Now that we’re figuring things out and falling into more of a rhythm, the months seem to flash by. This disappearing time trick also ensures that I remain in a perpetual state of catching up on blog updates. Our friends back in Flagstaff are probably putting down first tracks on the mountain bike trails by now. Rocky Ridge is usually the first to be clear of snow, and the rest of them slowly follow suit. Sedona will also be warming up nicely by now as well. Our old neighbors at the Dollhouse will soon lose their first garden planting to an unexpected frost (sorry guys). Meanwhile, we’ve made it as far as Nicaragua and it’s been fairly hot all winter. We’ve had three bouts of rain in the three months we’ve been gone, but really the only shifts in weather so far have been “hot and dry” or “hot and humid”. It’s usually the latter.
Our spending this month was a bit higher than usual. Much of this was due to Nacho maintenance, some was due to high camping fees and scant wild camping options, and some was due to getting conned into overpaying for things in Guatemala. In the end, it’s all part of the game and we’ve expected our costs to fluctuate wildly month by month after having seen other monthly cost sheets, such as that of our friends at Bumfuzzle. We’ve just grown so accustomed to staying vastly under budget that this month came as a surprise.
Countries driven: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador
Miles driven: 1,871 (Trip Total = 6,606; odometer reads 283,106)
Total bribes paid: 0 (Trip Total = 0…Eventually we’ll remove this section because we don’t ever plan to pay a bribe. But it’s a good reminder for now.)
Total Spent: $2,534 ($81.75/day)
Notes on our spending:
Gas – Although we’ve been driving less in general than we did in Mexico, gas prices are higher in Central America. Belize was the most expensive at $6/gallon, while all of the other countries seem to hover right around $5.50/gallon. Nacho gets around 18.5mpg, so we’re not in bad shape. We still aren’t driving too much more than the average American does.
VW Expenses – Driving a 28 year old van comes with the promise of mechanical mishaps. Especially since it’s a VW Vanagon! The engine and transmission each have less than 100k miles on them, but much of the rest of the van is original. Nearly a third of a million miles takes its toll. Our wheel bearings went out again in Guatemala, which set us back a little over $100 and five days. We tried to replace the hubs at the same time, but there weren’t any to be found in Guatemala. Also, we’ve discovered that our brakes overheat easily under our 5,800lb load, so we ordered some upgrades. We settled on a set of slotted rotors and a couple of sets of high temperature ceramic brake pads. We found them at Zeckhausen Racing in New Jersey for much less than our usual parts supplier, and he even shipped them for free to California as a way to help us on our trip. What an awesome company! From California the parts were loaded into a friend’s parents’ luggage and brought to Costa Rica, where they await our arrival.
Camping/Hotels – Camping, like everything else in Belize, was bloody expensive. We paid between $13 and $23 per night to camp there. In Guatemala we spent around $12/night to camp, and $11/night for hotels while Nacho was getting fixed (go figure). In El Salvador the prices finally fell back down to earth and we paid $3-$6/night. We realize that paying to camp is something that should be easily avoided, but in Central America it’s surprisingly hard for us to find places to wild camp. It’s pretty densely populated here, so the concept of heading down a dirt road for a while into the bush is tough. If I were alone, I’d probably do more of that, but Sheena’s not as keen on the idea of camping in places where we might be seen by other people. Our cheapest nights are usually the ones when we ask a hotel or restaurant if we can camp on their property. When we camp, it’s oftentimes at a designated campground, but it’s just as likely to be at a hostel that has camping.
Food – Food is one area where our spending has increased fairly substantially. In Mexico, we were in heaven. Street vendors and holes-in-the-wall sold all sorts of delicious food at dirty cheap prices. I’m talking about food that would beat your town’s best gourmet Mexican restaurant, hands down, every time. Not only that, but the ingredients are usually fresh and local, not genetically modified, industrially grown, and delivered out of season in a Sysco truck. All that, and dinner could be had in Mexico for $1-$2.
As we ventured beyond Mexico’s southern border, the good food pretty much dried up. Each country has had its specialties, and the occasional delicious surprise, but we’re having to try much harder to eat well now. Sure, in Guatemala you can get fried chicken with rice and beans for $2. In El Salvador you can get a dinner of pupusas (a corn meal patty containing beans, cheese, and pork skin) for $1. In Nicaragua (beyond the scope of this update, I know) we ate quesillas, which is a corn tortilla containing a huge chunk of cheese covered in chopped onions and cream, for about $1. All of these options are tasty, but none are all that good for you, and they’re all pretty bland. In order to eat well, we’re spending a lot of money on tortillas, fruits and vegetables at the local markets, and the occasional fish. We’re still eating well, but it’s getting more expensive. Over the last 3 months, our food spending has been $518, $658, and $928, respectively. Yes, we’ve almost doubled our food spending in Central America compared to Mexico.
Borders/Visas/Permits – To get out of Mexico and into Belize, we paid $68. To get out of Belize and into Guatemala, we spent $63. Everything other border crossing, according to our notes, was free. Every time we approach a border, someone attaches themselves to us so that they can “help” us get through the steps. They also make it seem like they’re officials who are supposed to help you, and they won’t leave you alone, no matter how many times you say “no thanks”. In the end they expect a $5 tip, but usually the process is easily enough done on our own. When these people approach us, we tell them that they’re welcome to help us, but we won’t be parting with any money. This gets rid of them every time.
Other – This category also rose considerably this month. It’s a conglomeration of little bits of hardware, fees for tours and park entry, ant traps (thanks Bacalar…), car insurance in Belize, internet cards, laundry, a chocolate making class in Antigua, and a trip to the doctor.
Before we arrived in Antigua, I noticed an inflamed mole on my back, so decided to get it checked out by a dermotologist. I walked into his office without an appointment and told the receptionist my problem. I waited for 10 minutes and then went into the doctor’s office. He gave me a consultation, in English, and explained all of the possibilities. He then did a biopsy and sent it away for lab work. I was eating ice cream next door less than an hour after I walked into his office. The price, including the consultation, biopsy, and all of the lab work to test for cancer, set us back $75. When people ask why we’d dare to travel without health insurance, this is why. The idea of falling into financial ruin over health care is almost uniquely American. Sheena’s dentist visit in Mazatlan was free, and now this. And by the way, I don’t have cancer after all!