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Travel Log days 8-9: Rumble in the Jungle

The final hurdle out of Nicaragua was the border crossing. Entering Costa Rica was easy enough, but leaving Nicaragua was full of hoops to jump through. First migracion then aduana, then everywhere in between as we had to seek out the proper forms and signatures. We finally got our paperwork in order and after a few hours were headed towards the Pacific coast. We saw plenty of surfboards on passing cars and couldn’t wait to hit the beach. Unfortunately,  we were still a few hours out. We pulled into Dominical, Costa Rica on the back end of a wild rain storm. You couldn’t see a thing other than the outline of the road and the surrounding green of the jungle, but somehow we found the small pull – off just as the rain let up. We drove down the steep hill and passed a few beach bars and a soccer field, locals and gringos alike milling about the streets. We pulled by them and headed towards the beach. It was a gorgeous locale, albeit still a bit grey, with low hanging green trees covering the beach right up to the sand line. A few surfers were watching the waves as we got out for a quick walk, and then we headed towards town for a bite to eat. 


The beach at Dominical.



Our campsite the next morning. No more fog!

That’s where we found Tortilla Flats, a beach bar admittedly aimed at American tourists, but one that still boasted great food and a local charm. We had house nachos and a lengthy discussion over which Costa Rica beer was the best with our bartender. They were mostly the same, but we learned that their perception of a “dark” beer was far lighter than our own standard. Either way, we posted up for a bit and caught up on highlights from that afternoon’s Champion’s League final. We had missed the actual game due to our heavy driving schedule, but the highlights alone did not disappoint. I had hoped for an Atletico victory, but Real turned it on in overtime and deservedly achieved their decima. The night wound on and a few loud drunk Americans began to fill the bar. There was a dance party that night, and as more locals began to arrive we chatted with Jordan, a Dominical native and surf instructor. We had just discovered that we had an extra day to spend in Costa Rica due to a delayed Panamanian port schedule, so he gave us some tips on what we should do the following day. We took his advice – though not that in picking up Costa Rican women – and marked a nearby waterfall on our map for the next day. The party was just heating up, but we retired to the car and drifted off to sleep to the undeniable beat of regatone in the distance.


Climbing rocks near Playa Dominicalito.

We “slept in” until around eight the next morning and took a stroll down the beach. Just outside of town a large river met the ocean, so we watched the two waters merge, then returned to Tortilla Flats for some desayuno. After eating one of the best breakfast burritos I have ever had, we said goodbye to Dominical and relocated down the road to Dominicalito, an amazing beach just off of a point in the Pacific. We climbed about on the rocks and took a refreshing (and much needed) wash in the ocean. Our next stop was the waterfall Jordan had told us about. It was poorly marked and the people we asked each had their own vague recollection of where it was, but we finally turned down a gravel side road, forded a small river, and we found it. The falls were tucked away in the jungle and served as a secluded swimming spot for the surrounding locals. We didn’t take a turn on the giant rope swing, opting instead to rock hop down the river and explore some of the jungle. Grant was the first to slip, soaking his tennis shoes in the cool, clear water, but we trekked on through the wilderness and quickly were out of site from the falls. We eventually found a small path leading up into the hills, and saw a secondary falls coming down the back side. It had been gerry-rigged with a pipe system to supply water to the houses below, and by following the rubber tube we got a fantastic view at the top. Heading back to the car, my flip flops finally have way, and I crashed to the rocky ground. Apart from embarrassing, I also had my camera in tow. Disaster was imminent. By some miracle I managed to throw up my right hand as I fell, keeping the camera safe from most of the water, and getting a nice bruise on my hip in the process. With my right side soaked and the camera safe, we got back in the car and headed out with the windows down.


The local waterfall at Pozo Azul.

A few hours later we turned off the highway again. We had planned to stay the night at another national park deep in the jungle. To get there, we followed a gravel road and then a dirt road as we wound through small houses and farms. And then it stopped.  The clearly marked road led us to one last farm, and then ended abruptly courtesy of a large wooden fence. We got out and looked for a different path, but apart from a nearby river,  there didn’t appear to be one. When we were out wandering around, I noticed a solitary figure watching us from the farm. I waved. Grant waved. Nothing. Finally we yelled an hola and the figure began slowly lumbering our way. The farmer told us that the road was closed for the season. The river was in fact the road, but due to higher water levels,  he informed us, you needed four wheel drive to make it. Well we had four wheel drive and when he saw the car, the man said we would be fine, and we crossed the first section. The water wasn’t too high for the car, but the real issue was sand and gravel that comprised the riverbed. Fortunately, we could make out other tire tracks on the various banks, and quickly picked up on the proper lines to take. After the first few switchbacks across the water, we were feeling good.


Parque Nacional Piedras Blanca’s…. The sign, at least.

Crossing rivers is a lot of fun. You find the line, gain speed, and jet across the water as the wake you create rises on either side. We forgot to roll the windows up and caught a few splashes of water as we passed, a refreshing mistake in the humid jungle air. We trekked on, following the tracks as they made their way upstream. There was no end in sight, and worse, no signs to indicate, well, anything. By now the sun was rapidly setting and we were anxious to find the park and stop for the night. Maybe it was that anxiousness that made us misread the track and get stuck in a hole. We started just fine across the bank, but hugged the left side river bank too tightly, and as a result found ourselves trapped in a deeper pool of water with the tires spinning aimlessly in the gravel below. I don’t mind getting stuck, but when it’s getting dark and you’re in the middle of the jungle with no one else around, it gets a little stressful. I was very concerned but Grant marshaled us through the ordeal. We trudged through the water and found a large tree on the bank, and set up the wench. Our front right tire was off the ground, so with me hanging on to the side if the car as a counter weight, we managed to wench and gas our way out. After finally getting out of our trap was dark and we decided to set up camp right there on the bank. Ironically, the entrance to the park was on the other side of that same bank, but of course it too was blocked by a fence,  and despite lights being on, no one came to see what was going on. We sat outside reading and avoiding bugs, trying to relax after our brief ordeal, but the sound of something large breaking a log in the jungle around us sent us quickly into the car. It was a muggy night, but sleep came soon and our Costa Rica adventure came to a close.

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Travel Log day 7: Lots of driving,No entiendo?

We hit the Honduras border around 7:30am, and the whole hour and a half drive there we were mentally preparing for what was next. From most accounts, Honduras is a horror story. Bad roads, corrupt police, and chaotic border operations highlight the questionable reputation that Honduras holds with overlanders. We exited El Salvador without much difficulty and pulled into customs. Naturally the bank wasn’t open until eight, so we had to hang out in the muggy heat for things to continue. Other than some poorly marked buildings, and things going veeeeeery slowly, getting the vehicle permits and getting into Honduras wasn’t too bad. The first obstacle was crossed, but now we had to drive through it. Here we go. When we passed through our first police checkpoint, we almost passed out from holding our breath. When we got to the front of the line we were ready for nearly anything, but instead faced the last thing we expected: a smile and a handshake. We made through Honduras in just a few hours and zero incidents. Maybe the country caught on that tourists like to visit countries where they can travel without being harassed…


A long day with lots of planning

Nicaragua on the other hand, was a different story. Border shenanigans aside (and there were a few) the transition was relatively painless. The roads were a bit better and we were getting used to the heat, and after the perfect passage through Honduras, we were feeling good. That’s when the first police stop occurred. We were waived down to the side of the road and promptly informed that we had “failed to stop” at a previous checkpoint. We remembered full and well the previous stop, and had given the officer a thumbs up as he waved us through. That thumbs up was likely our undoing, and sensing some obvious gringos, they were going for the kill. The show they put on was Oscar worthy. It was good cop, bad cop, ambivalent cop, and less bad cop. We probably dealt with five different officers, each with their own explanation as to why we owed them exorbitant amounts of money. They took our documents and Grant’s license and refused to return it until we paid up. Fortunately, we were more or less ready than this and had our counter offensive ready. So we played dumb. Grant pretended to not know what they were saying and added lots of “I’m sorry” and “I don’t understands” and surprisingly it worked. In the end, they were far from subtle about asking for a bribe. After twenty minutes they told us to get in the car and give them our cash. We should have refused the blatant transgression, but it was only about ten dollars, and we were anxious to get the hell out of Managua.


We never got inside! Nice guard and safe campground, though.

By the time we stopped for the night we would be stopped twice more, yet again for vague and bogus reasons. This time though, we were well versed in the “no entiendo” defense and got out with only our time being spent on the corrupt police. We finally got out of dodge and headed to our campsite, but thanks to hanging out with our new police friends, it was after dark and the park had just closed. We explained our situation and they still would not let us in, but the man at the front gate was extremely nice and understanding and offered to let us park just outside the main gate near the guard house. It wasn’t perfect, but we pulled the car into some tree cover and set up camp. It was Costa Rica in the morning, and I think I speak for both of us when I say we were unsatisfied with our experience in Nicaragua. I hope we can spend more time there in the future and be proven wrong!

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World Cup Preview: As We See It


In the final days before we depart, the weather is finally nice in Medford, Massachusetts. The biting cold and freezing winds have seemingly vanished for Spring, but the memories of all of the god forsaken snow I have shoveled is enough to make any venture south seem like a dream come true, especially when South America is the destination. Warmer weather and a nice vacation are great, but it’s not exactly what you think. Most people assume BrazilDrive is just about two crazy brothers pursuing their crazy dream adventure, and to an extent, it is. But what often get’s overlooked is the event we’re actually going to: the World Cup. Adventure and exotic locations are nice, but this trip would never have existed if it weren’t for our unrequited, obsessive love of soccer. Having played soccer for basically as long as we could stand, Grant and I have traveled far and wide to pursue our love of the sport. All of North Carolina, the East Coast, even Germany, Spain, and South Africa, soccer has led us on many adventures before, and now it is taking us on another.

Our playing careers are mostly deceased, but our love for the sport is ever growing. I am a devout supporter of Liverpool FC and can often be found early Saturday mornings streaming games online. Although Grant tactfully (read: annoyingly) claims to support Everton, he does not really have a team. He claims it would be a betrayal to his Green Bay Packers, but I think he just can’t be decisive. He loves teams for players, and will scour rosters in search of the next young star, regularly emerging with a new go-to team when we play FIFA. My passion is more channeled while his is far ranging, but our unbridled love of soccer is the same. But that’s enough about us. Let’s talk tourney.


Grant’s Picks:

Winner: Brazil

Busts: England

Dark Horse: Belgium

Most Intriguing: USA

It’s hard not to consider Brazil favorites in this tournament. The current number one team in the world is in fantastic form at the moment and will be even more motivated to win it all on home soil. Coming off of a Confederations Cup win – including a mastery of reigning champions Spain – they will be chomping at the bit to get to the final. Everyone sings Neymar’s praises (and deservedly so), but you can’t overlook the immense talent on this team. Oscar, Hulk, Paulinho, and Thiago Silva are just a few of the big names Brazil has to offer. With Scolari at the helm and a pretty easy group, a finals run seems inevitable.


What is there to say about England. The nation that boasts the best league* in the world has struggled to make a statement in the World Cup over the past few tournaments, and look unlikely to turn it around. This year they are caught in a transitional period of sorts. The old guard that has been so consistent in the Three Lions kit is showing their age, while the new rank of youngsters have incredible potential, but have not yet proven themselves on the international stage. Do you stick with Ashley Cole, or finally give the fantastic Leighton Baines a shot? And what about Luke Shaw? John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are out, so who holds down the center-half? Sterling and Sturridge, or Rooney and Johnson? England has a wealth of talent but is left with too many questions. Facing the likes of Uruguay and Italy in the group stage, it seems unlikely that Roy Hodgson has the answers.

*Open to debate


Grant and I have debated whether they actually count as a dark horse, but Belgium is nonetheless an exciting team going into the group stages. After not featuring in the 2010 tournament, Belgium dominated their qualifying group by nine points to storm into Brazil. The perfect combination of young talent and players experienced in top-flight leagues, look to see Belgium progress out of the group stages and make a run in the finals. Grant has been singing Eden Hazards praises since his days at Lille, and he has more than lived up to the hype at Chelsea. Backed up by Moussa Dembélé and Marouane Fellaini, and a take-you-pick striking option of Romelu Lukaku or Christian Beneteke (pending a return from injury), you’ve got a young team with more than enough firepower to send a strong message of their arrival in Brazil.


This is an important tournament for the United States. Soccer is on the rise in the states. The talent in the MLS has vastly improved in the last few years and the number of domestic players we have playing abroad is more than ever, all culminating in a strong qualifying campaign that sent us to Brazil in terrific form. Since then, however, things have not been quite as smooth. Being drawn into the “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal, and regular American World Cup dream destroyers, Ghana was the first bit of bad luck, but the form of the team has also come under question. Friendly wins over Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina last year showed the promise that this team carries, but since then losses to Austria and Ukraine and a draw to Scotland shows just how far we still have to go. Jurgen Klinsman certainly has the team moving in the right direction, but how they will fare at the World Cup is a mystery. If Jozy Altidore can overcome his embarrassing form at Sunderland, and if Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley’s returns to the MLS can prove fruitful, the Yanks could have a shot at surprise emergence from Group G. On paper, the odds are not exactly in our favor, but sometimes being the underdog is the motivation a team needs.


David’s Picks:

Winner: Germany

Busts: Netherlands

Dark Horse: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Most Intriguing: France

In my opinion, Germany is the best team in this tournament. You do not need to look much further than Bayern Munich’s success over the past few seasons, as well as that of their rival Borussia Dortmund. Since the 2010 tournament, these two teams between them have 4 Bundesliga titles, 3 Champions League final appearances, and one Champions League trophy. Considering that the majority of the German national team rosters hail from these two clubs, it will be near impossible for the Germans to not have a good run in Brazil. With Bastian Schweinsteiger anchoring midfield, flanked by the undeniable talent of Mario Götze, Marco Reus, and Mesut Özil, Germany boasts one of the most exciting teams to watch. Veterans Philip Lahm and Miroslav Klose will provide the extra experience as the repeat third-place finishers in 2006 and 2010 look to close in on an appearance in the finals.


As much as it pains me to say it, I believe that the Netherlands will be a bust in Brazil. Ever since I purchased my bright orange jersey in the fourth grade, I have always cheered on the Oranje in the international circuit. My hopes were raised and dashed in 2010, but I fear the runners-up in Johannesburg will not repeat their success in this edition. Similar to England, the Dutch are blessed with a wealth of young talent, but the question arises: give the kids a chance, or put your money on the veterans? Arjen Robben leads the list of shoe-ins for the team, as does Robin van Persie. But a rather dismal season at United puts the striker’s form into question. Still, the presence of impressive young talent like Memphis Depay and Bruno Martins Indi will keep them in the mix, likely advancing out of group play. Unfortunately, finding the balance between young and old is delicate, and Louis van Gaal might be too distracted by his flirting with United to make the necessary adjustments.


Bosnia-Herzegovina is my wild card. This is their first ever World Cup, and despite being large underdogs, they have the potential to make something of their time on the world stage. They impressed in qualifying, took the US to the brink in a friendly, and overall have performed admirably from such a small nation. Despite its size, you only need to look at the roster to understand why they pose such a threat. On either end of the pitch they boast two Premier League stars in Asmir Begovic and Edin Dzeko, prolifically stopping and scoring goals respectively. To fill in the gaps, Emir Spahic marshals the back line, while Sejad Salihovic and Miralem Pjanic orchestrate from midfield. With Argentina, Iran, and Nigeria in their group, it is likely that Bosnia-Herzegovina will advance with the number two spot. With a little luck, they may be able to muster a run into the knockout stages.


The US definitely will be receiving my undivided attention during the tournament, but for me, the most intriguing team in this tournament is France. The biggest controversy of South Africa was the very public implosion of the French team. Internal tension between players and then-coach Raymond Domenech spill out of the dressing room and onto, well, everything. Players refused to practice, the media had a field day, and France’s football – despite a talented team – was awful. That, however, was 2010. This campaign has seen a transformation of French football. The old guard has been almost completely replaced, making room for a number of new French stars who have made quite a statement. Pogba and Matuidi provide one of the most menacing holding midfield duos in the tournament, and with an attack of Ribery, Cabaye, Valbuena, and Benzema, the French will be a force to be reckoned with. The combination of young and old seem to work in their favor, but only time will tell if they can overcome the stigma of 2010 and make a statement in Brazil.

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Baja Mexico: Part 4


Morning comes early when you’re sleeping in a car, but the transition to getting on the road gets a bit easier as you go on. At this point, we had perfected the process of sliding awkwardly from the platform into the front seats, where we had set our clothes out the previous night. Avoiding entering the cold morning air, we quickly found, was pretty crucial to a non-grumpy morning. I’d say cheerful, but even when you love road trips, six AM starts to the day aren’t always fun.


            The next stretch of road led us to San Ignacio, the name of both a small town, and the laguna nearby. Another missed sign and a u-turn later, we exited Route 1 and headed through town. As we expected, the pavement quickly disappeared and a long and winding dirt road emerged before us, but this time we knew that goal that lay before us: whales. We knew the Baja was famous for its whale watching, and being the beginning of the season, we had planned to stop somewhere along the way to catch a glimpse of these wonderful creatures. Word of mouth (let’s be honest, it was Ernie) had steered us in the direction of Campo Cortez, an ecotourism camp on the Laguna San Ignacio, a favorite mating and breeding ground of Mexican grey whales.


            The dirt road continued away from town for several miles as it headed – as far as we could tell – towards the ocean. It was no problem for the ‘Cruiser, and we quickly overtook a silver Prius making they’re way down the path. We waved as they let us pass, and we continued our way down the road. At the end of the road, a series of small shacks and buildings scattered the beach. Small boats and crab pots lined their borders, and a few dogs lazed about in the shade. We stopped and got out, following a sign for whale watching, and approached an old man sitting on his porch. In his broken Spanish, Grant discerned that we were in fact at the laguna, but the campo was a further ways down the beach. Fifteen kilometers down the beach. We’re all for finding new roads, but this was kind of ridiculous.


Finding (dirt) roads.

On we went, down the road while ospreys flew by overhead and mounds of salt formed in the drying water that had pooled in the ditches below. Before too long we passed the same silver Prius from before, but this time we swallowed our pride and decided to ask for advice. That’s how we met Dave and Marta, a couple driving down from California for a long weekend, and our eventual boat mates. They were taking a short vacation to celebrate Marta’s birthday and were also headed to Campo Cortez, and fortunately, they were a bit more prepared than we were, giving us directions on down the road. They also had actual reservation at the camp. Not planning is both the beauty and the pitfall of spontaneous exploration, but after some polite negotiation and the incredible welcoming of our new friends, we hopped on a brightly colored boat and jetted off into the laguna.










The worst part about whale watching is the apprehension. Camera in tow, our eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of life, our gazes darting back and forth to ensure we wouldn’t miss anything. Every slight wave crest or spray of water grabbed our attention, but just as we were ready to scream, “WHALE,” it quickly dissipated and we were resigned to our impatient scanning. Even a pod of dolphins and a few sea lions did little to hold our attention – albeit apart from the initial excited glance. We were after a bigger quarry. We should have just listened to Maldo. Our guide and boat captain had been navigating these waters for several decades, and if anyone knew where to find a whale, it was he. It was like he could sense them coming. Without lifting a hand from the onboard motor, he nodded his head toward the right and uttered a soft “There.”

DSC_0558 DSC_0628








As we gazed to the patch of blue where he was pointing, bubbles began to materialize and a blob of grey mass began to emerge. It was a mating couple. Not fifteen feet from our tiny boat the duo surfaced and submerged, putting on a show for the four of us. What can I say about whales? Monstrous and gentle at the same time, the remaining hour we spent was just breathtaking. We followed the couple for some time before finally leaving them to their honeymoon. It was their territory, after all, we were just visiting tourists.

After returning to shore, we bid farewell to our boat-mates and got back into the car. We had another few hours of driving ahead of us and were running well behind schedule, though we would both agree it was a detour well worth the extra time. The next section of the drive was inland, so we traded scenic beaches and cliffs for desert and cacti as we headed back towards the Pacific. We had to get to Guerrero Negro by nightfall and the sun was rapidly fading. We got to town right as the sun set behind the ocean, but the campsite we had scoped out on the map didn’t seem to exist. We had found impromptu sleeping places before, but this was the first time we had to do it in the dark. Channeling his best adventuring spirit, Grant had an idea. Passing through a military base on the outskirts of town, he steered the Cruiser off of the highway down a small dirt road headed off into a dark field. Sure enough, he navigated our way to a sandy hill and found a perfect nook away from the road to pull in to: we had found our campsite.


Little coyote in camp.

It was nice to wake up away from civilization the next morning. We were only a few miles from town, but it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere when we made breakfast and packed up camp. A quick gas and ATM pit stop and we were headed further north, this time actually into the wilderness. We were headed to Coco’s Corner, small outpost in the middle of the desert ran by a boisterous double amputee. Imagine the tackiest restaurant you have ever been to and multiply that by ten and you can get an idea of the décor of this checkpoint for the Baja Rally. Surrounded by notes, postcards, and women’s underwear of all sizes and varieties, we couldn’t refuse Coco’s insistence to have a beer and take a load off. But as with all adventures, we still had a long way to go, so we finished our cans, snapped a few pics, and waved as we left Coco gesturing enthusiastically at one of his cohorts.

DSC_0670 DSC_0666

We drove over rocks, sand, and dirt as we made our way further north in search of the highway. After finally making it back onto a paved road, it was time to make a decision. Do we head west and meet back up with Route 1, or do we take a gamble and follow yet another dirt road north to find a national park for our last night? Another military checkpoint had put us behind schedule yet again, so the highway was tempting, but we’re explorers, damnitt. If you ever have the choice between dirt and pavement, well, you know.


We crept into Laguna Hanson after dark and made our way to what appeared to be a ranger station. It was completely deserted except for one attendant who seemed quite confused by our presence. He sheepishly gave us the OK to camp in the park and headed back to his heated cabin, probably just shocked as to why anyone would want to camp in the middle of winter. And it was quite cold. Our one complaint about sleeping in the car was that it was too hot for the sleeping bags, but that night we wished we had brought a blanket.

The next morning we finally saw the park in light, and boy were we impressed. Massive rocks jutted up from all sides, forming these grand outcrops all around us. We wasted no time eating breakfast so we could scramble on top of them and climb our way about. The views were stunning. In all the desert of the Baja, this laguna had trees, our first real glimpse of greenery on the trip. It was like a little oasis hidden away in the north. Naturally, my camera died after getting a single picture of the laguna, so you will have to use your imagination (or a Google search….). We wanted to stay longer and climb more rocks, but deadlines have the tendency to creep up on you, and we still had plenty to do. We were headed to Mexicali to cross the border back in to the States, and from there, a cannon-ball run from California to North Carolina. We had plenty of highway ahead of us, but here was one final dirt road out of the park. With the car packed up and iPod blaring, we enjoyed every curve and bump.


…Man’s battle with nature will never end. But is it really a battle? Like Sisyphus and his boulder, we build roads, tunnels, and canals, shaping nature to our will. But these are only temporary. Nature will always roll our boulder down the hill at the end of the day. So don’t fight it. Don’t make it a battle, make it a challenge: instead of adapting nature, adapt to it. That’s what is so beautiful about the Baja. It is rugged and unforgiving, yet somehow welcoming and comfortable. Life shouldn’t exist here, yet it thrives. Towns sprout up where they can find water, dried up river beds become roads, and even the goats find food wherever it is available. The desolace of the Baja is it’s beauty. Nature has already won, yet the Baja manages to achieve a wonderful existence on the fringe of defeat. So don’t be upset. Your boulder is always going to fall down the hill. Just try to enjoy the view while you’re at the top.

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Baja Mexico: Part 3

As an international relations major, I spend the vast majority of my time reading about various countries and writing essays examining them inside and out. It’s kind of ironic, then, that I can’t find the free time to write one more – about a place I’ve personally done the research for no less. Call it extended reflection or procrastination, but either way this article is pretty behind schedule. Sorry readers (mostly Grant) for the delay, but I hope it will be worth the wait.


San Javier, Riverbed Rambling, Punta Chivato

I always liked mountain roads. Something about the way they zig and zag back and forth as they climb in elevation fascinates me. I guess it shows nature’s persisting victory over man, that try as we might, rock and sand will outlast pavement and concrete, tunnels will crumble, and mountains will remain immortal. Yet even with our insignificance, the desire to try to overcome the force that is nature never goes away. It’s the impossible mismatch that forces us on, making every switchback more uncomfortable and exhilarating than the last. Knowing nature will outlast, this victory is even more ephemeral, and the discomfort this gives makes it all the more exciting. We were pioneers carefully skirting the edge between humanity and nature. Literally. I mean, parts of the road weren’t even there…



With a stomach full of soggy oatmeal and watered-down coffee, we packed up the car and set out from our beachfront suite. Following Ernie’s advice, we decided to leave the coast and head inland to the misiòn San Javier. After consulting a group of accommodating construction workers, we were able to find the poorly marked road that was far more vivid on our map than in actuality. We knew in advance that it would take us roughly an hour to get to the mission from Loreto, so we took our time meandering through the mountains and just enjoying the view. It took some coaxing, but I managed to convince Grant to not take every side road down the cliffs under the condition that we would stop and explore on the way back. He reluctantly agreed, but would later admit that he might have been a bit over ambitious with some of route choices.


He wanted to go down that. I kind of did too.

Once we ascended the mountain, the road settled into a plateau and a small river began to emerge before our eyes. The rocky riverbed we had been crossing over and the winding valley it had carved out was finally showing signs of life. We knew we were getting close. At this time of year the river was little more than a series of small pools slowly drying up from a combination of the sun and wandering cattle, but you could see its impact in the foliage spring up around us. The cactus and parched looking shrubs and trees were starting to become lush and green – a sight we honestly hadn’t seen much of outside of the towns we passed through


From the greenery a small town slowly emerged winding down into a small valley. Framed by the surrounding cliffs, the misiòn San Javier was placed at the center of the town around a small cobble stone road. The town, let alone the mission stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise barren land. The site was founded in 1699 by Jesuit missionaries, the actual mission not being constructed for some fifty years later. It is a breathtaking architectural triumph to build something so beautiful in the middle of nowhere. It helps when you “liberate” an indigenous people of their heathen ways to help them serve your god. As Jesuit control of the region spread, the native Cochimi people rapidly declined. There’s something here about the irony of creating so much death while preaching life, but it’s two in the morning and I’ve had enough meditation for one day.


Misiòn San Javier

Leaving the mission, we retraced our footsteps and headed back to Loreto. Honoring my promise to Grant, we took several detours we had skipped earlier, and the results, well, varied. The first detour saw us getting stuck down a rather steep and sandy hill which we thought was a road. It wasn’t. Some quick thinking and far from standard recovery procedures got us out just fine, and we were on our way, albeit slightly rattled.


A slightly-more-than-three-point turn


Nailed it.










The next detour proved far more fruitful. The trickinling river we had been winding along next to previously was finally dried up, and its bed became a highly interesting (and recommended) makeshift highway. A quick deflate of the tires and we were on our way. Used by adventurers and construction workers alike taking advantage of the dry season, the riverbed was a mix of tight curves and open expanses, and a far more enjoyable hike than our earlier experiment. Following a wayward dump truck we hopped out of the bed on an unassuming ramp hidden behind a few scraggly tress. A quick jaunt through a junkyard and some enterprising goats and we were back on Route 1 headed to Punta Chivato.




Where we’re going we don’t need roads.









“Just take the first paved road you see outside of Mulegé.” Our de facto Baja guide Ernie told us of a sweet campsite on the coast along our planned route, and gave explicit directions to get there. Punta Chivato did not appear on any of our maps, nor did any roads outside of Mulegé, but if we had learned anything from our short time on the Baja, it’s that word of mouth trumps a map nine times out of ten. And thus far, Ernie was batting one thousand.


The beach provides.


So does the box of food in our trunk.









“Paved road” was a bit of a misnomer, but after a beautiful drive up the coast past the Bahia de Concepción and through Mulegé, we located the turn in question. It was paved, sure, but only for a bout forty feet. The turn in question was coupled with several small houses and buildings, but the asphalt quickly turned into stone, and then into sand as we followed more poor signage down the path. After twenty minutes or so we emerged over a hill and saw why Ernie insisted we stop. A clear, sprawling beach hidden by the dunes stretched out before us. The sparse population of unfinished housing developments did little to corrupt the beauty of the beach. We drove the car a little ways down and set up camp on the sand. As the sun set between the mountains behind us, we finished our Pacificos and climbed into our trunk-top nest.




Part 4 (the end!) is coming soon. Keep an eye out.

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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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Baja Mexico, Part I: Durham, NC to Topolobampo, Los Mochis

Call me Grant. Some years ago, never mind how long precisely, I though I would drive about a little, and see the sandy part of the world. Since deciding to pursue our goal of driving to Brazil for the World Cup, David and I realized that, having very little to no experience ACTUALLY driving through foreign countries and living out of our car, we needed to go on a practice trip. With the summer fast approaching, the only time we could both manage to have some free time for a trip like this was the week and a half after New Years Day and David heading back to Boston for school and me going back to work. We left for Mexico on Thursday, January 2nd at 10:00 pm.


Early morning shadows

We arrived some 24 hours later in Laredo, TX, where we camped at the Lake Casa Blanca State Park. We arrived after the park had closed for the night, but we called ahead and they graciously left us the code to the gate.

After a quick but much needed night of sleep, we woke up early the next morning and headed for the Mexican border. Laredo has two bridges into Nuevo Laredo in Mexico, but only Bridge II has the aduana (customs) and facilities to import your vehicle. Traffic coming into the United States was already backed up for what looked like miles, but going the other direction was quick and easy. An official glanced into the rear, asked about our cooler, then shrugged and waved us on. We were in Mexico! To travel outside the Border Zone (some 20 km’s from the border), though, and bring our car into the country, we had to go to the customs building and obtain our tourist visas and a temporary import permit for the Land Cruiser. Upon accomplishing this, we set off on the toll highway for Monterrey.


Northern mainland Mexico

Driving through the northern mainland of Mexico was very similar to how we would find driving through the Baja. Large town or city, 100+ miles of emptiness and mountains, another large town or city. This is not to say the drive wasn’t interesting. Our first taste of mountains and desert was very pretty, and when the highways would hit the cities, we inevitably would get lost trying to find our way to where they started again on the other side (roads signs virtually disappeared once we left the border areas). In the city of Torreon, especially, we spend a good 45 minutes driving though the backroads and poorer areas until we found a local bus that eventually led us back to the highway.

We arrived in the coastal city of Mazatlan under the cover of darkness, and found our hotel (the only one we stayed in on the entire journey!) and a safe place to park. Although we wouldn’t appreciate it until the morning, we stayed at a place called Hotel La Siesta and paid $50 for an oceanfront room. We ate at a small cafe nearby where a local band was playing. I tried to practice my Spanish, we each drank a few of the most refreshing Pacificos I have ever tasted, and we promptly went to sleep.


Good morning, Mazatlan

The next morning, we awoke to an awesome view and leisurely got up and loaded up the car. I had gotten very sunburned driving the previous day (the entire left-hand side of my body), so we both put on sunscreen and started meandering northward towards the town of Topolobampo, where that night we were getting on a ferry and heading to the Baja. As we headed north out of Mazatlan, we realized that the town is actually a pretty major tourist destination! About a mile from our aging, two story hotel, we began encountering highrise luxury resorts and gringos in flip flops. Driving in at night, we never would have noticed if we had driven south out of the city that morning.


Old Mazatlan

Old Mazatlan


After a relatively quick (4.5 hour) drive, we arrived in Topolobampo mid-afternoon. I was a little apprehensive about our ferry tickets, and thankfully David was willing to accommodate us getting to the port 6 hours early for the estimated 11:00 pm departure time without complaining too much. There was a little confusion as to what we were supposed to do with our car, but thankfully we met a nice retired Canadian couple who helped translate for us. It turns out, you have to get your car weighed and measured before they can validate your ticket.  The couple were taking 6 months and driving their full-sized RV up the Baja and back to Canada. We doubled back to town after verifying our tickets and found a local food shack where we ate delicious shrimp and marlin quesadillas, and headed back to the port to wait.

We eventually loaded onto the massive ferry, and after a surprisingly above average included meal onboard, we found some recliners and slept fitfully for a few hours before arriving in La Paz at around 7 am. Once there, we were only a long line of cars and a military checkpoint away from the Mexican Baja!


Awesome sauce


Part II: La Paz to Loreto

[future links to parts 3 and 4]

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Baja or Bust

Do you have any plans for the new year? Personally, we’re still trying to work off the pounds we picked up between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we also have a few bigger fish to fry. Come May, we are going to have to cross quite a few borders and log many hours on foreign roads, and we think we could use a little practice. What better way to get a feel for the road than a little test run down to Mexico?

Tomorrow Grant and I are setting off on a mini-adventure to the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The peninsula is a popular destination for overlanders and adventure enthusiasts alike. Known for whale watching, fishing, and relaxation of all varieties, the scenery and the beaches alone are a good enough reason to drive across the continent. But that’s not the only reason we are going. A vacation to warmer weather certainly is nice, but the practical side of our trip is far more important. It’s already 2014 and the summer is on the horizon, so BrazilDrive is headed to Mexico to prepare for the World Cup.

Like the real trip in the spring, we will be passing through Laredo, Texas as we head into Central America. The first real test is the border crossing. Most people agree that the further south you get, the more relaxed the borders, so naturally the US-Mexico border is the most heavily guarded. Borders are going to be stressful no matter what country you’re in, but we’re hoping to get some practice under our belt before the real deal. We’ve done the paperwork and made photocopies, so we’re hoping for a painless transition, but I’d rather experience any issues now, before missing World Cup games is on the line.

Driving to Baja is going to test more than border crossings. Driving long hours, cooking along the route, sleeping in our newly crafted sleeping platform, and updating the website are all areas we are hoping to work out. So far all of these things work on paper, but we need to try them out in the field before we take on Brazil. Keep an eye on the site in the days to come, as we’ll be posting pictures and updates from the trip!


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