A Travellerspoint blog

Damn the Volcano

A busy week in Antigua Guatemala

semi-overcast 28 °C

We left Flores on an overnight bus with seats on top. The kids had quite a ride before they fell asleep as they watched mountains highway corners from their bubble seat. We arrive in Guatemala city and take a short bus ride to nearby Antigua which used to be the capital before it was leveled, many years ago, by an earthquake. Speaking of earthquakes, there have been been a couple while we are in Guatemala but we haven't felt them. Anyhow, Antigua is a beautifully preserved colonial city whose structures are all low lying and have been maintained remarkably. There are no highrises and only the barios have non-colonial structures. The roads are made of stone and when an area has sunk (pothole) they fix it with more stones. The skyline is just as awesome with three volcanoes and mountains everywhere. The Maya culture colors the streets and parks as stores and peddlers sell their wares.

Volcano Pacaya presented the first really scary experience for all of us. Our guide took us right out onto what seemed a cooled lava flow. But under the hard rocks was incredible volcanic heat that scarred the wits out of us. The rocks were unstable so you could easily loose your footing but the touch of the rocks would literally burn your skin. The kids got very scarred and the guide would not turn back until other people on our hike protested also. You could smell not only the volcano but also burning rubber from shoes. We heard another guy say that it was not nearly this unstable a few weeks ago. For live volcano hikes bring long pants, hiking boots. Yikes, that really shook me up.

The next day we started a week of school and homestay with a family. Our teachers are really good and we learn a lot during this week. The home is quite rustic and located in the bario. The bathroom is hard to handle and the food is minimal but hey it's a Guatemalan experience and it teaches us to appreciate what we have and how clean we keep it. LOL. The kids have fun with the children of the home so we stay and I don't complain. I do get the distinct feeling the family does this for money and not a culture exchange and learning experience for their own kids. We enjoy our afternoon activities with the school such as coffee and music museum, macadamia finca, and walks around town.

We leave for Lake Atitlan on Saturaday and have a fun bus ride through the mountains.

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Posted by sostrander 05:23 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Guatemala: a beautiful country

Ruins, volcano and school

sunny 28 °C

We arrived in Guatemala on the 20th of May and as soon as we cross the border there is a noticeable difference from Belize. Much cleaner, quaint, and the Guatemala people in this area, I believe, are of indigenous and Mayan decent. We arrived on the Island of Flores which is beautiful as it is in the middle of Lake Peten. The prices are really cheap and I know we won’t worry about the budget while in Guatemala.
The following day we are up at 4:30am to catch a bus to Tikal, the Mayan ruins. It’s better to do the ruins early before the rush of visitors and the heat. We had an extraordinary day visiting these ruins. I highly recommend this over what we saw in Mexico. By 2pm the kids are tired and exhausted so we finish our day but not before spotting a couple of spider monkeys and a coadimundi. Even the kids love what we have seen in Guatemala in less than 2 days and they are not missing the beach because there is so much to see. I am sorry that we will have only three weeks in this country, obviously we will have to come back for a longer stretch.
We took a night bus to Guatemala City thinking we could sleep on it. But in fact it was not as luxurious as advertised and we hardly slept. The seats were on the top of the bus and taking the mountainous roads gave the kids a front row thrill ride that I was not comfortable with. Although the driver was quite cautious maybe that was the luxury of trip, a safe driver on a crazy bus. We found a nice but expensive place in Antigua which is the former capital of Guatemala and definitely the cultural and tourist center. I really need one good night sleep as I have not slept well in a few days now and becoming cranky. Tomorrow at 6am we head for the active volcano Pecaya and this week we will be living with a family while spending a week in Spanish school. All of us will be taking four hours of intense Spanish which I feel we need if we are going to continue in countries with little English.Tikla_ruins__2_.jpgTikal_ruins__25_.jpgTikal_ruins__24_.jpgTikal_ruins__19_.jpgTikal_ruins__9_.jpgTikal_ruins__8_.jpgTikal_ruins__6_.jpgTikal_ruins__28_.jpgTikal_ruins__18_.jpgTikal_ruins__16_.jpgTikal_ruins__15_.jpgCoatimundi..kal__5_.jpgFlores__2_.jpgFlores.jpg

Posted by sostrander 12:58 Archived in Guatemala Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Caye Caulker Snorkeling Trip

Diving with Southern Sting Rays and looking for elusive manatee

sunny

Caye Caulker was awesome and one of our highlights was a snorkeling trip to the Holchen on the Barrier Reef. We had planned an all day manatee and snorkeling trip but it was canceled as we were the only ones signed up. This happened again the next day when we tried to book a sunset sailing evening. Anyhow, they decided to take us snorkeling and pass by the manatee channel so that we could snorkel with them. Unfortunately, we saw no manatee but we did get to swim with rays! What a rush for all of us. Soon I will work on the upload of videos which is a really time consuming task. The snorkeling was wonderful and now I know I will have to shell out for the kids scuba diving licenses when they hit 12! We finally had to leave Caye Caulker and Belize due to time and expense. On the road we headed for beautiful Guatemala. As we ride our water taxi and board the bus we are once again aware of the kindness and friendliness of Belizeans. But it is also a poor country with a lot of garbage. DSC01057.jpgDSC01056.jpgDSC01055.jpgDSC01053.jpgDSC01051.jpgWe hope things change for this country.

Posted by sostrander 18:43 Archived in Belize Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Belize

Caye Caulker - a friendly island a world away

sunny 30 °C

No pictures yet of Playa del Carmen or Belize. The download, upload, transfer of pictures is time consuming and with slow connections it's better to do lots in one shot. Pictures will follow sometime this week.

We left Playa del Carmen on a very comfortable bus and sat beside a native Caye Caulker resident on his way home from Canada. Lloyd, the Cake man Boon (he is the resident baker and cake specialist) is quite helpful but also serious which we find out later is not the norm for Caye Caulker. We all stayed in a town called Orange Walk, an hour south of the Belize border. The sun comes up before 5am and sets by 7pm so your day has to start early if you are traveling. Belize is a different world then Mexico. Much poorer then where we came from but the local people are very friendly and outgoing. Our bus went from luxury class to near chicken bus but we didn't mind as we soaked in this different environment. I can't sleep without air conditioning but you pay for it. So we take an non AC room sometimes but most of the time I need my sleep.
We arrive in Belize City the next morning and it's not as big and scary as I imagined. People are very friendly, helpful and don't ask us for anything at all. Our water taxi is a fun ride and we sit in the back watching the islands go by. The kids already enjoy this new vibe of Belize and it's friendly people. Maybe our big smiles,light hair and small stature attract helpful and generous people. Belizeans are a mixture of black and latino and they seem to live and blend well together.They have an island accent similar to the West Indies and dread knots are everywhere. The kids like the rasta look and when we get off the boat there is a smiling rasta waiting to find us a beach cabana for a small tip.
Gilbert is upfront about fees which I appreciate and he knows the better deals in town. After I do my own investigation I realize that he isn't steering us wrong. Belize and the islands are expensive and we pay the same amount as Mexico with more rustic.
The minute we set foot in our place the kids grab their snorkeling gear and are gone. Within minutes they are screaming because they have already spotted manta rays and a nerf shark as big as me.(friendly not harmful)
They know the rules: Don't pet rays, barracudas, or sharks, go the other way and stay calm. LOL. They have become strong swimmers in a short time, currents and waves are not a problem on the Caribbean side although it will be on the Pacific.
The island is relaxing, friendly and very rustic. We will only stay for few days because it throws us off budget but I recommend this place. Ariel likes the people and wants dred knots - not now please.
The islanders are very kind to the children and they also remember your name. If you introduce yourself with a handshake and a smile your service gets better and they also take you into the fold as a welcome traveler.
There are children running around asking where my kids are so they can play with them and I always point to the water so they all jump in to join them. We may do an all day island tour of snorkeling and manatee spotting with a local guide. Keep you posted on the next entry.DSC01043.jpgBelize_036.jpgBelize_034.jpgBelize_031.jpgBelize_029.jpgBelize_024.jpgBelize_025.jpgBelize_033.jpg

Posted by sostrander 06:00 Archived in Belize Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Playa del Carmen

Great people but very touristy

sunny 32 °C

We leave leave Playa del Carmen Friday, May 15th and head towards Belize then Guatemala.
It's been a lot of fun here as we found a very nice room with loft and kitchen across the street from the playa (beach). It has a beautiful courtyard with a cold tub as opposed to a hot tub and out here you need it.
We met a gaggle of really nice Can. and Amer. ex-pats and snow birds. Bob from Minesota has been a helpful and kind and we hope to run into him again. This gang of people had a lot of good reason why we should stay longer or at least return. But as the tourists start returning after the illusive flu threat (What flu? I have seen no flu!) I am aware of how incredibly busy and touristy this place is and how much we lucked out being here during it's quietest moments. It's sweltering hot and I dread the idea of being away from water so I am not sure what our route will be. I think we will fly out of Guatemala city to Panama city sometime around the 4 or 5 of June. The kids love the water, have grown gills, and are constantly armed with their snorkeling equipment. Thanks to my Dad for buying their equipment. Great idea!

Do

Shop around for a good rate there are countless little hotels here. You can catch a bus directly from the Cancun airport to the busy downtown tourist area. This place could make for a decent budget holiday if researched correctly.

Eat at smaller places three blocks north of the beaches, much cheaper.

Shop for pop, beer, and food and the Mega supermarket and Walmart.

Follow the live music on the beach and wait until happy hour to have a beer.

Don't

Don't pay for a bed or lawnchair on the beach.

Don't get sucked in to the beautiful Euro restaurants on the main drag.Playa_del_Carmen__17_.jpgPlaya_del_Carmen__15_.jpgPlaya_del_Carmen__8_.jpgPlaya_del_Carmen__3_.jpgPlaya_del_Carmen__9_.jpg

Posted by sostrander 04:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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