Category Archives: The Route

Trip Log Day 6: Volcanoes and Ruins


It was well after dark when we pulled into Ahuachapan. It was a small town but the restaurants and street side bars seemed to be bustling. I sat in the car and watched the square as Grant went inside to check in to our hotel. La Casa de Mamapan is a small hotel in the middle of town where we were to stay the night and begin our first rest day. No 4am start this time! We could sleep in, enjoy actual beds, and air conditioning. We climbed in bed and watched a mix of equally terrible El Salvadorian and American television before quickly falling asleep.


Town square in Ahuachapan, El Salvador

We woke up around eight, a pretty late hour considering our schedule thus far. It was hard to leave the comfort of  the beds, but another luxury coaxed us out: showers. Newly clean and with the freshest of clothes, we found breakfast at a local pastry shop nearby. We drank our coffee and used their wifi to look up our next stop, the ruins of Tazumal. Though small in comparison to its Yucatan counterparts, Tazumal was a sight to see. The impressive temple ruins shot up within the small town, and was the tallest building around us, silhouetted against the blue sky. We walked around the temple grounds and would have ascended if not for a few ropes clearly blocking the way. They were in the process  of restoring the original walls and we had to settle for the outside view, which did not disappoint.


Mayan/Toltec ruins at Tazumal

Leaving the ruins, we met another overlander headed the opposite direction as us. Tonny was riding his motorcycle north to Guatemala and had also stopped to see the ruins. We chatted briefly and snapped a few pics, then hopped back in the Land Cruiser and continued on. We were going to a rainforest, a parque nacional, high up in the mountains. The ride up to Cerro Verde was a climb steadily up into the mist, and as we climbed , the forest seemed to get thicker. At the top we found a flat parking area surrounded by wooden shacks we could barely make out in the fog. With zero signs to follow we found what appeared to be a trailhead and followed it into the forest. What we found at the end can only be described as Jurassic Park. A once luxurious though now abandoned complex sprawled out before us, surrounded by jungle and shrouded by mist. We wound through the corridors and terraces outside of the old lodge and peeked though the windows as we passed, finally exiting the way we came, careful to scan the horizon for prowling velociraptors. We left the facility and found a small trail leading off from the main area. We took it down the far side of the mountain and into the actual rainforest. The emphasis here is on rain. It started to pour almost immediately as we entered the  jungle. It was supposed to be a nature walk with scenic overlooks, but it was too foggy to see anything at all, and the rain quickly soaked through our jackets.


Cerro Verde rain forest

We had to hop a fence to get back to the parking lot, but once we got there the rain had finally let up. We each changed clothes into a dry set and grabbed some lunch at one of the wooden shacks nearby. It was a chicken and cabbage concoction served on a bread roll and we wolfed down our meal and hit the road once more. It was a “rest” day, but we still had some driving to do to make sure we stayed on course. After a few more hours in the mountains,we pulled into our campsite for the night outside of the tiny town of Alegria.


Camp at an old volcano crater lake

Camp at an old volcano crater lake

The campsite was an old volcano top that had filled with water and formed a lake in the center. Apart from a few locals playing soccer in the field contained withy the crater (seriously, soccer in a volcano? Sign me up) we were the only people there. We set up the car and went for a quick romp in the surrounding jungle. We scrambled up some rocks and even a tree and got a great view of our “private” volcano. Just beautiful. We warmed some soup and treated ourselves to some Oreos, then it was off to bed. The rest day had been a huge success, especially with the trials the following two days would bring.

Laguna de Alegria, near San Miguel, El Salvador

Laguna de Alegria, near San Miguel, El Salvador

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Trip Log, Days 4-5: Borderlands


Rancho San Nicolas outside of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

We hit the road when it was still dark out and made our way off the volcan and set a course south. We were headed for Rancho San Nicolas, a small RV park and campsite In San Cristobal de las Casas, a few hours from the Guatemala border. After winding through the town in roads a little tight for a Land Cruiser, we made it to el rancho. There, we met a collection of other overlanders on various stages of their own respective journeys. Groups from Texas and Switzerland alike were both coming and going along the Panamerican Highway.  We set up camp and shared a beer with JR,  a California native who had quit his job, rented out his house, and hit the road with a few buddies, planning to make his way south for as long as they could afford to keep going. With the sun long set, we said farewell and climbed into our bed for the night.


Fellow overlanders!

Again out before sunrise, we hit the Guatemala border at 7:30 am. We had missed the Mexican aduana (customs) and had to pull a quick u turn to get our documents for the car in order to leave the country. With permit in hand we crossed the border only to wait yet again for our passports to get stamped and to process the new car permit. After a little over an hour, we were given the so called “green light” and we pressed through the small town and into Guatemala.  Our first uncharted border went relatively smoothly.  Country number three was under way.



Mexico-Guatemalan border at El Amatillo

Guatemala is a beautiful country. The drive in from Mexico skirted through the mountains,  passing through small towns scattered in between the jungle and the cliffs. The highway followed a river along a mountain valley, and we curved our way on through the country. Apart from the beautiful scenery, we were also excited to see an abundance of old Land Cruisers on the road and parked alongside. FJ40s and FJ70s were quite common, so we felt right at home on the road. Unfortunately, this is as good as Guatemala got. Passing through the capital we encountered heavy traffic, considerably stalling our arrival at the next border.  We decided to press on and try to get into El Salvador, despite the hour getting a little late. The process at the border seemed easy enough, and after waving off the “helpers” an official – or so we thought – helped us get to the right offices so we could get across quickly. With that finished,  we were told the customs in El Salvador was closed for the night, but we could pay the entry fee on the Guatemalan side and it would be fine. We were inherently skeptical and debated with the man, who claimed he was a customs secretary. We counted out the money and demanded a receipt, and when he would not provide one we grabbed the money back. But we were nervous about the border closing and tired after a full day of driving. We handed over the cash and got an “official” signature before crossing the bridge to El Salvador. Lesson learned: go with your gut. They weren’t officials at all, only scammers quick to capitalize on unsure tourists passing through. El Salvador was open well into the night and customs didn’t even have an import fee. The El Salvadorian officials were sympathetic and very helpful getting us through to their country. Upon exiting they told us we needed to grab a cold beer in town, something to sooth the burn after being swindled. With a wave and some broken Spanish, we told the officials genuinely that El Salvador was far superior to its western neighbor. Guatemala left us with a bad taste in our mouth, but we had still made substantial progress.  Pulling into town, we had crossed two borders and three countries in one long day. With a “rest” day ahead of us, the trip was moving along as planned and we were making progress through Central America.




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Trip Log, Days 0-3: Durham, Mexico, Graduation

After months (years?) of arduous planning, our journey finally began on Saturday, May 17th, 2014. David was in town the previous weekend to help get everything organized and to test pack the truck, but had to get back to Boston for a little ceremony known commonly as “graduating from college.” I would be undertaking the first two days of driving alone.



Extra gas and spare parts. A tight fit.

After double and triple checking everything with the help of my beautiful and  wonderful girlfriend, I said goodbye to her and to Durham, NC at 9:30 am and started driving south. My first stop was a small state recreation area in Mississippi. I made it there by 10:30 pm, only to find it full of boy scouts! I found a quiet spot to set up camp without bothering them too much and slept.



David’s graduation.

Early the next morning I began heading toward Laredo, TX, where David was flying down to meet me and the meat of our odyssey would really start. On the way I got this picture in a text. Congratulations, David, on graduating from Tufts University!



BrazilDrive’s #1 fan.

I picked him up from the airport in Laredo late that night, and we got a few hours of sleep in our hotel room before heading across the Rio Grande and into Mexico at 5:00 am. In a short 13 hours on very nice, but expensive toll roads, we would be at our campsite in La Maliniche National Park, outside of Puebla. It was dark by the time we arrived, and would still be dark when we left the next morning, but our adventure had begun.



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Baja Mexico, Part 2: La Paz to Loreto

In our first post about visiting the Baja, we chronicled our three day journey just to get to La Paz, Baja California Sur. By Monday morning, 10:00 am local time, we had arrived.

We wanted to get the fun part of our journey started ASAP, so we didn’t spend much time in La Paz. We hit the bank to take out some pesos, filled up on gas at the Pemex, and headed north. Our initial plan was to stop in Cuidad Constitucion for the first night, but as we found normal on the Baja, our plans changed with regularlity. We decided to try to make it to the town of Loreto and find a place to camp on the beach. While we struggled initially with the concept known locally as “kilometers”, we estimated that we could easily get there before nightfall. We got in the truck and kept driving. The initial drive was sparse, but beautiful. We even managed to find some cacti.

Wow. Such cactus.

Wow. Such cactus.

Much thorns.

Much thorns.




















One of the coolest things we found about driving in the Baja were the side roads. Most of the roads, major highways included, were thoroughly deserted for long stretches, and every now and then a lonely, dusty track would peel off to one side. We regularly took off down one these side “roads” as an opportunity to explore. It often felt like we were the only people to have traveled down these routes for months, or even years. Roughly 30 km’s outside of Loreto, we took a chance on one such side track, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Sea of Cortez before coming down out of the mountains. We drove up a small grassy track, through some rocky hills, and popped up onto an awesome cliff overlook. Despite being clearly abandoned, we even found evidence of a campsite and fire put! We had some lunch and took some pictures of the majestic scenery.


Gorgeous. The view’s not bad, either.


Om nom nom nom nom nom


Money shot

Money shot



Sadly, it was too early to make camp. We had a little more driving to do before reaching Loreto. We pressed on.

We made it into the town of Loreto in the late afternoon and set out trying to find a place to camp. This was our first night on the Baja peninsula, so camping on the beach was a must. We drove through the middle of town, and were waved towards the outer edge. We found an RV park filled with very nice looking vehicles, and decided to ask for directions. A Canadian man was sitting outside his RV reading a book, and he claimed that there was a road used by the locals to get to the beach during the summer months. If we could find it, we could camp on the beach no problem! We thanked him, and in the waining light managed to find a dirt turn off that led us to the beach.

Our beach campsite in Loreto

Our beach campsite in Loreto


We made a simple dinner with some locally sourced chicken and peppers

We made a simple dinner with some locally sourced chicken and peppers


We awoke at sunrise the next morning, completely refreshed.


Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day…




Day 5 of our trip begain with making coffee and oatmeal for breakfast and packing up the car. As our luck would have it, we ran into our Canadian friend from the RV park again! He was going for his morning walk along the beach, and recognized our behemoth of a car from the previous night. We offered him some coffee, only to discover that we only had two cups. We apologized, and ended up talking to him for quite some time about his trip and the Baja.



I need to work on my tan


His name was Ernie, and it turns out that he and his wife were spending 6 months living in their RV in the Baja. His son had previously raced in the Baja 500. We were extremely jealous. He was also very knowledgeable on things to do and see while on the peninsula. My internet-based planning had been mostly me pointing at the map, and saying, “That looks cool”. Ernie recommended numerous places to see and his expert advice helped us to re-plan most of the second half of our Baja trip.

Based on Ernie advice, that morning we headed up into the mountains north of Loreto to find the very old Mision San Javier, founded in 1699.


Part I: Durham, NC to Topolobamp, Los Mochis

[futures links to parts 3 and 4]


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