Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Central America - November 2008 through January 2009From 2008 to 2009, I spent over nine months traveling in Central America and South America with side trips to Antarctica and Easter island. What follows are my journal entries from Central America. South America, Antarctica, and Easter Island are listed separately. The comments in square brackets were comments from my emails rather than entries in my journal.
January (Honduras and El Salvador)
February (El Salvador)
[Date: Tue Oct 21, 2008 10:58 am
After a long summer's hiatus, it's time for me to head out on another adventure. This time, I'll be heading south to Central and South America.
As is becoming somewhat the norm for me, I'll be leaving with very little in the way of advanced planning. I have some specific ideas about what I want to see in a few places but everything in between and the timing of my visits will remain to be seen.
I'm currently struggling with where I want to start. I am planning on spending at least a couple of weeks in Guatemala to learn Spanish. Programs there include homestays, always a nice way to get to know people and and area. Ideally it would be great to start there but I also want to go to Mexico to get some dental work done. Like in Thailand, there are some great deals for "dental vacations" and I can get some much needed expensive work done there for a fraction of the cost. But Mexico would be quite a bit out of the way if I go to Guatemala first.
Moving south, I hope to travel mostly overland through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. From there, maybe by boat to Columbia. Columbia has a bad reputation but there are some interesting things to see there. I'll talk to other travelers en route to get a better feel for whether I want to go there or not. Equador is relatively expensive but it is the gateway to the Galapagos Islands. Puru should haved some good hiking though I'll have to decide on whether or not I want to hike to Macchu Picchu and deal with the crowds and liklihood of elevation problems or skip that area and head elsewhere.
I'm currently struggling with whether or not to bring all of my own hiking and backpacking gear... If I don't use it, i'll be annoyed for having carried the extra weight and bulk. If I don't bring it and then wish I had it, I'll be equally annoyed.
Moving on, do I cross Lake Titicaca and head for Bolivia given the current political turmoil? Once again, I'll take a wait and see approach.
Then I hope to follow the Andes south into Chile and the Atacama desert, perhaps a sidetrip to Easter Island, Patagonia, and as far south as Tierra del Fuego, Possibly crisscrossing into Argentina as I go. Boats to Antarctica leave from Ushuaia.
Argentina, the Amazon river in Brazil, and the northern countries have their appeal but may be too much to ask for on this trip. I'll see how I feel about continuing when I get there.
The Galapagos, Easter Island, and Antarctica would all be very expensive side trips so I may have to pick and choose, do none, or maybe bite the bullet and do them all. I have long wanted to visit the Galapagos and Antarctica but since last years visit to the Plain of Jars in Laos, Easter Island has become increasingly interesting to me. Though not as dangerous to visit as the bombie infested Plain of Jars, I just can't imagine what the heads must look like up close and in person.
As always, if you have any suggestions about places to visit and things to see, or would like to join me for a portion of my trip, please let me know. Last year, a friend from the A.T. came and traveled with me for a month. I enjoyed his company and the new perspective his presence brought to my travels.]
Thursday, November 13: Boston, MA to Antigua, Guatemala
I finally got my act together, bought a ticket, and got on a plane yesterday. With a 6am flight (check in starting at 4 with the line starting earlier), I ended up spending the night at the airport. I wasn´t the only one there for the early morning departure. Well, it wasn´t the departure that was so early as the check in.
My two flights to Atlanta and then Guatemala City were uneventful though my first flight was a bit late so I had to boogie to get to my second flight. Thankfully, I was able to get exit row seats on both flights to accommodate my legs.
Once at the airport in Guatemala City, I ran into a woman whose shuttle to Antigua didn´t show up so rather than taking a taxi to the bus station and then a bus to Antigua, we shared a taxi. As I was carrying a large duffel bag full of medical supplies and children´s clothing to be delivered to a church orphanage-hospital in town, it was nice to have the door to door service rather than having to lug it around town. I had hoped to maybe learn a bit about the facility, but it was apparent that they were used to donations and I just dropped the bag there and then was on my own to wander town and find a place to stay.
Antigua is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Other´s I´ve been to in my recent travels include Luang Prabang in Laos and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It´s cobblestoned streets are lined with narrow sidewalks, and the buildings present tall faces directly to the sidewalk, sometimes with iron caged windows. I often feel like I´m wandering through a canyon as I walk along the streets. The buildings are often painted in dusty yellows, oranges, greens, reds, and other desert colors.
I went looking for one guesthouse shown in my guide and found another, Posada Vero. I have a room big enough for a twin bed and about 1.5 feet extra space, just big enough for a small table to hold my backpack. The room and the mismatched children´s bedding, very reminiscent of SE Asia, seem clean, with nothing scurrying about. It´s on a dead end street and very quiet with the exception of the caged birds they keep. It´s 30 quetzal per night or about $4. Needless to say, the bath and shower are shared.
I found a free concert, kind of a twenties vaudeville style in the square of one of the many churches decimated by earthquakes in the 1700s. Slightly risque flapperlike clothing, with one woman playing piano and another woman and two men singing and dancing. I spent time sitting on benches in the town square park, dominated by a large fountain that included four women holding their own breasts, all spouting water.
The tourists and travelers are easy to spot and I´ve been trying to collect tips on places to eat, visit, things to do, etc.
I found a great place for dinner after a recommendation from some expats I met on the street. But then I realized it was in my guidebook. I had the chef´s special, fried tilapia with rice and salad. It was served whole and was probably the best whole fish I´ve ever eaten. It was moist and the skin was cooked perfectly with a wonderful flavor. Delicious! The rice and salad were ordinary but that´s OK.
Thursday, November 13, 2008, Antigua
After no sleep before my flight and minimal sleep on my flight, I slept relatively late this morning. The shower was cold even though there was a heater. I even tried the trick I learned in SE Asia and reduced the flow in case the heater just couldn´t handle that much water. It didn´t work so I showered quickly. It´s apparent from my talking with others that my shower situation was pretty normal.
I wandered the market near my hotel, hoping to find some street food and not finding much. There were table after table of fruits and vegetables and animal parts. It felt very much like SE Asia. I imagine I´m going to be making a lot of comparisons between the two areas. I wonder if these areas will seem more alike or more different. Time will tell.
I found a nice place for breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and muesli and then sat in the Central Park for a while, talking with other travelers every now and then. Some expats running an adventure tour organization stopped by to talk with my neighbors at one point. One of them had done an overnight on Volcan Pacaya and highly recommended the organization. They were trying to run another trip tomorrow but needed more people and they suggested I might be interested. I took some time to think about it as once again, I´m chafing at paying to hike.
In Guatemala however, hiking alone is frowned upon so if I´m going to hike here, I´m going to have to pay. So, with the opportunity to spend the night on a volcano with lava actively flowing, just a couple of days after the full moon, I eventually decided the opportunity was worth it and signed up for the trip this afternoon.
I found the expat area of Antigua today, characterized by at least one used bookstore that caters to travelers, all the gringos bringing their own laptops into a bunch of cafes where the menus are in English. Plus, the prices here are a bit cheaper than around Central Park. I´m looking forward to learning Spanish but until then, I´m not going to fight it and will appreciate the places I can find with English on the menus. Even still, I´m already using more Spanish than I ever used Thai, German, or any other local languages from all the other countries I´ve visited. The one exception may be French. I had three years of it in school but was only a solid B, C, and D student so didn´t learn as much as I could have.
I´m on Central Time here in Guatemala so only one hour time difference from home so at least jet lag isn´t an issue. I was still a bit tired today so took it easy but I suspect I´ll be mostly caught up tomorrow.
I hope to make it to Xela this weekend and start a Spanish language program next week. We´ll see if I can make it happen... I also need some dental work so I´ll see if it seems easier to get that done here, then I may stay here instead. We´ll see... I need to call the dentist´s office in Xela and see if he has time and how long it will take and then see what my options are here. Antigua is somewhat larger so I may have more options here. I already have a lead on a dentist here from an expat from Vermont.
It´s now 7pm, and I´m pretty hungry so I´m going to go find some dinner. It may be a few days before I post again.
Friday, November 14: Antigua to Volcan Pacaya
Once again, I find myself hiking where a misstep can mean a bit more than a twisted ankle. Last year, I was hiking in the vicinity of bombies (the bomblets left behind by cluster bombs) in Laos. This year, I´m hiking in the vicinity of lava bombs, hiking through razor sharp rock, and over rock still glowing red from when it was liquid the night before.
Earlier in the day...
During an early morning sleepless session working a crossword puzzle, I got some help from one of the resident birds when I was looking for an answer. The resident captive pigeon started cooing just when I was trying to come up with the answer coo. Perfect. Then it was back to sleep.
I got up for good before 7am and climbed to the cross overlooking the town. The morning air is clearer so I got a great view of the volcano opposite town. It was only a 10 minute climb to the cross and then another 10 minute climb to the statue of Santiago at the Plaza del Apostal. This area, once notorious for robberies still has a stigma so when a local man saw me, apparently alone, looking at a large wasp with long orange wings and a blue/black body, after teaching me how to pronounce its name (e bespa), he insisted on accompanying me back down the hill. That was very nice of him.
I´ve found very consistently that the locals often don´t try at all to speak English but are very patient with the tourists when they try to speak Spanish and are very willing to help them learn.
Back at the hotel, I repacked for my overnight trip and then carried my stuff across town to the O.X. outfitters. I wandered town a bit, visited a jade ¨museum¨ that was really just a large store with a lot to sell, ate lunch of a huge ham and cheese sandwich (I could only eat half so gave the rest away), grabbed water and snacks from the local bodega, stopped at another expat establishment to get some information about a dentist I had heard about the day before and then went back to the outfitter to change my clothes, do a final repack, and meet the other three on the Volcan Pacaya trip. Jeremy, a Brit, spends time outdoors, and Nicole and Brad from Canada, enjoy the outdoors but haven´t done much hiking. But this trip will be an easy one and we can go as slow as necessary.
It was maybe an hours drive away and the local drivers here are as crazy as the ones in SE Asia, passing on blind curves, careening around curves with tires screeching and more.
Once there, we were offered ¨natural¨ taxis, or horses, for the ride up (100Q each way). Children sold hiking sticks for 5Q each. (Q = quetzal - about 7.5 to the dollar)
It was an easy climb up. We were told about 1.5 hours and even with novices along, it only took 1.25 hours. The going was pretty easy through mostly dirt and some new track. We arrived at our campsite and set up on small gravelly lava rock. The clouds moved in as we were setting up camp so we ate dinner first of curry and rice and then ended up walking up the mountain in the dark, through patchy fog. The going got harder and harder as we climbed. First just some sand-like patches on a shallow grade, then through lava bomb type boulder field, then climbing through the boulder field on crushed boulders. We slid down almost as fast as we stepped up. We had to be careful about dislodging rocks on those below and behind us. These rocks are very new and as sharp as glass. Climbing this portion, we were joined by two emaciated dogs who obviously hang out on the mountain, begging from the hikers. Every time we stopped to try to figure out where the trail went next, they would immediately lie down and curl up. They would make great trail dogs as they tended to stay in line, rarely got underfoot, and never barked.
We got better and better views as we got closer and it was truly an awesome sight to see that much lava flow down the mountain. We could see fiery hot rocks being thrown from the flow, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces like sparks as they flowed down the mountain.
We weren´t going to the top of the mountain, but just trying to get alongside the lava river above where the rocks were shooting off. Part of our trail took us to where the lava had been flowing the day before. The rocks under our feet were still warm and we did have to beware of hot spots but it was pretty easy to just try to stay on top of the bigger rocks.
We couldn´t get close enough to look over the river´s edge directly at the lava, but we could feel its heat. And we were close enough to very hot rocks to roast marshmallows over some of them.
Going down, I slipped once and had to sit down but I landed slowly and neither cut myself nor burned myself. Others weren´t so lucky and some ended up with some minor cuts from the extremely sharp lava rocks. But nobody got burned and nobody melted their shoes. I kept checking the bottoms of mine to make sure I wasn´t standing on hot spots. They don´t sell shoes in my size here in Guatemala so I´ve got to make mine last.
While going up was slow going, going down was a quick affair as we were able to step and glide for a good portion of the way back to our campsite. It was fun and was very glad to have hiking poles with me.
We stopped at one point on the way down to sit and watch the flow. At one point, we saw a lava ¨dam¨ break and send a large flow down very quickly, then we watched the river grow and grow for a while. We checked the pads on one of the dogs that had accompanied us up to the hot lava rock, over the sharp lave and her pads were just fine. She obviously spends a lot of time on the sharp rocks in order to toughen up her pads that much. We sat long enough for the moon to come up and light our way down the mountain. By then, we were also quite cold and happy to be moving again.
Antigua is at about 5,000 feet and we climbed to about 7,200 feet. Even in Central America, those elevations mean cool and cold temperatures, especially at night.
Back at camp, we munched on almonds and more marshmallows before turning in. We were sleeping in a five man tent but Matt, our guide, slept under the stars. Even still, it was tight quarters in the tent and we had to sleep creatively to avoid sliding down the hill and crushing those below us.
The only permanent victim of the night´s hike were the mud baskets on the poles I was using. Oops! One got melted when it sank down to the hot rock I think and then both got torn up on the sharp rock.
Saturday, November 15: Volcan Pacaya to Antigua
A 3:30 nature run had me watching the lava flow again and with the quiet air, I could hear what sounded like crashing glass. It was the lava rock flowing and crashing down the mountain on top of itself. Then back to sleep.
We missed sunrise but got up early, ate bagels, and packed up camp. Spend a bit more time watching the volcano but mostly looked out across at other volcanoes in the area, one of which, also active, would occasionally spit puffs of smoke into the air.
Our hike down took about an hour and we were met by our ride at the base who gave us another crazy ride back to town.
The five of us from the trip went to the Rainbow Cafe for breakfast and then I went back to my hotel and got my 30Q room again. I showered, napped, and then got a snack and went to the square to write in my journal a while. Before 5:00, I met Jeremy (from the hike) at El Siteo to see a production of ¨Darwin´s theory and the unnecessary hell it has raised.¨ A play written and produced by a local woman (expat). It played to a packed hour of mostly expats with a few of us travelers and tourists mixed in. There were just a couple of Guatemalans in the audience for this English speaking play.
Back to Escudilla for more tillapia and the to Cafe No Se to meet Nicole and Brad and watch and listen to Jeremy´s friend play guitar. Maryanne, another of Jeremy´s friends also joined us. The place was full of expats most of whom seems to either have been in the audience at the play or actually playing parts in the play.
The play had many short acts, ranging from the ice age cave man who created a revolution with the wheel, Darwin and his mother, Darwin talking with Sir Isaac Newton from the grave, the Scopes trial, and more. It was often punny, somewhat funny, and quite clever. The acting wasn´t the best with quite a few stage whispers but what else would you expect in Antigua.
As an aside, I´m once again fighting bug bites that leave large red blisters on my fingers. They are the same as what I had in Singapore but at least they aren´t accompanied by impetigo this time. I´m also the only one who seems to get bit by mosquitoes around here. Nobody else on the volcano got bit and I got chewed. I didn´t even know it until it was too late to apply DEET. And if I´m not the only one getting bit, I´m the only one who is allergic to those bites. They are leaving large swollen areas but I´m trying my best not to scratch.
Sunday, November 16: Antigua to Quetzaltenango (aka Xela, pr. Shayla)
Bakery goods for breakfast and then packed for a trip to Xela. The bus area was only a couple of blocks away. Once there, I was quickly pointed to the correct bus. My pack went under the back seat and I sat in the front. This was my first trip on a ¨chicken bus,¨ a former US school bus. It was a relatively short ride to where I changed buses and not so bad. But the next bus was a different experience. For most of the ride, every seat had at least three adults in it, often with up to four kids, too. I could only sit at the aisle seat so my legs could stick out into the aisle. The roads were mountainous and once again, I got the crazy driver of the day. We were never passed and we were constantly passing other cars, trucks, and even all the other chicken buses on the road. It had a fun element to it but I came away literally bruised. I may swing for the tourist buses for some of the more popular and longer routes and leave my rides on the chicken buses for when I have no other choice or when I know it´s in an area where the buses aren´t all that packed.
Once in Xela, I checked into the Black Cat hostel and ended up meeting a bunch of others. One guy is on the same schedule as me right now, maybe two weeks here to learn Spanish and then going south. He´s looking to surf and I´m looking to hike. My backpack is smaller than his surfboard though.
I went to the Blue Angel for dinner with Lloyd, his friend from Australia. It´s the cheapest place I´ve seen so far to eat. There we met up with some women they had met in Cuba. They ended up joining us while we ate (they were already finishing when we got there) and then stayed to see a movie there, ¨Into the Wild.¨ I had read the book but not seen the movie.
I was surprised to find nobody else in my room when I got there so it was nice to be able to turn on the light and read before bed.
Gotta remember to stop at a pharmacy tomorrow... I may have left the US with a stomach bug as I´ve been fighting one already since the first or second day I was here... Could be a long trip is this is going to be the new normal. Ugh!
[I don´t expect to crosspost much so if you´re on the AT list and want to see more travel journal, join the TravelsAndTrails group at groups.yahoo.com (or send me email if you have problems). If you´re on my TravelsAndTrails group and are interested in more talk about the Appalachian Trail, join that list at www.backcountry.net.]
Monday, November 17: Xela
I had a big breakfast, as is advertised at the hostel, with Steve, a 31 year old surfer from Pennsylvania. He has also just arrived in town and planning on spending a week or two learning Spanish so we decided to pair up and visit a few of the schools together. After visiting three schools, we both selected Eureka for it´s open and airy atmosphere. The students and teachers sit one on one at tables in a nice courtyard. On the down side as I had heard one person mention yesterday, you may be distracted by others´ conversations at nearby tables. I signed up for one week but will likely extend my stay another week if all works out. If not, one of the other schools had individual rooms for each student/teacher pairing. The rooms were small and seemed a bit dark though.
I then dropped off laundry and hit an internet cafe for a couple of hours until my laundry was done. The keyboards here have many more keys and the familiar symbols, other than the letters, are often not where I expect them to be. On many keyboards, even the @ requires an alt sequence.
After picking up my laundry, I found a pharmacy that had been recommended to me and bought some Cipro for my stomach bug. It´s not a good sign that I need it within the first week. Oh well. then I was off to the dentist´s office. I have a recommendation for a local dentist from an American dentist working for poor kids in Guatemala. The dentist here both studied and worked in the US. I was able to make an appointment for the next day.
Back at the hostel, I hung out with other travelers there and then nine of us ended up going out to the Babylon Cafe, highly recommended by expats and other travelers. As I was about to start a one or two week homestay, I wanted something other than local food for my last dinner before starting at my host family´s place.
Back at the hostel, I think I was the last in my room at 10:00. Last night, I was the first in at 11:00. You never know...
Tuesday, November 18: Xela
The hostel normally starts serving breakfast at 8:00 but agreed to serve me early so I could get to my class and another woman early so she could catch her bus. At Eureka, I met my maestro, teacher, Anna. They start off in the school by giving an assessment ¨test¨ to see whatever ability you already have. I could see Steve who´s already been traveling for a month scratching away at the next table while I had no idea how to answer any of the questions. I didn´t know the Spanish alphabet, how to spell any of the numbers or any of the common questions and answers I´ve heard on the street. So, we started the session from scratch. Letters, numbers, days of the week, months, and common conversational phrases and questions were the order of the day with a few vocabulary words thrown in for good measure. With a five hour session each day, we can pack in a lot.
After class I was picked up by my host family. I´ve got my own room and bathroom in Roberto and Sandy´s house. They have two teenagers, Andre and Gabi. Even though we´re at 8,000´ and it´s cold for all but the middle of the day, there´s no heat in any of the buildings here. But with warm blankets, I´ll manage.
We all had lunch together of soup and these humongous beans in a curry-like sauce served with rice. The only drawback to this place is the distance from my school. It´s only supposed to be 5-10 minutes but it´s much further than that. This afternoon, I was able to grab a ride back to town after lunch. I hung out in town and saw the dentist. He seemed nice, well spoken, and having gone to the US to learn dentistry and spent year working there, gave me confidence to go with him even though the facilities seemed basic. He´ll be giving me four crowns. He took impressions from me right then and there. The price for the work here is so inexpensive, I truly hope I´m getting more than I´m paying for. Yikes!
Back at the house, we had beans and pork with rice and eggs for dinner. I was too tired to face the walk to town to meet my friends so spent the night studying my Spanish while Gabi watched a mountaineering show on TV.
Wednesday, November 19: Xela
I walked into the dining room this morning and found a bowl of fruit salad with yogurt and granola sitting on the table. I assumed it was mine and sat down to eat breakfast alone. Then it was a cold 20 minute walk to school, a full mile away. Note to self: wear gloves tomorrow. This may be Guatemala but in the mountains, it can get COLD! Today´s lesson consisted mostly of vocabulary lists. We studied words associated with clothing, family, mountains and hiking (my request), town, colors, food, drinks, and more.
After school, I ran back to my house, scarfed down lunch of rice, tuna, carrots and beans, grabbed my bathing suit and a borrowed towel, and ran back to town to meet Nick and Steve for another type of volcanic excursion. We went to visit Fuentes Georginas, a wonderful set of hot springs about 30 minutes depending on traffic from Xela. Nick´s host family´s father is a taxi driver and he brought us for the same price as a tour would have cost. Even the taxi ride was an experience as the exhaust flooded the car on the slow uphills and anytime we stopped for a light. But with the taxi waiting for us, we had a bit more flexibility about how long we stayed and when we left. We were joined there by Jody, another student at the school, and Pablo, Steve´s teacher. I soaked for while in a couple of the pools and then went for a walk up the hill while the others continued their soak. Jody and Pablo squeezed into the car with us on the way back.
Back in town, Jody, Steve, Pablo and I caught a bus to the cinema and paid 13Q to see the new 007 movie. We were a bit late but that was OK. We were surprised that the movie had so much Spanish in it and featured Bolivia, a place some of us had been talking about that afternoon. There were Spanish subtitles for the English portions but I was wishing for English subtitles for the Spanish portion. We caught a bus back to the Central Park and then Jody, Steve and I went out to eat at the Blue Angel. I finally made it back to my house at 10:30 or so, after a short stop along the way to admire the stars visible from town. I know it´s clear when I can see he Andromeda galaxy and I could see it from Xela.
Thursday, November 20: Xela
Corn Flakes and reconstituted dried milk for breakfast. I seem to be getting some traditional food for lunch and dinner, but not for breakfast. To be honest, that´s fine with me. Today we concentrated on a lot of verb conjugation. Even though I was only a solid C/D student in French way back in high school, that knowledge seems to be helping me quite a bit to learn Spanish. If words aren´t similar to English, they are often similar to French. Plus phrase constructs are more similar to French than English. Back at the house, lunch of soup and steak with rice and potatoes. The midday meal here is often the biggest. I walked back to town, got internet access at the school, and then went to the dentist. I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing, especially when he ground down two teeth and didn´t give me the temporary caps today, just told me to watch the hot, cold, and hard foods until he could do the other two teeth tomorrow. OK, we´re not in the US or Thailand anymore.
I went back to the school for a salsa and marengue class and even though I missed most of it, I was able to keep up with the class as it progressed. Our teacher was just a Spanish teacher from the school, not a dance instructor though so just showed by example and couldn´t really describe ways to make things better. Nick rejoined us and I had one good dance with him. He´s talking salsa classes and has learned quite a few good moves though his technique and partnering need some experience. Was wishing I had my dance shoes but not enough to have them sent out. Still not sure how much dancing I am really likely to be doing.
Dinner of frijoles, fried tortillas (difficult with my teeth), and eggs. When my host realized I was going to have a hard time with hot, cold, and hard, she made egg salad for me, too, perhaps not really thinking about the fact that scrambled eggs cool off so fast that they were already cool enough for me by the time they hit the table. I carefully chewed small pieces of one tortilla on the right side of my mouth. Then watched some TV before going to sleep.
Friday, November 21: Xela
Oatmeal with raisins swimming in milk for breakfast with a side of watermelon. I´ve been eating listing to the right to keep food off the exposed teeth in the left side of my mouth. Did some banking before school - gotta love the internet.
Then at our morning break, one of the people who works at the school ran me to a tailor. I found a series of seven or eight small rips in the back of my pants this morning. I obviously brushed against something at some point. But the tailor will make me a new pair of pants by Tuesday. I´m just hoping they´re out of some suitable material for traveling. Still for $21 for custom pants, I´m not going to complain much - as long as they fit.
Soup and some sort of meatball type thing in sauce with rice for lunch and then I got a ride into town. Killed some time and then back to the dentist. What an experience. He ground down the two other teeth and installed the temporary crowns but they don´t fit well. He says they´re only for a few days, that I can live with them - and I can. But´s it´s such a different experience than Thailand and Boston where that wouldn´t be good enough. I just hope the permanent ones fit quite a bit better than these.
I killed time at Ojalas, a cafe/night club with Steve and Mark until it was time to walk home. They imbibed while I just sat there, trying not to drool as my mouth very slowly came around from all the Novocaine. By dinner, the Novocaine had worn off but the uneven teeth are going to make eating and interesting experience over the next few days. as long as the final product works out, this will be worth the effort.
Dinner was precisely what the dentist told me not to eat yesterday when I had exposed teeth, it was a fried food, something like chiriciris (sp?) and very hard but prepared in a sauce they mostly softened. I am having a hard time biting and chewing normally but I eat slowly (a change for those that know me) and I can manage OK. They were served with rice - what a surprise!
I talked with Sandy after dinner and though she speaks English quite well and my vocabulary is growing in leaps and bounds, we still made copious use of the dictionary. It was really the first time we´ve bothered to use the dictionary but was had quite a good conversation. Gabi is 19 and about to start college intending to be a lawyer, Andre is 15 and hopes to be an architect. Sandy as it turns out is only 36 and the early years of her marriage we hard but now things are pretty good with Sandy selling home entertainment type systems and Roberto selling car electronics like stereos and GPS systems. They live quite comfortably, seemingly well above the norm for the country and this area, too.
I mentioned CAD when I heard Andre was interested in architecture and though Sandy didn´t know it, Andre did. Then I mentioned my plans to climb a nearby hill tomorrow and Andre offered to draw me a map. He disappeared for a while and I just assumed he forget or got busy elsewhere. Then he came down with the map for me, a paper scroll, tied with string, with one edge burned like an old map and the map drawn with great detail in glittery magic marker. I´m definitely going to keep the map but it´s going to have to be folded if I have any chance of getting it home. Oh well.
With none of them watching TV in the evenings and my room being too cold to hang out, I sit in the living room with my vocabulary lists, half studying half watching TV. I still need a blanket in the living room but the couch is warmer and more comfortable than my desk or bed.
Saturday, November 22: Xela
With my temporary crowns, I seem to be mouthing food as much as chewing. Even the fruit salad for breakfast was interesting. The Mandarin slices were a challenge as were the raisins but the granola was small enough to eat and the other fruit, mostly melon were easy to chew as well. I met Steve, Jena, Mark, and Gemma at the rotunda, a rotary north of where I live at 9:30. We decided to take the stairs from the rotunda so were already off the map Andre had drawn for me yesterday. After the stairs, we had a bit of a road walk and then hit the trail but against my better judgement, I followed the group up a herd path rather than what seemed like the real trail. Sure enough, it was a crazy trail that went straight up and as soon as we crested the summit, it was apparent we had been on the wrong trail.
I knew there would be a large viewpoint at the top as I could see it from town. I didn´t realize that there would be a huge park and that people would be driving to it. There were a bunch of small playgrounds scattered about, each with monkey bars, slide, and seesaw. There were a couple of vendors selling empañadas, sodas, chips, and more. There was also a large obelisk with a Mayan figure on one face. It was fenced off and we speculated that it would be easy to climb the stone bricks to reach the ladder rungs at about 12 feet up. The plaza at the top was nice and sunny so we hung out for a while. Only later did I realize we were all getting sunburned. Oh well.
We took the real trail down and it was quite a nice trail. It came out at the same place we started up the herd path. We hit a panaderia (bakery) on the walk back down the hill. We went our separate ways when I had to turn off to get back to my house but made plans to meet later.
Back at the house, I had lunch with Gabi and Andre where for the first time, it there was no rice in sight. Instead we had potatoes with cheese and pasta with tuna and mayonnaise. I like carbs but the incessant starches with starch and very little vegetables is getting to me a bit. I imagine I´ll be seeking out a salad or two when I finally eat some meals on my own again. There was no water in my room after lunch so I waited until Andre was done in the shower in the house and went inside to shower. Note to self: take showers in the house after someone else has taken one. They will have warmed up the room you. Then I spent three hours at the internet cafe copying pictures to my hard drive and transcribing my journal. Back at dinner, we had our second meal in a row without rice, this time a traditional Xela dish of Peche, mashed potatoes, flavored with salsa, with a chunk of chicken and a chile, all wrapped in a banana leaf. It was delicious.
After dinner, I walked to town with Now, a Japanese guy also staying at the house while learning Spanish. We were both meeting people at 8:30. I met my friends and we ended up going to Ojala, a club, where we could sit and talk. We thought we might hit a salsa club but that never happened. It wasn´t a late night as we were all tired. I got home by 11:30 and Now who hadn´t made it back home at all the night before, walked in about 15 minutes after me.
Sunday, November 23: Xela
I slept late and had a lazy morning in the house. I studied, wrote in my journal, studied, worked on some puzzles, studied some more, took a two hour nap, and then studied a bit more before lunch. After lunch, Now and I went back up the same hill I had climbed yesterday. We took yet another way up right from the neighborhood we´re living in. We´re on the outskirts of town so within five minutes, we´re walking past farmland. There´s a short, steep trail up the mountain that hits the road up to the top. WE walk the road the rest of the way and it´s a long walk. Much longer than yesterday´s road walk but much more pleasant in that the only traffic is going to the top of the mountain and we´re the road goes through forest, not town. It took a while but once we got to the top, I was a bit shocked at the number of people up there. Yesterday, there had been a few cars and maybe 30 people. Today, there were cars everywhere they could park, and hundreds of people. The obelisk we had only speculated about climbing was being climbed by children and adults. Liability concerns in the US would absolutely prevent that at home. If Steve had been with us today, I think he would have been up that tower in an instant.
From the lookout, we could see a large fire in town. Or at least, a lot of smoke. Having had a somewhat meager lunch, Now grabbed a sausage on tortilla snack at the top but was still hungry on the way down. I was also hungry on the way down and since we went down the same way as yesterday, we stopped at the same panaderia, now bustling with a lot of people. We grabbed some baked goods. I had a sweet bread croissant shaped thing sliced and filled with custard and a small apple pastry. The custard thing was OK. The apple pastry was delicious.
In retrospect, the map that Andre had drawn was almost useless as a tool to find one´s way. It was drawn from the perspective of someone who has been there and knows what to expect to see along the way. Now when I look at it, it makes sense. But when trying to find my way up the mountain the first time, it didn´t make much sense at all. But for a 15 year old, it was still a really nice effort and the perspective error is one many people would make regardless of age.
Back at the house, Roberto and Sandy had friends over and since Now and I werent´ invited to join them, I decided to take off and hit the internet cafe again. I spent the time transcribing my vocabulario lists for school. It was a good way to study and would ensure I could read my notes in the future (kind of like transcribing my journal ensures I can read this in the future, too. My handwriting leaves a lot to be desired.) I didn´t have nearly enough time to get them all typed up so I´ll do more as I find the time.
[Wow! I just saw a tiny bug/spider crawl into the function keys on this keyboard... hope it stays there a while.]
Beans, eggs, and string beans (my favorite - NOT!) for dinner. Roberto played a computer game, pretending to be James Bond, 007 after dinner and drew everyone in to that for a while. I like the bit of hanging out around the table that some people do at meals as it´s the best time I can practice my Spanish. Mostly, I practice with Sandy and Gabi as they prepare meals. Their patience with us students is amazing.
Since nobody else watches TV in the house with any regularity and my room is too cold to be anywhere but in bed, I watched TV, yet again, before heading to my room. Last night, I had been greeted by a very large spider when I opened the door and turned on the light. It took me a while to get up the courage to sweep in out of the room with a piece of paper. Tonight, I had no such greeting. Phew!
Monday, November 24: Xela
Corn flakes for breakfast - nothing traditional there...
At school, we concentrated on articles and irregular verbs. At home, we had soup, a small bit of salad on the plate with rice and a large chunk of fish. Wow! What a nice change. Got a ride back to town and visited Quetzal Trekkers, an all volunteer group where the profits go directly to projects (schools, hospitals, etc.) that benefit street children. I hope to hike Tajumulco, the highest peak in Central America, with them. I like the volunteer guide aspect but it sounds like their group may be a bit too large for my taste. I´ll check back later in the week.
I then dropped off my laundry an went back to school for the afternoon program.
We cooked and ate rellenitos, mashed plantain with frijoles in the middle and fried; chilaquela, corn tortillas folded in half with cheese, dipped in egg batter made from stiffly beaten egg whites mixed with the yolks and some flour, and fried; and güisquil (pr. wiskeel), peeled, sliced, spread with the same feta-like cheese (but found wrapped in corn husks) and dipped in the same batter and then fried. The chilaquelas and güsquil were served with salsa. It was all delicious. We drank a very sweet rice and flour beverage with it that vaguely reminded me of Sweet Tarts.
I picked up my laundry, visited the Cathedral in the square. The original facade is still there but a newer church has been built behind it.
An internet session and then home.
Tuesday, November 25: Xela
Fruit salad with yogurt and granola for breakfast. Adjectives and exceptions were the order of the day with my new maestra (teacher), Karla. At break, we had fruit and I was able to try a few types I had seen but hadn´t tried before. Nispero is a about 1.5¨ round, yellowish orange fruit, with an orange flesh around a large black pit. Sapodilla is a softball sized and shaped fruit with a large shiny seeds and dark orange flesh. [Hmm, looks like the same plant gave us chicle (think chicklets)]. There was one other fruit slightly larger than the Nispero, also orangish with a thin yellow flesh around a large pit.
At home, a soup/stew of sorts over rice with potato, güisquil, zuchini, carrots, and more. As with many of the soups, they are rather bland so I´ve taken to adding a smoked dried chili powder, similar to chipotle but apparently different somehow. Just as tasty though. It was served with tortillas which I find much more palatable torn up and dumped into the soup rather than eaten completely plain.
Then I had my dentist appointment and was disappointed not to get my permanent crowns. Now, the four visits that he had originally said have stretched into eight. I´m getting frustrated...
Back to school for the afternoon program. This time, just three of us went to the chocolateria for a presentation on chocolate history and manufacturing first in Spanish, then a video in English. We ate yogurt with chocolate sauce, chocolate covered frozen bananas and strawberries, and large cups of delicious hot chocolate. Then we could make purchases so I got some for my family here in Xela.
I was happy to get home and have a real dinner as all I had really eaten all day was liquid in fruit or soup. We had an egg, beans, and hot dog for dinner served with pan, the all encompassing word for the variety of rolls that are served with each meal.
Wednesday, November 26: Xela
Mush for breakfast. That´s the name of the oatmeal cooked swimming in sweetened milk with vanilla. It´s served so that it looks like a bowl of hot milk and you have to dip through the milk to find the loose oatmeal below. Served with raisins today. And pan.
Learned about Adverbs in school today. At break, they served hot chocolate and pan. Lunch started with soup and then was a traditional dish of chicken on the bone in a green curry-like sauce with rice. Tortillas and pan.
Back to school for a trolley tour around town. Shouldn´t have bothered. It stopped at the central park for a while, then went to Baúl, the hill I´ve climed twice and then a bit through town. I don´t begrudge the lack of English, just that I could read the signs in English in the park and find out more about the square, I had already been up Baúl but this time, my friends climbed the tower that would be well off-limits in the states, and the rest of the trip through town just pointed out natural baths and another chocolateria. But the pictures of Jena and Gemma climbing the tower sure made Steve jealous when we ran into him as we got off the trolley.
Did a bit of shopping, a short internet session, back home for dinner, and then back to town to meet Jena for a trip to a salsa club. She didn´t show (stomach problems as it turned out) so I printed some notes at the internet cafe and went to the salsa club on my own. The place was smokey but the lesson worth it. No partnering technique, just lots of steps. I only danced with one really tall Brit as the locals seemed to prefer women closer to their own height. But I would go again just for the lesson. I got home at nearly midnight.
Thursday, November 27: Xela
Corn flakes - this time with banana. I guess my variety beats the eggs and beans many of the other students get.
This is the third day with a lot of fog in the morning. Last week, there was none.
Learned more adverbs and went back to covering verbs. I know the conjugations as long as I know the verb endings so I flew through those. Birthday cake at the break for one of the students. The cake looked great. The student got caught by the trick candles, but unfortunately, the cake didnt´taste nearly as good as it looked. i´ll keep that in mind when looking for a treat at one of the local panaderias.
Leftover hotdogs cut into beans with rice for lunch. Pan and tortillas, of course.
Games at school for the afternoon activity. Jena and I nearly tied Steve and Gavin putting together the children's jigsaw puzzle, not really learning anything along the way. With Scrabble, I was in my element, working with Maria to prompt her to find words to fit valuable spaces. But Gavin´s team, with a lot of high scoring points, beat us in the end. The other teams didn´t fare so well, mostly because they didn´t know the game more than the lack of vocabulary as we were all pair with a local.
Back to the dentist only to sit and wait for 20 minutes for him to tell me my teeth didn´t come I would have to come again tomorrow. Argh!
I continue to gaze at Jupiter and Venus, rising brightly in the evening sky on my walk home each evening.
Chorrizo and beans with an egg and rice for dinner.
Watched the Mentalist with Gabi after dinner.
Friday, November 28: Xela
Fruit salad. More fog. The coldest morning so far. The other drink coffee and tea at school. I usually stick with water but it was too cold today. I tried to find hot chocolate when I got close to the school to no avail. So, Rosa, the owner who drives a big Mitsubishi SUV, made me a special cup of hot chocolate. It was only then that I could take off my gloves this morning. When sunlight hit the coffee table and chairs, Karla and I moved there for the better part of an hour - until it got too hot in the sun. Pan for break.
At the house, Lily, Sandy´s sister was in town. Soup, then shrimp and pasta in a light creamy sauce for lunch with a kind of coleslaw, potatoes, pan and tortillas. I´ve been spending time on-line typing in my lessons as my own handwriting is horrid. it´s hard to go back and read what I´ve written a couple of days earlier.
As today was my last day at school, I went back in the afternoon to receive my certificate of completion.
Back to the dentist. He has my new teeth but they all need modification so I left once again with the ill-fitting temporary teeth. I finally told him how frustrated I was that the process that he said would take four visits will now take at least eight. He didn´t believe me when I said it was already my sixth visit and got the appointment book to prove me otherwise. Then realized I had been right. So, now I wait until next week for the permanent teeth and since I couldn´t make the meeting for the Tajumulco trip this weekend which wasat the same time as the dentist appointment, I´ll be sticking closer to town. Frijoles, egg, and plantains for dinner with bread. Then to sleep early.
Saturday, Novembe 29: Xela
Mush for breakfast, this time served with banana. The pan or bread, is always served as rolls, often with a crusty sweet dough baked over or on top of the main roll, even when served with savory lunches and dinners. ¨plain¨ rolls exist, too, but are less common. Tostadas are large flat cookies available for 30 centavos, about $.04 each. most of the locals go into the panaderias, grab a basket with togs attached, and buy a heaping basketful of rolls and tostadas. It feels pretty funny going in and buying just two tostadas. Sometimes I try a pastry or two (after my hikes, for example), but mostly I´m sticking to eating only what they serve at home.
All week, as I´ve walked back and forth, to and from town, I´ve thought of sites, sounds, and smells to write about. Here they are in one place...
Sounds: dogs barking from rooftops. Only ¨owned¨ dogs bark. Street dogs are meek, quiet, and avoid people; roosters crowing before the break of dawn (but no country western music); the pit pat heard walking past tiendres (small stores) where women slap cornmeal dough into tortillas and fry them; a high pitched oogah horn as the tortillas man delivers tortillas from his motorcycle; fireworks popping at all hours of the very early morning and late night; car horns sounding as they approach blind intersections, ensuring they get the right of way. These same car horns also define a split second the way they do in Boston - as the time between when the light turns green and the car behind you honks their horn. Bus attendants leaning out of the moving vans, yelling their destinations for anyone to hear - only here, if they see someone running towards the van, they will stop the van to wait. Church bells ringing - sometimes long and loud.
Smells: the bad odors are mostly limited to the vehicle exhaust. Mostly, it´s corn tortillas roasting on large round pans; meat grilling on small grills outside of restaurants; and the wonderful smell of bread baking wafting from the panaderias.
Sights: Sidewalks paved in flat stones about a foot long and 9¨ wide, sometimes with curbs a foot high, sometimes with no curb at all; cobblestoned streets with tire ´lanes´ in flat paving stones; stout women dressed in in woven skirts and colorful and frilly tops, one pressing orange juice in the morning that I pass every day on my way to school, other balancing loads on their heads, often with babies bundled onto their backs; street vendors hawking cheap eats, newspapers, or tiny boxes of Chicklets; non-descript doors opening into large courtyards; lovers smooching in the park at night or in dark shadows along the roads; lots of guns (sidearms and rifles), usually wielded by young, often nervous looking men in doorways of banks and other ¨important¨ institutions. There´s no knowing if or how well they are trained.
Street smarts: cars always have the right of way, whether they do legally or not; narrow sidewalks require careful negotiation when passing others; Always look for cars before stepping into the street to pass anyone or just to walk at those times the sidewalk peters out altogether; According to my family, it´s safe to walk the roads at night and alone and after a couple of weeks, I´ve had no problems and there´s usually others out and about where I walk - perhaps not so in other neighborhoods; pay attention to dark doorways, I´ve been startled when people step out.
That´s all for the street scene... I slept nine hours last night and two more this morning after breakfast. Then into town for a long internet session typing up notes. met Jena there and went and signed up for a horseback tour tomorrow. After another day of mostly liquid meals, I was hungry so we ducked into McDonald´s for some McPatatas, large slices cut from potatoes with a light batter and fried. Delicious. We shared a batch and sat there for two hours, enjoying the brightly lit surroundings and warm restaurant. Jena studied and I worked on puzzles. She went home while I took long exposure pictures in the square. We met again with Gemma and Mark at the school cafe where Gavin, an Aussie, makes wonderful pizzas and delicious salads. This sinner was the only meal I´ve skipped from my homestay.
Sunday, November 30: Xela
Too early to be served breakfast, I just grabbed a roll and poured some dry cereal into a paper towel. My tour van ride was right on time which meant everyone else who had to be ready at 8:00 had to wait. By the time we picked up Jena, she had been waiting on a street corner for 25 minutes. Other people in the van were twenty-something Sara also going riding, a 60+ Dutch woman living in Guatemala doing a border run to Mexico, and a Guatemalteca going somewhere with a bag carrying a Spanish edition of the New York Times.
Twenty some minutes later, we were met by the road by Jun, our guide for the day. He brought us across a funky bridge near a weird ¨castle¨ (Castillo del Carmen) apparently built by an American for some reason, then across a field to his waiting horses. Talking along the way, he asked us our experience with horses. Back at the horses, after taking in my experience level and size, there was some musical saddles and we soon mounted up and were on our way. Unfortunately, my saddle didn´t fit me well and I knew it was going to be a painful ride and recovery. But, I was in it for as much fun as I could muster. Thankfully, this is not a US style nose to tail trail ride. These horses are happy to follow along if you just sit there, but are very responsive if you take command. We walked by the riverside (not the prettiest), through towns, and to another town. We went through forests and up and down hills, some very steep. On the long straight flat sections, we could take off at a lope or gallop and often did. Even Jena who had never really ridden before was able to keep up and have fun. Sara had been riding a lot more frequently than me in recent years but as it turns out, she had never ridden western tack and knew nothing about the differences. I tried to help as best I could, explaining neck reining and slight changes in seat (posture) but strangely enough, I ended up being the one most comfortable on the horses. With western being ridden one-handed, I often found myself riding lefty so I could take pictures as I rode.
Fiddling with my camera, I was often trailing in the dust and halfway through, the rest had a good laugh at me when they looked at my dust streaked face. Even my teeth had dirt on them but that only meant I had been grinning ear to ear while I rode. I also had reverse raccoon eyes as I was riding with sun glasses and they kept the dist out of my eyes.
We took a couple of breaks on our three hour ride. One in a little town and one in a beautiful long-leafed pine forest.
We got back early from our ride so got permission to take another little run along a nearby dirt road. We ran out and halfway back and then walked our horses to let them cool off a bit.
After we dismounted, we saw a beautiful horse being ridden down the street, with a high stepping way about it, broad chest, and a bit of a kick out to the side. I said it looked like an Andalusian. We had a chance to talk with the rider who said the horse was Spanish. When I asked what breed, my friends were a bit impressed with me when he said Andalusian. I really don´t know all than many breeds all that well. It was mostly an educated guess on my part.
Afterwards, I was the first dropped off back at my house. I was so dusty I didn´t even want to sit down until I had slipped off the dusty clothes and grabbed a shower. But there was plenty of time to do so before lunch. For the first time, I was served something I didn´t really like so I ate the chicken and rice and left the sauce. Turns out there was nothing in the sauce that I wouldn´t like but as an aggregate, it didn´t work for me. After lunch, I went back to bed and slept for two to three more hours. I woke up a bit sniffly and with a bit of a cough. I´m hoping it´s just allergies from the horses and dust and will pass. But I spent the afternoon, warm and cozy in bed, not wanting to move because when I did, everything hurt. I took my first batch of ibuprofen at lunch.
For dinner, Now cooked miso soup, Japanese curried rice, radish salad, and a cabbage salad. He went all out and found California rice, a somewhat stickier version than the stuff used for most of the meals here. It was an amazing meal and reminded me how much I miss the variety of foods I eat at home. Sandy baked up a cheesecake of sorts for dessert. I´m not sure if she was doing that for me (we had talked about cheesecake) but it was served warm, and was rather strange. It was also the only time desert other than a few tostadas had been served in the house.
Dinner, expected at 7:30, didn´t get served until after 8:30. They had run out of gas while Now was cooking the rice so it had to finish on a very slow electric burner. Then everything else had to be headed in the microwave or on the burner so it took a lot longer than expected and we didn´t start eating until after 8:30. I was supposed to Jena and Sara in town at 8:30. Oops! I was too sore to even contemplate walking into town so I can´t really blame the meal. I had just decided not to decide until after dinner by which time it had been decided for me.
I watched Mission Impossible and went to bed.
Monday, December 1: Xela
Up late with no need to rush today. NO CLASSES! Fruit salad and then back to school anyway to make use of mostly uninterrupted internet access. It seems like once you´ve been a student at this school, you´re always a student - even when you´re not taking classes. I caught up with transcribing my journal during the morning. Back home for my last homestay lunch of fatty chunks of meat in beans with rice and delicious, really buttery smashed potatoes. Back to school for more internet access. I´m still trying to catch up on typing all of my Spanish notes so I can read them. They are still including me in their after school activities as if I´m a student. Today we sampled gua... something... small tortillas fried on one side with meat on top and a variety of toppings such as onion, tomato, cilantro, cheese, pepper, etc. Also tried a very sweet corn beverage that tasted OK once I got beyond the odor that was a bit off-putting.
I finally got my permanent crowns today. I´ll be going back tomorrow for a bit more adjusting but hopefully that´ll be it. I´ll also be sticking around town for a few days to make sure they´re OK. On the way back to the house, I ran into a candlelight procession going around the central park. It was an AIDS awareness march. As I was taking pictures of the crescent moon with Jupiter and Venus, I became aware that the march had morphed into a rally and then a performance of some sort. I wandered over and was happy to find a dance performance by the Focolorico de Hombres (sp?). I stayed a while and watched, videotaping some of it.
Unfortunately, my camera is acting up again. It´s the same problem I had in SE Asia that was supposed to be fixed this past summer. When I take a long exposure in ¨night scenery¨ mode, it takes the picture as expected, but then takes another equally long exposure. In SE Asia, it would take one extra picture. Now, it´s taking two. And when each 7 second exposure takes another seven to write to disk and then it takes two more pictures that each take 15 seconds total, the time adds up. Argh!
At home, my last dinner of my homestay was of eggs with sliced hotdogs in frijoles and chilaquelas. I had hoped the whole family was there but ended up eating mostly alone. Oh well! I watched ¨A Few Good Men¨ before going to sleep.
Tuesday, December 2: Xela
I said my ¨good-byes¨ at breakfast today. Then dropped my backpack at the school while I went to the dentist for an adjustment and then checked out a few hostels and travel agencies before going back to the Black Cat Hostel. Then ate lunch at Emilio´s where I got a pizza and a soda for 16Q or about $2. I splurged and got a McFlurry afterwards. It was strange in that they put the ice cream in the cup, then added the caramel and cookie crumbs. They put in the spoon and handed it to me. I guess they don´t stir in the additions down here.
Spent more time organizing my notes (which also qualifies as studying) and then at the hostel, copied my SD cards to my hard drive. Went back to Cafe Babylon for dinner with my two Israeli roommates.
Wednesday, December 3: Xela
Breakfast with Jack at the hostel this morning. We may go to Lake Chicobal tomorrow. Finally finished formatting my Spanish notes and printed them along with the insurance form for the dentist. Back at the school this morning, Rosa made me Hot Chocolate again. Coffee and tea are readily available but not hot chocolate. I tend to use the internet while everyone is studying but get off during their break to let them get on. Today, while on break, Jena, Gemma, Maria (one of the teachers), and I got into a water fight. There´s a large dry ¨well¨ in the middle of the courtyard with a spigot in the middle and we just splashed each other from that. The whole thing was rather amusing and the other students and teachers also had a laugh watching us. We didn´t get all that wet.
I also visited the museum which was rather bizarre. There was everything from a Radio Shack TRS-80 to high school memorabilia to pottery and arrowheads, and a bunch of badly taxidermied animals. Weird! And while looking at the stuffed birds, I became aware of scraping in the ceiling and realized that there are pigeons roosting in the ceiling. then back to the dentist for a two minute minor adjustment for a total of nine visits. I left the insurance form to be picked up tomorrow. The school activity of going the movies wasn´t happening so back to the hostel and ended up having dinner with Jack in Tecun, a loud but warmish bar/restaurant.
Thursday, December 4: Xela
Breakfast with Jack again. We shared two meals so got to try both the pancakes (delicious) and the French Toast (weird). The french toast was deep fried. Then we were off to Laguna Chicobal. We could have taken a ¨tour¨ for $25 but instead figured out the local transport. We took a local bus for 1.25Q to the regional bus and for 5Q got a ride to the trailhead (road) where we were to walk to the lake. The signage there was good and an hour later we were paying our 15Q entrance fee. Less than an hour later, we were up and over the rim of the caldera and walking around the edge of the lake. This lake is considered a sacred site for many Maya and we passed many sites as we walked around the lake. We walked up the 615 steps through the botanical garden-like signed trees to the mirador (viewpoint)which was socked in with fog and then back down. We took an ¨alternative¨ way down and ended up rock hopping across a stream and going through a cowfield to get back to the road. There, we found a traditional funeral going by with men and women in traditional dress. A 5Qride back to town and we spent a grand total of 26.25Q or less than $4 for the day.
Back in town, signed up for a three day hike to Lake Atitlan starting tomorrow, said my good-byes at the school, showered, changed, picked up my insurance forms from the dentist, and met Jack again for dinner. But we were sidetracked by a huge concert in the park on the way and ended up standing to watch the Guatemala National Orchestra play its annual Christmas concert. The music was good, the sound system horrible. The audience was weird. They just stood there. No swaying to the beat, no humming or singing along to the music. I can´t imagine a Christmas concert in the US where the audience wouldn´t have been singing along to a popular carols medley. The concert ended up limiting our dinner options and we went to McDonald's. Oh well.
At 9, I met friends from the school for our last outing to Ojala where they were having a trivia night. We didn´t participate but listened in.
Friday, December 5: Xela to the trail to Atitlan
The cook was kind enough to make me pancakes for breakfast a bit early. Then I was off to the tour agency to meet up and repack for the hike. I met a group of all 20 somethings, including the Israeli guide, going on the trip. We were shuttled to our trail head and immediately started up the mountain to the highest point of the hike at about 3000m (about 10,000´). I was slower but steadier than the others so was rarely dragging behind. We walked through fields, mountains, jungle, and cloud forest with beautiful flowers. We ended up camping on the flat spots of an uneven football(soccer) field after the locals finished their game. We had dinner at a nearby house where we ate in the kitchen building. While the others partook in a temascal, or sauna-like experience in a squat house that I wouldn´t have been able to crawl into, I stayed nice and warm in the kitchen. On this trip, I got to use my own tent rather than share a large heavy tent with others. Back at the tents, Ehud cooked up some hot chocolate and then we went to sleep.
Saturday, December 6: the trail to Atitlan to San Carlo - still on the trail
Up for sunrise, packed quickly. Breakfast back at the kitchen building. Huevos, beans, and tortillas. (This can get old a lot faster than anything I ate in SE Asia). Said adios to the family, the cat and dog meandering in and out, the cow tied up outside and made our way to a nearby town. Spanish is not the language spoken here. Some form of Mayan is. Someone found the right person with the key to the bathroom. We walked all day, going through wheat fields at times (highly unusual in this part of the world) with a stop to soak our feet in a stream, then a climb up a mountain where we stopped on top for lunch, then down where we crossed a river thirteen times. My croc-like shoes were useless so I just wore my sneakers knowing they would dry. During the last crossing, there was thunder nearby but no rain. We were picked up for shuttle to a town, cutting out three hours of hiking that we didn´t have time to do. Dinner of chicken, pasta salad, broccoli salad, beans, and tortillas. Then a 15 minute walk to our campsite only to discover a concert about to start there and planning on going until 4:00am. Not having anywhere else to go, we pitched our tents, had a campfire with marshmallows and whatever other treats brought from town, and listened, horrified, at what was going to be our noise accompaniment for the night. It was going to be religious proselytizing, wailing, and really bad monotonous music. I took the opportunity to start drying my wet shoes and socks before putting my earplugs in and crawling into bed.
Sunday, December 7: Santa Clara to San Pedro on the shores of Lago Atitlan
After sleeping surprisingly well given the noise, we woke up an hour after the noise ended to a beautiful sunrise. Flowers on a nearby cliff-edge trail were being pollinated by small bluish hummingbirds. One I saw yesterday was a large green hummingbird. In the distance, we could see puffs of smoke coming off Volcano Pacaya the volcano I had climbed weeks earlier. Pancakes for breakfast in the same restarant where we had dinner yesterday. Then mostly along steep descent into San Pedro. Today, I was almost always lagging well behind. We walked through corn, coffee, and bananas today. Once at the lake, we did a bit of a lake shore walk, went swimming off some rocks though it was too cold for me to really swim in the choppy water. and were then picked up by boat for a ride to town. Our bags hadn´t arrived yet so we ate lunch in a nearby pub, checked into rooms and returned for our bags. I found a hot shower with plenty of water pressure - perfect. Internet, dinner, and crashed by 8:30pm.
[Date: Tue Dec 9, 2008 10:28 am
I´ll probably be leaving San Pedro today and heading for Semuc Champey and then Tikal. I´ll probably get internet access in Flores, near Tikal, but not at all sure about Semuc Champey. I´ll probably spend a few days at Semuc Champey and then a few at Tikal so not sure when I´ll be spending time on-line again.
Then again, I´m constantly surprised at where I´ve seen internet access... Tiny towns where even Spanish isn´t spoken, etc. So, you never know...
Oh yeah... Then a chance I´ll be spending 6 days trekking to see El Mirador, another Myan ruins with no road access. Stay tuned...
Monday, December 8: San Pedro on Lake Atitlan
After sleeping for over 10 hours, I took my time organizing my gear in the morning and finding wet gear I should have pulled out to dry yesterday after our swim. The rooftop clotheslines were perfect for sunning my sleeping bag, something I tryto do everynow and then. I wandered a large loop around town, finding the ´other´ dock, the hill up to the main part of town where the locals live, and then back to the dock where we pulled up yesterday. I bought a banana bread off some kids. It was pretty good - just a bit dry on the ends but the rest moist and sweet. I eventually made my way back to the hotel, turned my sleeping bag, and then went for a late brunch of pancakes with syrup and sliced bananas on top. I used the internet access there then wandered town some more and relaxed for part of the afternoon back at the hotel. I´m finding it hard to find people here to do stuff with. Most seem to have their groups and aren´t inclusive. It reminds me a bit of Vang Vieng in Laos, a bit more of a hippy, druggy town. There is horseback riding and kayaking to do here but neither would be fun alone. So, I´ll push off tomorrow for other interesting sites.
Went to Buddha for Pad Thai. It was good thoughnot particularly authentic. More the red saucy type rather than the dryer type typical of Thailand. It was still a nice break from rice, beans, eggs, and tortillas. The curries also looked and smelled good. I meta couple of women there. Then Alex from the hike joined us. He went off and then thetwowomen and I went to the fiesta from the Catholic church up in town. There were a lot of fireworksbeing setoff in the streets preceding a large statue of Mary being carried on a large plaform. The platform was all lit up and was followed by a generator on 300 meters of power cord. A reggae bar with no non-alcoholic beverages followed just for a bit. But the chocolate cake lady came by, peddling her cake from a large tupperware-type container so we were all set for dessert.
Tuesday, December 9: San Pedro to Panajachel (both on Lake Atitlan)
Woke up slowly and eventually made my way back to the breakfast and internet place. Back at the hotel, I enjoyed another hot shower with plentiful water. Then I packed, vacated the room, and walked back to the dock to catch a boat to Panajachel, across the lake. At the dock, I met Nathan, also waiting on a boat and we ended up buying two breads from the local kids and sharing both a banana bread a a chocolate bread. The banana bread was better.
The ride across the lake was nice. The water and speed of the boat made it a bit cool but not bad. There were great views of the surrounding mountains and the Nariz (Nose), the mountain I had walked over on the way to San Pedro.
Nathan and I ended up hanging out the rest of the day. We found a room to share - cheaper and nicer than two dorm beds - and then made our way to a Guatemalan fast food place for three tacos, chips, and a soda for 18Q, about $2.50. Not bad. I would go back there. Spent a couple of hours sitting in the place, talking with a Californian who took a neighboring table, and fending off the relentless boys, girls, and women selling everything from clothing to bracelets to artwork. They come right into the restaurant and generally get in your face. The one that wouldn´t leave after we all gave a polite Gracias, No was told to leave by the management but only after we asked. Wandering around town, we found an ice cream place with Marco Polo ice cream, much better than the standard Sarita brand.
Back in the room, I realized I had left my battery charger in San Pedro. Argh! This is the charger I just bought to replace the one I left in Thailand. I know exactly where I left it though and even with my plans to leave town tomorrow morning, I think I can get back to San Pedro and back to Panajachel before the bus I want to take leaves town. So, I tried to put it out of my mind for the rest of the day.
With all the lakeside restaurants, we couldn´t resist having an early sunset dinner on the lake. The menus had options in the 50-70Q range but the advertised special of the day was only 25Q for a whole fried fish and accompaniments. As far as I could tell, everyone in the restaurant got the special. Of course, that was just four of us.
Wandered about town after dinner. Found the local night club scene. Didn´t find the local cinema. Went back to the room to study Spanish, work on puzzles, update my journal, etc.
Wednesday, December 10: Panajachel to Coban
Up at 6:00 and caught the first boat at 6:30 to go back to San Pedro. But this boat was a local and instead of taking 30 minutes took almost 1.5 hours. But those stops gave me a chance to see a bit of the other tows along the way as well as some of the big houses built buy mostly Americans but some other Europeans, too. these houses are big, beautiful, and often out of character with the local surroundings. Back in San Pedro, I made my way back to my hotel and was glad to hear voices coming from the room I had been in. I knocked on the door and the women in the room hadnt´seen my charger. Uh oh! Then, I noticed the guy I had shared the room with was going into another room. He had seen my charger there and had left it when he left the room at 2:00 the previous afternoon. Then I knocked on the door to the room that I figured out the staff used. I woke up a traveler who had been given that room the day before. He let me look around but I didn´t fin d the charger in there. But he offered me his now that his camera was gone or defunct. But, it was the wrong size.
So far, the staff were nowhere to be seen so I settled into a hammock to wait. Ten minutes later, they show up and thankfully, she had the charger in her pocketbook. Woohoo!!!
I went straight back to the dock and just caught a boat. This one went directly back and half an hour later, I was back in my Panajachel room. I packed, vacated, made my way to the agent with the cheap bus tickets and got a ticket to Coban. It was 9:15 and I still had 45 minutes to go get breakfast.
I was on time for the bus but it was 30 minutes late. Not a good start. The trip to Antigua was uneventful and we switched vans as expected. Then in Guatemala City, we dropped a few people off in the city, one guy off at the airport, and then I was expecting to change to a big pullman bus. But over an hour later, we were still in the van with the people heading for Copan. Eventually, we stopped and the Copan folks switched to a car and two folks from the car came with us. But in the haste to switch, Anais´backpack went in the car by mistake. But we didnt´know that. We only knew that it was no longer on the top of the van. An hour and a half later, we finally got that straightened out when we caught up with the other car. They had been stopped as the first car waiting for a bunch of construction to happen. the traffic only went one way for a while and then switched. So, our van pulled over and the driver and Anais raced out and ran about a kilometer to find the other car and get her bag back.
Then with the two folks who had switched to our van, we continued on to Rancho even though they were going to Antigua. The driver tried to get us into a van going to Coban but it was full and another guy there mentioned a pullman coming in ten minutes. We refused the van and waited for the pullman we had paid for. five minutes later, it pulled in and the seats were large and comfortable and my knees actually fit. At least the last 2.5 hours were relatively comfortable.
In Coban, we checked into a dorm room in the first hotel we came to, made our way to another where we had a rather nice dinner, and were surprised when it started to rain. It´s the first rain I´ve seen since leaving Boston. We waited for a lull and made our way back to the hotel and book a tour to Semuc Champey for tomorrow. It was late so we just crashed.
Thursday, December 11: Coban
Up at 6:30 to be ready for a 7:00 shuttle. Expecting one of the ubiquitous vans, Anais, the French woman I had met yesterday, and I were surprised to see a pickup with extra cab and seats in the back and a very inadequate rain cover of a sort. But then we found we were to be the only two on the tour and my backpack which I was taking in case I decided to stay at Semuc Champey could ride in the front seat while we rode inside in the back seats of the extra cab.
It was a rainy and drizzly morning. Our first stop, in town, was breakfast. Once again, the non-descript door opened to a beautiful courtyard. Of course, on a cool morning, it would be nice if we could sit inside somewhere but they just don´t seem to construct building like that here. At least the tables are under cover. Pancakes and fruit seems to be the new breakfast norm. Then it was a 2.5 hour drive to Semuc Champey with one adrenaline inducing skid that made me rethink whether I would rather go now in a crash off a cliff than sit in a rocking chair for 30 more years. Our driver slowed a little after that but I still would have preferred to be behind the wheel myself. The solid yellow line means nothing here if the driver thinks he can pass a slower vehicle.
At Semuc Champey, our driver nixed the idea of climbing to the Mirador, the viewpoint. It was aggravating for me because I would have liked to seen the view. The pictures I´ve seen were fantastic and others were climbing up. Argh! So we satisfied ourselves with visiting the pools where I went for a swim in light blue-green limestone karst pools. These pools are just like those I´ve seen in the Havasu Indian Reservation in the bottom of the Grand Canyon and in Thailand. The pools look shallow, once I got in, I found they were quite deep. Certainly deep enough to dive into once you knew. The we walked to the upper pools where we saw an amazing sight. The fast flowing river that was gushing and white, disappeared below our feet into caves under the pools. Some of the water continues to flow above ground, where I had been swimming but most goes blow ground through caves. It´s possible to tour those caves though we weren´t on our tour today.
As we were walking out, I ran into Jana and B..., a woman I knew from my Spanish school in Xela and her friend.
We stopped to eat our boxed lunches of meager subs, a banana, an apple, and a bottle of water, and then continued to Linquin to go on a ´dry´ cave tour there in one of the grottoes. It was an overused cave, the hottest cave I´ve toured, with faulty electric lighting, sparking at times, and a lot of broken formations. There were stalactites and stalagmites, and lots of bacon that formed such formations as a tiger, and elephant (most caves seem to have an elephant), an angel, a frog, and more. But no popcorn, soda straws, etc. It was very slippery and sticky at times with our shoes pulling in the mud as we walked. Ambient temperature must have been well into the 70s. The tour guide was uninspiring and could only repeat everything we could read on the signs. Saw a pair of birds along the road, strikingly black with bright yellow tails and perhaps red belly. They were maybe the size of small crows - or maybe a bit smaller.
The ride back was once again drizzly, foggy, and rainy. He dropped us blocks from our hotel because a road was blocked and he didn´t want to drive around. We were back much earlier than expected so we hit the internet cafe where I copied pictures off my camera. Then dinner at a local non-tourist cafeteria where I had tortitas de carne, kind of like flattened meatballs with salsa, frijoles, tortillas, crema, and a plantain. Enjoyed a hot chocolate with it on this cold damp night. Then burned a DVD for 10 Q and called it an early night back at the hostel. With all the rain, never really had time to explore much of this town. We´re leaving tomorrow morning.
Friday, December 12: Coban to Flores
Pancakes with honey for breakfast. No syrup here. Got the front passenger seat in the shuttle van today. It doesn´t give a lot of room but it´s certainly more comfortable than the back seats or one of the jump seats. I fell asleep for much of the ride in the morning. Woke up as the mountains flattened out into rolling hills and then very flat landscape, sometimes interrupted with a large spiny ridge pushing up through the flat terrain. The cows are now in fenced in fields rather than individually picketed along the side of the road. There are cattle egrets keeping the bugs away. I even saw a heron - probably a great blue. It rained on and off but dried out before we got to Flores. They dropped us right at the hostel I wanted to stay in. 25Q for dorm bed and the water in the showers is hot and plentiful.
I went in search of a travel agent who could pull together a trip to El Mirador and was eventually pointed to the right guy. There may be two others interested in going. Perhaps we can find more. Six would pull the price down. It would be a 5-6 day trip, on foot through the jungle to a site that has only recently started to be restored. There are no roads going there so only a few hundred people visit each year.
It takes a 60km walk to get there (about 40 miles). If I can make it happen, great. If not, well, at least I´ll get to Tikal, 20 years overdue. I was supposed to go there when I visited Belize in the late 80s but a missing passport from one of the other passengers in our van derailed that idea. So, I´m looking forward to finally seeing this Mayan site.
Good information about Mirador can be found at:
Walked around the island, met Michael, a long-distance bicyclist, at the hostel. Ended up having dinner with him at an Asia Fusion type place. Shared Curry and sushi (shrimp and cream cheese). Hung out at the hostel.
[Date: Wed Dec 24, 2008 6:51pm
Well, getting sick and being stuck in one place has its benefits and I´ve finally been able to bring my journal transcription up to date. It helps to be in a hostel with free internet access which would otherwise be relatively expensive at the internet cafes in town. Here, the sign says ´Free 15 minutes´ but it seems as if they don´t care how long I stay on as long as I get off anytime anyone else wants to get on. I´ve spent hours on-line at times here.
Not sure how much longer I´ll be in Flores, but knowing the normal progression of my illnesses, it could be another couple/few days.
Saturday, December 13: Flores
Hung out at the hostel this morning while my laundry was being done. Then back to the travel agent where it sounds like the El Mirador trip will be ON for tomorrow. I´m psyched!
Then I wandered the circumference of the island where I saw workers building a stone retaining wall along the shoreline, fighting back water as they worked. It was hard work moving rocks by hand and shovel.
I had lunch at this German archaeology restaurant. Very interesting displays and a lot of good literature. I ordered nachos and was surprised when my plate came with chips in one spot, then a pile of guacamole, then a pile of frijoles, then a little tub of melted Velveeta-like cheese, and a pile of chicken bits. Weird. Napped at the hostel. Walked up the hill to visit the Central park. Walked down and met the Israeli girls I had dinner with in Xela. They were with a French guy so we all made plans to meet for dinner. Went back to travel agency and the trip to El Mirador is on so they agent drove me to the ATM in Santa Elena to get cash. Internet cafe to print out information about the site. Shopped for bug spray. Found 25% was the best available. I bought it to hopefully save my 95% stuff for even more serious mosquito threats.
Met the others for dinner on an outcropping in the water. Very nice spot. Some last minute snack shopping and then to bed.
Sunday, December 14: Flores to Tintal archaeological site (25 km)
After a horrible night´s sleep interrupted by people banging on the door instead of ringing the bell to be let out at 2:00, 4:15, 4:30, and 5:00, I finally left after 6:00 after giving the bell one short ring to get the attention of the night guy. My ride was 40 minutes late. Sigh. We stopped so they could have already spent tires fixed and eventually made our way to Carmelita where we had breakfast of eggs and frijoles with tortillas while our bags were being loaded onto our mules. Then we were off.
There were six people on our trip: Martin, 47, from Switzerland - the conversationalist who could talk with everyone in their own languages about anything; Erik, 26, from Sweden - the soft-spoken candidate for a PhD in Physics who might have known less Spanish than me; The young 20 somethings Thomas and Elena from Holland and Germany, on their way to Mexico to teach circus arts; and Tracy, 30, from Vancouver - a ¨hip¨ nurse who has lived in SE Asia in the past.
One of the first thing out of one of our guide´s mouth was a questions for me: ¨How old are you?¨ Never mind the 47 year old Martin. He´s a guy and therefore strong. It seems a never ending process to assure people that I can walk long distances and carry a pack - never mind the fact that I´ve probably walked more miles this year than all of the paying customers combined. Argh! Only this trip, I didn´t have to carry a pack - the mules did that - but I did have to walk 35 or more kilometers (22 miles) in a day on at least two days AND keep up a 4.5 kph (3mph) pace. With the flat terrain, I knew it wouldn´t be a problem.
Today´s walk was 25 km and took about 5.5 hours including breaks. Tomorrow´s will be two hours longer. The trail is often braided and often clay-like and pitted with deep pits from the mules feet sinking in deeply. We walk on top, between the pits, and try not to slide down. I may be the first person who has used hiking poles on this trip but I´m very glad I have them. I´m not looking forward to this type of trail if it ever rains. It´ll be slick and sticky.
At our lunch stop, someone spotted a ¨cat¨ that really turned out to be a gray fox. It was clearly after something near a downed tree and ignored us allowing us to get close enough to get a good look. Even still, we kept our distance and it kept on hunting until it gave up - or at least, w never saw it catch anything. We also saw spider monkeys and once in camp, a coatimundi, a raccoon-like animal with a long tail that sticks straight up in the air. It also has the same boldness that raccoons used to humans have. This one was used to eating the discards from camp and my leave no trace sensibilities just don´t register with the locals here.
I think our guides were very relieved to find me keeping up with and often ahead of the rest of the group. But surprisingly, our group mostly stuck pretty close together and even when spread out were rarely more than a couple of minutes from the first to the last person.
Before dinner, we climbed the high temple in the Tintal site. There´s not much excavated here though a set of stairs are available to get to the top of the temple. From there, we had a great view over the jungle. We watched the sun set, and the stars pop out. We could see El Mirador and Nakbe in the distance, the next two sites we are to visit.
On the walk to and from the temple, spiders´ eyes reflect iridescent metallic colors back from our headlamps. Closer looks often find them quite large. One of the others found a tarantula. I´m glad it wasn´t in camp.
Dinner was chicken, a few fries because most of them went to Elena, a vegan for who they didn´t know how to cook properly even though she was assured it wouldn´t be a problem, cucumber salad, and white bread.
I was told to bring my own camping gear when I offered so was surprised when they set up a tent for me. So I set up my tent once so Martin and Erik could see and then broke it down and put it away for the duration. But the pad they provides was worse than the thin blue ones I can´t sleep on and the blanket they provide not quite enough for me so I´ll use my own pad and sometimes my own bag.
Monday, December 15: Tintal to El Mirador
Today is my nephew Jared´s birthday. He turns 18! Yikes! How can I have an 18 year old nephew? Then again, he´s bigger than me, too. Up early with a long day of walking ahead of us. Was served cold cereal with hot water for breakfast. I tried to eat it but couldn´t manage. Gave it to the guide to eat and opted for cold cereal with cold milk. Much better.
Today, our group walked incredibly fast and completed 35 km in 7.5 hours including breaks and lunch. Apparently we are one of the faster groups they have taken on this trip. Plus we continue to all walk mostly together.
We rested in camp a while and then Elena, Thomas and I went with the muleteer to watch him use spikes to climb a tree and chop down branches with leaves for the mules to feed on. We had to walk past much of the worker infrastructure to get there and I was surprised at how many workers they have. There were at least three dining tents each capable of feeding 80 people. But in the off season, they are empty.
Back in camp, it was spaghetti for dinner with sauce that tasted like the ¨American¨ spaghetti (sauce was condensed tomato soup) I had grown up with at times. Nothing unusual for animal sightings today. Pretty butterflies including very large, very blue Morpho butterflies. There was also a smaller one with brown velvety wings and large blue ¨eye¨ spots. A very large but dead dragonfly like insect.
Lots of native wild oscillated turkeys, relatives or reminiscent of peacocks, hanging around El Mirador when we got there and another red breasted bird in a tree. We got to the area around 3:00 and stopped at the Muerte group on the way in. I could only make it so far into the tunnel. The final access tunnel was too tight and required crawling on knees, something I just cannot do. If there had been a mural or carving, I would have done it somehow, but all I heard others talking about was spiders. Climbed the outside of one of the pyramids there.
These sights remind me of some of the cliff dwellings in the US - not so much in their construction but in their destruction from the elements. Here it´s wet. There it´s dry. But they all still fall down. Of course, these end up buried much more under jungle and the cliff dwelling are often there just to be looked at if you look in the right direction. But the way they´re spread out, and explored are similar. Some of the excavations are impressive. In this site with no roads, there are sections under large steel girders and hard plastic corrugated sheets. I imagine they were flown in by helicopter as they are much too large for mules to carry. It´s the off season for excavations so the only other people here are the families and men that stay here to protect the site. Work won´t begin again until February or March. Then the multiple dining tents I had seen earlier will be full. It´s hard to imagine hundreds of people here working on this site. Of course the numbers all depend on the ability of Richard Hanson, the prime mover and shaker (archaeologist), who is now in the US to drum up financial support for the project.
Tuesday, December 16: El Mirador
Up at 1:00 with the barking and howling of a howler monkey in a tree just at the edge of camp. Sounds like a barking jaguar or something. If you don´t know what it is, it can be very disturbing. I got out of my tent to pee and tried to figure out where it was but it wasn´t moving so I couldn't find a silhouette with the background moon even though I was probably lookng right at it.
Went out to the field to look at the stars while listening to the monkey but in the time between when I got out of my tent and went looking at stars again, the clouds had moved in.
Woken up again at 5:30 to the solitary howler at it again. I could hear others in the distance but they stayed away. Turns out they´re territorial and howl to let others know where they are so that they will stay away. Today was a late morning with breakfast at 8:00. No rushing today during our tour of El Mirador. Wish I could have been here when the dig was happening. Then Richard Hansen gives tours in English. I missed out on a lot with the Spanish speaking guides/guards that brought us around. But at least I had done some of my own research first and I also had a chance to read a ´book´ they had in camp with other information.
El Mirador has the tallest known pyramid in the Americas. It also has the most massive in the world, exceeding the Great Pyramid of Egypt by 200,000 cubic meters. But the difference is that much of the mass comes from a huge plaza on which the pyramids are built. It´s not just one solitary pyramid rising from ground level. The main plaza here, of the La Danta (tapir) complex dwarfs that of Tikal but holds at least four pyramids on the plaza. The plaza is large enough to hold 36 football fields.
There are many sites here under current restoration. They are trying to do only facades and leaving the rest for future archaeologists to restore when techniques improve. Even now, many of the restored facades are being covered with removable plaster to protect them until better techniques become available. In the meantime, the tallest pyramid is climbed by external stairs. El Mirador spans preclassic and classic periods. Some sites show both types of construction in one building. Masks that flank the sides of stairs going up pyramids were visible. One showed how it looked when it was uncovered. The other, covered with protective plaster showed what it may have looked like when first completed.
Later, at the El Tigre complex, we were able to go into a tunnel to see a beautifully painted mask inside one of the pyramids. Not sure we were supposed to be there so I hope this journal entry doesn´t get anyone into trouble. I could leave it out of my transcription but since for me, it was the highlight of the trip, I wanted to share.
The trip in the tunnel reminded me of my visit to Chichen Itza in the Yucatan 20 years ago where we not only climbed El Castillo, the big pyramid, but were able to go inside and climb the inner pyramid to see the jaguar with the emerald (jade?) eyes. Tourists are no longer allowed to climb either outside or inside that pyramid. I feel fortunate to have visited Chichen Itza when I did and expect the inner mask of this tunnel at El Mirador, dfficult to get to, won´t be on most tours when and if there are greater numbers of people visiting Mirador.
I spent sunset on top of El Tigre (the tiger) with Thomas and Elena while the other three went off to spend the night on top of La Denta. We saw a rufus tailed hummingbird - or at least that´s what I think it was. It was a rather large hummingbird. We could see some showers passing by in the area but thankfully, they missed us. We could only hope they would also miss those staying on the top of La Danta.
After dinner, Thomas and Elena crashed right away and I stayed up with out guides, Henri, Max (our muleteer), and Alex. Heard a pocolotes (owl) after dinner. We joked around a bit - as much as our disparate language skills allowed. I watched them patiently cook pancakes, one at a time in a small skillet for tomorrow´s breakfast. To cook for nine people, took them hours.
I was writing in my journal at one point, using the red light on my headlamp and once again, had the experience of looking up into the fire only to see green flames. I had first had this experience earlier this year on the AT. And then the pancakes also looked green with the optical illusion of staring at the red before looking at the yellow. ¨Verde¨ (green) became a running joke between me and the guides from then on.
The cooking on this trip left quite a lot to be desired. Elena, a vegan, was assured there would be plenty of appropriate food she could eat but the guides don´t know anything about cooking for her. They cook for the group and let her decide which portions of the meal she can eat. She ended up with a significantly deficient diet and yet she has to walk the same miles as the rest of us. Today´s vegetable soup was made with chicken bouillon. The pancake mix has milk powder in it. They´ll warm up frijoles in the same pan that was used to cook sardines, and more. Even for the rest of us, we soon got sick of white bread. They would open three cans of tuna for lunch for nine people. A tablespoon of tuna on a piece of bread with another piece of bread on top was a sandwich. We would each eat three or four of them. They had jelly but no peanut butter. Even still, I would still recommend the trip, just be prepared to bring a significant quantity of your own food. granola bars and peanut butter would have made for a much better trip. Towards the end of the trip, the guides were pressuring us to finish in five days because there ¨wasn´t enough food¨ and yet we looked at the foodstuffs and found plenty to make dinner with. So, we ended up making dinner our last night of linguine with sauteed vegetables (no oil for sauteing though), and the two remaining packets of sauce. Not really enough sauce for nine people but enough with the vegetables.
Other sightings, lots of different types of ants including leaf cutters here. katydids pretending to be leaves. Lots of Zapote or chicle trees here. They can only be harvested every eight or nine years. Those used for harvest are obvious from the criss-crossed and diamond shaped scars on the bark.
Wednesday, December 17: El Mirador to Nakbe (15km)
Up early for the pancakes I had watched being made last night. No syrup so we ate them with strawberry jam, the alternative being pineapple. This morning, we walked three hours in light rain. It was too warm to wear rain gear so I just got a bit wet but rarely drippingly so.
My EMS socks don´t fit around the ankle properly so every stop, I was taking them off to dump out the accumulated leaves, stones, dirt and other grime. Once at Nakbe, we had a meager lunch of two cans of tuna, a package of cheese, and jam to be eaten however we preferred on white bread.
We had a break of a couple of hours and then a tour of the site, culminating in sunset on top of one of the two pyramids we climbed. We also visited a quarry site where supposedly, obsidian from Guatemala City and Mexico city were used to quarry the rock. I didn´t really think such ¨fragile¨ obsidian could be used to quarry other rock, but have since read it in a nu mber of other places so maybe it´s true.
Dinner was rice with two large - but not that large - cans of sardines split between nine people. Talk turned to our general dissatisfaction with the food situation. That´s when we decided to cook our last dinner instead of our guides who clearly had no idea what to do with the large quantities of vegetables we discovered we were still toting around. Some of us may talk with Carlos, the tour operator when we get back.
Thursday, December 18: Nakbe to La Florida (8 hours - probably 40 km)
Up at 6 and walking by 7 for the first time this trip. We walked eight hours on a few eggs, frijoles, and flour tortillas. We had bread and jam for a snack. Then bread and I think just one can of sardines for the entire group for lunch.
After lunch, I as walking alone for a bit and saw a small almost pencil thin, maroon snake abut 30 cm long moving like a sidewinder. Then it stopped moving and I realized it wasn´t maroon, it had red, black, and yellow striped across it´s body. It was a coral snake and quite poisonous. But it was small and like most snakes, trying to get away from me. I tried to watch where it went but by the time Martin and Alex walked up, it had already disappeared under a root.
I wasn´t feeling great today and it was a bit hillier so I was moving a bit slower than the group but not by much. I was never more than few minutes behind although sometimes it seemed I was truly on my own for a while.
The La Florida campsite was the most beautiful of the trip. Like at Nakbe, the kitchen had a fire table for easier cooking. There were tables and benches rather than just logs to sit on, we were right next to the caretaker´s hut and their beautiful garden. We were close enough to Carmelita that Max, once he had finished feeding the mules, ran - literally - to town and ended up coming back with coffee. We had run out the day before.
The mosquitoes had been biting through my shorts so I have been wearing my skirt on top of them during the walking portion of our trek. Well, except when it rained. Today, I managed to badly snag the skirt and it´s wrecked. I may just have it shortened in town because it has turned into my towel and I doubt I can buy another India style skirt. But, I´ll keep my eyes open as I continue my travels.
Friday, December 19: La Florida to Flores (3 hours)
With the kitchen area so close to the tent area here, we were up early without prompting by the guides and once again were walking by 7 after breakfast of ramen noodle type chicken soup. As we left camp, I stopped to take a picture and the bulk of the group got ahead and out of sight in an area with a choice of trails so I waited for Martin and Henri to come up and had a great tour of the site with them.
It was an easy day of walking today but it was a shock to come out in the open into the dazzling hot sunshine after spending a week in the relatively cool but humid shadows of the jungle. Martin and I tried to arrange a side trip from Carmelita but there were no available vehicles so we returned to Flores with the others as planned. Back at Doña Goya I hostel, I had a wonderful hot shower after six days of wearing the same clothing. Then a quick email and banking session. Finally, I met another hosteller wearing a skirt like the one I had just wrecked so I commented on it and to my surprise, she said she had just bought it in Santa Elena, just across the bridge. So I was off to take a look and they had so many choices, I decided to return tomorrow with my shirts to get the best match.
I had dinner at Los Amigos and found the food delicious, plentiful, filling, and a good value. A large piece of veggie lasagna, with a gobs of mashed potatoes (it was that or rice) and a generous chopped salad. The chocolate brownie (more like thick dense chocolate cake) was delicious and the licuado was wonderful after a week with no fresh fruit. I´ll be returning. I saw Erik there and also ran into Jack, the man I walked to Lake Chicobal with from Xela. We spent the evening yakking. Michele, ex-girlfriend of Andrew from the Black Cat hostel in Xela walked in at one point. Now, I´m beginning to feel like a ¨traveler¨.
Saturday, December 20: Flores to Tikal
I turn 43 today. Last year I was in Laos. Gotta wonder where future birthday´s will find me.
I had expected to be further south by now, but who am I to avoid such great opportunities that I´ve found along the way so far.
Last night, there was a woman perusing a book "Mayan Calendar Birthday Book" so I now know my symbol is Chuen (Knowing what JOY really is) and my tone is 3. I don´t think I buy into this system. With two rotating calendar systems, birthdays in the Mayan calendar only repeat every 52 years.
I went back to my favor pasteleria/panaderia and got apple cake instead of banana cake today. Then to Santa Elena to buy a great skirt. I like it better than the one I brought with me. I spent time on the computer and copied pictures to my hard drive. Los Amigos was closed for lunch so I went to the Chef... place and had a reasonable meat lasagna. I ended up meeting Daniel there. He ended up making it onto the same bus going to Tikal as I was on and we camped at the same place. He´s one of the few other travelers I´ve met also carrying backpacking gear.
Before leaving Flores, I finally talked with Carlos about the food situation on our El Mirador trip and he said it was the first time he had ever had a complaint. Given that most people leave town immediately upon arriving back, I can´t say I was surprised. I also managed to get some money back -albeit reluctantly as I had paid for a smaller group than the six that ended up traveling together.
Met Jack on the street and he sung me Happy Birthday, making it official, I guess.
Once at Tikal, tenting at Jaguar Inn for 25 Q made me glad I had my own tent. The next cheapest option was renting a tent for 70Q/person. We set up our tents and just missed sunset in the park though there was still sun on the upper reaches of the tall temples. We couldn´t get to temple IV so settled for the Gran Plaza. Hung out with Shawna and Andrew and Ricardo, the guard, until well after 6 when we all walked out together. Got pictures of a large spider and a katydid. Dinner with Joa, Andrew, and Shawna. Daniel was nowhere to be found. Maybe he turned in early as he hadn´t been feeling well after his lunch.
No power overnight at the Inn so lights went out - literally - at 9:00, a good time to go to sleep. Looking forward to whatever Mayan celebrations happen in the park tomorrow for the solstice.
Sunday, December 21: Tikal
I was waiting for my 6:00 guide early but he never showed up so I frustratingly missed sunrise in the park. Turns out that San Juan travel has a reputation for late arrivals. Then I found Juan and joined his group that included his American (from Maine) wife, Sara, and a family, father, mother, and adult daughter from Oregon. Later, I think I saw the group I was supposed to be with and it was huge. Glad I went with the smaller group. Once again, I´ll be looking for a refund from the original tour operator when I get back to Flores.
Together, we visited much of the park, saw a lot of wildlife, and learned a lot about the known history as well as the history that is merely speculated. We also watched the Mayan celebration but it turned out to be more of a new age made up celebration with a few elements taken from known Mayan culture.
Animal sightings included: agouti, coatimundi being a pain around people, trying to steal food, turkeys, toucans (keel billed, I think), hawks, vultures, jays, a big black bird with red wattle, howler and spider monkeys, and more. I surprised myself and was often the one to spot the birds and animals, even before Juan at times.
We learned a bit about plants. Turns out the Wandering Jew is useful to treat mosquito bites by squeezing the juice from the stem on the bite. Who knew?
We did a lot of walking and only missed a couple of the outlying temples such as temple VI and complexes H, M, and P. Most of the rest we passed through or stopped to learn about their relative ages, places in history, architectural elements, excavations, and more.
After the tour ended, I relaxed in the park, wondered if it was worthwhile going to temple IV for sunset given he cloud cover but was glad I did. Breaks in the clouds made for dramatic skies at sunset. Once again, I was one of the last in the park and was escorted out with a bunch of others by the guards. Dinner with Joa, Jeremy, Claudie, and a Swede.
Monday, December 22: Tikal to Flores
Slept in relatively late as I wasn´t trying to catch sunrise this morning. Worthless anyway as it had rained a bit and was still overcast. I ate the rest of the bread and cheese I had brought from Flores as well as a piece of banana bread. With a place to stash my pack, I decided to pack up my tent even though it was a bit wet. It was still gray and looked like it could rain again. Then I visited the two museums at Tikal. One entrance fee of 10Q gets you into both museums. The first was the ceramics museum. I was surprised at the intricacy not only of the designs painted on them, but of the vessels themselves. Especially the incense burners. The second museum has a bunch of stella but the place was dark. They either wouldn´t turn on the lights or the power was out so I had to use my own light to cast shadows to see the intricate carvings on the stellas. Both museums also had a lot of pictures of before and after images of the excavations and restorations. The amount of work done on these structures to restore them is amazing. Turns out that for some pyramids, 70% of the structure is original and 30% new materials.
It was raining by the time I was ready to leave the second museum and the vendors were doing brisk business of cheapo plastic raincoats for those visiting the park. They seemed disappointed when I explained "Yo tengo una chumpa impermeable aqui." (I have a rainjacket here). Hmm, I guess I really did learn a bit of Spanish in my two weeks in Xela.
Back at the Inn, I sat with Joa until he left for the museums then just hung out until it was time for my bus back to Flores. I slept most of the way even though I was uncomfortable with seats that didn´t fit my legs so sat twisted the whole way. Of course, that´s the story of my life as a traveler.
Back in town, it took a couple of hours, but after finally camping out in the tour operator´s office, I got my money back for the guided tour that the guide didn´t show up for. I had to sit between the agent and her TV and then it took ten minutes instead of the two hours she requested. I wouldn´t book a tour through them if you want to go in at 6:00.
Then I visited Los Amigos trying to figure out where to go next. San Salvador by direct pullman bus is easy but visiting Rio Dulce, Copan, and other places in Honduras is more interesting though requires more work to travel. I just can´t wrap my head around making a decision wright now so will wait for tomorrow.
Another lasagna for dinner at Los Amigos. Delicious!
Tuesday, December 23: Flores
More banana bread for breakfast. Then a really long internet session that ended when I realized I was feeling like crap. I took a nap and didn´t wake up`until 1:30 - feeling worse than ever. Uh Oh! I¨m sick. And when I get sick, I feel like I´ve been run over by a bus and get fever and chills. Unfortunately, around here, body aches, fever, and chills are also the symptoms of malaria. I have the meds for malaria on me but given that I´m in town and that tomorrow and the next day navidad Christmas is celebrated, I decided I should see a doctor today and get tested. Sure enough he prescribed the lab work. Thankfully, it came back negative but still suggested Cipro for my stomach problems (for the second time this trip)and Tylenol for my aches. Fast food Mexican chicken sandwich for dinner. Took another nap but trying to stay awake for the rest of the evening so I can sleep through the night. Being up in a dorm room of a hostel overnight is annoying.
A little parade went by this evening including four men carrying a very large marimba being played by two other men. And a drum. And fireworks. Perhaps their version of carolling?
I´m hoping the fireworks drop off after navidad.
[Date: Thu Dec 25, 2008 1:25pm
Used Google last night to figure out we are in the midst of Hanukkah. Feliz Hanukkah, everyone.
It´s a minor holiday in the grand scheme of Judaism (but don´t tell that to those of us who grew up as rather materialistic kids) so I didn´t know if it had passed earlier in the month or, as it has turned out, is rather late this year. I only realized yesterday that I hadn´t heard anything about it this year at all.
What was also strange to me was how little in your face Navidad (Christmas) was here. A few decorations here. A few bars of Christmas music (including the very popular Feliz Navidad) emanating from a house here and there. Last night was the rather noisy culmination (of course, I have no idea about tonight) with a few processions through the streets and lots of fireworks, including right outside my window where I would have gone to sleep earlier if they hadn´t been keeping me (or jolting me) awake.
Not necessarily related to either Navidad or Hanukkah but seems strange to me and may somehow be related is the number of Stars of David seen all over Guatemala. At first I wondered if it was just a six pointed star, but then I started noticing a lot of ¨Israel¨ stickers (in Hebrew of course), also Shalom, the Israeli flag, and more. I noticed this right from the start so I´m pretty sure it´s not associated with a specific holiday or even a specific region in Guatemala.
There are certainly plenty of Israelis travelling about the area but this has nothing to do with them. This is Guatemalans and judging from my host family´s use of things Hebrew, has nothing to do with Judaism, either. My host family was Christian and quite active in their church.
If anyone else has any theories about the affinity for things seemingly Israeli/Hebrew here in Guatemala, please feel free to pass them along. Maybe honoring the land of the old testament? I really haven´t a clue.
Feliz Hanukkah y Feliz Año Nuevo,
[Date: Fri Dec 26, 2008 6:08pm
I´m still in Flores, wishing I wasn´t, but not able to travel. Maybe in another couple of days. I keep hoping the Cipro will kick in but it seems to be taking its time.
Ah well... here´s a short update after the last monster I sent out.
Wednesday, December 24: Flores
Diarrhoea, body aches, and now a minor back spasm that wants stretching much to the annoyance of the other body aches. The fever and chills seem to have taken a break today. I still slept long hours, very much unlike the normal me.
I got up late, had a short computer session, and eventually made my way to Los Amigos. I got a water refill there but couldn´t face the food - also very much unlike me... I´m one of those people that feeds a cold and feeds the flu. I sat in the hostel waiting for a time when I thought I could make it to the mall, a tuk-tuk ride away. Finally, in mid-afternoon, I made my way there.
I did some shopping at the Super Bodega (supermarket) and then went to Pizza Hut for the largest personal pan pizza I´ve ever seen. Instead of the maybe 7¨ round I expected to see as is normal in the US, this was a full 10-12¨round pizza. It was a bit bready but it tasted good - better than many of the other pizzas available in Guatemala. Only two bathroom breaks needed during my foray away from the island of Flores. Argh! I really wasn´t gone all that long.
I got dropped back off at my hostel, intending to drop stuff off and then head back to Los Amigos, but my body had other ideas, and I stayed in all night. Even when I got tired, I couldn´t go to sleep for all the fireworks being blasted outside, some literally just outside my window, or in the courtyard just out the door, echoing back and forth between the close walls. The only other people here were running the place. So I just read and finished Arthur Hailey´s ¨In High Places¨ about a theoretical union between Canada and the US in the early ´60s during a Soviet buildup.
Thursday, December 25: Flores
Finally got to sleep last night after a final barrage of fireworks all over the island at midnight. Didn´t hear anyone else come in all night but the crowd was here when I woke up. Slept late again and braved the shower this morning but was sorry. By the time I got back to bed, a fever had kicked in again. Thankfully, they seem pretty short-lived. Dry Corn Flakes with a banana for breakfast - then rice cakes for lunch. This was the stuff I had picked up at the store yesterday and it certainly appealed to me more than the full restaurant meals otherwise available - or the rich banana cake I had been eating.
Another day of reading and napping. Today I read Ken Follet´s ¨Hornet Flight¨ about the Danish resistance during WWII. Spent the evening at Los Amigos and had soup for dinner, served with a very small bit of hummus and some bread. Perhaps tomato soup was the wrong thing to have. Perhaps nothing would have been great. I had a rather painful stomach for part of the night. But I still ate a brownie - took a couple of hours to eat it though - perhaps the longest I´ve ever taken to eat just one brownie. Reading, talking with others, and watching a game of super Jenga - made with at least a couple of Jenga´s worth of pieces. Someone had made a ¨sculpture¨ of a sort with one box of jenga pieces and this evening, they added a normal jenga game on top of it. They kept the game going for hours, eventually attracting quite some attention as the tower seemed impossibly high and fragile and yet player after player with steady hands just made the tower grow and grow. It eventually collapsed, maybe an hour after most of us thought it would go.
It was 10 before I found my way back to my hostel.
[Date: Sun Dec 28, 2008 11:34pm
I´m slowly recovering from whatever has kept me here in Flores for an extra week. With any luck, I´ll be on a bus out of here tomorrow and this will be my last email from Flores.
With help from friends, family, and friend´s families, I got a number of theories as to what all the Israel symbolism in Guatemala is all about. With a little research, I narrowed down the options and determined that it´s most likely to be symbolic of Christian Zionism. There´s a relevant article here by someone who actually asked about it. I would have asked someone myself but my Spanish is too limited. Anyway, here´s the article:
Anyway, I hope you´re all having a good holiday season. Perhaps I´ll be to busy to post for a while - that´s not always a bad thing. ;-) In case I don´t get on-line for a few days or more...
Friday, December 26: Flores
Still here. Still with morning fever. Slept ten hours last night and two more during a midday nap. My back spasm is gone but my body aches are still there but not nearly as bad. At this point, I´m waiting for my stomach and fever to cooperate so I can get on my way again. I spent most of the day in my hostel, reading and sleeping. Then got out to Los Amigos hostel for dinner. I split the lasagna dinner with someone else and couldn´t finish my half. Plus it didn´t appeal to me nearly as much as it had the first two times I ate it.
Saturday, December 27: Flores
Up early and showered without a fever following immediately - a good sign. I handed my laundry over and went to Los Amigos for breakfast. They have a long list of documentaries they are willing to show in the mornings. With my eggs and fried bananas, I got to watch both the National Geographic show about El Mirador called ¨Dawn of the Maya¨ and ¨God grew tired of us, the Lost boys of Sudan¨ Michele, who I had first met in Xela and then again here in Flores also watched the Lost Boys documentary.
Realized I must be on the mend... It´s been a long time since my last ¨emergency¨ visit to the bathroom.
Back at my hostel, another set back - and emergency visit to the bathroom and a spike in my temperature. Argh! Nothing like sweating bullets when you´re just sitting there. More reading and napping this afternoon. Len Deighton´s ¨London Match¨ is holding my attention today.
A bit of energy this evening had me walking the ring road looking for dinner but nothing appealed to me so back to Los Amigos where I had a mixed fruit licuado (smoothie) made with yogurt and called that dinner. A bunch of Israelis there had lit candles. If I´m still there tomorrow, maybe I´ll join them.
This morning, I thought I would be gone tomorrow. Tonight, I´m not so sure. I realized I not only need to be able to get on the bus and sit for hours, I need to be able to enjoy the sights wherever I end up. Otherwise, I should just stay here where the lodging is cheap and there are plenty of services in town. But I´m kind of sick of being sick and I really want to get out of here.
Sunday, December 28: Flores
My digestive system seems to be getting better. No emergency toilet visits today. The body aches are gone. Only one fever-like spike. I´m still sleeping a lot - up to 12 hours a day, but some of it is not good sleep.
I have a bit more energy now when I am awake.
Pancakes and fruit this morning at Los Amigos for breakfast. Tried to watch March of the Penguins but there were no subtitles. Spent the middle part of the day back in bed, reading and sleeping. Went back to Pizza Hut for early dinner and to go shopping for more cereal, rice cakes, and other foods more appealing to me than normal restaurant options. Hung out at the hostel and then went for licuados with Becky, another woman staying here.
Unless I have another really bad night´s sleep or I start to get worse again, I think I may make it out of this town tomorrow.
I´m going to head for Rio Dulce for a couple of nights and then head towards Copan, Honduras to visit more ruins and travel overland through Honduras on the way to El Salvador.
Note to self: Check out http://www.emule.com for other documentary options.
Date: Tue Dec 30, 2008 8:46 am
It´s pouring again this morning. Not sure if I´ll stay another day or move on... time will tell... Mara]
Monday, December 29: Rio Dulce
I finally got out of Flores today.
Got up this morning to pouring down rain after a fairly good night´s sleep. Using my new bowl that I bought yesterday, and the box of shelf stable milk, I had cereal this morning. Good call on buying that bowl yesterday. Not knowing what type of internet access I would have over the next few days, I spent a bit of time on-line and then finished packing. Stepping outside, I caught the first tuk-tuk that passed and made my way to the bus station. Luck was with me and the next bus was leaving in just 20 minutes. I had my choice of seats and sat in the first row. Plenty of knee room there but no room to stretch my feet out.
The four hour ride was mostly uneventful. I would stick my feet out into the aisle periodically, much to the amusement of the driver who would see them emerge every time. I napped on and off for a while. It started raining at one point so I was very glad to have my backpack with me, taking up the seat next to me. I was able to put the pack cover on while still in the bus. There was still an hour left to travel when in started raining so I hoped it would stop before I got to Rio Dulce. It did stop at one point, but then it started up again and by the time I got to Rio Dulce, it was pouring. I did have some advance notice that my hostel was on the ´other´ side of the bride so I had the bus drop me there, instead of in town, forcing me to walk across a very long, very large bridge.
We missed the sign for the hostel on the other side so they dropped me at another hotel. I didn´t go in and instead ducked into a tiende to wait until the rain died down a bit. There, I put the stuff in my day bag into plastic bags, bought a roll and a Gatorade, and then as the rain lessened, walked to my hostel.
I checked into the rather dismal hostel and then found Michelle, the woman I had met in Xela and seen in Flores. I had sent her an email earlier in the day letting her know I was heading in that direction so no surprise on her part. For me, I didn´t know if she was there or heading to other parts of the world.
We hung out through another heavy downpour and eventually made our way across the bridge and got dinner at Bruno´s, a yachter´s marina. Rio Dulce, as it turns out, is where many yachters come to take refuge from Caribbean storms. It´s well inland compared to many other ports accessible to them. So the restaurant caters to somewhat wealthy people and the food was good and surprisingly not too expensive.
We walked back across the bridge and were almost back to the hostel before it started raining again. Perfect timing. We were back before we got too wet. Got some tips on travel in El Salvador from Michele and then hung out with a bunch of college kids here to do some volunteer work at the orphanage that this hostel helps support. So, this hostel nickels and dimes you for sheets (most hostels provide sheets) and towels (most hostels don´t provide towels) but doesn´t charge for internet access. Weird.
Oh yeah... Felt pretty good all day. Finally!
[Date: Wed Dec 31, 2008 8:03 am
Hey! I think I´m leaving Guatemala today. Never thought I would spend this long here. It´ll be a new year and a new country for me.
This morning´s downpour ended a few minutes ago and as long as it doesn´t start up again, I should even get a dry start to Honduras today. My bus doesn´t leave until 9:00 so I´ve got plenty of time to get over the bridge to meet it.
Feliz Año Nuevo!
Tuesday, December 30: Rio Dulce
I woke up today to a long hard rain. It made me just want to leave town because everything to do here is outdoors but I wasn´t really willing to get as soaked as would be necessary to go catch a bus. By the time the rain ended, was advised it would be too late to make all the connections to get chicken buses to the border of Honduras today. But the same woman knew a tour guide for boat tours of the river and lake with a stop at the castle here in Rio Dulce, just the things I really wanted to do today and since the weather looked like it was clearing, why not? We did a lot of birding but without a guide book, I could only take pictures for later identification. We saw many cormorants, egrets, herons, and a bunch of smaller, harder to ID birds.We also had a great stop at the Castillo de San Filipe. It was fun to climb all over the place and find ¨secret¨ passageways here and there.
After the tour, Mark, Philipe and I went to Bruno´s for a late lunch. I had the Alfredo which I had tasted the night before. It was delicious.
Then I made a stop to find out about my bus for tomorrow. It´ll leave at 9am and only cost 70Q to go directly to the Honduras border from here,saving me at least two bus transfers. Fantastic. My guidebook indicated the only direct bus would be a price $30 but things change and it´s less than $10.
I walked around town a bit, tried to do some grocery shopping but didn´t find anything I wanted to buy. Slowly walked back across the bridge, this time able to take in the sights during daylight hours. Back at the hostel, I spent time on-line, finished ¨Survive!¨ by Peter Deleo about his harrowing 12 day ordeal walking out of the high Sierra in winter after his plane crashed in the mid-nineties. No books of a similar caliber leaving me trying to decided if I should trade for a lesser book in order to have something to read with me, or holdout for something closer to an equal trade.
Spent the evening talking with a 40-something year-old guy from Italy last night. Figures he would be going north about to end his long trip while I´m heading south and essentially still beginning my trip. Ah well... At least we were able to trade travel tips.
[Date: Thu Jan 8, 2009 3:44pm
Limited access for a week has me well behind on transcribing my journal. Here´s through the 4th.
I´m in Gracias, Guatemala now and there´s good internet access here but I hope to get to a National Park and do some hiking so I´m not sure when I´ll be back on. Maybe later today for a while but then it might be a few days.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008: Rio Dulce, Guatemala to Copan Ruinas, Honduras
Being an early riser with a bus that´s not leaving until 9am gave me plenty of time to get on-line before leaving town. Then, instead of waiting for the bus to leave town and cross over to my side of the river, and thereby relying on my ability to flag it down, I decided better to walk across with all my gear and catch the bus in town. Morning was a great time to walk across the bridge. There were quite a few bird sightings at treetop level. I also took the opportunity to drop my pack at the bus station and then go to Bruno´s for breakfast. Then I bought some food for the bus ride. At this point, I had 80Q left for a 70Q bus ride.
It was mostly an uneventful ride with a couple of points where the bus totally cleared out and I was the only one going the distance. There were times when I had to share my double seat for a while making for uncomfortable travel but it wasn´t nearly as bad as the chicken bus I had been on earlier in my trip.
At the border crossing, I bought an ice cream for 9Q, leaving me with just 1Q. I thought that was pretty good. Then, I started across what was supposed to be almost a non-crossing and was surprised to find more than a cursory passport check. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are all Central America 4 (CA-4) countries and my one 90 day visa is supposed to cover all four countries. Instead, I was first charged 10Q, which of course, I no longer had. I scrounged in my bag and came up with the one Q I had left from my ice cream, a few smaller Guatemalan coins, and a few US quarters. She accepted that. Then, I was pointed to another window where I was charged US$3. Argh! We´re not supposed to have to pay anything. I had to break a US$20 to pay the $3.
Then, I paid US$1 for the shuttle to town. This was a good deal as it turned out. I think others were paying 20 lempira. The Honduran money is the Lempira and there are about 19 to the dollar. It´s just easier to think 20/dollar.
I was surprised when I got into town. I was expecting a small dusty place. Copan Ruinas, named for its proximity to the archaeological site, is a quaint town with a bustling central park. I checked out the ¨cheap¨ hotel but it was a bit more than I expected. So, I checked out the hostel. They had space but only in top bunks in very high bunk beds. I decided against staying there (my knees thanked me) and checked out a couple of other hotels. I ended up in one that gave me such a great deal he told me not to tell anyone else. That first hotel I checked out would have given me a room with two beds and a shared bath for 150 Lempira ($7.50). This other hotel gave me a very nice room to myself with a TV, fan, and my own bath with hot shower for the same price. I talked with others there and they definitely gave me the best deal in the house.
I couldn´t pay them right away. I had to find an ATM and get some money. But, I think they are used to that.
I could switch to the hostel tomorrow but I think I´ll just stay here and have a cheap little splurge for a while. It was only when I walked back to the park that I was reminded it was New Year´s eve. Then I remembered that the hostel I had been in for the last couple of nights in Rio Dulce had jacked up their prices for the holidays and here I get a great deal. You never know...
After a much needed shower (with a towel and soap supplied by the hotel) I walked back to the park. I met a woman there who was planning on a nature walk the next day in an area adjacent to, but not in, the archaeological site. I decided to join her and do the ruins the next day. Then it took a while to find a place for dinner. Most places were loud, dark pubs that held no appeal to me. I finally found a place with decent lighting and decent music. It wasn´t busy like the others but it wasn´t deserted, either. I finished there and went back to the park to listen to the drummers there and watch the fire twirlers. I gave up after a while. The dancers were great, but the people setting off fireworks indiscriminately nearby were disconcerting, annoying, and at worst, dangerous. I wish I could have transported myself back to Boston to spend time with friends who get together for the New Year. But, that´s not possible so I was back in my room before 8:30. I watched the end of Back to the Future II, and watched the beginning of Back to the Future III (not a lot of choices here). I fell asleep while watching though and woke up at 11:45 in time to turn off the TV and fall asleep again before the New Year. Apparently I slept through an amazingly loud barrage of fireworks at midnight.
Thursday, January 1, 2009: Copan Ruinas
Slept in this morning and in the Central Park at 10:00 for the nature walk. These woods are adjacent to the ruins and there are many ruins along the way., we was a beautiful little blue, red and green bird with a long tail. We walked past the restored Mayan ball court, and then got off track and found the base of another large pyramid. We got completely chewed by mosquitoes in there. I wore my long sleeved shirt even though it was hot.
We walked back to town and went to Cafe Via Via and had lunch with a couple from Holland. then I visited the Museo de Arqueologia Maya for $3 (57L). The first half had many signs in English and was very interesting. The second half of the museum had no signs in English. That went very fast.
I spent time sitting in the Central Park writing in my journal and keeping an eye out for others who might want to share a guide tomorrow at the ruins. no such luck.
Then for dinner, many restaurants were closed so it was either loud and dark pubs or the pizza place run by a guy from Texas. I got a pizza with more cheese on it than any pizza I´ve had since I was a kid ordering pizza with double cheese.
It was so big I could only manage half. I got the rest to go hoping my hotel would have a fridge I could store it in. I also picked up a 2 liter bottle of Fresca and brought that back to my hotel. I filled my smaller bottle with soda for the evening, shared with the guy on duty at the hotel, and left the rest with my pizza in their fridge that they had to plug in for me. Realized this evening that the Fresca here is NOT diet. You can´t get Fresca with sugar in the US and you can´t get it without here. TV was the order of the evening again.
Friday, January 2: Copan Ruinas
Up early and finished the last of the cereal I had been carrying around. Then I walked to the archaeological site just in time for the opening at 8:00. I met someone else there also interested in a guide and soon, Antonio Rio (Tony Rivers), the guide who had been recommended to me the day before by two different people showed up. He told us to go ahead and he would meet us at the ruins so we went in ahead of him. After an hour though, he hadn´t showed up so we did the ruins without him. I was very disappointed not to have had a guide. You get so much more from ruins with a guide, especially in places like this with limited signage. Live and learn. I won´t go into other ruins without the guide in hand so to speak.
These ruins are a much smaller site than Tikal but it´s considered the ¨Paris of the Mayan world¨ with a lot of artwork. There are a couple of tunnels on the site that you have to pay an extra $15 to go into but from anyone I talked with who had gone, they weren´t worth it. Many of the stella seen on-site are reproductions. The originals have been brought into the museum on the same grounds for safekeeping. I spent time in the Museum of Sculpture to see the originals and also get a feel for the adjacent site, Las Sepulturas. Most don´t bother to visit Los Sepulturas but after lunch at the site, I found someone else interested in seeing more ruins. So we walked the extra kilometer and found the site mostly deserted but also much more reconstructed than I had thought it would be. It was well worth the extra walking. We did it twice. My new friend dropped his sweatshirt in there so we went back to look, to no avail. Argh!
Back in town, I relaxed a bit, ate my cold pizza with slushy soda (the fridge was a bit too cold), and watched TV. I took a break from that to do a bit of snack shopping in town, knowing I was hopefully going to be camping someone the next night and not knowing what food would be available.
Saturday, January 3: Copan Ruinas to Peña Blanca
Caught the 7:00am bus to San Pedro Sula and since it stopped at the bus terminal 5km from town, where my next bus was leaving, I skipped the museum in town, grabbed one of the cheapest meals I could find in the mall (could you believe Pizza Hut was cheaper than the ¨local¨ food?) and took the next Mochito bus through Peña Blanca to D & D Brewery where they also have hotel rooms, cabins, and camping. This microbrewery is owned by Bob who is originally from Oregon and his Honduran wife. It´s sort of in the middle of nowhere but there is bus access and a 5L fare to the nearby town of Peña Blanca. The place is a little jungle haven and a short walk to the beautiful Lago de Yojoa, the largest lake in Honduras.
It was too late to do the lake, but a map painted on one of the buildings pointed me to Poso Azul, a blue hole. So I wandered up the road, past the football (soccer) field where many were out playing a pickup game, through a fence marked private property, no trespassing but which on the map indicated that D&D guests were welcome, to a beautiful river. I crossed the river on a pedestrian bridge and continued through a coffee plantation, over a ridge with leaf cutter ants marching along the trail, and down to the blue hole. It was mostly a muddy watering hole with no swimming but the color of the water was beautiful. Earlier in the day with the sun on it, it probably would have been even more so. As it turned out, the pictures look bluer than real life - or so it looked on my little camera screen. The river was worth the visit but I´m not sure about the blue hole. Mosquito repellent was a must to get to the hole, but not the river.
Back at the Brewery, I ran into Martin, and he joined me for a walk to the only restaurant in town other than the brewery where we had fried chicken. Along the way, we met Malcolm, an ex-pat Brit who´s lived here for 14 months and offers guided birding tours both on the lake and in the cloud forest. I´m interested in the lake tour so he´ll come around the brewery later to see if we can get a quorum.
Mark and D..., a couple I met on the bus today, are also from Oregon and interested in the same birding tour. Martin might be interested. Four makes a boatfull along with the oarsman.
Sunday, January 4: Peña Blanca
Up early to meet the group for the birding tour. At 6:30, we left for Malcolm´s place where the others had coffee. We all munched on our respective BYO breakfasts. I had a packet of pop tarts from Copan Ruinas that I had grabbed in case I had ended up camping with no food services.
Then at 7:00am, we walked out, headed for the canal. We saw a bunch of birds along the way and eventually got to the rowboat, just behind the restaurant where I had dinner last night. Rafael is our oarsman but it´s soon apparent that he´s a qualified birding guide in his own right. He was pointing out birds left and right. He´s also the one that spotted all four iguanas that we saw, three in trees, two of which were far away, one quite nearby, and one with only its massive head, bigger than a softball, sticking out of the foliage near the canal´s edge, almost impossible to see even though it was the closest of the four.
The highlights of the trip included watching a Snail Kite swoop down, grab a huge snail from the water, see it land on a branch near us and then proceed to consume the snail with us watching from a close distance without minding our presence. Even when it was done eating and we moved in underneath it to try to find the dropped snail shell, it gave us a curious look but didn´t fly off. It was probably only two meters above us. Other highlights included a bare throated tiger heron, a pair of olive throated parakeets, and four collared aracaris (toucans).
Later, when Malcolm came by to drop off the bird list from the day, we realized there were about 50 birds on the list. I´ll send out the complete list when I get it typed up. Many were birds that I´m used to seeing in the US but at very different times of the year. I probably saw 40-45 of the 50 Malcolm saw.
Back at the Brewery, we ate lunch and then got ready for an afternoon outing. We were joined by Martin for the afternoon. This time, we caught the bus to Pulhapanzak Falls, a 43 meter tall falls. People were ziplining across the falls but we elected to just go look at them and then go swimming in one of the pools on the top of the falls. I did a bit of swimming against the current. It was almost perfect but just a bit too slow for crawl and a bit too fast for breast stroke.
On the way there, we got dropped off at one place and walked the 1 km downhill to the falls. On the way back, we walked the 1 km downhill to a town further down the hill but on the same road and caught the bus back from there. It cost us 20L to get there and only 15L to get back. Sometimes we gringos really do have ´sucker´ written all over our faces.
I had dinner with Martin and then spent the evening with Martin, Malcolm, Mark, and D...
[Date: Fri Jan 9, 2009 1:56pm
Argh! I think I´m getting sick again... This time with a head cold. We´ll see. I have some sniffles, an occasional cough, a sore throat, and I´m hoarse. Right now, it´s not so bad, but if it gets worse like it usually does when I feel this way, I´m going to have to find a place to hole up for a while.
I´m frustrated in that I was planning on heading into a nearby National Park tomorrow for a few days of hiking and to maybe bag the highest peak in Honduras. But until I know if I´m getting better rather than worse, all my plans are on hold right now. Plus, I´m not sure if I want to stay here while feeling sick. I´m not crazy about my current hotel with kids screaming outside my room before 7:00am this morning but the other options in this town may not be better.
Note from January 4: The chicken bus the four of us took to Pulhapanzak Falls was so packed, we were pushed into the back of the bus through the emergency door like the videos I´ve seen of the subway system in Japan. Thankfully, it was a relatively short ride - 15 to 20 minutes or so.]
Monday, January 5: Peña Blanca
Hash Browns, eggs, and toast for breakfast. Then I spent the morning wandering the Parque Eco-Arqueológico Los Naranjas. There was a small archaeological site to explore but the highlight was the long new boardwalk over the marsh bordering the Lago de Yojoa, the lake where I went birding yesterday. Many of the birds we saw from the boat were in the this park and quite a few in the vicinity of the boardwalk. Sure enough, I saw many birds from the boardwalk including beautiful and colorful Mot-mots (which we did not see from the boat yesterday), with blue and green plumage and long tail feathers. I even sat for a while on the boardwalk just reading my book. There was just enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
When I continued my walk along the boardwalk, I was surprised to find a couple of sections missing due to a large tree that took out two sections. As such, I couldn´t continue to the other end of the boardwalk and ended up just walking back the way I came. By then, it was time for lunch so I stopped and had more fried chicken.
Then, back at the Brewery, I sat and caught up on my journal before heading for the internet cafe in town. While I was waiting for the bus, I got a ride from a family I had met earlier. They are taking some time to travel while in the process of moving and driving their own SUV from Colorado to Argentina. Afterwards, I caught a shuttle back to the turnoff for the hotel.
A car pulled up as I was walking back to the Brewery. It was Bob, the owner, who had just returned to Honduras from his first visit to the US in years. He was heading out for a short drive to the nearby town of Las Vegas, in the hills. Would I like to join him. Of course I would like to see the town so I hopped in. The clouds were getting thicker this afternoon than they had been since I had been in town and although thickest in the mountains, they do drop rain. After a nice ride over the hills to a viewpoint over Las Vegas, we returned to the brewery and with the one cheap bed indoors still available that night, I packed up my tent and moved indoors. I figured better to pack a dry tent now than a wet tent in the morning if it rained.
I had wondered about the camping options here. The guide books indicate there is camping but there´s barely room for a tent or two. Turns out the building under construction near where I was camping is going to be a hostel building with more cheap beds which should provide cheap enough lodging for those of us who would otherwise camp.
Another chicken quesadilla for dinner then chatting with Malcolm.
Tueday, January 6: Peña Blanco to Comayagua
Although it hadn´t rained, I was glad to have packed up my tent last night. It made for an easy morning. I had the blueberry pancakes, a treat in these parts. Then it was time to move on. I caught a communal taxi to town. The communal taxis, shuttles, and buses all charge the same prices - 5L. If I were to have the taxi pick me up or drop me off at the brewery instead of walking to the main road, it would cost 40L for just 3 short blocks extra driving. I was just in time to catch the shuttle to La Guama (12L), the town on the main north south road between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. There, I caught a shuttle to Seguatepeque (35L) and then a 22L chicken bus to Comayagua. I checked out all the hotel options listed in my guide book plus a couple of others and then went back to the first one I had seen. It was little more than a cold water bathroom with a bed though it did have a TV and fan, all for 150L.
I took my laundry in to be washed at the lavanderia on the Plaza de Merced, checked out the beautiful Villa Real restaurante, and then found a cheap comidor for beef, rice, salad, frijoles, tortillas and a soda for less than 35L, less than $2. Local food is cheap. ¨Western¨ food is relatively expensive. I just wish I liked the local food here as much as I had in SE Asia. There, I never got sick of it. Here, I´m already sick of tortillas and frijoles and most of the meat is cooked so much it´s very dry. Yuck. That said, I do like the tortillas in Honduras much better than the Guatemalan ones. In Guatemala, they were very thick. Here, they are thin. That´s a good thing because unlike in Guatemala where there were panaderias (bread bakeries) on every corner, here, there´s very little in the way of bread other than the white bread available in every store.
After lunch, I went to the local museum which my guidebook indicated had English on the interpretive signs, but there wasn´t a word of English there. The pottery was nice though and some of the sculpture. Here, we´re mostly south of the Mayan influence and into the traditionally Lencan area. After the museum, I got an ice cream and then tried to visit the cathedral with the two Slovenian´s and their local host I met at the ice cream place. But the cathedral was locked. So, I went and started a long internet session, making up for the week or so I hadn´t been able to spend much time on line.
I got so engrossed in my transcribing, I almost forgot about my laundry. So, I just left my stuff at the internet shop and ran to get my laundry. No problem. I dropped it off at my hotel and was on my way back to the internet cafe when I realized the cathedral was open. I went in just long enough to find out that I could go up the clock tower if I came back around 5:30, just 15 minutes from now. So, I went back to the internet cafe, finished my photo transfer session, and left my hard drive and other stuff there so the proprietor could make me a DVD.
I took my camera and went back to the cathedral, just a block away. I had a short wait and ended up meeting two more people from Slovenia. Hmm, the small country of Slovenia must have more tourists in town today than any other country. They ended up joining me on my tour of the clock tower. We climbed one flight and could see the weights from the clock hanging through holes in the floor. Another flight up and we could see the clockworks. This clock is the oldest clock in the Americas. It was built by the Moors 800 years ago and given to this town 500 years ago. The face has been replaced but the clockworks are original. Then we went up one more floor to watch our guide ring the bells. He´s rigged them with ropes so that he can stand in the middle of the floor and ring the five bells that he uses. There are seven or eights bells but not all are used. We was ringing them to call people to Mass and it occurred to me that it was January 6, and they might be celebrating the gifts that the three wise men brought. The tower was also a good place to see the ¨shadow¨, a mosaic in the plaza at the base of the cathedral mirroring the lines of the cathedral. It was pretty cool.
Back at the internet cafe, I finished up, paid and left by about 8:00pm. I meandered through the plaza, enjoying the night life there. Then I went looking for something light to eat for dinner. Couldn´t find anything. Most restaurants were closed and the comidors that were open offer big plates of food. I ended up going to Wendy´s, back near the main road past town for a baked potato and Frosty.
Back at the hotel, I watched House of Spirits with an all-star cast.
Wednesday, January 7: Comayagua to Marcala
I got a slow start after a very noisy night. In the middle of the night, there was a bunch of crashing and loud voices that lasted a while. I had a hard time goig back to sleep after that and then when I did, I woke up early to noises from the hotel and attached restaurant. I had been asked to join the two Slovenian women I had met earlier in the day yesterday for a hike but with such little sleep, I decided it wasn´t a good idea. So, I decided to leave town and head for La Esperanza. First, I had to get the bus to Marcala. It was a great ride through beautiful mountains to get to Marcala. It reminded me at times of the mountains in southern California, especially the open pine forests.
On the bus, I met a woman, Noemi, who teaches Spanish and English, has a couple of rental properties, and owns a store in Marcala. She ended up inviting me to spend the night at her house so I ended up stopping in Marcala instead of continuing to la Esperanza. We toured the town a bit and I got a feel for the town with her that I wouldn´t have otherwise had. A stop in the church to see the murals on the ceiling reminded me more of the murals in the temples in SE Asia than most churches. We kept meeting people in the church and on the street who knew Noemi. They were her sister-in-law, her husband´s cousins, friends, and some of the children she teaches. We stopped for a licuado in town and then walked back to her house. We walked past playgrounds that reminded me of when I grew up. Lot´s of kids and not a single parent in sight. We had sandwiches for dinner and talked a lot. She´s my age, 43, and has one son, 25 (do the math), who is a doctor in NYC, and two other kids in school, a daughter studying to be a doctor and a son in college studying to be an engineer. Her husband lives in Gracias while he´s working so she´s mostly alone. It´s vacation time for her until school is back in session in February.
This was a much more rewarding day than many days when I travel and see interesting sights but don´t connect with interesting locals.
Thursday, January 8: Marcala to Gracias
I woke up early enough to catch the 7:00 bus to la Esperanza and felt bad about having to wake Noemi up so she could unlock the doors to let me out. Talked with a cyber engineer at the bus stop until the bus came. It was another beautiful ride through the mountains to La Esperanza. Saw a very blue bird winging it´s way at one point, about the size of a robin. Couldn´t see under the wings or its chest/belly.
The town wsn´t far but on dirt roads, it took a couple of hours. I thought I might spend the night in La Esperanza but once there, I realized the only thing I really wanted to do was visit a grotto that had been made in to a chapel. That took maybe 30 minutes. So after buying some cereal and munchies at the local market, I went and waited for my ongoing bus to Gracias to leave. The 11:00 bus left at noon. Once again, it was a great ride through mountains on mostly dirt road.
Being so early, I got the front passenger seat. Plenty of knee room but not much room to stretch my legs. Ouch! Even with the twists and turns, I fell asleep every now and then, much to the amusement of the bus driver, a blond haired, blue eyed, local. Very unusual coloring for a Honduran.
I checked email on my way to my hotel in case I had a hospitalityclub host to no avail. Walking to my hotel, I met up with Martin, the Austrian I had met at Peña Blanca. He came with me as I checked into my hotel after checking out the finca (no shower for the campers), so I went back to Hotel Erick. 150L for a room with cold water bathroom but no TV this time.
Then we went to the bank - no ATMs here so we could both cash US dollars and then went to eat at Rinconcito Graciano. My tostada was good, my taco, OK, and my mora (blackberry) licuado wasn´t worth drinking. Yuck. Oh well. Then we visited Castillo San Cristobal a small fort on a hill overlooking town with great views of the surrounding mountains. I picked out one mountain and wondered if it´s El Cerro de las Minas, the high point in Honduras. On the way down, I said good-bye to Martin who had to catch his bus, and then stopped in at Restaurante Guanascos for a good licuado and information about town. Also on the hill, it had a great view of town. All the volunteers bring their laptops here for the wireless. There was even a computer I could use for free. I stayed until the power went out. It´s not supposed to but it does. It went off and on a few times and then I gave up and left with another volunteer. When the lights came on, I checked out the supermarkets for supplies I might be able to use for a three or four day hike in the local National Park. Then bought a yogurt to have back in my room and called it a night.
[Date: Sun Jan 11, 2009 12:22pm
Well, this cold has put a damper on my plans. I´m no longer planning on trying to hike in the National Park here. But, at least the cold it hasn´t wiped me out like the flu I had a few weeks ago. I do feel up for travel even though I´m still hoarse, have swollen glands, a sore throat, and an occasional cough.
So, I´ll probably leave town today and head for Santa Rosa de Copan and maybe spend a night there before heading for El Salvador.
Friday, January 9: Gracias
Woke up with a sore throat, hoarse, and with a cough. Argh! Realized immediately that it was likely to affect my plans for a hike in the local National Park. I´ll have to wait a couple of days to see if this is short lived or going to stick around for a while (my suspicion based on past illnesses).
Breakfast of cereal in my room.
Spent the rest of the morning in an internet cafe. Then lunch at Guanascos over looking town and the mountains. Spent the afternoon there using the free internet access.
Dinner and power outage at a local comidor - papusas and tacos. Yum! Back to Guanascos for licuados.
Saturday, January 10: Gracias
Finished Crighton´s ¨Airframe¨ this morning after more cereal in my room. Then switched hotels and got a room with hot water shower and a TV. Lunch with Adrian at Guanascos. The salad was pretty good. More internet. I´ve gotten a head start on the web page for my SE Asia 2007-2008 journal.
Afternoon napping and TV. Dinner with Adrian at the Chinese place in town. The portions were humongous family sized portions for less than $5 each. Brought the leftovers back to Guanascos to give to expats, volunteers, or as it turned out, the staff who were working there. Another licuado to finish off the night. Then more TV back in my room.
[Date: Fri Jan 16, 2009 5:47pm
Not a true journal entry, but perhaps of interest to some people on the TravelsAndTrails group...
Here´s the bird list as best I could type it in from the list Malcolm, our guide, gave me after our birding trip on Lago de Yojoa. Please feel free to bring any typos to my attention.
I think we also saw a gray catbird and maybe a white-winged pigeon. The pigeon was while we were still in town. The catbird may have been as well? It's possible Malcom didn't include the town birds on the list on purpose.
Anyway, many of the birds were common to the US northeast, this being a wintering location for many migratory birds. But there were quite a few birds that are new to me. I'm also pretty sure that there are maybe 5+ birds on this list that Malcolm saw that I didn't. But, I did see the vast majority, including many of the little ones.
Sunday, January 11: Gracias to Santa Rosa de Copan
Took advantage of the hot water and grabbed another quick shower this morning. Then I had a breakfast and internet session at Guanascos. I grabbed some milk on the way bcak to my hotel and managed to check out and catch teh noon bus to Santa Rosa de Copan. I even had a chance to eat a lunch of Corn Flakes on the bus before we started moving.
The bus ride was rather uneventful. Even though the town name includes Copan, the town is still hours away fro Copan Ruinas, the town with the large Mayan ruins I had visited when I first got to Honduras on New Year´s Eve. I knew it wasn´t far into town so I walked. I should have gotten a taxi or taken a bus. It was up a steep hill. I checked into a cheap place but still spent as much here for a room with a couple of beds as I did for a room with a bathroom and TV in Gracias. Oh well. Not much English spoken here by the Mom and grandmom, but the young boy spoke surprisingly good English. He told me about his teacher adn his teacher´s brother, Cid who is also an English teacher
There´s not much to do in this town so after walking around a little bit and checking out the Central Park, I found a nice little shopping center across fom my hotel and found a place to order a licuado and sit for a couple of hours reading Seabiscuit. I´ve read it before so I hope to find the pizza place tonight with the English language book exchange.
Had to bundle up in my warmer jacket which hadn´t seen the light of day for a couple of weeks. At Pizza, Pizza, I had a pretty good pizza and switched out Seabiscuit, unfinished this time around (but I already know the ending) for a Jonathan Kellerman novel, ¨The Murder Book¨. We´ll see how long this one lasts. When I finished eating, the woman working there asked if I wanted to speak with someone in English to get information. Of course, she asked in Spanish. So out walks a kid who turns out to be Cid, the English teacher. Sure enough, his English is impecable. Turns out, he´s the American owner´s step-son. He was able to give me information about the cigar factory tour for tomorrow and prices for taxi´s in the neighborhood. Bought some milk (the shelf stable stuff) fo breakfast tomorrow. Then when I reailzed I was too late for the movie at the cinema tonight, I sat in the park for a while and then went back to my room.
Monday, January 12: Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras to Suchitoto, El Salvador
An eventful day: a border crossing to land of the US Dollar; a town of artists and murals; a purple chick; getting pushed onto moving bus; help from a friendly group of college kids; email from Adrienne; hotel room with a bathroom; a TV with US channels; music in the plaza; and my first El Salvadoran papusas.
I had to take out a few extra Lempira this morning knowing I was going to be touring the cigar factory. So, I took out 200L, about $6. Thankfully, my bank forgives ATM fees. Then after breakfast, I grabbed a taxi to the cigar factory. After it let me out, I was told the factory was closed for vacation. Oh well. Having grown up in the Connecticut River valley where shade grown tabacco, used for Cuban cigar wrappers before the embargo and then other cigars since, I was curious how cigars are made. So a bit disappointed.
Thankfully, it turned out the cigar factory was near the bus station so I just walked to the bus station. There, I met up with the Yugoslavic, Canadian, I had first met in Coban. He was also waiting for teh same bus with plans to go all the way to San Salvador. I hadn´t considered taking that bus because I was getting off earlier but then it arrived so I hopped on. Turns out, we could ride that bus right across the border. The Honduran and El Salvadoran border control agents came right onto the bus so we didn´t have to move. How nice.
I then got off in La Palma, a town know for it´s Naïve Art, brought here in 1972 by Fernando Llort. I stashed my backpack at a hotel across the way from the bus station and spent a couple of hours walking around town. My stop at a pepuseria was thwarted when they didn´t have papusas so I gabbed a burger and fries and soda for all of a couple of bucks. And oh yes, the official currency of El Salvador is the US dollar. It seems weird to me to discuss tasks in Spanish but use the US currency.
Wandering around town was a treat though. Most fo the buildings along the main drag were painted with murals in the naïve style. I didn´t much care for the crafts that were for sale, not that I´m in a position to buy anything, but I did like seeing the murals, the painted utility poles, the plaza by the church with mosaics in the same style, and more.
I retrieved my backpack and went to wait for the bus, the girls manning the store where her father had been when I first got there was friendly. She soon pulled out a baby chicken. But it was no normal chick. This one was purple. Very purple. Dyed purple from head to toe. When she and another girl started playing hopscoth in front of the store, she handed me the chick to hold but it didn't last long as my bus soon came around the corner and I had to scramble to give teh bird back and collect my bags. The bus stopped but started moving almost before I could get on. The attendant laughingly helped me get on.
Once in Suchitoto, a guy from a US college group in town for a while, showed me the way to the plaza and a hotel but at $25, I declined and went to find the hostel I knew about. I stopped at a convenient internet cafe and found Adrienne had just sent me a message, 13 minutes earlier. She suggested her hotel and gave me directions so I ended up checking into the Posada Luna Blanca. Two beds, TV and bath with cold shower for $8. Nice place with room to hang out and friendly family running the place. the husband speaks good English and the wife is learning so we traded some ad hoc lessons.
I went looking for Adrienne and found her rather easily in the main plaza. We tried to line up a tour for the next day but there weren't enough others. We needed four.
Dinner at a papuseria well away from the center. It was two women, making papusas on the sidewalk, with one table. We each had three papusas. One cheese, one bean and cheese, and one with some other filling with a few veggies. We each paid $1 and had eaten enough for a complete dinner. We ate the papusas with the cole slaw and tomato salsa. Nothing hot about the salsa around here. Most of central America does not eat hot and spicy food. You can always ask for "picante" and they usually have a vinegary hot sauce available but most people don't use it.
Stopped by a tree with a bunch of bats wheeling around. They were fairly large compared to the Little Browns we commonly see in the northeastern US.
I journaled in the park when Adrienne went back to her room and then went back myself to take advantage of the TV.
Tuesday, January 13: Suchitoto
I finished my box of Corm Flakes with a banana for breakfast. Then we went back to the tour agency just in case the guide had managed to get a tour together but it was locked tight so obviously we weren't going.
We decided to head to a nearby dry waterfall to see the interesting geological feature there. On the way, we stopped to talk with some Washington DC photography students spending time in town and then I noticed a man holding a green parrot. I stopped to ask if I could take a photo and he agreed and started asking questions in great English. Turns out, he was born in Suchitoto but had lived most of his adult life in the US and is a US citizen. One thing led to another and he ended up driving us to the waterfall and joined us when we went to look. On the way back, we stopped to visit his horses, both of Andalusian descent though not purebreds. We got back tot own by 11:00 and agreed to meet at noon. Adrienne and I offered to take him out to lunch. He chose the place. It cost $8 for the three of us. Wow! Big Spenders, we are.
After lunch, Tony was off to Los Aguilares so Adrienne and I walked down the hill to the lake, Lago Suchitlan, a large reservoir. We eventually hired a launch with a local couple. Adrienne and I each paid $10 and the couple also paid $10. $30 got us the boat for an hour, enough time to visit bird island and a couple of others. The choppy sea was a bit wet on the way out, when we were heading into the wind. But there was a lot of bird life. Certainly, without the guide, I couldn't ID most of the birds, but I did ID many of the common ones:
With no birding expert with us on this trip, I turned into the "expert" and was able to point of the above birds. Adrienne appreciated having someone along who knew even as little as I did.
Back on shore, the couple who shared the boat with us gave us a ride back up the hill to town, saving us the wait for the bus.
Back in town, we bought some platano chips and watched the procession to the political rally. With elections coming up this weekend, the country is plastered with postered, flags, and more. The FMLN is a legitimate party these days, running against three other primary parties. This isn't the presidential election but it still seems hotly contested.
We stopped into a cheese store and tried a couple of the cheeses. Cheeses in Central America leave a lot to be desired. The ones we tried here were typical and were hard, dry, and extremely salty. Cheese is served with many "typico" meals and I usually just leave it on the plate.
We went for dinner away from the rally. Adrienne got a torta which is just the local name for sub, hoagie, grinder, etc. I got a pizza. While we waited for dinner, a very large butterfly stopped long enough for me to get a picture.
Back in town, we watched a bit of the rally, listened to a bit of the music - much too loud, and eventually gave up and retired to our individual rooms for the more entertaining TV.
Wednesday, January 14: Suchitoto to Ahuachapan
Breakfast at yesterday's lunch spot. Eggs with potatoes, plantains, and rolls for $1.25. Then we grabbed a bus to Los Aguilares and another to San Salvador. We came into one bus station but had to get to another so grabbed a third bus, and finally our last bus of the day, a very crowded chicken bus to get to Ahuachaopan. As is usually the case, there seems no incentive to share rooms in these hotels which charge by the person so Adrienne and I continue to stay in our own, private rooms. Our hotel was at one plaza so we walked to the other to grab lunch. Then we signed up for a tour of the geothermal plant in town for the next day.
An internet session to copy pictures off my cards onto my hard drive and transcribe some of my journal. Back at the hotel, I ran into a group of Canadian volunteers building a couple of houses in the area. When we mentioned the political rally happening in the other plaza, they indicated that they couldn't get involved with the politics of another country. Well, attending a rally which was mostly about the concert is not getting involved and with more little children running around, their fears of violence were grossly misplaced.
After dinner at Mixta's, we went to the rally and wandered around a bit. Some of the Canadians showed up. We didn't stay too long. The music was too loud and as is usually the case, nobody even taps a toe while listening. If people were dancing, I probably would have stayed a while.
Back at the hotel, there were a lot of dead cockroaches in the hall but I never saw a live one. I did ask and they put out poison for them.
Thursday, January 15: Ahuachapan to Juayau
Today is my nephew Simi's 16th birthday. It's also his mother's, my sister Sharon's, birthday.
I woke up to the bells and drumming at the nearby church in celebration of the Black Christ. I didn't get up and went right back to sleep.
I was glad to see the cockroach remains were swept up before I opened my door in the morning.
Breakfast of omelet, plantains, and rolls.
We stashed our bags in the hotel office to retrieve after our tour. We got picked up and then dropped at the Geothermal plant. There was quite a bit of security so getting in took a few minutes and a couple of phone calls even though our visit had been arranged the day before.
We dropped our bags at the gate and got hard hats to wear.
Oscar, our guide, spoke mostly Spanish and a bit of English. Adrienne tried to translate for me as best she could. And I used a bit of knowledge about geothermal energy to try to help fill in the blanks for Adrienne. Together, we made quite the threesome though it would have been better with an English speaking guide.
We got rained on under clear blue skies by condensate from the steam billowing up from the plant. We learned about how deep the hot water was, how hot (300 degrees centigrade) and the pressure it was under - quite a bit. We learned how the vapor was separated from the water and only the vapor used to power the turbine. The water gets pumped two kilometers away and pumped right back down into the earth. This plant provides 25% of El Salvador's electrical needs and send more than half of the energy it produces to Guatemala.
Afterwards, we visited Ausoles, the geothermal area where fumaroles were active. We steamed bananas in one hole (in their peel, in a plastic bag) and then went to tour the rest of the area. We saw water bubbling up to a foot or two high in one pool. Lots of yellow sulfur on the rocks but also red and green chemical deposits. Before we left, we retrieved the bananas and had a delicious snack, cooked by the earth's hot geothermal activity.
Back in town, we ate lunch at La Estancia before we saw the cockroach on the checkout counter. It's amazing how few cockroaches I've seen on this trip, but this town seems to have its share.
We retrieved our bags and caught a bus along the Ruta de Flores (route of flowers) to Juayua. There, we found Anahuac, a wonderfully relaxing hostel and chatted with others for a while. With a kitchen at this hostel and plans to stay for a few days, I went shopping and bought more cereal and milk that needs refrigeration, strawberries, and more. We visited the church and saw the Black Christ there. Then dinner at a Mexican place. Finally a return to the plaza for the festivities which were mostly a lot of vendors selling kitschy crap. We stood around talking long enough for the parade to start and then moved a block away to watch the as it went by. It was led off with one float with the Black Chirst in a heart. I was surprised at the level of effort that went into building these floats for the parade. To be sure, it's no Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but there were a lot of flowers, and they each had an adolescent beauty queen on board dressed in tacky prom gowns.
Back to the hostel for interesting conversation until midnight.
[Date: Sun Jan 18, 2009 2:21pm
Additions to bird list from Lago de Yojoa: Muscovy Duck, Yellow bellied (not billed) Flycatcher, White-winged Dove, and Gray Catbird, and Ruddy Ground-Dove. These were sightings from in town rather than on the lake.
My sore throat and swollen glands continue though it hasn't badly progressed to my nose like my sore throats usually do but it seems like it's trying. Doesn't seem like it's strep though I am prone to strep and have had it many times throughout my life. Once again, I'm in a quandary about whether to travel tomorrow to Santa Ana. I'm hoping to be somewhere where I can watch the inaugural address on TV and the TV here doesn't have any English language news stations. But, there's no guarantee that my hotel or hostel in Santa Ana would either. My hotel room in Suchitoto had a couple of US channels and I was hoping to find something like that on Tuesday. Plus, I'm not sure if it's worth it to travel when this hostel is such a nice place to hang out when not feeling 100%.
I doubt the internet service here can handle streaming video but I might try anyway.
I'll see how I feel tomorrow morning.
Friday, January 16: Juayua
Strawberries were a welcome addition to my cornflakes this morning. Then hung around a bit having a slow morning before Gwen, Adrienne, Sophie and Ano, and I took a dusty two kilometer walk to Los Chorros de la Calera. We were surprised to find a large gate from a power company across the path but the door was open and there were no signs indicating private property or no trespassing so we went on through. We soon saw a very large waterfall with no apparent swimming hole at the bottom but following the path, we soon came to another waterfall with a bunch of people. That was our destination. We were glad not to have to descend all the way to the bottom of the first falls we had seen.
This waterfall was a beautiful cascade into a man-made pool that must have been a holding tank for the power company. Tunnels there channeled water to the turbines. It's possible to go though one of the tunnels to the other smaller cascades but we didn't bother.
The water was cold but refreshing and the flowers along the trail were very pretty. This is the season for flowers in this region, hence the local towns along the main road in this area being called part of La Ruta De Las Flores. This is also coffee country and many hillsides in this area are covered with coffee plantations. they are distinctive in that they are planted in a grid of taller trees to offer shade and windbreaks for the coffee plants. I hadn't seen this type of planting in Guatemalan or Asian plantations.
Back in town, Gwen, Adrienne and I went to a comedor for lunch. These restaurants serve buffet style food. You walk past and point to the food you want - or ask in Spanish if you know what it is - and they fill your plate for you. This one had guisquil available but since they also had broccoli, I passed on the guisquil and had chicken, rice, and broccoli. It was a good plate of food. When I declined the tortilla, they looked at me like I was crazy and I had to decline it multiple times. They just wouldn't consider eating a meal in these parts without a tortilla. With a bottle of soda, this meal cost about $2.50
A nap, an internet session, and a lot of hanging around in the beautiful hostel setting with other travelers.
A trip to the supermarket yielded chicken hot dogs, buns, ketchup (in a little $.28 packet perfect for a bunch of hot dogs), chips, and a cucumber to go with my packet of Ranch salad dressing that I've been carrying around since Rio Dulce. Ice cream for dessert.
The hostel is a great place to hang out so a good place to recharge. So many other places, mostly the hotels, have you going back to barely adequate rooms where you don't want to touch the walls and there's nothing to do and nobody to hang out with at night so you just go and read all the time or watch TV if you're lucky. It can get rather boring at times.
Elections here in El Salvador are Sunday so since I'm planning on heading for a larger town, Santa Ana, after Juayua, I've decided to stay until Monday on the slight chance there's any unrest following the hotly contested local elections. Nobody is really expecting any problems, but it's a good excuse to hang oiut here a bit longer.
I had originally come to this town for the weekend food festival but because of the elections, it's not going to happen this weekend. I'm a bit disappointed. I was looking forward to some food variety that I wouldn't otherwise see in El Salvador. Also because of the elections, no alcohol is being sold for the three days around the election. So from today through Monday, there's no alcohol available. Reminds me of Thailand last year. Then Margaritha mentioned that in her town of Hotchkiss, CO, they also suspend alcohol sales around the elections. Margaritha was very surprised that I knew exactly where her hometown was. I had been there a few years ago when on a road trip after my Continental Trail Divide hike with Jim and Ginny. She just laughed when I mentioned going to a rodeo there, then using the showers at the fairgrounds and then going to a contra dance that was in town. It was the day I was descending from Crested Butte through Kebler Pass which had just opened up the week before. Hotchkiss journal entry.
Saturday, January 17: Juayua
Woke up to more sore throat. Argh! It doesn't bother me physically nearly as much as the flu-like illness I had with stomach bug in Flores, but it does seem to wipe me out.
Went to town to check out the food situation but ended up back at the hostel with yogurt, crackers and cream cheese, chips leftover from last night, soda, and ice cream. Long nap but not very satisfying. I'm feeling very sleep deprived from a few days ago and haven't been able to catch up much.
More journaling and internet later in the afternoon. At least the internet access is free here at the hostel.
Dinner with Ano and Sophie at the Mexican place. This time, I enjoyed my meal of tacos al Pastor with chips, guacamole and cheese sauce. As is usually the case, I had barely enough chips to eat all the guacamole served. They always serve very large portions of Guacamole here as avocados are cheap. Chips must be expensive though because portions are usually stingy. And they serve very little cheese. But, it was good all the same.
The cheese was a substitute for frijoles. I'm getting pretty good at finding substitutions for the beans. I still enjoy them but only every now and then. Anytime I can make a substitution, I do, these days.
Back at the hostel, we watched Fast Food Nation, a documentary style film based on the non-fiction book. If you hadn't already wondered about fast food, it will make you wonder.
[Date: Wed Jan 21, 2009 1:22 am
Some very short entries as I've mostly been doing nothing and not traveling... Lots of boring food descriptions as I've got access to a refrigerator so buy more stuff and repeat a lot of meals.]
Sunday, January 18: Juayua
Throat is worse. Nose is getting a bit runny. Doesn't seem to be strep. I'm annoyed at being sick, but at least this time, I like the place I'm staying and don't mind being here for an extended visit.
Breakfast of cereal. Lunch at R&R's, a relatively upscale place in this small town, with Margeritha. Our burgers were delicious and would have been considered so in the US as well. But at $5, they weren't cheap - for here. They came with garlic mashed potatoes and loaded with cheese, mushrooms, and sauteed onions.
After lunch, we stopped at the supermarket and bought ribeye steaks for dinner. I napped. Then had dinner of steak with baked potato and cucumber salad.
Early results from today's elections here in El Salvador look like the mayoral race may be handed to the ARENA (conservative) party from the FMLN. Legislatively, the FMLN may have gained seats.
Shortly after 8:00pm, there was a lot of noise on the streets including the ever present firecrackers. I suspect that's when the first elections results came in. The election however, was not without its problems. People don't vote where they live and must travel. Plus there were people bringing in outsiders from Guatemala and giving them voting cards to go vote. But, the election results don't seem to be contested and there was no news of unrest on the streets here or in the bigger cities of San Salvador, Santa Ana, or San Miguel.
Monday, January, 19: Juayua
Yogurt and cereal for breakfast. Hard boiled egg sandwiches for lunch with tomato cucumber and avocado - so cheap in these parts. Hot dogs for dinner with salad of cucumber, carrot, avocado and tomato plus a baked potato. Baked brownies today to share with the crowd staying here. I realized the directions on the back of the box were wrong but I didn't correct enough and they came out a bit dry though tasted good. All this cooking means cleaning... They use a solid soap that comes in tubs here. Weird stuff but it works well enough. The harder part of cleaning here is the lack of hot water. We have it in the showers, but not in any of the sinks. Oh well.
Talked to Margaritha today about age and travel. She's a bit older than me - in her 50s - and has also found it harder to connect with other travelers as she gets older. But, the hostel has a bunch of us here - maybe two of us in our 40s, one in her 50s, and then there's Misha, the Serbian/Canadian (correction from earlier entries) that I've met three times, in three different countries who is in his 70s, I think. The nature of conversations change with a somewhat older crowd. I've been enjoying it. Oh yeah, Mara is apparently a very common name in Serbia. It's also one of Misha's daughter's name.
Tuesday, January 20: Juayua
Still with the mildly sore throat but nose is getting worse. Will probably be here a few more days at least.
Yogurt, cereal, and banana. Fried egg sandwiches with cucumber and carrot for lunch. More hot dogs for dinner. Thought I wouldn't get away from the hostel at all today until someone announced "ice cream time" after dinner. So I went for a short walk and got dulce de leche cone. I think I'm mostly swearing off chocolate here. Mostly it's a bad approximation of chocolate. Snickers and M&Ms are still a good bet, but local chocolate baked goods and local brands of chocolate bars deserve a pass.
Today was the inauguration of Obama and I thought I would have to watch in Spanish but then I found a site that would stream properly here on this computer. So, the video wasn't the greatest but the sound was pretty good. I don't remember if I've ever watched an inauguration before. I had no interest in Bush inaugurations and before that, I was likely at work those days. Obama managed to work in some subtle - or maybe not so subtle - digs at the last administration. He may have outlined an aggressive agenda, but the speech wasn't particularly memorable.
The quartet arranged by John Williams was a not-so-subtle attempt to show diversity with Itzhak Perlman (Israeli-American), Yo-yo Ma (Chinese-American), Anthony McGill (African-American), and Gabriela Montero (Venezuelan-American) playing "Simple Gifts", the Shaker song popularized by Aaron Copeland's, Appalachian Spring.
And of course, thinking of it as Appalachian Spring set me off on a bit of Springer Fever... a bit early but still... I miss the trail.
[Date: Fri Jan 23, 2009 2:47pm
Still fighting this low-grade cold. Sniffles and sore throat are the order of the day. But, I like it here so I'm not missing traveling yet. I get to eat the food I want, cook, etc. And since I missed out on the food fair last weekend, I'm planning on sticking around until at least Sunday to experience it this week.
I'm also very close to committing to an Antarctic trip in mid-February. Still have to figure out my flight situation which, unfortunately, is more complicated from here than it would have been from Boston. Argh. Once I get my flight situation settled, then I can commit to the cruise - more about that when it's confirmed. But, it's also easier to do research when I'm not traveling so I may decide to stay here until the Antarctic trip is confirmed.
Anyway, here's a couple more days of journal entries and I actually got out and did something yesterday...
Wednesday, January 21: Juayua
Another day of doing nothing. Yogurt and banana for breakfast Hot dogs for lunch. Spaghetti, a craving I've had for a week, for dinner with mushroom sauce and a salad. Fresh vegetables are very hard to get here when traveling so I've been enjoying then with many meals here. Plenty of leftovers for dinner tomorrow, too.
Thursday, January 22: Juayua
Eggs and baked potato for breakfast with yummy bakery rolls. Decided to see what a day out would do to me so accompanied Margaritha on her trip today. We took the bus to Santa Ana. Once again, it was a nice trip through the mountains.
Once in Santa Ana, we had to walk a block to catch our next bus. While walking, I heard a thud and noticed the power lines above swinging wildly. Margaritha, looking ahead, saw the accident. A late model black SUV had just plowed into a telephone pole. The car hit hard enough to knock over the utility pole which remained upright because the wires held it up. We didn't expect the guy in the car to get out but as we got closer to the scene (we had to pass by it to get to our bus stop), we noticed the drivers side door was open and the guy wasn't in the car any longer.
I had my camera out and snapped a few pictures of the car. At that point, we realized the yelling we heard was a bunch of people telling the driver to stop running - or to get other people to stop the driver from running away. Wasn't much we could do so we moved on towards our bus stop. It was only then, when Margaritha looked back, that we realized the guy had hit someone who was still lying in the road in font of the car in apparently very bad shape. I didn't want to look and since neither of us had actually seen the car hit the man and lots of others had and were already on their cell phone to call emergency services, we didn't feel any need to stick around and hopped on the first bus that came our way, going to our destination. It was only then that I realized that the victim was visible in my pictures, albeit somewhat obscured by the car and telephone pole.
Our next bus ride was a bit somber but short-lived. We soon arrived at our destination and walked the short distance to Tazumal Ruinas. There we saw some of the few Mayan ruins in El Salvador and some of the oldest. There was also an Olmec boulder there, with carvings on four faces of the stone. The ruins aren't much to look at, especially since they were "stabilized" with concrete by some earlier archaeologists in a manner no longer used because it wrecks the ruins.
The museum was nice and some of the pottery there was fantastic.
We walked to the Casa Blanca, another set of ruins and walked through the beautiful grounds there. There were few excavated sites there but some of my pictures might convey what these sites really look like to the first researchers who arrive... Just a forest.
Moving on, we continued our circle and went to Ahuachapan for lunch and got a fairly reasonable steak with rice, avocado, beet salad, and beverage for $2.50. And the steak wasn't at all like shoe leather like much of the beef available in comedors is.
Back in Juayua, did research into flights from Managua to Ushuaia. It looks like if I can get everything arranged, I'll be able to join an Antarctic Cruise in mid-February. I'm getting very excited about the possibility.
Repeat of last night for dinner.
[Date: Mon Jan 26, 2009 2:14 am
I'm finding all sorts of excuses to stay here in Juayua. While the sore throat and sniffles are still an on and off again annoyance, in the middle of last week, I decided to stay at least for the weekend and experience the gastronomical delights available here. Then by the weekend, I had gotten a lead on an Antarctic trip and with just three weeks notice, I realized I needed more time to concentrate on that without the instability of travel. Besides, I NEED to be prepared for that. There's no hitting the mall for things I forgot once I'm on that ship. So, I'm probably going to be here a while longer just making sure I have everything ready to go.
Friday, January 23: Juayua
Cereal and raisins for breakfast. Yogurt, bread, and cream cheese for lunch. Dinner of papusas, both bean and cheese as well as ayote (a small round eggplant looking vegetable) with Howie, a 50-something man from Chesterfield, NH.
Didn't do much today except researching everything I would need to do and know for the Antarctic trip that sort of fell into my lap yesterday.
Saturday, January 24: Juayua
Cereal and raisins for breakfast.
I spent a lot of time online today, mostly getting frustrated. The lan.com web site kept indicated a $175 fare to go from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia but every time I selected that option, and went through about five screens to enter my name, passport information, credit card information, etc. It would come back and say the fare was no longer available to go start the flight search again. But when I did that, it always showed the flight being available. So, Margaritha let me use her computer so I could use Skype and call the airlines and they were only vaguely helpful but I did find out that not all people who had reservations for those cheap fares would pay and therefore they might still open up. So, I decided to hold off another day and keep trying.
I came to this town over a week ago because I had heard about the weekend gastronomical food fair. Last weekend, it was canceled due to the elections. Finally, today, I was able to partake.
Starting at 11:30 and only going to late afternoon, not through dinner time, lunch is the time to head to the Central Park here in town. Roads are blocked off, canopies go up, and hundreds of plastic tables and chairs are set out. The vendors are all local - a requirement of the town which would otherwise be overrun from others capitalizing on the reputation that Juayua has.
Vendors set up and cook a wide variety of mostly local foods. There was
I set out with Heather, another like minded hosteler and we shared a bunch of plates. We started with Riguas, a fresh corn, flat tomale-like food first steamed on the grill in banana leaves and then quickly browned right on the grill. It's served with cheese. It tasted sweet enough that I wonder if sugar is added to the mix though perhaps the fresh corn just retains a lot of natural sugars. The cheese is also a soft sweet cheese and complements the riguas. They were delicious.
Then, Heather and I split some paella. It was good but not great. Perhaps if it was cooked fresh rather than en masse for a large crowd.
We split two more meals, one each of rana (frog) and one of conejo (rabbit). I've had both before at various times but only twice for frog and once before for rabbit. Both meals were served with rice, a rice and bean mix, vinegary cole-slaw, salsa, and tortillas. After the paella, both of us were more interested in the meat than the accompaniments. The rabbit was pretty good but kind of like chewy chicken. It was a bit drier than I expected. The frog was a large frog served whole. It was juicy and delicious, easily my favorite meal of the three. But, I mostly ate the meat.
I gave my tortillas to the three boys sitting near our table, sometimes singing along to the music blaring across the park and ostensibly selling vegetables and baskets. Since I'm fighting a cold, I didn't want to give the rest of my leftovers to them but when Heather finished her meat, she did give her leftovers to the boys and they were happy to eat whatever she had left on her plate.
We then bought some leche pura (pure milk), a soft caramel-like candy, to share with the others from the hostel sharing our table. And finally we each got chocolate dipped frozen fruit on a stick. They had the option of banana, strawberry, banana and strawberry, and mixed fruit including watermelon. They dipped the frozen fruit in the chocolate and rolled it in your choice of dry toppings. Options included shredded coconut, colorful sugar candies (like the coating on M&Ms, chopped peanuts, and cocoa crispies. I chose the cocoa crispies and thoroughly enjoyed my dessert.
As we sat, mariachi bands wandered around the tables and in another area, a karaoke style system blared music while men dressed in "Mexican" cowboy clothes with guns that were probably real, sang and wandered through the tables.
After lunch, I bought a fleece sweater to supplement the clothes I have in preparation for my trip to Antarctica. Turns out Juan, the clothes vendor, was born in El Salvador, had spent 20 years in Canada and is now a Canadian citizen, but is back living in El Salvador and enjoying dual citizenship.
I saw fleece blankets for sale in the street market and am now wondering if I need pants as warm as fleece. I have tights and lightweight rain/wind pants, but might need more insulation for my legs. One of those blankets could easily be made into a pair of pants for me. I'll do some more research and then decide.
Papusas on the street just outside the hostel for dinner. Once again, I met El Salvadoran/Canadian/El Salvadorans there who had no idea that there were others living in town in their same situation. This seems to be very common here in El Salvador.
Sunday, January 25: Juayua
Cereal with raisins for breakfast.
I get a bit anxious when planning big trips, especially during the time when I'm actually booking tickets that cost significant amounts of money. As such, I haven't been sleeping well the last few nights. Going to sleep late and waking up early.
When I got online this morning, I noticed that lan.com now showed Feb 12 as having the $175 fare available. Yesterday, the lowest fare available for the 12th had been over $300. I jumped on that fare expecting to be continually disappointed as I had been yesterday. But you never know unless you try so I entered all my personal, passport, and credit card information and I was very pleasantly surprised when the fare went through. Woohoo!
Once I got the Ushuaia flight, then I started booking the cruise for real. I could only go so far though until I get my mandatory evacuation insurance in place. I'm waiting to hear back from the company about that.
Now, I have to decide how many days I want in Buenos Aires, book my flight from San Salvador to there. My visa here expires Feb 8 or 9 so I have to leave here by then but I could leave earlier and spend more time in Buenos Aires. I expect to finalize cruise and flight arrangements in the next day or two.
Now that I've started to commit money to the process, I'm getting very excited as it finally seems "real". I am definitely going to be going to Antarctica now. I've read both Shakleton's and Worsley's books about their experiences on the Endurance as well as a bunch of other books from those who've had adventures there. I've also seen plenty of documentaries and have been enthralled with the continent for years. Even with all the snow and ice, it's the driest continent, it's got interesting wildlife, there are a surprising number of people living there with as many as 4000 present in the summer and 1000 in the winter. The Wilson ice shelf, a huge mass of ice the size of Connecticut, is on the verge of breaking off. It's connected to the Antarctic Peninsula but much further south than where my cruise will go. It'll be the end of summer there so there might be some stargazing.
Anyway, there will be plenty to keep me interested.
The weekend food festival continued today. The place was packed today, with maybe twice the number of people as yesterday. Certainly most people were from out of town, but most were also El Salvadorans, not tourists.
Today, I had Mariscado, a seafood soup with whole spiny lobster, crab, shrimp, squid, clam, and fish. It was delicious. I kept my lunch small today and shared another order of the delicious riguas and then had a stick of chocolate covered strawberries and bananas.
Watched Juno on DVD before dinner, then went to Esmerelda's where I had a chicken papusa and a bean and cheese papusa. Delicous. We had bodin de flan for dessert, it's a combination of bread pudding and flan.
Back at the hostel, we watched "Innocent Voices", an El Salvadoran film about the war as told from the perspective of an 11 year old boy.
It was surprisingly similar to Ishmael Beah's book, "A Long way gone, memoirs of a boy soldier".
Oh yeah, ... I realized today, that unless I start feeling like I have nothing else to do to prepare for the Antarctic trip, I'm probably not going to be doing much more traveling here in El Salvador other than a day to get to San Salvador and then another day or two in the capital city before leaving for Buenos Aires. I feel like I'm back in trip preparation mode, not travel mode, and this happens to be a good place to get things done. I'll probably have some fleece pants made for me. If our landing trips were all going to be active, I would be OK without them, but for sitting on snow for long periods to watch wildlife, I'll need something warmer than what I am currently traveling with.
[Date: Wed Jan 28, 2009 10:38 am
Yesterday, I finalized all the arrangements for my Antarctic trip. Here are the details... (journal entries follow)
Now that all the money has been paid and forms filled out, I can finally relax again. I do still have a few things left that I need to do, but they're mostly just a bit of shopping.
The funny thing is, in the US, buying a pair of fleece pants would be a huge chore that would have me stressed out. Here, I've already seen fleece blankets for sale in town and I plan to just buy one, and bring it to someone to use the material make me a pair of pants. They'll fit better than anything I could find off the shelf and they'll probably cost a fraction of the cost than in the US.
With the extra material I'm likely to have, I'll have mittens, scarf, and balaclava made for me to supplement the clothes that I brought from Boston in anticipation of this trip. At least, that's the plan...
Other stuff on my list of things to buy... Dramamine and a converter for my battery charger. I've never gotten seasickness, but then I've never spent more than a day on a ocean crossing, much less crossing the Drake passage twice. Better to have the drugs and not need them than be sick.
This trip is basically all inclusive, but if anyone has any other ideas for things I might not otherwise think to bring, let me know...
Monday, January 26: Juayua
More cereal for breakfast. Spent lots of time on the computer today (as I have all weekend), organizing, my upcoming Antarctic trip.
Lunch at the bakery of a calzone-like ham and cheese pocket followed by platano con leche, a split open fried plantain filled with custard, sprinkled with cinnamon and served warm. Delicious! For dinner, a group of nine of us descended (or perhaps ascended is more accurate) on Esmerelda's for more papusas. I had a repeat of yesterday's dinner... one pollo, and one frijol y queso.
Tuesday, January 27: Juayua
Cereal for breakfast. Yogurt for lunch.
Spent the morning finalizing my Antarctica trip. Doing everything on-line, I realized it would be safer to send a photo of my credit card over email than the actual numbers. Yeah, I could have obfuscated the numbers, but the photo was easier. I also bought Emergency Evacuation Insurance, required for Quark Expeditions this year. It was cheap. I've never bought any sort of travel insurance before so did check on the price including cancellation insurance and decided that wasn't worth it.
Once I finished with those two chores, I felt a wave of relief and realized I could now relax. I hadn't been sleeping well the last few nights while some of the trip was paid for but not everything. Now that everything is paid for, I don't have to worry about it all coming together.
Took a long and much needed nap during the afternoon.
Went shopping in the market for salad stuffs and eggs. Back to the bakery for rolls. Hard boiled eggs and salad for dinner. Quezadilla, a small plain cake, for dessert.
Other things of note... A few weeks ago, a deadly earthquake hit Costa Rica. Since then a number of small earthquakes have hit this area - one felt in Ahuachapan, one in Sensonate (a nearby town), and one right here in Juayua. I was sitting here in the hostel when it hit but never felt it myself. It was only later in the day when someone else mentioned it that I found out about it.
These small earthquakes are good things. They relieve pressure so large earthquakes are less likely to build up. Plus, the part of the hostel I sleep in survived the last big earthquake in these parts that leveled the other part of the building. The rest of the hostel built where the rubble had been was designed by an architect to withstand earthquakes.
I've now lived through three earthquakes without noticing any of them.
One in California that I slept through more than 20 years ago, one that cracked roads in upstate New York but was felt in the Boston area a number of years ago that might have woken me up, and now here. One of these years, I'll feel an earthquake - but if I do, I hope it'll be a very small one.
[Date: Wed Jan 28, 2009 3:01pm
This was weird... Less than 2 hours after sending my last email where I wrote about never having felt an earthquake even though I had been in three different ones that others felt, there was an earthquake here - and I FELT IT!
I looked at my watch and it was 11:25 (we're central time here).
I just got online and it was a magnitude 4.8 quake offshore from El Salvador which basically put it pretty far from Juayua. Here's the relevant web site:
It was over before I could even get out of my chair.
Oh, and now that I've felt one, I don't need to feel anymore.
Wednesday, January 28: Juayua
Emailed my journal with Antarctic itinerary. Attached commentary about the earthquakes I've lived through but never felt and not two hours later, felt my first earthquake. It was a 4.8 on the Richter scale located SW of San Salvador, off the coast. It was over before I could even think about getting out of my chair.
Watched Kite Runner in the morning. Good movie but the book was better.
Lunch was a repeat of last night's dinner. Dinner was pasta and salad. Made the mistake of buying bread on the street. I'll return to the bakery for good bread tomorrow. The street bread was all air.
Jenne, one of the owners of this hotel, brought me to a woman who will make me a pair of fleece pants. When those are complete, I'll have her make me some other cold weather gear with the leftover material. I got the material by buying a large fleece blanket earlier in the day for $5.
I expect to get the pants next Monday.
Thursday, January 29: Juayua
Ran to the store for more cereal. Hung out. Napped. Leftovers for lunch. Nap. Fried eggs, onions, and tomatoes for dinner with an avocado, chips, and good bread. Watched The Mentalist. Numbers doesn't seem to be on around here.
Some Mayan followers feel doomsday will come on or around my birthday in 2012. Here's an interesting article:
During my time here at the Anahuac Hotel, I've seen one cockroach in the bathroom, one mouse in the "office", and one night, a cat that came in to steal Eddy's food only to be chased out by Eddy when he woke up and discovered the thief.
El Salvador reminds me of Cambodia in a very unfortunate way... lots on missing limbs on people. I assume it's from the war that ended 16 years ago.
Also, lots of little people here and not just this town, I've seen others since being in El Salvador. And quite a few deformed limbs. One theory is too many people marrying cousins.
Not only are there people who use horseback to get around town, I've seen horses wander the streets of this town, on their own.
School buses don't just carry children, they are the standard buses for the entire region. Mostly they are Bluebird buses shipped down from the US. Repainted, it's often impossible to tell where they came from but one bus here in town came from Cooperstown, and other I saw was from Gary Indiana. I can't help but wonder if any were from my own childhood.
Friday, January 30: Juayua
And now for something completely different. I got out of town today and went for my first hike in over a month. I caught the 6:00am bus for Santa Ana. Once there, I had to ask three times before someone directed me in the right direction to catch my bus. Then as I was walking, I couldn't find any buses. But, without knowing it, I was standing in front of the right building. It was a bus terminal that faced the street, not the parking lot.
There, I met up with a German/Dutch couple living in France as well as two of the guys that had left the Juayua hostel yesterday. We were all heading for the same mountain. We had no problems with the next bus that dropped us off at the National Park of the Volcanoes, better known to the locals as Cerro Verde. We each paid our $1 entry fee and then $1 more for the guided trip up Izalco, the active volcano that sprouted from nothing in the 1700s and grew into a mountain in one month's time. It's last two eruptions were in the 1950s and 60s but it's still very much an active volcano. The park entrance is actually higher than the summit of the volcano so our hike led us down countless switchbacks of well built trail through the forest and then back up more switchback on the barren cone to nearly the same level as we had started to the edge of the caldera. Our $1 got us a guide and a guard.
We took a break for lunch there and then walked around the caldera. There were fumaroles steaming everywhere and though many had the distinctive yellow associated with sulfuric emissions, none had the rotten egg smell of sulfur.
What was unfortunate, was the defacing of so many of the rocks. Some rain will eventually take care of the chalk marks but the spray paint will take more of an effort. Most people go up with a guide, but I believe it's still possible to go on your own so those who do have no oversight. I was also dismayed by both the guide and the guards that cut switchbacks. The trail has eroded significantly in areas and won't be easy to fix. They don't seem to think anything is wrong by doing that. I just with they could talk to the people who had built the trail.
Not wanting to miss the last direct bus from Santa Ana to Juayua, I took the bus to Sonsonate and changed there to go to Juayua. The bus station was incredible well organized with stations for different buses going to different destinations. It seemed like it was on the outskirts of town but when the bus left the station we were right in town.
Grilled cheese for dinner. Birthday cake for a 25 year old who feels like he's old - but doesn't act it. And to bed at 10:00, physically tired for the first time in weeks.
Saturday, January 31: Juayua
I slept nine hours last night and made a major dent in the much needed sleep I had been lacking for the previous week or so. Then, I managed significant naps after both breakfast and lunch. Light breakfast of cereal. The food festival is on again as it is almost every weekend. Today, I had shish kebab with both jumbo shrimp and beef. It came with rice, tomato salad, and garden salad. Hold the tortillas please.
Hard boiled egg sandwiches for dinner.
Reggae concert organized by the owner of the Uhuru coffee shop in town tonight for $4. I got there at the end of the second band's set and stayed through the third band but called it quits at that point. The bands were merely OK but it was nice to see a group of locals or at least people from nearby towns getting into the music. Previous party scenes I've been to on this trip had people standing and listening impassively. Weird. Other hostel guests were just heading out to the party when I returned. They would catch the last band and then hours of DJ sessions.
Sunday, February 1: Juayua
Slept well after the party last night. Didn't hear anyone come in at 2, 4, or 5:00am. Cereal. Spent the morning reading Nora Roberts "Purity in Death". Futuristic cop drama - not really my style but well written enough to draw me in. Yogurt for lunch then dessert of Riguas at the food festival. Also grabbed a frozen banana and strawberry stick covered in chocolate with cocoa crispies. Grilled cheese for dinner. Once again, simple meal but different than any of the local foods.
Watched part of the Superbowl and saw the Steelers win. Commentary in Spanish. I wouldn't have turned it on but one of the Aussies staying here wanted to watch. Go figure.
Tried on my fleece pants. They were short. She's going to fix them by tomorrow. Then, I'll order mittens and balaclava, too.
Monday, February 2: Juayua
Went looking for my milk to add to my cereal only to find it gone. Jens was up and realized he had used it the day before but had already replaced it. No problem there. I just didn't know to look for bagged milk instead of the cartons I had been buying. Milk like many other products (mayonnaise, ketchup, salad dressing, etc.) comes in plastic bags. Bagged products tend to be cheaper and for items like Mayonnaise, makes more sense than plastic or glass bottles. There's no scraping the bottle sides, just squeeze the plastic bags to get the last drop. I ate the last of my grilled cheese for lunch. Really good pizza for dinner from Pizzeria Al Forno. I might have to go back once more this week before leaving for Buenos Aires.
Picked up my pants after dinner and ordered my balaclava. Running out of material so I'll be shopping for overmitts and mittens in Buenos Aires.
To stay occupied here in the hostel in Juayua, I've been doing a lot of reading, spending time on the internet, watching the occasional DVD or TV show, listening to habitual guest Eduardo, better known as "the Mexican", play beautiful classic guitar, and laugh at the antics of Eddy, the boxer.
I'm not the only one who comes to this hostel and gets stuck. Most people come for a day or two. Many stay for much longer.
Finished reading Clive Cussler's "Skeleton Coast" today. Started on Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" about the experiences of those serving in Vietnam. It's fiction but doesn't necessarily read like fiction.
Tuesday, February 3: Juayua
Cereal with yogurt for breakfast. Mexican for lunch - flour tortilla tacos with guacamole and chips. Yum! Cereal for dinner. Finished the Tim O'Brien book today. Not crazy about the style of writing and the subject matter is hard to read about, but it was still a good book, especially after all the pure entertainment value books I've been reading over the last few days. The book exchange here is rather limited so I try to hop on books when they arrive. But, while reading one book, I often miss out on other books.
Had the second fitting for my balaclava today. It wasn't quite what I thought I was describing but it'll work - I think. For someone who has probably never worked with fleece, and certainly has probably never had reason to make such warm clothing as I'm requesting, I think she's doing a pretty good job given the pictures I've printed from on-line and the verbal descriptions Janne has translated for her.
Janne and I seem to have a routine down where we go in the evenings. The tailor/seamstress' house is one block away around the corner. We walk into the living room which looks normal enough, if a bit barren, but then a look to the right reveals the sewing room which is a mess, piled high with sewing projects and scraps of fabric. This is just one room in the family house. In addition to the other adults and children, this family has a number of pets. I've counted two dogs, one parrot, and a cat. Unfortunately, the place smells like the animals may not always make it outdoors or to the litter box - and then it's not cleaned up in any rush. Yuck!
That said, my black fleece pants don't even show a single white cat hair or dog hair on them so at least the animals seem to stay away from the work area.
This seems to be the dry season in much of the area of Central America I've traveled. Except in Coban, Guatemala, I haven't really had any rain to speak of. I've been here in Juayua for nearly three weeks and though there have been a couple of days with angry looking dark clouds passing overhead, they haven't ever dropped any rain. The temperatures here can be hot in the sun during the day but it's dry so it's always comfortable in the shade. It gets cool enough in the evenings to wear a long sleeved shirt and occasionally my warmer jacket. We close the doors to the dorm rooms in the early evening to keep the heat in as the sheets and single blankets can be not quite enough for most of the other guests. I've got my sleeping bag out so on the colder nights, I'm still plenty warm enough. Morning warms up quickly and it's back to short-sleeves within an hour or two of sun-up. other travelers coming from the beaches are relieved when they get here. The beaches are hot. Very hot. And from what I've heard from others, I just haven't been inspired to go to the beach. If I was going to be doing any diving or boating, it would be fun, but since I'm not interested in learning to surf, sitting on very hot black sand beaches - beaches hot enough that Cesar's father once got second degree burns while walking on the beach - sitting on the beach just holds no appeal to me.
The only weather of note here in Juayua is the wind. Every few days, we have a very windy couple of days. Today was the worst though with dust swirling not only around the courtyard here at the hotel, but also in the streets through town. While the floor is swept and washed everyday, it is frequently dusty on windy days. Today, my bed was also covered with dust. The wind blew paintings off the walls and metal kettles off the shelves. The desktop and computer keyboard is also very dusty but with the windy blowing strongly, it's not worth trying to clean it off as it'll just get dusty again with the next gust of wind.
The wind also had an affect on town life. Normally, there would be plenty of people out on the streets, buying and enjoying papusas from the street vendors. Today, when I went out to look for dinner, I had hoped to find some street papusas nearby but with the wind, they had given up. There were very few people wandering the streets. So, I ended up at the supermarket and since I'm only going to be here a few more days, I bought cereal and ended up having some for dinner. It's one thing to carry a bit of extra cereal from town to town around here, but I don't really want to fly with it.
There's a long-term guest here from Israel. Sa-el (or something like that) is working here, overseeing the construction of some greenhouses in the area. He got here in November and the job was supposed to be completed in December but delays have kept him here an extra couple of months. He mostly keeps to himself, emerging from his room at 7am and returning at 7pm to go straight to his room. He holds no interest in talking with any of the other guests. Tonight, I was surprised when he came down to get a light to smoke a cigarette and talk with us for a few minutes. Seems an interesting guy but this wind has him frustrated as they aren't able to work with the plastic coverings for the greenhouses while it's blowing.
[Date: Fri Feb 6, 2009 12:39 am
After three weeks, it's time to move on from the easy living here in Juayua. I am taking a 3:00pm Copa flight tomorrow from San Salvador to Panama. I've got a three hour layover and then I take the red-eye from there to Buenos Aires. I'll be going from one hour behind eastern time to one hour ahead.
I've got plenty of "to do" items on my list for Buenos Aires so I'm not sure exactly how much sightseeing I'll be doing. But, I should have time to see the highlights.
I don't expect to be on-line again until after I arrive in Buenos Aires.
Wednesday, February 4: Juayua
Sent all my laundry in to be washed at once which basically left me stuck at the hostel all day. Cereal for breakfast. Handed over my gloves and a pattern to my tailor to make some mittens to supplement my gloves. The wind continued unabated today. While wind is normal, this strength and duration is unusual. It's also about as cold as it ever gets here with temps in the low 60s is my best guess, maybe dipping into the high 50s at night. Went to Yulmy's comedor with the Mexican for lunch and had rice, chicken, salad, and broccoli for lunch.
Today, for the first time since they opened, the hotel was robbed. Someone came in this morning pretending to need a dorm bed, and while the room was empty, stole money and a credit card from one of the other guests. Phone calls revealed that he then went to Santa Ana and stole from a hostel there, too. More calls found he had done the same yesterday at a beach hostel. Now, there are calls out to many of the other hostels frequented by travelers. With any luck, this guy will try to strike again tomorrow and be caught.
While all this was happening, I had to go pick up my balaclava and see my mittens so I asked Elena to come with me so that Janne could stick around and help deal with the theft situation. No problem. Once again, the tailor was a bit unclear about what I had wanted so the mittens will be fixed by tomorrow. When I asked how much all this would cost, she said $9. I just stared at her. It's too cheap for all the work she's done. Will she be offended if I give her more? Will it set a bad precedent? Or should I just pay the $9 and laugh at the absurdity? Fleece pants, balaclava and mittens for $9 plus the $5 cost of the large fleece blanket.
Sometime after I got back and after all the necessary calls were made, we sat down to a wonderful meal of sushi. Janne had gone to San Salvador for a dentist appointment and came back with a ton of sushi. For $9, I ate more sushi that I probably should have.
With the temperature so low and the wind blowing, nobody is hanging around in the courtyard this evening so I went in to clear my bed. My next problem is going to be packing. I've had plenty of room in my backpack so far on this trip, but all the fleece stuff I just acquired including the fleece sweater I bought a week ago, is likely to make me push the limits of the space in my backpack. I've been carrying around my wrecked skirt so I'll leave that behind. If necessary, I've also been carrying around a pair of shorts I haven't yet worn once and since they're old and a bit torn up, I can leave those behind. Plus, the torn pair of pants that I had copied in Xela could be left behind.
But I doubt the bulk of those three items equals the bulk of the fleece pants I had made not to mention the balaclava and mittens.
Thursday, February 5: Juayua
Better living through chemicals... After a few bad nights sleep due to congestion and runny nose, I took an antihistamine /decongestant last night and slept better.
The wind continues to be the main topic of interest in town and at the hotel. That plus the cold which has people wearing jackets and hats, a most unusual occurrence in February.
I walked around town and took a few pictures, mostly of the topiary in the park. Then after been given a cryptic answer about a man masturbating, I went to look at a statue I had only seen from a distance. Sure enough, as I got closer, it looked like a man masturbating. In reality, it seemed to be a damaged statue that had a man holding a sword or other object that got broken off. The hand position is unfortunate and the statue is now an object of derision for some in town.
Mexican for lunch.
Helped Jens fix the DVD player. Well, mostly sat while he worked on it.
For my last dinner in El Salvador, I went out for one last round of papusas. This time I tried the revueltas (cheese, bean, and chicharon (pig skin)). I also had a chicken papusa and a bean and cheese one. After spending three weeks here, I was a bit sad to say good-bye to Jens, Alex, Janne, and Cesar, not to mention Elena, Patrick, and others who've also stayed on for a while.
Then it was one last internet session and one more reading session to try to finish Paulo Coelho's "The Zahir" before going to sleep.
[Date: Wed Feb 11, 2009 5:09pm
I fly to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, tomorrow morning. Then I´ll have a few days there before leaving on the cruise for the Malvinas (aka Falklands), South Georgia Island, and Antarctica. I expect to be on-line before the cruise, but who knows? Once on the cruise, I will not be in touch for the duration. Satellite communications are available but are pricey so I´ll only use it for emergencies.
I´ll be back in Ushuaia after the cruise on March 6.
At least this email brings my journal entries up to yesterday.
Mara - heading out for an ´early´ dinner at 8:00pm]
Friday, February 6: Juayua, Guatemala to Panama City, Panama
Woke up at 5:45 to ensure I could make all my connections today. Started out with a 6:30am bus from Juayua to Sonsonate. There, the especial bus was just beginning to pull out as I ran up. Perfect timing! The especial buses cost a few cents more than the chicken buses, stop less often, and rather than old U.S. school buses, they are "real" passenger buses with individual seats that recline and have quite a bit more leg room.
From the bus station in San Salvador, I immediately caught a local bus that would go near my shuttle company. But, the bus driver, knowing where I was going, didn't stop. I'm glad I was sort of watching the streets because I caught on quickly and had him stop a couple of blocks past where I would have gotten off. No problem. I had plenty of time and with all the great connection I had on the way to San Salvador, ended up waiting nearly an hour for the 10am shuttle. I just wish there was an 11 one so I could have slept a bit later.
The shuttle to the airport was uneventful and I actually started to doze off a bit here and there. I was thinking that perhaps I would actually get to sleep on the plane.
One at the airport, I had a long wait for my three o'clock flight. So, I checked in, inquired about better seats for my flights and got a good exit row seat for the Panama City to Buenos Aires leg. Perfect. That's my long flight.
At the airport, I ran into the Keene, NH man I had met at the Juayua hostel a week earlier. He was heading back to NH and hadn't been able to check in. His flight showed on the departure board as being on time so when the ticket counter wasn't open at 11:00 or 11:30, we went down at noon to wait. It was only then that he found out the flight was canceled. Poor guy had already been at the airport for nearly two hours. Why did the flight show as on time if it was canceled? And then, his flight was on Delta through Continental frequent flyer miles and there was a Continental flight that would have gotten him home on time, but they refused to switch him, forcing him to stay in El Salvador another night. How aggravating!
I had to go grab lunch so I bid him good luck and found a restaurant with a set lunch for $5.50 including soup, chile relleno stuffed with ground beef (delicious), salad, fruit, and veggies. Not cheap by El Salvador standards, but cheap by airport standards. There was also a Pollo Comero (Central American fast food) and a nicer restaurant at the airport.
Going through immigration, the guy asked when I was returning. I wasn't sure if it was because I had a one way ticket out or just curiosity, but when I said I didn´t have any specific plans to return but hoped to because I liked what I had seen in the country, he smiled and motioned for me to pass through. No problems going through security and then it was time to wait for the flight. There was a Subway in the secure side of the airport but not beforehand.
My flight was cramped with my knees pressed into the seat in front of me. The flight attendant couldn't find anyone to switch with me. Actually, she apologized later and said she forgot. But then she said there were empty rows at the back of the plane. Perfect. I cold use two seat and sit sideways. Problem solved. I would normally look myself but when I checked in, the guy said the plane was full.
The airport in Panama City looked as cosmopolitan as any I had been to though there were more alcohol and chocolate shops and not enough food choices. The only food choices were one expensive restaurant with a long line to get in or two hot dog carts.
I opted for some of the leftover food I was carrying in my daypack.
This airport, by the way, may be a good one to sleep in. While the chairs in the gate area had arm rests, the more generic waiting areas just outside the gate area had four cushioned seats together with no arm rests. There were people spread out on them taking naps. Not sure if overnighting would be permitted though.
Saturday, February 7: South America continuation
I continued my travels in South America. My journals also continue with South America and eventually Antarctica and Easter Island, as well.
Last updated, July 3, 2010.
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