Monday, November 30, 2009

Volcano Trekking

Acatenango, Pacaya, Tajumulco, GUATEMALA: 22 - 30 Nov. 2009
My first week back in Guatemala involved three great hikes up volcanoes.

(1) Volcan Acatenango - 3976m.

The 4am start, a heavy bag filled with camping gear and food, the gravelly volcanic terrain (near the top, for every two steps up you would slide one back down), and the altitude (its the third highest mountain in Central America) made this a tough seven hour hike to the top. It was all worth it however when we pitched our tents in the crater and then sat on the crater's rim to watch the sunset. While Acatenango has not erupted in 30 years, Volcan Fuego is right next to it and it erupts constantly. Sitting on top of one volcano, drinking a glass of wine, watching a volcano blow out smoke and lava every ten minutes as the sun set was an amazing experience. Then up bright and early to see the sunrise. An unforgettable hike.

(2) Volcan Pacaya - 2552m.

Although it was only an hour and a half hike to the top, it was certainly a hike that stands out. The heat emanating from the ground of this very active volcano was tremedous, so much so that I felt I had to keep moving to prevent from shoes from melting - a far cry from the bogs of the Wicklow Mountains!
Standing next to a river of lava was a crazy experience, and the marshmallows we cooked over the lava were the perfect complement to the scene.

(3) Volcan Tajumulco - 4220m.

Another 4am start and another heavy bag, but again it was all worth it to get to the top of the highest point in Central America. Since we camped 200 metres below the summit, we had to get up at 3.30am to hike to the top for sunrise. Sitting on the top of Central America in a cozy sleeping bag watching an amazing sunrise with erupting volcanoes visible in the distance was certainly a great way to start a day!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Viva La Revolución!

Utila & Copán Ruinas, HONDURAS: 13-19 Nov. 2009

I left Belize for Honduras on a speedboat (my border crossings are getting more and more interesting) and after a bus and another boat I made it to Utila, one of the Bay Islands. After all the recent political turmoil and curfews etc. in Honduras, I decided to attend an event thrown by the mayor in the run-up to the end-of-month elections. It was a beach bbq with free food, free beer and free rum all day long - if this is what comes with political revolutions, maybe we should have one in Ireland. I listened to the mayor's speech and I think I correctly translated part of it as saying that his party's red-white-red flag stands for blood-peace-blood. But at that stage I was having too much fun to analyse the political significance of that statement.

Apart from the free beer, a further reason why I think I didn't fully understand the socio-political happenings in Honduras is that I spent most of my time underwater. I successfully completed my PADI open water scuba diving license and did a couple of fun dives - swimming underneath a turtle was one of many highlights.

Back on the mainland, I spent a morning at the Mayan ruins at
Copán. There were very few tourists so it was pretty much just me and the macaws.
It was a good week in Honduras; now its back to Guatemala.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sailing and snorkeling in beautiful Belize

Caye Caulker to Placencia, BELIZE: 9-13 Nov. 2009.

As our plans were diverging, I said bye to the four people I'd been travelling with for the previous few weeks and I hit for Belize (I plan to return to Guatemala to see the south in a few weeks). But I wasn't on my own for long as I met people on the bus and in the hostel - it seems you have to make an effort to not end up travelling with people!

Tiny Belize (similar in size to Wales) is unique in Central America as it is English-speaking (it was called British Honduras until 1981) and it has a definite Caribbean feel with reggae music everywhere. After a night drinking beer in hammocks on the beautiful and laid-back northern island of Caye Caulker, I started a three day sailing trip that took me south. This trip was a highlight of Central America for me - it was three days of snorkeling and fishing - each night we ate what we caught, which included lobster and barracuda. The first night we camped on an "island" which was little more that a patch of sand not much bigger than a tennis court on its own in the middle of the ocean.

It'll be hard to beat the experience of sitting in the sun reading a good book with my legs dangling over the edge of the boat as a group of dolphins swam beside us. And the free rum was good too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jungle Ruins

Palenque, MEXICO & Tikal, GUATEMALA: 5-9 Nov. 2009

After our initial bus was cancelled because a mudslide blocked the road, we arrived in the jungle of Palenque in the lashing rain - I had forgotten that jungles and rain go together. After a night in a jungle cabin, we spent the day in the amazing Mayan ruins. The jungle mist gave the ruins a mystical feel - a very memorable place.

After spending the next day at waterfalls, it was time to leave Mexico. Our route to Guatemala involved a bus to the river that marks the border, than a motorised canoe across the river, and then another bus - it ranks as one of the best border crossings I've done.
We stayed on the lake island town of Flores - we took advantage of its location by ending our Saturday night out with a late night swim in the lake. I then did a day trip to the ruins at Tikal - again these were Mayan ruins and they too were set in a jungle, but they were still mightily impressive.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Día de Muertos

Tuxtla & San Cristobal, MEXICO: 28 Oct. - 4 Nov. 2009

I left the beaches of Oaxaca's coast and headed with my two travel companions to Mexico's southern-most state of Chiapas. Both nights in the state capital of Tuxtla invloved being entertained by free traditional music and dancing. We did a trip to Canon del Sumidero, where we got great views of the very impressive canon and its wildlife (monkeys, herons, conorants, and more crocodiles) from our speedboat.

From the heat and humidity of Tuxtla, we travelled to the highland town (elevation 2100m) of San Cristobal de Las Cases. The change in weather was dramatic - after a month of sun and heat, here it was colder and rainy.

There was a big crowd in the hostel as many people I had met on my travels had picked here to celebrate Halloween and, much more importantly in Mexico, Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). A fun Halloween night was followed by trips to the cemetary on 1 and 2 November. Families gathered at their newly decorated gravesides and had picnics, sang songs and just generally hung out and had a fun family day. Very interesting to see the Mexican attitude to death.