Monthly Archives: December 2012

Belize to Guatemala

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL FROM LA ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL FROM LA ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

This weeks travels, from Belize City to Antigua Guatemala

This weeks travels, from Belize City to Antigua Guatemala

After our great couple of days on Caye Caulker we headed back to the mainland and on to the Ginger. We would have liked to stay for a while longer, but already had plans in Guatemala that we had to get to.
We caught the 10:30 ferry back to Belize city and were back in the van and on the road again just after lunch. We headed west up to San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border. We had heard mixed reports about this place, but decided for ourselves that it wasn’t great. We did enquire about doing some cave tubing the next day, but they wanted an extortionate amount of money. We decided to wait until we were in Guatemala where there were a number of other places that also offered this activity.
On Wednesday morning we hit the border to Guatemala, and again had no major issues getting all of the paperwork sorted. Though the man doing our vehicle temporary import would be lucky to complete 3 in a day he was moving sooo slow!

After the border we headed straight to Tikal Parque National, the most significant and largest Mayan ruin in Guatemala. We had considered staying here for the night of the 20th to 21st(aka `The End of the World`), but were very quickly dissuaded by the number of people, vehicles, marquees, tents, scaffolding and TV crews. It took us over an hour to figure out how to get Ginger through the mess of people to the hotel where we planned to camp. The hotel was fully booked for the following night, including every spare inch of ground space which was soon covered in tents.
Once we were settled we enjoyed a bit of people watching before getting an early night. We planned to be up early the next morning to see the ruins, and then get the heck out of there!

The hotels gardens were full!

The hotels gardens were full!

We were in the ruins by 8am the next morning and had a great couple of hours exploring. The overall scale of the sight was impressive, as well as the individual temples which were definitely the largest we had seen on our travels so far. And despite the crowds and chaos it is such a big place that we explored a lot of it all by ourselves, well except for the monkeys.

The first temple we saw in Tikal - very large, steep and impressive!

The first temple we saw in Tikal – very large, steep and impressive!

The grand plaza - full of stages, TV screens, scaffolds and camera crews...

The grand plaza – full of stages, TV screens, scaffolds and camera crews…

Ancient ruins turned green with moss

Ancient ruins turned green with moss

Exploring the grounds, often by ourselves

Exploring the grounds, often by ourselves

Another very impressive temple

Another very impressive temple

After leaving the craziness at Tikal behind we headed down the Western road towards a town called Raxruha, where we had heard that there was more cave tubing available.

We even spotted Santa collecting for Christmas

We even spotted Santa collecting for Christmas

The ferry crossing we took at Sayache

The ferry crossing we took at Sayache

We stopped for the night, and even splurged on a hotel room for once. Friday morning we managed to find the place for cave tubing – after a couple of misadventures down some dubious 4WD tracks. The tubing was excellent! It was quite surreal to be slowly floating down a river underground. Thankfully there were some natural windows where the cave roof had fallen in and now allowed some light in. Oh, and it was also about 1/8 of the price that we had been quoted in Belize.

Ready to head downriver

Ready to head downriver

Christine trying not to freak out in the caves

Christine trying not to freak out in the caves

We had heard of a fantastic and off the beaten track place called Semuc Champey, with limestone pool formations. We had also read that it was down a horrific 14km stretch of dirt road from a town called Lanquin. What the hell we thought, we’ll give it a try and see if we can get there. About 40km short of Lanquin the ‘National Highway’ turned from a nice paved road into a nice gravel road. 2km later this turned into a not so nice paved road, and eventually just became a very muddy one lane track, with large buses and trucks hiding behind every tree and corner. This was not fun!

National Highway number 5

National Highway number 5

Plenty of hiding spots for oncoming trucks and buses

Plenty of hiding spots for oncoming trucks and buses

They even had some muddy hill climbing for us

They even had some muddy hill climbing for us

Plenty of passing room on this 'highway'

Plenty of passing room on this ‘highway’

On the bright side the views were pretty spectacular and the local kids seemed to take great delight in yelling “Gringo! Gringo!” as we slowly passed.

Great vies from the highway - we had also climbed to about 1500m on the dirt roads.

Great views from the highway – we had also climbed to about 1500m on the dirt roads.

On the road to Lanquin

On the road to Lanquin

We eventually made it to Lanquin just as it was going dark, and arranged a parking spot outside of the Zephyr Lodge. This is where all of the other gringos have been hiding! The restaurant and bar was full of Canadians, Aussies and Americans. A fun night was had – especially by Dave, who still doesn’t recall drinking any blue shots…
Saturday morning we tried to push on to Semuc Champey, as we had been told that the road was no worse than those we had come in on. It had been raining all night though, which made a great difference. Less than a kilometre out of town we found a small bus reversing back down a hill towards us, with all the passengers walking along behind. Apparently the road was too steep and muddy for them to pass. We decided that if they couldn’t do it we weren’t willing to try, so started reversing down the hill ourselves. This turned into a scary exercise, as every time we touched the brake the van would start sliding, often sideways. ‘Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!’ could be heard from Dave in the drivers seat. We did reach the bottom of the hill safely, and managed to get back out to the paved road without any major incident (though a couple more scary times with Ginger sliding sideways across the road). So, we didn’t get to see Semuc Champey, but know that there are many more great sights ahead. And will hopefully be easier to get too!

Muddy roads on the way back from Lanquin

Muddy roads on the way back from Lanquin

Yesterday we arrived in Antigua, a cool UNESCO world heritage town complete with cobblestone streets. We have settled temporarily into the Tourist Police car park for a few nights (for free!) until we start our Spanish lessons on Boxing Day. Then we will probably stay with a local family as part of our immersion learning. Christine is very nervous and anxious about this!
First impressions of Antigua are great. It’s a beautiful little town with little markets, cafes and stalls aplenty. There are three volcanoes we can see from here – thankfully only one is active. And the temperature is much cooler with days getting to mid twenties and nights a bit chilly at 11C!

Exploring the cobbled streets of Antigua

Exploring the cobbled streets of Antigua

Central Park in Antigua

Central Park in Antigua

We think we will enjoy Christmas here, as well as a couple of weeks while we study. It will be nice to avoid the Guatemalan roads for a while too!

We hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and New Years with your family and loved ones. We will be thinking of you all and wishing we were there for this time of the year.

This weeks banner - floating towards the Candeleria caves in Guatemala

This weeks banner – floating towards the Candeleria caves in Guatemala

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Better Belize-it!

(one of many Belize puns to come!)

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

We have had an excellent and very laid back week. After staying a couple of nights at La Playa at Xpu Ha we finally had to leave. Had to because there was some more long term RV’ers coming that wanted our spot so we were pretty much squeezed out! But it was time to go and we really enjoyed our time there and our great neighbours Rob and Priscilla.

Dave joining the swingers in Xpu-Ha

Dave joining the swingers in Xpu-Ha

Chasing hermit crabs at night was very entertaining

Chasing hermit crabs at night was very entertaining

We travelled an hour south to Tulum and towards Punta Allen which is at the end of this isolated and remote peninsula. However we didn’t make it very far down the bumpy road into the Sian Kaan Nature Reserve because we were distracted by this awesome spot right on the beach. It was private property but you could pay the man and stay over night. We did and parked overlooking the beach in the palm trees for 2 nights, all by ourselves.

Christine enjoying a cheeky coconut on our private beach

Christine enjoying a cheeky coconut on our private beach

Dave getting back into the Mexican vibe

Dave getting back into the Mexican vibe

During the day we travelled inland to join the crowds and see Coba and then Tulum, the Mayan ruins in the area, then retreated back to our isolated beach spot to swim and relax.

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Chilling at the Coba ruins

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One of the pyramids at Coba

The view from the top!

The view from the top!

At the Tulum beachside ruins

At the Tulum beachside ruins

Ancient carvings in Tulum

Ancient carvings in Tulum

The beautiful and popular beach at Tulum

The beautiful and popular beach at Tulum

Our great beach side campsite

Our great beach side campsite

After all the salt water and even the showers, if any, being brackish, we were looking forward to Bacalar Lagoon. We set up our van right by the water at the Municipal Balneario or lakeside park. It was very tranquil and we were finally salt free!

Bacalar lagoon - fresh water

Bacalar lagoon – fresh water

The tranquil part only lasted until 8pm when we were inundated by a whole bus load of university kids coming to camp by the lake to do some research! The poor buggers got totally soaked with a downpour that night and spent a lot of the next day trying to dry out. We went to the Cenote Azul for 12/12/12 and were told that that was the place to be on that special date. We enjoyed the freshwater pool but sadly didn’t feel the cosmic energy that was predicted.

At Cenote Azul

At Cenote Azul

Trying to soak up the 121212 cosmic energy

Trying to soak up the 121212 cosmic energy

Our last stop in Mexico was at YaxHa campground just north of the border town of Chetumal.

Our last camp in Mexico

Our last camp in Mexico

We were told by our friend Rick that there was great Pescador Relleno (stuffed fish) at a restaurant and were keen to try it and celebrate our departure from Mexico. However, we got distracted by trying to drink all our leftover alcohol before crossing over to Belize the next day and the restaurant was closed. Mind you it was only 7:30 and Christine was trying to delay eating so that we wouldn’t be in bed by 9pm. Oh well, next time!

After gassing up in Mexico where it’s much cheaper ($0.85 VS $1.50 in Belize) and stopping one last time at Walmart we headed over the border. It was un-Belize-ably easy with no problems mostly due to a few fellow travellers (liferemotely.com) who have a super website detailing all border crossings of North and South America. It took us about an hour where we had some fruit confiscated and included a handshake and a big welcome by the immigration officer. That certainly doesn’t happen in many countries! Everyone was friendly and english speaking! Well at least we think it was English, as it’s hard to tell with the Carribean accents.

We were then on our way to Orange Walk to try and set up a jungle river tour to the Lamanai Ruins the next day, Saturday. We eventually found Lamanai EcoTours down by the river and they had space for us on the next mornings boat. And the very friendly owner offered to let us to stay on site for free too! We camped in the jungle with nice clean bathrooms, hammocks and a friendly security guard. The next morning we hopped on the boat with 6 other tourists and headed up the river checking out lots of wildlife along the way, including crocodiles, spider monkey, howler monkeys, tarantulas, bats, iguanas and too many birds to mention. Our guide Carlos was very knowledgeable and told us all about the Lamanai ruins, as well as the known history of the Mayans, including the current the current thoughts on why their civilization collapsed. We also saw a Mennonite community along the river and Carlos said that they contribute +60% of all agriculture grown in Belize. The Mennonite’s here were originally from Mexico but in 1958 some sort of legislation there caused them to leave and take up in Belize. They were offered land in Belize for $1.50/acre and now own the majority of agriculurally suitable land.

Local wildlife spotted from our boat

Local wildlife spotted from our boat

Very cute spider monkey

Very cute spider monkey

Mennonites in Orange Walk

Mennonites in Orange Walk

The Mask Temple at Lamanai

The Mask Temple at Lamanai

Christine climbing another ancient Mayan pyramid

Christine climbing another ancient Mayan pyramid

Lamanai was amazing - especially for the lack of other tourists

Lamanai was amazing – especially for the lack of other tourists

We got back from the tour by mid afternoon and headed for Belize City. We had read about this Cucumber Marina place just on the outskirts where you could camp and store your vehicle safely. We found that like many places we read about and then visit, it had had it’s day and was lacking a lot. The bathrooms were not so nice with no hot water, no longer any laundry facilities and we were overrun by these little tiny flies that got through our mosquito nets. We got woken up by the bugs and were packed and ready to go on our 2 night island excursion by 7:30am. We locked Ginger up and headed to the water taxi terminal to get a boat to the island of Caye Caulker. We were on the island before 10am, and found a hot breakfast and checked in to a fine hotel by 11. The rest of the day was spent exploring and enjoying the laid back vibe of the small town.

The main street on Caye Caulker

The main street on Caye Caulker

That night we had a nice birthday-eve dinner and drinks for Christine, as well as arranged for a day of snorkelling on the reef for Monday.

The birthday-eve dinner. Lobster and margaritas!

The birthday-eve dinner. Lobster and margaritas!

The snorkelling trip was awesome. We had been recommended to a great local guide (71 years old and born on Caye Caulker) who ran full day trips with his little sail boat. He turned out to be a true fish whisperer, bringing sting-rays, sharks, grouper fish, moray eels as well as turtles up so that we could touch, hug and kiss! Christine had a great birthday hug from both the ray and the shark!

Juni - our amazing fish whisperer

Juni – our amazing fish whisperer

The gorgeous birthday girl between snorkels (21 years old - again!)

The gorgeous birthday girl between snorkels (21 years old – again!)

Next week we are planning to make our way across to Guatemala, where we will watch the predicted end of the world at one of the biggest Mayan sites – Tikal.

Hopefully we will be able to report on this in the next blog…

 

This weeks banner - from Tulum

This weeks banner – from the Tulum ruins

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The Berrigans do Cancun

Christine’s story:

It has been a very busy couple of weeks since I dropped Dave off at the airport.  Rita arrived just an hour after Dave’s departure. We hopped in the van and went back to my favourite beach at Xpu-Ha.  We settled in for a few days where Rita relaxed and recovered from regular life back at home. We were treated to a lovely lunch at the restaurant complete with drinks at the fun bar swings.  Thanks Marg!

Rita enjoying the swingers bar

Rita enjoying the swingers bar

Hanging out at the beach

Hanging out at the beach

We took a couple of day trips from here: to Tulum to see the Mayan ruins, Akumal to snorkel with the sea turtles, Yal Kul Lagoon to snorkel alongside a gazillion fish, Puerto Morelis to do some shopping.

Exploring the Tulum ruins

Exploring the Tulum ruins

Akumal snorkel practice

Akumal snorkel practice

On the last night before my parents arrived for their slight overlap with Rita, we decided to treat ourselves with a night at an all-inclusive hotel on Cancun beach to see how the other half live! I got a good deal on the internet. We eventually got checked in and then took advantage of all the amenities.  It was a fun day!

Living it up in Cancun

Living it up in Cancun

Enjoying the swim up bars

Enjoying the swim up bars

Rita and I picked our parents up at the airport Tuesday then went to Acamaya Reef Resort in Puerto Morelis where there is camping and little bungalows to rent.  It worked out great.  During the overlap we enjoyed the beach, did a bit of shopping on a trip into Playa del Carmen and had a great last supper for Rita’s departure.

Puerto Morelos beach

Puerto Morelos beach

The Berrigans in Cancun

The Berrigans in Cancun

Once we dropped Rita off at the airport we drove inland and west a couple of hours. I knew my mom and dad were wanting to see some Mayan ruins so figured Chichen Itza would be a good place to start. We stayed a couple of nights near the ruins in a cute little town called Valladolid.  It had a great central plaza, lots of good restaurants and a cool vibe.  I dropped them off at the ruins the next day (Dave and I had already seen them) and did some much needed tidying of Ginger while I waited.  Thankfully we got there early enough to avoid most of the big buses and by noon we were back on the road.  We decided to find the Ek Balam ruins that weren’t too far away and after a horrendous road made it to the entrance.  It seemed like it was less excavated than other ruins and would identify a pile of rocks and trees as something of significance.  However, it was much quieter than the other ruin sites and with hardly any vendors.

Cute plaza in Valladolid

Cute plaza in Valladolid

Ek Balam ruins

Ek Balam ruins

We made our way back to the coast and stayed in Playa del Carmen for a couple of nights.  We were planning on going back to my favourite beach at Xpu-Ha but when we went to check in it turned into a disaster!  The room I had sorted out for my parents we found out was unfit and just plain inadequate, especially for the high price they wanted.  And while we were trying to sort that out didn’t my mom get bit by a mean beach dog!  It just wasn’t our day! So we packed it in and went back to Playa del Carmen.  We sorted out my mom’s travel insurance before heading to Hospiten Hospital.  It was a quiet Sunday night and everyone there was friendly and helpful. Of course she got an injection for Rabies prevention and we would have to return in 24 hours for another one, with a final injection in a week back home.  A couple hours and a few hundred dollars later we were out of there and back at a hotel.

The next day we made preparations for Dave’s return!  We decided going back to Acamaya Reef Resort in Puerto Morelis was the best, and safest, idea.  I picked him up that night and he was surprisingly chipper for being in the air for the last 30 hours.  I was so happy he was back!

Dave arriving back to Mexico

Dave arriving back to Mexico

I have to admit it was a bit stressful manning the van all on my own (well with the help of my guests too!).  I never realized just how much Dave did and how much we shared responsibility!  I did OK with the driving but have decided I’m a much better passenger and navigator.

Tuesday, the day after Dave’s arrival, we went back to get my mom’s Rabies shot and then continued on back to Akumal to see the Sea Turtles.  The water was a bit choppier this time but we managed to see a few turtles.  The next day was spent relaxing and vegging on the beach and then we walked into town for a nice pizza dinner.

Our plan for the final night was to get a hotel room in Cancun to enjoy the beach and scene there.  I again found a great deal for an all-inclusive that was too good to pass up.  We checked in around noon and enjoyed all the amenities.  The beach was beautiful and we even managed to get beachfront rooms.  A great finale to my parents trip!  Thanks a lot for coming!

The view from our Cancun hotel balcony

The view from our Cancun hotel balcony

Dave and I are currently back at Xpu-Ha beach.  Enjoying it and avoiding the dogs!  We plan on getting a move on to Belize very shortly.

Daves Story:

I had an uneventful, but very long trip back to Melbourne, with three flights and over 30 hours of travel. Thankfully my parents were waiting at the airport and quickly had me home for a shower and a couple of hours nap before a couple of well deserved drinks in the spa.

My great friends Ben and Emily had very kindly arranged a get together at their place for the Saturday night, which was fantastic and allowed me to have some great food and a few beers with some of my oldest and closest friends.

The next week I kept myself busy catching up with friends and enjoying some Australian food, beers and wines that I had been missing. I also managed a trip down to Torquay to catch up with my younger brother and his lovely girlfriend which was very enjoyable.

Oh, and any spare time I managed to find was spent trying to find, buy or otherwise acquire a long list of essentials that we had been unable to find in Mexico.

My second weekend in town was the wedding weekend, which was the main reason I travelled from Mexico back to Melbourne. This was my older brothers wedding, as well as the first wedding for any of the Moore clan, so no chance I was going to miss it.

Giving my ´Dr Seuss´reading at the wedding

Giving my ´Dr Seuss´reading at the wedding

The wedding was fantastic, and everything went as planned. Both Steve and Sue had huge grins on their faces all day, and it was great to see how truly happy they make each other.

Just Married!

Just Married!

Congratulations Guys!

The happy couple

The happy couple

Overall my trip home was a great opportunity to catch up with a lot of friends and family that I otherwise would not have done except for the wedding. It was also a great chance to get back into ‘normal’ life and society after travelling for 9 months as this really reminded me to appreciate the time we have for our travels, and to truly make the most of the remaining travel time we have.

Mum with her boys

Mum with her boys

Unfortunately my travels back to Mexico were not uneventful, as I was seated next to vomit boy on my long flight from Australia, but overall the travel was not too painful, and I even managed to get a few hours sleep here and there on the different flights.

The beautiful Christine was waiting for me this time, and soon had me ‘home’ in Ginger with a shower and comfy bed ready.

 

This weeks banner

This weeks banner

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