Friday, January 29, 2010


The rides all the way through Guatemala came fast and sweet, with the longest waiting time about 20 minutes, we were just flying along!
The four days that we spent there were quite eventful, we have to say.
On the evening of the first day we were walking out of Flores, looking for a spot to camp out for the night. The problem was that the road was lined with a tall concrete wall complete with turrets on one side and a barbed wire fence on the other, with signs haging all over saying that it is a military base, do not pass! We didn't like the idea of an armed soldier waking us up in the middle of the night, so we kept walking. After about an hour or two, we came up to the military base itself, a few buildings and a guard-post lined with sand bags. We asked the soldier if we could camp for the night at the base. He said he had to go get his commander. The commander turned out to be a stubby man with a rank of a mayor, who spoke broken English and some very fast Spanish. The first thing that he did was write down our names and nationality and present us with a Guatemalan flag patch which we think we'll stich onto one of our bags one day. He, in turn, could not give us an answer, because he had to ask his commander, too. Luckily, he was going to see him in a few hours to give his daily report, and he said he will ask about us, too. So we had nothing else to do but sit on our bags, observing soldiers marching to dinner with plates and cups in hand and others walking around with big and most likely loaded guns. After some time, the mayor returned, telling us that the permission was granted. He invited us to have dinner with him and wished us a good night. We were certainly relieved and had a refreshing and sound sleep.
In the morning we woke up bright and early, had a coffee with the mayor and wished him farewell. Half an hour later, we were already riding in the bunk of a tractor trailer, bound for Guatemala City. The trucker was a happy dude, honking at every girl he saw, listening to loud Spanish tunes and chain-smoking all the way. There was also a guard in the cab with us, he carried a pistol on his hip and said very little. We stopped a few times, one time to sell some diesel out of the tanks to some pirate-looking lads and the other time we stopped right in the middle of a very tall, two-lane bridge. The trucker really wanted us to enjoy the vista, so we all got out of the truck, the trucker pissed into the river far below, we snapped a few photos and were on our way again.
The day before we have heard that there is an active volcano nearby, where you can see the lava flow. That surely sounds ecxiting, so we went to see Vulcan Pacaya, near Esquintla. We slightly miscalculated our finances though, so when we got to the turn-off to the volcano we discovered that we only had enough quetzales for a bus back to Esquintla. Oh well, we thought, we'll just quickly go see the lava and be back in town before dark. What we did not realize was that we had to hike 8 kms up the hill, and also pay a tourist fee. The hike was enjoyable, we passed through two villages with no sewer system and when we arrived to the parking area we were met by a machete-wearing man, who asked us for a very steep entrance fee. We made surprized and tired face expressions and said that we just walked up this very hard and hot road, are very tired and are completely out of money! The tactic worked and we were allowed to continue up what now became a steep trail. At the top, the weather was much cooler.
The forest ended and we could see the lava fileds, the main crater puffing smoke and the secondary one oozing a little bit of lava. The lava was not flowing in rivers that day, it was mearly weakly spitting out of the secondary crater, sending some red-hot stones down the slope, a few hundred meters away from us. We enjoyed the sight for a few moments, and went back. On the way down we met a local guide who made his living by taking rich or lazy (or both) tourists up the trail on the back of his horse. He was very friendly with us, we chatted for a bit and he took us to an excellent spot to camp out for the night.
The next day we woke up feeling a bit hungry, we had no fuel in the stove to cook, so we decided to go back to Esquintla, get some cash out and eat. Ha! Little did we know that the multitude of Guatemalan banks do not deal with debit OR credit cards! We tried five or six of the banks, with no luck. The hunger was strong now, the day was hot and we were pretty close to panicking. There was one last hope: on the other end of town, the is a bank that MIGHT help us out. With our last strength we reached it and hallelujah! it worked.
Later in the day we caught a ride with gringo Bruce and his Guatemalan wife Adelia who invited us to come to their house and spend the night. We gratefully accepted and went with them, 20 kms off the main highway, on the dirt road between the never-ending sugar cane fields. When we got to the house, it was full of people, may be around 200, all the family, gather for the funeral of Adelia's grandmother. That night we had some beers with Bruce at the near-by village store, played checkers with a grandmother who kept saying "Ai, ai, ai, Santa Maria!" every time she lost a piece and had long conversations with Juan Jose, a very smart 12 year old who spoke very slow Spanish so that we could understand. We set up the tent while 30 kids followed our every move, giggling that we will sleep in this very small thing. They have also never seen a gringo with long hair, so it took some time to explain to them that in Canada it is so cold that long hair is necessary, and all Aboriginal people up North have long hair to help protect their heads from the cold.
In the morning we loaded into Bruce's car again and followed the coffin-carrying SUV back to the main road. The very first truck stopped for us, and took us almost to the border with El Salvador. There was a low-clearance bridge on the way, so we had to go around it on some dirt roads, again sugar cane everywhere.
Now we are in Salvador, and today was unfolding pretty good. The first ride this morning took us to a volcano-warmed river (the water must have been 25C) so we could have a bath and then bought us some coconuts, and we drank the milk with a straw.
Honduras and Nicaragua is next, and we are still loking for the map!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Итак, we have left Mexico. 6000 kms in 2 months, from Tihuana to Tulum. We tried to trace our route in Google maps, but apparently Google can´t follow roads in Mexico. Could anybody suggest a better alternative?
Now come a whole bunch of small, hot and humid countries. Belize is already behind our backs, which certainly feels good. During all the 48 hours that we spent there, we were approached for money more times than in all of Mexico. Partially because of that it was really hard to get rides in Belize, the locals, just like in Mexico, seem to be travelling in taxis to almost everywhere they go, even if the destination is three blocks away. A strip of bad luck hit us in Belize: two cars, one after the other, in which we were travelling, broke down.
After a bit of hustling with the money changers at the Belize-Guatemala border we safely crossed over. Finally we are back to Spanish speaking world, but the hitching part still has not improved. It is really hot and humid, the road is unpaved and there are more damn taxis on the road then cars. May be tomorrow will be a better day?
We have reached the edge on our Mexico map, so it seems like we have to go to Guatemala City, where we think there is a high chance of finding a map of Central America. In the towns we have passed so far the best maps they got are in the backs of tourist brochures. The real maps are simply not in stock.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


We stayed in Tulum for three days. We found the public showers, yey!!! No hot water though, but it´s ok. We also went to the beach, swam in the Carribean Sea, relaxed from the road as much as we could, camping in the forest... but we were still sweating, all day, even at night, it is so hot here! The sea is really an amazing array of shades of turquise blue, but it can all change to dark blue really fast if the cloud is passing overhead.

One exciting thing happened to us in Tulum: we met Ferenc and Istvan, two Hungarians walking around the Earth! If that was not enough, the really exciting part is that we were following their blog for almost a year now, and that day we just finished reading their last post, that said that they have arrived in Tulum. We left the internet place, talking about them and saying how cool it would be to actually meet them and lo and behold! There they were, walking towards us on the street!!! Dressed in similiar grey clothes, big bags, beards, it was them!
We camped with them for two nights, listening to their incredible stories from the road, talking about Mexicans and people in general... Wow. We have a link to their blog on the right, check it out.
Our mini-vacation is over, we are going south to Chetumal and then through Belice and Guatemala...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More ruins

After more rides in the backs of pick-ups, big rigs and cars of all sorts we have arrived to Yucatan peninsula, loaded with mayan ruins. There are so many pyramids here! It´s of course impossible to see them all, so we went for a few major ones like Tonina and Palenque, and it feels like enough ruins for now.
Both of the ancient cities were overwelmingly beautiful and impressive, with steep stairs and underground passages, in some places you can even see the stucco reliefs, some with traces of paint left from a thousand years ago!!!

Following an advice of a friend from Mexico city we came to Tulum, wich turned out to be a congregation of Jeep-driving tourists, with overpriced food and no public showers, damn! We´ll go see what the beach looks like, hopefully there will be a spot for our tent somewhere amongst the palm trees...

Sunday, January 10, 2010


After our last post, we decided to stay a few more days in Mexico City, and we sure are glad that we did! Our CouchSurfing host´s friend Ulises took us to the Square of Three Cultures, it´s pretty obvious which ones :) The cool thing about this place is that the church is built out of the stones taken from the pyramid, which at its biggest was around 60 meters tall. The pyramids in general were built like this one here: the new, bigger structure is built over top the old one, thus creating many layers inside. These are the different historic layers.
The way to Oaxaca tooks us three days. The weather soured up, which the locals say is unheard of - it never rains in the winter! Well, it did, but luckily for us, we met Carmen and Bill, owners of a temporarily closed retreat in a small village of Agua Escondido. They served us delicious mexican food in big quantities, and showed us some clay artifacts from near-by fields. They let us camp on the veranda, so we were able to pack our tent up dry.
Our next campsite was in the pasture, amidst cow cakes and near this giant asparagus, which is actually a shoot from an agave-like plant.
When we finally got to Oaxaca, our luck dried up (or so it seemed). It was drizzling, cold and wet, and none of the people we wrote to through CouchSurfing replied. As we had nowhere to stay in this busy place, we headed to Monte Alban, only 7 kms up the hill from town. We camped on the outskirts of the main archeological complex, on a platform between three old pyramids on the top of a hill.
Our strategic campsite allowed us to be the first (yeah!) visitors to the ancient city, early in the morning, chilly and beautiful!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mexico City

We rolled into the city on an 18-wheeler, the first one in Mexico for us. The driver had no map and we had to ask for directions the people on the streets many times. Nevertheless we made it fine, and met our CS host Esteban the same evening. He is a geek with a big smile and a great music collection, he plays base and cracks jokes all the time! Geeks rule!
We are slowly picking up Spanish and here are some interesting ones (for a Russian ear):
Pruebalo - try it!
Ahuehuete - local tree species
Huevon (pronounced: uebon) - a derivative from "huevo", an egg. The closest translation in English would be a couch potato, a person who does nothing all day.
Huipulco - a name of a metro station

The following several days were a haze of drinking and partying with Estban's many friends. Beer, tequila, pulque... Happy new year, by the way!
On the second day in the city we went to Cayoacan, where we visited Trotskiy's legendary homestead-fortress. Tall walls, turrets, thick metal doors... and bullet marks on the bedroom walls! Brrr, we felt goose bumps on that sunny day.
On Jan.1st we went to Teotihuacan, a grand archeological site, ruins of a city with around 200 000 population at the hight of its glory.
Mexico City reminded us of Moscow, simply replace cactuses and palm trees with snow and cold. Same micro buses, markets by the metro, bakeries and architectural styles. We are heading out tomorrow, bound for Oaxaca, famous for its cheeses, rich cuisine and "hippie" atmosphere.