A Travellerspoint blog

Day 73-75 10/03-12/03 XELA

After thoroughly enjoying an extremely bumpy shuttle bus from San Pedro we arrived in XELA. Unfortunately, we arrived in an extremely busy Bus terminal where we had to ask an armed guard for 1. The nearest toilet and 2. A taxi rank. Luckily he guided us to both. We caught a taxi for 45q to the main centre and attempted to get the driver to drop us directly outside the hostel. This was an epic fail as the taxi driver had no clue where this place was and got out in the middle of the road to ask in a nearby shop. Anyway, eventually he dropped us nearby. The hostel, Casa Renaissance was massive and very well kept. Our room was massive including a huge loafer sofa.

We instantly liked the vibe of XELA and headed into the main Plaza where there were food stalls in abundance selling deep fried chicken and churros galore. We popped into the local super mercado and bought our fresh supplies for the next few days. In the evening I cooked up a pleasant peanut sauce noodle stir fry.

The next day we had a lie in and ventured out into the town, we paid a visit to to the cities graveyard, a little weird you say but this was the biggest one I had ever seen, it had road names and some of the graves were crypts looking like something from the Adams Family. The whole place was alive with vibrant pastel colours and eclectic sculptures. We then walked into a huge market and a dirty looking plaza with a fountain that had grimy water. NICE!! Saw a random Gothic church in the middle of this bustling market, very odd.

We brunched at a Artisan Bakery scoffing down a delicious portion of carrot cake with some mint tea.

On Sunday, we caught a chicken bus to Tunil some 45 minutes away. We initially stood on the crammed bus for 10 minutes and then sat for the remainder. The landscape turned into lush mountain views with an array of farmland filling the surrounding valleys. We arrived in TUNIL and caught a Bright green tuktuk the 8km to the Georgina's Fuentes (Natural thermal spa's) The views were spectacular as we weaved up the mountainside in between fields of cabbages, carrots, spring onions and huge radishes. As we reached the top fluffy white clouds had engulfed the road you could barely see 50ft.

The spas were amazing. The main pool situated by the restaurant was busy with locals . Mel had a tip about a smaller more discrete pool that no one uses up some steps nearby. After attempting a barefooted 'BEAR GRYLLS' style swim suit dash up a hill, we were quickly laughed back down again by a group of local kids. In the end, We found the hidden pool near the car park. With no one in it at all we claimed it as ours and relished the secluded hot bath. After a few hours our handy Tuk Tuk friend delivered us safely back to Tunil where we ventured off to find a rather weird and freaky traditional religious figure called SAN Simon. After asking several confused locals where it was, we hiked up a steep hill and located this figure in someone's basement. A male mannequin dressed like a drug lord sat in a chair surround by 50 lit candles with grown men on their knees offering candles and booze to it. I suspect that from the empty booze bottles stored nearby that someone (Ie. not the the 'mannequin drug lord' is getting pretty gazebo'd every night). I can't really mock it, I mean Christians prey to a white man hanging from a cross bleeding from his hands and feet.

In all, a very warming and eye-opening day.

Posted by Markandmel2016 15:11 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

DAY 62- 72 28/02/2017-10/03/2017 SAN PEDRO LA LAGUNA

We arrived in San Pedro after a bumpy shuttle ride down the side of a mountain to the actual lake. We got a Tuk-Tuk to Hotel Playa Linda which was situated down a dirt path very close to the lake in amongst vegetable plots. The couple that owned the hotel were very nice but didn't really speak a word of English. The garden cafe had views overlooking the lake and we could choose a free breakfast.

At lunch we set about exploring the town and found a lush little eatery called HUMMUS YA, serving us huge pittas filled with falafel and salad, delicious. we bimbled around the little streets venturing up to a local market. San Pedro has some quite touristy parts too especially down by the docks, venders selling trinkets, locally made wares and coffee shops.

The next day we caught a small boat from San Pedro to San Marcos a short 10 minute boat ride away for £2 each. The lake was really tranquil and the volcanoes overlooking it were stunning. San Marcos has a more chilled out vibe, hipsters and locals intermingle. We stopped at a local cafe, where liquado's and healthy snacks featured heavily on the menu. We sat on pillows at low tables slurping the morning away in this superb chilled out watering hole. We walked up into the heights of the village and explored local life, small houses made of breeze blocks and corrugated metal roofs lined the steep cobbled streets. Smoke from burning stoves filled the air and hounds lay out in the bright sunlight. We completed our tour with a visit to another eatery, where padded pallet seats were sprawled out in a lush green tropical garden. Unfortunately let down by the crud service.
In the afternoon, we commenced our first Spanish lesson at Escuela Cooperativa from 1-6pm. Afterwards we were utterly drained and brain dead as we had taken in so much information.

On Thursday, we had our standard breakfast of Omlette and beans for me and fruit and granola for Mel. We took a boat from the dock to San Juan only 3 minutes away, only 10Q's each. This was a small little villlage and the Main Street going up into the centre was lined with grockle shops selling paintings, rugs and pottery. For some reason we both adopted a very touristy approach and ended up buying local chocolate, natural shampoo (for Mel), 2 small hessian coffee bags and a pencil case for Mel. Random!! We stopped in a coffee shop and slurped down a particularly tasty soya coffee and got the choppy boat back to San Pedro in time for our Spanish lesson. Our Spanish teacher was called Esther and she adopted a humourous approach to learning. The lesson seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were saying Hasta Mañana. We both found it pretty tough and decided that a week would not be enough, so we enrolled for a further 4 days.

On Friday, we had a free morning so we decided to start with a tasty natural shake from Da' Juice girls along the Main Street, we booked a trek up the Indians nose (that's not a metaphor for anything), it's the shape of the mountain overlooking San Pedro looking like a face donning a massive nose. We also booked a transfer to ChiChi market on Sunday. We spent the morning at a lake side cafe where we sat on swings doing our Spanish homework. I could think of worse ways to spend a morning. More Spanish in the afternoon followed by our standard find a place to dine and then back to the hotel for relaxation.

On Saturday, we woke early at 330am and walked up to the street to be picked up ready for our morning trek. Unfortunately, a small puppy was lying in the middle of the road and wasn't moving. I think I had been hit in the night by a tuktuk or car. I moved it onto the side of the road, it had definitely passed away. We took a chicken bus with our guide up the mountain and were dropped in a rural farming area. Here we trekked in the dark for 25 minutes or so to the view point on the side of the Indians nose. We sat on benches with tea and bread rolls watching the sunrise come up over the lake. You could see the whole lake and the lights from all the towns. Stunning, worth the early wake up I'd say.

On Sunday, yet another early start at 7am we caught a chicken bus to Chi Chi market (the biggest market in Central America). Unfortunately, there was a huge cock up and the driver forgot to pick up 2 tourists, increasing the travelling time by 45 minutes.

Eventually we arrived at the market. I asked the driver, " SO DO WE GET PICKED UP FROM HERE AT 3pm?" Response: "YES MAYBE, OR FROM HERE OR FROM OVER THERE." Good I'm glad that was cleared up. Very informative!!!

Anyway, we headed into the maze of bustling streets crawling with extremely small locals selling everything but their kitchen sinks. it was very difficult to navigate ourselves around as you could only see as far as the end of the next street or pathway. We managed to orientate ourselves and happened upon the main plaza which was, you guessed it, surrounded by market stalls and crammed with locals twiddling their thumbs. Not very pleasing to the eye. We scampered off promptly in hope of finding the Church with lively ceremonies out the front. Minutes later we were not disappointed, we walked straight into a small parade/ceremony with local folk dressed up in costume parading around handmade worship displays. Then suddenly, gun fire right in front of the Church, our hearts both skipped a beat. We turned instantly toward the noise and thankfully realised it had in fact been an old chap setting of some fireworks from make shift pipes. Every minute or so BANG BANG!!! The church itself had sporadic groups of locals lighting numerous tapir candles and burning incense.
Mel had researched a place 10 minutes from the market where you could see Ancient Mayan Ceromies being performed. After getting lost a few times we trudged up a steep weaving pathway on a hill and came across a ceremony in progress. Women dressed in full Mayan outfits were prancing around a wildly burning fire, whilst they threw in candles, herbs and other offerings. Whilst some men stirred the fire with a large stick and played the xylophone and blew into a conch. Honestly, very interesting to watch.
After we dined in a cafe and looked around the food section of the market where there were reems and reems of stalls selling deep fried chicken and popusas.
Before the pickup we sat in a small cafe people watching the market streets. Mel was conned by a 6 year old girl and bought another sympathy bracelet.

Mon - Thurs

Standard breakie at the hotel testing our newly learnt Spanish on the staff. Followed by smoothie bar/coffee shops then lunch at either Hummous Ya or Fifth dimension. Afternoons, 5 hours of Spanish: best bits:

Having to introduce ourselves unexpectedly at break time to everyone.

Comments made by Me to the Teacher in Spanish: "I HAVE TO FIT MY MONKEY WITH A BANANA" ( Brilliant, I meant I have to give my monkey a banana)

Teacher says in Spanish: Mark what did you eat for lunch?

I say: I had a sandwich with lettuce, Avacados, cucumber, tomato and some horse. (Horse.....omg I mean onion)

Thoroughly enjoyed learning Spanish for two weeks. We hope to continue learning along the way.

Lake Atitlan, simply outstanding natural beauty, charming villages amazing people, would recommend to anyone.

Top tip: Try to avoid using the 5b cash point by the dock in San Pedro as can be dodgy. There is another ATM near the local fresh market whic is better. Cash runs out after weekend too.

Posted by Markandmel2016 14:24 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Day 60-61 26-27th Feb 2017 Volcan Acatenango

We booked our trip via one of the many agencies offering them in Antigua. I bargained with the lad to get it for Q125 each which is probably the cheapest available.

We were picked up at 845am From our hostel and spent the next 30 minutes rumbling around on cobbled streets hairing around corners picking up fellow ramblers. Some.... Well the minority seemed to come prepared (Ie US), the majority appeared to be wearing all sorts of odd clothes including extremely tight jeans, in appropriate tops, ill fitting and stylish Addias plimsoles with no grip. Tiny rucksacks with minimal water and weeny little rain coats that wouldn't survive a slightly breezy summers day let alone possible extreme conditions of a volcano at nearly 4000m. Anyway, I was due to have a good laugh.

However, we did make a tiny error in that I took my 75 litre bag and Mel took her 20 litre bag. So you can imagine I was loaded up like a donkey and Mel was bouncing around like a butterfly. Anyway we started the trek at a small dwelling situated in rural farmland where you could purchase goods including walking sticks for the trek. We set off up the hill and took advice to hire a stick from a fellow Trekker coming down (and I'm glad we did)

The. First hour of trekking was really tough, mostly walking through deep sandy, dusty loose scree at a 45 degree incline. It was around 25 degrees and I was carrying nearly 20kg. About 5 minutes before the first main break I was really struggling and Mel had to take the tent from me.

After this the paths were solid and not so steep and my attention was drawn to the beautiful scenery we went through Cloud forest where it suddenly dropped temperature and we were surrounded by moss covered trees and moist air. The scenery then opened up into lush Pine forest with amazing sunny panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. We stopped for lunch at a small picnic area munching our not so fantastic retried bean sandwich.

we then trekked a further 3 hours through more pin forest and into winding pathways through colourful flora and fauna. There was a final steep 3o minute accent to the camp site which was situated on a small flat form on the side of a steep hillside of the Volcano. The camp site was overlooking Volcan Fuego and it was absolutely breath taking. The guide erected the tents and then proceeded to chop down a whole tree with an axe and a machete, whilst we set up our beds and chatted to fellow travellers.

The guide then lit a campfire and started boiling up a pot of hot water for our pot noodles and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, it kept clouding over and at times you could not see more than 10 metres. but eventually it cleared and we spent the evening sat around the fire drinking some cheap red wine watching smoke come out of the volcano. By 8pm most ot the other walkers went to bed but 4-5 of us stayed awake eagerly waiting for the Volcan to explode with tons of red lava. Unfortunately, we didn't see this but we did see one small eruption and a few red rocks spelled over the side of the mountain.

That night...... We snuggled into our 3 man tent with a young Belgium bloke called Andre's. In an attempt to keep warm Mel donned 5-6 layers of clothes. I barely slept a wink and Mel nearly lost her toes to frost bight (well so she says) anyway we were woken at 415 am, well I say woken more just spoken to,. We had a quick 'squished' cinnamon bun and trekked the final 1hr 30 minutes to the summit. We only took a small bag but the early morning, no sleep and altitude started affecting me and I had to take short breaks every few minutes as my lungs were burning. At about 6am we reached the summit and it was utterly amazing, the Sun rising behind the Volcano, the low cloud cover and the views were out of this world. it really didn't matter that the temperature and wind chill was so incredibly cold.

After watching the sunrise and feeling very accomplished we began our decent. Andre and the guide began running at full speed down the deep scree covered pathways and Mel and I decided to follow suit. It was great fun flying down the volcano side until we both fell over and Mel hurt her back slightly so we decided to pack it in.

We got back to camp had some tea and breakfast and then descended the final 3 hours to the starting point. This turned out to be harder than we thought as the loose scree made it difficult not to slip around. However, we could not stop laughing at an Asian Girl wearing her flat adidas pumps who must have fallen on her face, back, bum, etc over 20 times.

We. We're both pretty tired by the end and in need of some decent food. We were transferred back to Antigua where we showered, changed and got our scoff on at Samsara. In the afternoon we slept, woke up briefly and then slept the whole night through.

Amazing experience, thoroughly recommend for anyone visiting Antigua especially for the price.

Top advice: take plenty of food and extra water, extra warm clothes including warm coat, hats and gloves as it gets so cold up there.

Posted by Markandmel2016 08:51 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

DAY 59- BACK TO ANTIGUA 25022017

Preparation day before Volcano trek.

Buy new penknife (old one stolen at Animal aware)
Buy woolly hats
Buy extra food
Book trip

have coffee at Guatejava and eat nice food at Samsara - check.

Early night

Posted by Markandmel2016 08:46 Comments (0)

DAY 46-58 12TH - 24TH February 2017 ANIMAL AWARE

We got up the crack of dawn to hike to the other side of Antigua, with extremely large and heavy bags of food shopping with handles that cut into our hands. We would have ordered a Tuk Tuk but I don't think everything would have fit in. Anyway we were picked up by India and Louis in their beat up old banger of a VOLKSWAGON. Mel was attacked (maybe a little exaggerated ) by a spaniel type puppy which rode in the back with us. The 45 minute journey to the Sanctuary felt like an eternity and we were glad to get their in one piece.

We arrived at the Sanctuary and were introduced to the two current Spanish volunteers and Xeni the owner. We had a very quick tour of the sanctuary and then the clinic which was so busy with vets doing surgery and cages upon cages of dogs and cats barking and yelping for attention. it was very overwhelming and was not very clean at all.

That day the Spanish couple, Jorge and Rachel showed Us how to take all the clinic dogs and puppies for walks and then in the afternoon we fed all the puppies. it was a lot to take in and we both felt knackered at the end of the day.

The Casista that we stayed in which was shared with the Spanish couple was very basic and extremely cosy. There was only one working hob and co-odinating dinner time was difficult at best.

That night we had a rubbish nights sleep, bunk beds, dogs barking and howling omg I was a tired wreck when the dogs started their wake up calls at 5am. Anyway up at 6am breakfast then to the clinic for 7am to start the routine. Mel and RACHEL cleaned the cages and Jorge walked the dogs around the grounds. I can't help feeling that Mel got the bum end of the deal.

All the dogs in the clinic were desperate to get out in the morning as they had been in there since 5pm the previous day. It felt like every morning you were rescuing all the dogs over and over again. Initially I was a bit anxious to walk 'VIKING' the 3 legged dog as he was tied up outside the clinic and from outside appearances may have looked slightly aggressive as he barked a lot at other dogs. But once I got to know him and walked him everyday I grew to love him, he was so soppy and loving. I think he was just frustrated at being tied up all day. Well any one would be.

As the first week went on and the Spanish couple left we started to get the hang of the routine and after a few days we were pretty efficient and managed to change some things to suit us better. I'm not going to lie the first week was tiring both physically and mentally and we were glad for a day off on Saturday. Although we both still went to the clinic at 7am to sort the dogs out until Louis arrived.

In the second week, Dana another volunteer and Ryan helped us with the walking and cleaning. During our stay I built some dog beds out of old scraps of wood and used large dog food bags. I covered over and piped in a waste drainage system near the Casita and made a fence from some old metal and cuttings from the nearby poinsettia trees.

We also introduced the blind dog Inglbear from the clinic to his new pen and Amalie back to his pack of Avacados puppies. We nicknamed the 3 lots of puppies that we took out for walks. The Wolves, the Spotties and the Avacados. The Avacados were aptly named due to their obsession with sniffing out and munching as many Avacados as they could from the orchard before they would go into the pen to play.

Words to describe this experience: emotional, heart breaking, heart warming, stressful, sense of fulfilment, tired, grateful and happiness.

This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life, the memories and dogs faces both happy and sad.

Posted by Markandmel2016 08:34 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

(Entries 26 - 30 of 68) « Page 1 2 3 4 5 [6] 7 8 9 10 .. »