Next stop, the fascinating island of Madagascar.

We departed Johannesburg on September 5th for a short 3 hour flight to the capital city of Antananarivo. We have a Nissan double cab 4×4 rented for 5 weeks, equipped with camping gear. Although we’ll be staying at lodges through our driving journey we have the camping gear for any “just in case” situations. Below is our driving route with the blue colored portion indicating our flight to the north. After 5 weeks we’ll hop a plane from “Tana” and head to the Northwest for some much anticipated beach time.

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Please stay tuned!

Sayulita, No voy alli! ( not going there)

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So I was sitting at a little bar in old town Vallarta and overheard an older couple (probably our age) talking about how 5 of their friends became violently ill after swimming at the main beach in Sayulita. Apparently the sewage treatment plant for the area is overwhelmed and frequently overflows into the river that cuts through the middle of main beach and flows into the sea. Upon further research and hearing another similar story it seems Sayulita is in essence a bit of a cess pool. The area smells like poop, is overcrowded and apparently there is a lot of garbage left un-picked-up all over the place. We dug further and found a blog post from a month ago and although it tried to paint some lipstick on the town, the writer still could not deny the sad state of sanitary affairs that currently exists. Sadly for now sewage flows freely down the river and into the heart of Sayulita.

Our travel motto has always been to go with the flow however to this kind of flow we say no so decided it was back to Yelapa we go!

We booked another 7 nights at Hotel Lagunita and this time we were able to snag bungalow #6. It’s on the beach right in the corner of the beach and the bay and has a great little patio.

April 5th we bid the gals farewell after a great 12 days and hopped a very bumpy water taxi ride under high winds and cloudy skies to Yelapa, checked into our bungalow and immediately began to regret our choice. Without going into detail the deal breaker was the washroom/ shower area. The size of a coat closet, no place to put even a cup by the sink (the cup holder was either for a cup or for a bar of soap for the shower) and the slatted walls were missing a lot of slats making it less than private.

It never hurts to ask so we went back to the office, explained the situation and asked if bungalow #29 was available, the last one we stayed in a few weeks back. It was and was less money per night. Bonus! But the good luck was soon to wear off.

After a nap and a shower I headed over to the bar and soon learned there could be up 100 people arriving the next day (Saturday) for a two day music fest called “The night of the iguana”. Great, another bonus.

As it turns out, about 48 people trickled in on Saturday and Sunday. The music started several hours behind schedule and the first two acts were essentially karaoke. As Joyce and I sat sipping Pacifico cerveza we were approached by a tall lanky flunky with a clipboard and were told if we wanted to continue to listen to the quality entertainment in store for us for the rest of the weekend we would need to pay 500 pesos each. We said no, we’re not paying anything, we’re guests at the hotel and besides we didn’t even know about this until yesterday. Well, you should have been informed by management that this is a private ticket holder only function and you would need to pay if you want to stay on the hotel grounds for the rest of the weekend. Nope, we’ll make a couple hundred peso donation if we like what we hear, otherwise forget it. Off he huffed.

Apparently the 500 peso ticket also included a fajita dinner which the kitchen prepared during the day. As the large crowd of about 20 people slowly served themselves fajitas we decided we were hungry so decided to order chicken enchiladas from the kitchen because we didn’t want fajitas and we didn’t buy tickets etc. etc. so we ask to order our food to which the reply was, the kitchen is closed. Closed? So what do we eat? It’s pitch black outside the perimeter of the restaurant and nothing else is open. I don’t know but the kitchen can’t make anything.

Tee-up the “time to get upset and demand to see the manager” routine. The manager we dealt with,”Lucas”, was an inebriated idiot and through some mis-communication which was quite rampant at that point, we learned the next evening, which was also full of fun and surprises, he was actually the hotel owner. He proceeded to tell us he had blocked off all of the bungalows for this weekend 1 1/2 months earlier and somehow we got a room and somehow this is all our fault but, for 200 pesos each you can imbibe in this delectable spread of fajitas! We don’t want fajitas, we want to split a chicken enchilada dinner, enough for two and only 120 pesos you blathering SOB! I have nothing else to say to you. Everyone who worked there watched with distant care or amusement until the head waiter snuck over and made things right. Almost. I guess the kitchen has previously prepared enchiladas in the fridge. Pop them on a plate, cover in sauce and cheese, add some black beans and rice also stored in the fridge, put in oven for one minute, just long enough to make the plate hot and presto. Once the plate came the second time, the waiter made a point of showing us how how his fingers were blistering from the holding the plate for 15 seconds so now we know it is hot! Nope. I don’t mind lukewarm, Joyce, not so much.

As mentioned above, as all of this was going on the first two acts were solo “artists” singing along to canned music. It was surreal and we felt badly treated so we headed back to our bungalow with a bucket of Tecate cerveza on ice, sat outside looking out over the darkness, water and village lights and discussed whether or not to blow this popsicle stand tomorrow and go somewhere else.

We stayed and in the late afternoon we sat at the farthest end of the bar away from the action and then headed of to Manquidos, a great restaurant about 1km up the path along the river. It was Sunday and they would normally be open for dinner but not tonight. They were out of most of their menu offerings. Damn but no problem, surely our restaurant will be open to us tonight. Come on! What do you mean not open? Okay, that’s it, where is the Manager, blah, blah, Lucas, blah. We ordered two hamburgers, had two beer each and and to our surprise the bill was on the house. A good first step.

There was no good second step even though we saw the owner creeping around every now and then but Anna, Angel and unfortunately two other forgotten names tended to look after us a little more attentively for the rest of our stay.

We departed Yelapa on April 12th and spent 3 more nights in PV before heading home on the 15th, nicely tanned, relaxed and looking forward to some of our favourite non-Mexican foods.  We’re home for exactly 3 months and then head out July 15th for another African adventure. Stay tuned.

 

Bucerias and PV

We arrived in Bucerias on the 24th after a very quick ride courtesy of a kamikaze taxi driver who ultimately overcharged us. A nice term for ripped us off. We never seem to learn. We could write a book on the “dos and don’ts” when travelling but god forbid we would follow our own advice!

We then met up with Kristina and Lucy at the Royal Decameron Resort which we had booked for 7 nights. The days have really flew by.

The days were like vacation days are supposed to be. Breakfast, lather up the SPF then hit the beach by 10:00 am, lunch at around 1:30, a little R&R and technology time, shower, meet at the beach bar around 5:00 pm, drink, head to the next beach bar at 6:00 (the first one closed at 6:00), drink a little more and then head out for dinner. We did actually walk into town one day and it was stifling hot away from the beach and semi-hurricane force wind at the beach but refreshing save for the intermittent sandblast.

When Joyce and I first arrived we were early and our rooms weren’t ready but we were assigned rooms in the furthest building from the water, There was a nice pool but no sea breeze and it was hot. So asking nicely to change our rooms were treated nicely and rewarded with rooms Steps from the beach on the 2nd floor in Bock #4 with a pool and ocean view and what we thought was probably the best location out of the whole complex.

The food was good, the sun was hot, the beach was nice and the waves kept Lucy (and me) busy.

Next stop was Puerto Vallarta for 5 days where we went back to the San Marino Hotel where Joyce and I stayed a couple of weeks earlier. It’s a 3ish star affordable all inclusive popular with Mexicans right on the beach right at Los Muertos Pier and in the heart of Old Vallarta, Zona Romantica. We snagged two ocean front renovated rooms on the 7th and 8th floors and proceeded to do what you do at the beach. The food was not bad. Less selection than a popular resort but fresh and varied. Kristina said she would definitely go back and we would also but don’t go with a 5 star expectation. It’s relatively small but nice and you mix in with the locals, especially on a Sunday at the beach and it is close to everything.

We looked into booking a snorkelling trip in Bucerias but didn’t trust the huckster trying to sell us time share BS on the side so we waited until PV to organize it and we ended up with a private boat for the four of us and headed out to Las Arcos for some so-so visibility amongst a fairly large group of tortilla fish feeding foreigners floating amongst several boats all jockeying for position around the buoyed-off snorkelling area but this is what you have to expect in a heavily touristed area. It was still great and we saw fish and travelled the shoreline on our way there and were able to get a really good perspective of the beaches and small resort areas lining the coast.

All good things must come to an end and so we bade the ladies farewell April 5th and headed to our next destination…..

 

Yelapa

We arrived in Yelapa by water taxi on Thursday the 14th and settled into our cool little bungalow by the sea side. The place is called Lagunita and has 32 bungalows spread along a seawall and behind on the mountainside and beachside all with patios looking out to the sea. There’s a great fresh water rock pool, a little beach bar and a good restaurant all located on a large area of beach for the use by guests only. A very cosy place.

The main village is located on the western shore of the bay and is built up along the lush jungle mountain side with small cobble stone streets and dirt paths linking the upper and lower portions of the town. It’s a little bit of a hike from the eastern shore of the bay but if you’re too lazy to walk the beach and then climb some serious concrete stairs (the short cut) to access the village you can take a water taxi from the eastern pier to the western pier and then you only need to climb a few stairs to the roads into town.

In behind the main beach there is a river valley where the Rio de Tuito flows down from the Sierra Madres and forms a small lagoon behind the beach during dry season. There’s some great hiking along both sides of the river with the first kilometre or so lined with quaint homes, chickens, mules and a taste of the true and authentic Mexican existence. It was refreshing to see life relatively unchanged. There are ATV’s, the local Uber who transport goods from the piers and people wanting to to go from A to B. Mules are still widely used for day to day village transport but the ATV’s are winning out.

There are a few waterfalls (cascadas) in the surrounding mountains so after a couple of days of cloudy weather and zero exercise we headed off on a 4 1/2 hour round trip journey to the nearest falls following a stone paved path for about 1km then a meandering sand and clay and rock strewn path leading deep into the jungle. Jungle is a relative term. It was definitely jungly but there weren’t any snakes or giant spiders and we didn’t get covered in leeches thrashing through knee deep mud and quicksand. We did have to take our shoes off to cross not for one but for two river crossings and I did save a giant frog from where I was was sure it was stranded in a deep no exit pit but it was still jungly none the less.

Several parrots screeched their their dismay at our arrival to the falls but two large woodpeckers greeted us. They reminded me of work. Bang your head against the wall long enough and maybe you’ll get a bite.

The falls were nice. We’re spoiled living in British Columbia.

There were no bugs to speak of during our hike and in fact anywhere but Joyce is a magnet for biting little bastards and she of course came home with several distinct bite profiles. We first had to eliminate that the bites weren’t bed bugs. They weren’t and with that being said in all of our travels and my business travels over 35 years we have never experienced bed bugs. How about that. But what are the bites? Her main bites have a small red puncture in the middle surrounded by a red outer circle with a white halo. Not sure what kind of deadly bug this was but if she starts to go crazy in the next few days maybe it’s the feared Loco de la Joko. Or maybe there’re just unique mosquito bites.

We had sunshine finally on our last day and we took full advantage. My eye lids are a little burnt. I promise to start wearing my sunglasses while tanning and yes I know I will not look like a racoon. That only happens when spring skiing.

Tomorrow we head back to Puerto Vallarta and we’re leaving a really nice little village place but we made a contact who has a nice home for rent along the riverbank for a very good price. Maybe we’ll rent it for a couple of months in early 2020?

The Mexico Plan

We started in Puerto Vallarta and stayed in “The Old Town” aka “Zona Romantica”. In our opinion this part in the southern end of PV is the best area to stay if you want a more authentic experience of hanging out at the beach with Mexican families, a clean swimable beach, great music surrounding you and a cornucopia of fresh oysters and skewers of freshly barbecued shrimp and marlin with hot sauce and lime on the side being hawked by the local beach vendors. A short walk takes you to to more restaurants and bars than you could ever vist unless you lived here. There is a fantastic music scene and from what we’ve listened to so far the level of talent has been outstanding. 

Next stop is Yelapa where we really lucked out getting a great seaside bungalow booked for 6 nights. Yalapa is a small isolated fishing village accessible only by boat located in a small bay on the southern most coast of the 7th largest bay in the world, Bahia de Banderas, about 1 hour by water taxi from the Playa Muertos pier in Old Vallarta.

We’ll head back to PV on the 20th and spend 4 nights in a little hotel in the heart of old town then head to Bucerius where we’ll meet up with our daughter and granddaughter, Kristina and Lucy for 8 nights in Bucerius and then the 4 of us will head back to PV for 4 nights. After bidding farewell the the gals on April 5th we hope to spend the next 10 nights in Sayulita although we may just fit in a trip to Guadalajara for a few days.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

It’s beautiful in PV this time of year. Facing west onto the pacific ocean and the Bay of Banderas, next stop Asia, you have a full western sunset and then an amazing western moon set. The moon rises in the east over the Sierra Madre mountains chasing the sun and is then swallowed up into the Pacific 3 1/2 hours after sunset. I’m not sure what the astrophysical term is but they are following an almost exact path from east to west. Very cool as we watch the moon slowly changing over the days from a sliver to a slice. Full moon is March 20th.

 

 

Mexico also beckons!

We’ve had a cold winter in Vancouver with temperatures a fair bit below normal but fortunately no where near as cold and crappy as as the rest of Canada and the mid western US. The crocuses are popping up now, a little delayed from a dusting of snow and like the new pre-spring flowers, we are in need of some warm weather so off we go to Mexico!

We have 6 weeks and will spend the first 10 days at a cheap all inclusive in Puerto Vallarta and then head off to, well, we’re not sure but will keep you updated.

 

Africa beckons!

We debated continuing on with our plan that was in place at the early ending of our last world adventure. This would have taken us to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia including Borneo as well as Papua and Australia but Africa and the adventure it offers for self driving, camping and immersing yourself in the culture, food and wildlife won out so;

Departing July 15, 2019 Joyce and I are hoping to equal or top the amazing 4 month experience we had in Africa in 2017.

Starting from Johannesburg we’ll spend 6 weeks self driving and camping with a Toyota Hilux 4×4 Bushcamper covering most of the national parks of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

We’ll drop our vehicle back in Joberg and then fly to Madagascar where we have a Nissan double cab 4×4 reserved for 5 weeks. We’ll be mostly staying at lodges and small hotels but will have camping supplies just in case. We’ll self drive through the North East, Central and South West of the country and then fly to the far north west of the country to spend some down time on the beaches of a couple of small islands (noseys).

From Madagascar (Antananarivo) we’ll fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we’ll experience about 2 weeks of the amazing cultures and geography that this country has to offer.  This will be a private tour that we’ve arranged through the great help of Verity Bester, a friend and travel consultant we know in South Africa who has helped us tirelessly in our planning of our previous and now next adventure.

Next stop is West Central Africa. We’ll fly from Addis Ababa to Libreville, Gabon where we are currently working on a plan to see this country that is called the last “Eden” on earth. We’re hoping to explore both Gabon and Cameroon over a period of 3-4 weeks.

Please stay tuned and if anybody who reads this has suggestions, ideas etc. please comment.