Thursday, March 20, 2008

Copper Canyon and Creel

Sorry again for the delay. I had this pretty much written but needed to add the pictures and I've been a little sick.

10 - 11 March, 2008

After leaving Puerto Vallarta we had to change buses in Tepic and we got to Los Mochis around 5:30am. There was a 1 hour time change between Puerto Vallarta and Los Mochis and Alaine got mixed up and set her watch forward instead of back. She woke up and thought was 4:30 and she asked when we would get there and they said 3 hours. Since the train leaves at 7 she was pretty worried but they finally set here straight. I slept through all this because Alaine had moved to an empty seat a few rows back.

After asking a lot of people we finally found where to catch the buses to the train station, which our guide book unhelpfully proclaims "depart for the train station from outside the main bus station." No, they pass by the main bus station.

Alaine waiting to board the train
In any case, we did make it to the train station and got through the metal detector, which is a ridiculous thing. Everyone goes through it with their luggage and sets it off, then the one security guy will look through a bag at random for maybe thirty seconds. He didn't look in any of our bags.

I waited in line to buy tickets, but when I finally got near the head of the line, they said we should all board the train and buy tickets on board. The conductor assigned us seats as we boarded and we just put our big suitcases in the large open area at the front of the car. There were three passenger cars and a sort of dining car at the front, right behind the engine. We were in the second passenger car. The one behind us said first class and was occupied only by a guard who would tell you that you can look out the back but not go outside of the car. I couldn't see much difference in the quality of the accommodation except that the upholstery looked newer. The actual first class service is supposed to be on a different train so i assume that they were just transporting the car somewhere else.

Basket sellers
We got moving pretty soon after boarding--moving at about 5-10 mph that is. I guess because of going through populated areas they were going slowly. We also made made stops to pick up more people.

The first part of the journey is on flat agricultural land, but eventually we started moving up, and moving faster and the views got more exciting. The 650 km (390 mile) rail line has 86 tunnels and 39 bridges. There is one point where the track actually crosses over itself.

When we got to Divisadero there was a 15 minu;te break and we walked down to an overlook with a spectacular view. We also bought some delicious burritos.

View from Divisadero
We got to Creel at around 6:30 pm and there were a lot of people trying to get guests for their hotels. We went with a guy who offered us a $19 for the two of us including breakfast. He took us in a little bus to a hotel a little outside of town called Hotel St. Cruz. It was a nice looking place and seemed great for the price. We were so tired that we didn't really want to look for another hotel. After we checked in we got him to give us a ride back into town and we looked around a little and then had dinner in a nice little restaurant.

When we left it was getting a little cold; Creel is at 2330 meters (7644 feet) and we were well above the Tropic of Cancer now. We picked up some beer at the store and walked back to our hotel. There was a gas heater in the room and I got it lit. We watched some old Daily Shows on the computer. There were lots of warnings on the heater about not using it while sleeping so I shut it off, though it was still pretty cold in the room. I woke up later and it was very cold so I lit the heater again, but it went off almost immediately. I gave up and got back under the covers. In the morning I tried unsuccessfully to light it again and Alaine went and got someone to light it for us. It took him about five minutes to get it going. He said the gas was frozen.

I had a headache, I think from altitude sickness. Alaine volunteered to go and get me some Gatorade to try to rehydrate. It took a while because she was getting conflicting stories from people on where she could find an open store. She also checked about coffee and breakfast but they said not until 9. The guy said he would bring us up a pitcher of coffee. We went back to sleep for a while and woke up around 10:30 and still no coffee. We went downstairs and did manage to get coffee but we never did get any breakfast. The whole thing was very weird and I'm pretty sure we were the only guests in this 30 room hotel.

After checking out we got them to give us a ride back to town and left our luggage at the bus station and bought tickets for the 3 o'clock bus to Chihuahua. We went and ate lunch and I got online for a little while. Then it was almost time for the bus so off we went to Chihuahua.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Puerto Vallarta

Sorry for the delay; this blogging is hard work. We've finished our journey now, but I still want to tell the rest of the story so I have an update today and then probably two more posts to finish it up.

6 - 9 March

Our bus from Zihua to Puerto Vallarta was late. We got to Vallarta around 11:30 am and called and talked to Catherine. She told us to catch a bus back to the center of town. We had passed right by their neighborhood but we didn't know where to get off. The bus station is 4 km on the other side of town and a taxi is $10. We found the bus and lugged our suitcases on. We were the only ones on the bus and things seemed to be going well at first. The bus was following the reverse of the path we had come out on. Then it turned off onto a dirt road and began a crazy path through colonias. It picked up a lot of school kids and soon filled up. It ended up taking an hour-and-a-half to go 4 km. We didn't really mind the long trip but we felt bad that Judy was waiting for us.

Once we met up with Judy she helped us find a hotel in her neighborhood. Hotel Iris, $25. We left our stuff there and then went to Catherine and Judy's apartment. It's a great little place. Catherine has a sweet little chihuahua named Piedra. She makes and sells fleece chihuahua sweaters because apparently the little buggers are always cold. The five of us (including Piedra), went to a little taco stand around the corner and had some yummy fried fish and shrimp tacos which Judy was kind enough to buy for us.

Catherine went home after that but Judy played tour guide for us. She showed us the island in the middle of the river which you get to by crossing a little suspension bridge. There are a ton of tourist shops there. Stuff is much more expensive than further south. Then she took us to the Malecon, which is a seawall walk that goes for about a kilometer in front of the city. We stopped for ice cream and then walked on some more. When we spotted a sign for $1 beers we of course had to make a pit stop. We got to the second floor bar and found out they also had $1 margaritas. I figured it would be a little plastic cup, but it was a good-sized margarita glass and not bad.

Puerto Vallarta Zoo
We continued our walk along the Malecon and saw some nice bronze sculptures and also sand sculptures. Then we went back to our hotel and got ready to go out to the Santa Barbara Theater where Judy and Catherine work. Judy got us free tickets to the show, which was a tribute to Bob Fosse. On the way there we stopped at a taco stand for some of the best food we've had. It's incredible the food you can buy off the street in Mexico.

The place was sold out but Judy had gotten us two chairs but no table. It was comfortable enough though. There was no set for this show and no costume changes, just the dancers interpreting various Bob Fosse numbers. The Director and choreographer, both Mexican, were also in the show. The rest of the dancers seemed to be Gringos. The crowd, all older than us, were familiar with the tunes and I could see them singing along and really getting into it. We enjoyed ourselves. After the show we went upstairs to the bar and had a few beers. We chatted a little with the owner of the theater and some of the other staff. We didn't get back to our hotel until 11:30.

We got to sleep and were happily dozing until about 1:30 in the morning when someone opened our locked door and said "What are you guys doing here?" in accented English. It was a couple, an older man with a young woman. Alaine had woken up while he was unlocking the door, and had been yelling at them to go away, but I was so fast asleep that I woke up at the moment they were standing in the doorway. We responded that this was our room and he said no it was his. Finally he left. We were so freaked out we didn't know what to do. I locked the door again and we finally got back to sleep with no more disturbances. In the morning we talked to the night watchman about it and he said that the guy had gone with the key and not paid for another night or something. They assured us that all the keys were now in their possession so we would not be disturbed again.

Punta Mita: Alaine, Catherine holding Piedra, Noble, Judy
We had plans to go whale-watching with Judy and Catherine, and her little dog too. They knew how to get the bus to Punta de Mita, so we let them be the tour guides again. We got there around 11:15 and some guys were already at the bus stop asking about doing a tour. They wanted $120 for the trip. We said we'd like to wait and see if we could get more people to go so we could reduce the cost. While we waited we had some beers at a beach-side restaurant. Catherine got some chips to feed to Piedra. After about an hour-and-a-half we found a family from Saskatchewan with two boys who wanted to go.

We went out and did see whales, although not as close as I would have liked, but it was a fun outing. We got back and had lunch at the restaurant and then went back to town around 6.

We changed out of our sandy clothes and went to a little pizza place we had scoped out the day before that had $1 beers on Saturdays and WiFi. I believe it was called Pizza Roma. We ended up staying there until closing.

Next morning we slept in and then got packed up and left our stuff downstairs while we headed over to see Judy and Catherine. We all went out to the fish taco place again and then they showed us a great store with nuts and dried fruits where we stocked up for the train trip.

They came back to our hotel with us where we sat in the lobby and drank beers we bought next door until it was time for us to go. They took us to the bus stop and made sure we got on a bus that would get us to the station in 30 minutes.

It seems to me that there are two Puerto Vallartas. Walking around the town center doesn't seem that much different from any other Mexican city and the people are wonderfully friendly, but when you get to the shore and see all the high-rises you get a different and, for us at least, unpleasant feeling. Condo billboards advertise "Life built around you", while in the town center it seems that life is built around a community.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Moving, moving, moving

We traveled for 27 hours straight to get to Creel last night and we're leaving here in 30 minutes. I probably won't have a chance to post anything more until we reach Texas on Thursday. Oh yeah, sorry about the straight line between Los Mochis and Creel. It was anything but straight. You can see the map of the train route here.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Another overnight bus to Acapulco. Wow, we had no idea how big Acapulco is. We decided to catch another bus right away to Zihuatanejo, which you may remember is mentioned in the movie "Shawshank Redemption". We got to Zihua around noon thirty and spent some time figuring out what to do. We had considered taking another night bus but my neck was hurting and we figured out that we could still make it to the Texas border by the 12th. We bought tickets for Puerto Vallarta for the next night.

Zihuatanejo is much more touristy than Puerto Angel. It has been a different experience. At times I have been embarrassed by the other Americans here. On the other hand, I have found people in general to be more friendly, starting with our taxi driver from the bus station. Most of the taxi drivers have been rude or tried to take advantage of us, but he didn't ask for an exorbitant fare and he made an effort to find the place we were looking for and even told us a little about the town without being asked.

Alaine the morning after a a night of drinking
Alaine had called from the bus station and been given a price of $19 for a room at one of the hotels listed in our guidebook. The place was pretty nice and the people there very friendly. There was a restaurant attached to the hotel and we went there and split an order of fish tacos. We walked a little on the seaside and then found a store with little tables in front where we could drink beers for a dollar. We drank two during a game of Skip-Bo. There was a funny lady who kept walking by and thought we were playing Uno and was fascinated by it. After that we went and shopped in the mercado but didn't buy much. Then we stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall bar with a talkative owner. We a had a beer and then he talked me into a margarita with some good tequila. We looked around for a place for dinner and finally settled on a little taco place that turned out to have some super-hot sauce. Then we stopped in for more beers at a little gringo-ey bar and finally headed back to the hotel.

Next morning we went to get cappuccino at a place that the guide book said had the best capuchino in town. It was about 99% milk; you could barely taste the coffee. Bad Rough Guide, bad! We had a nice breakfast after that and we decided not to go across the bay to snorkel because the water didn't look so clean.

Most of the rest of the day I spent in another gringo bar using the internet with Alaine coming and going. There was a guitar festival going on in town and a few bands played at the bar. We left there and picked up our luggage from the hotel and went to catch the bus to Puerto Vallarta.

Puerto Angel

We're in Zihuatanejo now. I'm sitting in "Rick's Bar" drinking Pacifico and listening to live music. But first I'm going to tell you about Puerto Angel.

Puerto Angel Bay
We arrived in Pochutla at about 5:30 and shared a taxi with an Italian couple, Daniele (website) and Erika (website) and who were on the bus with us to get to Puerto Angel. The four of us had a beer next to the naval station on the bay, then Erika and Alaine went to look at a hotel that was nearby. It was nice but a little pricey. Then Erika and I went to check out another hotel called Puesta del Sol that was a little farther away. It seemed nice and at $15 for a double the price was right. We went back to get our parejas and then checked in. Alaine and I drank beer in the hammocks they had set up on a little deck there and the Italians joined us a little later. We talked about dinner plans and decided to check out a nearby restaurant called Beto's that was recommended in our guide book and also by the people at the hotel. The food was alright but a little overpriced. It was nice that they gave us a lot of vegetables, something you don't see much in Latin America.

When we got back to the hotel the rooms were very hot, even with the ceiling fans. The place was made of concrete with a tile roof and I guess it was absorbing heat all day. Daniele, Erika and I fell asleep in the hammocks for a while, but Alaine went straight to bed. I woke up about 11 when it seemed that every dog in the town was barking and moved to the bedroom. Alaine and I were more accustomed to hot nights, I guess, or maybe we just had more to drink, but we slept OK. In the morning we found out that Erika had hardly slept and she was still perspiring even though it seemed relatively cool to us.

Alaine and I got ready and walked in to the center of town and had breakfast, then headed for a beach called Eustacahuitle. It was a bit of a hike in the hot sun, but when we got there we found cold beer and a beautiful little bay waiting with three little beaches. I didn't bring the camera, sorry. We met a gringo there named Scott, who was snorkeling between drinking Coronas. We had a couple of Coronas ourselves while we watched the bay. A boatload of tourists came in to snorkel and we didn't want to share the space with them so we had more beers while we waited.

While we were waiting we spotted three or four whales about 300 meters out. We watched them for about 5 minutes. It was the first time for either of us to see whales. We rented snorkels for $1 an hour and went in snorkeling after that. The waves were a little high and the water stirred up, but it was still nice. The water temperature was perfect. After we got out and had another beer and were getting ready to leave, Scott offered us a ride back to town which saved us from another blazing hot walk.

We got back to the hotel and hung out there a while. Erika and Daniele left us a note that they had moved on to Zipolite. I typed some of the previous entry but couldn't get online because the owner wasn't there to give me the code. Alaine went looking to see if we could rent bicycles anywhere but that's a service that Puerto Angel doesn't offer. The guy at the bike repair shop said he might rent us his and a friend's the next day.

Sunset on Ziploite Beach
We wandered down to the beach in town and watched some guys playing soccer, then went in to town looking for dinner and finally found a place that had tlayudas, which is kind of like a pizza made on a tortilla then folded in half. We split one of those. After that back to the hotel and played Skip-Bo and then tried to sleep in the hammocks again for a while before going to our room.

The next morning we went to the same place for breakfast. we checked about the bikes but the guy hadn't come through, so we took a taxi to Zipolite after checking out of the hotel. We planned to take the bus to Acapulco at 9 pm. Zipolite was nice. A long, wide beach with big waves. We walked along until we found a place with two-for-one drinks (of course), stopped there and then walked to the end of the beach. We came back to the place with the drinks as that seemed the best spot for swimming. I was able to body surf a little bit, but the waves were very big and I couldn't catch them like I usually do, as they're breaking. I had to try to jump in after they crashed and I'm not practiced at that. Still, it was a lot of fun. We split a pasta dish at the restaurant and had more 2x1 mojitos and people-watched. People watching is interesting on Zipolite because a lot of people go nude. In addition to topless girls it was amusing to watch the guys, especially one guy who walked by three times wearing just a cowboy hat and a big grin. It seemed like he was purposely walking in a way to make his wedding tackle swing like a pendulum.

After watching the sunset, we got another taxi back to town, showered and collected our stuff from the hotel and headed for Pochutla to catch our bus.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


We're in Puerto Angel now but we're leaving tonight. This post is about Oaxaca where we just came from. Always a little behind...

We took a taxi to the bus station and Left San Cristobal at 10:45 pm. We read for a while and then took our zolpidem (Ambien) pills and went to sleep. I woke up about 6 am when we were on a really windy road and I started felling sick. I almost did throw up, but it finally passed. Since then we've bought some ginger and some Dramamine for the motion sickness.

Coming down into Oaxaca was pretty. There are a lot of maguey (agave) farms there and also small factories that make mescal from them. We arrived about 10 am and got a taxi to our first choice of hostels from our guide book. They only had dorms available, but they said we could leave our bags there while we looked around. We did find a few hotels for around $15, but nothing we really liked. We decided to go find our second pick from the book but when we got to where it was supposed to be nothing was there. after walking around and asking people for directions for about an hour I finally went into an internet cafe and looked up the website for the place. They had a map on the site and the book had the location wrong on its map. Another strike against The Rough Guide to Mexico. I am going to have to go on Amazon and trash it thoroughly since I bought it because of its good reviews on Amazon. We found it easily after that and decided to stay there. It's called Hostal Pochon. It was $27 for a double room with breakfast. That's a little more than we'd like to pay but part of what we like in a lodging is a space to hang out with other travelers and exchange stories and advice. We headed back to where our suitcases were but stopped for a beer and a quesadilla on the way, then took a taxi back to the hostel with our stuff. Alaine took a three hour nap while I got online finally and let our fans know we were still alive.

When Alaine got up we went downstairs and played Skip-Bo and drank beer and just had snacks for dinner because we were too tired to go out.

Chiles in the mercado
The next morning we had breakfast and then went walking around the city. We stopped at a little restaurant called El Muelle on Calle Mina and had a couple beers that came with little snacks, but we also ordered something which I forget the name of that was being made with fresh tortillas in the doorway of the restaurant. Great stuff. After that we stopped at the Mayordomo chololate store (these are all over Oaxaca). They sell raw chocolate beans and also refined chocolate. They gave us samples of chocolate milk when we walked in the door aand later samples of the freshly ground chocolate. We ended up buying just some small chocolate candies for $1. We wandered from there to the big Saturday market and bought a few things. From there we went tot the second class bus station and bought ticket for Pochutla, near Puerto Angel, for the next morning.

Oaxacan food--the chapulines are in the little piece of foil
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Mercado de Artesanías and spent some more money. We think we got a good deal on two wool table runners 18" x 72" for about $36 each. Back at the hotel we had some more beer and Skip-Bo and then went out for dinner at María bonita, a place that servers traditional Oaxacan food, including chapulines (fried grasshoppers. We got a sampler plate that included these and Alaine tried them but I didn't care to.

"Second class" bus
The next morning after breakfast we took a taxi to the bus station and I went and bought a SIM chip for our cell phone just to make life easier for us finding hotels and such. Our bus was late and was really crummy. When we bought the tickets and chose our seats the diagram showed a toilet on the bus, but there was not one. this was not a second class bus, more like fifth class. After sulking about that for a while we enjoyed the ride. Beautiful views going through twisting mountain roads; we took Dramamine this time.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Worst bus ride ever

Someone commented to me that it's confusing that the date at the top of the post doesn't match the dates I'm writing about in the post. I could change the post dates to match if that makes more sense to people. Let me know what you think. I'm about two days behind as of this current post. I wrote all this at the same time as the last one but I thought I'd break it up a little instead of one long one.

Bus stop in Chimaltenango
On Tuesday the 26th we got up at 5:30 and caught a bus around 6:45 for Chimaltenango, where we transferred to another bus to the Mexican border. This was nicer than the chicken bus, but there wasn't room for both our suitcases underneath so I had to carry one on. I brought it to the back and ended up sitting next to it on the long bench seat in the very back. It was extremely uncomfortable and the suitcase kept falling into me. The road was under construction and very bumpy. I finally realized that the seat was loose and was moving slightly forward with each bump so that I was losing all my leg room. When the bus stopped for a few minutes I was able to move the seat back some. After that I was careful to keep it in place when we went over bumps. When we got to Huehuetenango they said the bus wasn't going to continue to the border (they had been adding water to the radiator the whole way). We had to get on a chicken bus from there and it was by far the most uncomfortable ride we've had. We sat in the seat over the wheel well and those buses are already too cramped for gringo legs. Alaine got the window seat with no leg room at all and I sat next to her with a little bit of room if I put one leg into the aisle. Once the bus started filling up, though, I had someone sitting next to me (at least he was skinny) so I had to sit with my knees kind of spread apart and pushed into the seat in front of me with my the lower part of my left leg angled toward the center of the bus because of the wheel-well. Of course my leg started cramping after about an hour of this. Alaine at one point put her backpack underneath her butt and sort of sat on it without putting much weight on it. The scenery was beautiful though.

We finally got to the border, had some lunch and checked out of Guatemala. It was hot. We took a colectivo taxi for about $1 per person to go the 4km to the Mexican immigration point Cuauhtémoc. From there we took a 15 passenger van to Comitán ($3/person) and another colectivo ($3/person) to San Cristóbal de las Casas. There is a direct bus from Cuauhtémoc to San Cristóbal, but we would have had to wait 3 hours for it.

We found a clean, if dark, hotel room for $15 and then went out for a good Mexican dinner for about $3.50 per person.

The next morning (Wednesday 27th) It was very cold and rainy. We had a great breakfast at an indigenous coffee co-op, then wandered around and looked at other hotels and finally settled on one that was not as nice as our first one, but at least had a window to the outside on a big 3rd floor terrace. After checking in we got a little lost looking for the artesanía market behind a church where bought some nice stuff last year. We finally did find it and bought a few things.

Cold Alaine
After the market we had a disappointing but cheap dinner and then went to a bar that we had seen earlier that had 2 for 1 drinks and hung out there for a while. It was very cold inside the bar and we had to ask them to close the doors. After that we went back to the hotel and got under the covers and...

watched "Lost" and "A Daily Show" on my computer.

The next day (Thursday 28th) we had a disappointing breakfast near the hotel, bought bus tickets first class to Oaxaca ($35/person) for 10:45 PM, and then went and packed up and checked out out of the hotel. We shopped at a Zapatista store and then had some nice ice cream and now I'm sitting here typing this in the Bar Revolución drinking 2 for 1 Caipirinhas made with tequila. I haven't been able to connect to wireless anywhere in town. I think Ubuntu is to blame but since I can get online it is hard to find out anything.

Sorry, no expenses this time. It takes a lot of time and the numbers are all screwed up anyway. I'm going to have to go revising again when there's time.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sorry I've been missing for the last few days. Everyone in Mexico seems to use WEP wireless encryption and a misconfiguration in my computer was preventing me from using it. I Finally got it sorted out. We're in Oaxaca now.


Typical tuc-tuc
OK, so I left off the part about the tuc-tuc on the last entry. Once we got to Antigua I left Alaine near the bus terminal with our luggage while I made a quick look around that area where we thought there were a lot of inexpensive hotels. I tried a couple of places; one was full and the other was kind of dark and deary. A lot of them just seemed to be locked up and no bell to ring. I went back to Alaine and we decided to take a tuc-tuc to to where our guide book showed 2 backpacker places right across from each other. A tuc-tuc is a little three-wheeled taxi that has a bench seat for two people behind the driver. We looked at both and chose Yellow House.

By the time we settled in it was already dark. We hadn't eaten much all day so we went out looking for dinner. Finally we settled on a little burrito shop that had graffiti all over the walls and a sign that said ask permission before writing on the wall. Alaine had a giant burrito and I had some enchiladas that were made with flour tortillas. It was all good though. We got to talking to a Canadian actor, Stephen Dimopoulos, there who was interesting. He was in the first Rambo movie. We hung out with him for a while and drank Gallo until the place closed at 9, then headed back to the hotel and crashed.


The next day (Sunday the 24th) we slept until about 8:30 and then had a nice breakfast included with the room. Scrambled eggs, bread, and some fresh fruit.

After that we hung out on the terrace on the second floor where I was able to access somebody's wireless and work on the blog. Around 10 or 11 we went out and looked around the town. Alaine's back was hurting her and muscle relaxants had worked before so we stopped in a pharmacy and got some and also some sleeping pills for the overnight buses. You can get just about every drug over the counter in Guatemala. We went to the ruins of a church that came down in the big earthquake of 1773. When we walked in we heard beautiful singing. It sounded like a choir, but when we got close we saw it was a middle-aged gringo couple. When they finished I told them how beautiful it was and they said they were just trying out the acoustics.

Purple Parade

There was some kind of event happening in town having to do with lent. There were guys in purple robes wandering all over town. We finally asked someone and they said that every Sunday during lent the men from each of the surrounding towns would come and do this. We didn't actually see anything other than hundreds of men walking down the street.

We went back to the hotel and drank beer and played Skip-Bo, then bed.

The Market

Next day (Monday 25th) we went to the market of artesanía and did some haggling. We bought a painting from a young guy who said he was the artist and that we wouldn't see anything like it anywhere else. We went around the corner and saw the same kind of stuff. It's still beautiful.


Since last entryTotal
Beer (and other spirits)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Seven buses, two rickshaws, and a tuc-tuc

After our night of drinking it was hard to get up and catch a 7am bus. When we did get up around 5, we found out from the American woman in the room next to ours that two girls had come in drunk at 3 am and eaten everybody's food out of the refrigerator. They were still passed out on the couch. We didn't have too much in there, just some yogurt and water. The hotel owners had offered to give us a ride to the bus stop to save us having to lug the big suitcase up the hill. We got there in time for the 7 o'clock bus to San Salvador.

A real chicken bus

Our British friends had told us how we could get to Antigua without going through Guatemala city. There is a very direct route going west, but we asked several people and there are no buses that go that way. We had to go all the way to the most southwestern border of El Salvador. The bus wasn't crowded. We put our big suitcase in the back and sat next to it. A lot of folks were getting on with big things in baskets that I guess they were bringing to sell in the city. One old lady had three big jugs of goat's milk that she could barely get a round with. There's an ayudante (helper) who gets people and their stuff on and off the bus as fast as possible and alerts the driver when to stop and when to go. He also collects the money once you are on the bus. It's a very efficient system. He also shouts out the places the bus is going trying to get people on. The guy we had on the way up to Suchitoto was a real character, calling everyone on the bus niños (children).

An old man got on the bus at one point and had a quarter in his ear. I pointed this out to Alaine and we watched him for a while. When the ayudante came around the man pulled the quarter out of his ear and gave it to him.

Pastries going to market. Who's that in the corner?

We arrived at the Terminal de Oriente (Eastern Terminal) of San Salvador about 8:15. We had to take a city bus to the other terminal to get to our next destination, Sonsonate. The ayudante said we wanted the number 7 bus. When we got on I had to heave my suitcase over the turnstile. The aisle was wide enough that I could roll it to the back of the bus and a guy helped me find a place to put it. After we sat down I thought to ask Alaine if she had confirmed with the driver that this bus went tot the other terminal. Nope. I didn't either. We asked some people sitting around us and, after some discussion, they said it did not go to the terminal. We wanted bus 7C. They said if we got off at the next stop a 7C bus would come along. We did and one passed us right by. The second one did stop though and we eventually got to the terminal, where a more comfortable bus was waiting to take us to Sonsonate.

Cycle Rickshaw

In Sonsonate we stopped for a small meal and got on our 5th bus of the day, to the Guatemala border. At the border we changed some of our dollars to Quetzals and got a ride in a cycle rickshaw, which is like a big tricycle with two wheels in front, one in back and a bench seat in the front. He could only take it as far as the actual border line where we got into a Guatemalan rickshaw. No problems with immigration and no customs at all. We had to wait about 45 minutes for our 6th bus, to Escuintla. Then some more waiting and the 7th, and final bus, to Antigua.

And here we sit, in a lovely little hostel called Yellow House for which we are paying about $16 a night including breakfast.

More later


Since last entryTotal
Beer (and other spirits)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

El Gringo

After I signed off that last post, we were talking to the owners of the Artex Cafe where I was using internet. He found out we lived in Puerto Viejo and started asking about people there. Turns out he lived in Costa Rica during El Salvador's civil war and he knew my dad. Mel, do you remember Chambo?

They recommended a Mexican restaurant run by a guy known locally as "El Gringo". He's a nice guy, very talkative. He was born in the States but has Salvadoran parents so he gets automatic citizenship. The food and beer were great. It was the first really big meal we've had since we've been on the road.

We hung out at our hotel with a the British couple and ended up staying up with them until midnight, drinking Flor de Caña and sharing travel stories. They tried to convince us to go to Cuba before everything changes now that Fidel is out of power.

We're in Antigua now, but getting here was another story in itself, which I will try to get to later today if I can. Tomorrow we'll be moving on, probably to a place near Quetzaltenango that has hot springs and little cabinas.


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Beer (and other spirits)

Friday, February 22, 2008


The bus ride to Suchitoto, about 47km from San Salvador, took an hour and a half. Lots of stops and driving through narrow, congested streets of small towns. We learned a new word: cora (quarter), for a 25 cents US. They use US dollars as the currency here. We bought two little bags of sweet peanuts por una corita.

Armed guard at a shop
We arrived with the idea of staying in Villa Balanza. We asked a few people and dragged our broken-wheeled suitcase there. Rooms are $20 instead of the $11 it says in the book, but they are quite nice, although with a shared bath. The other people in the hotel have been really nice too-- An older American couple and young British couple. We had to carry our poor suitcase down a very steep hill with cobblestones to get to the actual rooms. I don't know if we'll make it back up. We have a beautiful view of Lake Suchitlan.

View from our hotel
After settling in we took a walk back up the hill, which was hard even without the suitcase, and wandered into town. We had pupusas for dinner. Several people had told us about a Canadian Classical guitarist, Ed Honeywell, who was playing as part of the February Arts and Culture Festival of Suchitoto. We stopped in and heard him play a few songs. It was excellent. I was feeling a little ill from the pollution in San Salvador so we left early from that event, went home and played a game of Skip-Bo (I beat Alaine), took a shower and went to bed.

Today we slept in a bit; well, I woke up at 6:30 and got Alaine up at 7:45 because we were wasting the day. We went to a little cafe and had coffee and bagels with scrambled eggs, plus wireless internet, which is where I posted the last entry and where I am again now, drinking beer.

Havin' a beer
The American couple from our hotel had recommended we walk down to the lake by a back road. It was quite interesting. There were a lot of pigs and ducks in the road. We didn't see a single car. There was quite a lot of trash. It was a steep walk down, but we took a bus back. At the lake there is a Turicentro. A bit disappointing, but we bought some chicha and some sweets. We shopped a little in the square by the church. Alaine bought a cool tank-top and scarf dyed with indigo, and I bought an FMLN headband and bracelet.

Tomorrow we are headed to Antigua.


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Beer (and other spirits)

San Salvador

Nicaragua customs

After we got checked out of Costa Rica we got back on the bus and the attendant collected everyone's passports. We got off again on the Nicaragua side to go through customs. We had to take our luggage from the bus and wait in a line. The wheel of our big Samsonite suitcase started disintegrating. At the head of the line was a button to push. If you got a green light you could go and put your luggage back on the bus, a red light meant they would search it. We got the green light. While we were waiting in line I went to the duty free and bought two liters of Flor de Caña 7 year old rum($16).

We got our passports back and got on the bus and were on our way. the whole border process took about 2 hours. They showed a movie, "I am Legend". English with Spanish subtitles.


We got to Managua about 11:10 and had a 15 minute rest break. We bought some snacks in the terminal($5). They served us a small lunch on the bus and showed the movie "Paulie" about a talking parrot. Dubbed in Spanish. It was pretty bad. I watched the whole thing. After that they put on videos of sappy South American love songs from the '80s.

The bus driver stopped here to buy himself some oranges

We got to the Nicaragua-Honduras Border around 3:15. We had handed over our passports again so we just waited outside the bus while they did the paperwork. The whole thing took about half an hour. We didn't have to stop on the Honduras side. Another movie: "Daddy Day Camp" with Cuba Gooding, Jr. Dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles. What can I say about this movie? It was worse than "Paulie". I watched the whole thing. Alaine fell asleep. I envy her.

We arrived at the Honduras-El Salvador border around 6 and two guys came on and just looked at our passports for the immigration check, but then the El Salvador customs guy came on and spent a long time staring at our passports and looking through people's bags. The whole thing took an hour and ten minutes.

Down the road we had a 10 minute rest stop at a gas station. We bought some food and some beer which we drank outside($8.80). Then they fed us on the bus anyway, which I didn't remember from last time. One noticeable thing about Honduras is the amount of trash on the side of the road. This is true of El Salvador too.

We got to the first stop in El Salvador, the San Benito terminal, around 10:15. We got off there and checked in to the hotel. They had beer there so we bought a round for us an a nice English guy we met on the bus. He told us some good places to go in Mexico.

Market in San Salvador

The next morning we went out to walk around the neighborhood a little. They assured us it was safe. One thing we noticed was that there are a lot of armed guards everywhere. We went to a pharmacy trying to buy Ambien to help us sleep on the bus. They said we needed a prescription but offered us some other pills over the counter which contain 3mg of diazepam (Valium). We bought $10 worth of those. We went to the a market that sold souvenirs and bought a few things($32). trying to find the market we got on a bus and after 1 block we realized we were already there. After that we went back to the Tica Bus station and got an 85% refund for the Salvador-Guatemala leg of our trip since we decided to just go straight from Suchitoto. Then we got a taxi($8) to the Suchitoto bus terminal and caught a bus($1.60).

More later.


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Beer (and other spirits)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Really on the way

I'm sitting at a table in the restaurant of Hotel Mesón de Maria in Salvador. It's a little more than we'd like to spend at $24, but it's right here at the bus station and that makes it easier when you get in at 10:15 pm. They also have wireless internet here. It's a much better value than the place we stayed at the other bus terminal in the center last year which was a dump for $20 and no hot water.

Before leaving San Jose we had dinner at a good Italian restaurant with Jeanie and her friend Jim, in whose apartment we were crashing. Jeanie bought dinner. Thanks Jeanie! We slept on Jim's fold-out couch for about 3 hours, got up at 1, and called a taxi ($2) to the bus station.

Tica Bus has a new terminal in San Jose which is much nicer than the old one. I talked to a guy there who had hitchhiked from Canada with his friend and they were out of money so they were looking for work in San Jose. They had gotten a ride and were supposed to have a place to stay but it fell through, so they came to the bus station to hang out and wait for morning.

They gave our breakfast in these little boxes

The bus left on time and Alaine and I were able to get a little sleep. I woke up around 6 and shortly after that they announced that we were approaching the Nicaragua border. They served coffee and a light breakfast. They came and collected $17 from each of us to cover all the border crossings as far as El Salvador. This is one of the big advantages of the international buses; they take care of all the paperwork and getting passports stamped whenever possible. To leave Costa Rica, though, we did have to go in person with our passports.

After going through the line I went to one of the money changer guys to get rid of my colones. I've found these guys to be honest before. They will try to give you a bad exchange rate, but you can talk them down if you are aware of the right rate. This guy was tricky though. I had 64,800 colones, which in the bank would get be around $129. He was showing me how he was getting his figure on his calculator except instead of the "=", he was pressing the memory read key. First he came up with $96. When I complained he got it up to $118. Still no good. He complained that, "A guy can't make much money like this." Finally he gave me $128.

I'm running out of time here. We only have a few hours to go visit the market in San Salvador. I will post more later.


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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

San Jose

Last night our friend Baba came over and cooked dinner for us. This morning she gave us a ride into Puerto Viejo to catch the bus to San Jose. The bus was an hour late. Not the most auspicious start to the trip, but we are OK. We are staying at the apartment of a friend tonight. We are supposed to be at the bus station at 2 am!


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Sunday, February 17, 2008


I realized I haven't mentioned what our plans are for the trip other than to put up a map. The basic idea is to go up the pacific coast of Mexico as far as Los Mochis, where we'll catch the train though Copper Canyon to Chihuahua City. On the way we'll be visiting a few other spots. We had to scrap going to Granada, Nicaragua because the bus doesn't stop there as I thought it did.

We have to overnight in San Salvador anyway but we decided to spend an extra night and take a day trip to Suchitoto, El Salvador which we've heard and read is a nice little colonial town. Lonely Planet says it is like Antigua, Guatemala was before it filled up with tourists. After that we'll go on to Antigua so we can compare. We'll probably stay at least two nights in Antigua so we can rest from our travels. After that we may travel to other spots in Guatemala and finally stop in San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, a beautiful little town that we didn't have enough time in last year. Then we'll go to Oaxaca, which we skipped last year because there was some unrest there. From there south to the beach at Zipolite, which several people have recommended to us, then up the coast and play it by ear.

When is all this going to occur? We have reserved our tickets for this Wednesday, the 20th. We'll go to San José on Tuesday and get on the bus for San Salvador at 3 am Wednesday morning. We should arrive in San Salvador around 10-11 pm.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tickets to Guatemala

I was looking on the somewhat useless web site of Tica Bus and I thought they no longer offered the bus service that goes from San José to San Salvador in the same day. I talked to my sister, Selva, who lives in San José, and she said the her boyfriend was coming on the bus from El Salvador in one day. So I called and they said that they did indeed offer it. Selva bought our bus tickets as far as Guatemala city. You have to buy the tickets at the bus station. She was coming down here for a visit anyway so that worked out.

The right schedule

The trip takes a day and a half, with an overnight in San Salvador. We're thinking we might hop off the bus in Granada, Nicaragua and spend a night there (edit: I found out the bus doesn't actually go through Granada). The tickets we have don't have a date yet. We just have to call at least three days before we want to go to reserve our seats.

Tica Bus route map

I was talking with Alaine tonight and we thought it would be cool to keep track of our costs so at the end each post I'm going to put the expenses since the last post and the grand total. The bus tickets were 31,200 colones each, including tax. That's about $63 USD.


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Monday, February 4, 2008

Not all Costa Ricans Speak English

I've noticed lately that U.S. and Canadian visitors to Costa Rica, even long term residents of the Puerto Viejo area, are actually getting angry at Ticos for not speaking their language—English. It's true that many people speak a little English and it is easy to live here for years and not learn much Spanish, especially in this area with its many speakers of patois; but the very least a person can do is recognize that they are the ones speaking a foreign language, not the Ticos. I can only presume that these are the same people who want English to be the official language of the U.S.

A few examples:

Recently I was in ATEC, in my office in the back, and I overheard someone talking to one of the cashiers about coming back tomorrow to pick up a job she needed done. This person was speaking in English to the Spanish-speaking cashier and I could hear that she was very upset that she wasn't being understood. This is a person who has lived here for years. She hasn't learned the word mañana? She then came to me to explain what she needed done and something to the effect of, "I don't know why she doesn't understand me!"

Another person recently moved here and owns a business. This well-intentioned person wants ATEC to provide a translator for community meetings, such as the upcoming meeting about the marina. This is already a sore subject with the local government because they think it is a bunch of foreign activists who want to stop the marina project.

A tourist recently told me about watching another Canadian tourist get angry at a guy selling snacks on the bus because he couldn't understand that the guy didn't have change for the large bill he was giving him. The first tourist, who spoke some Spanish, had to ask him to "simmer down" and realize where he was.

I'm not saying don't come to Costa Rica if you don't speak Spanish. My own Spanish still needs a lot of work. All I'm saying is be aware that Spanish is the language of Costa Rica. It seems obvious, but apparently it is not for some people.

Pura vida.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Clean Ocean Big Water Paddle Board Race

Saturday I went with Alaine, Paul and Tirza for a protest against the building of a marina in Puerto Viejo. This proposed 400 slip marina would likely disrupt Cahuita National Park, Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and surf spots in Cocles and Puerto Viejo. The protest took the form of a race with the participants paddling their surfboards from Beach Break in Cocles to the bus stop in Puerto Viejo, not far from Salsa Brava, Puerto Viejo's most famous surf break.


Since none of us are surfers, we decided to participate by kayaking the race route. We signed up for the race as "Team ATEC" and biked to Puerto Viejo and rented kayaks. Rather than try to put in in the heavy surf at Beach Break, we decided to start in Puerto Viejo, kayak to Beach Break and just float out there beyond the breakers and wait for the race. We were well-provisioned with several large bottles of water, sunblock, 10 cold beers, a half-liter water bottle filled with Flor de Caña rum, and some snacks.

Going out

The kayak rental guys pointed out a channel where we could safely get the kayaks out with getting pounded by a wave. Paul and I led the way and Alaine and Tirza followed. Once we were well clear of the breaking waves, we decided to celebrate with a beer. We had to to go out really far before we could start heading east towards Cocles in order to avoid Salsa Brava. It was about 45 minutes before we all arrived at Beach Break, but we were traveling slowly because of a couple of equipment problems and Paul stopping to take pictures.

The Race

Me in front, Tirza behind the boat, getting ready to get in
Once we got to Beach Break Tirza started feeling seasick. There was a rescue boat there so Paul helped get Tirza and her kayak into the boat. We could hear the PA system on the beach but it was hard for us to make out what was going on finally we heard an announcement that the race would start at 3:30, 1 and a half hours late. Once we saw the surfers paddling near us we started heading back to Puerto Viejo. I was surprised that they were going almost as fast as I was in my kayak. There were two kids on one board who wanted to have me pull them, but they tried to hold on to the side and I couldn't paddle. I suggested they hold on to the back but they decided to go it alone. Later the younger boy climbed into the back cargo area of Paul's kayak and Paul carried him the rest of the way in. A couple of people were wanting water so I shared mine with them. The second guy that I gave water to said he was really tired so I said maybe he should get in the boat, which he did.

Kid getting ready to climb into Paul's Kayak
I finally caught up to Alaine where she was waiting before going back to land. We couldn't tell exactly where the channel was from the different angle so we just headed in hoping it would become clear once we got closer. I got caught by a couple small waves but was able to keep the kayak upright. The waves carried me most of the way in. Alaine flipped over on the reef and got little scraped up. I didn't realize it because she was behind me. Paul was already on land and had shoes on, so he walked out on the reef and helped Alaine get back and I paddled back out and got her oar.

Alaine was OK and we returned the kayaks and stayed for part of the post-race ceremony but we had to go home early. Yesterday Alaine saw the race organizer on the road and she gave Alaine a trophy for second place. Tirza got a first place trophy but we don't know why. It's funny because we never were in the race to win.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

'First Post' is a boring title for the first post

bus1.jpgHere's the deal. Last year Alaine and I traveled by bus from our home in Costa Rica to our other home in Texas. I kept saying we should blog the trip. Now we're planning to do it again so I'm actually going to do it.

Full disclosure: part of the reason I am doing this is to help promote the two web sites linked to above. One is my personal venture, and the other is my mother's Bed and Breakfast, Also, I am starting to hate the word "blog" already, but what else am I going to call it?

The picture is Alaine in Managua with our bus.