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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?

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.

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!

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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.

 

 

What About Sex?

When we tell people that we’re traveling the world in this ambulance over the course of the next 8 years, a very common question is what we do about having our adult time and how to have sex in such open and close quarters.

The answer? It’s difficult. Constantly having to be quiet, or not move too much to avoid shaking the ambulance and waking the kid. Sometimes we send him out under a palapa in the hammock or in his own tent with the dog and his toys at night so we can have our separation. It’s not ideal, but neither is the way we are living our life to most people. We use stolen moments. For example, if we find a shower (think USA Federal and State parks), we’ll pop in there and do our business. Recently, we’ve been finding it difficult as we travel the interior of Mexico to find places to camp and spread out, so we’ve rented houses for two weeks. That has been helpful because we each have a separate room. Other than that, we make Kaden play outside until we tell him he can come back inside. Or if he’s out and about playing with other kids too busy to notice we’re not there, we take those moments. The short of it is, we find stolen moments and use them when we can. The topic comes up so often, I’ve consorted with other families doing the same thing. Some of them have actually built separate sleeping quarters for themselves away from their kids. That would be awesome, but our configuration doesn’t allow for that and many others in this lifestyle are driving vehicles smaller and more confined than us.

Another question we get is, how do we fund this trip? Are we super wealthy? The answer is: No. Not by a long shot. We have endured a great many hardships to get to where we are, as have most of the people traveling like we are. In the crash of 2006-2008, we lost everything. We lost a home to foreclosure because we moved and couldn’t sell it, changed jobs, filed for bankruptcy, had a baby and moved again to a family-oriented community. We re-built our credit and learned from the last crash, what not to do. We started watching the financial markets and looked into diversifying our investments. The thing we did have going for us was, we had always thrown money into a retirement account. Both of us had been saving for retirement. I started when I was 16, Bronson started when he was 23. When we transferred to public safety, both of us were able to use the money in our retirement accounts and roll it over to purchase an additional 5 years of service. We also took every pay raise and put that money into our retirement accounts. We looked at cost cutting around every corner, and never bought anything on credit. If we couldn’t afford to pay cash, we couldn’t afford it. Every credit card we had was always at 0% interest and would be paid off every month. We would buy things with credit cards to continue to build credit, we just never carried a balance. We’ve been living like this for the last 13 years. When we were both forced to retire, because we had already been living on so much less than we actually took in, the loss of income didn’t hit us very hard. I collect only 23% of what I was making when I was working and Bronson collects 52% of what he was making. We literally average less than 40% of our working salary, and we are still able to afford to travel around the world and not have to work.

Another question is “what about school?” The answer is: “what about it?” Having been on the road, non-stop for the last 8 months, we’ve been doing an online homeschooling program. I originally looked in to numerous state sponsored programs that were free. The problem is they require in person meetings every week and you get your homework assignments for the next week on Friday of the previous week and all assignments are due on the following Friday. We knew going into this that wasn’t going to be an option. Many places we plan on being are not going to have internet connection and I’m not flying home every week to have a meeting with a teacher for an hour. I found a great online private school called Keystone Online. They’re based out of Pennsylvania and the cost is around $2500.00 per year. They have a curriculum to follow and it can be done at your own pace over a 12-month period. It is 100% online and they also send you school books and materials so you don’t have to worry about coming up with a curriculum on your own and trying to register it with your home state. They offer Diplomas when the child has completed high-school and you are assigned a homeroom teacher should you have any questions. A friend of mine recently told us about a program called “out-school” You pay per course and you have numerous courses to choose from and the classes are scheduled on certain days and hours. There are programs like Khan Academy, Southwestern Advantage and International school online. I like Khan academy, they’re free. Southwestern Advantage is $20.00 USD per month, but I think you have to buy the equivalent of the set of encyclopedia Britannica in a set of 6 books. This set of books has 3 different ways to teach your child everything they need to learn in school all the way from Kinder to College. The courses include Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science etc. They also send 6 additional books about anatomy and physiology, space/astrophysics, zoology, earth science and so much more. The subscription also allows you to login to the Southwestern Advantage site which has a parent corner. The parent corner discusses all sorts of issues from scheduling as a new homeschooler, behavioral issues with the children, how to recognize when you the parent need a break and what to do. There’s a whole community out there waiting to help you if you need it. The short of it is, you need to find a program that works for whatever it is that you’re doing. I can e-mail Kaden’s homeroom teacher and tell her what our plans are for the day and have it take the place of his history lesson if I want. The school is very flexible with what you can substitute for learning as long as it fits within the category of Language arts, Science, Math, Social Studies or whatever elective course you’re taking.

The next question we get often, mostly from American and Canadian travelers who go to the same places year after year for decades is “aren’t you scared?” Our answer: “Scared of what?” The same things that happen anywhere you go is the same thing that will happen in your home country, state, city or town or province. It’s all relative. Often times I should have been way more scared to show up to work than to leisurely travel the world with my family. Sure, I may not be able to bring my weapons with me, and if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to use it for my personal protection. The same thing could be said for me being at home. I could be at home when something bad happens and guess what, I don’t wear my gun on my hip when I’m home. I could “what if” the shit out of the what could happen, but it doesn’t do me much good to overthink it. If I did that I’d never have left my house. The problem we see, as I can really only speak for America, is that our news is so tainted with all the bad shit that happens everywhere. What you don’t see is where those things are happening. It would be like me saying “there was a terrible mass murder in California, don’t go there.” Well folks, California is a big state with nearly 40 million people living in it. It encompasses nearly 164,000 square miles. If this mass murder thing in California happened in Los Angeles, does that mean you shouldn’t visit San Francisco which is 380 miles and 7 hours away? No. We don’t let fear govern our lives. We are smart about the places we go and the things we do. We don’t paint big targets on ourselves by having and showing off expensive stuff. We do our best to blend in where we can. Some places we go, the boys are so light skinned they stick out like a sore thumb and others where I am so dark I stand out. Just be smart about where you plan on going. Map a route to get there. Check resources on the internet and ask other local people. We were just told yesterday by a guy at the suspension shop that traveling south and east from here in Guanajuato is very safe, but still try not to drive at night unless absolutely necessary and if we do, stay on the toll roads. He also said it’s best not to drive at night because sometimes on the toll road, there are corrupt officials that will pull you over and impound your car and you’d have to wait to see a magistrate until the morning to get your vehicle back or pay them your hefty fine on the spot. So, note to self, don’t drive at night unless absolutely necessary. Just be vigilant and do some homework and make sure to have a back-up plan. Sometimes it’s best not to let the officials know you speak Spanish. You have to be able to read people and gauge a situation. Don’t do dumb shit.

The hardest thing about traveling in the interior of Mexico has been the lack of open camping. It seems that everywhere you go there is private property or a city. The streets in these places are pretty narrow once you get off of the Carreterra. We’ve had quite a few near misses that gave us pucker factor for sure. And since losing our ladder and partial solar panel with a hole through our roof under a “Puente” that was rated at 2.5 meters and we’re 2.5 meters tall we’re a little gun-shy about going under some of these bridges and in some tunnels where we can clearly see that tall vehicles have completely scraped the rocks with their roofs. I don’t want to do that again, it was bad enough the first time. Driving this ambulance in these cities is tough. Huge blind spots, you can’t look out to see behind you because you have an entire additional foot of space behind you that is blocked by the ambulance box so you only have mirrors. Usually I’m the one getting out and guiding Bronson to either back up or move into traffic. We can see behind us, but we can’t see to the sides of us and that’s a huge blind spot.

The next hard thing is that we have no personal space. This one is huge for me. I have always been independent. I love having my own space with my own stuff where I can go away and have total and complete quiet. Well, since being on this trip I’ve had none of that. NONE. And neither have they. We get on each other’s nerves all the time. There is some yelling, every now and again the crazy side of me comes out and I look and sound like the devil, but hey, I own that shit.

It’s not easy doing what we’re doing, but we make the best of it. The boys seem to throw their shit everywhere and cannot keep the inside clean. I’m constantly nagging them to pick up their shit and then they are always asking me if I’ve seen their stuff. No, I haven’t seen your stuff, but I guarantee if you always put it back in the same place you’ll never lose it. This concept seems to be lost on the boys and I can’t stand it. I’m constantly sweeping the floors, wiping down the countertops and dusting. I’m not saying I’m perfect. That is so far from the truth it’s not funny. We all have our shortcomings. I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it, the list of my shortcomings would be much longer than the boys combined. Bronson is by far the hardest worker of all of us. He researches everything that could and will go wrong with this vehicle. He’s already researching our next vehicle when we sell the ambulance and trade down to something smaller and more maneuverable. Yes, I said downsize even more. He is a tinkerer, so he’s really good at seeing how things function and can troubleshoot just about anything. Kaden is a sponge, so he’s soaking up a ton of knowledge about vehicle maintenance, school, chores, history, responsibility, self-initiation and getting a first-hand lesson of how pride can get in the way of your ability to learn. I’m the translator, teacher, grocery list maker and shopper, safety officer, finder of everybody’s everything, navigator and interior cleaner. We each have our roles and the longer we’re on the road, the more our roles change and intertwine. It’s important to stay fluid in responsibility. If one of us adults gets hurt, the other has to know how to take on the other roles.

We argue, we yell, we cry, we laugh. We even laugh sometimes because we can’t cry and it won’t do us any good to yell because there’s nobody to yell at and place blame on. We take the good with the bad because we are a family. Together there isn’t anything we can’t get through.

 

Crossing the Sea of Cortez

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First and foremost, prior to leaving Baja to get to the mainland, you MUST acquire a Temporary Import Permit for your vehicle at a Banjercito. There is one located at the ferry port in La Paz if you didn’t acquire it in Tijuana or other mainland border crossing prior to leaving the free zone of Sonora. If you have a tow vehicle, you’ll need a TIP that identifies each vehicle you have. The cost for the TIP itself is only $60 USD. However, you will have to pay a deposit usually in the range of $200-$600 USD depending upon what kind of vehicle you have and your tow vehicle. If you are bringing in a vehicle classified as a motorhome, your permit will last 10 years. If you have a regular vehicle or motorcycle your permit is good for 6 months.

We got lucky, we are classified as a motorhome, but we also have a scooter as a tow vehicle which complicates things. The tow vehicle is attached to our vehicle, not as a separate trailer, so we only got a 6-month permit. I could have asked for the vehicles to be separate, but I would have had to pay 2 TIP fees. The good thing is that because we are a motorhome, we didn’t actually get charged a deposit. Our fees came out to a total of $60.00 USD. We were fine with the 6-month permit because we are planning on only being in Mexico for 6 months. If we need to, we can go to any border crossing or airport and renew our permit at the Banjercito.

The things you’ll need to obtain your TIP (you must make copies of all of these documents as they keep them and they will not copy the documents for you. If you don’t have access to a printer or copy machine, there are local papelería’s around that will do it for you and it’s very cheap)

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Registration/ Title (something verifying the classification of the vehicle and VIN)
  • If you bring a pet, a recent health certificate and current shot records (just in case they ask. They never and I mean NEVER asked for Roxy’s health certificate but better safe than having to quarantine)

They will require you to fill out an inventory sheet to account for all items in your rig. You fill out 2 of these, one for them and another for your records. The person at the counter will enter all of your information into their computer system and take your deposit and non-refundable fee and issue you a TIP to place in the windshield of your vehicle. They want this placed as close to the rear-view mirror as possible to make it visible to military or law enforcement personnel. If you do not have this permit, if you get pulled over, you WILL get your vehicle confiscated and impounded. The fees to get your vehicle back from what I hear are astronomical. Nearly the cost of your vehicle itself. I don’t know first-hand about this, but I do know first-hand about getting the motorcycle impounded.  I’ll address that in another blog post.

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Banjercito tag that let’s Law enforcement know you’ve paid the import fee.

You have two choices of ferries to use to cross the Sea of Cortez. TMC or Baja Ferries. There are slight price differences between the two, with TMC being more cost effective but less comfortable. You have a choice to ship from La Paz to Mazatlan or Topolobampo (Los Mochis). The ferry to Topo is shorter, but if you’re headed south, it’s a 4-hour drive to Mazatlan. The difference between the two ferries is that Baja Ferries requires you to ride in the passenger area and does not grant you access to the cargo area. If you’re traveling with pets, your pet must be crated and stay in the vehicle/crate. The ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan is a 13-hour trip. You can book a room to sleep in or you can sit in the passenger area of the ship which is usually packed with people and they don’t allow you to spread out and sleep on the floor. Booking a cabin is an additional cost.

The TMC ferry is who we chose to cross with and we chose to cross to Topolobampo. When we arrived, a customs officer met us and inspected our vehicle and our TIP paperwork. She then had us drive over to the cargo parking area where they measured our vehicle and weighed us to categorize us for cost. We were 7 meters long with the scooter and the max is supposed to be 6 meters, the nice man and I were conversing in Spanish and he told me he’ll measure us at 6 meters and not to tell anyone. Then he asked if we were a cargo van and showed the price between the cargo van and the motor home. It was $7,300 pesos for the Motorhome or $2900 pesos for the cargo van plus 1908 pesos for 2 extra drivers- we had to pay passage for Kaden with Baja Ferries it would have cost In pesos- 11,300 for the motorhome +$1197 per person x2 (initial driver is free but again, we have to pay each passenger and Kaden counts) + 2750 p for motorbike to go to Mazatlan. He decided to categorize us as a cargo van but again, not to tell anyone and didn’t charge us for the motorbike since it was attached to the ambulance and not officially being “towed”.  We weighed in at 14,960 lbs, putting us well into the commercial vehicle category. In total it cost us $250 USD to cross to Topolobampo versus over $800 USD to cross to Mazatlan. Even with toll roads and camping along the way we still managed to save $500 USD.

During passage, we were able to stay in our vehicle to make sure it was secure; the dog didn’t need to be crated and we were able to walk around the cargo area with her to get her out of the vehicle. They offered dinner, which was gross, but edible. There is no passenger area, everyone stays in their vehicles. This is a cargo ship, so mostly large shipping containers and diesel trucks making deliveries. They have hot showers and toilets, but not exceptionally clean if I’m being totally honest. It’s a no frills, not for comfort crossing, but we stayed in our vehicle with the fan blowing and the doors partially open for ventilation. The diesel situation was getting out of control while sleeping because everyone was sleeping with their AC on which meant the engines were running so we kept our fan on to blow diesel fumes out of the ambo. We slept okay and woke up in the morning mostly refreshed and ready to drive to Mazatlan.

When we disembarked I was expecting to have a customs officer look through our vehicle and inspect our travel documents, but nobody came and nobody seemed to care. We offloaded and drove right to breakfast in Los Mochis.

We arrived in Mazatlan after a few hours and got some work done to the ambulance, ate lunch and dinner and drove to a local RV park right off of the Malecon and secured the last spot.

All in all, the crossing wasn’t bad, the price was right and we arrived safely in the state of Sinaloa. We had no issues with paperwork, getting the TIP or the initial inspection of the vehicle. Just remember, always keep your documents with you and travel with your passport or at least a copy of your passport at all times. We’ve been asked numerous times at inspection stations all over Mexico for our documentation and twice we didn’t have our passports but could furnish the copies. We have been advised to always carry them with us by the local law enforcement. We’ve been lucky to have the forethought to keep copies with us everywhere we go and we advise others to do the same.

 

Mulege, a “city” on the bay…

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On our way to Mulege, we planned to stop in the port town of Santa Rosalía. This was actually the busiest, most developed and biggest “city” we’ve come across since crossing the border on the east side of the Baja Peninsula. The streets are small, packed with cars, motorcycles, scooters and pedestrians. There is hardly room to move around in a vehicle. Anything you read that says you’re better off parking a little out of town and walking in or taking a tow vehicle in is absolutely correct. Though, I’d really only consider taking in a tow vehicle that is the size of a motorcycle or scooter, not an actual 4 wheeled vehicle. You’ll likely find nowhere to park and it’s frustrating trying to maneuver through the narrow one-way streets. We thought we would find a little café and try to do some homework, however, after trying to maneuver through the streets and finding nowhere to park, we headed just south of town to an RV park that no longer exists. After the failed attempt at finding somewhere to set up camp and find somewhere to get Wi-Fi for homework, we gave up and decided to keep moving south to Mulege.

It was a short drive from Santa Rosalía to Mulege. Maybe 45 minutes. We drove underneath the arch that signifies the entrance to the town. The streets are narrow and mostly one way. It’s a bustling community and they take pride in keeping the town clean. There are parks scattered throughout the community, though the placement of some of these parks leaves more questions than answers. There is this awesome Tortilleria just as you enter the town. We were told by our cousin to check it out. When we got in there we saw a man standing on a table pushing stuff into what looked like an enormously oversized coffee grinder. At the bottom, another man sat in a chair and pulled out fresh tortilla after fresh tortilla. The shelves were bare except for a handful of flour tortilla packages. Of course we bought some, you absolutely cannot pass up fresh tortillas.

We passed through town looking for a specific RV park and realized we were on the wrong side of the inlet and we needed to keep on the outskirts of town. As we were coming to this realization, we happened upon another RV park and looked around. It was such a beautiful and quaint RV park. It had palm trees, banana groves with bananas growing, grass parking pads, water, sewer hook-ups, electricity, clean bathrooms and was located just about half a mile from the town square. All this for $200p per night. The equivalent of $10 usd.

We decided to stay for two nights. We unloaded our things, set up camp and set out on the scooter to explore. We came across a few places. Kaden’s favorite was the Panaderia. Of course, because they sell all sorts of junk food. We went there every day.

I had decided to stop in at a local pharmacy to get some antibiotics because I had been sick since just after Christmas and couldn’t seem to kick it. I had already done a ten-day treatment of Amoxicillin because I self-diagnosed with severe bronchitis, bordering on walking pneumonia. I wasn’t getting better, in fact I was seeming to get worse, so I walked in and requested Azithromycin, but they only had erythromycin, so I settled for that. The woman at the counter told me I needed a prescription for it, so I asked her where I go to get one. She said, “right here.” She explained that if the medicine cost over $125p you needed a prescription. She took my name and wrote that I was a tourist, the cost and name of the medicine and sold me the antibiotics.

I walked out with my 5 day supply of erythromycin and we walked the streets taking in the shops, sights and wonderful smells of all the street food being cooked. We took Kaden back to camp because he wanted some separate time from us. We left him at camp and went into town. Bronson and I found this awesome restaurant. The food was delicious and the Margaritas were even better! We ended up (as we often do) talking to a bunch of people around us and made quick friends. There was another couple who were down there visiting their ex-pat parents. They have an 11-year old daughter. We decided we should get the kids together so they could play.

The following morning, we met with that family and took our paddle boards across the street to the inlet and jumped in the water. We let the kids play for a bit until the other family had to leave. We spent most of the day under the sun on the inlet, soaking in the rays and enjoying these fleeting moments. We ended up liking the area so we extended our stay by 2 days.

We had been invited to an event happening at the Racing Bar by some folks who were also staying at the same RV park. Turns out, it was the owner of the establishment’s birthday. She was turning 60, and the community was putting on a celebration for her. There was live music, free tacos and $10p donations for drinks. Kaden was not enjoying himself because he didn’t recognize some of the music. We ate, had a couple of drinks, left our donation and headed out toward the light house. We couldn’t actually get to the light house because it was on Federal land and had been fenced off. Most locals will go up there anyway, but if anyone would get caught, it would be us and then we’d be suffering the worst of it, so we opted against trespassing.

On our way back, we could see a church steeple from the top of a hill. We took maybe 3 wrong turns before finally finding the dirt road that led us up to this seemingly abandoned church. It’s a church with a 270-degree view of the Sea of Cortez. It’s gorgeous. I was a little baffled by the fact that there were signal boosters in the bell tower of the church. To each, their own. We snapped some pictures and headed out to find this abandoned hotel which at one point in time housed the rich and famous. The views from this hilltop retreat are phenomenal. I’m in utter disbelief that some foreigner hasn’t come in and bought the land to build a monstrous villa or hotel on it. If I had plans to settle down, I may have considered it.

We ended up meeting another caravan of full time RV families passing through. We were invited to their campsite for a campfire and kid time. When we arrived, the kids made themselves comfortable with each other, and before we knew it, they were making short movies. By nearly 10 pm, we were exhausted and still had a 20-minute scooter drive along treacherous dirt roads to get to our campsite across town. Kaden didn’t want to leave and I was starting to feel worse. We made it back to camp, cleaned up and hit the sack.

The following morning, Bronson drove the scooter into town with all of our laundry. When I say all, I mean everything except what I’m currently wearing. This included all of our bedding, floor mats, clothes, towels, throw blankets, etc. I was all but happy to pull out our -20-degree sleeping bags we keep for backpacking. It was already warm and I wasn’t needing to roast to death at night. Nonetheless, our laundry got done. We picked it up the next day and decided to head out of town toward Loreto.

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