Driven To Wander - Vancouver to Patagonia

Driven To Wander

Adventurer
How to load Open Street Maps on Garmin GPS Units - Part I



Before starting off on our road trip from Canada to Argentina, I knew that given my propensity to get lost upon walking out my front door, that having accurate navigation would be critical. I looked at what we would need in terms of paper maps, mapping programs, GPS, etc. and decided we needed all of them.

We actually find that we use Google Maps a lot. It works great if we have a local sim card and are able to connect to Google’s server. However it is useless when there is no cell coverage or we are out of data on our prepaid plans. We do download maps in advance for Maps.Me, Forevermaps, etc., but having a dedicated Garmin GPS unit that is just a quick glance away has been very valuable.

Our Garmin Nuvi 2595 came with the maps of North American preloaded. But, once we crossed into Belize our digital avatar was lost in virtual space and needed new maps. This is where OpenStreetMaps came into the picture. Instead of buying the official maps from Garmin which costs a lot of money, I found I could load OpenStreetMaps into our Garmin GPS, and still have all the same functionalities as the official Garmin proprietary maps.

OpenStreetMaps is a crowdsourced, free to use, map of the world. Abbreviated as OSM, it powers thousands of web sites, mobile apps (like Maps.Me) and hardware devices under the the open license. In this blog post, I am going to show step by step instructions of how to load these free maps onto a Garmin GPS device using a Mac computer.


I – Software

If you don’t already have the Garmin MapInstall software, you are going to need it. It can be downloaded it here.

System Requirements:
Intel based Mac running OS 10.6 or higher.
1024 MB RAM (2048 MB recommended)
USB port

  1. Click on ‘Download’ and choose to save the file to your computer.
  2. Double-click the file to open it.
  3. A new Finder window will open. Locate and double-click on the ‘Install Garmin MapInstall’ icon.
  4. Follow the installer program’s prompts to install Garmin MapInstall.


II – Free Maps

  1. Go to garmin.openstreetmap.nl





III – Map Selection

  1. Choose your map type – I am using Generic Routable (new style).
  2. Choose your predefined country under the appropriate continent pull down menu – in this example I am choosing Ecuador. Once you select the country, corresponding tiles will be highlighted.
  3. If you’d rather select more than one country or would like to add or delete some tiles, enable manual tile selection and click on the tile/s.
  4. If you have not selected additional tiles to add or delete, you can download the maps directly by clicking on Download Map Now and go to step V. If you decided to add or delete tiles then enter your email address and click on Build my map.








IV – Requests in Queue

Once your request is received, it will be put in a queue. If the server is busy it takes a while to process the maps. In this example, the Ecuador map took only seconds.





You will receive two emails, one with a link to track the process, and the other once the process is done which contains the download link.









V – Platform of your choice

When you click on the link in the second email, you will be directed to a webpage with 4 choices.

  1. Windows
  2. Linux
  3. Mac OSX
  4. img file for SD-card




If you have a empty MicroSD-card, 4th choice is the one you want. Make sure to use the correct size MicroSD-card for your unit. My Garmin 2595 can read up to 8 GB MicroSD-cards. Some older models can only read 2GB MicroSD-cards. Click on osm_generic_smapsupp.zip. When the download is done, unzip the file. In your MicroSD-card create a folder called Garmin and copy the gmapsupp.img to that folder and voilà! You are done. Put the MicroSD-card in to your Garmin and enjoy your new map.

If you do not have a MicroSD-card and you have still space in your Garmin GPS unit, click on platform of your choice. In this example I am going to download the map for Mac OSX version.
 
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
How to load Open Street Maps on Garmin GPS Units - Part II


VILoading the maps to Garmin GPS

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  1. When the download is done, click on the downloaded file to unzip it. It will be in your downloads folder. For this example I moved the unzipped gmap file to my desktop.
  2. Connect your Garmin GPS unit to your computer. It should show up on your desktop.
  3. Launch Garmin MapInstall software.
  4. Garmin Mapinstall should find the new gmap file and prompt you with the similar windows.


osm9.jpg





Click on confirm and your new map will be uploaded to your Garmin GPS unit. You should be able to see your new map in your Garmin/Map folder.



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Driven To Wander

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This is "Devil's Cauldron" in Baños, Ecuador. We hiked down to this spectacular waterfall today. Water was coming down so forcefully that it was deafeningly loud. We even crawled through a stone tunnel and went right behind the falls...
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Driven To Wander

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Ecuadorean Amazon is full of hidden waterfalls. This one took us couple hours of hiking in dense jungle to find. Lots of wild life, lots of insects who wants to suck our blood and lots of rain that is a constant reminder we are really in Amazon rainforest.
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
We visited a animal rescue center in Amazon Rainforest. These guys were all over us, one even jumped of top of Indigo's head! This place opens to the jungle in the back so when the animals are ready they are free go...
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Mexico's Famous Palenque Mayan Ruins and Making Friends - Part I




Our drive from Agua Azul to Palenque was long and difficult. But not as difficult as the road to get to the waterfalls, which I see now totally escaped my mind when I published the last blog post. Troubles of waiting a YEAR after you’ve been some place before writing about it! But I’m not going to go back and update that post, so here’s what had happened: the most direct route was closed due to protests and road blockades in Chiapas. A police presence had set up at a large intersection for the turnoff for Agua Azul and waived select vehicles over, and we were one of the lucky chosen ones. I thought we were going to get hassled for something, but they kindly explained the situation…said the locals are blocking the road ahead, and helped us read maps and find an alternate route. Part of me wanted to just go forward, and hope the blockade was gone by the time we arrived. I also wanted to check off “road block by disfranchised indigenous communities” on our bucket list. But we erred on the side of caution and took the long way around. We later discovered (at Palenque) that our friends La Brigade opted to press onward at that intersection, only to be stopped for hours at the blockades, and eventually turned around and took the long route as well. We felt really were lucky to have been one of the vehicles waived over after hearing that!




We arrived at Mayabell campground and quickly settled in. From our introduction to Howler monkeys, the great pool, the amazing ruins of Palanque, and meeting so many wonderful fellow travelers, this was one of our top spots of our travels so far….even a year later.







Guido was our first friend here, and promptly warned us about the sound we’d hear in the mornings from the howler monkeys living in the trees above the campsite. Later at the pool, Indigo adopted Guido as his best friend and usurped most of Guido’s time. Guido had the most amazing patience with Indigo in the pool each and every day we were together. He was a delight to meet, and we hope to cross paths again one day.




As Guido forewarned, we were introduced to the extremely loud, somewhat creepy howl of the howler monkeys in the morning hours, reigning down from above. It sounded to me like some big cat or bear like animal growling in the jungle. The sound these monkeys make is incredible, and Indigo was afraid to walk around the campground whenever they started up. Seems there were several factions of monkeys living in various trees around the campsite howling to each other, or perhaps at each other.

We were happy to see La Brigade roll into the campground as well. We were able to provide the howler monkey warning to La Brigade (I think once you hear them, you can’t wait to tell the next person about it), and soon after walked together to the large bamboo grove just behind our camper, to watch an entire family climb about the branches.



Below is a link of the sound of the Howling Monkeys Okan recorded at the campsite. Would you guess that sound was coming from a relatively small monkey?

http://instagr.am/p/BjKzQJKHwy8/










While we were watching, a baby howler lost his grip and fell at least 20 feet! Our hearts jumped and I had to stop myself from running to the baby to see if it was injured. I was certain the mother above us wouldn’t take kindly to our interference. A cat started approaching the limp baby monkey in the grass, and that’s when I needed to hold Indigo back from his own rescue mission. Indigo knows first hand what damage a feisty cat can do and we were all wondering when the mother would come to the rescue . The mother eventually came down as we gave her space as she collected her baby, who by that time had shaken off the fall. They baby quickly climbed on her back, and to our surprise, once the mama and baby were heading up the tree, the males started peeing at us from above! We decided that was the a good time to leave the howler family alone for some private time.



We also met the sporty and speedy (they are already in back in Colorado!) Treschamigos here. We enjoyed drinks in the evening together and lamented about our fitness levels steadily decreasing with the driving, sitting, and drinking….followed by more driving and sitting. It’s really hard to figure out how to fit in an exercise routine when there is no routine in your life, or even just to stay active. This conversation is what I am sure prompted us to walk in the heat of the humid jungle to the ruins the following morning.








Palenque was definitely the highlight of our stay here. The ruins were magical, as they were nestled in the dense green jungle, and we could walk in and around most every structure. Indigo, who had to be carried by Okan most of the way to the ruins, decided he wasn’t really tired at all, and toured (ran around) the ruins all day. Seeing that we were snapping photos at every turn, he tried his hand at photography and managed to get a decent shot of us in front of the ruins.





As much as we loved the massive ruins of Teoteahaucan, Palenque became our most favourite Mayan ruins that day. Although most of Palenque has now been charted, not all charted areas have been excavated. Excavations are invasive and destructive, not to mention really expensive when done in the jungle, as trees keep growing and burying structures each year. The Maya Mapping Project provides great detail about how much of the city has been revealed.











After watching Indigo run about with such enthusiam, and thinking back on the lack of exercising, Okan and I decided to walk back to the campsite as well. Thank goodness it was downhill, and that we had a lovely pool in which to recover. We also opted for a massage here, but after visiting Bali Indonesia and the spas of Ubud, every time we splurge on a massage, it just never lives up to our expectations. Our memories are long, because we haven’t had those massages for 3 years! Perhaps our memories have distorted our perception somewhat?


 
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Mexico's Famous Palenque Mayan Ruins and Making Friends - Part II


While at Mayabelle, we also took care of regular life…haircut for Indigo and maintenance on the truck. The bamboo awning structure Okan devised in San Cristobal worked well here, and we were happy for the shade, and blocking the falling nuts from the trees above….and possible dissuading more Howler monkeys from peeing on our heads.



When Okan and I first met, he told me of things he’d always wanted to see and do. Things that were part of my childhood and I thought very normal. First, run through a corn field (being from Amish country in Pennsylvania…this was very normal for me) and second, see fireflies (also a regular childhood experience for me). I was so happy when night time fell, and the forest lit up with thousands of tiny intermittent yellow glowing fireflies. We stared for a long time, and I think it was as cool as Okan had imagined it would be.





It was really hard to leave, but leave we did, caravanning with Colleen and Luke of Treschamigos to the next site. Not a lot of “sites” or “sights” after hours of driving, so along the highway, Restaurante Los Tucanes just outside the tiny town of Nuevo Pital, with its lovely pond, pool, play structures, and a large field did the trick.











There was a family of peacocks here, and now I honestly don’t know which is louder…a peacock or a howler monkey. Totally different sounds…but both incredibly loud. The peacocks proved to be very domesticated and would eat out of our hands. Unlike the aggressive monkeys, they behaved more like dogs begging for food, and we needn’t worry about them trying to pee on us.





Before our trip began, I found myself researching other families that travel to make sure I wouldn’t be “ruining” Indigo in some way, and came across the Kortman family of Home Along the Way, who travel extensively with their kids. I read so much about them and their life, and low and behold here they were! I always feel a bit strange walking up to people feeling like I know too much about them, and me being a stranger to them. But, they are a warm and welcoming family, and we enjoyed our time getting to know them better. Paul and I geeked out a bit with discussions around engineering and marketing, and I could tell Okan was happy that I found someone who could engage with me on these topics. Paul still works full time while on the road, and runs his business completely remotely. He’s a great resource for anyone looking to travel, work, and provide for a family of 6!


We all parted after a couple of days, and although we wanted to caravan more with Luke and Colleen, we’ve not seen them since. We are getting slower and slower in our travels, and cannot keep up with the younger crowd. Even though they returned to Colorado for an extended break, they came back to Mexico and passed us somewhere in Colombia, and made it all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina and returned to USA. We were at least happy to see their truck, if not them, stored at a campsite in Cancun while they were back in the States. Maybe we’ll see them in Colorado!?


LasTucanesToCompecheMap.jpg


We headed to Campeche next, on our way to Merida. We drove about Campeche looking for a campsite close to town, and only ended up frustrated and irritable. We decided to not bother seeing the town, and ended up staying in a very mosquitoey grass yard of a hotel along the highway outside of Campeche. The camping was devoid of character, and a bit scary as we had to walk by a very aggressive barking guard dog each time we wanted to use the bathroom in the hotel office. We were happy to get out of there.





After the frustration of Compeche, we decided to blow off Merida and head to our first cenote! What is a cenote you might ask? A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. Cenote water is often very clear, as the water comes from rain water filtering slowly through the ground, and therefore contains very little suspended particulate matter. There you go, I wikapedia’d it so you didn’t have to!





After driving an hour on a dirt road we found the cenote site. It was a hot hot hot dirt parking lot with no facilities so we quickly realized we weren’t going to be camping there for the night. Despite Indigo’s initial excitement, the stairs leading into the big dark crater of water in the ground, scared him greatly. Then the water was too cold so he sat on the wooden platform asking when we were leaving every minute, for about 30 minutes.








This was the first time I tried to use the GoPro, and we quickly I discovered I don’t know how on earth to use the GoPro! I would like to blame the poorly designed user interface for my troubles. Check out what Okan discovered on the card when downloading photos :). Looks like I need to read the manual.


DonnaGoPro.jpg


After our refreshing dip… we headed onward to Izamel, the yellow city. It was yellow all right! (Ochre-yellow to be exact) and I enjoyed walking around the streets and chuckling at just how far the yellow theme of the town goes. The man sitting in the doorway is even sitting on a yellow chair!





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I also loved the horse and carriages adorned with flowers…surprisingly they were not all yellow.





The Franciscan convent San Antonio de Padula (boasting the largest atrium in the Americas) is here and built upon the flattened top of the great Mayan pyramid that held the sanctuary of the god Itzam Na. The Mayans were here thousands of years before the first stone was laid on the convent, but the convent today is the more noted and visited feature of the town.


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We were touring the town with Indigo in a bitty stroller we bought along the way for walking through towns, when we came to what is left of the Mayan ruins above ground. We (Okan) ended up carrying the stroller up the insanely steep rock steps, and vowed that we were done with strollers (again).


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Lucky for us, the campsite at Izamal Camping & Hacienda Hotel had our best amenities of our trip to date, or maybe just after mosquitoey campgrounds, freezing cenotes, and tired out tourists. We had long hot showers, seclusion, serenity, and goats for Indigo to feed and play with every day. I never knew what a great feature goats could be at a campsite before!


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Indigo spent so much time with the goats that he would be gone for hours. He blended into the landscape quite nicely, and had he not kept his bright blue bucket with him, I might not have located him when it was time to head to the coast again.
 
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Volcano Cotopaxi @ 19342 feet


We have gone from the lush Amazon rainforest to the highest point of our trip so far. Volcano Cotopaxi of Ecuador is the second highest active volcano in the world (19342 feet/5897 meters). We parked our truck at ~15200 feet and wanted to climb up to at least the glacier line but a blizzard came out of nowhere and forced us back to the warmness of our truck. This terrain is like no other we have seen, cold, windy and unforgiving. We waited for a long time for the elusive Cotopaxi to reveal herself but the weather never cleared. On the way down we stopped and took a picture of Indigo's painting of Cotopaxi against the clouds that covers its peak.













 
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Galápagos Marine Iguana! This menacing, Godzilla looking lizard is actually gentle creature, graceful swimmer and can spend an hour underwater. Although they are everywhere and we were watching our steps at some parts of Galápagos islands not to step on them, these animals are endangered and under protection.
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Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Our First Dip into the Mexican Caribbean - Part I





We finally worked our way to the Caribbean coast of Mexico! But before dipping our toes in the clear blue waters, we stopped at Cenote Suytun near Valladolid. It was conveniently located in route, next to a hotel that allowed camping in the parking lot. We found the cenote just outside the restaurant, but it didn't allow swimming. We didn't discover the second cenote (the one that would look like the photos we saw) until the following day. A tour bus unloaded and we watched a group of people walk down a small trail....so we followed them, and there was the second cenote. We took a peek into the cavern to see several bus loads of people swimming (more like jostling for position) in the cold water, wearing bright red life jackets. Everything was echoing, quite loud, and reminiscent of a busy public pool. We took a pass, it just seemed like a bit of bedlam we could do without.








Thankfully the hotel had a nice pool, and lovely hammocks in which to relax. This is where I practiced my Anne Geddes photography on a sleeping Indigo. We also met a nice German couple Sebastian and Tara here. They'd been staying at this location for a while, finalizing a purchase of land. They plan on developing something from scratch, with a place for overlanders to come and stay. When Okan and I think of where we might live more permanently one day, we always talk about including a space where overlanders can come. Perhaps that's just one more of the side-effects of Overland traveling :)





We headed off to the coast where Okan's daughter Carmen, and her boyfriend Michael were going to join us for a visit. We didn’t want to see the area, then repeat everything when they arrived, so we decided to book a trip to Cuba from Cancun. But while waiting for our trip to Cuba, we changed our minds again and decided to check out the area before they arrived to scope our options. I was imagining arriving at a crappy campground, cenote, or beach, and standing there with an impatient toddler, a young lady who's not super keen on camping, her boyfriend with whom we haven't spent a great deal of time, trying to sort out what to do next. Although I've been with Okan for almost a decade now, I still get pretty anxious when around the extended family trying to make sure everyone is happy. The potential stress was much more than I was willing to endure, and decided that repeating some activities was worth while.








We ended up almost living at Camping Cancun, a nice campsite west of Cancun, and very far away from the beaches. But we enjoyed the pool, the nice facilities, and the company of the owners Paul and Christina. We were able to unhook the camper here, and head into town for some errands. We also tried out Uber, only to discover that Uber is really an underground operation here, and you have to sit in the front seat with the driver, and at police stops pretend you and the driver are friends. The drivers also won't always pick you up at locations lots of taxi's would, like outside mall entrances. You have to walk to a back road to be more discreet.

Christina and Paul talked to us about how to handle Mexican Police stops here. It appears the police have to pay up the line to keep the best policing shifts or areas. To move up from street cop to driving a car or motorcycle, you have to line the pockets of your supervisor, as he must line the pockets of his supervisor and so on. Paul is a Canadian…who after 8 years in Mexico still doesn’t speak Spanish…and intentionally so. He calls Christina on his mobile and hands it to the officer who has stopped him, then takes the phone back and asks Christina much he should pay. That is their system. We still prefer to wait it out, which works fine if you have time and are not quick to get angry.

We actually got to practice just after talking about it. We always seem to get pulled over when the camper is not on the truck, and coming back from the Mall we were stopped on a side road. We were told we didn't have the proper papers, but of course we knew we did. Then the officer tried saying our import sticker was not valid for this particular state in Mexico. Laughable because the sticker is good for all of Mexico, and Quintano Roo is actually one of the states that no Temporary Import Permit (TIP) is required! But instead of saying any of that, we just kept pointing the sticker, and saying we didn't understand, and then said our boy was hungry. He shook his head and let us go after 30 minutes of this ridiculous back and forth conversation.








We headed down the beach to Cavelands, the refuge of a man we affectionately call the crazy Dutchman, Don Renzo. He has a beautiful piece of property with a Cenote, teepees, and casitas (little bungalows) scattered across the property. He pointed to the camping spot near the teepee we could use, just past the women who were doing some cleansing ritual in the spiritual caves that are also on his property. He said if we were into that kind of thing, we could probably join them. The long skirted, pierced, and dreadlocked women smiled sweetly and ended their ritual shortly after we settled in. I was curious about their ritual, but the smell of the plume of smoke left behind let me know some of the ingredients they used.





I apparently decided to take a flash back to the 80s, as there can be no other explanation for the purple and teal ensemble with yes, even a headband! Next to our spiritual neighbors, I felt like I was definitely in the wrong classroom, or clique, just like in high school. We had our own private tiny Cenote right next to our campsite, but it looked a little too scary for us to climb down and get in.





Don was quite a talker, and self-professed drinker. He said to watch out for the multitude of mosquitos, but that the mosquitos didn’t bother him, because he was full of alcohol and he figured they didn’t like that so much…or perhaps he just didn’t feel them anymore? He was looking to sell his property, as he figured his liver didn’t have much time left, and he wanted to simplify his life. So, if you are interested...give Don a call! He was quite a character and we really enjoyed his conversation when he would visit us at the campsite.

We packed up and headed onto the next place as Don's place, although very lovely, was too far away from the sea to walk there. Per his recommendation we headed to Tortuga Beach, a refuge for the sea turtles and a pristine beach with a cenote off to one side.





Oh what a beauty this place was! The Cenote is nestled within the mangroves at the far end of the cove, and Indigo and Okan took the plunge. In case you are wondering what they are sitting on, ropes are generally strung across cenotes so people can sit and relax, and for the non-swimmers it definitely helps to not drown, especially when the cold water takes away your breath. Then we headed off to the beach itself and we lucked out with a calm ocean and minimal winds.






Shade was scarce and we set up a lean-to against the sand hill, and stared at the turquoise water. It was here that we started taking these photos of Indigo facing the ocean. One day I will have dozens of them to make a collage. There is always some point at which Indigo stands and stares at the water before getting in, his version of smelling the roses in a land with no rose bushes.


 

Driven To Wander

Adventurer
Our First Dip into the Mexican Caribbean - Part II






We moved on to our absolute favourite campsite of all of our travels...Chamico's. It’s a restaurant with a large area of beach and palms right along the water, where you can park your vehicle. Nothing could top the view we had from our camper door.








The evenings were gorgeous, the sand white, and because of the reef off the coast, lots of coral for Indigo to collect!





But I must say, as beautiful as our beach was, that was how bad the bathrooms were, and is probably the only reason this place is not jam packed all the time. Crappy little dark sheds, with doors that don't close completely, no lights, paper, or seats, that require a bucket from the big barrel of water outside to flush. Not the most fun place to take a toddler in the middle of the night (or any time really!) when he's gotta go. But we loved it this place regardless.





We read that the fancy hotel across the bay from Chamico's, (a $600/night fancy place...we inquired!), had wifi that could reach our lovely Chamico's campsite. We stopped by their restaurant and ordered french fries and some drinks and asked for the password, while trying to not look like password thieves. Indigo could sense we were in a place that required good manners, and was on his best behaviour. They had two lovely pools (one allowed kids, one for adults only), nice decks, hammocks and palapas in the pristine white sand along the bay. We paid $45 for that password...I mean, meal!! That's about 9 nights of camping!! It made sitting in our campsite even nicer, to look across the water and know we were enjoying the same bay, sand, sea, and view...for $595 per night less! No bathroom is ever worth $595!





Even Okan put his feet up here :)








We then headed down to Tulum because we heard wonderful things about the area. But the street was lined with boutique places, that would not fit our camper. Mostly for backpackers or at the other extreme, people with lots of money to spend. We just kept driving and ended up on the narrow road that went into the national park. We made it all the way to Punte Allen at the end of the Peninsula, and found another setup like Chamico’s called Cabañas Costa del Sol Sian Kaan. The bathrooms were nicer, it was quiet and we slept very well. This could have quickly become our new favourite place, had it not been for one problem.


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Along the beach, sargassum seaweed was everywhere! In high piles on the sand for 5 feet before reaching the water, then a foot deep in the water for maybe another 20 feet out into the water. You would not be able to get to the turquoise water beyond without going through the stinky muck. And boy did it stink because the old seaweed rots on the beach. Unlike the resort area of Tulum, at the national park, no one rakes up the seaweed every day. On the drive down we could smell the rotting seaweed everywhere, not very pleasant.





I knew folks spent a lot of money coming to this area, and I’d never heard anyone talk of it seaweed and it's smell….so I got to googling about it. Appears that in 2014 the sargassum started appearing on the coastline, huge swaths of it. Upsetting the tourist industry greatly. The national guard was even called in to bulldoze and bury it. But it still keeps coming. There is even a system set up to see where it is off shore, and deal with it when it reaches land. There is a lot of work involved to keep this on the down-low by the tourist industry, and lots of daily raking and cleaning by the resort staff, because it's definitely a detractor for beach goers.






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On the drive back, we noticed a very large sign stating "No Fishing" on a bridge, where about a dozen people were ....well, fishing. So we stopped to see what could make people so blatantly ignore the sign.





The water was full of fish. An easy meal I'd say for the fisherman, and worth the risk of a fine I imagine.

Feeling like we knew the area pretty well now, we took off on our trip to Cuba, feeling prepared to show Carmen and Michael a good time when they arrived.
 
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