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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

11.28.17 Sunset Sesh at Colorado

In my quest to get the best conditions dialed, I've been paddling out, or at least looking at it, during different tides to see how it reacts.  This can take a long time, as there are so many variables involved.  The most efficient way to do it would be to take a little reporter's notebook and make a notation of the wind direction/speed, swell direction/size, and tide then rate it qualitatively on a 1-5 scale.  After enough reps, you can get a rough idea as to the ideal set-up.

Unfortunately, this doesn't take into account the most important aspect of wave quality, bathymetry.  What's on the bottom dictates, more than anything, how a wave breaks.  However, if you look at it enough times during a short window, you can take this variable out of the equation so long as nothing drastic happens to change it (a big storm and/or swell can change sandbars drastically). 

Just as on land, there is an erosion issue with sandbars though...

I've been watching some videos to diagnose my issues and I think I've narrowed it down to two things. 

The first is wanting to 'keep my eye on the ball' and watch board contact the wave on snaps' which is a no-no; one is to look (first with the head/neck, then shoulders, then upper torso/arms) to the destination and the body is to follow.

The second is to keep one's arm over each rail the vast majority of the time.  This one I'd never heard before though I'd noticed back in my GoPro days I was swinging both arms back on frontside top turns.  I'd noticed you don't see rippers doing that on video and chances are it wasn't because I'd blazed a new style trail (I did that with the crab grab).

After paddling out into close-out central in an attempt to get lucky on a random corner, I paddled into the thin-ish and mostly mellow crowd.  I caught a left and a right with a similar result, which was getting to the bottom and then jumping over the folding section.

I finally got a look at a left and was really excited to try out what I thought was the answer to my cancer.  Though I did a strong bottom turn and looked down to the trough (and slightly behind me), I fell back on swinging arms back.

I saw a wave breaking north of me with no one on it and paddled to greet it.  The highlight was a right I caught late and was able to squeeze one mini-pump.  This bought me some time and the wave and I was racing with me slightly losing.  Not sure what I was thinking, I tried to turn into the barrelling wave in order to get on the slightly slopier trough section. I immediately got slammed and while underwater wondered how long I could've been in the barrel before the inevitable drubbing.

I'm still dealing with the arch of my foot cramping up but hopefully if I keep surfing it will work itself out.

I walked back and saw some of our neighbors on the sand, said hi then undertook the long walk back to our condo.  Towards the end of the walk, it was moonlight which lit my way back through the trees.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

11.25.17 Bloated PC with light crowd; PC Pros/Cons

Yep, it was high tide again but this time a farther walk to go for a session.

Here's my opinion pros and cons after having surfed it about a dozen times total:


  • Several peaks, which helps split crowd up
  • Can work at both tides if swell cooperates, which helps split crowd up
  • Can handle big swells
  • Rivermouth helps shape sandbars
  • Private-ish wave: only those staying at HI and RS can surf it unless they boat in (could be considered a con, if you're staying elsewhere).  People in Gigante can walk but it's a long one.
  • Offshore winds allow one the option to wait for perfect tide/swell bump if working
  • Near another wave within walking distance, which helps diffuse da dudes 
  • About as good as waves get when stars align
  • Very fast and very hard to make on shortboard without great positioning/luck and flawless set-up pump/turn
  • I would estimate that ninety percent of barrels close out and the remaining eight or so percent fold over into unmakeable oblivion.  On most days, my experience so far has been there are no makeable barrels; covers-up yes, but no substantial makeable barrels.
  • Rivers bank up during dry season and don't break through until rainy season is well underway.  S swells start in March/April and rain doesn't start until mid-May generally.  Conversely, one can reap the rewards of late-season swell (this time of year is considered late- to off-season)
  • It photographs really well and causes many faraway loins to purr, which leads to it being...
  • Crowded
 I think I made it around one section today and though I did complete the top turn I had that toe-curling numbing of the arch issue.  The most fun I had was curling into my first pigdog in more than three years and being comically too far on the flats.  I was eighty percent laughing, twenty percent wary of a beating despite the shoulder-high wave.  I did crabgrab as well but given the high tide I couldn't squeeze in.

Friday, November 24, 2017

11.24.17 Quick Outside Pangas Shorebreak Strike

On a lark, I decided to see what Pangas had to offer.  The swell was about 1-3' so imagine my delight when the sets were head-high.  I paddled out and within four minutes I'd perched with dry hair.  The water was a touch colder than El Salvador water but still very pleasant.

I spotted one of my neighbors and I asked him why he chose this break over Colorado.  He said he paddled out here if it looked good and he rarely walked all the way down to Colorado.

The waves were very shifty which can be handy if there's a crowd as you tend to get spread out.  There were less than five of us out and the waves were tricky.  Because we were coming off the peak of the high tide it was almost always a late drop to get into waves.

I caught a left which looked really juicy off the drop but there was no shoulder; something I found out and was dismayed by after a strong bottom turn but nothing to push off once at the top.

I caught a right and I did a quick pump, then as I went for a hit the shoulder had passed me by.

All in all it was mostly drops at Panga Drops, but solid considering the swell with which it was working.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

11.21.17 Still AM, now at Lance's Left

Though Playgrounds did get better as the tide dropped, we realized its potential would  be capped as we kept waiting and the improvement stopped.  Another panga and its payload paddling towards us didn't do much to soothe our pain so we bailed back towards Astillero, to Lance's Left.  I took the traverse time and reapplied sunscreen as it was getting close to the roast time of 10-2.

This was a picturesque spot with an imposing cliff littered with wayward cacti. We followed Tyler out and as the tide was getting low it did get ok.  On my first wave I did something weird and ended up digging a rail somehow on a fade turn.

I started getting pretty frustrated with myself and eventually things changed.

I caught arguably the wave of the morning and did a set-up turn, then stomped down and circled back with a strong bottom turn.  I demolished the section presented and came pretty close to pulling it.

After a little more than an hour, our party started streaming back to the panga (one guy didn't paddle out for the second sesh for one reason).  I got one last wave, pretty good, but did nothing noteworthy and we skedaddled.

We paid the portly guy $100 and tipped the captain $20 and headed back to our respective condos.

11.21.17 Boat Trip Session ONE: Early AM Playgrounds

One of my neighbors invited me on a boat trip a few days prior.  We spent the twentieth in Managua, where the streets do have names but the government chooses not to post them anywhere.  We went there to speak to an attorney and file paperwork for a corporation; a must since we are too young to apply for residency through pensioner status.

It was easily the worst day of our time here so far and I knew I'd be getting up early the next day, as I'd already committed to the boat trip.

I knocked on Tyler's door and he said to be out in the car park by 4:20.  Oof!  I was bumming but I'd committed and that was that.

The next morning, I got some coffee and went down.  I marveled at the too-many-to-count stars, many of which I hadn't seen in ages due to light pollution issues in the States.

I got in the car with three Canadian guys and we drove off to Astillero in the pitch blackness.  There was some worry as to whether there'd be a boat for us to hire since we'd be arriving just after first light.  Luckily when we pulled up there was a portly older man wearing a towel around his waist.  He said it'd be $120 and we talked him down to $100.

The panga was on the beach and they stuck nice smooth logs under it, taking the logs off the stern side and back under bow as they rolled.  Once we got to the water, a canopy and engine were added and off we went.

After about twenty minutes, we pulled up to Playgrounds.  I had read a few months ago that this place was similar to a warm-water Lowers and was salivating that the lefts were longer than the rights (unlike its cold-water cousin).

I caught one of the first waves and it immediately sectioned off.  I arced off the top and in the resulting gathering of my board I sliced my foot and big toe.  It wasn't a bad injury and at no point did I feel I should go back to the boat.

We had it to ourselves though we warily eyed a couple of off-road buggies that came by.  The first let some dudes out who paddled to a waiting panga.  The second didn't get there until we'd left (it seemed to want to follow our boat as it reached the limit of the pointed headland; still no clue as to what they were doing).

Our first boner bender (other than the uptick in swell not being enough to let Playgrounds do its thing) was a panga that let out three loggers and their photog.  We scooted down the point a ways, as the initial peak seemed to fold over every time.

I caught zero memorable waves and eventually we paddled to the boat.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

11.18.17 PC on New Board!

I couldn't fathom the thought of renting a board for more than a week.

I went to SJdS and visited four or five spots and found one intriguing option: a Mayhem 6'0" shaped for Kolohe Andino.  The price was right at $225 (including fins) but there was a crease on it.  I hemmed but didn't quite haw and let it go, even though I was boardless and getting desparate.

Yesterday, we trekked to Popoyo and I couldn't find anything either.

Our neighbor downstairs has a quiver of boards right at his entrance and I asked him if he had any he'd be interested in selling.  He said yeah and it took us a couple of days to link up.  I saw his boards and they were a little too potato chip-y; I didn't want a board I could snap easily.  He told me about a place that sells boards and I hit them up today.

I got a 5'10" Al Merrick Bunny Chow.  I'd never heard of a Bunny Chow but then I've been way out of the game.  Two neighbors, including the aforementioned Brian, asked me what I paid and both winced.  The old EddieP might have gotten butthurt and likely angry at the face looking back at him in the mirror but I did a lot of research and the $330 was a solid price for the board and fins. NOT ONLY THAT but I talked him into a free bar of wax for having bought the board.  SUCKER!

I walked out of our condo complex at about 340 and walked to a lot we're interested in, then counted the steps to the beach access (489).  I saw a tantalizing wave break at Pangas and I headed in that way after making out about ten bobbing heads towards Colorado.  I spotted just about nothing surfable the whole walk.  I hung out there for a few minutes and the two dudes out weren't catching anything.

I thought about paddling out anyways but I decided I really wanted to try the board out and so a fifteen-minute or so walk I undertook to Colorado.

I caught my first wave, a left, and pumped to oblivion.  I intended on doing a roundhouse cutback but ended up settling for a slash on which the fins slid out just enough to make me dig a rail and bobble. 
I caught a couple of forgettable ones and while sprint-paddling to set up a duckdive, I felt a twinge in the arch of my left foot.  I flexed it and it went away pretty quickly.  I caught a right late, bobbled, recovered, but I couldn't feel my toes very well.  This feeling dogged me the rest of the session whenever I stood up.  I'm going to try to remedy it by laying the board on the sand and putting all my weight on my back foot on the archbar of the tail pad.

I had a left on which I decided at the last minute to do a floater but my angle was off.

I pumped on another wave and was going to go for a roundhouse cutback but I bogged.  I decided to torque only my lower body and I was surprised at how much rotation I got out of the board as I faded out the back.

I went in, satisfied with the purchase.  I counted the steps to another lot we're considering which is smaller and cheaper (393).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

11.14.17 Plenty O' Paddling @ Panga

This was one of the funniest sessions in a while.  I had anticipated a juicy low tide session and took two fins out of my board last night.  I paddled out past Panga which had about ten heads on it.  I made it out with a couple of light duckdives and that's when the game began.  A wave would come and it would appear as though it would absolutely, definitely break.  I'd paddle for it, miss it, then be too inside of the next one.

I would get wise, adjust, then miss a rideable (albeit barely so) wave.

I was getting ravaged by what is colloquially known as chichicaste in El Salvador.  I still don't know what it is; I've been told it's sea lice, microscopic barbed plant material, even baby (somehow invisible) jellyfish.  I got some in my arm pit and later across both of my buttcheeks.  It can sting pretty bad and is one of my top three stoke-killers.

I sat almost all of the way out, just shy of the foam-heavy pack.  My intent was to pick off the scraps.  It was too inconsistent and the pack fanned out in boredom, rendering my strategy moot.

Eventually, I went in little by little, missing wave after wave.  I was either too inside or outside and didn't get any clean looks at anything.

I developed massive foam envy.  The guys on logs and funboards were catching some head-and-a-half sets on the outside.  It was very inconsistent and the waves were fat, but still a better experience than mine.

I couldn't help but laugh at my luck.  Eventually, I stood up on a shorebreak wave and went in.

Monday, November 13, 2017

11.13.17 PC as swell drops

I barely glanced at Pangas today.  I thought about not looking at it at all and die-is-casting myself.  I stole a glance and while I saw nice waves peeling, the sight of a sweeper accelerated my trajectory towards Playa Colorado and away from Panga Drops.

The waves didn't look great with a little turbulence on the water.  In California, I would have been excited to surf waves like this (especially with less than ten people on it), so I tapped into my Cali consciousness and elicited some stoke out of it.

I caught my first wave within five minutes.  It was a right, a bit lazy, but it let me do a snap on a steepish section while sticking my hand in the face.  I made it without issues, then kicked out just as I was to descend again.  I'd gotten the best part of the wave and was angling for the best part of another wave.

I caught a left a bit late, eventually made it around the section with an elongated bottom turn, then had to stop short of a top turn as crest began cascading down (I christened it as a "direction change").  I felt my board loosen up a bit, then stomped down.  As I was about to ascend, the wave let out its death rattle and I was forced to kick out.

I paddled out again and perched as the crowd around me doubled in size.  I saw a bigger dude go for a wave on which he was really late. He two-paddled it right into the barrel and, though he eventually got swallowed and consumed by it, I was left impressed.

I thought to myself how long it had been since I was in a barrel.  I couldn't remember getting one on the trip earlier this year and it didn't happen in my two sessions in El Salvador last year.  So my last barrel could've been on this very stretch of sand thirty-nine months ago.

A left came and I saw a shot.  I took it, and the barrel pinched me immediately.  I couldn't even fit my upper body into it so I'm not counting it.

The crowd continued increasing and the waves got a little bigger, though they were a bit less frequent.  I took a close-out in.

Ribs are feeling better and more accustomed to the pressure and friction of a board.  I feel like my paddling muscles are all the way back (was pretty sore after first session).  I'm still taking it easy on sun exposure and my sessions are shorter as a result.

On the way back, I walked on the beach and was brutalized by sand fleas.  I'll take them over mosquitoes and especially horse flies any day!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

11.12.17 High Tide Shellacking at Outside Pangas

I longingly looked down the beach to Colorado, hoping to see a morsel of something, something that would save me from the long paddle out to PDs.  In the haze, I made out over a dozen heads.  I saw one guy on a left struggling to catch up to the high tide line and that's when I boomeranged right, towards Pangas.

I surveyed the waterscape and didn't see anything working where I'd caught a couple yesterday.  It looked like I was going to have to paddle all the way out.

The waves I observed being ridden as I paddled out were on the flat side, surely a product of the peaking high tide.  I cursed my timing; I could have woken Raquel up to be with Lucia and I would have likely had a higher chance at better waves.  Though the thought crossed my mind, I labeled it as non-starter dick move each time it reared its head.

I eventually made it out, though I was still inside of the bombs.  These consisted of a drop and a respectable but messy wall on the rights and not much more than drop on the lefts.  I paddled for a right and was really close to catching it but it wasn't meant to be.

A set came and I paddled out. The top of it had just started breaking and I attempted to punch through it above the water.  It packed more of a punch than I had anticipated and it felt as though I'd been punched in the face.

The highlight of the session was a guy catching a right.  I duckdived so as not to be in his way and I went at too sharp an angle and made a fool of myself.  I came up awkwardly after having barely penetrated the water and my board and I were soon separated.  This likely would have been a finalist on @kook_of_the_day had anyone been filming.

Two clean-up sets came and the slopes were very flat. After getting rolled a few times I looked back and the beach was close.  I called it a session after having caught ZERO waves...

I'm thinking I will only paddle out at low- to mid-tides outside of the 10-2 mid-day bakefest.  Rising and close to high tide leads to too-fat waves and more whitewater to punch through.  If I get a shot, I'll do so this afternoon.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

11.11.17 Inside Pangas

The walk out to the beach access was punctuated by my staring into the rising sun's glare.  I could make out a couple of heads bobbing.  I looked all of thirty seconds and didn't see anything remotely surfable in that time.

I'd surfed Colorado already and wanted to see what Pangas had to offer.  The tide was just shy of its apex and I figured I might have better luck there.  I took the walk and got only semi-pounded in the shorebreak.  The instant my body hit the board I felt the tenderness from the last session.

There were less than ten guys on it, most of them way outside.  In my whole session, I saw maybe two guys out there catch waves.  The inside was very shifty but had some nice peaks, though on the rights only.  I opted to sit in the middle by myself and see what would come my way.

Within fifteen minutes I got my first wave and it was a doozy.  I wasn't convinced it was catchable until a sider swept across its face and shifted the steep section to right where I was sitting.  I caught the right late, turned off the bottom and smacked it.  I didn't get a release up top until late in the turn, when upon my realization I really stomped.  I almost lost it, then recovered, bottom turned again and hooked another turn up top. 

I stuck my hand and wrist in the wave, made it, then half-descended.  I thought about trying for an inside connection, then became convinced it wasn't there and faded off the back.

I paddled back out then sat for a while.  I took off on a left which showed promise with its steep drop but devolved into nothing.  I leapt from the board for a sailor dive over the wave and opened my eyes for a little bit in the air as I began wondering what was taking so long for me to hit the water.

I caught a couple of other closeouts but they were nothing noteworthy.  The correct play would have been for me to paddle out at first light but it was impossible given my daddy duty.

Friday, November 10, 2017

11.9.17 Sideshore Playa Colorado Longshore Ride

I hadn't surfed or paddled in seven months.  I rented a JS Blak Box from one of the expats, who told me he thought this swell could get as big as double overhead.  The board I got was a 5'10"x19"x2.375, wide and thick for paddling power I would need if the surf got big.  What I somehow didn't notice until I was leaving his place was that it had five fins installed.

I walked out to the beach at the beach access near Mark and Dave's.  Panga Drops looked fun from what I could see through the glare, though there was a bit of a crowd on it.  I decided to venture down the beach a ways.

I'm still not sure what was going on with the wind.  What I felt was a side onshore but it appeared as though the waves were being combed by a light offshore.

I kept walking, hoping to hit a wave that breaks off the rivermouth (the last time I surfed here, the rivers hadn't broken through and it was closeout city with bad sandbars).  There was a big section that would fold over but oftentimes there was a really nice corner one could ride for twenty-plus yards.

I paddled out way past my targeted perch spot, thinking the current would deposit me there, and within thirty seconds I felt my atrophied paddling muscles shriek in protest.  After quite a few duckdives and trap pain I perched and was past my sought corner.  I paddled back towards it but it was useless with a current that strong.   

I got swept into, and then past a light crowd.  The surf was being affected by onshore wind but there were still some decent ones.  My first wave was a look at a head-high left.  Since my stoke threshold was set to zero, I felt a thrill descending the wave.  It raced off, but my attempt at getting my confidence level up was successful.

My next wave was a right and I stomped on the tail and surprised myself with how responsive the board was.  I snapped but was off-balance and ate it.

I then caught one last left which didn't do much of anything and went in.

I was out for a little over an hour.  My lower ribcage was red from the friction and as of the following morning my trapezoids are aching.  I'm hoping a little time with the foam roller will get rid of the pain so I can go in the afternoon today.  The tide is at its apex as of now and I'm on Lucia duty so it's a non-option to go now.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Raquel Guest Blogs...Our Journey

I'll start off writing that the day after our Journey to Nicaragua, was leaps and bounds better than the day of our Journey.  And I will leave it at that.

 Lucia, Solani, my mom, and I left my parent's house, with my dad driving, at 3:45am, which even for my early bird children is early.  After a quick turnaround back to my parent's house to retrieve Big Girl Dragon (Lucia's new birthday doll from my parent's house) we were on our way. Solani fell asleep in the car, and Lucia per her usual self, was up chatting looking for Christmas lights on the way to the airport.  At the airport, my dad unloaded our copious amounts of luggage, gave all of us girls big hugs goodbye and left my mom and I alone with the girls on our adventure to Nicaragua.  We got through the airport security and boarded the plane fairly unscathed with all of our carry ons and much needed coffee.

Once on the plane after take off, Lucia broke into her backpack from her grandparents, and began exploring all of the busy toys that had been packed for her.  Disclaimer...despite having flown for 12 years for work I am a very nervous flyer...and once I saw a neverending sea of clouds I prepared myself for a bumpy flight all of the way to Houston.  I was correct, it was not fun for me, or Solani.  In the past 6 months, Solani has been getting carsick for no rhyme or reason that we could think of.  Now, I know it is not just carsick, it is motion sick.  Three quarters into the flight she thew up EVERYWHERE, or everywhere all of herself and me.  The flight attendants on Southwest were kind to us and brought us a large trash bag (she didn't puke that much) and things to clean us up with.  No matter what they brought there is no erasing the smell of puke.

Once landed safely in Houston, we hurried quickly to our next flight; no time for the bathroom to change, or to get any food for the girls (my mom had packed them a good amount of snacks, so they could live off of crackers for a few days). We boarded the flight, Lucia at this point was beyond cranky, especially after discovering her new Pinkie Pie head phones did not work, and promptly fell asleep.  Solani was now happy, despite being covered in left over puke, and was up chatting most of the flight.  2 hours into a 2.5 hour flight they turned off the fasten seatbelt light and the baby and I got up to change, which equated to no more puke smell.  We landed in Costa Rica nice and smoothly, and were about to pull up to an occupied gate, which meant that all hell broke loose for Solani, who so much wanted off the plane, that once she figured out she couldn't break out of the window, she lost her ever loving mind and started screaming bloody murder.

Yes, so far, we have been that family...

We deplaned after 20 minutes of shreaking and made our way down to customs.  The girls and Eddie and I had been through this line in March, no problem, no wait.  When we got down to the customs line, I saw that it was easily hundreds of people deep, and my inner self started to cry and scream.  Thankfully, before my inner self made it outside to the public, a immigration officer took pity on us and escorted us over to a line that was only for locals.  My mother, being my mother, made friends with the lady in front of us (this line was only 10 deep) and she said that the line was for locals or disabled vets, which we were neither, but I 1. didn't care, and 2. was so happy, I could have cried from happiness.  The girls ran around in circles on the ground while we waited in line, and I was just happy that they were happy.

With a little help, we collected all of our bags and made our way outside where Eddie had arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to where he and Chucho would be waiting in Nicaragua.  Eddie and I had already talked about facing Solani forward in her carseat, thinking it would help with her puking situation. This was not to be the case.  Over the next 5 hours, she violently vomited all over the very nice man's car 4 times.  After the first time, I took her out and held her on my lap up front, which did not help my poor baby at all.

Richard, our driver, escorted us through the boarder, where he instructed us to get in and out of the car 3 times to show our passports to various people and pay some money.  After a very long drive, we arrived at our destination.  Lucia was ecstatic to see Eddie.  That helped to erase some of the road wear from the day, and she happily chatted to him about everything that had happened that day and since he had been on the road for the past 2 weeks.

The rest of the night chaotically continued, as the baby woke up when I took off her puke encrusted clothing, and Lucia could not settle after the days events. My girls, who are usually asleep by 6:30 were up until 10, and crazy, over tired angry about it.

The day's adventures would have been 100 times more overwhelming if it was not for my mom's help. When I was teetering on the edge of sanity with a puking baby and a very cranky 4 year old she held it together and without her we probably would still be standing  somewhere wandering around in the Costa Rica airport.

The feeling of having my family reunited under the same roof, in our new place with the tropical air pouring through the windows helped to free the puke smell from my nose.  But nothing felt so good as when Lucia woke up this morning at 5:15 to tell me the sun was up, to tell her to go talk to Papi!

DAY TWELVE: Choluteca, Honduras to El Coyol, Rivas, Nicaragua

"Man, I still can't believe how lucky I was to hit Honduras just as they had reasphalted the roads", I'd thought to myself the previous evening.

Chucho and I mounted up and hooked a left out of the hotel.  We immediately hit a bad, but not terrible, stretch of road.  The road improved and then... turned into the most terrible stretch of pavement on which I've ever driven.  There were more than a dozen times the entire road, in both directions, was covered in potholes, and it was a matter of choosing the 'least worse' path.

This immediate part? About as good as it got!  Note the truck  farther up front trying to traverse without dropping an axle.  I couldn't take pictures of the medium to ABYSMAL stretches as I was focusing on Opie's survival.

I spent arguably the slowest ninety minutes of my adult life on this road until I reached the border to Nicaragua.  As bad as things were with the sun shining on the road, it became a guessing game puckerfest when going under  trees.  I constantly flipped my sunglasses up and down so as to better contrast in the shade, then sun.  Many times, the pot-craters blended in to the shaded asphalt.  There were a couple Opie sank into that were so bad and hit me so out of the blue I felt as though I'd been suckerpunched.

In one particularly nasty stretch, I pulled off the oncoming traffic lane onto its dirt shoulder to avoid a couple of seemingly impassable sections of thirty or so meters.

Eventually, we were flagged down and I once again heard my government name.  I was told to wait at a not fully-functioning gas station with a half-empty convenience store.  I asked the clerk why the roads are so bad, were they just stealing the maintenance budget?  He said yes, although it's gotten better (!).

I won't go into the rigamarole of the crossing but long story short it took us just shy of four hours to get in.  I thought Chucho was going to collapse from heat exhaustion in that black fur coat of his.

We drove non-stop and reached our destination  after more than five-and-a-half hours of driving through only Nica.  I could tell it was a haul because my buttcheeks went numb.  The roads were VASTLY better on the main highways in Nicaragua, though they were atrocious in some spots on the local roads.  I wondered if it was a federal versus local funds situation (much like interstates versus surface streets in the States).

Once it got dark and I got off the main drag, things complicated.  Opie's windshield fogged up a bit and there was no shoulder to pull off onto.  Apparently, Opie's left headlight was out as well.  When oncoming headlights hit me, it was very hard to see.  I was driving just under the posted speed limit, but getting hit with high beams from behind.  I kept violently waving them ahead of me as I pulled as far to the right as I could.

Eventually, I reached the first gate to our complex and I hit a washboard road.  I heard Opie's struts whir in pain from the expedition and the toll inflicted.  Raquel and co arrived about forty minutes later from Costa Rica.

The total mileage for the trip came out to 3440.5, including a short trip to my cousin's house in El Salvador, which was the only intentional detour.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

DAY ELEVEN (After a couple of chill days): Santa Tecla, LL, El Salvador, to Choluteca, Honduras

I had the good fortune of having a beautiful landing spot (thanks to my uncle) with the luxury of a couple of days of R&R.  I saw some childhood friends and visited with family.

After three nights in the same bed, it was time to go.  I got Opie packed and enjoyed one last breakfast with my uncle before taking off.  I blindly followed Google's suggestion as to which route to take.  Once I was stuck in various logjams of San Salvador rush-hour traffic I cursed this decision.  I had been routed towards the airport and could've taken the road to the beach, then hung a left to take in at least some views of the shores of the motherland.  This idea seemed especially prudent in retrospect as I chewed on black exhaust on the southern outskirts of San Salvador.

Nicaragua and El Salvador are separated by the beautiful Golfo de Fonseca. Though I drove right by it on a couple of occasions, I only got passing and obstructed glances at it in two countries.

The majority of my travel today was in El Salvador, and I was pleased with the conditions of the road.  There was one massive pothole which I managed to spot and j u s t evade but other than that it was relatively perfect!

It took longer than expected to reach the border area with Honduras, a country I'd spent many years in the vicinity of, but had until today never stepped foot in.  I could tell I was getting close because people started getting really friendly!  Grown men were waving rags at me and motioning me to stop; I had to semi-swerve around one dude who was of a girth which might have prevented him from jumping out of the way had I not adjusted course.

I was in the tramitero market, but I wasn't going to go with a guy on foot.  Sure enough, a dude pulls up on a dirt bike and starts mouthing something.  I roll the window down and he utters my government name.  I think, "how in the hell...?", and then I remembered that Jorge, at the Guat/ES border, told me his buddy Lino could help me pass at this, the Amatillo border.

Trailing Lino on our way to exiting El Salvador; note the tuk-tuk approaching
We went through all of the crap they make one go through.  Lino came to me at some point and practically whispered that I can pay $12 three times for them to inspect my car and run the risk of their having me take everything out to catalog everything or I can pay $30 and have it "taken care of" (he mentioned buying the customs agents cokes) while Chucho and I took a tuk-tuk to the animal inspection area.  I opted for the latter and Chucho sat on my lap for the tuk-tuk ride, known in these parts as a moto-taxi.

They quizzed me about Chucho and we were told to wait five minutes for them to emerge from their air-conditioned portable with the requisite stamp.  I really got the urge to urinate and, upon seeing an employee of the animal importation department come around another portable while adjusting his belt, I decided to do as dogs do and splash my scent over his.

I asked the tuk-tuk driver about the roads and he said they were awful.

Lino was efficient, though I got the feeling he was less honest than Jorge.  I gave him $20 for his trouble and he asked if I could give him some for his buddy, who'd been tangentially involved.  He said, "I'm going to give him a cut of this but anything more you can give is extra for him."  I gave him a 20-quetzal bill and he tried to get more and I said that was solid.  He wished me safe travels and on I went, fully puckered from the whispers about the terrible roads I'd encounter.

The roads were AMAZING.  They'd just reasphalted them and I was cruising.  There was one point where we reached the end of the road work and I was on an awful driving surface for a few hundred meters but the rest of the road was fine.

We came up to a police checkpoint and much to my dismay I was waved into the inspection area for the most thorough check of the trip, which lasted all of seven minutes.  The guys were very nice and joked around with me.  They asked me what was in some of the boxes and inspected some of them and then let me go.

We got to Choluteca and the roads got pretty bad, but luckily it was only ten minutes' worth of driving.

While still in Mexico, I'd been addressing the problem stop on this trip, which was this one.  Neither booking nor tripadvisor had any hotels listed which would accept pets.  I looked outside of these portals and still couldn't find any, so I cold-called hotels through facebook.  I mentioned I had an old dog who just needed a place to eat and sleep and that he wouldn't be any trouble.  I copied and pasted the message multiple times and I got one no and one yes!  I was really amped because it meant I wouldn't have to squeeze two border crossings in one long day of driving.

They reserved the room for me and I arrived road- and border-weary.  I approached the front desk and introduced myself as the guy with the pet who'd reserved the room.  The lady behind the counter said they didn't. take. pets.  She said the person with whom I had communicated surely told me that.

I snapped that I would never have reserved the room if I'd been told that.  I whirled around in my anger, then asked if she would do me a favor and let me use the hotel's wi-fi.  She gave me the code and I prepared myself for having to get back in Opie and hoof it to Nicaragua, since apparently no other lodging options in southeast Honduras, including airbnb, allowed pets.

A man who'd overheard the exchange asked what kind of pet it was. I told him.  He asked if he had a cage in which he'd be kept.  I said no, but we've been traveling since the 26th and there hasn't been even one complaint.  I mentioned he was old and would never be left alone.  I forlornly checked my options on my phone, all in Nicaragua and he said, "I'm going to trust you and let you have a room".

The woman behind the counter booked me for less than I'd been quoted over facebook and we retired to our room and its AC.

Not five stars but it'll do!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

DAY TEN: Taxisco, SR, Guatemala to Santa Tecla, La Libertad, El Salvador

Chucho and Bambino frolicking in Guate.  This was easily Chucho's favorite hotel.

We awoke early.  I dutifully shaved in order to look as presentable as possible for the border agents, put on my best wife-beater (a way to show my lack of tattoos, which are linked to the gangs and/or bad eggs in El Salvador), enjoyed breakfast with coffee and set off.

Nice view to contrast with the dude on motorcycle passing on my right (visible in mirror)
After a little over an hour, two guys on a dirt bike rode up alongside me and asked me in English, to roll my window down.  I realized they were tramiteros, guys who help you cross, immediately.  One handed me his ID, reserving me as his client.

We got to the border and the seemingly endless line of semi-trucks finally parted.  I followed the motorcycle and we went from department to department, window to window.  This time I made sure it was me who paid for everything so as not to have to deal with yesterday's BS, though it helped that I had some quetzales left over and El Salvador's currency is the US Dollar.

If one is crossing on foot or even on motorcycle, you can do without hiring a guide.  My two wrinkles, Opie and Chucho, pretty much demanded the use of a guide.  There is no set of instructions, no checklist, nothing in either English or Spanish to let travelers know of the steps involved.

The guy who was driving the motorcycle, Jorge, is the guy I shadowed the whole time.  The guy whose ID I'd been handed through the car window at speed, was on Chucho duty.  They checked Chucho's Guatemalan stamps on his papers, as well as Opie's.  They were surprisingly thorough.  I thought Mexico would be the nastiest border crossing and that once other countries had seen I'd crossed into Mexico first they'd coast a little but I couldn't have been more wrong.

One detail I'd forgotten (and my experience at the Mexico crossing didn't help in this regard), was that when crossing by land, one has to first exit the country they're leaving officially, then enter the new country.  There are two sets of processes.

On both sides of the border, Chucho passed his very superficial visual inspection (we brought him to the window on the ES side).  El Salvador customs were a breeze, MAYBE because of my trick...

When I came to El Salvador in 2012, I saw one of my mom's maids from the mid-90s.  She talked to me about Jesus and I politely listened.  The next day she brought me a Santa Biblia, a Bible, which I set on Opie's dash, right by the VIN number (keep in mind the VIN number is checked at each border).  While moving out of our house, I found someone's (wasn't mine, wasn't Raquel's) Christian fish necklace, which is hanging from the rear view mirror.

Although no one has said anything, I'd like to think these two items are to credit not as some good luck charms but a subconscious good vibes/let's not hassle this nice man feeling.

Long story short, I opened up one side and the back of Opie and she nodded and signed a paper saying no import duties are due.

After a little over two hours, I was granted passage into El Salvador.  I gave Jorge and his buddy $20 and he was amped.  Unlike Jose Alfredo in Guate, Jorge was very efficient and informative; even giving me advice on which border to take into Honduras to avoid the terrible roads 😐.

I'd made the decision to visit Chuleta's (Pando's biological brother) hotel near El Tunco.  He had no idea I was coming and was amped to see me.  I had lunch there and I insisted I be allowed to pay for it (the last time I ate at a Rivas family restaurant my payment was refused).  We hung out for a while as I ate and I met his six-year-old daughter Ximena and his nephew Eduardo.

I drove up to Santa Tecla, which sits at 3000' elevation to my uncle's house and checked out the latest changes he's done to the house (he purchased it from my mother in 2008).

We'll hang out here for a few nights so I can visit friends/family and recharge our batteries for the final push into Honduras and Nicaragua.

Friday, November 3, 2017

DAY NINE: Tapachula, Chiapas, MEX to Taxisco, Santa Rosa, Guatemala

El Salvador's border is visible on bottom right
I spent the time from having woken up until I left hemming and hawing as to which border to take.

I really didn't want to support Freddy and his bastardly methods.  I asked one of the guys who worked at the hotel which border he thought was best and he said the one near Ciudad Hidalgo was the fastest.

My internet searches comparing the two borders yielded zero pertinent results.

I decided, once in the car, to go for that one.  I drove about fifty minutes towards Ciudad Hidalgo, filled up with PEMEX one last time (filled up the tires as well).  I was propositioned by three different dudes about having them help me cross into Guate.  I turned them all down,  then got back on the road until I turned where beckoned to by Google Maps.  I was being followed by a guy on a motorcycle honking and honking.  I rolled down the window at a very unofficial-looking crossing and told the border agents I was a transmigrante and just then the guy on the bike pulled up on my driver's side.  They told me to go with him. He identified himself as Jose Alfredo and told me to follow him.  After turning in my Temporary Import Permit on the Mexican side (hopefully my deposit hits my bank account soon) and getting my passport stamped, I crossed a river (another Chiapas/Texas parallel) onto Guatemalan soil.

When Chucho cruised into Mexico, they complimented his looks.  As soon as they saw him in Guate, they wanted all of his paperwork, which up until this morning had been sealed.  Chucho spent a lot of his time tied to Jose Alfredo's bike while JA and I spent over two hours just on the Guate side going to different windows.

One guy painstakingly hand-wrote out a clean bill of health for Chucho, saying he was in 'perfect health'.  Another guy literally waved a smoking wand under both driver and passenger sides of Opie, which apparently counts as Opie having been fumigated.  I asked the guy who filled out the paperwork for Chucho about the roads in Guate along CA-2 and he replied 'regular'. Uh oh...

For the privilege of driving in Guate, I was forced to pay 160 (~$23) quetzales for another sticker to put on the inside of my windshield.  This money I'll never get back.  In talking with the guy who gave me the sticker, I said, "Damn.  At least in Mexico they give you the money back."  His reply: "Well, Mexico is trying to promote tourism".

Eventually, after close to three hours, I was granted passage into Guate.  Jose Alfredo said he'd paid 87 quetzales because he was doing some of the payments and I didn't have quetzales at the time.  I grew suspicious and began asking at several stations what the payments were at other departments, loudly enough for JA to hear me.  I asked him again and the number dropped to 75 quetzales.  The third time I asked it went down to 68 quetzales.  I left him with 300 pesos and he seemed ok with that (my fear was his jubilation, which meant I'd gotten ripped off but he had a good poker face if this is the case).

I was dropped into the city of Pajapita.  The roads were fine, made up of heavily textured concrete but I came across zero potholes.  Once I left the city, I was bumming.  Massive and deep potholes, some several asphalt layers deep awaited me.

I passed some cops on the side of the road and heard a whistle from Chucho's side.  I pulled over, was asked for my documentation and they let me go within a minute.  Less than two minutes later, I was pulled over again.   This woman in uniform was very jovial and joking the whole time.  She asked if I had a flashlight.  I thought to myself that none of the panamerican travel blogs said this was a legal necessity, though I did happen to have one right under Opie's tape deck.  She asked how much.  I told her what I had bought two for.  She said how much for this one and it dawned on me she wanted to buy it off me.  Her male counterpart said, "Tiene linterna?" and she nodded.  He excitedly came to me and the same two questions and answers were exchanged.  I told him it wasn't for sale and they let me go.  I asked the woman about the road, particularly the CA-2 and she told me they sucked.

Google Maps bitched out and wouldn't work, and my previously cursed decision to get an international GPS unit now seemed like a great idea.  It recognized which town I wanted and dutifully guided me there.

The roads got really bad.  I was trying to sync up with someone with a similar wheelbase traveling at a similar speed so I could follow their tracks but it never really happened.  The roads were so bad people were doing mini-swerves on both sides of the road.  Many times the road on the other side had recently been reasphalted so I frequently took the oncoming traffic lane when it was remotely safe to do so.

I hit easily the three worst bumps of the trip today, all unmarked speed bumps.  One jarred my bones and I thought, "This is it, the trip is over." given Opie's questionable undercarriage and camber issues.  When I knew the 50 feet or so were clear I kept checking for auto repair shops while going through towns to calculate how far I'd have to get towed.

About two-thirds through the drive, I slowed all the way down for this mountain of a speed bump and winced as Opie's skid plate exchanged textures with the concrete of the speed bump.

While known as topes in Mexico, they are known as tumulos here, just as in El Salvador.

When I hit Guate, my Garmin said I'd arrive around 2:25.  I was delayed over an hour due to the bad roads.  I only had the town in the GPS unit because it wouldn't recognize the hotel.

The roads eventually improved and I was able to venture north of 35mph.  The clouds opened up and we were absolutely DOUSED, so much so that the fastest windshield wiper speed couldn't scoop the water away quickly enough.  I made it to and through Taxisco but there were no signs for the hotel.

I turned on roaming data on my phone, called the hotel, and they told me I'd passed it, but on a different road.  They gave me a kilometer marker and I found it within forty-five seconds of having called, before I even spotted a situating kilometer marker.

This place is sweet. They have a big golden retriever pup named Bambino who runs free and so Chucho is unbridled as well.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

DAY EIGHT: Tuxtla Gutierrez to Tapachula

This was a day of Intra-Chiapas travel.  My last time not leaving a state for two nights was in Texas.  Chiapas, similarly, makes up the bulk of the border with its southern neighbor.

I had a bit of a crisis going on with tonight's lodging.  I wanted to be as close as possible to the Guatemala border.  One hotel had worse reviews than my least favorite hotel of the expedition (Zar in San Luis Potosi).  It was the only one on booking or tripadvisor that allowed animals.  I really didn't want to stay at this place but would obviously have to unless I wanted to chop up one day into two.

HOWEVER, about six weeks ago while planning this trip I wrote down the names of hotels which allowed animals and were along my route.  I found one, which was on neither booking nor tripadvisor, and messaged them on facebook.  They wrote back and said yes they'd take pets.  I asked them if they had vacancy and heard nothing.  I woke up, messaged them again, saying I am planning my lodging for the evening and I need to hear back from them.  Four hours later, after receiving no reply, I wrote to them, "On my way, hopefully you'll have room for me".  I had the Lacantum (badly reviewed hotel) as a back-up and I was happy to spot numerous 'Auto-Hotels' on the way into town.  Auto-Hotels are garages you drive into, and the steel door unfurls behind your car.  You then go up to your room over the garage.  Their main clientele is guys who are cheating on their wives.  I would imagine everything is done via credit card for privacy, so Chucho and I would likely be fine in one of those.

The day was mellow with a few unmarked speed bumps, which thankfully I spotted in time.  There was a ten-minute stretch of pretty bad road.  I took every safe opportunity to go into the oncoming traffic lane to enjoy some smooth asphalt.

I was stopped at a military checkpoint again and questioned.  They had me get out of my car and open up the back.  He lifted one thing, felt a black plastic bag with his hand and told me to go.

When I filled up with gas, I was told their terminal doesn't accept foreign cards.  PEMEX which stands for Petroleros Mexicanos, has a near-monopoly on 'official' gas stations in the country (I saw a bp in Puebla and a place named Galgos today).  I was really skeptical of the guy and was forced to pay in dollars at a bad exchange rate.  I even negotiated with the guy on the exchange rate and he accepted, so I know he's keeping a portion of the difference.

About a half-hour from arriving in Tapachula, I went through a now-defunct toll booth and a guy stepped out in front of my car while I was going about ten.  He told me to pull over and I got a bad feeling despite a too-quick glance at official-looking ID hanging from his neck.  He and his buddy eagerly talked to me about crossing the border in Guate.  I figured these guys were border facilitators (we called them coyotes when my mom had a house in Guatemala City although that name has been usurped by human traffickers, the ones with willing traffickees).

One, Freddy, told me he could jump in and do it all for me right now.  I said dude there's no room for you.  He said I can have the dog and the suitcase on my lap.  I told him I was going to spend the night in Mexico and attack the border in the morning.  He kept pushing until I snapped, "I only stopped because you got in front of my car and I thought you were with the government".

Comically the simultaneous replies were as follows:

Freddy: "No, we're not with the government".
Freddy-in-training: "Yes, we're with the government".

I'm still debating whether to meet Freddy at the border as he will probably save me a half-hour or so (he said he can take copies of my paperwork and get in line while I'm in another line) and I have a six-hour day not including border time.  Meeting him at the more northern border will cost me fifteen or so minutes in travel time.  He claimed I would be turned back at the border I was planning on using but as you can imagine my trust level in him is low given his strong arm tactics/ID subterfuge.  Plus, if I had to guess, his buddy will be there and want a tip as well.

For dinner I asked the girl up front about where to go and she pointed me to a place a couple of blocks away.  I crossed the street with Chucho and passed a sign advertising fruit juices for sale.  Right next to it was another, more faded sign advertising Pupusas.  I spoke with the lady and she is from Soyapango (probably the most dangerous place in El Salvador)!  She sold me five pupusas at ten pesos each, which is the advertised but still solid price. Her Mexican husband then came to the door and asked me if I believed in Jesus.  Wanting to spare myself a lengthy sermon while pupusas changed hands and cooled, I told him I did.

While perusing the facebook page of this hotel, a woman asked, on fb, where it was as she was terrible with directions.  The owner replied with metes and bounds style directions, then added it was where her father's sanatorium was!  That is so metal.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

DAY SEVEN: Acayucan, Veracruz to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas

Getting close!  The border with Guatemala is at the bottom right corner
When I was parking at last night's hotel, one of the bellhops asked me to park my car closer to one of the two cars there.  I did so and he asked me to move it even closer.  I was confused as to why and when I went out to the courtyard/parking area at four-thirty in the morning to get a DVD from Opie, he was boxed in about four deep!

I didn't need to leave until late morning as my check-in time in TG wasn't until three.  By the time I left I had a clear path.

Once I dealt with some congestion getting out of town, I filled up on gas as well as air for the tires.  We drove straight to our destination with no other stops.  We got to see some gorgeous scenery, definitely the best of the trip so far.

Photographic Proof of Chucho in the Tropics

The road was less populated than the one from Puebla and I had fun accessing my Salvadorean passing on a double yellow genes.  On a two-lane road (one in each direction), slower cars almost always ride half in the shoulder so as to encourage faster cars to pass.  Oncoming cars, when they see cars wanting to pass, go into their shoulder a bit.  This creates a third, but unofficial, passing lane.

When researching hotels this morning, I wanted to make a change so I wouldn't have to backtrack tomorrow but apparently I'd reserved a hotel room that would have charged me to cancel.

Once we got here, I entered the lobby sans Chucho and paid up.  I got my key card, tv remote, and AC remote then went to Opie to fetch Chucho.  I walked in as though everything was fine and heard an audible gasp from the woman behind the counter.  I ignored it and while waiting at the elevator she asked me if (the portal through which I'd reserved) said pets were allowed.  I told her I wouldn't be here if they didn't.  She said they only let small dogs in. I told her he's almost twelve and all he does is sleep and eat; he won't be an issue.  She told me I had to pay 150 pesos, a bit less than $10 and I said ok.  She said I could pay later though, which I'm hoping means don't worry about it.

I got our stuff for the night into the room, then left Chucho in the parking area so I could go to the grocery store to get him more dog food.  It was a half-block walk so I figured I'd do it while it was convenient.  The supermarket is the biggest I've ever been in with three stories.  Half the cashiers were dressed up in costumes for tonight's festivities.

DAY SIX: Puebla to Acayucan, Veracruz

After the previous night's shabby accommodations, I splurged a little and got us some nicer digs.  Chucho didn't come out from under the covers for nearly ten hours.

I'd originally planned for us to go all the way to Coatzacoalcos, right on the Caribbean, but after dealing with the traffic and this-way-that-way of Puebla I opted for something a little more low-key.  The room from which I am typing this is small, looks out over the parking area (which makes up the courtyard of the building), and is $33/night (Chucho was extra).  The best part is I am literally across the street from the town square with a beautiful church and walking distance to a lot of what the town has to offer.

I had a few turns where I thought I'd missed my turn, mostly while trying to get of the sprawling metropolis that is Puebla.  I also had to navigate an elongated u-turn under a bridge at speed (on the Periferico, which goes around the city) during which it felt like Opie was going to topple over.

As interesting as Puebla was, I was glad to get out of there and the drive turned very scenic.  We descended from the highlands of Puebla down this gorgeous switchback mountain road.  We passed fog warning signs and went through a few tunnels.

On the way down I remarked to Chucho how green everything looked and once we flattened out, I realized we were in the tropics.  We passed many kilometers of marshlands and some beautiful islands.

I'd set up so as to be able to listen to an audiobook and in the scrum couldn't find my GuyPod.  The CD player wouldn't play on my speaker and since I'd neglected to download a podcast or two when I had wi-fi, I sat through Mexican radio for most of the journey.  A lot of Mexican music is based on polka; I read an article years ago that in the 1930s a Polish polka band went on a touring rampage throughout Mexico.  They became a sensation and its influence is still being felt today.  The music isn't bad but it does get tiring going on three hours of it.

As I turned off for Acayucan, I saw signs for Salina Cruz.  There are famous waves in Mexico dotted in and around Salina Cruz and not too far around the bend is Puerto Escondido, arguably the best beachbreak on the planet.  I quieted my loins by telling myself that south swell season is pretty much over.  Opie, despite the absolute champ he has been so far, would also not fare well on coastal roads. There's a chance I can surf Punta Roca when I arrive in El Salvador though there may not be waves.

I ate in a restaurant facing the aforementioned town square and noticed as I left that people were lining the sidewalks in anticipation of something.  I looked up the hill and saw a banner with headlights behind it.  I squinted past those and could make out some people in costumes.

Five minutes later, a pick-up passed us with speakers in the back.  College students in full costume began choreographed dance routines.  October 31st kicks off the Dia de los Muertos celebrations here in Mexico.  Many places had little displays and offerings for the departed.  My hotel had some booze, ciggies, and food treats.  In El Salvador we somberly went to the cemetery on November 2nd.  Mexico's celebration is the way to do it!

Chucho checking out the carnage

Very elaborate costumes; they really do go all out

Check out the fullish moon
I was in bed before eight.  Even though it wasn't that long a drive I was exhausted from scanning the road for potholes and tensing up on rough patches of road.  This stretch had the gnarliest of the trip so far but that is understandable given the topography.

My hotel's display, RIGHT in the lobby.  I would imagine they consume all of this once the festivities are over.