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Published: September 30th 2007
When I last wrote, I was in a town called Flores in Guatemala, about which the least said the better. Our hotel was very grotty, run by very lazy staff, and our sink had a leaky pipe so the bathroom floor was sopping wet. Gareth (my roommate) and I had a bit of a nightmare with our laundry. We gave it to reception at 2pm on the Saturday and were told it would be ready on Sunday morning, but Gareth spotted it still hanging on the line at 9pm, dripping wet (it had started raining at 5 pm and our washing was still hanging out!). We finally got it back at 10pm, not particularly clean or dry. Needless to say we didn´t pay them.
We got up the following day at 2.45am to view the sunrise over the ruins at Tikal, the largest of the ancient Mayan cities. Now, viewing a sunrise depends on 2 things:
1. the van driver turning up less than half an hour late and getting us to the site before first light, and
2. it not being cloudy
Still, 0 out of 2 aint bad.
But it was still
an amazing experience despite this. We walked through the rainforest for half an hour before arriving at Temple IV, which is 72 metres (230 feet) tall, and at the top of which is the sunrise viewing platform. From there you can see the tops of three other temples peaking out over the rainforest, accompanied by the sounds of the frogs, tucans and some rather noisy howler monkeys in a nearby tree. We then had a couple of hours to explore some of the site, only a small part of which has been excavated (most of it is still buried beneath the rainforest). This included climbing up a very steep and narrow wooden ladder to the top of Temple V which offered more amazing views, although you don´t really want to look down!
After Tikal we had a 3 hour van ride from Guatemala to Belize on some very dodgy roads which made sleeping on the van impossible. The border crossing went very smoothly, and soon we were at our hotel in San Ignacio. Well, I say hotel but it was really a jungle lodge, with smelly composting toilets (which go straight into a hole in the ground, and are
flushed by putting a few handfuls of woodshavings inside), but it was actually a lovely place to stay.
Monday was one of the highlights of the trip so far. We had 45 minute hike in a rainforest which included crossing a river 3 times by foot, before we ended up at the entrance of a cave called Actun Tunichil Muknal (fortunately abbreviated to ATM). After a quick swim in the river, we donned our helmets and head torches for a 3.5 hour caving session, which involved wading through water sometimes chest high (and very cold!), climbing some steep and slippery rocks, and at times hanging on for dear life! We had a great guide who told us some of the history of the cave. It was used hundreds of years ago by the Mayans for ceremonies and sacrifices, and has only recently been rediscovered. Because of this, there are still hundreds of artifacts left inside the cave, mainly pots, but also a couple of skulls and a complete human skeleton right at the top of the cave which can only be reached by climbing up a rather precariously-placed ladder. There were also some wonderful rock formations inside the cave.
Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Whilst we were inside, it had been raining, so the water level had risen quite a lot, so the way out was a bit more of a swim than a walk. It was quite a challenging day, but very rewarding, especially for the mosquitoes who bit us to shreds on the walk back through the rainforest to the van.
On Tuesday we headed for the lovely Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, which involved catching a chicken bus to the capital (Belize City) and then a boat to the island. Fortunately, the chicken bus turned out to be a comfortable air-conditioned bus so we were lucky there. We had been warned that the hotel was a bit of a dump but actually it was very nice, right on the beach, with a double-bed each (which is always a welcomed bonus). Belize used to be British, and it´s nice to be back in an English-speaking country for a while, although listening to the locals speak, I think I actually understand Spanish more! They have a very strong accent and it takes a lot of getting used to. We decided this was a good time to go for a group haircut (not
sure I could ask for one in Spanish).
On Wednesday we went snorkelling for the day, which was another highlight for me. We stopped off at three different locations, and on the first stop saw, amongst other things, a manatee (also known as a sea-cow, and you´d know why if you saw one), and on the second stop we were greeted by a family of nurse sharks. It´s a great feeling swimming with them, although you don´t want to get too close! I also got to stroke a stingray (insert your own Steve Irwin joke here) as well as see an amazing variety of colourful fish. It was such a relaxing day, lying on the deck, sipping rum punch, listening to reggae music whilst sailing across the Caribbean towards the sunset! It doesn´t get much better than that!
It was a shame to leave Belize so soon, but we had a long travelling day on Thursday to Mexico, leaving at 6.30 and arriving 12 hours later. Again, the border crossing was trouble-free and we encountered something rarer than a manatee - a friendly immigration officer, who actually laughed and joked with us. Normally they're miserable bastards!
first stop in Mexico was Playa del Carmen, which is really an American holiday destination (as is Cancun which is not far away and which we visited briefly last night). Friday was the last night with this particular group of people, and, although we´ve had a bit of a laugh at the expense of some of the older members of the group (not to their face of course!), it´s always sad to say goodbye. We also said farewell to Jose and Magdalena, the younger Puerto Rican/Polish couple. I got on well with Maggie in particular so I hope we can stay in touch.
Gareth also leaves us at this point, at the end of a 22 month trip! He´s been a great roommate, and will be replaced by an Argentinian guy called Ariel, who we met last night and also seems like a good bloke. So the trip now consists of 4 guys, and 8 Swedish virgin girls. OK, I lied about the girls. Yes, I am now on probably the only all-male tour group in Central America! If this keeps up in South America I´m going to turn into a monk.
Still, at least my backpack is
getting a bit lighter. Yesterday I lost my glasses! Luckily I have a spare pair. And yesterday I found out I´m an uncle, as my sister-in-law Jess gave birth to a daughter, Ruby. She´ll be nearly one when her brave uncle David returns from his adventures.
That´s all from me, hope everyone is well.
Love D xx
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