Friday, February 27, 2009

San Pedro Guatemala - Paradise

I caught a bus out of Antigua to San Pedro at 2pm ($65 Q ticket purchased at the hostel (Black Cat)), the ride was suppose to be 3 1/2 hours however that time estimate didn't take into consideration the road construction about 1/2 way here that resulted in an hour delay and we had to drop some folks off at another town on the other side of the lake so we arrived at about 7pm. The bus of people were great, we hit the road construction and an Irish guy on the bus pulls out a 2 litre jug of the local moonshine called cusha. Smells a little like pain thinner but by the second swig you start thinking it's not so bad. There were 12 of us on the bus so we all took swigs (except the driver) and purchased a few CD's for the rest of the trip to play in the bus from the road side vendors who were taking advantage of the parking lot the road had turned into. All in all one of the best bus rides so far some Argentina girls, a couple from South Africa, Irish Dude, American girl and a couple of guys from Germany.

American Girl & I got off the bus and decided to get a room together (we had just met on the bus) for the 1st night and look for other accommodations in the morning. We ended up being roommates for 3 nights.. On the 3rd day we were out for breakfast and she said "By the way thanks for not killing me in my sleep glad your not a serial killer" to which I replied "and thank you for not stealing my stuff" LOL

Went to the bar our first night in (surprise surprise) were the special of the night was $4 Q Cuba Libra's.. Yup that's about 60 cents a drink and met up with Oregon guy and Czech girl that I had met in Flores along with Aussie dude, Toronto guy and German girls. Once happy hour was over we went over to the Reggae club and had a few tequila shots. Long story short it took me an hour to find were I was staying and then I couldn't remember what room I was in so spent some time looking through windows and trying the key in doors to try to spot my bags in a room.

San Pedro is awesome, they have some of the coolest streets, tiny little paths the run all over the place, very easy to get lost but that's part of the fun cause you find new little shops and restaurants all over the place. Lots of great people as well and from all over the world most of them have been traveling for a long time so they have lots of tips. Also met up with the guy from Kelowna who was in Antigua, he is sharing a dorm with Irish guy from the bus. It is a very small world indeed.

Spent yesterday checking out other hotels as I am going to be here awhile I want to find somewhere cheap and in an area that is easy to find. Moved this yesterday into a new place by myself ($35 Q) but I'll be moving again on Monday. This place is okay but shared bathroom and a little on the scuzzy side so found a place today that is available on Monday for $30 Q has a private bathroom and a shared kitchen not that I have any intentions of cooking but the fridge to keep beer cold is a good thing. I've been living on street meat since I got here, $10 Q for 3 taco's, $8 Q for street chicken LOL the hepatitis A shot was probably a good idea. So far all good and the food is very tasty. There is a guy on one of the side streets who has a stand called Phat Burger, every time you walk by all he ever says is "Phat Burger" in a baritone voice, sometimes you don't even see him it is just a voice coming from somewhere.

So for folks that have been to Osoyoos this is the same kind of thing on an international scale, we are all from different countries and with way more bars and cheap drinks, same kind of vibe everyone is friends with everyone and all are just looking for a good time.

I signed up for Spanish lessons yesterday at the cooperative school ($675 Q for the week 4 hours a day for 5 days), Oregon, Aussie and Czech girl also registered 2 of them started today but mine does not start until Monday. Aussie guy is doing the home stay where you live with a local family so I'll find out how it goes and maybe do that for the last week I am here. It would be good to be able to practice Spanish.

Went kayaking yesterday which was great but the wind picked up so getting back involved some work arms are a little sore today. Kayak rental was $10 Q
Tons of Internet cafes here. The one I am using is D'noz it is right by the dock. They have WiFi and all you have to do is buy a beer to use it.

Room for #35 Q - Moving out Monday -------- Streets



Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Semuc Champey / Antigua

Caught a shuttle bus from Flores to Semuc Champey / Lanquin for $100 Q a 7 hour bus ride that involved a car ferry (BC Ferries should outfit their boats this way LOL check out the motor, 1 on each side) at one point and the last 1 1/2 hours on a 1 lane dirt mountain road that makes the old Hope Princeton look like the autobahn, pretty interesting when 2 vehicles meet up.

Stayed at El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, a really nice place lots of Cabanas and right by the river, dorm rooms are $35 Q a night and they have all you can eat diner @ $40 Q which was kind of lost on me as all I can eat isn't much but the food was great. They have swings as seats at the bar which was my favorite part of the place. Sadly the weather sucked it was raining and cold, I still would have stayed the extra day if it was just the rain as they have a great tour that involves caves and wading chest deep in water with a candle, a 10 meter bridge jump and playing in the river pools but wasn't interested in the cold and one of the locals told me it probably would not get better anytime soon so rather than sit and drink (unless you are doing the tour that's about all there is to do, not much in town) I decided to move on and return at a later date. So off to Antigua I go, $125 Q and another 7 hour bus ride. The shuttles are pretty comfy normally but this one was full so we were all a little squished.

Got to Antigua which is a beautiful colonial town, it used to be the capital of Guatemala until the earthquakes and lava hit then they moved it to where Guatemala city is. Lots of reminders of the quake many of the buildings are 1/2 fallen down which just adds to the charm of the town. Lots of Spanish schools and gringos. I checked in to The Black Cat Hostel, it is right by the main square, dorms are $60 Q and include breakfast in the morning so not a bad deal. Lots of folks here, met a guy from Kelowna, a chick and a guy from Oregon and more Brits. Got some great travel tips as most of them were working their way up from Nicaragua. Just did the 1 night here, I will come back on my way through to El Salvador and stay a few nights, I am going to be in San Pedro taking Spanish immersion classes for at least 3 weeks and I'm really looking forward to not taking a bus for awhile, I got a tip on a great hotel for $15 Q a night were you get your own room with a bathroom, I am so looking forward to that and unpacking, so I'll see how it pans out. Bus to San Pedro (Shuttle) $75 Q.
Czech girl from Flores just came in to the Black Cat to use the bano she is on the shuttle to San Pedro an hour ahead of me, Oregon guy from Flores is already there.. Small world, you find after a few weeks that you keep bumping into people in the strangest places. All very random, or is it? San Pedro should be good, they are both crazy :-)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Flores - Tikal Guatemala

The trip from Palenque to Flores takes about 8 hours and is a combination van, boat, bus trip, the cost is $340 pesos. The bus leaves at 6am from El Panchan which is also were I got the ticket from. Sadly my dumb ass travel alarm clock is having issues, I bought it just before I left from my trip so it has been used twice I paid $10 for that f%cking piece of crap. It is a simple clock with a battery dial style so you would think there is not much that could go wrong with it but... The minute hand gets stuck once in a while and time stands still which is what happened the morning I needed to be up at 5am. Luckily I had a gecko roommate that night and at 5:30am he started chirping which woke me up. A bit of a rush to get my crap together but made it to the bus stop with 5 minutes to spare.

I used San Juan travel for the trip and other than a bus mechanical issue it was great (it didn't break down but it was pretty sick by the end of the trip), all of the connections were set up with people waiting for you. The first part of the trip is a 4 hour van ride to Frontera Corozal; where you clear Mexico customs at a cost of $100 pesos or $10.00 US. Then a 35 minute boat trip down the river, climb a steep mud bank to the bus for Flores. There are money changers on the bank of the river so you can change pesos to quetzals which is recommended as there are no banks in Flores who will change it for you. You get ripped off a bit but if you are not returning to Mexico it is worth it. 5 minutes into the bus ride we stopped at Guatemala customs in Sayaxché they don't check bags or anything you just show your passport and tell them how many days you want, I got 90 just in case I end up staying longer than planned. There is a $40 Quetzals charge to get into Guatemala. Than a 3 1/2 hour bus ride into Flores with a stop at the ATM machine in case you need $'s.

There were a few folks from El Panchan on the bus and we all decided to stay at Los Amigo's hostel. It is one of the best hostels I have stayed in. Funky decor including a swing in the lobby and lots of nooks and crannies. I got a dorm room with private bath for $40 Q and the couple with us got a private room for $60 Q. The hostel has a restaurant that is really cheap the average meal is $25 Q - $60 Q and they are huge. They also have beer and blender cocktails that run about $15 Q. This is a very busy place and for the most part is usually full, the staff are incredibly helpful and you can book most travel arrangements through them. Check out their web Site for some great travel advice on getting through Guatemala. They also have a couple of pet parrots that although cute can be very noisy and a few dogs and cats who have the run of the place. If you want to meet people this is the place, as well as the folks I came in with from El Panchan I met a ton of others who it turns out were all going to Tikal the same day. I highly recommend the blender drink with Strawberry juice, Bananas and rum in the huge fishbowl glass, very tasty. I had a brief stint as a street performer, I spent the first night hanging out with a fire dancer from Montreal going from restaurant to restaurant doing her show and collecting $'s.

I booked my trip to the Tikal ruins though the hostel and once again it was via San Juan Travel. The buses leave at various times but I wanted to be up there as early as possible so I booked on the 5am bus which gets you to the ruins when the park opens at 6:30am. The cost was $60 Q including return, you can take whatever bus you want back they run at 12:30pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm and the last one goes at 6pm. No need to book the return just show up at the bus stop 10 minutes before the bus goes. Again alarm clock f*cked up but a couple of others in the dorm where on the same bus so crisis averted... Clocks and time are not my friend :-(

The park is huge, I didn't get a guide but I did purchase a map it costs $150 Q to get in to see the ruins. The ruins are beautiful, it was foggy when we got there so it gave it a very ghostly appearance. The wild life was also very active in the morning and I saw howler monkeys, regular monkeys all kinds of birds and a wart hog looking thing. Most of us headed out on our own little adventures in the park and bumped into each other through out the day. You get through the park via dirt roads and paths through the jungle, for the most part I took the paths over the roads way more interesting. There is something about walking through the jungle with no one else around that makes you feel connected with nature. In some cases I would go an hour before running into anyone else. Some of the ruins are incredibly high, number IV and V are particularly scary, 4 is the tallest one but V has the nastiest set of stairs on it. For the most part you don't climb up the stairs of the ruins, they don't want to damage them so they have ladders and stairs up the sides so you can get to the top and sit and enjoy the view. Again with the height issues on both IV and V, I stuck as close to the back wall as I could get. Funny story the first place I went to was where Temple 1 & 2 are, not realizing that there was a set of stairs off to the side and not seeing the sign in Spanish that said no climbing; I actually climbed the front stairs of Temple 2 which is a total no no but the guard saw me do it and didn't say anything which is good because they can kick you out of the park for it. I also met a Shaman at Group F who works for the park we had a lovely conversation in Spanglish he was very fascinated with my tattoo and kept poking me in the arm. Kinda of freaky he had the whole black lips thing going but super nice he took me around and showed me were the howler monkeys were. All of the people who worked for the park were great in many cases I was the only one in the section of ruins and they would walk around with me and try to explain about them; I really have to learn Spanish there is a whole world of info out there I am missing. Anyway 7 hours later I had managed to see all of the ruin sites so I headed for the 2pm bus and back to Flores which broke down 70km into the trip, not a big deal we waited by the side of the road for the 3pm bus and they picked us up. I got back with very sore feet and a layer of sweat and bug spray coating me. Had the best shower ever, they have lots of hot water here.

I took a ton of pic's at the ruins but blogger is a pain in the ass to load pictures on (you can only do 5 at a time, it messes up the formatting and I have to individually move each one to where I want it by default it just piles them up at the top of the page) and I am just getting too lazy to spend 3 hours formatting. So here is a link to them on Flickr if you want to see more. Click on the picture and then to see it large click on "all sizes" at the top of the picture.

Flores is a town on an Island, it is very cute and old world. The people are great and the lake is clean so I've been doing a lot of swimming because it gets very hot here. There are any number of tours you can take including a boat across the lake, renting a canoe etc. There are a ton of restaurants laundry facilities etc. pretty much everything you need in a 6 block radius. The streets are either stone or dirt and the taxi service is motorized Tuc Tuc's that cost about $5 Q for the most part you don't need them on the Island but if you want to go across the bridge to Santa Elena they are a great alternative to walking in the heat. I have been in Flores for 3 days now and am leaving tomorrow it has been a very relaxing time, they have lots of book shops so I have stalked up and spent some quality time in the hammock in the lobby reading. There is a restaurant down the road that I have coffee in every morning with my new friend. Talkative little fellow and drinks my coffee instead of buying his own.

Next stop on the tour; Lanquin / Samuc Champey.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Palenque / El Panchan Mexico

Caught the 11pm bus out of Veracruz to Villahermosa at a cost of $418 pesos and a 6 hour ride. I provided some entertainment for the folks at the ADO ticket counter. When I went up to get my ticket I couldn't hear what she was saying, she is behind glass with the speaker. There were sirens going by and the speaker was not the greatest; and as it turns out I have no idea how to say Villahermosa, you would think it would be easy but not so.... I finally just wrote it down and passed a note to her which resulted in much laughter from her and me. Having done this a few time now I know she is going to ask for my name which will result in much confusion so I write it down and pass another note through before she asks, resulting in more laughter. Now there are 4 clerks standing around smiling at me and waiting to see what happens.. Next up seat selection, luckily I know a few numbers so that went okay. Long story short by the end of the purchase I had 4 clerks laughing their asses off and a long line up of people waiting to buy tickets who were not laughing so much. When I went to go catch my bus outside all of the clerks came out to say goodbye. So glad I could entertain the locals LOL

Got to Villahermosa at about 5:30 just in time for the 5:45 bus to Palenque at a cost of $106 pesos and about a 2 hour ride. Met up with a couple of people on that bus, a couple who were in the same hotel as me in Veracruz and a guy with a Canadian flag on his backpack who it turns out was in disguise and was really from California. Seemed like a nice enough guy but really you shouldn't be able to buy Canadian flags unless you can show proof of citizenship, as much as I sympathize with the plight of the travelers from the south don't be screwing it up for us. Anyway it ended up we were all going to El Panchan (Mayan for "heaven on earth") which is just outside of Palenque on the way to the ruins so we shared a cab $50.00 pesos for all of us and our packs. El Panchan is basically a plot of land that one of the archaeologists who worked on the site bought. Now he has divided it amongst his children who run a bunch of different businesses including places that rent out cabanas and other accommodations and a couple of restaurants. There is an Internet place but in 2 days it has never opened so I have had to go into town to check the Lost Trekkers site and approve ads. Not a big deal the vans (Collectivo's) go back and forth between town and the ruins very regularly usually it is only a 5 minute wait to flag one down. The trip into town is 10 pesos and another 10 pesos to get back. The town is nice enough but very hot, there is not much to do there a few pubs and some shopping. El Panchan is a lot cooler than town due to the heavy jungle foliage there are spots of sun but most of the paths have tree coverage so it's a lot more bearable.

I found a cabana down by the river at the Jungle Place. Very basic a bed a table and a fan, it does have electricity and a small porch on the back over the river (stream), there are shared bathrooms the cost is $100 pesos a night.

After dumping my stuff in my new home and on very little sleep I hoped a collectivo to the ruins. The park gate is just outside the driveway into El Panchan so I walked through, there is a $20 pesos charge to enter the park, then I flagged down a collectivo for $10 pesos.

The fee to get into the Palenque ruins is $51 pesos which includes entry into the museum as well. If you go give yourself at least 6 hours to get through the whole park, it is huge and there are many stairs involved if you want to go into the buildings, make sure you have lots of water as well. They charge $10 pesos if you need to buy it while you are there and you have to go outside the ruins to get it. Not a big deal, your ticket is good for the day so you can go in and out as much as you want. There are also food stands which are pretty cheap and some expensive restaurants. There are a ton of people selling souvenirs as well as guides offering their services. I didn't opt for a guide all of the signs for the buildings have English translations but you would probably get more of the history and more of a jungle walk with a guide, they were promising to show me howler monkeys.

The ruins are incredible most of them are dated from 600 BC to 800 BC, Palenque itself started as an agricultural village in the 4th century. The ruins are in pretty good shape considering they were buried under jungle for a very long time. It does get really hot in the main area as there is little shade so I broke it up and did some ruins that were in the jungle then a building in the main part then back to the jungle. The ruins cover a very large area so wear comfy shoes. There were a lot of people there when I went but it was still possible to be the only one on some of the trails in the jungle and be the only one in and around some of the ruins in the jungle area. I did have some issues with the whole height thing, I am not a fan of high places so going up the big buildings was okay but down was another matter. It's kind of scary when you are looking down, those stairs look very little and there is the added challenge of getting down while lots of people are coming up. Luckily my fear of looking like a sissy girl is stronger than my fear of heights, by the 2nd building it wasn't so bad but I was very careful and developed a side step maneuver to get down rather than the head on route.

El Panchan is a great mix of people from all over the place, at anytime you can hear 3 or 4 different languages being spoken and the atmosphere is very relaxed. The restaurants at night have candlelight dining and the one I have been going to Don Muchos has live music that starts at about 8ish. They also have good food and the prices are great, there is very little on the menu over $100 pesos for the amount that I eat they have a whole range of choices in the $30 - $50 peso range, beers are about $17 pesos depending on what you drink. Having been into town a few times, I am very happy with the decision to stay outside of town the whole jungle thing is much better for me than the town thing.

Met some great folks here, Kiwi guy, Holland girl, Montreal chick, Italian dude, Hungarian guy, some Brits and more. El Panchan attracts a wide variety of folks from all over the world.

Next stop Flores Guatemala, got here after an 8 hour van, boat and bus extravaganza.. Details to come but I'm taking the day off tomorrow to do some swimming and lazing, next day Tikal ruins.

My cabana in the jungle and trail leading to it

Shots Of The Ruins