I've uploaded most of the pictures from our Central America trip. Go back through the blog to see all of them.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Shana: We had an incredible 2 weeks with my parents. Our standard of living improved significantly with stays at beautiful hotels and delicious meals. We went back to Antigua and Lago De Atitlan. Our hotel at the Lake, La Casa Del Mundo, was literally built into the side of the cliff overlooking the lake. Each room at a private balcony overlooking the lake. We spent our time relaxing, swimming in the lake, and enjoying the wood-fired hot tub at night.
Next, we flew up to the far north of Guatemala to the incredible Mayan ruins of Tikal. These huge stone pyramids were in the middle of the jungle often separated by 30-45 minute hikes through the humid environment. Even better, the jungle around the ruins were full of monkeys, tucans, possiums, and many many more animals that we spotted from the steps of the ruins and the porch of our hotel room.
After that, we went further into the jungle by heading east into Belize. We chartered a TINY flight to take us to Chan Chich lodge in the Orange Walk District. This luxurious resort was built on the site of more mayan ruins in the middle of dense rainforest filled with plenty of mammals and uncountable birds (and a few too many mosquitos, too). The owner of the lodge also produces just about everything in Belize including its beer, shrimp, beef, and gourmet sauces. Needless to say, the food at the lodge was INCREDIBLE. We overate at every meal (the 3 course meals were included with the price) and each was better than the previous one. The Coquilles Saint Jacques (scallops with a rich creamy mushroom sauce), Shrimp Caribbean (coconut shrimp with pineapple sauce), the key lime pie, and the Beef tenderloin were our favorites.
Finally, we headed south to the small costal town of Placencia. It was HOT on this sandy beach, but each night there were incredible rain storms often with lighting and loud thunder. It was too hot to do much, so we relaxed in our nice apartment, went swimming in the very warm water (almost too warm with the hot air temperature too), went on a tour of Monkey River to see more jungle animals, and ate some delicious shrimp. Unlike the rest of Central America, people speak English in Belize and everything costs prices comparable to the US. It was a nice transition for us before heading back home.
Today (Sunday), we just arrived back in Portland, OR and tomorrow morning we're heading down to San Jose to find an apartment. And, in less than 2 weeks Greg will start school. SO MUCH TO DO IN SO LITTLE TIME.
We'll try to get to posting some pictures as soon as we can find the time.
It's been one crazy adventure and we'll remember it for a life time!
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
After Coban, we headed to the Ixil Triangle which is a region of 3 town that are comprised of all indigenous people who mostly speak Ixil. It´s the first place we´ve been where more people speak Mayan (in this case Ixil) than Spanish. We head to Chajul, because this is the town where a family friend runs a non-profit. Not only are we the only gringos in this small town (without a supermarket, internet cafe, or restaurant), but everyone obviously stares at us. The kids follow us in the street (or run away giggling), every single person says ¨hola¨when we pass, and we are really the biggest show in town. All the women wear the traditional Ixil clothing consisting of a hand woven wrap around skirt (usually red) and an intricately embroidered cloth blouse. Even the baby girls wear this outfit. However, none of the men wear traditiona clothing, opting for jeans and t-shirts with WWF stars.
The non-profit has been closed the past 2 days since the directors are in Xela for a conference, so we´ve mostly been milling around town, watching women weave on their front porches, and taking pictures of the beautiful mist that comes down around this mountain town. We´re also incredibly happy to be in a mouintain climate again where we can wear jeans and fleeces. Our hospedaje is a beautiful wooden building with a large kitchen so we´ve made mango-banana smooties, pasta and tomatoe sauce, and our very own milk from powder (yummy!). We also have bought a few pirated DVDs from the local market (all 4 Indiana Jones movies for $2-- but we later found out the 1st 3 are in Spanish and the 4th one is crap!). We also bought a beautiful texile from a local women who ushered us into her house to see all her woven goods. We probably payed too much for it, but it´s hard to haggle with a little old lady who lives in shack with a dirt floor-- especially when you have a month´s worth of her wages in your pocket.
Today and tomorrow we´ll help out with the non-profit which provides education and assitance to Mayan families. I think we´ll mostly be playing with the kids and helping them learn Spanish (a funny idea).
On Saturday we´re heading to Guatemala City to meet Shana´s parents and do the whirlwind tour of Guatemala and Belize. Greg and I are both really excited to go back to Antigua, to have other people to talk, and to be able to play 4 person card games. We´ve just about exhaused our cribbage, gin, and egyptian ratscrew.
.25. I've included some beautiful views from the road (and some not so beautiful ones). Just imagine what those roads feel like without shocks! (and none of the buses have decent shocks). The microbus shown above wasn't even the most crowded one we've been on. And, check out when the road fell through-- we ended up waiting on the side of the road for a few hours while the bull dozers rebuilt the road!
.5. A "Ferreteria" -- they must sell Ferrets! (in reality, they're hardware stores)
1. Trash. People in Central America don´t give a second thought to litter. Everyone throws their trash on the sidewalk, out the bus window, or in the river. It´s still very odd for us to see someone throw their empty bottles and candy wrappers on the ground wherever they are. It´s particularly suprising given how proud gutaemals are of their country-- you´d think they would want to keep their country pristine.
2. Reading. After not being able to find Harry Potter in Spanish while we were in Xela (it´s only the most popular book in the world), we started noticing that nobody reads books. And, I mean nobody. The bookstores (liberias) only sell paper goods and supplies (no actually novels). When Greg and I were reading in one of the microbuses, a child behind us asked us in Spanish ¨what are those and what are they for?¨ Surprised, we told him they were for fun and that we liked to read. The kid then borrowed the book just to flip through the pages and check it out. Our teachers from Xela even said that people in Guatemala just don´t read books including those who know how to read. We´re pretty sure its much easier to find English language novels than Spanish ones.
3. Note: do not steal our multi-million dollar business plan. since we have a lot of time to spare, we´ve been thinking about our future plans to make millions. We discovered a drink in Guatemala called Ades which is a soy-milk based fruit juice. Even Greg loves it and doesn´t care that its ¨soy¨. Our plan is to either become the US distributor for Ades (no pronounced AIDS), or to replicate the recipe and create a new product for the US. No, this is not stealling. We´ve been discussed possible target consumers, marketing, and other business plans in great detail.
4. When not planning the start of our Fortune 500 company for soy-juice (help us think of a good name, please!), we´ve been disucssing what kind of restaurant we would want to own. Shana´s favorite so far is ¨A la mode¨ where dishes are accompanied by an appropriate scoop of ice cream (e.g. rhubarb crips with strawberry ice cream). She´ll also do weekend brunch. Not surprisingly, Greg wants a sportsbar and steak house which organizes recreational sports leagues in its next door field.
After Rio Dulce, we travelled to Coban, not to be confused with Copan. The trip there only consisted of 3 buses and took 6 hours ... nothing!
The town of Coban is not much, but we did find a nice place to stay, and a great place to eat: a restaurant in a spanish style courtyard where the waiters all wore bowties. The real reason we went to Coban was to make a day trip to Semuc Chumey and Lanquin, about 2 hours away. Semuc Chumey is a state park famous for its natural limestone bridge. Essentially a river runs a natural tunnel, over which you can swim in the aquamarine limestone pools. The sight of the water rushing into, and out of the tunnel was very, very impressive. It was worth the trek down a waterfall on a rope ladder to see. Words can´t describe how beautiful these pools were (so we´ll post pictures when we can).
The second part of daytrip was to the mahussive Lanquin caves. These caves run back 68 km, though we only walked through the lit part, which is about 2 km long. The caves have been used for mayan rituals and animal sacrifices for 500 years. The smell of incense and candles was still present.
After our stint of island living in Roatan and Utila, Shana and I made our way back to Guatemala, specifically to the Atlantic coast town of Livingston. Yeah, I know, sounds really Guatemalan, right! Livingston is predominantly a Garifuna community: meaning that it is people by former plantation slaves in from St. Vincent, a British-owned Carribean island, who were moved to Livingston and Roatan when freed. For this reason, the culture is very Carribean, english is commonly spoken, and the majority of people are black. Makes for a fascinating mix.
Our trip to Livingston was an adventure. We woke up at 5am and ended up needing 14 hours and 7 modes of transportation (not counting a fair bit of walking) to get there: a hour long ferry to La Ceiba, a cab to the bus terminal, a 3 hour bus to San Pedro Sula, a micro bus to Puerto Cortez, a chicken bus to the Honduras-Guatemala border, another micro bus to Puerto Barrios, and finally a white knuckle boat ride in the dark, in big waves, to Livingston.
While in Livingston, we explored the Garifuna culture, by which, of course, I mostly mean the cooking. The highlight was a seafood coconut milk and corriander soup (can´t remember the name). We also took a long hike to the ¨7 Altars¨, a series of beautiful waterfalls in the jungle a little ways from town. The waterfalls formed some awesome pools to swim in ... seeing a pattern here?).
After 2 nights in Livingston, we took a boat tour down the Rio Dulce to the town of Rio Dulce. The ride there, which mostly consisted of a protected park, was absolutely gorgeous. It reminded Shana of the mei-kong river in Laos, especially the way the jungle started at the very banks of the river. On the way, we stopped at a textiles cooperative, a hot springs (no, we are not getting tired of these), a bird island, and flower covered bay. We had a chance to also see manatees and fresh water dolphins, but they never showed their faces.
In Rio Dulce, we stayed in a ridiculously nice hotel on the river (right at the opening of a large lake). This place would be a 4 star resort in the States, but we got a room for about $7.50 each. We slept in a large, two level, open air cabanna, which was connected to every thing else by small boardwalks. The hotel had a great place to dive into the river, kayaks, a living room with pool table and library, a good restaurant, and the World´s Best Pina Coladas of all time! No kidding! Another nice perk were the showers, which were hands down the nicest and hottest we´ve had in Central America, which I guess is not saying that much.
On our second day in Rio Dulce, we visited the Finca El Paraiso (¨Paradise Plantation¨). This whole area is famous for its banana plantations. This is where United Fruit, now Chiquita, and Dole really started out big ... partly leading to the US led coup in Guatemala in ´54. The term ¨Banana Republic¨ was probably coined for this area. We could say that we visited the Finca to learn about the socio-economic conditions and effects of the banana trade, but really we were mostly attracted by the enormous hot water waterfall on the grounds.