Portezuelo, El Salvador

Our accommodation coming out off Juayua was highly recommended by Life Remotely, the saints of overlanding who wrote a free e-book for fellow overlanders to prosper off of. Just north of Juayua, Portezuelo is a park up in high coffee country that has reasonably cheap campsites available. We stayed for two nights at $12.50/night.

The park seems to be used for a lot of school overnights. Next to our campsite there was an extensive and intensive obstacle course. Since both Billy and I are a bit scared of heights we didn’t make it very far on the course.

The first night we camped out there was a school church group staying overnight in a big cabin barn. It was funny to listen to them sing in prayer and then bounce a beach ball around in an icebreaker to songs like “Get Lucky” and “Mr. Boombastic.” With the church group present, there were also a large handful of armed guards patrolling the parks perimeter. The next night we only noticed maybe one other guard than the one at the front entrance. The armed guards were friendly with one another and didn’t seem too serious. I almost did feel comforted to wake up in the middle of the night with these “protectors” strolling past.

Horses were available to take out on coffee plantation walks. I don’t like horses so we stuck to the ground. Perhaps Portezuelo owns all the coffee fields around. We just wandered down some paths and would occasionally run into farmers or groups of boys playing soccer, in which they would yell out the few English words they knew to me- “I love you! I hate you! Mi novia!”

The first night we were at Portezuelo, all through the night we could hear the services and songs of a church that seemed fairly far away, blasted into the night sky. We made a mention to one of the guards what a pain it was to listen to that all night and he gave us a little look that seemed to say, ‘you are crazy! ‘

The climate up in the coffee mountains was so different to everything we had experienced so far. It was cool but not cold, foggy at night, and warm in the sun. Waking up there was a delicious treat. I remember the air just smelling amazing.

The workers at Portezuelo were quite kind and brought us firewood per our request. Unfortunately it was a bit too wet to use.

Juayúa, El Salvador

I love El Salvador.

Thinking back to this day I’m greeted with so many memories of the sights and activities that greeted Billy and I as we headed out of San Salvador and on to our next destination, Juayúa.

Our hostel owner, Lena, easily convinced us to swap our El Salvador beach towns from the overly touristy and trashy La Libertad, to Barra de Santiago, a tiny beach strip town in north El Salvador where she conveniently owned another hostel that we could camp at. We would head there in a couple days but first we would stop in Juayúa to enjoy their famous ‘Feria Gastronomica’ or weekend food fest, before heading slightly north to our next camping spot.

Getting out of San Salvador wasn’t too hard and the drive was beautiful as we headed up into El Salvador coffee country. We accidentally drove straight through the town of Sonsonate on our way up, a town notorious for gang activity. As we tried to navigate our way out, we saw there was quite a commotion going on in the center of town. Residents flocked out onto the street to watch as heavily geared riot police made their way towards something. We had parked Kavinsky and were trying to ask for directions when we heard some smashes coming down the street we were parked on. Fearing the worst for our vehicle, we saw a group of men running down the street throwing rocks, followed by some police. Kavinsky was okay.That sort of worry was our cue to go so we hit the Ruta de Flores and made it into Juayúa just in time for lunch!

Apparently Sunday is the big day for the festival, we were there on a Saturday afternoon so according to the man in charge, not as much was going on. We met the head honcho of it all after watching him get up and preform some songs for the diners on a microphone in front of some food tents. His English was quite good and he apparently traveled quite a bit to represent his town and country globally. Doing what I am not sure. We had watched a non official looking “security” guy use some excessive force to push some unsavory looking homeless guys out of the festival area earlier on. We asked the boss man about it and he said he has to have that security to keep the drunks out. He’s had them puke on people in the past.

Always craving meat, Billy and I got some BBQ plates to share. We sampled some ‘conejito’ or rabbit and drank quite a few Pilsners- our El Salvadorian beer of choice, along with my favorite drink, horchata and a ‘fruit salad’ type drink.

Before leaving to find our campground, we stocked up at the outdoor market on veggies, finding them to be cheaper than we had ever paid before!

Early morning pupusa breakfast- San Salvador, El Salvador

We woke up early in San Salvador and took a walk to try to find some grub before we hit the road. Just around the corner from our hostel, we found this little pupusa stand up against the back of a factory serving early morning workers breakfast. It was perfect and so incredibly cheap. For only $1.50 we had four pupusas and a cup of coffee each. We shared a laugh with the men at the table when Billy realized he had taken the fork out of the curtido, the shared coleslaw that goes on top, and used it to eat his pupusa with.

As we sat there, this legend of a lady walked by. I tried my best to get a good photo of her t-shirt. Billy and I almost died laughing. It reads in English “BJs Are The Best”!!!!!

San Salvador, El Salvador (by accident)

We had planned on heading to the beach our first day into El Salvador. The aim was to hit La Libertad by the afternoon. At the time, we were using offline maps on Billy’s smart camera. The maps came off an app he had downloaded that you had to pre-load maps of ahead of time. It moved incredibly slow and it was hard to find your place again if you lost it. Navigation was my job so I should say that I was the one who really got us off track this time!

Somehow instead of heading east towards the beach, we ended up taking a wrong turn and heading west. Thicker clusters of buildings started to pop up around us, and just as Billy asked me to attempt to check the map for the thousanth time, we looked up into the sky and saw the “Bienviendos San Salvador” sign! We had absolutely not been planning on visiting San Salvador, or any big city at that! Without decent maps, we headed into the city, just following the road we were on, past derelict buildings pasted with bad graffitti. It was getting later and Billy was incredibly agitated by my poor navigation skills that led us to be stuck in traffic in an unknown major city. We had our 2009 Central American guidebook along so I was able to look up potential area hostels, the problem would just be getting to them.

There seemed to be quite a few options for hostels, if not hotels, just off of Blvd. de Los Heroes, a main shopping drag. Not knowing what else to do, we stopped at a petrol station to try and ask someone for directions. Billy asked a man who pulled up next to us on a motorcycle in the parking lot if he knew how we could manage to get over there. It was our lucky fucking day, or moment, because the man insisted we just follow him through traffic to get to the right street. I have no idea how else we would have made it, but he so kindly guided us to Blvd. de los Heroes! We were able to find a hostel, Ximena’s Guest House ($20 for a room to ourselves), easily enough from the map in our book after that!

The hostel itself was a bit worn down. We ventured out hoping to grab some beers and food and found ourselves at our first pupusa stand. It was a Friday night and many people were coming in to put in orders for family dinners. The ladies working were pretty busy so we sat around and had some beers while we waited. After such a day the beers were going down great and the pupusas ended up being amazing. We bought some bigger bottles of beer and took them back to the hostel, paying a deposit towards to the bottles with a promise to bring them back.

On the roof at Ximena’s Guest House.


In the hostel communal space, the few other backpackers that were there started to gather. Everyone loves a small world story so here it is- there was a British couple staying there who looked a bit famliar, turns out just a few months back they were living in Melbourne and were regulars at the pub I had worked at! As it sunk in we both began to recognize each other a bit more and I even was able to remember the dudes drink order- pink of Little Creatures Bright Ale!

Border Cross Day: El Salvador

Our border cross from Honduras into El Salvador at El Amatillo was our easiest and quickest yet. We grabbed another breakfast baleada as we checked out of Honduras and then made our way over to friendly El Salvador! This border town was bustling with little shops with people swerving around on tuk tuks. The border into El Salvador was beautiful and lush; with houses built on cliffs along the river that bordered the two countries.

One last baleada, this time con pollo.

Honduran baleada stand.

Billy coming back with some paper work from the border.

Untypically for Aduana workers, the ones operating this border were friendly and helpful by a considerable margin compared to ones at other border crossings. After getting our passports stamped and a bit of paperwork for the car sorted, we hit the road for a couple of K’s until we reached the car import building of the Aduana. This was the most tedious part of the border cross, as Billy had to sit in an open building and wait to be processed. Some truck drivers joked to him that he should just bribe the officials and we would get through sooner. They also told him he must go to Brazil for the women with the fake boobs.
We were done with the whole process in two hours and left Aduana with a good feeling about El Sal!

I Turned 25; the Last 5 Birthdays

Last weekend I turned 25 years old.

This post is a break from my overland stories. This post is about life right now, and it’s about the last five years.

I could write a book about how I’ve felt since my travels ended and my life in Milwaukee has re-begun. It’s been hard. It’s been hard to transition back into the almost exact life that I once thought I loved. It’s been embarrassing going back to that exact life as well. Having my life move backwards instead of forwards. These past six months have seemed like some of the worst in the past five years. The week leading up to my 25th birthday was spent dully moving through the same job I’d had in Milwaukee since I moved abroad, to spending my evenings in bed eating Mexican food and watching the last couple seasons of Grey’s Anatomy and feeling lonely and sorry for myself. In the end, turning 25 wasn’t so bad.

Here’s a recap of my past five birthdays. From age 20 to age 25.

June 6, 2009- My 20th Birthday

I had just a few days before returned from a backpacking trip in Costa Rica and Panama with my boyfriend at the time, Jimmy. He was my first love, we were incredibly proud of ourselves for surviving two weeks in Central America at a time that was just before Costa Rica’s big tourism boom. The night before my birthday Jimmy and I celebrated with dinner at Stefano’s with my parents, feasting on calamari and veal and drinking champagne even though we weren’t quite of age. Later in the evening we burned Christmas tree’s in the backyard beach of my Grandma’s house in Sheboygan, a family tradition. The next day on my actual birthday we went down to Jimmy’s hometown of Waunakee to attend his little brother’s high school graduation. His family bought a cake decorated with a ladybug on top for me.

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Me being a 19 year old babe yet in Puerto Viejo in my mom’s old bikini from the 70’s.

June 6, 2010- My 21st Birthday

This is really embarrassing, but on the night of my 21st birthday I didn’t wear any underwear and everyone saw my vagina and butt. I had been running a lot the month leading up to my birthday and bought a super tiny and thin bright pink dress from American Apparel. With my roommate Anna’s encouragement, I didn’t put on any panties, as you could see all undie lines right through it. We threw a party on the night of the 5th in our apartment just off North Avenue and went out at midnight. This means that everyone who was out on North that night saw these private parts of me as well. The night ended with me pounding on the Ian’s Pizza sneeze guard demanding a slice of Bacon Cheeseburger pizza which they were out of by that time in the wee hours of the morning. The next day, various friends met up with me for breakfast and bloodies at Hi-Hat Garage followed by a brewery tour at Sprecher after and then a pub crawl down Brady Street and North Avenue. I may or may not have ended my night at Axel’s.

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Crossing North Ave in Adam’s arms. I know there are still a couple photos looming around on the internet of my butt from this unfortunate night.

June 6, 2011- My 22nd Birthday

My most vivid memory of this actual day is that my boyfriend at the time, Ryan, went out and bought a gun. Just to have! I remember crying on the stairs at his house, dressed up and ready to go out for dinner. We almost didn’t make our reservation which was at Sake Tumi for the Milwaukee Downtown Dining Week special. After dinner we ran into my current roommate Sarah and she bought me a jalapeno mojito at Trocadero. I had just moved into a couple of friend’s sunroom in their apartment on Prospect just for the three months of summer and the weekend following my birthday we had a pretty massive party for me. This was the party that our dear friend Dinah backhanded our not-so-dear friend Margaux in the face for being the bitch that she was. It was pretty epic, though the end of the night brought a lot of negative energy and many people left crying. Other notable mentions for this birthday party were our friend Matt showing up with Juggalo face paint on, a dead bird was given to me in a box saying “Happy Birday” and then there was the introduction of Jason to Sarah which in forth brought my very favourite two year old and housemate, Oliver into the world, about nine months later!

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The Prospect housemates and I at my party, including Margaux who got backhanded, to my immediate right.

June 6, 2012- My 23rd Birthday

I was feeling very fresh the summer I turned 23. I had just broken up with Ryan and was planning my life escape to Australia. Everything was feeling magical and I thought my life was just where it needed to be. The night before my birthday I went out to eat with my family at Braise in Walker’s Point. Nothing special, we thought, and we’ve never been back since. This was the night of the recall election for Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker. After dinner I met a couple friends at Hotel Foster and learned that Scott Walker was not successfully recalled. It was a big bummer for everyone but a good friend made sure a Brand New song came on at midnight and I drank delicious peach cocktails for free for the rest of the night. The next night on my actual birthday, a group of my favorite friends pulled up to the Centro Cafe bar where Adam was bar tending and had a meal with me. We went out in Riverwest after. If anyone picked up a disposable camera that night at Foundation, I am still upset because that it went missing there. The weekend got better and better with way too many late nights out and rebounds for me. I closed it with the best Locust Street Days ever, falling asleep on a back porch somewhere in Riverwest.

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We were drinking a lot of Mike’s Hard Lemonade at this point in my life. Kelly and I take time out of Locust Day for some Photobooth fun- note the studded shorts!

June 6, 2013- My 24th Birthday

My birthday last year I was living in Melbourne and getting pretty serious with Billy (wait, that’s a horrible phrase- getting pretty serious! Ugh!) We met at the Collingwood train station and he took me out for dinner at a surprise location, the Movida in Hoiser Lane. The best part of the meal was spicy beef tartare! We had some drinks in the CBD and then went back to mine to share a wine with my 63 year old roommate and look at his iPhone photos with him. The next day I splurged on a Mister Zimi dress to wear out for my birthday. I had people over at my beautiful Collingwood warehouse apartment and made everyone enchiladas, a dish that became my specialty in a country with little Mexican influence. A bunch of the Vans crew came over and we took some illicits and went to the Carlton Club where a workmate was having a going away party. Around 5 or 6 in the morning as we laid down to bed finally, Billy whispered very fast that he loved me for the first time.

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Vans Crew at Carlton Club- Off the Wall!

June 6, 2014- My 25th Birthday

I avoided letting many people at work know that it was my birthday so that I wouldn’t have to get up during Shabbat Sing in front of the entire school and have them sing me a happy birthday. After work my parents and youngest brother came down and we went for dinner at La Merenda. It was good, but nothing was amazing. I’m getting bored of Milwaukee restaurants. After dinner I came home and Sarah and I popped open a bottle of champagne. I was coming to terms that that night might just be her and I drinking on the porch. Instead, I was surprised by our friend Dinah, who came up from Chicago though she said earlier in the week she was busy! We had some more people over and eventually made it out to Art Bar. I came home and passed out in the shower and had to be carried out by poor Sarah. The next day, Dinah, Sarah and I went for brunch at Wolf Peach. It was nice. Gay marriage was legalized the night before and Pridefest was happening at the Summerfest grounds so on Saturday night Dinah, her friend, and my friend’s from Sheboygan, Nancy and Darrick, danced our night away in a DJ tent there. I realized that I have been friends with Nancy for 15 years, as we remembered back to our 5th grade birthday parties. The next morning I woke with much anticipation for the best day of the year, Locust Street Days! The morning moved by at a snail’s pace but the day was almost just as magical as it was two birthday years ago. We drank Coconut La Croix with rum and saw Platinum Boys, Castle Thunder, Rio Turbo, the Fatty Acids and Kane Place Record Club. Kelly and I ended up in the wrong backyard after the fest was over. Shooting for the a friend of a friend’s bonfire , we accidentally wandered into their neighbor’s backyard which had a blow up bouncy castle going. We were invited in to play ‘Zombies’ with Cash, 4 and Ian, 7. They were even allowed by their parents to come over to the drug and alcohol fueled bonfire party next door with us. That’s Riverwest, I guess.

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A crew assembles during Locust Street Days on Rebecca’s steps.

The end of the weekend left me feeling loved by all those who celebrated with me and love for Milwaukee, something I haven’t felt much of since I’ve moved back.

Nacaome, Honduras

Entering Honduras was both beautiful and sad. The beautiful part was driving through on roads lined by gorgeous and lush mountain side. The sad part was the poverty. Many times we passed women with their children standing in the middle of the road begging for change. They went as far as to pull ropes across the road so that you would have to stop and, in their hopes, offer a few coins.

We were in a rush to find a spot to rest our heads and our car and ended up driving into Nacaome, a town that had a decent amount of hotels to choose from. Our biggest concerns in picking a place to stay was the safety of our car and if the place has WiFi. After a bit of a search we ended up at bigger hotel located through some dirt roads in a non-commercial part of town. For $20 we had locked and gated secure parking, WiFi, access to a swimming pool, and a very nice room with a bathroom en suite. Happy with our find, we took a quick swim, told our moms we were safe, and then headed into town to find some food and booze.

Our presence in the town caused a bit of a stir. Dusk was falling and as we made our way through the dirt roads and run down houses in our hotels neighborhoods we received many stares and some calls from the locals. I’m sure they were just curious, and I’m sure their English wasn’t amazing, but being a little freaked out by Honduras in general, when some locals started saying “Bye, bye.” to us as we walked past, I got scared. Especially when it was followed by some boys in a car driving by and making guns with their hands and pointing them at us.

We ended up having delicious carne asada tacos for dinner, and to drink, what we guessed was a popular beer around these parts, Port Royal. Dinner came out to a whopping $13, a heavy gringo tax, I’m sure. As we walked back to the hotel we were followed by a guy on a bike taxi. Billy was as cool as can be about it and there I was, the cowering American tourist, certain we were about to be jumped at gun point. This time with real guns.

The next morning we took a walk around town before heading off to the border. The marketplace was booming on a Friday morning. The folks we bought our car off of had said that if they could recommend one thing for Honduras it was to eat baleadas. Baleadas are paper thin tortillas cooked on hot stone griddles. The fillings can be anything, but we only found ones with beans and cheese in Nacaome. You then fold up your baleada into a triangle. Incredibly cheap, Billy and I had a couple baleadas each as we walked around. Similar to the night before, all eyes were on us.

Funnily enough, according to Wikipedia, Nacaome means the “union of two races” after two aboriginal groups got sick of fighting each other and decided to both settle in the area. Though we didn’t feel particularly welcome in Nacaome, we never were attacked by any gangs or murdered, so cheers Honduras! Thanks for letting spend our one day and one day only in you safely!

Border Cross Day: Honduras

Of all the countries in Central America, the thought of traveling in Honduras scared me the most. Honduras is the murder capital of the world! The country is ridden with corruption at every level and gangs are more prevalent here than anywhere. We had heard many a story about travelers coming to face their fate in Honduras. But we also had heard many stories of people who did not, and who had grown to love the country and the Honduran people.
When people travel to Honduras they usually go to the Caribbean side of the country where the diving is said to be top notch with many Whale Shark sitings. Billy and I were both really keen to dive this trip, as I had just a few months prior gotten my Advanced SSI certification done in Thailand. But we were crossing over on the Pacific side and to get to the Bay Islands where the diving is prime, we would have to drive all the way across Honduras and we might miss the chance to see El Salvador. We decided to forgo the headache of days worth of corrupt Honduran road cops and just spend one night and one night only in Honduras.


The border cross town we crossed at was El Espino. It was a quiet one without a lot of traffic, during our time at the border we were the only tourists going through. We paid our $2 exit fee towards Nicaragua and headed over to the Honduran side.
Most border cross towns have small businesses stationed throughout it. Places to grab food, news,  money exchanges and banks. El Espino had none of these. Our problems began with that. We had only a few Cordobas left and there were no ATMs on our way up through the Nicaraguan country morning. With no bank on the premises, we would have no access to money, and we needed to pay border cross fees.
As we walked up to the Aduana, a little “helper” guy named Tony latched on to us. To him I’m sure he thought it was his lucky day, gringos here to fuck over! His English sucked so we tried to tell him not to bother us, we would be fine on our own.
The Aduana workers flipped through our passports and spotted that Billy had recently been to Ecuador, a country with cases of Yellow Fever. He had been immunized against it in Australia and carried proof of it with him. They asked for his Immunization book, scrutinized it, and then handed it back saying he could not enter the country. After lots of back and forth misunderstandings with our bad Spanish, (and with unfortunate help from Tony) the reason became that his doctors had not written his name on the booklet. Aduana would not let Billy just write it in, a space reserved for just a pen printed name. We were ultimately distressed, Tony suggested that we bribe them. We told him we didn’t have the money for that so he suggested that his “friend” give one of us a ride into a nearby town to get cash out. His price was pretty steep for a ride into a town only a couple k’s away. Annoyed by Tony, we said no. Also at this time, Aduana/Tony decided they would hold on to my passport while we figured this situation out. I know the rule to never, ever let someone in this position take a hold of your passport but without knowing what was in store, I walked away from the office with my precious passport in their possession. Twenty minutes later I was like, ‘This is crazy!’ and went and demanded my passport back. The Aduana lady begrudgingly gave it to me. I know they were just hoping for an extra bribe out of it.
Billy and I debated what to do while sitting in the car, with Tony lingering outside our window and every few minutes, tapping on it and little by little lowering the price of the ride from his friend. We decided we absolutely would not take him up on the offer, both out of lack of trust and spite.
In our time spent debating, a seemingly regular guy pulled up next to us and Billy went over to ask if he was heading into town from there and would he mind giving him a lift and back to the ATM there in exchange for some money. The guys eyes lit up when Billy offered him the equivalent of USD$10. Tony had been trying to get us for three times that much.
So Billy went into town with this guy, (we had had enough money to pay for one of us to get into the country) and I locked myself in our car with my Kindle.
Once Billy was back the bribe went up higher. $40. Fine. We were tired of this shit and just wanted to be out of El Espino. Then we had to pay $10 for the import permit guy’s lunch as he wanted to leave conveniently right when we needed him to process our permit and would be out for lunch for an hour and a half. Fine.
When all was finally stamped and done, that little weasel Tony stuck out his paw for some cash too. We really should have said no, but Billy handed him a little anyways. Tony wanted more. I think he asked for upwards of $30 for all the “help” he rendered to us over the course of the day. We didn’t give in but for what we did give him, he could probably have gone back and thrown a feast for his family. Fuck Tony. Our total border cross costs ended up at a feisty fee of $110.
Honduras= CORRUPT!

Reserva Natural Miraflor, Nicaragua

The plan for our last destination in Nica was to camp out around the town of Esteli, if possible. Someone had recommend the place, toting it as and old cowboy town. We still at this point were noobs to the road and hadn’t figured out the GPS signal on Billy’s camera and my iPhone, so unfortunately at this time, I was following a pre-loaded digital map on one of our devices that wasn’t always accurate. I ended up directing us to the outskirts of Managua, the largest and most crime heavy city in Nicaragua. Billy was not pleased and it significantly added on to our travel time for the day. By the time we reached Esteli, we were beat. The town looked like shit. It was a pretty run down place with trashy establishments around every corner. We both concluded we would not be able to find a decent place to camp or park the car anywhere in town. Earlier in the week I had tried to contact the Miraflor Nature Reserve, a potential camp spot close to Esteli that our out of date guidebook highly praised. I had received no response from them but we decided to ditch Esteli and head there instead.

Finding the entrance to the reserve was a hassle which brought us driving back and forth and having to go past the check points of many notoriously harsh Nicaraguan road cops. Eventually along the way we saw a small wood sign noting the entrance to the reserve but with our bad Spanish skills we couldn’t really understand if this was the way to go. We took it and drove awhile down a path flanked by crop fields, past a couple farming shacks and then finally past a large group of family farmers. We stopped to ask them if we were on the right track and they seemed slightly bewildered, though it could be the lack of Spanish skills, and they kind of pointed us towards the upcoming river. Too high to pass in your car, they said. And we believed them. It was wet season.

Every Pan-American overlander knows, driving in the dark is a no go. The dangers are too high, pot holes, speed bumps, and thieves. Dusk was beginning to fall so we made the decision to camp by the river. As far as we knew we were very close to the Miraflor Reserve. We just hoped our neighbors wouldn’t mind.

Across the river we could see some small homes, and as we set up camp, people would come by on horseback and cross the river to get to theirs. We spotted a troupe of children spying on us from across the way, though with me being on high alert in this unknown territory, I was trying to spy on everything that moved as well.

My anxietys on the camp spot were high as we were unknowns in these stranger’s neighborhood. Thankfully they for the most part just seemed curious as to what sort of contraption we had set up on top of our vehicle. Billy and I cooked a quick pasta dinner, washed up in the river and set off to bed once the sun was down. No one came to chat with us in our time there, though we could hear people passing by on horseback through the night.

The next morning, feeling relieved that our presence had not out rightly upset anyone, we packed up and headed out. We both left laughing at our good fortune of a spot. We had not camped for free since Costa Rica! When I look back on photos, two of my favorites of the three of us are at this site.