Hi everyone, if you missed the first entries here they are so you can catch up.
April 28, 2008
Hello everyone! We´re in La Paz, Mexico and tomorrow are catching a ferry across to the mainland to ride a train through the Copper Canyon. Today was great...we took a tour to an island just off the coast and saw some amazing beaches! We stopped off at a Sea Lion colony where we snorkelled with them. It was amazing!!!! They play with you like big puppy dogs! Very curious and playful! We were in San Jose Del Cabo for 3 nights, it was great, really friendly ppl. Then we caught a bus to San Lucas Del Cabo, which was a crazy American party town. So we took advantage and went out to sample some of the night life. Highlight; belting out Bon Jovi´s Living on a Prayer!!! After one crazy night there we headed over to La Paz which seemed to be a bit quieter, still quite a few tourists, more from other parts of Mexico rather than from USA. After three nights here, tomorrow we set off on the ferry!
Hope all of you are well and behaving yourselves! Miss you all like crazy and wish you could be here with us! Make sure you fill us in on what´s been happening in your world!
Lots of love and tequila from La Paz, Mexico!
Monique and Doug xoxo
May 19, 2008
Hola Amigos! I think its been a while since we've messaged you all! Sorry, I think we're getting lazy! And I'm sure it'll only get worse!
I can't even remember where we got up to in our last message, so if we overlap i'm sorry!
Lets start with Mexico City! We stayed in a great hostel called Hostel Moneda, it was a great place to meet other travellers and they included breakfast and dinner so it was a bargain. On our first morning we took the free walking tour from our hostel around the main sights of the city. Before long you get the feeling that some of the buildings don't look quite right. And this is because they are sinking! Mexico City sunk around 10 metres in the 20th century due to water being pumped from aquifiers below the ground to provide 70% of the city's main water supply. You can see the effects everywhere... cracking streets and lop sided buildings.
Mexico City is huge! Around 25 million people in one City! It wasn't until we climbed to the top of the Latino Americano tower one night (the tallest building in Mexico City), that we could really get a grasp on how big this city really is!
From Mexico city we took a day tour to Teotihuacan, the archaeological zone of Mexico's biggest ancient city! There, standing tall, is the world's third largest pyramid; Piramide Del Sol. The Aztecs believe this structure was dedicated to the Sun God. And just down the road is the equally impressive Piramide De La Luna; Pyramid of the Moon. It stands nearly as tall because it is built on higher ground. It was pretty amazing to climb to the top of Piramide De La Luna and get an incredible view of the Piramide Del Sol! Magical!
From Mexico City we took a bus with our new Columbian friend Nicole, to Oaxaca, stopping in Cholula to see the widest pyramid ever built! However, today it looks like a big grassy mound with a church built on top of it. Archaeologists have uncovered a series of tunnels running from one end to the other, which for a fee, we are permitted to explore. I must say i don't feel very comfortable in tunnels, but apart from that it was a pretty cool experience!
And now onto Oaxaca! Oaxaca was a beautiful colonial city with lots of crafts, cafes and a happening main plaza. On our first day there we jumped on another tour bus! Our first stop was to see El Arbol del Tule; a Cypress tree measuring 58 metres around the trunk and standing around 42 metres high! It is estimated that it is between 2000 and 3000 years old! Pretty impressive!
The next stop was in a showroom where we were shown the traditional techniques for creating beautiful woven rugs and other crafts. We were shown the entire process; from the way the cotton is washed to the way the colours are extracted from natural elements through to the patternmaking and the hours of weaving to create these beautiful pieces.
After lunch we eventually made our way along a very windy road to Hierve El Agua; set on a clifftop with panoramic views of the nearby mountains, a series of mineral springs, fueled by bubbling water coming from the hillside. Doug took a dip in the funny smelling water, and I opted to watch.
On our next day in Oaxaca we skipped the tour bus and made our own way to Monte Alban, the ancient Zapotec capital. It is built on a flattened hilltop surrounded by panoramic views! We managed to get there early enough to beat most of the other tourists, so it was nice to be able to absorb the aura of this magical place in peace and quiet.
Next on our travel itinery was the steaming hot Puerto Escondido along the Oaxacan coast. After being hit with the humidity disembarking from the bus we headed off to find our hostel. When we got to the hostel, we were told that the owner had left for a week and had left the place in the capable hands of a nice Irish backpacker. Our room was a bargain, a mansion compared to the shoeboxes we've been staying in. And the property came with a pool too, pity it was as warm as a bath!
We didn't do much exploring around Puerto Escondido, it was just too hot!! So we took the time to catch up on some reading and some much needed zzzzzz's. On our last afternoon there we managed to find a secluded beach about a 20min walk from our hostel. After making it down the long staircase we were greeted by a nice sea breeze and an awesome beach! The water was perfect! After two small steps into the water you found yourself not being able to reach the bottom! It was a great feeling just letting the gentle waves carry you up and down.
After 2 nights we caught the night bus headed for San Cristobal De Las Casas. After the 12 hour bus ride it was so nice to step off into the fresh mountain air! Ahhhhh! We can breathe again! And so here we are...San Cristobal! Yesterday was spent wandering the cute cobblestone streets of this gorgeous little town, stopping to look at all the crafts in the market stalls. Life goes by at a nice slow pace here, a pace we could easily get used to! But we have to keep on moving on!
Well done if you've made it to the end of this message! Thanks for reading! I know it was a long one! Hopefully we'll be able to write the next one sooner!
Until next time...be good...stay safe...and keep smiling! :o)
Miss you all lots,
Heaps of love,
Monique and Doug xoxoxo
June 2, 2008
Welcome to the next installment of our travelling adventures. We hope this email finds you well.
So our last email left you in san cristobal so I guess we will start there. So the next day we took a boat tour down a river that ran through a giant canyon. There we were greeted by crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, baby bats and beautiful scenery. The following day we jumped on yet another tour bus which took us to a couple of impressive waterfalls including aguas azules, which as you can see from the photos is the most crystal clear perfect blue water you could possibly imagine. In the late afternoon we arrived at Palenque, the first ruins we have seen in a jungle setting. It was hot and sticky but unique and beautiful and our favorite ruins thus far.
Then it was on to another night bus to Cancun, with the air conditioning set to somewhere below freezing we eventually got to sleep and then THUD! Screeching tyres, people gasping, angry bus driver swearing loudly in Spanish, we had hit a deer (or at least I think that’s what he said) on the road. The damage to the bus was substantial but drivable; we changed buses at the next town. I (Doug) did not get back to sleep after that and on arrival in Cancun I had a terrible cold and spent the day sneezing uncontrollably.
The next day we boarded flight CU151 Cubana Aviation bound for La Havana Cuba! The plane seemed ok from the outside but after ducking the head to enter we felt as if we were stepping in to a 1970´s Russian spy movie. When the air conditioning was turned on strange smoke came out from the floor, the seats wouldn’t stay upright and we were basically laying the persons lap behind us. From the airport we caught a taxi and this taxi ride will be one of the most memorable experiences of my life, nothing untoward happened but just seeing all the cars, the old buildings, the socialist propaganda posted on factory walls and highway billboards, the people using horse carts, the really old trucks and buses. It was Culture Shock, and we loved it! After finding a casa particular (this is where you stay with a Cuban family that the government has allowed to host tourists, works like a bed and breakfast) we went out for dinner where we were serenaded by a typical Cuban band and then we went to hotel Florida to dance some salsa, where we met some Cubans with whom we partied with until the wee hours of the morn. The next day was spent wandering around Havana trying to take in as much as possible although our heads were a little sore from the night before. I was looking through some travel brochures when I stumbled across the little yellow piece of paper that said ¨Los Van Van, Live Saturday night¨ and it was Saturday! Now for those that don’t know Los Van Van are one of the best salsa bands in the world (some would say the best) I could not believe our luck. So we went to the intimate music venue with an underground New York Jazz feel -Salon Rojo - later that evening we lined up, got in and then danced all night only a few feet from the band, this was unforgettably amazing!
Next day was spent going to the museo de la revolution and taking a bus tour around the city. Late that night we caught a taxi to a venue called 1830 but found it shut on our arrival we asked the taxi driver to takes us back, on the way he stopped the car in this small dark no one around back street, we freaked out a bit, he said he was just going the toilet, now if this was Melbourne I would be suss but fine, but after all the horror stories we had heard we were seriously contemplating jumping out of the taxi and making a run for it, but we stayed… luckily he was telling the truth and we were soon on our way, he still charged us double to take us back where we came from I wanted to argue with him but a few prompt elbows in the rib from Monique and no small notes there was not much I could do.
Next day we met Sam a cool English guy traveling around and shared a cab to the lovely colonial town of Trinidad, we found another casa particular where our host fed us enough food to feed an army. We went out here to the casa de la musica where we saw so many amazing Cuban dancers, made me feel like I was back learning level 1 salsa. We still managed to dance the night away.
Next day we went horse riding through the valle do los ingenios, which was beautiful. We swum at a local waterfall and hung out with some campesinos when the rain started bucketing down that was probably the high light, one of them was playing tradition Cuban campesino songs on his guitar and singing away, one of the others asked me if I would give him my sunnies, I politely refused, he gave us a bunch of bananas anyway. That night we got a salsa lesson from one of the locals – Antonio, it was hard, and I felt like a complete amateur but that’s cool, I´ve got plenty of improving to do which is fine with me.
The following day was spent chilling out getting sun burnt on the pristine playa ancon (a beach). It was beautiful and very relaxing, the water was magnificent! After wandering around the markets the following morning we caught a taxi back to Havana. Yeah, that’s right, 400 kms in a taxi! It only cost us 50 bucks and was 2 hours quicker that the bus. The highlight of the taxi ride was all the socialist propaganda on the billboards on the highway, check them out in our photos. That night we wandered around Havana again and bought a piece of art that we couldn’t afford but would deeply regret if we didn’t bring it back to put somewhere in our house. It’s a beautiful painting of a couple dancing salsa. We went dancing again that night at Hotel Florida and got an early night (2am) to get up for our flight the next day. We were really sad to be getting on the plane, we didn’t want to go, but due to financial and time constraints we had to. I’m still trying to work out a way to go back though! If any of you are thinking about going to Cuba we highly recommend you get there before it all changes.
Saludos a todos,
Besos y abrazos,
Doug and Monique
June 19, 2008
Hey everyone! Hope you're all keeping well!
We are writing to you from Anigua, Guatemala where we are enjoying the cooler climate.
So our last update left you at the end of our amazing week in Cuba. When we returned to Cancun, we jumped straight onto a ferry headed for Isla De Mujeres, a small island just off the coast of Cancun. It rained non stop for the first couple of days, which gave us plenty of time for reading, relaxing and catching up on the internet. On our second night there, we found a small bar with a fantastic Cuban 7 piece all girl salsa band. So naturally the rythms soon took over and we were up dancing on the empty dancefloor. It wasn't long before a Cuban who was working there came over and started to give us a few pointers. We all clicked straight away and ended up staying on the island for another week getting daily dance classes from our very own salsa guru, Jorge. Jorge is one of those special people that you are lucky to meet once in a lifetime. He has such a deep passion for music and dance and was so generous in sharing his gift with us. He took us right back to simple basic steps and didn't move on until he could see that we were dancing in complete unison, as one, feeling the rythms of son in our veins. His classes were always challenging, yet so uplifting and everyday we walked away with a hightened sense of passion for the dance and for each other.
The remainder of each day was spent soaking up the sun on the white sand of a palm fringed carribean beach, admiring the amazing, crystal clear, blue water. Ahhh...what a life!
Jorge had introduced us to one of his many friends on the island who ran tours to swim with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the biggest of all the fish and sharks in existence and can grow up to 14m in length! So one morning we jumped on a beautiful, spick and span boat and headed out for the 45 minute journey to where the whale sharks could be spotted. Once we arrived at the sighting area, our captain circled around for a good 20min or so looking for one of these huge creatures. And then there it was, in all its glory, calmly cruising along on the surface of the water. So quickly it was on with our flippers and snorkelling gear and we waited for the captain to give us the ok to jump in. And then into the water we went and soon after we heard "SWIIIIMMMMM!!!!" being yelled from the boat. Imediately we were off, swimming as fast as we could towards this enormous whale shark! As we got closer the shape of this giant creature became more and more apparent, until we were swimming along with it; side by side, eye to eye. It was only then that we realised how big this whale shark really was! We estimated it would have been between 8 and 9 metres in length roughly the size of a bus! It was such an unreal experience being so close to this gentle creature, and one we certainly won't forget in a hurry! Because you have to swim so fast to keep up with the whale shark, you only last about 10 minutes before it is out of your sight. So then it's back on the boat to have a bit of a break and then you jump in and do it all over again!
So a week after we had originally planned to leave the Island, we sadly said our goodbyes and were headed for the mainland and onto Playa Del Carmen.
This was possibly the most touristy place we had been so far, complete with 4 starbucks on the one street! It was quite a change of pace from the peaceful, laidback atmosphere of Isla De Mujeres!
One night we were having a quiet drink in a bar when we met Kyla and Clinton, a young couple on their honeymoon. They were staying at one of these super expensive all inclusive resorts and got sick of the crowd and the food there pretty quickly so came into town to get away from it. We all got along really well and ended up having a really fun night with them. So the next day we arranged to meet them at there hotel from where we would catch a ride with them in their hired van to see the ruins of Tulum. The next day we all jumped in this minivan, complete with a driver, loaded up the esky and headed for Tulum.
The ruins of Tulum are set on the clifftop with a background of pure blue water and white sand. Unfortunately the weather wasn't at its best, it was quite dark and gloomy, however we still found these ruins to be really beautiful and definately worth seeing!
After travelling for most of the afternoon we were all pretty tired when we got back to Playa Del Carmen, so we called it a night and made plans for the following night to go to a famous nightclub called Coco Bongo.
Coco Bongo is in Cancun, about an hour north of Playa. We'd heard from alot of people that this was definately one nightclub you had to see to believe. And they were right! This place was crazy! The cost was $40us for your entry, but it also included all your drinks. The entertainment was a continuous carnival of celebrity impersonators, circus acts, samba dancers, burlesque dancers, acrobats and more! And then after each performance they would shower us with colourful streamers or balloons or bubbles like we'd just won a major competition on a world stage! It was definately a night to remember!!!
After recovering from severe hangovers, two days later we were on a night bus back to Palenque, where we then took a tour by minibus and boat which took us to Flores, Guatemala.
Flores is a really nice little town set on a huge lake. The popular thing to do from Flores is take a tour to the ruins of Tikal. But we went one better and got up at 3am to make it there to watch the sunrise from the tallest temple in the park. At around 5.30am, after a good 20min powerwalk to the base of this temple and then up the countless number of stairs,we were 70m high, looking over the jungle canopy in prime position to watch the sunrise! This was a truly magical experience; not only seeing the sun rise over the jungle, but also hearing the jungle come to life. We could hear the sounds of howler monkeys making there way through the treetops and the songs of the various bird species that inhabit the area. The rest of the morning was spent touring the rest of the ruins, stopping to check out the howler and spider monkeys, tarantulas, toucans and racoons along the way.
There isn't much more to do in Flores besides swim in the lake, so thats how we spent the following day! That night we took a canoe out on the lake just before sunset.....so romantic! lol! :o)
We booked our transport to Antigua, our next stop, through a travel agency in Flores. Our package was supposed to include the 8 hour first class bus to Guatemala City and then a shuttle bus was going to be waiting for us there to take us to Antigua. We got off the bus in Guatemala City and showed our ticket to the officials, who all laughed and informed us that this company did not exist! We got RIPPED OFF!!! Oh well, if that's the worst we get ripped off then we'll have done pretty well. Our only option was to take a taxi to the local bus station and then jump on one of the local chicken buses to Antigua. This was actually quite a fun experience on its own, and i'm sure this won't be the last chicken bus we get on!
So here we are, safe and sound in Antigua!
As always, thanks for reading our update! We love hearing from you all too, so make sure you let us know what you've been up to!
Missing you all incredibly!
Lots of love and hugs,
Monique and Doug xoxoxo
July 18, 2008
Is it just us or is the interval between these updates getting a bit longer each time? Oh well, we're doing our best to keep you up to date! :o)
Ok so we ended up safe and sound in Antigua, Guatemala at the end of our last message.
Antigua is a really nice little town surrounded by volcanoes but is pretty crowded with tourists. The cobble stone streets are lined with colonial style buildings that all blend in together, making it a little difficult to distinguish the hotels from the houses and the restaurants from the shops. Everything looks the same, there are no signs or flashy lights to advertise whats inside so you pretty much have to walk up to the door to see what's inside the place. It rained quite a bit most afternoons so we spent most of our time there hanging out with other travellers and watching the Euro cup.
One of the big atractions in Antigua is an active volcano called Pacaya. We took a morning tour there where it took us a good hour to climb the steep walking track to the top. When we reached the top we scrambled across the hot rocks to where there was a stream of lava flowing from the ground. The whole experience was surreal, it was like being on another planet! We were surrounded by black volcano rock and could smell the rubber melting from everyones shoes. Some people brought up marshmellows to toast on the lava, and others bought big sticks from kids down the bottom that they used to poke into the lava. It was definately one of the highlights of our trip so far!
From Antigua we took a shuttle bus to a small town called Panajachel which is on the shore of the majestic Lake Atitlan. From there we jumped straight onto a boat to go across the lake to the popular backpacker town of San Pedro. Our original plan was to travel to the city of Quetzaltenango to do our spanish study, but we really like the atmosphere of San Pedro and there were ample opportunities to study so we decided to stay there.
We found a great spanish school there called San Pedro Spanish School, where we both took classes for four hours a day for the next five days. We both had our own teacher and the classes were taken in little cabanas that were scattered around a huge garden right on the lake. It was beautiful, the perfect learning environment!
The school runs a project called Ninos del Lago which provides education to the children of poorer families in the area. We decided to sign up as volunteers and each taught a class in the afternoons. Each volunteer was given a class of 5 or 6 children to teach, and then you were sent on your way. Their teacher didn't really give us any guidence or teaching materials, so we had to plan our class right there and then on the spot! It was quite a challenge just to keep them in control let alone try to teach them anything. But on the second day now knowing what to expect, we were slightly better prepared and the classes ran pretty smoothly. I taught my class some basic english grammar and played some games and Doug did a bit of work on vocab and played some games with them. In the break we pulled out our cameras and showed the kids how to use them. They loved it! They would all beg us for the next turn and would all pose for one another. In the 5 days they took over 300 photos! On the last day all the kids brought in some fruit and Doug and I brought some hot chocolate that we'd bought in Oaxaca. Their teacher made waffles and we all sat around eating the waffles with fruit salad, drinking hot chocolate and watching all the photos they'd taken on a big projector screen. It was a great afternoon, the kids were so excited to see their faces up on the big screen!
On our last weekend there, it turned out that it was the festival of San Pedro. We thought great! We're so lucky to be here at the right time! Ba bow!!!! Wrong...it was probably the worst time to be there! For about 4 days straight there were these fireworks going off day and night, each blast sounding like a gunshot. I usually quite like fireworks, but they have to be the ones that go high in the sky and create a fascinating display of light and color. These ones just made the awful noise...no light, no colour! The fireworks were bad enough, but add to that this really bad, out of tune marching band that started up at 5am every morning outside our hotel that played what sounded like the same 4 bars of music over and over.....AAAAHHHHHHH!!!! Needless to say, we did not sleep at all for about 4 nights. Not very happy campers! Lol!
From San Pedro we took the boat back across the lake to Panajachel where we took a shuttle bus back to Antigua. We stayed there for two nights, and came across a great little suprise on our second night there. We were walking back from dinner when we saw a small bar that had a big banner saying *Buena Vista Social Club de Corazon.* We thought...no way...not the buena vista social club...impossible! So we walk into the place and there is the band setting up! There weren't any seats left on the floor, so the waiter takes us up to the stage and sits us next to the band on the stage! Ignacio "Nachito" Herrera, a member of the original Bueana Vista Social Club, was playing in this bar with his band! Sitting up on the stage, we felt like we were at a loungeroom jam session! It was such an incredible experience, but unforunately this was one of these times we didn't have our camera with us, so you'll just have to take our word for it!
The next morning we caught a bus to the Honduran border where we changed buses in Copan. After about 4 hours waiting time we were on a bus bound for La Ceiba, which is a transit point for ferries to the Bay Islands. We got into La Ceiba pretty late and had to get up early the next morning to make the morning ferry to Utila. The ferry terminal is about a 20min taxi ride out of town, and we arrived there at 8am. When purchasing our tickets, we were kindly informed that the 9.30am ferry would not leave unless it had 130 passerngers. The next ferry was not until 4pm! Because they told us that there was a chance the ferry could still fill up and leave early we decided to hang around the terminal. And there was nothing at this terminal! There was one little kiosk with a very limited menu. We had met an Australian couple on the bus from Antigua to Copan, who were also on their way to the Bay Islands so at least we were in good company! At around 12.30 in the afternoon, the male halves of our couples went on a search for beer. We asumed they would find a shop, grab some drinks and food and return......at 3.15 when the crew wanted to start loading our luggage there was still no sign of the boys! We had no idea where they were! We frantically looked around the whole terminal and they were nowhere to be seen! After about 20 min, the crew was getting really impatient with us and wanted to load our bags. Then a French couple aproached us to let us know they might have seen our fellas in a bar about a 15 min walk away. So Eliza ran down the road towards the bar where she ran into the tipsy pair walking back from the bar. She shoved them in a taxi and they all made it back just in time to load our bags onto the ferry! They spent the next couple of hours in BIG TROUBLE!!!
So after a pretty hairy, hour and a half long ferry ride we arrived at our destination! The laid back island of Utila. This island is well known for its cheap diving, so naturally thats what most people are here to do! Doug and I decided to do our Advanved Open Water Certification. We started off with a refresher course on our first day and then on our second day, we were down 30 meters underwater looking at a shipwreck! Yep, straight in the deep end! As part of the course we also completed a night dive, a navigation dive and I did an underwater naturalist dive, while Doug did a peak performance bouyancy dive. The night dive was pretty amazing! The marine life is just so different at night! All the little crabs an lobsters come out of hiding, and we were lucky enough to spot a turtle sleeping, an octopus and a little sting ray. In our spare time on the island, which we didn't have much of, due to all the diving, we chilled out in our favourite cafe playing scrabble and chess! You may laugh, but trust us, these games are seriously addictive!
So tomorrow we're off to Nicaragua...another day, another country! :o) We'll definately be writing to you all again soon, and there should be some new photos added to the group page really soon!
Hope you're all smiling and looking after yourselves!
Make sure you write to us and let us know what you've been up to, we love hearing from you !!!
Until next time,
Missing you all lots and lots and looking forward to hearing from you!
Lots of love and hugs all the way from Honduras,
Monique and Doug xoxoxoxo