Archive for the ‘XTerra’ Category

I’ve updated our Guatemala Photo Page

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

So you can see what the “mountain” trip looked like….it was truly gorgeous. 

The HD camcorder took these stills…I’m not thrilled with them, I have been having problems with the focus and I don’t care for the size of these pictures.  The videos are amazing (although there are still problems with the anti-shake feature on the camera).  But when I think back to the first “camcorders”….LOL, fifteen pounds of battery slung over one’s shoulder and a camcorder the size of a twelve-pack. 

I’m not James Cameron…but we’ve purchased some software and I hope to have videos available soon.

Next up, Copan Ruins in Honduras.  Amazing stuff.

~ Blonde Gator

P.S.  Sitting in our “office” on the patio outside of our room….the World Cup is obviously on and the cheers from around town are quite amusing.

Screwing “La Systema”

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Well…it’s been a week ago (yesterday) since I’ve blogged (although I wrote a nifty piece from Granada, Nicaragua, which I couldn’t get to upload)…and do I have news!

We left Costa Rica a week ago, and have had a pretty nice road trip thus far.  We had a bit of a whoopdee at the Costa Rican border, seems we were “missing” a paper (que’lle crap)….which took a hundred dollar+ bribe to fix.  Short letter to follow to Costa Rica Immigration, I have the name of the asshat who jacked us.    I’m convinced 95% of the border cops in Latin America are corrupt.

Before I go on my rant…let me say that my take on Nicaragua changed drastically after seeing the country during the rainy season…it transformed from a drab, dusty, awful place to a beautiful paradise.  On the advice of our friend, we stopped in the colonial town of Granada.  It was fabulous.  Unfortunately, we were once again bitten by the “festival bug”….we had a room in a lovely hotel for one night, but after that…no room to be had at the inn, nor anywhere else in town….some sort of “Eco Festival” was happening.   So, we just didi’d and went to Honduras (I’ll write more later about that).  If you’re dying for a preview, check out COPAN.

We had a bit of an adventure in Guatemala (sarcasm on full throttle)….First, we got lost, and found a nice postman who had a much better map than we did.  He directed us to go the direct route, through the mountains, rather than around.  At about 4,500 feet, and on dirt roads, we only got more lost once (but we did find a great camp ground) we managed to finally (2 hours later) find the road we were looking for.  It was actually pretty fun, but would have been alot more fun if I had been driving…but I digress.  I LOVE MY XTERRA.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is not a great way to “get there from here” in some of these mountainous countries.  On our first pass, we drove through Guatemala City….NOT NICE!  So we decided that was something to be avoided at all costs…which we did, by driving G-7, which was, as we were told, “terra for the first hour…paved after that”.

Well….”dirt” was about 5,000 feet, mountain roads, and the recent storms were apparent, with rockfalls and dirtfalls and washed out roads everywhere.  The scenery was awesomely beautiful…but it was a scary trip in the right seat.  Iguana Man deserves a Purple Heart for surviving my screaming.   I promise to post some pics and video (when I figure out how to do that)….you’ll not believe it at all.  I still can’t. 

Okay, back to my original point.  GOVERNMENTAL INCOMPETENCE IS EVERYWHERE!

When we tried to leave Guatemala on Wednesday, we were told that our car was not in their “systema” as having ever left Guatemala.  Never mind we had our paperwork with the exit stamp from Agua Caliente (Hot Water…I should have known!!!).   Further evidence of our car being out of the country would be like….entry Visa into Honduras (in my passport….I wrote about this earlier with the sisterly solidarity of the female immigration officer insisting the car be on my passport), Nicaragua papers, Costa Rican papers….and reverse the trip….CR, Nico, Honduras.

BUT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Iguana Man tells me there is a basic bureaucrat mindset (I think he’s correct, BTW)….a simple “yes or no” answer from a paper pusher has drastic consequences.  I was furious (!!!), but Iguana Man’s experience prevailed (thankfully)….and he didn’t go ballistic as I’d have done…and the Aduana (cop) let us leave the border with our car.

You see, in Latin America, they use “Napoleonic Law”….which means, mas o menos (more or less)….lock ’em up now, and sort it out later. 

SOOOO….even though, we had transmigrated Guatemala the first time, correctly, and had all of the appropriate stamps, paperwork, etc…..some moron didn’t enter us into their computer system.  And the poor little government drone knew that, but didn’t have the authority to fix it…all he could do was say “NO….can’t leave”….and we found the one honest guy in the country.  Actually, he was very nice, as I said about the Napoleonic laws here, he could have impounded our car and been done with it…and sorry, American Tourist…you must pay 50% of the Blue Book value of your car to get it back…if you can find it?

SOOOO….we turned around, and went back to HueHue (I know, great name!!!).  We checked into a nice hotel I saw on the way out of town (after we’d earlier spent a night in a cute little hotel downtown, $12, but the water wasn’t turned on due to “issues”…LOL, it was just a fine place, more later). 

We called the American Embassy, got some advice (note to travellers, Embassy staff aren’t ALL morons, but most of them are).  We were referred to a tax guy, rather than an abrogado (shyster).  He was such a nice man, as was the fellow at the hotel who helped translate, a man who is married to a Nebraskan, but is properly waiting out his two years to get his green card, God Bless legal immigrants!!!). 

After two days of trying to get the paperwork fixed, our “fixer” suggested another way out….ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION!

So, this morning, we hotfooted across the Guatemal/Mexico border, down a back dirt road, where there were numerous trucks and cars coming and going.  Needless to say, I was scared out of my wits.

We got into Mexico…and with the good sense of our “tax advisor”….we were about 3 KM from a town with customs…where we presented our paperwork, and became legal once again. 

So….I suppose the moral of the story is never panic, never be rude (the Guatemalan customs guy was just as captured by his “systema” as we were).  NEVER BE RUDE.  If it had been me, talking to the customs guy, I’m sure he’d have impounded the car, because I’d have gone ballistic at the stupidity.  But the Iguana Man finessed the situation, and we are now in Mexico (did I mention it feels like coming home?  Because it does…the US media deserves to be shot over their coverage of Mexico…alas, I digress again).

Actually, it was kind of fun (and lots of scary) running the border.  But, when all is said and done, I feel like I just shot a huge bird at bureaucrats everywhere.  We’ll never be allowed to bring another car into Guatemala (like I care)….although I have to think their “systema” sucks so badly that it doesn’t matter one iota.  I have to give them a hat tip for trying to rip me off for $10 grand….but so solly, estupidos!

After all is said and done, I have to think, SCREW THE SYSTEMA is the right tack to take….sometimes it’s a little more scary than not, and sometimes, it just is what it is.  It’s been a pretty fine life lesson.  Do you hear me, Obama…and you stupid democrat Critters? 

~ Blonde Gator

Alas…Packing Day is Here

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

We pull up stakes tomorrow and head north.    The XTerra is all clean, as are most of the clothes (hoping for a sunny day today as I’ve become a big fan of line drying….particularly for sheets…yet something else to do when I get home, but I digress). 

It’s going to be a shocker to get back on the road again, although road tripping is alot of fun.  I’m going to Dominic and Maria the most, and of course we’ll miss the rent-a-dog, who arrived at 6:00 a.m. this morning, and Igs (the young male iguana) who keeps us  constantly amused.  We’ve settled into a very cozy existence here in Costa Rica, I’m wishing we could stay forever, but as Blonde Mom says “tomorrow’s another day, Scarlette”. 

We’ve revised our packing methodology for the trip back.  (Note to self, next time, bring fewer clothes).  We’ve divested ourselves of some “stuff” (printer, DVD player, beach chairs), which should help….and didn’t really collect too much replacement “stuff”, although I am bringing home my bottle of Costa Rican honey.  We’re once again going to have the “go rats” box, w/the electric kettle and french press, fig newtons and other munchies.   I’m reserving judgement on the “new packing” until we’re actually done with it, though.

I’ve (kind of) learned how to use the video camera, although with the HD format, it will require some software and some time at home before I can post them here in a usable format.  I have enough video of the iguanas for a short which I shall title “Leapin’ Lizards”.   The camera takes stills as well, but I’m just not as good at it with the HD as I was with my camera (which we will replace in Houston when we get there)….so bear w/me on the photo stuff. 

Pura Vida.

~ Blonde Gator

An Update

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Well…finally we’ve locked in our lodgings…until July 4th (good day, eh?….sorry, evil Canuck influence).

What I mean to convey is that we now have our housing arrangements, thankfully, arranged to my satisfaction (basically this means BIG bed, A/C, internet….as well as conveniences like access to a washing machine).   In the short term…a rather nice 2/1 apartment up the pike close to the beach, and for the longer term, a great 3/3 house (with its own pool) until July 4th.

And therein is the fly in the ointment.  It used to be that an extension for a vehicle (an extra 90 days) was automatic.  However, for some odd reason, the government of Costa Rica, which is “trying” to make tourism easy….has up’d their “rules” for cars.  We’re hearing bad things….like if you go over your 90 days they’ll “nationalize” your vehicle (i.e. charge you ten grand to get it back). 

NOT SO FAST, says I.  So before any further commitment to stay here, we must check this out thoroughly.  Which will entail a lot of hassle, so I’m told.

No matter, if it is impossible to stay in Costa Rica beyond the 4th of July, we’ll pack up the XT, and head north, to spend a leisurely return home….a week at the lake in Honduras, some time at the ruins in Copans, maybe another four-five days in Antigua de Guatemala….and then perhaps six-eight weeks in Puerto Escondido.

In the interim, I’m waiting for my good friend Paul to make his plans to come visit…and for those of you, my friends, who have been following this trip, we got the BIG HOUSE for a reason, ahem!   No reservations necessary…first come first serve!

Time will tell.   But we are here for now, enjoying the Pura Vida.  Join us if your schedule permits….I’m dying to cook for a crowd!

~ Blonde Gator

P.S.  XTerra has a slow leak in the left rear tire….we were feeling all superior about buying new tires…but I guess nails are everywhere (for you WM people, you know that to be a fact, LOL).

Things We Did Well, Not So Well

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Looking back on our trip, there are some things we did well, and others we didn’t quite get right…in no particular order, I’ll try to sum them up.

GPS.  Don’t leave home w/o it!!!  Ours is a Garmin, handheld, and worth its weight in gold.

New Tires (when old tires were quite okay).  +5,000

Not Overplanning, and Building in Extra Days to Explore/Goof Off ~ +5,000

Packing.  -500.  We packed as we would for an airplane trip….Clothes in our big bags, toiletries, bathing suits, etc. in smaller bags.  Big error.  We should have packed all LONG TERM stuff (clothes & toiletries) in the big bags, so we could have left them in the truck….and one small bag each, w/ a week’s worth of clothes, bathing suits, and immediately necessary toiletries.  Less hauling, packing and unpacking.

Kitchen Gear.  +1,000.  For the most part, a great choice.  We’re very well appointed in our current lodging, but I still appreciate my GOOD knife, kitchen shears, good omelet pan, and food processor.  My gigantic roaster won’t even fit in the oven (LOL….come to find out PORK is the most expensive meat here…no pork enchiladas for a while, alas).  Having the French Press, Electric Kettle, Thermos, and Cooler available on a daily basis was brilliant….water and ice are available everywhere to supplement this gear  (Go-Rations).  Keep in an easily accesible place.  Plastic ziplocs were good, keep some handy, and a good stash in the long term storage…a boxful of plastic storage containers, not so great (available here).

Iguana Man packed a “car box”….w/oil filters, window cleaner, tools, shop rags, etc.  Very useful.  Numerous times.  Also, we brought the little hand held vac, w/ charger.  A Godsend.  Don’t forget it.

Things to do better:  Pack unnecessary stuff (like video camera), books, etc….in the “big boxes”…not required until we stop.  Pack “stuff” like beach chairs, dive fins, & umbrellas on TOP of the car.  Remember about secure parking, etc….but they are a nuisance inside the car, not too expensive if they get lifted.

Go Bag:  This was a last minute addition….basically my old standby “beach bag”….which contained a bunch of sunscreen, coozie cups, and a corkscrew/bottle opener.  GREAT MOVE (lose the sunscreen).  The bottle opener was invaluable for many things, and once we lost the sunscreen, we repacked it with extra cigs, candy bars, and TOILET PAPER.  That is an imperative on a trip like this…and it must be accesible.  Don’t leave it packed in your big bag (like I did at first).  Coozie Cups rock! 

MOST IMPORTANT THING I FORGOT TO PACK:  A rubber tub mat.  Everyone south of the border apparently thinks beautiful glossy tile is just the ticket for the shower and bathroom floor….and it looks to me like a great way to break your ass!  I’d give anyone $200 right now to FedEx me one or five.  Pack in your travel bag, and have a spare or two!!!!

Other than that, the only thing I forgot to pack was Blonde Mom & the Empress….although I spoke to them earlier, and life in Florida is apparently still fine.  Cheers!

~ Blonde Gator

Spinning Down….slowly

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Well, we’ve settled into our (temporary for a month) home….it’s been a bit of a trial as I pulled my back and have had a hard time doing very much at all….I have great hopes to finally(!) unpack my suitcases.

We have a very nice efficiency apartment for this month….on the second floor, with a wide veranda all the way around.  We can hear the crash of the surf and see the sunset from the veranda.  All accoutrements, except internet, unfortunately, so we pack the computers and head to the Iguana Azul to get online. 

Usually at this time of day, we sit on the veranda with the binoculars and the bird book.  It’s now the change between summer (dry season) and winter (rainy season)….although the birds are all paired up.  We watch them daily.  Parakeets, parrots, orioles, a huge species of jay with an odd little topnot.  Iguana Man has been remiss in posting the “bird rules”….so they make all sorts of noise.  Until the sun goes down.  Not only does the light switch go off at sundown, so does the noise.  No bird calls at all after sunset.

Today we went to Tamarindo and did some grocery shopping at the “AutoMercado”.  A lovely store, but priced for the touristas.  I am attempting to get away from my usual fare and do more of the “local” stuff….beans and rice, local veggies, and lots of chicken.   It’s a bit odd shopping, not only do we have to convert Colones to Dollars (about 520 to $1USD….which has taken a big turn for the worse since last time we were here)….but things are priced in Kilos/Pound….so there’s more math to be done….alas.  Probably good for my old addled brain.

Blonde Mom is doing great….as is The Empress.   She says the third crop of tomatos is big and fat…I could use some of those about now. I miss being home, but not nearly enough to go back….yet.  Perhaps in May or thereabouts.  We are having too much fun.

Oh….the XTerra is a huge hit here, we’ve already had a couple of clandestine “offers” (to import a vehicle into CR permanently requires a tax of about 50%).  Apparently there are Nissan XTerras available in-country, but not like ours (which is a standard model in the US).  The XT has been fabulous, it was made for a trip like this….we are happy to have it with us.  I’m thinking of contacting Nissan….to clue them in to my blog…and perhaps suggest it would be a good ad campaign for them….hmmm.  Why not? 

The next few weeks we’ll be engaged in finding a (sort of) long-term rental.  The biggest sticking point so far seems to be internet!  From what we’ve heard from our friends, internet capability has deteriorated somewhat since we’ve been here last.  Odd, in a tourist oriented stretch of coast.  Go figure.

Okay, signing off now….but now that I’m somewhat rested up and can actually sit in a chair for ten minutes at a time, know that I have lots and lots of adventures to share….the last time I really “updated” our trip was in Guatemala….so I have Honduras, and Nicaragua to share yet….as well as adding new photo pages for each country.

As always, the daily sunset here is an event…so I shall have to update my “sunset” page as well…it’s all good.

I miss you all, my friends, and am so happy to have you share in our journey.

~ Blonde Gator

OK – an Iguana Man Update ~ Traveling among countries – or How to Drive Safely

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Its about time, as I am reminded minutely.

Driving here through Guatemala has been fun to say the least. Guatemala does not have the $$ that Mexico has and when you cross over into Honduras there is another notch down.

Some observations.

We miss Mexico OXXO stores at the national PEMEX stations which sell KFREEZ drinks – mostly frozen cappacinos and they are good!

No KFREEZE in Guatamala or Honduras.

Notes to the wise. Do not pick up any ‘border’ officials and let them ‘ride’ in your car unless they are wearing a uniform or have guns.

Bad news for people crossing into Guatemala as these guys have a racket. I got taken but the good feeling is that a guy from Oklahoma who has lived in Costa Rica was almost taken. He let the guy hitch a ride to the border but was smart enough not to give him any papers. Do not deal with or give any of your paperwork to anyone except official Border Custom or Immigration people behind a desk or cage. Do not be taken.

‘nough said.

Anyway, once across the border from the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala to Honduras the change is like looking at the old ‘color’ puzzle map of the US. The border changed. So, did the scenery, the agriculture and the native dress.

Honduras is a small country that cannot build a straight road from the North Border to the South where one may enter Nicaragua. We are about 1/3 of the way there and hope to finish this leg tomorrow with a final run at the Nicaraguan border crossing before it gets too late. I think we will stay the night in Honduras and cross in the morning.

Roads deteriorate after Mexico. Guatamala gets a 6.5 on the scale, Mexico a 9.0 overall and Honduras about a 4.0 as of this writing. I’ll let you know if it goes up or down.

We are having a hell of a good time and wish everyone could go with us, but no room in the XTERRA. A good car and a great ride even when it is rough.

~Iguana Man

A Few Photos from Guatemala

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Another 200+ Year Old Ruin in Antigua de Guatemala

Twin (Volcanic) Peaks ~ Approach to Antigua

Another Smoker (note volcanic boulders in foreground)

Several of you have asked about the XTerra.  It has been absolutely perfect thus far.  I wouldn’t recommend taking this trip in a smaller vehicle.  It’s got more than enough muscle to handle the requisite passing on mountain roads, and isn’t the least bit uncomfortable on bad roads (as the smaller rental SUV’s were in CR).  I suppose a bigger SUV would be useful….more room to pack junk!  As you can see, the Gator chairs are on the roof….did I mention we bought a double hammock?….all ready for that beach!

Gas stations are plentiful here, and gas is (oddly) sold by the gallon.  The price varies, between $28.5 to $30.25 quetzies…..between $3.85 and $4.00 USD a gallon.  Although Guatemala does have petroleum reserves, apparently the industry has not yet been developed.  Hence the plethora of squirrel powered vehicles.  We saw many young families (mom, dad & two little kids) riding one minibike.  Scary.

XTerra in Guatemala

And finally…..just to make you laugh….

They're Everywhere!!!

Okay….time to get a move on.  We’re going to pack up, have breakfast, and backtrack about a half a mile to get some photos of the Basillica here.  If you read the wiki link from yesterday, it is famous for it’s statue of the Cristo Negro.  Then….we’re off to Honduras!  Hope to “see” you before we reach Junquilal…we’ve been pleasantly surprised w/finding internet availability.  Ciao, baby.

~ Blonde Gator

Oh Noes!!! Nissan Recall

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Just heard the news that Nissan has recalled over a half a million vehicles for a faulty brake pin (whatever that is) and faulty fuel gauges. 

Looking it up on the internet, I see that a 2008 XT (depending upon the manufacture date) may be subject to the brake pin recall.  The Iguana Man is on the phone to the dealership to see if we need to take the XT in.

Surprise, surprise, the dealership people say they don’t know nuttin’ yet, that the news people know more than they do.  Check back later.  Go figure.  Grrrrr.

~ Blonde Gator

The XTerra Gets New Shoes

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

The Iguana Man is at Costco, having new tires put on the XT.  Also locking lug nuts, as we don’t want to find ourselves in the position of returning to a vehicle on blocks.

We have also installed these nifty little rain guards on the windows, as central Costa Rica is mountainous and cool (and wet)….so there’s no need for a.c., but you get wet with open windows.  We discovered these ingenious devices on our first trip there, and put them on last fall.  They work rather nicely in the South Florida monsoons.  Highly recommend.

We’re taking two GPS’s, a big one and a little one.  We’ve taken the little one to CR before, it is an electronic delight in a package the size of a cell phone, and even displays altitude, which is far more useful in CR than here, where everything other than interstate flyovers is 5′ above sea level.

We’ve installed a digital compass, and are discussing a video system for the XT.  Haven’t quite landed that one yet.  I’m not too worried about getting lost, rather, I’m sort of looking forward to it.  My experience has been that sometimes you find the best stuff when you have no idea where you are. 

~ Blonde Gator