Friday, July 24, 2009
Idyllic Casa de Cafe B&B
We ate yummy pupusas at Comedor Mary's and wandered around the cobblestone streets of town. After a delicious breakfast the next morning with Francesca the kitty, we walked to the Mayan ruins site of Copan, where there are many impressive and intricate carvings, and tall trees growing out of the piles of stones. We also saw brilliant scarlet macaws and capybara-like critters at the entrance to the site.
Stela & hieroglyphic staircase
Skulls & glyphs
After more hammocking and relaxing in the garden, and another tasty breakfast the next morning, we planned to take a morning bus to San Pedro Sula, then catch a plane to the island of Roatan. Not so fast! The bus did not leave because of road closures...due to demonstrations...and it was not clear when the roads would re-open. After some sulking on my part (it was my birthday) and several calls by the B&B owners, we learned an afternoon bus was departing, so we got on it while we had the chance. Unfortunately there were no more flights that day, instead we took another bus to La Ceiba, spent the night, and took the ferry to Roatan the next morning. So we spent a lot more time traveling than I would have liked, and missed a day of fun...but we arrived at our destination safely! A delicious lobster avocado salad lunch at the Lighthouse cheered me up considerably.
View from the Lighthouse restaurant
It was really hot and humid on the island. After lunch we went snorkeling in Half Moon Bay, where we saw lots of fish, conches, and a hawksbill turtle! I love sea turtles.
Half Moon Bay
It was nice to relax and enjoy the view of the Carribean as the sun set outside our room at Luna Beach, especially after all the effort to get there! Then we walked down the beach to the Lobster Pot, where I had grilled shrimp in rum butter sauce for dinner...yum! They also served homemade key lime pie on the house. It was my new favorite restaurant.
Sun setting over Carribean
The next morning we took a water taxi to West Bay, which is a beautiful beach. It was so quiet...very few travelers...and this was during the high season. We went snorkeling in the bay; the coral seemed healthier here than in Half Moon Bay. We saw more fish, and about ten little squid all hanging out in a neat row...so cute! During our lunch on the beach, we saw an impressive display of balance...a woman walking with a cooler on her head!
Turquoise & blue
Later in the afternoon we went out with a dive boat and snorkeled some more...the water is much choppier out there! In one spot there was a huge school of fish...seemed like hundreds...it was amazing to be so close to so many. It was also neat to see the divers go overboard and descend into the deep waters. I'm still too scared to dive though!
After watching the sunset from the dock, we returned to the Lobster Pot, where Dan and I treated ourselves to surf 'n turf (steak and lobster!) for our last dinner of the trip. And more key lime pie! The people at the restaurant were so nice. Dan asked to see the menu after discovering they serve breakfast...but then found out the restaurant is closed on Sunday! So we bought a loaf of their delicious coconut bread, and they gave us a jar of homemade mango jam to eat with it! We really enjoyed our time in Honduras, and hope the political situtation is resolved peacefully...and soon. The livelihood of so many people on the island depends on tourism. We were glad we were able to visit, and hope that others can too.
We had a wonderful trip on our first visit to Central America, but it was great to come home to the foggy city by the bay!
Misty green in the morning
Dan and I made our way north to the jungle of Peten, taking a "shuttle" that involved first riding a pick-up truck through the twisty-turny, bumpy, muddy roads to Lanquin, where we switched to a van with more passengers...then we actually backtracked to Coban, which we had visited days earlier...argh! But after that, the driver went very, very fast...one of our fellow travelers called the ride "terrifying," and I would have to agree. But we arrived safely, and it was nearly dusk when Dan and I walked to the shore of Lake Peten Itza in El Remate.
Shades of blue
There were people swimming in the lake, and we went for a dip before dark as well...the water was quite warm.
Swimmers in the lake
The next morning we went to Tikal, where walked through the jungle and climbed several tall Mayan ruins.
Tall pyramid in the Gran Plaza
Pyramids in the jungle
Atop a pyramid, more in the distance
Even more exciting, we saw toucans! One toucan turned its head from side to side, showing off its colorfull bill...it was so cute! We also saw monkeys swinging in the treetops, oscillated turkeys pecking on the ground, and many Montezuma's oropendolas with their bright yellow tail feathers and long, woven nests hanging from the tree branches.
After a big rainstorm in the afternoon, we walked along the shore of Lake Peten Itza, looking for birds and other wildlife. Other than the occasional rooster crowing and motorcycle speeding by, it is very quiet and serene.
Horses by the lake
Palapa on a pier
The next morning we headed south to Rio Dulce, near the Carribean coast. Many lodges and hotels are located along the river, where fancy boats are docked as well...we stayed in a bungalow at Tortugal.
Approaching Tortugal from the water taxi
The afternoon we arrived, we took a bus from town to the hot springs at Finca El Paraiso. A guide showed us the way through the forested trails to the source of the hot springs...there had been rain in recent days, so the river was silty and not a beautiful emerald green...but the hot springs were still amazing...waterfalls of hot water flowing over a cave into the cold water of the river. The guide pointed above the waterfall, where there were pools of hot water, so we climbed up the rocks over the cave to soak in the hot pools...it started to rain, and we could smell the sulfur in the air...I also heard bats squeaking in the cave...it was so fun!
Refreshed from the hot springs
We saw a lot of cattle and banana plantations on the bus ride back to town. Dan was reading Bananas: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World on our trip, so it was interesting to actually see the reality...in some places, bananas as far as the eye can see.
The next morning we took a boat trip down the Rio Dulce to the coastal town of Livingston. On the way we passed Castillo de San Felipe, an island where egrets and cormorants nest, lots of water lilies, local fisherman's boats, and we soaked in another spot where hot springs flow into the river...ahhh...
Shades of green
We had lunch in Livingston, where we tried the local specialty tapado, a coconut seafood stew, with plantains, crab, fish, and big shrimp... sooo yummy!
Big bowl of yumminess
We walked around town after lunch and saw kids playing soccer on the beach. We also got coconut bread, coconut cookie bars, and coconut popsicles...then, after the boat ride back, we cooled off with a swim outside Tortugal.
Soccer by the Carribean
Yay, a popsicle shop!
Dan swimming in Rio Dulce
We enjoyed Rio Dulce, but it was time to move on...next up, crossing the border to Honduras!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
For those of you who may not know, chicken buses are the primary mode of transportation for many Guatemalans. They are old schoolbuses painted bright colors, and they are notoriously fast. I was so enthralled by the avocados that I did not think to take a photo of the shiny red and yellow one we rode. Dan and I heard various statistics...every month a bus goes off a cliff...on average a chicken bus driver is shot monthly...luckily we heard these stories after we rode the chicken bus. (Also, they are known as chicken buses because one may encounter chickens riding on the bus. This happened to us twice, both times it was a box of chirping chickies.) After three hours of more twisty-turny roads, a miracle drug sales pitch, passing by many coffee plantations and corn fields, with lively music the entire way, we arrived in Guatemala City, and rode the Muni (really!) to the bus station for the first-class bus (former Greyhound) to the mountain town of Coban. Finally, we arrived at Casa Duranta, where the rooms surround a beautiful courtyard garden.
Outside our room
While in Coban, Dan and I visited the Finca Santa Margarita coffee plantation. We saw different varieties of coffee plants and tasted ripe coffee berries during the tour...they are sweet! We also learned what cardomam plants look like, crushed allspice leaves to release the aroma, saw coffee beans being roasted, enjoyed a tasty cup of coffee, and even played with a dashchund! The farm also had two pet peccaries, who did a mutual double-nuzzle that was so cute.
Dan and I explored the town a bit, and climbed a great many steps up to the old temple to see the view of the city. There was a large group of local people gathered outside the temple...not sure why, but we felt like we were intruding, so we headed back down the steps. Dan spotted a Logitech logo outside a shop, so he had to get a picture!
View of Coban from atop the steps
Dan and Logitech logo
In the afternoon we went to the orchid nursery just outside of town, Vivero Verapaz...their collection includes hundreds of orchids native to Guatemala. Most of them bloom between November and February, but we did see some incredibly teeny-tiny orchids...you care barely see the flower! So amazing. There also were several tall pink bromeliads growing on the trees that Dan had never seen before.
From Coban, we took yet another twisty-turn bus ride to Semuc Champey. It was a bumpy ride too, though the views of the lush green hills of the Verapaces were quite lovely. And we saw many, many cornfields in the hills. The Guatemalans seem to grow corn in every available space possible.
We stayed in a cabin at Hostal El Portal, which overlooks the Rio Cahabon. Many of the travelers staying there enjoyed jumping off the bridge into the river...it is a long way down. I wanted to, but was a scaredy-cat. Dan jumped though! The local boys also jumped off, and one little boy named Julio who was selling chocolate was especially impressive...he was so quick and nimble climbing up a tree to get back up to the bridge from the river. Many children in the area sell chocolate that their families have made...we even saw a cacao plant at the entrance of El Portal. I had four round bars during our stay...flavored with cardomam, cinnamon, or vanilla...the chocolate had a slightly grainy texture from the cacao nibs and sugar. So yummy.
Our cabin on the left, bridge in the background
Big pink cacao beans
We heard some other travelers discussing a cave tour the afternoon we arrived, so we decided to join them on a tour of the river-filled caves of K'anba. We were each given a candle, and waded through water to enter the cave. We climbed up and down the rock formations, behind a waterfall, and swam along the way...seeing incredible stalactites and the rushing water of the Rio Cahabon, as well as an occasional bat! It was an unforgettable experience.
The next morning we hiked up a steep, muddy trail to the lookout point, and saw the limestone pools of Semuc Champey, surrounded by the lush green cloudforest...such a lovely setting. The water from Rio Cahabon flows over the pools, as well as through a cave underneath the pools. We walked down to the first series of pools, where we saw the rushing water beneath the limestone caves. Then we made our way through the pools, swimming and jumping from pool to pool...so fun! At the end of the pools, Dan climbed down a rope ladder through a waterfall into the cave beneath, but I was too scared. He actually went underneath Semuc Champey...so amazing!
Semuc Champey from the lookout
Fast-flowing Rio into the cave
Each pool flows down to another layer
Another pool close-up
Dan and I both loved Semuc Champey, and thought the long haul to get there was worth it. We enjoyed the communal meals and meeting fellow travelers...it would have been nice to stay longer, but it was time for our next destination...the jungle of Peten comes up next!
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
We started our trip in Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so the old cobblestone streets and faded pastel buildings are preserved. We stayed at Casa Cristina, near La Merced and the Arch at Santa Catalina. We had breakfast each morning on the rooftop garden, which had a great view of the yellow church and Volcan Agua.
Our room at Casa Cristina
Arch of Santa Catalina
We visited the ruins of the Cathedral, La Merced, and Las Capuchinas; sampled tasty street food; climbed 333 steps to take in the view from Cerro de la Cruz; and even saw two beagles!
Ruins of the old Cathedral
Fuente de Pescados at La Merced
Cloisters at Las Capuchinas
Cerro de la Cruz
Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes...there are over thirty volcanoes in Guatemala! We climbed one of them, Volcan Pacaya, on a day trip from Antigua. After an early rise and a twisty-turny drive, we were greeted by children selling walking sticks and the services of horses at the trailhead. Dan is allergic to horses. The children were persistent, following our group for what seemed like half of the hike up...though finally they returned to the trailhead after one person in the group accepted the services of a horse. I was worried because we didn't bring Benadryl, and the hike was very steep without having to worry about horse-induced anaphylaxis! We saw views of the volcanoes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenengo on our way up the trail.
Eventually though the trail ended, and the crater of Pacaya was in view! It was quite exciting, until I realized we had to scale piles of lava rock the rest of the way.
Posing with the crater
It was a difficult climb up, but even harder getting down. We were stepping on loose piles of lava rock that would move and slip as we climbed...but we made it to the top and felt the heat of the lava beneath the rocks. And then!
Red hot flowing lava!
The thick slow-moving lava was a sight to behold, and the heat was so intense. Also a bit scary though, as the rock surface we were standing on was very porous and fragile, and the lava was right beneath us...people even roasted marshmallows in the heat vents! I ate a roasted marshmallow on a volcano! It was definitely a memorable hike.
From Antigua, we took another twisty-turny drive through the Western Highlands to Lake Atitlan, a huge crater lake ringed by several volcanoes. We barely made the last ferry across the lake...the boat had left the dock and actually came back to get us...phew! Dusk was falling when we arrived in Santiago Atitlan.
Volcan San Pedro
We went canoeing on the lake; visited the textile museum, cathedral, and Sunday market in the village; swam and lounged by the pool; feasted at a Fourth of July BBQ; rode bikes along the lake; hiked the hanging bridges at Reserva Natural Atitlan...and just relaxed and enjoyed the view from the mirador lookout of the hotel, one of my favorite spots during our stay there.
Angel, our stone cottage
Women washing in the morning
Sunday market in the village
Fourth of July BBQ pig
Mural at the village entrance
Crossing a hanging bridge
Volcan San Pedro looms over the lake
View from the mirador
The lake is beautiful, but it was time for our next adventure...onto the Verapaces...stay tuned!