Sunday, February 28, 2010

Crossing the border to Honduras (From Guatemala)

I'm back :)
So once my friend and I left Livingston via Rio Dulce,we stayed overnight at Puerto Barrios for the crossing of border the next day. The next morning, we reached the El Florido border that divided Guatemala and Honduras. Being pushed to and fro to different lines, and facing people trying to sell me forms ( even the locals were buying them so we were wondering if it would help us cross the border faster, Surprisingly We managed to make it pass the Guatemalan borders quite fast. Then we tried to find my way to the Honduras customs. Some taxi driver tried to persuade us that the customs would require a long way of walking - thankfully we saw some locals walking and decide to try our luck and walk on.

Saw the Honduras customs after some time and then shifty moneychangers came, pushing money into your hands for exchange of the Quetzales (Guatemalan dollars) into Lempiras (Honduras dollarS)under the sweltering heat was indeed a very memorable experience. Honduras customs was relatively ok as well, after passing over some border cost of a small amount, they gave me a migracion coupon with a custom stamp on it and I waited and got on a bus to San Pedro Sula ( the nearest town with the most number of buses from the border)[ I know some of you might be wondering how come I am not going to the copan ruinas - which is really well known and I heard a must-go - But coming from all the mayan ruins which I had seen , I felt that it might be repetitive.]
Currency exchange: Important! : Though you lose a few dollars for the exchange, make sure you have enough local money Lempiras to pay for the bus into the nearest town in Honduras. In addition, always remember to bring your own calculator to do the exchange rate , some of them have tweaked their calculators and dont hand over your money unless you make sure its the right amount they have given you.

By the time we reached Pedro Sula,it was already quite dark. In the bus, they picked up locals along the way too, so we asked the lady beside us with regards to the address of the hostels in the guidebook. She looked at us in shock and said are you all going there now? Its too late and too dangerous. Her registered shock face made my heart jump a little. Looked around and looked at my friend and could see that she was worried as well upon hearing that comment ( afterall if a local says that, it must really not be safe) - so I quickly tried to come up with a plan. Wanted to find a place to stay near to where the bus stops but it seems that there was no hostels along the way and it was only available in the city which takes around another hour. She introduced herself as a nurse and recommended that we could tag along with her and she will try and find a place in the hospital for us to sleep for the night and make it out in the morning. We were so grateful. That night was indeed an amazing experience. She got permission from the doctor to let us stay a night in the operation room ( or was it xray room). In addition, she guided us to the staff canteen for a some food in case we got hungry. Such a nice lady right. My friend has the photo but I did not take. Shall post it up next time.
In the middle of the night, we could hear people screaming "rapido" and then pushing patients on the 'trolley' into the emergency room which was not too far from where we were. Indeed an experience of a lifetime :)The next morning after she ended her shift, even though she was so tired, she still sat on the bus with us to the main city and guided us to change some money in case we needed. When she left, our hearts were filled with gratitude.

Once in Pedro Sula main city, I was thinking of going to La Ceiba (Roatan) for some diving as recommended. However I realised it was too much of a trouble and I didnt fancy diving alone. So I made my way to to the Pulhapanzak waterfalls (Cascadas de Pulhapanzak waterfalls) which was termed as the waterfall to see in the guidebooks " a beautiful white water cascade that falls into a tropical canyon". Caught a bus to Rio Lindo, my high expectations of the waterfall made me a little disappointed. But nevertheless, it was an amazing sight. And the air was indeed very refreshing.

Quickly as night fell, I pondered and wonder if I should make my way back to Pedro Sula and then go to Lago Yagoa in the morning, however I decided that it was too messy and difficult to find an accomodation in the dark in such a big city.
I quickly made by way to Comayagua- a dainty little town that I really welcomed for a break away from all the travelling.

Next morning I bided farewell to my friend ( who was going back to Mexico to meet a friend) and caught an early bus to Tegucigalpa, the main city in Honduras.Personally I feel that all the major towns look similar. Even in Mexico, all the major towns look similar in one way or another- the main plaza, the cathedral, the palacio in the main central with the markets - with lots and lots of people.

Did some shopping and trying out of the local food specialities in the large markets

The next morning, I made my way to the nearest border town El Pariso to travel into Nicaragua.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Livingston, Rio Dulce - Central America

Okay realised I should do the finale for Guatemala state before signing off
So I will be covering the border state of Guatemala- Livingston and Rio Dulce.

The people of Livingston are a mixture of the Black Garifuna, Spanish Guatemalans and Mayan Guatemalans. A number of languages are spoken including Spanish, Garifuna and English is also widely spoken.

To get to this place, aint no easy task. I sat the bus and I had to transfer 2 times to get to Rio Dulce then change for a boat to get here. And guess what, the reason why I wanted to go there was because lonely planet had recommended that the was a special Tapados (A bowl loaded with seafood – fish, crab, mollusks, conch, sea snails and shrimp).

To get there ( By wikepdia)
There are no land access routes to Livingston; although Livingston is situated on Guatemala's mainland. Access can only be made by water; either by travelling up the Rio Dulce or by entering the port of Livingston on the Caribbean. Boats come frequently from Rio Dulce Town and Puerto Barrios.

A ferry leaves Puerto Barrios for Livingston Monday to Saturday at sometime in the morning (sometime around 11:00, but confirm first) and at 17:00. It costs 10 Quetzales. Collectivo Lanchas from Puerto Barrios to Livingston leave all day and cost 30 Quetzales.

Boats also arrive on the Caribbean route direct from Punta Gorda, Belize on Tuesdays and Fridays for US$17(there is a BLZ 37.5 departure tax at the immigration office located at the dock). Boats from Punta Gorda to Puerto Barrios run daily and are the only option when it is not Tuesday or Friday. When arriving from another country make sure to check in with immigration(500 feet uphill from the dock) to get your entry stamp.

When I arrived at that specific restaurant, what I found interesting was that while eating, there was also a personalized service to braid your hair. Nearly 80% of the people there I would say are black-skinned so braiding was the in-thing for the girls/ladies. However the discrepancy in the rich and the poor is very evident on that island.

Here are some pictures ( from net) - I did not take out my camera here because everyone was already staring at me because of my skin color. hahahaha..

Did not stay there for long, caught a bus to the next town to prepare for my crossing of the border to Honduras the next morning.

Stay Tune for Honduras :)

Guatemala ( City, Panjachel, Lake Atitlan, Xela) - Central America

Pardon everyone for the long hiatus :) I'm back

After the trip in Mexico, I planned to travel along Central America for the remaining 2 weeks or so.
Checked the airlines and it seemed it was cheaper to fly to Guatemala then Belize so I decided to skip Belize and go back there if I still had time. Guatemala was fantastic – the food and the people

In Guatemala, upon arrival at the airport, my Singapore friend and I tried to find the house via public transport, but we did not expect Guatemala City to be even more chaotic then Mexico streets. The street numbers and names did not follow and some of the street names had changed. After probably 2 hours of searching and all, we finally made our way there.

Because it was a weekday and our couchsurfing host had to work, she dropped us off at the main central and told us to be very careful for it was known to be unsafe. We shopped around and found things there to be cheap in relative to Monterrey. And I searched around for the small markets that were known for their local delicacies. However being a town as it is , it was very similar to Monterrey, Guanajuanto etc.

However for Guatemala, I realise that the children are the one doing the business such as setting up their own stalls selling fruits etc ( even bird feed ! ) - really entrepreneur!

And since you are in the city, it is a must to step into the markets to check out their local delicacies. So off we went -Settled for the tostado with frijoles and cheese ( it was lovely, i liked the thick layer of frijoles) while my friend settled for a famous fried sandwich. And lastly a very refreshing licuardo to quench our thirst. Their licuardos are amazingly nice and fresh. There's horcharta ( rice drink) - which I love - it tastes a little like Almond drink , hibiscus drink - which I love too - it tastes like fruit punch yet not so sweet and unnatural , lime drink , honeydew drink etc etc

The next day, we hopped onto a bus on our way towards Panajachel & Lake Atitlan which had fabulous sunsets and lakes. And boy, were we not disappointed. The place was magnificent. However to get there weren’t easy as a lot of changes had gone through Guatemala, stations shifted and were all over the city ( from one end to the other took close to an hour by car) and some had only one timing which we had missed by the time we reached the bus station. - thank God our couchsurfing friend drove us around else we would have really been lost ( although we made her very late for work and she had to take half day leave) We finally decided upon the local bus together with the locals.

At every stop, some people would be let on the bus to sell their food such as rice and chicken, lollypop. Chocolates, fruits, snacks ( I totally loved the atmosphere and the food servings) Such a fun and good way to make money – low cost operations and such a proactive way. This is something I really miss since I left Guatemala.

Along the way to Lake Panajachel, we passed by really dusty roads that had kids playing alongside, some selling their wares and some selling food and drinks. With nothing they could self-entertain themselves for the whole day – somehow seems amazing to me.

In Lake Panajachel, the scenary is amazing - its a very good place to just chill and relax and indulge in the Guate-atmosphere. The fresh air blowing at you, the smell of the lake , the small open-air restaurants all around etc etc

And when night falls, I love it even more. The contrast in the colors, the silence - In awe!

And if you are into shopping, my friend loved their earrings. Self-made and really cute! And I love their bracelets and wallets- no pictures though. Its very Mexican -Guate like. Very unique.

Similarly, there were also a lot of young kids carrying their younger baby siblings, at the same time, trying to sell you their seashell necklaces or string bracelets.Must bargain with them k!

If we had time, I could stay there for a long time:)

The next day early in the morning we caught a bus to Quetzatenango ( also known as Xela) which was along the same street where we dropped off. Xela is well-known for its spanish schools for foreigners to learn spanish - its teachers are known to be good and the cost is within an affordable budget.

Since it was the day of the dead, we joined our friends in their 'excursion' around town holding the lamps.It was great fun , visiting the households and then witnessing their ceremony.

The next morning before we left the town, we popped by the nearest market to check out whether there any special local food that we should try but it was filled with too many people, so we went to our bus terminal heading back towards Guatemala.

Back to Guatemala, everyone was celebrating the day of the dead too.

We visited houses and drank ponche ( i love it when its hot, yummy!) and ate sandwiches.

Celebrating a festival with the locals is the best thing to be doing on a trip to a foreign country. You get to interact with the locals, learn about their culture and the food they cook during such times.

Thats all for Guatemala, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan and Xela

Stay Tune for my next destination..... to Livingston and rio dulce before I cross over to the land of Honduras, Nicaragua then Costa Rica :)

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