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Published: September 22nd 2007
Well, the pace of this trip has well and truly slowed now, and it´s a very different experience to that of the first few weeks, largely due to the fact that the average age of the group has changed from around 30 to around 60! More of which later...
Last time I wrote, we´d just arrived in Antigua, Guatemala, which was once the capital, but was destroyed several times by earthquakes, so the capital was moved to Guatemela City. It´s a lovely city, surrounded by volcanos and containing some well-preserved old colonial buildings, and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were warned that it could be dangerous there, especially at night, but I found it a friendly place and not at all intimidating. On Friday, the main square was buzzing with people as it was the anniversary of the independence of Central America. There were many people dressed in national costume, and teams of school children running around the city carrying flaming torches, the symbolism of which I never did find out.
As I mentioned in my last blog, the two Canadian girls left us at this point, so we had once
last dinner with just the six of us from the first two weeks of the tour, which was really nice, and it was quite sad saying goodbye to them at the end of the evening.
After a couple of days wandering around Antigua, we travelled to a place called Panajachel, which sits on lake Atitlan, possibly the most beautiful lake in the world according to the guidebooks. However, the journey there was possibly one of the most horrendous! For the first time this trip, we used public transport called chicken buses, which are modified and colourfully-painted former school buses, so-called because the locals often use them to transport live chickens (thankfully there were no chickens today!). Riding on one of these buses is a unique experience, one which I´m glad I did, but would never want to do again! As on normal buses, each seat is designed to hold two people, but if there are already two people on a seat, a third person will happily sit on that seat anyway, meaning that there are usually 6 people in each row, at least one of whom will be wedged in the middle of the aisle, making it very difficult
for people to get on and off. Sometimes there will be four or five people to one seat if there are children involved. The buses get very full and very hot very quickly, and we had to get four different buses, the second of which involved standing for about 90 minutes, wedged in from all sides, as the bus climbed high into the mountains on long and winding roads, many of which were blocked for a few minutes due to the ongoing Independence Day parades.
Boy were we relieved when we finally arrived at what was a stunning setting. The lake is actually the crater of a volcano, and there are at least three volcanos surrounding it, making it a spectacular site. Unfortunately, the town was little more than a string of stalls each selling the same old stuff, and the streets were strewn with litter. That evening, I decided not to go out to dinner, partly due to being tired from the journey, but mainly due to the fact that I needed some space away from some of the older members of the group. Don´t get me wrong, they are all lovely people, it´s just that a couple
of the Kiwis in particular clearly haven´t travelled much and spend most of the time questioning things, pointing and marvelling at everything, no matter how mundane, and coming out with some classic comments, all in the thickest NZ accent imaginable! In small doses it´s quite endearing, and it´s giving us four guys something to laugh about every day. We´re thinking of writing a sitcom based around one of the guys, but nobody would believe it!
On Sunday, we took a boat trip across the lake, stopping off at a lovely hotel on the other side for breakfast, and then a few Mayan villages, some of which were little more than tourist markets. The views were simply stunning, and it was a good day trip, although the general feeling was that we should have stayed at a couple of the villages for longer at the expense of some of the more touristy places.
On Monday we returned to Antigua for a couple more days, which was nice but probably a day too many. In the evening, after dinner, we went to a quiet bar and had a local drink a bit like tequila, which is traditionally accompanied by some
bar snacks of dried grasshopper, which tasted as foul as it sounds (as did the drink!). The following day, we four lads spent a few hours walking around the city, I bought a Guatemala football top from the market (at least, I think that´s what I bought), and we found an Indian restaurant which did proper English curries, probably the best meal of the trip so far! And not a bean in sight.
On Wednesday we had a 5.45am start for a long trip to Rio Dolce, also in Guatemala. The trip was made longer and much more unbearable by the fact that we twice had to stop for at least half an hour to change a tyre (we ended up using the spare, which was as bald as a coot). We finally arrived at Rio Dolce eleven hours later, but luckily we were staying in a lovely hotel, more like a jungle lodge, which had a swimming pool which we soon made use of, playing a game of water volleyball. Having had some cool weather in Antigua, we now returned to the heat, humidity and mosquitos of the coast (Rio Dolce is not far from the Caribbean Sea).
I´ve been bitten to shreds at various parts of the trip already, despite covering myself with tropical strength mosquito repellent - let´s hope the malaria tablets are working!
On Thursday, we took a boat trip on the Rio Dolce to the Caribbean town of Livingston. The town isn´t much to write home about, so I won´t, but the boat trip was beautiful, similar to some of those I took during my first week in Costa Rica, where we spotted lots of birdlife as we sped along through the rainforest. We stopped off at some natural hot springs for a quick dip (they stank of sulphur, and were scorching hot in places and freezing cold a few inches either side), and at a Mayan craft stall, where we spotted a lizard seconds before it was eaten by a snake! Pity I left my camera on the boat.
Yesterday we travelled to Flores, a tiny island where there really is nothing to do! We´ve got the whole day here today as well, which is why I have spent about 3 hours sitting here writing this, but tomorrow we head for Tikal, which are Mayan ruins situated in the heart of
View from hotel
the jungle. We are leaving at 4am to catch the sunrise, so let´s hope it's not pissing down.
OK, that´s it for now. Enjoy the pics.
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