A Travellerspoint blog

August 2013

Antigua


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Après avoir passé donc 2 jours in Semuc Champey, ce qui était suffisant je pense, je décidai de continuer ma route vers le sud en direction d'Antigua, l'ancienne capitale historique du Guatemala, avant que de nombreux tremblements de terre ne décident les autorités à changer la capitale pour ce qui est maintenant Guatemala City (que je ne fis que traverser).

Antigua est apparemment très prisée des touristes, pour son architecture coloniale de style baroque et de Renaissance espagnole ainsi que pour ses ruines causées donc par les deux tremblements de terre de 1773. Pour se repérer dans la ville, c'est simple, les rues sont à angles droits et à chaque fois que vous demandez la direction pour telle ou telle endroit, les habitants se réfèrent au blocs de rues plutôt qu'à leur nom: "là vous continuez pendant deux blocs tout droit puis un bloc à gauche et vous y êtes"... Ce qui est aussi vrai pour la plupart des villes coloniales espagnoles (au Mexique aussi) construites après donc les années 1500.

Beaucoup de touristes viennent aussi à Antigua pour son atmosphère très "relax", ses nombreuses auberges de jeunesse, sa vie nocturne avec bars et clubs, ainsi que les nombreuses écoles qui proposent des cours d'espagnol à un bon prix. La ville a conservé aussi son influence Maya et on peut y trouver des magasins d'arts Maya à tous les coins de rue ou presque.

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Personnellement, j'ai bien aimé la ville mais la présence de nombreux "gringos" (comprendre: anglophones ne parlant pas un mot d'espagnol et ne désirant pas faire d'efforts) fait perdre un peu de charme à la ville je trouve (encore plus que San Cristobal au Mexique) donc je n'ai pas souhaité trop m'y attarder, mais juste le temps de flâner un peu dans les rues et les marchés, prendre quelques photos, boire quelques coups avec des amis rencontrés en auberge de jeunesse et aussi en profiter pour grimper un des volcans qui entoure la ville.

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Les Gens d'R à Antigua... :)

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Dégustation de café Guatémaltèque

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Une machine à café authentique

En effet, la ville est entourée de 3 grands volcans (ce qui rend les tremblements de terres logiques car c'est une zone sismique assez active). Le plus imposant, au sud de la ville, est le Volcán de Agua (Volcan d'Eau), dont le sommet est à 3766 mètres de haut. Quand les espagnols arrivèrent pour la première fois, les habitants de l'endroit (les Mayas Kakchikel), l'appelaient Hunapú (et certains l'appellent encore ainsi). Cependant, il devint connu comme Volcán de Agua après que de la lave provenant de du volcan enterra le deuxième site de la capitale, ce qui décida les autorités espagnoles de déplacer la capitale là où se trouve maintenant Antigua. Le site original fait maintenant place à un petit village appelé San Migual Escobar.

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A l'ouest de la ville se trouve une autre paire de volcans, l'Acatenango, qui entra en éruption pour la dernière fois en 1972 (3976 mètres) et le Volcán de Fuego (à 3763 mètres de haut). "Fuego" est connu pour être quasi-constamment actif à un bas niveau. Des jets de vapeur et des gaz sont rejetés chaque jour, et la dernière grande éruption date de Septembre 2012.

Mais le volcan que je décidais de grimper (via un tour organisé) est le volcan Pacaya, volcan aussi toujours actif. Il entra en éruption il y a approximativement 23 000 années et entra en éruption au moins 23 fois depuis l'invasion espagnole au Guatemala. Le sommet se trouve à 2552 mètres et après s'être "endormi" pendant plus d'un siècle, il décida de se réveiller brutalement en 1965 et de fréquentes éruptions se produisent constamment depuis. La dernière grande éruption se produisit en Mai 2010, causant des pluies de cendres sur Guatemala City, Antigua et Escuintla. Personnellement je pensais que nous pourrions voir de la lave active mais cela en fait dépend vraiment des jours et le jour où nous y sommes allés, nous pouvions voir de la fumée s’échapper du volcan mais malheureusement point de lave...

Cependant notre guide avait apporté des marshmallows et nous avons pu les "rôtir" au sommet, car des poches d'air brulant s’échappent du volcan constamment. Bon, les marshmallows rôtis par un volcan, c'est pas très bon, mais c'est quand même assez cool... ;)
D'ailleurs j'avais profité de la randonnée pour prendre une petite vidéo et vous montrer en direct la vue à laquelle j'ai pu assister:

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Notre petit groupe de randonnée

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Vue panoramique des autres volcans, depuis le Pacaya

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Erik, Lieke et moi-même, mes companions Antiguans

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Un des trous sur le volcan desquels sorte constamment de la fumée

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Un paysage lunaire....

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Nos marshmallows rôtis!

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Un chien, en haut d'un volcan... rien de plus normal...

Posted by manolo84 21:43 Archived in Guatemala Tagged cities volcanoes french Comments (2)

Semuc Champey


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Next on the list of the places to visit in Guatemala was Antigua (I had no particular interest in visiting Guatemala city) but in Flores everybody was talking about a place called Semuc Champey which apparently was wonderful. As this stop was on my way to Antigua, I told myself "why not?" and hopped on a bus (8 hours journey) to Lanquin, a small Maya town where Semuc Champey is.

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The river and the ferry our bus had to taken to cross over

Semuc Champey actually consists of a natural 300m limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools, a popular swimming attraction according to the different reviews I got.

And indeed, there is definitely an "air de paradis" there:

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The view from the window of my hostel...

The view from the window of my hostel...

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A good way to clean your tuktuk...

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Me jumping of a swing directly in the river. A very academic jump... :)

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A bit squeezed no?

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Posted by manolo84 23:11 Archived in Guatemala Tagged rivers nature Comments (0)

Tikal


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After Belize, the next logical destination was therefore Guatemala and following my guidebook, I passed the border to end up in a small village called El Remate. This village has nothing really to offer except a quiet environment and astonishing views of the lake of Petén. But it is also located close to Tikal, probably one of the most famous Mayan cities in Central America.

So the next morning after dropping my backpack in El Remate, I decided to book a tour departing at 3.30am to see the sunrise from one of the main temples in Tikal. Tikal has not been fully restored and cleared yet (only 20% we were told by our guide) but it is definitely the most impressive site I have seen so far... Unfortunately that day, the clouds invited themselves and I could not see the magnificent sunrise in all its glory as we were promised. However I could witness the whole forest and its wildlife waking up (monkeys especially) and this is still worth the extra money paid to enter the park at 4am before the official opening at 6am.

One could easily spend a day or two going around each ruin, each pyramid and besides you do not get disturbed by the cohorts of tourists like in Chichén Itzá for example. There are other people in the park but it is so vast that you can easily stroll around by yourself and feel like you are the only one in the place.

In the middle of the video, I suddenly stopped (2'13'') and tried to focus the camera on a massive spider next to me, unfortunately I couldn't but I didn't talk so some people could wonder what the hell am I doing at that moment... :)

Ok, the monkeys are definitely hard to see in this video but I promise you some better footage in the next posts.

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A toucan, shame it wasn't closer...
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A nice little creature which I almost stepped on...

Posted by manolo84 11:56 Archived in Guatemala Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (0)

Adventures in Belize


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Still trying to catch up with the blog as I am almost a month behind now, so I'll make a condensed one for a change with mainly pictures... :)

Caye Caulker was then the next destination, a small island located East of the Belize coast, not far from the coral reef. The first thing which strikes you when you arrive in Belize, is the difference in price compared to Mexico. Indeed here the currency is almost fixed on the US dollar (1 US$ = 2 Bz $) and this means that the prices are high. For example, a day trip on a boat to do some snorkelling costs around 65 US$, and other tours can easily reach 90-100 US$... Anyway, my aim by coming to Belize was not to stay here forever, but to see the reef and its wildlife, a few ruins across the country and then head off to Guatemala.

English is the main language of this country (all the other countries in Central America are Spanish-speaking countries), and it was therefore easier for me to deal and communicate with the locals than in Spanish, but I still felt that one week was enough to explore a few chosen places in the country. I am sure my bank account will thank me later on...

The first days then in Caye Caulker were therefore dedicated to snorkelling and I managed to see manatees (impressive!), nurse-sharks, sting-rays, barracudas and tons of other fishes and corals. Really an amazing experience. It would even have probably be better to do some scuba-diving but the high prices just discouraged me. However for those who like to dive (and have a bit of money to spend), you can easily arrange a day trip to the blue hole, one of the deepest in the world. Apparently those who did so warmly recommend it.

Among my group some people had waterproof cameras and I really wanted to show you some pictures taken "under" but I didn't manage to get the pictures yet. I will probably update this post at a later date then once I can get hold of them. In the meantime here are a few shots I took during these few days on the island.

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My tour agency... Easy boys!

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The streets of Caye Caulker

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On the right side you can see the waves created by the presence of the reef underneath. We are at about 1km from the island already.

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Let's jump!

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Our guide feeding the several nurse-sharks and sting-rays populating the area to attract them near our boat. Fierce battle! A few minutes later, we would be swimming in the middle of these totally inoffensive yet impressive creatures...

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The second stop (and last one) in Belize would then be San Ignacio, a town located near the Guatemalan border. From there there are several tours you can do, including visiting Mayan ruins (Caracol), swim near waterfalls, go to some caves adventures, well it's not easy to get bored. However as I said before your wallet will suffer a little...

As I am mainly interested in the Mayan culture and architecture, I decided to opt for visiting the ruins of Caracol instead of the popular ATM tour (caves adventures) and on the way our group also stopped to see a few natural caves and waterfalls.

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The streets of San Ignacio

And one week is a short time but I felt it was enough and that time had now come to pass the border of Guatemala, as Tikal and El Mirador were already calling me in the distance...

Posted by manolo84 13:38 Archived in Belize Tagged waterfalls islands snorkelling ruins mayas Comments (3)

Adios Mexico, Hello Belize!


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Here we are, it has been so far more than a month and a half since I have set foot on the Mexican soil. I was originally only planning to spend a few weeks in this amazing country but there were so many things to visit and experience, met so many people along the way that it would have been really hard to go faster. But time is also running fast and if I want to stick to my original plan (September in South America, December in New-Zealand), I now have to go faster and will also probably end up skipping or just crossing some countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. And to be honest, going to one place after an other is quite exhausting, I always prefer staying a few more days in a place if I like it, rather than trying to travel with a checklist and just crossing off names for the sake of it. I am pretty sure already that I will come back one day in this area, so it is probably best to leave some "mysteries" for later.

But still, I had an amazing time in Mexico and was really far to expect that much when I first arrived. I definitely recommend this country to whoever wants to visit it but weren't too sure about safety or language issues. There are true wonders in Mexico and I just only scrapped the surface. Local people are extremely nice and love to talk with foreigners if you have the advantage of speaking a bit of spanish.

That is what I was thinking in the bus which took me from Tulum to Chetumal, the last town before the Mexican border on the east coast. My plan was then to take directly a boat to Caye Caulker in Belize, where new snorkelling adventures were awaiting along the reef. Coming from Mexico, you have to pay the exit fee (about 300 pesos - 18 euros) and also the boat which is not that cheap, but saves you the cost and time to go to Belize City first and then take a boat for one of the islands (islands which are called Cayes - pronounced "keys").

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And although the Mexican authorities will check your bag before you leave the country to make sure you are not taking any drugs with you, the Belize immigration in San Pedro is the best (understand: relax and cool) I have seen so far. They are located on a beach so you just have to go through a little deck to get your passport stamped and at the other end of this deck, there was a little bar with live music... I invite you to check the video below to get an idea.... :)

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The immigration checkpoint in San Pedro

Posted by manolo84 23:01 Archived in Belize Tagged music immigration Comments (0)

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