Let me start this by apologizing for the length of this post again. It seems to have become as long as a short novel! 😉 It will however be the last post of this trip as we are heading back home on Wednesday, so try to make it through!
Jackie and I are currently sitting in Orange Walk, Belize and tomorrow we head across the border to Mexico by bus to Chetumal. We’ll spend a night there, fly to Mexico City, spend a night and then fly home via LA…so pretty much we’re slowly on our way home already.
The past week in Belize has been wonderful and relaxing. We arrived here in Orange Walk last night to go and see the Lamanai ruins today. Orange Walk is a boring working town, but from here we got the 90 minute boat ride along the New River to the ruins. Overall it was well worth doing even though the ruins weren’t quite as amazing as Tikal. The boat ride added to the experience and we saw crocodiles and many different kinds of birds. Before making the 2 hour journey to Orange Walk on a ‘chicken bus’ (the busy local buses), we had spent the whole of our stay in Belize (5 nights – luxury for us) on the beautiful little island of Caye Caulker which is just 30 minutes by boat from Belize City. Caye Caulker has sand covered streets and a laid back lifestyle – the island mantra’s are ‘Go Slow’ and ‘Smile’ and it is definitely how they live. Caye Caulker is surrounded by beautiful and warm aquamarine water, although unfortunately you can’t just jump in most places as there is sea grass and very shallow water. The island is now actually 2 islands divided by about 20 meters of water since a hurricane in the 60’s cut a channel through. The channel is known as the split, and is the place on the island to hang out during the day. The water is deep and there is a diving board, and the remains of a bridge to catch some sun on. There is also a laid back bar there called Lazy Lizards (a sunny place for shady people 😉 ) where we often enjoyed an afternoon Belikin beer or rum punch!
While on Caye Caulker, we stayed in a simple air-con room at the Tropical Paradise Hotel on the beach. Our first afternoon we headed straight to the Split to relax before having a great seafood BBQ dinner. Our second day we relaxed some more, swam across the Split, went for a kayak, and even rented cruiser bikes and cycled all around the island. The south of the island is much less inhabited and has a lot of mangroves. It was a great bike ride, and we even rode straight down the middle of the air strip! Dinner that night was at ‘the Little Kitchen’ where we had delicious food in a tiny restaurant pretty much in someone’s house run by a mother and daughter pair. The next day we headed out to dive Hol Chan which was just 30 minutes away by boat. We had 2 nice relaxing dives in clear water and we saw some big snapper and grouper, as well as a few Eagle Rays 🙂 In between dives we snorkeled in shark and ray alley where nurse sharks and sting rays are fairly tame and swim around everywhere! After the dives we got back to the island for more relaxing followed by dinner at ‘Jolly Roger’s’ – a little BBQ stall with great food right on the beach.
The following day we had booked to go and dive the Blue Hole which is 2 hours away. Unfortunately the boat had some engine trouble, so we only made it to Turneffe reef where we snorkeled for free instead, and decided to do the Blue Hole the next day. After the day snorkeling, we went back to the Split for a beer and some rum punch before having dinner at Jolly Roger’s again with a couple that we met at the Split.
So finally, our last full day on Caye Caulker we made it out to the Blue Hole. Our first dive was actually into the Hole which was amazing. You start the dive swimming over the edge of the wall and sinking into the black abyss where the water is quite cold. At 40m (DEEP!!) you spend 8 minutes swimming in between huge stalactites that were up to 6m long and too big to reach around, before making the slow ascent back up. It felt like being an astronaut on a space walk and was really a journey back in time. As a bonus we saw some Caribbean grey reef sharks too! After the Blue Hole we went to Half Moon Caye for a beautiful dive with Eagle Rays and lots of fish, followed by lunch on the island which was beautiful. It is also a Red Footed Booby reserve so you get to see them nesting in the trees! Our final dive was at Long Caye at a spot called Aquarium after the sheer number of fish including the unusual Tarpon. Finally we headed home and went out for dinner and drinks with 2 couples from the diving which was fun.
Our final morning on the island we just took it easy, and also ran in to a Norwegian couple we had met, so we had a farewell beer with them before beginning the journey to Orange Walk. That about sums up our time in Belize, but I better back up to Guatemala since we haven’t written about that either, so here it goes:
Our last blog left off our last night in San Cristobal, Mexico. The next morning we started our journey to Guatemala with some unexpected excitement. We were sitting in the minivan when it started shaking. Jackie and I thought that the driver was up on the roof strapping on someone’s bag and thought nothing of it, only to hear a few minutes later that it had been an earthquake! After that excitement, the journey to Xela (or Quetzaltenango) was uneventful although fairly long. Xela turned out to be a fairly industrial city that didn’t excite us so we only spent one night there. We did however have fun because we stayed in a hostel called the Black Cat where we ended up having a few drinks with some other back packers. Jackie also recognized the bar tender/guy working in the hotel, who turned out to be called Andrew and had dated one of Jackie’s friend’s in LA when she was 15! What a coincidence! Anyway, the next morning, the minibus to our next destination, Panajachel, arrived 30 minutes late and then spent another 45 minutes driving around Xela before starting the 2 hour drive. We came to understand that this was to be expected in Guatemala but it was still annoying.
Panajachel is a town on the beautiful Lago de Atitlan, a mountain lake surrounded by Volcanoes. We had a quiet afternoon there and a nice dinner overlooking the lake with yummy margaritas, and then in the morning headed to Antigua. Antigua is a very nice town with cobble stone streets and we spent the afternoon exploring. It was Valentine’s day so we went out to dinner at what turned out to be a delicious Japanese restaurant, where dinner finished with a ‘Chocolate Explosion’ for desert that was to die for! After dinner, we headed back to our hostel (the Black Cat again) where everyone was drinking and having fun so we joined in and ended up having a great night. The following morning we organized to do a downhill mountain bike which was great fun. We drove up into the mountains/volcanoes for an hour, and then rode all the way back to Antigua. Some of the track was actually quite technical with steep and narrow dirt tracks that we skidded all over and had a great time. Jackie loved being on a bike again after so long! Making full use of our time, we were back at the hostel at 12.30 for lunch before heading off at 2 on the hour long drive to Pacaya volcano, which is an active volcano.
At Pacaya, we hiked up the 3 km to the lava fields in about an hour, and it was like nothing else! We looked out over the active lava and the week old rock formations with clouds in the background and it was stunning. We then got to walk out on it. Suddenly the floor was hot, and through cracks you could see red hot rock inches under your feet. Some people’s shoes even started to melt. Where the lava was actually flowing I reached out with a stick and touched the end of it to the lava and it instantly burst into flames. It was incredible!!! As the sun went down we walked back down to the van and headed back to Antigua for an early night before our 4 am shuttle!
After a few hours sleep we were up for our 1 hour shuttle to Guatemala City Airport, where we then had to wait more than 3 hours for our flight – the shuttle was the only one but was aimed for the 6.30 flight, not the 8.30 flight. Finally we were on our way to Flores, where we arrived after a 1 hour flight. Flores is a small town on an island in a lake near the Belize border. The town in and of itself it fairly unexciting, but is the launching point for tours of Tikal, the ruins hidden in the jungle there. Upon arrival we arranged our shuttle to and from Tikal for the following day. Tikal was amazing! It was a huge Mayan city once upon a time, and the small percentage that is uncovered takes a 10 km walk to cover all the structures. It’s hidden in the jungle and as you walk around you see howler monkeys swinging through the trees. The Grand Plaza was amazing, as was temple 5 which was very steep and you could climb a ladder all the way to the top and walk along a narrow edge. Jackie conquered a fear of the height and narrow ledge without a barrier (with help from her encouraging and comforting boyfriend) to enjoy the view over the tree tops and other structures.
After Tikal, we had one more dinner in Flores before heading out early the next morning on the 5 hour journey to Belize City, followed by the 30 minute boat ride to the beautiful Caye Caulker.
That pretty much sums up the past 2 weeks of our trip, and the last of our real traveling. From here we’re basically heading back to Sydney! Can’t wait to see all of you in Sydney soon.
Enjoy the photos!
Lots of love from both of us
Ben and Jackie