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Published: January 10th 2008
Guatemala - Honduras - Belize - Mexico - Guatemala
School's out for the summer....or winter as it may well be, and we are thrilled! As much as we have enjoyed being in Xela and learning Spanish and a lot about Guatemalan culture, it was definitely time to stop learning, see some sights and have some fun!
We headed to Antigua, Guatemala early on a Saturday morning after graduating from school the day before. Antigua is a smallish, very pretty Spanish Colonial town nestled in amongst the volcanoes and we spent time here looking at the beautiful churches, many of which are in ruins, and also climbing an active volcano, Volcan Pacaya. Pacaya is about 40 mins out of Antigua and an easy walk. We went on an evening hike meaning that we got to the lava at dusk which was pretty cool. We watched the lava flowing down the mountain with the sunset in the background. Amazing....
From Antigua we got a 4am(!!?) bus to Copan Ruinas, Honduras. We couldn't work out why we needed to leave at 4am because we managed to arrive in Copan Ruinas by 10am with no issues at our first overland border crossing.
We spent a few days in Copan which is a lovely little town near some wonderful Mayan Ruins. We spent a whole day wondering around the ruins and the museum, admiring their beauty while Al was having an Indiana Jones moment because there were so few people around. It did almost feel like we were discovering the undiscovered and that any moment we would fall down an undiscovered tomb or something. We also got to see scarlet macaws which are the national bird of Honduras.
From Copan Ruinas
, we made our way to Utila in the Bay Islands. We had to spend a night in La Ceiba which is a fairly uninspiring port town where we managed to stay in the dodgiest hotel of all time. We have since nicknamed the room 'the brown dungeon' because it was a brown dirty looking room with no windows, a porn channel and a shower which we decided could really only make us dirtier. Needless to say, we didn't touch anything and slept in our sleeping bag liners. Well Al slept, Lara lay there worrying about being robbed after Al said it was likely we would be robbed and then rolled over
and went to sleep! We got up early the next morning and headed to the port where ferries to Utila leave from, we got on a boat and spent the next two weeks lounging around on a Caribbean Island.
Utila is known as the cheapest place in the world to scuba dive, and it isn't too shabby. We spent 4 days qualifying for our open water scuba and the rest of the time lying on the beach, snorkelling, doing some fun dives and eating great seafood. It was really lovely! Quite a few of our friends from Juan Sisay turned up so we spent Christmas and New Years surrounded by friends and enjoying being in Honduras (of course we did miss our friends and family back home over the holiday season!) Unfortunately the bliss of Caribbean life was a little spoilt after our room got broken into on New Years Eve. We spent New Years Day cancelling credit cards and at the police station on Utila, which consisted of one man, a fax and a notebook in the middle of nowhere! It was a difficult day, made worse by the fact that we were suffering from New Year's Day
hangovers. Once it had been all sorted out we decided to make a move and our timing was amazing as we got the last ferry off the island for 4 days because of bad weather.
Back on mainland Central America the weather wasn't particularly pleasant either and we spent a night in a ritzy hotel in La Ceiba, living it up a bit because we were feeling a little sorry for ourselves! We spent a much needed afternoon watching TV, having HOT showers and we even ordered room service!
Unfortunately the next day was back to reality. We spent a few days heading up the coast to Livingston in Guatemala, a Garifuna
(descendants of escaped, freed black slaves) town on the mouth of the Rio Dulce. In Livingston we headed to a lovely jungle lodge, Finca Tatin to join our uni friends, Simon and Michelle who had finished their study as well and were now travelling around. We spent a few days swimming and kayaking in the Rio Dulce and looking for the ever illusive toucan. I think that we want to see toucans much more than they want to see us! The food was great and the
weather managed to hold during the day while bucketing down during the night. It was a lovely feeling being in the middle of the jungle tucked into bed in a cabana with the rain hitting the roof.
After a few days in the jungle we headed back to Livingston where we have spent time catching up on emails etc and waiting for the twice weekly boat to Belize. We eventually got the boat from Livingston to Punta Gorda in the south of Belize and from there we headed north to Placencia, a lovely little beach town with nothing to do except lie under the palm trees...so that's what we did! After a few days of that (and including the 2 weeks in the Bay Islands) we were ready to get a few miles under our belt and we headed to Caye Cauker in the north of Belize where we spent a really great day on a sailboat with some great snorkelling stops. We saw stingrays, huge numbers of fish, barracuda, grouper,and even turtles and sharks! Lara even had a stingray suck on her leg....a very strange feeling! It thought she was going to feed it!
We met a
Did it occur to anyone that standing directly below a lava flow probably wasn't the most inteligent option???
really lovely Australian/South African couple, Bekkie and Alex on the snorkelling trip and went to a really interesting restaurant Fish Willies
where we all had $5 meals - and Lara's was lobster! Bekkie and Alex said we should go cenote diving in Mexico as they had been and had loved it....so that is where we headed next!
We headed to Mexico by bus which took along time considering it wasn't a huge distance to cover and the roads weren't even too bad! We arrived in Tulum, Mexico the following day and spent the afternoon at the Tulum Ruins, beautiful ruins on the cliff faces over the Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately there were thousands of people there, looking at the ruins and enjoying the beach....
That evening we signed up to go cenote diving the following day, which turned out to be one of the most amazing things either of us have ever done! We signed up with the Cenote Dive Centre in Tulum - you should check out their website to see pics as obviously we couldn't take any - .
We did two dives, the first at the Gran Cenote which was amazing. Our instructor gave us
got any marshmallows?
a very strict lecture about not wondering off or leaving the group, and he managed to scare the shit out of Lara by saying that they don't send Search and Rescue teams in to find lost open water divers, they only send in Body Recovery teams. As you can imagine we didn't let the dive master out of our site!! It turned out to be purely scare tactics and it was a really beautiful dive which wasn't the least bit scary. It was an amazing feeling scuba diving among stalacmites and stalactites, and with the light from the entrance turning everything blue, it was just beautiful. Because the water was so clear and the visibility was as far as the torch would shine, it didn't even feel like you were in the water. It was just liking floating through amazing caverns!
The second cenote we dived was Calavera or the 'Temple of Doom'....we had to put all our scuba gear on and hike 1km into the jungle and then giant leap more than 3 metres into the open mouth of the cenote. It was so awesome! Once we were in we did a wonderful dive, seeing amazing limestone formations
and fossilised coral. There were also an amazing number of fish in both dives - mostly small tetras that were completely unafraid of humans and swam around us without any fear. It was amazing - the most difficult part was climbing the 3 metre ladder with all your gear on, which was the only way out! If anyone is ever in Mexico though this is a must-do!
The following day we headed to Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan Ruins which were voted one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. As you can imagine it was completely packed out and we weren't as impressed with these ruins as we were with Copan in Honduras. Because there are so many people around and you can't climb very many of the ruins, it has lost a little of it's magic. But is still definitely worth a visit. We did manage to find a few quiet spots during the day and bought some carvings that we didn't really want from the best salesman in the entire world!
And then we took an overnight bus to Palenque, still in Mexico but 10hrs west of Tulum. There are some more ruins here
that are definitely worth a visit. They are still much busier than Copan Ruins but just as impressive, with large temples and palacial buildings in a beautiful jungle setting and we enjoyed strolling around and climbing all the temples. The jungle setting and the large number of unrestored buildings allowed you to feel like you were seeing it as it would have been when it was first rediscovered!
As we weren't completely 'Ruined Out' which is the equivalent of being 'Churched Out' in Europe, we headed to Guatemala's headline ruins Tikal. This involved one of the strangest border crossings yet - in the middle of nowhere we went through Mexican Immigration, with a man who had a pet beetle sitting on his finger the whole time he was talking to us, then we had to cross the river border on a little, very dodgey boat. You could tell those people who had never experienced Guatemala before - they were a little shocked by the experience!
We arrived in Flores and the next morning at 2.50am we got up and got a 3.30am bus to Tikal for the sunrise tour. We arrived at the park at 5.20 and walked
Friendly Macaw at the entrance to the ruins
up the tallest temple where we sat and watched the sunrise, or should I say we watched the mist get lighter! Luckily the sunrise wasn't why we had come - we had come for the wildlife which we had heard was really good at Tikal especially early in the morning. And thankfully we weren't disappointed. We saw coatamundis (racoon like animals), howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and plenty of toucans, parrots and other birds. We were both so excited, especially about the monkeys and the toucans - we had been hoping to see them for ages!
We spent the following day wondering around the town of Flores and then we caught an overnight bus to Antigua so that we could then get back to Xela for a further week of school and to await the arrival of our credit cards. The bus ride was scary, it was dark, it was rainy and the driver drove like a maniac despite the 3 road accidents we passed which had police and ambulances present. Obviously we survived and made it back to Xela as planned!
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