Friday, March 20, 2009

About survivng a 10 meters fall, being on Mexican TV and Pizza for peanuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Hey guys!

I'm back! Sorry, took me a while, was busy. And sick. You know, traveling. Time to let you know where I've been! Alrighty, let's begin with


I think I said that before that I met a nice couple from Canada/Australia. We met in Honduras and crossed the border together and spent some days together in Guatemala. Our first stop was Antigua, a very beautiful, mystical city that's surrounded by three volcanos. From Antigua it was a short trip to Volcano Pacaya, one of the active volcanos of Guatemala you can actually hike up. It was crazy: we came so close to the lava that we sometimes had to be careful not to be hit by a burning rock! Really cool! Cool is the right word because up there it was really freezing! After all the sunshine and warm temperature it had to remind me, how cold it can be and how it feels like when you can't move your fingers anymore... [shut up, those of you living in Canada right now, I don't wanna hear a word!]. After Antigua our ways splitted and I went again by myself to Lago de Atitlan. That is a famous lake again surrounded by volcanos. I rented a kayak for a day and it was great to paddle on the lake on a beautiful day! A few days later I took a bus to Chichicastengango. It's a small town in the mountains and itself is nothing special. The only special thing about this town is its Maya market which is twice a week and supposed to be one of the biggest markets in Central America. Well, it was pretty big, but I somehow expected more. Anyway, I got away with some real cool and cheap stuff. After a few boring days in Chichicastengango [I stayed too long there] I went to Lanquin, famous for its cave system and national park. I normally don't appreciate organized tours, but this one organized from the lovely hostel, was a really great adventure tour through the national park: It started with jumping into the river from a Tarzan swing, went on to swimming with a candle into the caves and a 10 meters fall from a bridge into the river. I climbed up the bridge and jumped! I didn't even think about it! I better should have! It was really deep and I hurt my lovely ass. It even hurt a few weeks after but hey, no risk, no fun! Anyway, a great tour!

From adventure to culture. My next stop was the not to be missed maya ruins in TIKAL. As you may have read I've already been to Copan in Honduras, but hey, this was nothing compared to Copan! Tikal is really big and it took us a 4 hours tour through the area without having seen all of it. I really like this Maya stuff, it's really impressing!


After Guatemala, I decided to spent a few days in Belize, this small little country on the Caribbean Coast. Many people recommended me to go to Caye Caulker, a little island close to Belize City, what I finally did. The funny thing is: English is spoken here! It is the first language here! The only country in whole Central America. The not so funny thing is: Everything is soooo expensive! So far it really was the most expensive country I visited! Even more expensive than Costa Rica! Not so funny, too, were the men. Other than in other countries they are really kind of aggressive and annoying. Once a man tried to get my attention and said something and I didn't answer as usual, but he really got angry and screamed: "Hey lady, are you having a bad mood or why don't you talk to me!?". I don't know where it comes from. Maybe from the weather. It was really, really hot!


On the border from Belize/Mexico I met Cloe and Nico, a French couple, in the bus. We traveled together to Tulum, Mexico. From the very first second I loved Mexico! It seemed really modern on the one hand and very traditional on the other hand. And the food! Oh, I love it! And the beaches... HERMOSAS! Very beautiful! I have to admit that the beaches of Tulum are so far one of my favorites of my whole trip: turquise water, white sand beach [I mean really white] and warm water! But the beaches are not the only cool thing about Tulum. Tulum has a Maya site as well, right at the beachfront. How cool is that! And one more cool thing: Cenotes. I don't know the word in English, but in Mexico they have tons of them. They are like little water holes where you can snorkle and see a lot of cool fish or even turtles. We also went snorkeling in the Sea, which was really nice! After the wonderful days in Tulum, I had to go to Cancun to catch my flight to Costa Rica from where I was flying to Cuba. So I stayed one night in Cancun and I didn't like it at all. It was very touristy, ugly and full of Americans. Somehow it reminded me of Las Vegas. On my way back to the hostel somebody threw a fake snake onto my feet. I got really angry and threw a little bit of water on the man's head. Then another man came up to me and told me to stop! It's only a TV show! I looked around, found the hidden camera and thought: damn, they got me on tape... Lol, so I guess I was on Mexican TV.


Oh my God, Cuba is so different than anything else! And a lot more complicated than other countries. It begins with: There are no hostels. It´s not allowed. But a few decades ago the government decided to let people rent out up to two rooms to tourists. If you traveling like me by yourself it´s the best option, but still really expensive. The prices for a room are about 20 CUC, so about 20 Euro a night. So really expensive.
The second complicated thing: There are two (with the inofficial dollar even three) official currencies in the country. La moneda national (the cuban peso) and the peso convertible. Because everything for tourists was really expensive, I started to save money on food: Pizza de la calle! Pizza, they sell on the streets in moneda national which cost a few dollar cents! Crazy, if you think about it! So I didn´t spend more than 10 dollars the whole two weeks on food... Crazy, huh!?
Well, the third annoying thing is: Because Cubans are not really rich people, they try to offer you stuff ALL THE TIME! It´s really, really annoying! When I was staying in these "casas particulares" (families, that rent out 1-2 rooms) they tried to convince me all the time to have dinner at their house, asked me to leave medication if I have (so I left a bag of asperina) or better soap and clothes. They have really lack of many products. Another weird thing is that they don´t have stores like we have. I don´t know how else to describe it. You can´t just go on the streets and go shopping. Cuz there is no real shopping... Anyway, I guess partly the reason is comunism. On the other hand it´s funny, because there is no advertisement or shopping signs how we know it. They put a lot of "advertisment" on the 50-years aniversary of the Revolution and Che is everywhere and stuff like that.
So what did I do? The first few nights I stayed in Habana Centro, so in the middle of Havana. And it was great! The city is really beautiful, many buildings in the old part are restored and its a great feeling to walk by all these nice colonial buildings. It is really one of the cities that has a real great flair. On the other day I went to a tour in a tabaco fabric. You probably heard that the best cigars come from Cuba so I couldn´t miss to see how they really make it. It was really impressing how precisely and perfectly the workers of the factury made a cigar. Everything is handmade and a long process. Unluckily it wasn´t allowed to take pictures...
How could I write about Cuba without mentioning the old cars! Oh my God! They are gorgeous! Everytime I saw an oldtimer, I took a pic, after I few days I really got used to them.
After those nice days in Havana, I took the bus to Trinidad, another really beautiful colonial town, heritage of UNESCO. By coincidence I met a German girl and her friend again (I met her in Tulum before) in the park and hung around with them a few days there. Then I made my way to Viñales, a nature lover´s paradise. I hiked up hills, rented a bike to the famous cave system and had a great time in the nature and a great "host family".
I talked a lot with Cubans about their country and I can say for sure that´s the country that really affected me the most, because it´s so stunnishing, unique and poor at the same time. Both in a bad way and in a good way. I didn´t feel very comfortable from the beginning because you have to make a lot of sacrifice (mostly you have to pay the "tourist prices", often you are not allowed to go on a public bus, if there is one, lack of many products, this stupid segregation of being a "tourist" and a Cuban, I guess that´s the class system). And of course it was really annoying when the first step you go out of the door people are trying to sell you stuff. On the other hand, I try to understand. Cubans get a house for free (mostly in a not very good condition), free education and free healthcare, but they earn between 15-20 CUC (so about 20-25 Euro!!!) a month! If I was in this situation I would probably do anything in order to get to more money. When I talked to people about the country´s future and about the system itself I got very different answers. Some people think it´s not that bad, other people (especially my generation) hope for some change and other want it to be a lot more open. For sure I realized that Cubans themselves are really close to each other, they help each other all the time, the have connection all over the country. They are pretty isolated in many ways, that´s why they try to help each other, that´s what at least my last host family said.
One more thing I have to tell you, the strangest thing ever. I was sitting in a park in Trinidad waiting for a friend. Some nice Cubans came up to me and we were talking a bit about this and that. Suddenly they said: "Sorry, but we have to leave you now. They don´t want us to talk to you, because we are actually not allowed to talk to you". Somehow that reminded me of the Stasi of the DDR in Germany, must have felt somehow the same. Isn´t that crazy!?
When I left Cuba, I was kind of happy to be back to capitalism, even though I am really happy having had the chance to visit Cuba. I left this country with a lot of open questions.


After Cuba, I flew back to San Jose, Costa Rica and took a night bus to Panama City. I got a really bad cold on the bus (I tell you, I HATE AIR-CONDITIONING!!!). This time, I am not kidding. I saw a woman wearing gloves, I wasn´t the only one freezing. The stupid bus driver wouldn´t put the air-con down, even after we told him a few times. Anyway, sick in Panama City, great. I went to see "Casco Viejo", the old part of the city, heritage of UNESCO again, but honestly, I was a little disappointed. The next day I spent at the famous Canal and saw ships crossing it. I couldn´t really enjoy my time in Panama City because of my bad cold, so I decided to go to "Bocas del Toro", some nice Islands on the Caribbean Sea. My cold got even worse, so I hardly left the hostel and didn´t really see a lot.
Guess where I am right now: Nicaragua. Again, I know. I came from Panama, stopped in San Jose, Costa Rica for a night and went staight to Nicaragua. Here in Central America I got about one week left, so I chose to spend that week at a nice, cheap surf beach. I tried surfing the other day, still not that successful yet, but I am working on it. In a few days I will be flying back to Asuncion, Paraguay to spend my last two weeks in Bolivia.

So far from now, keep me up to date! Next and probably last episode: Bolivia!
Nos vemos!