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Chicken and Flan

Guatemala, Guatemala

We found the chicken place, "Pollo Campero" -- it's Senor Sanders Guatemala style. No nuclear cole slaw, but instead you get flan. Speaking of the food, it's not much to write home about (and yet here we are).

And before anyone pokes fun at us for eating at a fast food joint in Guatemala City, the options are limited here. On a Sunday, it's either this or Taco Bell (where the tagline is "Got a bean emergency?").

We walked through Guatemala City yesterday. Everything is closed on Sundays except the central market. It's a dusty town with a few unique architectural "gems".

The hole in the ozone layer has found its way down to Guatemala. Our February skin couldn't take the 20 degree weather.

Yes, mom. We're going to wear sunscreen and hats now.

Corey, as always when travelling, is a walking freak show. He's the tallest guy in the country by about a foot, the only one who can grow a beard. His hairline is unique to the point where little children stare. Melissa's average height (for a dude).

Off to Antigua.

permalink written by  Corey and Melissa on February 23, 2009 from Guatemala, Guatemala
from the travel blog: Margarita y Discoteca
tagged GuatemalaCity, Sunburn, ChickenAndFlan, Height and Pasty

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Ko Tao

Ko Tao, Thailand

The next day was the wettest yet but fortunately we had arranged to spend it travelling across the country from one coast to the other - I say fortunately, actually the wild wet weather meant that our (7 hour) ferry crossing would be rough at best - possibly cancelled. With word that the ferry would be running as usual we took travel sickness tablets and boarded the small boat, lined up like sardines and smelling worse. 7 hours and a suprisingly good sleep later we woke up in Ko Tao. My favourite island in Thailand.

We chose to stay on one of the busier beaches - the white sandy stretch made only the more appealing by the picturesque bungalows and bars with beanbags and low tables that line the shores. I suddenly understood the "Beach Bars" at Big Chill. At night the relaxed pace of the island remained intact - the now familiar site of Thai guys juggling fire on the beach was best viewed from a beanbag with a beer, and later the ravers congregated at one beach bar to dance the night away while the majority of the island slept in preparation for their early morning scuba dives.

Annoyingly, we didn't have enough time to do a scuba course (the full moon party being only a few days away) so we went all out on the first night, downing beers and cocktails before moving onto the devastating buckets - amnesia and shamelessness in liquid form. I woke up lying outside the room I was sharing with Seapa (who had the key) using the tie dyed t-shirts, which we had bought especially for the full moon party, as pillows. Seapa only discovered me after driving around the island for an hour on the back of a drunk Dutch guy's moped. We met this guy, whose name is Tim, on the ferry and found him difficult to shake off - his knack for popping up in random places would become almost absurd.

We spent a very relaxed few days there, renting a quad bike for a tour of the island (didn't take long) which ended at a pool bar, aptly named "Pool Bar", which had a small pool overlooking the beautiful, quiet bay. I was slightly devastated about the missed scuba opportunity (every resort in Koh Tao is a diving school so it was difficult to forget...) - in order to satisfy my urge for marine expoloration (I just wanted to see a turtle basically) we booked a day snorkelling at the various dive sites around the island.

We were told that we could even see sharks, which was enough to convince Seapa that a day at home with his bag of weed was a better option, but at the first site I jumped in eagerly, wanting as much time in the water as possible to maximise my chances of seeing something amazing. I didn't have to wait long. I'd been looking at a card on the boat which identified various species of local fish and had admitted that I was not a big fan of barracuda (too many nature documentaries) - so it seemed slightly ironic that while the others were still donning their flippers and masks I found myself alone behind the boat and face to face with two of them, floating motionless just beneath the surface.

I froze and waited for them to move which they eventually did but as I turned around to relay my encounter to the boat I noticed another one behind me! They were everywhere! I soon got used to these harmless silver streaks and began focusing my attention on the hunt for turtles and sharks. I had been in the water for about two minutes when from the murky shallows, where the dead coral creates a sinister landscape, emerged a large Blacktip Reef Shark which I recognised from the card on the boat! I swam gently behind it, my instincts of self- preservation telling my that aggressively swimming after a shark was probably a bad idea, and gestured to Kaleem to come and see it. He didn't. Within a few moments it had disappeared out into the depths.

The rest of the day was spent in a fruitless search for turtles (sadly Koh Tao, meaning Turtle Island, now has very few turtles as their nesting areas have been turned into the aforementioned bungalows and bars) and studying the spectacular coral reefs. We limped back home exhausted, Josh with a cut on his foot from climbing up the boat after our strange captain decided to abandon us in the water with no ladder to get out and Kaleem and I sunburnt spectacularly on our backs. After almost 5 weeks travelling I am white on one side and pink as a glowstick on the other.

We spent the last night playing the dice drinking game we had learnt in China and dancing until trance music replaced any intelligable sounds from the beach bar speaker system. We would surely have our fill of that at the next stop - the full moon party at Kho Phangan.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on May 12, 2009 from Ko Tao, Thailand
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Sunburn, Shark, Snorkelling and Beanbags

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High in Huancayo

Huancayo, Peru

I woke up in middle of the night. We were half way through our 8 hour coach ride and though I had managed to fall asleep reasonably quickly I was now woken up by a feeling of nausea which was impossible to ignore. I made my way to the toilet, falling over sleeping travellers as the coach swung along mountain roads and, failing to find a light switch in the toilet, spent some dark moments trying to make myself feel better. When we reached our destination all I wanted was bed.

The next morning I was awoken (after the usual unneccessarily early rustlings and suugestions of breakfast from Josh which I now ignore) by a marching band! I dragged myself up and looked around the museum-like hostel. Rugs, paintings, carvings, blankets - everything wall was covered in Peruvian artwork. Thankfully I had slept off my sickness and only now realised the cause. It was no the cerviche of the day before, we were 3271m up in the Andes! To put that into perspective Machu Picchu is only 2380m, Snowdon is 1085m, Ben Nevis is 1344m. We were stupidly high up. It was the infamous altitude sickness I had heard so much about.

We followed the band down into the town and to the local market which is supposedly the largest in Peru. Ladies in traditional dress, with big skirts, wide brimmed hats and colourful sacks hung across their backs, were everywhere and the market was filled with the usual artwork and outrageous knitwear. There wasn´t a gringo in site. The locals were friendly and clearly in high spirits, the marching band procession formed only part of the fiesta and we would later see people dancing in the Plaza de Armas and supplying beer from the backs of trucks. It was a wonderful scene.

The Mantaro Valley surrounding the town of Huancayo is the reason for the abundant artwork in the hostel and the market. There are a number of villages and each specialise in producing different goods (carving, weaving, jewellery making, etc). I wondered whether you would be evicted if you lived in the carving village and discovered a passion for weaving but I did think it was a very amiable set up and on our second day we rented bikes to go and see the villages for ourselves.

Before we left we poked around the local food market - a staggering collection of stalls trailers and blankets on the floor which were all covered in colourful and fragrant piles of exotic fruit, strange vegetables and bundles of herbs. There was also a section devoted to meat and fish where rows of freshly plucked chickens hung awkwardly by their necks, huge trout stared and giant slabs of beef waited to be hoisted home. I was reminded of the amazing food market I had seen in Shanghai´s old town. This market was larger and more organised but I find that is the disorganised parts which I liked best - they seem to have the most character.

We were given our bikes by Lucho, a Peruvian man whose passion for Huancayo and the surrounding area was particularly contagious. He gave us a series of maps and talked us through the seemingly simple route which would allow us to visit each of the main villages. I say seemingly because within minutes we were puzzling over these hand-drawn things and wondering whether the church was on our left or our right and why the park had a line through it. After a few conversations with locals starting with "Donde esta" and ending in a series of directions which we probably didn´t understand, we found ourselves on a dusty rock strewn track passing through small villages where children stared and animals wandered around casually. Soon we were pushing further into the rugged mountains, geting off every now and then to push up particularly steep sections.

We entered small mountain villages and were called into random homes by artists who carved or weaved and were pleased to demonstrate their talents and techniques. I won´t go into a detailed description of each part of our journey because I know you will probably be far more interested to hear about my fantastically bruised bum and spectacular sunburn but I will say that it was worth all the pain. The colourful locals were visibly amused by the site of two intrepid gringos (especially the bright pink one who kept rubbing his arse) and when we arrived back I was so deleriously hungry that I ate a whole guinea pig. It was like eating someones leftover chicken - all fatty skin and bones with no meat. I ate it all anyway.

If my bum had the ability to communicate I would surely have got an earful the next morning (interesting image...). Despite the abuse inflicted by the previous days adventures, I had signed up for more. This time it involved a horse... Thankfully, however, the saddle was soft sheepswool and as our horses pushed their way up the rocky slopes the surroundings and the fact I was riding a horse in the Peruvian Andes distracted me completely from any aches and pains. The views were indescribably immense and the sun shone brightly in the clear sky (I had coated my face in factor 50 in order to avoid any further embarassment).

Eventually we reached the Huaytapallana Snow Mountain where we sat in awe and ate our sandwiches. On the way down we followed a stream through the valley which soon turned into a shallow, rushing river. We splashed through this a few times, zigzagging our way through the deep valley which hung over us dramatically. By the time we got back to our taxi driver (who not only drove us up along crazy rocky mountain roads but also seemed to magically re-appear 4 hours later just as we emerged back onto the road) my legs were wet, muddy and sore and my bum... well, if my bum had had the ability to communicate it would have been actively not speaking to me.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on June 11, 2009 from Huancayo, Peru
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Horses, Sunburn, Altitude, MountainBike and Band

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