Justin and Silver Al

Tips

Preface | USA | Mexico | Guatemala | El Salvador | Honduras | Nicaragua | Costa Rica | Panama | Colombia | Ecuador | Peru | Chile | Argentina | Afterword | THE RETURN: ARGENTINA | THE RETURN: URUGUAY | Tips

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Seeing as this website is far from informative, I will post tips on this page for anyone that may want to try a similar journey.  I will do my best to keep this page as dry as possible (Accept for #1 which gets a little fluffy)!
 
Tips:
 
1. The world is full of mostly wonderful, friendly, helpful people.  While there are always a few bad apples, don't view traveling as going to war.  Keep an open mind, take some calculated risks, place your trust in the other citizens of this world from time to time.  It is easy to put the blinders on, look straight ahead and say 'no thank you' to all of those who approach you, before you understand what it is that they really want.  Sometimes this needs to be done, mind you, but sometimes what you are really doing is treating people you don't fully understand as lesser than yourself.
 
2. Tinted windows keep you cooler and make it harder for people to see your inevitable wealthy gringo face.  At night, it is often really hard to see what is in a car with tinted windows.
 
3. People like American license plates for their own.  Put it in the inside of your back window, or, like we did, at least use star shaped screw heads and contact cement to attach them.
 
4. The highways in Mexico are really, really good.
 
5. The highways in Guatemala are, so far, either pretty darn good or a work in progress.
 
6. People often use blinkers differently here.  If the person in front of you puts the left blinker on, it means you are clear to pass them.  (Often you can't see around big trucks to tell if there is room to pass ahead) The people behind you are looking for your blinker too, so if someone is tailing you and there is room for them to pass, give them the blink of approval.   OF COURSE, always use caution and swing out for a little peek before you gun it!
 
7. Don't expect (as was the case in Mexico) that all the necessary immigration offices that you need to visit after entering and before departing a country will be at the border.  Sometimes they are 30 k after or before. 
 
8. The turn off to drive to lake Atitlan is at Kilometer marker 148 on CA1.  Because of construction, this turn-off K marker isn't there right now.  When you get to the approximate location, ask around. 
 
9. Slow down to a virtual stop for the 'Topes' (speed bumps).  They come in all different shapes and sizes and some are killer.  The amount of gas that you have in the tank makes a big difference in the 'bottoming out factor'.  Consider holding off on filling up the tank if you know gas stations are frequent.
 
10. The buses will always win a game of chicken...don't mess with them or you will become a mere speed bump for them. 
 
11. Our 77 pound, steel lock-box chained into the trunk of the hatchback, makes us feel a lot better about leaving some items in the car.  The locals get a kick out of it too!  We got one made for construction sites by the company, 'Rigid' (bright orange).  It takes two padlocks that slip into holes on either side of the box.  Once they are snapped shut, you can't even touch the padlocks with bolt cutters.
 
12. Estacimiento Seguridad (probably spelled slightly differently...I'll update that) means secure parking.  Ask for it when you check out a hotel.
 
13. Scan all your vital documents, (Passport, license, international driver's licenses, car title, ect.) and email them to yourself.  If you literally lose everything, you can always find an internet cafe and download these copies to help you get yourself out of a jam.
 
14. Don't expect much to be open on Sundays.
 
15. Write necessary info- restaurant names, business address, hotel address - on the back of a business card in advance of travel around town.  This way you won't need bring out a map or guidebook as often in public.
 
16.  Sleeping in a good hammock is wonderful thing.  Try to buy a solid fabric one. The woven ones get colder faster underneath, and let the bugs get at you more easily.  Woven ones also break more easily and tangle more easily!  Most importantly, the solid fabric ones, in my opinion, are simply more comfortable!
 
17. A little more on hammocks...If you get the munchies and you are in your hammock, try to eat over the edge of your hammock.  When you are finished, think about shaking your hammock out and brushing those crumbs off yourself.  Fire ants are brilliant and find everything.  Waking up covered in fire ants is a drag.
 
18.  On a similar note as 17....If there are a lot of fire ants around, toss a couple chips or bits of food on the ground nearby.  This will give them something to focus on while you sleep.  Don't, however, throw that stuff under your hammock, because you just might wake up in the night and forget about the ants, of your blanket might fall off in the night and get covered.
 
19. While we are talking bugs...Many bugs don't like lavender oil.  Buy some lavender oil at the natural food market or herbal shop and drip 5 to 10 drops in a little spray bottle (also bought at the same store usually) full of water.  Spray some on all sides of each leg of your bed, the ropes of your hammock or even on your mattress (bed bugs hate it too) and it will help dissuade them from checking you out.  The oil, when rubbed on your temples, also eases headaches and, if you talk to an herbalist, probably does a number of other great things.  (For those of you who prefer the chems, I'm guessing that bug dope with DEET will probably work on the hammock ropes and bed legs...not so much for the headaches)
 
20.  The littlest coconuts (pipas) are the fullest of coconut water and haven't developed the hard nut inside yet.  You can smack them on something hard, even punch them sometimes, and have plenty to drink.  They will dribble all over you if you break them this way, so take your shirt off first if you like.  This can save you if you wake up dehydrated in the night and don't have any water. 
 
21. Cut the top off the pipas (baby coconuts) and drink a little out (they are full to the top).  Then pour a little rum in.  Killer.
 
22.  The major roads all over Central America are great.  The infamous Costa Rican roads are almost all new as of the last year or two.  The Panamanian roads, that always used to be called the best, are great because they are mostly two lane -divided, but the actual tar is not as great as some of the other countries.
 
23.  You need a good machete.  When you buy it, it will be dull but any good mechanic can sharpen it.
 
24.  Don't stop at the police checkpoints unless they beckon you to.  Just slow down, look straight ahead and proceed.
 
25.  Try to follow closely behind big trucks when you see the police or a military checkpoint.  Hide behind that truck, so you have passed before they notice your plates.
 
26.  Don't wait behind all the big trucks lined up at the border crossings.  Just zip past them.
 
27.  If the oil light comes on, stop the car.
 
28.  If the car makes a new funny noise and you can't figure out what it is, turn up the radio.
 
29. Don't underestimate the power of a bumpy, pot-hole ridden road.  It will loosen things, break things, cause (and sometimes fix) electrical problems and make CD's skip.
 
30.  If you get towed by a rope, use the e-brake to keep tension on the rope.  Remember to keep the e-brake button depressed, so it doesn't lock.  If the rope slacks it might get caught under your tire and break.  When the rope slacks it will also jolt your car when the towing car picks up speed. 
 
31. Not all the gas in the world is good.  If your tank gets low and you suddenly are having an apparent engine problem, fill the tank up and let it run for a while.  This might fix everything.
 
32.  Make sure the gas pump is set to zero before they fill you up. (scam)
 
33.  All gas is full service and it is measured in liters.  Lleno means 'full' (double L's makes a 'Y' sound in Spanish.  LL = Y, so lleno sounds like Yea-no, or is it Yeah-no? Not the yea like yes, but the yea like when you cheer for something...like hurray or is it hurrah?)
 
34. If your Spanish is not great and you find yourself in a conversation that you don't entirely understand,
don't say 'Si' (yes) to keep the conversation alive, instead say 'Claro' (clear).  This way you are not agreeing to anything you might not want to be agreeing to but are keeping the conversation moving forward.  Why pretend you understand when you don't?  I guess it is the hope that you will understand the next part better, instead of stalling the conversation on the part that you don't understand.
(I used to say 'si' until I once had a Peruvian cab driver who had given me a ride the night before wake me up banging on my door the following morning to take me on the day-long tour he thought that I had agreed to.  Now I say Claro)
 
35.  Crocodiles can run faster than a horse and climb trees.  If you find yourself being chased by one, your best bet is to run in a zigzag.  Crocodiles cannot turn well and need to slow down to turn.
 
36.  If you find yourself having been bitten by a crocodile, squeeze its jaws/nose shut on the bite.  Crocodiles can bite down really hard, but cannot open their jaws with any force.  While it might be a drag to be squeezing a crocodile`s mouth onto your leg where it bit you, one bite is better than several.
 
 

37.  Our compass has been invaluable for getting us through cities and towns and heading the right direction on poorly marked roads.  We have a suction-cup compass -the kind with a ball floating in water -stuck on the right side of our windshield.   This is often more accurate than our maps.  
 
38.  A lot of highways dump you into a city with no signs or directions as to how to get back out again. Almost every time we get lost in a city we just head the direction (in our case, South) we want to go and eventually we come across the highway again.  Have faith (thanks again to the compass).
 
39.  In Peru you can drive as fast as you dare.
 
40.  If you have tinted windows and are entering Peru, ask at the border for a permit for them or the police will constantly take money from you.  
 
41.  Also in Peru you are supposed to have a strip of red and white reflective tape on the back of your car.
 
42.  Pick up a hitchhiker from time to time...choose wisely, of course, but go for it.  This can be a very interesting way to meet a person that you normally wouldn't encounter.
 
43. Don't even think of selling your car in Argentina unless you have a nationalized, Argentinean car.
 
44.  Round-trip plane tickets often cost the same...sometimes less...than one-ways.  You can always cancel your return, but leave yourself the option!
 
45. In Argentina, if you totally hate eggs, ask for every single thing you order 'sin huevos' (without eggs) because they put eggs on everything down here.  Sick!
 
46.  In coffee growing countries, the coffee is often not good.  Nescafe is the norm in lots of central and northern South America.  In Ecuador and Peru they like to give you a cup of hot water and a little pitcher of concentrated, cold coffee.  You add to your hot water mug however much of this cold, probably old, concentrated coffee as you can stand.
 
47.  In Argentina there is great coffee everywhere.  The gas stations make you espressos. 
 
48.  If you like to drink rum without coke, make sure to ask for it 'sin Coca Cola' because they often don't ask, they just assume you want it.
 
49.  They have cops with radar in Chile.
 
50.  We drove as fast as we wanted in Argentina...no promises that you can.
 
51.  Always leave your hotel room key at the front desk when you go out.  It'll always be there when you get back, and if you are traveling with a friend and split up for a while, you won't have to decide who will get back first with the key.  
 
52.  The Chilean stretch of Tierra Del Fuego is a long rocky road.  It proved to be the straw that broke our camel's (Silver Al's) back.
 
53.  The Argentinean part (road) of Tierra Del Fuego is great.  Even if your map says the road isn't paved for the last 90 K to Ushuaia, it is!
 

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