Archive for the ‘Electronics’ Category

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

Our Trip through Nicaragua

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Well, since I haven’t kept up the travelogue as well as I ought to have, I shall work backwards from our final destination.  We stayed at the end of the line in a small little town in Honduras, close to the border, last Friday night.  There was a surprisingly large and well maintained hotel there, I suspect it is cow country and they have meetings of ranchers, etc.  Our intention was to get up early, get through the border, and get as close to Costa Rica as we could.  Which we did.

We arrived at the border of Honduras/Nicaragua at about 7:00 a.m.  All of these borders have formalities both leaving and entering.  So, we went through the Honduran side, which took a couple of minutes….with the requisite beggars and “border guides” pestering us, per usual.

We got to the Nicaraguan side, and the Nicaraguan officiales were most upset at some poor little Honduran farmer, they had his pick up truck in parts on the side of the road.  We never did find out what the problem was.  The officiale who spoke to us got a little horsey, Iguana Man asked him something in Spanish, to which he got the snotty equivalent of “I’m Nicaraguan, not American!!!”….which had nothing at all to do with anything.  Iguana Man rolled his eyes at me and pretended not to understand, so as not to ruffle his macho feathers any further. 

We proceeded to the next building (everything is in a separate little building, unmarked, of course…as you drive from one to the next all of the little border guides try to “guide” you…hoping for a little propina..tip), and paid our two dollars or whatnot, and got two little cardboard disks….on to the next building, turned in the disks, and we were in Nicaragua.

I now know the meaning of dirt poor.  I didn’t really take many pictures as the poverty was very distressing.  The only thing in abundance (and in good repair) was rock walls.  The roads were not bad, inasmuch as there is barely any traffic in the country (nor in Managua for that matter, but more later).   Two lane macadam, with a small but adequate shoulder, not many potholes, and thankfully no topes/tumulos (speed bumps)….the bane of Mexico & Guatemala.

We decided that Saturday must be cow-moving day.  We saw a variation of this theme numerous times.  Note the bus in the front, we think it was a German Tourist bus, as it appeared to have European tags on the front!  Hard to say from the photo, though.  There are two buses waiting for the vaceros to get their cows across….the lead cow was recalcitrant so it was a little touch and go for a while.  You just have to wait and be patient, and once they get where they’re supposed to be, move along!  Iguana Man says they’re very dangerous, even though they look docile, if scared they’ll jump forward (unlike a horse) and likely land on your hood (not to mention the hassle w/ the locals if “you” damage their livestock)… proceed with caution.

Cow Moving Day

We made pretty good time once we got into the valleys where the roads became straight and narrow…and then we saw the lake and on to Managua.  Which for a capital city, of 1.8 million people, had less traffic than I’d ever imagined….although there were no lack of horse drawn carts on the main drag (4 lane road)….again, the street signs are non-existant (or conveniently behind a tree)….at a big intersection, we saw this:

Revolutionary Square ~ Managua

Take a good look at that.  Freaky, huh?  Well….check out the truck…it was full of Policia Nationales…a couple jumped out and headed on down the road.  They turned left, and we kept on going….soon realizing that we should have turned where they did to stay on CA1 (Pan Am Highway)….our GPS was not happy, and we just kept hooking to the left and right until the Garmin had us back on track.  At which point we happily saw this:

American Embassy ~ the old Red White & Blue ~ Joy!!!

We made it to a great little town down south, called Rivas….alas as it was Easter Eve, there were no rooms at the nice inn (Nicaro Hotel)….but we did have a great steak dinner there.  We found a fellow who’d just opened his hotel, Marcel, he was super friendly, but the accomodations were not quite complete, i.e. no shower head and agua caliente (hot water) not yet hooked up….so we boogied early the next morning (Easter Day)….the Costa Rica border was just down the road.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  Yet another windfarm!  This one only cost $95M.

Amayo Windfarm, South of Rivas, Nicaragua

This windfarm had all turbofans functional, it was quite a sight.  They ends of the blades must be moving at least 70 mph….the wind was coming perpendicularly from our left, and the shadows of the moving blades were rapidly leaving our car in the dust, at which point we were doing maybe 60 mph.   

There is a big island just east of Rivas, that has twin (active apparently) volcanic peaks, one of which reaches almost 7,000 feet.  The tourism industy in this area is on the move, and there it’s a place I wouldn’t mind exploring further….lakes and islands are my thing.  Except for crossing the border….

We reached the Nicaragua/Costa Rican border by 7:15, and after a couple of minutes, things didn’t look too bad as there were only about 3 cars in front of us.  We had to go to the requisite two unmarked buildings, then we went through the “decontamination” device (which dripped 3 drops of something on us)….and made a left to the passport exit stamping station.  PANDEMONIUM!  There must have been forty buses, and every bus passenger in a line that had no end, five or six deep, with all of their luggage, standing in line.

At which point, we gave it up and decided to use one of the “border guides”….the one we found spoke good English (had lived in Atlanta, go figure)….and off he & Iguana Man went to pay a little “propina” to get our passports stamped.  It was kind of funny, “no Mr. Iguana Man, take that bill and fold it in the passport like this”.  All the while, I stayed in the car “guarding” our stuff.  A big American got out of line and yelled at the kids leaning on his truck next to our XT….he said he had a couple of businesses in both Panama & Nicaragua, and made the crossing at least 5x a month…and estimated it would be at least 5 hours on the Nicaraguan side of the border and 3-4 on the CR side. 

There was a bit of a problem with the Florida Disabled Veteran tag for some odd reason, but once it was explained, that seemed to be okay.  There was also a slight delay as the first place of “accellerated stamping” wasn’t available.  More delay.

Then another trot to who knows where, and Iguana Man came back with the head of the operation, who looked at my picture and looked at me, turned on his heel w/o saying a word, and left.  Our border guide then introduced us to his CR counterpart, and after another hour or so….we were through.  Cost about $60, and saved about 7 hours.  It would have taken even less time had the officiale filling out the paperwork put the correct date in, also she mistook a “5” for an “S” on our VIN number.  NOTE TO EVERYONE….double and triple check the dates and VIN numbers, always.  This was just a slight delay, and the border guide handled it.

I was always kind of worried about going through Nicaragua…but it wasn’t bad at all.  We got stopped several times by the road stop cops, but they just checked the papers (one guy wanted water…note…carry extra bottles).  The people we met, hotel workers, waiters, farmacia clerks, etc. were all very nice and happy to see Americans, it was just some of the officiales who had a bit of a ‘tude.  I’d imagine that will change as tourism increases.  I’d love to explore the Lake Nicaragua region, I read somewhere years ago that they have fresh water sharks.  So, we shall have to see…that border crossing was insanity.  We’re kind of thinking of booking a tour to Boca del Toros in Panama for our 90 day Costa Rican “time out”…we shall see.

Anyway, we got into CR by about 10:00 a.m….and since I had been “guarding” the car and was in the driver’s seat, I drove.  It was great.  At our first “road stop” (up by the Nicaraguan border, we’d driven up that way on our first trip so we knew it was there)….the only thing we were asked was “you really drove from FLORIDA?”….and a big friendly smile, and Pura Vida!  (national saying here…look it up).

Once we hit the “big town” of Liberia I knew exactly where we were….stopped at the ATM to replenish funds (more about that later, I’m chewing on the Iguana Man to contribute more here, and that’s on his list of topics)….and we headed on down the road.  And here we are.

Okay…off to check out a long term rental this afternoon, and then perhaps a jaunt to the beach…we need to stop at the ferreteria (hardware store) and get some rope for the hammoca we bought in Puerto Escondido.  I have my GATOR beach chair….and an umbrella, and a cooler, and big beach towels….I’m ready.

Later, Gator fans.

~ Blonde Gator

We’re in Honduras

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Just a quick update, we’re in Santa Rosa de Copan (Mayan ruins on the Guatemala side of the border).  We obviously have internet, but it is slow as molasses, so no pictures for this entry.  We have some good ones, though, never fear.

Today was a trip.  Not a bad trip, mind you, but a trip nonetheless.  We departed late, about ten a.m., about ten minutes from the frontier.  We brought ten copies of everything, passports, drivers licenses, car title, etc.  When we got to the border, they wanted two copies of our entrance papers.  Off to the copy machine.  Okies, twenty minutes to get through immigration.  Three minutes down the road, more paperwork.  Only they wanted 5 copies of the car stuff (like d’uh, tell us before we leave).  Back to get copies.

Plus, the car lady insisted on putting the car’s visa in my name and on my passport, even though Iguana Man’s name is first on the title.  I suspect it was some sort of latina sisterly solidaritity.  Quien sabe?  Then one more stop to pay an additional $3 each for a stamp.

Anyhoo, off we went.  Suffice it to say, the roads are NOT MARKED here….and when you stop to ask, it’s 50/50 whether the person you ask has ever been out of their own little burg.  We got turned around about three times today….and ended up way down south of where we needed to be.  We only have a “world map” on the GPS for non-Costa Rica, and it knew where we were at all  times, but hadn’t a clue about the roads.  Something else to consider and find a fix for.  Did I mention the roads here are nowhere near as good as Mexico (looking like Autobahns now) or Guatemala?  Potholes galore!  Also, Honduras has adopted that quaint custom of Topes (Mexico) or Tumulos (Guatemala)….Speedbumps for you Gringos!  So today’s progress was slow, but steady.

The Iguana Man actually asked me to drive today, first time since Pensacola.  Woot!  I actually drove in the mountains, and feel much better about it than I did with that broken passenger’s side brake.  It was kind of fun (except for dodging the potholes).  Honduras is quite beautiful, and different in nature than either Mexico or Guatemala.   Different architecture, different terrain.  One thing that is the same is the friendly people.

I’ve mentioned before it is Easter week….everything is more or less closed until next Monday.  Leaving today, though, the buses from the countryside were packed, there were trucks w/tarps (improvised motorhomes) everywhere.  All of the young girls were walking into town in their Sunday best, carrying their shoes.  It was quite a site. 

We are now on to a new currency, Honduran Lempiras.  It’s enough to make one’s head spin.  Thank goodness for Excel.  (Spreadsheet may be hopelessly behind at this point, alas).

Hasta manana.

~ Blonde Gator

From (Almost) Honduras

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

We left Antigua de Guatemala early this morning, and ended up in Esquipulas, another gorgeous colonial town which is right on the frontier (border) with Honduras.

After talking to many people, ex-pats, touristas, and locals, we decided discretion was the better part of valour and it was prudent to avoid El Salvador altogether.  Hence, we found ourselves winding our way north and south to make headway east.  Also, unfortunately, we could not avoid Guatemala City….where we got lost for a bit (about a half an hour, including a navigation stop).  The roads on the way in were well marked, but the signs petered out on the east side of town, along with the freeway (we needed to go South to North to pick up the road we needed…there is no ring highway, alas). 

However, with our trusty Garmin hand-held GPS, which does NOT have street level maps, but does know where exactly the hell you are at all times, we were able to wind our way through the (crazy) city streets….to an insane intersection where we knew we were on the right track.  Don’t even think about driving in Central America without a good GPS.  Maps are fine, but the GPS has saved our butts on numerous occasions before (in CR).  Today was as low stress as being lost in a foreign country could possibly be, thanks to our handy little GPS.  Plus, the Iguana Man knows how to drive like an expert in the mucho macho insanity.  Life is good.

The roads in Guatemala were terrific in comparison to the first 100 km in-country.  No worries on that count.  Antigua de Guatemala is in a volcanic region…rather a jungle.  Getting past Guatemala City, the terrain became much more like the high mountain desert in Mexico.  After a few hours on mountain roads, the road (CA9) straightened out, running along a river valley, all the way to Puerto Barristos on the Carribean.  We left that road (and most of the big truck traffic) thankfully, about 2:00 p.m.  Headed back south, again through mountainous terrain, toward the Honduras border.

There is just no good way to get to there from here.  Once you accept that fact…and enjoy the very scenic scenery, life is good.  As we winded our way to the south, the country did not seem to be so poverty stricken.  In fact, we saw some beautiful estancias.

Incredibly, once we left Guatemala City, there seemed to be some sort of Guatemalan cycling confab….we passed hundreds of cyclists, in twos and threes, slogging up and down the mountains!  Loco.  As we made our approach to our destination for today (Esquipulas)….there were numerous signs for hotels (finding hotels is somewhat of an art usually…but that is for another post)….including one that at first glance I thought said “internet gratis”.  Well, upon second sighting of said sign, it did in fact say “Hotel de la Fe” with free internet.  And as we made the final turn into town (this is a large town)…it was on about the second block into (insane) traffic (Easter Week again) and conveniently located on the correct side of the road.  So we pulled over, and lo and behold, they even had underground (and secure) parking.

So….all is grand.  It’s about time to go walkabout and find some food and a farmacia to replenish our Immodium (’nuff said!).  I’ll log back in later and post some pictures….and if I get ambitious, start a new Guatemala photo page. 

~ Blonde Gator

More Argh!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

I’ve been having computer issues ever since about Houston.  My mouse (wireless) had been freezing up, and even w/o it, using the touch pad.  It’s a PITA to restart, but whatever.  Well, today, my Outlook took dive. 

Iguana Man thinks he has the Microsoft disks in the car, but they are unfortunately not in the disk book that is conveniently NOT in the car boxes.  Of course.  If anyone has Microsoft Office 2007, and you can send me the Scanpst.exe file (located in your Office files, Under Office 12) I would be eternally grateful.  That file, which repairs your personal e-mail file, is not on my computer. 

We’ve managed to restore an old archive, but I’ve also lost my e-mail contacts, so kindly ping me back at either my blondegator or bellsouth addy.

It’s scorching hot today, about 32C or perhaps 92C.  You’d think being from Florida we’d be used to the tropical heat and humidity….but this has been the coldest winter I ever remember.  Mom said she had the heat on again last weekend….thank you Al Gore!  Perhaps a dip in the pool in a bit, we’re trying to stay out of the AC except at night.

We visited the laundry lady again today, so this afternoon we are going to repack the bags, and the car, in order to blow town in the morning.  We expect to be in Guatemala by Monday.  As I mentioned earlier, we ran into a Canadian who really talked it up, so perhaps we shall explore for a few days.  We’re not expected to the Iguana Azul until April 5/6….and I want to blow through El Salvador & Nicaragua in one day.  Later.

~ Blonde Gator

Day 4 ~ Goofing Off Continues

Monday, March 15th, 2010

We took the kids to lunch, Jeremy was serindipitously given the day off today.  Mason was a squirmy worm, the terrible twos which were so well hidden yesterday were front and center.  Did I mention he was wearing a Gator hat?

Then we made a couple of stops for the kids (Iguana Man and Mason)….Fry’s and Walmart (toy run).  Hee hee, I was the only one who made a purchase at Fry’s!!  Frampton Comes Alive CD, Star Trek movie, and a new boom box for the beach.  Will wonders never cease?  Mason got a pretty dandy musical truck and horse trailer (horse included)…that plays the racing tune.  When we got back, Cody the dog promptly started chewing an old toy.  Smart mutt.

Iguana Man, Mason, Merrion, Jeremy & Purple Thing

I’ve started a photo page for our “outbound” trip, and as one of you pointed out, I’m not taking enough photos, so I’ll make it a point to stop and snap the button.  Our first two days travelling were really to cover the miles….the next bunch of days are going to be more leisurely.  Tomorrow we’re going to San Antonio (Alamo & maybe Unsane if I can find him), and then perhaps closer to the border. 

The Mexican drug violence that has been on the news has been on the border way out west, we should be fine, but are planning to cross early and get well into the interior by the end of Day 6.   No worries.

~ Blonde Gator

I am in Geek Hell!!!

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

The Iguana Man just commented he got the “old fart” up and running.

The “old fart” (LOL, much projection going on here???)  being the brand new ultra cutting edge quad-processor, seventeen-fan, tech server thingy, which cost about a zillion bucks (and more cuss words than one could reasonably afford)!  Um, like 2 months ago.

I am in GEEK HELL.   Where’s my mommy?

I like my machines to function, when I ask them to…Oven..ON, Plasma, ON, Washer, ON, Thunderbird ON (oops, off, dead battery)….like that.  Is it too much to ask that things function properly? 


~ Blonde Gator

Packing Day is Here

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

And thankfully, it is a beautiful day. 

The Iguana Man is working on transferring files over from the big server to his laptop.  We are taking both laptops, as well as my digital camera and an HD video camera that we bought last year and still don’t have a clue how to use.  *Ahem*  Also the photographic binoculars, 2 GPS units, and other electronic “stuff”, including my photo printer.  Hopefully all will fit in the little suitcase.  The Iguana Man has thoughtfully suggested we buy a new boom box at Frye’s!!  You know, so that Blonde Mom won’t be inconvenienced and without music on the patio.  CD’s & DVD’s have been packed.  Hundreds of them.

I’m taking very little kitchen stuff, but a couple of things are must haves:  My big chef’s knife and sharpener, the Cuisinart, big roasting pan, and a good omelet pan.  I’ll have to suffer with rental stuff for the rest.  Also an assortment of plastic containers, to hopefully foil the ants, which are a fact of tropical life.  We’re also taking the french press and electric kettle so we can have decent coffee on the way.  Checking the list I see we still have a few items to purchase, beef boullion crystals, Lawry’s garlic salt, Fig Newtons, and of course, Reese’s cups.  Take the last train to Costco.

We’re taking 2 big suitcases for clothes (and my feather pillows).  Did I mention my bathing suits/wraps have their own little suitcase?  Yeah, I have that many (and the beach towels, lest you think I’m a lunatic)! 

2 big plastic boxes for “stuff”.  So today it’s a matter of packing the “stuff” boxes, with very concise lists…in multiple copies, to be placed in a sleeve on top for nosy customs agents.  We’re taking the requisite toiletries, and medications of course.

Actually, packing for this trip isn’t too much more complicated than it usually is.  The home stuff, of course, has been more elaborate, since we won’t be back in two weeks.  We’re also taking beach gear this trip, folding chairs, umbrella, cooler, skin diving gear and a couple of rods & reels.  Our goal is to have everything well organized so we can take it easily out of the XT at night, making an unattractive break-in target.  We’re still discussing a camera for the XT, I’m betting it will be a reason to go to Frye’s in Houston, but I digress.  I didn’t think I’d be able to avoid that little nightmare…and I’m more certain than ever I’ll be dragged kicking and screaming through the aisles (his latest excuse is to check out the computer games).  But I’ll take pictures!

Okay, time to quit procrastinating (although writing this blog is fun!).

~ Blonde Gator

The Trip Plan

Monday, March 1st, 2010

We plan on leaving a week from Friday.  We’ll drive to Pensacola on Day 1, and then to Houston on Day 2.

We may (or may not) stay in Houston for a few days, depending upon the situation we find in Houston.  My main goal in Houston is to keep the Iguana Man away from the Frye’s Super Store.  I am not sure this is going to be doable.  If you’ve never seen it, it’s not really possible to describe.  Suffice it to say that it’s NASA themed, and contains every item electronic in nature (and accessories) that has ever been invented on the planet.  In other words, Geek Heaven.  And not for those who are light in the wallet.  I am thankful it’s in Houston, and not three blocks away as is Lowe’s.

As for the rest of the trip, my biggest concern is the Mexican border area.  So on our 3rd driving day, we’ll stop on this side of the border, and spend the night.  Then leave very early, cross the border, and get as far inland in Mexico as we can on Day 4.  From that point forward, we plan to drive until we find a nice place to stop, and if that’s after only a couple of hours driving time, so be it.  We’re going to do some exploring, and take in the sights and the local color (and food!).   

We have plenty of time to get to Costa Rica, as we are not expected until April 3rd.  The Easter Holiday is a very big deal in Costa Rica, their last big blast until the fall, and it is the end of “high season”.  We’ll basically be there for the slow season, which is just the way I like it.   

Did I mention that May – October is considered to be their winter?  Even though it’s in the Northern Hemisphere, Costa Rica is so close to the equator that the seasons are backwards from ours.  What I really think they mean by winter is that it’s the rainy season, at least in the Central Valley.  We were there last year in May/June and again in August/September….and it did rain daily (almost on the stroke of noon in the capital, San Jose) in the interior.  Once we went to the “beach” (as it’s known there), the rain wasn’t much of a problem.  And why should it be?  I live in South Florida and monsoon rains are a way of life. 

And the “beach”….for some odd reason, most Costa Rican’s disdain the Atlantic beach.  I have a Tica (female Costa Rican) pal who has never been to the Atlantic coast in her life, and it’s only about a five hour drive.  We went, because I wanted to see it, but I wasn’t that impressed.  It looks like my beach.   So our final destination is the Pacific, in a little town called Junquilal, which is about twenty klicks south of a bigger town, Tamarindo, which you can find on a map if you are so disposed.

Okay, list time.

~ 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