By , April 24, 2012 11:00 am

What follows is our best effort to answer the hundreds of questions we receive daily through facebook, twitter, and this blog about Central America. Okay you caught me, zero would be vastly more accurate than hundreds. Consider this a preemptive FAQ then. Whatever it is, we put it together after 9 months of travel through Central America, visiting every country except for Panama. Is Panama the exception to the rule then? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

Cost

First of all, how much does Central America cost? Using our budget lifestyle as an example, we can now answer that question. It cost us $49.98 CAD per day or $13,794 over 9 months including the airfare to get here, 3 months of scuba diving, and 6 weeks of Spanish classes.

Language

In Utila, Honduras; most of Belize; and much of Costa Rica they speak English. Everywhere else, they speak Spanish and only Spanish. To make your life a lot easier, we highly recommend listening to a “Learn Spanish” CD of some type before your trip.

If you want to take Spanish lessons, there are a number of good/cheap schools all over. Plan to take 6-8 weeks of 4 hour lessons 5  days per week for an introduction to all of the major language concepts. If you just want the “Learn Spanish” CD basics, 1-2 weeks should suffice.

The People

Just like anywhere else in the world, the variance in people is vast. We’ve met people that we describe as “beyond friendly… helpful even” and we’ve met people that made us feel like we were walking ATM machines.

One thing that did impress us was how little of a grudge the average person held against us for being Canadians who look and sound the same as our neighbours to the South. As nations, Canada and the USA have not been kind to Central America, and still are not. There are plenty of sweat shops and unsafe mines in operation today. But despite the wars and other problems North Americans have contributed to, the people don’t seem to hold us as individuals responsible.  At least not to our face, and that’s a good thing.

Accommodation

We stayed mostly in the cheapest hostels/inns that we could find. Internet access was about 50/50, free breakfasts were rare, and most rooms were nothing but a concrete box, just big enough to fit a bed into, and free from the blight of windows. In places, two dorm beds were cheaper than a private room and in other places the reverse was true. We stayed in dorms and private rooms indiscriminately depending on price. Our cheapest beds cost a combined $3.65 per night, the most expensive $45.93 with an average of $10.36 per night.

Toilets

They use the standard North American flush toilet with a few twists. Public washrooms cost money, so carry small change with you at all times. It’s not a bad idea to carry TP as well, because if you come across a free public toilet, it won’t have any.  Speaking of toilet paper… it does not go inside the toilet, it goes in the waste basket, and don’t forget it. Toilet seats seem to be optional.

Showers

Where the weather is warm, the showers are cold. In the highlands where the weather is cold, the showers are hot. Beware the electric shower heads. They work wonderfully well, so long as you don’t touch them while you are wet, for example when having a shower. Zap!

Bugs

The ones that amazed us were the ants. They seem to be everywhere, in everything, and there’s nothing you can do about them (except to get off their ant hills. They are biters). Mosquitoes don’t seem to be much of a problem except in heavily forested areas like Tikal, Guatemala, and Southern Mexico. They do carry malaria, but I think dengue seems to be the more common illness they spread around.

Transportation

You’ve got three options, first class bus, second class bus, and shuttle. The first class buses are spacious, air conditioned (to ridiculously cold temperatures – dress warmly), tv showing, modern buses with bathroom on board. They are a great option for longer trips between cities especially when you have to cross borders. A 6 hour ride, crossing one border will probably cost something like $25 per person.

Second class transportation can be made up of old school buses (most commonly referred to as chicken buses), or mini vans. They leave very frequently and stop everywhere, which is handy when you need to flag one down on the highway, but not so handy when you are in a hurry. They are crowded (standing room only most of the time), and are notorious for petty theft. They cost about half what first class transportation does, and are our preferred method of transportation for any distance less than 6 hours.

Finally there is the shuttle service. You book this from any travel agent. The cost is usually double that of your first class options, and the conditions are equally as crowded as the second class options. On the flip side, you have the privilege of sitting on the knee of another tourist instead of a local for the duration of your trip. We avoid these wherever possible, with the exception being trips through Guatemala City where they seem to be the preferred method of not getting robbed.

Food

Typical fare consists of rice, beans, and corn tortillas. Honduras has the Baleada (a made-fresh flour tortilla filled with beans, cheese and sometimes meat and veggies), Guatemala has the best tortillas, and El Salvador the amazing pupusa (worthy of poetry). Contrary to our own belief, food is not served overly spicy. Any heat the food has is served on the side in the form of pickled peppers/veggies or salsa. Most street vendors will ask you if you want picante (hot sauce) and if you don’t speak Spanish they generally assume the answer is no.

Shopping for food is best done in markets. There’s usually better selection of fresher local produce than what you will find in the Walmart-owned full-sized grocery stores. And it’s more fun to walk though a market.

Restaurants are everywhere. Again, the cheapest prepared food can be found in the market, for a little over $1 per plate at lunch time. Comedors and sodas usually offer cheap set plates for breakfast (eggs, beans, rice, fried plantains, and sometimes cheese) or lunch (meat, rice, beans, and “salad”).  If you go to a restaurant that serves international cuisine (read touristy place) you will be spending about $5 and up per meal. Tipping in local restaurants is purely optional. In the touristy restaurants, it’s expected and quite often you will find an extra 10% charge has been automatically added to your bill.

Weapons

Guns are everywhere. There are shotgun wielding security guards in front of every bank, fast food joint, and half of the stores in any city. Get used to seeing a lot of guns (the police and army have them too).

Personally, what bothers me more than guns are the machetes. Anyone who works outside will be carrying a machete. Most don’t bother buying a sheath for it, so you walk by a lot of people carrying brandished steel.

Crime

In total, we were pick-pocketed twice, losing a camera and a wallet with about $15 USD. Some of our luggage was stolen from an overhead compartment in a bus and Ashley’s mom had a bag lifted from the beach. Crimes of opportunity are a fact of life here, and you need to be careful.

Outside of our personal experience, we have met a few people who suffered more violent crimes. Several people have been robbed at knife/machete/gun point. One lady was sexually assaulted, and others have had their houses/tents broken into. Our general rule is to stay in after dark,and go out during the day. Restrictive, but you get used to it.

Currency

We always used local currency. Try to keep your small bills, as the large bills you get from the ATM’s can be near impossible to change.  We learned to be strategic about where to spend the big bills so we’d have change for the market and street vendors.

ATM’s are easy to find, but they don’t all work. If you can, bring two different bank cards from two different banks that use two different payment systems. We use TD Canada Trust, and INGDirect. When one doesn’t work, the other usually does.

Converting currency when crossing borders is easy. Someone will find you at the border and ask if you want to convert anything. The cost is steep (about 10% usually) so try to spend what you’ve got in cash before moving on to the next country. Outside of the country it’s printed in, you’ll find money worthless.  $USD are the exception.

If you plan on using VISA, expect there to be additional fees/taxes. Typically this can range anywhere from 4% to 8% depending on how big of a sucker you appear to be.

Shopping

Prices are always in local currency, don’t let those Belizians tell you it’s in US dollars. There are exceptions to every rule though, and some of the ultra touristy bars/hotels and most travel agents do list prices in USD.

“3X5″ means three items for 5. This stumped us for a little while, as our educated brains kept doing the multiplication automatically arriving at an incorrect cost of 15 for one.

Electricity

If you are coming from Canada or the USA you are in luck. They use the same 110 volt, 60 Hz power we do, with the same plugs.

Drinking Water

Some hostels provide free drinking water, some don’t. In Costa Rica you can drink the tap water unless otherwise stated, the rest of the countries remain suspect in our mind. The cheapest way to buy water is in the 20L jugs. You’ll have to pay a returnable deposit on the bottle, and haul it back to your room.  The savings can be considerable. Remember, you should be drinking 2L each day. Minimum.

If you have any other tips or questions, or just feel like saying hi, drop a comment.

By , April 22, 2012 11:00 am

Antigua is described by many as THE place to experience Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Central America.  So we were happy to discover we could make it there in time for the festivities.

The history of Semana Santa dates back to 16th century Spain, when the Catholic Church decided to educate the masses about the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

In Antigua, things get started on Palm Sunday with the first processions.  In preparation, residents and business owners cover the streets of the city with alfombras (carpets).  The alfombras are usually made of a base of sand or sawdust (used to level out the carpet on the uneven cobblestone street) and then are built in intricate patterns using stencils, coloured sawdust, flowers, pine needles, grass, plants, fruits, vegetables, and breads.

A sawdust alfombra

An alfombra created out of fruits, vegetables, and bread in La Merced church for the vigil

The processions themselves are all very similar, with the following parts:  First, men dressed as Roman soldiers lead the way, followed by hundreds of men in purple robes.

Roman soldiers

A sea of purple

After the Roman soldiers, there are flag bearers and incense carriers.

 

Incense bearer

Next, an anda (or float) is carried on the shoulders of between 60 and 100 men (again, in purple robes).  These andas weigh up to 7000 pounds, so there are lots of men, sorted by shoulder height, in the wings ready to switch off.  The first float features Jesus and the cross.

On Good Friday, the purple robes are changed to black mourning robes.

Behind the first anda is a marching band, playing funeral songs.  Then, more incense, and the women’s float – a smaller float featuring the Virgin de Delores who represents the Virgin Mary.  The women are dressed in white dresses/skirts and veils (again, changing to black mourning clothes on Good Friday).

Women’s float

Another band follows, and then the cleanup crew to sweep up what remains of the destroyed alfombras.

The carpets, which are often finished minutes before the procession are quickly destroyed

The processions happen on Palm Sunday, and then Wednesday to Sunday of Easter weekend.  They are slow and long… many start before sunrise and go throughout the day.  Others go throughout the night.

Procession going into the night

Nighttime carpet

Most processions seem to last about 12 hours or so, and they start at various churches throughout the city.

La Merced church

Thinking about checking it out?  There’s a few things you should know.  First, accommodation fills up during Semana Santa, so book yours well in advance.  Expect to pay approximately double the regular rates.  Second, the petty criminals also know that Antigua is the place to be, so they’re here too.  Don’t carry anything valuable and be extra vigilent about your stuff.  We had a wallet with about $15 in it pickpocketed during a Good Friday procession.  Another girl at our hostel had her bag slashed and wallet stolen the same day.  And another girl we met was robbed at gunpoint while walking a couple of blocks after dark.

Children’s procession

Roman soldier

No one is too young to participate!

 Note: If you liked these photos, there are oodles more in our Antigua gallery.  Check them out!

By , April 20, 2012 2:01 pm

As far as I can tell, Copan Ruinas is “the” Mayan site to visit in Honduras. More generally, one could say it’s also “the” tourist destination in Honduras. Put another way, if someone has been to Honduras, they’ve probably been to Copan Ruinas.

Copan Ruinas is actually the name of a town located in the foothills of Honduras very close to both the El Salvadorian and Guatemalan borders. In our case, getting to the town from El Salvador was most easily done by crossing first into Guatemala. Though it is possible to cross directly from El Salvador, it requires a few more hours in a chicken bus.

It’s so common for people to enter Honduras for the sole purpose of visiting Copan Ruinas from Guatemala that they have devised a special exit/entry visa system to accommodate exactly that, reducing your border crossing fees. This works well so long as you enter and exit the country from the same border crossing and don’t plan to visit anywhere else while you are in Honduras.

The ruins themselves can be divided into 3 parts, the entrance which does not require any tickets to enter, has a large grassy picnic area and a self guided nature trail (with signs in English and Spanish) that takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Also in the entrance are the cages that are being used to help re-introduce the Scarlet Macaw to the forest. These photogenic birds are easy to spot, and numerous.

I wonder what secrets they are telling.

Next comes the main area. Located just past the entrance it lies behind a fenced in gate. To enter, you require a ticket, valued at 285 Lempiras ($15 USD) per person with an optional ticket to view the tunnels, created by archaeologists, for the same amount again. We chose not to view the tunnels, as the price seemed a bit too steep for us.

The main area has been beautifully restored, and consists of a series of Stella, and Temple buildings spread across 1 sq. km. Take your time looking around, the detail in the carvings is the best we’ve seen anywhere. Truly amazing. It took us about three hours of wandering around before we’d had a cursory glance over everything.

We arrived in the main area as soon as the gates opened, 8:00 AM, and had the place almost to ourselves. By the time we left near 11:00 AM several school buses had arrived on site and there was a significant amount of people pouring in. The staff let us know that this is pretty typical and advised us to avoid the park between 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM if we wished to avoid the crowds.

It’s getting crowded.

The last section of ruins that we visited were located 2km past the main entrance along the same road leading from the town. These ruins were also restored, and consisted of the residential buildings that belonged to the Mayan Elite. In contrast to the main area we were completely alone here even during the peak visiting hours, with the exception of the gatekeeper who decided to take on the role of unofficial tour guide – partly for hopes of a tip and partly out of boredom.

The Sepulturas, as this section of the ruins is erroneously called, requires your entry ticket from the main area to visit. It’s quite large with a simple trail along the river connecting the various buildings. The lack of other tourists made this a perfect place to sit down and ponder the failed civilization of the ancients (if the Mayans can really be called ancient). We also brought our books with us.  We set about reading them until the park closed at 4:00pm.

In addition to what we saw, there is also a Museum that houses much of the original carvings and pottery found at the ruin site (most of the carvings and statues you see outside in the ruins today are replicas). Like the tunnels, we found the additional museum fees of $7 USD a bit too much to swallow, and decided to pass. Seeing the replicas on the buildings was enough for us.

So, how do the ruins stack up? The carvings are the best we’ve seen. The buildings were about average.

Stella

Stella

Mike taking photos

Obviously they were a happy people

Ruins

By , April 18, 2012 11:00 am

This is a really old post that we never got around to publishing.  It is a journaled account of our two week canoe trip from Whitehorse, Yukon to Dawson City, Yukon.  At the end of each night, we would lay down in our tent and spend a few minutes re-hashing the days events.  It seemed fitting that we should finally get around to posting it while we ourselves our on another two week boat trip.

You may be interested in reading Part 1 and Part 2 if you have not already done so.

I present here the unedited, unabridged diary.

Day 1

Whitehorse to Lake Laberge 45km

On the river, just outside Whitehorse

  • started at 10:45AM
  • little map trouble
  • 2 raft snack breaks (2nd sunny & great)
  • rain on and off all day
  • 30 minute lunch
  • got to Lake Laberge 5:00ish
  • smooth sailing til storm came in
  • stopped to cook supper at 6:00 & had to wait out storm (wind & rain)
  • got to camp @ 8:30
  • Mike started fire w/ wet wood
  • Shared glass of wine and went to bed
  • High spirits (surprisingly – for Ashley)

We’re the pacesetters.

Day 2

Lake Laberge 24km

  • no sleep (kept waking all night)
  • rained all night
  • woke up & waited in tents for rain to stop
  • got up, opted for cold breakfast, packed up
  • waited for weather to clear
  • left @ 10:45 -> waves a plenty still
  • bathroom stop, snack stop, lunch stop – slow going
  • stopped @ Laurier creek for lunch
  • saw a fox (1st wildlife sighting)
  • Mike caught 2 grayling (threw 3 back)
  • first catch on first cast ($9 fishing rod was knotted)
  • cleaned fish and left
  • paddled til weather got iffy (5:30)
  • stopped & cooked fish & bannock / waited out weather with wine
  • battled waves to get around bend & find camp
  • camped on rocky, hilly shore w/ abandoned kayak #76 (no signs of ppl)
  • hot chocolate & Bailey’s

Day 3

Lake Laberge to 30 Mile 22km

  • good sleep though Ashley woke to think Mike was bear, Mike woke to think girls were bear
  • windy & whitecaps
  • bagel sand for breakfast
  • Mike separated egg powder & added water to wrong bag… oops!
  • tried to eat the result (Ashley actually did)… double oops
  • sandwiches were great
  • forced to wait out whitecaps till 11:30
  • Ashley felt eggs with every wave
  • tried a tarp sail… worked @ start, then we pretty much just floated
  • lunch stop & filtered water back to back (1 hour)
  • paddled the rest of lake… weather cleared up & girls serenaded us w/ 99 bottles (in every genre/voice imaginable)
  • stopped at Lower Labarge
  • looked around, used outhouses (no squatting!)
  • cooked supper: spaghetti with meat sauce… Soooooo Gooood!!!!!

Best meal of the trip

  • burned blasted egg powder
  • paddled a little ways down river… the tug of the current was welcome
  • camped on 1st available site… grassy hill (gorgeous!!)
  • narrowly avoided another Mike dehydration spell
  • spirits still high

Day 4

30 Mile 48km

  • great sleep… snoozed a bit in th emorning b/c we didn’t want to get up
  • last bagels (pb&j) for breakfast
  • had a nice float down 30 mile (barely paddled)
  • stopped @ Domville Creek for water & hike to waterfall

Waterfall upstream at Domville Creek

  • almost tipped canoe on rocky landing @ creek
  • stopped for leisurely lunch by Red Painted Mountain
  • saw a lynx
  • Ashley got stung by wasp @ bathroom break
  • got to Hootalinqua early (4:00ish)
  • saw sights/cemetery
  • Enchiladas & pudding for supper
  • joined by fake Germans – turned out to be Spaniards
  • lots of them (10) – noisy, wet, and setup tents right beside ours
  • visited by fire
  • named ourselves Mashley & Jananna
  • Ashley was kept awake by Spaniards snoring & squawking

Day 5

Hootalinqua to Cyr’s Dredge 70.5km

  • mmm… oatmeal for breakfast/beautiful summer weather
  • went to Shipyard Island and saw Evelyn/Norcom (9:30)

Evelyn/Norcom Steam Ship

  • Mike rammed other canoe landing
  • Ashley & Deanna took a turn steering
  • paddled most of morning/afternoon – except for pee breaks
  • rafted together for lunch
  • made it to Big Salmon Village -> the Spanish Armada already took over the place for camp
  • paddled on to “potential camp” on island… it sucked
  • everyone cold & tired
  • morale at all time low
  • battled the wind and current to camp @ Cyr’s Dredge (7:00ish)
  • mashed potatoes, chili & cheese for supper… so good!
  • went to bed early… everyone played out

Day 6

Cyr’s Dredge to … 68km

Writing obviously influenced by alcohol almost illegible

  • pancakes for breakfast
  • slow going
  • paddled to Little Salmon (only stopped for bathroom breaks – Mike had a weak bladder)
  • explored cemeteries
  • saw a porcupine
  • went silent by Eagle’s Bluff… canoes turned to see it

Majestic Eagle’s Bluff

  • paddled most of day
  • tried to stop @ island but saw bear tracks
  • found awesome unmarked campsite on bluff with bench
  • Spanish armada took up camp right across river from us (now 6 canoes)
  • went for swim in river… Mike had freak out about cold
  • drank  wine & had fire
  • mooned Spanish
  • really hot day when sun was out
  • saw beaver (or 2)

Day 7

… to Island past Carmacks 30km

  • Ashley woke up hungover, quinoa flakes for breakfast
  • slow to leave camp – left @ 10:45
  • paddled to Carmacks
  • arrived @ Coal Mine Campground @ 1:30
  • rough landing @ dock
  • found it overtaken by Spanish
  • went to “downtown” Carmacks
  • split into 2 groups
  • one stayed w/ canoes other showered, laundered, shopped, phoned home
  • bought cheese burger & fries – shared $20
  • left to find camp (6:00)
  • got to island (#3) at 9:00 after combo of paddling & rafting (and a small rainstorm)
  • after some debate decided to set up camp
  • snacks for supper
  • bed @ 11:00

Day 8

Island past Carmacks to Thom’s Cabin 74km

Writing obviously influenced by alcohol almost illegible

  • woke up early & left @ 9:45
  • stopped for break before 5 finger rapids
  • ran rapids… were great but too short/too tame
  • ran rink rapids… didn’t even notice
  • stopped for lunch on island – hot & sunny
  • paddled a ways, (rafted the whole way) then spotted forest fire
  • stopped @ cabin to inquire about fire but no one was home
  • waited an hour to decide what to do
  • paddled to another private cabin
  • was told fire was burning for a month & was under control

Controlled Forest Fire at Minto

  • stopped @ Minto for Supper – it was too smoky to camp
  • lost gorp
  • paddled around island to Thom’s Cabin
  • great campground
  • met Johnny from Czech Republic (capsized in Laberge)
  • drank wine, Baileys & hot chocolate
  • went to be about 1AM

Day 9

Thom’s Cabin to Good Camp Island #2 (past Fort Selkirk) 62km

  • woke up around 8:00
  • left @ 9:45
  • switched partners up: Mike & Jane (up ahead) Deanna & Ashley (behind)
  • hard paddling all morning (very windy)
  • arrived @ Fort Selkirk 1:30
  • had hummus for lunch (mmm..)
  • met large group from Edmonton/Ontario/Whitehorse
  • really nice group, shared candy store with us
  • warned them about Spaniards
  • watched video & looked around Fort Selkirk
  • left @ 5:00 to find camp
  • rafted for 2 hours
  • saw sheep
  • missed 1st “good camp” on map
  • island hopped to final camp
  • stayed for supper @ failed attempt – Indian Tacos (complicated, tasty, too filling)
  • paddled to next “good camp” on map
  • arrived @ 10:00 – found Johnny Czech here
  • setup camp
  • went to bed

Day 10

(Mosquito) Island Camp to Crappy Island Camp somewhere before Britannia Creek 46km

  • woke up late (9:30) to rain
  • got going around 11:30
  • slow pace set by girls
  • cold, windy, rainy
  • got to Selwyn River Cabin @ 1:30 (23km)
  • had lunch & lit fire – used Sawvivor & Mora Knife
  • enjoyed dryness & warmth & shelter from wind until Spaniards arrived (4:00ish)
  • put out fire
  • left to find suitable camp
  • saw male moose

Male Moose

  • island/shore hopped until spirits were low (and Deanna’s shoulder hurt)
  • stopped for supper @ potential (but ultimately crappy) spot
  • did some more investigations by rafting by
  • stopped @ gravelly beach on shore 9:30
  • set up camp on mucky uneven slope (our tent site sucked but was the best sloppy seconds available)
  • went to bed early:  cold feet, no fire, no tea

Day 11

Crappy Island Camp to Better Island [10km pas Kirkman Creek] 58km

  • woke up @ 8:00ish – super sore
  • left @ 9:30
  • cold & windy again, some rain
  • paddled slowish
  • rafted up for lunch
  • paddled a good pace (because we led) to Kirkman Creek where the Burian family has a bakery
  • bought a homemade rootbeer & chocolate cake to share… delicious
  • decided not to camp there (would find something free)
  • planned to find island 5km away
  • 1st two islands had bear tracks… decided to move on
  • found a suitable camp (5:45)… flat sandy tent spot (girls chose to setup on rocks)
  • bannock & soup for supper
  • played a game of 31… nice to relax & visit (girls had never played before) Ashley won
  • went to bet @ 10:00

Day 12

Better Island to Bushwhacked Shore Camp (just past Stewart Island) 37km

  • slow start
  • left @ 10:40
  • paddled until White River
  • stopped to hike up slope and look @ white River (trail rough & overgrown)

View of the White River

  • Deanna lost thermos
  • had lunch w/ the bugs
  • hiked down
  • found creek to pump water from
  • got brown water – delicious
  • took a back channel past Stewart Island
  • found camp on 3rd try
  • got to camp @ 6
  • cut down some thistle to pitch tent
  • while we had supper (Italian Savoury Pasta & butterscotch pudding) girls heard a loud crash in bushes (we think it was a startled moose)
  • tied down barrels & canoe
  • launched bear banger
  • bugs got bad, so we spent night in tent
  • played a game of crib – Ashley won
  • read books
  • went to bed
  • rain started: poured hard (a little worried about sleeping on cliff)

Day 13

Bushwhacked Shore Camp to Nice (Wild) Shore Camp @ Reindeer Creek 53km

  • woke up @ 7:30
  • took down tent in rain
  • left @ 8:30
  • paddled for about 1/2 hour and stopped on island for breakfast (in the rain)
  • paddled all morning in rain
  • stopped @ misty creek for H20

Misty Creek

  • stopped for lunch @2 on island (terrible Halal corned beef)
  • stayed there til clothes dried out (rain had stopped & blue sky was out)
  • paddled to camp (2nd try)
  • arrived @ 4:30
  • set out tents to dry
  • cleared camp
  • had supper
  • drank some wine
  • played war (Mike won)
  • saw a mouse
  • played Yahtzee with girls (Deanna won)
  • went to bet @ 10:00

Day 14

Reindeer Creek to Island just before Dawson City 40km

  • woke up @ 8:30
  • left @ 10:30
  • paddled/rafted until lunch @ 1:00
  • left in search of creek for water
  • Jane was feeling sick so we rafted
  • found adequate creek
  • rain started… poured for a little while
  • rafted up in search of camp
  • went until jane had to pee and Deanna realized how close to Dawson we were
  • island we stopped at turned out to be great camp
  • had roaring fire on sand & burned most of our garbage
  • had some wine, Bailey’s & hot chocolate
  • tried cooking Tomato Alfredo Sidekick on fire – didn’t work so we reverted to stove
  • sat by fire
  • went to bed @ 8:30
  • talked & read

Thus ends the journal.  The next morning we spent about 10 minutes on the river paddling into Dawson City, returned the canoe, checked into the hostel, and checked out the the first of the Dawson City Music Festival concerts.

By , April 16, 2012 11:00 am

We went to El Salvador for the pupusas.  Unexpectedly, it became our favourite country we’ve visited in Central America.

Tree at entrance of San Andres ruins

I say that it was unexpected because we hadn’t heard many good things from other travelers.  The Yucatan, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Utila… all of these places had come highly recommended and we expected to fall in love with them before we even arrived.  But El Salvador was rarely visited and rarely recommended.  The most memorable advice came from a pair of nurses we met in Guatemala that had spent several months volunteering in El Salvador.  They told us it was so dangerous with all its gang violence that we shouldn’t even consider going there.  When we explained our pupusa desire, they suggested making a quick day trip across the border and getting out.

Luckily for us, we didn’t listen to them.  If we didn’t have flights and a cruise booked in April, we would – without a doubt – still be in El Salvador (ever since we booked the tickets, we’ve been wishing for more time at each place… we’re really missing the flexibility that came with having no future plans).

Mike, processing cashew nuts

Why do we love El Salvador?  The people are amazing.  They’re not just friendly, but downright go-out-of-their-way-to-make-sure-we’re-taken-care-of helpful.  On a few occasions, people would even stop whatever they were doing and start flagging down buses for us to make sure we got on the right one.  The landscape was stunning, the energy in the towns was invigorating, and, of course, the pupusas were to die for.  What more could you want?

Coconut soup in the making

El Salvador Summary:

Length of Stay:  19 days
Average Cost per Day for Two People:  $23.26
Cities Visited:  4
Distance Traveled:  748 km in 17 buses
Days Sick:  0 for Ashley, 2 for Mike
Number of Items Lost:  0
Biggest Tourist Traps:  none
Exchange Rate:  $1 CAD =$1 USD (the US Dollar is the official currency in El Salvador)

For more great stats, check out our statistics page!

Church in Juayua

Our Route

Honduras border [El Espino] – San Miguel – Juayua (Ataco) – Playa El Tunco – Organic farm near San Andres Ruinas – Honduras border [Anguiatu]

El Salvador Route

Highlights

  • Connecting with the food we eat while WWOOFing on an organic farm… our eleven days here were a game changer for us!
  • The laidback vibe and mountain scenery of Juayua and the brilliant murals in Ataco on the Ruta de las Flores
  • Surfing lesson in Playa El Tunco
  • The people… every we went, the people were beyond friendly

Sunset at Playa El Tunco

Lowlights

  • Mike got a nasty cold (on the back of another one earlier in Nicaragua) for several days, keeping us out of the surf until the last minute in Playa El Tunco

Marañónes (cashew fruit)

Surprises/Lessons Learned

Note: Normally, these are separate categories, but for this country they seem to be one and the same.

  • The ENTIRE country!  I don’t think we were expecting a lot from El Salvador but we were blown away by the culture, the land, and the people.  I can’t believe how un-touristed the whole area is!  It just goes to show you that the best places often don’t come with the hype.
  • We may just be becoming vegetarians.  (I know, I know… we’re surprised too.)  After eleven days of eating delicious vegan food on the farm, feeling energetic as a result, and a few documentaries on factory farming and the health benefits of organic food, we’ll never look at lunch the same way again.
  • Sustainable food production may just be in our future.  We’ve never been more at peace than when we were living and working at the permaculture organic farm.  The last 27 years of my life have trained me that life can’t be that easy… but maybe it can.

Mural in Ataco

El Salvador Journal – Where Did We Spend Our Time?

San Miguel – 1 night
This was a stopover the break up the buses between Somoto, Nicaragua and Juayua, El Salvador.  Here we experienced our first (through eighth) authentic Salvadorean pupusas.

Juayua – 3 nights
We spent our time wondering around town, breathing in the mountain air, and enjoying the vibe.  We took in the smaller-than-normal food fair between our regular meals of pupusas.  Before we left, we took a day trip to beautiful Ataco to see the brilliantly-coloured murals that cover their walls.

Playa El Tunco – 4 nights
Mike’s cold kept us from doing much for the first few days.  We did a lot of blogging to prepare for our eleven days without technology on the farm.  On our last day, we tried our hand at surfing with our first ever lesson.  Mike rocked it (as much as you can in your first hour with a surfboard) and I was  a spectacular failure… but we had a blast doing it!

Organic Farm near San Andreas Ruinas – 11 nights
We found this farm through HelpX and decided to give a volunteer experience a try.  What an experience!  We planted veggies and gardens, picked fruit, learned how to cook organic vegetarian cuisine, practiced yoga, and exercised our mind through books, discussions and documentaries on healthy living, spirituality, economics and politics.  We left different people.


By , April 14, 2012 5:44 pm

Greetings from somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean!

After nine amazing months, it is finally time for us to bid adieu adios to Central America. It’s hard to leave a place we’ve grown to love so much; a place that has taught us more than we could have hoped about life, the world, and ourselves. But it’s time.

As you read this, Mike and I are lounging aboard a 5-star cruise ship en route to Barcelona, Spain. Actually we’re probably ice skating, rock climbing, surfing, or working out in the fitness center aboard the ship (we’ve got to offset all the food we’re eating somehow).

“Wait a minute!” you’re saying. “Did you say 5-star cruise ship? Am I reading the right blog? Aren’t Mike and Ashley self-proclaimed cheapskates? What are they doing on a 5-star cruise?”

No, we didn’t win the lottery. And we didn’t decide to throw our budget to the wind. Nor did we feel like we were in need of some luxury. To our utmost surprise, we discovered that a relocation cruise from Florida to Spain is actually cheaper than plane tickets to Spain, even when we factor in our flight from Guatemala City to Fort Lauderdale to hop on the boat (we’re talking $579 USD per person, taxes in, plus tips). And it includes 14 nights of food and accommodation! So it turns out the cheap thing to do is eat at delicious over-the-top restaurants, watch a broadway show, and go ice skating while we cross the Atlantic. Who would have thunk it?

Why Spain? We thought we were heading south through Central America and were planning to catch a boat from Panama to Colombia to continue through South America. But something in the back of our minds was itching for something a little different. We still want to work on our Spanish language skills, so Spain seemed like a good fit. We also thought it would be nice to walk the Camino de Santiago before Mike turns 30 (before he’s too old for it, as he says) , which happens on July 31. And the timing worked out perfectly, as the relocation ships only travel to Europe in April/May (they head back in November, in case you’re wondering).  South America is still calling to us, but it’ll have to wait for now.

We haven’t given up on all that we learned in El Salvador.  We plan to stick to a vegetarian diet on the cruise (if the free sushi doesn’t trip us up).  And we think the Camino will give us the perfect opportunity to reflect on everything we’ve been learning on this journey.  Post-camino, we are excited to try some more WWOOFing and work exchanges at organic farms in Europe.

So here we are. Cruising across the Atlantic. Internet is available, but at a whopping 65 cents a minute, we’re content to stay “unplugged” for the next 14 days. So we won’t be responding to your comments or emails for a little while. We will, however, finish posting the last of our Central American posts for your enjoyment.

See you on the other side.

By , April 10, 2012 11:45 am

I might just as well say this right up front. The subject of this post was probably the greatest thing I’ve done in my life. It’s a game changer for Ashley and I. Since we left home in search of ourselves nine months ago, we have slowly weened ourselves off of material attachment, meat, and alcohol (mostly for financial reasons at first).  We’ve spent hours observing people, reading books, and discussing the workings of society among travellers the world over.  Probably the most important factor for us has been our detachment from the “system” by which I mean not having to go to work 5 days a week and discussing all of the talking points our modern media has laid out for us to discuss ad nauseam.  Unfortunately, you don’t have the benefit of our experience, so please read this with an open mind.

Sorry for the overly lengthy introduction.  What I really want to talk about is the 11 day “retreat” Ashley and I had at an El Salvadorian organic farm located about half way between the cities of San Salvador and Santa Ana. We discovered it through a website called HelpX, but you could find them just as easily yourself through WWOOF, Couch Surfing, or even stumble across their blog at http://organicelsalvador.blogspot.com/

The farm is run by Gloria and Mauricio. Mauricio is originally from El Salvador and Gloria is from Columbia. They met at university in the United States where they had the brilliant idea to move to Central America and start a project to help local kids. After travelling Central America for three years looking for the perfect place, they established this organic farm four years ago and have been living the dream ever since.

Welcome to the Farm

The farm itself has no animals, so some might call it a garden. Being part of the wwoofing program, volunteers are expected to work in exchange for room and board. We put in four hour days working 9:00AM to 11:00AM and again between 4:00PM and 6:00PM. Work consisted of a mixture of various projects including decorative projects, recycle projects (I built most of a bed out of scrap wood), harvesting, planting, baking whole wheat bread, shelling cashews, climbing fruit trees, and working with the local kids. They also asked for a monetary donation to help cover the costs of the children’s program which we were happy enough to pay. The donation is a set price, and is on a sliding scale becoming cheaper the longer you stay. Our donation averaged out to $16 per day for the two of us.

The children’s program is really a cultural exchange of sorts. The kids come to learn how to farm without the use of chemicals in a sustainable manner, and to interact with us gringos. Gloria and Mauricio teach them formal English classes, feed them, teach them to cook healthy food and provide money for transportation to and from the farm, while us volunteers work with them on various projects. In this way, we were able to practice our Spanish, which improved immensely, and the kids were able to practice their English. It was a very worthwhile project. The kids got a lot out of it, and so did we.

Working on the Bed

As for meals, we were provided three fully vegan meals a day, and all the fresh fruit we could stomach. There was never any shortage of food, and best of all it was some of the most delicious food either of us have ever eaten. Beyond just providing us with food, we were shown how to prepare various dishes. Naturally we walked away with a pile of new recipes, and a reasonable understanding of how subsist upon, and enjoy, a vegetarian diet.

We were also offered a free Spanish lesson each week.  If desired, more could have be purchased at minimal cost.

Outside of the 4 hour work day, there was plenty going on to help us develop mentally and spiritually. The day started off with free yoga. From there, Mauricio was more than willing to discuss his thoughts on self awareness and transcendence (both Mauricio and Gloria are part of the Hare Krishna movement). In fact, their house was a Hare Krishna temple before the civil war in El Salvador and still contains a small altar in a meditation room that we were encouraged to use. Mauricio keeps a good collection of books; all of them were free to read during our stay.  He has started to collect thought provoking documentaries which we watched as a group on a regular basis.

Why It Is a Game Changer

To get your head in the right place for this, I’m going to prescribe some documentaries that you have to watch. This is mandatory homework.

Okay, you finished your homework, right? Oh, not yet… Well that’s okay, there’s a lot of it. Just grab a pen and paper and write down the titles. You can download  buy them when you get a chance and watch them over the next couple of weeks. Just don’t forget.

So here’s the truth. We lived 11 days on a vegan diet eating healthy organically grown food, working only 4 hours per day, practising yoga, meditating, and expanding our current view of the world through books, documentaries, and discussions. In only 11 days we had more energy, we felt healthier, and we were way happier than we had ever been.

Organic Food Enthusiasts:

The first thing we noticed was the food. Organic food is more delicious, and full of flavour than the stuff produced by the “green revolution”, chemical rich farming that we are accustomed to. This is because the plants have the time and environmental stimulus needed to develop a whole host of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial chemicals that we as humans should be eating. I’m entirely convinced that the addition of these vitamins to our diet contributed immensely to the way we feel. It is now our goal to supply ourselves with organic food as much as possible.  When we say organic food, we are not talking about the “Certified Organic” stuff that you can pay a premium for and purchase from just about any grocery store.  We are talking about plants grown from organic seeds in a “natural” environment with all the proper stimulus (birds, insects, disease, the works).

Vegetarians:

Being vegetarian is an ethical issue for us. Now that our eyes have been opened to the way the animals we eat are treated, we just can’t go back to eating meat in the vast quantities that we were before we started this trip.  As they say, some things when learned can’t be unlearned. Now don’t get us wrong, we don’t actually have a problem with killing animals and eating them.  Our problem lies with the way factory farm operations treat the animals from birth until death, confining them to cages, feeding them food that would kill them except for the copious amounts of antibiotics it’s loaded with, etc.  Some of the worst offenders are dairy cows and even more so, egg laying chickens.  I’m not quite sure how this will all shake out yet, but for now we have cut out meat and are trying our best to reduce our consumption of milk/egg products.

What it is All About

No Longer Slaves:

The modern day fiat monetary system creates more debt then real currency because of interest. It’s therefore impossible for the world to get out of debt.  Looking at it another way, the world will always owe more money than exists, creating in practice a form of modern day slavery that will always require unsustainable growth in consumption and borrowing to keep the system from collapsing.

As an ex politician, I see now that politics are futile.  This stems from the realization that politicians don’t have the power to make the decisions that need to be made to “fix” our broken system. The real decisions are made by those who control the media, fund the election campaigns, and decide what industrial projects are undertaken by approving bank loans. Our society can not be fixed, it needs to be abandoned.

Our laws do not just allow, but require companies to maximize profits at the expense of the earth’s resources and it’s people. Scarcity and exploitation are good for profits. We will never live in a world where our basic necessities are plentiful, and our lifestyles are sustainable unless the focus is removed from profitability.

Our food system produces unnatural/unhealthy garbage to put it politely.

But there is a way out, and we intend to take it. All we need to do is quit society.  What life beyond society will look like is a subject that we will be exploring for the next little while.  To give you some idea of what we are talking about, one of the plans we are considering is to purchase a piece of fertile land about 2 acres in size. With that, we could produce our own organic food, return to a 4 hour work day, connect with nature, and live rich and rewarding lives far superior to what we could possibly hope to find inside the “system”.

Mauricio’s farm… this could be our future

When we look to the future, we see ourselves not as reclusive hermits, but as a part of a community of like minded people. An organic community filled with people who are also fed up with “the greatest invention of man kind” (society) and want to live richer fuller happier lives. At this point, we don’t know where we’ll end up (geographically), or what we will end up doing.  In fact there is a tonne that we don’t know just yet, so in the interim, we are going to keep travelling, explore more of the world, connect with more people, and research. But the day will come where we will have our F-R-E-E-D-O-M!

What do you think? Surprised? Think we are idiots? Wish you could join us? Please, Please, Please all comments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome. This is not a small step for us, and we want your help in considering it fully. Please add your comments to the discussion.