A Travellerspoint blog

December 2014

They think it's all over? It is (for) now...

I've been back in Dublin just over a week now and after a few days it almost feels like I've never been away. Picking highlights from the trip is difficult as there are many. If we had to pick one stand out country we'd both agree that China wins hands down. It has so much to offer... the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai, the Rice Fields in Guilin, Hong Kong etc. It's a fascinating place to visit.

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Whether you've read one of our entries or most of them, thank you for taking the time to follow us on our three and half month trip. We had a truly amazing experience. The blog was always written a bit 'tongue in cheek' and I hope you didn't take any of my moaning or slagging too seriously. Hopefully we've inspired you to do some travelling of your own. The world is a big place, and life's too short. Get out there and do it.

I also want to thank Alberto for being my photographer, travel companion and loving partner. The trip wouldn't have been half as enjoyable without him. And a big shout out to our friends (both old and new) who shared part of the adventure with us. Love you guys.

It's not all fun and games when you travel though. Mosquitos and deet, air conditioning on full blast, dodgy food, language dramas, buses breaking down, your bank card not working, losing things, the humidity and heat, being stuck at derelect bus stations, god awful rooms you have to sleep in, people trying to rip you off constantly... And don't forget the planning, travelling and money involved!

This little montage of photos (new to the blog) will remind me why it's all worthwhile.

China:

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Thailand:

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Malaysia:

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Indonesia:

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Dubai:

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Costa Rica:

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Nicaragua:

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Honduras:

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Guatemala:

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And last but not least, the award for best 'Lost in Translation' goes to:

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This blog entry is my 60th since I first went backpacking four years ago and it's my last for the time being. We move to Australia this Sunday and that's a whole other adventure. But I'm sure we'll get itchy feet in the future, it's just a question of when... perhaps India will be next? Until then, take care and happy travels!

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Posted by mattld 07:03 Archived in Ireland Comments (2)

Guatemala

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Our trip through Central America is now complete! You can see our final few stops below.

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I’m starting to sound like a broken record with the phrase ‘we had a long day’, referring to our travels from one point to another. Well, I’m afraid I can’t change my tune today as last Saturday was one of our longest trips in one day. And as with most of our bus excursions, the air con has apparently been 'broken', resulting in a permanent condition of what I like to call artic blast. Unfortunately we had to endure this in Asia as well and if you've backpacked you'll probably relate to it. Worry no more my friends, for I have found the solution. And it involves dressing up as the modern day offspring of Mother Teresa and Bin Laden.

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We left Honduras just before midday and we didn’t reach our destination in Flores until 2am. We were so unsure of whether we’d make it that far we didn’t even book a place to stay. A taxi driver had the honour of driving us from hotel to guesthouse and hostel at silly o’clock, in search for a bed. ‘Is there any room at the Inn?’ we pleaded, to which we were told ‘At this time? Absolutely not. Come back tomorrow’. Or something to that effect in Spanish. I was starting to consider the possibility of a night on the streets. Flores is considered quite safe, and it would only be hours before dawn. It could be do-able? Thankfully that reality never came to fruition and we managed to find a room. A room not even fit for a dog that is. Run down, dirty, mosquito central. Say no more. Alberto slept with his clothes on and I closed my eyes, thinking of a happy place. The next morning we couldn’t log onto Booking.com quick enough to arrange new accomodation. And off we went. Flores is a little island linked via a bridge and situated in Northern Guatemala. It’s a beautiful spot and with Petén Lake in full view it’s a great place to stop by and visit for a couple of days.

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Flores also provides access to Tikal, labelled as the superstar Maya attraction. We spent Monday at Tikal. The site towers above the rainforest and is dominated by six giant temples and steep-sided pyramids that rise up to 64 metres from the forest floor. There are thousands of other structures, many covered by giant roots still hidden beneath mounds of earth. Tikal is also home to all sorts of wildlife, including the toucan (the national bird of Belize). If you’re in Guatemala, I would strongly recommend taking the time to visit. A tour guide is a must. Unfortunately ours was rude and obnoxious, but we had a really cool group and that evening we went out together for dinner and drinks.

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The next day we took a bus back down south and stopped off at a little town called Rio Dulce for one night. Our guidebook informed us it’s ‘not a place you’ll want to hang around long’ and I couldn’t agree more. When I think of Rio Dulce the first two things that will come to mind are trucks, and fried chicken. There isn’t a large motorway nearby which results in an endless amount of congestion caused by trucks travelling through. And regarding the fried chicken… well I’ve never seen so many stalls that just sold fried chicken (and chips). And all the locals are eating it. I hope the town will re-educate itself regarding healthy eating or they could end up like Tonga. You can see some fruit and veg in the shot below, but most of it is exposed to constant CO2 emissions.

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Our hotel in Rio Dulce also left a lot to be desired. There are only a couple of places to stay so we were limited on options. We had another dirty room and a number of cockroaches paid us a visit from the ceiling, dropping onto our bed! I kid you not. The staff reacted with little emotion and unfortunately with nowhere better to go we accepted a room exchange. It was in slightly better condition and thankfully no cockroaches. So you might be thinking, why stay at Rio Dulce at all? Well, it mitigated the need for another day of 12+ hours of travel, and the town is also home to Izabal Lake. Before we left on Wednesday, we had an early 5am start to take a trip through the lake, past the Rio Dulce gorge and down to Livingston. The town is primarily inhabited by the Garifuna (the native Caribbeans). Therefore it’s a really interesting place to visit, if only for an hour or two.

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That brings us to our final destination on our fourteen weeks of travel, Antigua. We read great reviews about the town during our research and opted for four nights (cutting out Guatemala City as a destination as reports are poor and it's deemed unsafe by many). We also booked a really nice boutique hotel to compensate for previous mistakes and to finish our trip on a high. Antigua is nestled in a valley between three volcanoes and has a very strong colonial vibe to it (similar to Grenada in Nicaragua). There are plenty of trips you can take to the volcanoes, or nearby lakes or villages but after all our sightseeing we’ve been happy to just wander around the town, visit some of the many old cathedrals and enjoy the facilities at our hotel.

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As with Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, we've had a great time in Guatemala and it may even be our favourite country of the four. Guatemala is loaded with natural, historical and cultural interest. Tomorrow morning we’ll take a shuttle to Guatemala City, and from there our flight back to Dublin via Washington D.C. It’s been hard not to get sentimental about the entire fourteen weeks and wonder where the time has gone since we arrived in Beijing on the 3rd September. I’m not going to talk about highlights just yet. I have one more blog post left to write.

Posted by mattld 18:19 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Honduras

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We were a little bit apprehensive about travelling by bus from San José to Guatemala City in only four weeks. Thankfully we're on track and below you can see our progress so far. You can take flights but they’re incredibly expensive and you also miss out on the views. You could spend twice the amount of time we have covering the same ground. We’re really only getting to see a few of the highlights this region has to offer.

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Honduras, El Salvador and Belize are the three most violent countries in Central America and there’s a disturbingly high homicide ratio in all of them. We ruled Belize out pretty early on due to its geographical location and two weeks ago we agreed to leave out El Salvador due to some pretty grim stories we’ve heard from locals in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We decided to pay Honduras a visit because you’ve got to travel through it in order to reach Guatemala and there are only two cities in particular you need to be really cautious about, the capital Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, which is the most violent city in the world. Yes, in the world!

Unfortunately, due to the distance involved in travelling from Managua to Tegucigalpa, it’s very hard not to spend at least one night here. It was another long day of travel with four mini chicken buses and two taxis. Transport (unlike food) is really cheap in Central America so we've been saving a lot in this department in comparison with Asia. If the NCT was a dead person, he would be rolling in his grave at the condition of some of these vehicles. Each chicken bus we took became progressively worse (sight, comfort and smell). After I saw our third vehicle I couldn't help but wonder if our final mode of transport would have a roof or seats still attached. We also briefly hired a gentleman on what I could only describe as a wooden pushcart to briefly transport us and our bags. Don't laugh, I promise you it's essential for the 1km walk in the heat between the Nicaraguan and Honduras borders. I thought he was a lovely fella until he attempted to increase the agreed price by four times the original amount at the very end. 'No deal'. Instead we gave him a small tip.

We took a gamble and stayed two nights in Tegucigalpa but were very selective in picking a hotel in a 'safe-ish area' with positive reviews from fellow travellers regarding safety. We also agreed that we would minimise our time out at night. On our first night we literally just ventured around the corner to grab a quick dinner and head back. I must admit it didn’t feel particularly safe. There were definitely a few unsavoury characters shall we say floating about. We left any valuables in our hotel, brought just enough cash for the meal and kept our heads down. And all was well. The day time in Tegucigalpa is a different story, it's generally considered safe. You just need to err on the side of caution. The city itself hasn’t a lot to offer unfortunately. There are a few museums and art galleries we planned on visiting but all tourist attractions are closed on a Monday. It’s a shame but we still enjoyed wandering around the main square and town. I think we saw only one other foreigner about but thankfully unlike China or Indonesia the locals couldn’t care less that you’re there.

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That evening we decided to take a professional coach for the eight hour trip to Copan, our second and final stop in Honduras. You’re paying about three times the price of public transport, but taking into account crime and safety warnings this was a no brainer. We also knew this trip would involve passing through San Pedro Sula (remember: THE most violent city in the world). Thankfully there was only a one hour layover and we were very happy being locked away in a bus terminal with a security policy almost as tight as an international airport. We arrived in Copan that evening, and the contrast couldn’t be greater. Copan is a charming and safe little town filled with steep cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs set among green hills. The locals are extremely friendly. And the public transport is a Tuk Tuk! No matter how bad the smell or the discomfort, I’ll always reminisce of Tuk Tuks with fond memories. Thankfully the Tuk Tuks in Copan are modern day versions of what you’d find in Thailand and they’re in excellent condition. Honestly. The drivers charge a very cheap price so no haggling is required. I’d compare Copan to Andorra, albeit without the snow. The town is home to Honduras’ most famous Mayan Ruins which was the main reason for our visit (more on that shortly).

We spent our first day walking around the town, we visited a local museum and in the afternoon we took a trip to the Luna Jaguar Hot Springs. The Springs are a great place to relax and unwind. There are plenty of hot and cold thermal pools for you to get into and its Mayan theme makes the setting even more enjoyable. We also took the liberty of having our first ever mud bath. Naturally, we now look and feel ten years younger.

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Today we took a Tuk Tuk out to the Mayan Ruins of Copan. The Maya people constitute a diverse range of Native Americans in southern Mexico and northern Central America (primarily Guatemala). The indigenous folks left behind ruins which date back to 100AD. Copan is smaller than some of the other Mayan attractions you can visit but features some really cool sculptures and carvings.

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You can see an artist's depiction below of what Mayan life would have looked like. There's also a museum by the ruins which houses many of the artifacts which have been excavated and also includes a stunning recreation of one temple.

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Our time in Honduras has been brief. We didn’t care much for Tegucigalpa but would highly recommend visiting Copan if you can. If we had more time and hadn’t gone scuba diving in Asia we’d have travelled north to the Bay Islands for three nights. The area is famous for it coral reefs and cheap diving and is the #1 tourist destination in Honduras. Unfortunately the islands will have to wait for another time. Tomorrow we take a bus west for eight nights in our final country (!), Guatemala.

Posted by mattld 17:05 Archived in Honduras Comments (2)

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