A Travellerspoint blog

Go the Socceroo's !!!

It's lonely being the only Australians in Cancun.

sunny

Hello friends and fellow travellers

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Go Aussie!!! What an exciting result in the world cup for Australia! Shelly and I got up early to watch the Australia v Japan game here in Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera. It seems we may be the only Aussie’s here as we were the only non-Mexicans in the sports bar-restaurant-cafe. There are a lot of Americans and Scandinavians here. The game was televised on ESPN, an American sports channel, so we were forced to listen to American commentary. When they weren’t crapping on about the American team and how they were gonna whip ass, they were pretty much writing off the Aussies - "Oh Shep," real name "the Ossies don’t seem to be showing any inspiration in this game." "That’s right Glen, their midfield has been feeble and seem to be just going through the motions. Unless the Ossies can perform some kinda miracle here it looks like it’s Japan’s game." You can understand our delight (and relief) when the Socceroos pulled out those three magnificent goals in the last ten minutes. Strangely the commentators went all quiet about that time (Í was also secretly and smugly delighted when the US was trounced by the Czechs).

Cancun - Americans don’t dance
Well, last time we left you we were in Guatemala and heading into the deepest darkest jungles of Honduras to visit the lost Mayan city of Copan for Shelly’s birthday. Actually, we didn’t really go to Honduras. After many tears (on my part) we opted to go to Cancun in Mexico. For those of you who don’t know, Cancun is situated on the far north east tip of the Yucatan peninsula, directly south of Florida in the USA. It is well into the tropics and has year round summer sunshine, beautiful whiter than white sand beaches and the most incredibly aquamarine blue water (sorry fellow West Australians, although we have beautiful sandy beaches at home they just don’t compare to Cancun). Because of its location Cancun is EXTREMELY popular with US holiday makers who go there in their thousands. We stepped off our tiny plane from Guatemala City (number of passengers = 26) into a veritable tidal wave of American tourists, all talking loudly and dragging ten thousand pieces of luggage with them (my god, some people had 3 of those huge wheelie suitcases EACH. How many outfits do you need for a 7 day package holiday???????). We opted to stay away from the beach resorts and the Americans, opting for the cheaper, more Mexican alternative of downtown. It was only a short bus right (5 minutes @ 0.30c) to the hotel zone and beaches.
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Cancun was badly smashed up by the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans. More than half the hotels and resorts have been completely destroyed. It was amazing to see these places fenced off and in ruins. The beaches however have been restored (apparently most of Cancun’s sand was swept down the coast to Playa del Carmen where it created sand banks some three metres high. At cost of many millions of dollars the sand was removed from Playa and returned to Cancun.
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Cancun is rightly famous as a party town. It is EXTREMELY popular with American college students who come here in their millions to enjoy underage drinking, sand, sun and sex, so we were expecting to see a good deal of nightlife, even though it was low season. The first night we did a bit of a bar crawl through the hotel zone. Apart from a few girls happy to flash their boobs on request and a lot of tequila being drunk, it was mostly a pretty quiet night. The second night, Shelly’s birthday, we intended to hit the clubs. After scouting the scene we settled on Dady-O´s, apparently a legendary place in Cancun (but don’t all these sort of places claim to be legendary?). We settled into the upstairs bar to watch the action on the dance floor. Most of the night the music was US hip hop kinda stuff, i.e., Nelly, 50 Cent, etc; nothing particularly original or exciting there. The first thing we noticed was the number of girls from the audience ¨performing¨ on the podiums around the dance floor. Pole dancing moves seem to be very popular and the girls were quite explicit and quickly surrounded by young men who gathered around them to stare, occasionally trying to pull the girls down to the dance floor. Most of the girls though were not interested in the boys’ advances but seemed to simply relish the attention their ¨dancing¨ drew. The club’s approach to the girls seemed odd, they periodically gave bottles of champagne to the most outrageous, but just as often the bouncers were telling the same girls to get off the podium.

On the dance floor there was no less interesting action. Soon after we settled in we noticed a couple of girls bent over the tables and seats that surrounded the dance floor. Young guys were rubbing up behind them in a very explicit imitation of another activity altogether. At first I thought this was simply a couple of overt exhibitionists, but as we continued to observe the dance floor it became apparent that this is the latest style of dancing for the American college set. The dance goes something like this - groups of boys dance together (i.e., doing the shambolic shuffle) and groups of girls dance together (i.e., energetic shaking of the booty). Boy grabs girl and spins her around so she is facing away from him, girl backs into boy and shakes ass like a ho in a 50 Cent video, boy grips girl’s hips and pulls her to his groin. Boy and girl do this until conclusion of the song and then separate back to their groups. There are a few variations on this theme - multiple girls can all back into each other to form a chain; if a girl is really energetic she can bend right over and put her hands on her knees and shake her ass; if she is really, really energetic she can bend right over nearby furniture or even place her hands on the ground; if she is really, really, really energetic and wants to put on a real show she can lie the boy on the ground and then mount him on the floor. There is NO face to face dancing.

Now you might think I am kind of exaggerating a bit about this, as I am often prone to do. But honestly, these kids seemed not to recognise face to face dancing. On the couple of times Shelly and I ventured onto the dance floor (it was a risky business I can assure you) we danced properly and face to face and Shelly was alarmed and surprised to find herself being grabbed from behind. Each of the young guys who did seemed genuinely shocked that Shelly was already dancing and partnered (either that or my dance moves were simply so awful they thought Shelly needed to be rescued!).

Now there is nothing wrong with getting jiggy wid it on da dance floor. I am partial to a bit of dirty dancing myself, as we all are, but to us there seemed to be something of a darker undercurrent to all this overt sexualised ¨dancing¨. Be it from the way the boys sexualised the girls, who did all the movement while all the boys had to do was hold on; some held them by the hips, but there was also the around the throat hold that I found particularly offensive. Then there was the group mentality; one guy dancing overtly with a girl while his posse all stood round and stared; if a girl needed help bending right over you could always call on the posse to help hold her down. Given the endemic levels of sexual violence, abuse and rape that occurs in the US college system, seeing it imitated here was rather disturbing. This is not to say that the boys drove all those bizarre behaviour, in some respects they were passive to the actions of the girls (but they certainly had expectations that the girls MUST do certain things). The way the girls strove furiously to out compete each other for sluttiness was also a little worrying. I think now I understand a lot more about hip hop music and the anti-songs, like Pink’s Stupid Girl.

Merida - Where you from my friend?
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Two days in Cancun was about enough for us so we caught a bus to Merida on the west coast of the Yucatan peninsula. Merida is the state capital of Yucatan and a much older city than the newly created Cancun. There were few American tourists here, although lots of Scandinavians and other Europeans. We stayed at this very 1950´s style hotel on the outskirts of the centro historico. It was cheap and rather cool, although none of the staff could speak any English. Merida was very pleasant and charming and we stayed 3 days, which is a lot for us. Oddly Merida was the only place we encountered annoying touts who would come up to you in the centre square or on the streets. They always tried to engage you in an innocuous conversation before trying to lead you to their cousins shop (is Maya market today, only once a month is open and is closing in 15 minutes. Come with me I show you). Last time we had heard those time honoured tout lines was in Egypt. Their presence was annoying as they grabbed you whenever you were trying to relax or take a photo or otherwise just enjoy yourself.
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From Merida we did a couple of day trips, first to the Mayan city of Uxmal (pronounced ooshmal). Although only an hour out of Merida the place was almost empty, except for a smattering of Scandinavian tourists - all young girls surprisingly - a couple of loud Americans, and about a millions iguanas. We saw the first iguana scampering into the ruins shortly after we entered the park. It was only a little one, about 30 centimetres, so we pursued it and took about half a dozen photos. No sooner had we taken two steps than there was a second, bigger one, then another, then another, then another, each bigger than the others. The largest were about a metre in length (or would have been had their tails been intact - seems tail cannibalism is fairly popular amongst the iguana population). Uxmal, although a famous and important ruin, seems to get so few visitors that there is a large wild animal population. The air buzzed with insects - beetles, multi-coloured butterflies and, more disturbingly, mosquitos. Feeding on them were thousands and thousands of birds. I found all this wildness added to the atmosphere of the place, but Shelly felt creeped out, especially by the iguanas.
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The next day we took an organised tour to Celestun, a tiny fishing village by a mangrove swamp. Sounds appealing right? It was. The town was as exciting as it sounds, but then that’s not why people come here. The mangroves are home to a massive flamingo colony and Shelly was hanging out to see the flamingos. The flamingos, when we finally saw them, presented an impressive sight. They are just so impossibly pink. They are also very, very noisy and argumentative, fighting with each other constantly. Apart from the flamingos the tour had only one other incident worthy of note, which we call the “Nipple Incident.”
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There were only 9 people on the tour, mostly young (like ourselves!) except for an older Belgian couple that were quite frankly weird. They were about 50ish and the woman looked like an old hippy and she was prone to making quite strange statements. After the flamingos we went deeper into the mangrove to a freshwater spring where you can go swimming. The fresh water created this rather attractive blue pool, which looked very attractive but no one decided to go in, except the Belgian lady. So we all waited and waited while she swam and soon the whole group was back waiting at the dock. The tour guide called VAMOS and it was time to move. The lady climbed up the ladder to the dock and oops, well, her nipple was poking out of her top. Everybody on the boat saw it and we all kind of embarrassedly looked the other way and chatted amongst ourselves. But that didn’t stop her. She came over to us (we were unfortunately standing near her bag) and she told us the water was really nice – nipple still out. Doody doody doo, we all go, yes that’s great. So she towels herself off and, well, now her boob was pretty much all hanging out. Doody doody do, we all go, hmmm, let’s look over here at this interesting thing at the other side of the dock. So her husband goes over to speak to her and we’re all thinking he’s gotta say something, I mean, her boob is hanging right out, he can’t miss it! They stand there chatting away in Belgian for a few minutes and he says nothing. Then captain says get in the boat and we all hurry past her thinking, she’ll realise in a second. But NO! Three minutes later she walks down the dock and climbs into the boat with the boob still hanging out, and we’re all going doody doody doo, hmm, look at that interesting thing over there and trying to look the other way. The boat ride back to Celestun was about 15 minutes and I swear no one dared look around at her until we all got off. Thankfully by then she had put her T-shirt on.

Down and Out
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Early the next morning we bought a ticket to Chitchen Itza, the premier archaeological attraction of the Yucatan. This amazing Mayan city ruin boasts the largest ball court in Mesoamerica and an astonishing amount of sculpture in situ. Every culture in history has developed its own particular sports, but there really has been no game like the Mesoamerican ball game. It was played in an “I” shaped court with high sloping walls that the ball could be bounced against. Scoring was by getting the rubber ball (about as big as a soccer ball) through a small stone hoop mounted high up on the side of the wall or by landing the ball on a stone circle in the centre of the court (rules appear to have differed in different places). Teams of 6 or 7 players used their elbows, knees and hips to move the ball. Every city had many courts and at least one ceremonial court. The most interesting thing about the game is that it involved human sacrifice. No red cards in this game, players were decapitated at the end of the game. But which players?? Unfortunately no one knows. Some reasoned that it was the captain of the winning team who was sacrificed, or perhaps the whole team; others reasoned the losing team; still others believe the score determined the number of predetermined sacrificial victims to be killed. All along the sides of the court at Chitchen Itza are sculpted friezes showing the game being played, the teams in ceremonial gear, and the decapitation of players, including blood squirting from the players severed neck (in the form of snakes). It is quite grotesque.

Chitchen Itza was fairly magnificent, but it was also an abject lessen in what happens when a popular archaeological site it situated close to a very popular tourist resort. The city, although huge, was filled with many hundreds of tourists and hawkers. Also, because of the numbers of tourists all the monuments were fenced off and you could not climb the temples or pyramids. This was especially disappointing because the best sculptures are usually placed at the tops of the temples. It was also a stinking hot day and there was no shade, despite the jungle and, frankly after all the jungle ruins we had seen on this trip we were all ‘ruined’ out.
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We travelled that afternoon to Campeche - the pirate city at the bottom of the Yucatan. Actually pirate city is not the right term as the city was not founded by pirates but burnt to the ground by pirates on three separate occasions. The Spanish eventually enclosed the city in an enormous fortification and this is what makes the town so interesting today. We arrived at dusk after a four hour bus ride and took a quick walk around to see the sunset. The town had a lovely relaxed ¨seaside town¨ atmosphere that was very different to anything else in Mexico. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay very long as there was only one departure a day for our next destination - Chetumel - but Campeche was small enough to see in one very busy day.
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Belize - the dark 'art o da Caribbean
It was another six hour bus ride to Chetumel across a fairly tedious landscape (low secondary jungle, dead flat). Chetumel was not our destination though as Chetumel can be fairly described as a shithole. There is nothing to see or do there (maybe I’m being a little harsh). The original city was completely destroyed by a hurricane in the 1960´s and was replaced with a non-descript, centre-less suburban sprawl. Our real destination was Belize - an English speaking commonwealth country in the heart of the Spanish speaking Central America. Unfortunately, we arrived an hour after the last bus to Belize had left so we were stuck for the night. Luckily we got ourselves a room with cable TV as there was nothing happening in the ¨city¨ (very strange room with the TV enclosed behind an iron cage - obviously a few previous guests stole more than just the towels).
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Belize truly was a pirate nation. The area was originally settled by English and French buccaneers who hid amongst the cayes, reefs and sandbanks of the Belize coasts waiting to prey upon the silver laden Spanish galleons that departed from nearby Panama City. It then became the crown colony of British Honduras before gaining independence in the 1960´s and changing its name. Belize is very popular with backpacker set looking for the laidback Caribbean experience.
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It’s also, as we found, a bit of a dive. The first sentence of the official Belize City tourism website says something like ¨Please don’t believe all the terrible things you may have heard about Belize City. It isn’t that bad really.¨ We certainly didn’t stick around to find out. It was a desolate run down place of dirt roads and wooden houses. We caught a taxi from the bus station to the ferry terminal. It was only a couple of blocks but apparently even that short distance isn’t safe to walk. A quick word about the bus trip. For those of you who saw the picture of the chicken bus in Guatemala, well, in Belize this is called an international luxury coach. From what we can tell, all the buses are old US school buses (some still in their original paint job). These were sold to Mexico in the 1960s, who then sold them to Guatemala in the 1980s, who then sold them to Belize who knows when. The four hour ride from Chetumel to Belize City was certainly an experience.

We had to wait at the ferry terminal for an hour for the next water taxi to the islands. I thought I might step outside of the terminal for a moment to see what I could see. I was immediately grabbed by a Rasta who offered to sell me some ganja so I could have a good time on the island. I thanked him and said no, he then asked me for money. When I said I didn’t have any Belize dollars on me he told me he would take me to a shop where they could change whatever I had into Belize dollars so I could give them to him. As attractive as this offer was I had to say no and he got really shitty tellin´me I was a real harsh white man. Yeah, you get that.
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Caye Caulker was a thin strip of sand no more than about 100 metres wide at its narrowest point. It is the place all the backpackers go and where you can do lots of snorkelling and diving trips. It was quite badly damaged by the hurricane that took out New Orleans (plus many earlier ones too) but even so it appeared fairly run down. The accommodation was quite basic; a lot like the wood and asbestos shacks that people built in Mandurah and Moore River in the late 1960s. There were no cars on the island, which was good; everybody walked or drove golf buggies. Most disappointingly there was no beach on the island. What little beach there had been had been washed away. That kind of decided us - why stay on a Caribbean island with no beach? We would leave the next day and go to Playa where we know there are great beaches. That night we went to the only real bar in town and drank beer and rum with the tourists and locals. It was karaoke night and there were some good singers. I wanted to sing ¨Somewhere, across the sea.¨ but the dude didn’t know that song ¨You have to do bettar dan dat man!¨ Oh well. You may be interested to know also that Belize men, although black, do not seem to have been excessively blessed with rhythm. They did the shambolic shuffle just like the best white dudes. Must have been something to do with the English.
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So it was a travelling day, one hour on the boat, four hours on the school bus from Belize City to Chetumel and then another four hours to Playa. Playa is heavenly. Great beaches, great shops (better than Cancun), great nightlife. We’ve been here three nights now but we’re unable to sit still. Tomorrow (14 June) we’re off to Cuba, and then we’ll be flying back to Cancun and on to New York. Sadly, it looks like it’s almost over now. It has been a great trip though. We’ve seen and done a lot.

See you all very soon - quite literally.

Love

Shelly and Paul
xxxx

Posted by paulymx 07:26 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mehico!

sunny

Hello friends. Hope everyone is well.

Shelly and I are currently in Guatemala. We’ve just done about a week or so of travelling in Mexico. Mexico is quite different from the rest of Latin America. Here is a brief rundown of our adventures.

Mexico City - the city that feared sundown.
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We arrived in Mexico City at about 6pm after a lunchtime flight from Lima, Peru, but by the time we had gotten through immigration and tried to find accommodation (let alone tourist information) at the airport, it was almost 9pm when we got to our hotel. We decided to stay downtown at a fairly cheap hotel two blocks from the Zocalo - the main square of Mexico City. When we arrived at Mexico City we were a little anxious - as most travellers are - Mexico City has a really bad reputation for crime and violence. One particular danger is the taxi’s. Like many other big cities there are plenty of cabs on the street cruising for customers, but it is recommended that you only take an official, registered cab from certain locations, such as the airport. Taxi crime is rampant and picking up a cab on the street is almost guaranteed to your getting robbed by the driver and his mates. If you’re lucky you might just lose all your luggage and money. If you’re unlucky... well the statistics tell a story.

The ride to the hotel in our authorised taxi was not encouraging. We were driven through some very dodgy streets. There were prostitutes standing every ten metres for several blocks. Both Shelly and I thought, oh my God, I’ll bet this is the street our hotel is on. Fortunately it wasn’t, we were one block north of the prostitute street. Our hotel had a restaurant so as soon as we got in we asked if we could have dinner - we certainly didn’t feel brave enough to venture out on the street that night - but the concierge said no. They close at 9pm. In fact, almost everything closed at 9pm in Mexico City. We asked if there were any other restaurants, but he said they were several blocks away. What about a shop where we could buy food? Yes, there was one a block away. Can we walk there? Is it safe? Yes, he said, but then he indicated on the street map where we could safely walk. Nowhere south or east of the hotel. Hmmm. We decided to make a quick dash to the supermarket, one block north east. The streets were virtually deserted and covered in rubbish from the street markets that occupy all the surrounding streets during the day. We found the supermarket, bought ourselves something to eat and drink and then hurried back to the hotel. We noted that there were 6 security guards at the supermarket, all armed with M16s or pump action shotguns and alertly watching the street. It wasn’t a comforting start.

Next day we headed into the square and began our sight seeing. The zocalo square is huge. A massive cathedral dominates one side and the parliament building dominates the other. Unfortunately as there is an election on in Mexico at the moment there was a massive protest-political demonstration going on in the square. This was going to become a familiar trend as we travelled around Mexico. We took a hop on hop off bus around the city. It was a very long trip and it was debatable whether it was very helpful. In fact Mexico City did not seem to be set up for tourists at all. There were no travel agents or places where we could go to discuss travel arrangements. It was quite frustrating.

The day ended well though as we found a nice old bar to drink at and then had dinner at a place overlooking the cathedral (quite lovely) and as we walked back to the hotel that night we encountered a native dancing troupe doing their thing near the main square. They were pretty much doing it for themselves, not for tourists, so it was interesting to watch.
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Next day we took a bus to Teotihuacan, an ancient city complex about an hour north of MC. There are two immense pyramids there and we walked up both (although only half way up the smaller one). They were impressive but it was a damned hot day and there was no shade whatsoever. We got back to the city about 2.30 and then took a bus to the town of Puebla. Puebla was really nice and relaxed after the stress of Mexico City. They make pottery in the town but although we visited about 100 shops we didn´t end up buying anything as it was quite expensive.
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From Puebla we took an afternoon bus to Oaxaca. We arrived about 9pm at the chaotic bus terminal. We had no accommodation booked and as there was no accommodation help at the terminal we took a punt and grabbed a taxi to a place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. Luckily they had a vacancy, although they weren’t particular helpful people. We hurried into the main square to grab some food before everything shut and found the main square was occupied by striking teachers. The square and all the pedestrian streets around the centre had become a tent city. It quite ruined the atmosphere of the place.
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The next day we walked around the city, did some sightseeing and took a bus up the mountain to see the ancient Zapotec capital city ruin, Mount Alban. On the way up the mountain the bus forced a car off the road (the road could really only handle one vehicle at a time). The poor lady who was driving was trying to back out of the way to let the bus through when her back wheel went over a drainage ditch and the car pitched over. It was like something from a Hollywood movie. The car was teetering on its left front wheel and right rear wheel and rocking back and forth in the air. We all jumped out of the bus and the guys grabbed the back of the car and pushed it down, this made the car level with the road and the lady could jump out. A young tourist jumped in and after a bit of pushing and shoving we got the car mostly onto the road so that he could back out safely. As soon as the car had all four wheels on the ground the bus driver yelled VAMOS! and we all jumped back in the bus and were away. It was all very bizarre.
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Mount Alban was very scenic in its mountain top location.

Then it was off to San Cristobal De La Casas, far into the southern mountain regions. This is the old heartland of the Maya empire and most of the people are Mayan. It had a real regional feel to the place. Very pleasant. It is also a rebellious region. An indigenous revolutionary movement called the Zapatistas rule here - unofficially - or is it the Mexican government that rules here unofficially. There was abundant Zapatista literature and souvenirs in all the shops. It was quite weird. We could have bought little balaclava wearing Zapatista dolls, handmade by they local Indian ladies.
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On our second day we took a day trip to Palenque - the ‘money shot’ of Mayan ruins in Mexico. It was a damned long trip - four hours each way - and it was damned hot in the jungle, but the ruins were spectacular and we met a nice Irish couple on the journey. We arrived back in town at 9.30pm, just in time to grab a quick bite to eat before the city closed down about 10pm (which seems normal in Mexico).
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The following day we took another LONG, very early bus ride from SC to Antigua in Guatemala. Guatemala seemed quite different from Mexico, very much more rural. But strangely, although the country is quite backward in many respects the people’s houses looked more prosperous and the people looked healthier and happier than in Mexico. One thing that was noticeable between Mexicans and Guatemalans was size. There were much more ‘larger’ – i.e., fat - people in Mexico than Guatemala and the Mexicans seemed to dress.... hmmmm, how shall we say this, err, like it’s still 1985, which really doesn’t make for such a good look. The Guatemalans seemed to have better fashion sense.
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Antigua was described as the Prague of Central America, but such comparisons are ridiculous. I wasn’t so impressed with Antigua when we arrived as it was dusk and the place just looked old and run down. But the next day when the sun was shining we could see the place had real character. Antigua used to be the capital of Spanish Guatemala. It is a particularly fertile place because it is built in a valley between three active volcanos (there are seven volcanos overlooking the city). Hmmm, might not have been such a good idea to build a city between three active volcanos. The city was founded in the mid 16th century and after being flattened by earthquakes three times and volcanic eruptions twice someone came up with the quite obvious idea that it wasn’t such a good idea to have the capital in such a dangerous location, so they moved to Guatemala City and Antigua became a stagnant backwater until tourists discovered the city in the 1980´s. Now it lives off tourism.
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Well, that’s about it for now. Tomorrow is Shelly’s birthday and as a special treat I’m taking Shelly to see the Mayan ruins of Copan in neighbouring Honduras. It only cost 13 quetzalas per person on second class (chicken) bus. It’s a 3am start though as the place is deep in the jungle and it take about six hours to get there. We’ll probably stay overnight somewhere in Honduras, I think there are some one or two star hotels (yeah, and who really gives out stars to these places???) in the town that is near the ruins. Shelly is really looking forward to this trip as I know how much she loves adventure travelling.

Hope everyone is well at home.

Love

Paul and Shelly
xxxxxx

Posted by paulymx 07:21 Archived in Mexico Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mi Amo Peru

semi-overcast

Another out of date, long lost update from the travelling Markhams (a little like the travelling Wilburys but not as hairy).

Lima
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We arrived in sunny Lima after a six hour bus ride from Rio to Sao Paolo and a five hour flight from SP. Needless to say all that sitting down doing nothing completely exhausted us and as soon as we got to our hostel (at 1.30am) we crashed. Both Shelly and I had heard from a number of sources that Lima is a city with no redeeming features whatsoever and a place best avoided. Apparently it is noisy, dirty, hot, smelly, smoggy and very dangerous. Okay, it was noisy, smelly and smoggy - the first thing I remember about Lima is its smell; the moment the airliner door opened there was this strange, undefinable smell of.... something. But I put this down to Limas bizarre climate. In Lima it almost never rains but instead a sea fog blankets the city and keeps it moist, but also holds in the smog. The drive from the airport wasn’t too encouraging either as it took us through the slums on the outskirts of the city - never a good look very late at night. We were staying in Miraflores, the newest and most upmarket suburb in Lima, where all the tourists stay. But the fact that our hostel had no signage at all and was surrounded by high walls and razor wire didn’t give us a good feeling of security.

The next day though, being good tourists we set out for the Historico Centro, the heart of the old city and what a revelation. The Lima central square was beautiful, possibly the most beautiful we had seen on our trip. A magnificent old cathedral graced one corner of the square while the others sported equally beautiful colonial buildings. There was no graffiti and no litter. There was a working fountain in the square - not filled with rubbish as most others are. The gardens were clean, manicured and healthy and the park was not filled with homeless and drug addicts. It was stunning. And so it went on. We walked all around the central district admiring gorgeous old buildings and churches (we even went down into the crypt of one of the monasteries, which was filled with the bones of some 70,000 of Limas past residents - creepy, disconcerting and bizarre). By the end of the day we were convinced Lima-philes. It is hard to pinpoint what made Lima and Peru different from the other countries in South America. Perhaps it is because the majority of the population are indigenous; many are the direct descendents of the Incas. They seem to have a real pride in their history (which would become even more apparent in Cuzco).
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Cusco
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But one day was enough to see the sights of Lima, and then we flew directly to Cuzco. Cuzco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and there are signs of the Incas everywhere. Most of the colonial buildings are built on Inca foundations and despite the periodic earthquakes that knock down the city, the Inca foundations and walls still remain standing. The Incas were a mountain people and Cuzco is high in the Andes at some 3,400 metres above sea level. That is well above altitude sickness level but fortunately Shelly and I were not affected - then. We were however affected by the cold. At that altitude it is bitterly cold at night, regardless how hot it is during the day. We think it was around 2 degrees C at night. We were not dressed for that kind of cold.
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The first day we took a tour of the Inca Sacred Valley. Our tour guide was an Inca nationalist. She announced at the beginning of the tour that Cuzco real name is Q’osqo, and that Peru is not Peru but some other Inca unpronounceable name. She also stressed to us that the Incas did not worship the sun as the Spaniards claimed but worshipped a single creator god, whose symbol was a disc or oval [implying no end and no beginning] and that that god was still being worshipped by the native people under a facade of Catholicism. We saw some spectacular ruins and beautiful mountain scenery that day but of course all this was just a sideshow compared to Macchu Picchu, which we did the following day.
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To get to Macchu Picchu it is a four hour train ride along the sacred valley to the village of MP and then a 20 minute bus ride up the vertical side of mountain. Of course, there is another way to get there - you CAN WALK from the village of Ollytantambo. It takes four days; although in Inca times the road from Ollytantambo took 10 hours walking or 2.5 hours running (I can actually hear the people who have done the Inca trail crying at that thought!]. We opted to do the train because -
a) I am unfit, lazy and have asthma and not really up for that kind of torture,
b) we had limited time in Peru, and
c) we are not completely stark raving mad.
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Even then, the walk up to Machu Picchu was utterly exhausting (and that was only a 15 minute hike!). To me, it seemed every breath involved pain. But once we were up at the site it was spectacular. Truly spectacular. Words can’t describe how stunning the location of Machu Picchu is. While we were up at the top Shelly got an attack of altitude sickness, almost fainting and had to sit down for about half an hour to recover. It was only a mild attack and she was over it quickly, but it was a sign of things to come. The funny thing is Macchu Picchu is actually 1000 metres lower down than Q’osqo so by all accounts it should have been easier to breath there.
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Q’osqo at night was equally spectacular, if cold. The square and the cathedrals were all lit up and we took dozens of photos there. We tried to go out to sample the night life [which by all accounts was good] but the cold and altitude simply drained us of all motivation. Worse, I had picked up a bit of travellers flu when we were in Bariloche, Argentina [probably due to the cold their too]. Now, combined with altitude and cold I came down hard with bronchitis.

Our next destination did not help either. We went to Puno, which is a port on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno is 3800 metres above sea level but to get there you have to go over 4200 metres. I was dying by the time we got to Puno. It was artic cold at dusk and the coldness of the air felt like razors down my throat. The hotel we chose put us on the fourth floor - their prestigious top floor - but they had no elevator. Just walking up those four flights had me gasping and almost ready to cry, let alone carrying our god damned heavy bags up. A porter took Shelly's up and he certainly wasn't happy about it, but he disappeared before I could tip him. In my state I would have been happy to give him $1000. Despite the cold and the difficulty I was having breathing we found our way to a nearby pizzeria [damned sick of Peruvian food by then] and had the most delicious soup and pizza. We both slept easier that night.

Next day we took a trip out to the floating islands. The Uros people of Lake Titicaca live on artificial floating islands built on papyrus reeds. Okay, it is now quite touristy but it is quite amazing and we had a good time there. Later that night, a Canadian girl we met at the bus station commented that all the Uros girls were very short and wide. I hadn't really noticed before but we realised it was largely true. There really isn't much opportunity to do much exercise on a small floating island. You can't run around much and aerobics is out of the question. So the ladies pretty much sit all day long, every day and sew and knit and eat. The men however spend most of their time either fishing or working on shore, so they are not as affected by their environment.
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I felt better that day after the sun came out and convinced myself I was on the mend. At 3.30 we were booked on a bus to Arequipa, the White City, but when we got to the bus station there was a strike in Arequipa [Peru was in the middle of elections and there was a lot of political agitation on the streets everywhere we went] so the bus was delayed till 5pm. 5pm came and went, so did 6pm. The bus finally pulled in at 6.30pm. This now meant we would not arrive at Arequipa at 9.30pm as planned but sometime around 1.30am. It was a terrible night as I was still quite unwell and when we arrived at Arequipa, with nowhere to stay booked, and found the bus station dark and deserted Shelly was feeling a little less than happy. But while we were pouring over the Lonely Planet guide trying to decide what to do and where to go, a light came on in the tourist information office and the nightshift girl, who had been sleeping in the office came out to greet us. Isn't that nice! She helped us find accommodation at this lovely little B&B in a converted colonial house. I think it was called La Casa Das Sol [the owner gave me about 10 brochures as we left and told me to tell our friends, and I am. It comes highly recommended]. The poor owner had to get up at 2am to let us in and show us the room. It was like a converted stable, huge 2 foot thick walls, 18 foot high domed ceiling, two double beds [a godsend for Shelly after spending the past few nights with me keeping her awake with my coughing and tossing and turning] and our own brand spanking new bathroom. The owners forewent any formalities and said we'll discuss it all tomorrow. And we crashed.

The next day we had a lovely breakfast at the B&B and then headed into town to make our travel arrangements. We wanted to stay another night in Arequipa because it was so lovely but we had a flight to Mexico to catch the following day. Unless we could secure a first thing in the morning flight we'd be on the overnight bus to Lima that day. Fortunately we did get a flight so we rushed back to the B&B and confirmed the second night. Then we went to the Ice Maiden museum where they have several frozen bodies of Inca children sacrificed to the volcanos that surround Arequippa. That was creepy and fascinating. Then we just cruised around and saw the city and soaked up the ambiance. Arequippa is an excellent place, and at only 1800 metres it is alot less taxing on the body than Q’osqo.
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The next day we flew out to Lima at 8.55, which meant a 6am start. Once again our hosts couldn't help but be helpful. They insisted they would come and wake us at 6 and have breakfast ready for us at 6.30, very very early for them. They also arranged a taxi for us. With the flight a new phase of our holiday began, Mexico and Central America. I said goodbye to South America in my own way. On our last day in Q’osqo an ageing southern belle from Saaaaath Carolina came up to me at the Sacsayhuaman ruins and said Shalom. SHALOM, I thought? What? Does she think I am, Jewish or something?? And then I caught a look at myself, dressed in a black shirt [only clean one left!], black jacket [it was god damned cold I tell you], with my black tango hat from Argentina [it was damned sunny out, and I'm a pretentious poser] and a full beard I guess I did bear a resemblance to an Orthodox Jew. Given that that really isn't a look I am trying to go for I decided there and then the beard had to go [and the hat went back into its bag again too. But I've since bought a Mexican cowboy hat so I can still look like a complete dick when I go out in the sun]. So the beard was left in Arequipa, much to Shelly's relief.

This almost brings us up to date. We are now in San Cristobal de Casas in southern Mexico and will be heading on into Guatemala in the next couple of days. Guatemala is real dirt poor, chicken bus country so we might be out of touch for a while, so adios for now amigos.

Lots of love

Shelly and Paulie
xxxxx

Ps. Oh yes, and since being in warm/hot Mexico I have been much better and the bronchitis is almost gone.

Posted by paulymx 07:02 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

When my baby, when my baby smiles at me....

I go to Rio

overcast

Hello friends. Well, we have certainly put a few hundred miles behind us since we last wrote from Mendoza. We have just arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil after a 22 hour bus ride. That trip wasn’t anywhere near as horrible as it might sound. They have excellent buses here. We have just settled into a cute little hostel and have popped down to Copacabana beach for a beer and pizza. Sounds a bit like the life eh. But before we get too into the Rio scene, here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to.
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Buenos Aires - it’s all about the cows
BA was a busy and happening city with lots of things to see and do. The city is full of statues of old dudes in heroic poses. We don’t know what many of them did. One was The Liberator - there were lots of statues of him. I think one was of the first head librarian of BA Public Library - not so many of him, although he did have a more heroic looking beard. BA is actually quite a dangerous city to walk around. Not because of crime or anything, but because the pavement is so damned uneven. They just can’t make up their mind what level to do their paving at. You also need to keep a careful eye out for biohazardous material of the canine variety. Could cause a nasty inconvenience. Nevertheless, Shelly and I risked these hazards to walk all over town and photograph the many magnificent buildings in the city. There were some exceptional 19th century buildings.
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BA also has a reputation for great nightlife. The Argentinean’s just love staying out late. They are crazy, I mean dig this - they don’t go out to dinner until 10 or 11 in the EVENING!!! And their nightclubs don’t even open until 2am in the MORNING. CRAZY!!! Actually it isn’t that crazy considering that many people work quite late hours. It seemed to us that hairdressers kept the latest opening hours; we’d often pass a hairdresser’s still open and working at 11.30 at night. So, given that many people are working till at least 10 going out to dinner after 10 makes a lot of sense. And by the time you’ve eaten and then popped into a nice bar for a couple of cervezas, heading to a nightclub after 2 makes sense too. Shelly and I went to the Opera Bay nightclub on Saturday and it was pumping. Lots of tourists and locals go there - there are 5 bar areas all playing different music. The place was great for people watching (i.e., perving). Shelly would have liked to have stayed until dawn but Paul the Piker had had enough of listening to 50 Cent at 5.30am, so we went home. The guide books all make a fuss about needing to really dress up to enjoy the BA but we didn’t find that. Most people dressed just the same there for the clubs as they do at home.

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We also took in the obligatory Tango show, which was pretty cool and muy sexy. Paul bought himself a tango hat and occasionally wears it in public (muy nada sexy).
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Food in BA is great. Given that BA is a cow town - founded on leather, cheese and beef - Argentinean cuisine basically consists of steak with a side serving of steak and optional entrails. We ate at two good bbq restaurants and enjoyed huge, fantastic steaks. Wasn’t game to eat the bulls testicles though. On the second night we were a bit beefed out so I asked for a small cut. The waiter suggested the tenderloin at just 400 grams but I ended going for a flank cut. It was smaller, only about 7 inches long by 3 inches wide and 1 inch thick - except their were too of them. It tasted beautiful but I couldn’t eat them both. The waiter was disgusted at my girlish efforts and called me muy loco. Now I know there are some of you out there that are reading this and thinking ¨wow, sounds like the place for me!¨ But hold on there tiger! Before you go reaching for your ¨where’s the beef?" apron and an airline ticket, it all sounds great but there is actually a limit to how much steak a normal human can eat, especially because the Argentinean’s second favorite cooking ingredient is cheese. Surprisingly we’ve hardly seen any fat people over here, nor many old people for that matter. This is because I am reliably informed that people here die of congestive heart failure by the time they turn 40.
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Iguazu Falls.
After an 18 hour bus ride we arrived at Iguazu falls on the border with Brazil. They are simply amazing. I would be wasting my breath describing them (or my fingers as the case may be) so its best if I just let a couple of photos do all the talking.
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Shelly and I have set world records for taking the most number of photos at Iguazu, beating our own world record previously set at Recoleta cemetery in BA. It sounds weird but Recoleta, a 19th century cemetery is an amazing tourist attraction and photographers dream. All those rich Argentineans of the 19th century tried to outdo each other by building the most magnificent tomb or monument so it's a marvellous repository of architecture and sculpture. They didn’t bury anyone actually in the cemetery though as the ground is too moist. Instead they just stack the coffins on the floor of the tombs, so you can peek in the doors and there are the coffins. It’s creepy but kind of cool.
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Back to Rio
Shelly says she will have to take my camera away from me when we venture down to the beach. I think she said something about me being a pervert and not to be trusted. Sorry boys, there will be no photos of the chicitas on the beach. Girls, I’m pretty sure Shelly will have a couple of shots of some bronzed caballeros for you though.
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Anyway, that’s all from us for the moment. We are heading off to watch a Brazilian football game. Exciting. Hope everyone is well. We are going great over here. Ahhhh, the life....

Lots of love

Shelly and Paul
xxxxxx

Posted by paulymx 06:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Meandering in Mendoza

sunny

Buenos dias me amigos (cor, I’m getting a handle on this Spanish, or "Castellano" as it is called over here).

Today ends our second day in Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine country. We arrived here yesterday morning about 7am after a 20 hour bus ride from Bariloche. That was quite a trip. The buses here are pretty flash with seats that can recline into beds, full meal service and in-flight movies. Not all the buses mind you. There still are chicken buses but you have to be mad to take one, especially as the good bus services are actually pretty cheap. Still, 20 hours sitting very still is pretty tiring (sounds a bit pathetic I know).
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After finding some suitably cheap accommodation we wandered around the town (pleasant in a non-descript regional city kind of way) and then took a winery tour. Mendoza produces 70% of Argentina’s wine and most of it is red (vino tinto). This was bad news for Shelly but good news for me. Their winery tours are very different to home. They walk you around the vineyard and show you the whole operation. It was very interesting to see how differently they do things. They don’t seem to get many "inglese hablas" here, although at each place there was at least one guide who could translate the tour for us. As for the wine - it was okay. Not as good as a Margaret River red blend. Malbec seems to be the specialty. One really odd observation for the day - we had commented to each other that petrol prices were really cheap over here and wondered where they got their petrol from. Then at the first winery the guide points to a massive pump sitting right in the middle of the vineyard - the vines sit directly over an oil field! Extraordinary.
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We got the low down from the young tour guide on the places to hang out in Mendoza, which turned out to be only a few streets away from our hostel so we cruised down there suitably late - say around 9.30pm - and everything was empty. Almost. The pubs barely tick over until 11.30pm when people START coming out for dinner. START!!! On a WEDNESDAY night!!! Don’t these people have jobs to go to in the morning? Most night clubs don’t even bother opening until 1am. Being the party stayers we are we went to bed about 12.30am. Honestly, we’re just not on the same par as the Argentineans. We’ll have to try much harder in Buenos Aires.

We spent today wandering the shops and looking over one of the museums. One of the girls at the museum guided us around the whole place because everything was in Spanish. Very nice of her. We also met an interesting fellow in the park (sounds a bit suss??). An Argentinean mathematician out for a walk (probably mad as a hatter) who gave us a run down of Argentinean politics and society. Said something about Argentina being along way from being right again and it would probably take alot of bloodshed to get it back on track. That was the Argentinean way. Strange sentiments but I guess Argentina has a bloody history.
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We’re shortly off on another overnight bus to Buenos Aires. Woo who. Only 14 hours this trip. I wonder what movies we’re going to see??? Our friends Rick and Ally claim to have seen "The Passion of Christ" on every single leg of their journey last year. Fortunately, we haven't seen yet but I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunity coming up!

Lots of love to everyone. Take care and we’ll write from Party Town BA!!!

Paulie and Shelly
xxxx

Posted by paulymx 06:54 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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