May 2012

Blog, Central America

DISCUSSION 13 Comments

Monthly Summary – April 2012

After four months on the road, we decided it was time for a recharge.  It may be unfathomable to some that we would need a vacation from our vacation, but living in a van while navigating through foreign countries is challenging at times.  We usually try to stay in a hotel once every week or two so we can have a real bed and room to sprawl out, but this time we decided we would go to a house for a couple of weeks and not do anything except relax, read, write, relax, eat, drink, and relax.  It just so happened that our good friends Tommy and Brooke have a family vacation home in Costa Rica, and it was empty so they said we could stay there.

Our recharge plan has worked: we’ve been stationary for the last three weeks in a really nice house clinging to the side of a mountain on a coffee plantation.  We’ve been swimming a lot for exercise, getting to know the neighbors, cooking great food, hiking, and relaxing.  We had only planned to spend two weeks recharging, but Nacho has kept us here.  We dropped him off at the shop when we arrived, thinking a week would be enough to get all of the lingering maintenance issues taken care of.  In Mexico, after all, we had replaced all of the wheel bearings, did a brake job, and overhauled our steering in the space of two days.  Three weeks later, we still wait, and are becoming stir crazy.  No matter, we’re in a great place and will have a more reliable vehicle when we get under way.

In any case, or lingering in one place has done interesting things to our numbers.   During the first week of April our daily cost was around $100 (ouch!)  However, by the end this became our cheapest month so far.

Countries driven: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica

(This month in RED)

Miles driven: 468 (Trip Total = 7,074; odometer reads 283,574)

Total Spent: $1,743 (MONTH: $58.12/day, TRIP: $65.89/day)

Notes on our spending:

Gas – Gas remains expensive as we make our way through Central America, rarely wavering from the $5.50 mark, give or take.  Our gas expenditures in February, March and April were all within $11 of each other (the last 2 months were only $1 apart).  It seems that our traveling style results in an unwavering $350/month in gas in this part of the world.

What is unclear to me is how we only managed to drive 468 miles, yet still spend as much on gas as we do in a typical 1,700 mile month.  Something seems amiss in our numbers pertaining to mileage, but I’m just going to roll with it.  Or maybe I should start looking for gas leaks…Nope, a quick check of Google Maps shows that we missed some mileage in there.  This calls for a full-fledged investigation.  Beh, who really cares?

 VW Expenses – After we nearly burned Nacho down in Fray Bartolome, we decided we needed a surge protector to be used whenever we plug our van into land power.  We found an Ace Hardware in Northern Nicaragua, so we sprung for a 15 Amp surge protector.  Being in the Ace Hardware also came with the added benefit of feeling air conditioning for the first time in a really long time.

 Camping/Hotels – This month’s camping fees were extraordinarily low.  We spent $10/night for our last two nights in El Salvador, then spent $4/night for a few nights in Nicaragua.  Once we got to Costa Rica, the expenses disappeared.  We spent the last 21 days of the month in Costa Rica and didn’t pay for a single night of camping.  This was due entirely to the kindness of Costa Ricans and friends.

One night in Liberia we offered to pay a hotel to sleep in their side yard, but they told us we could camp for free.  Later we camped on a beach in Avellanas on someone’s property, but they didn’t ask for a penny (we left a tip anyway).  We were invited to spend a night in someone’s home in Playa Coco, which turned out to be an incredible experience, and yielded us several new friends.  Next we made our way to Atenas, where we were graciously permitted to stay in a friend’s vacation home, where we’ve been ever since.

There were a couple of hotel nights in there as well.  I got sick in Nicaragua, so we rented a room in a family’s home for a night.  Later, we rented a small beach cabin for two days in celebration of my birthday.  All in all this was a really cheap month for lodging ($121 in total).

 Food – This is one area where our costs continue to rise.  Our first four months have cost $518, $659, $929, and $989, chronologically.  This is one area where we’re not really willing to skimp; staying healthy on the road is paramount.  Besides, we’re food lovers and finally have the time to devote to eating as well as we possibly can, so we spend pretty freely here.  To compound matters, Costa Rica is about as expensive as the USA.  We’ve been shopping about once per week since we arrived, and usually spend $175 each time we go to the grocery store.  But then again, they have everything we could ever want here, so we don’t really care.  We’ve been eating barbecued pork tenderloin, ribs, hamburgers, and chicken, and have been drinking imported Belgian and German beer.  Could it get any better than this?  We haven’t eaten out at a restaurant, not a single time, in the last 3 weeks.

 Borders/Visas/Permits  – We crossed two borders at the beginning of the month in the same day.  To get from El Salvador into Honduras, and then from Honduras into Nicaragua, we paid $68.  Later on we crossed from Nicaragua into Costa Rica and paid $24.  Also, we’ve continued to stick to our guns and not pay any bribes, despite having been repeatedly pulled over by the police in Honduras and Nicaragua..

 Other – Our third highest category was the all-inclusive “other”.  This included a trip to the movie theater, a couple of yoga classes for Sheena, some supplies from Walmart, Skype telephone credit, an internet card (which doesn’t work), laundry, and various taxis and buses.

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  1. Sven

    Yo guys, I’m just curious. How is it possible to drive through four low salary countries and spend almost 1000 bucks on food? Are you eating oysters every day?
    Except that, your statistics equals great info!

    Comment by Sven on May 6, 2012 at 1:04 pm

  2. Sven, the locals in Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras tend to eat meals comprising very cheap ingredients. They eat cornmeal and beans as their staples, and mix in pork fat and cabbage, among a few other things, to give flavor. If I were alone, I’d eat more of that kind of thing, but Sheena is particularly interested in eating healthful foods, so we tend to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats to cook ourselves. This tends to be very expensive. So yes, if you really wanted to eat cheaply, you could.

    Comment by Brad on May 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm

  3. Sven

    Over here we eat fresh fruit from Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras too. That’s somewhat expensive. And stupid. But we do.
    I would go for the porky beans any day!

    (I really should put a smiley somewhere. But, naaah…)

    Comment by Sven on May 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm

  4. You eat fruit from Central America, but not fresh fruit :) It takes about a month for a ship to get from Central America to Europe.

    Admittedly we do spend too much on food. Like I said, I’d spend a lot less if it were only me, but Sheena is pretty particular about every meal being exquisite.

    Comment by Brad on May 6, 2012 at 3:38 pm

  5. Your food costs seem to be pretty close to ours. Fruits and veggies are cheap if you buy them in the right place, but that can be a pain if you’re stocking up for a week. Plus meat is expensive, sometimes stupid expensive. If we counted booze as a food expense we’d probably blow you guys out of the water. Our grocery runs are usually at least 1/4 liquor. Maybe we have a problem…I dunno. Gotta go, ice in my drink is melting.

    Comment by Jared on May 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm

  6. Thanks Jared, nice to have another data point to compare to. We actually include our alcohol in with the food, although it isn’t very much. I usually have a beer a day, so it’s usually less than $50/month. Then again, you have 3 people to feed.

    Comment by Brad on May 6, 2012 at 9:55 pm

  7. Bob and Karen Sweeney

    You might want to check out Google Voice’s rates. I think it uses less bandwidth than Skype. Anyway, we use it from Mexico and the calls are much clearer, all the time, than Skype. It’s also just 1 cent a minute to the U.S. from anywhere in the world. Here are their rates: https://www.google.com/voice/rates?hl=en_US&currency=USD

    Comment by Bob and Karen Sweeney on May 7, 2012 at 8:07 am

  8. Chevy

    A friend recommended this video. Are you equipped with a HD video camera? Your voyage would be like this to the Nth degree in HD. -Chevy in Denver

    Comment by Chevy on May 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm

  9. Hi guys, Thanks for the monthly update!
    My husband & I have been following your blog for a short time now while we research our own drive down the Pan American to happen in the next 2 years. We’ve previously backpacked around the world but this time decided having our own wheels was the way to go and we’re loving following along as you do just that!
    Can’t wait to hear more stores of the road.

    Comment by Rhonda on May 9, 2012 at 1:28 pm

  10. I am a bit out of touch cause my last Panamerican experience was way back in 2002, but back then we used to eat and shop in the villages’ markets, fresh fruits, vegetables, and inexpensive. Has this changed??

    Getting ready for our third USA-Argentina overland trip, hopefully taking off later this year from NY. If you need support while in Argentina, or place to camp near Buenos Aires let me know. I spend half of the year and own a motorhome rental business there (http://www.andeanroads.com), but more importantly, I am a member of the local Westfalia group and we will be happy to welcome you!

    Comment by Cris on May 9, 2012 at 3:13 pm

  11. guy

    So jealous of your breakdown in Costa Rica. I have been bunkered down in California for over a month trying to get my Central American landcruiser back on the road. I bought it knowing parts would be hard to find in the states but easy to find in Latin America and I thought that would be a good compromise. What a mistake that turned out to be!

    Keep on truckin’. I dig your updates.

    Comment by guy on May 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm

  12. Sally andf Riley Rice

    As a rule of thumb, low-budget, third-world folks use meat, if at all, as flavoring, as a side dish. It’s generally a higher-cost item and, from a nutritional standpoint (and that’s not usually part of poor folks’ day-to-day knowledge) provides protein and fat at a higher life-cycle cost (i.e., it took lots of plants to produce that high-quality protein and low-quality, saturated fat). So you may consider thinking of meat as flavoring or side-dish and see what happens. A 3-oz. serving of meat (fish, whatever) is usually plenty for Homo spiens as part of a meal. And not every meal needs that.

    Comment by Sally andf Riley Rice on May 16, 2012 at 9:33 am

  13. Hi Brad and Sheena,

    I wanted to follow up on Bob & Karen’s post about Google Voice. I have been using this to make almost all of my calls while I’m traveling internationally. It’s FREE to call any US number. You can also send/receive text messages.


    Comment by Natalie on June 8, 2012 at 9:48 am

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