Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Market of Chichicastemango

Busy times in the market

God only knows how people can pronounce names in this country, what type of name is Chichicastemango???
After a seven and a half hour journey in two different buses I finally made it to what is commonly knows as Chichi, like my mother's old Chihuahua.
The cemetery was bonkers, all these pastels were just plain odd

The town is famous for two things, its market on Thursday and Sunday, and its adherance to a mixture of Catholicism and old Mayan beliefs.
I managed to catch a procession on Saturday night - before it arrived the street was covered with pine boughs and flowers. Later on, men and women carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary came in front of a chuckkajaue, a local prayer leader, who was swinging a censer with incense inside.
Around this part of the country people are extremely religious and private. Taking pictures of locals is frowned upon and strictly forbidden when visiting the church.

The Sunday Market is a mixed bag. Part tourist attraction but largely where locals come to purchase what they can not find in their villages or to sell their surplus goods. The queues to get into the banks on Sunday mornings are enourmous.

Sanghita came down from Antigua and we spent the day walking around. She is the haggle queen. Sometimes I had to walk out, being embarrased at how low her initial offers were.
But then I realized that prices are so inflated for tourists and that a fair price was always reached. As the traders say, the give a price, but you give yours.
Sanghita haggling, I am hiding away, how could she keep that straight face

Only once were we told to go somewhere else.

Tourists are hassled by women trying to sell them locally made cloth, though sometimes I got the feeling that it was manufactured in some big factory far away in China. It was that feeling you get from Chinese acryllic, 'dont-get-too-close-to-a-naked-flame' type of thing.

Have not managed to work out why they wear the cloth like that on their heads

They all follow the same tricks, like giving you a ridiculous price of one dollar then, when you are interested, deny that they said that and tell you that it was twenty one in the hope that you are too embarrased to walk out.....of course, we were never too embarrassed.

Like in Nepal, men and women carry everything around on their heads or in huge bags that they pull with their heads, which must damage their spines.

A lot sadder to watch is the number of children working and begging. Some work in stalls with their families, others try to sell you bits of this and that, and a lot of small children just ask you for a Queztal. It is sometimes so difficult not to encourage this by giving them something, so we bought some fruit.

All in all, it is a must-see in Guatemala that allows you to get a sense of people's day to day lives.

Tomorrow I am off to visit Atitlan Lake, which is meant to be one of the nicest in this part of the world.

I hope my friends like the big sombreros I bought them, and Mel is getting that dress she asked for a couple of blogs ago.......

Friday, 25 September 2009

The King Marcos Cave

El Calvario, Chamelco´s church, one of the first in this part of the world
This really is Middle Earth. I know it is an easy joke, but it is so true.
I have not checked the feet of these people but I am absolutely certain they are hobbits.
Guatemalan's are around 60% indigenous, and I swear they make Kylie look tall.No one here reaches my shoulders and sometimes that is a bit inconvinient.
For example, public toilets are an ordeal. They are so small which makes aiming backwards a real challenge. Also, their minibuses, in which they pack too many people anyway, are a killer on my legs. To make matters worse, I have lost my flip flops but here they don't sell size 44 here.

Today I went up from Coban, where I am staying, to a nice Maya Village called Chamelco and then on to see the San Marcos Cave. Coban has got a strange history. Until WWII this was a heavily German town. The Germans had arrived in the 19th Century founding coffee and spice plantations. That all came to an end when the USA got the Guatemalan Government to deport the Germans for supporting the Nazis.I had never heard about this. There are plenty of postwar Nazi refugee stories in South America but I had not heard about them being kicked out during the war.

Chamelco is a nice town, with a very strange market. I was there first thing in the morning and went back later on.
The women arrive with whatever they have to sell, bringing little stools with them, and they sit in lines all the way down the street. As the morning progresses more women arrive, and more lines are created, leaving only minimal space for customers to walk pass. It is fascinating to watch but it also make you realize just how poor some of the indigenous people are.

Pure Guatemala, the crochet tops and the white cowboy hat
Women come to the market, having travelled a few hours to sell a chicken or two, maybe some corn, or just a few tomatoes.

From Chamelco I went on to Rey Marcos Caves, which were only discovered in 1998.The caves are spectacular and what I liked most is that a river runs through them. At one point you have to wade through the river, which is a nice change from other places I have been that are too health and safety conscious.

One of the main caves, with river running at the bottom of the cave
The road to the caves is infested with pot holes, and being market day the mini buses are full so I had to come back on the top of the bus.

They call this the Twin Towers

Tomorrow I am off to Chichicastenango for the Sunday Market.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Tikal, temples and jungle

View from Temple IV, with the bigger temples coming through the forest

It was nice to spend sometime with Remy, but now I have crossed the border back to Guatemala and I am in Maya Country.
Today I got up extremely early, too early actually, and went up from the town I am staying in, Santa Elena to Tikal.
Tikal are the main Mayan ruins in this country, and one of its main tourist attractions.
I went really early to avoid the hordes of tourists who descend on it, but also cos we are in the rainy season and we are getting torrential rains every afternoon.
Double click to enlarge view from Temple V

I have been to some spectacular human creations, both in this trip and before, and I have also seen some great landscapes. What makes Tikal so special is how Nature and Human work have merged in this amazing site.
Temple of Jaguar, and please not really cute Israeli guy next to me

After the decline of the Mayans the jungle took back what it had once owned and for hundreds of years Tikal was lost. It was not until 1848 that the first scientific expedition was sent.
Grand Plaza

When I first got to the Grand Plaza I thought it was pretty impressive, but the best bit is to climb to the top Temple IV. The forest canopy extends as far as the eye can see, punctured by the top of the highest temples.
Temple V has also a great views, but the stairs are far too steep. I was starting to feel nauseous about walking down when a French guy next to me had a little panic attack, and would not move up or down, which made me snap out of my panic as someone was more scared than me.
Scary Temple V, there were two vultures on the top, probably waiting for one of us to fall down the very steep stairs

Tikal is also great for its wildlife. I managed to see Spider Monkeys, that I had not seen before, and some toucans.
Spider Monkey

It may not be as elaborate as Angor Wat but some of the views are probably the best I have ever seen.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Where Madonna meets Olivia Newton-John

I am spending a couple of days with my friend Remy in Belize.

This is a strange place. For a country so small, there are so many different kinds of people.

Standing on the pier I kept wondering what language were people speaking. I heard English, Creole, Spanish, and a few using the Maya language, and so for much of the time I had no idea what people were saying.

But I must say, for such diversity they all seem to be fairly well integrated. At the moment they're celebrating their independence from the Motherland, all happy clappy, almost American.

Has the adoption of American Tourism made them that much better?

Well I guess it's better than the days when Mayas were frowned upon. Actually that's not a guess, I know its better. But as a whole is the country better off?

San Pedro is a strange town, there are some cars around but most people drive around on golf carts.

The diving and snorkeling here is quite good, nothing to write home about though, and especially not for the price they charge here.

If you get the chance to dive somewhere else, do just that.

I came here to see Remy, and that has been great. But to see fish, stick to the cheaper islands, the cheaper coast, maybe Honduras.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Planning to head back

Personal hygene seems to be forgotten when you travel . Sanghita and I saying good bye in the border of Guatemala and Belize, I am jumping on a boat
I keep thinking that I am already on my way back to the UK.
This year long trip is coming to an end.
There are still three months till I head back to Galicia to see my parents.
The other day my friend John asked me if I was going to be able to adapt to live back in the UK after all I had seen and done.
Well, my answer is yes. I am loving this trip, but, at the same time, I am desperate to go back to routine, to work, to a normal life.
I have enjoyed this year more that I have enjoyed any year recently, but I miss my friends, my house, my life. I have enjoyed the sights, the places I have visited, the challenges that have almost killed me. Most of all I have enjoyed the people I have met.
My memories are filled with people like Fabian in Tasmania, Ignasi and Consuelo in Nepal, Charles dealing with India and the Indians, Sanghita annoying me as me crossed Central America, seeing Roberto everywhere in South East Asia, yam, yam!!!
Now I am in Belize City, tomorrow off to San Pedro to see Remy

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Independence Day in Central America

Independe day celebrations, nice, but all buses have to wait for the whole parade to cross, and that was in every town!!!

We have spent the last few days rushing around, crossing borders on my way to Belize.
After spending a day in North Nicaragua, in a town called Esteli we made our way up to the border with Honduras.
All of this can be done on one of the several fleets of international buses, but they are a lot more expensive, up to 5 times more expensive. Besides one thing I got is time, so I get to see the countries I am crossing.
After taking four different buses, two in each country, last night we arrived in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.
A fairly large, fairly ugly city, nested in a dramatic valley, and with a cooler climate, as it is set about 1000 metres above sea level.
Tegucigalpa Cathedral
Sadly the city is so paranoid about security that everything closes really early, and just after dark you hardly find anything open, not even a place to eat.
I have to wonder how much of this is created by the press, that may push the stories to attack the government, or simply to sell more papers. Yesterday the main article on the paper I had picked up was the shooting of 3 people in the capital.
The town is a bit like Sunnidale without Buffy, overridden by vampires that come out at dark, people lives on gated, chained buildings, scare to come out, in case mugged by gangs.

We are trying to get all the way to the North border with Guatemala tonight, but things here go slowly. And today is Independence Day, so I am certain we will be blocked in our way by parades, demonstrations and parties.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Learning To Cook Pususas

Grilling my first pususa

Learning how to shape the pancake

I have spent the last couple of days doing things that I've always wanted to do.

Two nights ago I had some savoury pancakes from a street stall, and following my compliments to the chef I was invited to come back the following day to learn how to make them.

I was absolutely thrilled by this, and so were my friends Hieka and Stephan, who also, somehow, invited themselves.

We went to meet Don Ramon, a young father that prepares traditional Salvadorenian pancakes in a store, that doubles up, naturally, as a photocopy shop.

The pancakes are delicious, but the best bit was learning how to make them from scratch, and by that I mean right from how to mill the corn.

Today Sanghita and I went down to Laguna Apoyo, a volcanic laguna in an area that is completely covered by forest, apart from the few bits where bars have been set.

Sanghita with her Orange not Northern Irish

It is beautiful and relaxing, except from the thumping Nicaraguan/ Central American / plain awful music played.

Double click on the pic

Chilling, I guess the bars are not that bad, just stop the music

Development no doubt brings its benefits, but some are just not what I would have hoped for...

It has been so nice to meet all three of them, and now that it's just the two of us left I think I'll get upset when we go our seperate ways once we get to Managua.

I thought it was a funny pic of Stephan

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Masaya and poverty

Masaya Crater
Double click on the pic

Today we saw another part of Nicaragua, the not so pretty one, away from the restored colonial glories of Granada and the tranquility of Ometepe.
Last night Sangita and I bumped into Heika and Stephan, the couple I had climbed the volcano with and we arranged to go down to Masaya for the day.
Me and the kids
Masaya is famous for two things, its markets and the volcano.
After a 45 minute ride in a bus we got to the town and hailed a cab to the volcano. It is not a trekking area, as you would only be able to walk on the road.
Once you get there it is spectacular, especially if you had never seen a proper active volcano crater before. When I got to the top of Concepcion it had been covered with clouds.
It is how I imagine Mars to be, the gases are overwhelming. It is like a Jules Verne novel.
Back in town, Masaya's markets, both the tourist market and the local one, are just mostly full of tat. I don't think this area is actually good for handicrafts.
This is the dress you buy your daughter to have nightmares
But some of it was upsetting. Turtles disecadas holding ashtrays or dried frogs holding small bottles of rum.
What has your wife done to deserve this? It is officially the worst dress in the world
Poverty is rife in this part of the world. Sangita and I ate in the market and when we had almost finished a kid approached us. He wanted us to leave him some food. We stayed behind to ensure that the plate was not taken from him by the people running the market restaurant.
It is so depressing to see these kids, their childhood drifting away, lost in this misery. There is no hope for any of them, yet he still thanked us for the food, and kept part of the chicken to take to his friend, a smaller kid standing a bit behind.
I got really upset in the tourist market. A mother stood in the blazing heat begging. In her arms a kid. The child, around 5 or 6, suffered from 'waterhead', not sure what the name of the deformation is. His head was deformed, maybe three times its size.
She played on our guilt, but what else could she do.
Masaya Bus Terminal

Leaving the town from the main bus terminal I kept thinking of India, everywhere was full of rubbish, the street vendors, the conductors shouting their destinations. Will this country be able to offer anything comparable to the immense human potentional of India?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Two Granadas

Granada Cathedral

The other side of Granada, the town market
There are two very different Granadas.
There is the rehabilitated, rebuilt, retouched and re-everything, that is beautiful and charming.
And there is the real Granada, the one of its buzzing market, full of life, but also of dodgy characters, touting black market currency or indeed any black market you want.
It is fascinating to stand and hear every vendor shout about their product, from eggs to tomatoes, from bleach to frijoles, poison to kill dogs, rats, or even your wife......

I can´t remember what this lady was selling, or if she was just sitting there letting the day pass, but she was really flattered that I took a pic of her.
There is such a contrast between the manicured and extremely beautiful old town, with its vibrant colours, cathedral, churches and restaurants, bars and spas, and the run down Market Municipal, just so full of life and decay.
Nicaragua has proven to be everything I had heard.
It is beautiful and green, it is dodgy without being dangerous. It is a bit like India, and I am loving it.

It is really sad to see these girls having to work in the Bus Station as street vendors, what has happened to the Sandinista revolution and their push for education?
Of course, at some point, I will kill a tout, especially the stupid one that keeps hassling me to fix my shoes in his stall...I am wearing frekking sandals!!!!

I have met a really nice Indian girl from Belgium and we have been hanging out together. Sadly, her room was broken into last night and she was not happy. She's funny, though I think she missed the page in the guides about dressing modestly....

Monday, 7 September 2009

Climbing Volcan Concepcion

View from the Top of Concepcion, where is the lift to get down???

Why, why, why???
After leaving Rivas I have come down to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. This island is magnificent, adventure movie country. You can easily imagine Indiana Jones or King Kong being filmed here.
The island was created by two volcanoes rising in the middle of the lake and eventually joining up.
Concepcion, the largest of the two, dominates the island, sometimes menacing, sometimes just stunning.
I had always wanted to go to see the crater of a volcano and, this being Nicaragua, they allow you to do just that.
View from the door of my hostel..
Although I am a bit mad I decided I had to go with a guide, though there are no controls at the entrance to stop you taking on the 1610 metre mountain on your own.
The walk starts through dense forest, on a steep climb from sea level.
The humid heat is sticky, and I sweated like never before, there were rivers of it.
The morning had been cloudy, but when at around 10.30 we got to the tree line the clouds had vanished and we were greeted with a beautiful view over the lake.
Before things got hard with Heike and our guide Erik

The tree line is at around 1000 metres. Everytime trees try to go higher the volcano explodes and the ash burns everything. There are small trees burnt from the last explosion 7 months ago.
From there onwards the trek, which I thought had been hard, turned into hell.
The mountain is so steep, the rocks are loose, and most of the time I crawled on all fours to avoid falling backwards.
My two fellow trekkers and the guide were well ahead of me. The words of Frank Sinatra keep coming back to me, had I bitten off more that I could chew.
We were very lucky that clouds only covered our path from time to time. Climbing with complete cloud cover would not have been nice, especially if you add the howling from the howler monkeys down in the forrest being transported by the wind.

Evnetually we got to the top, though we didn't stay there long. The gases are strong, make you sleepy, and there are some irritating bugs that drive you potty.
On the top of the volcano, covered with clouds and gases, get me out!!!

If I thought that going up had been difficult, down drove me insane. The going was hard, challenging, but got your adrenaline and you heart pounding.
Coming down was infurating as, everytime I put my foot down, the rocks crumbled. I fall on my fat ar*e several times, scratched my hands, and on one accasion shouted a very loud 'Cono!!!' that was heard at the bottom of the volcano by another group.
To make matters worse I ran out of water at the top with 4 hours still to go. Probably one of my worse nightmares......
Thankfully, the couple that were trekking with us, Heika and Stephan were able to spare some water.
Howler monkey with baby that we found on the way down

Funnily enough, by the time I got down, I had already forgotten how tough it had been and was thinking about my next big trek. But I have learnt a lesson, and eaten a lot of humble pie.

Today I am going to do sweet FA as my legs are killing me