A Very Merry Mexico !! – The Final Days…………..

June 16, 2008

Hola from Mexico

Pics to follow..

So I’m actually typing this from Mexico City airport whilst waiting for my flight to London. I have had an absolute blast in my last days here and leaving Guatemala was the best decision I ever made, on to the story……

The bus left Flores at 5am, you have to transit through Belize and as you have to pay $15 for the privilege I decided at least to step on the soil in Belize City. A few people got off there and a few other people got on and we were suddenly in Chetumal, Mexico by around 3pm – not bad seeing as we’d already been in 3 countries that day !! We then had to get a further bus to Tulum (my tonic of a place I’d visited in February) which didn’t leave for 2 hours. So we all went for food and the usual get to know each other session. I have decided basically to have fun and not try and really do any new sights in my last week, I mean I could but I think a rest would be better – famous last words !!

We arrived in Tulum around 9pm and all headed to the Weary Traveller again, with their famous mandatory “I’m not a tourist, I’m a weary traveller” bracelet that you have to wear. This time it’s clear rather than purple in colour. I was amazed that at that time on a Saturday night they had beds for us all. Maybe the bed bugs have been deterring people !! As I walked in I heard “Sally !!”. Some how Lucy had managed to get there before me. Then bizarrely she’d bumped into a girl there that she’d met in Bolivia a year before – as we say, it’s a small world !! I checked in and had a beer. Then headed next door for tacos before we all went over to the bar across the road. At this point, Rhonda, a girl I’d met on the bus had officially made us a threesome.. as we’d got there late the 2am finish seemed really early but we ended up chatting to a lot of people and it was a laugh.

The next morning I woke up around 10 and relaxed after breakfast. I caught the 12 noon free bus back to that absolutely stunning beach and we found Rhonda and some of the others. The sea was gorgeous, and I spent the day sunbathing, reading and chatting – yes, I am officially back in traveller’s heaven !! We went out for dinner with a couple of people and had a few beers back at the hostel before bed, I think we were all tired after not having seen the sun in so long.

Back to the beach the next day aswell and I spent most of the day chatting to an Aussie guy called Nick. I feel like I’ve got a cold coming on so had some rather expensive but delectable coconut ice cream to help my throat. That evening everyone seemed to be keen to go out. After a few games of pool and more tacos I led everyone to a sign I’d seen earlier in the day which said “disco”. Unfortunately it was closed, so we found another bar but the drinks were expensive. On our way back we asked the security guard from the hostel if there was anywhere we could go and he directed us down the opposite end of the street to another place. I think apart from the taco place I’d never walked that way. There was indeed a bar full of locals. Suddenly it all turned in to a dance fest. We were all up and there are some funny photos. I am used to Columbia where all the locals dance so I asked who would dance salsa with me (got to get those last Latin American moves in while you can !!). Apparently the only man in the whole place that could dance salsa was the DJ. I therefore had to make him keep putting on very long records so I could get some more practise. He was okay, but I’ve had better partners. I think Tom then decided he was going to learn so he became my partner for a while. We then all headed back for a game of spoof !! Why oh why, I have no idea. We played twice the same people went out in exactly the same order, which meant Tom and Rhonda lost and the fine was one us girls used to use. I’m not going to say what it was, it wasn’t that bad (or maybe it was….), just very funny (you had to be there) !!

Needless to say I was up a bit later the next day. I went to the beach with Rhonda around 1ish and as she went to see the local ruins (I did them last time) I went to the beach. It’s raining !! I waited for a while and then Rhonda came back and we found Sam and Tom and chatted to them until we could take the rain no more. We taxied back. I read for a bit and then we met up and went for dinner with a couple Rhonda had met in Belize. Lucy had very kindly invited a guy called Emile along who was on his own. Okay, I think she thought he was cute (sorry Lucy) !! She taught us a childhood game she played called the “Scar” game. You basically pick a scar on your body and make up 3 stories about it, one of which has to be true. The others players have to guess which the correct story is. I went first and they guessed the story correctly, my poker face let me down big time !! On Emile’s turn, Lucy and I both guessed incorrectly. Mainly because his scar was caused by a package when he worked on the graveyard shift at the post office and the package contained synthetic wolf sperm. There is a bit more to the story but needless to say it’s probably the only time I’ll ever play that game as I don’t think there can be a better story so it will never be the same. It has of course also ruined Lucy’s childhood game for ever – thanks Emile !! We ended up back in the hostel with the boys and had a few drinks, shared some more hilarious stories and then had a relatively early night. Well, after Lucy and I had our nightly goss first !!

It’s raining today, Lucy and I basically had no plan apart from to meet in Tulum, so after a bit of a discussion last night we’ve decided to leave with Rhonda to head to Isla de Mujeres – translation, Island of Women. I have to say it’s rather a better location than the Isle of Man (no offence !!). The journey involves a 2 hour bus ride to Cancun and a 20 minute boat ride, so all pretty easy. Imagine our initial disappointment when we get there to find that men are actually allowed on. Oh well. We walk towards the main hostel and get offered a shared apartment. It’s very clean and we have a TV and a lounge to share with a few guitar playing, shisha smoking Israeli’s. We can do that, gives Lucy a chance to practice. The island is very touristy and feels like you’re on holiday from a holiday but as it’s low season it’s actually okay. We chill for the afternoon and then head out for food. We are immediately accosted by some Americans who insist we eat where they are. We do and then head back for an early night and fall asleep watching a film (my cold has also developed so I’m not feeling the best).

The next day my cold has gone and left me with a rather deep and not completely unsexy voice. We go for a little walk and then have breakfast. The sun has returned so Rhonda and I go to the beach. The sea is really calm here although the beach is busier than I’m used to. We head back later and get Lucy so we can enjoy cocktails at sunset from our swings at the bar – oh yes this is the life !! Lucy and I stay out and it seems that the bars take it in turns to have live music. At least that way the profits get shared I guess. We stay out until 1am and she made me dance to “I will survive” (I never do that !!!) before we went to bed.

The next day I picked up my flight ticket. I’ve decided to risk flying from Cancun to Mexico City and home all in one day. There’s a big gap in between so it should be okay. The flight is $20 more than the bus but 22 hours quicker, i.e. a no brainer !! That way I get an extra day in Cancun which is where we are off to next. The boys went to Puerto del Carmen so we said we’d all try and catch up in Cancun to watch the rugby together. Rhonda is a Kiwi and the boys are English so I need to meet them to have moral support for a predicted thrashing. Well when you continue to play that muppet at no.10 what can you expect !!

We checked in to the Weary Traveller in Cancun and the room was so much better than last time I was there. Then we decided to go shopping. I even bought a couple of dresses. The boys had checked in by the time we got back so we arranged to meet later. As it turned out the Scottish boys I did Tikal with Rich and Tony, or I should say Antonio and Ricardo (as their bracelets now refer to them) were also there. This is bad news as they are obviously supporting New Zealand. We combed the internet and came up with a place we thought we might be able to see it playing (unrealistic to say the least). The game didn’t start here until 2.30am so we didn’t leave until after midnight. We had to got to the hotel zone. I didn’t make it here last time and it feels like I’ve walked in to Las Vegas. It’s horrendous !! The bar we want is closed so we go to another one and have a very expensive beer. Ummmm, not very backpacker land !! We then come across a bar called “Dos Equis”. It’s 2am and they tell us we can get 2 hours partying including all drinks at $10 for the girls and $15 for the boys. Yes, sometimes I do love being a girl !! We all agreed and then I think we just went for it. Sam and Tom have a ping pong ball they bring out for fun, the balloons arrived and then I discovered we could get shots as well as drinks, and then I’m afraid Priscilla just took over. I don’t really remember too much. I know I was dancing on stage with some people, then a pole was involved, but apparently I was quite good, and the ping pong ball joined in to but not in a bad way. Then I threw up in the toilets…classy !! Lucy got me home bless. I put it down to it being the end of my trip and just having a complete blow out and I think Priscilla wanted one last night out aswell.  

Yes, I feel truly awful today. I blame the Scottish, they are animals and I’m sure they encouraged me. Anyway everyone said it was hilarious and I’m not bad around a pole. Photo’s NOT on facebook please !! After food and yet another sleep the gang have decided tonight is the night to go to Coco Bongo’s. I’ve heard that it’s another one price drink all place – help !! However, it’s my last Saturday night so there’s no question, I’m going. In fact I think the hair of the dog helped !! We left just before 10. There are 17 of us going in total. It’s basically $50 to get in or $60 for VIP. I am amazed that this many backpackers are prepared to pay this much for a night out but we do. I guess we are all getting to the ends of our trips so the budget goes out of the window. As a concession we catch the bus down. Getting of the bus there is an albino burmese python – because there would be wouldn’t there ?? So I get to stoke him, he’s gorgeous !! There is a rather long queue for Coco Bongo’s so half of us VIP it and the other half queue. We are let in, the boys are frisked (the ping pong ball is damaged !!) and then we are all handed a rum punch each. We are the first in although it starts filling up really quickly. Now I’m going to say if you ever get to go to Cancun you must do a night here. I think it’s the best night I’ve ever had in a club. It’s like free drinks and constant cabaret. Lucy feels a bit aggrieved as she’s only 23 and doesn’t want to think that she’s now been to her best club already but doesn’t see how she can top it. At least my clubbing years are nearly over !! Everyone’s faces were just a sea of smiles, it was all so happy….

The girls also had to get on the bar to dance, although I have to say it gave you a great view of the cabaret. Then we had to do the conga around the bar and then yes we really really had to have Tequila tipped into our mouths, you weren’t allowed to say no. The cabaret started with some dancers and then they had video footage of Robbie Williams, my heart started beating quicker, I knew he was trying to break in to the States but surely he’s not here ??? He wasn’t, it was an impersonator. Then we had Elvis, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Beyonce, Moulin Rouge, Beetlejuice and as well as other acrobatics, Spider man chasing the green goblin around the stage. Each act seemed to be getting better and better. I really paced myself and stayed sober. After the acts, everyone got handed more illuminous green head wear to dance around in the dark in and it did start to turn in to a bit of a meat market so I left at 3.30am with Rhonda as she had a flight to catch and I didn’t want her leaving and getting the bus back on her own. We got back on a high, she grabbed her back and left (no sleep poor thing !!), oh well I shall see her in London in a few weeks anyway.   

I woke up early the next day and said goodbye to the boys, they are now off to the Island of Women. Lucy and I are spending our last day together in Cancun. After food we say goodbye to Harry and then go to the mall. We want to try and catch “Sex in the City”. We could find a schedule on line and end up having 2 hours to wait so wandered around. Yeah, it’s starting and 20 minutes later we have a power cut, it affects the whole cinema and so we have to get our money back. So there’s no sex in this city this evening !!

I said goodbye to Lucy today and am now as I said in the airport waiting for my final flight included in the transport count below. I’ve had the best last days……the trip has been amazing, there are more funny stories from the last few days but I’d miss the flight. There have been lows as well as highs throughout the year and you can get lonely sometimes, it would also be great sometimes to have been able to share the experiences with someone from home, so that I don’t bore everyone to death when I get back. On the flip side, I’ve been able to do what I want when I want, which hopefully has not turned me into a spoilt brat !! I think if I’ve learnt anything at all it’s that if you really want to do something in your life then you really should try and do it. I’d had a difficult year and really my purpose was to go away become brave again and rediscover my sparkle, it’s worked………. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed. Of course there’s going to be a job to find,  housework to do and I just hope I can remember to put the toilet paper down the toilet and not in the bin next to it, it’s been a while !!

I’d also just like to thank the people who’ve supported this blog and the people who’ve kept in touch with me whilst I’ve been away, it’s meant a lot !!

Time to go and catch the flight……………. in terms of favourites

1) Borneo 2) Columbia 3) Argentina

the misses………….. equal last places – Cambodia, Guatemala and Chile………everywhere else I really enjoyed too….

 

 Final Transport count:

Plane = 28, Bus = 128, Train = 2, Boat =24, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 35 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all for the last time

Sally xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Tingly Tikal !! – Guatemala

June 16, 2008

Hola from Guatemala

pics to follow..

By going to the office I was definitely on the shuttle which went via Antigua to Guatemala city. I have to say the capital looks a rather scary place at night, there’s hardly anyone on the streets. I upgraded my bus ticket to get a slighty better seat and then settled in for the night. Narnia the film did the trick, I was asleep immediately and woke up at 1am and then again at 4am when we had to get off so the fruit police could search the bus…and you think I’m joking. Of course, we could have got away with some secretly concealed apples or arms for that matter as our bag search involved just a slight squeeze. At 6am we arrived in Flores. Flores is a little island with a bridge that connects to Saint Helena (not so nice). It feels very safe and has lots of cobbled streets and colourful buildings. I headed straight to Los Amigos (the hostel), although the door was locked I could see that I’d be able to get in soon so waited in the street. Sure enough I was eventually let in and had a fab breakfast whilst waiting for a room to come available. Overnight bus journeys seem to take it out of me (or am I just thinking about home and not feeling verty sociable at the moment ??) so opted for the room over the dorm, sometimes it’s just nice to have your own space – must be thinking about home then. Los Amigos is a fab hostel, great food, very sociable and would highly recommend. The main reason people come here is to do Tikal. You can also stay at Tikal or El Remate but as the weather is still looking iffy I’ve decided here is a better bet. Today is all about relaxation and I think I’ll go to the ruins tomorrow because, yes, guess what it’s raining !!

The next morning I’d opted not to do the 3am sunrise tour, mainly because I’ve heard at this time of year it’s misty and you don’t get one. So I leave to catch the 7am bus to the ruins. This does not appear. In fact when I asked for the second time what time the bus would be arriving the man went in to the back office to go to sleep – I have to say I haven’t found the Guatemalans that endearing !! If he’d have just said sorry it’s not coming, I’d have gone for some breakfast. In the end it turned up at 8.20am. I got chatting to a Scottish guy and after a very knowledgable introduction from a guide, 5 of us decided to do the tour with him. His name is Caesar and I said I’d plug his company on the blog – it’s “Little Caesar’s travels” and worth every penny, so there you go.

We bought our tickets and were immediately shown a dead tarantula. It had been stung by one of those huge Tarantula Hawk Wasps and hadn’t made it back to the nest before it had died. It was still completely intact and thank goodness they’d told me it was dead before I saw it, my snake phobia has been cured the spider one still needs some work !! After that we saw some great Weaver bird nests which are really long and made of a straw like substance. Then we passed a whole load of Howler monkeys, who didn’t seem to be hiding as much as usual. Oh well on to the ruins…..

Tikal is set in the midst of jungle. Several thousand Mayans lived there even though we weren’t really sure how they survived on so little water. They definitely had a caste system in place with slaves having to build some of the incredible structures, which included narrow passage ways so the rulers could see what everyone was doing. Every block of stone seemed to be exactly the same size. We walked through to the main area and got to climb some of the pyramids, conveniently now fitted with wooden staircases. They are huge. After studing some further structures which have been left as is so you can get more of an idea of how the site would look now if there had been no renovations it was time to go to Temple IV. On the way we got to see some local birds, I think it’s the nature here that makes this place special.  

Temple IV is a 70 metre climb. We said goodbye to Caesar and then the heavens opened. We waited for a bit and then made our way up the steps. Okay now I’m not in to sci-fi but I am a bit of a Star Wars fan. At the top is the view of the scene from the 4th film where they are leaving the rebel base (or that’s what the boys told me). The view across the valleys was spectacular, and the best bit of the day for me. Apparently Apocalypto was filmed here to, which is one of the first films I intend to rent when I get home. We did of course get absolutely soaked so a week earlier than I thought I am leaving Guatemala.

My highlights here were Tikal, Pocaya and I did like Xela, but overall I have to say I’ve been rather underwhelmed with Guatemala. In fact I cannot wait to get back to Mexico and I think I’m going to catch up with Lucy who I last saw in Nicaragua. For me there’s just been too many gringos, not the friendliest of locals and too much rain. I think for my last 9 days I need fun, fun and more fun, after all I have had the odd adventure along the way. Guatemala – sorry but for me you’re down there with Cambodia and Chile. 

Transport count:

Plane = 26, Bus = 125, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 35 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Leaky Lago Atticlan – Guatemala

June 4, 2008

Hola from Guatemala

Pic to follow

It’s still raining. In fact it rained since I left Xela and it hasn’t really stopped since, or only for miniscual intervals. So that’s it I’m coming home white. The journey here was pretty bleak, at some points the air was really misty so the bumpy roads make that really interesting !! I arrived at Panachel on Lake Atticlan around 4. Due to the rain I decided to stay here and found a room in hotel El Viajero which comes with TV, hot water and your home comforts. Little Luis Miguel is about 14 and he showed me to my room. A huge amount of children seem to work here unless they just can’t go to school because of the weather.

The next day I decide to stay in Panachel. I could go over to the villages across the lake but it’s so wet and it’s way too muddy to go hiking, plus you can’t see anything. Lago Atticlan is a very old hippy hangout, San Marcos is supposed to be one of the most spiritual places in the world !! A lot moved on during the troubles but as usual in Guatemala there are plenty of Gringos around. Luis Miguel tells me there’s been a landslide nearby and it’s killed around 23 people although I can’t see anything on the internet about it. Actually, another bonus point for my hotel, is it’s down little lanes and surrounded by other concrete buildings, there’s no mud getting to me that’s for sure.  I walk down to the lake and take a picture (above), I can’t really see anything. Most people aren’t that keen on Panachel but I quite like it and the people here have been really nice. It’s full of restaurants and mayan traditional tourist products but it’s okay.

I would love to have gone to the lakeside villages but not in this weather. If it got worse I wouldn’t want to be stuck. However, I have heard and noone can tell me the name of the village that there are some real hippies living somewhere. I’ve heard they had surgically enhanced ears, speak elvik and dance around to tambourines or often no music at all. I really just wanted to come here so see that, but even the hippies are staying inside, and who can blame them !!

The forecast for the weather is more rain so I was supposed to leave this morning. I was at my allotted pick up point at 5.55am but no bus turned up. In fact there was one but he said I wasn’t the person he was looking for. I’m pretty sure I was. Anyway no harm done, I got my room back until 11am, was surrounded by goats in the alley, found tampons in a shop (they are in such short supply here I’m thinking of selling them to travellers, I think I could make a fortune !!) and changed my bus ticket to leave in about 2 hours. Which means I’m doing an overnighter and I didn’t really want to do that but I’ve heard they’re ok.  

So that’s me for now. I’m sure the Lake is wonderful when the weather’s nice but it’s all been a bit leaky !! I’m off to find sun and I have to confess I’ve started to get very excited about coming home…….

 

Transport count:

Plane = 26, Bus = 123, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Quaint Quetzaltenango !! – Guatemalan Highlands

June 4, 2008

Hola from Guatemala

Pic to follow

So on to Guatemala’s second city, luckily for me there aren’t any other places on my trip beginning with Q or I may be in danger of running out of titles !! Of course it’s also known by the name Xela (a shortened version of it’s Mayan name) but Xela has the X factor is a rubbish title !!

Pigwatch

Firstly I had to leave Monterrico and before I did I felt I had to introduce a new paragraph for the blog to cope with my current obsession, not unsightly ladies but my latest animal obsession – well actually it’s been going on for a few months now (so here’s pigwatch)!! As I made my way back to the hotel for lunch a dog chased a pig out of one of the restaurants – they do that here if the pig or other animal doesn’t belong to that particular establishment. Monterrico is an incredibly quiet place so for the pig to run out in the middle of the road and in to the path of a huge lorry was incredibly bad luck, in fact it was nearly a case of smoky bacon !! The driver slammed on his brakes and the pig ducked, went under and then came out of the other side. He had a little mark on his back and obviously shaken went to the side of the road and knelt down on his trotters. He looked so scared. The next moment a girl came from the opposite side of the street, called him and off he gaily went trotting behind her, they are just so endearing. The bus came to pick me up and then as we were going a long the road, we suddenly screeched to a halt, pigs are obviously like buses here and one had charged in front of our bus, again luckily we missed it, I wish they’d stop trying to play chicken !!

Back to the blog…

The bus dropped me back in Antigua, so I ended up back in Los Amigos, it was raining so there was nothing to do apart from go to the “El Chillout” bar in the hostel. We were joined by 2 Danes who were there when I last left, 2 Americans who live in Costa Rica and a local Guatemalan guy who’d moved to Antigua that day. I became the life and soul of the party and staggered to bed around midnight. Actually it was a good night, I know porn names were revealed and I don’t think I’ve been that drunk since Panama, so I guess it’s  allowed every once in a while.

The next morning I felt awful and apparently one of the Americans came to say goodbye but I hadn’t woken from my pit at that stage. I went out for some food, skipped my market stop and then boarded the bus to Quetzaltenango. The roads were particularly muddy and windy, but eventually I was dropped off at the Black Cat hostel. I still felt tired so I spent the evening quietly just watching films with some of the other inmates.

Sunday, it’s time to go out and explore, and surprise surprise it’s raining !! I’m back at something like 2000 metres so I didn’t get a good night’s sleep (I hardly ever do at altitude). It’s the first Sunday of the month and today is market day, it’s the only day in the month that the Mayan’s come down to sell their wares. The market was quite small so I didn’t really buy anything. The centre of town has a beautiful square and some very elaborate buildings but apart from that I can’t really find much to do here. There’s still a few gringos (but not as many as Antigua) and I think it would be a good place to come and study Spanish although a little cold. Actually I wanted to come here and climb volcanos but the rain has put paid to those plans. There are lots of colourful houses down the narrow cobbled streets and others up high in the hills. Yes, indeed, it is very quaint. Again, had the weather been better I would have done a few days of volunteer work, there’s a great women’s organisation here that has lots of opportunities, in fact the city is run by women !! Later that evening I went out for some beers with my dorm mates – nothing too heavy this time, hurray !!

This morning I woke up and discovered that I’d managed to lose the padlock keys to my locker. They must have come out of my pocket at some point, luckily the ingenious receptionist had a screwdriver to hand and managed to bust the locker open. So I’m just finishing this page as I wait for my bus to take me to Lake Atticlan. Apparently we are in the midst of the first tropical storm of the season, well the bus is here so it’s time for the off !!

Transport count:

Plane = 26, Bus = 122, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Milling around Monterrico !! – Guatemala’s Pacific Coast

May 30, 2008

Hola from Guatemala

Pics to follow..

The shuttle turned up and in 2 hours I’m in Monterrico. The highlight of the journey apart from the driver stopping for both petrol and a cola was when we had to drive on to a little motorised ramp to get across a river. Very efficient !! I arrive in Monterrico and am met by a little local girl called Selena who wants to take me to stay at Johnny’s. That’s pretty convenient as that’s where I was going to stay anyway. First impressions are, this is more like it. There are about 4 other tourists in town and that’s it !! Yes, it’s low and rainy season. The manager Tony gives me a 30% discount to take a room and then I come back and chat to him during dinner and over a couple of beers (oh and the game of volleyball played by some rather fit locals on the beach in front of us, where is my camera when I need it ?). Tony is Scottish and has been out here for nearly 20 years, so gives me the local low down.

After breakfast the following day I hit the beach. The sand is black here, the Pacific roars in with one pretty big wave close to shore (I could hear it all last night) and the beach stretches for about 50km. I love the way the crabs have evolved and are black, the equivalent of the white ones I’ve seen on other beaches elsewhere. I relax in to a sloping part and I feel like I have all the beach to myself, there is just hardly anyone here. Time for a spot of music and reading and relaxing. I’ve decided to make the remainder of my time all about relaxation, although I have no idea how and when I’m getting to Mexico City as yet, but I guess everything will sort itself out. I stay there until 4ish and then head in to town to explore. Monterrico appears to have one main road pictured above and the rest are kind of sandy. It seems small so it amazes me that this is the main place for Guatemalans to come to the beach as it’s so under developed – perfect !! Everyone says hello as you walk around, I just love the feel of the place.  I go for dinner in El Pelican, which surprisingly lives up to it’s name by having a real live one living in the restaurant !! Then I have an early night and end up having a fight with a cockroach that landed on my head and tried to hide under my pillow (a repeat of my Bangkok hotel). I flushed him !!

The next morning I have been bitten by mozzies. In Nicaragua they would bite me and itch and then go away (so much for the B1 vitamins I’ve been taking that they are supposed to hate). The mozzies here are just plain evil, they’ve really gone for it and they itch like hell. To make matters worse it’s not even sunny. I go in to town to sort out my bus back for the following day. Unbelievable, Guatemala has petrol strikes, are they following me around Latin America or something ? Thank goodness it’s my last country. This time it’s actually the people themselves blocking the road. They assure me that the bus will come it will just be a bit later than usual. I stock up on some toiletries and then head back for lunch. It’s raining really heavily now and I go back to my room to read. I notice a fluttering above in the rafters, is it a bird ? No, it’s bats !! Okay, so now I have cockroaches, mozzies, geckos and bats in my room, it’s like I’ve got my own private zoo !! You know I wondered what the little black splodges were on the sheets, I thought it was some kind of bug but it must have been bat pooh all along – yuck !!

Today, I have yet again been eaten alive. The bats are quite noisy but at least I got a good photo. The weather can’t make up it’s mind if it wants to be overcast or sunny, so I’ve come to get up to date and hope that everything brightens up later. There are a couple more tourists in town but apparently it’s busier here at the weekends – makes sense. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get the tan topped up before I leave so thank goodness I’ve got Portugal. I’m heading back to Antigua later and then tomorrow will head somewhere else, as to where that may depend on the strikes. A lot of people miss Monterrico but I’ve loved the solitude of the place, and that also means that I’m bang up to date on the blog, which is a relief as I didn’t want to have to do it when I got back !!   

Transport count:

Plane = 26, Bus = 121, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Antigua’s Alright, Chichi’s Cheery But Pocaya’s Just Priceless !! – Guatemala

May 30, 2008

Mayan bird traders at Chichicastenango MarketToasting marshmallows in Volcan Pocaya

Hola from Guatemala

Well here we go my final country and I have about 3 weeks here. I’ve heard great things so let’s hope I can go out with a bang (and not one from the volcano above) !!

I caught a taxi from the airport to a hotel near the bus station in Managua, let’s just say it’s not the most desirable area and I’d already met someone who got mugged here on his way to the bus station,  he was so near he could see it. I too can see it from my hotel – fingers crossed !! I have decided due to time constraints to skip Honduras as I don’t dive (early readers will note my Koh Tao experience) and although there are supposed to be some great ruins at Copan I’m going to save myself for Tikal – according to the books the “mother of all Mayan ruins” !!

I bought my bus ticket to Guatemala City. This involves a 1 night stop in San Salvador (again I’ve heard great things about here so another visit). I have to be at the bus station at 4am – no wonder the muggings occur !! I wake up at 4.20am….I am late but make it to the bus station in 10 minutes and all is fine, which begs the question why do we have to be there an hour early ? I was in such a  rush that I didn’t even think about the robbers. Although, I did hear a whistle going off several times last night which usually means police around robbers beware. We drove straight through the border, through Honduras and into El Salvador arriving in San Salvador around 4pm. The area the bus station was in looked a bit of a dive so I stayed in the adjoining hotel and went out for food. They drive like absolute maniacs here. Another early night as this time I have to be ready to go at 5.20am, there aren’t any facilities in the hotel so thank goodness for Sudoku !! This hotel actually knocks on your door in the morning to wake you up for the bus so I was on time and could even grab a coffee. We get dropped off somewhere in Guatemala City. There are 6 tourists and we decide to hop in 2 taxis to go straight to Antigua an hour away. Let’s just say Guatemala City doesn’t have the best reputation, robberies still happen in Antigua but it seems to be the safer option. None of us seemed to have been given any Nicaraguan exit stamp or Guatemalan entrance stamp so hopefully that’s not going to come back to haunt me, in Columbia you got a hefty fine.

In Antigua I get dropped off at a hostel called “Los Amigos”. A little confusion here as I knew I’d been recommended to stay there and then realised it was for a hostel in Flores not Antigua. It was fine, I got a room and then was offered my free drink by Tops the owner of the bar that’s been running for the last month. It’s incredibly relaxed and is called “El Chillout”, Tops must say chillout minimum 200 times per day. Time to go and explore….. Now if you were arriving here for a holiday or to start your trip I would say it’s the ideal place. You can basically arrange everything here, take Spanish courses a plenty and it’s a beautiful colonial city somewhat similar to San Cristobal in Mexico but bigger. This used to be Guatemala’s capital but as it was smashed to the ground by the 1773 earthquake, the capital was moved and hence Guatemala City was born. For me though coming towards the end of my trip there are way too many Gringo’s, I just feel like the place has lost some of it’s original ambience. Maybe, it’s just because I’m near the end of my journey, however there are some cool places to go from here so it’s not all doom and gloom. I spend the evening back at “El Chillout” chatting to a couple of my fellow inmates.

The next day I have one of “El Chillout’s” special Mayan breakfasts and in the afternoon I join my tour to see Volcan Pocaya. Now, I told my parents by phone earlier in the day that I was going to be toasting marshmallows in volcanic lava and I just think that they didn’t believe me, well Mum and Dad, there’s the evidence above !!

We arrive at the village below and are hounded by children to buy sticks. My advice is get a stick, otherwise you are in danger of falling over on the rocks and they do cut. We then start our hour or so hike up hill for 400 metres at altitude and stop at various look outs points along the way. You can also hire horses, but I need the exercise. Eventually we come across some black rocks that are a result of an explosion in 2006. There’s still a way to go and eventually we are having to climb up and down rocks. The rocks are starting to get warmer and then we see the lava. It is flowing and changing direction in front of our very eyes. Forget La Fortuna, this is where it’s at !! There are cracks underneath some of the rocks and you can see red hot lava below and we’re walking on them !! It’s crazy !! This would never ever be allowed in Europe. One explosion and we’re gone…. some people’s shoes even start to melt. I love the fact that even after more than 11 months I can go somewhere new and be totally dumb struck by one of the world’s natural wonders. Do I have to come home yet ? Oh well, time to toast my marshmallows. The temperature is so hot I can only get close enough to toast the end one (should have brought a longer stick), they still taste delicious !! We watch the lava for ages and then as the sky clears we can see the actual volcano it’s coming from quite far in the distance. Darkness will soon be upon us so we head back down. The children are waiting for us to collect up the sticks, for some reason they don’t want to pay us money for them can’t think why !! What they do want though is to play. We get roped in to football either with a ball or a makeshift one using plastic water bottles. They want to have photos taken and rather than ask for money they just ask if any of us have pens. Luckily, I have two on me so give them to them. It was really sweet and is going a long way to endearing me to the Guatemalan people. Game over, we drive back and I spend yet another evening at “El Chillout”, but am so tired I just head to bed.

The next morning I catch a bus to Chichicastenango, or Chichi as I like to call it (mainly because it took me 4 days to be able to pronounce the original). Today is Sunday and it’s market day and apparently this is the largest market in Latin America. It takes around 2 hours to get there and after a coffee I go for a wander. The women are all dressed in traditional Mayan colours but a lot of the stuff on the stalls was very similar and targeted at tourists. I liked the more local stalls like the corn man and the chicken sellers (pictured above). Around midday with barely anything purchased it started to rain so I took shelter whilst waiting for our return bus to pick us up. 

The following day I decided it was time to explore Antigua. I visited some of the churches and colleges destroyed by the 1773 earthquake. Houses and such were mostly restored back to their original designs. I think my favourite was Casa Popenoe which had been rennovated and is a great example of how the important people lived in the city back then. Later on, I went to the market and bought a few bits and pieces to bring home, basically the smallest things I could find so they would fit in the rucksack.

Well Antigua is done, but I’ll probably have to come back as I’m off to the beach and Monterrico next, well I can’t come home too pasty can I ? The bad news is the bus is delayed from 8am until 1pm (just as well as I’d left my camera cable in my room – phew !!), that’s cutting short a bit of my beach time but there’s not a lot I can do about that. As I said earlier, Antigua makes a great first stop and Pocaya is incredible but I’m looking forward to seeing the real Guatemala……. 

Transport count:

Plane = 26, Bus = 120, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

“The Cream of Little Corn !!” – Corn Islands, Nicaragua’s Caribbean

May 30, 2008

Sunrise on Little Corn with Darren and AmyLittle Corn Island

Hola from Nicaragua

So I caught my Atlantic Airlines flight to the Corn Islands. The plane was incredibly small and we just had to sit where we could balance out the weight. After 45 minutes we made a little stop in Bluefields where a man opened the door and shouted “Bluefields !!” What a relief I thought for a minute we might have been in the Congo or something !! Another hop, skip and a jump and we had landed in Big Corn Island. Not surprisingly the larger of the two islands, hence big and little Corn. Now, I’d been told by the guy who worked in a hostel at Leon to stay on Big Corn as there’d been an incident with a girl on Little Corn a couple of years ago. Three words for you, “are you mental ????”. Big Corn is by far more seedier, not that I spent any time there but that’s the word from the people who did and unlike Little Corn it has roads and modern things like that. My instincts told me to head straight to Little Corn anyway, so I jumped in to a taxi and headed to the boat pier. Upon arrival I met a lovely Canadian couple called Amy and Darren who told me the next boat was leaving at 10am and they were going for breakfast and would I like to join them. Breakfast consisted of beer (well technically it was the first proper day of their holiday) and a sandwich. At 10 we caught the boat. It is boiling hot. According to the books the boat journey is a back breaking 30 minutes across the Caribbean. It also recommends to sit as near to the back as possible. Amy was sat in front of a washing machine (well, I suppose it’s the only way to get it to the island !!) and there were plenty of crates of beer on board so at least we’d be merry if we ran out of petrol. The boat actually rears up a lot at the front and the driver can’t see where he’s going so they have a man up front holding a rope for balance and to make sure there’s nothing to crash in to in front. The journey is indeed like going on a fairground ride for free, and Amy and I scream a bit at first as we collide with the waves, until of course we get used to it, although we did still grab hold of the seat in front just in case. 30 minutes later we arrive.

First impressions are this is what I have come for. I think Big Corn was larger and more developed than I expected, Little Corn is a whole different ball game (come to think of it they’re even playing baseball here today). We are immediately pounced upon by the locals who hand us a map and try to guide us to accomodation, for a commission no doubt. On Big Corn we’d been recommended to go to Elsa’s on the other side of the island. The main side it very still and humid whilst the other side has a wonderful breeze. Little Corn is quite long and thin so this should mean a short walk across the island. Let’s just say the map could be a little more accurate. Darren leads the way and we walk through some houses, cross a football pitch and are then heading into plantations. Amy suddenly speeds up and I’m oblivious to the fact that she has seen a man following us carrying a machete. Luckily he veers off, must be off to collect some fruit and we keep following paths until we’re squelching through mangoes. A man calls out to us and asks us if we’re looking for Derrick’s (a popular backpacker hangout). We say no Elsa’s and some how we’ve come way to far up the island. He directs us down to the beach (we’re now looping back) and we walk back down (how does my backpack still feel so heavy when I’ve given Auntie Eileen some things ?). We come across 3 places all together – Carlito’s, Grace’s and Elsa’s. Elsa’s has a hut free and as it’s big enough Darren and Amy ask me to come and join them (well that is after I’ve reclaimed my shoe laces from the stray puppy). It has two big beds and a bathroom with a shower and sink but a sarong for a toilet door. Inhibitions will have to go out of the window – or in this case wooden shutter !! Bikini on, I head straight to the beach (a journey all of about 30 metres) and go for a swim. Ouch, there’s a lot of dead coral washed up, but eventually I’m in the water. After that I go back to shore and promptly fall asleep for 2 hours (well, I was up at 4am). I wake up a little toasted and join the others for a beer. It’s so lovely here, the sea is so turquoise and apart from our 3 little places to stay I can’t see anything else up the beach apart from one wooden building on a hill. We meet some other people and cross town for dinner. When we get back we come across a major Corn Island issue no water, so we just go to bed.

Amy and Darren get up early today but I decide to take my timeake and utilise the bathroom as the water has returned. Then something incredible happens. I go for breakfast and then don’t actually move for the rest of the day. That has to be a new record !! Just as I’d finished my breakfast I got talking to an ex Boston cop (one of the hard Irish types) who lives here. I was desperate to get to the beach but he didn’t seem to stop talking. At first the stories were amusing and then it was just a pain, especially when he said his two favourite hobbies were fighting and f*ck**g !! Then he started introducing me to everyone as his future wife – I don’t think so !! Luckily Amy and Darren then came back to rescue me after their 4 hour walk around the island, we deferred his dinner invitation, after all the guy still has a gun in his house !! Plus he was already on his second bottle of rum. Although one good story was that as Little Corn has no police the community of around 700 people appointed their own man. He’s now in official training on the main land. Basically if they have a problem with anyone they go to him with the issue (there are 1 or 2 crack heads on the island). If the person concerned doesn’t change then they get kicked off the island, the best bit is the guy in charge is known as “Bad to the Bone”, apparently he isn’t but he just has everyone’s respect. We then managed to edge the cop out gradually and got chatting to Liz and Tony and a new couple called Mel and Brendan. A storm blew up at about 4 so we decided to stay put and have dinner there. There are two tiny puppies there as well as a lot of other stray dogs and as I lifted one of them up he had fleas literally swarming over his stomach, I won’t be doing that again and went to wash the hands quickly. Tony and Liz had had to move rooms that day, it looked like Tony had got a huge dose of bed bugs on his arms, but maybe it was the fleas !! The dogs all stay here as the tourists are the only ones that feed them. Time for bed which is usually around 9.30pm when the generator gets switched off.

I had a fitful nights sleep. We keep the shutter open to let air in but Amy kept thinking that someone was trying to get in. Then she heard further noises and we think it was a mouse getting up on the ledge trying to eat her crackers. We decided to get up at 4.45am to watch the sunrise, there’s a picture of Darren and Amy above in the hammocks. At daybreak we went for an early morning walk down the beach with Liz and Tony. It’s nearly lobster season, which is where the islanders make their money so they’re getting all their traps ready. One dog with collar came along, he entertained us by sniffing the beach and then digging up crabs, we stopped him trying to kill them. He’d been adopted by a traveller who stayed here, no wonder it’s the healthiest dog I’ve seen so far. At 7am after a bit of a snooze outside we went to Casa Iguana (there seems to be an Iguana something or other everywhere I go) for breakfast. It’s arguably the best on the island. As it’s on a bit of a hill I took the above picture of Little Corn from there. Then we hiked for an hour or so to a secluded spot to go snorkelling, swimming or in my case falling asleep whilst sunbathing. By midday it felt like we’d had a full day already which was just as well as it started to rain. We headed back and sat under cover munching my mouse free crackers. We took a walk over to the main town and ended up having dinner at the Loster Inn. The owner’s grand child had been shot a couple of weeks earlier in Managua for not handing over his Timex watch !! Silly boy decided to run…very sad. A couple of us went for the boil up which was an amazing fish and potato soup and then we headed back to Elsa’s. We only had one torch this time and the path back is incredibly dark. There’s a full moon tonight and I’ve never really believed all of that mumbo jumbo about what it does to animals and the like but I do now. The path had a few crabs on it the first night but tonight it’s like we’ve had a total invasion. They are the huge blue crabs I saw in Calhuita but they were just everywhere. The rustling in the bushes makes them sound huge and then they were all over the path. The girls were screaming, laughing hysterically and grabbing the nearest person for support. The boys were being pretty manly. It was like we were in a new blockbuster “The Blair Corn Island Crab Project”, in total darkness apart from one small torchlight jumping up and down. At one point there must have been 50 in our way. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness and I could see something that resembled a small coconut about to connect with Amy’s foot. I didn’t tell her as I knew it wasn’t a crab. Upon collision she screamed and high kicked in to the air, I think she’d do well in a Can Can audition at the Folie Bergere. It was quite simply a priceless moment. With great relief we finally reached Elsa’s and had a beer with Mel and Brendan (I’m not even going to put in here what they saw happen in a restaurant this evening, too gross, just having this note will remind me). There was a full moon party starting at 9pm at Iguana. I’m thinking Thailand and Koh Pha Ngan, oh hang on a minute I’m in the Corn Islands, not the same !! One of the guys came back to report that three people were sitting around a fire. I’ll give that one a miss then….

The next morning we wake up early. There is a dog under my bed (mother of the puppies), how on earth did she get there ? Darren and Amy decide to get up and catch the 7am ferry. I’m having a “Clash” moment – “Should I stay or should I go ?”. I’m going to leave that to the Gods and the weather as it’s all been a bit iffy. There’s a 2pm boat so I can catch that and I have an open ticket on my flight. It’s sunny, it’s raining, it’s overcast – help !! By 11am it’s pouring again, well that’s my decision made, I’m leaving on the 2pm boat with Liz and Tony. We say goodbye to Mel and Brendan and catch the boat. It’s stopped raining so at least our bags stay dry. At the airport we are the only 3 to get on board. It’s like having our own private plane – now this really is backpacking !! Unfortunately at Bluefields more people got on. In Managua I say goodbye to Liz and Tony and catch a taxi to my hotel.

I’ve had a brilliant time here and it’s been made better because of the people I’ve met. Little Corn is stunning, there’s loads of snorkelling and diving, it must be one of the least spoiled and cheapest places in the Caribbean. Miss it at your peril. A word of advice though, if you don’t want crabs and other things to go bump in the night too much then stay in a room that’s not directly on the ground….  

Apart from one night to go in Managua that also concludes Nicaragua. I’ve had an absolutely fantastic time here, despite the strikes and so far it’s definitely my Latin American favourite, one country to go !! 

Transport count:

Plane = 26, Bus = 118, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Lived in Leon !! – Nicaragua

May 29, 2008

Leon - Latin America´s largest cathedralWith Auntie Eileen on the Mangrove river trip - Leon

Hola from Nicaragua

Victor arrived at the allotted time to take us to Leon, a journey of about 2 hours. We checked into Lazybones hostel which looked exactly like Oasis (but nicer) in Granada, it must be because it’s run by the same people. A lot of people skip Leon but I have to say I prefer it to Granada as it’s less touristy and definitely has a more lived in feeling. It’s also bigger which I didn’t expect. There are still a couple of stalls in the square but not anything like Granada has and it’s pretty low on tourists at the moment probably due to the petrol strike. Auntie is still not good so I popped to a pharmacy to try and get something to help. I bump into a guy I met in Costa Rica (who has since been robbed at knife point in Managua) and we decide to relax for most of the afternoon as it’s roasting outside. Leon is the 2nd hottest city in Latin America after another one that’s just nearby.

Later on we had a little walk around town to get our bearings and as darkness fell saw a hauntingly beautiful parade of school children with candles who had caused traffic to stand still whilst they celebrated their school’s patron saint. I can’t imagine that happening in England !! We went for dinner at the Shark Pit and then headed back. We met Ed, a guy who is cycling through Latin America. As he’d some how managed to get what looked like first degree burns on his back Nurse Eileen was called upon to adminster a rather high dose of Aloe Vera. I had to take some photos as his face was very contorted at the slightest touch and not that I take pleasure in someone else’s pain but it was a hilarious spectacle to watch.

The next morning we met up with a tour guide called Wilbur who was taking us out to San Jacinta a village some 30 minutes away to see the mud fumaroles. The local children were on hand to guide us around as they have no school as the teacher can’t get there due to the strikes. San Jacinta looks like quite a poor village with thatched roof houses and home to around 7000 people. They again were parading the streets to celebrate a saint – it’s catching !! The children wanted to give us some hot mud as it’s good for the skin but we prefered to give them a little tip each for showing us around. They really were very sweet and the boys were mad on football. There were quite a few fumaroles all of differing consistency bubbling away. The volcano is quite far away but the area could go at any time although they’ve only lost one house so far. After a viewing and a drink we headed back but not before one of the girls had given Auntie a little pot that she’d made freshly for her – it was so sweet !!

Back in town we relaxed and played cards with Ed. Time to teach Auntie Eileen shithead, we had to play for 2 hours before she finally was one – must be beginners luck !! We went to look at one of the city’s churches and then headed to the Cathedral (Latin America’s largest and pictured above). It was huge and contained the tomb of Ruben Dario, Nicaragua’s finest poet (from Leon) with a very sad looking stone lion at it’s feet. As a fitting follow up we then went to visit his home which is now a museum. We walked in the shade as it doesn’t seem to even think about getting cool here until after 4.30pm. We ended up going for dinner in a lovely restaurant across the road called Mediterraneo and played some more cards before bed.

The next day we were up early yet again (it’s hard this travelling lark you know !!) as we’d booked a tour to go to Isla Juan Venado near Penitas. The object of this tour was to do a boat trip down a mangrove river and see some wildlife. We were thinking of a longer trip but as there were no stops for 5 hours decided against it. If we had we may have seen some crocodiles, but not to worry they’re not exactly my favourite animal and the boat is quite small. We hopped in and our driver tells us he has 7 children, he says it’s because of all the fish he eats – so there you go boys, a little secret, a lot of fish goes a long way !! There were red and black mangrove trees and that’s us above pictured on the boat going downstream.  We saw loads of different birds and lizards but I think my favourite was the broad billed heron that looked incredibly shy sitting up in the tree. I have the photo !! The island itself is actually named after a man who lived here all by himself and eventually died here. We stopped at a point and walked through to see the Pacific ocean. A man had hung up a hammock and had an instant new home. You could see he’d had a good crab supper and lunch was a bucket of fish he’d already caught that morning. I guess he had a great setting but he obviously had no money, there is a lot of poverty in Nicaragua and you see it everywhere. We sped back and as the tide had changed couldn’t go right in to shore. Auntie decided to walk through the water and the driver offered to carry me. There were two small channels to get through and I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I let him fireman carry me over the first and then assumed a slightly more ladylike position for the second – thank goodness I’m wearing shorts !! We said goodbye and then had an iced tea (another addiction and I’ve got Auntie on to it too !!) before heading back to Leon.

Later that afternoon we walked down in to town to see the old jail, now, yes you’ve guessed it, a museum. Judging by the murals and other pictures drawn on the walls it was home to many a torture but now houses the local heroes of Leon – a relief for us !! We then followed our nightly Leon ritual which is Mediteranneo (well the food was so good last night !!) and cards.

Today is Saturday and I really loved today. It felt like we got a real local flavour of lived in Leon. Our shuttle to Managua is not until this afternoon so after my morning swim we decided to take a walk down to the old indigenous village of Leon called Subtiava. On the way, Auntie keeps waving at people in cars, they are taxis (the strike is over !!). I asked her why she kept waving at them and she said it was they keep waving at her, and she wonders why they keep stopping in front of us…bless !! Actually the people in Subtiava don’t really look indigenous here anymore, in fact they seem to have lost a lot of their original culture throughout the whole of the country. The streets although less than 2km from town are more spread out with more greenery and it just feels like a nicer place to live. We walked down to the market where the women were only too happy to pose for photos. In fact they were really putting on a show. I had to take one of the rice and beans lady (the classic Latin America stall) but I wouldn’t have wanted to buy my meat here as the flies were buzzing around it at all angles. We got to see women walking around with the heaviest baskets on their heads and literally whole families riding on bicycles (a bit like the Asian motorbike system). The church and museum were closed so we went back to the hostel to await our transportation. On a good note, the transport strike ended last night, so hopefully things should be back to normal asap, although I’m not sure how the taxi drivers are going to make up their wages, especially when they are struggling to survive as it is.

The minibus arrived and we were dropped off at the Managua backpackers. It seems to be in a safe enough area so we walked to the local Chinese and placed an order for take away (this in itself is a landmark as Auntie Eileen was the first peron who ever gave me a chinese take away). The hostel has a huge DVD collection so we sat down with the rest of the inmates to watch “In to the wild”, it was good but a bit depressing at the end, maybe I should read the book first next time.

Our taxi picked us up at 4.30am to go to the airport, sadly it’s time to say goodbye to Mi Tia Maria (Auntie Eileen). She’s heading back to the UK and I have conveniently arranged a flight at the same time to the Corn Islands, so I can drop her off. I know which place I’d rather be going to !! I think she’s enjoyed herself and it’s been lovely to have her visit me, although she quite often does if I’m in some far off corner. So it was a quick hug, a thank you for helping to take back some things and a goodbye. It’s time for me to top up the tan I hope !! My recommendation would be miss Granada and go to Leon, unless of course you have time to do them both !! Now it’s time to go and visit this pair of islands that everyone’s been raving about…………..

 

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 118, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Oh my it’s Ometepe !! – Nicaragua

May 27, 2008

The bull rodeoThe common blue magpie jays seen on Ometepe

Hola from Nicaragua

So it’s time to go on to Ometepe. Ometepe is a volcanic island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua (Latin America’s biggest lake) which has a volcano on each end. The largest Volcan Concepcion and the smaller Volcan Maderas. Ometepe has also made it to the short list for the new seven natural wonders of the world.

We caught our shuttle at 5am. It would normally have been 8am but due to the petrol blockades we had to try and leave early before they’d set up for the day. Hence, we arrived at the ferry before the gates were open. There were 5 of us so we sat and had a coffee and then boarded the 7.30am one to Ometepe. We climbed up to the top open air deck and watched as the lorries and cars were being loaded on. Apparently in the past many a ferry has sunk at this stage. Nearly there and some seagulls decided to join us on route so that they could catch crisps being thrown at them by the tourists. We arrived at Moyalgalpa and were immediately accosted by the minibus driver wanting to take us. For $5 each we could get to Santa Domingo in an hour rather than more than double that time on the local bus. Despite the strike the buses are still running here although we did encounter a blockade of rocks across the road which the driver had to move. Santa Domingo is the nicest part (well I am on a holiday budget at the moment !!) Most backpackers head to Merida but I have to say we have the best beach.

We checked in to Villa Paraiso and for an extra $3 got a fab room with view of the beach, patio, TV etc etc and unlike the other room I looked at it´s midge free. It appears that a small amount of money goes a whole lot futher here. I bumped into a guy I’d met in Colombia a few weeks earlier – it still freaks me out that over a continent you can just randomly bump into people. Auntie and I sat on the patio for a bit with some tea and watched the elegant looking blue magpie jays (pictured above) perch on the rail just in front of us. After a spot of lunch (the food here is great) we decided to explore.

We’d decided to go to “Ojo de Agua” (eye of the water) a natural lagoon down the road but on the way we came across a little tourist office and stopped inside. They had a little wildlife trail which you could walk on so we decided to do that instead. My aim was to find Auntie monkeys as she’s never seen them in the wild. Completely unprepared but armed with binoculars we walked on the very uneven volcanic rock path – flip flops weren’t exactly the best footwear !! After battling the initial swarm of midges we came across various birds, lizards and squirrels. I even saw an Agouti. The path was very up and down and we´d ticked most of the birds off the list but no monkeys (although I was sure I could hear them). It was starting to get dark so we sped up to make out way out of the park. Then I saw them. There was a whole troop of howlers. They were hanging out on the old canopy ride platforms as if to say “we’re ready to go where’s our guide ?”. Then in front of us we came across a Capuchin, he really did´nt like the look of us and broke off a rather large stick from a tree. He just looked at us and then dropped it but then got another. We decided to leave the monkeys in peace and went back to the hotel for dinner.

The next day we’d booked an island tour to leave at 9am. I just wanted to get an idea of what was on the island so that we could then decide how long we wanted to stay. You can of course climb either of the volcanos here, it takes either 6-8 or 10-12 hours depending on which one you do. Don´t think Auntie’s up for that but to be honest I haven’t met anyone who really enjoyed doing it anyway. After my traditional breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans to you !!) we headed out. The one and only bad thing about Villa Paraiso is that they try to charge you extra for an English speaking guide and never in all my trip have I come across that. So I asked for a Spanish one, which turned out to be Juan Antonio from reception and he spoke amazing English – result !! He also liked getting out of the hotel so it was a bonus for him.

First stop was El Porvenir, some 2000 year old petroglyphs etched in the hills. All I´m saying is lots of circles. We got to walk amongst some great trees and plants and Auntie who is a bit of a gardening buff was thoroughly enjoying herself despite the heat. I have to say it feels like Nicaragua is the hottest country in Latin America, but apparently it was 40+ degrees in January. Next stop the museum which talked about the formation of Ometepe and has some great pottery examples from the old tribes. Then Chaco Verde. This is also described as one of the most beautiful spots on the island but I have to say I preferred Santa Domingo. We went for a stroll down by the lagoon and saw some river turtles and trees full of parrots then it was time for lunch. I was still full from the mammoth breakfast so just had an ice cream. After lunch we headed to Punta Jesus Maria which has a stretch of beach leading right out in to the lake and is the nearest point from Ometepe to the mainland. Lots of ingenious fish were leaping out of the water to catch the midges. You get a great view of both volcanosat the same time from here. We were now really at the end of the tour but as Auntie had been so engaging with Juan Antonio he asked us if we’d like to experience something more local (not on the tour) although it may be very different to our culture, I of course said we would !! Secretly I think he was not in a rush to get back to work but all the better for us..

We pulled up at what in England would be something similar to a fete. There were little tents serving food and drinkand quite a few people there. We saw some cows and bulls and some men looking like modern day cowboys on horses. We were at the local bull rodeo. Apparently this happens on one month a year, weekends only to celebrate a patron saint so our timing was perfect. We’d actually had a bit of a storm the night before so the festivities and partying had been cancelled so it seemed that people were even more keen to get going today. I bought our guide and driver a beer and then Juan went to check if it was okay for us to come and watch, after all we were the only 2 tourists there – how exciting !! It indeed was okay so we took our ringside seats. More and more people were gathering around and quite a lot of teenage boys were standing in the ring. The bulls and cows had been herded into a separate pen and the band began to play which meant we were about to start. The first cow wasn’t very cooperative, there was a lot of pulling and grabbing of the tail and I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to watch at all. Generally, I haven’t seen them treat animals very well here (they love cock fighting) and so didn’t really want to watch a live example. Eventually the cow was in position and the volunteer (no prize money, it’s more of a macho thing) mounted her (no comments please !!). Upon release she galloped off and shook him to the floor (he lasted 3 seconds max). As she’d been a bit difficult to begin with the bravado of the teenage boys had disappeared and they’d all climbed up the fence and well out of the way. The rider got up and jumped out of the way. We were told that neither rider nor animal are usually hurt (let’s hope not). The next bull looked like he’d done this all before and calmly was led to the pole for his rider to get on board (maybe it’s just the females being difficult – which of course I can’t imagine would be the case !!). On the off all he wanted to do was go back to the pen holding the other animals, they tried desperately to get him excited with a red flag but he wasn’t having any of it. So the rider stayed on and I’m not sure how they decide who wins but he’d stayed upright for the whole allocated time. Finally for us, out comes Contestant no.3. His cow again is more awkward but not as bad as no.1 so despite the cows best efforts he manages to stay on (see above picture). We left just as the first contestant was going to have another go with a new animal, obviously humiliated from his earlier 2 second effort, it was great to experience a bit of traditional Ometepe life.

The next day is one of relaxation, after all Auntie is on holiday. We decide that it’s time for some sun so after breakfast and sorting out transportation for the following day we head to the beach. The sand is absolutely scorching hot as we head straight into the lake. You can walk out quite far here as it’s quite shallow. It’s weird though as you can’t see any land so it looks like you’re in the sea but it’s really fresh water. There even used to be fresh water bull sharks (still a few apparently) in it until they overfished it for the Asian markets (I blame that shark fin soup!!). Time to then spend a couple of hours in the sun on the most uncomfortable chairs ever !! After lunch we finally made it to Ojo de Agua which was a 30 minute walk away. It wasn’t actually as natural as I imagined but there are two pools and it is fresh water. Auntie Eileen decided to go straight in and I could tell by her face that it was a lot colder than she was letting on. For this fair weather girl that was just not a goer !! However, I had to laugh when an 7 year old local girl was trying to instruct her to put her shoulders under, she’s not one to take orders my Auntie (too used to bossing patients around as a nurse) but she certainly obeyed in this case. On our way back we were bombarded by bats, which amused me as one of the many strange dogs here looked like it had a bat man mask on with it’s markings. Maybe this is where the new bat cave is !! I like bats, I’ve heard there’s a cool bat cave in Guatemala to check out so will have to try and investigate when I’m there.

The following day it was time to leave, we caught the 9am ferry (which appeared to be in danger of sinking due to the overloaded lorry filled with plantains) and then had to wait for the scheduled shuttle to take us back to Granada. I’d have liked to head straight to Leon but the strike is still on so it doesn’t look like we’re going to make it there today. We were with a Canadian girl called Kayla who wanted to go to San Juan del Sur, however the strike has caused a reduction in travellers (a lot have gone straight through) so she decided rather than try and go in a private car on her own she’d come in the shuttle with us to Granada. On the way we had to go through a blockade. It was just the 3 of us and the driver in the minibus. The minibus was made to stop and the locals looked in. They didn’t look very happy but did say hello then just stared at us, to be honest I think the strike is hitting their pockets very hard so they weren’t in the best of moods. They let us pass, but I’m wondering if it would have been so easy if we had more people and some men inside. We dropped Kayla off and checked back in to the Oasis, ooh it’s like a home from home !!

Back in Granada Auntie Eileen has a case of deli belly so we take it easy today. There are lots of hammocks in the hostel so it’s really easy to relax. The hostel offers a free daily 10 minute call so at least she can call home to make sure everything’sokay. We’ve been unable to find a shuttle so have booked Victor (the driver I used before) to take us to Leon tomorrow, he’s still $20 cheaper than everyone else. We go out for dinner to an Asian restaurantbut it’s a bit of a disappointment- I am still craving a decent curry !! When we get back we get chatting to a Scottish girl who seems a bit scared of Nicaragua, I try to reassure her as so far it’s been excellent.

Oh well it’s time for bed, tomorrow we’re off to Leon a bit further North. All I can say is if you missed Ometepe then it was a big mistake !! 

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 117, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 30 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Grandiose Granada and the Gasoline Gangs !! – Nicaragua

May 24, 2008

The girls play football on the streets of Granada ...Views over Granada

Hola from Nicaragua

I woke up around 10am. Katie had woken up early enough to put her name on the list for the Granada shuttle – I have no idea where she gets all of her energy from, especially as she’d stayed out later than me. I called my Auntue just to make sure she’d got my message and she seemed incredibly relaxed about all the potential problems the strike may cause. The shuttle decided to leave a bit early due to the petrol blockades. We were instructed to put our bags on the bus and then we had to walk in small groups so to not attract attention to ourselves. The idea was that we walk through the first blockade actually in San Juan del Sur. I don’t know why but we even invented cover stories as to where we were going while we were walking. All very cloak and dagger !! After 30 minutes we reached the bus that had quietly snuck into a side alley. We’d seen very little action although one guy was being interviewed by the TV station. Time to get on the road. The journey takes about 2 hours. We suddenly came across a very large blockade. To say the people weren’t happy to see us was an understatement, however they let us pass without incident. The next blockade was more hostile. I actually wasn’t too worried as police were there and they are armed. I felt like a “Scab” crossing the lines, after all I do agree with what they are striking for, but at the same time I’ve got to fetch Auntie tomorrow. This time they decided to bang on the bus doors. It was a little unnerving, but maybe more so when we saw a guy being pulled out of a taxi on the other side of the blockade, I’d loved to have taken a photo but daren’t risk it !! Basically all public buses and taxis should be striking as the petrol has increased so much it is affecting their pay. At least 2 people that I now know of died in Leon and it’s rumoured that the president, Ortega sold oil to other countries, really not sure about him, yet another mate of Chavez the clown. Katie also seemed to be coming down with the flu and was fading fast. We reached Granada and as the Bearded Monkey was full I went back to Oasis where I’d planned to stay when my Auntie arrived anyway. I met up with the Irish who’d been on the shuttle. After all the day’s excitement we were knackered so went out for a quick hot dog. After a relaxing afternoon we went out for dinner on a very touristy street just off the main square. It was an Asian restaurant, Pauline an Irish girl has been craving Indian food as much as me but this had to do. I had Korean tacos which were great but the others were a bit disappointed with their Thai. We got some beers on the way back to the hostel. I discovered that Pauline had also done the turtle volunteer work that I’d done. Just after 11pm a girl came in looking for a room. All they had left were the expensive ones so I offered her a free bed in my room, well couldn’t let a girl roam the streets at that time of the night and that is my good deed for the day !! Off to bed I have to admit I was getting excited about Auntie’s impending visit tomorrow.

I woke up around 8am, and Katie came over about 30 minutes later so we went back to the Bearded Monkey for breakfast. I have to say the food is really good there. After breakfast Katie packed up and we went back to the Oasis where I changed rooms and as there was a spare bed invited Katie to stay. After we were all sorted out we went to the main square and ended up doing a bit of jewellery shopping. During the day it’s surrounded by horse and carts to give rides around the city. The poor horses end up with lots of bows tied to their head, I’m sure they know it makes them look silly !! Annoyingly some of the stall holders were selling turtle shell products so I refused to buy from them. I know they are poor but it’s just wrong !!

Katie went off to make a call so I got a drink and sat in the square. When she came back she saw a bowl of food which a local guy was having and ordered it. As it was pork I declined. There are a lot of hungry children here and you can see the saliva literally drooling from their mouths as they watch you eat. There was some crackling with the food and she took a bite. After swallowing it she looked down to see that there was an enormous amount of black hair sticking out. In fact it could have been human for all we knew. It certainly bore a close resemblance to my legs if left unshaven for a week (I haven’t actually resorted to that as yet, maybe if I was away longer and wanted to save on razors !!). We never did find out if it really was pork, one bite had been enough for her though. She immediately felt sick and I don´t blame her. It was gross !! We couldn’t stop joking about the fact that she’d turned into a cannibal for the rest of the day.  

After that we decided to go to one of the Cathedrals to walk up the bell tower to take some shots of the city from up high (as you can see in the above photo). We walked up the steps and as we had been told to mind our heads we walked out through a gate way on to the roof. It provided us with great views although it was hard taking pictures as the roofs were quite curved. It seemed like quite a bit of balancing was going on. I noticed one of the structures at the side had fallen aswell. Suddenly we heard a shout. Apparently we were supposed to carry on up the stairs and where we were standing was a dangerous area, we had to come back inside immediately. Reprimanded like naughty school girls (I wish !!) we came back in and finished the walk to the top. We wandered around town a bit more and went for a very delicious ice cream at the Euro Cafe, with a dulce de leche sauce of course !! (Yes, I’m still addicted, I think it will be a life long passion). 

I had a taxi booked for 5 to take me to Managua airport. I’d got a brilliant deal for $30, there and back including the wait time (obviously would have been cheaper if a bus was running !!). Sometimes it does pay to be extra nice and speak as much Spanish as possible to the receptionist. My driver, Victor, turned up bang on time. Auntie’s plane arrived and after a little problem with the luggage being stuck we were on our way. I’ve changed her name from Eileen for the purposes of this trip. Mainly because the word for Aunt in Spanish is Tia, so I’m introducing her to everyone as Mi Tia Maria – makes me laugh, and it involves alcohol !! After checking her in we head straight out for a Mojito before going to bed, after all she’s had an extremely long journey via Miami to get here.

Katie’s shuttle to Managua left at 4am, actually they knocked at 3.30am which was a bit of a shock. She’s been hilarious, is off to party in Tahoe but Katie just remember to “Rally ” !! (private joke). It’s been a laugh and she’s promised to show me around the West Coast of the USA of I ever make it there. Auntie and I get up and tour the city’s cathedrals ( where there seems to be an endless streams of people sweeping floors), then it’s time for lunch. After lunch we head to the old convent which is now a museum, Mi Tia Maria decided that they’d got the labelling all wrong on the old statues and what they’d labelled as monkeys were really jaguars. Granada is really quite a stunning town, very colonial and grand and can easily be seen in a day or two. I love the way the tiled pavements are all different and the buildings are a variety of different colours. It gets incredibly quiet on the less busy streets at night though, and there does seem to be lots of slot machine places everywhere. There are lots of men trying to sell us pottery – not the best item to put in my rucksack !! We watch girls play a football match in the square (pictured above), it’s amazing how many boys were watching on bicycles at the sidelines, maybe they weren’t that interested in the actual game itself though. For dinner we headed to a lovely restaurant called Pasta Pasta, not very authentic for the first meal but there’s plenty of time yet.

On the way back I said goodbye to Eddie a boy whose Mum had a stall near the hostel he was so sweet….Granada is extremely grand, now having been around Nicaragua I have to say I prefer the more authentic Leon which a lot of people miss out. They had an Australian situation where Leon and Granada disagreed so Managua was the in the middle – shame but true !!

We in the mean time need an early night as we have an early shuttle to Ometepe tomorrow and so far I think Auntie is enjoying it and she can read Spanish really well, I’m impressed !!   

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 115, Train = 2, Boat =20, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 30 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally