A Travellerspoint blog

Arriba Mexico!! Cucarachitas!!

We are walking the cobbled streets of Flores at 5am and gladly settle into the empty mini bus that picks us up for our journey to the Mexican border. The bus quickly makes its way out on to the main streets and at express speeds takes us off the island town of Flores and soon we are pulling into the main bus terminal, where we are instructed to board a rather full and somewhat beaten up looking bus. We are given seats near the front, which are falling apart and distinctly less comfy than those inside the bus we have just left. The bus station bustles with early morning activity, as stalls are set up, and the heavily armed police stand around sipping hot drinks. We are the only tourists aboard the chock-full bus as we pull out in the 6am early light. It isn't long before we leave the sealed road behind and the uncombable seats really come into their own as we are bounced around the bus for several hours. We cross the border at Corozal, and we stop at the Guatemalan immigration, where we are sent in ahead of the locals to be processed. The bus driver gets us back aboard so that he may drive down the road to a small village to pick up some passengers before begrudgingly returning to pick up the remaining passengers who are getting their passports stamped. We are in no-man's land, between the two borders, and the unsealed road takes us through a small village of wood houses with straw roofs, and men, women and children carry heavy loads of wood and water on their shoulders. We reach a river, and are given our ticket (all included in the original ticket price) to board the boat that will take us across. We are led down to the water's edge by a young lad, and we climb into the 7m long canoe with outboard motor. The brown river is some 30m wide and we zoom out into it, feeling the cool breeze on our faces. On the far side, we are put into a taxi and taken to Mexican immigration for our entry stamps and then to the mini bus that will take us on to Palenque, our final destination, in the state of Chiapas. We order chicken and beans to go at a small restaurant next door, where the locals are amazed at hearing how many languages C can speak! We head off in the bus, and must pay 15 pesos tourist tax for the roads in the area, and then we are on our way. A rather smooth and exciting border crossing, out last one! In Palenque town, we find an ATM that works. We decided not to change our Guatemalan Quetzales on the border as the rates are always bad. Luckily we had some pesos already with us, from a previous money trade with other backpackers, the best rates guaranteed! We then find the collectivo to take us to El Panchan at the gates of the National Park, where there are several guesthouses in amongst the jungle. Small pathways lead us through the forest and over little footbridges with streams babbling beneath. There are several places to stay here, and several restaurants and bars, with a definite hippy feel. We stay at Margarita y Ed in a rather fancy room with ensuite. The weather is very hot and humid, and we gladly take cooling showers, before getting a bite to eat and a cold Corona beer to toast our arrival in Mexico!

It is already steaming hot at 10am as we buy our entrance tickets for the park. C thumbs a ride and we clamber into the back of the pickup truck to take us the 4km uphill to the site of the Mayan ruins. As we speed along in the morning sunshine, the wind in our faces, we are grinning at each other. At the entrance, we dodge the myriad offers for guides, and armed with our kindle guide we wander inside. The ruins are magnificent and we walk beneath the trees by the beautifully kept lawns that run up to the ancient steps of these buildings. It was built and inhabited from 100BC to 870 AD, and much of the ruins are still hid in the dense surrounding jungle. We hop between places with shade, guzzling water in the heat. There are a lot of tourists here, in groups, and from other central and Latin American countries. We spend 3 hours or so in the ruins, and then find a magnificent set of waterfalls in the shaded forest with intricate limestone formations like those found inside caves. Exiting the park we buy homemade pineapple flavoured ice lollies from a man with his coolbox, which are so delicious. We spend time in the excellent museum before taking a collectivo back to the gate entrance and exhaustedly making for our room and cool showers. We go for dinner in Don Muchos and as we tuck into that most un-Mexican of dishes, a pizza calzone, while the skies overhead flash with lightening as the rumble of thunder grows ever nearer and with it comes heavy rains.

Border crossing by canoe
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Hitching a ride to Palenque
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The ruined Mayan city at Palenque
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In the morning the small babbling streams are now bigger, raging torrents of brown water. We go for breakfast in a little restaurant (Don Muchos is flooded, so has become Don Nada). We over-order our food, and have Quesadillas with spinach and huevos revueltos (and take the latter with us for lunch). We are booked on a tour to see the nearby waterfalls of Misol-Ha and Cascadas de Agua Azul this afternoon.
The bus is full of Mexican tourists who are a lively bunch, tucking into midday bottles of Corona! Our bus manages to break down after 20 minutes, so we wait for a replacement one. Then the road is blocked by a village that is protesting against government corruption, and taking 50 pesos from vehicles before they can pass. A piece of wood with upturned nails is pulled back and forth across the road. The waterfalls are particularly amazing as the heavy rains mean that they are raging spray, foam and water in massive amounts. The shear power is staggering. The Cascadas de Agua Azul are not actually living up to their name as being blue today, rather a dirty brown, and should be called Cascadas de Agua Marron instead. Back in El Panchan, another night of storm and rain arrives.

Raging torrents at Misol-Ha
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..and the inappropriately named Cascadas de Agua Azul
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We leave the next day to return to Palenque to take a bus to the colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas. As we depart, the road that we walked on yesterday that takes us from the guesthouses to the main road is now a river. We must take off shoes and socks, and wade across the below knee deep water with our backpacks on to reach the dry land on the other side! We breakfast near the bus terminal, and watch a lady preparing the tostadas on a huge circular iron cooking plate, on which sit the coffee pots bubbling away. The bus is a big coach, and a party of Dutch and Belgian tourists with their guide take up most of the front seats. We pass through valleys and gorges on our way, rising in altitude to San Cristobal. It is raining heavily when we arrive in the early afternoon, and walking north into the centre we take refuge in a chocolate shop, and order a round of unusual chocs, filled with tequila, baileys and chilli. The rain abates and we carry on walking to the Posada del Abuelito, along the cobbled streets and a throng of VW Beetles (known locally by the kids as “cucarachitas”) of all colours. We stop and ask directions several times before we find this Posada which has been recommended to us by other travellers. The small gate opens onto a little courtyard and a very peaceful environment. We meet Marco who tells us they are full save for 2 dorm beds. We decide to take them for a night before being able to move to a double room. We sit and chat with the other guests and find a very friendly and interesting vibe here. We wander out on the streets which are safe to walk even at night, and find a little bistro called La Cueva del Tigre, which offers a menu with stew and a glass of red wine, perfect in the cool rainy weather!

Dining at La Cueva del Tigre
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Around San Cristobal de las Casas
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The sunny mornings over breakfast bring the Colibri (hummingbirds) to the garden. We visit a nearby museum dedicated to the Lacandon tribe and set up by two Europeans who spent their lives with them. A fascinating place, and we have a tip from C's contact Dick to track down one of the Mayan specialists who works there. He's not around and so we plan to return later. We wander the food markets which are a warren of stalls and small alleyways beneath plastic sheeting and roofing, through which the pouring rain drips down. We pick up some supplies including fruit of the cactus, which is more than fairly full of seeds! Then through the Artisan market surrounding a huge church as the sun comes out to bake us. There are some great cloth and blankets on sale, and plenty of bargaining to be done. The stalls are run by indigenous people. We visit a nearby town with 2 friends from the Posada, Janie and Lissa, which we get to by collectivo. The town is San Juan de Chamula, and is inhabited by the Tzotzil Mayans, and it has a church. This is no ordinary church, which was abandoned by the Catholic Church about 10 years ago, and is now a mix of Mayan culture and Catholicism. The outside is painted white with colourful butterflies and flowers painted over the doors. It costs 20 pesos to enter and we are not allowed to photograph the inside, so it is somewhat touristy, yet as we find out, it is very real culture. Inside it is busy with throngs of people dressed in traditional clothing of black fleece worn as ponchos by men, and as skirts by women. The women also wear tight colourful waistbands, with bright and colourful embroided tops. There are no pews, and the floor is covered with green pine needles. Candles are the only light and fill the tables, and are stuck to the floor with wax where groups sit and pray in spaces cleared of pine needles. Offerings of Coca-Cola, local firewater called “pox” (pronounced “posh”), and the occasional chicken are made to the spirits. Statues of Saints in perspex boxes line the wall and masses of white flowers are everywhere. The scent together with incense burners and men smoking local cigarettes mix in the room. A band plays accordion, drums and harp, while one holds a pile of their hats. Light slants in through the windows in the smokey interior. We spend an hour watching the scenes around us. Tourists troop in, but are tolerated by the locals. After a good lunch of chicken and beans and rice we take a cab over to the town of Zinacantán, another Tzotzil Mayan village. We are looking for a lady who makes fabrics, and is known to C's contact Dick. It takes a while as we are sent in differing directions by locals, but eventually we find it, and are given a warm welcome (nothing to do with the pox we try!). The traditional clothing worn by locals here is a purple in colour and is rich in detail.

The church in San Juan de Chamula
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In the village of town of Zinacantán
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Local dress and textile makers in Zinacantán
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C .... and E
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We visit the Sumidero Canyon next day by tour group, near the town of Chiapa de Corzo. We pass through a toll booth that is now occupied by a mass of teachers protesting about their working conditions. There has been a national strike of teachers for the passed 2 months, and all schools have been closed for this amount of time also. Our driver pays the fee to pass and we continue on. At the river edge we climb aboard a large motor boat and head off downstream into the national park. Huge towering rocky cliffs of limestone upto 1000m high in some places are looming overhead. The water is a deep green, and along the banks are crocodiles warming themselves in the morning sun. Owing to the heavy rains, thousands of plastic bottles have been washed into the river and in sections huge areas are covered with the debris. They are doing their best to clean it up but it is difficult with so many crocodiles in the water. Pelicans nest in the trees as we pass waterfalls cascading rainbows down the walls of the canyon. A very pretty place. We stop for lunch in the town of Chiapa de Corzo, where E & C find a small restaurant for quesadillas and the owner tells us to check out the views from the nearby church and belfry, which we go ahead and do. From the viewpoint we are able to wave down to the owners of the restaurant.
Back at the hostel we have a great evening with the fellow inmates; there is Sushi from Japan, whom we speak Spanish with which is fantastic fun, Lissa from NZ, Martu and Falc from Spain and Germany, and Ama from India. The mescal and tequila flow and later we head out to a local bar called Cocliche where a band is playing. A fine last night for us in San Cristobal.

Sumidero Canyon
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Having lunch and seeing the views in Chiapa de Corzo
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E and Sushi (with moustaches!) toasting with mescal
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E, Sushi and Falc
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Martu and C
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We have a full day left before our bus to the Pacific coast, and fill it with a visit to Iglesia de Guadalupe on a hill in town for lovely views over the streets below. The church is slightly gaudy inside with its neon red and green lights. A christening ceremony is about to start. After a good Falafel lunch at a restaurant called “Falafel”, we head back to the museum we visited a couple of days ago to track down C's contact, Chip Morris. We are sent to his home, nearby and he welcomes us in. C has some information from Dick that Chip is able to help with, relating to imagery on locally made clothing. Chip is from the US, and has been living here for over 40 years, and speaks several of the local Mayan languages. His latest book is about the changing fashions of the tribes, for example the Tzotzil in Zinacantan change the design of their traditional clothing every 6 months or so, making them incredibly fashion-conscious!

On the way to Iglesia de Guadalupe
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C next to bbq-ing chicken
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Iglesia de Guadalupe and views
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The goings-on in the main square
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Mescal Label
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Lunch at "Falafel"
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We have a last meal in Posada Abuelito of homemade pizzas made and delivered by a local girl in a large wicker basket. We then take our bags and walk the 25 minutes through the town, passed mariachis warming up, and to the terminal. Our night bus to Pochutla departs on time as the skies flash with dramatic lightening forks and rain pummels the bus. We settle down in the very comfy bus seats. Water drips through the roof vents and soak E in the night, so he must use his waterproof jacket as a blanket!
11 hours later we arrive, and as we step off the bus out of our Air-con bubble we strip off layers in the morning humid heat. We pass the expensive private taxis and soon find a collectivo taxi to take us the 30 minutes to the beach town of San Agustinilla and our guesthouse calledPosada La Mora. We are greeted by the lady owner and shown upto our room which has views right onto the beach and the crashing surf of the pacific. What a spot! Downstairs is a cafe so we have a good breakfast and then relax for the day, taking in the sun and having a swim. The sun is hot, but there is a breeze, and the ocean is cool, but not cold. As we sit on the fairly empty beach, hawkers come by selling boat trips, ice pops, fish tortillas and jewelry. It is a time to reflect on our travels in Africa and around the world, and we realise how lucky we are to have the opportunity to undertake such a journey with all its ups and downs. We watch the sunset on the beach with a cold beer from the shop, and meditating students from the nearby yoga retreat are silhouetted Buddhas on the sand. We have dinner of octopus and dorada (mahi-mahi) which are excellent before retiring early. We spend the next couple of days in similar fashion, soaking up the sun and reading. Our final day approaches, and we decide to take a boat trip out to see turtles and dolphins. A good idea. We all meet at the beach nearby and help launch the boat. The burly rotund captain checks the outboard, and the girls all climb aboard. The boys then push the boat on rollers into the huge surf and must then swim out to the boat and climb aboard. A great morning dip! We trawl the area for sometime before we spot turtles and dolphins, but the scenery is so colouful, and the horizon so very straight.

The beach at San Agustinilla
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Bringing in the Catch of the Day
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Dusk on the beach
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Breakfast on the balcony
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Another Cucarachita!
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Lunch at the beach
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Juggling things in life
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Shopping on the way home
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Our last Pacific sunset
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Our final morning and a boat trip to see turtles
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Our rotund Captain
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We return to the guesthouse, and find a collectivo to take us into town, where we pickup a mini bus to take us to Oaxaca (pronounced “O-a-h-a-c-a”) . The drive is 7 hours up over the mountains on a winding road. We descend through clouds, and on the plains below, and the afternoon golden sun bathes the landscape. We arrive after dark and walk to a Posada we have researched. A big room on a central courtyard. Out we go to the central square and have a feast of chicken fajitas with mole (sauce made from cacao beans, like a chocolate sauce, but not so sweet).

In the collectivo, with C and the bell to ring when you wish to get off
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chicken fajitas with mole
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Oaxaca is another beautiful colonial city, and we visit the great cathedral of Santo Domingo, and the museum next door full of Aztec treasures and artifacts from the nearby Mixtec site of Monte Alban.
We find a locals sea food restaurant called La Red, for excellent ceviche and Cazuela de Mariscos, washed down with a Dos XX and a Bohemia beer. We watch Mariachis play in the square to the big restaurants, before visiting an old Cantina serving mescal since 1916.
We visit markets over the next two days picking out fabrics and souvenirs for taking home. We sell our remaining Guatemalan Quetzales to a couple (Matt and Trina from England and Ireland) at our Posada and meet Byron, a retired gent from the US.

The streets of Oaxaca
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Iglesia de Santo Domingo
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Museum
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Cacti in the Botanical Gardens
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Decorations for the Day of the Dead celebrations (1-2 November)
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The main square in Oaxaca...
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..with the mariachis
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Mescal Bar
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Dancing in the main square
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Next morning we take a bus to the city of Puebla. The route takes us through spectacular scenery on a very new road. Enormous canyons covered in millions of cacti! We reach Puebla early afternoon and after getting to our hostel, we head out to visit the Planetarium which is a short bus ride away. We thought this would be a great fun way to look at the stars in Spanish, however, it was a very quick zoom around the galaxy and then we were treated to a film about the migration of the Monarch butterfly. Very interesting, but not what we went to the Planetarium for! Outside as we run to get our return bus, we can see the distant peak of Popocatapetl volcano.
Our time in Puebla is spent looking for a part for E's VW Beetle that is back in the UK. It is a model that was made here in Puebla in 1997, and we try several places including the VW plant itself, all to no avail. Still, we find an alternative part, and get to visit the birthplace of Eduardo (the name E's sister gave to the car a few years ago!)

Skulls on display in the market, for the Day of the Dead celebrations
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Possibly the biggest sandwiches ever conceived
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Tiles on the outsides of buildings in Puebla
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Views from the museum roof
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Inside Iglesia Santo Domingo in Puebla
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We take a bus next afternoon to Mexico DF (Mexico City), and we arrive in the heavy traffic in the pouring rain. Our last port of call before flying back to Europe. A taxi gets us into the old centre and to our hostel. We wander the streets and visit the enormous plaza before dining in a local eatery. We visit the museums of Diego Rivera and see his huge murals, which are fascinating. All the Frida Kahlo paintings are on a European tour somewhere, which is a shame. The streets are busy and the decorations for the Day of the Dead are everywhere as the city gears up for the big celebrations. We taxi to the airport for our night flight to London, and so ends this chapter in our odyssey!

At a local restaurant in Mexico City
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Ahhh, those Mexican chilis!
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Our costumes for Day of the Dead..!
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In the central park in Mexico City, the cold and wet weather due to hurricaine season
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A church in the centre that is beginning to lean over on its ancient foundations
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And finally, after our return flight to London, we have a special meal with E's family (Rosie and Eddie), of Paella......The End!
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Posted by bumble_bee 06:21 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Four countries in one day….journey to Guatemala

We are up and ready for our 3am departure and the mini bus is half filled with people, the other half with surf boards. The bus company is called Gecko Trails Explorer and for 76USD each (plus 5USD for border fees) we are on our way up country on a 16hr journey that takes us through Honduras and El Salvador before reaching the colonial city of Antigua, which was once the capital of Guatemala.
We reach the border to Honduras around 5am and are the only people crossing at this ungodly hour. We cross at the towns of Guasale/Choluteca. The drivers handle the administration and we are left to doze in our air-conditioned seats. Dawn approaches as we drive on, swerving potholes as we go in the damaged road. The scenery is very green and there are plenty of volcano-like peaks. There is poverty along the roadsides too. At 8am we cross in to El Salvador at Goascoran /Santa Clarita. Here the border control guard boards the bus to verify our ids. We are stopped occasionally by police checks along the road as we make our way to the coastal town of Trunco. A surf spot, and all but us depart the bus with their surfboards. The rains begin as we drive out of the tourist enclave by the Pacific coast. It is Sunday and the area is busy with locals, some of whom are dressed up in modern clothing to an almost ridiculous degree. There is no sign of indigenous groups here, and US-style snackbars line the highway. We change the mini bus to a smaller and more comfortable people carrier under the cover of a petrol station forecourt as the torrential downpour crashes down around us. The area is full of people on motorbikes taking a welcome break from the storm. We grab a quick lunch at a Puma petrol station before continuing on, and soon we reach the final border at La Hachadura, where we cross the bridge and enter Guatemala. On we go near the outskirts of Guatemala City before reaching Antigua, about an hour early. The town is busy and the sounds of bands playing in the streets to mark Independence Day carries on the air. We are dropped near our hotel by the extremely helpful and professional drivers and then walk the cobbled streets to the door of Los Encuentros, our home for the next two weeks.
We are welcomed inside by Irma the owner and shown to our room. We pop out to find an ATM, but give up in the crowded rainy streets, and Irma offers to lend us a few quetzales to get some dinner! We find a creperie and have a good meal before retiring early.
In the morning Irma prepares a hearty breakfast of eggs and fruit and we then wander out to investigate the different schools available for Spanish lessons. We see one which is in our guidebooks and meet the teacher Mario who operates out of the back of a tailor shop. He is great, but in the end we opt for the bigger school of Antigueña which has lessons in a huge garden outside and has free afternoon activities such as tours. We both start next day – E is going for 2 weeks, and C for 3 days. We put our laundry in, shop at the enormous supermecado and visit the ATM in the central park area.
Breakfast at 7:30am and a 10 minute walk to school for 8am lessons is the new routine. C´s teacher is called Maria, and E´s is called Marina. The lessons are one-to-one and held entirely in Spanish. We learn grammar and practice talking a great deal, and reading stories. C is re-learning her last lessons of the subjunctive, while E is going over everything from the beginning. The lessons are 5 hours long with a 30 minute break, which leaves the afternoons free for homework and a possible tour. The mornings are sunny and warm, and the garden is alive with butterflies, birds and squirrels that leap about in the banana and avocado trees. The volcano can be seen clearly with whisps of cloud forming about its top. The afternoons are wet, wet, wet as a regular downpour floods the concave cobbled streets so that one must take a running jump to clear the river. Once class is finished we walk back to town with our teachers and continue chatting. The walk takes us near to the market, and we are warned to be careful of being robbed there, and indeed on the streets of town later at night. Through the lessons we learn about Guatemalan culture, the make-up of the population and the normal habits of everyday life in Antigua, discussing social and political problems, and disputes on the borders when it comes to mining rights and the drugs trade. We visit the cathedral and churches in town, and the nearby pueblos and Cerro La Cruz on the northern hillside that affords great views over downtown. Sunday is E´s day off and we wander around town, looking at rings for C made from the locally found jade. We stop for lunch at a place advertising ¨Sunday BBQ¨and step inside. A sunny courtyard, and a good beer menu! E finishes his homework over a long lunch and we bump into two other friends from the Spanish Academy. A band then strikes up and local better-off Guatemalans sing along, and the whole place begins to jump. We have a great afternoon and head back early evening. The second week for E starts and he is back in the routine of school. Marina proves to be an excellent teacher and the lessons are very enjoyable. In the evenings we cook dinner in the hotel and Irma and her family eat in the same place too. It is a quiet place and perfect for studying. We find a ring for C, a beautiful ring made from Silver and a stone of a clear jade called luna. We also have our hair cut one afternoon, and C takes advantage of the cheaper prices and has a blonder colour added! So the week comes to an end and so E´s course is over. It is a slow time of year for the schools and many are struggling to find students. Marina will not find out if she has work next week until Monday morning.
It is Saturday and we are on a tour to Lake Atitlan some 2.5 hrs away. We reach the lake at 8am and the vistas are of a large expanse of water backed by 2 volcanoes. We take a boat across the lake and visit the Mayan villages on the far side. The lake has risen recently and there are several buildings that were once water side and are now submerged, with just their roofs jutting out of the water. The villages are somewhat touristy and as it is low season we are fair game for the touts and streetsellers. The journey later on the lake takes us alongside the volcano and its lush green hillsides. The lake becomes rougher later and we have a choppy run back to port for our return to Antigua. It is a long day and too much really, as we only see the most touristy side to it.
In the morning we board the shuttle bus at 8:30am to take us to Lanquin from where we will visit the green pools of Semuc Champey. It is an 8hr trip, and onboard we meet Gwen and Julien from France. We all stay at the same guesthouse called Zephyr Lodge which is on a hill overlooking a river. The town is tiny and the last 9km are on unsealed road that winds down the steep hills that are a sea of green peaks way, way below. We have a room in an attic with a view down over the river.
We leave with a large group of 20-somethings standing in the back of a flatbed 4x4 for the 11km to the park. We pass through the town and alongside similar vehicles taking people to work. The first part of the tour is into a water filled cave. Not E´s favourite type of trip, and C must help with his fear of small spaces. She talks him round and soon we are inside, armed with candles and swimming in the black cold water. There is an underground river here and waterfalls. It is amazing to be down here, and we go for about 800m inside. After this we return to the daylight and have a go on a huge outdoor swing into the river. There are options to climb and jump off anything, including trees, bridges, and small cliffs. The 20-somethings go wild for it! We enter the park and climb the hot steep steps to the mirador and have a view over the entire system of the cascading pools of Semuc Champey. A view of green and blue colours! We descend and swim in the pools, cooling off in the hot afternoon sun, gazing up at the steep limestone cliffs. We return for cold beers and hammocks!
The next day is spent taking an inflated inner tube for a ride down the river and small rapids. The scenery is beautiful, and it really is a great way to see the country! We later sit by the river and Julien plays his guitar and E accompanies with the Uke, as the sun goes down. Spending time outdoors in the dry weather is sensational. We play Trivial Pursuit in the evening over a huge plate of chicken bbq that feeds 2 of us. (always thinking of our budget!)
Our next stop is Flores, an 8hr drive north. It is a small island linked to the town of Santa Elena by a bridge. From here we take a day tour to the ancient Mayan City ruins at Tikal. We opt for the sundown tour rather than the sunrise tour. Leaving at 1pm we reach the park about 2:30pm and with our guide Luis, are taken around the sites. From central points the sounds of echos are incredible as the Mayans created symmetry with their buildings for sound and light, taking into account the Solstices and Equinoxes. Large vertical slabs line the bottom of the pyramids on which are carved details of events. Nearby, Luis finds a small hole in the ground and with a length of grass entices the occupant out…a Tarantula! He is smallish, black with red hairs on his back, and surprisingly non-venomous.
On we walk beneath trees of howler and pot-bellied spider monkeys to the main area where 64m temples tower above us. It is peaceful here, as in low season, we are almost the only group here. In the trees we see toucans. One has a brightly coloured bill, the other has a multicoloured chest. Amazing to see them so clearly in the trees. A grey fox slinks off one of the temples. We climb the highest temple for the late afternoon sun, and the water vapour coming off the thick forests below rising like smoke. We descend as darkness comes and take a pickup truck back to our waiting minibus for the ride back to Flores.
So comes to an end our time in Guatemala, a place of colourful Indigenous people, great Spanish teachers, volcanoes, lakes and pools of limpid green water, and ancient Mayan ruins. Our next journey will take us over the border to our final country of Mexico….

Antigua
Spanish class at Antiguena Spanish School
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E´s garden of peace
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C´s garden
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Tacos for our fellow students in the break
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..but just coffee for E&C
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E with maestra Marina
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C with profesora Maria
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School activity - Macadamia farm visit
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Chinese bikes travel everywhere!
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Colonial Antigua (in the rain)
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Spontaneous parade on the streets
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Guatemala is yet another country where coffee is produced
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La Cucarachita
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Sunday BBQ!
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With Kathryn and Alex
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Our street with view of Volcan de Agua
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View of Antigua from the hill - Cerro de la Cruz
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The guide tells C all about the buildings
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Back in the centre - typical windows
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The famous arch, connecting 2 monasteries
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C finally found some spanish books for exchange
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Local ladies carrying their shop on their heads
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Iglesia de la Merced
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Trip to Lago de Atitlán
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Very green water
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Mayan villages on the lake
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The water has risen substantially
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Lunch with a view at San Pedro la Laguna
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Santiago de Atitlán
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Volcano on the lake
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Typical Mayan clothing
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Lanquin
The view from Zephyr Lodge
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Semuc Champey
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Zephyr Lodge
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Trivial Pursuit with Gwen and Julien
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Flores
Dinner at a local comedor
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Tikal
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Eh.. no, this is not our hand. Just taking the picture was scary enough!
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Pavo silvestre (wild turkey)
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Sunset view from the highest temple (70 m)
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Posted by bumble_bee 14:16 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

3 go madder in Nicaragua

Smokey volcanoes, chicken buses, black beaches, gorgeous sunsets and engagements

We re-join our 3 comrades on the Nica Bus as they journey into Nicaragua…

The bus drops us off at the dusty sweltering road side and we wait in the shade of a tree. A collective soon appears and we hop in and travel the 40 minutes to the pacific coast town of San Juan del Sur. We arrive just after midday and walk along the sun soaked main street passed colourful shop fronts and surfboard repair shops to the plaza where a bright yellow church stands, and also our apartment. We have upgraded our accommodation as Tom is with us and when you are 3, an AirBnB apartment is a good deal! We enter the 2nd floor flat which has a balcony with sea views and a hammock. The roof terrace is sensational. We go out for a cheap lunch of fish, rice and tacos in the stuffy covered market before walking to the main supermarket on the edge of town for supplies. We later walk along the beach which is a huge curve of golden sand lined with a few restaurants and bars, and on a hill at the far end is a huge statue of Jesus. We return to the roof terrace and have mojitos as the sun sets – awesome 360 views over the town, the Pacific, and the verdant green hills behind us. Chicken stir fry dinner, and as C settles in to watch “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” on TV, E and T pop out for a couple of beers in a nearby bar, and make plans. The town is quiet.
In the morning we take care of T´s admin which involves calling the airline to change his return flight from San Jose in Costa Rica, to Managua in Nicaragua. All done and we cook lunch before making a walk to Jesus. We pass along the clean asphalt streets, by numerous taxi drivers wondering if we need a ride, and down onto the beach. We paddle in the surf and make it to the estuary half way where a mini suspension bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco takes us to the rest of the beach. Here we get lost and take directions to find the way up the hill to the statue. Along the beach are local fishermen pulling in nets that seem to be waist high in the water. About 60 pelicans are out in the bay and periodically take off and dive into the water to catch fish. The climb up is steep, passed exclusive homes. At the top, the view over the bay is stunning, and down the coast. We watch whales out in the ocean.
Sunset drinks back on the beach end a great day.
This morning we are going to travel by Chicken bus. This is one of the old US school buses and is on Tom´s “to do” list so he is very excited. It is a full bus, and Tom is soon squashed up against the window by a Mama to really add to his Chicken bus experience. He looks kind of happy. It is an hour to the town of Rivas, and we arrive into the Terminal in the busy market. Before we have stirred from our seat a tout is aboard wanting to give us a “cheap” taxi. It isn´t cheap of course. We get our bags and leave the scene to grab a few groceries in the market and C gets directions from the market sellers to where the collectivos depart. It is clearer how much poorer Nicaragua is than Costa Rica, with its poorer quality housing and levels of garbage on the streets. We find a cab for the right price and are soon at the quay side in San Jorge where we wait an hour for the next boat. It is a Chicken Boat! Tom is getting his fill today!
We board the slightly lop-sided vessel which takes us smoothly over to the island of Ometepe, which is made up of 2 volcanoes linked by flat land, alongside of which is a beach. The peaks are shrouded in mist as we land, and rather than the local bus, we get a good deal on a direct collectivo. We pass through banana plantations and give a lift to an elderly gentleman we shared the collectivo with from Rivas, and other folk going our way. 45 minutes later we reach our new AirBnB lodgings and are met by the American lady owner Lin. A gorgeous house on the beach. We take a swim in the tremendously warm lake with jaw-dropping views of two volcanic peaks. At 5pm, 3 horses arrive for a sunset beach ride, but Tom has stood on a thorn and decides not to go. So E and C head off, round the local football match on the beach. The sky is very dramatic with clouds and distant storms brewing. The pinks and oranges of the sunset begin to creep across the sky as we make our way passed locals bathing, egrets fishing and folks walking. It is here under the peak of the Volcano, that E dismounts and while C holds the reigns of the beast, he goes down on one knee and asks C to marry him! She is a little unnerved (E is equally nervous!) and she asks if he is serious at least twice, and after strong assurances that he is, she leaps off her horse, runs over and says YES! We charge back along the beach as the horses, with their heads towards home, canter close to a gallop to bring the grinning couple back to the house where we hug Tom and start celebrations! (Back in Costa Rica, in Santa Elena, E sneaked off to make a call to Holland and to C´s parents to seek permission to wed!)
The ample kitchen provides us with a good breakfast and then we take a walk to a nearby finca (farm) some 5km away in Balgue. The heat is heavy with humidity, and it is a relief to get off the road. We pass schools that are practicing drumming for the upcoming Independence Day. We walk on up a steeper track, beneath trees with howler monkeys in their branches. The finca is set amid beautiful gardens where butterflies and hummingbirds are busy feeding on nectar. We have lunch before walking back down to go for a swim in the lake. We go out on the horses again, with Tom this time, but his horse is not that in to it, and he decides to return. E and C continue on to the spot before a fast return, and C cooks up gazpacho for dinner!
We leave next morning on the 9am chicken bus to the port. A smooth crossing with the majestic peaks behind us, we land and take a collectivo back to the bus terminal in Rivas. We dodge the same taxi touts and find a spot on the next bus that will take us to Granada. Our bags go on top, and we hope that the rains hold off. The bar in the Terminal is busy with cab drivers. We wait in the bus for 40 mins before it leaves, and it fills with passengers and hawkers selling bags of brightly coloured juice and deep fried objects. It is 1.5 hours to Granada north along the lakeside. The chicken bus infront has the attendants climbing on the roof sorting out bikes and luggage as they zoom around corners. We reach the terminal in Granada, that is just a patch of land. We quickly depart for the main square as it feels as though eyes are on us. The main square is very touristy with horse drawn carriages lined up. We go to the Café Euro and are met by the AirBnB contact, a lady called Argentina. We walk the 15 minutes zig-zagging to the local neighbourhood where our apartment is located. It is a great spot with a very local feel and kids are out playing on the street . We get supplies from the supermarket and return and sit in our little courtyard to have dinner. Next day we look around the old colonial city and visit the old nunnery with its artifacts and stone carvings.
Our next destination is Masaya, a short ride away by bus. We have to wait in for Argentina to turn up to hand over the keys, and just then the bus goes by and we hop on, and then the torrential rains come down. Good timing. The bus drops us in the terminal in Masaya, which is a heavily polluted spot of land. Rubbish and dogs surround the parked vehicles. There is also the obligatory flabby bare-chested man resting on the bumper of a chicken bus. We have to get to a roundabout on the outskirts of town by the petrol station Uno for our pickup by Rafael for our last AirBnB apartment. We take a bus there. However it transpires that at this gaudy statued roundabout, the are two petrol stations (Hay dos Unos!) and we are waiting at the wrong one. E and C pop to the supermarket to pick up supplies while T waits with the bags. We get back and T says he has met Raphael who gave him an ear full for not being in the right place! Pfff! He picks us up and we throw our bags in the back of the pickup truck and drive the 5 mins along a new unopened road that hugs the hillside. We stop at a gate with a giant sun and drive up the hill to a gorgeous building where we are staying. Views over to the volcano and down over the land are excellent. We have a cool box for a fridge, and the water is more than a little temperamental, however there is a plunge pool. Rafael then drives us to the other gate and shows us fruit trees and we meet the caretaker family. He then drops us at the tourist market and we shop for some souvenirs before getting home for sunset. Then it is mojitos in the outdoor plunge pool before dinner.
Next day we hire a taxi for the day and first visit the volcano lake at Apoyo where we swim and have lunch before visiting the Masaya Volcanic park which has a rather active peak that is blowing sulphurous gas all over the place that gives you an instant throat ache. A very dramatic landscape.
It is Tom´s last day with us as he is off on an early flight to Washington DC before flying back to London. We have our last beers in the plunge pool before dinner and discuss the highlights of the holiday. It´s been so great travelling with him and experiencing some life changing moments together!

In the morning we pack up and walk down to the main road. It is humid and we are sweating as we board the bus to UCA (Universidad de Centro America) which is on the outskirts of Managua. Here we find the transfer to the town of León and an hour and a half later arrive in to the bus Terminal. We take a trike taxi and are peddled into town. Today is a holiday and the streets are full of pedestrians. So we jump out and walk the rest. There are many hostels here, and it has plenty of expats as well as students giving it a very relaxed vibe. We check out a couple of hostels and go for one called Lazybones as it has a small swimming pool. And it is glorious in this heat! This is our last place in Nicaragua as we will take a shuttle bus all the way to Guatemala and the town of Antigua. We visit the cathedral here and a museum of modern art which is excellent as it not only has some Picasso but also central American art. The plazas are pretty and there are many murals and signs and black and red flags for the ruling Sandanista party and for Daniel Ortega who is back in power again. We eat plenty of barbequed chicken here in the local eateries which are excellent. Our last day sees a parade hit the streets for El Dia de la Patria =some kind of Independence Day- and we watch the marching bands that have been practicing for so long walk along the sweltering streets lined with throngs of people. We get ourselves ready for our shuttle bus that departs at 2:30am and will take us 17 hours or so to get to Antigua, and our penultimate country of Guatemala.

San Juan del Sur
The view from our apartment
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The beach is the main attraction
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Making mojito's
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Cathedral, as seen from our rooftop
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Our rooftop is the best for sunset
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Local chicken bus
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Walk to the Christ statue on the hill
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It is definately worth it!
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2nd night sunset on the beach
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On our way to Isla Ometepe
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The '8' shaped island is formed like this because of the 2 volcanoes
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volcano 1
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volcano 2
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Sunset horseride on the black beach
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The prince off the horse... and on his knee!
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Celebration in the local bar
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...followed by cuba libre's at home!
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The next day we explore the island and walk to Balgue
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Howler monkeys
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Beautiful garden at Finca Magdalena
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Horseriding again, this time Tom has no excuse
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Making gazpacho
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Chicken bus to the ferry
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Adiós Isla Ometepe!
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Our apartment in Granada
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The colonial centre of Granada
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Museum
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Hmm,, Where are we??
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Plaza Central
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And once again in the chicken bus
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Our finca on the outskirts of Masaya
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Tamarind in the garden
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..and chili
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The smoking volcano in the distance
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Cold water jaccuzi, incl. mojito's
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Let's make some food
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Laguna Apoyo
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The rain hits the water, and E in it
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We are getting used to these skies
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The landscape around the very smokey volcano Masaya
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The other crater
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Pollo asado, or 'roasted chicken' for lunch in León
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Leóns huge cathedral
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Revolutionary propaganda everywhere
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Theatre
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Plaza central
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Dinner at a local cafe
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September 14th - Fiestas de la Patria (day of the historic battle Nicaragua vs. USA)
big parade of schools in front of our hostel
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Cooling down at the hostel pool
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Posted by bumble_bee 18:43 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

3 go mad in Costa Rica

Black beaches, sloths, cloud forest and.. Tom!

We catch up with our heroes as they take the local bus from the border with Panama to the surf town of Puerto Viejo….

We locate the bus terminal beyond several tiendas selling large amounts of rubber wellington boots in the drizzling rain. We board the only waiting bus which soon trundles out of the terminal on its way to Puerto Viejo . It costs just 3USD per person as opposed to the 30USD the taxis want to charge. The rains become torrential and we stop periodically to gather more passengers who are cowering under leaky bus shelters. We reach the town in the gloomy Sunday afternoon and make our way to Cabinas Lika passing several locals sitting or slumped on the street corners. A strange vibe. The Jamaica influence is everywhere here as rastas sell curios and bangles in the streets, and the sounds of reggae fill the air. The Cabinas Lika is a great spot, and one of the cheapest in town at 20USD a night. We have a hammock out front and a communal kitchen. We head out for our first Costa Rican meal of fish and chicken with beans and rice, washed down with homemade iced tea and flor de Jamaica. We are sitting across the street from the Caribbean sea, a beach of black sand where a rusting barge is becoming part of the natural landscape as grass and trees sprout from it. Western children expertly surf the small breaks indicating this is a town where many foreigners have settled and started businesses. In the distance the beach line has thick green trees that have a strange mist blowing though them. It is this verdant lush and wet green, exactly what we were expecting from Costa Rica.

The next day has the sunshine pouring into our room and the real Caribbean feeling is abundant. It seems funny that even in paradise if the sun hides behind the grey clouds, then it can lose a little of its sparkle, unless of course it is a tropical storm, which is mesmerising! So with the hot sun on our backs we rent bikes and take off on the 12km ride along the coast south to the small town of Manzanillo. The route takes us through thick forest and it isn´t long before we spy a strange looking animal in the trees, with a head like the shape of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. It is a sloth. Incredible that we can see these apes just from the roadside. Hanging from the branches with a baby clinging to the mother. We shout “Hola!” and they turn their heads towards us! We reach the beach and it is beautiful, where the thick palm trees and jungle reach the golden sands. The waves are big and there are warning signs for rips. We soak up the sun and take a dip on this wild looking beach. We stop at a further beach at Punta Uva on our return to town. In the evening we chat with a couple of German girls who are heading to Panama and exchange tips, always one of the best ways to learn about places to visit and how to get there.

Next day we take the bus north to the tiny town of Cahuita which is again on the coast and has a free national park and excellent snorkeling. We stay at Cabinas Palmer and are greeted by the lady owner with her died red hair. She is charming and sits in a rocking chair, chatting away to her friends with the background noise of soap operas on TV. We visit the national park which is on the edge of town and the path takes us through the jungle and along the unspoiled beach. We see white faced monkeys in the trees above us, so many butterflies and at the beach where we paddle small sharks can be seen playing off shore. A racoon trots along the beach and takes an interest in a backpackers bag, sniffing out food!

We take a trip out to the reef with a guide and within minutes of being in the water we see a deadly lion fish with its spectacular colouring and spikey fins. We also spot a nurse shark! The corals are magnificent, there are these huge brain-like structures, and the schools of fish are huge, numbering several hundred fish. The visibility then deteriorates, and the amounts of jelly fish make it more of a challenge to swim in a straight line!

We leave the Caribbean and head inland by bus on the 4hr journey to the capital San Jose. At the bustling bus station we find an honest taxi driver to take us the short distance to another terminal for our connecting bus to Alajuela - which is close to the airport. The taxi takes us through a notorious neighbourhood in the environs of the bus station known locally as the “Coca Cola district” on account of a now closed factory. It is a rough looking part of town with people passed out in doorways and where a beefy woman with a shaved head, tattoos and a face like she´s swallowed a wasp laughs and berates a couple of toothless men.

We reach the bus station of Alajuela and check in to our hostel Trotamundos. We go out for supplies and find out there is no alcohol for sale today owing to a government rally which is bad news for us as Tom arrives from London tonight for a 2 week holiday and we need to toast his arrival! We hunt around in various shops but all have the alcohol sections covered up with sacking!

We take a taxi to the airport with our homemade welcome sign, and there he is, wandering through the myriad taxi drivers who cannot help but squawk “TAXI!” at every opportunity. It is so good to see him, and we hug and dance on the pavement. There is a small shop at the airport that sells beers, so we fill a bag and hop in a cab back to the hostel for dinner and a welcome beer!

Tepid morning showers and a “local” breakfast which is actually just fruit and cereal and coffee, and we wander out to the bus station through the busy Saturday morning streets that wouldn´t look out of place in Peckham High Road or Bos en Lommerweg, and find the bus to take us the hour or so journey to Poas Volcano. The walk up to the crater is lined with huge fan like leafed plants, mossy undergrowth and ferns. From the lookout the bubbling central pool that is a deep blue in bright sunlight but today is a milky pale blue, with its plume of white smoke, appears now and again from behind the thick cloud. A strong sulpherous smell fills the air. We walk to a nearby lake and return to the visitor´s center just as the heavens open and an enormous deluge hammers down, which is incredibly impressive.

Back in town we grab supplies to make fajitas and cuba libres, and a replacement USB for our photo backups (which involves selecting, going upstairs to pay and show passport, to then collection of our purchase), and over dinner we plan our next steps.

Our bus to the lush area of Monteverde doesn´t leave till 3pm in the afternoon so we spend the morning wandering the streets of Alajuela. In the park kids are miming to songs from Grease on the bandstand in a proper production, all in costumes. The cathedral on the square is packed for Sunday morning mass with standing room only. As we walk to the bus station the sun goes away and the rains begin, but the deluge doesn´t start till we are safely inside the bus station! The ride takes up through beautiful green hills covered in trees, and huge valleys drop away to our left. The sun sets and a short time later we reach the town of Santa Elena, and walk the steep rainy streets to Pension Santa Elena, a very comfortable and atmospheric hostel.

Santa Elena is a small town with many tourist attractions. We visit the Monteverde cloud forest national park and begin a walk through the thick jungle and it is not long before we come across a pack of White Nosed Coati! They sniff and snuffle their way across the path infront and behind us. Butterflies and hummingbirds fill the air, as the distant rumble of thunder grows ever ominously closer. The raindrops slowly fall and in no time at all it is raining so hard even the canopy above can do nothing to shield us. In our rain jackets we walk on visiting a waterfall (Ha!) and return to the gate entrance. We are soaked through as are our feet and walking shoes. The rains stop and the hot sun comes out. The grey mists hang in the trees as we walk back into the forest. It is a beautiful place.

Next morning we decide the best way to shake a hangover is to go zip-lining through the jungle and cloud forest. This activity involves being harnessed to a cable and zooming across ever larger distances through forest and over wide valleys. A real test for C´s fear of heights! The first few are short and we learn how to apply the breaks and pick up speed. They boast the longest zip line in Latin America, and to cross it we are attached on clips on our backs so that we may soar through the air like a bird, or as they say = like Superman. This doesn´t mean we must wear our underwear on the outside. Tom goes first as C doesn´t look too happy about it all. E´s reassurances that all will be well are met with a stern “That doesn't help” response from C! She goes next and then it is E´s turn. We are way above the trees, our shadows are cast below, and hawks soar beneath us. It is a spectacular view and a lot of fun for E and T. The final piece of equipment they have is a bungy tarzan swing some 40m high. It means walking out alone on a suspension bridge where 2 guys attach you to the rope, open the gate and out you fling. All E can hear is a scream from C as she is jettisoned. As E is strapped into the harness he can hear C below being unbuckled saying that that was the most frightening thing ever. Great. A catapult, 2 seconds of freefall and a host of expletives ….it is an incredible rush!

We make plans for our onward travel to Nicaragua which also involves a quick phone call (see Nicaragua chapter for more details!) . Next morning we take the early bus down to the main road, the Panamerican Highway. From here we are lucky to get the TransNica bus almost immediately that goes all the way to the border. Onboard we have failing AC, reclined seats in our faces, a toilet that back blows and a medley of 70s latino crooners dressed in wide collars on the DVD system. We realize we have left our carefully prepared food bag on the side of the Panamerican Highway!

The border crossing is somewhat hectic as we are ushered and shunted into various queues for swift processing. Tourists must pay 13USD to enter Nicaragua. We queue up behind 2 Padres. Outside behind a wire fence money changers shout and bark prices at people crossing over. We are offered a good price by the TransNica bus driver to take us into Nicaragua so we jump back onboard. At the Nicaraguan side we must take all our bags out of the bus where the customs official strokes the bags and Immigration deal with passports and we are not needed. Sellers of hammocks, handbags, watches and deep fried somethings parade by the bus. In a short time we are bundled back onboard and off we go into Nicaragua!

The black beach of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
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A sloth, yoohoo!!
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Superb beaches on our bike ride from Puerto Viejo
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Cahuita National Park
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'Cara Blanca' = White Faced Monkey
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C's favourite, the squirrel
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We are desperate for a dip after our walk in the heat!
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We walk back to Cahuita village along the beach
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Racoon!
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Our hostel in Cahuita
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Volcan Poas National Park
Poor man's umbrella
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Tom has joined us!
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The Poas volcano
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Old crater lake
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Alajuela
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Monteverde National Park = cloudforest
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Coati
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Caribbean side
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Pacific side
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Hummingbird
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Pooring rain
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Canopy adrenaline rush
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Oh oh what are we getting in to!
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Tom has no fear
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Superman!
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C has a lot of fear
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Help!!!
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Posted by bumble_bee 13:42 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

From Pacific to Caribbean

Cris-crossing Panama to crossing Costa Rica

Back we come to Luna's Castle where we take a dorm room with the greatest of views. From E's top bunk he can see the skyline of downtown Panama across the water and the old streets of Casco Viejo below, all through the floor to ceiling windows with wooden shutters. We get takeaway sandwiches and settle in to watch a film on the inhouse cinema, a cleverly constructed room of terraced comfy benches and a projector and screen of a white bed sheet. Alas the projector malfunctions so we abort this plan; instead we find a spot on the balcony and watch the busy streets of Casco Viejo on a Friday night as a procession of cars crawls in a circle looking for prescious parking spots, while valets run here and there orchastrating amongst the chaos. The rich panamanians are dressed up and out on the town.
For breakfast next morning there is a huge bowl of pancake mix and it is make your own! We pack and take a taxi to Albrook Bus terminal and we get the last seats on the next bus to El Valle. We head over the Panamerican Bridge with great views down to the peninsula. We pass along the Pacific coast and 2 hours later reach the town of El Valle which sits in the lush caldera of an ancient volcano. It is humid but cool as we get out of the bus infront of our hostel Casa de Juan. It is a fairly delapidated place full of junk and piles of camping tents in the wet garden, but it has charm and the owner Juan is extremely welcoming. We wander along the main street and have a batido (a drink made with fresh fruit and milk) and admire the mountains which are said to be in the shape of an Indian woman sleeping. We wander on to a small park that has a forest walk to some gorgeous waterfalls. The huge blue mariposas (butterflies) gather among the boulders by the stream. We cook dinner later at Casa De Juan, and the kitchen is busy. We do battle with a rather large cucuracha in our room, and a small fishing net comes in very handy!
In the morning we have breakfast of cereals bought from the Chinese run supermarket and head out for a walk to the nearby mirador (look-out). 2 of the dogs at Casa de Juan trot alongside us, one called Toby -a rather large sausage dog- and the other is Chuchi. They run on ahead and we follow up the steep path. It is hot and humid. The views are wonderful, but the amounts of rubbish along the way are a shame. Toby and Chuchi are sweating buckets and tongues are lolling, and we share our water with them. The mariposas are again fluttering through the thick folliage. We sit and admire the views before continuing along the path to complete the circuit back to town. We descend and meet another guest from Casa de Juan, a French lady called Vanina. We reach the main road and here things take a turn. The dogs we think know this route too, but they proceed to walk in the middle of the road. We must try and keep them on the roadside as the traffic is moving quite fast as it leaves town. We have no leads for the dogs and it proves very difficult and the next 2.5km consist of us slowing traffic down, shoving dogs out of the road, and in the end carrying them on difficult sections. Chuchi is cradled like a baby and just happily stares at you, while Toby who weighs some 30kg is a real handful. It is a comedic farce and C is in stitches nearly dropping her dog! Then they are off into the bush chasing a rabbit. Vanina buys a piece of rope to use as a lead; a traffic cop just looks at us and tells us to keep the dogs out of the road, really helpful advice that, thanks. Eventually we get them home and they collapse asleep. So does E. Later we go put for dinner with Vanina for delicious octopus and fish stew.
After breakfast there are farewells to Vanina and Juan and we wander out to the bus stop. One of the dogs begins following us... we send her quickly away! We climb aboard the next mini van and it is an hour to the intersection with the main road. Soon our bus pulls up and we board for the 3hrs to Las Tablas. C sits next to an elder American called Jim, a fascinating chap who has spent more than 40years working with the indiginous native people of Darian, the rainforest province close to the Colombian border. They have built a huge wooden boat that they sail around the world giving talks at various conferences. From Las Tablas we take a mini bus for the hour journey to Pedasi on the peninsula on the Pacific. This is cattle country, and the little town of Pedasi, despite being a spot for expats and tourists, it is a colourful and laid back place. We find a room at Morosco Hotel and chat with a French couple, in Spanish which is tough for E, about sharing a boat together to visit the nearby national park of Isla Iguana.
In the morning we all head out to find a fisherman to take us over to the island some 5km off shore for the right price. It is grey and rainy as we first take a taxi to the beach but there are no fishermen about. Back in town we find one sitting on a crate at the petrol station and negotiate for the price we want. We board a flatbed truck and speed back to the beach with the fisherman. The rain stings our grinning faces. There are many boats on this working beach, and then we are zooming over the water, the fibreglass boat slapping the water. Blue skies show themselves. We spot a turtle. We reach the island and walk up the path from the western beach over the island. Thousands of hermit crabs scuttle out of our way; the sounds of so many tiny feet moving over sand and palm leaves is very audible in the quiet. Overhead frigatebirds circle majestically and black vultures hop nearby on the beach. We pass a lighthouse and big spider webs with large spiders and very big flying bugs. We reach the eastern beach and take a snorkle looking at the massive parrot fish. Whales swim off shore, splashing their fins on the water, leaping out and crashing down. We then see the iguanas, counting 16 on and around the beach. Out in the bay small sharks play. A heavy rainshower hits the island and we stand in the free shower. It is one of those rare occassions when being soaked by the rain is a real pleasure! We search for whales on our return boat trip but they are all too far away to get a really good look. Back on the mainland the day's catch of tuna is being brought in and loaded on trucks. The fishermen carry these 25kg fish on the shoulder. They drive their boats up on to the sand, lifting the outboard motor out of the water at the last minute, very James Bond! We hitch a ride back to town with the day's catch and all go for a cold beer in the plaza. We grab takeaway fried chicken with rice and lentils and sit on the bench outside our room, and strum the uke. It is a warm evening, sitting and chatting with Pedro/Pierre and Ariane.
We begin a long day of travel at 8am, leaving on the minibus back to Las Tablas. We miss our next bus as a Policeman checks our passports and so we wait a short time for the next bus to take us to Chitre. It takes 1.5hours and from there we find the next bus for the 1.5hr journey to Santiago. Here we get the next bus to David 3hrs away. In David the rains are torrential, and we board our last bus of the day for the hour journey to the hilltown of Boquete. The bus is an old US school bus, yellow and still with all the original fittings. We arrive at 5pm and in the cute town we find our guesthouse called Marilos. It has been a long day but not stressful. The people were all very helpful. When passengers board the buses they all say hello to the other passengers, which is really nice, even in the cities, which gives a very local feel to travel here. There is a kitchen in the hotel which we can share with the family. A parrot by the door whistles and says "hola"!
We spend the next day walking through the town and exploring the surrounding coffee plantations. We chat with a street vendor outside his house who sells us his homemade fruit juice, squeezing a couple of chironja into cups, a cross between an orange and a grapefruit. His home is rather eccentric and a childish oil painting of him standing by his stall hangs from the wall. He is charming and slightly mad. We also visit a coffee farm, Casa Ruiz, and join a tour where we learn a great deal about the process the coffee bean goes through from the plant to the packet, and the differing strengths. Very fascinating information for us coffee drinkers!
Our next destination is the islands on the Caribbean near the Costa Rican border and our last spot in Panama, called Bocas del Toro. Shuttle buses go for 30USD direct, but we decide to take the morning "school bus" back to David and then the minibus for the 4 hrs to the town of Almirante, where a colectivo (shared taxi) takes us to the ferry taxi. We do the journey for 1/3 of the price of the shuttle. The boat taxi speeds out over the choppy sea and it isn't the most comfy of rides; C gets abit of a soaking. The island is fairly built up and the waterfront buildings with boat launches stand side by side as we disembark. Into the guesthouse Hansi, a German run place, with kitchen. We pop out for supplies. All the 4 supermarkets are Chinese run. We get food to make spicy veggie tortillas, mix up the gin and tonic we brought over from the mainland and play a game of scrabble.
In the morning we rent bikes and cycle over the island to the beach Bocas del Drago. It is 16km and there are a few hills. The bikes are not really meant for this kind of route, as they are heavy and gearless! C's chain also pops off a few times. Still it is beautiful through the thick jungle eitherside. At the beach we cool off in the Caribbean sea before having a ceviche lunch. We walk over to starfish beach and snorkel looking at the enormous stars!
We prepare for the border crossing to Costa Rica by printing out a fake airline booking that we may need to show at Costa Rican immigration.

Next morning we take the 9:30am boat to the mainland. The homes that border the water are dilapidated and rubbish litters the banks. We dodge the taxi drivers on the mainland in Almirante with their exhorbitant offers of 15USD to take us to the border. We have a map and instructions, so we walk to find the bus terminal, and are quickly lost! A friendly local points us in the right direction. Open sewage channels run between homes. We take a bus and a collectivo to the border for a total of 6USD. An army checkpoint is passed and our passports checked. There are so many stamps in them that it takes the young soldier an age to find the Panamanian stamp, as the rain pours down. He gives back the now slightly damp and ink running documents! At the border we walk up to a disused railway bridge. We pay a 3USD exit fee and get our stamp, then walk over the bridge. The still falling rain makes the loose wooden planks slippery. The brown river that is the physical border between Panama and Costa Rica can be seen 10m below through the holes in the bridge. Locals bathe in the river. There is a steady flow of locals and backpackers going both ways. At the Costa Rican side we fill in an entry form and say we are staying for only 30 days and that is it, no need to see onward travel documents. We walk on and find the bus to the surf town of Puerto Viejo.

Panama City
The view from Luna's Castle hostel
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Self-made pancakes for breakfast
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El Valle
Cloudforest
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Waterfall
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The Sleeping Indian (El Indio Dormido)
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Our walk (with the dogs)
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Dinner with Vanina
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Pedasi
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Trip to Isla Iguana
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Hundreds of hermite crabs
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Iguana
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Spider
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and tuna!
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Boquete
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Coffee!
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Above this shop we had our juice
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Coffee tour at Cafe Ruiz
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Bocas del Toro
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Who.. me? a pirate?
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Bocas del Drago
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Ceviche and beer mmmmm
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and this is what happens..
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Lobster catch
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Posted by bumble_bee 15:15 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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