It was quite a difficult start of the day today – we’re not used (anymore) to getting up at 4:30am…. – but it was definitely worth it. This morning we needed to be ready by 5:00am as we had booked ourselves an early tour across the local mangroves. After a short walk to the departure dock and once the guide had tossed all the rain water outside the boat (thank goodness for that as we’d already seen enough rain a few hours before) we could start our journey. The calm lake in the morning air and the sounds of the movements of the kano stick were almost hypnotising. We spontaneously started to whisper to each other. Seeing the sun rise above the mangroves was really amazing. We also spotted some rare birds (not all caught on camera) as well as white and blue cranes. At a certain moment in time the boat even followed some hidden paths inside the mangrove (that was all a matter of ‘ducking’ in time :)).
After 2 hours we got back and Patrick extended his hours of sleep whilst Marijke sat outside and watched the fishermen catch the fresh fish of the day.
The bigger plans for the day were yet to come. Challenge one: reverse out of a parking spot with 2cm on each side – check. Challenge two: get the boat across the river on a ferry that needs to be boarded on small wooden planks – check. Challenge three: manage to cross the border with El Salvador without any issues – check. Check four: find a place to stay for the night – check.
Challenge one and two were fairly easy to complete. Whilst we were waiting for the ferry to depart we even saw this beautiful green heron.
It was challenge three that took us most of the day. Even though we didn’t ask for help we got not one but two people that wanted to assist us at the border crossing. They pointed us to the correct places but when it came down to taking copies of documents, following their advise was not the best option. It’s better to wait for the officer to request you the copy and then get one as we got a few copies too many. All in all we spent 3 hours going from one building to the other. The process in the correct order:
- Drive to the border town ‘Ciudad Pedro de Alvarado’ in Guatemala
- Ignore all the trucks waiting in the right lane and drive past them (in the wrong lane of course!) to park your car at the customs building on your left
- Get your permit cancelled; the officer might require some copies (passport, old vehicle permit, vehicle ownership document, driving license).
- Get your passport stamped at the immigration booth
- Drive across the bridge to El Salvador, you will get a stamp on your old vehicle permit document from the officer standing in the middle of the road
- Get your passports checked at the immigration booth (we didn’t get a stamp, we’ll find out at the Honduras border if that’s a problem or not)
- Get your vehicle permit; the officer might again require some copies (passport, driving license, cancelled old vehicle permit, vehicle ownership document)
- Have your car checked by an officer (they might require a lot of details about the car like number of doors, engine number, cylinder size, etc)
- Wait at the office for the officer to type all information in the computer and provide you the vehicle permit document (victory!)
- Show the vehicle permit document when crossing the border
- Pay 5 USD to access the El Salvador roads (we’re not sure if this was legal as we didn’t read anything about having to pay a fee at other border crossings but we got a receipt so it must be fine)
The rest of the day we spent driving in the car. Tonight we are sleeping in ‘Auto Hotel Camino Real’. It’s another love motel, we know, but at least they have clean rooms, clean toilet, warm water and a safe place for the car for the night.
So listen very carefully
Closer now and you will see what I mean
It isn’t a dream
As we didn’t get to see much of the lake yesterday, we went for a little stroll in the morning. In the distance we could see 2 big volcanos rising through the clouds. Even at this early hour it was already getting busy in the city centre with speeding tuc-tucs driving through the streets.
These little motorbikes wouldn’t be able to take us all the way south and also Rodrigo wouldn’t have fit within (maybe it would have worked the other way around though :)) so we left ‘Larry’s Place’ and went back on the road and headed towards the black volcanic beaches of ‘Monterrico‘.
Including a detour around the lake back to Solola (highly feared unpaved road found in the opposite direction…) and a short lunch break at the side of the road it took us a good 3 hours to reach our place for the night, ‘Eco Beach Place’ where Rodrigo only just fitted through the gates. Once parked we took a seat outside on the terrace but the beach was just too beautiful to ignore so we went for a walk along the coast line.
We then hung out a little bit at the beach (sorry Sharon, no shells – only drift wood and coconuts to find here), had a drink, dreamt away in the hammocks, relaxed in the swimming pool and enjoying the perfect weather until it got dark. We had booked ourselves a tour for the night to walk along the beach to spot turtles. The beaches are famous for being the natural home of 3 different types of turtles and it’s the good time of year to see them come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand. When we left it started drizzling a little bit but by the time we were 100m further the rain was pouring down!!! We put our rain jackets on and kept looking but unfortunately we didn’t see any turtles at all. By the time we were back in the B&B we were completely soaked and exhausted from walking in the wet sand. Thinking back, it’s maybe good that we didn’t see anything because there were also people driving around on trikes and I don’t think they were interested in the natural behaviour of the turtle. In this area the turtle eggs are used as an aphrodisiac.
We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her and I go back to black
We wanted to have breakfast at ‘Y Tu Pina Tambien’ but unfortunately it was closed. So we went looking for another cosy place. On Sunday it seems this is quite a challenge though so there was nothing else to do then have breakfast in a touristy bar at the central plaza.
Filled up on energy we walked back to our campground as we wanted to go and see the city from a view point up in the hills. The tourist police is known for taking you up there but today they didn’t have any vehicles available. So with nothing else to do we headed for ‘Panajachel‘ (or ‘Pana’ as it is affectionately known in ‘Guate’). The town is situated on the east side of the ‘Lago de Atitlan‘, a lake surrounded by 3 volcanoes. Aldous Huxley said that this lake is like Lake Como in Italy, but then with the additional benefit of having 3 volcanoes decorate the surroundings.
On the road over we were stopped twice by the police. After showing our papers we could pass through without any problems. At one stop they didn’t even ask for our original documents. Sometimes we wonder what they are looking for when they do these controls…
The lake is very calm in the morning, but in the afternoon the winds set in and make it more rough. The Mayas said that these winds blow all the sins away, so we made sure to stand outside for a bit. We had planned to go see the butterfly sanctuary, but it was closed for maintenance. Our plan B was to walk around town for a bit, have a coffee in a café with wifi. That all worked out fine! In the meantime, the street was being transformed into a river due to the heavy rainfall.
As we were feeling a little hungry we headed for ‘Jose Pinguinos’ described by our guide to be the best dining place in town. As the streets were quite flooded we couldn’t reach it unfortunately (this seemed to become a bit the theme of the day…). So instead we went to ‘El Ultimo Refugio’ which turned out just perfect (also the theme of the day, hurray for plan B! :)). They were very friendly people and the food was simply de-li-cious!!
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
This morning we walked to the central plaza for our tour pick-up. As we were a little bit early we had a seat in the park with a view on the volcano. Whilst we were waiting, we met the other guide and got into an awkward situation but Marijke managed to explain to the guy that we didn’t have any bad intentions and that we were deeply sorry for booking with someone else. He seemed to accept that…
At the plantation in ‘La Azotea’ we got the full explanation of how the coffee is made. It all starts from a little seed inside a berry. The berry is put into rich and humid soil and from there it grows into a very small plant. When it’s big enough it is moved to a bigger garden where it can become a full plant. This takes about 2 months. Once the plant is big enough it’s moved to the plantation. There the plants are either placed in the shade (like our plantation) or in the sun. The process of how the plants grow also define the taste of the coffee beans. From November until March the plants grow flowers – which only blossom for 3 days – and these become green berries which need to ripe until they are fully red. Then they are picked by hand and washed inside a machine. The beans then follow a big process to go from berries into seeds, from seeds into green beans and from green beans into black beans. And these black beans are turned into tasty coffee. Hmmm… jummy.
Also nice to know that the leftovers from the process (leaves, bean cover, etc) are grinded and used for coffee liquor. Whatever is not sold is being used as fertiliser on the plantation. Something to remember next time you drink Kahlua :).
The plantation also has some other incomes that help them maintain the plantation as well as get some extra income. Trees that have become too big to still provide shade for the coffee plants are shopped down and the wood is sold as firewood. They also use banana trees for shade of which they sell the bananas. They even have a special flower garden where you can get several exotic plants and off course people like us help them survives too.
Included within the tour price we also got a guide for the museum of Mayan music and fabrics. The guy was very entertaining and his Spanish was easy to follow. Patrick specifically liked the donkey jaws as musical instrument (no, we are not taking any home :))
Both tours took us all morning and by the time we were back at our camp ground Patrick was completely exhausted and obliged to rest as growing a 38°C fever. With the aid of some head phones, blanket covers, tasty banana crisps and a dose of Dafalgan he could take a little nap in the car whilst it was raining outside.
Only when we were back on our feet we went into town following a trail containing old Spanish colonial buildings as well as the local market.
Oh slip me a slug from the wonderful mug
And I’ll cut a rug just snug in a jug
A sliced up onion a raw one
Draw one – waiter, waiter, percolator
The national bird for Guatemala is the ‘quetzal‘. It’s a beautiful green bird with quite unusual feathers and colours. It’s especially known for its long tail which was also used by the Mayas for the leader’s head dresses. So this morning we started the day with a visit to the quetzal national park. The walk started quite adventurous – wrong day to wear a dress… 🙂 – but apart from two road blocks caused by fallen trees it went very smoothly. We didn’t spot any quetzals though. It would have been quite unusual too to be fair. The bird isn’t one that likes to show itself and the breeding season is normally in springtime. We were surprised though that we didn’t see many other animals either. Maybe they are also too shy or there were just too many visitors in the park (there were school groups walking around too) or it wasn’t the right time of day or season. It was cool still to walk around this pure piece of nature where the air still smells clean and the forest is bigger than mankind. We did spot a cool blue mushroom.
After this amazing visit we headed to Antigua; making sure we selected the paved road. Once we got into the capital Guatemala City (‘Guate’ for the locals) the traffic became a real nightmare. Luckily we were only passing through towards the old capital. In Antigua the streets and atmosphere were completely different, a lot more relaxed and controlled driving as well as a lot more beautiful streets.
Once we parked at our camp ground (which is being guarded by police officers) we headed into town to check out the city centre. Enjoying the local festivities (kids dancing in colourful clothes and all wearing the same mask) and a cup of coffee in a local coffee bar we got interested in the coffee plantations so we asked around for tour options. The first guy we spoke to offered us a tour of 3 hours in San Felipe for 100 USD or a tour of 2 hours in a smaller plantation for 54 USD. This last offer seemed okay for us at first so we accepted by shaking hands but then, as we were walking back to the camp ground, we spotted another tour operator who offered 150 Q (ca 20 USD) for a 1.5 hour tour in ‘La Azotea’. This seemed a lot more reasonable and budget friendly so we signed in on a morning tour.
Whilst we were paying the guy, there was an earthquake of 6.5 on the Richter scale. Marijke thought for a moment that it was the wind, blowing very hard and shaking the house. It was only when we all had to shelter under the door that it became clear that it was an actual earthquake. Hopefully it’s not a bad omen. At least we have the police to protect us here on our campground tonight :).
Come on, let me see you shake a tail feather
Twist it, shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it baby
Here we go loop de loop
Shake it out baby
This morning we were awake quite early as we went to bed early the night before. It’s good that we were awake as the owner started shooting confetti from the top floor around 8:00am. If this would have been our morning wake-up call we would have been scared to death from the loud bangs. As we didn’t have any supper last night we went into town and had a good healthy breakfast at ‘Cool Beans‘ whilst looking out over the lake and the local animals.
After breakfast we went to the car repair shop recommended by the waiter from the ‘Sky Bar’ (we got into a conversation with him during our evening walk in Flores). The garage was not hard to find and the mechanic was super friendly so we asked if he could have a look at the exhaust. He fixed it without any issues (without any protection as well!) and we could drive further south towards Coban.
At Sayaxche we went east, which seemed to be a wrong choice. Unknowingly we had opted for the unpaved mountain road (although still called a ‘highway’ officially). So whilst we were getting closer to Coban, the roads started getting worse and worse and smaller and smaller. Later we noticed there was another road to Coban going west which was in perfectly good condition. Yeah well… even at 10km/h… at least we were moving forward.
Luckily after 80 kilometres of shaky roads the asphalt returned (hallelujah!) and we could speed up a little. Due to this unexpected mistake – and rain and darkness setting in – we didn’t manage to reach our camp ground before dark so we are staying in what is probably the most expensive (and damp) hotel in Guatemala. Well, it’s a good thing that at least we didn’t end up like this poor butterfly. We were not dead and nobody was pulling us forward. 🙂
Tomorrow we will be fully charged and ready for the next challenge. Tonight we will enjoy the accommodation of the hotel.
Let it flow, let yourself go
Slow and low that is the tempo!
‘Tikal‘ is a super fun board game that we’ve got at home but today we went to see the real thing. After a horrible night (we didn’t sleep much due to the light and noise of the hotel) we were awake quite early so by 7:30 we were already walking around the archeological site. Heading for complex O and Q but getting lost in the jungle, we came across an encrypted stone representing the defeat of an ancient rival leader. The walk further up was too steep though to continue so we headed back down and walked towards temple IV instead, also a good walk up but on a steady wooden stair case. The view on top was totally worth the climb. From above you could see the temple I and II tops as well as the top from another temple. Walking around the buildings, you could really grasp how people could have lived here years ago. We continued our walk towards the lost city, over the seven temples to the main plaza with the two temples. By that time we were too exhausted to explore any more so we walked back to the car.
Next to the incredibly beautiful buildings, they also have very exotic animals in the national park such as oscillated turkeys, butterflies, white-nosed coatis, dears, spider monkeys, howler monkeys and toucans. We didn’t spot the last one but we did see all the others.
Our visit to Tikal lasted a good 3 hours. Still parts of the site are being excavated so who knows what more secrets they might discover here.
Then we headed for ‘Flores‘, a city on an island in the middle of ‘Lake Peten Itza‘. All was going well – the road was great, we found the place alright, and there was a nice hostel in which we could stay – until Patrick reversers the car into a big concrete lantern which was located on the road (“it came out of nowhere!”). It twisted the metal bar protecting the back of the car a bit (we now know why it’s there!). We also noted that the exhaust suspension was broken, although that probably happened a few days ago during our off-roading in Belize. On the positive side, we managed to get all the dirty laundry washed – we’ll get the car fixed tomorrow. Cooling down in the hotel in the hammocks on top of the roof we enjoyed the weather and the view over the lake. When the sun was setting we went for an evening walk through the small and colourful streets of the city.
So I want to know – what’s the name of the game
Does it mean anything to you?
Can you feel it the way I do?
Today we faced the challenge of getting into Guatemala and reaching the legendary Tikal site. We left the campsite around 9:30am and arrived at the border around 10:00am. There we parked the car and headed for the Belizean immigration to check out of the country. Our passports were stamped after paying the exit fee and the car import permit got cancelled. A local person helped us change our money into quetzals – the currency of Guatemala. and then we drove through the fumigation car wash and started the Guatemalean paperwork. We paid 18Q (about 1,8 Euro) to get the car fumigated and went to get our passports stamped – very easy and no questions asked. We headed to the customs for the car paperwork. We handed over copies of all the documents and the guy entered some stuff into the computer and gave us a form to fill out. He then joined us to check the car VIN number and we went back to his desk where he entered some more stuff. We paid 160Q at another desk for the import fee and then the guy came with us to put a sticker on the windshield – job done!. We drove into Guatemala and were immediately stopped at the traffic light to pay another tax – 50Q for the municipality – not sure where this money is for and if the light would have been green we wouldn’t have been asked but we paid and then we were off! The whole process took about 45 minutes. Well done Guatemala border officers!
Our first planned visit of the day was the ‘Yaxha‘ site, about 45 minutes from the border. We drove up the road to the site, paid the entrance fee to the park and drove to the parking. We walked around the site for about 2 hours to the different Acropolises on each corner of the site. As the site is located in a national park, there is a lot of shade from the trees which makes the visit really nice. You can even get a view from the nearby lake or spot monkeys in the trees.
After our visit, we hit the road to Tikal. If you arrive in Tikal after 3:00pm, you can buy a ticket that is valid for 2 days for the price of 1 day. We arrived around 4:00pm so got the double-day-benefit and provided a French couple a ride for the final 17 kilometers into the national park. When you enter the park, they give you a ticket with the time of your arrival. When you arrive in Tikal, 17 kilometers further, they check the time to see if you have not been speeding (speed limit is 45 km/h). We arrived in Tikal (not too early! :)) and looked for a campground. The official campground is 100Q, but the restaurant across the parking is only 50Q and has internet – easy choice!
We already went for a walk to the main plaza in ‘Tikal‘ – which was completely empty. When we arrived, it started raining quite heavily so no pictures yet. It was a unique experience to be alone in such a magical plaza, with only the sounds of the monkeys and birds! Tomorrow we will take a couple of hours to explore the site in much more detail. Now we are focusing on drying our clothes and enjoying a local Gallo beer (Patrick) and melon shake (Marijke).
A final bit of Caribbean flavour as we are now heading back to the Pacific shores…
Sun is shining, weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue – here I am
Want you to know, y’all, where I stand
A free beer for everyone who can tell me what is the capital of Belize?
… if you said “Belize City”, you owe me a beer. Like Canada and Australia, the capital of Belize is not the biggest or best known city. In the case of Belize, it’s not even a real city as it has only 14,000 inhabitants. It’s Belmopan and we graced it with a visit today. We left our campground after a short and sticky night in the forest. The temperature in the tent was acceptable, but the humidity was more difficult to manage. After a shower we hit the road to Belmopan – looking for breakfast, a new supply of books to read and some long trousers to wear in the jungle. We found breakfast in a small bakery. We asked around for a clothes shop and were given a lot of directions… not all pointing to the same destination. After crossing through Belmopan 3 times we found the place and we found a pair of trousers! We didn’t find any book stores though.
We continued our drive to San Ignacio – close to the border with Guatemala – to visit the ‘Xunantunich‘ site. You have to drive the car on a ferry (the most modern one we have seen in Belize – and the site is a short drive further down the road.
After the site visit we walked through town to look for books – as we did not find them in Belmopan. We found a second hand bookshop in the main street and we both managed to find some new literature. Then we drove out of town and bought some fruit and cheese for tonight’s dinner – as we already had a big lunch at ‘Mom’s Backyard‘ – a restaurant with a great view over the hills.
Tomorrow we are heading to Guatemala – where we expect everything to be again more ‘Latin’ and less ‘Caribbean’. Belize is a nice country, but somehow it feels like it should be an island in the Caribbean – not a country bordering Mexico and Guatemala. It was great being able to communicate in English everywhere and making silly jokes as in “I can’t Belize it” or “It is really unbelizeable” or “you have to Belize in something”… but we are ready again for some Spanish action!
We will say good-bye to Belize with a tribute to the roads. Rodrigo is holding up nicely (although we did drive into a big dip in Belize City), it’s Gabriela (we baptised our navigation with this name so she is inseparable from Rodrigo) who is letting us down every now and then.
Who put the bomp (in the bomp, bomp, bomp)
Who put the dip (in the dipdeedipdeedo)
Who was that man, I’d like to shake his hand
He made my baby fall in love with me!
For those who don’t know Rodrigo and Gabriela, here’s a little taste to show what they are capable of:
When we got up this morning we noticed that the clock in the hotel lounge was showing 9:00am whilst ours was still on 10:00am so that gave us a good feeling for sleeping late. Apparently Belize is one hour behind on Mexico because they don’t follow the summer time. Good for us! 🙂 We immediately headed down south to Belize City hoping that the highway was in a better state than yesterday’s roads. It didn’t let us down. For 20km straight we got clean paved roads. It was only when we took the exit for ‘Altun Ha’ that we had to drive back on dirt roads.
When we got to the location indicated on our navigation, we couldn’t see any side roads leading to an ancient Mayan complex so we kept driving forward until we reached a crossing. Finally after 15km we saw a sign pointing to the left. We arrived at a little hut and assumed this was the site entrance but there was nobody there and the garden was completely flooded and taken over by nature. Patrick even saw a big tarantula which he didn’t mention to Marijke until they had walked passed it. We also saw big grass hoppers. They had a green colour so they should be the friendly type, or at least that’s what they say on National Geographic. When continuing on the same road we noticed that the official site was actually further down the road but we didn’t really feel like going anymore so we headed for Belize City instead.
Belize City was a huge disappointment. The roads were a nightmare again and all the restaurants and shops were closed because it’s Sunday. So we turned to eating banana chips for lunch (again). It tastes lovely but it doesn’t fill you up for very long…
Since there was nothing to do or see in this area we decided to drive towards our camp site ‘The Tropical Education Centre’. As the owner wasn’t around we went to visit the nearby zoo. Finally we could see something beautiful in Belize without being harassed by drunk people or blood-sucking mosquitoes. We saw all types of animals: different kinds of parrots, owls, pumas, jaguars, foxes, weird chickens, eagles, crocodiles, monkeys, boars, tapirs, deers and even snakes and spiders.
We then heard that the camp ground wasn’t available so we continued down the road to find a different location to sleep. We were lucky as a bit further ahead there was a camp site called ‘Monkey Bay’ which didn’t mind taking us in for the night (even when they didn’t have any official room left – a group of circa 30 students was staying here too). It’s a beautiful camp ground with all the right facilities and beautiful plants. Even with that many people it felt like we have our own shower and toilet blocks. They have star fruit, mango, passion fruit, avocado, … all hanging on their trees.
Hopefully the evening will cool down a little. It looks promising at this moment in time. The temperature is manageable, we can hear crickets and frogs in the distance and the sky is dark but open and filled with stars.
Something life can get you down,
I want to live like animals, careless and free
I want to run through the jungle, the wind in my hair and the sand at my feet.