Tag 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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Onwards to San Ignacio

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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.

 

 

In which we break the curse of Bonampak

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Yes, it’s been a while since our last post.  We were in Berlin….

We were warned not to take an organised tour from Palenque to Bonampak.  You may recall that part of the purpose of this trip was to break ‘the curse of Bonampak’.  We tried to get there on three occasions.  On the first it was deemed too difficult due to terrorist activities.  On the second the murals were closed and on the third attempt we ran out of cash in Frontera de Corazol.

We ignored the warning and purchased an organised tour.  This was incredibly good value.  We were picked up at our hotel in Palenque, taken for a good Mexican breakfast, driven up to where you get on the launch to Yaxchilan boated up the river to Yaxchilan, taken back for a decent Mexican lunch, on to Bonampak.  Overnight in a really good jungle lodge on the river then picked up and driven to Flores in Guatemala.  We were the only English speakers on the bus, though there was another bus with some Canadians in it.  We met a lot of Canadians on this trip.  Central America is a lot warmer than Canada in January and February.

On the way to Yaxchilan I saw a pair of toucans flying.  They look….. improbable.  How can they fly so elegantly with those great, heavy beaks?

Yaxchilan is one of our very favourite sites in Central America.  The lintels are just amazingly delicate.  Some of them are in the British Museum so if you are ever in London you can see them there.  Some of them, however, remain in situ.  The wildlife is also rich.  When we were there in 2010 a Fer de Lance was spotted less than an inch from Ashley’s foot.  This time the wildlife seen was less poisonous (and mostly monkeys)!

And we finally got to Bonampak!  It’s a lovely little site but….  They are quite rightly highly protective of the famous frescoes.  Only three people are allowed into the frescoes at once and there was a sizeable queue.  This meant that we felt we couldn’t really stay staring at the frescoes for the several hours we would have needed to take in all the detail.  Ashley managed to get some pretty decent shots.  The rest of the site is very restful.  Nicely laid out and presented.  And the crowds, of course, are queuing up to see the frescoes.  What struck me was the contrast between these amazing frescoes and the carvings….  After what we had seen just a few hours earlier at Yaxchilan, the carving seemed…. interesting but blockier… less delicate, less sophisticated.  It made me wonder what the frescoes at Yaxchilan or Calakmul or Tikal must have been like….

So, we broke the curse.

WP_20170123_07_21_33_ProAfter Bonampak we stayed for one night at Ya Toch Barum, a jungle lodge run by local Lacandon people.  Not just a lodge but an entire complex with a recycling centre and a shop which doubles as an internet cafe along with a restaurant.  We were shown to a very pleasant bungalow… in which the light did not work.  We found someone to come and fix it – it turned out not to be fixable so we were upgraded to a bungalow on the river.

After breakfast we were shepherded across the border into Guatemala and on to Flores.  Flores is pretty but very, very touristy.  Our hotel was lovely (great roof terrace overlooking the lake) but the discos and bars along the shore of the lake were a bit too noisy for our liking.  Not crowded – just noisy.

But noise or not, Flores is very beautiful and a great jumping off point for a visit to Tikal.

Palenque

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The next morning one of the staff from the hotel escorted us to the bus stop to make certain we would get onto the bus.  We got to the bus stop about twenty minutes early and waited.  And waited.  Until it became obvious that no bus was going to come.  At which point someone was flagged down and gave us a lift to Escarcega.  He was dropping bundles of newspapers off at various stores along the way.  We got dropped off at the wrong bus garage (we didn’t know which one we needed) but soon made our way to the right (ADO) one.  We had time to grab a quick lunch before getting on the bus to Palenque.

This must have been a first class bus because it had movies.  Bad ones.  In Spanish.  However, as we went along the scenery changed as we drew closer and closer to the rainforest.

We’ve been to Palenque before.  Each time we have visited it has become more and more developed.  There is now a luxury hotel where we first stayed (along with iguanas and howler monkeys) and, though you can sometimes hear them, we didn’t see any howler monkeys in town.  We stayed at the same hotel we stayed at in 2003 and there was still noisy building work going on.  Some of the restaurants are very touristy in terms of price and menu but there is a good choice of places to eat, drink and sleep.

In the morning we took ourselves to the Maya site – it’s easy enough on the collectivo.  It remains one of the best presented of all the sites in Central America.  The monumental structures rise up out of the forest as they must always have done.  There are one or two big trees left in the plazas (which would not have been the case in Mayan times) and these house a large colony of very noisy parrots (of the small, green varieties).  These days there are a large number of stalls selling tourist tat (some of it quite nice, some of it those nasty noise makers).  There are also a large number of tourists and, as it was a Saturday, quite a few children.  It’s no longer possible to get away from the crowds in the main parts of Palenque though, if you walk through the forest towards the museum, it’s fairly quiet.

It’s a big site and we were quite tired by the time we got to the museum.  Which was, however, extremely worth the time and energy taken to visit.  They have reconstructed Pakal’s tomb extremely well and it is exhibited with plenty of explanatory text.  Sadly photos taken (without the forbidden flash) in the museum did not come out very well.

 

Xpujil, Becán and Chicanná

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The next day Diane from the lodge drove us into the little town of Xpujil.  There are ruins of some mostly domestic Maya buildings opposite the school and we started out there.  We then walked up to the main site at Xpujil which we had almost to ourselves.  We spent some time exploring the ruins and watching the wildlife.  The area is a bit low on wildlife as, however, we did see the very impressive bat falcon at the main site at Xpujil which was probably why the plaza was devoid of other birds, and we had frequent sightings of small green parrots flitting in and out of the bushes beside the road.

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We then walked back to the town and caught a taxi to Becan.  That saved us about 10 km walk.  Becan is a wonderful site with many structures and a moat.  It was certainly Hilary’s favourite site to date (and one of the best overall).  Again, we had it almost to ourselves – there were two other people there and they were not obtrusive.

We walked along to Chicanná which is on the way back to the lodge.  Another wonderful site including some monstrous doorways where you step into the maw of the house of the serpent mouth.  Regrettably we didn’t get a really good picture showing the teeth!

That was a very full day with lots of walking between and within the sites.  We got back to Rio Bec Dreams very ready for a shower, a sit by the bamboo to watch the jays and a few cold beers.

Next day we made our way to Palenque – a big favourite of ours…

Next Stop – Methoni

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Our next stop was Methoni.  We visited there, briefly, in 2013.  This time we went the pretty way, over Mount Taygetos which must be one of the best bike rides in the world.  Scenery is spectacular but we were a bit concerned by the darkening skies.  Which opened.  Fortunately whilst we were fairly near to a village where we took a rain break for a Freddo Espresso.  We managed to get to Methoni without getting seriously wet and checked into the hotel on the beach.  This meant we could use the sun loungers and umbrellas without incurring extra costs but, sadly, it wasn’t really beach weather whilst we were there.  The storm broke as we reached our room.

sparrrow-on-nutsMethoni is a quiet, seaside village – which gains much (but not all) its income from tourism.  It also has a spectacular Venetian castle which, this time, we managed to visit.  In fact we spent an entire morning in there.  Apart from the castle we spent our time making friends with the local wildlife in a pleasant bar and eating some excellent  meals.

 

On to Mystra

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Our next stop was Mystra.  We rode there the pretty way, via Leonido, stopping off in Cosmas for lunch Lunch in Cosmaswith a spectacular view…    Some Italian bikers had the same idea so there was quite a crowd enjoying mountain sausage, chips and village bread.

Mystra did not disappoint.  It’s an almost intact Byzantine city with many churches containing frescoes, a palace, a working monastery and plenty of interesting wildlife.  The village itself is small and friendly, containing a number of small hotels and a sprinkling of restaurants.  I think a lot of people just visit for the day from larger tourist centres.

After we arrived we walked up to the entrance to the site (there are two entrances because, if you only use the lower entrance, there is quite a lot of walking involved) where we saw some lattice brown butterflies on a tree stump.lattice-brown-1

Next day we explored the site itself.  It took all day.  Like many sites in Greece, the information boards scattered around give you a very good idea of what life must have been like when Byzantine Mystra was a living city.  We were lucky to avoid the rainstorm that happened in the evening as the surfaces inside the Byzantine city are very, very slippery when wet!

Apart from the lattice browns, I think I shall save the wildlife for a separate post as Mystra is very, very photogenic.