Coffee and bagels at the very nice 'The new Bagel barn' close
to the central square. Took the free shuttle to the 'La Azotea' - a cultural
centre. 25Q. First with a tour of the coffee museum - it is located in
a coffee plantation, so you get to see the trees and how they dry and prepare
the beans. They also have a part with musical instruments and it was better
than I had expected. Lunch at Café Condesa.
A very popular place with Americans. They had some very nice things on
their menu. We had quiche spinach and huge limonadas. Went around looking
at the many churches/ruins. Saw La Merced (beautiful, yellow church).
My backpack had finally arrived so we bought tickets for thursday for Flores (Tikal) with Tikal Jet (63$) from Guatemala City. Birgitte had a nap while I read news on the Internet at a cafe. Antigua has many restaurants which show movies on big screens, so in the evening, we saw 'Trapped' at a place. 28Q
We went with the van with 10 others early in the morning to go to Volcan Pacaya - an active volcano to the south of Guatemala City. Some had paid 15$ for the same trip as we had paid 7$ for. Extra 25Q for entrance. Two other Danes were on the trip, who had come with the same plane as us - also missing their bags. The guide was from the small village of San Fransisco (on the slope of Pacaya) - 'Domingo Jesus' was his name. He only spoke spanish, but was good at making himself understood. It was colder than we had expected, and also got clouded, unfortunately. A couple of good view points on the way. Took about 1½-2 hours to get to the rim with breaks every 15 minutes. We had 5 retired people with and two teenagers of which 3 gave up at the first rim. On the picture to the right, you can see the first rim on the right, with views of the cone - taken out of the plane window, flying home. We could not see anything here, except a crater, but we continued up the crater rime for about 40 minutes. The guide could point at every lava block and say: This is from the 1998 eruption, and so on. Now we were exposed to the winds, and we have never experienced so strong winds before - and I survived the 1999 december storm in Denmark :-) I guess 100 Km/h. We struggled up the vegetation less lava gravel slopes and made frequent stops. Further up the ground was warm and you could pick up hot stones in several vents. Here is a sample of the lava rocks:
It was not too cold at the top, except for the chill factor by the jet stream. Poor visibility, but we felt good at having conquered a greater challenge than I had expected. We went another way down, 'skiing' on loose gravel - FUN and fast! Way point (2571 meter, N14°22.907' N090°36.020'). It cleared up and we could see allmost to the Pacific.
Back in Antigua at 13:00. We had dirt in all openings of our body.
Lunch, withdrawal of money, booking hotel in Flores and relaxing.
Shuttle at 04:30 (7$). With Tikal Jet 6:30, delayed 1 hour because of clouds in Flores. 40 minutes flight. Taxi to the hotel (20Q) with a stop at San Juan travel agency to book Belize bus tickets for saturday (was possible at 20 other places, we found out later). Checked in at the Hotel Mesa de los Mayas (20$) on the small Flores island. Erik found out that he had forgotten the LP guide book on the plane, so we walked to the airport, and luckily they found it for us. Wanted to take a bus to El Remate. A taxi passed shortly and we gave in and went with him (50Q). He drove us all the way to Biotopo Cerro Cahuí. They had made paths through the jungle where you could walk for hours. We saw birds, 3 spider monkeys, a wood pecker, a 30 cm red snake and bats.
Lunch in El Remate and after waiting in 20 minutes, we caught a minibus back (30Q).
We had dinner at a nice place (La Casona del Isla (?)) where it looked very nice to stay as well - a nice pool and view over the lake. It would cost 42$.
Skipped the first shuttle and went with the next at 6:00. In Tikal (about 70 km north east of Flores) about 7:15. Entrance 50Q. A guide with 8 persons were just leaving, and we joined them. A guide would cost 40$ (!), but with him and the group it was 50 Q/person. Good to have explanations, and he was good at spotting animals.
Dragged a tarantula out of its hole (picture) and held it so we could
'pet' it. He found monkeys and often spotted birds (toucans, etc.).
It was a bit overcast when we started out, but the clouds burned off around
9 when we had crawled upon 'The Pyramid' (picture). It was great to see
the other towers protrude out of the rain forest, and there were many "wow's"
We also climbed the Temple IV while the guide waited and we ended
up (of course) in the Great Plaza with Temple I & II. The guide was
with us for about 3 hours.
What surprised us the most was the lack of tourists. The first 2 hours there were no one! The whole day there might have been 100-200. We sat on Temple II for ½ hour just enjoying the view - took the picture of Temple I above, which you can't climb. We tried to compare it with Palenque which we visited in '99 - and we would say they were quite similar. Birgitte saw both museums (20 minutes each). I saw one. They need a communicator her. The excavated things were practically just thrown into rooms with a couple of poster sized pictures from the excavations.
Back in Flores at 16:00 and spend time by the lake with a soda and books. Cheap mexican food for dinner with beer.
Bus at 5:00 from the hotel. We are almost getting used to getting
up early by now. 40 persons bus, all tourists. Easy border crossing (free).
We (only us) got off at the 'cruce' in Belmopan (the 'capital' - could
be a TP question) to head to the south. The rest were on their way to the
touristy Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye (Caye is pronounced
'Key'). We waited 45 minutes for a 'Dangriga' bound bus. Funny
how much the culture changes moving a couple of hundred kilometres. People
were now black, and descriptive words would be Reggae, Jamaica, Rastafari,
easy-going, 'how-you-doin-man?'-people. 6B$. It was a very beautiful drive
down through citrus plantations, 'Yangshuo hills'. 1½ hours to Dangriga.
Walked two kilometres north through town to the river and several had guessed
that we were going to Tobacco Caye. After a lunch at the Riverside Cafe,
it was a half hour boat ride to the island.
It is situated right on the reef and it is a bit expensive to go get there - 30B$ per person each way. The island is so small you can walk from one end to the other in 2 minutes and I don't think there have ever been more than 100 people at one time on the island. Gayota (60$) had no rooms and neither did Reef's End. It seems most book it from home on the internet. Tobacco Caye Lodge had one room for 3 days - but for 120$ a night. It was a nice cabin with hammocks, private baths and you had snorkelling gear for use as well as canoes. All the places include 3 meals. Snorkelling, more snorkelling and sunbathing.
Sun, snorkelling, sunbathing, snorkelling, relaxing in the hammocks, canoeing, wine on the terrace. Some had swum around the reef with good visibility of the reef there.
Cloudy and windy. Was going to go diving with Emma - one of the other
guests from the lodge. She thought it was too rough but 3 others turned
up (2xMalta + USA), so we went. 50$ for one dive, 80$ for two. I had just
read my Padi-diver book again since it was 10 months since I last dived.
It was a great dive right on the reef in beautiful corals. We saw lobsters,
a huge moray
eel (30 cm in diameter). After surfacing we saw a shark on the bottom.
Good 20-30 m visibility. Went to 22 meters. After lunch we had a second
dive. It cleared up and Emma came along. 18 meter dive. Saw a huge spotted Eagle
ray - 2-2½ meters wing span. Hundreds of barrel sponges (corals
looking like barrels). Felt a bit cold and my jaw was a bit numb from biting
tight on the regulator (I thought). After dinner my head felt strange (probably
the read wine - I thought), and it wasn't until in the night when I felt my
left hand tingling - and on my back: The Bends! I realized. If you don't get
treatment you can go into shock and die, I recalled from the diving book.
I didn't die during the night, but I wasn't much better. The owner
advised that 'it'll go away in a few days'. I wrote down the number for
the recompression chamber - in case it didn't. Cloudy and a bit windy,
but OK boat ride back. We took a bus to Placencia. A 'new' booming
town. Few upmarket places but many low/middle. It is south of the reef so
a place with good beaches. Bad weather with rain, so we looked around. Had
lunch across from the tank station. Erik had a good sandwich, but Birgitte
got Montezumas from eating the chicken (luckily just one day).
In the late afternoon, I decided to call about my 'bend'. We stayed with 'Lydia's (a very helpful lady!). She called the dive shop instead (they would know), and they called the chamber. They brought me oxygene (½ hour), but it didn't help. Followed them to the dive shop - the Sea Horse Dive Shop - and started making calls to insurance and the chamber. It ended up with them sending a plane for me for the following morning. The chamber is unfortunately at the other end of the country - San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. I was very grateful for the help the diveshop gave me and they seemed very professional. Go with them the next time you are around!
Up at 6. Took some time for Lydia to wake a taxi drive for 6:30
:-) Sleepy town. The phone conversation was lie: 'Heelooe - could I get
a taxi for six-thyrtyyy'. Hung up. I asked her if the taxi knew it was her.
Smiling: yes :-)
I now had a headache instead ot the light-headedness. The plane arrived exactly at 7 A.M. at the micro airstrip north of town. We had passed it the day before and laughed at it. Now we had to take off from it. There were barely room for us, but since we flew very low ('bended' persons can't go higher than 300 meters in altitude), there were great views all the way. Islands, cayes, plantations, towns, reefs, ships. Wow. Beautiful flight.
First treatment 4:45 hours in the chamber. My headache went away immediately when I got under pressure. They projected a movie through a small window onto one end. It was now 32 hours since I got the bends, so the nitrogen particles trapped inside was now encapsulated, and the nitrogen was now gone - if you come in within 24 hours, you can usually squeeze the nitrogen, so it can get out. Now the capsules were trapped at the end of the smallest blood veins, blocking oxygene from feeding the nerves - in my case in the jaw. By recompression, you can squeeze out the last nitrogen, and by getting pure oxygene, you can feed the nerves and make them survive until the body can remove the capsules.
We checked in with 'Ruby's' (about the cheapest in town for 25 US$!) Pizza for lunch.
Ambergris is an awful place. The most expensive place I've been in Central/South America. Everybody drives around in silly little golf cars! It seems all Americans come here (we do like Americans!) on their 7 days vacation, and then it doesn't matter how expensive it gets - and that is fair enough. We just didn't have much choice. Pizza again for dinner.
Second treatment - 4:45 hours. Lunch at small stalls near the park. Dinner at a place opposite the stalls.
Found a good coffee/breakfast shop opposite the 'airport' - though only with american items like 'French toast'. Third treatment - a short one about 2½ hours. Got discharged and we were glad we could be on our way tomorrow. In the evening, we had dinner at the fancy Sunbreeze (50 US$ for two pasta dishes + two glasses of white wine).
My jaw was numb again :-( After breakfast, I went back to the chamber. Fourth treatment 2:15 hours. After lunch we rented bikes (12B$/4 hours) - though I should stay out of the sun, and went north.
Good to inhale the fat, scented, rich sea air instead of the clinical
oxygene. You take a small ferry to cross a river. We went north about one
hour and slept under palm trees on the beach.
Fifth treatment at 19:00 and afterwards dinner.
Coffee, juice and French Toast at the usual place. Sixth treatment
- watching CNN. My buddy didn't know USA was about to go to war against
Iraq - Belize is quite isolated, and here you could only get local newspapers,
so how should he know.
Found a good spot for lunch: Cocina Caramba.
Rented bikes and rode south. This way a wide (unpaved) road went
a long way through resorts and retirees houses. Finally we found a beach
and rested under a palm.
Took the 'Thunderbolt' speed boat at 7:00. Actually there are boats
from both the beach side and the lagoon side. We were about the only tourists
taking the boat from the west side. It seemed we paid much more than the
local. 25 B$/person. 1 hour before Belize City. Smooth and fast ride. Taxi
(6B$) to the Z-Line Bus Terminal. Little before 9; just in time for the
bus. 22B$ to the other end of the country. 12:00 Dangriga and 16:00 in P.G
(Punta Gorda). Only 15 minutes of the ride was still on dirt road - they
have now almost completed paving the Hummingway. Almost out of money, but
the bank had closed at 13:00.
Walked to 'Wahima' guesthouse on the waterfront. Quite cheap (30B$), but OK. Found the pier and got information from the immigration officer. There are daily boats to Puerto Barrios at 9:00 and Tuesday + Friday at 9:30 to Livingston. Ticket booth right here.
Dinner at 'Titanic' with good ocean view. The tourists we had seen in town all gathered here (all 6 of them). There is nothing to do here in P.G. Give it a miss.
Up early and at the pier in good time. A bit worried since we were out of dollars and Belize dollars as well. But it turned out that we could pay the boatman in Quetzals 100 Q/person or 30B$. The exit tax was also less than expected - only 7,50 B$.
About an hour to Livingston in Guatemala. A town without roads connecting
it to the rest of the country. Got entry stamps. A guy helped - thought
he worked at the office. At the end it turned out he just got money from
boat drivers and hotels. Had lunch at the Restaurante Bahia Azul to decide
whether to stay a night or move on to Rio Dulce. We opted for Rio Dulce
and our 'friend' found a boat. We paid 75 each. Could probably have found
it cheaper, but now we were on our way. Fine trip. The first part was through
a gorge before coming into the lake - Lago de Izabal. We returned to Rio
Dulce with a load of Americans who had made a day trip to Livingston. They
were so angry with the boat man for letting us on the boat. They would hardly
talk to us. It was their trip, their boat and their day we were ruining and
now we were 14 instead of 12 in the lancha and they would be delayed coming
home because of the extra load. We didn't say anything, but felt sorry for
the boatman and his child, trying to make a living. After the Americans were
set off at Hacienda Tijax (looked good); we were shipped to 'Bruno's'. A nice
hotel and restaurant by the water with a pool. The rooms without bath were
musty and not so nice (150Q), but the rooms with bath also had AC, TV and
were large. We splashed out here for 350Q. Enjoyed the pool, withdrew money
from the Agro Mercantil bank. The northern most of the 4 banks. One has MC,
another an ATM (closest to the bridge), but I think it only allows withdrawal
of 1000Q as in the airport.
Afternoon coffee and reading in the hammocks. Dinner at Bruno's.
What Carl told us was that you could follow the stream to a cave (not mentioned in the guidebooks). We asked the guard, and yes, we could, but we should take nothing. So we left watches and our day pack with him. I'm not sure whether it was because of robbery or the strenuous climb on rocks why we should leave our things. It should only take ½ hour, but at one point we started climbing upwards and finally we could not hear the stream anymore. Later it turned out we might just have had to scramble right down there. Anyway, we backtracked, and instead rock climbed through the stream. When we got to the entrance, we found a wonderful tranquil place. The water flowed slowly out of a large cave and the pool was full of fish. The rock walls stretched up on all sides except the small exit for the water. 20 minutes back. No lunch - and though the sleepy entrance man said the bus would come each our - the bus didn't show up. My eyes were fixed on road, expecting the bus to round the corner every minute - I did that for 2½ hours! The bus was in quite a bad shape - no front window, but instead plastic covered. All seats reclined, and none could probably be raised. Some were not even fixed to the floor :-)
Back in Rio Dulce at 17:00 and bought supplies for travelling tomorrow. Bought bus tickets for 5:45 (30Q each) for Guate. Bought fried chicken, checked e-mail and called to make a reservation for the famous Casa del Mundo on the Atitlán lake for friday.
Travel day. Bus left at 6:00, right opposite Bruno's. In Guate at
11:00 after doing a detour to pass the striking school teachers. All flights
to/from the US had been cancelled the last two days, I read in the newspaper,
and the teachers had blocked the airport since. To make sure the flight
would leave for home sunday, we took a taxi to the Marriot hotel where
AA had their office. We had to haggle 5 minutes to get the price from 35Q
to 30Q. It seemed a lot for a ride between Zone 1 and Zone 9. They told
us that luckily the planes were leaving again. Going back, the next taxi
in line at the Marriot quoted 75Q to go back - we said no, and he came down
to 50Q, but we had seen 30 waiting taxis right on the corner. We got one
back for 30Q - to the Rébuli place (the bus company driving to Atitlán)
- though the taxi driver thought it would be safer if we went with him
for 70$. Half an hour wait before a chicken bus arrived, our backpacks were
thrown on the roof (not secured! - I'll make sure it is next time), and
full throttle through the city. At every turn I thought the backpacks would
fly off. We passed another teachers demonstration, luckily going in the
They drove through Los Encuentros (2500 m) to Panajachel (1500 m) right on the lake.
The volcanos could just be seen through the haze on the other side of the lake. Pana(jachel) is VERY touristy with hundreds of stalls selling shirts, pants (gringo or Guatemalan style), food places and everything a tourist could dream of. Fighting off touts took a couple of minutes (one said: I get no commission!). Walked to Hotel Utz Jay - a VERY nice place. 22$ (171Q) - nice room and garden. Made reservations for shuttle saturday to Antigua. Walked along the lake and gawked at the tourist stalls (bought nothing but a Mano Chau CD). Checked e-mail and had dinner at 'Steak house Orale' in the main street (Calle Santander - everything is on this street). It was so good - highly recommended. All kinds of grilled meat. A main meat course is about 30-40Q!
Breakfast at the hotel and enjoyed the morning sun. They had 'lockers'
for our backpacks (good hotel :-)) so we just brought a day pack. We were
told max. 10Q (or less) for the boat. We didn't say anything to all the
touts we met on the way ('you goin' to xxx?') but somehow one bloke had
become our 'guide' and fixed a boat for us. 25Q OK? No! We couldn't get below
15Q since he had to get his commission. The trick must be to say nothing
to the touts - keep them at a distance and go directly to the boatmen when
they come. 10-15 minutes trip to the small village of Jabalito. The room
was not ready yet (10:00), so we dazed in the hammocks, read and enjoyed
the wonderful views of the lake and volcanos. The air is clear in the mornings,
but somehow it always got misty during the day. Walked (½ hour) to
Santa Cruz. The village was just dusty houses, but all the locals were dressed
in their colourful clothes.
But at the waterfront, there are a couple of hotels. Lunch at La Iguana Perdido - where Carl worked in the winters. The ATI divers have their place here. Talked with them about the bends I had had and how it worked when diving in the altitude. One of the divers was quite sure the reason I got the bends was because of the seasickness pill.
Coffee on the patio back at the hotel and a very cosy (candlelit) dinner with the other guests. Among others there were 4 doctors doing work in poor villages.
La Casa del Mundo (phone 218-5332) is quite unique. Made by an Alaskan/Guatemalan couple. Beautiful rooms, flower gardens and always full - they have about 10 rooms. When we were there, it was fully booked for the next week. There is a small alcove right next to where I had a morning swim. We relaxed and read a bit before taking the boat (public) at 12:30. No way getting on for less than 15Q. It must be the going rate. Had lunch at a Bagel shop and waited for the minibus at Utz Jay. We had decided to stay in Antigua the last night since it was easy enough to go to the airport from there in the morning. Arrived at sunset and got off at La Merced (church at the picture) and looked for a hotel near by. It was Posada de Don Valentino where we had a quick shower and had dinner at Resturante/Bar Frida with mexican food. It was good and seemed to be very popular.
Another day getting up early. The van didn't turn up, so the woman
from the hotel waited with us at the door for almost an hour before it
finally came. We were still in good time in the airport. I asked for the
promised 25$ for the delayed backpack. I had both the claim for the baggage
and the delivery note two days later. No such thing they said. After insisting,
they said OK, you just go to our office at the Marriot hotel. Told them
that I had been there, and they had send me here. Insisting more, she finally
talked to some others and called somewhere. OK, I would have to get a
signature from their baggage service - the guy would come at 10:00 (1 our
after my plane taking off), and then I would have to take a taxi to their
main office in town, and then I might get the money. This was American Airlines.
The view from the take off was fantastic - on the picture above, we have just taken off from Guatemala City, turning around right over Pacaya (lower left - the smoking gun), and heading towards the Caribbean. Guate is in the valley below the smog, then Volcan Agua. Notice the small smoke coming out of it's left shoulder - it is not a cloud. In the next valley is Antigua. Next two volcanos are Fuego and Acatenango and further in the horizon are the volcanos around Atitlán.
Also saw much of belize from above; amazing to see the colours of
the reefs from this height.
Guatemala is a good country to go for first time traveller. Much
to see and we felt quite safe. As mentioned we saw many 'students' coming
here right after high school learning spanish and doing voluntary work (especially
Danes :-), and it seems they had good experiences doing that. Belize is
beach, swimming and diving - so it is a good detour from Guatemala. But
it is expensive compared to the rest of central America. We enjoyed the
climate very much - it was perfect - temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees
celcius about every day.
Costs: 1700$ plane tickets and about 80$ budget per day for the two of us. More in Belize and less in Guatemala.