Thursday, January 26, 2012

In El Salvador, Honduras by the Numbers

First, a quick recap of spending habits in Honduras. Looks like we left the country with about $65, about ten bucks less than we came in with, and withdrew $315 during the six days we were there. That comes to about $54/day, not too bad considering we did a lot in a short time.
Yesterday, however, we had quite an adventure getting to El Salvador. Many of the hotels offer shuttles from Copan to El Salvador, however they were about $30-35 per person. We decided to take public transportation instead. We boarded a bus bound for La Entrada, a major transportation hub, at about ten in the morning. When we got to La Entrada they were calling out that busses were leaving for the border town of El Poy which was where we were heading. We got on it and about twenty minutes in it was apparent the driver was having some trouble with the clutch. We stopped a few times and generally took it slow, arriving at the border around four in the afternoon. Immigration at the Honduras/El Salvador border seemed to give us a bit more trouble than usual, regurgitating dates over and over, when we entered Guatemala, where from, etc etc. By the time we were in El Salvador, we had missed the last bus to the capital. There were a few people waiting by the corner hoping to hitchhike to wherever they needed to go, including a very friendly lady who had just bought a live chicken. After waiting for about 45 minutes we ended up deciding to just spend a night on the border and took a tuk tuk to a hotel. The tuk tuk ride was very affordable at a cost of 35¢. We spent a night in a ridiculously bad hotel with a toothless hotelier. Luckily there was a fifteen year old girl who actually ran the place and seemed to keep the local hooligans in the bar under control. This morning we hopped onto the 5:30 AM bus(after awakening our hotelier to unlock the door) and now we are in Santa Ana, in a very nice hotel, the first of our voyage to have a flat screen tv in the room! Time to go out and have some pupusas!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Copan Ruinas

After arriving in Copan on Thursday, we went to the actual ruins about a mile outside of town on Friday. These ruins are very unique amongst all the ruins we have seen due to the intricate carvings that olky seem to have happened at this site. There are numerous pyramids, not quite as large as El Mirador, but still very imposing. This city was founded after the time that Mirador had been abandoned. These ruins also have a lot of hieroglyphics telling the history of their rulers, or so think the archaeologists. About a mile past the ruins there are more ruins, Las Sepulturas, which is where the nobility and wealthy elite lived. This area seemed to be slightly less excavated, but more interestingly it was completely devoid of tourists. There was a lot to see, and it was interesting to see how their homes were constructed. Obviously all the wooden construction has disapeared, so it requires some imagination, but you can see what family interaction must have been like for the ancient Mayan inhabitants. There is also a very nice museum near the ruins that we went to on Saturday. In this musuem many of the original artifacts are displayed since outdoors in the ruins replicas are on display due to exposure to the elements. In the musuem they have built a replica of a temple that the Mayans later built a pyramid over which is also unique to this group of Mayans. In many places in Europe where each new ruling group built their important sites on top of the prior ruling groups important sites, this area seems to be the only Mayan group to have engaged in this practice.
On Sunday we went to Casa Kinich, a musuem about Mayan life in this area. This musuem was very interesting, but judging by the state of the exhibits, it seemed like it was really nice when first built and has since never been repaired. It really is a musuem for children, but for a dollar each, it was a good way to spend the morning before the 49ers game. We don't need to discuss what happened Sunday afternoon. After a deeply saddening loss, we decided to go to the Aguas Termales yesterday. All the hotels sell overpriced transportation to the hot springs, but we decided to take a minibus for less than half the price. At the Aguas, there are basically two options, a $3 option which includes access to the river where hot water mixes with cold water and access to two swimming pools, or a $10 option which gives you access to the "wellness center". We decided on the $3 option, enjoyed some time in the river, but decided the pools were basically public swimming pools, not really hot and not exactly comfortable. We decided to sneak over to the "wellness center" to check it out. Luckily the Aguas are somewhat understaffed so it was an easy sneak. Here there are a variety of tiered pools from hot to cold as well as massage tables, etc. After spending a few hours in the hot water we had enough and started to look for a way home. After 15 minutes or so a woman in a pickup truck passed by and we hopped in, cheaper than the bus ride! So here we are in Copan, hanging out, and tomorrow we head to El Salvador!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guatemala By The Numbers - And a Bus Crash on the Way to Honduras

Well team, we made it to Honduras. We got on our second class bus in Flores this morning and headed for the border. At about 1:30 PM our bus was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler. After waiting by the side of the road for a while and watching a lot of mysterious fluids leak from the engine, the bus driver and his assistant determined that they had done an adequate job of duct taping the engine back together and we continued on our journey. We eventually got to Chiquimula, a town near the border and caught the last shuttle to the border. We crossed the border into Honduras at about 6:30, only to be told that the last buses and taxis normally leave at six, so we are stranded in the middle of nowhere. After talking to some friendly police officers for a bit, they talk some of their buddies into giving us a ride into town for 100 lempiras each, not too bad considering the situation. After checking into our hotel we treated ourselves to some delicious street food where our entire meal only cost 50 lempiras total, about $2.65.
Anyways, now that we have left Guatemala, time for a quick budget update. Keep in mind that I had about $74 dollars in my pocket when we entered Guatemala, and I had about the same when we left. Over the 45 days we were in Guatemala, we withdrew about $2556, or just under $57/day. This is actually pretty good considering we took over three weeks of Spanish school where we both had our own teacher all day, and we went on a very expensive hike to El Mirador. All in all, Guatemala could easily be done for much less money, but we wanted to hike Mirador, and work on our Spanish a bit. Just remember, when you are in Antigua, eat at the comedors to get a great meal for 15% of the cost!

While Mexico really was all about the street food - and the beaches - Guatemala was really about great people. Between our time in Xela and all our friends from school, meeting Denesse in Antigua, and then the great people we spent 5 days in the jungle with to El Mirador and back, we had nothing but great times with everyone we met here!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

El Mirador

While most tourists interested in seeing Mayan ruins who come to Flores visit Tikal, a well-known and mostly excavated Mayan city, we were in search of something a little more off the beaten path. We had read about the hike to Mirador and also been told by some Guatemalans that it was well worth the experience.

We arrived in Flores on an overnight bus from Guatemala City at about 4 AM. We were very tired and a little disoriented, but we knew Flores was an island connected by a causeway to Santa Elena. So when the bus stopped and we were told to get on a shuttle to the island, it seemed natural. On the shuttle, there was a man selling rides and guides to Tikal as the shuttle took us to the hotel we planned to stay at. When we told him we were thinking Mirador instead, he tried to sell us a trip for $450 a person, which we declined as that was way out of our budget. (We later discovered that this "operator" was a scammer who had ripped off some others, and last year had spent time in jail for selling overpriced plane tickets.)

We checked into our hotel and slept for a few hours. Later that day, we wandered about the island, which is quite small, maybe only half a kilometer in diameter, ate some food, and checked in on a few travel agencies for prices to Mirador. Basically, the agencies work together to put together groups, and the bigger the group, the less you have to pay per person. The difficulty is that most people who do this trip are travelling alone or in pairs, so the agents often take advantage of less-savvy and weary travellers and charge them a 1 or 2 person rate, though they end up in groups of 6, 8 or more! And once you've parted with money in Guatemala, it is unlikely you will get your fair share back. The 5-day hike would include food and water, tents, and a guide to the Mirador. We told the agent that we could wait for a large group, since we had a budget to keep and nothing but time. He told us to come back tomorrow to see if more people were interested. In the meantime, it was the festival week on the island, so we enjoyed the sunlight by the lake, the parades that would come by with music in the afternoon, and lots of tasty street food and fresh fruits. I particularly enjoy here the young mango with lime juice, salt, and chili! We also met a friendly Salvadorian man, who used to live in Inglewood but was deported from the US for drunk driving, who know works at a hotel/tour operator here in Flores, who gave us lots of suggestions and tips for the Mirador and also some good questions to ask the agency before we left.

The next afternoon, we returned to the agent who told us there was a group of 4 (including us) but he could give us a "special price", but we told him we had a budget and couldn't afford to spend more than $250 a person, their 6 person or more price (which is still DOUBLE our budget), and not surprisingly, he took it. So the next day, we were off.

We met at the agency for breakfast of eggs, beans, and toast and met our fellow travellers. It turnes out there were 8 people after all (so luckily, we didnt over pay after all!) and it was quite an eclectic group. There was a couple where he was from France and she was from the Czech Republic (late 20s, they met working on a farm in Denmark), a 28 y/o Canadian girl, a 25 y/o Mexican guy, a 43 y/o Dutchman, a 43 y/o Korean man, and us. While we were eating, our "shuttle" arrived - which was actually a pickup truck. The agents loaded all the food and tents into the truck, then 4 people got into the truck and 4 of us had to sit in the bed, on top of the supplies! Matt and I took first round with Ranier, the Dutchman, and Eduardo, the Mexican. Of course, the paved road ended after about half an hour of driving, so the ride was quite bumpy! (After an hour we switched and sat inside the truck.). We arrived in Carmelita, a little town in the jungle of Petén, where the hike would commence. While the food and equipment was loaded onto the mules, our guide, Abel, showed us a map of where we would walk and tried to sell us the idea of adding an extra day to the hike to see three extra sites. While the idea sounded great, the price did not, and most people had already paid too much for the five days, so we stuck with our original plan. We also learned that if we had organized the trip directly with the cooperative of guides in Carmelita, we could have paid even less.

If you ever do plan on doing this trip, which I recommend, contact the Carmelita Cooperative at or .

We began walking just before noon and walked 27 kilometers to El Tintal, another Mayan City. We made excellent time and arrived in 5.5 hours. The path through the jungle is still pretty wild. A clear path has been cut, so its not as if we were cutting down branches with machetes (though our guide, the muleteer, and our security guide all carried pretty serious machetes) however, the path is dirt with rocks and many tree roots, so we did have to navigate our footing carefully. It had also rained a few days before, so some part of the path were quite muddy and Matt's shoe got sucked off his foot twice! In some places where the path was too wet, the guide would take us on an alternate path, which was less of a path and more a slight clearing in the trees. Overall, the jungle is quite flat, but there are some inclinces - which are not mountains but actually more ruins that the jungle has completely grown over! We mostly talked and told stories, played some word games, as we walked and had fun.

At Tintal, we climbed the Tiger Temple Pyramid to watch the sunset and looked out and saw nothing but jungle as far as the eye could see in all directions. The jungle is mostly flat, but as we looked out, we could see small and large hills, which our guide explained were more Mayan Ruins. He even pointed out the Mirador way out in the distance. It was crazy to think that where we were standing had once been in the center of a non-jungle city and that we were looking out at other cities, but that in the course of 2000 years, the jungle had completely grown over everything these people built. Even stranger, some archaeologists believe one reason the Mayan cities were abandoned was related to depletion of natural resources, such as deforestation and loss of trees, which were cut down to make the mortar for the stone structures and cleared to make causeways, which were like highways, that connected the cities. So an area that was deforested to the point of driving out a civilization grew back over all the buildings (yes, over 2000 years) and today, Guatemala is again facing a national crisis of deforestation.

We were all pretty tired and went to bed rather early. We awoke at 6 am and left Tintal by 7:40 headed to El Mirador. I believe the second day is always the worst in hiking becuase on the first day we were all so full of energy and moved very quickly but used many muscles that hadn't been used for a while (our last hike was Pacaya in Antigua), but also not to that extent. We were all very tired and our feet ached. Nonetheless, we made the 26 challenging kilometers to Mirador in 8 hours, including a half hour morning break to rest and eat some oranges, a little over a half hour for lunch (mayonnaise and cheese sandwhiches - a Guatemalan favorite, not so much our favorite), and a few other water and rest stops. We saw some Spider Monkeys playing in the trees above us and some deer. We also ate some fruit, Zapotes, that our guide found and he pulled some very fragrant "pimiento" leaves to make tea. We intended to climb the Tiger Temple at Mirador to watch the sunset again, but it began to rain.

The camp at Mirador is pretty standard campsite - there are concrete foundations to place tents on that are covered by palapas to protect from rain. There is a fire pit with wooden table for meals and the bathrooms are dry outhouses with wooden boxes for seats that get pretty smelly. That night, we stayed up a little later, playing cards and talking. I was pretty amazed that just about everyone besides us smoked - the 6 other hikers were smokers, the muleteer and security guard too. I was amazed at how the Frenchman would smoke while hiking! He had brought 5 packs of cigarettes for 5 daysof hiking.

The third day we woke up at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise from the Tiger Temple. It was still rather cloudy, though the rain had stopped, so while it was not the most magnificent sunrise, what was more fascinating was listening to the sounds of the jungle waking up. We heard the deep growls of howler monkeys, the calls of toucans, parrots, and many other birds, and saw the trees shake as all these animals moved about. We spotted some toucans on far tree as we drank the tea made from the leaves picked the day before. After we returned to camp for breakfast, we spent the day exploring the ruins. They are still in the process of excavating many of the sites, so it was interesting to see how trees and plants had taken root and grown out of once great buildings. We visited the Danta Pyramid complex, which is the biggest pyramid built by the mayans (the biggest complex at Tikal could fit entirely inside the Danta, which is just one temple in the great city), and the largest by volume in Central America. The Mirador was built in the Mayan preclassic period (1000 BC-0), so every temple/building/pyramid was built with two smaller pyramids/edifices in front in a triad that archaeologiats believe mirror a star constellation. We also saw a pool/water resorvoir that had amazing plaster designs on the sides of the plumed serpent god that is still being excavated and a temple with the jaguar mask. The city reached its height of glory around 300 BC and was abandoned around 100 AC. Like most ancient cities, it was repopulated about 500 years later, when a nomadic group settled upon the old foundation and used stones from the pyramids to build new houses. Former temples were privatized and made into homes. After lunch, we visited the observatory, which was a pyramid that had a dip in the top which was aligned with three corresponding pyramids such that at noon on the equinoxes and solstices, the sun would shine in a straight line from the peak of the corresponding pyramid through the dip in the observatory. Around the ruins, we saw more spider monkeys and also the howlers; parrots and toucans, hummingbirds, dragonflies, giant red ants, and every other type of insect you can imagine. Matt saw a tarantula!

That evening, it rained again, and we all enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. Our guide boiled some water over the fire and mixed it with cool water and salt to make a foot bath, which was nice and relaxing as we prepared to head back.

The fourth day, we awoke at 6 and left by 7:50 to return to Tintal. Since we had used about half the supplies, there mules now free of equipment that we could ride, so we all took turns riding an hour or two while others walked. While it was nice to rest our feet some more, I think the pain in my sit bones from riding the mule is far worse than anyother muscle ache I have from the trip! It rained on and off through the day, but the canopy of trees blocked most of the water from coming down on us directly. The cool air was refreshing but our shoes and pants got very muddy - I had mud up to my knees! I chose to wear long pants, thankfully, but others had worn shorts and they were filthy! At camp, we had water to wash our hands and face, but there were certainly no showers and a lot of the mud did not come off! On the trail, we saw more deer, the guide pointed out some Jaguar droppings (though unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, we didn't have a Jaguar sighting). We also saw the tail end of a Tepesquintla. As it was our last night, we sat talking and playing cards much of the evening. Our guides were really nice and they took part in the fun. The muleteer was also a funny guy, though it was sometimes difficult to understand him as he mumbled, and of course, in spanish. He was almost like a character out of a movie, because it seemed that everyday he would button up one less button of his shirt and by the last day was walking around with it completely undone! Our security, Carlos, seemed to not have shaven or cut his hair for many years, so I think we saw what Matt will look like by the end of our trip!

The fifth day, our food was basically exhausted, so breakfast was light and we had no lunch save a snack of oranges. We walked all the way back to Carmelita and were all so thrilled when we finally stepped out of the jungle onto the dirt road at the edge of town. We were tired, we were stinky, we were hungry, but we were happy! Before returning to the office, we stopped at a tienda and got some snacks and cold beverages. We had the same luxury transportation home - yes, half of us outside on the bed of a truck, but this time, it continued to rain on and off for the three hour ride home. We got back to Flores around 6 pm and agreed to meet for dinner in 2 hours. We all went our own way, to various hotels and hostels, and of course - SHOWERED! It felt so good to get five days of mud, sweat, humidity, stickiness, bugs, dirt, food, etc etc all washed off in a hot (well, warm) shower! Amd putting on fresh, clean clothes... Ahhhhhhh... By 8 pm we were starving, so we went to a restaurant on the lake front and toasted to our amazing adventure. We were very lucky that our group got along so well and that we came back as friends.

Yesterday, we went over to Santa Elena with Sarah, the Canadienne, for breakfast and bought some fresh fruit and veggies at the market. It was quite hot, so Matt and I headed out to the lake for a swim. After the first dive in, we cleaned our very muddy shoes in the water and laid out on the dock enjoying our fruit. We had just jumped in to swim for the second time, when it started to rain! We returned to our room to dry off and relaxed in the rooftop (covered) hammocks for the rest of the afternoon. We met Sarah again for dinner and found Ranier, the Dutchman, along the way, so we enjoyed a last meal together. Today, Sarah has headed to Belize and Ranier to Palenque, Mexico. Tomorrow, we will likely head to Copan, Honduras for more ruins and a few days later to El Salvador. Today, the plan is: relax!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


We are hanging out in Flores, working hard in our hammocks. We have hunted out some good prices for our trip to El Mirador, however to get a good price we have to wait for there to be a group of five or six hikers in total. Even at that size it basically is double our budget, so we are keeping the spending down in the meantime. Lounging in the hammock, playing by the docks, hanging out in the Parque Central, generally roughing it in our lakeside paradise. To get to Flores we took a chicken bus to Guatemala city, and then a more luxurious bus overnight to get here. We had originally intended to go to the railroad musuem in Guatemala, but it is closed on Mondays. We did end up eating our least expensive dinner yet, $1 US each for fried chicken, rice, soup, and a fruit drink. Anyways, back to Flores, this morning I had a strange experience. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Guatemalan showers, there isn't really a water heater in the sense of a large boiler style tank, instead there is an electrical box near the showerhead with a bunch of wires going into the showerhead. I assume there is some sort of heating element in the showerhead that heats the water as it passes through. Needless to say, these wires are not grounded, and appear to be installed by an eight year old masquerading as an electrician. This morning I was wondering why one part of my elbow was numb when it was getting wet. Turns out, when I held my hand close to the showerhead, there was a fair amount of electricity shocking me. I don't think it was enough to cause any real damage, but it certainly was enough to convince me not to do that again. So, if you have a pacemaker, perhaps Guatemala isn't the best place for you. Oh, and we also found out that on our hike to El Mirador, there's poisonous snakes and aggressive monkeys, we will be sure to take plenty of pictures!!!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Antigua, Continued

You'll have to pardon the double post today, but we had a fun afternoon today. After getting a delicious lunch, we were practicing our Spanish while walking back home and a guy at a ceviche cart flags us down and starts talking to us. He seemed friendly enough, and was pretty drunk considering it was only 3:00 in the afternoon. After talking to him for a bit he said his brother worked at a local panadería and that we should go buy some bread. He was really happy that we were visiting Guatemala, and warned us to be careful in the capitol tomorrow. We ended up heading to the panadería where his brother worked, but wasn't in at the moment, however the ladies seemed to be well aware of the drunken broher wandering around town. Later on, after dinner, we were again practicing our Spanish and a Guatemalan driving down the street rolled down his window to ask for directions after hearing our Spanish, we unfortunately had to tell him we were turistos. Anyways, tomorrow morning we head to Guatemala city and then onward to Flores in the afternoon. Goodnight all!

Favor de disculparme el doble articulo hoy, pero nos divertimos mucho esta tarde. Despues de comer un almuerzo sobroso, practicábamos nuestro Español mientras estabámos regresando al hostal, y un tipo comiendo por una cevichería movil empezó a hablar con nosotros. Él nos pareció suficiente amable, y fue muy borracho por la hora de 15:00. Despues de hablar con él por un rato, él nos dijo que su hermano trabaja en una panadería muy cerca y que debemos visitarlo a comprar pan. Él fue muy feliz que visitaramos Guatemala, y nos advirtió que tuvieramos cuidado en la capital mañana. Acabábamos yendo a la panadería dónde trabaja su hermano, pero él no estaba allá en ese momento, sin embargo las mujeres trabajando parecían bien informado del hermano borracho andando por la ciudad. Más tarde, despues de la cena, estábamos practicando el Español otra vez y un Guatemalteco manejando por la calle bajó el vidrio para preguntarnos dónde está algo despues de oír nuestro Español, pero tuvimos que decirle que somos turistos. De cualquier modo, mañana por la mañana vamos a Guatemala y despues a Flores por la tarde. ¡Buenas noches a todos!


We have been in Antigua for a few days now and it is quite the colonial city. In many ways, it is as if this ciy was transported from somewhere in Europe and dropped down here in Guatemala. It's easy to see how this used to be the capital until the city was largely destroyed by an Earthquake, and there are ruins from that time period scattered about the city. In total, Antigua is basically 8 blocks by 9 blocks with the Parque Central in the middle. There are numerous coffee shops, hotels, and fine restaurants. For adventurers on a budget, such as ourselves, we have largely been avoiding these sorts of places and trying to find places that locals patronize. For example, yesterday we had lunch at a little comedor and for 15 quetzales each (a little less than $2 US, we both got a bowl of chicken soup, a plate of vegatables, a chicken breast, tortillas, and a homemade fruit drink. However, in the more touristy cafes, a cup of coffee is easily 20 quetzales, and a bowl of soup could ranch from 35 up to 70+ depending on your tastes. That said, it would appear that it's very easy to get a good deal, relative to American prices, on some very good food. Tour agencies abound and the majority list their prices here in dollars instead of quetzals. English is spoken nearly everywhere along with other European languages.
Sarah has had a little cold the last few days so we have been taking it easy. Yesterday we went to the printing press musuem where they have a replica of one of the first printing presses from Central America. As seems to be the norm in Guatemala, there are different prices for citizens and foreigners, and this process is institutionalized. Entry to this museum is 5 quetzales for Guatemalan citizens and 30 quetzales for foreigners. Unfortunately, when we entered yesterday, the musuem did not have change for a 100 quetzal bill, and so we managed to get into the musuem for 42 quetzales instead of 60. There are many old books, and even some musical works which Sarah enjoyed. We hung out in the Parque Central for a bit, listened to some Beatles being played by a local band, with local instruments, and generally took it easy. A nutritious pizza dinner and some ice cream rounded out the evening. We are going to head up to Flores in the next day or so where we are considering a 5-8 day hike away from civilization. We will keep you posted!

Friday, January 6, 2012

So We Roasted Marshmellows......

Using the heat from the lava of the active volcano, Pacaya, while the volcano two volcanos over was erupting violently into the sky.
We met up with our friend from college, Denesse, who is also travelling through Central America. The marshmellows roasted deliciously and we had brought some chocolate cookies as our best approximation of s'mores given the available ingredients. The hike up volcan Pacaya was significantly easier than the hike up Cerro Quemado, and the trail is much wider. That said it appears to be popular amongst out of shape tourists and there were locals offering a "taxi natural" also known as a horse, for a small fee if you couldn't make it to the top on your own. Oddly enough the cost of the horse was greater than what we had paid for park entrance, guide, and transportation there and back, combined! We had done the evening hike and on the way back it started to get very cold and windy. After arriving home we decided to eat some oranges we had picked up when getting the marshmellows in the market and got some hot chocolate.
This morning we took a tour of a coffee plantation and a Mayan music museum. Apparently there's a way to book tours of the coffee plantation in advance, but we just flagged down their bus and hopped on. For 50 quetzales we got a guided tour through the process of growing and harvesting the beans, drying, husking, roasting, and then drinking the coffee. This is a "fair trade" plantation where the workers make about $7.50 per day, in "free trade" plantations the workers make about $5.00. That said, each coffee plant makes about one pound of coffee beans each year and it's quite a lengthy process. We learned that the best coffee beans from this area are a little bigger than normal and generally get exported to Japan. The second class goes to Europe and Starbucks, and the straggler beans stay behind for instant coffee or cheap coffee shops here. The Mayan music museum was also very informative. It's amazing how a lot of the Mayan culture has been integrated into their Catholic-Mayan religion, wih rituals and sacrifices going on in churches, etc. We also got to see a variety of Mayan instruments as well as watch a video of some of their performances. Now we are tired and will probably catch up on some sleeping and reading in a hammock.

Cocinamos marshmellows por el calor de la lava de volcan Pacaya mientras Volcan Fuego hizo erupcion. Nos reunimos con nuestro amigo de la universidad, Denesse, que tambien está viajando por Centroamerica. Los marshmellows se cocinaron ricamentes y habíamos comprado unas galletas similares al estilo de "smores" que son una merienda de camping Estadounidense. El camino para subir Pacaya es más facil que el de Cerro Quemado, y el sendero es más ancho. Sin embargo, parace que sea popular con los turistas en mal forma porque había gente ofreciendo "taxis naturales" conocidos como caballos, por un precio pequeño. ¡Extrañamente, el precio del caballo fue más del precio de la entrada al parque, el guía, y transporte de ida y vuelta en total! Habíamos hecho el camino de la tarde y cuando estabamos bajando, empezó a ponerse frío y ventoso. Despues de llegar al hostal decidimos comer unas mandarinas que compramos antes en el mercado y tomar chocolate caliente.
Esta mañana fuimos en un tour de una plantación de cafe y un museo de la musica Maya. Es posible reservar espacio en el tour, pero nosotros apenas gritamos al piloto del bus y subimos. Por 50 quetzales a cada uno tuvimos un tour con guía del proceso de sembrar, cosechar, secar, rostizar y finalmente beber el cafe. Esta plantación es de "fair trade" entonces paga sus trabajadores 60 quetzales diario, en las plantaciones de "free trade" los trabajadores solo ganan 40 quetzales diario. Cada arbol de cafe produce una libra de cafe cada año y es un proceso largo. Aprendimos que los granos mejores de cafe son un poco más grande y generalmente son exportados a Japón. La segunda clase va a Europe y Starbucks y los demás son para cafe instantaneo o cafes locales baratos. El museo de musica Maya tambien fue muy informativo. Es asombroso como muchos aspetos de la cultura Maya se ha integrado a la religion Catolico/Maya, con rituales y sacrificios en las iglesias. Tambien vimos muchos instrumentos Maya y vimos un video de sus actuaciones. Ahorita estamos cansados y probablemente vamos a leer y descansar en unas hamacas.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Burrito Factory....La Fabrica de Burritos

Today we had our most expensive meal in Guatemala, at the Burrito Factory! At first I was a little surprised to see that the burrito I wanted was about $5.15 US, however when it arrived, I realized why. This burrito was a solid 16 inches long and the guacamole was piled on top. It reminded me of a super burrito I once ate in high school, except this time I couldn't finish it. For all you future visitors of San Pedro La Laguna, the burrito size descriptions are misleading, I think next time I would go with a small. In addition to the delicious burrito, the factory is on the water, so you have an excellent view while you are basking in the glory of a tasty burrito. In other news, the friendly Alegre pub has 4 quetzal (about fifty cents) rum and cokes tonight, so we will probably head over and watch the Michigan game soon. Tomorrow we are heading to Antigua, so we picked up our shuttle tickets from a local tour agency. Again, I can't stress enough the importance of negotiation as we got a 25% discount off the quoted price, we have to save some cash to cover our expensive burrito habit. Note that each shuttle ticket cost almost the same as my burrito today. We did some Spanish studying so that we don't forget everything we tried so hard to learn the last few weeks, and the lady who works at our hotel was nice enough to help us with some difficult verbs. Anyways, back to the relaxing sounds of hammocks and waves outside.

Hoy comimos nuestra comida más cara de Guatemala, por La Fabrica de Burritos. Al principio, me sorprendió ver que el burrito que querría me costaría 40 quetzales, no obstante, cuando llegó, me di cuenta porque. Este burrito fue cuarenta centimetros de longitud y hubo más que suficiente guacamole encima. Me recordé de un super burrito que comí una vez cuando era estudiante en la secundaria, pero este turno, no pude acabarlo. Si vinieras a comer a La Fabrica de Burritos en San Pedro La Laguna, las descripciones de los tamaños son erróneosos. Si yo comiera aca otra vez, preferiría el pequeño. La Fabrica está ubicado a la orilla del lago, pues tienes una vista excelente mientras está disfrutándole de su burrito. En otras noticias, el bar Alegre ofrece cuba libres por 4 Quetzales esta noche, pues vamos a ir alla en un rato para mirar el juego de futbol Americano de Michigan. Mañana vamos a ir a La Antigua, y compramos nuestros boletos hoy. De nuevo, no puedo estressar suficiente la importancia de negociar porque recibimos un descuento de 25% del precio original y tenemos que ahorrar nuestro centavos para pagar nuestro habito de comer burritos. Fijanse que cada boleto tuvo casi el mismo precio del burrito que comí para almuerzo. Estudiamos un poco de español para que no olvidemos lo que esforzamos tanto para aprender las ultimas semanas, y la mujer que trabaja en el hotel nos ayudó con unos verbos dificiles. De cualquier forma, es la hora de regresar a los sonidos tranquilos de hamacas y olas afuera.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

I truly feel that this has been one of the most action-packed New Year's Eve I've ever had!  We awoke early Saturday morning for our planned hike to Cerro Quemado, a volcano just slightly smaller than Santa Maria, the largest volcano in Xela.  My Spanish teacher, Mario, was our guide on one of his favorite hikes.  We met at 7 am near the school and took a short bus ride for Q1.50 each (~$0.19) to the "trailhead".  I am sort of amazed at how this much nature that is mostly untouched is right up against the city.  I use the word "trail" lightly, because this hike did not really have a defined trail - more like the desire paths made by previous trekkers, that often split and reunited depending on how some group went.  Surely, without Mario there is no way we would have made it.  There has been some thefts in this area recently, so at first, when the trail passes several small farms/houses, we did not talk much, but when we got more into nature, we didn't hold back talking as we went, though some parts were so hard that we didn't talk much for need of breath!  That said, we only saw two others on the volcano all day, so there was no trouble at all and I somewhat regret not having my camera to take some amazing photos! 

The first stage was a lot of up and down, amongst trees, and the second stage was through a crater shaped field that had high grasses and flowers.  The third and fourth stages were quite intense ascents.  As I mentioned, the path was not very defined and often narrow, and we had to be careful with our step to make sure there was solid ground.  There was a lot of underbrush and mulch, so we wore long sleeves the whole way.  We tried to keep a slow and steady pace, as opposed to stopping to rest often, however at times, it was necessary.  By the fourth stage, we were in the crater of the volcano, and stopped to inhale some of the natural steam that came sneaking out from under the rocks.  Then, we came to the fifth stage, which was rather more like rock-climbing than hiking.  All three of us were using our hands to help maneuver from rock to rock as we came to the peak.  The last bit is rather like a wall and I wasn't sure how we would get up.  Mario told us, that at first it was impossible to reach the top because of many rocks, but locals had used tree trunks and large branches to make a path.  It was very narrow, at points I could feel the rocks on both my front and back as I slipped through, and there was a well placed rope and tree trunk for guidance to the top, which also helped cross a gap in the rocks.  Finally, in about 3+ hours, we reached the top - 3100 m (10,000 ft).  The view was unbelievable!  You could see the entire city and surrounding suburbs/villages and all the volcanos and mountains that surrounded it.  We were, literally, above the clouds.  And the air was quite thin - Matt didn't feel so great, so we just had some water and snacks before beginning our descent.  

Going back down the rocks presented it's own challenges, especially when your legs are as short as mine.  Mario led part of the way, showing us how to cross, and Matt went first down some big steps to help me reach.  It's one thing, to lift yourself up a rock, but quite another to put all your weight down on a foot that hasn't quite reached solid ground!  Once past this stage, going back down the rest of the way was less challenging.  The biggest danger was loose dirt or slippery leaves.  As before, it was important to be careful with footing.  At some points, it was easier to sit down and sort of push off to the next level.  I found myself amazed that we had actually climbed up this path!  We were back to the bus stop shortly after 1 and home by 1:30.  This was easily one of the most difficult hikes, or rather climbs, I have ever done.  (I would say equally as challenging as half dome, but obviously less time.  Whereas with Half Dome, you take half the day just to get to the rock, you get there rather quickly at Cerro Quemado.  But the actual last climb part is harder than Yosemite.). 

Needless to say, we were quite tired, but we had plans.  We showered, had some lunch, and said goodbye to our Quetzeltenangan family.  We did think about putting off our plans, but the family had bought a dog for Christmas and it arrived at the house that day; there wasn't a way Matt could stay.  We were a bit concerned that the transportation wouldn't be running on the 31st so we took a taxi to the central bus area and luckily found a bus quite quickly.  Originally the bus assistant told me they expected to arrive in Panajachel by 6.  Of course, the chicken busses don't leave on a certain schedule - they leave when they are full.  Full means 3 people per seat bench.  Full means stuffed.  Finally, we left but the bus continued to make stops as people got on and off.  We had arrived in Sololá, the second to last stop, just before 7, when the bus driver decided he didn't want to continue on, so they returned 3 quetzales to everyone left and told us to find another bus!  We ran and luckily found one headed our way.  As Matt paid, he asked the assistant which stop we should get off at for the lanchas (boats) to San Pedro.  The assistant told us there were no more today, because it was after dark and the 31st.  We started to worry.  Our friends had already held a room for us at San Pedro.  A Peace Corp worker, who happened to hear our conversation, told us he would tell us what stop to get off for the pier.  If we were lucky, we might be able to charter a private lancha across the lake for 150Q.  Well, we were more than lucky, because the regular lanchas were still running, and we caught one for 25Q each (~$.3.20).  The ride across the lake was rather smooth and we arrived in San Pedro la Laguna around 8:15, none the worse for wear.  

We grabbed a quick bite at a British-style pub near the dock as we waited to meet our friends.  Unfortunately, our friends had bad news: the manager at the hotel was a jerk and had double sold our room.  But they offered to share their room with us.  Then, at the last minute, we were able to get "the last" room at a "nicer" hotel where some friends of friends were staying.  (in hindsight, the nicer hotel has ants and a clogged drain.  The hammocks and view are nice, but we are switching hotels tomorrow morning when all the new years crowds leave town.)  Both of us were quite exhausted after this day, so we took a short siesta in our room and headed down to the Buddha Bar for the party.  We had been hoping to run into some friends, including Derek, another student living in our same homestay, who had gone on a three-day hike to arrive in San Pedro for NYE.  It had already been a lucky day, and so we did run into Derek at Buddha and had a great time.  At midnight, everyone headed to the roof for fireworks, which after Christmas, were expected.  The displays did not disappoint.  And while safety regulations here are non-existent, nothing burned down and everyone had a great time.  After midnight, Matt and I got a new years snack at a taco stand and headed back.  We texted and spoke to some family and were asleep by 2 am.  

Our New Years Day has been quite restful.  We slept in and enjoyed long showers before heading back to British Pub to watch the 49ers win!  We ate there and then wandered around town.  The pueblo is very small, only 13,000 people, built on the hill by the lake.  We wandered uphill toward the less touristy part of town and through the market where a New Years Day celebration concert was taking place with local musicians.  Down near the water is the more touristy area, abundant with (real) hippies and lots of Israelis!  All the tour companies have signs in Hebrew and there is a hummus bar.  On our way back to the hotel, we ran into another friend from Xela and will likely meet up with him and others later.

This little lake town is quite charming - the views are great and the daytime temps are nice and warm.  It's a little chilly at night, but not freezing - nothing the glow from a few drinks can't help!  We plan on staying here no later than Wednesday, then we'll take a shuttle or bus to Antigua.

Happy New Year to all!  Hope your 2012 is fun-filled and action packed.  If we're lucky, we'll see you in Central or South America sometime this year!