macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

26Feb/070

Tikal, Guatemala

I am writing this from my phone so it will be messy until I edit it.  One of the hotels/hostels in Tikal has wireless internet access that I "borrowed" after I used one of their computers to log into the router and find the encryption key for their router which was unpassworded.  I guess they don't expect many Computer savy people to log into their router in the middle of the rainforest. 🙂  Although my phone is quite useless for making calls down there; it functions perfectly fine with a wireless internet connection meaning I now have free Internet. 

2nd day in Guatemala/Walking around Tikal park. I awoke at 5:00am in the morning by the sound of exotic bird calls and howler monkeys. Looking out my window the entire jungle canopy was covered in a misty fog that gave the morning a certain hallowed feel. I am really in the middle of the jungle. 

The park officially opens at 6AM but after quickly getting changed and making my way towards the entrace I entered approximately at 5:45am. Unlike other Mayan ruins I have visited in Mexico this park is deep in the jungle with ruins hidden under mounds of moss rising of above the forest canopy. Most of the temples and ruins are about a 20 minute walk apart though it seemed like a lot less. 

The morning is very cool and there is a nice breeze. I can only imagine making this walk under the hot Guatemala sun in the afternoon. From the beginning it seemed as I was the only one in the entire park. As I walked through jungle I could see spider and howler monkeys swinging from the trees and toucans, parrots ,and wood peckers sitting and flying high above the branches. It was an awesome expensive triumping my visit to Taman Negara in Malaysia. As I walked through the jungle to the Mayan ruins all I heard were the calls of birds and monkeys. It wasn't until about 2 hours into my walk that I actually saw another person, amazing.  The sounds of the jungle were eerie but at the same time relaxing.

Climbing some of temples gives an impressive view of the jungle below. Mayan temples shoot high above the jungle canopy.  It seems most of these ruins were hidden for centuries until parts of the jungle and moss on the stone structures were cleared away. Although it was too misty/foggy to see the sunrise the thick jungle fog itself was more than satisfying. It was still dark enough that it seems lots of the notural animals were still out making their rounds, invisible to me yet deeply camoflaged and hidden somewhere around me.

I spent the better part of the morning from 6:00AM to 11:30AM exploring the temples until the brutal sun finally burned off the rest of the fog and the park began to fill up with its usual amount of afternoon tourists (still only a fraction of people visit here compared to the ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico)

Suprisingly I have noticed my limited Spanish abilities are being to improve. It seems the majority of the tourists here are from other Latin American countries and South American countries. The majority of the locals here certainly don't speak much English (not that I would expect them to) yet even though my Spanish is limited I find the locals extremely hospitable and friendly.    I have not once enountered the "in your face" selling that I got all over South East Asia and a little bit in Belize city.   Every local Guatemalan I have encountered seems to always have a smile on their face.

When I got back to the hotel in the afternoon I inquired at the front desk about the possibility of getting a bus ticket in the morning to Chetumal, Mexico (border town) all in broken Spanish.  Although the friendly girl at the front desk had trouble understanding what I was saying, I did eventually gather that the bus company they use was either full or not running.    This sort of presented a big problem since I sort of needed to be in Mexico ASAP.   I figured in desperation i'd need to get another minibus to Flores, fly back to Belize City then fly to Chetumal due to time constrants.  Turns out I was wrong, one of the hotel staff walked me to another hotel in the area and helped me sort out a bus ticket to Chetumal for 35USD which leaves at 5:00AM.   I guess I am in the a LONG LONG day tomorrow.  I had hoped that I could get a nice bus to Chetumal but apparently no such option exists which I guess is a good thing because apparently it could be dangerous at night.  I don't really mind taking a bus as long as I get there on time since it will save me approximately 180USD in the end.   Will report on the bus and my night in Mexico when I get back.

26Feb/070

Arriving in Guatemala

I guessed you could say I cheated and took the non-backpacker way out because I was too stretched for time. I took a puddle jumper flight on Tropic Air from Belize City to Flores, Guatemala which took approximately 45 minutes. The puddle jumper flew over the jungle and just occasionally Mayan ruins could be spotted towering above the jungle canopy.

The fun began before bordering the flight and when I arrived in Guatemala . Unfortunately I was unable to exchange in currency in Belize because exchange counter seemed to be closed on a Sunday. The bigger problem occurred when I got to Guatemala. Although the bank was open they do not exchange Belizean dollars (Guatemala apparently still has a grudge against belize) when I tried to use my ATM card I discovered that the only ATM I could find was out of cash. I was beginning to think I was in a bind until I realized that visa of course is accepted everywhere

Although the bank would not accept my 400 Belizean dollars (approx 200usd) they gladly gave me a cash advance on my visa for 1100 quetzals (approx 150usd) which is more than plenty for two days in Guatemala.

My other problem I ran into was that it being Sunday almost everything was closed so I had to take 40USD mini bus to Tikal from Flores which took approximately an hour and through beautiful Guatemala country side (the landscape reminds me of Cambodia with its numerous farms and lush landscape) the big difference being that Cambodians speak more English than it would appear Guatemalans do.

In the past day I have had more trouble traveling in Guatemala than all of South East Asia. My basic Spanish language abilities are being taxed to their max and utilized to their full limited extent.

Actually I am impressed. I managed to hail a taxi, negotiate a price, request a room for one peron for one night all in Spanish. That's pretty much all of my spanish language skills combined.

Although I thought my next big trip was going to be India I am starting to heavily lean towards backpacking more through Central America. The culture seems friendly. The countries are beautiful and it's reasonably cheap.

Unfortunately I got here too late to really explore any of the park/ruins so that is my plan tomorrow. That also means ill have to spend another night in Guatemala which is going to complicate getting to Mexico on a bus for my flight out. I had hoped to have at least one full day in Cozumel or Playa Del Carmen which at this point won't be possible unless I fly and then even then it seems I'd probably get there in the late afternoon. My flight leaves out of cancun on the 28th at 3pm and I am planning to leave Guatemala on the morning of the 27th if all goes well (which has to because I am due back at work)

24Feb/070

Caye Caulker, Belize

So far my first experience back into the backpacking world started at the airport in Atlanta before my flight into Belize City.  I met a group of people I like to call the blatantly "Canadian" Canadians.  How Canadian mind you?  Well every item they carried, their hats, backpack, jackets, camera bag, and t-shirts all had Canadian flags on them.  From what I gathered from their conversations (obviously..they had to tell everyone they were talking to they were Canadian) they're spending 4-5 months backpacking through South American and Central America. I can understand them not wanting to be mistaken for Americans but at some point the Canadian flag thing borders on being downright ridiculous.   Every Canadian I met on SE Asia, Australia, and New Zealand was cool and I have nothing against Canadians but I sort of thought it was funny how they attempted not to stick out.  I just find having 8 Canadian flags on your persons is pretty funny, if Americans did that they would be ridiculed but apparently it's okay for Canadians because they're not "ugly Americans"     END CANADA RANT. 🙂  Sorry Canadians
Getting to my first destination so far has been interesting.  I flew into Belize City which probably has one of the smallest International airports i've ever seen.  Once I got through customs which took 5-10 minutes I booked a puddle jumper play on Maya Air to get to Caye Caulker (island) for $54 USD.

If I wanted to save money I could have taken the water taxi for $10 USD however by the time I got to the marine terminal by taxi which would have cost $25 USD I would only have saved 20 bucks and wasted about 3-4 hours of time.  The puddle jumper plane took about 15 minutes.

With the island being so small naturally all the "Lonely Planet" accommodations were booked solid. Nevertheless, I managed to stumble around and find something basic at a place called Sandy Lane Cabanas for 20 BZD a night (10 USD/night).   Nothing special but it has a fan, a comfortable bed and was clean enough for my needs.  The bathroom is shared but they do have some private ones for a bit more, I didn't really mind.

The entire island, although in Central America has a distinct Caribbean feel to it.  The local population consists of Creoles, Indigenous Mayan peoples, Africans and a small minority of other groups.  Every bar seems to have a reggie theme with Bob Marley blasting on the jukebox. The island is extremely laid back, small and easy to navigate. I believe the population here is about 800-1000 people. I would guess the entire island is only about 1-2 miles around and all the ins/outs can easily be explore in a few hours of walking around.   There are no paves roads and the main method of transportation besides walking are bicycles and electric golf carts.  It seems every local has an electric golf cart.  It's pretty funny, most of the locals and from what I gather tourists drive around all day drinking beer and driving the golf carts.  I don't actually know how safe or legal that is but it seems like every person I see driving a golf cart also has a beer in their hand.  There are a handfull of vehicles on the island, literally ONLY about two or three trucks that were imported from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye (the neighboring much bigger island)
Went out drinking my first night and sort of just walked around to different places to see what the island had to offer.  Later on at night I settled one drinking at a place called Sunset Disco Bar, the only disco/club on the island.  Seems like a very dodgy/divey place.  I basically just sat on the balcony outside drinking Belikin which is the national beer of Belize and it's amazingly good.  Maybe one of my favorite beers.  It has a great taste and have a very strong alcohol content.   Anyway, I probably wouldn't attend Sunset Disco Bar again.  Seemed like all locals and what looked like Belizean prostitutes hanging out at the end of the bar.    Unfortunately, I stretched my basic Spanish to it's limits but the brief conversation I had with them was quite interesting.  None of them spoke any English other than "Where u from? and "U want fuck?" as amusing as it was I wasn't interested but I did at least try to humor them by explaining in Spanish that I "yo no tango mucho dinero"

6Feb/070

Back from the dead! Doing some more traveling..

I doubt anybody is actually still reading this but I figured I would update it with some sort of conclusion or ending even though I've already forgotten everything that I wanted to write here.  After I left New Zealand, I ended up spending a week in Las Vegas (another holiday in itself) for my parent's wedding anniversary. I ended up surprising them there before heading back home to Boston.  It was a pleasant experience for about 3 hours before the novelty effect wore off and I realized I had to spent an entire week with my dysfunctional family, all of whom hate each other.   I encountered more yelling, screaming, fights, arguments in one week than all of my 6 months traveling, not bad - huh?  If I come sum my Las Vegas trip up in one short description it would be "constant agony."  You see my family is pretty much your typical ignorant and loud group of obnoxious people which is everything I tried to avoid while traveling. Sadly that's the embodiment of everything my family does. 

If you haven't been to Las Vegas I'd let be known that it's a place most people will either love or hate, me preferring the latter.  It's a city that gets old quick and I think I've actually lost count on how many times I've been out there for shows and gambling. The entire drinking/gambling 24/7 experience gets old.  It's an entire city built to depart people of their money, serve weak expensive drinks and has continous D- list entertainment.  It strives to be a rich/posh Disney Land for adults though no amount of polishing behinds the scenes could ever rid Las Vegas of it's sleazy and trashy underbelly.  Yes that's right, behind every multiple-million dollar hotel is a group of illegal immigrants passing out cards for hookers and sex shows, the women you see it bars? Probably prostitutes, or entertainers designed to befriend you in order to make their commission by getting you into "the hottest" nightclub with "free VIP" passes.   You see because everyone is "VIP" in Las Vegas.  Actually "VIP" in Las Vegas equates to something along the lines of a three-four hour wait into a club with a 25-50 dollar cover charge, a 100 minimum bar tab with 10 dollar beers. Yep... Las Vegas, if you still have money then you're not doing it correctly.  I guess you might enjoy the city if you have a fetish for Elvis impersonators but that remains to be seen. Anyway, after finishing up a week in Las Vegas I went home to Boston.

Some of my observations from heading back to the United States after being gone nearly 6 months.  There are tons more fat people; it's not just a broad generalization; it's truth.   In Las Vegas you certainly notice the worst side of this when you see a never-ending stream of people pushing 350lbs+, so fat infact that they need a motorized scooter to get around.  This also doesn't stop them from chain smoking massive amounts of cigarettes while indulging in the All You Can Eat(tm) buffets that Vegas has to offer.  My friends...You have not yet experienced the worst of humanity until you see a women pushing 400lbs glued to a penny slot machine on a motorized scooter, hooked up to an oxygen tank, chainsmoking cheap cigarettes all while wearing an American flag baseball cap, wearing an XXXXL Elvis t-shirt with a pink fanny pack. Also, people are considerably ruder and more impatient. That's also not just a broad generalization although maybe I got used to being overseas and dealing with different levels of politeness and rudeness from different cultures.  Lastly, I thought traveling around the world would desensitize me of this but there really are millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.  At least everywhere else I traveled, they (meaning me and other travelers/immigrants) were in the minority. There were probably a lot more things that I noticed but I am writing this post about 4 months after coming back so i've nearly forgotten everything.

Conclusion: Stay away from Las Vegas, and get out and explore the world a bit more.

So fastforwarding to current events, I got my old job back at Geek Squad although I now work out of Portsmouth, NH which is approximately an hour away from my house.  I don't mind the job since the company fronts the bill for the car and gas. I've slowly been paying off all my debt that I accumulated while traveling so I can go on more trips.  Around the 2nd or 3rd week of getting my job back I was driving back home from New Hampshire around midnight (before I got my company car) when I managed to total my own personal car by hitting a deer head-on going about 80mph (130km/hr).  Even though my car wasn't that nice of one (It was 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier). I was pretty pissed about this whole thing happening since I almost had my car payed off in full and was looking forward to not having a car payment for the next few years so I could use that money towards bills.    Since that didn't happen I ended up taking what little insurance money I got due to the depreciation of my car and putting it towards a brand new 06 VW Jetta.  Hooray for more debt.

Lastly, I just finished doing my tax returns and good old Uncle Sam owes me about $1700 USD.   Being a responsible person I should put this money towards credit card bills but instead I am planning a one week holiday/backpacking trip through a small area of Central America.  Although I am mostly going for scuba diving. I plan to visit Mexico, Belize and Guatemala on this short one week trip to get away from the cold weather here and get back into some sunshine.

I am going to start off in Belize City, and work my way out to Ambergris Caye (an island known for scuba diving in Belize), spent a few days there and then take a one day trek into Guatemala to see famous Mayan ruins in Tikal, finally I am going to work my way up to the Mexican border by taking a bus to Chetumal which is a town on the Belizean/Mexican border, from there i'll take another bus to Playa Del Carmen, take the ferry to Cozumel mexico (Mexican island in the Carribean) and finally take bus up to Cancun to flight back to Boston.

Map below for a better idea of what I am planning.  This week long little excursion should probably cost me around 600 bucks, not including flight. I will track expensives and keep everything updated on here.

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