Comment

The Day we are still in Guat city

The mechanics tried to finish mending Dougal today, but there's a part they need, which they won't be able to get till Monday, when the shops open. This also means that we can't stay in the garage's parking area, as they close on Sundays. The mechanics gave us a lift into Guat City and we managed to get a plush hotel for free (thank you rewards points). The room and bathroom are huge, with proper wi-fi, rather than the usual 2nd/3rd world country wi-fi, which takes 10 years to access your emails.

Unfortunately, Gwyn has lost his phone. We can't find it, so this means both phones are gone now. Seriously bad luck of late.

The highlight of our day has been having the longest shower in history. We spent the evening eating yummy pizza, watching English speaking TV and messing about on the Internet.  The little things can make the truly crap things seem easier to come to terms with.

Comment

Comment

The Day we went back to Guatemala City

In the morning, Gwyn decided that he would get cracking on the gearbox, as the men hadn't shown up at the arranged time of 7am. In a rush to get things moving, he accidentally dropped the gearbox on his toe. Pretty sure it's broken. As he shouted in pain, I came running to him and my hit my thigh straight into a tree. That'll leave a bruise. Great start to the day. 

The mechanic didn't show up until 9am. You could tell he and his gang had pretty much given up and didn't know how to fix it. He suggested for Gwyn to go back to Guat to trade in the faulty gearbox (the new one that the mechanic had essentially broken as he didn't know what he was doing). Gwyn n I decided that for fear that the same thing would happen again (and quite frankly we didn't trust the mechanic's skills), we thought it would be better to bring the van to Guat, as opposed to the back and forth business. No surprise, the towing man came giving his foreign quote of 1400 quetzals (about $160USD/£115GBP ish). It was hard work knocking him down to that. 

The mechanic obviously wanted some money as he had spent over 2 days trying to sort it out. Gwyn was not impressed. The mechanic had done nothing but cost us money and more importantly, wasted our time. We refused to pay. Exhausted from all the grief, not being able to have showered as our water supply ran out (and shanty town didn't have anywhere to have one), not having a decent meal in days, we just couldn't deal with him anymore. He said he'd take the towing man to the address of the mechanic Gwyn bought the gearbox from, if we gave him 300 quetzals ($40USD/£25GBP). Stuck between a rock and hard place (as Gwyn had no idea where the garage was), we had to pay. About 50 people attended our farewell from shanty land. So glad to be out of there. 

When we got to Guat, the man who supplied the gearbox directed us to the garage who specialises in our vehicle and where the gearbox came from. Can't believe we have had to go through all these people, who will no doubt take their cut. The new mechanics said they'd repair Dougal for the bargain price of $50USD. Even though this was clarified five times, it best stand tomorrow. 

We were allowed to sleep in the van, but were not able to come out past 7pm, due to their psycho guard dogs roaming about. Sleeping in the middle of Gaut City ghetto, in a dusty garage car park with the dogs lurking around the van like hyenas...has seriously been the low part of the trip.

Comment

Comment

The day we got nowhere....

I'd love to say that we got the van sorted, but it took virtually all day and then the same thing happened AGAIN with the new gearbox. Can't tell you how depressing this is, especially being in shanty land and now being without a decent meal in 3 days. The option now is to go to Guatemala in the morning, with the towing costing us a further $100usd. Seriously losing the will... :-(

Comment

The Day dougal cost us a fortune

Comment

The Day dougal cost us a fortune

This was meant to be our first official day in El Salvador. Slightly bitter, sitting in a dismantled van and not surfing those breaks, we tried to make the most of the day. I re-arranged the whole itinerary for the next few months and cleaned the van, whilst Gwyn went with a local at 6am to his favourite city to date: Guatemala City. Grim. 

He arrived back 10 hours later, having paid $400USD for a new gearbox and fuel for the person who took him there. The chauffeur also demanded a further $50USD for his service, or they wouldn't fit the gearbox. The 'mechanics' themselves wanted $250USD. Out of the requested collective $300USD, we gave in $100USD as a deposit, so they'd actually commence work before it was dark. 

I was yet again pestered for over 4 hours, practically forced to entertain all the children in the village. By this point, I just wanted to read my book, so I hid in pews in the church service going on. It didn't work; they all followed me. Normally, this would attract looks, but everyone was in some trance, with a women painful trying to sing on the altar. X factor she is not. The kids continued asking me a billion questions, I taught them some English and 2 of them insisted they give me massages. It was weird, but the massages were good to be fair. Meanwhile, Gwyn and his working men's club where figuring out how to put Dougal back together again. 

I later found out that the wailing, chanting and trance like state of the preacher and the attendees was due to some freaky exorcism.  I wish I had filmed it!

At 9pm, the guys threw in the towel and said they'd continue tomorrow. It was pitch black and the wind was ridiculously strong, so much so, that a tree broke in half and went into the roof of a house, metres away from where Dougal was parked.

Comment

The Day Dougal Really blew it

Comment

The Day Dougal Really blew it

The day started off well with seeing the Bilbao stones (including the half-buried head) and the free museum containing more impressive stones, collected from the surrounding hilltops. It's only worth the quick stop, if you are passing this way. It makes you wonder what they've not found underneath all those sugarcane fields... 

We thought we were making head way and potentially could be surfing it up along El Salvador's coast by mid-afternoon...then Dougal decided to do his best trick yet: the gearbox went. Gwyn tried to fix it, but it was too big a job. We walked the 5km road in the midday heat (only 1km according to the 3 people we asked) and came to a village, where a 'mechanic' drove back with us and towed Dougal back to his gaff. We had no idea where we were and as the hours passed we collected the sights of more and more onlookers. In the end it took 5 men to get the gearbox out including Gwyn, over a 4 hour period. I played a made-up game with the 20 children that were obsessed with us. You'd think they'd get bored?! They were extremely inquisitive children. Exhausted, we went to bed early with some strange snacks as our dinner. It filled at gap.

Comment

The Day we climbed San Pedro Volcano

Comment

The Day we climbed San Pedro Volcano

We woke up at 1:30am, for the 2am set-off. We booked with Casa Verde in the end as it was open (we got there late) and we could park our van outside (note the issues with driving a car around this town). I won't lie, the walk up was pretty arduous and if I'm honest, I wanted to sack it all of when we got to the cabin a third of the way up. Gwyn, being the 'I've paid for it, I'll do it' type just kept egging me on, but he felt the burn at the half way point. After 3.5 hours, somehow, in the pitch black, we made it to the summit of San Pedro Volcano and watched the sunrise for 30 minutes (any longer and we would've froze to death). The views were undoubtedly awesome. Coming down took us 2.5 hours. Once at the bottom we went to the nearest cafe for food and then the Los Termales for lake-side views and to soak in the natural hot springs, trying mend our legs. 

Afterwards, we went to the sleepy weaving town of San Juan La Laguna to chill out and sort the van out for tomorrow's border crossing. There's a wine and cheese restaurant/shop here, but despite it being within opening hours, the gate was locked :-(. 

In the evening, we drove to the scruffy town of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa. We were exhausted and slept 12 straight hours. No street food for us tonight.

Comment

The day we went Town hopping

Comment

The day we went Town hopping

We were woken at 6am to lots of knocking on the windows. We were parked in the bus parking.  S**t one!  After a quick move to a side street, we strolled around Chichicastenango market, which is apparently the largest in Guat. It was definitely the best market we have been to so far on the trip. The people-watching alone is fascinating, with its pig auction, chicken buying, women pancake making, men hauling packages the size of cars on their backs, etc. A must-do in Guat. There's also some good buys to be had if you are the bargain hard type. I was in my element and so was Gwyn was the photo opportunities every second. 

There's a pretty church covered in flower sellers and a mural along the town hall next to it. After several hours, we walked the short trail up Pascual Abaj - a sacrificial stone and shrine to the Maya earth God. We just took our machete as a 'comfort blanket', as we heard you needed as guide for this. It felt safe and there were several tourists. Plus it was a 15 minute round trip. We didn't think much to the shrine, but the panoramic view of the city was nice enough. 

We then headed to Lago de Atitlan. First stop was Solola, which was in full flow market mode. There's some good views of the lake if you go down hill past the plaza and church. We then visited Panajachel, which has a pretty waterfall along the road into it - you'll see the parked cars on your left with the usual craft and food sellers. Panajachel is good for shopping, with big discounts, but we didn't bother with Reserva Natural Atitlan, as we wanted to see more lake side towns. There's paragliding here too, which we would've done if we were just holidaying here, but we have it a few times further along our trip. Panajachel is developed and gringo central, so don't expect a lost-in-time village. However, when we got to Santa Catarina Palopo, this was more off the beaten track. It was actually our favourite lake side village, but that may have been because there was a festival on at the time we were there. Further along is the sleepy town of Santa Antonio Palopo. There's nothing much here, but it's tranquil and there's great pictures of the town and lake to be had from the weaving road into it. We found this whole section of the lake towns road, completely accessible and easy to navigate. These towns are also close to each other. There's cheap boat service from Panajachel to several (more developed) lake side towns, but we didn't see any official service to these latter two towns (although I'm sure you could twist a local fisherman's arm with a few quetzals). 

At night, we made our way around to San Pedro La Laguna. There's no direct road from Panajachel, so you have to go back on yourself and then come down a 'in construction' road with hairpin bends. Once in San Pedro, it was hard to navigate around the town, with not only one-way systems, but also narrow roads, only accessible to tuk-tuks. We found this out the hard way, reversing down these roads with motorbikes whizzing past. Gwyn signed us both up to the San Pedro Volcano sunrise trek. For the record, I was all for the paragliding...

Comment

The Day we went to Antigua

Comment

The Day we went to Antigua

In morning we stopped at Coban, which was surprisingly well developed. We then made our way to Guatemala City, which was nothing short of chaos and were the rich/ poor divide is more evident than anywhere else. Shanty towns scattered the mountains. We didn't stay long and could see why everyone suggested to skip it.

In the afternoon, we arrived at Antigua, a colonial city surrounded by mountains and a volcano. The churches and ruins were pretty, the markets were interesting and the coffees shops were quaint. It's a pleasant city and definitely the nicest in Guat we have see so far. It's actually probably one of our favourites in Central America.  Everything to see is in walking distance, so it's just nice to stroll about. It also felt really safe, as opposed to Gaut city.

Late at night, we decided to head to Chichicastenango (try saying that after several Gallos). Be careful on this road as it has a couple of surprising hairpin bends, with chicken buses flying around at speeds and inevitably ending up on the other side of the road as they can't make it round the tight corners.

Comment

The day we laughed in Semuc Champney

Comment

The day we laughed in Semuc Champney

The hostel do a tour that includes the Semuc Champey pools, hiking trail to a view point, a guided tour of the nearby Grutas K'anba and tubing for the price of 140 quetzals, including all entrance fees. This was a good deal as the difference worked out an extra 30 quetzals after deducting the entrance fees. 

The pools were beautiful and crystal clear. The viewpoint is definitely worth the sweaty 30 minute hike. We then went through the pools and jumped off natural platforms from the walled canyons. The best bit was the naturally carved slides flowing from one pool to the next. We all had such a good laugh. 

In the afternoon, we went to the Grutas K'anba for a caving experience with a twist...guided by a candle light. We did have our own head torches, but everyone opted for candles. We had to swim through the river in the cave, climb up/down steep ladders, jump off platforms into darkness, scrambling over rocks and waterfalls. If anyone who has done a ultimate caving experience, this will all sound familiar, but we'd completely recommend it all the same. 

Afterwards, we went tubing down the river and some of us jumped off the bridge. 

NB Recommend to wear trekking sandals or you'll have to go bare foot through the pools and cave. 

We met an Australian couple and took them to Lanquin. It was quite possibly one of the worst 10km we have had to date (on this travel stint). Literally a white knuckle ride. With the rain, it just made the slopes that much harder to get a grip on and although we made it to Lanquin safely, we passed several 4x4s in ditches trying to get out. Gwyn didn't want to continue, so we had beers in a hostel and one of the best buffet dinners we've ever had. We got our monies worth!

Comment

The day we conquered Rio Dulce - Semuc Champney

Comment

The day we conquered Rio Dulce - Semuc Champney

We left Livingston in the morning, but it took ages as the majority of people in the boat wanted to do the river tour (what we did going there) as opposed to going direct. Once we got to Rio Dulce, we went through the markets, then made the 6 hour journey to Semuc Champey, famed for being one the worst roads in Guatemala. It wasn't the worse road we had conquered, but you definitely need a 4x4 vehicle and be prepared for steep inclines/declines, massive pot holes, land slide pile ups and ending with a bridge crossing that rocked as we went across and had panels missing. It was sketchy at times. It took us 6 hours. We did go through some interesting indigenous towns, with people staring as if they had never seen foreigners (albeit Dougal gets a lot of looks even in the most westernised countries). We inquired as to the other route (along 13, via Modesto Mendez and Sebol), which takes an estimated 13 hours. We made the right choice :-).

We parked at El Portal hostel (just after the bridge) for a small fee and spent the evening chatting to other travellers. Much needed Gallos!

Comment

The Day we went to Playa Blanca

Comment

The Day we went to Playa Blanca

We woke up at 7am to start the town and jungle walk that tourists usually pay for, but Happy Fish gave us a free map. We met up with them at the waterfalls (Siete Altas) and paid 100 quetzals for the boat to Playa Blanco (including lunch and return journey). Siete Altas is a pleasant stop and you can jump in pools at the top. The water temperature is 'refreshing'. Playa Blanco had lovely white fluffy sand, but the sea wasn't particularly great. There's also nothing to do their except volleyball and hammock time. We wanted a rest, so we were happy with that.

Later, we went to Buga Mamas, which had amazing Topola and fish curries, and great views over the sea. 

In a nutshell, don't expect a tropical paradise with Livingston, but it makes a great spot for good food and some chill out time.

Comment

The Day we went down the Rio Dulce

Comment

The Day we went down the Rio Dulce

We arrived at Rio Dulce port at 9pm, in time for the once a day departure at 9:30am. The tickets were 125 quetzals each one way (you can get a slightly more expensive return, IF you are returning the same day). For a bargain 35 quetzals ($4.50USD/£3GBP) the guy also sorted us secure parking for Dougal.

The river ride was initially the standard boat trip, but then it became a beautiful ride through jungle scenery. We saw a fort, brightly coloured iguanas and numerous varieties of birds, and went through a steep-walled gorge.

We got to Livingston after 3.5 hours of boat travelling with little stops along the way, for swimming and snacks. Livingston is home to Garifuna people, who we found were friendly people in Beize.

We stayed at Casa Rosada in the end as we weren't fully convinced that Casa Iguana had the best security. There were gaps in the roof were it would be possible for people in the next room to climb over. On a previous trip, we met someone who was robbed this way in Thailand. For an extra 10 quetzals ($1.50USD/£1) we paid for a more secure AND water front hut in Rosada.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing on hammocks out on the casa's pier and walking around the town. Livingston is quite developed and despite it's none-existent access roads to the place, it has more cars than we expected. It's got a chilled atmosphere and good food. We'd recommend the food at Casa Nostra. Shrimp and pizza are their winners.

In the evening we went over to Casa Iguana to continue the beer drinking with friends we had made on the boat coming here. If you get here before 8pm, it's happy hour half price drinks!

Comment

The Day we did Yoga in Tikal

Comment

The Day we did Yoga in Tikal

We went into Tikal ruins at 6:30am, although it opens from 4am-6pm. It was quiet and for 150quetzals it was similar in price to other Central America ruins. We didn't get a tour guide, but they're cheap. There was so much wildlife in the morning. We saw ocellated peten turkeys, howler monkeys, racoons and the 'royal rat'. The highlights included the Grand Plaza and views from Temple IV. Tikal is definitely a traveller highlight, not to be missed. It's one of our favourites - the site is huge, you can climb up the ruins, it's set deep within the jungle and the views on top of some of the temples are impressive. Unfortunately, Gwyn and I had an epic argument half way round, which started about the small fee we were screwed over-by from the border crossing the day before. It sounds ridiculous now, but things escalated. Tired, hot, hungry…after 5 hours walking around, we headed back to Jungle Inn for a cheap and filling bite. We made friends - it's amazing what a shower and a burger can achieve. 

In the afternoon we made our way to Santa Elena, which is a developed town and more importantly, it had a bank to change up American dollars. After our first Guat coffee tasting session, we visited Flores island, which is just across a toll-free bridge. The town has a spanish colonial appearance, with gifts shops, BBQ food stalls and a giant Christmas tree all lit up in the middle in front of the white-washed church. It's a popular location for backpackers, which is evident by the amount of 'gap-yearers' walking around. 

In the evening we started the journey to Rio Dulce down highway 13. The roads are paved and fine, so there's no reason to join a tour. Gwyn had some jobs on Dougal, so we stopped half way. This time, the full beams decided not to work. Argh.

Comment

Comment

The Day we entered Guatemala

We had to pay $30blz departure tax and $7.50blz for some environmental fee. We got stung for $5blz per person for a fee that the border crossing people (behind the desk) conjured up. We only found out later and stupidly didn't get a receipt (usually a sign that something isn't legit). It's the price of 2 beers, so we'll get over it. We also had to pay 160 quetzals for the temporary vehicle permit. This has to be paid in quetzals, so if you didn't change up at home, you'll have to negotiate a rate with the touts outside. They only exchange US dollars or Belize dollars. They quoted us 7.3, then went to 7.4. The rate is currently $1usd to 8 quetzals, so that gives you an idea of their cut. We changed up what we immediately needed, then enough for food in the evening. NB We went to a bank the next day in Santa Elena and got a $1usd to 7.8 quetzals rate. 

 

That evening we drove to Tikal and told the guards at the entrance that we were staying at the Jungle Inn. Camping along the road or in the grounds is now forbidden, but for a small fee Jungle Inn offers camping and use of facilities (clean bathrooms, hot showers, free wi-fi).

Comment