Lago De Atitlan

In a break from my adjective strewn writing, and with an attempt to help you all catch up with our wanderings and amblings throughout Central America, this post comes to you in the form of pictures and simple sentences, just like when you were young. So sit back, get yourself a cup of tea, wait for the page to load up the pictures and enjoy…. Arrived at Lago de Atitlan in Panajachel. Energetic small tourist town on the edge of a beautiful lake. Met Ratita, the cutest little kitten who thought she was a tiger! 1st December. Ran the Lago de Atitlan Marathon. Coined as ‘One of the top ten hardest adventure marathons’ by ESPN, this gruelling marathon broke me. 42km with some ridiculous elevation gain, reaching 2500m at one point. Amazing though, just amazing. Han got her hair braided to fit in with the typical gringo traveller. Recouped and boated over to San Marcos with Richard and Bev (two other marathoners from Canada), a chilled out hippie esque town on the lake. Han and I moved to San Marcos for 3 nights. One night in a hostel with hard wooden beds, then moved to an amazing hotel for the same price round the corner. We relaxed, juggled, swam and ate out in this intriguing, holistic, vegan strewn, home grown town. Went on a beautiful run around the nearby hills around the lake. Got the boat to another town on the lake, San Pedro, and spent one night there, visiting a Friday Market at Santiago De Atitlan. Jumped on a mammoth journey, involving 4 buses and one border crossing to make our way to San Salvador, the capital El...

Xela Maya

Hola Amigos Hola amigos. Como esta? Bien? Muy bien! Nostros tenamos un incredible tiempo en Xela, en Espanol escuela para una semana donde nostros entiudamos Espanol. Nosotros vivamos con un familia en Xela, todo Espanol imercion. Or to English among you …. Hey friends. How are you? Good? Very good! We are having an incredible time in Xela, a Spanish school for one week where we are studying Spanish. We are staying with a family in Xela, total immersion (and without a dictionary or any sort of checking, that’s probably all wrong). Unfortunately after a weeks Spanish my verbs only touched on the present tense, so although this all happened 2 weeks ago, you’ll have to excuse the context and turn the verbs into their past counterparts and take things from there ……. Cue wobbly flashback sequence ….. Monday morning arrived and Han and I headed off to Ceya Maya Spanish school for the week. Like all new kids to a new school, we were nervous and entered looking sheepishly around at the older cooler kids who knew more and frowned upon us as freshmen to the system. We had enrolled on a weeks worth of Spanish lessons in Guatemala’s second largest city, and also opted for the homestay option which would find us housed and looked after by a local family for the week. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery We were quickly greeted by Jenya, the schools administration assistant, who showed us around the school and explained the intricacies and routine that the homestay-school combo would follow. We were to have 5 hours of one-on-one lessons from 8am until 1pm at the school, from where we would then have lunch at our hosts families home, before having the afternoon to...

Antigua and Volcan Tujumulco...

Antigua, one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guatemala, appealed to me from the moment our collectivo trundled into town over its cobblestone streets, past the well preserved Spanish Baroque architecture, round the corners with tumbled down spectacular ruins of colonial churches and up to our hostel of choice for a 3 night stint, Yellow House. We were using Antigua as a base for a few days before heading West a few hours to Guatemala’s second biggest, yet less travelled city, of Quetzaltenango, or Xela (pronounced Shey-la) to all and sundry in the country. We had booked a 2 day volcano hike, before a weeks Spanish lessons and homestay, both in Xela, and Antigua was the perfect jumping off point to break up the journey. Colonial towns always hold a big appeal to me; the throwback to history, the untouched unspoiled roads, the abundance of care that is given over to all the small, intricate signs and doorways, the apparent lack of smog filled car lined streets, and the ease of travelling and safety of the area. Antigua was no different, yet also had the added attraction and vista of three main volcanoes that surround the city, one still quite evidently active. We headed out to dinner on our first evening, taking the advice of the local hostel staff, and finding our way to an intriguing hidden restaurant that had a small tienda (local snack shop) as its store front. After being grinned at by a couple of old, wizened individuals, we got escorted round the crisp packet stand, past the cash register and into the hidden, small, cardboard box strewn tabled area. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The menu consisted of chicken broth, or chicken broth, and after...

Semuc Champey

“BANG” “What the hell was that?” “Broken axel?” “Did someone’s rucsac fall off the roof? “Burst tire?” We had careered around the corner in our 7 person collectivo, when suddenly all 15 of us were wondering what the massive bang that had just pierced our ears was. I feared that someone’s rucksack had fallen off the roof and down the 300 foot drop to our right, lost to the god of fast-cars-turning-corners-too-quickly. The driver slowed down, got out, and with all the males on the bus being … males, inspected the under carriage of the car. It turns out that after only a mere 300,000,000 hours of use one of the back tires had burst, annoyingly, as we were just an hour from our destination on our 8 hour ride. We had already traversed flooded roads via make shift car-ferries and survived the continual bumping and jarring of the minivan, but there was nothing for it but a good 40 minute wait at a non-descript roadside as tires were changed. We all took the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. An hour later, via a road that I believe was not made for collectivos or cars, but more for tanks and all-terrain-vehicles, we finally arrived in the cute town of Lanquin which was to be our home for the next 3 nights as we relaxed, read, ran and, for the main event and the reason for undertaking the journey, visiting the beautiful exquisite National Monument of Semuc Champey. We got herded onto the back of pickup trucks by 12-year-old kids to be taken to our hostels of choice, and after a 5 minute little drive arrived at El Retiro, a beautiful sprawling rustic hostel that was to be our base for our visit to the area. The hostel really was quite beautiful; our dormitory room was a thatched roof circular affair, wooden beams and poles for support and walls, inlaid stone-concrete floors, all situated 30m from the river. Cute stone pathways cut across the complex and grass areas to the outdoor-but-roofed dining room, to the lounging hammock area and down and around the toilets, river, table tennis table and more. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery With two full days in Lanquin we chose to visit Semuc Champey the next day and then have a ‘chill out’ day the next – a decision that proved superbly orchestrated; on our relaxing day 30 people embarked on the tour, compared to our intimate 8 person group. “Beep, beep” “Ring, ring” “Tringle, tringle, doopedy doop doop” Multiple musical jingles sounded in our dorm as various peoples alarms all went off for the 8am wake up, evidently the latest time available to wake up, freshen up, have some food and be ready for the 8:30 set off. As 8 of us packed into the back off a pickup truck, me hanging on the outside from the back, we traversed and cornered for an hour up and around the various hills and valleys, slowly meandering our way to the National Monument. The scenery was breath-taking, although as always, too much soon became normal, and with the bumps and jerks we were all starting to feel the strain when we arrived at our destination. Although completely and utterly normal in this part of the world; we often see 15 plus people jammed into the back of trucks and cars along with an amazing amount of luggage and goods, there is something rustic and ‘naughty’ about standing up in the back of cars for an hour, holding on for your life and wondering if the next hole in the road will bump you out onto the side to join the mud. Conversely I suspect the locals wish they were sitting 3 astride in the back of a saloon car – but such is the enjoyment of something new. We arrived at the...

Caye Caulker

After a relatively unscathed comfortable coach ride from Tulum to the non-descript coastal town of Chetamul, we were sat drinking a couple of brewskies, our legs overhanging the white mottled jetty, the sun shining on our backs and our heaving backpacks within viewing distance ready to be loaded onto a boat. We were chatting with Monty and Lindsay, two new travelling friends we had jumped into a taxi with to the port, and life seemed good. We were waiting, along with a host of other backpackers, to jump on-board the jet powered water taxi that would be our means of transport to either San Pedro or Caye Caulker, both islands based in Belize just a mere 90 or so minutes away. We had paid our departure tax and as the army arrived along with their semi-automatic guns, over zealous jeep hoisting a massive artillery piece along with metal shielding, and sniffer dogs to go through all the bags, we made our final toilet stops and jumped on-board. Caye Caulker, a small coral island off the coast of Belize, measures a mere 5 miles long by 1 mile wide; although the length is halved due to Hurricane Hattie that came through the area in 1961 and split the island into two. The Northern end is now for all intent and purposes the hub of the island, with the South rarely being visited except by some high end hoteliers and Caribbean island getaways. As we went through customs in a typical Caribbean fashion; slow, relaxed, humorous and colourful, we embarked at our slice of Caribbean paradise and lumbered our backpacks to Yuma’s House, the hostel we had reserved days earlier. We threw our packs on our beds, showered, changed, got a beer in a hammock listening to the evening waves splashing by and breathed a proverbial sigh of relaxation with some quiet time before meeting up with our new found travelling duo for some seafood affair. The island is made up of a few main sand paved ‘roads’ that run the length, with a multitude of smaller open air palm tree lined ‘alleys’ that lead off the main drags. Chain shops, restaurants, or common retail names or non-existent and no cars are allowed on the island (only golf buggys and bicycles are allowed). Hand painted signs in colourful Jamaican-esque colours are thrown at you, and indeed the slurred Creol-English of Jamaica is prevalent on the tongues of all the locals – our meagre Spanish would not be tested in this predominantly English speaking country. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery As we wandered down the road, obeying the island mantra of ‘Go Slow’, we found Monty and Lindsay, had some warming, welcoming, this-is-normal-for-a-backpacker shots of Mezcal and jumped at the chance to have fresh lobster, red snapper and crab. To wash it all down with we had free homemade rum punch, and sat chatting at the cute wooden bench, sand underneath your feet restaurant overlooking the ocean. As the food was washed down again with happy hour Caipirinha’s, we made our way to a local bar where we soon bumped into other backpackers who were on the original boat over, and the 10 of us stumbled into the islands ‘sports bar’, emptied our wallets into the bar and drank the night away. Opening up conversations with the standard ‘Where are you from? How long are you travelling for? Where have you been?’ before putting the world to rights and delving deeper into irrelevant prevalent topics, the night flowed by with the warming air allowing sandals and shorts to be worn until bed. With monsoon season still at its tail end, and local knowledge that the next day was to be warm and sunny with only a small chance of showers before an arc of high pressure was to hit the island with its intermittent weather patterns, we decided to...

Vegas and the Grand Canyon

Although I love Vegas, and Han hadn’t been there before, leaving me both intrigued and worried about her reaction to such obvious shows of financial freedom and over-the-top adventures, we also had a secondary aim; a trip to the Grand Canyon to run the Rim-to-Rim (South to North). We had booked ourselves into the aptly named Circus Circus hotel for a few nights, before picking up our hire car and heading to tackle the canyon. The hotel lies at the Northern end of the strip which meant longer walks to and from our hotel, but also no questions on which way to turn out of the doors when we did wake up. Like all first timers to the strip, we wandered up and down the boulevard, through all the major hotels, watched the magical water show at the Bellagio, took the circular escalators at Caesars, and ate monster portions of cheesecake and drinks. We even placed a few bets to some fast losses and slower wins. Han actually pulled out a straight flush on one hand, netting her the fortune of $13 back from her initial 25 cents on the video poker. We danced at the themed bar of Coyote Ugly, drank margaritas at a time of night when sleeping would usually be in order, placed a bet on red for it to come up black, saw an NBA game at the Mandalay Bay, taste tested at the largest candy wall in the world, and generally drank, ate and had a blast as much as we could on our limited backpacker budget. Vegas was all that it promised to be and more, and juxtaposedly sometimes less, and a little surprisingly Han actually enjoyed some of the aspects I was worried she would hate, and hated some of the aspects I thought she would love; who would have thought she would love a $3.50 slushed Margarita at 11pm on our way back to the hotel, or half naked Coyote girls at the Coyote Ugly themed bar? Vegas therefore confused me as much as it always does, and once again had me wanting to come back for more, more and more, yet also had me wondering if I ever need to come back. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery And with such ambiguous paragraphs and thoughts such as the above, I found myself contemplating the city as we chewed up the miles in our hire car heading along the mind numbingly straight Route 15 North and East out of the city on our way to the Grand Canyon. Wanting to run the canyon in a day bought with it some logistical problems; obviously you end up 20 plus miles away from where you started. Not fancying running the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (ie repeat it backwards), we had organised a plan to a) Get picked up by a shuttle bus company from the North rim around 2pm the first day b) With only our running gear, a toothbrush, some money and the energy bars and trail mix we’d need the next day, arrive at the South Rim around dusk c) Stay at a lodge on the South Rim and grab some dinner there d) Wake up around 5:30am, and head out to run back to our car on the North Rim Even with a small issue of a late car pickup we made our shuttle bus in time and found ourselves gorging on ‘chilli in a bread bowl’ in a somewhat error prone meal-before-a-big-run food intake, but which was to prove surprisingly tasty and filling, energy inducing and error-free the next day. Early starts are never easy, but when you wake, put on your running shoes, don your hydration packs and look out over one of the most colossal natural wonders of the world I’ve ever seen, it certainly helps. We had decided to take the slightly longer option of descending down...