Jan and Greg’s Adventure
Greg and I drove across the border Nov 23, 2018 at Doulas, AZ into Mexico at Agua Prieta in our 2006 Jeep Commander. “Wyoming y Tierra del Fuego” was spelled out with stickers on the side of our Jeep. (Ironically the stickers didn’t stick and peeled off in El Salvador.) Please read on.Empty Nesters- Jan and Greg Berdar in our mid 50’s had decided to take a hiatus from the “real” world. The media and government sites warned travelers that there were dangerous areas and that traveling through Honduras and Nicaragua should be reconsidered. Due to helpful contacts such as “Hola Honduras” we decided to go anyhow because it appeared to be media hype. This proved to be correct. All hype.Not once did we have any negative encounter with police or individuals.Quite the contrary as we were treated respectfully and welcomed in all 6 countries!
Over the next 3 weeks we traveled through Mexico which proved to be stupendous.The weather was premium, the lack of tourists (people like ourselves) was a bonus and participating with locals in holiday parades and festivities leading up to Christmas was fun! Mexico highlights were Copper Canyon in particular, Cascada Basaseachi, Chihuahua.We camped at the entrance to the falls and it was beautiful and peaceful.Next favorite was the quaint town of Coscomatepec,Vera Cruz with delicious food and amazing leather goods. The tallest Mountain in Mexico,Pico de Orizaba is the back drop to this area. Towering over 18k feet which we hiked to 15k but started to feel the effects of the altitude. We realized we needed to stay more on track with the Pan American Highway if we were going to make our lofty goal of traveling to TDF in less than 6 months. In making our way to the coast we stopped in San Miguel Allende, Zacateca and Oaxaca. Beautiful architecture and a lot to see and do. Our first beach stop was at Puerto Arista, Chiapas where we spent several nights at a turtle conservatory. Long beaches great for walking and swimming and we were able to experience sending off baby turtles under a full moon!
Our 2nd border crossing was into Guatemala at Tailsman, Chipas on Dec 14. Crazy, hectic and confusing which is what we had read. We managed and learned at every border crossing we made. “IOverlander” app proved to be invaluable. Fellow travelers have spent time giving detailed information from Border crossings to camping spots and much more.
Guatemala stop 1 was a pleasant night in San Marcos. We continued the next day to Lake Atitlan. Breathtaking views especially sunrise and sunset were captured from our bungalow at the village of Santa Cruz on the lake. We spent a 4 night stay which was the most we had done since we left. At this point we had already driven 4000 miles. Time to carry on South. We stopped in Antigua but left shortly thereafter as it was crowded and had changed drastically since the last time I visited in 1990.Outside Guatemala City we stayed near the active Vulcan Pacaya which we hiked the next day with a mandatory guide. We explored the lava beds and roasted marshmallows on the still hot lava while soaking in views of the valleys and volcanos across the way.
One week before Christmas we crossed into El Salvador at Valle Nuevo and headed to Cerro Verde National Park where we camped for $10.00 a night. The cool climate, hiking, volcanos and Lake Coatepeque allow for a multitude of outdoor activities. South again El Esteron beach is where we spent 4 nights including Christmas and we would return here if we could one day. Surfers love the waves at Las Flores just around the point. El Esteron is perfect for body surfing , long runs and star gazing. Look for “Adela’s “ if you want delicious and inexpensive food. She is so kind and also has a place to camp on the beach which was our favorite stop of the entire trip. Leaving for San Miguel just 100km away our jeep quit. Repair #1 begins here where we had to replace the alternator.
Back on the road,heading to 🇭🇳 Honduras we crossed at El Amarillo. Easy peasy and one of the shorter crossings. Because we had a sail date for the Jeep crossing the Darien Gap in January we could only spend the time visiting the capital Tegucigalpa and Danli. Tegucigalpa’s beautiful architecture and local markets with live music gave us a skip in our step while we shopped. The 3 days we were in Danli we toured cigar factories, ate fresh fruit and met friendly locals.
From Honduras we crossed into Nicaragua at Las Manos and went directly to the mountain town of Somoto. Super cute, we stayed at the Pan American Hotel across the street from a park that was lush with a variety of trees and plants. The draw here was the Somoto Canyon National Monument where we floated down the canyon between huge rock formations. Approaching New Years we continued Making our way south; hopped onto the car ferry to Ometepe! The 75 min boat ride across the vast Lake Nicaragua, was a bit choppy but as you approached the twin volcanos on the island provide endless photo opportunities. We camped, hiked the San Ramon waterfall and rang in the New Year here. This was also our first glimpse of the Howler monkeys. I thought it was interesting that Bull nose sharks are found in Lake Nicaragua!
We left the island on a 6:30am ferry and were crossing the border into Costa Rica mid morning. We found a great Eco resort “Born to be Wild”for 3 days just outside of Playa Del Coco only 45 minutes from Liberia. Pool, new friends, beach and an overheated Jeep! Repair #2 was now detected. This time a crack in the neck of the radiator. Greg did his usual Macgyver repair and we hoped it would hold for our visit to Samara beach where we were meeting up with a friend. It did, until the last 10km where it got hot, almost redline again! Samara is a great place to visit the beach, surf, swim and party but not great for ordering radiators. The one night stay ended up being 3. We managed to find a mechanic in nearby Nicoya who ordered us the radiator. We rented a car, picked up the radiator and replaced it in the yard of a woman whom we had met just 2 days before in Samara. The clock was ticking we had 12 days before sail date across the gap. Therefore adios Samara and we head for Panama.
The Jeep was running rough so we had to make a quick decision at our last fork. San Jose left or straight towards Panama. Ughhhh hard left. 2 days later repair # 3. Greasy hands, replacing spark plugs, rocker arms etc. hoping we have solved the problem. We make our attempt towards Panama once again with now 10 days to sail and 1 hour later our engine blows. Boom! On the side of a busy “freeway” we manage to contact someone to tow us back to SJ.
4 weeks later, 4K later our Darien gap reservation has expired, our pocket books are lighter (really light as Greg was pick pocketed in downtown SJ). We make the decision to turn around and head back to the US. The positive was now we could visit the places that we had missed such as the East coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras.
Feb 8 we cross back into Nicaragua and head East for El Rama/Bluefields where we had a flight scheduled for Corn Island. We are optimistic, all smiles, no South America but more adventure ahead and then…the engine light comes on two thirds of the way to El Rama. We try to decode but only narrow it to the computer or wiring. Oh that’s an easy fix on the East coast of Nicaragua. Not! We wiggle wires, hop in and get 10 miles down the road. After about 5 stops we roll into the “Magic night”hotel in Rama. It sounds funny but this bright pink hotel lead us to two stand up men. Alsides and Nicolas. They interpreted for us as well as kept watch over the Jeep while we temporarily set our car problems aside and went to Corn Island. (Loved it! Thumbs up. Go go go!) It became clear that we needed to ship the Jeep back to the US. People have asked why didn’t you sell it or leave it there? Legally you can’t. Obviously we would have never gotten paid anything close to what we had into it either. After numerous days of figuring out the logistics to get the Jeep in a container and on the ship we waved goodbye to our problem child as it traveled down the Escondido River hoping to see it again in Miami.
We said goodbye to our friends at the Magic Night, took buses to Managua and after a visit with new friends in Granada which we recommend, boarded a flight to Miami where we met up with the Jeep March 15, 2019.
I learned that plans sometimes go up in smoke, my patience is limited and I’m not quite as flexible as I used to be. However, I am still married and hopefully will look back and remember all of the good things I experienced, value my new and old friendships more and grow from what I have learned about myself.
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