Onward from lake Atitlan

Published: November 3rd 2007
Edit Blog Post

Sunset first day UtiliaSunset first day UtiliaSunset first day Utilia

There were a lot of pretty cool sunsets and our accomodation was bang on the beach.


At the end of the last blog I was approaching the end of my time at Lago Atitlan but had extended my stay for a couple of day haviong found a nice quiet hostel to relax in. My plan to move to the quiet town of Jaibalito on Lago Atitlan worked quite well for the first two days and I managed to get a little Spanish done as well as visiting a few more villages around the lake either on bike or by foot. On the Friday however I met up with some friends from La Iguanas In Santa Cruz and we headed up on bus to Solata for one of the biggest markets in Guatemala. It was a fantastic walk back (all downhill) and the market itself was brilliant. Nearly everyone including the guys were in traditional dress (which includes a skirt for the guys). It was so colourful and was almost like a scene out of a Wheres Wally book with so many identical colours. When we got back down from Santa Cruz I stayed for a couple of beers and then some mates started a game of poker which I joined. By the time it finished it
Dinner at a local fish restaurantDinner at a local fish restaurantDinner at a local fish restaurant

Complete with Rasta shef.
was dark and raining so I decided to stay and stop at Iguanas for my last night on the lake paying for it with my winnings. Glad I did as it was a funny night and they cooked up a superb curry. In the morning I had to get a boat back to Jaibalito, pack and then jump on another boat again to Pana for a 10am bus to Antigua. Opted for the earlier bus rather than catching a later shuttle with Aussies Steve and Jan from Xela mainly because of the extra leg room and was glad I did when I recieved the below email a couple of days later.

Steves story
2 days ago we were leaving Panajachel and heading to Antigua on the 4pm shuttle bus. After climbing the big hill and heading down the other side, we got freaked out by some heavy XXXX. Whilst listning to "Wind cries Mary" by Hendrix I was totally chilled...eyes shut. Then bang , bang and another 6 or 8 bangs followed. Jan saw 6 guys jump out on the road all dressed in dark clothes from balaclava to toes. One threw a big rock through the windscreen whilst
Sunset day 2Sunset day 2Sunset day 2

Another goody.
the others let loose on there guns/rifles or whatever the XXXX they had. I looked behind as we flew by and saw 6 guys pointing guns n XXXX at me as I was at the back of the bus. Being the quick guy I am, I did nothing! Everyone else on the bus had ducked down and was screaming. Our driver floored it and was shitting himself driving like a maniac all over the road, foot to the floor in awe of the event in hand. The Banditos were a pretty shit shot as they missed all tyres. I think, by the sound of things, alot of bullets either missed or ricocheted off the van. Although, windscreen smashed. And once we arrived SAFELY to Antigua, being the 1st to get dropped off we could only check out the vans exterior quickly. The front passenger side had a big bullet hole through it near the dash side. Probably just missing the guys leg sitting there. Anyway, miraculously, nobody was hurt and all we have is the emotional pain which is only another excuse for more beers. After downing a litre of red wine it starting to sink in. Anyway we are
Getting ready to dive.Getting ready to dive.Getting ready to dive.

Aside from eating drinking and sleeping diving is pretty much the only other activity on the island.
off at 9.30am Saturday to that Monolocos bar in town to see the Aussies smash the Poms in the 1/4 finals Rugby. Follwed by the All Blacks Vs France. See ya there.

A scary story! Certainly glad I didnt stay around and catch the later shuttle. Saved myself $5 as well. Guess he was wrong about the rugby, 12-10 England get in. A bad week for him! Anyway I only spent one night in Antigua this time and had quite an early one. Watched a couple of rugby games in the afternoon including Fiji Vs Wales and Englands last 16 game. Both were was decent, had some dinner after and then hit the sack early in preperation for a big travel day starting at 4am the next morning. Hadnt really decided where to go to the next day but had a shuttle booked as far as Copan in Honduras (6 hrs away) where there are some famous ruins. Arriving in Copan decided to skip these as many of the other ruins Ive seen (Angkor Wat and Machu Pitchu) and plan to see (Tikal) are supposedly far more impressive and I fancied getting all the travelling over in one
Dive buddy and masterDive buddy and masterDive buddy and master

This is me, my dive buddy Elaine from Holland and our Dive Master Ian. We were both doing the Naui advanced course and Elaine was a really good dive buddy.
day. So I jumped on a luxury bus and after a total 13hrs (including the first bus) made it to La Cieba which is the port town servicing the Bay of Islands (Honduras) with the island of Utilia being my next destination.


La Cieba and Bay of Islands (UTILIA)

Myself and another lad grabbed a room for the night (living it large with air conditioning) and then got the first ferry the next morning to the island. The guy (Toller) had lived on the island for months so he gave me some pretty good tips for cheap eats, bars etc. In the morning I also met up with two Dutch girls (Michelle and Elaine) and and an Australian girl (Ali) that I had met whilst in Santa Cruz and also a Polish girl (Eva) who we were all meeting for the first time. Utilia is basically full of dive shops and thats pretty much most peoples reason for going to the island. All of us were planning on doing some diving so we decided to stick together to save some money and have a few nights out. On the ferry we met an English girl (Jess) who
Sun set day 3Sun set day 3Sun set day 3

These hammocks were an awesome way to pass a lazy afternoon and the breeze kept the mozzy away.
was singing the praises of the dive shop she worked at (Altans) so we decided to take a look. (Incidently years ago Jess was an actuary at PWC but jacked it in to teach snowboarding in Canada 6 months each year with the other 6 month spent as a dive instructor in Utilia. Quite a career change!) Any we looked at a few shops, had some breakfast and got drenched by a tropical downpour and settled on the first place we visited which was a good choice. Nice atmosphere, accomodation on the water, friendly staff and excellent instructors. Got three twin rooms between us and all signed up for courses.

Elaine and I were both doing the Advance dive course but opted to do the NAUI advanced course as opposed to the more traditional PADI. It less well known but still accepted everywhere and you get 6 training dives as opposed to 5. You also get to penetrate wrecks to a greater extent and dive to 40m as opposed to 30m with PADI. I definitely recommend the course. We also managed to bag free accomodation and a free fun dive for all of us doing the course. The advanced
Sunset day 4Sunset day 4Sunset day 4

Sorry there are so many but I couldn;t decide which ones to scrap. This is my favourite though.
course was a lot of fun we saw two wrecks, one which was huge (almost 50m long), got to dive to 40m, do a night dive (which was stunning and truly unique) and learnt a lot of other stuff including a little rescue diving. We did the 7 dives over 3 days having a day off at the start and a couple of days chilling on hammocks after. The diving itself was brilliant. With the exception of one of the dives you generally saw a few less fish than some other places I have dived but what you did see was spectacular, the visibility was superb and there were loads of interesting swim throughs, caves etc. It was a really good place to do a course and our instructor (Ian a scottish guy) was very experienced, friendly and helpful. In the evening we generally enjoyed some really decent sea food and had a few beverages normally at the dive shop till 7 then after in one of the popular local bars Treetonic (which was built in the trees and was incredibly trippy) Coco Locos and Tranquila (which were on the sea with seating over the water) and Bush Bar (in
The islands other activityThe islands other activityThe islands other activity

Lots of awesome bars on the island.
the Bush). I also played poker 3 nights as they had some low buy in cash games which were a lot of fun as it was mostly locals and their accents were absolutely brilliant. The most I lost was $15 and the most I won similar so it was really just for fun. Had a really good time in Utilia but was ready to leave when we did as the weather was taking a turn for the worse and he mosquito bites count was picking up. Was a really fun group on the islands though and also a lot more familiar faces from Xela and the lake which was cool.

The last Friday night in Utila however I was out till about 3am and when I got back the room I was sharing with Eva had been ransacked. Someone had broken in through the back window and gone through all our stuff. They took some stuff but nothing really important. Fortunately they left all passports, cash cards etc and I had my camera on me. The other girl in the room had an $800 camera which they found and left deciding instead to take a half empty bottle fo
Messy roomMessy roomMessy room

Not my mess mind. Bloody burglars emptying everything out. They took the rum but didn't bother with cameras, cards or passports. Shame as it was very nice rum.
rum. Obviously just someone in need of a quick fix. I lost two phones, some rum and a little money, Eva having a phone, Ipod and about $250 stolen. To be honest was just relieved that nothing really important had gone. The next day was a bit of hassle however having to chat with he cops. The cops were a really good example of how relaxed island life is, they turned up wearing just shorts and chatted for only about 5 mins saying they would have an ask around and see what they could do. Later I took an unpleasant stroll down a mud path full of mosquitos to the jail (which is also the police station) to get a report for insurance. That was a real test of the Spanish! Had a fairly quiet Saturday night having a few fairwell drink with a some mates and rested for another travel day. On the Sunday morning myself Ali, Elaine and Michelle took the 6am ferry to La Cieba and then onward buses to San Pedro Sula and after Puerto Cortes the gateway to Belize. Not much to do in Puerto Cortes so grabbed some food (pizza hut) and had a
Point of entrancePoint of entrancePoint of entrance

They broke in through the window and didn't have the courtesy to put back up the mossy guard. I got a lot of bites!
wander round looking for somewhere to sit down for a coffee, in the end having to settle for a bit of a dive bar by the port, Puerto Cortes being your standard port town it didnt have much in the way of decent bars/restaurants.


Dangiga and crossing
In the morning we had been told there was a boat to Placencia at 9am so we got up for 7am to go the immigration office in town (which we had been told opened at 6am) to get our exit stamp. The office was closed and due to open at 8am. Went and had some breakfast and returned when it was open to get the necessary stamps and were told that there was no boat to Placencia at 9am but there was one to Dangriga (another Belizian town on the south coast) at 11.30am. As none of us had any firm plans other than to get to Belize this was fine with all of us. We were told we should head out to the port straight away though as there weren't many staff and it was necessary to but tickets a way in advance. This we did arriving at the port

Local fishermen always came round selling the fish they just caugh. There accents and way of life where really great. Went out in the morning , caught a couple of fish, sold them to restaurants, hit the bar. The food on the island was tasty as.
before 9am. Brought the tickets and then settled in a restaurant by the river tilll 11am playing cards. Got on the boat and waited for about 45 mins before asking the person in charge at the time (a child) when it was likely to leave. We were told there had been a delay with the port autority and it would probably be about 1pm. He was right and the boat did leave at 1pm but the sea was very bumpy and after about 20 mins we had to turn back as something fell off the engine. Returned, spent a while in port and then headed off after a while this time on a sucessful though very bumby three hour journey, getting frequently splashed throught the window which we worked out how to close 20 mins from the end. An eventful journey! Arriving in Dangiga we had a wander round but there wasn't really much to do. Grabbed a Chinese with the girls and then tried to work out which direction we were all going to head the next day, the two dutch girls going north, me east and Allie west. I had originally planned to spend longer in Southern Belize
Sunset day 5Sunset day 5Sunset day 5

Don't worry this is the last sunset photo.... from Utilia.
but thing cost a little more than I had expected and being the off season it was dead so opted to head to the livelier island of Caye Caulker reknowned for diving and snorkelling.

Caye Caulker
From Dangriga I left Aussie Ali and the Dutch girls (though a couple of days later the Dutchies stopped in again after a whirlwind tríp to Tikal) and set off on my lonesome for Caye Caulker (3-4 hours from Dangriga by bus followed by a short boat ride). Caye Caulker is a small island off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Sea measuring about 5 miles (north to south) by less than 1 mile (east to west). A narrow waterway known as the Split divides the island in two which supposedly was created by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 (though this is contested). A good reflection of what the island is like is that when the Dutch girls arrived they asked a couple of people do you know where a guy called Andy from England is and managed to track me down no problem. The island is tiny and everyone knows everyone else. It really has such a fantastically friendly atmosphere and is
Chilling and relaxingChilling and relaxingChilling and relaxing

With Derek and Michelle (who I travelled with after to Belize). Really was a very chilled week.
a very relaxed place with awesome snorkelling, chilled bars (including one with tables in the water and a high diving board), good sea food and no cars. After a couple of hours on the island you find yourself walking around more slowly and bare foot. Belize is certainly a relaxed place! Walking down the street at a pretty slow pace a local shouted out to me, "why you walk so fast man?" and a local lady who used to live in LA said that when she returned she asked her dad why everyone was walking so slowly and his reply was "where are they going to rush to?" Its certainly a world away from home. When I arrived I was greeted by someone on a golf cart offering rooms and decided to spoil myself again with a private room and was pleased I did. Had a relaxed first day and some good seafood and booked my self on a half day snorkelling trip the next day to Shark Ray alley. The snorkelling trip was good (though having recently been diving, snorkelling just doesnt quite seem as much fun). Snorkelled with rays though and all sorts of other stuff like octopus,
Onward transferOnward transferOnward transfer

Supposedly a pleasurable 3 hour boat journey to South Belize.
lobster, a green moray eel and lots of types of fish. There was also a good bunch of people on the trip though and when we returned we had a decent lunch and started on the beers heading to a bar on the spit to watch a non existent sunset then onwards to another bar for a quiz I think. Most nights on the island followed a similar theme generally involving a decent dinner Jolly Rogers being the best. This was just a huge fat chef on the beach who served up lobster, garlic bread, mash rice and desert with two free drinks for the pricely sum or 10USD, we even got 25% off our second time. Each meal was with a bunch of people and was just a really good atmosphere (BYO booze - nice cheap rum bottles) and afterwards you would head to a bar suitably inebriated and enjoy the islands offerings (karaoke, a live band, and a quiz while I was there amongst other things).

I came for two nights then decided to stay for 4 finally opting for 5 as a bar told me I would be able to watch the England Vs France rugby
Approaching BelizeApproaching BelizeApproaching Belize

It was a little cramped and bumpy but the views were pretty ace. Aussie Allie is in the middle.
semi final the next day and England VS Estonia football (or soccer for the less educated). On the Saturday morning I woke up and checked my emails and internet before the football for team news but recieved some terrible news from home that my Aunt Carol had unexpectedly passed away the previous day. Skip the next four paragraphs if you only want to read about travelling stories and drunken mishaps as the next two paragraphs are a little more sentimental than the usual blog content.

Non travel related
I debated whether and how to include this shocking news in this blog deciding that whilst many people who read this would have never met Carol (which Ive been told means “To celebrate in Song” and “Song of Happiness”) the way she lived her life was an example to everyone. My Aunt was described by all who met her as a vivacious, happy and larger than life personality, who ultimately had a huge positive impact on all those who had the pleasure of knowing her. She had a zest for living and travelling and early retirement presented her with more opportunity to experience life. She began to travel more of the
One street townOne street townOne street town

Dangiga our first stop in Belize
world with her husband visiting China, North and South America, Russia, Egypt and most of Europe. In the 6 weeks before her untimely departure she had visited South Africa, enjoyed a friend’s 60th birthday party in Barcelona and spent a week in Estepona. She really was a brilliant example of how you should enjoy life. She also once told her best friend Diane, “all I want is for my family to be happy.” It was because of these qualities that I felt compelled to include this briefest of tributes as if everyone had her lust for life and desire to make people I can only imagine how much happier everyone would be.

Whilst the next few days where obviously incredibly difficult (particulary being so removed from home) after a long time thinking about Carol it made a lot of things very clear. The reason I came travelling was to experience the world and whilst to some it might sounds strange recent events have spurred my desire to do everything possible for the rest of my trip despite a rapidly increasing debt to the bank of mum. It was also a huge reminder of what I miss most from home
Double dutchDouble dutchDouble dutch

For the last night with Alli and the Dutchies we had a Chinese and then some drinks back in the hotel. Wasn't much to do in the town itself.
and how just important family is.

It was probably partly due to my frame of mind at the time but a conversation I had made me think just how important it is to take a step back sometimes and realise just how lucky we all are. Whilst this is skipping to the future a bit (Im back in Xela as I write this studying Spanish for a another 4 days) I had an interesting conversation today with my professor about life at home versus life in Guatemala and some of the other countries Ive visited. What was clear was that whilst we have so much to be grateful for at home we often dont appreciate these things. For example in Guatemala poverty is widespread and deeply entrenched with about 60 per cent of the country’s households estimated to be living below the poverty line (extreme poverty being highly concentrated in rural areas and among indigenous communities). The country also has high rates of illiteracy, infant mortality and infant malnourishment (6th worst in the world I think). More than three decades of civil war have had devastating consequences for the rural population. The war caused many thousands of casualties and
Caye CaulkerCaye CaulkerCaye Caulker

Fantastic island to relax and "go slow".
the displacement of large numbers of people and as a result of these conflicts many women were widowed and left to provide for their households, and large numbers of children orphaned. One of the main causes of poverty in the country is lack of access to productive resources, especially land and water. Illiteracy and lack of education are key factors that perpetuate poverty in Guatemala with approximately 40 per cent of the population being illiterate, 60 per cent of whom are women. Despite all these facts (and Guatemala is far from one of the poorest countries in the world) what is evident as you travel around Guatemala is how happy, friendly and family orientated so many people here are.

I have by no means visited many of the worst effected areas but I have travelled for almost two months in Guatemala (getting buses all over the country),visiting some pretty remote small rural villages on trecks and also an orphanage in Xela and everywhere Ive been you see kids with nothing playing happily with huge smiles. I dont want to glorify poverty but it really makes you think how much we take for granted everyday and how worthless it is

3 nights in a row I think!
getting stressed over little things when really we have it pretty good at home. Really all that matters are the things in life that make you happy and you cant change anything else, and it is really that mentality here which I love. Spiel over and back to more travelling escapades.

Caye caulker onwards
My last day in Caye Caulker I didnt do anything aside from phoning home and attempting to read. I decided not to watch the days sport as I didnt really want to be around people although I later found out the Rugby wasnt shown anyway so my reason for staying an extra day was pointless. Still in hindsight Im grateful for having no plans and the opportunity to do nothing. From Caye Caulker I travelled alone for a couple of days and didnt really do too much. The boat from Caye Caulker was delayed 3 hours and then arriving in Belize I travelled on the local buses stopping in north belize near the border of Guatemala at a town called San Ignacio. Id originally planned to head all the way to Flores in Guatemala which was easily do able but got fed up being on
Nurse sharksNurse sharksNurse sharks

Went snorkelling with some of these beauties.
transport so decided to get out for the night and the afternoon. There was actually a football (soccer) game on in town which I hadnt realised so I went to this though it was pretty uneventful. Basically a lot of drunk Belizians and poor footballers (similar to Luton I suppose). Didnt do much that evening.

Guatemala again, cant keep away!

Took a bus across the border to Flores the next morning where again I did do very little aside from a wander round town, internet and booking a sunrise trip to Tikal. The next morning was a 3am start to get to Tikal and climb a tower for sunrise. The sunrise wasnt very clear as it was cloudy but Tikal was spectacular. It is in the jungle and the sounds were fanatstic particularly at sunrise (for example the Howler monkeys waking up). Tikal is the largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Maya civilization and was one of the major cultural and population centers of the Maya civilization. There are thousands of ancient structures at Tikal and only a fraction of these have been excavated after decades of archaeological work. We had a three to four hour tour

Snorkel trip on Caye Caulker. You got to swim with about 10-15 massive rays, this one was a small one. Most were wider than me and some almost as long with there tail outstreched.
which was very interesting, lots of climbing, fantastic views and nature (including Tarantulas and two types of monkeys) and towards the end searing heat. Met some really decent people and caught up with Christin and Matheus from Xela again. In the evening a few of us headed for some food in a hostel bar and a few beverages which was nice after a few days of deliberately being a hermet.

Met three Aussies (a couple called Sarah and Thorsten) and Sarahs sister Katy who were a good crack to hang out with and the next morning we woke up rosy faced for a shuttle to Semuc Champey which is an area in the centre of Guatemalan countryside (recommended numerous times) a couple of hours from the city of Coban. The hostel (El Retiro near Semuc Champey is in a town called Lanquin) was a fantastic place to kick back and relax with a great bunch of people. It was one of the rare hostels that is recommended so many times where your experience still exceeds your expectations. Someone made the comment "Carlsberg dont do hostels but if they did..." and the place certainly was reminiscent of those old Carlsberg
Sting Ray AlleySting Ray AlleySting Ray Alley

At other times of year you also get to see a lot of sharks.
adverts. Take a look at the pictures to save me explaining what an awesome seeting it was. Stayed for 4 nights and had four really decent nights in the hostel and 4 good days there. These included one night which was basically a lock in after the bar closed with Grey (the Irish barman I first met in Antigua where we had a few nights out who now works at El Retiro), Sarah (new Aussie) and Helena (who I first met in San Jose but has since been following me - though she would contest she got everywhere first).

It was a very interesting night listening to chilled music, swinging on the bar stools (which were all swings) and talking about a range of stuff till 4am. Defininitely a night that stands out for being so chilled thought the others were all decent. The day after the lock in of sorts a group of us did the trip organised to Semuc Champey and whilst it rained in the afternoon we had a fantastic trip. You start the day with an incredibly scenic (though bumpy) journey standing in the back of a pick up truck for about 40mins followed by
The quiz teamThe quiz teamThe quiz team

Second night in Utilia we enetered a quiz night. We didn't win. People were unimpressed with my knowledge of the English monarchy.
lots of rope swinging in to the river to freshen up. After this you spend a couple of hours in water filled caves mostly waist deep but often swimming. There is no light and because of the water you cant really take torches so everyone is given a candle which strangely this seems to work most of the time and is a unique experiences. In the cave there is a lot of clambering, waterfalls and a place where you can cliff jump in the dark though I opted not to after the first guy almost smashed his head on the rocks. It really was a fantastic experience which Helena descibed as like the caves in New Zealand without the cost and safety precautions (it was $20 for the day). A relatively accurate description I though. After that we went tubing down the river with my experience from Laos proving a benefit. Whilst it was great to get back in a tube and just float down a river with awesome scenery it did feel strange tubing without a beer Laos in hand. After that it poured down so we skipped the steep and slippery walk to a look out point and
Bad KareokeBad KareokeBad Kareoke

The quality of live music on the island left a lot to be desired.
headed staight the beautiful lakes of Semuc Champey where we dossed around in the pools before an eventful journey home.

A big truck broke down on one of the single track rubbish roads and refused to move to let us past (it was on a hill so it could have). It eventually let people past after persisting with a couple of hours of futile attempts to fix things. By this time a bunch of us had started walking as the views were fantastic and it had stopped raining and we got picked up when our pickup caught up to us. That was the main trip in Semuc Champey with the remainder of the time being spent in hammocks, watching the rugby World Cup final through the BBC website live text updates (there was no TVs with cable), downloading copious amounts of music, lots of swimming in the rapids and another tubing day on the river by the hostel. On the Sunday after a big buffet breakfast we caught a shuttle to Antigua (7 hours but three seats each) where we had a chilled couple of beers and an early night.

In the morning I left the others after
Go slowGo slowGo slow

The island had such a relaxed pace.
breakfast to explore Antigua (which Id explored previously) and got the chicken buses (3 of them) up to Xela leaving at 10am and arriving at 4pm (a journey which should take 3 hours). There was so many roadworks from various land slides which resulted in a lot of rapid overtaking on blind corners (with steep drop offs) due to the driver trying to make up time. It was all good though as it was an overfilled bus so if it crashed you wouldnt move too much and we needed to go quickly as the driver was in a rush, had a horn and confidence. If you drove even remotely similar to this in the UK you would be pulled over and locked up though I arrived safely if a little saddle sore.

Xela (Guatemala's second largest city) is where I came previously, studying language for three weeks and living with a host family. First time I came I really enjoyed the city and as it was on the way for one of the border crossings to Mexico so decided to head back. I had returned to Xela on a Monday with the intention of heading onwards to Todos
Its a hard life.Its a hard life.Its a hard life.

Second snorkel trip involved sailing back to the island during sunset with beers and rum punch.
Santos the next day to study Spanish for one week during the build up to the day of the dead festivities in the town. Arriving in Xela though I got talking with some of the Quetzal treckers guides I had met previously and they told me about an awesome 7 day trip they had planned walking from a town called Nebaj to Todos Santos (about 80km over 4 days), arrivomg in Todos Santos in time for the festivities. It sounded to good to miss and all profits go to a good cause so I opted to hang out in Xela till the hike left on Saturday. Signed up for another 4 days of language lessons (though I only made 3) and checked back in to hostel Santos (the house the same host family I had stayed with previously). It was a no brainer decision as I get a private room, with a double bed and three meals for $6 a day. The main reason for returning however was that Santos and Lydia are really great people and very talkative which is great for my Spanish. Really enjoyed my time on Xela again and had many decent conversations with locals and
Rum punchRum punchRum punch

They wouldn;t let the four of us off the boat until all the rum punch was finished. Then afterwards straight to the bar. Good day.
Santos in a place that feels like home. This was important as I wanted to be somewhere familiar due to the events of the previous week.

So I spent another week in Xela, studying language and generally not doing to much, had another very good teacher who was very interesting to talk to. It was champions league week (European soccer tornament) so I watched a couple of games on both Tuesday and Wednesday with Santos, had a couple of nights out and also a very early night on the day of my Aunts funeral. Friday was a graduation night in the school so I went to that with a bunch of people opting not to go out long after instead meeting up with the Aussie sisters for a quiet drink and to wish them well for the rest of their trip. Also had one really good night with the Aussie girls where they came and over and had some drinks in my homestay with Santos (who was demonstrating his collection of Spanish rock) before we headed out for an awesome Indian meal. As always however the best night was the most random where Katie and I went to about
One for animal loversOne for animal loversOne for animal lovers

Not sure what attracted them but everyday they were in the same place in droves.
8 or 9 bars including a really local Cantina, and a gay club twice (the music was better than the salsa in the only other club, I haven't turned!) after the last bar closed walked Katy home but got a little lost and ended up having some drinks with some locals outside the theatre. After we walked past another bar which was closed (being 4am on a Weds) but the guy who owns it invited us in and gave us a couple of free jugs of really good Sangria which we sat up drinking on a tin roof overlooking some of town until it was light. Suffice to say I missed my 8am spanish lesson.

So after a quiet Friday night it was hike time. The hike went from Nebaj to Todos Santos so Saturday morning we had to make are way to the office for a morning of transport to Nebaj being two buses, a chicken bus for about 3 hours followed by a shuttle for about the same. The ride (as with most in Guatemala) was amazing , truly stunning scenery all the way and lots of interesting sights outside. Also you could tell from the start
Storm tropical styleStorm tropical styleStorm tropical style

When it rains it rains. Fortunately this storm never caught up with us.
that there was a good bunch of people and we were chatting away for most of the journey which made it go quicker. Pretty uneventful journey aside from one delay where the road was blocked by a recovery truck trying to winch up a vehicle up which had careered off the road and down a steep hill. Pretty normal stuff in Guatemala. The main reason for the hike was to watch the day of the dead festival and the famous horse race in Todos Santos. The day of the dead is a huge festival in Latin America celebrated on the 1 & 2 of November. They take this time to remember past friends and family and visit the local cemetery with loads of different brightly colored flowers and celebrate the life they once had. I missed most of this side of it however by deciding to go to Todos Santos where there festivities are of a more raucous nature.

Treck Itinerary

The itinery for ther treck was as follows per the quetzal treckers website.

Day 1 We meet the night before at 5pm to hand out group gear, any personal gear that you may need and
Tikal Morning climbTikal Morning climbTikal Morning climb

This give you an impression of the jungle setting of the ruins. We climbed up this to get to a good spot for a non existent sun rise.
go over all of the trip details and logistics. After a hearty breakfast, we leave around 9am on Wednesday to head up to the quiet little town of Nebaj in the northwestern part of the country. We spend the evening taking in the sights and relaxing over dinner before spending the night at a hotel making sure to get plenty of rest for the journey head.

Day 2 We have a relaxing start rising around 7am and having breakfast in town before starting out for 4 days of trekking to the beautiful and historic town of Todos Santos. We begin trekking out of town to the sacred sites on the outskirts and then tackling a 1 1/2 hour climb onto the ridge out of town. We pass through several small villages, getting our first taste of the rural highland culture. We have lunch accompanied by fresh locally made dairy and goat cheese at a local cheesefarm. After lunch we will continue on to stay and have dinner with a local family in a small village about 6 hours outside of Nebaj.

Day 3 We rise early at 3:30 am, tackle the hardest part of the trek, with a
Tikal Tikal Tikal

One of many photos of the ruins.
break on our way up for coffee and breakfast, a 2.5 to 3 hours climb up to the top of an immense plateau. We reach the summit to cross into an open area strewn with huge boulders and grassy patches just calling for us to take a nap. After some snacking, relaxation and a doze in the sunshine, we continue along the top of the plateau passing through several small settlements where the local people make their living by growing crops, herding sheep and making hand woven textiles. Later in the afternoon, we drop down into a beautiful deep valley and arrive in a small, rural school of Canton Primero to have dinner and stay.

Day 4 Early morning call is at around 6am and we go down the valley to have breakfast and a swim in the river. Afterwards, we head up out of the valley passing through some larger towns and arrive in the early afternoon at the road that runs between Huehuetenango and Todos Santos. After lunch on a beautiful hill with views of the plateau, we jump on a bus for the 1/2 hour ride to a small indigenous town on the east side of

One of many animals we saw around the ruins, including howler monkeys.
La Torre, the highest non-volcanic point in all of Central America. We spend the night with Geronimo and his family, with whom we have dinner and breakfast in the small fire-warmed kitchen of their traditional home.

Day 5 Geronimo comes with us to guide us to the top of La Torre and shares some of his experiences living in the highlands during the civil war that raged through the area for decades. We summit for a fine view to Volcan Tacana in Mexico, Volcan Tajumulco and the volcanoes around Antigua. From the summit, we descend down through the beautiful Cuchumantanes Mountains, passing by an alpine lake and working our way down the steep hillside. At the road, Geronimo heads back home and we continue down the side of the valley, arriving to Todos Santos and booking into a small family-run hotel. Here we have a nice hot shower and then go we out for a group dinner to celebrate our accomplishment and discuss the highlights of the trip.

Day 6 Free day in Todos Santos for festivities.

Day 7 Next and last morning, we get up around 5:30 am, hop on a bus that drives us to

View from the top of one of the ruins. Fanstatic.
Huehuetenango, where we enjoy a good breakfast. After breakfast we get our last bus to Xela arriving to town around 1pm.

I won't talk loads about the 4 days of trecking as the pictures explain it better. The highlights though were some of the towns we stayed at, interaction with the locals like a game of football, some of the meals, comical accomodation, decent people, swimming in a river before breakfast etc etc. We also passed through areas heavily affected by the civil war and on two occassions had people talk to us about the that occurred which was historically very interesting particularly one guys first hand account. The main action happened in Todos Santos however at the end of the 4 days trecking.

Todos Santos

Supposedly Todos Santos (a fairly small town in the Guatemalan highlands) is normally a quiet traditional town where all the men (many of whom are alcoholics) wear the same white shirts with red/purple stripes and red/white striped trousers. We arrived for the annual festival though and it was far from sleepy with the highlight being a huge horse race, which is hundreds of years old. Before I got there I wasn’t

It was starting to get hot
quite sure what the race was all about other than the fact that people referred to it as 'the Todos Santos amazing all-day drunken horse-race - last man still sat on a horse wins'. Now after having seen it I’m even more confused! Firstly the race is not a race as there are no winners, it was just crazy and very dangerous! The event seems to start the night before where virtually every man gets wasted on booze (including most people in our group / ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do!’) and they dance a traditional dance until the early hours. The race then starts at 8.00am the next day continuing until 12 when it breaks for lunch and beer and then starting again at 2, finally finishing at 5. Most of the men on the horse were still wasted from the night before and carried on drinking during the day of the race (if not all of them).

The track is 200 meters long and they race from one end to the other and just keep repeating this with only about 30 seconds rest in between whilst they turn around occassionally taking a drink of beer!

At the top with Matheus (Christins boyfriend) who I had spent a lot of time with in Xela and seen in a few places since.
We watched it for about an hour in the morning between about 9 and 10am and then headed back towards the end between about 2.30pm and 4.30pm when it starts getting more interesting. By that time the men were so tired and topped up on fresh beer that it was hilarious. I was confused about the point of this race mainly because there were never more than 15/20 riders on the track but sometimes only 3 or 4 and there must have been about 30 or 40 different riders involved in total. Most of the riders raced in full traditional costume race which was cool. Traditionally they hit the horses with live chickens instead of whips although I didn’t see any of this whilst we were watching. We watched from a few vantage points, saw riders fall off, people falling asleep on their horses, people passing out on the track drunk, riders and owners getting aggressive with each other and even a head on collision of two horses at full gallop. It was like watching a car crash most of the time. You didn’t want to watch but you couldn’t take your eyes off it. The drunk that passed out

Last one though there are a lot more on my facebook if anyone wants to see more.
on the track for instance was dragged to the grass verge, lying on the grass on his own recovering until he staggered off about 20mins later!

About 10am we succombed and started drinking like everyone else. I have never ever seen so many people so drunk in one place before! Old men were embracing and singing (yelling) at each other, others were staggering through puddles and more still were just lying in the mud already sleeping whilst everyone else stepped over them. And this was only 10am! A few of us headed to a Cantina (cheap bar) and enjoyed a few Gallos before meeting up with some of the others in a more conventional bar for more beer and food (though I opted instead for $1 chicken and chips from the street). After lunch we all headed back to the track with beers to watch the rest of the race.

In the evening all the 7 day treckers (except guides) and one of the weaker 4 day group went to a restaurant recommended by Mariosa who had previously spent longer in the town. It was pretty decent and afterwards a few of us headed to the fayre with
Boat crossingBoat crossingBoat crossing

This was on the road between Flores and Coban.
the intention of only staying a short while. About half the group opted to have an early night in anticiapation of the 5.30am shuttle which was the only one we could get booked on to. The fayre was in the market area next to the main square and had two large old ferris wheels which seemed to run off the mechanism of old trucks (the same ones that scared me previously in Xela). Went on these a couple of times and then someone suggested a Cantina. It was now about 9pm and we had started on the beers at 10am so it probably wasnt the best idea but the logic was one more can’t hurt. We had a table between 8 or 9 of us and we just brough coke in the bar heading out to a shop to buy cheap rum ($1.5 US for a small 150ml bottle). We didn’t end up staying for just the one instead consuming 23 bottles of said rum before leaving to go home. As we left there were some locals walking past with instruments who we persuaded to play a song which turned in to a couple of hours of live music and
El RetiroEl RetiroEl Retiro

This was one of the best hostels I stayed at. Every night everyone took dinner together.
dancing in the street helped on by another 2 litres of rum, eventually heading home slightly after 3am. It was another fantastic random night which you really can’t describe though 5am the next morning was a bad time though the 6 hours on buses that followed though was surpisingly pain free.

Arriving back in Xela I went for some lunch with a couple of the treckers before heading back to Santos and Lydia’s house again. Had a sleep and then met up with a Canadian girl called Jen at 6pm for a couple of hours before meeting the rest of the group at 8pm for an awesome Indian dinner. Had a decent night out in Xela afterwards with three of us making it to the bitter end including a lock in where we had to turn the lights off and be quite for 20 mins why the police were outside. Tonight I'm off to watch Xela play again in a local derby that Ive stayed around an extra day for but its going to be a quiet night as the election (final round) is tomorrow and to prevent election day violence they stop selling alcohol the day before. Then
Aussie AmigosAussie AmigosAussie Amigos

Katy, Sarah and Torsten. Sarah and Torsten had a side trip to the lake between but the three of us spent a fair bit of rime together first in El Retiro and after in Xela.
tomorrow I'm leaving for Mexico. Sad to be leaving, I reckon I've spent longer in Guatemala than every other country apart from possibly Australia and it has certainly become my favourite country so far. I only came for a week but found it so cheap, spectacular, friendly and historically interesting that Its been about 2 months! A little less than two months left now before I will be watching the darts in sunny London so there may not be another blog till I return though will try to do an update from Seatttle about Mexico. Take care all and keep me up to date with the news from home or your travels.

Additional photos below
Photos: 85, Displayed: 52


Bar stooks El Retiro stkleBar stooks El Retiro stkle
Bar stooks El Retiro stkle

With Helen and Katy somewhere around 2 or 3am.
Semuc ChampeySemuc Champey
Semuc Champey

Some lovely places to swim 4 or 5 tiered pools set in fantastic scenery.
El RetiroEl Retiro
El Retiro

After a couple of beverages.

Tot: 1.256s; Tpl: 0.084s; cc: 17; qc: 67; dbt: 0.0527s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.6mb