Category Archives: beach

Guatemala and Belize

My friend Jon and I had talked about going to a coveted country in the Caribbean, so we flew to Cancun with hopes of spontaneity. Unfortunately, getting last minute flights proved impossible, so we immediately hopped on a bus south to the city of Chetumal on the Mexico/Belize border. We spent an uninspiring night by the bus station with two Norweigian guys who were in their early twenties and doing their first major backpacking trip. Daniel, one of the guys, told us he brought 6 t-shirts and planned on wearing 1 shirt per week. I think he was befuddled when we told him that he could do laundry while abroad. Shortly after that conversation, he was sporting a new shirt.

We decided to head straight to Flores, Guatemala so that the majority of our distance would be covered in the first part of our trip. We got off the bus and nearly immediately jumped in the fresh water lake that surrounds the tiny island town. We jumped off the dock and watched the sun set over the lake. The next day, we went to Tikal, which is one of the largest pre-Columbian urban centers of the Mayan civilization. We sweated our way through the jungle to climb what structures we could. That evening, we happily swam in the lake again. For dinner, we ate tostadas that local women had made and were selling along the water.

The next day, we woke up early and caught a bus to the border where we transferred to a taxi and drove to the town of San Ignacio, Belize. We immediately made plans to see the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave, which was about three hours long and involved swimming and walking in a river, maneuvering through various openings and most importantly, checking out Mayan remains (both pottery and skeletons!).

The next day, we headed to Belize City to catch a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Madonna wrote the song “La Isla Bonita” about Amerbgis Caye, the island just north of Caye Caulker. This place was awesome! It reminded me a bit of Gili T, one of my favorite Indonesian islands (although more touristy and less beach areas), but the concept was the same. We managed to find accommodation with an ocean view. Towards the north end of the island, where we stayed, the island is one block wide. We watched the sun set over the ocean every night from near our lodging and sunrise could be seen over the ocean one block away. We relaxed: got massages, swam, walked around, ate ice cream, etc.

The next day, we went on a full day sailing/snorkeling trip. The highlight was swimming with (and petting) both nurse sharks and stingrays. We also saw a giant sea turtle. I always enjoy snorkeling and watching the life in the ocean and this time was no different. After another relaxing day on Caye Caulker of swimming, renting bikes, walking around, etc, we left on a ferry to Chetumal, Mexico and worked our way up to Tulum.

We spent the night in Tulum and chanced upon a Cancun-esque beach party (replete with stage and music and expensive beer), although, the crowd was 99.9% Mexicans and had 0% drunk and obnoxious American college students, so that made it more bearable. The next day, we woke up and walked down the street to roam the Mayan ruins in Tulum and then made it back to Cancun to catch our flight home.

This was my first time in Central America proper (not including Mexico) and I already can’t wait to go back! It shocked me how close it is to Denver – the flight to Cancun is the same distance as a flight home to see my parents. I want to explore more of Guatemala – the region around Antigua and am looking forward to checking out the countries further south. It is a really logical place to fly for a week or even a few days!

Rock Climbing and the Beach, Thailand

Pictures are of my last sunset at the beach in Railay Beach, Thailand, me rock climbing in Railay, and me with Zac and Jeff on my second to last night in Bangkok.

I was ecstatic to be back in Thailand, the so-called “Land of Smiles” and immediately noticed the difference between India and Thailand. First, Thailand has got to be one of the most touristy countries in the world. I think foreigners might out-number Thais – alright so that’s an exaggeration, but it’s definitely very touristy. After spending some time alone in India – often feeling as if I was the only foreigner, this was a welcomed change. I’m reminded why I like traveling alone – I barely have a minute to myself before someone strikes up a conversation, which I absolutely love. This is the best part of traveling in general (for me) – meeting people – and it’s even easier to do when you’re flying solo.

I spent a day in Bangkok. I decided to get a suit made. I had one made when I was here a few years ago and was quite pleased, so I decided to have another one made. A custom-tailored suit for $130. It’s a steal. Let’s just hope this one turns out well! I took the night bus to Krabi, which is actually pretty pleasant. The seats recline almost fully; they give you blankets and show a few movies – there are definitely worse ways to travel, but Thailand is definitely the country most set up for catering to tourists and they’ve got it down pat. I sat next to an interesting girl from Montreal. She was a waitress in a strip club in Montreal and told me of the bundles of money she made, that her customers literally just throw at her. Apparently, one customer pays her credit card bill every month AND gives her a $200 month stipend. The craziest part is that she’s a lesbian and absolutely doesn’t engage in the sexual services side of the business. Since she makes more money than everyone else in her life, she can’t contemplate leaving the sex industry, so she’s hoping to be a dominatrix when she returns. My naivety about such things prompted me to ask her a slew of questions. But, she wanted to get away from the business for awhile, so she is traveling in Southeast Asia for 3 months and then will get work in Australia for a couple of months before returning home.

When I arrived in Krabi, I hopped on a longtail boat and headed to Railay Beach (thanks Niki and Chanti for the recommendation!). I’ve been told by multiple people that this is the most beautiful setting in southern Thailand and they may be right. Rock climbing is all the rage here, as there are massive limestone karsts shooting straight up out of the water. It’s not a bad place to pass a few days. The main downside is that this place is expensive. I’m paying the most for accommodation that I’ve paid on my entire trip and it’s certainly not the best place I’ve stayed. For $12, I’ve got a mattress on a floor and a fan. It is barebones basic, which is fantastic, but just expensive compared to the $2-4 range that I’ve come to expect in my travels.

I spent my first two days relaxing on the beach. The first night, I went out and hung out with a group of Canadian guys. On my second day, I met up with Elad, an Israeli guy who I met on the Annapurna Circuit. It was great to see a familiar face again! As soon as Elad and I parted ways for the night, I saw a couple swimming in the pool of a fancy resort and images of Lombok when Niki and I swam in a couple of resort pools was conjured up in my head. I hopped the fence and jumped in the pool and spent some time chatting with a Russian couple who were incredibly friendly and interesting. That evening, I hung out with some guys from Argentina. Today was one of those days that makes me really love traveling alone. I literally went from hanging out with one person to the next group with only a matter of seconds alone – it’s fantastic just how easy it is to befriend people in situations like this. I definitely love it!

Then, I finally tried what Railay Beach is famous for – rock climbing! I’ve done a bit of indoor rock climbing, but have never had the opportunity to go outdoors. Well, I LOVED it. It was so much fun! I think it’s definitely a sport I would like to continue to pursue once I’m back home. On my last day in Railay, I spent the day with two guys from Australia, Jeff and Zac, and a Canadian girl, Meghan. The four of us just sat near each other for breakfast and ended up having a conversation that lasted for at least 2 hours. In my life, I’ve found that groups of four that have good chemistry are often the most fun. I’ve had a solid group of four friends in both high school and college and had the most fun on my trip in Sumatra, when with another group of four. We continued our day at the beach and then spent the evening playing cards.

The next day, Jeff, Zac and I headed to Bangkok on the night bus. I spent my last two days in Bangkok getting fitted for a suit, shopping and getting a massage. I’ll certainly miss the $8 massages, that’s for sure! I said my good-byes to Jeff and Zac and headed to the airport for my 30+ hour commute home. I will write one final blog entry (for this trip) to sum things up. Expect it soon!

Lombok and the Gili Islands

Niki and I left Ubud and took the slow ferry to Lombok, the island just east of Bali. We had heard rumors of how awful this ferry was – people vomiting and really tumultuous waves. But, we were in luck – the seas were calm and we had a great experience. We were invited to the captain’s area and offered food and coffee. After chatting with the crew for awhile, we each got to steer the boat for awhile, so that was kind of fun. We spent the remainder of the day lounging on deck with some Dutch surfers.

Then, we arrived in Lombok and our driver immediately spotted us and ushered us to his waiting van. Transportation and how it happens is one of the differences between the US and developing countries. In the US – we’d have to go to the ticket counter of our shuttle company and track down the next steps on our own. Here, 10 feet off the ferry, some guy just knows that we’re the two people he’s looking for – clings to us, and voila, we’re on our way to the right spot. The system is totally different from home, but it works.

We got to our guest house in Sengiggi and the owner wanted $15 for our room. But, Niki and I have mastered the poor traveler act and we got our room for $6. Now, this is probably our proudest negotiating yet, as our bungalow was stunningly gorgeous. Two twin beds with clean, fresh smelling sheets. Towels that smelled like laundry detergent and flowers. An adorable bathroom that was half outside so you could look at the moon while you showered. A garden in the bathroom. Toilet paper. Soap. My goodness, it was SO nice. Such luxuries. We talked with the men who ran the place for a bit and they wanted us to stay an extra day so we could barbeque. We decided to spend a day on the island exploring and then partake in the barbeque, instead of heading off immediately to some smaller carless islands offshore.

So, the next day, we woke up, hoped on our bikes and headed north. We went by stunning vista after stunning vista and stopped off at a couple of completely deserted beaches to swim. It was awesome. We kept saying how lucky we were and how it was such a great day – it was. I felt like I was in a movie – you see two girls on bikes, looking for a deserted beach – and well, we did that, but we just didn’t have to look to far. I feel like Lombok is what everyone comes to Bali hoping to find, ‘cause man it was gorgeous. Bali is so overcrowded, but Lombok – it’s like no one has gotten the memo that this untouched paradise exists… and that worked out to our advantage for the day. After cruising and swimming in deserted beaches, we decided to check out some of the expensive resorts. We stopped by a boutique hotel and found the honeymoon suite – you know the type – the pool that looks like it pours into the ocean – the private fenced off villa. Yeah, well we decided to take a dip in that pool and did so for about 10 minutes before a woman who worked there came over to tell us that it was a private villa, and occupied to boot. Thank God Niki was able to keep her composure, because I was a giggling mess. Niki just calmly stated that we were wanting to check out a room, but didn’t find anyone, which is just funny, because why would we automatically just stop and swim in a private pool? So, then, we humored the staff and checked out a room – not a bad deal – $95 for a really nice room, free wi-fi, satellite TV, oceanfront view, so I get why people honeymoon in places like these. But honestly, I don’t know if I’ll need a nice honeymoon, if I know I can get the experience for free. Ha!

Then, we checked out the Sheraton – this time, we swam in the communal pool, which was amazing. There was a slide and tons of places to lounge and sit comfortably while still in the water. We swam all around – the only people in the place swimming, mind you. All the rich guests were just sleeping in their lounge chairs – how boring. When I spoke to a passing waiter in Indonesian, I realized that I probably should’ve just spoken English, as my attempt at Indonesian probably gave my non-guest status away. And we were starting to be eyed at a bit, so we headed off.

We went back to town and went to the market. For dinner, my task was going to be to make brownies, but the oven wasn’t working, so I made chocolate mousse instead – which was interesting, b/c I had no way to measure anything and while it turned out chocolate-y and delicious, the consistency was completely off. The men at our bungalow made grilled tuna, Niki made a delicious salad and Chanti, a woman that we met, made some garlic bread. So, it was nice to be in the kitchen and cook, especially since that’s probably the thing I miss most about home – cooking. It was just a fun day and we had a great meal to top it off at the end of it all.

Now, we’re headed to Gili Trawangan – a small island offshore, dubbed the “party island” by the locals. Chanti, who we met last night promised us calm days and nights though, so we’re looking forward to just relaxing and swimming and snorkeling for awhile. We convinced Chanti to turn around and come back to the Gili’s with us, so now our duo is a trio.

We took a local ferry to Gili Trawangan, on which we got absolutely soaked. We landed on the island absolutely shocked at the prices they were wanting for a room – $30 was there starting price! Crazy. So, we eventually succumbed and booked a room for $12 for the three of us. Fortunately, we only had to pay such an exorbitant price for one night as the next day, when we were wandering around, Niki and I saw a poster offering lodging for $7 a night with a dive instructor. So, we moved into Pamela’s home for the next couple of nights. Niki’s really great, because she’s willing to traipse around for up to an hour just to save a buck or two. I know it sounds like nothing, but we’re each traveling for so long, that over time, it really adds up. And a dollar here or there means a massage or a beer later on, so it’s totally worthwhile. The Gili Islands are 3 small islands off the shore of Lombok, which is the island just east of Bali. It’s super relaxing – we’re on the largest island and it’s only 6km around – we’ve run around it for exercise the past couple of days. And, there are no cars, so it’s really nice and chill. Days have been passed calmly – just swimming in the clearest water, snorkeling, laying out and socializing at night. It’s certainly not a bad lifestyle. We were initially only going to stay here for a few days, but ended up meeting some nice people and now will stay here for a week or so in total. There’s not exactly a huge amount of stuff to write about as our days have passed so calmly and similarly. As Anna, a Danish girl we’ve been hanging out with says, “This place is paradise!” It truly is. We’ll head back to Bali in a few days. More then!