Monday, December 23, 2013

Cartagena & Taganga (06.12.2013 - 13.12.2013)

After the first night in Cartagena my brother Joël and his buddy Patrick (not the same as in Cuba and Mexcio) joined us. We strolled through the old colonial town and ate some lovely although pricy ceviche. We didn't visit the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas as they wanted 8USD for it, we just made a picture from the outside and headed on ;)
The next day we took a bus up the coast to Santa Marta, another "little colombian town" as our cab driver told us. Only one million inhabitants ;) We soon found out that the dive shop Patrick contacted in advance wasn't in Santa Marta itself but in a little fishing village called Taganga, 20 minutes by taxi away. A much nicer place to stay compared to Santa Marta.
So Patrick was busy the next days with the PADI Open Water course and Joël, Melanie and I relaxed on the beach in the bay ;)
One day we went diving to see Patrick in action ;) Sadly the visibility was quite poor and the water was freeeeezzzzing even though we where wearing a long wetsuit. Ice diving compared to the warm waters of Utila =/ Nevertheless we saw some nice fishes.
The day after we got talked into visiting the bay "next door" which supposed to be even "better". A short boat ride later we landed in a place packed with locals and one little restaurant next the other serving the same deep fried fishes. As we where hungry we asked for the menu and they showed up with a plate of fresh caught fish. Sadly two of them where Parrotfish! Offended we ordered just some soup with rice and fries...
To get to our next destination, Caracas, we split up to meet again two days later. Joël and Patrick took a shuttle to the airport in Cartagena where they caught a flight to Bogota to stay for two nights. Melanie and I took an overnight bus to Caracas...


Monday, December 9, 2013

Puerto Lindo, San Blas and sailing to Colombia (28.11.2013 - 05.12.2013)

To get from Panama to Colombia we decided to take one of the many sailing boats which run this route. After some confusion where our boat would depart we headed to Puerto Lindo on the caribbean side. So we took the Panama Canal Railway which runs mostly along the canal all the way to Colon. Colon itself is another rundown, ugly, criminal caribbean city, nothing to see or do here. After a bumpy bus ride we arrived in Puerto Lindo, not so lindo at all. The next day we headed to Isla Grande, just down the road. A nice little beach, some sunken rusty boats and cheap beer. Nice!
The following day we spent with the rest of the passenger waiting to board our catamaran. Our captain was Fabian from Sailing Koala and the boat was called Nacar II. We were in total 16 people on the boat. Captain, cook, three couples from Australia, a couple from London, the Marsh brothers from Canada, a New Yorker, a Sweede and the two of us. The boat was quite cramped, with three people sleeping in the saloon and another on deck under the tarpaulin with the captain. The girl which acted as cook and helping hand was friendly and nice. Sadly she overcooked all the pasta and most of the dishes were quite bland. We guessed she didn't taste the meat dishes as she's a vegetarian...
The crossing from Puerto Lindo to the archipelago of San Blas was quite rough. With most of the passenger getting seasick, but not Melanie. Once arrived between the little islands the sea calmed down and we could go for a swim and visit the tiny coconut islands. The islands are inhabited by the Kuna Indians, where the woman still wear their traditional dresses but the men have taken to western clothing: board shorts, singlets and "golden Rolex" watches. A strange combination. Sadly many of these islands are littered with garbage, some from the indians itself but most of it marine debris washed ashore. 
After two and a half day in the archipelago we entered open sea to cross over to Colombia. The sea wasn't as wavy as on the first day, still some passengers were quite occupied with themselves. The rest of us passed the time reading, playing board and card games or just watching the horizon. Around 40 hours and some visiting dolphins later we sighted the skyline of Cartagena and not much later we had firm ground under our feet again!


Panama City (15.11.2013 - 27.11.2013)

We took a chicken bus from Boquete to David and from there a direct bus all the way to Panama City. Luna's Castle didn't have any rooms free so we stayed at Panamericana for the first night. The next day we moved to Los Mostros for one night and then to Hostal Urraca for two nights. The rooms were all either cramped, dorms or expensive. So we finally ended up at Luna's Castle with a dark and loud room until we could move to another which had a window and was just loud ;)

Panama City was the first and only city in central america which had a proper skyline. But we preferred the old part, Casco Viejo. Although it started to be really developed and most of the bars and restaurants where quite pricy. The old town was nice with its crumbling colonial buildings and the bust of the french developer/madmen Ferdinand de Lesseps who started the Canal adventure.

Melanie's main attraction were of course the malls, I had to endure all of them ^^ They where huge, one was where an airport is on my old Lonley Planet ;) We stumbled past these temples of consumerism! Of course we had to visit the cinema, no crying babies this time though. 

In my opinion the canal was the best part in Panama City. I just finished my book about how first the french and then the americans endured the hardship of this endeavour. Next year the canal will celebrate this 100th year anniversary. But you have to keep in mind that the french started digging already in 1881 with a lot of spirit but crude technics and a plan for a canal at sea level which was never feasible and bound to fail from the beginning. 
So we visited the Miraflores locks to see how tanker and container ships where lowered to the pacific. To steady the ships they are connected to four to eight "electric mules". The maximum size for a ship to pass the locks is 13 containers width, with not much space left and right.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Restaurante Bocart, Bocas del Toro

If you ever go to Bocas del Toro, plan a visit at restaurant Bocart!
This nice relatively new little restaurant is close to the center of Bocas at the main drinking and food mile. The team at Bocart is very friendly, attentive and it is obviously that they love good and creative food.
A main course costs around 11-15$ and is worth every penny! They always offer different daily specials which is for sure a good choice.


Raw Sushi, Bocas del Toro

If you like sushi you are in very good hands at Raw Sushi right in the center of Bocas. Its a beautiful restaurant / bar with tables right at the sea an really good music. The food doesn't only look good, it's also really delicious and the team seems to have fun at work.
From 4pm to 6pm they have happy hour: 1 sushi roll 4$ and a beer 1$ (try the Soberana beer - fits well even with sushi).

Hostel Heike, Bocas del Toro

A realy good location right next to the park in Bocas del Toro is Hostel Heike. It is one of the older places in town (Marcial stayed here six years ago). The rooms are clean and really simple, but don't expect daylight. They have a kitchen you can use and every morning free coffee, tee and pancakes. There is also a beautiful comfortable rooftop terrace with plants, lounge chairs and hammocks. A bed at the dorm costs around 8$, a private room with shared bathroom is 22$.

Cabinas Riverside, Cahuita

The location from Cabinas Riverside is superb, just one minute walk from the national park entrance and one block away from the main drag. There is also a chines supermarket just around the corner.
I liked the laidback vibe of this place, with the garden and the hammocks. You can see and hear the wildelife, it's like staying at the national park. Cabinas Riverside hase double rooms for 23$ and rooms with kitchen for 25$. We stayed at the apartment on top with a huge kitchen, living room, eating area and two bedrooms, a balcony and a terrace with a hammock and great wifi for 30$ a night. It was great - like a home away from home.

Into Panama, Bocas del Torro and Boquete (09.11.13 - 14.11.13)

From Puerto Viejo we took a bus down to the border crossing into Panama. Six years ago there was only the old railroad bridge which pedestrians had to share with trucks and cars. Now there is another bridge for vehicles and they even fixed the huge gaping hole in the railing where a truck/car must have plunged into the river.
After proving we would leave the country again by showing them an email (which could have come from anybody ;)) we got our passports stamped. Having some time and Tico Colones left we visited the Duty Free store! ^^ How can a 1l bottle of Jägermeister only cost 13$ in the middle of nowhere in central america?! We bought some rum (7 year old Centenario), red whine (from Chile) and as many beers we could get for our Colones. Sadly the only cold beer was some shit american brand, why?
After a shuttle and fast boat ride we arrived in Bocas del Torro. There has been quite some change since I got my PADI Open Water certification here six years ago. The many chinese run super markets (I counted 7 in the main street o_O) for example or the multi storey hotels and apartments for example.
As it has been a while since we've been diving we booked a two-tank-dive ^^ which took us out to The Caves. It had some nice rock formation but not much aquatic life besides the millions of fireworms. Also the visibility was quite poor due to the heavy rains in the night before. But the second dive was even worse! Our inexperienced divemaster swam away from us multiple times, getting lost and we had to surface to find her again... She swam over flounders (which she has never seen before she told us later o_O), scorpion fish, baby lion fish (sadly no spear at hand), nudibranches, cleaner shrimps and lobsters. Not everyone gets the good education of Underwater Vision it seems ;)
The next two days was more or less all rain so the trip to the beach never happend and we left. A boat and taxi ride later we found us perched into a local bus and shouted at by a the co-driver. Him being cross-eyed didn't help and none of the passenger knew who he was talking/shouting to. During the almost five hours we wished we would have taken the direct-tourist-shuttle for twice the price... In David we changed into a proper Chicken Bus™which was first class in comparison. Our accommodation in Boquete turned out to have a hot jacuzzi! This was quite welcomed as the temperature was in the sweater-at-night region. The exertions of the previous day took its toll and we more or less slept away the whole day. Again the rainy weather discouraged to do any tours and the steep prices didn't help either. So we relaxed and I did some research on what to do once we get home - I have some ideas ;)

Minion on the old railway bridge

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Along the carribean coast, Cahuita & Puerto Viejo (02.11.2013 - 08.11.2013)

From Tortuguero we took a boat which runs down to Puerto Limon and then a little shuttle to Cahuita. After wandering around we found a nice place just next to the cabinas I stayed around 6 years ago. They seemed abandoned and the owner of our place told us it has been like this since a couple of years. Seems a shame.

In Cahuita we didn't do much besides chilling in our nice apartment or on the beach next to the national park ;) Having our own kitchen again was great! We only planned to stay two nights but in the end we spent five nights there.

From Cahuita we took a local bus down south to Puerto Viejo. On the way Minion almost fell out of the bus! A brave man jumped to his rescue and could grab him by his ankle. Shocking moments for everyone!
In Puerto Viejo we wandered around but ended up with a shabby shack, so we left again the next day!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tortugero (31.10.2013 - 01.11.2013)

After two days in the big city we headed by public bus to La Pavona to catch the boat to Tortuguero. This small village in the middle of a huge national park can only be reached by boat or airplane. On the fantastic ride through the jungle we have seen river turtles, a crocodile, plenty of different birds and beautiful flora.
The round 700 citizens live primarily from the ecotourism around the national park. The park has a rich biological diversity and is one of the most important places for the green turtles in the caribbean. Once reached adulthood they come back every year to lay their eggs, one the same beach they were born.
We were lucky enough to see two days in a row how around 40 green baby-turtles made their way out of the nest into the ocean! You can see that spectacle before sunrise or after sunset, when the black volcano sand is not to hot anymore.
In our opinion it is way better to see the baby-turtles than to make the organised tour at night were you can see how the big ones lay their eggs. From 6pm to 6am the park is closed and you only can go in with a guide.

Also a recommended thing to do in Tortuguero is a canoe tour. But don't book a tour with one of the motor boats, you can see and especially hear much more with the other ones! Also important ask around, the prices are very different and ask if the park ticket (10$) is included.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Hostal El Momento, Granada

Hostel Granada Nicaragua - El Momento

In the center of Granada, two minutes from the park lies this very beautiful hostel El Momento. In a 400 year old colonial house you find a real oasis, quite, friendly, clean with beautiful interior. The hostel has a bar/restaurant, a lounge area, a rooftop and quite good internet.
A night in the dorm cost 8$ a private room 14$-36$, a very good value so. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

By boat into Costa-Rica (29.10.2013 - 31.10.2013)

We had decided to leave Nicaragua by crossing the huge Lago de Nicaragua, 40 times as big as lake constance between Germany and Switzerland.
In the early afternoon we boarded the ferry and just 15 hours later, we arrived in San Carlos on the other side. During the ride we had a clear view of the surrounding volcanos, the sunset and sunrise. Definitely a great way to head into Costa-Rica! The boat stopped three times to load and unload goods in the middle of the night. But we had our comfy sun chairs and even got some sleep. 
After hanging around for 4 hours in San Carlos we could get our passports stamped and board the little river boat which would take us upstream into Costa-Rica. The journey upriver was dotted by trees laden with birds, little houses/shacks, howler monkeys in the trees and the odd turtle slipping back into the muddy river. In Costa-Rica we caught a bus and a miserable hot 4 hour ride later we ended up in Ciduad Quesada, which everybody calls San Carlos. There seem to be only about 30 different town names in all of central america... Another 2 hour ride, express this time, we arrived in San Jose. 
A refreshing shower later we splurged on the argentinean restaurant next to our Hostal Van Gogh. A wonderful tenderloin to forget all the deep fried pollo, rice and beans, tacos and all the other maize based things. Central america isn't a place you visit for it's food...
After a healthy breakfast cooked by our host we headed of to visit the different parques and plazas. We even did some shopping: I have now two pair of shorts again, the other reeked so bad I couldn't wear them anymore ^^. 
Of course there was time to stop and have a cold Imperial, it has been a while since the last ;)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Volcano Boarding, Leon

Bigfoot Hostel & Volcano boarding

Leon is a nice little town and famous for the volcano boarding. Bigfoot was the first shop who offered this adventure and is probably the best organised one.
The view from the top of the black gravel volcano is phenomenal! This volcano spew the last time in 1999 and you can still see fumes in the crater.
For 25$ they transport you to the volcano, get you a board, a fancy orange overall and a cool beer after the crazy ride. They have a laser speed gun, so you know how fast you were! The record is 93km/h for boys and 91km/h for girls. The fastest per day get a free night at their sister hostel at las Penitas.
Bigfoot offers daily tours and leave at 9am. It's not necessary to stay with them to go volcano boarding.
In case of an emergency...
Marcial was the fastest of the day with 69km/h

Leon and Granada (22.10.2013 - 28.10.2013)

In Leon we stayed in the recommended Bigfoot Hostel, the hostel which started the volcano boarding madness. Being the lazy kind we postponed this and went to the beach first ;) Seeing the power of the pacific again was quite a difference to the calm caribbean sea we had on our doorstep in Utila.
After a day of rest and sightseeing we jumped on the truck and headed to the Cerro Negro for some volcano boarding. Our two guides equipped each of us with some protective goggles, an orange jumpsuit and a board/sled after arriving in the national park around the volcano. It took us about an hour to climb Cerro Negro, including some stops for rest, water and taking pictures. From the top it looked quite scary, our bright orange truck just a tiny speck in the moon like landscape below. Our driver had a laser speed gun, so the competition was on! Having been on a sled since a little kid I expected to break my neck on such a steep and long decent. But of course, gravel doesn't slide as good as snow and ice and the speed wasn't was as crazy as expected. The gravel, dust and dirt hitting you in the face where another story though. Having braked at the beginning I only ended up with 69km/h, still the fastest of the day, wohoo!
The next day we left for Granada, the big rival city of Leon. A bumpy ride and stop-over in Managua, another ugly central-american capital, later we entered the colonial city of Granada. Sadly our first choice of hostel was booked out and the next three options where quite disappointing. So we ended up at Hostel Oasis, which turned out to be quite nice! 
Feeling entitled to another day of rest we headed to the Laguna de Apoyo. The lake inside an old volcano was recommended to us by a young couple we met on the bus from Honduras into Nicaragua. We spent the day relaxing in the hammock or sun chair, swimming in the lake or just hanging in the water in one of the tire tubes. 
Of course we had to visit the old colonial town and do some sightseeing. Having access to a kitchen we cooked a decent meal and had some leftovers for our big sea adventure the next day. 

La Merced - Granada

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Friends - Cass & Cam

On our travels we meet many other like minded people on big journeys as well. As a reminder for us and to give you the chance of more travel stories and pictures we will list them here. 

We met Cassie and Cameron on Utila at Underwater Vision. They where fellow dive masters in training and had the apartment right next to us. This of course meant many crazy parties and awesome dives together! The two Aussies left the island shortly after us but returned at the beginning of the year to work as dive masters at Underwater Vision.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Leaving Utila and entering Nicaragua (20.10.2013 - 22.10.2013)

To get to Tegucigalpa you would have to take the ferry to La Ceiba, a bus to San Pedro Sula, stay a night there and then leave early the next morning to arrive in the evening in Tegu.
Another option is to take the plane, which we did! At around twice the price of the ferry-bus-overnight-stay-bus combo we had the opportunity to see Utila and Roatan from our tiny airplane ^^
The airport is just a strip of concrete and a little shack. There are some army guys sitting around but besides a senorita walking around with a piece of paper and checking if our name was on it there was no security procedure. Thats how flying is supposed to be! 
Sadly the more developed Roatan, where we did a stop-over, wasn't as relaxed and they confiscated my swiss army knife and the rest of the rum I had in my backpack! Really uncool... =(
After arriving in Tegu we took a cab into town and stayed in a run down hotel in the city centre. The centre didn't look any better during the day but at least we could do some shopping. I have proper shoes again ;)
The next day we took a TransNica bus across the border into Nicaragua. We hopped of in Estreli as the bus continued directly to Managua. Estreli was again a poor/dirty/rundown town where the only thing you could by on the streets was plastic crap and cellphones... Some food/fruit would have been nice.
So we left for Leon!


Friday, October 25, 2013

Underwater Vision, Utila

Utila has plenty of different dive shops, our choice was Underwater Vision one of the biggest dive shops on the island.
The shop has a bar/restaurant (always look for the daily special), hammocks and a volleyball field. All the staff are kind of a family, so be open and they will welcome you.
Underwater Vision offer all courses from Open Water until Instructor and higher. Every course includes a few days free accommodations otherwise you can stay in the dorm for 5 bucks a night. All prices and details about the courses and more can be found online.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rio Coco Cafe, Utila

Rico Coco Cafe is a small Coffee shop close to Underwater Vision run by a very friendly american couple. She bakes every day different fresh cakes, muffins an other delicious things - my advice, try the chocolate cake! And most important, they have the best internet on the island!
The Rio Coco Cafe is part of an no profit organisations, witch run's schools along the river Coco in Nicaragua.

Utila (30.08.2013 - 19.10.2013)

Melanie and I had thought about doing the divemaster training (DMT) for a while now. As our divemasters/instructors in Mexico told us about Utila, one of the cheapest places on earth to do the DMT, we decided to check it out.
Both of them, Nathan and P-O, recommended Underwater Vision to us, so thats were we headed first and got stuck ;)
During the training we were treated as part of the team, helping and assisting the instructors. We had to perform certain workshops, trainings, skills and exams. Most of it was done assisting on Open Water, Advanced Open Water and Rescue Courses. Also if there was free space on the boat we could just go fun diving! ^^ All in all, including the time we assisted, we did ♂ 55 / ♀43 dives. Including a couple night dives! =)
The first three weeks of accommodation were included afterwards we moved to a little flat right next to the dive shop. Having a kitchen again was great, we could cook some decent meals and save a bit of money. The army guys staying below us were a bit scary though, waving their assault rifles around before they would go on patrol on their golf cart. And of course we had some crazy neighbours, Cas & Cam ;)
Our daily routine would depend if we would go out with the morning or afternoon boat. Morning boat meant helping loading the tanks and setting up the gear at 6:15 (THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGTH!) So mostly not much party on the night before. The afternoon boat would leave around 12:30, loading meant being there half an hour earlier. Of course this is still a 3rd world country, a power cut usually delayed the filling of the tanks and therefore the boat ;)
Internet was unusable at our home and not much better at the dive shop. Which made us regular customer at Rio Coco, a coffee shop with the best internet connection on the island! =)
Nightlife would usually evolve around the same places and bars. Tequila tuesday would lure all to Tranquilla Bar (why?!). If we had a group of students getting certified we headed mostly to Skid Row Bar to do the Guifitiy Challenge. For which you had to drink 4 shots of cheap rum which was spiced with all kinds of "healthy" herbs. After the first 3 shots you had to take off your shirt, do 20 spins in the street in front of the bar (luckily there is next to no traffic ^^), drink the last shot, do some laps around the pool table and then choose one of the singlets. Other classics on the island were Rehab Bar or Treetanic.

As Utila is part of the Bay Islands, where the inhabitants descend from english pirates, woodcutters and slaves the main language is english, of some sorts. Which took quite a toll on our spanish =(

Thursday, September 12, 2013

If You Come To Utila

If your wondering what we are up to at the moment ;)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Entering Honduras (28.08.2013 - 30.08.2013)

As we were running out of time (hehe) we decided we've seen enough and skip the rest of El Salvador. So we took a shuttle and many immigration stamps later we made it to Honduras. The lovely town of Copan Ruinas (that is really the name of it) is famous for its, you guessed it, ruins. As we only wanted to stay two night's we had to choose between hot springs and more mayan ruins. So we went bathing ^^
We had a lovely day soaking in the hot pools and left early the next morning. Really early for Melanie ;). The bus took us to San Pedro Sula, which is supposed to be the most dangerous city in the world. But nobody bothered us or our Piñata at the bus stop ;). Another bus and then a ferry ride took us to Utila... more to come!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lets go mobile!

Note on our own behalf: I finally found time to build a mobile version of our blog. If you visit it with your mobile device it will ask you if it should take you to the new version. As always this is still a work in progress, let me know if something doesn't work. So far I tested it on my WP8 and Melanies iPhone.

Hi five!

Monday, September 9, 2013

La Sombra, Playa el Tunco

La Sombra in el Tunco is definitely a good choice! They have different rooms from 7USD/CHF for the dorm (where the toilet spits back at you when you flush) to private rooms with bathroom up to 25 USD/CHF. As always you can negotiate a better price if you stay longer.
There is a small pool & a kitchen that everyone can use, a good opportunity to save money and meet people. The only negative thing was the drain which had an awful smell!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

El Salvador (14.08.2013 - 28.08.2013)

When Melanie landed back in Guatemala I was waiting for her with a little present, a Minion Piñata! Since then he has been travelling with us ^^
To get to El Salvador in comfort and style we booked a seat on one of the first class coaches. After chicken busses and cramped shuttles this was quite an upgrade. Big comfy seats like in the business class of an airplane, a proper meal, spotty internet over wifi and two good movies on the multimedia system. We arrived late at night in San Salvador and didn't see much of the city (besides the many armed guards) as we left the next morning for the pacific coast. Thats how we ended up in Playa El Tunco. A sleepy beach town with not much to do besides surfing and chilling out. In our hostel we met Danica & Joël and Marco, all three from Switzerland. So our plan to avoid our fellow citizens failed completely ;)

We tried our luck at surfing again and had our previous experience confirmed: its exhausting ;)
From surfing the net about possibilities in El Salvador back in Antigua I had stumbled upon a guy offering moto and quad tours. As it turned out he was based just a couple of minutes away from were we where staying. When Joël and Marco heard of my plans they where aboard immediately. So we shot Guillermo a message and he came and picked us up. After arriving at his finca/shed/shack we geared up and got a first lesson in driving a quad with manual transmission. As none of us has driven a big bike before he was reluctant to give us one of the dirt bikes =/ So we headed out by quad first. After a while my quad died on me, it could only go at 10-20% speed which you had to apply carefully or it would choke and die. As I didn't had the feeling for this Guillermo traded his dirt bike against my quad. Wohoo, finally some bike action. Later we stopped at a nice little restaurant in the mountains for lunch.
One of us went back to this place the other day on his little scooter, just to watch a soccer game, which he missed and then got stuck up there and had to leave his scooter and then spent a lot of money and time to get it back. It wasn't Joël ;)
Guillermo fixed my quad and we headed back to his place where he would finally let all of us have a go on his dirt bikes. Which was super fun! As my GoPro I had taken along was full we headed down to our hostel where we showed off in our moto gear on our dirt bikes ^^ After grabbing my camera we headed back up into the hills/moutains for a final photo session. He had three different sized motos: 80cc, 125cc and 250cc. As I had driven the 250cc earlier I started of with it but soon we exchanged bikes. The 80cc was just a little more than a pocket bike! It was super fun to drive around, with your knees sticking out on the side and your feet touching the tarmac in the corners ^^

Danica & Joël had met a Marcial before on their travel and he has a house up in the hills overlooking El Tunco. So we invited ourself to a BBQ at his place ^^

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wallpapers of the World - San Christobal de las Casas

During our travel we encounter places/objects/views which turn out to be awesome wallpapers! We would like to share them with you.

First to show is a huge graffiti wall we saw in San Cristóbal de las Casas. We couldn't make out a tag, so we don't know to who the honor goes. With the help of TinEye we found the possible creator of this street art, kudos to Liqen!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wallpapers of the World - Antigua

On a random street in Antigua I found these brick walls, enjoy!

Wallpapers of the World - Boqueron

The inside of the little canoe we rented to go up river at Boqueron next to Rio Dulce presented itself as a wallpaper. All the scratches and the layers of different greens, nice!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sailing on Las Sirenas to the Cays of Belize (27.07.2013 - 05.08.2013)

After Melanie left for Switzerland I had two more days in Antigua before heading back north to Rio Dulce. After another night at Hotel Kangaroo I could board the sailing boat which would be my home for the next week. Las Sirenas is an old 46 feet (14m) long Polynesian catamaran, designed by James Wharram. My cabin or should I say coffin was in the stern of the starboard hull. It was quite small but cozy and I didn't plan on staying below deck besides the nights. All the food and drinking water was included, beers and soda where on the honesty system. But I was prepared and had two bottles of rum with me ^^
Everyone would get a plastic bottle of fresh water a day to shower/rinse. This wasn't a super luxurious cruise, but I didn't mind.
As companions for this trip I had a israeli couple (hello Mor & Itai ^^), a girl from belgium, a american/south african Witness of Jehovah couple (aeh...) and the owner with his wife and two boys. The crew consisted of the captain, a deckhand and a cook.
After lifting the anchor we sailed out into El Golfete where we stayed for the first night. Early the next morning we would cross the canyons and stop at Livingston to get our passports stamped. As it was quite windy the captain decided not to cross over to the cays the same day. So we anchored protected behind the peninsula in the bay of Amatique. The next day I woke up as we were already out in the open sea on our way to the Cays of Belize. Soon after a school of dolphins showed up and escorted us for the next 20 minutes. We arrived before midday but the carribean work ethic hindered us to get our passport stamped, the official wasn't around. So we set sail for the tiny island of Tom Owens Caye where we could go snorkelling and diving. As it was the last dive of the day it wasn't really deep and spectacular dive.
So we tried our luck again the next morning. This time they would allow me to help them spearfish the invasive Lionfish. The divemaster (as it was a girl is it called a divemistress?!) and I got about ten each when a nurseshark showed up and expressed interest in our spears and the bag with our catch. But after sniffing on the spearheads he departed into the deep blue again.
After the dive our captain took us back to the first island to get our immigration done and then we left for another reef. They called the place we anchored the White Reef, a sandy area surrounded by a circular reef. As it was quite shallow (0.5 - 2m) it was a great place to go snorkelling! We would stay there for two nights and do nothing besides swimming in the open sea, spearfishing, snorkelling or go out with one of the kayaks/surfboards.

I tried my luck on spearfishing there and got a nice catch, around 40cm long! The spears we would use are called a hawaiian sling. Its a spear with a rubber band at the back which you would stretch and then let go. You can't shoot really far, so you have to get quite close!
While snorkelling I saw sting rays, eagle rays, barracudas and we had a nurse shark visiting our boat. The fish innards from our catches probably helped ;)
Our captain would go out to spearfish everyday, so we had fresh fish all the time! And by the end of the trip he had caught enough lobsters for all of us. So we had a awesome lobster meal!
The time passed way to quickly and we were already on our way back. After a quick stop at Livingston for the paperwork we sailed up the canyon and ended up anchoring close to Rio Dulce.
The next day we got dropped of and I called Gary to pick me up again so I could spend two more nights in the swamp ;)

Hotel Kangaroo, Rio Dulce

I ended up staying three times in this lovely place. Once with Melanie and before and after my sailing trip.
Gary, the australian owner, built himself a nice jungle/swamp retreat. He rents out a couple of cabins and private rooms and has a dorm under the thatched roof. As you are literally in the middle of the swamp don't expect good internet connection and also the power may go out (which just makes it more cozy). His mexican wife/girlfriend runs a restaurant with typical dishes, so you wont go hungry. There are kayaks for rent to explore the surroundings, but we never found time for it. Too much to do with relaxing and chilling on the tub ;)

We think we paid around 20 USD/CHF for the private room and 8 USD/CHF for the dorm, but its a while ago so use with precaution.

Tip: Bring our own booze, Gary wont mind!

Rio Dulce and Livingston (20.07.2013 - 23.07.2013)

Arriving in Rio Dulce we were picked up by Gary, the owner of Hotel Kangaroo. 5 to 10 minutes boat ride later we arrived in a side arm/swamp of the river were the hotel lies. We were just settled in when the three canadians showed up as well ;)
So the next day the five of us and another french canadian couple (seems to be holiday season there) headed to Finca Paraiso. For a small fee you can go swimming in the cold river into which a waterfall fed by hot springs plunges. You could dive behind the waterfall which felt like being in a steam bath. Most of us (hint, hint ^^) jumped the waterfall, but Nic really couldn't get enough of it.
After a while the river was getting crowded by guatemalans so we decided to head on to Boqueron. There we had to pay some locals so they would take us up the narrow and high canyon by boat. The steep cliffs were quite a sight. After a while they dropped us off and we continued on foot as far as possible. Jonathan, Nic and I then tried to swim upriver against the current. It took us forever for just a short stretch and we were (at least I was) quite exhausted afterwards ;)

The next day we headed downriver to Livingston on the caribbean coast. First we took a peek at the fort close to Rio Dulce. It was once built to hinder any Pirates of sailing any further up river and harass local settlements.
On the way downriver we would pass through some nice canyons, some in form of steep cliffs and other totally overgrown with vegetation.
Livingston itself turned out to be a typical caribbean town. Rundown wooden shacks with rusty corrugated roofs. The inhabitants of this town are a mix of freed black slaves, pirates and other early white settlers. We tried the typical (read touristy) local garifuna dish of tapado. A soup of coconut milk, whole crab and whole deep fried fish. It was not that bad, but in my opinion the cook is just lazy and throws everything unpeeled in a pot ;)

Finca Ixobel (17.07.2013 - 19.07.2013)

Looking for a place to split the trip down south to Rio Dulce we stumbled upon Finca Ixobel. Next to the town of Poptun lies this finca which sports some dorms, private rooms and a camp ground with tree houses! A big group of tourist-guide-students from Guatemala City had most of them reserved, we were lucky to get the last of the standard tree houses. The standard version is basically a wooden box on stilts with a bed, mosquito net and a candle, there is no electricity. The deluxe version has power and even a private bath downstairs.

In the evening they opened the bar next to the swimming pond. We were quite tired and soon went back to our cabin to go to sleep. But on the way to the bathroom we changed our mind. Thats how we ended up in the bar with our tooth brushes ^^
The evening turned out to be quite fun! The group of french canadians staying in the dorm were already starting to dance with the guatemalan girls. Some of these girls were well drunk and overweight, so the attempts on the dancing pole were quite entertaining.

The next day we did a horseback trip around the huge farm. Melanies first time on a horse ;)

We paid around 12 USD/CHF for our rustic suite.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flores and Tikal (13.07.2013 - 16.07.2013)

The lovely old town of Flores lies on a island in the Lago Peten Itza. We wanted to stay at Los Amigos but there was no place left so we had to settle with a shitty place for the first night and could switch the day after. Which was super decision!

After a day off to relax from the uncomfortable mini-bus ride we did a Tikal-Sunrise-Tour. Which meant we had to get up at 3 in the morning! On the way to the ruins we had the luck to spot a jaguar crossing the street. Arriving at the ruins we climbed temple IV (four) to wait for the sunset. We were all sitting there and listening to the jungle waking up. We could hear howler monkeys and dozens of birds chattering away. We waited and waited and the night turned to day but sadly there was no sunrise to observe as it was too cloudy. But nevertheless we enjoyed the view, which George Lucas used for the landing of the millenium falcon on Yavin 4 in Star Wars IV. 
We walked around in this huge area with dozens of temples to visit. Some temples you can't climb anymore because of a deadly accident, but the guards enforcing this only start working at 8 in the morning. So our guide asked us if we wanted to climb the pyramid and we didn't hesitated ^^
Around the many temples the jungle thrives with wildlife, we saw spider monkeys, toucans, tarantulas, foxes, some kind of wild turkey and some silly long nosed mammals. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Holistico Hostel, Antigua

After our first night in the disappointing Black Cat Hostel we switched to this relaxed place. The staff was friendly, there is a roof top terrace, nice courtyard full of plants and you get free water, coffee and tea.

We paid 12 USD/CHF for our private room with shower.

PS: First time there was a reliable internet connection in guatemala, hooray! ;)

Antigua and Semuc Champey (09.07.2013 - 12.07.2013)

We reached Antigua in one of the many tourist shuttle busses which dropped us off in the city center. After having found a place to stay (which we changed for the second night) we went to wander around this old town with its many half demolished buildings/churches. We saw a poster about O.X. an adventure tour operator and headed there inquire about one of the many volcano tours. Sadly the next overnight tour would only depart 3 days later. So we decided to do the downhill bike tour the next day. Which was awesome! They took the two of us and a young american couple (kids basically ^^) up the mountain on a pick up truck. From there we had to ride maybe half an hour more or less uphill through villages and corn fields. The downhill part that started there was exciting and you could get quite some speed. Just beware of the farmers coming uphill :) After arriving in a little town the guide told us we could grab a little local shuttle bus to get up hill again, for not even a doller each. The americans had enough but the two of us didn't ^^

The next day we headed up north to Coban, where we had dinner at one of the many food stalls which are parked around the main plaza in the evening. All the stalls sell/server the same menu, not so entrepreneurial...
The day after we visited Semuc Champey. These lime stone kind of waterfalls and pools are of a awesome colour and quite some fun to splash around! We did the steep climb up the viewpoint first, the view was definitely worth the exhaustion. Swimming in the pools afterward was even more refreshing that way.

Around Lago Atilan (06.07.2013 - 08.07.2013)

In Xela we decided to go to San Pedro la Laguna an not directly to Panajachel. So we took again a Chicken Bus through the mountains down super steep and narrow roads. Always a good feeling if the bus has to back up to get around a corner with just a narrow border before the deep plunge...

San Pedro is a little laid back town on the Lago Atilan. We stayed at Mr. Mullets just around the corner of the docks, a really nice place. The lake is surrounded by (inactive) volcanoes, quite a sight! We went kayaking and swimming and enjoyed the great view. The first evening we stayed in San Pedro was some kind of local festival going on. We joined the few guatemalans which where dancing in front of the stage. Around three-quarter of the spectators where only standing around, supposedly their church doesn't allow them to dance...

To go to Pana we took one of the many ferries on the lake. Pana itself was a little busier and more touristic than San Pedro, which we preferred more.

Black Cat Hostel, Quetzaltenango/Xela

We found this place only by accident but loved it on first sight. The friendly staff will serve you at the bar/restaurant and there is a lovely courtyard.

We paid around 30USD/CHF for our private room with shower and hot water! ;)

PS: Avoid the Black Cat Hostel in Antigua! Smelly tiny rooms, dirty toilets and showers. Doesn't really live up to its sibling in Xela...

Get some sweets - San Christobal de las Casas

La Vina de Bacco, San Christobal de las Casas

This tiny wine bar/restaurant right on the main shopping strip/pedestrian street is wonderful! The staff is super friendly and always brings you nice little snacks, I love popcorn!

Every glass of wine you order comes with a free tapas! A bottle brings you a whole platter! Awesome concept! Just encouraged us to drink more ;)

Los Camellos, San Christobal de las Casas

We had a huge private room with two big beds for around 20USD/CHF in this lovely place. The hostel is well equipped, there is a great kitchen, a nice court and backyard. It lays only a block away from the main pedestrian street.

Try to avoid the hustlers at the bus stop, there is a reason these hostel employ the particular methods...

San Christobal de las Casas and over to Guatemala (01.07.2013 - 05.07.2013)

We took the ADO bus from Palenque to San Christobal de las Casas passing by Tuxtla. But before we reached Tuxtla we got stuck in traffic because of a car/truck crash. Just minutes ahead of us two trucks crashed into each other, we still saw them burning...! About 6 hours later the fire died down enough that they could clear the way and we could head on to Tuxtla. Where upon they told us they wouldn't continue to San Christobal as there where some undefined roadblocks. Nobody could tell us what kind of roadblocks (political, zapatistas?) or when they would be cleared. Stranded in the middle of the night in a huge city with no clue where to stay or when we could head on we decided to wait it out. The first regular bus would/should leave at 4am and then every hour and finally at about 8 in the morning there was a bus leaving for San Christobal, hooray!

Just at the bus stop a guy talked us into taking a look at Planet Hostel. They would pay for the cab so we decided to take a look. In the end it was so cheap and we were so tired that we stayed for one night but changed places the next as it was quite dirty and without warm water. You appreciate a hot shower in this cold weather! Bring a sweater, it is quite cold in the mountains here! The other hostel (Los Camellos) was quite lovely and we could relax a bit and visit the charming town of San Christobal. Especially worth mentioning is the bar/restaurant La Vina de Bacco, we spent quite some time and money on the fine wine and tapas they serve!

Feeling relaxed enough we took a bike tour the other day, which would lead us around the country side of San Christobal. We visited the Mammoth Cave (no mammoths beside a stone which might look like a mammoth with a lot of goodwill) and stopped at a lovely little village to rest.

We decided not to take one of the all-inclusive-shuttle-services to reach Guatemala and took the ADO bus to the frontier. After having our passport stamped on the mexican side we shared a cab (with an elderly lady, small girl and a chicken) over the border to Guatemala. We changed our remaining pesos and wanted to take the Linea Dorado bus to Panajachel on Lago Atilan. But we would have to wait 4h till the bus would leave, so we decided to take the local option, Chicken Bus! These old north american school busses are re-painted colourful and usually run between two towns back and forth. Luckily the guatemalan people aren't too tall, as these busses were built to transport kids. I'm not the tallest but still my knees touched the bench in front of me, Melanie had no problems... ;)
They told us we would have to change to another bus but would reach Pana, so we got dropped of at an intersection and hopped on another Chicken Bus. After becoming assured multiple times that this bus would take us to Panajachel we enjoyed the ride through the green valleys. As the day turned to dusk and then to night there where fewer and fewer people on the bus till we were the only two left. Shortly after it stopped at a gas station and told us that is the end of the line and there would be no bus to Pana leaving today. Bummed to be stranded (again) in a unknown city with no clue where to stay we took the next cab and trusted the angry driver (at the traffic, not us... hopefully) to bring us to a hostel. He dropped us of at the Black Cat Hostel, which turned out to be a lovely hostel in Quetzaltenango (the mayan name Xela is much more common and easier to remember/pronounce).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cozumel, Chichen Itza & Palenque (19.06.2013 - 30.6.2013)

We stayed a whole week in Cozumel as we did our Rescue Diver Certification there. The course was quite exhausting, a lot to read and remember so we took it easy. Besides the course we went diving, check out the pics with the nurse shark! Another day we rented a scooter and took a ride around the island. We loved the beaches and crazy waves on the eastern side of the island. The main town San Miguel has several cruise ship docks, so we did try to avoid these crowds and the restaurants/shops catering for them around the boardwalk.

After our certification we headed back to the mainland, to Valladolid close to Chichen Itza. So the next morning we were at the ruins before all the busses from Cancun and Playa del Carmen arrived. Also most of the stands selling tourist rubbish weren't set up when we entered. The whole site was nice, but the big pyramid was definitely the main attraction. On our way back the parking lot was full of buses and tour groups bustling around, come early!

Next we headed to Campeche, at the western coast of the Yucatan peninsula. We stayed two nights in the nice old colonial part of the town. We took a walk to one of the fortresses guarding the coast as recommended by the tourist info which got us the map, the didn't mentioned that it was closed for renovations... 

After this we left the coast and visited Palenque, another place with a mayan heritage. Here you can climb the ruins, something which wasn't allowed in Tulum or in Chichen Itza. Also most of the ruins lay overgrown in the jungle beneath little rivers and waterfalls, nice! We visited the museum first and then took the walk/climb up with the biggest sites as the finish, highly recommended you do it this way. Again there weren't too much people around despite the fact we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. Furthermore there weren't even a tenth of trinket sellers than in Chichen Itza. This was definitely the nicest mayan site we visited so far!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Margarita & Ed, El Panchan, Palenque

El Panchan - Tel: 916 111 91 12 - Cel: 916 348 69 90

El Panchan lies just at the entrance to the national park containing the ruins of Palenque (take a collectivo from town). Margarita & Ed have spotless cabinas with mosquito nets all around the walls and roof, set amid the jungle. Because of the open rooms and the position beneath the trees make it pleasant cool in the night, we didn't used our fan.
There are two rooms in one cabin, with the walls not going all the way up to the  thatched roof. So you hear everything which is spoken next door ;). As there are no windows you hear the howler monkeys in the trees and the reggae beats from the bar around the corner as well.

Nevertheless we really liked it and with 20CHF/US$ quite a bargain compared what we had the night before in Campeche...

Tamarindo Bed & Breakfast, San Miguel, Cozumel

While on Cozumel for our Rescue Diver Certification we stayed at this lovely Bed & Breakfast (there is no breakfast during low season). We switched between the fan and a air-con room as there were people coming with a reservation but liked the fan-only room way better.
The cheaper room was a little bit larger, closer to the kitchen and terrace and it had a hammok!

We payed 33CHF/USD for the fan and 44CHF/USD for the air-con room.

Friday, June 21, 2013

L'Hotelito, Tulum

We found this place by chance and loved it immediately. The italian family from Trieste running this place has about 10 rooms to rent out. Some with AC, some without. We had a big room with two beds and a fan under the thatched roof for 32CHF/USD including breakfast. The mother is running the hotel while the father is a great cook, tending to his little herb garden. We had a great dinner at the hotel!

Buzos de Mexico, Isla Mujeres

We found this nice place only by accidents while looking around for another dive shop. The owner, Misael, is half swiss so he talked us into to take a look around the shop. He showed us his new equipment and the big boat he has to go diving. His mother, Pia, rents out rooms just above and behind the dive shop, with a little discount for the diving.
Thats how we ended up with a room just above the dive shop and by chance Patricks instructor, Nathan, was swiss as well. We liked it so much we stayed much longer than planned. Diving with Nathan was really relaxing, we did a wreck, drift ;) and night dive besides the usual reef dives.
The boat leaves form the pier at the restaurant/museum of Capitan Dulce where they are building a new dive center/shop/storage. At the moment there was only the grass roof, but looks to become nice!

Little advice: If you plan on going to snorkel with the whale shark, check if they are going out on their own big boat. If not just shop around for the cheapest tour to go, as all are more or less the same.

Tulum, Playa del Carmen and back to Isla Mujeres (08.06.2013 - 18.06.2013)

Arriving in Tulum we looked around for a place and found by chance a lovely little hotel, called Hotelito. The next day we rented some bicycles and rode to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. The ruins were nice, especially the towers next to the turquoise water. But there were way to many tourists for our taste...
Afterwards we rode back south and went swimming at one of the beach clubs, +1 beach ;).
Later we went to look around for a place to stay at the beach, but it seemed the times of cheap cabinas right at the beach is longe since past. Did I mention my 7 year old Lonely Planet? So we stayed at the town during our whole trip.
The next day we went to dive in the cenote (a sinkhole, link) Dos Ojos. A total new experience for all three of us, non of us has been diving in fresh water or in a cave before. The view was extraordinary! There isn't much to see besides stalagmites and stalactites, but they made uf for all the missing fish.
After so much excitement we decided to spend a day at the beach. We headed to the Playa Papaya Project to lay around at the empty beach, eat mango ceviche (yeah!) and drink cold beers ^^
The day after we went to dive in the cenote Anglita, a deep dive (part of Melanies Advanced Open Water) with a hydrogen sulfur cloud at 28m. Beneath it is pitch black! Coming up through it again is an spectacular sight. The second dive we did in Casa Cenote, another kind of cenote as the two before. Most of it is overgrown by mangroves and algae. Awesome sights as well!

Heading back north we stopped for two nights on Playa del Carmen. We spent the day at the (crowded) beach and the evening at the (crowded) 10th avenue. Nothing to recommend.

We ended up again on Isla Mujeres, this time we wanted to stay closer to the party and headed to the Poc-Na hostel. But after hearing their prices and seeing the rooms we changed our mind and found another little hotelroom. Getting up early we took the 1.5h boat ride to find the whale sharks in the middle of the ocean. There where dozens of boats but even more whale sharks! The captain would drop of a pair of us together with the guide and pick us up later so the next two could go into the water. It was a crazy experience to swim next to these huge (up to 7m) fish. They looked lazy but with just a stroke of there massive tails the would leave you in their wake. Next to the sharks where also some big manta rays doing somersaults in the water, awesome view as well. On our way back we were caught by a massive storm! The rain felt like hail on the bare skin, the waves were crashing against our small boat and the temperature dropped. Some times we could only see for a couple of meters because of the heavy rain. That way it took us almost 3 hours to reach the Isla Mujeres, were the weather was good again and we enjoyed some ceviche and cold beers standing in the surf.

The next day was the last for Patrick, as he headed home to Switzerland. Right in time for his birthday party ;)
Melanie and I decided to check out Cozumel and maybe do the Rescue Diver there...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Isla Mujeres, Mexico (26.05.2013 - 07.06.2012)

After arriving in Mexico we where overwhelmed by the first (or at least second) world abundance! Fast and free internet, fast food chains and supermarkets full of stuff to buy. Usually a supermercado in cuba had rum to sell, maybe some beans and a couple of different kind of pasta, not much more.
The first night in Mexico was quite different to Habana as well. In Habana we weren't afraid once, entering the darkest and narrowest streets, we were never bothered or hassled. Something we didn't try in Cancun...
Looking around for a nice and cheap dive school for Patrick we read in my 7 year old Lonley Planet that the Open Water Course would be 50CHF/US$ cheaper on Isla Mujeres than in Cancun. So we only ended up by chance on this lovely island, just a 20min ferry ride from Cancun. But it couldn't be more different!
Touristy but little streets and after a couple of days we knew a dozen people, most important THE BAND which would play in different compositions almost everyday in the Las Terrazas bar. Later in the evening everybody would meet at the beach bar which belongs to the Poc-Na youth hostel to party.
First we only planned to stay till Patrick had his Open Water Course, but we liked it so much he also did his Advanced Open Water Course. We lay on the beach, rented one of the many golf carts and went diving. We visited one of the wrecks, saw lots and lots of fish, turtles, lobsters, devil rays, eagle rays and lots of huge sting rays!
Thats how we ended up here almost two weeks till Melanie arrived and joined us for another day diving before we left the island to head south!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Casa Javier, Habana

S.Lazaro 24, Prado y Carcel, Centro Habana - 0053 52836814 - 0053 78606231

The lovely casa in Vinales recommended a casa particular in Habana. But their toilet needed fixing and she sent us to one of their neighbours. Thats how we ended up at Javiers place. We got a huge and tall room with tiny bathroom and even a kitchen. It even had a air condition with climate control! The second bed was quite crap, so we took turns for sleeping in the more comfy one.
The casa is between the Malecon/sea and the Prado, we found it every night ^^
We paid 25CHF/US$ for the room. Ah Javier is propably gay, but we didn't mind ;)

Casa Dario y Tuti, Viñales

Calle Salvador Cisneros #48, Viñales / / 53 ‐ 52 78 37 50 / 048 ‐ 79 60 22

Having allready spent three nights in Viñales we wanted a casa closer to the “city centre”. So we went to look around and found a place with a room on the first floor with a tiny balcony the first time we were in Viñales.
But this place was occupied when we got back from Playa Maria La Gorda and we had to settle for the casa next door. Which turned out even better! The room was nice and the backyard was really nice. There where sunchairs and a cross between a big fountain/tiny pool. But we didn’t went swimming... ;)

The night cost us 20CHF/US$ and 3CHF/US$ per person for breakfast. The dinner was excellent! I had the best cuban lobster at this casa, a bargain for 12CHF/US$!

Hotel Playa Maria La Gorda, Playa Maria La Gorda

Beside the diving and the sunsets there is nothing to recommend here.
All of the buildings have seen better days. The fist room we got had a broken toilet, which they were still trying to fix 3 days later, Cuba!
We payed 54CHF/US$ for our room with sea view, another would cost 5CHF/US$ less. Breakfast was included, dinner cost us another 12CHF/US$ each! Quite a ripoff, especially for the poor food we got. But as on the the Isla de Juventud, there isn’t anything nearby. If you want to go diving you have to stay here...