Sunday, January 25, 2009


Located on the outskirts of the City is a world heritage site and the one thing I was really keen to do in MC (after reading an article about this in The Times) is Xochimilco.

Xochimilco is a network of canals flanked by gardens that you see by catching a brightly coloured and decorated gondola.

I was excited about gong, my first MC adventure that would force me outside my comfort zone.

First I walked to the metro, negotiated my tickets with ease (it helps that all fares are the same price- approx 20 cents Aussie). Next i found my platform, waited about 3 minutes and boarded a metro train to the end of the line.

I was lucky to get a seat (all that London Tube training) and set about reading the newspaper in Spanish. I take great pleasure in reading the paper in Spanish- espically when at the end i have actually understood something. It is often hard to work out the words but when i concentrate it is possiable.

The cities metro is very clean, efficent and up their with the world's best.

At each stop, a hawker selling cd's enters the carriage with a ghetto blaster in their back pack and tries to sell you the best of some Spanish/ Mexican pop singer for a shiney gold 10 peso coin. It is like watching TV and i enjoy it.

Next i change into a 3 carriage light rail train and head to end of that line. More crowded than the metro there is no room for the entrepeners and we sit/stand like sardines till we reach Xochimilco.

As I exit the station a wave of dry heat hits me- i dig deep for my sungalsses and walk slowly to the wharf. I pass a Luhre Libre ring (wreastling WWF style) and a local market selling a bright array of fruit.

I am followed by some harmless boys on bicycles who i assume are trying to get a comission from me. Politley i ask them to stop following me about 5 times before i tell them to F&%k off in Spanish. It does the trick and I am free to wander the streets at my leisure.

At the wharf.. i am surprised to see no one but a few tour operaters and a Mexican family. I ask them in y best Spantalian if i can join their tour and am delighted when they oblige me.

The mother and father sit and smile at me and it is not long until Tanya their youngest daughter (age 16) asks my name. She is stunning, tall, slim and with cheek bones that you would die for. She is fascinated with me.

Her smile is bright and her eyes are clear.... and her english is better (marginally better) than my Spanish.

It turns out that they are from Chapis, my favourite state in Mexico. The family are taking a 3 day holiday in the capital- their first time and they are kinder than words.

After about 10 minutes the father treats us to some Maranarchi music. The band are on a boat similar to ours and they row up very close and belt out some classics for 70 pesos a pop.

It does not take long for Tanyta, Daisy (their older daughter) and Fernando (the son) to start dancing and before long i am joining in with them... busting our best moves down the river.

Mum and dad stay sitting but clearly they enjoy our fun.

After 2 hours battling to express myself i make a move to depart... but not before i am invited in a way it would be too rude to refuse to a taco luncheon.

The smiles and giggles my presence evokes is priceless... i feel privledged.

As i make my way to leave, Tanya asks me to come and stay and the father ask me if it is ok if the kids come for a holiday to Australia when they are older... could they stay in Sydney with me.

With a hug and kiss i am off... leaving my Mexican family for my amigos at the hostel.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Amore Mexico City

This place is amazing....

At the start of this adventure, I decided that I would not go to MC- I was too scarred that I would get stolen.

But given that I am determined not to let fear dominate my trip I took the plunge and I am so glad that I did.

MC is a thriving metropolis and one of the largest cirties in the world. Famous for nurturing artists like Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, kidnappings and hosting the Olympics in 1968. I was eager to uncover as much as I could.

The first thing I learnt was that the locals (all 25 million of them) refer to MC simply as Mexico.

The next thing that you notice is how friendly and attractive the people are. Taller than their fewllow countrymen of the South and Yucatan peninsula, they are robust and gorgeous.

Finally, I learnt that like Venice the city is sinking.

The city's size in incomprehensible- it is hard to grapple with the fact that more poeple live here than live in all of Australia combined.

Ra and I decided to stick on a well worn path- concentrating of the Reforma (the Champs Elysis of MC and home to the cities famous Republican monument... a tall colum adorned with a golden angel), Condessa- a trendy, artisty suburb that used to boast Kerouac as a local and the Centro Historic quarter.

What you cant help but notice on arrival is that the city is like one huge, giant, living art gallery.

Statues, sculptures, outdoor photo exhibitions dominate every quarter and then there are the murals (a government inititivne in the 1920's and 1930's that allowed the cities public buildings to be adorned with murals by Mexico's finest artists). It is sensational and a full blown colour assult on the senses.

MC might be my favourite big city of earth- it has the color of Mumbai, the bustle of Bangkok and the coolness that is Berlin.

The city is incredibly inspiring- Could MC be my muse? I know that since arriving here I have taken some pictures that I am proud of and started a new chapter of my never ending novel....

After Ra departed for San Fran- I have kept myself busy making new friends. Firstly Pascal from St Galland, a 28 Swiss man whose trip is about self discovery (but then again isn't everybodies?). Traveling with Pascal is the instantly likeable Samuel, a 30 year old carpenter (like Jesus as he told me) who is from the same Swiss village as my cousin Jen's husband. Samuel is travelling outside Europe for the first time.

Next was kiwi Mark, a tall athletic looking guy who was very nice. Mark's story was similar to mine.. he had recently quit his job in venture capital and was on his way around the world. Mark was interesting and handsome in the boy next door kinda way... he was extremly well travelled (his father was a diplomat) and used to play soccer for a UK club and New Zealand.

The end.

Raging Bull

Our flight from Oaxcana arrived in Mexico City (MC) at 9:00am. On route to collect our luggage at the airport we met Miriam a 50 something academic from Washington DC who specialises in Yiddish culture. Miriam was keen to share a taxi with us to the center of town and we were more than happy to oblige.

Miriam was in town to give a paper at a conference on Yiddish language and surprised me by calling a Mexican airport offical a 'mother fucker' for his poor directions to baggage claim.

After we lost Miriam we checked into the Palace Hotel-please dont let the name be deceiving. It is a gorgeous colonial building in the heart of the Centro Historic District, it is also very run down, shabby but home to the hottest shower we'd had so far.

We were keen to make the most of Ra's 2 days in MC and with no time to spare we jumped into a registered cab (apparently it is too dangerous to hail one from the street). First stop was Plaza Mexico- the world's largest bull fighting arena. On the bill was Jose Thomas one of Spain's best Matidors followed by home town hero Arturo and the new kid on the block Octavio (who was making his debut).

With tickets secured via the help of some scalpers we jumped a cab and headed to Frida Khalo's blue house.

The house is a pilgrimage site for art lovers the world lover. It is located in trendy outer suburb Coyacan and painted thew most vibrant cobalt blue ever created. The house was Frida's childhood home and later the place she shared with her husband legendry artist Diego Rivera and where Leon Trotsky sought refuge.

At the entrace there is a nice coutyard with a pretty garden and bright sunshine yellow chairs decorating white formica tables.

Unfortunatley the inside of the gallery is a little dissapointing. Instead of being a celebration of Frida it is just another showcase for her domineering and more famous (in Mexico) husband Diego's work.

It seems that both in life and in death Frida is defined by her relationship to one of Mexico's best loved sons. In a purely subjective sense i do like Diego's work, it does not challege in the way the Frida's does... he uses a cheery pallete to get his messgae across...

After a couple of hours we caught a cab back to the bull fight- both beaming to be at such an event with 50,000 supporters at our side.

At 4:00pm sharp, 3 men on horses enter the areana, followed by a rainbow if Matadors and their assistents. After a quick parade around the stadium (and to much ovation) the first (of six) bulls bursts into the arena. The bull seems agitated, agressive and huge (a whopper at 500 kilos).

The first stage of the fight is quite staged and exisits for comedic value to the viewers, it consists of the matador's assistants taunting the bull with large pink and yellow capes. They work in teams of 2 and 3 in an attempt to confuse and irrate the bull whilst displaying their brightly coloured robes for our amusement.

Next the most brutal part happens, two men on heavily padded horses dressed like brightly coloured knights enter the stadium each carrying large lances in their hands. The use the lance to stab the bull around the shoulder. The bull resists, goes biserk and tries to dismount the horse but it is obvious that both the horse and the knight have done this before.

Next the jokers enter again, this time with a more sinister look in the eye. Each are carrying 2 things in thier hands that look like 10 pin bowling ball pins which they use to stab the bull... the pins act as flags as to where the wound is.

It is pretty gory, the bull has blood running down it's back from a gaping wound behind it's head.

Finally after about 30 inutes of joking and ritual, the Matador enters the ring- dressed in a tight white sequined number, his buns look like rocks and he reminds me of a young, fit Elvis.

Red cape in hand- he has 16 mins to kill the bull. He utilises his skill to direct the bull around the ring and it looks like he is dancing, proud and peacocking.

The crowd applaud vigerously with chants of 'Olay' when he does something good. Ra and I cheer too- typicall aussie style with oi oi oi , woohooo etc and quickly are befriended by the two ladies sitting behind us.

Anna and Leonora, are lifelong torro fans and they explain the rules and the importance that the event has.

A quick scan around the ground confirms that all in attemndance are upper middle class dressed in the Sunday best. Tne afternoon proceeds in the same way- bull after bull until the last is slayed at 7:30pm. The man in black enters the ring only after the Matador has completed his final lunge(stabbing the bull behind the neck so it falls to the floor). The Man in black slits the bulls throat. Next a two horse drawn charriot enters and they attach the bull and drag it from the areana- if the bull is spirited and allowed a good fight it is cheered- if not the crowd boos.

The end.


Tour de Mexico

It was almost as if Ra and I were out to test our endurance... we had barely recovered from climbing the volcano and we decided that it was time to climb another mountain... this time on a bike.

We headed into town and picked up two mountain bikes, a map and we were off.

I was confident i would be ok- given my cycling experience of riding in London (which considered of riding to work 3 times and around Regents Park 8 times) and experience on the continent (a easy day of riding in France a few months back).

The beginning was easy- the first 5 kilometres were either flat or down hill and the only tricky bit was navigating a roundabout.... this would be a walk in the park.

We commenced the ascent after about 30 mins and cocky and egotistical as ever- i thought we would be fine.

after about 30 minutes of riding in an upwards direction we were off our bikes and positioned our self so we could walk them up the hill.

In charge of the map and directions, i decided it was time to make out turn onto the dirt track as directed.....


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


With one last set of ruins on the agenda we got up at 5:30am (an achievement since we had been at our own margarita fiesta till midnight the night before)and boarded a mini bus that would take us on the 5 hour drive to Palenque. Located in Chiapas deep in Zapista territory- the drive along mountain ranges and through teeny tiny towns was enough too keep you occupied.

We stopped at a couple of waterfalls for breakfast and swims (and a KP vomit mid morning, motion sickness i think) and reached Palenque in time for lunch.

The ruins are located in a clearing on the edge of dense forest- toucan and monkey territory.

Like Tikal and Tullum they are stunning. I can´t put my finger on exactly what it is but they are special, they are the most beautiful I have seen on this trip. It might be the fact that the inscriptions are still clearly visible or the fact that some of them are open and you can walk inside and imagine a time when life lived within the walls but they are amazing.

The Maya were such a sophisticated civilisation that I knew nothing about before this trip. I still know very little but hope to read up on them so i can beef this blog up with more detail for you.

The drive back was pretty scary, at times the roads were completely blanketed in fog and you could not see more than a few metres ahead. We drove past 2 overturned trucks and we could not help but think that bad things happen in threes... who invented that anyway?

Our driver was a legend, a jolly, fat Mexican with a moustache who joked about who he was going to marry- sometimes me sometimes Ra...

Lots of love



San Cristobal

Back in Mexico we headed to San Cristobal, a little town located in Mexico´s poorest state Chiapas. San Cristobal was the town that is a central part of the Zapista movement and was temperally taken over by leftwing rebels in the 1990´s.

The state is home to 13 indigenous tribes, each with the own unique language, tradition and dress.

The City is about 2500 metres above sea level and much colder than anywhere else we have been. The streets are wide, brightly coloured and feel more Mexican than anywhere else we have been in Mexico (if that is possiable)- a million miles from the tourist havens on the Yukatan Peninsula.

Here the men wear cowboy hats (not a sombraro in sight)and have moustaches. The people are amazingly friendly and patient with our basic Spanish. Our vocab is expanding daily and I even think I had my own conversation yesterday... well two sentances in a row... a massive improvement.

After a lazy day exploring the coffee museum, town square and watching the forgetable new Keanu Reeves flick at the local Cinepolis we organised a bus trip to some indigenous communities located about 20 kilometres outside of centre.

The first group we visited were Catholic in faith and traditionally flower growers by trade. Here we sampled some fresh tortillas and beans for breakfast and tried their home brewed medicinal rum ... more like metho than anything else to my unsophisticated palate.

Next we visited a community that belived in poligomy and whose faith had roots in both Christianity (brought to them by the Spanish colonists) and part on their ancient beliefs... I felt privledged to be able to share it but also some what voyeristic too.

The group utilise the Catholic church, a massive white wash structure errected in the town square sometime in in the 1700´s as a place to pray for they sick and offer their sacfrices. According to our guide, the group do not belive in traditional medicine- instead they offer 5 days of prayer to the gods (said in church)and on the 5th day a live chicken is slaughtered.

Families cluster together on the floor (there are no pews) covered in pine needles and repeat prayers for their relatives. Occasionally they pour the medicinal rum onto the floor as an offering all whilst lighting hundreds and hundreds of candles.

It is a stunning place, feels spiritual and has a wonderful inviting energy.

Outside the church is a run down square with a cross covered in green tree branches and a market selling fruit, embroided goods and barefoot children begging for your loose change.

It was a humbling experience.

Siging off- your KP


KP´s thought for the day.

In Guatemala most people travel on old US school buses called chicken buses. They are repainted psychedelic colours and hotted up too.

I asked my friend Nat why they were called chicken buses and she said it was because you are can take your live stock onto the bus...

I came up with my own theory- they always try and play chicken with you when they overtake.... think we came close to at least 4-5 head on collisions thus far.

Some people we've met along the way...

The people that you meet on an adventure have the capacity to make or break any trip. Thankfully we´ve been blessed with lots of interesting people who you´d never meet anywhere else in the world.

In no particular order- I thought I would introduce you to some of the characters we´ve met along the way.

First on my list is the Texan. I should say I have never met a Texan before...

Aged 22, Republican and an English Lit University graduate who lived in the Dallas Fortworth area. He was tall, about 6 foot, skinny and wore little silver glasses. He was an animal lover with a cat called Josie that he owned with his long term girlfriend who he is going to ask to marry him in Feb. He had rarely travelled outside of America and possessed a naivety that I wish I had. His eyes were wide and I could tell he was trying to take in as much as possible. He was interested in my thoughts and opinions not because they were particularly erudite but because they were different... I questioned him on politics... his thoughts on Bush, Republicanism (is that really an ism) and was surprised by some of his answers. It seems that Bush is less popular in Texas than I imagined and he doubted he will get the ticket tape parade on Jan 20th that I had predicted.

Travelling with the Texan was the one with the eyes. American and older than my oldest sibling (think a sexy Bruce Willis). The man with the eyes was tall with eyes that felt like they looked inside you. Greeny yellow in colour with olive skin and a bright white smile to match, he was my own McDreamy. I was drawn in immediately and sometimes I think i caught myself staring at him. The man with the eyes is a high school teacher living in Columbia, fluent in Spanish and exceptionally charming he was the Texan´s god father who was taking him to Guatemala as a graduation present.

Next was Stanford (not his real name),a camp 40 something ex New Yorker and now permanent retired resident of Floria who wore fluro green jeans, cream linen jacket and sunglasses with purple lenses... think that says it all.

After Stanford we met Deet, a 71 year old eccentric American, graduate of North Western and expat living in Antigua. Deet moved to Guatemla 16 years ago, practices Esalyn massage and works in sex education clinic. Deet reminded me of my grandmother on my mothers side- she was hilarious and left a lasting memory with her dirty joke.... its hard to find a good man but good to find a hard man.

Next on my list are the Greeks, an extended family comprising about 15 people travelling together and always popping up where ever we seem to be. Our first encounter with them was on the Belize-Guatemalan boarder where they rudely pushed in front of us, spoke loudly and wore more bling than Beyonce. We made up our minds quickly. Next we saw them at the airport in Flores where they acted with their usual level of decorum,the abhorrence solidified. Finally, we bumped into them in the markets in Chichi and burst into laughter- putting bets on where they would pop up next.

Finally, there are the boys, Ra´s entourage. Ra meet the boys (two 20 year old Aussie cousins) in a dorm in Cancun, since then we´ve seen them everywhere, Talum, Flores and Antigua. They climbed the volcano with us and thankfully stood behind me so they could pick me up every time i fell (which was often),I think it was more about the comedy value I was providing than chivalry- either way they are both good guys who now we´re back in Mexico we will miss.

Think that´s about it.





After a day at the Chichi indigenous markets in the Guatemalan Highlands north west of Antigua we caught the bus to a town called Pana which rests on the shore of Lake Atilkan.

Surrounded by doormat volcanoes it is hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a town this side of heaven.

Pana is not a stunner in itself- it consists of a dusty main street littered with cafes, restaurants and full of hawkers trawling for gringos to sell them the same woven souvenirs that are all over Guatemala.

The hawkers in Pana are more persistent that anywhere else we had been to in Guatemala, we had instances where they would pull up chairs and sit with you until you brought something or donated.

There are quite a number stray dogs too- mangy and unhealthy looking with sad eyes that watch you eat al fresco.

We decided to catch a water collectivo to nearby San Pedro partly because we heard that it was a nice town and partly because i wanted to explore the lake on water- it is incredible.

From the centre of the Lake the mountains and volcanoes that surround it rise to the sky extending over 3000 metres. Because of the way the sun was shining when we visited the mountains were blue, sky blue.

After a lazy day exploring sleepy San Pedro, the quietest little hamlet imaginable, we sat at the dock drinking Cuba Libres until sun down and caught the boat back to Pana so we could put our dancing shoes on.

Asta La Vista


Friday, January 09, 2009

Woman Masters Mountain and More......

If i am proud of anything I have done in my life this moment jumps straight into my personal top 10.

Yesterday, i climbed an active volcano.

Hard to imagine and even harder to relive.

On arrival and Mount P- a monster standing 2500 metres I thought it would be impossible until we walked, crawled and staggered up the face of the volcano until we were at the summit watching sunset and toasting marshmallows.

There were times when i was sure i would not make it, exhausted, hot and with failure in my head and then it happened...

More beautiful than words, with hot lava underfoot. We had made it!


The GC

So I know that I said I would not let fear dominate my trip. It is a big statement from a girl who is afraid of the dark.

On touch down in Guatemala City (the GC) I think you would not really be a human if you were not afraid. It has one of the highest murder rates in the world and it is one of the most dangerous cities on the planet (well that is what my trusty British Tourist warning said). I did not want to become a statistic.

We were instructed by our shuttle bus to wait inside the terminal until our driver collected us.

The airport is very shiney and new and we sat on the tiles, playing eye spy until Emmanuel found us promptly at 8:00pm.

The sky was dark overhead, we were herded into a transit van and my hands were shaking. I am not a sissy but the GC's reputation precedes itself.

We flew down the highway reaching speeds of more than 150 kms an hour, overtaking every car in sight. I was alarmed that most of the cars had very dark tinted windows- there was no way of telling if you were passing a car full of bandits or a mum with her kids.

After about 20 mins we stopped at a servo to re fill, I did not like it. A man dressed in a cow boy hat, checked shirt and big belt stood guard with a massive shot gun pointed every which way with intent and i realised it was true- there are more security guards in the GC than police.

I asked myself if the car stopped at the servo strategically to put off any would be robbers who may have been in pursuit- so many scenarios ran through my head.

Once we had refuelled we were back on the road and i wondered if our driver thought he was auditioning for Sandra Bullock's role in Speed. We arrived in Antigua in record time, safe and sound.


Tikal Ruins

After a tough day on the road getting to Flores, we rose early and headed to one of Guatemala's most famous tourist sites- the Tikal ruins.

After a paranoid night spent anticipating calamity, I arose in great spirits even though it was only 6:00am and determined not to let my fear dominate my trip.

The thoughts of doom and gloom that occupied me only the day before vanished in my dreams.

Famished, we boarded the bus before i had the chance to sample Flores' Eggs Revolting (scrambled eggs in Spantalion).

The road to Tikal is scenic, green and interesting. Whilst my eyes were begging for sleep I could not help staring out the window. I wanted to remember everything, take still photographs in my mind to tell you. We passed villages painted aqua (like everything here), lakes that looked inviting and as we draw closer it was apparent that we were heading into the jungle.

As a child of the 80's one cant help drawing comparisons to The City of Gold and that is the best description I can give. They are the ruins of an ancient city, a town that once housed more than 100 000 people in their peak in approximately 700AD. They were ruled most famously by King Moon Double Comb (aka Lord chocolate) who brought prosperity and left his mark designing a number of temples in his own honour.

They are located deep in the jungle and as soon as we got of the bus we were beyond excited to see our first Mayan treasure.

With map in hand we walked slowly up the winding path till they we got our first glimpse of one of the 50 or so relics, a staggering pyramid shaped temple almost reaching the heavens at a height of 60 metres. Certainly, skyscrapers in the ancient world.

We strolled through the lush surrounds and delighted on the the enormity of our discovery-it was a feast for the senses. Monkeys played in the canopy overhead, Lima's wondered at our feet and Toucans serenaded us. I could not help thinking that Guatemala was fantastic.

The monstrous visions that my imagination presented me with the day before were beyond my comprehension.

After an exhausting 6 or 7 hours climbing, photographing and touching each and every structure we boarded a bus back to Flores Airport on track to the Guatemala City (the GC).


Sunday, January 04, 2009

From Mexico to Guatemala.

4:30am is never a nice time to get up, it's in between time- not quite night and not quite morning. Times no mans land.

I felt surprisingly chipper despite feeling that the alarm clock robbed me.

We packed quickly and headed for the bus station en route to Flores via Belize. We were a little early for our bus and had time for one last order of Eggs Mexicana.

The bus station at Chetemul is an incredibly clean, organised and efficient place. The floor of black marble tiles remarkably spotless, the white paint fresh and the signs /timetables on wall show the correct information.

Our first stop at sunrise is the Belize boarder. We are herded off the bus into a shelter where our passports are stamped and bags searched (mine more thoroughly than most). All in all it is simple painless experience.

We drive across the country and stop in Belize City and I note that most of the people on the streets are Black and not Indigenous or Latin looking as I had expected. Afterwards I read up on Belize's history and understand why. The hours pass quickly enough, we play my favourite travel game, 20 questions intermittently and before we know it we are again at the boarder with Guatemala.

If the entry into Belize was smooth, our exit to Guatemala proved to be our first testing experience. On arrival at the boarder we were faced with imposing heat and the sweet clung to me. Tempers were fraying. It seemed that certain people were queue jumping by paying officials to stamp their documents before those that lined up.

We were becoming weary travellers and the hard part was just beginning.

A man with a machine gun was delegated crowd controller and it made it quite clear that he knew all that his job entailed.

After an hour baking in the sun, we got to the front of the line and were faced with a difficult and rude official who demanded a bribe to let us in. I had heard about this on the British travellers advisory website which said that if this happens one is to stick to their guns and demand a receipt. With my Spanish or Spantalian as we started calling my mix of Italian/Spanish, we requested the official receipt, an argument ensued and we were waved a way with a rude gesture, fee unpaid.

Things escalated further when after a few steps we realised that Ra's passport was not stamped at all and without an entry stamp we would certainly have difficulty leaving and would be in a more precarious position.

We returned to the counter and difficulties arose, the passport controller refused to stamp Ra's passport unless we paid a fee, eventually we got the stamp and hurried to our bus. It was frightening and alarming to see this happening.

Once on board the bus, hot and bothered it was not long until the next calamity struck... a flat tyre barely a mile from the border. We were hopeful of a speedy change and hopeful that we would get to Flores before nightfall.


This next passage was written on board the bus

If you asked me what I thought about Guatemala 3 weeks ago, I'd probably have given you a blank expression, on a good day I might be able to locate it on a map, name it's bordering countries and tell you that the mother tongue is Spanish.

I guess your next question is why on earth an I going here?

I guess I could answer it in part and say that I am here because my friends wanted to go, typical pack mentality but that would only be true to an extent as at heart I am a traveller, a wanderer and an adventurer who wants to see everything, smell everything and try everything once.

So here I am on a bus to Flores.

As the bus goes deeper into Guatemala I am scared, every car that approaches could be filled with bandits and it is not a nice feeling. I stare down at my worn black hardcover notebook and turn turn quickly to the most well thumbed page easily, seems I have read the British Travel Advisory warnings so often that know them by heart. I am not sure why I am bothering to re- read it, but I do.

It is there in black and white, Guatemala is dangerous, it is very dangerous and it is scary to be here on a crowded bus.

Cars and trucks overtake us rarely, feels like we are alone out here. The sun hangs low overhead and the smell of burning wood is in the air. We pass the occasional house, square, flat roofed, small and box shaped, perhaps only space for one or two rooms.

The scenery is not as I imagined, now I have had 3 weeks to dream my destination. We pass lush green fields that have the occasional palm tree but foliage is generally scarce.

Near the horizon is a mountain range blue in colour as the sun prepares for slumber and it is nice to have something familiar to gaze at.

Some fields that we pass are dotted with cows and as we pass through villages kids come out to wave as our beat up bus honks its horn.

The going is slow, we stop consistently for speed humps, pot holes and it feels like a race against nightfall.

Stupidly we have not booked accommodation in Flores our destination close to the Tikal ruins and I hope I don't live to regret it.

The window next to me is open and a nice breeze is blowing, it has subdued the tempers of earlier in the day and the smell of burning wood hangs in the air. Most people are asleep but i can't as there is too much to see, too many impressions to form.

I think we are getting closer to our destination and the cars that overtake us are less threatening now. We are just in time as the sky is starting to fill with her colours and I am confident we will beat the night.


The bus pulls up in Santa Elena, Flores neighbouring town. We are asked to pile into mini vans that will take us to hotels on the island (Flores sits in the middle of a lake).

I am uneasy, we are chaperoned by 3 men and are accompanied by 3 other people. The Guatemalans tell us they will take us to a bank. Goose bums rise on my neck and I am certain that this is abnormal and will make us a target- rich cashed up tourist fresh from a visit to the ATM. I had read about express kidnappings where people are made hostages after going to the AT and i am frightened that we will become statistics.

I check to see if they are packing guns, but i am unsure what to look for- there is nothing obvious, no bulge where there should not be. Maybe i am being paranoid but scanning the others faces tells me we are all thinking the same thing.

The drive into Flores itself is short. Thankfully our driver and his two amigo's intentions are honourable.

We catch the last on the sunset from the roof of our hotel before getting an early dinner and getting ready for our second
5:00am start.

Love KP

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cheery Chetamal

With a desire to see the Tikal ruins in deepest darkest Guatemala, we begrudgingly left Cynthia´s warm hospitality and the Lobo Inn for the Mexican boarder town of Chetamal.

The bus ride was surprisingly comfortable, air conditioned, reclining seat etc and allowed me time to devour my first holiday read Disgrace by the South African writer Cotzee. It is exceptional, won The Booker prize and is highly recommended.

On first appearences, Chetemal seems like a sleepy village full of friendly souls. The buildings are painted bright colours, think lots of oranges, turquoise and yellowy golds(there goes another thing on my list). The town is run down and probably not a place one would normally stop but for it´s proximity to Belize´s boarder. We booked into a very orange, garish hotel, just off the main street and located conveniently next to a net cafe.

We wandered the streets for a while in search of food and some Doxycycline for me. As I booked this trip in a hurry and because my NHS doctor in London would not give me a travel consultation I was not aware that I was in need of malaria medicine in Guatemala until a few days ago.

We approached the first pharmacy and asked for the antibiotic commonly known as doxycyline, we received a quizzical look and tried our best Spanish to explain it was sometimes known as Vibramycin.

The pharmacist looked even more puzzled and started to blush before going into a back cabinet and producing a vibrating condom. Priceless, sometimes you can not even imagine moments so funny. Before I knew it tears of laughter covered all our cheeks and we left having gotten the a big belly laugh.

We leave bright and early tomorrow for Tikal and will cross firstly into Belize before skipping across the whole country landing at Flores before sundown. I am very nervous about tomorrows travel particularly the boarder crossings but have an old travellers soul now and hope it will be smooth, easy and not at all confrontational... I will report back on my safe arrival.

With love to you all.



The collectivo (similar to a communial taxi- where people split the fare) to Talum stoppped on the highway and asked us where we needed to go. We handed him the piece of paper with the name and address of Lobo Inn on the front. He motioned us out of the taxi and we were shell shocked.

We took two steps forward and saw next to us the somewhat faded sign Welcome to the Lobo Inn, positioned precariously on the motor way, with an old catus out front. We walked hesitently up the gravel drive, certain that this place was the biggest dump in all of Mexico... but then again looks can sometimes be wonderfully deceiving.

We were greeted by the engamatic and gregacios Cynthia, the heavily pregent proprieter and her German husband Lobo (which translates to wolf). Cynthia could be the warmest host i´ve ever encounted- she joked with us and showed us to our room. The room seemed quiet, clean and overlooked a courtyard with green plastic garden furniture. ´

We had arranged to meet Ra´s Australian friend Nat who lives in New York and her busty, beautiful Dominican girlfriend Ros who had arrived just before us. We hit it off over a few beers before deciding to head to Talum´s Mayan ruins and beach.

We borrowd some bikes fro Cynthia and set off down a gravel track, overtaking hords of bleary travellers on foot.

It was incrediably hot day, it was hard to blieve it was possiable to be near the sea when the air seemed so thick and heavy.

We walked through the ruins quickly, perhaps a little too quickly beacuse the beach was calling. It is a little like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, not quite as beautifully preserved but the setting is spellbinding.

The major reminients sit on a cliff top over looking a small cove complete with a white sand shore and bluest blue water the world has ever seen and we know instantly that the Mayans certainly had good taste.

We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing at the beach before going back to Lobo to prepare for New Years Eve.

When we arrived at Lobo, Cythia invited us to spend the evening with her family. We accepted and were so glad we did. The food was fantastic, traditional and made with the best ingrediaent We feasted on turkey, pork with the most delicious orange glaze i´ve ever tasted.

After dinner, we shared a bottle of tequilla before glamming it up and heading to a club on the beach called Akim.

The bar was beautiful, flanked by lush trees on both sides, with a thached roof complete with strobe lights, DJ´s, Band and a cute margarita making bar tender on a mission to mix us the best cocktails in Mexico.

We set the dance floor on fire with our tequilla induced moves... made friends with the crowd, befriended some band members and well I am sure you get the idea, Needless to say there were sore heads all round when we got home in the morning.


After a night out in Playa which consisted of yummy and very spicy Tacos served by a man with a very large moustache (maybe I was right), Ra and I decided to hit the Beach with a 6 pack of the Mexico´s finest Dosequis ale- and catch up properly. We relived the old times of Abercrombie street and started making plans.

It was a balmy night and we were happy sitting under the stars when a group of fire twirlers and a band kicked off a little up the beach. Keen to get involved we investigated and joined the party, staying out till midnight.

On arrival back at Hostel Rios we saw that a party had kicked off- seemed that rios doubles as a nightclub after dark. On arrival in our dorm we saw some kis tucking into some tequila, sitting there flirting amongst themselves- we felt so old. Playa del Carmen just is that kind of place... it oozes PARTY, so much so that people are content to sit in a smelly dorm just to be near the action.

It is filled mostly with rich tourists, well ones that can afford to pay similar prices to that in the good old USA and it does not feel at all forgien. Most people speak English and whilst friendly enough seem keen to short change you at any opportunity.

After a deep sleep I woke early (jet lag) and went for a swim at the end of our street- the sun was just rising and it was stunning. The water a shade of aquamarine i have never seen before. The bars along the shore were just setting up and it felt like i had the Carribean sea all to myself.

We decided to head to the island Cozmul about a 1 hour ferry ride from Playa. I was not sure what to expect at Cozemul, I thought it might be even more built up than Playa, more glamorous, more of that sameness that is a beach resort town but I was in for a shock.

The wharf leads to a quiet treeless market square with the usual souvenir shops on the edges selling sombreros, macaranas and hammocks with a few cafes and bars.

We settled into some Mexican style eggs (delicious) and decided against renting a scooter in favour of taking a oat trip off shore to some of the islands famous reefs to snorkel.

We boarded the Cozemul express eco tour after paying 25USD and met Alex the Mexican guide. The other passengers were a mixed bunch- all Mexican but ranging from toddler to grand parent. I used Ra´s phrase book to try and strike up a conversation but failed miserably and probably sounded loud, abnoxious and silly.

After about 10 mins of speeding out to sea the boat began to fill with water and come to a rather sudden halt, too sudden. Alex started handing out life vests and told us to put them on...scarred is not the right word but we were certainly a little apprehensive that perhaps we were on our own Titanic. We scanned the horizon and noted in could not be more than a few hundred metres if it came to it.

After a long pause we were back in business and ready to roll, we never got an explanation for the stop but it seemed somehow normal, somehow Mexican and just the way things roll here.

We visited 3 sites, saw an exceptional array of fish including a rather scary menacing one that kept giving me the eye. It was not the biggest fish I have ever seen but it would not leave me and i was paranoid. I noticed the sun illuminate it´sparking little teeth and I wanted away pronto.

I ended up getting stung by 1 possibly 2 jelly fish on our last dive and now look like i have some skin condition all the way down my right leg.