Days 49-51: Livingston, Guatemala

This is the 4th time I’ve sat down, determined to finish a blog post. New Orleans (and it’s wonderful inhabitants) have a way of offering up enticing distractions. But I will keep trying. I’m going to attempt to finish up my travel posts, considering I got back over a month ago. So, without further adieu…

After a crazy speedboat ride from Belize, we arrived in Livingston, Guatemala drenched but grateful to be unharmed. A fellow passenger remarked that he made the trip regularly but that that ride was “the craziest it’s ever been”. Lucky us.

We began our way up the hill to immigration, eager dock boys lapping at our feet.

IMG_7884

dock boy, far left

For the uninitiated, dock boys are the boys (and in this case, men) who wait at entry ports for tourists then try to lead them towards hotels that will give them a commission for new guests. They followed us all the way to immigration, hounding us the entire time. “What’s your name?” “Where you from?” “Stay at [hotel] it’s real nice. Good price.

I take you there!”

It’s annoying and exhausting, especially after a long day of travel.  And they don’t even help you carry your bags.

(Not that you should ever give your bag to a stranger. Don’t)

After a lightning quick immigration process, we made our way back down the hill, dock boy lapping at our heels. I already knew where I would be staying if they had vacancies, and I informed him of this. Still he marched in front us and as we approached hotels, acted as a marketing representative for each one. “Real cheap!” “This place is brand new” “Lots of backpackers there”

Our intended destination was a bit of a walk from the town but he stuck with us like a shadow. At one point, as we trudged along, I asked him if he was our bodyguard. He grunted in response.

We finally made it to Casa Rosada, the highest rated Livinston hotel on Trip Advisor at the time. Luckily they had several rooms available. After an exhausting journey, I was eager to check in and drop my heavy bags. But first, I had to get rid of our shadow.

IMG_7886

The dock boy/man had followed us all the way to the reception, yammering on nervously about the perks of the hotel. Once cash was exchanged for the room, he began muttering about his “services”, not so subtly implying that I owed him money. Tired and annoyed I inquired what exactly I owed him for. For following us to the hotel? The hotel that I had already been planning to check into? For making the long trek to the hotel even more tiresome with his creepy nervous energy? Much appreciated, bro. Safely on hotel grounds, I declined his offer and he slinked away. While I understand that these men live in deep poverty and are trying to make money, I’m not going to support harrassment. During the trip there were dock boys who were genuinely useful in finding a hotel and who were compensated by that hotel (and by me). Following tourists who repeatedly tell you they don’t need your help is not behavior that should be encouraged. :End of rant:.

There isn’t much to say about the two days in Livingston. I walked into town a couple times but it was mostly just your standard tourist shops and a couple restaurants. The population was a mix of Garifuna, afro-caribbean, mayan and latin residents. I didn’t find them to be particularly friendly, as in some tourist towns, mostly they just went about their business. The parts of town I saw weren’t particularly charming or interesting. In fact, since Livingston was my first taste of Guatemala, I was nervous that the rest of the country was going to be a disappointment.

One thing in Livingston that was not a disappointment was Casa Rosada. It had lush, well appointed grounds, adorable rooms and a beautiful view of the Rio Dulce.  It was such a calming, almost dreamy location. I spent much of the two days there lounging on the outdoor sofas with my cat friend, admiring the view.


IMG_7934
IMG_7933

IMG_7925IMG_7932
IMG_7890

The days were warm and sunny until around 3:00 when the skies would darken and the drizzle would begin. It rained off and on for the remainder of the evenings, sometimes a light mist, sometimes a roof pounding downpour. I was completely unprepared for this change in weather, clothing-wise. But after a hot, sticky, rainless month in Belize, I wasn’t complaining. I also made a new friend at a local restaurant. This is Erica.

IMG_7902

Don’t let the smiling picture fool you. Shortly after this was taken,  I glanced down and noticed she’d shat on my thigh. Thanks, amiga. Then, after attempting to eat my hair, she climbed onto my head and could not be persuaded to get down. I began to panic slightly as a bird with loose bowels is not my preference for a hat. I calmly attempted to extract her without disturbing the group of Israeli tourists dining beside me. She simply squawked and threatened to peck my hand. Finally I walked into the kitchen and had the owner remove her from my head before her next anal explosion.

IMG_7914

So to review, there was a parrot in a dining establishment, defecating on diners which I then brought into the kitchen where meals were being prepared. Health and safety codes are a little more lax in Guatemala. (And the pizza was damn good.)

Livingston isn’t somewhere I’d recommend for more than a few days but if you’re passing through, Casa Rosada is definitely worth checking out. Please send my best to Erica.

 

Advertisements

Day 49: Belize to Guatemala by flying boat

Copy of Dublin to Galway by train (2)

After a month-and-a-half in Belize, it was time to move on. As much as I was enjoying Placencia, Belize only grants 30 day visas for visitors and mine was about to expire. Plus, I was eager to check out Guatemala.

On the morning of Day 49, we headed to the boat dock in Placencia, next to Barefoot Bar and purchased tickets ($10 BZ). The 10:00 “Hokey Pokey” Boat arrived on schedule and we all piled on. After a 15 minute boat ride on calm waters we arrived in Independence, Belize. A bunch of us then hopped in a mini-van cab and headed to the bus station. [Traveler tip: You don’t need to do this, the bus stops at the boat dock]

IMG_7861

The public bus arrived only slightly behind schedule, around 11:00 (scheduled for 10:45). The bus was packed and only a couple people got off. Yet, no one seemed all that concerned about fitting in this influx of 8-10 additional passengers. And their bags. Somehow we all fit. Of course, that required most of the new passengers to stand in the aisle, trying not to topple over into someone’s lap as the bus peeled around winding roads. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience. Then, 20 minutes into the ride/balance exercise, the ticket taker announced that there was a police check-point coming up and everyone needed to get in a seat. At the behest of the ticket taker, the two adults seated in the two-seater next to me begrudgingly slid over approximately one inch to accommodate me.

IMG_7869

When I was in 8th grade, my mom and I moved and I had to start taking the bus to school. One winter morning, I sat in an aisle seat in the front of the bus. The “cool kids” all sat at the back of the bus. My backpack was full of books that day, so bulky that it protruded out into the aisle. I don’t remember what I held in my lap but it prevented me from taking off my heavy back pack. I can still feel the weight of that backpack when I recall what happened next. The bus made a sharp right turn that I was not prepared for. Panic overtook me as I began tipping over into the aisle. Time slowed to a crawl as I tried in vain to subvert gravity. Slowly but surely I landed, like an overturned turtle, in the aisle in full view of the entire bus. For a 13 year old, “humiliated” is an understatement. I disliked school buses before then. For a while after that, riding on them filled me with dread.
That memory came rushing back as I perched on a tiny piece of pleather cushion, backpack in my lap, most of my body leaning into the aisle, my thighs burning with effort to keep me from flying forward as the bus lurched around curves. Thankfully, a seat opened after nearly 45 minutes where I spent the remainder of the two hour bus ride resting my aching lower half.

We arrived in Punta Gorda, Belize around 1:00 pm and purchased tickets for the ferry to Livingston through Memo’s Boat Service. [Traveler tip: Make sure you have enough cash  for the boat ticket ($25 US, I think) AND pricey exit fee ($39 US). Both fees can be paid at the immigration office].

IMG_7870IMG_7874The boat arrived around 3:00. No drug sniffing dogs this time. Once we were all boarded, one of the workers handed me and the girl sitting next to me a large tarp to place over us. I didn’t think it was really necessary, I’m not worried about my hair getting wet (advantage: Braids). But they were pretty insistent. Strangely, no one else was offered a tarp. (I’m going to assume it’s because both of us were black and he had been taking notes during Good Hair)

IMG_7871

IMG_7877

As we set off towards Livingston it soon became clear why the tarp had been provided. It had stormed the day before and the sea was dark and rough. Large waves crashed against the boat, drenching us as we sped through the Amatique bay. The boat bounced wildly against the ocean, often going airborne before crashing down again. The looks on me and my fellow passengers faces went from bemused to slightly concerned to fear stricken

IMG_7879IMG_7881

During the hour long boat ride, there were several times in which I began wondering how my death would be reported in the newspaper. “Local hero flung from boat during 3 month heroic journey through Central America. Dies a hero”. Just guessing at headlines. But accurate guesses aside, it was a very scary ride. We were all relieved to hoist our soaking wet bodies onto the dock in Livingston.

IMG_7884

It was a day of very uncomfortable rides but we made it to Guatemala safe and mostly sound.

 

81 Day Hotel Round-up

I’m back in the states now (!) and have A LOT of posting to do. So, without delay…

I’m a bit of an apartment nomad. I’ve lived in 10 homes in 4 (going on 5) cities in the last 6 years. In fact, 2011 was the first time I’ve ever renewed a lease. My proclivity for moving continued in Central America. On the plane I counted how many hotels I stayed in during the trip. Twenty-one. 21 hotels in 81 days. That may not seem like that many but keep in mind I stayed in a volunteer house in Belize for 31 of those days. I’m just always looking to make improvements: cities, apartments, jobs…hotel rooms. So, I may as well put all that hopping to good use and give a brief review of each of them.

In order of stay:

  • Cabanas My Tulum (Tulum, MX): 4/5 Affordable, clean, good-sized cabanas situated on a gorgeous stretch of beach in Tulum. Best hotel I found for the money on the beach.

Image

  • Pedro’s Inn (Ambergris Caye, BZ): 3.5/5 Fun hostel with cheap, very basic but clean rooms, 2 pools, a restaurant/bar with delicious pizza, and an owner with a fondness for Jagermeister. It’s a bit of a walk into town through a poorly lit area.
  • ImageYuma’s House (Caye Caulker, BZ): 4.5/5 Colorful, cozy, laid back hostel with affordable dorms, private rooms and an ocean view. Restaurants and bars nearby (keep in mind the island is only 5-6 miles long)
  • ImageWindschief (Hopkins, BZ) 4.5/5: Big oceanfront cabanas with refrigerator and coffee maker.  Great view from the balconies. Owners are friendly and helpful and the beachside bar has great food.

Image

  • Deb and Dave’s Last Resort (Placencia, BZ) 3/5: Cheap, pretty basic hostel (with some decorative touches) a couple minutes walk from the beach. Rooms get a little hot at night.

Image

  • Westwind (Placencia, BZ): 3/5 Beachfront hotel with small rooms. Tied up guard dogs can get a bit overprotective (growled/lunged at me a  couple times before realizing I was a guest- apparently one was in heat). Great view from the shaded hammocks out front. Free kayak usage for guests. You can find better for less in Placencia.

Image

  • Roach Motel (Placencia, BZ) 1/5: I can’t remember the name of this hotel but there was a giant cockroach (that I named Greg) and we left immediately the next day. Actually had decent amenities but EW.
  • Julia’s Cabanas (Placencia, BZ) 4/5: The beachfront cabana has a balcony and an AMAZING view. The cabana was beginning to show it’s age but was clean and comfortable. And oh man, that view.

Image

  • Casa Rosada (Livingston, GT): 4/5 There is a reason this hotel is one of the most recommended in Livingston. Affordable. well designed private rooms (with shared baths that could be nicer) and seriously beautiful grounds. The restaurant serves great food and management is eager to help with booking trips to your next destination.

Image

  • Utopia Eco Hotel (Semuc Champey, GT): 2.5/5. This place is new and still working out the kinks. Very limited vegetarian meal options each day, open air dorms that prevent late night socializing in the common area and limited staff. Also, lots of bugs in my cabin ( to be fair it is in the jungle). But, the views are fantastic, and I met so many great people there. It has a lot of potential.

Image

  • La Sin Ventura (Antigua, GT): 3.5/5 Nicely decorated, relatively affordable (but slightly pricey for Guatemala) hotel in a central location a block from the square. Very clean, comfortable rooms but no wi-fi on the 3rd floor. Friendly staff and great views from the roof.

Image

  • Posada de los Volcanoes (Panajachel, GT): 4/5 Very clean, thoughtfully designed hotel. Good sized rooms with cable tv and slight lake view from balcony (top floor only). The free breakfast is very tasty. Still, you can find MUCH cheaper hotels on the lake.

Image

  • Hotel Aaculax (San Marcos la Laguna, GT) 5/5 Absolutely gorgeous but relaxed hotel with lush, fragrant grounds. You can tell thought was put into every single detail. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s worth staying one night here. Treat yo self.

Image

  • Hotel Pinnochio (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 3.5/5 Clean private room with lake view, hammock, “hot” shower and cable tv for 13 bucks? Not too shabby. Still, you can find better for cheaper in San Pedro.

Image

  • Casa Rolando (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 2/5 Great lake view and that’s where the merits end. Rooms are fine but the manager is creepy and the bathrooms have a “window” (read: hole in wall) that opens out to the balcony for everyone to hear. Wi-fi was down the entire two days.

Image

  • Hotel Fe (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 3.5/5 Shabby but cute rooms, free delicious breakfast, restaurant/bar across the street, cable tv (by request) and lake views. Owner can be a bit…surly but it’s a fun place to stay.

Image

  • Hotel Paraiso (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 2/5 Big rooms, mine had no view, decent wi-fi signal. You can stay in much nicer places in San P.
  • Casa Lola (San Pedro la Laguna, GT): 4.5/5 Clean, attractive hotel with large rooms with cable tv, heated showers and reliable wi-fi. Views are great from the balcony. My favorite hotel in San Pedro.
  • Puerta Vieja (San Cristobal de las Casas, MX): 4.5/5 Very clean (and new) trendily designed hostel with really comfortable beds. Large patio with fire pit out back. Owner is fun and encourages socializing. Great central location.
  • Hostel 3B (Playa Del Carmen, MX): 4/5 After walking around in the sweltering heat with heavy bags for (what felt like) hours looking at a bunch of dingy hostels, this place was like a mirage. Very cute, very clean, trendy hostel with thoughtful decorating touches. Beds are comfortable and the area is quiet at night. No wifi on the second floor (or at least not in the 12 bed female dorm). No alcohol allowed.
  • Hotel Acuario (Playa Del Carmen, MX) 4.5/5 Great hotel for the price. Large rooms with A/C, cable tv, kitchen amenities including refrigerator, and balcony (or patio). Small but nice clean pool. Friendly owners. And there is a turtle pond! Hotel is a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of touristy 5th ave.

Image

Today

Today is a big day for me, numerically speaking.

One day until we leave magical Lake Atitlan, now one of my favorite places in the world, after two unplanned weeks spent here.

One week until we fly back to the states after 81 days in Belize/Guatemala/Mexico

One month until I leave my 20s behind.

I have been neglecting this blog for reasons that don’t matter but today I was struck by the fact that so many goodbyes are impending in the next days, weeks and months.

Goodbye to wonderful new friends, goodbye to a region of the world that now feels like home, goodbye to a decade of way more ups than downs.

Yet I’m not (too) sad for these goodbyes. I’ve learned so much from all of them, and feel blessed to count them as part of my life journey. I’m also so excited to start the next chapter of my life- moving to a new state, beginning my 30s, starting grad school, reuniting with old friends, making new ones.

So I will spend the next day cherishing these new friends, the next week cherishing this region and the next month cherishing being able to say I’m in my 20’s.

Just kidding, I’ll be “26” until further notice.

20130619-091931.jpg
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

My travel survival guide: Conquering Montezuma

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a doctor. I have no medical qualifications whatsoever aside from my one-time ability to administer cough medicine to a screeching foster cat.

With that said, let’s talk about Montezuma’s revenge.

No? You’d rather not. Sorry this is happening.

Montezuma’s revenge, also known as Traveler’s Diarrhea, is not necessarily something that people want to talk about. For some reason, as a culture, discussing anything poop related makes many of us uncomfortable. This is especially true in regards to women.

I once dated a guy who was adamant about the fact that his ex girlfriend did not poop. She had told him this after all and he’d never seen her do it. I inquired if she was human or perhaps our first evidence of alien beings. I asked if she consumed food or subsisted solely on glitter and rainbows. Exasperated by my line of questioning, he ventered a guess. “Some girls just don’t…go”.

Our “relationship” ended shortly thereafter. I’d just had a big burrito, after all, and didn’t want to disappoint him.

20130605-123310.jpg
Let me just set the record straight. Barring any medical crisis or temporary blocking, we all poop. In fact whenever I’m feeling intimidated by someone, I remember this fact. It’s like picturing your audience naked-works wonders.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to Montezuma’s Revenge. According to Wikipedia, the trusted fact source of lazy bloggers, it is the most common ailment for travelers. Accordingly, an estimated 10 million people—20% to 50% of international travelers—develop it annually. That number actually sounds low. In my travels, I have not met one person who denied experiencing it. In fact, when traveling, rather than it being a taboo conversation, it can be an ice breaker. You talk about the country where you first got it, suggest remedies to the ailing person, laugh good-naturedly as they eye your meal with a mixture of sadness and repugnance.

I got it in Thailand. I’d been a vegetarian in the states but when I got to Thailand, within minutes I was eating balls of unidentified meat on sticks purchased from questionably hygienic street vendors with reckless abandon. It’s a wonder it only lasted a couple days.

I got it in Belize, too. But this time I had a secret weapon.

When preparing for the trip I remembered with zero fondness, the days of Montezuma that culminated in a filthy Bangkok train station bathroom in which toilets were slightly elevated holes on the ground.

Not wanting to relive that, I did some research on remedies. I read about all the old standards: pepto, immodium, cipro (which I had a preemptive Rx for, but the potential side effects never seemed worth it for me). Then I read about Oil of Oregano (OOO).

According to the article, OOO was anti-biotic, anti-fungal, anti-septic, anti-everything bad ever. The article was a bit questionable considering the URL was something along the lines of http://www.healthsupplements.realscience.buynow.com. Don’t click that. But the more I researched, visions of a dimly lit train station flashing in my mind, the more I became convinced that I needed to at least try it out.

The price tag was a bit less convincing: about 45 bucks for a bottle of gel caps at the health food store. But the employee helping me enthused about them so passionately and seemed so genuine that I decided to put the cash. By that I mean my mother paid for them.

When I got to Caye Caulker, Belize and that familiar rumbling and discomfort started, I popped a couple peptos, drank a lot of water and hoped for the best. But when it persisted, I finally popped an oil of oregano pill (along with a probiotic as recommended by the health food store guy). At that point I was still very skeptical.

But after an hour or so I felt completely better. My stomach was calm and undisturbed. I could eat without being within sprinting distance of a bathroom. I was amazed but did not rule out the possibility of a placebo effect.

But it happened again in San Ignacio: a day of food seeming to bypass my stomach completely. I popped a gel cap and within an hour Montezuma was gone.

In Placencia, I started to feel a cold come on. Almost as a joke, I took an OOO. It had been my miracle cure after all. The next day my symptoms had vanished. A fellow traveler, who had been experiencing the same early symptoms, was sick for days. (she declined the OOO-most people do. “Who is that creepy girl trying to push pizza pills?” I imagine them whispering)

20130605-120529.jpg
I did some more research and apparently it can be used for colds as well.

Now, I don’t want to sound like some kind of witch doctor (although I’ve read that they have their merit). OOO has worked wonders for me on this trip but that doesn’t mean it would work for you. Nor does it mean that it wasn’t just a coincidence that my ailments disappeared after taking some. That’s quite possible. But I know my body and I’m a believer.

Now we are in Guatemala and this morning Montezuma has returned with a vengeance (ok it’s really not that bad).

Little does she know, I’m ready for her.

Serious Person Disclaimer: I only take it if symptoms lasts more than a day and the water/pepto combo don’t work. Also, diarrhea can be life threatening so please call a doctor if it becomes severe.

Incredible Guatemala: Majestic Tikal

Dublin to Galway by train (1)

Last Saturday, Noelle, Jill and I took a guided tour of Tikal National Park to see the Mayan ruins. San Ignacio is only about 15 minutes from the Guatemalan border, so a day trip to Tikal is very do-able.
20130502-125621.jpg

Tikal by the numbers:
Number of hours from the border to the park: 2
Number of hours spent in park: 5
Number of hours before I was ready to leave park: 2
Number of monkeys spotted: 8 plus
Number of toucans spotted: 2
Number of times we came upon a ruin and I said “oh WOW”: 4
Number of times I realized how out of shape I am while climbing ruins: 2
Number of water bottles consumed: 3
Number of times our tour guide looked bored: Countless
Number of times I zoned out while guide was talking: Innumerable
Number of incredible photo ops: 17,245
Number of times an old Guatemalan woman tried to scam me out of correct change: 1

Tikal is amazing. Anyone who has been there will tell you that. But did I love the experience? Meh. Maybe if I had gone before visiting ATM I would have been more blown away. But it was hot, our guide was clearly not interested in being there, and I just didn’t feel connected to the experience like I did to ATM. However, I completely understand why it’s considered a must-do for travelers to the region, especially history buffs. The ruins are immense and majestic. The breathtaking panoramic view from the top of the Jaguar ruins was almost worth the trip alone.
20130502-130126.jpg

If our guide had had even an ounce of passion or excitement, it may have been a more enjoyable experience. He did at least point out every single monkey. And god do I love monkeys.
20130502-130546.jpg

Go to Tikal. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, even if you’re like me and get bored after a couple hours. I’d initially considered doing an overnight trip but a day trip was more than enough ruins for me.

Wear comfortable shoes, high SPF sunscreen, bring a couple frozen bottles of water and a fully charged camera.

Long-term traveler tip: one huge benefit of going to Tikal was it ended up being an unintentional visa run. Belize only grants visitors a 30 day stay (unlike most Central American countries which give you 90 days). Thus I was going to have to apply for an extension. Luckily. upon our return, the guy at immigration treated me like I was new to Belize and gave me another 30 days. (Typically for a visa run you have to be out of the country for a few days). You might get lucky as well.

So, in the end I got a visa extension and a few dozen cool pictures.

20130502-125324.jpg20130502-125341.jpg20130502-125353.jpg20130502-125412.jpg20130502-125431.jpg20130502-125442.jpg20130502-125455.jpg20130502-125509.jpg20130502-125527.jpg20130502-125551.jpg20130502-125601.jpg20130502-125609.jpg

20130502-130945.jpg
And I finally saw monkeys, guys. MONKEYS.