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Hey Flores… we need to talk

I love you Flores but seriously… we really need to have ourselves a little chat.

We have a couple of sayings in Australia, which basically mean the same thing. I feel as though they are relevant and hopefully constructive criticisms that will help you going forward, so I’m going to tell you a few of them.

Flores, you couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery.

Flores, you couldn’t tee up a root in a brothel.

Flores, you couldn’t find your own arse with both hands.

Do you get what I’m saying, Flores? You are disorganized. It’s kind of a big issue.

My first order of business upon arriving on your beautiful island town was to produce my reservation slip at the hostel only to be told that they had not honoured our reservation and had given our beds away. Fair play, I’ve worked in hostels before and that’s fairly common practice. After a bit of deliberation the manager managed (which is what all good managers do) to find us a couple of beds that they usually don’t let out to people because they are so terrible.

“We’ll take ‘em!”

You are such a cool place that I don’t mind sleeping in a terrible bed. You are a tiny island on a cool lake in central Guatemala. I feel petty complaining about sleeping arrangements. So let’s go ahead and move on.

Second order of business was to get my laundry done. Could I do it myself? Sure I could, but I chose not to, OK? I’m the type of guy who takes the most convenient option. At least, I try to.

“When will I get it back?”

“First thing in the morning”

Brilliant.

So when the morning rolls around I ask about my laundry. Surprise, surprise… It isn’t ready. Not only is it not ready, they haven’t even started washing it yet.

“When will it be ready?”

“It’ll be ready by this afternoon”

Ok. No problem. I can deal with that.

So when I come back at 4 o’clock in the afternoon to collect my laundry, it’s definitely ready, yeah?

Nah.

They haven’t started yet.

“When will it be ready?”

“First thing in the morning”

Sound familiar?

So when the next morning rolls around, again I ask about my laundry. When they tell me that they haven’t started it yet I am super tempted to take it back and do it myself but my faith in my fellow man/laziness urges me to give them one last chance. I tell them to start washing my clothes immediately and have them ready by the afternoon otherwise I will be upset. Perhaps I should have said this from the beginning because sure enough, by about 7pm my clothes were cleanish and almost dry.

Again, this is not a big deal, Flores. Both of these things are minor annoyances. But they add up. They add up quickly.

My favourite restaurant in Flores is a cute little Japanese place that manages to sell fresh and authentic sushi despite being 5 hours from the nearest ocean. I was looking forward to eating there but I couldn’t find it. I asked around and apparently it is now only open once a week and on no specific day.

Disorganized!

Our 40Q ‘all-inclusive’ boat trip to the zoo didn’t include the 40Q entry fee to the zoo. That is not all inclusive. The waterslide at the zoo had no water in it. THAT MEANS IT ISN’T A WATERSLIDE. It is just a dirty concrete ramp.

Disorganized!

Our 4:30am trip to Tikal to see the sunrise collected us at 4:45am and then proceeded to play 3 card monte with passengers, shuffling us around seemingly at random before taking us all to the exact same place. We missed the sunrise. We didn’t leave Flores until 6:30am. I could have used the extra 2 hours sleep.

Disorganized!

You couldn’t even organize decent weather. Your sunsets are amazing because the water gets lit up by the giant orange sun as it drops down below the skyline. But not when it’s cloudy and rainy.

Dis-bloody-organized Flores!

And you want to know the worst part? It’s contagious. I don’t even have any decent photos of you because I became too disorganized! Maybe if I wasn’t chasing laundry, sleeping in a crappy bed, looking for phantom Japanese restaurants, waking up for delayed tours and over paying at zoos I would have spent more time with my camera in hand! But no. I barely have a decent photo to show for my time with you. Take a look my zoo trip…

 

 

 

 

 

 

What was the saving grace? Well Flores, I have to admit that my trip to the Tikal ruins was pretty awesome. I mean, sure we missed the sunrise, but to be honest, I’ve been to Tikal 3 times and I’ve seen the sunrise before. This trip to Tikal was different for 2 reasons. Firstly there was a girl who had no shoes on. She had lost them one week ago and she hadn’t organized a new pair yet (maybe she’d caught your disease). Why is that worthy of being mentioned? Because her last name was, without a word of a lie, wait for it….. Her last name was Barefoot! The girl with no shoes… her last name was Barefoot. You can’t make that stuff up!

That immediately put me in a great mood. Secondly, I discovered that there was something that I didn’t experience in my previous trips to Tikal.

Zip lining.

There’s something about flying through the treetops in the jungle attached to a metal cord that just makes everything feel a little bit better.

It should come as no surprise to you that I’m leaving, Flores. I love you. You are awesome. I’ll be back, Flores, you can count on it. I just hope that you take my criticisms in the manner in which they are intended. I’m not trying to be mean or harsh, I’m just telling it like it is. You boast some impressive stuff but I feel like you’ve gotten lazy in your presentation and delivery of your assets. Please don’t rely on your looks alone. You don’t want to be like a dumb supermodel. Please don’t rely on the assets that you were born with. You don’t have to be a trust fund baby. Put in some effort and present yourself as the best Flores that you can possibly be and I’m sure that you’ll be a lot happier, as will the droves of people that come to visit you.

Oh, and next time I come back can you please try to turn up the heat and switch off the rain for me?

Damn, I’m out of time… Disorganization really is contagious!

I’m off to Belize now. By the time you read this I’ll already be gone.

TLH

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Hey Lanquin… we need to talk

My dear friend, Lanquin, arriving in your tiny, mountainous, jungle village is a bittersweet feeling. On one hand you’re the place I’ve been looking forward to returning to the most. Even the most deliberately chosen words cannot define your beauty. Photos cannot capture you. You are magic. You are the best place that I’ve ever been in my entire life and I will die a happy man if I never find a place more special than you.

On the other hand, we parted company with a dear friend and partner in crime who had been traveling with us for quite some time and this is never an easy thing to do. Ingrid proved to us (in case we didn’t already know) that Dutch girls can drink like us, party like us, travel like us, laugh like us and most importantly put up with us and all of our nonsense. As she hopped of the ‘bus’ (aka some blokes minivan) in the remote village of Tactic all by herself, ready to embark on a week of volunteer work with a desperately poor community, she proved to us one final time that she is a pretty special person.

We’ll miss you Ingrid (and you have cool shoes).

Lanquin, you play host to my favourite hostel – El Retiro. My favourite hostel anywhere in the world. I still talk about El Retiro being a paradise that juggles party, relaxation, eco friendly & sustainable operation, good food, beautiful scenery, cool staff… the complete package. When I heard that a new hostel had taken over the title as ‘the best hostel in Lanquin’ I was a little taken aback. Not possible I thought.

Enter Zephyr Lodge.

Enter possibilities.

Wow.

I just need to take a moment here.

I Just Need To Take A Moment

Wow.

Seriously.

Perched on the top of a large hill and surrounded by a valley, Zephyr Lodge boasts close to a 360degree view. Amazement. It sounds silly to follow how good the view is by mentioning the shower, but bear with me. The shower is mental. Thanks to the remoteness of your town, Lanquin, the shower at Zephyr looks out towards the vast nothingness. I mean, it literally looks out over the valley and to the sweeping hills opposite. I mean, literally, through a huge open air window from waist height to ceiling, it looks out at this stunning view. This was the first time in my life that I needed sunglasses in the shower. Inhibitions quickly evaporate and float away with the steam as you realize that it’s just you (and whoever you’re showering with *wink*) and nature.

But even in this beautiful place I just couldn’t shake that sad feeling. I guess we were still a little dejected about losing our friend, even if it was to a noble cause. Goddamn noble causes… Always stealing my friends away from me. What about me, huh? Uh oh… is that the old me creeping back into the picture? Unfortunately, yes… yes it is.

Fancy a drink? Yes… yes I do.

I can’t really explain the next 2 days in great detail as it’s still a little hazy. They were the sort of days where you wake up with various bodily pains and head down to the bar/common area and hear, “how are you feeling today?!”

And then you pound a couple beers while you wait for your breakfast to arrive.

The second morning that I woke up I realized that my foot was a little tender. Then I saw the blood soaked bandages. After some pretty intense concentration and meditation I figured out what had happened – something that I didn’t remember what it was. I decided to go and investigate.

So it turns out that I accidentally smashed a few glasses at various stages over the day/night and felt bad about the staff cleaning up after me. When I broke the last glass I decided that the best idea was for me to clean it up. So I stood up… and that’s kinda where it went wrong. I stood up, onto the pile of broken glass, that I had just broken, with no shoes on.

Genius.

On the plus side, I went to bed after this, at 11pm, and managed to get a pretty decent rest/coma/unconscious period due to excessive blood loss. On the down side, my bar tab was higher than the rest of the hostel combined for that day/night (excluding Nicko’s which was 50 Quetzales less than mine).

4 pretty big, deep cuts on my foot now act as a reminder of how stupid I am (like I need a reminder).

So day 3 has to be a quiet day. Healthy breakfast of fruit, yoghurt and granola, plenty of water, planning the daytrip to Semuc Champey for the next day, maybe a quiet game of cards, a gentle rock in a hammock and a splash about in the river. But wait, who’s this walking towards the front desk with her backpack on? Kinda cute actually… Oh shit!

“INGRID! What are you doing here?”

“Ugh! I don’t want to talk about it. Can you get me a beer?”

“3 beers please!”

So a quiet day of cards was off the cards as our comrade had unexpectedly rejoined us. She regaled us with stories of no running water, filthy living quarters, the disorganized volunteer program that essentially had nothing for her to do and (my personal favourite) having to eat rat for dinner. I think that rat fajitas were the straw that broke the camels back… or rather the anvil that broke the rodents back.

Booze booze booze booze booze.

Day four at Zephyr is your free day! This means that you stay for free and only pay for drinks, food, tours etc. Today we’re making up for lost time and cramming as many crazy activities as we can into one short day.

Enter Semuc Champey.

After a quick breakfast, 17 of our nearest and dearest pile into the back of a pickup truck and commence the hour or so ride from the hostel to Semuc on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever experienced. I felt like I had parkinsons disease. Is that a little tasteless? Well, sorry… but it’s the old me, remember? I don’t mean to sound cruel, bitter and thoughtless, but I am, so that’s generally how it comes out.

Jump off a giant rope swing into a raging river? Check. Spend an hour being guided through a pitch black, water filled cave? Having to swim one handed in said cave, whilst holding your only light source, a candle, with the other hand? Climbing a waterfall in said cave? Jumping, blind, from high ledges into deep pools in said cave? Check, check, check & check.

Quite a busy morning. What more can we cram into this day?

Walk across a bridge? Hell no. Jump off it? You know it. 10 meter drop to the water? Check.

Hike for an hour (with a pretty tender foot) up to the mirador? Check. Best view in town? Check.

Hike back down? Check. Naturally formed waterfall/waterslides? Check. Fish cleaning my wounds? Check.

Jumping off the illegal, hush-hush, do it at your own risk and don’t tell anybody, 15 meter blind drop into raging river? Ok, I’ll admit that I actually didn’t do this. Not because I’m not crazy enough, brave enough, manly enough, cool enough, tough enough or because I was too scared (although they are all good reasons). No, I didn’t do it because at this stage I was struggling to walk with my self inflicted gammy foot and landing on it after a 15 meter plunge wasn’t super appetizing to me at this point, but many brave souls conquered the jump on this day. I prefer the smaller jumps.

I’m thankful for our extra days with our dear friend Ingrid and all of the lovely new friends that we made at Zephyr, but after 6 days in Lanquin, the time has come for us to go our separate ways. But I love you and you’re my favourite place, so why am I leaving?

I could never live here. Not permanently. You are special because you’re cut off from the world, high in the mountains surrounded by tropical jungle, but it is also this quality that renders you unsuitable as a permanent home. I’m a city boy. I like people and McDonalds and reliable internet and other stupid modern luxuries that I’ve grown accustomed to. Also, I don’t think that I would ever get used to your beauty, but if the impossible should occur and I do, then every other beautiful aspect of life would forever be tarnished because it will never be as beautiful as you.

Thank you for putting up with my antics again, Lanquin. I feel suitably refreshed and cleansed again. I enjoyed letting my curly hair down and giving the old me a chance to resurface for a little bit, but I think I’ll leave the old me behind as I head to Flores. He can be a bit of a jerk.

I won’t say goodbye to you because I know I’ll be back again one day. Instead I’ll say hasta la proxima – until next time. See Lanquin, I even learned a little spanish for you.

By the time you read this I’ll already be gone.

TLH

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Hey Antigua… we need to talk

It was really great to see you again and great to see that you hadn’t changed a bit since we were last together. It was great.

I came to you with new eyes, revitalized and cleansed, both physically and spiritually. I came to you ready to experience everything that you have to offer. I came, excited to be reunited with you and nervous about what sort of feelings you would stir in me. Really, it was just great to be reunited with an old friend.

Day one: visit the local market. Always best to do this on the first day so that you can get a feel for a place. And what was my rule of the day whilst at the market? Any food item that I didn’t recognize, I had to buy and eat. Great theory. Great.

OK, so rules are made to be broken and us usual my self imposed rule proved to hard to abide by. There’s no way I could carry all the unusual foods I found and I sure as hell wasn’t going to eat them all. I chose a couple of crazy looking fruits and decided that this was a sufficient compromise.

The verdict? One good, one bad. Like, really bad… Like rotten, dead, insert-alternate-negative-adjectives-here bad. The good one was really good though.

To be fair, the disgusting taste of the fruit was partially my fault. I used my impeccably good spanish to ask “can I eat this strange fruit as it is or do I need to cook it or prepare it in some other manner before consumption?” but apparently it came out more like this “me able eat fruit here or no? *pause* I want fire?”

Yeah.. You’re supposed to cook it. Great!

Despite this, I’m calling my little experiment a success. I tried new things and I learned a little. The old me may have complained and cursed the world for screwing me over, but not the new me. No sir.

The new me uses cultured eyes as my lens through which to view the world. With my clear mind and spiritually cleansed body and soul, my strolls through your colonial streets remind me of the fragility of life and of the mindset required for living on the precipice of danger. In this town, surrounded by active volcanoes, I ponder the intricacies of such a life and marvel at the conundrum presented by the correlation between beauty and danger found in natural environments. The beautiful old buildings and roads remain decrepit and a little run down but not through lack of care or funds. By standing tall in their precarious location, they are the flag of resilience waving defiantly in the warm Guatemalan air. Much like vintage, pre-loved furniture, the town has character; each crumbling wall, out of place, misshapen cobblestone and partially falling down church (of which there are more than 20 in a town with a population of less than 40,000) tells a story. I am eager to hear each and every one of these stories.

Pretty deep stuff, huh? Can it be that I’ve changed my ways? Have I finally done what everybody thought I never would? Have I grown up? Matured? Are my partying days behind me? I can’t help but wonder how long this ‘new me’ is going to last.

Evidently not that long.

I guess the clue was in the name of the hostel where I chose to stay – “Jungle Party”. I could probably argue that I was still cultured though… couldn’t I? I think I owe it to myself to try… I, an Australian traveling in Guatemala, had a Mexican fiesta at the hostel before going to an Irish pub, which played American music, with my mate Nick, three Dutch girls, an English girl and an Irish girl. Now if that ain’t culture then I don’t know what is? It’s like a trashy United Nations party. Like alphabet soup of nations and festivities. It’s like… It’s like….

Ok, fine. It’s like every other night.

Zero culture but plenty of harmless fun.

But then there’s harmless fun and there’s harmless fun. Both are good, but I guess we got involved in the italicized type of harmless fun, in that we nearly got arrested…

About 6 times.

Um… yeah. Sorry about that.

But in my defense it was kind of a snowball effect, the result of bad circumstances rather than actual bad behaviour and intentional law breaking. Firstly, we tried to have an early night and leave the bar before it closed. Good plan, yes? Well, after we purchased a couple of quiet beers to walk home with we found ourselves in need of a bathroom. There was no bathroom in sight. So we did what any horticulturally conscious person would do… we decided to.. ah.. water some plants.

So it turns out that urinating in public is not 100% legal (and I don’t know how to say ‘horticulturally conscious’ in español). Luckily we had met two lovely Guatemalan girls who ushered us into their car before the police could get close enough to slap on the cuffs.

As we sped away we laughed about our close call and proceeded to get a little lost. Soon enough there were a set of blue and red lights flashing behind us (police). So it turns out that we were going the wrong way down a one-way street. And drinking in the car. Whilst driving. And not wearing seatbelts.

Woopsy daisy.

Did I mention that the Guatemalan girls are gorgeous?

I’m not sure, but I think this may have had something to do with why we were not hauled off to a Guatemalan prison. Some fast talking, local knowledge and cheeky smiles got us out of that one by the skin of our teeth.

The sensible thing to do after these close calls is to go back to your hostel and go to bed, and that is exactly what we did.

Sort of…

Nicko and I got dropped off at our hostel and decided to have a short discussion about our eventful evening before going inside. I guess our short discussion turned into us attempting to finish our remaining beers and smoke a cigarette and stumble around like a couple of fools, not realizing that our early night had now lasted until a little after 4am. When the police drove by us they were not super impressed. Considering how many times they’d run into us already that night I reckon that maybe they should have been impressed. Considering what time we started drinking maybe they could have been a little bit impressed. But alas no, they were not impressed. In fact I would go so far as to say that they were unimpressed. Apparently we were out after the town curfew (which I had forgotten existed) and we were drinking on the street (which is always illegal).

*insert classic shake down here*

Draw weapons. Hands up. Pat down pockets. Take all our stuff. Take our drinks. Ask questions that we can’t answer. Give us a lecture that we don’t understand.

You know, the usual.

But hold onto your hats because this next bit is a little different. They hand everything back to us (except for the beers which cost all of about $3 between us). Puzzled, I attempt a clumsy bribe, which is promptly refused, and then they bash on the door of our hostel and send us in without incident.

Great!

I believe that this is what Charlie Sheen would define as ‘winning’.

I slept well that night.

On day two we discovered that the mighty Pacaya Volcano that I had been telling everyone about was not as mighty as the last time I was here. The rivers of molten lava that rolled in slow motion down the steep incline of Pacaya had not been seen in quite some time and all that we could expect to experience from visiting it was a bit of warmth beneath our feet and few puffs of smoke from the mouth of the beast. I guess my habit of overselling things came back to bite me on this occasion because my traveling companions weren’t all that interested in spending the best part of a day hiking up a smokey hill. And fair enough.

Fancy a drink then? Don’t mind if I do…

I won’t bore you with the details of getting locked out of our hostel, sleeping in a car, getting told off by (the same) police again for doing so, arriving back at our hostel at 6am to catch a 7am bus to Lanquin and deciding it was a great idea to sample Guatemala’s finest rum – Zacapa – before we got onto our bus which wasn’t so much a bus as some guys minivan, but as you can deduce from what I’ve just told you, I’ve already left you Antigua.

You see, I have no schedule to keep, but I cannot say the same for my friend. We’re already a few days behind where we’d like to be and time is running out. When Melbourne and I split up, it seems as though she got custody of our friends and my visitation rights are just about to expire. I guess this just proves something that perhaps I knew all along – it’s really the people that make the place. Despite your impressive history, our history together, our chemistry, the fun we have together and, of course, the beautiful Valerie who I will be sad to say goodbye to, I must choose to continue traveling with my good friend Nicko. I know that I’ll be traveling back in this direction after he heads home and I hope we can cross paths again, but until then, I’m afraid that it’s bros over pueblos (I think that pueblos means towns but if it means something random, like antelope, then please disregard).

It’s been real Antigua. It’s been great. But by the time you read this, I’ll hopefully be in Lanquin.

TLH

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Hey Lago de Atitlan… we need to talk

I feel silly for not staying longer and exploring more of the towns that surround your beautiful lake the last time I was here. I only saw Panajachel and I only stayed for one night. This time I have been committed to visiting more of your towns and staying for longer. You are my first stop in Guatemala and I’ve been looking forward to seeing you again.

   

San Pedro is my base from which to explore and I don’t need to tell you that it’s really amazing. I’d always heard that San Pedro is a crazy, drug, party town but I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that this is an outdated description. San Pedro is relaxed. Super relaxed.

It’s so relaxed that I was inspired to try yoga. I’m not sure if pretending that “I am a tree and then traveling in my mind to the cosmos” is for me, but the stretching stuff was pretty cool. When in Rome, hey?

I used this mantra a lot whilst on the lake actually.

“You wanna go horse riding?”

“Sure”

And where do you go horse riding in Guatemala? Up a volcano, of course. Stopping off in a coffee plantation, of course. On horses that have dread locks?

Of course.

Apart from being completely terrifyied, it was actually quite enjoyable.

Not everybody found it scary though. In fact, it was only me. Girls aren’t scared of horses. Neither are boys apparently. Just me. I felt quite emasculated.

To restore my manhood I needed to do something tough and manly. The cure was to kayak across the lake to San Marcos and jump off a 7 meter high platform into the lake. I recruited 5 girls to come with me (so I could be extra manly) and I didn’t take a map because real men just go by feel and intuition.

Real men also get quite lost quite often.

After several hours of aimlessly splashing around from one side of the lake to the other we decided that we weren’t going to find San Marcos. We didn’t know where it was or what it looked like and considering it was a 45 minute speed boat ride from Panajachel to San Pedro we calculated that it could quite easily take us all day to make it to San Marcos, even if we did know where it was, which we didn’t.

Fail.

Take 2.

The next day, to re-restore my manhood, I booked a speedboat to take me and 2 girls to San Marcos (less witnesses this time in case I managed to screw it up again). Of course San Marcos is about 200 meters past where we kayaked to the day before. Typical.

Deep breaths. Meditation. You are a tree. Go to the cosmos. OK. Let’s go jump off a cliff.

I had a blast up to this point and was feeling very in touch with nature and animals and the cosmos and my chi was centered and my shakra was open. Unfortunately my friend wasn’t as in touch with the animals. This became most evident when he was bitten by a rabid dog.

It’s kinda hard to put a positive spin on this one… but I’ll try.

How to you prevent rabies from setting in? You go to a traditional Mayan cleansing and healing ceremony, of course.

Fire and smoke and candles and wet branch face slapping and direction facing and elder body-touching (not in a weird catholic priest way) and chanting and, hey presto, we were cured of our ailments and blessed according to the day of our birth.

Awesome.

(no photos were permitted during the ceremony so you have to use your imagination).

My friend was not as convinced by the ceremony. Animals still weren’t getting along with him. A bird pooped on him halfway through the proceedings. This in mind, he decided to see a more ‘conventional’ doctor who informed us that he needed to get 5 rabies shots starting immediately and spread out over the next month or so. Where does he need to get this first injection? Let’s just say that the whole ordeal was a pain in the arse…

So I’m sad to say that we have to leave you. My friend leaves with a bit of a bad taste in his mouth, a sore bottom and a dog bite on his leg. I can understand the desire to move on. I leave spiritually cleansed and with my manhood restored (although being bitten by a dog probably out ranks cliff jumping on the manliness scale).

I’m off to visit my old friend, Antigua. She is a short bus ride away and I am looking forward to catching up with her.

I’m no good at saying goodbye, so by the time you read this I’ll probably already be gone.

TLH
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