Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Break time, destination Central America

Just came back from my trip to central America, Guatemala and Honduras to be exact.
Went to visit Machteld there who lives in Antigua at the moment doing volunteering work for an organisation called Los Ninos. (http://www.stichtinglosninos.nl/)
Had been about 2 months since I last saw her, so of course seeing her again was very nice!
Antigua is a city near the capital and is I think one of the most beautiful and cleanest city of the country. It is situated in a valley surrounded by four volcanos......still active ones. The scenery is quite impressive.

After a few days (it takes a while of course to get adjusted to not thinking about assignments and eating and drinking all day) we travelled to Tikal to see the Mayan ruins. These ruins have been on my to do list for a long time, so I was very excited to go. We decided to fly (TAG airlines) to Flores. TAG airlines operates small propellor airplanes and employs 'stewardesses' that are max 16 years old and get very frightened looks at the slightest bit of turbulence...a comforting thought! The flight was nice though.
We spent the night in the Tikal park so we could enter the park the next morning at 5AM to climb up to Tempel IV and see the sunrise and jungle coming to live. It was an amazing experience!



Tikal is known for its immense structures. The city started to flourish during the downfall of El Mirador, a nearby and important pre-classic city, around 200-850 AD.










Copan
After a quick stop in Antigua-base-camp we went on for a longer journey to Honduras. First stop: Copan. Copan is a small village just across the border with Guatemala. The city is also famous for its Mayan ruins. Machteld had booked a very pretty hotel to spend Christmas days in: Hacienda San Lucas (http://www.haciendasanlucas.com/index.htm)

The ruins in Copan are very different from Tikal. In Copan, it is not height but detail that differentiates the city. An often heard analogy is that where Tikal is the New York of the Mayan cities, Copan resembles Paris. Two famous structures in Copan are the Hieroglyphic stairway and a recently discovered inner burial temple 'Rosalila' within a larger structure. The latter is quite unusual as the Mayans used to destroy temples belonging to previous rulers whenever a new ruler arrived. This one was kept intact by as it is believed to be build by the first ruler of Copan K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo'.



Machteld, trying not to fall again...!!

Bay Islands, kicking it in the Caribbean...

Leaving culture behind us, we traveled to the Bay Islands area of Honduras where we would spend the next week on Roatan. Roatan is an island situated on the Caribbean coast. We stayed in a place called WestEnd. (tip: do not trust the Lonely Planet guides on this area, or any area if you ask me, these guides are getting more and more commercialised and less independent. If you read the guide, you might be tempted to stay in WestBay, situated next to WestEnd as it is described to be a more quiet and authentic village....The person that who wrote this must have had a couple of tequilla shots too many and forgot what he was writing about: WestBay is a terrible, Cancun like, area with big resorts hosting even bigger tourist. There is nothing authentic about the place and a complete circus!)

WestEnd is your typical 'hippie-type' place with a lot of diving activities. Very nice to stay if you're into diving/snorkling. People are very relaxed and it offers a nice selection of small bars and restaurants to keep you happy for about a week. Definite recommendation is a restaurant called: The Lighthouse. An American women, who obviously enjoys her own recipes a lot, makes delicious food.

I dove with Coconut tree divers (nice crew, only place that offers 2-tank dives), did 4 dives and Machteld snorkled with us as her arm was not completely ready for the pressure of underwater scuba.



For New Years we sort of worked the 'strip'. Starting at the back of the village we drank cocktails at Sundowners, worked our way up to a bar which name I cannot remember now and ended in the Black Pearl (how original). I think this 'club' tried to resemble the ship of the Pirates of the Caribbean, well....let's just say that I don't think the place was sea-worthy. I won't say any other bad thing about it, as they threw a great party with an unexpected excellent DJ.

Antigua again..
On the 3rd of Jan we came back in Antigua where we had a few relaxing days before my trip back to Oxford. We visited a local market in Chichicastenango where Machteld could keep her 'PC-Hooft'-skills up to date and the last evening on friday we had a briljant diner at Meson Panza Verde (http://www.panzaverde.com/). We had live music next to our table of no other than the Buena Vista Social Club. These guys are in their 70's and still put up an amazing show. Combined with terrific food, it could not have been a better night to conclude the trip with.


Next day we took a taxi at 6AM to the airport (quite used to these times, travel in Guatemala always starts at 5 or 6AM). It will be long before we see each other again, fortunately we can mail & Skype our way through it! You sometimes wonder how people did this 20 years ago.