Thursday, November 26, 2015

Belize

From Mexico To Belize
It’s such a shame that your first and last impressions of a country when you drive the continents are border towns. Border towns have mastered the scam, and are quite adept at money extraction. I got gouged leaving Mexico and gouged minutes later upon entering Belize. I’ve done a bit of traveling. Belize was my 56th country.  I remind myself that my final moments in Mexico are not indicative of the nation and that my entrance into Belize will improve.


It Will Improve, Right?
These are my first impressions copied from my diary – “Nice to see signs in English. Nice to Speak English. This beach and the water sucks. Kinda like a poorer version of Mexico with black people and rasta accents. It is a bit of a culture shock – from brown Spanish to black Kriol. They speak pidgin. The first guy who approached me when I queued up after crossing said, ‘Hey mon, you made it! No more Spanish. You free mon!’ I can speak Spanish better than I can speak Kriol.”



Belize Ain’t Cheap

I paid $6.50 US for a gallon of milk, & $7-8 US for each lunch entree. Rents are high and so are fuel costs. Mexico and the other C.A. countries are much cheaper. I theorize that the reason it’s so expensive is because they speak English (sort of, that accent isn’t easy and the “other” language: Kriol, is unintelligible to an English speaker). That allows them to charge a high premium.
They keep jacking up the price and the tired lazy ex-pats keep coming because they refuse to learn Spanish and live in one of the neighboring nations.

Kriol
It’s just bad lazy English. They all speak English & Kriol, and I made a point of asking several people which is easier to speak, and without any hesitation they all stated Kriol. The rules are simplified. You don’t have to think so much. They’ve dumbed it down. Actually, now that I think about it, wouldn’t an English citizen say that they are just continuing the bastardization that the American’s started? So by that logic, maybe the Creole’s have perfected English in the form of Kriol! Click here for some Kriol examples

Stay with me. It gets more negative before it ramps up to positive but sometimes Banana Republics have a slow start.

The Water Is Subpar

You need to have a boat to get you to the Cays for any clear nice water. The stuff that laps the beaches of the mainland is brown, with no visibility, and enough Sargasso grass to feed a large Japanese hamlet.

My friend Ivan let me hang out on his private island for an afternoon
I had no idea this is what was awaiting me and it was an unpleasant surprise. You always hear about this "wonderfully clear Belizean water". I thought all I had to do was park and walk right out into the calm crystal clear Caribbean and snorkel my guts out. WRONG. To get out to the Cayes is very expensive and then once you are out there  .... CaChing! They got you trapped and the number at the bottom of the tab swells like the dead fish on that mainland shore.
 
Rolling his own 

There are lots of natural attractions but just about everything requires a guide. They have a half-nelson choke hold on all things fun and you have to hire someone to do what you could do on your own. Smart for them, bad for you. Also, there is no surf. Zero.

Sorry - I like it but it really makes Mexico shine and makes me wet my lips for Guatemala. 

Of course my answers are subjective and your experience may be completely different and lead you to an opposite conclusion, but mine is the following: "Yes, Belize has a couple charming places, 
the people are wonderful and the fact that the country speaks English (kinda) is a huge plus, but the good comes at an expensive price tag, and in my book, the bad outweighs it. Look, go everywhere and make up your own mind, but if you are foolish enough to take my word as gospel, Belize might be the one country you can skip in Central America.

Now hang on, I swear, I’m gonna say nice things….


They Only Became An Independent Country In 1981

I’m feeling a little surly, so do your own research. I just thought I’d give you the google topic.
Plane crash in the jungle


Placencia
There is a muddy little town at the end of a very very long peninsula,
and take it from a guy who normally lives on a peninsula (S’Mish!) this place has got legs, is going places, and should be on your list. Stop at nothing, go to Placencia, for it has my full endorsement.
I love those Caribbean Colors
 That’s Oscar Boo, and Reynaldo too. I love all Mayans. I had such a great time with these guys. Every once in a while someone makes you forget how old you are, what an outsider you are, and offers inclusion. That’s the traveler’s brass ring. This little spot on the map has oodles of charm. 



The Tipsy Tuna has luke warm beer. I prefer the Barefoot Bar right next door. But it was at the Tipsy Tuna that I met Chris and Joe
 and was invited to sail to Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. It’s always easier to let these options slip away and convince yourself that it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. But I said yes, and it did work out. I’m always proud when I hear myself say yes to adventure.

Skabenga! (It Means “Scoundrel” in Zulu)
And just that fast I was a sailor again. I rushed headlong into securing Elsie. I parked her at the marina, hired an idiot to look after her, and moved aboard Skabenga. She’s a 2010 Leopard 46 made in South Africa. Most of my contemporaries are overlanders now so I won’t go into the full boat fiend description.
More on her performance in the next dispatch.
Thin Water!
We left the reputation redeeming town of Placencia and sailed north. Our first anchorage was a low mangrove that barely qualified as an island, but is typical of the Belizean barrier reefs. The next day I put Skabenga on a sandbar and Chris the owner had to plow matching furrows to get her back into the barely passable fairway, so much for impressing anyone with my skills at the helm. We made landfall at Caye Caulker and enjoyed the fact that the only thing that is paved is the runway.

The next day we pulled anchor and motored to Ambergris Caye. We did our final provisioning, drank lots of rum,  and after a scare at the customs office, finally got stamped out and we were cleared for the Big Salty.

Next stop: CUBA!

Your man on point,

Bobby
P.S./ Sorry about the horrendous formatting. Help me!



Monday, September 21, 2015

Goodbye Mexico

6 Months In Mexico. That’s All You Get When You Drive It.

The first half of my 6 months in the great nation of Mexico was cloaked in surfing and studying Spanish. The memories taste like salt, and in my ears I remember that Latin “es” hissing its way across the Pacific beaches. This changed as I moved inland to drift among the high plains with the cool temps. My time was spent soaking up the culture and staring at pyramids. I packed away my surfboards and pulled out a jacket, and mostly spoke English with ex-pats. Those were wonderful weeks but it’s since changed again. The temperatures on the Caribbean side are back to “completely unacceptable” and because there is no surf on this side I specialize in snorkeling and sweating and swatting at mosquitoes. It’s a good thing I can hold my breath so long, because it’s hard to sweat and get bit at depth. 

And Then There Were Two Of Me


We just beamed down


Comparison courtesy of the beautiful Denise Flury

I love my brother so much, and I am so fortunate that he loves me too. We never married. We never had kids. When we’re together it is undiluted and powerful. Zero pulls from other alliances. We have each other and that wonderful mother of ours, (All hail Birdy Mae!) and that is it… 
The Momma!

I picked him up at the Cancun airport and that’s where I would drop him off 3 weeks later after driving the Mayan Riviera south to the Belize border and then back north.

If you know Skinny, count yourself privileged. He is the most creative, enigmatic human to ever powerwalk the planet. The best of us aren’t even on Facebook. The rest of us throw our shoulders out trying to pat ourselves on the back with each post. Not him. This guy doesn’t even own a phone. Not even a flip phone. You can’t call or text him and when you are with him there are no distractions. He knows what he’s doing, and he knows exactly who he is. He’s an original, who has written and recorded 2 albums of music, forgotten more magic tricks than you’ll ever know, designed a game, speaks Japanese (after spending 14 years in Tokyo!), is a charm to spend hours with, and my only sibling.

Yucan-Look-At Pyramids
Palenque

There is a dirt road that will take you to a spot where the Yucatan hits the Caribbean Sea, and the place is called Xpu-Ha. Mayan. It’s all Mayan around here. Full respect. I’ve been to Egypt and I’ve seen their Pyramids, and they are no doubt impressive, but the sheer volume of the thousands of Pyramids here is mind blowing. They are everywhere! I’m pretty sure at this point that every hill is a pyramid waiting to be unearthed. A detour we were forced to take put us on a road with a perfectly symmetrical field of uniform mounds still covered in jungle. What do you think those were?
Uxmal

Skinny, Benny, Bobby
We met a French Canadian guy named Benny in Calderitas and adopted him as our mascot. Great guy. We made room for him in the cab of the truck and he pitched his tent next to Elsie for 10 nights. We played soccer with kids on the beach, ruined our beers with michelada sauce, snorkeled ancient Spanish cannons, climbed pre-Columbian pyramids, and swam in caves. Essentially we lived every 15 year olds fantasy. Good thing I never grew up.
400 yr old Spanish Cannon

Cave Diving

In this chapter of “scaring the hell out of my mom”, we take an in-depth look at submerged claustrophobia in a third world cave dive.
Welcome to the Yucatan : the rivers, streams, creeks – all waterways - are underground, and occasionally the water flowing beneath the earth’s surface washes away enough structural integrity to cause a collapse. They call it a “Cenote”. This sinkhole becomes the access point for an amazing web of water filled tunnels, and caverns that were once dry caves but are now flooded. Here’s the video my dive buddy made of me. In some of the shots it’s difficult to believe that we are completely submerged since the water clarity is so perfect. 




There was a moment that I will never admit to, in which the panic grabbed me by the throat and I just knew that an immediately impending watery struggle would soon end in a horrific death after ripping all my fingernails out against the limestone. I had to forcibly calm myself and continue to follow the “string of life” that is tied from rock to rock and shows the way out of this teeter tottering maze of fear and excitement. And then it subsided. What was that? I thought I didn’t get that anymore. I thought the sea taught me to stare down anything. Maybe good, maybe bad. Maybe still human. Hmmm.



The Added Bonus Of International Travel

It isn’t only about Mexico. The great thing about travel is that you meet people from all over. I got drunk with a Canadian girl and told her that whenever I can tell that a confrontation is coming to a head I try to let it out that I’m from Canada (I’m not from Canada) so that my future enemy won’t slam my country for something stupid that I did. I’ll say something like, “If we were in Toronto right now, that crap wouldn’t be tolerated.” She said, “That’s cool, whenever I break something in a bar, I always start chanting, USA! USA!” What a class act we are.  Building bonds between borders. I’m just doing my part for international relations.

Good Bye Mexico

The hygiene: I've watched cooks open packages of cheese with their teeth, cough into their hands and then flake it into my salad. That's immediate familiarity, minus the benefits, and with lasting effects. Go straight to fever and dysentery, do not stop at go, do not collect $200. Is there a sweeter bunch of hardworking honest people you’d rather get sick with? Whenever a person makes a broad sweeping generality they are doomed to look like an idiot but I’m willing to risk it anyway: “I love Mexicans.” I never would have said that as a white kid growing up in the Southwest of America but that was ignorance, and I was wrong. They are excellent people and I’m a huge fan.

They are poor, they know they are poor and there is no shame in being poor. In fact, I’d go one step further and say that they actually have a sense of pride in being poor because that’s the norm. Humility goes a long way and I have much more to learn and nearly nothing to teach. Because the following story is completely true I am leaving details out so I don’t embarrass my friend.

We’d been drinking buddies for a week, and in those hazy drunken hours we spoke of our dreams, and our curses, and our windfalls and our broken hearts, and the ones who lifted a hand and pulled us back to sanity. We’re the same age and we’d become friends. And for every drink I bought this local he repaid it in kind with the next round or the next evening. I’ve had plenty of lopsided foreign relationships were I ended up being the sponsor for someone else’s drinking habit. This was not one of those. I won’t type his name out of respect. I know he’s reading this and he knows what’s coming next.  I’ll try to muster all the grace I can.

He’d been in Elsie and eventually he invited me back to his home. As we stood outside the gate, he fumbled with the key, and he said the following words; “Now, Roberto – I am very poor, but don’t feel badly for me. I am happy and I have enough.” I wasn’t prepared for what was on the other side of that gate. It was poverty on a level I’d never seen outside of some barren islands in Indonesia. It was 3 walls with a tarp amidst the ruins of an old building. There were 2 horrible couches, no running water and hijacked electricity from the building next door. He was squatting in what looked like a bombed out building in Fallujah.  

Then it got worse. “Roberto, when I left this city as a teenager I swore I would never again return because my childhood was so hard. But, life takes detours and I am again here in my childhood home, back with my mother who raised me.” Then it dawned on me, this wasn’t a new predicament. This is where he was born and raised and this is where he lives again with his mother on one couch and he on the other and a tarp over their heads. Oh god, the realization felt like I was 100 feet under water and someone had just turned off the valve on my scuba tank. I thought I might throw up if I could only breathe. I finally blinked. I swallowed hard and said something about the mosquitos and needing to leave due to the bites. I know he felt my discomfort. I wasn’t hiding it successfully. I stumbled away carrying my soul crushing despair and the depression it caused in me was actually physical. When I’d walked a couple miles away, I called my mom. I cried while I spoke to her. It had really affected me. 

But what exactly had done this to me? I’d seen poverty before. I lived in the poverty stricken 3rd world for 6 years while on Barraveigh. Then I remembered his words before he unlocked the gate; “I am happy and I have enough.” And with those utterances replaying in my mind, the slightest glimmer of beauty began to inch its way in. The hope this man displayed in his humble yet resilient attitude was spreading in my thoughts and it buoyed my damaged spirit. Thinking back, I believe that what hit me so hard was the realization that I am not man enough to move forward with those odds stacked against me like he was doing every day, and I never will be. I had come face to face with a better man than me, and the truth is, I did that every day in Mexico and didn’t even know it.

Mexico – What are you waiting for?

Your man on point,

Bobby 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Meeting Mechanics In Mexico

“I’m A Driver. I’m A Winner. Things Are Gonna Change. I Can Feel It.” - Beck


Ah cities - The smell of open sewers and unregulated car exhaust. That taste in your mouth is Third World overpopulation brought to you by our sponsors: poverty and poor urban planning.  And so I drove right thru Guadalajara. Turns out Steely Dan was correct: “Guadalajara won’t do”. My next stop was San Miguel El Alto.
Looking thru a church in Mascota


Then I hit a car. Those damn boxes love to clip things and these little streets were built for donkey carts in the 1500’s. I put a nice long gash in this man’s front quarter panel. I waited for the monetary gouge while his neighbor ran off to get him. Two men came into view. One bigger than the next. Come on, they don’t even make Mexican’s that big. Could my luck get any worse? Turns out the bigger of the two was the owner. He grimaced at me for a while in between glances at the damage. Then ushered me across the street to sit in the shade of a restaurant to discuss reparations. “De donde eres?” “California”. Long pause. His eyes diverted to the horizon. Lost in thought. 2 deep breaths and he was back. A slow encroaching smile. “Man do I miss California.” Turns out he lived in Costa Mesa for 10 years and thinks the Americans are the best people on earth. Could I get any luckier! I hit his car, and he ends up buying me dinner and drinks (it was his restaurant he sat me in). He refused any compensation and helped me find a flat safe spot to park for the night. I befriended his son-in-law and gave him 2 expensive bottles of Don Julio for him to hand over once I was gone the next day.

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another

I killed the fridge in Guanajuato. It’s an ammonia fridge and it dies a quick death when you run it on an incline. I didn’t know that. It should be the first thing everyone should tell you when you buy one of these campers. I’ve since made it my mission to tell everyone I meet and I’m surprised that to date, no one knew the damage they could inflict.
Here are some pictures of Guanajuato. I think it might be one of my favorite places ever. You look at these while I try to forget that I’ve lost my ability to cool my food and drink without ice. It can’t be fixed. Only replaced and not only can’t you find one in Mexico I would never know how to install it anyway. There is no RV industry here and there won’t be as I head south. We live with our mistakes.



What I've been reduced to 

There is an enormous subterranean aspect to this city




















Teotihuacan


Teotihuacan. Every letter gets pronounced, like you are at a Tahitian spelling bee. It was an overcast morning and I had decided to walk. After 3 kms on an exhaust choked road I rounded the bend and there it was: the 3rd largest pyramid in the world. I’m glad I walked. It helped build the drama.


Then it was time to have the mount for my airbag repaired before I destroyed my over weighted suspension. Isn’t this fun? When in Teotihuacan, don’t ever use a mechanic named Chancho.

Sick Of Reading About The Road Conditions Yet? Yea, Me Too.

The dappled sunlight thru the jungle leaves is like camouflage for speed bumps. There is no way you can see these unpainted bastards. They got me again. I was on the road to Palenque. I immediately pulled over at the first clearing and realized I was in the driveway of a mechanics shop. I had previously promised myself that if I cracked the weld one more time I was going to cut them off forever. “Amigo – tu quitar estas cajas por gratis y tu puedes tener por gratis. Justo?”. He thought that was fair. I came back 2 days later and he paired me up with my buddy for the day. (I have no idea why the formatting has changed. I am about done with these goddamn blogs. If you only knew how many hours of frustration I have put into this)
Free. Free at last.
See how low they are hanging?




The first name he gave me was unrecognizable and unpronounceable with my tongue. I’m guessing if it could be spelled it would start with an “X” and then a “T”. These little Mayans have my full respect. He quickly changed it to William when he heard me struggling. We shared the grinding duties. I harangued him about refusing to wear eye protection. When Elsie was finally free of the boxes we further bonded over a beer sitting in front of the tienda sharing a parking block for a seat. While covered in dirt and sweat we silently watched some other guys shovel rocks. Men.


Look Ma - no boxes

Storage Units

Does your country have storage units that individuals can rent? Mine does. If yours does too, congrats, you probably live in the First World. Those boxes I cut off the back of Elsie were a great lesson in how to be less of a First Worlder. We have so much crap that we have to rent storage units, which are just additional remote boxes that hold the stuff that we can’t fit in our homes. Isn’t that a little embarrassing? And that stuff that we put in storage is so meaningless that we can stick it in a box miles from us and look at it once a year but still we pay to horde it and go on collecting more. I had so much stuff that I was sure I couldn’t live without that I had 2 extra boxes welded onto my class 5 hitch. That was 2 months of work, $4,000 and lots of energy down the drain. Let’s face it; I only exist to create stupid stories for you to read about.

Palenque




Howler monkeys sound exactly like the monster from your worst nightmare. And when do they scream? All night long, when you are having your nightmares. The next day you can go to pyramids and walk back in time.

Merida

More truck work. Gets boring. But at least it’s a lot easier to separate the camper from the truck without the boxes.

Izamal / One-Up-Man-Ship

It looks like a perfect example of jealousy building. The Spaniards showed up on the scene in the 1500s and must have been impressed by these pyramids. Of course they had to top them. Literally. They disassembled the pyramid except for the base and rebuilt the stones as a church. They did it all over Mexico.


Uxmal
It took hundreds of years to build these things and I’m sure that during the laboring the men who built them must have known that they would stand for many millenniums. They are well over a thousand years old now and they haven’t even approached their “half-life”.



The Skin Gets Thick, And Yet, The Callouses Have Disappeared

We stop reaching out. We trim our own branches. Don’t do that. Stop excising adventure from your lives. Those scars are stories. Comfort is dangerous.
You owe it to yourself to challenge the man you think you might be. I’ll wager that you are capable of far more than you might admit. You’re a goddamn hero. I’ll bet you can wring more out of this rag called life.  Just push yourself. Ask a little bit more, and the payoffs you’ll reap in those milliseconds, are worth lifetimes.

Your man on point,

Bobby Freedom

Greece

When you drive around Europe, you begin to see a pattern: Hard scrabble peasants colonized by the civilized Romans. From England to Spain, F...