Tag Archives: guatemala

Journey Through Latin America (Part 16)

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It was hot and sweaty in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, where I had to take one of these tricycle taxis from the bus station to the Mexican border.  It was much cheaper to walk across the bridge then to pay $4 to be tricycled across.  Guatemalan and Mexican immigration was smooth enough, although a slow and sweaty process.  From there I took a shuttle to Tapachula, where I had to wait a couple of hours for the bus to Arriaga.  It gave me time to relax and have some good Mexican tacos.  It seems to me that Mexican tortillas are the best.

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I enjoyed a night and a day in Arriaga, Mexico where I had stayed before, at the Hotel Chiapas, although they had raised their rates somewhat since I was here in October.  I had more great Mexican street tacos, then in the morning an incredible breakfast buffet for $4 that set me up through lunch.  I had to wait all day and into the night for my bus to leave for Oaxaca at 9PM.  It was nice to be in a real bus station rather than just a spot on the sidewalk.

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I slept on the bus all night and arrived in Oaxaca around 5AM, so the Hostel Paulina, where I had stayed in October, only charged me for the following night.  Breakfast was included, and the staff recognized me and requested a musical performance.  I gave them a Promo CD of Luis Sabor and the next morning they were playing it for the breakfast service.

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I really like Oaxaca, Mexico.  It is one of the few large state capital cities that still retain a relaxed atmosphere, despite being very busy and offering a great deal of opportunities for shopping and entertainment.  It is similar to Leon, Nicaragua in this regard.  I enjoyed visiting a large mercado, where I tried on a sombrero, since I had accidentally left my leather hat on a bus in Escuintla.

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I also tried a few of these “chapulines”: chili-fried crickets, at the insistence of my friend Porfirio, whom I had met back in October when I was busking in the Plaza.  Porfirio and I talked a great deal and he had an interesting story to tell.  Having grown up on the streets, he had just spent his first entire year dependence-free, after being addicted to heroin for six years.  It was inspiring to hear how he had pulled himself out of the gutter, literally, with the help of God, to escape the living hell he had endured.  He was incredibly optimistic, and I have felt compelled to pray for him, as his trials certainly cannot be over.

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After just two days in Oaxaca, I was ready to board another bus for a long trip to Puebla.  The bus stations were starting to resemble airports now, and the buses were more comfortable, including bathrooms and movies, although much more expensive than in other countries.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 15)

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I gratefully ate a roasted chicken dinner at a comedor just steps away from the Honduran/El Salvadoran border.  I took a bus to Santa Rosa de Lima, then another to San Salvador.  To my surprise the bus was air-conditioned and by the time I got to San Salvador I was freezing and dehydrated and extremely grateful to arrive at JoAn’s Hostal.  The owner Ana gave me time to clean up, then took me and two other guests to share a great pizza dinner.  Wow, what a great host! But thats not all. As we were talking about Casa Verde Hostal in Santa Ana, and how Ana had talked to the owner Carlos often but had never been to the place, the next day she offered to drive me an hour to Casa Verde herself!  Such a beautiful lady.

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It was great to eat El Salvadoran Pupusas, something like a meat&cheese&bean filled tortilla.  Delicious and cheap.  It took Ana and I a while to find the Casa Verde but although Carlos was at the lake entertaining some guests (El Salvadoran hostal owners are awesome hosts!)  we got to see the new addition to Casa Verde, which is simply fabulous, incredible, awesome and puts this hostel miles ahead of most of the other hostels I’ve experienced.

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I enjoyed walking around the Santa Ana market in search of groceries to cook in the brand new kitchen, which has just as many utensils and appliances as the old one, which was already the most awesome kitchen I’d seen.  I made an effort to take photos of people, and some of them actually asked to have their photo taken.  I find El Salvadoran people to be quite friendly and helpful.

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After a couple of beautiful days swimming in the very cold pool and exercising Qi Gong on the terrace overlooking the city and cooking my own food, I was ready to move on t0 Guatemala.  I tried to find a route avoiding Antigua, or what I like to call “Gringotenango”, but it really has a good location, so I went on back to Hostal Pasar de los Años and actually enjoyed myself for the one night and partial day I was there.  The morning I left I went to a favorite restaurant for breakfast, and there was the same family sitting at their favorite table that I had met back in October.  We chatted a while and I enjoyed a good breakfast before a long day on the road.

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From Antigua I took a bus to Escuintla, where it was quite warm, but I decided not to take the route through Xela that I took in October because I wanted to enjoy the heat as long as I could.  I was let off on a sidewalk in Escuintla and proceeded to ask everyone I could where to find a bus to Retalhuleu.  Five blocks later I was on another sidewalk and a pullman bus pulled up quickly and we stuffed my backpack and guitar below as the driver was already driving off.  As I squeezed on I realized there was standing room only, and I spent most of the trip sitting or standing right there by the driver.

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At Retalhuleu I found a decent Hotel, walked several blocks looking for a restaurant in vain, then ate some street tacos by the plaza.  The next morning I ate a fresh pan dulce with juice before standing around almost an hour waiting for the bus to the Mexican border.

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Journey Through Latin America (Part 8)

It took slightly less than 12 hours to travel from Alegria, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua.  I woke up at five AM so I could do some rudimentary Chi Gong exercises before catching the 6 AM chicken bus to Santiago de Maria, then another bus to San Miguel, then another still to El Amatillo at the border with Honduras.  Two enthusiastic young men immediately helped me into  tricyclo taxi and pushed me through both immigration posts and left me at the shuttle for Nicaragua.  This was a ¨”combi” that had to fill all 12 seats before we left.  The highway in Honduras was full of potholes, but the worst part was arriving at the Nicaraguan border where more enthusiastic men wanted to help me, though this time I was not being pushed around as easily.  The immigration post in Nicaragua was the worst I´ve yet seen: unorganized, took 30 minutes, half of which for the official to get change for my $20, the fee was $12.

I had a leisurely lunch at the bus stop and took another shuttle to Chinandega, then yet another to Leon, where I finally got a cheap taxi, just $1 to my hostel.  I was so glad Lazybones had a swimming pool.  I was exhausted.

 

Leon is an interesting place.  I like it, so its difficult to describe accurately without seeming derogatory.  Its dirty, yes, but by now I´ve come to the conclusion that garbage exists whether it is hidden or not, so I´m not offended.  Its old and lots of buildings are falling apart.  It is lively and offers a lot for the wanderer to see.  I feel like it is Antigua´s opposite in some ways, dark and seedy, and not entirely tourist minded.  It took me a while to get some shots of the ubiquitous horse and cart.

 

I can´t say that Nicaragua is significantly cheaper than El Salvador, but I have found a couple of places where I can eat well for under $2.  One is Pelibuey (Nicaraguan for Lamb) where it is hot and sweaty, like most of Leon, and the racket next door is from a gym.  Well, the racket is mostly from the street, its very noisy in Leon.  The other good spot is a French bakery called Pan y Paz where I took this photo (the juice is guayaba and the croissant chocolate) first class quality.

I´ve been here a few days, mostly just to recover from that horrendous day of travelling.  I lucked out and caught a Cuban Trova act at La Olla Quemada,  Fulancito y Tal, really world-class performance.  I finally felt like I was in the Leon of my imagination.  Alas, I did not have my camera.


Journey Through Latin America (Part 5)

Antigua Guatemala was really great.  The hostal I stayed at for a week happened to be Salsa Central, where four different dance instructors gave group and private lessons.  As a result I made dozens of friends, listened to great music, and really felt at home.  Friday night I took my Guiro to Las Palmas and talked the owner and band into letting me play with them, and it was great fun.  There were a few extended songs of over 15 minutes that really pushed me to the limit, then after the band stopped I got to dance a few songs with some beautiful ladies I had met.  There were actually more friends there than if I had gone out to a club in my home town of Tucson Arizona.

Sunday I took a shuttle to Guatemala City where I got a “first class” bus to San Salvador.  I met a Canadian couple, Eric and Heather, at the bus station and it turned out we were headed to the same hostal( #1 on hostelworld.com) .  The ride to El Salvador was very short and smooth, and when we got to the border there was no immigration post per se, just some military guys who checked our luggage and passports and asked alot of questions.  The ride to San Salvador was pleasant and when we arrived a local lady overheard me ask about taxis and made a call to a Christian Taxi service for us.  Eric and Heather and I shared a taxi to the hostal and then shared dorm room as well.  The Hostal Cumbres del Volcan is one of the cleanest and most civilized I’d seen, and only $8 a night.  The downside was that it was in a residential area and there wasn’t any place even to buy a soda within five blocks.  I didn’t bother taking any photos because it was just an urban center that could have been anywhere on the planet.  I spent Monday promoting my music show at a number of five-star hotels and restaurants,  I have a solo act as Luis Sabor, singing and playing guitar.   I didn’t expect any response right away, so I left for Santa Ana, which is actually back North a couple of hours.  This is a town more to my liking and I found a great Hostal Casa Verde just blocks from the center of town.

This is really an awesome hostel, just look at the view from the rooftop terrace here.  It has free internet I’m using at the moment, clean everything, and one of the best kitchens you could imagine. The owner Carlos is very friendly and helpful, has designed this place in a very intelligent manner.  When he found out what I was doing he immediately called up a nearby cafe and I played there Wednesday night, and I’m going to play there again Friday.   The interesting contrast I am seeing between Guatemala and El Salvador is that in Guatemala, Xela and Antigua at least, the rooms were really cheap but it was a challenge finding a cheap meal.  Here its in reverse: rooms are twice as much ($9!) but cheap food is everywhere.  It will be easy to keep below my daily budget of $20 here, so maybe I can make up for my expenses in Mexico.

The weather is really my style, WARM, but with a constant breeze.  As long as you stay in the shade its very comfortable.  No need to use a towel after a shower, and of course there are no blankets, just thick sheets.  The hostal here is just blocks from the market, but the whole center of town is just one big bustling entrepreneurial zone.  Just about anything is offered in any of  dozens of shops of various sizes, including folks with just a basket or cart.  Tomorrow I plan to make a video of a walk through the market which should be very entertaining.  One thing different about El Salvador markets from other places I’ve seen is the abundance of pharmacy outlets everywhere, sometimes right next to a food stall in the market.  Perhaps there are no licenses required to sell pharmaceuticals because  I’ve even seen guys selling packaged medicine on the sidewalk.

In all, Santa Ana seems to be a very pleasant place just to kick back for a few days, which is just what I plan to do.


Journey Through Latin America (Part 4)

 

I left Xela around 8AM, taking a taxi to the Alamo bus terminal and ,putting my guitar and backpack below, I had a nice trip to Chimaltenango, where I had to step off, as the bus was going on to Guatemala City and I was going to Antigua.  I was hungry and tired so I found a comedor quite near the turnoff, and had a thin piece of steak and tortillas, beans etc.  A couple of young men, already drunk, sat down nearby and started talking to me about where I´m from etc.  After my meal they convinced me to play a couple of songs, and I have to say I´ve never had  a more enthusiastic response, singing along offkey and everything. “You´re Fantastic! Uno mas por favor!”  I didn´t think they would be happy with one more, so I slid out as quickly as I could and heaved my luggage a block to where a “chicken bus” was waiting. They heaved my backpack on the roof, hopefully secured it in place, and I climbed in the back door with my guitar in front of my seat.  It was a not unpleasant bumpy, half hour or so to Antigua, where I descended into one of the most busiest chicken bus centrals I´ve seen.

 

I struggled with my luggage to the address of Jungle Party Hostel, recommended my Lonely Planet, and it was everything they said it would be.  It would have been a perfect place for me twenty years ago, but I felt too old to hang with the crowd, who enjoyed a great happy hour listening to reggae music and cool rap until late in the evening, long after I was asleep.  I shared a dorm room with some Australian surfers who were heading to El Salvador for what is reputed to be the best waves in Central America.  I wasn´t thrilled with my lodgings, even though it was only around $6 a nite including a decent breakfast, so I was happy to meet Lhena through Couchsurfing, who offered me a place to stay at her home.

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately Lhena lives a long uphill twenty-minute walk from the center of town, so it wasn´t the best arrangement.  Her house is located near a beautiful park where I enjoyed my morning Qi Gong exercises under the pines, just a few yards away from these beautiful Spanish ruins:

 

 

I hit all the restaurants I had a line on that I could find, and I got a gig Saturday night at Rainbow Cafe, which coincidentally happened to be the same restaurant I had visited 15 years ago, and which I had been thinking about playing at for several years now.  Sometimes things are very interesting in that way.  Had a good show, got paid, and got a very good plate of food to boot.  Might be playing there again when I return in February next year.  Late at night I had to take a taxi back to Lhena´s, so that cost a bit.  Next day I moved to a new hostel just a block from the Plaza, and though it is a dorm, so far I don´t have to share it.  Got a great weekly rate, around $4 a nite, so I´ll be in Antigua until next Sunday.

 

 


Journey Through Latin America (Part 3)

Arriaga Mexico was a nice spot, even though it was steamy, I didn´t mind the heat, but then I´m from Arizona.  The afternoon shower was refreshing, and the room I had was cool with the ceiling fan just on low.  I like when you can take a shower and lay down with just a sheet and sleep comfortably.  I woke up before dawn and performed my Qi Gong exercises on the balcony as the sun came up, then I took a taxi to the bus station and arrived just 5 minutes before the bus to Tapachula left.   It was a ¨first class¨ bus and we arrived a couple of hours later and I lugged my heavy backpack a few blocks to take a shuttle to the border.  Crossing the border into Guatemala was extremely easy, though the Mexican Tricycle Taxistas wanted to overcharge me the Guatemalans were very reasonable.  I ate an awesome meal at  a cafe near the bus terminal for around $3 and talked with three backpackers who had been in Quetzaltenango (Xela) for up to two months! and now were heading to the beach for some warm days.

From Ayutla I took my first ¨chicken bus¨ ride, in the front seat, and boy was that exciting!  The driver had a great sixth sense as to when to pass on a blind curve, and only once did he have to back off quickly to avoid a horrible accident, and the cobrador meanwhile was hanging out the door calling out to potential passengers the whole time, with one hand holding his cellphone to his ear.   The route to Xela was continuosly populated, going from extremely sweaty Retalhuleu quickly up to the cool mountains of Quetzaltenango. 

The taxi driver took advantage of my ignorance as to the location of my hostel and charged me $7 when it should have been $6, then we couldn´t find Las Amigas and instead Hostel M&M looked good for just $6 per night, with a private room.  Martina,  a German lady, and Maynor, a Guatemalan, are the owners who also offer classes in German, Spanish, and English.  I talked alot with Alex from San Diego who has been living there since January and has decided to retire in Xela.  He was leaving the next day for the Gulf Coast and he gave me his eggs, sausage, and bread to eat while I was there, which saved me alot of money.  It was a very comfortable place to stay , and I often met my fellow housemates on the rooftop terrace: Marina, a retired Guatemalan teacher traveling with her neice Delmit, though they had been living at M&M for four months!  I loved to play guitar on the rooftop, and also ran into Martina and Maynor often, who are very gracious hosts. 

I didn´t have much luck finding a place to perform in Xela, but I had a great day at Zunil , where they have hot, HOT baths in private tiled rooms for $3 an hour.  I only needed half an hour to be extremely relaxed.  The next day I walked half way there to the pass where I could take some nice pictures of the valley.


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