Central America Adventure
Hello everybody from our Central America Adventure! Costa Rica’s been a huge highlight. First we made our way to the remote nature-lover’s paradise of Tortuguero. The Caribbean sea on one side, and national park freshwater canals on the other.
A great place for spotting blue herons, Jesus lizards (we saw one run on water), baby crocs. And of course, motoring through on high powered launch to get there, take that nature!!
Though the best was seeing baby turtles hatching on the beach, and flip flopping their way to the ocean. One went past us at night while we enjoying a beer, and we had our own personal turtle. Hope you make it, little guy!
Then on to Chirripo, the tallest mountain in the land. First day was a 14km stroll up to the lodge (2km ascent – no probs*). Then a lovely* 2am start to make it to the summit for sunrise. And then all the way back down the mountain. We didn’t regret walking 25km in one day at all*.
(Things marked with an * may be a slight fabrication)
Near the end of the trail, a gigantic bull was on the narrow track, and for some reason he didn’t want us to go past. After several headbutting experiences I was considering climbing through the barbed wire fence to a thistle-packed cliff edge. Thankfully our bull friend got a case of the munchies and we sprinted past him.
We then chilled, drinking fresh orange juice, going to the hot springs, eating home baked brownies, and playing guitar. I developed an obsession with seeing a Quetzal, Central Americas famous, yet elusive, beautiful bird. This included 6am starts and long waits in birding areas… no luck.
However, our wonderful hosts let us know of an area famous for Quetzals. We forked out the ridiculous $90US a night for a budget place in the area… and… nah the place wasn’t any good at all. Only 8 Quetzals, a turkey and a chipmunk in the same tree!!
Absolutely magnificent birds, and the last thing I wanted to achieve in Central America checked off the list. Claire got a particularly good photo.
Then time to say good bye, and off to Peru!
First things first. In Lima I ate fried, salted, Lima beans. Guess that’s all there is to it. Oh, we also had a kickass day in the central city, checking out the square lined with police with riot shield, chinatown and the museum of the Spanish Inquisition, complete with a rack!
We then checked out the modern suburb of Miraflores, with a stunning clifftop shopping centre. Down below I surfed in the stony beaches with pounding waves, a little intimidating with my limited experience, but I did catch one awesome wave.
Culture-wise, the national drink is made with Pisco brandy. We liked them so much, we headed to Ica, a desert town where there are over 60 bodegas (wineries) that produce the famous drink. Free samples? Yes please!
We stayed in the Oasis of Huacachino, famous for sandboarding. After an insane ride in a bona-fide Dune Buggy, we began to slide down the dunes lying down, face first (this is the regulation technique, surprisingly).
The final dune was about 60 degrees steep, and a couple of hundred metres high. I left Claire at the top, because that was the only way to get her to the bottom. Eventually she came down too, and loved it*. So much adrenaline, my pituitary gland needs a refill, please.
Speaking of which, I slotted in a quick flight over the Nazca lines, figures made in the desert hundreds of years ago.
We’re now psyching ourselves up for a hike down the Colca canyon tomorrow, which is twice as deep as the grand canyon. Peru’s been a land of adventure so far!
North & Central America Trip – Oaxaca, San Cristobal, Palenque & Playa del Carmen
Hola otra vez (that’s “hi once again”) and welcome to installment two of our travels through Mexico.
Our last installment left us in Oaxaca, where on our last day we did a`cultural tour’. Sounds trite, but we visited a boutique Mezcal factory, which is a traditionally produced tequila made only in Oaxaca. We tried all of their 20 varieties.
We also went to see petrified waterfalls, where 50-metre high waterfalls had slowly turned to carbon.
We have some freaking amazing photos, but we don`t have a card reader with us so can`t upload them… yet-
I just drank some of the Mezcal and feel GREAT!
Claire is forcing me to tell you all about the delicious `soup`I had in Oaxaca. I ordered tortilla soup. They brought up my napkin, a basket of bread, and then a soup bowl filled with red stuff. I started chowing down on it, thinking `this is quite spicy and not that tasty’.
Then my soup arrived. I’d been eating the hot sauce. Mexican food is awesome!
We left scenic, colonial Oaxaca, en route to scenic, colonial San Cristobal to learn Spanish. It was an intense week, with both of us doing homework until ten at night. We hadn’t worked so hard since… work! And was it effective?
The overall experience certainly was. We did a home stay with an (upper?) middleclass Mexican family, who had live-in home help, and an amazing host mother who runs cooking and salsa dancing lessons at the language school. We ate eggs for breakfast, but a different type each day. Eggs in salsa with fried tortillas is my favorite.
Staying with a family for a week gave us a bit more insight into the Mexican way of life. The whole family works together both early in the morning and late at night. In the middle of the day, everyone gets together for a big meal. Claire was fascinated by the order the food came, it was the males first, then the guests, then other females, and finally the hostess. Wouldn´t be the first time.
Our host Mum chatted with us each morning (after establishing at length that even though we weren’t married, that one bedroom would be fine for us). I think this helped our Spanish the most. The school was pretty good, but spent too much time on useless grammar (despite us telling them not to).
We did find time to go to a local restaurant / bar called El Gato Gordo (the fat cat) which was excellent. The first night we went for a late lunch, and one of the waiters was trying to play ‘wish you were here’ by Pink Floyd on the guitar. We got chatting, and four hours later we were singing, drinking, and being offered dope.
We politely declined, but did stick around to hear a local singer kick our some Buene Vista Social Club, and a soulfull song to Chiapas, the local region. We returned again a week later after we finished our study to listen to a six piece latin jazz / blues band, who were amazing! They covered Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis and took ten minute solos better than most you’d hear in Wellington.
Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico. The indigenous population is second class here. There are five-year-old boys/girls hopping around restaurants at 11pm trying to sell you candy, or shine your shoes. The two girls (14 and 17) who work in our host family are also indigenous, and have no interest in going to school. They are, however, riveted to the mexican soaps, which are like ‘days of our lives’ on steroids.
After our second visit to El Gato Gordo, I was feeling a bit worse for wear. Was it the 1-litre bottles of beer, or the genuine Cuban cigar?
But the last thing I felt like was a 5 1/2 hour legendarily windy bus trip into Palenque.
Claire was fine, and tried to look sympathetic, while finding it all quite funny. `You should bring a bag’ she told me, ‘as even people with good stomachs throw up on this trip’. Somehow I survived, but were not sure if everybody did.
While passing through a small indigenous village, the bus driver ran over a dog. I thought he was going to stop, but then we heard a sharp ‘yelp!’ from below.
Brutal. Our hostel smelled like pee. Contrary to the website, there was no free breakfast. However we were there to do one thing only — go to the ruins. They were as awesome as Palanque is crappy.
Completely encased in jungle, the pyramids and town square the serviced 70,000 people are still in great order. We scrambled over them in 99% humidity 35 degree heat. I tried some rock climbing up one wall but got grief from the security guards.
We saw metre long lizards!
I also saw my first tropical fish in their natural environment, swimming in the rapids above a Craig Potton-style waterfall. I think I want to get a waterfall when I finally buy a house, so much better than a 50L fish tank.
And now we`ve rocked into Playa del Carmen, which is a baby Cancun resort town, but nicer. We spent yesterday and today lazing in armchairs in front of the beach. The water here is so warm and clear.
Loving it! I snorkeled a bit, and saw a school of 70cm fish.
Tomorrow we’re off to a beach where you can snorkel with turtles for free!
We’re getting in before it appears in the lonely planet and they put up highrises… So excited.
North and Central America Trip – Experiencing Real Guatemala Culture
Hi everybody, It’s been another action packed couple of weeks, and we’re glad to be alive and well in the backpacker mecca of San Pedro, on lake Atitlan. We arrived here 15 days ago via United Airlines, we found a great deal on tickets.
We’re loving having a soft bed and hot shower, after the last week.
We’ve discovered the ‘real’ Guatamala. We had our heart set on going to Todos Santos, a remote mountain village. We wanted to take the direct route, which we’re told is impossible and off-limits to foreigners.
Well, seven buses later, through steep dirt ‘roads’ sheer drop offs, and markets we arrived!
Was it worth it? Yes, because we got a taste of what Guatamalan life is really like.
We did a home stay with one of the wealthier families in the village, they even had a functioning wood stove and running water! We were also lucky enough to have pasta in cold chicken broth for breakfast. Delicious!
Todos Santos has a strong culture, including traditional clothes that over 80% of the people wear.
Claire is glad she was not born indiginous Guatamalan, because it took her two whole backbreaking days to weave a headband that she would sell in a market for less than NZ $1. I reckon it looks pretty cool though.
Despite the conditions, the people love it in Todos Santos.
I studied a bit more Spanish, and I’ve been able to ask people about their lives, and the history of the region.
Whenever I asked someone ‘where is your favourite place in Guatamala?’ they all reply ‘here!!’. This includes people who have lived and worked in the United States.
Remittances from illegals in the US is the number one income source for the rural highlands.
However my Spanish isn’t always reliable. I thought we were ordering French Toast and we ended up with some stale French bread. Nearly as good as the chicken broth pasta!
Beforehand, we visited Samuk Champey, which is a series of freshwater pools. We took another crazy bus into the area, filled with sick-inducing bends. Literally. A child next to me vomited on himself, and the bus driver just sped up. (Sorry, no photos of this).
As it’s low season, we haven’t seen many tourists, so we expected the middle of nowhere to be completely dead. However our riverside hostel had about 50 gringos staying there, enjoying the water, caves, and tubing down the river just like us. We got a great little hut nestled right by the stream.
We’d already had out fill of caves, as we went to the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves in Belize.
Everyone just calls them the ATM caves, probably because they cost an unbelievable US $75 to visit!
However it was worth it to check out the pots and humans sacrificied to the gods, and get the full comentary.
Claire particulay liked the five minute walk without lamps in pitch darkness through freezezing water. However it was a great trip for her because she got to see a cocoa plant in the wild!
We’ve also gone to Tikal, which are a bunch of Maya temples within the jungle. The temples were pretty cool, but what really made it great was the wildlife. We saw howler monkees fighting for territory, and their roar is straight out of a horror movie.
We also had cheeky spider monkeys throw seeds at us (we counted ourselves lucky they didn’t deficate on our heads, as they’re known to do).
We also saw a bird which was 100% blood red and a leafcutter ant colony. 4cm ants partrol the colony, a guide was so keen to show me how tough they are, he picked one up. It proceed to bite his finger and blood poured out of him. Ants are cool!!
North and Central America Trip – We Survived Honduras
You´ll be pleased to hear made it out of Honduras alive – just!
We nearly got trapped there – not from protests, nor closed borders,
but because it´s an amazing country where it would be easy to laze around for months.
Before leaving Guatemala, we did some rather ‘special’ markets (see photo) and tried the local fast food, Pollo Campero, which is like KFC but cold and old. Both experiances seem like a metaphor for the country as a whole.
Yes, we’d had our fill of Guatemala by the time we hopped on a 4am minivan to Honduras.
The van played Reggaton at full volume, making sleeping impossible. Just what you want at 4am.
The tourism industry is big in Central America, but sometimes they don’t really get it.
We arrived in Copan Ruinas, which is a small town next to the Mayan ruins.
The ruins have the best carvings and inscriptions, and were deserted thanks to the convenient coup. The highlight was the crimson macaws, giant red parrots who squark and fly freely through the trees.
We also saw turquoise crowned motmots, squirrels, monkeys, and crazy rodents: rats the size of cats.
The next day we went to a bird park which adopts ex-pets and freed black market animals. We ‘played’ with a toucan (pretty much they just chomp down on your fingers) and practiced Spanish with parrots.
After all that we needed a holiday, so we headed up to the Bay Islands in the Caribbean. Here the coup was in full flight. We saw a large crowd of people covered in blood… at the all-you-can-drink Halloween party!
We stayed in a sweet pad with hammocks overlooking the water, where you can snorkel straight off the pier.
STOP. Hammock time!
I wanted to try diving, but my nasty cold and chest infection prevented it. Instead we went out on a free snorkeling tour… bonus!
The real draw here are the whale sharks, but unfortunately a storm two weeks previously scared them all away…
We rounded out our time in Honduras by visiting a microbrewery on the shores of lake Yojoa.
The mainstream beer in Honduras is ALL made by
SAB, who also owns Miller. So getting a real pint was refreshing!
After an extended drinking / singing / guitarring session with the owner, we got up at 6am the following day to ‘go birding’. A local guide rowed us onto the lake, where we saw egrets, kingfishers, green herons and more.
This was one of the cleanest, most beautiful places in Central America, and mercifully low in rubbish. Many locals here just dump their trash on the side of the road, or into the local river…
Then we had a 2-day mad dash in local buses down to colonial Granada in Nicaragua. As well as getting assaulted by the usual salesmen on the buses selling snacks, we saw a new breed of salesperson.
The guy who stands up and informed you about tapeworms, enthusiastically pointing at pictures of parasites before trying to sell you the medication. They´re pretty convincing as they sell a lot of it, who would know all of southern Honduras has tapeworms?
Now if Zelaya had promised free worming for everyone, there would never have been a coup at all!
The mixture of development and chaos here really does you head in. If you want to catch a local bus, they work really efficiently.
Whereas when Claire bought facewash in a fancy pharmacy yesterday, she had to deal with one girl who served her, another girl to take her money, and yet another to ‘package her purchase’, all at different counters within the same shop… which had no other customers. Result? 15 minutes to buy facewash. Great customer experience!
However last night there was a free concert of porno-jazz in the square. Totally makes up for it.