Campsites and Hitchhikers

When we left for our trip, we assumed hiking and wild camping would be common for much of the journey. Being from the western US, we associated travel and camping with wide open spaces on vast tracts of public land. Well-marked trails are the norm within national and state forests, as well as BLM. For the first few weeks of our trip, we did hike nearly every day and never paid for a campsite. If you don’t mind solitude and carrying a shovel into the woods every morning, there are endless opportunities to safely and comfortably sleep for free.

This theme largely carried on into Baja, which is definitely deserving of its reputation as a haven for backroad driving and free beach camping. Although the abundance of well-marked and easily accessible hiking trails dried up.

Since mainland Mexico we’ve found it to be more difficult to find the kind of remote camping we’re used to. It’s not that there aren’t options available, it’s just that they’re fewer and farther between. It hasn’t been as obvious to us where setting up camp would be acceptable and safe. I believe it would be easier if we were able to stay in one place for long enough to get to know the area, the culture, and the locals better. Sometimes even an hour or so of driving around green places marked on the map will net good results.

Asking the locals is a good way to go, but the language barrier and cultural differences can easily lead to confusion. It can be hard for us to explain that we don’t need any services, we simply want a safe quiet place in the trees to park our camper.

More often than not, we end up simply paying to spend the night inside a commercial “campground” of some sort. Usually the grassy lawn or parking lot of a restaurant, hotel, or attraction. We’ve also found quite a few places that appear to be aimed at vacationing locals. A collection of huts or cabanas for rent, near a lake or inside a forested area, with a pool or a few kayaks. These places also cater to tent campers and those of us in trucks or small rvs and they seem to be what most Mexicans and Belizeans would consider “camping”.

We’ve even just parked the rig on the street, if we’ve been in town long enough to get a feel for the area. Street camping was fun at first. It is really cool to simply park our home so close to all the action of a city. Restaurants, bars, and stores are all just out your back door. After the novelty wore off, however, we’ve mostly stuck to more established places. The inconveniences of being woken at 3 am by the local police and not having an easily accessible bathroom typically aren’t worth the few dollars we save on camping.

We do occasionally stay in hotels, but not as often as we thought we would. Most of the time we’d prefer to simply stay in a nicer campground (wifi and toilet seats) as a splurge or to recharge. We’re simply very comfortable in our little camper.

Sleeping almost exclusively in our camper provides the same bonus being married does- the chance of picking up any itchy-twitchy, creepy-crawlies is very small. Imagine our terror when Taylor woke on the second night in our Caye Caulker hostel to burning bites and bed bugs on the wall. The hostel was very cheap, but also incredibly clean and well kept. We bottled up a few of the invaders to show the owner on our way out and she nearly broke into tears.

Unable to find a working laundromat on Caulker, we changed into fresh clothes and bagged up our belongings in trash sacks as soon as we made it back to the truck. On the way to the washer/dryer equipped local marina, we also managed to get a flat tire. We imagined the little vampires swarming out of the garbage sacks in our camper and infesting our home the whole time our tire was being repaired.

Then, because the repair place was very professional, we drug it out even longer making an appointment for an alignment the following day and checking over the front-end components of the truck. All the while there was an enemy force spreading across our tiny homeland. In our minds, if not in reality.

As soon as we reached the marina, we paid for our night and purchased precious laundry tokens. We washed all our clothes and ran them, as well as our Osprey backpacks through the dryer on the highest heat setting available.  

Feeling like we’d done all we could, we had the truck aligned, stocked up on supplies, and made our way into Southern Belize. We spent a night in Hopkins, where we met two other travelling couples and enjoyed food, conversation and Garifuna drumming. From there we made our way into Bocawina National Park. On the way out, we crammed one of the couples we had met the night before, two incredibly cool Australians, into our truck, with its coveted air conditioning, for a ride to the nearest intersection where they would hitchhike the rest of the way to Belize City.

We were allowed to camp near the park entrance, on the picnic grounds. The only requirement was the $5 fee and that we camp near the freshly completed thatch-roof palapa. “We’ve made it just for you! Someone must try it out!” The workers even took pictures of our truck, hammock, and chairs surrounding their handiwork.

We spent an afternoon and the following morning hiking and exploring the park. It felt good to stretch our legs on a few trails again and to cool off in the park’s waterfall fed pools. The jungles of Bocawina reminded us a bit of the temperate rainforests back home in Oregon. Lots of ferns, birds, and huge trees. Of course, it was also very different. Strange flowers, 30’ palm fronds, and so many ants at work that they literally create trails of their own. 

 

While we enjoyed the dark, quiet night of (still not really) wild camping and the jungle hiking, it was oppressively hot. Routinely 90 deg and 80% humidity or more. Cooling only to the mid- 80’s at night. Our hikes left every article of clothing completely soaked through with sweat in only minutes and we found ourselves constantly plagued by flying, biting insects.

After the morning’s hike, we made haste to Placencia where we’d heard you could get Gelato so good it could make you cry, and that there was a Canadian couple with a hotel pool you could camp near for the price of a meal.

We enjoyed Placencia, the Gelato, and the pool, but the heat and humidity were still nearly unbearable. With no breeze and the fear of bed bugs hunting our flesh at night, sleep was nearly impossible. When Taylor again woke with nasty red welts we panicked and high-tailed it back across the country (about 2hrs) to Belize City and our previous camp spot at the marina.

Along the way, we were able to enjoy the rolling forested hills and farmland along the Hummingbird Highway, as well as some fresh milk and ice cream from “The Country Barn”. We even picked up 300 watts of solar from a supplier along our route.

The very next day we found an exterminator in the city and had our entire truck as well as all our belongings sprayed with whatever evil chemicals I could convince them to use. We pulled every removable piece of fabric from the camper including curtains and cushion covers along with each piece of camping gear and all of our clothes, filling 6 large black trash bags with our soft belongings and stacking them in the parking lot of the exterminator.

After having everything sprayed, including the cab of the truck, we returned to the marina where we ran 7 loads of our stuff through the dryer. Again.

Exhausted after our long night of exterminating and enjoying the fast wifi and fresh breeze off the ocean, we spent nearly a week camping at the marina. A place we had originally only intended to spend a night at out of necessity quickly became home. A plethora of resident animals included many dogs, a pet peccary, and a passle of chickens inhabited the grounds. It was a place we could work on projects and meet other travelers making their way by land and by sea. We even got to tour a sailboat.

A week after the great extermination, the only bed bugs we’ve seen at all were those we found at the hostel. In all our searching and shuffling we never actually saw any signs of the critters in our camper. As it turns out, the bites on Taylor’s back and elbows could also have been caused by Botlass Fly, a resident of the Bocawina National Park. Did we actually have bed bugs? It’s hard to tell. The camper needed a good cleaning anyway.