The 3 A's... Africa, Asia & the Americas

15oct06

Hello friends,

I can't belive that we've only been here for 2 weeks - not even!! We've done and seen Sooo much. After our first few days of high adventure, climbing live volcanoes, travelling in chicken buses, we went and chilled out in Casa Del Mundo. The hotel that claimed to be the nicest in Latin America. Well it was paradise - and all for 28 pounds for 2 a night.

It was set on the cliffside of Lago (Lake) Atitlan. The lake is surrounded by volcanoes (inactive ones you'll be pleased to hear). Most of the time the volcanoes are cloaked in mist and when they are it looks as though you could be in scotland with the lochs and the mountains. But when the mist and clouds disperse to reveal the craters of volcanoes, you know you're somewhere quite different. Our room looked right on to the lake and we awoke each morning to the wonderful sight of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes - an amazing sight!

The lake itself is about 14 miles long and wide and is 380 metres deep! We would wake at about 6am each day and go down to the lake for a swim - it was beautiful and refreshing. As the rain would come each day about 12.30 / 1 (you could set your watch by it), we had to get all our activities done by then. We did walks to neighbouring villages mainly. At night, dinner was 'family style' which meant all the guests sat around the big tabe and ate together. We met a lot of nice people that way. An ozzie couple that we travelled a bit with after.

So we stayed in the lap of luxury for 4 days in total and totally wound down. That took us till last friday, when we set off on a very big adventure!!! Tikal is the biggest attraction in Guatemala - it's the ancient mayan temples that look like pyramids. It's at the north of the country. The main way to get there is to go back to Guatemala City and take the road up from there. As we didn't want to go back on ourselves, we decided to take the back road. This journey would take us quite a few days of chicken buses and roads like you've never known before, but it would also take us past quite a few very interesting places.

The journey plan was; Jaibalito (where the hotel was) to Panajachel by boat, Panajachel (on the lake) to Chichicastenango by bus, Chichi to Santa Cruz by bus then Santa Cruz to Uspantan by bus. Overnight in Uspantan. Next day (starting at 2.30 am, yes 2.30!!!) we would go from Uspantan to Coban. Where we would also stop over. Then from there, another early morning (4.30am) to get upwards to Flores near Tikal.

Well we never thought we'd see a journey like it. The roads to Uspantan were dirt tracks, in fact that is an exaggeration. We're talking 1;1 gradient of continual hairpin bends on tracks that were so rutted and troughed by the rain that they were non existent!!! All this in a chicken bus - the old disused school buses that had long ago been discarded from America, deemed unusable!! The bus tipped precariously from side to side as it edged over the troughs in the road. Landslides also meant that the road disappeared in places - that was a bit scarey. That's what was happening }outside the bus, inside, people are piling in and piling in, the driver stopping to pick up more and more people, no regard for passenger number limits. We sat 3 sometimes 4 abreast on a bench seat meant for 2 school children!!!!

On one journey we had the wheel arch which meant that Simon's knees were up around his ears - that's chivalry for you. Well I didn't want to sit there!! On that journey we met a huge diesel lorry that had grounded and couldn't move. After much consultation between the driver of the bus and the lorry, all the men were called off the bus to push the lorry - PUSH!! We're talking a 9000 cc motors here!! Simon got out and helped and tried to talk in pigeon spanish, half enactment, to persuade them to get a tow rope and try and pull it . No go. .....

So after the first day travelling from 10am we rolled in weary into the only hotel in the town, which was not kitted out for tourists at all, at about 7.30pm. We recognised 2 faces - the aussie couple frpm the hotel - we'd bumped into them unplanned. We travelled the next few days with them. The next day of travel was much of the same except it started at 2.30am.

When we got to Coban, the plan was to take a sidetrack off our route to Tikal to go to a close-by town (well 3 1/2hrs away) to visit some really amazing places. The town was Lanquin. Close to here was a place called Semuc Champey, some water pools which were at different gradients with smallish waterfalls in between that you could jump off and swim in. But the most amazing thing was that the torrids of water that came down from the mountain side actually ran under the peaceful pools above. We went up to see just hundreds of gallons of water gushing under the rock into the caverns beneath the pools. The water was at such a force that you would NOT want to get anywhere near.

Also in this area were the most amazing underground caves that we walked into for about 1/2 km. Most of the caves are unmapped - this was also amazing to see. The bats lived in here and flew around the top of the cave as we walked through, We had to watch out for the bat poo. So that little detour puntuated our trip north to Tikal by a couple of days.

Yesterday ( Tuesday) we made the final trip to Flores (the town nearest Tikal). We're going to visit the temples tomorrow. We've just spent the remainder of yesterday and today chilling out in Flores which is a sleepy little island in the middle of a lake, joined to the mainland by a highway. It's a bit like a european fishing, seaside town. All the buildings have brightly painted facades and low slung red corrugated iron roofs.

We're right into this travelling malarkey. Staying in hotels that cost between 4 - 10 pounds for the 2 of us. Food is relatively expensive though. We're paying close to what we'd pay in London for meals. So we're off to Tikal tomorrow, them}n on to another place, Poptun, that has been recommended. A farm with jungle lodges on stilts in the jungle, where we can horseride, swim and lots more. Then we start our adventure to get to Honduras. We plan to pass from Poptun into Belize, to get a bit of sunning in Placencia, an island , Caye as they call it. From Placencia, the plan is to get a boat to Puerto Cortes in Honduras. Watch this space............

Love to you all. Wendy & Simonxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx