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...

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...

El Mecico Nov21

El Mecico

It was with a sense of adventure and a feeling of backpacking proper that I took an assured step off the red-eye flight from San Diego to Cancun. I had previously alighted in Cancun airport, and had stayed at the same hostel, only 18 months prior on an explosive lads holiday with J-man, a friend from University, so knew the in’s and out’s of the bus system and the layout of downtown Cancun – often the most troublesome times for a backpacker of getting from a alighting point to hostel. Mirroring the change in travelling mantra and lifestyle choice from our Alaskan cruise to San Francisco, the step down in the proverbial ladder of change from San Diego to Mexico was taking us to a backpacking lifestyle in the vein that mums and dads believe how backpacking looks. We were carrying our life on our backs (in our packs), we were ending up in foreign non-English speaking countries and walking 2miles instead of taking a taxi to save ourselves a dollar. We had booked ourselves just two nights at the party orientated Quetzal Hostel in the grimy, sweaty, dirty, nightlife loving, American spring break craziness city of Cancun. On the backpacking scene the city is generally considered a place to party, drink, sleep in and repeat – and although I’d done it before (loving the infamous Coco Bongo’s nightclub) – Han and I were using it a base to see Chichenitza, arguably the most famous East Mexican ruins before quickly moving on to the more sedate and cultural Merida. I struggled to not join in the drinking games and party the night away, even when free tequila was given out with dinner; my social, party, sin driven devil arguing with my conscious, early morning...

LA, Hollywood, San Diego and Beyond...

Los Angeles! To me I had taken LA to mean one city, where choices of where to stay were based on recommendations, reviews and scores, and less so on location. There would be a centre where hostels would try and crowd around and promote as distance scores from main attractions. However, upon planning our stop at this expanse of a region, it soon prevailed that Los Angeles has no core, no main area, and is actually an amalgamation of lots of different cities, towns and areas that make up Greater Los Angeles. Deciding where to stay would be based on what we were after. With no real idea exactly what that would be, we opted to stay at the highly recommended option of a USA Hostel in Hollywood. Was this to be the place of movie stars and chique boutique hotels and shops? Most definitely not – it was something even better. Hollywood turned out to be an electric energy fuelled buzzing area where tourists seem to crowd in as touts shout from streets, beer and food specials fly at you, and costume shops and souvenir stalls line the walkways. Our hostel was located almost in the middle of this, but down a side road that seemed to shelter it from the noise and crowds. We had 2 days at the hostel before two of Han’s friends, Georgie and Amy, were amazingly making their way out from the UK to meet up with us for a 7 day holiday. Being slightly lackadaisical and welcoming some downtime before they came out, recharging after our Grand Canyon run, we took the time to recoupe and just ‘took our time’ around the area. I took a Beverly Hills tour to see some of the grand mansions of...

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...

Lake Tahoe

With a tent, roll-mat and sleeping bag still crying out to be used again before we were to relieve ourselves of the camping equipment on our journey south to enter the world of Mexico and beyond, and with a spacious boot to carry the load instead of our backs, we planned to head North to camp at Lake Tahoe for a few nights. Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is America’s second deepest lake covering 191 square miles, and lies 200 miles inland from Cali’s coast, being part of both California and Nevada. We jumped in the car from the Big Sur and made the 6 hour adventure to camp on the Southern shoreline near the imaginatively named town of South Lake Tahoe. We had been told by other adventurous souls that Lake Tahoe has a ‘serious’ temperature difference between night and day. As we rumbled over the passes and down the twisting turning roads to our final destination, with the first glimpses of the largest alpine lake in North America in view whilst the sun was still glittering of its never ending surface, with a car air conditioning conditioning the air, we were not seriously worried or trepiditious about the cold. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery We had booked ourselves into the mildly historic Camp Richardson. With a history that spanned back about as far as it could for the area (circa 150 years) the camp spanned a fairly large area, sitting a mere 100m from the shoreline of the lake and situated within a rustic untouched protected forest that we were warned we were to share with coyotes and bears. We had had our share of dangerous wild North American animals over the past couple of months, but the warming spacious lodge and sprinkling of RV’s close by stemmed any real fears from surfacing as we welcomed the warming showers and bathrooms that our more rustic campsite at Mount Tam, and previously our camping expedition in the Yukon, previously didn’t house. The main attraction of Lake Tahoe, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, was the Lake itself and we made plans to explore some of its more well known coves, shorelines and beaches, once again enjoying the freedom and mobility that our own car gave us. We spent a luxuriously lazy day sitting on the shores of Emerald Cove and wandering around it’s shoreline; reading, juggling, throwing juggling clubs into freezing waters, paddling, snoozing and having to swim after the said club in just boxers (to the delight of the nearby women) …. the usual antics. With the mountainous backdrop, aquamarine shimmering waters, and sun dappled shores, the next day we headed out on a great trail run along a shoreline path, circumnavigating and exploring a couple of beaches and some vertigo inducing drops, before visiting a trickling waterfall and catching some beers and food back at camp. However, the warning and precursors were soon to be realised; when the sun sets the heat sets as well, and as our camp slowly became engulfed in a cold bitter evening, our freezing digits wondering why chopping vegetables numbed and froze them, and washing up involved them scrubbing pans in ice cold running tap water, my mind was confused whether to enjoy the beautiful moon dappled forest with another tea, or climb into the warming, welcoming, sleeping bag lined tent. A little of both was thrown in as we warmed water up into our drinking containers, hugging them like water bottles in the tent, and drifted off to sleep still in trousers, t-shirts, jumpers, hat and scarf. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery With a couple more days in the area however, a little cold at night didn’t stop us from enjoying the area and planning some more trail runs and relaxing days. As the rays of the sun slowly warmed our tent...

The Big Sur

With California being America’s third largest state, and with some world renowned scenery and mother nature peppered around its 250 mile wide and 770 mile long land mass, Han and I had decided to hire a car for 10 days to travel firstly South, to and through the Big Sur, before theoretically over to Yosemite National Park and beyond. The Big Sur is a small area of coastal land around 3 hours South of San Francisco that is generally regarded to be home to one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world, so as we picked up silver economical Hyundai Elantra at the early hours of 9am, we were excited and eager to get moving away from a city that we felt we had expunged enough energy on with so many other places to see. The drive down was uneventful yet strangely liberating, a small freedom of not relying on public transport, and as we hummed and sang along to the advert-ridden American radio, we soon found ourselves looking West over the Pacific Ocean winding round twisting turns and up and over natures natural obstacle course. We wondered when the Big Sur actually begins; a small pullover and a consultation of the travelling bible, chapter 24 verse 5 – the world according to Lonely Planet of California – and we realised that we had actually been driving for around 30 minutes through what people regard as The Big Sur. With nowhere to stay that night we checked out our options and what there was to actually see along this coastal region. After some thoughts, blind finger pointing and knowledgeable discussion we decided to head to a first-come-first-served campsite midway along the region. 30 minutes later and we arrived, found a suitable patch...

Mount Tamalpais

After 5 days in San Fran we were ready for a change. Originally we had planned to visit Yosemite, but after it was closed down we altered our very loose plans and took the buses an hour North to Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. Although relatively close to the hustle and bustle, as soon we headed over Golden Gate bridge we were transported to a place where life was slower, people knew everyone in the village, and bus drivers discussed world events such as if the wooden bridge should be repaired over some non-descript marshland. I liked it. As Jerry our bus driver dropped us off on the early sunny Sunday morning at our campground up in the state park of Mount Tam, we quickly found a spot to call home, got a cup of brew on the go, and set out the map the ranger had given us to plan the next few days events. With no car and being situated around 5km from the nearest civilization, hiking, fresh air, star gazing, some trail running and lazing around were the order of the trip. Luckily for us the trails and paths were not only amazingly well marked and well trod, they went through a diverse range of fauna and geology, with either breath-taking views overlooking hilly golden autumnal slopes, or vista of the Pacific Ocean hazily lazily splashing its waves. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The first day we headed down to the beach, mindlessly ignoring that it was an hour downhill that had to be traversed later on the day uphill; we were camping at around 7000ft, so everything apart from the mountain tops were downhill, and as Han fell asleep on the warming soft sands, I read and...