Archive | November, 2012

Spanish, surf, rinse, repeat

30 Nov

I arrived in San Juan Del Sur yesterday morning after seeing off Lee in San Pedro Sula, one of the less enjoyable places we have been, and making the trek here. The 12 hour bus ride that started at 5am was surprisingly not too painful, aided very much by sleeping tablets and movies on the laptop. I had to spend a night in Managua -again, not the nicest of towns- and then make the last leg on a chicken bus from Managua to San Juan Del Sur. That was an interesting ride, being the only tourista on the bus with bags everywhere (my arm securely around mine), people jumping on and off to sell bread and chicken and one guy deciding to give a very loud, very long impromptu sermon along the way (AMEN BROTHER!).

Myself and two other Guatemalans jumped off on the highway about 20km outside of San Juan Del Sur and hitched a ride with a local guy into town who was lovely and chatted non-stop, though I have no idea what he was saying. Managed to jump in a taxi when in town and finally make it to the hostel where I’m staying for the next week. Casa De Olas (House of Waves) is an awesome little hostel run by an Australian couple, Carla and Fred, set up on a mountain about 5 minutes drive outside of Centro looking over the whole valley and down to the ocean. Carla and Fred used to run this place as a B&B but a huge party hostel moved in next door so they changed the place to a hostel, which means that we have the facilities of a B&B but the price of a hostel – infinity pool, great rooms, comfy beds, nice bar and eating area. They also run the hostel really well with family dinners and generally an awesome homely vibe. I’ve adopted them as my parents for the next week because I’m missing my own. The only part of the hostel that I’m not so sure about it the pet monkey that they have here, Buzz, who doesn’t like girls, especially blondes. The first day I was here she stole my empty coffee cup and then later in the day when I was attempting to show Mum and Guy on skype, snuck up behind me and stole my earphones, scaring the sh*t out of me in the process. Mum and Guy got a serious laugh out of it and I got my earphones back, so all good.

This morning (at 8am!) I started Spanish lessons – 4 hours of one on one learning only in Spanish. I actually surprised myself with how much I know and my teacher, Carla, is absolutely lovely. I’ve got 4 more days and may even extend if Kel wants to do some lessons when he gets down here.

After Spanish I headed out for some surf lessons at Playa Hermosa – turns out I’m STILL not naturally skilled at surfing, though it was my first time having a proper go on a shortboard (albeit quite a big shortboard). No problem though, because tomorrow will be exactly the same with Spanish early in the morning and surfing practice in the afternoon. No more lessons, just practice (get dumped), practice (get dumped again) and more practice (maybe stand up and then fall off – progress!).

In Kel news, I just heard from him today that he’s completed his Advanced Dive Certificate – hip HOORAY – and is heading out to celebrate in Utila tonight, so unlikely to make much movement tomorrow, except for maybe to the cafe down the road that does the best chicken schnitzel on the island. I’d actually be close to putting money on the fact that that’s exactly what happens.

He and a bunch of others will most likely leave Utila on Saturday and come and meet me in San Juan Del Sur before we head off to explore the rest of Nicaragua. Think we may have Christmas here at Casa De Olas to get the Australian family vibe going on… who knows what will happen over the next few weeks though!

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Diving Utila

27 Nov

We’ve spent the last few days diving on Utila Island, me completing my advanced course (albeit very quickly – 7 dives in 2 days) Vanessa doing her Open Water and Kel & Lee doing some fun dives.

The dives were all great – I did a wreck on my first dive which was awesome and then some fun skills on other dives as a part of my advanced certificate – swimming through hoops, throwing frizbees, navigating etc. The visibility in the water wasn’t as good as Caye Caulker in Belize, but the dives were all really interesting. The only bad part was our last dive today where the current took us into a huge amount of rubbish in the water – plastic and packaging floating around everywhere you could see.

The night before last we had a cook up at the dive centre where we were staying, with a huge bbq and salads, dessert- it was all pretty tasty and the whole thing had a great community vibe to it. That night turned into quite a large one and no one really felt like diving the next afternoon, but it was well worth it when we got out there. Instantly made us feel better.

Today Lee and I left Utila and she flies home to Australia tomorrow (sob!!!) and I’m heading down to Nicaragua to do a week of Spanish lessons. Kel has stayed on Utila to do his Advanced dive certificate and we’re going to meet up in a week or so down there. Our longest separation by far since we started the trip, so it will be good to catch up in a week!

¡Hola Honduras!

24 Nov

 


After an epic mission from Rio Dulce to La Ceiba on three buses and poor Lee with a bad stomach, we rose early yesterday morning to catch the ferry across to Utila, one of the the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. The boat ride was very, very rough and it felt like the majority of the passengers were being sick around us, though luckily none of us felt too bad. Mum – you would have hated it.

Arriving in Utlia was like heaven – very much like Caye Caulker in Belize, but the pace is a little faster and the whole island is a little more built up. Everything still goes slow though, and the sun is (mostly) shining, so we’re very happy little travelers.

We checked into a dive centre called Altons, a very cool little place right on the water that includes accommodation when you dive and had an awesome pier right in from of our room. Apparently its been raining lots but the sun came out for us and is supposed to keep shining for the next few days while we’re here.

Vanessa (our new gang member) started her open water yesterday afternoon and tomorrow today I start our advanced course while Kel does some fun dives, starting his advanced on Monday.

Rio Dulce – Finca El Paraiso and Boqueron Canyon

22 Nov

We arrived in Rio Dulce last night at around 10.30, about 14.5 hours after leaving San Pedro and made our way to Kangaroo Hotel, an awesome little hotel owned by an Aussie called Gary (stereotype much?), a short boat ride up the river from the main part of town.

After a brilliant night sleep we made our way out of town this morning  to Finca El Paraiso on a very packed collectivo (about 20 odd people in an 8 seater minivan). Finca El Paraiso is amazing – a hot springs waterfall flowing down into a cold running river. You jump in the luke warm water and swim over to the waterfall which runs super hot, leaning on the rocks that have been warmed by the water and letting the whole waterfall run over you.

We also headed up to the top of the waterfall because we were told that the mud was good for your skin, so we started rubbing mud all over ourselves… until a young Guatemalan girl came up and told us tat we were using the wrong type of mud .She walked us a few hundred meters down a path and pulled out some different mud for us to use (for $1 each, obviously). We had a good go at the mud and our skin did feel good, though I’m not sure whether that was because there was a thin layer of slime all over our bodies. At least the locals would get a good laugh from us.

When we were washing ourselves off in the river, Lee got talking to an old American guy called Peter who has a 40ft catamaran that he sails around the Caribbean. Peter was there with a bunch of his friends – a strange bunch traveling with a dog and budgie in tow, but in any case gave us a lift up the road to Boqueron Canyon.

Boqueron Canyon is a lovely little canyon that is apparently a very sacred place for the Mayans, who still have a bunch of festivals there- At one point you can see the rock form what looks like the face of a Mayan god. Two young local boys paddled us up the river to check it out- very beautiful.

We made our way back into Rio Dulce town on a much less packed collectivo and have bbeen chilling out for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we make our way to Livingstone and potentially on to Utila, depending on how easy it is to get there. Af ew days of diving when we get there will take us up to Monday when we have to take Lee to the airport… boohooohoo!!!

San Pedro La Laguna

20 Nov

We’ve just left San Pedro La Laguna, an awesome little town on Lake Atitlan, after 6 or so days of living large and bulk adventures.

The first few days were passed in a bit of a lazy haze, with big nights out followed by very chilled days in bed – far too easy to do in a place like San Pedro. Our biggest achievement was catching a boat across the lake to another town called San Marco for an amazing lunch.

Luckily for us we had Lee, the worlds most enthusiastic adventurer to kick us into gear and get us out of bed (albeit very, very early). One morning we got up at 3.30am in the morning and hiked to the top of a mountain called Indian’s Nose to watch the sunrise over the lake. Despite the early rise and cold, it was a beautiful site to see.

That day we also headed to the Chichicastenango (Chichi) markets, apparently the largest market in Guatemala (maybe even Central America) about a two hour drive from San Pedro. The markets were absolute chaos, jam packed full of locals selling brightly coloured everything and tourists trying their best to bargain in very bad Spanish. We were all a bit over it after a few hours, thanks to our very early rise and constant barrage of Guatemalan hawkers trying to sell you anything under the sun.

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day, so we rose at 8 (rather than going to bed at 8) and rented kayak to take out on the lake. We paddled across the lake to San Marco and found a platform to jump off from about 5 meters up into – a little scary (for me) at first, but we all managed to do it in the end, even managing a group shot with 5 of us jumping in together. The scenery was amazing, with volcanos covered in clouds in the background and we even managed to get a nice bit of sun while relaxing on the deck. It was an awesome way to spend our last day in San Pedro.

Today we’re on a bit of an epic mission from San Pedro to Rio Dulce, starting at 8am this morning and not arriving until around 10.30pm tonight. We’re in Guatemala City at the moment, killing time until our next 6 hour bus ride. Not the nicest way to spend a day, but we have good company and even managed to luck out with comfortable buses, so as good as it can be!

 

Acatenango Volcano: a b*tch of a climb

15 Nov

For some reason a group of 11 of us decided that it would be a good idea to climb Acatenango volcano, a 4,000 meter high non-active volcano just outside of Antigua. The climb takes about a day and a half- one full, hellish day to get up and about 2.5 hours to get back down.

Kel, the biggest trooper I know, was climbing after 3 days of being sick, having had a spew in the morning and no food in his stomach. After only a very short moment of doubt at the start, he made it all the way to camp at the top through nausea and cramps without a word of complaint.

The climb was honestly the hardest thing I have ever done. From the very beginning we were trudging up a steep hill in loose volcano shale, taking one step forward and two steps back. After a few hours of that we made our way into the jungle canopy, but without a break in the hill. It was honestly non-stop uphill climbing for 6 hours until we reached camp, carrying packs with clothes, sleeping bags, 4 litres of water each, snacks and first aid kits. It was absolutely killer – though I never doubted we’d make it, I wish my head would SHUT UP and stop telling me how tired/sore/over it I was.

Once we made it to camp, we decided to hike another two hours to the very top of the volcano to watch sunset. Kel bowed out at this stage to get some rest as he was exhausted, which turned out to be a very good decision. If we thought the first 6 hours of climbing was tough, it was absolutely nothing compared to the climb to the top. 2 hours of absolute hell – honestly one of the most unpleasant thing I have ever done. Climbing up the shale was not so much one step forward and two steps back, but rather one step forward, two meters back sliding on your ass. The wind was so strong that it whipped up the volcanic dust and left a layer of dirt over your teeth because you were panting so hard.

I very much doubted that I was going to make it to the top, but the moment you did we all said “this is the most amazing thing I have ever done”. We were above the clouds on top of the volcano with a huge crater in the middle and the sun shining over the clouds. The amazingness of it was only matched by the cold – it was freaking FREEZING up there. We stayed for sunset and then very quickly made our way back to camp, sliding 80% of the way on our butts again.

Feeling very proud of ourselves, we had an awesome dinner around the campfire and all crashed out pretty early, having a terrible night sleep in the cold and rising at 5.30am to watch sunrise. We left camp at about 8 and were back at the bottom of the volcano by 10.30- exhausted, but very proud of ourselves.

That afternoon we jumped straight onto yet another very packed bus and made our way to San Pedro on Lake Atitlan, with two crazy but fun Brazilian girls singing songs for us in Portuguese. Today we’re all a bit stiff, but surprisingly not as sore as you would think. I have a feeling that after a few weeks the pain will have faded enough for us to make the stupid decision to do it all again on another mountain / volcano.

Semuc Champey

12 Nov

 

We left Flores and made our way to Lanquin / Semuc Champey on a relatively pleasent 8 hour bus ride, checking into the Zephyr Lodge which is an amazing hostel overlooking the Lanquin valley and river that runs through.

For our first day, we signed up to a tour of the caves and water pools of Semuc Champey, an amazing national park about half an hours drive from Lanquin down an extremely hilly and rough dirt track. About 15 of us that had been hanging out jumped onto the back of a truck like cattle and bumped our way to the caves.

The caving was unlike anything we’ve ever done. We were given candles and led about 1km into the mountain, swimming through deep pools of water in the pitch black while trying to keep our candles alight, climbing a rope up a waterfall in the dark with nothing to fall onto and jumping off the cave’s rock face into a very small (but deep) pool of water. It was extremely dangerous but loads and loads of fun. You would never experience anything like it in any western country – you would have to be wearing shoes, lifejackets, headtorches, the place would be lit with floodlights and you would walk on a walkway (probably a lot safer but nowhere near as fun).

After about 2 hours in the cave we eventually made it back to daylight and headed down to play on a ropeswing jumping into the river. Again, completely unsafe but lots and lots of fun. Kel says its the safest rope swing he’s ever seen, but thats not saying much.

Next we headed into the national park and hiked for about 20 minutes to get up to the lookout over the ponds of Semuc Champey, an amazing view over the bright blue ponds of water. After a few (hundred) photos we headed down the mountain and went for a swim in the pools, sliding down rocks and climbing up waterfalls.

That night I got the biggest surprise of my entire life. I was laying on my bed arranging photos from the day when my best friend in the whole wide world, Lee, walked into the dorm room. Just the day before she had told me on email that she was heading to Melbourne for the weekend, so it took me almost a full minute to recognise her and register that she was actually in the room, as it was so out of context. Lee had been made redundant at work the week before so decided to come and surprise me. She emailed Kel and the two of them secretly organised for her to meet us in Semuc Champey. Lee traveled for about 48 hours through food poisoning and landslide covered roads to make it to see us. I’ve got her for three weeks, so we’re going to squeeze as much in as possible.

The day after Lee arrived we chilled out in the morning and then went tubing down the river in the afternoon with a few beers. The water was freezing cold, but (as we say in Australia), not so bad once you get in. Yesterday we headed back to do the caving and see Semuc Champey with Lee, as its unmissable if you trek all the way to Lanquin.

Today we rose very early to catch another 8 hour bus back to Antiqua. Poor Payno woke up with a stomach bug, but managed to brave the very, very packed bus and make it to Antigua with only one spew out the minivan window. Such a trooper. Kel spent the afternoon sleeping to regain strength while Lee and I checked out the town.

Tomorrow we have a day to check out the town and on Tuesday we’re going to climb a volcano for 7 hours and camp at the top, close to 4,000 meters in altitude. Its supposed to be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but well worth it (…hopefully).