October 17, 2013

Guatemala: It Comes to an End

My mindset going into my month long backpacking trip was to make sure I had a lot of books since I thought I would meet no one and would have lots of time to fill my days with Mindy Kialing's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? or spend my time learning about female prison life with Orange is the New Black. Have I never backpacked before? The least of my worries should have been meeting people. I met a couple from Seattle within five minutes of stepping off the plane in Cancun. Those books never left the top pocket of my backpack, I just kept lugging them around.

After having backpacked for multiple months at a time I found a month to be perfect. I was excited about making the most out of every day and didn't become one of those people who just laid around the hostel (no judgment, I have been there). I was so lucky to have met Hollie and to have traveled Belize with Taylor and Zoe. I found this new love for Mexico and I think I will spend my days dreaming about the beaches of Isla Mujeras and one day exploring Oaxaca.

Goodbye Central America, Hello USA.

October 16, 2013

Central America Backpacker Guide: Hostels

Below are a few hostels I found worthy of a second night from when I backpacked Central America.

Mexico (technically North America)
Cancun - Hostel Ka'beh
Isla Mujeras - Poc Na Hostel
Isla Holbox - Tribu Hostel
Valladolid - Hostel Candelaria
Oaxaca - Casa Angel Youth Hostel
San Miguel de Allende - La Catrina Hostel
Mexico City - Mexico City Hostel

Caye Caulker - Mara's Guest House

El Remate - Sun Breeze Hotel
Semuc Champey/ Lanquin - Zephyr Lodge
Antigua - Yellow House

October 15, 2013

Guatemala: Antigua, Beans and Crosses

{ From the bean to the coffee mug. Brewed perfectly }
The only thing I was originally excited for was the army truck ride out to the coffee plantation as this would be the first time where I felt save on the road and in a vehicle that was bigger than everything else (I wanted to ask if I could hire them to take me to the airport). However, to my surprise the Finca Filadelfia Coffee Plantation Tour outside of Antigua was quite interesting and I loved that it included a bit of Guatemalan history. Learning how Guatemala became strong coffee producers and the process used to create the perfect bean made for a great morning. Besides analyzing beans we had the opportunity to sort the good beans from the bad beans... lets just say I would be let go from my duties quickly.

{ Finca Filadelfia Coffee Plantation truck }
For not being a religious buff I couldn't wait to go up the hill to the cross. The next morning Hollie and I took a tuk tuk to the Cerro de la Cruz (Cross on the Hill). We could have walked but I read in the Lonely Planet, that robberies were common at this popular tourist site. Seems a little unholy if you ask me. But there were police officers up top ready to save you from machete point. Our tuk tuk ride was also a fun adventure. I have missed those little rides from my time in South East Asia.

{ Cerro de la Cruz }
Today, Hollie and I part ways after traveling together for just over three weeks. Hollie is heading south and I fly back to the US. I seriously had the best time with my Aussie co-pilot. I will never forget Hollie's "Hola!" and "buenos dias."

{ Antigua roof tops }
                     { Hollie in her horse drawn carriage. We both decided this was inhumane and only took it once }

October 14, 2013

Guatemala: Antigua

Back to Antigua. We are staying at Yellow House again, which is known for their huge all-included breakfast buffet. My mouth waters just thinking about the warm rosemary potatoes, omelets made just how you like them, black beans, roasted tomatoes and endless fruit and coffee.

{ Church ruins on every block }

{ Those clothes, those patterns. I can't get enough }

We are excited to be back in Antigua for a few days, this city is gorgeous! On a side note we can't walk a block without bumping into someone we have met previously. You know you have been traveling for a while when...

October 11, 2013

Guatemala: San Pedro on Lake Atitlan

{ Antigua, Guatemala }
Another long and terrifying shuttle ride. This transportation in Guatemala is really starting to take it out of me. Once we arrived in Antigua from Lanquin I hopped out of the shuttle faster then you could blink. We ended up staying the night at Yellow House in Antigua as I couldn't bare the idea of another four hours while I death gripped the seat in front of me. I needed a break.

{ ^^ Not another road block! #howifeelaboutroadblocks ^^ }
From Antigua to San Pedro we hit another road block, I think Hollie and I attract these. Naturally our shuttle became quick friends as Hollie and I reminisced about our last road block day. Luckily with a little back tracking (driving up the road to oncoming traffic) we were able to take small country roads until we were back on the highway and past the road block. The country roads with our shuttle and chicken buses made for an eventful hour in the Guatemala country side.

{ San Pedro }
After checking out what felt like every hostel in San Pedro a few us from our shuttle (two Canadians, an Israeli and an Englishman) ended up at ZooLa Hostel. Hollie's friend, Ashlee and her friend Claudia, (who are teaching English in a small town outside of Guatemala City) also met us for a weekend on the lake.

{ Morning paddle on Lake Atitlan }


{ Rosa's mom makes the best banana bread }
San Pedro is full of backpackers and internationals taking Spanish class. The first night we found ourselves at a small pub for a pub quiz, which was by far the best pub quiz in the history of pub quizzes. The next morning we all went kayaking on Lake Atitlan and spent the afternoon shopping, finding an ATM that worked for me (with no success), and exploring the small streets of San Pedro.

{ I spent all morning taming my horse for the victory, no hands }

The following day Hollie, Ashlee, Claudia and I went horseback riding through the countryside and along the edge of the lake. Horseback riding is usually the cheapest activity you can do so naturally I have gone horseback riding a lot while traveling. Besides not being able to sit for the next twenty four hours I usually have a blast as my horse tries to gallop and I try to stop it from moving. After making it back to town on my galloping horse we took a water taxi over to the largest town on the lake, Panajachel. They have a huge market so I was on a search for a pair of backpacking pants I had seen previously. With no success we had lunch at a little local restaurant while Hollie got a Rasta themed hair wrap.

October 10, 2013

Guatemala: Rat Attack

After eating pizza from Zephry's kitchen (yum!) Hollie and I headed up to our dorm room early. Hollie talked to her mom and recapped our last few days, which for me was hilarious. That Aussie vocabulary gets me every time. I, on the other hand, squished ants, chased cockroaches and stuffed holes with towels so rodents won't get in. After I had accomplished all of that I laid down. All of sudden Hollies eyes got huge as a rat (or really large mouse, Hollie and I are in debate over this) scurried across the floor; so much for stuffing those holes. In my fear I jumped on Hollie and then ran down to the hostel owner and made him come up to our room. I am not sure what the point of this was, it's not like he was going to trap it with his bare hands. After searching for the rat he offered us a new room. I forced Hollie to move with me. The new room had no morning view but at least I was able to sleep rat free. This was my first hostel rat sighting and hopfully the last!

October 9, 2013

Guatemala: Semuc Champey

{ Zephyr Lodge dorm room view }
The drive out to Lanquin might not be something I would ever do again but the view I woke up to almost took my breath away. This ^^ photo ^^ doesn't even do it justice.

{ truck rides }
After breakfast Hollie and I walked into Lanquin and found a truck that would take us out to Semuc Champey. After yesterday's drive I was terrified for this truck ride, but turns out in the day light when it's not raining the drive is actually beautiful. The bumpy dirt road curves through the jungle and villages.

Once we arrived in Semuc Champey Hollie and I hiked to the top of the Mirado (view point) for the view down the valley of the river. After getting sweaty from the steep quick climb up we were ready for a swim in the pools. The pools were cool and refreshing. But they are filled with doctor fish (the type that eat the dead skin off your feet) which made swimming stressful because I was being chased.

Update: We just found out that later that same day two friends from our 16 hour adventure got robbed at machete point at the top of the Mirado. Yikes!
{ Zepher's showers have the best view ever. Ever. }

October 8, 2013

Guatemala: 16 Hour Bus Ride

{ Hollie hanging with the boys on the road block }
Yesterday. The day I will never forget.

Flores to Lanquin
At 8am Hollie, Claire and I pilled into an already full shuttle to see our Israeli friends from Flores  welcome us in. We were off to Lanquin!

Turns out, we had one last stop in town. We pulled up to a hostel with three guys standing outside. We only had two open seats. We all started to panic. For the next hour we sat around talking yelling at the bus company about how we cannot fit 15 people into a 14 seat van for 8 hours. They grabbed a gas can and put it between two seats and we went on our way. After three hours of driving we hit a protest road block (which in total will put us back 7 hours). The local farmers were protesting against the government to give them more money and to not take away their land. Seems fair but could they protest a different month, I have places to be?

At the first protest road block (a pile of rocks across the road) we had to wait for three hours. We just waited and waited and played some card games and waited some more. We ate everything the corner store had to offer out of boredom. Three hours later someone moved a rock and we all drove through. It was complete madness and we celebrated.

As we continued to drive we passed tires burning and more recently opened road blocks. And then...

We hit another road block were we sat for four hours. We became the entertainment for all the kids as a Dutch guy in our van had a toy that everyone loved. This road block became a bit more aggressive as the day turned into night. There was chanting, cutting trees to build up the road block and tires burning.

After four hours of waiting the road block finally opened. It was dark and raining by now and we had a four hour drive to Lanquin. The last hour was down a steep mountain side road where our breaks were locking and we were sliding because it was so muddy. We also couldn't see anything as it was pitch dark. To the left of us it looked as if the road dropped off. We arrived at Zephyr River Lodge at 12:30am. Longest day ever. 

October 7, 2013

Guatemala: Tikal & Flores

The morning started just after sunrise as we all got into a shuttle and drove out to Tikal. Tikal is the largest Mayan ruin site in Central America and most famous. I wasn't thinking and wore flip flops. My feet were sore, dirty and I stubbed my toe which is now disgusting. Tikal needs bikes for hire like Coba. The morning was long as we walked from one Mayan temple to the next but we saw it all. Claire and I decided not to join the Tikal tour so between our two guide books, one in French and one in English, I think we managed pretty well. Claire translated all day. She must be exhausted.
After Tikal, Claire and I took a colectivo to Flores to meet up with Hollie. Luckily Flores is small because we may have had to yell in the streets to find her "HOOOLLLIEEE." But Hollie and I are reunited!
Flores is a beautiful island right in the middle of the lake, connected to the mainland by a bridge. We spent the afternoon exploring the small brick roads and drinking daiquiris. I wish I could have stayed longer but we have places to see!

October 6, 2013

Guatemala: El Ramete

This morning I had to say bye to Zoe and Taylor who bussed back across Belize to fly home.

At breakfast I met up with Claire, a French women I met through Ryan, who was also going to Guatemala. We made our way to the border of Guatemala. The border crossing was easy and clean, always a plus. Now, back to Spanish! At the border we met an Israeli couple and Claire and I were off to El Ramete to stay with them at Sun Breeze Hotel located near the lake. El Ramete is the closest town to Tikal and has one road. The four of us spent the afternoon exploring El Ramete and booking our transportation to Tikal.

{ Laundry day for the locals and myself }

October 5, 2013

Belize: Xunantunich

Today we took a collectivo to Xunantunich ruins just outside of San Ignacio. Since we had to get off at a random place on the road it was great that everyone around us spoke English. Once we got off the bus we took the ferry/bridge/floating platform (think pulley system) across the river and walked about thirty minutes to the entrance gates. The trip took a bit longer then expected but it was well worth it. Another public transportation win and the ruins where the best yet. The view from the largest ruin was incredible, looking out to Guatemala. The grounds were well kept and we were really the only ones there exploring. On the way down we saw some monkeys playing in the trees.

October 4, 2013

Belize: The Zoo

Woke up to a foggy morning... if only it stayed that way. Hottest day yet. The four of us (the Canadian included) bussed back across Belize to visit the famous zoo.

{ Ryan, Taylor and Zoe }
Can't even believe how great it was, we spent 6 hours there. Jaguars, black jaguars, toucans (my favorite bird ever), tiger cats, crocodiles, pumas, macaw parrots, the list goes on and on. Also held a boa constrictor. The Belize Zoo will be a highlight of Central America, I can already tell.

We met Sharon Matola, the zoo owner, at the end of the day when she was feeding the jaguars. I started talking to her about the book 'The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw' and the next thing we knew she asked if we wanted to come along to feed the next animal. We were all worried she was going to take us to the stinky pigs but luckily Sharon took us to feed one of her special toucans berries. Toucan!- I think I have died and gone to heaven. Her special toucan's beak does not line up properly so she hand feeds him. The opportunity to go inside the toucan cage was beyond amazing.

{ Sharon feeding the jaguar }