As I was deciding what to write about for the next blog post, I realized that our last two weeks had been filled with an abundance of one thing: internet! We posted up at an "Overlander Camp" for about 10 days - with a small jaunt up to Lago Paron in the middle (more about that next week) - of work and summer preparations, but on paper we didn't done much. Then I thought, this might be the perfect time to write about something that I think people will find really interesting if they've never done a trip like this: where do you sleep when you're driving your car through a foreign country?
We use an app called iOverlander pretty much every day. This app gives us access to crowd sourced information on camp sites of all kinds, points of interest, restaurants, travel warnings, etc. and is the most invaluable resource we have on our trip. Thank you Song of the Road and those others who contributed to it's making! We have also found that the cost of camping is consistent across the world as we have traveled it so far, almost always $10 a night. We have paid as little as $1.70/night at a truck parking lot in Nicaragua where the lady also brought us breakfast in the morning, and as much as $15 a night for a nice grassy yard where the bathrooms were about a 1/4 mile away. But nine times out of ten, it'll be $10 a night. If you're curious what camping on the road looks like, read on for our descriptions of the types of camps we use on a regular basis!
Oh and we do stay "inside" a hotel every once in a while, or an Airbnb, but it was no more than 10% of the time, and probably less. We love our truck!
Overlander Campgrounds: KP and I have different definitions of what this means. For me it's any camp that has room for more than 2 rigs and where you meet other overlanders regularly. To KP, it's a camp that you specifically seek out like a particularly interesting sight on your route, because you know that when you get there you will find other overlanders, nightly happy hours, good WiFi, beautiful bathrooms, and hot showers. These are places that we get in to our comfort zone, surrounded by like-minded people, usually in gorgeous places. We stayed 5 weeks in Guatemala at Chez Pierre while we took Spanish Classes and had a visit from Eva. Also the aforementioned Camping Guadalupe fits this description as well.
Almost Overland Camp: A place where you can spend a few days, but it's lacking one or two of those elements that make it a really special place. Sometimes that's no WiFi, or the bathrooms have no toilet seats (seriously it's more common to find them without than with south of the US border), or the showers are cold. But, these places are still comfortable and though you wouldn't post up for a month here, you often find other travelers and a more than comfortable place to spend a few nights.
Hotels and Hostels: We spend far more time camped in the parking lots, or grassy backyards of hostels and hotels, than we ever would have guessed before we left the states. Often times, we are in a city, or we are on a long travel day and have run out of standard or wild camp options, so we pull up to a hotel or hostel with a level (very important) parking lot and ask if we can sleep in our car for the night and use their facilities. The important thing to look for when seeking these places out is outdoor bathrooms, or common areas that stay open all night. Too often you think you find a great place, only to realize they lock up the bathrooms between 6pm and 8am! And locked bathrooms almost always close early and open late, so you never have a guarantee they'll be open "when you need them." That being said, we've found some awesome options, like a hotel with a big pool in Honduras where we could use the pool, showers, and bathrooms without disturbing anyone. Also we had a great night at a "love" hotel in El Salvador where the owners could not understand that we didn't want a room to "sleep" in, just to use the restroom. These Love hotels are VERY common in Latin America and are often used by courting couples whose families won't let them be alone together. It's romantic if you think about it that way and don't think about the woman who took a taxi and checked in to the room next to us, while several men came by on motorbikes throughout the night.
Restaurants, Balneario, Recreation Areas, Hot Springs, Gas Stations, Etc.: These public places are similar to camping at hotels and hostels, usually with the only difference being that you pay for their services and then they let you stay the night. Some of these places have been really amazing camp spots! We stayed at a cenote in the Yucatan where once you pay for entry to the cenote (about $3 each) you can stay the night. We liked it so much we came back a week later with my sister! Another awesome spot was at Papallacta in Ecuador, a town full of hot springs. We pulled in, paid about $8 for entry, spent HOURS in the hot water and showers, and stayed two nights! With restaurants they often times don't charge you to stay the night, just ask that you have a meal in their restaurant... this is almost always more expensive for us than just paying for camping, like at this beautiful restaurant in Costa Rica which we liked so much we had lunch and dinner! They definitely got their money's worth from us that day!!
Semi-Wild Camping: This definition of a camp spot might be unique to us, but some of our favorite campsites have been in this category. What we would define as semi-wild would be a free camp site, but where you still have access to some of the amenities of paid camp spots. A good example of this was our camp spot in Dominical, Costa Rica. There you can camp along the beach between town and the ocean for free and if you're in just the right spot you can get WiFi from the nearby restaurants and once you have made friends with one of the purveyor of the inexplicably open 24 hour coffee shop, you have a place to use the bathrooms as well. These places make for awesome spots to post up for a few days! We even spent three weeks at a spot on the beach at Santa Marianita, Ecuador with WiFi, use of the facilities at the nearby hostal, along with an amazing $8 breakfast everyday with unlimited coffee, and your choice of awesome restaurants and bars along the beach.
Wild Camping: We had the total misconception that our whole trip would be amazing wild camp after amazing wild camp. We were not wrong in the states. Driving through the US, you could go from BLM to Forest Service, and back for months and never pay for a single spot, or see another person! But with the exception of Baja, this ended after we crossed the border. the biggest difference is that when you get to Latin America there are just people everywhere! Even if you drive for hours to what you think is the middle of nowhere you will stop and set up camp only to have people on horses go by, or little old ladies carrying water on their heads and babies on their backs. Just two nights ago, we camped on the side of a little used road to a remote lake and as soon as we parked the truck, out popped an older gentleman who was very kind and welcoming and then asked for a "propina", or a tip, for what we weren't sure. We gave him a beer and a couple soles and he went on his way. Another time we tendered "payment" in beer was when we camped on the side of a lake in Nicaragua behind some houses and next to some grazing cows and horses. A man came out of his house to get his cows rounded up and to warn us that, though the spot we were camped was very safe, we may want to move a bit, because the rain coming down was about to turn our parking spot in to a river! We thanked him for the warning with a beer, moved to slightly higher ground and had a wonderful quiet night.