Avoiding Drama In Your Life

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Summary of Driving Through Central America: To Do Or Not To Do

Driving Central America

Camping in Antigua, Guatemala

In the spring of 2011, Gibran and I made a spur of the moment decision to drive to Costa Rica instead of flying. It turned out to be the right decision for us, and it was one of those situations where everything really fell into place and just worked. We didn’t have the perfect set up in terms of our vehicle/home on wheels, but it worked just fine for our first time doing the drive, (or trial run, as I like to call it). We learned a great deal about traveling long distances via vehicle and know exactly how we will do it next time. Here are a few things that we learned that could prove to be helpful for those on the brink of making a decision of whether to drive or not to drive to Central America.

Road Conditions

The road conditions in Central America were much better than we had anticipated. We experienced two different “seasons” as we drove down in November, at the end of the rainy season, and then back in July, at the beginning of the rainy season; however, both times we were pleasantly surprised. We drove down the Interamerican Highway, and only a few times did we stray from it. The one country that stuck out to us as being in the worst shape (potholes, loose gravel and rocks, and bumps) was Honduras, which also happens to contain the shortest piece of the Interamerican Highway.

The Truck Reposing

A few days’ stop in Barra de la Cruz, Oaxaca

For the most part, the Interamerican Highway contains a great deal of twists, turns, and hills. It’s also single lane so you have to be prepared to do some sketchy maneuvers, and it is definitely recommended that the person who drives is someone with significant experience and comfort level behind the wheel. If you have driven anywhere in North America, the rules of the road are for the most part the same, but adhered to much more loosely.

Safety

Like all forms of travel, if you play it safe there is a very good chance that you won’t run into any troubles. Having a car definitely makes foreigners much more conspicuous and it can be more of a hassle, (for example having to find secure parking, especially in some of the older and more touristy cities). However, there are great benefits to having a vehicle — especially for those who want to surf their way down the coast — that far outweigh the risks.

We heard a lot of brouhaha about how dangerous Central America is, and as we traveled we realized that most of this was unfounded. In fact, in almost every country people think their own country is very safe while being suspicious that their neighbors’ country is incredibly dangerous. This did not prove to be true in our case; for us, with each new country we were welcomed warmly and treated very well.

Gibran and I are what you could call “old fogeys”… aside from surfing we don’t really do much that is considered exciting. We don’t really go out, we refrain from substances of all kinds, (except the occasional beer), and we go to bed pretty early. This might be one of the reasons that we had no issues in Central America… our time there was very “tranquilo”. In terms of driving, we stayed off the roads after dark, we didn’t stop at random places on the road, (and especially not rest stops/lookout points), and we didn’t stray too far off the beaten track. We also both speak Spanish and blend in pretty much everywhere we go, (the brown skin advantage), which is worth noting.

Driving North vs. Driving South

Everyone told us that driving north would be much worse than driving south in terms of sketchiness level and delays. Since the drug corridor is south to north, we also figured we’d be detained at borders and check points. However this did not prove to be true, in fact, our experience was that we were stopped much more going south than we were going north. At some of the borders they didn’t even look in our vehicle!

Expenses

A Delicious Pancake Breakfast

Maintaining the budget by cooking

If you choose to drive through Central America you will find that some things are probably more expensive than you are used to, (Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Europe), whereas some are much cheaper. In general, Central America is a very affordable place to spend time, and specifically in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

More expensive:

  • Gas: in some Central American countries gas is double what you would pay in Mexico or the United States
  • Spare car parts/fluids: Be sure to stock up on anything that you might need as in many Central American countries things are difficult (and sometimes impossible, depending on the vehicle you have) to find, and/or extremely overpriced

Cheaper:

  • Food: from groceries to meals out, pretty much everything you find in Central America is at least a little cheaper, and more often quite significantly cheaper
  • Lodging: there are always options for cheap lodging in Central America, and if you are driving you have the option of bringing camping gear and taking advantage of the camping options throughout Central America

 In Our Experience

For us, the drive through Central America was really awesome and totally worthwhile. Our only regret is that we had a strict timeframe we needed to adhere to and didn’t get to spend enough time in the places we liked or exploring new places. We would do it again in a heartbeat and will, when we have another opportunity to.

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Life Is Like Being On The Road (In Central America)

Road In El Salvador

What’s around the bend?

After spending quite a bit of time on the road, (specifically in Mexico and Central America), I’ve decided that it’s quite a metaphor for life in general. Maybe that’s the case for being on the road anywhere, but my (recent) personal experience is in Central America so that’s what this incredibly wise assessment shall be based on.

The Ups

On the road, things are looking up when you find yourself on a particular stretch of beautiful road. In Central America that might be when you come around the corner and see that you are at the top of a hill/volcano or valley, with a view of huge, lush green mountains that are covered with mist, and you can see for miles and miles. Or perhaps when you arrive at a bluff overlooking the vast Pacific ocean, and it’s just so beautiful it takes your breath away. You’re at a high vantage point and can see for a good distance, and a good song starts playing on the radio or on your iPod’s shuffle setting. You are getting good gas mileage, there is not a pothole in sight, and and everything just makes sense. You feel like you’re flying.

Beach RoadThese are the good times, and if you are lucky enough to be traveling by vehicle then chances are you are fortunate enough to have many of these given to you in life. However, you can expect that there will be some rough times as well — such is life on the road.

The Downs

You find yourself stuck behind a huge truck spewing noxious fumes on a windy road with no opportunity to pass. Everything slows down and you realize that you are not getting to where you thought you would be in the time you thought it would take. The progress you made before all seems to be for nothing, your gas mileage goes down and you start reassessing the decisions that brought you to this point in the first place… you think to yourself, “I should have just flown”. Perhaps you get stopped by sketchy looking enforcement officials who you expect will try their hardest to extort you. Or perhaps you find yourself in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road with a gas tank almost on empty, and all of a sudden everything is on edge… will you even make it?

Sunset in NicaraguaThese are the bad times, and being on the road pretty much guarantees that you will run into them. Yet without these bad times, would you even recognize a good time if you were given one?

Life On The Road

After all, the road in Central America (like life) is an unpredictable place to find yourself. You have to keep going to get to arrive at your required destination, but sometimes it seems like way too much work and effort. However, if you do keep going and keep your wits about you at all times, you will surely arrive where you need to arrive, probably in decent time, and with a whole handful of experiences, memories, and knowledge. And in the end, it will provide you with a multitude of adventure so rich and inspirational that you will be happy you went with your gut instincts and traveled the more difficult path.

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We Made It To 5!

WeirdosI know you’re probably thinking there is something wrong with the world today, that it must be a little off its axis because I’ve finally made my literary debut onto Worldly Rambles. Let me assure you everything is [most likely] okay. Continue reading

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Gibran & Adrianne: 5 Year Love Birthday

5 Years Together

Yup, we made it to the first major milestone

5 years ago today, I made the most momentous decisions of my young life by choosing to get married to Gibran Garcia. On June 15th, 2007, Gibran and I had known each other a mere 16 months and had been together officially for less than a year. I had been 20 years old for 6 weeks, and Gibran was (a young) 25. Marriage had come up for us so quickly because while we knew we wanted to be together and give our relationship a true go, yet being from separate countries/being at different stages in life meant that any type of relationship that wasn’t long distance would be difficult without a government-sanctioned commitment. So, after weighing the pros and cons of such a huge step, we decided to give it a shot. Continue reading

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