I kept a travel blog on Bootsnall during my travels in 2006. All the posts can be found there online. However, if for some reason they ever disappear, this page will be the back up resting place…
June 12th, 2006
It sure is nice to be back home in America. Hot running water, sidewalks, Sweet Tomatoes, Oregon rain, drinkable tap water, $3.19 gallon for gas, the Portland JailBlazers back in the news, and a home cooked meal. Man oh man, despite our domestic problems and a huge to-do list of what needs to be fixed, I love our country (cue Patriotic Music and waving flag in the background as fireworks erupt to light up the sky).
Now that I’m oficially back, it’s time to get down to business: I’ve been without the Internet for the last 10 days, so I have quite a bit of catching up to do.
– THE TRUTH REVEALED –
1. True: I did contemplate the volunteer opportunity at Finca Tatin. The opportunity was real, the place rocked, the food was fantastic and the jungle setting incredible–it would just require one month and getting used to mosquitoes sucking my blood every day. I passed.
2. True: while I was hanging out in Antigua, I did receive a job offer from Paxton to work in his little coffee garden shop. He laid it on thick and heavy and it was hard to say no, especially from a personality such as his. It was a cute little place and had I not other plans I already committed to in the US, I would have gladly taken the job.
3. True: I did visit the Church of Scientology, as my pictures proved, and even took them up on their offer of a free lunch (you know I can’t pass up free food!–in this case, BBQ burgers, hot dogs, potatoe salad, chips, melon, soda pop….)
4. Not True: I never once considered joining the organization to train in their program and recruit others in Central America. But you all figured that out, didn’t ya??? Where did I go wrong? The pictures didn’t work. My defense of the Church also fell on deaf ears. How about my friend Mike’s assessment and his jog down memory lane when I returned back from Morocco years ago with my discovery of the Muslim traditions?
5. True: I have been gone for the last 10 days on a family trip. Call it a vacation away from my extended vacation. So I am now only getting to your emails and comments. Here’s the quick run down….
After Finca Tatin, I did travel with Niklas and Aliscia to Antigua, I did hike up Volcan Pacaya, and I did hang out for a few days before catching a plane back to the US. But I didn’t return home to Portland right away. Nope. Instead, I eased back into US culture in San Francisco with my friends from AmeriCorps. Unfortunately, I was still suffering from my bouts of food poisoning, and got to know Dan and Ezra’s bathroom quite well. It would actually take me 4 days of recovery in San Francisco to get me back to 80% health. But during that time, I enjoyed watching cheesy movies; hanging out at UC Berekley; eating Italian, Mexican and Chinese food; relishing a burger, fries and shake at a Piedmont burger joint; stuffing myself silly at a Sizzler buffet after a few hours of trying to play basketball (and my body felt the aches and pains for 3 full days afterwards); and clogging up my arteries with our traditional breakfast spot, Ole’s, the famous grease spoon in Alameda. In addition to all of that, we also found time to visit the San Francisco Church of Scientology, where I got my cool pictures and my free lunch.
The Church! Not located on the lake in San Pedro in Guatemala, but rather, in San Francisco right off Columbia.
Ezra and Dan finish off their food with some soda while a friendly Scientologist encourages them to come to her 7pm seminar on financial success. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it.
Still sick, in recovery at Dan’s. Left over pizza from the night before doesn’t sit so well in me.
Decisions, decisions. Should we go with the special edition ”Cheaper by the Dozen” flick with Steve Martin or the romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Wedding” with Julia Roberts? How about NONE OF THE ABOVE. We settle on a 1990 indie filmed RIGHT HERE IN ALAMEDA starring David Cassidy with appearances by Tommy Chong, Joyce Brothers and other BIG name stars!
Immediately following our viewing of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” we find this statue of the superhero “Many Hands Manny.” Question: If you had sucky superpowers such as the ability to eat 40 hot dogs in 5 minutes, wouldn’t you take the syrum to change you back into a normal human being? These are very profound questions that I’m sure the Church of Scientology would not be able to answer.
So there you have it. While I was trying to plant the seeds of joining the Church, I was actually in San Francisco loading up on carbs and weight, and then quickly losing those pounds as I sat on the toilet every hour getting readjusted to a new American food strain. All in all though, I think I gained back 5 pounds of what I lost in Guatemala with all the food I ate in SF.
– A FAMILY VACATION –
I flew home from San Francisco for just a few days to hang low in Portland, hence my made-up story about going off to join the program in Guatemala. I needed some time alone to unpack, SLEEP, eat, catch up on emails and bills, and then 4 days later I was off on a little vacation with my family down to Sunriver and to Reno for some gaming action.
View from Lava Butte, just south of Bend, OR.
Hiking in the Lava Tube Cave. Dad, Mom, my brother and his girlfriend, Hong.
Benham Falls with my mom.
Dad casts his line into Paulina Lake for an afternoon of none-biting trout…..
…while I take my mom on a hike up to the crater. But we are forced to turn back when the ice and snow is just a little too much to traverse.
Rafting on the Deschuttes River.
Taking a break and watching the Native American Dance performance at Mills Park in Carson City, NV for their Carson City Rendevouz Days.
Checking out the ol’ western town of Virginia City.
My bro and I ham it up for the camera.
We stayed 5 days in Sunriver, 4 in Reno, and 1 long day driving back. Don’t even ask how I fared with gambling, let’s just say that I’ll definitely need to find a job sooner than later (if I only had 25 cents more I KNOW I would have hit that 10 million dollar Wheel of Fortune jackpot…well, maybe). But Reno isn’t about gambling and lady luck now, is it? No, not at all. Reno is about the BUFFETS! Gourmet galore! Combined with the food from San Francisco, my few days back in Portland, and my family trip, and I have gained back a total of 11 pounds! So only 7 more to go before I reach my pre-Guatemala weight of 5 months ago.
– PREP FOR MY NEXT TRIP –
I’m back home for 5 days to prep my bike for my next trip, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to see many friends or hang out to discuss the role of Scientology in our US political system. This Saturday and Sunday I’ll be attending a 2-day wedding event for my good friend Amy and her awesome fiance Reto–what is so cool is that they orginally met in Antigua, Guatemala while learning Spanish. So I got them a little something from Guatemala so that they don’t forget where they met! Then, next Monday I’ll be hitching a ride up to BC, Canada to start the next leg of my year off. Check back on Friday for details on this trip, and then every Friday thereafter for my updates on the road. One thing I have learned is that when I was in Central America, Internet cafes were pretty prevalent and cheap. Trying to find internet on my trip to Sunriver and Reno was like pulling teeth from a bear–impossible. And when I did find it, like at the hotel, they were charging $12-$25 per hour! I suppose I know what business to get into when I get back. At any rate, I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to find some access when I’m on the road, and hence my Friday weekly updates from here on out. That’s it for today, hopefully I’ll be able to see some of you this week before I take off, but if I don’t, I should be back in mid-August with 10 more pounds lost, darker skin, and longer hair and my full grown beard and mustache (yeah yeah, laugh it up).
June 5th, 2006
Quick update for this week, as I have just a few minutes to use this very expensive Internet connection here in Flores. I must say that I am not surprised by the comments I have received publicly and privately about my decision to continue on with my travels in an un-Edwin-like, unconventional way. I am not hurt nor offended by the lack of support from friends and family because Geoff, Francios and others in my sect warned me about revealing the truth all at once. It matters to me, but I do not take it personally, because I know what I am doing and I am content with my decision. And to reiterate, I have not been brainwashed or sucked into a cult. I am still me, with my own mind and my own take on life. I have just decided to accept more tolerance and an open mind for a different way of living. We are driven by a modern society that values work for money for living. And with that we lose faith and lose sight of what we really want in life. We get sucked into an endless cycle of a zombie-like trance, living the day to day in order to pay the bills, put food on the table and a roof over our head.
We are all different, our own minds, own values, own ideals and beliefs for how to live one’s life. I have chosen a different path than the one I have accustomed myself to for the last 5 years of waking up every week to work my 40 hours, sit in the commute, pay my taxes and go out ocassionally for fun. I chose a path where I do not trade off my spiritual side for profit. I chose to positively affect the world around me through creating meaningful relationships and connections on a human, one-on-one level. I don’t suspect that many of you will understand this, but it is my hope that by the end of 2006 you will all share in my passion for the life that discovered me through Scientology.
Tom and John Travolta may be punchlines for this misunderstaood way of living, but I am honest when I say that our intentions are true of heart and we only want to help people achieve all that they are capable of. I have chronically been an underachiever with my life, always flying below the radar and doing just enough, but now I seek a greater maximum return of my potential through unlocking those obstacles that hold me back and keep me from being the best that I can be. Well, no longer.
I can’t wait to get home back to Portland to share with my enthusiasm, but first I must complete my training here and improve my Spanish. And this is my announcement. I plan on staying for the rest of 2006, and returning back to Portland at the start of the New Year. A new, improved New Year with a new, improved Edwin. I can only imagine the possibilities of where Scientology can take me, and I am truly excited for the future.
But first things first.
Yeah, okay, I admit it, you all called my bluff. Horrible poker face, no wonder I never win. Suppose you all know me all too well. I was hoping that I could pull the wool over yer eyes for at least another week…maybe convince 5% of you that I am for real. I mean, come on, I had actual pictures of the Scientology Center! Doesn’t that count for anything??
So there you have it. I’m lying, cheating, faking, BS’ing, etc. etc. The truth is, I’ve been home for almost one week. Laying low, to acclimate myself back to eating full meals, flushing toilet paper in the toilet, and not filtering my water from the tap. And catching up on my sleep, cause you know about that severe jet lag from traveling all the way from Guatemala!
But don’t try to contact me now, no, not this week. Cause I’m back on the road. A short, 10-day trip with my family down to Central Oregon, Nothern California and Nevada. Then it’s back for a few days in Portland as I ready my bike for my trip down the coast from Canada to Mexico. My best case scenario is to be back in Portland in mid-August, at least for 2 months. Maybe I’ll find a survival job in that timeframe. But this is my year off from doing the work thing, so then again, maybe not. I hope to head off to Thailand and Vietnam later in the fall, so you just might see me at a highway onramp or off-ramp asking for donations to supplement what is left of my meager savings.
So there you have it. Yes, I am technically back in Portland, but out on the road as you read this. I’ll be back next week for a few days to catch up with friends and show off my long, curly perm-like hair-do’, and then it’s back off my butt and onto my bike saddle for the ride. I lost almost 20 pounds in Guatemala, but have easily gained 5 back from Nestle, Dreyer’s, Sweet Tomatoes and Baja Fresh. Ah, it’s great to be back in America. Unfortunately, I fooled no one with my tale of Tom and John. But you knew that already. So have a nice week everyone, I’ll be seein’ y’all later!
June 2nd, 2006
I don’t want to get on a soapbox and start telling the world what I’ve learned. And I don’t want to use this blog as an advertising medium to celebrate my newly discovered ideas of living. But I will admit that it is hard to contain my excitement and my feelings for the last week of training that I have been involved in. I have been exposed to wonderful people and a cause that has inspired me to continue with my journey on another level. My whole perspective on life and my worldview has changed for the better, and in the next few months I hope to share some of these teachings and my new experiences with you. I’m probably not the best person to convince another to try something out, as evaluation and choices come down to the individual. Changes come from within. That’s all I’ll say for now about the positive changes that I have experienced.
The last week I have been learning, questioning, discovering and healing with new friends and mentors. My learning will never be finished, but the next step of my journey will take me back to the Peten area of Guatemala, where I will spend a month or two to find and encourage new members to learn more about our program and then bring them back to San Pedro for further instruction. I will be living with a fellow from Canada, Francios, who grew up just outside of Montreal. We’ll be leaving this Sunday. There is very limited access to Internet where I’ll be stationed, but we will pass through Poptun on Monday, so I’ll provide another update at that time. But for now, please enjoy the following pictures that were taken this past week at the training center in San Pedro, housed in an old colonial style building just a short walk to the lake’s edge.
We have 3 levels of space–one for our meetings (the public face), one for operations (behind the scenes admin stuff), and an upper level for housing our new members.
We sell our books in English and Spanish. Over 20 million copies have been sold worldwide.
We also have our own newspaper publication we can hand out to the public in the capital city and other gringo trail hotspots. We have these in German, English, Spanish and Chinese. We talk to locals and international travelers alike. Since my Spanish is still pretty rough, I’ll be shadowing Francios for a little while and helping where I can. Our aim is to introduce Scientology and be available for people who have questions or misconceptions on what they may have heard from the media. The true heart of our program is to help people live better, fulfilling lives.
Please do email me privately or via the public comments section if you’d like to learn more about deepening and freeing your mind to our understanding of the world and our place within.
Finally, depending on my Internet access, please do check back on Monday for an important announcement regarding my plans for the future with the organization. Happy June everyone!
May 31st, 2006
So I did the rounds of the street vendor food, and this post is to remind me of what I enjoyed at Parque Central of Xela, Guatemala…
The round things on the outside of the plancha are called puposas — fried tortillas stuffed with cheese and sometimes with meat. In the middle of the plancha are las garnaches — little fried tortillas with meat and cheese topping.
Deep fried rolled tortillas, filled with meat or veggies…a Guatemalan version of a Taco.
Los Rellenitos… a plantano (similar to a banana) shaped into a ball and then stuffed with black beans and fried in oil (just like most things in Guatemala)
Los elotes — corn on the cob, but they take it to another level, smothering all sides with mayo and ketchup, and then adding some chile powder and some squeezes of lime. Huh?
My yummy yummy churros. Yeah, okay, maybe its all just oil I taste, but give me some hot chocolate to dip my fried donut in and I’m in heaven!
Los nueganos…little donut holes fried in oil. 3 or 4 go into a plastic bag, then the vendor dumps this really sweet liquid inside, closes up the bag, gives it a turn and a shake, and hands it back to you. The sweet liquid is soaked up into the little donut holes, and the result isn’t what I expected. One time is enough for me.
The taco stand…3 corn tortillas piled high with shredded pork, onions and salsa. Deelish!
In addition, there are other food staples that I had not gotten pictures for… tamale (basically a corn tortilla ball, very dense and not fried), empanadas (folded tortillas stuffed with fillings and then fried), chuchitos (tamales with chicken wrapped in banana leaves), los paches (rice in banana leaves) and chiles rellenos (stuffed pepper).
And I’m trying to forget black beans, eggs and tortillas for a reason, but I know they’ll always be a part of my memory regarding my life down in Xela for over a month…
May 29th, 2006
Here’s the photo trip report for my 3 day hike from Quetzaltenango to Lago Atitlan. You can click on the thumbnail photos to enlarge them.
– DAY 1 –
After eating a hearty breakfast of eggs, black beans, tortillas and fruit, we walked 30 minutes to our chicken bus and we on the trail by 10am. hiking up from a small pueblo overlooking the city.
It was a beautiful morning, not too hot, and the steepness of the trail afforded beautiful views the higher we climbed.
Climbing up to our rest stop.
The trees gave way to grassy meadows and open spaces…
The path became dusty as we crossed farmed land and village homes.
What goes up, must come down…very carefully with this soft and dusty ground.
We hiked up to a small village, passing by these packs of dogs in the street. I had flashbacks to my scary encounter on my bike ride, but fortunately the dogs were all preoccupied with someone throwing out some food scraps to pay attention to me.
And stayed at this abandoned hostel, which is now only used by the Quetzaltrekkers group for this very hike. The place had no electricity and was definitely a scary place to sleep in at night. It would make the perfect setting for a teen horror slasher flick. I am so happy that I brought my headlamp, because after 6pm, you look down this hallway in complete darkness and it will give you the willies.
During the night, we all tried out the Mayan sauna, called a temaskul. It is not for someone who might be closterphobic, as the space was very small and it got hot in a hurry!
Barely enough room for 4.
– DAY 2 –
We climbed up and up and up, and had to navigate a portion of a mountain landslide to get to this view.
Looking back from where we came from.
We continue hiking down to our lunch break stop.
We hike down to the river for a quick break.
And follow the bank, crossing the river 12 times over and back until….
…we reach our final ascent. Up the steep section we go.
At the top, it is another 45 minute hike along the road to our stop for the night, the home of Don Poncho.
After all the hiking, the candle light dinner was sublime.
– DAY 3 –
4:30am wake up. Pack up. Hike along the dark road and up a small trail for the sunrise.
And breakfast. Oatmeal, tea and coffee.
Morning tea and the rising sun.
Hiking down to the lake…
Where we put on our bathing costumes (that’s what Brittish Marc calls em’) and take a swim in the lake.
Then we catch a lancha boat ride across the lake to the town of San Pedro…
Where lunch awaits us.
Half of our group heads back to Xela in the afternoon aboard a pick up truck, while some of us stay behind for a few more days to enjoy the lake. Here’s where I slept for $2 a night. That’s right, $2 gets me a private room and shared bath. San Pedro has to be one of the cheapest destinations in Central America for accomodations and food.
This entire breakfast cost me under $5.
I moved on to San Marcos, the New Age/Mediation place and found a dorm room at this place.
I spent the afternoon hanging out near the lake and stayed until the moon poked out.
And then it was on to Panajachel via a 45 minute lancha.
I hiked around Reserva Natural Atitlan which had monkeys, a butterfly farm, and these suspension bridges.
Can’t get enough of the lake.
One final look at Lago Atitlan.
May 26th, 2006
The saying goes that when it rains, it pours. Let’s multiply that by three, shall we?
1. Guatemala has two seasons during the year. The dry season, which runs about late November to May, and the rainy season, which lasts from May until December depending on what area of Guatemala you are in. I can declare that I am now living it up in the rainy season. It has been raining since Monday. And when it rains, it pours. Off and on. Some mist, then drizzle, then steady rain, then deluges and then it will stop. The clouds move pretty fast, thunder rumbles in the distance. So there is not a whole lot of time I have spent outdoors on more trips. But that could be for another reason, #2…
Another typical afternoon at Parque Central in Antigua.
2. It has been a rough week. I’ve been holed up in my hostel for most of it, not voluntarily though. Seems I ate something Monday that I shouldn’t have eaten. I’m guessing it was the frozen fruit mix bar I bought from a local vendor. It tasted great. But by Tuesday, I definitely caught something. In my stomach. Pain swelled within. But mind over matter, at least I always say. I figured that my little stomach ache would go away. So I treated myself to a chicken dinner. And when it rains, it pours.
Back to back? Food poisoning on Monday, and then Tuesday? Is it possible? I have no other explanation. I figure it was the chicken. Or maybe the lettuce in the salad. I can’t be sure what it was that put me over the edge. Tuesday night I got no sleep. Massive stomach problems. Even had a fever. Cold, then hot sweats. Hurt when I swallowed. Couldn’t breathe from one side of my nose, all plugged up. Even developed a little cough, which I still have now. I somehow made it through the night, but Wednesday day was the worst. I visited the bathroom no less than 12 times in a span of 24 hours. Yesterday probably only 8 times. And today, so far, 4 times. So dehyrdated. So sick.
2 crepes filled with vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Now that I think about it, the whipped cream tasted off. Maybe it was the whipped cream that was the second culprit. Or maybe the 4th, after the frozen fruit bar, the chicken, and the lettuce.
My dorm room, Antigua. Spent most of my time on the bed, and the rest in the bathroom.
3. A few days ago I had one option to consider. And when it rains, it pours. Suddenly I have three.
Option I: Finca Tatin. They need someone to volunteer for a month to help around. Check in guests, answer phones, be an available staff person for most of the day. Perfect way to extend my travels. And read more books. But I would literally be stuck there, on the river. Could I possibly get cabin fever in the jungle? So after careful consideration, I decided to let Ana go for it.
Option II: Had breakfast Wednesday morning at the El Patio Kaffee House. I ended up chatting with Paxton, the Guatemalan owner of the place. It is a cafe serving food and drinks in an open air courtyard, perfect for studying or reading or writing or just spending an afternoon. They have a book exchange where I picked up a copy of the Da Vinci Code. Long story short, Paxton enjoys to travel as much as I do. He likes to take trips here and there. And needed some extra help around the cafe. Cooking, cleaning, serving customers, etc. And he convinced me to give it a go. I would get free room and board, plus spending money. For about 8 hours of work a day, as the place is only open from 8-4. So another opportunity lands in my lap. Extend my travels. Continue brushing up on my Spanish, plus utilize some culinary skills (like I have any). Maybe even run the place when he is gone. He offered me a one month test run. The part I liked best is that I would be in Antigua, in the city and not feeling so stuck. There are still 2 volcanoes I can climb, numerous biking opportunities, and other day trips I can participate in when I’m not working. It would allow me to settle in for a bit, recover from the rigors of moving from place to place every few days. Would I accept? Yes. But wait…
Option III: Disclaimer.
I like to think that I have an open mind, and try to with hold judgement whenever possible as I gather enough information to develop my conclusions. But as we are all aware, there are always two sides of a story, and sometimes one side is more pursuasive than the other, for many different reasons including slant of the media, personal biases, personal experiences, knowledge of stories of friends, etc etc. There can be a lot of confusion and misinformation, and I will admit that at times I feel paralzyed by so much of what is going out there in the world. So with that, here’s what I will be doing.
After the Volcan Pacaya hike, I hung out with some of the hikers and even ran into Christie, one of the hikers from my Nebaj to Todos Santos hike from over a month ago. One of the people I met is a guy from the States, Geoff. Good guy, from the Clearwater FL, we’re about the same age. He’s been in Central America for the last 14 months, ie over a year. His Spanish, of course, is better than mine. Is he here for school? For work? Volunteering like many other people I’ve met? Yes Yes and Yes. And he doesn’t have a penny to his name. So, what is his secret? And could I apply that to my current situation. Yes.
So here’s the hard part, trying to explain this all. No, I have not been nor will I ever be brainwashed. I haven’t been sucked into a cult or anything, though I know some of you will think otherwise. This is a great opportunity for me to continue to travel without having to worry about the money situation. I’ll be able to travel, work on my Spanish, eat and live for free, hang out with some cool people, volunteer on different projects in Central America, and also do some teaching. But first I have to do a training program in San Pedro, Lago Atitlan. Who can complain about that? Here’s a pic from my previous visit to the lake:
I will be leaving tomorrow (Saturday) with Geoff and three other new friends for a one week training program to learn more about the program’s history, goals, social projects and teachings. Then, if all goes well, I will be traveling south to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras with my team to communities, villages, pueblos and areas urban and rural to assist with local projects and share what we’ve learned. I know what you’re thinking, RELIGIOUS CULT! But it’s not, because Scientology literature says you can hold on to your original beliefs and still practice Scientology. Facts: Scientology is an applied religious philosophy, and it has helped changed many lives for the better. The church says it can help people learn better, and live better, improving their communication skills, keeping believers off drugs, giving them confidence, assisting them with family life and solving day-to-day problems.
Yeah yeah I know, many churches can do that. And that is great. So why can’t Scientology reach out and help others as well? I’m not going to defend Scientology because I would be wasting my breath, but believe me, I’ve done my homework and research, and of course a big thanks to Ezra for pointing me to the website Cult Awareness Network (CAN) http://www.cultawarenessnetwork.org.
So that’s it, that’s the plan. Don’t worry, I won’t be signing my life’s savings away or cutting off contact. But the training will be over the next 7 days at their center, so I won’t have Internet access until next Friday and I can tell you all about it and where our first assignments will be. I’m pretty excited about it, and keeping an open mind because in the past I’ve been known to make fun of Scientology, but that was because I was ignorant and didn’t really know much about them aside from those cheesy personality tests and celebrities in the media. But what is that saying about walking a mile in another’s shoes?
So that’s what I’ll be doing for the next week. Tomorrow’s first teachings will consist of our “auditing”, where the program helps you locate and eliminate spiritual problems. The Sunday format will be presented on that Saturday, and will follow for the next several days, so I’ll only find out about what I’ll be doing the day before. Sounds like a fun adventure to me, so why not give it a go?! I can always decide not to continue, its not like I am being forced to do this. So there you go.
I guess that’s all I have for now. Have a great Memorial Day Weekend and I’ll have more on Monday and Wednesday about my previous hikes to Lago Atitlan and Nebaj to Todo Santos, and then I’ll have a fully updated status report next Friday about what I’ve learned. So until then, bye bye May and hello June!
May 24th, 2006
Mid March, just before our El Mirador hike. Kirk, Markus and I took the overnight bus from Guatemala City to Flores, and arrived at 8am to Tikal, probably THE most impressive restored Mayan site in Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. It is a very large park, with huge pyramids, huge ceiba trees and wildlife galore. Here’s the photo tour of our day…it was quite hot, and by mid day the hordes of tourists off the chartered buses arrived in mass, but despite the number of visitors, I would have to rank this attraction as the Number 1 site to see in all of Guatemala.
Loading up on pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice before we set out into the ruins.
Gran Plaza area
View from one of the structures at Gran Plaza.
Acropolis del Norte.
View of Templo II in the background.
View of Templo IV from the ground.
Templo IV, Tikal’s highest building at 64 meters. Quite a bit of excerise to climb the steps and then the ladder to the top.
From the top of Templo IV we can see for miles above the jungle canopy, 360 degrees.
Climbing the 32 meter high pyramid at El Mundo Perdido (the Lost World)
View from the top of the pyramid
Templo V, 58 meters high. The restoration started in 1991 andwas just completed in 2004. The before and after pictures were amazing–basically a huge covered hill of jungle, stripped down to reveal this temple, which has the hardest to climb because it was basically just a long, wooden ladder you had to ascend.
Markus and I in front of Templo I, the Templo de Gran Jaguar, which is closed to the public because of two too many people falling to their deaths. It stands at 44 meters. The picture was taken from atop Templo II, at 38 meters.
Another view of the Templo de Gran Jaguar and the structures to the left are called Acropolis del Norte.
One last look at the Gran Plaza, before catching the shuttle back to Santa Elena/Flores to meet with our guide for our hike to El Mirador.
May 22nd, 2006
I’m now back in Guatemala, hanging out for a few days in Antigua as I decide what my next move is. The last week since my last full update has gone by quickly. Here’s the quick rundown for those of you keeping score…
– PLACENCIA –
After Dangria, I caught the bus down to Placencia, a small beach town at the southernmost tip of a long peninsula. Things were not as expensive as the Cayes, so I decided to stay two nights here and spent my time doing as Í’ve been doing for the last 2 weeks: more reading, more sleeping, more lounging and zoning as my attention was mesmerized by the gentle waves, and then in the evening captured by the electrical storms.
My guesthouse room was not right on the beach, as I had to walk a long 3 minutes across the sand to this bar and restaurant. The town has a happy hour circuit that starts at 3pm and every hour you go to the next bar up until 7pm.
It was pretty hot so I spent quite a bit of time in the shade. Been getting lots of comments about how brown I look, so maybe I’ll be just a little lighter when I get back by staying out of the sun.
My room with shared bath was perfect with a double bed, fan, window, small dresser and plastic chair. BUT… When was the last time you had TANG? You know, the space age orange powder drink. The one with the green label and orange jar top. When I was in Campeche, Mexico, I bought a powdered pouch of TANG to flavor my water a bit and give me my daily dose of vitamin C. And I was just about all finished with my stash by the time I arrived to Placencia. I had it wrapped in a white plastic bag in my backpack, set my bag on the chair just like in the picture. I was only gone for maybe 4 hours at the beach. And when I returned…infiltration. Ants. Hundreds of the little demons. I left my pack open. They were crawling everywhere. They found my TANG, and more. I felt so violated! I spent the next hour cursing and sweating as I killed the invaders, took out all my things and shook and wiped and tried to get rid of them. The ants even found their way on the dresser. I ended up hanging a bunch of my things from the walls and ceiling where I could. They just continued to come back again and again. At least the infamous cockroaches didn’t visit my room, well at least I didn’t see them. But I did inside the room of a British gal I hung out with. She freaked out and moved over to my guesthouse and paid more for her new room to get away from her little friends. Despite the attack of the ants, it was a fun stay as I hung out with two Brits and a big Texan, Ollie, who likes to where the Oregon Ducks baseball cap because of the big O emblem.
After Placencia, it took almost a full day to travel south out of Belize and into Guatemala. I ended up spending over $55 US for transportation on a bus, small motorboats and larger lanchas as I made my way to Livingston and Rio Dulce.
Taking the 1 hour lancha trip from PG (Punta Gorda, but everyone just calls it PG), Belize, across the body of water Bahia de Amatique to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. After clearing immigration, I took another high speed boat to Livingston, where I had to hire another private motorboat to get me to Finca Tatin.
Along the Rio Dulce.
– FINCA TATIN –
There are only 2 ways to get to Finca Tatin. Take a 5 hour overland jungle trek from the town of Livingston, or take a lancha along the Rio Dulce (river). I took the latter. And what I did was trade the open, sandy beaches with palm trees and refreshing sea breezes for the stifling heat of the jungle forest, no electricity, no Internet, and plenty of mosquitoes and other jungle critters to keep me company. But ah, what a fabulous place to keep a low profile. You can swim in the river, hike through the forest to caves, waterfalls and indigenous villages, go kayaking, visit sulfer hotsprings, or just lay on the hammock by the river. A perfect respite to continue my highly unactive vacation.
Map of the area with pointers for an incredible amount of half day and full day trips you can choose to do.
The finca has numerous private bungalows, some with private bathroom, set admist the forest with dirt paths, or in this case assisted by stones.
A closer look inside one of the private bungalows with private bath in the background.
I opted to stay in the cheaper dorm room, which was set high atop an A Frame wooden structure.
The common ‘room’ area, even though there are no walls.
There is no kitchen for guest use. When you get hungry, you simply buy from their onsite restaurant, which serves simple fare like pancakes and eggs for breakfast, and sandwiches, pasta and pizza for lunch. Dinner is something else though. For just over $6, their communal dinner has soup, fresh pita-like flat bread, salad, bowl of veggies, another side dish and the main course. The three nights I stayed there our main was a vegetarian potato omlette, a vegetarian cannoli pasta dish, and a delectable fish that I forgot the name of. Everyone sits around a table and you spend the evening conversing and chatting and after dinner continue the same, or in my case you learn how to play new games like Dominoes (HUGE in Mexico) and Backgammon (seems a lot of European travelers play this game).
Where I spent most of my time.
View from the hammock.
Ana, an outdoor education teacher from California, and Terry, world travelin’ New Zealander who is volunteering at the Finca for the next month.
I got a little restless after so much inactivity, and did spend one late morning on a little hike to a small community village Ak’Tenamit.
One final look before saying goodbye. My favorite time, apart from being completely stuffed after dinner, was going to bed. They turn off their generators at 11pm, and then you are completely lost in the darkest of darkness, and then the sounds of the forest enliven all your senses. I spent the late night in bed trying to imagine what insect, reptile or mammal was making all the different kinds of sounds. My definite highlight was on my last evening, when the Finca manager took us (there were only 7 of us staying by then) out on a late night lancha to the middle of the river, shut of the motor, and we just floated in the darkness (almost all the houses on the river had their generators off by this time) while looking up at the stars in the sky. Next, he took us to the sulpher hot springs where we relaxed in the very hot waters (I had to continually mix my spot with the cold water from the river).
– ANTIGUA –
I left the finca with Niklas, Aliscia and Ana early Saturday via lancha to the town of Rio Dulce, where Niklas, Aliscia and I took a bus to Guatemala City. It was a painfully slow ride and by the time we arrived to the capital 6 hours later, we didn’t feel like getting into a chicken bus. So we shared a cab and made it to Antigua in more than half the time, then after checking into our hostel, headed out to dinner for some really fantastic food!
After dinner, we hung out on our hostel’s rooftop terrace with Dave and Jessie, sipping wine, smoking and sharing stories about Loganistan, Utah. After all the stories that Niklas, Leon de Suissa, told me about Loganistan, I will most definitely have to visit at a later date.
Typical Antigua photo — it doesn’t feel like Guatamala because of all the gringos and numerous restaurants, bars and shops. People love it or hate it, and I’m of the former. Volcanoes surround the compact city filled with colonial churches, houses and buildings. And of course they have a Central Parque, the heart of the city. Did I mention the volcanoes?
– VOLCAN PACAYA –
5:30am wake up. 6am shuttle. 8am ascent to Volcan Pacaya, one of only four active volcanoes in Guatemala.
The hike itself is not that difficult, especially when compared to the other hikes I have done. And at the midway point, I was a little disappointed. But ah, patience patience patience, I was soon to be rewarded.
UNBELIEVABLE. My first hike up Volcan Satiaguito we camped out far away from the danger of the lava, but witnessed countless eruptions and lava flowing down the mountain at a distance. But here at Pagaya? Up close and personal.
I’ve been the Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, but I do not ever recall a time being just a few feet away from this!
Our guide was careful to show us the correct paths on which to walk. We scrambled over the molten lava landscape, taking care not to fall in, cause that would suck to die being scorched alive in lava. There are no other precautions in this national park though — no chain barriers, no warning signs, nothing. It’s walk at your own risk. Get close enough, and the heat can singe the hairs on your neck from a distance.
The tourists en horde. Actually, there were probable more Guatemalan families here than tourists.
Back in town, ice cream is in order! Dave and Jessie with a toast to a fun day.
– WHERE TO FROM HERE –
Thinking of heading back to San Marcos on Lago Atitlan to look into those Yoga or Meditation courses. I ran into Christie last night, a girl I hiked with on the Nebaj to Todos trip and she raved about her one month Full-Moon course. So I’m thinking of giving that a try. Or….Finca Tatin is looking for a volunteer. To do like Terry does. Help out at the Finca, you get free room and board, and I think maybe two or three dollars a day. Minimum one month commitment. Ana is thinking about doing it, but will do a week or two of Spanish school in Antigua to brush up. My Spanish can be greatly improved with the interactions I will have if I decide to do a month at the Finca. Very tempting. It will allow me continue my travels for at least another month, even though I’ll be in one place. Terry says that he has read at least 3 books a week since he started. Most of the guests do their own thing during the day, so you have all the time in the world to do whatever. Sounds ideal. Decisions, decisions…could be the start of another adventure! I’ll know by the end of the week what I’m doing, so check back to see where I’m off to next!
May 19th, 2006
A day trip to Laguna Chicabal is a must for anyone visiting Xela, Guatemala. On this Saturday in February, our group of students were led by two teachers from Sakribal. We had a minivan bus take us the hour or so ride to the drop off point, and then walked along a dirt road, up and then down to the main entrance where the path would take us up, and then down again to the lake. The lake is actually inside the crater of a volcano, and because of this it is considered a sacred place where many Mayan ceremonies take place. Indeed, when we were there we came across at least 2 gatherings of familes taking part in some traditional ceremonies, complete with the required firecrackers that everyone in Guatemala owns.
Climbing up the dirt road and looking back at the land we had just left.
Continuing the walk on the road to the park entrance. From our drop off point to the entrance was about a 45 minute walk.
He hike through the forest on a well worn path, and then it is up up up until we get to the viewpoint of the lake below.
The viewpoint behind us gives us a glimpse of Volcan Santa Maria.
Another view of the lake and the volcano crater.
There are steps that one must descend to get to the bottom. There was a sign, and I’m pretty sure that it indicated 600 or more steps. I lost count at 20, but I do believe there were surely 600 or more steep steps to the bottom, and I took my sweet old time.
Looking up from below the steps.
The lake and students lounging lakeside.
Kathy, Mitzi and I brought food to make lunches. Veggies sandwiches, chips and cookies.
After lunch, Mitzi, Morgan, myself and another guy (I forgot his name) decide to take a walk around the lake.
It is about a good hour’s walk around the lake, and as soon as we left the mysterious mist and fog rolled in, obscuring our view of the other side.
On the way back, we decided to hitch a ride in the back of a pickup from the park entrance.
I don’t know how we managed to squeeze all 11 or 12 of us in their, as the ride was bumpy and definitely a tight squeeze for all of us!
May 17th, 2006
As I wind my last few weeks down here in Central America, I wanted to have one final look into my past life in Xela, with the people and places that made it a special time, not to mention a time where I lost quite a bit of weight!
My final farewell note to my first host family, Claudia and her little 5 year old firecracker. Beside it is a plate that I forget to return to her neighbor, the neighbor who cooked me 2 lunch meals while Claudia was away on family business. For those of you that can read Spanish, I tried my best so don’t be too hard on me!!
Parque Central, pic 2
Kathy’s last night before returning to the States. Its Mitzi, Kathy and Yuh Wen, enjoying some drinks at an Arabian restaurant. It was here that I had my ill fated Liquado made with spoiled yogurt that contributed to my horrible food poisoning as I attempted to climb Volcan Tajumulco.
Card playing from the patio of a restaurant that overlooks Parque Central. We were kicked out soon afterwards, apparently there is a no card playing rule. Mitzi, Kathy, Markus and Joker study their hands.
I tried, I really tried to learn Spanish. Here I am after school, trying out these English instruction videos for picking up the Spanish Language. I made it through tape #8, but then the video instructor did all her lessons in Spanish, and of course that’s when I got fouled up. But with each video lasting 45 minutes, I think I put in enough extra time to try and learn best I could.
My first teacher, Rosario! We started out doing the ABCs and 123s. Had to start somewhere, and the Basics is definitely what I needed.
My first and last teachers! Rosario on the right, Etma in the middle, and Etna has the empty chair. I also had Carlos for 3 days, but he doesn’t count since he wasn’t a very good teacher (the 3 previous students who had him ended up leaving the school entirely).
Potluck dinner! I brought wheat rolls and jam from Oregon, a gift I was supposed to give to my host family but after how well my Oregon calendar was received, decided to keep the jam for myself and let others enjoy it.
The church at Parque Central
The creepy haunted house that freaked me out late one night, and then I returned to an empty home and the lights all went out. I believe the house is still for sale if anyone is interested in buying the property with its extra assets, or liabilities depending on how you look at it.
My favorite liquado at the Indian restaurant! I usually got the Mixed fruit one. Yum Yum YUM!
The view from the classrooms of Sakribal, looking down at the common area.
Chelsia’s last day, we go out to celebrate after the futbol match at “Tres Tacos X 10 Qs” and I have an order of nachos…bad choice, my cheese is the fake CheeseWhiz stuff!
Kathy gets me a surprise…donut holes and I just about flip out! Kathy can’t contain her laughter as I make a bunch of noises showing my excitement. And as you would expect, after 6 donuts I felt sick to my stomach.
A McFlurry afternoon. First Joker gets one. Then Mitzi. Before you know it we all have one….except me! Me, the exception? Yeah, just didn’t feel like one. Plus when you have Sarita Ice Cream just round the block, all expectations are for only the best. Go ahead and have your weak, low quality McDonald’s McFlurries!
One afternoon activity found ourselves walking out almost an hour to this soccerplex where the students took on the teachers in an intense shootout. I just watched however, as I have no experience with soccer (I lie, my one and only experience damaged me for the rest of my life, all those 5th graders giving me nightmares as us adults were helpless against their onslaught)
Joker after her fall on her bike. It was dark as she rode on the sidewalk and didn’t see the stepwell and then BLAM! I quickly turned around, helped her up, and had to get this shot of her surprised look. The next day she declared her body sore and in pain 12 hours after the fall.
Guatemala has a lot of drunks, and many find little cozy places in which to nap, sleep or just sober up. Every night we walked Mitzi to her door because she usually had an unwanted visitor. Here she is stepping over the slumbering man, trying to open her door without waking him up. 2 seconds later he did wake up, as my blinding flash from my camera got him up and down to the next doorwell.
Pizza pizza pizza! This was after our hike up to Cerro Buel and those concrete slides. Mitzi had 2 slices, I had the rest. Cheesey, gooey and filling! But not quite as good as Hot Lipps or Pizzacato.
One of our school’s Friday night dinners where we say goodbye to students leaving the program.
My bus station terminal. Could it be almost 4 months ago that I was dropped off here, waiting for my ride to the school that never came until I called on a payphone and spoke gibberish before a student got on the phone who could speak English finally helped me out and got Olga, the school director, to come out and get me.
One final look at Parque Central…
May 15th, 2006
Quick update for this Monday, since Internet is quite expensive. Not the $10 per hour in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye I saw, just a little slightly less.
– BELIZE CITY –
Not much happening to see or do in Belize City. I spent most of my day just walking around. I met a PeaceCorps fellow a few weeks back in San Cristobal who works in Belize City, and he said that it is quite a dangerous place after dark. So I stayed out only until the last rays of light before I headed back to the hostel, and watched a little TV before turning to bed. Hadn’t watched the tele for so long, and all I really did was flip channels anyways to see all that they were playing. English is a primary language here, but many people also speak Spanish and Kriol, a strange mixture of West African English that is difficult to follow, for me anyways. The day I was in Belize City was also a Cruise Ship port day, so mingled with a bunch of other tourists along the wharf and declined many offers of tours and taxis. There were plenty of cruise ship passengers in their wheelchairs, walkers, Hawaiian shirts and many more that looked like lobsters–obviously being out in the sun way longer than they should have. Food and restaurants are quite expensive, so I spent my eating times grazing at the various street stalls eating fruit, snowcones, burritos and tacos.
View from the verandah of my hostel in Belize City.
From the Swing Bridge. Water taxis take passengers out to the Cayes.
– SAN PEDRO, AMBERGRIS CAYE –
This place was the most expensive I’ve been to on my travels so far. The cheapest room I could find was $20 a night for a stiff bed and shared bathroom. Restaurant prices were exhorbinant, so I thought I’d be smart and only eat from the big supermarket on the island. Now, get this….(all prices are in Belize dollars, which at the current exchange is 2 Belize dollars equals one US dollar)
– small can of tuna, $5
– Kraft macaroni and cheese box, $4
– canned vegetables, $4
– Ragu spaghetti sauce, $8
– bottle of ketchup, $6
– 8 oz yogurt $4!
– small tub of cream cheese, $7
– 1 lb. of cheddar cheese, $14
– 6 oz Lays potato chips, $8
– 11 oz bag of Doritos, $13
– 15 oz bag of Cheetos, $17
– can of Progresso soup, $9
– instant cup o noodles, $2.50
– can of fruit cocktail, $5
So I didn’t eat much on San Pedro. I rented a bicycle and spent most of my day cycling the island, or at least trying to. After San Pedro, the one road heads north 22 miles. I only made it to mile 8 before turning back, as it is difficult trying to ride a bike in the sand.
Bridge over “The Cut” dividing the town of San Pedro with the Northern reaches of the island.
Map of the northern island resorts and the only road there. Man, that was a very hot day!
Beaches are different than in Mexico’s Playa Del Carmen, for example. There aren’t many wide swaths of sand and not too many people swim because of the grass on the bottom. There are plenty of docks that extend out all along the shoreline.
Another view of the shoreline.
My bike path. This is the only road to the northern part of the island, the primary mode of transport is the bicycle and golf carts and ATVs.
On the east and west side of the island lies the Carribean Sea. In the middle of Ambergris Caye lies the San Pedro Lagoon.
Walking back to my hostel along the shore as the sun sets to the west.
One goes to the Cayes to relax and to partake in watersports — jet skiing, sailing, diving, snorkeling, swimming, boating, parasailing, etc. So of course I had to go snorkeling. I was able to find an outfitter that had prescription snorkeling masks. It didn’t match my exact prescription, but it was powerful enough for me to actually see the fish under the shallow waters and the coral reefs. It was a little scary at first being amongst huge stingrays, nursesharks and other big fish just arms length away. Our half day tour took us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley and another area that I forgot the name of where we find sea turtles.
Me and my prescription swim mask. The $45 tour was well worth it because I could actually see!
Our boat was a “glass bottom” boat so those that didn’t want to get in the water (everybody on this trip snorkeled) could still view fish underneath.
After my sucky swimming experiences over the past 2 months, I’m not ashamed to admit that I used a lifejacket while I was in the water. Hey, the 4 year old kid had one, why can’t I? And you can keep those “Man Edwin, you’re skinny” comments to yerself!
The little kid, Logan, watching his dad and another dude dive for conch shells. They were able to gather 12 of these shells, to make Cerviche later on (a Belizian seafood salad specialty).
The reef is 180 miles long, the longest in the Western Hemisphere. To the west of the reef the sea is shallow–from 5 to 15 feet deep, which makes it ideal for snorkeling and diving.
– CAYE CAULKER –
Caye Caulker is considered the budget, backpacker’s island for enjoying the Cayes. A 30 minute lancha ride south of San Pedro, this is a smaller island with cheaper accomodations, but you’ll still find food to be a little on the spendy side. My hostel was right on the beach, and after 2 days of cycling and snorkeling, I was ready to just take it easy and relax.
When going to Caye Caulker, the pace of life is definitely slow and laid back, as evident by this huge ground market set just off the dock as you step onto the island.
“Tina’s Backpackers Hostel,” just $10 per night and very popular with the budget crowd.
View from the upper deck, lying on the hammock. I’ve become quite attached to hammocks for sleeping and lounging in, I’ll certainly be buying one before I head back to the States.
Caye Caulker basically has 3 streets — Front, Middle and Back (seriously, those are the names). Front street is where all the bars, restaurants and dive tour shops are located. Just like in San Pedro, the primary mode of transportation is by foot, by bike and/or by golf cart.
In the morning you can watch the sunrise in the East, and in the evening you can walk to the other side of the island in 7 minutes to watch the sunset from the edge of this dock.
– DANGRIA –
Yesterday I arrvied in Dangria, the largest town in Southern Belize, with a population of around 9,000. It is a quiet, friendly place that doesn’t offer a whole lot as far as tourist activities, so I spent the day walking around and reading. The hostel is just a block away from the Gulf of Honduras, with a soccer field in between the two. Life is decidingly on a very slow scale.
This main dock is used for fishing and for crabbing. The people just ahead were crabbing with their nets and it was surprising for me to see them using chicken’s feet as bait.
Main street, Dangria.
The soccer field and the Gulf of Honduras.
– PLACENCIA –
This is my next stop, my bus leaves in about an hour. I may stay 2 nights depending on how my money situation goes, and then it will be back on the road towards Guatemala.
– SAFE SEX –
The Belizean government takes this quite seriously. From the moment I crossed the border there are signs and messages everywhere encouraging safe and responsible health habits. George W would have a cow.
Condoms and karaoke, what a combination!
Enjoy the week everyone, check back on Wednesday for more!
May 12th, 2006
Instead of describing the day by day account of our hike to and from El Mirador, I think it would be better to let the pictures to most of the talking. As it was, we awoke at 6am that Sunday, March 21st, and after a helping of black beans, eggs and tortillas (of course!) we began to pack our bags, load up the mules and ready ourselves for the long hike ahead. The passages in italics are direct from my journal.
Markus carefully wraps his already blistered toes, and then begins slapping on the sunscreen and spraying mosquito repellent all over his clothes.
Early morning en route. We have a total of 3 mules. 2 are fully loaded, and the other either carries our guide, Adoniz, or his wife, Brenda. In the background is Julio, who walks with the other 2 mules.
“First four hours on logging roads. Well worn paths. Very uneven terrian. Big dried mud holes. Can’t imagine this in rainy season. Very hard to walk over. Exposed roots lace the terrain. Fallen branches, leaves, trees, fruits, rocks, vines, more mud holes all dried up. I trip over 9 times during the day. Mayan burial mounds. Tombs. It’s hard to look up and around the scenary because you have to watch where you step. Lots of holes. And (if you happen to be walking behind) looking at the mule’s ass and tail swipe away the flies from its butthole. Watch out when it shits and walks at the same time! Lots of mule shit on the trails. In camp by 2pm. According to Marcus’ GPS gadget, we’ve gone a little under 20km for the day.”
These are the big, dried up mud holes we tried to traverse over. All of us tripped on numerous ocassions, but I think Markus was the only one who actually fell once or twice.
It wasn’t all dried mud holes though. Much of our path was narrow through the woods, led by Brenda’s lightening quick pace.
Our camp for the first night. Hammocks for the three of us. Julio was also in a hammock, Adoniz and Brenda slept in a tent.
We also had individual mosquito nets placed around each hammock; the top of your roof was just inches from your face when sleeping. But one word of advice regarding mosquito nets….try to make sure that there are no biting creepy crawlies and flying bloodsuckers that are trapped inside the hammock tent before going to bed! Or learn as I did.
All smiles before the evening sun sets.
Our first night camp was at El Tintal, where a covered temple was just a few minutes walk from our site. Before sunset, we all climbed to the top to gaze at the view from above the treetops and to watch the sunset.
Julio, Kirk, and the setting sun.
Me, Adoniz, and the fading light.
– DAY 2, Monday March 22 –
“5:45am wake up. Granola with milk, pineapple and melon are fresh and cut into it. I see some crawly things on some pineapple; take them out with my spoon. There’s also some small bread rolls. Last night we had really good tea. We leave camp at 7:20. 7:20! It is a very quick pace. only two, 5-minute rest stops. Finally, lunch at 1:30. Flour tortillas with black beans and fresh cut onions, radishes and a cucumber. Kinda bland, but I have two anyways. Then it is back to walking. But we have a slower pace, it’s so so hot. Sweltering heat. In a trance. Silence. Just the sounds of our footsteps, our breathing and the jungle birds, insects and rustling of leaves. 2:30pm. Stop at an old Mayan prison ruin “El Muerta” and explore inside. Tired. Hot. 4pm. Arrive at El Mirador and our camp. There are two wooden house structures for the 3-4 guards. There are also 3 wooden benches. I fine one and collapse on it, laying down. So so tired. Later the hammocks are set up, and I tiredly walk over to relax. We have 90 minutes before we go up El Tigre to watch the sunset…”
Sunday night we lost one of the mules. Somehow it got loose and ran away. So now we just have 2 mules, all loaded up with our food, water and belongings. Brenda and Adoniz will each have to walk the whole way today. But one of the mules was also attacked by a bat, according to our guide. I didn’t know that they attacked mules! But here’s the proof.
Here’s my lesson from the previous night about trusting the mosquito net too much. I count over a 100 bites on my hands, wrists and arms.
En route to El Mirador, we pass by countless Mayan mounds that are hidden away in the jungle’s growth. However, this one was easily seen and Kirk takes a look inside.
La Muerta, a Mayan prison, according to our guide.
We go inside and don our headlamps. Some passages are very small and narrow and we have to crawl. Here, Kirk begins to exit back into the natural day light.
Just before dinner, we climb up to the templo El Tigre, which is the tallest pyramid ever built in the Mayan world. 60 meters high, and its base covers 18,000 square meters. The going is steep and there is no shame in using the rope, as Adoniz does.
Sunset from atop templo El Tigre.
– Day 3, Tuesday, March 23, full day to explore El Mirador –
Waking up to the rising sun atop the Mayan grand temple “El Tigre.” Breezy. Tree braches sway back and forth. Refreshing. Clear skies, except for the far east, where low clouds hang in the horizon, partially shielding the sun’s light. But the sun rises higher, over the clouds to bask my face in warm rays. The small temple top is rocky, hard. Below I hear different animals. Mostly birds of all spieces.
Just an hour earlier I woke up to the Dolby surround sound of howling monkeys, roaring in the distance. For 10 minutes straight it was a cacophony of roars back and forth. And when that died down, I had a pack of bees buzzing and hoovering near an aloe vera plant, right next to my feet. Kirk and I dared not move. Cool, but scary to be so close. It wasn’t a swarm, but there were definitely a lot of these bees.
A few minutes later, all we heard were the whizz and shir of a bunch of dragonflies jetting back and forth through our little camp. Another 10 minutes of these insects playfully dancing admist the breezewaves.
And now all I hear are the birds, the breeze, the ocassional flying insect buzzing past me…it sure does feel amazing to be up so high, to have spent the night at such a magical place with so much yet-to-discover histroy. What went on at this temple thousands of years ago? What happened to this great society, that thrived for well over 300 years? I can see 360 degrees all jungle canopy. Just verdant green all around. I spent the night up here last night! All those stars. And the bright moon. I can’t believe I’m here.”
My little camp on top of El Tigre. Rising beyond is the temple’s sister, La Danta.
More morning light gives way to the view from my camping spot.
It’s fucking hot. Sweltering. So hot that I can’t even fall asleep in the shaded hammock, even though I’m very very tired. I keep looking at the pink polka dots spread all over my wrists, arms and top side of my hand. Damned fleas/mosquitos/ticks or whatever feasted on me on night number 1. I’m so stinky with 3 days of sweat and hard walking in the same shirt, pants and socks. I’m not going to shower or change into clean clothes until our hotel Thursday night. Still over 50 hours away. I’m still paranoid about ticks finding their way to my nuts and ass. I’m sure I have ticks and other critters in my unkept hair on my head. It is so thick and dirty and dry. It feels dead. Kirk has taken a “shower” 3 times. Twice in the Mirador camp. It’s basically a bucket of brown water than you dump on yourself. I think I’ll pass and just wait for the hotel. I’m paying over $20 for the privilege, so I’m going to really really look forward to it and enjoy it. My bites are so so itchy. I wonder if they will make a permanent record of this trip. So tired. Feet have blisters. And they stink of course…”
There will be no further pictures of the Parque Nacional Mirador. It took us 2 days of hard hiking to the site, 1 day to explore the major ruins of the site, and another 2 days of hard hiking back to civilization that it wouldn’t be fair to just show pictures of what we came to see. It is just something that one has to experience and feel in person. Feel free to google pics if you want, or to find the in depth National Geographic article. But no more photos from this blog from the site itself. Day 4 and 5 we hiked back. Yes I was more tired, more dirty, and somehow managed to get more mosquito and tick bites. Here are some final journal thoughts about our trip to El Mirador for all 5 days.
– ant highway in our camp next to our dining area.
– Markus spraying insecticide all over his pants, legs, arms, etc. Basically taking a shower in it.
– taking a shit in the outhouse and hopeing that nothing comes up from within the darkness and bites me in the ass.
– our guide smoking natural herb joints every other stop.
– dinner…soup that makes me hot and sweaty.
– used toilet paper strwen around the ground a few meters from camp, the previous user unaware that there is a baño a few more steps away.
– Kirk catching ticks on his body before they start to dig in.
– my “Insectashield” special bandana NOT working as advertised.
– a dream about my shoes falling apart – but in reality, they are still holding up quite well for only a $7 repair job.
– drinking fresh hot tea from the leaves of the pimienta — smells like Juicy Fruit gum to me!
– getting hot and sweaty under my ballcap and mosquito headnet–which I wear sleeping at night
– watching a legion of ants ascend and swarm the empty plastic mug of sweetened tea that Markus left on the ground
– craving the doublescoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone.
– Adoniz’s personal museum of plates, pots, bones and other old things stashed away in a hidden grave mound site that he showed to us.
– Adoniz pointing out plant stems and tips just teeming with hundreds of ticks. In the photo below, look to the tips of the stem to see them all!
– the last lunch – fresh sliced pineapple with bread and a potato/cucumber/egg/mayo salad mixture for the bread. I had 5 or 6 sandwiches.
– Adoniz’s son getting a ticket for driving without a license. Stopped for 10 minutes.
– Before taking us to the hotel, his son picks up a motorcycle, loads it in the back of the pick up and we have to find spaces to sit in around the motorcycle.
– Kirk’s spider leaping at his feet at dinner. The table underside harbored the spider’s home.
– In the middle of the night, there’s a huge fire that erupts and Kirk wakes up to it. Mysterious flames from the embers of the fire.
– Adoniz mumbling to himself as he walks along the trail (usually this happens after he had smoked one of his joints).
– whenever having the urge to piss, just stepping off the side of the trail and doing it–and inspecting my crotch for ticks and bite marks.
– the smell of our collective feet as we take off our shoes and socks and let our feet breathe.
– stopping suddenly to listen closer and scrutinize the nearby area for movements of things not seen, but heard. Just a bird? A monkey? Snake?
– Drinking a juice box of peach juice and eating chocolate wafers at the side of the trail. The juice is thick and Kirk also gets peach, but Markus only gets apple juice.
– Walking back to Carmelita and hanging back, enjoying the silence and just thinking about my life, the future, and enjoying the moment.”
May 10th, 2006
It’s been a pretty interesting last 24 hours as I make my way out of Mexico and into Belize. I’m a little concerned about Belize, not because of any danger, but because my budget will be severely challenged once I arrive, so my stay in the country will probably just be for a little over a week. The beauty of Belize lies in the coral reefs and the incredible scuba diving and snorkeling. But since I can’t see once my glasses are off, it kind of defeats the purpose of donning a swim mask and gear to look at the hundreds of fish under the water that will just look like out of focus smudges. I’ll probably sign up for a tour just because, but otherwise I don’t imagine I’ll just be hanging out at the beaches reading and lounging. Nah, I could do that in Mexico because it was so cheap, but in Belize, where the cheapest accomodation goes for $25-$30 per night, I’ll need to just play turbo tourist and not linger for too long, unless I find a place just too good to not stay in. Additionally, most of the towns I’ve visited in Mexico have had supermarkets where I could buy basic staples to keep me going, but from what I’ve read about Belize, I’ll more than likely find myself eating out more often than I want to. There’s just so many instant Cup O Noodles that I can get used to…
I left Isla Mujeres on Friday morning with a Canuck, and we made our way down to Playa Del Carmen, which is about one hour south of Cancun. Mostly developed as a true tourist town, there are plenty of draws to justify how touristy Playa Del Carmen is. You have a ferry boat that can take you to and from Cozumel. The dock also receives passenger boats from the cruise ships that float just beyond. Plus there are the white sandy beaches and calm waves of the Carribbean. And hotels and resorts right on the beach. And a pedestrian only zone, 5th Avenue, one block away from the beach, filled with restaurants, clubs, bars, gift stores, and teeming with people all hours of the day and night. Mostly, I just hung out at the beach, reading and resting, swimming and wading, gazing out beyond. Saturday we were able to sneak into a resort, swipe some towels and pretended to be one of the guests. And so I spent most of my afternoon under the shade of a straw canopy, stretched out on a lounge chair and snacking on the food that I bought earlier in the day at MEGA, a Walmart-esque warehouse a few blocks away.
Can’t get enough of those sunsets! This one is Thursday night from Isla Mujeres
The beaches of Playa Del Carmen.
From the resort we snuck into. We didn’t dare try to order drinks or food, as we kept our hands under our towels so staff wouldn’t see that we did not have the appropriate wristbands to permit us to use their facilities.
Later I spread my new towel on the sand, as the sun set behind me and the cruise ship made its way to the next port.
Sunday we woke up early and took a collectivo to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, about another hour south of Playa Del Carmen. While the ruins themselves are the least impressive of all the sites I have visited, it is the dramatic setting that generates visitors to come time and time again. Indeed, by the time 11am rolled around, the small national parque was packed with tour groups and Mexican families, no doubt taking advantage of the free admission on Sundays. Guides led tours in Spanish, English, German and French. The ruins are set ontop a cliff, which overlooks the sea and the beaches below. There isn’t much shade, so after one trip around the ruins, I went down below to the beach and found a little shaded shelter and spent a few hours relaxing and reading.
Looking towards Templo del Dios del Viento.
Looking towards El Castillo. The steps lead down to the beach below.
Another look at the beach from the ruins.
Overview of the ruins.
My own little shaded, rocky shelter on the beach, sporting my new resort towel.
The Canadien and I parted ways after Tulum, and I walked along the beach south, checking out prices for palapas, like this one below…
Eventually, I did manage to find an unoccupied and unguarded shaded lounge chair from one of the hotels, and spent the rest of my afternoon continuing my boring, predictable routine of napping, reading, and doing nothing.
The view from my lounge chair. Nearby is a kiteboarding school, so I also watched people kitesurfing — skimming, jumping and slicing through the waves along the shore.
Later in the evening I met up with Eri, a fellow backpacker I met earlier in Valladolid and who lives in a palapa further down south along the beach. No TV, no refrigerator, no car and not much else except the sand, sea and wind. Lights are powered by solar panels, there is a tiny bathroom and what I suppose you can call a kitchen, and I slept like a baby on a huge hammock for two nights.
From the inside, the dining/kitchen area.
From the outside. A 90 second walk from the front door takes you right to the shoreline.
I spent all of Monday here at this spot, and time just flew by.
Yesterday I planned on staying overnight at Bacalar Lagoon, but somehow missed the bus stop and ended up in Chetumal, the last major Mexican town before crossing the border to Belize. And for almost 2 hours last night I wandered the streets, looking for a lavanderia. I asked so many shopkeepers that I lost track, and no one could point me in the direction of a laundromat. Finally this morning the staff person at my hostel told me to get a taxi and go to the Nuevo Market. Did that, walked around for half an hour, and finally, FINALLY, found a place to wash my bag of dirty clothes.
There’s not much more to do here in Chetumal aside from a museum, so I’ll be heading out to Belize tomorrow. And since Internet is $5 or more per hour in that country, this will be my last update for about a week. But check back on Friday from my completed trip report to El Mirador, and next week I’ll have my trip reports for Volcan Santiguito, Laguna Chicobal and a User’s Guide to Riding the Chicken Buses. And before I go today, and few more rumblings and ramblings…
– My hostel in Chetamul is dreadful, but at least it is cheap. There is no kitchen and no common area. Just rooms full of bunk beds. You don’t even get sheets when you check in, so last night I slept in my sleeping bag liner, which gets very very hot in this warm climate. I needed to stay covered to protect myself from all the wonderful bugs that still visit me in the night.
Dark, dank room full of bunk beds with bare mattresses.
And what is the deal with the toilets with no seats, and no privacy door!? And of course there is no toilet paper. I tried the shower, and a small trickle of water manages to squeeze out. When I turned the handle to the off position, a little lizard-like newt scurries from behind along the tiled wall into a crack and disappears. Well, at least the place is cheap.
Finally, here is a brochure I picked up for some overpriced Disneyland-type park near Playa Del Carmen. Brochures usually feature super tanned models and people you would only see on TV, but this one shows the real visitors. Oh, and he’s not really floating on a leaf, and the girl on the next page isn’t really under the water about to get eaten by a giant dolphin. False advertising I say, I should have gone to that park to see this floating leaf and Giant dolphin(incidentally, every single street corner in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum have representatives from this park selling packages to tourists–commissions must be pretty good because everywhere you turn its Xcaret this and Xcaret that). That’s all the rambling I have time for, until the next update, Adios Mexico, Hola Belize!
May 8th, 2006
Journal entry Sunday, March 19th:
Surreal. Barreling down a dusty, bumpy and windy logging road to the small co-op community of Carmelita. It is pitch black except for the high beam, then low beam, of the Toyota pick up I am riding. In the back I cling to the back of the tail, my legs scrunched by the packs, food and legs of Markus, Kirk, Adoniz, Julio, and four others we have picked up along the way, including one infant that the mother cradles in her free arm. We fly through the night, the wind in my hair and the ocassional logging truck passing the other direction, whipping a huge dust cloud in our face, our eyes, and our air we breathe. The ceiling above is pierced with thousands of shining twinkles of the heavens. It takes us almost 3 hours along that road, from the setting sun to the chill of the night. This is the way to do it. Just surreal. Is this a dream? Am I actually doing this? I’m in the middle of nowhere and no one really knows where I am. I hope I make it back to the hotel with the pool, the ice cream, and a clean, hot shower.
– TRIP BEGINNINGS –
I met Markus my second week in Xela, and we got to talking about our plans of traveling after our schooling was over. He had mentioned a hike that he read about to El Mirador, a hard to reach land of Mayan ruins just below the Mexican border. That planted the seed. A few weeks later, I was online to read more about this jungle trek to El Mirador. My Lonely Planet guidebook had a little blurb about it, but I needed more info. And what I found I wrote down, and the next day handed it to Markus for him to look into. That was all it took. We knew that at some point, we would hike El Mirador.
A local touring outfit offered a trip to El Mirador with free transportation included. Not a bad deal, everything was all planned out. But the dates were fast approaching, and the tour did not allow for any time to do any extra touring up to Flores and Tikal, the site of major Mayan ruins. We bypassed that offer. More weeks pass, I finish my studies and decide to go on hikes around the area. I plan on doing a 6 day trek, when Markus informs me that he is going to El Mirador with Kirk, and that I should join them next week.
Next week? In mid-March? I was actually thinking of ending my trip with El Mirador, in May. But he had already made the arrangements. And I did not know it at the time, but March is the ideal time to hike it, because it is still the dry season when the conditions are ideal and there aren’t as many mosquitoes to fight with. It was on.
Friday, March 17th.
I meet up with Kirk and Markus at school at 1pm, 3pm bus ride to Guatemala City. Kirk and I find a comedor and order two hamburgers. Instead, we get chicken patties. The bus ride is long. 2 screaming, wailing babies. Heavy traffic. Slow going, especially getting stuck behind big rig trucks, clamoring up the steep mountain roads. In the middle of my seat, there is some piece of metal that jabs into the small of my back, just above my ass. And my chair won’t recline fully back and lock into position, it keeps wanting to spring forward into the sitting position. It is hot. Humid. Can I get some air? Kirk doesn’t look so good. He informs us that the food in the comedor is not sitting well in his stomach. As a matter of fact, he says his system has processed it. He wanted to wait until we got into the city and bus station, but he needs to go now. He disappears towards the back, where the bathroom waits. He returns a minute later. “It is locked,” he says matter of factly. “There’s a lock on it.” No lie. There was actually a padlock on the bathroom. Kirk would have to wait this one out. Markus is hungry. The bus is packed, people standing in the aisle. It sure is hot. And dark. The sun sets. My personal seat light above me doesn’t work. It is now 4 hours on this bus. We want off.
At 7:20 our bus pulls into the final stop….a gas station? Yep, the big yellow sign of Shell. Everyone deboards, our bags below are tossed out to the ground. At least the gas station has a bathroom. Kirk is one of the first off, and he tells us to grab his bag. We get our stuff, walk over to the food market, and we see Kirk standing there helpless. Seems that just as he was heading to the only bathroom, some guy (not even on the bus, just some random customer) decides that he wants to use the bathroom. So Kirk has to wait. And he’s not happy.
Markus is hungry, and orders a sandwich from the deli. Similar to a Subway set up. I feel like I won’t find any other quality food, so I order as well. After Kirk finally gets to use the bathroom, he orders a sandwich to go. We have to get to the Lineas Dorias bus line, and our map in the guidebook shows that we are only a few blocks away. But this seems to be a very seedy and sketchy side of town. We decide to take the cab.
We arrive to the station, and buy tickets for the 9pm departure. It is supposed to be an overnight luxury ride. It is, kind of. The seats are comfy, we have seat pockets in front of us. A TV monitor is in front, and soon is playing “The Legend of Zorro” (English with Spanish subtitles). Blankets are distributed. And we even get a meal! I choose a Pepsi, Kirk and Marcus get the bottled water. I open up my stryrofoam box and find…. a small roll cut in the middle, filled with a sad looking hamburger patty with ketchup. And there is a small bag of chips and a napkin. I decide to eat it sooner than later, just in case the meat decides to go bad in the middle of the night. It isn’t even warm.
I watch the flick, Markus and Kirk go to sleep. It is near 11:30 when I try to get some rest. But I can’t. Not happening. At 3am, we stop for a Fruit Inspection? What? Yeah, you heard right. Still don’t know what that is about. I try to resume any type of rest that resembles sleep. And at 5:30am, we pull into Santa Elena. If we want to go to Flores, we have to get a free shuttle. But we don’t…our guide is supposed to be waiting for us at the bus station.
We get off the bus, collect our bags. Even at 5:30 in the morning, there is a flurry of activity. The locals know when these buses full of tourists comes. Immediately we are greeted with people offering rides, hotels and tours to Tikal, El Mirador, and other sights. Markus is the best at Spanish, and our de facto leader, since he made all the arrangements. Kirk and I are really just along for the ride.
Markus has a cell phone. And manages to call the guide. We wait around the station, and finally around 6am we meet our guide. Adoniz. His wife Brenda is with him. Their eldest son drives the pick up. Introductions all around, then Markus explains what we want. We’d like to leave our bags with them, take a bus to Tikal, explore the Mayan ruins for the morning, and come back in the afternoon back to Santa Elena, where they can pick us up and we make our way to Carmelita. All is good. We pile into the pick up, and they take us to the shuttle bus. Some guy tells us that fare is 80Q per person, round trip. We fork over 240Q. Later I find out that the real price is only 50Q per person. Ripped off.
We take the shuttle, arrive around 8am to Tikal. Have breakfast at a local comedor. Never mind the hair in my pancakes, or the smashed, dead bug inside the honey bottle (they don’t have syrup, only honey), or the dead bug that flows out of the squeeze bottle in a droplet of honey onto my plate. We are here to have fun, explore, and enjoy the ruins. We spend the day touring Tikal. Pics of Tikal will be in a future post.
Return on the shuttle bus back to Santa Elena. We need money to pay the guides. Flores seems more developed, so we ask to get dropped off there. But no ATM. We are hungry, so decide to splurge on the best restaurant there, La Luna (no relation to Xela´s Cafe La Luna).
Steaks for Kirk and Markus, I get the cheaper burger and fries.
Afterwards, we make the obligatory Sarita stop for ice cream. This is the first time in my life that I order a double scoop. And thus begins my addiction for doublescoop ice creams.
We find a spot by the lake and try to lick and eat our ice cream quickly, as the hot sun melts the flavors onto our cone and onto our hands.
After our late lunch and dessert, we walk across the bridge and to Santa Elena, where we wait over an hour for our ride. They take us to the ATMs, where we withdraw enough funds to cover the entire trip, and prepay all at once. Then it is off to Carmelita…or so we think.
No, first we make a stop so Brenda can buy eggs. Which takes 20 minutes. We bake in the back of the pick up. How could buying eggs take so long? She finally returns, and we are on our way….but wait! We make a stop so that the son can pick up a….truck tire? A used truck tire for the pick up? Yes, and he loads it until the back with us. Now we can get on our way! Think again. We stop for gas. And while they are filling, there is a little comotion, then concern. Seems like there is a tank leak. We are leaking gas. Kirk is not cool with this. But after further discovery, it seems like it is only a tube that has been severed…apparently gas theft is a problem, and someone stole gas a few nights before and damaged an intake tube. Kirk assured us that it was not a major problem, and we were on our way.
The last 24 hours from Xela to the gas station didn’t seem to bode well for this little trip. All the little things on the bus. Getting ripped off. The funny breakfast meal with the extras I didn’t ask for. The waiting for the guides. The extra stops. Who were these guides, anyway? What web site or link did I give Markus? Markus made all the arrangements, and Kirk and I were just going with his judgement. I don’t know about Markus, but Kirk and I had little seeds of doubt about how this whole experience would turn out.
The afternoon light is slowly fading away. From the gas station, we truck it over to San Andreas, where our guides live and where we pick up all our gear and add Julio, the guy who takes care of the mules.
Kirk and Markus, riding in the back of the pick up to San Andreas, when we actually had room to spread out and stretch out our legs.
Packing up the pick up. Eventually we would squeeze a total of 9 people back here, with all of our gear and all. Adoniz is on the left, Julio on the right, securing our load with ropes.
Guard station to the National Park and forest. Unfortunately, logging in some capacity is allowed by the government, so during our excursion to Carmelita, four or five of these trucks carrying those beautiful hardwood beahemoths would pass us in the opposite direction.
We finally leave from San Andreas at around 6pm, and it is a short stop before we get to the gate. We wait here for 15 minutes, don’t know why. But whatever issues they have, it is resolved and we are on our way. An hour and change later, it is completely dark as we pass by Cruises dos Agua, the very last pueblo with electricity. Further on, we make a short 5 minute stop at San Miguel, a small village powered by generators. We are stopped by the side of the road, right next to an evangelical church. Through the open doors you can see the small congregation swaying back and forth, and then you hear the worst singing in the world belting out hymns that are way off tune and really quite embarrassing. It is an amusing diversion before we climb back on the pick up truck, and continue on into the night.
Finally, 9pm we pull into Carmelita. Again, no electricty. We have our headlamps, and make our way into a small 2 room home. It is the home of Adoniz’s uncle. They quickly set up hammocks for us to sleep in, and prepare a simple and common meal of black beans, eggs, and tortillas to fill our stomachs before we go to bed. At least we had some pineapple to go with the meal!
The home was completely dark except for our flashlights and headlamp. I took this picture in the dark, and my flash flooded the room with light.
My hammock for the night.
The second room in the home, a small kitchen and table for eating. Notice that container full of black beans. There is the freshly cut pineapple, and in the background is the wood fired plancha used for grilling and cooking fresh tortillas. The candle and my camera flash lights the small room.
We retire to our hammocks around 10:30. We are tired and get pretty good sleep, ready for the adventures that we will soon begin early the next morning…
TO BE CONTINUED
May 5th, 2006
Does that guy still anchor the desk at SNL?? It’s been too long since I last watched an episode, aside from those special theme clips they play every now and then. “The best of Chris Farley,” “Tribute to Phil Hartman,” “SNL’s Funniest Moments with People You’ve Never Heard from Again.”…
It’s been a very relaxing last few days hanging out in Isla Mujeres. Seems as if I’m retracing Mike’s steps from his visit to this part of the Yucatan…but instead of a moped, I ended up renting a mountain bike and spent most of the day leisurely cycling the island and finding little rocky bluffs and secluded shoreline to read my book, chapter by chapter, and then continue to another hidden or not-so-hidden spot and continue with my reading. I’m in the midst of a Dan Brown novel, “Angels & Demons”, and hopefully can get my hands on the next in line “The DaVinci Code” before i watch the movie. But finding English books down here has been a struggle; I have picked up another book or two along the way since Vallodolid to keep my occupied as I laze away in the sand on the beaches.
From my bike ride..
Cool house resembling a seashell
Another vantage point, underneath a palapa and looking down at Garrafundo resort.
I can’t boast that I did any reading from this vantage point; but the guards to this hotel did at least allow me in to take a look around.
I spent most of the afternoon in the warm, shallow waters of the North Beach. Just sitting, wading, swimming, floating, thinking of nothing and of everything.
And what is hanging out at the beach without my obligatory sunset photo?
North Beach has many bar/restaurants, and they rent out every kind of relaxation apparatus imaginable–private cabana, palapa shade, lounge chairs, hammocks, regular chairs, even these mattresses.
I only spent one night in Cancun, but what a night it was! I wasn’t entirely impressed with my choices of hostels, so I did what any backpacker would do…I splurged for one night, one night only at the Le Merida!
The pool alone justified the $280 per night cost of my room. Pure bliss.
Another pool on the other side of the resort.
And just beyond, the endless expanse of the beach, where you sink your toes into the warm, soft sand and wait for the Carribbean the wash them over.
Okay, I know I fooled absolutely nobody with my claim of staying one night at the Le Merida. Blow 11 days budget on one night just because of the pool? I’m not even sure I would have been lucky enough to get a room for ‘only’ $280, it just so happened that another place quoted me $280 and that was enough to dash that dream. But it was fun to imagine, even for just a few minutes, how the other half lives. That is, until the guards identified my haggared appearance, unkept big head hair, and dirty shirt. Definitely out of place, not where I belong. I even tried to play cool and coy and asked if they had a restaurant that I could eat breakfast in. Not that I would even think about spending the $25 (dollars, not pesos) on a plate of eggs, bacon and toast. No, had I the financial means, I wouldn’t have even been able to eat there. The answer, more often that not, was a resounding “No.” Because apparently, most of the hotels were either “All Inclusive” properties only for their guest, or they were Members Only. But that’s okay, because just you wait, one day, ONE DAY, I’ll own all these resort properties on this coastal strip. Maybe I’ll start with these ones below…
Last year THE hurricane, I forget which one, came in and damaged many many hotels, some to the point where it was a complete loss. This hotel, like the Ritz Carlton just beyond, still had not reopened.
Others were just about ready.
And still others, the verdict is still out.
The beaches though are still beautiful. But for $280 or more a night, I’d recommend going to Isla Mujeres instead. The island is small and people get around on bikes, mopeds, or golf carts. The main part of town near North Beach is easily walked on foot, and at night, just off the main plaza, they close off the street to create a pedestrian only zone. It is here where you will find the heart of the nightlife, dining under the stars and surrounded by conversation, laughter, music, and endless promotions for 2 for 1 drink Happy Hour. It is like a mini French Quarter where everyone comes to enjoy the evening.
Sure, Isla Mujeres is a little touristy, but there is a reason why people come here. They come to shop, dine, drink, play, relax, swim, explore, rest, lounge, sun, shade, reenergize, read, write, contemplate, escape, and define just what a vacation means to them. Time manages to slip away and I am lost, intoxicated with doing nothing but enjoying the moment.
Alas, it is time to say goodbye to Isla Mujeres. Soon I will be on the ferry back to Cancun, where I will climb aboard a bus destined for Playa del Carmen, and hope to lather, rinse, repeat in the joy of the Carribbean, Yucatan style.
May 3rd, 2006
I’m currently relaxing on the beach of Isla Mujeres, reading, of course, and enjoying the laid-back vibe of this beautiful place. So here is an entry I wrote a long time ago and never had a chance to post, which is just a good excuse to get back to my reading. If I feel so inspired I should have a new entry for this Friday…
Cafe La Luna deserves it’s own post. Located just 2 blocks from school, this cozy and long established cafe restaurant is THE place to go for hot chocolate, coffee and pastries. You can study here, socialize, or listen to some really good live music. The second time I went here an acoustic guitarist played.
Cafe La Luna serves different variations of hot chocolate and coffee, along with pastries, sandwiches and other nibbles. The hot chocolate is simply rich, smooth and unforgettable. Seriously, it’s like drinking a hot, melted bar of chocolate. I don’t know what they put into the chocolate drinks and I still can’t read most of the menu, so I just experiment and order the specials of the day and pick and choose from different categories. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
Hours, unfortunately, are limited. They close up shop at 9pm, even on weekends. Therefore, when we need a late night hang out, we go downstairs to a separate entrance to their sister venture, Vino y Queso. It’s La Luna’s cheese and wine bar. If we get there before 9pm, we can still order off of the La Luna menu. One Friday after our school program/dinner, 8 of us converged downstairs for food, desserts, wine and cheese. Total bill? Under $40 US! This included 2 different bottles of red wine and a platter of four cheeses cut into cubes. 2 of us, me and a girl from Sweden, also ordered the special dish of the day. And 4 of us, including me of course, ordered dessert. My share of all my food and drink came to 53 quetzals, or just over $7.
The wine bar / cellar, downstairs from La Luna (but owned by the same people).
There is a second adjacent room that has a larger table for bigger groups, but the lighting is very dim and my pictures didn’t quite come out.
Finally, real food! This is the special of the day, which was just great!
My dessert from a Friday, a moist and rich cake with fresh strawberries. Mitzy had the apple strudel with a scoop of vanilla ice cream…
This picture probably won’t come out, but it is all of us at the table.
May 1st, 2006
It’s hotter than Orcish hell down here, but it’s better than rowing a slave galley.
This is really the first time I’ve had in a long time to post an update as to my whereabouts and what I’ve been up to…I’m hoping that this very very slow Internet connection that I’m dealing with won’t drive me too mad and up the wall! For the past 10 days I’ve been mostly hiding out, hanging out, keeping a low profile…I need to somehow convince the US Embassy that I had no involvement with the CIA sting operation that I stumbled upon while taking a stroll through (unbeknownest to me) a major drug trafficking operation in the jungles of Monteguenox. My hired guide was quick as lightening and we were able to get away, but the next day I found myself being questioned by Mexican authorities (I just played my “No hablo Español” gimmick–actually, it can’t be called a gimmick because I really don’t speak Spanish!–) at any rate, I then found myself in the company of our own US government officials trying to coax out of me things I didn’t see or hear. And they let me go. And I’ve been on the run ever since, keeping to my business, knowing that I am being followed and I know deep down inside that they will read this blog and hopefully know that I really have no idea what has transpired.
Paranoid? Sure am.
But not for the CIA conspiracy theory. Guess I’ve been reading too much of late, which I’ll get to in a minute. Nah, my paranoia stems from being attacked, attacked by invisible forces every sleepless night that now plague my waking hours. I am in a fully heightened state of awareness that brinks on the paranoid, as my body burns, swells and throbs with the poisons of the hundreds of needles that prick the outlayer of my skin, leaving scarred marks for the rest of my life to remind me of my travels here in the Yucatan.
Mosquitos. Ticks. Fleas. Bugs. Insects. Little unseen critters that attack me every single night! I can’t see them. But I hear them. Buzzing and whirring, playing with my senses and freaking me out. It’s like Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell- Tale Heart. Am I going mad??? No, I have the proof. All over my wrists and arms, and now my legs. Little round protrusions on my skin, reddened, glowing, pulsating. Yes I’m paranoid. I’ve slept the last few nights fully clothed–socks, pants, long sleeved REI buttond-down trekker shirt, 99 cent gloves, a banana covering my neck, and a mosquito/insect net fully covering my head, which rests underneath my ballcap hat. Did I mention that it is hotter than Orcish hell down here? But ah, thinking of the luxuries of home make this current state a temporary one, one that will pass and one that I can laugh off at a later time.
Obsession. Not with some great food dish or drink I’ve discovered (good thing I haven’t found a Sarita ice cream shop down here). Not with another extreme jungle hike or hardcore , must-do outdoor activity. Nor obsession with a woman I met. Nope. The last 10 days I have been obsessed with devouring everything I can find written in English. With reading. In Merida, I came across a bookstore with paperback novels. And left with 6 books. Since then I’ve scored 4 more. I’m now finishing my 7th book. I’ve read Sci-Fi, Fantasy, international thrillers, fiction, an autobiography, travel memoirs, even a chick book. I’m obsessed, what can I say? But the setting is sooo perfect for just wasting the time away while lazing on a hammock, or propping my feet up by the sand while the water laps the sandy shore…
Before I forget, Happy May Day to you all! It totally didn’t occur to me until, as I was walking to this super slow connection internet cafe, a police convoy stopped traffic in the street as a large parade of workers with signs swept by. May Day, aka International Workers Day, unofficially recognized in the U.S., and as I recall a few years back, sometimes a spectacle when you get the more vocal demonstrators out there.
Oh, and also, if you haven’t had a chance to read some of the comments posted by my friend Mike, please take a look. Because my so-called adventures pale in comparison to our beloved pall Dank, who seriously needs his own Blog, because his stories and experiences are not only unbelieveably true, they are Legendary. This guy will be famous one day, and I think it is up to Mike and myself to see to it that his stories are published and known the world over. Pure, utter entertainment, in the sense that this can’t be true, cannot be remotely possible, but Alas, it surely is. I can’t wait to get home to hear the latest!
This super slow connection is starting to get on my nerves, so I’ll try to make the rest of this update free of any further ramblings. Below you will find how I’ve spent the last 10 days since my last post, when I was waiting for my 10pm bus to get me into Campeche at 3 in the morning. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how one looks at it, the bus was delayed and I didn’t get into Campeche until 5am. I waited around until 7, then made the 45 minute hike to my hostel, and then fell in love with my surroundings…
– CAMPECHE –
The view from the balcony of Monkey Hostel, which overlooks the Parque Principal and the church. Saturday and Sunday they block off the streets surrounding the square, and vendors come in selling pastries, food, gifts, etc.
A similar view from the balcony in the evening.
Close to the square is this fountain that has cued music playing to the rise and fall of the waters. And behind this, two clowns were entertaining kids and their parents with their balloon animals and tricks and jokes.
Another view of the church, Catedral de la Concepcion Inmaculada.
Campeche is a Unesco World Heritage site, located right on the Gulf of Mexico. About an hour’s walk from the Parque Principal, is the Fuerte de San Miguel (colonial fortress), which houses a archaeological museum and has views of the city and the Gulf.
Another view from the Fort. Campeche used to be a walled city, and some sections of the wall and bastions still exist today. The best part was just hanging out in the Parque, or people watching from above on my balcony perch of the youth hostel. This is also where I began my book reading obsession.
– MERIDA –
Another great colonial city, their Parque Principal is called Plaza Grande, about 3 times larger than the one in Campeche, with probably 10 times more people hanging out. Surrounding by colonical buildings with park benches, trees and a serenade of hundreds of chirping birds, this place was just hopping, especially on the “Ciudad Domingo”, when the adjoining streets were all closed off and it was one big party of music, dancing, vendors, food and so many families and people.
The crowd gathers around this traditional Yucatan dancing troup and their live band.
Live music plays, the sounds drifting all the way to the Catedral de San Ildefonso on the other side of the park.
The Paseo de Montejo is a major car and walking boulevard that mimicks Paris’ Champs-Elysees. This monument is one of many along the wide boulevard.
– PROGRESSO –
I took a day trip to Progresso, and spent my day reading my book in the shade of a palm tree. Most of the palapas and beach side restaurants were filled with tourists off of a Carnival Cruise ship that was in port.
Another view of the beach. Of course I was envious of those cruise ship passengers…couldn’t get my mind off of those lavish buffets! Fortunately I had a small sandwich to keep my hunger pangs at bay.
– CELESTUN –
There is absolutely nothing to do in Celestun. Except read and relax and enjoy the beach, which is exactly what I did. I was practically the only person in my hostel, and my days would consist of getting up for a bowl of granola and yogurt, then walking across the street to the beach to a lounge chair and basically staying there all day.
When I needed to rest my eyes from all my reading, when I looked up, this is what I would see.
Of course I’d put my book down to enjoy the last light of the fading day, before returning to my hammock at the hostel and the artificial light of a lamp.
– RESERVA DE LA BIOSFERA RIA CELESTUN –
A speedboat tour of the wildlife sanctuary, primarily of a large flamingo colony.
Our boat. It was me and a guy from Germany, two guys from Denmark, and our guide.
This is about as close as we could get to take pictures of the flamingos…if only I had a better zoom! Still, it was pretty cool to capture the scene.
We continued our tour to a mangrove area, where the tree roots somehow seem to float above the water.
We moor our boat to the dock, then walk down this pathway to clear water swimming hole.
The swimming hole amongst the mangrove trees.
Afterwards, Steffen and I treated ourselves to a beautiful seafood meal a fabulous beachside restaurant.
– VALLADOLID –
For the last 4 days I have been hanging out in this small town, using it as a base for doing daytrips around the area. It’s not quite as lovely as Campeche or Merida, but the hostel is exceptional and very comfortable for my low energy activities of doing nothing.
The main plaza. Just like in Campeche and Merida, this is the central place to people watch, take a stroll, or buy that ice cream from the bicycle vendor. Last night was the day for Children, so the park was all dressed up for kids activities — games, music, an art area, etc. What is truly hard for me to believe is how late people stay out. On a Sunday night, at 11pm, the place was till packed with families and kids. No school today or something??
– CHICHEN ITZA –
Mayan ruins, very well preserved. The highlight is El Castillo, 25 meters high and actually the Mayan calendar formed in stone. Hard to explain, just take my word for it.
El Castillo. The pyramid is closed off, so no climbing atop those steps. During the equinox, the lights and shadows of the sun reflect off the pyramid to create an effect of a creeping serpent. They recreate this show every evening with artificial lights.
Grupo De Las Mil Columnas. These ruinds was pretty cool, as the columns contain carvings of warriors. Another structure nearby “The Platform of Skulls”, is adorned with carved skulls and eagles tearing open the chests of men to eat their hearts. Chichen Itza ruins are amazing because these people were so into serpents and warriors and human sacrifice, and there are hints and traces of this in almost every structure.
– CENOTE DZITNUP –
I rented a mountain bike and biked out to this cenote, which is an underground limestone cave filled with water. When I arrived, it was just me and 6 other people to enjoy the cool, refreshing waters. 45 minutes later, and we had 30 more people join in. I was still haunted from my swimming experience from Semuc Champey, so I didn’t stray too far into the outer reaches of the cave, prefering to dabble close to the rocks where I could actually stand.
– COBA –
All ruins have their own flavor and uniqueness, and this was certainly no different. The site is large. So large in fact, that it necessitates the use of renting a bicycle. Sure, you can walk through the scorching heat with the mosquitoes, 1 km between each of the major sites, or you can rent a bike and pedal yourself. Or you can go a step further, and hire someone to bike you around. I elected to pedal myself.
Nohoch Mul (Big Mound), this pyramid rises 42 meters and is the tallest Mayan structure on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Catching my breath at the top. Below in the left hand corner you can see Templo 10. The ruins of Coba are not fully unearthed like those in Chichen Itza, so you really get the sense of how the jungle can take over the ruins before they are discovered and restored.
On the bike, I could not even imagine trying to walk the great distances between each major group of ruins.
A map of Coba.
– ONWARD –
So now it is Monday late morning, and I think I shall be heading off to Cancun this afternoon. I’ve heard a lot about how ugly it is, so I may just be there a day before heading off to the beaches north and south of there. Or I could stay here for another day and do what I have been doing, which again, has been keeping a low profile and just reading. It is hotter than Orcish hell down here, but at least it’s better than rowing a slave galley (ie see http://www.thraxas.com/ for more info).
One final look at my hostel’s garden with hammocks….maybe I should stay another day…
April 28th, 2006
As I’m still hanging out in the Yucatan of Mexico, here’s a look back at one of my favorite days in Guatemala!….
After my debacle with losing my glasses and enduring 11 hours on the bus to get back to Xela, I wanted to have a little fun so that I could laugh and smile once more. Easy cure: IRTRA’s Xocomil Water Park.
My book says it is about a 45 minute bus ride south of Xela, but I should have known better. On the chicken bus, with multiple stops, a detour along dirty backroads because of road re-construction (due to last fall’s Hurricane Stan), and more stops along the way, it took close to a maddening 2 hours! Me being a thrill park junkie, I always want to be one of the first in the park so that I can avoid the crowds that come later. Alas, I finally arrived, and here are the photos of what I consider one of the top waterparks in the world. Okay, I haven’t been to every water park in the world, or even 5 in the U.S., but I can definitely say that Xocomil does it right with little touches all thoughout the park…lots of trees and green, clean walkways, plenty of water rides to suit all tastes, reasonable food for reasonable prices, and decor that rivals the detail of Disneyland. The best example of this is on the lazy river innertube ride, where you float under the shades of tree canopies as you pass “ancient relics” of Mayan statues and ruins, complete with rain showers, waterfalls, and “scenes” of indigenous living.
Welcome to the Park!
The main entrance.
Guests enjoying the inner tubes as they pass different scenes. I floated on my tube four times around the park, which lasts over 10 minutes to make a complete trip.
Entering “the canyon”
A guy tries to avoid the spray.
The hydrotubes! With or without a raft, they have 2 that are completely encompassed in darkness so you have no idea where the turns and twists will take you.
I rode every ride at least twice, including this one that shoots you straight up, and back down for a smooth landing.
The fantastic wave pool.
Right before leaving the park, I had to get my daily fix of a Sarita ice cream cone, double scoop of vanilla and chocolate (I know, so plain and boring!), it is the one addiction I just can’t shake! Yum yum
April 26th, 2006
So here are finally those pics from the Fat Tuesday Carnival celebration here in Xela, I think back at the end of February. It is a pretty big deal here; Mitzi, Kathy and I checked it out in the early afternoon while it was still tame and peaceful. When we returned, we had no idea what we were in store for…
The carnival features games, food and snack vendors, craftspeople, and rides–most of the rides are people-powered, like this merry-go-round that the ride operators push without any electricity.
Even this little ferris wheel is pushed by hand to make the ride go!!!
The event took place during the week, but the big night was Tuesday. Covering an large area near the cemetery, there is one primary walking path where both sides are filled with vendors and stalls selling handmade crafts, candies, woven goods, dried fish, fried foods and more. Another area contains the games (skill games, games of chance, foosball, videogames), while one end features those hand-cranked rides for the kids, and at the other end are the big rides for adults powered with electricity.
So on that Tuesday night, at 8pm it was Mitzi, Yuh Wen, Jennifer, Markus, Pablito and myself. Joker and Martin found us a bit later and joined in the “fun.” The big thing to do is to throw confetti at and on complete strangers within the Carnival. Simple enough, you can purchase little plastic bags filled with shredded paper. Or you can go a step further, and buy decorated egg shells that are filled with the paper. In this scenario, you take the egg, sneak up behind someone, and SMASH it over their head! We were game.
Yuh Wen contemplates buying more little egg shells to arm herself against the invading teens.
Harmless fun, right? And it started that way. Little kids would try to get us. Pablito stands over 6 foot 5, so he was an ideal target. We stuck together as a group, watching our backs because before we knew it, our whole group was targeted. Easy reason too, we were the gringos.
We made it past the food area, mostly intact. But once we got to the main path of the vendors, things changed. The egg shells of confetti changed. Now, all of a sudden we had little kids and rambunctious teenagers throwing flour at us. And then it was these same kids with dabs of silver paint on their hands, smothering our faces with the color. This we were not aware of and didn’t sign up for, but yet here we were under attack!
Yuh Wen, Jennifer and Pablito have a moment to breathe.
Yuh Wen demonstrates how you are supposed to smash eggshell confetti on people’s heads, while I show off the little egg grenades.
The attacks increase, and Mitzi and Yuh Wen wisen up and flip their sweater hoods over their heads.
Our group was able to walk to the other end where the adult rides were. Pablito and Jenny decided to ride the big ferris wheel, and Yuh Wen and I followed with some hesitation. The ride was freakin’ scary! Oh man, was it ever!!! As you did the revolutions, you can hear this squeeking sound and you can see smoke coming from the mechanical generator or whatever engine is powering the ride. And instead of a nice, relaxing ride, it is more like a thrill ride to see how fast it can go. Was this thing going to break? That’s not duct tape I see? And what is up with the frayed cable wiring that secures our seat? How strong, really, is the little pin that keeps the door closed shut? We begin to slow down. Thank goodness! But wait….we are now moving slowly the opposite direction. We go backwards! And as fast as it can go. I so hope this rickety ride holds up until we can get off of it!!!
Finally, we get off the ride. Back on the ground. Scary, but we made it. We hear screams behind us. And find the swinging boat ride in full swing. We watch as the ride ends, and our eyes follow one girl that looks ghostly sick and is holding her hand to her mouth, obviously about to puke. This was a ride that we had to go on!
Pablito and Jenny buy their ticket. Martin is game too, with his broken foot in a soft cast and all. I buy my ticket. Yuh Wen and Mitzi decide to join the fun too. Martin and I get the upper seat, and a little girl joins us. Once the ride is loaded, we begin our swings. Exhilirating! Because it is sooo scary once again! The ride operator has decided that the swing should go all the way around, even though it is not designed to do that! So away we swing, harder, faster….the little girl next to me is screaming, “Por Favor, por favor”, I look over and her eyes are shut. And her tiny legs are tightly wrapped around mine, as she clings for her life. Once again I think to myself…is this ride going to break? how much higher can this guy take it? The ride lasts for many minutes, surely longer than what you would find at the Portland Rose Festival Fun Center. I’m having a good time, partly out of fear, and partly because of the thrill of it all. Mercifully it ends. And we are all once again safely on the ground.
After the ride, with new victims on the swinging boat…
We decide to walk back through the vendor zone, and we come under attack once again. This time there are less people wandering around, so we can tell who is and who isn’t scheming against us. We make it to the food area, where Jenny and Mitzi get pizza, and I am craving my churros…
Churros are basically a big, fat, long doughy fried donut, sprinkled with sugar and served in a little bag.
If only I had some hot chocolate to dip this in!!
While we are stationary and eating, however, we see a big group of 12-15 teens nearby. They are obviously all waiting for us. With their eggs, their paint, their flour. Suddenly, they run towards us. A big wave of them, surrounding us and pelting us. Half of our group runs the other way, including poor Martin in his soft foot cast. I am on the receiving end as well, but not as bad as some of the others…could it be that maybe, just maybe I look a little Central American with my black hair and dark skin?
More chasing ensues, and things get a little out of hand. Jenny is fighting mad, as she says that some guy stuck his tongue in her ear. Yuh Wen, unfortunately, gets a real egg cracked over her head, and the egg whites and yolk run down her hair and face. Things are now more physical, and these kids are bigger, faster, and more menacing because of the gang mentality…there are just too many of them, all in groups, all lying in wait, all targeting us.
Time to go. We hightail it out of the Carnival area, and assess our damage…
Group shot, we survived!
Pablito takes off his jacket and shakes off the flour as the dust coats the air…
Moral of the story….when in Central America, if you find yourself at Carnival during Fat Tuesday, AND you are with a bunch of gringos….dress appropriately and know that you WILL need to take a shower later on.
April 24th, 2006
Here is the photo trip report from my hike up to the highest point in Central America, Volcan Tajumulco at 4220 meters above sea level. As you may recall, it was a difficult hike, not so much because of the hike itself, but because of my weakened condition of food poisoning from the night before. Plus the breakfast combination of black beans, eggs, tortillas and platanos with cream only created additional havoc on my stomach.
April 20th, 2006
So I’ve been lucky enough to find an Internet Cafe here in Palenque to hold me over until my 10pm “overnight” bus to Campeche. I say “overnight” because I’ll actually arrive around 3am, and since I don’t want to linger around in the streets of the town at that early morning, I’ll probably just hang out at the bus station and try to stay awake until the morning light comes and I can safely walk the 20 blocks to the hostel.
I’m glad to be heading out of Palenque…the place I stayed at last night, El Campan, is about 4 miles outside of town and is kind of a hippie place with palapas and cabanas in the woods. My little hut had wire screen windows, and creepie crawlies everywhere, because my hut had the windows with a few tears here and there. And where was my toilet paper (TP isn’t in the bathrooms, you either have to buy your own or they’ll leave you a roll in your “room”)…I was able to steal some at a restaurant across the road, I’m not ashame to admit that because they own the restaurant too. So on with the pics, short attention span theater style!
My cabana is the one on the right. It was soo hot during the entire night, and when I woke up in the morning my bed sheet was covered with insects and debris that fell from the trees above.
Another view. El Campan has about 6 properties all adjacent to one another, and each has about 10 cabanas to rent out. It’s like camping out at the Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, OR.
Looking into my cabana. I fell asleep to the serenade of all the jungle sounds, including howling monkeys, thousands of insects, some chirping bird that apparently lives amongst the leaves of my cabana, and the breeze when it decided to give me a little breath of coool.
Today I signed up for a tour to take in 3 of the area’s attractions….the Palenque archeological ruins, Misol-Ha waterfall, and Aqua Azul river.
This photo was taken from the top of Templo de la Cruz, looking towards Templo de las Inscripciones, and to the right is El Palacio.
Templo de la Cruz.
Looking down from Templo de la Cruz to Templo del Sol.
Templo del Conde.
After 4 hours at the site, it was time to move on to Misol-Ha waterfall, where time did not permit a swim, but did give me time to go behind the falls and up to the cave.
From the front….
And from behind the falls.
From the cave, and you can see all the peeps trying to make their way to where I stand.
Now, on towards Agua Azul…but first let’s see if I make it there in one piece. So I’m in the front seat, there are 8 other passengers taking up the seats behind me. It is about an hour drive along narrow, winding roads with a pretty steep drop on the right hand side. And my driver is sleepy! All the signs are there, I know because I have done the exact same thing…
– turning up the music and trying to sing along to it.
– rolling down the window, even though the AC is on, and letting in all that HOT air!
– she had a small handtowel that she kept bringing to her mouth and wiping her face…not because of sweat, but because it was her way of trying to stay awake.
– she kept fidgeting around, shuffling in her seat, dropping things on the floor and then trying to search with her free hand….all methods to stay awake.
– and then the obligatory slap slap slap of her hand to her cheeks, and then hitting her let with her fist…stay awake, stay awake, I watch her heavy eyes and her concentration wane. But in the end, one hour was just enough, we arrived safely and she could have a 3 hour nap.
Agua Azul is probably the most beautiful swimming spot I’ve ever encountered, even besting Semuc Champey from 3 weeks ago. The wide river creates great shallow pools for swimming and snorkeling, with little rope swings sprinkled about and so many families, young and old alike, playing in the water. Along the bank is a walking path filled with comedor restaurants and vendors selling fruits, empanadas, souvenirs, refrescos and more. The cool thing about the river is that it is not just confined to one area for swimming. I walked upstream a good 30 minutes and all along were little prime spots for swimming or relaxing in the water or resting under a small waterfall. Agua Azul is one that you’ll have to put on your “must visit” list for Mexico! Assorted pics below…
I’ll wrap up this post with a few more points of “Sounded Like a Good Idea, But”
– Having a roasted corn on the cob in San Cristobal. But the one I got must have been the one that was roasting for a full week, those kernels were so hard and I could only eat half of the cob before I had to give up.
– Being all tropical and buying a fresh whole coconut at Agua Azul, where the vendor cuts a little hole, slips a straw into it and you can just sip sip sip and enjoy some coconut juice. But after only a few sips, it just didn’t taste good and it gave me some stomach pains later on.
– Saving my Propel water for an opportune time. Propel is like Gatorade in a cool little plastic bottle, this whole time it has been untouched until last night when I was out of water and I broke the plastic seal and took a few sips. Good stuff! But this morning I packed it wrong, and before I knew it, all the liquid spilled out and all over my pack inside the van. Bye bye Propel, I should have drank it a long long time ago instead of see it waste away this morning.
– Horseback riding while I’m trying to recover from being sick. Yeah, I already went over this in my previous post, but I can still feel my body crashing up and down in the saddle and not enjoying myself one bit. I think my horse had it out for me.
That’s all for now, off to the bus station and I hope I don’t get harrassed! I could always use my fake Asian accent/language, that always seems to throw them off. Have a nice Friday and weekend everyone!
April 18th, 2006
I have one hour of internet time, so I’m going to see just how much I can churn out in that amount of time. It is Tuesday night and I have an early wake up tomorrow morning to catch my bus to….Las Vegas, Nevada! Yeah, I totally agree with Jonas and Rene, so it’s on to Sin City, bay-bee! Well, maybe I’ll need to hold off on that for just another 2 months or so.
But I’m heading off to Palenque, about 5 hours away, and site of some Mayan ruins and a “legendary” traveler’s hangout town called El Panchan. Hopefully I’ll be able to recover there from my sore throat, my cough, and now this—runny nose and sneezing sneezing sneezing. Is it already allergy season? Not only that, I have a headache and I’ve been pretty tired of late. So I am hopeful that a change of scenery and pace is all that my body will need to re-energize for the road ahead!
As I mentioned in my previous post, San Cristobal rocks! So much to see and do, and so much to not see and not do…a great place to just hang out, people watch, and forget about the time on your clock. Which is why I ended up staying a week here. On now to a photo review of my time in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.
Thursday I spent the late morning speeding down Sumidero Canyon in a high speed boat, and then ate lunch at a cool little town next to the river.
I ended up eating at a street stall and had my first Mexican style hamburger with its super thin patty on a huge bun, cut into portions like a pizza.
Back in town in the main cathedral square, I got a kick out of these Japanese travelers trying to make some extra dough for their journeys by selling their Japanese writing skills to the hoards of Mexican families vacationing in San Cristobal. If I had a sign that advertised “I will write your name in English for $50″, I seriously doubt that I would have any takers.
Holy Thursday saw the night of the Last Supper, and then the beginning of his passion. In this scene enacted close to midnight, the Roman soldiers take watch of the prisoners over their campfire.
Some of the streets were closed down so that they could be decorated with elaborate religious displays. The ground is covered with a colored cedar dust, and later that evening the Silent March will walk through all this handiwork.
Good Friday. Jesus is sentenced and led out of his cage while the soldiers look on.
Jesus carrying the cross through the streets.
The guy portraying Jesus really went all out, stumbling and falling and taking vicious whips to the back from the guards. This procession lasted almost 3 hours as he made his way around the city, and finally back to the church where it began.
Here he is hoisted up to the cross.
They were up there for about 15 minutes as the actors and voice-over speaker finished off the scene.
Finally, he is let down and into the arms of the grieving.
Later that night, I waited almost 3 hours to watch the Silent March walk all over those cedar dust scenes. Luckily I sat close to 2 Canadians that kept me entertained as I recovered from eating too much at a buffet. Yeah, big surprise there, huh?
The Silent March. Here’s Jesus being carried on his cross.
Saturday I took a day tour to two villages outside San Cristobal. This church is in Chamula, where it is forbidden to take pictures inside the church or of any of the townspeople because they believe taking a photo takes away their spirit and soul. Our tour guide also explained the whole exorcism thing with the egg that Mitzi wrote about.
We also visited Zincantal (I’m going on memory regarding the spelling, so I could be wrong) and to a weaving co-op where we sampled their 36% alcohol “Punche” and watched the weaving process.
Sunday I walked around town and of course celebrated Easter with my bullfight. There was a used bookfair in the cathedral square and was hoping that I could score a cheap, used book to read. Aside from Danielle Steele novels, there wasn’t much else in the way of English language books. I did find this gem, but for $15 US I thought his asking price was a bit too high.
I did go horseback riding, which seemed like a good idea at the time. I was sick and figured that riding a horse would be easy. WRONG! 10 minutes into the 4 hour ride, I wanted off. I forgot just how beat up you get “riding” a horse. I am still sore and stiff and suffering from the after effects of my body being bounced up and down, up and down, up and down. My ass hurts as do all the rest of my muscles in my body.
Church on the hill with a nice view over the city.
A shot of the Spring Fair midway as the sun sets. I was too sore to try any of the amusement rides.
A half-ripped poster for the wrestling event!
Live, at the match! Where lightening strikes twice and where I’ll need to continue this story next time….
The main cathedral and the center of all the action. Surrounding my pedestrian-only shopping arcades, the government building, Parque Central and more, this is the place to just relax and enjoy everything happening around you. The place hops well past midnight as nightclubs and late-night cafes cater to the night owls.
Alas, my hour is up! Didn’t get a chance to tell my story of what happened to me at the wrestling event, so hopefully I’ll have time in my next update. I’m not proofreading this post so that’s that, adios to San Cristobal!
April 17th, 2006
Thanks for all your public and private email comments on where I should end up going next. I should be well on my way to my next destination at this time, but I have decided to stay another day longer here in San Cristobal, Mexico. There can only be one thing that would change my plans to stay longer. No, it isn’t because I’m sick. (And yes, I am sick–not food poisoning sick, but the sore throat/hacking cough sick where it hurts to swallow and thus I can’t sleep at night). And no, it’s not because of some Latina girl I met. Nor is it that I’ve discovered some hardcore hiking tour through the outer reaches of the jungle. Nope, it’s none of those. The only reason why I am staying another day is because of the BEST reason to stay…AAA Lucha Libre! What is that you ask?? Basically, it is Mexican style wrestling! It is THE best wrestling out there because of the masks, gravity defying aerial moves and the good guys versus the bad guys. I definitely have to check this out!
Coming to San Cristobal last week was a major hassle, especially at the border where I got ripped off on my money exchange and then had to scramble on figuring out the transportation. It was an all day ordeal, and took about 12 hours total. But it was all very much worth it. San Cristobal is a favorite destination in Mexico for a lot of people, and it is easy to see why.
The celebrations for Holy Week (Semana Santa) also coincide with San Cristobal’s Feria Festival, aka Spring Festival. It is a huge celebration with parades, music, special events, expositions and more. They even have their own “Queen of Rosaria” like Portland’s Rose Festival, complete with midway and amusement rides. There are people everywhere and the main plaza and parque central and always packed with people, walking vendors, food booths and so much more. And with events happening everyday for the next week, what better way to celebrate Easter yesterday than with the traditional sport of bull fighting?
This was my first bullfight, I know of it and have seen some clips via Bugs Bunny cartoons and other shows. So here’s the very quick rundown in layman’s terms, since I don’t know all the fancy tradition that goes with it or the terms and jargon that make up the sport.
So basically you have an outdoor circular arena, that in my estimate, holds about 5000-6000 people. Last night’s card had a series of 6 or 7 bullfights, and it begins with all the matadors coming out to greet the crowd.
After they leave, they release the first bull into the ring, where it charges around and a team of secondary matadors (I don’t know what you call them, so I’ll call them the JV team) warms up the bull with their pink and yellow colored capes. They each take an individual turn, as shown below. This goes on for about 5 minutes or so.
When the matador has the bull do a successful pass under the cape, the crowd shouts “OLE!” And if you happen to start chanting “Toro! Toro! Toro!” you will be quickly hushed (no, I didn’t do this, but there was a rowdy group just a section below me that tried that and the crowd turned on them pretty quickly).
After warms up, the horse-mounted spearman comes out to soften up the bull. Not a pretty site…he comes up to the bull and basically plunges a long spear into the bull’s spine. The bull won’t like this of course, so he’ll charge the horse. I’m pretty sure that the horse has some protective plating underneath the costume, but just in case, there is always a secondary back-up horseman waiting on the opposite side. In this picture below, the horseman struggles from keeping the bull from toppling him and the horse over.
Now that the bull has been softened up, the main matador comes in with his series of colored handspears. He has one in each hand, taunts the bull, then charges the bull and at the last minute, strikes both into the bull’s back. This happens for a total of 3 times, and the goal is to have all 6 handspears dangling from the back of the bull. Is there blood? Yep, it’s not a pretty site. Here are some pics of what I have just described.
This matador begins his charge with his first set.
This pic is of a different match and different matador successfully spearing the bull.
After all 6 spears are in place (usually not though, some fall out), the matador takes his red cape and sword and makes the bull do the “Ole” thing for about 7-10 minutes. The live music band is playing and the crowd cheers and shouts “Ole.”
Finally, the matador signals for the band to stop playing the music. The crowd goes silent and they shush anyone who is still making noise. The matador changes his sword, and with the bull badly beaten, tired and bloodied, the matador makes his strike. Ideally with one deep blow into the back, where the bull will stagger and fall. To end the misery, the “death matador” comes out with his short dagger, and quickly plunges in into the mammal’s skull, where you see it quickly lose all movement and it falls to the earth lifeless. No graphic pictures to show for this moment, I think you get the picture.
Coming into the bullfight, I wasn’t quite sure of the whole killing thing. It was pretty shocking to witness this the first few times, and of course you feel sorry for the bull. At the same token, bullfighting has a very long and rich tradition in Mexico and Spain and I really can’t denounce this “sport” or join PETA in a protest. However, I will say that this is probably the last bullfight I’ll attend, because when it comes down to it, I was bored after a little while. But that’s just me.
So tonight I’m heading back to the El Toro arena for my wrestling, and then tomorrow it will probably be on to the Palenque Mayan ruins or maybe I’ll change my mind last minute and go to Oaxaca. I just hope by tomorrow I’ll be over this nasty cough and sore throat, and that my headache will go away. Check back on Wednesday where I hope to have pics posted of the San Critobal Holy Week Crucifixion march re-enactment, an annual event that the whole city turns out for.
April 14th, 2006
Futbol is entirely a BIG THING down here, as Xela has their own team competing in a 10 team field comprised of cities around Guatemala. Xelaju is celebrating their 74th anniversary, and on my first Saturday here, we headed over to the stadium to watch the team give its fans what they are looking for: a Win.
This is something you just have to experience on your own, things are much much different here than any common outdoor spectator sports played in the United States. The following pics were taken over the course of two games that I attended. Here are the major BIG things to know about watching the game live in person…
- It is recommended that you get there early, especially if you want to premium seats. No, they are not more expensive. Every ticket sold at the gate is generally admission. And the stadium does not have individual “seats”, your seat is basically a cement bleacher bench that wraps around 75% of the stadium. And don’t think stadium high rise seating either…the top seat is probably only 15 feet high at the maximum.It is one hour before kick off in this pic…
- People are FANATICS when it comes to the team…wear the team colors (RED) and sit amongst other crazy fans. If you sit in this section, you must be LOUD and jeer the opposing side. People go all out…they bring instruments (horns, drums, etc… try bringing those noise makers into a Blazer game) and firecrackers. Yep, firecrackers. They light them and throw them in front of the seating section onto the field. Sometimes the firecrackers don’t clear the wire fence, and thus you’ll have firecrackers setting off right next to the crowd of people! I’m not that hardcore, so when I went I sat just to the right of the main Frenzy Fan Mob.Best bring your flags, colors, bandanas, jerseys, posters and whatever else represents the home team! This is the Rowdy Section!
People line the upper walls of the stadium for a better view at the action on the field. They are responsible for throwing down the confetti on everyone else down below, definitely a team effort!
Dusk falls and the team takes the field….
- Want more?? Then how bout colored smoke and flares and fireworks (in addition to lowly firecrackers) and confetti…the crowd is most alive when the team takes the field, once the ball is in play, and of course when they SCOOOOOOOORRRREEEEE!When we score our goals, LOOK OUT!
Oh yeah, of course there is loud music blaring from the speakers as well! Here you see the confetti and the lights display after a goal.
- The great part about watching the sport down here is what you don’t get in the U.S. For example, little boys carrying around their shoe shine kits and hitting you up for a shoe shine while you sit and watch. Food vendors are not part of some corporation or stadium concessions–they are little kids, old women and middle aged men hawking everything from sodas, water, candy, gum, and food made at home. Like soups. And tortillas stuffed with veggies or meat. Seriously. It was something else to watch an 80 year old lady carrying a big covered pot and pouring her drink into styrofoam cups for people to buy. People also sold souvenir merchandise to show your support for the team. Here I am showing off the flag that Martin bought…
- At halftime, it is time to use the bathrooms. Don’t try this in Portland…if you need to piss, all you have to do is walk up to the wire fence or wall surrounding the field, unzip and take care of your business. Which is right in front of where people sit. It was a shock for me to see 5 or 6 guys pissing on the wall just 3 rows in front of me. I didn’t see any women do it…then again, there weren’t too many women in the crowd.Action on the field, you watch through a wire fence that has barb wire strung along the top. It’s not that much of a security measure, as after the game a crazy Gringo scaled the fence, took a flag and pranced and paraded along the sideline to the amusement of the locals (the guy was pretty plastered and it was kind of embarrassing to watch him).
- Women, single or married, will need to check their feminine fights at the door. Whenever a woman gets up to go to the bathroom, get something to eat, or just walk though the row or aisle, catcall whistles and the like with momentarily distract the men from watching the game. And when 5 of the women in our group got up to use the restroom together, it was a chorus of catcalls and unwanted attention.
- At the end of the game, when we win of course, it is time for more noise, music, fireworks and firecrackers, smoke and if the police want in on it too, then tear gas (see previous post).Mitzi looks up to check out the sky display after the win.
April 12th, 2006
First things first, Happy 26th Birthday to my little brother! And if any of you are interested in buying life insurance or refinancing your mortgage, he can give you the whole run down. Also a shout out to Marcus “Buffwell” Berger, who celebrated his big Three-O yesterday, no doubt with some serious karaoke sessions at the Alibi and his smuggled booze in a plain paper bag (you are soo slick Marcus, you da man!).
Onward with today’s post… I kinda of cheated, since this is an email I received from Mitzi a week ago. After San Cristobal, I was going to hang out with her in Oaxaca, but since she won’t be there, I’m considering changing my plans and of course need your help to do so. Click here to leave your comments: http://blogs.bootsnall.com/Aurclyels/?p=211#comments
And here is her story….
“Hello out there, I am here in Oaxaca now. Mexico is so close to Guatemala, but a world away in many respects. And HOT!!! SO I guess John filled you all in on the exciting birthday that I had.
We went to the futbol game in Xela, which was as roudy as usual, but just to make it a little more exciting, the policia thought, gee, this is out of control (at this point the stadium is empty, granted) we better shoot some tear gas. So we witnessed the first shot into the crowd. Since it was so exciting we figured we would watch some more. Pretty much everyone in the crowd though it was unnessesary, guates and gringos alike. So we all stood around and watched. The crowd we were standing with decided to yell ignorant pigs at the police. OK thats fine, what can they do, we aren’t really causing any problems. Shots to the ego dig deep!! We will just shoot tear gas in their direction!! Well it made for an exciting night. We escaped to gas and we were out the street. We are chatting about what we should do next and the I hear John yell RUN, TEAR GAS!! I look over and the smoke bomb is literally 5ft. from us. Then, John, like Geogre Castanza (Sienfeld reference) pushes his way through the crowd, not caring that he pushed his wife and the other girls out of the way to get to safety!! Thats my husband!! Well it made for an exciting last night in Xela.
We went to San Cristabal de las Casas the next day. ANd unfortunately saw nothing but our hotel room. I guess we can always go back. We were both really sick. We stayed in our hotel for something like 36hrs and then got on an overnight bus ride to Oaxaca. I have to say one of the worst nights of my life (I put it up there with the food poisening night). To say the least, John and I won’t be traveling by that kind of bus any time soon, especially overnight. I have a new love and respect for the chicken buses of Guate. You may be fearing for your life, but it is all relative and the buses are way below standard so they have to go slower (relatively speaking) and the desire to throw up is way different.
So I am now in Oaxaca. Alive but not well. I have been sick since we left Xela. Which I can’t say is fun, but it makes for some good experiences. So I’m at my friend Judith’s house in Oaxaca. She works all day, so I am being entertained by her parents. I am understanding just about none of their spanish, but I am perfecting to command form of spanish, eat, sit, eat, come, eat, sleep, eat, rest, eat, drink, eat!!
Apparently it is very important that I eat. These people blow italians out of the water with their eating encouragement. So, I am hanging out with the family and they are really worried because I am so sick. So the mom takes Vick’s Vaporub and starts spreading it all over my neck, my ears, around my temples, my arms. Since I am such a slut for massages I am in absolute heaven. So now that I basically am drenched in vasaline they tell me that I can not shower for two days. I am thinking, huh, I am not understanding what they are saying. Why can I not shower for two days?? When you are sick, I guess you lather youself up in Vicks and don’t shower for a couple of days, it is a home remedy. OK, fine I will be greasy.
Then the mom comes into my room and is talking about my illness. (it is time to mention that in Oaxaca they call everything little, little this, little that—they do this by adding -ito at the end of a word) So, in reguards to my sickness the mom starts talking about the heuvito (a little egg), and she leaves the room. She comes back with half a glass of water and an egg. OK. So she cleans the the egg with alcohol and then performs on me, my own personal catholic-indiginous ritual. The whole time I am thinking, I hope she does want me to eat a raw egg. After my body has been cleansed, she cracks the egg into the glass of water and starts examining it. She could tell by the appearence of the egg that for sure I was sick. No Sh#%!!!
Well I guess we are going to do it again tomorrow to really clean me out. Hopefully they will let me shower soon. It doesn’t matter how much spanish you know, sometimes you really just don’t have a clue what it is going on!! Hope everyone is well and enjoying life. Take care,, love you,, Mitzi”
Her email reply to me is as follows:
“Hey Edwin,, good to hear from you. Sounds like you are having quite the adventure. I can’t say that I am having as much fun. I actually bought a ticket to go home. I am flying out on the 17th of april. I have been really sick for over about two weeks now and I can’t get better, so I have diecied that I need to recuperate at home. We will just miss each other, sorry. JUst so you know Oaxaca is F***ing hot. So I wish you the best of fun and travel luck. I will make a point that we see eachother on the flip side. Of course you have my permission to put my email on your blog. Have tons of fun hiking, I can’t wait to see your pictures form all of your adventures. Still getting good food shots?? It could never be as good as Xela!! Take Care,,,love,,,MItzi”
So there you have it. I’m not really into the extreme temperatures of HOT HOT HOT, and since my bud won’t be there to show me around, I may forgo Oaxaca altogether for another time. Or maybe I won’t….please help me decide!
April 11th, 2006
Da Boots made it! The hike from Nebaj to Todos Santos was nothing short of spectacular, with 2 fantastic guides and 7 other fun and vivacious hikers, our group was dynamic and I had a wonderful time. I should have a trip review posted in the next few weeks, of course with my trip reviews from Mirador, Lago Atitlan and more. Since I don’t know what my Internet situation will be for the next segments of my travels, I have pre-blogged posts that will appear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, just in case I do not have time or access to update this website. And since tomorrow will mostly be a travel day, the automatic posts will begin tomorrow and continue on that Friday/Monday/Wednesday schedule.
Alas, today is my day of recovery (ie get a massage and eat like a pig) to pack my bags, do laundry, catch up on the Internet and then tomorrow it is off to San Cristobal, Mexico. I’ll be there for Samanta Santa (Holy Week), and then leaving next Monday the 17th to…..????
I’m in a quandary…where do I go from San Cristobal? Originally, my plan was to head over to Oaxaca and hang out with Mitzi for a week and check out the beaches and have her play my tourist guide, since I have no guidebook. But unfortunately Mitzy will be heading back home to Colorado a few days from now, about 2 months earlier than she planned….you can read the pretty entertaining story tomorrow. So with no tourist guide and no coverage in my Lonely Planet Guide, I could just wing it on the lark or I can head over somewhere else.
Perhaps go northeast to crowded Mexico City? Over the last few days, after talking with some people from my hike, I’ve been intrigued with a visit to the world’s 3rd largest metropolis (only Tokyo and New York City are bigger), but that is quite far and away from San Cristobal. Or I could just head north to Merida, then east towards Cancun and to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Or I could head back down south along the Guatemalan coast and into El Salvador, entonces maybe beyond to Nicaragua. Or another option is to retrace my steps back through Guatemala and head towards Honduras and the ruins near Copan and to the Bay Islands.
There is so much I want to see and do, all of a sudden it seems like I do not have enough time. And this is good. I know for sure that I will have to come back to Central America and Mexico and do more exploring. But while I’m down here now, where should I go? Help me decide! I am actively soliciting your suggestions, comments, ideas, etc. on which way to go…but one place you should know that I’m not going to is back to Portland. That is for later in June. I’m talking about now, while I have the opportunity down here. So, where should Edwin go to after San Cristobal? For a visual on Mexico, click on this link for a map: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/mapshells/north_america/mexico/mexico.htm
You can email me privately, or submit a public comment to this post. I won’t make my decision until Sunday, so you have plenty of time to cast your fill-in vote. One thing I do know is that Mexico is quite a bit more expensive, travel wise, than Guatemala so I’ll have to tighten and rein in my money ouflows. Same goes with Belize. So please leave your comments below (just click on the blue hyperlink “No Comments”…or once there are comments, “Comments”), read what other people have to say, do some research for me and let me know where my journey will take me after San Cristobal! And check back tomorrow for Mitzi’s story!
April 10th, 2006
You know the story, I lose my glasses, and I’m stuck wearing my swim goggles. The same swim goggles with the 5 year old prescription, the goggles that fog up every 2 minutes, the goggles the hurt my head and the goggles that whacks everything out of perspective. Like I said, there is a reason why swim goggles are made to be worn IN the water, not out of it.
After the morning of waiting around to see if the guide can recover my glasses in the waterfall pool within the cave, I walk back to the hostel empty handed. My lunch is a ham sandwich (with mayo and lettuce and onions and Ketchup–why must they put ketchup on everything down here?) and a small plate of nacho chips with black beans. I have the afternoon to kill, so I decide to walk up to Semuc Champey and enjoy the natural beauty as best I can.
It is maybe a 20 minute walk up the road until it ends at the entrance gate. Semuc Champey is a series of natural pools created as the river flows underground. Many say this is the most beautiful place in Guatemala. And with beauty, there always comes danger.
I pay my entrance fee, and the guards are amused at my appearance. I try to explain how I lost my glasses; next thing I know, one of the guards is handing me a pair of glasses that someone else lost a while ago. I try them out, hoping the prescription will be similar. Nice try, but no. I thank him for the effort, and continue on my way.
I walk down to the river, and then to the pools…
Self timer on my camera, the goggles are that noticeable, are they?
Just above the small waterfalls, are the series of pools that make up the Semuc Champey.
Here’s how the natural pools look just above the waterfalls.
A closer look at one of the many swimming pools.
Further along the path, a wide expanse of water surrounded by the trees and framed by the mountains.
I take the 25 minute hike up the steep steep path to the Mirador, the lookout for the pools below. It is a hard hike for me, as I continually have to stop to wipe off the steam within my goggles, and I have to step carefully because my depth perception is still a little out of whack. The view though, is entirely worth it. Here you go!
From high above….
Another bird’s eye view…
Zooming in….if you look really close, you might be able to make out the 3 swimmers in the upper pool.
I make the slow hike back down to the pools, where Amy, Stephanie and Renee have arrived a short while earlier. I have come all this way, I have my swim goggles, of course I must take a dip to enjoy the waters!
This is the pool that we entered and swam in. Or at least I tried to swim in…
They entered the pool first, and I followed. Slippery and slimey bottom, I have my sandals on and wade slowly into the water. It is a little cold, and I know I will need to just get right in. I secure my goggles with a tight suction seal around my eyes, and make the lunge forward, into the water with a nice SPLASH! Yes, the water is cool, and yes, it is refreshing. The girls go up ahead close to a series of waterfalls. I attempt to follow. But it is still awkward for me “swimming” with these sandals. At least I have both hands free though, as opposed to only have one because I’m holding a candle above my head.
I notice that Stephanie can stand. I want to stand. I get tired quite easily when swimming. I’ve heard the adage that good runners do not make good swimmers, and good swimmers do not make good runners. Where do all these competitors for triathalons figure into this, I wonder? All I know is that I am a decent runner, and can be a decent swimmer as long as I know where my escape route is when I get too tired — in other words, as long as I know where the edges of the pool are, I am fine. And being close to shore, or having an area of shallow water where I can actually stand to catch my breath, are my ideals.
And so I try to swim over to Stephanie. I’m still fresh. No problems. I make it to the ledge, and can stand. The water is maybe up to my chest. The rock I am standing on is slippery though, and not smooth and flat. It has ridges, and I need to balance myself, which is a little hard because there is some water flow and I sway as I try to readjust my goggles and do the spit-method of trying to clear out the fog or steam in my goggles.
And then I feel the first nibble. On a scratch on my knee. It is a little stinging sensation, a bite. A bite from one little fish. Make that more than one little fish. The biting opens up my scratch, and I know that I now have a little blood that will attract more fish. They are not pirannahs, though for this story I suppose I could call them that. So let’s just call them that — PIRANNAHS! Blood sucking, killer pirannahs. Like in those classic B Horror movies hosted by Elvira, Vampress of the Night.
So here I was, trying to fix my goggles, trying to get my breathing back to normal, and now having to contend with little critters biting at me. Well, I can’t just stand here in place as a free meal for them. I need to get back in the water and swim. But where to? Oh yeah, towards the waterfall area. So I get back in the water, swim/wade around a bit, and try to have steady and controlled breathing. I get to the waterfall area, but the 3 are already starting to move to a different waterfall area, one where they want to try and climb. So I follow. Cause that’s what I do, I follow. I follow to where the people are, so that if I get in trouble, I know that I can call out for help and hopefully someone will bail me out. Yeah, I follow.
But it is a struggle. I’m tired. I see them ahead of me, and a minute or two later I see Stephanie is standing again. Another rock ledge! That’s where I need to be! It is in the middle of the pool, and I’m not too far away from it. I can make it. And so I swim towards that ledge. With my prescription goggles on, I can see underwater. So I know where I need to go. I see those stupid little fish. As long as I’m moving, they will leave me alone. Stroke, kick, up for a breath, stroke, kick, up for a breath. I am closer to the girls, and I can make out the bottom for me to step on. But vision in the water is distorted, and I realize that I am still a bit off. So I readjust my direction, and still peering into the water, try to locate that place where Stephanie just was. And I find it. Good thing too, because I am huffing for air. Just like the other spot, I am balancing myself on a little jagged edge, and I cannot completely stand with two feet. But at least I can stop swimming and breathe normally and adjust my dumb goggles again.
Here come those dang fish. Another nibble. Bite. They open up a second scratch on the same leg (I got those scratches the day before by doing that river cave tour…all participants got nicked and nacked in one form or another). I really don’t like fish biting at my skin, it is very annoying and I am now getting mad. I decide that I don’t want to be in the water anymore, I’ve had enough of my fair share of this paradise. I look over to the girls, who are swimming further away to the other part of the pool, to those other cascading falls. No more following. I want to get back on the shore, back on the ground away from these hungry critters and where I can breathe breathe breathe to my heart’s content without having the fear of swallowing water.
A final adjustment of my goggles, and I’m back in the water swimming towards shore. I really should have stayed at my little piece of underwater rock for just a minute longer, as I am breathing pretty hard, but those fish wouldn’t leave me alone. I just have to make it to the other underwater rock, catch my breath, and then make the final segment back to shore.
Yeah, I suck at swimming. It is so much easier for me in a pool, but get me out into the ocean or a lake or a pond or someplace like this, and I won’t be in the water for long. Having my swim goggles helped, because I could actually see in the water and it is a kind of safety net for me, knowing exactly where I need to go. However, at the same token, they are a false sense of security, and was a primary factor to my near demise.
Just swim to the next ledge. Catch my breath. It really wasn’t that far. But like I said, I was already tired and I wasn’t used to swimming with my sandals on. I am tired, but continuing with my strokes and kicks and turn my head up for air. I see that I am closer to my halfway point. I could see this “land” underwater just ahead of me. All I need to do is get there, step up and I’ll be fine. With my last withering reserve of energy, I aim for this spot, and when I think I am close enough to take a step, I stop and try to step up on this ledge that I can SEE. Yes, I can see it.
But aha you fool, things in the water are DISTORTED. ”Objects may appear closer than they really are.” Well, in this case, it was the opposite. Where I thought I had a step close to my feet, was actually far below the water than I originally thought. But it is too late. Because I have already tried to make that step, and when I think I am about to make contact, I go up for air. NO CONTACT, no step up, and thus it screws up my timing! So instead of coming up for air, I get a nice gulp gulp of water! Not fun, not fun at all.
So at this point my eyes are freaking huge as I realize that I have misjudged my safety zone, and I need to get there ASAP because I am going into a panic. My body takes over needing that air, and I try desperately to coordinate my breathing with my swim strokes and keep a cool head. I flail and kick and hope that I can make it. At this point, it is fruitless for me to try and locate that visible but elusive underwater rock ledge or whatever you call it, I just need to gun it to the shoreline.
I see the shore and the bank and know in my mind that I can make it, that I will make it. I feel the lactic acid within my muscles, water is beginning to seep into my goggles, I am tired and the breathing is laborous and disjointed and all I want is to feel land under my feet. Is that too much to ask for???
I continue to kick and flail, I don’t want to drown, I’m not going to drown, I’m going to make it to the shoreline. But man oh man I want to breathe in a regular fashion, no more of this swallowing some water and expending energy where I feel the weight of my arms and legs and the tease of land under me through my swim goggles.
And then suddenly I feel it. LAND! I am freakin ecstatic, as soon as I touch it I try to stand up immediately and in my weakened and disoriented state of mind, I slip and come crashing onto my ass on the smooth surface. Yes, the fish are still nearby as I can see them scatter when I fall, catching myself with my hands on the slime. I try to get up as quickly as I can, and then stumble again, but do not fall. I take a giant step towards the shore, trying to get better footing, ripping the goggles off my face and in my exhaustion I finally manage to traverse through the land in the water and up, up, up onto the bank, the shoreline, the earth, LAND LAND LAND. Ground under my feet! I basically collapse near some rocks next to our clothes, trembling because I am so tired and without energy, but happy, overjoyed and thankful to be safe again, with the ability to BREATHE deeply and feel my stomach rise and my lungs fill with good old oxygen, free and clear from that water in the pool. I am spent. No more going in the water for me.
In the distance, I can see the girls climb up the face of the waterfall, stand on top, and then jump back into the pool below. I take a picture of them with Stephanie’s camera. And then take a picture of myself and the area where I almost succumbed to panic and fear, but this is a story with a good ending, and thus I leave you with these final pics…
Those ledges in the water appear so dang close to the surface, don’t they?
A re-enactment coming out of the water. You know that smile is real!
April 8th, 2006
> I have to take one last visit to the kitchen of my
> first homestay. Here are a series of pics of little
> Tonito helping himself to creating sandwich from the
> many food items from the counter. There was always
> something left overnight on the counter for Tonito
> or anything else that wanted to take a gander.
> Tonito finds some hamburger buns and begins to
> make his sandwich.
> Starts out with a little ranchero sauce.
> Make that alot of ranchero sauce.
> And even more.
> Also finds some rice.
> Ready to indulge!
> Here’s the old Canadian maple syrup from a
> previous blog entry. After seeing what was inside
> the powdered pancake mixture, I passed any hope of
> having a filling breakfast.
> A normal day in the kitchen. What’s interesting
> is that my first host mom had someone come in and
> clean the home every week. So as the week went on,
> the place would slowly get into a condition like
> A bit out of focus, but that is a cochroach
> scrambling away from my camera’s flash.
> Dishes and more dishes.
> I am happy to report that I had the chance to
> check out the kitchen at my second family home stay,
> and it never approached the look of my first
April 7th, 2006
A birthday shout out to my Dad, no doubt celebrating this weekend with a trip to Spirit Mountain–hope you win the jackpot and fly first class to the Philippines this December! On with the show….
A must see attraction near Xela are the natural
> hotsprings of Fuentes Georginas, located about 25
> kms south of the city near Zunil (see previous post
> about Zunil). Almost a mile and a half high, the
> place has three large pools fed by hot sulphur
> springs, varying in temperature from hot to
> lukewarm. While it may be hot in Xela, the altitude
> and verdent setting in the clouds makes Fuentes cool
> and perfect for a prolonged soak in one of the 3
> pools. And after 1pm most days, the fog rolls in
> and stays, creating a peaceful and relaxing
> It requires a chicken bus ride and then a 8km
> pickup ride up a windy and dusty road. Most people
> hire a private shuttle to take them there and back
> to Xela, which is what we ended up doing. Others
> take the chickenbus to Zunil, and then make the 2
> hour hike up to Fuentes.
> Walking along the path through the grounds.
> Admission is only $3 for the entire day.
> You can stay in those little huts with the red
> roof tile. Each cabin has a fireplace, wood, and
> three beds. The best part is that after 5pm, the
> grounds close to the public and are open only for
> those staying the night, so you can really have the
> place all to yourself!
> Another shot of the huts and the foliage.
> The last few huts towards the end of the path.
> A lush, natural environment.
> One of the 3 pools. This one is the coolest and
> smallest of the 3.
> The main hot water pool.
> Another view.
> From the small, open air restaurant. Kjerste from
> Norway is the foreground.
> Enjoying the soak. It’s not that deep, and many
> people come with a book and soak and sunbathe and
> soak some more.
> We had the place to ourselves for about 40 minutes
> before a large group of students from a rival school
> arrived. Quite the foggy place!
> Mitzi and Megan.
> Enjoying a piece of melon that Mitzi’s host mom
> packed for her.
> Our last smiles before we climb aboard our mini
> bus shuttle and the nuaseating trip back down the
> windy hill 45 minutes back to Xela.
> Remember, when in Xela, you MUST go to Fuentes
April 6th, 2006
One Saturday morning way back weeks ago, Markus, Kathy, Mitzi and I to
> a hike up Cero El Baul vista point. It is like Portland’s
> Council Crest Park for Xela, about a good 90 minute walk
> from Parque Central up a road and up a steep foot
> path to the top.
> Hiking up the road away from the city with Markus,
> Kathy and Mitzi.
> We followed the road with views of the city on the
> right. Reminded me of the road to Pittock Mansion
> in Portland’s West Hills.
> City views.
> More views.
> Markus hikes ahead, while in front of him are some
> locals carrying food up to the park to sell to other
> families who picnic and spend some the day there.
> Unfortunately the path is littered with garbage
> and other debris, a common site all over the city
> and country.
> Markus and Mitzi hanging out at the top of the El
> Mirador (viewpoint).
> A big cross marks the spot for the El Mirador.
> This cross is visible from the city below.
> Pretty sad playground equipment. There is a
> swingset frame, but no swings. Where are the
> slides? Ah, one more pic to go…
> Hiking up the main picnic area, which features a
> monument. Since I can’t read espa? the other 3
> translated the plate description for me, but I have
> long forgotten it. I think it was a memorial to
> something, sounds logical so that’s what it will
> have to be.
> The slides! You need nerve to take the plunge.
> Made out of smooth concrete, you slide down the very
> steep hill, and at the bottom is a very small crash
> landing area. You better stop in time or you’ll
> crash into the small wall, or worse, crash through
> the wall, over the edge and down the hill!
> Markus gets ready.
> Markus and Mitzi take the slide aboard smashed
> plastic soda bottles.
> Showing off what we use to slide down the slides.
> You can go without the bottle, but the hot friction
> will burn a hole in your pant bottom! I brought my
> frisbee on this day and it worked like a wonder–but
> I thrashed it in the process.
> Set for another run.
> Losing control is easy to do and will cause you
> A scattering of the tools to make you go –
> cardboard, plastic, bottles, etc.
> Stopping is the hardest part, you don’t want to
> use your hands cause you’ll burn them off. So you
> use your shoes to stop, the speed you pick up while
> going down is incredible. The rubber literally
> burned off my soles.
April 5th, 2006
Today I’m off on my 6 day hike with Quetzaltrekkers, and will return next week. In the meantime, I have posted blogs that will appear every day at 12pm, for those of you that need your fix in your regular day routine… also, I apologize for the formatting, I have no idea why everything is all squished together!My plans for stay the weekend at a local coffee finca were cancelled at the last minute because there were not enough people signed up to meet the minimum requirements. Without any other plans, I just decided to hang out in my home away from home, Quetzaltenango, or as the locals and everyone else refer to it, Xela (Shay-la).