Panama City, Panama

The night bus ride to Panama City was pretty comfortable. Though, I’d have to say the boarder crossing into Panama was the most thorough. We got to the border around 4:30 in the morning and there was nobody working on the Costa Rica side. We had to sit and wait until 6am before someone arrived. I found myself passing out on the bench I was sitting on for about an hour. After exiting Costa Rica, the Panama immigration made the whole bus go into a room to search our luggage after passport control. I have never seen that intense of a group search done before and the only other time I saw anything so anal were the few times US immigration emptied out my bags on me.

When I got to Panama City, I felt pretty burned out on travel at this point. The hostel I stayed at was decent and I did make it out to Hard Rock Café- Panama City, saw some of the old colonial city neighborhoods, and went to the Panama Canal to watch some cargo ships go through the locks.

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I did have one extra day to burn in Panama, so I decided to take a day trip into a city that basically is inside a volcano crater. It didn’t feel or look like a crater, but more like there were mountain ridges around us. Honestly, the tour was a waste of money. We visited a sad looking zoo, a butterfly farm, a hot spa that was just a nasty, muddy pool (I thought it would be like the hot springs I had visited in Honduras), and a small walk to see a little waterfall. Though it filled my day as I waited for my red-eye flight, it was pretty pathetic.

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That pretty much covers the events of my trip. I had thought about doing South America, but I found six weeks through Central America to be enough. I spent about two-thousand on spending money and one-thousand on flights and travel insurance. Not bad, I think. I think I do need to learn some Spanish for when I venture into South America. It may make it a more enjoyable trip! Until next time.

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San José, Costa Rica

San José

The bus ride to San José was a long one. Because I was in such a rush to get a ticket and go, I didn’t get to eat any breakfast. The bus picked up at the station at 11AM, and because of some miss communication, I got there much earlier than I needed. The bus did make one dinner stop. But, the food looked like crap, so I decided to just wait until I got in to San Jose, which ended up being around 8pm. That was about 24 hours I went without any food. Glad I didn’t go crazy!

When I got to the hostel, I looked around at all the brochures and trips that were offered and was shocked by the prices. Most of the activities that interested me I had already done on this trip. Also, to my disappointment, I just plain got priced out of doing anything in Costa Rica. I decided to sit out the Easter weekend holiday, which pretty much shut everything down anyways, and booked my 16-hour bus ticket to Panama City, Panama.

Even though I got priced out of many of the tours, I could have probably gone off to do them on my own. But, I am getting to the end of this trip, about to hit my budget, and burned out a bit. I couldn’t even bring myself to go into Central San José for the Good Friday and Easter festivities just a mile away. I did go to the Central part of town Saturday for a little sightseeing when it wasn’t super busy, but that was about it.

Not sure why Americans come to expensive Costa Rica when they can do a lot of these same activities in a neighboring country for a lot cheaper! So, thanks American tourism for these crazy and bloated prices, NOT!! As I thought about it more, maybe it is best the mob stays away from the cheaper and very very very, and I mean seriously dangerous places I was able to enjoy. Stay away from these cheap and beautiful countries full of life and culture because they are riddled with drug cartels, drive-by shootings, corruption, kidnappers, rapists, and just the worst of the worst of people. Honestly, not sure how I made it through alive. Please, just come to Costa Rica where it is much much safer.

Panama City, here I come!

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Leon & Granada, Nicaragua

Leon

Riding into Nicaragua on the bus went pretty smooth. The farther south you go into Central America, the better the roads are!! The first stop in this new country was Leon. It’s one of those cities most people make a stop at on their way through Nicaragua and historically, I guess the center of the revolution. It is also one of those towns that has a lot of the Spanish architecture I like. The main thing to do here, outside town, would be to climb and slide down Volcan Cerro Negro.

It was a hell of a bumpy ride in the van to get there, but the group of people I was riding with was pretty cool. There were three French girls, a Mexican couple, a German dude, and another American. It was so hot this day out and soon I learned that we all had to carry our own sled up the volcano. Once I found a way to carry the sled in a way that was not extremely uncomfortable, I just put one foot in front of the other and started my climb. It took awhile to get to the top, along with some serious winds that almost took me and my board sailing over the edge, but we all made it fine!

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Before sliding down the volcano, we all had to put on jumpsuits, gloves, and goggles. I thought to myself, while our guide was giving instructions, that I got this. I grew up sledding down hills of snow. Looking at where the others came from, I think this may have been most of their’s first time sledding.

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Once we were ready, we were off! I went third and overall thought I had a good run. I did accidentally cross over into the other path but I got some good speed. At one point I felt like the sled wanted to come out from under me, but I was able to manage to bring it straight again with some leaning. It wasn’t until I got close to the end I needed to put my feet out to stabilize the sled. In doing this, I got a whole lot of rock spraying up into my face and shooting up my pant legs. But, I made it down safe and the climb up was now totally worth it!

I can’t say that for one of the girls coming down a few people after me. She lost control and rolled badly down the hill. At first it looked cool until I realized this was more serious than a little roll. I quickly ran up the volcano to try and help. She had a ton of rock up in her grill , scratches all over her face, and blood running from her forehead. She also was holding her arm and I just hoped it wasn’t broken. In the end, she was fine. Nothing broken and she just walked away with minor scratches. This could have been a lot worse!

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Granada

The next day I headed to Granada, Nicaragua. When I got here I checked in to my hostel and started getting an idea what to see here. What I found was a night trip to Masaya Volcano National Park to see the lava in the volcano. I met a couple German girls who were planning to go to this too, so we went out to a travel agency nearby to book a better trip than the one the hostel was offering. The American guy that was on the Leon volcano trip with me just checked in at the same hostel and he was able to join the group too.

The tour first stopped at a very touristy type market that I found to be typical BS. Everything that was there to buy were the same things I have pretty much been seeing on this entire trip. After the hour at the market, we were on our way to the volcano. The time at the volcano was very short, like 15 minutes, because they only let a certain amount of tourists up there at a time for safety reasons. The line to get in this place is very long! But, 15 minutes was good enough for me and I enjoyed getting to see lava for the first time.

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The next day I decided to relax and take a walk around the town. Granada is pretty small and taking in the architecture and old churches went pretty quickly.

The original plan after Granada was to head to the large island that is home to two volcanos, on Nicaragua Lake. One of the German girls was heading in the same direction, so we planned to travel together for a few days as we made our way to Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the plan to travel together didn’t work out and with the Easter holiday weekend coming up quickly, lots of things would be shut down leaving me stuck. So, I went to the bus station to see if it was possible to just head to San Jose, Costa Rica and skip this part of my trip all together. The first bus station was a bust and they said they were booked all the way through to Sunday. Fortunately, there was another bus company a few blocks down that had a few spots available and I jumped on it. Off to San Jose, Costa Rica I go and goodbye to the new friends I hung out with over the last few days.

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Santa Ana, El Salvador

Santa Ana, El Salvador

Getting to Santa Ana involved crossing back into Guatemala from Honduras, and then into El Salvador. El Salvador was the first country I didn’t need to get a stamp in my passport, which kind of bummed me out. I want to fill my passport with glorious stamps of all the places I have been, especially since I know this paper stamp process will eventually end in my lifetime. Also, as we drove down the roads, I was surprised at how nice the roads were to drive on. I know I have been talking about how bad the roads have been in these Central American countries so far, so El Salvador surprised me. Even though the roads were nicer, there was still a garbage problem that littered the sides of the road.

When I got to Santa Ana, I checked into one of the best hostels I’ve been into. It was clean, welcoming, organized, and set up in a way every backpacker would like to see a hostel organized. The owner, Carlos, was a great personality who genuinely wanted us travelers to have the best experience and information possible for our journey. I booked for two nights here and because I arrived at a reasonable time, one of the girls I traveled to El Salvador with, in the van, and I headed out to some ruins outside of town on a chicken bus. This was my first chicken bus experience and I didn’t think it was that bad at all! We even got back into town in time to take a walk out on the town to view some of the cities historical buildings and cathedrals just before they started to close. Pretty eventful day I think!FullSizeRender.jpg

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The next morning a group of us from the hostel all got up to go hike up Santa Ana Volcano. We took the first chicken bus to get there at 7 am, which was fine, but after getting to the entrance of the park we had to wait for more foreign travelers to make a group to go on the hike. One of the requirements for hiking this volcano is that you have to hike with a guide and police officer.

The hike was tough, but totally worth it. I did my best to just pace myself on the climb up. On these hikes, there always seems to be a group of people that want to race up the damn thing. Fortunately, I didn’t feel that on this hike, like in previous ventures. When we did get to the top, it was extremely windy. Regardless, it was a beautiful view. The air smelled with sulfur and down in the pit of the volcano it looked like a lagoon with steam coming off into the air.IMG_5913.JPG

Originally, I was planning to head to the coast to learn how to surf, but the transportation system required me to take multiple buses because there wasn’t anything direct. Getting to the end of this trip has left me a little more lazy and if I can’t just jump onto a van service where I want to go, I can’t be bothered. If I go surfing, perhaps I’ll try in Nicaragua. I heard there are some pretty cool places to go, but the waves will be a bit bigger too. I will have to go to San Salvador to then catch a bus to Nicaragua. On this trip, we will have to cross through two boarders of Honduras.

The next stop will be in Leon, Nicaragua!

Side Note: The one thing I do have to say is that on most of my trip, so many people told me to skip El Salvador or only go there for surfing. People said not to go there because it was dangerous and full of corruption. I found El Salvador to be a beautiful country full of really helpful and nice people. I never felt unsafe once, just as I never felt unsafe in any of the countries I’d been to so far on this trip. I’d be walking down the street and people would see me and point me in the direction I needed to go in a welcoming and warm way. I encourage travelers to NOT skip this country. It should be part of your Central America itinerary.

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Copan & La Ceiba, Honduras

Copan & La Ceiba, Honduras

The bus ride from Antigua, Guatemala to Copan, Honduras was pretty rough. It wasn’t until after getting through the boarder into Honduras and cruising the 11 km to Copan that the ride actually smoothed out. If the first 11 km in Honduras were pretty smooth, I really hoped the rest of the country was the same.

We arrived in Copan around 2 or 3 PM. It gave Elisia and I enough time to check in to our hostel, get some lunch, and head to the Copan Ruins. Going to the ruins in the final hours of operation worked out pretty well. The temperature started cooling off, which also was assisted by the shade. Also, there were not many people walking around, which gave me the chance to have some decent pictures without tons of bodies in the way. Overall, it was a pleasant visit and I even got to see some Scarlet Macaws.

The original plan was to try and leave the next day to La Ceiba, since the ruins and a walk around this tiny town was all we really came for. But, we found there to be no available vans heading that way until the next day and we didn’t feel like taking the long chicken bus. So, Elisia spent the next day getting some business work done while I headed off to a volcanic hot spring.

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This was my first hot spring experience and I really enjoyed it. There were three others on this tour too, but I really connected with two older ladies who were really into the holistic living stuff. I’m also into this sort of thinking when it comes to body, mind, spirit related topics, so our conversations were superb. It’s really great hearing about the lives of others and taking in the advise of those who have already been where I’ve been. They gave a lot of insight for me to think about. It’s also interesting how certain people come into one’s life with a little insight just when you need it. This trip has left me with a lot of things to think about and many of the experiences I am having have presented themselves in a way to help with this process.

The bus to La Ceiba was a lit better, but Honduras sure has a lot of potholes and speed bumps everywhere. Seems to be a thing in Central America. After I arrived at my hostel, I said my goodbyes to Elisia. She headed to the islands for some sun and beach time while I stayed back to do some whitewater rafting the next day.

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There were four of us on the rafting trip, which worked out great because the rafts were only big enough for two, plus the guide. We started out with swimming up the river and practicing some safety things before going down the river. The actual rafting was only about an hour, but I still enjoyed my time. At the end we got to do some jumping off a rock into the water. With the weather being as hot as it was, it was a nice ending of play time in the river.

That night I found out the van I booked was NOT booked. The girl that was helping me the day before was not very organized and my requests were lost in translation with the lack of English she spoke. I found out I could get back to Copan a day earlier than planned, so I jumped on it. This trip was only partially by bus. Three of us transferred to a car for the remainder of the journey. This guy drove like a madman and with the car riding as low as it did, the speed bumps along the whole journey scrapped the hell out of the bottom of his car. At one point in the journey, there was a semi-truck full of Pepsi rolled over in the ditch. Lets just say the driver would have been lucky to survive. I couldn’t help but wonder how an ambulance would actually arrive in the middle of nowhere. I think if something happened to you outside a major city, you are probably screwed. I talked to a girl later that day that saw the same accident and she said there were tons of people looting the Pepsi that was dumped from the truck.

After I got to the hostel I found out I could not head to El Salvador the next day because no vans were going out. So, I decided to do nothing and try and get back on budget a little by avoiding spending any money. Plus, I am trying to avoid taking out any new Honduran money from the ATM before crossing the boarder. Ramen and Mac & Cheese saved the day!

Next stop, Santa Ana, El Salvador where I plan to climb a volcano!

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Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

The afternoon of getting to Flores, Guatemala was longer and more bumpy than I thought it would be. I swear that every major road in Central America had speed bumps every 50 yard that will seriously damage your car if you don’t crawl over them. I guess it would be a little insight into what the night bus would be like. Elisia and I hit up a couple ATM’s that didn’t seem to work when we arrived at the Flores bus station. Finally, we did find one that had money in it and we were able to go out for a bit of street food. Unfortunately the bus arrived later than we were told, so going into the island part of the town was out of the question. Since I would be missing the ruins at Tikal, I was hoping to have at least a little time to walk around a small town. I guess I’ll have to come back another time! If I ever end up near Cancun or back in Belize, I’ll definitely be making a quick flight over to check out the town and Tikal Ruins.

The night bus to Antigua, Guatemala was pretty nice. It was a double decker with bed type seats on the bottom half and seats on the second level. Elisia and I got stuck up top because reservations for the bed-seats needed a reservation days in advanced. The seats up top were comfortable, regardless. There was one point I got pretty pissed off though. The lady sitting in front of me had the audacity to try putting her seat all the way back without consulting my comfort. I stopped her in her tracks as the seat came down and I stopped the seat where it was ok for me. An hour later she tried putting the seat back all the way again right onto my knees, even though I was protesting, she didn’t care. So, I decided to just start punching the seat over and over. When my knuckles started to hurt I then just grabbed the top of the chair and started shaking it as hard as I could until she moved the seat up a bit. After a few minutes of this she finally moved it back where I said it was okay and told her “thank you” in Spanish. Seats are getting moved closer together these days to add rows and make more profits for all these corporations. People need to understand this and I refuse to sit back and say nothing while someone’s head is basically in my lap and my knees are jammed into the back of the seat in agony.

Other than that little incident, the ride was crazy. The roads were super windee and I swear the bus driver was purposely driving in a way to keep as many people on the bus awake as possible. Boy did his driving suck!

We arrived early in the morning in Guatemala City. As with most bus stops in the world, this one did not have a very welcoming feel either. It was dirty with litter, poor people were hanging around trying to get money, and the taxi drivers were out in full swing trying to get a fare. Elisia and I just waited for someone from the bus company to find us and point us to a shuttle van to Antigua.

There were four of us in this van and after we made it the hour into town, we all got out and started walking to our hostels. About half way to the place we were staying, I realized my passport was gone. I’m a pretty paranoid guy when it comes to things like my money, phone, and passport, but I thought it fell out of my pocket on the shuttle bus. I was sure of it. Elisia and I quickly walked to the hostel, tried explaining the problem to the front dest guy, but he didn’t speak any English. Fortunately, the girl who was replacing him spoke great English and started the hunt in tracking down the company, driver, and van. She truly was a Godsend, because within a couple hours, I had my passport back in my hands!! Holy crap I hope that never happens again. Rest assured, I’ll be taking even more precautions in the future that that never happens again.

Because we couldn’t check in to our room yet, we napped in a lounge area and planned some trips for while we were there. That afternoon at 2 PM, we jumped on a tour to do a small hike up a volcano. So, I packed a few things in my backpack and got on my hiking shoes. The ride to the volcano was about an hour. As we were heading there, it did start to sprinkle a bit, but it went away. It wasn’t until we started hiking up the mountain that the rain started coming down lightly, but then it started to pour. I was enjoying it because of the opportunity to try out my rain gear. Elisia was not so prepared, along with many of the other hikers. She was wet, miserable, and hating every moment of the hike. It wasn’t just the rain that make it crappy, the fog did too. We got to the summit and could not see anything. There was one area where we got to roast marshmallows from a steam hole, but that was about it. I ended up running most of the way down and met up with all the other soaked travelers. Yea, the rain was not ideal, but I did have a good time.

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The next day we got up for a 4 or 5 AM pickup so we could go to Lake Atitlan, which is about three hours from Antigua, Guatamala. Most of us in the shuttle van tried getting a little sleep, but with the crappy roads, it wasn’t that easy. As for me, I just tossed in my ear buds to the psycadelic sounds of the Dead & Company shows I went to last summer.

When we got to Lake Atitlan, we got a bit of breakfast and then traveled by boat to three other towns on the lake. The first town gave us a tour of how some of the painted art and textiles were produced. It was very similar to many of the tours I have been to in other parts of the world, but I try to look at it with the uniqueness it deserves. One of the things that fascinates me is how so many cultures came up with the same or similar processes to do things, like making textiles, all around the same time without ever interacting with each other. There’s something to think about. I feel it is either something to do with extraterrestrials living among us, or our collective human consciousness.

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The next town pretty much just involved walking up to the top of a hill and checkin out a church. I was more interested in the people watching myself.

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Lastly, we headed over to another city that had a nice church and a dark history which involved the 30+ year war that took place in Guatamala. This city was affected the worse because of the abuse from the military in this area.

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This trip pretty much concludes our time in Antigua. We ended up spending one more day here to allow me to walk around the city and give Elisia time to catch up on some work with her small business. The next stop will be Copan, Hondurous.

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Caye Caulker, Belize

To Caye Caulker

Elisia and I took an 11:30 PM bus to Belize. We crossed the boarder around 4:30 AM and arrived in Belize City at about 8 AM. The bus station seemed pretty sketchy, but we sort of figured out what we needed to do and negotiated a price with a “non-registered” taxi to the docks. The guy was pretty cool, but scammed us out of a US$ with the good ‘ol “I don’t have change” bit I am pretty accustomed to while traveling. We had a place booked on Caye Caulker, so we jumped on a water taxi to the island. As we cruised across the water, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the water looked. I couldn’t wait to see what the island looked like.

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The boat ride was nice and the sun was beating down good at this point in the morning. As we walked town to the end of the road to our hotel, we found we were able to get into a 10:30AM snorkeling trip. We ended up booking the trip through the hotel and went out with three others. Snorkeling was a really weird experience at first. To be honest, I was not enjoying it. Water was going in my nose and mouth, even with the gear on. Once I got used to no breathing from my nose and finding the sweet spot on the blow-tube, I was able to enjoy it more. By the time I finished the trip, I felt more confidant to dive a little. So, I guess I have finally snorkeled!!

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That evening we met up with one of the girls from the snorkeling trip for dinner and the next day we took a water taxi back to the mainland before getting on a day and night bus trip to Antigua, Guatemala.

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Unfortunately, because of the way we booked the bus, we missed out on the Tikal Ruins near Flores, Guatemala. I found out later that it was used as the Rebel base on Yavin in Star Wars. We also could have stuck around Belize longer, but we are looking forward to getting to Honduras to hit up some beaches there. 

Next stop will be Antigua, Guatemala! 

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Mexico City to Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Mexico City

Before my move back to the US, I had it in mind to travel through Central and South America. My personal lifetime goal is to try and visit every country in the world, so with this free time I have and the needed decompression time, as I transition back into US life, why not head south! Plus, I really don’t want to deal with the cold of winter, at the moment. The thing that really sealed the deal was the cheap one-way ticket to Mexico City. It only cost $170 to get there from Minneapolise. I’d have to be stupid to pass that kind of deal up.

In my preparations to go to Mexico City, I got a lot of people asking me why I don’t go to a resort and I was bombarded with people telling me to be careful because Mexico is dangerous. “Be careful of drug cartels and kidnappers!!” Well everyone, all I experienced when I started this trip into Mexico City was a clean and beautiful city that was vibrantly full of culture and extremely nice people. There wasn’t any feeling of danger what so ever. So people, please put your BS stereotypes away and visit REAL Mexico, not lock yourself up in the confines of a beach resort. This actually goes for most countries.

My trip to Mexico City went pretty smooth. I had a two hour delay in Chicago, but since I didn’t have to be anywhere, it didn’t bother me at all. I landed in Mexico City around 7AM and took the subway to the central area of the city. The subway was a bit confusing in places, but I made my way fine. Walking up the steps onto the street was jaw dropping. There was a beautiful cathedral to my right and a wide open square with what looked like Parliament buildings to my left. It was beautiful! I made my way to the hostel a couple blocks away where I would check and leave my bags while I went out looking for some coffee. I had a little time to burn before they would give me a bed for a much needed nap and a day to chill to catch up on sleep lost from my redeye.

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The next day I was originally planning to find a coffee shop and relax, but instead I joined a couple guys from my hostel to Frida y Diego’s home. She was a pretty famous painter who I recognized from her paintings, but didn’t really know anything about her. There was a huge line going down the block to get in, but fortunately the guys I was with bought us tickets online, which allowed us to bypass the line.

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After Frida’s home, we went to get a few drinks, had some dinner, and later that night we hit up a nice bar that was filled with the aroma of mezcal and played some really cool new-age jazz type of music that I really can’t even describe. The next day I joined one of my new companions to see the Archaeology Meuseum, which I found to be really good.

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After a few days of waiting around, my good friend Elisia, whom I’d met 7 years ago in Korea arrived! The next day we hit up a tour to go see some churches and an old Myan ruin outside of town. When we got back to the hostel we were invited to go to a Nacho Libra fight, which is basically Mexican WWF. It was a pretty good time and I was glad I went.

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We spent our last days in Mexicao City just wondering around and enjoying the food and sights. It really is a beautiful city full of life. All of the negative perceptions we had were put to rest. The city was clean, the people were so kind, and we never felt like there was any danger. Our next stop would be Pallanque.

Planque/ Valladolid/ Playa del Carmen

The night bus to Palanque was about 14 hours. The ride wasn’t bad, over all, and we found it very easy to get to the ruins the same day we checked in without having to go on a tour. There were shuttle buses that ran regularly to the sight. We stayed the night and decided to spend the next day on the bus to Vallodolid, which is an hour jump point to Chichén Itzá.

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The next morning we got up early to head to Chichén Itzá. We found these to be the nicest ruins yet. After about 2-3 hours of walking around, we headed back to our hostel to pick up our things and head to Playa del Carmen.

IMG_5642.JPGWhile we were there, in Playa del Carmen, I was able to see my friend Crystal from back home while she was down here for spring break and another friend I met in Korea who was spending the winter here on retirement. I also got a little beach time in, but mostly just relaxed and ate some good food while I was preparing for the next leg of our trip to Belize.

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Hope I have a smooth trip to Belize!!

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Hsipaw to Bagan, Myanmar

The Train

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Today we get to take the famous train ride from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin! There is a bridge the train crosses that was built in 1901, I think, by the British that everyone is crazy about. Also, it is an opportunity to sit back and enjoy the scenery. I have had a little previous knowledge of how the ride may be because of an episode I saw on Anthony Bourdain and the little city train stint I took in Yangon. I was looking forward to the ride!

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Sabine, Helen, and I decided to pay a $1 more to spring for Upper Class with all the other travelers. Instead of Upper Class, they should just name the two cars, Foreigner Class. There were no locals in these two cars that I saw at all. It made it tempting to go around and give locals each a $1 to treat themselves to cushioned seats.

An interesting feature of the train was that the windows were all wide open. So if I decided to put my arm or head out at the wrong time, I probably would have had it chopped off because there were times the wall of a cave or branch of a tree was no more than a foot away from the train. Often tree branches would scraps against the train and I’d get the occasional twig slap in the face or arm. One more fun part of the ride was that the train rocked from left to right the whole way. It sort of felt like I was on a boat for 6ish hours.

Something that is very common in Myanmar is controlled burning. At one point on the ride, just around the time I was dosing off from literally being rocked to sleep, I suddenly felt intense heat on my face and arm. I opened my eyes to see a wall of flames come through the window of my seat and burs of fire rolled into the car. The guy in front of me got burned a little and I sat back down on a bur that ended up burning a hole in my shorts. Felt like my ass was on fire!! After everyone stomped out the flames and made sure their gear was ok, we sat back down and continued enjoying the ride while occasionally watching little mice scurry around our feet and under our seats, eating crumbs of food people dropped on the floor.

After we got to Pyin Oo Lwin, we chilled out in our hotel and later went out for street food. The town was pretty relaxed and Sabine and I had a couple beers later at the hotel. It was one of the coldest nights in Myanmar that I had experienced and we all bundled up for bed to try and keep warm. The next morning we got on a day bus to Bagan.

Bagan

So yes, I have already visited Bagan with my three German companions, from the first week of my travels in Myanmar. But, I found the experience with Helen and Sabine different. Different because of the uniqueness of the experiences different people can experience together and we just ended up going to many places I had not gone to the previous time.

When we got into town, I was waiting for the bus to be stopped to pay the Foreigner Tax, but the bus never got stopped. I then expected to pay it at the hotel, but they did not inquire if we had paid the tax or not. So, we just didn’t say anything, checked in, and went out to get some food. The original plan was to get an e-bike (which looks like a scooter) and go see the sunset. The problem was that the e-bikes were pretty much rented out everywhere. So we rented peddle bicycles, which I was not really excited about, and then we went to get some food. The food took forever to arrive and sunset was getting closer and closer. The girls pretty much gave up on seeing it and Sabine decided to book another night at a different hostel. Helen and I were not ready to make a decision on staying another night at this point, but regardless on if we were all staying or not, I did not want the girls to miss a sunset. So, my food came out and I scarfed the plate down in a few minutes while Helen went for the check. When we were all paid up, we started the bike ride to the closest temple we could come to. Luckily, one was not that far and we peddled our way as close as we could until we hit thick sand. Helen tossed her bike to the ground and started running. I then threw mine down with hers, locked them quickly, and ran after Helen and Sabine. We got to the temple and climbed up pretty much just in the nick of time to catch a decent sunset.

IMG_5109.JPGWhen that was all over, we headed back into Old Bagan, inquired about hot air balloon rides. I was not planning to take a balloon up for sunrise, but Sabine and Helen had their heart set on it. Unfortunately, balloons were booked out for the next weeks. Being the busy season, this was a little expected. Because the night was still young, we went and found a bar with Happy Hour and ordered a round of mojitos.. The mojitos were amazing and we only added to the fun by playing that Heads Up game again.

The next day we got up before sunrise to go chase down a temple that supposedly was great and had few tourists. After driving around on our e-bikes with no luck, we decided to to the main touristy temple I had gone to with Sandra and company. It may not have been the place we were trying for, but if we had continued our wild goose chase in the dark, we would have missed the sunrise.

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After some breakfast and a nap, we headed out to see some temples and then check out the other hostel. Helen and I ended up booking a night at the same place as Sabine in New Bagan. This place had much more of a backpacker community feel to it. We checked in and then headed off to see more temples that the hostel staff said were pretty nice and remote. Most of the places we went to I had not visited with Sandra, so it was nice not having a repeat. We also, up to this point, had not been asked about the Foreigner Tax, so we decided to avoid places that asked for the tax ticket and the Foreigner Police.

After bouncing around from temple to temple, we finally found one we liked for sunset and stayed up on top. We were the only three people on this temple and the view of the other temples was pretty nice, thanks to Sabine’s persistence on finding the suggested remote location. I personally would not have gone looking for one of these remote spots and ultimately was glad we did. It was a lot of fun off-roading on the scooters.

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The next day I decided to take it easy by staying in and writing my blog. I wasn’t feeling to well. I could not breath, mostly because I think I just breathed in too much dust from the day of riding. The three of us did join a boat tour out onto the river to see sunset, which was pretty cool. I originally wasn’t in the mood for it, but glad I did it.

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IMG_5205.JPGAfter the little booze cruise, we went out to dinner with a whole bunch of people from the boat ride and then sat back and enjoyed a number of cocktails at the hostel.

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The highlight of my night was striking up a conversation with another traveler from Switzerland. We ended up staying up well past bar close drinking, telling stories, and just enjoying each others company. I particularly enjoyed hearing about her travels to Central America. I have been thinking about extending my trip there and the way she talked about the food and life of the people there has intrigued my interest in traveling to this region. Unfortunately, time ended our conversation and that morning I had to get up to catch an early morning bus with Helen and Sabine at around 4 or 5 AM to the capital city, Naypyitaw. Hopefully we stay in touch and our paths cross again. Sometimes when those brief encounters begin and end so quickly, there is a feeling like the conversation got cut off and was left unfinished.

Next stop, Naypytaw.

Categories: Myanmar | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Naypyitaw & The Golden Rock, Myanmar

Naypyitaw

After the night of drinking, conversation, and just staying up much later than I had originally planned, 4AM came way too quickly. I took a shower after I got back to my room and maybe snuck in an hour of sleep before we had to meet up with an open covered bus/truck. It looked like we were the first pickup, so we got to freeze our butts off for about an hour as the driver went from stop to stop loading more and more passengers. We were the only non-Burmese on the shuttle which was a pretty good indicator we would probably not meet any other travelers along the way. I was right too because it would be at least two days before running into another backpacker.

The bus ride was pretty comfortable and we just chilled out as we made our way to this strange city others have talked about. As the bus made its way into town, we only noticed a little bit of the grandness the capital was supposed to have.

When we got to the bus stop, Helen and I were planning to head to the Golden Rock and Sabine to the West coast beaches. But, Sabine decided to stick with us a little longer. We booked our night bus tickets to the Golden Rock, and then found a driver to take us around the capital for a little private tour. Now, the capital is pretty expensive and thankfully we were not staying there the night. There really is nothing going on there anyways. The “new” capital area reminded me of the overkill you may find in old Communist countries, in terms of infrastructure and grand buildings. The road leading to the Parliament buildings consisted of 10-lane roads going in both directions, with no traffic. We were able to get a photo in from the closest possible point. As it was, our photo taking seemed to piss of the guard.

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Before this picture, we had just come from the Uppatasanti Pagoda. This nearly the same size at the pagoda in Yagon, the only difference was that this place was even more guarded and there were hardly any people there. We basically had the place to ourselves. Across the street they even had some White Elephants that I personally felt were not being taken care of very well. Made us a bit sad.

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After the pagoda and parliament attempt, we stopped at the Gem Museum which was not really worth going to and the Naypyitaw Water Fountain Park. Not sure how old the place was, but it felt like something out of Eastern Europe, again from a more Communist era. We also had an entire family run us down to take a number of family photos. I’m guessing we are in a picture frame on a table or mantel in their home now!

That pretty much summed up Naypytaw. There was a lot of new infrastructure put into place to make the new capital and knowbody lives there. It’s simmular to the ghost cities that are talked about in China. Now off fora crappy night bus ride!

The Golden Rock

We arrived around 7AM to the place we decided to stay. Fortunately, the resort allowed us to check in and we were able to get some much needed sleep. After waking up from our slumber, we got some lunch and made plans to head to the Golden Rock. We ended up getting there by motorbike. I road with one driver while the two girls squished on the back of the other bike.

At the base of the mountain, there are these trucks designed to fit as many people as possible in to then cruise up a very windee road. It felt like a rollercoaster at times. The Golden Rock was something I wanted to see because for the Burmese it is a pilgrimage site. There are people who help those who have traveled long distances to carry their things up to the site and men with chair stretchers to carry up the elderly or immobile. Many people stay the night and watch the sunset and sunrise. For the three of us, we had to leave before the last transport down by 6 PM.

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The next day I would leave the girls and head back to Yangon to catch a flight to Phuket for a few days to see a couple people I know that teach there. Then I’ll head to Korea for my final two weeks of living there. Lots of emotions going on, but I know all will work out.

Recap

The last two weeks were amazing and I had such a good time traveling with Helen and Sabine. I truly wish I could have continued on with them, but our time had to come to an end at some point. Hopefully I’ll catch up with them down the road in another part of the world. One things for sure, we will be enjoying each others continued travel on Facebook!!

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Categories: Myanmar | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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