat locking all doors with a click of the drivers central locking control. And quickly started moving all his camera bag and gear out of the front passenger foot well to the back seat. It was tight for Daniel to get into the front seat let alone Keith at 6"4' needing to jump in in a hurry.
Keys in the ignition, hand break off, 4Runner in park just in case we needed to leave in a hurry, Daniel turned to look through the back window - which we apparently could NOT see through - to see all three men, Kevin, Keith and the cop all holding firmly onto what looked like each others wrists hidden from view, because all I could see was each time on would push or pull the other two would take a step to balance them selves. Then before I knew it Keith and Kevin were dragging the uniformed police officer back towards the 4Runner by whatever they were holding in his hands.
I couldn't get a good read on the situation from my getaway drivers seat, but I could see someone had crossed a line. I could now see all three were holding onto the vehicle permits bright pink certificate a most likely Keith's UK license also. I immediately put my fingers to the ignition key, ready to start, and my other hand hovering over the central locking button… looked back over my shoulder to see Kevin hip to hip with the cop hand to hand on the documents twisting sideways separating the cops tightly clenched hands from the documents.
Kevin got to the rear passenger door handle faster than I could hit the central un-locking button, he immediately tried again, this time his door opened and he was straight in the back seat.…
"Are we driving??!" I asked Kevin as soon as he had the door open.
I don't think Kevin even heard me "Start the car Daniel." He said from the back seat, simultaneously slamming, locking his own door, and checking the front passenger door was also unlocked for Keith to jump in.
"WERE GOING DANIEL, START THE CAR!"
One hand already on the ignition, it started straight away, other hand hovering over the central locking button till Keith was also in.
All 4-5 "cops" in total had starting surrounding the front of the vehicle as soon as they heard the engine fire, Keith hadn't even closed the door when I hit the central locking button.
"Drive Daniel just drive" Both Keith and Kevin talking over the top of each other. Keith also smacking the lock down to make sure.
The cops had started slapping the body of the car demanding stuff in spanish. The actual uniformed cop had had enough time to position himself directly in front of the bonnet. As I dropped it into drive and pushed the vehicle forward towards him. I heard Keith's passenger door handle clunk as they tried in vein to open his door, quickly followed by my own drivers handle clunking.
I was too focused on to the cops eyes as I pushed the 4Runner further into him. I heard him say "I am police you have to stop" in English. Still looking at him with "you better move, cos I ain't stopping you prick" eyes two thoughts were going through my mind as Kevin and Keith just kept repeating just drive…
The first was "We haven't yet committed any crimes or infringements… If I drive into him and he lets me, then they have assault and I have actually committed a crime."
Fortunately Keith and Kevin just kept repeating "Keep going, keep going."
The second thought was "Well he hasn't drawn his gun yet, so this isn't yet a serious situation" ...because at this stage I was still only guessing as to what HAD happened out side the car.
As I looked the cop straight in the eyes and pushed the bonnet into him one ore time forcing him back… either he or the guy at my drivers side window must have stepped aside and made a hole because after pulling the steering heavily to the left there was enough space to push both of them out of the way as they continued to thump the body work with there hands and shout there demands.
As always seems to happen with me I can keep my mind calm while my body starts to shake uncontrollably as my kidneys just dump adrenalin into my body in tense situations, this one was no exception. I was wondering if the guys could feel it in the acceleration as my foot continued to shake wildly on the accelerator. We drove a little too fast over a couple of those incessant Mexican Topes (nasty speed bumps,) cut up a garbage truck and another vehicle at the first available intersection, driving down the wrong side of the road to get around them because we weren't stopping for anything EXCEPT the topes - those things can do more damage than the corrupt cops.
We found our way back to the highway we were diverted off of, which we could only enter heading the opposite direction to where we wanted to be heading for a few km until we could make the first available U-Turn, legal or illegal we did not care at that stage… I remember asking the guys "Are we I breaking speed limits as well?" Because I still wasn't sure where things had escalated too...
Keith or Kevin replied without hesitation "Just get us out of here."
When we found our U-turn we all knew we weren't out of the woods yet, because while we had already established a significant lead on the corrupt cop. We knew we were about to u-turn into a major police trap of 4 other uniformed police we had already driven past before our corrupt cop had originally pulled us over.
Halfway between the U-turn and the on-coming police trap we spotted the corrupt officer following our path in the opposite direction on the other side of the dividing barrier. We are pretty sure he had already given up but we were not going to bank on it.
I think we were all holding our breath as we rounded the corner to watch the 4 uniformed cops of the police trap like hawks, for any signs of reacting and stepping out onto the road to stop us. In between scanning three lanes of traffic in front and behind the vehicle, I saw one of the police officers staring us down but I think again it was just the roof box that caught his attention, as none of the 4 tried to stop us nor mount a pursuit.
Luckily for us we were turning of the highway in another 9 KM thanks to ("Help Me") Rhonda's latest update (our sat-nav) we only had to stay clear of them until the turn and then we could relax. And we did.
Once we were clear I learned what had happened back at the gate, Keith and Kevin against 4-5 goons, took one look in the compound and said to the officers in English "This is not a police station, let go to the police station." And the moment Keith saw his license in the hands of one of the civilian dress men he saw red, every one grabbed for the documents at the same which is what I saw going on. Kevin kept insisting if they were police show their ID badges instead one man reached into his pocket fortunately pulling our a phone saying I am going to call the cops. Keith and Kevin said excellent that’s what we want. Kevin kept insisting "OK lets go to the police station." and the corrupt cop refused and refused to let go of the documents and why he started to get frog marched back towards the 4Runner.
It dawned on us as they filled me in on events as we continued to leave Mexico City on our way to Veracruz that this was actually the very first time Daniel had taken the wheel since entering Mexico. And the first time I did drive in Mexico it was as the Get-Away driver and had to run over an (albeit corrupt) cop in the process. And I am sure I will cherish this story for years to come! :)
We all have the utmost respect for the Federal Police and The National Military Forces who have show us nothing but professionalism at every check point, but we were all seething after this incident. I think the fact all 3 of us were more pissed off by our run in with the local state of Mexico Corrupt Cop, than intimidated by the situation, and were all comfortable with that reaction. Means we make a great team for this type of trip.
There are multiple levels of police in Mexico and the one we were dealing with was about the next level up from Mall Cop - we had been warned about them and an experienced Mexico traveler advised the best way to deal with them is JUST DON’T STOP… which worked well 2 times earlier on our way to Mexico city but we were assisted by traffic conditions. This particular time it was not so easy.
We learned a lot from actually having been through the situation for real, as prepared as we were we still made some mistakes, but so did the cops. It was obviously a standard routine for them one which usually doesn't come up against prepared travelers like ourselves, because they had a couple of opportunities foil our escape which they did not take advantage of and I know they will definitely do things differently next time… as will we.
We are now safely out of Mexico where basically it would be more surprising to get through without at least one corrupt cop story - as Mexico is well known for them. Our return will be up the west coast where NO other bloggers recently through that route have reported ANY hassles.