Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Insta-surfers. I keep coming across so many people that just become "surfers" or jump into the lifestyle from left field and it never meshes well with me. I think there is this allure to the idea of the lifestyle of surfer that makes people just strangely jump in it. Somehow I cross paths with them and it's uncomfortable for all parties involved, something like the real surfer meets the posing surfer. I don't mean that to sound egotistical or conceited. I'll try to explain.
I headed north up the coast on a couple of travel days. Long driving days in Mexico were a thing I was dreading after so many military checkpoints. Plus I was in Chicahau loving the surf & my next stop was somewhere in the vicinity of Acapulco. But my travel experience seems to be kicking in and I made some good decisions and was pretty happy with how all the situations unfolded from being lost, to searching for a decent place to stay outside of Acapulco. It all went well, I was exploring to some beaches and found a nice beach right outside of the hideous large resort city of Acapulco. It's got all the glitz & glamour, all inclusive style places but with a really seedy dirty feeling nearby and I really wanted nothing to do with it. But, distance and timing was it was a good next stop to cross over onto some surf spots I wanted to hit well above it. First one was Troncones, right outside of Zihautenejo. Troncones is a really nice gringo style surf town. A lot of second homes owned by americans, it's a bit of a nicer area with a few surf options. The strange thing is that nobody is around. So I drive up and down the main dirt road and there is nobody, but it's filled with nice looking houses & hotels but they're empty, though still blocking my view and access to the beach. Not hotels like Acapulco resorts, just ones that look like a solid 2 week vacation spot for someone from the states. Which also means, out of my budget. But with nobody around I cruised around scoping things out until I found the wave & then found the cheapest place in town run by 2 "surfers" and is the only hostel like thing. It was a nice place, the best showers I had had in forever...really, hot water and a giant full pressure waterfall. I hadn't felt this clean in a while. So anyways as I check in and try to unwind from a long day on the road, I am chatting with the couple about the surf. They are telling me everything about all these waves, how to get in the water, they give surf classes, rent boards and all kinds of talk about times in the water and what this left point break has been doing on various occasions with various people surfing. All good, I'm psyched to get some tips for where to enter since it's a rocky reef break and stoked to hear about the other waves nearby as I'm going to head to one next. It's about sunset when I got there after a full 10 hours of traveling. There is nobody surfing and the guy from the hostel offers to go surf with me, show me the way down & out. The waves are small but after a hot sweaty day in Mexico, a refreshing sunset surf sounds great. Well as he wears his shoes to the beach and I go barefoot, the differences are starting to show early. Then comes the paddle out, we get in at the sandy side far from the wave & have to paddle. All good, mellow paddle out and I'm hanging back in no hurry but he's moving slow. Then I realize the sun is setting and I actually want to get out there in time to catch waves so I'm gone up ahead on my own. Get out there and try to asses the rock situation because this is a left point that breaks near and over rocks and you can't just catch the wave anywhere. At this point, I'm really comfortable in the water. I've been all over this continent surfing rights, lefts, beach breaks, reef breaks, rocky points, etc. I love the feeling of being connected to the ocean and being able to read it, that only comes with time in the ocean as it ever changing with tides, winds, rocks, swells, etc. SO I'm out there alone, find my groove and start having fun. Catching little waves close to over these rocks, the only steep section that was surfable on a short board as the rest was better for a long board. I get wave after wave and feel bad as I'm passing around the guy. He can't duck dive which is pretty crucial to surfing. And because the waves were really only catchable at the part where I was sitting, he never caught any because it was too close to the rocks. SO I sort of felt bad but didn't know what else to do but catch waves were I was and be nice as I paddled by. I don't care what skill level anyone is at and the point of this isn't to talk about how great I am surfing. What it turns out is that after the surf and we go back to their place, I start talking to the couple. THey're a young couple running this surf hostel, offering surf lessons and tours and such. A bit of conversing and it turns out they've only been there 4 months as they were fire dancers in Seattle and took this opportunity to come down & do this life down here and run this surf hostel. Except one thing, they don't really surf? It seems strange for me because I'm not trying to live a lifestyle or be a surfer, I just really love the connection with the ocean, the challenge, the humbling mother ocean provides and the feeling of being connected to it all. I'm living on the beach, in a truck keeping track of tides, moon phases, winds, swell angles and then when I pop into a more normal vacationers town & run into the insta-surfers it's an insta-clash. Like I've mentioned in previous blogs, I'm doing all I can not to talk about me or my trip and the insta-surfer is always keen to talk and talk so they do all the talking and then eventually after peeling bit by bit out they realized I'm actually living the life and they're just talking it. It would be just as if I jumped into some other super random thing out of nowhere like call home to mom & dad & said "hey, I'm moving to canada opening a hunting lodge & becoming a hunter." I don't have a gun, much-less enough to necessitate a gun rack. haha ok well enough about that, you would be surprised how many of these I've run into. And they never speak spanish either....
Well after my night with the fire dancer/insta surfer couple I was off to go find this spot called the ranch. I was told some directions from a lady who had been there but they were sort of confusing. One thing I remembered was once I was on my dirt road exit passing thru a small town, keep staying to the left as forks and splits happen in the road. It took me a bit of circling confusing to find the exit but I finally spotted my dirt way. I'm always wishing I could share these travel days with everyone so you could see how it is really. I decided to shoot some video with my little point and shoot to see if I could capture some of the essence. I am continuing the abuse my truck as I bounce up and down thru the small town of los robles. I keep staying left per instructions and it seems all is well. Now, before I go further, I forgot to mention that this has been one of the rainiest rainy seasons on record for Mexico. It's been pouring, causing flooding and landslides all over. So as I stay on the left the dirt roads start to have intimidating looking puddles that I have to make the right decisions on whether I should be passing. They are a few of them and they're deep but passable. There have been a few forks in the road with 2 or 3 road options and I just keep staying left. Well the very last one looked crazy and I should have known from the start this couldn't be the right road. But it's muddy on all 3 roads, they all look pretty crappy and small, and I was told stay left. So though my instincts said, this doesn't look right I went forward a bit to see more. As I get down this path the trees come in tight smashing thru my rolled down winds breaking leaves and branches all in the front seats. Now quickly the road is coming to a bend, I can't really turn around so I figured I'm doing alright I'll go forward to the bend and see if maybe I'm actually arriving to the beach. I've essentially been off the main road and into the dirt ones for maybe 30 mins. As I hit the bend and go around it the mud tracks are really not level and I'm quickly hanging down on the driver side meaning the passenger side was about 30 degrees higher up than the driver. I stopped video'ing at just before this as it was getting too challenging to shoot video and drive, needed my full attention. These tracks were scary, I wasn't sure if maybe I could tilt plus the ruts on each side were deep and I didn't want to slide over into them. So I was in it now and had to go forward and I finally made it out of the scary unleveled tracks and immediately drop on the other side and I'm not moving forward. Maybe I was pushing or leaning to that side because I had almost been tilting to my side the entire previous bit so I ended up a little over on that side after the tracks leveled and I was down quick. I try to reverse, no luck. Don't really see much mud spitting and being there alone I can't see what the wheels are doing, spinning or not. I check it out and it looks pretty bottomed out on that side. Now it wasn't long before this, maybe a month early, I was in a collectivo truck that got stuck similarly to this and the guys got out with their machettes and hacked down some tree branches, put them under the tires and we pushed ourselves out. I'm really far from anyone and now a little while back realized this could not be the right road down meaning nobody else is going to pass through here, only an idiot would take this road! So I get out, grab my machette and go searching for tree branches. It's mid day or so, really hot and unfortunately my car just happened to be in a spot not being blocked by all the trees around. It's muddy everywhere, I'm out in sandals which immediately become stuck and useless so I'm barefoot. There are immediately more thorny things that I want to deal with, I either walk the grassy like middle part of the road and step on prickly things or walk in the muddy mirky watered tire tracks. It's really muddy, deep up to my knee in some parts. I'm hacking away at branches and sure enough I grab one that is already knocked down and a bunch of fire ants are on me. I'm smacking and jumping away, continuing to fight this battle. Back over to the truck I've got branches and I'm first trying to dig my truck out. Key word "trying". The mud there was up to my knee and watery so I'm trying to make trenches leading the water elsewhere and dig mud out by it seems all my trenches ever do is bring more water to me. The truck being in the sun made it so my black exterior would burn you if you touched it. So as I'm trying to dig in the mud, sweating as it's 95 degrees, I can't even lean on the truck to assist. After a bit of time and positioning of these branches, I drop one down next to the tire on a bush and immediately I'm getting tagged by a swarm of bees. I was knee deep in mud and had been trying to tip toe my way around to the 'best' spots and now I'm just getting stung all over my legs and so I run, over to the car and jump in all muddy. So much of not trying to get all this mud on the inside, I had 4 welts on my legs from these bees. There home was right next to my tire that I was digging in. At this point I figure I'll fire up the car and give it another shot, no dice. Now I've been at this for maybe 1 or 2 hours and with the bees over there waiting to attack me and me not having anyone to push or help, I start to concede that though I'm trying my best I don't think there is any way. So I grab my water, lock up and start hiking out barefoot and all. All of the giant puddles I went through I know have to cross which is kind of creepy thinking about possible snakes or scorpions arounds. It was a long hot walk, probably an hour and a half until I saw my first house. First house I walk up and there is a lady and she says her husbands working and they have no car. The next house I ask the guy for some help and he tells me to wait and he'll go get some help. Just like that he's gone towards town and I'm realizing this is going to be another one of those situations where some nice latin people help me out of my jam. He comes back with a guy in truck, actually similar to my truck, and we're off to go scope it out. I'm bouncing around the back of the truck enjoying the breeze and when we get to the last fork and I tell them to stay left they immediately stop and look at me like "you went down THAT road?" Yep, so he decides to back down a ways and then realizes he's not going to even try to make it there. We walk down, I'm hoping they can come up with some typical creative resilient latin magic that they do in so many situations but this one isn't happening. We try pushing but it's not moving. The chasis is on the ground. He tells me "necisita una machina"...a tractor. We're back towards town and they're calling the 2 guys they know that have tractors. First one isn't available and then the next has to call back. By the time we get back to his house a guy is rolling down the road in his tractor to pick us up and head out to my car. Just like that, nobody is asking for money , I have no fun, no AAA, just have to stay positive and use my spanish and hope that I will get help. It never fails that I do. All 3 of us climb ontot his guys tractor and we head back out to my truck. I'm standing barefoot on some gear or something off the back, it's actually a long ride back on the tractor as it's not moving much faster than I was walking. My feet are getting sore balancing on the back of this thing and trying not to get slapped by leaves and branches. We get out there, they hook up a chain and just like that I am out of hole I was in and just have to turn around and drive that scary part again which I really wasn't looking forward to doing but I had no choice. I make it out, hand the guys a little bit of money for the help and everyone is on their way. I'm not on the right road down to the beach, get down there and it's empty. There are 2 restaurant palapa type places that are closed down & I pull up at one, set up my tent under the palm thatched roof and I'm back in business. Now if you remember I had just left the nice place with the fire dancers and I was feeling so good about the nice hot shower I had there. That was from the morning, now 8 hours later I'm covered in mud and sweat. So much for that feeling, all I can do is go in the ocean with a bar of soap... So I captured some of this on video and put together a little vid to show you guys a day of searching for the beach down here in rainy season. I'm going to try to put up on this page on the right side. As always the end destination turned out to be a good one, I was camped out on my own left point break for 3 days. I spent time surfing, reading, writing, trying to play guitar, drawing, cooking, cleaning, & some yoga. At this point in my trip I find myself thinking about the entire trip, something I hadn't done much of as I have always been trying to stay 'present'. But wow, I can't believe all the places that I've been through and how many days like this one I've had. It's pretty overwhelming trying to digest it all.
Well a few days of camping I was getting low on food and ready to find a real shower so I'm off to the next beach which was a place I really excited about going to and surfing called Rio Nexpa. Rio Nexpa has a fun left point break, a good bit of power and because of the rain the river has busted through for the first time in some 6 years. As all the towns in Mexico, it's eerily empty. I park, walk around town asking about camping and rooms. I had all plans on camping but I was really wanting a camping situation with a shower and everything, which they had but when I got offered this cabaña with it's own kitched for 12 dollars a night I couldn't resist. It had a fridge which I never had, I immediately thought of cheese and cold milk for cereal and left overs. Plus a sink to wash dishes, this is the high life for me. So I set up there for a week & end up getting some really pumping a frame rights and lefts on the other side of the river mouth that busted through and had moved some sand to form these pretty amazing sand bars. It was high performance, powerful and hollow surf. So I'm out there with a guy I met a month ago in southern mexico, we're catching these bombs and all is good for a couple of days. But with surf like this, big waves and big powerful barrels comes hard spills and I end up getting smashed on my board and my chin is split open. I immediately feel for it and see blood all over my hand. I paddle back out to my aussie mate and ask him how it looks & he's like "ah, you're going to need stitches for sure mate." My board took some damage too. Off to the nearest town, I find another funny small clinic. The guy ties up my chin with some fishing line that I can still get in the water if I want. And just like that I'm taking a day off and enjoying some time in the hammock with my book.
Off from here I'm looking to head up the coast to my next stop, Pascuales, where I can get some dings in a couple of boards repaired. On my 5 hour drive I get hit with some intense kidney pains. It's bad, like to the point where I'm immediately nauseas from the pain. I'm not near any kind of facility that can help me but I'm realizing this is serious pain, not one I can just ignore. It's too intense. I spend the day traveling anyway, arrive to Pascuales and set up my tent under this roof of the guy who does board repairs there. I'm exhausted, always a side effect from fighting through the pain. I get my cot set up, lay on my hammock next to the tent and I'm asleep before the sun is down. Next morning I get up and it's come back. At first not quite so intense but enough to keep me from surfing some fun looking waves and thinking about the fact that I need to go find an Urologist. So I leave my tent, drive to the nearest town with internet and start searching where I can find Urologists in Mexico. There aren't just specialists all over, only the big cities where the big money is have facilities that I need. So the closes big city is Guadalajara, I track down a hospital and call them asking about Urologists. They recommend a guy, I call his office asking if they have lithotripsy or some high tech solution because I'm dying in pain and know that I can't pass this stone on my own. Talking spanish on the phone still isn't easy and I'm writing down the name of the place, some other things nearby to reference and just like that I have an appointment at 530 that same evening in a city 4 hours away that I know nothing about. I'm back to the beach, pack up my campsite, grab my boards and I'm on the road. I have no phone, no gps, no map and no guidebook for this place. I guess the having no road map thing is my own fault, they're out there but I've just been using word of mouth and asking people for directions. So I'm driving as fast as I can as the road leading to the city has a toll road option and it's a nice road compared to what I've been dealing with. I fly for hours on the highway and I'm entering a city that seems pretty big and spread out. I stop and start asking, it's confusing but somehow or another after a few different stops I find someone that knows a fairly easy route to get where I'm going. I make it over to the hospital for my 530pm appointment. The office is really high tech, all macs and the doctor seems really legit. He ultrasounds me right there and confirms what I've knowns, I've got a giant stone that I can't pass without some sort of procedure to help. I'm telling him my story as he's asking, that I'm traveling alone and what I went thru to get to this point. He sends me to get xrays and go do blood/urine tests. I'm feeling pretty good about my spanish. My ability to understand seems pretty good, as always much better than my ability to talk. But since I've been through some of this before in Peru, I'm pretty familiar with the medical terms relating to anything you might go through with your kidney. All the tests are done and I'm being scheduled to have a tube with camera & laser up my urinary tract to laser burn my kidney stone one on Monday, Oct 11th. Yesterday. Now that this is all out of the way, I still need to figure out where I'm sleeping. It's dark now, Friday night. I have no information and the area where the hospital was is the most fancy american looking area I have see in forever - outback steakhouse, mall, pf chang's, starbucks and super fancy expensive hotels. Not in my budget, I'm about to spend a fortune on this procedure so I need to stick to a budget traveler style place. I just ask someone how far the centro is, which turns out to be far...maybe 30 mins on city roads. Somehow or another I'm there, circling around the busy small cobblestone streets until I spot a hostel. Have to leave the car on the street with a guy watching it as it's not a parking area really. They have space but no parking so now I have a bed and just need to sort out my parking. Back in the car, circling around until I find a fenced in parking area and negotiate a deal to leave the truck there for a few days. It's not 10 at night and I haven't eaten either so I'm off to walk the streets, grab some street tacos thankfully not to far away and back to the hostel and I'm crashed out as all the hostel backpacker people are just getting started to party the night away. Kill me. I guess when I started the day I had no clue how I was going to work this out and as I was driving to Guadalajara it was hard not to think there was no way I would make it in time, or find the place, or figure out where to sleep and I consciously told myself that it was all going to work out. I was just going to face each thing as it came and would make it happen. With no phone, no gps, and me alone I was able to just get it all done and end up sleeping the night away with plans of surgery in a few days. It definitely does good to just focus on what is in your control and not worry about what might happen, just face it as it comes and it will work out one way or another.
Yesterday was the day, as much as I wanted to stay upbeat about the outcome I couldn't help but get anxious about the idea of a tube going up this part of my body and the inevitable pain I was going to endure. I was given an epidural to numb my body and watched via the computer screen as the camera and laser did its work on my stone. An hour and a half later I'm being wheeled out of there and because I was alone, put into a room for the night. I won't describe all the horrible parts of it and they are still happening right now as I've been typing but it's definitely not something I would ever wish on anyone else. I'm not out of the weeds yet, I've still got a catheter inside and I'm trying to pass all the small bits of stone that were broken up into more passable size. It's painful and maybe it's time like these that I wish I had my loved ones near. I think that's why I decided to write this tonight, since I can't have you all here then all I can do is talk to you through this blog medium. It's certainly no fun to be here, especially in a backpacker environment where everyone is socializing and then I'm the weird guy in the corner with a catheter in his urethra and peeing blood. I guess this is just another one of those moments where I've had to endure and persevere. All good for more spanish learning and testing my patience. Hopefully this will be the end of this kidney stone plague that has plagued me more or less the entire trip.
I guess tomorrow I need to get back to these stitches and have them pulled out or take them out myself...that turned into a very minor problem real quick :)
buenas noches, off to sleep now!
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Buen dia everyone. So I'm still here in Southern Mexico really loving it. Last year when I was in Mexico I only spent one month here so this time around I'm really trying to slow down and explore around for all the gems I missed on my way down. The southern part of Mexico is really amazing for surf. There are points upon points upon points & with 4x4, a little patience & the will to explore you can really land yourself on some amazing empty beaches. I finally found the spots I had always dreamed of finding & it's been so cool to enjoy these places, though as always I'm always missing the oh so important factor of having someone to share it with. There are people around but whenever I find these amazing surf spots I'm always wishing my brothers were there or friends or someone so that we could sit there in disbelief rather than me sitting there unable to believe that I'm actually here doing this & experiencing this. In the south I really went up & down many dirt roads in hopes that one of them lead to an empty beach with waves. After quite of bit of rough driving, I landed on an amazing beach alone...so I thought. It's one of those moments where I'm sitting on a beach, parked & camping and I feel like I've found this right point break and I'm feeling all good about my explorations. And then that feelings is curbed quickly as 4 suburbans come driving up the sand & park right next to me. And out jumps the Nike 6.0 junior girls & boys surf team. These little 16 yr olds had just flown from California and then escorted right to my precious lonely beach that I thought I had all to myself. These are some of the best junior surfers in the world and as I chatted with one of them, she says "I've never been to mexico, this is my first day". Here I sit having driven up a billion rough dirt roads to "find" this place and these little brats get driven right out there with no effort, no spanish, and in luxury. So while I camped, fought mosquitos, and slept in my tent they came in & out in the A/C from their perfect little worlds in a city about 45 mins away. So I spent the week sharing the waves with them & their photographers. After this bit on the beach I finally headed up the coast a bit to continue northbound (which feels wrong by the way, I'm a southbound kind of guy). I end up running into a guy I met last year and he tells me that he's out on this peninsula that has some good waves. SO I decide to make the mission out there, though I was reluctant because you can't arrive there by car this time of the year (rainy season). So I drive to a town, catch a shared boat ride, then a collectivo truck (a group of you sitting in a truck bed), and finally arrive to the small town of Chicahua. It sits out on this peninsula I guess, it's out on the beach and we drove through mangroves across the lagoon for 15 minutes in a boat to get there from the mainland. Chicahua is a really small town with nothing going there, just some fisherman & a few surfers that have realized this is a magical surf spot. You know, just like all the really small towns I have camped in, I always have this same question in my head and the same answers come to life. The question is, I wonder how I'm going to get food when what I have runs out. What I have grown to love about the small towns on this trip is there isn't grocery stores, the food just comes right to you. I'll be sitting around the campsite and then someone will walk up and have baked fresh breads. Then someone walks by having made enchiladas. Then another who makes tortillas. Then someone with vegetables. Then another with eggs. It always happens like this. No matter how small, the food shows up with someone on a scooter, a veggie truck, walking on foot. It's so cool because essentially these small towns all work together to feed each other. Each person just makes something & then shares it with the rest of the town for a few pesos. You know exactly where your food came from, it's such a big difference than the big cities of home. We get everything from the grocery story, who knows where it came from. But this is so different, you get to know everyone and what they make everyday. SO surely the people that make anything dulce know they can pass by my camp everyday and get me to buy a sweet bread or whatever tasty treat they make. So Chicahua turned out to be the most amazing surf experience I've had. The waves were big, it's a right point break, and the sand bar had just been shifted to form the most perfect giant barrels I've ever been a part of. I guess it's also cool to realize my surf skills have improved slightly (one who hope so!) and that I can actually surf these high performance waves. I've never spent so much time standing in giant dry barrels for many many seconds on every wave. All this and it was just 2 of us out. Each wave I came off of just blown away, unable to believe that I was actually riding these waves. So after a 4 days of quiet on the beach, books, hammocks, writing, drawing, practicing guitar, and surfing a huge rain storm cam. It poured and poured and poured for a day or 2. Well apparently the water levels in the lagoon had risen to unusual heights. One morning I'm lounging around & this guy comes running up saying the truck is leaving to the boats and that they heard word that my truck was almost underwater! SO in a flash I grab a couple things, run to the truck in the crazy downpour & now I'm sitting in the back of a truck getting completely dumped on by rain. The drive is rough, muddy, wet. First we come to a tree down in the "road" so the guys jump out and hack away at it with their machettes. Then we hit a soft spot and one side of the truck bottoms out in the mud and we're stuff. Machettes out again, cutting down some sort of branch to lift the truck and put under the tire. I'm out, soaked, to help push. I end up in the muddiest spot (knee deep) and when we finally push the truck out I fall a bit in the mud and onto a pile of bullet ants. I get so attacked by these ants. They're called bullet ants because it feels like a bullet when they bite. Back in the truck, trying to wipe the pain away from the numerous bullet bites and we're bouncing back down the muddy path. Finally we get to the boat, jump in and it's pouring and a rough 15 min ride back to town. Upon arrive I see the house I parked my car at is completely underwater, 3 feet high in their kitchen and next to my truck is parked all the boats. The people nicely built a barricade around my truck but the water was about knee high all around the truck and my only exit is to drive into the lagoon. So I get out, move the boats out of the way to create a "road" for me to pass thru them and I have no choice but to just drive my car into the water and hope that I don't break down. The rain was intense so I knew it was this or my truck would be a boat in a couple of hours. So after a bit of moving boats out of my way, trudging through the water I finally jump in and drive into the water and thankfully make it out of there just in time. As soon as I had removed the barricade, the water flooded my parking spot and I was so close to losing my truck in the water. Just another one of those "oh no" moments that I really lucked out in. Thankfully the people who's house got flooded decided to build a barricade for my truck, I don't know how in the world that they decided to bother with my truck when their things were under water. But I sure thanked them. That was half the journey, I had to go back on the boat & truck to get back to my campsite but took a little break to shop for some things while back on land. I was able to snap a quick picture in the rain of my truck, it doesn't really show it well but you can get the idea. There was no time to bother with cameras, plus it was pouring. This is all part of being down here in rainy season and these are the things that make the days so exciting and scary. That's all for now, I'm actually heading back to that same place as I decided to go back for one more incoming swell before heading northbound. Hope everyone is doing great & enjoyed the end of summer. chau!
Sunday, August 29, 2010
I guess I have drifted away from this blog action. Blog, who made up that word anyways? I have never really liked that word and never thought I would be saying that I blog. I like the idea of journaling better. I guess after too many days, too many situations, too many things to blog about I started feeling like I couldn't keep up and I couldn't possibly relay the story of my life in this once a month blog. There is too much going on, even though it may seem like maybe nothing is happening with me other than beaches & surfing. I guess that is what is so addictive about this trip, there is always something happening and whatever does happens is so unpredictable that I'm always riding high on a bit of excitement or fear or adrenaline. It's a constant addictive high traveling in a car, being lost, not knowing where you'er going to sleep or what you might find or what is going to happen. Avoiding police check points or military searches or landing on a beach after driving 4x4 to an isolated beautiful beach with a magical surf set up. It's all part of it, all these encounters with people from all over the world. Spanish conversations that are getting better and better allowing me to dig deeper into understanding and knowing these cultures and not just pass through on the outside in a bubble as a tourist but really pass through the heart of the people and all the small communities. I know that nobody can imagine what I'm doing or how I'm experiencing these things which is why I always feel my blog does injustice. I leave out major events, relationships, friends, feelings, sights, & smells. They leave me feeling like the blog is too surface level. I guess now I'm sitting with a fairly introspective mind because I'm sitting in Southern Mexico and the next border to the north is to my country & my people. It also culminates my trip that to date has lasted 1 year & 8 months & counting. What an experience, what a transformation for my life, what an epic journey. At this point this trip is too big for comprehension for me or others. It has become this elephant in the room when I'm around people. I don't know how to explain this other than saying that basically nobody has done this trip like me. There are loads of travelers, people hitting all sides of the globe, but in general nobody knows anybody who has driven a truck to south america and had the experiences in the way that I have had them. This is been a problem for me the entire way....it draws too much attention on me. If I meet someone, I hold out on telling them anything about me or my travels until it's dragged out of me & then it turns me into this focal point for interest, travel questions, stories, etc. I have been slowly sliding away from people because of this, causing me to be more quiet or reserved maybe than normal. I don't want this attention and it can't be helped. People just can't believe it and all the attention is focused on me for almost every encounter the entire times and I find myself being lured into telling tales of the trip to the point of exhaustion. I then realized I've divulged my travels to these strangers and I'm already tired of talking about myself and yet I haven't even shared it all with my loved ones from home....other than via this blog. It's a weird space to be in, the way people react to my 'trip' is in unbelievable shock & then questions which means if there is a group of people I get stuck talking about me until I leave, which happens a lot. I'm sure if you're reading this you're laughing thinking I'm a bit ridiculous which is probably true but I just want to relay my head space. The thing is, a huge part about traveling like this is meeting all these people from all over the world. And though I cringe at the idea of talking more about me when someone knew walks up and starts asking the standard traveler questions (where you from, how long you been here, where are you going, and for how long have you been traveling), it is these same people that I have made friends with, helped me in crisis of illness or anything, and had meaningful conversations about the world and usually government/law comparisons of our countries. There are certain types of things you can't learn unless you're removed from your own country & have all of these discussions. It's been amazing for me and it has caused me to be even more interested in visiting more countries because now I have friends and local 'guides' in plenty of amazing sounding countries.
So here I sit in southern Mexico, one really big country left to cross before arriving on U.S. soil. Seems a bit surreal for me but I'm trying to continue focusing on what I have right in front of me for each day. I've been exploring, camping,& conversing my way slowly up the coast. I don't even remember what I last blogged about but I have really been pushing myself to dig deep into the purpose of my trip. So since Nicaragua, I have been traveling alone. It's really easy to meet someone that might be heading the same direction and maybe even surfing that would love to jump in the truck. But for now I have been alone and started the right way in El Salvador. In El Salvador I stayed & camped in local communities. I explored far off the path using my 4x4 to find amazing waves, beaches and as always welcoming communities. I can just pull into an area with sporadic shacks around and after a few strange gazes and a little of talking to me in their language, I am welcomed into a home like a family member. And these are always humbling experiences because I have to show up in what seems like a million dollar truck and am asking for a place to sleep with people who's homes are hand made shacks. Bucket showers, outhouses....all the basics. But I push myself, even though I'm embarrassed, to approach the situation for the experience & spanish practice. I went through all of El Salvador without really having any english conversations. The surf was amazing en El Salvador, so were the people. I guess what is cool about passing these countries again is that this time around I am having a completely different experience. Last year when I passed through Mexico, Guatemala & El Salvador I was still really nervous & protective with myself plus I didn't speak much spanish. So I remained behind a protective layer of finding the most secure feeling environment & only engaging a little, the language barrier really stops you from being able to feel but so comfortable. Now I'm back and I'm really getting to understand these cultures and how different from each other they really are so it seems to be a new experience this time. I spent a short time in Guatemala which I loved, in this city up in the volcanoes/mountains that had a good blend of local culture mixed with some tourism. After that break from the ocean I decided to head for Mexico & find my way to the coast to explore & camp again. I landed on this remote point and camped on a local families land, got some great spanish practice and fun surf. After 10 days of camping, I came up to the powerful & punishing surf of the notorious Puerto Escondido.
Well I guess this blog was more of some introspection than an exciting story from abroad....already told too many stories, just needed to talk about things from a different perspective. I hope everyone has had a great summer...chau
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Hola amigos!!! I know I know, I am super slow at this blog thing. It takes a lot of effort for me to do this these days, I suppose it always feels like there is no way I can describe everything so I avoid it plus it requires internet access to really sit down and publish something. Here I am in Nicaragua writing this but I haven't posted anything since I was about to try to ship my car from Ecuador to Panama. That was a painful process that I want to forget but will finish this story for anyone who still reads this thing. So I guess first thing I will say is that I don't ever see myself shipping a car in latin america again, it is painfully corrupt and a test of patience like no other. When I arrived in Guayaquil after my flat tires and madness to get there, I began searching around the city for this office. I find it and go start to talk to them about shipping details. Like the emotional rollercoaster ride of the entire process they start off by saying I don't have time to get on the next ship that is leaving and they don't have another one for 4 weeks. Wouldn't be too much of a problem except I am trying to get back to Central America to meet up with some friends and family that are taking a vacation in Costa Rica. Sooo Dj & I are there debating whether we should just charge a super long drive to the caribean side of columbia and hope to find a boat there or what. You can't drive through straight to panama because of the Darien Gap which is said to have no road and lots of gorilla groups throughout the couple hundred mile jungle. Though I am tempted to see if you can drive through it seems like a bad idea so I am trying to follow thru with this car shipping thing. I don't think there is anyway possible to describe how frustrating it is to try to figure out how to get your car exported from a country on a boat & then imported into another. For whatever reason, it is a million times more difficult than just crossing a border by land. So basically the frustration begins when the shipping company never actually knows or tells you what you need to do. SO I spend all day everyday running around town to find a guy who will 'help' me expedite the process so that there is enough time to for me to get on this next boat. Apparently, with a little money paid to him, he has the ability to push my paperwork through to get everything ready for me to put my car in a container. So after a day of running around doing getting things ready, Dj & get ourselves a decent room and decide to head for gringo food. I guess when you're in guayaquil and dealing with port people, it's all really dirty, sketchy, seedy & corrupt that when the first day (which seemed successful) was over we just wanted to get a clean room and something more comfortable. So we found a pizza hut. Seemed like a great idea to me as I haven't had any foods from home in a while. We get pizza, it's really greasy and apparently my body isn't ready to have this much grease and later that night I begin with the vomiting. So the next day I have to tackle all the errands while being super sick, great. We get the last few things done that was on our list, feeling like this is a slam dunk, but we decide to run back by the shipping office to double check that everything is good. It all seems good and then I ask them about putting my car in the container and they throw a "oh the container is 40 km's outside of the port and you have to hire someone to move it, haven't you done that?" Uhmm...it's Friday at 3pm and the boat leaves the next day & I need to be packed up by saturday at 5pm. So I'm responding with, you never told me about this when you broke down all the costs and the list of things needed to be done. Kind of a major detail left out & of course it's 3pm on friday so how do you hire a truck to move a container at this hour of the week? I mean, this is latin america and they usually don't do anything fast. So I'm freaking out and then they start calling people and then telling me it's going to cost me 200 dollars. Again, I'm fighting angrily as they gave me a price breakdown and it didn't ahve any of this in it. I refuse to pay and tell them I'm just not going to go and all of a sudden it costs 25 dollars. And this is a perfect example of everything, they try to get more money out of me than it actually costs. Every person tries to tell me I owe them money, some of them I do owe money and others not. It's frustrating. SO I have this guy who is going to deliver the container at 8am on saturday morning to the port and I'm going to meet him there, put my car in the container and leave. Sounds easy enough right....wrong! The next morning we go to the port. Now I've 'hired' a friends cousin to come with me to help get through the potential road blocks and use his native spanish speaking skills to help ease me along. So we get to the port, which is basically the seediest poorest part of an already seedy port city. Everyone is staring at us (as always) but they look rough and we feel a bit uneasy. Now Dj & I have put together a backpack with the things we're going to bring and everything else will stay in the car. We get to the port and they say that only I'm allowed inside the port so my helper can't even come in to help and I leave him & dj with our bags outside the port while I go put the car in the container. If it were only that easy. I also had a lot of cash on me because a bunch of this had to paid in cash only (imagine that) and that money was left in my bag with Dj while I went in. After getting thru security and their finger print scanners, I'm in to go track down my container and load it. Things seem to be moving along and then I'm stuck waiting for a police officer to come inspect my truck. He's working on another container filled with boxes of fruit and I see him over there going thru every single thing and I know it's going to be tough on me. I've just packed up my truck nicely, organizing everything so I knew where it was and was ready to go. After a couple hours of waiting, he finally comes to inspect my truck. There are these other port workers there that are waiting to help tie down my truck in the container. He tells them that they have to take everything out of my truck, EVERYTHING. This might not sound bad but this truck is my mobile home and I have a lot of stuff. They just start tossing all of my things everywhere on the ground and have to get every single penny or paper or thing out. This is all my camping gear, surf gear, camera gear, clothes, misc items and more misc items. It's more than you (or I) could imagine. So it's finally all laid out and the policia with his dog, ties his dog up and then takes this tennis ball and starts teasing the dog with the ball and then putting the ball all over my things. Finally after he's touched all of my things with the ball he releases the dog and it goes crazy smashing all of my things. I mean, like hyper crazy jumping all over all of my things (*some fragile). It seems pretty ridiculous and certainly doesn't seem like a real drug search. The dog thrashes my books (I have quite a few these days), jumps on my surf boards, camera bag, etc. I'm fuming, it's also like 95 degrees and sunny. So after demolishing my things, it's onto the empty car. He does the same thing with the dog, ties it up and then goes all in my car showing the dog the ball & touching everywhere including the engine, seats, everywhere. Then again, release and the dog goes nuts jumping all over my engine, seats, etc. Driving me nuts and seems pointless (like everything in this process). I thought the pain was over but then this police takes his knife out and behinds to try to rip apart my car from the inside and bangs the outside with the knife all over leaving lovely scratches and breaking plastic parts inside. After it's all over, he tells me to repack which I do while seething some choice words in english that he couldn't understand...probably for the better. So it seems it's all over but now I need an inspection by customs. I wait, then wait more and finally track this guy down who comes with my paperwork and looks at the car and just walks away without saying much. Then I'm stuck waiting, and waiting and waiting until finally I track this customs guy down and find out that he's not going to clear my car for export. My paperwork, which customs at the port made when I entered, was wrong. Basically when I entered they had a computer based system with pre-populated fields so select your vehicle and my vehicle didn't exist in their system. You couldn't type it in manually so in the end when I entered the guy selected the next closest car model. It was a chevy truck but single cab instead of double. All of the rest was correct, my VIN number, plates etc. But this guy insists that he can't let this truck leave until I get the guy who made it to correct it or sign off on it. It seemed near impossible to try to explain to this guy the drop down box issue on the computer even though he should have used this system because it was aduanas (him) who made it for me originally. Anyway after a day of fighting and actually calling another customs guy and getting a letter saying he made it, it was just about dark 10 hours later and I was finally free to put my car in the container. So the guys who were sleeping waiting to pack my car finally jumped around, everyone was sure my truck wasn't going to fit in this container. Some certain too long and others too tall. They said it to me all day but I was pretty sure it was going to be alright, though I shared a bigger container on the way down so I couldn't be certain. I knew the height was going to be alright but not the length. I get the truck in, seriously an inch away from being too long. I squeeze out of the window and crawl over the truck to get out of the containers. The guys tie it down, we close it, start to take pictures but of course the guys camera wasn't working. So we had to wait again for another solution, got it and the pics were taken by customs and I was all set. I went to leave the port, which wasn't so easy either as my thumb print was working and the electronic door wouldn't open for me. All along I thought I had a horrible day and that Dj had just been chilling waiting for 10 hours and I was doing all this crazy stuff on the inside. Then I get out, Dj & jorge (hired friend) were in a ladies little place drinking beers with an anxious look on their faces. The first thing Dj says is, you have no idea what has been going out here and what a crazy day we've had. I'm thinking, tell me about it. Then he tells me that while he was waiting on the street, right in front of the security gate to enter the port, a guy gets robbed. Now Dj is standing there with both of bags, basically 1 thousand dollars cash, both of our computers, cameras, ipods.... a jackpot for anyone. So this guy pulls up on a motorcycle right on the other side of the road from Dj and pulls a gun out on another guy. The guy doesn't give him anything and the other guy puts the gun to his head. He gave him whatever was in his pocket, cell phone money. Dj and jorge see this, jaw dropping, and walk over to this little tienda on the street. They ask if they can put their bags there and the owner says "I'd rather not get involved". And then Dj knows this is serious. Lucky for him he had Jorge because Dj spoke very little spanish. So they end up finding a lady, Negrita, who let them come inside her little restaurant house & tells them nobody would mess with them there. But Dj spent five hours waiting for me, with no way to communicate anything either way and we thought we might have been done at 10am so we had all of our stuff so we could pack the truck and leave the city for a few days to relax. SO no common hotel or somewhere to meet, he had to wait. And then it was starting to get dark and I finally walk out. I link up with them at Negrita's & they bring me up to speed on the happenings including that there is one taxi guy saying he'll take us but he's a questionable character who negrita says we probably shouldn't trust. So we have no ride. Finally one of the guys from the port pulls out in his car and I flag him down for a lift, he agrees and we jump in and we're off. We almost knee jerk react to this horrible day and get a super duper expensive hotel room but finally we come to our senses and leave this fancy one we were dropped at and go find something moderate but nice to clean all the dirt & corruption off of us. So now we that we have put the car on a ship and it should be going to panama, we have to figure out how we're going to get there to meet it. A friend told us about an agency that charters flights to panama and while in Guayaquil we hunt down this office and work on the tickets. It works out to be cheap, a weird travel hour but there are free seats in a few days to get us there the day the truck should arrive. Meanwhile, during the illness in guayaquil, the running around town, the port and all of that I managed to get new tires, a new battery, an oil change & found out the brake pads brought to me from the states weren't the correct fit. Quite a whirlwind of events and finally felt like we were golden on the Ecuador side now. As always, the drama wasn't over. We spend a few chills days at the beach, enjoying La Leona vibes in Ayampe (that's another entire blog, later maybe), and then we're back to Guayaquil, by bus this time, ready to catch our Saturday night flight. I've been emailed saying my ship has arrived & the truck will be ready for pickup on Monday. All good. Well I'm traveling light, just a backpack, and as always I have 2 wallets on me. One in my pocket with a small amount of money and another with the rest of my money. I guess this is the driver in me, always keep next to nothing in my pocket for my run-ins with the police. Anyways, at the last minute I decided to check in my backpack instead of carry on and forget about my other wallet with my credit cards, money, bank card etc. SO I realize it when it's too late and am worried and frustrated with how dumb that was. But it shouldn't be a problem & I'm now just traveling light with a shoulder bag with my computer in it. We've long checked in and decide to relax and get some food and not pass thru security or migration until a bit closer to the flight. Well relax a little too long but we're alright for time if we go now. We head into immigration and while in line to get out of the country I look for my stamp and see that it says a date that has already passed. I thought I got 90 days when I entered because I got that before and because my truck got 90 days this time again. I had always been looking at that paper work, which I had with me. Well my co travelers are already out of the country and it's my turn and the immigration is saying that I have to pay a "multa" or fine because I've over stayed my time. The thing is, they say I'm not allowed to exit right now. I have to pay this in the bank and it's saturday night meaning the bank isn't open until Sunday! I'm freaking, I have no money or credit cards and I only have 7 dollars on me. I can't even afford to stay anywhere and have no access to money. You read the earlier story, Guayaquil isn't really a city you want to be walking around in with computer, iphone all night. Plus my car is showing up and I've paid cash only for this chartered flight which means I can't get my money back or get on another one. Basically I'm about to be in a really bad spot. And they've already exited the country so they can't come back in, they're only route is to fly to Panama on this flight. I'm showing them my car paper work, pleading my story, telling them I have to leave right now. So I suggest I can pay right here. This fee is a big one but I do know the amount is the amount you have to pay at the bank so I know I'm stuck paying this time. The guy goes and talks to the other 4 guys on shift and after a while he comes back and says I can pay it. Problem is I have no money. I have to signal to Dj to come back and give me 200 dollars which he does. The immigration official tells me I can't pay him there though, because there are cameras all over the place. So he tells me to go to the bathroom, put the money on the page of my stamp and come back. I leave him and head to the bathroom however I realized I had to cross another guy, who just looked at our passports before immigration line, to get to the bathroom. I stuff the money in, 200 dollars in 20 dollar bills which is thick, and I try to get back through this guy without him seeing it. He wants to see my passport again so I hold it and show him but he takes it and clearly sees the money. He's asking me what this is and I play dumb "oh it's my money" and he tells me to take it. This is all in spanish of course. So he then says, I just saw you walk out of here and go to the bathroom and then come back. What are you trying to do? ANd then I start playing the "no entiendo" game meaning I don't understand. He closes my passport & lets me go and as I'm walking into the room behind him he turns back around and says something and I rush away. I get back in immigration line, give the guy the passport, he takes the money and leaves me for a while. All along the flight is about to leave, the others don't know if I'm going to make the flight and what they're going to do if I do. Immigration is back, say I can't return to Ecuador for 9 months and have created me a fake bank receipt and stamp me out. I'm running down the hall, not even sure how to react to the long string of emotions I have been going through over all this process and can't believe I'm actually going to make it. I come down from the adrenaline and can hardly sit still on the plane trying to digest all that just happened. Then I realize I'm only half way there, I have to go to Panama and get myself in & then work with customs and police to get my car in the country. The flight makes it and so does my bag with it's money and cards thankfully. Off to sleep before preparing for the other side of this nightmare process. I guess in the end each day and moment seemed to be a test of my patience and to really see how I handle myself in all these unpredictable crazy situations. I know I'm way behind on the blogging, I've traveled through panama back to my island, had family and friends come down, pass through costa rica & into Nicaragua.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
So after Dj started off his trip with a vacation to Galapagos it was time for him to jump into the adventures of traveling by car in foreign nations. IF you remember I was robbed back in Venezuela and lost my drivers license so on our first day back from Galapagos, it was time for Dj to drive. This basically brought him into the madness right away as we started in Guayaquil and I made him drive us out due to their being police and checkpoints on our way to the beach. Right away driving in the city is crazy, the people in Ecuador don't mind any lane indications and they generally turn 2 lanes into 4 or 3 to 5 or something that seems a bit ridiculous. The first thing I'm telling Dj, as he's driving, is you can't drive defensive and friendly or you won't make it anywhere and the people won't understand how to react to you driving. It's all about the pecking order, pedestrians have no right of way and won't cross the street if you nicely let them. THey're certain you're going to run them over so you just have to drive and never try to let someone cross because they will just look at you as you wave them by and still just wait for you to drive. Same goes with the cars, the smaller cars get out of the way of the bigger so basically the buses and trucks can bully their way into wherever they want. This works in my favor as well since my truck is bigger than most cars, but all this is new to Dja nd I'm having to 'yell' at him to push his way into the lanes we need to get where we need. His trip has begun. We get out of the city and are onto the coast route and getting excited to get to the beach before dark for a quick surf when all of a sudden a weird sound starts and we realize we have a flat tire. We're far out now and in between small beach towns and it's been raining. SO we dig out the jack and tools, pull off the spare and after a quick scare with the wrench not fitting the lug nuts but thankfully I dig around the back of the truck and locate another that fits these lug nuts. In getting the spare off and the jack set up, I had to crawl under the car and get muddy/dirty laying on my back in the loose gravel. Anyways we're feeling pretty good how it's all just working for us until we can't pull the tire off after all the lug nuts are off. Looking at the tire, it appears the center of the wheel is connected or rusted on and we are trying various methods to get this tire off but there is zero movement which has us wondering if there is a step we're missing. The rains coming down, we're wrestling with this tire and darkness is looming in. Dj is asking me funny questions about the closest car shop which I tell him is about 2 hours away or a tow truck which I just chuckle at and he's getting really worried about it getting dark shortly. FOr me I'm less worried because we have all the food we need and if we couldn't move, we could just set up camp right there until we came up with a solution. I try flagging down the police, who have passed by checking us 3 times, and they just drive by flashing lights. I figure the truckers would be used to doing this and maybe give us an idea but nobody is stopping. Finally a guy pulls up in his car and pulls over. I explain what our prob is and he responds with a typical phrase here in latin america "no te preocupes" aka don't worry and then he runs back to his car. That's when this guy shows us that he's a genius and we're not so smart...and we're the educated ones. First thing he does is ask if I have something to put down, which I'm not understanding why as I navigate spanish with him, until it dawns on me that he wants something on the ground so he doesn't get dirty...and then my head drops in shame. Dj & I both stand there covered in dirt, Dj with dirt dread locks and my head and back all over dirty and muddy....from mud we made. Next puts the spare tire under the car so that if the car falls, it will protect the impact...genuis as I was climbing around under the car while the spare tire rested outside safe and sound. We both feel even dumber. And down he goes, clean & dry, with a mini mallet smashes the backside of the tire with a couple hard wacks and off the tire falls. Then in a matter of minutes he puts on the spare & puts the flat back where the spare goes and does all of this without breaking a sweat. So after a couple of unsuccessful hours by us and him doing it in 10 minutes. We walked away in shame and filth but also completely ecstatic because the sun was just setting and now we were back on the road. We made it safely to the beach of Ayampe and that was Dj's first long day living on the road. Once in Ayampe, Dj got to see what the rewards are that go along with the headaches of traveling by car. Ayampe is slightly off the path, we blazed right past the towns where all the tourists go and we landed ourselves in a nice but basic cabana with a 180 degree few of the ocean for 8 dollars per night. So we got to relax into the mellow beach scene here in Ecuador for a bit before I had to start thinking (and researching) how I am going to get my car to Panama and get ourselves there so that we can make it to Costa Rica by early May. The plan is that friends & family are doing a vacation in Costa Rica in May & Dj and I are trying to meet them there. This all sounds easy but the most frustrating part of my trip had been the shipping of my truck to ecuador from Panama last year. With limited info on the internet and me not having a cell phone to just call around, just figuring out a plan is painfully difficult. It can be hard to pull myself out of my tranquility to do something like this, and thinking about shipping my car again sounds about as fun as walking barefoot on broken glass. However it is time to face it so I start calling some companies and find a few potential ships that are sailing out that sound like they would get us there in time. The only thing to do now is actually drive to the big port city of Guayaquil and go to the offices and start the process. It sounds like maybe it would be fairly easy to drive to a city, find an office, get a container on a boat with my car in it but actually it's a painfully corrupt & difficult process that ran me through an emotional roller coaster ride. As expected, the unexpected threw a wrench in the plans on day 1. We woke up at 4am to leave by 5am to get to Guayaquil by 8am for a 9am meeting with a company about shipping the car. Getting out of the morning fog and getting ready to leave I notice that one of my tires is completely flat. This is actually the 3rd flat in 8 days time. It's raining, muddy and I have no spare because of all the other flats. At least now I know that all of the tires are hard to get off because of the salt and sand that adhered it to the rim. I go through the process of getting it off, now I put down a tarp so I don't get as dirty this time around but then I have to hitch hike with this spare tire to the nearest town with a tire repair which is 20 mins away. I find a lady willing to take me & my tire and she wants to utilize me to help her carry something heavy into town so we run by her house first. Then her car won't start again and now I'm out in the rain, in my flip flops, pushing her car in the mud to attempt to push start it. After a few tries, it works and we're back on track on our way. Her windshield wipers don't work and her window is fogging in the rain so I'm wiping down the window constantly with my tshirt and helping navigate us to town. And all along the way I'm thinking, I actually have a really crazy big day ahead and can't believe it's starting off like this. It's not like I have a cell phone or AAA or anything to help me and yet again I have to navigate all of this in a foreign language. But as always things work out, I find a vulcanizadora aka tire repair who repair my 2 holes for 3 dollars and after a half hour the lady is back to take me back. But her car won't start again. It's pouring buckets now and I'm again loading my tire and pushing her car down the muddy street. It starts again, we make our way back to town where my truck is and I put the tire on and NOW we're actually ready to go....3 hours late. Now we're off on the 3 hour journey to dive into the hot noisy large port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. This is when the nightmare shipping process begins. to be continued.....