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Friday, 11 July 2014

Semuc Champey, Guatemala

07/07/2014

Having spontaneously decided to go to Semuc Champey in the east of the country, we left Antigua at 8am. I went there with Ofir and Shay but met two English girls on the shuttle. They happened to be Jewish and so did everyone else as most of the others were Israeli. It was a hilarious journey consisting mainly of turning the music up to full volume, the Israelis arguing about politics and general banter throughout the whole 9-hour ride. One of my favourites so far anyway. 

We arrived at a hostel called the Zephyr Lodge, which was set in one of the most breathtaking sites I've stayed at. In an open setting, the hostel overlooked jungle-based mountains and flowed around the surrounding area. The place was also meant to be the party hostel of Lanquin and had a pool.






Once we ate we sorted out our Semuc Champey tour for tomorrow, which cost 190 Quetzales ($24) for a full day of activities. We then showered and started drinking the bottle of rum we bought in Antigua as the price of alcohol in the hostel was high. 

08/07/2014

I quickly had a breakfast smoothie (no where enough for the day) and we then all jumped into the back of a jeep and had to stand up for 45 minutes to get to Semuc. The easiest way to explain what Semuc Champey is to imagine many turquoise blue pools that run above a verocious river. Basically paradise in-land. 

First we went caving where we had to walk in the dark with just a candle each! This was actually a bit disappointing as it ended at a pitch black waterfall, which I wasn't going to jump off! It just meant the way back out was the same old thing. We then went on a massive rope swing that you sit on as it fires you out into the river. I managed to land wrong on my side and I'm now pretty sure I've cracked a rib or two. 





We then headed to the mirador (lookout point) up a massive hill that would give us the first view of Semuc Champey from above before going in. It was unbelievable. The colours really were fantastic. The water itself was so refreshing and we basically dropped down each pool whether that was jumping in or sliding down. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip simply because of the natural beauty in such an unlikely area. 




We then went back to the hostel, saw that Brazil got smashed by Germany and then played some pool before going in the pool! The night was tame as I didn't have much cash left (no ATMs in Lanquin). 


Tomorrow I'm back on course to Flores in the north east of Guatemala. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Antigua, Guatemala

05/07/2014

Our shuttle today wasn't until 12 so we arrived in Guatemala around 6 hours later having viewed yet more impressive scenery. We checked into The Terrace Hostel based on various peoples opinions of the place. The views were incredible as it quite literally has a terrace overlooking Volcán de Agua (pictured at the bottom of this post) in the east. The hostel itself wasn't bad but not amazing. Ofir's friend, Shay, was flying in from Brazil so we quickly grabbed a burrito and nachos. I also saw some of the guys I met in Nicaragua here too so ended up going out with them although it was a bit of a flop as the police shut down all of the bars/clubs at 1am. I wasn't too fussed though as I have to be up at 7:30 to hike up Volcán de Pacaya.




06/07/2014

After eating a quick breakfast of huevos rancheros on the terrace, I was picked up to go hiking. The group was actually pretty good although most kept themselves to themselves. We spent an hour in the shuttle to the start point and then another 1.5 hours walking up to the crater of the volcano. The views were spectacular, which looked over the surrounding cities and lush green jungle. 

The volcano itself last erupted in March so we couldn't walk to the very top. The lava flow had cooled and hardened from what we could see from the lookout. After a few pictures we then bumped into Mr McKinney (blue, second from the left in the group picture) who happened to be the old guy who the new crater was named after! He was absolutely fascinated by the GoPro and requested pictures of me and it! We then wondered down to the lava flow where you could still feel the heat. We could toast marshmallows on it it was that warm! When we were walking back it absolutely pissed it down and I only had a Tshirt and shorts!





Once back in Antigua, Ofir and Shay we were waiting for me to book onward travel for tomorrow. Once booked, we had another burrito for dinner and wondered around the beautiful city. It's basically a blend between the touristy San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and Leon in Nicaragua. Most of the buildings are nicely kept with a cobbled road running though the maze-like city.



I've now decided to go to Semuc Champey, which wasn't originally in the plan but it's on the way to Flores. Not only that, where I have saved a few days over the last month or so, I decided that seeing something unique to Guatemala was better than sitting on another beach in Mexico.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

04/07/2014

Having left Utila on the morning ferry at 6:20 we (Ofir and I) are now heading to Copan Ruinas, or the Copan Ruins in English. This is basically a connection to get into Guatemala easier.

Today's journey ended up taking forever as we had to wait until 10:30 in La Ceibe for a bus to San Pedro Sula where we would change bus to get to Copan. For some reason it ended up costing a lot too, $38, which for this part of the world is odd. Anyway, there wasn't much we could do so endured it. You could tell San Pedro was dodgy as the Hedman Alas bus station shuts the gates immediately after the bus enters and there is a load of supposedly army guys with massive rifles hanging around.


At 6:30pm we arrived but we were joined by a really nice couple from Montreal, John-Sebastian and Béatrice. We tried to get a room at the hostel I had pre-planned but they had no room. We then tried Via Via, they had no room. So Ofir and I found a dorm a little further out of town. By the time we had booked our onward shuttle to Antigua in Guatemala and settled in it was past 8pm. We then met back up with the Canadians for dinner at Via Via. We went for a local special that was greatly needed. We had wraps, rice, beef, beans, vegetables, salsa, avocado and feta cheese. By the time we finished it was 10pm so we went to bed as we knew that tomorrow would be another long day. 


05/07/2014

This morning we woke up at 7am as we needed to see the ruins before our $20 shuttle at 12. We showered then went for a quick cheap breakfast in town. A short 15 minute walk led us to the ruins.


Although we had to pay $15 to get in, it was actually pretty good. Unlike Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the site was much smaller so it meant we could look round it all without getting bored. The Copan Ruins are Mayan so it's nice to see a different side of Latin American heritage other than the Inca's and Tica's. We spent roughly two hours here and it was a surprisingly well-kept place. They also a bunch of macaws flying around and eating from various troughs.



















After exploring and taking many pictures we headed back into town to get coffee and some snacks for the 6 hour journey. From Copan it's only 30 minutes to the border. We paid $3 to get out of Honduras and 10 Quetzals to enter Guatemala.

See you shortly Antigua. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Utila, Honduras

29/06/2014 - 03/07/2014

Day 1

Sush and I left Leon early this morning. At 8am we left in a minivan that would take us all the way to La Ceibe (pron: La Sabre) in Honduras. I opted for this method as it was a lot safer than staying the night San Pedro Sula - the city with the highest murder rate in the world (3 a day). 

The day consisted of a 12 hour journey from start to finish. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful journeys so far. Honduras is stunning with an amazing back drop with rolling tropical mountains along the way. Once we arrived in La Ceibe we paid our driver $75 (which sounds steep but doing it the other way we would have only saved $10 and added a lot of messing about), and he dropped us off at the hostel, Estadium (or something like that). It wasn't great but not the worst I've stayed in but did have hot water! The owner, who grew up in America, clearly had the American bug. After paying $10 we ended up then paying another $5 for breakfast and then $3 to be dropped off the next morning at the ferry. It seems that this is a common trend at this end of Honduras due to the diving scene.



Day 2

We were up at 8am for an omelet on toast and then went to catch the ferry to Utila, which is one of the Bay Islands in the Caribbean. The ferry cost $28 and would take an hour to get there - leaving at 9:30am. The journey was rough to say the least. There were people being sick all over the place. Once we got off the ferry we went to Underwater Vision, the dive school everyone had recommended. 

It was here that I will now complete my PADI Open Water Diver qualification for only $299, including accomodation. I arranged it so that I started all of my theory (Knowledge Review questions) today just to get it out of the way as I had to follow videos. Although I'm currently 2 days ahead of schedule I want to save those days for Guatemala and Mexico. The theory was very dull and I was the only one doing it as they allowed me to do the qualification on my terms rather than waiting to start with a group. 

The hostel seemed quiet so Sush, Sophie (a girl we met on the bus) and I went for a nice meal up the road. I opted for snapper! The restaurant was on top of the sea, which was a nice touch. A quiet night all-in-all so I went to bed so that I would be fresh for my next set of tasks in the morning.




Day 3

This morning I met my instructor, Alicia, who would teach me how to dive and all of the stuff that comes with that. We started off running through the questions I went through yesterday. We then took a break and went to the dock (on site) and got all of my equipment together, which included the mask, snorkel, tank, BCD, SPD, regulator, fins and wet suit. From here I learnt how to put it altogether. We then went through various confined water skills (necessary before the open water). I'll spare the main details but included taking off your mask underwater, then putting it back on and then using water pressure to clear the water so you can see again - a very odd thing to do if you've never dived.

We bombed through this and had lunch. I then met Vanessa who was in a different group but was ill yesterday so joined me to catch up. We then did the Open Water dive's: 1 and 2. We did further skills and dropped to a depth of 12m. We also spotted 4 Spotted Manta Rays swimming in a majestic manner. An incredible experience. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take my GoPro down for this dive as I'd need to have my hands free. Alicia didn't hear the end of it.



 





Post-dives we had wings at the hostel for Wing Night before going out. The bars were good but it was shit as I had no group of friends as it was just me on the course. One downside to doing it solo.

Day 4

This morning I met back up with Alicia and finished reviewing questions. We then left to do dives 3 and 4, now dropping to 18m. These would be the final dives that were necessary to be a qualified diver. Luckily for the last 3 dives I could take my GoPro. The pictures tell it better than me. Being in a small group means that you can see things easily and not with everyone on top of everyone else. Using oxygen tanks at depth causes a build up of nitrogen in the blood so it makes you surprisingly tired. After I finished the dives I went to take my final test consisting of 60 questions, the last hurdle to jump over before getting PADI Open Water qualified. I passed!

I had decent burger (first in ages) at the bar but took it easy tonight as I had to be up at 6:15am again tomorrow.

Day 5

This morning is now the time to do my two free fun dives (included in the price) now that I'm certified. The first dive I saw lots of incredible things including a massive eel right in front of me, a puffer fish and many sorts of other fish. 












The second dive wasn't so amazing but we swam along a huge sea wall that dropped off into the deep ocean. 





In the afternoon we had lunch and went to Treetanic, which was a massive bar and it was competely hand made by some guy out of bottles and other random items.


This has, by far, been one of the best experiences of my trip. I've managed to discover a whole new world, overcoming my uncertainty for the sea, and experiencing coral reefs and fish in a way I have never done before. I am definitely going to dive more in the future. 

I now leave Sush for a bit as she wanted to stay longer in Utila, which is fine by me. I'm now joined by Ofir, an Israeli girl, who is going in the same direction to Guatemala. 

Next stop, Copan Ruinas, mainland Honduras, near the border of Guatemala!