Sunday, August 23, 2009

Evan and Andy's Wedding

My flight from Nicaragua to Indiana was supposed to get me into Indy on the Friday night before the wedding but because of the huge 8 hour delay in Nicaragua I didn´t land until Saturday at about 1pm. And my bag didn´t make it from my transfer in Chicago. My mom picks me up and I´m a little frazzeled that all I have is my shorts, sandals and a smelly tshirt to wear to the wedding that starts at....."Hey mom, what time is the wedding?"
Mom - I don´t know, I figured if you were flying in from Nicaragua you´d know.
Me - Well I think its at night but what if it starts at 3? Is it downtown?
Mom - No idea. I know we´re having chicken, but I can´t tell you anything else.

So I think I get my laidback attitude from my mom. Luckily I have good friends and Jared delivered the outfit you see below just a few hours before the wedding and my old roommate from Rome, Charlie, was able to provide the start time and address.

It was really great seeing Andy and Evan finally get married. I met them both in Rome back when Evan and I were studying abroad and they´ve both been great friends ever since. Evan looked stunning and Andy looked studdley standing next to her as always. I probably should appologize to Evan´s parents who I spoke to for about five minutes as I left the wedding and probably only managed to tell them how much I love Andy and Evan. But I do, so now they know, even if it did take a while to get it out.

It was good being home for 48 hours and seeing my friends and family one last time for probably a year. My mom even gave me $40 for a super nice dinner with Gemma in Lima, Peru before I left. Gotta love the last second gifts from Mom.

Granada, Nicaragua

My last stop in Central America was Granada, Nicaragua. I only left myself about 3 days for Nicaragua after having to spend some time getting well in Honduras. Its really more of the same Central American craziness I expeirenced in Guatemala and Honduras. Below is a pic of a fire twirler spitting fire outside our hostel.

Lago Apoyo was one of the destinations I´d hoped to get to but didn´t think I would with such a short amount of time. Well I took a bus to a few different small towns outside Granada one day and was just about to give up on finding anything worthwhile when I noticed a "lookout point" sign. I hiked up the hill and was rewarded with this view of the lake from above. Its always more beautiful when its unexpected.

Here´s a basket full of chickens. Obviously.

The architecture in Granada is fantastic and this church below was just one of many in the town.

Not the most exciting post I´ve made but wanted to give Nicaragua a shout out so I at least can try to remember my brief visit there. Probably what I´ll remember most was the 8 hours I waited in the airport as they repeatedly pushed back our flight. I barely made it to Indiana in time for Evan´s wedding the next day. Speaking of...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ghetto Hotels

The worst part of my trip so far has been the long bus rides and awful hotels you end up in while in route from one place to the other. Take this gem of a room for example:

Yes they actually stamped the name of the hotel onto the sheets. As if anyone would want to steal these. I slept in my clothes on top and still felt dirty. Luckily I was only in the room for 5 hours before catching a 5:30am bus.

I also stayed in a dorm room at a Hostel in Granada, Nicaragua that placed mattresses on the floor for people who were desperate for a place to sleep. I walked into the dorm to see this little guy chillin right on some poor chaps pillow. Click on the picture if you want a closer look.

Mostly it hasn't been that bad sleeping in hostels. Its just every now and then when you're moving from one town to the next you kind of just end up staying somewhere you wouldn't normally because you get off the bus at 11pm and its raining and you didn't look up a hotel before you left and don't have a guidebook on you to help you out. I'm trying to get better at not doing this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Utila, Honduras - Learning to Scuba Dive

I left Guatemala after spending my first two weeks there. It was an amazing place and there was more to see but I was kind of tired of taking bus after bus after bus to get to some of these amazing but in the middle of nowhere places. So I took three more buses and a day and a half to get to Utila, Honduras. Utila sits on the caribbean side of Honduras and is known for being one of the cheapest places to learn to dive and not much else. I had to spend the night in La Ceiba before catching the ferry in the morning. There were only two other people checked into my hostel but one was a friend I'd made back in Antigua a few weeks ago named Geoff. I've been staying with him and his friend Antony for the past few days. Its amazing I didn´t make really one single male British friend in 10 months in London but have met three really good guys in two weeks traveling.

Anthony and I are diving partners in our Open Water Certification class. I would have become officially certified this afternoon had my sinuses not picked this inopportune moment to flair up and make it completely impossible and dangerous to equalize my ears underwater. No worries though, I just have to wait it out, hopefully get better in the next day or two and then finish my final two dives. There could be worse places to be sick than a Caribbean island. My instructor's name in Niv from Israel and the school is the Utilia Dive Center. I highly recommend both Niv and the UDC. We have 6 people in our class and four instructors which is great.

Update: I finally finished my course! I tried to get better hanging out by the pool and reading for two days but my sinuses still were really blocked. I finally couldn´t take doing nothing anymore and just took twice the recommended dosage of some sinus medicine and two claritins and went for it. Luckily I was able to equalize and finish my course.

Diving is pretty fun but I´m definitely still getting used to it. It didn´t help that I wasn´t feeling 100% but I´m looking forward to diving a few more times and in a few more locations before really deciding how I feel about it. The ten year old pirate in me really wants to see some old shipwrecks.
Below is a pic of my two friends Geoff and Anthony with a Johnny Drama Lookalike. The road with the bulls in it is actually the main road of Utila.

As soon as I finished my course and two fun dives I got on the ferry and left Utila to head to Nicaragua. I´ll only be there for about 3 days unfortunately before flying back to Indy to see my dear friends Evan and Andy get married.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ancient Mayan Ruins of Tikal

My last stop in Guatemala was the ancient Mayan Ruins of Tikal. These were built in 200 to 900AD during which time the site dominated the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily. They went largely undiscovered until the 1840's and some of the most magnificent ruins have been excavated as recently as 7 years ago. The bus picked us up the next day at 4:30am so we could arrive at 6am when the Tikal National Park opens. We then had a guide walk us around the ruins for 5 hours explaining the history and pointing out animals along the way. I'm so glad I paid for the tour because I probably wouldn't have seen most of these animals without him:

The shot of the Howler Monkey (the one that's howling) was one in a series where he was going absolutely bananas protecting his territory and letting his presence be known in response to Luis's call. The shot of the monkey running on the ground was a rare sight according to our guide. He said he's only seen monkeys run on the ground like that 3 times in the last 5 years. He thinks there must have been an eagle flying above which made them run into more dense forest.

The Ruins at Tikal sit in the middle of an enormous lowland rainforest. When we climbed to the top of some of the ruins you could see nothing but forest in every direction. And yes you can actually climb these amazing ruins, this is Guatemala. Actually there were a couple temples we couldn't climb b/c people had died from falling down them. Yet they let you climb the others that are equally steep and dangerous!

One girl in my group reached the top of Temple V (pictured below) and then clung face first to the wall b/c she was terrified once she looked down. Poor thing. The second pic is the view from the top. One other fun fact about Tikal is that it appears in the first Star Wars movie as the 'rebel base on Tattoine'.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Semuc Champey

These pictures really can't do Semuc Champey justice. Semuc Champey is a series of five or seven blue lagoons which sit on top of a flowing river. Its pretty wild to see. If you look at the picture below, the river is flowing downward from the left hand side of the picture. It then dives down underneath these lagoons and comes out on the right side of the picture. Its a natural wonder and a sight to not miss if you go to Guatemala.

After you hike the very very steep trail up to the lookout point you can hike back down and swim in the lagoons. They are not hot springs but were very refreshing considering how hot it was. Its such an unbelievably tranquil setting. I don't watch LOST but someone in our group said it felt like we were there.

Here is a pic of where the water flows out from underneath the lagoons. If you look to the top of those small waterfalls, that is where the lagoons sit.

Earlier in the day a guide led us into a cave by candlelight. We swam through the cave and climbed up along side waterfalls inside. We also got to jump off a small cliff into some not so deep water. It wasn't nearly as high as the cliff in San Marcos but it was inside a cave which made it pretty fun. Oh and we also jumped off a 10 Meter high bridge inbetween the cave and Semuc but when you can jump straight off the bridge, its nowhere near as scary as having to jump out from a cliff. I'm getting pretty good at jumping from high places. I wonder what I'll find next!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Seeing the familiar for the first time/ BATS!!!

A few of the wonders of traveling are getting to see and experience new and foriegn lands, people and food. One of my favorite things about traveling though is when you see something so familiar to you but its so out of place or different you have to stop and stare. A good example of this was drinking a coke (which I do everyday) out of a plastic bag so the vendor could keep the glass bottle.
I grew up in Indiana which I tend to defend often as not being a flat drive-thru state full of farms and Republicans. It helps that I can mention Indiana voted for Obama in the last election which maybe gets Indy´s name out of the Bible Belt section of America in many foriegners minds. That being said we do have alot of cornfields and cows. But all throughout Guatemala there have been cows grazing on the steepest mountian sides. Corn grows everywhere here, even on rocky mountainsides. To see a huge lush green mountain side with corn growing almost all the way up it stirred my senses.

Maybe my favorite 5 minute span of my trip so far came three days ago when I first arrived to El Retiro Hospedaje in Lanquin, Guatemala. The hostel is a mini hostel resort if that makes any sense and the best place to stay when coming to visit Semuc Champey. It sits next to the river in an idyllic setting and only costs $4 a night.
I arrived here at 9am and drank coffee with the travelers turned staff members there to earn money along their way. It started to rain and soon after I heard the most Thunderous Roar of thunder I´ve ever heard in my entire life. It boomed and rolled through the mountains echoing and getting louder for 20 seconds. I was so excited as if it was the first time I´d ever heard Thunder. Five minutes later Lighting STRUCK down with Vengenence and Fury. It sounded like bombs cracked open the mountain next to us with a series of three or four loud strikes, one of which sent my jaw to the floor and me into utter awe of the sounds. Feeling excitement in realitively familiar things on the road usually surprises you and adds a bright spot to your day.
Thirty minutes after the Mother of all Sound Storms, I went tubing down a river for 45 mintues and avoided such obstacles as fallen trees and cows crossing the river. All while floating between steep mountain sides full of more cows and corn.

Later at night I had one of the most incredible experiences I´ve had when it comes to obvserving animals at the Lanquin Caves. You go in the evening so you can sit at the mouth of the cave when the bats wake up and leave for the evening. The bats started leaving here and there at first and then 15 to 20 every few minutes. After 20 minutes of this now there were hundreds of bats flying directly at you and swooping up and over or around you. They literally come withing 2 feet of your face at a rate of about 10 bats per minute not including the other 500 that fly by at 3 to 10 feet away. Its an incredible display of how well their sonar works. I would walk back and forth from one side of the mouth of the cave to the other where most of the bats flew and no matter how fast or slow I moved the bats always flew around me.

I wish I could have captured it better but these shots were the best I could do. The guy in the photo above was right next to me. I took this shot of him and his of me was all black in the background. This is always happens. The bats were literally flying past you so fast you couldn´t tell if it was a shadow or a bat but using a flash captures a brief instant. Just remember all the bats you see in these pics flew past in a split second and were instantly replaced by hundreds more each minute.

The night ended with a traditional Guatemalan buffet, getting a fire twirling lesson (pic is of the instructor, not me unfortunately). I´d always just wanted to see someone do this and so when he handed the chains to me and told me to give it a go I was shocked. But then again this is Guatemala where you stand 12 deep in the back of a pickup truck, women carry their babies with them on the backs of motorcylces and you´re allowed to get so close to lava you can poke it with a stick. These things just wouldn´t be allowed most places.

Astoral Travelling and Lucid Dreams - San Marcos, Guatemala

My last week in Guatemala has been an amazing surprise. I didn´t do much research for my trip before I left and really only knew one or two places I wanted to go. Lake Atitlan for Spanish school and Tikal (Ancient Mayan Ruins). Sometime on the plane I changed my mind and started off with school for a week in Antigua. After that I went to Lake Atitlan and the lakeside village of San Marcos which is the hippie capital of the 8 or so lakeside villages. Its Hippie in that there are several meditation centers and really really chilled out people there, not because it´s full of drugs. That would be its neighbor across the pond San Pedro which I avoided after a long week in Antigua.
San Marcos proved to be a relaxing and exhilirating place. I walked into the Flower Therapy Center to try to understand what some of the crazy classes I saw them advertise were. Lucid Dreams, Astoral Travelling, Reiki??? As I was reading about them a girl taking a 5 day massage therapy course asked me if she could practice on me for awhile. The day was starting nicely.
Immediately after I went back to the lake and climbed up to the top of a 30 or 35 foot cliff and jumped off it into the water. Repeatedly. It was amazing and here are some pictures to try to give you an idea.

I did about five jumps then me and two other guys all jumped off at the same time. The first jump is terrifying because you´re not sure you can clear the cliff jutting out below and the sun reflects off of the rocks at the bottom making it look like there are really shallow rocks below you as you helplessly decend into them. You cant see the reflection until you are airborne so it really scares the hell out of you once you first jump.

Here was the view out my bedroom window and a pic of a few volanos across the lake. Lake Atitlan is a beautiful place I will spend more time exploring next time I´m in Guatemala.

I headed off to Lanquin and Semuc Champey the next day.