Join us as we explore Kobus’ home country on a journey of rediscovery. We fly into Johannesburg spend some quality time with family over Xmas and New Year. Then we drive north to the Kruger National park and head south to the mother city, Cape Town.
There will be no budget or wifi reports or accommodation listings. We will however have tales about our journey of rediscovery.
This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.
Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.
Welcome to part two of our exceptionally exciting series of articles describing in excruciating detail the monies we have spent during our trip to Argentina. This article covers our 70 days and 4500 miles through Mexico. Why should you care? If you're our typical reader, you probably don't want to know how much money we spent doing laundry. Pray forgive me this dry interlude and stay tuned for our next travel updates from Belize.
If you happen to be one of the few planning to repeat our travels or at least do a bit of road tripping in Mexico, it's my hope you'll find this information most useful to your planning. We keep these details for your benefit more than ours, and we are able to do so because there are three of us. As the third wheel I'm delegated the less-glamorous tasks of keeping the books and cooking most nights. Since you can't enjoy my cooking, may you at least marvel at my mastery of spreadsheets.
For those of you who want to delve a bit deeper, you can download my spreadsheet here. Expense are recorded by hand in a notebook, usually once or twice a day, then entered into the spreadsheet so Excel can work its magic. If you need explanation, feel free to leave a comment.
I'd be lying if I said we weren't concerned about the security situation in Mexico before we left home. In the US it's hard to go two weeks without hearing a report of headless bodies hanging from freeway overpasses or newly discovered mass graves. It's news you can't ignore, and yet it's dangerously easy to sensationalize.
I did my fair share of homework before we left, until I got to the bottom line: common sense and a bit of research is all you need. We planned our route to avoid the problem areas and stuck to a few simple guidelines. And here we are 70 days after crossing the border. No problems. None. Not even a hint.
This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
General Availability: Very High
Quality of Bandwidth: Like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Quality and reliability is higher in internet cafes than in hotels.
Frequency of internet in hotels: Medium most places. High in touristy areas.
Frequency of internet in campgrounds: Zero in campgrounds. Medium in RV parks. High if there is a hotel associated with the camping/RV area.
Average cost to connect: Usually free. Places with fee usually charge around $10-20 pesos ($.75-1.50) per hour
Start: January 4, Chichen Itza (Chicken Pizza)
Finish: January 10, Tulum
Mayan Ruins Visited: 3
Tourists Seen: Too Many
Collapsing Palapas Avoided: 1
Nights Spent Camping: 7
Continuing our whirlwind tour of the Yucatan Peninsula, this week brings us to three more Mayan archeological sites - two of which are without a doubt among the most visited tourist attractions in Mexico.
After several nights spent recuperating in Merida, the Yucatan's largest city, we head east towards Cancun and stayed a few nights near the ruins of Chichen Itza. Deemed one of the new seven wonders of the world, it is home of the most famous Mayan pyramid, thousands of tourists and miles of souvenir stands.
While in Chichen Itza we also visit the less-impressive (although much less tourist-laden) ruins at Ek'Balam. Then it's around Cancun to the Caribbean coast and the white sand beaches near Playa Del Carmen and Tulum. Having learned our lesson at Chichen Itza, we head out early to see the picturesque ocean-front ruins and manage to just miss the caravans of tourist buses. We're glad to be done with ruins for a bit - although in less than two weeks we'll be at the grandaddy of all Mayan cities, Tikal in Guatemala.
Start: December 27, Campeche
Finish: January 3, 2012, Merida
Mayan Ruins Visited: 3
Spider DEFCON Level: Eleventy-Million
Gallons of Soup Made by Kobus: 2
Nights Spent in Crappy Campgrounds: 2
Nights Spent in Hostels: 6
This week took us from Campeche to Merida, the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula. All told we've covered about a third of the peninsula, most of that heading north across flat, sparsely-populated jungle.
Between the colonial cities of Campeche and Merida we spent a couple nights camped near Uxmal, one of the largest Mayan archeological sites. We drove the Ruta Puuc, a road that winds through five other Mayan cities, named after the Puuc Mayan culture. Needless to say, we had our fill of ancient ruins!
This article is part of our Internet and Phone Report series.
In Mexico, we setup two types of prepaid data connections via cell phone network. In the US we bought an unlocked 3G Android phone and an unlocked USB 3G modem. The day we crossed into Mexico we bought SIM cards for both devices and setup prepaid accounts. The phone was used both for calling and for checking email. The modem came in handy when we needed to reply to an email in the middle of a long drive or when the internet in our hotel or campsite went down. About half way through our time in Mexico we also purchased a new proprietary USB 3G modem. Details on this below.
A few things you should know about prepaid phone plans:
Start: December 20, Tehuantepec
End: December 26, Campeche
Elevation Lost: 7,100 Feet
How High an Iguana Can Bounce: 2 Feet
Humidity Level: 100% Chance of Sweat
Nights Sleep Interrupted by Angry Monkeys: 2
We began this week nearly 7,250 feet up in the highlands of south-central Mexico in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Temperatures dropped to 40 degrees at night and the environment was much more like home than we had become accustomed to - mountains, yellowing alder trees and pine cones.
It took us five and a half hours to drive 130 miles down the winding mountain roads to reach the jungle that marks the beginning of the Yucatan Peninsula. We spent two days in Palenque touring our first Mayan ruins, and a couple more days camped near the beach at Isla Aguada for the Christmas holiday. Feliz Navidad!
Start: December 13, Cholula
Finish: December 19, San Cristobal de las Casas
Oaxacan Recipes Learned: 6
Types of Tortillas Made: 2
Crickets Eaten: A few
Ancient Ruins Explored: 1
World's Stoutest Trees Seen: 1
For the pronunciation-impaired, Oaxaca sounds like 'wah-ha-kah' not 'oh-axe-ah-ka'. It's a state in southern Mexico, with a capital city bearing the same name. There are more indigenous cultures and peoples in this area than anywhere else in the country. For example, we spoke with a friendly policeman who had to learn Spanish before he could move to the city to find work.
All told we spent four days in and around the city of Oaxaca, camped in a noisy RV park, the only one still open in the area. Traffic in the city is terrible, but the food, markets and charm of the historic city center more than made up for it.
Start: December 5, Mazatlan
Finish: December 12, Cholula
Earthquakes Survived: 1
Monarch Butterflies Seen: Gazillions
Nights of Fireworks Slept Through: 7
Tacos al Pastor Consumed: 6
This leg of our journey takes us from the coast of the Mexican mainland to the heart of central Mexico. Three long days of driving take us across the country, from Mazatlan to Guadalajara, to the monarch butterfly reserve high in the mountains and finally around Mexico City to Cholula, a suburb of Puebla.
The entire country is celebrating a week-long holiday called Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Day of our Lady of Guadalupe) in honor of the Virgin who appeared to an indigenous Mexican named Juan Diego who later became Mexico's religious patron. Towns have been packed, parties stretch into the wee hours and fireworks (more like explosives) shake the ground every night. Little did we know it wouldn't only be fireworks doing the shaking...
To get from Baja to mainland Mexico you have two choices, drive back up the way you came or fork over a couple hundred bucks to take a ferry across the Sea of Cortez. We chose to take the ferry. It was expensive, but we had no desire to drive an extra two thousand miles.
This article details our sixteen hour ferry adventure. We went into it not really knowing what to expect aside from the ferry schedule and ticket costs. That information is available online on the Baja Ferries website.
Start: November 24, Cabo San Lucas
Finish: December 4, Pichilingue
Days Spent in Fancy Resort: 7
Songs Performed by Mariachis: 2
Forbidden Fish Caught and Eaten: 1
Number of Tents Replaced: 1
We broke the mold this week. Instead of camping on sand, cooking on tiny backpacking stoves and living out of our car we enjoyed a sunny week at Club Cascadas de Baja in sunny Cabo San Lucas.
We also had family visit, Mom flew down from Seattle to spend Thanksgiving with the three of us. We dined on tacos and frequented the swim-up bar for mango margaritas. Not your typical turkey day, but no one's complaining.
“This fucking road will kill ya!”
So starts the drunken campfire conversation with BajaBuda also known as Dave. A retired Vietnam veteran, now living in a RV Park just north of Mulege in Baja, Mexico. “I have been in some stupid and scary situations in my day, but few things as dangerous as this Mex 1 highway.
“Every day you see idiots do things that make it easier for this road to claim another. You,” he said pointing at me, “should not be one of them. You should be on your guard and pay attention to the road… Remember this road is not your friend. And keep your tires on the road.”
This conversation that lasted most of the night (and most of a bottle of tequila) made me look at the road from a different angle. I never really considered the road as the danger, I always thought it was the aggressive speeders that wove in and out of traffic at ludicrous speeds.
This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border name: San Ysidro
Between cities: Chula Vista, USA and Tijuana, Mexico
Cost for visas: $20 USD per tourist card
Cost for vehicle: $48 plus $200 USD refundable deposit
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Start: Saturday November 12, Playa Santispec
Finish: Wednesday November 23, Los Barriles
White Sandy Beaches: 3
Crazy Three-Day Mexican Festivals: 1
Rainy Days: 1
Fish Caught and Eaten: 3
It's been a while since our last trip update, apologies to friends, family and those living vicariously through our travels. We've been hopping from beach to beach, enjoying the sun, a bit of fishing and a few surprises.
The past two weeks have taken us through the towns of Mulege, Loreto and Los Barriles along the east coast of southern Baja. We're currently in Cabo San Lucas at a beach-front resort (thanks Dad!) enjoying some down time and sorting out the next few weeks.
Start: Tuesday November 8, Guerrero Negro
Finish: Friday November 11, Santa Rosalia
Fish Caught and Eaten: 1
Seagulls Caught and Released: 1
Street Tacos Consumed: 6
Routine Military Checkpoints Crossed: 3
Rainy Days: 0!!!
After a long day of driving we've crossed into Baja California Sur, the southern half of the Baja peninsula. Rumors of white sandy beaches, good fishing and beautiful weather has convinced us to move south as quickly as possible.
Our first few days in Baja Sur are spent in the towns of Guerrero Negro, San Igancio and Santa Rosalia. We drive from the Pacific coast of the peninsula, across the desert interior, to the eastern coast on the Sea of Cortez.
Start: Tuesday October 30, Lake Havasu, AZ
Finish: Monday November 7, Ensenada, Mexico
Borders Crossed: 1
Rainy Days: 3
Street Tacos Consumed: 3
Cameras Broken & Repaired: 2
Most Spent in One Day: $325.81
Since our whirlwind tour of the Grand Canyon we've survived a night camping in sand with 40 mile per hour wind, a beer brewery tour, two broken cameras and the world's busiest land border crossing.
We're currently driving down the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, and will reach Cabo San Lucas in a couple weeks. Much has changed, and much remains the same. In any case, it's safe to say we're not in Kansas anymore.