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!
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Perito Moreno

After Mt. Fitzroy, we headed south to El Calafate to view the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the view stable glaciers in the world. Though I’ve seen other glaciers on this trip, I was really eager to see this behemoth ice field and I’m so glad we did! We had wanted to book a trek while in El Calafate a few days ago, but our hostel assured us we could book the day before and be fine. Well, our bus arrived at 9:45pm and by the time we actually got to the hostel to inquire, the agency was closed and we were told their were no more trips.

The next day, we woke early and found that if we got our own transportation to the park, we could join the boat ride, as there is more room on the boat than the bus. After a busy morning of errands, we rented a car and headed towards the glacier. Along the way, we picked up two hitchikers looking to see the glacier as well. We got to the park, dropped our European friends off and had lunch by the boat. The next thing we notice is a boat full of people pulling away from the dock, with us still on shore. After running and waving arms wildly, the boat turned around for us and we were off! We put on crampons and walked on the glacier, taking joy in drinking straight from the glacier, being amazed at the beautiful blue-hued ice, and enjoying the enormity of the glacier.

We then went to the main viewpoint and were greeted with empty viewpoints and a stunning display of light on the massive glacier field. It was really impressive and I’m glad to have seen it. Unfortunately, we didn’t experience a big chunk of ice falling off and crashing into the water, but we did hear one piece, but missed the visual part as we were walking in the woods.

We’re now in transit back to Buenos Aires for the last part of my trip – New Years Eve in Buenos Aires, some really good steak and wine shopping! Happy New Year!


Hiking the Mt. Fitzroy Range

Niki and I eventually met up with Jason and Mary Kay. We spent a day running errands in El Chalten. El Chalten is a really cute, but touristy mountain frontier town. From what I understand, the town has only really been around for 16 years, as Chile and Argentina have on-going disputes for the land here in Patagonia. Argentina simply beat Chile to the race to lay claim to Mt. Fitzroy and quickly built up El Chalten. We ate good food and prepped for our camping trip. The plan was to hike 3 hours each day, making our second day very relaxing. We started hiking late (7:40pm) our first day and intended to arrive to our first campsite while it was still daylight, before 11pm. Well, we meant to do a loop, in the shape of a triangle. Instead of going along the “hypotenuse” of our trek’s triangle, we walked the wrong way out of town. By 11:20pm, we had our headlamps on and couldn’t figure out why we were walking along two lakes, so decided to just turn around and camp for the night by the lake, despite the park ranger telling us to only camp in designated campgrounds. It turns out we had a beautiful setting for our first night and I’m glad we went off course!

The next day, we back-tracked and went to a viewpoint of Cerro Torre, even though the needle tops were enshrouded in clouds. Then, we retraced our steps to our campsite, had lunch and went to our next proper campsite, which was our intended location for our first night. I had wanted to get up at 3:30am to view the alpenglow on Mt. Fitzroy, but had a cold, which unfortunately encouraged me to ignore my wake up call and sleep a few more hours. At 9, we hiked up to the Mt. Fitzroy viewpoint, which, if lacking in early morning light, was made up for by a crisply blue sky that provided a stricking contrast to the rocky spire of Mt. Fitzroy. It was stunningly beautiful.

The only thing that detracted from the experience was the constant slew of horseflies that buzzed incessantly in our ears. And so it was that hiking the Fitzroy range turned me into a villainous murderer. I felt like a 7 year old boy, taking pleasure in killing fly after fly, if only for reciprocity for the extreme annoyance that they provided all the hikers.

Torres del Paine

I arrived in Punta Arenas Chile very early in the morning and waited for my friend, Niki to arrive. Once she arrived, we took the bus to Puerto Natales, which is the base for trekking in the nearby Torres del Paine National Park. Niki had suggested that we do this hike shortly after we completed the Annapurna Circuit a few years ago and I’m glad she recommended it! We spent the day renting gear, figuring out logistics and buying food.

We had wanted to hike the full circuit, but due to time constraints, we opted just to do the more crowded, and more popular ‘W’ trek. We hiked west to east. Our first day, we took a catamaran across a beautiful turquoise lake, which we later learned would be dotted throughout the park. It was somewhat of a contrast – riding on a boat on waters that reminded me of the ocean around Indonesian islands, and yet, there were massive, glacier- covered peaks looming in the background. We met up with a really sweet Dutch girl, Moniek, and after lunch, hiked up to Glacier Grey. The hike was beautiful and the moment I enjoyed most was coming to the crest of a hill, looking out, seeing a beautiful turquoise lake with a massive glacier field at the far end of it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before and I thought it to be quite stunning.

Winds were intense. In fact, the wind is quite brutal in all of Patagonia. Trees grow looking wind-blown, that is how fierce the wind can be. At one mirador (viewpoint), we stopped to take pictures of the glacier and each other. I was wearing a backpack and probably all-in, weighed maybe 165 or so pounds. At one point, I jumped straight up and landed about 6 inches in front of where I had lifted off. That is how intense and strong the wind was. Our hike continued until we reached a nice viewpoint where we were able to see the glacier even closer. We hiked back and returned to camp at 9:20pm. The cool thing is that this is the further south I have ever been during the month of December and the sky is still a bit light at midnight. So, returning to camp at 9:20pm meant that the sun was still up, which is a little trippy.

The next day, we hiked up the middle section of the ‘W’ into an area called the French Valley. It was a cloudier day, but the coolest part of this day’s hike was that we saw a peak with large glaciers on it. You could hear the glacier moving and cracking. We were lucky enough to watch a section of the glacier crack and fall off the mountain. I was able to catch part of this quasi-avalanche on video. This glacier fed into a river that we walked along. Oh, that’s the other really neat thing. Water around here is pure as glacier melt – literally. I haven’t bought water in well over a week, as when I’m low on water, I just dip my Nalgene in the river. I love being able to do that!

The third day was the most difficult day of hiking for me, as I woke up in intense pain during the night. I have had a pinched nerve somewhere in the upper left quadrant of my back for months now. Months ago the doctor told me that it resulted from sitting (and let’s be honest, slouching) all day (yay office jobs!). Carrying 2 backpacks for the past two weeks has probably somewhat

exasperated the problem and hiking the ‘W’ was just the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I woke up in the night in the most intense, piecing pain I have ever felt. I felt paralyzed because I literally couldn’t move. I wanted water and would try to lift my head 3 inches and I would collapse back on my mat in pain. I was really nervous and scared because I really felt paralyzed in that the pain was so intense, I literally couldn’t move. I wanted water and couldn’t drink it ’til the morning when Niki woke and could get it for me. I also was really afraid of my ability to leave and hike. I managed to fall back asleep and when I woke, Niki helped massage my back, which helped enough for me to be able to move. Standing up was better and I was able to walk, gaining mobility as time went on. We packed up and hiked on. On the way, we passed a Korean tour group and stopped them asking if anyone had a painkiller stronger than Ibuprofen. There was a doctor who was able to tell me that my back wasn’t broken (I knew this) and then lifted my bag and said, “too heavy”. Then, EVERY single person in the group lifted my bag and said “ohhh!!”. One man gave me some orange painkillers. I have no clue what they were but definitely needed something strong. They must have helped, as we were able to finish hiking without an issue.

The next night, I was afraid to go to bed, thinking I’d wake up in severe pain again, but all was well. We did the last section of the ‘W’. Niki’s knee was inflamed from an earlier injury, so she ended up having to rest halfway and I continued up to see the towers. It was a stunning backdrop and a beautiful setting. All-in-all, the ‘W’ is a beautiful hike; it’s short, not too difficult. We did hike between 10 and 15 miles each day, but it’s manageable. There were refugios along the way, where people could opt to stay in private rooms or dorm rooms and hot showers and meals were available. We camped (it was MUCH cheaper), but did have 2 meals at the refugios, which made this the most flash-pack-y of a backpacking trip I have ever done.

Then, we made it back to Puerto Natales where we began to realize just how difficult it is traveling in Patagonia around Christmas. We were supposed to meet up with two friends on Christmas Eve, but due to transportation limitations, we had to move on to El Calafate today and will have our friends meet us here in a few days. We were lucky to get on a bus. Buses fill up days in advance here and we were only able to buy bus tickets for both us and our friends because of cancellations. We got lucky in that regard. So, we’ll see what is available to us on Christmas Day, but I think I’ve learned my lesson about traveling on a tight schedule around Christmas in a Catholic country….

Oh, and it is really cool to be so far south and have it be light so late. It’s still somewhat light ’til midnight (barely though), so I took this photo one night before bed when it was still plenty light out. I hope everyone back home is having a good time celebrating Christmas with your families! I am thinking of home and miss my family dearly. Feliz Navidad!



Niagra on Viagra: Iguazu Falls

Ahh, Iguazu Falls. Hands down, the most impressive natural wonder I have ever seen. Yes, it’s touristy, but right or wrong, the most impressive places on earth usually are – and in this case, for good reason.

I flew with Steph, who I met in Punta del Diablo, and we had hoped to go to the Brazilian side on our first day and the Argentinian side on our second day. In the end, we only went to the Argentinian side – both days. We inquired and were told we would have to pay the $150 visa for entering Brazil, and for a few hours, it certainly wasn’t worth it. Later, we talked with a German guy who told us the Brazilian side wasn’t nearly as good. Plus, what we saw on the Argentinian side was breathtaking enough.

We went on the boat ride – which takes you fairly close to the falls and that was an exhilarating, if very wet ride. The rest of the time we were at the park (we went twice, because it’s big enough to warrant about 5-7 hours there and we only had a few hours our first day), we walked on the various “trails” and just stared at the beautiful enormity that is Iguazu Falls. I highly, highly recommend checking this place out.





A video of Devil’s Throat

Uruguayian beaches

Ahh, Punta del Diablo. Everything that La Paloma wasn’t. Sandy roads, a handful of small cafes and restaurants, beautiful beaches with waves for surfing, occupied hostels. I read somewhere that this town is akin to a Thailand beach town from a 1970s Lonely Planet. I wouldn’t know, but it was a great place to relax for a couple of days. Shortly after I arrived, a foursome arrived at the hostel and I started chatting with them and asked the typical traveler questions – “where are you from?” Much to my pleasant surprise, they were from Denver!

The next few days were pleasant – spent with various groups of travelers and consisted of laying on the beach, eating seaside empanadas, drinks in the bar at night. I haven’t exercised on this entire trip, so my 2nd day in Punta del Diablo, I tried renting a surf board with a Canadian that I met. All boards were rented (it’s a small town), so in lieu of surfing, she and I and a British guy did some circuit training on the beach. My time here was mostly uneventful, although two Brits nearly drowned my first day. They were messing around in the water and got caught in a riptide, started panicking and from both their versions of the story, they thought they were nearly on their last breath. Fortunately for them, a surfer swam over to them and was able to rescue them. Then, my last night, one of the servers tripped just outside a glass door and crashed through the glass door and cut herself up.

That night, the Denverites initiated a beach bonfire. 11 bundles of wood, some really, really awful wine (I don’t recommend the “Tannat” variety of grape…), we had a party. A few Uruguaians joined us with a 4 string guitar and we sang the typical songs everyone in the world seems to know – I’m Yours, Hotel California, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Wonderwall, etc.

The next day, I headed to a small place called Cabo Polonio, recommended to me initially by a college classmate. The way others described this place made it seem so unique it couldn’t be missed. To get to Cabo Polonio, we took a bus, which dropped us off on the side of the road, where these large 4×4 trucks were waiting. After a 20 minute ride through sand dunes and along the beach, we arrived in Cabo Polonio. It was pretty cold, the sky was gray and the wind was blowing and it reminded me of a sparsely populated area of Maine or Maritime Canada. We arrived (I was with the 4 Denverites) and decided to rent a shack rather than stay in one of the 3 hostels. The entire town is without electricity and the main attraction is candle-lit dinners, decent surfing and Uruguay’s second largest sea lion colony.

We ambled around town – there are no property lines – houses are seemingly randomly built anywhere. We walked along the shore and spent a long time watching the sea lions, which I found to be incredibly entertaining. Just off the coast of this small seaside village is an island, completely full of sea lions and while walking around town, it sounds like there’s a great party going on – just around the corner, but it’s the sea lions barking up a storm on their own exclusive island. It’s almost hard to describe this place, so I hope the pictures do it justice.

The tricky part was finding our cute rustic little cabin at night. We paid attention to the landmarks that we could on our way into town, but in the darkness of night, we got lost. There are no roads, no street lights, no house lights. After stumbling around for a bit, we eventually found our house.

I had arranged for a 6:45am bus from the road outside of Cabo Polonio to eventually get me back to Montevideo so I could catch the ferry back to Buenos Aires. I was told to simply show up in the sandy “plaza” at about 6am and a dune-buggy truck would arrive. Well, that didn’t happen until 7:30 and I was worried that I would miss my bus to Montevideo. However, I got lucky and my connecting bus was late, so I made it to Montevideo without further ado. I did however, get to watch a stunning sunrise, which was well worth it.

Next up is a couple of days in Iguazu Falls on both the Argentinian and Brazilian side!

Punta del Diablo (the dark clouds are from a nearby fire)

Punta del Diablo beach

Cabo Polonio

Sea lions!!

Our rustic little cabin

Gray sky over the beach at Cabo Polonio

Morning sunrise over Cabo Polonio (you can see the lighthouse to the right)

Uruguay

I took an overnight bus from Mendoza to Buenos Aires and immediately headed to the ferry terminal and caught a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay and then a bus to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. I initially planned on heading straight to the beach, but realizing that I had more than enough time here, decided to hunker down for the night in Montevideo. I wandered around the city with two Canadians that I met on the bus from Colonia to Montevideo. We had probably my best meal here yet. One guy got a steak that looked absurdly good and the other and I shared a paella. I’d have preferred steak, but he was jonesin’ for some paella and it was a dish for two. And it was good and I’m always happy to eat fresh seafood.

The day was fairly relaxing, which I needed after 24 hours of bus-ferry-bus travel.

We cooked dinner in the hostel and stayed up to 2am talking, and as I fell asleep around 3am (very early for this part of the world, mind you), the local Argetinians and Brazilians staying in the hostel were still partying quite loudly. I imagine they left around 4am to go to the bars and ambled back around 10am, which was when I woke up for breakfast.

I left for the bus terminal and headed to La Paloma. At the bus terminal, I bought some Pringles for my ride and as I got my change back from my $200 Uruguayian note, I realized that my precious Pringles cost me $7. In a country that not only has soap, toilet paper, and paper towels in every bathroom, but also allows you to flush your toilet paper down the toilet, I suppose I should have expected some dearer prices, but my goodness!

I arrived in La Paloma and was honestly, pretty disappointed. My hostel in Montevideo recommended a cabana by the beach. It sounded perfect and the price was right. As the bus left me in the dust at the side of the road, I wandered across the street to a campground and was shown my “cabana.” Unfortunately undeveloped experiences are somewhat lost on me, since I don’t speak the language and honestly, this campground wasn’t so different from an American one. I walked along the beach and to the center of town hoping to find surfers galore, but the beaches were mostly deserted (but not in the cool, beautiful Indonesian kind of way) and the town, more or less a ghost town. So, I decided I would rest up, leave in the morning and head to a different beach. I took advantage of not being able to communicate with anyone by going to bed early and catching up on some much needed sleep!

La Paloma campground:
La Paloma beach:

RV at the beach: