Friday, April 27, 2007

Tropic of Cancer and the US of A

Today we getting close to the US/Mexico border when we saw this big yellow ball marking the Tropic of Cancer. North of this line there is no way, no time when the sun can ever be directly over your head. South of this line (down to the Tropic of Capricorn) the sun will, at some time in the year, be directly over your head. Big deal you say, but every globe of the earth in the world has the Tropic of Cancer, the Equator, and the Tropic of Capricorn marked on it. Any way, it was fun to stop in the middle of no where for the photo.

We crossed the border with ease. There were lots of cars coming across. No one checked us for anything. No one looked at more than the covers of our passports. Their greatest concern was that we paid $2.50 liquor tax on the two bottles we were bring in. Kiss Homeland security goodbye for the moment.

It was a bit shocking to see with fresh eyes just how wide and how smooth the US highways could be compared with all we had seen over the last four months.

We are off to Houston to visit my sister Mary and her husband Larry. We should be in Cherry Hill next weekend.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Veracruz to Tampico

Veracruz is a busy sea port with a lot of equipment supporting oil rigs out in the Golf. The Mexican navy was also very evident; they have a big base there.

Leaving Veracruz we turned the corner on the Golf of Mexico and began a more northerly trek following the Golf coast. Just outside of Tampico, the first motel we tried took us in (no disguises were required!).

Tomorrow we run up to the border at Matamoros, Mexico and cross over to Brownsville, Texas. All this driving is getting a bit old and we are running out of clean clothes.

Palenque Ruins and Mexico to Veracruz

Wednesday night I created an entry for the blog but ate it! Something went wrong in Google land. Let's catch up.

Wednesday morning was spent visiting the Mayan ruins outside of Palenque. Beautiful place it was. The whole place was green and tranquil. We walked through some of the darkest and thickest jungle I have ever seen to visit some parts. The place was well landscaped. Many of the Mayan residential areas were partially restored.

We could not spend much time there so by 11 AM we scooped up the dogs and luggage from the hotel and drove toward Veracruze on the Golfo de Mexico. Suprise! Super highways almost all the way. We covered almost 400 miles in the afternoon, averaging about 65 mph and often running along at 80 mph. Some sections of the road were the equal of any superhighway in North America. Best of all NO FMT's !

It was 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) out on the highway.

We rolled into Veracruz in the early evening and started looking for a hotel that would take dogs. After several rejections Ginette broke into tears in the lobby of Hotel X (we are not allowed to use the real name of the hotel). Just then the owner of the hotel came by and said we could stay but no one was to know that dogs were in the hotel; when we took the dogs out of the room they would have to be wrapped up in disguise!

It was a nice hotel.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FMT Rant

Another day of nothing but travel. We started at San Cristobal and it took all day to get to Palenque, a distance of 132 miles (213 km). That gave us an average speed of 29 miles per hour (46 k/hr). The slow speed is due to the fact that we were cutting through the mountains. We woke up with 60 degree F temperature in San Cristobal because we were at 6,805 feet. The trip ended at 213 feet in Palenque close to the Caribbean coast and a temperature of 99 degrees F. But, most frustrating were the hundreds of speed bumps or FMTs (Mexican Topes) we encountered. In some places the FMTs were in groups of 5 spread over 500 yards; in other places they suddenly appeared out of nowhere for no apparent reason. About 66% had warning signs and the rest did not. The FMTs are big enough that you have to come to a full stop and creep very slowly over them. Driving faster than 30 mile per hour is not practical because any discoloring on the road could be an FMT or just a shadow. Rant, rant rant.

The things are really out of control here. No other country in our travels has allowed the indiscriminate use of these things. FMT !

There are plenty of good hotels around however the good hotels do not look kindly on our two dogs being in their guest rooms. For tonight we have another $20 hotel. This one is worth $20 but not $21. This one has a toilet and shower in the room but no shower curtain and no toilet seat. No air conditioning.

We see the Mayan ruins at Palenque tomorrow morning and then head north along the Caribbean coast. Houston will be a welcome rest stop this weekend!!!

Monday, April 23, 2007

San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

Long drive today from Guatemala to San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. Overpriced $20 hotel tonight.
Off to see some Mayan ruins someplace (Palenque) tomorrow.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Before breakfast we walked the dogs from our hotel down to Lake Atitlan’s edge. Surprise! The air had been cleared by last night’s rain and we could see all three of the volcanoes that surround the lake. One of the photos here shows the lake with two volcanoes.

Soon as breakfast was over we left the dogs at the hotel and went for a one-hour drive over a mountain to the town of Chichicastenango (place where you can find the chichicaste plant). We went hoping to attend Mass at St. Thomas church and knowing that today was a market day for the town. It is one of the most exciting places we have been.

We approached the church and there were wonderful and strange things going on about the church steps. The church is very old and filled with Mayan people and incense and candles and the sound of a marimba. It was a very holy place and a moving Mass. A guide we hired later told us that the church shares its place with Mayan shamans. The shamans performed ceremonies with candles and incense (lots of it!) down the center of the church and on the church steps.

A big crowd gathered after Mass around the baptismal fount. We watched as long as we could. At the same time the shamans were performing on the great church steps.

The market was huge and jammed up against the church steps. There were gringos wandering about but this was no market for tourists. Everything from woven products to yarn to fresh meats and corn were sold along with odds and ends of electrical things and farm tools. The crowds were great and the little Mayan people just shoved everyone around the alleys like debris on a river. Great place!!!

Click on a photo to enlarge it a bit.

Tomorrow we start a long drive that will take us across the border to Mexico.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Panajachel, Guatemala

Today’s destination was Panajachel on the edge of the great Lake Atitlan. We left Antigua with no problems and traveled 109 miles over some super twisted roads. The roads were good two-lane highway without much traffic but the routes through the mountains required many sharp turns and switchbacks. We went as high as 8800 feet (65 degrees F) and then down to Lake Atitlan (5400). The lake is quite several miles wide. We wanted to see the three volcanic peaks that surround the lake but the air was thick and gray.

Panajachel is crammed with colorful vendors of Mayan crafts. Ginette was buying from one woman who had here woven products bundled on here head while carrying a baby on her back. Halfway into the sale her baby complained of hunger so he got one breast while she continued to show products.

The hotel here is great, a place of tranquility.

Friday, April 20, 2007


We set out in high spirits for Antigua. The road was brand new and in amazing shape. It suddenly (very suddenly with no warning) turned into a rough, skinny gravel road. Our GPS device suggested we were not on track. A passing truck driver told us we were driving up a volcano. With very little room to maneuver, we got the car turned around and headed back. No great loss. We found Antigua quickly. Fine place.

Antigua is criticized for being “too touristy”. But we found it to be a great place. Like Granada, Nicaragua, it is preserved as an example of colonial architecture. Like Granada, many shops, resturants, hotels, and homes are built around lush gardens. We found a good guide to take the dogs and us around the city on foot. By noon we found a hotel in the center of Antigua that would take the dogs. Many small shops with brightly colored things tugged on us until we purchased some nice things.

The temperature is 72 degrees F. We are 5,100 feet or 1557 meters above sea level.

29 miles covered today.

Guatemala Transit

Copan Ruinas, Honduras is only 6 miles from the Guatemalan frontier so we arrived at the border by 8:30 AM. This is one of several borders where the two countries work together. We drive through one gate and we are in a neutral zone, we are neither in Honduras or Guatemala. The goal is a gate 100 meters away. The two countries have their offices combined in three buildings. Everyone is friendly. The cost to exit Honduras and enter Guatemala is less than $40. No one cares that we overstayed our visit to Honduras and are missing a Honduran entry stamp. Ginette wraps thing up in 55 minutes (a record!) while I keep the dogs happy. The attached photo shows Ginette walking about in the neutral zone.

Winding mountain roads, good two lane roads take us to the outskirts of Guatemala City (“Guat City”) by noon. We dreaded crossing Guat City but there were no real choices (all roads lead to Guat City). Bad, awful traffic, like Manhattan, New York but at 45 miles per hour. (I am too old to drive in Guat City ever again!) Auto and bus pollution spill out from every vehicle. Some how we scooted out with out a dent and with no blood on the fenders. As we got to the far side of the city we got a little lost but recovered well.

We found our way to the area of Chimaltenango with its mountains, winding roads, small farms and lots of Mayan descendents. Ginette found a quaint country inn called La Posada de mi Abuelo outside of Parramos, Guatemala. It was like an inn in the French countryside. We were the only guests. Our two dogs could run freely with the 5 dogs and 5 horses that lived there. Great black bean stew was served for dinner with a Chilean wine.

183 miles covered today.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Copan Ruinas

We stayed in Copan Ruinas, Honduras all day. In the morning we hired a guide and went to the big Myan ruins. Fine place. The reconstruction is not nearly as complete as some of the temples we saw in Yucatan, Mexico. But the site housed a great covered museum setting that protected the most valuable pieces. What is special about the Copan ruins is the large number of well preserved carvings. Seems the stone here was better. Therefor, many details are well preserved. (Click on an image for a better view.)

In the afternoon we went to a place called Macaw Mountain. It was beautiful! We saw many big birds native to Central America in huge, attractive cages and then we were invited to an area where we could play with the birds. Great fun. Their website is

Tomorrow morning we cross into Guatamala and continue north.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Copan, Honduras

After breakfast we left La Esperanza heading north west. Immediatly we encountered rough gravel roads. For the first 4 hours of the day we covered only 48 miles, but they were interesting miles the road twisted, turned, and bounced endlessly.

By noon the road turned smooth and straight. We stopped for lunch in the town of Gracias. Our guide book says that the first Spanish explorers named it Gracias a Dios because the place was the first flat ground they had seen in weeks. In the town square we met a small group of great chicos. They played with our dogs, Davy and Scotty. One of the chicos was named David and got a lot of kidding from his amigos about having a dog's name. In the photo, that is David holding Davy's leash.

After 92 more miles on great road, we stopped for the night at Copan Ruinas, site of one of the largest Myan ruins. The town is cute. Tomorrow we tour the ruins.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Several times along the highway we saw this sign. We were afraid to stop and ask how big they had to get to warrant road sign.

In Danli, Honduras we met a group of 10 gringos in our hotel who were from a Methodist church in Boston; they came down to help with the building of a church in Danli. The hotel is named “La Esperanza”. It was not much and way over-priced at $36.

From the Hotel La Esperanza we drove to the town of La Esperanza. The first three-quarters of the trip we had excellent roads. The capital city of Honduras, Tegicugulpa could not be avoided; we feared having to go through it. Surprise! The city had some good expressways and we stumbled upon one that took us through the city in 15 minutes.

Next the road took us up into the mountains. We got as high as 6,000 feet and the temperature fell to 58 F / 14 C. We were in the clouds. Coffee could be seen growing under banana trees. Then we came to a part where the road was rough, the map dead wrong and the GPS had no details to offer. All of that frayed nerves and slowed us down. 3 PM came along and we found ourselves at La Esperanza (The Hope), a rough little town. The good news is that we discovered a real gem of a hotel! 190 miles today.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Leaving Granada

Blogging is good if you can do it in a garden in Granada, Nicaragua accompanied by your Sweetie and a fine Nicaraguan cigar.

In Granada, the most common architectural design for homes calls for a two-story home built around an open courtyard garden. The portion of a home facing the street is kept plain with a fancy doorway. One of the photos here shows a garden through a door. The other photo shows a garden courtyard from above.

Nicaragua has no time for soccer; it’s all about baseball. Every small town in Central America is build around a soccer field except for Nicaragua. Canada donated a nice field for kids in Granada. When you see people sitting around on their doorstep listening to the radio, you can be sure they are listening to a ball game.

We left Granada at 8 AM and by 1:20 PM we reached the Nicaragua – Honduras frontier. The roads were smooth and well marked; traffic was light. We saw big rice fields and tobacco farms with their drying barns. The road took us up into the mountains.

By 3 PM we cleared the border $90 lighter. Don’t like it? Take a plane. It sure keeps the people of Central America from casually moving around. At 3:30 PM we stopped in the little town of Danli, Honduras and found a room at the Hotel La Esperanza (Hope Hotel). Tomorrow we have to make it through the capital city. What is the name of the capital of Honduras? A good Jeopardy question.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

We awoke Friday morning and the electricity and water were still off causing us to momentarily doubt the wisdom of God's plan for this city. We got the suitcases packed and house cleaned and then jumped into the car without a shower. Departure was at 8 AM.

By 10 AM we reached the Costa Rica – Nicaragua frontier. I took 60 minutes to do the paperwork required to get out of Costa Rica. 100 yards later we entered Nicaragua and spent the next hour and a half waiting in various lines for paperwork and paying fees, altogether normal in this part of the world. Everyone was professional and well organized. Still it is hot and frustrating.

Good roads (except for one stretch just before Granada), not much traffic. However, we stuck to the speed limit of 80 k/hr (50 mph). We arrived in Granada by 3 PM. Great place it is! The city has a long and wonderful reputation and seems to live up to it all. Granada is clean and organized. It feels very safe. But what knocks us over is the bright colors and great architecture.

We are staying at Hotel Kekoldi (, a small hotel built around a garden and filled with artwork both modern and old. $40 per night. The two dogs are doing fine. They like the air-conditioning! Muy bien! Me gusto mucho.

We walked about and took a carriage ride around the city Saturday morning taking lots of photos. A few photos are included here. Click on one to get a larger image.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Naked In The Rain

Our last night in Coco. We were waiting for the water to come back on so we could get cleaned up and go out to dinner. The water fails almost once a day here. Lots of water, they say, but the distribution system can not keep up with the explosive development. Now the first long rain in months starts. The power goes out. Everything is darker than the basement of Sacred Heart Church during Easter Vigil. Great, really great. Seriously, it is wonderful if you can relax and enjoy.

So after admiring the rain and the darkness, we got naked and found a place to sit in the back yard. We sat naked in the rain for an hour until we felt clean and cool. It was a rare experience! (No photos were taken to record the event.)

We found a restaurant in town that has wireless internet, good beer, sushi, and a great open-air space where we can smell the rain without getting our laptops wet. God is great!

Turning North

Yesterday we brought out our suitcases and started packing. Immediately the two dogs got to thinking something was up. So they have been making every attempt to get into the car just in case we leave and forget to take them.

We leave tomorrow for the "far north". Sure hope the snow has melted! We are leaving a bit wiser in the ways of Central American travel, Ginette's command of Spanish is much stronger, and the car is not loaded down with "stuff".

Our schedule is below. It is subject to change due to whims, breakdowns, acts of God and the like. We are, after all, both unemployed at the moment and proud of it. (Ginette is a bit bored now and is ready to go back to work.)

April 13 Friday -Leave Coco, cross into Nicaragua, stay in Granada
April 14 Saturday -Tour around Granada
April 15 Sunday -Leave Granada for Honduras border, overnight in Danli Honduras
April 16 Monday -Drive to Copan in Honduras, try to overnight in Copan
April 17 Tuesday -Tour Mayan ruins in Copan
April 18 Wednesday -Leave Copan for Guatemala border
April 19 Thursday -Visit Antigua in Guatemala
April 20 Friday -Antigua and leave for Lake Atitlan
April 21 Saturday -Lake Atitlan
April 22 Sunday -Lake Atitlan
April 23 Monday -Leave Lake Atitlan for Mexican border
April 24 Tuesday -Drive to San Cristobal in the mountains of southern Mexico
April 25 Wednesday -Drive to Palenque, Mexico
April 26 Thursday -Drive the Caribbean coast of Mexico
April 27 Friday -Drive along the Caribbean coast of Mexico
April 28 Saturday -Cross into the US at Brownsville, Texas
April 29 Sunday -Drive to Houston and visit Mary and Larry
April 30 Monday -Stay in Houston
May 1 Tueday -Leave Houston for New Jersey
May 2 Wednesday -Drive to Knoxville TN
May 3 Thursday -Drive to Philadelphia
May 4 Friday -Visit friends around Cherry Hill
May 5 Saturday -Visit friends around Cherry Hill
May 6 Sunday -Mass at Sacred Heart in Camden
May 7 Monday -Drive to Drummondville, Quebec

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Holy Week in Coco

Holy Week is a national holiday in Costa Rica. Businesses all about CR close for the week. No alcohol is permitted to be sold on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Many leave the big city (San Jose) and spend the week at the beach. Coco has been overflowing with Costa Ricans. I was taken aback at one point seeing a group of Costa Ricans gawking at some howler monkeys moving about in the trees above town; then I realized most Costa Ricans are city dwellers and seldom have the opportunity to come to a place like Coco. We are so so accustomed to life here we no longer stop for monkeys and lizards!

Very few of the folks on Holy Week holiday found their way into church. Attendance was no better that that of an "ordinary" Sunday. The liturgy was heavy with words from a book and very light on appeals to beauty and emotions. Still the core of the liturgical message came through. A core group of Christians witnessed the good news...Christ has risen...indeed He has risen!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Mind The Mangos

We have no end of tropical fruits here, of course. We have several papaya trees in our yard. On the left is a photo of one of the trees as well as a photo of Ginette holding a couple of papayas. Bananas here are great because, purchased at the supermarket they are perfectly ripe the day you buy them and the day after. Avocados and cantaloupes are always ripe in the store also.

Mangos are something else. They grow by the hundreds on big (30 foot high) trees everywhere. They come crashing down when ripe. Makes a bit of a mess round about each tree. You just help your self to them. Most folks here have a handy fruit picker thing that lets you grab the fruit of your choice from high up in the tree.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Rain Fell

It rained yesterday; remarkable because it has never rained here in Coco when we were here. We arrived in mid-January of 2007 to hard blue sky every day. Over the last two weeks we noticed clouds, a few at first and then some cloudy days. Now it rained, not much but it rained. Smelled pretty good. Perhaps it was a little joke from God as we had just installed a big water irrigation system for the garden the day before!

We expect more frequent rains in May. Generally the rains are not too heavy but the sky is frequently cloudy between May and November. That drops the average temperature from 97 to 92 and raises the humidity from 30 percent to 50 percent. Unlike North American weather, the weather here is quite constant, even boring. Constant hot and dry for several months and then cloudy and rainy for several months.

This is a hot climate but we have gotten used to it. We don't have air conditioning in the house but it is sometimes a great relief to get in the car and cool down with its air conditioner.

I am always in awe of the way nature adapts here. Dispite the many months without water many trees remain very green and flowering trees are to be seen everywhere. The photo above is the colorful scene in front of our house.