Category Archives: Central America

Serene to Psycho in One Guatemalan Day

Our time at Lake Atitlan was peaceful and calm. I really wasn’t sure what the hell I would even put in the blog. Then yesterday happened. The biggest travel scare I’ve probably every had. First let me back up a few days, and we’ll get to the insanity shortly….

Sunday, December 25 – Wednesday, December 29, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah from lake Atitlan, Guatemala. On the agenda for Christmas: Carly and I’s second annual Christmas sunrise kayak, followed by a lazy day in the sun. We were up bright and early to catch the sunrise over the lake from a tandem kayak. Last year, we did a Christmas morning kayak in Koh Sok National Park in Thailand, so we figured we would make it a little tradition. We paddled along the lake, still as glass, to the next town with the sun rising behind us. Back at our hotel we did a quick circuit workout, had an amazing breakfast, and threw on our suits to reward ourselves by spending the rest of the day in the sun. I read through an entire book, because that’s how little I moved.

A few other girls came over on a boat from another town to lay out on our deck and have lunch. This lake is apparently the type of place travelers visit and just end up staying for a while. And by a while I mean a few months. And if they are really big hippies, a few years. The pace is slow, the native people are friendly, and the livin’ is easy. There is definitely a vibe here that forces you to chill the fuck out, turn off your mind and mouth just and enjoy the view. Which is probably why this blog is so boring. We had an awesome three course dinner at our hotel restaurant and an early bed time.

On Monday we actually left our hotel. Crazy, I know. We woke up early, got a quick workout in, had breakfast and then hiked to the next town over, which is home to a little day club with a pool. I use the term “day club” here very loosely. It’s really just a big Guatemalan restaurant with an infinity pool that looks over the lake. Except the pool is fucking freezing, so you would rather just jump in the lake. We got a few hours of sun and then hiked back, stopping at nearby hotel, Casa del Mundo, for lunch. The hotel and the view was amazing, but the food was mediocre. We instantly regretted eating even one meal away from our hotel.

As soon as we got back I realized that I’m a fucking moron and left my sandals at the club. So I spent about $3 to catch a shuttle boat back to and from the pool to save my $45 rainbows. Our friend Whitney, that we met on our shuttle from Antigua, was teaching a sunset yoga class at the hotel. Carly and I lucked out and got a private yoga class in our hotel’s amazing yoga studio overlooking the lake as the sunset. I’m not much of a yogi, but it was one of the most relaxing hours of my life.

Tuesday we had most of the day at the lake before catching our transfer in the late afternoon. We caught a shuttle boat to San Juan, a small artisan town around the lake, and did a little shopping. We then took a tuk tuk to San Pedro, the next town over. San Pedro is one of the bigger towns on the lake where all the backpackers go to get shit faced in hostels. Not that there is anything wrong with getting shit faced in a hostel. Lord knows I had my fair share of that. Oh, the hostel stories I could tell…but I won’t. I’m sure my 22 year old self would have fucking thrived in San Pedro de Laguna. But for today, a quick hour walk around was plenty.  The best way I can describe these lakeside towns is if Rosarito, Mexico and Cinque Terre in Italy had a Spanish speaking baby. We headed back to our hotel for lunch and a few final lazy hours before catching a boat back into Panajanchel to catch our transfer.

Here is where things start to get a little dicey. We had a shuttle bus from the lake to Antigua, where we would transfer to another shuttle to Guatemala City, at which point we were catching an overnight bus to Flores, Guatemala. Our first shuttle driver drove like a fucking mad man. There was traffic, it was raining, he was trying to make our connection. But crazy driving when traveling internationally isn’t exactly new to anyone. He also refused to stop to let us pee. One of the other passengers started yelling at him “I’m a human too!”. He apparently didn’t get the “don’t piss off the Guatemalan man with our lives in his hands” memo. After some uncomfortable commotion, the driver called up his homie who owned a restaurant and had him let us use his toilet. Our transfer to the next shuttle in Antigua was seamless.

I thought the worst was behind us…until we were dropped off at the fresh version of hell that is the Guatemala City bus station. It looked like a fucking refuge camp. I seriously considered whether or not the station had been bombed prior to our arrival. We braved the bathroom. Unwise choice as it was already occupied…by roaches. It was dinner time, and there was even a McDonalds a block away, but I settled on a can of Pringles from inside the relative safety of the bus station. Multiple people were literally getting the shit kicked out of them on the street about twelve feet a way. I’ll do a lot for a french fry, but you have to draw the line somewhere. I’d venture to guess my odds of getting mugged on a mission to that McDonalds were about 50%. Lets not forget, I’m blonde now. We fair haired women are like target practice for Guatemalan gangsters.

We found a bench and met a nice British girl. As the other buses left, one by one, all the white people huddled together in the same area. Strength in numbers. When they finally called our bus I literally sprinted to it. As far as I was concerned this bus was my fucking lifeline. Carly and I had booked first class seats, so we had giant leather loungers that reclined all the way back. Other than the fact that the bus was freezing cold, I was actually pretty impressed and got a decent nights sleep. Apparently they keep it cold to keep the driver awake. So it’s hard to complain too much about protocols put into place so you don’t die. Don’t worry…the crazy is still yet to come. We haven’t even hit the iceberg yet.

Ten hours later we woke up in Flores, Guatemala and caught a taxi to our hostel. I’m sure you are all wondering what the fuck I’m doing in a hostel. It’s just one night, and they have cheap and easy tours to the Mayan ruins of Tikal, so I figured what the hell. It’s also a damn nice hostel. Since we missed the 8am Tikal tour by about an hour we decided to have breakfast and shower while waiting for our room and the noon tour to the ruins. And this is where shit gets really fucked up. We got to our room and Carly realizes she left her purse on the overnight bus. Her purse with her passport in it. The passport she needs to get on our flight to Belize tomorrow to then meet our boat that leaves the following morning. We are fucked.

The hostel manager calls the bus Company and they tell us that the bus has already left for the Belize border, and they called the driver and he did not find the purse. Some google searches and phone calls reveal the following:
1. The only way to get into Belize is with an actual passport. They will not accept a photocopy.
2. The only way to get a passport is to go to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, which is the desolate shit hole we just spent ten hours on a bus getting away from.
3. The only flights that could possibly get us back to Belize City from Guatemala City are completely booked up.

At this point we realize we aren’t just fucked. We are double fucked. Double fucked in Guatemala. We are crying. We are asking ourselves what horrible things we did in our past to deserve such shit karma. Pity party of two. We pull ourselves together and go next door to a travel agency, where a very sweet girl is doing everything in her power to help us. A Guatemalan man walks in and overhears what is going on. He immediately takes up our cause, without having been asked. With nothing to personally gain by helping us. Our night in shining levi’s tells us to follow him to the official Guatemalan tourism office around the corner. He has the man at the tourism office call the bus Company again and demand the purse be found and returned. We are told to wait, and if nothing happens, return to the tour agency where our hero will then take us to the Police station and make the Police go with us to the bus station to demand they find and return the purse. Sure, it’s a hail mary, but it’s all we’ve got. While we wait, we formulate our plan, which requires a 10 hour overnight bus to get back to Guatemala City to get an emergency passport, and then a private 12 hour, $1,000 car transfer to our boat in Belize. A we still might not make the boat. Feeling defeated, we tell the man at the tourism office that we will come back shortly to see if anything came his phone call.

We head to the hostel to begin making our horrendous travel arrangenments. We walk into the hostel with a jolly giant Guatemalan man. Turns out, that Jolly Giant works for the bus Company and was there to return Carly’s purse to her. They not only found it, they brought it to our hostel, with everything, including her passport and credit cards, sans a little cash (whatever). We start screaming and jumping, hugging the Jolly Giant, and thanking him profusely. I burst into tears. They were happy tears. Tears of two hours of pent up anguish, terror and frustration. I quickly whip out my wallet to give the man some cash for his good deed. We go next door to the travel agency to tell our hero the good news. We went around the corner to tell than man at the tourism board the good news. At this point, half of the fucking island of Flores knew about our little dilemma. Not only was our trip saved, but my faith in humanity and the genuine kindness of people was restored as well. The amount of people that went out of their way to help a few chicks from California get out of a sticky situation was nothing short of heroic.

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I bet you think that’s the last of it, right? Think again, my friends. The worst is over, but the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. In our frantic celebration of the returned passport and rewarding our benefactor with some cash, I lost my clutch with the last of our Guatemalan money in it. It somehow just did not make it back into my purse. Very unlike me, as I am typically diligent about that shit. I was caught up in the celebration and just fucked up. I’m assuming I dropped it and someone swiped it. The only thing in there was the equivalent of about $40 USD. So we chalked it up to our payment to the travel gods for our good fortune and kept it moving.

It was now 2pm and there was only one thing to do. Get completely shit faced to the point of passing out so that we could wake up and get the fuck out of Guatemala. So that is exactly what we did. While it did end on a low note, I must admit that Guatemala surprised me and far exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Guatemala City, however, can go fuck itself.

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It Takes Two to Tango With a Volcano

Friday, December 23, 2016

Today Carly and I were up bright and early for our 6am shuttle to the Pacaya volcano. Guatemala has the art of tourist transportation down to a fucking science. They pack you onto a shuttle completely full of other tourists going to the same destination, keeping the price of a ride about $7-$30 anywhere in Guatemala, depending on your destination. When I say completely full, I mean every single seat. All the shuttle drivers must sit in some back room each night playing the numbers to ensure no seat goes unoccupied, because you will never see a shuttle that is not full. Couple that with the fact that the majority of tourists here are backpackers who, and I’m generalizing here, don’t believe in showers or deodorant, it’s essentially a game of Russian roulette with your senses. But alas, it’s cheap and easy, and that’s how it’s done. It’s also on time. These shuttle drivers don’t fuck around on timing. Smelly but prompt, so we’ll call it even. Our shuttle to the volcano was only an hour long, but the only seats left when we got on were the ones up front with the driver or in the back next to a dude in a knit beanie. We chose wrong. Never trust the hygiene of a man in a beanie when it’s over 70 degrees. If he’s trying to hide unwashed hair, odds are he’s hiding unwashed other things.

We were the first group of tourists to arrive at the volcano, thanks to our speedy shuttle driver. To give you some background, there are three volcanos that you can climb from Antigua. One takes about 8 hours, one takes two days and requires overnight camping, and the third is a quick 2-3 hour round trip. I’ll give you one guess which one we chose. Let me remind you that my optimal time limit for any activity involving soberness and physical exertion is two hours. So little Pacaya volcano it is. We were assigned an adorable Guatemalan man as our tour guide who proclaimed our group name “Champions”. Thankfully all the champions were young and fit pretty much kicked that hike’s ass. I read online that it’s straight up and straight down, but the aggressive incline portion didn’t last long. And if I say a hike isn’t bad, you can take that shit to the bank. Y’all know this blog would be a bitch-fest if I was not appropriately warned about a hike. I was definitely judging the people under the age of 50 who opted to pay for a horse to carry them up the volcano. If you want to sit on your ass, don’t sign up the for the volcano hike tour. Am I right? We somehow got lucky and did the hike on one of the few days with a completely clear view. We snapped some horrid selfies and then hiked down to a black lava field and roasted marshmallows in the heat from little cracks in the hardened lava. We charged back down the volcano and were back in Antigua by noon.

Once showered, Carly and I hit the streets of Antigua in search of lunch and a celebratory Rose for the old gal. We happened upon a cute little tapas bar and decided to take a gamble. The Rose resembled a weak pinot noir, but you gotta take what you can get. The food was awful. After a glass we decided another little hike sounded like a grand idea so we hoofed it up to “Cerro de la Cruz”, which is a giant cross on top of a hill that overlooked the city. We only got lost twice trying to find it. We headed back to the hotel where we chilled on the rooftop until dinner. Yes, there might have been some trampolining involved. Who can resist a trampoline with a view of centuries old ruins? After our unsuccessful lunch we put some research in before dinner and headed to “Rainbow Cafe”, where we were rewarded with awesome salads (read: copious amounts of avocado) and amazing falafel. In bed by 9pm again, just because we can.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Today we are off to Lake Atitlan. Google that shit and prepare yourself for the jealousy. Carly and I headed to the town square in Antigua for a quick 7am breakfast at a cafe before our 8am shuttle to the lake. To no one’s surprise, we hopped from hostel to hotel until every single seat was filled. During our three hour trip we made friends with our shuttle mates. When I say “we”, mean Carly engaged everyone in endless small talk while I watched shows on my ipad and lent and occasional “oh, wow!” or “cool!” to the conversation. I rarely travel with someone who talks more than me, so I’m taking advantage. At one point the Policia pulled over our shuttle and a heated discussion ensued between the Guatemalan fuzz and our driver. After about ten minutes he came back to the car and we continued on with no explanation. The entire shuttle was confused but grateful to not have gotten robbed, so we just kept it moving. One girl on our shuttle was headed to the same hotel as us to work and teach yoga in exchange for room and board for six weeks. Small world. We shall refer to her as “Yoga Whitney” from here on out.

We arrived in Panajanchel, the main town on the lake with road access, and the boat drivers descended on our shuttle like a cloud of locust offering us rides to various towns around the Lake. I quickly haggled the price for the three of us to our hotel’s dock. I went easy on the negotiations, since it is Christmas Eve after all. Also, the total cost is about $2, so sometimes it’s just more economical to be the agreeable white girl instead of the aggressive one. Lake Atitlan is a huge, gorgeous lake surrounded by volcanos with small Mayan towns built into the nooks and crannies of the mountains. All you have to do is flag down one of the small public shuttle boats from whatever dock you are on, tell El Capitan where you want to go, and agree on a price. That is the main method of transportation from town to town, and the only method for some towns that are not accessible by road. We arrived at our hotel, La Isla Verde in the tiny town of Santa Cruz, about ten minutes later.

The hotel is beautiful. It’s an oasis of calming trellises, areas to lounge, a huge dock to sunbath on and an awesome organic restaurant that cranks out insanely good food. This is home for the next three days. Merry Christmas to us. They showed us to our cabin, which is a three story trek up into the mountain, with an amazing view overlooking the lake. No complaints here, as this ass needs all the help it can get, so three days of stairs will do me good. Did I mention the outdoor shower? If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, life is just better with an outdoor shower. Carly and I spent the rest of the day sun bathing on the dock, trying to get our base tan game on point for the Bucketlust next week. Since my post break-up diet has consisted of Taco Bell and self-pity, I need all the tan I can get before a week in a bathing suit. Oddly enough, my hangover diet is exactly the same. Not to worry my friends, I always rally for a boat party.

Around 3:30pm each day we lose the sun behind our mountain. Our plan was to do some yoga while at the lake in an attempt to relax and cleanse our souls before a week of complete debauchery that no amount of shame can survive. But no yoga is scheduled over the next few days, despite the fact that we arrived with the yoga teacher. Go figure. So we did a quick workout by the dock while the other hotel patrons looked on in horror. I don’t blame them. But a last ditch effort is better than no effort at all.  Before dinner I found a candle and did a quick Hannuakah prayer for night one.  No, it didn’t burn all night, but  I’m probably the only Jew in Guatemala so I did my best to represent.

Dinner tonight was a special four course Christmas meal that took about two hours. Which was great, because we have absolutely nothing better to do than eat and drink red wine all night. It’s amazing what you can rationalize with a thirty minute workout and the phrase “treat yo self”. We headed to bed around 10pm, escorted up to our room by the adorable hotel dog who proceeded to sleep outside our door in an attempt to get one of us to cuddle. It took all the strength I could muster to not let him in. I am not up to speed on his flea and tick regime and not a gambling woman. About an hour later a creature decided to enter our open air bathroom and make quite the stir. I flipped my shit and Carly and I went to bed with full bladders, afraid to open the bathroom door. The hotel staff would inform us in the morning that it was probably just a possum. Although slightly concerned about the gross level of indifference shown towards disgusting rodents, I’m trying to go with the flow. Around midnight, the Christmas fireworks started. It was like sleeping in a fucking bomb shelter. And once again, Xanax saves the night.

 

Guat have we gotten ourselves into?

I’m not really sure how to start this one, so let’s just cut the bullshit and jump right into.  What happened to the Jamaica blog that I never finished?  I got dumped three days after I got home, which tends to put a slight damper on writing about the fond memories of the trip I took with my ex.  So, fuck the Jamaica blog, and welcome to the Central America blog.   Who’s going to Central America?  Some awesome single bitches, that’s who.  Let’s welcome back my Yacht Week Vodka-to-the-Face-Partner-in-Crime, Carly, and fly south for the winter.   Think of this as my “Eat, Pray, Love” trip, except I can’t eat since I’ll be in a bathing suit all of week #2, I can’t pray because I don’t like wasting my fucking time, and if anyone actually says the word “Love” over the next two weeks I’ll punch them in the neck while I make out with a bottle of Absolute. I considered using “How Stella got her groove back”, but I think the old bitch reference in that analogy is a tad aggressive.  Plus, Angela Basset didn’t have to worry about sexually transmitted Zika back then.

First, lets re-meet my wing man, Carly:

Likes:  Vodka-to-the-face, tan boys with light eyes (join the club), fighting international bowel irregularity with coffee, friend zoning, the natural wave of unwashed hair, small talk.

Dislikes:  Losing her voice day 2 (I can sympathize), meat, people who try too hard, undergarmets, makeup, thirsty females.

Favorite travel memory: Hiking up a volcano in Italy after ten shots of vodka and then sailing around it from the ocean as it errupted.

So here is the plan: fly to Guatemala and spend the week of Christmas chilling the fucking out, hiking some volcanoes and doing yoga at an eco-lodge on a lake.  Do I suck at hiking?  Yes, as indicated by prior blog  evidence here and here.  Do I suck at yoga?  Yes, as indicated by the fact that I hate awkward silence and rooms full of mouth breathers.  But apparently these are things you do in Guatemala, and who the fuck am I to argue with Rick Steves?  And let’s be honest here, I’ll probably find a way to “hike” to a bar and reward myself for an hour of stretching by sitting my ass in a lakeside hammock for an entire day.  And this, my friends, is what is referred to as the calm before the storm.  Did you miss the entire Thailand series where Carly poured vodka down my throat at 9am every day for a week?  Had you caught it, you would know to expect more from us.   After our mellow week of red wine and downward dog, we’re going to Yacht Week’s bastard child: The Bucketlust, Belize.

No, I didn’t mistype “Bucketlist”.  Bucketlist is the theme of my entire fucking life, not this one solitary endeavour.  The “Bucketlust” is the brain child of a of a group of Yacht Week seasoned veterans who have taken it upon themselves to crowdfund a entire week of nautical debauchery with zero rules, zero fucks and zero accountibility.  Picture Yacht week gone full-on “Lord of the Flies”.  Like in “Heavyweights”, where the shitty adults lose control and the camp runs-a-muck.  Just replace overweight teenaged cake-eaters with over-aged acoholics who refuse leave never-never land.  Basically, my kind of people.   These are really just all my assumptions, as this shit has never been done before.   Our boat will either sink day 1, or we’ll become the most aggressive drunken pirates Belize has ever seen.  There is no halfway here.  If these Peter Pan’s pull this shit off, it will be a week long floating rage-fest the likes of which this world has never seen.  So Carly and I are just along for the ride.  By the way, these people use the word “Rage” more than often than they use pronouns.  So I figure I’d better just get on the rage bandwagon and start now.  How did we get ourselves into this, you ask? It’s a fairly short story…

It was January 2016 and Carly and I were fresh off Yacht Week Thailand.  Unable to afford a classy Hollywood recovery in the Betty Ford Center, the only option was to endulge our vices further and get ourselves on another yacht week.  Enter: the Bucketlust facebook group.   Carly and I happened upon this facebook group through our Thailand skipper (you’ll remember him as “The Legend”) and immediately decided it was destiny.  Fast forward a few months to April and I’m shit faced at the Yacht Week 10th anniversary party in Los Angeles begging total strangers for a cabin on a boat, any boat, departing from Belize.  As you know, I’m very convincing when shit faced, so here we are, eight months later, eagerly awaiting the 29th of December with a mixture of excitment and fear.  But the good kind of fear, like the fear you feel when you take that 10th shot and roll the dice on a random Thursday night.  Let’s all just hope that the old saying proves true: The best way to get over a man, is to get on a boat.  No, I didn’t fuck that I up.  I simply applied an outdated colloquialism to women who don’t need a man to make them happy.   They simply need a man to sail their fucking yacht while they drink vodka.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Today is a short one, so I’m just gonna tack in onto the intro blog.  1am – board the flight from LAX to Guatemala City.  Carly and I are used to hauling all the way to Europe or Asia for yacht weeks, so a four and a half hour non-stop red-eye seemed like easy money.  That was before we experienced the hell that is an Avianca flight to Guatemala.  It was a fucking flying Quinceanera.  Full-on cross plane conversations between strangers over an in-flight meal in a fully lit cabin at 2am.  We arrived and shook off our crankiness.  Because its hard to be cranky when you just landed in a foreign country.  True to form, I had organized a private transfer ahead of time, so we were in Antigua about an hour after we landed.  You all know I don’t fuck around with the blantant inefficiency of sorting out transportation on the fly.  We drove out of Guatemala City faster than you can say “pety theft” and arrived at our Hotel in Antigua in time for breakfast, We then took a walk around town while we waited for our room.  We also might have took a jump in the giant trampoline on the roof of our hotel.  Because it was a trampoline.  On a roof.  In the sunshine.  You have to be dead inside not to love that.  We were basically zombies at this point, so we hit the afternoon nap hard.

Let’s talk about Antigua, Guatemala.  First of all, some advice.  Get the fuck out of Guatemala City the second you land.  It’s dirty, it’s shady, and there is nothing there you want other than transporation outlets.  Antigua, on the other hand, is like going back in time to another world.  A Mayan world.  A simple, quint, adorable town full of cobblestone streets and colorful buildings built among beautiful ruins of a town once devastated by an earthquake.  There isn’t a ton to do here other than walk around, check out the market, and chill over some drinks.  We did managed to knock out all three today, ending our day at Cafe Sky, which is the best rooftop bar in town.  The sun set over a few volcanoes as we drank our wine.  We went to bed at 8am, in preparation for our 6am call time to hike one of those volcanoes tomorrow.