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Where We’ve Been: October 2011 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route. This month we’re also introducing a brand new “Where We’ve Been” feature: time-lapse video created using pictures taken every 10 seconds by a  GoPro Hero HD camera mounted on our windshield.

We began the month just outside the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. We quickly headed into El Salvador (successfully this time) via the Honduran town of Santa Rosa de Copan. We crossed into El Salvador at El Poy and drove straight to the wonderful colonial town of Suchitoto where we spent a bit more time than planned due to devastating rains that hammered the region for 10 days.

From there we went to the surprisingly pleasant capital city of San Salvador.  We left the capital and went to Cerro Verde (Volcanoes) National Park and ended the month in the low-key, art-filled town of Ahuachapan on the Ruta de Flores.

We’ll blog about all of it soon. In the meantime, check out the video made using images taken by our new GoPro HD camera which has been working hard taking snaps of our entire driving route which we then compile into video so you can see EXACTLY what we see out on the road (only much,much faster).

We’re still working on the ideal settings, but here’s where we drove in October brought to you in under nine minutes! You can thank extraordinary musician and friend Scott Metzger for writing the Official Trans-Americas Journey theme song which you hear in this video.

 

As always, you can zoom in, move around, and check out our SPOT Satellite Messenger driving route map, below, in satellite view.

October 2011 Driving Route

GoPro supplied a Hero HD for us to use and review.

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The Mega Mundo Maya Manual (with a little help from us)

Moon Maya 2012: A Guide to Celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and HondurasEarlier this year travel writer and guide book author Joshua Berman asked us for input for his new book, a mega Mundo Maya manual published by Moon Handbooks called  Maya 2012: A Guide to Celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. It was a perfect fit.

During our Trans-Americas Journey we’ve spent well over a year in the Mundo Maya visiting more than 50 Mayan sites in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In addition, Josh (who also writes the Moon Handbook travel guides to Nicaragua, Belize and the Living Abroad in Nicaragua guide) is committed to conveying a true sense of place based on actual first-hand experiences just like we are.

We did some digging around and provided Josh with information about the best guides, events, tours and hotels to help readers plan the most powerful and revealing trips through the Mundo Maya in 2012.

The end of the world (as we know it)

Why 2012? Well, the Mayans were meticulous record keepers, astronomers and day counters. The carved-stone calendars they left behind are stunning in their accuracy and artistry and have been the focus of intense research for decades.

Mayan calendars end on December 21, 2012, however, for reasons we may never know. Theories range from hysterical (and often ignorant) cries of “It’s the end of the world!” to the more moderate view held by many actual Mayans that the end of the Mayan calendar is merely a kind of re-set button for humanity–difficult and painful, but nothing to get apocalyptic about.

Whatever theory you subscribe to, 2012 is a year full of unique celebrations of Mayan culture throughout Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. If you’ve ever been curious about these countries and/or the Mayans, 2012 is the time to visit.

Maya 2012: A Guide to Celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras (Moon Handbooks, $7.95 for the book/$2.99 for the Kindle edition), is available NOW so if you want the inside scoop about the most unique and authentic on-and-off-the-beaten-path celebrations, pick up a copy and start planning smart.

We do not get a percentage of book sales. We just hate to see people waste their vacations (and their money) on mediocre experiences, especially with regard to a once-in-a-lifetime event like the end of the epic Mayan calendar.

Use the link at the end of this post to buy a copy of Maya 2012: A guide to celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize & Honduras (or snag a FREE Kindle version). But first, here’s a sneak peek look at the interview with us that ran in the book.

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Where We’ve Been – July 2011 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route. Below is a map that shows you exactly where we drove through Honduras and almost into El Salvador during the month of July 2011.

We started the month on Utila, one of Honduras’ Bay Islands. After some SCUBA diving we returned to the mainland and went white water rafting on the Rio Cangrejal. Then we drove back to Copan, partly so we could have more of the awesome, small-batch, German-style beer being brewed here. After a quick pass through San Pedro Sula we went down to Lake Yojoa where we visited the D&D Brewery (more beer!) followed by a night in nearby Cerro Azul National Park. From there we passed through Comayagua and on to Gracias where we arrived in time to catch the parades and fireworks during one of Honduras’ most important festivals, Cacique Lempira Day. After some time in Gracias it was time to cross into El Salvador, unfortunately border officials had other ideas and we were turned away at the border, forcing us to head back to Gracias where we ended the month of July.

We’ll blog about all of it soon.

In the meantime, zoom in, move around, check out our route in satellite view and have fun!

 

Driving Route July 2011 – Honduras & Almost El Salvador

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Access Denied – El Salvador Border

It was bound to happen. After 30 shockingly smooth border crossings into and out of six different countries we knew our luck at the border couldn’t last forever. Apparently, it couldn’t last until El Salvador where we were met with access denied. The problem actually started many, many months ago but we didn’t know that as we approached the immigration station at the El Poy border crossing into El Salvador from Honduras.

The first bad sign

We arrived at the border around 2:30 in the afternoon and we were stopped at a preliminary check point in the brief no-man’s-land between Honduras and El Salvador. There we were asked to hand over our passports. Routine. Then things got weird.

The border agents began examining every entry and exit stamp from Guatemala and Honduras and grilling us about when we entered and exited each country. We’d spent much of the previous seven months traveling through Guatemala and Honduras, entering Guatemala on three separate occasions, so remembering exact dates was difficult. Eventually, the frowning agents took our passports into a building and told us to wait in the truck.

Meanwhile our border sidekick, a wee Scottsman named Tom (a 6’4″ rugby player, photographer and head honcho of a very cool web mag called Student at Large), sailed through the formalities with no worries and was waiting for us on the El Salvador side.

And waiting. And waiting.

Obelisk marks the spot: a border marker between Honduras and El Salvador at the El Poy crossing.

 The second bad sign

After about 20 minutes a border agent emerged brandishing our passports and telling us to drive forward and park, which we did. Then we were ushered into an office. It’s never good if you end up in an office at a border crossing but that’s where we were. Things quickly got worse when the border boss, named Christian Navarro, sat down across the desk from us. With a self-satisfied smile on his face he informed us that we had a problem. We silently re-named him Señor Smug.

Yes, we have a problem

Employing the Central America-4 Border Regulations (CA-4) the agents had counted days from back when we most recently entered the CA-4 region during our crossing from Belize into Guatemala in early March which they considered to be the date we first entered the CA-4 region as a whole. According to their math, we’d overstayed our CA-4 allotted time by many months.

We, on the other hand, were under the impression that CA-4 regulations had been dropped for foreigners throughout Central America. There had been no sign or mention of CA-4 in Guatemala or Honduras and in Honduras a border official actually told us CA-4 was dead region-wide.

 

Meet the first arch enemy of the Trans-Americas Journey, Christian Navarro–the border boss of the El Poy crossing between Honduras and El Salvador.

 

CA-4 Visa Background: In 2006 Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador banded together to try and create a kind of mini EU to benefit Central American nations. Good idea. One of the initiatives was the CA-4 visa regulations which allowed Central American residents to travel freely across Central American borders and granted foreigners a 90 day visa that was good for all four member countries. However, foreigners could not exceed 90 days IN TOTAL in the four participating countries combined.

Why cash-starved nations would want to limit the amount of time (and money) foreigners can spend in their countries is beyond us, but they did it. Yes, visa limits are necessary (no one expects a country to let foreigners stay indefinitely). But asking travelers to spread 90 days (a normal and reasonable amount of time usually given by individual countries) between four different nations is limiting in the extreme.

During our Journey we’ve spent 140 days in Guatemala alone. So how were we then able to enter Honduras? To make an already draconian rule even more confusing and confounding, following the 2009 coup in Honduras the country chose not to apply the CA-4 rule (or was unrecognized by its neighbors), allowing foreign visitors to stay in Honduras as long as they like providing their Honduran visa is valid (you get 90 days automatically at the border), regardless of how much time they’ve already spent in any other CA-4 country.

In this unclear environment we attempted to do our CA-4 homework. To be sure about the border rules in El Salvador we emailed the Tourism Ministry of El Salvador and the El Salvador embassy in Washington DC to ask a host of questions, several times (the subject line in our emails read “URGENT Media questions from journalists entering El Salvador overland in our own vehicle”), but we never got any response from either authority.

There’s such a lack of current information about how and where CA-4 rules are applied that the US State Department warns that “In isolated cases, the lack of clarity in the implementing details of the CA-4 Border Control Agreement has caused temporary inconvenience to travelers.”

That depends on how you define “temporary” and “inconvenience.”

 

This clearly long-abandoned vehicle is parked in front of the immigration office in El Poy and it seemed a dark premonition of our own fate as we tried to enter El Salvador.

 

The bottom line (almost)

Back at the border, Señor Smug whipped out a highlighted book of border regulations (suspiciously published in 1998, eight years before CA-4 was even created) and informed us that because we’d overstayed our welcome in Central America we would each be required to pay a $114.98 fine and then he could issue us a 5 day visa.

This would leave us with three choices.

1. Tour all of El Salvador in five days and continue on to Nicaragua via Honduras. This, for us, would be logistically impossible.

2. Drive through El Salvador and cross back into Honduras at a different border then enter Nicaragua (where we’d likely have a similar CA-4 problem) and into Costa Rica (a non CA  nation), then all the way back to El Salvador with a fresh CA-4 visa good for 90 days–a trip of more than 20 hours each way and absolutely not necessary since, geographically, you don’t have to go through El Salvador at all in order to travel south from Honduras.

3. Blow El Salvador off altogether, something we didn’t want to have to do since that would mean failing at our stated goal of visiting ALL 23 countries in The Americas.

Frustrated, we explained to Señor Smug (for the 10th time) that we were sorry that we’d overstayed our 90 days but we were unaware of the rules and our work as travel journalists requires longer stays. We reminded him that we wanted to enter El Salvador in order to publicize tourism in his country. We’re here to help, we said.

It was like talking to a wall. A smiling, finger-wagging wall.

Our contacts in El Salvador are few but we walked back into Honduras to buy air time for our cell phone and then we called them all. María José Rendón, the director of marketing at the El Salvador Ministry of Tourism, said there was nothing she could do. Miguel from Suchitoto Tours said he’d make some calls. And Rodrigo at Eco Experiences El Salvador generously offered to make a few phone calls as well. However, it was nearly 5:00 pm. Phone calls were going to have to wait until the morning, and so were we.

Instead of spending the night in Los Almendros de San Lorenzo in Suchitoto (one of the best hotels in El Salvador and one we’d been assigned to write about) we spent the night in the cramped front seats of our truck parked along a dusty, noisy stretch of no-man’s-land.

 

New day, new way?

Sunrise at 5 am would have woken us up, but that would have required sleeping in the first place which didn’t really happen in the not-so-comfortable-for-sleeping front seats of our truck (our ever-loyal giant wee Scottsman “slept” on the roof of our cargo box).

By 9 am phones were blazing and Rodrigo and his super-helpful colleague Cecilia eventually reached the head of El Salvador’s Immigration Department and pleaded our case to him. He agreed to look at faxed copies of our passports and Guatemalan and Honduran entry/exit stamps.

At this news our spirits rose. Maybe there was hope yet. El Salvador seems to be attempting to increase its pathetic tourism numbers–the country is such a non-destination that Lonely Planet no longer publishes an El Salvador guidebook. Maybe this immigration official would recognize the benefit in finding a way to get working travel journalists into his country.

Nope.

Around one in the afternoon–nearly 23 hours after the whole border problem started–we were told that even though the head of immigration could have authorized a special dispensation in our case, he had refused to do so.

We could, we were reminded, still pay $114 each for a five day visa! We agree that we (unknowingly) broke CA-4 visa regulations and stayed too long in Central America. And we agree that El Salvador had the right to uphold the regulation and impose a fine. But, as we’d already pointed out, offering us just five days instead of a fresh 90 day CA-4 visa once that fine is paid is not a solution. It’s a hostage crisis.

So we bid farewell to the wee Scottsman (who had remained by our side all this time) and watched him walk into El Salvador with no small amount of jealousy. Then we turned our truck around.

 

Adios El Salvador

Back on the Honduran side of the border folks were surprised to see us again so soon but not surprised that we’d had trouble getting into El Salvador. When we explained what happened the Honduran immigration agent shook his head knowingly, as if to imply that everything that happens in El Salvador is crazy. “You are always welcome in Honduras,” he said with a slightly self-righteous smile.

Then again, these two countries don’t necessarily play nice together. In 1969 they had a violent altercation (at least 1,000 died) called The Football War and, yes, it was sparked by a soccer game…

Once back in Honduras we also had to buy a new US$40 importation certificate for our truck (so our border trouble wrecked our budget as well as our plans) but at least we had a country to call our own. In total this failed venture cost us around US$200 in phone calls, border fees and gas.

So the past two days have been full of firsts…The first time we’ve spent the night in our truck (awful). The first time we’ve traveled with a wee Scottsman (awesome–thanks for the laughs in trying times). And, oh, yeah, the first time we’ve been DENIED ENTRY INTO A COUNTRY.

Our no-man’s land home for nearly 24 hours as we tried to enter El Salvador. Thankfully, as borders go, this one was slightly less dusty, trash-filled and heinous than most.

 

Travel Tips

Obviously the 90 day CA-4 cap is no problem for short-term vacationers. For long-term travelers like us, however, it’s a big, big problem which needs to be take into consideration when planning your route.

Anyone traveling long-term overland is in an even more difficult situation since CA-4 seems to be largely ignored at airports but strictly enforced overland. Señor Smug even suggested that we should fly into El Salvador and get a new 90 day visa upon landing, but the Journey is a road trip so this work-around was not an option for us.

And don’t assume that Honduras will keep ignoring CA-4. The regulation is still on the books and could be upheld at any time.

Getting current information about entry/exit rules is difficult (lack of information was a big part of the reason we ended up in this mess in the first place). We suggest talking to someone in the nearest embassy for the Central American countries you want to visit before leaving home.

Read more about travel in El Salvador

 

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Archaeological Index: What You MUST Know About the 100+ Mayan (and other) Sites We’ve Visited

Since our Trans-Americas Journey started in 2006 we’ve visited nearly 100 archaeological sites in the US, Canada, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.  These sites have given us a window into cultures ranging from the Anasazi to the Zapotec but most of our Indiana Jones time has been spent with the Maya–we’ve visited 54 Mayan sites so far with more to come.

With so many posts about so many sites we wanted to index them in one easy place–and here it is. We’ve categorized sites by culture and by country and alphabetized each site within its grouping for quick reference. The links take you directly to our blog post concerning that site.

Bookmark it for trip planning and research–especially with the puzzling end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.

 

Mayan Archaeological Sites in Mexico

Chichén Itzá

 

Ek' Balam - The Twin Pyramids & the Oval Palace

Ek’ Balam

 

Palenque

Becan Campeche he state

Bonampak Chiapas state

Calakmul Campeche state

Chiapa de Corzo Chiapas

Chicanna Campeche state

Chichen Itza Yucatan state

Chinkultic Chiapas state

Coba Quintana Roo state

Comalcalco Tabasco state

Dzibilchaltun Yucatan state

Dzibilnocac Campeche state

Edzna Campeche state

Ek’ Balam Quintana Roo state

Hochob Campeche state

Hormiguero Campeche state

Izamal Yucatan state

Izapa Chiapas state

Kabah Yucatan state

Labna Yucatan state

Loltun Cave Yucatan state

Mayapan Yucatan state

Palenque Chiapas state

Sayil Yucatan state

El Tabasqueño Campeche state

Tenam Puente Chiapas state

Toniná Chiapas state

Tulum Quintana Roo state

Uxmal Yucatan state

Xpuhil Campeche state

Yaxchilan Chiapas state

 

 Mayan Archaeological Sites in Belize

Lamanai

Actun Tunichil Muknal aka ATM cave

Altun Ha

Caracol

Chan Chich

Lamanai

Lubaantun

La Milpa

Nim Li Punit

Xunantunich

 

Mayan Archaeological Sites in Guatemala

Aguateca

Dos Pilas

El Ceibal (Seibal)

La Florida

Ixlu

El Mirador part 1, part 2, part 3

Nakbe

Punta de la Chimino

Tikal

El Tintal

Uaxactun

Yaxha

Quiriguá

Mayan Archaeological Sites in Honduras

Copán

Los Sapos

Las Sepulturas

El Puente

 

Mayan Archaeological Sites in El Salvador

Tazumal

Joya de Ceren

San Andres

 

Other Mesoamerican Sites in Mexico

Cacaxtla (Olmec-Xicalancas culture) Tlaxcala state

Cholula (Olmec-Xicalancas culture ) Puebla state

Guachimontones (Teuchitlan culture) Jalisco state

La Ventana: Parque-Musueo de La Venta Villahermosa, Tabasco state

Mitla (Zapotec culture) Oaxaca state

Monte Alban (Zapotec culture) Oaxaca state

Paquimé (Mimbres culture) Casas Grandes, Chihuahua state

Quiahuztlan (Toltec culture) Veracruz state

El Tajin (Totonaca culture) Veracruz state

El Tepozteco (Aztec culture) Tepotzlan, Morelos state

Teotihuacan (Aztec culture) Mexico state

Templo Mayor (Aztec culture) Mexico City

Xochicalco Morelos state

Xochitecatl (Olmec-Xicalancas civilization) Tlaxcala state

Yagul (Zapotec culture) Oaxaca state

 

Museo Nacional de Antropología Mexico City

Museo de Antropología Xalapa, Veracruz state

 

 

Archaeological Sites in the US

Aztec Ruins National Monument (Anasazi culture) New Mexico

Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Anasazi culture) Arizona

Chaco Culture National Historic Park (Anasazi culture) New Mexico

El Morro National Monument (Anasazi culture) New Mexico

Fate Bell Shelter – Seminole Canyon State Park

Gila Cliff Dwellings National monument (Mogollon culture) New Mexico

Hovenweep national Monument  (Anasazi culture) Utah/Colorado

Hueco Tanks (Mogollon culture) Texas

Mesa Verde National Park (Anasazi culture) Colorado

Montezuma Castle National monument (Sinagua culture) Arizona

Navajo National Monument (Anasazi culture) Arizona

Painted Rock – Carrizo Plain National Monument, California

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

 

 

Archaeological Sites in Canada

L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (Vikings) Newfoundland

 

 

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Where We’ve Been – June 2011 Road Trip Driving Route

Thanks to our SPOT Satellite Messenger you can see our exact Trans-Americas Journey road trip driving route. Below is a map that shows you exactly where we drove through Guatemala and into Honduras during the month of June 2011.

We started the month at our friends’ ranch in the Southern Peten area of Guatemala. From there we stopped at the Mayan ruins of Quirigua on the way to a volcanic crater lake called Laguna Ipala. Then we drove a bit further south to visit the famous “Black Jesus” in the cathedral of Esquipulas. From there we crossed the border and entered Honduras near the famous Mayan ruins of Copan. Next up, a drive to the coast where we took a ferry out to Roatan Island then to Utila Island.

We’ll blog about all of it soon.

In the meantime, zoom in, move around, check out our route in satellite view and have fun!

 

Driving Route June 2011 – Guatemala & Honduras

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