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Published: August 7th 2013
21st July - 3rd August
Nicaragua - Honduras - El Salvador - Guatemala - Belize
Having spent the previous day schlepping our way from the Corn Islands to Nicaragua's capital, we boarded another long distance bus and prepared ourselves for passing through another four countries in two days. We left behind the hoards of students sitting atop old American school buses celebrating the presidential anniversary and slipped though to Honduras passing beauty pageants, carnival floats and men sporting cowboy hats in the streets. We spent the night in El Salvador welcomed by shotgun toting guards at every door and fast food chains as far as the eye could see. Passing through another boarder we successfully laughed off the over eager sniffer dog obsessed with Charlie's crotch. No, we weren't drug smugglers, just innocent travellers with a stash of cash tucked away in a money belt. Although the countries changed before us, one thing remained the same, Central America is undoubtedly the home of hammocks. Everyone has one, most conversations are centred around one, and everyone is selling one. Finally we made it into Guatemala and to the colonial town of Antigua, desperately avoiding the forewarned dangers of the capital
We spent days walking down the cobble stoned streets, visiting ruined monasteries and baroque cathedrals. We past ladies wearing traditional intricately woven floral blouses selling their wares to the influx of tourists. Managing to scratch the surface and dig a little deeper, we explored the inner workings of backstreets and stumbled upon local eateries behind shop stalls out of the usual line of sight. The town, being surrounded by three volcanoes, has had a troubled past. It's been wrecked by earthquakes time and again, eventually being abandoned and the capital city being moved to somewhere more stable. However, its beauty remains and its popularity is founded on the truly friendly people we met along the way.
Completely changing our minds last minute we decided to fit another stop into our rushed week through Guatemala. We had been told time and again that Semuc Champey, in the centre of the country, was a real treasure not to be missed. Everyone was right. We had one of the best days of our entire trip here. Hiking to the top of a valley we looked down on tiered emerald pools of water carved into the limestone surrounded by forest. As
we made our way down we saw the river forcing its way under these pools and at the other end pouring out again. We swam and slid and jumped between pools. Determined to be seen as one of the 'lads' I buried my nerves and plunged right in, climbing down a rickety rope ladder into the mountain's cavernous mouth where the river escaped amid giant rock formations. Buzzing from the adrenaline of this adventure we moved into the real caves.
With nothing but a candle to light the way we walked into the pitch black. Wearing trainers, and not much else, we felt our way uncertainly along the floor and waded through the chilly water. Surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites and unseen bats we powered on feeling more like Indiana Jones by the second. The water became deep as we had to swim through tunnels, waving the candle above our heads and trying to contain our squeals. We traversed waterfalls, jumped into black holes and slid down rocks. Pushing health and safety to one side we finished the day knackered and aching but on an uber adrenaline high - what a day!
Next stop Tikal. Centre of the
Mayan culture from 700 BC until 900 AD. At its peak during the mid-6th century Tikal dominated over 30 square kilometres and had a population of 100,000 at a time when London was only 35,000. Nearly lost to the jungle, it was rediscovered in 1848, and has only been partly excavated. Steep sided Towering stone pyramids poke above the dense green canopy as wildlife swings, sings and screeches from the trees. We visited in the afternoon when there were hardly any other tourists around and had planned on seeing the sunset from the tallest temple at 64 metres high. Unfortunately the Vice President's son had taken our spot when we arrived as the shotgun laden body guards refused our tour group entry. Pretty disappointed that we couldn't outrank them, we hotfooted it over to the next highest temple to see sunset over the expanse of jungle, in awe of the expanse of time that had been passed by the surrounding structures in this remote location.
Crossing the border from Guatemala into Belize had an immediate impact on the senses. We were definitely now diving head first into Caribbean culture as we boarded a string of pimped up chicken buses.
Reggae blared out of the speakers as passengers fought for space and shouted out mouthy remarks to the conductors. Successfully wedging myself into the spare tyre in the aisle, Charlie clung onto the back door, as we ducked our heads. Apparently if the 100 passengers on a bus, with a capacity for 50, can bend down to the same height of the seats then they are good to go and won't get a fine. This lasted all of 20 seconds until we had passed through the bus terminal gates and everyone popped back up like a tightly sprung Jack-in-a-box. We ate on the go with fried chicken, rice and beans and tried to decipher the Belizean accent. People were speaking English to us at last, but we still couldn't make out the words.
Arriving in Sittee River we had managed to hitch rides, pick up our groceries as there was no food at our final destination and were getting truly excited about the following week. We had decided to go to a desert island, 'Glovers Reef Atoll', in the middle of a marine reserve. With no electricity, very little water and a hut over the sea we had to
be prepared to be self sufficient. With only one boat travelling to the island and back every week, we were either committing to paradise or hell. Especially since we had read very mixed reviews on Trip Advisor; our travelling Bible. What are we here for if not to take chances?
With curiosity levels rising and expectations getting a little higher than anticipated we chatted to the hostel manager before heading to bed for the big journey in the morning. It was great to be able to speak to someone in English and have a real conversation beyond the basics of 'how much for a room?' and 'thank you'. We learnt about the politics of Belize and the local people of the area.
Waking a couple of times in the night from the notorious mossie bites I realised that I'd had an usual reaction to one on my eye. Popping an antihistamine I went back to bed. Getting up again in the morning I was not the same person who went to bed. I had transformed into a Cyclopse. With my golf ball of an eye, bulging and swollen shut, I realised I may need to see a doctor.
Uh oh, only 2 hours until the boat was due to leave... The manager's reaction to my face was one of shock and panic. This made me feel a little uneasy. He frantically called someone to take us to an emergency doctor in the next town. Looking in clinics and houses we finally found someone to help. Not without being accosted by a very old British lady who forced her way into the cab to try and heal me with her 'prayers'. As she started to convulse, talk in another tongue and mention the word 'Satan', arms outstretched to me, Charlie intervened and sent her packing. Seeing the conventional doctor was reassuring as we ascertained that I had fallen victim to a 'Doctor Fly'. After a very large cortisone injection, numerous antihistamine tablets and a slapping of cream we were ready to board the 70ft catamaran for our journey to the atoll.
Wow. We arrived in paradise. Shocking blue, turquoise and aquamarine sea surrounded the small coconut tree inhabited island made from coral in the middle of a large reef. With only 11 other guests on the island we were truly isolated. We made our way down our rickety
30metre long walkway to our hut over the sea, passing sting rays and barracudas below us. Our hut, being made from sticks and thatch, was breezy and perfect for us. With our wrap-around veranda, deck chairs and hired snorkel equipment we were set for the week. We went diving, snorkelled from shore, raced hermit crabs and ate coconuts to our hearts content. We woke at sunrise and watched the sun set as shooting stars came out and the sea turned into a disco of flashing lightening plankton. The environment was wonderful but we have to admit the owners were pretty strange, if not completely on another planet, but you can't expect to have beauty without scandal.
I thought that there weren't any more barriers for Charlie and I left to overcome after my Delhi belly explosion incident in India. It turned out there was something I had failed to think of. The 'golden shower'. Yes, you read right. Having set off on an 'average' snorkelling trip we spotted one or two almost transparent looking plastic bags pulsating alongside us. Thinking nothing of it we continued to scout out an array of brightly coloured fish of all shapes and sizes
nibbling at the coral. Then I felt a razor sharp sensation around my throat, on my cheek, across my collar bone and upper arm. Unable to see the source of the irritation I thrashed around and tried to ignore the sting as we continued. Upon our arrival in our shack a rash had appeared. As a child of the 'Friends' era, I knew that we were going to have to do a Monica and Chandler. Charlie was going to have to demonstrate his real love for me and perform on demand. Needless to say he hosed me down and we couldn't make eye contact for the next hour. This is not something we will be repeating if we can help it!
Unfortunately our week came to an end too quickly and we found ourselves back on a chicken bus. I was next to someone being sick and a baby's nappy being changed, as Charlie snuggled in next some gangster rude boys. We spent the next 24 hours heading north to Mexico. Time was running out, not long until we were heading home...
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