Guatemala part 1 of 4

Bronson being hounded by local Mayan kids. It’s not very often they see fair skinned people around and they were fascinated by him.

While the rest of the US seems to be grappling with issues of race, gender identity, personal beliefs vs rights, and wanting to forget that history ever happened, people keep asking how we are down here in Guatemala. So, here’s our update.

We’ve been in Guatemala since December 16, 2019. As I write this today, it’s June 21, 2020. We had intended on only staying through Semana Santa in April, but then #RONA hit and ruined our plans to go further south. During the first three months, things down here were wonderful. Everything was open, you could move freely anywhere at any time on any day. We spent the first month exploring the northern Petén region of Guatemala which is full of lush jungles, tiny villages and lots of indigenous Mayan people. It has a ton of Mayan Ruins, the most famous being Tikal. It is also a region that is so dense with jungle that Narco traffickers use it as a major trafficking route. Luckily throughout our exploration of the region, we didn’t run into any problems. We drove all the way from the Belize border to the Pan-American highway, took the Pan-Am for about an hour before veering off to another unpaved highway (that was only 28 miles long) to get to Lanquin on the way to Semuc Champey. The drive was beautiful, but the roads were awful. The 28 miles took us 3.5 hours. It was windy, rocky, single lane with passing traffic and by that, I mean micro buses.

This road took us 7 hours and three of those hours were just the last 28 miles, from Poptun to Semuc Champey.

When we arrived in Lanquin, we stayed at this little hotel, about 30 minutes from Semuc Champey which reminded me of Agua Azul in Mexico. A lot of small, cascading waterfalls with lukewarm, turquoise water. It’s a short hike down, and the scenery is phenomenal. There is a hike up to the look-out where you can view the entire cascade, but we didn’t take it because my knee wasn’t feeling like cooperating with us that day. You can walk on the sendero (trail) from the eastern most part to the west part and back up to the parking lot. It’s not really that far, but it’s kind of steep to get down, nothing dangerous. There were lockers you could put your things in, but you have to bring your own lock. There were people in the parking lot trying to sell us things, trying to get us to pay for a guide. Haggling.  This used to bother us, but after being in so many different places and realizing that this is their job, and if they don’t hustle, they don’t put food on the table, it bothered us much less.

After leaving Semuc Champey, we went to Coban, ate lunch and headed to Chimaltenango. We rented a house there for Christmas and were invited to a Christmas celebration by a neighbor around the corner. For two whole weeks, fireworks were being fired off in the streets at all hours, day and night. On Christmas day, we were getting ready to take the dog for a walk, we opened the door and as we were putting her leash on, she freaked out from all the explosions and bolted across a highway where she got hit by a car. We scoured the neighborhood for 6 hours before we finally found her hiding out in some random garden on the side of the highway, a couple of blocks from the house. She had a puncture wound and she was limping, she had crepitus when we would pet her. I decided to take her to an emergency vet. It was 11 pm. The nearest emergency vet was in Guatemala City, nearly an hour away. Kaden was crying hysterically, thinking Roxy was going to die. And honestly, I wasn’t too sure she was going to make it either with the way she was guarding and her shallow breathing. She was in a lot of pain. The good news was, she was fine. The Vet kept her overnight to monitor her, cleaned and glued her puncture which was superficial. No dying for our dog that day, thank our lucky stars.

While in Chimaltenango, we met a lovely family who eventually became like an adopted family to us here in Guatemala. I now have three more brothers another sister and another mother. It’s wonderful to make these connections. We were invited to a parade for New-Year’s day, which we ended up being part of.  From Chimaltenango we went to Antigua where we rented a house for a month, exploring coffee farms, taking tours of neighboring towns, taking in the magical colonial town that is built on old Mayan ruins, and when walking around town, you find random ruins scattered throughout the town literally everywhere on nearly every street. They are not hard to find by any means. The main Mercado (Market) is right across the street from one and backs up to another.

Our new, extended Guatemalan Family




This country packs a lot into such a small country. From vast jungles, to beautiful oceans and mountain towns, desolate tiny villages and enormous cities. There is surely something for everyone; if you’re willing to trade luxury for minor inconvenience.

CoVid-19 and Martial Law while sheltering in place in Antigua, Guatemala

Okay, so we all have a little bit of downtime so long as we are not deemed “essential personnel.” I figure I’d catch up on a couple of blogs. I remember once upon a time, not that long ago we were those essential personnel. We were responding to blazing fires, people looting in the streets, evacuating burning homes and essentially trying our best to keep people at a safe distance from the things that were going to potentially kill them. Saving people’s lives is what we’ve trained for, what we do and for a while, what defined us. This is what essential personnel do we help sustain life. As we go about our daily lives, let’s just remember that there are those people out there whose life calling is to help people. We are those people and for our entire professional careers, we were those people; putting our lives on the line so you could continue to live yours so you could continue to go home to your families every night and feel secure. Right now, none of us have that. It doesn’t matter where you are, or where you’re from or what you do as a profession. None of us are “immune” (as far as we know anyway) to what belies us at this very moment in time.

Unfortunately, all the wonky shit that’s been happening is really forcing home the importance of family, education, skills and COMMUNICATION. When we don’t communicate, relationships break down. Many of you might be feeling that very angst right now because you are all sitting at home trying to find things to do to occupy your time. We don’t watch a bunch of TV, we don’t even own one. I can’t remember the last time I watched TV other than the other night while watching the President of Guatemala deliver his country lock-down press conference. We sometimes will “Netflix and chill” but that’s pretty impossible here in Guatemala with the awful internet speeds that we have in this country. The phone service is great, 4g LTE speeds. However, the actual broadband through the ISP’s is horrible. It’s so bad in fact, we have to use our Skyroam Solis X, from the car with the WiFi booster to be able to stream anything at all. Now that EVERYONE is home in the complex for the next month, the speeds are even slower.

So, let me tell you a little bit of how things have been going so far since we’ve been “locked down” in Guatemala.

First off, it’s not been too bad. We had our first confirmed case of CoVid-19 in the country on March 13 a young man from Quiche (he had arrived on March 12) who was returning home after visiting Italy. He was symptomatic on arrival and was immediately quarantined at Villa Nueva hospital. The second confirmed case on the same day was an elderly man who had flown from back to Guatemala after visiting Italy and Spain so says the news media here. When he arrived, he was already symptomatic and was also quarantined at the hospital in Villa Nueva upon arrival. I’m not sure if they quarantined everyone from the flight arriving from Italy, but on the very next day after confirming two cases, there were already over 300 people in quarantine in the hospital in Villa Nueva and all schools across the country were immediately closed for a minimum of 3 weeks. And BAM- just like that, mandatory homeschool (we’re overachievers). For the rest of the week, up until March 20, we slowly watched as the rate of infection was spreading. Nothing like in the US, China or Italy, but nonetheless, the number of cases were growing between 2-3 each day. The president closed all the borders, grounded all flights in and out of the country, shut down all public transportation with the exception of a few private charters and in an unprecedented move within a week had declared martial law.

Martial Law… Many of you must be thinking how awful it must be to be under martial law. Right now, honestly, it’s not too bad. There are rules and regulations to follow, if you follow them, you’re fine. If you choose to disregard, you get arrested and held for 7 days. Simple as that. No questions asked. This is a Global Emergency and it is the government’s job to protect its people. I think President Giammetti is doing a damn good job. Look at what’s happening in the USA right now. It’s mass chaos. People buying shit they DON’T EVEN NEED, just in case they might. They are depleting the store shelves of basic essential items that other vulnerable families need. I have quite a few friends whose children have cancer and are currently under treatment. They can’t even find disinfecting wipes to clean their homes. No bleach, no toilet paper, no gloves no masks. They have to isolate their children and themselves already, and now the things they use in order to be able to spend just a smidgeon of time with their sick children are gone. Taken by others that still “need” to go out in public in complete and total disregard to the people they will eventually infect even if they don’t get super sick themselves. I understand the need, I do. I have a box of gloves, I have 2 masks per person in my family. I use these things when we have to go to the store to buy things. The stores here are lining people up outside. If you don’t have a mask, you don’t enter. They have armed guards at the doors and they are making sure people are sanitizing their hands as soon as they walk in. They are providing disinfecting wipes to wipe down the carts and baskets. They have boxes on the floor to show how far you need to stand behind the person in front of you at the check-out line. They closed all borders, schools and non-essential services the Monday following the first confirmed case. Food is take-out only.

The president turned an old building into a new hospital specifically to house any infected or suspected CoVid-19 cases. 315 beds with 45 ICU beds. The largest in Central America. I just hope they have enough personnel to cover it. All the stores have sold out of face masks, but there are Pharmacies that are still selling them and some people at the Mercado are still selling them too. The curfew hours are 4 am to 4 pm. Anyone out after 4 pm is arrested and held for 7 days. I don’t know if they are putting them in quarantine for 7 days or just holding them in jail. The president has given the government 2 weeks to build 4 more hospitals throughout the country in the more underdeveloped areas where they don’t have access to hospitals.

In 11 days, our total confirmed cases in the entire country of Guatemala is 21. I sat down to do the math, if I did the math correctly and comparatively, California has roughly 37.3 million people, Guatemala has 15.5 million. There are as of right this moment, 2365 cases of CoVid-19 in California, which is .00000634% of the total population of California. If I took that same percent to Guatemala, we should have 983 cases of CoVid-19. So, if you think declaring Martial law doesn’t work and being proactive to protect the people, just look at the numbers. Guatemala doesn’t have a super great health care system. If the system gets overrun, the majority of the people here will probably die. The president (also a physician) has done a fantastic job at listening to the PROFESSIONALS and making decisions based on his own knowledge and expertise as a physician. He has been able to stave off the majority of illness, and we should be seeing a spike here in the next two weeks. In the same time frame, the US went from 36 cases on the first day of confirmed infection to 179 in 11 days. That means the first 11 days of the virus in the US were seeing an average of 16.27 new cases per day. Guatemala is at 1.9 new cases per day. For a state that is 4 times the size and has nearly 1/3 more population in a first world country, I would imagine that we shouldn’t see our cases rising 8 times faster than Guatemala. Am I wrong? I understand that there is more information out about how the virus is spread and how contagious it is, but we knew about it, our government chose not to listen to the experts and did nothing about it until it was too late. Now, and only now, schools across the nation are closing, business are closing, non-essential personnel are being told to stay home. Why did it take so long?

There are plenty of foreigners here trying to figure out how to get home. They feel like their embassies should be talking to the government here and try repatriate. The Guatemalan government isn’t restricting them from leaving. First and foremost, let’s just get that straight. The airport is closed, but the border to Mexico for outgoing foreigners is open. The Belize border for exiting foreigners is open. They are open only for those foreigners wishing to return to their home country. From there, any foreigner can fly home. The government isn’t going to pay for it. The Guatemalan government would rather these foreigners stay put and stay alive rather than risk going home and either becoming infected or infecting someone else. Ethically, it’s the right thing to do. Besides missing your family, barring exigent circumstance, why would you want to put anyone at risk? Are you considered “essential personnel?” If not, you’re going to be doing the same thing at home that you are here. Sheltering in place. Someone has to leave their home to pick you up from the airport, right? Have you seen the spread of CV? It started at all major airports and ports of entry, and you want to go back there? You want to wait in line through customs where no less than 12 people handled your bags? Coughed on your bags, sneezed on your bags? Didn’t wash their hands? You want to stand in line with hundreds, possible thousands of other people who just came back or are still on spring break that have been partying on the beaches of who the fuck knows where while infecting each other but aren’t symptomatic right this second? You want to risk that? I sometimes want to go home too. My mom is a very high risk category and she works in a hospital with patient contact every day. I worry about her every day. Am I willing to risk carrying this virus home to infect her just because I’m worried about her? No. Absolutely not. Her health is more important than me being there with her right now.

Guatemala is a poor country. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. The people here rely mostly on tourism to get food on their tables and to pay for their children to attend school. It is a privilege to go to school here, not a right and not mandatory after 2nd grade. This shutdown severely impacts the people who live here, but you know what? They would rather stay home and live another day than have to go out and risk their lives and the lives of the rest of their families (most of them all live together or in very close proximity and span generations). We as Americans are too selfish, have too much debt, have too much pride and are afraid to lose. Well, this is a wake up call. Everyone loses sometime. I really hope whoever reads this was paying attention last time the market tanked. Things are about to get a whole lot worse. This Pandemic just brought it to the forefront faster than our government wanted. We are overleveraged, the government dropped trillions of dollars into the sinking stock market to boost it up and give the people of the economy false hope. People are going to lose jobs, people are going to lose their businesses, when you can’t pay bills, you lose the things you don’t OWN. Who wins in all of this? The Banks. The banks that are bailing out our businesses in the form of low interest and deferred payment loans. Loans that Businesses can’t afford to pay back because they aren’t able to make money because nobody can work. Do you get it yet? This is the cycle. Our government is running out of options. Pull your heads out of your asses people. We have been living in dystopia for far too long and have gotten used to a lifestyle that was destined to fail. It might not fail right away, but when it does, will you be ready?

Our Rig— The Sexy Beast

When we first started this trip, if you’ve followed our trip, you know we started in an old converted Ambulance. Well, it broke down a bit and left us stranded a couple of times despite our best efforts to maintain it and it was just way to big. Width and height were serious problems and we had a couple of incidences where we were pretty lucky to come out only slightly frazzled. From taking out the ladder on the top because of a low lying bridge, losing the rear airbags on a Mexican Tope (speed bump/launch ramp) and nearly taking out low lying rooftops on narrow streets, we’d had enough of the stress of traveling in the Ambulance. It took us 6 months to travel from the California/Baja border to the southern tip of Mexico/Belize border. We decided that before we headed any further south, we’d go back to the United States, sell the ambulance and buy a Toyota Landcruiser. It took us 6 days to get from the Belize border all the way to El Paso, Texas. Yep, 6 months down and 6 days up. That really, really sucked. It was hot with tons of elevation changes; dry arid desert, humid- nearly sopping wet coastline.

We had been looking for a couple of months when we found the PERFECT vehicle for what we plan to do. Meet…. Well, we haven’t quite found a name for him yet. We were going to name him Bruiser the Cruiser, but that name is already taken on IG.

Now to the nitty gritty. I know y’all are DYING to know what we’ve got, so here it is:

2003 Land Cruiser 100 (4.7 L V8, American Spec)

Old Man Emu lift kit with heavy front springs and extra heavy rear springs

ARB Deluxe front Bumper

Come Up 9,500lb Winch

Hi-Lift Jack

Shovel

Tow Straps

Camping toilet

Slee rear bumper with swingouts

Slee Rock Sliders

Safari Snorkel

iKamper Roof Top Tent w/Annex

Dobinsons Drawers

Goal Zero 1400 w/100w solar suitcase

Dometic 50L electric cooler

WeBoost cell phone booster

Garmin InReach GPS

HikeCrew portable hot water heater/shower

Shower Tent

Cook Partner 2 burner propane stove

5 Lb propane tank

Frontrunner drop down tail gate table (fitted with a plastic cutting board because it’s mounted on the outside of the vehicle)

X-Bull traction pads

Titan Tank 11 Gallon external fuel tank (had to have the mounts machined to fit our vehicle because it’s made for Jeep)

Lifesaver 5 Gallon water tank

2 Australian brand water tanks I don’t recommend because the spigots suck.

Mr. Buddy propane heater

Milwaukee magnetic LED lights x3 (used for literally lighting up anything and everything- all the time)

That’s all the “big stuff” if you’re interested in finding out what we carry for our daily gear, you can find that in our “Gear” Post, which will hopefully be up sometime before the year’s end. And this is still January, so stay tuned…

Communications Abroad

Do you ever have those times when you just want to disconnect from the world? Where you just want to turn your phone off, switch off all your electronic devices and just decompress? Yeah, us too. With the amount of information at our fingertips, sometimes it’s good to just disengage, unplug and unwind. When you’re a full-time traveling family though, the difference is the amount that people at home worry about you. They’re always concerned for our safety (I’m glad they are, because that means people care) and want to make sure we arrive safely at our destinations. Even though we’re on the road full-time and don’t always have access to the internet, we seem to always be on the internet looking for something. Anything from whether they have Uber where we are or trying to find a place to eat or just looking at a map to figure out where the hell we are and where we’re trying to go, not to mention the homeschooling situation we have, we seem to always be plugged in. We too need a break. A break from social media, a break from homework, a break from trying to keep up with writing blogs, or figuring out how to make a vlog. Sometimes, it’s great to be unplugged, but as the full-timers we are, it’s not usually an option. Someone somewhere in some time-zone is trying to make sure we’re still alive and we’re thankful for that.

What we’ve found while traveling abroad over the last 14 years, not just since we’ve been on this trip, is that communications are one of the MOST IMPORTANT, if not THE most important aspects for any length of travel. When we first started really traveling abroad it was a little more difficult to keep in contact. There were international cell phone plans, but they cost an arm and a leg, and depending on the network of the country we were visiting and whether our cell phone company had an international agreement with them, the connection would be hit or miss, and usually a miss. We had an app at the time, “WIFI cafe hotspots” which would show us where there were WIFI hotspots near our location. It all worked off GPS, no internet required. It was great. We found numerous hotspots using this method and were virtually never out of service. We had set up a VOIP on our phones, either Skype, Viber, Facetime, WhatsApp or something similar in order to call home. We would do this for a month at a time while we were abroad.

After a few years, we started buying disposable phones for the countries we’d be in. This was helpful because for whatever reason, we always need to make local calls to businesses in the area and calling internationally is kind of a hassle, not to mention it costs a small fortune and you’d need to re-mortgage your house when you actually get through and complete a call. This option was fine for local, in country calls. However, calling home was difficult because we’d have to figure out the country code exit number plus our country code plus the phone number and it amounted to practically a whole new phone number before you actually entered the phone number you were trying to dial in the first place.

Fast forward a few years later and about 20 countries, we started using SIM cards. We would fly into an airport and pick up a pre-paid SIM card and get a 30-day plan. You just have to make sure you have a phone that is capable of GSM/CDMA capabilities and you’ll practically be able to use any SIM anywhere in the world. We would change out our home country SIM card and insert the new one, program it or have the person at the kiosk program it for us and add a plan. This usually gave us plenty of data and was SUPER cheap, seriously in every country we visited that we’ve done this for, it has been less expensive than having the same data plan in the USA. Usually by a minimum of 30%. In Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, you can purchase a SIM card and pay the equivalent of $25 for the month and have access to 12GB of data and unlimited SMS, social media and phone calls. And if you run out of data, you can choose to purchase more and it can be filled on the spot. No problems. Thailand and Cambodia are ridiculously cheap, I think we spent maybe $15 for the entire month and had nearly unlimited data and surprisingly, it was good. Just make sure to do your research before you leave your home country so you’re informed of what the best carrier is for your travel situation. Not all carriers in other countries are as competitive as they are in the USA when it comes to connectivity.

For this trip, we decided to leave our trusted Verizon provider and go with Mint Mobile. This was a GREAT decision for us. It worked practically flawlessly in the US for the four months we had it there (it runs off of T-Mobile towers). It was so cheap I now wonder why we kept Verizon for so many years. They have three different data plans, 3GB, 8GB and 12GB. You get those GB every month, and whatever you don’t use, rolls over to the next month. The plans start out as low as $15/month for the 3 GB plan, but you pay quarterly, so up front the plan would cost you $45 for three months of service. I chose the 12GB plan for us because I did a lot of hot spotting for Kaden’s homeschooling. You could get the 12GB plan and if you chose to pay for the entire year, the total cost FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR is only $300.00. Yes, that is not a typo. Seriously, three-hundred dollars. The best thing about it? You can use it internationally. Just charge up your International Roaming balance in the amount of $10 or $20 and you’re good to go. They charge data by the MB when outside of the USA. However, the rates are super cheap in Mexico and Canada, but get pretty pricey outside of those two foreign countries. If you turn off your roaming data, this could last a really long time. Just be cognizant of how much web-surfing you’re doing. If you constantly need to be connected, get a local SIM card or this one could cost you a fortune. The upside? If you don’t change the SIM card, friends and family can still call you while you’re abroad at little to no cost to you. Seriously, this is one of the best options we’ve come across for necessary access to communications especially if you’re afraid of trying a SIM from another country. You can pick up a Mint SIM card for $5 at Best Buy. The directions are simple and if you choose, you can keep the phone number you already have.

Another thing we did, prior to leaving the USA was, we bought a Skyroam Solis X. It works awesome in the USA and some bigger cities in Mexico. In Belize it was really an orange hockey puck paper weight. Not useful AT ALL. The website says it has coverage in Belize, it doesn’t. We spent an entire month in Belize in most every major city and town and not once did we get any connectivity, though it searched and searched for signal. We’ve had the pleasure of trying it out in many areas of Guatemala, and it’s kind of hit or miss. In large towns and cities, it works well enough, but the download and upload speeds leave a lot to be desired, maybe it’s because we’ve been trying to use it during the holidays, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Guatemala, which are SERIOUS business. It’s like 4th of July on steroids, constantly for two full weeks. I imagine the bandwidth was being used by the hundreds of thousands of people that were on break during those weeks. The countries that are more developed will definitely support the device and you can subscribe to a monthly unlimited plan for $99.00 per month, you can stream all you want and you can connect up to 10 devices. We tested it in the USA before we left and it worked great with 6 devices connected and running different searches and streaming all at the same time. They also offer day passes for something like $10.00 per day or 5 day passes for $45.00. All in all, it actually works really well in more developed countries. We’ll review the device on their website soon enough. We’ve only had it for 4 months and 4 countries.

We also installed a weBoost cell phone signal booster in the car. This coupled with our Skyroam Solis X is actually pretty amazing. For example, Bronson was talking to his dad on one of our VOIP programs using the Skyroam Solis X while in a house, and kept losing reception. He took the Skyroam out to the car and connected with the cell phone booster and had a clear and strong signal. Having the two things together has been really great while trying to get homework done on the long-distance car rides between destinations. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s lightning fast. I hope they end up getting more contract with other international cell providers.

Since we do spend a lot of time in more remote locations rather than in more developed areas, we’ve found that while the Solis X has been great in more developed areas, it’s not always the best for remote access points, unless you’re on the top of a mountain where you can get unbelievably awesome cell service, so it’s really helpful to have a local SIM card charged with Data that supports your needs. Here in Guatemala, with TIGO having the best service but being more expensive, we can only get 6GB at a time for 30 days on a prepaid plan. The best thing about TIGO is that it’s all throughout Central America and Colombia, so we might luck out and be able to use the same carrier without roaming data… We’ll keep you updated when we find out. They have a 35 GB plan, but according to a TIGO representative, in order to qualify for that it has to be a residential hook-up, which sucks because that would cover all of us for maybe three months and only costs $65.00, so just about the same as the Mint Mobile plan in the USA for 12 GB/month, or a few bucks less.

Remember, whichever method you choose, you have to consider how long you’re traveling and where, to best decide which communications plan suits your needs. When my family came to visit us in Belize for a week, I used my old Verizon Jetpack and charged up a SMART cellular SIM. This gave them access to data and ability to use our VOIP program if we got separated, since they rented a car and traveled separate from us. It worked out great for them and cost us $25, plus we had data left over to hotspot our computers and do homework and research. Just be mindful of what you need to accomplish. Are you trying to go cheap? Easy? Cheap and easy? Is it important for you to keep your phone number for people to contact you or do you communicate mostly by e-mail? If you travel often and international and have to keep your phone number, consider getting a skype or google fi number. These plans can be used around the world, they use data so you never have to change your phone number and even with a SIM card from another country, you can still receive phone calls and SMS messages at that same phone number. If you use WhatsApp, which is what most countries seem to be using, it usually will come with unlimited calls, SMS and picture messages in the same data plan you purchase with your new SIM, but the phone number never changes. Just weigh your options before deciding that re-mortgaging your home to pay your cell phone roaming bill is worth the ease of use.

Communications Abroad

 

Communication Tech

Do you ever have those times when you just want to disconnect from the world? Where you just want to turn your phone off, switch off all your electronic devices and just decompress? Yeah, us too. With the amount of information at our fingertips, sometimes it’s good to just disengage, unplug and unwind. When you’re a full-time traveling family though, the difference is the amount that people at home worry about you. They’re always concerned for our safety (I’m glad they are, because that means people care) and want to make sure we arrive safely at our destinations. Even though we’re on the road full-time and don’t always have access to the internet, we seem to always be on the internet looking for something. Anything from whether they have Uber where we are or trying to find a place to eat or just looking at a map to figure out where the hell we are and where we’re trying to go, not to mention the homeschooling situation we have, we seem to always be plugged in. We too need a break.  A break from social media, a break from homework, a break from trying to keep up with writing blogs, or figuring out how to make a vlog. Sometimes, it’s great to be unplugged, but as the full-timers we are, it’s not usually an option. Someone somewhere in some time-zone is trying to make sure we’re still alive and we’re thankful for that.

What we’ve found while traveling abroad over the last 14 years, not just since we’ve been on this trip, is that communications are one of the MOST IMPORTANT, if not THE most important aspects for any length of travel. When we first started really traveling abroad it was a little more difficult to keep in contact. There were international cell phone plans, but they cost an arm and a leg, and depending on the network of the country we were visiting and whether our cell phone company had an international agreement with them, the connection would be hit or miss, and usually a miss. We had an app at the time, “WIFI cafe hotspots” which would show us where there were WIFI hotspots near our location. It all worked off GPS, no internet required. It was great. We found numerous hotspots using this method and were virtually never out of service. We had set up a VOIP on our phones, either Skype, Viber, Facetime, WhatsApp or something similar in order to call home. We would do this for a month at a time while we were abroad.

After a few years, we started buying disposable phones for the countries we’d be in. This was helpful because for whatever reason, we always need to make local calls to businesses in the area and calling internationally is kind of a hassle, not to mention it costs a small fortune and you’d need to re-mortgage your house when you actually get through and complete a call. This option was fine for local, in country calls. However, calling home was difficult because we’d have to figure out the country code exit number plus our country code plus the phone number and it amounted to practically a whole new phone number before you actually entered the phone number you were trying to dial in the first place.

Fast forward a few years later and about 20 countries, we started using SIM cards. We would fly into an airport and pick up a pre-paid SIM card and get a 30-day plan. You just have to make sure you have a phone that is capable of GSM/CDMA capabilities and you’ll practically be able to use any SIM anywhere in the world. We would change out our home country SIM card and insert the new one, program it or have the person at the kiosk program it for us and add a plan. This usually gave us plenty of data and was SUPER cheap, seriously in every country we visited that we’ve done this for, it has been less expensive than having the same data plan in the USA. Usually by a minimum of 30%. In Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, you can purchase a SIM card and pay the equivalent of $25 for the month and have access to 12GB of data and unlimited SMS, social media and phone calls. And if you run out of data, you can choose to purchase more and it can be filled on the spot. No problems. Thailand and Cambodia are ridiculously cheap, I think we spent maybe $15 for the entire month and had nearly unlimited data and surprisingly, it was good. Just make sure to do your research before you leave your home country so you’re informed of what the best carrier is for your travel situation. Not all carriers in other countries are as competitive as they are in the USA when it comes to connectivity.

Mint Mobile

For this trip, we decided to leave our trusted Verizon provider and go with Mint Mobile. This was a GREAT decision for us. It worked practically flawlessly in the US for the four months we had it there (it runs off of T-Mobile towers). It was so cheap I now wonder why we kept Verizon for so many years. They have three different data plans, 3GB, 8GB and 12GB. You get those GB every month, and whatever you don’t use, rolls over to the next month. The plans start out as low as $15/month for the 3 GB plan, but you pay quarterly, so up front the plan would cost you $45 for three months of service. I chose the 12GB plan for us because I did a lot of hot spotting for Kaden’s homeschooling. You could get the 12GB plan and if you chose to pay for the entire year, the total cost FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR is only $300.00. Yes, that is not a typo. Seriously, three-hundred dollars. The best thing about it? You can use it internationally. Just charge up your International Roaming balance in the amount of $10 or $20 and you’re good to go. They charge data by the MB when outside of the USA. However, the rates are super cheap in Mexico and Canada, but get pretty pricey outside of those two foreign countries. If you turn off your roaming data, this could last a really long time. Just be cognizant of how much web-surfing you’re doing. If you constantly need to be connected, get a local SIM card or this one could cost you a fortune. The upside? If you don’t change the SIM card, friends and family can still call you while you’re abroad at little to no cost to you. Seriously, this is one of the best options we’ve come across for necessary access to communications especially if you’re afraid of trying a SIM from another country. You can pick up a Mint SIM card for $5 at Best Buy. The directions are simple and if you choose, you can keep the phone number you already have.

Solis X

Another thing we did, prior to leaving the USA was, we bought a Skyroam Solis X. It works awesome in the USA and some bigger cities in Mexico. In Belize it was really an orange hockey puck paper weight. Not useful AT ALL. The website says it has coverage in Belize, it doesn’t. We spent an entire month in Belize in most every major city and town and not once did we get any connectivity, though it searched and searched for signal. We’ve had the pleasure of trying it out in many areas of Guatemala, and it’s kind of hit or miss. In large towns and cities, it works well enough, but the download and upload speeds leave a lot to be desired, maybe it’s because we’ve been trying to use it during the holidays, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Guatemala, which are SERIOUS business. It’s like 4th of July on steroids, constantly for two full weeks. I imagine the bandwidth was being used by the hundreds of thousands of people that were on break during those weeks. The countries that are more developed will definitely support the device and you can subscribe to a monthly unlimited plan for $99.00 per month, you can stream all you want and you can connect up to 10 devices. We tested it in the USA before we left and it worked great with 6 devices connected and running different searches and streaming all at the same time. They also offer day passes for something like $10.00 per day or 5 day passes for $45.00. All in all, it actually works really well in more developed countries. We’ll review the device on their website soon enough. We’ve only had it for 4 months and 4 countries.

Weboost cell

We also installed a weBoost cell phone signal booster in the car. This coupled with our Skyroam Solis X is actually pretty amazing. For example, Bronson was talking to his dad on one of our VOIP programs using the Skyroam Solis X while in a house, and kept losing reception. He took the Skyroam out to the car and connected with the cell phone booster and had a clear and strong signal. Having the two things together has been really great while trying to get homework done on the long-distance car rides between destinations. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s lightning fast. I hope they end up getting more contract with other international cell providers.

 

Since we do spend a lot of time in more remote locations rather than in more developed areas, we’ve found that while the Solis X has been great in more developed areas, it’s not always the best for remote access points, unless you’re on the top of a mountain where you can get unbelievably awesome cell service, so it’s really helpful to have a local SIM card charged with Data that supports your needs. Here in Guatemala, with TIGO having the best service but being more expensive, we can only get 6GB at a time for 30 days on a prepaid plan. The best thing about TIGO is that it’s all through Central America and Colombia, so we might luck out and be able to use the same carrier without roaming data… We’ll keep you updated when we find out. They have a 35 GB plan, but according to a TIGO representative, in order to qualify for that it has to be a residential hook-up, which sucks because that would cover all of us for maybe three months and only costs $65.00, so just about the same as the Mint Mobile plan in the USA for 12 GB/month, or a few bucks less.

Jetpacl

Remember, whichever method you choose, you have to consider how long you’re traveling and where to best decide which communications plan suits your needs. When my family came to visit us in Belize for a week, I used my old Verizon Jetpack and charged up a SMART SIM. This gave them access to data and ability to use our VOIP program if we got separated, since they rented a car and traveled separate from us. It worked out great for them and cost us $25, plus we had data left over to hotspot our computers and do homework and research. Just be mindful of what you need to accomplish. Are you trying to go cheap? Easy? Cheap and easy? Is it important for you to keep your phone number for people to contact you or do you communicate mostly by e-mail? If you travel often and international and have to keep your phone number, consider getting a skype or google fi number. These plans can be used around the world, they use data so you never have to change your phone number and even with a SIM card from another country, you can still receive phone calls and SMS messages at that same phone number. If you use WhatsApp, which is what most countries seem to be using, it usually will come with unlimited calls, SMS and picture messages in the same data plan you purchase with your new SIM, but the phone number never changes. Just weigh your options before deciding that re-mortgaging your home to pay your cell phone roaming bill is worth the ease of use.

Money Matters!

credit cards

Nobody likes talking about finances, well hardly anyone. In the USA it’s pretty taboo to even speak of money in conversation. However, in this post, I’m going to address some issues of money matters while traveling abroad and help inform you readers of what you can expect if you’re planning on visiting another country and need some cash.

If you’re up to date with technology, meaning 21st century, it’s likely that you bank online and have apps installed on your phone to monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. If you do, just make sure you’re checking all that stuff on a secured network, not an open network. People can steal your data really easily from an open network. Since we’ve been traveling out of the USA, we’ve been unfortunate enough to run into a gamut of problems with the safety feature, two-step verification for all of our accounts. I’m talking any account that holds any payment information from Hulu and Netflix to Amazon and our Banks. All of the banking apps we have on our phones these days require a two-step verification process if for some reason you lost your phone or forgot your password or changed your phone number or e-mail address. This is a great measure of security, but when traveling abroad for any extended period of time and having to do banking can often be a little stressful. For example, we have credit cards with Capital One. They have been awesome. Every time I’ve ever had to call, I don’t wait forever to talk to a live human being and they have always been able to resolve any of the issues I’ve had. The problem comes when you change your SIM card while traveling abroad and then try to login either with your fingerprint or with your password. The online system will lock you out. I actually had to set up a skype US number that I can use for all of my two-step verifications. This was $50.00 for the year. However, there are still some companies that won’t verify through a VOIP program because the phone number doesn’t have a “user account” associated with it. Meaning, the number is unregistered with any company and they can’t verify who actually owns or has possession of that phone number.

The work around? I have the app on my phone and I login from my laptop. Capital One asks to send me a verification code and they default to your US phone number, which is great… If you still have it. They give other options, one being a phone call (You can’t use skype until you update it in your account contact information) and the other being opening the app from your phone and verifying that you’re actually trying to access your account. The caveat— Don’t replace your phone and computer at the same time, then you’re shit out of luck and have to call them. I was fortunate enough to be able to verify through the app and it logged me in on my computer. From there, I went in and changed my contact info and updated with my Skype number and set it to default. The online system gave me the green light and said that I could now use that number for notifications. I still have yet to see if it will.

Our bank had the same problem. Even if you have a travel notice set with the company, if you change the SIM card in your phone, they will request a two-step verification to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account. I love this option in theory. When I’m in Belize and I’m trying to get money from an ATM machine and the ATM says “unauthorized, contact your bank” it really puts a damper on the trip. I will usually try logging in from the app and verify the purchase, then it will allow me to withdrawal money. If it doesn’t show that I even tried to access money, I then have to call the bank and figure out what the hell is going on. Usually it’s a problem with the ATM server not communicating with our bank. This happens a lot in Guatemala. Often times the merchant’s bank is not authorized to connect to an out of country server, which is why it’s super handy to be able to access cash from an ATM. We’ve run into this problem a few times with merchants, online purchases and ATM’s. They all have different parameters they work in. In larger, more developed cities, you’ll have an easier time using a debit card for Point Of Sale purchases. In most smaller towns and villages, cash is king- still, and always.

Mint Mobile

One way we’ve been able to work around it is using Mint. You can purchase a SIM card for $5.00 USD at Best Buy. They give options for calls, SMS and Data and plans start at $300.00/year. Yes, you read that correctly. Three-Hundred dollars per YEAR. I had the 12 Gb plan and it was $130 every 3 months, but if you prepay your whole year, the cost decreases. We also don’t do a lot of streaming, so we don’t really need Unlimited data. With Mint, you pay in advance for a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month plan. The network is great and we never had a problem connecting while in the USA or Mexico. They also offer a roaming package when you leave the US. When in Canada and Mexico, the rates are very reasonable and international data can be bought in $10 or $20 packages. They charge you per minute (something like $0.02 per minute and something Similar per Mb of data.) Our data, phone and SMS service in Mexico went far. I never had to recharge my international roaming balance while we were there for the month. Once you’re out of Canada or Mexico, Mint still works, but the cost increases significantly. You can really burn through your data on the plan, so if you want to use it and are going somewhere else outside of the US, Canada and Mexico, make sure you turn off your roaming data. Then you can turn it on when you really need to access it. We are still able to use the Mint SIM, but I’ve opted to put it into our Verizon jetpack MiFi. This way I can still receive texts for the two-step verification and I don’t use any data, so I’m not spending a ton of money trying to keep my balance in the black. We’ve tried using Verizon and getting the daily package, but it’s expensive and nearly NEVER works. You’ll have better luck with T-mobile. In Mexico, T-mobile works on the Telcel and Movistar networks. We get SIM cards for our phones in whatever country we’re in and send our new info home on a VOIP program like Viber, Skype or WhatsApp. This way we can be contacted from home and local companies and new friends can contact us on local numbers. We’ve found it very helpful to have local numbers when you’re staying abroad for an extended period. More about communications in another post later.

ATM's

No matter where you go, money matters. We don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it’s necessary in many small towns and villages. If you don’t mind carrying cash, try to order cash from your home banking branch prior to setting out on your trip. The exchange rate is about the same as you’ll get at an ATM machine, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have a bank that charges international banking fees, the cost of withdrawing money from a foreign ATM can end up costing you a small fortune. Not even kidding. Credit cards (depending on who you use) often don’t have the international fee’s the banks charge. Check with your bank prior to take off to see if they charge international exchange rate fees. Many ATM’s in foreign countries will charge you, then you’ll get hit with the exchange fee from the bank, plus the ATM fee. If you bank with USAA or US Bank or Charles Schwab (to name a few), they don’t charge you the international fees or ATM fees or will reimburse you for all ATM fees you incur. This could save you literally hundreds of dollars for your trip, depending on how often you need to withdrawal money. I suggest pulling out as much cash as you can in a case like this, because it prevents you from having to visit the ATM as often.

Money Matters and Two-Step Verification!!

Nobody likes talking about finances, well hardly anyone. In the USA it’s pretty taboo to even speak of money in conversation. However, in this post, I’m going to address some issues of money matters while traveling abroad and help inform you readers of what you can expect if you’re planning on visiting another country and need some cash.

If you’re up to date with technology, meaning 21st century, it’s likely that you bank online and have apps installed on your phone to monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. If you do, just make sure you’re checking all that stuff on a secured network, not an open network. People can steal your data really easily from an open network.

Since we’ve been traveling full time outside of the USA for the last year and a half, we’ve been unfortunate enough to run into a gamut of problems with the safety feature, two-step verification for all of our accounts. I’m talking any account that holds any payment information from Hulu and Netflix to Amazon, Uber and our Banks.

All of the banking apps we have on our phones these days require a two-step verification process if for some reason you lost your phone or forgot your password or changed your phone number or e-mail address. This is a great measure of security, but when traveling abroad for any extended period of time and having to do banking can often be a little stressful. For example, we have credit cards with Capital One. The problem arises when you change your SIM card in your phone while traveling abroad and then try to login either with your fingerprint or with your password. The online system will lock you out. I actually had to set up a Skype US number that I can use for all of my two-step verification’s. This was $50.00 for the year. However, there are still some companies that won’t verify through a VOIP program because the phone number doesn’t have a “user account” associated with it. Meaning, the number is unregistered with any company and they can’t verify who actually owns or has possession of that phone number.

The work around? I have the app on my phone and I login from my laptop. The credit card company asks to send me a verification code and they default to your US phone number, which is great… If you still have it. They give other options, one being a phone call (You can’t use Skype until you update it in your account contact information) and the other being opening the app from your phone and verifying that you’re actually trying to access your account. The caveat— Don’t replace your phone and computer at the same time, then you’re shit out of luck and have to call them. I was fortunate enough to be able to verify through the app on my phone while using my laptop and was able to get logged in on my laptop, which in turn unlocked the feature for my phone. I then changed my contact info and updated it with my Skype number and set it to default. The online system gave me the green light and said that I could now use that number for notifications. I still have yet to see if it will.

Our banks had the same problem. Even if you have a travel notice set with the company, if you change the SIM card in your phone, they will request a two-step verification to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account. I love this option in theory. When I’m in Belize and I’m trying to get money from an ATM machine and the ATM says “unauthorized, contact your bank,” I hate it. I will usually try logging in from the app and verify the purchase, then it will allow me to withdrawal money. If it doesn’t show that I even tried to access money, I then have to call the bank and figure out what the hell is going on. Usually it’s a problem with the ATM server not communicating with the bank. This happens a lot in Guatemala and a bit in Belize. Often times the merchant’s bank is not authorized to connect to an out of country server, which is why it’s super handy to be able to access cash from an ATM. We’ve run into this problem a few times with merchants, online purchases and ATM’s. They all have different parameters they work in. In larger, more developed cities, you’ll have an easier time using a debit card for Point Of Sale purchases. In most smaller towns and villages, cash is king- still, and always.

Another we’ve been able to work around it is using the US cell carrier, Mint. You can purchase a SIM card for $5.00 USD at Best Buy. They give options for calls, SMS and Data and plans start at $180.00/year. Yes, you read that correctly. One hundred eighty dollars per YEAR. I use the 3 Gb plan (you don’t actually get to use this plan data while traveling internationally, the international data is different) and it’s $45 every 3 months, but if you prepay your whole year, the cost decreases. We are still able to use the Mint SIM, but I’ve opted to put it into our Verizon jetpack MiFi. This way I can still receive texts for the two-step verification and I don’t use any data, so I’m not spending a ton of money trying to keep my balance in the black. Here’s a link to their website (we are not sponsored, so we have no obligations to the company, I just hate paying out the nose for stuff that doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg because corporations are greedy). https://www.mintmobile.com/ More about communications in another post later.

No matter where you go, money matters. We don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it’s necessary in many small towns and villages. If you don’t mind carrying cash, try to order cash from your home banking branch prior to setting out on your trip. The exchange rate is about the same as you’ll get at an ATM machine, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have a bank that charges international banking fees, the cost of withdrawing money from a foreign ATM can end up costing you a small fortune. Not even kidding. Credit cards (depending on who you use) often don’t have the international fee’s the banks charge, but DO NOT USE A CASH ADVANCE! That starts accruing interest right away and usually at a DAILY rate of no less than 24%!!! Check with your bank prior to take off to see if they charge international exchange rate fees. Many ATM’s in foreign countries will charge you, then you’ll get hit with the exchange fee from your bank, plus their ATM fee. If you bank with USAA or US Bank or Charles Schwab (to name a few), they don’t charge you the international fees or ATM fees or will reimburse you for all ATM fees you incur. This could save you literally hundreds of dollars for your trip, depending on how often you need to withdrawal money. I suggest pulling out what you can in a case like this, because it prevents you from having to visit the ATM as often, hence less fees. Also check with your bank for affiliate banks in the country you’re visiting. I know Mexico uses ScotiaBank which is an Affiliate of Bank of America. You won’t get charged at those ATM’s in Mexico, but you will still incur the foreign transaction fee.

Motorbike Confiscation! Yes, it really does happen and yes it CAN be really expensive!

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That’s a lot of motorbikes

 

Let’s start with some rules of the road for motorbikes. Regardless of what you see other people doing, by Mexican law, you MUST wear a helmet and at least one person (the one on the back) MUST wear a reflective safety vest (or at least carry it with you). You MUST also carry a copy of your TIP, Mexican Insurance and Title/Registration and ID. If you don’t have these, they WILL confiscate and impound your motorbike. We know, because it happened to us and about 30 other people (mostly the locals). Keep in mind, these rules are not regularly enforced.  You will often see people wearing helmets, loosely or not at all and almost never, a safety vest. However, if you get pulled over and are found without them it could cost you a substantial amount of money. Especially as a tourist.

The fine we were able to knock down from $1800 pesos ($90 USD) to $507 pesos ($25 USD). The process to recover your vehicle is tedious and by US standards, disorganized, just like the DMV. It literally takes you all day. First you have to go to the Recaudadora Estatal (essentially the DMV) to pay the ticket. Then you have to go the government office in a location 6 or so blocks away to show proof of all paperwork; the TIP, Mexican insurance, registration/Title, ID and proof of payment to the Recaudadora Estatal). From there, you have to go to another office (not really in walking distance) to pay the impound fee and get a receipt (our fee was an additional $750 pesos or $37 USD). Then you have to take a cab to the impound lot to recover your vehicle. Keep in mind, this cost is only for motorbikes. Other vehicles are significantly more expensive. Usually about half of the cost of your entire vehicle to get it out of impound from what the locals say. If it were our ambulance we would have ended up paying almost $25000.00 because they calculate cost differently on the fines for vehicles.

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Recaudadora Estatal

We were lucky enough to befriend a wonderful lady in Chapala named Adriana who spent the entire day arguing with people to get our fines reduced. She actually called the chief of Police the night it happened to complain about the high fee and told him that we, as her friends, shouldn’t have to pay it and that we were visiting her from the USA. He was able to lower the fine to the lowest bracket that the local’s pay even though we had more moving violations than other people since there were three of us.

We had been riding around town on side streets going pretty slow (I know it’s no excuse) and didn’t see anyone wearing helmets, so we didn’t really think about wearing ours (though we always make Kaden wear his, regardless). I had just had my hair bleached and dyed bright electric blue/purple. We were on our way to dinner when everyone kept yelling to us from the street. Riding the motorbike, you can’t hear very much when the wind is in your ears, so we couldn’t hear what they were saying. We thought they were probably noticing my hair, since we hadn’t seen anyone with any wacky hair colors thus far on the trip. We were stopped in traffic, when a nice man in a vehicle next to us began to explain that we needed to drive on the right side (in the bike lane, which is illegal unless you’re on a bicycle) or we would  get pulled over just up ahead.

We thought it was weird that the man was telling us to break that law (even though, yes, we were breaking a few others that were way more dangerous), so we continued driving in the traffic lane. Then we saw it… The police check point. They motioned for us to pull over and then it hit me. He wasn’t telling us to ride in the bike lane or we would get pulled over, he was telling us that the police were in the bike lane up ahead pulling motor bikes over! Well shit. I guess things really do get lost in translation. My translation at least.

Everyone on motorbikes in violation of something were pulled over and given tickets and their bikes confiscated and impounded. Most of them being helmet and safety vest violations. The local Policía Vidal (traffic police) didn’t care that there were three of us on a 125cc scooter, they cared that Bronson and I weren’t wearing our helmets and I didn’t have my safety vest on. We also didn’t have a copy of our TIP or any of that paperwork because Bronson wanted to take it out for taking up too much space in the storage compartment.

Note *****Be sure to carry copies of all of your paperwork in every vehicle listed on your TIP!!!

We were forced to find a ride back to the house we rented where I told our new friend about our evening excursion. The following day, she took us to all of the places we needed to go in order to get our scooter back. Literally, she spent the entire day shuffling us from place to place and sweet-talking people to get us moved to the front of the line.

The entire day took us 9 hours and Bronson barely made it to the impound lot to pick up the scooter. If we didn’t get it that day (Friday) we would have had to wait until Monday, and we had planned on leaving Saturday. The most impressive thing? Adriana didn’t ask us for anything in return. We offered to cook dinner, buy groceries, pay her for her trouble. She wouldn’t accept anything from us. She even invited us over to have dinner with her family. How many people do you know that would give up an entire day to help non-native speaking, foreign people shuffle through an entire day of the nightmare that is the DMV? I don’t know any. Add this to the list of reasons that we LOVE Mexico!

IMG_20190329_151322
Impound lot where we recovered our scooter

 

 

You Actually DROVE through SINALOA??

“Aren’t you scared?” It’s been such a common question since we left home 10 months ago. The simple answer is no. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things to be scared of, but being aware is key to staving off the fear. You can’t believe everything you hear on the news. No matter where you go, the same problems exist everywhere. They might manifest themselves in different manners, but ultimately, the problems that exist are the same.

People talk about the drug wars in Mexico and South America (usually you are told about the drug wars in Colombia), yet in America we have drug wars on street corners. Really, the difference is just the places these things are happening. We have gang wars in America just as they have in Mexico. If you’re aware of where these things are happening and you avoid these places, you won’t have any problems. When we would tell people we met on the Baja that we were planning on shipping to Los Mochis and driving through Sinaloa to Mazatlan and on to Nayarit, they would ask, “are you sure that’s a good idea?” The answer is no. We’re never absolutely sure about anything on this trip. We had a plan to avoid the state of Sinaloa when we started the trip. However, after talking to some people (ex-pats) who make the drive multiple times per week on the same highway we would be taking, we decided to take the chance and just go for it. We had absolutely no issues driving through the entire state of Sinaloa to Nayarit. We paid a total of $40 in tolls and didn’t encounter one police or military checkpoint. While in Baja, we encountered a military checkpoint in every town we drove through only to find out that Baja is a major drug trafficking route, more-so than any other border area at this time. Yet we felt perfectly safe in Baja. The cartels are not in the habit of harming tourists. It brings international attention to them if that happens.

What we’ve found for the last 5 months in Mexico is that most everyone we’ve met is very willing to open their homes and lives to show you their country. A country they are very proud of, regardless of their status. Status doesn’t seem to mean much in Mexico, most people are very poor. Of course, they will try anything to earn a penny, but we have to keep in mind, most of the people in Mexico earn the equivalent of up to $500.00 USD per month. So yeah, they have to try to supplement their income somehow, just to survive.

School in Mexico is not compulsory. Parents have to pay to have their children in school. This is an added expense many cannot afford. That’s why you’ll travel around the entire country and see children out selling things when (as Americans) we think they should be in school. Most children in school come from more privileged families. It’s like College for the United States. If you have money, you can afford to pay tuition for your kids and they can have the best education. If not, you either choose not to go to college or you go in debt to get the education. Many things are bought on layaway here in Mexico. They have payment plans for items that cost as little as $25 USD. They have year-long payment plans for that. People make-due with what is available to them and they shy away from the things that are luxuries that we as Americans consider necessities.

Are we crazy for wanting to see how other people live? Are we crazy for taking a chance and giving up the luxuries of the American life to live simply and be able to do what we want instead of what other people expect us to do? Are we crazy for taking our kid out of school and trying to teach him ourselves? Are we crazy to be living in such close quarters and being around each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Maybe. It depends on how you see it. I wake up next to my best friend every day. I get to monitor what influences my son and his reactions. I get to make corrections to him when he gets out of control and I don’t have to wait to see negative behavior. I can stop it as soon as it starts. I get to change my scenery every day if I get bored. I get to choose a new activity every day.

To some people we might sound crazy. To others this might seem like the perfect life. One they strive to have one day. The truth is, reality is somewhere in between. It’s not perfect. It’s not without its challenges. We have plenty of time when we get on each-other’s nerves and we just want to have a separate space. Traveling can be difficult. We never have a plan to stay anywhere. We literally make plans to stay somewhere the very afternoon we need a place to park. We fly by the seat of our pants. Sometimes it works out, others it doesn’t. Nothing is ever perfect and the only constant in life is change. The truth is, you have to be willing to adapt and overcome. This life isn’t for everyone. Very few people we know could actually give up their comforts to try something like this and that is okay. However, for us, like everything else in our lives, “great things never came from comfort zones.”-unknown

I know many of our friends who want to live vicariously through our travels. Mostly because they know they value the life they have and they enjoy what they have and what they’re doing in life. They are content and happy. For all of them, we envy you. I mean, we had a hard time living in the same town for 12 years. We literally averaged a house move every 2 years. As long as we were moving it was okay. Having the change of scenery was paramount to being able to live in the same place for so long. We envy you because no matter where we go or what we do, we will never be satisfied. We will always look for something different, something more, something better even though we know the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

 

 

Playa Escondida

DSCF5625We had gotten maybe 15 miles into our trip from Mulege when we came across the town of  Posada. We were told about a little secluded beach just after Posada that we wanted to check out. The directions we were given was “you’ll come to a town called posada, when you get just past posada, turn left and go over the saddle.”

Well, we went past posada, past El Coyote and Barrillo. Suffice it to say, we missed our turn and had to turn around. When we did, we came to the town of Posada and decided to drive in to the town and ask for directions. There was not a soul out and about. Everything looked closed and we were having one hell of a time finding internet service. We decided to skip the town and try to find Playa Escondida ourselves. This time we drove very slowly out of the town (the town is so small if you blink you’ll miss it) and noticed an obstructed sign that said Playa Escondida. We turned and drove down a dirt road and saw some people camped out on a beach, but it wasn’t secluded so we deduced that it wasn’t the beach we were looking for.

We came to a steep incline where the saddle of 2 hills met. We drove over it and were greeted with turquoise water and a few Palapas with people camped out. As we drove closer to the beach, we knew we had found the slice of paradise we had been looking for. The only problem, we didn’t have enough food to last us more than a couple of days. We sucked it up knowing we’d likely have to leave sooner than we had wanted, but oh well. We set up camp, inflated the paddle boards and took to the water as soon as we could. The water was warm, but there were tons of sting rays in the water. I asked a local lady about them and how dangerous they are and she told me that last summer a man had nearly been killed when he was stung by one. He barely made it to the hospital and the last she heard he had been in a coma for a time before he made a full recovery. She told us if we get in the water to shuffle our feet so they swim away as they blend in with the sand.

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As we hopped on our boards and prepared to paddle into the great beyond, we looked down into the crystal-clear turquoise water and saw tons of sting rays scattering about, schools of beautiful striped fish and even some starfish could be seen hanging out on the bottom of the ocean floor. It was quite a sight to behold and we never even had to get into the water.  After about half an hour of paddling the winds picked up and Kaden started getting swept further and further South. Bronson had gone out to him to keep him calm as it was becoming increasingly difficult to paddle against the wind. A kind fisherman allowed me to get in his boat with him to go retrieve Kaden. Once we got to him, I had Kaden climb into the boat and I took the opportunity to get more exercise in and paddle back to our campsite. Crisis averted. Kaden has always been told about what to do when getting swept out to sea with rip currents and wind so this was a good test for him to apply what he knows. He didn’t do so well, so we obviously need to do more training with him. We got back to camp, let Kaden have a good cry, cooked dinner, played Jenga and headed off to bed.

The following morning, we awoke to a man who was bringing fresh water to anyone who needed it. He was shortly followed by a man selling fresh vegetables and a couple of people selling the fresh catch of the day. I was very excited because this was apparently something that happened every day. This meant we could stay as long as we wanted!

We met a couple of travelers who had invited us on a hike with a local man to go check out some pictographs. This local man took us on a 2.5-mile hike out in the desert to see some pictographs and a couple of caves. On the way back, a couple of the girls in the group started venturing away from the group which made our local guide have to go after them. Suffice it to say, we all got lost and had to find our way back. The local man was slightly displeased because he only knows the track to take there and back, and if he has to go away from his track it’s very easy to get lost. There are no marked trails to this place. If you don’t know where to go, you could get very, dangerously lost. The hike back was about 4 miles, so the hike took most of the day. It was hot and dry so we hopped in the water when we returned to camp to cool off.

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We only camped here for 4 nights because we really wanted to start heading south. It was the most beautiful beach we had stayed at and it was quiet and most of the campers kept to themselves. Many of them are full-timers. They actually live there until the summer when it is unbearable to be there. Then they fly somewhere else and spend a few months away from the Playa until it cools down enough to come back.

If you ever have a chance to make the drive, Playa Escondido is worth every bit of the $150 Pesos per night to camp. I will say though, it would be difficult to get a rig in there that is longer than 30 ft or has low ground clearance.