Ok so I haven’t been that up to date with my blog. In fact I’ve now been in Australia for nearly 7 months, but before I let you know about my current adventure I thought it would be best to summarise on my last two months in Central America.
After leaving the Hostel in Costa Rica I had a pretty epic journey of waving down buses on highways, being hungover on cramped hot chicken buses (old American School Buses) for several hours, finished off with luckily a smooth ferry crossing and I had made it to Nicaragua and the island of Ometepe.
Here I stayed at a jungle hacienda in the hills of the island. It was very remote as I needed a few days to chill out and re-group. I planned to stay here for my birthday and had visions of spending my birthday reading in a hammock and going for nice walk in the jungle up the volcano and enjoy the quiet atmosphere. It turns out it was a bit too quiet and on the morning of my birthday I made the decision to get off the island and make the trip to the capital of Nicaragua, Grenada. As it was my birthday I treated myself to a 2 hour taxi ride (instead of a possible 5 hour bus ride) to the city. Arriving at the hostel in Granada I knew it was the right decision and got to hang out by the pool and found a lovely French patisserie for a birthday treat.
After a nice few days exploring Granada I was so keen to get on and learn to scuba dive that I decided travel straight to Honduras and onto the island of Utila, which is know as the cheapest and best places in Central America to complete the PADI training. With a plan in place I left Nicaragua and travelled overnight to the capital of Hondorus, also technically the most dangerous city in the world, San Juan del Sur. As I had already pre-booked a taxi through the hostel and only staying the one night, I didn’t encounter anything that made me feel unsafe and apparently it’s based on murder per capita and even the murders tend to be concentrated within the criminal community, which made me feel a bit safer!
The next morning I boarded my bus set for the ferry to the island, followed by one of the most nauseating ferry crossings I’ve ever experienced! You know you’re in for a bad ride when the locals are getting there sick bags ready.
Finally back on land I checked into my scuba diving school and got reading ready for the theory lessons the following day.
I was in a group with four others and over the next 4 days we all made qualified for our PADI open water scuba diving certificate. After the first dive honestly I didn’t really enjoy it. The whole sensation of having the heavy uncomfortable gear on you, the mask and the bulky air tank then breathing underwater did make me panic initially. Plus I had an overwhelming urge to get back up to the surface and really had to make a big effort not to just surface and rip my mask off. Overcoming this and getting through that first session was a challenge but I’m proud I did it as the second trip underwater already felt more normal and I even began to feel comfortable, so when it came to going through the open water tests we had to complete, which included having to take your mask fully off, putting it back on and emptying it of water came a bit more easily. In-between the underwater lessons getting familiar with the equipment, breathing techniques and hand signals we went on fun dives and got to explore the surrounding reef. This is what makes everything else worth it. The reef life was amazing and feeling weightless swimming around it was a truly awesome experience. For anyone who hasn’t scuba dived, the best way to describe the sensation is if you can imagine what it’s like being a fish extra in Finding Nemo.
So now finally qualified to scuba dive I left the island and headed to Guatemala. I stopped off in Guatemala City to indulge in a day at the mall, checking out the food court and the cinema. After a nice normal day I got on a bus to the city of Antigua. Here I learnt all about the Maya culture and really enjoyed the atmosphere of the city. The highlight was the nearby volcano, Pacaya that had started erupting the week before. The Pacaya volcano is one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes, and its frequent eruptions are often visible from Guatemala City. Typical activity in recent years includes strombolian activity, lava flow emission and intermittent violent phases of lava fountaining.
There was a night excursion that took you right up to the lava field and a stunning view of the bright red lava running slowly down the hillside into a valley, forming fresh lava fields. Another experience to tick off the bucket list and one I will never forget.
Unfortunately I picked up a nasty stomach bug in Antigua which influenced my decision to head to a relaxing island known to be a hippie chill-out hangout only accessible by boats.
Lake Atitlan is recognized to be the deepest lake in Central America with maximum depth about 340 metres. The lake is shaped by deep escarpments which surround it and by three volcanoes on its southern flank. Lake Atitlan is further characterized by towns and villages of the Maya people. The lake is surrounded by many villages, in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. There is no road that circles the lake. Communities are reached by boat or roads from the mountains that may have brief extensions along the shore.
I spent the next few days in a lovely hostel on the shores of Lake Atitlan taking time to write a few blog entries, doing some yoga lessons my the lake and walking around part of the lake. Even stumbling across an exclusive hotel with an infinity pool, which just helped with my relaxation expedition all the more! It was really nice to get away from the cities for a while and enjoy having nothing to do but relax and certainly helped my illness improve.
If I had stayed any longer I was at risk of becoming a yogi hippie who didn’t shave, wear deodorant and played a ukulele wherever they go (not a stereotype but an actual eye witness account). So I continued on my journey through Guatemala onward into the centre of the country and the highlands.
Here there is a very remote natural attraction called Semuc Champey. The area is only accessible along a dirt road and requires a night stay at one of the lodges built nearby. The tour starts with an adventure through the limestone caves where you make your way through the darkness by candlelight. It involves wading and swimming through water, climbing rocks and waterfalls and jumping into natural pools.
The next stage is a nice little ride down the river on rubber tubes and then onto the main attraction consisting of a natural 300 m limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, crystal clear turquoise pools where the guide took us through along the natural slides and jumping off ledges to reach each pool.
My last stop in Guatemala was the epic Tikal National Park.
In the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial centre contains amazing temples and palaces along with remains of dwellings scattered throughout the surrounding countryside.
The reserve contains the largest area of tropical rainforest in Guatemala and Central America, with a wide range of unspoilt natural habitats. Tikal protects some 22,100 ha of rainforest where over 2,000 plant species can be identified and Fifty-four species of mammal occur. In the heart of this jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, lies one of the major sites of the Mayan civilization. The ruined city reflects the cultural evolution of Mayan society from hunter- gathering to farming, with an elaborate religious, artistic and scientific culture which finally collapsed in the late 9th century. At its height, AD 700-800, the city supported a population of 90,000 Mayan Indians. There are over 3,000 separate buildings dating from 600 BC to AD 900, including temples, residences, religious monuments decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions and tombs. Excavations have yielded remains of cotton, tobacco, beans, pumpkins, peppers and many fruits of pre-Columbian origin.
Tikal has also featured in some of my favourite films; Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Monsters! Finally getting to explore and learning about the Mayan civilisation was another highlight for me with the eerie jungle atmosphere playing a big part in the experience along with the cries of the howler monkey, which is the noise used in Jurassic Park for the T-Rex. When we first heard the noise from the jungle I was pretty convinced a dinosaur could appear at any moment and that I was in fact in Jurassic Park! Climbing through the ancient city made me feel like I could also find Dr Jones scavenging for artefacts in the temples. I think I just made it sound like Disneyland!
Next it was an eight hour dirt track minibus ride to a river crossing on a pretty sketchy boat to an even sketchier border crossing where I had now become used to the obligatory made up border crossing ‘fees’. But I had finally made it to Mexico! Still suffering from my mystery digestive illness I checked myself into a Best Western and spent the following few days feeling rubbish, but finally made it out to explore the town and most importantly sample my absolute favourite cuisine, Mexican food!! It didn’t disappoint. Here I had the BEST nachos, guacamole and tacos I’ve ever tasted. They also made an insane chicken, lime and avocado soup which was also luckily a bit more tummy friendly.
After a nice rest it was off North to the city of Merida. It is the cultural and financial capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, as well as the capital city of the state of Yucatán. Still feeling ill I got an amazing deal on room at a Hilton hotel (I was not ready to slum it in a hostel dorm again just yet). I had 5 days here until I met Nicola in Cancun so my priority was to rest up and get better. Merida is also something of a Hospital hot spot so I made my way to the free public hospital, was seen straight away by an English speaking Dr and within a few minutes was given some medication. Not wanting to really miss an opportunity to eat lots of Mexican food I made daily trips to the local Wall-Mart for the awesome delicatessen adventure, although I found the only thing that I could really eat without any major repercussions were twix bars! The town itself was full of culture and was really vibrant, plus the people were all lovely.
Feeling a bit better and obviously very excited to see my sister I got to Cancun airport and stood waiting outside arrivals with my home-made sign. After 10 minutes of sign holding and thinking I’d spotted her, incorrectly 3 times, I headed instead to Margaritaville (a American chain restaurant famous for Margaritas!) It always looks good in films but in real life sign holding is pretty tiresome! Also it turned out Nicola’s flight was delayed by three hours, so on her arrival there was time for a quick hug before I dragged her to a taxi and on to the hotel in Playa del Carmen, just south along the coast.
We spent the next two nights in Playa Del Carmen catching up, checking out the surrounding shops, coffee shops and restaurants while planning the rest of our trip.
Deciding to travel to Belize first we got a bus to the border, stayed for one night in border town of Corozal before getting a boat to the island of San Pedro. Here we spent a lovely few days exploring the island by foot, bike and boat.
We then headed to the neighbouring island of Caye Caulker. Again spending our days snorkelling around the reef, lounging on jetties and sampling the local food. On what happened to be valentines day we had a lovely evening watching a film in the open-air cinema. There is nothing like watching a film in a deck chair surrounded my trees, wildlife and the night sky.
The next stop was back on the mainland, south of Belize city to a picturesque beach town called Placencia, at the southern tip of a sandy peninsula. It’s a sleepy beach town with plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops along the broad-walk, so again we spent the days taking in the chilled out relaxing atmosphere.
A local had mentioned there was a top Belizian restaurant in one of the resorts just out of town. If you ate there you also were allowed to use the resort facilities including nice pool and loungers. Fancying a slight change to the beach Nicola and I rented a pair of beach cruiser bikes, advised it was about 30 minutes up the road and were on our way.
It made for a perfect ride, following the main road along the coast, completely flat with a cooling sea breeze. Thirty minutes into the ride and Nicola cycling in-front with the map, it soon became clear we hadn’t even reached halfway. With only Hotels for markers it was taking a lot longer to cycle from one to the next and on the map they looked so close together! With the promise of amazing poolside cuisine we kept going, imagining we were only around the corner Eventually over an hour after starting and cycling at least 20km we made it. Bright red and sweaty we set up on some loungers and went straight for refreshing dip in the pool.
Luckily the food and location was totally worth it. It was then time to head back which involved a mad sprint at the end to reach the rental shop in time, justifying an ice-cream treat!
Coming to the end of the trip it was time to get the long bus journey back to Mexico. Over 10 hours, several buses, sitting at the back on a tractor tyre, having to bundle with our rucksacks to get on the bus we eventually made it to our hotel in Cancun.
The last few days in Cancun could not have been more fun. With a lovely Hotel in the city centre we got to explore the areas away from the big resorts, even stumbling on a cool local night market and top rated Mexican restaurant.
The Hotel also had a free shuttle to the resort area and free entry to one of the beach clubs. It was nice to not have paid anything and still get VIP treatment, even though they insisted on blasting out rubbish music all day and the pool was just surrounded by people drinking and worried about how they looked so me and Nicola ended up having a good splash around in the kids pool instead but still made the most of the hospitality. If anything it was an excellent few days people watching!
On our last free day we headed to Wet n’Wild for a totally awesome day of water slides, lazy rivers and the wave machine plus free food and drinks all day. Making the most of free cocktails may have cut our time on the slides short but the best end to an incredible trip.
The morning of our flights we spent as many hours as possible in the Hotel pool, contemplating plans to ‘accidentally’ miss the fight and stay forever but sanity prevailed and we made it to the airport for our flights home.
Touching down at Gatwick I was already planning my first British meal in 9 months. I had been craving a good curry the whole time I was away, so a few hours after I landed dumping my stuff at home, it was a quick shower and off to the curry house and the best curry ever!
I spent 6 weeks back at home catching up with friends and family along with planning my trip to Australia. I will be updating you all with my Australia trip so far on my next blog entry.I promise it won’t take me as long this time!
Thanks for taking the time to read about my travels through South and Central America.
It ‘s nice being able to share it.