Firework Ridden Bulls

We crossed the border of Guatemala into the lands of El Salvador with open minds and ready backpacks. El Salvador is an often avoided backpacker destination, with travellers opting to shoot through it on a nice cosy bus, flying out the other side into Nicaragua unscathed and hassle free. The very nature of this though is what bought us to this intriguing country; we were looking forward to getting off the Gringo trail, experiencing towns and cities where tourists were infrequent and where our lingual dexterity would be put to the test. Our adventure though didn’t start well. After clearing customs and wondering why no stamp was needed in the passport, we alighted at San Salvador bus terminal to be greeted by obnoxious money driven taxi drivers who knew they were our only option of finding our hostel of choice. After some fierce negotiations and joining up with another foreigner we settled on a price and headed on our way. It left a slightly bitter taste in our mouth; that the first contact with El Salvadorians was mixed with greed and stubbornness, but nevertheless we arrived at our hostel around 10:30pm and crashed out with thoughts on moving on quickly the next day, heading West to the town of Juayua. The backpackers privilege of freedom and drastic life altering decisions being made on the fly, however, was bought into play the next morning as we chatted to our host and made internet checks on transport options throughout the country. Although roads exist like a spider web of connectivity throughout the land, in a twist on the ancient Roman proverb, all roads lead to San Salvador, which means that any links from one stop to another would involve a change in El Salvador’s capital. We altered our plans that morning and decided instead to head to Suchitoto a few hours North, allowing us to hit the beach town of Los Cobanos before finally settling at Juayua the next weekend – giving us plenty of time to experience the food festival that the town is famous for. I hastily emailed the hostel I had booked in Juayua to change to the next weekend, and booked Han and I into, for our 5 year anniversary, what Lonely Planet described as … ‘Without a doubt this is one of the best places to stay in El Salvador. A posh boutique hotel set in a restored 200-year old home, high-end Salvadoran art, antique and modern furnishings, custom-made doors and several gurgling fountains set the scene for six immaculate rooms.’ I put my credit card details in, was amazed as again they were accepted by my grudgingly obliging bank, and we set off, the hotel a surprise. The rural farming population, 6 elderly smiling ranchos with their machetes slung across their backs, the colorful, the weird, the wonderful, and one other gringo, piled onto the market good laden bus and trundled North through the country. Stopping seemingly randomly for anyone who stuck out their hand, and some who didn’t, we slowly but perceptibly got more and more cramped until the ‘maximum 49 passenger’ stickered bus was holding around 90 people, before my vision got impaired by a man wielding a large broomstick that was a holder for another 25. Edging my backpack, my day sack, Han’s backpack, my juggling ‘fun bag’ and our food bag into tighter and tighter corners, trying to not be the stereotypical ‘annoying gringo who carries too much’, I got as comfy as possible and held on. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery Three hours later on the two-hour journey, with the bus slowly emptying as passengers jumped off at random grass strewn village lanes, we trundled into an amazing colonial town, piled the baggage onto our unwitting bodies and strolled down to the amazing hotel. We checked in, somewhat embarrassingly with our backpacks, smelly clothes and obvious biscuit...

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...

Tikal

We alighted in the small lake ‘island’ of Flores early on in the evening with tour operators trying to sell us tours, and drivers telling us that bank machines were closed and to use other ones that only they know. Luckily we had been warned of the pre-alighting sales blurb and falsities that are thrown at you when Gringos arrive at any towns in the vicinity of Tikal, and so it was that we found ourselves with some travelling friends at the great Los Amigos Hostel ordering a beer, and booking ourselves onto the next days Tikal Sunrise Tour. With Tikal being over an hour away from Flores however, and with sunrise wanting to be viewed from the tallest of the ancient Mayan temples – Temple IV – also around an hour’s walk from the park entrance, the sunrise tour starts from the hostel at the ungodly hour of 3am. The bathroom was unsurprisingly empty as we brushed our teeth, and with perfect timing we walked to the front door and were quickly whisked onto the small bumpy collectivo that was to be our ride to the park entrance. Intermittent sleep and non-conversation was had by all and before we knew it we jumped off the bus into the world famous park, to be greeted by Mayan rain. However, not to be deterred, head torches and rain jackets were donned and our guide took us round the sites briskly and efficiently as the rain slowly ceased and the dark slowly lifted. 45 minutes later and we were all climbing the steep steps of Temple IV to sit upon the steps of a temple from a different era overlooking the forest canopy. We were not to have a perfect sunrise, far from it; grey clouds...