Monday 6th March, 2017. León, Nicaragua.

Much to update you on – I am now three countries away from where I posted my last entry!

After the last entry in Antigua (Guatemala), we headed back to Zephyr Lodge and stayed there for four fantastic nights. It really is an incomparable place, so I’m delighted we had the space in our plans to return and spend some more time there. Our days were mostly spent doing what it’s easiest to do – lazing around the amazing pool and taking advantage of the all-too-convenient tab system for cold beers and great food.

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Pretty sure you’d have gone back too if this was the view from your dorm (note towel of greatest football team in the world)

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Ridiculous

On our second day there we headed out for some ‘tubing’ down the local river. It was much more tranquilo than the tubing that Laos is so famous for and, as I’m sure it isn’t hard to imagine, floating down a tropical river with cold beers in each hand was a fairly nice way to spend an afternoon.*

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Of all the wonderful places we’ve visited so far, Lanquin and Zephyr Lodge probably sit atop the need-to-add-to-your bucket list list. I can’t guarantee you’ll get as lucky as we did with the awesome crew of volunteer staff that will be there when you go, but go you most certainly should.

After emotional goodbyes and not being quite as sound of body and mind as we could have been**, we transferred back to Antigua (third time lucky…) for a quick one night stay and then transfer out of Guatemala and into El Salvador the following day. We had been thinking about transferring straight through to Nicaragua and skipping out both El Salvador and Honduras completely, but thanks mainly to a fellow traveller vehemently extolling the virtues of a small surf town by the name of  El Tunco, we decided to break up that long journey with a few nights on the beach.

El Salvador and Honduras carry a fairly bad reputation as the most dangerous countries in Central America, a fact that had contributed to our thoughts of getting in and out as quickly as possible. This is primarily isolated to the capital and large cities however, and our decision to brave the coast of El Salvador turned out to be a brilliant one.

El Tunco is famous for two things; strong breaks that provide some of the best surfing conditions on the Central American Pacific coast (so I’m told), and large expanses of volcanic black sand on its beaches. We settled into our comfortable hostel quickly on arrival, and headed out in time to catch one of the more spectacular sunsets of the trip.

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The next day was a laid-back affair, checking things like laundry, toiletry shopping and admin off the to-do list, before heading down to check out the black sands and surf breaks in the daylight. After a few hours of Ben’s favourite activity (pratting around in the sea), we bought a couple of buckets of beer*** and took in another spectacular sunset.

We also found a lovely old señora churning out delicious papusas. These are the culinary king of El Salvador, and are flattened, fried pancakes of potato, flour and cheese that come with various extra ingredients and are entirely delicious. Creatures of habit that we are, we would return to this same lady for all three nights of our stay.

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A trip to the local waterfalls was the order of the following day, so we dutifully packed up with snacks, water and can-do attitudes. After driving half an hour out of town, we trekked down into a valley (with our two local guides) and spent a pretty brilliant few hours climbing, jumping, paddling and swimming  around a spectacular chain of waterfalls and natural pools. The trek out of the valley in 35ºc heat thoroughly kicked my arse to the point of stopping every few steps to consider the pros and cons of throwing up, but was eventually completed with the help of a very patient guide and failed to put a dampener on a fantastic day.

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I’ll take this opportunity to introduce a third member of our motley traveling crew, the lovely Jo. We met her in Antigua (visit #1), and provided she doesn’t get tired of our awful jokes, could be with us all the way to Panama City at the end of March. She hails from Blaxland in Sydney’s Blue Mountains**** and is particularly fond of avocados and yoga.

Another relaxed evening and third sunset later, our time in El Tunco was up, and yesterday we took the 8am transfer from there right through to where I’m typing now – León, Nicaragua. This transfer did mean that we drove straight through Honduras, having not received a particularly strong recommendation for a stop there. LeónNicaragua’s second largest city, seems to be a charming place so far, but I’ve rambled for quite long enough now so I will include some further impressions and pictures in the next entry.

All being well, this should come from Nicaragua’s infamous party town San Juan del Sur in around a week’s time!

Ta-ta for now.

Anto.

 

*Even if the river does become inches deep in some sections, leading to some unwanted bum contact with some rather large rocks.

**That tab system, it’ll get you. Oh, and the continued games of Zephyr Dice, where everyone rolls a dice and the low roll buys all the other players a shot of tequila.

***Surely one of the best things to order ever; “Hmm, yes waiter I think I will have the bucket of beer, if you’d be so kind”

****Just 15 minutes from where a certain Aunty Sally used to live, for the family members that are wondering!

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Friday 24th February, 2017. Antigua, Guatemala (again…)

Another medium-sized break between entries, so my sincerest apologies to those of you who have been checking back every day eager to read some more about my [mis]adventures.* This time it’s not because I’ve been extremely busy but rather the opposite, I’ve not been doing all that much worth reporting!

After the last entry, we spent a couple of days relaxing in Antigua; Ben had an extremely important Skype conference call to further his budding career in global health research, I sorted through and filed the reams of photos and videos accumulated thus far on my GoPro. We did find time amongst all this strenuous busywork to win** the hostel beer pong tournament, much to the chagrin of the Canadian jock who was in charge of the entire affair and dictated all the rules with much gusto. Before you ask, yes I hit the last cup in all three of our matches, so my status as a last-cup specialist is not maintained, it is enhanced. 

Ben decided to set out on by far the most popular activity for people who find themselves in this neck of the woods, a trek up Volcan Acatenango, a 3,976m volcano, from which you can see the continued eruptions of Volcan Fuego, a volcano in the same mountain range that is one of the most active in the world.

Hiking is, to put it lightly, not my cup of tea*** so I sent him off with my blessings and luck for the overnight trek, content to faff around at the hostel, sleep, and watch large amounts of Parks & Recreation in his absence. As it was an overnight trip, hiking up to a campsite just shy of the peak and then rising early to climb the rest and take in the sunrise, he returned at around lunchtime the next day with a fantastic story and some incredible pictures, which I will post below but take absolutely no credit for.

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At night you could actually see the red-hot lava flying out of the crater, but sadly the good doctor was lacking a camera good enough to capture this, so you’ll have to ask him for the story yourself.****

After his return, we travelled to Lago de Atitlan, or more specifically the settlement of San Pedro la Laguna that is on said lake. This is only four or so hours drive from Antigua, and a large volcanic lake surrounded by charming hippy-infested settlements of all shapes and sizes. It is also one of the areas in Guatemala where Maya culture is still prevalent, as the colourful, traditional dresses of the local women can attest to.  Again, as is the theme of this entry, we didn’t do much of anything with our four nights there apart from availing ourselves of the hostel bar and its cold beer, excellent pizzas and jumping platform straight into the lake.

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When we eventually decided to leave San Pedro yesterday, our journey was significantly delayed by the small matter of some enormous rocks in the road. After a couple of hours in the traffic jam we strolled up the road to see what all the fuss was about, thinking “how can it possibly take this long, I mean for heaven’s sake we’ve been here for hours and all they have to do is clear some bloody rocks from the road I mean what petty, arbitrary bureaucracy is actually causing this hold up and who’s palms do we have to grease to get this bloody show on the bloody road……

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“Ah, right. That’ll probably do it.”

An extremely satisfying period of time watching an extremely competent excavator driver make 10-ton rocks his bitch with a pneumatic drill attachment later, our driver eventually decided enough was enough and drove the long way around the other side of the lake at some seriously impressive/alarming speeds, delivering us safely back to Antigua in time to grab some dinner.

Today, we hired a motorbike (for Ben) and a quad bike (for myself) and set out to explore the mountainous(/volcanous?) surroundings of this town. We were rewarded with some stunning views and brilliant mountain roads, even if the cobbled streets of Antigua itself are slightly unbearable.

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Antigua, with Volcan de Agua in the background

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Tomorrow morning, we’re actually retracing our steps and taking an early shuttle back to Semuc Champey and the incredible Zephyr Lodge. We have time to spare before heading down to Panama***** and right now, four nights (for the price of three!) and some more dips in possibly the best located infinity pool in the world sounds just about brilliant. We will return to Antigua for a third time after that (we do like it here, but we also do have to keep return here as it’s a bit of a transfer hub), and journey to country number three, El Salvador!

Anto.

 

*And/or look at the pretty pictures

**Finally!!

***Mike (of last two entries fame) will testify to this end due to the mammoth amount of swear words I shouted into Ben Nevis over a year ago, when I (reluctantly) summited it with him.

****It’s a doozy, promise.

*****We have to be there for the 21st of March for mystery arrival #2!

Wednesday 15th February 2017. Antigua, Guatemala.

We did manage to arrive in Flores eventually, or more specifically the highly recommended Los Amigos hostel on Flores Island. Our journey after entering Guatemala was lengthened by a fatal accident on one of the thin mountain roads (please wear more motorcycle helmets, people of Central America), the aftermath of which was not going to be passable for a number of hours, so our intrepid driver elected to find and – somehow – negotiate a fairly precarious detour.

Flores is the capital of Petén, Guatemala’s largest and northernmost province, and sits on the shore of Lake Petén Itza. We were actually staying in the oldest part of of the city, which is located on an island a few hundred metres into the lake and connected to the main city and suburbs by a road bridge.

Tasks like uploading the last blog, showering and the 20 minute faff that Ben likes to have whenever he arrives at a new hostel were completed and we headed out to explore our new surroundings and grab some food. When we returned, the party people at the hostel had retired to their hidden, soundproofed ‘Nightlounge’, where you can be as loud and unruly as you want without disrupting the sleep of the other residents. Smart. I collapsed into bed after only a few beers, but Ben and Mike stayed a little later and apparently performed unacceptably in a few rounds of beer pong.

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The next day, we had booked ourselves onto the ‘Sunset Tour’ of the nearby Tikal ruin site. This is the ruins of an ancient city, and one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation. We enjoyed strolling around and climbing the extensive collection of temples, monuments and palaces that date as far back as 4th century BC, but my personal enjoyment was again tempered by a tour guide who said a massive amount of words without really saying much of anything at all. Eventually ending up in the centre of the ancient city, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset and slightly sketchy walk back to the bus in pitch black nighttime.

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That night, we again retired to the Nightlounge and, with me back in the ranks, the Brits abroad effortlessly dominated any and all comers at beer pong*, and didn’t disgrace themselves in a few epic rounds of giant drinking Jenga. Mike was suffering the most the next day**, but we had to keep moving on and begrudglingly boarded the 8am departure to another Guatemalan destination, San Agustin Lanquin.

To be honest, there’s not really much of anything in Lanquin, as it’s much more commonly known, but due to nearby attractions and stunning vistas, it has become home to some epic and infamous hostels. The most famous of which, and somewhere I’ve been looking forward to since I booked my flights, is a place called Zephyr Lodge. Ben stayed here four years ago and absolutely loved it, and since then they have undergone a large-scale expansion and added – wait for it – an infinity pool. We didn’t think that addition could have made it worse.

On arrival Ben was blown away by the change since he’d last been there, and Mike and I were just plain blown away. Lovely food, stunning views, great staff, comfy beds, a frankly ridiculous swimming pool and – my personal highlight – a pickup from the centre of the town in a badass Mercedes Unimog. All for just about £10 a night, and with an extremely dangerous but effortlessly easy tab system to boot. You want to see don’t you…

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The view from the room (!)

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Glorious

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These two (brother and sister) would just stare at you like this until you threw the ball

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Dusk pool views

 

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Handsome bastard

Right that was probably enough photos. The next day we set out on a tour of the two main attractions nearby, the Grutas de Lanquin cave system and the Semuc Champey natural monument. Exploring the caves was done by candlelight, with absolutely no safety briefing or helmets and by our awesome, but slightly unhinged guide – Darwin. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that it would have been run in the same way in a more developed country, if at all, and even for us it was toeing the line between adventurous and dangerous. Having said that, I wouldn’t have continued if I’d felt genuinely unsafe*** and it did end up being a brilliant experience, though a torch would definitely have been more practical than a candle.****

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Candle-lit, water-filled, underground caves aren’t the best photography conditions but this gives you an idea

After emerging unscathed from the caves, we had a few goes on an impressive rope swing into a river. Ben and I were predictably unspectacular in our efforts, but he at least managed to avoid the on-ear landing of four years prior that left him with a splitting headache for the rest of the day. We also jumped off a 10 metre high bridge into a fast-flowing river because, well, in for a penny in for a pound?

The second half of our day was spent at Semuc Champey. This natural monument is a serious of shallow, stepped turquoise pools sunk into a limestone bridge, under which passes a large river. Having sweated our way through the the trek up to the mirador (lookout) that offers the best view of the park, jumping and sliding into and between these amazing micro-lakes was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.

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Profusely sweating photographer: not in frame

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Get your massive head out of the way of the pools Anto

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Action shot

We returned to the hostel for a dip in the pool, and the next morning transferred to Antigua, where I’m now sat in a cafe on the main square writing this blog. We said goodbye to Mike this morning, who after a brilliant 9 or so days with us, has sadly had to return to Newcastle and continue the valiant fight against accidents and emergencies in Newcastle. It’s been brilliant having him out here, and we deliberately packed loads into a short time to give him the best trip possible. The only side effect of this is a knackered pair of travelers, so we will now have a good few days R&R here in Antigua, which is a charming mountain town about an hour outside of Guatemala City, and at the base of an impressive volcano.

Then we’ll figure out where to go next!

Anto.

 

*Again I retained my status as a Last Cup Specialist

**You’ve not heard whinging until you’ve heard Michael Joseph Nathan Penn in a hot minibus with a fierce hangover

***Promise, Mum

****Though probably not as unique, so swings and roundabouts I guess.

Friday 10th February 2017. Flores, Guatemala.

I know it’s been a while since my last entry but in my defense, I have been having a lot of fun.

Our journey from San Cristobal ended up being the first decently sized foul-up of the trip so far. We took the overnight bus to Merida, in the north-west corner of the Yucatan, which deposited us at around 9am, from there it was a relatively short journey to Chiquila and we assumed there would be a few buses running throughout the day.* Nope, one bus a day. At 10.30pm. After a few swear words and short-lived research into the viability of hiring a car, Ben convinced a central hostel to let us use their showers, lounge and WiFi for the day for a small amount of money. From that base camp we showered and explored a city we had no intention of staying in for longer than three hours, and salvaged the situation into an enjoyable day.

Over 13 hours later we got on our second overnight bus in succession (who needs sleep anyway?) and at 5am the following morning were yawning and stretching in the tiny port town of Chiquila, where we immediately took a ferry to our next stop, Isla Holbox.** This thing spit of land, just 25 minutes off the coast, had come highly recommended from fellow travelers and we were both very excited, though if you’d seen us traipsing the 15-minute walk from the port to our hostel with our bags, you might have been hard pressed to tell.

After checking in and collapsing into bed, we emerged again at around midday to get out and about. Holbox is an amazing place, with hardly any development, precious few cars and a transportation infrastructure built primarily around golf buggies. As its north of the main Mexican landmass, you get stunning sunrises from the east end and, as we would later find out, incredible sunsets in the west. Nestled in the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, you get super soft, white-sanded beaches and warm, tranquil waters. With the rest of that day we found a spot on the main beach and generally lazed around, as is one’s want when you’re in such a paradise, picking up food when we were hungry and ending the day with a few hard-earned cold ones at the hostel bar.

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The next day, we hired a golf buggy*** and set off to explore the extent of the island, and it was these extremes that delivered the real jewels of the place. The beaches were long and untouched, the sea was glass-smooth and the sense of peace was palpable. We found an amazing hidden cafe for some brunch, run by a lovely Italian lady and her legion of dogs, chewing over a distinct sense of envy at her lifestyle as well as the best bacon that Mexico has produced so far.

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We continued buzzing around the island on our noble little buggy, with another session on the beach absolutely necessary. In time for sunset we drove out to the west and, well, I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves.

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The next day, alas, time to travel again, as the Merida mess had chopped our Holbox retreat from three nights to two. This time we were off early, catching the 7am ferry back to Chiquila. The spoonful of sugar that helped this rather grim early start go down was an amazing sunrise.

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We had to be up and off so early in order to fulfill one of my chief Mexico requests – being in Cancun for Superbowl LI. Having become an American Football fan in the last three years or so, the idea of watching the Superbowl at a normal time (6.30pm not 1am) and surrounded by Americans and NFL-crazy Mexicans (of which there are many) was too good to resist. Upon arrival in Cancun we ventured out to the ‘Hotel Area’****, where we didn’t have too much trouble finding a suitably un-cultured place to watch the game – a sports bar with a million TVs offering a deal of 550 pesos (about $29) for an open bar and generous serving of chicken wings during the match. Again, an extravagance, but the very essence of ‘When in Rome’-ing. The game was incredibly close, our heroic waiter never let our glasses fall empty (with obvious and inevitable results), and suffice to say a great time was had by all.

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After a recovery day (and a massive McDonald’s)*****, the real reason we needed to make so much haste to Cancun arrived, in the form of a third member of our travelling team******. We didn’t let him sleep, despite having been travelling for nearly 24 hours, and instead took him out for an enormous pile of Mexican street food, before jumping on a bus down to Tulum.

Mike is flying out of Guatemala City in 10 days, so again we need to beat a fairly hasty pace in order to see enough between here and there. Tulum was absolutely fantastic. Our first day (two days ago from today, just to keep you up with where I’m writing from) we availed ourselves of the local nightlife and ended up salsa dancing to a live band in a fairly grotty bar, where the dancefloor spilled out into the street.

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The next day, feeling tender, we went down to the beautiful beach to sweat things out, and then engaged in an hour-long trek to find some the local ruins. It turned out the ‘path’ some locals encouraged us to follow was thick jungle and its direction was not particularly obvious. We also emerged, covered in sweat, bugs and scratches, to find that we were there an hour after closing time. Still, it’s all about the journey not the destination, right? (The journey was awful).

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Yesterday, we checked out of our hostel and went to a local cenote, the name given to natural rock pools that are scattered throughout the state of Quintana Roo and are often, such as with this one, big enough to swim in. This was one of my absolute highlights so far, and we had a fantastic time jumping, swimming, diving and generally pratting around in the cool, clear water. Some fantastic footage was added to the ‘As Yet Unnamed Film of the Trip’ library, and [second consecutive] hangovers were virtually banished.

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We then bussed down to Chetumal, right on the Mexico-Belize border, where we were staying for one night before today’s epic travel day that will deliver us to Flores in Guatemala. I’m writing this blog on a bus in Belize, but we’re only transferring through this country to get into Guatemala, preferring to prioritise Mike’s holiday there instead. I will upload this from Flores once we arrive, and as I type we are pulling up at the Guatemalan border.
Bye bye Mexico, you’ve been better than I could have possibly imagined and I will most certainly be back.

Bye bye Belize, it’s been very brief and you’ve been, well, extremely hot.

Hello Guatemala!

Anto.

*’Assumption is the mother of all f*** ups’, I hear you say. Well yes, evidently. Thanks for your input.

**Pronounced ‘ees-la holl-bosh’

***When I say we, I mean I. It was expensive and a bit of a luxury, but I wanted to do it so much that I was willing to pay for the whole thing. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to hear I couldn’t resist hiring a motorised vehicle at any cost.

****Basically the concentration of enormous hotels, casinos and generally debauched nightlife that gives Cancun its well-deserved reputation as a party resort filled with Americans.

*****Sorry not sorry.

******Dr. Micheal J. N. Penn. Fresh off a brutal stretch of A&E night shifts and temporarily replacing Ben as the trip doctor.

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Sorry ladies, this one’s not single

Wednesday 1st February 2017. San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico.

This entry is coming to you from the mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, which is located in the Central Mountains of Mexico and in the state of Chiapas. 2,000 metres of elevation means two things; finding it easier to get out of breath (which is already routine when you’re as spectacularly unfit as I am), and something we’ve not really experienced since Mexico City – cold. It’s a beautiful mountain town though, with heaps of character and probably the most unique atmosphere we’ve encountered so far. That’s not to say that it’s un-Mexican here, but it certainly feels like we’ve left the distinctive ‘surfer’ vibe of the Pacific Coast behind. The people here seem to be every bit as hardy as the weather. I’m also more than OK with some frostier climes after the exhausting heat of the coast.

We checked out of our hostel in Puerto Escondido – the highly recommended Tower Bridge -to head down the coast for one night in a smaller town named Mazunte. It wasn’t as completely off the grid as we expected, but was very relaxed and provided a lovely beach and top notch plate of fresh-as-it-comes pulpo (octopus). I think we could have happily stayed for another night, but after that we’d have had enough. I’m certainly pleased we went, but glad we didn’t make it an official, three-night stop. We splashed out on a taxi* for the hour drive there from Puerto so decided to try the cheap method back, namely a colectivo** up to the main highway and a pretty sketchy bus back along the coast, which was driving about twice the speed of the taxi despite being at least 10 times the size.

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Mazunte

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We needed to get back to Puerto for our overnight bus to San Cristobal, which ended up costing us about 400 pesos more than it should have done as we hadn’t booked it in advance. Lesson learned. After 14 hours of patchy sleep***, we were delivered to the morning chill of this lovely mountain town and made our way to our hostel (Puerta Vieja) which came highly recommended by a mustachioed Australian who had stayed there for a month and extolled the virtues of the peaceful garden and the British bartenders propensity to dish out free shots.

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San Cristobal de las Casas

We downed bags and headed out for an explore, taking in the obligatory square and impressive catholic church before treating ourselves to coffee and pastries at a surprisingly authentic French cafe. Back at the hostel we were intrigued enough to try out the on-site Temazcal, a type of sweat lodge that dates back to pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. It’s a brick igloo with a pit in the centre that’s filled with red-hot rocks, which in turn are splashed with copious amounts of rosemary-infused water to generate singeingly-hot steam. Ben managed about an hour and I stayed in slightly longer, suffice to say that we definitely sweated out the sins of Puerto Escondido.

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Temazcal

We then booked ourselves onto a tour of Chiapas’s main attraction for the next day and headed to the hostel bar for ‘tapas night and beer pong tournament’. The tapas was delicious, the beers were cold, and Los Gringos (the elite beer pong trio we formed with a Dutch girl named Nikki) had to settle for a second-place finish. In our defence, the team we faced in the final was a pair of Mexicans, and it was pretty distracting lining up your shots with two thirds of the bar screaming “MEX-I-CO! MEX-I-CO! MEX-I-CO!”. At least I managed to back up my hubris-laden boasts that I was a ‘last cup specialist’ by nailing the last shot in the opening two rounds.

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San Cristobal at dusk

The highlight of Chiapas we were seeing the next day is Sumidero Canyon, a stunning gorge lined with kilometre-high walls, through which we had booked a boat tour. We rolled out of bed in the nick of time to leave the hostel at 9am, trying to ignore the hangovers and cursing ourselves for snoozing too many alarms to grab breakfast or coffee****. Sumidero did not disappoint though. My fears of a tedious barge-style boat that crawled along the river were dismissed as we boarded a twin-engined speedboat and proceeded to fly down the 13 kilometre passage, taking in crocodiles, spider monkeys, iguanas and jaw-dropping scenery. This was also a perfect chance to really road test my new baby, a handheld, 3-axis, electronically stabilised gimbal for my GoPro. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

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The tour stopped briefly in the small town of Chiapa de Corzo – where we made our first culinary error of the trip, paying 30 pesos for some soggy empanadas flung onto our table by a decidedly grump senora. We alleviated this problem with an ingenious solution -having a second lunch! This was a more palatable pair of pork tacos served by a significantly more amenable lady.

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Chiapa de Corzo (above and below)

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That was yesterday, and today is another travel day. We’re jumping on an overnight bus in four hours that will take us up to Merida, where were won’t pause but will head along the top of the Yucatan peninsula so we can take a boat to our next stop, Isla Holbox. We’re beating a hasty trail across the country at the moment, and the reasons for this will become apparent, but that’s not to say we don’t have enough time to be taking in this magical country, which keeps changing and offering so much more every time we step off a bus.

Next stop – island life.

Anto.

Current location (Just for you Vez! xxx)

*Our numbers were up to four at this point, which made this cheaper. We boasted a Canadian girl and an Australian chap in our ranks for the Mazunte road trip.

**A pickup truck with some roughshod seating in the back and filled to standing room only

***For me at least – Ben could probably sleep in the middle of a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert during a hurricane

****Why we keep choosing to get the most inebriated before the earliest starts is a mystery to us as well. We’re working on it.

Friday 27th January 2017. Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

Tonight will be our fifth night in Puerto Escondido, having originally booked only two, and there’s a very good reason for that – it’s absolutely amazing. We’ve completely fallen in love with our hostel, the beaches, the food, the atmosphere and not to mention two baby sea turtles named Jeremy and Jack – but we’ll get to that.

After getting to our hostel and dumping our stuff, we walked down to a nearby strip of restaurants for a bite to eat, but didn’t really manage to get our bearings as it was dark. I did manage to tick another dish off my list of Mexican cuisine – enchiladas – but to be honest they weren’t much better than any I’ve had in the UK. A quick beer at the hostel bar was followed by promptly collapsing in bunk beds. You wouldn’t think that sitting in a bus for most of the day would be tiring, but when it’s screaming down mountain roads and throwing you around then it can be.

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The next day was all about getting on the beach and getting in the sea. We loaded up with snacks and beer and headed down to the local Playa Coral, which was suitably stunning and we were only sharing with about four other people. A large amount of rocks made swimming hazardous, so eventually we set off for another beach in the distance that looked like it would offer something different. This ended up being a great decision.

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Playa Bacocho, the beach we ended up on after skirting round some rocks at the end of Playa Coral, was absolutely jaw-dropping. A completely untouched, arrow-straight stretch of sand that extended so far into the distance you could hardly see the end. Warm Pacific water with a strong but safe surf, free shaded areas*, lifeguards and police so you don’t have to fret about your valuables being left unattended. Then there’s also the turtle conservation tent that releases baby turtles every day at 5pm, and – as we’re facing west – a ridiculous sunset. Ben officially designated it the best beach he’d ever been to in his life**, and we endeavoured to come back the next day and remember to bring cash for the turtles.

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The next day we took a taxi down to find a restaurant that had come highly recommended from some Canadians on our transfer from Oaxaca because of it’s tacos carmen and tacos pescado. Shrimp and fish tacos to you and me, and two dishes that represent a massive part of my excitement to get to coastal Mexico. The recommendation was a good one. Such a good one. By far the best meal I’ve had on the trip so far, with an incredible view and still hilariously cheap.***

We headed back to Baconcho for our date with the liberacion de tortugas (freeing of the turtles). Because of some local cultures that poach the eggs for food, sea turtle nests are collected and protected, until the eggs are ready to hatch, when they’re brought down to the beach so that the turtles can be released into the sea. For a nominal amount of money you are given a teeny-weeny baby turtle and instructed to release it a suitable distance from the sea and watch it make its way to a new home. Apparently the journey down the sand is an important and formative one for the youngsters, meaning that you can’t just place them gently in the surf, however much you want to because of the circling birds. A few unfortunate turtles were indeed eaten**** but mine and Ben’s – Jeremy Turtleworth and Captain Jack Sparrow respectively – made it to their new salty home. We rejoiced, threw some final swear words at the sky rats and went back to our beers.

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The rest of our time here has been spent sitting in the hostel or venturing out into the heat for more time on the beach or things to eat. It’s been pretty fantastic, and will be hard to leave, but we need to start making some progress towards Cancun. This should start tomorrow when we either head to Mazunte or San Cristobal de las Casas.

Stay tuned.

Anto.

*The sun here is fairly oppressive but the coastal breeze keeps it bearable. I’ve managed to avoid any serious burns yet, but being the pasty Brit I am, I’m treating it as an inevitability.

**He’s now worried about going to other beaches over the next five months, because they probably won’t be as good.

***A large portion of shrimp tacos, a large portion of fish tacos, two beers, a large mineral water and a basket of tortilla chips: £8

****Somewhere in the back of my mind the Circle of Life played its catchy tune

Monday 23rd January 2017. Oaxaca, Mexico

Going loco not that far from Acapulco. Doesn’t really have the same ring to it does it? Going loco in Acapulo was the original plan, but this was quickly changed when, from a number of different sources, we learned that as well as being famous because of the Four Tops song, Acapulco is also famous for the dirtiness of its water, the corruption of its local police and its staggeringly high murder rate*. The song is a banger, the place itself, it would seem, not so much.

Fortunately, exciting and interesting alternative destinations are not going to be hard to come by on this trip, and we quickly settled on a Plan B of travelling to Oaxaca**. So, after a couple more days exploring Mexico City, including a brilliant evening in a local bar sampling a little bit too much Mezcal***, we jumped on the Mexican equivalent of National Express (ADO) for the seven hour journey.

Oaxaca is a medium-sized city about halfway between Mexico City and the Pacific coast, and is the capital of the Mexican state of the same name. Our hostel, booked on our strict criteria of not-awful Hostelworld reviews and possessing a roof terrace, turned out to be another winner, centrally located and filled with young, friendly travelers. They also had beautiful, imaginatively-named yellow Labrador called ‘Doggy’. He was apparently taken in by the hostel staff after being found hanging around by the back door. The fact that he had all the physical signs and personality characteristics of a pedigree working-strain lab made me laugh, thinking about paying £500-£800 for a puppy with good ‘hip scores’ in the UK, as opposed to just having one turn up in your garden.

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The next day we set out for a stroll, and had quickly taken in the main church and the large, leafy Zocalo (square) that are the city’s sightseeing highlights. We could only peek at the ornate interior of the church though, as it was being used for a wedding, and did get briefly harassed by non-nonsensical old man in the Zocalo, whom we later concluded probably mistook us for Americans, and this was the day after the inauguration of ‘The Donald’.****

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The culinary celebrities of the city were the seven different types of mole (a thick, typically chocolate-based savoury sauce), tlayudas (two huge, semi-crispy tortillas filled with beans and meat) and also chapulines (fried and spiced grasshoppers). We did suck it up and try the latter, even if only to say that we had. Verdict: very salty, a hint of lemon, and definitely not something I’ll be buying big bags of to take home and sprinkle in my sandwiches or season my salads. Ben’s pretty sure he had a tlayuda, but as it was on the way home from one of Oaxaca’s finest clubs at 3am, he can’t be sure it wasn’t another of the seemingly interchangeable Mexican dishes involving tortillas and mystery meat.

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The day after, we had booked onto a tour to Monte Alban, some nearby pre-Hispanic ruins. They were beautifully preserved and at the top of a large hill, so the panoramic views of the surrounding valley were spectacular. The sun was out in force though, and we were both carrying fairly potent hangovers, so this may have distracted from our enjoyment of proceedings. The tour guide was extremely enthusiastic and most certainly a charmer. He was also the type to beef up his explanations of the site by drawing maps in the dirt with a little stick, so obviously Ben absolutely loved him.

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I’m just about managing to type this from the back seat of a minibus as it careers down some windy mountain roads on the way to our next destination – Puerto Escondido; a small town located on the Pacific South coast of Mexico and famous as a white-sanded, clear-watered surf spot with amazing seafood and vibrant nightlife.

Sounds rubbish doesn’t it?

Anto.

* Fourth highest in the world, if you were wondering

**Pronounced Wa-ha-ka

***A white spirit made from the same cactus as, and very similar to tequila. I enjoyed it much more than any tequila I’ve ever had because it has a lovely, smokey aftertaste and didn’t leave me sprinting to a nightclub toilet to throw up

****He was also shitfaced

Wednesday 18th January 2017. Mexico City, Mexico.

So here goes nothing – a travel blog. Thousands have come before this one and hundreds of thousands will come after it. I’m setting sail in these treacherous waters desperate to steer clear of the hazardous tropes, tired cliches or patronising smugness that could make it unbearable, and instead cruise the crystal-clear waters of originality, humour and insightfulness. I promise that the rest of this blog won’t be as bad as that nauseating metaphor.

My point is that I’ve committed to updating this blog twice a week for the duration of my trip for reasons other than self-aggrandising circle-jerkery. Mainly, it’s to keep family and friends in the loop with my progress. I wanted to provide an easily accessible resource for people that provided a little bit more information than a Snapchat story or Instagram post. Also, since realising that I owe it to myself to explore the possibility of doing it in some capacity for the rest of my life, I want to write. Whether it’s about the places I’ve been to, the things that I’ve done or the people that I’ve met, I want to force myself to sit down and write whether I’m in the mood or not. I figured this trip of a lifetime would provide more than enough source material to see if I can produce content on a regular basis that people enjoy reading. Finally, there’s a very good chance that this 6-month, 15-country, 7,500km trip will be the biggest adventure of my life* and it would be fantastic to have a log of everything I did and experienced. I did record my 3-month ‘Gap Year’ trip to Africa in a travel journal, but ended up using it less as an objective log of experiences, anecdotes and impressions, and more as a diary to vent about arseholes or confess undying love for girls that I’d met, so now I can’t read it without cringing so hard that my face hurts (and I had to pretend I’d left it in Africa when my Gran said she wanted to read it).

Anyway, I’m sitting in the dimly-lit, wicker-chaired lounge area of my hostel with a predictable tingle of sunburn on my forehead and a dull ache in my feet after a third consecutive day of exploring the behemoth that is Mexico City. I arrived late on Sunday night, and after a one hour immigration queue, not un-stressful subway ride from the airport and quick visit to the rooftop bar to confirm 1) the view was awesome and 2) the beer was cold, collapsed in a surprisingly comfortable bunk bed. The next morning, my friend Ben** arrived boasting an immigration queue of twice the length and a hangover to boot. As sleeping during the day would have only been an invitation to the haggard claws of jet-lag, we instead set out to explore the city. The first stop was a climb up the bell towers of the nearby cathedral and some amazing views over what we would later learn is the third largest city square in the world.

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Following that we had our first experience of the only thing (save hostel breakfast) that we’ve eaten so far – street food. Following the rules forged from experience in Spain (local clientele + ugly, laminated menus = genuine food) was not a mistake and after washing down amazing tacos con pastor & tacos con chorizo with a large, cold beer, and settling a bill of around 100 pesos (£4), we were feeling energised enough for a lazy walk to a local park where we could sit in the sun and digest.

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That day finished with a siesta for Ben, a trip out for dinner (shared spread of quesedilla & alambre this time), and a few hard-earned beers on the terrace. Yesterday, we took the open-top sightseeing Turibus (hope you’re proud Mum!***) out to Chapultepec. This is one of the largest city parks in the world and is home to multiple museums, including our target; The National Museum of Anthropology. We had learned months prior to the trip that this was an essential visit, and it did not disappoint. Containing a staggering collection of pre-Hispanic Mexican artefacts, we both learned how to tell our Mayans from our Aztecs, and have been telling all fellow travelers since that they can’t leave without paying a visit.

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Today, we joined a walking tour that was taking in both a local food market and nearby arts and crafts market. The trip to food market served only to enable our extravagant eating habits by showing that we’d be hard pressed to cook for much cheaper than we were currently dining out (what a shame), and the arts & crafts market, whilst boasting amazing displays of sugar skulls and handmade curiosities, was fairly pointless considering any trinkets or gifts purchased would need to be hauled all the way to Uruguay before returning home. Peeling off from the rest of the group, we returned to Chapultepec but this time to absorb some post-Hispanic Mexican history in the form of the National Museum of History. Unfortunately, all of the info was in Spanish so I had to be content with looking at the pretty pictures, carefully examining the relics and accepting brief summaries of what they actually were from Ben. The view from its raised, castle location was spectacular though, so the sore feet weren’t for nothing.

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As the clock’s just ticked past seis**** and the rooftop bar has again opened its doors for business, I’ll wrap this up. I’ll try to offer more thoughts on this city in the next entry but for now, suffice to say that Mexico City is big, Mexico City is busy, and Mexico City has much to see.

So far, so good.

Anto

*Anyone that says marriage or raising children are the greatest adventures of anyone’s life – snore off.

**Dr. Benjamin P. Silberberg MBBS MRes. Fluent in Spanish and accompanying me across all of the 15 aforementioned countries and 7,500 aforementioned kilometres. God help me (or maybe him).

11796307_10153581053193413_2176651432331095403_nDid I mention he’s single?

***She bloody loves sightseeing buses

****Don’t mind me, just getting my Spanish numbers down