Saturday, March 14, 2009

Makin Moves in Central America!

(Antigua, Guatemala - Leon, Nicaragua)

Before we get started on this epic journal entry I want to quickly point out that we have added a link on the left to our Picasa Photo Album! You can view all of our uploaded photos here and it´s a lot easier to scroll through without having to click the thumbnails below. I hope this helps.

And now, the saga continues....

Yes, we have been lazy fools! Although, only in regards to updating the website. In real life we´ve been so busy we truly haven´t had an extra 2-3 hours (the approximate time it takes to do an update) to sit at a computer.

Since we last touched base, we´ve trekked the ruins of Guatemala, met our first corrupt border officials as we passed into Honduras at Corinto, and spent nearly two hours in 100F while our "helper" helped process our paperwork to get us into Nicaragua! We are now enjoying some roasting hot days (sweat, my friends, is continuous) in Léon, at the great hostel Via Via.

This is what you missed:

We left Antigua after only one night, but managed to go salsa dancing, meet some folks, enjoy a dance performance, and some tasty rum drinks. From there we made our way up the winding mountains and across the land of little volcanoes (as far as the eye can see, these little volcano shapes stretch). Our route took us through Guatemala City at about 11am, and from what I had read I was expecting a person with a shotgun sitting "shotgun" in every car, guns everywhere, craziness, scariness. What I saw was quite different! It was a city like any other, people driving with their babies in carseats, buses loaded with people doing people things. It just goes to show that you can believe everything you read, but you really really shouldn´t.
From there we wound again along beautiful jungle highways, and took a turn down a long pale dirt road to Lanquín and Semuc Champey. We were so extremely tired after that long road that when I sent us 20 minutes farther than we needed to go (I apparently misread the book) there was a moment of frustration which was not helped by Peter falling over. Again. Oops!

We stayed at El Retiró, a fantastic place set into the hillside along a river. This place was idyllic, with palm-thatched bungalows, hammocks strung up on the porches, two horses and a cow grazing on the lush green grass. We´d heard good things about this place, where travelers staying at other hostels and hotels come to hang out. We were not disappointed. The bar and dining room is under a big palm thatched roof, with candles on all the long, wood tables. Everyone sits together, and dinner is served buffet style with each night new creations from the kitchen. The food was fantastic, the beer cold and plentiful, and the crowd was a great international mix of travelers. **If you want dinner, make sure you sign up before 6pm! We nearly didn´t get to eat our second night because we got back late from the bat caves, and the sign-up sheet was full. Many thanks to our friendly neighbors who brought back extra from their multiple trips to the food bar!

That first night we made two trips each to the food bar, after laughing at other people who´s plates were stacked overly high. The food was too delicious! We also met Melanie and Jasper from Holland, who were to be on our tour the next day.
We stayed in one of the Loft rooms, just the first of many nights in single beds. The next morning, our bags packed with sunblock and our picnic lunches wrapped in banana leaves, we set off back up the rugged dirt road (the same one I´d misguided us onto the evening before) and we had an awesome day. There were about 15 people on the tour, which started out with Adam, Jasper, and Tymon swinging off a rope swing into the chilly river. From there we hiked through caves with candles, swimming through the pools and waterfalls where it was too deep to walk. Rickety ladders and slippery ropes, ducking under low ceilings and trying to keep the candles lit! Fantastic. After the caves, we all jumped on inner tubes and tubed down the river to a big bridge where more of the boys took turns jumping off. A brutal hike (really only 25 minutes, but seriously straight upward) and we reached the Mirador, which is a splendid view of the Semuc Champey pools. These are a series of nearly-warmish water in cascading pools of ridiculously pretty water and slippery slides in between. It didn´t take long to take a few photos and head on down to get into the water where we spent another two hours just exploring the pools down and down till we finally had to hike out to the motorcycle to fly down the mountain for the Grutas de Lanquín (Bat Caves!). We waved to our new friends (Jasper, Melanie, Tymon, Inga, Sean, Dagmara, Mette and Casper).
The Grutas are yet more caves, these ones dry that are huge and wind back into the mountain. They are hot and humid, and filled with thousands of bats that come out each evening at sunset. We did a quick (hot) hike inside, and then waited at the mouth of the caves for the action. It was unbelievable! They literally poured out of the blackness, avoiding us at the wide opening, a nearly silent stream of little flying things.

And that is how we missed dinner. Or nearly, luckily having made some friends on the tour who were good enough to hook us up with some delicious pizza, and eventually two full plates of various tasty delights. We bought a few large bottles of beer in return.
We really had a fantastic group on the tour, danced and drank all night, and then met up for breakfast the next morning. Jasper and Melanie are heading the same general direction (South-ish) and we hope to meet up with them again at some point.

Friday morning, and after a big day of hiking and drinking the day before, we barely managed to meet for breakfast at 9am (well, Adam at least, I´d been up since 7am packing up). We headed out around 11am, and up the road to Flores where we were all set to meet my sister Bethany, her husband Kyle, and our friends Mike and Leigh. The first half of the way there takes a while, winding and winding, but then it turns into a hi speed straightaway which we used to our advantage catching up on some time. We were about 30 minutes from our destination when we found ourselves in a tropical downpour. Adam was drenched head to toe, and I was, well, a bit wet. Sitting behind him, I really get the best out of a rainy situation. We rolled up to the Doña Goya 2, with its great view of the lake, and who appeared but four little faces up on the top floor balcony! We took photos back and forth, and they helped us unload.

Dinner in Flores, some drinking on the roof, and the next morning we rode the hour to Tikal.

We decided to stay a night in the park, which was great (and totally ruined our budget for the day). The Jaguar Inn had great rooms and tasty Pasta Carbonara (with bacon!).
We managed a couple of hours wandering the beautiful pyramids and ruins, where monkeys played and birds chirped their wild songs. It got pretty dark under the jungle canopy as we left, and lucky for us we had a group or we may have gotten a little nervous. As it was, we hurried out to dinner and woke up at 5:30a on Sunday for another few hours of exploring. The highlights of this day were definitely the howler monkeys (wild, maniacal whooping from high in the trees), a crazy attack turkey with peacock-like feathers, Hand sized spider/crab/scorpion beasts in the caves of Tikal, and a beautiful ride down to Lago de Izabal where we were set to stay in Río Dulce at the Tijax Hotel. This place was great! Set right on the river with a marina in front and big open bungalows, it felt like an adult summer camp. And by adult I just mean grownups.

We wandered around Rio Dulce and ate truly delicious pizza at Rio Bravo which is also set right on the river. Monday we loaded up again and the six of us took a boat down the river winding around the mangroves, watches pelicans and other sea birds fly above us, and enjoyed the scenery. Livingston is well known for its Garífuna culture, a mix of Latin and African roots from crashed slave ships. Our stay at Casa Rosada was wonderful, pretty little bungalows, great food, and a long dock where we sat out drinking wine and telling ridiculous stories.
I have noticed there is a lot of Italian food in Guatemala, which is surprising and really great.

Tuesday meant an end to the six of us as Mike and Leigh had to head home. The four of us stayed at a surprisingly cheap hotel that smelled terribly of diesel fuel (no wonder it was so cheap) and were stalked for a while by a crazy homeless guy who pulled a plastic gun on us like a gangster and seemed to always be where we wanted to go. Somehow the 20 minutes of him staring straight at me with the ¨Loco¨ in his eyes made me a little nervous, and needless to say when he showed up at the ice cream shop and watched us from across the street, that made me nervous too.

We had an awesome time, and were so happy that our friends made the trip! We´ve got some great photos, and I think I even may have gotten one against the ancient stones wearing one of my fantastic shawls, with the same bag that Palma had in Guatemala over 30 years ago.

On Wednesday, Bethany and Kyle headed toward Antigua, and we separated ways. They headed toward the pretty city and a tour of the volcano, where apparently Kyle made a sculpture for Bethany out of lava he pulled right out of the mountain. Us toward Honduras, where we met our first corrupt border official, which was not the best introduction, but things got better when we made our way down to Lago de Yojoa and the D&D Bed and Breakfast where they brew their own beer.
We slept really well in their comfy bed, and the next day packed up and headed South toward Nicaragua with a really special stop in Choluteca where we ate at Pizza Hut (which is a high-class sit down type of place in Honduras) and stayed at the Hotel Rivera which was actually really nice after seeking a hotel in three different cities to no avail (either ridiculously expensive or creepy-sketchy). Up the next morning and to the border at El Guasaule where we met some nice border guards, and hired a helper who spoke great English and did about 2 hours of running around for us to get all the paperwork sorted out. It was about 100F outside, even in the shade, and things were a little sketchy, but he didn´t take any money till it was all done, so we felt pretty good about it. He also warned us to just "act dumb" with the police, which really came in handy about 5 minutes later.
So, we gave all but about $5 to the helper guy, and ended up with an empty tank of gas literally limping into Nicaragua. We managed to get two liters from a roadside stand which the guy poured into our tank from a plastic jug, and made our way sans Seguro (mandatory motor-vehicle insurance you are supposed to buy at the border) to Chinandega where we finally got some cash, some insurance, and some freaking food! It was about 3pm, and we hadn´t eaten anything but a little yogurt in the morning.
I ate a hotdog smothered in condiments, and even found a few of the bon bons I´ve only ever had in Argentina!

Now, León. Where the electricity went off this morning, forcing us to just relax, wander, and read our books. I finally replaced the flip flops that had fallen off the motorcycle our third day in Mexico, and now we are sitting in our sticky skin as the air finally cools (it is just after six in the evening) two kids giggling delightfully just outside the open doors to this internet place, and Adam sitting across the way uploading photos. It´s a two person job, this website stuff.

Hostal Via Via is a restaurant and bar with pool tables in front, dinner on a patio courtyard in the middle, and at the back an open courtyard with the rooms running down either side. The place is lovely, with hammocks lining the center courtyard, travelers and locals hanging out drinking and chatting, and a bustling street outside.
Tomorrow we may go Volcano Surfing, or take a boat to see some crocodiles and exotic birds. We could be cowboys for a day, or go watch rooster fights, but I´d rather have some ice cream and walk around in my newly clean clothes. Did I mention we´ve been doing laundry in the small hotel sinks for over three weeks!? What a delightful thing it is to just have clean clothing. And a double bed. (Last night´s was a King!)
From León we head toward Managua and Granada, perhaps Isla Ometepe and perhaps more. We´re enjoying a slow-down, three whole nights in a town is more than we´ve done anywhere on our trip and we are soaking in the stillness. Also feeling a little cabin fever, but give me a book and a hammock and I´ll be fine.

I need a shower and a big cold beverage.

Until next time.
Lots of Love,
Grace and Adam

1) Our gracious host Edwin invited us to a barbecue at the Guate Linda Language Center in Antigua
2) Grace stepped in for a quick Salsa lesson and I quickly got the feeling at that moment that the Teacher had quite possibly become the Student
3) Overlooking the Semuc Champey pools after a grueling flight of stairs on an empty stomach
4) It was fantastic, although I am still scratching at some of the bug bites I got there
5) We met some great friends at El Retiro in Semuc Champey that we hope to see again
6) After seeing my impressive growth, our tour guide (Elvis) insisted on trying it on
7) Just as it gets dark, this cave in Lanquin comes alive with these black winged devils
8) It was awesome
9) The posse is waiting when we arrive in Flores
10) Looks like they were havin a hell of a time in the minibus on the way up to Tikal
11) We had 2 hours in the park before the sunset to have a look around
12) We ended up walking out of the site in the dark, with no headlamps, and an older couple from Kentucky hot on our heals fearing for their lives
13) The next morning we were up bright and early to catch sunrise over the temples
14) Long story short, we had to wait 45 minutes for them to open the gate, we sprinted the length of Tikal to the highest temple, and arrived just in time to witness a wall of fog so dense we couldn´t even see the trees 50 ft away. Not cool.
15) These birds were pretty but I got some awesome video of one of them chasing down D and Kyle and attacking some other tourists. No joke, watch out for them.
16) It´s a good thing no one was afraid of heights or the hike to the top of this temple would have been a REALLY uncomfortable experience...
17) Hey guys, lets go in this cave and snoop around
18) Grace was the first to spot one, and was very quick to notify us of her find
19) Standing in one place I found 16 of these. We´re talking CREEPY.
20) Mike found one of there cousins behind the bathroom curtain when we arrived in Rio Dulce
21) We also found a very peculiar insect just outside the door
22) Mike was nearly decapitated by a flock of crazed seagulls on our trip up the river to Livingston
23) Yeeehawww
24) It was nice and relaxing when we arrived in Playa Blanca
25) -How ya livin Kyle? -Pretty good Adam, pretty damn good...
26) Wine on the pier in front of Casa Rosada in Livingston
27) The wind picked up and things got rather chilly
28) It was a really nice night though
29) A full moon over livingston
30) Leigh and D pose on the ride back to Rio Dulce just before boarding the bus to the airport
31) A day later Kyle and Beth say farewell as they continue their trip down to Antigua

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