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My Journey Round The World » 2009 » October

My Journey Round The World

279 days on the road…

Lake Atitlan

2009-10-31_GUATEMALA-SanPedro

Lago de Atitlán is surrounded by mountains and three volcanoes and is estimated to be up to 340 meters deep, the deepest lake in Central America. Approximately fifteen towns or villages lie on the perimeter, mainly inhabited by traditional Mayan peoples and pretty touristy.

We stopped for 2 days in San Pedro La Laguna, just on the lake border. After visiting Chichicastengo market we went to San Marcos by boat. Small village in front of ¬†San Pedro said to be the prettiest village of the lakeside, indeed! Water is supposed to be clean & you can swim there… Well, not exactly now… Apparently, since few weeks already, ¬†the lake is completly polluted, and you can see it! Just when we arrived in San Marcos, we met a young American girl, ¬†asking her for directions, who end up for a really interesting¬†drink, explaining that the lake is in real danger & that people need to find a solution or it might be the end of it… She arrived here 6 month ago to stay 2 years on a volunteer project & this is a real coincidence that she is a specialist of water pollution! They hope to find something quickly, together with the population as the main problem seems to be their habits of washing clothes & themself in the lake. However as she said, it might be difficult to change this quickly… We all hope for the best!!!


Chichicastenango mercado

2009-10-29_Guatemala-TravelMercadoChichicastenango

Chichicastenango is¬†known to what is¬†said to be¬†the most colorful native market in North and Central America, perhaps in all the Americas. Market days are Sundays and Thursdays, and draw not only the Mayas of the surrounding region, but vendors from all over Guatemala, representing many of Guatemala’s linguistic groups such as Mam, Ixil, Kaqchikel and others, each hawking his or her products in a riotous cacophony of color, dialects and costumes, smoke, and smells.

After reaching San Pedro La¬† Laguna the night before – good that we spent nearly 5 hours in the bus as it was raining! – we had a nice breakfast¬† in front of Lake Altitlan before¬† leaving for the market. First we made it with an agency¬†collectivo up to Las Encuentros & then in a local one. More fun ;) People keeping on jumping in or going out of it, always trying to fit as much as people as possible :) Lucky us, for the 1st way, we were in front -¬†as sometimes it was really tricky… On the way back we were 23¬† people inside instead of normally 15! We changed for a comioneta at Las¬†Encuentros & went back down to¬†San Pedro in the old US School bus¬†on tiny bendy road, driver honking at nearly¬†each bends & even sometimes having to¬†drive a bit backward in order to be able to turn…¬† Another way of travelling! :)


Volcano Pacaya

2006-10-26_VolcanoPacaya

Guatemala is located on the boundary of two tectonic plates, which makes it a geologically very active area. With a height of¬† about 2,500 meters¬†above sea level,¬†the Pacaya Volcano is relatively easy to climb – if you take your time & don’t¬† rush to¬†go up – and gives you a spectacular view from the top!¬†As we had our Spanish course in the morning, we decided to¬† do the sunset & night tour – one of the most popular… ¬†Climbing¬†is not too difficult, however, better taking your time as you’re leaving from 1850 metres¬† to reach 2300 meters. You have no¬†other choice than taking a guided tour – as it seems to be the way nearly everywhere in Guatemala… Guided tour is good but you have to follow the group, or try to! Luckily, for once, I wasn’t the lowest one & anyway, I decided to take my time – better if I wanted to reach the top! In this tour, everything is made¬† to make you pay a bit more… Just before going out off the bus, driver offered to¬†rent some wooden sticks “absolutely necessary” as well as to buy flash light¬†to go down¬†after sunset… – he even took some kids from the street into the bus to make the sticks promotion!¬†I was glad to have mine – as Fleur was – for the way down, even 1 is really helpful! – & as well as my frontal light!

After a bit less than 2 hours, we finaly reach the top. So¬†rewarding¬†to see the lava so close & this beautiful view! We now understand why they were selling some machmalos¬†down…¬†Pity we didn’t¬†buy any!

The way¬†down by night was a bit challenging, especialy at the beginning…¬†but it¬†was fun to go down¬†with the frontal light accross¬†the forest! Again a wonderful experience & training for the Incas trail :)


Antigua

2009-10-24_Antigua

Our tourist information guy was finaly so convincing that we ended up¬†enrolling for some Spanish course (also check tips&advices if you want more details on a lovely & professional school) for 4 days, 5 hours a day,¬†leaving in a¬†host family from the next day…¬†¬†Ok, we already planned to take some course but we wanted to have them on the Lake Altitlan… Change of plan :) ¬†For our first afternnon we went to discover this lovely touristy city, reminding me a bit of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. They are plenty of good restaurants, and one we¬† tasted¬†(El Sabor¬†del Tiempo) which is offering wine from all over the world.¬† I know some people who would have love it!

Sunday arrival in tuc-tucreally small taxi – to our first Spanish lesson…¬† The women in my host family was a really good cook & I could test some local food from vegetable to chicken & other kind of meat. I really enjoyed it! On Monday I met 2 lovely people: Aishah & Nicholas, also staying in the same family. I now have¬†a place to stay in Melbourne :)

4 days of Spanish course helped a bit but still, it’s hard to be fluent! On our last¬† day we went with our teachers to¬† the Museo del Cafe – http://www.azoteaestate.com/index.php?show_aux_page=1, which was also showing¬†some Guatemalan¬†culture from¬†clothing, local food¬†to music instruments & tradiotional events. All the visit with a lovely smell of coffee :)


Travel to Antigua

2009-10-24_Antigua-ChickenBus

Arriving to Antigua was an unforgetable experience… 8 hours bus – confortable enough to sleep a little bit. We arrived in Guatemala City at 5am, not even realising we were there! As soon as you go off the bus, taxi driver are literally ¬†jumping on you to drive you anywhere you want – even to Antigua! Still sleepy, Fleur &¬†I tried to figure out what was the best option to get to Antigua… The bus station looks¬†like nothing… We had absolutely no idea where we where, only option seems to trust an¬†official taxi driver – they all have the same shirt, so it make you a bit more confortable thinking they might be safer – ¬†to bring us to another bus terminal to reach Antigua city. Price negociation at 5am, after a night in the bus¬†is not really easy… We ended up at a close bus station in a¬†scarry area for 2¬† girls so early in the morning… Of course our nice taxi driver offered to bring us to another one for¬†another fee! No real other choice as he would have leave us there! We finaly arrived to a more crowded place – not less scary – but at least with a camioneta – or chicken bus as foreigners call them – leaving right away to Antigua. Such an¬†great experience… First, our luggage were packed on the roof with all other big items. At 5:30am the bus was filled up in a minute, people squeezing on each other, stepping in & out regularly. Instead of beeing 2 we where 3¬†per seats with¬†another¬†person in¬†between as well as people standing in the middle path… Unbelievable, so much fun to see!¬†After more than 1 hour in such unconfortable position, we arrived in Antigua :) A couple of people, seeing us with our luggage, offered hostel room. First thing we wanted after such experience is to have a rest & a breakfast! So we stopped on the first nice place we’ve seen :) After a great breakfast, we started to look for a hostel. We met a guy – who had to convince us pretty hard to follow him, but after he said he was working at something like the tourist information, we kind of trust him¬†- who bring us to a lovely hostel with a beautiful view on the volcanoes all around – what a relief after such a travel!


Tikal

2009-10-23_Tikal-1

Tikal is really impressive Maya site, deep in the jungle with its 550-sq-km.¬†As you walk from a building to another you path beneath¬†the dense rainforest canopy, rich vegetation, peaceful air and animals noises… All this make it an unforgetable experience! We arrived on the site around 6am – in order to try to see animals as well as to avoid¬†the heat. Climbing the higher ruins give you a wonderful view above the forest. Having a guide is the best to understand a bit more about the site and make you save some times in this huge labyrinth! We managed to see some monkeys, army of ants working hard,¬†a beautiful woodpecker but with red hair! :) Our guide even showed us pretty big spiders, teasing¬†them in¬†their hole…¬†(sorry no picture,¬†I did not want to be too close…)¬†After such a wonderful experience, we went back to El Remate, first for a swimm in the lake – it was so¬†hot!¬†- and then for¬†lunch in a lovely place! As it¬†was still pretty warm, we went back to the lake before getting ready to¬†travel by night and take the bus to Antigua, leaving Elodie¬†& Alex there.¬†Arriving at the bus station in Flores & booking the ticket was again such an experience! We finaly did it¬†& took a good bbq diner before taking off to Guatemala City, stopover before Antigua…

2009-10-23_Tikal-night


GUATEMALA

2009-10-22_CrossingGuatemala

Crossing the border was a great adventure! First stop at the small frontier post to stamp the passport for exiting Mexico. Then, as for visiting Yaxchilán ruins, we took a lancha to cross the Rio Usumacinta which is here the border between Mexico & Guatemala, but this time with all our luggages! On the other side, a bus was waiting for us. Another stop on the frontier post for passport stamping Рwhere we had to pay 40 Quetzals (!) & more than 2 hours drive to Flores. With a belgium couple (Alex & Elodie) we met the day before, we made our way directly to El Remate to a small family hostel on the lake border half way to Tikal. People were really friendly there! We had a swim in the lake - as it was really warm! Рwatching the sunset, before going for a vegetarien diner in a restaurant hold by a German guy & is Guatemalan wife :)  We all went to bed pretty early in order to be ready to leave for Tikal ruins at 5am!


Yaxchil√°n – Bonampak

2009-10-21_Yaxchilan-Bonampak

Two last ruins Maya sites before leaving Mexico: Yaxchil√°n which was a wonderful one -¬†I would say my favorite with Tikal! – in the middle of the jungle! You reach it¬†in lancha¬†(boat) on the Rio Usumacinta, which is already an adventure! I loved¬†to travel there in the middle of 2 countries: Mexico & Guatemala. You even have a red line inside the lancha – as for Boston ;) We could¬† even explore¬†inside of the building with my electric lamp! It was great to follow this small labyrinth & beeing able to see some bats… Just before leaving we saw one monkey runing from¬†branch to branch while hearing an Alouatta – howler monkey. Pretty loud & I would say a bit scary in the middle of ruins in the jungle! The same noise which woke us up in Palenque… Once again I couldn’t see it…

Bonampak was smaller but quite impressive as it was really high! Especialy to¬†go up! It’s also one of the only site where you can see mural painting.

We spent the night in a Lacadon village Рok it was a bit too much a tourist attraction rather than a real cultural encounter! But the place was nice, close to a small river & it was really interesting to see how the clothing were changing: only white long tunic & everybody (men & woman) with long hair on their back Рsorry no pictures! This community is said to be one of the most faithful guardians of their cultural traditions & a model to follow for regional sustainable agriculture.


Palenque

2009-10-19_Hostel-PalenqueRuines

What a wonderful view on the morning when we woke up in our small Caba√Īa, in the middle of the jungle! Unfortunately I woke up pretty sick… We took our time & went to the famous ruins in the afternoon.¬†Quite impressive!!! After a small nape between Templo del Sol & Templo del Cruz I was still pretty exhausted… We went back for a nape in our caba√Īa.¬†I decided to stay 1 more day in this little paradise in order to take a good rest before going to Guatemala.

Today we had a nice promenade on a cascade in the National Park ;) Tomorrow we are healding to Guatemala with a 2 days trip & more ruins….


Travel San Cristobal – Palenque

2009-10-18_TravelSanCristobal-Palenque

What a trip!!! We spend 12 hours in the bus!!! Between hot & cold thanks to air condiotionning – I woke up sick the next morning! After more than 2 hours drive we stopped in the middle of nowhere – in a small city. We had a short break & just before going back to the bus, the driver said that we had to go all the way back to San Cristobal & up to Villhermosa to reach Palenque because of a landslide! Great day in the bus! Arriving in Palenque around midnight… Luckily people helped us to get a taxi to go to El Pachan, close to the ruins, where we¬†have been able to¬†find a room…