Guatemala, Belize · 50 Days · 22 Moments · February 2016

Tim en Guatemala

3 April 2016

LIVINGSTON, GUATEMALA After Ash and I spent 3 days in Belize to renew Ash's Guatemala visa we took a boat then a bus from Placencia to Punta Gorda in south of Belize and another boat from there across to Livingston, Guatemala where we met up with the rest of the gang. Livingston felt more like Belize than Guata, most locals looked caribbean than guatenalan, and heaps of english spoken everywhere, and superrr hot and humid and warm bath temp water. But a beautiful spot at the end of rio dulce, and we did a great day out for marcus' bday hiring a boat. Our hostel Casa Nostra was also 10 with some of the best food of our trip so far, and the host Stuart was awesome. Definitely glad we visited here for 4 nights, and a very different aspect of Guatemala.

30 March 2016

PLACENCIA, BELIZE We survived Belmopan and Dangriga bus terminals on our way to Placencia in Belize which we'd heard was a nice beach spot. And we weren't disappointed. Beautiful piece of caribbean beach. Not particularly cheap but we were in a very touristy spot, and i felt a very popular destination for americans. It was serious culture shock spending 3 days in belize - english is the common language, as well as caribbean creole-ish so many times i found i had not idea what locals around me were saying, even though im pretty sure they were speaking english. Anyway we passed a real nice 3 nights here with som beach relaxing then made our way back to guatemala, taking a boat from punta gorda in belize to livingston guatemala on 1 April and meeting up with the rest of the gang for Marcus' birthday on the 2nd. All in all, im glad for the belize passport stamp, and there's no higher praise than that

29 March 2016

BORDER JUMP INTO BELIZE The standard Guatemalan entry visa gives you 90 days in the country, and Ash had overstayed that welcome by a few days. So on Tuesday we caught a 5am bus from Flores for the Belize border. The bus was super comfy and only took about 1.5hrs to get to the border, where we got off and passed through immigration without them realising Ash had overstayed by 5 days and so avoiding the 10Q/day fee. From there we took a cab to a nearby town called San Ignacio which we heard you could do some outdooractivities in Mountain Pine Ridge. But our hostel didnt answer the door at 7.30am and we didnt like the vibe of the town so when we heard we could catch 3 more public buses and get to the Caribbean coast of Belize in Placencia we jumped at it. In the end we didnt get to Placencia until 4.30pm, almost 12 hrs transit, and it was a super hot and humid day of travel but so nice to get to a spot of paradise rather than hole up in a shitty town. Ps dont visit Belmopan or Dangriga

28 March 2016

TIKAL, GUATEMALA Here are a few snaps from Tikal ruins. We went there for sunrise on the Monday after busing the Flores on the Sunday, and I think we were all feeling the pinch from getting up at 3am. So to find it a very overcast day and no real sunrise to speak of was a little disappointing. I also dont think its a particularly good sunrise spot unless you get a rare red sky sunrise, so perhaps not worth the extra 100Q to get in early. Was nice to hear the jungle wake up though and get loud as the sun came up. And we heard an amazing howler monkey from only like 10m away in the trees. The ruins itself were impressive, but overall i dont think worth travelling 9hrs to see and quite expensive comparatively (400Q for the visit, around $75). Would see it if heading that way anyway, but wouldnt go out of my way - but generally the man made wonders interest me less than natural scenery like Volcan Acatenango so it was always gonna be a tough sell to really wow me.

27 March 2016

FLORES, GUATEMALA after a large final party sesh at Zephyr on saturday night after a day of river tubing, a group of 10 of us from zephyr (5 aussies, 5 israelis) made our way to Flores in the north of guatemala where you can visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal from. The 9hr journey was a little tough for all, and it was super hot. Flores is an interesting little island town in the region of Petén. Some really nice scenery of the surrounding lake but not a lot more than that. A couple of nights there was plenty for mine.

23 March 2016

SEMUC CHAMPEY Well this was a highlight of the trip so far! We had so much fun on this tour, which went from 9am to 5pm for only 140Q (about $25) (mind you we might be one of the last groups to get that price for such a good tour. Our guide Carlos was in competition with the Zephyr tours, and we went with him because we heard good things. By the time we'd left Carlos and Zephyr had made A deal to work together instead!) The tour included a cave tour (climbing a waterfall, jumping into a water hole you could barely see), a rope swing into water (huge one, maybe 7/8m from the peak of swing into the water - landing with my legs apart hurt my manhood bigtime), around a 10m jump off a waterfall, river tubing, awesome buffet lunch and finally the famous Semuc pools. We did it with a bunch of ppl we already knew from the hostel which was also a highlight to spend the day just with them. Wouldve loved to do it twice. Everyone had waterproof gopros so will upload more photos when i get them.

20 March 2016

ZEPHYR LODGE, LANQUIN After our week at the Mountain School in Xela, Ash and I made our way to Zephyr lodge in Lanquin, which is where ppl visit Semuc Champey from (next post). The transit there was a challenge - we first went from the school to Xela to spend a night, then we left Xela at 8am and didnt get to Lanquin until midnight - 16 hrs transit, with the second bus taking 10hrs (they sold us the ticket saying it only takes 4 hrs, so they were a little off). We were pretty much at a standstill in Guata City for 2hrs, i think Semana Santa related. Anywho got there in the end and Zephyr was amazing. Spent a whole week there in the end and loved it, great scenery, pool, good food, great activities and met heaps of cool people. Didnt wanna leave this place! Also visited a bat cave to watch their escape at sunset...a little underwhelming to be honest, Batman ruined our expectations

16 March 2016

MOUNTAIN SCHOOL CONT. A few more pics of some meals i had and the house. Also a red pick up - this was the first time i experienced travelling in the back of a pick up in guatemala, which is very common in the more remote areas and fills a void from overcrowded/irregular chicken buses. It was mildly terrifying at times, given the way they drive and the realisation you're trusting their cage construction a lot. A little more on Nuevo San Jose - we learnt that the town was established by families who were kicked off their Fincas (farms) when coffee prices went down and finca owners went broke and couldnt pay their workers for years worth of work. This was pretty common in guatemala, where many families lived and worked on fincas, so when their owners went broke the families were left without any homes and cheated of years worth of salaries. Some communities got settlements, and went and established communities like the one we stayed in, but still live off very little.
MOUNTAIN SCHOOL, NUEVO SAN JOSE After Santa Cruz me and Ash went to do another week of spanish classes at a remote mountain school about an hour and a half out of Xela (guatemala's second largest city), and near a little (and pretty derelict) town called Colomba. The school is part of another school in Xela and was established to support the community of Nuevo San Jose and a big part of what they do is supporting the local town. It was USD$225 for a week of classes, which incl. accommodation, three meals a day at a local family's house, and 20hrs one on one classes. There are 30 families in the town that take turns hosting students for meals on rotation so they can all benefit from it. It was amazing to experience that life even at such a surface level, so much of their days are taken up by daily chores that are much more labour intensive, e.g. Going looking for firewood (leña) which they use for their wood powered stoves. My teacher Tito was awesome, and my guatamelan mama Aurelia.

10 March 2016

SANTA CRUZ, LAGO ATITLAN This was an amazing AirBnB Kathie found near the town of santa cruz in lago atitlan, where we headed after antigua and volcan acatenango. We stayed 5 nights in a 4 bedroom house which only cost $20AUD each a night and had such amazing gardens and awesome pool and pool house. Really felt like paradise here, and mum you would have loved these gardens so much. The housekeeper Ramos was sooo nice as well, did anything you'd ask. Even spent like 15 minutes with his machete meticulously hacking the husk off a coconut so we could get inside, when we just asked him to cut it in half. Also cooked some pretty awesome home made meals, pizzas (using tortillas as the base) and pastas n stuff. Apparently some dutch guy owns the property which has 5 houses to rent on it, all pretty similar. He comes by once a year they said - so i think he's doing pretty well. Only a 10Q trip to panajachel from here.

8 March 2016

ACATENGANGO SUMMIT P2 AND DESCENT Not much more to say other than enjoy the final photos. The descent was much quicker and we went through a different part of the cloud forest which was beautiful. Coming down from the summit was fun being able to run through pretty deep loose gravel and let gravity do the work.
ACATENANGO SUMMIT P1 2 parts for the summit cos i went photo crazy. The climb up was so steep from base camp in the dark, and seriously intense at some points. With only a very small path to follow and completely sheer and slippery gravel either side ir really felt a wrong move could put you in serious downward trouble. To top it off ive never felt just strong winds as we approached and reached the summit. I actually had to crouch low and walk to avoid been blown off my feet and down the mountain, which really got the heart pumping. Apparently its not always that intensely windy, thank god, cos it was enough to keep one person from making it up to the summit and wouldnt be surprised if it could cause serious injury. But so worth it to reach the moon like crater on top and the spectactular views of fuego, sunrise and clouds as far as you can see.

7 March 2016

ACATENANGO - BASE CAMP These photos are all from base camp at 3,600m. It was really cloudy with limited visibility when we got up there, after the 6/7 hr hike, but as the sun started to set the clouds started to drop lower in the sky giving us some great views of volcan fuego and its eruptions. Some photos are from the evening and others from the next day after we returned from the summit. We were really lucky and must have seen fuego erupt like 10-20 times all up. Some groups dont see it erupt at all! It was absolutely freezing up there as well - i run pretty warm, but still had to sleep in my puffy, shirt, t shirt, singlet, tights, pants, 2 socks, and beanie and still didnt feel toastie in my sleeping bag. Made it easy getting up for sunrise though cos no one slept well 😋
ACATENANGO - ASCENT So i'm splittint out volcan acatenango hike into 4 parts cos too many good photos to include and can only do 10 at a time. First part is the climb up to base camp which was at about 3,600m. We had to take packs up weighing about 12-15kg incl 5L water, warm clothes, sleeping bags, tent, food etc. The hike would be a tough one without the bags, so they really did add a lot to the climb. There are three main climates you go through on the hike, being a lush forest, then grassy zone with bare trees, then just a shrubbery zone near the moon like summit. It was spectactular gradually climbing to cloud level and then getting above it to where base camp was. Had a good group with us as well which made it more fun, and luckily we were able to get a fire going at base camp despite being hit by hail as soon as we got up there! We started the ascent at around 11.30 and were up at base camp by around 5/5.30, with at least an hour of breaks throughout the climb.

6 March 2016

ANTIGUA We met up with the gang, nick marcus dave kathie and rosie on 4th of March in Antigua which was great, but weren't in great health unfortunately so couldnt celebrate it. Antigua is a nice little town but gotta say i wasn't in love with it. Just didnt have a very relaxing atmosphere, you either had to be walking around all day or sit in your hostel, which wasnt particularly cozy for us, esp cos we got put in a room next to some guatemalan dude that liked to roll his shirt up over his gut and play with his belly button while showing off his gun in his back waistband hahaha. But we were lucky enough to see a religious procession in the streets on the sunday which was a taste of what's to come for Semana Santa, so now we're happy to miss the crowds and hectic atmosphere in Antigua and other cities during the week long street parades which start 20 March. Highlight of Antigua was definitely climbing Volcan Acatenango with Ash Nick and Dave. That'll be the next post or two!

4 March 2016

THEY GOT ME!! Well after 7 weeks away my body has finally succumbed to a bug, and it is a beauty 😳. Got about an hr sleep, shivering uncontrollable for 3 hrs then feeling like my brain was going to melt down, soooo hot, and bowel going haywire. Worst ive felt for years, and definitely worse sleep ive had i reckon. And consistent with travel luck it was the night before travelling to antigua to meet the others. So a very subdied reunion on my part, and ash is coming off a similar bug so we're a bit worse for wear. Spent some time self diagnosing in a delirious haze last night which was scary. Hahah I'd also like to apologize to the ppl on the shuttle bus who were the victims of some really unsavoury smells. Lo sientoooo! Im hoping its a 24 hr bug, cos feeling much better than last night, but food is being quite the challenge still. Fingers crossed it clears before we attempt volcan acatenango in a few days.

3 March 2016

LAGO ATITLAN ACCOM 4 This is the little lakeside housey-type-thing ash and i stayed at after the yoga forest in San Marcos for another 3 nights. Front yard went straight into the lake so easy for a swim, unfortunately we both got pretty sick at this place so it ended up being more like a hospice. It also rocked the composting toilet - and i tells ya emptying that bucket into the pit and burying it wasnt the most pleasant job, nor was burning the used toilet paper. Very outdoorsy but 😉 Brilliant views from the bedroom, which was also the kitchen and living room in this 1 room set up.

1 March 2016

THE YOGA FOREST - SAN MARCOS Given we're in the most spiritual/hippie place on earth, it would be remiss of us to not take part in something of the ilk. So we spent 5 nights at the yoga forest glamping. Morning meditation, yoga twice a day, vegetarian food, conposting toilets, chanting before every meal, dreadlocks in every direction. Yup, this was a great box to tick. Especially with the sunrise we got on our last morning; i didnt know they made em like that. Breathtaking. Other things we've heard of on offer in san marcos: cacao ceremonies; darkness retreats (conplete darkness 12 days); full moon retreat (a month, incl. 1 week silent fasting); ayuvarda (or something like that) courses; aand the list goes on, including all the other forms of massage, reiki, yoga training, etc. Ppl are not afraid to talk loudly about their personal lives in this town - looot of open books here 😋

23 February 2016

ACCOM 2 - SAN PEDRO Second spot on the lake is an Airbnb in San Pedro La Laguna. Much busier than San Marcos, bit more going on. Our house was a decent walk, about 20mins to the town centre. Nice views of the lake from our balcony. Our host baked us bread and the neighbour has cows so we bought fresh milk (like straight outta the teet and still warm) and cheese from him. The road we walk on doesnt hav a lot to see, pretty dirty and heaps of buildings that seem to hav started building but stopped halfway through and now deserted. In the evenings there are eagles flying round above the balcony, and saw hummingbirds and squirrels beside us. Not arf bad. Its pretty common to say high to everyone in the street, but even so id feel wary walking our street late at night alone, if only for all the stray dogs roaming around that seem more wild at night 😳 Some of the streets in San Pedro are seriously steep, its amazing the tuk tuks can make it up..oh yeah, there are tuk tuks here!

22 February 2016

VOLCAN SAN PEDRO Got up at 5am to go hike Volcan San Pedro on Monday. Easy to do without an agency, just get a tuk tuk to the park entrance and pay 100Q ($20) and a guide is included. Started hiking about 5.40 and takes about 3 hrs to the top. We got some pretty nice views of the lake from around the halfway point (the summit is 3,000m above sea level). But as we continued climbing the fog and low visibility seemed ominous, and sure enough by the time we got to the top we were smack bang in the middle of a cloud. Tall mountains have a way of attracting their very own clouds, and this one was thick and didnt let up for a second for even a glimpse of the whole lake. We were pretty went and got chocobanas (frozen banana dipped in choc and nuts) aaand felt better about ourselves. Our guide Samuel was a champ. The hike itself was pretty difficult, bit of altitude and all. I found coming down heaps harder, supper thigh wobbles i thought me knees would buckle! Luckily nawt

18 February 2016

LAGO ATITLAN - ACCOM 1 Finally met up with Ashleee in Panajachel 3.5 months after she started her trip. We've hired 3 places to stay on the lake through airbnb. The first place was incredible, all of these photos taken from there. It was a bit remote - we had to take a public lake boat (una 'lancha') to the next town if we needed to buy something. But perfect for just relaxing at the house, swimming in the lake, and watching some volcanoes. Aaand turns out my camera really is waterproof. Eating out in cafes around the lake is broadly comparable to melbourne - about $10-$15 (50-75 Qtz) for a meal and drink, i suppose cos all the businesses are owned by foreigners so they know what they can get away with. But cooking ur own meals you can spend more like $10-$15 a day on food. Accom is between $23-$45 each a night with our airbnbs.

14 February 2016

LAGO ATITLAN - GUATA Nick and I made it to guata after 3 flights and about 27 hrs transit, but that route saved us a couple hundred bucks so worth it...maybe. Although got stung with a couple gringo taxes: avianca made me book a bus out of guata before they let me got on the plane in BA; Peru charged us $30US each for leaving the airport overnight as we had 14 hrs till our next flight; taxi from lima airport 2km to hostel cost about $15US and the hostel in lima and guatemala city (GC) both cost almost $30 each a night for pretty basic set ups. Maybe flying direct would be cheaper. Then another couple hrs by bus to get to Lago Atitlan from GC. Its about 1.5km altitude, huuuge lake, several volcanoes surround it, and COMPLETELY full of the most serious hippies you'll find. Move over rainbow serpent, this place has you beat. The towns around the lake are full of tourists and shops catering to them - clothing and knick knacks, and because of that the prices also aren't very cheap