Will and I were quickly falling in love with Colorado; the crisp frosty mornings, blue sky's, the mountains, the trees, the rivers and the cleanness of it all but we only knew half of it at this stage…
Rochelle & Will
It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog and not because I haven’t had time. This being number 42 its starting to feel a lot like hard work, but I still want to keep it up so here goes…
If I recall we last left the blog back in Mexico where after a brief stop in the charming colonial city of San Miguel de Allende we headed out at 5am and drove 900km to the Mexico/USA border at Laredo. We were done with Mexico and planned to drive all the way to Denver, Colorado as soon as we could to start a new chapter in our trip. We would be picking up ten week old Golden Retriever puppy. At the border we anticipated our arrival in the USA so much that we paid a toll and left Mexico without realising and without getting our passport exit stamps or our car deposit back. So we had to turn around in no mans land and re-enter Mexico to get that sorted. Of course we then had to pay the toll again to be able to leave for the second time! At the US entry I was worried our car wouldn’t get through but after a friendly chat with the border protection officer’s and the only comment from our car search being that we had a bit of an oil leak just like that we were in the USA and back on the road once more. With many miles ahead of us we pushed on through San Antonio stopping only because we ran out of gas… Then finally after 1,280km and 17 hours we had made it to Austin, Texas. Plain worn out we stopped for dinner at the first place we found which turned out to be Burger King and camped for free in their car park. It was a relief after 10 months to be able to talk to people in English but alternatively I could have talked to them in Spanish as all the staff there were Mexican and spoke to each other in Español.
Austin seemed to be a lively chic city filled with good food and boutique stores not to mention the western wear, Will couldn’t help himself and found a well known store, Allens Boots where he brought a pair of cowboy boots. The couple of epic driving days that followed took us nearly the length of Texas state. Mile upon mile of cattle grazed country dotted with grain mills and oil wells filled the windscreen. The Lone Star state lived up to its reputation; the trucks were big the food was big and the people were big too. It was nearly overwhelming as we soaked up the rapid change in culture that we has become accustomed to since the beginning of the trip.
The Dodge was running well (helped along buy the amazingly cheap gas prices at $2.80 per gallon) and before we knew it we had crossed into Colorado. One of our first stops was at a Colorado Welcome Center where two old ladies loaded us up with dozens of brochures and maps of the state. Later in the day while cruising along the interstate at 80mph Will spotted a giant Cabelas outdoor store so executing a quick exit we went in for a mandatory look. After passing through the big city of Denver and continuing North for about an hour we arrived at Lee Ann and Davids; the owners and breeders of Hunters Goldstrike Golden’s. Here we met our new two month old golden pup who we had already decided to call ‘Scout’. Lee Ann and David had offered to have us stay for a few days so we set up camp in their backyard for the next four nights. We had Scout sleeping in the car with us from day one and back then he fit in easily.
Each crisp morning we woke to an endless blue sky then mucked about with David, Scout, their twenty other breeding dogs and whoever else stopped by to say hello! Will was in golden retriever heaven and it was fascinating to see how they operated their immaculate kennel. More than one morning we were also treated to a good country style breakfast of hash browns, their own eggs and extra crispy bacon just the way Rochelle likes it. Another morning Will and David took off to fix our ever troublesome exhaust, a few hours later and they had a shiny new hot-rod muffler on the Dodge… we no longer scare babies and give old people heart attacks when we start the truck; perfect. We can’t recall how many fun hours we spent talking about all the differences between New Zealand and America. Everybody enjoyed hearing about New Zealand and delighted in the fact that there were so many American things we didn’t know about or foods we hadn't tasted.
We especially enjoyed Lee Ann's cousin Larry who came over twice and had us shooting hunting bow and arrows and even a .50cal black powder rifle came out for a few shots. We had a heap of fun and Larry must have liked us as well because he soon offered us the keys to his hunting cabin up in the Rocky Mountains. With an offer like that on the table we fitted a little cardboard box for Scout on the front seat and took him for a couple of slow test drives around the area. Fortunately he took to the truck straight away and so we waived good bye to David and Lee Ann and made our way out to Larry's cabin.
Will and I were quickly falling in love with Colorado; the crisp frosty mornings, blue sky's, the mountains, the trees, the rivers and the cleanness of it all but we only knew half of it at this stage…
Rochelle & Will
Will and I had heard many horror stories about driving in Mexico City and not only because they have days where you can’t drive your vehicle depending on the last letter of your number plate; the roading system itself is also chaotic. So when a friend of Wills cousin named Luis, who is from Mexico City but now lives in NZ offered to arrange for one of his friends to meet us we greatly accepted. After waiting on the edge of the sprawling city of 22 million for the 11am curfew on foreign plated vehicles to pass we met Mel and her english speaking friend in an Office Max carpark. Mel said she would drive slow so we could follow her across town to Luis’s parents house where we would leave the Dodge. What followed was an hour of Will hauling the dodge around fast corners, overpasses and into tight lane changes. I think Will was relieved to head back into town in Mel’s hatch to get our finger printing done for our USA Visa’s. It was a hilarious whirlwind afternoon of getting lost, making jokes, trying new foods, seeing the sights and arriving to get our finger printing done just in the nick of time. We would never have managed it on our own! Then afterwards we said good bye to these two awesome ladies who had given up their day for us and met Luis’s parents who we would be spending the next week or so with. All thanks again to Luis’s amazing arrangements from the other side of the world. Fortino and Clara showed us into their hill-side home that evening and super tired after our big day which began at 5am Will a I headed to bed.
The next morning we were up bright and early again to mission our way back into the city through the traffic with Fortino and Clara to have our Visa interviews at the US embassy. Like our surrogate parents they waited out in the cold for us while we lined up with one thousand Mexicans and waited our turn. Our individual interviews went well and they never looked at any of the paperwork we had printed out to prove we had reason to eventually go back to NZ. With our Visas approved and our passports in processing for the next few days it was time to enjoy the city; first stop lunch. Fortino and Clara took us to a typical restaurant where they couldn’t believe we had never tired “Mole” before so they had the waiter bring out a small portion of each of the five flavours for us to try. The chili based sauce’s ranged in flavour from sweet to spicy and some even had chocolate in them. We liked the traditional flavour, “Mole Negro” the best so Fortino ordered us a portion to share smothered over some shredded chicken accompanied by two Corona’s. That afternoon Clara left us for her French classes while Fortino assumed the role of tour guide with us in the city. We visited the Bellas Artes Palace theatre and marvelled at the views from the soaring heights of the Torre Latino lookout and wandering around town.
The following day Will and I asked if we could just relax at their place and catch up on some washing and emails which we did in-between eating all the wonderful Mexican foods we were presented. This days breakfast set the precedence for the soon to be daily breakfast banquets we loved. We also met Fortino and Clara’s daughter Alejandra who acted as translator and enabled the conversation to flow with a little more comprehension from both sides. It was decided that the following day we would visit the Teotihuacan ruins and on Sunday we would see some museums. So Fortino and Clara drove us out to the ruins where we wandered around the huge site in the hot sun with the thousands of other tourists. Its an amazing part of Mexico’s history and has been well restored to show its former glory. Afterwards Fortino and Clara treated us yet again to lunch, this time at the amazing Grutas restaurant where as well as fantastic food we also watched a traditional dance show. The stage of the show was right buy the tables and went on as we ate our feast inside a huge natural cavern filled with candles and colourful decor.
Then it was Sunday so Will, Alejandro, Fortino and I headed to the Casa Azul which is the former home of Frida Kahlo. We started to wait in the huge line of people going in when Fortino worked his magic and announced that we would be catching a bus to the Diego Rivera Anahuacalli Museum of ancient artefacts for a while before returning to the Casa Azul when it was a bit quieter. Both museums were awesome but without a doubt seeing Frida Kahlo’s old back harnesses and self portraits was the highlight and something I’d wanted to do since high school. After the museums we walked around the vibrant city which was teeming with markets and people out and about enjoying their Sunday afternoon. That evening Fortino and Clara’s other son Eduardo arrived home with all his things as he was coming back to Mexico City to live. We were still occupying the spare room so poor Eduardo had to sleep on the couch and did so for the next few nights while we waited for my passport to arrive from the US embassy with my new Visa. Wills had already been completed by Sunday but mine ended up taking another five days to arrive. It was a frustrating wait as we were eager to get going but the Rangel’s continued to make us feel welcome, poor Fortino even chaperoned me to several malls for bikini shopping. We also watched two football games while staying with the Rangel family; one with Alejandro and her friends and again with Eduardo and his cousins family who ensured we didn’t go thirsty by topping up our tequilas and beers.
We did so many different things with the family that I can’t mention them all and I defiantly can’t even begin to tell you about how many different foods we tried. The surprisingly good cheese flavoured ice cream, the nopal cactus palms, the dried insects and the blue corn tortillas filled with refried beans we had were just the tip of the iceburg, what can i say they fed us extremely well! We definitely got to experience local Mexican life and were absolutely spoilt by Fortino and Calara who wouldn’t let us spend a cent while we were with them they showed us how friendly Mexican people can be and proved that its defiantly the good people that you meet along the trip that you will remember the most.
And thanks to everyone who reads my rambling blogs Will and I can’t wait to start paying all this kindness forward once we get back to NZ.
Rochelle & Will
Minus a few belongings after our ordeal in Ocosingo/Palenque Will and I were once again back on the road! The next stop on our much shortened list of stops in Mexico was at the famous foodie town of Oaxaca where we would be staying inside the safe haven of Overlanding Oasis. We just had to get to there without a GPS via Villahermosa which would take two days of driving. Our first day of travel went smoothly as we raced along the Autopista (highway), only mildly alarmed at the huge distances between the highway exists if we were to make a wrong turn but luckily we didn’t. That night we stayed in what our friends the Overland Birds dubbed a ‘Love Motel’ which requires a whole new paragraph for it’s explanation.
A ‘Love Motel’ is a specially built Motel for taking you know who’s to do you know what, however they suit low clearance overlanders like us perfectly. You drive up to the reception window, much like a fast food restaurant, pay for the number of hours you would like the room for or ask for the full night, get given your garage door remote and drive on in. You then pull into your own private garage and head upstairs to your room which will have some interesting features like the full glass shower in the room, sturdy looking benches and more than just shampoo in the bathroom or the Simpsons on TV. Lets just say its not the kind of place you stay with your grandparents but it did feel very clean better than many other places we have stayed for more than $35nz per night. Also if you would like to get some food you just place your order from the menu over the phone and it arrives in the spiny thing by the entrance door. No need to see anyone you grab your food pop your money in and spin it around for the guy to take. The food we had was cheep and delicious. Overall these ‘Love Motels’ are an excellent and secure option if you can fit in the garage but steer clear of the seedy looking ones.
The next morning we left the Autopista and headed inland towards Oaxaca but about two hours away from our destination we met a long line of traffic stopped at yet another road block. I felt a little anxious but everyone was very friendly and we didn’t get anywhere near the actual people protesting as we soon learnt that the road was totally blocked and would be indefinitely. So we decided to talk to the police about a different route. They showed us a way on the map that looked good in theory and we estimated another three or four hours driving. It was three hours into the drive that we realised we were less than half way as the tight turns on the narrow road meant we could hardly get above 40km/h. Finally at 11pm that evening after first trying to find a cheap motel so we wouldn’t have to wake them up we arrived at Calvin and Lee Ann’s Overlanding Oasis. They owned a cute little pice of land with enough space for three or four vehicles as well as a self contained Casita. Calvin and Lee Ann were Canadians who after several trips down to Mexico in their huge 1950’s bus decided to call Oaxaca home four years ago. They still sleep in the bus which is parked up under a big indoor-outdoor roof that also contains a kitchen, lounge bathroom and fully equipped workshop.
We stayed at Overlanding Oasis for five nights and spent the first few days filling out our insurance claim form, re vacuuming the car, doing washing and then filling out the online part of our USA ten year multiple entry Visa applications. On day three after Will finally put in our new second hand front driveshaft we were treated to a lovely Canadian Thanksgiving dinner with Calvin and Lee Ann. Two girls from the Czech Republic who were staying in the Casita and a few locals completed the table. Lee Ann did an amazing job of the cooking especially as she had to substitute many of the usual ingredients as you can’t buy them in Mexico. We also tried our first ever pumpkin pie Mexican style and it was delicious. She even had to improvise with the “whole” Turkey when the lady turned up with it cut into about 100 pieces. By day four it was well and truly time for me to buy some new clothes so Will and I spent the day walking around town shopping and tasting the endless local street food. I came home with three pairs of pants, two tops and a jacket; my best buy being an $8nz pair of jeans!
On the evening before we left Overlanding Oasis I spontaneously asked super handyman Calvin if he knew anything about electrical systems as our front spotlights hadn’t been working since we tried to get them fixed way back in Bolivia. As darkness fell he offered to take a look and after much investigation he discovered our simple problem was that the wires were touching the metal inside the light casing and causing them to short out, with a bit of repair work they were soon sorted. We were glad to have our spotlights working as we left the Oasis in the dark at 5am on the 10th of October. This was in order to get to our next stop Mexico city in one day and leave plenty of time for our 4pm finger printing for our Visa applications. Read all about the fun we had in Mexico city with the Rangel family in the next blog.
Rochelle & Will
We were finally officially in Mexico despite having to spend the night at the border after we arrived at 3:55pm and the office closed at 4pm. The guy was still there but refused to process us so we camped outside of a well lit workshop and by 10am the next morning we were legally in. It took a bit of toing and froing as Will didn't have a credit card in his name to pay the $200us car deposit and they wouldn't let me use mine as I didn't own the car so we had to return to Guatemala (fortunately with its better exchange rate) to get some US cash.
We were both super excited about Mexico we had heard so many good things about the place and I for one couldn't believe we would actually be eating Mexican food in Mexico! But we were now under a schedule and budget to get to the US which involved 26 planned days in Mexico, we had a schedule for the first time on the trip and we wanted to stick to it. First stop was Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello, on the way we spotted a friendly looking road side eatery and stopped in for lunch. We ordered the only things we knew being Enchiladas, Quesidillas and 500ml cokes but vowed to be more adventurous next time. They were both delicious and for a total of $8nz we were more than happy. At the myriad of Lagunas we were offered lots of tours but after a quick walk around a few small bright blue lakes we settled into our campsite next to Laguna Montebello itself with the company of another family and some backpackers. It was the nicest spot we had camped at in a while and we had plenty of swims in the clear warm water and generally mucked around enjoying the sun and scenery. In the morning we would drive to the famous Palenque ruins the only issue being which route we would take. The long way along the Guatemalan border was said to be very picturesque with more ruins we could stop in at while the other way was more direct. In the end we chose the direct route deciding that we would be seeing plenty of ruins throughout Mexico so why use the extra gas and spare days so early on. As it tuns out we wish we could turn back time and drive the long way that day….
The day started off like any other as we left the Laguna’s mid morning, back tracked along the road with the eatery so stopped in for an early lunch then continued on with I (Rochelle driving). Then not long past the city of Ocosingo and around a corner we came across a road block. Some cars we getting stopped by the ten or so men participating and there were also a lot of other men milling around the roadside. As soon as it was our turn they put a log over the road and about six lots of hands immediately thrust into my partially open window. Freaked out at this sudden hostility I asked them what they wanted and what it was for. One guy said 200pesos but already others had climbed onto the roof and stared rocking the car pulling at the tie downs on the rooftop gas. At this moment I considered gunning it over the log to get away but I look up to see a large van has come out of nowhere and blocked the road ahead. The other side of the road is blocked by a line of cars waiting to get through the blockade and nobody moves for us, also both sides of the narrow road is covered in long 2m high grassy bush that looks like it could hide any number of holes and ditches.
We try to hand them all the money we have through the window slot but they rip most of it up and are much more interested in getting the doors open, before we have a chance to react they smash the windows by now a huge crowd of about one hundred men have gathered all around us. One guy uses the log on the front window others throw rocks. I clutch the steering wheel while Will is wrenched from the car by three guys, one guy grabs the strap of my top but it rips rather than pulling me. It occurs to me that if I can just stay in the car then there’s less chance of them taking everything completely, but things are still getting taken left, right and centre. Luckily the backdoor latch is broken and you have to reach over the shelf and pull a string so they can’t get that open to access the majority of the bags, also the laptop our passports and precious photo hard-drives are hidden away. It is total chaos as I grab our Yellowbrick GPS tracker and camera and put there cords around my neck as they don’t seem interested in hurting me specifically however while I’ve done this the iPhones, our sunglasses,the Leatherman multi tool and the car keys have all been taken. A minute later Will reappears at the door with a bloody face but basically ok, a few people have now developed a conscience and have given back our padlocked bag of climbing gear and the car keys; also the van must have moved at some stage but we didn’t notice until now. One guy is yelling to go, while the another is saying he’s about to set the car on fire. My entire bag of possession’s are gone as is the bag of camera gear and a bunch of other things but survival adrenal kicking in we take our opportunity and get out of there while we still can.
After about 10 minutes of putting as much distance behind us as we can we stop quickly to take photos of the scene. We rip a shirt and create bandanas to tie around our mouths as some protection from all the flying glass dust and particles. Another 15 minutes down the road we pass a Federal Police pickup who stop but basically say they can’t do anything and keep driving. Its quickly getting dark and we can hardly see through the windscreen but we are very sacred and don’t want to stop until we find some police. Then just as we enter Palenque we see the Policia Federal station and pull straight in. They try to say we can’t park inside their gates but soon change their minds once they fully see us. After getting cleaned up in the bathroom they tell us that we have to report the incident to the District Police who won’t have a translator until the next morning instead offering us the use of their vacuum. Exhausted we just want to go to sleep and discuss putting up our tent next to the car, the police say its ok but then decide to put us up in a nice Hotel for the night. We shower and after a quick phone call to our parents we head to bed, the Federal Police will be arriving at 9am to take us to the District Police. Our minds are in shock at what has happened the whole afternoon seeming more like a bad dream that we will soon wake up from.
The District Police clearly don’t have the same funding as the Federal Police as their office is old and cramped with a toilet in the corner. It is here that we learn the area we had passed through is an autonomous region that has seen alot of violence in recent years. They tell us it is not possible for them to conduct a proper investigation there as its a place they just don’t go. To file a true report would take weeks and require us to stay until its over to give evidence at a trial, assuming one even happens. We urge all we need is a police report for insurance purposes. This causes much discussion between the translator and the head officer. Eventually they say they can make one up for us but saying that we left the car and when we got back some things were stolen. Will and I want the truth but figure we should talk to our insurance company first, we also want to start the monumental task of getting the car cleaned up. With almost every corner and crevice of the vehicle and our remaining things covered in glass shards, dust and chunks it will be a several day process. The unkept un-uninformed Police let us go and we agree to come back in the afternoon, meanwhile our tourist officer translator says he will lookout for some replacement windows.
We pickup the truck, get a cheap room out by the ruins and start the clean up, but before long done the tourist officer turns up and says he’s found us some new windows so we must go now to look at them. We follow him to the junk yard workshop where they indeed have a scrap Dodge Durango the same as ours but with all its windows and as a bonus it still has its 4x4 front drive shaft so we take that too. We agree on a price of $750nz for all five windows and the mechanic says that they will be done by 7pm that night! I quickly say that we are happy to wait until tomorrow as we want a quality job not a rush job. At 6:30pm Will and I return to the workshop to find that they have finished but despite our earlier insistence their is still glass inside all of the doors and the air vents. They have also badly cracked the front windscreen from top to bottom when they put it in and when we ask about it they get a little hostile and say “it was secondhand what do you expect?”. Later we also notice part of the front dash down by the passenger footwell is missing but we are past caring the Dodge will never look the same now with its machete and rock marks we just want to get out of there.
The plan is now to see the Police again in the morning but they want a full list of the items stolen and their costs for there fictitious report. We head back to our room and call our insurance agency they also want a list of things stolen so we get to making one. We are also told to just get whatever police report we can and not hang around in that town if we don’t want to. Relieved we return to the Police station again in the morning and go through the ridiculous and unnecessary process of them adding every item we had stolen and its cost to the bullshit ten page ‘report’. Next the document gets multiple stamps, signatures and the finger printing of each page by three different people. Will is fuming by the end of it and I can understand why. Its like the police think they are doing us a favour by lying, however finally they give us a terrible photocopy of their ‘report’ and we are sent on our way. Its late in the afternoon and theres no way we are risking driving at night again so we stop by the Federal Police to thank them for their help and see about using their vacuum to get more of the glass cleaned up. They are lovely and get a cleaner to vacuum our car for us though really we wanted to do it ourselves.
On our final morning in Palenque I convince Will that we should go to the ruins that we came here for in the first place. We do and its incredibly hot and there are almost no other people there. Its nice but it makes us feel a bit jittery every time we see someone especially the locals anyone of them could have been in the cars on the road who just sat by and watched what happened to us. Back at the car we bump into Hien and his friends who we had met back in Colombia. They retell a similar story in which they had all of their things stolen including passports and laptops out of their Rav4 while it was parked in view at a gas station in Nicaragua. Will and I feel done with Mexico the image has been ruined at we just want to get to the States now. The plan for Mexico is gone replaced by at stop in Oaxaca at Overland Oasis mainly to finish the insurance claim and get the car back in order and another stop in Mexico city with some friends family to get our USA Visas. We hit the road to Oaxaca via the Caribbean coast route not wanting to backtrack through Ocosingo without gps to navigate or clothes for me to wear.
There you have it.
Rochelle & Will