Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lanquin, Guatemala- So, You Want a Job?

After the x-mas celebration and food coma we fell into, it was decided that we need just one more day in El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin.  We hadn't fully relaxed.  All our backpacker buddies took off and the Lodge was ours to kick back in some hammocks and tube down the river.  Not as much excitement as the caves, but the water moves quick on the river with all the new rain water so there were a few moments of paddling as hard as possible to avoid being tossed into a low hanging tree or rock. 

There was also the excitement of our lodging inside our room.  We had a cute little open air loft which means no doors and no windows, just a free invitation to any bug or cat that would like to join us for the night.  Once I started hearing people's stories of finding hairy spiders or a cockroach running around their bed I knew there had to be some drastic moves.  Michael, again being the most positive and flexible traveler out there, agreed to make me the happiest girl in the hostel and set up his tent on top of our bed.  Yes, a tent on top of our double beds, pushed together, inside our open air room.  I don't care if this makes me less of a rugged backpacker, I honestly think it was a genius idea.  

Michael modeling the latest craze in indoor camping

Just climb the ladder to get to our Oasis

The best part about staying an extra day was it let us get closer to the staff of the hostel.  Jill and Jose run El Retiro and we spent the entire last night splitting off and talking to each of them about everything from their lives in the middle of nowhere to the power of TripAdvisor and how travelers use it as a source of power.  It was fascinating to get a deeper view into running one of these hostels and the kind of issues they are up against.  Customer service in a foreign land is tough because how do you apologize for the spiders and roaches?  
By the end of the night, Jose had offered us jobs to stay and bartend over New Years.  I would be writing to you with the new title of El Retiro Bartender if Mike had not reminded me that we have other cities and countries to visit.  I was already picturing the badass bandana I was going to wear while flipping shots to Aussie backpackers during the countdown.  

Our almost bosses (the face on Jose is because we wouldnt stay with him to become part of the staff)

Thank you for having us, El Retiro. We loved the community dinners, the fast paced river, the roaches and the cats that somehow knew how to unzip tents so they could climb in and spend the night.  

Michael breaking down our tent on our final night.  We decided to sleep outside of our cabin and let the local wildlife take the indoors.  But seriously, it was an amazing place to be and we would go back in a heartbeat.


Our live in cat.  My favorite quote "Um, Jessie...the cat just unzipped the tent and is inside".  He was like a raptor from Jurassic Park learning to open doors for the first time. 

Next up, an 8 hour drive south to Antigua, Guatemala!  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Samuc Champey

Yesterday was one of the most challenging days of the trip and I think my life too.  We went to the Samuc Champey caves for the day, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  We took an all day tour and the first stop on the tour is to go into the caves, which I don't think I really comprehended when we signed up.  So, you show up and strip down to your bathing suit and your Spanish guide hands you a long candle.  Hmm, candle?  Wonder why.  Oh, that must mean its dark.  Wait, its dark, so we are like, going INTO a cave??  Our group of 15 hiked up to the entrance of the cave and started descending into the dark.  Wait, we are going INTO this cave???  So then panic set in.  My mind started racing, what if I can't get out, what if I cant breathe, what if I get into the middle and panic and need to get out but I cant?  I grabbed Mike and said "I cant do it..im so sorry, I really can't though".  He said all the right things to make me feel better, but at that point I was looking at everyone lighting their candles and walking into the water deeper into the caves.  I can't do it, im really sorry, I can't go.  I then pictured turning around, getting out of the cave and at the end he would come out saying it was amazing and he wished I had been there to experience it for myself.  I made a decision, I was stronger than my mind.  I lit my candle, grabbed his hand and started in.  My chest was so tight and I was doing everything to fight against my claustrophobia, I  knew this was one of those moments that would change everything if I could just fight it.

Ok, these aren't my pics because we didn't have a camera in there, but just wanted to put things in perspective.  



Now, this makes no sense at all, but as we started walking into the water and deeper into the cave my brain went to Pirates of the Carribean, the ride at Disneyland.  Suddenly, I was in a fake cave and I was feeling more calm.  I was in the ride and I was discovering a new portion of it!  I was helping to plan the ride!  This made me feel SO much better and I think I just had to feel in control of something, so clearly I went to setting up the logistics of this new ride.  I looked at Mike with a huge smile and said "Im a part of Pirates of the Carribean and I am building the ride!!"  What a guy to just go with it and say "Ya! You're building the ride!"
There were parts that were really scary, like going under a waterfall and parts where the water was so deep we couldnt touch and we had to swim with our candles over our head.  If your candle goes out you are in the dark, but not really because there are 15 other people with their candles.  I was enjoying it, but the realistic part of my brain was thinking: this would NEVER be sanctioned in the US.
We got deep into the cave and I was really enjoying it.  I couldnt even remember how my mind felt at the beginning when there was no way I could think of doing this.  I was climbing through tight spaces and up and down ladders that led to...who knows where.  And I was in it!  We made our way out of the cave and the feeling of when I was out was pure joy.  I was so proud of myself for conquering a major fear, but more of taking control of my mind.  

Feeling powerful with our war paint from inside the cave



The rest of the day was just beautiful hiking and playing in lagoons that were the models for many postcards.  No real challenge here, just pure happy. 






Now back to our spot for well deserved hammock time.  Tomorrow we are on the road again to travel south to Antigua.  We are hoping for an eeeeasy 8 hour trip.  No need for challenge and adventure on the road trip; had enough of that here.  




Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Flores ----> Lanquin, Guatemala

One of my least favorite parts of backpacking is the roll-of-the-dice that comes with taking a bus from one town to another.  They tell you its a 4 hour ride and 10 hours later you finally arrive to your destination.  They tell you, "sure, we have AC", and later you find yourself hanging your head out the window to try and catch a hot breeze because, oh sorry, the AC is broken.  You never really know how the trip will go, but it's the only choice if you don't want to spend 3 months sitting in the same city.  

Mike and I joined 15 other people in our bus to travel the 8 hours from Flores to Lanquin.  Surprisingly, there were no surprises.  The ride was beautiful and the only challenge was to pick a new position every 30 minutes so your butt doesn't fall asleep.


We arrived at my favorite hostel so far, El Retiro (thanks Kim!).  They know exactly how to host and how to make you feel at home when you are far from it.  They even went so far to host a massive x-mas eve dinner with stuffing that made me feel like I should be searching the kitchen for my mom; so so good. 


X-Mas lights everywhere in the communal dining room 


Now that I look at it, my plate looks like the size of a car and that roll is legitimately the size of my face. It wasn't far off in real life.  2 Jews, in Guatemala, celebrating X-Mas.   What a combo. 


Tikal, Guatemala

No problem waking up early in our hostel because it's either a 2am rooster choir or a 3am dog fight that is a jarring replacement for a cell phone alarm.   We woke up at 3:30am to leave at 4am for Tikal.  They are the largest Mayan ruins in Belize and you get to see where they sacrificed their people to the Gods.  This was the norm, until the Spanish got there with the church in tow and said: um, you don't have to sacrifice your people for the Gods, so here's a chicken instead.   

The towering ruins


                             

  

The view from the top of the 4th Temple was unreal.  They call it the Big Mama; she lives up to her name.   

Jungle for daayyys!
       

No big spider attacks to report.  Just a bunch of screaming parrots, howler monkeys and oslots.  Tomorrow is our last day in Flores, then we will head south to Lanquin for some time lost in the mountains.  





 


Me Gusta Espanol

Flores has been a nice ease into Guatemala.  The actual town of Flores is a tiny little island where a few locals live while the exterior, facing the lake, belongs to hotels.   We rolled the dice and booked our hostel before we got here so ended up across the water in a spot called Chaltunha.  This was a great move because we felt far enough from civilization but could easily hop over to Flores for the "city life".  City life for us just means access to street food.  Mike and I have really been digging into anything that comes from a cart or a stand.  The local street food in Flores consists of a tostada chip and some random meat paste or beet mixture spread on the top.  You can get 3 for about .75, so we made it our first meal.  We are pretty sure we just ate chicken and some sort of brown meat.  

                                             

                                             

                                             
     
                           

We spent our days here walking around the island to see some awesome views and me clinging to Mike anytime I see a street dog because I am convinced it will attack me.  *note: street dogs in Thailand cursed me with a fear for all international street dogs.  Thailand dogs WILL attack you if you make eye contact.  Most Guatemalan dogs just look at you and scratch their fleas.  No interest. 

View from the treehouse atop San Miguel 
        

       
 
We also rented some kayaks for a few hours and covered a serious amount of the island.  Michael got sooo tired from all the hard work of paddling and pointing at things, so he sat back and I pulled him for at least 20-30 miles across the lake.  I like to think of myself as the perfect travel partner because I do all the heavy lifting.  Im pretty great. 

       

       

Ok, it was actually like 10 minutes, but I was paddling against the current so it felt like 20 miles.  He then took over and we floated onto the sidewalk of Flores which had been underwater for a few weeks cause of all the rain.  

The best part is that at the end of our kayak rental we spent about an hour with a guy named Javier practicing our extremely broken Spanish.  It was so exciting to make a point and have him understand; I said stuff!  We have had the same conversation in Spanish with anyone who will indulge us.  It's tough and intimidating and so much fun.  

Javier and Michael (Guatemalan BFF's)
         

Tomorrow is Tikal, so up at 4:00am to catch the sunrise.  Tikal is a Mayan ruin site just outside of Flores and supposedly houses some pretty nasty, huge spiders.  Im hoping to only see the ruins.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Flores, Guatemala

I have no idea what this bright, shining, warm thing is in the sky...and im sweating??  Ohhh THIS is what its supposed to be like!  Warm weather has arrived!  



Mike and I crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala with no problem.  Just as quickly as we could walk across the bridge into our new country the english language disappeared and im really regretting not paying attention in 7th grade spanish.  It's a shift both of us have been waiting for and makes it feel like we're traveling outside our comfort zone, which is actually welcomed.  

What IS comfy is our new spot in Flores on the top of a mountain.  This is our second sunset in 10 days, so I went a little nuts on the pics.  We can't wait to jump into our second country on the trek!  Lots more to come...

Perfect spot to FaceTime



Belize----> Guatemala

The last few days of Belize have been full of sharks, rain, chicken bus rides, rain, .25 tostadas and um...oh ya, rain. Mike and I have become weather gurus and can now tell you when its going to rain, how hard the rain will be, what the clouds are saying. We are one with nature. We are ready for nature in Guatemala to be a little friendlier and not constantly dumping water on us. We made the best out of it, for sure. Our last day in Caye Caulker we jumped on a little boat, went out into the middle of the sea, strapped a tank to our back's and jumped in the water. It was Mike's first dive, so it took a second for him to become comfy in a world where you are dependent on a little mouth piece for your air supply. He did great and we both spent most of the time clearing our masks of water because we were laughing about how slow our world was down there.


We also met this little gem of a babe, Vicky from Boston. She is a badass solo traveler and we had some good drinks and shared even better travel stories. Good luck once you are back in the states, my love!



Then it was time to leave the island behind and take our first chicken bus 2 hours to San Ignacio. This was the spot for hiking in caves, seeing ruins and playing in the jungle. We were so ready for some adventure, until we got here and everyone told us our ideas for adventure were flooded and all the tour spots were closed. Perfect. So we made the best of our time here and saw Cahal Pech which is the local Mayan ruin in the city.



We also got caught in a serious rain storm which at first made me want to cry, but then I got into it and by the end of it I was strictly riding with my tongue out so I could drink gallons of rain water. Also, Mike makes anything fun and was asking me to rate his tour guide skills throughout the entire "bike tour". His score went up significantly when we stopped at a random little spot in the middle of nowhere for some orange draaank and .25 tostadas.


And now, we're OUT! Heading over the border today to Flores, Guatemala. We are just over a week in and I feel like I got a good amount of Belize. I don't think I am the best person to ask about it because the first thing I would say is "it rains soooo much", which it really doesn't. We just were unlucky. But, to put it in perspective, we were talking to local restaurant owners who were struggling for each dollar because tourists shockingly will not venture down certain roads if they are full of mud. So, if you are a business that happens to be on a side street that has not been paved, you will only get the adventurous backpackers who are down to climb walls and jump over fences to get to you. That was us :) We are excited to venture into our second country! See you in Guatemala...

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Caye Caulker- Sun Makes Everything Better

Thank gawwwwd for a little sun in our lives.  I know it's obnoxious to complain about anything while sitting on a tropical island but yikes 3 days of rain will do it!  Finally the Seattle weather took a break and we got our Vitamin D back.

Some island pics by the Split 



We crawled out of our room and finally took advantage of what the locals call the Split.  It's a channel of water that runs in between the main part of the island and another smaller island where it looks to be kosher to dump your bikes, bottles, ex-girlfriends, toilets and whatever else you come across in your yard.  The main part of the Split is a bar and some funky leftover cement walls that will probably fall apart tomorrow, but for now they make for great lounge chairs.





We hopped in a kayak and saw this dude trying to lure tourists into learning how to become Iron Man. Its a jet pack on the water, so he could project himself to 30 feet above the water. SO cool at first, but the second and third time he came around to do his "show" I just kept thinking he really needs to go work at Club Med on their circus team. One of the locals told me he had never seen a tourist on that hover board. Guess the show doesn't rake in the dough.

We also got our first sunset since being on the island. It's amazing because if you go just 5 minutes off the tourist streets you are suddenly in a real third-world country. We feel like we are seeing what Costa Rica looked like 20 years ago. Tomorrow we are jetting to Abergis Caye which we have learned is where ex-pats have completely taken over and pushed all the locals inland. It will give us a realistic view of what Caye Caulker (our current home) will look like in another 15 years. Ahh tourism.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Caye Caulker- Singing in the Rain

We made it to our first island!  After two easy flights from SF we landed in Belize and instantly made friends with a guy named Lou and who could play Jerry Garcia in a movie.  We hopped on a boat and took the hour long trip in total darkness out to Caye Caulker.  The whole island is sparkling with christmas lights and their own tree made out of lobster cages.






The first few days is testing our ability to stay positive because it has done nothing but rain since we have been here.  Thankfully, Michael was made of positive happiness and I am just feeling lucky that we have so much time ahead of us.  This girl would be singing a verrrry different tune if this was the only 5 day trip in a year.  There would be words had with Mother Nature.  But I'm gonna let her do her thing and get this rain out of her system now.  Seriously though, are you done yet?  I need to get some color on this see thru skin.