29 May

1 Day, 3 COUNTRIES, 5 BUSES, 9 HOURS, $9.

Riding a chicken bus

Riding a chicken bus

I had a wonderful time in Santa Ana.  Hostel was the best I have ever stayed in, and I got to go to the old restored National Theater twice.  Performances that would have cost $100 in Canada were $3 and $5.  I travelled to San Miguel to split up the trip to Leon Nicaragua as I knew it was too far for me to attempt in one day. Leaving San Miguel I  started off with a good brekkie ($1.50) then my first bus to Santa Rosa ($.80).  I write down where I am going, in order, in case I pronounce a place wrong.  When I ask which bus, people always take me to the door of the bus – guess they think I am too stupid to follow where they point.  Actually, people are just so kind and helpful.  First bus was an old sightseeing one, pretty good.  Every stop people come on selling anything and everything.  You could buy panties, socks, shoes, candy, drinks, other food?, big pkgs of toilet paper, pills one at a time etc.   Second bus was a very very old school bus, with a very very old driver.  His seat was a pile of cardboard. ($1.)  Got me to the border.  Pedicab taxi kid took me to El Salvador Immigration for exit stamp, then Honduras Immigration, then to the bus.

Pedicabs across the borders

Pedicabs across the borders

I blew the budget – spent $6 for a directo microbus.  As many people as could be crammed in, horrible roads in Honduras – 3 hours of not much fun.  Another pedicab, Honduras exit visa, and then Nicaragua Immigration for entrance.  Lots of gauchos on horses around this border.  Another old school bus ($.60) and  that chicken bus had chickens.  One more change ($40) and I was in Leon.  Long hot day – but lots of fun.  Locals check often to make sure I am okay – and I am!!  Now Nicaragua!!

Lots of gauchos at the border

Lots of gauchos at the border

There were chickens - it was a chicken bus!

There were chickens – it was a chicken bus!

23 May

GOODBYE GUATEMALA – HELLO EL SALVADOR

I just had to return to Antigua for one more day before leaving Guatemala for El Salvador.  I wanted to go directly to Santa Ana, but was told I could not get to there from here.  I ended up taking a tourist shuttle to El Tunco – a little coastal village full of surfers.  One night was enough of “Dudesville” for me.  I was sick of overpriced, crowded tourist shuttles so decided to brave the local bus.  I gal at a coffee shop who spoke English wrote out instruction in Spanish for me.  I hiked to the highway and flagged a Directo #120 bus.  Paid $1.20, nice bus, not crowded.  A man got on who worked for this bus company as he had the same uniform as the driver.  I asked if he spoke English -he said no.  I gave him my note and he had a conversation with the driver.  Gal at the coffee shop did not know if I should get off at the Church, or the terminal.  The bus pulled over, he reached down and took my pack and indicated I should get off.  He got off with me, and the bus drove off. He then held my hand (and carried my pack) across a busy street, then up a long flight of stairs to an overhead across a freeway, and down the stairs on the other side.  We waited for a bus, and one came along that said Santa Ana  – but he shook his head “no”.  Next one came and he got my pack on, and me, and then had a long conversation with the driver.  I wanted to pay him but he refused anything.  I got to Santa Ana for $1.70 and the driver told me where to get off, and get a taxi to my hostel.  So, I have ridden a chicken bus, and lived to tell. Everyone hears of all of the bad things that happen in Central America – but good things happen too!

20 May

SENSORY OVERLOAD – CHICHI MARKET

Wonderful faces

Wonderful faces

The chicken buses roar into town before dawn.  They are loaded with people and produce. Delivery men carry everything into the market by hand – actually by head.  They have a wide leather strap that fits across their forehead, and they tie ropes around what they are going to carry, and then attach the ropes to the strap.  They bend over and off they go. Streets are all very steep.  I stood beside a little, elderly man who was carrying 5 boxes of chicken parts, each weighing  20 lbs.  I am sure he did not weigh that much.  The market is the largest in Central America, and a great tourist attraction.  Locals from the entire area come to shop.  You can buy anything, new or used.  The produce market had thousands of cases of tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables.  There are tiny stalls, and people walk around yelling what they have to sell.  The colors are blinding.  On the steps of the church flowers are sold.  I was able to find a side entrance to the church and there was a baptism service going on.  There had to be at least a hundred babies.  Families had spread flower petals on the floor of the church.  The tourist buses from all over Guatemala arrive about 10:30 am and the frenzy begins.  Obviously they know the tourists can afford to purchase the goods they have spent hours making by hand.  That day was my final adventure in Guatemala – El Salvador, here I come.

Flowers for sale on the steps of the Church

Flowers for sale on the steps of the Church

Cases and cases of produce

Cases and cases of produce

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Fresh chicken

My $2 purchase

My $2 purchase

16 May

GUATEMALA VOLCANO COUNTRY

The Yellow Church

The Yellow Church

I had bus butt after my long trip from Rio Dulce to Antigua.  We went through Guatemala City and I was certainly happy not to spend time there.  It is big, dirty, and tough.  Every door and window is barred.  Little stores do not let customers in, things are sold through the bars.  Other places all have armed guards at the doors with big guns.  Smog was so bad – huge old trucks and busses belch out thick black smoke – no emission controls here.  Saw lots of big cattle ranches, and gauchos.  Antigua is a wonderful old colonial city with cobblestone streets, and a lot of tourists. This is volcano country, people come here to climb volcanos, I will not be doing that.  My casa had a rooftop terrace.   I have been pleasantly surprised to find all of my accommodation has been spotless and safe for $20 – $25/night.  I always have a private room with private bath. Staying at Casa Cristina for $26 a night, one block from the big Yellow Church.  This city is small enough to walk everywhere.  Many of the old colonial buildings here are being restored.  The squares all have lots of benches to sit and people watch.  Tiny cafes, lovely tablecloths, and bakeries to die for line every street. More tourists than I have seen anywhere. The Yellow Church is full of fresh flowers and you can smell them from the door. About half of the people here are Mayan and they wear their traditional dress.  There is a chocolate museum here and I took a two hour course on the history of chocolate and how to make it.  The fellow leading the course was wonderful, flair and drama to the max, and eating what I made was not so bad either.

Crrushing cocoa beans

Crrushing cocoa beans

Finished Product

Finished Product

Next stop Lake Atitlan.  Leaving the city on a shuttle I was impressed with the lovely four lane divided highway with no speed bumps, or police checks.  Then we turned off the highway and things changed – big time.  We are now on a little narrow road, not in good shape.  Major potholes and washouts.  The road either goes straight up, or straight down.  I have never in my life seen such steep grades.  The switchbacks are so sharp we have to back up several times to get turned around them. Our young driver was excellent, so careful.  I was lucky to be seated in the front.  We had to make a lot of stops for people who were carsick.  It took almost 4 hours to go 40 kms.  Scariest road I have seen anywhere in the world. Staying at Hotel Mikaso in  San Pedro, one of the larger villages on the lake.    It is calm and peaceful in the morning, breezy afternoons.  I wanted to find an alternative route out of here, so took a water launcha to Panajechel on the other side of the lake.  I can get a shuttle out of there to Chichi.  I took the launcha that stopped at each village to get there, and the direct one back as the lake was getting rough. I was the only tourist on the boat, and I was one of the last on, so seated on the front bench seat.  Ladies on the boat got everyone to move around so I was back a couple of rows, so I would not get wet.  Some poor young kid got stuck in my original seat – and he got quite wet.  I felt bad.

10 May

TRAVEL IN GUATEMALA

IMG_0372Bus from Flores to Rio Dulce appeared to be a fairly new, modern, sightseeing bus – on the outside.  Inside was another story.  Broken seats, broken TV (Yeah!!) .  The overhead in these buses is small, so my pack will not fit.  I always hate putting it underneath.  I asked the bus assistant if it was safe under there, and he said yes. I told him if it went missing he was going to have to take me clothes shopping – he laughed.  As we went to board, a fellow in a uniform sat down with a folding table by the bus door.  He was searching everyone’s carry on.  I later asked the bus assistant what he was searching for, was told “guns and knives”.  I did not want to know if he found any.  Roads are good, endless speed bumps you must drive up and over.  Lots of police presence.  Once they wanted to check the underneath luggage compartments.  The hills get bigger and the vegetation heavier.  Lots of cattle ranches with healthy cattle and horses.  A couple of times we saw areas that had been clearcut.  Six hours to reach Rio.  My hostel here is on the river and river traffic is nonstop.  Hostel profits fund a children’s village that I hope to visit.  I did a boat day trip to Livingston($26 return).It is 2 hours by boat, and a small settlement on the sea.   Interesting to see the little settlements along the shore.  People here do not have power boats,  they paddle dugout canoes. IMG_0007 Amazing scenery, especially as we wound our way through the canyon.   Livingston is small, busy port area, but quite touristy.  I did walk past a local laundry/wash house/bathhouse that was interesting.  Made of concrete, open air with a metal roof.  Patrons stand on the outside, and each has a large concrete tub full of water.  Laundry seemed to be on one side, bathing on the other.  Girls were bathing, and washing the clothes they were wearing at the same time.

Laundromat/Bathhouse

Laundromat/Bathhouse

Had a great seafood lunch.

08 May

GOIN’ TO GUATEMALA

Flores Hotel

Flores Hotel

Belize City is not a place I felt comfortable getting around on my own, so before I left Caye Caulker I purchased a tourist shuttle ticket to Flores $25.  They met me when I got off the water taxi and with 4 others we were ready to go…..about 4 blocks to be told we had to wait an hour for more passengers.  Now we have 13 people in a bus (van) that seats 11.  Crossing the border was easy – pay $18.50 exit fee for Belize, and no fee to enter Guatemala.  We are often stopped for Police road checks.  Economy would seem to be quite poor here.  We finally start to get into some hills, and now we see lots of horses.  They are small and are well cared of.  Arrive in Flores, a lovely little town on an island in a lake.  Little cobblestone streets and colorful buildings.  The hostel I wanted to stay in was full, but the manager suggested I try the hotel across the street.  I was able to get a room with a fan for  $26.  The fan was like an airplane propellor, I turned it on and things flew everywhere.  The next morning I moved across to Hospedaje Yaxha.  It is well known for its cafe and I fell in love with the mango/banana smoothies.  Dinner here was a huge bowl of pasta, chicken and veggies for $7.

Pasta dinner

Pasta dinner

 

Tikal Pyramid

Tikal Pyramid

Tikal Pyramid

Tikal Pyramid

Service here is great.  I had them arrange my tour to Tikal.  We left at 4:30 am to arrive at the park by 6.  Our guide was great, Mayan calendar is the basis for everything here.  The park is huge, and most is not restored.  I did like seeing  some pyramids restored on one side, but not the other – great “before” and “after”.   I was happy we did the five hours of hiking before the day got too hot.  39 degrees and lots of humidity is my kind of weather, except when I have to do something.  Tour and transport were $20 and there is a $20 entrance fee to Tikal.  I found it clean and well kept. We saw lots of wildlife and birds.  Stayed in Flores a couple more days.  This hostel is great – private room, private bath for $20.   I was going to take a minibus to Rio Dulce but the owner here suggested I take an a/c sightseeing bus.  Took a tuktuk to town today and bought my ticket for tomorrow morning, $13.  More from the coast.

02 May

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

Stayed here

Stayed here

Of course I had to leave for the airport at dark thirty.  One day I am going to catch an afternoon flight.  Cancun via Edmonton was an easy trip.  ADO bus from airport to downtown Cancun.  Had booked Hotel Alux as it was only one block away.  They had no change when I checked in, and said I could get my change in the morning.  Noisy traffic all night.  Went to buy my ticket to Chetumal and then a hassle to get my hotel change.  A $31 room if paid in U.S. would be $37, but when I paid in pesos it was $21, and I have no idea how they did that math.  16 hours in Mexico, and out of 6 financial transactions, 3 tried to scam me.  Glad to leave, but Immigration as we were leaving wanted us to pay $25 each.  I knew it was a scam, so said I wanted to call the Canadian Embassy.  Suddenly we did not have to pay.  Buses in Belize are old school buses, and very cheap.  Made it to Corozal and the hotel I had booked was closed, and a sign said “Full”.  I managed to yell loud enough to get the attention of other guests.  They let me in, and we found a key with my name on it, on the desk.  Happy to be back in the warm. Spent a nice couple of days there – locals are friendly, greet you when they walk past.  Could be in the Bahamas, same buildings, same vegetation.  Surprised to see so many blacks – expected more Hispanics.  Bus to Belize City and Water Taxi to Caye Caulker $25 return, 45 minutes each way.  Got a little room at De Real Macaw for $20.  Only golf carts here, its all backpacks and barefoot.  Endless budget places to stay, cafes/bars often have swings or hammocks.  Very laid back.  They have a stray dog rescue shelter here, and tourists can take the dogs for walks – and they do.  Poor dogs are so tired by the end of the day.

Will leave to Guatemala when I leave here.