Tag Archives: belize

Ruta Maya 5 – Day of the Iguana

After saying goodbye to our generous and wonderful host Lance, Case and I hotfooted it onto the bus to Belize’s northern border. It took us a while to fill out all the forms and get all the right stamps, but eventually we were set free to wander the Mexican wonderland that is Mexico.

Orange-Walk-to-Tulum

In one week Casey had been to more countries than she’d been to in her lifetime. What can I say? This is what happens when you hang out with Graham Hughes for too long. Eh? Eh? Amirite??!

BOOM!

SO THEN onto Tulum, which is the name of both the Mayan ruins and also the town near the ruins. We arrived just before dark, found a nice backpackers to hang our hats for the night and went for a mooch.

Main Street, Tulum
Why did I expect everything to be sepia?

The town revolved around the main road, a sandy old stretch flanked with a parade of shops either side. A bit of a tourist trap, but they had an awesome ice-cream place so we weren’t complaining.

Ice cream shop, Tulum, Mexico
Ice cream is always good.

The next day we explored the town and took the opportunity to walk to the ruins (a little further than we had estimated) without actually going in to see them. We then checked out the adjacent beach. Being gingers, we didn’t hang around on the beach for long before grabbing a taxi back to town. Watching far too many episodes of House of Cards had led us to a inexplicable desire for ribs, and we found some, but they weren’t great.

Unlike us, we’re pretty great. For gingers.

What was great was the TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE that night (April 14/15, 2014). Casey and I stayed up late, filming it with our cameras, taking pics and generally enjoying the show.

Total Lunar Eclipse April 15 2014
A DRAGON HAS EATEN THE MOOOOOON!! Give it back! Naughty dragon.

The next morning we had to be up with the lark (a lazy lark) in order to get over to Tulum Ruins before the crowds arrived. We didn’t do such a Stirling job of that, but what we did find was that most of the Mexican families headed straight for the bit of private beach that lies beneath the ancient acropolis – so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Well, us and the insane number of iguanas standing guard over the old town.

Iguana standing guard at Tulum, Mexico
The Silent Sentinel

Tulum (Yucatec: Tulu’um) is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city serving as a major port for Cobá. The ruins are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) tall cliffs, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Tulum, Mexico - Overlooking the sea
Nice view eh?

Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayas; it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Old World diseases brought by the Spanish settlers appear to have been the cause of its demise. One of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites, Tulum is today a popular site for tourists.

Tulum, Mexico
Although my camera helpfully deletes them for me

The Maya site may formerly have been known by the name Zama, meaning City of Dawn, because it faces the sunrise. Tulum stands on a bluff facing east towards the Caribbean Sea. Tulúm is also the Yucatan Mayan word for fence, wall or trench, and the walls surrounding the site allowed the Tulum fort to be defended against invasions.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico
Walls always help.

Tulum had access to both land and sea trade routes, making it an important trade hub, especially for obsidian. From numerous depictions in murals and other works around the site, Tulum appears to have been an important site for the worship of the Diving or Descending god. Tulum had an estimated population of 1,000 to 1,600 inhabitants.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico
And this was their local Wal-Mart

Tulum was first mentioned by Juan Díaz, a member of Juan de Grijalva’s Spanish expedition of 1518, the first Europeans to spot Tulum. The first detailed description of the ruins was published by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1843 in the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. As they arrived from the sea, Stephens and Catherwood first saw a tall building that impressed them greatly, most likely the great Castillo of the site. They made accurate maps of the site’s walls, and Catherwood made sketches of the Castillo and several other buildings. Stephens and Catherwood also reported an early classic stele at the site, with an inscribed date of AD 564 (now in the British Museum’s collection), which is interpreted to mean that it was most likely built elsewhere and brought to Tulum to be reused.

Temple Detail, Tulum, Mexico
Courtesy of the British Museum. Probably.

Work conducted at Tulum continued with that of Sylvanus Morley and George P. Howe, beginning in 1913. They worked to restore and open the public beaches.

Beach at Tulum, Mexico
Good job!

The work was continued by the Carnegie Institution from 1916 to 1922, Samuel Lothrop in 1924 who also mapped the site, Miguel Ángel Fernández in the late 1930s and early 1940s, William Sanders in 1956, and then later in the 1970s by Arthur G. Miller. Through these investigations done by Sanders and Miller it has been determined that Tulum was occupied during the late Postclassic period around AD 1200. The site continued to be occupied until contact with the Spanish was made in the early 16th century. By the end of the 16th century the site was abandoned completely.

Iguana overlooking the beach at Tulum, Mexico
Well, not completely.

Tulum has architecture typical of Maya sites on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. This architecture is recognized by a step running around the base of the building which sits on a low substructure. Doorways of this type are usually narrow with columns used as support if the building is big enough. As the walls flare out there are usually two sets of molding near the top. The room usually contains one or two small windows with an altar at the back wall, roofed by either a beam-and-rubble ceiling or being vaulted. This type of architecture resembles what can be found in the nearby Chichen Itza, just on a much smaller scale.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico
Probs too busy chillin’ out at the beach to go full Chichén.

Tulum was protected on one side by steep sea cliffs and on the landward side by a wall that averaged about three to 5 meters (16 ft) in height. The wall also was about 8 m (26 ft) thick and 400 m (1,300 ft) long on the side parallel to the sea. The part of the wall that ran the width of the site was slightly shorter and only about 170 meters (560 ft) on both sides. Constructing this massive wall would have taken an enormous amount of energy and time, which shows how important defence was to the Maya when they chose this site. On the southwest and northwest corners there are small structures that have been identified as watch towers, showing again how well defended the city was. There are five narrow gateways in the wall with two each on the north and south sides and one on the west. Near the northern side of the wall a small cenote provided the city with fresh water. It is this impressive wall that makes Tulum one of the most well-known fortified sites of the Maya.

Tulum watchtower and sea, Mexico
Try getting up them rocks with a thousand angry Mayans bearing down on you from above.

There are three major structures of interest at the Tulum site. El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God are the three most famous buildings. Among the more spectacular buildings here is the Temple of the Frescoes that included a lower gallery and a smaller second story gallery. The Temple of the Frescoes was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. Niched figurines of the Maya “diving god” or Venus deity decorate the facade of the temple. This “diving god” is also depicted in the Temple of the Diving God in the central precinct of the site. Above the entrance in the western wall a stucco figure of the “diving god” is still preserved, giving the temple its name. A mural can still be seen on the eastern wall that resembles that of a style that originated in highland Mexico, called the Mixteca-Puebla style, though visitors are no longer permitted to enter.

Mayan art example, Tulum, Mexico
Probs looked a bit like this…

Also in the central precinct is the Castillo, which is 7.5 m (25 ft) tall. The Castillo was built on a previous building that was colonnaded and had a beam and mortar roof. The lintels in the upper rooms have serpent motifs carved into them. The construction of the Castillo appears to have taken place in stages. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes. This shrine marks a break in the barrier reef that is opposite the site. Here there is a cove and landing beach in a break in the sea cliffs that would have been perfect for trading canoes coming in. This characteristic of the site may be one of the reasons the Maya founded the city of Tulum exactly here, as Tulum later became a prominent trading port during the late Postclassic.

Castillo, Tulum, Mexico
The Castillo

Both coastal and land routes converged at Tulum which is apparent by the number of artifacts found in or near the site that show contacts with areas all over Central Mexico and Central America. Copper artifacts from the Mexican highlands have been found near the site, as have flint artifacts, ceramics, incense burners, and gold objects from all over the Yucatán.

We’re just here for the gold.

After a long hot day with no water (seriously Tulum GET A CONCESSION STAND) we headed back to the town to pick up our bags. It was time for the next stage of our Ruta Maya – Coba.

Ruta Maya 4 – Dead Man’s Island

Case and I drinkie too muchie the night before, but we dragged our carcasses out of bed and managed to make it to Lance’s gaff before noon.

Today we’d be visiting Lance’s island… Dead Man’s Island. And since the island might well be haunted, we bought a weally weally cute PUPPY with us for protection.

Gringo The Ghostbuster

On the way to the island, Lance took us into the town centre where we attended a charity barbecue.

After which we headed up the New River towards Dead Man’s Island.

Lance at the wheel

Ooh look – there’s our boat ready to go!

That’s Dead Man’s Island over the water.

Once on the island, we unpacked Gringo…

Lance took him for a swim…

Real men love puppies.

…and Casey and I went for a hack through the jungle, which culminated in some kick-ass photos of us doing our best Ginger Indy/Ginger Lara impressions.

Casey Turner and Graham Hughes
We kick ALL the ass.

 

After a good bit of exploring (the ants make superhighways which criss-cross the entire island and turkey vultures don’t half produce a lot of shit) we met back up with Lance and Gringo.

Nothing beats an island and a cold beer.

And took the little rowboat back to the “mainland”.

But then who took this picture? Let that question keep you up at night.

Adiós Dead Man’s Island!

Adios Dead Man!

That night headed back to the ranch to watch Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley knocking seven shades of crap out of each other on the telly.

Quietly though.

After a few (probably too many) cold ones and Lance filling in his colourful backstory on the mean streets of LA, we crashed out on the floor of the room behind the bar. Tomorrow we’d be heading over the northern border to Mexico in search of adventure, excitement and more bits of Mayan awesomeness. Thanks Lance!!

Graham Hughes in Orange Walk Belize
If you’re ever in Orange Walk, you know where to go: Lamanai Riverside Retreat!!

Ruta Maya 3 – Orange Walk This Way

We left Punta Gorda in the morning, a bit sad to leave. I didn’t really get a measure of the place when I visited for a few hours back in 2009, now I have a deep affection for the sleepy little town – incredibly friendly locals, great food, good times guaranteed. But I didn’t get my two Guinness World Records by sitting on my arse.

I got them by standing and pointing at things.

So then NORTH, MS TESSMACHER NORTH!

As the crow flies… on the way back from the pub.

Off we jolly well popped on an old yellow school bus up through the new capital of Belmopan and then through the old capital of Belize City. Belize City was abandoned as the capital in the 70s after a particularly nasty hurricane that did its best to level the city in 1961. We arrived in the town of Orange Walk a few hours later.

Case and I quick-footed it to the nearest hotel that was within our budget – the Akihito, named – rather improbably – after the Emperor of Japan. After slinging our backpacks down, we headed out into the warm night air in search of a clever way we could get to the Mayan city of Lamanai the next day.

The first place we went to was just off the main square, a poky little office, narrow and covered in papers and trash. We knew that to get to Lamanai would require us to take a long boat ride down the river (Lamanai is inaccessible by road), and we really wanted to go with somebody it looked like we could trust. I’m not one to judge a book by it’s cover, but if the cover says ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ then I can hazard a guess at its contents. These guys would not be taking us to Lamanai, not if there was any other option whatsoever.

Happily, there was.

Our Lonely Planet was a good six years out of date, so we were taking everything with a pinch of salt, but there seemed to be another option on the road that ran parallel with the river. Only it was dark, not very well lit, and a bit off-putting.

I’m all for putting myself in ridiculously compromising positions, but I’ve got somebody else here to worry about, and worry I do. When a big fuck-off pick-up with blacked-out windows pulled up along side us, my Spidey-Sense started tingling.

“You looking for a tour?” asked the guy in the pick-up.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, come with me.”

Oh bloomin’ eck, now I’m in trouble.

The Englishness chip in my brain that forces me to not appear rude no matter how threatening the situation went into overdrive.

“Where are you going?”

“Just up this path here! Come on, get in!”

“It’s okay, we’ll follow you.”

So we didn’t get into the car, but we did walk down a long dimly lit pathway after the car. This kind of situation happens all the time when you’re travelling, the trick is to always have an exit strategy. For me, that’s usually RUN LIKE HELL! You can’t do that in a car.

Turns out Lance, the guy in the car, was the owner of the Lamanai Riverside Retreat, a gorgeous little hideaway situated right by the river. When we got to the bar, I soon realised we’d made a good call following him down that road (and possibly came across as a little rude for not getting in the car, but hey-ho). Lance sorted us out with tickets for the boat trip the next day, as well as (delicious) dinner and copious amounts of beer.

After we’d eaten, Lance came and joined us at our table overlooking the river below. He regaled us with tales of life in the jungle, as a guide climbing up mountains with suicidally stupid tourists. We laughed, we drank, it was good.

The next morning we were up bright and early and back to the Retreat for our drip down the New River.

Do you like wildlife? I like wildlife. The boat journey down to the ruins was SPECTACULAR.

Tiger Heron
A Tiger Heron – check out them stripes!
Jesus Lizard
He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty lizard.
Spider Monkey. The only kind of spider I find acceptable.
Look closer. There are bats on that tree.
The elusive Jabiru – the tallest flying bird in Central America.
Dinner!!
Crocodile at Lamanai, Belize
Submerged Crocodile

When we finally arrived in Lamanai, the wildlife show was far from over – on the way to the ruins we met up with a gang of howler monkeys.

HELLOOOO!
Howler Monkey Mother and Child
Howlin’

Best not to get too close. They like to throw things. And by ‘things’ I mean ‘poo’.

Very soon, we were at the site. Take it away, Wikipedia!!

Lamanai (from Lama’anayin, “submerged crocodile” in Yucatec Maya) is a Mesoamerican archaeological site, and was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization. The site’s name is pre-Columbian, recorded by early Spanish missionaries, and documented over a millennium earlier in Maya inscriptions as Lam’an’ain.

I like that they must have had another word meaning “crocodile that is not submerged”.

Lamanai was occupied as early as the 16th century BC. The site became a prominent centre in the Pre-Classic Period, from the 4th century BC through the 1st century CE. Lamanai continued to be occupied up to the 17th century AD. During the Spanish conquest of Yucatán Spanish friars established two Roman Catholic churches here, but a Maya revolt drove the Spanish out. The site was subsequently incorporated by the British in British Honduras, passing with that colony’s independence to Belize. Also the British has settled in Lamanai and made a sugar mill.

aka “Rum Distillery”

The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple, and High Temple. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of New River.

Graham Hughes at Lamanai
When ginger tossers aren’t getting in the way.

 

High Temple, Lamanai, Belize
Me on top.
Casey on her way up.

A significant portion of the Temple of the Jaguar remains under grassy earth or is covered in dense jungle growth. Unexcavated, it would be significantly taller than the High Temple.

Jaguar Temple Lamanai Belize
Jaguar Temple

In the jaguar temple there is a legend that you can find an ancient spear called the heart of the jaguar, even though the temple got his name from the jaguar masks on each side.

Lamanai Belize
8-Bit Jaguar

The most interesting features on the Mask Temple are (somewhat predictably) the two masks that decorate the west façade of the temple.

Mask Temple Lamanai Belize
Help… me… take this… mask off…

The masks are 15 feet high and sit on two levels on the south side of a central stairway. They represent humanized faces and are bordered by decorative elements. The headdress of the left mask represents a crocodile.

Mask Temple Lamanai Belize
Also, Face of Boe

The masks are construed of stone armature covered with thick stucco into which the details are carved. They date from the late fifth to the early sixth century AD.

Mask Temple Lamanai Belize
Knightmare, anyone?

 

At the large temple there was a single ball court, where an offering had been placed under its giant central marker. A lidded bowl contained 100g of crystalline hematite, 19 g of cinnabar in a miniature vessel, and other objects such as jade, shell, and pearl, all atop of a pool of mercury.

That’ll do, Wikipedia. Now… back to Orange Walk!

That night we returned to the Lamanai Riverside Retreat were over a few too many beers, Lance convinced us to stay one more night in Orange Walk. You see, Lance also owns a private island, in the middle of the New River. It’s called ‘Dead Man’s Island’ and we were invited to visit it the next day.

A fellow island owner? How could I say no?

Ruta Maya 2 – Gingdom of the Crystal Skull

After a few days of sleeping on buses, border controls, passport stamps and terrible food, Casey and I arrived in the wonderfully ramshackle town of Punta Gorda in Belize.

“Hola!” “We speak English here” “D’oh”

I had wanted to stop at the Garifuna village of Livingston along the way and see if my old friend Wallander from The Odyssey Expedition was still knocking around, but we were late getting this show on the road, so we had to buzz past on our epic speedboat ride up the coast.

Punta Gorda was my one and only stop in Belize during The Odyssey Expedition – something I hoped to make up for on this trip. We stayed at the rather pleasant Nature’s Way Guest House. Along the way we passed a bunch of rather jovial US migrants drinking at a local bar – they invited us to join them, so we did. And that’s where we met the indomitable Jerry L Shaver, distributor of hilarious business cards.

Guaranteed to make Patrick Bateman cry.

After a beer or two, we went on a little explore. On the waterfront, we met Malcolm, a local kid who educated Casey and I about all the different shells we could find and the best places for fishing. This boy was more articulate and knowledgeable than most people twice his age – he’ll be President of Belize someday, you mark my words.

Can we do the “me shell” joke now?

Later, we headed south along the coast road until we found Asha’s – the soul-food joint recommended to us by Jerry and his chums.

Seafood AND Barbecue?!! You’d have to hold me back.

Now we’re talkin’!!

Just like my mom used to make, had I been born Jamaican.

While we were eating, a HUGE storm broke. Wowsers it knows how to storm in The Caribbean.

Apologies for the picture quality, but it’s hard to get a good shot in a hurricane.

Because of the downpour, Asha, the owner, gave us a lift back to our guest house in his car. Seriously starting to love love love Belize.

The next day we hopped on the old school bus (all the buses here are old schoolbuses)…

Otto in the driver’s seat, probs.

And hit our first stop along the Ruta Maya… LUBAANTUN!

Looney Tunes 7 mile.

Take it away Wikipedia…!!

Lubaantun (also Lubaantún or Lubaantán in Spanish) is a pre-Columbian ruined city of the Maya civilization in southern Belize. One of the most distinguishing features of Lubaantun is the large collection of miniature ceramic objects found on site; these detailed constructs are thought to have been charmstones or ritual-accompanying accoutrements.

This one looks like Boba Fett.

The city dates from the Maya Classic era, flourishing from the AD 730s to the 890s, and seems to have been completely abandoned soon after. The architecture is somewhat unusual from typical Classical central lowlands Maya sites. Lubaantun’s structures are mostly built of large stone blocks laid with no mortar, primarily black slate rather than the limestone typical of the region.

Anyone for Three Dimensional Cricket?

Several structures have distinctive “in-and-out masonry”; each tier is built with a batter, every second course projecting slightly beyond the course below it.

Ah, the old in-out.

Corners of the step-pyramids are usually rounded, and lack stone structures atop the pyramids; presumably some had structures of perishable materials in ancient times.

Smooooooth.

The centre of the site is on a large artificially raised platform between two small rivers; it has often been noted that the situation is well-suited to military defence. The ancient name of the site is currently unknown; “Lubaantun” is a modern Maya name meaning “place of fallen stones”.

Plenty fallen stones.

At the start of the 20th century inhabitants of various Kekchi and Mopan Maya villages in the area mentioned the large ruins to inhabitants of Punta Gorda. Dr. Thomas Gann came to investigate the site in 1903, and published two reports about the ruins in 1905.

The next expedition was led by R. E. Merwin of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum in 1915 who cleared the site of vegetation, made a more detailed map, took measurements and photographs, and made minor excavations. Of note Merwin discovered one of the site’s three courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame, which had stone markers with hieroglyphic texts and depictions of the ballgame.

In 1924 Gann revisited the ruins, and then led adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges to the site. In his typically sensationalistic fashion, Mitchell-Hedges published an article in the Illustrated London News claiming to have “discovered” the site.

Being hipsters, we discovered the site before it was cool.

Gann made a new map of the site. The following year Mitchell-Hedges returned to Lubaantun as a reporter for the Illustrated London News, accompanied by his companion Lady Richmond Brown. Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adoptive daughter of F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, would later claim that she not only accompanied her father on the expedition, but also that it was she who found the (in)famous crystal skull there.

Oh for Heaven’s Sake…

But there is no evidence that Anna was ever in Belize, and if the skull actually had been excavated at Lubaantun it would be hard to explain why none of the official reports mention it, why other expedition members deny that it was found there, and why the publicity-loving Mitchell-Hedges did not publish even a single mention of the skull before the 1950s. Possibly because it’s utter bollocks??

Lubaantun, Belize
Grandstand, Mayan Style

 

More importantly, it is clear from investigations by Joe Nickell and Norman Hammond that the skull was not found at Lubaantun at all, but was actually purchased by Mitchell-Hedges at a Sotheby’s auction in 1943. The skull had previously belonged to the collector Sydney Burney, and photographs of it had been published in the journal Man as early as 1936.

I want my garden to look like this!!

 

So the crystal skull thing turned out to be a big hoax OF COURSE. A bit like the world ending on 21 December 2012. Which it didn’t. Of course. STOP BEING SILLY.

Also, what's wrong with that kid's face?
THIS NEVER HAPPENED.

That didn’t stop George Lucas from making the travesty that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a man who also thought the Mayans lived in Southern Peru, four thousand kilometres south of here.

A bit off.

The British Museum sponsored investigations and excavations at Lubaantun under T.A. Joyce in 1926 and 1927, establishing the mid to late Classic period chronology of the site. Many of the artefacts from this expedition can be found in the British Museum’s collection.

Typical British archaeologist.

After this Lubaantun was neglected by archeologists (although it suffered some looting by treasure hunters) until 1970, when a joint British Museum, Harvard, and Cambridge University project was begun led by archaeologist Norman Hammond.

We rock this town.

Getting back from the site wasn’t easy. We walked for about an hour along a dirt track in the blazing heat, then though the village of San Pedro Columbia.

A local guy opened up his bar for us (the only one in town) while we waited for a school bus to take us back to Punta Gorda. I particularly liked the signs stencilled onto the wall.

Rough crowd.

That night Casey and I went back to Asha’s soul food place and once again stuffed our faces with the yummiest food this side of Mexico. The next day it would be UP AN’ ATOM and a long bus ride (in an old school bus) off to Orange Walk in the north of the country.

Ruta Maya 1 – A Glitch In The Matrix

What is the Ruta Maya?

I don’t take over Jinja Island until May 1st, so Casey and I have a spare month to go and explore Central America, one of the areas I rushed through on the Old Odyssey Expedition. The plan is for us to race north and visit at least ten Mayan sites spread out over Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

So after a few days on the island we said our farewells to Ian and Vanessa for the moment and returned to Bocas Town, where we stayed for a week, chilling out in the Mundo Taito backpackers.

Much of which was out of focus.
Much of said week was out of focus.

Then it was time to hit the road. Panama to Belize overland? Hell yeah! Why am I getting this strange feeling of Deja Vu…?

Casey and I left Bocas Town on April 5 and began our journey by taking the ferry boat over to Almirante and the mainland of Panama (Bocas Town is on an island). Then it was a typically hair-raising minibus ride to the border with Costa Rica.

Crossing the rickety old bridge at the border was as hilarious as ever, but at least we weren’t trundling our suitcases over it this time. From now on it’s backpacks all the waaaaaaay!

GINGER POWER!!

On the Costa Rican side of the border a group of backpackers coming the other way recognised me from such medical movies as “Mommy, What’s On That Man’s Face?” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore.” Photos were taken…

Graham Hughes and Fans, Panama-Costa Rica border

..and photos were photobombed.

Graham Hughes Photobombed on Panama-Costa Rica border

I thought I had timed our border crossing really well, arriving at 1.55pm for the 2pm bus for San Jose… but I forgot that Costa Rica is an hour behind Panama (Panama, formally part of Colombia, syncs up its timepieces with Bogota) – and so 2pm Costa Rica time wouldn’t be for another hour. Case and I grabbed a dreadful burger from a (tellingly) deserted cafe, but before long we were well on our way to the capital via Puerto Viejo, Puerto Limon and – yes – the Del Monte town of LIVERPOOL, Costa Rica!

It exists!!

A few miles west of Puerto Limon…

 

We arrived in San Jose around 10pm and headed to a bar that would be open late, near the bus station. The bus up to Guatemala left at 3am. Madness I know. I think it’s something to do with the fact that buses don’t like driving at night.

We got online and went to the Tica bus site to book our tickets for tonight’s bus, but the website don’t wanna let you do that.

So I left Casey in the bar with our backpacks and walked the streets of Costa Rica’s capital, late on a Friday night, to the bus terminal.

One of the most irritating things about travelling around Central America is that each bus company tends to have its own terminal, as opposed to the MUCH BETTER system in South America, in which there is ONE bus terminal and all of the bus companies operate out of it.

I walked for ages, and I just couldn’t find the damn place. Bad map reading skills? Not on your nelly! It’s not 2009 anymore. My memory (and my Lonely Planet guidebook) was out of date. The station had moved to the other side of town. Only, San Jose doesn’t think much of road names either, so finding an address for the new place was nigh on impossible.

I decided to take a cab, hoping he’d know where it was, and luckily he did. I arrived, asked my cabbie to wait outside, queued for half an hour only to be told the 3am bus was sold out.

Groan.

I returned to the pub to let Casey know what was going on, and then walked the street trying to find somewhere to stay the night. Nearly all the places marked in my 2008 Lonely Planet had either closed down, moved, or didn’t take guests after midnight.

In desperation, I checked us into Pangea Hostel, a former jail that I’ve heard nothing but bad things about. And I can happily say that they didn’t disappoint!

For thirty dollars, we slept in a dorm room (cell) on bunk beds. In the morning we drank our tiny cups of free coffee whilst having pop dance music BLASTED into our eardrums at 120dB. At 10am we had to not just check out but leave the premises entirely… or else stump up another $15 to stay for a few more hours.

To add insult to injury, the staff were surly as hell (except for one guy who was nice but tellingly utterly exasperated by it all) and seemed to have gone to the Basil Fawlty school of hospitality.

YES WE’RE HAVING A GREAT TIME THANK YOU THANKS

Wow. Way NOT to run a hostel guys! Check out the reviews on Trip Advisor…

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g309293-d570376-Reviews-Hostel_Pangea-San_Jose_San_Jose_Metro_Province_of_San_Jose.html#REVIEWS

“Scathing” would be an understatement.

Luckily, there’s a lovely little bar a few buildings down the same road that’s cheap, cheerful, has wi-fi, the food is grrrrreat and it’s open until 2am.

We stayed all day and late into the night.

Till 3am, actually.

At 3am we left the city on our way up though Nicaragua, Honduras and into El Salvador.

Nicaragua not only has some amazing natural treasures, it’s also obsessed with Smurf hats. There’s one on the flag AND on the coins. Don’t believe me? Look closely…

SMURF HAT!!!

We arrived in San Salvador at around 2am and the connecting bus to Guatemala would be leaving at 5am. We imagined we’d just stay up, but the bus company had thought of that…! They gave us no choice but to stay in their crappy little hotel, so we wound up paying for an entire night even though we were only there for 3 hours.

Grr……

Tica Buses = EVIL

So then onward to Guatemala City! We arrived around noon and took a taxi to the bus station for Puerto Barrios on the caribbean coast… from whence we could take a boat to Punta Gorda, Belize.

These place names are not meaning much, are they? Would a zoomable map of our journey help?  YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND!

I know, I know, I’m far too good to you.

I managed to do this same journey much quicker on The Odyssey Expedition, but on this trip we didn’t arrive in Puerto Barrios until nightfall – there were no ferryboats until tomorrow morning.

So we checked into a sweet little guesthouse and went out to get ourselves a couple of mountains of yummy grub.

Wowsers!!

In the morning we paid our ‘exit tax’ and were stamped out of Guatemala. Onto the morning speedboat… next stop… BELIZE!!!

LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOO