Tag Archives: roadtrip

Central America

So….. Central America. A lot has happened since I last wrote in Honduras, we have been through Nicaragua where we hired motorcycles to zoom around Ometepe, this was very touristy but going to the far end of the island we found a small hostel among where the locals live where that was reasonable, we went kayak touring one morning and I was pee’d on by a monkey in the trees above I got too close to. Lots of wildlife, spiders, creepy crawlies. We did a few smaller hikes, up to waterfalls. A night visit to an active volcano and plenty of driving miles. We visited an old fort where gorillas were imprissoned (people, not the animals). The Nicaraguan police were corrupt as expected. I can’t blame them, i am told they earn $250dollar per month. On one day we had a policeman step out onto a carrige way to flag me down as he saw the foreign rich car approach, I drove around him and carried on. Later that day another police officer did manage to flag us down to inform us we performed an illegal manouver and would have to pay a fine. Fortunately for us he spoke no English and we played the dumb tourists for 15minutes till he waved us away. I think every overlander going through Nicaragua has had a similar experience.

I’ve heard of some officers that will play a waiting game for hours until their bluff is called asking for a senior officer to come at which point they say its no problem, carry on.  I found it novel going to a big market one day where all the produce was ‘locally made by family’ but was identical through out the rest of central america and had an authentic chinese look about it. After Nicaragua came Costa Rica, the price of everything went up driving over the border. National parks charging up to 32dollars to camp the night. Bare in mind the most expensive American National Park I visited, cost about 30dollars for a week, or less if you camp in the back country. I imagine the prices are so high because mainly tourists come for one week holidays and have come too far to say no.

The river picture is a hot spring, or rather there is an expensive touristy hot spring just up from this point for about 40dollars per visit, which heats the river to a nice warm bath right below for free, complimented by the cooling rain from above. A great place to chill for a few hours.  To the right is a free camp place by a lake, with me stringing out a tarp to collect rain water. Supermarkets seemed to charge a great deal for bottled clean water. Due to the cost of central, we made the decision to gun it for Colombia. Onto Panama.

We didn’t have too much time in Panama, just over a week before shipping the vehicle by container. We found some free camping and a bolted crag (cliff) local enthusiasts cleaned up. A nice couple of days falling repeatedly on routes. Just outside Panama City was a nice high camp that was cool enough to go running from in the morning.

Now we are in Colombia And the world has opened up again. Instead of paying to climb a volcano, its just a small park entrance fee. Instead of the compulsary guides, they are optional. There is free camping, decent stores, cheap food in restraunts and supermarkets. Im getting psyched. Near by there are big mountains over 5000m , snow,  cool temperatures, unlimited climbing and nights of sleep where i don’t have to sweat.

This week I was particularly psyched about a decathlon store for cheap clothing. I think Karli is getting sick of the same pair of shorts I have been wearing since we started the trip. They have gone from black to faded grey.

Next blog – trad climbing- it should be more interesting from here.

 

Are There Crocodiles In Honduras?

So, being a little bored while we waited for quite a time to get my yellow fever travel cert thingy, we decided to go tubing on the local river. With tubing not really being a big sport in La Ceila, Honduras, we went to a car tire garage and requested with gestures and a little effort, a couple of big inner tubes. We took the tubes to the river and inflated them over lunch with the under powered compressor we were now greatful for.

Taking a saunter up the valley on foot and to the confusion of locals seeing two giant tubes with legs, we went to the location of a previous camp and put ourselves in. Moments later we realised this was a mistake. Around the first bend there was a thunderous roar. Hastily jumping out the overinflated tubes we went ashore and inspected. It was around 200m (210 yards) of class 3 rapids lead-in into a canyon. After some deliberating, we carried the tubes to the canyon and jumped in. The ride down below was probably the most enjoyable way to experience rainforest. The next hour in lukewarm water drifting. In awe of the canyon the locals had not managed to monopolized but for whitewater rafting company that knew nothing of our presence, we decided to go back the next day.

 

Today- we grabbed our climbing shoes and a towel, chucking them into a drybag. Trying to wade down from above I instantly lost a flip flop. This was a disappointing start, while it wasn’t expensive, I loved that flipflop, now I have only one flipflop. With me hobbling over stones, we retreated to plan A, the first plan we made in the morning and certainly the more logical. Driving down below the canyon I put on some trainers we we set off a second time. We did a combination of canyoneering up the craggy riverside and swimming across the smoothest points and rapids.

Screenshot 2017-10-17 at 4.44.40 PM

This was enjoyable, but I did wonder what lurked in the murky eddies. Having Karli swimming behind me, I knew she would go down first if there were crocodiles so I pushed on regardless, telling myself all the while crocs don’t like rapids anyway.

when we arrived at the canyon it started raining. We knew time was limited as the heavy downpour would quickly raise the river level make descending riskier.

Screenshot 2017-10-17 at 4.51.03 PM

But it was worth the effort and refreshing doing something outdoors and wild.

Below is a pic of me taunting the crocodiles and giant boa constrictors in the most Usain Bolt way possible. Im sure my and Karlis’ survival is down to the wildlife being dumbfounded by our boldness swimming right in front of them. For now I shall remain skeptical of their existence.

22563590_10214504181744387_1167993414_o

On a more serious note the birds were seeing on a daily basis are the ones I used to see on a David Attenborough wildlife documentary. Its pretty special to see so many brightly coloured birds I know nothing about. Macaws, king fishers , yellow ones, bluey black ones, some small ones; to name but a few.

P.S. Te keyboard is still broken but im tryin.

To finish the pic below was driving down some forest lane inhabited by disgruntled horses late night during a lightning storm. Its blurry but so was our eyes sight after 12hours of driving so you see exactly what I did. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2017-10-13 at 6.00.01 PM

Volcanoes On Guatemala and They Put Up A Concrete Block

So, It was a week or so in Guatemala, Im not gonna lie, Its been bad. My keyboard is broken and I no longer ave te G or H keys, or backspace.  Hence the Typos you are about to be subject to. There is a virtual keyboard which is just getting me by but its painfully slow. On top my laptop is under warranty but i need a permnant shipping address for 10days at least to ave it fixed.

We tried to do a lot of tings out here. But the Guatemalan people were onto us. Everywhere we go there are tolls. For entering towns, for using roads, if they could charge, they did. We stopped a few days at lake Atitlan. We haggled a little for the 40q hotel room. The local volcano National Park entrance cost 100 Quetzales (about 10quid), so we didn’t enter the park. This is the most expensive entrance fee for one day in a park I have come across in the world. The problem is Guatemala has realized tourists have money, and charge accordingly.

IMG_20171004_082238981
Atitlan Used to be described as the most beautiful lake in the world. I couldn’t help but see a concrete high rise hotel race, a work of tourism. Instead of fishing, locals now drive tuktuks. I have also read there is a big problem with blue green algae which causes a odour problem, didn’t experience it though while there

 

The first volcano charge wasn’t too off-putting, as there are several active on our list to visit. We ditched out of Atitlan and drove for Fuego, which ajoins onto Acatenango. It provides a 5000ft climb through rain forest over black rock. We arrived the evening before the climb to smoke rising out the top and had a quick scout of the way up, a maze of twisting trails through the crops on the fertile slopes. In the morning we would set off at 3am for the sunrise from the summit. The forecast showed a clear window from 5am till 10am. We camped outside a guides house and in the darkest hour rose, picked up our prepacked bags, drank a caffine shot each and departed. The rain started 1000ft up. I didn’t know the tropics could reproduce weather similar to Scotland on a wet winter day. On went warm layers and waterproofs. But still painfully numb hands. By half way the rainfall was going up hill. We told ourselves it was definately going to clear despite the deterioration in visibility. The summit was a beautiful windswept mars like surface, but blackish.

We ran down the mountain to warmer weather, and by that I mean rain. The descent route went down deep narrow chutes washed out by the rain. It was great from running down, Karli fell over several times. At the entrance to the park attendants informed us we have to pay more money, another 50 each. We were up early enough to miss them, but they always catch you in the end.

In Antigua the situation worsened. It was like being in a western city. Nothing but hotels and hostels in every building, beautiful as they were. A hideous one way system tried to thwart our departure but after a hour or two we were out. The last volcano on the list was Pacaya. On arriving guides ran up to our vehicle stating we had to pay 100Q per person to climb up to a col, but an extra hundred was needed to go to the active rim. It wasnt allowed to climb without a guide. This was the final straw. We left and headed for the cost. Driving into the night and seeing motorcycles with no lights,dogs and people appear out the dark like ghosts and disappear as quickly. Bumping over every pothole, Karli telling me it will be a mile away, then two, then ten, we rolled up to a hostel late. It was owned by westerners charging 380Q for the last double room in the hostel. More than most western cities. This isn’t what we came her for. The hostel owner did however point us across the road to a restaurant that might let us camp the night. We crossed the road and found Soul Food Kitchen, with the owner Gary, a south African man who said we could camp for 40Q. That’s more like it. He also made brilliant curries for 45Q. We stopped a couple of nights relaxing. Finally someone not trying to extort us for trying to breathe. Even the local were eating there. Outside there was a lovely pool and we were welcomed to use the showers and wash clothes at no extra cost. He also allowed us to pick coconuts, with my feeble body hanging off one trying to pull it down. Then Karli wildly swinging a machete to try and open it. The local restraunt girl eventually helping.

IMG_20171008_144604344

Yesterday we crossed into El Salvador. After a few hours back and forwards at the border crossing not understanding a lot of what was happening we were in. Its much the same here. They have even embraced  the american dollar, you cant get to a lakeside without paying for at least drink in a hotel. The lakeside road is lined by 8foot concrete with barbed wire and gates. The national park only has hotels, not even a car park, well, so far at least. C’mon central, what are you playing at. We should have known at the entrance to El Sal, as we were passed a Disney style map showing hotels, attractions, board hire etc.

Im not saying its all bad, it is beautiful. But I hate the feeling of being an ant trapped between concrete walls were even a forest cost money to be in.

My training routine has been interrupted by the cost of going anywhere that isn’t either 100 quetzal a time or guards with pump action shotguns telling us its too dangerous for us to be there. Seriously, every delivery wagon, even milk wagons come with their own armed shotgun guard! its one extreme or the other. O well, maybe something fun and free will present itself.

that’s all for now folks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico Into Guatamala

After leaving Orizaba behind we reached the beach 10hours from the Guatamalan Border. Beautiful, empty, no tourists, dollar beers and waves. A local business owner said we are free to camp anywhere on the beach we would like, nobody cares. This is a stark contrast to the States near businesses and homes, where many would take offence. She said her business is normally booming on the weekends, but had gone quiet after the earthquakes so she was just relaxing. Four of her dogs kept us entertained most the time and one wild but very tame dog also.

 

We planned on staying there a few days. After the second day we realised the insurance had already expired for Mexico so hastily packed up and sped off. The drive to the border was dull. We aimed once again at a green patch on the map, a national forest. It rained the whole way. We were encouraged by signs indicating beaches. When we arrived at the end of the road it was rainforest and mangroves. With a small concrete dock and small wooden boats lined up to ferry people back and forward. We enquired with a local bar owner while enjoying 10 pesos beers and he told us the only way in is boat, and there are houses to rent on the beaches. He offered to look after the car for a few pesos if we decided to go. He also warned us it was not a safe place to camp on the main land around there due to some locals. We accepted his advice and drove for a motel. A shabby place, which offered prices by the hour. But $8 USD per night couldn’t be turned down. The place was empty and quiet. A nice break from a roof tent with space to swing a cat and covered parking with a fabric door to hide the car.

The next day we drove to the border. I started calm and I grew more furious with every local getting in the way and trying to tell us how hard the process of crossing the border is, but for a few pesos can assist. Every step of the way people trying to charge us for an endless list of services, parking, moving forward while parking, fumigation for mosquitoes, security, paying the officers to look after the car, offers of a dollar from guards to get our stamp for Guatamala and skip the Que. Trying to extort 3000 Quetzales (Guatamalan money) for a vehicle permit and saying they can sort the permit if we pass them the money (about 10 times the cost of the actual permit). It sickened me off, constantly telling them to go. The officials didn’t seem to care about the scamming business, but then again, the guards were in on it too. It felt like a descent into madness. Don’t get me started on the money exchange men walking around and at desks trying to offer half the value currency in exchange. Parasites. After getting across the border into the first town things returned to normal.

We drove for a few hours before stopping the night once again in a motel. The next day driving to Lake Atitlan. In San Pedro on the shore of the lake we found ourselves being told there is no camping. But at an advantage of being there in the rainy season, with few tourists and plenty of competition. Its very touristy. Every shop front dedicated to selling tours, coffee, beers or trinkets. Not my kind of place, but we have got hold of a room in the centre for two of us costing a total of £12 for three nights. £2 per person per night. I’ll be honest, the room is not brilliant, but at less than half the cost of the hostel per person for a dorm room; its a win. The hot shower we were sold to get our business is cold, and a shard of glass hangs from the bathroom window ready to either swing in while showering and slice me, or, drop to the street below and decapitate someone.

Today (the 3rd oct) we decided to go to a coffee plantation to see how my favourite thing is made. Seriously my world would end without it. We went to the tourist adventure desks which populate half the town and after getting prices decided we could do better. The two companies we approached quoted 150 and 120 Quetzales respectively. We went around the coffee shops in the town asking and managed to get a horseback ride for about 3-4hours upto a plantation for 150. I consider that a win. I said to Karli she could pick which horse she wanted. One was big, one was small. She jumped to the big one straight away. I was then was stuck with my tiny stead I feared would die on the climb. After all the hiking I have done and hatred towards horses for the muck and foul stench they leave on trails, it was interesting to be on the other end of things. But I still don’t quite get it, it just seems to be a lazier slower way to get in and out of places than walking and leaves you with a sore backside and an extra mouth to feed. I can understand using them as pack animals to haul greater amounts of gear than can be carried, but I just don’t get it. Maybe one day.

The local volcano costs about £10 to climb. A permit for entry. I think that makes this the most expensive national park I have come across. And the entrances are closely guarded by police and national park staff. Also there are small charges per vehicle to each town/ area around the lake (negligible but still have to make sure you carry cash at all times).  Not entirely sure what to make of Guatemala yet; but I’m sure there will be free parks and camping elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Acute Mountain Sickness And What Makes A Sucessful Trip

After backing down from 12,500ft in the Subara which didn’t quite have the power to go up the volcano on the 4 wheel drive track, and having a nights rest we descended to one of the lower villages knocking on doors to find the local guiding company that could give rides up to the mountain hut. I will admit Karli’s Spanish was more useful here than my charade/ hand signal language. Eventually descending right back to the valley bottom we were directed after several attempts to the mountain guides hotel. We asked the owner Roberto for a lift to the hut for a summit attempt. He gave us a great price of 1600 dollars (Mex) which is around 80 US dollars for a ride up to 14,500ft(4420m, taking around a hour or so), ride down back to 10,000ft, clean water and an extra camping mat for in the hut. This is just out of the tourist season for the peak which starts in a couple of weeks after the rainy season. The ride up was rough, the mud trail we drove down in the morning was a raging torrent of washouts and collapsed road sections getting bigger by the minute. Half way up at one of the guides houses in a small village we changed to a beautiful old maroon jeep. The kind of machine where you hear two whacking great chunks of metal smash together when engaging 4 wheel drive mode. The part of trail that stopped us originally on our attempt was more impassable with water raging down. We were glad we descended when we did in the subaru, this was definately too much for the traction control, road tyres and low ground clearance. The guide told us its normal rain for this time of year. At one point stopping the vehicle to hack tonnes of mud to create a smooth run down into a dip where previously was a road. We arrived at around 14,500ft about 5pm in the afternoon feeling good for our summit attempt beginning midnight. Quickly prepping kit, preparing the evening meal-ramen and packing bags for the early depart. Karli wasn’t enthusiastic about eating the Ramen which made me slightly concerned because a lack of appetite up that high is not good. But to be honest I wasn’t overjoyed at the thought of them either. But we did have a big box full of it we bought back in the states so it had to be used. At about half 6 we went to bed ready for our midnight ascent.

 
Now, for the past weeks I had been going on about Altitude sickness to Karli to the point she was sick of hearing about it and didn’t want to know. I think this changed just before setting off at midnight when I became aware she wasn’t sleeping, had a cracking headache, and felt like she was going to vomit. To partially quote her, ‘Worst hangover Ever’.

We had been talking about this mountain for weeks. We had waited a week for my package and a few extra days for Karli’s package to arrive with the sole purpose of Orizaba in mind. We had been waking up to stare at it’s snow covered peak for the last few mornings. To get there and not even start the hike to the glacier was slightly disappointing, but AMS be AMS and you can’t fight the right decision for safety.
The journey here was fun, through the laughter and anger and smoke of trying to force a car up a muddy high altitude dirt road. Of filtering tarp rain water into a small pot and waking up with wet pillows and Karli’s deliciously prepared pancakes, making fools of ourselves trying to speak Spanish in a game of charades.  There was so much more to this adventure than the mountain that was staring back at us.

We went into this mountain knowing we were close to the limit for acclimatising, the past week we slowly camped higher, the previous week had been spent around 5000ft. then 7000ft, 9000, 9000, 10,000, 12,000, and finally 14,500 (the hut height), which was a 6hour stop before a dash to the summit and descend back to 10k. We hoped to have longer but with nearly 10days of delayed equipment and being stuck near the US border, the time was gone. We went in with the knowledge a turn back was likely.

Karli seemed much better by the time we reached 10,000ft, though the headache persisted for a while. Roberto had a full breakfast of three courses waiting for us when we arrived back at the base and kindly let us use his hotel showers.
On any climbing trip the safety of the team comes first. Altitude sickness can hit anybody, no matter how fit or carefully acclimatised. There are a few basic rules – If you have symptoms, don’t go any higher, If you have symptoms, descend as soon as possible. If someone has symptoms, do not leave them alone. Symptoms- lack of appetite, headache, nausea, flu like. They progress to confusion, drunken like behaviour, eventually unconsciousness and can lead to death if not handled promptly. The only way to stop the symptoms is to descend. The worst part is it’s silent, and gets worse with time so stealthily it’s hard to notice. descending even a couple thousand feet can reduce it.
It’s a reminder of just how frail the human body is. Change altitude by a few thousand feet too fast and it can kill us. The standard advice is above 8-10,000ft (the point at which sickness usually begins) ascend at a rate of around 1000ft per day, and every 3000ft have an extra days rest. If possible, hike high, sleep low.

I don’t care that we didn’t make the mountain top, this was a cracking sunrise and great fun meeting locals on the mountain. And we are both down ok.

The worlds biggest Game of Find The Phone

We all know how frustrating it is loosing a phone or some keys down the back of the sofa. It can take hours to search one room before it turns up. Suspicions turn to housemates, stress builds, irritation, anxiety etc etc.

Now Enter Ikea.

Last night we went into Ikea to find a collapsible table to cook on, for the road trip. A comfort we will spring for. Entering Ikea we were a little carried away trying every single sofa, seat, bed, kitchen and shelf/cupboard which is great fun. But half way through the store I realised I no longer had my mobile. We had been sitting at a kitchen bar with an old lady talking too us when I realised. We walked off and started the search. Karli raised the point ‘Maybe the old lady swiped it?’. ‘No’ I replied, but had she? It started ticking through my mind, the old woman hand been standing pretty close. It it possible the sweet dear lady was really a thief who was now cashing in on our polite conversation. I wanted to deny it.  I look up to the vast sea of sofas knowing I had been on every single one. The colossal size of a search like this was overwhelming. Every sofa covered in cushions. Every bed covered in throws and decorations. Every kitchen cupboard, sink and shelf full or ornaments we looked at. Just imagine searching down the sides of 100 sofas (min). The search kept up until finally a store attendant was in the area. Upon asking he replied he had just sent it downstairs, and asked if I could describe it. I wonder now just how many people have been though the process of searching in the stores history. We carried on the entertaining look around the store before going down to lost and found to claim it.  After not finding a table, but successfully finding some tupperware and collecting the phone we departed and headed over to my friend Axels’ house to relax and unwind.

Today we used the gym in Axels building complex and started a training routine that will follow us down the Pan America route and have us in great shape for some of the bigger challenges. We took it easy but tomorrow will be harder. A nice warmup, 2miles in 12min, and some sets of situps, pushups, squats and lunges. It was great having a air-conditioned cool room to train in. Followed by pancakes, bananas, syrup and an excellent nitro brew from Starbucks.

IMG_20170906_135434110

The Wacky Adventures Of Benjamin and Karli

This is the first of a new series of blogs on this road trip

After a great week of chilling out with Karli and her friends we had Karlis’ goodbye night out. Starting as any good night out should with beer, vodka, and champagne bought by Kiva, Molly and Tyler the house mates, and joined by Eliot. Now, on a wednesday night Denver isn’t the most lively place on the planet but with these guys even two’s a crowd. First stop was a dj set with hip-hop and plenty of mixing followed hours later by a second place that for the life of me I cannot remember the name of, but it was empty so we stole the dance floor and bust crazy moves till they became sick of us. On route to pizza the girls decided to take a scooter out for a spin and run a few lights. When we reached the apartment everybody seemed pretty burned except me and Karli, so while they went to bed we went back out to an empty closed city to cause mischief. The idea was to get as high as possible. First of all finding our way onto a building site before setting of a proximity alarm and quickly departing. We went off the site idea and decided a hotel elevator would be easier than an external crane to gain a view. Upon finding a classy looking hotel we calmly walked in greeting staff on route to the lift. Upto the 29th we flew and after wondering around lost for a minute found the exit staircase with a route up. We were so close. But alas the final door would not open. we descended back down and set the height bar lower. There was a two story shopping mall/parking lot that looked feasible. This again confounded us within a few feet of the top. We made one final attempt. We had to succeed and Karli knew where we could!
On she led into the dark till we found a small rise onto a flat roof that dropped away on one side. This was it , the high point, 4foot off the ground. The terrace back at the apartment block was a lot higher but this was outside and without safety rails. We sat for a while at the high side watching vehicles drive by before deciding to head home.
A couple of blocks from home there was one last bar, closed but playing load music outside. Justin Beber- love yourself. One last dance outside with no one else about and we arrived back exhausted. It was getting light out so I don’t know what time but we had a blast and I collapsed on the sofa content.
In The morning we all went around to Karlis’ mums house to see her mum and grandparents before departing. A quick trip back to the apartment to pack and an hour later we said goodbye to the house mates and were on the road. The first shop for our road trip went slow. Standing and staring at jars of tomato sauce to go with pasta not quite knowing which to get, the options were endless, an entire shopping isle. Then picking the ideal pan and plates. It took longer to do this shop than the decision to drive to Argentina and pack for the trip. Last night after the shop we drove 200miles to the Colorado monument Pitching the rooftent up just outside of the park.
We are now on day three, Ill be honest and say after missing a turn we went 68 miles in the wrong direction and had to turn around, but now!, after the small diversion we are on the way. We just passed through moab and have stopped in the grand canyon, might have something really big planned tonight/tomorrow. The rangers told us its not advisable so we know were on the right track. Extreme heat, dehydration, lots of miles and lots of elevation.

watch this space!!