Sunday, December 31, 2006

Utila - Hondorus

Made it to the Bay Islands, start scuba diving tomorrow!

Will add more information when I find a better internet place. Hope everyone has a good new year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Feliz Navidad!

Happy Christmas everyone.

Tonight seems to be the big party night, so we are all meeting up for some food followed by many drinks.

Tomorrow Christmas dinner somewhere and recover ready for travelling on Boxing Day.

Hope everyone has a good Christmas and gets lots of presents.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Future plans

So, as soon as christmas is over it's going to be time to pack my bags and start travelling properly. Antigua has been a great place, but now it's time to move on.

Current plan is to catch a but on the 26th to Rio Dulce and then from there try and find a boat to Utila, which is one of the Bay Islands off Honduros. I'll spend a few weeks there learning to dive and think about what to do next.

Will post a map wheb I have a better connection.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Buena Vista Social Club

According to people who know about these things (in the photo below) the above pictures contains some of the original members of Buena Vista Social Club. The music sounds familiar, so I guess it must be true.

Playing Santa - 20 Dec

Someone at our school arranged a collection a while back to by some presents for the children of a small impoverished village up in the mountains. Today we had a school trip out to the village to distribute presents and be generally nice to people.

There were so many children. God only knows where they all came from. They all lined up outside the village hall and then came in small groups to play some party games and get a present. It was all quite moving. Brought a tear to my eye.

Of course as always, it´s not the present, but the box that is the most fun thing.

All in all, a fun time was had by all.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Into the big city!

On Sunday I took a trip into the big city to see some friends perform in a band. Rather than take the tourist shuttle bus I decided to venture into the unknown and jump on a chicken bus into town. The bus was pretty full when I got on and I spotted an empty seat and jumped on it without fully realising why people were avoiding it.

I ended up sat next to a rather rotund lady who took up most of the seat, but there was still plenty of room for me. At least there was until everyone else got on the bus and it was 3+ to a seat. Most unpleasant...

However, the trip was pretty uneventful, no robberies, no chickens escaping. Pretty dull all in all.

Once in the city I jumped in a cab and went to a place in the city called 4 grados norte (4 degrees north). Had a few coffees and met up with my friends. I had no idea they were quite so talented.

Coming home was quite an adventure. Foolishly I forgot to take any notice of where the bus dropped me and tried to rely on the map in the lonely planet book. After about an hour of driving round town trying to find the bus depot. We decided to give up on buses and I jumped in a cab home (thank goodness I'm not on a budget and can spend my way out of trouble).

Got back to Antigua and the locals were up to their usual crazy shenanigans. This seemed to be some procession involving Mary, Joseph and a Donkey.

As a special treat this morning at 5am we were treated to possibly the loudest fireworks I have ever heard. Every 5 minutes for an hour they would send one up above our house.

6am the mad monks who live in the church at the end of my road started off their usual bell ringing frenzy that goes on until 7am. It's no wonder I'm feeling a bit tired!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Up another volcano!

More crazy fun and games. Someone decided that it would be a good idea to climb one of the local volcanoes, Volcan Agua (3776 meters!).

Unfortunately the photographs are all stuck inside my phone and it doesn´t want to give them up at the moment. So you´ll have to use your imaginations and my excellent prose.

We left Anitgua at about 6:30am and jumped into the back of a pick up truck which took us up to base of the volcano. The streets round here aren´t exactly flat so it was a bit of an exciting trip.

We were dropped off in a small town and started out walk up. After about an hour we reached the base of the clouds and took a bit of a breather. We then started to climb up through the clouds. Occasional the mist was so thick that you could barely make out the path and at one point we lost the path and started some fairly hardcore bouldering up the mountain side until we regained the path.

After about 2 hours of climbing we broke through the clouds into brilliant sunshine the air got pretty thin at this point and it was a real struggle for us to keep going (definitely not as fit as I used to be). Another hour of climbing and we reached to crater of the volcano. Some mad maniac has actually built a shack there and lives in the volcano crater!

We spent about an hour or so having lunch and walking around the crater. There are a huge number of radio antennas on the rim and a few maintenance staff live up there. It´s actually quite a mess. But the views are amazing. I have photos of the clouds from above with volcanos poking up through them. The clouds also started to break up a bit so we could look down onto Guatemala city and Antigua which was pretty amazing.

Coming back down the mountain seemed to take forever so I´ll skip over it as it was a bit boring.

To get back to Antigua we took a chicken bus. I´ll write more about these another time. But it was certainly an interesting experience...

Tomorrow a bunch of people I´ve been hanging out with are heading off home or onto other destinations. And it´s my birthday on Saturday. Woe is me.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunday - Tikal

Another early start - 4am to catch the bus to Guatemala city and catch the plane to Tikal to visit the mayan ruins. Unfortunately as you can see from the above picture (which is a view from the top of the highest temple of another temple) it was a bit cloudy and damp.

The actual ruins are huge. But, according to our guide they have only uncovered 15% of total area. It's quite an impressive place but the mayans definitely seem to have been outdoor types. The temples are huge, but don't seem to have many (if any at all) rooms.

Our guide only spoke Spanish, so even with our immense grasp of the language, much of the ruins are still a mystery. However, the above picture is of some big cheese's palace.

As you can see from the above picture, we came well prepared for the damp weather with... The pink ponchos cost us Q70 at the airport. The rather stylish green number came in at only Q20 at the actual site. I can't help thinking that we got a bit ripped off at the airport.

Here's a picture of the temple you can see in the first photo close up and below is a picture of two people who seem to be stalking me. Everywhere I go they pop up from behind some ruin or market stall. Hopefully we'll catch up some time over Christmas as well.

The flight back was quite exciting. I don't think I've been in such a small plane since my days of flying to and from Holland.

It wasn't scary at all, honest...

I think I'll have to take another trip to the ruins at some point to get some decent photos.

Thursday 7th - Dia de Diable

Stange happennings in Antigua. Tonight is some festival for the day of the devil. Big bonfire with a statue of the devil on it.

Friday 8th December - Off to the beach

Friday afternoon we decided to head off to Montericho beach for a day or so. We´d booked a place on the shuttle bus the day before but apparently that had broken down so the guy turned up in what I think was his own car. Everything started off ok, 3 passengers in a car is pretty much fine for a long trip.

Then he picked up another person, 4 passengers, bit cramped, but still ok. Then he tried to convince another person that a ride in the trunk would be a good plan...

Finally reached Avalluda and jumped on the ferry through the mangrove swamps to Montericho.
Unbelievably hot. And black sand when the sun has been shining on it all day is a little bit toastie on the feet. Had a few swims in the sea, but the waves are incredibly violent here so after about 10 minutes you have to crawl out and go for a rest.
On Saturday we got up at 4:30am for what was billed as a nature tour of the mangrove swamps - but turned out to be pretty much what we´d experienced the previous day on the ferry.
More fun in the sun and swimming and then it was time to head back to Antigua ready for our early start on Sunday. Met an interesting fellow on the ferry back who filled us in on all the various gangs in Guatemala and what was currently happening in the city. Fascinating stuff...

Wednesday 7th

Sorry for the long silence. Things have been a little bit hectic.

Wednesday night we all went into Guatemala city to watch Municipal play Qetzal (sp). The home team Municipal) completely stomped on the opposition and this weekend they got through the finals.

Was nice to see a football match with almost no police presence.

Was also interesting to take a trip into one of the worlds most dangerous cities between 15-30 murders a day!

Apparently there are two main gangs. One based in El Salvador that has 50,000 members and another based in Honduras that has 30,000 member! They are currently having a small war. Didn´t feel too dangerous though...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Guitar lessons

As part of my transformation from office worker to official travelling bloke I have started Guitar lessons.

ve gone halves with a girl from school who´s a guitar teacher back in the states, she gets to have fun playing the guitar and I get to learn a few tunes.

So far she has tried to get me to play Knocking on Heavens Door, a riff from Daytripper by the Beatles and I´ve also had a go at the start of Smoke on The Water - I´m surprisingly good! There´s been no complaints from the neighbours yet...

Spanish is also progressing. Actually managed a conversation with my teacher that lasted more than five minutes. We are now studying the two past tenses. Very confusing. Have also discovered that there are 15 tenses in Spanish. Don´t think I´m going to need them all...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sunday 3rd Dec - Chichi and Back Home

Here´s me looking pretty cool at Chichicastenanga. Not a great deal to report on last time. But I now have a rather fetching bag for my school books. I have also received my first friendship bracelet of the trip! I´m expecting to collect a lot more along the way.

Coming back to Antigua on the bus we pulled over for a quick break as there was an EARTHQUAKE!!! That´s right folks. Whilst we were away Antigua was hit by a 5.4 earthquake.

No damage done and the locals all refuse to call it an earthquake, preferring to say that it was a tremor....

Back home in the central plaza, the Christmas lights are all switched on and despite the fact that we are probably all doomed to be cooked by lava or shaken to bits everyone is having a jolly time.

Items gained in this quest:

  • +1 armband of friendship

Saturday 2nd December

Small hangover this morning... Got up pretty early and scouted out some breakfast and spent some time watching the day to day life in Santiago Atilán.

After a bit of recuperation time we made tracks and jumped on a boat tour round a few of the local villages on the lake. First stop San Pedro La Laguna. The local kids do quite a hard sell here for the local attractions which include another Maximón shrine. Nowhere near as grand as the one we saw on Friday, but interesting nevertheless.

Apart from the local kids who spotted the weaker one of our group and managed to separate her from the herd the day was pretty relaxed. We returned to Panajachel for sunset and checked into the cheapest place we could find.
We all felt quite jealous of this little fellow. It´s been a long couple of days. Though of course, we´re on holiday, so it would be rude not to go out. Things got quite a bit lively. I hope it wasn´t really our behaviour that emptied the restaurant. Personally I think it was the dodgy band.
Into bed pretty early ready for our early start to visit Chicicastenanga (I know, again!).

Friday 1st December PM - Largo De Atitlán

Bit of an unexpected trip. Decided at the last minute to spend the weekend at Lake Atilan with a couple of friends from school.
5 minutes to run home, explain that I wouldn't be around for the weekend in espanol, pack a bag, and run back to catch the bus. Very exciting....
Above is a picture of the lake. It's big. And very pretty.

We decided not to stay in Panajachel ("Gringotenango" - Place of the Foreigners) and took a boat over to San Pedro. This is where an awful lot of travellers end up getting stuck. The number of times we spoke to people who had just come for a couple of days and ended up staying a couple of years was quite frightening.

On my next trip here I will make sure I have an onward ticket.
Here's our hotel. 5 dollars each per night!
With a hammock thrown in. This is me about to fall out of the hammock.
Gringo food. This place is still quite touristy.

It is however a very nice place. Here's us having dinner.

Leslie and Aaron were pretty wiped out after a long week of school, so it was left to myself and Jeremy to explore town. Almost immediately we bumped into someone I'd met on the bus a few days before so went with her and her incredibly stoned friend to the Buddha bar. There we were joined by a couple more girls and spent a pleasant couple of hours discussing meditation retreats in the Mexican jungles and how hard it was to get a shaman at full moon.

Couple of drinks later and it was time to catch the end of the film in another bar and down another couple of Cuba Libres. After the film we stopped off at the freedom bar to catch the fire dancers.

Very amusing. Especially the guy who had just started - he kept dropping his flaming balls and then running away like a girl.

By this point it was pretty much time to head home and catch some zzs. But fate intervened and we bumped into an ex project manager from Barclay bank who insisted that we came and visited his bar. A few more Cuba Libres and we finally made it home to sleep! What a day.

Friday 1st December AM - Maximón

Those of you in Actix can ask Jim for an explanation of what's going on here. I'll add some more information for everyone else when I have the guidebook with me.

Friday morning we had a school outing to visit the church of local deity! I think the guys above are saying something along the lines of "We've got the bbq going, but forgot the sausages..."

Here's a very blurred picture of the man himself. People feed him rum and cigarettes. It's all a bit complicated.

The local church debunks the whole thing with an FAQ on why he is not a god.
Here's some more pictures of people sacrificing things.
And here's a picture of the local market.
Marvellous. A splendid time was had by all.