Thursday, 29 October 2009

Another Crazy Bus and Visiting Leon in Nicaragua

Cathedral of Leon, the largest in Central America

Another quiet street in Central America, low rise buildings, and blue skies

Just when you think that you've seen the strangest thing yet on a bus, that you have met the craziest person, a new experience will bring you to new levels of weirdness or just plain bonkers.

Coming into Nicaragua on a chicken bus, I was amazed to see a man selling pills that help treat bad backs, sore necks, all types of pains...and he could connect the two was beyond me.

But the best was yet to come. Once he finished his sale, another older man stood up, and started preaching into an imaginary microphone! He was preaching the word of God, getting more and more into it, his right arm flapping around, as his left hand had to, obviously, hold on to the imaginary microphone.

Once he finished telling us about God, he took out a long coffee filter and started walking up and down the aisle trying to collect money for his mission.

I was was the craziest thing I had ever seen.

I was talking to my current room mate, Ashley from Oz, and I felt like an idiot. Now I understand why a lot of people don´t want to do chicken bus......they don´t speak Spanish, doh!!!

So they can´t really get around.

Some do prefer the comfort of the tourist buses or shuttles, but others are just worried about ending up in the wrong place

I am now in Leon, Nicaragua, and it's a really nice colonial town. Not as refurbished and restored as Antigua so it has a much more real feel than Antigua or even Granada.

Another pic of the Cathedral, the light changing rapidly

This is a student town with speakers in the streets pumping out political messages, as the confrontation between the Left and the Right heats up in Nicaragua. Funnily enough, for all the arguments, I have not heard the same level of stupidity that you hear when the Republicans criticise Obama or the Health Care program.

My next project is to get down to San Juan del Sur where Ashley is going to show me, or at least he is going to try to show me, how to surf...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Central America Coming To An End

The Central American leg of my trip is coming to an end.

I had never planned to come here. I was going to jump straight to South America from Costa Rica after seeing Glenn but then, for several reasons, I ended up staying here for more than two months. People and books had made me paranoid about security, and the issues in Honduras were making me more worried but it turned out to be a lot of scaremonging. Of course you have to keep your wits about you and probably be more careful that in India or South East Asia. Central America is full of great sights, likeTikal, some amazing wildlife, diving, everything, but most of all, what I have really enjoyed is its people.

This lady was amazing, she asked you to try the biscuits she was selling before you bought really don't get that in Tesco
One of the most enduring memories I am going to take with me is the buses, and the madness surrounding the chicken buses.
Yesterday was the only day that I actually saw a chicken being transported in a bus, but everything can happen in one. You may have a clown trying to sing, people selling fruit, drinks, meals. It gets even stranger when people start selling medicines, booklets with old wives tales on how to cure alcohol addiction, smoking and even haemoroids. Throw in some awful music, either reggae, euro trash, or my worst nightmare, Christian Easy listening with off key singers belching out how much they love God.
Some really strange decoration in a hostel I was staying in

Central America is a world of electricty cables hanging on the street, where Pharmacies play blaring music and the first thing they offer you for a sore throat is antibiotics, where people smile at you, and women called you lindo, Where gyms are full of scary people who have lots of tattoos, who will always help you if you just say good morning when you walk in. Sadly it is also a world where deforestation is rampant, where trees are being cut down for the needs of the Western world, or the Chinese never ending thirst for resources. It is a world where sharks are being killed for fins, or just for food. I saw Whale sharks, but I also noticed that there are no fish in the reefs. They have been fished to extinction by desperately poor people who do not understand they are eating away their children's future source of income.
Nevertheless, I would recommend that you all come here......

Monday, 19 October 2009

Sunset in Utila and whale sharks

Whale Shark

It has been a long time since I could write, but then again I really didn't feel like writing after a little accident on the diving boat

So far things have been absolutely great, well, partly. The day I dived down I almost hit a whale shark, she was 7 metres long, so a great thing see... Then we saw another two. The problem was that a bit later I hit my knee on the boat and it swole up like a football.
It has taken me a few days to get better but I am now in the water again.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Getting to Honduras and the Copan Ruins

Does it get any better?

I have managed to make my way to Honduras.

For all the problems that the 24 hour news services and Foreign Office tell us, this country is at peace and preparing itself for an election.

Pick ups drive around with loud speakers blaring messages from the different candidates.

But this is not the country that the Foreign Office portrays.

There are no problems, outside Tegucigalpa, and the FO is playing into the hands of the travel insurance companies. My insurance is invalid while I stay here, as the FO has recommended only essential travel take place.

Then again, they did the same while I was in Bangkok fighting with water guns.

But as this is the journey of a lifetime, and I kept reading everywhere that the country was safe, I decided to be brave and I am now in Copan.

Is this what the FO office is scared of?

Copan Ruinas is the home of the Maya ruins of the same name. If you were hoping for the grand pyramids of Tikal you are in for a dissapointment.

Maybe not quite Tikal, but still outstanding

Here temples are smaller and the jungle has been cut down. There is no Indiana Jones feeling, sadly no temples towering over an ever expanding jungle.

Stela A, beautiful just standing there, staring at you

However, one thing Copan offers that you will not find elsewhere is its sculptures, its hieroglyphics, its Stelas.

View from the top of one of the temples

It also has a story to tell that may bring home some of the things we constantly hear about in the news.

Altar G....what can I say, so many bad memories, so many things left behind, hope I am not having to leave people behind for it

As the Copan kindgom grew richer, larger and more populated, it seems that so did deforestation, erosion and water usage...with it came agricultural decimation and floodings...I can't help but think about how many times I have heard those things link together as I have travelled the world.

Do we ever learn?

Macaw at the end of the day, they are so amazing, with their bright red colours

Monday, 12 October 2009

Life changes

Sanghita, me and a girl we met in Monterico, we had such a laugh, pity my receding forehead is so bloody shiny!!!

My friend John asked me the other day if I felt this trip, which will be coming to an end in just over two months, had changed me. I know I have changed in certain ways and, although I am enjoying travelling, I am looking forward to going home and I know I will be able to adapt perfectly well to a life back in the UK.

Several times I have mentioned that one of the best things about travelling is the people you travel with, the new friends you meet, and obviously seeing some of the old ones who got their ar*es across the world to see me.

My dear Sanghita and I partying in Monterico

Here are two of the great people I have met on my trip, Ignasi and Consuelo

Another friend, Darren, had said that seeing great sights on your own was a disappointment, a bit like reading a great book that no one else had read so you could not discuss it.

On this point I don't agree completely with him - it was worth seeing Tikal, Guatemala or South East Laos on my own. They are great places to visit, and sometimes the fact that you do them on your own adds to the sense of adventure. Especially Laos, where I was the only Westerner.

Nonetheless, as my 21 year old friend from Tasmania said, it is much nicer to do it with someone whom you can share the experience with.

Going back to the original question, one thing that has changed is that I seem to be able to deal with myself in a much better way or, as Ignasi said, I now love myself and my own company enough to cope with not having anyone else around.

I think this has been the greatest change, one that will help me address all those things that were not going well in London at the time I left.

Otherwise I guess I am still the same.

1. My heart warmed today when I saw a demonstration asI was leaving Guatemala, local people demonstrating to protect the environment........

2. I still think David Boreanaz is the very definition of totty.....

and 3. My music taste is still atrocious...I love the Wonder girls!!!!

Friday, 9 October 2009

A few days in Antigua

I love the way local men and women dress around here, the colourful pants with the white hat
Volcan de Agua, overlooking us menacingly

The very beautiful Iglesia de la Merced, not sure about the red lights they put on the facade, looks a bit like the cheap necklaces Brazilians wear in clubs back at home

I decided to change tactics last week. I felt quite lonely after seeing Remy in Belize and after Sanghita left.
So I decided to forget about staying in hostels for locals, and stick to places for backpackers.
Most locals are there with families and, although they may look at you with certain interest and some amusement, why is a gringo here, they don´t really talk to you.
So back with the youngsters, back to the dorms, and I am loving it, well part of it.
I spent a few days sharing my dorm with five 20 year olds from Norway, who were lovely, thoughtful and polite, we even discussed health care policy. Since then I have had a couple of very loud Israeli girls who needed to be strangled, but I am learning to be calm.
I now even own my first kippah as someone left his behind and the Norwegian girls insisted I kept it...I should check if it could be considered offensive for me to have it.

One of the several lovely squares around the town

I am loving Antigua, so much so that my 3 day stop has now turned into a week.
It is a charming town, really well looked after. But not only that, it is one of the first places I have been to that tourism seems to have lifted everyone, at least partially.
In a country with so many inequalities, with so much poverty, it is a lot less obvious here. I don´t think it is because it is hidden away...the drunks are still there.
Tourism has brought money, and teaching Spanish has spread that money.
Lots of people who stop in the hostel for a day or two do that while they look for a family to live with and learn Spanish.
Of course there is still hardship, privation and suffering, kids working in the street, cleaning shoes, or selling handicrafts, but not anywhere near what you see in other places.
This is obviously my personal opinion and is only based on a few days here so I might be completely wrong.

Hopefully tomorrow I will make my way to Honduras and visit the ruins of Copan before heading off to the beach

Monday, 5 October 2009

Volcan more done

Volcano Agua in the distanceVolcan Papaya in the background, lava coming down just behind us, and a line of people coming closer, so they could do their marshmallows

Of late it feels that I am going from one mountain to another, or actually from one volcano to the next.
Sanghita and I went up to Pacaya volcano, the only active one around Antigua and also the only one around which you are almost 100% guarranteed to have lava flowing.
It is fairly impressive to be so close to the lava. At some point you do wonder what type of thrill seeking freaks have we become. What happened with relaxing in front of the telly with a brew. Do I really need to go 2500 metres up and stand a couple of metres away from lava flows that will melt my entire body in seconds, as if I was a vampire exposed to the sun.
We were really lucky with the weather. Most days it seems to rain in the evenings but on this particlar day the clouds were below us, and we got great views of the top of the volcano.
The clouds gave an eerie picture across the different valleys. In the distance we could see Volcan Agua coming through the clouds, beautiful and imposing.
The way back is through the forest in the dark, not the nicest time as I all I could think of were snakes...
I love this pic of the moon coming from behind the volcano

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Panajachel and Santa Catarina

Waiting for the chicken bus

I have spent a couple of days in Panajachel, which is one of the main tourist destinations in Guatemala. Located in the Highlands, it is set next to Lake Atitlan. It is said that this is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. I am not sure if it is the most beautiful but it is pretty spectacular, with two volcanoes towering on the shore.
Double click on panoramic pìc

Sadly the town has developed a little bit like Benidorm, throw in the touts pestering to sell you boat tickets to cross the lake and you get an idea.
One thing that is different here, than in other places like Thailand and especially India, is that when you say no thanks they tend to leave you alone. They don't try to get you to buy something by wearing you down.
The best thing to do when you are at Lake Atilan is to go to some of the smaller towns, like Santa Catarina, a small village a pick-up away from Panajachel, but a million miles in terms of development.
Church in Santa Catarina

Santa Catarina

If Panajachel is Benidorm, Santa Catarina is a secluded dreamy town on the Amalfi Coast or in Croatia, undamaged by rampant development.
I am now in Antigua and have come here to spend a few days with Sanghita.