Category Archives: Travel

In which we lose our camera… (and other disasters) Though the trip was a lot of fun.

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Towards the end of June, during Bayram, we went to Greece again.  This was a rather mixed adventure. We did, of course, have a wonderful time, but a couple of not very good things happened.

The first day we rode up to Cannakale. A longish ride but, once we got past Izmir, a pleasant one. There’s a really great place right above Assos where we stopped for tea and to admire the view.  Canakkale itself was, as ever, a lively and interesting place to spend an evening. Come morning we headed for the border. There were a load of cars parked up in a sort of queue but we just rode past them. It was very hot and there was a longish wait to get across the border but, really, no hassle. Though being stuck in very hot sunshine for an hour or so was not all that pleasant. Other travelers reported waiting eight hours or more at that crossing so we were lucky.  Once over the border we had a smooth run to Loutra near the Evros Valley and Alexandropolis. Our hotel room was overlooked by a huge tree occupied by a large colony of Spanish sparrows who were a constant source of entertainment.

Dadia-vulturesThe village has three hotels and one restaurant (semi-attached to our hotel). We took several walks around the area seeing bee eaters and a whole load of different raptors, although it was not really the best time of year for birding in the area. We rode over to Dadia forest and walked up to the hide for viewing the vultures. Got some wonderful photos. On our last night, we gave some mosquito repellent to some fellow guests which, somehow or other, led to several bottles of wine, ouzo, cheese and dancing till the early hours.

 

Next morning we headed to Chalkidiki where we had arranged to meet up with some friends from the UK. We had booked a hotel in Afitos which is absolutely lovely.  OK, it’s a holiday resort and totally geared up for tourists, but that has distinct advantages. We found a bar with a wonderful view…

We met up with our friends and had a very good lunch and a long natter. Then it was off to Kerkini.

Well, we love Kerkini. We met up with Vassilis who is an expert on the local wildlife. His nickname is Πελικανος. We took a boat trip with him in the early morning out to the drowned forest and where the pelicans are. We took lots of wonderful photos. We went to where he told us the bee eaters were.  You can see Ashley searching for the bee eaters in the picture below.  We took lots of wonderful photos. We went out to where he told us the rollers were. We didn’t see rollers but…. On the way home we had a luggage malfunction and lost the DSLR. And all the photos. Except the ones I took on the pocket camera.  Which is why there are no high quality photos in this post.

We retraced our steps to the place of the rollers (still saw no rollers) then Ashley went out again on the back of Vassilis’ bike. And they saw rollers (but I was in the hotel with my Kindle).

That, sadly, was not the end of the bad stuff. The bike made a horrible clunk as we were leaving Chalkidiki. And, by the time we got to Kerkini, there was obviously something wrong. Vassilis called in a friend of his who is a mechanic and, between Vassilis, his friend and Ashley, they managed to shorten the clutch cable. But it was not right. When in neutral, the bike kept creeping forwards…

Next day we rode to Kavala. It was very, very hot. We arrived many hours before our ferry was due to sail and sat in a bar, drinking coffee, then in a restaurant where we had a meal. There was a huge air and naval show going on and it was entertaining to watch the jets flying formation and the helicopters making whirlpools around the harbour.  The show continued whilst we queued for the ferry and as we left the harbour on the ferry.

We didn’t have a cabin. We had booked airline seats but the lounge was very noisy so we attempted to sleep in the bar area. Got off the ferry at Lesvos and stayed for three nights at our usual Studios (Shine Studios – really well equipped and tastefully decorated studio apartments with lovely owners, highly recommended) whilst we waited for space on the boat back to Ayvalik. We went to visit the house again. At this point we were waiting for the formalities to be done and the vendor to fix a date to come out to Lesvos to visit the notary together and finalise the sale.

The bike got us to Mytilini, onto the ferry, off again and as far as just before Menemen. At which point Ashley decided it was not safe to ride it any further. We phoned Harley Izmir who were not able to send a recovery vehicle to us till the next day. The guys in the petrol station we stopped in phoned a friend and we got recovered to Harley Izmir.  Not cheap, but necessary and very efficient.

We sat for an hour in the café at Harley Izmir awaiting a diagnosis. It was a broken clutch bearing. Which was replaced and, after about 90 minutes, we were on our way.

There was an incredible amount of traffic on the way out of Izmir (did I mention it was really, really hot?), but it thinned out just before the (toll) motorway. We’d planned to do stuff after we got home but, really… we were pretty totally exhausted. So dinner out then bed.

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Rio Lagartos

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Rio Lagartos is really all about the birds.  It’s a small fishing village in a quiet location, with a few hotels and restaurants.  Day trippers come in from all around to hire a boatmen to take them out to see the flamingos.  You really do need to AdolescentBrownPelicanhire a boat to get to see the flamingos.  All the way along the estuary we saw ospreys flying overhead.  And, of course, crocodiles (the Spanish invaders made a mistake as Rio Lagartos is not a river and contains crocodiles, not alligators).  Just strolling by the harbour we saw two kinds of pelicans (brown and white), including this youngster who had bitten off more than it could chew.  Apparently the fish do go down eventually!  There are royal terns all over the boats and cormorants everywhere.

One bar/restaurant where we took to hanging out feeds the humming birds which can be seen coming and going whilst the humans enjoy a beer.  Sadly none of the many photos we took of the hummingbirds came out very well.  It was a very relaxing few days at the end of our trip and the birding was wonderful.

Merida

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Our next stop was Merida.  Where we stayed in the Grand Hotel.  It was very grand and had a chandelier in the bathroom.  It wasn’t particularly expensive but it was highly atmospheric and full of interesting antiques.

Merida is a lively city and there is always something to do.  We booked ourselves onto a guided tour to Uxmal because it is quite difficult to reach independently.  We nearly didn’t go – we had been before and it was not on our ‘essentials’ list.  The site, however, is one of the most spectacular in Mexico.  There were a lot more tourists there than we saw last time we visited (when we had the place pretty much to ourselves) but the reliefs are amazing.  And we saw a great many iguanas.  Oh, and just look at that ball court!

The trip to Uxmal included a stop at a nearby site, Kabah, which was quieter (apart from a local school group) and interesting.

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We experimented further with Margaritas, finding those in Merida much more to our taste and we were fortunate in that our trip coincided with some kind of festival which included a demonstration of Poc ta Poc – the modern incarnation of the Mayan ball game.  There was commentary and explanation in Spanish and English.  And, for some parts of the demonstration, they set the ball on fire.

All in all we were glad to have had time to revisit Merida.

Back to Mexico – Campeche

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Orange Walk and Laminai were last on our ‘must do’ list.  We had an extra three days due to Virgin Atlantic having changed our outbound flight to three days earlier than expected and we had allowed a couple of days in case we had any delays or issues.   So we debated what to do with the last week or so…

Well, there is so much to do in Central America that this was actually quite difficult. In the end we decided to head back to Mexico.  The border crossing was interesting as, apparently, something had not been done or not been charged previously, also the bus which told us it was going right through to Chetumal decided not to go through to Chetumal.  This left us somewhat stranded.  We were encouraged to take a taxi but, in the end, another bus turned up and took us through to Chetumal.

From Chetumal we caught another bus which took us to Campeche.  Campeche is a lovely City.  We had a lot of fun walking up and down the sea front and generally exploring.  We bought a hammock.  It was strange to be in a proper city again.  And we got to visit Ednza.  Occupied from 500-1500 AD it has a particularly wonderful plaza

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and more than it’s fair share of iguanas.

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Campeche has several museums.  One is in the walls and another is in an old fort complete with canons.  That one has some wonderful artifacts, including a jade mask from Calakmul.

 

AMargaritaTimepart from that, Campeche was where we started to experiment with Margaritas.  These are no longer a simple concoction of tequilla, lime, ice and bitters (with salt around the rim) but have come to resemble alcopops.  Unless you are very careful to ask for a classic Margarita.  But we did our experiments in some very spectacular places!

 

Punta Gorda

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.