A Travellerspoint blog

23rd April - 5th May, Panama

23rd April
The bus dropped us at the border. Leaving Costa Rica was no problem. The Panama customs was a little less obliging. We needed an onward ticket out of Panama they insisted. Despite some lengthy discussion with the 'lovely' lady behind the counter, we eventually had to buy ourselves the cheapest ticket we could find out of Panama which was a return bus ticket to Costa Rica. Having already explained to this very very nice lady that we intended to make our way to Colombia next I presented her with our return bus tickets to Costa Rica. Obviously used to people buying these pointless tickets that will never be used she didn´t bat an eyelid and stamped our passports. Ridiculous. However, we were in Panama although disappointingly no-one appeared to be wearing any Panama hats.

And, a couple of hours later we arrived into the hottest city in Panama - David. It was living up to its reputation too, and, sweating heavily in the humidity we checked into the Purple House Hostel. Time had jumped forward an hour and so after we had planned our next few days along with the helpful owner of the hostel and bought some stuff from the supermarket it was evening. I cooked - wasn´t that nice. Cheap bottle of Chilean wine helped the food go down though.

A fan was blasting away in the room but to no avail - it was stinking hot. I went to bed and sweated. Marsha stayed up and watched a film for a while - and sweated. Not a great night´s sleep...

24th April
Lying in bed wasn´t that pleasant as it was so hot, and so we were up, out and on a bus bound for Cerro Punta shortly after 7am. On arrival 2 hours later we were kindly given a lift by a passing man (and his car) up to the head of the Los Quetzeles Trail. This trek that winds its way up and then down through a cloud forest is home to the rarely seen Resplendent Quetzel.

The walk took about 6 hours, nearly all of which was following a little path through the thick forest. It was wet and in parts the path had been washed away or had been destroyed by landslides. The trees were like mini forests themselves - huge and covered in ivy, bracken and shrubbery and providing a habitat to monkeys, birds and no doubt many other animals. The forest was alive with the sound of birds - but the quetzel eluded us. We passed humming birds and huge insects which prompted Marsha to observe that the birds were the size of insects and the insects the size of birds! We encountered a few monkeys lounging in the tree tops and some dead snakes.

Towards the end of the trek the path met up with a river. Again, although we had passed a few other people over the course of the walk, it was easy to believe at times that we were in the middle of nowhere, far from anywhere. Towering trees covered in moss and shrouded in mist enveloped and surrounded us. Colourful birds swooped from branch to branch.

The walk was more exhausting than we´d imagined and arriving into the town of Boquete we were both quite weary. Checked into the Palicios Hostel where we were very enthusiastically greeted by the owner who couldn´t stop talking about the wonders the town had to offer. As it was, we were both just pleased that it was so cool - the town sits at over 1000 metres.

After showering and a little hammock and book time and a chat with some people we´d met previously in Central America, we ate at the owner´s recommendation - a cheap buffet style eatery with American Pie showing on the big screen. Very classy.

25th April
A good night´s sleep - and a lie-in! We´d been used to getting up at about 5am for the previous week or so and so it was nice to sleep in (especially as it was cool). The warm feeling of contentment continued throughout breakfast and so we booked in for a further night, and settled in for a little morning reading time, before heading out.

This area of Panama is famous for coffee. Tasted the same as any other coffee to me, but still. Further up out of town we visited Mi Jardin Es Tu Jardin - a private house that had opened up its garden to the public. Marsha and I stood on top of the central tower having walked around and redesigned the place in our minds.... Still, it was quite pretty and certainly better than any garden we´re likely to have anytime soon...

We kept on wandering, the cloud forests surrounding the town were beautiful, but, it began to drizzle. A little wet, we returned from a dead end that we´d reached and re-entered town across the river a couple of hours later. After lunch we busied ourselves with internet stuff as the drizzle evolved into a downpour.

Dinner at a little eatery just up the road in the rain.

26th April
From Boquete to David and on to Panama City by bus. The route took us over the canal as we entered the city - well, that part wasn't man made and so I guess it wasn't really the canal... Still, several big ships could be seen in the distance.

Checked into Mumarillas. Time enough for a movie at a nearby mall.

27th April
Panama City is a very cosmopolitan place. Very American as well - in fact, the currency here is US Dollars. We explored some of the city. It was hot again, and so every so often we dived into a shop for air-conditioning.

Casco Viejo was the first suburb on the agenda. On the water, with some fine looking buildings being renovated with great views out over the Manhatten of Panama. Out on the water many boats and huge ships awaited their turn in the canal. This area of town was old and several buildings had been bombed during the US invasion of 1989 and were still showing the scars.

We wandered about, popping into shops - bumped into a couple we'd met several times on the way down Central America. Admired the Panama Hats on sale - eventually buying one later on. We popped into the Panama Canal Museum but it wasn't very interesting - and all of it was in Spanish meaning most of it was beyond our understanding. In fact, the best bit of the museum was a photographic display of Taiwan that was bizarrely on show at the end.

After lunch we tried getting a bus back to the shops and ended up in Old Panama instead. A helpful couple behind us on the bus gave us a rundown of what we were seeing out of the window - the old ruins etc.... like having our own personal guides.

We separated for a while and met back at the mall for another film in the evening.

28th April
The canal.
The nearest place to the city to see the canal in action is the Miraflores Locks. The visitors centre overlooks the locks and the canal as it stretches off left and right in the directions of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Huge ships were lining up on the Pacific side to enter the locks. An enthusiatic commentator announced the arrival of the boats and proceeded to excitedly tell us all he could over the loudspeaker. It was interesting though. One of the first ships to come through was as big as is allowed by the Canal and was paying $355000 US to go through. After this, more massive ships came and went along with a couple of yachts.

It was a huge operation. Million dollar small trains guided the ships into the locks - sometimes with less than a foot to spare each side. Then, 52 million gallons of fresh water later, the ships have descended to a level from which they can continue through the canal. It was fascinating. And, we found ourselves promising that we would leave, but, maybe we'd see just one more container ship pass through.... There was also a museum in the centre which we wandered around and a little film theatre as well.

On the ships themselves, excited crew hung out on deck and took photos, clearly determined to enjoy the 7 or 8 hours it takes to pass through the canal from one side to the other and to be within sight of land before venturing out into the Pacific for God knows how long...

We took photos of course - posing in our Panama hats. For one of the first times ever, I was giving out fashion advice - people coming up to me asking about where I got the hat from etc... All a bit odd really, you could hardly move for people trying to sell them to you. We eventually left, and, as we walked away it was a little surreal to be able to see these humungous container ships, designed for seabound voyages only, snaking through through the countryside one after the other.

On the way back to the hostel we picked up a few snacks and supplies for the few days that lay ahead.... We were officially leaving Panama the next day and spending some time on the open sea...

Posted by Patrick H. 14:05 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

10th - 23rd April, Costa Rica

10th April
With many places left unvisited in Nicaragua, we reluctantly boarded a bus bound for Costa Rica. July is getting ever closer and various sites and sounds in South America are beckoning. Wth time pressing, this has meant skipping through Central America now a little faster than we would have ideally liked. However, as we heaved our bags into the bus luggage area and settled ourselves in for the journey to Costa Rica, we were leaving with many good memories of this wonderful country.

We arrived at the border by 10am. Leaving Nicaragua was a breeze. 20 mins later, a few dollars lighter and with a bunch of Costa Rican currency we were back in the bus travelling through no man's land to the Costa Rican customs.

Ahhh.
Stepping off the bus into scorching hot temperatures - without shade initially - we waited in line outside. The queue stretched out in front of us, around various people selling drinks, food and money and into the road where it then wound back round alongside a small building and then round the corner and off out of sight. And it wasn't moving. We waited and waited, drank some water, inched forward a little, waited some more and moaned about the country we were about to visit.

Eventually we entered the building and passed over our passports. Having heard a bunch of stories about people getting refused entry or needing onward tickets we were mightily relieved to be handed them back complete with a Costa Rican stamp seconds later.

It seemed as though we could be on our way.
But no.
Everyone's luggage came off the bus. About an hour later having waited outside all this time a fella came along and rifled about in some of the bags (not ours) and then told us all to leave. And so, 3 hours or so after leaving Nicaragua we eventually entered Costa Rica officially.

Arriving into San Jose around 6pm we caught an overpriced cab to Gaudy's Backpackers in the La Sabana district of the city. Dinner at a Colombian place served to us by a Costa Rican who seemed very proud to be working in a Colombian restaurant!

11th April
San Jose is a very westernised city. We knew this before arrival and so weren't disappointed at the way in which it has embraced McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut for example. In fact, we set out to enjoy a day doing 'normal' stuff in a big city. Nothing too much to report on but it was great visiting bookshops and sitting in cafes etc... We even spent a couple of hours in the cinema in the afternoon.

Back at the hostel by late afternoon we lay about in hammocks and planned for a few days ahead. Oh, and we ate some sort of American fast food round the corner.

12th April
After breakfast at the hostel and visiting a few shops we boarded a bus, then boat and then bus again to the Nicoya Peninsula and the beach town of Montezuma. The boat ride provided great views of the Pacific inlets as the sun went down.

Montezuma is small and touristy. Cafes and tourist agencies offering various tours line the main street. We found a lovely place to stay just past the centre - a hotel that as far as I could see called itself 'Hotel'. Fair enough, nothing flash for the name I suppose, but I'm writing this now sat on the verandah. Marsha is reading in a hammock and the Pacific Ocean is pounding the dramatic, rocky coastline at the bottom of the garden. Very peaceful.

Dinner at The Cafe Bakery. Overpriced for what it was. We had used a recommendation out of the Lonely Planet. Since being recognised by LP it has obviously attracted many more customers and have hence felt it necessary to hike up their prices 4 or 5 times over. This is not the first time we've encountered this....

13th April
An early morning walk on the beach. We clambered over rocks and reached sand. The waves noisily thundered in off the world's biggest ocean. Even at 7am the air was warm and we soon built up a sweat. After a shower and eggs and bacon round the corner we walked out of town and then turned right in search of the waterfalls we'd heard about. The 'path' involved jumping from rock to rock up the river, scattering the crabs as we went. Howler monkeys loudly (and aggressively we felt) announced their prescence in the trees above, roaring to each other as we passed. Apparently they poo on you from above to let you know they're there as well - as if the massive roaring every half minute or so wasn't enough.

The 1st waterfall was hardly noticeable but the 2nd was over 20 metres high and swimmable in the pool below. And so, we swam, got splashed on, took some silly photos and relaxed.

On the return down the river the howler monkeys became so loud we armed ourselves with sticks - remembering the unpleasant incident in Emei Shan. But, they left us alone. Back on the road we continued down the coast road. It really was very dramatic - we sat and watched for a while as some huge waves crashed against the rocks and sprayed everywhere.
The waterfall in Montezuma

The waterfall in Montezuma

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We were on the hunt for a particular place but after 4km down the road we turned around and eventually found that it had closed. So, a quick swim in the sea - the waves were churning up the sand so much that I was pulling grains out of the trunks for ages afterwards.

Back in town we had a late lunch. After that, well, it was siesta time. We also took the time whilst relaxing in hammocks on the verandah to book up our Machu Picchu tour - exciting!!!

We must be approaching nearly 100 books read between us now since July. It's lovely. Some more serious reading time was only interrupted by a vege wrap at a cheap eatery in the main street for dinner.

14th April
A very leisurely morning in Montezuma. The weather improved as the morning went on and I enjoyed walking along the beach and reading and watching the waves crash around me. Marsha caught up with some of her writing. By the early afternoon we caught a bus back to the ferry and then to San Jose. The ferry ride gave great views over the Nicoya Peninsula:
Sunset on the boat from Nicoya

Sunset on the boat from Nicoya

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We checked in again at Gaudys in San Jose.
A strange bunch of people there. A group of blokes sat around whilst one of them strummed various Britney Spears hits on his guitar as the others earnestly sang the lyrics. Undeserved applause from the singers greeted the end of each song. It was late and I was taking advantage of a couch and a tv and watching a film, but it was difficult with this weird bunch tunelessly bashing out poor songs just around the corner.

15th April
Gaudys is a nice place, despite the fact that a community of bizarre people seem to be staying there. Today we again did normal things. Watched tv, went to shops, even cooked!!!

Like I say, a good day, the only complaint being some Americans loudly proclaiming their brilliance and superior knowledge throughout the evening back at the hostal. 'YEAH, I'M REALLY GOOD AT THIS, VERY GOOD AT THAT. I'VE BEEN MOST PLACES IN THE WORLD, BUT DON'T REMEMBER ANY OF THEM CAUSE I GET TOO DRUNK, YEAH'. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

16th April
A 5.30am bus delivered us 5 hours later down the Pacific coast to a town called Quepos. A 2km bus ride then allowed us to check into the Serena Vista Hotel half way between Quepos and the beaches further along the coast. The views were great from the little terrace.

We walked to the beach stopping off at Cafe Azul for a pricey lunch. The beach was beautiful. Palm trees lined the edge of the beach, sand stretched down to the very swimmable water. The water was the warmest we'd been in this trip. We lay down for a few hours eventually having to grab our things and scamper out of the way of the encroaching tide. An ice cream and drink in a beachfront cafe was a perfect end to the day before we returned to the hotel to watch the evening close in over the ocean.

Next door was a tiny eatery which we entered later. He offered 3 dishes 1 of which was off. Anyhow, it was alright. Then an elderly Texan fella joined us and we discussed various issues. I felt obliged to put him right about how he viewed the late Princess Di. Sadly from there the conversation degenerated slightly as he expressed his somewhat bigoted views regarding non christian white people. I was tempted to stay and discuss his racist prejudices but in the end really couldn't be bothered.

17th April
Rain beating down on the roof and distant thunder awoke us both early. We had hoped to go to Manuel Antonio National Park for the day and so this was a little disappointing. But, as we ate breakfast on the terrace overlooking the forest in the foreground and the Pacific behind, the rain cleared, the clouds scattered and blue sky appeared.

The National Park was only a few km away and a bus took us most of the way. A coastal jungle with tall trees, dense undergrowth and immaculate beaches. The place was alive with wildlife and shortly after entering we encountered 2 sloths hanging in the branches above. Both were successfully managing to confirm their reputation by steadfastly refusing to do anything other than sleep. After 10 minutes one scratched himself which was greeted by oohs and aahs below.

We continued on and passed loads of Howler Monkeys and White Faced monkeys swinging athletically from tree to tree. A Humming bird zipped by, once again too quick to capture on film. The imaginatively named Jesus Christ Lizard appeared as well – (they walk on water!). All the time the path weaved its way through the thick jungle.
By the time we’d reached the beach it was almost afternoon. The beach was gorgeous and we spent some time in the sea and lying on the sand reading. Occasionally a large iguana would come scuttling across the sand and then abruptly stop and stare off into space for 2 or 3 minutes as though deep in thought. It was as if it was trying to appear deeply profound and intelligent. An iguana wouldn’t look out of place curled up on an armchair in a waistcoat, wearing slippers and spectacles, smoking a pipe and reading the Times.

We tried snorkelling but it wasn’t up to much, and so we went off for a walk instead. Again the wildlife was abundant – a wild deer, hundreds of crabs, lots of small mammals called agouties, many more monkeys along with wonderful views from high on a hill out over the ocean. Our search for whales was in vain.

Later on, as we left, we spotted a third sloth in a tree – and this one was moving! We watched for 15 minutes as it scaled a tree seemingly in slow motion. Hanging upside down it slowly reached out for food in the branches above us. It was great to see.

We went looking for a cheap place to eat and eventually settled upon about the most expensive place for some reason! It was called Pirates and was very tasty.

Back at the hostal, as we were getting ready for bed, Marsha yelped, screamed, stepped back and gave it some, ’Oh my God, oh my God – look at that – the size of it!!!!’, etc etc….. It was a justified reaction though. Sitting on the bed was a humungous cockroach. It was – honestly – the size of my palm. Well, I spent a rather undignified 20 minutes attempting to catch it and eventually did, throwing it outside – greeted by wild applause from Marsha!!.

18th April
A short bus ride brought us to Uvita, a small coastal town further down the Pacific coast. A hostal owner met us off the bus (reasonably aggressive tactics we thought) and convinced us to stay at her place by the beach called Flutterby. Marsha bought up some food in the supermarket before we went.

The place was new – and looked it – and very overpriced. But, it was close to the beach and we wandered down and spent the afternoon in the sea and on the sand amongst the crabs.
Later on after returning for a shower, we ventured back to the beach with a beer and enjoyed the sunset. It was beautiful – the spray from the sea glittering in the sun’s reddening rays over the sand, surfers riding huge waves on the golden ocean.

Back at the hostel, Marsha cooked, we ate outside, and then chatted with various others over some beer and wine. All very pleasant.

19th April
Feeling a little worse for wear, we collected our things together, paid, left and walked to the bus stop early in the morning. Before too long it became apparent that we’d missed the bus. Still, we caught a different one, and then another and finally a taxi and eventually made it to Sierpe in time for the boat we’d booked for 2pm. We shared the taxi at the end with an American girl who insisted on a detour to see some large ‘spheres’. These turned out to be just big round stones in a park – probably the most rubbish thing I’ve seen all trip.

We boarded the little speedboat with several others. The driver then took off at breakneck speed – probably in an attempt to impress us all. Impressed we were not. Clutching the sides in terror we thundered through the narrow mangrove lined channels. At one point I was busily trying to calculate my chances of survival if we were to crash when we spotted a crocodile, slipping ominously beneath the water as we passed. The chances of survival, already low, suddenly halved.

But of course we made it from the river out onto the ocean where it actually became even more terrifying, and finally to Jinetes De Osa on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. A hotel on the water’s edge for which we’d paid ludicrous amounts of money for – but what the hell… It was in the famous Corcovado National Park. We were booked in for 3 nights – food included – and were looking forward to it.

We took an afternoon/evening stroll along the beach having checked in and had a look around. The jungle came right down to the beach and at high tide the sea almost reached the jungle – it really did feel like the middle of nowhere. The thick jungle surrounding the hotel was alive with the sounds of birds, crickets, monkeys etc… It was fantastic.

20th April
Several of us spent the morning diving. 2 dives with a couple of hours on Cano island inbetween. As usual, as we set off Marsha and I apprehensively appraised our fellow divers in the boat and – as usual – adjudged ourselves to be probably the least competent.

The coral was almost non-existent and the visibility wasn’t great. But, after a few minutes under the water we rounded a rock and came face to face with about 10 white tipped reef sharks – all lined up on the seabed as though parked. As the dive progressed we came across countless more. For some reason we felt totally at ease and safe, although at one point I noticed a shark getting a little too close behind me.

The island was stunning and we spent most of the time swimming (getting very sunburnt as we later discovered), and then wandering along the sand exploring the rock pools. Up near where some food was provided for us, the beach seemed to be moving. Thousands of tiny crabs, dressed in a colourful array of shells, busily trotted back and forth.

The second dive produced further sharks and a Sting Ray. Pleased with our shark sighting efforts in the morning, after we returned to shore we walked for a couple of hours up the coast and back. Seemingly around every corner another tiny deserted sandy cove would appear. The sea lapping the sand only yards from the jungle behind. Again, we felt as though we were on our own in the middle of nowhere – until we’d turn yet another corner and stumble into another hotel. Monkeys played in the trees above, competing for our attention with parrots as they noisily chattered away.
A great day, and the food at the beachside restaurant at the hotel was also good.

21st April
An hour’s boat ride took us further down the Pacific coast to an area called Serena in the Corcovado National Park. The coastline as we bumped along in the boat was stunning. The thick jungle swept down from the hills like a carpet and hung out over the ocean from jagged rocks as huge waves crashed below. The park was famous for being one of the most Bio-diverse places on the planet. We were hoping to see some of its residents. It was also famous for being wet. Well, it is a tropical rainforest I suppose…

Almost immediately after stepping off the boat and into the jungle we encountered a puma. Unbelievable – only the second time one has been spotted by our guide this year.. It hung around for 10 minutes (apparently protecting some cubs). We scrambled around the dense undergrowth trying to get sightings and photos. It was very much like a mountain lion, lean and strong but not too broad. Eventually having had enough of us she walked off into the jungle. An amazing start to the day – none of us had really expected to see the large wild cat.

And the day got better. Essentially, we walked through the jungle to a ranger station and then back out to the coast before heading inland again and then out to the boat. Along the way we sighted the 4 types of monkeys found in the park: Squirrel, Spider, Howler and White faced. The jungle was so thick and they were playing in the canopy high above us that at times it was hard to make them out. But, then we’d go further and come across some swinging about lower down to the ground. 2 more sloths hung about doing absolutely nothing. Giant locusts and crickets and grasshoppers. Toucans, parrots, makaws , humming birds and various other large birds appeared.
We came to the coast and where the river meets the sea, Bull Sharks allegedly appear. Sure enough, after a few minutes of patient waiting a couple of fins appeared above the water flashing back and forth. Apparently these sharks attack humans more than any other shark. We stayed well back from the water’s edge. Then the rain came down. In torrents.

We ate lunch by a river, the jungle surrounding us. A pair of crocodile eyes surfaced in the water and this dangerous reptile and us watched each other warily until we finished. Our guide controversially told us that crocodiles weren’t dangerous, and this dubious claim made me question a little as to whether perhaps we weren’t safe from the puma earlier as well.

Returning to the boat we surely used up all our luck by coming across another puma. This one quickly scampered away, but again, fantastic to see a big cat in the wild.

As the boat was being packed up we managed to complete our tick list – a tapir had wandered into our area. This cow sized hippo type creature with a large snout simply stood and gazed at us. The only drawback on the day had been the difficulty in taking photos. Marsha’s camera was playing up and I was struggling to capture the animals in the darkness of the jungle – especially as most darted around the place.

Back at the lovely hotel by mid-afternoon we did nothing but rest our legs, listen to the sqwarking of the parrots, lie in hammocks and read our books until dinner was served.

22nd April
We had decided to prolong our stay in the Corcovado National Park by another day and night. It really was such a stunning area of natural beauty. After breakfast Marsha and I set off down the coast. We followed a path with the sea and sand on our right and the rainforest on our left. Shortly after setting off a dog joined us and later on another one too. Again, it was stunning. Photos simply can't do it justice. Sublime beaches - completely deserted - sparkling water and waves crashing in off the Pacific. Behind, towering rainforest, so thick it was impossible to see in more than 10 yards. As well as 2 dogs, a couple of parrots joined us for the walk. At times several other parrots took to the sky as well. They are magnificently coloured birds - the sort I thought I'd only see in picture books or National Geographic Magazine. We came across monkeys playing in the beachside trees.

After several hours of walking we turned around and came back, making it back to the hotel by 5pm. There was a map up in the hotel and we managed to calculate that we (and the 1st dog who'd stayed with us the whole way) had walked about 25km in total. No wonder we were so weary - but also so exhilerated by the day.

We sneaked some food to the dog - who was still with us! - at dinner and then gratefully sank into our bed.

23rd April
Reluctantly, we departed the Osa Peninsula, the jungle, the lovely hotel, the beach - even the dog who had stayed the night outside our room! As we thundered away again on the boat and the junglefied coastline retreated into the distance, we realised yet again this trip, that we had found a place that we could easily have spent a considerable amount of time...

But, we were off to Panama...

Posted by Patrick H. 19:43 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

30th March - 10th April, Nicaragua

30th March
The day started with an alarm call at 3.55am. Quietly we dressed and hauled our bags out of the room and downstairs. The taxi we´d organised the previous evening failed to show but fortunately another turned up to take someone else from the hostel and so we piled in as well.

The rest of the day was then either spent in a variety of vehicles or waiting places for them to appear. Pizza Hut provided lunch in the capital as we awaited one connection. We then crossed the border into Nicaragua at about 8pm and arrived into Managua about midnight. Emerging from the bus we found ourselves behind locked doors and protected by armed guards. Safety, we had read, was a major issue in the capital of Nicaragua and we were warned by the bus agency and the guards against going anywhere until we had transport and knew exactly where we were going.

So, we shared a 45 minute taxi ride to Granada with another couple and managed to check into the Oasis Hostal. Gratefully we climbed into bed shortly after 1am.

31st March
Remembering little about our late arrival into the Oasis Hostal only hours before, on waking up it took several moments to remember where we were. Oh yes... up a ladder in the attic. The only room left! We had been mightily pleased just to find a bed and had gratefully handed over the money the night before. But, we planned on being in Granada for a few days over Semana Santa (Holy Week) and so trudged around the nearby streets for an hour or so checking for other places to stay. Eventually we returned and in fact stayed where we were except in another room.

The day was baking hot. Wandering around was thirsty work. We checked various places - a gym, Spanish Schools, book swap places, cafes etc... Granada is a charming place - quite touristy but still endearing and providing plenty of local flavour. The leafy square was hectic - people busying to and fro in amongst the carts and stalls selling all sorts of odds and ends. A large yellow cathedral overlooked the centre and as we were approaching Easter there were a number of religiously dressed women hanging around being spiritual and stuff.

After the tiring travel day and late night getting into Granada, neither of us were planning on being too active and found time to do some internet stuff and lie about in hammocks provided by the hostal next to the swimming pool and read etc... A couple of chess sets were around the place and a few of us had some matches.

In the evening, and still baking hot, Marsha and I found an Irish bar and had some food there out on the street. The pavements were crowded with other bars and restaurants and people enjoying the holiday and the good weather. It was packed. There were various stalls of jewelry and other bits and bobs for sale as well.

1st April
Woke up to find that the town was ankle deep in fish. It had rained overnight and by some strange phenomenon the rainclouds had deposited fish - probably from the nearby lake - all over the centre of town. It smelt bad!! Very fishy.

Anyhow, I had organised 3 days of Spanish lessons in the centre at one of the many schools in town. Marsha meanwhile had signed up to a travel writing course and spent the day busily preparing her 1st assignment. We met for lunch at the Euro Cafe and then went our separate ways again in the afternoon to continue our 'work'.

They say the more you know the more you realise how ignorant you really are. As the Spanish course progressed it became very clear that the week in Antigua hadn't even scratched the surface. Still, the 2 ladies, morning and afternoon, that were teaching me were very nice and reasonably patient with my incompetent ramblings. The space was pleasant as well - other people were also learning and a breeze was blowing in from the square, albeit a little fishy.

Late afternoon I joined a small poker game that was advertised as taking place every Thursday in Euro cafe. Suffice to say that I left it after about an hour - and it was still going strong. Obviously out of practice!

In the evening we ate in the streets again in one of the many nameless restaurants that had people spilling from its doors and occupying every available space on the pavement. The occasional drummer noisily thumped his way past accompanied by giant models and dancers as the approach of Easter induced further celebrations. In the square it was hectic. People were gathering there together - on holiday - excitedly preparing for the holiest day of the year.

2nd April
It was very quiet in the centre as we arrived for an early breakfast at the Don Simon restaurant. I learnt later that most places were closed for the holiday and, many of the inhabitants of the town were out at the cemetary. This is where the beginning of the parade was. Hundreds of people following a route indicated by 14 crosses all the way to the cathedral in the centre. 2 large floats, a band, crosses etc... were carried along the route - a march that would take 4 hours - all of it in baking hot temperatures. My Spanish teacher explained that many people chose to walk barefoot and some even decided in their dubious wisdom that crawling was more pleasing to God.

I asked my teacher whether I was keeping her from the parade (in Spanish - of course). She replied that she would normally go for 20 mins or so. I think that she actually was quite pleased to have an excuse not to go.

The lesson went by ok. Marsha visited us and presented us both with some chocolate eggs for easter - ahhh. We met up for lunch again just as the parade entered the main square. Nowhere near as impressive as Antigua but still interesting to watch as prayers were said for hundreds of people before they all crammed into the cathedral. Meanwhile we tucked into our food.

Spanish lessons for 2 hours in the afternoon and then back to the hostal for a while. Early evening we ventured out to see a life-sized figure of Christ be carried around the streets in a see-through coffin. Following the Christ figure all lit up in his translucent coffin, was an old lady who had been employed to push the generator around after the procession to provide the lights. On this, the holiest of days, she found it necessary to loudly deliver a barrage of verbal abuse and oaths to anyone who got slightly in her way. And so, the people marched, the band played, Christ was carried, lanterns lit the way and following it all was a terrible, loud and foul-mouthed old woman who clearly thought of herself as the most important person in the whole city.

Dinner in the street as usual. The food has been reasonably underwhelming here - although nothing like as saddenning as Cuba.

3rd April
Marsha caught a bus out to a local town at the nearby lake whilst I had my third and last day learning Spanish. My teachers were becoming increasingly bored with my inane monologues about what I ate for breakfast and the weather. It was with some relief, I think, when they finally said adios. For my part, there is a long long long way to go with my Spanish... Still, I have perfected the line, 'Hablas Ingls?' (do you speak English?) which often leads to rather straightforward conversations...!!

So, mid-afternoon Marsha and I met up and spent the rest of the afternoon sorting out various thing for the next day or so before changing and having dinner at O´Sheas again. There was enough time to fit in a little nap in the hammocks by the pool as well.

Semana Santa is nearly at an end. One last day of festivities. Many people were still in the streets in the evening but actually, although it was busy, throughout the day and in the evening it as quite quiet and peaceful around the place.

4th April
Today we left Granada – our temporary home for 4 days - and travelled to the island of Ometepe. The journey was good initially. We found the bus just as it was leaving, and although there were no seats left there was plenty of room to stand. I only received a mild rebuke from the large Nicaraguan lady when I placed my rucksack on top of her bags of flour and sugar for the market. She even helped to rearrange the luggage, basket and food situation at the back so that our bags were on the bottom and not squashing everyone’s lunches.

But, our journey involved a second bus journey 30 mins later. There was barely enough room to breathe – certainly no room to move, despite the efforts of the fella, desperately clinging to the outside of the bus as it rattled along, to move us further down the aisle to create more space. As Marsha later said, it was like playing 3D twister inside the bus with complete strangers. At one point, as my right leg was made to arch over a bag and beyond a small child and my left leg was wedged between a couple of large sweaty men, I had to let go of my small bag and could only watch as it bobbed on the surface momentarily, floating on the canopy of twisted human arms before sinking from view.

But, we made it to the town of Rivas and were reunited with our bags. Ometepe is a tiny island in the middle of a large lake – a lake that drains to the Atlantic and does actually contain very small amounts of sea water. That’s not so remarkable, but, sharks make their way into the lake from the ocean thereby becoming the only sharks in the world to be able to live in salt and fresh water. The island consists of 2 volcanoes with a narrow isthmus in-between. After the hour long boat ride during which we spotted several sharks which later turned out to be bouys, and a short taxi ride we arrived at Playa Venecia and the Finca Venecia Hotel.

Set on the lakeside with the volcanoes left and right it was very picturesque. We walked along the beach and into Chico Largo – a natural lake set within the island within the lake. Colourful birds chirped in the branches as fishermen threw their nets into the lake. All the while Concepcion puffed away 1500 metres above us. We walked across the peninsula to another beach where I swam in the lake and Marsha took pictures of local teenagers trying to construct human pyramids in the lake. We have seen countless magnificent sun-sets this trip. I’m sure this blog is packed full of the same adjectives describing the sun sizzling into the distant watery horizon leaving behind a technicoloured sky. This one was as good as any.
Sunset on Ometepe

Sunset on Ometepe

Patrick in a hammock at Sunset on Ometepe

Patrick in a hammock at Sunset on Ometepe

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Afterwards we walked 5 minutes across to the restaurant just down the beach called Chico Verde. Along the way as darkness settled, Marsha’s headlamp began to enerringly pick out spiders. Their eyes (we guessed) reflected the beam of light. There were hundreds and hundreds littering the path. And they were big. At the restaurant we enquired…. ‘Ah yes, the spiders. They harm the horses’, we were told. ‘And us?’, we asked. Apparently not. Whether the restaurant owners were hoping to avoid putting us off making the journey across to them to eat again, or whether the spiders were genuinely not a danger to humans but were to animals 3 or 4 times our size – we never found out. Suffice to say, the walk back was a little traumatic and we didn’t venture back the next evening.

5th April
We hired bicycles and cycled over the hill to Santa Domingo. Before arriving at this sleepy little beachside community we dropped in at Ojo De Agua – a natural swimming pool in the river that has been made a little more permanent. The water was very refreshing and we gratefully submerged our sweaty selves into it and relaxed for a while after the reasonably exhausting ride. It was not so much the distance or even the hill climbing that had been so tiring, but more so the rather sorry looking bikes and the ferocious sun.

After a couple of very pleasant hours riverside we rode on into Santo Domingo and wandered the beach and then took a late lunch in a vegetarian place. Procrastinating the ride back over the hill we popped into the Ojo De Agua again for an hour or so.

The sunset back at Playa Venecia was equally as impressive as the night before. Deciding to have dinner at the hotel rather than risk the spiders, we were finished early and so spent the rest of the evening/night reading in hammocks…
Sunset on Ometepe

Sunset on Ometepe

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6th April
We checked out of the hotel, were then duped into accepting a 'too good to be true' offer from a passing van to take us to Santo Domingo where we'd booked a room. The van driver helpfully dropped us on the side of a street somewhere - anywhere - but not Santo Domingo - and from there we caught a bus - probably the original bus we would have caught anyway. After checking into the beachside Paraiso Hotel we organised some motorbikes for the day. This ambitious plan ended about 1 hour later when we finally admitted defeat to the adventuresome machines we'd been given only about 200 yards down the road. I even had to be collected by the owners - all very embaressing.

Instead we set off on a walk which ended at the Ojo De Agua again and we remained there for the rest of the day. We left and sat down in a field of cows nearby to watch as the sun set behind the volcano.
Marsha and a cow wait for sunset

Marsha and a cow wait for sunset

7th April
Joining 3 other Englishmen we piled into a van and headed to the foot of the smaller of the 2 volcanoes comprising the island. At 8.15am we set off walking. The intention was to reach the summit, climb down into the crater, swim in the lagoon that is there and make it back out and down before sunset. Being 1400 metres high, this was a daunting task.

The first couple of hours were very steep and we quickly gained height allowing superb views across to Concepcion and the lake surrounding the whole island. On the way we spotted some howler monkeys and heard the roars of several more in the jungle nearby. As we progressed further up we entered the clouds and at this point the path became muddy. We slipped, slid and sloshed our way through the mud and puddles, scrambling over trees and under branches.

Caked in mud, exhausted and very sweaty in the humidity we evntually reached the summit. The climb down into the crater was another 15 minutes. Unfortunately the clouds were so thick that we could hardly see the person next to us, let alone take in our surroundings deep down in the crater of the volcano.
Us in the crater

Us in the crater

Us on the volcano walk

Us on the volcano walk


I´m sure it would have been beautiful in better conditions, however, as it was, we had to return back up to the summit and then down through the clouds again without the vista we´d hoped for.

Coming down was actually harder than going up and the slippery mud soon slowed our progress. It also seemed an eternity before the steep slopes leveled out and we caught sight of the van. It had been a tough walk ' more than a km risen in vertical height and about 12km distance in total, much of which was in fairly inhospitable conditions.

Back at the lakeside I walked into the water fully clothed in an effort to rid myself of the worst of the mud, only to discover that I had left my mobile in the back pocket by mistake...!

We deserved a decent dinner and had one at the hotel along with a few of the local beers.

8th April
A short taxi journey and a boat trip and another taxi had us out of the hotel, off the island and in the town of San Juan Del Sur by the Pacific Ocean well before midday. Marsha trawled some hostals and hotels for a while whilst I sipped on a fanta in a beachside cafe (think I got the better of the deal there...!). Eventually we checked into Casa Romano, a cheap and somewhat characterless place, but everything was a little overpriced here.

We had lunch whilst the room was prepared. The food was rancid. In the afternoon Marsha explored the town and then set about some stuff on the internet whilst I took a sarong, a book and my swimmers down to the beach. The sea was surprisingly, but welcomingly, cool.

After the sunset over the water behind the many boats collected in the bay, we had dinner in a little place on the beach. All was well with the world....

9th April
After a fantastic breakfast at El Gato, we felt it warrented a revisit the following day and so put off our departure to Costa Rica for 24 hours. Our decision also had something to do with what we had heard about the legendary beaches just north of the town. We caught a ride to a beach 10km north of San Juan Del Sur. Huge waves off the Pacific pounded the shore. Surfers queued up amid the breakers attempting to catch 'that' wave. We walked for 20 minutes further down the coast to a swimming beach and to Cafe Azul and based ourselves there. A tiny collection of huts and deckchairs and hammocks just yards from the sea. A little kiosk provided great food and some drinks throughout the day. The sun beat down and we sunbathed and read. Occasionally we cooled off by splashing about in the furious waves.

We met up with our fellow walkers from the island of Ometepe and chatted awhile. It was an altogether very relaxing day spen on an almost perfect beach inperfect conditions. Marsha likened the beach to Ohope in New Zealand, except without the same flora and fauna and consistent weather.
San Juan Del Sur beach

San Juan Del Sur beach

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We returned in the evening, in time to watch the sun colourfully bid farewell to another day in paradise behind the collection of fishing boats gently rocking in the bay. Afterwards we enjoyed a decent meal at Barrio´s cafe and took time to consider our sunburn.
Sunset in San Juan Del Sur

Sunset in San Juan Del Sur

It feels like time is running out quickly, even though there is still well over 3 months left before our flight to the Philippines. But, so much is still planned. And so, we were to be on our way the next day, out of Nicaragua and on into Costa Rica. Nicaragua is worth much more exploring and we both hope to return some day in the future when we haven´t got a pressing engagement with Machu Picchu and the Galapagos ahead of us....

Posted by Patrick H. 14:54 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

23rd - 30th March, Honduras

23rd March
We awoke in Belize, boarded a boat to Guatemala and caught a bus to Honduras. Once in Honduras we then travelled by taxi and then bus to La Ceiba on the northern coast. Each leg of the journey was interesting, watching the different places buzz past from whichever mode of transport. Immediately upon entering Honduras the poverty was noticeable. Shanty towns constructed of corrugated iron and plastic bags lined the roads. Although, as always with these poverty stricken places, the roads contained a fair number of big expensive cars. The little wealth that is here is certainly not evenly spread.

At a bus station in San Pedro Sula we asked around and found conflicting opinions as to when our bus would arrive. But arrive it did and the fella who got the timing correct promptly asked us for some money for his efforts.
Arriving into La Ceiba, nearing the end of something like my 45th book this year, we considered options as to where to stay. In the end we checked into the Banana Bungalows as elsewhere appeared full. I suppose you get what you pay for, and it was cheap… Our room had no key, the shower down the hallway was cold and the fella at the desk just before us was moaning (understandably) about the constant dripping of water from the ceiling onto his bed. The area was supposed to be a little dodgy as well, but we were hungry and so still made it out to Bella Italia for some dinner.

24th March
A short taxi ride a little after 8am brought us to the ferry terminal. We were headed to the Bay Islands and the island of Utila in particular. As we crossed the road to the terminal I was stopped by a tall western man. ‘You speak English?’, he enquired. I nodded warily. Usually conversations that start like this end up with me refusing to buy a Rolex watch or declining the chance to stay in an overpriced hotel of his choosing. This time it was different though. His name was Norman and he was French-Canadian. He’d just bought himself a new sailing boat and needed a couple of crew members to make the maiden voyage over to Utila. Once we’d established that no knowledge of sailing was required, we agreed, and found ourselves a few minutes later out on the open water in a sail boat that was made the year I was born. I reckoned I’d aged better – Marsha wasn’t so sure….

A few minutes into the journey the public ferry overtook us – but we were in no hurry. We each took the wheel for a while and even helped pull various ropes and tie knots etc…. The ride took 4 hours, during which the 3 of us chatted and relaxed in the sun as the boat gently slipped through the calm waters.
Captain Marsha

Captain Marsha

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Once on Utila, we bid Norman farewell and checked into the Bayview Hotel. An exploration of the island didn’t take too long. The little town consists of one main road with cafes, bars and dive outlets lining its length. At either end is a beach. We had a late lunch at Ultralight (an Israeli place – we do like our Middle Eastern food!) and then checked out some of the dive shops eventually choosing one and booking up some dives. It was just very nice wandering the island, enjoying the sunshine and soaking up the atmosphere.

Dinner was at Babalu’s – a recommendation from Norman. The bar/restaurant is built on a wooden jetty that extends over the sea (as jetties do I guess…). Seating and tables are then set around an open part where you can look down into the water and watch the fish below. A natural aquarium. It was a very imaginative and successful use of the ocean. The food was great as well – we both had whole snappers. It is odd how being next to the sea induces one to eat fish. And yet, if I pass by some lambs skipping about in a meadow, I don’t suddenly have an urge to sit down to a plateful of lamb chops.

25th March
The best weather is often early on and so we arrived at the dive shop a little after 7am. Having kitted up and learnt yet again how to put our kit together on the tank, we had a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from the snack stop on the dock. I only really mention this because it really was a fantastic sandwich…

After a half hour boat ride, we did 2 dives, neither as challenging in all sorts of ways as the Blue Hole expedition. But, they were very good fun. A turtle appeared for us and a long moray eel swum around for a while – the first time I’ve seen this happen. Usually they just poke their heads out of small holes in the rock and simply sit and stare. The sun was out and the coral was colourful. There were a fair few fish although not as plentiful as I’d been expecting. No sharks this time although the other group on our boat saw one in their second dive.

We counted up back on the boat – our 10th dive each this year and 20th one since passing the PADI course. We were beginning to feel much more confident in the water. I even found myself tutting when one of our group floated out of control to the surface half way through the dive – forgetting that I’d done exactly that several times previously shortly after my PADI course.

The boat had us back on dry land by early afternoon. Time enough for a late lunch at The Driftwood Café. Afterwards we relaxed at the hotel – swimming off the jetty and reading etc…
As the sun set we cracked open a bottle of Chardonnay and sat on the jetty, our feet dangling just above the fish filled blue water below. Times are tough!!
Later on we enjoyed dinner at a little café called Munchies.

26th March
Another cheese, egg and bacon sandwich, another half hour boat ride and another 2 dives in the Caribbean. The weather was not quite as nice and a fair sized swell buffeted us around a bit as we entered the water for our first dive. Great visibility, a couple of lion fish and a drop off were the highlights. As always, it was beautiful simply being under the water and with nature. It’s like visiting a zoo but not knowing what’s going to be there.

This area of the Caribbean is famous for the biggest fish in the sea – whale sharks – but despite our best efforts underwater and on the surface whilst driving along, we failed to spot any.
During the 2nd dive we spotted a large Manta Ray and followed it as it lazily flapped its way along the seabed. The first time whilst diving either of us had seen one. Again, it was wonderful being 15 – 20 metres under the Caribbean and exploring a world rarely seen.

Back on land we excitedly signed up for one more day of diving and then returned once again to the Driftwood Café for some late lunch. It also had wifi and we busied ourselves with various things on the internet for a while – such as this…!
Dinner at Munchies again – not very adventurous of us.

27th March
The alarm rang well before 5am. The dive place had requested our presence by 5.30am and so by about 5.29am we wandered onto the docking area, bleary eyed. We had signed up for a rare trip to nearby Cayos Cochinos – a small group of islands that are protected and a national park. The day included a couple of dives – 1 at the well reputed Roatan Banks – and also lunch and a few hours relaxing on a tiny island.

The boat ride was over an hour away but the weather couldn’t have been better. The sun rose behind the island of Utila as we left it behind and remained unblocked by cloud throughout the rest of the day. Our arrival at the first dive site – Roatan Banks – was only found thanks to the on board navigation system and known coordinates etc… It was in the middle of the ocean, miles from land. But, underneath the gently lapping waves was a mound that rose up to within 10 metres of the surface.

We spent nearly an hour underwater. The fish life and coral was easily the most plentiful, colourful and interesting of the diving we’d done so far in Honduras. Lion fish, garden eels, sloping coral walls, schools of smaller fish and good visibility provided a quality dive experience.

Back on board we chatted with the other divers as we motored on towards a small island – the site of our 2nd dive. This island looked as though it had virgin jungle. It is also famous for having pink boa constrictors. The turquoise water was so clear below the boat and we couldn’t wait to get in again. The dive itself was so relaxing as we were only about 12 metres down. We swam around coral rocks and over the sandy bottom of the shore. It was absolutely beautiful down there – made even more so by the sun lighting up everything in the water and making it glitter and glisten.

We were down for an hour and 12 minutes - the longest dive we'd ever done. As we clambered aboard the boat we were greeted by a couple of local boys from one of the nearby islands who had swum over to the boat. that was fine. It was the fact that they'd captured a pink boa constrictor before coming and had it aboard the boat was less fine. I kept my distance as others took photos of the weird looking snake.

After one of the boys swam the snake back over to the island we chugged over to a tiny little sand island. Consisting of a few huts, white sand, turquoise Caribbean water and little boats along with a small community of people that excitedly welcomed us. The children immediately climbed onto the boat and dived and jumped off the roof into the water. On the island a fish lunch had been prepared for us complete with fresh cocnuts into which we poured some rum. The setting was perfect: sun, blue sky, sea, snorkelling, sand, hammocks, coconut rum drinks, children splashing in the water, pelicons - and a very tasty Red Snapper.
The Caribbean, Honduras Bay Islands

The Caribbean, Honduras Bay Islands

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Boy jumping into the Caribbean, Honduras Bay Islands

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Reluctantly mid-afternoon we set sail again for Utila and arrived back as the light was beginning to fade. We changed and had a drink overlooking the sea and food again at Munchies. Unfortunately, a day in the sun complete with some rum was beginning to take its toll and we ended up having a reasonably early night.

28th March
No diving today. Our last full day on the island, and we planned to spend it relaxing on the beach and doing not much at all. Utila is not famed for its beaches and rightly so. Still, we, along with countless other people did find a small patch of sand and sea not far from our hotel and spent a few hours reading and swimming etc... We made the most of it - after all, it's not every day that you get to swim in the Caribbean sea...

Before we knew it the morning had become afternoon and then early evening. We enjoyed one last time sitting on the jetty with our feet dangling over the clear water soaking up the last few rays of the sun before it bid farewell to another day. We clinked our wine cups and then tried out some of the Salsa moves we'd learnt - only to be heckled from a nearby group of people sitting on a jetty across the water.

Creatures of habit that we are - dinner at Babalu's - it is fantastic though. We even spotted a couple of sting rays as they passed through the natural aquarium.

On the island is a bar called tree-tanic. It has been included in the top 10 best travel bars in the world - and so we had a look. A bizarre, intriguing, wonderful maze of a place. The main bar is in a tree house and then paths lead off in all directions over bridges through shrubs under trees and end up in various seating areas all of which have been intricately and artistically designed with glass, shells, crockery, beeds, coral, wine bottles, mirrors etc... It must have taken a small fortune and a huge amount of time to build - certainly the best 'travel' bar I've ever been to.

29th March
The intention had been to catch the 6.20am ferry back to La Ceiba. But we didn't. Sleep and then breakfast were too tempting and so we decided to get on the afternoon one instead. It was good to spend the morning and some of the afternoon on the island still. Some good breakfast at Thomson´s Bakery and then Marsha went back to Tree Tanic to take some pictures and wander around in the light of day. It was very warm and even the light breeze off the sea failed to cool us down much.

Utila was a place that had grown on us, and, like so many other places in the last 8 months, it was with some reluctance that we eventually left - boarding the ferry and returning to La Ceiba. From La Ceiba we journied to San Pedro Sula arriving late and checking into Tamarindo and going straight to bed.

Posted by Patrick H. 10:27 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

17th - 23rd March, Guatemala and Belize

Some photos from Antigua:
Samana Santa celebrations, Antigua

Samana Santa celebrations, Antigua

P3084329.jpgP3084321.jpgP3074292.jpgSunset in Antigua

Sunset in Antigua

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Some photos of La Casa De Mundo where we stayed at Lake Atitlan:
Our room at La Casa De Mundo

Our room at La Casa De Mundo

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

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17th March
St. Patrick’s day. And on this Godly day we visited an evil spirit over the water. Awaking in Pana’ and eating breakfast in town whilst our cameras charged, we then boarded a private boat across the lake to Santiago De Atitlan.
View from the boat to Santiago Del Atitlan

View from the boat to Santiago Del Atitlan

Santiago Del Atitlan

Santiago Del Atitlan

Market in Santiago Del Atitlan

Market in Santiago Del Atitlan


This town is the biggest and busiest on the lake and yet attracts fewest tourists. The main attraction besides the local, uncommercialised feel to it, is the presence of Max. Max, or more formally – Maxamon, is an evil spirit that lives in the town. He resides in a house for a few weeks before shifting on someplace else. As time was approaching Santa Semana (Easter), Max tended to keep close to the main church in the centre. And, upon arrival it was here that we visited first.

The church overlooked the square in which a class of school children were being taught outside. The teachers seemed oblivious to all the people passing to and fro and the football games taking place only yards from the childrens’ desks. Remarkably, the students seemed unaware of the nearby noise either…
The large church inside recollected the deeds of martyrs of the civil war from very recently. Cloaked models of various saints looked out from the side walls. And it was certainly a ‘working’ church. At the far end the mournful sounds of worship could be heard.

Outside the church we hailed down a little tuk-tuk and asked to be taken to Max. About 3km up the road along the lake shore and then high above the lake we finally stopped. Max, at the time of our visit, was housed in a small shed at the front of someone’s garden by the road. Inside the shed was dark, but we were ushered in to take a closer look at the evil spirit.

He was of average height, seated, made of wood and covered in many different colourful ties and scarves. He wore a hat and smoked a cigarette. Every so often his ‘handlers’ would flick the ash off the cigarette and upon finishing it another was lit for him. Although the carving was of a fairly poor standard, he did actually resemble someone that had chain smoked for about 50 years. The wood was yellowy and his eyes seemed glazed over – there was certainly a very sickly feel to this spirit.

The room was smoky, candles lay at his feet, the flames providing a small amount of light in the darkened shed. There were several other religious icons and models and pictures in place. Our attention was firstly drawn to Max and then to a man and his wife knelt before him. The man was beseeching the spirit about all his problems and hardships, loudly carrying on his monologue for the entirety of our visit. It was all in Spanish and although we picked up various bits it was all a bit fast for us.
Max, Santiago Del Atitlan

Max, Santiago Del Atitlan

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We took a few photos, hung around for a while soaking up the weird atmosphere and then departed. On the return journey our tuk-tuk driver informed us that Max also drank liquor as well as being a heavy smoker… Back into town, a walk back through the markets and then a return boat to Pana’. We had a bus to catch…

We took a bus from Pana’ to Antigua to Guatemala City to Flores. 14 hours in total. It was comfortable except for the strange film choice – The Midnight Meat Train – all about a fella who goes about butchering people on their midnight travels. As we watched – or tried not to – we couldn’t help noticing that it was nearing midnight and additionally, this horror blood fest of a film was being watched by children…

18th March
We arrived into Flores at about 6.30am and checked into the Mirador Hotel. Flores is almost a small island – but, a peninsula – and it took only 15 mins to complete a circle of it. Lovely old houses and streets and crammed full with cafes and bars and hotels. The Cool Beans Café had wifi and breakfast and we ended up spending a while there sorting out various travel arrangements and tours for the following few days.

A siesta was needed later on after the night on the bus and then we indulged in a few drinks as the sun set and a nice meal round the corner from the hotel.

19th March
An early morning – the alarm went before 4am. We joined a bunch of people downstairs also waiting for the bus to nearby Tikal. It arrived late but we still managed to arrive at Tikal before the sun rose and before it had got remotely warm.

Tikal is reputed to be the ‘Mother of all Mayan Ruins’. The 2500 year old site is certainly worthy of this title – although Chichen Itza in Mexico which we have also visited would run it close. Tikal is set in the middle of the dense jungle. It was only as we were literally yards away from the Gran Plaza did we begin to see the extent of the ruins. And they are huge!

The Gran Plaza consists of several high temples overlooking various smaller buildings. Some parts have been renovated and others have been left in their original state – crumbling stones, grassy and mossy walls and sometimes trees growing amongst the doorways and on the ancient structures themselves. It was an awesome sight.

Early in the morning there were very few visitors. We climbed a tower and surveyed the scene. Above the jungle in the distance, further ancient stone temples rose out of the mist. Spider monkeys swung effortlessly in the branches of trees. It was like a scene from the Jungle Book with the monkeys playing amongst the ruins in the jungle. Small ferret like mammals, as a pack, crossed the open grassy area between the 2 main temples. Parrots loudly chattered in the tree-tops. And in the distance the loud hoots of Howler Monkeys carried across the sky.

We climbed Temple 5 and were completely alone at the top for 10 mins. The sun blazed away in the blue sky and we sat back and imagined life 2000 years ago when the city of Tikal numbered over 100000 people. As we ventured further into the ruins and further into the jungle we came across more wonderful areas where nature and man’s ancient efforts collided.

About 6 or 7 hours after our arrival we felt as though we’d done the place justice, besides which, the tourists were just beginning to crowd the site. And so we left.
Photos from Tikal:
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We enjoyed sunset back in Flores overlooking the lake at Casa Del Chef. The sky reddened and the lake sparkled as the sun disappeared. Boats continued to chug back and forth as we helped ourselves to a few drinks and some decent food.
Sunset in Flores

Sunset in Flores

20th March
Another early morning. We were on a bus by 5am, this time bound for the Guatemalan border. We entered Belize without any problems and continued on to Belize City. No longer the capital, Belize City held few attractions for us and after taking some cash out we were on a boat headed for Caye Caulker before midday. Belize is a recently annexed British colony and English is widely spoken.

An hour later and we set foot onto Caye Caulker – a tiny island on which lives about 1000 people. But, it is packed full of lodges and hotels and cafes etc… ‘I’m here to help. Where you want to go? I will help you’, announced a podgy tuk-tuk driver. We searched around for a place to stay for a while before succumbing to his dubious charms – ‘I just help you – am here to help’. Usually this means that they are here to help – themselves to our money. He drove us around for a while, we visited a couple of rancid looking places where he would have earned himself commission. Finally, we did find somewhere that wasn;t too extravagantly priced – Belize, we were learning, was very expensive. So we checked into the waterfront hostel called Tina’s.

After a late lunch on a wooden jetty on the water, we explored the island. As the sun set we found a place where pelicans were playing about in the water and on the remains of an old pier. It was beautiful. We later had dinner back on the water.
Sunset on Caye Caulker, Belize

Sunset on Caye Caulker, Belize

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21st March
Today we dived the famous ‘Blue Hole’. Off the coast of Belize lies the 2nd biggest barrier reef in the world. 2nd in size to Australia’s barrier reef but in all other aspects is considered at least its equal. And the Blue Hole is the most famous location on the reef and probably one of the most famous dive sites in the whole world.

The previous day we had booked up the scuba trip with an agent on the island having learnt a little more about it. The Blue Hole, when viewed from above is a perfect circle of reef about 200 metres in diameter. The centre is a dark blue colour. The place owes its name to the fact that it is a sink hole and reaches a depth of well over 100 metres. We had seen many aerial shots and footage of the hole beforehand and this was one of the main reasons for coming to Belize.

But, the Blue Hole dive goes down 40 metres – this is 15 metres below which either of us have dived before and 10 metres beyond that recommended by our current dive licence. The agent, however, was very reassuring – ‘you will have no problem. It’s easy’. Looking back, perhaps he was just after his commission fee….

The boat arrived from nearby San Pedro Island and picked us up just before 7am. No-one else from our island was diving! We joined 8 other very serious looking men aboard the boat. Smiling and nodding hello to our fellow divers we made our way to the front of the boat. No-one made eye-contact. Certainly no-one smiled back. Everyone was obviously taking the diving very very seriously indeed….

The head instructor, from the outset felt aggrieved that we’d joined the tour. We guessed this when he greeted us aboard by saying,’I don’t like taking people with me from this island, they always give me problems’. ‘Oh, erm, right. Sorry’, we murmured. I wasn’t entirely sure why we were apologising – we had just paid up a huge amount of money to his business. Anyhow, he was still talking, so we listened. He continued in a similar vein, ‘you’re not experienced enough….should have done a refresher dive….deeper than you have been before…..very dangerous…etc….’. 5 minutes later, thoroughly intimidated, we sat down and sipped anxiously at our coffees as the boat headed off into the Caribbean sea.

Huge waves surged in off the Atlantic. The boat was tossed around like a rag doll. Up high over crests and then down into deep troughs – our stomachs mimicking the swell by also swirling around and up and down. I glanced around the boat. The other 8 divers steadfastly refused to display any emotion whatsoever. Meanwhile, Marsha and I were desperately clinging to the rails in order to stay seated, simultaneously struggling to avoid vomiting all over the deck.

After an hour we entered shallower, calmer waters. The boat passed tiny mangrove islands some of which had an occasional isolated hut erected on them. Eventually we were instructed to get kitted up. Whilst we pulled on wet suits and grappled with the BCD and fins and mask etc…, the instructor briefed us about the dive. Had we been about to leave the trenches and go over the top in world war 1, I don’t think his speech would have understated the gravity of the situation. He mentioned the word ‘death’ about 6 times. Finally he implored us all that should we be entertaining any doubts about continuing then to remove our gear and go snorkelling instead. I noticed that he directed a lot of what he was saying towards the 2 of us – especially that last bit. However, we stubbornly refused to back down and shortly afterwards we entered the water.

And then down, down, down. 40 metres down. At 40 metres under the water in the Blue Hole, there is a ledge underneath which stalactites majestically fall away into the depths below. For thousands of years these have proudly held on, constructed in a different era when water levels were vastly different to today. We all swam in and out of the pillars.

Our instructor tapped his tank and pointed upwards. Several sharks were circling the waters above us. A little later a huge shark appeared yards to our left and then quickly left. In all we reckoned we saw nearly 10 different sharks. We later learnt they were reef and nurse sharks.

And suddenly it was all over. Clambering back onto the boat and up onto the top deck we tried to get a couple of pictures of the blue hole as we departed. Despite how it appears on television from high above, the rim of the hole is actually underwater – and so photos from that elevation were near impossible. Still, we excitedly chatted about the dive, the depth and the sharks and before we knew it we were in the water again.
Marsha looking relaxed before the dive

Marsha looking relaxed before the dive

The Blue Hole

The Blue Hole

Leaving the Blue Hole

Leaving the Blue Hole

The 2nd dive produced another couple of sharks and some turtles amongst a host of other fish and coral reef. It was so exciting to be under the ocean again – and in such an amazing place.

After the dive we were driven to Half Moon Caye. On the way the sun blazed down, penetrating the shallow turquoise water and illuminating the glittering golden sand only metres below the boat. As we watched, countless blue stingrays flapped about on the sand. We neared the tiny island. Surrounded by the sparkling sea, consisting of soft sand and swaying trees it seemed as though we were in paradise. The island was home to thousands of birds called Boobies. A short walk, during which several funny jokes were cracked, took us to a viewing platform and here we watched at very close quarters as these large birds swooped among the tree tops.
Lizard in Belize

Lizard in Belize

After lunch we did one more dive. And in the middle of the dive a Logger Head Turtle appeared. It was massive – bigger than I ever though turtles could be. The shell was easily 150cm in diameter. It had to have been over 100 years old to have grown to that size. Simply enormous. I’m sure the rest of the dive was quality but writing this now a few days later, all I can remember was this gigantic turtle flapping about only a couple of feet away.

We were back on Caye Caulker by 5pm. Feeling absolutely exhilarated by the day we celebrated with some beers and an expensive but superb whole fish dinner at Rosi’s Bar and Grill.

22nd March
After the excitement of diving the Belize Barrier Reef the previous day, today was always going to be something of an anticlimax. We would have loved to have stayed longer but, financially, Belize isn’t ideal. After Breakfast overlooking the Caribbean we departed back to Belize City and caught a 6 hour bus to Punta Gorda where we checked into Nature’s Way before eating across the road at Marian’s.

23rd March
We awoke in Belize, boarded a boat to Guatemala and caught a bus to Honduras. Once in Honduras we then travelled by taxi and then bus to La Ceiba on the northern coast. Each leg of the journey was interesting, watching the different places buzz past from whichever mode of transport. Immediately upon entering Honduras the poverty was noticeable. Shanty towns constructed of corrugated iron and plastic bags lined the roads. Although, as always with these poverty stricken places, the roads contained a fair number of big expensive cars. The little wealth that is here is certainly not evenly spread.

At a bus station in San Pedro Sula we asked around and found conflicting opinions as to when our bus would arrive. But arrive it did and the fella who got the timing correct promptly asked us for some money for his efforts.
Arriving into La Ceiba, nearing the end of something like my 45th book this year, we considered options as to where to stay. In the end we checked into the Banana Bungalows as elsewhere appeared full. I suppose you get what you pay for, and it was cheap… Our room had no key, the shower down the hallway was cold and the fella at the desk just before us was moaning (understandably) about the constant dripping of water from the ceiling onto his bed. The area was supposed to be a little dodgy as well, but we were hungry and so still made it out to Bella Italia for some dinner.

Posted by Patrick H. 12:45 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

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