Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Flores and a Jungle Trek

Unfortunately when we woke up on Tuesday morning for our jungle trek, it was pouring rain outside. We were able to delay our reservation until the afternoon, allowing us to relax and grab some lunch while we waited for the rain to clear.

We met up with Adam and Dave (the SF boys) and after a short shuttle, we arrived at Ixpanpajul. The boys wanted to do zip lines, while Eva and I were more interested in the Skywalk above the canopy, so we parted ways – but not before taking a picture!

Here are Eva and I, feet still planted firmly on the ground:

That didn’t last for long though, we hiked our way up a long narrow path that lead to a series of swinging bridges that allowed us to walk over the treetops and catch the view of the jungle below:

Unfortunately, due to the rain we didn’t see much for wildlife – only a few birds – which was a bummer.

At the midpoint of the trek there was a shelter that had a great view of the jungle.

We reached it just as it started to pour again, allowing us to weather out the storm relaxing in hammocks.

When we met Adam and Dave at the end, they were covered head to toe in mud but had also enjoyed their experience despite the rain.

We spent out last night in Flores eating dinner with a lake view and enjoying some local brews.

Today we caught a flight back to Guatemala City, followed by a 45 minute taxi ride to the beautiful city of Antigua. We’ll be exploring the city, celebrating New Year’s, and climbing a volcano in the next few days but more on that later!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Flores and Tikal

Our flight on the “teeny tiny” plane from Guatemala City to Flores turned out to be nicer and almost bigger than any of the flights we took in the United States. We arrived in a quick 25 minutes (beats the 10 hour bus trip!) and caught the tourist shuttle to Casa Blanca, our hotel in Flores. Our “white house” actually turned out to be more of a dirty yellow color, but for $4 a night, who’s complaining!?

We left on the bus (more like a 16 passenger van) to Tikal, the famous Mayan pyramids located deep in the jungle. It was a ninety minute ride followed by hours of walking to explore all the different sites.

One of the first creatures we saw on our trek was some strange species of anteater rooting around in the dirt:

We also saw the ants he was hunting for marching along:

We took a little swing on some hanging vines:

As always, we stayed out of trouble!

Tourists are allowed to climb many of the Mayan pyramids. We climbed to the top of Templo IV, known for its amazing view of the jungle canopy. We could even see Belize!

Some of the temples, like Templo V, had very long climb!

However, it was worth it for the view of Templo IV and others through the treetops:

The Guatemalan turkeys look a lot like peacocks:

The finale of the trek was the Gran Plaza, once used for ceremonies and sacrifices. It was surrounded by two huge temples, a palace and an acropolis.

We had great weather the entire day except for a ten minute torrential downpour which we unsuccessfully attempted to escape by hiding under a thick tree.

On the bus ride home, we met two American boys on holiday from San Francisco. We talked to them about their adventures in Belize and the four of us have booked a jungle trek for tomorrow!

Tonight we’re relaxing and headed out for some “research” on locally available beers.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We've Arrived!

After hours and hours of travel, and three flights, all of which were significantly delayed due to weather, Eva and I are officially in Guatemala!  The trip itself was fairly uneventful, highlights included talking to a man who has been stranded at O'Hare for three days due to a cancelled flight, the standby list being 60 passengers long for our first flight to Atlanta (thank goodness we had a reservation!), and seeing this little monkey get pulled around in style by his parents-
I wish I had a better picture that captured the glee on his face, he was on our first two flights so we kept running into him sprawled out on his dad's carry-on.

Eva was also super excited about her purchase of a neck pillow.  So excited she insisted on wearing it while boarding the flight.  I was embarrassed but decided it was best to let her have her fun....and document it in a photo that will live on for years.

Another highlight was the stewardess on our first flight.  She looked at me like I had a third head when I asked if I could reuse my plastic cup during the beverage service.  She then said something about how adorable I was but that this was unacceptable practice.  I then had to toss my cup into the trash and get a new one when I wanted a refill.  Thanks American Airlines, glad to know you love the environment as much as we do.
We did manage to get an upgrade for our last flight to Guatemala City.  Helloooo first class living!  It was a fun experience but honestly wasn't the luxury we were hoping for.  What do you mean we shouldn't have expected massages and caviar on our two hour flight?  Instead we settled for barely edible "whitefish" and some roasted potatoes.  The highlight was mini bottles of liquor for an after dinner treat....oh, and some champagne to welcome us aboard.  We stashed some mini bottles of Bailey's in our purses which ended up coming in handy later for bribing a guy at the airport for helping us find a cheap taxi to our hotel.  Ah, commerce at its finest.
Now, we're spending the night at El Aeropuerto Guest House, aptly named for its close proximity to the Airport.  Honestly we probably should have held onto the Bailey's and walked, it's that close.
Tomorrow we'll head back to the airport to catch a flight on TACA airlines to Flores.  The ticket was $210 roundtrip but saved us a 10 hour bus ride each way so we figured it was worth the expense.  Flores is the closest city to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

It's supposed to be 75 degrees here tomorrow!  I'm going for my first run outside in shorts in what feels like forever.  Hooray for escaping Wisconsin winter for three weeks!  And wearing flip flops again!

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Guatemalan Adventure!

Eva and I are off on our next bout of traveling in....six hours or so! Nothing like waiting until the last minute to do the ol' blog update! This time we'll both be spending our first time in Central Guatemala!!!

We don't really have a set itinerary, however we do know we'll be:
  • Landing in Guatemala City tomorrow night
  • Catching a flight to Flores in the morning to spend a few days seeing the Mayan ruins of Tikal
  • Celebrating the New Year in the beautiful city of Antigua
  • Checking out the beach and a turtle reservation in Monterrico
  • Exploring the deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlán and the cities that surround it
  • And whatever else we can fit in in the two weeks that Eva will be there!
After Eva leaves, I'll be staying in Lake Atitlán in the city of Santiago Atitlán where my friend Erich will be flying down and joining me for some volunteering/learning time in a local clinic, Hospitalito Atitlán.

In addition to learning about healthcare in Guatemala and helping out wherever we can, Erich and I also hope to rent mountain bikes, do a lot of trail running, and of course some hiking of the volcanoes that surround the clinic.

I'll be back in the States just in time for class on January 17th!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting Home

The trip home included one last night in Athens, where we stayed at Hostel Zeus, quite possible the seediest place in Athens. We picked it because it was the cheapest place available and we only had one night to spend there. In the morning before our flight left we checked out the Achaelogical Museum to see the mask of Agamemnon, many sculptures, the Vaphio cups, and much more.

With that, we headed back to Zeus to collect our luggage, took the metro to the airport and boarded an Olympic airways flight back to London.

Do to our layover, we spent the night sleeping on a bench in Heathrow airport. This is what I’m talking about when I say I lead a glamorous lifestyle:

Refreshed from our very comfortable accommodations, we boarded an American Airlines flight at 7:00am and watched eight hours worth of movies to kill time until we arrived back in Chicago.

Unfortunately, our adventures weren’t quite over. I noticed a security dog sniffing around the passengers at the luggage corral. I didn’t think anything of it until he got quite excited when he got close to me and jumped up with his paws on my back! I was clearly a threat to national security! Turns out, he was actually an agriculture dog and he was only interested in the two apples I had in my backpack that Eva and I bought in Athens for a snack. I willingly gave up the apples but not before the entire airport had stopped and watched the scene go down. I got a special mark on my customs form that meant Eva and I had to get our bags x-rayed for more illegal produce before we left the airport.

Now we’re safely back in Wisconsin and happy to enjoy our own beds, hot showers, and toilets that you can flush the toilet paper in (ah the miracles of modern plumbing). According to many of the Greeks we talked to, in our three weeks in Greece we managed to more than most of the natives!

Now it’s back to the reality of school, work and responsibility. *Sigh.* It’s a good thing we’re already planning our next adventure, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


As we arrived at Paradise Beach in Mykonos, we soon realized why our accommodations only cost us 10 Euro each – we were staying in a little tin shed that had two beds and – well, that was it really! Our little bungalows actually turned out to be a lot of fun though. There were tons of “campers” in similar set-ups, so we just left our door open and made friends with everyone! That’s how we met James and Ogie, two Aussies who were on a three month backpacking trip across Europe.

We soon got into the Mykonos routine, relaxing on the beach all day, taking a nap in the evening, and enjoying the nightlife ‘til all hours of the night. The first night we were at Paradise, the big club there, Cavo Paradiso had it’s opening night which entailed a big party with a big name DJ that neither Eva nor I had ever heard of. I guess that means we’re getting old. During the course of our stay, we also checked out the scene in Mykonos Town:

Eva and I also rented an ATV to help us get around the islands, especially to the grocery store so we could continue our cheap eating habits! I can’t believe we forgot to take a picture of us on it because it was quite the sight to see! We opted for the ATV because it was a bit more stable than the scooters available, even though it didn’t have the speed. After seeing numerous people all scraped up, including our friend Paddy who nearly dislocated his shoulder in a bad fall, we were very happy with our sensible decision. We were also sure to use our Darth Vader-style helmets at all times, modeled here by James:

All these days of laying in the sun have given both Eva and I a nice tan, even though we’ve both been very good about using our sunscreen! It’ll be nice to be back in the United States with a little color since we’ve heard that everything in Wisconsin has been underwater for the last few days! We’re so lucky to have missed out on all the rain!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Monday, we arrived in Santorini via a high-speed hydrofoil. It only took us two hours to get here from Crete.

We met three Canadians, Danielle, Ky, and Brittany in Crete and we convinced them to catch the ferry with us and stay at Tony's Villa. Tony is a legend in Santorini. His son has Down Syndrome and in order to convince the government to let his son go to school, Tony chained himself to the highest mountain in Santorini for six days until the Prime Minister of Greece took notice and rectified the situation.

We found out that Ky was able to drive stick shift, so we rented a car to go about the island.

Our first stop was wine tasting at Boutari winery, the same place we checked out in Crete. At 25 euro a day, split five ways, it was completely worth it! In fact, Eva and I are determined to learn how to drive stick when we get back to the states. Anyone up for teaching us?

In the afternoon, we went to the beach for a bit, got some groceries, and drove to the capital city, Fira to catch the sunset and do some exploring.

Tuesday morning we checked out Santo winery and bought a few more bottles of wine.

In the afternoon, we relaxed on one of the scorching hot black volcanic sand beaches that Santorini is known for.

In the evening, we decided to walk the footpath from Fira to Oia, the northernmost city on Santorini. It was a 14 kilometer (8.7 mile) hike past all the beautiful villas on the cliff's edge as well as up and down paths made of volcanic rock.

We made it to Oia just in time for sunset and then grabbed a table at a cliffside restaurant to get some dinner. I opted for the moussaka, a traditional Greek dish made of ground vegetables and mincemeat (ground beef) topped with cheese and breadcrumbs. Don't be fooled by the picture, it was filling and delicious!

Wednesday, the Canadians left and Eva and I took the bus to Fira to pick souvenirs and wander the maze-like streets.

In the evening, I had a "celebrity bartending" gig at the Full Moon Bar. I talked to Jason, the bar manager and told him I had some bartending experience so he let me show off my skills for a few hours. Jason is from Wisconsin (small world!) and he lost all his money gambling on a transatlantic cruise. He decided to get a job in Santorini to make some money to pay for his way home but he ended up staying here because he loved the island so much!

We also made friends with some boys who were also staying at Tony's. They turned out to be a pretty good time and we almost took them up on their offer to go to the island of Ios with them. Instead, we boarded our ferry to Mykonos for the last leg of our journey. Paradise Beach, here we come!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Crete, Part II

After Boutari Winery, we returned to the hotel and had a bit of a rest before meeting up with Garreth, an English guy who runs a water sports business in Crete. We had met him the night before at the Axos hotel bar and he had offered to take us to one of his favorite spots for dinner. We were super excited to try some traditional Greek cuisine and Taverna Fantastico was the perfect place to do it! It was far from the tourist traps, up in the mountains with a great view of the sea and the sunset. We chowed down on fried aubergines, stuffed vine leaves, saganaki (fried cheese), tzatsiki (yoghurt and cucumber dip), zucchini balls, fried zucchini, and bread – and that was just appetizers! We also enjoyed “village wine,” made locally. As if that wasn’t enough we also each had a main dish. I had beef and Eva had tomato and cheese spaghetti. Everything was incredibly delicious but we were definitely surprised at how much fried food the Greeks eat. We were expecting to eat the traditional Mediterranean diet of fruits, nuts, beans, etc, but we’ve been finding the food a lot unhealthier than we expected. It’s a good thing we’re staying active!

After dinner we headed right to bed because we had to wake up at 5 AM to catch our bus to hike Samaria Gorge. The gorge is the longest in Europe, stretching about 14 kilometers. The hike was fairly strenuous, with lots of rocky paths down the side of the gorge and through it to the other side. It took us about four and a half hours to complete our trek, which is about two hours faster than average! I guess dinner the night before had really energized us!

At the end of the gorge there was another 3 km walk into town. We were rewarded with a relaxing swim and a few hours of laying on the beach before we had to catch the bus back to Rethymno. The sand was very black and rocky but the water was crystal clear – probably the purest water we have ever seen!

Sunday, we were supposed to meet up with Garreth again so we could do some of the water sports that his company offers. Unfortunately, when we woke up our leg muscles ached from the hike the day before and all we could even think of doing was lying on the beach all day. We caught a bus to Prevali, a gorgeous, secluded beach that is fed by a stream. Little did we know, there was a hike involved to get to it! We rallied and made it to the bottom and it proved worth the effort.

Back at the hotel, we packed our suitcases to prepare for the next part of our journey to Santorini and then met up with Stephano, another one of the locals, at the hotel bar for a farewell beer and a few shots of Raki.

They even let me behind the bar so I could show off my pint-pouring skills!

Crete has been an amazing time. The island has a lot to offer and we’ve made some great friends. Looking back, we wish we had rented a car so we didn’t waste so much time on long bus rides but it’s probably best we didn’t because it would have been fairly expensive. Now we’re on the ferry to Santorini and we’ll back in the United States in just one week!