Thursday, July 31, 2008

49. Lake Atitlan

Our tourist van to Lake Atitlan picked us up at our hotel a little before 8. There were already 6 people in the van and we were hoping that was going to be it. Nope, they packed 5 more people into it. I, of course, was lucky enough to get to sit next to an Italian Lurch whose nicotine cravings were so bad that he spent most of the 8 hours twitching for a cigarette. At one point, I seriously thought he was going to put his arm around me during one of his fits. We played the this is my space, back off game pretty much then entire way trip to the border of Mexico and Guatemala.

Immigration was easy, thanks to the tour company. They guided us along and like good little cattle; we followed the rest of the heard and made it though in less than an hour. The Guatemala bus was bigger, but we were one of the last ones on and I had to sit on a jump seat that folded out into the aisle. Not exactly the most comfortable, but the other passengers kept me distracted enough that it wasn’t so bad. Teenagers – two beautiful German girls traveling with their parents who giggled most of the trip and a guy from England who watched South Park on his ipod the whole time - surrounded me. And of course, Lurch and his traveling companion were up ahead jonesing for a smoke the entire time. The Mr got to sit next to Lurch’s friend, but he at least had a real seat and a window.

The Guatemalan countryside is very dramatic- deep craggy cliffs that sort of remind me of Kauai. The border is in the lowlands, so it was much warmer than San Cristobal. To get to Lake Atitlan, you wind your way back up into the mountains. The road is paved and I can’t imagine the man hours it took to carve it out of the mountains. It’s the rainy season, so it’s very green. People build their homes, plant their corn and raise a cow and a couple of chickens right on the side of the road and on the edge of the mountain cliffs. It seems dangerous, but it was that way the whole way up.

Tourist van is the way to go. There is no way I would drive these roads. They’re just so curvy. Plus, drivers are insane. Either that or the rules of the road are really loose. People pass at the most dangerous times with just seconds to spare and often drive over the center line, creating a third lane. There are speed bumps all over the place. In one little village at the top of a hill, a couple of little boys created their own dirt speed bump and pulled a rope across the Pan American Highway, forcing tourists to stop. Our bus stopped, paid the boys and drove past. Can you image that in the states? On the 5?

We also got pulled over by the Policia. It was probably just an insurance check, but still a little unnerving to see these tough looking guys, dressed all in black, and packing machine guns.

Guatemala definitely feels more third world than Mexico so far. Panajchel, our jumping off point for the Lake, was sketchy. It’s definitely an opportunist place, but you can’t be bitter about it since the poverty level is so great and we represent such great comparative wealth. I don’t mind that we pay almost double than the locals for a boat ride to our hotel. Especially when it works out to be less than $3 US.

And our hotel…Lomas de Tzununa. It’s exactly as represented on the their website. 10 rooms carved into the mountain, each with amazing views of the lake and surrounding volcanoes. Of course, to get those views, you have to go up. Maria, who owns and runs the hotel with her husband Thierry, said it was 100 meters from the lake. I didn’t think it sounded like that much. I’m not so good with the whole metric conversion math. It’s high. 400 steps straight up, starting from an altitude of 5000 feet. I’m going to blame my heart pounding, out of breath, think I’m going to die state on the long trip, altitude and hunger. It’s either that or admit that while I’ve definitely lost some weight on this trip, I’m still horribly out of shape.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

48. Moving On

We’re ready to go. We bought our seats on a tourist van to Guatemala after breakfast this morning. Stopped by Casa del Pan for road snacks. They have these amazing croissants filled with mild chocolate and cream cheese. The Mr took this picture while I was trying to find out which one he wanted. Notice the storm clouds in the upper left.

It is the rainy season and they’re not kidding. We had been told that the afternoon thundershowers were serious business and today it poured. So much so that the street separating the hotel became a river and we were trapped in the lobby for at least an hour and a half. Fortunately, I brought a book and aside from being a bit cold, it was fun to watch.

Things are still a little damp and I’m not sure of our dinner plans. It’ll be early though. The van is picking us up before 8 and we still have to pack. I’m very excited to be moving on. I have loved San Cristobal, but am really looking forward to spending some time here.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Today we took a boat tour of the Sumidero Canyon. We were the only Americans on the tour and no one spoke to us. It was a little strange, but I’m getting used to that. I’m not sure what I was thinking agreeing to a boat tour what with still being a little dizzy from the inner ear thing, but it was fun. The water was brown and in places covered in floating trash. No swimming. That part was difficult for the Mr - all that water and he couldn’t go in. Oh and there are alligators too. The cliffs are really pretty amazing and driver did a good job of pointing out places of interest. At least, I think he was pointing out places of interest. It was all in Spanish and I was only able to make out some of it. You know, things like derecho and izquierida.

Cañon Sumidero, (Sumidero Canyon)

And tonight we happened upon a quaint little restaurant on one of the side streets. No idea what it was called, but we ate in an indoor courtyard next to a big tree with candles hanging from the limbs. The satellite radio was set to a love song station. Highlights included Barry Manilow (Mandy), George Michael (Careless Whispers) and a cover of some sappy 70s song by the woman with the great voice from Everything But the Girl. The special was a meat plate for two. It had some fancy Spanish name, but it was basically a plate of steak, chicken, turkey, chorizo and some mystery sausage, all grilled nicely with tortillas, beans and super spicy pico de gallo on the side. We had the place to ourselves. We still haven’t gotten over the early bird special approach to dinner. Of course, in Mexico, that means eating before 9. We had a lot of meat left over, so I took it in a to go box and left it up by the church for a street dog to hopefully find.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

46. Cold!

The Mr says I have about a 5-degree acceptable temperature variant range. It’s somewhere between 71 and 76. It gets much cooler than that here, especially in the evenings. After the last two months of hot, you have no idea how happy I am about that. I mean, I am so in my element – layered up with jeans, t-shirt, sleeves, 28Thirty and scarf. Yep, I am finally wearing something I made and after all the days of looking at it in the heat and wondering why in the hell I was schlepping this heavy wool sweater when I’m desperate for more luggage space and could barely stand to have clothes on at all, I am extremely grateful that Mr said to bring it. And in case you think I must look funny all wrapped up, you should know that all the backpackers wear scarves and I totally blend in. Sort of. Aside from the 10 – 15 year age difference.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Today we did nothing in particular. It was great. We slept in, had a late breakfast, wondered around the city, took some pictures, napped and then headed back to the Anador. We found a table on the sidewalk, drank a couple of beers and watched people go by. Rather than buy gum or another scarf from the kids, we gave them our peanuts and limes and got big smiles in thanks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

44. San Cristobal

Last night we took a 13 hour bus from Merida to San Cristobal. Apparently, there isn’t an executive class bus that runs directly to SC and we were only able to book first class seats. I had been having nightmares about the bus – my back, the bathrooms, food, getting car sick – but thanks to a last minute margarita at our local bar, a few thrown together ham tacos, a name-brand, non addictive sleep aid and somewhat frequent stops, it wasn’t so bad. There was a nun sitting behind us. She snored almost the entire way.

The locals call SC Joval. It’s pronounced HOE-VEL, not HAW-VEL. Mispronouncing it earns you a very dirty look from your taxi driver from the bus station. Oops.

We’re staying at Hotel Posada Jovel. It’s not fancy, but well located and priced right. The beds are typically Mexican – hard. Water pressure is almost non-existent, but at least it gets hot and stays hot long enough to get the conditioner washed out.

After checking into our hotel, we found a walk street called The Anador and had breakfast. Before heading back to the hotel for a long nap, we wondered around the Indian craft market at Santo Domingo Church. I’m embarrassed to say that I bartered down a long sleeve embroidered shirt from 90 to 60 pesos. It’s the same shirt I was going to pay 200 for in Merida. But softer. The Mr bought a Zapatista key chain from one of the Indian girls who walk up and down the Anador

San Cristobal has a thing for fireworks. They seem to go of randomly and sound more like a firing squad, or at least what I imagine a firing squad to sound like, but I’ve been assured that someone, somewhere for some reason is letting off fireworks in some sort of celebration. Fortunately, they don’t seem to go off after 9pm

The Mr has a friend from college who lives and works here. And by friend I mean frat brother. We had dinner with him and his girlfriend at a very “posh” Italian place also on the Anador. Pizza and red wine. Turns out we knew a lot of the same people during school. There was this one call guy in particular whom we’ll call Van Man that the Mr’s friend used to live with after college. We’re going to call him that because that’s what we girls called him my freshman year. Van Man as in: Hey, let’s see if we can get Van Man to take us to that off campus party. And after dinner, they did their secret handshake.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

43. Merida

After carefully packing up our belongings (right), we left Marina Milagro and Island Time on the 16th. 14 peso taxi from the marina. 35 peso ferry to Cancun. 5 peso taxi to the bus station. 296 peso ADO GL (gran linea) bus to Merida. The bus left around 12:30, made 3 stops (2 toll booths, 1 driver pee break) and pulled into the downtown station around 5. We walked about 5 blocks to Casa Santiago. And then I cried. I cried because the bed was so good. I cried because the pillows were down and the sheets were soft. I cried because the toilet doesn't have to be hand pumped at least 10 times. I cried because the pasta tile floors were quaint, because the bathroom stonework is really beautiful, the water hot. I cried because I was so damn happy to be on land, if not for good than at least for a good long time. I also cried because a cold glass of sauvignon blanc was waiting for me. Clearly, tears of joy.

Our B&B is perfectly situated about four blocks from the colonial centro plaza - walkable, but still quiet. Vince and David, our hosts, have been terrific. Really helpful and accommodating, but not at all intrusive. Plus, they have dogs. Felix is the mellowest Boston Terrier you'll ever meet. And Sage is a Mexican street dog with a sweet temperment and just enough street smarts to keep David on his toes. We've felt right at home. Merida is, as expected, sweltering during the day and I try to move as little as possible. Fortunately, it cools down quite a bit at night and has been quite pleasant.

One day we took an open air bus tour of the city to get some perspective. There are a number of theaters and museums scattered throughout the colonial area. There's a museum of natural history. There's a museaum of modern art. And there are also random installations on the streets.

One day we went to the zoo. It's right in the middle of town, surrounded by a cute park with lots of entertainment for the kids. The zoo was cute, sort of old school and filled with warm weather animals. They have a successful breeding program, so lots of babies. No polar bears or penguins, but there were pink flamigos.
And giraffes

And one elephant.

I also noticed that all the children were really well behaved. I didn't see a single kid crying or whining about something. The famils were just enjoying a Saturday in the park and at the free zoo. It was nice.

One other day, we took a tour of a sisal hacienda with two underground rivers, called cenotes. It's very clear, fresh water, cold. The Mr was in heaven. I liked it too until I noticed the film of dead skin and oils on the surface of the water...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

42. Mi Gusto Mucho

I love Isla Mujeres. It's just easy. Sure, it could be easier if my Spanish was better, but it's still pretty easy.

And hard to believe it's been over a week now. We've just been hanging out. Spent a few afternoons at Playa Norte. Great people watching as the boats shuttle day trippers over from Cancun. Also made friends with one of the waiters, so we get a little special treatment and lower prices for beer and margaritas each time we go. We spent an afternoon at the pool at Villa Vera. They have great nachos and even better margaritas. The market on the island is well stocked and has a great produce department. One night we went to dinner at an Italian place and had an amazing beef carpacio and brick oven pizza. And the shrimp tacos? Not quite as good as Tio Pablos in Barrilles, but pretty damn good. Compared to Belize, this truly is the promised land.

Yesterday, I treated myself to an hour massage and an hour and a half facial at Casa Luz Spa. The spa is just lovely - white interior with ceiling fans and flowy screens. Both treatments were great. The massage was standard. The facial, however, was very different that I'm used to in the states. No steam, no extractions and no massaging. Actually, not a lot of hands on the face now that I think about it. Creams were applied, not actually rubbed in. Lots of masks. Maybe even 6. And they were rubbed off with an abrasive wash cloth. It was sort of a tough love facial. Different, but good. And my skin feels so much better. Josephina doesn't have a website, but she's on Juarez at Allende. And worth the $50 US.

Not sure when we'll leave. We're sort of waiting for Capt Jim's crew to firm up his plans. And we're not in a rush. I mean, why would we want to leave here? Besides, rumor has it that it's sweltering in Merida this time of year...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

41. Tranquilo

We moved marinas. We're now at Marino Milagro. It's not as super deluxe, but the guys are nice, it's closer to town and much cheaper. The dock guys say it's Tranquilo here. They're talking about the marina, but it pretty much sums up our frame of mind as well.

This marina isn't all that busy, but there is a large power boat at the end of the dock. They have an ice maker. Can you imagine? Decadant! She brought some over for us the other day. She also cut the Mr's hair, trimmed mine and cleaned up Capt Jim's beard. I think he's getting pretty for his homecoming. She's also a total tanaholic. Remember the older woman in There's Something About Mary? The one with the dog that attacks Ben Stiller? This lady looks like that. And still goes to the beach almost every day, has an umbrella, but doesn't sit under it. She says it's a waste. Total tanaholic.

But chatting with her has made me realize how much I miss being around girls. I'm staying in touch via email, but it's just not the same. The boys just aren't responsive when I accidently say the randy randoms that run through my mind.

Why wouldn't Baby want to be in the corner? Don't you have the best view from the corner?

Should I be shaving my upper leg?

Do you think I need to trim my eyebrows? Rita used to do it and I'm scared. Can you do it?

Isn't it strange that bugs seem to bite twice in almost the same spot?

Does my hair look brassy?

Do you think they have yarn shops in Merida? What about in Guatemala?

Is it ok to mix Bonine, Benadryl and Ambien at night?

What do you think they're doing at home right now?

Will Lucy remember us when we get back?

Is it possible to be too tan?

I miss the girls.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

40. Cerrado

Well, sort of cerrado. Cerrado for us. We're getting off the boat. My inner ear thing isn't clearing up and because of it I'm useless for crewing. I had planned to hang out until they were ready to set sail, would take the bus to Merida for a few days and then continue on to Texas. Unfortunately, Capt Jim isn't comfortable with me traveling on my own and so he's making arrangements for new crew to come on board and kicking both of us off. Part of me is tremendously relieved to not have to make the crossing. I can't think of anything worse, but I'm also terribly disappointed in myself. I really thought I was going to be able to do it. The last time this happened, my doctor diagnosed it as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, however, it's looking more and more like Meniere's each day. The good news is that as as long as I don't look to the right, I can still knit. So I've got that going for me.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

39. Mi Isla Bonita

Ambergris Caye may be the pretty island to Madonna, but as far as I'm concerned Isla Mujeres is La Isla Bonita.

Belize is a Carribbean country about the size of Rhode Island protected by 185 miles of barrier reef and surrounded by crystal clear water. If you were driving that, it would take something like 4 to 5 hours (assuming an easily driven direct road). On Island Time, it took four weeks. And as far as I'm concerned, you should never sail past the reef. I had been warned that it wasn't going to be fun, but we just had to get through it. I was prepared. I'd been taking Bonine for weeks. I had my watch backpack filled with everything I was going to need with me for those 3 hours I'd be alone at the helm: pants, long sleeve t-shirt, fleece jacket, wind breaker, cotton scarf, my Boho Beret, a blanket, a book, my knitting, my journal, more Bonine. I was a Girl Scout. We'd been talking about this for weeks. Totally prepared. Right. Almost the moment we crossed over the reef at St George's Caye on the 30th and hit the 6 foot choppy swell, my sea sickness kicked in. I spent the next 26 hours in the cockpit of the boat, wet, cold, sick and just uncomfortable. Actually, uncomfortable makes it sound not entirely unpleasant. It was beyond unpleasant. I bruised my tailbone. Every muscle ached. It was just not natural - you should not be in open water, crossing through wind, rain, thunder and lightning storms, in the middle of the night when the lights of land are even slightly visible. It's just not right. You should be able to stop and pull over, get some rest, eat, maybe even go to the bathroom. But we couldn't. We pushed on to Chinchorro Bank, Mexico and finally dropped the anchor around 2pm on July 1st. Oh, and the backpack? Only made it out of the cabin long enough for me to grab my fleece and windbreaker.

CB is behind a reef (note the flat water), but that didn't last very long as we were on our way again the next morning, right after a little visit from the Mexican Navy. The seas weren't as bad and it was day light. Unfortunately, my vertigo kicked in just about the time my nausea settled down. Good stuff. 37 foot sail boat in open water pushing through 3 - 5 foot seas and I'm dizzy...I spent most of the day on my bunk with my eyes closed, moving as little as possible. We anchored at Cozumel around 2am this morning, slept a bit, were on our way again by 9am and pulled into Heaven around 4pm. Heaven, you ask? Yes. Villa Vera Puerto Isla Mujeres Marina. Water, power, free wi-fi and showers. More importantly, however, it's on land. Oh and there's a pool. With a swim up bar. And cabana boys. Hello vacation!

And so, to me, Ambergris ain't got nothing on Isla Mujeres.