Ruins and Rust: Texas to Patagonia, AND BEYOND, in an older 4runner

Ruined Adventures

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Thanks guys! We won't be going to Cancun. We backpacked the Yucatan two years ago (and feel like we could easily go back at anytime after our trip) so Palenque or Belize will likely be as close as we get to the Peninsula.

If I were to estimate our time until the Guatemala or Belize border, I'd guess maybe 3 weeks? Not sure, there's so much between here and there, but we are in a rush since Mexico is fairly expensive compared to what we'll experience in Central America.


Nice update guys!! Do you have an estimated date to reach the east coast (Cancun)?

Renato & Jack
Americas 2011 Expedition
http://www.americas2011.com
 

Vizoo

Adventurer
Thanks guys! We won't be going to Cancun.
Our car is parked in Cancun, we will be back there to resume the trip in April 13, going straight to Playa del Carmen and Belize.

If I were to estimate our time until the Guatemala or Belize border, I'd guess maybe 3 weeks?
Our path may cross somewhere in CA, do you have a Spot? Ours can be seen on the tab LOCATE US at our website americas2011.com, it is offline now since we are in Miami.

Happy trails,

Renato
 

Ruined Adventures

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San Ignacio, Baja Sur

After relaxing in Laguna Ojo de Liebre for a couple days we headed inland through Southern Baja. As the sun was quickly dropping beyond the horizon, we rounded a bend and approached the charming small town of San Ignacio. A welcome sight on a desolate drive, San Ignacio is a palm oasis that sprouts from a small valley in the desert. The arid, cactus-ridden terrain gives way to a plush green grove lined with date palms. As we wound our way past the spring-fed river we found ourselves in the center of town, greeted by a large central plaza surrounded by small shops and an 18th century Jesuit mission.





All of the nearby campsites were deserted and we were ready for some amenities, so we chose to camp on the edge of town at the Rice & Beans Hotel. Despite the cheesy name, Rice & Beans is a mostly respectable restaurant that has a large parking lot for RV camping and a hotel. At the restaurant we bumped into a few friends we met at Bahia de Los Angeles, Mike & Joann, and we had a nice dinner with them while exchanging details from our past week. The next day before leaving we bumped into a group who were driving a couple of really nice FJ-55's. I said hello and snapped a few photos. I chatted with the owners for a few minutes, mostly about where we're from and where we're going from here.





After leaving Rice & Beans we explored the central plaza some more, then we spent a couple hours admiring the Jesuit mission. This mission has a very interesting history, including the fact that it took over 35 years from start to finish. The Jesuits and local indians were often slowed down by disaster including but not limited to: deaths from malaria, typhoid, typhus, measles, indian rebellion, volcano eruption, drought, and several floods. Almost sounds like the Oregon Trail right? Only I doubt they blew all of their money and time hunting buffalo.








Even more impressive is the story about one of the devout and talented Indian workers who helped construct the mission. Although he couldn't see, Andrés Comanaji Sistiaga used his sense of touch and knowledge of construction to actually direct the work crews as they laid walls entirely out of lava rock. They called him "Andrés el Ciego or Andrés the Blind. Makes all of our accomplishments seem kinda bleak, right?








After checking out the mission and feeling inspired, we got in the car and started planning our next stop. Before we could even thumb open our atlas, we were surrounded by "Pigs"...no not porky pigs and not pigs with a badge. We were surrounded by the sweet Landcruisers that we spotted at Rice & Beans. In case you don't know, the 50-series Landcruisers are commonly referred to as pigs because their front end has a snouty look to it.





Now that they had randomly caught up to us, they asked us a few more questions about the road ahead. We don't always choose to tell people that we're headed for South America because usually people don't get it, but we could tell we really liked this fun bunch of retirees & trying-to-retirees. Apparently we peaked their interest and we started poking more at each other's vehicles and talking about "truck porn". Turns out Ruben (in the green/white LC) actually spends some time on Expo every now and then, which I kinda guessed by looking at the way his ride is outfitted.

Next thing we know, these guys are popping beers (it was around 1pm) and making us the best Bloody Mary's I've ever had, right here in the central plaza of this tiny pueblo. Locals were driving by with their eyes clearly not on the road, watching as a bunch of gringos party-down and show off their old Toyotas. Meanwhile the local Policia pulls up and we all act like junior-high schoolers, hiding our drinks and trying to act like everyday tourists.





An hour or two later we decided to hit the road and let them continue on their way, this time waving and grinning as we say goodbye to new friends from a chance meeting on the road. This is why we love Baja...easy to strike up a conversation and you can throw a party anytime, anywhere.


To Ruben & Andrea, John, Vicki, Jack & Vicki...thanks for the memories and thanks for the drink!
 

Ruined Adventures

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Bay of Conception?

On our way to Mulegé, we passed thru Santa Rosalia which has a unique history. This place is very different from any other town you might see in Baja, thanks to a French company that built a copper mine in the 1800's. Many of the houses are covered with brightly colored clap-board siding, looking more like they belonged in the French Quarter than any part of Mexico. The old mining operation and several other historic buildings are supposedly constructed of wood imported from the Pacific Northwest. A less appealing sight is the "interesting" prefabbed church, designed by the same Gustave Eiffel who is famous for his tower in Paris, France. Unfortunately we didn't take any pictures as we passed through.



"The Grade to Hell"​


Since my sister was supposed to be induced for labor that day, we decided we needed internet access to keep tabs on her situation. At Hotel Serinidad we started our interrogation with the front desk, asking about the availability of WiFi when we were greeted by the owner…the infamous Don Johnson. No not the same Don Johnson from Miami Vice or Nash Bridges, but I was still impressed by his friendly demeanor and hospitality.



"Did my sister have the baby or what???"​


When we asked how much it would cost to just camp in our vehicle, without any RV hookups he asked "How much have you been paying to camp so far?" I responded with a range from $50-150 pesos per night, and he quickly matched our bottom price. We tried to find a regular parking spot out of the way, but he insisted that we park in one of the RV spots since they were empty. What a nice guy!



No one messes with Don Johnson's guests...no one!​


The next morning after an AMAZING breakfast from the hotel restaurant, I was trying to find out the latest news on my sister when Shannon walked up frustrated and told me that we were being kicked out of our campsite. "What? It's not even close to noon yet!" Apparently a sizable caravan had arrived and the leader had reserved most of the sites surrounding us, including ours. Even in this nice campground outside of town, this guy felt that it was absolutely necessary for the safety of his herd to be unseparated. The caravan leader was less than tactful about the situation, but we kept our cool and remained friendly about his requests for us to vacate. No worries, we were planning on leaving soon anyway…although I was still unsure about my sister's baby!



Huevos de Caballo = awesome breakfast​


After Mulegé, MEX-1 meets the Sea of Cortez at Bahia Concepcion, which literally translates to Conception Bay. After seeing the water, this actually made sense because here we found some of the most beautiful beaches in Baja...very motivating if you know what I mean. Don't worry, even with the romantic scenery and inspiring name we managed to resist the temptation...no surprises coming up in our Ruined Adventures family.




With Semana Santa (Holy Week) quickly approaching, we were in somewhat of a predicament because we had to decide where we would wait out the chaos. Beginning on the Sunday before Easter (Palm Sunday), Semana Santa is a very important religious holiday in Mexico and most of Latin America. Not only are there grand celebrations for the occasion, but this is also when the majority of Mexicans get 1-2 weeks off of school or work. This can be a great time to witness unique celebrations in San Miguel de Allende or Patzcuaro (both on mainland Mexico), but in places like Baja it's best to avoid the beaches during Semana Santa. After a year of hard work, you better believe that most Mexicans will haul butt for the beaches to party all week, crammed in like sardines along the water. With little bathroom or trash facilities on these beaches, you can only imagine what happens with such a large crowd.



A taste of Semana Santa in Baja​


We've heard stories of gringos waking up to find their lone campsite on the beach has been completely surrounded with overcrowded hordes of locals, so tightly bunched together that they'll secure tents to your stakes and tie tarps to your guylines. We met one fella towing a camper who said that he had people making a shelter under the tongue of his trailer! He said everyone there had their own stereos, blaring music loud enough to drown out the neighbors and resulting in a deafening blend of sound. One could argue that this would be the perfect opportunity to interact with the locals, but I prefer uncrowded campsites with wide open spaces and a little more quiet. Feel free to call us snobs. The beaches during Semana Santa are often compared to Spring Break in South Padre Island or Daytona Beach, and we're honestly a little old (and boring) for that kind of debauchery.







With only a couple days left, we decided to get our fill of beachside camping at Playa Santispac and then head inland before the madness would begin. The water was amazingly clear and we managed to find a palapa with plenty of shade to tie up our hammock and catch up on some reading. We were about 100 yards from our only neighbor and a short walk from a restaurant where we could indulge on fish tacos and Pacifico balleñas.




Our time at Playa Santispac was mostly uneventful and very relaxing, at least until a seagull decided to steal our ziploc full of sponges. Apparently he figured Scotch-brite sponges would make a good meal, but without hot sauce to give it that "kick" he eventually gave it up, leaving it afloat. Thanks seagull, for giving me an excuse to get wet!





 
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Ruined Adventures

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Gettin' Raw on Baja

After getting our fix of sand and sun, we decided our best bet for avoiding the Semana Santa crowds was to stay away from the beaches. We'd heard really good things about Loreto and it sounded right up our alley. Even though it's a city on the water, it would be easy to distract ourselves in town.




While trying to find a place to camp we got lost for a minute, but eventually we found a good spot close to all the action. Once I had the BorderRunner tucked into some shade I busted out the laptop to see what I could find out about my sister. Internet...dead. Oh well that's Mexico for you...




Searching for dinner, we walked a couple blocks and saw this setup straight out of a horror movie...looks like they were making homemade pork rinds? Eventually we found a stand with a little sign that read "mariscos". I was sold. Me being a sucker for clams, I shrilled like a little girl when I saw almejas on the menu. Well, this was our first big menu misunderstanding of the trip...




While "almejas fresca" obviously meant fresh clams, I ASSumed that they would be steamed. That's the only way to prepare clams, right? I couldn't have been more wrong. They arrived raw, and we laughed for a minute over the misunderstanding. "No biggie", I've had raw oysters before.


Before I dig in, Shannon is shrieking in horror. As she squirted lime on the clam she noticed that the clam actually did the hokey pokie in protest. We tried a few more times, just to make sure we were on PETA's radar. Sure thing, these suckers were ALIVE and not happy. Our waiters watched and laughed at the silly gringos for a minute, then they gave us a crash course on eating LIVE clams, Mexican style.




First you squirt lime in the clam's eyeballs, then you throw some soy sauce on there to confuse the little guy (are we in Japan?), then add a little picante sauce and lime in case the lime didn't piss off the clam enough. I really didn't like the flavor, but I can fake anything fairly well (how do you think I became a firefighter?)...so I painfully choked down my share with a smile. Unfortunately Shannon isn't as good at faking (or so she claims), so I end up having to eat most of her share too. Thanks honey.


Eventually we made up for the live clam experience and ordered something right for a change. Later that week we had a fisherman come up to our campsite selling fresh lobster. 100 pesos later I had two plump lobster tails and we were ready for some langosta! I've never cooked lobster before but I didn't let that stop me. I figured I can't screw up as long as I use two sticks of butter, right?




Aside from stuffing our faces, we finally managed to get the interwebs to work again...we were happy to hear that my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy! Eventually we caught the happy family on Skype and it was great to see the little guy on camera.




Loreto was a great place to spend Semana Santa. We were expecting to see tons of foreigners come into town that week, escaping the beaches, but it was mostly quiet around our campsite. Luckily there was a real friendly group of "locals" to keep us company.





 

Ruined Adventures

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Maybe it'll be my job (Shannon) to bring the audience up to speed when we've had a lack of blog writing. It's been a while so I'll have to thumb through some pictures and journal entries to remember it all.






Fellow travelers mentioned that when you're on a trip like this, time really slows down. Sure, I thought, I can see that. You're moving at a slower pace, not paying attention to that almighty clock that everyone is chasing. Well, I had no idea just how much time would slow down.


I keep a handwritten journal that I write in almost every night. For some reason I was looking back at my old entries. I read something about the couple of days we spent in La Paz, BCS, and then I looked at the date. In my head these days spent in La Paz had surely happened a few weeks ago maybe even a full month ago, but no. Six days! That's how long ago it had been. I said to Brenton, "Hey, do you realize it was only six days ago that we were in La Paz?" He didn't believe me either. I had to retrace our step even further back to prove I hadn't just written the wrong date.






So does time slow down? More than I ever imagined. It made me think a lot about how we live our lives. I'm not trying to get too deep here, but think about it. How many times have you thought to yourself, Man, I can't believe another year has passed by. Where did the time go? I know for me each year always seems to go by faster.






What if we could all slow down? Maybe it's not possible to live every day in this way, but what if we took more time, longer periods of time, to just slow down? If even a fraction of my life I was able to live in the way we are now, shoot even if it's just this trip (though I don't think this will be the last) I would be so much more satisfied with my time on this earth. In the end, I don't think I would feel that life passed too quickly, that I didn't do the things I really wanted to do. How great would that be? I am so happy to have the opportunity to have these experiences.


Now, on to what's been going on with Ruined Adventures. After Gettin' Raw in Loreto we headed off to La Paz. We only stayed in La Paz for the night to check on the ferry situation. This would be where we ship from Baja to Mexico's mainland. Unfortunately, the ferry offices were closed the day we went so onward we moved to Todos Santos and Pescadero.




One of the many tourist attractions that has capitalized on the famous song.​



Todos Santos was a total gringo town, and not really my cup of tea, even though it was a nice place. I know some people love it, but it was pricey and you couldn't get someone to speak Spanish to you, even if you paid them. Pescadero was in the start of Reggae Fest Baja so beach camping was out of the question. Apparently they had the whole beach reserved for the event. We considered parking in a nearby parking lot since the reggae was relaxing, but then they started playing some horrible hip-hop so we were on our way. Luckily a local pointed us in the direction of a really nice surf camp off the beach and we stayed there for the night.






My good friends Michael & Jaime hooked us up with their friends Mac & Kate who live outside of La Paz in El Sargento. We stayed with them for two nights in their beautiful home. Both nights we were spoiled with delicious, fresh, homemade dinners. We really enjoyed Mac, Kate, their neighbor Steve and their cute pup, Paco.











After two relaxing days in El Sargento we headed back to La Paz to give the ferry a second shot. Being it was the end of Semana Santa, we were worried the ferries service would be backed-up and trying to recover. We were afraid we'd end up having to stay in La Paz for another couple of weeks just waiting for our ride to the mainland. Well, we got lucky. We arrived at the terminal ferry around 11:30am and we soon had tickets for the ferry departing at 4pm that same day.







Since we had traveled through Baja, this is where we would take care of importing our vehicle and paying for our tourist visas. We chose to ride on TMC Ferry so that we could have access the our vehicle during the trip. The ferry actually departed at 5:10pm and we were on our way to Mazatlan, a 14 hour journey.










For more Baja Sur pictures, click here: Baja Sur
 

Ruined Adventures

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First Taste of the Mainland

Our ferry arrived in Mazatlan early the next morning and we spent about half a day exploring the city before heading south to San Blas, Nayarit. It was nice to finally make it to mainland Mexico and switch from desert to lush coastline.

San Blas was one of Brenton's favorite places from when he and his sister backpacked Mexico in 2004 and he really wanted to bring me there to share in some of his nostalgia.




San Blas is known for it's laid-back demeanor and easy surf break for beginners. We were greeted by "Pompis" Cano, the national longboard surf campion who owns Stoner's Surf Camp and offers private lessons and we quickly settled in.




We spent several days in San Blas, jogging on the beach, riding bicycles through town, and hanging out in the plaza at night. We also met Diana and Stephane, a very nice couple on vacation. Diana is from Monterrey and Stephane is from France, though he is currently living in Monterrey too. We spent time with them and a friendly group of mexican bikers on the beach. It was great Spanish practice for a while, as we explained our route to the bikers...until their drunk buddies pulled up and drove their Harleys up THROUGH the restaurant and onto the beach, getting stuck in the sand and blaring "Hot For Teacher" while the old caretaker was trying to sleep. It was bizarre for a second but our new friends managed to shoo them away. The next night the four of us had dinner and drinks together (no rowdy bikers in attendance).







Next we moved on to Tepic where we explored for half a day before heading to Jalisco and settling down at Laguna Santa Maria del Oro for a couple of nights. For me, it was a breath of fresh air. Finally, we were surrounded by grass, big green trees, and mountains. Laguna Santa Maria del Oro is actually an old volcanic crater that is now filled with water. It's incredibly beautiful and our campground was right on the water's edge. Our second night there we were treated to a live mariachi band while overlooking the lake. Each night we entertained ourselves by watching the industrious ant colonies that surrounded our camp, and playing cards. It really doesn't get much better than that. We left the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for some Tequila.









We got to the small town of Tequila just a little too late for a tour at Jose Cuervo, but not to worry, we just happened to arrive on the 482nd Anniversario de la Fundacion de la Villa de Santiago de Tequila, and Tequila know's how to party. The plaza was filled with vendors, musicians, carnival rides, and fireworks. We enjoyed some delicious margaritas, micheladas, and pastor tacos while taking in the celebration. We slept in a locked parking lot that night and the next morning, rather than waiting till late afternoon for a Jose Cuervo tour in English, we headed to Casa Herradura in the next town of Amatitan. I had read that though this operation is slightly smaller than Jose Cuervo, the grounds themselves are much more beautiful. We were happy with our decision. We got an English tour just ten minutes after we arrived with a small group of seven. The distillery was beautiful and at the end we all sampled tequila together, my personal favorite being the "plata", although Brenton had to finish most of the tequila for me.
















The agave pulp...sweet and tasty to chew on​




Our next destination was Guanajuato. Another place that had been a favorite of Brenton and his sister's on their previous trip. It didn't take me long to see why. It's hard to explain other than the city just has a feel about it and an attraction. It's a small town with lots of history and plenty to see and do. We camped the first night on the panoramica then explored around town until we found a hotel with hot water at a decent price. Since we already knew we wanted to spend some time here, we arranged to stay for a full week at Hostel Cantarranas in the Centro Historico. This would be our first time staying in a hotel on this trip. The couple of campgrounds in the area are all outside of town and we wanted to be close to the action. Guanajuato is full of steep, narrow & winding alleys and each one is different from the next. The architecture is beautiful and colorful and the city never seems to sleep. We made two hikes up to the statue of Pipila, one for sunset and one for sunrise. The view was breathtaking.











One of many rooftop dogs in Guanajuato





After Guanajuato, we headed to San Miguel de Allende where we paid way too much to camp for two nights. We can't complain (too much) though, we met some really nice overlanders from Germany and Belgium. Joachim & Barbel have been camped out in San Miguel for three years! They are a very nice couple, and they gave us some great information and campground GPS coordinates for our drive south. Bernard & Alexandra are traveling with their three young girls, ages ten, five, & three in a 2002 Land Rover Defender. We spent a night exchanging stories and information with Bernard & Alexandra.






The architecture in San Miguel is similar to that of Guanajuato but more monochromatic and minus the steep hills. San Miguel in general is a pricey area and is filled with retired North-Americans and European ex-pats. The city is incredibly clean and the plazas are beautiful and well kept. For our third and last night in SM, we ninja camped near the plaza principal and the next morning headed to the incredible church of Antotonilco.












The Santuario de Atotonilco is an amazing church just outside of San Miguel de Allende. Pilgrimage to Atotonilco is a goal of many Mexicans as it has a significant role in Mexico's independence and is viewed as a very important sanctuary. The walls inside the church are covered with beautiful murals and different stories from the Bible. Only a visit would do it justice, but it is worth a mention and a couple of pictures. From here we made our way to Dolores Hidalgo.











Dolores Hidalgo is a small town with a nice plaza, beautiful pottery, and some interesting hand spun ice cream flavors. One of our first stops was at one of the many ice cream vendors in the plaza. We were given samples of every flavor they made. Some were great, some I don't know why they ever thought it'd be a good idea to turn it into ice cream. Brenton tried all of the bizarre ones, including the shrimp flavored ice cream. I couldn't bring myself to try the shrimp; avocado and beer were adventurous enough for me! As we were strolling around the plaza that night, out of no where all of the lights in the plaza and the church went out. We thought they must have had some sort of power outage; and then the loud music began to play. On the entire face of the church they began to show pictures telling the story of the town's past and it's role in the fight for independence. It was a really neat experience that we happened to randomly stumble upon.












Next stop, Guanajuato round two.

For more pictures from Mazatlan to Santa Maria del Oro, click here: Mazatlan to Santa Maria del Oro
For more pictures from Tequila to Guanajuato, click here: Tequila to Guanajuato
 
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