31 Jan 2015

Gorgeous Guatemala

After manic Mexico and barmy Belize we have now spent 3 weeks in Gorgeous Guatemala, it just gets better.

Starting with the Mayan City of Tikal, we then spent 3 days driving through the magic Guatemalan Highlands, 8 days on the shores of Lake Atitlan surrounded by massive volcano's, 4 days in Antigua, also surrounded by Volcanoes (some of them active) and now we are on another fabulous beach. Most of the time we have been between 1500 and 2500 meters, still hot in the day but cool to cold at night. On the beach it gets up to high 30's in the day, but still warm enough to jump in the pool in the evening. 

However, the Intrepid camp has not been without its problems over the last 3 weeks! After Chris's cash card was compromised (emptied) in Mexico. I find the same had happened to mine as we entered Guatemala! We use pre-loaded $cash cards to ensure any such event is minimized but still means we have to find somewhere to print out forms and then scan them so we can claim the money back. We also took the precaution to bring back-up cards so we could continue.

Later the same day we got a text from the Camp site in Chipping Norton (where our caravan is stored) advising that a motor home had caught fire, destroyed the caravan next to it and set the hedge alight between the camp site and the storage area. The hedge prevented the fire accessing the storage area , but guess whose caravan was parked against the hedge? Who says traveling is dangerous! Due to its age we are told it will be a technical write off but other than replacing a melted window is still perfectly usable. I discussed it with the insurance company and they advised I could buy it back for scrap value and they would still insure it 3rd party! So we get a pay-out and can still use the caravan - albeit somewhat melted down one side.

Did our problems end there? No!!! As we drove down from 2500m to 1500m to Lake Atitlan, a very steep road with lots of hairpins, the brakes started to fail and we had to drop down to second and keep pumping the brakes to avoid pushing buses off the road. I spent the first day in Atitlan checking the brakes and finding nothing amiss and then when we decided to move camp to a better site up the road the following day one of the car batteries failed.

But the last 3 weeks have also been about meeting up with people that are rapidly becoming old friends.

The young couple from Luxembourg we met in Belize (Patrice and Elina) we have since met up with 3 more times, the last time at lake Atitlan, and after trying to jump start the cruiser (which we gave up when the jump leads were almost glowing) Patrice took me into town to get a replacement battery. We later learned that Elina's surname is Zep and that her father was a big Led Zepelin fan!

Also Mike and Shannon (the American couple- on motor bikes with the Chihuahua) emailed us and invited us to stay with them in Antigua, they have taken an apartment for 3 weeks to attend Spanish School and had a spare bedroom, so we stayed for 3 nights whilst the cruiser stayed at a mechanics to get the brakes sorted properly and the second battery changed.

Meanwhile Hans and Bente have emailed us telling us we are now going to slow! They told us about the beach camp site we are now at and thought we might meet them here, but that was over a week ago and they are now in El Salvador.

Our latest problem is that apparently El Salvador doesn't allow RHD cars to enter without a permit, we thought we would chance it (as some have got through) but then we heard tales of cars not being allowed to return to Guatemala and having to be taken under guard back to Mexico at a cost of $600! I then found the Toyota Club of El Salvadopr on the web and on the off chance sent an email to see if they could help. Within hours I had a response from the president of the club saying that he would be delighted to help and also inviting us to their next meeting as his guests on the 7th! So it looks like El Salvador is on the agenda after all!

Despite all the adversity we have enjoyed the last 3 weeks and simply used it as an excuse to go even slower! We have traveled just over 1,000 miles in the last month. We have been on the road for 240 days, traveled almost 25,000 and have around 70 more days before we head home for our first break. We are flying from Panama on 12th April and have arranged bonded storage for the cruiser. The plane lands in Madrid on the way back so we intend to jump ship and spend 11 days in Cortes, eventually arriving in the UK on 24th April and hopefully we still have a caravan we can live in!

 Some of the warning signs on the way through the jungle to Tikal (Mayan site)

 A face from the past
 Pyramids in the jungle

 Walking back through the jungle
 Walking the streets of Flores

We meet up with Patrice and Elina and go for a beer 

I spent so long sitting in a chair outside our Hotel room (trying to sort out some of our problems) somebody brought me a table up!

The Guatemala Highlands
They will swim anywhere!
They will also sleep anywhere!
The road gets rougher
Then we arrive at lake Atitlan
Patrice and Elina turn up again and we spend the whole day 'chilling' and the next 4 nights BBQing
They took us to the largest market in Central America

And of course we ended with a beer
We took a boat ride across the lake - big mistake
Scenes on the other side of the lake

Not sure whether this was actually coming out of the volcano, but it looks good!
View from above as we eventually drag ourselves away from the lake
View from a roof top bar (owned by a guy from Manchester) in Antigua
This is not out of focus it is the shadow cast by the volcano behind at sunset!
Sunset at the beach resort we are now camped at .
9 year old Benson, son of a Nigerian man and a Brazilian woman came and told us that he 'talks' English (actually very well), the latest catch included some sea snakes with really vicious looking teeth. I asked Benson if I could take a photo with him holding them, everyone thought it a brilliant idea - except Benson!
Tonights dinner
My office for the night!  With all the issues dealt with I am finally able to get down to another blog

9 Jan 2015

Eight Days in Belize

They might say manyana in Mexico, but Belize is much more laid back. A lot of people said they did not like Belize but everywhere has its good points. Belize is a very poor country with a lot of people living in what look like sheds on stilts, many of which look like they are about to fall down at any minute and maintenance appears to be an alien concept. The fact that they all speak English takes a bit of getting used to, the local language is Creole but a lot of them also speak Spanish.

Crossing into Belize was no problem, we were aware that we could not take fresh fruit and vegetables across the border, but did not know that meat and fish were also banned until they looked in the fridge and found the freezer full! The food inspector was called but fortunately he said it was OK this time, but don't do it again.

We then made straight for the Baboon Sanctuary (actually Howler Monkeys). After mistaking them for dinosaurs in Palenque I was desperate to see one in the flesh and the next morning we not only saw them but held hands with them! We stayed at a small site just before the sanctuary, owned by a very interesting and articulate Rastafarian called Shane. The camp site is in the middle of a 50 acre area of tropical rain forest that Shane's family have owned for 4 generations and has its own resident Howler Monkey family. Shane took us on a tour of the jungle the next morning and after establishing where they were a few hoots brought them down out of the trees and the youngsters came right down to take pieces of banana out of our hands, whilst the parents looked on just out of reach. Later in the day their route through the jungle took them past the camp site and the youngsters made good use of the rope ladders that Shane has erected between the trees, whilst again mum and dad watched from a distance. 

When they moved on I followed the family as they swung through the trees as far as I could, then walked back along the river bank, where I saw a  3 foot long, bright orange Iguana, unfortunately it slithered into the river before I could get a photo.

That night we went crocodile hunting by canoe up the river. Unfortunately the biggest croc we saw was only about 12 inches long, but our guide (and paddler) managed to scoop one out of the water and passed it to me to hold, a lot softer than you would think. Unfortunately I couldn't hold it and take a photo at the same time.

Next we moved on tot he coast, just south of Dangriga, which is an area famous for the Garifuna people who are famous for their drums. The following day we were virtually marooned in the roof tent until lunch time by torrential rain that started at about 6 am. When the rain stopped a young couple from Luxembourg (that were camping under a half built concrete house on stilts) came over and introduced themselves and later on offered to give us a lift to the village for dinner. When we arrived there were 3 Garifuna playing drums with a number of locals chanting and dancing. A very simple musical format, 3 beats to the bar, 62 bars per minute with a much heavier third beat, almost exactly my heart rate and actually quite hypnotic.

Next was Belize Zoo, created after a natural history series abandoned 18 animals that could not be released back into the wild. Since then they have taken in numerous animals and birds that would otherwise not have survived, including a stork that had fallen out of its nest and could no longer fly and an incredible Black Panther called Lucky Boy, who had been kept in a small cage in a Hotel for the entertainment of the guests, he was skin and bone when they rescued him and took many weeks of careful nursing to bring him back to health. They also had two large compounds with a family of Howler Monkeys in each and I managed to get some really good footage of one of them howling, but unfortunately it is too large to attach (the file that is, not the monkey).

We are now at a camp site close the the Guatemalan border, we should have crossed today but torrential rain most of yesterday delayed our trip into the mountains to see the 1,000 foot fall until today so we will cross tomorrow. The falls themselves were a bit of a disappointment as you can only see the top 2 or 300 feet, but the drive was pretty spectacular, at one stage needing low ratio and the centre diff locked  in order to slither up a rather muddy section of road.

Chris holds hands with a baby howler monkey

Whilst Mother looks on


A baby croc

Water comes to the village, they have not previously had running water, it has been promised for 10 years and finally connected the day we were there.

A typical police station

these two were orphaned after their mother was hit by a car

A King Vulture drying its wings after a torrential down poor (which fortuitously happened at lunch time

A Turtle

Big cat asleep in a tree

The Stork that fell out of a tree

Big Croc


Black looks from Lucky Boy the black Jaguar, he was huge!

Supposed to be a Harpy Eagle but I think it is out of Dr. Who

Some sort of pig/rat thing with some unpronounceable name

Answers on a post card, climbs tees like a monkey and digs things up out of the ground

River crossing Belize style

The ferry, with 3 large vehicles and 2 motor bikes is actually wound across the river by hand along a steel cable, no wonder tthe poor guy looks cream crackered.

The 1000 foot falls, problem is you can only see the top 200 or so.

But the road to get there was quite interesting, unfortunately I was too busy to take a picture of the really muddy section (but I have it on the go-pro)