Category Archives: Tourism

Homeward Bound

Birding trip over we had a huge and leisurely breakfast at the hotel, before setting off for Kavala.  We needed to be in Kavala because there was a ferry to Lesvos at 08.00 the following morning.  These ferries are not daily, and not always at such a convenient time, as in getting into Mytilene at 18.30 so home by 20.00 and in time for dinner, hence this ferry had been part of the plan for a few days.

It’s a pleasant and short ride to Kavala, especially when the weather was so perfect, sunny, dry and pleasantly warm.  On the way, just going along on the bike we saw Golden Eagke, Black Kite, Short Toed Eagle, Long Legged Buzzard, Common Buzzard and Lesser Spotted Eagle.

So Kavala.  We had a place booked in the centre of the city and super close to the ferryport, also close to numerous tavernas and bars.  So we arrived, checked in, then wandered around doing tourist stuff and attempting to book a ferry ticket.  We found ice cream – almost as good as in Italy, but definately Aegean ice cream – it’s different.  We had to wait until the evening to book a ferry or do it on line and pay a 10 Euro surcharge on the collect tickets at the port option, we decided to wait.

Kavala2

Tickets obtained we then had a very pleasant evening, beer and people watching followed by a madly busy taverna, madly busy because it was seriously good and had a menu with a few different things on it.  Most enjoyable and the squid was perfect.  We’ve passed through Kavala a few times, never before really had a chance to enjoy the city, now we know better than simply to pass through in a rush.

And that pretty much was the trip.  The next morning we caught the ferry to Mytilene, and as expected were home before 20.00 having stopped at a supermarket for some essential supplies.  So by 21.00 we were sat in the square in Parakoila with a beer and a few plates of mezes.  We’d covered just short of 2000 miles on the road which was a very fabulous way to get used to the new bike, we met friends on the way and had a great time.  So much fun.  Now back to practical things……

 

 

Lake Kerkini – Birding

This was the first time we have been to the lake in September.  The water levels were lower so it was not possible to access the submerged forest.  Many of the sumer visitors had flown, flamingo were passing through and will in time head further south.  Not sure where they had come from, prossibly the Danube delta.  There were still pelicans.  There were many waders including flocks of avocet.  There were raptors, including marsh harriers, and later in the day from the bike we saw golden eagle, black kite and short toed (snake) eagle, common buzzard and long legged buzzard.

It was an early morning trip on the lake.  The light was fabulous.  We’ve never seen so many flamingo, like a pink line stretching around the lake.  The below are from this current visit.

Lake Kerkini is a very special place.  We are fortunate, it is easy for us to visit. It’s about 12 hours from our place on Lesvos, most of which is ferry time. and about 12 hours by road from Selcuk though that necessitates an overnight stay. So it’s easier from Lesvos, get a morning ferry to Kavala and be there in time for dinner, something we intend to do late spring or early summer next year.  There are plenty of hotels in the area, we have one we use regularly.  The whole area is set up for nature tourism, and it’s not just the lake and water birds, there are bee eaters along the river, rollers nearby and so  much more, and there are good knowledgable guides.

The below are from our photos from previous visits.   Maybe they will inspire others to visit the area, it really is worth it.

Punta Gorda

Lubaantun1

With some regrets we left Hotelito Perdido and caught the lancha to Livingstone.  We’d booked ourselves onto a ferry the day before (as our hike ended in Livingstone) but we still had a while to wait around before the ferry arrived.  The ferry was quite exciting. We were in the front row of seats and the weather was quite unsettled.  We could hear thunder and see lightening in the distance.  The sea was rough and the ferry was leaping across the waves, landing with a massive thump. Cushions?  Who needs Cushions?  This ferry was a boat with room for a dozen or so people.  We were sore for days or, in Ashley’s case, weeks.  I thought all the luggage was going to bounce overboard.  It was… exciting.

We arrived in Punta Gorda in the middle of a serious rainstorm.  We were soaked to the skin within a block but found refuge in a friendly hotel – Grace’s Hotel and Restaurant.   Our room was around the back and, whilst not luxurious it was adequate, quiet and secure.

Punta Gorda is a small town and there is not a lot to do there.  A couple of bars and we ended up eating in the hotel both nights.  Excellent home cooking.

The main reason we stayed there was to visit Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit.  Lubaantun is famous for the finding of the crystal skull, serendipitously on her seventeenth birthday, by the daughter of the archaeologist from the British Museum.  In her lifetime she would not allow it to be examined but, after her death it was found, by the Smithsonian institute, to bear marks of high speed machine carving.  Almost certainly a fake but a damned good story lies behind it.  It is a lovely, tranquil place to spend a few hours.

Lubaantun2

Public transport between Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit is a bit difficult to work out but a local family helped us get on the right bus, and shared their lunch with us.

Nim Li Punit is thought to have been a largely ceremonial site and it has some amazing stellae, most of which reside in its museum.  Again, we had the place pretty much to ourselves and were able to wander around undisturbed by other tourists.  It seems that we didn’t get a great many good photographs of either of those sites but one of the things that interests me about the photos we do have are the trees.  So different from anything we are used to seeing in the Old World.

and a lovely ball court from Nimli Puit.  We do like ball courts.  There are several on this site.

NimLiPunit1

 

Rio Dulce

After Copan we took a series of buses to Rio Dulce.  It is, I think, impossible to describe the beauty of Rio Dulce.  It was hard enough to get good photographs. We spent the first night in a lodge called ‘Kangaroo’.  This failed to impress.  It was set up for tourists, expelled sewage straight into the river and was generally tacky.  We got the lancha up to Hotelito Perdido the next morning.  We’ve been to Hotelito Perdido before.  I would love to go there again.  It is incredibly tranquil.  The situation is sensational and it’s run mostly by volunteers who work for the privilege of staying there.  The meals are all vegetarian and it is, I guess, a bit newagey for some tastes, but I love it there.

What did we do?  Well we took out a kayak on the first day and managed not to sink it.  We had no particular destination, we just paddled up and down the river, enjoying the views and the birdwatching.  The river is full of fish and herons of many sorts.  There are also pelicans, Montezuma’s Oropendola, some frigate birds, flycatchers of many sorts, banded kingfishers…. it’s quite a long list.

We booked a jungle hike for the second day but it was cancelled due to a great deal of rain.  Proving that it’s called rainforest for a reason.  We took the kayak out again when the rain cleared.  The third day we hiked to Livingstone.  A sort of medium difficulty hike but very interesting.  A boat bought us back to the hotel.

Mostly, though, we just lay around the jungle lodge, enjoying the view, lazing in a hammock and reading.  The dog is called Rasta and he likes canoes.

 

 

A long journey to Copan

Copan9

Given the problems of getting a bus from San Ignacio back into Guatemala, we decided to take the ferry instead.  This involved most of a day on a couple of buses.  First up to Belize City then down to Punto Gorda.  I may have mentioned this before but Belize buses are not comfortable.  They are old USA school buses which are retired.  They have very little by way of upholstery or legroom.  But they get where they are going and, from time to time, people come on board to sell you plantain crisps, fruit, other good stuff and to entertain you (or to sell you snake oil which is entertaining in its own way).

We didn’t explore Punto Gorda.  We rushed off to get the ferry to Porto Barrios.  Porto Barrios is a thriving port town but not very tourist-friendly.  It’s Guatemala’s only Caribbean port and all the pineapples go through there.  Most tourists go straight through to Livingstone but we had been on buses the whole day and the last ferry to Livingstone had already gone.  The passport office was closed when we got there.  People told us we could get our passports stamped in the morning but it turned out the lady had just taken a cigarette break and we were able to do the formalities (such as they were).  There is not much choice of hotel or restaurants in Porto Barrios but we found adequate places.  The meal was, actually, quite good and the hotel felt secure, though we were kept awake much of the night by the sound of heavy rain on a corrugated iron roof.

The next day was spent on buses again.  This time we got caught in traffic (we think there must have been an accident) on a narrow road but, eventually we got through to the border with Honduras.  The Honduran border was very high tech – we had our fingerprints and iris pictures taken.  We checked into our very pleasant hotel in good time to shower and go out for dinner.

Copan was, of course, the reason we went to Honduras.  We walked to the site – it’s an interesting walk with a certain amount of wildlife to see along the way.  The site is, of course, incredibly impressive.ScarletMacaw

As you walk into the site, you are immediately aware of the Macaws.  There are many of them.  The result of a very successful breeding programme.  The intention is to release but… I think that part of the work is going more slowly.  Whatever, you have to run the gauntlet of these beautiful but very noisy creatures before you can relax in the wonderful architecture and art of Copan.

Xunantunich and Cahal Pech

Xunantunich3

The next day we went to visit Xunantunich and Cahal Pech.  These sites are local to San Ignacio and easily reachable on public transport.  Though I would like to point out that the reggae on the bus from San Ignacio to Xunantunich was…. extremely loud.  From the place the bus dropped us off we caught a cable ferry across the river then a pleasant half hour or so walking to the site.

Xunantunich was not one of the major powers in Maya history, but it does have some wonderful friezes and wildlife.  There were four or five troupes of howler monkeys in the vicinity and they constantly made their presence heard.

 

 

Inside some of the structures there were many bats and the wildlife in general was abundant.

 

 

Cahal Pech is a much smaller site but very charming.  Lots of little plazas and courtyards.

CahelPech1

The day after that, as we failed to find transport to El Pilar, we headed to Belize zoo.  Belize zoo is rather special.  Firstly they only have animals that are living in Belize.  Secondly they do not buy in animals (or swap in).  Every animal there was either born on the site or rescued from somewhere in Belize.  They have a very good release programme but many of the animals do not want to be released!  Furthermore, the feeding wagons attract a great deal of local wildlife.  Here are two yellow winged tanagers and a hepatic tanager exploiting food destined for captive tapirs!  I confess that this is one of my favourite photographs from the entire trip.  The yellow winged tanagers are so, so pretty.

zoo-tanagers

And that was not all!

 

Onwards to San Ignacio

Howler3

There is a company which runs buses from Flores through to Cancun.  The buses have toilets (which you are asked not to use any more than you have to) and English speaking guides.  They are marginally more comfortable than the local second class buses.  But their huge advantage is that they are allowed to cross the necessary borders.  We caught one of those from Flores to San Ignacio (in Belize)

Belize is culturally fascinating.  The people there speak English, Spanish and a local language known as Kriol which is a kind of Spanish/French/English patois spoken very, very fast.  San Ignacio itself is quite touristy.  There’s a certain amount of hustle – there’s an entire street full of tour operators offering to take you to various places (it’s pretty well price fixed and none of them were happy to take us to El Pilar).  So we were able to fix ourselves a trip to Caracol, which was one of our definitely ‘must see’ sites and pretty well impossible to reach independently.

I don’t think we have many pictures of San Ignacio, but it is an attractive town (away from the tourist strip, which isn’t all that bad anyway) sitting on a river with a lovely vermillion flycatcher, right in the town centre.

The first afternoon we wandered down to branch mouth, a local beauty spot.  We got lost several times on the way there which was not entire a bad thing as we saw this which we are pretty sure is a lesser yellow legs.LesserYellowlegs

We ate mostly in Ko-Ox Han nah which means ‘Let’s go eat’ – fantastic Belizean food.  Not just chicken rice and beans.  This was where we first experienced fry jacks… But chicken rice and beans along with cole slaw is what you mostly get to eat in Belize.

So, the next day we headed off to Caracol.  It’s a long and bumpy drive (we saw a crocodile in the river), so on the way we stopped to view some caves which were used by the Maya for ritual.

 

Onwards to Caracol.  We had an excellent guide who pointed out a number of birds and other sorts of wildlife, as well as giving us his own take on what the Maya were all about (every guide seems to have their own theories).  I have a list of the birds we saw but the one in the photo is an emerald toucanet.  We were very lucky to see it – they are quite rare.

 

Caracol itself is an interesting site, the largest in Belize – allied at one time with Tikal and subsequently with Calakmul.  The excavations are relatively recent.  There is a wonderful story about a Princess from Caracol who was exiled, for a while to Xunantunich.  Xunanatunich means stone woman.

But really, what we enjoyed most there, was the wildlife.  Belize is excellent for wildlife and there are notices everywhere, exhorting the locals to look after it.