01 May 2008

Last but not least

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica was everything that I wanted.

The general vibe of that region is very ¨Rasta-Man¨ like. The town of Cahuita is slow and mellow with Reggae music coming from the restaurants and stores. The food was excellent, the first night I had smoked chicken with a jerk sauce. Had to have been the spiciest food I´ve ever tasted.

The environment around the city of Cahuita is stunning. Nestled in the jungle with black sand beaches to the north, and white sand beaches to the south, you can walk for miles through the National Park of Cahuita. We saw a couple three-toed-sloths, howler monkeys, cappuccino monkeys, poisonous snakes, and a postcard perfect tropical coastline.

After the Caribbean it was back up to the capital to catch a short 30 minute bus to Alajuela. We opted to stay there for it´s strategic location to the airport and a nearby volcano called Poas. Poas was seriously shrouded in cloud and we could not see into the crater. The forest was superb, like walking through a fairy tale forest with gnarled moss covered trees, at times forming a thick canopy overhead casting an ominous glow.

I get home in two days and I am looking forward to it. As I look back on our trip I can say it was a breathtaking time. The sheer natural beauty of a continent always at odds against nations and its peoples struggling to create something for themselves. The process of nation development is a ruthless and unconscionable process.

Hope you have enjoyed the blog. Last two photos of Poas National Park, and the rest are Cahuita National Park. Click it enlarge:

Leaf Cutter Ants.

This sloth was so funny. He had an insatiable desire to scratch himself, constantly. Really adorable though.

Poisonous snake.

Poas National Park.

26 April 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel

Granada is special. But you wouldn't know from being there that Nicaragua is second to Haiti as the poorest country in Central America. The city rests beside Lake Nicaragua, which is huge, the biggest in Central America.

Only an hour away by boat we made it to the island of Ometepe. Essentially the island is made up of two volcanoes and a strip of land that connects them. We stayed a night on an "eco-farm"/ hippie commune and another night on the islands nicest black sand beaches. Unspoiled is probably the best description, only a few hotels and eateries.

We decided we needed more beach time so we shot over to the surf capital of Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur. While we're here I decided to take surf lessons, something I've never done before.

Coasta Rica tomorrow. More beach time. Want to be in a deep state of relaxation before I return in 7 days.

Granada, Nicaragua

Another view of the church from the cafe lined pedestrian street.

11 April 2008

Island Hopping

We have been on the island Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, for the past week getting our PADI scuba diving certification.

We got down to 60ft in the clear warm Caribbean waters. Tons of colorful fish, corals and sea plants. Had a chance to swim with turtles, nurse sharks, aggressive eels, and sting rays.

The trip from Guatemala to Honduras was a long one, but it was nice to leave the country. Between Guatemala´s non-existent infrastructure, bad food, and the threat of being kidnapped, it was a breath of fresh air to get to Honduras.

One of the highlights of our trip will be the week we spent on a Catamaran sail boat to the southern Caye´s of Belize. The Captain would go out everyday and spear fish for our lunch and dinner so the cook could whip up tasty meals. Lots of Grouper and Snapper.

The posts have been slim lately, sorry about that, but we have been on the go and in places that do not have good access to internet.

Stayed here in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. The place was built on top of mangrove canals.

Fishing early in the morning on the Rio Dulce (Sweet River). The river runs through steep jungle clad walls.

Rio Dulce at night from the Catamaran.

Typical scene at Livingston, Guatemala. Home to the Garfuna people, descendants of black slaves, who largely populate the Caribbean coast.

Kayaking through the Manatee Reserve.

Manatee Reserve.

Island in the southern Caye's of Belize. Lots of snorkeling and fresh fish.

On the Catamaran.

02 April 2008


Last half of the rushed update.

After a long and bumpy ride from Nebaj (they were literally building the road as we were driving on it), we arrived in the city of Lanquin to swim in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey.

Surrounded by jungle, this area is known for it´s limestone rock formations, caves, and idyllic pools.

We opted to let our Hostal do the dirty work for us and went on a day tour that included caving, river tubing, and Semuc Champey.

The caves were fun and we found ourselves swimming through deep pools, climbing waterfalls and dodging rocks from above and below. A headlamp would have been a good thing to have, candles don´t do a great job of lighting the way.

Leaving Lanquin we took a ridiculous ride to the city of Flores, to get to Tikal. Between the vomiting, diarrhea (none of which was ours), yelling and deranged tourists, it´s a miracle we made it alive without somebody getting into a fight (or me for calling somebody a grandma).

Unfortunately we had to rush our trip up in the northern part of the country, but still our stay was special.

We spent a night in our hammocks in Tikal National Park listening to the howler monkeys roaring in the distance and watching troops of Codimundi (sp?) scavenging the jungle floor. They look like a giant raccoon with a really long tail, a ring tail monkey if you will.

We got up at 430am to walk to the tallest Mayan temple built and watch the sunrise. That was pretty awesome, watching night turn to day and hearing the jungle come alive. You can see forever in every direction, and the other temples reaching out of the jungle.

Click photo to enlarge:

Bottom view of Semuc Champey.

Top view of Semuc Champey. That shadow kills.

View from the Island Flores across Lake Peten.

Tikal. Temple in the Grand Plaza.

Tikal. View from Temple 5, second highest Mayan structure built.


We have been moving around quickly and often in places with no Internet, which doesn´t help with the blog updating. We leave Friday April 4, on a boat and will not have a chance to update for at least that time. So I am trying to squeeze out this update.

When I first started reading about Guatemala in my guide book, the city Nebaj and its surrounding region, known as the Ixil Triangle, caught my eye as a place to go hiking and have a real Guatemalan experience.

The Ixil Triangle (includes Nebaj and two other cities) was the worst hit during the very bloody and horrific 30 year civil war. The Gorilla army had their stronghold in this part of the Guatemala and innocent people got caught in the middle of a war between the Government and the Gorillas. In this region alone thousands of people disappeared to be tortured, and or murdered by the Government, if they were thought to be sympathetic to opposition forces. Click here for info on the Civil War.

After spending a night at Lake Atitlan, we make a series of van and bus transfers and finally get on the right track (transportation is a freaking nightmare in Guatemala) to Nebaj.

I had the authentic Guatemalan bus experience, including chickens running down the isles, burning brakes on steep and curvy mountain roads, engine overheating (stops in the middle of the road while driver splashes water on the engine to cool it down), just about everything you could ever want, minus pickpockets and lost luggage.

In Nebaj we decided to hire a guide and go on a hike to the village of Cocop, about 3 hours away by foot. The mountains are green and beautiful, but very steep.

Cocop has about 60 families living in it, all very poor. The guide arranged lunch for us in the house of a local woman in the village. We ate Boxboles with Salsa and a toasted corn drink. The Boxboles are, more or less, tamale meal stuffed inside local leaves and boiled for 30 minutes. They food was okay, the salsa was amazing, but the experience of eating lunch in her house is unforgettable.

Lake Atitlan.

Sunset at Atitlan.

Hence the name, Chicken Bus.

Typical house. Earth floors and wood fire to cook. Dogs and chickens share the living space of the house with the humans. Houses are crude and seem haphazardly thrown together. Walls consist of uneven wood planks, and roofs are generally corrigated tin or thatched palm leaves. This is the house in Cocop where we ate lunch.

View of Cocop. Said to be the hardest hit during the 30 year Civil War.

20 March 2008

The trip to Mordor

It´s Easter time in Guatemala, or La Semana Santa, and hordes of foreign and domestic tourists have descended upon Antigua to take part in the city´s world renowned celebrations.

For two weeks leading up to the resurrection of Christ the Antiguenos parade through the streets, on holy days, in elaborate processions lasting 12 hours while carrying heavy wooden floats with images of Jesus or the Virgin Marry on top. These can be very heavy, up to 90 people carry the Antiguan floats, and those from Guatemala City require 110-120 people to carry them.

Another tradition of La Semana Santa is the construction of colorful and artistically decorated street carpets made from colored saw dust or from natural materials combining pine needles, flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Beyond the Easter festivities, Antigua still exists and can be described as an international oasis where rich Guatemalans and people from all over the world come to study Spanish, schmooze it up at spas, fine dining, and an array of classy hotels and the typical options found in big cities for the backpackers (bars, clubs, good food, etc.)

Antigua is found nestled between the green sloping hills of three volcanoes (one active and can be seen every few days spewing off into the air) and at one time was the capital of the Spanish Central American empire that span from Mexico to Coasta Rica. After a series of devastating earthquakes and volcanic catastrophes the capital was moved one and a half hours away to present day Guatemala City.

A main tourist attraction of the city are the remains of the colonial buildings and churches that survived the passage of time. Unfortunately in the mid-1990s another earthquake hit and ruined most of what was left. A handful of beautiful buildings, or rather the empty shells of them, still stand scattered throughout the streets.

Taking a break from studying Spanish, Marissa and I had the opportunity to hike up the side of a volcano and play in the lava. As you can imagine, it was really hot. Some spots of the hike were sketchy, and you could see the lava flowing beneath the thin shell of volcanic rock you walked across. Apparently here is one of the few places in the world where you can get close enough to lava to poke it with a stick, which I did and almost burned my face off.

Click on photo to enlarge:

This is the family we are staying with in Antigua while studying at a Spanish school for two weeks. Patti from El Salvador, and Luis from Guatemala, have three children and live behind their Salvadorian restaurant. We eat fairly well, lunch is the best meal and dinner and breakfast is usually accompanied with a large helping of beans, which I am starting to get tired of.

La Merced church where a lot of the Easter processions start and end. On holy days they have street-food vendors cooking and on this particular day you can see people selling decorations for palm Sunday.

Marissa tempting the lava gods.

Warming up next to molten lava.

The Central Park in Antigua. At the center of the city, a meeting place for locals and foreigners alike, and a place to lounge around and relax.

12 March 2008

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The people from Chamula, a pueblo in the hills of Chiapas, are a deeply religious group. By no means are they your ¨typical¨ Latin American Catholics.

While most indiginous groups assimilated completely to Catholocism with the coming of the Spanish, some groups, such as those from Chamula, held on to older traditions and customs effectively synthesizing the two religions.

The church from the outside looks ordinary enough, except maybe for the man at the door collectng a $3.00 fee to enter the church.

Passing through the church door is like passing through a portal in time. You can´t see anything at first, while your eyes adjust to the darkness. The heavy smell of frankenscence is thick in the air and a soft murmer, chanting almost, echos off the high gold painted celings of the church. And then you hear a sound so out of place that you can hardly believe it. Is that the squaking of a chicken? What the crap is a chicken doing in a church?

Photography is forbidden in the church and you are asked not to take photos of the people around town. The people believe photography can steal your soul. But I don´t think I will ever forget the place.

The church is absent of pews, people sit on the floor, which you can´t even see because it has been covered with a thick layer of pine needles, and stare off into space, as if looking for something on a distant hillside, and rythmically chant their prayers in thier native language like the beating of a Viking drum keeping the row in sync.

Beside the people are bags of chicken eggs, bottels of soda, and live chickens. Drink the soda to burp and release the evil spirits from the body. Rub the live chickens over your body to extract sickness or bad spirits. Pass the chicken over the flame of the candles and when you´re done with the chicken break its neck.

Chamula was a trip. Also my second visit, I was there three years ago.

But this time we took a horse to get there, from the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Marissa has really good photos of me on my little horse, felt like a pony. I got a wicked sunburn and was sore for days afterward.

We are in Guatemala now, taking spanish classes in La Antigua Guatemala.

Click photo to englarge photo:

San Cristobal is a handsome city with a lot of indiginous flavor. At one time was controlled by Zapatista rebels, but now is a nice place to spend time. Lots of good food and live music everyday. Has a large international community living in town.

Main church in San Cris.

Photo from horseback. Apparently someone saw an image of the Virgin Mary in the rock so they built a church here.

Typical country hillside in Chiapas highlands.

06 March 2008

Taking it Down a Notch

Luckily the road to Mazunte was paved. That´s about the most positive thing I can say about a road with so many curves and drop offs that it would make Captain A´rab nausous.

Mazunte is a beautiful beach cove, famous for the sea turtules that come to lay their eggs in the warm sand. The climate is tropical, and remeniscent of a steam room. It was nice in the early morning, and late afternoon when it was cool enough for physical exertion--the heat helped to facilitate sitting back and enjoying the beautiful coast.

Restaurants, bars, and hostals line the beach shore making it the perfect place to relax in a hammock or have a delicious red snapper dinner (too hungry to take photos).

Mazunte must mean hippie-ville in spanish, because there sure were a lot of them doing their hippie thing. It was a little overwhelming and the threat of a candida outbreak was enough reason for us to book it out of there the next day.

Puerto Escondito is one hour away from Mazunte and has a vibrant beach scene made of primarily of ex-pat surfers. Walking down the main strip almost feels like walking through Manhattan beach with all the surf shops, taco stands, and bars.

Known by surfers worldwide for the Puerto Escondito Pipeline (or so I read). The waves at PE are breath taking, and big. I´m not sure if I´ve seen waves that big breaking before. According to my trained eye the big sets had to be between 15-20ft, with smaller ones breaking all around.

Click photo to enlarge:

Mazunte beach, a nice beach cove. We watched a dog poop on somebodies beach towel, funny if it wasn´t you.

View from the balcony of Hostal Carlos Eintstien, in Mazunte. The epicenter of everything Pachuli and drum circle.

Puerto Escondito beach just before sunset. It´s like a three ring circus out there between the sky divers landing on the beach, horseback riders, crazy street dogs and locals.

The surfers we saw had to be towed in by a jet ski and shot into the waves. This dude got crushed a couple times by some big waves.

Sunset at Puerto Escondito.