A Travellerspoint blog

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

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

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

Back to Nature in Zipolite, Hualtulco

sunny 40 °C

Hello Readers,

As much as we appreciate how lucky we are to have enjoyed visiting five Cities back to back, Ross and I felt spent after Los Angeles and having just about settled into our new time zone, we arrived at Mexico City feeling less than enthused about City number 6!
A cheap flight to Hualtulco was the order of the day (a very good and timely decision we'd soon discover) and just a few hours later, we arrived to one of the most charming little airports either of us have encountered, which gave Ross good vibes that we in for a treat...he was right. The shiny new airport was tiny, with a thatched roof (slight fire hazard maybe, but cute) and a small token gesture of a conveyor belt that was rather pointless.
This was Hualtulco, on the Gulf of Mexico and within minutes we were on our way to Ziplolite, which has been 'home' for the last ten days.

The region is beautiful, albeit arid in it's current dry season. Zipolite is one of a number of picturesque and very typically Mexican villages, with just a handful of grocery shops, no post office, ATM or tourist in sight. The main street is lined with colourful low-rise shacks and houses, while the beachside is lined with cabanas and hammocks. We climbed far too many stairs with our backpacks to be greeted by Katia, a Germany/American expat and her family in their beautiful 'outdoor home', and shown to our amazing Cabana. We were in backpacker nirvana! We had negotiated a low season rate with Katia, which meant that we were officially living in luxury on backpacker prices. Our cabana is full of character, with a lovely bedroom (complete with wardrobes that enable us to unpack - hallelujah) a fully equipped kitchen and a huge outdoor shower and bathroom. We couldn't believe our luck, but it just got better in the morning when we realised that our hammock-strung patio has uninterrupted views out to the pacific, with shutters from the bedroom and kitchen to enjoy the view from every angle. Ross and I also tried out the Yoga here, which takes place every morning and is something of a yoga retreat in high season. Ross concludes that Yoga is definitely not for him,(!) but good on him for giving it a go.

We spent our first two days just enjoying the space, which was amazing, and for the first time in 5 months, I was able to cook!
Once we prized ourselves from our hammocks, we ventured to Zipolite beach where we quickly discovered we were immersing ourselves in nature in more ways than one. There were bits everywhere, young and old, big and small dangling everywhere with great pride - yes, our local beach is a nudie! Stunning though, with a laid-back Mexican vibe about it - small cabanas and beach huts playing reggae, chill-out massive attack and the like, which we have lapped up day after day drinking Mojitos. Swimming is virtually impossible here as there is a huge rip tide; the waves are incredibly powerful, so much so that even surfers avoid it. But everyone has plenty of fun being thrashed around at the shoreline. Our days have been spent looking out to sea, spotting Dolphins and watching Pelicans feeding.

Every Monday is Market Day for everyone in the region of Hualtulco, so the young devout Catholic locals, with their large, young families, flock en masse to Peluche, the main town for the region. We got a free ride in from Deiter, the owner of the Cabana and he gave us the low-down on his experience of living here, the entrapment, bribery, drugs, corruption and poor education; but clearly he and his family love it here. Peluche was bustling with colourful buildings, smiling locals and bright fruit and veg stalls...it was great to see it all in action.

The people, vibe and atmosphere of this place is brilliant - a perfect balance of tranquility and laid-back fun that we haven't really found on our travels to date. Of course, we have visited quieter places; more exciting destinations and many other beautiful beaches, but we both agree that there is something magical about Zipolite, with the vibe, stunning sunsets behind casts jutting out of the ocean, friendly locals and stunning wildlife in action. For the first time, we don't really want to leave!

Today we visited a worthwhile and meaningful village known as Cooperative Ventanilla. This is a community of around 25 families (ex-turtle egg poachers and turtle hunters) who have, for past fifteen years, made huge progress turning around a generation of mindsets about poaching as a means of sustaining theirs lives here. These families no longer hunt or poach, but instead protect turtle eggs and release them to the ocean as soon as they have hatched. They preserve and protect the red and white mangroves here too which are home to dozens of species including primates, crocodiles, iguanas, turtles and birds. We were privileged enough to get our own private tour with Nicholas - a Mexican ex-poacher who now waxes lyrical on his love of the natural habitat, the animals and mangroves, as well as the challenges he and is family have faced in turning around the attitudes of others in the area - he does so by providing jobs within conservation. We were so inspired by his story, (which he told as he paddled us around the mangroves in his boat) not just because of the benefits of conservation, but the passion he had and his clear realisation that he and the other families are now completely self-sufficient. The trip itself was superb - one of the best nature-based trips either of us have experienced. Completely natural, free from the touristy feel, no money grabbing tactics, just a beautiful education into the lives of these creatures, their habitats and the communities that protect them. Nicholas also talked candidly about the improvement of the local social-psyche & community spirit of the area since the Hurricane in the 1990's that destroyed everything and made them realise they need to cherish what they had previously taken for granted - a common lesson for everyone. It seems to be working. We donated what we could - not a lot(!) but I thought it was worthwhile to mention the place in this blog as our way of contributing to them. We had a fantastic day, finished off with a visit to Mezunte beach - another beaute...which has completed a wonderful time here.

We are off tomorrow, heading South to San Cristobal for the Easter break - sure to be a cracker of fiestas!

Love to all

Charlie & Ross
p.s, we didn't join the naturists!

Posted by charlieandross 20:38 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)


overcast 10 °C

Los Angeles was always one of the destinations that fascinated me most before we embarked upon on this trip. The fascination was not really to do with an overwhelming desire to see the city and sights, but more to do with the fact that I was really curious about the people. Would they be as animated and crazy as I had envisaged them to be? Would every seemingly insignificant daily task be a melodrama broadcast on TV? I could not wait to find out!

Staying in an art deco hotel, the Cecil, in Downtown (10th street and Main) we were officially staying in the historical district of LA. Although if I am honest - the way the city is sliced up into districts, the cynic in me thinks, this is a ploy by the city council to make the relative parts of the city seem more appealing to the tourist population. This historical district was clearly on the juncture of the nicer side of LA and the slightly more run down suburban areas and the atmosphere from our arrival to departure was certainly one of an underlying tension. It was hard to actually put your finger on what that tension was but suffice to say I have never quite seen such a big city with so few people on the streets. It was eery to say the least!

Either way, Charlie and I were determined to explore and see the infamous Hollywood boulevard, Santa Monica and also whilst we were in town get to an ice hockey game. If I am honest Hollywood was very underwhelming. Aside from Charlie getting to see Matt Damon's star on the boulevard, the place was very commercial and slightly soul-less and after one hour of jet lagged cement-star spotting we headed back on the metro to our hotel.

The ice hockey on the other hand was actually good fun. 18,000 over the top American sports fans packed into the Staples centre to see the LA Kings defeat the Nashville predators 4-2 was quite entertaining. Unfortunately both Charlie and I were firmly in the grips of jet-lag driven sleep deprivation by now and we left a short way into the third quarter with the scores locked at 1-1. It was great to see a live home grown American sport though!

On our last day we thought it would be fitting if we could get to a real diner. Charlie sourced one out in Santa Monica (Cafe 50's) and we headed over there for our last lunch. Unfortunately the club sandwiches did not quite live up to the billing and the turkey, gravy and mashed potato that turned up on Charlie's plate left us both gobsmacked. Not in a good way either! On the plus side, the chocolate milkshakes were superb and we got to see two young tykes pepper spray each other in the face on the metro home. Every cloud!

Ross and Charlie

Posted by charlieandross 08:28 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Mexico City earthquake - we are safe

sunny 27 °C

Morning everyone! This is just a quick note to let you know that we are fine. There was an earthquake in Mexico City yesterday but thankfully we left the city the day before. We are now in Huatulco on the coast, further South, and whilst the weather has been particularly windy here everything else is as it should be :-)

We will update you all on our LA experience in the next blog entry.

Ross and Charlie

Posted by charlieandross 07:03 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

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