24.11.2012 -30 °C
23.11.2012 -28 °C
So I´m in Taganga in Colombia. I`m not quite sure how this has happened but I´ve ended up on the coast again, this time the Caribbean rather than the Pacific. Nightmare. Ten years ago Taganga was a small fishing village and is now a big village/ small town on the tourist map but still has v laid back feel, the roads are unpaved, houses pretty ramshackle, everyone´s in shorts, chickens, dogs and small children wandering about the place. Its quite a dive centre. There are some nice, bars and cafe, restaurants and a couple of open air RAVE clubs, which apparently are quite lively.
As usual I follow where Gary leads and have enrolled in a 3 day diving course, the first day of which was today. I hadn´t planned to do a course but was speaking to a chap who had done a lot of diving here and sounded like fun and a good and cheap place to do it and Gary had really enjoyed it. Its me and a German guy from the hostel doing the course, with a v nice Colombian teacher. I had not previously understood the mechanics of the bends but the videos made this clear, that the oxygen in your lungs will expand as you rise and was illustrated by a plastic bag expolding, which was a nice vivid image for what would happen to your lungs if you dick about. I thought that it would be rather tedious learning but by the afternoon we were under water and it was great fun. I slightly struggled when having to take my mask off 12 feet underwater and swim around in a circle, starting to panic slightly and breath water in through my nose. Ideally I would have had a total underwater freak out and torn the masks and air supplies off my teacher and other learner, but narrowly avoided this.. Its a terrific thrill to be under water for half an hour or so. We saw quite a few fish, we were only in the shallow pracitice type bay, and a moray eel and scorpian fish. It was also a good excuse to bomb down the undeveloped coast in a motorboat. The next two days should allow more proper diving and I could then do some more dives on Monday or Tuesday perhaps if I have not expoded like an over inflated balloon.
The coast here is a surprise to me, I had my preconceptions that the Caribbean would be like a Sandals brochere (i.e a bit wimpy compared to the Pacific) but in fact this afternoon I would never have guessed I was in the Caribbean, it looks more like Cornwall, particularly as it was overcast with heavy weather coming in. Wooded hills run down to cliffs and scree slopes falling onto a jagged, rocky coastline with choppy deep blue water. Its quite wild especially today as there is said to be a storm coming. The give away is the lovely warm water. here til Wednesday when looking forward to hooking up with Anton and Becky again in Cartagena.
20.11.2012 30 °C
Here are a few photos from Colombia, I bought a camera in duty free. I haven´t got the hang of captions yet but they are of the sunset from a nice openair rooftop bar with beds and loud Latin music, overlooking the lake, and of a nice courtyard lunch spot with palm trees and there is one of a 3 foot long iguana thing that was climbing a tree in the middle of town trying to catch pigeons, and one of the hostel kiteh for some reason. Cartagena is beautiful, lovely old town, higgledy piggledy streets, lots of colour. I am gald to see that the English contributed to this historic town by burning down the cathedral in 1578(ish) Francis Drake. There are massive fortifications which I haven´t seen yet. It feels v tropical, really hot and humid. I think I´m going to have to retire to the beach for a bit.. X
04.11.2012 -28 °C
So I´m in San Salvador, El Savador. I got up really early on Monday to try and get here from Antigua in Guatemala in good time and not arrive in the dark, which makes me nervous, but ended up missing the direct coach and had to go via Guatemala City where I changed. I didn´t see much of Guatemala City except the coach station but my bat like, highly attenuated perception did notice that from herein in there are more guns in evidence.
The guard outside the ticket office in Guatemala City has a pump action shotgun and as we ride out of town we pass what looks like a small high street bank branch which has two men with shotguns outside and a man with a handgun inside. I was loooking forward to a few days in San Salvador to soak up some vibrant Latin City vibes. As my trusty South Amercian Handbook says "Ël Salvador´s capital city is a bustling cosmopolitan citywith a rich blend of architectural styles modern yet retaining the charm of the Spanish era with the privilege of being one of the first European cities in the New World". Again my advanced perception does note however that the Handbook also comments that "the city centre is considered by many to be dangerous after dark. Armed security personnel are commonplace. There is a heightened tension in some places". As we appraoch the coach terminal which is in the city centre, in the dark, several of the side roads are taped off with heavy police presence. A nervous looking security guard with pump action shotgun swings open the large metal doors just long enough to let the coach in. I had my eye on a guest house on the other side of town but I´m going off the idea of scouting about in the dark. There is a fairly desperate hotel as part of the coach terminal, which is really just a concrete yard. I spy 3 young Euro looking types smoking on a step in the coach yard, and say hello. They look slightly traumatised, 2 English and and an Austrailian. It becomes apparent that the charm of the city has escaped them and thay are leaving asap tomorrow to go back to Antigua, where I´ve just come from. They say that I´m the first gringo they´ve seen in 2 days and say the place is unpleasant and dangerous, succinctly summing it up as 'a shithole'.
I check into the hotel and dip into my deep well of Spanish and ask the security guard if this barrio is seguro for me to ir and get some comer. The guard is non comittal but seems to indicate by pointing his shotgun that if I go two doors down to the restaurant I may be ok. He can keep me covered. I go two doors down and a nice lady gives me some food and beers but won´t open the wrought iron metal security door and puts the food through a hatch, a la late night booze shop on Stockwell Road.
My $8 room is impressively bad. There is enough room for me and my bag and the bed if I put my bag on the bed. It is next to the toliet and there is a big gap between the door and the wall above so all the comings and goings filters in. to keep it call I have to have a really loud fan on all night. It overlooks the standing yard where buses leave throughout the night and are idling noisily. I see the disconsulate Austrailian a bit later and we each cheer each other up. He asks with a smirk how my room is. I tell him that it´s terrible, and he seems to enjoy this a lot, especially when I tell him about the noisy coaches. He cheers me up by telling me that he has really bad diarrheia, which I enjoy a lot. I try to turn my smile into a frown of concern (not really succeeding) and say that I hope he´ll be better soon (though obviously hopefully not before that really long, uncomfortable coach journey tomorrow). What is it about seeing an Austrailian in obvious discomfort that always seems to raise the spirits?
So the next day after a terrible nights sleep, during which I was woken up twice by some bastard from the hotel banging on the door being asking if I was getting the 3 am and then the 5 am coach, I got a cab across town and checked into a guest house from the Handbook which was nice, felt lie a time capsule from 30 years ago. It was in a nice part of town but even there the houses would generally have a brick wall in front of the house with an iron gate and on top of the 6 foot wall a fence of say 3 or 4 feet and then quite often barbed wire or razor wire on top of the fence. Inside the wall there would be a another solid metal door and bars on all the windows. I asked the cab driver how San Salvador was and he gave a hand gesture as if to say so, so and said ´mas pelligroso´ too dangerous. I asked if just certain parts and he said no, all over, and he wouldn´t work after 8 pm. All the public transport shuts down at 9. I had a wander about and the city felt half like an Amercian city with lots of new cars, dual carriagways, huge US fast food stores everywhere and endless armed guards. The other half is a crumbling Latin- Spanish city with what was nice housing but lots of it boarded up, derelict, covered in grafitii. I didn´t spend too long downtown as I didn´t know where I was and where was safe and felt rather exposed wlking from a busy street sudeenly into an empty street with derelict houses and a couple of people rolling around on the pavement. Uptown which is where the money and hotels etc are is all built around cars and has none of the street life of most of the other cities I´ve been to. I went to the Modern Art Museum of El Salvador which was interesting but empty, they turned the lights on for me but the v expensive looking museum restaurant was v busy. I went for a drink near where I was staying and a small low key bar had a big wall between it and the street and a nice bouncer chap with a pump action shotgun by the entrance.
I got the bus from San Salvador to the coast on Wednesday. It was either Suchitoto, a quaint colonial town up north or the beach. Although generally on a hot summer´s day in the tropics I can usually be found in the dusty basement of a library or museum, I am also a slut for the beach and its been 3 weeks or so since I saw a palm tree. I know! Feel my pain! I had head good things about El Zonte which is an hour or so south of San Salvador. The good thing about El Salvador being so small, it is tiny, perhaps 100 miles across, is that no where is far away. El Zonte was a v nice relaxed mainly surf place and I stayed at a nice friendly place on the beach, all hammocks and drfitwood and shell decorations, open air bar overlooking the sea and palmtrees. Whereas in Mexico they actually had a beach here they have built on the beach so the waves come right up to the wall of the buildings fronting the beach. Its balck volcanic sand here. I love the Pacific. Its v powerful with big waves and swells but feels green and clean and fresh and v warm. I had 3 days lounging about swimming and reading and eating, so its been a grind. Some spectacular sunsets over the sea. There were some proper waves, green curling pounders with some handy surfers running around on them, hanging ten and radding out dude, or whatever it is they do with their penis extensions (Note, no bitterness towards bronzed young hunky guys with all the girls from the pasty old UK guy). I woke up at 5.30 am, when it was already just light, and ran out for a long swim down the bay and to see the sun come up over the Pacific. Apparently they have whales coming in close to the beach in January which would be fantastic to see. The owner of the place I was staying gave me a lift back to San Salvador this morning and I´m back in the coach terminal Hotel Del Shi'it with 15 hours to wait for the coach to Managua tomorrow morning at 5 am.
Hola peeps, so I'm in Antigua in Guatemala, I arrived here yesterday. Its been quite a hectic week or so but all good. A lot of nutty bus rides. I left Mexico on Monday. I really enjoyed 3 weeks there and am glad I went. Its a really big and varied country and I find it really manageable in ter,ms of gettin g about and doing what you need to. I loved my 10 days on the beach, fantastic, super deep relaxtion. Could have stayed longer happily. From there I travelled up to San Cristobal de las Casas which is in Western Mexico bordering Guatemala. V civilised town, prosperous and busy, quite touristy but had good few days there. Went horseriding and did a really long day trip up to Palenque which is where there are ruins in the jungle. That was stunning and v atmosperic. Met up with a good Spanish chap and went to a heavy metal bar full of young, v friendly Mexican headbangers. Also checked out a Mexican nightclub which was fun, some half decent music.
From San Cristobal I headed to the Guatemalan border which I was quite excited about as first border crossing! The travelling became a bit more ad hoc and chaotic at that point, due to various practicalities had to get a couple of different buses and mini buses, rushing round trying to find stations etc. I liked the border crossing at La Mesilla, fitted the picture I had of chaotic, ramshackle, higgledy piggledy place, hot and humid. Nothing is really signed so you have to find the Mexican border post and get a stamp and then do the same for Guatemala, there is no border marked its just the main street. So I am in Messila and its now 6 pm and getting dark and I've heard that the last bus to where I need to go leaves about then so rush around with my heavy bag being laughed at by dogs. I ask a local lady the way to the bus station / terminal autobus / she can't undersatand me. Eventually she gets and repeats the words bus they sound completely different, the way she says 'terminal' is sharp, you could cut a fish with it. Even if you have the words if you don't have the accent comprehension is tricky. The nice lady gets her husband to give me a lift to the bus station in the back of their pick up. This is pretty typical. so far touch wood I haven't met anyone who has been anything other than perfectly straight\forward and helpful. The main thing is nerves and lack of confidence that comes from being somewhere new and v alien, ie if its v local and no gringos. Bus station is overstating it, Mexico seems height of efficiancy now, there were proper bus stations in Mexico but in Guatemala in the main towns there will be a big yard where the buses leave from which is a maelstrom of people buses honking, hooting reversing, huge piles of produce, sacks of lemons, oranges, bags of corn, seems like everyone is rushing around shouting, with the dogs always joining in. The buses are announced by the drivers and ticket collectors shouting shorthand the destinations so Hehuetenango is 'Wayway' and Guatemala City is 'Wati Wati Wati', when you can't even pronounce the name it adds to the fun of finding the right bus. The buses both here and Mexico do work though, I haven't had any difficulties getting around. They are v fequent and cheap, I travelled for 3 or 4 hours yesterday on 4 diferent buses and it cost perhaps $5 US.
The travelling is harder work in Guatemala, not necessarily stressful but physically tiring. The buses are generally full to bursting. In Mexico you would get your own seat but not in Guatemala. The buses are old, v old, US school buses. Some are still the classic orange but most are repainted vivid two tone colours with add chrome which is kept highly polished and music constantly played at high volume through large speakers screwed into the overhead lugge racks. The inside is usually pimped as well with various stickers and pictures of Jesus smiling , Jesus nailed and bleeding, Super Mario, Tweetie Pie etc..The buses are driven at high speed, the roads are pretty bad with big pot holes and lots of speed humps for enhanced journey experience, there are not many straight roads, manly hairpin bends so travelling 50k as bird flies can easily take 2 or 3 hours. Yesterday was fairly typical, on the vfirst leg I foolishly sit over the wheel arch so there is no where to put my legs, the seats are for 2 but v soon there are 3 and the aisle is full. I'm sqeezed v hard up against the window with no where to put my legs so I'm in an an excuciating yoga position for perhaps 45 minutes almost entirely unable to move my legs, by the end my legs have gone numb. I also skinned my crucial parts of my arse trotting against my will in on the horse in Mexico, I've never got the hang of trotting which is worse than my Spanish, and this isn't adding to my comfort either. On the next bus I'm the third person on the outside thinking this is not too bad then the Guatemalan giant haystacks comes and sits on the outside of the other set of seats crushing hard up against me, in the theory there is an aisle between us and lots of people are sqeezing between us which they can only do if me and giant haystacks get up and clamber up pretty much into the luggage racks. Then the tortilla lady gets on to sell everyone lunch with a wicker basket the size of a car tyre. Basically its like the Northern Line. It is fun though, but quite tiring,
So any way, on Monday I caught the bus up to Todos Santos of which my trusty South American Handbook says 'set high in the Cuchumatan mountains the Mam speaking Todos Santoseros maintain a traditional way of life with their striking, bright traditional dress and their adherance to their 260 day Tzolkin calendar. The town is hemmed in by 3,600 m high mountains either side. The horse racing festival of Todos Santosis one of the most spectacular in South America. It is also a frenzied day that usually degenerates into a drunken mess. Quite simply the riders race between 2 points having a drink at each turn until they fall off'. Obviously I had to go an investigate. The festival begins the week before the race, which is next week. It was a v bizarre sight up in this little town of houses clinging to the side of a mountain, half of which is covered by cloud as we are at cloud level and everyone is wearing traditional dress, which apparently the always do. For the men this is red trousers with a thick white pin stripe, and smart woven black jackets. The women wear v finely emroidered skirts and tops. They are beautifully brightly coloured woven clothes. I thought there would be a few other visitors or gringos but I didn't see anyone except locals in the 24 hours I was there. The places to eat were people's houses that might have a couple of tables and chairs and the family would sort you out with a meal if you asked. I had a v bizarre lunch where one of the family was a 23 yr old chap who seemed v glad to see me and tell me his life story which included being a cowboy in Mexico, and how he got a big scar above his eye. It soon bacame apparent he was fairly wasted on something or other becoming more and more animated and friendly eventually as I was making my excuses he rushed off 'un moment, un momento' and then coming back with a banana which he peeled in front of me with a leer and put on my plate saying 'you like', and asking where I was staying and if I was leaving solo or together. With granny, mother and sister next door. It was quite bizarre I have to say sitting on a wonky balcony with this brutal mountain backdrop. I like the strange and bizarre but I had to go and have lie down, lock my door and listen to the calming voice of a Melvyn Bragg In Our Time podcast, the universal panacea for any fleeting feelings of isolation I find. I blame the cashmere jumper I was wearing, it can send the wrong message..
I was going to stay for 2 days in Todos Santos but I ran for the bus the next morning and retreated to the reassuring chaotic bustle of Huehue and got on a bus to Panajachel which is on the shore of Lake Atilan. This was stunning . quite touristy but that was fine as it had been 2 weeks since I had met a native English speaker so I had a couple of nights of a nice bed and and food. There are various villages and small towns around the shore of the lake most of which are only accessible by boat and there are little launches that travel round the lake. I had arrived in the evening so hadn't really seen the lake but woke up early the next morning excited to have a look and after my breakfast of delicious fresh local fruit salad, big round glass of freshly squeezed OJ and Guatemalan coffee I headed down to the little dock. As I turn into the street that the jetty was on all framed perfectly at the end of the street was the lake and a massive volcano on the other side of the lake. I haven't ever seen a volcano before in the flash and it was brilliant, like a cartoon comedy volcano. I really enjoyed the hour or so journey around the lake stopping at 4 or 5 villages. The scenery is stunning with gorgeous isolated wooden houses on stilts or built into the ring of mountains that rise from the lake. The last town was San Pedro which has a reputation as a hippy hangout and refuge for dissolute gringos and so it was. What a super place, higllepiggledy maze of paths and little streets srung up the hill around the lake. Rampant tropical plants and flowers all over the place. I spent afternoon in a bar run by an northern English chap which filled up with various delinquent characters, mainly English and Amercian. They were showing the UK European games. Liverpool and Newcastle and there was a respectable drinking pace at 2 pm on a Thursday, no smoking sign behind the bar everyone smoking. Beer a dollar a pack of fags two dollars, a nice plate of food 3 dollars. Snatches of conversation overhead 'I need to settle my tab from last night, and don't forget that bottle of Vodka I took home with me' and from a chap on the phone 'there's a guy who comes and knocks on my door every Friday and asks me if I want any mushrooms, do you want me to get any'. I was reluctant to leave, my potential for getting in a pickle detector was on overload, and was going to come back for a couple of days to sample a friday and Saturday night but in the end didn't just as was bit popped. I caught the boat back to Panajachel late that afternoon and it was a non stop 45 min trip, flying fast over the lake which on the way had been calm with a clear blue sky but which now was choppy with big dark clouds casting dark shadows over the hills and volcanos, landing hard as we bounced across the wa ves. Really stunning, none of the half dozen pasengers said a word for the whole trip mesmerised by the panorama.
From Panajachel I came to Antigua yesterday, which is an old Colonial town that has been destroyed numerous times by earthquakes, and planning to be here for a few days. Lots of travellers here. From here I'm planning to get an hour bus to Guatemala City and leave straight way for San Salvador, whichg is 5 hours. I'm going to go for the luxury $17 ticket for that one. Hope everyone well. X