A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Fawlty Showers in the Jungle

sunny 32 °C

Hello Readers! We hope you're all doing well and we're sorry for the long delay - we have been in the Guatemalan jungle for a while now, with little electricity, no hot water and in some cases no water at all....stinky!!!

Our journey onwards from Xela, took us to Antigua - one of the most impressive colonial cities we have visited on our travels so far. To be honest, we were a bit over 'colonial cities' - Luang Prabang, Hoi An & San Cristobal, but we couldn't help but try this one out. The architecture in the main streets and squares was phenomenal, not forgetting the most striking interior design in the restaurants and cafes - similar to Seville, we loved the place. The atmosphere was cosmopolitan and perhaps, having been stuck in the highlands over the Easter period, we appreciated this more so than usual.

While we were here, we decided we wanted to get a little more out of our experiences rather than just visiting place to place. We secured some work (unpaid - but free board and meals) with a jungle lodge in Lanquin (8 hours North of Antigua). They knew one of us loved cooking and the other had lot to offer with art and sports projects, but we really had little idea of what we would be doing. Then the fun began! El Retiro (or rather El Retardo as we affectionately call it) is a Guatemalan family-run lodge, blessed with the loveliest location imaginable (river and jungle all around), but cursed with a lack of love from its' owners. It's very hard to explain the day to day shananigans of the place, (it left us in laughable disbelief) but if you think Fawlty Towers / Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares, you'll be very close! The whole experience was hilarious, draining, a learning curve and a place where we met some fantastic people. I thoroughly enjoyed working in the kitchen, re-designing the menu's, building relationships with the Guatemalan kitchen staff through broken English and Spanish (they weren't happy to see me arrive, but were sad to see me go). Ross was working behind the bar, expecting to learn to make cocktails etc but instead made just 8 drinks on an 8 hour shift! They wanted our ideas on improving the place but they told us straightaway that we would be silly to expect that any of them would actually get implemented!! (inertia was the name of the day...every day), so this became 'moi frustrado'! Ross really wasn't enjoying the experience and while I was improving the food and getting good feedback, plus learning some Spanish, we both need to be enjoying this precious time off. What an experience though, something we'll never forget and we shared so many laughs with the other volunteers/travellers.

So, onwards to Semuc Champey we went. The region is stunning. Huge fresh water pools, turquise and crystal clear for swimming, against a backdrop of jungle plants and every shade of green imaginable. The fauna and flora was breathtaking - the photo's do more justice than my words ever will. The night before we shared more laughs and good conversation with a lovely couple from Europe (Barbara from Belgium and Johansson from Germany), that we all hiked to the area together, which was great. Between them they speak approximately 7 languages (really puts us Brits to shame), were cracking company; this was the first time we'd spent any length of time with another couple in 5 months.

Ross & I left the Semuc Champey region yesterday, and tonight we are in Coban, having just had the first warm-ish shower in about 4 weeks....bliss!
This morning, we thought our next stop would be Nicaragua, but we have since decided to take a bus straight to El Salvador to start surf school! Yikes!

Love to you all, keep the messages coming - lovely one from you Phil - big hugs to you.xxx

Ross and Charlie
xxxxx

Posted by charlieandross 20:28 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Happy Easter from Quetzaltanengo (Xela), Guatemala

all seasons in one day 23 °C

Happy Easter Everyone - hope you have all enjoyed the long weekend with family and friends.

Moving on from Ross's last blog, we made a quick exit from our sickly Mexican border hotel to the Guatemalan immigration which was surprisingly easy-going. The border crossing was strange - in the middle of a traditional Guatemala market full of locals going about their business, colourful, happy and chaotic, our tuk-tuk navigated through the crowds in the soaring heat to the main bus terminal and what a sight this was....huge American-style school buses that had been colourfully decorated, bling-like...these fun looking beasts are known as chicken buses and we soon learnt why! We boarded the bus to 'Xela' - pronounced Shay-Lah, while we watched a small, agile guy run up and down the ladders swinging our backpacks on the roof -' were we to see these again?' a valid question on our minds, based on the bad press of these buses. Yet it was all good fun, after a few heckles from the agile lad (who was still on the roof at the time), the driver revved up the beast while blaring out 'Rhythm is a Dancer'. The lad was on and off the roof lugging local luggage throughout the whole journey, still smiling, while we were huddled up with the locals - poor Ross was next to a Mother who just slipped her boob out to signify 'feeding time' and used him as a pillow for her arm.

The scenery was breathtaking and we certainly 'knew' we had entered Guatemala - lush, green, jungle-clad mountains all around, volcanoes in the background; and land-slides ahead - a common problem here, but not for our driver - he seemed to enjoy the challenge! We climbed about 1000m towards Xela, where we were dumped on a highway while we waited with four local men to usher us to the next chicken bus for another 1300m upwards to Xela City. This is supposed to be the third largest City in Guatemala, but the place is no more than a small village / town, small but perfectly formed with a main square influenced by 1930's German architecture - very Gothic...we liked it, mainly because it reminded us of the wonderful European architecture that we have learned to appreciate ever-more since our word trip began. We arrived at the start of Semana Santa season - Easter; and being a strong Roman Catholic & Evangelical dominated religious culture, we were promised plenty of celebrations, fiestas and processions. In reality, it was all rather sombre and the processions were surprisingly serious - see photo's!

Our highlight of our time in Xela was a visit to one of three active volcanoes in the area - Santiaguito. We took a 2 hour hike to a viewing point - stunning scenery along the way, great exercise in the alpine-like climate, and we witnessed four volcanic eruptions which was spectacular. No lava present (the last time it expelled lava was approximately 100 years ago - so it is due to to do so again). But we heard the rumbles and the photo's show what we saw (we actually have some film footage, but I haven't quite got to grips with downloading film to the laptop!)

We were very happy to be leaving Xela on day 6 - it was far too long to be spent in such a small town but we were stuck until the Easter celebrations were over. We took a bumpy, scenic ride to Lake Atitlan (Guatemala's answer to the Lake District), where we are currently based - San Marcos, to be precise - a hippy hangout complete with dream catchers hanging all around. We will be here for a couple more days, when Ross will update you with our next adventures.

Love to all,

Ross & Charlie
xxxxx

Posted by charlieandross 09:58 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Sickness in no country for old men

semi-overcast 21 °C

Charlie and I were both a little apprehensive about the overnight OCC coach journey from Pochutla to San Cristobal. Unfortunately Mexcio gets quite a lot of negative press when it comes to bus/coach travel and this route in particular has been known in the past for hold-ups, hi-jacks, and the like. Whilst the occurrence of hold-ups are very rare they can, and have been, violent. So, with the most precaution we could possibly make; Lonely Planet forums searched, talking to other travelers, google searches on Mexican hold ups etc. we decided to make the 12 hour overnight journey. To be quite honest, aside from our own personal safety, the laptop and camera were our main concerns - we decided to pack both in with the hold luggage. On the off chance that some crazed Mexican bandit wished to rob either of us all he, or she, would get would be the small amount of money we had each placed in our fake wallet and purse (not our well concealed money belts). Cunning hey? The journey was in the end rather tame though and the 'security' man who very, very quickly filmed everyone as they got onto the bus made sure that any potential thief would be put off by the film evidence of their presence on the bus. Very 1984!

San Cristobal itself was rather a flat affair for both of us. Indeed the small church lined square and cobbled streets were very twee and postcard like. Whilst this makes for great tourist fodder, the Subway, Burger King, and endless souvenir shops made it feel slightly commercial. I guess I was hoping for something a little less over exposed and less like the other World heritage towns that we have already seen so far. Our hostel was also 'run' (in the loosest possible sense of the word!) by two overwhelmingly annoying British, straight out of university, finding their inner-hippie self, plonkers. For the first time on the trip I felt my pulse racing at a slightly higher rate than normal, I started grinding my teeth, twitching uncontrollably and cursing under my breath at the slightest hint of a 'Good morning!' from the floopy haired twit and his poor future spouse. This pair of dim-wits were trying to meddle on the running of the hostel in many ways. Their main project was to try and introduce a Murder-mystery themed tour of the town! Granted, the town is very quaint but there are still plenty of serious looking men who wear cowboy hats (for real) and chew on nails for lunch and this pair want to start a murder mystery tour! Start with cleaning the showers and toilets each day and then we can talk about becoming Sherlock 'Gomez' Holmes and Dr 'Mario' Watson...

...sermon over!

The journey onto the border for us was not great. Joining a 24 hour coach journey 20 hours in is akin to entering a nightclub at 1.20am. The bus stank to high heaven of vomit and smelly Mexican socks. Poor Charlie has a phobia of sickness over and above that of most of us and for her the 4 and a half hour journey was pure hell. Don't get me wrong it was no stroll in the park for me particularly with the main sickness culprit sitting pretty much in front of us. We had literally joined the vomit comet!

Finally, No country for old men. Wow what can I say? A real Mexican border town with one hotel, one restaurant, kids with their eyes too close together and a genuine Hollywood like film eeriness to it. Because of the route we had chosen into Guatemala Charlie and I had no option but to stay the night in the hotel Camino Real, Ciudad Cuahtemoc. Complete with Modelo beer, nachos, refried beans, tortillas and a fat expressionless Mexican woman who kept all of her earnings in her bra - the night started as it went on. Our subsequent room which contained no less than three double beds and cockroaches was old, run down, and slightly spooky. Couple this with the fact that a rather nice Danish family (who arrived long after we did) shared the same bathroom as us it all felt a little odd. To get to the bathroom the family, literally, had to walk through our room! And so it got even more bizarre; the youngest daughter of the family had contracted a rather nasty bug and looked a little worse for wear when the family arrived. Throughout the night and early morning she then proceeded to be sick (out of both ends) and was constantly rushing past the end of our bed to reach the porcelain. The poor girl was in a real state and after about 2 hours of sleep Charlie and I decided to 'start the day'. This was probably at around 5am and Immigration did not open until 8am. We sincerely hope the Danish girl received the help she needed though as her temperature rocketed and did not look like subsiding. We left the family with some rehydration sachets and walked through the immigration checkpoint into Guatemala, onto the tenth country of our adventure.

Ross and Charlie
xxxx

Posted by charlieandross 16:43 Archived in Mexico Comments (1)

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