Sunday, 30 August 2009

Welocme to Meeheeco Greeeeeeeengooooo

I got to Belize bus station and was greeted by the taxi driver who took me to the hotel two days earlier, he shook my hand and showed me to the bus.  Going north through the flat costal plains things slowly changed as Spanish signs began to reappear and the wooden houses on stilts gave way to the low concrete sheds Spanish America seems to prefer.  Then I saw the sign "Mexico and North America", from there it was a short drive to the free zone on the border and a heavy tax to leave Belize then I was in Mexico.

I got a taxi to the ADO bus station and my first impression was that Mexico is rich, six lane dual carriageways, neatly painted buildings and lots of shopping centres.  I bought a 2nd class ticket for Tulum expecting a chicken bus, instead I got a ticket and an assigned seat. That turned out to be a fiction as the seat was occupied by a family of four and I had to stand for the first hour.  There was aircon though it occasionally sprayed the bus with water.

The Weary Traveller in Tulum has airconditioned dorms and runs a free bus to the beach, which I plan to take today and the town is areal culture shock with actual tourists hanging around.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Belize Zoo

Today I visited Belize zoo where I was able to see a jaguar and most impressive for me I saw Baird's tapirwhich was great after six weeks of tracking their dung and never seeing the animals. My only regret was being told that the neotropical river otters have escaped, I still have hopes of seeing some hint of them in the Siaan Caan in Mexico and if not there will be other adventures.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

And now for something completely different

I have made three important discoveries.

1. The cheap hotels in Belize City are not that cheap and tend to come with warnings like, keep windows locked at all times and do not leave your room after dark.

2. The Raddisson Fort George is offering one free night if you stay two nights including a friday.

3. I had US$200 in travellers cheques that I'd forgotten about.


So for two nights only I've gone from the cheapest travelling to the poshest, a nice finish before my final border crossing to Mexico.



Wednesday, 26 August 2009

In the woods again

After Dangriga, I did two things, I'd been planning for a while.  First I visited the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary, the only nature reserve designated for jaguars, of course I saw no signs but I was also disappointed as I had heard there were lots of neotropical river otters and I walked along the river as far as I could without seeing any signs.  Then I discovered that the cooker in the camp kitchen didn't work so dinner was bannana cake.

Much closer to what I'd hoped was the two days homestay in the Maya mountains at a village called NaLuumCa, where I did get to see a jaguar footprint.  I also stayed in a traditional Maya house made of wood with a thatched roof and ate what the family ate, which was (you guessed it) rice and beans with tortillas.  I also learn't that they have tried to set up a village school but been stopped by a special feature of Belizean politics where anything set up by one party is cancelled when the other takes over. This even extends to the unused bus by the roadside which was there because the owner had a transport contract before the election, so of course he couldn't have one after.

To get to a village I had to go to a tiny town called Punta Gorda on the south coast and discovered on the way that buses in Belize are air conditioned almost at random, they cost a little more but are run by the same companies and still pick people up at the side of the road and allow passers by on board to sell food.  From Punta Gorda it was three miles in a yellow school bus up dirt roads, exactly the kind of roads that in Honduras the buses weren't allowed to go on, then a 15 minute walk. I returned to Dangriga today by the same route but starting at 3 in the morning in the pouring rain. On arrival I checked into the nearest place to the bus station and went to sleep for another 3 hours.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

back to the Carribean

Today I made my way to Dangriga on the coast via Belmopan, the bus company was clearly making an attempt to be different to neighbouring countries as the terminal in Belmopan was full of signs "no vendors", "no soliciting for taxis", "drivers will be fined for collecting passengers at the terminal exit instead of their designated gate".  Of course once we were underway it reverted as I was made to switch buses twice and ended up standing most of the way.

Dangriga is right on  the beach and I have bought a cheap digital camera to keep taking photos and a card reader to upload from the dead one so there should be photo updates soon.

and on

Well the camera appears to have died completely so there may be a delay in pictures. On the plus side I made it across the border without incident. A hundred touts tried to convince me that the only way was a minibus to Belize city at 5am but I ignored them, went to the bus station asked for a bus "para la frontera" it left within 10 minutes though it did then stop for the the regular food sellers who were joined this time by people selling toiletries and a man who read a large book aloud to the bus, I assume a political or religious tract.  The journey was on good roads except for the last half hour where it was still being built.

At the border I was asked to pay by the Guatemalans and not by Belize, the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen and then I was through.  There were no buses apparent so I settled for a fixed price taxi to San Ignacio Cayo.  The town is really friendly, while I was eating dinner some locals invited me to come sit with them and were telling me about how easy it is to grow fruit and how no one who owns land can ever starve in Belize.  There is definitely a different atmosphere maybe because it is English speaking.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Do not buy Olympus Mju 850SW!

Today I went to Tikal, which should have provided amazing photos unfortunately my so called waterproof camera, while it worked fine in the water has now filled up with condensation so I can only get pictures when the light is just right and those look like a view through fog. Still it is beautiful, what can I say, try google images.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Reunion and the kindness of strangers

On returning to Antigua I discovered a group of people from Cusuco were there for the week so I managed to join them for a night out, which ended with spending an hour in the Parque Central waiting for news of a party that never materialised. The next day they had disappeared, I saw two of them in the street and they said they'd moved to another hostel and we should meet up again but it never happened.

I spent the day wandering the city and found the view over Antigua and the volcanoes from Cero de La Cruz and a large museum stroke art gallery that was also a luxury hotel so I sat for a while listening to their string quartet and wandering if I could afford to eat there. When I realised I couldn't I finally wandered out

The day after that I had a shuttle booked from Antigua to Coban, which turned out to be a man who picks you up in his car, takes you to the bus station in Guatemala City and buys you a ticket on the regular direct bus.  The "Imperial city of Coban" was a spawls of ugly breeze block buildings and adverts so even though it had been six hours I decided to push on. I found a minibus to Lanquin but it was already full, so they put some small stools in the space by the door and I sat on one of those. Then two men selling tickets decided to board and stood in the footwell by the door leaning on me, after five minutes we picked up another passenger who somehow fitted in front of them and I spent a happy hour wondering what kind of medical assistance I might need to restore circulation and how many vital organs had been crushed.  On the plus side a man on the bus revealed that he worked in a hostel right by Semuc Champey and could arrange to take me straight there.

Semuc Champey has a river running through caves undeneath and a series of pools you can swim in above and it looks like I may have to extend my list of most amazing places in the world again.

In the morning I did a tour going through the pools and climbing down a rope through a waterfall to the caves, in the afternoon we went tubing in another part of the river.  Then I discovered I was down to my last 14 quetzales, which I spent on a final lunch. I expected to do very little that night but instead the other guests took care of me and we wound up with a bottle of rum and a pack of cards till la
In the moring I had an eight hour minibus ride to Flores, not as bad, but pretty foul, especially when the driver refused to stop at a service station when asked then pulled over to the side of a busy road and announced that anyone who wanted to stretch their legs must do so where there were no people around. I got to Flores and decided to protect myself in future by taking out 1000Q and booking the cheapest accomodation I could, a 20Q a night hammock.

Friday, 14 August 2009



The boat from San Pedro to Panajachel was drier than the day before but paying was interesting as the captain spoke only Maya, I looked around to see if any of the other passengers spoke something else and one did... Hebrew, luckily a man on the dock could translate.


Solola was fascinating with lots of market stalls including the kind of food stalls where they cook the food in front of you, something I've been looking for all over.  The town was packed with people in for the market and fiesta many in traditional costumes and there was a great atmosphere with parades and marching bands seemingly at random and a big stage in front of the church where rock bands played and a group of teenage boys danced did a high speed conga line while the old ladies clapped along to the rhythm.


In the morning I made my way back to Antigua by three buses. I had planned to go to Lanquin from the lake but from what I can work out this involves two or three days in a truck so I decided to splash out on transport with chairs inside although I spent much of the journey standing.


No matter how many times I use public transport here I still can't get used to the behviour of the touts at bus stops, in their eagerness to get customers thay grab emerging passengers bags, arms and probably hair.  On the plus side I can now confirm these were actual chicken buses as I sat by a lady carrying two live chickens by the feet.


I'm now back in the big city or so it feels hoping to head east sometime soon.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

San Pedro La Laguna

Santiago Atitlan may have good views but it is not a place to stay if you plan on eating out, the choices seemed to be takeaway pizza or stalls selling cold fried chicken that may or may not have seen a cooker in the past week. Eventually I found a cafe where the choice was hamburgers or pasta. I settled for a simple pasta with olive oil and garlic, figuring that should be safe enough, it may have been the worst pasta ever.

It appears the fiesta runs for a few days so I decided to visit another lake town called San Pedro La Laguna.  The crossing was fairly rough with nowhere on the boat that didnt get sprayed but in the sun it was all dry again by the time we docked.  San Pedro appears to be two towns a working Spanish area at the top of the hill and a collection of hippiesh cafes on the shore.  The hippie area is actually very pleasant with lots of gardens, lake views and strangely small cornfields among the buildings. I also had a great lunch to make up for last night, in a place where the tables are in a set of gardens running down to the lake.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Lago Atitlan

Yesterday, I made my way by a series of buses to Panajachel on the shores of Lago Atitlan, which is famous for its beauty. Finding the bus was a challenge at first due to the local habit of speaking fast, missing the odd sylable and occasionally giving places a different name but eventually I got on a bright coloured bus to Cimaltenango, where after a life threatening dash across the traffic I got another bus for Solola above the lake. From there it seemed to be dead end so I settled for a taxi for the final 8km. My hotel was a little odd as apparently it had been a shopping precinct in another life and all the rooms had plate glass windows on the other hand an ensuite for 11 quid was fairly good.  Panajachel was basically all a big souvenier market though in the morning I did find a museum hidden inside a more expensive hotel.

I then caught a boat across the lake to Santiago Atitlan where I was offered another ensuite for the equivalent of 4.05 and persuaded to visit the Mayan idol Maximon.

Maximon seems to be made of wood, wears several scarves and hats and is continually smoking, on the floor were several candles, one labelled San Simon, which is apparently another name for Maximon although it had a picture that looked more like Charlie Chaplin. Somehow it seems my tour price included drinks for everyone including Maximon, although he had three bottles of white rum poured in while the rest of us had beer. After that I was surrounded by incense and they put one of Maximons hats on me while chanting in Mayan. I don´t quite know what happened but apparently my money is protected as long as I stay in Mayan lands.

Apparently there is a fiesta in Solola tommorow so I plan to go back across the lake to find out.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Volcano Pacaya

On my second day, I  took a tour up a volcano, it was very crowded, full of touts, and the ash and rocks were hard to climb but I don´t care because I got to go up a fucking volcano!