Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hear me roar

Caught a free ride to the beaches in El Salvador with Maxim, a guy
from Quebec who has driven all the way from his hometown, and will
drive all the way to the bottom of South America. Amazing. Spent the
last day or so at El Zonte beach in El Salvador: black soft sand beach
with crashing waves, as with all the La Libertad beaches, popular with
surfers. Sidenote: I do not find surfer boys particularly attractive,
but if I find you otherwise attractive and then I find out you can
surf (and especially if I see you do so), that is HOT. I then
navigated 2 chicken buses, and found my hostel/hotel in a large,
dangerous city ALL BY MYSELF with my turtle packs and my basic level
of Spanish. I did not get lost, and I did not get robbed. I am AMAZING.

I did get slightly visually/sexually assaulted. Just as well I had to
switch chicken buses.

Saw a guy wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of a common armadillo.
Underneath was a picture of a Nicaraguan armadillo, it was all decked
out with guns and grenades. As I am on a bus tomorrow at 5 AM to
Nicaragua, solo as always, this was not very comforting.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Loving every moment of this.

I want to buy everyone I know a hammock

Not a bad place to spend Thanksgiving

Some quick pics.

Darren, Ellie, Jonas. At the top of Pyramid IV in Tikal.

Darren at the top of Pyramid IV.

This is the most famous pyramid at Tikal.

The gang loafing at Tikal.
Part of the waterfall I jumped off.

My feet are so dirty. You have no idea.
On my 9 km hike through the Guatemalan mountains outside of Lanquin.

The guy on whose bike I hitched a ride back to Lanquin.

Eddy and Eva in Antigua, without the smoking Volcan Fuego behind them.

On the way up the Volcano.
Just entering the scorched section of the Volcano.
At the top of the demon volcano Pacaya, above the clouds at sunset.

My spanish teacher, Cony!

Volcanoes are always a presence in Antigua-- this was last night at sunset. There are multiple volcanoes ringing the town.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mi maestra

Maybe my favorite thing about Antigua has been spending time with my spanish teacher, Cony. Meeting every weekday for 4 hours, and conversing for all that time, has allowed us to get to know each other pretty well. It has been so wonderful getting to know so many things about her life-- one which is so different from mine. She has had plenty of difficulties and unfairness to deal with, plenty of heartbreak too. And she emerges a strong, self-assured woman. Honestly, the way that she deals with life, she seems more than just one year older than me.

Throughout this difference of expectations, regarding the trip and Sarah, Cony keeps telling me how I can't fully rely on or trust anyone. Because, as the Guatemalan saying goes, even my own self could betray me because even my own shadow could frighten me. I'm not sure how best to translate that, but it really struck me as both beautifully poetic, and so sad. I have been burned before. In my formative youthful years, I had several friends just suddenly decide I wasn't cool enough to be friends with. Or people have turned out to be more meaningful to me, than I was to them. And still, I optimistically resolve that I should be able to put all of my trust into someone. People should be able to rely on each other like that. Yes, currently I feel pretty burned, but I hope this doesn't mean that I will never trust anyone else in the future. But Cony insists, time and again, you can't rely on anyone else entirely. Only God (she is pretty religious/spiritual).

So it causes me to imagine my life, if I were only ever to fully rely on myself, no one else. Yes, I can trust other people partially, but never fully. And it seems potentially lonely. Though perhaps less painful. Is that tradeoff worth it?

I don't know how she remains such a positive, cheerful person, when she feels she can only rely on herself. Or how she can be so strong, when all she has is herself. That's truly impressive. I'm glad I've had this time with her.


Saturday was my one-month anniversary of this trip. So what have I accomplished so far?

4 Mayan ruins explored
1 major getting lost experience which we totally conquered
loads of awesome backpackers met from all over the world
became a certified SCUBA diver
learned Spanish
had a big-ass fight with best friend
mastered flying solo in foreign lands
jumped off a waterfall
climbed a demon volcano and enjoyed s'mores at the top
witnessed earth being created in all its molten glory
survived climbing down said demon volcano in the dark
hiked 9 kms of mountains by myself
swam in the warm Caribbean waters a lot
been played by a Scot
sick: only once! and I didn't even puke so I'm not sure it even counts
read: 4 books
not gotten any smaller; thanks to Guatemala
careened around mountain cliffs in the back of a pickup
eaten some coconuts
faced my fear of ocean creatures (jellyfish!)
explored 3 pretty different Central American countries
ridden in Chicken Buses
gazed out over miles of jungle from the top of Mayan ruins
learned salsa from Latin men in an Antigua mansion at 3 in the morning
been bowled over by the natural beauty down here countless times
gashed my knee cave diving
watched the sun rise over the Caribbean
had some fantastic conversations
had some awful conversations
found myself in the company of crackheads
played a lot of cards (too many rounds of Kings/Ring of Fire)
been a 3rd wheel
hitched once
listened to some amazing guitar work (Antigua)
become far more outgoing than I ever have been before
ridden a horse
been commended for my strength and courage (thanks guys)
become hooked on coffee
hiked through jungle
been offered weed so many times

So glad I came. I'm already a different person than when I left. 5 more months to go!


Saturday I set out at 2 PM to climb a volcano. Volcan Pacaya. It feels kind of bizarre to be in a land of volcanoes. In grade school I always felt like volcanoes were this prehistoric phenomenon-- only really existing with the dinosaurs. Yes, I realized there is a volcano in the states, but it was far away, not really in my world. Well. There are a lot of volcanoes in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. And they are not only volcanoes, they are active volcanoes. So on Saturday I went to experience one up close and personal. Maybe the most surreal, insane experience I have ever had.

As you may know, the only shoes I brought with me were flip-flops and my Chacos. Well, I'd been told that under no circumstances should I go up Pacaya in my Chacos. But one person said I might be ok, and I did not want to shell out $10 for some new used shoes, nor have to carry them around after. So. I went in Chacos. Well, I can now tell you that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE CHACOS APPROVED FOR VOLCANOES. I love my Chacos, but in this instance, not the wisest choice. Also, I forgot the bottoms of my zip-off pants, so I had to go up in shorts. Again I tell you: shorts are not approved apparel for volcanoes. Learn from my mistakes, people, when you yourselves climb an active volcano. Because I tell you, this is something you should do before you die.

This experience also had some sentimental value for me. I've been planning this trip for what, 7, 8 months or so? before embarking. And that time period was filled with excitement, doubt, nerves, trepidation, the list goes on. Well, in my NYC subway stop, there was the following advertisement:

And every time I saw this advertisement, it re-inspired me. It encouraged me. I wanted to be that guy conquering the world. I wanted to be that guy experiencing bizarre, amazing, unusual journeys. I didn't want to pass by an advertisement in NYC every day without venturing out on my own to live the adventurous life beyond my comfort's walls. Sometimes I wouldn't think the trip was going to happen, and seeing this ad reaffirmed my determination to make this trip happen. Sometimes I felt scared to go. This ad helped me remember that nothing was ever gained without some risk. I didn't want to stay the boring retail Laura forever. I didn't want to stay the boring retail Laura one more day. I was going to go conquer flaming volcanoes.

And on Saturday, I was this guy. It looked exactly like that. Yes, it was a little bittersweet doing this on my own. And really, I cannot believe that I did this on my own, because it may be the most dangerous, the most terrifying thing I have ever done. I thought that waterfall was scary? Hah, that was nothing compared to this volcano.

What I regret is that I didn't have 3 more hours to experience this volcano. I would have liked to stop again and again on the way up, because it was a stunning view. We kept rising over the valley, over Antigua, with other volcanoes on our horizon. The volcano itself is so fertile and beautiful before you get to the scorched part. The sun was setting, and we kept ascending above the clouds. I'd never seen anything like it.

And then we got to the scorched part. Nothing was growing, the ground under our feet was a ton of tiny, black rocks, that slid as soon as you stepped on them. And immediately, my feet were in terrible pain. The pebbles, of course, wedged between my foot and my sandal, so it was like I was ascending the volcano barefoot. It hurt so bad after about 1 minute that I was shaking. Thank heavens Eddy gave me his socks otherwise I would not have made it for 5 more minutes. So, wearing white mens socks and my Chacos was not only an amazing fashion statement, it also made wearing the Chacos a little slippy. And when we got to the part where we were walking on cooled lava, this proved to be a little perilous.

The thing about walking on recently cooled (well, not really cooled, it's warm and even hot in places) is that this newly formed matter is like Satan's version of glass. It is exceedingly sharp, all over, in fact, it's like needles, because it could pierce my skin and leave little pricks inside if I just touched it when losing my balance. It's black. I was terrified of losing my balance (which is a pretty common occurrence for me), because if I fell, or even just bumped up against that satanic mass of needle-rock, my skin would instantly be shredded. Understand why shorts are NOT recommended? To be honest, if I had known what the experience was going to be like before I was there, I probably wouldn't have gone, I don't think I would have been brave enough.

As I was internally freaking out about the potential to get really hurt, I was marveling at how cool it was to be walking on this lava. Not only is it Satan's version of glass, it is also so evident how recently it was liquid. It's rippled like thick fabric.

At one point my small group of climbers was left without a guide-- they'd all gone ahead. And we were at a point on the dangerous, cooled lava that we weren't sure what the 'safe' route was. The guy before me fell (miraculously not getting hurt besides some scrapes on his hands). (The cooled lava would give off this awful, foreboding scraping sound when it wasn't strong enough to support human weight; we heard this sound a lot). So, I became the group leader. What?! What?! I moved forward, striking our path, not believing what was happening right then. Other people in the group had started to get a little panicky when they realized our guides had left us, so my 'Jack' instinct kicked in and I, of all people, struck out to choose our ominous path over hot, unstable, sharp rocks. And we made it.

We finally joined the rest of the group at the molten lava, flowing over the side of Pacaya. When the wind changed just a bit, the air hitting our faces was scorching. We stood above the clouds, by glowing, flowing lava, as the sun was setting. It is the most surreal experience I've ever had. I've never been anyplace that looked like the top of that volcano. It was a completely new experience. And I only had about 5 minutes up there, I was SO upset I didn't have an hour to not only just spend some time experiencing it, but to take pictures. I mean, as a photographer, being some place so foreign, so new, so texturally appealing, so beautiful, so different, so dark, so dangerous, it was torture not having time to capture it. It was such a different place, and it had such a surreal feeling to it, that I decided to forget about pictures and just experience it. I didn't want to spend my entire 5 minutes behind the lens of a camera.

I think I made the right choice, but it makes me sad I don't have a good record to share with family and friends, as this was truly a different experience I would like to share. I have a few, I'll put them up soon. But otherwise, this experience will just have to live on in my brain.

We roasted marshmallows over the lava and made s'mores up there. I will never have s'mores again without thinking about the top of Pacaya.

And then coming down. Oh. My. Heavens. When I was at the top, I couldn't stop thinking about going down. Because getting there had been so perilous for a sandal and shorts-wearing clutz that I couldn't imagine descending. In the dark. But, all you can do is move forward. And I'm telling you, every instinct in my body and mind and soul was telling me not to take the next step, because I knew that I was going to fall, and end up sliding down this unbelievably sharp, deadly mountain. It was DARK. And every step we took caused a small avalanche. And I've already described what the rock was like. It was steep. Everything in me was screaming to me to stop, and the only way that I moved forward was because I knew I had to. There was no other way of getting down that volcano. (I really wished I could just stay camped out at the top til morning. Not only would I get the time I wanted to experience the volcano, but then I wouldn't have to descend in the dark.) Seriously, I am not a brave enough person to willingly go down a volcano in the dark. The only reason I took the next step was because I. just. had. to. And then the next step. And the next. And the next. Until finally I was on relatively solid, level ground. Still being those little pebbles, but at least I wasn't on such a steep angle.

Fuck. (I'm sorry people who are shocked right now that I just said that word in such a public space as the Internet, but this experience truly calls for a strong expletive.)

I can't believe people don't regularly die/get severely injured on that trip up and down the volcano. I can't believe my travel insurance wasn't called into action. I could SO EASILY have been seriously injured.

And you know what? When I was coming down in the dark? People were still going up. LUNATICS. What the f*** are these people/guides thinking?

The walk down was great. I chatted with these 2 Irish guys the whole way, and then continued to on the hour trip home in the van. We went out for drinks after we got home and showered, and ended up staying at the pub til they closed at 1. And then I had to get up at 6 for my trip to Chichicastenango yesterday. But it was worth it, those guys know how to have some good conversation. And they were a riot. How I appreciate a good sense of humor. I really wish I could spend more time with them, but they're off to Lake Atitlan, and I think I may be off south, to the beaches of El Salvador.

I'm not quite sure what my next move is going to be. It actually turns out that I have quite a bit more time flying solo than anticipated. So wish me safety as I go it alone, and off I go to conquer more world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In case the last one didn't strike enough fear into your heart.

Pretty frightening. Brought to you by local crafts.

In cas you ever felt the need to sit on Jesus

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This was my favorite. Chilean.

All of the artists were from Central or South America

This gallery was the most beautiful space-- a giant old tree wa flourishing right smack in the middle

Yes, I got in trouble for taking pictures

These two depict Santa Semana when the whole town parades up to a giant cross on the hill

Went to the Antigua Art Gallery last night

Sunday, November 15, 2009

mis libros

I think I was mentally debilitated when I decided not to bring reading books. I was being really strict, paring down my pack, but what was I thinking? I've found the following two books at hostels, but I am dying to read Jonathan Safran Foer's new book. Aaaaah Housing Works, how I long for your cheap used books right now.

Liked it-- beautiful imagery.
Just finished this one this morning, I really liked it. I was a little doubtful in the beginning, but there is some beautiful writing, great characters, and great stories. I learned a lot reading this as well. I'm sad it's over.
On to some Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Poco a poco

Oh dear blog, where to start?

I am in Antigua. Sarah left this morning for Honduras. I will be here for another week and a half studying Spanish. We didn't exactly part well, things are kind of unresolved. I feel like I've been through a bad breakup, but instead of being able to curl up in bed with ice cream and my best friend, I am all alone in a completely foreign place.

Instead of ice cream, I grant myself as much internet time as I can stand. This is about the one thing keeping me together right now.

I don't really know what I can say here, anything I write is obviously from one perspective. I have already been reprimanded for sharing too much here. Suffice it to say, I suppose, that things have profoundly changed. In our relationship, and in our traveling situation. I will rejoin Sarah in about a week and a half, but I don't know what that's going to be like. Yesterday I woke up and the question actually passed through my mind, "What if I just go home now?" I hate that I thought that. I worked so hard for this trip. I expected so much from it. I was brave. And now I'm thinking about giving up? Well, I'm not giving up yet. I also seriously thought about the possibility of traveling alone-- I honestly don't know what Sarah and I are going to feel upon our reunion.

Maybe I'm jumping to ridiculous conclusions here. I certainly hope I am. But, undeniably, things have changed.

I am trying hard to put myself back together here, because this is still my life-altering adventure I'm on, and I will be damned if I regret losing a week to emotional upheaval. I do wish I wasn't tied to Antigua at this point, I think new sights and new people would be good for me at the moment. But I paid ahead of time to get a reduced price, so Antigua it is until the 25th.

I am trying hard to meet new people, and forge a new idea of what this journey will be for me.

So. Antigua. It is a beautiful colonial town. I was actually really surprised upon driving into it because it is so different from the rest of the country I've seen, which is in general a very poor one (though rich in aforementioned natural beauty). It feels old and established and european. It's a very romantic town. And apparently somewhat dangerous. My spanish teacher scared me quite a bit the other day when she told me never to go out past 8, and ABSOLUTELY never to go out past 10. The Guatemalans don't. But every social backpacker knows the action doesn't start until 10. So. I am now paranoid that a pack of armed men will rob me if not worse on the way back to my Guatemalan family's house which is in the southern end of town-- the more risky end of town. Great, I'm alone and I'm scared. But let's not get dramatic here, I will just have to find someone to walk me home every night. Perhaps that will be good for me-- I'll have to befriend a guy enough to ask him to walk me 15 minutes away.

Living with a Guatemalan family is also not quite what I anticipated. I thought there would be a lot of family time, a lot of practicing spanish time. My family, however, is very small, and they house students like a bed and breakfast. They provide a bed, and meals when I want them. No family meal time. But Elder and Marina are very nice, and I didn't want to offend them by switching to a different family. My fellow student boarders are old people. Who are not that interested in interacting with me. So my hopes of finding new friends there died immediately. My food is traditional and simple. And prepared with plenty of oil. But tastey and plentiful. I will probably be gaining a few pounds here.

My spanish teacher, Cony, is great. She's 26, and since all we do during our 4-hour lessons is talk, we're getting to know each other despite the language barrier. I'm impressed with how much I can understand already, even if my own communication is still slow. We had a great conversation the other day about the traditional Guatemalan woman's place in society, and exectation in the home and in life. She got married at 17 (something she regrets), and is no longer married. She is, apparently, very lucky to be able to have a career outside of the home, and she is definitely one of the more feminist Guatemalans out there.

I am planning on spending time at El Gato Negro, the hostel I stayed at my first night here. It's one of the most popular, and has a great little restaurant, so I hope to pick up new friends there. I am, of course, spending a great deal of time with the lovely Eva, whose pateince, independence, and maturity continues to impress me.

The big touristy thing to do here is Vulcan Pacaya. It is constantly erupting, so tourists make the strenuous hike to the top to roast marshmallows over the lava. It's supposedly AMAZING. I think I'll do that next weekend, I was too immersed in my internetting to make it to the tour today.

I have also only recently gotten over my extreme soreness after Semuc Chempey. The day after our trip to the falls and bridge, I decided to hitch a ride back to the falls so I could take all the pictures my heart desired, and then walk back to town and the hostel-- a 9 km hike through the mountains. Brilliant. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, I think I got some great pictures. Yes, I loved meeting, greeting, and conversing with the indigenous people I met on the road. Yes, I was so sore. Yes, it was EXHAUSTING. I think it was worth it though. I mean, I am pretty impressed with myself, and everyone at the hostel was too when I walked (limped?) in at 3 in the afternoon. Good training for Macchu Picchu, perhaps? And a quarter of the way down the last hill, I hopped on the back of this guy's bike for the remaining km back to Lanquin. I did, unfortunately, miss some of the best photo opps that way, but who can say no to a motorbike down a steep mountain road? Not I. Thank you mystery Guatemalan guy on the motorbike-- if only I had the Spanish to have a conversation with you. So the soreness, particularly in my left thigh, only intensified the day after, and the day after that. Today was the first day it was completely gone. My knee continues to recover, though I think that's going to be a long process.

Please, overwhelm me with loving responses. Sometimes I feel bone-crushingly alone. I have met a lot more people so far than I expected. This is wonderful. And I am relying upon the expectation that I will meet more, even without the extroverted Sarah at my side. But new acquaintances do not quite make up for old friends with whom you have memories with. Friends who know you beyond the backpacker.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

take you wonder by wonder

Well despite all of my emotional baggage here, I just had the most amazing day.

As you know, I had french toast and coffee for breakfast. It was peaceful, I got up early and tried to embrace solitude. So, good start. Then we hop in the back of a truck which gives us a truly rumbly ride for 8 km to the river. The ride itself was worth it, seriously the views around here took my breath away. There are so many mountain tops, and fog is constantly shrouding the peaks. We went through the town and up and down hills and mountains, getting joggled around, sometimes whipped by branches. It was exhilerating and beautiful. We arrived at a green river. First stop, swing out into the river. The drop was longer than I expected. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the least graceful people I know. Next stop, into the caves!

I don´t have a lot of experience with caves, but these were at the top of a beautiful cascade of water, and we waded in, everyone with a candle. The candles, obviously, enhanced the atmosphere. Trailing through in a long snake of people, bobbing up and down in the water that came up to my eyes at some parts, hands raised above to protect the flames. I don´t have much tolerance for group activities, but today was just so wonderful all around that I managed just fine. Bats swooped, we clambered up and down, swam, avoided stalagmites and stalactites, at one point I lost my balance and fell, banging my knee. It hurt, but all you can do is continue on. When we got to a part mostly above water I saw I was bleeding quite a bit, and I hoped no one else would notice so they wouldn't send me out. Later, after returning to daylight, I realized it was quite a gruesome gash. The deepest cut I've ever had, and if it wasn't on my knee I would probably get stitches at home. But all we had was some alcohol to clean it out, and I sure as hell wasn't going to miss out on the rest of the day because of a silly flesh wound. It was nice to hear everyone say how tough I was, I've got to say. In the cave we continued along until arriving at a pool where we could climb up and get a perfect cave dive. I'm not going to lie, I was kind of scared. It was fun jumping so far down in a place where you imagine you must hit some rocks, but you don't. It's the perfect underground diving area.

On the way out, one of the guides motioned to a "shortcut", and I was the first one who got to go through. It was a tiny opening in rushing water. I was the only one on the other side for a while, alone with a single candle and my headlamp (thanks Anne!) I wasn't sure which way to go, as the guide was helping people through the small opening on the other side. I could either go up a ladder, or continue into another cave. I went on ahead alone, but it was so dark! and the reflections in the water looked like people, it was so creepy! I kept asking the guys behind me to come with me to see if that was the exit, but they wanted to stay for the guide, the pansies. So I went ahead, and lo and behold Sarah soon followed so I wasn't alone for long. We emerged into the light and the green and the trees. It's jungle here, but more woodsy than Tikal was.

After the cave was waterfall jumping. I have no skill at measuring distances, but let me just say that I think that jump was the scariest thing I've ever physically done. I'm not sure it compares with some emotional courage I've displayed, but as far as physical action goes, I think it wins. The waterfall was beautiful, the footholds climbing up to the top were perfect, everyone watched as you jumped out and plummeted (what looked to me to be very far below) into the current. And wow, my ass hurt SO BAD. I was so scared that my gut instinct was to curl up my legs as I approached the water, so I landed right smack on my butt. I wouldn't be surprised if I woke up with bruises tomorrow. And the water was cold. WOW.

And then there was more! We went tubing down the river! The waterfall, trees, moss, water, sky, gentle current, vines, birdsong, mountains soaring above, fog... Again, the photographer in me was crying all day because we were constantly in or surrounded by water so I couldn't take pictures.

And then there was more. We hopped back onto the back of that wonderful truck which drove up to the limestone bridge. One of the cute guides flirted with me, which helped salve my pride after me recent rejection of sorts, and despite my bleeding and gruesome knee, Sarah, Kriss, and I opted for the climb up to the top for the view. It was a 20 minute steep climb, and no, despite my 20 lb weight loss for the trip, I am not that fit. So there was plenty of heavy breathing and sweating, though I'm glad we did it, the view was worth it. We made our way slowly down to the bridge and the pools that have formed along the top of it. They're perfect wading pools that you can even dive into in places. It rained.

So, even though I was with Sarah and Kriss, and I like them both obviously, and their company, I still feel pretty alone. You know, they're all into each other, and I have no one to share my significant looks with as I experience this beautiful place. Sarah's looks are spent on Kriss, and I have... myself. I am so familiar with this feeling, but it doesn't make it easier. And it's just a week, after that I'll have Sarah back. So yeah, I can last through a week. But I want someone I love right next to me, grabbing my hand in a thrill when there's a beautiful moment. I also wished I could be out there without the big group, it's a transcendent place.

The ride back was even better, I was right in front of the truck as it whipped around corners, sending me leaning over a steep fall as I see Dr. Seuss mountains towering above. And so much mist and fog, I had a few jaw dropping moments. To add to this vista before, my truck was spirited enough to belt out Disney classics on the way back. Yes, this is undeniably completely cheesey, but I couldn't help but thrill when belting out A Whole New World, careening around corners of some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen, high up in the mountains.

Semuc Chempey is a MUST for anyone traveling in Central America.

We're going to stay another day because I love it so much here. I'm going to take a really long walk through the little mountain village of Lanquin that's nearby, and maybe even hitch a ride back to Semuc Chempey just to be able to take pictures. Though I am going to be outrageously sore from everything we did today. I haven't been so physically taxed in a long time. Walking in water and clambering over rocks where you are constantly at risk to fall painfully on your butt requires a lot of muscle control!

Dinner tonight? A plate BURSTING with vegetables. It is sooo wonderful to eat produce again! There are magic chefs in the kitchen here because everything is perfect. It's not just everywhere that makes such fantastic vegetarian cuisine. This just makes my cup overfloweth.


Heaven, I found heaven

I woke up bright and early, and what did I have for breakfast? The best french toast ever, fresh fruit, granola, and coffee-- for $3. And the valley is breathtaking. Heaven.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ups and downs in the mountains

Well friends, I am in some outrageously beautiful mountains in Guatemala. We recently got out of a little van we´d been squashd into for 7 and a half hours, and the photographer in me just about cried not being able to take proper pictures out of the window of a moving (rumbly) vehicle. I can´t wait to go to bed so I can wake up in daylight to see more. (I am slightly appalled by how much of a morning person I´ve become on this trip.) We are in a hostel called El Retiro in Lanquin, and it may just win Best Hostel Yet. We´re in bamboo cabins, in a beautiful valley, right by a river, down the road from Semuc Chempey. That´s a national park with, apparently, a stunning, natural limestone bridge. We´ll be exploring that tomorrow. For now it´s another night at a hostel with a bunch of people who drink A LOT. Seriously, these travelers, it´s getting a bit ridiculous. Is there really nothing else you can do with your nights?

We spent the last couple of days in Florse, and didn´t actually get that much accomplished there. Flores is a lovely island people generally stay on when they visit Tikal, a great Mayan ruins site. Flores means flowers, for a reason. And Tikal was deep in the jungle, massive, very overgrown, with wildlife around. I loved seeing the birds just wheeling around and around these ruined pyramids, gaping empty doorways. The best part, by far, was climbing to the top of Temple IV, where you can sit, above the treetops, with an amazing view of the jungle, uninterrupted for miles except by the tops of other Tikal ruins. Sar and I went with Darren from New Zealand, a complete laugh. Jonah from Denmark, another complete laugh. These boys have a great energy about them, even if they are pretty steep partiers. And Andre, a tagalong. We sat at the top of that temple for a good long while.

The hostel we stayed at in Flores was another winner. Called Hostel Los Amigos, it´s full of flowers and growing things, has a fantastic dining, living area, incense, occasionally great music, and was full all 3 nights we were there. Great atmosphere. And DELICIOUS vegetarian cheap restaurant. Umm, this place was made for me. It even played music from Amelie.

We are traveling with Adam and Ellie from Scotland. We met these two at Bellas in Caye Caulker, and planned to meet back up with them in Flores, and our path remains the same all the way through Antigua. So we´ll probably be with them for 5 more days or so. And then Kristoffer, from Norway, whom we also met at Bellas in Caye Caulker, opted to change his travel plans to spend more time with us, so he´ll be around for about a week as well.

So Sarah is currently in 7th heaven, and I am... a little miserable. I just keep trying to focus on my beautiful surroundings, waiting the week out while not losing my opportunities here. I don´t know what to say, I´m lonely. We´ve had some great company recently, but the past couple of nights my brain hasn´t exactly been that exercised. And I feel COMPLETELY lame at the thought of hanging out by myself reading or writing, my usual fallback. And my other usual fallback, Sarah, is currently occupied. At least while I´m writing this I have some excuse for being alone. Why do I suddenly feel like I´m in middle school again where I had to eat lunch all by myself? Part of the problem is that at night, when it´s dark and there´s apparently nothing else for people to do, they all drink a ton. And that´s not exactly my bag. Sure, once in a while, but every night?

I can´t wait til we get to Antigua and I can see Eva again, I know I really enjoy her company.

Sometimes I fall into these negative or lonely funks, and it takes me a while to get out of them. I almost wish it was just Sarah, Kriss, and me. Then I could just hang out by myself without feeling quite so lame.

But buck up! I seriously can´t believe how gorgeous this place is!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

where's the Jew?

Sarah has not been contributing to this blog enough, but if you are her facebook friend, you can see a lot of pictures from our trip. Just a tip.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Caye

OMG blog. If only the internet wasn't so expensive in Caye Caulker I would have updated you long ago. And more frequently.

After heading out of Tulum we ended up in Chetumal, a large Mexican city tourists mainly use just to pass through to the border of Belize. We arrived after dark, and promptly got lost as our taxi driver had no idea where our hostel was, even when we showed him on our map. Passing a group of missionaries, we bailed on the taxi, hoping to prey upon the helpful natures of these Mormon brethren. Alas, they could not let us curl up in the primary room, nor did they have any other bright ideas. So, having spent our taxi money already, we decided to walk. We periodically stopped to check in with locals that we were headed in the right direction, as there weren't any street signs to be found ANYWHERE. And no one knew where anything was. Literally. Not the hostel, not the street it was on, they couldn't even agree as to what the street's name that we were all ON. After at least 20 minutes of very muggy trekking with all our belongings, in the dark, in a questionable part of town, we asked a cop. He was confident that we would have another 20 minutes to go, at least, so we needed to get a taxi. We were SO LUCKY that the next taxi knew where our street was, and it was a block away. Success! And this hostel had a bunch of fun travelers in it chatting on the porch. Our walk had tuckered me right out though, so I left Sarah to be the sociable one.

On to Belize! We traveled with 5 other backpackers from Chetumal to Belize City, and then took the water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker. And let the backpacking bonding commence. We hung out with these five people for the next few days, and it was like having a wee family.

Eddie: 41, pretty socially awkward, occasionally crossing the line into inappropriate ("You should go to China, they'd love you there. Why? Because you are white and have big boobs. You'd have a rich Chinese husband in no time.") Completely well-meaning, and VERY well-traveled.

Matty: 26, Australian, tattooed extreme sports enthusiast. Spearfisher, amongst other skills. I believe he is THE funniest guy I have ever met. Fantastic comedic timing, and so friendly. Great addition to any gathering.

Celine: 24, Canadian, Matty's girlfriend, easy-going, sweet and has traveled a TON.

Eva: 20, from Holland, young but comes off so mature and on top of things, theatre person, total delight to be around. We're going to meet back up with her in Antigua.

Christa: 38, Minneapolis, traveling solo after her daughter graduated high school.

We hung out together during the day, and ate our breakfast and dinners together. We were so sad when the group broke up.

When we arrived at Caye Caulker, we planned 2 days there. And that was being generous, just because we felt we'd been on the go and had plenty of time for the small country of Belize. But as soon as we walked down the main street of this tiny island we knew we'd be there for at least 3 days. And, as it turned out, we decided to go back to school there-- for our Scuba Diving Certificate. We'd planned on going on at least one dive on this trip, but options are kind of limited when you don't have your certificate. Going for the Open Water Course would get us 6 dives, and far better opportunities for diving for the rest of our lives. So we committed to Caye Caulker for a week, since the class didn't start until Friday, which wasn't a problem for us at all. So here we are, bona fide scuba divers. It was fantastic. Caye Caulker is super chill, incredibly friendly (I mean really, by the time we left we were friends with so many islanders, these Belizians may be the friendliest people I've ever met), and it is gorgeous. Aqua waters, palm trees and coconuts, white sands, colorful buildings. There's one main street in town, you can walk it in 10 minutes. There's a fantastic hostel (which everyone in the group but us stayed at-- we opted for cheaper), called Tina's. Great ambiance. We hung our hammocks at Bella's, which is also lovely, though located next to the town brothel, with better kitchens, and we paid $4 a night-- pretty amazing for Belize, which is kind of expensive for Central America.

We met so many people during our week in Belize! Backpackers kept coming into Tina's and then Bella's and we hung out with fellow travelers every night, talking of the world and where we were going and coming from. After our core group broke up we hung out with a few European boys (Kriss, Pete, Tibor) who ended up in our hostel, add a couple of Scots (Ellie and Adam) and Frenchmen (David and Well) the last couple of days. And that's not including the locals yet! If you don't know Sarah, she loves getting to know the boys on the street. And there were plenty of boys on the street to get to know. We kept wondering where all the women were on this island because there was such an abundance of single men bumming around.

We, and all the locals, walked everywhere barefoot. Grocery shopping barefoot: delightful. One of the island dogs also adopted us, we named him Sherwin. I felt bad abandoning him today on the dock, but someone's been feeding him, so I'm sure he'll be alright.

So we just had a really lovely, chill week. Everyone on the island embraces Island attitude-- don't worry, be happy. No stress, running on island time. We had so much conversation, I read a book (Like Water for Chocolate), journaling, swimming, sunning, arguing, drinking, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Some weird things happened too, but we just put it down to the name of the game when it comes to adventuring. We even ran into Adam from Cancun-- small world!

Scuba diving is beautiful, I recommend it to one and all. So peaceful, and beyond imagination. We were a big fan of our teacher, Hillary. It was cool to here her switching to Creole too-- she doesn't look the type.

I was sad to leave Caye Caulker today. It's a place Sarah and I both agree we could return to. A week sounds like such a long time to be in one place, and it kind of felt like it. We did a lot in our time there, and kind of turned into morning people, and as previously mentioned had an all-around great time, but i definitely had the itch to move on after a few days.

I am going to try hard to write more. So much has happened that I just don't have the time to write down now. Mostly just conversations or interactions, or arguments, but i would like to have a record of everything, not just posting where in the world we are. I'll do my best.

We are in San Ignacio tonight, and then on to Guatemala and Tikal, more ruins, tomorrow. I visited the ruins in town here today, I liked them because they're not groomed, things are growing all over and you can climb everything. In the jungle, really peaceful. Inland Belize is verdant. Rain forests. Beautiful (I know, i need to come up with another word already). I hope everything I see my eyes drink in, and it remains a part of me forever, because i've seen so much beauty in these two weeks of adventure.

Just a few

Our first day on the trip. Pretty good start. This is Playa Delphine in Cancun, in the Hotel Zone. There was hardly anyone on this beach.

Chichen Itza had fantastic goodies to buy. I bought one of these guys, I LOVE them. And I obviously loved them all sitting in a row together even better.

Forest of pillars at the Chichen Itza ruins.

After climbing up on some ruins (that weren't behind ropes), we caught a great view of the top of El Castillo over the treetops.

Unfortunately not the right direction, but here's a requisite foot shot.

A church in Valladolid-- a town we stayed in for one night after visiting Chichen Itza.

Tulum. Guh guh guh. The most beautiful beach I may ever encounter. I wished I could take a picture from the waves, because swimming out in that gorgeous warm water, gazing up at the cliffs and the ruins, is stunning.

Tulum at sunset.

Frenchie's! Where we got our Scuba Diving certificate. For 4 days I woke up, made eggs, walked barefoot to class at the dock, and spent most of the morning under the sea. Having your classroom be a sandy circle in the midst of a coral reef 33 feet below the surface is pretty incredible. And everyone at Frenchie's is fantastic.

We spent an afternoon babysitting Tyler, the son of the overseer at one of our hostels in Caye Caulker. He was so sweet, and so beautiful! More pictures to come. He brought out Sarah's maternal side. Hmm, is the clock ticking, Sar?

I wish I could put so many more! But the files are pretty large when taken with a D-SLR, so they take a while to upload. Now that we're getting into Guatemala, which is much cheaper, i will try to find more internet cafe time to catch up a little better. I feel like I could write a post a day if I just had the opportunity!