Big Pictures – Guatemala

(We are constantly trying to think of ways to tell our story without just giving our readers an elongated blow by blow of our trip in every single post. This post is going to summarize the last few days with photos and extended cutlines – enjoy!)

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediate left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever got to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive was one of my favorite travel experiences to date - made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer. Photo: Alex Washburn

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediately left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever go to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive is one of my favorite travel experiences to date – made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer than the pyramid. This photo represents my favorite spanish word – ‘Madrugada’ The sliver of time between night and day. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. The moments where the tourists could collectively refrain from fidgeting were remarkable. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn't very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn't gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn’t very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn’t gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs in groups of 10-50. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food the noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food they noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

I don't really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

After Tikal’s dawn hike we took a quick nap and hit the road for Flores. I don’t really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. I had Nathaniel take this our first day in Flores. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random times - swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random moments – swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it's also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15,  and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it’s also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15, and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

As I type this post and am about to publish it we are in the city of Coban Guatemala. Our ride here yesterday was miserable because it rained on us more or less all day. By the time we checked into our hotel we were both soaked and my hands looked like raisins. We hope to arrive to Antigua after 4-5 more hours or riding and we are both really excited for it. I went to Antigua several years ago with a friend and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Thanks for looking.

Swimming with Sharks

Alex already mentioned that we did a snorkeling trip out of Caye Caulker that went to three specific dive spots: the coral garden, Shark & Ray alley, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

From the video you can see we saw all kinds of wild life there, and even though the weather was trying not to co-operate, it still left us with about 80% visibility in the water.

The whole video was shot on a GoPro Hero3 Silver Edition with the basic waterproof case (included in the basic packaging). I forgot my mono-pod in the bike, so had to make do and just held the GoPro in my hands the whole time. Got through almost the whole day on one charge before it died and had to swap out batteries. The film was edited using the newest GoPro studio and I sourced the music from freemusicarchive.org.

Caye Caulker

We hopped into a taxi boat Wednesday afternoon excited to leave the grungy heat of Belize City and looking forward to a few days of almost vacation.

We don’t plan very many days ahead of ourselves and since the islands off the coast of Belize are transitioning into ‘high season’ we had a little difficulty booking a place to stay.

We ended up getting a really great last minute deal on a hotel that was only a few more dollars a day than some hostels on Caye Caulker.

After our 45 minute water taxi ride to the Island we found ourselves blinking in the sunlight walking down a rough dock towards unpaved roads and brightly painted buildings- the tense feeling the city had given us started to fade. After dropping off our bags to the hotel we immediately made our way to what is know as ‘the split’ on the North end of the inhabited portion of Caye Caulker.

The area known as 'The Split' on Caye Caulker. Photo: Alex Washburn

The area known as ‘The Split’ on Caye Caulker. Photo: Alex Washburn

The split is a gap in between the northern mostly unsettled portion of the island and the southern end where most people live, work and visit. ‘The Split’ beach area is actually privately owned but there is a two story open air bar at the point selling ridiculously cheap beer and a dock for laying on and jumping off.

I can see why Caye Caulker is still a backpacker and budget traveler’s paradise with a few non-budget travelers thrown in. Some of the tours are a little expensive but if you want to sleep, eat and drink cheaply you could enjoy the island for less than $50 USD a day and get a rockin’ sunburn in the process.

We were lucky that we decided to go to ‘The Split’ in the last few hours of daylight we had Wednesday – that night the storm clouds rolled in and didn’t leave for the next 40 hours.

Thursday it drizzled a lot but the crazy wind didn’t kick up till we were on our way back from our snorkel tour of Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

A portion of the tour allows you to snorkel with sting rays and nurse sharks which is pretty incredible. It is unfortunate to be surrounded by an equal number of tourists but being able to reach out and touch a sting ray or a nurse shark as they glide past you is amazing.

This was Alex's second attempt at shark wrangling. She didn't tell me she was going to attempt this the first time - which was a more successful attempt. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

This was Alex’s second attempt at shark wrangling. She didn’t tell me she was going to try it the first time – which was a more successful attempt. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

I floated there watching the sharks nibble at the fish stuffed conchs our guides were using to attract them and I kept getting the image of all those Discovery Channel specials in my mind where a diver slightly twists the tail of the shark and it goes limp.

Well – I really wanted to see if that would work.

I picked out a smaller nurse shark perhaps 3-4 feet long and swam down to it. When I got close I reached out to grab it’s tail and very gently twisted. The shark rolled over in the water like a puppy looking for a belly rub and allowed me to bring it almost to the surface. I let it go and it swam away and went back to eating.

The entire incident lasted less than 20 seconds but I would strongly discourage other people from doing this. The guide came over to me and warned me that although nurse sharks seem docile they can hurt you.

A stingray cruises the ocean floor looking for food. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

A stingray cruises the ocean floor looking for food. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Nathaniel got some great video of our trip to the marine park and we should be publishing the video tomorrow morning.

After our day in the ocean we were pretty hungry and decided to splurge for dinner. While you can get some really legitimate meals for $5-6 on the island I really wanted to try the local lobster.

Lobsters are generally laid out near restaurant front grills on Caye Caulker and you select your lobster based on how much you want to pay for it – the dinners also come with a variety of sides. A giant lobster with garlic toast, pasta and salad for $25 USD is just not possible in the US.

Although the lobster was good I prefer eating at places the locals go when I travel. If you prefer the same I suggest grabbing some lunch at Pirates on Caye Caulker if you come. My $6 USD lunch consisted of Baked Chicken on rice and beans with a side of potato salad and a glass of limeade. If the same restaurant existed back home I’d still eat there.

Pirates restaurant (on the corner) is where we had one of our best meals on Caye Caulker. Don't expect a smile (they don't cater to tourists) but you should expect good solid local food at a local price. Photo: Alex Washburn

Pirates restaurant (on the corner) is where we had one of our best meals on Caye Caulker. Don’t expect a smile (they don’t cater to tourists) but you should expect good solid local food at a local price. Photo: Alex Washburn

While the rain ruined a large part of our time on the Island (and cursed me with unappealing lighting) we’ve had fun walking it’s dirt roads, talking to people and exploring this tiny island. Belize would be a great starter country for many people people in the US nervous about traveling because it’s still incredibly affordable and the dominant language is English.

TIPS: There are january flights under $500 available from San Francisco to Cancun right now. A $50 (isn) bus ride from Cancun can get you to Belize City within a few hours. Our Hotel was $56 USD a night although you can find cheaper if you book ahead.