Friday, 30 May 2008

Guatemala


Our first few days in Guatemala were Hot! Hot! Hot! We arrived in Flores late in the day and found a hotel with A.C. (not that easy!). The journey to arrive here included some kid puking non stop in the back seat of the bus. I handed him plastic bag number 3 and he diligently filled it up! I almost forgot to tell the tale of the previous smelly bus in Belize where the smell was so bad, the bus conductor came down after the locals complained of a smell of rotten fish to spray a bleach mixture to neutralize the smell. It was only a few hours later we discovered the source of the foul stench was a beach towel of our own which had been allowed to fester a wee tad too long! - GAG!

The Tikal Mayan ruins in the middle of the jungle were spectacular but the heat was insane. I honestly don't think I've ever sweated as much. I have survived Alice Springs in Oz but this was more intense and the local guide wearing jeans and sweatshirt told us it was not that hot! Buckets of nasty B.O. juice were pouring off me! - If you wanted to get a good photo you had to scale a big pyramid so after about six of these obstacle courses, I was well shhhhtinky!

We took an overnight bus to Antigua (the old capital) which is in a beautiful setting with coloured houses and an intimidating volcano in the background. We rescued a Aussie damsel in distress (Adel) who had her purse lifted and hung out with her for a few days. Her boyfriend arrived a few days later and is a number freak (a.k.a actuary) like my own wee bro (bloody nerds are everywhere!). - Next stop Guatemala City!







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Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Belize it or NOT!


Getting to Belize was a bit of an adventure. The 7am morning ferry crossing was thankfully smooth as glass. A taxi to the wrong bus terminal didn't help but soon we were on route to Puerto Cortes but missed the last ferry to Belize. Instead we headed to the Guatemalan border and got an overcrowded sweat bucket minibus to Puerto Barrios. It was like the old joke of how many people can you fit in a mini, only it was NO JOKE!

When we arrived at the port we had missed the last ferry to Belize yet again so we boarded a tiny flimsy 'launcha' (small boat) for 1 hour to Livingston on the north coast of Guatemala. Me arse is still sore from being slapped by the seat of the boat as we were tossed and turned every time we hit a wave.

Livingston is only accessible by boat and is very different to the rest of Guatemala with a very Caribbean chilled out rasta vibe.

You have to get your exit stamp from immigration the day before you leave as the boat goes to Belize at 7am. We were a bit put out when the customs office was closed but it turned out they were just on a siesta. After spending the night we went to board the boat and were told there was a little problem as apparently Argentinians (the missus) need a visa to enter Belize. It all worked out in the end as a $50 fee got you a visa on arrival.


We headed for the southern Cayas of Placencia which have a decent beach and good snorkeling and diving and it is whale shark season. Belize is part of the commonwealth of the UK and is very different to the rest of Central America. English is the first language but it´s more like a dialect as it´s like listening to rasta dialect and can be difficult to follow along.

We had a strange experience as some of the people were very friendly,but some were completely unsociable. The people in shops, restaurants are generally the worst and seem to resent having to work. The fact that you are asking them for something seems to piss them off as if they would rather just be left alone. If you ask for directions or advice it´s way too much effort for them and they will say they don´t know. It seems as if the locals are simply lazy. One couple went thru 80 staff before getting 3 permanent employees. Having sent one girl for milk on her first day, she returned with the milk but handed in her notice saying the work was too difficult!

p.s. picture below of me watching poor ol´Chelsea get beat on penalties by Man Utd in the Championship final :=((
Next stop Guatemala!






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Saturday, 24 May 2008

Honduras and the Bay Islands



We headed north from San Salvador and eventually reached La Ceiba in Honduras which is the jumping off point for the Bay Islands. We had a bit of hassle getting local money (Lempiras) as the first 5 ATM's said "No - No No!" - but finally number 6 said "Ya man!" - Phew!



After spending the night in La Ceiba we got the ferry (vomit comet) to the largest island Roatan. The crossing was fairly rough and people were barfing left right and centre. One poor bloke had the horrible job of wheeling around a big bin to collect the puke bags and hand out paper towels. He obviously had a strong stomach as the waft of puke was , well sickening.



Roatan got a great write up in our guide book but it still didn't do it justice. This place is heaven on earth! - absolutely breath takingly gorgeous! There's a picture postcard beach (West Bay) with white sand, palm trees and transparent luke warm water. There's a huge coral reef just off the shore which you can swim out to and snorkel. I have scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef but this was as good if not better. We repeated the following repetitive but satisfying itinerary for 3 days in a row.



Lazy late breakfast

Lazy day on the beach

Semi energetic snorkelling

Coctails at sunset

Dinner at a great Thai restaurant (Mr Tongs) yep! 3 times in a row! It's true I am somewhat of a creature of habit!




Next stop Belize!

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Wednesday, 21 May 2008

El Salvador



As we took the ferry to leave Isla Ometepe there was literally a plague of flies that swarmed around the port and covered everything. Apparently they are quite common here especially after rain but luckily they don't bite. The worst thing they do is fly up your nostrils, and in my case into your ears and mouth - yum! We spent half a day in the colourful colonial city of Granada before heading on to El Salvador. Our plan was to make it to the mountain top village of Alegria but our bus river and some of the locals on the bus advised us that the area was well dodgy so we headed for the capital San Salvador instead.

Here's an extract from the Lonely Planet travel guide about the city.

"Crime is a serious problem in San Salvador...violence continues to permeate all of El Salvador. The crime tally rose last year including an increase in murders (3,596) and extortion. ..gang violence looms large..travellers may see headlines of gang wars, meet survivers of the civil war or bump into a rifleman guarding the village ice cream parlor."

We had a security guard with a shotgun at our hotel and the place had a big iron gate locked after 10pm. Although I'm a hardened Dubliner and a Northsider at that, it's hard not to be intimidated here especially as you don't see many other tourists. The locals are extremely friendly and curious however. We hit the road again - Next stop Honduras.


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Monday, 19 May 2008

Nicaragua


We left Montezuma at 10:30am and retraced our steps back to Punta Arenas and waited by the side of the road for a bus that would take us to Rivas in Nicaragua. There was one slight hitch however as unbeknown to us we had timed our trip to coincide with a transit strike affecting all Nicaragua. Local and national buses, taxis and trains were all on strike. We were a tad lucky that an international (TICA) bus coming from Costa Rica stopped for us.

When we hopped off the bus in Rivas we found an opportunistic local who agreed to take us to San Jorge which is on the banks of Lake Nicaragua where we would spend the night. We shared the ride with a fun couple (Alicia and Jimmy)from South Carolina and ended up hanging out with them for a few days.

The first rain of the 'rainy season'season fell that night and it was like nothing I'd ever seen before as the thunder and lightning raged and endless buckets of rain drenched everything in sight. The storm knocked out the power for the whole town so we were marooned in a bar in complete darkness as the wind blew the rain horizontal thru the doors and windows and soaked absolutely everything.

Finally there was break in the storm and we headed back to our hotel thru the dirt road which had now turned into a river of muck. The following morning we headed for Isla Ometepe on the lake which is quite rightly listed as one of the 'wonders of the world'. There are two volcanoes (1 active) and lush tropical rain forest lining the beaches. Playa Santa Domingo is the best place to stay with a great beach. We ended up staying 3 days and it was one of the highlights of the trip so far. Next stop El Salvador!

P.S. It's my birthday TODAY!



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Friday, 16 May 2008

Costa Rica


Getting from A to B in these parts ain´t always quick n´easy as I´ll demonstrate. We took a boat to Changuinola in the north of Panama and then a taxi to the bus terminal. The bus takes you across the border into Costa Rica where you have to show proof of onward travel out of the country (not that easy when you don´t have specific plans!)

We changed buses in the capital, San Jose and headed for the Puntarenas where we got a taxi to the port and caught a ferry to Paquera. Finally we shared a 50 minute taxi ride to the beach town of Montezuma with 2 cool French guys (Hamid and Steve from Toulouse). It´s 90% American tourists in these parts so it was refreshing to meet some Europeans and we ended up partying till the wee hours with them on more than one occasion.




The beaches here are a bit choppy and more geared towards surfing. Isla Tortuga is an overpriced over rated day trip. Other than the beach there´s not much else to do here except hike to a set of waterfalls or get a quad mortor bike and explore. Next stop Nicaragua.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Panama and Pinapple Face


I have vivid memories of when the US invaded Panama and removed their puppet gone astray, Noriega aka Pineapple Face. Arriving in Panama is slightly bizzare as its third world meets first world. Its very Americanized which probably explains why there are so many yanks down here. Its also very cheap for budget accomo ($24 for a double room with cable TV and A.C.) and taxis ($2 for a 10 minutes ride).

It reminds me a little of L.A. where the 'haves' flaunt their fancy cars on Rodeo Drive, meanwhile 2 blocks away the 'have nots' (Mexicans are packed onto buses like sardines on overcrowded buses. It's the same here except it's the Panamanians on the bus, staring at the crazy Irish guy and his wife who obviously don't belong on the bus with no A.C. in 40 Celius heat and thay obviously must be lost or crazy or both!

There's a touristy, pricey bar/restaurant strip on Calle Uruguaywhich is compared to Miami Beach (not sure why as it's nowhere near a beach!) This is where the local expats and tourist wine and dine the night away.

The biggest local attraction is obviously the Panama canal which is 18 kms outside the centre. Its just like a regular canal lock but on a huge scale and instead of a barge passing thru it has huge tankers and freighters.

The other thing Panama is famous for is shopping with a huge duty free area called Port Libre and a massive mall called Albrook which is worth a visit. I hate shopping as much as I hate root canals so if I'm recommending it, its got to be good.

Bocas del Torro is a series of islands in the north east is an absolute gem. You can zip around the islands on water taxis and many of the towns are built on stilts on the water. We took a boat from Isla Colon to Isla Bastimentos and then hiked to a beautiful palm tree lined remote beach (Wizrd Beach) with golden sand and transparent water where were only 6 other people.

Development in the area is happening really fast and it won't be long before its an overcrowded americanized resort so see it while you can !



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Saturday, 10 May 2008

Bad Girl, What ya gonna do?



We flew from Bogota to Baranquilla in the north of Colombia and caught a bus to Santa Marta which is a pleasant enough seaside town. It was 38 celcius and extremely humid. The main attraction was the local national park which has some great beaches and excellent snorkelling. Bring your own snorkelling gear as its passed directly from previous renter to you, snot, spit and all - yeuch!
There seems to be 3 price levels for most things (taxis, hotels, beers)
1. Local yocal cheap price
2. Local tourist cheap price
3. Gringo Paddy, rip the shirt off your back price!

Guess which one I was being asked to pay?

Its expensive here for food, hotel etc even when you haggle the local tourist price.
Next we visited Cartagena (5 hours east) which is steeped in historical significance. It has an old castle overlooking the city and an old town section surrounded by a fortress and some beautiful colourful colonial style buildings.

We stayed in a hostel and woke up at 5am to a full on brawl going on in the courtyard. Some loud ass drunk bee-atch was screaming "Llama la policia Mama!" (call the cops - yo!) over and over. Thankfully after 30 minutes of this farce she got her wish and the boys in blue hauled her drunk ass down to the station for being drunk and disorderly!

We sang ourselves back to sleep to the tune of "Bad Girl, Bad Girl, What ya gonna do? What ya gonna do when they come for you?" - FYI - Theres a law against disturbing my sleep - Youve all been warned!

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Thursday, 8 May 2008

Bogota, Bogota, So GOOD they named it once!

The missus and I had a few hectic days (including a friends wedding in an estancia outside the capital) before we flew to Bogota, Colombia (via Lima). We arrived at 00:45am and by the time we picked up our backpacks and reached our hostel it was close to 2am.

It had a tall, wide imposing metal gate but there was little sign of life beyond it. I must have rang the buzzer and rattled the gate a dozen times but got no answer. This was neither the city nor the hour to be stranded without a roof. Just as we were starting to sweat (a.k.a. piss my pants!), a head appeared at a window and thankfully a security guard let us in. After a little confusion (they had no record of our reservation!) we were able to check in. It turned out there was an electrical fault which prevented the buzzer from working and the lights on our floor were also not working so we had to resort to candles. Relieved and exhausted we collapsed into bed.

The following day brought altitude sickness, cold chills (picked up a bug on the plane I reckon), squirt alert, nausea and generally wasn´t a great day. The famous Museo de Oro was closed for renovation but we did get to see a cool salt cathedral built into an old mine about 40kms outside the city in Zapaquira.

The city is a heaving, swarming, fast city but the public transport system is impressive with dedicated double lanes for the extra long bendy buses. About 70% of the traffic seems to be taxis and another 20% is minibuses.

There are armed guards everywhere. Army, transport police, regular police, special police, extra special police, security guards. They all had guns, machine guns, rifles, revolvers. Charlton Heston and his buddies in the NRA would love this place!

There aren´t that many tourist here so I was being stared at as something of a novelty. Dinner is early here (approx 7-8pm) compared to Argentina (10pm-1am). Public transport shuts down early (10pm in the outskirts) for security concerns.

On our last day in Bogota, we headed to the old town section of the city and ended up in the middle of a protest which turned nasty. We were literally caught in the middle of a narrow street with rock throwing yobs (their faces shielded by scarves) on one side and the riot squad firing tear gas and water cannons on the other side. It was a hairy scary moment and if I had anything left in my bowels (squirt alert was still going strong), I probably would have shat myself. It took us about 30 minutes to walk clear of the trouble and in the aftermath there were 40 people arrested and there was substantial damage to banks and businesses. Windows were smashed and paint splattered everywhere. Translated News article here.

Bogota has a bit of a reputation as a dangerous city, but like any big city you just need to keep your wits about you and stay clear of the no go zones. Oh and don´t forget to bring your own stash of loo roll for those little emergencies!

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Monday, 5 May 2008

The Road Less Travelled

I´ve been very bad at reading my fav blogs recently and not to good at posting to my own blog. I have a fairly good excuse however as the missus and I are on a months trip starting in Bogota, Colombia and ending in Guatemala. It´s a part of the world that´s long been on my wish list so watch this space to keep up to date with our travels. If you hear of any revolutions or up risings or civil wars, don´t worry, it´s just me up to my usual shennanigans!







Fly Buenos Aires to Colombia and make our way up to Guatemala before flying back to Buenos Aires


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