yet another change of plans..
24.07.2016 - 31.07.2016
We made it back to Antigua reasonably pain free - the shuttle driver took some crazy back road route to avoid the humongous traffic jam as we approached Antigua/Guatemala City. We then struggled our way around town to find somewhere to stay - should have learnt from last time that nearly everything in Antigua is always booked out. At hostel number 6 we eventually found dorm beds.
The next day we headed for the markets in the hope of buying some hammocks - sadly no one would budge below like $30NZD per hammock and so we walked away. We did however score Yatzee for $2.50NZD, so that makes a nice change from monopoly. We also picked up a huge papaya and a watermelon for a total of $2NZD which was an excellent lunch!
On the way home Richard risked a haircut at the local barbers - where I got to explain in my best spanish not to cut it too short as the front was difficult to cut. It cost $3, and was probably one of the best haircuts Richard has ever paid for! The barber did offer to shave Richard too, but he wussed out, leaving him with 1cm shaved below his sideburns, and the rest of his face half a centimetre long - an excellent look!
While in Antigua, our plans for where to next continued to go astray. We could not go south / east - its away from our plane. We could not go west - the buses to Mexico were cancelled due to riots in San Cristobal. We could now go north - Semuc Champey had just opened, after being closed for a few weeks during a violent military takeover - sounds safe right? We were failing in our attempts to go NE to Belize - everything we could think of was fully booked.
So eventually we decided to head to Semuc Champey and hope for the best - our hostel in Antigua rang a hostel in Semuc for us to make a booking (there is really no functional internet there), and we thought we'd be organised and book a hostel for Flores (the place we'd head afterwards) so we wouldn't have to worry about a late arrival.
The shuttle to Semuc Champey was semi painful - we were told maybe 7 hours, and it took 10 hours to Lanqui. We were a bit nervous as along the way there were blatantly areas along the road where locals had made a few makeshift road blocks which were not quite cleared up yet. Once in Lanquin we had another 40minute ride on the back of a ute with an Israeli family, 1 Canadian and 4 Germans. It was a bumpy ride and all our bags kept falling all over us. We made it to Utopia (our hostel) right on dark, but luckily in time for the "family style" dinner - else we hadn't eaten anything serious since breakfast! Sadly for Richard it was vegetarian.
Our hostel was set in the middle of nowhere, which was kind cool for the scenery, but mostly great as it meant we could walk to the park where the limestone pools were (rather than taking the $40 tour).
The balcony view
So the next morning we set off early - 8am (as advised to avoid the heat), before most of our hostel had rolled out of bed to hit the park.
We were lucky enough to get picked up on the road by a ute with a few american tourists in it, who gave us a free ride most of the way there - super nice! The local driver stopped on the bridge right before the park entrance to jump off the bridge (leaving his car in the middle of the bridge) - just to prove to us that yes you could jump.
On arriving to the park itself, we were greeted by half of the Guatemala military having breakfast. There were tents, no fewer than 10 military trucks, 50 soldiers and a few policeman running around. Definately not intimidating at all - given we were the only people not armed! The local people who signed us in to the park did so with over the top properness - I suspect they were being intimidated by the general who was following them, taking photos of us/the locals observing "proper entry procedure". But without too much fuss we were in the park, and wandering around. More or less totally alone, except for the extra soldiers we ran into every 10 minutes or so.
Climbing to the view point was rather muggy - super pleased to be doing this early morning! It also meant there were no pesky tourists obscuring our photos of the pools below.
The steps up were pretty steep
Then it was a quick hop skip and jump down to the limestone pools themselves, where we spent the next 3 hours chilling - swimming, being nibbled at by fish, reading our books and generally enjoying the solitude. Around 50 tourists showed up after we had been there for 2 hours - but up until that point we were totally alone (again except for 3 soldiers, who we fed some papaya), which was really awesome. These same 3 soldiers became less intimidating by the second, after they were witnessed asking the latino bikini clad girls to pose with them for photos!
Eventually we decided to head to the nearby limestone caves, and maybe in search of some food. We arrived at the caves at the same time as the 4 germans from the day before - so the 6 of us were taken into the cave system by candle light. Here we climbed a few ladders (or in Richard's case, the waterfall) and jumped off a rock into a dark pool, slid down a waterfall, and dropped off another. It was pretty cool, and the candles gave it a great atmosphere!
Afterwards we hit the rope swing into the river - it was fun while it lasted. I went 4th, and managed to land "the most gracefully of anyone" but gave myself whiplash, and winded myself, so it was game over for me.
We then wandered back to Utopia, and spent the late afternoon playing Yatzee while it poured with rain. We timed our walk home very very well.
The next day was another transport day. This one was even less fun than the last. We had been told it takes 8.5 hours by the shuttle company, 10 hours by people who had actually done it. So of course it took 12.5hours for us. The only saving grace was the shuttle bus was half empty, and so we had lots of wriggle room! The worst part was the 1.5hour wait for the barge across a river to restart due to a small tropical storm passing by.
On arriving in Flores we had no idea whether we had accommodation or not - as the last we heard from our hostel they had made the booking in the wrong month, and told us they would cancel it by 5pm (we arrived at 7:30pm). Since that email we had emailed back asking them to please make it in July and hold the room til 9pm - but had had no wifi since to know the outcome!
Luckily we got to the hostel and they still had our room. While in the line to check in, we also heard that we got our GP jobs in Nelson - yay!
On the downside, Richard has caught man flu from one of the short term tourists (who is pretty much everyone we have met), who comes on holiday and gets sick.
But though we were tired and grumpy, we decided we needed to go out and celebrate - so we headed out for a nice dinner. And it was pretty nice - we had a platter (sorry Michael) of steak, ribs, chicken fillet and Argentian chorizo. It was amazing!
The next day we decided, despite the fact we were exhausted, that we were suckers for punishment. So we got up at 4am, to go and see Tikal before it got really hot for the day.
Retrospectively, we could have given Tikal a miss. It was some ruins, they were expensive. They were no more impressive than the ruins in Copan, and there weren't even any macaws to distract us (though there were a few spider monkeys). Luckily we managed to catch the 11am shuttle back to Flores, and so were home in time for lunch and the afternoon tropical storm, and a movie marathon in our hostels movie lounge. We realised on wandering around looking for lunch, that there is absolutely nothing to do in Flores during the day, and no one around either, so we were 'happy' to be moving on the next day.
Richard with his new haircut
Because we REALLY like early mornings, the next day we were off again by 7am (Richard vetoed the 5am shuttle). Several hours later he was regretting that decision, when a poor Colombian on our bus was being interrogated by Belize immigration, and so we had to wait in the baking heat for the poor bloke for 2 whole hours (did I mention our bus had no A/C? and the 2 person seat was more like a 1.5 person seat).
Finally we made it to Belize City, we were told by the luggage boys we had just missed the boat to Caye Caulker and there wasn't another one for 1.5 hours. Dammit!
Luckily as I was wandering down to buy tickets I heard "Last call for Caye Caulker!" Quickly I bought tickets, Richard grabbed the luggage and we were on the boat. Finally a win for the day! The boat ride over was reasonably pleasant and over in 45 minutes.
We wandered down to our guesthouse (which we had decided to splash out and get A/C), only to find that the room we had booked we had to pay 50% more to actually get the A/C, as apparently it was an optional extra! GARHHH. By this point we were drenched in sweat and so decided we had to suck it up and pay. Very pleased we did.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling in our A/C.. mmm... and then eventually out for a bite to eat (for me, Richard with his man flu decided he didn't need food)
For our first whole day in Belize we decided that we needed sleep - and managed to sleep in until 10am. OMG it was nice! We then passed the rest of the morning reading in the hammocks, and eventually dragged ourselves out for a kayak / swim. Caye Caulker was split into 2 islands a few years ago with a hurricane, and so we kayaked up to the northern half (which is less developed), found an abandoned nice looking hotel, and spent some time relaxing on their swings and over the water hammock, before heading back for some more A/C goodness when the mossies started to come out.
Tomorrow we will probably head out snorkelling, before escaping this expensive piece of paradise the following day, for a week of beach time in Mexico, and then its home time!