Follow Amanda & Rob around the world for a year. From 30 September 2005!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Animal Magic

I hate to do this as I know what the weather is like back home at the moment, but we are in an internet café on the Island of Ometepe in Nicaragua and, despite the tired chugging of the antique air conditioning unit, it is swelteringly hot. I would love to be transported home for ten minutes of coolness and a slice of window cake before heading back here.

We are actually stuck in a one horse and many chicken town today as when we arrived on the ferry (a very calm crossing this time thankfully) we discovered that no buses run on Sunday. So we are here, and just kicking our heels before heading south to a place called Merida tomorrow.

Was having a think the other day, whilst watching a family of lizards wandering up a restaurant wall, about the abundance of furry and non-furry friends we have met in Central America over the last few weeks. I wanted to record some examples of the antics of some of these creatures:

Firstly, of course, we have our friends the mosquitoes. They bother us on a daily basis and we are covered in red lumps to prove it. One night in Guatemala, I think a group of them decided to hold a dinner party on my right ankle, forgetting to bring a tablecloth, dinner plates or indeed, any food. Oooh, it was not much fun the next morning. Even worse than the mossies are sandflies, which don´t suck any blood or anything, they just bite because they think we might be tasty. Thankfully, they don’t seem to find me too flavoursome. They are rather partial to a slice of Amanda once in a while though.

In Guatemala we saw quite a few pigs wandering around about their daily business. The best sighting though was near Lake Atitlan where I saw a Mr and Mrs Pig getting down and dirtier in the penalty area of a local football pitch. Before I was able to get my camera out they had disappeared into the bushes behind the goalposts. Probably heading off to Ashton Gate as they are in need of some goalmouth action down there at the moment. In another footballing incident, I watched part of a local game in Antigua which was frequently interupted by stray dogs invading the pitch. It was great to see that there are talentless fat blokes hoofing a ball around in the local park all over the world.

I also saw a snake in Guatemala as we were walking through some long grass. I was wearing shorts and consequently went in to a state of panic, walking very briskly and blubbering like a girl every time we went through any long grass after that.

In Belize we saw a huge iguana in the school playground. He was about 80 cm long and was predominantly orange. My guess is he was Dutch.


Walking down the volcano we were followed by two male dogs and one female dog who slid down the volcano on their stomachs, stopping from time to time for the two male dogs to fight over the attention of the female dog. The side of a volcano ain’t really the place for courting in my opinion.

In Belize we met a bizarre looking animal with a long snout and big bushy tail who lived at a bar. We know not what it was, but it looked a like a cross between an anteater and a racoon. His name was Micky.

In Caye Caulker, I was shocked to find a small crab in my bag of dirty laundry. Please note that this was not a reflection of my level of hygiene at that point in time. This little fella had crawled up to our hostel from the beach and decided that my smelly pants would be a splendid place to make a home. I courageously put him back on the beach using nothing but my bare hands and a sheet of A4 paper. Steve Irwin, eat your heart out.

In Honduras we were waiting for a bus and saw a monkey on top of a restaurant opposite the bus station. Not something I have ever seen on top of the Methodist Church whilst waiting for the Badgerline into Bristol.

Oh and last but not least, we saw lots of lobsters while we were diving, and all I could think of was the funny French lobster out of Finding Nemo. I put that thought to the back of my mind though later on when I was dipping a nacho into a big bowl of fresh lobster salsa. Lobster, onion, chilli, tomato, lime, coriander.....mighty tasty.....

Anyway, I am sure we’ll see many more animals along the way.

Stay warm everyone, and we’ll endeavour to stay cool.

Dr Dolittle

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Honduras (running away from Gamma)

So after a journey which I certainly do not want to repeat ever again, we find ourselves in the middle of Honduras just keeping a low profile and keeping an eye on the weather. When we arrived in Puerto Cortes off the boat, we really didn´t know where we were going to go, we just knew that we wanted to get away from the sea. For Teun, David, Erwin, Jerry and the rest of the Celanese guys, I spotted a Stolt vessel (not sure which one, as it was too far away to read its name) anchored off the coast of Honduras. If any of your products are on board, I fear it may be a little delayed. Just in time to mess up Christmas. Oooh how I miss my job…..!

So we jumped on a bus to San Pedro Sula, a dump of a place, and then decided to get on another chicken bus to Santa Rosa, also a bit of a dump. So today we got on another chicken bus to a town called Gracias where we will take stock for a couple of days before heading further south towards Nicaragua. Obviously a little disappointed to miss out on the Bay Islands, but firstly unless you fly, you can´t get there as a main road bridge collapsed a couple of days ago, due to the rain (picture of this is on bbc website) and secondly, it is raining still and diving would be no good as the sea has been stirred up so much. Here we´ll do some hiking and there are some hot springs too, which sounds like a nice way of killing a few hours. We haven´t found the Hondurans to be as friendly as the Guatemalans, and they tend to hassle you a lot, so we´ll probably be out of here by the end of the week.

A note here on chicken buses, which we have come to love over the past few weeks. These are old American school buses which are driven down here when they are not roadworthy in the US anymore, and then driven for another 30 years or so as public buses – a bit like the old Frankfurt U-Bahn trains that get sent to Poland, along with all the BMWs and Audis that get nicked and sent to Poland. They get crammed to the rafters with as many people, luggage, and animals that can fit inside and off they go. I think the most people I have seen on one two-person seat was seven – including a child who was being breast fed at the time. This, I must add, would not be an easy task, due to the lack of any kind of suspension on these vehicles.

The different characters on board always make for interesting journeys and they are dead cheap. We paid USD2.50 for a three and a half hour journey. There are no jolly hostesses selling crisps and tea on these buses, but instead, at every major town, a plethora of people climb on board armed with buckets full of drinks, popcorn, nuts, fruit, sandwiches etc. It’s like a whole market climbs on board the bus. Had some very tasty fresh pineapple on the journey today.

So we´ll chicken bus it all the way to Nicaragua I think. Two and a half weeks of Central America left and then we start heading west again. Time is flying by, but we are really enjoying life. So that’s the main thing I guess.

Cheerio one and all......

Tikal ruins and rest of Belize (it´s a long one...)

Well I keep saying that we are blogging too much but we’ve been a bit stuck due to weather problems recently and internet is cheap right now, so we’ll update on the recent (and very dramatic) goings on.

First of all, Rob didn’t mention Tikal (Mayan ruins) in his last update, which was our last stop in Guatemala. We got up at 3am in order to get there for sunrise. We arrived in the dark and climbed to the top of one of the ancient Mayan temples just as it started getting light. Unfortunately it was far too cloudy to see a proper sunrise but we were above the jungle and mist as it got light, and we could hear the birds and howler monkeys waking up as the cloud began to disappear. It was quite magical and eerie to experience the jungle waking up, and definitely worth the short nights´ sleep to do so. We spent most of our morning monkey-spotting and wandering around the ruins. Also saw several brightly-coloured toucans.

After that we went to Caye Caulker in Belize, which Rob wrote about. A little more on the diving: we both really enjoyed it but the learning experience was not without hiccups – namely Rob getting seasick from swallowing too much water, and me being a scaredy-cat doing the exercises… but apart from that it was fun and we got to do it in clear, warm water on a coral reef instead of in a swimming pool, which was fantastic.
Caye Caulked itself was fantastic. There were no cars on the island, just golf carts and bicycles!The ´roads´were made of sand and there were just two of them: Front St and Back St.

Having left Caye Caulker (sniff), we headed south down the coast to Hopkins. We thought we’d get a little way off the beaten track… you could tell we had done so when we arrived on the bus and nobody approached us to offer a place to stay. After seeing a room with about 30 bats hanging from the ceiling (the proprietor’s comment: “oh…we’ll just leave the door open for them to fly out”) we found a half-decent room but soon realised there was not a huge amount to do and so left the following day for Placencia, our ultimate Belizean destination.

We had a lovely few days on the coast at Placencia – the main ´street´ is called “The Sidewalk” and was built in order to make walking through the sand easier. It is only about 3 feet wide and obviously not really a street, but is in the Guiness Book of Records as the narrowest street in the world. Certainly would have been hard work without it as most of the hotels, bars etc. were on this walkway. The school playground is entirely sand, as are people’s gardens. Imagine a sand playground in a British school, paradise!

It was here that we first experienced the tropical storm that was developing (Gamma) when we went on a diving trip with 3 others we had met. The dive shop told us we wouldn’t go out too far as the weather didn’t look too good, so took us out 18km to Laughing Bird Caye (see this link for an aerial pic: http://www.laughingbird.org/). The ride out there was pretty rough in the small boat and we were drenched by the time we arrived at the island to drop off our lunch. Having done the first dive, we returned to the island for an extremely windy lunch, and watched on while 6 guys tried to save a boat that had been moored on the wrong side of the island from sinking due to broken steering. By the time we surfaced from the 2nd dive, the weather did not look pretty. As we began to return to the mainland, the weather got worse and worse – we were being battered by the waves and I was holding on to the flimsy tent-like roof so hard that it came off, so we were completely open to the rain and spray from the sea. With 4 of us huddled under a towel to keep in some of the warmth, the driver shivering and no land in sight because of terrible visibility, the giggling soon turned to worrying… not for long as the storm soon blew over and we eventually reached land again. Walked home still in our wetsuits and laid our things out to dry: EVERYTHING was wet, and I can say for certain that that was the wettest day of my life, with a little fear thrown in for good measure. Little did we know this would not be the last of our experiences with this storm…

Our boat to Honduras was supposed to leave on Friday morning but was cancelled due to the weather (they were on red alert down there apparently) so we were pretty pleased when we went back on Saturday to be told we would be going; the weather had improved, wind now coming from the right direction. However, during the course of the ride, the conditions went from mildly choppy, to large smooth waves, to downright huge choppy waves and torrential rain. It was worse than we had ever imagined. They handed out life jackets, people were not very well and it really was the scariest thing we have ever been through. At one point the waves were higher than the (pretty small) boat and it was crashing down so hard I thought it would split open. The one thing that was good was that neither of us felt seasick, despite being tossed around by the massive waves. I am finding it hard to convey how awful it was and how scared we were, but we were relieved to reach land!

We have certainly had enough of boat rides for now…

Monday, November 14, 2005

Belize

Hi All

Just a quick update here as we are in an Internet café in Hopkins, Belize with the most frustratingly slow connection ever. Been in Belize for a week now, most of it spent in Caye Caulker which was very nice. White beaches, palm trees, clear, warm water and very chilled. The island’s motto is ‘Go Slow’, which we proceeded to do. We spent 4 days learning to dive and are now qualified. Were learning with loads of fish in the coral reef which was really nice. Well we were learning, they already knew how to swim underwater. Natural talent I suppose.

Also had a trip out to some other parts of the reef where we swam with nurse sharks, saw a barracuda, a huge eel and loads of bright fish. Pretty cool and we sailed home drinking rum punch watching the sunset and saw dolphins near to our boat. Awesome.

We are now heading south to Placencia for a few days and then on to Honduras.

Will update from there, when we have better internet.

Bye for now

Rob

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lake Atitlan and Lanquin

Hi again...
it seems like ages (again!) since we wrote, but our days are just so action-packed that time flies by! It's a hard life...

So, after Rob last wrote we bid farewell to our host family in Antigua and took a long bus ride to Lake Atitlan. Consequences of the mudslides were evident in the hills with parts of the road having collapsed completely due to the hillside having collapsed underneath them. To get the last few kilometres to Panajachel we had to get off the big coach and were piled on (standing) to the back of a pick-up truck, yes a pick-up truck to go across a kind of make-shift bridge (which was in place of the road that collapsed) that the coach would have been too big and heavy for. Slightly unnerving! Once we made it to the jetty to get across to our destination, we saw that half of that had collapsed too...

Anyway, we made it to Santa Cruz safely on a ‘lancha’ and our hostel was luckily right in front of us when we arrived. Great place, and we spent a very relaxed few days there. Our first night was the ‘legendary’ BarBQ, the legendary bit being that you had to dress in drag... we’ll post the pics asap, Rob looking ravishing though.
We walked to a nearby town, San Marcos (Gwen!). This took a while, and took us through to small villages on the way. Again, the devastation from the hurricane and consequent mudslides was pretty awful. Seems that people don’t have much to do but wait for help, and these villages are only accessible by boat or foot which doesn’t help. Hardly any tourists about due to the mudslides and at the time another hurricane was on its way...
Other than that I don’t think we did much, but the place we stayed was fantastic and the lake extremely beautiful. We didn’t have electricity or hot water but that made it even more fun!

On Tuesday we spent all day on another very long bus ride (total of about 10 hours) via Antigua and Guatemala City to Coban, where we stayed for the night and got up first thing the next morning to get the bus to Lanquin. The following day we went to Semuc Champey (Gwen again!), a natural limestone bridge of turquoise pools and waterfalls, with a river running underneath. Stunning, just like paradise. But the best part of that day was the caves we went to first. Stripped down to our swimming things and were each handed a candle (our only light) before we proceeded to swim though pools, climb up and down ladders, jump into pools and climb through a very small hole in these amazing caves. A fantastic experience, probably my favourite so far.

After another few relaxing days we decided it was time to move on, and this morning got the bus back to Coban and up here to Flores. Was absolutely boiling when we arrived and then proceeded to bucket down with rain – I don’t think I have ever seen so much rain in so little time. But it’s ok, coz it’s kind of an island so hopefully doesn’t flood!

We will take a trip to the Mayan ruins of Tikal tomorrow before taking a bus to Belize on Monday. Phew!

Oh, and to answer a much-asked question, yes I am using the hairdryer when electricity is available, cheers Em!

Thursday's Activity

OK. We are having technical difficulties in Guatemala meaning we cannot at this moment in time stick any photos online. Shame really but we’ll get them up there in the end. So I’ll just write about last Thursdays happenings.

A lot of people were predicting it was going to happen in Vegas, but it didn’t. But you will be pleased to know that last Thursday, in a Mayan mud hut, myself and Amanda got married.

Ah, not really. Fooled you all for a moment though didn’t I? But we did pretend to get married. And then Amanda had a pretend baby. Then another pretend baby. It was all so quick. We don’t know what hit us.


We had gone to visit a Mayan village for the afternoon, where we were told all about their traditions including weaving, food (most importantly), carrying big baskets on your head and family life. It came to a point where the Mayan lady asked for a boy and girl volunteer. Amanda of course stuck her hand up, so I was dragged along. Then we were dressed up in traditional costume, Amanda in a lovely woven rug type thing and a white veil and me in a big black pullover and a rather dapper straw hat. We looked like Wurzel Gummidge and Aunt Sally. Then we got blessed, they chucked petals on us, we had a boogie, well a sedate dance anyway. Next thing I know, Amanda has a doll strapped to her back and a basket on her head. And then 30 secs later she has another baby and the one that was on her back has been whipped round to her front and is breast feeding. All pretend of course. Now I don’t have any experience of marriage, but I’m sure things don’t go that quickly in England. And we were told that a Mayan woman will normally have 15 kids. Blimey. Looks like I best get tending to my coffee plants.

Anyway, I retired to another room to go and eat some Mayan chicken as these shannanigans were all a little too much for me. Twas a most interesting experience though. Similar to an English wedding but with more rugs to wear and less renditions of ‘Come on Eileen’.

The pictures are good. By the way, we have taken so many pictures (the joys of a 1 gig memory card), that I will warn you all now that is probably best to avoid us when we get home, or you could be in for a long evening of looking at me pulling silly faces in various parts of the world.

Amanda is doing the rest of our goings on I think. Been chilling a lot this week and haven’t been too dangerous as far as I remember. We are sitting here in very humid heat, whilst everyone at home is letting off fireworks to celebrate Rovers’ march to the second round of the FA Cup (and City’s sad demise). I would have a beer to celebrate tonight but we are very low on cash and there is no cash machine in this no horse town. Up at 3am tomorrow to go see some old ruins, so best get an early night. Funny, I wouldn’t get up at 3am to go and see the Bristol City strike force. Hee hee hee…..

Next time will be from Belize. I’ll try and write some individual emails too I promise.

Cheerio, y’all….

Rob