Monday, July 29, 2013

Lago de Yojoa

On Saturday I had an 11 hour journey from Utila to Lago de Yojoa - a ferry, a taxi, two buses, and a 10 minute walk. (Am I the only one somewhat amused by all of the types of transport I have to use in any given day? I keep mentioning it, but are all of you out there like, "why does she keep telling us that?") I woke up for that journey at 5:45am and had only gotten about three hours of sleep because it was too hot to sleep. By the time 9:30pm rolled around I was completely exhausted and crashed for the next 12 hours. It was glorious. Especially because it's cooler here and it was MUCH easier to sleep.

I had high hopes for exploring the lake and surrounding area on Sunday, but after a looooong leisurely breakfast, well, that used up just about all the energy I had! Instead, I read, surfed the internet, sent out accommodation requests to couchsurfers and hotels, and did a bit of Nicaragua planning. There may have been a beer or two in there as well, consumed during conversations with other travelers (I am staying at a place called D&D Brewery, after all!). But that's about it for the entire day.

So Monday came, today, and I knew I had to get out there and do something, maybe even take a picture or two. I figured seeing the lake I came to see would be a good start, but I mistakenly thought I was much closer to it than I am (Santa Cruz de la Laguna close) and, as it turns out, it's about a 35 minute walk/hike away. No worries, after the laziness of yesterday, I needed the exercise.

I consulted a map, double-checked it with one of the staff, and was off. Along the way I snapped a pic or two and greeted people who were fishing from the riverbank. It was a warm day, but I was still grateful for the long pants and longish sleeves I was wearing because it helped protect me from the brambles and other pokey, grabby things. 

Now, I don't know where exactly I lost the trail (or even if I was truly on it to begin with), but I figured I'd power through it - swampy, shoe-sucking muddy reeds and all - because as long as I walked along the river I'd eventually come to the lake. And that's true. I would have. Eventually. But before that could happen, I realized that I was in about knee-depth water (definitely no path in sight by this time!) and I was still pretty far from my destination. Lucky for me, a group of four hondureños had been pacing me in their rowboat for about the last five minutes or so. They must've had pity on the crazy girl trudging along and called to me in Spanish to get into the boat. I gladly accepted because I needed the help for sure!
When we got to the lake, they asked me where I was going and all four cracked up when I replied "no se" (I don't know). I really didn't know, I just knew I wanted to take pretty pictures of the lake! Eventually we got to the lakefront and all piled out of the boat. They joked and laughed and skipped rocks while I took pictures, and they climbed back in and told me "let's go!" Awesome, looks like I was gonna get a ride back, too, yay! They took me much further past where they picked me up which was so nice.

I indicated where they could drop me off and asked if I could pay them. (By the way, SO proud of myself for that sentence: ¿puedo te pago? I just finished the Duolingo lesson on clitic pronouns and it was a BEAST. I didn't understand them when I first learned them in high school and I struggled with them this time, too. But damn if I didn't get it right when I needed to!) Anyway, in typical Honduran fashion, they refused to take the money I offered, but I insisted. I wished them a good day and said goodbye (and that's when one of the guys got cheeky and made kissy noises at me haha).

And that was my big adventure for the day. Now I'm back to doing what I did yesterday. :-)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A look back in pictures

Yesterday I reminded people about my Flickr page and it made me start to look through some pictures I haven't looked through in awhile. So I thought that while I'm making my way through the Honduran countryside today, I'd share some favs that maybe you haven't seen before.

This one is helping me think cool thoughts right now:
(Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, about this time three years ago)
I haven't seen too many big, bright, shiny cities like this one in Central America:
(Petronas Towers in Malaysia, spring 2010)
My own little slice of paradise. I've never had so much privacy on a public beach before or since:
(Padangbai, Indonesia, May 2010)

This is how lunch is meant to be done. Fishing trip with big ass nets that took all of us working together and then we gathered around the banana leaf to reap our reward:
(Muang Ngoi, Laos, Feb 2010)
Who doesn't love a good distillery tour?
(Islay, Scotland, fall 2010)
One last one in case ya'll are growing weary of this already. There have been a lot of long road trips recently, but none have been as long as the cross country one I took with the sister:
(Middle of who knows where, USA, June 2011)
I hope your weekends are off to great starts!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Yesterday's sunset

When you last heard from me, I was on my way to an icy beer and a sunset. Here's some of what I captured (and, in case you need a reminder, all of my photos get posted on my Flickr page):

I feel like I've been on a quest for that most glorious of sunsets for most of this trip. Most of my attempts have been thwarted by rain or clouds (I am traveling during the rainy season, after all). This one has come the closest, but I'd have liked if the island was positioned a bit differently to see more of what gets hidden by the western side of the island. That's not asking too much, is it? :-)

Tomorrow I take the early ferry (6:20am, ugh) back to La Ceiba to make my way southwest towards the middle of the country, to a place called Lago de Yojoa. The lake is home to over 400 species of birds (too bad I'm not a huge birdwatcher!) and is near coffee plantations, caves, waterfalls, and national parks. After spending a few days there, I'd like to head further south to Isla el Tigre, but I'm still working out the logistics of getting to and staying on a not particularly highly visited island.

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Diving Utila

Yesterday I did my scuba tune up course to help me feel more comfortable since it's been three years since my last dive. It is a testament to how good my dive master (Maru at Parrots Dive Center) was that I only had one tiny little freakout before being able to move on, good as new. I'm actually kind of surprised that it was that easy for me to get back into the swing of things, considering I tend to be a pretty nervous diver.

I'd signed up for two dives and was at the dive shop bright and early this morning, 7am. I was happy to see the sun shining (it'd been a little overcast yesterday) and smooth waters for as far as the eye could see. There were a whole gaggle of divers heading out, but most of them were in class to get their open water certification. Once we got to the first dive site, the four of us doing fun dives and the aforementioned Maru, quickly separated from them (new divers have "skills" they have to perform and they tend to flail about a bit, both of which kick up sand and reduce visibility, hence the reasoning for wanting to distance ourselves). 

I felt pretty good about my buoyancy and air use; I wasn't the one sucking down air and forcing a short dive this time (that honor went to a 12 year old kid who was actually sharing air underwater because his tank was so low). All was good...except the dives just weren't that awesome. Visibility was super low on the second dive and we just weren't seeing anything super amazing. Trumpetfish and angelfish are cool, but I've seen them before. I admit, I was really, really thinking it'd be pretty stinking awesome to see whale sharks, which tend to be in this area. I know that not every dive can be the best dive ever, so I don't want it to sound like I'm placing blame or am bummed out. I'm actually really glad I went, I just don't think I'll do the other two dives I'd been considering. There are at least two other potential dive areas I can hit up before this trip is over - the Little Corn Islands in Nicaragua and Bocas del Toro in Panama.
And now for some snippets:
*  As I've discovered in past travels, contact solution is just not an easy thing to find. I brought a bottle with me that would have been enough for the whole trip...if I hadn't left it in my room in Guatemala City. Oops. I finally found some in Utila yesterday - $10 for a teeny, tiny little bottle. I seem to remember paying even more than that in Prague?, but I can't find the link.
*  Readers who have been around awhile know my love of brunch and how much I miss it when I'm on the road it. Imagine my surprise when I found that a restaurant here does brunch, a true brunch, complete with both breakfast and lunch options AND the proper accompanying adult beverages. I really thought twice about staying here two extra days just for brunch, but I finally decided that was a bit silly.
*  Although I'm sitting on a breezy balcony at the moment, it's basically been hot as Hades since Cabo. I've managed to get into the habit of three showers daily, sometimes four. The beer in Honduras is the iciest ever and combined with all those cold showers, I'm managing (sometimes barely) to stay comfortable.

I like sets of three, so I'll stop my bulleted list there. It's just about time for one of those icy beers and what looks to be a pretty great sunset.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gearing up for diving

I arrived in Honduras on Saturday and, so, have been here for three full days now. I've been in Tela, on the north coast, and I've been quiet because, honestly, there hasn't been a whole lot to write home about. Downtown Tela is a bit rundown looking and not all that pretty to look at. On Sunday when I actually took my camera with me to see if I couldn't squeak something out of it, 95% of the shops were closed and that would've meant just lots of corrugated metal gates and barred windows, so I didn't bother. 

I was actually staying a bit outside of Tela in a place called Triunfo de la Cruz (Triumph of the Cross). It's a Garifuna village that I was initially dismayed to see required a 15 minute taxi ride to get into town, but after seeing that Tela isn't much to look at and a taxi ride is only 25Lps (lempira; $1=20Lps) anyway, I was okay with the decision. It's a sleepy village with not much to do besides walk along the beach, chat with locals, read, watch videos, and nap in hammocks. I didn't take many pictures, a few cloud challenged sunsets shots is about all. I'll try to get those posted in a couple of days, but my internet connection is deadly slow right now. Done!
One kind of funny thing to mention is that kids seemed to love me in Tela. During one of my walks along the beach and through the village, kids would stop and wave. Quite a few pointed to my tattoos and made comments (that I mostly didn't understand). One even laughed, pointed, and called me gringa (white/foreign person)! I hadn't been called gringa or any of its variations in some time, so it kind of tickled me. Also, the youngest daughter of the family running the place where I stayed took an instant liking to me. She'd always run up to me and grab my hand or jump into my arms to give me a hug. Her name was Mia and I didn't understand most of what she said either, but that didn't stop her from chattering along anyway. It was kind of sad when she burst into my room (she had a habit of doing that, enough of one that I made sure to keep the door locked, usually), saw me packing, and asked "a dónde va?!" (where are you going?).

Today my four hour trip consisted of a 2 1/2 hour ride on one of those legendary chicken buses, a 25 minute taxi ride, and an hour long ferry ride. I'm in Utila now, the smallest of the three main Bay Islands, located in the Gulf of Honduras. Tomorrow I'll do a refresher course to bring me back up to speed in the ways of diving and I'll go on two dives the following day. Depending on how that goes and how I'm feeling, I may do two more on Friday, but we'll see.
(I don't know who they were, but so romantic, right?)

Friday, July 19, 2013


Mexico was lovely (but hot), but I don't have a single picture to show for it. I did everything I wanted to do. Mostly. No massages happened, but I still count the trip a success. And now I'm back in Guatemala, at once longer than I was planning on being here, but at the same time not here for much longer. You see, before I left for Mexico my plan had been to fly back to Guatemala City, just for the night, and leave the next day for El Salvador. But somehow - and this happens when you travel, at least if you're me - within hours of leaving Cabo I'd decided that I was going to scrap ES for Honduras instead (for the time being, anyway). This meant that rather than traveling to Santa Ana, El Salvador yesterday as had been my plan, I instead came to Livingston, Guatemala (on the east coast of the country, not far from Belize, actually). It was more of a stopping point, really, because from here I'll head south along the coast, cross into Honduras, and head to the Bay Islands where I will (hopefully) get some diving in. What happens from there is still up in the air...

*     *     *     *     *

I was lying in bed the other night, not able to sleep. In my "real" life when this happens, I usually am kept awake by something work related, or maybe I compose to-do lists, that kind of thing. But when I can't sleep in my traveling life? At least during this trip? I compose sentences in Spanish, apparently. Yep. I think of everything I had to say in English during the previous day and I translate it to Spanish. If I don't know the words, I open up my internal thesaurus and riffle through it until I come up with a word I do know the translation for. I practice the whole sentence in my head until I feel comfortable and confident that when an instance comes up again where I'd need to say something similar, I'd be able to. Then, I do it all over again in as many different ways as I can figure out how to say the same thing.

This leads me to believe that my Spanish IS getting better, even though I haven't taken any formal Spanish lessons while I've been here (I've thought about it, though). For now, entiendo más de lo que puedo hablar (I can understand more than I can speak). That's good and it helps a lot, but it makes for very one-sided conversations...

*     *     *     *     *

Lucky for me, I still have two more months left to go. I'm one-third of the way through this particular trip and already I've added six new stamps to my passport. I still have five blank pages left, but there were eight just a month ago. El Salvador may be out, but there are still four countries I'd like to hit up in my remaining time - Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. That only leaves about two weeks per country and that should be enough, but I guess time will tell...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Taking a break

I'm taking a break from the backpacker lifestyle for the next few days and so I won't really be posting here much until later in the week. I had the opportunity to go to Cabo San Lucas (Mexico) with a friend from home and figured some time at a resort would be a nice change from cold water showers and dorm rooms. 

I intend to lounge poolside, drink cervezas, eat my weight in street tacos, soak up some a/c, sleep in a room not occupied by 5-7 other bodies, and maybe get a massage or do something else resort-y.

Enjoy your week and I'll see you back here on Thursday or Friday!

Friday, July 12, 2013


I haven't been at all disappointed by how photogenic Antigua has been. When I passed through briefly last week, I forced myself to just walk around, get my bearings, and enjoy it even though my very first instinct was to grab for the camera. Now that I'm here again for the second time, the camera hasn't really left my hand. :-)
I spent about 10 hours walking around the city, seeing what I could see. My first stop was Cerro de la Cruz, above. It involved a walk up a hill and a short hike up some stairs, but the reward was this view. I was a little sad that clouds covered the top of the volcano, but I quite liked how this photo turned out anyway.

From there I popped into a paneria (for an assortment of breads) and a cafe for a latte to go, and I walked over to Parque Central to enjoy a cool morning breakfast. Although it's July in Central America, Antigua is at an altitude of about 1500m and the daily high temp is only in the mid-60s. There's no humidity, either, so it's kind of like being back in San Diego.
After breakfast, I began my wanderings. The downtown area of Antigua is pretty small, only about 10x10 blocks, and the streets are set up in a way that makes sense at the same time that it's kind of confusing. The calles (streets) are numbered 1-10 and run east/west. The avenidas (avenues) are numbered 1-7 and run north/south. So Central Park is located between Calles 4 and 5 and Avenidas 4 and 5. I was never lost in quite the way I have been in the past, but I did have to consult a map a time or two to make sure I was heading the direction I thought I was. The only thing I knew for sure was that Volcan Agua, the nearest volcano to Antigua, was in the south and knowing that actually helped quite a lot!

The cobblestone streets and the Spanish colonial style buildings give everything a very romantic kind of feeling - especially when you add in the abundant aromas of bread and coffee that are everywhere! A number of buildings date back to the mid-1600's, but there were also a couple of devastating earthquakes in the 1700's that destroyed a lot of the town. As you walk around, you see both restored buildings and ruins.

Aside from playing tourist and amateur photographer, I didn't do much else with my day. I found free wifi at a coffee shop to practice Spanish with this app that some other travelers had told me about (Duolingo, if you're interested; it's pretty cool). I bought, filled out, and sent off some postcards (including a funny exchange in Spanish at the post office). I bought my bus ticket to Guatemala City for later today and picked up the laundry I'd dropped off the day before.
When I finally arrived back at my host's house, I was completely exhausted and not just from all the walking. YOU try spending a whole day using the limited amount of Spanish that you know to make yourself understood and see how tired YOUR brain is at the end of the day!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Santa Cruz in pictures

I just spent what was supposed to be two days but what turned into four days at Santa Cruz La Laguna on Lake Atitlan. Santa Cruz is very small, but there's all kinds of things you can do there: diving, kayaking, swimming, yoga, Spanish classes, spa treatments, weaving, hiking. And, from the pictures below and here, you'll see that it's pretty damn scenic, so photo opps abound. I, however, didn't do any of that (aside from take photos, of course). No, I pretty much did the opposite of "activities" which is to say that I was lazy for a few days. I finished a book, walked along the shore, alternated between laying in the sun and laying in the shade, then just switched to hammocks altogether. I also met a couple of really amazing people and we spent hours stargazing, watching lightning flicker off in the distance, and having conversations that lasted into the early morning hours.

I think it was Aldous Huxley who called Lake Atitlan, with its three flanking volcanoes, the most beautiful place on the planet and I'd be inclined to agree. If you've had a chance to take a look at some of the other pictures, too, what do you think?

Saturday, July 6, 2013


The eight hour bus ride to Lanquin ended up taking closer to nine hours, not counting the half-hour late departure time. It was a pretty good ride, though, I have to say. For the first six hours or so, it was just me and an Irish guy and we happily chatted for that entire time. At about the six hour mark, we picked up some people, dropped them off, picked up some others, and then dropped them off. Even when the bus was full, it wasn't chicken bus full so you didn't hear any complaints from us.

When we finally arrived at Zephyr Lodge, we couldn't've been happier. Check out some pics here because I didn't get very many good ones, myself. We were surrounded by completely stunning scenery and all of the other guests were very chill and friendly. (I wasn't super thrilled with the attitude of one of the staff when I asked about a covering for an opening in the thatch roof that allowed my bed to get rained on, though. She said, "We're in the jungle, that's just the way it is." It stopped raining and wasn't ultimately a problem, but still.) The lodge is very isolated, so everyone hangs out together. All around, very good vibe, if maybe a bit too party-ish for my tastes.

ANYWAY. In making my way toward Lanquin, I thought that a visit to nearby Semuc Champey National Park would be a great way to spend my 4th of July. I know I said not that long ago that I don't really "do" tours, but...I did another tour. You kind of have to for this one, too, because transportation is pretty infrequent and guides are necessary for the cave portion of the trip anyway, so it just makes sense.

The park and caves are only about 10km away from the lodge, but it took nearly 45 minutes to get there. The roads are pretty rough and occasionally a truck will break down, blocking the entire road, which means you have to get out of your truck and walk up the hill to another one, one that we apparently...took? borrowed? I'm not sure exactly, but yes, that happened. Twelve of us stood in the back of a truck for this journey and I'm pretty sure it counts as part of the tour!

The Kan'Ba Caves were our first stop. There aren't too many pictures from the day because there was so much water involved, but here's a pretty waterfall that was just outside the entrance to the caves:
Unlike the cave at ATM that came with helmets and headlamps, this cave came with no helmets and stubby candles. And at the beginning of the cave, you have to swim one-handed as you hold your candle aloft with the other hand. It was quite the way to begin the day! We were in the cave for about two hours. Besides swimming, we did a lot of slippery climbing and maneuvering, we got to jump from a cave ledge into a pool, and (very, very) cool was when we got to walk behind a waterfall and then float through a cave river to get back to where everyone else was waiting.

The adventure didn't stop when we emerged out of the cave. There was a massive rope swing to jump off of into the river and a 21m bridge to jump off of into the same river. I didn't do either of these things because the river current was a bit strong for my liking as a not-so-good swimmer, so instead I just cheered on those who were jumping.
(Crazy German Robert, holding onto our guide's head for balance before he takes the leap)
We had a lunch of carne, rice, refried beans, salad, and tortillas prepared for us by a local lady who'd cooked everything and set up shop near the bridge. The rest of the day was spent at Semuc Champey. Semuc has a naturally created limestone bridge and the top of the bridge has a series of pools. First, you hike for about a half-hour, practically straight up to an area known as Mirador where you have a view of those pools. Thank god it wasn't a hot day because by the time we got to the top, my legs were jelly and I was dripping sweat. Pictures can't possibly capture what the eye does, but I gave it a shot:
When our guide said, "let's go swimming!" we really couldn't have been happier. After the cold cave water, then the hot climb, we were looking forward to the other end of the extreme again. The pools meant more opportunity for jumping from high heights. As I was scrambling up to the ledge, I couldn't help ask myself what the hell I was doing, considering I'm a bit afraid of heights and all. I was the next to last person to go and I was finding it hard to work up the courage when, out of nowhere, the last guy gave me a countdown. It worked! So I returned the favor for him when it was his turn. ;-)

There were also naturally formed slides (you can see them at the bottom, towards the right of the above picture) that weren't very long, but they were kind of exhilarating because they were so fast. Another very cool thing was this cave that only had enough room for your head (the rest of you was underwater). You entered the cave in one spot and came out in another. The light was shimmery and ethereal because it was reflected off the water. One of the pools had those dead skin eating fishes - at least that's what I hope it was, as the water was too deep for me to actually see, but that's what it felt like. By the time we got to the last pool with one last rope swing, I think most of our group was cold, tired, and seriously ready to be out of the water.

We got back to the truck and climbed aboard. We were all grinning like idiots, but completely exhausted. So, of course, it totally makes sense that it started raining about halfway back to the lodge. :-/ I was really looking forward to a cup of coffee, a hot shower (which is semi-open and overlooks the jungle, by the way), and dry clothes at that point.

Since it was the 4th of July, the lodge had prepared a "Happy Birthday, 'Merica" menu for dinner that night consisting of slow roasted pork shoulder, corn on the cob, potato salad, grilled veggie skewers, cole slaw, baked beans, and a couple of other things I'm forgetting. I'm pretty sure that, aside from one of the staff members, I was the only American there so it might've been a bit over the top, but it was fun and convivial all the same.

How was your 4th of July?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Initially my plan was to see the sunrise at Tikal. I had the perfect sunrise watching spot all mapped out in my guidebook and everything. I booked the 4:30am pickup time and knew not too many hours later that I wasn't going to be seeing the sunrise - it's been raining off and on since shortly after I arrived in Flores. I went ahead with the early pickup because I figured maybe it wouldn't be as crowded and it turned out I was correct.

The pickup was late by about a half-hour (it's the Central American way!), but it only took about an hour to get to Tikal. Had there been a sunrise, we (technically) would've still made it since the sun rose at 6:28am, although getting to the spot I'd picked out would have been tough. 

The park is huge. I had about six hours until I needed to be back for the return ride to Flores, but I had no idea just how much time it would take me to see everything I wanted to see. I was especially worried looking at the walking time approximations on the map I'd purchased. There were an awful lot of trails marked 25 minutes or more and a couple were marked an hour or more. Luckily I had nothing to worry about as I saw everything and had time to spare.

Some pics before we get to the big granddaddy:
(Click for a larger view of the panorama)
(Coral makes another appearance)
(Ruins just spring up out of the jungle)
The temple I was most looking forward to was Temple IV. It's the tallest in Tikal National Park at 64.6 m (211.9 ft) which also makes it the tallest in all of Mesoamerica. What makes this more impressive is that this structure was built in 740 AD. It did not disappoint:
(Click for larger view. What you see to the left is scaffolding for some restoration work.)
You can't climb all of the structures, but this one you can. I was very happy to see that the park has constructed a staircase (reminiscent of those found in water parks) to make this easier. I've mentioned before how the stairs on a lot of ruins I've seen are more like vertigo inducing ladders than stairs. But just because there were stairs doesn't mean I wasn't out of breath by the time I got to the top! I sat up there, quietly taking it all in for almost an hour. (Well, except for when I (very politely, mind you) asked the person who was smoking when they weren't supposed to be to make sure he didn't toss his butt into the jungle and to take it out with him.) I couldn't see them, but the howler monkeys were screaming and making all kinds of noise. It was kind of wild.
There were other cool animals in the park, too, but I didn't get to see all of them. The park is home to jaguars, toucans, occellated turkeys, wild pigs, coatimundis, the aforementioned howler monkeys, and a number of other bird species. I even saw jaguar- and coatimundi-crossing signs which cracked me up.

One interesting thing to note: although there were a lot of similarities between Tikal and Angkor Wat, it was refreshing to see a lot of Guatemalan visitors at Tikal. I don't remember seeing any Cambodians at Angkor Wat. Maybe it's because nationals pay Q25 (about $3) versus the Q150 (about $19) that foreigners pay? I don't think there was a similar incentive in Siem Reap.

Tomorrow (well, today, July 3rd by the time this posts) I'll be on my longest bus ride so far for this trip: eight hours from Flores to Lanquin.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ruins and caves

Hey, so, now that I'm in Guatemala it probably wouldn't be such a bad idea to tell about my last few days in Belize, huh?

When I last left off, I had crossed the country to San Ignacio where I had a couchsurfing host lined up, courtesy of my last host in San Pedro. I didn't know it at the time, but my new host Marcus actually runs a little place called Parrot Nest Lodge. It's about three miles outside of town and guests there have their choice of a treehouse or a cabana. Since I was surfing, I stayed in the main house. But here, take a look at Parrot Nest:
(Common area near the outdoor dining area. You can't see it too well, but there's a treehouse just beyond.)
(One of the cute cabins)
Pretty great, right? Breakfast was made to order in the morning and there was a group meal in the evening. A lot of the guests were doing "activities" every day - riving tubing, horseback riding, ruins exploration. All of these were guided tours and you probably know I'm not much of a guided tour kind of gal. Plus, they were pretty pricey which is fine when you're going all out for a week long vacation, a bit harder to swallow when you're budgeting for three months. In any case, I had some things I wanted to do on my own anyway.

On Friday I took a colectivo (shared taxi) into town to the visitor's center to find out how to get to Cahal Pech, a Maya site discovered in the 1950s, but formerly in use as far back as 1200 BCE. I'd heard that it was only a 20 minute walk from town, so once I got directions I set out. It was only 20 minutes, but damn - that was an UPHILL walk in hot, humid temps!

There was a small, but informative museum as you entered that helped you get acquainted with the grounds and background history. But then it was on to the main event - my first (I believe) Mayan ruins!
(Pretty much the first thing you see from the main plaza)
Probably the most interesting thing about Cahal Pech is that excavation is still happening today, some 60+ years after it began. At one point I just sat and listened to the grad students doing their excavation thang. Seeing the ruins was pretty exciting, although it wasn't nearly on the same scale as the Great Pyramids or Angkor Wat. When I see Tikal tomorrow, I think that will change.

(You get a whole other view from up above)
On Saturday I went into town with Marcus and his friend Carl for the weekly Saturday market. I'd heard that everything was sold at the market, from clothing to wine, pupusas to produce, jewelry to puppies (not so happy about that last one, actually, considering that all of Belize has a major problem with stray dogs). I didn't buy anything, but I sampled some of the local fruit wines (grapefruit, raspberry, blueberry, papaya) and some of the Mennonite made cheeses, and had a really yummy pork, cheese, and bean pupusa (sort of like a stuffed tortilla).
(Don't let the shade fool you - it was a HOT day!)
Later on, Marcus's neighbor invited us to a bbq to celebrate one of their kids graduating. (Side note: Marcus and his family employee a staff to help around the lodge. Over the course of working with these people for the last 10+ years, they've all become really close. In fact, Marcus even puts all the staff's kids through school because it costs money to attend even the public schools.) I ended up talking to a Belizean who is also in HR and it was pretty interesting to find out more about differences in employment laws and how wages are paid (hourly now, but up until very recently it was a day rate). Maybe it sounds boring to non-HR peeps, but I didn't think so.

Yesterday was my "activity" day. I hadn't even planned to go to San Ignacio, but before I left San Diego a friend told me that I absolutely had to go there so I could go to Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM). ATM is a nearby cave filled with archaeological artifacts ranging from ceramics, stoneware, even human remains, and it was in use as far back as 250 AD. This was a guided tour and a guide was very much needed. Our guide, Luis, took five of us through the cave in about four hours. This was quite long compared to the time some of the other groups were taking, but it just meant that we got LOTS of information. 
(Since pictures weren't allowed *at* ATM, here's what the road looked like on the way there.)
As you make your way through the cave, you occasionally have to swim or climb, being sure the whole time not to step or touch where you shouldn't. The cave has only been open to the public since 1998 and already you can see signs of wear - waxy areas of oil build up from hands and feet, fungus growing, human remains broken because of a dropped camera. (That last example is actually why cameras are now banned. There's some pretty good info and pics here, although the site is a bit outdated now.) Luis did a really good job of explaining some of the rituals that took place at ATM and pointing out some specifics that I noticed not all of the other guides shared. For example, there were a number of silhouettes that were either natural or modified formations. One in particular looked like a talking head which had to be rather terrifying to ancient Maya who were there to appease the gods or cleanse themselves of sin. The other crazy thing that Luis did was have us turn off our headlamps. A few times he did this while we were sitting or standing still, to give us an idea of just how dark the caves really were (and maybe also to force us to listen to him instead of looking around, haha). But then. He lined us up, single-file, had us put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us, and then we turned off our lamps and walked like that through the darkness for about five minutes. Holy moly, was that some scary stuff! Water and darkness don't really work for me, but damn if I didn't hang in there - go me! Funny thing is that after we left the cave and hiked out of the jungle, one of the guys in our group said that at any time any one of us could've turned our lamps back on. I swear, that never even occurred to me!

That brings me to today and my first border crossing of this trip. From Parrot Nest Lodge, I took a colectivo into town where I got on a bus to Benque Viejo. From Benque I got a taxi to the border, from the border I got a micro bus to Flores, and from Flores I took a tuk-tuk to my hostel. It sounds a lot more complicated than it actually was (aside from the tuk-tuk drivers who tried to gouge me by charging double).
(Sneak peek of Flores)
Flores is adorable, but there's really not much to do here. I'm here as a jumping off point for Tikal and will be leaving again the day after tomorrow. 

**Btw, after the first few pictures loaded for this post, my internet connection refused to do any more. I'll try to add them later if I can, but they're on Flickr in the meantime. Problem solved!