Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rio Dulce - First Impression

We arrived a few hours ago and are already planning to leave. We are staying outside of town in a peaceful place that is only accessible by boat. It got a good review in the guidebook but it hasnt given a good impression yet. Its hot and muggy and there are biting flies. That is our impression and we will leave in the morning to head up to Livingston.

Funny conversation I just had with another guest who also just arrived:
I was watching her swatting the biting flies and I said "These biting flies are evil, huh?".  She said "Yes, they dont lay eggs in your skin do they?  We heard that some flies do."  "Oh, I hope not."  "How long will you be staying?"  "We are leaving tomorrow...we just spend a few quiet days and need some more excitement than this."  "Oh, I hear it gets more exciting at night...thats when the tarantulas come out."
Yes, its confirmed.  We will leave tomorrow!

This is an interesting place, though. This is a big lake that is just off the caribbean. It is a safe haven for boaters during hurricane season...the safest in the caribbean. There are a lot of nice boats around and we might be happier if we were staying in town and not back here in the jungle.

Rob paddled us out to a dock in the lake for a swim in this little canoe. It was not easy but we had a nice swim.

More Finca Ixobel Pics

Mmmm. Lamb Curry. The finca had the best food so far in Guatemala. I wouldnt say it was Guatemalan food but there was lots of it with nicely cooked meat and veggies and the freshest lamb I've ever eaten.

Posted by Picasa

Finca Ixobel Pics

Posted by Picasa

"First Class" bus from Flores to Finca Ixobel

Believe it or not, this was the first class bus..we think! It honestly wasnt too bad. They dont load them up with people like the chicken buses. Very few of the seat backs worked so every time the bus stopped, the guy in front of Rob flew forward.

Posted by Picasa

3 weeks Written 1/29

We've hit our 3 week milestone and I cant believe how fast it has gone...well...I can believe it.  I think we've gotten in the travel groove and have developed a good pace.  I'll take a few moments to philosophize on what I have learned in 3 weeks of backpacking travel.  Everyone has packs and most are on the road for a month, 2 months, 6 months or years.  There are many British people and other europeans...Germans, Dutch, Austrians, French, some Israeli's, Canadians and only a few Americans.

There are 2 stages of travel, transport to a new place and spending time in that place.

Transport is the work.  We have our packs with us and our valuables carefully stashed in a few different locations.  This is the scarier part where we are most vulnerable to robbery or problems.  We are holding all of our important material possessions.  We have to figure out the correct form of transportation balancing price and comfort.  Since our spanish is poor, we are at the mercy of bus drivers to find the correct bus.  Our biggest concern on travel days...besides the safety of our bathrooms.  We forgo breakfast and coffee and try to limit our water consumption to a minimum.  Then  we arrive at our destination and with our packs on our back, we wander around with the guidebook trying to find the best accomodations, again balancing comfort and price.  Our intention is to check out as many places as possible, but realistically, we check a couple and settle with somewhere that we think we will be comfortable and has a good writeup in the guidebook.  The guidebook is so important for determining our path and finding cheap but comfortable restaurants and hotels and we read it constantly.

Then comes the easy part.  We settle into our new town.  We stash our stuff in what we hope is our nice safe room.  We walk around to get our bearings.  We peek into every restaurant, checking out the menus to find the cheapest and best food.  We meet other travelers and compare notes of where we have been, what we did there, where we stayed and ate and what we learned.  There are only so many places on the tourist trail and those places are on that trail for a reason.  Those are the places that have something to offer and thats where the other travelers are.  The travelers are a community and we rely on each other for company and information.  We have met people of all ages, nationalities and situations.  Our backgrounds are different but we have so much in common.  Obviously we all love travel and seeing as many new places as possible.  In Central America, we are all on a budget and are always aware of how much things cost and how much we are spending.  On a deeper level, we all love the freedom of life on the road.  We research and we plan, less to be prepared and more because it is something to do.  Everyone has some sort of loose plan but nobody expects to actually stick to it.  People talk about a "goal", like ours to get to Panama or Mexico or Brazil.  We hope to reach it but few people know exactly where they will be more than 1 or 2 destinations in the future.

We try to talk to as many different people as possible because everyone has a different perspective on a place.  Many people find Flores only bearable for a day or 2 while we were happy there for a week.  Livingston has gotten the most mixed reviews.  After talking to some people, we had almost crossed it off our list but since we have been here, we've heard some good things and realized that the only way to know is to see for ourselves.  The worst case is that we check into a hotel and hate it and move on the next day...not such a bad worse case scenario.

I love to find out how other people can make this happen.  I truly love this lifestyle and always in the back of my mind am trying to figure out how I can fit this into my life, maybe not permanantly but definately regularly.  Most people I know, take a vacation and then say "I was ready to come home".  They miss their family and friends, they miss their bed, they miss their home.  I can honestly say that I have never felt this "ready to come home" feeling.  Home has always sort of felt like a rut for me.  It is so easy for me to settle into a routine which soon becomes un-challanging and easy.  Every day here is a new adventure.  What will we see?  Who will we meet?  What are the showers like?  Can we find something cheap to eat that isnt a taco on a corn tortilla?  I love the challenge to find this cost/comfort/value balance.  I'm enjoying keeping careful track of what we spend to keep under-budget.  I love that I can get into doing something, concentrating on a conversation or not stepping in poo on a walk and then look up and see something completely new that I've never noticed or someone new and interesting with their own story that will fascinate me or something utterly breathtaking like a sunset or a bird or a mountain.

I feel free.  Every day is truly what I make it.

Written 1/29 - Finca Ixobel - from my top bunk at camp

We have spent the past few days at sleep-away camp at Finca Ixobel.  Its been wonderfully relaxing and has taken me back 20 years to Camp Sabra...complete with Israelis and frisbee and bunkbeds.  Ok, the food is better...way better.

It was only a couple of hours bus ride south from Flores and the landscape was quickly covered with lush green hills and corn  farms.  For this ride, we opted for the "1st Class" bus which was only about $2 extra for each of us.  Rather than a school bus, this was an old "greyhound" type touring bus.  The seats were confortable and the bus was not stuffed to gils like a chicken bus.  We made a long stop in the town of Poptun for those continuing on to Rio Dulche to use the bano and buy snacks.  There were some little stores but the lovely thing here is that as soon as the bus stops, children and adults immediately climb on the bus, each calling out what they are selling...fruit, chips, tacos, drinks.  Some of the children were only 7 or 8 years old...helping their families earn a living and learning the serious business of hard sales.

The bus continued on for a few minutes from Poptun, when the drive called out to tell us that we would be stopping soon at the Finca Ixobel.  We hopped off the bus, grabbed our packs from under the bus and started walking down the road that the driver pointed out to take us to the Finca.  We didnt know what to expect at all.  It was a 10  minute walk, down a shady road until we saw the main gate and then another 10 minutes until the road opened up into a wonderful clearing with a driveway and buildings.  We found the reception area and they showed us some of the different accomodations.  There is a camping area where you can tent camp.  This area also has some "Tree houses" which are little cabanas on stilts for 90Q (around $10US a night) and some with bathrooms below for more than that.  There were also cabanas with bathrooms.  Full to capacity, this place could easily hold 100 people but seemed to have only about 10 to 20 people staying at the moment.  We had discussed checking out the dorm situation to try to save some money and were happy with what we found.  For 35Q (less than $5 each) we have a bunk bed in a room that has 3 bunk beds and a single.  It was only occupied by a quiet french couple who are traveling guatemala by bicycle.

We were happy to find that they serve breakfast and lunch all day with eggs from the chickens on the property and fresh baked bread for a very good price.  They offer some caving and horseback riding and discussed horseback riding.  There was nice sized group of favorite...just enough to have interesting people to talk to but not so much that it felt crowded by any means.  We met an interesting set of characters, one British magician and an American who is working is way to south america with his dog, Banjo.  Of course, I was interested in the logistics of traveling by bus with a dog...which is apparently possible although the dog had a few rides in the cargo area under the bus.  It was nice to spend time with an American dog since they have such a different confidence than the Central American dogs.  We wandered down to the laguna with plans to swim.  It was nice and sunny until I went down to the water when the sun hid behind a cloud.  The water was chilly so I didnt spend a lot of time but mostly we chatted on hammocks in the shade.  Finally we were starving and went to see about dinner.  This was the nicest suprise of the day.  They have a delicious dinner with salad and veggies and a choices.  Most of the food here has been pretty bland, the meat is always cooked very well done...which we are ok with after seeing the meat market...although steak is generally pretty chewy.  This place was different...a stewed beef with sesame and squash and green salad and bread.  They filled the plates themselves with twice as much as I would ever put for myself but we ate every morsal.  Then we went down to the bar at the laguna and had some beers by the campfire, talking to the different people and listening to music until Rob and I were the last 2 and we went to bed.

We woke the next day to rain.  The french couple was pretty anxious to hit the road...the rain would let up a bit and they would load up their bikes and then the rain would get harder and they would come back in.  They even tried to check out but ended up staying the rest of the day.  Nobody wanted to leave with the bad weather so everyone took a nice day..reading, napping, chatting. We had an even better dinner last night but stayed in the main area since the walk the laguna would have been very wet.  An exhausted British girl checked into our room later in the day...ate and passed out immediately having had a long day of travel from Honduras.

This morning, the French couple left very early and silently...with all of us hoping for theirs and our sake that the rain would hold off.  We awoke and enjoyed our real (not instant) coffee with real milk and sugar and said goodbye as most of the people headed off for Rio Dulche.  We decided to spend 1 more day of camp and great food.  Rob and I wandered the property this morning, happy that the rain had changed to mist which was a huge improvement.  The finca was then inundated with 17 RVs on a caravan tour from Texas to Panama.  There were so many of them and it was a very different crowd than we have dealt with so far.  They came in for lunch and baked goods and then we happily waved as they left as quickly as they came.  I've spent the rest of the afternoon reading and rob wandered around some more.  I see sun out the window even though a little sun shower came through a few minutes ago.  It looks like tonight, the room will be us, the recovering british girl and another girl who has obviously worked here or spent a bit of time here in the past...Lucky Rob, just him and the girls.

This brings me to something that I've been wanting to mention for a while but now that I have nothing at all to do, I will menion.  There are more single girls traveling Central America than anyone else.  Sure we have met other couples and some single guys but mostly it is single girls or a pair of girls or 2 single girls that have met and paired up.  This definately has us feeling very confident to travel the rest of the area.  Dont get me wrong, when a group gets together, people definately share stories of being robbed and ripped off but most of these stories are first hand from people who were pissed at the situation but in no way put off to travel and happily and more cautiously continuing on their journey. Everyone else takes note of where the person thinks they made the mistake and we all move on, smarter and more safely.

I'd hoped to practice our spanish here but as we were warned, once we reach our destination, we are surrounded by travelers who find English as the common language so we have ended up speaking English the whole time here.

We've gotten great information about our next stop...Rio Dulche and Livingston.  We will head out tomorrow with 2 really nice Israeli girls who had been traveling South America with some bad luck and were supposed to go to Peru but because of the major flooding, they changed plans and came here.  We look forward to another big change of scenery.  This is one of the places that we have really been looking forward to.

Checking in from Rio Dulce

I'm sure you have been wondering if we are ok...and we are.  We spent a few days at a place with very poor internet which I will post about in a few.

We have just arrived in Rio Dulce and are safe and happy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

School Field Trip

We had a wonderful last day in Flores. The school filled up this week, so they organized a little afternoon trip for anyone who wanted to go. Almost everyone went, us, the British couple that we have made friends with, a Canadian couple, 2 European girls (1 who has also just started a 6 month trip through Central America...maybe we will see her again) and Deter (the head of the school). Deter was an architect who specializes in Mayan architecture.

We took a little boat trip across the lake to a private ranch that happens to lie on an unexcavated Mayan city. This city would have been from 1000 BC. The piece of land would have been completely flat so all of the hills are actually Mayan buildings, a ballfield and pyramid. Deter said that this would have been one of the larger cities with the 2nd largest ballfield.

Because this is a working ranch, this is what I saw most of the time as we had to step very carefully to avoid cow pies.

This looks like a regular hill but almost 3000 years ago it was a pyramid.

As we hiked up the pyramid-hill, we found these pieces of pots. It was really exciting to see this site that no archiologist has ever studied.

Tomorrow morning we will move on to Finca Ixobel which is just outside of Poptun about 2 hours from here. We have been spoiled here in Flores with internet in our room and we will definately miss this wonderful little island. I'm so greatful that we decided to stick around here. We have met some wonderful people, learned some Spanish and enjoyed relaxing on this beautiful lake. We are ready to move on, though and look forward to seeing a new place.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 25, 2010


Today was a peaceful day.  In spanish class, we finished the book so I'm not really sure what we will do for 4 hours tomorrow.  We spent the last hour of class trying to think of random things to say in Spanish to practice but its amazing how little we could think to talk about.  We still have a long way to go to properly communicate with people but the class was worth it and we have already noticed that our small interactions at restaurants and the hotel are getting a bit easier....dont get me wrong...we still have many moments where someone says something to us and we just stand there like idiots trying to understand it until the dumb it down enough or pull out a calculator.

Today was nice and cool.  About an hour ago, we went out for a little snack at the coffee shop, Cool Beans, and just as we stepped in the doorway, I looked behind me and saw that it began pouring rain.  It took us completely by surprise.  We sat and enjoyed our brownies and the rain let up for a few minutes so we quickly walked back to our room.  It rained for another 30 minutes or so and seems to have stopped now.

Wednesday we hit the road again.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flores Evening

There are spots where you can swim all around the island and this one just happens to be right outside our hotel. This was the busiest that I've seen it. On this warm, Sunday afternoon it was full of locals and tourists, kids, adults, dogs, brazilian bikinis, europeans in speedos, dreadlocked backpackers and local kids in their underwear. Everyone enjoyed the cool, clean water and the sunset. Notice the tuktuks...these little 3 wheeler taxis are super cheap and a lot of fun.
Posted by Picasa

Santa Elena Market

Yesterday, mostly we took it easy but we did head over to Santa Elena, just on the other side of the causeway, to see the market. Mostly I was just wanting an excuse to ride in a tuktuk since they are everywhere here but Flores is so tiny, it seems lazy not to walk. These pictures do not capture the vibrancy of the market at all. It was really big and there were stands selling everything...fruit, vegetables, hardware, clothes (I bought some underwear), meat (including whole pigs heads), cooked food, toys, electronics...anything you could think of. We were the only tourists there which was a nice change. I finally got to eat a choco-banana....thats a frozen banana on a stick dipped in chocolate and it was everything that I dreamed it would be. The sounds and smells were almost overwhelming...there were religious folks shouting in microphones and sellers shouting out what they have. Food was being cooked everywhere. I should have taken some better pictures because I didnt really pull out the camera until we were in a less busy part of the market. It was a fun way to spend an hour.

Posted by Picasa

Tikal Wildlife

My favorite part of Tikal was the animals. The ruins really are in the jungle and we really felt it. The vegetation off the trails was thick with plants and trees and vines. We could hear howler monkeys which sounded extremely close....oh the howler monkeys. They have the most jungly sound of any animal. When you hear it, you picture a huge jaguar growling right behind you but instead it is these not-so-big monkeys.

Here was a spider monkey up in a tree.

We wandered up on about 2 dozen of these guys...Coatis. They were walking all around a very busy area and couldnt have cared less about us.

This was the find of the day and Rob managed to take the money shot. This is a white hawk which you dont get to see every day. Thankfully, he was squawking quite a bit so that we all were able to see him.
Posted by Picasa

Tikal Ruins

We just got back from Tikal which was pretty amazing. As usual, I'm only posting a few pictures here so you will have to check out the rest with the link on the right. In its day, Tikal was a huge city. It dates back almost 3000 years ago and they have estimated populations of almost 100,000. There are 4000 buildings and monuments of which 1000 have been excavated. The rest are visible as big hills covered in jungle. You can tell that they are pyramids but can see exactly how it all must have looked before it was discovered. Tikal has some pretty big pyramids that can be climbed if you have no fear. The one in the 2nd picture looked terrifying.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 22, 2010


This was my favorite of the dozens of monkeys that we saw today. He came right over to us and pushed his nose against the fence in a goofy way. What a cutie.

This is a real jaguar. He has been at ARCAs for 5 years. He was recovered as a kitten from a smuggler. He is a sad case because he is alone and his enclosure was big but not nearly big enough for a jaguar. They cannot release him into the wild and he cannot leave the country. His only hope is for the Guatemala zoo to happen to put in a request for another jaguar. He was absolutely beautiful.

Posted by Picasa


After spanish class, we went with our friends, Ian and Sarah from England (who are on the tail end of a real around the world trip) to ARCA. ARCA is a wonderful organization that rescues animals from different situations and either keeps them at the property or ideally, rehabilitates them and release them back into the wild. This place is a must see if you are spending any time in Flores. The depend on donations from visitors and volunteers. For $100 a week, you can stay and volunteer and receive room and board and make a real difference for these animals. Our guide was a programmer from germany who had been there 3 months. To see all the pictures, go to Picasa.

These birds were all either recovered from smugglers or had been pets. Talking birds will stay there forever because they cannot be released back into the wild. They explained that talking birds in the wild will teach other wild parrots to talk. They will lose the ability to communicate in real bird talk.

Dan and Nikki, we thought of you when we saw the 3 legged ocelot (on the right)

They had dozens of Scarlet Macaws. I'm certain that we will never see this many in one place.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2 more pics

I took this at a restaurant that we ate breakfast at yesterday. They are pretty guns or pooping dogs.

This is a picture of Flores last night. I was about to post some pictures and the power went out...not just the hotel....not just the island of Flores...but all of the towns surrounding the lake. It stayed out for about an hour. We took the opportunity to go up to the roof and see the stars. I dont know if I have ever seen so many, it was absolutely beautiful.

Posted by Picasa

Our room

The pictures dont do it justice. The hotel doesnt provide blankets because you dont need them. We bought one in Caye Caulker when we were freezing and have been happy to have it.

Thankfully, all of our rooms have an extra bed. Within minutes of arrival, our bags explode with stuff!

Its a little bathroom but suits our needs. The shower has 3 knobs...2 are decoys. We have no control over the temperature but generally its nice and hot!

This is the view directly outside our door. We really like the railings.
Posted by Picasa