Published: February 22nd 2008
February 18th 2008
Guatemala and El Salvador
So we returned to Xela for the last time, to await our credit cards and of course get another 2 weeks of much needed Spanish tuition, as it seemed as though all the time spent travelling through English speaking places really took its toll! Arriving back in Xela was really good - it felt like returning to our home away from home. It was freezing, much colder than before Christmas, we had frost outside our window a few times which was a bit of a shock considering we were in the tropics! We returned to school to see barely any familiar faces which felt a little strange, but we settled in quickly both at school and at the same host family we had previously stayed with. Staying with the same family was lovely - we knew them all and quickly felt like members of the family.
While in Xela we didn´t get up to too much, we took the time to watch a few movies and get our budget back on track after blowing it out a bit in Belize and Mexico. The only really notable activity was assisting students with their English. One
afternoon we headed to one of the local schools and practiced English with some of the local students. It was really rewarding but proved to be a challenge as well. Some of the students didn´t really speak any English at all and we had to use a lot of Spanish to explain very simple phrases such as ¨How old are you?¨ It was a little daunting when you had three 16yr olds looking at you completely blankly but was definitely a worthy way to spend an afternoon. We only wished that we had been studying Spanish during school term time because then we would have been able to do it every week. It is one of the projects Escuela Juan Sisay has set up that benefit the local children.
We were however, relieved when our cards arrived because we were keen to be back on the road and to get moving on the way to Panama....so when they arrived we finished up the week of school and headed to Antigua (again) where Al was desperate to do some mountain biking and we also wanted to get to the renknowned markets at Chichicastenango before we left Guatemala for the third
Our view from the hotel room
and final time during these travels. The hardest thing about leaving was definitely saying goodbye to our host family. We have come to really love them and there were tears shed by the host mother and great grandmother when we departed. Unfortunately goodbyes become a fairly standard part of travelling.
From Antigua we headed to Chichicastenango for a day at the very bright and very bustling market. People come from the surrounding areas to sell there wares - be they blankets, jewellry, dried fish or fruit. And it is a fascinating experience. It is popular with tourists to Guatemala but locals also head to the market to trade in every day items. The church in the centre of the market is also one-of-a-kind. It is a Catholic church but the Mayan people are allowed to perform traditional Mayan rituals inside the church, as well as on the steps in front of the church. There are altars set up to allow them to burn their offerings - and many burn things such as maize and sugar. We picked up a few pieces but turned out to be completely useless at haggling, as soon as a price sounded reasonable (usually immediately)
The greatest sight in the world!!
Our replacement credit cards arrived safely from Australia!
we settled for it! Our parents would be appalled!!
After a lovely day in the markets it was time to go mountain biking which Al was extremely looking forward too and Lara was a bit nervous about having never done it before. However our guide Pancho was lovely, and after riding in the back of the ute out to a small village the mountain biking began. At first it was not too challenging, we road on paths among the crops, with locals greeting us and telling us to go faster! Lara had a slight incident with a river crossing but managed to stay on the bike until she got back into town. However it wasn´t too last too long, after watching the other three cyclists go down a hill, avoid a pile of rocks and cross a small bridge infront of a crowd - she rode down the hill, panicked because there were people watching and ploughed straight into the large pile of rocks, hitting her head, and causing grazes to her chin and both her elbows. And so we continued....doing a little bit more off road but nothing too difficult until we were to ride back to Antigua.
We were under the impression that this would be an easy ride back along quiet roads - instead we plunged off a steep gorge....which had villagers wondering around. Needless to say Al was in his element, loving every moment of it except when he almost hit a child that ran onto the track. Lara sort of skidded her way down slowly while being told by the local women that it was ¨muy peligroso¨(very dangerous) which filled her with confidence! After almost reaching the bottom unscathed she decided that she was quite capable of mountain biking and then promptly went straight over the handlebars. She landed between the bike and the handlebars and was trapped for a minute while she tried to wiggle her way out. For once, there was no one around and the other bikers were waiting further down the hill. While limping down the hill, some elderly Mayan women appeared and brushed her down calling her ´pobrecita´(poor thing) and shortly afterwards, after a few tears, they continued the ride back to Antigua. It was an enjoyable day but Lara was unable to do much for the next few days as she had cuts and grazes on her chin,
Lara admiring the view
her elbows, her fingers, her shoulder and bruises on her thighs from the handlebar incident that made her look as if she had been beaten up extremely badly.
In that state we left Guatemala which we have grown incredibly fond of and headed to El Salvador which most tourists avoid because it is ¨very dangerous¨due to the recent civil war. We were a little anxious to see what El Salvador would be like....but it turned out to be lovely and we felt safe and comfortable in San Salvador and the surrounding towns. The only problem we had was their incredibly rapid Spanish which after the slow and clear Guatemalan accent sounded like complete jibberish on occasion!! And El Salvadorans don´t speak any English, possibly because the incredibly small number of tourists.
We spent a few days in San Salvador and were completely surprised by the wealth. El Salvadorans do have the highest minimum wage in Central America and that was very clear. Yes, there is still poverty in El Salvador but compared to other countries in the region it is positively booming. We checked out the sites of San Salvador including some of their excellent museums and their
One very rare day with Volcan Agua visable
Central Park before heading to the charming colonial town of Suchitoto.
Suchitoto is a lovely little village 40km north of San Salvador - with a lovely little church, cobbled streets and white-washed houses. There wasn´t much to do in Suchitoto which was fine with us because it was so incredibly hot! We spent a few days checking out the sites and drinking a lot of water before continuing on our way.
From there we decided to head up into the mountains to the small town of La Palma famous for one of its artists Francisco LLort whose childlike images are famous throughout the world. Unfortunately we didn´t really get the chance to see any of the town because Lara got sick, extremely quickly and inexplicably. We had eaten the same food for the last few days but by nightfall Lara had started throwing up and she continued to do so for the entire night, spending the majority of the night on the bathroom floor. The next day was a write-off - Al was exhausted from spending the night checking she was okay and Lara was extremely weak and was still having trouble holding things down. She didn´t eat
any food for the two days following but then slowly began to eat again. It was a completely frustrating experience as we couldn´t work out what the problem could have been. Unfortunately we had to get back to San Salvador to catch our 5am bus to Managua, Nicaragua so we didn´t get too see too much more of El Salvador. We were pleased to have gone though, because it was a great country and the people were lovely.
We spent the following day on a 12 hour bus trip through El Salvador, western Honduras and Nicaragua, arriving in the capital Managua in the afternoon. It was a little bit of a shock to the system after El Salvador, with people trying to take advantage of us as soon as we got off the bus and more prolific beggars than we had come across anywhere else. So we thought we would see what else Nicaragua had to offer and the next morning headed to the lakeside colonial town of Granada.
There are more photos below