Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dec 30 - Black Friday

So we arrived in Chile today at about 2:30am local time. Our first thought was this country is expensive. We each had to pay US$55 for some immigration reciprocity thing that is good for the life of the passport (see below). Then we had to pay close to US$80 for the most expensive airport taxi ride I have ever had. I´m pretty sure we got ripped off. Then another US$110 for the hotel. So within our first hour in Chile, we'd spent about US$300, which would have lasted us about 5 days or more in Guatemala.

But after a quick rest in what was by far the nicest place we have stayed in this trip, we headed out. It was a beautiful sunny day in Santiago, and the city seemed very clean and civilized and things were looking up. Our plan for today was to head to the coast to Valparaiso and stay there a couple of days for the New Year's eve celebrations, which are supposed to be some of the best in Chile. We knew we were going to have a hard time getting a place to stay as we have had no luck booking places through the internet, email, etc so far. So we decided to rent a car in Santiago and drive to Valparaiso so that we could go from place to place checking availability etc. The only vehicle available was a little pick-up truck, but we figured it would work.

We made it to Valparaiso and started our search for hotels/hostals. It took a while to get our bearings, but then we just started going through the lists we had in the various guide books and tourist info we'd collected on the way. We finally found one that seemed ok - I waited in the truck while Tanis checked out the rooms, etc. She figured it was ok so we locked the truck up and took our packs up to the room. We were only in there about 15-20 minutes and the truck was parked right across the street, but when we got back, someone had broken in the passenger side and taken the little bags we had left in the truck. Our own fault for leaving them in there. But they got my little back pack which had some guide books and all our spanish course material, Tanis' purse thingy which had our passports, camera, her credit and bank cards, drivers licence, etc. and a few hundred dollars of cash, and another bag which we had packed separately to ship home which had most of our Guatemala souvenirs and all the Guatemala souvenirs we had bought for friends & family. It also sucks because our camera had all of our pictures from Tikal and our last week in Guatemala. So we got to spend the rest of the day notifying visa, the police, etc. Thankfully, the son of the owner of the hostal we're staying at speaks some english and took us to the police station and helped us with that (which was quite the process). The police in Valparaiso seem pretty disinterested and unhelpful, so if it hadn't been for him, probably no report would have been filed, not that its likely to do much good anyways.

With the holidays and general Cayman retail banking service, who knows when we're going to get new visas. Plus the Canadian embassy isn't open until Jan. 3rd so without passports, travelling by plane (which we're supposed to do on Jan. 8th) might be difficult. It's funny that we made it through 4 weeks in Guatemala which has a something of a reputation for being a bit dangerous with no problems whatsoever. And then within about 13 hours of being in a 'civilized' country, we get robbed. But we've learned our lesson.

Anyways, there probably won't be much for pictures posted for awhile. Partly because of no camera and partly because we're going to spend the rest of our money getting blind drunk on cheap Chilean wine. Hasta luego!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Dec 17 - Tajumulco

Today we decided to hike up Volcan Tajumulco - yep, another volcano. Although this one isn´t active. I don´t think there are mountains in Guatemala, just active and inactive volcanoes. The attraction with this one is that at 4,220m, it is the highest point in Central America. It is also approximately 4,218m (13,840 feet) higher than our apartment in Cayman.

It´s about a 2 hour drive from Xela so we left at 4:30am, which is way too early. If the moon is still up, it´s way too early. And it was cold. There was frost on the ground when we started climbing.

There were only two other people on the hike with us. Jedo (our guide), a 15 year old Guatemalan mountain goat, and Tobias, some tall lanky guy from Switzerland who I´m sure was born in some remote Alpine village and skipped his way up and down the mountain to go to school. Does anyone even like the Swiss?

Needless to say, these guys kicked our asses up the hill. I´m blaming the altitude. Although I could have made it to the top a lot quicker if it hadn´t been for Tanis holding me back. But everytime she stopped for a rest I´d walk another 20 feet or so and then look to the guys ahead of us and wave them on, effectively saying "Normally I´d be walking up front with the men, but I´d better wait for the missus - she´s a little delicate".

Anyways, 3.5 hours later we made it to the top:

Mexico to the Northwest:

Xela and the rest of Guatemala to the southeast:

And Medusa and the Pacific Ocean to the south:

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dec 14 - La Muela

Today we decided to do a hike behind Xela to some lava flow from 'La Muela', which erupted in 1780. The hike was supposed to be easy, but it seemed to go on and on and up and up.

Along the way we stopped to watch corn dry.

Here's a picture of us near the top. You can see Xela in the background. We started about two blocks from City Hall, and it took us about 2 hours to get to this point.

Here's Tanis taking a break in the clouds. It was kind of hard to see as the clouds had started to roll in by this time, but everywhere you looked was black volcanic rocks - they called it Mar de la Piedra (the Sea of Stone) or something like that .

Tanis and our guide at the top, and a view from the top, above the clouds.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dec 13 - San Andres Xecul

Since we've got our afternoons free, we decided to try to do a couple of tours around the region. Today we signed up for a bike tour to a neighbouring village (San Andres Xecul) that is to home to one of the most unusual churches around, at least by Central American standards. The first stop was at another village (Chiquilaja) to see their church and the Cristo Negro (Black Christ).

After what seemed like forever down a bunch of crappy dusty roads, we finally arrived at the church, which was painted up fairly uniquely, but not much different on the inside from any other church we've seen.

But we did get to see this girl carrying a table on her head, which was kind of cool. The womenfolk in Guatemala carry pretty much everything on their heads. Except for their babies - those they wrap in a blanket and throw over their shoulder.

We also stopped at a firework factory on the way back, but all of the child labour had left for the day, so we didn't take any pictures. Apparently kids are better at making fireworks since their fingers are smaller and can roll up the little crackers, etc.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Week of Dec 12 - Quetzaltenango

We're in Xela for a week - another week of Spanish classes and living with a 'host family'.

Here´s a couple pics of the place we stayed at in Quetzaltenango. It's a little less than we´ve become accustomed to - In Antigua the house we were in had a courtyard about three times the size of this one, filled with an orange tree, palm trees, hibiscus and roses. They also had a gardner and two maids/cooks. We knew we had it pretty good there, but Xela was still a little bit of shock. Its an elderly lady who seems to be running some sort of hostel/restaurant. We made the mistake of saying there was nothing we didn't eat, and we were served up a feed of organ meat. We never figured out whose organs though. And there was always somebody different wandering around or washing their socks. We We never figured out who most of them were.

Xela is fairly high up, so the nights and mornings were cold - probably right around zero. Something else we're not used to.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Dec 11 - Panajachel to Quetzaltenango

We had the morning in Panajachel before our trip to Quetzaltenango (which everyone refers to by its Mayan name, Xela, which is much shorter and easier to type - clever Mayans)

The area around Lake Atitlan was pretty hard hit by the flooding from Hurricane Stan, including some villages that were completely wiped off the map. The only damage we saw in Panajachel was a missing road.

Apparently that little creek was about 200 feet wide at one point.

The lake itself was nice, surrounded by volcanoes and looked to be a pretty good vacation spot. This was a shot we took from the road as were leaving.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Dec 10 - Last morning in Antigua

We took a quick tour this morning of a couple of villages, some old churches, a macadamia plantation.

We also ran into a 'folkloric dancing' performance in the middle of the street in one of the villages - more of the same devils, monkeys, angels, etc.

In the afternoon we hopped a shuttle to Panajachel, a town on the shore of Lake Atitlan. The area was pretty hard hit by the landslides caused by Hurricane Stan, but the actual town seemed to be in good shape.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dec 8 - Cerro del Cruz

This morning our class activity was a quick hike up the Hill of the Cross. It overlooks Antigua so there´s some pretty good views of the city.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dec 7 - Quema del Diablo

December 7th seemed to be a big day in Guatemala. As near as we can figure, Quema del Diablo means something like Burning of the Devil. A day where you burn out the bad spirits in preparation for Christmas.

We went with our class to a nearby village that was having a parade in the afternoon. It seems to be a bizarre blend of catholicism and mayan traditions - we couldn´t figure out what the significance was of most things.

Everywhere there were kids dressed as smoking monkeys with whips. I think if they told you a joke you were supposed to give them some money.

There were also lots of devils, angels, virgin mary´s, men dressed as women, men dressed as old people and people in cartoon characters costumes.

Later that night at 6pm sharp (the first and only thing that´s been on time) they lit a devil statue on fire. Hundreds of people turned out to watch the burning. Not sure what the statue was made of, but it was packed with firecrackers. Our camera takes crappy pictures in low light, so we don´t really have any good pics of the burning. In addition to the devil statue, they were also shooting off fireworks throughout the whole ordeal. And the whole thing took place in between two gas stations.

People were also supposed to burn their garbage in the street. We only saw one house doing it - apparently its somewhat frowned upon now. We heard that in Guatemala City, it used to cause enough pollution to create an acid rain cloud over the city (apparently old tires were a favorite choice for burning).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Our first post on the road - Antigua Guatemala

We arrived in Antigua on Friday night (Dec 3rd) with no complications and were dropped off at our host family´s casa. We´ll put some pictures of them up later.
On Saturday we took it easy and just wandered around Antigua - here´s a couple pics from the town.

For Sunday, we decided to get a little adventurous and signed up for a trek up Volcan Pacaya - the closest active volcano to Antigua. You heard me - active.

In hindsight, maybe not the brightest of ideas, but we made it back safe and sound so it worked out ok.
This was our first real view of the volcano - at the time we figured it was way too far off to be the one we were climbing. But we were wrong.

This next one was taken maybe a quarter of the way up the cone. I was starting to question whether we were going to make it to the top at this point, but it only got worse.

This one was about half way up - those little specks on that ridge are the people just starting up the cone.

And this one is from roughly the same spot looking up - still a ways to go.

This is the top of the cone. Concerns over safety in Guatemala are somewhat lacking - people were encouraged to climb right up into the crater.

And this is actually looking into the crater - if you look closely you can actually see flames coming out of the crater. And it was extremely warm near the edge (as you might expect).

Here we are after coming down from the cone - victorious.

And one of the nicer shots we got from the hike. Looking back towards Antigua you can see the three other volcanoes that surround Antigua.